Friday, March 3, 2017

The Portsmouth Assembly House, Part III

A Master of Ceremonies

Sarah Goodwin packs her short remembrances of the Assembly House with details that bring the building and the inhabitants of late 18th and early 19th century Portsmouth to life. She provides a participant's view of a commodious urban life—a changeable canvas composed of the famous and noteworthy,  the social season and cultural celebrations, and the interplay of the local community. Part three completes this extended blog piece with her pithy observations of a concert, theatrical performance, exhibit, and a troupe of East Indian Jugglers.

Part III, Art and Entertainment:

Concert at the Upper Rooms, Rowlandson

"A Handel and Haydn Society, organized by the most distinguished musical gentlemen of the town, met here two afternoons in the week, when Mr. B., the president, wielded the baton with great dignity and precision. Two gifted young ladies presided by turns at the piano, while several gentlemen were skilfull with the violin and flute. I was fortunate enough to be one of the members, and the meetings were very much enjoyed.

Dolby's British Theatre, Cruicksnak

Every summer for many years the Boston Stock Company had theatrical entertainments in the assembly room. Mr. and Mrs. Duff, Mr. and Mrs. Pelby, Mr. Adamson, a famous comic singer, and others, played five nights in the week to the Mite of the town, at a dollar a ticket. Ladies were without bonnets, usually with a large white veil thrown over the head, the border coming over the forehead.

Viewing at the Royal Academy, Rowlandson

The first great oil painting that I ever saw was exhibited in the back room of that house, and covered one side of the wall. It was by Granet, and represented a Capuchin chapel, with the monks at their devotions. I saw it twice; and the perspective was so fine, the moment I entered the room I was in the chapel. This great painting was destroyed by fire in St. Petersburg many years ago.

The Dancing Maaster's Ball, Laurie & Whittle

Here, too, a famous dancing-school flourished; and it was under Mr. de Grand Val and Mr. Bossuet that I had my first lessons in dancing.

East Indian Jugglers

There came East Indian jugglers, who did the most astonishing things, at least to our young eyes. In fact, it was under this wide-spreading roof that Portsmouth people gathered for many a year, to participate in all that was most entertaining and often instructive, in their then necessarily restricted world."*

* This account of the old Assembly House was found among the papers of the late Mrs. Ichabod Goodwin, and was written by her in 1870 and appear in:

Portsmouth Book, Boston, Geo. H. Ellis, Printer, 272 Congress Street, 1899, pg 48-49.

Jeff Hopper is the Director of the Warner House and researches social history.