The Poster Man-John Orlando Parry (1810-1879)
Peter Sheppard Skærved
with Janet Snowman and Frances Palmer
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John Orlando Parry (1810-1879)
Full text below:
The Poster Man-John Orlando Parry (1810-1879)
(Original article by PSS)
John Orlando Parry gave this extraordinary and unique painting to his new bride, Anne Combe, in the year of their marriage, 1835. Anna Combe was the daughter of the noted surgeon, Henry Combe. The painting alludes to this happy event. At the top of the painting, the words ‘Miss Combe’ crown the space, slightly obscured by the large blue bill for Vauxhall Gardens. Moreover, her name appears ‘in glory’ on the post for the Kings Theatre which the poster man is spreading over the word ‘Paris‘. This poster, which advertises the great Grisi, Ivanhoff, Lablache, Tamburini and Brambilla, also advertises a performance by Signa. Anna Combina, with Signori Parrochini, Parrot. This is echoed by the jokes against himself which are echoed all across the piece.
Even before seeing Parry’s other extraordinary graphic work, it is obvious that there was a complex web of visual puns, word play and allusions filling this painting. The trompe l’oeil quality of the representation of text evokes the distant world of Gijs Brechts; perhaps this is a deliberate reference. After all, Gijs Brechts’ favourite subject was notice boards, and paper tacked onto walls.
John Orlando Parry made his debut at the Hanover Square Gardens, where J B Cramer’s retirement is advertised, in 1830. He went to Italy in 1833 to study with Lablache, who famously had accompanied Paganini in the performances of his Campanella, in 1832. Paganini’s appearance in a concert for the New Musical Fund in 1834 is evidenced in the torn off poster on the lower left hand side: ‘Paganini will play a solo.’ Paganini is referenced twice in Parry’s ‘Manual of Musical Terms’. The most obvious is very much sui generis ; there was a whole slew of cartoons from the early 30′s onwards joking about his habit of playing on one string, most famously evidenced in his Preghira after Rossini’s Moses, the original Air on the G-string. Parry’s dig shows the Genovese as an uncomfortable one stringed violinist stick puppet, with the inscription: ‘ ‘Producing extraordinary violin effects with only one string’. But Paganini’s innovation, of ending full-scale concerts with unaccompanied Fantasias, often labelled, Capricci (even through there is little evidence that he performed his Opus 1 Capricci in public), is the subject of an irreverent piece of experimental composition in Parry’s Manual… An unplayable erratic piece of notation, full of impossibly high and low pitches, is labelled: ‘Capriccio. An Irregular piece of music (Composed by the wandering Minstrel)’. This is marked to be played ‘Allegro-Lento’ and ‘with much expression and with greatest velocity.’
We have only one documented instance of Parry and Paganini definitely being in the room at the same time. In 1833, the anniversary dinner of the New Musical Fund took place at the Freemason’s Tavern in Great Queen Street; the dinner being presided over by Lord Dundas. Paganini was guest of honour, ‘greeted with loud plaudits from all parts of the room.’ Following the ‘customary toasts’, a ‘vocal and instrumental concert followed….Si George Smart presided at the pianoforte, and the vocal part of the concert was sustained by Messrs Hawkins, Morley, Goss, Bennet, Parry jun., Lewis, and the Bavarian Singers.’ It was at this concert that ‘an arresting little boy of the name of Regondi, apparently between six and seven years of age, performed a fantasia upon the guitar…seated on a stool, which was placed on the piano-forte.’ We have no picture of this event, but in Pierce Egan’s ‘The Life of an Actor’ published in 1824, a dinner of the ‘Theatrical Fund’ takes place at the same venue. The beautiful plate by Theodore Lane gives a very good impression of what such a dinner might have looked like.
Parry returned to England in 1834, after his studies in Italy. On April 6th, he sang ‘Il Pensiero’ by Haydn, at the Royal Philharmonic society. In 1836, he sang with the great Malibran. Malibran was much in evidence in the 1835 season, and is pointedly omitted from The Poster Man, which makes reference to nearly every other major singer active in London that year. It was Malibran, with whom he appeared often on stage, who persuaded him that he should eschew opera and serious song, and instead maximize his potential as a performer and composer of comic ballads. The Musical Times, marking his retirement in July 1853, less charitably described this as, “to give himself up to the comicalities.”
It seems clear that many public concerts functioned like modern day variety shows-a classic example being Garrison Keillor’s phenomenally successful ‘Prairie Home Companion’ in the USA, itself an unselfconscious mixture of genres; comic melodrama, popular song, monologues, classical music, skits and guest artists from all fields, many of whom will appear on the show mid-tour, or to promote a recording, or a film. The Royal Philharmonic Society was no exception, and it is clear that very often, guest soloists were given ‘spots’ in order to draw attention to their opera appearances and academies. In the centre of ‘The Poster Man’ the Kings Theater poster being put up, advertises Grisi, Rubini, Brambilla and Lablache appearing in Rossini’s Othello. On the 11th April Grisi, Rubini, and Lablache were to be found singing ‘Ti parli l’amore’ from the same opera, conducted by Moscheles, with Nicolas Mori leading. In the same concert Rubini sang an aria from Zauberflöte. Brambilla had also appeared at the previous RPS concert with Parry, and Mrs. Bishop, singing ‘Soave si il vento’ led by Loder and conducted by Henry Bishop, the composer of The Slave. Tamburini, Grisi and Lablache, all appeared in Bellini’s La Somnambula, in the 1835 London production, and as represented in the wonderful Chalon engravings in the RAM collection. On May 11th, Tamburini sang an aria from Le Nozze di Figaro at the Royal Philharmonic Society, conducted by Sir George Smart, and led by J B Cramer’s brother, Francois Cramer.
In 1888, John Ashton published this Ballad, in his ‘Modern Street Ballads’. Ashton wrote: “The Ballad singers and vendors made money rapidly over any event which took the popular fancy-a good blood curdling murder being very profitable; and the business required very little capital, even than being speedily turned over.” (ix)
The Bill Sticker
I’m Sammy Slap, the Bill Sticker, and you must all
I stick to business like a trump, and bus’ ness sticks
To me, Sirs,
The low folks call me Plasterer, and they deserves a
Becos, genteely speaking, vhy, my trade is paper-
With my paste! paste! paste!
All the word is puffing, so I paste! paste! paste!
Round Nelson’s statty, Charing Cross, when any
Thing’s the go, Sirs,
You’ll always find me at my post, a sticking up the
I’ve hung Macready twelve feet high,-and though it
May seem funny,
Day after day against the valls, I’ve plastered Mrs
Now often, in the vay of trade, and I don’t care a
After I have been vell paid to hang for Common
Old Drury Lane has called me in, with jealousy to
And sent me round with their own bills, to go and
In search of houses, old and new, I’m always on the
And werry kindly gives’em all, a coat or two of paper;
I think I’ve kivered all the valls round London,
Though I preach it,
If they’d let me kiver old St Pauls, so help me Bob,
I’d reach it.
I’m not like some in our trade,-they deserve their
Jackets laced, Sirs,
They stick up half their masters bills, and sells the
Rest for vaste, Sirs,
Now, honesty’s best policy, vith a good name to retire
I’m proud to say there’s Helen Tree, the stage’s great
I’ve had the honour of posting her in every hole and
And Helen Faucit-bless her eyes! Ve use her pretty
And paste’s Madam Vestris bang atop of Mr. Keeley.
Sometimes I’m jobbing for the church, with Charitable
Sometimes for theatres, vith the English an the
To me, in course, no odds it is, as long as I’m a
Whether I works for a Saint, of hangs up a Sinner.
The paste I use, I makes myself, and I’ll stick to this,
That vhen my bills, I’ve put them up, they’ll face both
Vind and veather,
I comes the fancy work, though they’re up, mind, in
I never tucks the corners in, nor leaves a blessed
Then surely, you vill allow, I am a man of taste,
I aren’t no pastry-cook, although I deals in puffs and paste,
Vhenever you may have a job, to show how I deserve
About the town through thick and thin, I’ll brush
Alon to sarve you!
‘Sammy Slap’ the ‘bill-sticker’ is a dead ringer for John Orlando’s ‘Poster Man’, and Ashton’s stated intention to take the ‘first fifty’ years of his century, ‘when this style of the Street Ballad was at its best’, fits elegantly with the reach of this extraordinary painting.
In fact, Parry’s work as a whole echoes the world of the London Ballad singer; it is perhaps instructive that he did not include one in his painting. At first glance this may seem capricious, but after detailed study, the complex allusory nature of this painting is just as dependent on its pointed omissions as the web of references which is immediately apparent.
Ashton’s collection provides a useful portal into the Poster Man. So, in order to begin exploring the painting, I am going to allow the ballad singers of London to sing about it. Ashton evoked them wonderfully: ‘Generally the singers worked single-handed, but sometimes two would join, and then the Ballad took an antiphonal form, which must have relieved them very much, and the crowd which gathered around them was the surest proof that their vocal efforts were appreciated.”
‘Sammy Slap’ opines:
‘If they’d let me kiver old St Paul‘s, so help me Bob,
I’d reach it.’
This feels like more than a coincidence. It seems that the only part of London that Parry’s ‘Poster Man’ is unable to ‘cover’ is the great dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, practically the only part of the painting bare of text, looming in the coal smoke at the left side of the picture. I have been speculating as to where this wall of posters might be situated, and whether it is within the ‘Square Mile’. One thing is clear is that the wall is adjacent to a building site, and that the building adjacent to the vacant lot had abutted the structure which had been taken down, hence the wooden buttress, which became once more familiar to Londoner’s after the Blitz.
If Parry is deliberately evoking a well known and long standing site, then this may be Grays Inn Lane, which was famous for its dust-heap, which, it was rumoured was eventually bought by the Russians, and spirited away to rebuild Moscow, or, as was widely whispered, for darker purposes.
It is on this wooden joist that Parry has wrapped the advertisement for his own ‘Farewell Concert’, perhaps a wry dig at JB Cramer’s ‘testimonial’ , advertised on the other side of the canvas. Perhaps his point was that it was a little rich of Cramer to retire in 1829, and then reappear, cluttering up the field, in 1835. But so it has ever been with pianists; from Cramer to Horowitz, retirements have often proved temporary.
Interestingly the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral also appears in Parry’s ‘Manual of Musical terms etc’; a tray of churches, one of which is the cathedral, is shown being carried on the head of a bearded gentleman, with the inscription ‘a capella.-in the church style.’
It is clear that Parry was very aware of the practice of bill-stickers to cover up bills for one theatre, which they had put up, with others for another:
“After I have been vell paid to hang for Common
Old Drury Lane has called me in, with jealousy to
And sent me round with their own bills, to go and
The same thing is happening in the middle of The Poster Man. Parry’s ‘Sammy Slap’ is hard at work obliterating a large poster for Auber’s Lestocq , which was given that year at Covent Garden, with a bill for the Kings Theatre.
In 1836, the year after this painting was begun, Parry accompanied Liszt, Thalberg and Sivori in tours across the UK, where his combination of accomplished pianism and comic singing created a furore. An undated letter from Liszt to Mme. Parry, , to whom John Orlando gave this painting as a wedding gift, reads:
“In a few weeks, I will have the pleasure of coming to knock at your door, and I will once again presume upon your gracious hospitality. However, this time, you must not coquettishly exclude me for over two months from your dining table…the curry and marvelous lobster salad will seem so much better to us…”
Parry and Liszt had actually med before-as Parry had given a performance on the ‘Flageolets’, made popular by his father, at the Hungarian pianist’s London debut in 1824.
The most detailed poster represented on ‘The Poster Man’ centres on a performance by James Pritt Harley (1786-1856). Harley made his debut in 1815 at the English Opera House, and in 1824 sang in Cobb and Storace’s Siege of Belgrade. Another fascinating document of the links between these various communities is a playbill from 1828, announcing the performance of Siege of Belgrade. The performers include Braham, Brambilla (who can be seen on the central Kings Theatre poster on ‘The Poster Man’), and Harley, along with Charles Mathews.
In 1835 Braham lured Harley from the Drury Lane Theatre, his new St James Theatre, where he starred in “The Village Coquettes”. Charles Dickens dedicated this play to Harley, who, with Braham and his wife, was tremendous enthusiastic about the piece; certainly more than its author and John Pyke Hullah, the composer. “…when about a year before his death, Frederick Locker asked him [Dickens] whether he possessed a copy of the Coquettes, he replied: ‘No; and if I knew it was in my house, and if I could not get rid of it in any other way, I would burn the wing of the house where it was!’” (– J.W.T. Ley, ed., in Forster, Life of Charles Dickens, 83.94). Dickens wrote one more play for the St. James’s Theatre, Is She His Wife?, a one act farce,
Curiously, the piece in which Harley is starring on the ‘Poster Man’, The Slave, advertised for the 4th May 1835, was not dedicated to him. Originally Morton and Bishop’s piece was written for Charles Macready, who also originated the title roles in the ‘so-called operas’ Henry 1V and Rob Roy. as well has playing Romeo, Othello, Iago and Richard III. Macready, one of the great actor-managers of the day, also was the tenant of the relatively new No 1 York Gate, where this picture is now hanging. In 1837, he introduced lime-light in London Theatres.
Harley had a true thespian’s death, dying of a stroke as he made a stage exit.
One might suggest that one reason for Parry’s inclusion of this poster was self-congratulation. In 1835, his Cinderella, a comic song based on ‘selected melodies from the opera’ was published by Cramer, Beale and Co. Harley’s poster also boasts a performance of a Duet from Rossini’s Cenerentola.
One Weber opera is directly referenced in the painting- ‘Oberon’ which was commissioned by John Braham in 1826. When the composer received the script, he was taken aback, by “its intermixing of so many principal actors who do not sing, and the omission of music at the most important moments.” It has been suggested that Weber’s spirit never really left London. The most famous depiction of Paganini’s first appearance on the London stage, where he is surrounded by many famous colleagues, all of them professors at the Royal Academy of Music, appears to be haunted by the bespectacled shade of the composer, gazing approvingly over the shoulder of the cellist Robert Lindley.
On February 23rd 1835, Braham appeared at the Royal Philharmonic Society, singing Chevalier Neukomm’s ‘Napoleon’s Midnight Review.’ It is worth noting that Braham’s increasing involvement in Theatrical management was never his intention; giving evidence in 1832 House of Commons enquiry into the theatre, he replied emphatically to the question as to whether had ever been a manager, “No, thank heaven”…
John Braham made his debut in the Royalty Theatre, in the East End, in 1787, but first received popular acclaim following performances at Drury Lane Theatre nine years later. Born to a jewish Family, his extraordinary tenor voice, which later dropped to a baritone, and keen business acumen enabled him to achieve the accolade of both being the greatest British tenor, but to make a considerable amount of money, which he invested in other theatres and productions.
Ashton notes: ‘ Bob Logic, who is supposed to have written the subjoined ballad, was the companion of ‘Corinthian Tom’ and Jerry Hawthorn, whose pranks were so graphically described by Pierce Egan in his ‘Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis’
‘Bob Logic’s the name, to Brighton I’ve been,
I don’t mean to tell you of all I have seen,
But the New Diligence is so much to my mind,
That to sing its praise I am fully inclined.’
(See ‘Splendid New Coach’ Left of Centre of The Poster Man)
Tom and Jerry, or Life in London was one of the famous ‘Adelphi Screamers’, as the melodramas put on by Mathews were known. It was adapted by T.W.Moncrieff from Pierce Egan’s eponymous novel. The illustrations for Tom and Jerry were engraved by
George Cruikshank (1792-1878), and many of them seem close in mood and drama to ‘The Poster Man’.
On the ‘speculative’ poster for Braham’s as of yet unopened St James Theatre, there appears an advertisement for Tom Thumb. This is nothing to do with the eponymous General Tom Thumb, later to be made famous in the USA by the impresario P.T.Barnum. ‘Tom Thumb’ was a musical farce adapted from a tremendously successful comedy by the novelist Henry Fielding. The original stage play was first performed in 1720, and then was enhanced with music by Thomas Arne in 1733. It was revived following its publication in 1806, and had most recently been produced at the Adelphi theatre.
The subject of the pickpocket was a popular one; engravings of the later 1820′s and 30′s frequently depicted a new Peeler being ripped off by a street urchin, just like the event in the corner of Parry’s picture. And of course, it was at the St James’ theatre, where the first stage version of Oliver Twist would be produced in 1838. Ashton includes the Ballad of the ‘Thief’s Arm’ which begins with a bit of surgery clearly inspired by Mary Shelley.
‘Then up to London he did repair,
To see if advice he could get there.
And all the way that he did jog,
The arm was at work, and found him in prog.
And when he got there he walked along,
And strove to bustle through the throng,
But the arm kept diving in every one’s pocket,
He tried all he could, but he couldn’t stop it.
It stole him watches, gold and rings,
And many other precious things,
And one night he found he’d wealth in store,
For Bandanna wipes, he had a score.’
The pickpocket on the left is swiping a suspiciously elegant handkerchief (a ‘bandana wipe’)from the pocket of the Peeler, who is engaged in conversation with a Chelsea Pensioner and an off-duty militia officer. Of course, the Artful Dodger was still a twinkle in Dickens’ eye, but both Parry’s thief and Dickens’ were very much the product of popular engravings of the 1820′s, which, perhaps in wishful thinking, often depicted policemen being robbed. Providing the Peeler with such a luxurious silk handkerchief was certainly calculated to arouse in the viewer, the question of how he had obtained or maybe purloined it.
The policeman is gazing wistfully at the food being prepared on the right hand side of the canvas. Ashton’s collection includes the following ballad.
‘A little old woman, a living she got,
By selling hot codlings, hot, hot, hot!
Though here codlings were hot, she was monstrous cold,
So to keep herself warm, she thought no sin,
For to go and take a small drop of gin,
It is difficult not to notice that the brazier on which chestnuts or potatoes are being roasted is identical to the Peeler’s elegant top hat. The original costumes of these policemen were the subject of countless jokes, and it was generally agreed that their situation was greatly improved with the abandonment of their much ridiculed ‘stovepipe’. Ashton wrote: “There is no doubt but that the change of costume to the tunic and helmet has induced a better class of men to join the force, and has raised its standard of efficiency considerably.” (p 580).
Parry continues his hat theme in all four corners of the painting; the top left is dominated by the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, whilst the opposite corner asks ‘Are you aware your hat is very shabby’, and carries the address of a men’s hat shop, ’115 Strand’, though it is tempting that this might not rather be the address of a theatre. A similar brazier appears in Parry’s Manual of Musical Terms, captioned: “Non molto Brillante,” though weather this is a rather strained reference to brillantine is not clear.
Even as long as there have been police, there have been jokes about their appetites. In the 19th century, it was frequently implied that ‘Peelers” friendships with cooks and scullery maids involved more than merely the exchange of victuals. Perhaps this is being hinted here. It is interesting that the two faces in the picture which are completely invisible are those of the butchers’ boy and the woman cooking, whose face is completely obscured by her bonnet.
The ribaldry about the insatiable appetite of the ‘boys in blue’ concealed, as it still does, in the repeated gag in Hollywood cop films concerning donuts (sic), a suspicion that the Police were far from unimpeachable, and of course it is worth noting that John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, which deals with precisely this, was a regular revival in early 19th British theatre. Perhaps the relationship with food is a very cautious gag about the historic propensity of law enforcement agencies to graft. As the friendly neighbourhood cop strides down the street in a post-Hay’s Code Hollywood B-movie nibbling on a chicken leg, it is more or less implicit that this is less than a heartbeat away from Don Corleone selecting oranges, gratis in Godfather 1. We are minded of the relationship between Jonathan Wild, the euphoniously named ‘Thief taker General’ and the footpad Jack Sheppard, who used Wild more or less as a ‘Fence’. Ashton included The Honest Policeman of Mitcham, in his collection.
‘Some Policeman are right honest men,
And Some we know are gluttons,
Some Cookey darling courting goes
To taste here roasted mutton:
Some can twirl the rolling pin
If girls can draw them nigh sir,
Some are fond of rabbit skins
And some of rabbit pie sirs.’
If this is the case in ‘The Poster Man’ then the contemporaneous viewer would enjoy the grim justice of the hungry ‘Peeler’ having his pocket picked. This could be a doorway into a darker, Hogarth-ian reading of the painting, as social comment. The central placing of the joint of meat, which seems to really Hogarth’s ‘Gates of Calais’, may also point in this direction. The other title of this painting was ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’, also a song which Parry was often prevailed upon to sing. Indeed, this song title is included in his ……, with the caption:” Quintet for five horns”. The allusion to Hogarth seems to be taken further by the expression of the very carefully placed Cocker Spaniel; the only face looking directly out of the painting. The very humanized expression on this hound’s face puts one in mind of Hogarth’s very famous self-portrait, and on another level the face of Raphael gazing out of his ‘School of Athens’ in the Vatican Stanzae.
Pointedly placed beneath the poster for Harley in ‘The Slave’ is a very young Chimney Sweep. The abominable treatment of children during the industrial revolution had very gradually inspired revulsion. As far back as 1788, there had been ineffectual attempts to legislate to protect the children, who, little more than slaves, were forced to climb the chimneys of houses and factories. However it was not until the year before this painting, that the 1834 Chimney Sweeps Act banned the apprenticing of any child under the age of ten, or the employment of children less than fourteen years old as chimney sweeps, unless they were apprenticed or on trial. The apprentices were not to be “evil treated” by their employers, and any complaints of the children were to be heard by justices of the peace. The Act was largely ineffective as there were no means of enforcement. It was not until 1840, that an act with any teeth was passed. This pathetic figure, wistfully gazing at world of entertainment, inaccessible to him, is impossible to ignore, a dark vortex at the centre of the picture, rather like Maclise’s astonishing depiction of the appearance of Banquo’s ghost.
There are numerous references in the “Poster Man” to John Orlando Parry’s father, John Parry (1776 – 1851). Parry, a Welshman, was famous for his Harp playing, and command of many different woodwind instruments. He also made a notable contribution to the collection and popularisation of Welsh Folk Song. In Wales, he was known as ‘Bard Alaw’. From 1795 till 1805, he appeared in shows organised by the actor Thomas Dibdin, particularly, in which he would later perform on William Bainbridge’s ‘Double and triple Flageolets’ . This instrument is the subject of one of the squibs in John Orlando Parry’s ‘Manual of Musical Terms’. Ashton takes up the story: ‘This song was, as far as I can find, introduced by Grimaldi, in the Thos J Dibdin’s famous Pantomime, of ‘Mother Goose’ which in 1806-7 had the unprecedented run of 150 nights, and was a favourite for very many years. When Pantomimes were Pantomimes and not mere spectacles, the clowns were real clowns…and the names of Grimaldi, Matthews [Mathews] and others will go down to posterity. ‘
From 1814 onwards, John Parry wrote many works for Vauxhall Gardens, referenced at the top of the ‘Poster Man’, and also took an increasing part in Welsh Musical life, particularly organising Eisteddfods, and Cymrodorions. His most popular works were- Ivanhoe, or the Knight Templar (1820), A Trip to Wales (1826) and The Sham Prince (1836) which is pointedly referenced in The Poster Man. Perhaps Parry juniot’s reference to the ‘Muted Harp’, which is depicted being submerged in ‘Manual of Musical Terms’, is a joke about his famous father. John Alaw Parry also published popular arrangements of Opera melodies, his Gems. At the end of the 1830′s he published a volume including arrangements of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Mozart, Weber, Auber, (all composers cited on the ‘Poster Man), for flute with piano accompaniment
I cam from Ole Kentucky
A long time ago,
Where I first larn to wheel about,
And jump Jim Crow.
Wheel about and turn about,
And so jis so,
Ebry time I wheel about
I jump Jim Crow.
I us’d to take him fiddle,
Ebry morn and afternoon,
And char the sole Buzzard,
And dance to the Racoon.
I landed fust at Liverpool
Dat place of ships and docks,
I strutted down Lord Street,
And ask’d the price of Stocks.
I paid my fare den up to town,
On de coach to cut a dash,
De Axletree soon gave way,
And spilt us wid a smash.
I lighted den upon my head,
All in de nassy dirt,
Dey all thought dat I war dead,
But I laughed and wasn’t hurt.
Dis head you know, am pretty tick,
Cause dere it make a hole,
On de dam macadmis road,
Much bigger dan a bowl.
When I got into Lunnon,
Dey took me for a savage,
But I war pretty well behaved,
So I ‘gaged with Mr. Davidge.
Dem young Jim Crows bout de streets
More like a Raven rader,
Pray good people, don’t mistake,
Indeed, I’m not dare fader.
Dem urchin’s what sing my song,
Had better mind dar books.
For any ow dey can’t be Crows,
You see d’ar only Rooks.
“I have purposely refrained from giving any Nigger songs, although they belong to Street melody, except in the case of Jim Crow, which was the first of the flood which has been let loose upon us. There were many versions, but I have here given the copyright words, as sung by the author, and original Jim Crow, Thomas D Rice, or as he was better known, Adelphi Rice. He introduced it, in 1836, into a play called ‘A Flight to America’, and it so tickled the ears of the groundlings that it became the most popular of the all modern street ballads. We may wonder what merit our grandfathers and fathers found in it, but it created an absolute furore. (Ps 349-350)”
Thomas Rice first introduced his Jim Crow act, at the Surrey Theatre (see top of Poster) in 1827. According to sheet music published at the time, it was “sung by Mr. T. Rice with the most unbounded applause at the Surrey Theatre”. One copy of this sheet music carries the dates that the owner heard it at the Adelphi; “July 9th and 25th 1836. The London association of this racist appellation was unfortunately reanimated during the Blitz, when fire watchers on the roofs of high buildings were thus named.
The Literary Dustman.
Then Mrs Bell, ‘twixt you and I,
Would melt a heart of stone, Sirs,
To hear her, Pussy’s vittals cry,
In such a barrow tone Sirs.
My darters all take arter herm
In grace and figure easy,
They larns to sing, and as they’re fat,
I has ‘em taught by Grizi.
Ve dines an four, and arter that,
I smakes a mild Awanna,
Or gives a lesson to the lad,
Upon the grand pianna:
Or with the gals walk a quod-rille,
Or takes a cup of corf-fee.
Or if I feels fatig’s or ill.
I lounges on the sophy.
Or arter dinner reads a page,
Of Valter Scott, or Byron,
Or Mr. Shikspear on the stage,
Subjects none can tie on;
At night ve toddles to the play,
But not to gallery attic,
Drury Lane’s the time o’ day,
And quite aristocratic.
I mean to buy my eldest son
A commission in the Lancers
And make my darters, every one,
Accomplished Hopra dances…
An intrigued dustman gazes at the array of entertainment and culture spread before him, hidden behind the large ham held by the butcher’s boy in the centre of ‘The Poster Man.’ He reminds one of Alfred P Doolittle, in Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’, itself a serious piece of theatre, that like an early romantic English ‘Hopra’ morphed into popular entertainment, bowdlerised ending and all, just like an early 19th century British Opera. Doolittle laments, in a voice oddly reminiscent of much of the tone of the ballad singers: “you’ve delivered me up to the shackles of middle-class morality…been the ruin of me.” [check]
Hodge in London
No, in London, says John, I have heard people say,
That your pocket they’ll pick in the midst of the day!
I’ll take pretty good care that they shall not pick mine,
If they do, not a penny in them will they find.
Madame Eliza Vestris (1797-1856) was the daughter of Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi. In 1813 she married Augustus Arnold Vestris, the dancer, and ballet master of the Kings Theatre. A contralto, she made her debut on the 20th July 1815 at the King’s Theatre, in Peter Winter’s opera, Proserpine. She made her first appearance in English at Drury Lane in 1820, in Cobb’s Siege of Belgrade, where she was hailed as “one of the best singing actresses that ever appeared.” In this show she was particularly hailed for “Cherry Ripe, meet me by Moonlight Alone”. (This would much later, be memorably arranged forString Quartet by Frank Bridge). Vestris was the first major actress ‘breeched’ on the London Stage, appearing memorably as Don Giovanni, Macheath and Cherubino.
Despite the public success of this daring innovation, the press were often far from kin. In 1821 the British Stage wrote: ” The bait succeeded; the town ran in crowds to see Madame Vestris’ legs, though they had been somewhat lukewarm about her singing; and hundreds discovered that her proportions were most captivating when set off to advantage by a tight pair of elastic pantaloons.”
In 1830, she took over the Olympic Theatre, originally built out of the timbers of the French Man of War Ville de Paris in 1806-7. This theatre was built for Philip Astley on Wych Street, Strand. Astley built his theatre in the shape of a circus tent, and the extension of the threatre in 1809 retained this character.
Initially, Vestris ran the threatre in partnership with another actress, Marian Forte. Their first production was ‘Mary Queen of Scots.’
One of her innovations at the Olympic Theatre was the introduction of box sets with Ceilings. The success of the theatre was very much helped by the presence of the pantomime writer James Robinson Planché. He had originally been engaged by Charles Kemble at Covent Garden to design the production of Shakespeare’s King John, in 1823, and at one point , been in charge of the music at Vauxhall Gardens.
Parry repeatedly pokes fun at female actresses. Two posters, for Vestris and Miss Chester, are semi-obscured by adverts for steam packets and warships. The unfortunate “Miss Chester” is occluded by a bill for the Royal George. This is a complicated allusion, which also depends on the juxtaposition to Thomas Rice. ‘Adelphi Rice’ had debuted at the Surrey Theatre 1827. The 8th HMS Royal George, a 120 gun first rate shop, was launched in 1827. In that year, Miss Chester had been suspected of being involved in a liaison with George IV-hence the juxtaposition. The 8th Royal George was the first Royal Navy ship to be converted into a screw ship in 1853; she was sold in 1875. The sixth Royal George had sunk in 1807; it had been the object of a dangerous and innovative diving expedition. On June 30th 1835, The Times reported:
‘Submarine exhibition-A very curious exhibition has just been opened at 209 Regent Street. It consists of various articles brought up from the wrecks of the Royal George, the Boyne, and other ships, which have for many years been lying at the bottom of the ocean. Then guns, seven of them brass guns, 24-pounders, have already been rescued from the wreck of the Royal George. One of these brass guns is in this exhibition, it is a beautiful piece of ordnance, has suffered nothing from the summersion of half a century (sic), and has been fired since its restoration to land.’
The 1834-5 season was Charles Mathews’ last managing the Adelphi Theatre with Frederick Yates. The Adelphi had been built in 1806 on Adam Street, and was originally known as the Sans Pareil; a wealthy merchant, John Scott, built it to show off the talents of his daughter, an actress and playwright. In 1819, it was renamed the Adelphi by its new owners, Messrs Jones and Rodwell, in honour of the Adam brothers, who were responsible fothe development of the building of the residential, streets about the theatre. In the 1835-5 season, the theatre was open for 163 nights and mounted 29 plays. The theatre closed on 11th April 1835, and Mathews was indisposed for the rest of the season. Therefore, the bill on advertising one of Mathews’ ‘at homes’ on The Poster Man was literal. The theatre was closed in May 1835, and Mathews was ill-very much ‘at home’. In point of fact, Mathew’s ‘at homes’ were close to modern ‘stand-up’, where he would regale the audience with comic tales of his travels.
On the 8th April 1834, Mathews had given his last ‘at home’ at the Adelphi Theatre, scripted by Richard Peake. On the 7th, 9th and 11th April, Paganini gave some of his final appearances in the UK, on the same stage, four years after his first appearance.
The most successful production at the Adelphi that season was John Buckstone’s “Last Days of Pompeii, or 1700 years ago”. This melodrama, based on Edward Bulmer Lytton’s eponymous novel, ran for an unprecedented 64 nights. The Times wrote: “the scenery and dresses appeared to be new, and were both appropriate and splendid, and the eruption of Vesuvius in the last scene conveyed to the spectators a good idea of the terrors of that awful, natural, phenomenon”. ‘The Poster Man’ contains two references to this cataclysm-the one on the left hand side includes a representation of the mis-en-scene. The drama of this stage set owes more than a little to Thomas Martin’s ‘Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, painted in 1821. In 1822, this painting, had been exhibited at ‘Egyptian Hall’, as a diorama, much to Martin’s ire. In fact, by 1835, there were at least three eruptions of Vesuvius showing in London, not to mention rival eructations of Etna and Hecla.
‘The Poster Man’ makes reference to another Buckstone production. From October 1834, Buckstone’s ‘The Christening’ ran for forty-nine performances. The plot and characters were lifted, unacknowledged, from Charles Dickens’ ‘Bloomsbury Christenings’ from his Sketches by Boz. He wrote to the ‘Monthly Magazine’: “I find that Mr. Buckstone has officiated as self-elected godfather, and carried off my child to the Adelphi, for the purposes probably, of fulfilling one of his sponsorial duties, viz. that of teaching it the vulgar temper.” However, the same year, Dickens noted that the Adelphi was, in 1835 the “most fashionably attended theatre in London.” Dickens’ tactics following the purloining of Bloomsbury Christenings proved very successful-it was the first of a series of stage adaptations of his works at that theatre. It is also worthy of note that the ever versatile Parry also produced illustrations for Dickens, most particularly, his ‘Strange Gentleman’. However, these were not published in his lifetime.
For all the popular success of the Adelphi, Charles Mathews found it impossible to make it pay. His daughter noted: ” It is alarming to find that, in the fullness of the ‘Adelphi’s success’ …out of all the enormous receipts, all go without a shilling father can call profit. The building is not large enough to pay for the splendour and salaries which Drury Lane can not now afford. This should be seen to. It is a fallacy to say the concern prospers when the boxes are filled.” Mathews died, to all intents and purposes, broken by this failure, on the 28th June 1835, aged 59. Lane’s illustrations to Pierce Egan’s‘The Life of an Actor’, include “A beggarly account. Of Empty Boxes. PROTEUS losing his benefits. No Joke in THEATRICALS!’
In 1833, Herr Lidusdroph’s Company of Industrious and Russian Fleas, opened at 5 Leicester Square, and the “Extraordinary Exhibition of Industrious Fleas” opened in New York the following year. In 1844, James Planche produced his Drama at Home at the Haymarket, with Charles Mathews’ son, Charles Mathews junior (1803 –1878), who was married to Madame Vestris, in the title role. Mathews sang:
‘You talk about wonders, just look upon these;
You’d think them little industrious fleas;
But just through a microscope peer at their mugs,
And these two little fleas become horrid humbugs!’
Herr Lidusdroph’s star perfomer was a five year old, the ‘Russian Hercules’, who would carry twelve of his troupe on his back.
In the ‘Travels of Kerim Khan’ published in Blackwood Magazine (Vol. 54 No 337), the ‘Persian Prince’ wrote: “Would anyone believe that such a sight as this could possibly be witnessed anywhere in the world?” The prince was treated to a number of the attractions advertised on Parry’s wall. He called Astley’s circus, the “Opera of the Horse”, before being taken over the Thames Tunnel works at Wapping by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was most impressed with this extraordinary (and costly) piece of engineering: “It is impossible to convey in words the adequate idea of the labour that must have been spent upon this work, the like of which was never attempted in any country.”
The Thames Tunnel was probably the most influential piece of engineering carried out in the 19th century, and owed its origin to an inspiration of Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington. The Duke had noted that, in the event of another French attempt at invasion, which was looking more likely as France became more unstable in the wake of the assassination of the Duc de Berry in the Theatre Italien in 1820, it would be virtually impossible to speed enough troops to the southeast corner of England in time to stave off invasion, despite the best efforts of the network of coastal defenses, Martello Towers, due to the obstacle of the River Thames. Put simply, there was still only one bridge over the still-wide river, and that was the new-ish London Bridge. Most of all, it was inconceivable that enough troops could cross in time, but the ensuing bottleneck, in the streets of the city, and the worry of the effects of columns of troops on bridges made it vital that there should be another way of crossing the river. And so the idea of a foot tunnel at Wapping was mooted, and a bill read in the House, to raise necessary funds to build a tunnel further down river. Ironically, it owed more part of its inspiration to Napoleon, whose much vaunted and highly successful propaganda of his intention to subject England to simultaneous attack from the air, the sea, and from a tunnel under the Channel, had caused wide consternation.
The Wapping project was not the first attempt to tunnel under the Thames; a Cornish miner had attempted a crossing from Deptford two decades earlier, and had given up, defeated by the combination of Mud, sand and quick sand, which would spur the Brunels, father and son, to some of their most inspired engineering innovations. But the works that were being advertised on the ‘Poster Man’ were most likely the sinking of the two shafts on the north and south sides of the river, at Rotherhithe and Wapping. Marc Brunei’s solution to sinking the shafts was simplicity itself. HE simply had ten courses of bricks laid, and waited for them to sink, before laying the next courses; the shaft dug itself, and provided Sunday afternoon entertainment for the hordes that swarmed to see this wonder. Isambard Kingdom Brunel married Sophia Horsley, who was a close friend of Mendelssohn, and documented his performances at the Salons of the 1830′s with Paganini and Lindley. Isambard Kingdom Brunel showed Mendelssohn over the works.
This was not the only reference to the Wapping Tunnel which Parry would make in his Graphic works. In his ………., one of the entries is captioned’ “A very long and trying passage…for the trumpet”. It shows an extremely diminutive trumpeter vainly essaying a performance in the unmistakable arcade of the foot tunnel.
In 1835, the works under the Thames had run into financial difficulties, despite the thousands of visitors who would come to gawp. During this interregnum, whilst the House was busily arguing whether finance should be released to restart the venture, a large model was exhibited in King William Street. In the Tunnel itself, still only accessible from the Rotherhithe end, a large mirror was erected against Brunel’s groundbreaking ‘Tunnelling Shield’, turning the works into a giant peepshow.
Beneath the question “Have you seen the industrious fleas?” is a bill advertising “JERUSALEM-a view of this beautiful city-is now open-at the Panorama, Leicester Square.” In 1833, the illustrator Frederick Catherwood visited the Middle East for the second time. Together with his friends, Joseph Bonomi and Francis Arundale, he explored the Lebanon and Arabia, before traveling to Jerusalem. He spent two months frantically mapping and sketching the city. Upon his return to London the following year, he was contracted by the owner of the Panorama in Leicester Square, Robert Burford, to provide information for the preparation of a panorama of the Holy City, painted by Burford. Later on, Burford’s panoramas of Baalbec, Karnack, and Thebes, would also be labeled. “From drawings taken on the spot by F. Catherwood esq.” Catherwood is the only one of the many artists who provided material for Burford, whose work has been remembered. He opened his own Panorama in New York, but it burned down in 1842.
‘Adelphi Rice’ soon incorporated this vogue for dioramae of exotic locales into one of his ‘Jim Crow’ ballads:
‘The world indeed is on the move,
You must with me engage,
This truly is a Dio-, and
A Dioramic age.
Travelling now’ so moderate,
To the world’s end you can go,
As cheap as cabby takes
From the Op’ra to Soho.’
When Burford eventually died in 1861, John Ruskin wrote, ‘Burford’s panorama in Leicester Square … was an educational institution of the highest and purest value, and ought to have been supported by the Government as one of the most beneficial school instruments in London’. Dickens, ever cynical, was less convinced. Writing in the character of Mr Burlow, he opined in 1868,’ I systematically avoid pictorial entertainment on rollers.’ Thackeray noted that the most onerous part of the whole experience was the climb up the steep stairs necessary to make one’s way into the second, and later, third chambers. In his Pendennis, Fanny Bowls notes: ‘Care had come up with him, and was bearing him company.’
After the closure of the Panorama in 1864, it was converted into Notre Dame De France Roman Catholic Church church by the French Architect Louis Auguste Boileau (1812-96). This still retains the original ground plan, although it was completely rebuilt after being severely damaged during the Blitz in 1940.
‘Bull and Mouth’ is a corruption of ‘Boulogne Gate’ or ‘Mouth’. Public houses named thus commemorate Henry VIII’s successful attack on the city in 1544. Judith Bingham has pointed out that, on the corner of Store Street and Bury Street, where Parry was born, this still is the name of the pub. However, one of the two uses of this moniker on the ‘Poster Man’ refers particularly to the Bull and Mouth which used to stand at the southern end of St Martin’s Lane, where the carriages would depart for points north. This is now the Trafalgar Square Post Office. From 1825 mail coaches to London, arrived at this tavern. Coaches other that mail also ran from here, taking advantage of the newly engineered and macadamized roads north, to Loughborough, St Albans, Leicester, York, Melton, and Uppingham. The most famous of these were ‘The Times’ the ‘Royal Hope’ and ‘Comet’, the “splendid new coach” advertised on the ‘Poster Man.’
Parry liked to layer his imagery; and bearing in mind all the hints to new steam ships on the ‘Poster Man’, it is inconceivable, that he would not expect his up-to-date audience to look at the worlds ‘Liverpool’ , ‘Manchester’ and ‘Comet’ and not think ofrailways. Of course, in 1830, the first passenger train on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had been pulled by an engine named ‘Comet‘. In `1835, the same engine driver drove the inaugural journey on the very first German railway. The engine was also called ‘Komet‘. Parry’s ‘Manual of Musical Terms’ includes one explicit squib about train travel. Under the Italian, segue senza interruzione-Go on without stopping, a trio of flag and handkerchief brandishing passengers try to flag down a train which has hurtled straight through their station without stopping, and is disappearing at the vanishing point, just a wisp of smoke; somewhat less poetic than Tennyson’s ‘Ringing Grooves of Change’ in his 1842 poems.
In 1829, J B Cramer officially retired from public performance. Cramer was the pianist most admired by Beethoven and professor at the RAM. IN 1835, he gave a ‘Farewell Concert’ alluded to by ‘The Poster Man’. On the 23rd February, he had also appeared at the Royal Philharmonic Society playing his 5th Piano Concerto, which had a last movement purporting to be by Mozart. In July 1835, a testimonial dinner was given in Cramer’s honour at the Freemasons’ Tavern, chaired by Sir George Smart. Herz, Neate, Potter, and Moscheles all performed Cramer’s works in, according to The Times (July 17th 1835), ‘excellent style’. Cramer himself played the Mozart C minor Fantaisie, in a ‘manner that elicited the most rapturous plaudits.’ However, the most memorable part of the evening’s entertainment was provided by Parry and Ignaz Moscheles:
‘Mr Parry, jun. …was accompanied on the pianoforte by Moscheles, in the most masterly, and we may add, novel, manner, for between the stanzas he introduced several phrases of Cramer’s inimitable studies to ingeniously, that the great hall rang with applause.’
In 1835, Gaetano Donizetti was invited to work in Paris by Rossini. There he presented his new Marino Faliero at the Theatre Italien (where Viotti had been conductor in 1819-20). This opera provided Lablache with one of his greatest roles, and at its premiere on the 12th March 1835, he was accompanied by Grisi, Rubini, and Tamburini, all of whom also appear on the Kings Theatre poster being slapped over the word “Paris” in the middle of the picture. Marino Faliero, Azione Tragico in tre acti had a libretto by Bidera after Lord Byron, who also provided the inspiration for Balfe’s Mazeppa which was presented at Astley’s Amphitheatre with the great equestrian star Ducrow, much impressing Franz Liszt.
Astley’s Amphitheatre is faintly advertised a semi-obscured poster behind the advert for Loder’s Nourjahad. Philip Astley began his career as a horseman, a member of the Dragoons, who specialised in precision riding. At the beginning of his independent career, he gave riding lessons in the morning, and displays in the afternoon, initially playing in open spaces; parks and fields. With the growth of his popularity, he was encouraged to make a permanent circus, where his virtuoso riding and showmanship entranced his public. His most famous act was called “The Tailor Riding to Brentford”.
Astley’s most imitated production, was his recreation of the Battle of Waterloo, which was first put on in 1824, and immediately imitated by other theatres. This dramatic production ran for a record 144 performances, a figure not exceeded until the extraordinary success of Ducrow in Mazeppa. Blackwood;s Magazine was rendered incoherent by the experience of seeing this charismatic horseman’s poses plastiques equestre in 1831:
“The glory of Ducrow lies in his poetical impersonation with the the
Astley’s Amphitheatre was not, however, renowned for the excellence of its music. In 1822, the theatre featured ‘Signor Rossignol’, who played on a stringless violin, imitating birdsong. The Inquisitor wrote of the “Unknown Half” , for which some of the music had been written by John Braham, that it was “…bad in the extreme; it would have disgraced Astley’s.”
Lablache, which whom Parry had studied, created many of the great roles of the time, including Don Pasquale, Giorgio Walton (I Puritani-which he performed in London in 1835), Massimilia; Bellini, Donizetti, Mercadante, Pacini, Vaccai, Mosca and Balfe all wrote works for him. Franz Schubert dedicated his 3 Italian Songs (Op 83-check D n umber) to him in 182?. In the year of ‘The Poster Man’ he appeared at the Royal Philharmonic Society singing an aria from Spohr’s Faust, ‘Va Sbranando’. His daughter Francesca married the pianist Thalberg, who toured with Parry in 1833.
Nourjahad was the first opera by the pianist composer Edward Loder (1813-1865), whose brother John had directed Paganini’s concerts in Bath in 1832. His sister Kate Lode, whose portrait by Edward Alma Tadema hangs in the RAM board room, was an acclaimed pianist and the first successful English woman composer. She gave the London premiere of the 1st Mendelssohn Piano concerto, to great acclaim from the composer and public. Edward Loder had studied with Beethoven’s only true pupil, the composer-pianist Ferdinand Ries. Nourjahad marks the beginning of a true English Romantic opera tradition. It was the first opera to be performed by the English Opera Company at the English Opera House (now the Lyceum) in 1834. In August 1835, Edward Loder’s Convenantus was premiered by the English Opera House.
Another fascinating document of the links between these various communities is a playbill from 1828, announcing the performance of Cobb and Storace’s Siege of Belgrade. The performers include Braham, Brambilla (who can be seen on the central Kings Theatre poster on ‘The Poster Man’), and Harley, along with Charles Mathews.
Beneath the advertisement for Nourjahad, John Barnett’s The Mountain Sylph is announced. This was a new opera for that season, with a libretto by T. J. Thackeray, and heavily influenced by Weber’s Oberon. John Barnett (1802-1879) had originally made his debut as a child prodigy singer on the stage of the Lyceum. The Royal Academy of Music has a memorandum between Barnett and Eliza Vestris from the 8th September 1832 concerning the conditions of his employment at her Olympic Theatre: “M. Vestris has no objection to Mr. Barnett writing music for any other person provided the business of the Olympic Theatre is fully and efficiently performed.”
Barnett fell foul of the theatre press as frequently as Vestris, and allowed himself to be drawn into a very public imbroglio with Leigh Hunt, who would later write panegyrics praising Paganini. Hunt, writing in Tatler, avowed that Barnett’s compositional standards had slipped since he had become the proprietor of a music shop. Barnett retorted: “It is not absolutely necessary for a critic to be inventive, but he must be thoroughly acquainted with the principle of the art which he criticizes.”
Leigh Hunt, perhaps the most opinionated and eloquent critic of his day, was a particular fan of the work of ….Auber. Although not mentioned by name, Auber’s works litter the ‘Poster Man’. These include his Lestocq Gustavus III, (The Masked Ball) and Fra Diavolo. Leigh Hunt wrote: ” His compositions have not the passion of Italy, nor the science of the Germans; yet we fancy we can discern in them something that does considerable honour to the French turn for music. There is a light conscious art in them, singularly mixed with the simplicity of natural cheerfulness. “
The St James’ theatre (King Street) had not been finished at the period to which the Poster Man refers. This new theatre, on King Street, was built to the design of Samuel Beazely, and financed entirely out of John Braham’s personal fortune. It opened on the 14th December 1835, and in that year, the productions which it mounted included Charles Dickens’ ‘The Strand Gentlemen’ and a ‘ballad opera’, the ‘Village Coquettes’. In the first stage version of Oliver Twist, long before ‘Oliver’ was put on there. The theater was, astonishingly built in thirteen weeks, of which nearly a whole week was lost due to wet weather. At the opening night, the paint was so fresh on the walls that the excited first night audience came away with it all over their clothes. ‘Sammy Slap’ would never have put up with that. The exterior of the theatre would not be finished until some way into 1836.
Perhaps the most charming aspect of this painting is Parry’s willingness to laugh at his own pretensions. There can be no denying that he was clearly a man of extraordinary abilities, as pianist, singer, comic, artist, comic writer, and cartoonist. However, his greatest gift may have been for self mockery. The references to himself on “The Poster Man” bear this out. At first, the announcement for himself at St James’ Theatre in the very centre of the poster, might seem the most abominable self-’puffery’; until one reads it out, aloud: “In consequence of the tremendously successful debut of Mr. John Parry, and the great demand for places to witness his truly extraordinary and wonderful performance in his father’s farce, the SHAM PRINCE, the proprietor has no alternative but in announcing him for every fifth Tuesday for the next eleven months!!! The proprietor is also happy to state that he has made arrangements with Mr. John Parry to perform the above celebrated character three times of each of the evenings mentioned in order to give the public an opportunity of witnessing his great and varied talents. COME VERY EARLY.” ‘Come very early’, indeed. Quite apart from the problematic notion of a fifth Tuesday in each month, which can never happen, despite the announcement of three performances a night, the St James’ Theatre was not open. Parry himself appeared at the St James Theatre from the 29th September 1836, and the British Library has a volume of his watercolours: ”Slight sketches of characters sustained by John Orlando Parry”, during his appearance there.
The ‘Sham Prince’ was one of his father’s most popular ‘burlettas’, and was published in 1836. John Orlando Parry sang it at the opening night of the St James’ Theatre season that year, on the 29th September. The next day, The Times wrote:
“Mr J Parry is well know as a concert singer. He did not appear to advantage upon the stage. His face, figure, manner, bearing, and utterance are all against him. H played an intriguing, drunken, clever rogue of a valet. Nothing could be more ghastly than his merriment. To be sure, the jokes in the Sham Prince were so stale, the dialogue so flat, and the whole concern, music included, so unprofitable, that an accomplished actor could have done nothing with it. The vocal powers, even , which Mr Parry certainly has, were not displayed in it…These mockeries of music are not for persons who can really sing.”
Perhaps it was as well that it is clear that Parry had a healthy sense of humour.
Parry continues his self mockery on both sides of the painting. On the lower right, just above a dig at Braham, who appears to be ascending in a balloon, Parry announces himself, again, at the St James Theatre, ‘Every evening’ as ‘Noodle’. The picture of a foppish nobleman deliberately echoes the mugging of Thos. Rice as Jim Crow. On the upper left, on the only place where ‘Sammy Slap’ (sic) has managed to stick a bill that is not a wall, Parry’s name is pointedly wrapped around a strut holding up the rickety building on which all the posters are plastered. As Sammy reminds us:
“In search of houses, old and new, I’m always on the
And werry kindly gives’em all, a coat or two of paper…”
The distinctive red and white striped balloon in which John Braham is ascending on the right had side of the painting was a very popular attraction at Vauxhall Gardens, and was generally known as the ‘Royal’ Vauxhall balloon. However, in November 1836 it flew the 480 miles to Wilburg, in Nassau, and from then on, was known as the ‘Royal Nassau’, and, appropriately, a 400ft diorama was added to the attraction, illustrating its epic journey.
In his Sketches by Boz (1836-7), Charles Dickens looked back with nostalgia on the glory that had been Vauxhall Gardens, whose glory days seemed to have passed: ‘There was a time when if a man ventured to wonder how Vauxhall Gardens would look by day, he was greeted with a shout of derision, at the absurdity of the idea. Vauxhall by daylight! A porter pot without porter, the House of Commons without a Speaker, a gas-lamp without any gas-pooh, nosenem, the thing was not to be thought of.’
In 1835, Braham himself was trying to keep another venture afloat, the Regents Park Colosseum, which he ran for a while in partnership with Frederick Yates. In that year, he attempted to enhance the cache of this white elephant by building a splendid addition, ‘a grand reception or banqueting room of mirrors…supported on crystal columns and lined with looking glass.’ Ticket prices were set exorbitantly high at twenty-five shillings, to discourage the attendance of what The Times referred to as ‘Persons with no pretensions to respectability.’ Dickens’ ‘Mr and Mrs Veneering’ would, one presumes, have felt right at home. Unfortunately the venture backfired, and by 1838, Braham was forced to radically lower his ticket prices. As one waggish balladeer put it:
‘Now pay your bob, and take your grog in my vast Colosseum-
I’ve sung all songs in Opera, and chaunted in Te Deum.
But times are changed, and we must stoop, although we are unwilling,
Down from the grand half guinea, to the very humble shilling.’
Wooden house joists are a familiar sight to every Londoner, and the long legacy of the 18th cheap building boom, resulting in the ubiquitous “London Box”, terraces with almost no structural integrity whatsoever, which like the building in this painting; threaten to topple over, if the next door structure is removed. Graham Greene, who made just such a strut the key to the final denouement of The Wreckers would have approved.
Up on the right hand side of the “Poster Man” is bill advertising Mechi’s Patent Strop. This is actually Mechi’s ‘Magic Razor Strop’. John Joseph Mechi (1802-1880) was an extraordinary inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He also might have been placed in the picture as a way of emphasizing the link to the ‘Square Mile’ which is implicit in the dramatic placing of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. The Cathedral was, and remains, the most instantly recognizable building in the City, so, ‘Sammy Slap’ aside, there may be some rationale in its inclusion. John Joseph Mechi began his working life as a clerk in a mercantile house in Walbrook, a few yards from the Mansion House. After ten years, he was able to open his own business at 4, Leadenall Street, where he designed his ‘Magic Razor Strop’. This was highly profitable in the 1830′s until, beards became fashionable, and his business collapsed. His later careers included developing a model farm at Tiptree in Essex, patenting shop window lamps and serving as a juror in the Department of Arts and Science at the 1851 Great Exhibition. His strop merited a mention in Dicken’s Bleak House but also appeared in a parody of Tennyson’s Mort D’Arthur, which of course, would not be written until 1842. This would not be relevant to this painting were it not for a certain serendipity. The ‘Poster Man’ contains two bills [check] for ‘chivalric shows’ based on Mallory’s ‘King Arthur’. One of these is placed very close to Mechi’s Patent Strop. In the 1840′s Sir Theodore Martin (1816-1909) began to publish a series of parodies, the Bon Gaultier Ballads. Tennyson was a favourite target. His La Mort [sic] d’Arthur-Not By Alfred Tennyson ends:
No man yet knows how long he lay in swound;
But long enough it was to let the rust
Lick half the surface of his polished shield;
For it was made by far inferior hands,
Than forged his helm, his breastplate, and his greaves,
Whereon no canker lighted, for they bore
The magic stamp of MECHI’S SILVER STEEL.
Is there one central theme running through Parry’s painting, with all its crisscrossing between what might now be seen as high and low art? One queen of entertainment certainly knew the answer. In 1835, Madame Tussaud finally established her collection on Baker Street., a few meters from the noble columns of Nash’s York Gate. Madame wrote: ‘celebrities strictly up to date should be continuall added to every part of the exhibition.’ Two years after this, a new figure was added to the exhibit, perhaps the most celebated female death between the Princesses Charlotte and Diana, that of Madame Malibran, who died after a riding accident near Birmingham. It was Malibran, who had, after all, advised Parry to “give himself up to the comicalities, ” ensuring his tremendous, and profitable, Celebrity.
Parry’s announcement of his ‘Farewell Concert’ in 1835, was highly premature. He ended his career as the organist of St. Jude’ Southsea after being forced to retire from the stage for health reasons. It is likely that Parry was lured to this new church in the Southsea development, by the prime mover in the enterprise, Thomas Ellis Owen 1805-1862, twice mayor of Portsmouth. They certainly moved in similar circles. Owen met John Nash, architect and developer of the processional way from Regents Park to Pall Mall and the development all around Regents Park. Nash’s vision was the inspiration for Owen’s designs for the elegant suburb of Southsea. Attracting a figure such as John Orlando Parry, was the icing on the cake.
The Athenaeum for 14th July 1853 wrote:
“…by his departure, Music and Merriment sustain no ordinary loss… there was something besides, and for beyond, the buffoon in his performances–a spirit of quaint humour…aided by Music….We have seen Mendelssohn sit and listen by the hour,, and we have heard Chopin laugh till he was about ‘ready to die’, at the travesties, parodies, &c. of the racy humourist.”