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Joseph Grimaldi – the healing power of humor

An example of the healing power of humor from the life of Joseph Grimaldi

“In the July of this year a very extraordinary circumstance occurred at Sadler’s Wells, which was the great topic of conversation in the neighborhood for some time afterward. It happened thus:
Captain George Harris, of the Royal Navy had recently returned to England after a long voyage. The crew being paid off, many of the men followed their commander to London, and proceeded to enjoy themselves after the usual fashion of sailors. Sadler’s Wells was at that time a famous place of resort with the blue-jackets, the gallery being sometimes almost solely occupied by seamen and their female companions. A large party of Captain Harris’ men resorted hither one night, and amongst them a man who was deaf and dumb, and had been so for many years. This man was placed by his shipmates in the front row of the gallery. Grimaldi was in great force that night, and, although the audience were in one roar of laughter, nobody appeared to enjoy his fun and humour more than this poor fellow. His companions good-naturedly took a great deal of notice of him, and one of them, who talked very well with his fingers, inquired how he liked the entertainments; to which the deaf and dumb man replied through the same medium, and with various gestures of great delight, that he had never seen anything half so comical before.

As the score progressed Grimaldi’s tricks and pokes became still more irresistible; and at length, after a violent peal of laughter and applause which quite shook the theatre and in which the dumb man joined most heartily, he suddenly turned to his mate, who sat next to him, and cried out with much glee, “What a damned funny fellow!”

“Why, Jack,” shouted the other man, starting back with great surprise, “can you speak?”

“Speak!” replied the other. “Ay, that I can, and hear, too.”

Upon this the whole party, of course, gave three vehement cheers, and at the conclusion of the piece adjourned in a great procession with the recovered man, elevated on the shoulders of a half dozen friends, in the centre. A crowd of people quickly assembled round the door, and great excitement and curiosity were occasioned as the intelligence ran from mouth to mouth that a deaf and dumb man had come to speak and hear, all owing to the cleverness of Joey Grimaldi.

The landlady of the tavern, thinking Grimaldi would like to see his patient, the man that if he would call next morning he should see the actor who had made him laugh so much. Grimaldi, being apprised of the circumstances, repaired to the house at the appointed time, and saw him, accompanied by several of his companions, all of whom still continued to manifest the liveliest interest in the sudden change that had happened to their friend, and kept on cheering, and drinking, and treating everybody in the house, in proof of their gratification. The man, who appeared an intelligent well-behaved fellow, said that in the early part of his life he could both speak and hear very well; and that he had attributed his deprivation of the two senses to the intense heat of the sun in the quarter of the world to which he had been, and from which he ad very recently returned. He added that on the previous evening he had for a long time felt a powerful anxiety to express his delight at what was passing on the stage; and that after some feat of Grimaldi’s which struck him as being particularly amusing he had made a strong effort to deliver his thoughts, in which, to his own great astonishment, no less than that of his companions, he succeeded. Mr. Charles Dibdin, who was present, put several questions to the man; and from his answers it appeared to everyone present that he was speaking the truth. Indeed, his story was in some measure confirmed by Captain Harris himself; for one evening, about six months afterward, as Grimaldi was narrating the circumstances at the green-room at Covent Garden, that gentleman, who chanced to be present, immediately remarked that he had no reason from the man’s behavior while with him to suppose him an imposter, and that he had seen him on that day in full possession of his senses.

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