MUSICAL SNUFFBOXES AND BARREL-ORGANS. THE idler in the streets of
London cannot fad to be struck with the number of caricatures in the shop-windows. In Hounds- ditch, Field Lane, or Tooley Street, as in the Haymarket, Piccadilly, or Pall Mall, allegorical satires upon public characters, etched, li- thographed, or in wood-engraving, may be seen exposed to view— from engravings which in point of arrangement, drawing, and light and shade, may rank above par as works of art, down to blotches scarcely less black and deformed than those which are scattered through old black-letter volumes, or stare us grimly in the face from the pages of the Seven Champions of Christendom, and such like, printed with worn-out types on tea-paper. They are to be met with of all grades of artistical skill, in separate sheets or in pamphlets—as HIls, or illustrations of CRDIKSHANK'S Omnibus or of CLEAVE'S Penny Gazette, they swarm "in number number- less."
The Metropolis is the great workshop from which the demand of the whole country for this kind of wit is supplied ; and its capacity of production appears adequate to the glut even of a wider market. This fact would seem to imply a greater amount of talent for in- ventive fun than really exists. Much of it is merely mechanical. When once a joke has been expressed pictorially in a happy man- ner, passable skill in drawing and a collection of Joe Millers is all that is required to establish a caricaturist. The figures and their arrangement, the inscriptions below or the labels in their mouths, may vary, but the jest is at bottom the same. The best of our modern caricaturists do little more than furnish us with variations of Buxutrav and GILRAY.
This repetition—this mechanical imitation of wit—is not con- fined to limners. It has its verbal as well as its pictorial history. The slang wit of cabmen, watermen, et hoc genus mine—the main stock in trade of some popular writers—flows from a similar source. Once in a century there may be a really witty member of these semi-industrious callings ; but the great store of quaint Cockney sayings is the fruit of the hours of ennui spent by hackney-coach- men and others while waiting for a fare. They try to produce a variation of that joke of Bill Gubbins which has kept all their friends laughing for so many years.
Ascending to more polite circles, we do not escape from the mechanical ; it pursues us everywhere. The staple of all public speaking is monstrously monotonous. Comic dramatists have for two hundred years been unable to invent a comedy which shall consist of other than the eternal theme of a courtship ending in
matrimony. The strong family likeness of magazine-wits h would be superfluous to enlarge upon. All these caterers for the public amusement very much resemble the musical toys, called, according to their form and dimensions, musical snuffboxes or barrel-organs. The tune they play is sweet enough, and they who are not accustomed to hear much music may fancy it original ; but it soon wearies, from its unvarying repe- tition and the sickening sense that it is purely mechanical. Calling upon an after-dinner orator for a toast, is clearly nothing more than setting your musical snuffbox on the table for the amusement of the company. A certain amount of sentiment he must possess, some command of language, and a little fancy : but they all flow in the channels impressed by habitual associations—you touch his emotions, and he plays the old tune over again. The greater part of our political orators differ from these only in the greater robus- tiousness of the passions by means of which they seek to stimulate their hearers, and the more every-day business character of their themes. They are the barrel-organs of rhetoric. But that it would be invidious to select a few and impossible to point out all, it might easily be shown that the musical snuffboxes and barrel-organs preponderate at present in all departments of art and literature.
This idea might be productive of rather unpleasant reveries in certain nightmare moods of the mind. The notion of being sur- rounded, not by sentient sympathizing fellow-creatures, but by music-mills, each grinding off in perfect apathy delicate imitations of every tone of varied sentiment, might be enough to drive a man of weak nerves mad.