Ventriloquism and Mr. Love (1847)

"Let us go and see Mr. Love's Polyphonic entertainment," said one of the good genii of the fireside. It was some years since we had seen any exhibitions of this kind, and we began to talk about them. Charles Mathews we had seen, and Miss Kelly, whom we liked greatly, principally because she excelled so much in one or two pathetic characters, which are unusual in such entertainments. We talked of a wonderful ventriloquist we had heard in Germany, whose little one©act piece, although very foolish, was very wonderful. We had forgotten his name, but he was a master of his art. The entertainment was in Heidelberg, in a large upper room of a Gast©haus, or inn, called the Prinz Max, near the Neckar. The little performance was this: the room in whcih we were had windows looking over the Neckar; the night was dark and stormy and the river swollen with flood. A distant and very faint cry was heard on the other side of the river, and the performer ran to the window, which he opened, and we plainly heard a man's voice, as if in great distress, calling for a boat across the river. "A boat! a boat! for the love of heaven put out a boat!" The next moment people were heard coming together in the street under the window and hallooing across; and the stranger replied, by praying them to fetch him over. There was a deal of talking below the window; one boatman was drunk, another was gone to the town for the doctor, and after a deal of parleying and consultation, the voice across the river filling up every interval with demands for speed, a woman and a boy set out. We heard or seemed to hear the boat put off, and the receding sound of the oars, and then the woman in the boat hailing the stranger on the other side. It was the most wonderful and complete illusion, but it was not yet ended. The boat again returned to our side of the river, and now a conversation was heard between the stranger who had been conveyed over and the people on the shore. He eagerly inquired his way to the Prinz Max, and was dirceted to this very place; we heard him come talking up the shore till he seemed to be under the window where the performer stood, and here a conversation began between them. The stranger said that it was of the utmost importance that he gained admittance into the inn; he had been sent for, he said, by the host himself on urgent business, on business of life and death; he had travelled that day, he said, all the way from Sieben MÀGÀhlen Tahl in the Odenwald, and now the door of the Prinz Max was locked and the landlord gone to bed: what was now to become of him? Yes, indeed, here was a difficulty; but it was not without its remedy; the workpeople on the other side of the street had left a ladder, he must bring that, rear it against the window and so come in. The stranger was vociferously grateful on the other side the street from whence, after a great deal of trouble, he brought the ladder. We heard it struck against the outside of the wall, and, after a deal of trouble in its arrangement, we heard the man ascend it, talking all the time. The voice came higher and higher, till at length it was just below the window; and now a parley began as to how he was to get in; he had a bag with him which was valuable property; he feared to trust the bag out of his hands, and yet, unless he did so, he could not get in. The bag and its contents led to strangeÔcould he be? At last it came out; he was Johann Lumpengesindel, the Rattenfanger, or ratcatcher, and was come here by order of the landlord, to clear the house of rats; he was to have been here by dusk, but he had stopped drinking at Handschuesheim, and was belated; he had feared that a rival ratcatcher would get the job, and that made him so impatient. This being explained, the performer was very much provoked to have had all this trouble about a ratcatcher; and the end of it was, that the poor man was toppled down from the ladder into the street below, where he was heard deploring his hard fate and his bruises, amid the laughter of the people.

This was the most wonderful piece of ventriloquism we had ever heard, and we wondered whether Mr. Love could equal it. Mr. Love's introductory chapter (if so it may be called) on ventriloquism is very interesting; and yet he by no means explains in what or how this singular talent consists; it is a very rare talent, though not one of the most elevated, and yet is sometimes the attendant of a real genius. Charles Pemberton, one of the most gifted of men, and one of the noblest of human beings, possessed this gift in no mean degree, as all who knew him will remember. Jedediah Buxton, also, the famous self©taught arithmetician, had the same talent; and it is related that, going up to London from his native county of Derby, and travelling by stage wagon, he almost frightened the poor driver out of his wits, by personating the crying of an infant, somewhere about the wagon and its lading. There seems, indeed, to be a great tendency to jokes, and to the playing of tricks, in those possessed of this wonderful faculty; and, if all be true that is told of Mr. Love's own youthful pranks, he must have enjoyed a deal of what is called fun, among boys, and mischief by grown people.

Mr. Love's performance is not a whit behind that of any of his most celebrated predecessors, © his assumption of character, and his rapid change from one to another, seems almost miraculous; he detects the comic in every thing, and all his characters are marked by that strong individuality which makes them never weary. Nothing pleased us more, however, than his piece of pure ventriloquial acting, in which he dispels the singing©spirit of the roof; it is inimitable, and in remembrance now takes its place beside the performance of our wonderful German.

In his own way, Mr. Love is a genius; and, having so eminently the power to amuse and delight hundreds of people every night, the least we can do is to wish him health and prosperity; for, whilst care and anxiety belong to human life, they are no small benefactors, who enable the anxious heart and the wearied brain to forget their cares, and partake of relaxation, if it be only for two or three hours.

Howitt's Journal, Vol 1 (1847), p. 168.

Compiled by Steven Connor as part of The Dumbstruck Archive, a continuing, online supplement to Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).