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0100_005E Some Roundabout Papers William Makepeace Thackeray

De Juventute

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Queer jokes, which caused a thousand simple mouths to grin! As the jaded Merryman uttered them to the old gentleman with the whip, some of the old folks in the audience, I daresay, indulged in reflections of their own. There was one joke -- I utterly forget it -- but it began with Merryman saying what he had for dinner. He had mutton for dinner, at one o'clock, after which "he had to come to business." And then came the point. Walter Juvenis, Esq., Rev. Doctor Birch's, Market Rodborough, if you read this, will you please send me a line, and let me know what was the joke Mr Merryman made about having his dinner? You remember well enough. But do I want to know? Suppose a boy takes a favourite, long-cherished lump of cake out of his pocket, and offers you a bit? Merci! The fact is, I don't care much about knowing that joke of Mr Merryman's.

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But whilst he was talking about his dinner, and his mutton, and his landlord, and his business, I felt a great interest about Mr M. in private life -- about his wife, lodgings, earnings, and general history, and I daresay was forming a picture of those in my mind: -- wife cooking the mutton; children waiting for it; Merryman in his plain clothes, and so forth; during which contemplation the joke was uttered and laughed at, and Mr M., resuming his professional duties, was tumbling over head and heels. Do not suppose I am going, sicut est mos, to indulge in moralities about buffoons, paint, motley, and mountebanking. Nay, Prime Ministers rehearse their jokes; Opposition leaders prepare and polish them: Tabernacle preachers must arrange them in their minds before they utter them. All I mean is, that I would like to know any one of these performers thoroughly, and out of his uniform: that preacher, and why in his travels this and that point struck him; wherein lies his power of pathos, humour, eloquence; -- that Minister of State, and what moves him, and how his private heart is working; -- I would only say that, at a certain time of life certain things cease to interest: but about some things when we cease to care, what will be the use of life, sight, hearing? Poems are written, and we cease to admire. Lady Jones invites us, and we yawn; she ceases to invite us, and we are resigned. The last time I saw a ballet at the opera -- oh! it is many years ago -- I fell asleep in the stalls, wagging my head in insane dreams, and I hope affording amusement to the company, while the feet of five hundred nymphs were cutting flicflacs on the stage at a few paces distant. Ah, I remember a different state of things! Credite posteri. To see these nymphs -- gracious powers, how beautiful they were! That leering, painted, shrivelled, thin-armed, thick-ankled old thing, cutting dreary capers, coming thumping down on her board out of time -- that an opera-dancer? Pooh! My dear Walter, the great difference between my time and yours, who will enter life some two or three years hence, is that, now, the dancing women and singing women are ludicrously old, out of time, and out of tune; the paint is so visible, and the dinge and wrinkles of their wretched old cotton stockings, that I am surprised how anybody can like to look at them. And as for laughing at me for falling asleep, I can't understand a man of sense doing otherwise. In my time, a la bonne heure. In the reign of George IV., I give you my honour, all the dancers at the opera were as beautiful as Houris. Even in William IV.'s time, when I think of Duvernay prancing in as the Bayadere, -- I say it was a vision of loveliness such as mortal eyes can't see nowadays. How well I remember the tune to which she used to appear! Kaled used to say to the Sultan, "My lord, a troop of those dancing and singing gurls called Bayaderes approaches," and, to the clash of cymbals, and the thumping of my heart, in she used to dance! There has never been anything like it -- never. There never will be -- I laugh to scorn old people who tell me about your Noblet, your Montessu, your Vistris, your Parisot -- pshaw, the senile twaddlers! And the impudence of the young men, with their music and their dancers of to-day! I tell you the women are dreary old creatures. I tell you one air in an opera is just like another, and they send all rational creatures to sleep. Ah, Ronzi de Begnis, thou lovely one! Ah, Caradori, thou smiling angel! Ah, Malibran! Nay, I will come to modern times, and acknowledge that Lablache was a very good singer thirty years ago (though Porto was the boy for me): and they we had Ambrogetti, and Curioni, and Donzelli, a rising young singer.

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Some Roundabout Papers
William Makepeace Thackeray

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