Funny Folks Oct 9 1875
Once in a dress-circle, weary with discussing many a query
Of the palmy days of acting, and of quaint dramatic lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at a chamber-door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “outside the dress-circle door,
Wants a seat, and nothing more.”
Then the flapping — sad, uncertain, rustling of the painted curtain —
Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic visions never felt before
Of the coming Macbeth’s greeting, wondering if his repeating
Would delight me; while the visitor kept tapping at the door,
And I said “Where is the box-keeper, to open yonder door?
For the tapping is a bore.”
And myself the door unlocking, just to end the tiresome knocking,
In there stepped a solemn Croaker of the palmy days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he, not a minute stopped or stayed he,
Passed each fashionable lady with long skirts upon the floor,
Scanned his voucher through gold-mounted and green spectacles he wore,
Took his seat, and nothing more.
Then this Croaker grave, beguiling my sad fancy into smiling
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance he wore.
Though his aspect was unnerving, I began to speak of Irving—
For I doubted not that he had seen of Macbeths many a score—
And I blandly then suggested a Shakespearian treat in store,
When he answered, “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly swell to hear discourse so plainly
In the midst of Irving advocates, who voted him a bore—
In an audience all agreeing that no living being
Ever yet was blest with seeing acting such as that in store,
For the laurels Irving wore.
But the Croaker, sitting lonely, in his cushioned chair spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered; I was not a little fluttered,
And at last I feebly muttered, “Other Macbeths played before —”
Won’t be equalled any more!”
Startled at the stillness broken, by reply so aptly spoken—
“Doubtless,” said I, “what he utters is his sole dramatic lore,
Caught from some Shakespearian master, when unmerciful disaster
Followed faster still and faster, as the crowd his parts ignore,
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore—
“Tragedian, play no more!”
Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from a Rimmel censer,
Swung by pretty girls, whose footfall tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch!” I cried; “pray who hath sent thee? Hath some rival Macbeth lent thee
His spare ticket to content thee with fond memories a store,
Of the Macbeths seen of yore?”
“Croaker,” said I, “pray be civil, and of Irving speak no evil.
Whether rivalry hath brought thee or stage memories of yore,
Are you really not enchanted by this new Macbeth undaunted
In this house by Hamlet haunted? Tell me truly, I implore,
Is there, is there hope of Macbeth? Tell me, tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Croaker, “Say no more!”
“Croaker,” said I, “cease to level those stern glances at the revel.
By the bust of Shakespeare o’er us — by the bard we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if within thy distant Aidenn
Ever widow, wife, or maiden Lady Macbeth’s mantle wore
With a grace beyond Miss Bateman?” Still this croaking man of yore
Answered grimly, “Yes, a score.”
“Be that word our sign of parting, Croaker,” then I said, upstarting;
For the curtain now is rising, and I hear a deafening roar.
Not a word hath Macbeth spoken; he can only bow in token
Of the homage all unbroken. Then the Croaker spoke once more:
“Truly this Macbeth reminds me of a figure seen before
Over many a snuff-shop-door.”
And the Croaker, never flitting, still was sitting, his brows knitting,
Growling oft at Irving’s action, voice, and costume that he wore,
And his eyes had all the seeming of a croaker who was dreaming
Of Macready, Kemble, Kean, and Young, in palmy days of yore;
And the last words that he muttered, as he passed the circle-door,
Were — “I’m very glad ’tis o’er.”
- Irving — Henry Irving (1838–1905), highly successful actor-manager of the late Victorian era.
- Richelieu — “Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy” was an 1839 play by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It contains Bulwer-Lytton’s second-most famous line (“The pen is mightier than the sword”); the first being the opening of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
- The Bells — Leopold David Lewis’s play, which opened in 1871, and was a great success for Henry Irving.
- Kemble — English actor John Philip Kemble (1757–1823), whose father Roger (1721–1802) was also an actor, and manager.
- Kean — Edmund Kean (1787–1833), English Shakespearean actor, of whom Coleridge said, “Seeing him act was like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.”
- Macready — English actor William Charles Macready (1793–1873), unless the Croaker is very old, in which case he may mean the father, Irish actor-manager William Macready the Elder (1755–1829).
- Young — English actor Charles Mayne Young (1777–1856), who was at one point the country’s leading tragedian.
- Rimmel censer — The House of Rimmel was founded in 1834, in London, most well-known for its range of make-up, including mascara, with which its name became synonymous.
- Over many a snuff-shop-door... — Victorian Tobacconists would have a figure hanging outside the shop, much as pawnbrokers would have three balls, and a tailor would have a boot. The figure of a Highlander proclaimed that Scottish snuff was for sale, so perhaps it was this rather wooden type of Scot the Croaker was saying the actor's portrayal of Macbeth reminded him of.
Return to the Quaint and Curious index for more pastiches and parodies of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”.