Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Gaslight and Daylight, by George Augustus Sala, 1859 - Chapter 26 - A Little More Harmony

[back to menu for this book ...]




STILL must I hear! Shall the hoarse peripatetic ballad-singer bawl the creaking couplets of ‘The Low-backed Car’ beneath my window; shall the summer breeze waft the strains of ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ upon my ears, and drive me to confusion, while I am endeavouring to master the difficulties of the Turkish alphabet; shall the passing butcher-boy rattle his bones, and the theological beggar-man torture a psalm-tune into dolorous cadences; shall the young lady in the apartment next to mine string my nerves into the rigours, while she is practising ‘Les Souvenirs de Cracovie,’ with that ceaseless verbal accompaniment of one, and two, and three; one, and two, and three! Shall music in some shape or other resound from the distant costermonger and the proximate street boy; the brooding swallows sitting upon the eaves, and showing me ‘their sunny backs’; the ill-ground organ in the next street; and the beaten tom-tom and execrable caterwauling of Howadjee Lall from Bombay! To say nothing of the deep-mouthed dog next door; the parrot at number eight which is always endeavouring to whistle ‘Il Segreto,’ and always trying back, and never succeeds in accomplishing more of the air than the first three-quarters of a bar; and Colonel Chumpfist’s man-servant over the way, who sings valorously while he cleans his master’s boots in the area! I say, shall all these things be, and I not sing, lest haply my readers think they have already had enough and to spare, of my musical reminiscences! No: the Musical World shall be again my theme,—a little more harmony my song.
I will take a morning concert. Say one given in the height of the season by Signor Papadaggi, the famous singing­master. Papadaggi is a little man, but he has done great things. Twenty years ago he came to England from Leghorn, very poor and humble. He dwelt in the neighbourhood of Golden Square in those days; smelt of smoke; was not with­out a strong suspicion of garlic ; had many button-up or [-298-] cloudy linen days, when he slunk rather than walked under the defunct Quadrant Colonnade, and made a tremendous deal of a clean shirt when he mounted one. Papadaggi was very hairy then, and dined off grease, and was hand and glove with Riffi the bass, and Raffi the tenor, and Taggragati the piccolo player. He does not know Riffi nor Raffi now. He was very down, financially speaking, when Lor Brown, banquier of the City, took him up and into Belgravia. This laid the foundation of Papadaggi’s fortune; but the super­structure was of his own erection. The brightest of his Lamps of Architecture was this—he shaved. There was, as you are aware, previous to that momentous question, Why Shave? being asked, an almost insurmountable prejudice among English respectability against beards and moustachoes. These hirsute appendages seemed always connected in the minds of the British Pater- and Mater-familias with dirt, revolution, immorality, poverty, atheism, and non-payment of rent. Every great singer, artist, or musician, who happened to be the rage, might barely be tolerated in wearing a beard, just as a captain in the Life Guards or a traveller just returned from the interior of Dahomey might be; but to the unknown, the poor, the struggling, the ambitious abnegation of the razor was fatal. Papadaggi was wise in his generation, and shaved. Not to an utter state of barefacedness, however, for he left his whiskers, which were neatly trimmed into the form of truncated, and lay on his cheeks like black mutton-chops. These whiskers were the making of Papadaggi. He was no longer a confounded foreigner. He went into the best houses, and taught the flower of the British aristocracy and moneyocracy. In the banking world he is amazingly popular. Roehampton, Putney, and Ham Common, where bankers’ villas most do congregate, will hear of no other music-master than Papadaggi. He has long since abandoned the confoundedly foreign prefix of Signor, and has Mr. I. Papadaggi printed on his cards. When I state that he is a director of two assurance companies, has recently been elected a member of the Mousaion Club, and has taken to wearing a white neckcloth in the daytime, the conclusion will easily be arrived at that he has a comfortable balance at his banker’s, and is a highly respectable man.
Papadaggi married an English lady, Miss Hammernell, of Birmingham, and though of the pontifical faith himself, will send his son to Oxford. He has a tremendous house at [-299-]Tyburnia, with a footman—a real footman, in plush and powder. Why did not the paternal Papadaggi, dead in Leghorn yonder, live to see the day? P. the Second and Great is a little man, but he drives a monumental cab drawn by a big brown horse—a very horse of Troy—that moves with a sort of swelling cadence of motion, as if he were practising Mozart’s Requiem to himself. It is good to see honest Papadaggi behind the big horse; a regulation tiger hanging on behind, and the music-master’s little body gently swaying with the curvetings of his steed.* [*AD 1853. Papadaggi would ride in a neat little brougham now. Private cabriolets are fast becoming numbered among 'things departed'.]  It is good to hear the thundering knock of the regulation tiger at the door of number six hundred and six A, Plesiosaurus Gardens West, where Papadaggi is about to give three-quarters of an hour’s singing lesson for a guinea. It is good to see Papadaggi toddle out of his cab in the lightest of varnished boots, and the brightest of lemon-coloured gloves, and to note the respect with which the golden footmen receive him, and the easy patronage with which he passes them, mounts the stairs, gives his lesson, and lunches with Madame la Comtesse and the youthful ladies.
Once a year, Papadaggi gives his Grand Morning Concert at the Nineveh Rooms, Arrow-head Street, Cuneiform Square, in which rooms, the Nineveh Subscription Balls are given—balls to which (without unimpeachable vouchers from the leaders of the world) admission is as difficult as of old to the Eleusinian mysteries. In the Nineveh Rooms, with their huge tarnished pier-glasses, walls of a pale dirty blue, with cracked stucco ornaments, and faded benches and ottomans: which two last articles of furniture are no strangers to a certain lively insect—the pulex superbus, or fashionable fleas—our friend’s Grand Concert takes place. For some days previous, the door-way of the Nineveh Rooms is blockaded, to the profound disgust of the Ameliorated Young Men’s Table-turning Association, and the Society for the Protection of Stewed-eel Sellers, with gigantic posting boards, in which a weak-minded printer has seemingly gone raving mad in different coloured inks and varieties of eccentric type: bowling in large capitalled prime donne, babbling in fat-lettered instrumentalists, melancholy mad in smaller type respecting Papadaggi’s residence and the principal music warehouses where tickets, price half a guinea each (stalls fifteen shillings), may be had, and a plan of the rooms is on view.
[-301-] I don’t think it would be an unpardonable vulgarism to call Papadaggi’s poster a stunner. It literally stuns you, so tremendous is its size, so marvellous are the attractions it promises, so brilliant are the celebrities who are to appear. Papadaggi has everybody. The Opera stars; the famous Lurliety, who was a fixed star last season, but has taken it into his head lately to become a meteor; Basserclyffe; little Miss Larke; Nightingale, of course; Soundinbord Smasherr, the world-renowned Swedish pianist, just returned from America; Madame Katinka Kralski, who plays tunes nobody can find the beginning or end of, upon a new instrument, the pifferarinium, which has just been patented and completed, at the cost of some thousands of pounds by Piccolo, and which looks very much like a pianoforte turned inside out; Herr Bompazek, the great German basso; little Klitz, the flautist, who goes everywhere, and whom everybody knows; and greatest attraction of all, the astonishing Panslavisco, that Mogul of Harpists, that dark mysterious child of genius, whose present popularity exceeds the greatest ever achieved by Paganini, the Whistling Oyster, the Hippopotamus, the Great Ant-eater, or General Tom Thumb. Besides these, there are multitudes of smaller musical notorieties, native and foreign, vocalists and instrumentalists: from the Misses Gooch, of the Royal Academy of Music, the pleasing ballad singers, to hard-working Tom Muffler, who means to do something with the big drum yet.
I am afraid the bénéficiare does not pay many of his artists. You see he is so fashionable, so run after, that it is rather an honour than otherwise to sing for him gratis. The Misses Gooch can truly affirm themselves to be of the nobility’s concerts when they go starring round the provinces in the autumn after they have sung for a year or two at P.’s Grand Musical Festival. A great many professionals sing for Papadaggi through pure friendship and goodwill, for the little man is universally liked and respected. A great many sing because others sing, and a great many more because they want to be heard at any risk. The bird that can sing and won’t sing is a rara avis. I never knew a bird that could sing but that would sing, whether his hearers liked it or not; and I even know a great many birds that can’t sing and oughtn’t to sing, who will sing. Papadaggi, however, does not get all the professionals gratuitously. Orpheus Basserclyffe, with whom fifteen guineas for a song is as much a fixed [-301-] idea as the cultivation of his garden was with Candide, says, ‘I’ll sing, by all means, but I must have the cash, Pap, my boy;’ and Pap pays him: while old Grabbatoni, the renowned performer on the violoncello, contents himself with saying every year as he pockets his eight guineas, ‘Next year, mio caro, I play for noting—for noting—yes!’ but, somehow or other, with Grabbatoni that next year never comes.
We will suppose the momentous day to have arrived, and Papadaggi’s Grand Concert to have commenced. The carriages of the nobility and gentry, and the cabs of the public in general, block up Nineveh Street; the coachmen doze on their boxes; the neighbouring public-houses are full of the silken calves and gilt-knobbed sticks of the splendid footmen. Within, the ladies are ranged upon the faded ottomans—a beautiful show. There are peeresses, bishopesses, judgesses, bankeresses, baronetesses, stock-brokeresses, and merchant-princesses. Papadaggi has just handed a duchess to a seat; and is at this moment whispering soft compliments to a cabinet-ministress, with admirable equanimity and self-possession. The whiskers are resplendent; the boots shine like patent-leather stars accidentally fallen from Böotes. The room is very full and very hot, and many of the dandies, unable to find seats, lean their all-round collars against walls, so to support their weary frames. A vicious family from Peckham Rye (a mamma, three daughters, an aunt, and a melancholy governess) have fallen upon and utterly routed an imbecile young man in a feeble white neckcloth, who acts as check-taker for the stalls, and who holds a crimson worsted cord across the space between the last ottoman and the wall. The vicious family have only tickets for the back seats; but, having thoroughly demolished the imbecile young man mentally, and driven him before them like chaff before the wind, they make a razzia into the stalls, and nearly overthrow a stock broker’s colony from Maida Hill, the members of which gather themselves up indignantly, and whisper among themselves desparingly, ‘City people!’ Old General Jupp, who has sent his family to the concert before him, and has walked down from the Cutcherry Club, has found that he has left his ticket behind him, and has had to pay over again at the doors, and can’t find his party, and sits apart in a corner on a cane-bottomed chair, muttering horribly. A meek-eyed young dandy, who has come in cloth boots, with his hair curled (he must be an only son with a taste for music, who fancies he [-302-] can sing second in a quartett), can’t find Thrummer, the musical clerk in the Treasury who sings ‘The Wolf’ so capitally, and who promised to point out all the musical celebrities to him. He cannot, indeed, find anybody that he knows, nor a place anywhere, and is repining secretly on the staircase, where he looks so miserable, that the money- taker, a florid man who officiates as a waiter at the London Tavern o’ nights, and sometimes takes a spell in the black work, or undertaking line of business, compassionates him, and is half-inclined, were he not so great a dandy, to offer him some of the beer from the pint pot under his chair. There are a great many foreigners in the concert-room, who come with free admissions, as it is the custom of musical foreigners to do; two or three critics attached to the morning newspapers, who listen to the songs with a knowing air and their heads on one side, as if they knew perfectly well what the next bar was to be; and a country gentleman, who has come up to town to attend a meeting of the Ameliorated Young Men’s Table-turning Association, and has blundered into Papadaggi’s concert-room by mistake, where he sits listening to the performances with a bewildered air.
Papadaggi’s concert proceeds swimmingly. To be sure, the order of the programme is not strictly observed—the song that should be first frequently coming last, and vice versa. Such misadventures will, however, happen in the best regulated morning concerts. Codlinetti, the Italian buffo-singer, who is of a capricious and changeable temperament, suddenly changes the song for which he is put down, to one of an entirely different character: to the indignation of Peddle, who is the accompanyist (presides at the pianoforte we be­lieve is the appropriate words), who is a morose man, and insists upon playing the symphony in the original song; upon which Codlinetti, under shadow of turning over the music and showing Peddle the proper place, manifests a strong desire to fling him over the orchestra among the duchesses. Fraulein Ninni Stolzappel, the charming warbler of German Lieds, has likewise objected to the unfortunate man’s accompaniment to her song, and at the end of a cadence, and in a voice audible even to General Jupp in the corner, has called Peddle ‘Pig,’ in the German language; whereat life becomes a burden to Peddle, and as he pounds the keys as though they were his enemies, he devoutly wishes [-303-] that he were back in his quiet attic in the Royal Academy of Music, Tenterden Street, Hanover Square. Papadaggi neither plays nor sings. He is too learned to do anything; but he hovers about the orchestra, and hands singers on and off, and pervades the concert with his whiskers and white neckcloth —so that a considerable portion of the applause is meant for Papadaggi, and is by Papadaggi taken unto himself with many bows and smiles. Did you never know people who somehow seem to have a vested interest in the fruits of everybody's labours? There is scarcely a great picture painted, a book written, a palace built, a good deed done, but it turns out that somebody is entitled to considerable praise, or must be honourably mentioned in connection with it, though as far as your judgment went he never put a finger to the work, or a stone to the edifice. The number of unknown benefactors and passive great men is astonishing. I see their names in the literary pension-list; -I find Parliament making them grants every session; I hear their healths proposed at public dinners, and see them get up, covered with modesty, to return thanks, when they bashfully allude to the things they have been instrumental in carrying out, though for the life of me I can’t make out what they ever had to do with anything.
    What the green-room is to the theatre, the robing-room to the assize court, the vestry to the church; so is the singers’ room to the concert-hall. But, far more elegant, sprightly, and amusing, than the dramatic green-room, is the ‘professional room’ behind the ragged leaves of the screen at the bottom of the steps of the orchestra at Papadaggi’s concert. There are no garish gas-lights here, no tinselled dresses: no rouge, bismuth, jaded faces, pantomime masks—no passing carpenters and call-boys :—all is fresh, sparkling, and gay. Fresh flowers, rosy bonnets, and rosier faces, cleanest of shirts, smartest of female toilettes, newest of white kid gloves, most odoriferous of scents. I don’t pretend to know much about female fashions, though I have occasionally studied that sphinx-like journal the 'Follet'—every flounce in which is an enigma—with fear and trembling. I don’t pretend to know much about dress; but I do think that the best dressed ladies in creation are the female singers at a morning concert. They unite the prettiest portions of the English and French styles of costumes They dress their hair exquisitely, and display their little jewelleries inimitably. There is a whole art in making the most of a ring, a brooch, a bracelet. I
[-304-] have seen born ladies covered with gems, on whom they produced no more elegant effect than a bright brass knocker would on a pigstye door. And, more than all this, my musical belles have the unmistakable appearance of having dressed themselves, and are ten times smarter, neater, prettier for it, scorning the adventitious femme-de-chambre. There is a table covered with fruit and wine in the singers’ room. I regret to see Tom Muffler sitting thereat. Tom is not given to drinking; but, when drink is given to him, he exceeds.
Who is that strange wild man lying dislocated over, rather than sitting upon, an ottoman, his long fingers twined to­gether, his eyebrows bent into the form of a horse-shoe, his puissant head bent down? That is Panslavisco the harpist. The trumpet of fame is braying his name out to all Europe, like an impetuous, inconsiderate trumpet as it is, blowing for dear life to make up for lost time. He is deaf to Fame’s trumpet. Fortune is pelting him with golden marrow-bones. He heeds not Fortune. She has pelted him with bones without any gold or marrow in them before now. He stands, and walks, and works, and lives alone: he and his harp, for they are one. The professionals say he is dull. The ladies say he is a brute. The multitude cry ‘Io Panslavisce! Evoe Panslavisce!’ as they would to Bacchus. He lets them cry on. He plays his harp, and there is silence, and a wild tumult at the end.; and then he receives his money, sees his harp put into a green-baize cover, and carried off by a dun-bearded man as mysterious as his master, and goes away. No concert is complete without him. In town and country he is sure to draw. He has no intimates, no places of resort save a mouldy cigar-shop—where he sits as silent, and apparently as immovable, as one of the tobacco-chests—and a dreary public-house in a court up Drury Lane, where he drinks large quantities of beer, tacitly. He speaks seldom, and then he does not seem to be quite certain in his mind as to which is his mother-tongue, and his speech is a garbled compromise of many languages. Indeed, nobody knows for certain of what nation he is. Some say he is an Italian, some say he is a German, some say he is a Dane. His harp is of all nations, and speaks all languages. Of course there are grim reports about, of his having killed men, and negotiated a psychical investment in an unholy office. His wealth is put down at a fabulous amount, his crimes as unutterable. Little Miss Larke, who is a brave body, as valorous as the young lady [-305-] whose virgin smile lighted her safely through the Green Isle, once took courage to ask Panslavisco how he did. ‘As well,’ he answered, ‘as a man can be, who is eating his own liver.’ He looks indeed as if he were Prometheus, and, wishing to be alone, had contracted to do the vulture’s work vicariously.
Little Saint Sheddle, who lives no one knows how, but is the very Captain Cook of the musical world, is supposed to be the only man in Europe who has been sufficiently admitted to Panslavisco’s intimacy to dine with him. lie de­scribes these dinners as if he were telling a ghost story. The table, he says, is garnished with two plates, two pots of porter, and one steak in a dish. Panslavisco cuts the steak into two exact portions; takes one half, pushes the other half towards Saint Sheddle, and falls-to without saying a word. Alter dinner he produces a cigar-box and a bottle of Hollands, and smokes and drinks prodigiously, but with little more conversation; then he will get up and go out, or go to bed, or begin to play his harp wildly—all in a speechless manner. ‘It’s something to say one has dined with him,’ whispers Saint Sheddle, ‘but it’s very queer.’
Panslavisco lies upon his ottoman, profoundly immobile until it is nearly time for him to play. Then he begins to pat and smooth down his harp, as a man would adjust the girths of a wild horse he was about to ride. His turn in the programme arrives; the harp is carried into the orchestra; he follows it; throws his long sinuous hair back; sweeps his bony fingers over the strings, and begins to play. A wild horse and his rider are no bad images for him and his harp. He seems to ride upon it: to bestride it as a witch would a broomstick, making the air awful with the melody of a demoniacal Sabbath. He bows his head to the applause when he has done, more as if the blast of a tempest had smote him upon the head and compelled him to bow it, than in reverence. Now he is gone, and the audience begin to breathe again, and whisper ‘Wonderful!’ He goes back to the singers’ room, drinks one glass of wine, swallows a biscuit as though it were a pill, and falls into a stony sleep upon the ottoman, passive, inert, unstrung, as though he had been broken on a wheel of wild melody.
This man, with the sinewy vigorous frame worn into rocks and caverns of bone, as if by the volcanic upheaving of his soul within; with the huge, Medusa-like head; the swelling veins in his forehead; the eyes like abysses; the face seamed, [-306-] and scarred, and worn in tempests of study, hunger, cold, and misery, looks as if he had newly come from some combat ivjth the demon, and had been victorious, but had suffered horribly in the fray. A dozen years ago Panslavisco had as much genius, and played as learnedly, sweetly, gracefully, boldly, nervously, wildly, as he does now. But he played in a garret, where he had no friends, no fire, no body-linen, no bread, and where his landlady bullied him for his rent. Viragos squabbling over a disputed right in a wash-tub in a back-slum, have heard as fascinating harmonies through a garret window held up by a bundle of fire-wood, as princesses of the blood hear now in the Nineveh Rooms. Panslavisco has taught the harp to butchers’ daughters for scraps of meat; has fiddled in low dancing-rooms, and played the pianoforte at quadrille-parties, for a morsel of bread. Now, they are all come. Fortune, fame, sycophants to admire, beautiful women to smile, lords to say ‘Come and dine.’ They are all too late. They cannot bring back the young wife, dead in a long slow agony; the little children who faded one by one; they cannot bring back the time when the man had a heart to love said hope, and was twenty-one years of age.
But Heaven be good to us all. What have I to do with this, unless to say with Montaigne, ‘ Que sais-je?’ If I go to a concert, and pay half a guinea to hear a man play upon a harp, am I to dogmatise upon his inward feelings  or his life? For all I know, Panslavisco’s morose, mysterious exterior may be but a fastidious envelope, and he may be, after all, a cheery, happy man. I hope so.
The last concerted piece in the programme has been per­formed, and the critics go home to write out their opinions on Papadaggi’s grand morning concert. Much bonnet-adjusting, music-hunting-for, and a little flirtation, take place in the singers’ room. The imbecile young man falls savagely upon the remnants of the wine and biscuits, and becomes maudlin in a moment. Papadaggi flits about joyfully with a cash-box, and a slave of the lamp follows him with the check-boxes. The concert is over. Papadaggi asks the stars of the afternoon to come home and dine with him. Some accept; some plead other engagements. He wakes Panslavisco, and asks him. The harpist does not decline the invitation categorically. He simply says ‘Pay me, and let me go.’
Let me go too. Licet?