What strikes a stranger as most characteristic is the show where an actor dressed as  an old man, with tow hair and beard of enormous length, makes a great deal of rude sport, which is fully appreciated only by a Russian audience.  In our illustration he is represented as shaving a victim, and making sport of him for the amusement of the crowd below.  The old fellow, whose hair and beard are supposed to be whitened with the frost and snow of many winters, is Old Father Christmas, the Russian Clown, and the man he is shaving is Pantaloon.  These characters are often played by soldiers who have a turn for the comic.  Pretty Columbines are not wanting in this show.  They come out on the balconies and dance, while Father Christmas ogles them, and sets the crowd in a roar with his jokes.  He swinging one leg over the balustrade.  Grotesque paintings representing mermaids, comic monsters, and caricatures of other sorts adorn the outside of the booth.  Sometimes he will single out some one in the crowd, and jump down and have a chaffing talk with him, to the great delight of the audience.  Catching sight of the artist making a sketch of the performance, the old fellow was down upon him in an instant.  Satisfied, however, with the sketch after a short scrutiny, he jumped back again, and the show went on.


At all the shows bears out a distinguished figure being regarded as eminent Russian citizens.  Father Christmas generally has at his side a man dressed in a bear's skin, with head and claws complete, who leans forward over the balustrade, rubbing his paws together in the manner of the real creature.  Though rather stolid, as a rule, he is sometimes provoked into making a grab at some one near him, boxing his ears, or knocking off his cap.  The rougher the treatment of the victim the better  is the crowd pleased.


If you are curious to see the inside of one of these shows, whose painted sides indicate a perfect museum of wonders, you pay a small admission fee, mount the ladder, and find nothing but an empty space, or at most a merry-go-round.  This is the great joke.  If you are wise, you will not exhibit any trace of chagrin or disappointment, but mount one of the miniature horses, take a lance, and try your skill at carrying off a ring.



Harper's Weekly Supplement, April 25, 1874


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