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3-167 (Text)

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author,male,Neild, James Edward,34 addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Webby, 1989
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3-167-plain.txt — 9 KB

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The Hippodrome is the name given to the last transformation of that extremely ugly and nondescript building which was, in the first epoch of its existence, known by the name of Tattersall's, and which has but lately served as a market for the sale of stale vegetables and meat of doubtful freshness. There was never anything attractive about the place: the concerts of its early days had a gaudy kind of squalor as their characteristic, and the balls had only more dust and confusion than the concerts. When it was devoted to its legitimate purposes it had an earthy, sephulchral smell, and its equine inhabitants seemed the most dismal of quadrupeds. As a produce market, it offered an interesting study to such natural philosophers as delight in investigating the decomposition of vegetable and animal tissues; and now that it has become a "Hippodrome", it is equally remarkable for moral foetor as it was erewhile for material malexhalations. Its contiguity to that cloaca of putrescent vice, Little Bourke Street, renders it most convenient as a reservoir wherein may flow that ever-moving stream of human loathsomeness which fills the localities hereabout; and hence Yankee 'cuteness has judged rightly for itself in believing that a certain kind of coarse, boisterous attraction would turn this current therein.
If there are any enthusiastic students of physiognomy who are not Over-fastidious where they pursue their investigations of the human Countenance, I recommend them to go to this Hippodrome, and they will see an assemblage of characters such as in few other places could be brought together.  The place is approached with difficulty. I do not mean that the unsightly structure itself is not readily enough found, but there is requisite no little address to arrive inside. If any simpleminded individual should go thither with recollections of the entrance to the English Astley's, and expecting some kind of resemblance at least to the very brilliantly lighted and gaily decorated corridor which separates the doorway from the dress-circle at that temple of equestrianism, I should be glad to enjoy his discomfiture at the Hippodrome as he stumbles over the muddy uneven floor of its entrance, and gazes at the high wall of rough deal boards, through which some eyes are glowering at him from a hole, and upon which light is thrown from two or three flaring jets of gas. "Where do you want to go?' says a rough-looking man at his elbow, and in a tone extremely like that with which he was once accosted on a dark night on the Richmond Road, when he was requested to accommodate the speaker with all the loose cash he had about him. "Where do you want to go?' "Dress-circle," says the verdant visitor, with a start. "Pay there, and go along there," says the prize-fighting man, pointing with one hand to the eyes in the board, and with the other to a kind of passage at the end of which is a light. So he pays "there", and goes along "there", and having got to the end of "there", he is startled again by another man, roughly accosting him with "Now then, where's your check?' Having given up that instrument he is allowed to pass this Cerberus, who half fills up the narrow doorway as if he were expecting a violent rush and were prepared to resist it. Cerberus past, he finds himself upon an open platform, which seems to him to be intended for a stage, and he is convinced he has made some mistake; but, looking round, he sees benches filled by individuals who are apparently spectators like himself, for they are shouting at him to get out of the way, so he worms a passage through the crowd, gets into a corner and then looks round him. He sees a strange array of forbidding faces, but they are all turned in one direction: a coarse blowsy woman, in most scant petticoats, is jumping about upon a carpet spread upon the sawdust in the circle, and her gyrations excite the most tumultuous applause; she is led off by the master of the ring and the shouts of her admirers convince her she has distanced Fraulein Fannie completely. Band of wheezy wind instruments strikes up, and one of the "gorgeously-caparisoned steeds" enters. Following is one of the "world-renowned riders". The "world-renowned rider" mounts the "gorgeously-caparisoned steed", stands upon his back, and does some posturing. Presently comes in a clown, with a loud voice and stale jokes; having delivered some of his stale jokes, he assists several "tight"-habited individuals to hold coloured dusters after the manner of bridges, over which the "world-renowned" man jumps, to the frantic delight of the spectators. Encouraged by this approval, he attempts a somersault over one of the bridges, but, instead of coming down upon the back of the horse, he lands himself on his own back across the wall of the ring.  He has more pluck than cleverness, however, for he tries again, and again, and again, and falls each time, manifestly to the delight of the audience, which seems composed of exactly the kind of people to enjoy a broken neck. But "world-renowned" cannot do the somersault, nor does he break his neck, and I am afraid he becomes in consequence unpopular.
To this failure of attempt at fracture and dislocation succeeds another, in a different way, by other performers. It consists in leaping from a spring-board over the backs of several horses. Neither horses nor men are damaged in this experiment, and the dexterity (which might be accidental) is accepted in lieu of the catastrophe. Then comes a fellow with a pole which he plants on his abdomen, and another fellow climbs up it (not the abdomen - the pole), and apparently tries to singe his hair at one of the lights in the roof. Not succeeding in this attempt, he is seemingly seized with violent cramps, which occasion him to wriggle and twist in a manner which seriously embarrasses the lower man who holds the pole; having recovered from this spasmodic attack he slides down that piece of timber with a rapidity that suggests the possibility of his going down the throat of his companion. This feat of deglutition is not performed, however.
Comes in next a lanky man, who has by diligent practice succeeded in producing semi-luxation of the hip-joint, and who is thereby enabled to put his heels behind his neck, and his head out of sight; thus contorted he presents the appearance of a deformed frog on horseback. This hideous outrage upon ligamentous tissues is highly acceptable to the assemblage. He gives place to a man who jumps through papered hoops, and lastly through a kind of drum, in which have been placed some flags; after which he dresses himself as a Red Indian, and whoops and screeches like fifty devils in one. He shows how the Indian wields his club (the club being very much like a magnified carrot), and how he shoots his arrows. I was much interested to learn that the arrows used by the Indians are curved - for the purpose, I presume, of shooting round corners, like the fowling-piece of that historical Hibernian.
There is another clown besides the one first mentioned. He has a very Yankee accent, and his jokes are even more venerable than those of his companion. It was he who did the longest jump over the horses, and who did not, as he was manifestly expected to do, break any of his bones. There is more to be recorded, but it is all of the same kind - to wit, that of attempts to suffer breakage or laceration in some part of the body. For instance, the man who walks in stilts appears narrowly to escape dislocation of the ankle-joint; the man who hangs from the slack-rope also does his best to effect articular displacement of that joint as well as that of the wrists, and the maniac who allows himself to be dragged several times round the circle through the sawdust, is apparently some Indian Fakir, who has failed in being crushed by Juggernaut.  So it will be seen there is very much at this Hippodrome to allay the craving for man-killing; and probably if the lovers of this kind of excitement go several times, they may most likely witness a genuine fatal accident, not to speak of the possibility of a fight in the pit or elsewhere, with a like termination.
The conductors of this establishment are evidently disposed to afford the freeest possible liberty to their patrons. Smoking is not disallowed, and the interchange of compliments in the shape of oranges and other delicacies between the occupants of the boxes and the pit is permitted without any gainsay whatever. If any lady should by accident visit the place, she will do well not to put on her very newest bonnet or cloak, as, to say nothing of the crushing and pushing to which she may be subjected, she will probably be undesirous of having those articles of apparel spoiled by an intermitting shower of tobacco-juice playfully spurted in the form of a salivary spray from the boxes into what is facetiously denominated the "dress-circle". Such persons, too, as are in the habit of carrying articles of value in their pockets will do well to button those receptacles carefully up, for, judging from the facial expression of a great number of the audience, the quality of digital appropriativeness must be one somewhat extensively possessed.