Excelsior (1841), a classical poem, by the American Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was set to music dozens of times. The cover above illustrates the music for the poem composed by John Blockley. Excelsior is the most parodied of all Longfellows poems, being almost a parody of itself. The theme of the poem is punishment for human hubris or excessive pride. A boy, bearing a banner ‘Excelsior’, wants to climb higher and higher in the Alps. He ignores all warnings from the local villagers and ends up dead. Half-buried in the snow he is found by a St. Bernard and some monks.
Excelsior was also illustrated for the magic lantern. We found the images of the slides hereunder on Laterna magica’s website. The projection of slides during a singing performance led to a new, often lucrative business of producing these ‘illustrated songs‘ (1). These slides were remarkable because they were handcoloured photographs made of real life models and decors constructed in a studio. These slides immediately preceded cinema.
France was a pioneer in the automotive industry and the leading country in car racing during the Belle Epoque. Paris-Rouen (1894) was the first motoring contest in the world. The winner drove at an average speed of 19 km/h. Soon some international city-to-city races followed. The above cover by Clérice Frères refers to the Paris-Vienna automobile race run in 1902. It gives an idyllic image
of the automobiles driving through the mountains and enjoying the panorama. In reality the race was not so comfortable. The total distance was split into four days and run over four stages.
The Swiss did not allow racing, so the participants had to drive less than 25 km/h through Switzerland. The very dusty roads made it sometimes impossible to see anything. Two of the participants were Louis and Marcel Renault. Louis, a daredevil like his brother, had an accident because he decided not to ignite his lights in fear of losing time. In the dark, he missed a curve and smashed his car. One wheel was immediately repaired with the help of a chair and a penknife. A blacksmith had to repair an axis. And while driving his co-pilot had to constantly fill the radiator with water. Still he managed to finish the race in 28th position. His brother Marcel did better and won the race. Lucien Faure drew Marcel Renault in full action.
The heroic Paris-Vienne race was also immortalised in ceramic tiles for the Michelin house in London.
Marcel Renault was killed the following year during the Paris-Madrid race. The news of this disastrous event made it to all the front pages and -together with other tragic incidents during the race- marked the end of the city-to-city races. Except perhaps for the Dakar..?
You can compare the lithograph of the singer, Marie Lloyd, with her photograph. She was 20 years old when she introduced the instant hit ‘Then you wink the other Eye‘ originally composed by George Le Brunn, but here in an adaptation by Edward Saint Quentin. Marie Lloyd was not only the queen of the English Music Hall, but also the queen of double entendre and innuendo, illustrated by leers, nudges and winks. I bet she was! Know what I mean, nudge nudge, say no more…