This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. W. M. Thackeray created the decorative initial for Vanity fair.

Explanatory Notes

‘if conscience in this case does not make cowards of alto-vocalists:’ compare Hamlet III.i.85: 'Thus conscience does make cowards of us all',

'It came as a boon and a blessing to the men
The Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley Pen.'

Macniven and Cameron Ltd. Of Edinburgh, later known as Waverley Cameron Ltd., advertised their pen-nibs with this doggerel. Their advertisement over the entrance to Waverley Station in Edinburgh ensured its international celebrity. —— David Skilton

Decorated initial T

he 'Social' is the latest form of Bohemian amusement and it varies from its near relation the smoking-concert in the fact that it has as a rule a more definite purpose for its existence. For, so far as I can gather, it owes its existence primarily to the efforts of those sporting gentlemen who have in the past found it a difficult matter to keep their colleagues together during the months when the erratic and ever-varying climate of this our Island of England prevented their indulging in the sports they loved

An Adjunct of Value

At the present time the strongest supporters of socials are the men of the, wheel, yclept cyclists. During the close time they revel in the harmless Social, and in the intervals of the songs, recitations, and solos they tell each other of their deeds of derring do, doubt other people's records, and generally fill the air with cycling conversation which to the stranger unfamiliar with the ways of wheelmen would be apt to suggest those long and wonderful yarns so beloved of the angling fraternity.

Yet they mean no harm, these yarn-spinning cyclists, and if they have not all done the things they tell of — well they meant to do them.

They are like the ale at the village, of which the traveller said, 'It was bad, but it meant well.'

But to the Social.

The Sentimental Vocalist

There are certain people who figure at the regulation Social with a persistence worthy of a better cause.

The chairman, for instance, could hardly be dispensed with. He it is who, with hammer in band, à la the auctioneer, informs the company present that 'Mr Fitzbobbin will now oblige with [‘]The Hanchor's Weighed,[’] to which announcement he invariably adds 'Order, gentlemen, please,' which, if the waiter be in the room, is apt to lead to complications not intended by the worthy chairman.

Mr Fitzbobbin is a typical specimen of the sentimental vocalist in vogue at Socials. He is on the most perfectly good terms with himself, and the fact that he sings his songs as they are not written does not in any way influence him in coming to the conclusion that he is a really clever vocalist. If he be not encored he is apt to look a look of withering contempt, whereby he intends to convey to the audience that their want of appreciation of his efforts but betokens their lack of musical taste.

Mr Fitzbobbin's hated rival is the 'light-haired tenor,' who sings love songs with waltz retrains. This young gentleman, like his more robust rival, 'fancies' himself no end, but he has a bigger chance of scoring from the fact that he only sings the popular ballads.

The terrible man, familiar at all Socials, is the gentleman who insists upon warbling alto love-songs. He is usually possessed of a thin reedy voice, and gives one the impression that the slightest strain will end in a break down. Yet he struggles manfully with songs that generally treat of angels, Heaven, and dying children.

I think this fancy for children's songs is due to the fact that the alto social-ist has a private opinion, due to a tinge of conscience, that his efforts are of the childish order. If this be the cause of his choice it proves that if conscience in this case does not make cowards of alto-vocalists, it at least gives them a hint that they are not altogether an unmixed blessing.

The Funny Man

As a rule it is the baritone and bass vocalists who come out of the Social fray with the highest honours.

And the comic men? Well. they are more trying than the sentimental ones. They will try so hard to be funny, and in most cases they will succeed in the same ratio that a funeral or a wax-works exhibition will.

One thing has often struck me with the Social comic, and I regret to find it so, and that is that his idea of fun is far too frequently vulgarity. If a comic singer, either at a Social or elsewhere, cannot get hold of a song free from vulgarity and double entendre, for goodness sake let him retrain from singing. The comic singer is by far the most popular of the vocal performers at a Social, as the humorous reciter is in the arena of elocution.

Important Items

At times the monotony of vocalism and recitations is relieved by an instrumentalist who on these occasions is, like a certain much-advertised pen, a boon and a blessing to the men[i] who chance to listen to his performance.

For the most part these Socials seldom rise above the level of mediocrity, and it is only by special efforts and the assistance of professionals that they appertain [attain?] to anything like artistic merit. Yet they afford an excuse for a smoke, a drink, and a convivial chat, and on that ground they will continue to flourish in spite of all other drawbacks.

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Last modified 2 May 2022