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PUNCH In a former volume we did full justice to the popular merits of Mr. Punch's performance, and we have now only to consider his very instructive history.
À work has been published not long since on the subject: it is entitled 'Punch and Judy,' and has the merit-we had nearly said the only one - of being illustrated by George Cruikshank, to whose pencil we are indebted for the above characteristic sketch.
Mr. Punch,' says this writer, 'first came into existence at Acerra, an ancient city at a short distance from Naples. The date of this event is differently stated by authors who have incidentally mentioned him; Ricciboni fixing it before the year 1600, and Gemma and Signorelli after the commencement of the seventeenth century.'
He then prosecutes the inquiry through half a dozen pages, and thus sums up the information he obtains.
Concluding, then, that Punch is one of the familia harlequini, and their common parent was the vice of the old Moralities, the question arises to what circumstances he owes the deformity of his figure, and why his nose, by its length, is rendered so obtrusive a feature ?'
VOL. I. Jan. 1830.
His answer is very conclusive. 'It pleased his in. ventor, Silvio Fiorillo, to make him so !
It required no great research, we should suppose, to come to this conclusion; but we suspect it is far from being correct. The origin of Punch, and pantomime, and the personages who give grace and beauty to each of these species of amusements, bas puzzled other and wiser heads. Mr. D’Israeli, in his “Curiosities of Literature,' has given us a chapter upon the subject; but he only makes confusion worse confounded. The annotators of Shakspeare have not been more success. ful; and our antiquaries have thrown no new light upon the debatable ground. The mystery, however, is easily explained: the dress and figure of the different parties point out their origin distinctly enough. They are the ideal beings of fairy mythology personified. The German and Scandinavian dwarf has got the bump upon his back, and so has Punch; he has got a conical cap upon his head, and so has Punch; his face is aged and ugly, and so is Punch's; his nose is hooked and large, and Punch’s prominent feature is distinguished by marks equally as repulsive. His legs, too, are not in the common mould of other men,' and Punch has in his understanding preserved the family likeness. That nothing might be wanted to point out his origin, his voice, even to the present day, preserves the intona. tion and the sound popularly attributed to the subterranean tenants of the Hartz mountains.
We are prepared to defend this opinion by a host of ancient authorities, hut the testimony of a modern writer will be sufficient to establish the fact. sonal beauty,' says the author of Fairy Mythology,' speaking of the Scandinavian dwarf, 'they have not much to boast. The dwarfs were often seen, and they had immoderate humps on their backs, and long crooked noses. They were dressed in grey jackets, and they wore pointed red caps.' This is precisely Punch's costume.
At first puppet-shows represented fairies-probably to amuse children: the supposed dress, shape, and
other personal attributes were preserved. Fairy tales, which were early written, may have given the bint upon which the mechanist constructed the scene ; and the eagerness with which popular superstitions were listened to, no doubt, rendered Punch not only intelligible, but entertaining. Pantomime followed, and was, and is, nothing more than Punch upon a large scale. We have the dwarf still, in the person of Pantaloon; and the wooden lath (of which D’Israeli could make nothing) of Harlequin, which performs such wonders every Christmas, is nothing more than the sword of sharpness of the Edda, the wonderful sword of Skoff. nung, and the fairy blade of Suafurlami. It is also the sword which Jack borrows of the giant, that cuts off a man's head so quickly that he does not perceive it until he literally finds it in his hand. It is the sword of Antar, as well as that given to the merchant's son in the tale of the Golden Mountain. He has only to say, • Heads off !' and the work is done. Such a sword is Harlequin's.
This gentleman still retains his primitive habits of vanishing through stone walls; and though he jumps through head-foremost, it is probably the only method by which he could practically imitate the alertness of his predecessor, the fairy lover of Scandinavia. Columbine, too, is a fairy ; and the Clown is the ragged lubber with the voracious appetite : he is always eating, and always mischievous. The origin is also indicated in the scene itself: there is always a fairy land introduced, and the whole operation is gone through in obedience to fairy commands. Time and circumstances have rendered an admixture of grosser matter necessary; but still the original features of Gothic fairies are quite perceptible, both in puppet-shows and pantomimes. We have neither leisure nor inclination to go at length into the subject, which is by no means devoid of interest, and have thrown out these remarks for the consideration of future commentators upon the early dra. matists.
Punch is an old favourite in this country. The wits of Queen Anne's reign bonoured his performance with critiques in the most popular periodicals of the day, and there were not wanting many who preferred his exhibitions to the acting at the Opera House. In time, however, he fell into comparative neglect, and Mr. Strutt, in his ' Sports and Pastimes,' thus speaks of the once popular favourite. • In my memory these shows consisted of a wretched display of wooden figures, barbarously formed and decorated, without the least degree of taste or propriety: the wires that communicated the motion to them appeared at the top ot' their heads, and the manner in which they were made to move evinced the ignorance and inattention of the managers. The dialogues were mere jumbles of absurdities and nonsense, intermixed with low immoral discourses, passing between Punch and the fiddler, for the orchestra rarely admitted of more than one minstrel ; and these flashes of merriment were made offensive to decency by the actions of the puppet. In the present day, the puppet-show man travels about the streets, when the weather will permit, and carries the motions, with the theatre itself, upon his back. The exhibition takes place in the open air, and the precarious income of the miserable itinerant depends entirely on the voluntary contribution of the spectators, which, as far as one may judge from the squalid appearance he usually makes, is very trifling.'
Since Mr. Strutt's time Punch has exhibited no exterior proofs of amendment. Still he is a general la. vourite. The Duke of Wellington, according to the
Morning Herald,' stood, not long since, in Pall Mall, like Laughter holding both his sides, for a quarter of an hour, in admiration of Punch's wit. Mr. D'Israeli knew a philosopher who delighted in enacting the part himself, and we have already shown how partial we are to this ugly portrait of the Scandinavian dwarf.
THE WIND ON THE APPROACH OF SPRING.
Cease, rude Boreas, blust'ring railer.--- Old Song.
And blust'ring pride,
In cavern wide.
And forces great,
In lasting hate.
So great a foe?
Or bring thee woe.
Both drear and loud;
Or vulgar crowd.
Like some bold knave;
And thee enslave.
Her warmth again ;
Free from all pain.