Sketches by Boz HTML version

11. Astley's
We never see any very large, staring, black Roman capitals, in a book, or shop-window,
or placarded on a wall, without their immediately recalling to our mind an indistinct and
confused recollection of the time when we were first initiated in the mysteries of the
alphabet. We almost fancy we see the pin's point following the letter, to impress its form
more strongly on our bewildered imagination; and wince involuntarily, as we remember
the hard knuckles with which the reverend old lady who instilled into our mind the first
principles of education for ninepence per week, or ten and sixpence per quarter, was
wont to poke our juvenile head occasionally, by way of adjusting the confusion of ideas
in which we were generally involved. The same kind of feeling pursues us in many other
instances, but there is no place which recalls so strongly our recollections of childhood
as Astley's. It was not a 'Royal Amphitheatre' in those days, nor had Ducrow arisen to
shed the light of classic taste and portable gas over the sawdust of the circus; but the
whole character of the place was the same, the pieces were the same, the clown's jokes
were the same, the riding- masters were equally grand, the comic performers equally
witty, the tragedians equally hoarse, and the 'highly-trained chargers' equally spirited.
Astley's has altered for the better - we have changed for the worse. Our histrionic taste
is gone, and with shame we confess, that we are far more delighted and amused with
the audience, than with the pageantry we once so highly appreciated.
We like to watch a regular Astley's party in the Easter or Midsummer holidays - pa and
ma, and nine or ten children, varying from five foot six to two foot eleven: from fourteen
years of age to four. We had just taken our seat in one of the boxes, in the centre of the
house, the other night, when the next was occupied by just such a party as we should
have attempted to describe, had we depicted our BEAU IDEAL of a group of Astley's
First of all, there came three little boys and a little girl, who, in pursuance of pa's
directions, issued in a very audible voice from the box-door, occupied the front row; then
two more little girls were ushered in by a young lady, evidently the governess. Then
came three more little boys, dressed like the first, in blue jackets and trousers, with lay-
down shirt-collars: then a child in a braided frock and high state of astonishment, with
very large round eyes, opened to their utmost width, was lifted over the seats - a
process which occasioned a considerable display of little pink legs - then came ma and
pa, and then the eldest son, a boy of fourteen years old, who was evidently trying to
look as if he did not belong to the family.
The first five minutes were occupied in taking the shawls off the little girls, and adjusting
the bows which ornamented their hair; then it was providentially discovered that one of