We have recently expanded our performing arts section to include a huge number of books on theatrical history (particularly Gilbert and Sullivan and the 19th century in general). Almost all of these books come from one person who kindly donated some of her late husband’s collection to us. One of the great things about researching these books has been the amount I have learnt about a subject which I knew nothing about. A good example is this autobiography of John Sims Reeves which he has signed himself. Reeves was a opera singer who was very popular in the middle of the nineteenth century. He toured Europe in his prime but unfortunately gained a reputation of being a fading talent towards his later years. This book shines a light on the intricacies of the world that Reeves inhabited (he had associations with many of the leading authors and actors of the time including Dickens and Thackeray). It is written in a charmingly Victorian conversational tone. The musical details will be of most interest to the aficionado but I found the chapter in which he saves a depressed man from falling out of a train one of the best:
Suddenly one of the boys lurched against the door, which being insecurely fastened, flew open: with a quick movement I caught him and fortunately prevented his falling out. The expression portrayed on that man’s countenance I shall never forget. That he was terrified will readily be imagined, although neither that feeling nor a sentiment of gratitude towards myself were sufficient to account for the look of agony, followed by an awful pallor that overspread his face.