Cornhill Magazine,  5 (1862), 84–92.

At the Play

[John Hollingshead]




Lecturing, Astronomy, Amusement, Popularization, Instruments, Display

Institutions mentioned:

Lyceum, theatre—Bartley's Orrery

    After extolling the illicit pleasures of the theatre, the author describes how, during his youth, a censorious schoolmaster friend who 'objected to theatres upon principle [...] saw no harm in going to a play-house during Passion-week to hear an astronomical lecture, illustrated by an Orrery. That was what he called amusement and instruction combined'. Reflects, however, on the 'effect which such a lecture has upon a cheerful, brilliant building', with 'the silent stage, half filled with a few tables, and the lecturer's apparatus [...] like a deserted shop'. The audience for the lecture was made up of 'country people, who probably thought they were seeing an ordinary play, or persons who came to perform a solemn duty by learning something about the "solar system". If their faces were any guide to their feelings, they looked bewildered and unhappy, with the exception of one individual, who seemed to despise the wonders of the universe'. The author soon recognized the lecturer, who 'with a jaunty air [...] patronize[d], without clearly explaining, the Infinite', as the 'broken-down manager' of an 'insolvent theatre' (probably a reference to George Bartley). Indeed, his 'style of playing with the Orrery—an apparatus, by the way, which was most creaking and unmanageable' was 'like that of a juggler handling the cups and balls'. The lecture came to a premature end when a drunken and 'discontented mariner, who had drifted into this unhappy port in search of amusement' began shouting, 'when's the broad-sword combat goin' to begin?', and loudly demanded his money back. (89)

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