Front Page Titles (by Subject) AMUSEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE.∗ - Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers
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AMUSEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE.∗ - William Stanley Jevons, Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers 
Methods of Social Reform and Other Papers (London: Macmillan, 1883).
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AMUSEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE.∗
The possible Methods by which we may hope to accomplish Social Reform are almost infinite in number and variety. As society becomes more complex and the forms of human activity multiply, so must multiply also the points at which careful legislation and continuous social effort are required to prevent abuse, and secure the best utilisation of resources. Nor are these Methods of Social Reform to be regarded as alternatives, one or other or a few of which are to be considered sufficient. They are to be advocated and adopted conjunctively, not disjunctively. Each and all must be brought into simultaneous play, if any considerable effect is to be produced. It is common to hear social reformers express disappointment that their efforts seem to bear such slight results. Schools have been built, penny readings started, penny banks, libraries, and various useful institutions established, and yet crime and ignorance and drunkenness show no apparent diminution—nay, sometimes they show an increase.
But it is altogether a mistake to suppose that a few Methods of Social Reform, almost casually adopted according to the crotchets of the reformer, can be expected to make any serious impression upon the bad habits of a population—habits which have become confirmed during centuries of ignorance and mistaken legislation. Time must be a great element in social reform, and it is hardly to be expected that any great change can become manifest in less than the thirty years during which a new generation displaces the older one. But in addition to this consideration, we must remember that it is of comparatively little good to close some flood-gates, while others are left wide open. If from ignorance or neglect, or, it may be, from sinister motives, we leave many of the more important causes of social mischief in full operation, it is quite likely that our efforts in other directions, however meritorious in themselves, will be neutralised. What is needed among social reformers is a long pull, and a strong pull, and especially a pull all together. Each individual may, according to his tastes and prejudices, choose his own strand of the rope, and exert his own force entirely upon that, if he likes; but he must not suppose that he alone can do any appreciable part of the work. He must be tolerant then of the different, or, it may sometimes appear, the inconsistent efforts of others. And it would be well that he should keep his mind open to conviction, that there are other directions in which his efforts might be much more advantageously devoted. If the citadel of poverty and ignorance and vice is to be taken at all, it must be besieged from every point of the compass—from below, from above, from within; and no kind of arm must be neglected which will tend to secure the ultimate victory of morality and culture.
It is obvious, of course, that in any single article it is impossible to treat of more than one Method of Social Reform. In selecting, for the subject of the present article, Public Amusements, I must not be supposed to attribute to it any exclusive or disproportionate weight. Nevertheless, there is hardly any other Method, taken separately, to which greater importance should be attributed than to the providing of good moral public amusements, especially musical entertainments. Up to quite recent years, the English people have, in this respect, been wofully backward, as compared with the more cultured Continental nations. There are still large parts of the manufacturing and more thickly populated districts of the kingdom where pure and rational recreation for the poorer classes can hardly be said to exist at all. The richer classes do not suffer much from this lack of local amusement. They take care to enjoy themselves in periodic visits to London, in tours abroad, or in residence at watering-places, where entertainments are provided. Their amusements on their own estates chiefly consist in shooting, and other forms of sport, in the prosecution of which they are led to exclude the mass of the people, even from the natural enjoyments of the air and the sun. It is hardly too much to say that the right to dwell freely in a grimy street, to drink freely in the neighbouring public-house, and to walk freely between the high-walled parks and the jealously preserved estates of our landowners, is all that the just and equal laws of England secure to the mass of the population.
England is traditionally called “Merrie England;” but there has always seemed to me to be something absurdly incongruous in the name at present. It is a case of anachronism, if not of sarcasm. England may have been merry in the days when the village green and the neighbouring common were still unenclosed; when the Maypole was set up, and the village fiddler and the old English sports were really existing institutions. But all that sort of thing is a matter of history. Popular festivals, fairs, wakes, and the like, have fallen into disuse or disrepute, and have to a great extent been suppressed by the magistrates, on the ground of the riotous and vicious assemblages which they occasioned.∗ There is no difficulty in seeing that there is a tendency, in England at least, to the progressive degradation of popular amusements. Many opportunities of recreation have gone, for the same reason that May Fair, and Bartholomew Fair, and, within the last few years, Knott Mill Fair at Manchester, have gone. Horse-racing, indeed, still survives as a national sport, but it cannot long be tolerated, unless it be conducted with more regard to decency and morality. Already the so-called “gate-meetings” in the neighbourhood of the metropolis are denounced as “an intolerable nuisance,” gathering together, as they do, the scum of the blackguardism and crime of London.∗
But, if old amusements are by degrees to be suppressed, and no new ones originated, England must indeed be a dull England. Such it has, in fact, been for a length of time. Taking it on the average, England is as devoid of amusements as a country of such wealth can be. The people seem actually to have forgotten how to amuse themselves, so that when they do escape by an excursion train from their depressing alleys, there is no provision of music, no harmless games, nor other occupation for the vacant time. The unusual elevation of spirits which the fresh air occasions vents itself in horse-play and senseless vulgarity; and, in the absence of any counter-attraction, it is not surprising that the refreshment-bar and the nearest tap-room are the chief objects of attention.
I quite allow that when our English masses try to amuse themselves, they do it in such a clumsy and vulgar way as to disgust one with the very name of amusement. Witness the Bank Holidays on Hampstead Heath, where the best fun of the young men and women consists in squirting at each other with those detestable metal pipes which some base genius has invented. Then, again, what can be worse than the common run of London music-halls, where we have a nightly exhibition of all that is degraded in taste? Would that these halls were really music-halls! But the sacred name of music is defiled in its application to them. It passes the art of language to describe the mixture of inane songs, of senseless burlesques, and of sensational acrobatic tricks, which make the staple of a music-hall entertainment. Under the present state of things, the most vulgar and vicious lead the taste, and the conductors of such establishments passively follow.
We value ourselves much upon our imagined superiority to other nations, and in some respects we really are superior. But my self-complacent feelings of national pride are always mortified when I go abroad, and am enabled to make direct comparison between English manners and Continental manners. And when I come back I feel still more mortified. For several years in succession it happened that I returned home from a tour in Norway or Sweden, so as to reach home by a Monday evening train travelling from Hull to Manchester. Perhaps Monday evening was an exceptionally bad time to enter the manufacturing districts, but certainly the contrast between the poor gentleman peasants of Scandinavia, and the rich, rowdy, drunken artisans of England, was something extremely painful. Of course, it is only a small percentage of the artisans, after all, who are really rowdy and drunken; but this percentage governs far too much the tone of public amusements. If, as is usually the case, we find foreign manners superior to English, it behoves us to inquire why. There is no wisdom in hiding our heads in our insular home, and pretending that we do not see the backward and uncultured character of that part of the population, at any rate, which obtrudes itself upon our notice. It is said that the term “gentleman” is a peculiarly English one, and that Continental nations have taken the name and the idea of the character from our nobility, who travel much abroad, and who often present, it must be allowed, excellent specimens of the gentleman. Fortunately our Continental neighbours do not travel in England so much as we travel abroad; and this accounts for the fact that they have not taken the name of “blackguard” from us. For I must confess that, in travels over several parts of the world, I have never met anything quite equal to the English blackguard. The American rowdy may be a more dangerous character in respect of his revolver and bowie knife, but he is, comparatively speaking, a man of refinement. Reform must begin with a true appreciation of the need of reform, and I do not think that those who will take the trouble personally to compare our popular amusements and assemblages, such as race-meetings, cheap trips, music-hall audiences, and the like, with the nearest corresponding manifestations in France, or Italy, or Denmark, or Sweden, or Germany, will think that I have used undue literary license in describing the difference.
Now I believe that this want of culture greatly arises from the fact that the amusements of the masses, instead of being cultivated, and multiplied, and refined, have been frowned upon and condemned, and eventually suppressed, by a dominant aristocracy. Amusement has been regarded as in itself almost sinful, and at the best as a necessary evil. Accordingly, villages and towns have grown up in the more populous parts of the kingdom absolutely devoid of any provision whatever for recreation. It seems to be thought that the end of life is accomplished if there be bread and beef to eat, beer to drink, beds to sleep in, and chapels and churches to attend on Sundays. The idea that the mass of the people might have their refined, and yet popular amusements, is only just dawning.∗ Strenuous workers no doubt the English people are; but all the more need there is in consequence that they should spend their surplus earnings wisely. As things are, they earn well, but they spend badly. The fortiter in re is theirs; but where is the suaviter in modo? Too often the least tendency towards culture is condemned. If a factory-girl or a housemaid appears in a smart bonnet and a well-made dress, our high-class moralists object at once that she is aping her betters. How can good earnings be better spent than in aping your betters? How is real civilisation to be attained if the mere necessaries of life are to be good enough for the bulk of the people?
Among the means towards a higher civilisation, I unhesitatingly assert that the deliberate cultivation of public amusement is a principal one. Surely we may accept as an axiom that the average man or woman requires an average amount of recreation. At least it is not for our richer classes to say nay. The life of a young man or a young woman in aristocratic circles is one continuous round of varied amusements. Are we to allow that what is to them the perfection of existence is to have no counterpart whatever among the poor drudges of the farm or factory? Is it not all the more requisite that when there are few hours in the week to spare for recreation, those hours should be sweetened in the most wholesome and agreeable way? And as, by the progress of science and invention, those vacant hours are gradually prolonged, it becomes more and more requisite that provision should be made for their harmless occupation. The old idea of keeping people moral by keeping their noses to the grindstone must be abandoned. As things are going, people will, and, what is more, they ought to have all possible means of healthy recreation. The question is, the Free Library and the News-room versus the Public-house; and, as my more immediate subject, the well-conducted Concert-room versus the inane and vulgar Music-hall.
There is, indeed, a brighter side to this question than I have yet mentioned. All that I have been saying was more true of our population twenty or thirty years ago than it is now. What I shall advocate is mainly suggested by things already accomplished in one part of the country or another. I claim no originality for my remarks, unless perhaps it be that of treating the subject more seriously than is usual, and of insisting that popular amusements are no trivial matter, but rather one that has great influence on national manners and character.
The erection of the Crystal Palace forms an epoch in this subject. That palace is, I might venture to say, the most admirable institution in the country. It has been of infinite service in showing what a rich nation might do in uniting Science, and Art, and Nature, for the entertainment and civilisation of the people. It has proved, once for all, that with noble surroundings, with beautiful objects of attraction, and with abundance of good music, the largest masses of people may recreate themselves, even in the neighbourhood of London, with propriety and freedom from moral harm. The fact, so properly insisted upon by Mr. Fuller, that not one person in a million among visitors to the Crystal Palace is charged with drunken and disorderly conduct, is worth a volume in itself. The Crystal Palace, as is well known, has already been imitated by the Alexandra Palace, and, on a smaller scale, by Aquariums, Winter Gardens, or somewhat similar institutions under various names which have been lately built in the principal watering-places. These watering-places are, in fact, running a race as to which shall present hesitating visitors with the best places of entertainment. The Pump-room and the Assembly-room are antiquated: but now Brighton has its Aquarium; Buxton its Public Gardens and Music Pavilion; Southport, Cheltenham, Blackpool, and Tynemouth have opened their Winter Gardens; Southend is erecting a Marine Palace; Eastbourne has got its Devonshire Park, where cricket, lawn tennis, croquet, rinking, and music are happily combined, and Scarborough has both the Spa Gardens and an Aquarium. Such institutions are, indeed, chiefly designed for the richer classes, and their great cost necessitates a somewhat high entrance-fee. They have, as yet, been undertaken only by professed pleasure towns, which can at the best be visited by the mass of the working classes by occasional excursion trains. But it is to be hoped that, as the practicability of erecting such institutions begins to be better understood, they may be gradually introduced into all towns, both great and small, gay and dull. Already it has dawned upon people that a town is incomplete without its public park, and a few wealthy men have made the noble present of a park to the borough with which they are connected. Manchester has been foremost in providing a series of parks at the cost of the ratepayers. But I hold that a public park should be considered incomplete without its winter garden and music pavilion, and naturally the music pavilion is incomplete without the music. It is well to have places where people may take the air; but it is better still to attract them every summer evening into the healthy, airy park by the strains of music.
There are many modes by which recreation and culture may be brought within the reach of the multitude; but it is my present purpose to point out that the most practicable and immediately efficacious mode is the cultivation of pure music. I have no wish to disparage Theatres, Art Galleries, Museums, Public Libraries, Science Lectures, and various other social institutions, the value and true uses of which I may perhaps attempt to estimate on some other occasions; but I am certain that music is the best means of popular recreation. It fulfils all the requirements. In the first place, it involves no bodily fatigue, since it can best be enjoyed sitting down. To inspect a picture gallery or a museum is always a tiring work, neither exercise nor repose; the standing or stooping posture, the twisting of the neck, and the straining of the eyes, tend to produce, after a few hours, a state approaching nervous and muscular exhaustion. This is not the way to recreate the wearied mechanic, or the overworked clerk or man of business. It may be a very improving occupation of time for those who are holiday-making, and can start in the morning with a good store of superfluous energy.
With musical entertainments it is altogether different. A comfortable seat, a supply of fresh air, and a quiet audience, are requisite physical conditions for the enjoyment of music, but these being secured, a good musical performance, at least for those who have any appreciation of harmony and melody, is perfect repose. There is no straining of the nerves or muscles, no effort of any kind, but mere passive abandonment of the mind to the train of ideas and emotions suggested by the strains. And there is this peculiar advantage about melody, that, per se, it is absolutely pure and remote from trivial ideas. The song and the dance may have their associations, good or evil; but the pure melody in itself is pure indeed; it is gay, or pathetic, or stately, or sublime, but in any case there is something in the thrill of a choice chord, and the progression of a perfect melody, which seems to raise the hearer above the trifling affairs of life. At times it “brings all Heaven before our eyes.” And there is this further advantage about the exhilaration and elevation of mind produced by true music in the musical, that it is, more than any other form of excitement, devoid of reaction, and of injurious effects of any kind. What some seek at the cost of health, and life, and reputation, from alcohol, and from opium, that they might obtain innocuously from music, if they could cultivate true musical taste. Of course there is some nervous waste even in the enjoyment of music, and it is greater as the attention is more excited. Tedium must usually follow an entertainment of two or three hours; but so soon as tedium approaches, the attentive attitude of mind is destroyed, and the corresponding nervous waste ceases. The music, in short, holds the mind enchained just so long as there is energy of thought to spare; in the meantime the body remains in a perfect state of repose.
The theatre, no doubt, might, almost equally with the concert hall, become the means of pure and frequent relaxation, and for those not much blessed with musical susceptibility it has obvious superiority. But, as I shall perhaps attempt to show more fully on some future opportunity, the reform and purification of the drama is a far more difficult task than the promotion of musical entertainments. In the first place, the cost of theatrical performances is vastly greater than that of a simple musical concert. Not only is a specially constructed and expensive building required, with all kinds of property and machinery, but a large and costly staff of actors of all ranks, managers, scene-painters, carpenters, scene-shifters, etc., has to be constantly maintained. Moreover, a fair orchestra of musicians has to be provided as well, it being a curious but very well established fact that an audience must be put under the spell of music before they can thoroughly enjoy the drama. The crudeness and staginess of the play need to be subdued by the veil of melodic fancy. Thus the theatre is really music plus the drama, and any experiment in theatrical reform must involve the hazardous expenditure of great sums of money.
A second difficulty is, that music is naturally more pure and removed from the concrete and sensuous ideas of ordinary life than a drama can usually be. No doubt music is prostituted in many a lascivious song, but the question might well arise whether the impurity is not wholly in the words, not in the music. In any case the difficulty of purifying an already impure theatre must be far greater than of promoting orchestral performances where, with the simplest police regulations, there would arise no question of purity at all.
For these, and various secondary reasons which might be urged, I hold that musical cultivation is the safest and surest Method of popular culture; and it is greatly to the low state of musical education among the masses of English population that I attribute their helpless state when seeking recreation. In the majority of the Continental towns it is quite the rule to find a fair orchestra giving daily open-air concerts in the public square or park. The merchant and the shopkeeper, and the mechanic, as a matter of course, stroll down on a fine evening, and spend a tranquil hour or two with their families and neighbours. The husband perhaps takes his glass of thin beer, and the wife and family share a bottle or two of lemonade. A more harmless, wholesome, and recreative mode of spending the evening cannot be invented; but where is it possible to do the like in England, except at a few select watering-places?
Not to go further afield for the present, where, I want to know, can a young man or a family in London enjoy a few hours of inexpensive out-of-door popular music in the summer evenings? The parks are open, and it is possible to walk, and sometimes to sit down and repose in them; but where is the music? I suppose a military band still plays every morning at the change of guard at St. James's Palace, as I remember it used to do many years ago. A police band once started afternoon performances at the end of the Mall in St. James's Park, and there was the hotly-contested Sunday afternoon band in Regent's Park. Once or twice I heard one of the Guards' bands play near the Knightsbridge Barracks. With these trifling exceptions, I remember no open-air music in the whole of London of the kind which I advocate. With all our vast expenditure on the army, cannot they spare us a band?∗ With all the vast wealth of the empire, cannot the metropolis do what some third-rate town in France, or Germany, or Sweden does? Of course it cannot be really the want of funds, but because those who could so easily raise the funds in one way or another disapprove the object, or think it impracticable. To suggest an evening military concert in St. James's Park, the gardens of the Thames Embankment, or even Trafalgar Square, at once suggests the idea of a horrid crowd of roughs and pickpockets. All that is vulgar and disagreeable would be brought to the surface. The member of Parliament who was so shocked at seeing dirty little children in St. James's Park would be altogether scandalised at the vulgar throng which might be attracted by music. But are we really in such a hopelessly uncultured and brutal condition that we cannot venture even to try the means of improvement? What makes the people vulgar but the total want of means to render them refined?
So novel a thing as popular outdoor concerts in London might draw together surprised and somewhat disagreeable crowds at first. But when, by degrees, the novelty of the thing had worn off; when the roughs and pickpockets and disorderly boys found that the police were present also; when the shopkeeper found that he could safely bring out his wife and family, and, for a few pence, obtain seats and spend a cheerful cool hour or two, then the thing would be discovered to be just as practicable and enjoyable as it is in the Palais Royal, or in the capitals, and even the minor towns, of most Continental countries. Not long since it was thought to be impossible to open a public garden in the centre of London, so great was the fear of collecting the residuum there. But, so far as I have observed, or heard, or read, absolutely no harm arises from the Thames Embankment Gardens, or from the admirable oasis in Leicester Square. The deserted churchyards are now being utilised as recreation-grounds; and in the long course of time perhaps Lincoln's Inn Fields, and other available spaces, will be put to their proper use. The introduction of the band on summer week-day evenings seems to me the natural corollary. The question, I may here remark, whether music is proper on Sunday afternoons is a totally different one, with which the matter ought not to be complicated.
What I have advocated for London should also be carried out proportionally in every town and village. Eventually each considerable town should have, as I have said, its park and music pavilion where the open-air concerts would take place. But for the present, it would be sufficient if a rifle corps band, or some amateur band, obtained permission to utilise any available open space, collecting the small sum necessary for expenses either by a trifling charge for reserved chairs, or by a subscription list among the shopkeepers and residents. This is already done at Hampstead, where the Hampstead Rosslyn Hill brass band, assisted by a local subscription list, plays every Saturday evening, during the summer months, on the Upper Terrace, Hampstead Heath.∗ Their successful performances have stirred up the zeal of the local Volunteer Corps band, which has recently added a performance on Thursday evenings. It cannot be said that the attendance at these out-of-door concerts is very extensive or very select, but no harm or nuisance whatever arises. As the value of such a harmless entertainment becomes understood, I should hope that the Metropolitan Board of Works would authorise the erection of a suitable music pavilion on some convenient part of the Heath, where these and other bands might perform under better acoustic conditions.
There is absolutely nothing but apathy to prevent the same thing being done in every considerable village in the country. A small subscription to buy the instruments, to construct a small orchestra, and to pay the incidental expenses, and a zealous volunteer bandmaster to get together the musical amateurs of the neighbourhood, and to give them a little training, is all that is needed. In many places the local volunteer corps already has an organised band, and it will not require much pressure to induce them to air their uniforms and display their skill. There is no doubt a certain number of places where this is already done; a few weeks since I happened to hear a band which had commenced performances on “The Vine,” or public green of Sevenoaks. In the winter the same bands might give weekly cheap concerts in the drill-shed, the skating-rink, the assembly room, the village school-room, or any available chamber. Whenever practicable, it would be desirable at the same time to provide cheap non-intoxicating refreshments. Only in some such a way is it possible to countermine the increasing influence of the noxious music-hall. The people will have amusement and excitement of one kind or other, and the only question is, whether the business of recreation shall fall entirely into the hands of publicans, or whether local movements of no serious difficulty will not provide suitable counter-attractions.
It is a great question again whether the English church might not take a great part in affording, not amusement, but the occupation of thought, and the elevation of feeling which attaches to the performance of sacred music. Already it is common to give occasional performances of appropriate music at Christmas, or Easter, or during Lent. During one Easter I happened to be at Ely, and a selection from the music of the “Messiah” was performed one evening in the cathedral. A local amateur musical society had formed a small orchestra, and practised up the score. With the assistance of part of the militia band, especially the drummers, with the ordinary singers of the cathedral staff, some of whom took the solo parts, and with a volunteer chorus of young men and women, a very pleasing and impressive performance of the greatest of oratorios was given. What was wanting in the skill of the singers, or power and technical correctness of the orchestra and chorus, was far more than made up by the loveliness of the octagon dome beneath which it took place. The performance was preceded by a short service, the congregation joining in the hymns and responses, and by a brief address. Many hundreds of people attended, including palpable dusty labourers, railway porters, engine drivers, militiamen, and people of all ranks. It is not my purpose in this book to enter upon theological nor even religious topics, so that I can only speak of such performances from a layman's point of view. But in any case I find it difficult to imagine how the House of God can be desecrated by pure and sacred music, the deepest products of feeling of the mind. The cathedral churches of England have long been in a way the national schools of music, but I trust that they will do more and more in this way for the future. And I do not see why every considerable parish in the kingdom should not have its musical society, for the cultivation of high class and principally sacred music.
There is no place which needs the means of pure recreation more than the East End of London, and I may venture to suggest that an admirable opportunity for making the first experiment there exists ready at hand in the Columbia Market. It is sad to pass through the beautiful but deserted arcades of this intended market, and then discover a magnificent Gothic hall, occupied only by a few old chairs and tables, which seem as if they were forgotten alike by dealers and purchasers. The Baroness Burdett Coutts would amply retrieve her one great failure if she could be persuaded to make this noble building into a model place of recreation for the East of London. Slight alterations would convert the market hall into an excellent music gallery, where some of our social reformers should be allowed to provide good but simple concerts in the winter.∗ The performers need not be of the first rank, and amateur aid would do a good deal, though not all. I have heard of a West End choral society which makes a point of visiting the East End to give free concerts there, with the view of elevating the taste of the poorer classes. Were the Columbia Hall available for the purpose, abundant aid of the kind could no doubt be obtained by a vigorous committee; but it would be a mistake to depend wholly on volunteer performers. The mass of the people should be admitted at a charge of a penny or twopence, and a certain number of seats might be reserved at sixpence or a shilling each. Good tea, coffee, cocoa, with light refreshments, and all kinds of non-intoxicating drinks, should be provided at the back of the hall, if there were room, or, if not, in the adjoining buildings. The music should consist of the better class of dance music, old English melodies, popular classical songs; but there should be a careful intermixture of the higher order of music. My own observations lead to the conclusion that there is hardly any audience which will not be touched by a really beautiful melody, such, for instance, as that of Bach's Prelude as arranged by Gounod. It is only the great musical structures such as the Symphonies, with their elaborate introductions and complicated developments, which demand long musical training for their appreciation.
While I am speaking of Columbia Market I may go a step further, and suggest that the fine central area of the market could not possibly be better utilised than by converting it similarly into a recreation ground. A soft floor, a good supply of swings, merry-go-rounds, and the like, would soon make it the happiest spot in the kingdom. At another time I shall argue that in a sound sensible state of things, every group of houses should as a matter of course have its play-grounds for children, five per cent. of all building land, for example, being compulsorily set apart by law for recreative purposes. But, as such an idea never entered into the heads of our ancestors, the dangerous streets and the reeking alleys are the play-grounds of the mass of English children. Columbia Market offers the best possible opportunity for showing what might be done to remedy this state of things. Free gymnasia already exist at Primrose Hill, the Victoria and Battersea Parks, in the Alexandra Park at Manchester, and a good many other places, but they are far from the classes which use them; and a well-regulated place of recreation in the centre of such a dense poor population as that of Bethnal Green, would be a novelty indeed. In summer evenings the area of the market might be employed for open-air concerts by a brass band. To supply the poor with cheap good food was an excellent idea of the munificent founder of these buildings; but there are countless good shops in Shoreditch, and in the surrounding principal streets. There is no such thing as the institution for the supply of pure, wholesome, popular recreation which might be provided by the Columbia Play-ground and the Columbia Concert Hall.
The question arises whether any measures could be suggested for raising the tone of the numerous existing music-halls, which must long have a hold on a large part of the population. I will presently refer to one legislative and police measure, which is as indispensable as it is practicable. But, apart from this, it is difficult to see what direct means there are of influencing private competing owners. The magistrates can hardly exact a certain portion of Beethoven or Schumann as a condition of the license. It is the audience which must demand better entertainment, if the common run of music-halls are to be made to supply it. But it is to be earnestly hoped that the great public places of recreation, the Crystal and Alexandra Palaces and the Westminster Aquarium, will always carefully maintain the high tone and the perfect respectability by which alone they can fulfil their raison d'être. Already, indeed, it is a matter of regret to notice that Zazel draws better than the Pastoral Symphony, and that Negro minstrels must be enlisted to keep up the force of attraction. Our hopes of elevating public taste would be sadly dashed to the ground, were vulgarism to invade our highest places of entertainment. Nor do I believe that there would be any gain in the end. Long may the time be distant; but if once such a place be deserted by the middle and upper classes and set down as vulgar, the course of its decline can be foreseen. Whatever our great caterers do, they must make a point of mingling all classes together, and retaining a reputation as places of fashionable resort.
Nor is it only in open-air and purely popular musical entertainments that much good might be done in London. It has often been a matter of wonder to me that in the vast social world of London there is no really great hall, and no series of concerts such as Mr. Hallé conducts with pre-eminent success at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Excepting, perhaps, Exeter Hall, I do not happen to know any London hall where such performances could be successfully attempted. Of course there is the Albert Hall; but that is too large, and is hardly in London at all. I suppose that even its promoters will now allow that it is, in spite of its magnificent coup d'œil and its noble organ, an irretrievable blunder. Its position is essentially bad, and never can be much better. How strange it is that those whose purpose was the elevation of the public taste, the taste surely of the masses, should have placed their instruments of elevation as far as possible from the masses they were to elevate! The fashionable residents of Kensington, Belgravia, Tyburnia, are just the classes which cannot be supposed to need culture;∗ and even as regards some of these districts, it seems to have been forgotten that Hyde Park occupies one-half of the horizon of the Albert Hall, and thus for ever places a needless physical obstacle of a mile or more in the way of those who seek recreation. Even when one reaches the hall, it strikes the spectator as quite unsuited to musical, and indeed almost all other purposes. The sound of the largest orchestra is swallowed up and dissipated in the vast expanse. The audience are so far removed from each other and from the orchestra, that they cease to act as a united audience. The warmth of sympathetic feeling, which is no small part of any public entertainment, is converted into a chilly attempt to discover, through the field-glass, what is going on in other parts of the house. The lesson we learn is not to wait for social reforms to be accomplished through mysteriously-moved bodies of Royal Commissioners.
What all the powers of South Kensington could never do has been to a great extent accomplished by the conductors of the Popular Concerts at St. James's Hall. They have made that hall the centre of the truest musical culture, and lasting honour is due to them for it. Yet we can hardly call the St. James's Hall Concerts really popular. They are only popular as contrasted with the great number of small, exclusive fashionable concerts which continually go on in the West End during the season, and which have no popular influence whatever. Even to the musical devotee a perpetual succession of stringed quartets and trios, and the like, is rather thin diet. One craves sometimes the stirring clang of the trombones, the roll of the drums, the solemn boom of the diapason, and the exciting crescendo of a great orchestra.∗ What London so unfortunately lacks, Manchester as fortunately enjoys. The existence in Manchester of a large resident, well-cultured German middle-class population, and the erection of the Free Trade Hall, have given Mr. Charles Hallé the means of educating the middle classes of Lancashire in musical taste, as they are educated in no other province of the United Kingdom. Mr. Hallé has explained his views about the progress of musical taste in England during thirty years past, in a paper read to the Social Science Association in 1879, Report, p. 768. But even Mr. Hallé's admirable concerts are not popular in the sense in which I should wish to see musical entertainments popular. Only about twenty such concerts are given in Manchester in the year,∗ and the expenses are such that the average charge of admission is decidedly high. But if a hall at least equal in size and acoustic excellence to the Free Trade Hall were erected in the centre of London, with its enormous resident population, and its ever-increasing streams of tourists and provincial visitors, it might be possible to maintain a varied but unceasing series of musical entertainments from one end of the year to the other. Why this should be impossible I am unable to understand, seeing that, in the very dullest season, the Messrs. Gatti are able, night after night, to give admirable Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden. These concerts, as they are so wisely conducted by Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Alfred Cellier, fulfil in all respects (except one or two) my idea of what every great town should have nightly in the way of musical recreation. Those who have noticed the manner in which a confessedly popular and casual audience receive the Symphonies of Beethoven, and the remarkable impression produced by the truly pathetic singing of Madame Antoinette Sterling, will not despair of musical taste in England.
I wish that those who manage our English pleasure-places could be induced to take a trip to Copenhagen, and learn how much better they manage things there. The Tivoli pleasure-gardens there form the best possible model of popular recreation. Englishmen think of Denmark only as a very little nation, which they patronised, and advised, and lectured, and then coolly deserted in the hour of need. But though small in quantity, Denmark shames us in quality. We are not surprised when a Frenchman surpasses us in politeness, and a German in profundity, and an American in ingenuity and affability; but it is truly mortifying to an English traveller in Scandinavia to discover that those who are as nearly as possible of our own flesh and blood far surpass us as regards the good-breeding and the general culture of the mass of the people. In Norway this might be attributed to the effects of peasant proprietorship, or to the retired country life of the peasants; but when we get to a large port like Copenhagen, placed under no favourable circumstances, and still find that the poorer classes are, comparatively speaking, ladies and gentlemen, one begins to realise the fact that there must be some methods of social reform which are unknown to our legislators.
The social superiority is of course greatly due to the good system of popular education which has long existed in Denmark. But my Danish friends, when questioned on the subject, attributed a high civilising influence to the Thorwaldsen Museum, and to the Tivoli Gardens, at Copenhagen. The museum in question contains a nearly complete collection of the works of the great Danish sculptor, and it is continually visited by all classes of Danish society, including Danish and Swedish peasants, who come from considerable distances by excursion trains and steamers, but are as unlike our cheap-trippers in manners as can be conceived. But Tivoli is my more immediate topic. Tivoli is simply a pleasure-garden, close to the town of Copenhagen, and of no great extent. It is, no doubt, the lineal descendant of Belsize, of Ranelagh, of Vauxhall. I fancy that the English have been in no way backward in originating places of recreation. From the beginning of last century a succession of such pleasure-gardens have been instituted in London; but, owing to the fatal folly of our legislators, they have fallen successively under the ban of public opinion. With Tivoli it is very different. The Royal Family of Denmark and the upper classes patronised and frequented it from the very first, and by good management the gardens are still thronged by equal proportions of all classes of the population. The principal attraction in the gardens is a fine string orchestra, which, under a large partially open pavilion, gives semi-classical concerts every evening throughout the summer. The programmes are chosen from the works of all the best musicians, including Bach, Beethoven, Wagner, Rossini, Gung'l, Mendelssohn, Weber, Gade, Strauss, Meyerbeer, Reinecke and others. In the intervals of the principal concert the Harmoniorkestre, or brass band, strikes up more popular tunes in other parts of the grounds. In a closed hall, with a small extra charge, conjuring performances go on, with various minor entertainments. On festival nights there is a small display of fireworks, in addition to an illumination of the grounds. More remarkable, however, are the performances on a kind of open-air stage employed for ballet-dancing and pantomimes, somewhat in the manner of the open-air theatres of the Champs Elysées. Of course our magistrates would not permit so demoralising a spectacle as ballet-dancing in the open air; but I wish they could see Froeken Leontine and Fanny Carey dance their pas de deux. They would then learn that among a truly cultured and a well-governed people, dancing may be as chaste as it is a beautiful performance. Dancing, per se—the exhibition of a graceful figure in graceful motions and attitudes—may be as chaste as a statue; indeed a good deal more chaste than many statues. But we are so accustomed to see ballet girls in evanescent skirts, in ambiguous attitudes, or dressed up as wasps or cupids, or something extravagant and low in taste, that we have established an inseparable association of ideas between dancing and immorality. I retain a grateful recollection of the Froeken Carey, who opened my eyes more than anything else to the degradation of public taste in England. I after-wards learned that Copenhagen is considered a great school for graceful and chaste dancing.
At other times the same stage is used for pantomime—not your absurd English pantomime, all grotesque, extravagant, full of tinsel, depending for effect upon numbers and magnitude, and the introduction of real donkeys, hansom-cabs, and the like—as if there were no real humour and fun left in the nation—but the real pantomime—all gesture and incident, no speech. I need not attempt to describe the remarkable series of comical adventures which befell the clown, and the invariable success which ultimately attended the machinations of harlequin; I need only say that it was a performance as amusing to the spectators as it was harmless, and totally devoid of coarseness or vulgarity. With this fact I was all the more struck when I happened subsequently to see a party of English clowns performing in the public gardens of a provincial Swedish town. This was a painful exhibition, especially to an English spectator, and culminated in the clown spitting copiously at his wife. Compared with our Crystal or Alexandra Palace, Tivoli is a very minor affair; but civilisation is not a question of magnitude, and, in spite of its comparatively small size, Tivoli is a model of good taste and decency, and of the way in which, under good regulation, all classes may be induced to mingle.
The cultivation of musical recreation is by no means confined to the larger towns of Scandinavia, but is to be found in towns of a size which in England would never entertain the idea of supporting anything of the sort. I was much struck with the fact, when, on one Sunday evening, I arrived at the very small seaport of Stavanger in Norway, and found the larger part of the population of the town, apparently after attendance of the evening service in the church, promenading in a small public garden adjoining the churchyard, where a very fair band was playing in a permanent raised orchestra.
I give below the programme of one of the similar kind of performances held at Bergen on Sunday afternoons in a small public garden, a trifling charge being here made for admission within an enclosure.
One great cause of the degradation of English amusements is the exclusive and pseudo-aristocratic feeling of the middle and upper classes, which makes them fly the profanum vulgus. The shopkeeper apes the merchant; the merchant wants to be thought a squire; the squire is happy only among baronets and lords; finally, the lords love to bask in the sunshine of royalty. Thus it comes to pass, that to make an entertainment really fashionable and popular, a royal duke or a princess must be exhibited. There is no method of social reform by which we can hope to bring about a more rational state of things within the intervals of time with which we have to deal, and therefore the problem is to make the best of social matters as they exist. Under these circumstances it is, as it seems to me, a positive duty on the part of the middle and upper classes to frequent the well-conducted places of popular recreation, and help to raise their tone. If, to induce them to do so, they must have royal or titled leaders to flock after, then I hope that those who enjoy the wealth and the privileges of this kingdom will bear in mind that they have duties also, which duties they will not fulfil by fencing themselves round in their castles, and their opera boxes, and their own private entertainments.
But there is one other potent cause which at present almost necessitates exclusiveness in open-air recreation; and which tends more than anything else to degrade popular taste. For obvious reasons I can touch it but slightly here. I allude to the intrusion into English popular gatherings of what is euphemistically and comprehensively called the demi-monde. The evil is hardly felt in concerts and meetings where all are seated, and only in a minor degree in theatres, where the several ranks of people are separated from each other by the divisions of the house and the differences of charge. But the mingling of people in any form of English outdoor recreation is subject to the danger that a lady may find herself in company which she cannot tolerate. Hence, to make a long story short, the successive fall of our public gardens from the time of Belsize down to that of Cremorne.∗ It is needless to say, that things are very differently managed at Copenhagen, and in most Continental cities. Much of the delight which English families, and especially English ladies, find in residence abroad, arises from the freedom of public intercourse which rational police regulations allow. Why should we continue the perverse and legislatively insane practice of allowing our most public places to be turned into the markets of vice? Why do we tolerate a state of things under which a young man cannot seek an hour's recreation without meeting an evil magnet at every turn? With ever-vigilant ingenuity the demi-monde finds out each new opportunity, and, one after another, places of innocent recreation lose their repute, and pursue a course of gradual degradation ending in suppression. But this is not the place to pursue the subject, and I will only insist that it is impossible to estimate the insidious injury thus occasioned to the morals and culture of the people.
There are none so blind as they who will not see, and this is the kind of blindness which prevents us from seeing that the vulgarity of the cheap trip, the inanity of the music-hall, and the general low tone of popular manners, are no necessary characteristics of hard hands and short purses, but are due to the way in which for so long a time popular education and popular recreation have been discountenanced. Of course the question of recreation is subordinate to that of education; now as—thanks especially to the sense and integrity, and firmness, and high statesmanship of Mr. Forster—the education question was put in a fair way of solution at the critical moment when it became possible, then I say that there are few subordinate methods of Social Reform which need more careful study and regulation than that of Public Amusements.∗
It is a curious fact that the eighth book of Aristotle's “Politics” contains a careful and express inquiry into the subject of popular recreation, leading to the result upheld in the preceding article, that music is the best means for providing such recreation. The argument is, as usual with Aristotle, rather tedious and confused, and there is a good deal of repetition between the seven chapters of the book; but it is impossible not to be struck with the profundity of the treatment and with its lasting truth, as applied to a state of society two thousand years after the book was written. I give a very brief abstract of some parts of the book, as translated by Mr. Edward Walford, in Bohn's edition of the “Politics and Economics,” 1853, pp. 270 to 286.
There are as nearly as possible four things which it is usual to teach children—reading, gymnastic exercises, and music, to which (in the fourth place) some add painting. As to music some persons may entertain a doubt, since most persons now use it for the sake of pleasure. But though both labour and rest are necessary, yet the latter is preferable, and by all means we ought to learn what to do when at rest. Play is more necessary for those who labour than for those who are idle; for he who labours requires relaxation, and this play will supply. For this reason the ancients made music a part of education. They thought it a proper employment for freemen, and to them they allotted it; as Homer sings: “How right to call Thalia to the feast!” and, addressing some others, he says: “The band was called, to ravish every ear;” and, in another place, he makes Ulysses say, that the happiest part of man's life is
It is no easy matter distinctly to point out what power it has, nor on what accounts one should apply it, whether as an amusement and refreshment, like sleep or wine. Or shall we rather suppose that music has a tendency to produce virtue, having a power, as the gymnastic exercises have, to form the body in a certain way, and to influence the manners, so as to accustom its professors to rejoice rightly? And we all agree that music is one of the most pleasing things, whether alone or accompanied with a voice, as Musæus says:
for which reason it is justly admitted into every company and every happy life. From this anyone may suppose that it is fitting to instruct young persons in it. For all those pleasures which are harmless are not only conducive to the final end of life, but serve also as relaxations.
[∗]“Contemporary Review,” October, 1878, vol. xxxiii., pp. 498–513.
[∗]Since the above was written these races have been either suppressed or regulated.
[∗]The following abstract from a good legal authority of the last century puts this view of the matter in the most candid way, so as to need no comment. “Thus it appears by the common law, that a property in those living creatures, which, by reason of their swiftness or fierceness, were not naturally under the power of man, was gained by the mere caption or seizure of them, and that all men had an equal right to hunt and kill them. But, as by this toleration, persons of quality and distinction were deprived of their recreations and amusements, and idle and indigent people by their loss of time and pains in such pursuits were mightily injured, it was thought necessary to make laws for preserving game from the latter, and for the preservation of fish.”—“Bacon's Abridgment,” Art. Game. Gwillim's Edition.
[∗]Of course I am aware that the bands of the regiments of the British Army are maintained at the cost of the officers of each regiment. The English people pay £15,000,000 a year to maintain their army, and yet they are told that the very military bands of that army are not their own.
[∗]This band has now for fourteen or fifteen years furnished gratuitous entertainment for the people of Hampstead and north-western London. The services of the performers are honorary, as are also the zealous exertions of the Honorary Secretary, Mr. Alexander H. B. Ellis. The necessary expenses of bandmaster and instructor, of the printed music, attendants, stationery, postage, rent of practice room, etc., amount to about £75 or £80 a year, mostly defrayed by the contribution of about one hundred subscribers.
[∗]Since the above was written, Columbia Market, having been previously offered to the parish authorities for the purpose of a hay market, has been converted into a tobacco and cigar manufactory. The Times of January 5th, 1881, p. 10 e, which announces this change, remarks apologetically, that the lighter part of the business will afford employment for the redundant female population of this district.
[∗]Yet read with what unconscious irony a reporter, writing of the Royal Albert Hall Amateur Orchestral Society, in The Times of the 14th May, 1879 (p. 12f), says: “The Duke of Edinburgh, the president and founder of the Society, has resumed his seat in the orchestra, and consequently these concerts are again attracting the attention of the public.”
[∗]Since the above was written a great change seems to have come over St. James's Hall, and many series of admirable orchestral concerts have been given in the last few years, including those of Richter, Hallé, Lamoureux, and other conductors.
[∗]In addition to Mr. Halle's more classical series should be mentioned a series of ten concerts given yearly by Mr. De Jong, in the same hall. I do not happen to have attended them, but believe that they fulfil, to a certain extent, the need of popular musical recreation.
[∗]The history of the places of popular amusement in London would make a good subject for a volume; it has however been partially written in Knight's “Pictorial History of London,” or Professor Morley's “Bartholomew Fair.”
[∗]Since writing the above I have learnt a good deal both about popular entertainments which were previously in existence, and many attempts which have since been made.
[∗]“Contemporary Review,” March, 1881, vol. xxxix., pp. 385–402.