Sunday, January 17, 2010

R.S.Smythe and Hugo Fischer

Sunday was today and this morning I didn't know what I was going to do, which is a good thing for a Sunday. But I had an email from a researcher in California, a Twainiste, looking for the Robert Sparrow Smythe fonds if there should be such a thing extant, which of course there was not. I had to break to her, the frustrating news that, what was not sold at auction by Amelia and Carlyle, thrown down a well by Florence or eaten by the family dog, was burned in the great bushfire that consumed the property of R.S.Smythe's daughter in law's grand niece, where gathered dust all of Carlyle's papers, goods and chattels after his wife Elsa's death. But the Californian institution did have a very nice photo of Carlyle, the golden child with Twain and two other gents taken in Canterbury in November of 1895. Carlyle is apparently very short, either that or the other two gents were built by the same shipping firm that manufactured the smaller corvettes of the then Kaisers navy. Fischer was there in November of 1895 and returned to Australia first at Launceston to take care of arrangements for the Rev. Haskett Smith with whom Smythe was touring, hence his absence from the photograph.

The other gent, suggested the researcher, might be Hugo Fischer. This was a very good suggestion and one I should have thought for myself. So I spent the day consolidating my notes on Hugo Fischer and forgot just how much I had assembled. Hugo Fischer (c.1850-1901) killed himself after years of failure and just not 'getting the knack' of making money out of theatrical management. He had come into life via a treaty twixt the loins of a German emigrée named George Fischer and his wife Emma, who settled in South Australia as all good Germans did. I know, I lived there for a while. They started off at Tanunda in the Barossa where they formed a large community as Germans do and established the kind of singing societies Germans did like Turn Veriens, Leidertafels...and grapes, which of course have nothing to do with singing except encouraging vocality when imbibed.

George himself was a singer of very good quality and taught all his children to sing. The whole community sang and oompa-pahed. I am not kidding. In the 1850s the community had a brass band. Four of George's children became success of a kind, some more than others but all achieved, grandchildren and great grandchildren married and left noteworthy careers from a fighter-pilot to a Professor of Slavic languages in Canada. Poor Hugo never quite caught the train but not for want of talent. I think it was the pressure to achieve. After all his father had been a student of the Hamburg born Soprano Wilhelmina Schröder-Devrient, a little known but wildly interesting singer and teacher who had famous singers for parents herself, one of them in turn being an equally celebrated teacher. Hugo's sister Minna Pauline Fischer went on to success (marrying twice, first to that silly actor Herbert Flemming then to composer George H. Clutsam) as did brother Otto Fischer-Sobell (where Sobell comes from I've no idea) and little sister Emma (Mrs. Weiner) who was well-loved, married well but died in Colblentz at age 33. Sister Johnana married a Sen. Robert Homburg MP of South Australia. No pressure there for poor Hugo was there?

If only he'd tried not so hard to build by gamble-and-venture the cigar tooting trappings of success he might have been happy. I feel a little sad for Hugo; he was a most valuable agent to Smythe (R.S.Smythe's words) and did his job well enough for Smythe ask him to act as go between twixt the Dacre's and their theatrical management. The Dacre's committed double suicide. Poor Hugo.

It was also mentioned in a New Zealand paper that Hug had been a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War before coming to Australia. If this was true I wonder if his experience in war added to the sombre psychic gloom that leads a man down that cold and dark exit. I hope in my book he gets more than a footnote...which he will of course.

He was Smythe's advance-man for a short but intense period but never learned the ropes. Even a cursory glance at the clients and manner that he adopted after his association with Smythe reveals that he too often engaged "too little talent in too large venues and of seasons too long to turn any profit". In one case he took on a lady platform speaker who had lived among the Hindu's and had 40 people in tow and in costume to get her point across. Had he no idea how much money he would have to make to just break even, so he didn't. There is even a suggestion that he had inappropriate financial circumstances when he took his own life.

Two grand-sons became war heros and survived and married, their sister was the famous Elsa Stralia who had a great voice but the silliest of names (the Victorian propensity for making up grandiose stage names ended with her). The papers say little about famous people's self-terminating relatives as is their practice, so the truth might rest only with the family but that, although there are probably many descendants, is not within my purview.

I do hope the Canterbury Museum in NZ prove to have a picture of Hugo Fischer and that it is him in the photo belonging to the Californian Institution. Sir J. J. Kinsey was a mad photographer and it is he upon the lawn taking tea with Mark Twain and suite amongst which I believe is Amelia and Adelaide though I cannot prove it. Yet.

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