“for This Relief, Much Thanks”

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Some theatre posters reflected the fad that even the audience far gone on melodramatic thud and blunder was not insatiable: a spot of comedy now and then was more tlian acceptable. Certainly the scene chosen for this lavish lithograph advertising The Fatal Card (1805) looks like something out of a gay farce by Oscar Wilde; and the caption at the bottom does nothing to alter the impression. It is therefore somewhat surprising to read the following excerpts from the New York Dramatic Mirror’i review: “The Fatal Card w an out-and-out melodrama with no special claim to originality, but the situations are thrillingly sensational … The explosion of the cottage in the last act proved one of the most remarkable … mechanical effects ever seen on the local stage. … The ingenious and dexterous celerity with which the explosion was followed by the collapse of the cottage aroused thunderous applause from every man, woman and child in the audience.” And the plot, it seems, involved a lynching, a band of swindlers, burglary, murder, and a hero lashed beside an “infernal machine,” to be saved in the very nick by the arrival of the heroine, who is the villain’s daughter. Or sometliing like that. Nothing about reading poetry in a canoe; or rather, no mention of it in the review. But the comic scene was undoubtedly there, along with others, in recognition of the great truth that man cannot live by blood alone.