The British Association—The late Professor Tyndall—His Belfast address—The centre of strict orthodoxy—The indignation of the pulpits—Worse than atheism—Biology and blasphemy allied sciences—The champion of orthodoxy—The town is saved—After many days—The second visit of Professor Tyndall to Belfast—The honoured guest of the Presbyterians—Public opinion—Colour blindness—Another meeting of the British Association—A clever young man—The secret of the ruin—The revelation of the secret—The great-grandfather of Queen Boadicea—The story of Antonio Giuseppe—Accepted as primo tenore—The birthday books—A movable feast—A box at the opera—Transferable—The discovery of the transfers—An al fresco operatic entertainment—No harm done.

THE annual meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science can be made quite as delightful functions as those of the British Medical Association, if they are not taken too seriously; and I don’t think that there is much likelihood of that happening. I have had the privilege of taking part in several of the dances, the garden parties, and the concerts which have taken place under the grateful protection of science. I have also availed myself of the courtesy of the railway companies that issued cheap tickets to the various places of interest in the locality where the annual festivities took place under the patronage of the British Association. The only President’s address which I ever heard delivered was, however, that of Professor Tyndall at Belfast.

I was little more than a boy at the time, and that is probably why I was more deeply interested in Biology and Evolution than I have been in more recent years. It is scarcely necessary to say that Professor Tyndall’s utterance would take a very humble place in the heterodoxy of the present day, for the exponents of theology have found it necessary to enlarge their borders as the century draws to a close, and I suppose that if poor Tyndall had offered to lecture in St. Paul’s Cathedral his appearance under the dome would have been welcomed by the authorities, as it certainly would have been by the public. But Belfast had for long been the centre of strict orthodoxy, and so soon as the address of Professor Tyndall was printed a great cry arose from every pulpit. The excellent Presbyterians of Ulster were astounded at the audacity of the man in coming into the midst of such a community as theirs in order to deliver an address that breathed of something worse than the ancient atheists had ever dreamed of in their most heterodox moments. If the man had wanted to blaspheme—and a good primâ facie case was made out in favour of the assumption that he had—could he not have taken himself off to some congenial locality for the purpose? Why should he come to Belfast with such an object? Would the town ever get rid of the stigma that would certainly be attached to it as the centre from which the blasphemies of Biology had radiated upon this occasion?

These were the questions that afflicted the good people for many days, and the consensus of opinion seemed to be in favour of the theory that unless the town should undergo a sort of moral fumigation, it would not be restored to the position it had previously occupied in the eyes of Christendom. The general idea is that to slaughter a pig in a Mohammedan mosque is an act the consequences of which are so far-reaching as to be practically irreparable; the act of Professor Tyndall at Belfast was of precisely this nature in the estimation of the inhabitants.

Fortunately, however, a champion of orthodoxy appeared in the form of a Professor at the Presbyterian College who wrote a book—I believe some copies may still be purchased—to make it impossible for Tyndall or any other exponent of Evolution to face an audience of intelligent people. This book was the saving of the town. Belfast was rehabilitated, and the people breathed again.

But the years went by; Darwin’s funeral service was held in Westminster Abbey, and Professor Tyndall’s voice was now and again heard like an Alpine echo of his master. In Belfast a University Extension Scheme was set on foot and promised to be a brilliant success—it collapsed after a time, but that is not to the point. What is to the point, however, is the fact that the inaugural lecture of the University Extension series was on the subject of Biology, and the chosen exponent of the science was Professor Tyndall. He came to Belfast as the honoured guest of the city—it had become a city since his memorable visit—and he passed some days at the official residence of the Presbyterian President of the Queen’s College, who had been a pupil at the divinity school of the clergyman who had written the book that was supposed to have re-consecrated, as it were, the locality defiled by the British Association address of 1874.

This incident appears to me to be noteworthy—almost as noteworthy as the reception given in honour of Monsieur Emile Zola in the Guildhall a few years after Mr. Vizetelly had been sent to gaol for issuing a purified translation of a work of Zola’s.

I think it was Mr. Forster who, in the spring of 1882, when Mr. Parnell and his friends were languishing in Kilmainham, said that the Irish Channel was like the water described by Byron: a palace at one side, a prison on the other. The Irish members left Kilmainham, and in a few hours found themselves in Westminster Palace—at least, Westminster Palace Hotel.

Public opinion knows but the two places of residence—a palace and a prison. When a man leaves the one he is considered fit for the other. Public opinion knows but black and white, and vacillates from one to the other with the utmost regularity.

The only constant thing in the world is change.

At another meeting of the British Association I was a witness of a remarkable piece of cleverness on the part of a young man who has since proved his claim to be regarded as one of the most adroit men in England. Among the excursions the chief was to the locality of a ruin, the origin of which was, like the origin of the De la Pluche family, lost in the mists of obscurity. The ruin had been frequently visited by distinguished archæologists, but none had ventured to do more than guess—if one could imagine guesswork and archaeology associated—what period should be assigned to the dilapidated towers. It so happened, however, that an elderly professor at the local college had, by living laborious days, and mastering the elements of a new language, succeeded in wresting their secret from the lichened stones, and he made up his mind that when the British Association had its excursion to the ruin, he would reveal all that he had discovered regarding it, and by this coup de théâtre become famous.

But the clever young man had an interesting young brother who had gained a reputation as a poet, and who dressed perhaps a trifle in excess of this reputation; and when the old professor was about to make his revelation regarding the ruin, the clever young man put up his brother in another part of the enclosure to recite one of his own poems on the locality. In a few moments the professor, who had commenced his discourse, was practically deserted. Only half a dozen of the excursionists rallied round him, and permitted themselves to be mystified; the cream of the visitors, to the number of perhaps a hundred, were around the reciter on an historic hillock fifty yards away, and his mellow cadences sounded very alluring to the few people who listened to the jerky delivery of the lecturer in the ruin.

But the clever young man did not yield to the alluring voice of his brother. He had heard that voice before, and was well acquainted with its cadences. He was also well acquainted with the poem that was being recited—he had heard it more than once before. What he was not acquainted with was the marvellous discovery made by the professor who was in the act of revealing it to ten ears—that is allowing that only one person of those around him was deaf. The clever young man sat concealed behind a wall covered with ivy and listened to every word of the revelation. When it was over he unostentatiously joined the crowd around his brother, and heard with pleasure that the delivery of the poem had been very striking.

“But we must not waste our time,” said the clever young man, with the air of authority of a personal conductor. “We have several other interesting points to dwell upon”—he spoke as if he and his brother owned the ruins and the natural landscape into the bargain. “Oh, yes, we must hurry on. I do not suppose there is any lady or gentleman present who is aware of the fact that we are within a few yards of the place where the great-grandfather of Queen Boadicea lies buried.”

A murmur of negation passed round the crowd.

“Follow me,” said the clever young man; and they followed him.

He led them to the very place where the professor had made his revelation, and then, standing on a portion of the ruined structure, he gave in choice language, and with many inspiring quotations from the literature of the Ancient Britons, the substance of the professor’s revelation.

For half an hour he continued his discourse, and quite delighted every one who heard him, except, perhaps, the elderly professor. He was among the audience, and he listened, with staring eyes, to the clever young man’s delightful mingling of the deepest archaeological facts with fictions that had a semblance of truth, and he was speechless. The innocent old soul actually believed that the clever young man had surpassed him, the professor, in the profundity of his researches into the history of the ruin; he knew that the face of the clever young man had not been among the faces of the few people who had heard his revelation, but he did not know that the clever young man was hidden among the ivy a few yards away.

When the people were applauding the delightful discourse, he pressed forward to the impromptu lecturer and shook him warmly by the hand.

“Sir!” he cried, “you have in you the stuff that goes to make a great archæologist. I have worked at nothing else but this ruin for the last eight years, and yet I admit that you know more about it than I do.”

“Oh, my dear sir,” said the clever young man, “the world knows that in your own path you are without a rival. I am content to sit at your feet. It is an honourable position. Any time you want to know something of this locality and its archæology do not hesitate to command me.”

The only rival in adroitness to the young man whose feats I have just recorded was one Antonio Giuseppe. I came upon this person in London, but only when I was in Milan did I become acquainted with the extent of his capacity. One of the stories I heard about him is, I think, worth repeating, illustrating, as it does, the difference between the English and the Italian systems of imposture.

Antonio Giuseppe certainly was attached to the State Opera Company, but it would be difficult to define with any degree of exactness his duties in connection with that Institution. He had got not a single note in his voice, and yet—nay, on this account—he had passed during a season at Homburg as a distinguished tenor—for Signor Giuseppe was careful to see that his portmanteau was inscribed in white letters of considerable size, “Signor Antonio Giuseppe, State Opera Company.” He gave himself as many airs as a professional—nay, as an amateur, tenor, and he was thus assigned the most select apartment in the hotel during his sojourn, and a large folding screen was placed between his seat at the table d’hote and the window. There was, indeed, every excuse for taking Signor Giuseppe for a distinguished operatic tenor. He spoke all European languages with equal impurity, he went about in a waistcoat that resembled, in combination of colours, the drop scene of a theatre, he wore a blue velvet tie, made up in a knot to display a carbuncle pin about the size of a tram-car light, and his generosity in wristband was equalled only by his prodigality of cigarette paper. These characteristics, coupled with the fact that he had never been known to indulge in the luxury of a bath, gave rise to the rumour that he was the greatest tenor in Europe; consequently he was looked upon with envy by the Dukes with incomes of a thousand pounds a day, who were accustomed to resort for some months out of the year to Homburg; while Countesses in their own right sent him daily missives expressive of their admiration for his talents, and entreating the favour of his autograph in their birthday books. Poor Signor Giuseppe was greatly perplexed by the arrival of a birthday book at his apartment every morning; but so soon as its import was explained to him, he never failed to respond to the request of the fair owners of the volumes. His caligraphy did not extend beyond the limits of his autograph, and his birthday seemed to be with him a movable feast, for in no two of the books did his name appear on the pages assigned to the same month. As a matter of fact, it is almost impossible for a man who has never been acquainted with his father or mother, to know with any degree of accuracy the exact day on which he was born, so that Signor Giuseppe, who was discovered by a priest in a shed at the quay at Leghorn on St. Joseph’s day, was not to blame for his ignorance in respect of his nativity.

Of course, when Mr. Fitzgauntlet, the enterprising impresario of the State Opera, turned up at Homburg in the course of a week or two, it became known that whatever position Signor Giuseppe might occupy in the State Opera Company, it was not that of primo tenore, for the most exacting impresario has never been known to include among the duties of a primo tenore the unpacking of a portmanteau and the arrangement of its contents around the dressing room of the impresario. The folding screen was removed from behind Signor Giuseppe on the day following the arrival of Mr. Fitzgauntlet at Homburg, and from being feted as Giuseppe the tenor, he was scorned as Giuseppe the valet.

But in regarding Signor Giuseppe as nothing beyond the valet to the impresario the sojourners at the hotel were as greatly in error as in accepting him as the tenor. To be sure Signor Giuseppe now and again discharged the duties that usually devolve upon the valet, but the scope of his duties extended far beyond these limits. It was his task to arrange the claque for a new prima donna, and to purchase the bouquets to be showered upon the stage when the impresario was anxious to impress upon the public the admirable qualities possessed by a débutante whose services he had secured for a trifle. It was also Giuseppe’s privilege to receive the bouquets left at the stage door by the young gentlemen—or the old gentlemen—who had become struck with the graceful figure of the premiere danseuse or perhaps cinquantième danseuse, and the emoluments arising from this portion of his duties were said to be equal to a liberal income, exclusive of what he made by the disposal of the bouquets to the florist from whom they had been originally purchased. This invaluable official also made a little money for himself by his ingenuity in obtaining the photographs and autographs of the chief artists of the company, which he distributed for sale every evening in the stalls; but not quite so profitable was that part of his business which consisted in inventing stories to account for the absence of the impresario when tradesmen called at the State theatre with their bills; still, the thoughtfulness and ingenuity of Signor Giuseppe were quite equal to the strain put upon them in this direction, and Mr. Fitzgauntlet had no reason to be otherwise than satisfied. When it is understood that Giuseppe transacted nearly all their business for the chief artists in the company, engaged their apartments, and looked after their luggage when on tour in the provinces, it will readily be believed that he had, as a rule, more money at his banker’s than any official connected with the State Opera.

The confidence which had always been placed in Signor Giuseppe’s integrity by the artists of the company was upon one occasion rudely shaken, and the story of how this disaster occurred is about to be related. Signor Giuseppe did a little business in wine and cigars, principally of British manufacture, and he had, with his accustomed dexterity, hitherto escaped a criminal prosecution under the Sale of Drugs Act for the consequences of his success in disposing of his commodities in this line of business. He also did a little in a medical way, a certain bottle containing a bright crimson liquid with a horrible taste being extremely popular among the members of the extensive chorus of the State Opera. When a “cyclus” of modern German opera was contemplated by Mr. Fitzgauntlet, Giuseppe increased his medical stock, feeling sure that the result of the performances would occasion a run upon his drugs; but the negotiations fell through, and it was only by the force of his perseverance and persuasiveness he contrived to get rid of his surplus to the gentlemen who played the brass instruments in the orchestra. It was not, however, on account of his transactions in the medical way that he almost forfeited the respect in which he was held by the artists, but because of the part he played with regard to the disposal of a certain box of cigars. After the production of the opera Le Diamant Noir, Signor Boccalione, the great basso, went to Giuseppe, saying,—

“Giuseppe, I want your advice: you know I have made the success of the opera, but I do not read music very quickly, and Monsieur Lejeune has had a good deal of trouble with me. I should like to make him some little return; what would you suggest?”

Giuseppe was lost in thought. He wondered, could he suggest the propriety of the basso’s offering the maestro di piano a case of Burgundy—Giuseppe had just received three cases of the finest Burgundy that had ever been made in the Minories.

“A present to the value of how much?” he asked of Signor Boccalione.

“Oh,” said the basso airily, and with a gesture of indifference, “about sixty francs. Monsieur Lejeune had not really so much trouble with me—no one else in the company would think of acknowledging his services, but with me it is different—I cannot live without being generous.”

Giuseppe mused.

“If the signor would only go so far as seventy francs, I could get him a box of the choicest cigars,” he said after a pause; and then he went on to explain that the cigars were in the possession of a friend of his own, whom he had passed into the opera one night, and who consequently owed him some compliment, so that the box, which in the ordinary way of business was really worth eighty francs, might be obtained for seventy. The generosity of the basso, however, was not without its limits; it would, sustain the tension put upon it by the expenditure of sixty francs, but it was not sufficiently strong to face the outlay suggested by Giuseppe..

“Sixty francs!” he cried, “sixty francs is a small fortune, and I myself smoke excellent cigars at thirty. I will give no more than sixty.”

Giuseppe did not think the box could be purchased for the money, but he said he would try and induce his friend to be liberal. The next day he came to Signor Boccalione with the box containing the hundred cigars of the choicest brand—the quality of the cigars will be fully appreciated when it is understood that the hundred cost Giuseppe originally close upon thirteen shillings.

“Per Bacco!” cried the basso, “Monsieur Lejeune should be a happy man—he had hardly any trouble with me, now that I come to reflect. Oh, I am the only man in the company who would be so foolish as to think of a present—and such a present—for him.”

“Oh, Signor!” said Giuseppe, “such a present! The perfume, signor, wonderful! delicious! celestial!” He then explained how he had persuaded his friend, by soft words and promises, to part with the box for sixty francs, and Signor Boccalione listened and laughed; then, on a sheet of pink notepaper, the basso wrote a dedication, occupying twelve lines, of the box of cigars to the use of the supremely illustrious maestro di piano, Lejeune, in token of the invaluable assistance he had afforded to the most humble and grateful of his friends and servants, Alessandro Boccalione.

When Giuseppe promised to send the box to the maestro on the following day he meant to keep his word, and he did keep it. On the same evening he was met by Maestro Lejeune. The maestro looked very pale in the face.

“Giuseppe, my friend,” he said with a smile, “you were very good to me upon our last tour, looking after my luggage with commendable zeal; I have often thought of making you some little return. You will find a box of cigars—one hundred all but one—on my dressing table; you may have them for your own use.”

Giuseppe was profuse in his thanks, and, on going to the dressing-room of the maestro, obtained possession once more of the box of cigars he had sold to the basso. On the mat was the half-smoked sample which Monsieur Lejeune had attempted to get through.

Not more than a week had passed after this transaction when Signor Giuseppe was sent for by Madame Speranza, the celebrated soprano.

“Giuseppe,” said the lady, “as you have had twenty-seven of my photographs within the past month, I think you may be able to help me out of a difficulty in which I find myself.”

Giuseppe thought it rather ungenerous for a soprano earning—or at least getting paid—two hundred pounds a week, to make any reference to such a paltry matter as photographs; he, however, said nothing on this subject, but only expressed his willingness to serve the lady. She then explained to him what he knew already, namely, that she had had a serious difference with Herr Groschen, the conductor, as to the tempo of a certain air in Le Diamant Noir, and that the conductor and she had not been on speaking terms for more than a fortnight.

“But now,” said Madame Speranza in conclusion, “now that I have made the opera so brilliant a success, I should like to make my peace with the poor old man, who must be miserable in consequence of my treatment of him,—especially as I got the best of the dispute. I mean to write to him this evening, and send him some present—something small, you know—not extravagant.”

“What would Madame think of the appropriateness of a box of cigars?” asked Giuseppe after an interval of thought. “I heard Herr Groschen say that he had just smoked the last of a box, and meant to purchase another when he had the money,” he added.

“How much would a box of cigars cost?” asked the prima donna.

“Madame can have cigars at all prices—even as low as sixty-five francs,” replied her confidential adviser.

“Mon Dieu! what extravagant creatures men are!” cried the lady. “Sixty-five francs’ worth of cigars would probably not last him more than a few months. Never mind; I do not want a cheap box,—my soul is a generous one: procure me a box at sixty-six francs, and we will say nothing more about the photographs.”

Signor Giuseppe said he would try what could be done. A man whom he had once obliged had a sister married to one of the most intelligent cigar merchants in the city; but he did not think he had any cigars under seventy francs.

“Not a sou more than sixty-six will I pay,” cried the soprano with emphasis. Giuseppe gave a shrug and said he would see what could be done.

What he saw could be done was to expend the sum of twopence English in the purchase of a cigar, to put in the centre of the package from which the maestro had taken his sample, and to bring the box sealed to Madame Speranza, whom he congratulated on being able to present her late enemy with a box of cigars of a quality not to be surpassed in the island of Cuba. The lady put her face down to the box and made a little grimace, and Giuseppe left her apartment with three guineas English in his pocket.

Two days afterwards he encountered Herr Groschen.

“Giuseppe,” said the conductor, “you may remember that when you so cleverly contrived to have my luggage with the fifteen pounds of tobacco amongst it passed at the Custom House I said I would make you a present. Forgive me for my negligence all this time, and accept a box of choice cigars, which you will find on my table. May you be happy, Giuseppe—you are a worthy fellow.”

It is needless to say that Signor Giuseppe recovered his box. On the hearth-rug lay a half-smoked specimen, and by its side the portion of Madame Speranza’s letter to the conductor which he had used to light the one cigar out of the hundred.

Before another week had passed, the same box had been sold to the tenor, to present to Mr. Fitzgauntlet, who, on receiving it, put his nose down to the package, and threw the lot into a corner among waste papers, and went on with his writing. The box was rescued by Giuseppe, and presented by him to the husband of Madame Galatini-Purissi, the contralto, in exchange for three dozen copies of the fair artiste’s portrait. Then Signor Purissi sent the box to the flautist in the orchestra, who played the obbligato to some of the contralto’s arias, and as this gentleman did not smoke he made it over once more to Signor Giuseppe. As the box had by this time been in the hands of every one in the company likely to possess a box of cigars, Giuseppe thought it would show a grasping spirit on his part were he to attempt to dispose of it again; so he merely made up the ninety-nine cigars in packages of three, which he sold to thirty-three members of the chorus at a shilling a head.

It so happened, however, that Herr Groschen, Signor Boccalione, and Signor Purissi met in a tobacconist’s shop about a week after the final distribution of the cigars, and their conversation turned upon the comparative ease with which bad cigars could be procured. Herr Groschen boasted how he had repaid his obligations to Giuseppe with a box of cigars, which he was certain satisfied the poor devil.

“Corpo di Bacco!” cried the basso, “I bought a box from Giuseppe to present to Maestro Lejeune.”

“And I,” said the husband of the contralto, “bought another from him. Can it have been the same box?”

Suspicion being thus aroused, Boccalione sought out Monsieur Lejeune, who confessed that he had given the box to Giuseppe; and Signor Purissi learned from the flautist that his gift had been disposed of in the same direction. The story went round the company, and poor Giuseppe was pounced upon by his indignant and demonstrative countrymen, and an explanation demanded of him on the subject of his repeated disposal of the same box. Giuseppe was quite as demonstrative as the most earnest of his interrogators in declaring that he had not disposed of the same box. His friend had obliged him with several boxes, and he had himself been greatly put about to oblige the ungrateful people who now turned upon him. He swore by the tomb of his parents that the obligations he had already discharged towards the ingrates would never be repeated; they might in future go elsewhere (Signor Giuseppe made a suggestion as to the exact locality) for their cigars; but for his part he washed his hands clean of them and their cigars. For three-quarters of an hour the basso-profundo, the soprano, and the husband of the contralto gesticulated before Giuseppe in the portico of the Opera House, until a crowd collected, the impression being general that an animated scene from a new opera was being rehearsed by the artists of the State Opera. A policeman who arrived on the scene could not be persuaded to take this view of the matter, and he politely requested the distinguished members of the State Opera Company either to move on or to go within the precincts of the building. The basso attempted to explain to the policeman in very choice Italian what Giuseppe had done, but he was so demonstrative the officer thought he was threatening the police force generally, and took his name and address with a view to issuing a summons for this offence. In the meantime Giuseppe got into a hansom and drove off, craning his neck round the side of the vehicle to make a parting allusion to the maternity of the husband of the contralto, to which the soprano promptly replied by a suggestion which, if true, would tend to remove the mystery surrounding the origin of Giuseppe. A week afterwards of course all were once again on the most friendly terms; but Giuseppe now and again feels that his want of ingenuousness in the cigar-box transaction well-nigh jeopardised the reputation for integrity he had previously enjoyed among the principals of the State Opera Company. He has been much more careful ever since, and flatters himself that not even the tenore robusto, who is the most suspicious of men, can discover the points on which he gets the better of him. As a practical financier Signor Antonio Giuseppe thinks of himself as a success; and there can hardly be a doubt that he is fully justified in taking such a view of his career.

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