Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Gaslight and Daylight, by George Augustus Sala, 1859 - Chapter 24 - The Musical World

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    IT is a world of highly ancient lineage, having existed thousands of years ago, ‘ere heaving bellows learned to blow.’ Old Timotheus was its master (sub Jove), before divine Cecilia came to invent the vocal frame, and add length to solemn sounds; to wrest the lyre from Timotheus, or divide the crown with him. He could but raise a mortal to the skies. She drew an angel down.
Thus far (in somewhat different language) glorious John Dryden in praise of music. I must not tarry to sing the praises of ancient music, for I have not Dr. Burney’s big book by me: and who knows where or when I should stop if I were to touch upon Orpheus and the beasts, Ulysses and the Syreus, Nebuchadnezzar with his lutes, and harps, and sack­buts, and all kinds of psaltery; or if even I were to get [-270-] middle-aged in music, and tell of the troubadours, trouveres, mimic-singers, or glee-maidens; or more modern yet, and gossip about Stradella, Purcell, Raymond Lulli and Father Schmidt, Paesiello, Handel, and Doctor Blow: the harmonious blacksmith, Cremona fiddles, and the Haarlem organ?
The musical world of England of to-day, for to such place and time will I confine myself, contains in itself three worlds —the fashionable world of music, the middle-class world, and the country world.
Fashion first. What so fashionable as the Opera? whose many tiers of boxes glitter with bright lights, and brighter eyes, with youth and beauty, and high birth; where divinities in diamonds, and divinities in blue ribbons, hedge kings and queens (poor hedges! how wofully tired, and ditchwaterly dull they look, hedging royalty on one leg, or leaning wearily against chairbacks or brackets) ; where dandies in the stalls, in excruciating white neckcloths, turn their backs to the stage between the acts, and scrutinize the occupants of the grand tier, with their big lorgnettes; where gray-headed peers and habitués who can remember Nourri and Donzelli, Catalani and Pasta, Armand Vestris and Anatole, crouch in shady pit-boxes, and hear the music with palled ears, and watch the ballet with sated eyes; where dilettanti in the back rows of the pit (mostly admitted with orders, and cleaned white kid gloves) are so particular in crying Brava when a lady is singing, and Bravi, when a duet is sung; where honest Tom Snugg, who fancies himself a complete man about town and opera frequenter, is so proudly delighted in pointing out, to his friend Nooks, the neophyte, a respectable stockbroker from Camberwell Grove, as the Duke of Tiransydon, or the lady of a Hebrew sheriff’s officer, covered with diamonds, as the Dowager Marchioness of Memphis; where simple-minded English people from the provinces, finding themselves in the amphitheatre stalls and at the opera for the first time, make desperate efforts to understand the words of the songs and recitatives; and failing signally, appeal to the sixpenny ‘books of the opera,’ and find confusion worse confounded by the librettist of the theatre; who translates Italian into English with about the same facility that French hotel-keepers translate their advertisements into the same language; where oleaginous foreigners, of the back settlements of the gallery, gloat over every bar of the overture, and every note of the opera, and keep time with their heads, and lick their lips at [-271-] a florid passage, or a well-executed cadence, and grind their teeth savagely at a note too fiat or too sharp, and scowl at you if you cough or sneeze, or move your feet. This English land has not been without its white days—its high and glorious festivals. I say has been; for, alas! of the opera as a grand, glorious, national, fashionable institution, we may say, as of him whose sword is rust, and whose bones are dust,—It was. The Grand Opera exists no more. I know there is an establishment in the vicinity of Covent Garden—a sumptuous, commodious, brilliant, and well-managed theatre, where the best operas are given by the best singers and instrumentalists. But I cannot call it THE Opera. It can never be more to me than Covet Garden Theatre—the conquered, but never to be the naturalised domain of Italian music. The ghost of Garrick jostles the-ghost of Farinelli in Bow Street, and from Mr. May, the costumier’s shop, in Wellington Street, the indignant voices of Colman, Sheridan, Kenney, and O’Keefe, seem to be crying to Bellini and Donizetti, Meyerbeer and Mozart, ‘What do ye here?’ What have the traditions of maestri and macaroni, violins and Vellutis, bassi and ballet-girls to do with a locality hallowed by the memory of the Great Twin Brethren, the two mighty English theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane? I can fancy, drawn up in shadowy line opposite the grand entrance and sadly watching the carriages disgorging their aristocratic tenants, the by-gone worthies of the English stage. Siddons thrilling, O’Neill melting, Munden exhilarating, Dowton convulsing, Kemble awing, Kean astounding, Woffington enchanting, Young soothing, and Macready—not dead, haply, nor forgotten, nor unthanked, but gone for all that—teaching and elevating, and humanising us. About such a scene might flit the disembodied spirits of the ‘O.P.’ row; of those brave days of old, when people went to wait for the opening of the pit door, at three P.M., and took sandwiches and case bottles with them; when the engagement or non-engagement of a public favourite weighed as heavily in the balance of town curiosity, as the siege of a fortress, or the capture of a fleet; when Shakspeare’s scenes found gorgeous reflections in Stanfield’s magic mirror; when actors (though rogues and vagabonds by act of parliament) were wonderfully respected and respectable, and lived in competence, and had quiet cosy houses in Bloomsbury and Marylebone, paying rates and taxes, serving on juries, and when they died found no mortuary eulogium in the columns of some slang periodical, but were [-272-] gravely alluded to in the decent large type of a respectably small-sized journal, with a fourpenny stamp, as ‘at his house in Buskin Street, Mr. So-and-so, many years of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and one of the overseers of the parish of Saint Roscius. Universally lamented. An attached husband and a tender father.’ No! The Opera cannot be in Covent Garden to my mind. The opera should, and can only be in the Haymarket, ever against palatial Pall-Mall. Come back then, Mr. Costa, whom I honour, to those cari luoghi. Come back, baton, souffleurs’ cavern, loud bassoon, and all. Let us have, once more, the linkman with his silver badge, and the guard of grenadiers (I mind the time when it was a subaltern’s guard, and the officer had a free admission to the pit, and lounged tremendous in Fop’s Alley in his bearskin and golden epaulettes). Come back to the Haymarket, carriages that stopped the way, and struggling footmen, and crowded crush room! Come back, and let not the walls of the grand opera be desolate, or the spider weave her web in the yellow satin curtains—though I believe they were taken down and sold in the last disasters! * [* ‘The Haymarket Opera—Her Majesty’s Theatre—has been born again, and has again died, since I wrote these lines. May the courteous Mr. Lumley be again enabled to inscribe ‘Resurgam’ on the hatchment, made from an old pass-check, which should properly decorate the architrave of his theatre.]
   Only one section of the musical world, however, was on view in the audience part of the opera. Its working members were to be found behind the footlights; nor could you learn much of their private or social habits even there. There are few duller, prosier, more commonplace scenes than the green-room of a theatre; and the artist’s foyer at an opera-house is ordinarily the dullest of the dull. A prima donna swallowing sherry-negus with an egg in it preparatory to her grand scena; a basso stretching himself on the cushions of an ottoman, and yawning in an ecstacy of fatigue; a tenor sulking in a corner because his aria has not been encored; a baritone suffering from hoarseness, and expectorating and swallowing cough lozenges with distressing pertinacity; a crowd of mysterious, snuffy, musty old Frenchwomen with handkerchiefs tied round their heads, pottering in corners with second-hand foreigners, who snuff more than they speak, and spit more than they snuff: these are the principal features of an operatic green-room. Yet, in the palmy days of opera-hats and opera-tights, there [-273-] were few privileges more valued by the distinguished frequenters of the omnibus-box than that of the entrée behind the scenes. A door of communication used to exist between the omnibus-box and the penetralia of the coulisses; and an attempt to lock it once caused a riot of the most fashionable description, in the time of manager Laporte, and the demolition of the door itself by a prince of the blood. There are dandies yet who would give—not exactly their ears, but still something handsome—for the estimable privilege of wandering in a dingy ruinous desert of wings and set pieces and cob­webby rafters; of being hustled and ordered out of the way by carpenters and scene-shifters in their shirt-sleeves ; of stumbling over gas-pipes, tressels, and pewter pots; and of being uncomfortably jammed up among chairs and tables, supernumeraries bearing spears and banners at one shilling per night, property-men with blazing pans of red and blue fire, and pets of the ballet gossiping the flattest of flat gossip, or intent upon the salutary, but, to a near bystander, rather inconvenient exercise known as ‘pumping,’ which, for the benefit of the uninitiated, I may mention consists in standing upon one leg, while another pet of the ballet pulls the other leg violently up and down—such pumping giving strength and elasticity to the muscles.
Hie we away, therefore, to where we can see the operatic world to greater advantage. Here is Messrs. Octave and Piccolo’s Music Warehouse. Let us enter and behold.
In Regent Street is Messrs. Octave and Piccolo’s establishment, the great Bourse or High Change of the Ars Musica. Hard by, on one side, is Messrs. Rowdeypoor, Cutchempoor, and Weaverbad’s India shawl warehouse, which keeps so many native artists at Delhi and Lahore employed day and night in designing fresh patterns.* [*They are bankrupt.] Hard by, on the other side, is Miss Bricabrac's great knick-knack shop, where a marquis might ruin himself in the purchase of porte-monnaies, smelling-bottles, tooth-picks, dressing-cases, blotting-books, French clocks, point lace, diamond pens, jewelled penwipers, amethyst card-cases, and watches no bigger than fourpenny-pieces* [*She is dead.]. About four o’clock during the height of the London season, the road in front of these three shops—the shawl-shop, the music-shop, and the knick-knack shop—is blockaded by a crowd of carriages, the very study of the armorial bearings on whose panels is as [-274-] good as a course of Clarke’s Introduction to heraldry, or Mr. Planché's Pursuivant-at-Arms. The pavement is almost impassable for mighty footmen gravely lounging, as it is the wont of mighty footmen to do; the air is perfumed with pomatum and hair-powder, and the eye dazzled with plush, vivid aiguillettes, and gold lace.
In Messrs. Octave and Piccolo’s shop, among the grand, semi-grand, square, cottage, and cabinet pianofortes, the harmoniums, melodious, accordions, concertinas, and flutinas, the last new ballads, polkas, mazourkas, gems of the last opera, &c., decorated with flaming lithographs in colours; the shelves groaning beneath music-books and opera scores, and pianoforte exercises, and treatises upon sol-faing; among Erard’s harps, and huge red and yellow concert posters, and plans of the boxes of the opera and seats at the Philharmonic; among circulars from professors of music, who beg to inform the nobility, gentry, their friends, and the public that they have just returned from the continent, or have removed their residence to such and such a street, where they have resumed their course of instruction, or have some equally interesting instruction to give; among portraits of musical celebrities, litographed by the accomplished M. Baugniet, and concert tickets stuck in the frames of looking-glasses; among all these multifarious objects there circulates a crowd of countesses in lace, yea, and of duchesses oftentimes, together with representatives of musical wealth (chiefly female) of every degree, from the Princess Perigordowski, who has come to Messrs. Octave and Co. to negotiate engagements with the stars of the Italian stage for her grand ball and concert next week; from the Dowager Marchioness of Screwdown, who wants some one at Octave’s to recommend her a first-rate Italian singing- master, who will teach the juvenile Ladies Harriet and Georgina Skinflint for five shillings a lesson, she having recently dismissed their former instructor, Signor Ravioli, for gross misconduct—a pawnbroker’s duplicate for some degrading article of wearing apparel, we believe boots, having fallen from the wretched man’s hat, on the occasion of his last visit to Skinflint House; from these pillars of the titled world to plump, rosy Mrs. Chippendale, who has ‘musical evenings’ in the Alpha Road, and wants a good accompanyist, moderate, a German not preferred. They breathe so hard, and smell so strong of smoke, and have such long hair, Mrs. C. says. Besides, they injure the piano so, and will insist at [-275-] last upon playing a ‘sinfonia,’ or a ‘motivo,’ or a ‘pensée’ of their own composition, goodness knows how many hundred bars or pages long. Then there is Miss de Greutz, who is long, lean, pale, and spectacled. She is a governess is Miss de Greutz, but has views towards professing singing on an independent footing, and wishes to ascertain Signor Pappadaggi’s terms (he is the singing-master in vogue), for a series of finishing lessons. Pappadaggi will have fifteen shillings a lesson out of her, and bate never a stiver; ‘it soud be zi gueeni,’ he says; and valiant Miss de Greutz will hoard up her salary, and trot, in her scanty intervals of leisure, to the Signor’s palatial residence in Hyde Park Gardens; and should you some half-holiday afternoon pass the open windows of Belinda House, Bayswater, it is pretty certain that you will hear the undulating of a piano in sore distress (not the jangling one—that is the schoolroom piano, where Miss Cripps is massacreing the Huguenots worse than ever they were on St. Bartholomew’s day), and some feeble, though highly ornamental cadenzas, the which you may safely put down as Miss de Greutz’s repetition of her last, or preparation for her next lesson.
You may observe that the gentlefolks, the customers who come here to buy, naturally resort to the counters, and besiege the obliging assistants; these urbane persons, ‘who are not in the least like other shop assistants, being singularly courteous, staid, and unobstrusive in demeanour, and not without, at the same time, a reasonable dash of independence, being in most cases sons of partners in the firm, or of wealthy proprietors of other music warehouses, who send them here, as the great restaurateurs in France do their sons, to other restaurants, to acquire a knowledge of the business. They have a hard time of it among their fair customers; a dozen voices calling at once for works, both vocal and instrumental, in three or four different languages one lady asking for the ‘Odessa Polka,’ another for the’ Sulina Waltz,’ a third for ‘Have Faith in one Another;’ a fourth for ‘L’Ange Déchu,’ a fifth for an Italian aria, ‘Sulla Poppa del mio Brik,’ and a sixth for Herr Bompazek’s new German ballad, ‘Schlick, schhick, schlick.’ Yet Messrs. Octave and Piccolo’s young men contrive to supply all these multifarious demands, and take money, and give change, and indulge their customers with commercially scientific and sentimental disquisitions upon the merits of the last new song, and answer—which is the [-276-] hardest business of all—the innumerable questions on subjects as innumerable, addressed to them not only by the customers, but by the professionals who throng the shop.
The professionals! Where are they? They gesticulate behind harps, or declaim from music-stools, or congregate at the angles of Erard’s grands. They may be heard of in the back shop fantastically torturing musical instruments, in the hope, perhaps, that some English marquis, enraptured by their strains, may rush from the titled crowd, and cry, ‘Herr, Signor,’ or ‘monsieur,’ as the case may be, ‘ write me six operas, teach all my family at five guineas per lesson, and at the end of a year, the hand of my daughter, Miss Clarissa, is yours.’ They waylay the courteous publishers, Messrs. Octave and Piccolo, in counting-houses—at doors—everywhere. Octave is a pleasant man, tall, an undeniable judge of port wine, and rides to the Queen’s hounds. Piccolo is a dapper man, who speaks scraps of every European language, and is supposed to have been madly in love, about the year eighteen hundred and twenty-seven, with the great contralto, Madame Rostolati, who married, if you remember, Prince Popadochoff: he who broke the bank at Baden Baden, just before he shot himself at Ems, in the year ‘33.
Here is a gentleman just stepped out of a handsome brougham at Octave and Piccolo’s door. His hair is auburn, curling and luxuriant; his beard and moustache ample, and a monument to the genius of his hairdresser; he is covered with jewellery; his clothes are of the newest cut, and the most expensive materials. He is perfumed; the front of his shirt—lace and studs—is worth twenty guineas, and leaning from the window of his brougham, you can descry a kid-gloved hand, with rings outside the glove, a bird-of-paradise feather, and the head of a King Charles’s spaniel. The hair, the beard, the moustache, the jewellery, the shirt, the brougham, the bird of paradise, and the King Charles all belong to Orpheus Basserclyffe, fashionable singer of the day.
Snarling people, envious people, crooked-minded people, of course, aver that Basserclyffe roars; that he sings out of tune; that he doesn’t sing as well as formerly ; that he can’t sing at all; that he has a fine voice, but is no musician; that he can read at sight well enough, but has no more voice than a jackdaw. What does Basserclyffe care? What do people not say about professionals? They say Joe Nightingale’s mother (he preceded Basserclyffe as fashionable), kept a [-277-] coal and potato shed in Bermondsey; yet he made twenty thousand pounds, and married a baronet’s daughter. They say Ap Llewellyn, the harpist’s name is not Ap, nor Llewellyn, but Levi, that he is not a Welshman at all, and that he used to play his harp in the streets, sitting on a little stool, while his sister went round with a hat for the coppers. They say that Madame Fioriture, the prima donna, does not know a note of music, and that old Fripanelli, the worn-out music-master of Tattyboys Rents, has to teach her every part she plays. Let them say on, says Basserclyffe. So that I sing on and sing well, what does it matter? He is right. If he had sung at the Italian Opera—as William, in ‘Black-eyed Susan,’ was said by Douglas Jerrold to play the fiddle— like an angel, there would have been soon found worthy people and astute critics to whisper— 'Ah, yes, very sweet, but after all, he’s not an Italian!' He is too sensible to change his name to Bassercliffi or Basserclifficini. He is content, perfectly content, with making his four or five thousand a year by singing at concerts, public and private, oratorios, festivals, and philharmonic associations, in town and country. It is perfectly indifferent to him at what species of entertainment he gets his fifteen guineas for a song. It may be at the Queen’s palace, or in the large room of some vast provincial music hall. I will say this for him, however, that while he will have the fifteen guineas (and quite right), if those who employ him can pay), he will sing gratuitously, and cheerfully, too, where real need exists, and, for the benefit of a distressed any­body, will pipe the full as melodiously as when his notes are exchanged by those of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England. He has a fine house; he gives grand dinner parties; he is an exemplary husband and father; he has no serious care in the world, except for the day when his voice will begin to fail him. ‘He is beast like that,’ says Bambogetti, the cynic of the musical world, striking the sounding-board of a pianoforte.
But there has sidled into the shop, and up to the polite Mr. Octave, and held whispered converse with him, which converse has ended in a half shake of the head on Octave’s part, a shrug of the shoulder, and a slipping of something into the creature’s hand, a dirty, ragged, shameful old man, in a trailing cloak, and with an umbrella that would seem to have the palsy as well as the hand that holds it. This is Gaddi. [-278-] About the time that the allied sovereigns visited England, just before the battle of Waterloo, Teodoro Gaddi was the great Italian tenor, the king of tenors, the emperor of tenors. He was more largely paid than Farinelli, and more insolent than Cuzzoni. They talked scandal about queens in connection with Gaddi. Sovereigns sent semi-ambassadors to tempt him to their courts. He sang, and the King’s Theatre was in raptures. He was the idol of routs, the admired of ladies in chip hats and leg-of-mutton sleeves; he spent weeks at the country-seats of lords who wore hair-powder and Hessian boots, or high-collared coats and Cossack trousers. He was praised in the 'Courier,' the 'Day,' the 'News,' and the 'Belle Assemblie.' There is no King’s Theatre now. There are no routs, leg-of- mutton sleeves, or chip hats left. No ‘Couriers’ to praise, no ladies to admire, no lords to invite. There is no Teodoro Gaddi, nothing but old Gaddi, the shabby, broken-down, old beggar man, who hangs about the music-shop, and haunts professional people’s houses. If you ask Gaddi the cause of his decadence, he lifts up his hands, and says piteously, ‘Ma famille, my dear, ma famille;’ but as he notoriously turned all his sons out of doors, and broke his daughters’ hearts, you can’t exactly believe that story. Gaddi’s voice is quite broken and ruined now; he is immensely old, and pitiably feeble, but he is full of galvanic vitality, and is as shameless a beggar as the Spanish mendicant with the arquebus, that Gil Blas met. If you happen to know Gaddi, it is very probable that, descending your stairs some morning, you will find him, cloak, umbrella, and all, sitting somewhere on the bottom flight. ‘I have come,’ he says, 'I, Gaddi. I die of hunger. I have no charbons, my dear; give me twopence;' or, reposing quietly in your bed, you may find the curtains at the bottom thereof drawn on one side, and be aware of Gaddi, and of his voice mumbling, 'Twopence charbons, Gaddi. I knew your father, I have supped with Georges Quatre; I, Gaddi.' It is singular that though Gaddi is always complaining of hunger, be is almost as continually eating a pie—a large veal pie ; and as he munches, he begs. ‘Tis ten to one that half an hour after you have relieved him, you will meet with a friend who will tell you ‘old Gaddi called on me this morning, and asked for twopence. He was eating a pie. He said that he was starving, and had no coals, and that he knew my father.’ Gaddi has known everybody’s father.
A quiet-looking gentleman with a sallow countenance, and [-279-] bearing a roll of music in his hand, has entered the music warehouse while we have been considering Gaddi. He has a profoundly fatigued, worn-out, ennuyé expression pervading his whole appearance. His lustreless black hair is listless, so are his small hands, on one of which glisten diamonds of price. His limp hat is negligently thrown rather than posed on the back of his head. He dangles a listless glove, and plays with a limp watch-chain ornamented with dully valuable breloques; his eyes are half closed, and he yawns wearily. His chief care seems to be for the butt-end of a powerful cigar, which he has left, in deference to English prejudices but evidently with much reluctance, on the railing outside the shop. He casts a lingering look at this remnant through the plate-glass windows, and twiddles his listless fingers as though the beloved weed were yet between his digits. Who may this be? Who but Polpetti, not the great English, nor even only the great Italian, but the great European tenor; the finest Edgardo in the world; the unrivalled Elviro; the unapproached Otello; the pride of the Scala and the Fenice, the Pergola, and the Italiens; the cynosure of Berlin and Vienna, and St. Petersburg; the decorated of foreign orders; the millionnaire; the Gaddi of to-day.
So much glory  (more than a conqueror’s), so much gold (more than a Hebrew banker’s), has this listless person earned by his delightful art. I am not about to say that he is overpaid. I would walk ten miles fasting to be present at one opera in which he performs. You cannot resist him. You hang on his notes, and your heart keeps time with them. And when he has finished you must needs clap your hands till they be sore, and yell bravos till you be hoarse, for you can’t help it.
    Polpetti will not go the way of Gaddi. he has bought a fine estate in Italy, some say an island, some say a province, whither in a few months he will retire to enjoy the ample fortune he has amassed in strange lands—from the banks of the Neva to those of the Thames-—from the Po to the Potomac —from Liverpool to Lisbon. Twenty years since, and Giacinto Polpetti was an olive-faced lad, running meanly clad among the vines and olives and staring white houses, and dusty lanes of an Italian county town. He had an uncle, perhaps—a snuffy old abbate, fond of garlic, and olives, and sour wine, who wore a rusty soutane, and carried a sky-blue um­brella, and could read nothing but his breviary, and not much
[-280-] of that. His uncle’s cross old housekeeper may have taught him to read, and at ten he may have been consigned to the shop-board of a tailor, or the farm-house of a vine-grower, till it was discovered that he had a voice—and a beautiful voice too—which caused his promotion to a badly-washed surplice and the choir of the church; his vocal duties being varied by swinging a censor and tinkling a bell, and making the various genuflexions which the service of the mass demands. He might have grown up, and gone back to the tailor or the vine- grower, or have degenerated into a sacristan, a dirty monk, with bare feet and a cowl, full of black bread and sausages, or an abbate like his uncle, with a rusty soutane and a sky-blue umbrella, but for a neighbouring magnifico, the Count di Nessuno-Denaro, who had no money, but considerable influence; who condescended to patronise him, and procured his admission into the Conservatoire of Milan. A weary time he had of it there. A wearier still when singing for starvation wages at the smaller provincial towns of Italy. A weariest when he fell into the hands of a grasping speculator who ‘starred’ him at Paris, and Milan, and Venice, paying him niggardly, and forcing him to work the rich mine of his youthful voice as though the ore would never fail. But he emancipated himself at last, and went to work in earnest for himself. The last ten years have been one long triumph, and Jupiter Success has found in him no unwilling Danaë. He will retire with his millions (of francs) to his own village in the sunny South, among the olives, and vines, and staring white houses. He will make his uncle the abbate (who lives still) as rich as an English bishop, and build a mausoleum over the grave of the cross old housekeeper, and lead a jovial, simple-minded, happy life among his old kindred and friends: now exhibiting the diamond cross that the Czar of Russia gave him, and now the golden snuff-box presented to him by the Kaiser of Austria. Do not let us be too hard upon the ‘confounded foreigners’ who come here to sell their crotchets and quavers for as much gold as they will fetch. Only consider how many million pounds sterling a year we make by spinning shirts and welding iron for the confounded foreigners; how many millions of golden pennies our travelling countrymen turn by cutting canals, and making railroads, steamers, suspension-bridges, in lands where we ourselves are but ‘confouinded foreigners.’
If I have dwelt somewhat too lengthily and discursively upon the male illustrations of the musical world, I beg that you [-281-] will not suppose that the fairer denizens of that harmonious sphere neglect to visit Messrs. Octave and Piccolo’s shop. Prime Donne abound, even mere than Primj Uomini. Every season produces a score of ladies, Signoras, Madames, Mademoiselles, and Fraus, who are to do great things: who come out and go in with great rapidity. Yonder is Madame Digitalis. She sings superbly; but she is fifty, and fat, and ugly. ‘Bah!’ yawn the habitués. ‘The Digitalis is passed. She is rococo. Give us something new.’ Whereupon starts up Mademoiselle Crimea Okolska from Tartary (said to be a run­away serf of the Czar, and to have been thrice knouted for refusing to sing duets with the Grand Duke Constantine) the new soprano. But Mademoiselle Crimea (she with the purple velvet mantle and primrose bonnet bantering Polpetti in the corner), screams, and sings sharp, and pronounces Italian execrably; and the habitués declare that she won’t do, and that she is nothing after all but the same Miss Crimmins of the Royal Academy, who failed in Adelgisa six years ago, and has been abroad to improve and denationalise her name. The rage among the ladies who can sing for being Prime Donne is greater than that among attorneys’ clerks for playing Hamlet. Octave and Piccolo are besieged at the commencement of every season by cohorts of foreign ladies, all with the highest recommendations, all of whom have been mentioned in the most enthusiastic terms by M. Berlioz, M. Fétis, and the other great musical oracles of the continent, and all of whom desire ardently to sing at the Philharmonic or before her Majesty. The manager of the opera plays off half a dozen spurious Prime Donne during the months of March and April, keeping the trumps for the height of the season. And not only to the continent is this prima donna rage confined. Staid and decorous English parents hearing their daughter singing ‘Wapping old Stairs,’ prettily, send her forthwith to the Royal Academy of Music. She comes back and sings florid Italian scenas. ‘Send her to Italy,’ cry with one voice her relations and friends. To Italy she goes, and from Italy she returns, and comes out at the opera, or at one of the fashionable morning concerts. She sings something with a great deal of ornament, but in a very small voice: you may hear the rustling of the music-paper, as she turns the leaves, with far more distinctness than her song. She goes in again, after this coming out, and is heard of next year at the Snagglesgrade Mechanics’ Institution; and soon afterwards she sensibly mar-[-282-]ries Mr. Solder, the ironmonger, and gives up singing altogether.
Prima donna upon prima donna—never ending, still beginning, none of them can oust from their thrones the four or five blue ribbons of melody, who go on from year to year, still electrifying, still enchanting, still amazing us: none of them can touch the Queen: the Semiramis of Song: whose voice no more declines than her beauty, whose beauty than her grace, whose grace than her deep pathos, and soulful declamation and glorious delivery. Ah, lovers of music, your aviaries may be full of nightingales and swans, English and foreign, black, white, and pied; but, believe me, the woods will be voiceless for long, long after the Queen of Song shall have abdicated her throne and loosened the silver cords of her harp of glory.
For all, however, little Miss Larke, the fair-haired English prima donna, holds her own manfully. Her name is Larke, and she sings like one; and her voice is as pure as her fame. This brave little woman has run the gauntlet through all the brakes and thickets, and jungles and deserts, where ‘devouring tygers lie,’ of the musical world. Lowliness was her young ambition’s ladder, and now that she has attained the topmost round, she does not turn her back on the ladder,
     Scorning the base degrees
     By which she did ascend. So Caesar did—’
But so does not Miss Larke. She is honourably proud of the position she has gained by her own merits and good conduct; but she sings with as much equanimity before royalty as she was wont to do at the Snagglesgrade Institution, and has ever a helping hand for those beneath her who are struggling and weak. There is my darling little Larke by the grand piano-forte, blooming in pink muslin, with a neat morocco music- case in her hand. Mr. Piccolo has a whole list of engagements, metropolitan and provincial, for her; from aristocratic soirées to morning concerts; and she has a list at home of engagements she has herself received, which she must consult before she can accept more. Go on and prosper, little Larke. May your sweet voice last a thousand years!
But the crowd thins in Messrs. Octave and Piccolo’s shop; the carriages drive away to the park; the professionals go home to dinner or to dress for evening concerts; and as I saunter away, and listen to the strains of a German band in Beak Street, mingling with the jarring minstrelsy of some [-283-] Ethiopiana Serenaders in Golden Square, I am obliged to confess that the cursory view I have taken of the musical world, is but an opuscular one after all—that I have but described a worldling having a dozen worlds within it.