Preforming tricks with Jars
This engraving exhibits a posture-master balancing two large China vases, and throwing himself into most extraordinary attitudes.
It is, perhaps, more proper to call the annexed figure, the representation of a person in the character of a female comedian, than “a female comedian,” as women have been prohibited from appearing publicly on the stage since the late Emperor, Kien Lung, took an actress for one of his inferior wives. Female characters are now therefore performed either by boys or eunuchs. The whole dress is supposed to be that of the ancient Chinese, and indeed is not very different from that of the present day. The young ladies of China display considerable taste and fancy in their head-dresses which are much decorated with feathers, flowers, and beads as well as metallic ornaments in great variety of form. Their outer garments are richly embroidered, and are generally the work of their own hands, a great part of their time being employed in this way. If it was not a rigid custom of the country, to confine to their apartments the better class of females, the unnatural cramping of their feet, while infants, is quite sufficient to prevent them from stirring much abroad, as it is with some difficulty they are able to hobble along; yet such is the force of fashion, that a lady with her feet of the natural size would be despised, and at once classed among the vulgar.
The Chinese have full as great a variety of musical instruments as most other nations, but they are all of them indifferent, and the music, if it may be so called, produced out of them, execrable.
By the military emblem on the breast-plate, the annexed figure of a stage player must be intended to represent a great general or some military hero famous in the annals of China. Noisy music and extravagant gestures are the characteristic features of the Chinese stage.
There is every reason to believe, that Punch and his wife were originally natives of China; and that all our puppet-shows were brought from that country. The little theatre, above the head of a man concealed behind a curtain, is precisely Chinese. Les ombres Chinoises still bear the name of their inventors; but the annexed representation of a puppet-showman is somewhat different from both, and is the simple origin of the Fantoccini, which consists in giving motion to the puppets, by means of springs attached to particular parts of the figures. These little dancing puppets are not merely exhibited for the amusement of children; they furnish entertainment for the Emperor and his court, and more especially for the ladies who, from their recluse mode of life, are easily diverted with any kind of amusement, however childish. We find from Mr. Barrow, that a puppet-show was one species of entertainment given to Lord Macartney and his suite at the Emperor’s palace of Gehol in Tartary.
The Exhibitor of strange Animals
From Twelfth Century Manuscript, Royal Library of Brussels.
Notwithstanding the miseries to which they were generally subject, the rural population had their days of rest and amusement, which were then much more numerous than at present. At that period the festivals of the Church were frequent and rigidly kept, and as each of them was the pretext for a forced holiday from manual labour, the peasants thought of nothing, after church, but of amusing themselves; they drank, talked, sang, danced, and, above all, laughed, for the laugh of our forefathers quite rivalled the Homeric laugh, and burst forth with a noisy joviality.
Most of the bourgeois and the villagers played a variety of games of agility, many of which have descended to our times, and are still to be found at our schools and colleges. Wrestling, running races, the game of bars, high and wide jumping, leap-frog, blind-man's buff, games of ball of all sorts, gymnastics, and all exercises which strengthened the body or added to the suppleness of the limbs, were long in use among the youth of the nobility
-The Dance called "La Gaillarde."--Fac-simile of Wood Engravings from the "Orchésographie" of Thoinot Arbeau (Jehan Tabourot): 4to (Langres, 1588).