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.

A smoking concert was a party with drink, at which participants provided their own entertainment. Drunken medical students are always presumed to be amusing, not least Bob Sawyer, (‘late Knocksmorf’), a boisterous and improvident medical student in Dickens’s Pickwick Papers. The songs listed were all very well known: ‘By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept’, a setting of Psalm 137; ‘The Ballyhooly Races’, an anti-tithes song dating from about 1830; ‘White Wings’, by Banks Winter (1884), and ‘The Warrior Bold’, words by Edwin Thomas and music by ‘Stephen Adam’” (Michael Maybrick). Eugene Aram was an English philologist and famous as the murderer romanticised in Thomas Hood’s poem, The Dream of Eugene Aram (1831). ‘Truthful James’ derives from ‘The Heathen Chinee’, a narrative poem by American writer Bret Harte originally published as ‘Plain Language from Truthful James’ (1870). (Opinion varies as to whether the poem directly expresses racial prejudices, or records the racial prejudices of others.) The supposed quotation from Shakespeare has not been found. One incident is obscure, when a student was given a bit of ‘tar’ and ‘gi’ed on’. The New Zealand Native football team which toured Britain 1888-89 had a majority of Maori players, and sound as formidable as recent New Zealand rugby fifteens. —David Skilton

The studious medical student – all students are not studious. But he went in and enjoyed himself.

all modern institutions none is so popular with young men as the smoking concert, especially if the young men can sing – or think they can; two things that are pretty much alike so far as the sing-ers [sic] are concerned, but very different in the case of the singees. I am very fond of smoking concerts myself, sir, particularly if I go as an invited guest, and am not allowed, as a consequence, to pay for my own refreshments. But independently of this, sir, I must acknowledge that the average smoking concert has many merits. A man is not, after a fearful struggle with a refractory white tie and an over-starched collar, obliged to attend one in a creasy dress suit, as the attendant possibly of a lady who seems to think that it is your main business in life to be bothering about her cloak and her fan and her smelling bottle and her programme and a lot of other things. No, there is nothing of this down in the smoking concert programme. And you are not obliged to tip insolent servitors exorbitantly, and if you want to go out and have a private drink during the interval you have not to make lying excuses to the lady aforesaid, and to convince all her female friends that you are [not?] what is called ‘given’ to drink because you happen to stumble on some sprawling fellow's foot as you thread your way back. All you've got to do at a smoking concert is to howl out to the waiter and tell him what you want, and if he doesn't look uncommon spry throw a cork at him. And whereas at the generality of concerts the serious, maudlin, silly sentimental order of ballad is the rule, the smoking concert goes in for the jocund, the jovial, the conviv[i]al sort of ditty – the one with the rollicking chorus to it.

Why does he look so ‘fahl’ [foul?]? Why, someone else has anticipated his only song.

But there are just a few things about smoking concerts – especially those held in this town – that I wish could be bettered. I wish, to begin with, most sincerely, that the usual young men of comic-vocal proclivities, who figure at quite a round of smoking concerts, would just hold a public meeting and agree definitely what they are respectively about to sing during the coming season, and rigidly adhere to the programme laid down, too. This would save much acute personal suffering to the auditors, and would, moreover, prevent much chagrin to the singers. It would be a bar to one's hearing ‘Bally-hooley’ a few hundred times, ‘White Wings’ about every other night, and ‘Near it; very near it,’ ad nauseam, never to speak of ‘The Warrior Bold’ – who ought to be bowled out by this time. And besides, the man who sits grinding his teeth and glaring around because someone else has sung his favourite song before he has had a chance, and scored heavily in it, too, would then be unknown. Oh, sir, have I not often marked the ramping, tearing, raging vocalist who has been forestalled – I have, and I have seen ‘damnéd slaughter,’ as Spokeshave remarked,[i] in his eye; I have felt that he would ask me, if I loved him, to ‘slate’ the other man. And then again, sir, I would most earnestly conjure such as manage these smoking concerts to solemnly bind down under the penalty of refreshments round all amateur ventriloquists that they will not in any shape or form imitate the man in the cellar whose voice they represent as gradually nearing the boards beneath their feet. I have heard that man so often, and have so frequently marvelled that he should so kindly remain the whole of his days down in the cellar, that I am brain weary when I reflect. on him at all. And might not the “amatoor” ventriloquist also dispense with the dog behind the curtain? That dog is growing old and feeble, now, and it is high time that he was boarded out at a Dogs' Home or chained peaceably up. Good old ventriloquial dog!

Doesn’t this student look nice at the beginning of the proceedings? Just mark him afterwards.

The other evening I attended a Medical Students' smoking concert, good sir. I have of late years been under the impression that the harum-scarum, tear-door-knockers off, pawn all his personal property upon which any confiding Pawnee-chief is likely to lend anything order of medical student was a thing of the past, and that he was now an intensely intellectual looking young man of the ‘giglamps,’ [spectacles] midnight-oil, carry-bones in-his pocket sort — one who never drank anything by any chance, save the innocuous ‘lemon squash’ or the harmless but by no means necessary ‘smiler’ [shandygaff: half-a-and-half beer and ginger-beer ]. I find that I have been labouring under a mistake, and that, happily (I say happily in all conscientiousness), Bob Sawyer (“late Knocksmorf") still has his counterpart -- his counterpart as far as harmless jollity goes, at any rate. There were perhaps two hundred young medicine merchants in all at the smoking concert, sir, and I rather doubted from their youth whether certain of them ought to have been allowed to smoke at all when I first gazed upon them. I was justified in this opinion some time afterwards, when I saw that they had turned several shades paler, and heard that suddenly remembered appointments — no doubt of a medical nature -- compelled them to leave the room. I have always noticed on such occasions as these (and I daresay that you have done the same, sir) that the least proficient smoker always chooses the very largest cigar or pipe that he can lay his hands on. Doesn't he subsequently wish that he were dead and buried? Some! At the beginning of the festivities there prevailed that species of calm which precedes a storm — though even at this stage it was abundantly evident that there had been a certain amount of anticipatory revelry, no doubt with the view of getting the revellers up to concert (smoking concert) pitch. A gentleman who knows how many Beans make live strongly deprecated this sort of anticipation to Samuel. Several well-known medical gentlemen were present at the beginning of the proceedings, but they left early, feeling no doubt that the storm would not be long ‘a busting.’ It did ‘bust’ with a vengeance.

This is the nice young gentleman, depicted above, as he appeared some two hours after the proceedings commenced.

I may say here, however, that at least one fully ‘qualified’ gentleman remained behind in the capacity of chairman, but however qualified he may be in other respects he was not ‘qualified’ to keep those ‘rorty’ [rowdy] students in order, worthy, clever, and genial man though he be. Those students began to prescribe alcohol for themselves — and then they went it. ‘Ting, ting’ – went the chairman's bell in vain! Those medicos in embryo had got the bulge on [advantage over] the chairman, and they howled choruses, and they forgot all about the dread examination-spectres soon to be faced, and they gave profuse orders which will curtail their ‘pocket brass’ for some time to come, and they well, after all, they were a gentlemanly set of young roysterers, and wonderfully well pleased with themselves, their own music, and all creation. There was a gentleman, a visitor, with a voice as of a sounding Bell; there was a tum-tumming banjoist, who insisted on accompanying everybody in the wrong places, and who finally sat down on his banjo and sang ‘By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept’ all by himself in a remote corner; there was an individual who recited ‘Eugene Aram's Dream’ (there always is a man who does that at smoking concerts), and who amply demonstrated that Eugene must have been eating pork chops and had the nightmare. [‘]If you have recitations on hand, why don't you Aram?’ said one of the students, who subsequently wandered into the hotel coal cellar to look for his hat and overcoat. There was another vocalist who[ ]was so overcome with the pathos of his own singing, or by the absolute tunelessness of his accompanist, that he sat down on the platform and could not for some time be induced to move, declaring that he'd die there or not at all. Restoratives, however, were at hand, and, these being plentifully administered, he was induced to go[ ] home with a ‘fren.’ One gentleman made several false starts, and declared that be couldn't get the right ‘pitch,’ but, upon being invited to swallow a bit of ‘tar,’ he ‘gie'd on,’ as someone remarked. The inevitable interrupter was there in fall force, his peculiarity taking the form of a ‘Punch squeaker,’ which sent forth a cry both wild and shrill whenever a pathetic portion of a sentimental ballad was being chanted.

A student who declared that the whole thing was ‘rumbo’ [splendid!], my boy.’

Certain of our dusky friends the Maoris were present, and showed that not alone on the football fields are they prepared to work fell destruction. Indeed, sir, there was exceeding noise and rejoicing. Specialists in the way of vocalism forgot all about bones and botany and lectures, and forged ahead right merrily – no one, however, to my great surprise, played on the ‘bones.’ Some of the students seemed of a restless turn, and hardly able to sit in one place for long – possibly they can define the nature of their symptoms better than I can – and these visited all the other tables and exchanged pleasing chaff and badinage with their brethren – and had a drink at every table, by-the-way. In the scene that ensued ‘I did not take a hand,’ as Truthful James remarked on a suitable occasion, but I am informed on the most unreliable authority that many of the gentlemen shook hands most cordially, and an infinity of times, with the waiters, and offered to cut off all their limbs free of charge at any time the said waiters liked to drop in at the infirmary.

Next day a large army of ghastly and enfeebled young men might have been seen with hats that palpably did not belong to them, and overcoats that suggested glaring misfits, wending their way to various public resorts where prescriptions for the over convivial are promptly made up, and -- but I will be silent; I may say no more, beyond asking who it was that so fully ‘took the ‘measure”’ of the hotel where the mad revels had been held? Wild horses would not drag more from me.

Last modified 23 February 2022