Frost’s Circus Life and Circus Celebrities
Thomas Frost, Circus Life and Circus Celebrities, London: Chatto and Windus, 1881.
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THERE are probably few persons who do not number among the most pleasant recollections of their youth their first visit to a circus, whether their earliest sniff of the saw-dust was inhaled in the building made classical by Ducrow, or under the canvas canopy of Samwell or Clarke. In my boyish days, the cry of 'This way for the riders!' bawled from the stentorian vocal organs of the proprietor or ring-master of a travelling circus, never failed to attract all the boys, and no small proportion of, the men and women, to the part of the fair from which it proceeded. Fairs have become things of the past within twelve or fifteen miles of the metropolis; but ever and anon a tenting circus pitches, for a day or two, in a meadow, and the performances prove as attractive as ever. The boys, who protest that they are better than a play, - the young women, who are delighted with the 'loves of horses,' - the old gentlemen, who are never so pleased as when they are amusing their grandchildren, - the admirers of graceful horsemanship of all ages, - crowd the benches, and find the old tricks and the old ‘wheezes,' as the poet found the view from Grongar Hill, 'ever charming - ever new.'
What boy is there who, though he may have seen it before, does not follow with sparkling eyes the Pawnee Chief in his rapid career upon a barebacked steed, - the lady in the scarlet habit and high hat, who leaps over hurdles, - the stout farmer who, while his horse bears him round the ring, divests himself of any number of coats and vests, until he finally appears in tights and trunks, - the juggler who plays at cup and ball, and tosses knives in an endless shower, as he is whirled round the arena? And which of us has not, in the days of our boyhood, fallen in love with the fascinating young lady in short skirts who leaps through 'balloons' and over banners? Even when we have attained man's estate, and learned a wrinkle or two, we take our children to Astley's or Hengler's, and enjoy the time-honoured feats of equitation, the tumbling, the gymnastics, and the rope-dancing, as much as the boys and girls.
But of the circus artistes - the riders, the clowns, the acrobats, the gymnasts, - what do we know? How many are there, unconnected with the sawdust, who can say that they have known a member of that strange race? Charles Dickens, who was perhaps as well acquainted with the physiology of the less known sections of society as any man of his day, whetted public curiosity by introducing his readers to the humours of Sleary's circus; and the world wants to know more about the subject. When, it is asked, will another saw-dust artiste give us such an amusing book as Wallett presented the world with, in his autobiography? When are the reminiscences of the late Nelson Lee to be published? With the exception of the autobiography of Wallett, and a few passages in Elliston's memoirs, the circus has hitherto been without any exponent whatever. Under the heading of 'Amphitheatres,' Watts's Bibliotheca Britannica, that boon to literary readers at the British Museum in quest of information upon occult subjects, mentions only a collection of the bills of Astley's from 1819 to 1845.
Circus proprietors are not, as a rule, so garrulous as poor old Sleary; they are specially reticent concerning their own antecedents, and the varied fortunes of their respective shows. To this cause must be ascribed whatever shortcomings may be found in the following pages in the matter of circus records. Circus men, too, are very apt to meet a hint that a few reminiscences of their lives and adventures would be acceptable with the reply of Canning's needy knife-grinder, - 'Story! God bless you! I have none to tell, sir.' There are exceptions, however, and as a rule the better educated members of the profession are the least unwilling to impart information concerning its history and mysteries to those outside of their circle. To the kindness and courtesy of several of these I am considerably indebted, and beg them to accept this public expression of my thanks.
Read Chapter I.
Beginnings of the Circus in England - Tumblers and Performing Horses of the Middle Ages - Jacob Hall, the Ropedancer - Francis Forcer and Sadler's Wells - Vauxhall Gardens - Price's Equestrian Performances at Johnson's Gardens-Sampson's Feats of Horsemanship - Philip Astley - His Open-air Performances near Halfpenny Hatch - The First Circus - Erection of the Amphitheatre in Westminster Road - First Performances there - Rival Establishment in Blackfriars Road - Hughes and Clementina.
Read Chapter II.
Fortunes of the Royal Circus - Destruction of Astley's Amphitheatre by Fire - Its Reconstruction - Second Conflagration - Astley in Paris - Burning of the Royal Circus - Erection of the Olympic Pavilion - Hengler, the Rope-dancer - Astley's Horses - Dancing Horses - The Trick Horse, Billy - Abraham Saunders - John Astley and William Davis - Death of Philip Astley - Vauxhall Gardens - Andrew Ducrow - John Clarke - Barrymore's Season at Astley's - Hippo-dramatic Spectacles - The first Circus Camel.
Read Chapter III.
Ducrow at Covent Garden -Engagement at Astley's - Double Acts in the circle - Ducrow at Manchester - Rapid Act on Six Horses - 'Raphael's Dream' - Miss Woolford - Cross's performing Elephant - O'Donnel's Antipodean Feats - First year of Ducrow and West - Henry Adams - Ducrow at Hull - The Wild Horse of the Ukraine - Ducrow at Sheffield - Travelling Circuses - An Entree at Holloway's - Wild's Show - Constantine, the Posturer - Circus Horses - Tenting at Fairs - The Mountebanks.
Read Chapter IV.
A few words about Menageries - George Wombwell - The Lion Baitings at Warwick - Atkins's Lion and Tigress at Astley's - A Bull-fight and a Zebra Hunt -Ducrow at the Pavilion - The Stud at Drury Lane - Letter from Wooler to Elliston - Ducrow and the Drury ‘Supers' - Zebras on the Stage - The first Arab Troupe - Contention between Ducrow and Clarkson Stanfield - Deaths of John Ducrow and Madame Ducrow - Miss Woolford.
Read Chapter V.
Lions and Lion-tamers -Manchester Jack - Van Amburgh - Carter's Feats - What is a Tiger? - Lion-driving and Tiger-fighting - Van Amburgh and the Duke of Wellington - Vaulting Competition between Price and North - Burning of the Amphitheatre - Death of Ducrow - Equestrian Performances at the Surrey Theatre - Travelling Circuses - Wells and Miller - Thomas Cooke -Van Amburgh - Edwin Hughes - William Batty - Pablo Fanque.
Read Chapter VI.
Conversion of the Lambeth Baths into a Circus - Garlick and the Wild Beasts - Batty's Company at the Surrey - White Conduit Gardens - Re-opening of Astley's - Batty's Circus on its Travels - Batty and the Sussex Justices - Equestrianism at the Lyceum - Lions and Lion-tamers at Astley's - Franconi's Circus at Cremorne Gardens - An Elephant on the Tight-rope - The Art of Balancing - Franconi's Company at Drury Lane - Van Amburgh at Astley's - The Black Tiger - Pablo Fanque - Rivalry of Wallett and Barry - Wallett's Circus - Junction with Franconi's.
Read Chapter VII.
Hengler's Circus - John and George Sanger - Managerial Anachronisms and Incongruities - James Hernandez - Eaton and Stone - Horses at Drury Lane - James Newsome - Howes and Cushing's Circus - George Sanger and the Fighting Lions - Crockett and the Lions at Astley's - The Lions at large - Hilton's Circus - Lion-queens - Miss Chapman - Macomo and the Fighting Tigers.
Read Chapter VIII.
Pablo Fanque - James Cooke - Pablo Fanque and the Celestials - Ludicrous affair in the Glasgow Police-court - Batty's transactions with Pablo Fanque - The Liverpool Amphitheatre - John Clarke - William Cooke - Astley's - Fitzball and the Supers - Batty's Hippodrome - Vauxhall Gardens - Ginnett's Circus - TheAlhambra - Gymnastic Performances in Music-Halls - Gymnastic Mishaps.
Read Chapter IX.
Cremorne Gardens - The Female Blondin - Fatal Accident at Aston Park - Reproduction of the Eglinton Tournament -Newsome and Wallett - Pablo Fanque's Circus - Equestrianism at Drury Lane - Spence Stokes - Talliott's Circus - The Gymnasts of the Music-halls - Fatal Accident at the Canterbury - Gymnastic Brotherhoods - Sensational Feats - Sergeant Bates and the Berringtons - The Rope-trick - How to do it.
Read Chapter X.
Opening of the Holborn Amphitheatre - Friend's season at Astley's - Adah Isaacs Menken - Sanger's Company at the Agricultural Hall - The Carre troupe at the Holborn Amphitheatre - WanderingStars of theArena - Albert Smith and the Clown - Guillaume's Circus - The Circo Price - Hengler's Company at the Palais Royal - Re-opening of Astley's by the Sangers - Franconi's Circus - Newsome's Circus - Miss Newsome and the Cheshire Hunt - Rivalry between the Sangers and Howes and Cushing.
Read Chapter XI.
Reminiscences of the Henglers - The Rope-dancing Henglers at Astley's - Circus of Price and Powell - Its Acquisition by the Henglers - Clerical Presentation to Frowde, the Clown - Circus Difficulties at Liverpool - Retirement of Edward Hengler - Rivalry of Howes and Cushing - Discontinuance of the Tenting System - Miss Jenny Louise Hengler - Conversion of the Palais Royal into an Amphitheatre - Felix Rivolti, the Ring-master.
Read Chapter XII.
The Brothers Sanger - First Appearance in London - Vicissitudes of Astley’s - Batty and Cooke - Purchase of the Theatre by the Brothers Sanger - Their Travelling Circus - The Tenting System - Barnum and the Sangers.
Read Chapter XIII.
American Circuses - American Performers in England, and English Performers in the United States - The Cookes in America - Barnum's great Show - Yankee Parades- Van Amburgh's Circus and Menagerie - Robinson's combined Shows - Stone and Murray's Circus - The Forepaughs - Joel Warner - Side Shows - Amphitheatres of New York and New Orleans.
Read Chapter XIV.
Reminiscences of a Gymnast - Training and Practising - A Professional Rendezvous - Circus Agencies - The First Engagement - Springthorp's Music-hall - Newsome's Circus - Reception in the Dressing-room - The Company and the Stud - The Newsome Family - Miss Newsome's Wonderful Leap across a green lane - The Handkerchief Trick - An Equine Veteran from the Crimea - Engagement to travel.
Read Chapter XV.
Continuation of the Gymnast's Reminiscences - A Circus on the move - Three Months at Carlisle - Performance for the Benefit of local Charities - Removal to Middlesborough - A Stockton Man's Adventure - Journey to York - Circus Ballets - The Paynes in the Arena - Accidents in the Ring - A Circus Benefit - Removal to Scarborough - A Gymnastic Adventure - Twelve Nights at the Pantheon - On the Tramp - Return to London.
Read Chapter XVI.
Continuation of the Gymnast's Reminiscences - Circus Men in Difficulties - Heavy Security for a small Debt - The Sheriffs Officer and the Elephant - Taking Refuge with the Lions - Another Provincial Tour - With a Circus in Dublin - A Joke in the wrong place - A Fenian Hoax - A Case of Pikes - Return to England - At the Kentish Watering-places - Off to the North.
Read Chapter XVII.
Lions and Lion-tamers - Lorenzo and the Lions - Androcles and the Lion - The Successor of Macomo - Accident in Bell and Myers's Circus - Lion Hunting - Death of Macarthy - True Causes of Accidents with Lions and Tigers - Performing Leopards - Anticipating the Millennium - Tame Hyenas - Fairgrieve's Menagerie - Performing Lions, Tigers, Leopards, and Hyenas - Camels and Dromedaries - The Great Elephant.
Read Chapter XVIII.
Circus Slang - Its Peculiarities and Derivation - Certain Phrases used by others of the Amusing Classes - Technicalities of the Circus - The Riders and Clowns of Dickens - Sleary's Circus - Circus Men and Women in Fiction and in Real Life - Domestic Habits of Circus People - Dress and Manners - The Professional Quarter of the Metropolis.
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Last modified November 2005.