« PreviousContinue »
nity. These be capital fellows, full of spirits, which go the whole length of their ropes, and are better worth seeing, the spectators themselves being judges, than all the tigers, zebras, and hump-back camels, put together. Among themselves, they are ‘hale fellows,' chattering and grinning, jibing, and cracking their jokes, as if in some forest of Africa, save when a by-stander rolls in an 'apple of discord,' or a cake, and then the big ones flog the small ones unmercifully; and herein consists the kernel of the joke. A Shetland pony goes round and round in a circle, surmounted by a jocko in scarlet uniform, who proves himself an indomitable horseman. He leaps on and off
, handles the reins with address, and cracks his whip like a Jehu. Sometimes a small African elephant is made to kneel down, and receive a tower on his shoulders. Those of the company who desire to ride, are requested to step forward, ‘ladies first, gentlemen after-wards. After a deal of hesitation, a servant-maid gathers courage, and simpering and dimpling, ambles into the arena. Her the showman politely assists to ascend. Another follows, and another, until all the seats are taken up. Then the beast moves once around, with his slow and heavy tramp, the ladies descend from their airy height, and are able to go home and say that they have . ridden on the elephant. Last of all, a negro is encouraged to mount the animal's bare back, and broadly grinning, is looking down upon the crowd below, when the latter, being privy to a joke, gives a violent shrug, and hurls him, as from a terrific precipice, to the ground.
The menagerie is a very popular entertainment, unexceptionable on the score of morals, and visited by the 'most straitest sects' of the people. Do you see that tall, thin, straight, bony, green-spectacled man, who pries curiously into all the cages, and shuts up
like a jackknife when he bends ? That is Mr. Simpson. He is a judge of these things, and has a collection at home; an ostrich's egg, a stuffed partridge, and some bugs in a bottle of spirits. He is followed by the lady superior of the female seminary, and a score of pupils, that they may lose none of his valuable remarks.
Aha 'quoth he, 'here we have the lion, most properly denominated the king of beasts. He is a native of Africa, fierce in his might and terrible in his strength. Mark his flowing mane,
his majestic port, his flaming eyes
his his his tail. When he roars, heaven shakes, earth quakes, and hell trembles. Here, keeper, please be so good as make this lion roar.'
• Oh! no, no, no ! shriek a dozen voices, hysterically, 'do n't let him roar! do n't let him roar !'
*Well, well, as you please,' quoth Mr. Simpson, good-humoredly winking at madam.
* Here is the Jackal, who purwides food for the lion; a miserable sycophant and panderer for a king. Mark his mean aspect, and dirty appearance.
He is emblematic of man. Alas! there is jackals in the world; jackals literary and jackals political.'
It is a season of still deeper excitement, in such a retired country village, when once a year, after several days' heralding, a train of great red wagons is seen approaching, marked in large letters, CIRCUS, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. This arrival has been talked of, and produces an immediate bustle and sensation. Fifty boys breaking loose from
school, rush immediately to the street, and in treble tones cry. Circus! The ploughman lets his plough stand in the middle of the field, and leans over the fence. The blacksmith withdraws his brawny arm from the anvil, and stands in the door of his smithy. A man in the act of shaving, comes out with his face lathered, and a towel under his chin. The old woman who is washing in the porch, takes her dripping and smoking fingers from the suds, peers over her spectacles, opens her mouth, and utters an ejaculation. The milkmaid leaves her pail to be kicked over by the cow. A wise-looking clerk puts his head out of the window, with a pen stuck in his ear. A cat on the eaves of a house likewise looks down. The mother runs to call Johnny, who is playing in the yard, quick — quick - quick! before the procession moves by. He is too late. Ba-a-a-a! An invalid in bed leaps up, thinks he feels better, and shall be abundantly able to go.'
Meantime the cavalcade halts before the inn. The crowd closes in at once, to feast their eyes on the luggage,
and see the
company unpack. The spirited horses, perspiring with the long journey, stamp impatiently on the ground. The corps are a little out of patience, and annoyed by the crowd. A child gets under the horses' heels, and is dragged out by the hair of his head, unhurt. What rough-spoken, ill-looking fellows are the equestrians! How strangely will they be metamorphosed in a few hours — bright, dazzling, tricked out in gay attire, full of beautiful spangles ! They are not themselves now; they are acting the difficult parts of every-day men. At night they will fall readily into their own characters, clowns, harlequins, and the most amusing fools in the world.
May I be there to see!'
Rapidly the intelligence of their arrival spreads into the adjacent country. The whole community are on the qui vive. There are uneasiness, anticipation, excitement. The village belles lay out their trinkets, ornaments, and brightest calicoes, to adorn the boxes; the plough-boy scrapes his pence together, desperately determined on a standing in the pit. A discussion waxes warm among the graver part of the community, about the lawfulness of these amusements. Some of the young are troubled with doubts. The old people hesitate, demur, and at last give their consent. They have been once young themselves such opportunities do not occur every day. Indeed it would be very difficult for any one to demur, after reading the bill of fare,' a great blanket sheet, full of wood cuts and pictures; horses on the full run, and men bent into all possible shapes and contortions. • Unrivalled Attraction! Grand entrée. Four-and-twenty Arabian horses. Celebrated equestrian Mr. Burke. Feats in the ring. Grand leap. Cups and ball. The entertainments to conclude with the laughable farce of Billy Button, or the Hunted Tailor. As the hired man reads over this tempting bill, or failing to read, interprets the hieroglyphics, his mouth waters. 'I must go !' - and he adds, resolutely clenching his teeth, 'I will go.'
In the course of the day the equestrians have wrought industriously, and raised their white pavilion. It stands out on the green, in beau
tiful proportions, erected suddenly, as if by magic. A flag floats over its summit, on whose ample folds is inscribed Circus. All things are ready for the evening's sport, and a death-like silence reigns over the village.
Who is he that walketh pensively in yonder green, beneath the shadow of the trees, with head bowed down, as if in thought, and plucking a leaf to pieces? It is the amiable minister of the parish. He is sore grieved in spirit. Hitherto has he led his flock without contradiction, conducting them safely through thorny places, and shielding them from the inclemency of the storm. And now forsooth the very devil has come to take them by force of arms. From his heart he regrets it. He has prayed over it, and wept over it, and slept over it, and dreamed of it. He has summoned a conclave of the principal men, remonstrated with the authorities of the town, and held up the whole thing in the length and breadth of its enormity. But the perverse men will heed none of his counsels or reproofs. He preached a sermon on the Sunday previous, in which he alarmed the young, and denounced in the most terrible terms all who should hold communion with Belial. He shed tears over the disregard of his reckless auditors. But there is mixed up with genuine grief a little vexation, because he cannot have his own way. If they will heed none of his counsel, if they will persist in their own downward course, he can but depart from them ; he can but shake off the dust of his feet, and leave them to perish in their misdoings.
It is very hard to draw the line accurately betwixt virtue and vice, and it may be safer to err upon the right side. Yet there is a time for every thing. We cannot always be serious. The mind must have its carnival. We must crack the nuts of folly. To become a fool once a year, is a mark of wisdom; to be a perpetual fool, is beyond endurance. The gradual accumulation of spirits in the dullest person, will at length reach a height when it demands an exit.
'Qua data porta ruit.'
What signifies it, whether it be let off in a round explosion, or hiss away at intervals, like steam. Talk not of mingling the useful with the sweet. We sometimes require folly without mixture
pure, unalloyed, unmitigated and concentrated folly. It is good to be attacked, to be sick, and to die with agonies of laughter. The storm of the passions purifies the atmosphere of the temper. With how much keener zest do we return to substantial pleasures, even as the sick man awakens to the deliciousness of health! Govern then your own conduct by the most rigid maxims, but beware how you denounce too bitterly, or condemn too terribly, unless yourselves are immaculate. Consistency is a most precious jewel. If you deem it a credit to abstain from trifles, indulging unreservedly in what is infinitely
cherish envy, or pride, or jealousy in the heart -- if you sully by detraction the fair name of your neighbor, whom you are commanded to love as yourself — then certainly you 'strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. To do these things, and without compunction, may be esteemed a more palpable dereliction, than to laugh at the antics of a tumbler or a clown. The voiceless eloquence of a
good example persuades the young to virtue, but the harsher precepts of a rigorous code, will be more apt to compel them to a vagabond life.
The sun is just resting on the borders of the horizon, and making the summer evening lovely, when the whole equestrian corps, a signal being given, sally forth and wind through the grass-skirted lanes of the village. A band of music goes before, drawn in a chariot by four dappled horses. The notes of the bugle floating exquisitely on the tranquil air, fill the rustic bosom with enthusiasm. The equestrians follow in gorgeous, spangled dresses, the clown standing up on one leg, with a straw in his mouth, and giving a foretaste of those facetious inanities which he will exhibit at even. Just at dusk, they return to the pavilion. A motley crowd rushes hurriedly through the streets. The minister of the parish looks out from his window, and weeps. He is a good man, and God will shelter his little flock from harm. The scrupulous and the wavering are now decided. Those who but yesterday said, crabbedly, that they had no time, nor money nother, for such wild doings,’ bustle off, `just to see what's going on.' Many persons of approved gravity attend, who suld have known better.' To the negro population, the occasion is a heyday and holiday. The Pompeys are there, and the Catos are there, and the noble lineage of the Cæsars. Thus all the population are collected beneath the great tent. No; there are a few unhappy boys without, who peep hopelessly through the crevices of the awning, but whom the door-keeper will soon discover, and send harshly away. Just at this juncture, the gentleman who lives in the white cottage by the hill-side, and who has acted for a long time past in
a very remarkable manner, having little intercourse with the neighbors, declining to answer questions, or to have his affairs inquired into, (he is either crazy or in love,) passes by that way, and thrusting his hand in his pocket, presents the lads a shilling each. Smiles and gratitude reward him.
The area of the enclosure is divided into the ring, pit, and boxes. A circular wooden frame-work depends in the centre, containing a great many tarnished lamps, and magniloquently called a chandelier. Splendid ! whispers the crowd. Let us inspect the company a few minutes, before the performances commence. The circular seats are crowded to the very roof. Behold there the bloom and flower of the country — the daughters of stout yeomen, brought hither by the beaux to view this rare spectacle. Did ever a tent, since the days of Cleopatra, contain such feminine charms? Was ever the circle of Old Drury studded with such brilliant gems ? Those are no fictitious roses which compose that bead-dress, and it is the livelier tinge of the unrouged cheek which makes those roses blush. Let me direct your attention to that sweet girl opposite, just under the eaves of the pavilion, seven seats to the right of that ill-asso..ed patch. Simplex munditiis ! How simple in her adornment! A single pale flower is in her jet-black hair, and her eyes were too dark, did not the softest lashes attemper their lustre.
Alas ! 'consumption, like a worm in the bud, feeds on her damask cheek !' And yet she knows it not. Lighthearted, she frequents the place of merriment, and mingles sportively in the dance. But she will pass away as doth a leaf, in autumn, or with the milder breath of spring. Her companions will lament her,
and they will pluck the garland of the May-queen to pieces, to scatter it upon the
grave. These thoughts are sadly out of place, but grim death will be thrusting his visage every where, and there are goblins in every masquerade. But there is nothing spectral in the looks of Helen --. She is seventeen, and very beautiful, and wild as a roe. Health sparkles in her eye, and riots in the rich bloom of her cheeks. She has more suitors than Penelope, but in two words her character may be told. She is a COQUETTE. We might sit gazing in that quarter for ever, for it is very hard to withdraw one's eyes from the fair. They are sure to come back again, the truants; yet for the present, let us turn them to the rougher sex. Behold that man of gigantic stature, near the entrance of the tent. He lately emigrated from Connecticut, and stands seven feet two inches in his shoes. He wears a cerulean blue coat, buttoned up to his nose, and a tall, steeple-loafed hat. ad astra. To see him entering the village, in this plight, driving a team of jack-asses before a square box of a wagon, and sitting boltupright on a load of pumpkins, you would be apt to call him, in the dialect of his own people, an almighty lengthy creatur. When he walks through the aisle of the church on Sunday, he overtops the tallest man in the congregation, by a whole head. He will be a conspicuous mark here. See if the clown does not take cognizance of him, before the play is done.
There stands a dandy, his legs apart, and forming with the ground an isosceles triangle. He wears straps a yard long, his breeches being that much too short, and a very vulgar broach in his false bosom. His guard chain dangles in festoons about his vest, and a brass chain is terminated in a great ornament in the region of his knees. Mark his confused look. He thinks every body is gazing at him. “How will you swop watches, onsight onseen ?'
There is a jolly butcher, and there a farmer, of ruddy complexion and cheerful aspect, whip in hand, covered with dust, who has ridden hard, after mowing all day in the meadow, to bring his wife and daughters to the circus. He is not afraid to contribute of his substance to the wants of the needy, nor to the amusement of his family, of whom he is justly proud. Next to him sits an old man, holding a beautiful little boy, four years old, upon his knee, answering all his questions, quieting all his fears. Look at that idiot boy, grinning luridly upon the scene, with lolling tongue and watery mouth wide open, and white, unmeaning eyes. Look at that old man, with neck bent immoveably upon his breast, and so he has lived for many, many years - a pitiable object. There is another unfortunate, as thin as grim death, who is the victim of a tape-worm. He can yet laugh, and shake his lean sides. Thus wise men and fools are mingled in this epitome of a world. Let us turn to a more promising specimen of human nature ; that fat, gouty old gentleman, so comfortably provided for ; wild Harry he was called, in his youth. He quivers like a jelly, and one peal of hearty laughter, which he appears upon the verge of, will shake him into dissolution. He resembles that remarkable delineation of Tam O'Shanter,' struck from the rough free-stone into very life, by Thom, the self-taught artist. I hope the clown wont look