4. Corinne (1876)
by Robert Buchanan
London: Lyceum Theatre. 26 June to 8 July, 1876.
Published: London: 1876. 78 p.; 19 cm. [“Corinne. A romantic play, by Robert Buchanan, in four acts. Entirely original. Privately printed, not for publication.”] Available here or (for different formats) the Internet Archive.
The Dundee Courier and Argus (17 January, 1876 - p.3)
Mr Robert Buchanan has written a new play, the scenes of which are laid in the period of the first French Revolution.
Glasgow Herald (15 April, 1876)
“What is a first-rate theatre?” This, the question which is being eagerly debated between Mr Robert Buchanan, poet and playwriter, and Mrs Fairfax, an ambitious actress for whom the former had written a drama. The play, when finished, so pleased the actress that she wrote her acknowledgments to the author, and added, in spontaneity of female enthusiasm, that it should only appear at a first-rate theatre, for there alone would the audience properly appreciate its beauties; and, moreover, it was due to those beauties that they should be displayed to the best advantage. The author naturally was pleased, and after considerable delay he received notice from Mrs Fairfax that she had concluded an arrangement with the manager of the Standard Theatre for the production there of Mr Robert Buchanan’s drama. Now the Standard Theatre happens to be situated in Shoreditch, not an aristocratic neighbourhood; but nevertheless its performances have always been held in high repute, and Macready, Kean, Phelps, and a host of other celebrities have in various times acted there. Mr Buchanan, however, will have nothing to do with East-End applause, and insists upon a first-rate theatre to be one situated in the West End. Here the matter rests for the present. Mrs Fairfax is much to be pitied, for she is not responsible for Mr Buchanan’s estimate of what is first-rate, and she might with reason think that she is quite prepared to act in his drama wherever it is produced, and that if Mr Buchanan is so eager for West-End applause he cannot better secure it than by inducing a manager of one of the theatres of that part of London to put the play on the stage.
The York Herald (23 May, 1876 - p. 5)
Mr. Robert Buchanan has settled his dispute with Mrs. Fairfax, and his new play of “Corinne,” with Mrs. Fairfax in the title rôle, is to be produced at the Lyceum.
The Week’s News (24 June, 1876)
The Nawab Sir Salar Jung, G.C.S.I., has taken two private boxes at the Lyceum for Monday next, the 26th, and has signified his intention of being present with several members of his suite to witness the first night of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s new play, “Corinne.” The play is a picture of French society before the Revolution, when members of the artistic professions were not merely denied the rites of burial, but were again and again refused those of marriage. The heroine is an actress, who was torn from her husband at the altar, and whose marriage was legally annulled simply on the ground that he was an aristocrat by birth. The facts are said to be historically true.
Glasgow Herald (27 June, 1876)
MR ROBERT BUCHANAN’S “CORINNE.”
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
MR ROBT. BUCHANAN’S much-talked-of tragedy, which was written specially for Mrs Fairfax, was produced this evening at the Lyceum, and received with just that amount of official applause as to insure its early withdrawal from the bills. Whatever Mr Robert Buchanan’s talents may be, they certainly do not lie in the way of dramatic composition. The story, which opens with the marriage of the hero and the heroine, cannot escape the inevitable end of the death of one or both, and the machinery by which this dénoument is to be brought out is patent from the very first scene. The story is one which, under one phase or another, is common to those who have chosen the stirring times of the French Revolution for their theme. Corinne, a successful and beautiful actress, has been secretely married to Victor de Beauvois, a poor gentleman, who has been supported by his wife’s earnings, though how she has kept this fact as well as her marriage a secret from her brother does not appear from the story. Corinne’s brother, Raoul Recamier, an artist, is an Advanced Radical, and under the leadership of Marat develops later on into a distinguished citizen of the French republic. He has met at the club his sister’s husband or as he supposes him to be her lover, and although he considers him to be but a weak-kneed democrat he bears with him, content to have under his hand one whom at any moment he can abuse as an Aristocrat. Corinne has however attracted the admiration of the Abbé Lalcore an epicure and a libertine, who persecutes her with his attentions, and when he finds her married to Victor de Beauvois, determines to lose no opportunity of breaking off the marriage. The first act closes with the announcement that Victor de Beauvois has succeeded to the family title and estates, and his proclaiming Corinne as his bride. In the next act we are introduced to Victor and his family, who, urged on by the Abbé, are ready to do anything to prevent the misalliance, and then comes the scene (n questionable taste) in the church where the marriage, on the point of being celebrated, is interrupted by the Archbishop of Paris. Victor de Beauvois, before the menace of the anger of the Church and society, plays a sorry figure, and the curtain falls on the fainting of Corinne, the arrest of her brother, and the collapse of the bridegroom. In the confusion which follows Corinne disappears, as subsequently is shown, with the village priest who had risked the Archbishop’s wrath by offering to marry the couple; and the third act gives us a fête at the Abbé’s house, near Paris, whether Victor comes to seek his long-lost wife and to force a quarrel with the Abbé, but with whom he quietly sits down to supper and enjoys himself with the other guests. Meanwhile, Corinne also arrives in search of her husband and is discovered by the Abbé, who attempts to poison her mind against her husband. In the midst of a struggle which ensues the guests, including Victor, arrive, and instead of the explanation which seems so obvious between the couple taking place, mutual recriminations are thrown by the one at the other, and no one would guess how the matter would end, were it not that the revolutionary citizens of Paris arming, with Raoul at their head, receive the fainting Corinne, and allow the other guests to go their own ways. The last act is in the Abbaye Prison, where Raoul is the officer in charge, and where Victor also appears as a prisoner. Corinne quietly follows, learning that her husband is in danger, and pleads for his life, on the plea that, whereas he has condemned her to life-long misery and sorrow, death is too good for him. After a vast display of words, which are hardly to be regarded as complimentary to marriage and the married state, “the victim” is handed over to the wife, who, in her turn, to show apparently that she bears no malice, dies to the sound of soft music as soon as her husband’s formal release is signed. The play apparently is written in prose, but occasionally it degenerates into blank verse, which adds neither fire nor dignity to the action. The characters are feebly conceived and as feebly represented, unless exception be made in favour of Mrs Fairfax, who made the best of a most ungrateful part. Mr Buchanan’s dramatic farce seems to be about on a level with his historic knowledge, otherwise he would not have called an act which represents the outbreak of the revolution “The Red Flag,” which did not become the national standard for many years after the fell of the Bastile.
Daily News (28 June, 1876)
The essayists who in the Spectator and Tatler were accustomed to write recipes for the production of a pastoral or an epic poem might, perhaps, in these times have amused themselves in like manner by giving directions for the due selection and proper mixing of the requisite ingredients of a melodrama, the scene whereof should be laid in France before and at the period of the first French Revolution. There must be a sullen patriot who eschews the fashion of wigs, denounces aristocrats, even dona ferentes, and who, gifted in a striking degree with insight into the future, is much given to speechmaking, commencing with such words as “A time will come,” or “The day is not far distant.” A profligate abbé with a stiff tippet and a gold snuffbox seems equally indispensable; but above all there should be somebody who suffers a wrong at the hands of one of the privileged orders, and who nourishes schemes of vengeance until the triumph of the popular cause puts his or her enemy within his or her grasp—to be destroyed or magnanimously forgiven, as the case may be.
Of plays of this class the late Mr. Watts Phillips’s Dead Heart is a strong example. On the other hand, Mr. Robert Buchanan’s Corinne, produced at the Lyceum Theatre on Monday evening, is decidedly a weak one. Mr. Buchanan has taken a good deal of pains to endow his play with effective situations, and above all to conclude his acts with what stage managers call “a picture.” But his personages, though strenuous in action and sometimes loud in voice, have no real life in them. Their moral attributes have been compounded according to approved prescriptions; yet somehow they remind the spectator more of the stage than of the world, and they fail to satisfy the golden Horatian rule of consistency. The author’s young hero, the Count de Calvador, for example, is the very soul of generosity. He is in love with Corinne, the beautiful and accomplished actress. He marries her in defiance of prejudices social and clerical, comforts her for the cruel pain inflicted on her by the Church in refusing Christian rites at the burial of a beloved mother, treats with scorn the jests of aristocratic friends, and even puts up with the society of her extremely disagreeable and conceited patriot brother, with his ugly associate Marat, who is no other than our old acquaintance before the incident of the bath and the advent of Charlotte Corday. All this and more the Count de Calvador does heartily; but because a melodramatic archbishop, instigated, to the young man’s own knowledge, by an abominably wicked abbé, for his own abominably wicked purposes, refuses to allow the final sanction of the Church to be given to their previous union, he coolly abandons the bride, who has done no wrong, and is good and pure as an angel in his eyes. Of course, it would be within the power of a great dramatic writer to give an air of truth to such a situation; but Mr. Buchanan has taken no pains to impress upon the audience the fact that the Count is a person with so overwhelming a sense of the duty of blind obedience to the Church. Indeed, he is represented as quickly repenting of his cruelty, and desirous of being restored to Corinne, his lawful wife. Corinne, on the other hand, is anxious to be reunited to her husband. Yet, for some unexplained reason, neither meet till after a lapse of years, when Corinne, wandering about the earth in company with a poor priest, who has been unfrocked for his contumacy in resisting the Archbishop’s arbitrary interference, spies her truant mate through a window, carousing with Marat and other choice companions, in a summer-house in the grounds of the profligate abbé, during a grand illuminated fête. The subsequent meeting of man and wife results in nothing but mutual misunderstandings, and the next act is devoted to the massacres in the abbaye. Here, after the abbé has been despatched, the Count is snatched from a like doom by Corinne, who begs his life on the curious plea that she can make his existence with her a more prolonged kind of torture than any that the guns or axes of Marat’s butchers can inflict. This curious bargain being accepted, Corinne, who has been active enough up to this point, suddenly droops, and expires under an attack of heart disease, which has been only faintly foreshadowed by a casual remark of one of the characters.
Some of the situations in Corinne stirred the audience to signs of satisfaction, notably that in which Mr. Mead, as the Archbishop, delivered what he not inaptly called “the thunders of the Church” from the altar, while the cowering bridegroom and the fainting bride were supported by the bystanders in the front of the stage; but the leading incidents of the piece have an unhappy gravitation towards the ludicrous, and the dialogue presents few traces of the vigour and freshness of the dramatic sketches with which Mr. Buchanan’s poems abound. The acting generally failed to impress, partly from inherent weakness, but also in great measure from the lack of genuine interest in the play. Mr. Forrester’s performance of the Republican brother of the heroine cannot be praised for moderation or good taste. On the other hand, Mr. Charles Warner’s acting in the part of the Count had little but these qualities to recommend it. Mrs. Fairfax looks very handsome as the popular and flattered Corinne, and in the earlier scenes she acted with grace and refinement; but this lady’s want of the physical requisites for success as a heroine of melodrama became painfully manifest as the play proceeded; and her inexperience in stage “business,” which was no less evident during the bustling proceedings of the close of the third and fourth acts, might have endangered the prospects of a better work. As it was, the play was received somewhat coldly; nor did the temporary excitement caused by the descent of an unusually large number of bouquets from stalls and boxes on to the stage, as the curtain fell, encourage any bold spirits in the house to make an effective demand for the appearance of the author.
The Pall Mall Gazette (28 June, 1876)
MR. ROBERT BUCHANAN is a poet of some consideration; excluded, indeed, from the first rank by certain defects which we need not specify here, but still well in advance of that yearly increasing crowd of new bards in so many of whom the Spectator has detected the “coming man.” As such he must expect his dramatic work to be judged by a far higher and stricter literary standard than we should think of applying in an ordinary case. To have invented and put together a fairly interesting and “actable” play ought not to have contented him, and will not content us. Great as is the dearth of even this talent, we have still a sufficiency of playwrights who can keep us awake and send us home reasonably diverted by our evening’s entertainment. From Mr. Buchanan we look for something more. In an “original romantic play” from his pen, and still more in a play cast among the stirring events and the strong passions of the French Revolution, we could not but reckon upon seeing much that would move as well as interest us—that would make us feel ourselves to be listening not to one of the many who can “recount,” but to one of the few who can create. On the other hand, and not to be too exigent in our claims, we were well prepared to meet with those defects of construction and arrangement which only a long experience of stage requirements can enable a writer to avoid. In a word, we expected that Mr. Buchanan’s drama would display the strength of a practised poet and the weakness of an inexperienced playwright. In both expectations we have been deceived. Mr. Buchanan has given us something more than we looked for—and a good deal less. He succeeds where one would have counted on failure, and fails where one hoped he would succeed. The play of “Corinne” might, save as regards one or two unimportant details, have been written by the most seasoned of playwrights— and by the most prosaic and unimaginative. Produced under better auspices than on last Monday night, and with its principal part entrusted to less hopelessly incompetent hands, it might thoroughly succeed as a drama; but no recast of characters would raise it one degree above mediocrity as a literary work.
Corinne Recamier is a French actress and a “woman of the people,” beloved by and secretly married—so far as that status could be acquired in pre-revolutionary France without the rites of the Church—to Victor de Beauvoir, a young man of noble birth, but himself poor and untitled, and, by a not unusual consequence, a democrat in his ideas. Him Corinne had fallen in with in his poverty, and, having assisted him when at his worst straits (under circumstances not made wholly clear to the audience), the feelings thereby inspired on both sides had ripened into love. Corinne’s brother, Raoul Recamier, is an artist, a democrat of a more genuine sort, and a friend of Marat; and his hatred of the French aristocracy is embittered by a personal resentment against one of their order, Clarisse, Comtesse de la Vallée, who, we are given to understand, has before the play beguiled him by her coquettish wiles into a proposal which she has then rejected with scorn. In the course of the first act, which advances the story more than most first acts, the dishonourable proposals to Corinne of a certain profligate Abbé de Larose are indignantly rejected by the actress, and the secret of her informal marriage to De Beauvoir—now become the Comte de Calvador—is revealed by her, to the equal disgust of the abbé and her brother, the former of whom is shocked at a count having married an actress and the latter at a woman of the people having married an aristocrat. The second act is occupied with the revenge of the wicked abbé for his rejection. By his instrumentality the consent of the Church to the ecclesiastical marriage of the young couple is withheld; and an honest priest, Father Doré, having refused to carry out the mandate of his official superiors, the Archbishop of Paris appears in person, and, in full “archiepiscopals,” ascends the steps of the altar, mitre on head and pastoral staff in hand, and in a scene which somewhat outrages nature and probability, forbids the nuptials. Raoul, who protests, is given in charge to a detachment of soldiers, whom his grace of Paris has apparently brought in with him as the representatives of the “secular arm,” and finally, the archbishop, turning to De Beauvoir, addresses him in these words: “I charge thee, for the last time, in the name of that proud caste to which thou dost belong—in the name of law and country, right and king; last, in the name of Heaven and the Church—let go that woman’s hand.” Thus adjured, Victor, who had certainly given us hitherto no reason to suspect him of being so dutiful a son of the Church, meekly complies; and the act closes upon his submission and Corinne’s despair. The third act brings about the inevitable misunderstanding. Raoul is in the Bastille. Corinne has taken refuge in the house of Father Doré, who has been unfrocked for his disobedience, and Victor de Beauvoir is still apparently cherishing a love for the woman he has been scolded by an archbishop into abandoning. In this mood he goes an uninvited guest to a night fête in the gardens of the Château de Larose, intending to call his rival to account for his treachery, and to extort from him the clue which he thinks the abbé alone can give him to the whereabouts of Corinne. To this entertainment Corinne, masked and cloaked, has followed him. Unfortunately she is not present at a violent scene in which De Beauvoir nearly throttles the abbé in an attempt to wrest from him a secret to which the, in this case, unfortunate if profligate priest is not privy; and as, unfortunately, she is present at a scene in which De Beauvoir—under the influence, we must suppose, of the semi-strangled abbé’s champagne, with which he apparently has no scruple in regaling himself—delivers himself of certain Horatian sentiments presumably incompatible with his strict fidelity to the listening Corinne. On his reappearance in the gardens she denounces his perfidy—a charge which he, who suspects her of having come to the fête under the protection of the abbé, retaliates; and a well-imagined but (by the actors) feebly executed and too prolonged scene ends with an incursion of sans-culottes upon the stage (it is the night of the fall of the Bastille), and the invocation by Corinne of the “curse of the Revolution” upon the head of Victor and his caste. In the fourth act we are transported, after an interval of some years, to the interior of the Abbaye prison, on one of the terrible four days of the September massacres, and made to witness the proceedings of one of Mr. Carlyle’s “courts of wild justice,” presided over, however, not by the “shifty riding-usher” Maillard, but by no less a person than Marat himself. Here a scene, not ill-conceived but imperfectly represented, takes place between Raoul, now an officer of the Republic, and the scornful aristocrate, the Comtesse de la Vallée, who comes there disguised as a simple citoyenne, and succeeds, by her woman’s wit, her fascination, and her intrepidity, in reviving Raoul’s love for her and inducing him to assist her escape. He conceals her in one of the cells, and Corinne then enters, equally relentful and as bent upon saving the life of Victor, who is about to be brought in a prisoner. The court then begins its session, and after the priest, Father Doré, who had been arrested for incivisme and abuse of the Jacobins, has been spared through the magnanimous intervention of Marat, whom he had called a monster and who “accepts it as a compliment;” and after, in a scene too revolting for the purposes of art, the miserable Abbé de Larose has undergone the sentence “à la Force,” and has been led out and shot, Victor de Beauvoir is brought in, and, on the point of being condemned, is saved by a ruse of Corinne, who recites the story of her wrongs and claims that her husband be delivered up to her revenge, to undergo a death by the slow agony which she herself has endured. Her claim, after some demur from Marat, is allowed; the court rises, and the curtain falls on the reconciliation of the husband and wife, and the death of the heroine.
Such is the plot of “Corinne;” and to those who take our views of its capabilities, the literary worthlessness of the drama will, the powers of the author considered, be as surprising as it is to us. The story, it is true, is of a familiar type; but it is not the story itself, but its historical setting, which gives it its value as a subject. The central idea of the French Revolution—the inburst of the primitive and elemental passions of man upon the vices, follies, and frivolities of the most highly artificial society of modern times—furnishes in itself the strongest not only of dramatic, but in a deeper sense still, of poetic contrasts. Mr. Carlyle has shown something of what a prose poet can do with it; there is no saying what might be done with it, if the poetic faculty is there to do it. If not, why, of course, what we have just said is the central idea of the French Revolution is equally, mutatis mutandis, the “central idea” of a “bull in a china-shop;” and the prosaic mind will deal with one as with the other. But Mr. Buchanan is a poet, and he might be expected to treat his subject as a poet should. That his types of character should have in themselves no charm of novelty was natural and necessary, since they must necessarily have been representative of the two great divisions of society which clashed and grappled in France in the closing years of the eighteenth century; but it is the peculiar triumph of the poet to give life to those very figures, which are so familiar to the thought that we are hardly aware, until they start into being before us, that they have hitherto been but vague and formless shadows to the imagination. For traces of the magic which achieves this marvel we look in vain in “Corinne.” No men or women of that time appear before us “in their habit as they lived.” We do not refer now to the grotesque misconception—author’s or actor’s—which has converted Marat, “the man forbid,” into a jocose veterinary surgeon; the objection to that is historical and not artistic. As a dramatic conception it is possible and it is consistent with itself. We speak of the purely fictitious characters of the drama upon whom the imagination of the poet had full play. They are conventional to the core, and in every sentence it is given them to utter. It is indeed surprising that a writer of Mr. Buchanan’s undoubted power of literary expression should have been throughout so uninspired by his subject. To say that he does not rise when the situation demands it would be untrue. He does rise, but upon stilts—not otherwise: that form of progression is the only relief to style otherwise purely pedestrian in the ordinary sense. When the passion of the scene forces the author beyond the bounds of colloquial English, it forces him only into frigid declamation, never relieved by any touch of genuine poetic thought, and which seldom rises even to the level of effective rhetoric.
We have had to say all this of Mr. Buchanan’s play, because it is Mr. Buchanan who has written it. He must pay the penalty of the expectations which he has excited by some of his really powerful poems only to disappoint by his drama. We may now admit that, had “Corinne” been the work of a lesser writer, and come before us as a work to be judged purely on its dramatic and not at all on its literary pretensions, we should have said that it fairly deserved success. That it did not greatly please on the night of its production was due, as we have said, to the incompetence of the principal performer. The task which Mrs. Fairfax attempts in essaying the part of Corinne is immeasurably beyond her very limited artistic means. She is alike deficient in facial expression, in voice, and in gesture—in the two latter, indeed, deplorably deficient. In the last act she was for many sentences wholly unintelligible, and her acting generally in all those portions of the play which required emotional expression was something painful to witness in its impotence. Nor can much be said for the other performers. Mr. Charles Warner gave an unnecessarily weak rendering of a thoroughly contemptible character, Victor de Beauvoir; and Mr. Forrester an unnecessarily melodramatic rendering of the artist Raoul. The only piece of forcible acting was that of Mr. Forbes Robertson as the Abbé de Larose before his judges. To represent a man reduced by abject physical fear to the condition of a doddering idiot is not indeed art, if beauty at least has anything to say to art; but the actor deserves at least the equivocal praise of having given a powerful imitation of something unfit to be imitated. Mr. Atkins’s Marat, if we are to accept the theory of a low-comedy Marat, was a satisfactory performance. Of the minor actors we have nothing to say, except that the ensemble would be improved by an understanding between them as to which of the three pronunciations, “áristocrat,” “arístocrat,” or “árrerstocrat,” should be adopted. The scenery and costumes were all that could be desired.
The Times (30 June, 1876 - p.8)
THE LYCEUM THEATRE.
Mr. Robert Buchanan’s Corinne, an “original romantic” play in four acts, was produced on Monday night at this house, which has temporarily passed from the supervision of Mrs. Bateman to that of Mrs. Fairfax. This play is, according to a notice inserted in the play bills, a study of the same nature as a tale from the same pen now appearing in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and entitled the “Shadow of the Sword.” It is founded, as we are further informed, on one of many similar cases recorded in the French archives, and is intended to present a picture of society as it existed before the Revolution. But the author’s intention has unfortunately been so feebly seconded by the majority of the company which the present management has collected together, and is, moreover, of itself so inadequately executed, that, unless some very radical changes are wrought both in play and players, it is not, we fear, improbable that Corinne may before long become as extinct as the condition of society it is supposed to represent. From a share of the responsibility of so untoward a fate Mr. Buchanan cannot be absolved. It is true that the actors have not done much for him, but with no inconsiderable show of truth might they urge that he has done not much more for them. That a play written by a gentleman who has acquired what fame he enjoys by his poetry should, as a dramatic composition, show many faults will surprise none who know and can appreciate the almost measureless distinction between writing for the study and for the stage. It is not given to every one, no matter how distinguished in literature he may be, to attain dramatic distinction at a bound, and Mr. Buchanan’s previous efforts in this direction have hardly been numerous enough, or held possession of the stage long enough, to supply him with the necessary experience. That he should, therefore, have proved himself to be lacking in the science of stage-craft is, though unfortunate, not perhaps surprising, and can convey no imputation on him, either as a poet or as a man of letters. But there are worse faults than this in Corinne—faults of style, which should not be found in the work of a man of any degree of literary distinction. The language which Mr. Buchanan puts into the mouths of his characters, and there is a good deal of it, is now poor and weak, now turgid and declamatory, but rarely true either to nature or to art, and disfigured moreover by such grammatical blunders as no “fourth-form” boy would ever venture to commit twice. With regard to this latter fault it is, of course, difficult, without reference to the manuscript of the play, to define the amount of blame to be placed on the shoulders of M. Buchanan. He may have been cruelly treated by the actors, or he may have cruelly treated actors too conscientious to deviate one hair’s breadth from the exact words of their “study;” but an author may hardly complain if he is held answerable for all the literary demerits of a composition bearing his name, and, with whomsoever this particular fault may lie, it is at least due from him to the public, and would be well also for his own interests, that the fault be remedied as speedily as possible.
It is rather a particular than a general picture of French society that Mr. Buchanan has endeavoured to present. His heroine is an actress, and his intention has been, we presume, to exhibit the peculiar condition of the stage at that time, not from a dramatic, but from a social point of view. He tells us in his little preface, that members of that profession were then not merely denied the rites of burial, but too often the rites of marriage. It is on such an incident that the action of his play hinges, and the general features of the state of things which produced the French Revolution are introduced merely as accessories to this particular idea. But they are too slightly drawn, and too inadequately represented by the actors to add much to the general effect. It is true that there are presented on the stage such real personages as Prince d’Artois, and that “strangest horseleech” of his, Jean Paul Marat, bur the playbill has about as much to say for them as they have to say for themselves, while the other characters are purely ideal characters, meant, indeed, to be typical of the times but possessing but little individuality of their own, nor able to impart much to the play. The principal personage is Corinne, the actress, and on her the author has evidently bestowed care, for which we could hope he will be better repaid. She excites, indeed, at first some compassion for her wrongs, but there is an insufficiency of motive about her subsequent actions, as well as an irrational and ill-directed passion for revenge, not in harmony with her general character, which tends to destroy our original sympathy. She is represented when the play opens, about the year 1780, as secretly married to a young Frenchman, Victor de Beauvoir, of good birth, yet at heart half a Democrat, and so tolerated by Raoul Recamier, her brother, whom an unfortunate passion for a pretty and well-born coquette, the Comtesse de la Vallee, has transformed from an industrious and well-mannered artist into the most bitter and uncompromising of Republicans. When Victor de Beauvoir blossoms into the Comte de Calvador, which he does at an early period of the story, he determines to make public his marriage with Corinne. Her introduction to his relatives, among whom is Raoul’s early love, is met with ominous ridicule, and we are tolerably well prepared for the refusal of the Church to confirm the marriage. Though the ceremony has already been commenced by a more tolerant member of the priesthood, this refusal is pronounced by the Archbishop himself, at the instigation of a certain Abbé de Larose, a conventional type of the elegant and dissolute clergy of the period. This Larose has himself, through the medium of diamonds, professed love for Corinne, but love and diamonds have alike been scorned. The interdiction of the marriage does not, however, benefit Larose, for when De Calvador, awed by the thunders of the Church, relinquishes his bride at the very altar, the unfortunate woman disappears from the world altogether. Some years elapse, about 12, before she appears again, which she does, clad in the blood-red garb of the Republic, in the gardens of the Chateau de Larose. It is the very eve of the Revolution; nevertheless the Abbé is entertaining a distinguished company in the most costly and extravagant manner, careless of the fact that while he is spending thousands of francs on a single feast the people are starving in the very streets of Paris. Among his guests is De Calvador, who still entertains, as is to be gathered from his funereal costume, some kindly feeling for the woman he has deserted. He unfortunately enters upon the scene to find this woman struggling in the embrace of the Abbé, who has but an instant before professed to him total ignorance even of her very existence. Then ensues a stormy scene of mutual recrimination and abuse, prolonged to a tedious extent, and founded on very insufficient grounds, for it has been made evident that the old love still survives in either heart, and neither the situation in which he finds her nor his behaviour at the time to her is a sufficient motive for the violence of their subsequent language. On these two scolding and on the rest of the revellers listening in attitudes of respectful attention bursts the mob of Paris, somewhat feebly represented, and headed by Raoul, and the curtain drops on what, with more careful management, might have been made an effective and picturesque scene. The fourth and last act is laid in the Abbaye Prison, during those hundred hours “which are to be reckoned with the hours of the Bartholomew butchery, of the Armagnac massacres, Sicilian Vespers, or whatsoever is savagest in the annals of the world.” At the “Strange Court of Wild Justice” here held, Marat is represented as presiding, though, we fancy that, according to Mr. Carlyle, Stanislas Maillard, the hero of the Bastille, filled that office. Among the prisoners brought before them is De Calvador, who, as an aristocrat and the betrayer of their favourite Corinne, is doomed by the Sans Culottes to instant death. One the appeal, however, of Corinne, who promises for him, as her husband, a vengeance more terrible than any pike or sabre can inflict, he is spared. Whether this not too ingenious device eventually succeeds we know not, for before Corinne can free the man she still loves she dies in his arms of a broken heart, and the somewhat premature fall of the curtain, for which the stage is cleared in a rather clumsy manner, cuts short all speculations as to the future of De Calvador. There is, however, an effective scene in this act, when the Abbé is brought before the Tribunal. He is dragged on in a state of abject terror; but on being assured by Marat that he is merely to be removed to La Force—the formula at the Abbaye for death, as the removal to the Abbaye was the formula at La Force—recovers his self-possession to a certain extent, and with a ghastly affectation of his old grace and politeness walks out to his doom. This scene, though again somewhat marred by a clumsy bit of management, is certainly a powerful, though a horrible, one, and is well handled by Mr. Forbes-Robertson, whose picture of the Abbé is, in other respects, somewhat of a colourless one. Here, however, he acts with good effect, and if his emotions of physical terror are occasionally a trifle grotesque, the contrast between the immediate fear of death and the newly risen hope of life is justly conceived and cleverly carried out. It will be seen that though this play has many serious faults, it is not altogether destitute of sparks of dramatic fire. Unfortunately, these sparks are never fanned into a flame, and their occasional presence serves but to render the surrounding barrenness more cold and cheerless. Certain situations, it is true, there are which, as we have tried to show, should be, and might be, made effective, but they are but clumsily introduced, and marred moreover by a terrible prolixity of empty dialogue, and the action throughout the piece, which is intended to be brisk and stirring, is for ever obstructed by a stream of words not only in the circumstances altogether out of place but in themselves of but little value.
Nor does the acting, with the exception already made, differ much from the dialogue. The unreal and extravagant nature of much of the sentiments and the language, and, to use an expressive phrase, the generally “transpontine” flavour of what he has to do and say, seem strangely to have affected Mr. Forrester, and there is a corresponding air of unreality and extravagance about his acting, for which his later performances had certainly not prepared us. Neither the garb nor the grace of the Court of Louis XVI. is easy to Mr. Warner, who is the Comte de Calvador; and the representatives of the other members of that society to whom we are introduced labour under the same disadvantage. Mrs. Fairfax herself undertakes the part of Corinne, but neither her experience nor, we fear, her powers are at all equal to the task.
The Graphic (1 July, 1876)
THE most important dramatic production of the past week is Mr. Robert Buchanan’s Corinne, played for the first time on Monday at the LYCEUM, which house has passed for the summer season into the hands of Mrs. Fairfax. Mr. Buchanan has already written one piece for the stage, The Madcap Prince, produced at the Haymarket a year or two ago, but neither in that play, nor in his later and more ambitious production, has he exhibited either the vigour of language or the creative power displayed in some of his dramatic poems. The Madcap Prince introduced us only to Prince Charles, afterwards Charles the Second, as he has been represented on the stage in numerous dramas and comediettas, and furnished, on the whole, rather a shallow portrait, presenting little more than the surface attributes by which reckless gaiety and thoughtless gallantry in the great are wont to be indicated. In like manner the personages in Corinne are mere stage figures with which we have all become familiar, and, it may be added, a little weary. Corinne is a story of French society from the eve of thegreat French Revolution down to the massacre in the Abbaye in 1793. Its only historical personage is Marat, who is the Marat of the dreams of the orthodox historian—presenting no doubt very accurately the cold-hearted atrocity of the man, but also failing to endow him with any of those human traits which are rarely wanting to a character when depicted by the hand of a master dramatist. Similar objections may be urged against Mr. Buchanan’s samples of the old French nobility, who are not only very heartless, profligate, and sensual, but a1so very rude and disagreeable people, delighting in asserting their own rank, and in needlessly wounding the feelings of those beneath them in the social scale; while his typical French abbé not only takes snuff out of a gold snuff-box in a very artful and insinuating way, but makes dtshonourable advances to actresses in writing, and otherwise conducts himself with profligacy of a singular, open, and unabashed kind.Employing elements like these, Mr. Buchanan has devised a story which hc ca1ls “a study,” but which dees not differ much from other plays in which the wickedness of the old régime and the uprising of an oppressed nation are set forth in showy colours. From this point of view his play somewhat resembles the late Mr. Watts Phillips’ melodrama The Dead Heart—a far more stirring and vigorous production, however. Mr. Buchanan’s hero is a young noble who marries a distinguished actress, but deserts her because the Archbishop of Paris forbids the completion of the religious ceremony. He is a weak creature who allows himself to be thus led into an act of cruelty, although he is well aware that the thunders of the Church have simply been brought down by the wicked machinations of a profligate abbé, who has in vain endeavoured to corrupt the object of the young nobleman’s affection. No sooner, however, has he abandoned Corinne than he repents; but even then his conauct in associating with the persecutors of Corinne is so equivocal that the latter is still persuaded of his baseness. The play ends with the generous forgiveness of Corinne, who by her own intercession and the influence of her brother, a revolutionary leader, prevails on the tyrant Marat to spare the young nobleman’s life, whereupon Corinne, who, notwithstanding a hint of heart disease, appeared but a moment before to be in the enjoyment of robust health, falls to the ground and dies. There are stirring situations in this play of a melodramatic kind—notably that in which the Archbishop denounces the intended nuptials from the altar; and that in which Corinne sees her lover carousing with Marat and his associates through the window of the abbé’s chateau; but the acting is weak and ineffective, with the exception of the performance of Marat by Mr. Atkins, and Mr. Forbes Robertson’s impersonation of the Abbé, which, in the scene wherein he is represented as stricken down with terror in the presence of the assassins in the Abbaye, was singularly impressive. Mrs. Fairfax’s performance of the part of Corinne was, on the other hand, only successful in the opening scenes, where she is seen as the successful actress at home. For the more stirring situations of the latter part of the play she has little or no qualification. Her strength seems to be insufficient for great exertion; and she is altogether without the practical knowledge which might enable her to render melodramatic situations picturesque.
The Academy (1 July, 1876 - p.22)
MR. BUCHANAN’S Corinne—brought out at the Lyceum on Monday—is not a satisfactory play, for it promises in the first act more than it performs in the last. Among the ills of the pre-Revolution period in France Mr. Buchanan considers as worthy of illustration the denial to an actress of the right of decent sepulture and of the right of marriage. Corinne, the actress, who fails to be married in the second act, is introduced to us, in the first, mourning over a professional sister who has failed to be piously buried. These are the especial wrongs for which our attention is besought. But there are really very considerable grounds, not only for sympathising with Corinne, but for liking her. She is an honest artist, and she dislikes receiving gifts from wealthy and priestly strangers almost as much as Mr. Buchanan, it would appear, dislikes receiving criticisms from the newspapers. He has gone, it may be, rather out of his way to make Corinne, in the eighteenth century, express her slight estimation of dramatic criticism; but, if the fitness of the episode in which she expresses this opinion may be questioned, her refusal of gifts that carry an ignoble meaning is of assistance to the interest of the drama. It leads to her making an enemy of her vicious would-be lover, the Abbé de Larose; and the enmity of the Abbé leads to the denial of the right to be married. Thus Corinne and her once honest lover, Victor de Beauvoir, come to be divided. He is eventually false to her. The Revolution comes, and he—an aristocrat—is to be swept away. Only by a clever ruse of Corinne’s can he be saved. She saves him, but dies of disappointed hopes and violent emotion. Among the other characters are, on the one part, the relatives of Victor, who express a horror at the thought of his union with an actress, and, on the other, Raoul, the brother of Corinne, who expresses a horror at the thought of her union with an aristocrat. The character of Marat, too, is introduced, and he is sketched not without vigour and precision. But otherwise the characters, save Corinne and the calm ruffian of the piece—the Abbé—are but little individualised, and they gain little help—it may be, even little justice—from the actors who interpret them. Raoul, the revolutionary brother of Corinne, is at best an embittered and disagreeable personage, but Mr. Forrester, with the deep bass voice that the gallery recognises as inevitably belonging to such a character, does not assist us to find in him many natural qualities. Altogether, after the first two acts, the play drags, except, indeed, towards the very end, when the clever contrivance of Corinne in apparently denouncing to the infuriated mob the lover whose life she is plotting to save has a genuine if brief interest. Moreover, another moment in the last act is made noteworthy by the acting of Mr. Forbes Robertson, who illustrates the demeanour of the Abbé de Larose before the tribunal in the prison of the Abbaye. But generally the more dramatic or romantic situations of the play—the last two acts in the main—suffer much from the performers, and Corinne herself will perhaps have to be impersonated by an actress capable of giving individual expression to scenes of high emotion before it can be definitely said that Mr. Buchanan’s play falls off as much as it appears to do. Mrs. Fairfax, who plays Corinne, makes a most favourable impression in the earlier acts with a pleasant face, a sympathetic voice, and a very graceful bearing. The quietude and self-control of her refusal of the Abbé and his indignities is wholly praiseworthy; but for the passion of the later acts this lady is, as yet, quite unprepared. The other ladies appear as representatives of the French aristocracy, with no distinction of manner whatever. Victor’s is not a part that suits Mr. Charles Warner, who should return to the domestic comedy, in which his qualities are of service.
The Illustrated London News (1 July, 1876 - p.21)
The usual management of the season under Mrs. Bateman having closed on Saturday, the house was reopened for a few weeks, on Monday, with a select company, by Mrs. Fairfax, a young actress who has shown a laudable ambition to produce a new poetic play, written by Robert Buchanan. His drama, produced on Monday, is entitled “Corinne;” and the heroine was played by the lady who had undertaken the responsibility of the enterprise. The plot, which appears to have been founded on a story contained in the national archives, relates to a state of things “now happily,” says the author, “long passed away.” It would have been well, perhaps, if he had asked himself whether all sympathy with its incidents had not long since died out. The public of these days are willing to forget the revolutionary period, and are rather interested in plans of reconstruction by which the Governments of the future may be best regulated. The audience of Monday seemed unwilling to go back to the horrors—in which all parties were in the wrong—which society had survived and long ceased to remember. The theme chosen by Mr. Buchanan is related to the fact that previous to the Revolution “Members of the artistic professions were not merely denied the rites of burial, but were again and again refused the rites of marriage.” His heroine, Corinne, is an actress, secretly wedded to Victor de Beauvoir, afterwards the Comte de Calvador (Mr. Charles Warner), whose talents and beauty have attracted the attention of the Abbé de Larose (Mr. Forbes Robertson), who desires to make her his mistress. She nobly rejects his foul suit, to the satisfaction of her democratic brother, Raoul Recamier, an artist (Mr. Henry Forrester). Raoul, however, is as disgusted to find that she has already married an aristocrat as is the Abbé that the Comte has married an actress. The details of this narrative are all given in the first act of the new play, and so succinctly stated that the story so far made a satisfactory impression on the audience. We may state at once that it was a decidedly good act. But Mr. Buchanan is a bold man, and ventured in his second act to startle his audience with a situation which appalled not a few, on a religious score. The Comte deems a re-marriage expedient, so, by a public rite, corroborating the private and clandestine one by which his union with the actress had been legalised. The Abbé de Larose, determined on revenge, certifies the Archbishop of Paris (Mr. Mead) of the intended ceremony, and the indignant Prelate comes down to the Church of Notre Dame de la Garde to prevent the solemnisation. From the altar he denounces Father Doré (Mr. H. Moxon), who was about to perform the rite, and interdicts its celebration, pronouncing at the same time the previous marriage to be void. He commands the Comte to divorce his hand from that of his bride, whom he calls a concubine and other foul names; and he, being a half-hearted man, an aristocrat secretly favouring democracy, lets it fall. On this unsatisfactory proceeding the curtain descends, and the audience are profoundly touched with conflicting feelings, and divided in opinion as to its propriety. Before writing any further we may mention that these two acts were very respectably performed. Mrs. Fairfax supported the part of Corinne with considerable elegance, and looked it beautifully. Her style was subdued and appropriate, and, altogether, a fair specimen of good level acting. Mr. Forrester, as the democratic brother, found in the speeches he had to deliver a Brutus-like quality, to which he gave much elocutionary force and meaning. Mr. Warner was superb as the Comte, and Mr. Forbes Robertson most skilfully identified and individualised the character of the Abbé de Larose. Mr. Mead looked magnificent as the Archbishop of Paris, and spoke magniloquently as an alter-orator of the first class. And what was now the feeling of the audience? “Well, well! Much depends on the next two acts.” Certainly, a great deal depended. Many years elapse. The Comte, separated from his wife, is ill at ease, and suspects De Larose of having secreted her. He is wrong, however. She has found a secure retreat with Father Doré, who has been degraded for his complicity in the intended marriage. There is revelry in the gardens of the Château de Larose, and the Comte is one of the revellers. He is thrown into the company of Clarisse, Comtesse de la Vallee (Miss Amy Lionel). Unfortunately, just at this moment Corinne, masked, visits the spot, and sees them together. Immediately she conjectures that he has “consoled” himself for her loss. In an interview afterwards with the Comte he forms the same judgment of her, and each “speaks words of high disdain and insult” to the other. This scene, we fear, is ill conceived: it certainly is ill executed. Scarcely a topic is in its right place, or properly prepared for in the dialogue. Simply from the want of due manipulation, it proved most antipathetic to the audience, whom it bewildered and discomforted. What followed was still worse. The revelling party, with De Larose at its head, oppose the escape of Corinne, who loudly and vehemently expresses her indignation. Meantime a riot has been growing in the streets; the Bastile has been taken; Raoul Recamier bursts in with the Revolutionists. Corinne snatches from his hand the red flag and becomes herself the standard-bearer. The young actress entered with enthusiasm into the situation, and, if not showing thorough art-training, certainly rose with the occasion. The last act deals with “the hundred hours.” Marat, horse surgeon to the Comte d’Artois (Mr. E. Atkins), who has before appeared as a democratic leader, now sits as a popular magistrate in the Abbaye Prison, and, with the people for a jury, condemns to death every aristocrat whom they find guilty. Among the prisoners are Father Doré, Corinne, the Abbé de Larose, the Comte de Calvador, and Clarisse. Raoul Recamier is also present. Marat makes quick work of the cases. Father Doré is saved; but the Abbé, who betrays the most cowardly fear, very graphically presented by Mr. Robertson, is taken out to the Fort and shot. Finally, the cases of Corinne and the Comte have to be adjudicated. Corinne still loves the Comte, and resorts to a skilful ruse for his safety. He is adjudged to be guilty, and all but condemned to death. She proposes instead that he should be placed in her custody, in order that she may make his life more painful than any death, by imposing tortures on him in return for those he had inflicted on her. The amused people, not perceiving that they have been cajoled by the cunning actress, with sneer and scorn, surrender the faithless husband to the repudiated wife, to be dealt with by her at her discretion. Such are the details of the new play. If it failed in any degree to please the audience, its comparative want of success was not due to any want of earnestness or ability in the several artistes employed in its representation. It was placed, too, on the boards with every needful accessory, scenery and costumes both being new and very beautiful—the former by Messrs. Hawes Craven and assistants—in addition to much good incidental music by Mr. Robert Stœpfel, including the French revolutionary song, “La Carmagnole.”
The Era (2 July, 1876)
Under the direction of Mrs Fairfax, a summer season was inaugurated here on Monday last, with Mr Robert Buchanan’s “original romantic play,” in four acts, and entitled Corinne, as the leading attraction. The work, according to the “special notice” issued by the Management, “is founded on one of many similar cases to be found recorded in the French archives, and is intended to present a picture of society as it existed before the Revolution. Members of the artistic professions were not merely denied the rites of burial, but were again and again refused the rites of marriage.” And then we are treated to the following quotation from Mr Buckle’s History of Civilisation in Europe:—“Who can wonder that the greatest and noblest minds in France were filled with loathing at the Government by which such things were done? Instead of being astonished that there was a revolution, by which all the machinery of State was swept away, we should rather be amazed at the unexampled patience by which the Revolution was so long deferred.” Mr Buchanan in his play introduces to our notice a member of an artistic profession who is persecuted by the Church, and refused the rites of marriage. We also hear of another who has been denied the rites of burial, but we look in vain for any representatives of “the greatest and noblest minds in France,” unless, indeed, our old acquaintance Marat and his butchers are to be included in the category. This same Marat is described through the mouth of his representative as something between a genius and a wild beast—and we are inclined to think that the larger half in the composition is beast and not genius. Another of the “greatest and noblest minds” is Raoul Recamier, the brother to the heroine, and an enthusiastic Republican, whose watchword appears to be “death to the aristocracy and bread for the poor.” It is this same brother who violently opposes the connection between his sister Corinne, the actress, and the gallant and aristocratic Victor de Beauvoir, who, before the story has proceeded far, becomes still more hateful to Raoul by inheriting the title of Comte de Calvador. The Comte, however, swears fidelity, and until we find him at the altar, with the woman whose heart he has won we imagine him to be the very soul of honour. His fear of the Church, however, is stronger than his love, and to the stern command thundered forth from the sacred steps by the Archbishop of Paris, and couched in words which tell him that although she may be his paramour she may not be his wife, he yields obedience. For poor Corinne has incurred the displeasure of the profligate Abbe de Larose by rejecting with scorn his shameful proposals, and against those high in authority even the honest Priest upon whose lips the blessing he would pronounce upon her union is arrested is powerless to protect her. It is not long, however, ere the Comte repents and blames himself for being frightened by the threats of an ecclesiastic, and for listening to the jeers and taunts and sneers of his proud and haughty connections. But when next the lovers meet the circumstances are very unpropitious. Corinne, wandering in the gardens of the Chateau de Larose—the very spot we imagine she would have avoided—sees through the window her husband—for her husband Victor is, notwithstanding that their union has been denied the sanction of the Church, revelling with Marat, who, strange to say, is accepted as a boon companion in an aristocratic circle. Her fears are awakened when her friend the Priest tells her that Victor is a doomed man; her jealousy is aroused when she sees him coquetting with a pretty Countess, and apparently forgetful of his past vows, and when Victor himself comes forth the misunderstanding is still further increased. For Corinne has again to listen to the infamous avowals of the Abbe de Larose, and Victor, altogether unmindful of his shabby treatment of the lady at the altar of Notre Dame, suspects her of infidelity and heaps upon her unoffending head the severest of reproaches. What wonder that, in the bitterness of despair, and with the memory of her wrongs fresh upon her, she heads the infuriate mob, and, seizing the “Flag of Liberty,” calls down upon him and his high-born associates the curse of the Revolution! But we have yet to see how true is woman’s love, and how her anger fades when danger threatens the object of her affection. The Abbe de Larose is sent to speedy execution by the rough-and-ready tribunal over which Marat presides. A like fate seems in store for Victor. Corinne is called as a witness against him. She does not shrink from the ordeal. She fiercely denounces him, and demands justice. But Corinne is acting a part to save her husband’s life. When sentence is pronounced she protests that death is too good for a man so bad. “Give him to me, “ she cries; “I’ll break his heart as my heart was broken. I was his victim; he shall be my slave.” Here we make a very near approach to the ridiculous, for the thought inevitably arises that poor Victor for the remainder of his days will be henpecked, and that Corinne will become a very powerful representative of the Woman’s Rights question. Marat and his companions, however, make no objection, and when husband and wife are left alone to express mutual forgiveness, poor Corinne is suddenly seized with illness, and dies with happiness just within her grasp. From this sketch of the story it will be seen that in the drama there is much to interest, and it is only fair to say that the work boasts some dialogue of high literary excellence (mixed, however, with some that is very artificial); and that several of the scenes are thoroughly dramatic. Mr Henry Forrester gave us a very forcible rendering of the enthusiastic and slightly hot-headed Raoul Recamier, his speeches marked by fiery indignation against the aristocrats, and the corruption prevailing among them being delivered with an amount of earnest eloquence which stirred even those who had little sympathy with the doctrines propounded. Mr Charles Warner looked remarkably well as Victor, and we may compliment him on a very even and highly intelligent exposition of the part. After the scene of the third act, in which Victor encounters the Abbé de Larose, demands to know the whereabouts of Corinne, and fiercely rebukes her persecutor, Mr Warner was honoured by a storm of applause. Mr T. Mead was the Archbishop. He had but one chance, viz., the scene at the altar in the second act, but of this he made the most. Unfortunately, however, the scene, with its travesty of religious observances, with its brawling around a holy spot, and the mitred priest presented as the advocate of vice rather than of virtue, jarred upon the sensibilities of the audience, and Mr Mead must have been conscious of the fact that he had a most unthankful task to fulfil. Mr Forbes Robertson did not do all that was possible with such a part as that of the Abbe de Larose, but in justice we must state that he accomplished more than we expected, and that he showed a marked improvement upon all his former efforts. His exhibition of terror in the closing act erred only on the side of exaggeration. Mr E. Atkins made prominent the revolting traits in the character of the detestable Marat, and Mr H. Moxon played remarkably well as the good priest of the story, Father Doré. Mr C. H. Fenton had but little opportunity to show his ability as the Vicomte de Laverne; and Mrs Fairfax, although exhibiting great intelligence as the heroine, lacked physical power to do full justice to the part. Her best scenes came early in the play, and she contrived with considerable skill to arouse the sympathies of the audience for the despised Corinne. Very effective, too, was the lady in the scene of the third act, where, having listened to the undeserved reproaches of the Comte, she turns upon him, with scorn flashing from her eyes and bitterness upon her lips, in the words “Thou prate to me of honour!” Mrs Fairfax was repeatedly applauded. Mrs E. Fitzwilliam evinced her wonted skill as the Vicomtesse de Laverne, the lady who doats on the curious among humanity—“actors, authors, actresses, and that sort of people.” Minor parts were supported by Messrs Collett, Sargent, Harwood, Miss Amy Lionel and Miss Clare. The play has been nightly preceded by the farce entitled A Pretty Piece of Business.
Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (2 July, 1876 - p.5)
On Monday evening this theatre was occupied by a fresh company with a new romantic play, written by Mr. Robert Buchanan, and entitled Corinne. In a notice respecting the motive of his piece the author says it is founded on one of the many similar cases to be found recorded in the French archives, and is intended to present a picture of society as it existed before the Revolution. Members of the artistic professions were not merely denied the rites of burial, but were again and again refused the rites of marriage. Corinne is an actress, secretly united to Victor de Beauvoir, a young Frenchman, who, after coquetting with the Democrats, comes into the title of Comte de Calvador. When he seeks to publicly marry Corinne he finds all the power of the Church brought against him, for the libertine Abbé de Larose, becoming enamoured of Corinne, has sought to make her his mistress, and failing in that is resolved on revenge. A prominent feature is made of the scene in the church, when the Archbishop of Paris appears to forbid the union of a peer of France with an actress. Corinne has a brother, Raoul, who figures prominently in the Revolution, which breaks out in the third act, and speedily sweeps away the villainous priest and his associates. Corinne obtains a pardon for her faithless husband, and dies in his arms of heart disease. Although dramatic in idea, and opening clearly and well, Corinne is a very disappointing play. Even with the finest acting success would be doubtful, since so many passages border on the ludicrous; but on Monday the representation was very inadequate. Mrs. Fairfax might succeed in a drawing-room, though her style is cold and monotonous, and she can neither rise to passion nor display the requisite acquaintance with stage business. Mr. Forrester was altogether too melodramatic for the piece. What was possible to be done with Victor was made the most of by Mr. Charles Warner, but it is not a good character. Mr. Forbes Robertson gave a very successful performance of the Abbé; Mr. Mead was impressive as the Archbishop, and Mr. Atkins presented the ferocity of Marat in a comic light. Miss Amy Lionel played a Countess with considerable grace and point. The drama was well placed on the stage.
Reynolds’s Newspaper (2 July, 1876)
Mr. Buchanan’s play of “Corinne” was produced at the Lyceum on Monday night. The period is that of the first French Revolution, and some startling and exciting scenes are introduced. The acting of many of the characters was sufficient to blight even a much stronger piece than Mr. Buchanan’s. Mrs. Fairfax was overweighted as the heroine, Corinne. Mr. Forrester was certainly not seen to advantage. No wonder, then, that the piece met with a somewhat unfavourable reception, and that the audience became impatient towards the close.
Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (3 July, 1876 - p.3)
(From our own Correspondent.)
There has been a great rush of idlers to Westminster Hall to see in the witness-box the parties connected with Robert Buchanan’s libel case against the Examiner. I cannot refrain from saying that the action was one which Mr. Buchanan’s personal friends strongly urged him not to proceed with. I am sorry to know that a great deal of personal feeling gets mixed up with the current of the work of many literary men, and Mr. Buchanan, being known as a critic as well as a poet, has come in for his share of the disadvantages of this state of things. I went to see his play of “Corinne” on the opening night, at the Lyceum, and I had not been there long before I discovered that the author had enemies in the house. The incidents were suggestive of an election meeting when political feeling runs high. There was the opposition party in a particular part of the House ready to hiss at every outburst of applause, and they performed their part with great spirit and perseverance. Every round of applause was largely mixed with significant hisses, and at the end, when the call went up for the author to appear upon the stage, there was such a display of hostile feeling as would have rendered the appearance of Mr. Buchanan in front of the curtain a very unwise proceeding. “Corinne” is a good, strong piece, full of fine situations, and wanting only a few slight alterations of the text as it was presented on the first night in order to give it a good position among new pieces of its class. But it was a good deal spoilt in the acting. The lady who played Corinne is not equal to the part. This is a great misfortune for her, because the whole thing is her own speculation, and the enterprise is the result of a strong desire on her part to assume a great character on the boards. It is Mrs. Fairfax’s good fortune to be a very handsome woman, and her misfortune to think too much of this advantage, to the exclusion of the more serious consideration of effective points of acting. She is determined at all costs to look beautiful under every possible circumstance, and she carries this out to such lengths that she faints away with a smile on her features and turns her face to the audience.
The Ipswich Journal (4 July, 1876)
Literary men are rather astonished that Mr. Robert Buchanan should have got a hundred and fifty pounds damages from the defendants in his libel case. I am afraid that if there had been a jury of writers the result would have been much the other way. It is right, however, that matters like these should be judged by men outside the pale of the literary profession, and the public will no doubt think that justice is satisfied in the condemnation of such license of attack as that which formed the subject of this action. Mr. Buchanan expresses his great contempt for the conduct of the defendants in, as he puts it, instructing counsel to introduce the name of Walter Whitman into the trial, since Mr. Buchanan has pleaded for help for Whitman solely as an act of charity. The defendants, on the other hand, assured me that there was no wish on their part to introduce the name of Walter Whitman, and that this was done very much on his own responsibility by Mr. Hawkins, who was of opinion that it would very much strengthen the defendant’s case. The costs will be large, but that is not a matter of much importance since the proprietor of the Examiner, Mr. P. A. Taylor, the member for Leicester, is a very rich man; but the result must be very unsatisfactory to the editor, Mr. Minto, on whom the responsibility rests, and the more so as this is not the sort of quarrel in which the proprietor would care for his paper to be engaged in. If it were a political quarrel, in which the paper was prosecuted or persecuted in some way for the advocacy of advanced and extreme views, then would Mr. Taylor’s organ seem to him to be doing its proper work and fighting its proper battles, and he would, no doubt, gleefully pay the cost. I am told the Examiner will issue with its next edition a verbatim report of the trial. The result of the action must be some consolation to Mr. Buchanan for the failure of his new play, “Corinne” at the Lyceum. The drama and the trial got to some extent mixed up. I was at the Lyceum on the opening night, and it was clear enough that the author had enemies in the house, the enemies being described by the initiated as “the Swinburne party.” This party were ready to hiss on every possible chance. They hissed the players, the words of the piece, the scenery and effects, and in the end they so persistently hissed down the call for the author to appear before the curtain, that Mr. Buchanan refrained from coming to the front, and contented himself by bowing quietly from the box in which he had witnessed the performance. In my opinion, the play, though having some faults, was infinitely better than the acting. The piece was spoiled by the incompetence of Mrs. Fairfax as Corinne. The lady whose name appears on the play-bill as Mrs. Fairfax, is really Mrs. Bell, the wife of a military officer. She is very beautiful, and has an intense ambition to appear in a great part on the stage. In pursuance of this design she took the theatre, formed the company, and put on Mr. Buchanan’s piece, and the failure is a most serious loss to her.
The Southern Reporter (6 July, 1876 - p.2)
“Corinne,” Mr Buchanan’s really powerful drama, has been withdrawn from the Lyceum after a week’s run. Its collapse is attributable to various causes, chief of which was the heroine’s (Mrs Fairfax, or rather, Mrs Colonel Bell) want of stage experience. She has taken to the profession too late in life. She is, nevertheless, a pleasing and graceful actress who should do well in a less arduous part than that of Corinne. Her acting in the first two acts was admirable; in the last two, unfortunate. Dialogue, “business,” and situations required a Mrs Herman Vezin to make them tell, and Mrs Fairfax is far from being a Mrs Vezin. The support given to Mrs Fairfax was unequal. Mr Forbes Robertson was overweighted with a part that had been offered to Mr Lin Rayne, and would have been played by that actor if Mr Buchanan would have consented to alter an exit, which he flatly declined to do. Notwithstanding the abrupt withdrawal of “Corinne,” I quite expect to see it restored to the stage.
The Graphic (15 July, 1876)
—The career of Mr. Robert Buchanan’s drama, entitled Corinne, has been cut short, Mrs. Fairfax having relinquished the management of the LYCEUM, which has since remained closed. A great success, however, is nevertheless claimed; the cessation of the performance being attributed in public advertisements solely to “the lateness of the season,” though it is obvious to remark that the “season” is after all only ten nights older than when the new management entered on its labours.
The Brisbane Courier (9 September, 1876 - p.3)
Piccadilly Points of View.
[BY OUR LADY CORRESPONDENT IN LONDON.]
. . .
The close of the season, so far as the present Lyceum company are concerned, introduces another novelty on its boards. Mr. Robert Buchanan, the poet, novelist, critic, and pamphleteer, who has had rather a stormy time of it lately, owing to some imprudent deliverances of his which the critics have come down upon severely, has written a play called “Corinne.” I am given to understand that Madame de Stael’s heroine is not implicated in the transaction in any way, but that the drama refers to the pre-Revolutionary period in France, and is founded upon some class wrongs and social sufferings of that never sufficiently-to-be- castigated epoch. The chief rôle is to be acted by a lady who has adopted “Mrs. Fairfax” as a stage name, and as she is an amateur, wise folk foretell a collapse for the actress and the play. We shall see. Mr. Robert Buchanan, being a poet, will by no means call his play a play—though Tennyson’s “Queen Mary” went down in the bills as a drama—so there appears an advertisement to the awed public that they are to prepare to behold “A study of the same nature as the author’s ‘Shadow of a Sword,’ now appearing in The Gentleman’s Magazine. It is founded on a romantic case to be found recorded in the French archives, and pictures a condition of society now happily extinct.”
The Times (13 January, 1877 - p.10)
[from] THE THEATRES IN 1876.
The year has closed as it began, with the performance of Macbeth; but during the temporary absence of Mrs. Bateman a play written by Mr. Buchanan was given, Corinne, though dealing with a dramatic, albeit well-worn subject, the French Revolution, was in itself so weak, both in construction and in writing, and, with one single exception, so worse than indifferently acted, that its life was brief indeed, nor is there much probability of its ever being revived from the limbo to which it was hastily consigned.
From Chapter XXIV of Robert Buchanan by Harriett Jay:
His next production was a play entitled “Corinne,” and again the circumstances were such as to preclude any chance of success. The play was bought by a lady, who, beyond having acted as an amateur, had had little or no experience upon the stage. She took the Lyceum Theatre for a month in the off-season, in order to exploit herself in the leading part, and the result of this experiment was disastrous to everybody concerned. “The lady’s acting” (wrote Mr. Buchanan) “was simply awful, and a strong acting piece was lost through her incompetence. So far as the literary merits of the play went, the critics were right perhaps—it was merely meant to be a theatrical success. Fortunately, I had secured my full money beforehand, or I should have been a heavy loser. As it is, though I have gained nothing in reputation, this very failure has brought me two heavy offers or commissions from London managers, all of whom saw why the piece could not run.” Though the play failed to draw the public to any great extent, it held the stage during the lady’s tenure of the Lyceum Theatre, and later on it was evidently taken on tour, for in a subsequent letter to Mr. Canton Mr. Buchanan said: “I see ‘Corinne’ is to be played in Glasgow. Between ourselves, I am very sorry for it; for the lady (entre nous—don’t whisper it abroad) is quite incompetent. It is a play of the French romantic school, and wants perfect acting to do any good.”
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