The world of illustrated sheet music is magical. In this week’s article we give you an overview of puzzling cases in the realm of music publication and song illustration. Put on your Sherlock attire and grab your magnifying glass. There we are, ready to solve a few great mysteries…
The Vanishing Cloud
The Miraculous Corn
The Travelling Dandies
The Enigma of the Clock
The Botox Failure
The Metamorphosis of the Student
“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of the Four
This cover for the Toboggan Marche depicts a water chute, a still popular amusement park ride. The funfair boat races down the chute tower and hits the water with a mighty splash. Here the imagination of Georges Morinet, an illustrator and photographer of Nantes, runs wild, curiously morphing one of the big waves into a triumphant naked woman. The round front makes the boat skip over the water, bouncing up and down, soaking and thrilling the passengers. What a wet frisson!
This and other mechanised rides were imported from the United States to European fairs and exhibitions. In this case it was for the 1904 World Fair in Nantes, where the ride was called a Water Toboggan (toboggan is the French word for slide). At that time the Shooting the Chutes as it was known in America was already a decade old.
The map of the 1894 Antwerp World Fair shows us that —already at the end of the 19th century— visitors enjoyed a water attraction in Belgium. It was Captain Paul Boyton’s American company which provided the entire ride, boxed and shipped.
Now this Captain Paul Boyton was a very entertaining person. In 1894 he opened the first permanent mechanised amusement park in Chicago. But prior to that he swam up and down rivers across America and Europe in a rubber immersion suit, that he himself did not invent.
It was inventor Clarke Merriman who in 1872 had created the first-ever rubber survival suit to rescue passengers should their vessel capsize in cold water.
Captain Boyton took pride in testing the inflatable suit: “I float on my back, and propel my body feet foremost with a double-bladed paddle at the rate of a hundred strokes per minute”. Wearing only the rubber suit as a form of transportation he embarked on amazing and dangerous expeditions…
He also crossed the Channel from England to France with a canvas sail fixed to his left boot while leisurely smoking a cigar. It took him 23 hours and 30 minutes and three meals of beef sandwiches with a nice cup of strong green tea.
For his long travels along rivers (some of them took him 8 days) he had a line attached to his belt carrying the following items: “a couple of bottles of ginger ale, ten days provisions, cigars, quinine and other emergency medications such as brandy, etc., frying pan, coffee, kettle, spoon, knife and fork. A cup, a spirit stove, pen and ink, notebook, signal rockets, chronometer, barometer, thermometer, revolver, charts, maps, hatchet, ammunition, including a patch cloth and rubber cement.”
The advertising card hereunder lists some of the extraordinary uses for the life-saving immersion suit, promoted by Captain Boyton all over the world.
For a while Captain Boyton starred in P. T. Barnum’s Travelling Circus, before starting to manufacture his aquatic attractions. The most successful one was unmistakably the Shooting the Chutes or Water Toboggan as it became known in Europe.
And we all know now that the water toboggan became a permanent success, bringing mankind rapturous delight!
Sir Roger de Coverly is an intriguing name for a dance. Some say its name refers to a fox. Surely, the wiggly dance steps suggest the jumpy flight of a hunted fox. As early as 1685 John Playford included the instructions for the country dance in his manual TheDancing Master.
The subsequent popularity of the dance gave rise to the creation of a fictitious character, the debonair country squire Sir Roger de Coverley. In 1711 The Spectator started to daily publish the gentleman’s hapless adventures. These short pieces were entertaining portrayals of early 18th-century English life: “The first of our society is a gentleman of Worcestershire, of ancient descent, a baronet, his name is Sir Roger de Coverley. His great-grandfather was inventor of that famous country-dance which is called after him.” (The Spectator of March 2, 1711)
Fiction of course, but it led to ‘Sir’ being added to the dance previously simply named the Roger of Coverley. Moreover the Spectator articles described the gentleman as a philanthropist who always kept open house at Christmas and sent “a string of hog’s puddings to every poor family in the Parish“. Sir Roger de Coverley was thus a paragon of Christmas benevolence and charity. Possibly by association the homonymous dance became a typical Christmas dance. Often it was the closing dance of the ball: “this dance should be the finishing one, as it is calculated from the sociality of its construction, to promote the good humour of the company, and causing them to separate in evincing a pleasing satisfaction with each other.“
The Sir Roger de Coverley knew a revival in the 19th century and also became a success in the French ballrooms.
Perhaps it is this print in The Graphic that inspired Hyacinthe Royet to draw the sheet music cover that started this post. A polite image of country gents and ladies who stiffly move around under the mistletoe, wearing bored expressions. No foxy ladies and no fun at all, if you ask me.
We found a more lively rendition of the dance in a cover drawn by Barbizet. An annotation in this copy indicates that the French preferred a more vibrant dance: “In England, the jig is concluded by a lady’s chain, but the length of the dance in that case renders it monotonous and for this reason, the finale has been suppressed in France.” Strangely, the Sir Roger de Coverley was in this case sold as a Danse Américaine.
Did you wonder how to dance the Sir Roger de Coverley? The 1951 film Scrooge might give you a good idea. It is an adaptation from A Christmas Carol, the book that Charles Dickens wrote 175 years ago. The fragment begins with the spirit showing to Ebenezer Scrooge the annual Christmas party thrown by his former employer, old Mr. Fezziwig.
Just tap your feet in time to the music and enjoy the Yuletide dance. Beware, this version is danced at a very swift pace.
Interestingly, in 1922 the English composer Frank Bridge arranged the folk song for a string quartet. To enhance the Christmas mood the composer mixed in the Auld Lang Syne melody (at around 3’50”).
I, for my part, will blithely put on my skates and dance the Sir Roger de Coverley on Ice. Merry Christmas!