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A BARMAID SHOW.
THE present age, denounced by some ungenial
censors as the age of shams, may be described by more
kindly critics as emphatically an age of "shows."
Advancing from the time-honoured shows of Flora
and Pomona - if not always improving on the type - and
so on from the cattle show, suggestive of impending
Christmas fare, we have had horse shows, dog
shows, and bird shows. To these the genius of
Barnum added baby shows ; and, if we are not misinformed,
a foreign firm, whose names have become
household words amongst us, originated, though not
exactly in its present form, the last kind of show
which has been acclimatized in England - an exhibition
of barmaids. We had two baby shows in one
year - one at Highbury Barn by Mr. Giovannelli, the
other at North Woolwich Gardens by Mr. Holland ;
and it is to the talent of this latter gentleman in the
way of adaptation that we owe the exhibition of
young ladies "practising at the bar." From babies
to barmaids is indeed a leap, reversing the ordinary
process of going from the sublime to the ridiculous,
for while to all but appreciative mammas those infantile [-213-]
specimens of humanity savour largely of the ridiculous,
there can be no question that the present generation
of dames de comptoir is a very sublime article indeed.
I do not say this in derision, nor am I among those who
decry the improvements introduced during the last
few years, both into refreshment bars themselves, and
notably into the class of ladies who preside over them.
The discriminating visitor will decidedly prefer to
receive his sandwich and glass of bitter at the hands of
a pretty barmaid rather than from an oleaginous potman
in his shirt-sleeves ; and the sherry-cobbler acquires
a racier flavour from the arch looks of the Hebe
who dispenses it. If silly young men do dawdle
at the bar for the sake of the sirens inside, and occasionally,
as we have known to be the case, take unto
themselves these same sirens "for better or for worse,"
we can only cite the opinion of well-informed authorities,
that very possibly the young gentlemen in
question might have gone farther and fared worse, and
that it is not always the young lady who has, in such
a case, the best of the bargain.
So, then, the " Grand Barmaid Contest" opened ; and in spite of the very unmistakable appearance put in by Jupiter Fluvius, a numerous assemblage gathered in the North Woolwich Gardens to inaugurate a festival which, whatever else we may think of it, is at all events sui generis. Prizes to the value of 300l. were to be presented to the successful candidates, varying from a purse of twenty sovereigns and a gold watch [-214-] and chain, down to "a purse of two sovereigns," with " various other prizes, consisting of jewellery, &c."
Among the conditions it was required, that every young lady should be over sixteen years of age; that she should be dressed in plain but good articles of attire, " in which a happy blending of colours without prominent display is most suitable;" and it was moreover stipulated that each "young lady" should " ingratiate herself with the public in the most affable manner at her command, without undue forwardness or frivolity, but still retaining a strict attention to business." No young lady was permitted to take part in the contest unless she had been in the refreshment business for twelve months, and could produce good testimonials of character.
Upwards of 700 applications were made, out of which Mr. Holland selected fifty. Whence the large number of rejections " deponeth sayeth not." Of these twenty-eight actually put in an appearance at three P.M. on the opening day and four were expected to join in a day or two. Every visitor is provided with a voting ticket, which he hands to the lady of his admiration, and which counts towards the prize. Each young lady also receives 5 per cent. on what she sells at her bar. The places are awarded by lot; and, by a freak of fortune, the two most attractive demoiselles happened to come together. These were Numbers One and Fourteen. The former young lady - who desires to be known by her number only, true [-215-] genius being ever modest - was certain to stand Number One in popular esteem ; and, if chignons are taken into account, she ought literally to "head" the list by a very long way. The room was tastefully decorated by Messrs. Defries, and an excellent band enlivened the proceedings. As evening drew on the meeting grew more hilarious, but there was not the slightest impropriety of any kind, the faintest approach thereto leading to immediate expulsion. Many persons may be disposed to ask, in respect of such exhibitions, Cui bono? But at all events there was nothing which the veriest Cato could denounce as demoralizing. The "young ladies" were all most modestly attired in " sober livery ;" and certainly though comparisons are odious - not so pressing in their attentions as we have seen some other young ladies at Dramatic Fetes, or even some dévouées at charitable bazaars. If we may judge from the large numbers that visited North Woolwich, "in spite of wind and weather," Mr. Holland was likely to reap an abundant harvest from this latest "idea," excogitated from his fertile brain. As the babies have had their "show," and the stronger sex is not likely to be equal to the task of being exhibited just yet, there seems only one section of society open to the speculations of a skilful entrepreneur. Why does not some one, in a more serious line than Mr. Holland, try what Sydney Smith calls the "third sex," and open an exhibition of curates, with a genuine competition for prizes ? [-216-] There could be no possible doubt as to the success of such a display, and the instruction to be derived from it would be equally beyond question. In the meantime we have advanced one step towards such a consummation. The adult human being has taken the place of the baby; and people evidently like it. Where will the rage for exhibitions stop ? Who can say to the advancing tide of shows, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther?" Other classes of society will probably have their turn, and may think themselves fortunate if they show up as well as Mr. Holland's "young ladies."