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HANDBILLS, INSCRIPTIONS, ETC.
UNDER this head it is our intention to give some slight insight into peculiarities of a kind of advertising unconnected with newspapers, and independent of any of the subjects treated in preceding chapters. We set forth with a great variety of handbills, which seemed almost too extensive for use in this volume; but we have already got rid of so many that the task of disposal is considerably lightened—so lightened, indeed, by the absorption of many of the most characteristic into preceding pages, that by comparison with the original collection our present supply seems rather meagre. It will doubtless, however, be found sufficient for the requirements of readers. We have already given an outline of the history of advertising by means of bills and posters, and have referred to the gradual growth of the system of "billing" until it has attained its present proportions. This system, though regarded by the Board of Works as very objectionable, is far pleasanter than that adopted twenty years ago, when every billsticker considered it his bounden duty to overstick the placards of opponents, and when nothing but a long course of education, or a most vivid imagination, would enable the passer-by to read what was upon the dead walls and hoardings. The Board of Works certainly took the initiative at the wrong time—at the time when improvement was vast and apparent to every one; but as it failed in its object, we may consider that public opinion has admitted the
improvement, and no longer regards wall-advertising as a nuisance. The Board doubtless started on the idea at a time when placarding was a most decided scandal, but it— like most other committees—took so long to bring the idea to perfection, that the scandal had abolished itself long before the Board was ready to abolish it. Having already entered into full particulars as to the modes formerly adopted, and contrasted them with those in use at the present time, individual efforts at illuminating the public mind will now be found amply sufficient for our purpose. Some of these are, as all the world knows, extremely funny on account of the vagueness of the writers, and in that particular resemble many of those we have instanced from the columns of newspapers. A very few examples of this kind will suffice, and will pave the way for the heavier material. One of the best of those inscriptions, the comicality of which is founded upon ignorance, appeared in 1821, and was posted up by order of Lord Camden in that portion of the county of Kent which called him owner. It said :—
Notice is hereby given, that the Marquis of Camden (on account of the backwardness of the harvest) will not shoot himself, nor any of his tenants, till the 14th of September.
We don't suppose that the Marquis had anything to do with the actual wording of the notice, but he has always been identified with it, and doubtless was cruelly badgered about it at the time. Another lordly notice of a similar kind appeared a few years back at Osterly Park, near Brentford, the seat of the Earl of Jersey, which gave the public this information: "Ten shillings reward.—Any person found trespassing on these lands or damaging these fences on conviction will receive the above reward. Dogs poisoned." Somebody once said that nobody expects to find education or ability in a lord, but that is because his household are expected to fulfil his duties properly. Lords would seem in imminent danger of having to pick up a little scholarship, and use it in the interest of their dependants. If so, polo and pigeon-shooting will languish, and West-End night-schools may become fashionable. But getting away from the aristocracy, and turning our attention to the other side of the social sphere, we don't find matters anyway improved, if we are to judge by the specimens of literary ability which now and then address themselves to the curious pedestrian. In Lambeth the latter might some short time back have been terrified by an announcement in a baker's shop, which informed all whom it might concern that vitals were baked there. Not so terrible, but more comical, is the following, which is copied from an announcement in the window of a shop at Chatham: "The public are requested not to confound this shop with that of another swindler who has established himself on the other side of the way." There is a story told of two rival shoemakers, one of whom astonished his opponent by the inscription, "Mens conscia recti." He was not allowed his triumph unalloyed, for the other, after puzzling over the notice for some days, divined that it was some new name for "understandings," and feeling sure there was nothing in the opposition shop that was not in his own, replied with this, "Men's and women's conscia recti may be obtained here." This story, however, requires confirmation, as does that of the two provincial photographers. One is said to have placed over his studio, "The acme of photography," to which his enemy and neighbour replied, "Photography in the very height of acme." Salt seems necessary to both of these, but we are informed on good authority that the next one is quite trueA correspondent says that the following is a verbatim copy of a sign formerly to be seen over a shoemaker's shop in the village of Heallan, near Denbigh, Wales. The schoolmaster would seem to have been a long way abroad when the sign was composed:—
Pryce Dyas, Coblar, daler in Bacco Shag and Pig tail, Bacon and Ginarbread Eggs laid every morning by me, and very good Paradise, in the Summer, Gentlemen and Lady can have good Tae and Crumqucls and Strawburry with a scim milk, because I can't get no cream.—N.li. Shuse and Boots mended very well.
Of a similar kind is the following, which was, years back, copied from a bill in the window of a small house near Lancaster:—
James Williams, parish clerk, saxtone, town crier, and bellman, makes and sells all sorts of haberdasharies, groceries, &c.; likewise, hair and wigs drest and cut on the shortest notice. N. B.—I keeps an evening scool, where I teach, at reasonable rates, reading, riting, and rithmitic, and singing. N.B.—I play the hooboy occasionally if wanted. N.B.—My shop is next door, where I bleed, draw teeth, and shoo horses, with the greatest scil. N.B.—Children taut to dance if agreeable at 6d. per week, by me, J. Williams, who buy and sell old iron, and coats—boots and shoos cleaned and mended. N.B.—A hat and pr of stockens to be cudgelled for, the best in 5, on Shrof Tushday. For particulars encuire within, or at the horse shoo and bell, near the church, on t'other side the way. N.B.—Look over the dore for the sign of the 3 pidgeons. N.B.—I sells good ayle, and sometimes cyder. Lodgings for single men. N. B.—I teach jografy, algebry, and them outlandish kind of things. A ball on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The next quaint window inscription, which treats of the troubles of a small shopkeeper, may also be depended upon, it being an exact copy of a written card suspended in the shop window of a tradesman in Horsemarket Street, Warrington. One can conceive the amount of provocation undergone and the indignation felt by the honest purveyor of mousetraps, whose blood must have been at boiling point v. hen he penned this :—
Notice I dont keep twelve hole mousetrap nor penney ones what i keep I sell to respectable people not to impudent Boys Hand Bad Girls that comes to rob me and annoy me and has bad parents those that come into my shop shall be severely beat and put into the celler and took before the magistrates those that come into a shop and ask for article that is not made they must come to steal.
Examples like this are manifold, and could be extended to great length, but those we have given are quite enough to afford a vivid idea of the danger of venturing upon literature without the precaution of first learning the rudiments of education, and of the ridicule likely to attend upon any more than usually ambitious effort, which succeeds in landing its perpetrator quite out of his depth.
Old playbills offer a fruitful subject to the investigator, but their actual origin is hidden in the obscurity of ages. So far as their history goes, however, they are plentiful, and mention of them is made in works of a period far anterior to the date of any specimens extant. The modern drama had its origin in an attempt to commemorate the mysteries of the Incarnation, from whence the plays were called mysteries; and it is recorded that one Gregory Nazianzen, an early father of the Christian Church, constructed a drama on the Passion, for the purpose of counteracting the profanities of the ancient plays, about the year of our Lord 364. We have to pass over eight hundred years for the next mention of dramatic representations, and then it is met in Fitzstephen, who states that "London had for its theatrical exhibitions holy plays, and the representation of miracles wrote by holy confessors." This would be towards the close of the twelfth century; and next we come to the Chester Mysteries, which were performed about 1270. These have been reprinted during the present century, and the application of the word mystery is explained in the two subjoined verses from the proclamation or prologue to the Whitsun Plays, a title by which the famous Chester Mysteries were also known. The "moonke" mentioned is Done Rondali, of Chester Abbey, who founded the plays:—
This moonke, moonke-like in Scriptures well seene
In storyes travelled with the best sorte;
In pagentes set fourth, apparently to all eyne,
The Olde and Newe Testament with livelye comforte;
Intermynglinge therewith, onely to make Sporte,
Some things not warranted by any writt,
Which, to glad the hearers, he woulde men to take yt
Now, you worshippfull Tanners, that of custome olde