At the time that this book was published, the public or private recitation was a popular form of entertainment. People would actually pay to see poems and dramatic monologues performed on the stage by the 'professional readers and speakers' to whom this book is addressed. Equally popular were amateur performances, in ones own home or that of friends and acquaintances, and in fact many of the purchasers of anthologies like this one would not be professionals - who must after all have been relatively few in number. It is an old sales trick, of the kind to which Edgerly was never averse, to make your merchandise more attractive by labelling it as strictly for a specialised clientele.
The recitations themselves may be divided into three categories: poems by Edgerly under one name or another; (mostly well-known) pieces of verse or prose credited to their authors; and anonymous items, generally awful, which may also have been written by Edgerly. The pieces are generally either melodramatic, sentimental or comic, those latter being especially dire, particularly when they rely on dialect for their effect.
As a service to those of a masochistic bent, here is one of Edgerly's poems, complete with its characteristically grandiloquent - and ridiculous - notes for the performer.
The Weird Visitor, by "Edmund Shaftesbury"
SUGGESTION. This selection has been recited with a thrilling power that has produced effects upon an audience never caused by any other recital. The first verse is light, airy and gay, requiring thin tones, rather high in pitch, with a tendency to mild, rising inflections. On the fourth, the voice becomes weird, dark and gloomy, with median stress prevailing. The word "moaning" may be imitative, and accompanied by a wailing tone; "rolls" by a monotone in a bell sound, low in pitch. On the words "Lily, darling, you are dying," and through the vow, the reader kneels, holding the hand raised as during an oath after the word "swear". The ghost utters the word "no" twice, with a chilling grave-like tone of the lowest pitch. We heard the first four lines of the 10th stanza given in the most weird voice, quiet and hollow, and the word "Crash!" followed with amazing force, accompanied by a stamp of the foot, and clap of the hands. The effect upon the audience was the most appalling we ever witnessed.
In the gay throng of the ballroom,
Fairest of the living fair,
Whirled the lovely woman, Stella,
Blue of eyes and brown of hair.
At her waist a white hand trembled;
'Gainst her breast a strong heart beat;
Pulsing love-throbs full and tender
Marked the time of dancing feet.
All the world was bright and happy
All of life a perfumed rose;
Not a care or sorrow knew they,
Nor a thought of others woes.
"Walter Reynolds, stop! and listen:
You are making love tonight
To the village beauty, Stella,
Think and answer, is it right?"
Conscience spoke but found no hearing,
Memory traced no thought of care,
Far too happy were the lovers
In the ballroom's dizzy glare.
Bright eyes met and told the story
Borne by Cupid's well aimed dart,
While the dancers' feet were waltzing
To the music of the heart.
Fierce, without, the night wind blowing
Swept the church-yard, cold and bare.
Wild the rain beat through the forest,
On the fields and everywhere.
Hark! the spirit wind is moaning
And the echoing thunder rolls.
Flash! the lightning gleams and glistens!
And the solemn church-bell tolls.
Months ago within that church-yard
Walter Reynolds laid his wife.
Months, not years, had glided onward
Since her spirit left this life.
"Lily, darling, you are dying
And your race will soon be past,"
Said the husband at the bedside,
Ere the woman breathed her last.
"But I ne'er can love another,
On my bended knee I swear
Life and love and faith eternal
Shall reward your oft made prayer"
Walter Reynolds had forgotten,
But the woman's heart had not;
The pealing thunders woke her slumbers
In the yawning church-yard lot.
Forth upon her ghostly mission
Sped the shrouded shrunken form,
From the grave-yard to the ball room
Sped she through the wild night-storm.
Happy in a curtained recess
Sat the lovers hand in hand,
Drinking of the heart's deep pleasure
In love's mystic fairy land.
"Stella! all my heart I give thee,
All my treasures, all my life,
And eternal faith I pledge thee:
May I claim thee as my wife?"
Thus he spake, and she demurely
Blushed, and sighed, and drooped her head.
Then the ghost of Lily Reynolds
Gliding near them spoke instead:-
"No"* "Yes", said Stella, hearing nothing;
But to him both answers low
Were distinct, and so he asked her:-
"Did you answer Yes or No?"
"No"* "Yes", said Stella, hearing nothing;
Vexed at this response, he cried
Tell me Stella, are you trifling?
Then the spectral voice replied:-
Walter Reynolds, you are trifling,
On your bended knee you swore
All your life and faith eternal
To your first love evermore.
CRASH! The echoing thunder pealing
Lodged a bolt in his false breast
And returning through the church yard
Bore the ghost-wife to her rest.
In the curtained recess lying,
Found they him in death's embrace.
On his breast in shrunken outlines
Saw they Lily Reynolds face
Drawn in pale blue shades of lightning:
Death was stamped upon the dead.
And around in golden letters,
"NOW FOREVER WE ARE WED!"
* "No" is uttered by the Ghost.
An interesting anticipation of modern cosmetic surgery in the mention of "a bolt in his false breast", eh?
Also of interest are the numerous advertisements for others of Edgerly's works, of which this one is typical:-
"Stop a car?". So, if you are driving along and your engine mysteriously dies, it's not those aliens in a UFO, it's a ventriloquist - though you won't be able to detect him or her, and if you brought them to court they would quickly adjourn it. Never mind the masons or the Illuminati, it's the ventriloquists we should worry about.