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. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
Samuel attends a tea-fight (as tea parties were sometimes informally called) held to raise funds for the parish. Paticipants take turns at delivering recitation pieces, which include popular favourites such as Thomas Hood’s ‘Eugene Aram's Dream’, Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ and William Carleton’s ‘Gone with a Handsomer Man’. Samuel boasts of his own performances, while making himself thoroughly ridiculous. It is possible that mockery of the parish clergy is acceptable because the newspaper’s readership is predominantly Non-Conformist. ——David Skilton
I'm a good reciter, sir. I don't know which I am best at, tragic or comic recitations, but so versatile am I that I can make tragic ones screamingly funny, and the comic ones awfully tragic, at least I am told so. Do you know, I have seen the people so affected when I have given them a bit of my own genuine pathos that they have all got up and left the place. I affect them so that they never come and hear me a second time – they can't stand it. It was my particular friend the Rev Zachariah Snivellum who last invited me to recite. His congregation at St. Quagmire's had begun to fall off, so he determined to have a ‘tea fight,’ and to give those who attended real ham sandwiches and jam tarts in addition to the usual half-baked buns, currant cake (weight of each loaf, 2 cwt.), and blue-looking tea. The Rev. Snivellum got the tarts on an economic principle. He went round to all the principal parishioners and told them how they would promote their own happiness in another world by making lots of tarts for him in this. This brought in enough tarts to have fed a whole boys’ school for a day. Don't imagine that the tart manufacturers didn't derive any benefit in this world; they did, for Mr Snivellum, when the tea was over, got up and said that the particular thanks of the community were due to certain ladies (he named them all) for the exquisite skill they had displayed in the making of the tarts, and especially for the generous and lavish manner in which they had dolloped in the jam. He could not have complimented them more highly and delicately than by saying that they were all ‘real jam’ themselves. (Uproarious laughter and applause.)
It was a regular gorge, sir. Most of the people who came had been saving up their appetites for some time, evidently. I except the young ladies, who, as you will doubtless know, never affect to have any appetite, because to eat a lot looks so uninteresting. All went well, sir, except that a fussy young man, whose hair was so flat down that it looked as if it had been flat-ironed, let a tea-urn fall and scalded his lower extremities most grievously. I remarked with a smile to a lady who sat next to me that the accident gave me quite a ‘tea-urn.’ I meant turn, of course (I don't charge extra for this explanation). She turned upon me and scowled terribly, and I found out afterwards that she was the flat-ironed young man’s sister. One man, sir, had thirteen cups of tea, with solids to match, and, when he was told that there were no more ham sandwiches, he said that he wished he'd never come to such a ‘privation do.’ It was afterwards found that he was a member of the Salvation Army, and had found a ticket that someone else had lost.
When the tea was over, the Rev. Snivellum said that he'd make a few remarks. He gave good measure, for his remarks, lasted three-quarters of an hour. Then he called upon Mr Dismal Shakes for a recitation. A most tragic and sepulchral young man, with hair that wanted cutting very I badly, got up. He recited ‘Eugene Aram's Dream.’ It was more like a nightmare than a proper, legitimate dream. I was told that Mr Shakes invariably had an enormous feed of pork and onions, washed down by a few glasses of ginger wine, prior to reciting this, in order that he might property realise the horrific effect of the dream. He would have got on all right if he hadn't spoken as though he had a cold. He began –
T'was id the pribe of subber tibe,’
and went on at the same strength. He got completely thrown out before his best bit came on. When he came to the line, ‘Woe, woe, unutterable woe, who spill life's sacred stream,’ there was a complete collapse, for no sooner had be said, ‘Woe, woe,’ than a hulking boy, who had been passed in by his father – one of the churchwardens – after tea, shouted out 'Emma,' and all the rude people there laughed. That boy was put out – and so was Mr Shakes, for that matter. He was so confused that when he sat down he missed his chair, and sat down on the boards of the platform. I was glad he was disconcerted, because I was told that he had what he would call ‘The Wibid of Bubbie's Head’ up his sleeve as an encore recitation.
Then we had a comic reciter. He was a working man, and he elected to recite in the vernacular. But he was not very successful. Finally, he said, ‘I think I had better sit down,’ and it is astonishing what a number of people he found to agree with him. Mr Snivellum's curate, the Reverend Scraggs-Wilson, then got up and said it was a delightful gathering, and that ‘it was very pleasant to see so many happy and smiling faces around’, remarks which I fancy l have heard somewhere before. He was followed by a lady, who sang ‘Earts and Omes’ in several keys. A young man near me said her singing reminded him of the ‘howling of the blast,’ and I only just restrained myself from saying something else about blast in conjunction with howling. Then my turn came, sir, and I stood boldly forth – in the programme I may say I stood boldly fifth, but no matter. I gave them a pathetic bit first. It was called ‘Little Jeremiah, or the Struggle for the One-eyed Bloater.’ It is a beautiful thing, sir; I ought to know that it is, because I wrote it myself. One man was so affected by it that he went out to fetch the doctor. Another went out and ordered coffins for himself and family (a contract job), and said he only regretted he hadn't given up the ghost before he came in, as he didn't care about dying a lingering and painful death. Well, sir, I was getting on all right till I came to the line ‘Dam your tears, my gentle boy,’ when up jumped the Rev. Scraggs-Wilson, and said he must protest against such language before young people. He evidently mistook the meaning of the passage entirely. A stout lady got up and walked out. Whether it was the tea or my recitation that disagreed with her I don't know, but I suspect it was the former, for to my knowledge she ate [at] least two pounds weight of currant cake, and you can't carry that comfortably unless you are made of cast iron. But an explanation ensued, and I went on to the end. They simply writhed, sir! the effect was so intense. They were too much overcome to applaud very much.
I was followed by a gentleman who bad evidently come to ‘knock ‘em,’ so to speak. He was a man of fierce and truculent aspect, and he elect[ed] to rouse us with ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.’ I never realised the horrors of the charge so fully before. He nearly tore the platform down, he was so earnest about the matter, and he fairly went black in the face; [I] thought he’d burst a blood vessel, l did, really. He fixed his eye on a young man with a squint, and fairly transfixed him. I am told that he so galvanised that young man that the latter has never squinted since. Then after the Rev Snivellum had said a few final words, the chief purport of which was that a collection would be made, I had another turn. I began to recite, ‘Gone with a Handsomer Man,’ when a rude buy from outside shouted through the window, ‘Shut up, old ugly.’ A woman in the back rows laughed so much at this that she dropped her baby on the floor, and there was a fearful howling, and all the people rushed to see what was the matter. I thought it time to be going, to I borrowed the nearest hat I could find in the anteroom, and went home.
Last modified 25 January 2022