WHEN I was a very young child, playing in the street in the little Yorkshire town where I was born, there came along the pavement a being clad it seemed to me, in nothing but an overcoat and slippers. Closer observation, however, revealed the fact that his flesh was covered with a thin stuff of some sort, nearly the colour of his skin, and clinging as closely to it.
After the first feeling of surprise at the sight of him, I next wondered how he had got into such a tight-fitting costume, and I believe I concluded he must have been boiled and poured into it! Little except his neck and the lower parts of his limbs was visible, and a broad bright ribbon encircled his head to keep close his long, coal-black hair. Naturally I joined the little crowd that was following in his wake, with wonder and delight. He presently came to a stop; and, dropping to the ground a half-filled sack he had been carrying, took therefrom a piece of carpet. This he spread upon the roadside, and emptied on to it the contents of the bag - consisting of glittering balls, metal rings and knives. He then, with a dramatic air, threw off his overcoat and stood revealed to my astonished and admiring gaze - a JUGGLER, in all the glory of tights and spangles. He produced a triangular-shaped article (which I afterwards knew as Pan's pipes), and this he thrust into a receptacle slung beneath his chin. Then taking up a drum which had formed part of his impedimenta, he opened the performance with a loud and brilliant flourish. And such music! A carping critic might have complained that like Clonglocketty's air on the Bagpipes:
"It was wild, it was fitful, as wild as the breeze,but to my enraptured ears it was the sweetest melody, and told, like the music of the Pied Piper to the children of Hamelin, of
"It wandered about into several keys:"
"A joyous land . . .I have heard good music since then, but nothing that has ever thrilled me like that stirring overture.
"Where waters gushed and fruit trees grew,
"And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
"And everything was strange and new."
The impression made upon my mind by this "Solomon in all his Glory," and his wondrous performance, has hardly faded yet. The man was only of medium height, but his bull-neck, his broad chest and muscles bulging like pictures I had seen of Roman gladiators, his dark defiant eye and his general air, conveyed the impression (to me at all events) of gigantic strength. All that followed was like a beautiful dream: a blissful vision of a form clothed in gorgeous raiment, walking or standing amid a shower of glistening balls and gleaming knives. The dream was brought to a close by finding the performer standing beside me, cap in hand, begging coppers from the bystanders. It seemed monstrous that such a thing could be, but I postponed consideration of the matter. Darting from the crowd I made all speed home, some distance away; and, obtaining what few pence my passionate entreaties could extort from my parents, I hurried back to find my Juggler gone. I ran up and down every street in the town to find him. Marvel to me it was that none of my playmates seemed to have heard of or seen him. He had indeed "gone from my gaze" as effectually as if the earth had opened and swallowed him, or as if he had ascended into the clouds, from whence belike he had descended. I never saw my Juggler more, though I sought hard for him in after years. Watching him as a child on that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon, I was blind to what was visible enough to my mind's eye in later years.
As the reader will see, the man had made an extraordinary impression on my childish imagination. I should have dearly loved to have met him again, and would have given much for the chance. Apart from the mere interest and pleasure it would have afforded me to have seen him go through his performance once again, a strong feeling of pity moved me. As I have said, things became clear with later experience that the child was incapable of discerning. The lines on his once handsome face told of hardship, suffering, and bitter disappointment. I have heard through all these intervening years the racking cough that shook his well-knit frame, and which he tried in vain to stifle. The poor fellow is probably gathered to his fathers ere this, and
"Sleeps in the vault where all the Capulets do lie."
Peace to his ashes! May he rest in peace.
But if my Divinity had departed, he had left his influence behind him. "The heart of a Juggler was made that day." To become a Strolling Performer, clad in that resplendent and bespangled garb, wandering through green and shady lanes, emerging into towns and villages, to dazzle the eyes of crowds with my showy dress: to hear their out-spoken admiration of my powerful form and feats of strength, their murmurs of horror as the murderous-looking knives whirled gleaming through the air, and their loud cheers at its close: to be all this, to live all this, was to my conception the very acme of felicity, human or divine. Indeed it seemed doubtful at times if one could attain to such a height of bliss and live.
This fascination for the life of a strolling acrobat (or Juggler), kept full possession of my mind till I was well into my 'teens. But I have to admit that there were times when it had occurred to me that there might be some vicissitudes even in such an exalted spheres. The poor acrobat's far-off look of mingled sorrow, disappointment and resignation haunted me. But about this time I chanced to be taken to an entertainment in a large town near which we lived. Here to my inexpressible delight a "turn" was done by a high-class Juggler. It was Charlene; in my opinion, the finest Juggler of that time, and of whom I shall make further mention later.
If doubts had occasionally possessed my mind as to my choice of a profession, they disappeared now. I had not seen or heard of any Juggler but the one I have described: not had I ever pictured one in my imagination different from the hero of my childhood's days, with his fleshings, gaudy head-gear, spangles, pipes and drum. Now another and very different picture was presented to my view. The scene had changed from a village street to the well-appointed stage of a high-class Music Hall, with its beautiful scenery, festooned curtains, dazzling foot-lights and all the other appurtenances of a modern proscenium. Amid a flourish of music from the skilled orchestra, a man of splendid presence scarcely past his youth stopped on to the stage, and with a graceful salute to his cheering audience began his turn. The several parts of his entertainment were accompanied with appropriate music by the band, and were gone through with an ability, case and grace that fascinated the beholders, and at the close of his clever performance the loud and continued plaudits testified to the delight of the large assembly.
I fear my readers will have begun to think this more of a gossipy sort of autobiography than a practical treatise on "How to become a Juggler": but I must tell them of a dream that swept to the winds any remaining doubt or hesitation as to my choice of a profession.
Though little more than a schoolboy, I had already begun to think it was about time I decided upon my future career.
One day, I was wandering among the hayfields of the country side,
"'Twas in June,
"One of June's brightest days, the bee, the bird,
"The butterfly were on their brightest wing."
In an adjoining field, a group of men and women were at work, and the breeze wafted the sound of their merry laughter and the scent of the new-mown hay across the road. With a hay-cock for a pillow, I laid me down, and presently was fast asleep.
I found myself a stronger wandering aimlessly up and down the streets of a large town, and from the posters flaring from every available spot I learned that the great Señor Caravanalli was coming that night. Who Señor Caravanalli was, or why he was great, I had not the faintest idea. I remembered that his high- sounding foreign name was very similar to one I had ambitiously decided to adopt as my stage name if I ever faced the foot-lights. I felt no real interest in the poster's announcement however. Approaching nearer the centre of the town, the faint air of expectancy, which had but slightly permeated its suburbs, increased to an extraordinary degree. Cabs and broughams, private motors and taxis filled with bejewelled ladies, and gentlemen in evening dress, were dashing through the streets. A long queue of people stretched far up the pavement and round a corner: police officers were at every few yards to keep the sidewalk clear, while above, below, to right and left and in front, the great man's name filled the air. I wandered on to where the interest seemed converging. Here the scene was the most animated I had ever beheld. It was a magnificent square, brilliantly illuminated. In the centre stood the Hall, an imposing building with lofty pillars, and literally a blaze of light; while from every part of the Hall and Square, in every device that fancy or ingenuity could suggest, in initial, cypher, and monogram, in gas, electricity, or Chinese lantern, was worked the magic name. A glittering bayonet or gleam of scarlet uniform here and there, told that royalty was honouring the occasion with its presence. My interest was now thoroughly aroused. Who and what could be this high and mighty Señor Caravanalli, whose visit created such a furore of curiosity and excitement? In my dream I was a grown man and had never heard his name. I asked, or rather attempted to ask, for information; but met with a similar experience to that of the Yankee at the Court of King Arthur.
A very few informed me that Señor Caravanalli was coming but when I asked who he was, I only received a look of pity or contempt for my ignorance. A sudden and violent commotion amongst the crowd showed me the doors had been flung open, and I found myself borne along by the surging mass of humanity into the immense building. The place was packed from floor to ceiling. Not only was every inch of standing room occupied, but the audience seemed hanging from the front of the galleries, and even from the very pillars, like swarming bees. The buzz was instantly hushed as the orchestra struck up the opening bars of a beautiful overture. Then the music was changed to a lively prelude foretelling the great man's advent. This evoked such a roar of greeting and applause that assuredly it might have been heard a mile away. In the midst of it Señor Caravanalli appeared on the stage.
Never in my life, neither in my dreams nor when awake, have I felt such a sense of surprise and perplexity as I experienced that night. From my coign of vantage, (a front seat in the lower gallery, opposite the stage and its occupant) I had an unimpeded view. Now I noticed, what I had not seen when the curtain was rung up, all the adjuncts of the modern Juggler tastefully displayed about the stage. At sight of the bowing figure, I felt myself giving vent to a cry of bewilderment. Was I mad? No! surely not, only dreaming. I strove, as I have never striven before or since, to wake myself. I wrenched myself round and looked for some time at the sea of faces behind me, I rubbed my eyes and tried hard to smile at my idiotic, maddening, fancy. Then I looked again. I could doubt no longer. The great Señor Caravanalli was - MYSELF.
The performance was over. There was a rush to see the "star " drive off - which he did in a pair-horse brougham, amid a shower of bouquets and cheers. And I awoke!
My readers will have gathered that my determination to become a Juggler had strengthened with my growth, and when I left school I gave all my spare time to learning and practising the art. But I found it terribly slow work and I made but little progress. I could find no books dealing with the subject. Works on Ventriloquism, Conjuring and other pastimes were to be had; but, as far as I could ascertain, no treatise affording instruction to the aspirant in Juggling had ever been published.
Now these pages, a record of my own personal experience, have been written with the view of affording help, and practical information, to those who aspire to become expert in the fascinating science. Conjuring and Juggling are often confounded with each other, but they have little in common. Juggling is skill, my Masters: Conjuring is trickery. Any intelligent person with a few pounds to spend in "properties," and sufficient interest in the diversion, may become a fairly proficient Conjuror in a comparatively short space of time. Not so with the subject of this little work. Juggling is a science requiring not only interest and perseverance on the part of the scholar but proper instruction for its acquirement. Moreover, the steady practice necessary is greatly calculated to develop those admirable qualities of the mind, patience and diligence: and few pastimes are better adapted to improve the general physique, every muscle of the body being brought into constant action.