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Harriett Jay - theatre manager

     In September 1887 Buchanan sold the rights of Sophia (to Thomas Thorne for £600), and Harriett Jay took over the management of the Novelty Theatre in London. On 12th September she appeared as Lady Ethel Gordon in Buchanan’s play, The Blue Bells of Scotland (based on his novel, A Child of Nature) which got another lukewarm reception from the critics, although Oscar Wilde gave it a good review in The Lorgnette.
     On 6th October, there was a matinee performance of Fascination at the Novelty, starring Harriett Jay in what was probably her most successful role as Lady Madge Slashton. Fascination was subtitled, “a new and improbable  comedy,” and after the Novelty matinee, it opened at the Vaudeville Theatre on 19th January 1888. Harriett Jay played the heroine, whose fiancee has become ‘fascinated’ by another woman, so she assumes the identity of Charles Marlowe (another chance for Harriett Jay to play a male role), follows her fiancee to various exclusively male haunts, indulges in various male activities and makes a play for the attentions of ‘the other woman’. The critics were united in their praise for Harriett Jay’s performance.

“Miss Harriett Jay, as Lady Madge Slashton, had a difficult rôle to sustain, and one which in less competent hands might easily have degenerated into vulgarity. Fortunately, however, it was played with intelligence and spirit and was a clever piece of acting.” (The Times.)

“Miss Harriett Jay played with such consummate tact and judgment as Lady Madge Slashton as to secure the success of her character. Never for one moment did she lose sight of the fact that she was a high-born lady, and her assumption of the male impersonation was original and highly finished, whilst every now and then, when she fancied she had wasted her deepest affection on a worthless object, her uncontrollable bursts of womanly feeling were powerful yet full of tenderness.” (The Theatre.)

“On the other hand, it may be observed that a more plausible representative of the heroine in her dual capacity could hardly be found than Miss Harriett Jay. In her most feminine moments this versatile actress is never quite free from a suspicion of mannishness, and she wears a coat and trousers as though to the manner born. The piece owes much, therefore, to the presence of Miss Harriett Jay in the cast. Whether without her aid or that of some actress of similar physique the public would accept a modern Hippolyta or Rosalind is a question.” (The Times.)

“Of Miss Jay’s Lady Madge, we can only repeat what we have before said. She is artistic throughout the part, what might be made ridiculous by many is, through her talent, made to stand out as a triumph of dramatic art.” (The Stage.)

Fascination played at the Vaudeville Theatre until 29th February 1888, when it gave way to another Buchanan adaptation of Fielding, Joseph’s Sweetheart. The American version of Fascination, starring Cora Tanner, opened at the Fourteenth Street Theatre, New York on September 10th 1888 where it ran for over 50 performances before being taken on tour.
     The Theatre published a feature on Harriett Jay in their April 1888 issue, which concluded with the following:

“Miss Jay was the original Lady Ethel Gordon in “The Blue Bells of Scotland” at the Novelty, but her most remarkable performance was that of Lady Madge Slashton in “Fascination,” which was universally admitted to be one of the most original, clever, and artistic characterisations that had been seen.”

Despite her personal success with Fascination there now followed a two year lull in Harriett Jay’s activities. An item in The Stage on 1st June, 1888 announced a matinée of Buchanan’s The Bride of Love to be produced by Harriett Jay at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre, on June 21st, but there is no record that the performance took place. She did appear at a benefit concert in aid of Dr. Eldridge Spratt’s Sanatorium for Diseases of the Heart and Nervous System at the Steinway Hall, Seymour Street, London on November 13th 1888. As for her writing, her last appearance in print had been her contribution to the “What is the most striking incident in your professional experience?” feature of The Era Almanack of 1888, published in January of that year. Harriett Jay’s choice was an incident which had occurred at the Pavilion Theatre in August, 1885. The piece has added interest since, like all the other contributions, it is printed in its original form, so not only preserving a copy of her handwriting, but also her rather cavalier approach to punctuation.
     Buchanan, on the other hand, was enjoying a prolific period of success. Joseph’s Sweetheart proved nearly as popular as Sophia and he had another hit with Partners, which he had written for Herbert Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket Theatre. Even his poetry was beginning to be recognised again, A City of Dream being praised by W. E. H. Lecky at the annual banquet of the Royal Academy of Arts in May 1888. Unfortunately at the same occasion Robert Browning made his dismissive remark about Buchanan “the writer of plays”, which reinforced Buchanan’s doubts about the artistic merits of his theatre work and perhaps led to his attempt to create something a little more elevated with The Bride of Love. Buchanan’s successful run continued into 1889 with That Doctor Cupid at the Vaudeville Theatre and A Man’s Shadow at the Haymarket. Harriett Jay was not involved in any of these productions but on May 31st 1889 she did attend the first ‘Literary Ladies’ Dinner’ at the Criterion Restaurant, London, where according to a report in the New Zealand paper, the Te Aroha News:

“Massive Miss Harriet Jay (gorgeously arrayed in pink liberty silk) replied to the toast of the drama.”

     On 21st May 1890, Harriett Jay returned to the stage in a matinée performance of The Bride of Love at the Adelphi Theatre. The Stage printed the following item on 28th March:

“In last week’s London appeared an interview with Miss Harriett Jay, during the course of which that clever lady confessed that before long she would undertake a part in Robert Buchanan’s new four-act blank verse play, The Bride of Love, promised at a matinée. In this Miss Jay has a character over which she went into raptures with her interviewer, for she said to him in answer to his question, “Have you a good part?”: “Such a one as it has been the dream of my life to play. It is a piece which one should play and be satisfied with having lived long enough to do so.” From which I take it that a rare intellectual treat is shortly to be placed before the critics.”

In Chapter 24 of Robert Buchanan Harriett Jay writes the following about The Bride of Love:

     “Meantime, not satisfied with his ventures at the Vaudeville and the Adelphi, he had produced on his own responsibility at the last-named theatre, for a matinée performance, a poetical play founded on the story of “Cupid and Psyche,” and called the “Bride of Love.” It was written in blank verse throughout, and was highly poetical and imaginative, too much so for the English public, who will only tolerate such experiments when they are made the occasion for gorgeous scenery. The scenery at the Adelphi, though correct and adequate, was inexpensive. In this production I myself played the part of Psyche, Miss Letty Lind that of Euphrosyne, Mr. Thalberg that of Eros, Mr. Lionel Rignold that of Zephyr, and the late Miss Ada Cavendish that of Venus Aphrodite. The reception of the “Bride of Love” on its first production was so encouraging that Mr. Buchanan was induced to take the Lyric Theatre and to reproduce the play there for a “regular run.” This was a serious mistake, as he made no attempt to improve the scenery, but trusted to the mere poetry of the piece to draw the public. After his long experience of the stage he ought to have known better.
     There is no modern instance, I think, of a poetical play attracting audiences on its own merits apart from the arts of the showman and the tricks of the scene-painter. This experiment cost him some thousands of pounds, nor was he much consoled, I fancy, by the almost daily receipt of letters from unknown admirers congratulating him on the work.”

Of Harriett Jay’s performance as Psyche, The Scotsman’s review of the matinée included the following:

“The play was competently acted. Miss Harriett Jay, as Psyche, has good intentions and is evidently an earnest student of acting, but her execution leaves a good deal to be desired. She has tenderness, but she lacks power.”

Whereas The Times thought “Miss Harriet Jay played the part of Psyche admirably”. And The Theatre, in a review illustrated by drawings of the cast (including Harriett Jay), commented:

“Miss Harriett Jay, for whom the part of Psyche has been written, after the first few lines delivered the text with sympathetic grace and true poetic feeling.”

The Bride of Love opened in the evening bill of the Lyric Theatre on June 9th 1890 and closed a month later on July 11th. It was replaced with Buchanan’s adaptation of Rhoda Broughton’s novel Nancy. Sweet Nancy starred Annie Hughes as Nancy and Harriett Jay as her sister, Barbara. Buchanan’s lease of the Lyric Theatre ended on 1st August, but Harriett Jay later took over the management of the Royalty Theatre and produced Sweet Nancy, opening on 6th October and closing on 17th November. Annie Hughes was the star of the play receiving excellent reviews, whereas those for Harriett Jay in her supporting role were mixed:

“Miss Harriet Jay as Barbara is amateurish.” (The Scotsman.)

“Miss Harriett Jay was a very sweet brave girl as Barbara; but I am inclined to think that the love of the sisters would have been sufficiently apparent without quite so much embracing and twining of arms about each other.” (The Theatre.)

“Miss Harriet Jay’s staid, subdued Barbara afforded a valuable foil to the exuberant vitality of Miss Hughes’s Nancy.” (The Guardian.)

According to Harriett Jay, in Robert Buchanan, the play’s run was curtailed by Annie Hughes falling ill:

“An attempt was made to find a substitute for this delightful comédienne, but the only possible one was Miss Norreys, who was not at that time available. Without Miss Hughes “Sweet Nancy” was absolutely worthless, so perfect in its captivation had been her rendering of the character, so the piece was   withdrawn.”

     Although The Bride of Love and Sweet Nancy had not been that successful, and Buchanan had lost a great deal of money on the former, he had recently begun collaborating with G. R. Sims to produce a series of melodramas for the Adelphi. The first of these, The English Rose, premiered on 2nd August 1890 and was an immediate and tremendous hit. As soon as its success was assured, Buchanan sold his share in the play for £2500. By this time Buchanan had moved from Southend to 25 Maresfield Gardens - their next door neighbour was the future Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. In the 1891 census, the household consisted of Robert Buchanan (widower, 49, author), Margaret Buchanan (mother, widow, 74, ‘living on her own means’) and Harriett Jay (sister-in-law, single, 36, authoress and actress). Also listed is Louise Dear (niece, single, 25 - the daughter of Harriett Jay’s sister, Eliza) and three servants: a housemaid, a cook and a coachman.


Harriett Jay - teacher

     The years spent at Maresfield Gardens, from 1890 to 1894, were perhaps the most successful of Buchanan’s career. His collaboration with Sims and the Adelphi gave him another hit with The Trumpet Call and there were four more plays to follow, albeit with diminishing returns. His poetry was also noticed again in 1893 with the publication of The Wandering Jew. On the other hand, Harriett Jay - authoress and actress - was doing little of either. After Sweet Nancy Harriett Jay seems to have given up her acting ambitions, and there were no new novels or plays, just a short story, ‘My Luggage’, published, in two parts, in The Theatre in August and September, 1890. On 15th April, 1891 at Steinway Hall (according to a report in The Middlesex Courier), she gave a recitation at a concert by the pupils of the South Hampstead branch of Harrow Music School, on the occasion of the annual distribution of certificates.
     In The Era on 31st January, 1891, among the list of actors and actresses, engaged and ‘resting’, was this:


A second version appeared in the next edition and was reprinted throughout the year until 20th February, 1892:


     1894 opened with another theatrical success for Buchanan, The Charlatan, starring Herbert Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket. In February Dick Sheridan started a two month run at the Comedy Theatre. However, despite Buchanan’s apparent financial stability, his grasp of economics had not improved over the years. He still had debts from the failures at the Lyric Theatre and although G. R. Sims had provided him with some of his greatest successes, he had also introduced Buchanan to the dubious pleasures of gambling on horse races.
     Buchanan’s next play, written in collaboration with Henry Murray (who was also living at 25, Maresfield Gardens at the time), was A Society Butterfly, a vehicle for Lillie Langtry. Buchanan financed the entire production which opened at the Opéra Comique on 10th May. The play was an unmitigated disaster and on 12th June, 1894 a receiving order was made against Buchanan and he was declared bankrupt with debts of £15,672. The details of Buchanan’s finances were reported in the papers and it was revealed that he had lost £5000 on The Bride of Love, £1500 on A Society Butterfly and his gambling debts amounted to £1200. A greater blow to Buchanan was the death of his mother in November 1894. Buchanan’s great friend Roden Noel had also died in May of that year.
     Harriett Jay, opens Chapter 29 of Robert Buchanan, with the following sentence:

“From the blow of his mother’s death he never really recovered, and though he returned to his work it was not with the same heart, the same enthusiasm.”

On 29th November 1894 Buchanan applied for an order of discharge in the bankruptcy court, hoping to clear all his debts. However the judgment given (according to the report in The Times) was as follows:

“Mr. Registrar Giffard, in giving judgment, said it appeared that the debtor had been able to earn £1,500 a year in the past by his writings, and there was no reason why he should not do so in the future. He was a man of great ability and versatility, and his works were very popular, and it was only reasonable that some provision should be made for the creditors. The offences alleged by the Official Receiver had not been displaced, and the order of the Court would be that the debtor be discharged subject to his setting aside one half of his income over and above £900 per annum until the unsecured creditors had received dividends amounting to 7s. 6d. in the pound, the debtor to file accounts annually of his receipts.”

On 14th May, 1895 Harriett Jay was also declared bankrupt. Her debts amounted to £385 and according to a report in The Scotsman: “The debtor further asserts she has no property or assets, and that her income since 1890 has been very small.” By this time Buchanan and Jay had left 25, Maresfield Gardens. According to a report in The Times of her meeting with the Official Receiver:

“Her insolvency was attributable to a liability of £380 on a bill which she accepted about four years ago for the accommodation of her brother-in-law, Mr. Robert Buchanan. She never expected to be asked to meet the bill. Some furniture of which she was possessed had been sold by the landlord in respect of rent due from Mr. Buchanan. Replying to Mr. Colyer, the debtor stated that she became obliged to discontinue acting owing to an accident.”


Charles Marlowe

     Harriett Jay had been in virtual retirement for the past five years, however at this point, when Buchanan had lost everything, she seems to have taken charge and collaborated with Buchanan on a series of plays. The first of these, The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown opened at the Vaudeville Theatre on 26th June 1895. It was produced by Frederick Kerr, who took the title role - the play is a variation on Charley’s Aunt - and was an immediate success. This was the first play by Robert Buchanan and ‘Charles Marlowe’, the latter the pseudonym of Harriett Jay, the name of the male character she assumed in their earlier collaboration, Fascination. Why Harriett Jay chose to adopt a pseudonym at this time is not known. Perhaps since the play appeared while she was still officially bankrupt (she was not discharged until July), there might have been a legal or, at least, a financial reason. Or it may have been another attempt by Buchanan to fool the public with a pseudonym and gain some extra publicity when the trick was revealed. After her later success with When Knights Were Bold an article did appear in several American newspapers under the title ‘Names of Men Used By Women: Interesting Reasons Given by Novelists for Writing under Masculine Pseudonym’ which gave her own explanation. This is from The Washington Post of 28th February, 1909:

“Some interesting reasons why women novelists choose to write under masculine pseudonyms are given by a number of famous English writers as follows:
     Charles Marlowe (Miss Harriett Jay)—I write plays under the name of “Charles Marlowe” because, being a novelist as well as a dramatist, I think it better to keep the one quite distinct from the other.
     My reason for choosing this particular name is simple. When the idea of using a dramatic nom de plume first occurred to me, I happened to be writing a comedy which was afterward produced at the vaudeville theater under the title of “Fascination.” The leading part in this play—that of a girl who impersonates a boy —I created myself, and made in it a great success. The name of the girl was “Lady Madge Hazelton,” that of the boy “Charles Marlowe.” I have used the name ever since.”

On 7th October The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown transferred to the Terry’s Theatre and on 2nd December it was produced at the Standard Theatre in New York.
     Buchanan continued to write novels to make some money: a novelisation of The Charlatan, written in collaboration with Henry Murray, appeared at the beginning of 1895 and Diana’s Hunting and Lady Kilpatrick at the end of the year. He also rose to the defence of Oscar Wilde, after his arrest, with a series of letters in The Star in April 1895. And he does not seem to have lost his love of financial speculation, since, presumably on the strength of the success of The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, in February 1896 he embarked on another wild scheme and set up in business as his own publisher. His main intention was to publish his own poetry, both reissuing old titles and his new works. However he did publish one novel under the ‘Robert Buchanan’ imprint, a novelisation of The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, by Charles Marlowe. This appeared in February 1897 and was Harriett Jay’s final novel. The Scotsman reviewed it thus:

“A three-act comedy has already been founded on The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, and perusal of the tale might even suggest that it was originally written for stage presentation. The characters are the beings of modern comedy; the main incidents demand of the reader a certain blindness to probability commonly required in drama. The story is that of the marriage of a ward in Chancery to a young military captain. The marriage ceremony is scarcely performed when Angela is recaptured by her guardian, and conveyed back to the boarding-school from which she has fled. Thither her husband follows her, dressed in female attire; and the doings of the harmless Don Juan, who goes by the name of Miss Brown, are amusing enough. In the end, when everything has reached a crisis, it is announced that the captain has succeeded to a peerage. The objections to the marriage are thus removed, and the course of true love is smoothed. The tale is entertainingly written.”

     After the success of The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown, which had its final performance at Terry’s Theatre on 8th February 1896, their next production was The Romance of the Shopwalker which opened at the Vaudeville Theatre on 26th February 1896, starring Weedon Grossmith. Grossmith had been offered another play, Good Old Times, a variation on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but he had turned it down. An item in The Stage of 6th February, 1896 revealed the identity behind ‘Charles Marlowe’:

The Romance of a Shopwalker has been written by Robert Buchanan and “Charles Marlowe,” the latter nom de guerre standing, I think, for clever Miss Harriett Jay.”

And on the opening night in response to the call for the authors, Harriett Jay accompanied Robert Buchanan onto the stage. The occasion was recalled in a piece about female playwrights in a New Zealand paper, The Star, on 22nd November, 1898:

“It is said that the notion of a lady author is so new that it is not readily grasped by theatre-goers, and an amusing occurrence took place on one occasion in consequence. It was the first night of the “Romance of the Shopwalker,” which was written by Miss Harriet Jay, sister-in-law of Robert Buchanan. At the usual call for the author, a beautiful lady in evening dress appeared before the footlights, and acknowledged the thundering applause that greeted her. The lady was “Charles Marlowe”—her nom-de-plume which was set on the programme. But the cry for the author still went up, and Miss Jay presented herself again. Whereupon some of the galleryites grew obstreperous, and shrieked out: “Never mind her; let’s have Charlie!” The lady author once more came before the curtain, and the galleryites, seeing their mistake, gave one terrific cheer, and subsided, fully satisfied with “Charlie’s” work.”

The Romance of the Shopwalker took its inspiration from Samuel Warren’s Ten Thousand a Year, but there were also claims from David Christie Murray (Henry Murray’s brother) that Buchanan and Jay had stolen the plot from his novel, The Way of the World. Letters were exchanged in The Era, including two from Harriett Jay.
     The Romance of the Shopwalker lasted a month at the Vaudeville and then Weedon Grossmith took it on tour. Buchanan and Jay’s next effort was The Wanderer from Venus; or Twenty-four Hours with an Angel which opened at the Grand Theatre, Croydon on 8th June 1896. On the opening night, Harriett Jay appeared on stage as a last-minute replacement for Miss Vera Beringer. This is the last known appearance of Harriett Jay, the actress. George Bernard Shaw had this to say about the play:

“The play is a variation on the Pygmalion and Galatea theme. It is full of commonplace ready-made phrases to which Mr. Buchanan could easily have given distinction and felicity if he were not absolutely the laziest and most perfunctory workman in the entire universe, save only when he is writing letters to the papers, rehabilitating Satan, or committing literary assault and battery on somebody whose works he has not read. I cannot help suspecting that even the trouble of finding the familiar subject was saved him by a chance glimpse of some review of Mr. Wells’ last story but one. Yet the play holds your attention and makes you believe in it: the born storyteller’s imagination is in it unmistakably, and saves it from the just retribution provoked by the author’s lack of a good craftsman’s conscience.”

Shaw had also admitted to liking both The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown and The Romance of the Shopwalker.
     As well as the plays which made it to the stage, Buchanan and Jay were working on several others which didn’t. The New Don Quixote, written for Arthur Bourchier of the Royalty Theatre, ran into problems with the official censor and only managed a copyright performance on 19th February, 1896. There was also a comic opera set in the future, when the country is being run by women, called The Maiden Queen. Although this was written in 1896, the only performance (again for copyright purposes) did not take place until 1905. Work also began in 1896 on an adaptation of Sarah Grand’s novel, The Heavenly Twins, but this was never produced. And on 14th November, 1896 this item appeared in The Era:

     “MESSRS ROBERT BUCHANAN and CHARLES MARLOWE have also ready a new wildly farcical piece, to follow their Strange Adventures of Miss Brown. The title is Oh! Anastasia, and the piece is described as “a cyclone, in two storms and a hurricane.” The leading character, from whom the piece takes its name, has been offered to Mrs John Wood.”

Again, this was never produced and the next play from Buchanan and Jay to reach the stage was not a comedy, but a melodrama. The Mariners of England, after a week at the Grand Theatre in Nottingham, opened at London’s Olympic Theatre on 9th March, 1897 and closed a month later. There were similarities in plot to Buchanan’s earlier nautical drama, A Sailor and his Lass, but the main attraction of the play was the inclusion of Lord Nelson and scenes of Trafalgar. The following year Harriett Jay wrote to The Era explaining that they had sold all their rights in the play and had their names removed from future productions because “the attempt to celebrate the achievement of a real national Hero has been construed, in some quarters, into sympathy with more ignoble manifestations of the national (or Jingo) spirit”. The scenes involving Nelson at Trafalgar were later extracted from The Mariners of England and were performed on their own, originally at the Coliseum, Glasgow on 29th May, 1911, under the title, ’Twas In Trafalgar’s Bay. The first production in London took place at the South London Palace on 4th March, 1912, with the title amended to Trafalgar and it was also being performed around the country during the First World War.
     There was a gap of twenty months before their next play, Two Little Maids from School (an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ Les Demoiselles de St. Cyr). In November 1898, Buchanan hired the Metropole Theatre in Camberwell for a week and produced the play himself, hoping to transfer it to the West End the following year. Although he lost money on the production and despite the lukewarm reviews, Harriett Jay, in Robert Buchanan, says that the play was a success and the transfer would have gone ahead if Buchanan had not fallen ill.
     Buchanan suffered an attack of angina in January 1899, which was followed by influenza and double pneumonia. In March 1899 Buchanan applied to the Royal Literary Fund for a grant of £150. In June, Buchanan and Jay left London for Pevensey Bay, a seaside resort in the East Sussex. The following is from Chapter 22 of Robert Buchanan:

“We remained at Pevensey Bay till the second week in October, and had a very happy time there. The roads were good, and he took up his cycling with relish, and he equally enjoyed his dips in the sea. We made one or two excursions to Bexhill, visiting together the places which we had known so many years before; we put up a tent on the shore and spent most of our time in the open air, taking our meals in the tent even on wet days. We had a succession of visitors, and only a few hundred yards from our front door stood the house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Slaughter, both jovial and most delightful companions. They, too, had their visitors, and we formed a little colony in ourselves. We all cycled, we all played cricket, we all enjoyed to the full the sunny blue skies and the rippling waves of the sea, and it seemed to me that Mr. Buchanan was laying in a stock of health which would last him for many years.”

     During the summer of 1899 the duo were at work on another play, this time for Mrs. Langtry. The Diamond Necklace was finished and the U.S. copyright was registered at the Library of Congress by Mrs. Langtry on 2nd March, 1900. However, it was never produced, and in April 1901, Mrs. Langtry replaced it with another play on the same subject, A Royal Necklace by Pierre and Claude Berton, at the Imperial Theatre, London. It has to be said that Buchanan never had much luck with Lillie Langtry.
     In October, 1899 Buchanan and Jay returned to London. In December they went to Hastings so that Buchanan could try the Nauheim Baths treatment which was touted as a cure for heart disease. They returned to London at the beginning of 1900. In the Spring they moved to Deal in Kent and spent July at Cap Gris-nez in northern France. They returned to England in August and early in September moved to Boscombe near Bournemouth. Buchanan continued cycling and returned to writing poetry. Buchanan’s health and mood improved and on 8th October 1900 they moved back to London and took rooms at 9, Duchess Street, Portland Place, where later that month the following occurred:

     “The next morning, Friday, October 19th, his high spirits had not deserted him, for I heard him whistling merrily before he came in to breakfast. I asked him if the muddled vision had troubled him again, and he replied in the negative, assuring me that he felt particularly well in every way. Breakfast over and the morning papers read, we set off on our bicycles together.
     After a ride in Regent’s Park, which lasted close upon two hours, we returned home. He partook of a hearty lunch, and then fell asleep in an easy chair beside the fire. He awoke refreshed, and after he had drunk a cup of tea and had written some half-dozen letters, proposed that we should cycle again. “I should like to have a good spin down Regent Street,” he said. Those were the last words he ever spoke, for five minutes later the cruel stroke had descended upon him which rendered him helpless as a little child.”
                                                   (Robert Buchanan Chapter XXX: “The Last Scene Of All.”)

     Buchanan did not recover from the massive stroke which left him in a paralysed state for the next eight months. The news of his condition was reported regularly in the press for the first few weeks, then Buchanan was forgotten. On 1st November, 1900 Buchanan was moved by ambulance to Streatham. On 21st November another application was made to the Royal Literary Fund on Buchanan’s behalf. His application was supported by John Coleman and J. M. Barrie and he received a grant of £150.
     In the 1901 census (taken on the night of 31st March), Buchanan and Jay are living at 90 Lewin Road, Streatham. Eliza Dear, Harriett Jay’s older sister, is also listed as a ‘Sick Nurse’. Buchanan is described as ‘Author, Poet & Novelist’, whereas Jay is an ‘Author and Novelist’. There is no mention of the stage. Harriett Jay also gives her age as 38, although she is 47 at the time. Presumably Harriett Jay provided the information for the census return since she gives Buchanan’s birthplace as Caverswall, Lancashire, a mistake which she repeats in Robert Buchanan.
     The following item appeared in The Guardian on 16th April 1901:

“Mr. Robert Buchanan, whose illness a few months back aroused widespread interest, is still lying in a half- helpless condition; and it is now announced (says the “Westminster Gazette”) that his devoted attendant, his sister-in-law, Miss Harriet Jay, the well-known authoress and actress, is confined to bed with an attack of pneumonia supervening on influenza.”

Robert Buchanan died on the morning of Monday, 10th June, 1901, at 90, Lewin Road, Streatham. The immediate cause of death was congestion of the lungs. He was 59 years old. The funeral took place on June 14th and he was buried alongside his wife and mother in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist in Southend-on-Sea.


Harriett Jay - biographer

     On June 18th a receiving order was made against the estate of Robert Buchanan, which led to another hearing in the bankruptcy court. According to the report in The Times:

     “The Chairman said he was informed that the debtor possessed no assets, and it was probably within the knowledge of the creditors that he was adjudged bankrupt some years ago. In the course of those proceedings an order was made that he should set aside any income in excess of £900, but the order was unproductive.
     No resolution being passed, the matter remained in the hands of the Official Receiver.”

Another report, in The Scotsman of 29th June, gives some more information regarding Harriett Jay’s financial situation at this time:

“In October last, when Robert Buchanan was suddenly stricken down by a paralysis from which he never recovered, his personal friends and admirers subscribed a fund for his relief. It served an admirable purpose by soothing and, as far as possible, making comfortable the last hours of the novelist. The end came so quickly that the money was not fully expended. After paying all expenses, including the cost of the funeral, there remains a balance of over £150. It is intended, in pursuance of what is recognised as comfortable with Buchanan’s wishes in the matter, that this shall be handed over to his adopted daughter, Miss Harriett Jay, who nursed him through his long illness.”

     In August, 1901 Harriett Jay launched a public appeal for a memorial to Robert Buchanan. At this time Harriett Jay was also working on her biography of Buchanan. On 22nd May, 1902 the following item appeared in The Stage:

“Miss Harriett Jay’s life of Robert Buchanan will not be published until after the Coronation. Miss Jay, who has just written a play with Mdme. Sarah Grand, has been staying at Southend while completing the work. Among the contributors to the Buchanan Memorial Fund are many eminent names, notably that of Mr. Herbert Spencer. It is understood that many of the dramatist’s admirers incline towards the erection of a drinking fountain in Southend, opposite Buchanan’s former residence, as the most suitable form for the memorial.”

The play which Harriett Jay had ‘just written ... with Mdme. Sarah Grand’ was The Heavenly Twins, which had begun life as a Buchanan/Marlowe project and which was never produced on stage. Harriett Jay’s Robert Buchanan. Some Account of his Life, his Life’s Work, and his Literary Friendships was published by T. Fisher Unwin in February, 1903. The critical response to the book was lukewarm, E. V. Lucas in The Times Literary Supplement questioning whether Buchanan deserved a biography at all:

“Robert Buchanan, neither by performance nor by character, was subject for the near-of-kin pedestrian biographer; but he was eminently fitted for the brief monograph by a student of men and letters. The facts of his life, after his childhood and youth were over, were unimportant. His work was rarely better than second- rate in any of the many departments of intellectual industry which he attempted; his friends were not notable, nor was his own personality conspicuous. He wrote nothing that will endure, such was his fecundity and want of distinction and style. He wrote a little good poetry, but much that was indifferent; he wrote little good criticism (although much that by its wrongheadedness made other people think); he wrote second-rate novels and second-rate plays. We dislike to have to put the case thus baldly; but it is necessary to show why Robert Buchanan, in common with too many other men whose biographies make heavy volumes, was no subject for the painstaking treatment which has been accorded him.”

It is true that the book is not a critical biography of Buchanan, more a cut-and-paste job, bringing together extracts from Buchanan’s own unpublished autobiography, letters and odd chapters of appreciation written by his friends. The areas which one might expect Harriett Jay to illuminate with her personal knowledge, such as Buchanan’s marriage and their theatrical collaborations, are disappointing. There is an obvious attempt by Harriett Jay to disguise her age in relation to her early recollections of Buchanan but there is no obvious reason for her reticence in the later period.
     On 25th July 1903 the memorial to Robert Buchanan was unveiled over his grave in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist in Southend-on-Sea. This report appeared in The Observer the following day:

     “MEMORIAL TO ROBERT BUCHANAN.—Yesterday afternoon, in the presence of a large congregation, a memorial to the late Robert Buchanan, which has been erected in St. John’s Churchyard, Southend, was unveiled. Mr. T. P. O’Connor, M.P., and Miss Harriet Jay (the deceased poet’s sister-in-law) approached the monument together, and as Miss Jay removed the covering, Mr. O’Connor declared the bust unveiled, and handed it over to the custody of the vicar and churchwardens. He afterwards gave an address.”


When Knights Were Bold

     The subsequent career of Harriett Jay was still linked with that of Buchanan. The biography was the last work to appear solely under her own name. On 6th April 1905, The Maiden Queen, a comic opera in two acts, written by Buchanan and Harriett Jay, with music by Florian Pascal, was given a copyright performance at Ladbroke Hall, London. The libretto was published in 1908 but there is no evidence that the piece was ever produced theatrically apart from that 1905 performance.
     On 6th June 1905 Harriett Jay applied again to the Royal Literary Fund. She was sponsored by Hall Caine and R. E. Francillon and received a grant of £100. One presumes at this point that she was still living in comparative poverty. This was about to change. On 9th September she signed a contract with the actor James Welch regarding the performing rights of the play Good Old Times (the 1896 play which had been offered to Weedon Grossmith, who had turned it down in favour of The Romance of the Shopwalker.) Under the agreement James Welch was granted the sole right to perform the play in any place or country whatever, and also the sole right to license the performance of any adaptation or translation of it, and he was also at liberty to make any reasonable alteration in the play. Harriett Jay was to receive for every performance in any West-end London theatre three guineas, and one pound ten shillings for each performance in any provincial town and London suburban theatre specified in a schedule to the agreement, and £1 for every performance in any other provincial town in Great Britain. Welch paid Jay £100 for a year’s option on the play and a year later, on September 17th 1906, Good Old Times by Robert Buchanan and Harriett Jay, had its first performance at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham under its new title, When Knights Were Bold. The sole writing credit was ‘Charles Marlowe’. Variations on the following article appeared in a number of American newspapers, including, on 14th December, 1906, The San Francisco Call:


The play opened in London at Wyndham’s Theatre on 29th January, 1907 and was an immediate success. It ran for 579 performances, closing on 22nd August, 1908. In the list of long-running plays in London’s West End between 1875 and 1919 When Knights Were Bold comes in at number 41. Not only was it Harriett Jay’s greatest success in the West End (Alone in London had only clocked up 107 performances), it was also Robert Buchanan’s, despite the absence of his name.
     Why Harriett Jay chose to remove Buchanan’s name from the play is not known. Considering she had not had anything produced since Two Little Maids from School in 1898, and had published nothing since the biography in 1903, and in 1905 was still reliant on grants from the Royal Literary Fund, it is doubtful that she had any idea of how successful a ten year old play like When Knights Were Bold would become. Perhaps the fact that she had given James Welch carte blanche to alter the text in any way he saw fit, made it more suitable to remove Buchanan’s name and have it appear under her own pseudonym. Perhaps there was still a problem with Buchanan’s debtors and the bankruptcy court. Whatever the reason, When Knights Were Bold was performed at Wyndham’s Theatre with the sole writing credit of ‘Charles Marlowe’. And it continued to be performed around the country, and the world, for the next thirty years. It became a regular Christmas entertainment in London until the outbreak of the Second World War.
     According to the 1911 census, Harriett Jay was now living at 144 Plashet Grove, East Ham, Essex (now part of the London Borough of Newham). Her age is given as 48 (actually 57) and her occupation as Novelist. The house has eight rooms and she lives there with a German nurse/companion, Kabrina Klaus, and a housemaid, May Mars.
     In April 1915, British Cinema Productions acquire the film rights to all of Buchanan’s novels. In their contract with Chatto & Windus they “agree to produce films of at least two of the said works each year from 31st May 1915”. Harriett Jay receives royalties from the films. In 1916 there were also two film versions of When Knights Were Bold, one starring James Welch, and the other made in Italy, entitled Il Cavaliere del Silenzio. James Welch died on 10th April, 1917 and Harriett Jay then issued a writ against his widow, claiming that the agreement made in September 1905 regarding the performing rights of When Knights Were Bold was personal to Mr. Welch and ceased to be operative on his death. The case of Harriett Jay v. Mrs. Amy Hannah Welch was heard in the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice on 20th July, 1917. During his illness James Welch had made an arrangement with Bromley Challenor to take over his role of Sir Guy de Vere for which Welch received 5% of the gross takings and Harriett Jay received 40% of that. On 19th October, an agreement is reached in the case. Harriett Jay remained “the sole proprietor of the play” after coming to a financial arrangement with Mrs. Welch. Presumably she then made a new agreement with Bromley Challenor who continued to tour the play until his death in 1935.
     In 1925, according to her entry in Who’s Who In The Theatre, Harriett Jay was now living at 20, Seymour Gardens, Ilford, Essex. On 29th June, 1928, she made her will, and on 9th December of the following year, added a codicil, bequeathing all rights to When Knights Were Bold to her nephew, William Paul Jay. 1929 also saw the third film version of When Knights Were Bold, directed by Tim Whelan, which was originally filmed as a silent film, but dialogue sequences were reshot and it was released as a ‘talkie’.
     Harriett Jay died on 21st December, 1932 at ‘The Cottage’, 20, Seymour Gardens, Ilford, Essex. She was 79 years old. The obituaries in The Scotsman and The Times mentioned that she had died “after a long illness”. More information was provided in this obituary from a Canadian newspaper, The Lethbridge Herald:


Harriet Jay, Author of ‘When
Knights Were Bold’
Battled With Blindness


     Ilford, Eng.—Two servants and a parrot were for many years the only companions of Miss Harriet Jay, author of the famous farce “When Knights were Bold,” and other dramas and novels, who has just died here in seclusion.
     Miss Jay wrote “When Knights were Bold” more than 25 years ago under the pen-name of Charles Marlowe and ever since it has been popularly supposed that the author was a man.
     So persistent has been this belief that only a few people in this Essex town, where she had lived in extreme seclusion for the past decade, knew who she was or what she had written.
     Miss Jay’s life here was due to a decree of her doctors that if she did not give up writing and reading she would go blind.
     She accepted the decree protestingly and left her home in central London, where playwrights, actors, novelists, and poets used to call on her, to live in the more rural surroundings of Ilford.
     Two maids looked after her. Miss Jay’s eyes gradually became worse, and some weeks before her death she was completely blind.
     “When Knights were Bold,” her last play, yielded royalties which gave her an ample income. It has been one of the biggest money-makers in British stage history, taking second place among the perennial farces only to “Charley’s Aunt.”
     It made people in many parts of the world laugh. It was first produced in 1906, and the late James Welch, the famous comedian, was said to have made over £20,000 from his interest in the piece alone not counting his salaries from acting in it.
     Miss Jay, before this piece brought her a fortune, had had a varied career. First she was a novelist, winning considerable success with her first book, “The Queen of Connaught,” which was later dramatized.
     After writing several other novels she went on the stage, appearing as Lady Jane Grey in “A Nine Days’ Queen” at the Gaiety in 1880, and in several other London theatres.
     Meanwhile, Miss Jay, in collaboration with her brother-in-law, the late Robert Buchanan, wrote a blood- and-thunder melodrama, “Alone in London,” and such popular pieces of the day as “The Shopwalker” and “Fascination.”
     Since the death of James Welch “When Knights were Bold” has been presented and played regularly by Mr. Bromley Challenor, who was rehearsing at the Fortune theatre in London for the customary Christmas revival when news came of the author’s death.”

Harriett Jay was buried alongside Robert Buchanan in the churchyard of St. John the Baptist in Southend-on-Sea on 24th December 1932. The following report of the funeral is from The Essex Chronicle of 30th December, 1932:


     In her will she left the bulk of her estate (estimated at £4,041) to her nephew, William Paul Jay. Her cook and housekeeper were to be allowed to live in her house until their deaths at which point it would revert to William Paul Jay. She also requested that 30 shillings a week be set aside for the maintenance of her dog, Peter. She also set aside £200 to be held in trust for the upkeep of Robert Buchanan’s grave. Aside from some personal bequests of jewellery (and her parrot), the rest of her estate was to be divided between her nephews.
     Following her death, there was a 1935 musical version of The Strange Adventures of Miss Brown called Tulip Time, which ran at the Alhambra Theatre, London for 425 performances. Then in 1936 another film version of When Knights Were Bold, starring Jack Buchanan and Fay Wray, which included some musical segments. The play continued to be revived at Christmas in the West End until 1938 and a musical version, Kiss The Girls opened at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle-on-Tyne at the start of a provincial tour on 26th April 1943. The musical was renamed The Knight Was Bold and made its London debut at the Piccadilly Theatre on 1st July 1943. It closed after only 10 performances. The play continued to be performed at provincial repertory theatres until the 1950s.



     Harriett Jay’s literary career was so entwined with that of Robert Buchanan that it’s no surprise that as he plunged into obscurity he effectively took her with him. It is probably true that if her sister, Mary, had never met Buchanan, then Harriett Jay would never have become a writer, or an actress for that matter. She was the daughter of a labourer in a chalk pit and her mother (judging by the mark on her birth certificate) was illiterate. Without Buchanan she would not have published novels and of course it is impossible to discern who wrote what in the plays on which they collaborated. But there is enough evidence in The Priest’s Blessing to show that she did have an individual voice. Also one would think in this age of ‘gender studies’ that there would be something to interest scholars in Fascination and The Maiden Queen. And although popular success is no measure of artistic merit, it should also be noted that she co-wrote two of the most popular plays of their time (Alone in London and When Knights Were Bold). But in the end her reputation will rest with that of Buchanan. Without him she would probably never have written anything. Without her, at the very least, we would not have the biography. And it should also be noted that not only did Harriett Jay look after Buchanan during his final illness, the nine months of paralysis and silence, she stood by him in 1894 after the bankruptcy and the death of his mother, and rekindled his creative spirit in those last years. So perhaps the final word should be left to Robert Buchanan - the dedication which prefaced the section of ‘Miscellaneous Poems and Ballads’ in the 1884 edition of his Poetical Works:



HERE at the Half-way House of Life I linger,
Worn with the way, a weary-hearted Singer,
                   Resting a little space;
And lo! the good God sends me, as a token
Of peace and blessing (else my heart were broken),
                   The sunbeam of thy face.

My fear falls from me like a garment; slowly
New strength returns upon me, calm and holy;
                   I kneel, and I atone. . .
Thy hand is clasped in mine—we lean together. .
Henceforward, through the sad or shining weather,
                   I shall not walk alone.


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