Pantomime Actor Joseph Grimaldi

Attributed to William Heath (1795-1840), Mr. Grimaldi and Mr. Norman in the Epping Hunt, from the Popular Pantomime of the Red Dwarf (1812). Engraving with hand-coloring. Graphic Arts Division, British Caricatures

This print depicts the British actor Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) in one of his many popular pantomimes. Grimaldi, who always played the clown in these physical comedies, worked as a professional actor from the age of three. Unfortunately, his body was worn out by the age of forty-five and he was forced into retirement. One of his best-loved songs begins

A little old woman, her living she got
by selling codlins, hot, hot, hot.
And this little old woman, who codlins sold,
tho’ her codlins were not, she felt herself cold.
So to keep herself warm she thought it no sin
to fetch for herself a quartern of gin.

Joseph Grimaldi, (1779-1837), Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, edited by “Boz” [Charles Dickens (1812-1870)]; with illustrations by George Cruikshank (London: R. Bentley, 1838). Graphic Arts Collection (GA) Cruik 1838.5

After retirement Grimaldi worked on his memoirs, which eventually filled two volumes. When the actor died in 1837, Charles Dickens was asked to edit the massive work and he succeeded by rewriting a good deal of the text. Dickens comments in the introductory chapter: “The present editor … accepted a proposal from the publisher to edit the book, and has edited it to the best of his ability, altering its form throughout, and making such other alterations as he conceived would improve the narration of the facts without any departure from the facts themselves.”

Princeton is also fortunate to also hold a songbook owned and signed by Grimaldi, seen below.

Thomas Tegg (1776-1845), Tegg’s prime song book, bang up to the mark! :the fourth collection (London: T. Tegg, [1814?]). Frontispiece and title vignette by Thomas Rowlandson. Rare Books (Ex) PR1188 .T43 1814.

Images of Grimaldi are well represented in the graphic arts collection. There are two other etchings attributed to Heath, “Grimaldi’s Leap Frog, in the Comic Pantomime of the Golden Fish” (1812), and “Grimaldi’s Tandem, in the Comic Pantomime of the Golden Fish” (1812); and two by George Cruikshank (1792-1878), “A Bull in a China Shop” (1808); and “All the World’s in Paris!” (1815).

In addition, we have two watercolors by Cruikshank, “Scenes from the ‘Life of Grimaldi’” (1838), and “Mr. Grimaldi. All the World’s in Paris.” (1815).