Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Public Entertainment, 1650

This gentleman was a Frenchman called Floram Marchand, who arrived in England in with an unusual and apparently popular act. The confused little pamphlet which diligently exposes how he did it (The Falacie of the Great Water-Drinker Discovered) says that it is has been ‘published for the satisfaction of many of the Nobilitie and Ladies of this nation, and many eminent Gentlemen who have offered great sums of money to have the misterie discovered. As also to undeceive many thousands, who having seen the manner of it, have been amazed at the wonder but could not discover the secret’.

In brief, Floram Marchand’s act involved drinking water on stage, and vomiting up wine: “and at his vomit render not onely the tincture but the strength and smell of severall wines”.

The pamphlet informs us that Marchand would “take all the fouleness, and slime which would otherwise make thick the water, and offend the eye of the observer” by skipping breakfast, and drinking four or five pints of luke-warm water, off-stage. And he has taken a bitter purgative “about the quantity of a hazle nut, confected with the Gall of an Heifer & wheat flower baked” as a “cleansing pill”. Just before going on stage, he drinks a dye, made by boiling 2 ounces of “Brazile” in water.

He then would go on stage, and drink 24 glasses of luke warm water. His performance would follow rather rapidly: “the first vomit he maketh, the water seemeth to be a full deep Claret”, then by degrees, “the water that comes from him will grow paler and paler”.

But his clever extra involved carefully rinsing some of the glasses he puked into in white wine vinegar, which apparently developed the paler colour into more deep coloured ‘claret’, leaving him to vomit almost instantaneously into an unprepared glass, and so apparently deliver at pretty much the same time a white wine or pale ale.

Marchand learned his trick from an Italian, who had done it so convincingly in France, that Cardinal Mazarin threatened to imprison him until he disclosed the secret; two English entrepreneurs (Thomas Peedle and Thomas Cozbie) brought his disciple Marchand to England. They are the authors of the pamphlet, which must be their final effort to cash in on their success, and their recent association with Marchand gives it its authority.

London, 1650: not the kind of public entertainment you’d expect nobility, ladies, and gentlemen to be thronging to see. But that the man who devised this stunt was interrogated by Cardinal Mazarin gives a hint, if we needed one: the trick depended for its notoriety on being a kind of carnivalesque repetition of Christ’s first miracle, turning water into wine. So it combined the desire for entertainment and wonder with a 'recirculated' - very much recirculated, in this case - religious source for its 'social energy'.

I still wouldn’t want to watch it on late night television, though.


Hieronimo said...

That's wonderful. I think I would watch it on late-night TV; kind of like watching one of those shows where doctors perform operations--can you turn away?

People go to Coney Island still today to see this sort of thing.

bdh said...

You'd think Christ would have had the good sense to patent the idea...