The Condenser

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents "Willie the Operatic Whale" (1946)

Posted by Meg
This week's presentation is a two-parter with an intermission if you so desire. Willie the Operatic Whale first appeared in the Disney feature Make Mine Music (1946) under the title The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At the Met (yeah, I think I like the other title better) with Nelson Eddy providing most of the voices. It was later released as a short by RKO in 1954. Enjoy!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Current Events

Posted by Dave
With part II of the Electric Girl saga forthcoming, it seems like a perfect time to build the tension with another electrical post. And just in case you think this kind of accident is a thing of the past, keep in mind that every year a couple people are electrocuted by touching sidewalk grates or lampposts that have become electrified through faulty wiring. Watch your step! From the endlessly disturbing Accidents from the Electric Current by Philip Coombs Knapp (1890)

A couple of horses attached to a cart were driven against a trolley wire of the West End Company's electric system, at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth Streets, yesterday forenoon at about eleven o'clock, and were thrown to the ground. The wire, it is said, had been torn from its fastenings on the overhead cross-wire by a pile-driver loaded on a team, and had sagged down to within a few feet of the ground. The driver of the cart drove on without noticing the wire, with the result above stated. The horses were on the ground several minutes, but were finally unharnessed and pulled out, apparently not much injured, but trembling in every limb. On February 15, 1890, I was told by a man employed at the stable that the horses had been sick and good-for-nothing ever since; being stupid, weak, and unfit for any work.

1890 lightning photograph courtesy of George Eastman House.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The English Actor, Slow of Comprehension

Posted by Dave
It's one thing to criticize unnecessary or ill-placed applause from an audience, but to complain about a lack of derision? That takes a true critic. By the time our dear reviewer gets around to skewering the whole of English acting, I think he's overshadowed the performance itself. From a review of a performance of Offenbach's Blue Beard, in The Atheneum (1870), by Charles Wentworth Dilke.

Such a representation, for instance, as was given of King Bobeche, by Mr. Stoyle, is as pitiable as it can possibly be rendered. Mr. Stoyle, who deserves the unenviable reputation of being the most offensive actor on the lyric stage, fills his part with interpolations of the most objectionable kind. As a curiosity in theatrical records, the fact may be chronicled that a man who is allowed to sing at our best theatres inserted in the dialogue of the most sparkling writers of the day such "gag" as "Pickles at a shilling a bottle!" and other like vulgarisms, and escaped without a sound of disapproval from the more fashionable parts of the house, and with a roar of applause from the gallery. Wherever in the original a joke is suggested or implied, by vulgar word or gesture, Mr. Stoyle thrusts it upon the audience, and at the close of one of the acts he throws himself upon the ground in his kingly robes, and entertains the spectators with a mimicry of the actions of Punch in the raree-show. We should not dignify with so much attention this pitiable exhibition did it not exemplify, somewhat over- strongly perhaps, a radical weakness in English acting. The actor in England, uneducated himself, and slow of comprehension, will not believe that the hint he can scarcely take tells fully with people of quicker apprehension. He accompanies it, accordingly, with a gloss of speech or gesture which is entirely fatal to the delicacy and beauty of the humour. This vice is seldom carried to so deplorable an excess as has now been exemplified, but its presence is constantly manifested.

Image of a riot at the Astor Place Opera House, 1849, incited by William Macready's toffee-nosed performance in Macbeth, from this site.


Monday, April 20, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents Jean Painlevé's "Le Vampire" (1945)

Posted by Meg
Welcome to another night at the Condenser Bijou Theatre. We apologize for the delay of this week's special feature, but we hope that you will be no less entertained. Our feature presentation is Jean Painlevé's Le Vampire, a heart-warming love story between a vampire bat and a guinea pig and the forbidden kiss they share, co-starring a seahorse, some worms and an ugly fish. Enjoy.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Onward and Upward

Posted by Dave
We've recently made some changes to the site, in something of an ongoing process of expansion and improvement. Without the luxury of proper beta testing, we're asking our readers to drop us a line if something seems odd in their particular browser. Just send an email to to report a bug or make a suggestion for something we should add. Hopefully the result will be a better, more user-friendly Condenser.

This might also be a good place to give a plug for our infinitely talented and patient developer, Shannon Mosley, of Mosley Graphics.

Image of the construction of the Crystal Palace, a task just marginally more demanding, via VictorianWeb.


Friday, April 17, 2009


Posted by Dave
With piracy again a hot topic in the news, it seems a good time to reflect on how virtually unchanged the practice been for hundreds of years. The account of coastal piracy below concerns the treacherous waterways of southeast Asia, a region that still rivals East Africa in the daring - and desperation - of its pirate gangs. From The Indian Archipelago (1853) by Horace St. John.

When brought to close conflict, they fight with determination; but when their inferiority of force is obvious, they seek refuge in flight to retreats only accessible to them. Little groups so surrounded by sunken patches of coral reef as to be almost unapproachable, serve them as places of security. From the midst of these they emerge and attack, not only native boats but European traders, profiting by calms, contrary winds, or the weakness of those whom they assail. When no prospect appears of gaining by the sale of their prisoners, or there is a chance of detection, they kill without mercy, not only the men, but the women and children who fall into their hands — or sometimes this is done to revenge an obstinate resistance. Occasionally, one of the captives is released to procure a ransom for the rest; and the pirates boldly await his return at some appointed rendezvous — perhaps in the vicinage of a commercial settlement.

Image of a pirate's capture in a Tonkinese village in 1886 courtesy of Wikipedia


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Electric Girl: Part 1

Posted by Dave
Angie Cotton was certainly a remarkable person - but considering the phenomena associated with her, she probably should have been known as the Magnetic Girl. The account below is from The American Review, 1846, and shows just how powerfully electricity held the public imagination at that time. There is, unfortunately, a slightly more, er, grounded follow-up article which we'll publish soon. In the meantime, enjoy the mystery - it does make for a wonderful story.

ANGELIQUE COTTON, THE ELECTRICAL GIRL. Wonders multiply upon us so fast in this age of mesmerism, &c., that we know not what next to anticipate. That "Burnam's wood should come to Dunsinane," would not be more amazing than some of the things of which we now daily read. A recent number of Galignani gives a strange account of a young female called the Electric Girl. It seems Angelique Cotton is thirteen, a native of the department of the Finisere, where she was employed in a thread-glove manufactory as a winder. One day, whilst at work with her companions, the reel on which she was winding thread was suddenly projected from her. The circumstances excited surprise, the reel was replaced, when the same effect was renewed. It was then evident that Angelique herself was the cause. The affair made a noise in the village, and the cure was called in. It was supposed by them that she was possessed, and an exorcism was had recourse to, but no devil came out. After the priest, the doctor was applied to, but he was as unable to effect a cure as the cure had been. Another doctor then visited her, and witnessed the same effect as the other had seen, but being a sensible man, he made no attempt to cure an affection which he did not understand. This gentleman induced the mother of Angelique to send her to Paris, and accompanied her. A few days ago, she was taken to the Observatory, where Messrs. Arago, Mathieu, Laugier, and Goujon, witnessed the following experiments ; — A piece of paper, placed upon the edge of a table, was immediately attracted by the left hand of the girl. She then, holding her apron in her hand, approached a gueridon, which was pushed back, although the apron scarcely touched it. The next experiment was to place her in a chair with her feet on the ground. The chair was projected with violence against the wall, while the girl was thrown the other way. This experiment was repeated several times, and with the same results. M. Arago laid his hand upon the chair to prevent its moving, but the force was too great for his resistance, and M. Goujon, having seated himself on a part of the chair, was thrown off as soon as Angt'liqu1' had also taken her seat. Such, said M. Arago, were the facts witnessed, and he had seen nothing to justify an opinion that any deception had been practised. Sincethen, other experiments have been performed by Dr. Tauchon. This gentleman had the chair in which Angelique was seated held by two powerful men. In this instance it was not driven away, but broke in their hands. A table, a gueridon and a heavy sofa were projected by the mere contact of the girl's clothes. Dr. Tauchon ascertained that the chair in which she sits is first attracted, anb next repulsed. When Angelique is isolated from the ground by a glass stool, oiled silk, or any other nonconductorof electricity, the projections do not take place. A loadstone being placed near the left hand, which alone is magnetic, she experienced different sensations, according as the north and south poles were applied, and could tell with which pole she was in contact. She is repulsed by the north pole. She experiences violent commotions, when the electric discharges take place, and suffers greatly from them. It is in the evening, between seven and nine, about an hour after she has dined, that her electrical power is most strongly developed. Her pulse then beats from 105 to 120 per minute.

Image of Tesla's laboratory from this site.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents Annie Oakley (1894)

Posted by Meg
Wild west heroine Annie Oakley was the subject of this week's American Experience on PBS. In the program, they mentioned that Thomas Edison had filmed Oakley performing some of her shooting stunts. Unfortunately, the more impressive parts of her performance weren't recorded, likely because of the space limitations in Edison's early studio. Still, any video documentation is better than none at all.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Doing a Hard Job Prettily

Posted by Dave
If you really love what you do, why let the law get in the way? An interview with a rather earnest pickpocket, from Masters of Their Craft in McClure's Magazine, April 1903.

"Why did you do it?" I asked him.
"Well, I'll tell you," he said. "I simply couldn't help it. I'm no kleptomaniac. It isn't the stealing I like, but the fun of doing a hard job prettily. This is the second turn I've made. The first was like this: I saw a rich, fat man in a crowd, and I noticed that his watch was hung in a new way, hard to break. My fingers itched, not for the watch, but to break it off. I moved up, lifted the watch, walked away with it, and then went back and hung the thing on the chain again. This second time was something like that. I saw a delicate job, tried it, got the watch, and just then the fellow happened to look for the time. He hollered, and a detective nearby pinched me. I think I'm what you'd call a natural thief, but I like to work with my fingers and I like the excitement of stealing."

Image via the remarkable Victorian London


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Your Aeroplane Won't Save You... From Christ

Posted by Dave
If you were alive in the 18th century, and planned on devising a flying machine that would allow you to escape the flames of Revelation with your vices intact, you might have found the following passage disconcerting. Time to start work on a submarine, perhaps. From The Female Spectator (1771), by Eliza Fowler Haywood.

I Have, indeed, heard of some people foolish enough to maintain, that there "will come a time in which the ingenuity of man will invent machines to carry him through the air, with the fame ease as we now pass the seas;" which, they cry, seemed doubtless as impracticable at first as this does at present.

Could the regions of air, indeed, afford any shelter from that all-devouring fire which, we are told, shall consume the earth, there might be some little shadow of a hope, that the race of man might be preferred a second time by means no less surprizing than the first: But of what advantage would it be for us to fly, even tho' we had the wings of an eagle, or could soar with the king of birds, at a time when the heavens themselves, at least what we call so, shall be shrivelled up like a parchment; when the sun, and moon, and stars shall be dissolved, and all become one general conflagration.

And just in case you thought a spaceship could be your ticket to freedom:

But granting even all their wild imaginations can suggest: —supposing that some carriage could really be found out to bear us through the air from kingdom to kingdom, or to whatever place we pleased of the globe, we still should be able to discover as little of any other world as we do now standing upon the earth.

Every orb has its own impenetrable atmosphere; —a boundary, which nothing that is mortal can over-leap or pass through; and whether, even when we have thrown off this clog of flesh, the soul will receive any gratification of its enquiring nature in this point, lies only in the power of Him who gave it to determine.

Image courtesy of Paleo-Future


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Condenser Bijou Theatre Presents "The Skeleton Dance" (1929)

Posted by Meg
Skeletons: they're so in right now. Because of the current love of all things pirate and Jolly Roger, it's finally socially acceptable to be into skeletons. And so, I present to you the The Skeleton Dance, the first in Disney's Silly Symphonies series. It was animated by Ub Iwerks and music is by Carl Stalling. The cartoon is just skeletons doing what skeletons do: dance, beat up owls, play each other like a xylophone, play cats like a double bass. You know, normal stuff. Enjoy.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Baboons: Perfectly Incorrigible

Posted by Dave
Just because you happen to be an animal, don't think you can just get away with any crass behavior. And if you're a baboon, well, the Count de Buffon has some particularly sharp words about the way members of your species choose to conduct themselves. Now stop that! Honestly. From Natural History, General and Particular (1785).

He is insolently salacious, affects to show himself in this situation, and seems to gratify his desires, per manum suam, before the whole world. This detestable action recalls the idea of vice, and renders disgustful the aspect of an animal, which Nature seems to have particularly devoted to such an uncommon species of impudence; for, in all o
ther animals, and even in man, she has covered these parts with a veil. In the baboon, on the contrary, they are perpetually naked, and the more conspicuous, because the rest of the body is covered with long hair. The buttocks are likewise naked, and of a blood red colour; the testicles are pendulous; the anus is uncovered, and the tail always elevated. He seems to be proud of all those nudities; for he presents his hind parts more frequently than his front, especially when he sees women, before whom he displays an effrontery so matchless, that it can originate from nothing but the most inordinate desire. The magot, and some others, have the same inclinations; but, as they are smaller and not so petulant, they are taught modesty by the whip. The baboon, however, is perfectly incorrigible, and nothing can tame him.

Image taken from the text.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New York Antiquarian Book Fair

Posted by Dave
If you're a bibliophile in the New York area, you probably don't need to be reminded of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend at the Park Avenue Armory. Admission is a little steep, but then, so are prices for the books themselves. More info here.

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