Essays on the Drama
The first of these ‘essays’ originally appeared in The New Quarterly Magazine of July 1875, and was later included in A Look Round Literature. The second was a letter to the New York Daily Tribune which was also reprinted in A Look Round Literature. The third was published simultaneously in the New York Daily Tribune and The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The fourth is taken from A Look Round Literature. The memoir of Lester Wallack appeared in The Academy. The sixth was published in The Contemporary Review of December, 1889 and later that month ‘How Plays Are Made’ appeared in several provincial newspapers. The eighth is a review of Edmund Gosse’s translation of Hedda Gabler which was published in The Illustrated London News. The ninth was first published in an Australian newspaper before being reprinted in The Era, and the tenth is Buchanan’s contribution to a series in the Pall Mall Gazette. The last three pieces appeared in The Theatre in 1896.
1. The Modern Stage
2. The Stage of Today
3. Theatrical First Nights
4. The Drama and the Censor
5. Plays and Players: Some Early Recollections
6. In Memoriam: Lester Wallack
7. The Modern Drama and Its Minor Critics
8. How Plays Are Made
9. The French Novelette As Norwegian Drama
10. The Drama in England
11. How I Write My Plays
12. The Ethics of Play-Licensing
13. An Interesting Experiment
14. A Word on the Defunct Drama
From The New Quarterly Magazine - July 1875 (Vol. IV pp. 325-362)
(Reprinted in A Look Round Literature (London: Ward and Downey, 1887).)
The Modern Stage.
BY ROBERT BUCHANAN.
IT is said, on what I understand to be excellent authority, that on any night during the recent run of “Hamlet” at the Lyceum Theatre, the occupants of stalls and boxes might be heard whispering between the acts such queries as—Does Laertes fight Hamlet? Is Ophelia going to drown herself? Does the Queen drink the poison? And, does Hamlet succeed his father on the throne of Denmark? Thus, while some grey veteran in the pit was scowling at Mr. Irving, remembering with regret the days of Kean and Macready, and watching with eager eyes and ears for some blasphemous modern corruption of the divine text, the great bulk of the intelligent audience was possibly enjoying Hamlet’s adventures with the same sense of novelty they found in the misfortunes of the “Ticket of Leave Man” and the sorrows of “Formosa”—with this specific additional enjoyment, that they were assured on all hands that seeing “Hamlet” was a very intelligent and creditable thing to do. They had battened to the full on the epileptic horrors of Mr. Irving’s “Matthias;” they had wept for hours in sympathy with the sorrows of his Charles the Martyr; and they were now ready to follow, with the same enthusiasm, the equally interesting and equally unfamiliar episodes in the life of the Danish Prince. An enterprising management, diligent in studying the hearts of audiences, encouraged this disposition to the full; the critics blew their trumpets till the welkin rang again; Shakespeare flourished, and the exchequer of one theatre at least was filled. After all, it was no great drawback to the general success that many of the intelligent audience arrived late, after the first act, or farce, was over; that some few brought with them, as to an opera in some foreign tongue, a “correct 326 book of the words;” that they evinced a more or less decided ignorance of the “plot,” and a very unmistakable indifference to the finer lights and shades of the leading characters; that they betrayed a very curious tendency to emphasize by applause the good and novel “sentiments,” as they would have done the “good things” of a new farcical piece by Mr. Byron. The one real point was gained, and a large number of blasé Londoners flocked to hear the new play of “Hamlet” with an eagerness which seemed highly promising for the future of dramatic art. And what was the general verdict ? That “Hamlet” was really a capital play to see, that its leading situations were, at any rate, equal to those of most dramas of the day, and that Mr. Irving acted the leading character in a really creditable and diverting manner.
If the eagerness of these and similar audiences meant little more than the flush of a temporary fashion, having little or no connection with a genuine dramatic taste, it would still afford reasonable hope for a sanguine critic to build upon; since, by due cultivation and fresh encouragement, the ephemeral feeling might be developed into something like intelligent sympathy; but, in point of fact, the eagerness in question is rooted far deeper in the character and nature of the play-going English public. Ignorant as London audiences are of Shakespeare’s writings, they are less ignorant a thousandfold than the critics of the ephemeral press, and they have good reasons for believing that Shakespeare’s plays surpass most modern productions in continuous human interest. The truth is that the public, though uninstructed, are not unintelligent, and if they have failed to show their sympathy with the highest dramatic art, it is because they have had no opportunity of beholding it. So far as their knowledge goes, their taste is admirable, and their desire to be pleased inexhaustible. They like good strong plays when they can get them, and they adore good strong actors when they know them. They will not go to see Shakespeare or any other author “murdered,” but when a clever actor appears in Shakespearian characters, rendering fair justice to the spirit and letter of the original, they will always encourage him. What they want, and what they might readily get if there were other managers in London equal in energy to the late Mr. Bateman, is a dramatic education. Amid the chaos of London theatres, blinded by the flash of tinsel and spangle, 327 deafened by the noise of semi-nude incapables, they stagger in moral intoxication, not knowing whither to turn; but no sooner do they catch one glimpse of a true attraction than they seem eager to support it. True, they want to be humoured by some little specific peculiarity. Mr. Fechter’s fair wig, Mr. Jefferson’s catchword about his “Dog Schneider,” Mr. Robertson’s realistic pumps and teakettles, Mr. Boucicault’s great water-jump, have delighted them in turn. They have rushed to see Mr. Phelps in gaiters and Mr. Irving in a fit. They have enjoyed the weighing-scene in the “Flying Scud,” and the examination-scene in “School.” They have relished Mr. Toole’s grimaces and Mr. Lionel Brough’s contortions. All these things, however, have been good in their way, or good with a qualification; all the most popular entertainments, even Mr. Burnand’s burlesques, having had merit of one kind or another; and the public, with its insatiable appetite for variety of all sorts, has done them ample justice. It may dishearten a lover of the drama to observe the success of a piece of sheer imbecility and vulgarity, like “My Lord Dundreary;” but even Mr. Sothern has a vein of talent under all his outrageousness, and against his prosperity may be set the recent triumph of an actor like Salvini, and the quiet unostentatious excellence of a dramatist like Mr. Wills. In taking a bird’s-eye view of dramatic affairs for the last ten years I can call to mind few altogether undeserved successes. The spectacles of Drury Lane and the monstrosities of Mr. Farnie are exceptions to a general rule—that plays succeed on their merits if adequately acted, and that playgoers are not indifferent either to good dramatists or good actors; but Drury Lane is managed under peculiar and disheartening conditions, while the stragglers who support such a theatre as the Strand can hardly be said to belong to the legitimate class of playgoers at all.
It is certainly not my purpose in the present paper to repeat the old stale cry about the decadence of the drama. I believe that people go to the theatre now for the same reasons which took them in Shakespeare’s time: they go, primarily, for amusement; and, secondly, for edification. At no period, I believe, did they patronize performances which were edifying and not amusing. In answer to those quidnuncs who wish to apotheosize the drama as the pedagogue of virtue, it can easily be demonstrated that the drama never was, and never 328 has been, a direct educational instrument.* Its chief function is to entertain—to entertain nobly if possible, but certainly to entertain at all costs. Far from us be the period when it is degraded to the level of a bourgeois Academy presided over by the British Matron, and inspected at regular intervals by the Lord Chamberlain. We have had some pretty specimens of late of how government from above would debase and pauperize the drama. The virtuous functionary who represents an enlightened court, the leading members of which derive their subtlest theatrical pleasures from the acting of a Toole and a Sothern, has thought fit, in the interests of respectability, to forbid the performance of the most original productions of continental dramatic art; he has slammed the door in the face of Dumas fils, and opened the door wide to “Genévieve de Brabant;” he has denied a hearing to the Supplice d’une Femme, and he has smiled in tender commiseration on the “New Magdalen.” The present writer will certainly not be suspected of a love for l’école brutale, as a certain class of dramatic literature is called in Paris, but he would rather see that school flourish on every stage from London to Aberdeen than suffer the spokesman of an illiterate and irresponsible court, dressed in a little brief authority, to dictate on what terms and under what restrictions the enjoyments of the public are to be admissible. Such interference is another phase of that oppressive legislation which appears elsewhere in the form of a Contagious Diseases Act; it is intolerable in itself; but that a functionary who incarnates the most degraded superstitions of society, and who presides, so to speak, over the open indecency of a levée crush, when the rank and beauty of our land are transformed like Circe’s swine, under the ignoble pressure of degraded ambition—that such a functionary should play Petronius to our pleasures is a hideous farce, a monstrosity, a scandal. Were the great shapes of the past to pass before this Arbiter, how would they fare? Sophocles would be condemned by ears too delicate for calamitous tales of
— * Previous to the appearance of Mr. Irving as Hamlet, the newspapers contained a paragraph stating that Mr. Tennyson had expressed his opinion that the performance at the Lyceum “would educate the people better than all the school-boards.” This delicious nonsense actually went the round of the newspapers. A representation of “Hamlet” is educational in precise ratio to the preparation of the spectator; it had no more effect on Mr. Partridge than any other “sensation” drama. —
329 incest; even the marble figure of “Antigone” would awake no awe in the heart of the censor; and as for the “fair heifer” and other kindred naturalisms of Æschylus, they would be pronounced scandalous beyond measure. No hope for Euripides; he has naked Mœnads in his train. Still less for Aristophanes; conceive the British Matron’s horror at the recital of the “Ecclesiazusae!” Plautus is too plain, and Terence is too broad. That smiling, elegantly-dressed fellow must be banished for ever; for is he not Molière, and does he not carry jauntily in his hand the very utensil used as a stage property in “Le Médecin Volant”? Worse still, not one of the crowd of “mighty magicians,” who wear the trunk and doublet of our golden age, is fit to be heard. Marlowe and Cyril Tourneur, Massinger and Shirley, must begone from the charmed circle of this scented courtling. John Ford may draw down “his melancholy hat,” for we remember the play chastely rechristened the “Brother and Sister,” and Dekkar may hush his grim morality, for the very name of his masterpiece is unmentionable to ears polite. Shakespeare himself is only to be heard on sufferance. And if we come down the years, seeking for a dramatist after the Lord Chamberlain’s own heart, we must pass by Dryden, smudging with his careless finger the already well-besmudged Amphitruo of Plautus, and uttering in his very prologues and epilogues speech calculated to affright convention—much, by the way, to the delight of the King and Lord Chamberlain for the time being. Congreve, Wycherly, Vanbrugh, Farquhar, are no more to be heard than that quondam court favourite, Mrs. Behn. Not until we find ourselves amongst the Dresden china literature of the age of Queen Anne do we begin to scent the air of virtue; but the air grows still purer as we proceed, until we find ourselves inspecting the stainless tragedies of Mr. Rowe, and, still later, the virgin pages of Mr. Sheridan Knowles. Unfortunately for the prospects of art, we discover that virtue and mediocrity, so far as the drama is concerned, have been synonymous, and that almost the only plays which (to quote Mr. Podsnap) “would not bring a blush to the cheek of a young person,” are precisely the only plays to which lovers of literature are least disposed to listen.
In point of fact, British playgoers are quite virtuous enough without being encouraged to still more foolish prejudice by any official, however accredited. The one great 330 obstacle to anything like high dramatic art in England is a conspiracy on the part of authors, managers, and actors to emasculate and conventionalize all their productions by a constant tacit reference to Mr. Podsnap’s “young person.” Plays must be simple in structure and succinct in plot to suit the comprehension of the young person; they must not touch on forbidden relationship, nor unnatural crimes, nor glimpses of morbid psychology, for fear of shocking the young person; they must be modern, for the young person’s historical knowledge is limited; and they must be written, as far as possible, in modern English, for the young person dislikes poetical turns of expression. Any one reasonably familiar with that vulgar deus ex machina, the British manager, knows with how sure a gauge he professes to measure the likes and dislikes of the typical playgoer. But recent experience has shown that the young person is not the mere inanity managers imagine her; that, in other words, people who go to the play possess, with all their ignorance, a fair share of human enthusiasm, and that a few touches of that nature which makes all the world kin will reconcile them even to pretty stiff attacks on their prejudices. They had a prejudice against “sensational” death-scenes, which Mr. Irving conquered in a night. They had another ridiculous prejudice in favour of “happy endings,” which Mr. W. S. Gilbert has successfully violated over and over again. They disliked the “poetical” drama, but Mr. Wills has taught them to tolerate it. They had an aversion to “Irish” pieces, but were instantaneously converted by the “Colleen Bawn.” In a word, they are adolescent, ready to accept any decent education the enlightened may offer them. Education they want; who is to undertake the task of supplying it to them?
It is clear that there is little hope of the managers. The late Mr. Bateman stood solitary in attempting to serve dramatic art to the fullest extent a study of commercial possibilities warranted. He has been censured for a system of advertising which is justly described as American, for a style of self-praise which can only be understood by a reference to his early advertisements; but the fact remains, that by such means he not only established his own fortune, but raised up a ghost of the poetic drama, and with it a new and truly commendable actor. Mr. John Hollingshead has almost too much sharpness for a manager; he is so keen a social critic and 331 so smart a man, that he errs from sheer excess of cautious insight into consequences; and he possesses, moreover, a vein of unpleasant cynicism, noticeable in the carelessness of many of his appeals to the public, which is sometimes quite disheartening. Mr. Chatterton, who has recently distinguished himself as a conventional Christian, has obviously about as much perception of true dramatic art as the exhibitor of the “Living Skeleton” at a fair; Nature clearly intended him to manage a hippodrome, not a theatre. Mr. Neville has got to prove of what stuff he is made, but since his brief tenancy of the Olympic, he has produced at least one superior play, “Clancarty.” The other managers may be nameless, with the exception of Mrs. Bancroft, who has distinguished herself by the elegant style of entertainment known as “Robertsonian,” of which I shall have a few words to say hereafter.
Our actors are much more intelligent than our managers. Mr. Alfred Wigan and Mr. Hermann Vezin possess exceptional culture; the first is an admirable actor, the second, in his “Man o’Airlie,” has touched the high-water mark of modern artistic achievement. To Mr. Vezin, moreover, we owe gratitude for being the first to discover and foster the talents of Mr. Wills; he also introduced Mr. Albery, a dramatist of less pretensions, but of real faculty; and he has been diligent again and again in finding, amid his continental reading, subjects for suggestion and adaptation. He is altogether the most instructed of living actors, although he has never yet had a fair chance on the stage. The talents of Mr. Irving none can question; he is the only young player at present in London who is at once deserving and prosperous, and while opinions may differ as to his intelligence, they are agreed as to his individuality. Mr. Creswick has power of a kind. Mr. Phelps is in every way an admirable actor—strong, characteristic, prepared at all points; and next to him, though a long way behind him, come such good elocutionists and useful performers as Mr. Ryder and Mr. Henry Marston. Of comedians there is no lack, from the inimitable Compton down to the diverting David James. In light comedy the Kendals are pre-eminent; next to them rank the excellent artistes of the Prince of Wales and of the Court. If we have no actress who is as once great and prosperous, we have certainly one, in the person of Mrs. Vezin, who in many of her qualifications and achievements must be pronounced admirable ; but, unfortunately, 332 for some occult reason or other, this lady has seldom a London engagement. The elder Miss Bateman showed genuine force in “Leah,” but she has not distinguished herself greatly since, if we except her performance in a fine version of Legouvé’s “Medea,” which only wanted a more careful cultivation to have been a truly striking monotone in one mood.
These are our leading actors, none perhaps great, but a few admirable, and all more or less competent to preserve the best traditions of the stage. As might have been expected, they are distinguished most for cleverness and least for originality; but they have undergone a truly theatrical preparation, and that is saying much. It is scarcely worth while to speak of the innumerable ladies who come full-blossomed before the footlights, without any noviciate at all, under the auspices of elderly gentlemen and vulgar entrepreneurs. Mr. Chatterton has also distinguished himself by encouraging, with exemplary Christianity, the virtuous aspirations of these unqualified but earnest persons. Every season in London may be seen the miracle of a good-looking amateur transformed into a “leading lady” in the course of a single night. Nor should this circumstance surprise those who recently beheld, in the natural Temple of the Drama, the leading character in a certain popular spectacle played by a Dog.
The managers being indifferent, and the actors at the mercy of the managers, the entire task of dramatic education—pace the critics, of whom I shall speak hereafter—must be performed by the authors. True, these gentlemen are themselves greatly at the mercy of the managers; but they have power, and they occasionally use it. This being the case, it is worth while to consider at some length the style and pretensions of dramatic productions; and, indeed, to do this, while adding some final suggestions as to how the cause of dramatic art may be advanced, is the main purpose of the present article.
Place aux Dames! First let us see what the so-called poetical Muse has done for us of late in England. It is now many long years since the “Lady of Lyons” first made the theatrical fortune of its author, and it still remains at the head of modern romantic dramas; not on account of its writing, which is vapid in the extreme, but by virtue of an entertaining subject and excellent construction. Worthless as literature, worthless even as a vehicle for good acting, it holds its place on the stage as a thoroughly commonplace and interesting 333 play. “You are just the author for a ‘Lady of Lyons,’” wrote a London manager recently to a living author; write me such a piece and there is a small fortune for you—and yours truly;” but the person addressed, unfortunately, did not think himself just the author for a “Lady of Lyons.” Of the same date as Lord Lytton’s dramas are those of Sheridan Knowles; of these only the “Hunchback” and the “Love Chase” retain any firm hold of the stage. Unlike Lord Lytton, who succeeded by virtue of a compact and well-welded plot, Knowles got his effects from consummate command of verbiage and a masterly power of creating stage situations, not as part of a well-conceived whole, but from scene to scene. His characters are simply marionettes, admirably dressed and excellently managed. Their speech is wondrous. Listening to its endless interjections and repetitions, to its extraordinary flatulence of phrase and epithet, as uttered on the stage, one becomes so bewildered as almost to fancy one is listening to words of power, not sounds of fury signifying nothing. Knowles is the Chadband of dramatists, the Moody of the defunct classical school. His vigour in saying and meaning nothing amounts to genius, his skill in devising and connecting dialogues without a purpose, and yet apparently full of purpose, is fairly astounding. The following passage from the “Hunchback” is a fair sample of the author at his best:—
Enter JULIA and HELEN.
Helen. I like not, Julia, this your country life.
I’m weary on’t.
Julia. Indeed? So am not I;
I know no other; would no other know.
Helen. You would no other know? Would you not know
Another relative—another friend—
Another house—another anything,
Because the ones you have already please you?
That’s poor content. Would you not be more rich,
More wise, more fair? The song that last you learned
You fancy well; and therefore shall you learn
No other song? Your virginal, ’tis true,
Hath a sweet tone; but does it follow thence
You shall not have another virginal?
You may, love, and a sweeter one; and so
A sweeter life may find, than this you lead!
Julia. I seek it not. Helen, I’m constancy!
334 Helen. So is a cat, a dog, a silly hen,
An owl, a bat—where they are wont to lodge
They still sojourn, nor care to shift their quarters.
Thou’rt constancy? I’m glad I know thy name!
The spider comes of the same family,
That in his meshy fortress spends his life,
Unless you pull it down and scare him from it.
And so thou’rt constancy? art proud of that?
I’ll warrant thee, I’ll match thee with a snail,
From year to year that never leaves his house!
Such constancy, forsooth! a constant grub
That houses ever in the self-same nut
Where he was born, till hunger drives him out.
And so in very deed thou’rt constancy!
Julia. Helen, you know the adage of the tree:—
I’ve ta’en the bend. This rural life of mine,
Enjoined me by an unknown father’s will,
I’ve led from infancy. Debarr’d from hope
Of change, I ne’er have sighed for change. The town
To me was like the moon, for any thought
I e’er should visit it—nor was I school’d
To think it half so fair.
Helen. Not half so fair!
The town’s the sun, and thou hast dwelt in night
E’er since thy birth, not to have seen the town!
Their women there are queens, and kings their men
Their houses palaces.
Julia. And what of that?
Have your town palaces a hall like this?
Couches so fragrant? walls so high adorned?
Casements with such festoons, such prospects, Helen,
As these fair vistas have? Your kings and queens!
See me a May-day queen and talk of them!
Helen. Extremes are ever neighbours. ’Tis a step
From one to the other.
Of course, the less said of such very blank verse the better, for the author did not pretend to be a poet. His moral sentiments are on a level with his dialogue, and the occasional glimpses of good honest talent which Knowles undoubtedly possessed, are always spoiled by some ridiculous false note. The following little speech has merits, from a stagey point of view, despite its resemblance to a speech of Jacques:—
Waller. Well, Master Wildrake, speak you of the chase?
To hear you one doth feel the bounding steed;
335 You bring the hounds, and game, and all to view—
All scudding to the jovial huntsman’s cheer!
And yet I pity the poor crowned deer,
And always fancy ’tis by Fortune’s spite,
That lordly head of his he bears so high—
Like Virtue, stately in calamity,
And hunted by the human, worldly hound—
Is made to fly before the pack, that straight
Burst into song at prospect of his death.
You say their cry is harmony, and yet
The chorus scarce is music to my ear,
When I bethink me what it sounds to his;
Nor deem I sweet the note that rings the knell
Of the once merry forester!
But no sooner has Master Waller struck the natural note, than another speaker, Master Neville, interposes a note of moral philosophy.
Nev. The same things
Do please or pain—according to the thought
We take of them!
How true! Gems of this precious kind abound in Sheridan Knowles. Despite all his faults, he understood stage language thoroughly, and he was so well read in the literature of our best period, that he would have been a truly admirable writer if he had possessed ideas in proportion to his command of language.
Though Dr. Westland Marston is still living, his plays may almost be said to belong to the last generation. He does not attempt to compete with younger writers, and the only recent productions of his pen have been some capital little comedies for Mr. Sothern. His first play, the “Patrician's Daughter,” was produced in 1842, five years after the production of the “Love Chase;” and since then he has written five or six high-class plays. He possesses a true poetical instinct, which saves him, to a great extent, from the absurdities of that school of which he is the contemporary. His dialogue is bright and clever, his situations highly picturesque. He is deficient, however, in constructing power and sense of theatrical situation, and his dramas, therefore, have only been moderately successful when acted. Their value as literature has yet to be determined, and lovers of the drama will see with 336 pleasure the announcement that they will soon be procurable in a collected form.
The name of Mr. Wills is now familiar to the public in its connection with the successes of Mr. Irving, but it has long been known to critics as that of an exceedingly clever, though undoubtedly careless, writer of plays. In a sort of collaboration with Mr. Vezin, who translated the German originals or “bases,” Mr. Wills has written the “Man o’ Airlie,” and “Hinko,” the first a really beautiful study of a poet’s life and fate, the second a romantic drama of a school made popular by Kotzebue. The striking scene in the first-named play, where the senile poet, who is supposed to be dead, appears among the gay company assembled to uncover his own statue, belongs entirely to Mr. Wills, and is alone enough to prove him a dramatist of a very high order indeed. Unfortunately, his language is not always on a level with his conceptions; it is seldom as strong and nervous as a little more care might make it. In the drama of “Charles the First,” Mr. Wills appears to advantage neither as a poet nor as a politician. The picture of Cromwell (outrageously represented, by the way, by a comic actor named Belmore) is without an excuse or a parallel; while that of the royal martyr is like a very mild piece in crayon by Richmond. Thanks chiefly to the easy grace and truly natural manner of Mr. Irving, even such scenes as this were listened to with toleration.
Huntley. I long have hoped to be an humble instrument
Of aid and comfort to your Majesty.
To show you something more than blind devotion.
To this end I have compass’d the acquaintance
And conversation of one Master Cromwell,
A leader in the Commons, and yet liberal.
King. I know him by report: a shrewd, strong gentleman,
Whose shrewdness and whose strength, methinks, are venal.
Huntley. In that your Majesty may do him wrong.
But be that as it may, I do profess
I come not an officious go-between,
But as an indirect and easy medium.
King. I cannot say thy visit is more welcome.
Huntley. Shall I bear back to Master Cromwell
The spirit of your Majesty’s reply?
King. Saint George forbid! Henry, of lusty memory,
Thy reign was set in happier days than mine.
337 Sooth, when thine anger flashed, thy thunderous voice
Announced it roundly. Huntley, we must temporize—
Thou hast not come as an official here,
And so thy message back commits us not.
Stay! Prithee tell them—nay, let’s see—let’s see.
Huntley. Under your favour—
King. Nay, under yours—I do bethink me now;—
You shouldst have told me earlier in our talk.
Say that the King repents his hasty act;
So we avoid that first rash burst of blame,
Which sudden measures, howsoever wholesome,
Provoke in England.
Let the five members sit as heretofore
(Our charges shall be laid most formally)
And let them bide the verdict of their peers.
As for their late remonstrance—tell my Commons
It is before us, and shall be considered
Most anxiously, and, point by point, discussed.
Some we shall cede at once, in other some
We shall require their counsel and review, etc.
But Mr. Irving in armour (Act 3), resembling nothing more than the “Knight of the Rueful Visage” clad in a tin meat-jack, would have appeared comical to any audience less disposed to applaud the royal prerogative at all hazards. On the occasion of my visit to the Lyceum, the audience appeared to shed tears plentifully, especially when Mr. Irving, with lean and quivering fingers, scratched the shoulders of Miss Isabel Bateman in the anguish of his last farewell; but the situation was certainly only saved by the nervous energy of the popular young actor. A piece of far higher calibre, “Eugene Aram,” showed Mr. Wills at his very best, and it is by such plays as this and the “Man o’ Airlie” that he may, if he will, keep himself where he stands, at the very head of contemporary dramatists. No other living playwright could have produced, out of elements so simple, a success so genuine and unmistakable. Since “Eugene Aram,” Mr. Wills has written a tragedy on the subject of “Mary Queen of Scots,” but as it was played, unfortunately, by people ignorant of the merest rudiments of acting, and has not been published, it is not easy to decide on its merits. One thing, however, is certain, that Mr. Wills seems to have some special delusions about Puritanism and Puritan leaders, for if anything could surpass his wonderful picture of Cromwell, it would be his delicious caricature of John Knox. The 338 beautiful Mr. Rousby as “Knox” was a phenomenon to make the ghost of George Buchanan rise from the grave, and to darken the declining years of Mr. Carlyle.*
Worthy to rank with Mr. Wills as a poetical dramatist, is Mr. Tom Taylor, who is at once the most successful writer of his class, with only one exception, and the bête noir of a large clique of critics. Mr. Taylor is less original, but more diverse—less happy, but more careful, than Mr. Wills; and his dialogue, though bald like most modern dialogue, is more apt and to the purpose. I am certainly not among those gentlemen who deny Mr. Taylor the merit of originality; on the contrary, I believe his talents are underrated, simply because a foolish and erroneous idea has been circulated as to his indebtedness to foreign sources. To my mind he has seldom or never exceeded the allowable privileges of a dramatist, and almost all his success is due to dramatic faculties and instincts entirely his own. He is the author of some of the very brightest pieces of the day, and if in his historical and poetical productions he has failed to maintain a high level of literary excellence, he has merely failed in common with almost all caterers for the modern stage. The “Fool’s Revenge” is on the whole his best serious play, and worthy of the translator of the “Barsaz-Breiz.” It is to a certain extent similar in subject to the opera of “Rigoletto” and the play of “Le Roi s’amuse.” In most of its merits, however, it is Mr. Taylor’s own, while its defects are just what might have been expected from one who, with all his talents, shows a sneaking regard for Mr. Podsnap’s young person; and thus we are treated to a moral dénouement setting forth the prerogatives of Providence and the naughtiness of revenge.
“Vengeance is not man’s attribute—but, heavens!
I have usurped it!”.
— * A little “juvenile” comedy by the present writer, produced in 1874 at the Haymarket Theatre, received rather severe treatment from certain critics, because it depicted the royalist superstition in brilliant colours, and made comic capital out of a Puritan soldier. This, coming from one who had expressed “advanced” sentiments, a writer in the Examiner resented as worse than inconsistency; but had this person been less blinded by personal dislike, he might have admitted that it is one thing to express royalist opinions, or apotheosize royalist martyrs, and another thing to picture dramatically the romantic side of royalism as it once existed. I may here observe that, if anything could sicken a philosophic republican with his own opinions, it would be the perusal of those journals which, while encouraging foolishly personal panegyric, and grossly personal defamation, unconsciously represent republicanism as impossible without atheism, and atheism itself as the sheer syncretism of effeminacy and vice. —
339 cries Bertuccio, “hiding his face in his hands.” The piece trespasses on the borders of forbidden ground, but the danger is delicately avoided. The character of the Jester (admirably embodied at Sadler’s Wells by Mr. Phelps) is cleverly worked out, through a series of nervous situations. The writing is on the whole excellent; the dialogue, though without imagery, being strong, pointed, and incisive. If faults are to be found in a really meritorious work, one may observe that Mr. Taylor is too consciously theatrical. Take the following little scene, which pleased the audience greatly:—
[BERTUCCIO stands for a moment fondly contemplating FIORDELISA. His dress is sober and his manner composed. He steps quietly forward.
Bert. My own!
Fiord. (turning suddenly, and flinging herself into his arms
with a cry of joy) My father!
Bert. (embracing her tenderly) Closer, closer yet!
Let me feel those soft arms about my neck,
This dear cheek on my heart! No—do not stir—
It does me so much good! I am so happy—
These minutes are worth years!
Fiord. My own dear father!
Bert. Let me look at thee, darling—why, thou growest
More and more beautiful! Thou’rt happy here?
Hast all that thou desirest—thy lute—thy flowers?
She loves her poor old father? Blessings on thee,
I know thou dost—but tell me so.
Fiord. I love you—
I love you very much! I am so happy
When you are with me—Why do you come so late,
And go so soon? Why not stay always here?
Bert. Why not? why not? Oh, if I could! To live
Where there’s no mocking, and no being mocked;
No laughter, but what’s innocent; no mirth
That leaves an after-bitterness like gall.
Fiord. Now, you are sad! There’s that black ugly cloud
Upon your brow—you promised, the last time,
It never should come when we were together.
You know when you’re sad I’m sad too.
Bert. My bird!
I’m selfish even with thee—let dark thoughts come,
That thy sweet voice may chase them, as they say
The blessed church-bells drive the demons off.
Fiord. If I but knew the reason of your sadness,
340 Then I might comfort you; but I know nothing,
Not even your name.
Bert. I have no name for thee
Fiord. In the convent at Ceséna
Where I was reared, they used to call me orphan.
I thought I had no father, till you came,
And then they needed not to say I had one;
My own heart told me that.
Now it is, perhaps, superfluous to point out the gushing unnaturalness of this meeting between a father and daughter on a commonplace occasion. It might pass very well if the two had been separated for years, but they meet frequently, and hysterics are absurd. It is necessary, however, to recapitulate the nature of their relationship, for the edification of the audience, and so in the italicised lines, with a far too obvious side-glance at the spectators, the dialogue is studded with explanations. Faults of this sort disfigure too much of Mr. Taylor’s work, and show too plainly that he approaches his subject more as a playwright than as a dramatist. There is a want of fusion in some of his conceptions, and a theatrical tawdriness in some of his designs. With all this, he has done the stage good service, and is certainly one of the leading theatrical authors of the day.
With the names already cited, the list of pseudo-poetical writers may cease. True, Mr. Albery has written a play in blank verse, in which the critics discovered original beauties, but his real talents lie in quite another direction. A word of praise, however, may be given en passant to Mr. Hermann Merivale, who has made a very good acting play out of “Le Lion Amoureux” of Ponsard, carefully avoiding the stilted style of that leader of the classic revival. Mr. Merivale has also written the “White Pilgrim,” a sort of poem for the stage, which failed as much by vile acting as by want of dramatic fibre. His productions have been few, but they encourage one to hope that he may take a leading place among contemporary dramatists.
Turning from the poetical drama, which is after all not poetical essentially, but rather a form of writing in which blank verse is used because great dramatists used it once on a time, we come to a writer who is perhaps more original than any we have named, and who also at times uses a sort of monstr-inform-ingens-horrendous style of writing, which is supposed to be blank verse. Critics have even gone to the length of 341 calling his plays poetical, and of actually selecting poetic gems from their pages; but it would surprise me greatly to hear that he ever wrote a poetical line in his life. Mr. W. S. Gilbert, for it is he of whom I am speaking, is the greatest living writer of burlesques—not mere senseless inanities, composed of vulgar slang and break-downs—but really first-rate comic productions, with an occasional touch of serious import. He began his literary career with the Bab Ballads, maniac rhymes of perfect and convulsing originality, and he afterwards contributed to the vulgar burlesque literature of the day such absurdities as “Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack.” His first genuine burlesque was the “Princess,” founded on Mr. Tennyson’s pretty poem of that name; quaint in design, and clever in treatment. But in “Pygmalion and Galatea,” called a mythological comedy, and produced with conspicuous success at the Haymarket Theatre, he shows his talents at their very best. The myth of Pygmalion is a poetical one, and has been treated previously by our own Marston, but it remained for Mr. Gilbert to turn it into a first-class burlesque of the serious school. In his version, the statue, when brought to life, becomes a burden and a misery to its creator, and its perfect innocence and artlessness are made the cause of many diverting situations. The treatment is a vulgarizing one, but has its strong merits; for while all the subtle loveliness of the primary idea is destroyed, a good deal of strong satiric matter is gained. These are Galatea’s reflections on first emerging from the stone:—
Galatea. Then is this life?
Pygmalion. It is.
Gal. And not long since
I was a cold, dull stone. I recollect
That by some means I knew that I was stone,
That was the first dull gleam of conscience;
I became conscious of a chilly self,
A cold immoveable identity,
I knew that I was stone, and knew no more;
Then, by an imperceptible advance,
Came the dim evidence of outer things,
Seen—darkly and imperfectly—yet seen—
The walls surrounded me, and I, alone,
That pedestal—that curtain—then a voice
That called on Galatea! At that word,
Which seemed to shake my marble to the core,
That which was dim before, came evident.
342 Sounds, that had hummed around me, indistinct,
Vague, meaningless—seemed to resolve themselves
Into a language I could understand;
I felt my frame pervaded with a glow
That seemed to thaw my marble into flesh;
Its cold hard substance throbbed with active life,
My limbs grew supple, and I moved—I lived!
Lived in the ecstasy of new-born life;
Lived in the love of him that fashioned me;
Lived in a thousand tangled thoughts of hope,
Love, gratitude, thoughts that resolved themselves
Into one word, that word Pygmalion! (kneels to him).
Pyg. I have no words to tell thee of my joy,
O woman—perfect in thy loveliness.
Gal. What is that word? Am I a woman?
Here is a dim gleam of what might have been a fine passage, but fine passages are not in Mr. Gilbert’s line. Galatea immediately demands, “Am I a woman?” When Pygmalion replies “Yes,” she returns, “Art thou a woman?” and the house begins to titter. The ball now begins rolling. Galatea asks, “What is a man?” and being answered that man is a being framed to protect woman, work and toil for her, fight and die for her, observes quietly, “I’m glad I am a woman.” “So am I!” Pygmalion responds; and the house titters again. So fascinated is the author by these subtle touches, that he repeats them, and when Galatea, observing her beauty in a mirror, exclaims, “So I’m a woman!” Pygmalion, to the intense delight of the audience, exclaims, “No doubt of that!” She continues:—
Gal. Oh happy maid, to be so passing fair!
And happier still Pygmalion, who can gaze,
At will upon so beautiful a face.
Pyg. Hush! Galatea—in thine innocence (taking glass from her)
Thou sayest things that others would reprove.
Gal. Indeed, Pygmalion; then it is wrong
To think that one is exquisitely fair?
Pyg. Well, Galatea, it’s a sentiment
That every woman shares with thee;
They think it—but they keep it to themselves.
Gal. And is thy wife as beautiful as I?
Pyg. No, Galatea, for in forming thee
I took her features—lovely in themselves—
And in the marble made them lovelier still.
Gal. (disappointed) Oh! then I’m not original?
343 The last expression is hardly tolerable in its psychology, even in a burlesque, where the whole subject is grotesque and unnatural. Though the other remarks of the statue may pass, it is difficult to believe her pouting over her own want of “originality.” But I am fault-finding where I meant to praise. Taken as a whole, and seen as represented on the stage, this play has really a delightful effect. It contains just enough imagination to redeem the dialogue from mere farce. Mrs. Kendal, who played Galatea, imparted to the character a delicate and dreamy beauty, noticeable even in her slow “swimming” movements about the stage, which lifted it into the high region of an Aristophanic creation; she seemed indeed one of the great Athenian’s own ‘Eternal Clouds’ and ‘Virgin raincoats’, [see note below] descending into the region of modern comedy, and the ears almost listened for the music of strophe and antistrophe. And now, if Mr. Gilbert will forgive me for having found so many faults, I shall try to make amends by saying that in more than this particular he resembles Aristophanes. No living dramatist has his originality, and no living writer has his quiddity; and if, with all his satiric gifts, he were capable of passion—that is, genuine satiric passion—he might do in a measure for our generation what Aristophanes did for his. The “Happy Land,” a burlesque of a burlesque, his own “Wicked World,” was perfect. No man living or dead could have surpassed it; and I believe it to be the primest political satire of this generation. It can be read, which “Pygmalion and Galatea” cannot, and is as thoroughly enjoyable as a page of Rabelais or a chapter of Swift. Just recently Mr. Gilbert has perpetrated a delicious absurdity called “Trial by Jury.” Nothing could be better. It would have delighted Thackeray.
Reverting for a moment to “Pygmalion and Galatea,” which I suspect Mr. Gilbert regards as his masterpiece, I must regret that its general treatment was not either levelled to the broadness of the coarser passages, or raised to the level of the finer nuances of the situations. As it is, the effect is irritating. True, Aristophanes himself uses both absurdity and poetry, but he never blends them in this way; and his delicious lyrical effects are reserved for the chorus. Mr. Gilbert’s play contains one truly beautiful and imaginative passage, that where Galatea chronicles her first experience of sleep and dreams. It is as follows:—
344 Gal. I sat alone and wept—and wept
A long, long time for my Pygmalion.
Then by degrees—by tedious degrees,
The light—the glorious light!—the God-sent light,
I saw it sink—sink—sink—behind the world;
Then I grew cold—cold—as I used to be,
Before my loved Pygmalion gave me life.
Then came the fearful thought that, by degrees,
I was returning into stone again;
How bitterly I wept, and prayed aloud
That I might not be so! “Spare me, ye Gods!
Spare me,” I cried, “for my Pygmalion,
A little longer for Pygmalion!
Oh, take me not so early from my love;
Oh, let me see him once, but once again!”
But no—they heard me not, for they are good,
And had they heard, must needs have pitied me;
They had not seen thee and they did not know
The happiness that I must leave behind.
I fell upon thy couch (to Myrine), my eyelids closed,
My senses faded from me one by one;
I knew no more until I found myself,
After a strange dark interval of time,
Once more upon my hated pedestal,
And then I saw the glorious gods come down!
Down to this room! the air was filled with them,
They came and looked upon Pygmalion,
And looking on him, kissed him one by one,
And said, in tones that spoke to me of life,
“We cannot take her from such happiness!
Live, Galatea, for his love!” And then
The glorious light that I had lost came back—
There was Myrine’s room, there was her couch,
There was the sun in heaven; and the birds
Sang once more in the great green waving trees,
As I had heard them sing—I lived once more,
To look on him I love!
Myr. ’Twas but a dream! (coming down)
Once every day this death occurs to us,
Till thou and I and all who dwell on earth,
Shall sleep to wake no more!
Gal. (horrified, takes Myrine’s hand). To wake no more!
But a little after uttering this, Galatea is commenting vulgarly 345 on the podginess of Chrysos (Mr. Buckstone), and exclaiming, “Mother! what is that? I never had one. Have people usually mothers?” to which Mr. Buckstone—I mean Chrysos—replies, with the leer and chuckle familiar at the Haymarket, “Well,—that is the rule!” I do not say that Mr. Gilbert could by treating his theme in the highest manner have achieved as thorough a success, but I do lament to see an author of his genius, which commands the warmest admiration, descending to so vulgarizing a treatment. The scenes with Chrysos were simply nasty, less perhaps through any intention of the author, than through the satyric unction of the male comedian. I have already expressed my opinion of the censorship of the Lord Chamberlain. Although censorship begins at home, the gentleman who interdicted the “Demimonde,” had nothing to say to certain portions of the “Wicked World,” or to that portion of “Pygmalion and Galatea” where Mrs. Kendal, in commenting on the shape of Chrysos, was to all intents and purposes compelled to pass her hand up and down Mr. Buckstone’s abdomen, which resembled that of an African aboriginal blown out with “bang.” I am not going to insist on the indelicacy of these matters. Perhaps, as the audience was not shocked, they contained nothing shocking. But I do insist that there is nothing in the “Demimonde” or similar masterpieces to shock the delicacy half as much, and that the detection of indelicacies, if they exist, is the business and prerogative of the audience, and no business of any solitary person in authority. It is not for a moment to be argued that the modern French drama is clean. Such scenes as the supper scene in “Le Réveillon” are certainly indecent; and well might the Pall Mall Gazette, in a recent article, complain that those who virtuously insist on adding an inch to the skirts of our ballet-dancers are comparatively lenient to foreign artistes. The press and the public, however, not the court, are the proper authorities to settle such matters. Their power is at once indisputable and overwhelming. If a few super-sensitive souls complain that neither press nor public is severe enough, let them show their indignation by staying at home. So far as I see, it is not openly indecent pieces which most offend our Lord Paramount, but psychological drama dealing chiefly with the violation of the marriage tie. Despite our breach of promise cases, and our divorce court, we are so virtuous here in England that we shiver at the very notion of 346 a matrimonial breach of contract. To my mind, however, nothing but good could result even here from a free performance of French “social” pieces. We are not so good as we seem, and Mordaunt trials are merely the occasional eruptions of a volcano which is ever blazing under the surface. Dumas fils, with all his faults, has purified his audiences. His ideal is not high, but to the French bourgeoisie it has been elevating, and it could certainly do us no harm. Moreover, there can be no question that the representation of a work of high artistic merit, full of accurate character-painting and delicate psychology, though its subject may be unpleasant and its treatment anatomic, is more in the interests of public morality than the representation of an apotheosis of vulgar virtue. The British Matron, whose ethics are those of the farmyard, and who deliberately sells her own young to the highest bidder, ruffles her feathers and squeaks her horror whenever naughty subjects are spoken of; but a more careful study of social complications, though shocking at first, might do her good. Marriage by her is held inviolable, and so true marriage should be; but the bond she means is a mercantile bargain, sacred to her as the contents of her pocket. Inspired by her, we in England value a purse more than a life, and deem an open violation of what is often a brutal fraud, the one unpardonable sin.
But we are forgetting our dramatists. The mention of the name of our leading burlesque writer naturally leads me to consider those others who call themselves burlesque writers also. But as an artist Mr. Gilbert is almost solitary. His are true comic creations, not mere monstrosities. Mr. F. C. Burnand is exquisitely funny at times, but his stage work is never done au sérieux—that is, with attempt to produce anything really admirable. His animal spirits are great, and his sense of incongruity perfect; he is an adept in stage tricks; and his pages are perfectly incomprehensible to one not adept in Cockney slang. Here are Bacchus and Zephyr “returning from an evening party”:—
Bacc. A very merry evening! for, as you know,
There’s no one gives a party like Queen Juno;
They spoilt the coffee, tho’, with too much chicory.
Zeph. I say!—each dance, you flirted with Terpsichore!
(digs him in the ribs—sly dog business).
Conceive the agony of an intelligent foreigner battling with 347 the awful idiom of this stage direction. Mr. Burnand’s “Olympus” is redolent of Cockaigne. Venus sings sweet ditties to the tune of “Billy Taylor,” and the oracle at Delphi joins in chorus with “tiddy fol,” etc. Zephyr talks of “taking a bus” while walking down “the Strand.” Cupid talks about “Burlington Arcade” and Kew Gardens. The effect is sometimes funny, more often dreary. The author of “Happy Thoughts” should be capable of better work. His characteristic recklessness, however, has made his case hopeless. Even less amusing than Mr. Burnand’s are Mr. Byron’s. To the same rank belongs all the meretricious foolery of the day. Instead of Aristophanes, we have Joe Miller and the Ethiopian Serenaders done into dramatic scenes. The decline and fall of extravaganza has been rapid in the hands of its latest exponents. When Mr. Planché searched Fairyland for subjects, children of all ages could go to Covent Garden for delicate fun and picturesque romance. The spirit of “Once upon a time there were two kings,” is almost idyllic, and the “Yellow Dwarf” is a genuine fairy tale for the stage. Even the succeeding school of Brough and Talfourd had great and distinguishing merits. Who that saw Robson in Brough’s “Masaniello” can forget the tragic agony of the little conspirator, as pale and tremulous, the clammy perspiration on his brow, and his jaw dropping, he tottered in, crying,
“They’ve done it now—they’ve laid a tax on winkles!”
Not less striking was the pathetic reproachfulness of the same actor in “Fair Rosamund” when, as Queen Elinor, he addressed the unfaithful king with one word, his own unaspirated Christian name, “’Enry!” This, with all its absurdity, was real burlesque. Something of a similar spirit breathes in a ridiculous production of Mr. Reece, wherein Romulus and Remus, two very naughty children, played by Messrs. James and Thorne, quarrelled while building up Rome with a “box of bricks!” The only surviving representative of fine extravaganza is Mr. Blanchard, whose yearly pantomime at Drury Lane is always what it professes to be—a dramatized fairy tale, full of light pictures, and without a shadow of vulgarity.
Passing from the dramatists who write in blank verse, and from the burlesque writers, who write in verse and worse, we come to those gentlemen who may be described as general dramatists, to whom nothing theatrical comes amiss, but who 348 are perhaps most at home in plundering helpless novelists and adapting from the French. Towering before us rises a stately figure, with a head recalling the Chandos bust of Shakespeare, beautiful in its benignant baldness, with a twinkling eye and self-satisfied smile on the lips. We recognize him at once—it is our latter Shakespeare and our greater; a swan from the Shannon, uttering his wondrous notes in a delicious brogue, and breathing softly his own dulcet name of chaste “Dion.” He has written one hundred and fifty dramas, some dozen of which have surpassed all modern productions in their successes. He might have been the editor of the Times and the President of the United States, but he preferred to devise amusements for a delighted generation: to turn “L’Homme Blasé” into a comedy for Charles Mathews; to take and mutilate the Louis XI. of Casimir Delavigne; to translate Dumas’ “Corsican Brothers;” to dramatize the “Collegians” of Gerald Griffin. The first appearance of Mr. Boucicault was as a poet! When quite a young man he contributed to “Bentley’s Miscellany” a poem called Darkness, which, for some inscrutable reason, the publishers have reprinted in the “Bentley Ballads.” Anything more dismal and uninstructed than this piece I have never encountered. It reads like a passage from Mr. Dobell’s “Balder” turned into morality by Mr. Tupper, and then done back into blank verse by one of Mr. Blimber’s “young gentlemen.” The author’s first play was a comedy, “London Assurance,” which remains, with all its faults, his masterpiece. All the characters had done duty before in comedy. The languid old man about town with a rakish son, whom he believes to be an innocent; the rattling Londoner, who is ready to become bosom-friend with anybody; the rattling lady who hunts; the boobyish husband who follows at that lady’s heels; the meddlesome lawyer; the confidential valet—all are familiar figures, farcical in outline, snatchy in drawing. The dialogue, brisk and telling, reads like Sheridan and water, faintly lemoned with Douglas Jerrold, and sugared by Sheridan Knowles. It is quick and jerky, to a great extent monosyllabic; when it rises to anything resembling emotion, it is simply insufferable. This is the rubbish a plain old baronet, whose other dialogue is simple in the extreme, is made to talk, in his enthusiasm over hunting:—“What state can match the chase in full cry, each vying with his fellow which shall be most 349 happy? A thousand deaths fly by unheeded in that one hour’s life of ecstasy. Time is outrun, and nature seems to grudge our bliss in making the day too short.” The heroine talks gushingly, in the “Darkness” mood, of the “first tear that glitters in the eye of morning,” and of “the shrilly choir of the woodland minstrels, to which the modest brook trickles applause.” The lover, save the mark! informs his mistress that “the beams of that bright face falling on my soul, have, from its chaos, warmed into life the flowrets of affection, whose maiden odours now float towards the sun, pouring forth in their pure tongue a mite of adoration, midst the voices of a universe.” It is clear that, when the stage secured a Boucicault, literature lost a Close. The success of “London Assurance” was secured by such artistes as Farren, Harley, Keeley, and Mrs. Nisbett. Twenty years elapsed, during which the author continued to write indefatigably without any conspicuous triumph, but in 1859-60 the success of the “Colleen Bawn,” which ran for some two hundred and fifty nights, took London by storm. This drama, which is really a stage version of one of the most picturesque Irish novels ever written, brought its adapter a fortune. Its merits were great, but they belong to Gerald Griffin. Great successes rapidly followed; the “Streets of London,” “Flying Scud,” “After Dark,” and “Arrah-na-pogue,” made the name of Boucicault a household word. Shakespeare was forgotten, but his mantle had fallen upon glorious shoulders. Now came the theatrical apotheosis of the railway-train, the race-course, and the town-pump. Now did the modern Orlando, disguised as the driver of a hansom cab, prowl about the scene representing the Adelphi arches. Now did a fat female jockey sit in the weighing scales, to the delight of thousands; while a mighty stage mob of carpenters and scene-shifters applauded the racing of cardboard horses, running in the distance for the Derby. The triumph of realism had arrived, and the Shakespeare of the New Cut and Seven Dials had come.
As a constructor of stage plays, Mr. Boucicault is unequalled, and here, if anywhere, lies his special claim to distinction. If any one will take the trouble to compare the “Colleen Bawn” with the “Collegians,” he will see how the dramatist, while preserving everything, down to the tiniest detail, fuses all into a clever and more telling form. His dialogue is occasionally very happy, but comes from all sorts 350 of sources. Turning from the mere form of his plays to their internal morale, the student perceives at a glance that, like most illiterate productions, they are thoroughly heartless. He has been styled the inventor of the Upholstery school of Comedy—upholstery doing in his comedies what pumps and steam-engines do in his dramas, and his ethics are, as might be expected, those of the bill-broker and the furniture-dealer. Indeed, his plays, like cheap furniture, seem made to sell. Though neatly put together, they are composed of cheap material and a great deal of veneer; and when he does introduce a fine sterling solid article, it is sure, on inspection, to prove second-hand. Such a gem as the character of Myles-na-Coppaleen is too fine to be his own; he has polished it up, however, to the highest pitch of stage brightness.
The mention of the Upholstery school leads me by a natural transition to that Cabinet school which is its natural successor, and which is generally known by the title of Robertsonian. Nothing could be more touching than the living career of the late Mr. Tom Robertson; he endured hardships and vicissitudes enough to crush any spirit, and only at the last moment awoke from his dream of poverty to find himself famous and rich. His talents were undoubtedly fine, his perception of his vocation delicate in the extreme; his defects belong less to his workmanship, than to his system. Born as it were on the stage, he early perceived the folly and absurdity of many stage traditions. He felt that acting as a rule was artificial and unnatural, that actors were too stagy and too stiff, and that this was partly a consequence of unnatural and stagy dramatic conceptions. Setting carefully to work, he produced, after several failures, his first and most popular comedy, “Caste,” the spirit of which is the simplest naturalism, the situations such as happen every day, the dialogue such commonplace as is spoken by commonplace people in real life. The effect was electrical, and Mr. Robertson was at once recognized as the Trollope of the stage. Without being original, the characters were life-like, and they did the ordinary business of life—such as laying table-cloths, carrying tea-kettles, and cutting bread-and-butter—in the easiest style imaginable. It is wonderful how modern audiences love on the stage the common facts of every-day life—how they thrill with joy at the sound of the postman’s knock, or the muffin bell, and how they rejoice when they see an actor, dressed like 351 a real gentleman, open a real umbrella or smoke a real cigar.* Mr. Robertson discovered this taste, and humoured it to the full. His comedies are minute cabinet pictures of society, admirably constructed for stage purposes, with a masterly perception of the tableau. As reading they are, of course, insufferable: that is no fault of the dramatist. Acted by the artistes of the Prince of Wales Theatre, they were simply perfection. It has been argued against them, with some show of reason, that as they deal with the most commonplace persons and incidents, they are hardly worth the trouble and expense of seeing, since the real persons and incidents are unfortunately too common to every one’s perception. “We don’t go to the theatre,” cry the severe critics of the drama, “to see lackadaisical school-girls flirting with imbecile guardsmen, to contemplate crockery and inhale the steam of real tripe at a real supper, to listen to the vapid conversation of vapid people such as we encounter daily; we go to hear great thoughts expressed in grand language, to have our souls exalted by noble situations, to mark the fiery conflict of passions, and the subtle lights and shades of human character.” This is all very well, and means just that they prefer Shakespeare to Robertson. But if we examine closely into the truth, we shall discover that Robertson, in his own way, was a poet too. No mere vapid realist could command such thorough success. His incidents may be commonplace, his characters may wear modern dresses and talk modern slang, but the fact is, he composed pictures which were pleasant to see on account of their artistic qualities. Those who do not understand how this can be, should read Mr. Browning’s “Fra Lippo Lippi”:—
“Have you noticed, now,
Your scullion’s hanging face? A bit of chalk,
And trust me that you should tho’?”
And though Polly Eccles and Sam Gerridge, and the rest, may not be worth much notice in real life, they had real colour and pleasantness as figures on the little stage near Tottenham Court Road. The best of Mr. Robertson’s dramas surpass the best of
— * In a West-end comedy recently produced, a leading scene represented a certain Park at dusk, when the chairs for visitors are gathered together and put away by a boy in buttons. The scene was recognized at once with delight, but the great point was the appearance of the real boy, who after his real work in the Park was done, repeated it on the stage nightly, for the delectation of the delighted audience, many of whom recognized him at once. —
352 Mr. Boucicault’s, as the best of Mr. Blackmore’s novels surpass the best of Mr. Trollope’s—by virtue of their gleams of simple poetic feeling. A maiden parting from her lover, a wife separated from her husband, a schoolgirl waking from her first dream, a soldier reading letters from home at the seat of war,—all these are simple figures enough, but they grow interesting in the light of a genuine emotion. I do not for a moment affirm that Mr. Robertson’s is high art; it is art of a kind. Its faults are those of the life it depicts: occasional heartlessness, shallow attempts at verbal wit, monotony of character-painting, the persistent representation of vulgar moods and modes.
“We call it pretty—that is, pretty well!”
But to deny that it evidences poetic skill is certainly unfair. There is obviously poetry in it,—of situation, of picture, though not of character and dialogue. This can scarcely be said of any other modern school of comedy. On another score, too, we owe gratitude to Mr. Robertson. He rebelled against the mock-heroic and stagy nonsense which had so long flooded the theatre. He determined at all hazards that his people should always be natural, his situations never artificial. He taught his actors to abandon their gasping “oh’s” and “ah’s,” their stage strides, their unnatural looks and gestures. He suggested that they should endeavour to speak as men and women in real life do, and as French actors and actresses generally try to do. With this purpose he simplified his characters, his scenes, and his dialogue. At first there was a difficulty. “Gentlemen” were wanted, and actors, as a rule, were not like “gentlemen.” The Gordian knot was solved by securing the real article, and more than one distinguished amateur was tempted, by the growth of society-dramas, to adopt the stage as a profession.
So far, the gain was clear. The Scylla of artificiality was avoided, but the Charybdis of common-place lay in the way; and, alas! on that fatal rock, the so-called Robertsonian school has split and sunk. The founder of the school died, having done good service to Art, and never, I believe, overstrained his natural pretensions. His very genius, however, deluded the public. A cry arose for realism, and the cry, which was answered to the heart’s content of the crier, has hardly yet died away. Instead of being kept for gauging actors and 353 acting of the cabinet kind, the Robertsonian test has been applied to greater actors and nobler acting; so that English performances have become more and more distinguished for a dull dead uniformity of mediocrity. Many people have gone to the extreme of renouncing the poetic drama altogether, on the score that it is not in the least like real life; forgetting that poetic language bears the same relation to high art that marble does to flesh, and though different in its superficial resemblances, resembles in its latent suggestions. Strong passions have been decried, strong gestures censured, strong emotions disliked, as offensive to the sense of realism. Dramatists have been afraid to take an imaginative flight, or to utter a flowery sentiment, from fear of the realist. The stage has lost dimensions, actors have lost dignity. Upholsterers and milliners have taken possession of a thousand theatres; and even the art of the scene painter, who used to produce grand effects by Turneresque delineations of the brush, has been exchanged by the microscopic skill of the Cabinet designer. The best proof of Mr. Robertson’s genius is that all these effects, which he instituted, are useless without him, and that in the one touch of poetry which redeemed all his imperfections he has never found a successor.
In the style of verbal wit of which he was so fond, he has found many. Perhaps the most conspicuous offender is Mr. H. J. Byron, who began his literary career as a burlesque writer, and who is now the most indefatigable caterer of “comedies” for the London stage. Mr. Byron has two qualifications for theatrical success—he understands stage business, and he is an irrepressible punster. In his pieces, a number of infinitely vulgar people—labelled respectively “noblemen,” “gentlemen,” “authors,” “ladies,” “shopkeepers,” “actors,” but all bearing the indescribable family likeness, assail each other with vulgar verbal quibbles from scene to scene, in utter defiance of probability, and with no attempt whatever at suitability or sequence. Characters these plays have none, save such as may be detected in “Boz’s” prentice-sketches, or extinct Adelphi farces. They do for the stage what Albert Smith’s novels did for the library, and they are relished, I suppose, by the same class of people. Their best feature is their innocence of all intent. Their worst is their vulgarity. They might be passed over in silence, if they did not constantly occupy the London stage, to the exclusion doubtless of productions of real merit. Mr. Albery’s “Two Roses” is of other and finer 354 quality,—a really genuine little play, although belonging also to the new school.
As I write, the reaction against mere realism, which began, doubtless, with the success of Mr. Wills and Mr. Irving, has culminated in some striking theatrical phenomena. A great actor, Signor Salvini, has appeared in London in an Italian translation of “Othello,” and his success has been in proportion to the originality—or what many think the outrageousness—of his conception. Sad to say, he has not entirely pleased the critics, some of whom accuse him of extravagance. The entire dramatic profession, however, with striking unanimity, has risen to do the great foreigner honour, and to recognize in his person the rights of the long-forgotten tragic Muse. Now for the first time, after long labouring under the delusion that Othello was a mild, hoarse-spoken blackamoor, who in the mildest possible way smothers his wife with an embroidered pillow, we discover the incarnate Moor, Titanic, terrible, striking down all opposition, raging on the torrent of his own wrath, haling Desdemona to death by the hair, and finally cutting his own throat with the most terrible realism of detail. A few years ago, this performance would have been hissed. To-day, audiences familiar with the horrors of the “Bells” greet it as the finest acting in the world. To my mind, it is entirely in the interests of Art that so powerful and original a reading of Shakespeare’s drama should have achieved this popularity; it encourages the hope that attempts at originality may soon be the rule, and not the exception, on the English stage. Anything weaker than the stereotyped conception of Othello can scarcely be imagined. Mr. Fechter essayed the part after he had created an unparalleled sensation by playing Hamlet in a flaxen wig; his mild, gentlemanly jeune premier with a black face, did not succeed in attracting the masses. He listened in the most well-bred manner to the insinuations of Iago, his strongest passions being conveyed by an open mouth, elevated shoulders, and turned out palms; and when he came to the murder, he did it as gingerly with his pillow as a careful father covering up a baby. It is said that Mr. Irving is going to try the character, and that he does not like Salvini’s conception. It is difficult to imagine Mr. Irving in any part demanding powerful physique or mighty passion. His appearance is cadaverous, and his voice is weak. His manners on the stage are dignified without grandeur. His pathos, when he 355 attempts pathos, is chiefly conveyed by a huskiness of the voice and a galvanic quivering of the hands. His success in “Hamlet” should not mislead him, for Hamlet is a character in which no actor has ever failed, so admirably helped is it at every point by the magnificent structure of the situations.* Mr. Irving is an actor of original genius, greater perhaps by reason of its very limitations than a genius more fluent in adapting itself to character foreign to itself. He would succeed as Richard III; he might succeed as Macbeth. I believe he would comparatively fail in “Othello,” in “Coriolanus,” or in other parts characterized by intellectual robustness or predominant passion.
Simultaneously with the success of Salvini’s passionate idealism, occurred the failure of Mr. Coghlan’s mild realism. When first the announcement appeared that the management of the Prince of Wales’ Theatre were about to produce “The Merchant of Venice,” with Mr. Coghlan in the chief character, playgoers expressed a very natural astonishment. The theatre had been the temple of the Robertsonian muse, and although since the dramatist’s death it had despairingly betaken itself to such ghastly pieces as Mr. Wilkie Collins’ “Man and Wife,” it had redeemed its own credit by the production of a pretty little trifle by Mr. Gilbert—“Sweethearts.” Mr. Coghlan was known as the jeune premier of the Robertsonian drama, an excellent actor, with occasional exhibitions of strength and insight, but certainly not one from whom was expected any high poetic exhibition. The experiment in the interest of realism has been made, and the failure has been complete. Mr. Coghlan’s quiet, gentlemanly Jew has been voted an impossibility, and worse, a bore. The famous scene between Shylock and Antonio dwindles down into a mild conversation between two courteous merchants.
Shy. Signor Antonio, many a time and oft,
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances:
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug;
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
— * Since the above was printed, Salvini’s “Hamlet” has startled London. The character so represented becomes what Hamlet might have been, had he been born in Tuscany, during the ducal reign of Francesco de Medici; it is full-blooded Italian, and resembles as little the Danish Prince of Shakespeare as the legendary “Amleth” of Oehlenschläger. —
356 You call me “misbeliever, cut-throat dog,”
And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine;
And all for use of that which is mine own.
Well, then, it now appears you need my help:
Go to, then: you come to me, and you say,
“Shylock, we would have moneys:” you say so;
You, that did void your rheum upon my beard,
And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur
Over your threshold. Moneys is your suit:
What should I say to you? Should I not say,
“Hath a dog money? Is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats?” Or
Shall I bend low, and in a bondman’s key,
With bated breath, and with a whispering humbleness,
“Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn’d me such a day; another time
You called me dog; and for these courtesies
I’ll lend you thus much moneys.”
Ant. I am as like to call thee so again,
To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.
If thou wilt lend this money, lend it not
As to thy friends; for when did friendship take
A breed for barren metal of his friend?
But lend it rather to thine enemy,
Who, if he break, thou may’st with better face
Exact the penalty.
Shy. Why, look you, how you storm!
Mr. Coghlan’s conception, that Shylock is generally made too open and snake-like a villain, a mouther and ranter whose every look and word would awaken suspicion, was doubtless right enough; but something more was wanted than mere negation of old readings to complete the part. It was foolish in the extreme not to perceive that the muse of Shakespeare and that of Robertson are hopelessly apart. True, even Shakespeare gains by a more natural style of gesture and delivery, such as Mr. Calvert has been endeavouring to cultivate in his admirable revivals at Manchester; mouthing and bellowing are always offensive and unsuitable, but one might as well play the Prometheus of Æschylus in gaiters instead of the cothurnus, and modern wigs instead of the mask, as deliver the grand style of drama in the easy conversational style of modern comedy. It is refreshing to think that even 357 the critics are unanimous in condemning this innovation. Had the attempt met with encouragement, we might soon have had a version of “Richard the Third” with, say, Mr. Arthur Cecil as Richard, and some other gentlemanly actor as Richmond. The mention of Mr. Cecil’s name reminds me that he has recently given us a genteel Touchstone without unction, and a Tony Lumpkin without animal spirits, quite in the emasculating manner of the Prince of Wales’ revival. Mr. Cecil is a young actor of great promise, but he should refrain from such rash grasping after the laurel. In his own line, as a character actor of cabinet parts, he is altogether excellent.
In the course of the above remarks on the modern stage and its productions, I have had occasion more than once to mention “the Critics," as we facetiously call these gentlemen, who “do” the dramatic reviews for the newspapers. It may be as well, for a few moments, to consider who these persons are, and what is their influence; not because they are worth consideration in themselves, but because they arrogate pretensions and try to adjudicate claims. “The good effected by criticism is infinitesimal,” writes a leading living critic; “the evil incalculable.” Certainly no wise man would go to his newspaper for the truth regarding either books or plays. Setting aside personal bias and prejudice, which is really at the bottom of all reviews written, one has only to consider for one moment who these are who write dramatic criticisms, to see at a glance that their opinion is of little or no value. A recent controversy in the World newspaper went to prove that dramatic critics were disappointed dramatic authors; quite a misconception on the whole, for I doubt if many of the gentlemen have even sufficient literary calibre for the production of any sort of play at all. The dramatic critics, for the most part, are small authors of Cockaigne, as nameless as they are incompetent, who, for a pittance, undertake work which few authors of position could be persuaded to do for an income. Noteworthy among them is the critic of the Times, Mr. John Oxenford. Everyone knows how the Times insults literature by inserting incompetent reviews of books in a supplement when no other matter presses, and conspicuous among them notices of works written by members of its own staff; and how, in defiance of decency, it retains as its dramatic censor an author who floods the stage with vulgar farces and dramas adapted from the French. I have no objection to Mr. Oxenford personally, 358 and am assured, indeed, that he does his work with as little prejudice as possible; but the mere fact of his being a constant contributor to the stage should debar him from pronouncing judgments on dramatic productions. If he were an author of high ambition, an author endeavouring, both by precept and practice, to elevate the drama, the case might be different; being what he is, a producer of stuff written merely for the market, he has no right to occupy his position one hour. It is impossible to deny that his connection with the Times gives him a commercial advantage over other authors, and that managers accept his farces when they would throw aside anybody else’s. I do not for a moment accuse Mr. Oxenford of malpractice; on the contrary, I believe him to be strictly honest, and in some particulars peculiarly genuine. The position he holds, however, is an anomalous one, too anomalous for poor human nature. He has been called, with truth, a “theatrical reporter;” if he were no more than that, he might be harmless. It is certain that in his character of dramatic author he is present at festivities where his presence as dramatic critic would be undignified. If, after Mr. John Oxenford is present at a dinner given to celebrate the incompetence of some aspiring lady amateur, we read mild encomiums of that lady amateur in the Times, what are we to infer? Mr. Oxenford has of late chiefly distinguished himself by indiscreet eulogies of dramatic failures. Mr. Albery is his special favourite. Shortly before the withdrawal of the drama called “Pride” from the Vaudeville, the Times, in a column of exaggerated praise, predicted for the piece a run even longer than that of the “Two Roses.” A few days afterwards “Pride” was laid low. Is it true, as I have heard, that Mr. Oxenford is a personal friend of Mr. Albery; and if so, again, what are we to infer? In any case, Mr. Oxenford writes too many worthless plays to be a trustworthy reporter of the modern theatre for the leading newspaper in the kingdom.
Turning elsewhere, we find that one, at least, of the contributors to the Daily Telegraph, Mr. Blanchard, is a worthy and unprejudiced gentleman; his only dramatic work being the admirable yearly pantomime at Drury Lane; as might have been expected, his reports seem well done and tolerably unbiassed. Of the critics of the Standard and Daily News, I know nothing save their names; so far as I am aware, they 359 have no vested interest in the drama. The critic of the Pall Mall Gazette, Mr. Dutton Cook, is so distinguished as a novelist and a writer of choice English, that it is extraordinary to find him among theatrical critics at all; it is to be presumed, however, that he writes en amateur, from love of the subject; and as his criticisms are not penned in the heat of overnight, and come from a genuine littérateur, they are about the best we get in the daily journals. Of the critics of weekly journals I know nothing. For the most part they take their tone from their daily brethren. Indeed, the singular unanimity of critics is most diverting. Where one sheep goes, the rest are sure to follow. Some of them perform double and triple functions. A little while ago, one gentleman, of whose achievements the present writer has taken careful note for years, with a view to future publication, “did” the notices for at least three newspapers, an evening daily, a literary weekly, and a semi-sporting weekly, and since it was necessary to adopt a peculiar tone and sometimes a different opinion in each case, his performances were highly astonishing. Besides this work, he “did” reviews of books and other general jobs. How the little men reconcile this whirligig business with their consciences it is difficult to conceive. It was one of this genus who, some little time ago, perpetrated a savagely malicious attack on Herr Bandmann, interspersed with warm praise of Mrs. Bandmann, who, it was said, entirely eclipsed her husband at a certain performance under notice. Unfortunately, Mrs. Bandmann had not acted at all on that occasion, and it was discovered on examination that the critic had not been present at the performance he condemned!
Now, the result of the notorious incompetence and carelessness of critics has been twofold; it has hardened the managers, and it has alienated the public. The managers find that newspapers cannot crush a good or popular piece; and the public discover that newspapers are no true guides as to what is and what is not admirable. Thus, what might have been an agent of good becomes useless and effete. This is the more to be regretted because the critics, despite all the faults of their incompetence, have recently shown a disposition to encourage poetic work, or work which they consider poetical, and to recognize the claims of such authors as endeavour to elevate the drama. Their knowledge may be inadequate, and their taste questionable, but they seem trying 360 with all their might to discover what is best, and if the managers paid them more respect and the public placed more confidence in them, they might really be of some service in preaching the cause of the higher drama.
Of the resuscitation of that drama, I believe there is hope; if I did not, it would hardly have been worth while to take the above retrospect. Just now the theatre is shunned by students, scorned more or less by littérateurs, despised entirely by philosophers. We are told on every side that the dramatic Muse is dead, and that she can never rise again.
“She is dead and gone, lady,
She is dead and gone;
At her head a grass green turf,
At her heels a stone.”
And over her stand Mr. Phelps and Mr. Hermann Vezin, in chimney-pot hats, while Mr. Chatterton intones her requiem. But the public know better. The dramatic Muse lives—will live as long as passions stir in men’s hearts, as long as thousands delight in the mimic stage. It is simply absurd for poets and philosophers to glance contemptuously at the theatre—at an art hallowed by the grandest achievements of the human intellect, and glorified by godlike names; and it is equally insane to lay the blame on modern actors and the modern public, when the real fault lies with the intellectual barrenness of this generation. Let a great dramatist arise, and he will find great actors, and perhaps a great manager. I do not say there would be no difficulties in the way, but I do aver that the reward and honour of the highest probable dramatic success would be greater than that hitherto achieved by any writer of this generation. Just now, the world, wealthy as it is in feminine and fantastic writers, wants a great masculine dramatist above all things. Such an one would take the stage as it is, with all its deficiencies, and out of given materials evolve a noble series of productions. He would be harassed by misconceptions and absurdities; but so were Euripedes and Racine. He would be often badly interpreted; but so were Sophocles and Molière. His grandest productions might be misunderstood; so were those of Æschylus himself. He might even have to “write in” inferior matter to tickle the groundlings; so did Shakespeare habitually. At no time in English history has the drama been recognized as the highest 361 department of literature; it has always been more or less despised by serious professors; and this fact has deterred many, as it deterred Milton,* from casting their conceptions in the dramatic form. For this, English criticism is certainly to blame. Many of our poets, such as Coleridge and Byron, have deliberately written “plays for the closet,” forgetting that the true home of a play is a theatre, the true destiny of a play to be acted—well or ill, as the case may be. This destiny has been filled by the highest masterpieces, from the “Prometheus” of Æschylus to the “Hamlet” of Shakespeare, from the “Ornithes” of Aristophanes to the “Tartuffe” of Molière. There are other dramas, like those masterpieces of Mr. Browning, compiled for representation, but not even the highest enthusiast in closet literature could represent any of these as of quite equal calibre.
“But,” cry the wiseacres, “the public must be amused, and the highest products of the human intellect are not amusing.” After this we shall be told that “Othello” does not draw the masses, and that “Le Malade Imaginaire” is not funny. “The finest productions of the Elizabethan period, for example, would fail to draw.” The finest productions do draw, whenever played; the inferior productions either fail, because they are ill-constructed and verbose, or are suppressed, because they are grossly indecent in subject and in language. There is an actor who parades the provinces, Mr. Barry Sullivan, a very clever performer of the old school, who succeeds so wonderfully, that a “Barry Sullivan house” represents the fullest triumph of the managerial exchequer; yet Mr. Sullivan’s repertoire consists chiefly of Shakespeare; his leading parts are Hamlet, Richard, and Othello. The late Mr. Charles Kean, though by no means a first-class actor, made a fortune by Shakespeare. Many other obscurer stars do likewise. By his revival of a dull play, “Henry V.,” Mr. Calvert, of Manchester, has achieved great successes, both in our provinces and in New York. Shakespeare, then, is amusing, after all. What the public find in Shakespeare they would find in any writer of kindred endowments. They do not want dull plays written for students by students, by poets for poets. They want the living, breathing drama, whether in the shape of a play by the great master or a trifle by Robertson. They want good construction,
— * See some striking particulars under this head in Mr. Masson’s admirable study of Milton’s life. —
362 good situation, fair insight into character, lively dialogue. When a play with these qualifications, fairly represented, fails, it will be time to talk of the indifference of the public. True, as I said at the outset, audiences are uneducated; it should be the task of dramatists to educate them—to guide their taste, which is on the whole excellent, into regular channels of legitimate enjoyment.
There are many points on which I should have liked to touch in this paper, and especially on the iniquitous “star” system, which is so fatal to the growth of a true school of acting in England. I find I must refrain. In conclusion, let me conjure those who represent our best intellectual forces to show a little interest in the modern stage; to encourage good performances; to cultivate an intellectual pleasure in the drama, as they do in other neglected causes; not to sit apart, speaking the language that Shakespeare spoke, and despising the art that Shakespeare loved. Retired students have no idea how much instruction is to be found in the theatre, even now. It is all very well to waken up now and again, when the fashion sets in favour of a Salvini. It would be far better to keep awake, encouraging the efforts of those who are doing their best to revive dramatic literature. The decadence of the drama is a delusion and a snare. The drama is vital; all its forces are living, though some of them are suspended. Let vulgar managers be discountenanced, even though they scatter their orders thick as leaves in Vallombrosa; let honest dramatists be encouraged, even if they do not show instantaneously the poetry of Webster or the wit of Sheridan; let modest actors be praised, immodest “stars” taught their responsibility to subordinate characters. In one word, let a genuine critical interest in dramatic art be manifested, and the Modern Stage may recover the respect of philosophy, and secure once more a place in the hearts of men.
Still stuck in the 20 year old internet, I’m never sure if the Greek letters will make it through the ancient program to ‘out there’, so I used google translate which came up with ‘Eternal Clouds’ and ‘Virgin raincoats’ - the first is probably ok, the second I have my doubts about, so I have added a screenshot below. Apologies, as ever, for my lack of Greek.