During the summer recesses of following years I occasionally joined my son Arthur in professional tours throughout the Kingdom, in which, with the aid of a pianist, we gave a semi-dramatic, semi-musical, comical entertainment. On one of these occasions in 1875. I was much pleased when he told me that it was his intention on this tour to visit those ancient seats of learning, Oxford and Cambridge. He said he had no doubt that it would be a gratification to me to see the places themselves, but at the same time he warned me to be prepared for meeting uproarious audiences among the students. Having been in both places before, he knew the ropes; and what he particularly impressed on me was that, upon no consideration, was I to show any ill-temper at their conduct, but to go on with what I had to do without manifesting the slightest concern to their proceedings, and to appear as if I were in the best of good humor; because their greatest delight, he said, was to get a professional In a rage- to "get his shirt out," as the slang phrase goes.
If they succeeded in this, they would continue worrying him until they got him into such a state of nervous excitement that he would be quite unfit to go on with his performance- a result which they regarded as the acme of good fun. I confess this account made me feel a little shaky; but I determined to act strictly in accordance with the instructions which Arthur, out of his experience, had given me.
We appeared first at Cambridge, on 1st November of the year stated, before an audience which crowded the Guild Hall there. The front seats were filled with undergraduates, in their caps and gowns; whilst those behind were occupied by the town's people. As the time for our commencing drew near, so did the student element in front get more and more demonstrative. To me, whose first time it was of appearing before such an audience, they seemed to be a set of maniacs - singing, howling, dancing, cock-crowing, and every form of rowdyism they could think of. I never in my life met with a greater set of roughs. Strange, thought I to myself, that out of such unlicked cubs as these are to come, probably, some of the brilliant legislators and most famous members of the learned professions in the future.
The first of us who had to appear on the platform was our pianist, a young man of a very nervous temperament, very clever, very unassuming, and an excellent player. Unfortunately, thanks to the whim of some foolish parent or god-father, he was handicapped by the possession of a superfine Christian name. He was called Mozart W--- (Horatio didn't like to mention people's full names but we know that this was Mozart Wilson, who was often the pianist for the 'Two hours genuine fun' entertainment)
The moment he appeared he was greeted from the front rows with what I can only term an indescribable yell. The poor fellow stood facing them, bewildered and bowing, until, during a moment's partial lull in the storm, a voice called out- "Sit down, Mozart; give us a little music, old boy." He then sat down and commenced to play an overture; but, from the time he began until reaching the last bar, not a sound of the instrument could be heard. Nevertheless, when he retired, they gave him a tremendous round of applause and cheering.
The platform then being vacant, one of their number got up on it, sat down at the piano and played a set of quadrilles very fairly. Getting down again, he took the music-stool with him, and placing it on the floor in front of the platform, sat down on it, and commenced whirling himself round on it at a great rate,to the great apparent delight of his chums. On comes the pianist again to prepare for the playing of an opening symphony for the first item in the programme. He finds the stall gone, and looks about him in a pitiable condition, whilst the student audience are screaming with laughter at the forlorn looking plight he presents.
Then they begin to chaff him, various voices putting such questions as - "What's the matter, Mo?"- "Lost yer perch, Mo?"- &c., &c. At last, the stool was handed up to him, with the accompanying remark- "Here old boy-here's your rostrum-now fire away."
In the character which I represented, I had to wear a night-cap; and so when I made my appearance they saluted me with a shower of paper pellets, made out of the programmes of the entertainment, and politely told me to "Go to bed." When I had got through my little bit of business-some how-Arthur came on, and was received with a variety of greetings, as "Hullo, Arthur! How are you old boy?" "What! Are you going to sing, Arthur?" "Arthur, you're getting fat." "Silence for Arthur's song," &c.
He then began his song, during which these gentlemen kept on singing different songs at once, so the frightful discord may be imagined. They gave him a round of applause all the same as he was retiring, although they could not have heard a word he uttered. On his return to sing his song of "The Tragedian"- in which there is a great deal of "Spoken" matter-they consented to listen to most of it; at least, the interruptions were fewer, probably owing, to some extent, to the fact that some of them must have been pretty well tired out with their riotous exertions.
I never was more surprised than when Arthur spoke the following lines, which occur towards the end of the song in question. The "blighted tragedian" has to say-"I have acted before all the crowned heads - and before all the half crown-ed heads - in Europe. I have appeared before some of the greatest nobility and gentry, and before some of the greatest blackguards &c." Emphasising the last three words as Arthur did, I made sure there would be a tremendous row, and was prepared to run for it. To my utter astonishment they made no hostile sign whatever, but merely exchanged glances with each other and sat mute till the song was finished.
The town's people, however, between whom the "gownsmen" there is no love lost, took up the application with rounds of significant cheering. From that point the entertainment went without any interruption, and they all retired quietly; but Arthur determined never again to appear before the Cambridge students.
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