Friday, December 28, 2018


The Spectacle of Sin

Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946), Unforgotten Years (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1939), pp. 26-27:
Barnum's Circus came to Philadelphia in my boyhood, rousing considerable excitement in the youth of that quiet city; and among the Quakers the question was much debated whether their children should be allowed to witness this entertainment. While it was admitted on the one hand that the sight of the elephants and the other exotic animals would help to enhance their conception of the wonders of creation, there were grave fears on the other hand that the spectacle of the scantily clad female acrobats on the tightropes might sully the innocence of their childish minds. The compromise finally arrived at, at least in our family, was that the children should be taken to the circus and allowed to see the animals, but should sit with closed eyes while the acrobats were performing.

So there we sat, a row of Quaker children, staring with all our eyes at the performing elephants, but with our organs of vision closed and our hands before them during the less seemly interludes. But one little Quaker boy permitted himself a guilty peep through his fingers, and gazed on a show of muscular limbs moving, slowly moving, in pink tights. What he was gazing at was, he knew, the spectacle of Sin; and so striking was the impression that his concept of that word became colored in his imagination for a long time with the pinkness of those slowly moving legs. It was only long afterwards that he came to understand why he had been forbidden to gaze upon them, and the grave danger he might have thereby incurred.

Toulouse-Lautrec, Dancer Adjusting Her Tights

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