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The Gallery at Drury Lane Theatre
, 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 aro 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 sare spell the brightest palaces of enchantinent, which will require all the pungent odour emanating from smoking pans of red and green fire to convince ono 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-clay 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 Thcatre, where an attack may be most conveniently made upon the portals, are besieged hy a clamorous and impaticnt 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 agaiust all comers, exchange mutual congratulations, and beguile the time that must yet elapse before the eagerly-anticipated withdrawal of the bolt by a critical discussion on pantomimes in general, and clowns in particular. Far beneath, feminine voices are heard in all the differently modulated tones of fright, appeal, timidity, and expostulation; and by a wonderful process, peculiar only to considerate crowds on such occasions, three females of various ages are triumphantly brought to the front with a gallantry which shows that the days of chivalry are not yet numbered. Then there is a cry for “ Jack Simmons," which provokes derisive responses, but is, nevertheless, faithfully transmitted by successive repetitions to the individual referred to, who is found helplessly clinging to the railings without, and instituting vain inquiries as to the precise direction in which those around him are exerting their propelling powers. Half past six, and the crowd at the doors, so closely
compressed that not a movement of the limbs has been possible for the last quarter of an hour, begins to regain freedom of action.
Simultaneously cach bolt has been withdrawn inside, and every barrier which has been interposed between the people and their promised pleasure is removed. Shillings fly into the hands of the money-taker faster than he can count them. Rushing, crushing, scrambling, tumbling up the hundred stone steps, round, and round, and round, till the topmost flight is reached, and then spreading widely over the benches, hurrying, plunging downwards to the front row, every nook and corner suddenly becomes filled by a hot, breathless multitude. There is a clattering of a thousand footsteps in the yet loftier region at the back, and the sixpenny gallery is full with the first rash. Swiftly flows the great surging tide of humanity into the pit below; there is a loud slamming of seats, and noisy opening of boxdoors, and the first and second circle of boxes rapidly exhibits, tier above tier, cnrved lines of curiously excited faces. The stalls more slowly and deliberately gain possession of their occupants, and in less time than it has taken to follow the hurried movements of the various classes of holiday-makers, the noble theatre, which is distinctively entitled to bear the name of " national,” is crammed from floor to roof, and a strange sight, unlike any other in the world, is revealed to the eye privileged to peer through to small aperture cut through the baize of the green curtain.
Flushed with conquest-for every seat in the gallery is the symbol of a victory--each proud possessor of six inches of sitting room joins in an opening chorus of exultation, and then unites in glibly bantering the disappointed who fill up the odd corners, and poise themselves
unsteadily on the shoulders of their neighbours. Presently the outer man is visibly relieved by being divested of extraneous articles of apparel, and the inner man is perceptibly refreshed by various potations cunningly derived from small bottles carefully brought in, and curiously stowed away in the ample pockets of the discarded coat. The first piece commences, and concludes, as usual, without the slightest attention being bestowed upon the stage, and there is no cessation in the rapid interchange of harmless personalities among the occupants of the two galleries, who are well aware, on Boxing-Night, that they are expected to amuse the rest of the audience for the preliminary hour, and have the right to regard themselves during that time as the principal performers. Suddenly a fight takes place, for no particular reason that can be discovered, somewhere among the back benches, and in the cause of peace and quietness there is immediately a general demand that the combatants shall be turned out, or thrown
The gaunt figure of a policeman glides amidst the turbulent throng, somebody struggles and disappears, and somebody else takes the vacant place to his own personal advantage, and the immense gratification of everybody else, whilst a vigorous round of applause is offered in testimony of regard for the supremacy of order. Exhibiting a firm determination to suppress any further ebullitions of a similar kind, each spectator settles down resolutely into his place, and finds a safety-valve for his excited feelings in either roaring for “Jack Simmons," who seems to be in perpetual request, or whistling, yelling, and shouting by turns. There is, of course, a little flirtation going on between a pretty servant-girl and a tall soldier, to the obvious discomfiture of a jealous admirer who has stationed himself at her side, on the strength of having stood treat for the evening, and a strong conviction on the part of an elderly couple as to the mutual necessity of recruiting exhausted nature. Fluttering over the heads of the pit, small fragments of paper descend in the semblance of a snow-storm, and then there is a burst of acclamations at the appearance of Mr. Tully in the orchestra, and another when he makes his annual bow as a propitiatory sacrifice to the gods. Three smart taps on the conductor's desk, and the overture begins. Full is it of all those street tunes in which the Londoners delight, and readily is every suggestive melody caught up by the approving listeners, and fitted with appropriate words. At last the curtain rises on the pantomime, and the true glory of Boxing-Night reveals itself before the strained eyes of the multitude, who have for this undergone all the moil and turmoil of the day.
Christmas in the Count's Folly.
BY CLEMENT W. SCOTT.
I NEVER conld quite understand my strange liking for the Count. We had but few feelings in common, and he despised the pursuits I followed and the tastes I cultivated. Be that as it may, I am bound to confess that, in spite of his eccentricities, I did in a mysterious sort of way cotton to the fellow; and whenever, among the men of our time, he came in for an unfair amount of chaff--and that was not unfrequently-I found myself taking his part, and abusing his assailants.
I must digress here a little, in order to state that “the Count” was an Oxford nickname, bestowed upon one Charley Peebles, who came up from a private school into residence at St. Olave's just about the same time that I arrived fresh from the friendships and enthusiasm of Clayborough.
The Count, who had but little sympathy with the muscular activity of Oxford life, was eventually tired of getting ploughed, and one day he suggested to me the possibility of his quitting the embraces of Alma Mater for a more exhilarating and active profession—the army. It was very soon clear to me that the Count's life was to be one of senti. ment rather than activity. He had come to Oxford brimming over with high-flown notions about oaken halls, and silver tankards, audit ale, loving cup, founder's days, and old associations; and having seen in the course of a few terms all that Oxford had to show, he turned round and abused Oxford.
The Count left Oxford, and I remained and took my degree. I went on to London and read for the bar, and to my intense surprise who should turn up one day in the ball of Lincoln's Inn but my
old friend the Count. His life had undergone another change. Tiredas usual—of chambers in London, he had ferreted out a deserted tower on the top of a high hill in Gloucestershire, of which,
for the noble sum of five pounds a year, he had become the absolute i possessor. True, as he informed me, his tower was not in very good
repair when he became its master, there not being one single whole pane of glass in it, the boys of the neighbouring town having a nasty habit of mounting the hill on their holidays, and besieging the Count's deserted castle.
“I have had some St. Olave's men down there staying with me off