Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Morning with Charles Dickens: The Circus in His Day

I think I have read myself up to the God of letters.  His name is Charles Dickens

Yes, I've been well aware of his A Christmas Carol, which, when we played the recorded version on old 78 records during my boyhood in a darkened room, nearly scared us to death.

Recently, I took on, at last, a sampling of the man's prose.  First, A Tale of Two Cities, by far the most powerful book I have ever read; and now Hard Times.   Mr. Dickens has inspired me to contemplate that a novel may be superior to a work of "history" in evoking place, character, culture, and conflict.  The man's sweeping compassion, his grasp of historical detail, his deft story-telling skills and unflinching nod to the darker side of human nature, making him a searing social critic as well -- what more need I say?

Circus in the Day of Dickens

A minor plot thread in Hard Times emerges from inside a little circus, which the author uses, in two brief sections of the book, to describe ring action during his day. The book was written in 1854.  Here, for your amusement, if you will, are a few excerpts. I've not used quotes, all of the text is from the book.

The circus is coming!
...his ears were invaded by the sound of music.  The clashing and banging and attached to the horse-riding establishment, which had there set up its rest in a wooden pavilion, was in full bray.  A flag, floating from the summit of the temple, proclaimed to making that was 'Sleary's Horse-riding ... his 'highly trained performing dog  Merrylegs.'  He was also to exhibit 'his astounding feat of throwing seventy-five hundred-weight in rapid succession backhanded over his head, thus forming a fountain of solid iron in mid-air, a feat never before attempted in this or any other country, and which having elicited such rapturous plaudits from enthusiastic throngs it cannot be withdrawn.

Breathtaking feats

The father of one of the families was in the habit of balancing the father of another of the families on the top of a great pole; the father of a third family often made a pyramid of both those fathers, with Master Kidderminster for the apex, and himself for the base; all the fathers could dance upon rolling casks, stand upon bottles, catch knives and balls, twirl hand-basins, ride upon anything, jump over everything, and stick at nothing.  All the mothers could (and did) dance upon the slack wire and the tight rope, and perform rapid acts on barebacked steeds ...
Comedy from the Stage

The same Signor Jupe was to 'enliven the varied performances at frequent intervals with his chaste Shakespearean quips and retorts.'

Intense acrobatics, father to son

.. a diminutive boy with an old face ... assisted his infant son: being carried upside down over his father's shoulder, by one foot, and held by the crown of his head, heels upwards, in the palm of his father's hand, according to the violent paternal manner in which wild huntsmen may be observed to fondle their offspring.

Bad grades

He didn't do what he ought to. Was short in his leaps and bad in his tumbling.

The horse-rider

The Emperor of Japan,on a steady old white horse stenciled with black spots, was twirling five wash-hand basins at once, as it was the favorite recreation of that monarch to do

[what follows, have patience, was written in an older English dialect] 

The Fame of Astley and his Amphitheater

The Little Wonder of Thcolatic Equitation, and if you don't hear of that boy at  Athley'th, you'll hear of him at Parith.

Pachyderms on parade

We wath throw'd a heavy back-fall off an elephant in a thort of a Pagoda

And, finally -- how some things never change -- cherry pie, too!

... in the capacity of a man who made himself generally useful, presided on this occasion over the exchequer - having also a drum in reserve, on which to expend his leisure moments and superfluous forces.

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