« AnteriorContinuar »
• I have chosen for the subject the fable of Hercules, as his labours will furnish me with the most extraordinary events, and give me an opportunity of introducing many wonders of the monstrous creation. It is strange that this story, which so greatly recommends itself by its incredibility, should have hitherto escaped the search of those penetrating geniuses, who have rummaged not only the legends of antiquity, but the fictions of fairy tales and little history books for children, to supply them with materials for Perseus and Andromeda, Doctor Faustus, Queen Mab, &c. In imitation of these illustrious wits, I shall call my entertainment by the name of Harlequin Hercules.
• In the original story, as a prelude to his future victories, we are told that Hercules strangled two serpents in the cradle : I shall therefore open with this circumstance; and have prepared a couple of pasteboard serpents of an enormous length, with internal springs and movements for their contortions, which I dare say will far exceed that most astonishing one in Orpheus and Euridice. Any of the common-sized party-coloured gentry, that have learnt to whimper and whine after being hatched in the egg in the rape of Proserpine, may serve for this scene; but as the man Hercules must be supposed to be of a preternatural bulk of body, the modern Colossus has practised the tiptoe step and tripping air for the ensuing parts. Instead of a sword of lath, I shall arm him, in conformity to his character, with a huge cork club. . 'The first labour is the killing the Nemean lion, who, in imitation of the fable, shall drop from an oiledpaper moon. We have been long accustomed to admire lions upon the stage; but I shall vastly improve upon this, by making our conqueror flay him upon the spot, and cloak himself with the skin : I have, therefore, got a tawny-coloured hide made of coarse serge, with the ears, mane, and tip of the tail, properly bushed out with brown worsted.
• Next to this is the destruction of the Hydra, a terrible serpent with seven heads; and as two were said to sprout up again in the place of every one that was cut off, I design by the art of my machinery to exhibit a successive regeneration of double heads, till a hundred and more are prepared to be knocked off by one stroke of the aforesaid cork club..
"I have a beautiful canvas wild boar of Erymanthus for the third labour, which, as Harlequin is to carry it off the stage upon his shoulders, has nothing in its belly but a wadding of tow, and a little boy who is to manage its motions, to let down the wire jaw, or gnash the wooden tusks; and though I could rather wish he were able to grunt and growl, yet as that is impossible, I have taught the urchin to squeak prodigiously like a pig,
• The fourth labour, his catching the hind of Mænalus, whose feet were of brass and horns of gold, I fear I must omit; because I cannot break any common buck to run slow enough. But he is next to drive away those enormous birds of Stymphalus's lake, which were of such prodigious bigness, that they intercepted the light with their wings, and took up whole men as their prey. I have got a flock of them formed of leather covered with ravens' feathers; they are a little unwieldy, I must confess; but I have disposed my wires, so as to play them about tolerably well, and make them flap out the candles; and two of the largest are to gulp down the grenadier, stationed at each door of the stage, with their caps, muskets, bayonets, and all their accoutrements.
• The sixth labour is an engagement with the Amazons; to represent whom, I have hired all the wonderful tall men and women that have been lately, exhibited in this town. The part of Hippolita their queen is to be played by the female Sampson, who, after the company has been amazed with the vast proofs of her strength, is to be fairly flung in a wrestling bout by our invincible Harlequin.
I shall then present you with a prospect of the Augean stable, where you will have an arrangement on each side of seven or eight cows' hides stuffed with straw : which the fancy's eye may as easily multiply into a thousand, as in a tragedy battle it has been used to do half-a-dozen scene-shifters into an army. Hercules's method of cleansing this stable is well known; I shall therefore let loose a whole river of pewter to glitter along the stage, far surpassing any little clinking cascade of tin that the playhouse or Vauxhall can boast of.
As he is next to seize upon a bull breathing out fire and flames, I had prepared one accordingly, with the palate and nostrils properly loaded with wild-fire and other combustibles; but by the unskilfulness of the fellow enclosed in it, while he was rehearsing bull's part, the head took fire, which spread to the carcass, and the fool narrowly escaped suffering the torment of Phalaris. This accident I have now guard. ed against, by having lined the roof and jaws with thin plates of painted iron.
• To personate Geryon, who had three bodies, I have contrived to tie three men together back to back; one of them is the famous Negro who swings about his arms in every direction; and these will make full as grotesque a figure as the man with a double mask, As Harlequin for his eighth labour is to deliver this triple-form monster to be devoured by his cannibal oxen, I shall here with the greatest propriety exhibit the noted ox with six legs and two bellies: and as Diomede must be served up in the same manner as a meal for his flesh-eating horses, this will furnish me
with a good pretext for introducing the beautiful pan. ther mare.
• After these I shall transport you to the orchard of the Hesperides, where you will feast your sight with the green paper trees and gilt apples. I have bought up the old copper dragon of Wantley as a guard to this forbidden fruit; and when he is new burnished, and the tail somewhat lengthened, his aspect will be much more formidable than his brother dragon's in Harlequin Sorcerer.
* But the full display of my art is reserved for the last labour, the descent through a trap-door into hell. Though this is the most applauded scene in many of our favourite pantomimes, I don't doubt but my hell will outdo whatever has been hitherto attempted of the kind, whether in its gloomy decoration, its horrors, its flames, or its devils. I have engaged the engineer of Cuper's-gardens to direct the fire-works; Ixion will be whirled round upon a wheel of blazing saltpetre; Tantalus will catch at a refluent flood of burning rosin; and Sisyphus is to roll up a stone charged with crackers and squibs, which will bound back again with a thundering explosion: at a distance you will discover black steams arising from the river Styx, represented by a stream of melted pitch : the noted fire-eater also shall make his appearance, smoking out of red-hot tobacco-pipes, champing lighted brimstone, and swallowing his infernal mess of broth. Harlequin's errand hither being only to bring away Cerberus, I have instructed the most amazing new English Chien Savant to act the part. of this three headed dog, with the assistance of two artificial noddles fastened to his throat. The sagacity of this animal will surely delight much more than the pretty trick of his rival, the human hound, in an. other entertainment.
Thus I have brought my Hercules through his
twelve capital enterprises; though I purpose to touch upon some other of the Grecian hero's achievements. I shall make him kill Cacus the three-headed robber, and shall carry him to Mount Caucasus to untie Prometheus, whose liver was continually preyed upon by a vulture. This last-mentioned incident I cannot pass over, as I am resolved that my vulture shall vie in bulk, beauty, and docility, with the so much applauded stupendous ostrich : and towards the end I doubt not but I shall be able to triumph over the sorcerer's great gelding, by the exhibition of my Centaur Nessus, who is to carry off the little woman that weighs no more than twenty-three pounds, in the character of Deianira; a burden great enough for the ostler who is to play the brutehalf of my Centaur, as his back must be bent horizontally, in order to fix his head against the rump of the man-half.
The whole piece will conclude with Harlequin in a bloody shirt, skipping, writhing, and rolling, and at length expiring, to the irregular motions of the fiddle-stick : though if any of the fire-offices will insure the house, he shall mount the kindled pile, and be burned to ashes in the presence of the whole audience.
Intrigue is the soul of these dumb shows, as well as of the more senseless farces : Omphale, therefore, or Deianira, must serve for my Columbine; and I can so far wrest the fable to my own purpose, as to suppose that these dangers were encountered by Harlequin for their sakes. Eristheus, the persecutor of Hercules, will be properly characterized by Pantaloon, and the servant, whose business it is, as Homer says, “ to shake the regions of the gods with laughter,” shall be the wonderful little Norfolkman, as in all books of chivalry you never read of a giant but you are told of a dwarf. The fellow with Sten