« ZurückWeiter »
of this name, which was given to the minstrels who celebrated the advent of the Christmastide by serenading the citizens after nightfall, is now rather obscure. It is pretty evident, however, from the records of old account-books, in which the items of expenses for pageants and the like were entered, that the waits were extra guards, waiting-men, or watchmen employed on occasions of state, and who added minstrelsy to their other accomplishments. In the days when the watch patrolled the City, and cried to all loyal people to hang out their lights, there was an attempt at cadence in their summons; and even in later times, some of the ancient Charleys (we old fogies remember them, and tell the children about their ways) used to sing, "ten o'clock, and a fine starlight night," in a quavering recitative, which was not altogether devoid of a certain suspicion of music. It is pretty certain that the regular watchmen were once called waits, and that they gave their name (or took it from) a sort of hautboy, through which they used to blow a tune when they went their rounds, as an encouragement to peaceable people, and a warning to evil doers. Perhaps it would be a serviceable addition to the accoutrements of our modern police constables, who are many of them tolerable proficients on the cornet or the trombone, as their performance in the "police bands" will testify. Indeed, it might be suggested that these very police bands should take the place of the waits of our youth, and soothe us with dulcet strains during the week that heralds in Christmas. There is precedent for such official minstrelsy; for in Southwark, if not elsewhere, the master of the waits held his position by license, until competition and freetrade were too many for him. Then the practice began to decline, although late wayfarers at Christmastide, would often come upon a ghostly party of seedy-looking men standing at street corner, over their half boots in snow, and blowing as much steam as music from their half-frozen instruments. If he were charitably disposed he could invite them to the nearest tavern, where the fire, ining through the red curtain, made one warm in anticipation, and there order a can of egg-hot, or that favourite mixture called dog's nose, composed of hotspiced ale, qualified with Geneva. It is a poor heart that never rejoices; and when he was snug in bed listening to the last tune on Christmas-eve, and the waits, he would feel none the colder for having remembered the season.
The Gallery at Drury Lane Cheatre, London, on "Boxing-Night."
BY E. L. BLANCHARD.
To your true hard-working labourer in the land of Cockaigne-he who, in one fashion or another, is ever busily engaged in tilling the fruitful soil out of which London grows its riches-" Boxing-Day" is the greatest holiday of the year. It is the only one essentially English, the only one that is peculiarly identified with the Metropolis, and it is scarcely too much to say that the materials for its true enjoyment are not attainable beyond reach of the sound of Bow-Bells. On BoxingNight the gates of fairy-land are thrown open to the holiday-maker, and the smallest-sized silver coin of the realm will serve as a talisman to convey the gifted possessor thither through the playbill-covered portals. By this potent agency he may then compel mysterious beings, visible and invisible, to be obedient to command; and when they have faithfully executed his bidding to "higher the blue," or to "speak out," he shall have conjured up for him by the same spell the brightest palaces of enchantment, which will require all the pungent odour emanating from smoking pans of red and green fire to convince one sense at least they have an earthly origin. It is worth something to be able to fan the nearly extinct embers of imagination into flame by a glimpse of scenes like these, and which, though presumed to impose only on the youthful fancy, are, at all events, as substantial as many of those airy visions which form the illusions of maturer years.
It is a privilege, if only for a night, to be able to turn aside from the familiar thoroughfare which forms the path of our daily progress, and to enter on the contemplation of strange lands teeming with more wonders than the most adventurous traveller ever encountered. To refresh the vision, satiated with matter-of-fact forms and every-day visages, by a glimpse of curious countries hitherto unknown to mortals even by name, where vegetation assumes the most gigantic forms, and where the majority of the inhabitants exhibit the peculiarity of having huge heads all impressed with a family likeness; whilst the reigning monarch asserts his sovereign sway by vigorously assaulting the broadly-varnished faces of his subjects with a wonderful weapon, combining the glittering finery of a sceptre with the moderate flexibility of a sausage. Once in a way it is well, perhaps, for the oldest among us
to forget for an hour the exact age of the world, and fancy ourselves living in the golden reign of the good Caliph Haroun Alraschid, with broad turbans and Bagdad trousers for the prevailing fashionable costumes, and a flight of web-winged genii ready to execute for us the most unreasonable demands on the lightest terms and on the slightest notice. The present moment is not always the happiest of our lives, and for those who feel the painful realities of the day pressing heavily upon them, a few blissful minutes snatched from that indefinite period known as once upon a time" may be fairly allowed to form an acceptable exchange. We all need the softening light of a sphere of imagination to counteract the influences of the ever busy and too often selfish world around us; and there may be worse stimulants to fancy, and smaller prizes to be won by sheer force of thew and sinew, than a front seat in a gallery on a Boxing-Night. Let us give a rapid glance at a familiar picture.
Five o'clock in the afternoon of the twenty-sixth of December, and already three out of the four sides of Drury Lane Theatre, where an attack may be most conveniently made upon the portals, are besieged by a clamorous and impatient mob. Brydges Street is blocked up across the roadway, Russell Street is in possession of a dense crowd, and Vinegar Yard has been given up these two hours to the demands of the populace. The roar of a mighty multitude is heard above the distant rumbling of heavy vehicles along the Strand, and a foreigner wandering into the region of Covent Garden might listen to the confused murmur of many voices, under the impression that the whole parish of St. Paul's, in defiance of the beadle, was in a state of insurrection, and that a revolutionary chorus was being wildly sung to a dozen different tunes. The great gathering of the people grows more formidable as another hour passes by, and the thickening crowd exhibits a decided tendency to finally settle about the sides of the building. Closely packed under the portico on the north, and densely filling up the passage on the south, two strong detachments from the main body are steadily forcing their way up the stone staircases which severally lead from these avenues to the upper and lower gallery. About the thirtieth step is a stout barricade, a strong wooden wicket well barred with iron, which resists the fiercest pressure from the surging mass below, and yet will presently fly open at the slightest touch of a dexterous hand extended from above. The four sturdy fellows who have gained this post of vantage, and mean to maintain it against all comers, exchange mutual congratulations, and beguile the