(Roughly) Daily

Rare Welsh Bit…

Dylan Thomas

Ever hanker to craft a poem in the fashion of that Son of Cymru, Dylan Thomas?  Well, thanks to the good folks at BBC Wales, one can…

Just try the “Dylan Thomas Random Poem Generator.”

Your correspondent’s effort:

And savagely he goes streaking
Into the sea-dark tides,
Limping while they live
Loudly in the greenleaved nannygoats

And proudly the kings of the street
Blaze hazily in praise of the sea
Falling while they cover
Slowly into the dewgrazed goosefield

As we refuse to go gentle into that good night, we might join the boys-and-girls-of-all-ages who are grateful to Philip Astley, who staged the first modern circus, in London, on this date in 1768.

Trick riders, acrobats, clowns, trained animals, and other familiar components of the circus have existed throughout recorded history, but it was not until the late 18th century that the modern spectacle of the circus was born, when Astley, a former British cavalry sergeant major, found that if he galloped in a tight circle, centrifugal force allowed him to perform seemingly impossible feats on a horse’s back. He drew up a ring in London and on January 9, 1768, invited the public to see him wave his sword in the air while he rode with one foot on the saddle and one on the horse’s head.

Astley’s trick riding was such a hit that he soon hired other equestrians, a clown, and musicians, and in 1770 built a roof over his ring– calling the structure Astley’s Amphitheatre.  In 1772, Astley went to Versailles to perform his “daring feats of horsemanship” before King Louis XV, and found France ripe for a permanent show of its own, which he founded in 1782.  But 1782 also saw a competitor in London set up shop just down the road from Astley’s Amphitheatre, calling his show the “Royal Circus,” after the Roman name for the circular theaters where chariot races were held.  While Astley, who lived till 1814, prevailed, and eventually established 18 other circuses in cities across Europe, the term “circus” had,  by the 19th century, been adopted as a generic name for this new form of entertainment.

The circus came later to the western side of the Pond: English equestrian John Bill Ricketts opened the first American circus in Philadelphia in 1792; he later opened others in New York City and Boston.  President George Washington reportedly attended a Ricketts circus– and sold the company a horse.

Astley’s performances were sufficiently popular to merit mention in Jane Austen’s Emma.  (They also figure as a motif in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake…  but then, of course, readers already knew that.)

Astley’s Amphitheatre

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 9, 2009 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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