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Title: A Book About the Theater
Author: Matthews, Brander, 1852-1929
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Book About the Theater" ***

                      _Books by Brander Matthews_


    Shakspere as a Playwright
    Molière, His Life and His Works


    French Dramatists of the 19th Century
    Pen and Ink, Essays on subjects of more or less importance
    Aspects of Fiction, and other Essays
    The Historical Novel, and other Essays
    Parts of Speech, Essays on English
    The Development of the Drama
    Inquiries and Opinions
    The American of the Future, and other Essays
    Gateways to Literature, and other Essays
    On Acting
    A Book About the Theater

                                 A BOOK
                           ABOUT THE THEATER


                         LE BALLET DE LA REINE

                        A FRENCH COURT BALLET IN
                         THE EARLY SEVENTEENTH

                                 A BOOK
                           ABOUT THE THEATER

                            BRANDER MATTHEWS



                                NEW YORK
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

                          COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

                        Published October, 1916


                           TO AUGUSTUS THOMAS


Let me begin by confessing my regret that I cannot overhear your first
remark when you receive this sheaf of essays, many of which are devoted
to the subordinate subdivisions of the art of the stage. As it is, I can
only imagine your surprise at discovering that this book, which contains
papers dealing with certain aspects of the theater rarely considered to
be worthy of criticism, is signed by the occupant of the earliest chair
to be established in any American university specifically for the study
of dramatic literature. I fancy I can hear the expression of your wonder
that a sexagenarian professor should turn aside from his austere
analysis of the genius of Sophocles and of Shakspere, of Molière and of
Ibsen, to discuss the minor arts of the dancer and the acrobat, to
chatter about the conjurer and the negro minstrel, to consider the
principles of pantomime and the development of scene-painting. But I am
emboldened to hope that your surprise will be only momentary, and that
you will be moved to acknowledge that perhaps there may be some
advantage to be derived from these deviations into the by-paths of stage

You are rather multifarious yourself; "like Cerberus, you are three
gentlemen at once"; you have been a reporter, you have published a
novel, you have painted pictures, you have delivered addresses--and you
write plays, too. I think that you, at least, will readily understand
how a student of the stage may like to stray now and again from the main
road and to ramble away from the lofty temple of dramatic art to loiter
for a little while in one or another of its lesser chapels. And you,
again, will appreciate my conviction that these loiterings and these
strollings may be as profitable as that casual browsing about in a
library which is likely to enrich our memories with not a little
interesting information that we might never have captured had we adhered
to a rigorous and rigid course of study. You will see what I mean when I
declare my belief that I have come back from these wanderings with an
increased understanding of the theory of the theater, and with an
enlarged acquaintance with its manifold manifestations.

Perhaps I ought to explain, furthermore, that these excursions into the
purlieus of the playhouse began long, long ago. I gave a Punch and Judy
show before I was sixteen; I performed experiments in magic, I blacked
up as Tambo, I whitened myself as Clown, I played the low-comedy part in
a farce, and I attempted the flying trapeze before I was twenty; and I
was not encouraged by the result of these early experiences to repeat
any of the experiments after I came of age. I think it was as a spinner
of hats and as the underman of a "brothers' act" that I came nearest to
success; at least I infer this from the fact--may I mention it without
seeming to boast?--that with my partners in this brothers' act, I was
asked if I would care to accept an engagement with a circus for the
summer. As to the merits of the other efforts I need say nothing now;
the rest is silence. When the cynic declared that the critics were those
who had failed in literature and art, he overstated his case, as is the
custom of cynics. But it is an indisputable advantage for any critic to
have adventured himself in the practise of the art to the discussion of
which he is to devote himself; he may have failed, or at least he may
not have succeeded as he could wish; but he ought to have gained a
firmer grasp on the principles of the art than he would have had if he
had never risked himself in the vain effort.

With this brief word of personal explanation I step down from the
platform of the preface to let these various essays speak for
themselves. If they have any message of any value, I feel assured in
advance that your friendly ear will be the first to interpret it. And I

                                  Ever yours,
                                                   BRANDER MATTHEWS.




     I. THE SHOW BUSINESS                                         1

    II. THE LIMITATIONS OF THE STAGE                             17

   III. A MORAL FROM A TOY THEATER                               37

    IV. WHY FIVE ACTS?                                           55

     V. DRAMATIC COLLABORATION                                   77

            OF PLAYS                                              93

   VII. WOMEN DRAMATISTS                                         111

  VIII. THE EVOLUTION OF SCENE-PAINTING                          127

    IX. THE BOOK OF THE OPERA                                    153

     X. THE POETRY OF THE DANCE                                  169

    XI. THE PRINCIPLES OF PANTOMIME                              185

   XII. THE IDEAL OF THE ACROBAT                                 201


   XIV. THE UTILITY OF THE VARIETY-SHOW                          235

    XV. THE METHOD OF MODERN MAGIC                               251


  XVII. THE PUPPET-PLAY, PAST AND PRESENT                        287

            IMPROVEMENTS                                         303

   XIX. THE PROBLEM OF DRAMATIC CRITICISM                        319


    Le ballet de la reine                             _Frontispiece_

                                                         FACING PAGE

    Upper half of Plate No. 1, the 'Miller and His Men'           40

    A group of the principal characters from Pollock's juvenile
        drama, the 'Miller and His Men'                           42

    Explosion of the mill. A back drop in the
        'Miller and His Men'                                      46

    Plate No. 7, the 'Miller and His Men'                         48

    Lower half of Plate No. 5, the 'Miller and His Men'           52

    The Roman Theater at Orange                                  134

    The multiple set of the French medieval stage                134

    The set of the Italian comedy of masks                       134

    An outdoor entertainment in the gardens of the Pitti Palace
        in Florence in the early sixteenth century               136

    The set for the opera of 'Persée' (as performed at the Opéra
        in Paris in the seventeenth century)                     140

    A prison (designed by Bibiena in Italy in the eighteenth
        century)                                                 140

    The screen scene of the 'School for Scandal' at Drury Lane
        in 1778                                                  144

    A landscape set                                              146

    A set for the opera of 'Robert le Diable'                    146

    The set of the last act of the 'Garden of Allah'             148

    A set for 'Medea'                                            148

    The set of 'OEdipe-Roi' (at the Théâtre Français)            150

    The set of the 'Return of Peter Grimm'                       150

    Scenes from Punch and Judy                                   274

    Scenes from Punch and Judy (continued)                       276

    Roman puppets. Greek and Roman puppets. Puppet of Java       290

    A Sicilian marionette show                                   292

    A Belgian puppet. A Chinese puppet theater. Puppet figure
        representing the younger Coquelin                        294

    Puppets in Burma                                             296

    The puppet play of Master Peter (Italian)                    296

    A Neapolitan Punchinella                                     300

    The broken bridge. Plan showing the construction of a
        shadow-picture theater. A Hungarian dancer
        (a shadow picture)                                       308

    Shadow Pictures. The return from the Bois de Boulogne. The
        ballet. A regiment of French soldiers                    310

    Shadow Picture. The Sphinx I: Pharaoh passing in triumph     312

    Shadow Picture. The Sphinx II: Moses leading his people out
        of Egypt                                                 314

    Shadow Picture. The Sphinx III: Roman warriors in Egypt      316

    Shadow Picture. The Sphinx IV: The British troops to-day     318


                           THE SHOW BUSINESS

                           THE SHOW BUSINESS


At an interesting moment in Disraeli's picturesque career in British
politics he indulged in one of his strikingly spectacular effects, in
accord with his characteristic method of boldly startling the somewhat
sluggish imagination of his insular countrymen; and in the next week's
issue of _Punch_ there was a cartoon by Tenniel reflecting the general
opinion in regard to his theatrical audacity. He was represented as
Artemus Ward, frankly confessing that "I have no principles; I'm in the
show business."

The cartoon was good-humored enough, as _Punch's_ cartoons usually are;
but it was not exactly complimentary. It was intended to voice the vague
distrust felt by the British people toward a leader who did not
scrupulously avoid every possible opportunity to be dramatic. And yet
every statesman who was himself possessed of constructive imagination,
and who was therefore anxious to stir the imaginations of those he was
leading, has laid himself open to the same charge. Burke, for one, was
accused of being frankly theatrical; and Napoleon, the child of that
French Revolution which Burke combated with undying vigor, never
hesitated to employ kindred devices. When Napoleon took the Imperial
Crown from the hands of the Pope to place it on his own head, and when
Burke cast the daggers on the floor of the House of Commons, they were
both proving that they were in the show business. So was Julius Cæsar
when he thrice thrust aside the kingly crown; and so was Frederick on
more than one occasion. Even Luther did not shrink from the spectacular
if that could serve his purpose, as when he nailed his theses to the
door of the church.

If the statesmen have now and again acted as tho they were in the show
business, we need not be surprised to discover that the dramatists have
done it even more often, in accord with their more intimate relation to
the theater. No one would deny that Sardou and Boucicault were showmen,
with a perfect mastery of every trick of the showman's trade. But this
is almost equally true of the supreme leaders of dramatic art,
Sophocles, Shakspere, and Molière. The great Greek, the great
Englishman, and the great Frenchman, however much they might differ in
their aims and in their accomplishments, were alike in the avidity with
which they availed themselves of every spectacular device possible to
their respective theaters. The opening passage of 'OEdipus the King,'
when the chorus appeals to the sovran to remove the curse that hangs
over the city, is as potent on the eye as on the ear. The witches and
the ghost in 'Macbeth,' the single combats and the bloody battles that
embellish many of Shakspere's plays are utilizations of the spectacular
possibilities existing in that Elizabethan playhouse, which has seemed
to some historians of the drama to be necessarily bare of all appeal to
the senses. And in his 'Amphitryon' Molière has a succession of purely
mechanical effects (a god riding upon an eagle, for example, and
descending from the sky) which are anticipations of the more elaborate
and complicated transformation scenes of the 'Black Crook' and the
'White Fawn.'

At the end of the nineteenth century the two masters of the stage were
Ibsen and Wagner, and both of them were in the show business--Wagner
more openly and more frequently than Ibsen. Yet the stern Scandinavian
did not disdain to employ an avalanche in 'When We Dead Awaken,' and to
introduce a highly pictorial shawl dance for the heroine of his 'Doll's
House.' As for Wagner, he was incessant in his search for the
spectacular, insisting that the music-drama was the "art-work of the
future," since the librettist-composer could call to his aid all the
other arts, and could make these arts contribute to the total effect of
the opera. He conformed his practise to his principles, and as a result
there is scarcely any one of his music-dramas which is not enriched by a
most elaborate scenic accompaniment. The forging of the sword, the ride
of the Valkyries, the swimming of the singing Rhinemaidens, are only a
few of the novel and startling effects which he introduced into his
operas; and in his last work, 'Parsival,' the purely spectacular element
is at least as ample and as varied as any that can be found in a
Parisian fairy-play or in a London Christmas pantomime. And what is the
'Blue Bird' of M. Maeterlinck, the philosopher-poet, who is also a
playwright, but a fairy-play on the model of those long popular in
Paris, the 'Pied de Mouton,' and the 'Biche au Bois'? It has a meaning
and a purpose lacking in its emptier predecessors; but its method is the
same as that of the uninspired manufacturers of these spectacular


It is not without significance that our newspapers, which have a keen
understanding of the public taste, are in the habit of commenting upon
entertainments of the most diverse nature under the general heading of
"Amusements." It matters not whether this entertainment is proffered by
Barnum and Bailey, or by Weber and Fields, by Sophocles or by Ibsen, by
Shakspere or by Molière, by Wagner or by Gilbert and Sullivan, it is
grouped with the rest of the amusements. And this is not so illogical as
it may seem, since the primary purpose of all the arts is to entertain,
even if every art has also to achieve its own secondary aim. Some of
these entertainments make their appeal to the intellect, some to the
emotions, and some only to the nerves, to our relish for sheer
excitement and for brute sensation; but each of them in its own way
seeks, first of all, to entertain. They are, every one of them, to be
included in the show business.

This is a point of view which is rarely taken by those who are
accustomed to consider the drama only in its literary aspects, and who
like to think of the dramatic poet as a remote and secluded artist,
scornful of all adventitious assistance, seeking to express his own
vision of the universe, and intent chiefly, if not solely, on portraying
the human soul. And yet this point of view needs to be taken by every
one who wishes to understand the drama as an art, for the drama is
inextricably bound up with the show business, and to separate the two is
simply impossible. The theater is almost infinitely various, and the
different kinds of entertainment possible in it cannot be sharply
distinguished, since they shade into each other by almost imperceptible
gradations. Only now and again can we seize a specimen that completely
conforms to any one of the several types into which we theoretically
classify the multiple manifestations of the drama.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth
might seem, at first sight, to stand absolutely outside the theater. But
it is impossible not to perceive the close kinship between the program
of the Barnum and Bailey show and the program of the New York
Hippodrome, since they have the circus in common. At the Hippodrome,
however, we have at least a rudimentary play with actual dialog and with
abundant songs and dances executed by a charging squadron of
chorus-girls; and in this aspect its spectacle is curiously similar to
the nondescript medley which is popularly designated as a "summer
song-show." Now, the summer song-show is first cousin to the so-called
American "comic opera"--so different from the French _opéra comique_.
Even if it has now fallen upon evil days, this American comic opera is
a younger sister of the sparkling ballad-opera of Gilbert and Sullivan,
and of the exhilarating _opéra bouffe_ of Offenbach, with its libretto
by Meilhac and Halévy.

We cannot fail to perceive that the librettos of Gilbert and of Meilhac
and Halévy are admirable in themselves, that they would please even
without the music of Sullivan and Offenbach, and that they are truly
comedies of a kind. That is to say, the books of 'Patience' and
'Pinafore' do not differ widely in method or in purpose from Gilbert's
non-musical play 'Engaged'; and the books of the 'Vie Parisienne' and
the 'Diva' do not differ widely from Meilhac and Halévy's non-musical
play, 'Tricoche et Cacolet.' 'Engaged' and 'Tricoche et Cacolet' are
farces or light comedies, and we find that it is not easy to draw a
strict line of demarcation between light comedies of this sort and
comedies of a more elevated type. Gilbert was also the author of
'Sweethearts,' and of 'Charity,' and Meilhac and Halévy were also the
authors of 'Froufrou.' Still more difficult would it be to separate
sharply plays like 'Charity' and 'Froufrou' from the social dramas of
Pinero and Ibsen, the 'Benefit of the Doubt,' for instance, and the
'Doll's House.' Sometimes these social dramas stiffen into actual
tragedy, the 'Second Mrs. Tanqueray,' for example, and 'Ghosts.' And
more than one critic has dwelt upon the structural likeness of the
somber and austere 'Ghosts' of Ibsen to the elevated and noble
'OEdipus the King' of Sophocles, even if the Greek play is full of a
serener poetry and charged with a deeper message.

It is a far cry from Buffalo Bill's Wild West to the 'OEdipus' of
Sophocles; but they are only opposite ends of a long chain which binds
together the heterogeneous medley of so-called "amusements." In the eyes
of every observer with insight into actual conditions, the show business
bears an obvious resemblance to the United States, in that it is a vast
territory divided into contiguous States, often difficult to bound with
precision; and, like the United States, the show business is, in the
words of Webster, "one and indivisible, now and forever." There is
indisputable profit for every student of the art of the stage in a frank
recognition of the fact that dramatic literature is inextricably
associated with the show business, and the wider and deeper his
acquaintance with the ramifications of the show business, the better
fitted he is to understand certain characteristics of the masterpieces
of dramatic literature. Any consideration of dramatic literature, apart
from the actual conditions of performance, apart from the special
theater for which any given play was composed, and to the conditions of
which it had, perforce, to conform, is bound to be one-sided, not to say
sterile. The masterpieces of dramatic literature were all of them
written to be performed by actors, in a theater, and before an audience.
And these masterpieces of dramatic literature which we now analyze with
reverence, were all of them immediately successful when represented by
the performers for whom they were written, and in the playhouses to the
conditions of which they had been adjusted.

It is painfully difficult for the purely literary critic to recognize
the inexorable fact that there are no truly great plays which failed to
please the contemporary spectators for whose delight they were devised.
Many of the plays which win success from time to time, indeed, most of
them, achieve only a fleeting vogue; they lack the element of
permanence; they have only theatrical effectiveness; and they are devoid
of abiding dramatic value. But the truly great dramas established
themselves first on the stage; and afterward they also revealed the
solid qualities which we demand in the study. They withstood, first of
all, the ordeal by fire before the footlights of the theater, and they
were able thereafter also to resist the touchstone of time in the

When an academic investigator into the arid annals of dogmatic
disquisition about the drama was rash enough to assert that, "from the
standpoint of the history of culture, the theater is only one, and a
very insignificant one, of all the influences that have gone to make up
dramatic literature," Mr. William Archer promptly pointed out that this
was "just about as reasonable as to declare that the sea is only one,
and a very insignificant one, among the influences that have gone to the
making of ships." It is true, Mr. Archer admitted, that there are "model
ships and ships built for training purposes on dry land; but they all
more or less closely imitate sea-going vessels, and if they did not, we
should not call them ships at all.... The ship-builder, in planning his
craft, must know what depths of water--be it river, lake, or ocean--she
will have to ply in, what conditions of wind and weather she may reckon
upon encountering, and what speed will be demanded of her if she is to
fulfil the purpose for which she is destined.... The theater--the actual
building, with its dimensions, structure, and scenic appliances--is the
dramatist's sea. And the audience provides the weather."


Since the drama is irrevocably related to the theater, all the varied
ramifications of the show business have their interest and their
significance for students of the stage. It is not too much to say that
there is no form of entertainment, however humble and however remote
from literature, which may not supply a useful hint or two, now and
again, to the historian of the drama. For example, few things would seem
farther apart than the lamentable tragedy of Punch and Judy and the
soul-stirring plays of the Athenian dramatic poets; and yet there is
more than one point of contact between these two performances. An alert
observer of a Punch-and-Judy show in the streets of London can get help
from it for the elucidation of a problem or two which may have puzzled
him in his effort to understand the peculiarities of Attic tragedy. Mr.
Punch's wooden head, for example, has the same unchanging expression
which characterized the towering masks worn by the Athenian performers.
In like manner a nondescript hodgepodge of funny episodes, interspersed
with songs and dances, such as Weber and Fields used to present in New
York, may be utilized to shed light on the lyrical-burlesques of
Aristophanes as these were performed in Athens more than two thousand
years ago.

Perhaps even a third instance of this possibility of explaining the
glorious past by the humble present may not be out of place. A few years
ago Edward Harrigan put together a variety-show sketch, called the
'Mulligan Guards,' and its success encouraged him to develop it into a
little comic drama called the 'Mulligan Guards' Picnic,' which was the
earliest of a succession of farcical studies of tenement-house life in
New York, culminating at last in a three-act comedy, entitled 'Squatter
Sovereignty.' In this series of humorous pieces Harrigan set before us a
wide variety of types of character, Irishmen of all sorts, Germans and
Italians, negroes and Chinamen, as these are commingled in the
melting-pot of the cosmopolitan metropolis. These humorous pieces were
the result of a spontaneous evolution, and their author was wholly
innocent of any acquaintance with the Latin drama. And yet, as it
happened, Harrigan was doing for the tenement-house population of New
York very much what Plautus had done for the tenement-house population
of Rome. A familiarity with the plays of the Latin playwright could not
but increase our appreciation of the amusing pieces of the
Irish-American sketch-writer; and a familiarity with the comic dramas of
Harrigan could not fail to be of immediate assistance to us in our
desire to understand the remote life which Plautus was dealing with.

The plays of the Roman dramatist were deliberately adapted from the
Greek, and they therefore had an avowedly literary source, whereas the
immediate origin of the plays performed in New York was only an
unpretending sketch for a variety-show; but both of these groups had the
same flavor of veracity in their reproduction of the teeming life of the
tenements. Humble as is the beginning of the 'Mulligan Guard' series, at
least as humble is the beginning of the improvised pieces of the
Italians, the comedy of masks, which Molière lifted into literature in
his 'Etourdi,' and in his 'Fourberies de Scapin.' In the hands of the
Italians the comedy of masks was absolutely unliterary, since it was not
even written, and its performers were not only comedians, but acrobats
also. And here the drama is seen to be impinging on the special sphere
of the circus--just as it does again in the plays prepared for the New
York Hippodrome. It is more than probable that this improvised comedy of
the Italians is the long development of a primitive semi-gymnastic,
semi-dramatic entertainment, given by a little group of strollers,
performing in the open market-place to please the casual crowd that
might collect.

Equally unpretending was the origin of the French melodrama, which
Victor Hugo lifted into literature in his 'Hernani' and 'Ruy Blas.' It
began in the temporary theaters erected for a brief season in one or the
other of the fairs held annually in different parts of Paris. The
performances in these playhouses were almost exactly equivalent to those
in our variety-shows; they were medleys of song and dance, of acrobatic
feats and of exhibitions of trained animals. As in our own
variety-shows, again, there were also little plays performed from time
to time, at first scarcely more than a framework on which to hang songs
and dances, but at last taking on a solider substance, until finally
they stiffened themselves into pathetic pieces in three or more acts,
capable of providing pleasure for a whole evening. The humor was direct,
and the characters were painted in the primary colors; the passions were
violent, and the plots were arbitrary; but the playwrights had
discovered how to hold the interest of their simple-minded spectators,
and how to draw tears and laughter at will.

In fact, the more minutely the history of the stage is studied, the more
clearly do we perceive that the beginnings of every form of the drama
are strangely unpretentious, and that literary merit is attained only in
the final stages of its development. Dramatic literature is but the
ultimate evolution of that which in the beginning was only an
insignificant and unimportant experiment in the show business; and it
must always remain intimately related to the show business, even when it
climbs to the lonely peaks of the poetic drama. Whatever its value, and
however weighty its message, it is still to be commented upon under the
head of "amusements," for if it does not succeed in amusing, it ceases
to exist except in the library, and even there only for special
students. It lives by its immediate theatrical effectiveness alone, even
if it can survive solely by its literary quality.


Those who are in the habit of gaging the drama by this literary quality
only are prone to deplore the bad taste of the public which flocks to
purely spectacular pieces. But this again is no new thing, and it does
not disclose any decline in the ability to appreciate the best. A
century ago in London, when Sarah Siddons and John Philip Kemble were in
the full plenitude of their powers, and when they were performing the
noblest plays of Shakspere, they were thrust aside for a season or two
while the theater was given up to empty melodramatic spectacles like
'Castle Specter' and the 'Cataract of the Ganges.' It was horrifying to
the lovers of the drama that these great actors in those great plays
should have to give way to the attraction exerted on the public by a
trained elephant, or by an imitation waterfall; but it is equally
horrifying to be informed that the theater in London for which Shakspere
wrote his masterpieces, and in which he himself appeared as an actor,
was also used for fencing-matches, and for bull-baitings and
bear-baitings, and that the theater in Athens for which Sophocles wrote
his masterpieces, and in which he may have appeared as an actor, was
also used for the annual cock-fight.

So strong is the popular appreciation of spectacle that the drama, the
true theater as distinguished from the mere show business, has always to
fight for its right to exist, and to hold its place in competition with
less intellectual and more sensational entertainments. The playhouses of
any American city are likely to have a lean week whenever the circus
comes to town, and perhaps the chief reason why the most of them now
close in summer is to be sought not so much in the frequent hot spells,
as in the irresistible attraction exerted by the base-ball games. The
drama in Spain, which flourished superbly in the days of Lope de Vega
and Calderon, sank into a sad decline when it had to compete with the
fiercer delights of the bullfight; and the drama in Rome was actually
killed out by the overpowering rivalry of the sports of the arena, the
combats of gladiators, and the matching of men with wild beasts. What is
known to the economists as Gresham's Law, according to which an inferior
currency always tends to drive out a superior, seems to have an analog
in the show business.



                      THE LIMITATIONS OF THE STAGE

                      THE LIMITATIONS OF THE STAGE


Few competent critics would dispute the assertion that the drama, if not
actually the noblest of the arts, is at all events the most
comprehensive, since it can invoke the aid of all the others without
impairing its own individuality or surrendering its right to be
considered the senior partner in any alliance it may make. Poetry,
oratory, and music, painting, sculpture, and architecture, these the
drama can take into its service, with no danger to its own control. Yet
even if the drama may have the widest range of any of the arts, none the
less are its boundaries clearly defined. What it can do, it does with a
sharpness of effect and with a cogency of appeal no other art can rival.
But there are many things it cannot do; and there are not a few things
that it can attempt only at its peril. Some of these impossibilities and
inexpediencies are psychologic subtleties of character and of sentiment
too delicate and too minute for the magnifying lens of the theater
itself; and some of them are physical, too large in themselves to be
compressed into the rigid area of the stage. In advance of actual
experiment, it is not always possible for even the most experienced of
theatrical experts to decide the question with certainty.

Moreover, there is always the audience to be reckoned with, and even old
stagers like Henry Irving and Victorien Sardou cannot foresee the way
in which the many-headed monster will take what is set before it. When
Percy Fitzgerald and W. G. Wills were preparing an adaptation of the
'Flying Dutchman' for Henry Irving, the actor made a suggestion which
the authors immediately adopted. The romantic legend has for its hero a
sea-captain condemned to eternal life until he can find a maiden willing
to share his lot; and when at last he meets the heroine she has another
lover, who is naturally jealous of the new aspirant to her hand. The
young rival challenges Vanderdecken to a duel, and what Irving proposed
was that the survivor of the fight should agree to throw the body of his
rival into the sea, and that the waves should cast up the condemned
Vanderdecken on the shore, since the ill-fated sailor could not avoid
his doom by death at the hand of man. This was an appropriate
development of the tale; it was really imaginative; and it would have
been strangely moving if it had introduced into it a ballad on the old
theme. But in a play performed before us in a theater its effect was not
altogether what its proposer had hoped for, altho he presented it with
all his marvelous command of theatrical artifice.

The stage-setting Irving bestowed upon this episode was perfectly in
keeping with its tone. The spectators saw the sandy beach of a little
cove shut in by cliffs, with the placid ocean bathed in the sunset glow.
The two men crossed swords on the strand; Vanderdecken let himself be
killed, and the victorious lover carried his rival's body up the rocks
and hurled it into the ocean. Then he departed, and for a moment all
was silence. A shuddering sigh soon swept over the face of the waters,
and a ripple lapped the sand. Then a little wave broke on the beach, and
withdrew, rasping over the stones. At last a huge roller crashed forward
and the sea gave up its dead. Vanderdecken lay high and dry on the
shore, and in a moment he staggered to his feet, none the worse for his
wounds. But unfortunately the several devices for accomplishing this
result, admirable as they were, drew attention each of them to itself.
The audience could not help wondering how the trick of the waves was
being worked, and when the Flying Dutchman was washed up by the water,
it was not the mighty deep rejecting Vanderdecken, again cursed with
life, that the spectators perceived, but rather the dignified Henry
Irving himself, unworthily tumbled about on the dust of his own stage.
In the effort to make visible this imaginative embellishment of the
strange story, its magic potency vanished. The poetry of the striking
improvement on the old tale had been betrayed by its translation into
the material realities of the theater, since the concrete presentation
necessarily contradicted the abstract beauty of the idea.

Here we find ourselves face to face with one of the most obvious
limitations of the stage--that its power of suggestion is often greater
than its power of actual presentation. There are many things, poetic and
imaginative, which the theater can accomplish, after a fashion, but
which it ventures upon only at imminent peril of failure. Many things
which are startlingly effective in the telling are ineffective in the
actual seeing. The mere mechanism needed to represent them will often be
contradictory, and sometimes even destructive. Perhaps it may be
advisable to cite another example, not quite so cogent as Irving's
'Vanderdecken,' and yet carrying the same moral. This other example will
be found in a piece by Sardou, a man who knew all the possibilities of
the theater as intimately as Irving himself, and who was wont to utilize
them with indefatigable skill. Indeed, so frequently did the French
playwright avail himself of stage devices, and so often was he willing
to rely upon them, that not a few critics of our latter-day drama have
been inclined to dismiss him as merely a supremely adroit theatrical

In his sincerest play, 'Patrie,' the piece which he dedicated to Motley,
and which he seems himself to have been proudest of, Sardou invented a
most picturesque episode. The Spaniards are in possession of Brussels;
the citizens are ready to rise, and William of Orange is coming to their
assistance. The chiefs of the revolt leave the city secretly and meet
William at night in the frozen moat of an outlying fort. A Spanish
patrol interrupts their consultation, and forces them to conceal
themselves. A little later a second patrol is heard approaching, just
when the return of the first patrol is impending. For the moment it
looks as tho the patriots would be caught between the two Spanish
companies. But William of Orange rises to the occasion. He calls on his
"sea-wolves"; and when the second patrol appears, marching in single
file, there suddenly spring out of the darkness upon every Spanish
soldier two fur-clad creatures, who throttle him, bind him, and throw
him into a hole in the ice of the moat. Then they swiftly fill in this
gaping cavity with blocks of snow, and trample the path level above it.
And almost immediately after the sea-wolves have done their deadly work
and withdrawn again into hiding, the first patrol returns, and passes
all unsuspecting over the bodies of their comrades--a very practical
example of dramatic irony.

As it happened, I had read 'Patrie' some years before I had an
opportunity to see it on the stage, and this picturesque scene had
lingered in my memory so that in the theater I eagerly awaited its
coming. When it arrived at last I was sadly disappointed. The sea-wolves
belied their appetizing name; they irresistibly suggested a group of
trained acrobats, and I found myself carelessly noting the artifices by
the aid of which the imitation snowballs were made to fill the trapdoor
of the stage which represented the yawning hole in the ice of the frozen
moat. The thing told was picturesque, but the thing seen was curiously
unmoving; and I have noted without surprise that in the latest revival
of 'Patrie' the attempt to make this episode effective was finally
abandoned, the sea-wolves being cut out of the play.


In 'Patrie' as in 'Vanderdecken' the real reason for the failure of
these mechanical devices is that the plays were themselves on a superior
level to those stage-tricks; the themes were poetic, and any theatrical
effect which drew attention to itself interrupted the current of
emotional sympathy. It disclosed itself instantly as incongruous, as out
of keeping with the elevation of the legend--in a word, as inartistic. A
similar effect, perhaps even more frankly mechanical, would not be
inartistic in a play of a lower type, and it might possibly be helpful
in a frankly spectacular piece, even if this happened also to be poetic
in intent. In a fairy-play, a _féerie_, as the French term it, we expect
to behold all sorts of startling ingenuities of stage-mechanism, whether
the theme is delightfully imaginative, as in Maeterlinck's beautiful
'Blue Bird,' or crassly prosaic, as in the 'Black Crook' and the 'White

In picturesque melodrama also, in the dramatization of 'Ben Hur,' for
example, we should be disappointed if we were bereft of the wreck of the
Roman galley, and if we were deprived of the chariot race. These
episodes can be presented in the theater only by the aid of mechanisms
far more elaborate than those needed for the scenes in 'Vanderdecken'
and 'Patrie'; but in 'Ben Hur' these mechanisms are not incongruous and
distracting as were the simpler devices of 'Vanderdecken' and 'Patrie,'
because the dramatization of the romanticist historical novel is less
lofty in its ambition, less imaginative, less ethereally poetic. In
'Vanderdecken' and in 'Patrie' the tricks seemed to obtrude themselves,
whereas in 'Ben Hur' they were almost obligatory. In certain melodramas
with more modern stories--in the amusing piece called the 'Round Up,'
for example--the scenery is the main attraction. The scene-painter is
the real star of the show. And there is no difficulty in understanding
the wail of the performer of the principal part in a piece of this sort,
when he complained that he was engaged to support forty tons of scenery.
"It's only when the stage-carpenters have to rest and get their breath
that I have a chance to come down to the footlights and bark for a
minute or two."

A moment's consideration shows that this plaintive protest is
unreasonable, however natural it may be. In melodramas like the 'Round
Up' and 'Ben Hur,' as in fairy-plays like the 'Blue Bird,' the acting is
properly subordinated to the spectacular splendor of the whole
performance. When we enter a theater to behold a play of either of these
types, we expect the acting to be adequate, no doubt, but we do not
demand the highest type of histrionic excellence. What we do anticipate,
however, is a spectacle pleasing to the eye and stimulating to the
nerves. In plays of these two classes the appeal is sensuous rather than
intellectual; and it is only when the appeal of the play is to the mind
rather than to the senses that merely mechanical effects are likely to
be disconcerting.

Mr. William Archer has pointed out that Ibsen in 'Little Eyolf,' has for
once failed to perceive the strict limitation of the stage when he
introduced a flagstaff, with the flag at first at half-mast, and a
little later run up to the peak. Now, there are no natural breezes in
the theater to flutter the folds of the flag, and every audience is
aware of the fact. This, then, is the dilemma: either the flag hangs
limp and lifeless against the pole, which is a flat spectacle, or else
its folds are made to flutter by some concealed pneumatic blast or
electric fan, which instantly arouses the inquiring curiosity of the
audience. Here we find added evidence in support of Herbert Spencer's
invaluable principle of Economy of Attention, which he himself applied
only to rhetoric, but which is capable of extension to all the other
arts--and to no one of them more usefully than to the drama. At any
given moment a spectator in the theater has only so much attention to
bestow upon the play being presented before his eyes, and if any portion
of his attention is unduly distracted by some detail--like either the
limpness or the fluttering of a flag--then he has just so much less to
give to the play itself.

Very rarely, indeed, can we catch Ibsen at fault in a technical detail
of stage-management; he was extraordinarily meticulous in his artful
adjustment of the action of his social dramas to the picture-frame stage
of our modern cosmopolitan theater. He was marvelously skilful in
endowing each of his acts with a background harmonious for his
characters; and nearly always was he careful to refrain from the
employment of any scenic device which might attract attention to
itself. He eschewed altogether the more violent spectacular effects,
altho he did call upon the stage manager to supply an avalanche in the
final act of 'When the Dead Awaken'; but even this bold convulsion of
nature was less incongruous than might be expected, since it was not
exhibited until the action of the play itself was complete. In fact, the
avalanche might be described as only a pictorial epilog.


The principle of sternly economizing the attention of the audience can
be violated by distractions far less extraneous and far less extravagant
than avalanches. When Marmontel's forgotten tragedy of 'Cleopatra' was
produced in the eighteenth century at the Théâtre Français, the
misguided poet prevailed upon Vaucanson to make an artificial asp, which
the Egyptian queen coiled about her arm at the end of the play, thereby
releasing a spring, whereupon the beast raised its head angrily and
emitted a shrill hiss before sinking its fangs into Cleopatra's flesh.
At the first performance a spectator, bored by the tediousness of the
tragedy, rose to his feet when he heard the hiss of the tiny serpent: "I
agree with the asp!" he cried, as he made his way to the door.

But even if Vaucanson's skilful automaton had not given occasion for
this disastrous gibe, whatever attention the audience might pay to the
mechanical means of Cleopatra's suicide was necessarily subtracted from
that available for the sad fate of Cleopatra herself. If at that moment
the spectators noted at all the hissing snake, then they were not really
in a fit mood to feel the tragic death-struggle of "the serpent of old
Nile." A kindred blunder was manifest in a recent sumptuously
spectacular revival of 'Macbeth,' when the three witches flew here and
there thru the dim twilight across the blasted heath, finally vanishing
into empty air. These mysterious flittings and disappearances were
achieved by attaching the performers of the weird sisters to invisible
wires, whereby they could be swung aloft; the trick had been exploited
earlier in the so-called Flying Ballet, wherein it was a graceful and
amusing adjunct of the terpsichorean revels. But in 'Macbeth' it emptied
Shakspere's scene of its dramatic significance, since the spectator
waited for and watched the startling flights of the witches, and admired
the dexterity with which their aerial voyages were controlled; and as a
result he failed to feel the emotional importance of the interview
between Macbeth and the withered croons, whose untoward greetings were
to start the villain-hero on his downward career of crime.

In this same revival of 'Macbeth' an equally misplaced ingenuity was
lavished on the apparition of Banquo's ghost at the banquet. The
gruesome specter was made mysteriously visible thru the temporarily
transparent walls of the palace, until at last he emerged to take his
seat on Macbeth's chair. The effect was excellent in itself, and the
spectators followed all the movements of the ghost with pleased
attention, more or less forgetting Macbeth, and failing to note the
maddening effect of the apparition upon the seared countenance of the
assassin-king. In this revival of 'Macbeth' no opportunity was neglected
to adorn the course of the play with every possible scenic and mechanic
accompaniment; and the total result of these accumulated artificialities
of presentation was to rob one of Shakspere's most poetic tragedies of
nearly all its poetry, and to reduce this imaginative masterpiece to the
prosaic level of a spectacular melodrama.

Another of Shakspere's tragedies has become almost impossible in our
modern playhouses, because the stage-manager does not dare to do without
the spectacular effects that the story seems to demand. Shakspere
composed 'King Lear' for the bare platform-stage of the Globe Theater,
devoid of all scenery, and supplied with only the most primitive
appliances for suggesting rain and thunder; and he introduced three
successive storm scenes, each intenser in interest than the one that
went before, until the culmination comes in perhaps the sublimest and
most pitiful episode in all tragedy, when the mad king and his follower,
who is pretending to be insane, and his faithful fool are together out
in the tempest. At the original production, three centuries ago, the
three storms may have increased in violence as they followed one
another; but at best the fierceness of the contending elements could
then be only suggested, and the rain and the thunder were not allowed
to divert attention away from the agonized plight of the mad monarch.
But to-day the three storm scenes are rolled into one, and the
stage-manager sets out to manufacture a realistic tempest in rivalry
with nature. The mimic artillery of heaven and the simulated deluge from
the skies which the producer now provides may excite our artistic
admiration for his skill, but they distract our attention from the
coming together of the characters so strangely met in the midst of the
storm. The more realistically the tempest is reproduced the worse it is
for the tragedy itself; and in most recent revivals the full effect of
the painful story has been smothered by the sound and fury of the
man-made storm.

The counterweighted wires which permit the figures of the Flying Ballet
to soar over the stage and to float aloft in the air, disturb the
current of our sympathy when they are employed to lend lightness to
intangible creatures like the weird sisters of Shakspere's tragedy; but
they have been more artistically utilized in two of Shakspere's comedies
to suggest the ethereality of Puck and of Ariel. The action of the
'Midsummer Night's Dream' takes place in fairy-land, and that of the
'Tempest' passes in an enchanted island, and even if we wonder for a
moment how the levitation of these airy spirits is achieved, this
temporary distraction of our attention is negligible in playful comedies
like these with all their scenes laid in a land of make-believe. And yet
it may be doubted whether even the 'Midsummer Night's Dream' and the
'Tempest,' fairy-plays as they are, do not on the whole lose more than
they gain from elaborate scenic and mechanical adjuncts. They are of
poetry all compact, and the more simply they are presented, the less
obtrusive the scenery and the less protruded the needful effects, the
more the effort of the producer is centered upon preserving the ethereal
atmosphere wherein the characters live, move, and have their being, the
more harmonious the performance is with the pure fancy which inspired
these two delightful pieces, then the more truly successful is the
achievement of the stage-manager.


On the other hand, of course, the scenic accompaniment of a poetic play,
whether tragic or romantic or comic, must never be so scant or so barren
as to disappoint the spectators. The stage-accessories must be adequate
and yet subordinate; they ought to resemble the clothes of a truly
well-dressed woman, in that they never call attention to themselves
altho they can withstand and even reward intimate inspection. This
delicate ideal of artistic stage-setting, esthetically satisfying, and
yet never flamboyant, was completely attained in the production of
'Sister Beatrice,' at the New Theater, due to the skill and taste of Mr.
Hamilton Bell. The several manifestations of the supernatural might
easily have been over-emphasized; but a fine restraint resulted in a
unity of tone and of atmosphere, so subtly achieved that the average
spectator carried away the memory of more than one lovely picture
without having let his thoughts wander away to consider by what means he
had been made to feel the presence of a miracle.

The special merit of this production of 'Sister Beatrice' lay in the
delicate art by which more was suggested than could well be shown. In
the theater, more often than not, the half is greater than the whole,
and what is unseen is frequently more powerful than what is made
visible. In Mr. Belasco's 'Darling of the Gods,' a singularly beautiful
spectacle, touched at times with a pathetic poetry, the defeated
samurais are at last reduced to commit hara-kiri. But we were not made
spectators of these several self-murders; we were permitted to behold
only the dim cane-brake into which these brave men had withdrawn, and to
overhear each of them call out his farewell greetings to his friends
before he dealt himself the deadly thrust. If we had been made witnesses
of this accumulated self-slaughter we might have been revolted by the
brutality of it. Transmitted to us out of a vague distance by a few
scattered cries, it moved us like the inevitable close of a truly tragic

In the 'Aiglon' of M. Rostand, Napoleon's feeble son finds himself alone
with an old soldier of his father's on the battle-field of Wagram; and
in the darkness of the night, and in the turmoil of a wind-storm the
hysteric lad almost persuades himself that he is actually present at the
famous fight, that he can hear the shrieks of the wounded, and the
groans of the dying, and that he can see the hands and arms of the dead
stretched up from the ground. This is all in the sickly boy's fancy, of
course, and yet in Paris the author had voices heard, and caused hands
and arms to be extended upward from the edge of the back drop, thus
vulgarizing his own imaginative episode by the presentation of a
concrete reality. Not quite so inartistic as this, and yet frankly
freakish was the arrangement of the closet scene between Hamlet and his
mother, when Sarah-Bernhardt made her misguided effort to impersonate
the Prince of Denmark. On the walls of the room where Hamlet talks
daggers to the queen there were full-length, life-sized portraits of her
two successive husbands, and when Hamlet bids her look on this picture,
and on this, the portrait of Hamlet's father became transparent, and in
its frame the spectators suddenly perceived the ghost. This is an
admirable example of misplaced cleverness, of the search for novelty for
its own sake, of the sacrifice of the totality of impression to a mere

'Hamlet' is the most poetic of plays, and the 'Aiglon' does its best to
be poetic, and therefore the less overt spectacle there may be in the
performance of these dramas the easier it will be for the spectator to
focus his attention on the poetry itself. Even more pretentiously poetic
than the 'Aiglon' is 'Chantecler,' upon which the ambitious author has
also lavished a great variety of stage-effects--as tho he were not quite
willing to rely for success upon his lyrical exuberance. In M. Rostand's
'Aiglon' and 'Chantecler,' as in Sarah-Bernhardt's 'Hamlet,' there was
to be observed a frequent confusion of the merely theatric with the
purely dramatic--a confusion to be found forty years ago in Fechter's
'Hamlet.' That picturesque French actor made over the English tragedy
into a French romantic melodrama; he kept the naked plot, and he cut out
all the poetry. He lowered Shakspere's play to the level of the other
melodramas in which he had won success--for instance, 'No Thorofare,'
due to the collaboration of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, or the earlier
'Fils de la Nuit,' acted in Paris long before Fechter appeared on the
English-speaking stage.

The 'Son of the Night' was a pirate bold, personated, of course, by
Fechter, and in one act his long, low, rakish craft with its black flag
flying, skimmed across the stage, cutting the waves, and dropping anchor
close to the footlights. The surface of the sea was represented by a
huge cloth, and the incessant motion of the waves was due to the
concealed activities of a dozen boys. The play had so long a run that
the sea-cloth was worn dangerously thin. At last at one performance, a
rent spread suddenly and disclosed a disgusted boy, just as the pirate
ship with the Son of the Night on its deck was preparing to come about.
Fechter was equal to the emergency. "Man overboard!" he cried, and,
leaning over the bow of the boat, he grabbed the boy by the collar and
pulled him on deck. Probably very few of the spectators noticed the
mishap, and if they had all observed it, what matter? A laugh or two,
more or less, during the performance of a prosaic melodrama, is of
little or no consequence. A disconcerting accident like this in a play
like the 'Son of the Night' does not cut any vital current of sympathy,
for this is a quality to which the piece could make no claim. But in a
truly poetic play a mishap of this sort would be a misfortune in that it
might precipitate the interest and interrupt the harmony of attention
demanded by the imaginative drama itself.



                       A MORAL FROM A TOY THEATER

                       A MORAL FROM A TOY THEATER


In 1881, when William Ernest Henley was hard put to it to make a living,
Sir Sidney Colvin kindly recommended him for the editorship of the
monthly _Magazine of Art_. Among the contributors whom the new editor
called to his aid was Robert Louis Stevenson, and among the
contributions the latter made to the former's magazine was the highly
characteristic and self-revelatory essay, entitled 'A Penny Plain and
Two Pence Colored,' now included in the volume called 'Memories and
Portraits.' In this playful paper Stevenson makes one of his many
returns to his boyhood, whose moods he could always recapture at will
with the assistance of that imaginative memory which was one of his
special gifts, and he was able to replevin from the dim limbo of things
half forgotten his longing delight in the toy theater, the scenes for
which and the necessary properties and the several characters themselves
in their successive dresses were to be procured printed on very thin
cardboard, so that the proud possessor might cut them out at will. If
the youthful capitalist had accumulated twopence, he could acquire these
treasures already resplendent in their glowing hues; and yet Stevenson
held that the lad was happier who parted with only a single penny,
reserving the half of his fortune for the purchase of the paints
wherewith he might himself vivify this scenery and these properties,
and so cause his characters to start to life, emblazoned in the bold
colors which please the puerile mind.

These sheets of thin cardboard, with thin little pamphlets containing
the text of the pieces to be performed in the toy theater, were
originally known as Skelt's Juvenile Drama; and one Skelt seems to have
been its originator, probably in the early part of the nineteenth
century. Apparently he parted with his precious stock in trade to one
Park, who passed it on in due season to one Webb, who transmitted it to
one Redington, until at last it descended to its present owner, one B.
Pollock, of 73 Hoxton Street, London, N. Stevenson affected to think
that Skelt's Juvenile Drama had "become, for the most part, a memory";
yet it survives now in the second decade of the twentieth century as
Pollock's Juvenile Drama, and Mr. Pollock proclaims that he has
republished some score plays, and that he keeps them always in print,
plain and colored. He offers, furthermore, to supply "Drop Scenes, Top
Drops, Orchestras, Foot and Water Pieces, Single Portraits,
Combats--Fours, Sixes, Twelves, Sixteens--Fairies, Horse Soldiers,
Clowns, Rifles, Animals, Birds, Butterflies, Houses, Views, Ships, &c.,
plain and colored, 1/2_d_ sheet plain, 1_d_ sheet colored."

[Illustration: Taken from upper half of Plate No. 1, which is the
title-page of the series, this section of which is also a guide for the
setting of the first scene in the 'Miller and His Men']

It is from the covers of "the book of the words" of the 'Miller and His
Men' that this enticing proclamation is taken--the 'Miller and His Men,'
"adapted only for Pollock's characters and scenes," and accompanied by
"7 Plates characters, 11 Scenes, 3 Wings, Total 21 Plates." The persons
of the drama and the scenes wherein that drama is played out to its
fiery end, are all in the bolder manner of the Old Masters, who sought
the broadest effects, and who willingly neglected petty details. How
bold and how broad the manner and the effects can best be judged by an
honest transcription from the final page of the book of words, wherein
the terse and tense dialog, single speech clashing with single speech,
is accompanied by stage directions for the instruction of the Young
Masters who are about to produce the sublime spectacle:

     _Enter Grindorf left hand, plate 4._

     _Enter Karl and Friberg, swords drawn, plate 4, followed by the
     Troops, right hand, plate 7._

     _Grindorf_: Ha! ha! I have escaped you, have I?

     _Karl_: But you are caught in your own trap.

     _Grindorf_: Spiller!--Golotz! Golotz! I say!

     _Count_: Villain! you cannot escape us now! Surrender, or
     instantly meet thy fate!

     _Grindorf_: Surrender! I have sworn never to descend from this
     place alive!

     _Enter Lothair, as Spiller, 3rd dress, left hand, plate 7._

     _Grindorf_: Spiller, let my bride appear.

     _Exit Lothair._

     _Enter Kehnar, right hand, plate 1._

     _Enter Ravina with torch, plate 7._

     _Ravina_: Before it is too late, restore Claudine to her
     father's arms!

     _Grindorf_: Never!

     _Ravina_: Then I know my course!

     _Enter Lothair with Claudine, left hand, plate 6._

     _Kehnar_: My child! Ah, Grindorf, spare her!

     _Grindorf_: Hear me, Count Friberg; if you do not withdraw your
     followers, by my hand she dies!

     _Count_: Never, till thou art yielded to justice!

     _Grindorf_: No more--this to her heart!

     _Lothair_: And this to thine!

     _Exit Lothair and Claudine, and Grindorf._

     _Re-enter Grindorf and Lothair fighting, plate 6, fight and

     _Grindorf to be put on wounded, plate 7._

     _Re-enter Lothair with Claudine, plate 6._

     _Lothair_: Ravina, fire the train!

     _Scene changes to explosion, Scene 11, No. 9._

The words are striking and the actions are startling, and it is no
wonder that plate 7 and scene 11, No. 9, filled with joy the heart of
Robert Louis Stevenson when he was a perfervid Scot of fourteen. In his
manly maturity, when he had risen to an appreciation of portraits by
Raeburn, and when he had sat at the feet of that inspired critic of
painting, his cousin, R. A. M. Stevenson, he admitted that he had no
desire to insist upon the art of Skelt's purveyors. "Those wonderful
characters that once so thrilled our soul with their bold attitude,
array of deadly engines and incomparable costume, to-day look somewhat
pallidly," he confessed regretfully; "the extreme hard favor of the
heroine strikes me, I had almost said with pain; the villain's scowl no
longer thrills me like a trumpet; and the scenes themselves, those once
incomparable landscapes, seem the efforts of a prentice hand. So much of
fault we can find; but, on the other side, the impartial critic rejoices
to remark the presence of a great unity of gusto; of those direct
claptrap appeals which a man is dead and buriable when he fails to
answer; of the footlight glamor, the ready-made, barefaced, transpontine
picturesque, a thing not one with cold reality, but how much dearer to
the mind!"

[Illustration: A group of the principal characters from Pollock's
juvenile drama, the 'Miller and His Men,' cut out and assembled as
called for in Scene 10, a part of which is quoted in the text]


"Transpontine" is a Briticism for which the equivalent Americanism is
"Bowery." The plays which Skelt vended for the enjoyment of romantic
youth were not of his own invention, nor were they the work of his
hirelings; they were artfully simplified condensations of melodramas
long popular in London at the theaters on the Surrey side of the Thames,
and in New York at the Bowery. In French's Standard Drama, the Acting
Edition, to be obtained in yellow covers for fifteen cents, one may find
"the 'Miller and His Men,' a Melo-Drama in Two Acts, by F. Pocock, Esq.,
author of the 'Robber's Wife,' 'John of Paris,' 'Hit or Miss,' 'Magpie
and the Maid,' etc., with original casts, scene and property plots,
costumes, and all the stage business." And the list of properties
required for the final scene helps to elucidate what may have been
cryptic in the dialog quoted from the compacted adaptation of Skelt:

     _Scene 4_:--_Slow match laid from stage in C. to mill. Lighted
     torch for Ravina. Red fire and explosion 3 E. L. H. Wood crash
     3 E. L. H. Six stuffed figures of robbers behind mill, L. H.
     Eight guns, swords, and belts for hussars. Disguise cloak for
     Lothair. Fighting swords for Lothair and Wolf._ [Wolf is
     evidently another name for Grindorf.]

Thus we see that the pleasant country of the Skelts stretched from the
Surrey side of the Thames to the Bowery bank of the Hudson, and that the
Skeltic temperament was purely melodramatic, its bass notes being
transposed to adjust it to the clear treble of boyhood. It is greatly to
be regretted that no inquiring scholar has yet devoted himself to the
task of tracing the history of English melodrama, as Professor Thorndike
has traced the history of English tragedy. Of course, there have always
been melodramatic plays ever since the drama began to assert itself as
an independent form of art. There is a melodramatic element in the
'Medea' of Euripides, as there is in the 'Rodogune' of Corneille; and in
the Elizabethan theater the so-called tragedy of blood is nothing if not
melodramatic. Yet the special form of English melodrama that flourished
in the later years of the eighteenth century and the earlier years of
the nineteenth deserves a more careful study than it has yet received.
Apparently it was due partly to a decadence of the native type of drama
represented by Lillo's 'George Barnwell,' and partly to the stimulation
received first from the emotional pieces of the German Kotzebue, and
afterward from the picturesque pieces of the French Pixérécourt. And not
to be neglected is the influence immediately exerted on the popular
plays of the latter part of the period by the romances of Scott and of

Altho these plays were devoid of literary merit, of style, of veracity
of character delineation, of sincerity of motive, they were not without
theatrical effectiveness--or they could never have maintained
themselves in the theater. As Sir Arthur Pinero has seen clearly, "a
drama which was sufficiently popular to be transferred to the toy
theaters was almost certain to have a sort of rude merit in its
construction. The characterization would be hopelessly conventional, the
dialog bald and despicable--but the situations would be artfully
arranged, the story told adroitly and with spirit." In other words, the
compounders of these melodramas were fairly skilful in devising plots
likely to arouse and to sustain the interest of uncritical audiences.
Probably they were unfamiliar with Voltaire's assertion that the success
of a play depends mainly upon the choice of its story; and it is
unlikely that they had any knowledge of Aristotle's declaration that
plot is primarily more important than character; but they accomplished
their humble task as well as if they had been heartened by these
authorities. These ingenious and ingenuous pieces were none of them
contributions to English dramatic literature, and they are not enshrined
in its annals; but they were effective stage-plays, nevertheless, and
they had, therefore, an essential quality lacking in the closet-dramas
which Shelley and Byron were composing in those same years.


In the illuminating lecture on Stevenson as a writer of plays delivered
by Sir Arthur Pinero in 1903 before the members of the Edinburgh
Philosophical Institution, the confessions contained in 'A Penny Plain
and Two Pence Colored' are skilfully employed to explain Stevenson's
flat failure as a playwright. Many of his ardent admirers must have
wondered why it was that he adventured four times into dramatic
authorship, only to undergo a fourfold shipwreck. Yet Sir James Barrie
and Mr. John Galsworthy, essayists and novelists at first, as Stevenson
was, strayed successfully from prose fiction into the acted drama. Was
not Stevenson as anxious for this theatrical triumph as any one of
these? Was he not as richly dowered with dramatic power, as inventive,
as responsive to opportunity, as ready to master a new craft? Why, then,
did he fail where they have succeeded?

For these baffling questions Sir Arthur Pinero has an acceptable answer.
Stevenson was unable to establish himself as a play-maker, first,
because he did not take the art of play-making seriously; he did not put
his full strength in it, mind and soul and body, contenting himself when
he was a man with playing at play-making as he had played with his toy
theater when he was a boy. The second cause of his disappointment as a
dramatist was due to the abiding influence of this toy theater, and to
the fact that the pieces he attempted were planned in rivalry with the
'Miller and His Men,' and therefore that they were hopelessly out of
date before they were conceived. (There is a third reason, not mentioned
by Sir Arthur, and yet suggesting itself irresistibly to any one who
knew the editor of the _Magazine of Art_ personally; all four of
Stevenson's attempts at play-writing were made in collaboration with
Henley, who was the least equipped by temper and by temperament for the
practise of dramaturgy.)


[Illustration: _London. Published by B Pollock,73 Hoxton Street Hoxton_
Explosion of the mill. A back drop in the 'Miller and His Men,' Scene

Yet even if Stevenson had worked alone, and even if he had taken the new
art seriously, he could never have won a place among the playwrights
until he had fought himself free from the sinuous coils of Skeltery. In
his youth he had saved his pence to purchase the accessories of Skelt's
Juvenile Drama with boyish delight in the acquisition of things longed
for to be possessed at last. When he had purchased plate 7 and scene 11,
No. 9, he thought they were his possessions. But, of a truth, he was
their possession, even if he did not know his slavery. As a man he was
subdued to what he had worked in as a boy; and when he wanted to write
plays of his own, he had no freedom to follow the better models of his
own day; he was a bondman to Skelt, a thrall to Park, a minion to Webb,
a chattel to Redington and to Pollock. "What am I?" he asked in his
self-revelatory essay, humorously exaggerating, no doubt, yet
subconsciously stating the exact truth; "What am I? What are life, art,
letters, the world, but what my Skelt has made them? He stamped himself
upon my immaturity." And the impression was then so deep that it could
not be effaced in maturity. The boy in Stevenson survived, instead of
dying when the man was born.

The art of play-writing, like the art of story-telling, and, indeed,
like all the other arts, demands both a native gift and an acquired
craft. Its basic principles are the same ever since the drama began; but
its immediate methods vary at different times and in different
countries. While every artist must say what it is given him to say, he
can say it acceptably only by acquiring the method of speech employed by
his immediate predecessors. However original he may prove himself at the
end, in the beginning he can only imitate the methods and borrow the
processes and avail himself of the practises which the elder craftsmen
are employing successfully at the moment when he sets himself to learn
their trade. He must--to use the apt term of the engineers--he must keep
himself abreast of "state of the art." This is what the great dramatists
have ever done; Sophocles follows in the footsteps of Æschylus, as
Shakspere emulates Marlowe and Kyd, and as Molière went to school to the
adroit and acrobatic Italian comedians. These great dramatists were
perfectly content to begin by taking over the patterns devised by their
immediate predecessors in play-making, even if they were soon to enlarge
these patterns and so modify them to suit their even larger needs.


Plate No. 7, complete as published, ready to be cut out and put into
use in the toy theater]

Now, the state of the art when Stevenson turned to the theater was in
accord with the picture-frame stage of to-day, with a single set to the
act, and without the soliloquies and the confidential asides to the
audience which may then have been proper enough on the apron-stage of
the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Even in the lower grade
of playhouse, where rude and crude melodramas were performed, the method
and the manner of the 'Miller and His Men' had long departed. The
pleasure that melodrama can give is perennial; but its processes vary in
accord with the changing conditions of the theater. The door was open
for Stevenson to write melodrama, if he preferred that species of play,
and if he desired to varnish it with literature as he was to varnish the
police-novel or mystery-story in the 'Wrecker.' But if he sought to do
this, he was bound to inform himself as to the state of the art at the
instant of composition. If he shut his eyes to the changed conditions of
the theater since the 'Miller and His Men' had won a wide popularity in
the playhouse, then he made an unpardonable blunder, for the battle was
lost before he could deploy his forces. He might have been forewarned by
the failure of Charles Lamb in a like attempt. When Lamb's Elizabethan
imitation 'John Woodvil' was rejected for Drury Lane by John Philip
Kemble as not "consonant with the taste of the age"; its exasperated
author cried: "Hang on the age! I'll write for antiquity!" But those who
write for antiquity cannot complain if they do not delight their
contemporaries. It is to his contemporaries, and not to antiquity or to
posterity, that every true dramatist has appealed.


And as Stevenson might have taken warning from the sad fate of Lamb, so
he might have found his profit in considering the happy fortune of
Victor Hugo, who also had a taste for melodrama. When the leader of the
French romanticists felt that it was incumbent upon him to conquer the
theater which the classicists held as their last stronghold, he was
swift to consider the state of the art. He sought immediate success upon
the stage, and the most successful plays of that period in France were
the melodramas of Pixérécourt, and of his followers, and therefore Hugo
sat himself down to spy out the secrets of their craft. He made himself
master of their methods, and he put together the striking and startling
plots of 'Hernani' and 'Ruy Blas' in strict accord with their formulas,
certain that he could varnish with literature their melodramatic
actions. So glittering was his varnish, so brilliant was his metrical
rhetoric, so glowing were his golden verses, that he blinded the
spectators and kept the most of them from peering beneath at his
arbitrary and artificial skeleton of supporting melodramatic structure.
To-day, after fourscore years, we can see just what it is that Hugo did;
and his plays, superb as they are in their lyric adornment, stand
revealed as frank melodramas, lacking sincerity of motive and veracity
of character drawing. But when Hugo wrote them they were in Kemble's
phrase "consonant with the taste of the age," and the best of them have
not yet worn out their welcome in the theater.

Stevenson did not heed the warning of Lamb, and he did not profit by the
example of Hugo. 'Deacon Brodie' was born out of date; so was 'Admiral
Guinea'; and all the varnish of literature which the two collaborators
applied externally and with loving solicitude availed naught. It is due
to his entanglement in the strangling coils of Skeltery that Stevenson
did not take the drama seriously. He seemed to have looked at it as
something to be tossed off lightly to make money in the interstices of
honest work. In his stories, long and short, he strove for effect, no
doubt, but he was bent also on achieving sincerity and veracity. In his
plays he made little effort for either sincerity or veracity, so far at
least as his plot was concerned; and he thought he could lift these
concoctions to the level of literature by the polish of his dialog, and
by qualities applied on the outside instead of being developed from the
inside. He seems to have believed that in the drama, at least, he could
attain beauty by constructing his ornament instead of by ornamenting his
construction, ignoring or ignorant of the fact that in the drama, the
construction, if only it be solid enough, and four square to all the
winds that blow, needs no ornament and is most impressive in its stark

In his boyhood Goethe had also played with a toy theater, and it was a
puppet-show piece which first called his attention to the mighty theme
of his supreme poem; but the great German poet, captivated as he may
have been by his youthful experience, was able in his manhood to free
himself from its shackles. He came in time to have a profound insight
into the principles of dramatic art, and of the dramaturgic craft. In
his old age he talked about the theater freely and frequently to
Eckermann; and there are few of his utterances which do not furnish food
for reflection. Here is one of them:

     Writing for the stage is something peculiar; and he who does
     not understand it had better leave it alone. Every one thinks
     that an interesting fact will appear interesting on the
     boards--nothing of the kind! Things may be very pretty to read,
     and very pretty to think about; but as soon as they are put
     upon the stage the effect is quite different; and that which
     has charmed us in the closet will probably fall flat on the
     boards.... Writing for the stage is a trade that one must
     understand, and requires a talent that one must possess. Both
     are uncommon, and where they are not combined, we have scarcely
     any good result.

That Stevenson had the native gift of the dramatist is undisputable, and
Sir Arthur Pinero in his lecture was able to make this clear. But
"writing for the stage is also a trade that one must acquire"; and when
Stevenson sought to acquire it he apprenticed himself to Skelt not to
Sardou, to Redington and Pollock, not to Augier and Dumas.


[Illustration: Grindoff and banditti carousing. Lower half of Plate No.
5, Pollock's characters in the 'Miller and His Men']

P.S.--After the publication of this paper in _Scribner's Magazine_, a
friendly reader in Great Britain was kind enough to copy out for me this
Skeltian lyric, which appeared in the London _Fun_ in 1868, and which
was probably rimed by Henry S. Leigh:


    Ah me! since first, long, long ago,
      I learned to love the British stage,
    It has--or I have--altered so,
      It scarce receives my patronage!
    Where are the villain's spangled tabs,
      His cloak, his ringlets, and his belt?
    Where are his scowls, his growls, his stabs,
      As shown of old by Park and Skelt?

    Once was I manager myself,
      And played the 'Miller and his Men';
    My company--ah, happy elf!
      I had no trouble with them then--
    They never sulked, forgot their lines,
      Threw up their parts, or asked for "gelt"--
    For as the reader p'r'aps divines--
      I got them all of Park and Skelt.

    I stuck them on, and cut them out,
      I painted them with colors bright;
    I scattered tinsel-specks about,
      And made them things of beauty, quite--
    Not joys forever--ne'ertheless,
      They've vanished just as snowflakes melt.
    None can restore the bliss, I guess,
      I once derived from Park and Skelt.

    How I revered the artist's skill
      Who did my heroes represent--
    With scowls the very soul to thrill--
      With one leg straight and one leg bent!
    I loved his ladies full of grace,
      And on their beauties fondly dwelt:--
    My first pictorial love could trace
      Her pedigree to Park and Skelt.

    Ah me! 'tis many a year since I
      Those dear old plates--a penny plain
    And two-pence colored--did espy;
      I ne'er shall see their like again!
    The world's with disappointment rife,
      And I have far too often felt
    That actors now are less like life
      Than those I bought of Park and Skelt!


                             WHY FIVE ACTS?

                             WHY FIVE ACTS?


In the eighteenth century, both in England and in France, every stately
and ponderous tragedy and every self-respecting comedy obeyed the
obligation imposed by long tradition and duly stretched itself out to
the full measure of five acts, no more and no less. It felt bound thus
to distend itself, even tho its theme might be far too frail for so huge
a frame, and even tho the unfortunate author often found himself at his
wit's end to piece out his play's end. Any one who has had occasion to
read widely in the works of the eighteenth century playwrights cannot
fail to feel abundant sympathy for the harassed poet who plaintively
called on Parliament to pass a law abolishing fifth acts altogether.
This unduly distressed dramatist was an Englishman; but about the same
time a Frenchman, weary of contemplating the frequent emptiness of the
contemporary tragic stage, sarcastically remarked that, after all, it
must be very easy _not_ to write a tragedy in five acts.

Yet if tragedy was to be written at all, it had to have five acts, since
a smaller number would not seem proportionate to a truly tragic subject.
But why five acts? Why has five the number sacred to the tragic muse?
Why did even the comic muse demand it? Why does George Meredith,
discussing comedy, declare that "five is dignity with a trailing robe;
whereas one, or two, or three acts would be short skirts, and
degrading." Why not three acts, or seven? Why was it that any other
number of acts was unthinkable--or at least never thought of?

Questions like these seem to have floated before the mind of the Abbé
d'Aubignac, writing in the seventeenth century, and he came very near
putting to himself the query which serves as a title for this chapter.
"Poets have generally agreed that all Drammas regularly should have
neither more nor less than Five Acts; and the Proof of this is the
general observation of it; but for the Reason, I do not know whether
there be any founded in Nature. Rhetorick has this advantage over Poetry
in the Parts of Oration, that the Exord, Narration, Confirmation and
Peroration are founded upon a way of discoursing natural to all Men....
But for the Five Acts of the Drammatick Poem, they have not been framed
upon any sound ground."

That the division of a drama into five parts was accepted in every
civilized country as the only possible division, seems very strange
indeed, when we consider that there is really no artistic justification
for it, nor any logical necessity. Like every other work of art a play
ought to have a single subject, a clearly defined topic; in other words,
it ought to have Unity of Action. There is no denying that some of the
greatest artists have, now and again, been tempted to deal with two
themes at the same time, combining these as best they could in a single
work at the risk of leaving us a little in doubt as to their intention;
but in the immense majority of acknowledged masterpieces the interest is
carefully centered in a single object. In these masterpieces the action
is single and unswerving, sweeping forward irresistibly to its
inevitable end.

If, therefore, we accept the Unity of Action as a general rule, binding
upon all artists, we can hardly deny that the most obviously natural
arrangement for the story is to set it forth in one act, without any
intermission or subdivision whatsoever--a single action in a single act.
Yet it is the play in three acts which we are bound to recognize at once
as possessing the ideal form, since it enables the dramatist to set
apart the three divisions, which Aristotle declared to be essential to a
well-constructed tragedy--the beginning, the middle, and the end--each
presented in an act of its own. To put a play into more than three acts
is possible only by halving one or another of these three essential
parts. In a four-act play, the beginning may be split into two acts; and
in a five-act play the middle may also be subdivided.

The logic of the three-act form, and the convenience of it also, are so
obvious that ever since the tyranny of the Procrustean framework in five
acts was abolished in the middle years of the nineteenth century,
practical playwrights of all countries have favored it more and more.
The young Dumas used it in his later plays, and so did Ibsen, that
consummate master of stagecraft, emancipated from empty traditions, but
profiting shrewdly by every available device of his immediate
predecessors. If the four-act form is also popular to-day, this seems to
be because the modern dramatist, intending a play in three acts, finds
himself forced by sheer press of matter, to subdivide one of the
essential members, as Sir Arthur Pinero had to do in the 'Second Mrs.
Tanqueray' and Mr. Henry Arthur Jones in the 'Liars.' Even the opera,
which liked the larger framework of five acts when Scribe was writing
librettos for Halévy and Meyerbeer, is now content with only three,
since Wagner revealed his skill as a librettist.

It is true that Freytag, in his sadly old-fashioned treatise on 'Technic
of the Drama,' accepted without cavil the five-act form, and even
attempted to justify it by asserting that there are in fact five
divisions of a tragic action. He symbolized the arrangement of a drama
in a pyramidal structure, declaring that it ascends from the
Introduction to the Climax, and then descends to the Catastrophe.
Obviously these are only different terms for the beginning, the middle,
and the end. But he vainly imagined two other members, the Rise, which
intervenes between the Introduction and the Climax, and the Fall, which
he inserted between the Climax and the Catastrophe. Obviously, again,
this is an explanation after the event; and it seems to have its origin
solely in his acceptance of the five-act form. And Freytag was forced to
abandon his own theory when he considered honestly certain of the
masterpieces of the modern drama. He admitted it to be "impossible that
the single acts should correspond entirely to the five great divisions
of the action." He asserted that "in the Rising Action, the first stage
was usually in the first act, the last sometimes in the third; of the
Falling Action the beginning and the end were sometimes taken in the
third and fifth acts." Yet he failed to see that if he made this
admission, he cut the ground from under his feet, and that there was no
longer any acceptable reason for his insistence upon the five-act form.

Freytag had no doubt at all as to the necessity of the division into
five acts. He received it with blind faith, as tho it had been
prescribed by divine authority. Yet if he had chosen to explore the
early history of the drama in his own tongue, he would have found Hans
Sachs sometimes extending his plays into six acts, and even into seven.
And if he had cared to consider the drama of the Spaniards he would have
seen that the most of the plays of Calderon are in three acts--a
division which the great dramatic poet of Spain had taken over, as he
had taken over so much else, from his masterful predecessor, Lope de
Vega. In his interesting and illuminating little treatise on the art of
writing plays, Lope de Vega gave the credit of establishing the
three-act form to Virues. Plays had previously been written in four
acts; as Lope puts it pleasantly: "The drama had gone on all fours, like
a child, and truly it was then in its infancy."

Freytag ignored or was ignorant of Hans Sachs and Calderon. His mind was
fixed on Goethe and on Schiller, altho his vision also included
Shakspere, upon whom the two German poets had more or less modeled
themselves. The tradition of the five-act form might not obtain in the
earliest German drama, as it did not obtain in the Spanish; but it was
firmly established in the later German drama, in the English, and in the
French. It is easy to see that the later Germans derived it from the
French and the English; but where did the French and the English get it?
Where could they get it? No such division existed in the medieval drama,
in the mysteries and in the miracle-plays, out of which the drama of
every modern language has been developed. No such division existed in
the Greek drama, which has served as a standard and as a stimulus to the
drama of every modern literature. A Greek tragedy was represented
without any intermission in a single, long unbroken act; and if a
sequence of three plays was sometimes performed, one after another, on
the same day, and dealing with successive periods of the same story,
this trilogy might suggest a division into three parts. Nor is any hint
of the duty of dividing a tragedy into five parts to be discovered
anywhere in Aristotle.


And yet we must go back to the Greek theater if we want to see why it is
that the 'Femmes Savantes' of Molière and the 'School for Scandal' of
Sheridan are each of them in five acts. But it is not from a Greek that
we get the law that this division was obligatory on all self-respecting
dramatists; it is from a Roman, writing at a time when the drama of his
own language had been ousted from the stage by pantomimic spectacle and
by gladiatorial combat. It is Horace, who, in his epistle on the art of
poetry, declares the necessity of five acts:

    Ne brevior, neu sit quinto productior actu
    Fabula quae posci vult et spectata reponi.

Sir Theodore Martin rendered this in an English rimed couplet, which
does not completely convey the meaning of the two Latin lines, but which
will serve to show the rigidity of the rule laid down by the Roman poet:

    Five acts a play must have, nor more nor less,
    To keep the stage and have a marked success.

But this still leaves us groping in the dark. Why did Horace declare
this law? What warrant had he? What put the idea into his head? These
are questions answered by a French scholar, M. Weil; in one of his
ingenious and learned 'Études sur le Drame Antique,' he explains that
Horace derived much of his theory of the poetic art from the Alexandrian
critics, and more particularly from the writings of a certain
Neoptolemus of Parium. Probably the Alexandrian authors of tragedy had
been led to adopt a division into five acts by following the example of
Euripides, whose practise was not uniform, but who tended to reduce to
four the number of the lyric odes in his tragedies, thus separating the
purely dramatic passages into five parts.

In Athens the drama had been slowly evolved out of the tragic songs; and
in the surviving tragedies of Æschylus, the earliest of the three great
dramatic poets of Greece, we discover that the choral odes are more
abundant than the dialog which carries on the plot. In the extant plays
of his mighty successor, Sophocles, the drama is seen emerging
triumphant, but the lyrical passages are still frequent and important.
In the later pieces of Euripides, the third and most modern of the Attic
tragedians, we note that the drama has almost wholly disengaged itself
from the lyric out of which it sprang. In Æschylus and in Sophocles the
number of choral odes and the number of episodes, of purely dramatic
passages in dialog, is never fixed, varying from play to play as the
plot might demand. But in Euripides the choral odes are more detached
from the drama; beautiful in themselves, they seem to exist rather for
their own sake than in any integral relation to the play itself. And
apparently Euripides was far more interested in his play, in his plot,
and in his characters, than in these extraneous lyric passages, so he
reduced them to the lowest possible number, generally to four, serving,
so to speak, as exquisite interact music, separating the pathetic play
into five episodes in dialog.

The Alexandrian tragedians came long after Euripides, and to their
sophisticated taste his pathetic and emotional plays appealed far more
than the austerer and manlier masterpieces of his two great
predecessors. Apparently they accepted his form as final; they may even
have left out the choruses altogether; and then their tragedies had five
separate episodes--in other words, five acts. It is these lost
Alexandrian tragedies, composed in the decadent days of the Greek drama,
which seem to have served as the model for Seneca, the eloquent
rhetorician--even tho he frequently took over the theme and often more
or less of the structure of certain of the dramas of Euripides.

The tragedies of Seneca are to be considered rather as dramatic poems
than as poetic dramas, since they were intended not really for
performance by actors, in a theater, before an audience, but for
recitation by a single elocutionist in a private house--much as a
professional reader of our own time might recite unaided a more or less
dramatic poem by Shelley or Byron or Browning. Coming long after Horace,
Seneca unhesitatingly accepted all of the restrictions insisted upon by
the Latin lyrist--including the purely academic limitation of the number
of speakers taking part in any dialog to three, a limitation absolutely
absurd in a poem not intended for actual acting and not forced to
conform to the accidental conditions of the Attic stage. Obeying also
the other rule which he found in Horace's codification of the laws of
dramatic poetry, the Hispano-Roman rhetorician was careful always to cut
up his play into five parts. But he saw his profit in retaining the
chorus, since this could be made to serve as the appropriate mouthpiece
for the elaborate passages of elocutionary splendor in which he

It is not to be wondered at that the Italian scholars of the Renascence
followed the precept of Horace and the practise of Seneca. They were far
more at home in Latin than they were in Greek; and they could hardly
help reading into the literature of Athens what they were already
familiar with in the authors of Rome. To them Seneca was as imposing as
Sophocles, and Horace was almost as weighty as Aristotle. So it is that
Scaliger and Minturno prescribe five acts, and that Castelvetro (always
more practical in his point of view) points out that poets seem to have
found the five-act form most suitable. When an Italian scholar-poet
turned from criticism to creation, the tragedies he conscientiously
composed obeyed all the rules, and his dramatic poems were as academic
as those of Seneca, in that they were intended not for production by
professional actors in a regular theater before spectators who had paid
their way in, but only for an occasional performance by the author
himself assisted by a few of his friends before a little group of
cultivated admirers of antiquity, contemptuous of the real public. These
soulless dramatic poems, devised for declamation by amateurs before a
gathering of dilettants, are now perceived to be merely literary
curiosities, having little connection with the real drama made for the
regular theater and its myriad-minded body of playgoers.

Just as the Italian dramatic poems were imitations of Seneca, so the
French dramatic poems, composed a little later, were imitations of these
Italians, and also of Seneca, more or less indirectly. They were the
imitations of an imitation, aping the outward form of the drama, but
empty of all genuine dramatic spirit, artificial in passion and
high-flown in rhetoric. And there are early English attempts at this
same sort of academic tragedy, more imitative still, since we can see in
them the commingled influence of the French and of the Italians
immediately, and also of the remoter Seneca, whom they revered as the
exemplar of true tragedy. Such a play is 'Gorboduc,' belauded by the
scholarly Sidney--and even on one occasion acted, by main strength. In
all of these imitations, English and French and Italian, we find the
stately chorus abounding in lofty rhetoric; and we find also, and
always, the division into five acts. But in the folk-theater, which the
scholar-poets scorned, and out of which the living drama was to be
developed, there is no trace of any division into acts. In the mysteries
and the miracle-plays, and in the chronicle-plays which grew out of
them, there are numberless episodes, each complete in itself, and never
combined artificially into acts. The composer of any one of these
folk-dramas conceived his story as a continuous narrative shown in
action; and he gave no thought to the number of divisions, of episodes,
of separate scenes, or of acts that it might seem to have.


Tragedy has ever been held to be more elevated than comedy and more
worthy; and comedy has continually accepted the conditions appropriate
to tragedy. Since the dignity of tragedy demanded a division into five
acts, comedy was also subjected to the same rule; and this was done in
spite of the fact that the plays of Plautus and Terence (composed long
before Horace codified his advice to intending poets) were not divided
into acts, if we may judge by the earliest of the surviving manuscripts.
So it is that we find the scholarly authors of the two earliest of
English comedies, 'Ralph Roister Doister' and 'Gammer Gurton's Needle,'
knowing what was expected of them, and giving the five-act form to both
of these amusing plays. But these two comedies, almost contemporary as
they are with the academic and undramatic tragedy of 'Gorboduc,' are far
superior to it in adaptability for actual performance. They are not
intended only to be recited; they can be acted easily and profitably. As
we analyze them we see that the structural complexity may be derived
from the comic dramas of Plautus and Terence, but that the inner spirit
is that of the English folk-theater, of the robust medieval
farce-writers, of the unknown humorist who has left us the laughable and
veracious scene of Mak and the Shepherds.

Scholars as they were, the authors of these two comedies did not scorn
the primitive plays of the plain people of their own time. They did not
despise the unpretending folk-drama which was then pleasing the
populace; in fact, they took stock of it, and found their profit in so
doing. They saw that to be raised up to the level of literature it
needed only to be chastened and stiffened. They accepted the living
tradition of play-making as it came down to them, and in accord with
this tradition they wrought their humorous fantasies, adding the higher
polish and the more adroit plot which they had learned to appreciate in
the Latin comic dramatists. They accepted the native play, bare as it
was, and they enriched it by bestowing on it as much as it could carry
of the finer art of the Romans. Thus it is that the authors of 'Ralph
Roister Doister' and of 'Gammer Gurton's Needle' may have pointed out
the path of progress to the author of the 'Comedy of Errors,' whereas
the authors of 'Gorboduc,' contemptuously rejecting the folk-theater of
their own day, and idly copying the classicist imitations of the
Italians, thereby relinquished whatever direct influence they might have
had upon the growth of tragedy in England.

Both 'Ralph Roister Doister' and 'Gammer Gurton's Needle' were probably
written for performance by college boys, and they have not a little of
the brisk heartiness and of the broad horse-play to which we are
accustomed in the college pieces of to-day. It was for performance at
court that Lyly wrote the most of his plays, which lack the vivacity and
the liveliness distinguishing the two college comic dramas, but which
yet reveal a far better understanding of the drama than was possessed by
the authors of 'Gorboduc.' Lyly again is careful to divide his plays
into five acts. But his contemporaries Greene and Peele, writing solely
for the professional playhouses, were bound by none of the rules which
might be expected in college or at court. Whatever their own scholarly
equipment, when they wrote for the professional players, they followed
unhesitatingly the traditions of the contemporary theater. As
playwrights they were the direct heirs of the anonymous and ignorant
devisers of the medieval drama. They had a story to set on the stage;
they chose a succession of more or less effective episodes, and they
carelessly cast these into dialog, with little thought of form or of
construction. Never do their plays contain matter enough for five full
acts; and we may be certain that no such framework was ever in the mind
of either of these dramatic poets. In the original editions of their
pieces we find no separation into acts and scenes; and if this needless
and misleading subdivision is found in later editions it is the doing of
misguided editors.

In what is accepted as the earliest edition of Kyd's 'Spanish Tragedy,'
the most widely popular of all the pre-Shaksperian plays, the text is
actually divided into four acts. But this division is not structural; it
is almost accidental, as tho it was an afterthought, inserted at the
last moment into the copy intended for the printer, and never in the
mind of the playwright himself when he was preparing the prompt-book for
the actors; and Shakspere, who followed Kyd in more ways than one,
apparently followed him in this also. In the folio edition of his plays,
published after his death, a division into five acts has been made; but
the task has not been accomplished any too skilfully--for example, the
second act of 'King John' has but eighty lines, and here the division is
into four acts only. The suggestion has been proffered that it was,
perhaps, left to the printers to do, the influence of Ben Jonson having
been powerful enough to establish the theory that a self-respecting
dramatist would never fail to cast his tragedies in the five-act form.
It is to be noted also that no division into acts is to be found in the
quarto editions published in Shakspere's lifetime; and this is very
significant since these quartos seem to have been piratical copies from
shorthand notes taken surreptitiously in the theater, thus recording the
actual conditions of performance.

It may be doubted whether Shakspere conceived his plays in accordance
with any such subdivisions. Some of them, the 'Comedy of Errors' for
one, which can be acted in the space of an hour and a quarter, are far
too slight for so huge a framework. On the other hand, the several
appearances of Chorus punctuate 'Henry V' into five divisions,
apparently an intentional conformity to the Horatian rule. Of course,
there were generally several intermissions in the Elizabethan
performance of a play, altho the resulting divisions were not
necessarily five; and it is noteworthy that Shakspere makes Jaques
declare that man's life had seven acts.


The fact is that Shakspere was a professional playwright, and that he
had no merely academic theories. In composing his plays he followed
unhesitatingly the principles that had guided his immediate
predecessors. He was seeking ever to give the playgoing public what it
had been accustomed to enjoy in the theater, better in degree, no
doubt, but the same in kind. Like these predecessors, he kept to the
traditions inherited from the medieval mysteries; and he thought in
terms, not of acts and of scenes, as a modern playwright is forced to
do, but of a continuous narrative shown in action. In doing so he
resembles Herodotus, whose history has also been cut up by later
editors, dividing it into nine books, altho, as Professor Bury has
reminded us, "such divisions had not yet come into fashion" in the
historian's own day. There is no reason to suppose that Shakspere would
have approved of the attempt of the editors of the folio to subdivide
his plays, each into five acts. There is every reason to suppose that he
would have been greatly annoyed if he could have foreseen the way in
which later editors have chosen further to chop up the acts into an
infinity of scenes.

Nowadays, we have been so accustomed to read Shakspere in one or another
of the trim and tidy modern editions, with a wanton division into acts
and into scenes, each of which indicates a change of place, and each of
which seems to suggest a change of scenery, that it is only by a
resolute effort of the will that we are able to shake off the
prepossessions derived from this unfortunate and confusing presentation
of his text. Probably even to-day a majority of those who enjoy reading
Shakspere would be surprised to be told that there is no warrant
whatever for these alleged changes of scene, and for these superabundant
subdivisions of his story. Many of these readers would be taken aback by
the unexpected discovery that all this cutting up of Shakspere's text
was the work of his commentators, with Rowe at the head of the
procession. Some of these readers would feel as tho they were deprived
of a precious possession, if they had only an edition in which all this
useless machinery was swept away.

And yet this is just the edition which is demanded by the present state
of Shaksperian scholarship, and which is now made possible by our new
understanding of the Elizabethan theater, with its rude platform thrust
out into the yard, so different from our modern theaters, in which the
stage is withdrawn behind a picture-frame. The Tudor platform-stage is
wholly unlike the picture-frame stage of to-day; but it is very like the
"pageant," or the scaffold on which the mysteries and miracle-plays were
presented. It was to the simple conditions of his semi-medieval theater
that Shakspere adjusted himself, rude as those conditions may now appear
to us who are accustomed to the sumptuous picturesqueness of our own
luxuriant playhouses.

In accepting the theater as he found it, and in availing himself of all
its possibilities, such as they were, Shakspere showed his usual common
sense. Only by striving to reconstruct for ourselves in our mind's eye,
as it were, the playhouse where he plied his trade and earned his
living, can we come to any adequate appreciation of his art, of his
craftsmanship as a playwright, of his dramaturgic skill. And in any
honest effort to understand how his mighty dramas were originally
produced by himself and by his fellow actors in the round O of the
wooden Globe Theater, unroofed and unlighted except by the dingy
daylight of northern Europe, we need always to keep fast in our mind the
fact that all preconceptions are false that may be derived from our
memory of latter-day performances in theaters of a type which the
Elizabethan dramatists could not foresee, and of which the conditions
are often the exact opposite of those they accepted without hesitation.
That is to say, the most profitable way to reconstruct mentally the
Tudor playhouse is to banish from our minds every impression made by our
modern theater, with its elaborate complexity, and to study out for
ourselves the simple circumstances of performance in the Middle Ages.
And as a first step toward the proper standpoint, we must cast out our
traditional belief that Shakspere always accepted the classicist formula
of five acts, proclaimed by Horace, and employed by Seneca. That he did
use it in one or two plays seems indisputable, and he may very well have
employed it in a few others, but there is no reason to suppose that he
would have submitted himself any more willingly to the rule of five acts
than he did to the rule of the three unities.

It may be doubted also whether not a few dramatists, writing later than
Shakspere, would not have done well to claim the liberty he and Lope de
Vega chose to exercise at will. Racine, for one, had sadly to stretch
his 'Athalie' to fill out the five-act framework which he had blindly
accepted, altho he had earlier limited 'Esther' to three acts. Schiller,
for another, would have gained a swifter compactness for his play if he
had left out the needless fifth act of his 'William Tell' and rolled his
fourth act into his third. Victor Hugo had to manufacture a fourth act
for his 'Ruy Blas,' so slightly related to his main story that it was
cut out of the English adaptation acted by Fechter and Booth. Ibsen, it
may be added, composed his first tragedy, 'Catiline,' in three acts,
altho it was in blank verse, thus early revealing his characteristic
independence of tradition.


P. S.--Since this paper was written I have found two opinions as to the
number of acts a play ought to have which were unknown to me when I
undertook the discussion. The first is in the 'Dasarupa,' the Hindu
treatise on the craft of play-making: "There are five stages of the
action which is set on foot by those that strive after a result:
Beginning, Effort, Prospect of Success, Certainty of Success, Attainment
of the Result."

The second is in the commentary made by Robert Louis Stevenson during
his methodical perusal of the dramas of the elder Dumas. After reading
'Henri III et sa Cour,' Stevenson declares that here in Dumas's first
piece "is the cloven foot; a fourth act that has no part or lot in the
play; a fourth act that is a mere incubus and interruption--that takes
the eye off the action, and between two spirited and palpitating scenes
interjects a damned sermon on the history of France. Poor Tribonian had
a sore job to make up the fifty books of the Pandects; what was that to
the labor of a dramatist bent on filling his five acts? I go as far as
this: the natural division of the normal play is four: Act I,
exposition; Act II, the problem produced; Act III, the problem argued;
Act IV, the way out of it."



                         DRAMATIC COLLABORATION

                         DRAMATIC COLLABORATION


It is a significant fact that whenever and wherever the drama has
flourished most abundantly and most luxuriantly, we are certain to find
a tendency to collaboration, to the partnership of two authors in the
composition of one play. In England in the spacious days of good Queen
Bess, there is not only the famous association of Beaumont and Fletcher,
but also a host of other more or less temporary combinations, Fletcher
with Shakspere and Massinger, Dekker with Ben Jonson and with Middleton.
In Spain Lope de Vega joined forces with Montalvan and with others. In
France in the seventeenth century Molière, once at least called to his
aid Corneille and Quinault; and in France again in the nineteenth
century we find Augier working with Sandeau and with Foussier, Scribe
working with Legouvé, and with a score of others, while Dumas the elder
was encompassed by a cloud of collaborators, and Dumas the younger was
willing on more than one occasion to join various writers in the plays
which he included in the separate volumes of his works, called by him
the 'Théâtre des Autres.' Then also in France there was the
long-continued alliance of Meilhac and Halévy, to which we owe
'Froufrou' and the 'Grand Duchess of Gérolstein'; and there was also
the almost equally interesting association of MM. Caillavet and de
Flers. Sardou had one ally in the composition of 'Divorçons,' and
another in the composition of 'Madame Sans Gêne.' In Great Britain in
recent years we have seen Sir James Barrie and Sir Arthur Pinero unite
in writing a book for music; Mr. Bennett and Mr. Knoblauch unite in
writing 'Milestones'; Mr. Granville Barker and Mr. Laurence Housman
unite in writing 'Prunella.' And in the United States there was a score
of years ago the steady collaboration of Mr. Belasco with the late H. C.
De Mille, to which we owe the 'Charity Ball' and the 'Wife'; and more
recently Mr. Belasco also has collaborated with Mr. John Luther Long in
writing 'Madame Butterfly,' and the 'Darling of the Gods.' Mr. Augustus
Thomas was once the partner of Mr. Clay Greene; Mr. Bronson Howard
composed one of his latest plays, 'Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of New
Amsterdam,' in association with another American man of letters; and Mr.
Booth Tarkington and Mr. Harry Leon Wilson were the co-authors of the
'Man from Home' and of half a dozen other pieces.

While this prevalence of the practise of collaboration in periods of
dramatic productivity is significant, it is equally significant that
there is no corresponding prevalence of the practise of collaboration in
novel-writing. True it is that there are certain fairly well-known
partnerships in the history of prose fiction--that of Erckmann-Chatrain,
in French, for instance, and that of Besant and Rice in English. True it
is that Dickens and Wilkie Collins were joint authors of 'No
Thorofare,' and that Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner were joint
authors of the 'Gilded Age.' True it is also, that novels have been
written not only by two partners, but by what can fairly be described as
a syndicate of associated authors, the 'King's Men' by four, 'Six of One
and Half a Dozen of the Other' by six, and the 'Whole Family' by twelve
(including Mr. Howells and Mr. Henry James, Mrs. Mary E. Wilkins
Freeman, and Doctor Henry van Dyke). These freakish conglomerates are
sporadic only; they seem to be little better than literary "stunts"; and
even the union of two writers in the production of a single novel is far
less frequently to be observed than the union of two writers in the
production of a single play. The former is unusual, whereas the latter
seems to be so common as to excite no comment.

Now, there must be a reason for this difference. If the playwrights find
it advantageous to double up, and the novelists do not discover any
profit in putting on double harness, there ought to be some evident
explanation. When we consider more carefully the essentially different
conditions of the art of prose fiction and the art of play-writing, it
is not difficult to perceive fairly obvious reasons for the varying
procedure of the practitioners of these rival arts, which may seem so
much alike, but which are really so very different in their methods and
in their possibilities.

The French critic Joubert once asserted that "to make in advance an
exact and detailed plan is to deprive one's intellect of all the
pleasures of novelty and chance meeting during its execution; it is to
make this execution insipid, and in consequence impossible, in works
calling for enthusiasm and imagination." This is an overstatement--but
it is not a misstatement--of a principle of composition which is
fundamentally sound in the writing of prose fiction, but which is
fundamentally unsound in the writing of plays. The drama demands a
well-built story, artfully put together, while a novel need not have a
coherent and compact plot. Some great novels, Fielding's 'Tom Jones' for
one, and Turgenef's 'Smoke' for another, have each of them a beautifully
articulated structure, and so has Mr. Howells's 'Rise of Silas Lapham,'
to take a later example. But other great novels are frankly more or less
haphazard in their movement, the 'Pickwick Papers,' for instance, and
'Tartarin on the Alps,' and 'Huckleberry Finn.' And it is not too much
to say that only a very few novels attain to the severity of structure,
the regularity of action, the straightforward, unswerving movement which
we discover in the dramas of a corresponding rank, and which can be
achieved only by making in advance the exact and detailed plan that
Joubert held to be fatal in works calling for enthusiasm and

Of course, the drama can utilize enthusiasm and imagination quite as
often and quite as abundantly as can prose fiction, but it must use
these precious gifts with a discretion which is not imposed upon its
rival. In a novel enthusiastic imagination may lure the story-teller
into a host of by-paths not foreseen by him when he set out on his
journey; and while he is adventuring himself in these by-paths, he may
chance to encounter characters of a diverting or an appealing
personality, whom it may amuse him to delineate, and whom the readers of
his book will be glad to welcome. But in a drama the story-teller is
debarred from these wanderings from the straight and narrow road, and he
must, perforce, control his enthusiastic imagination, compelling it to
do its work within the rigid limits of the artfully devised framework of
the plot.

In other words, character is all-important in prose fiction, and the
ultimate fame of the novelist depends upon his power of endowing his
creatures with life, and upon his ability to let them obey the laws of
their being before our eyes. This must the playwright also achieve; but
he has the added duty of relating his characters intimately to the main
action of his drama. Now, the novelist is under no obligation of this
sort; he appeals not to a crowd seated before a stage, but to the
solitary reader in the study; and experience shows that solitary readers
do not insist upon the solidity of structure in a novel which the same
individuals desire and demand when they betake themselves to the
theater. The novel-reader may be satisfied by characters who do not know
their own minds, and who are merely exhibited and put through their
paces, without having any vital relation to the story, even if there is
anything which can fairly be called a story--and in some novels of high
repute, in Sterne's 'Sentimental Journey,' for example, and in Anatole
France's 'Histoire Contemporaine,' each of them extending over several
volumes, there is little or no story, no main thread, no pretense of a


Here, then, is the fatal difference between a novel and a play; a novel
may have a plot, but a plot is not necessary, and it can get along with
a minimum of story; whereas a play must have a plot, skilfully
articulated, even if the skeleton is beautifully covered; it must have a
story peopled by persons knowing their own minds, a story set in action
by a dominating will, which determines the successive episodes of the
action. As the making of a plot, as the putting together of a supporting
skeleton of action, calls for dexterity of workmanship, for ingenuity of
resource, for adroitness of construction, for the most careful
consideration of the means whereby the end is to be obtained, two heads
are often better than one, because the partners have to talk the thing
out to its uttermost details before they decide upon the straight line
which is the shortest distance between two points. The technic of
play-making is more exacting than the technic of novel-writing, and it
requires imperatively the exact and detailed plan which Joubert held to
be hampering to enthusiasm and imagination. Scott, for example, as he
tells us himself, began more than one of his novels not knowing what he
was going to put into it, and not knowing from day to day, as he was
writing, what his ultimate goal would be. But no playwright, however
happy-go-lucky in his tendencies, has ever dared to begin a play before
he knew with absolute certainty how he intended to end it. In the drama
we insist upon a straightforward and unswerving action; the end is
implied in the beginning, and the beginning is only what that end makes

As the technic of the drama is exacting, it needs to be acquired by a
period of apprenticeship; and here is another of the indisputable
advantages of collaboration. The more inexperienced of the two
collaborators is taken into the studio, so to speak, of the more expert,
and he thereby learns the secrets of stage-craft in the best possible
way, by applying them under the direction, or at the suggestion and by
the advice, of an older practitioner, to whom they have become so
familiar that they are a second nature, as it were.

Collaboration is the best conceivable school for young playwrights. It
is impossible to overestimate the influence of Scribe's multiplied
collaborations upon the drama of France in the mid-years of the
nineteenth century; and almost as potent, because almost as wide-spread,
was the influence of the many collaborations of the elder Dumas. Most of
those who were the temporary partners of Scribe and Dumas were subdued
to their more powerful associate, and contributed little or nothing
beyond their fundamental suggestions for the several plays, and their
incidental suggestions as to details of the working-out. That is to say,
most of the plays signed by Scribe and Dumas in partnership with others
have a close similarity to the plays they signed alone. But from this
generalization we may except 'Adrienne Lecouvreur' and 'Bataille de
Dames,' in which Scribe had Legouvé for a partner, and in which we find
a greater richness of character delineation than in any of the pieces
that Scribe composed alone, as we find also a greater dexterity of
construction than in any of the pieces that Legouvé composed alone.

To the fact that 'Milestones' was written by Mr. Arnold Bennett and Mr.
Edward Knoblauch in conjunction, and to the friendly discussion due to
their working together, we may credit the superior stage-effectiveness
of this play over the 'Kismet,' which Mr. Knoblauch wrote alone, and
over the 'Great Adventure,' for which Mr. Bennett was solely
responsible. To the composition of 'Milestones' each of these two
authors, the American and the Englishman, brought his special
qualifications, each of them not only stimulating but supplementing the
other. So we find the most famous French comedy of the nineteenth
century, the 'Gendre de M. Poirier,' a better piece of work, more
equably balanced than any play written alone by either Augier or

It is scarcely necessary to say that there is little profit in a
partnership for play-making when both of the associates are equally
inexpert, or when they were both possessed of wrong notions about the
art of the drama. In the former case we have the blind leading the
blind, and the most lamentable example of this is the long forgotten
'Ah Sin,' which Bret Harte and Mark Twain combined to compose that C. T.
Parsloe could impersonate the Heathen Chinee. In the latter case we have
not only the blind leading the blind, but a perverseness in going the
wrong way, intensified by the complete sympathy between the two
associates; and the most lamentable example of this is the 'Deacon
Brodie' of Robert Louis Stevenson and William Ernest Henley, who not
only were ignorant of the modern technic of the drama, but who ignored
it of set purpose, deliberately going up a blind alley despite the plain
sign that there was no thorofare.


Yet Stevenson, at least, perceived clearly enough what ought to be the
more evident advantages of collaboration, that it focused "two minds
together on the stuff," thus producing "an extraordinarily greater
richness of purview, consideration, and invention." Collaboration will
probably always produce a greater richness of invention, since each of
the partners is likely to stimulate the other, their two minds striking
sparks like flint and steel. But it can produce a greater richness of
consideration only when each is willing both to yield and to oppose.
Neither must yield too easily; each of them must stand out for his own
suggestions; and each of them must insist on weighing and measuring the
suggestions of his ally. If they are too sympathetic, if their two
hearts beat as one, then the advantage of their having two heads is
diminished. If the two partners always think alike, then there will be
no greater richness of purview.

When a play composed by two of his friends failed to find the success on
the stage which had been anticipated for it, Mr. Augustus Thomas made
the shrewd remark that the two authors had probably been "too polite to
each other"--that is to say, that they had not insisted upon criticising
the successive suggestions made by each in turn. On the other hand, the
collaborators must be broad-minded enough not to resent this necessary
criticism. Like any other partnership, collaboration is a ticklish
experiment, and it can be profitable only when the two partners are
willing to give and take. They need more than usual self-control; they
must be able, each of them, to preserve his own self-respect while full
of regard for the self-respect of the other. It is not surprising that
the long collaborations of Erckmann-Chatrain and of Meilhac and Halévy
finally came to a sudden end because of an abrupt quarrel. That
disagreement is likely to arise out of the discussions inherent in any
profitable literary partnership is evidenced by a retort credited to the
younger Dumas, who was a rather authoritative partner, and who did not
always succeed in keeping on good terms with those whose plays he had
bettered. A friend once suggested a theme for a play, and invited the
collaboration of Dumas. "But why should I wish to quarrel with you?" was
answer of the witty dramatist.

Perhaps the most remarkable instance of self-control in all the long
history of collaboration is that of Théodore Barrière, the author of the
once-famous play called the 'Marble Heart,' one of the latest of whose
pieces (adapted by Augustin Daly as 'Alixe') was composed in
collaboration with his mother-in-law!

Sometimes the breach between the two partners is postponed until after
the play is completed and produced. Charles Reade and Tom Taylor joined
forces in the composition of the long-popular comedy called 'Masks and
Faces,' and after it had established itself upon the stage, Charles
Reade took its plot and its characters and utilized them in his charming
novel, 'Peg Woffington,' and as he had taken the liberty of thus making
a private profit out of the property of the partnership, it is not to be
wondered at that Tom Taylor was distinctly displeased. But Charles
Reade, altho he collaborated with Tom Taylor, with Paul Merritt, and
with Dion Boucicault, was more or less deficient in the courtesy and
consideration that a man ought to possess to fit him for partnership.
When he allied himself with Dion Boucicault in the writing of the novel
of 'Foul Play,' the collaborators quarreled so violently that they felt
themselves justified in preparing rival dramatizations of the story they
had written in conjunction, so that London playgoers had the opportunity
of choosing between two different theatrical adaptations of the same

When the two partners are courteous to each other but not too yielding,
when they are sympathetic but not too much alike in their
characteristics and qualifications, when each of them supplements the
weaker points of the other, then collaboration ought to result in plays
of more variety of invention, and of more ingenuity of construction than
is likely to be possessed by the average play due to a single mind. This
much must be admitted; and it is the final justification for
collaboration. But altho these partnerships in play-making spread abroad
a knowledge of the principles of the art, and altho they raise the
probable value of the average play, it must be admitted also, and with
equal frankness, that the possibilities of collaboration are sharply

No single one of the mightiest masterpieces of dramatic literature,
ancient and modern, is to be credited to collaboration; and the only
possible exception to this sweeping statement would be urged by the
critics who hold that the 'Gendre de M. Poirier' of Augier and Sandeau
is the masterpiece of French comedy in the nineteenth century. Those who
have climbed to the loftiest height of dramatic art have always done so
alone, sustained by enthusiasm and supported by imagination. In spite of
the greater "richness of purview, consideration, and invention" that
collaboration undoubtedly bestows, the man of surpassing genius, the
great master of the drama, Sophocles or Shakspere or Molière, works best
alone. It is true that he may now and again take to himself an ally, as
Shakspere condescended to the assistance of Fletcher in 'Henry VIII,'
and as Molière invoked the aid of Corneille in 'Psyché,' but it is true
also that these plays, written in collaboration by Shakspere and by
Molière, are not the plays which establish and confirm their fame.
Indeed, these plays are not even among the more important pieces of
Shakspere and Molière, and the reputation of the authors would be no
lower if these plays had never come into existence.

It is by the comedies and tragedies which Shakspere wrote alone that the
Elizabethan stage is made glorious, and not by the dramatic romances
that go under the joint names of Beaumont and Fletcher. It is by the
lyrical melodramas of which Victor Hugo was sole author that we recall
the Romanticist revolt in the French theater in 1830, and immediately
thereafter, and not by the perfervidly passionate pieces that the elder
Dumas put together in partnership with a group of now-forgotten
auxiliaries. It is by the comedies that Augier and the younger Dumas
wrote, each of them expressing himself in his own fashion, that the
drama of France is illumined a score or more years later, and not by the
comedies in the composition of which Scribe had the aid of an army of

In any period of abundant fertility we can observe growing together at
the same time from the soil, a fairly large number of trees rising above
the underbrush, and we can also perceive here and there a tree of
conspicuous eminence towering above these clumps of average height. In
the luxuriant forest of the drama many of the trees of average height
may be ticketed with two names, but the monarchs of the wood, those
whose tops lift themselves high above their neighbors--these will be
found to bear only single signature.



                       THE NOVELIZATION OF PLAYS

                       THE NOVELIZATION OF PLAYS


In Professor Bliss Perry's admirably suggestive 'Study of Prose
Fiction,' he devotes one chapter to a careful consideration of the
essential distinctions between prose fiction and the drama, in which he
makes it plain that "the novel and the play are not merely two different
modes of communicating the same fact or truth," because "the different
modes of presentation really result in the communication of a different
fact." Professor Perry declares that the field of the dramatist is
marked off from that of the novelist "by the nature of the artistic
medium which each man employs," and he asserts that the choice of a
medium for presenting his story and projecting his characters "depends
wholly upon the personality and training of the artist and the nature of
the fact or truth that he wishes to convey to the public". And he sums
up by insisting that "a novel is typically as far removed from a play as
a bird is from a fish, and that any attempt to transform one into the
other is apt to result in a sort of flying-fish, a betwixt-and-between
thing--capable, indeed, of both swimming and flying, but good at
neither." In other words, a dramatized novel or a novelized play is an
attempt to breed an amphibious creature which, as the Irishman once
defined it, "can't live on the land, and dies in the water."

The difference between the novel and the play is due to the inexorable
fact that one is intended to be read alone in the study, and that the
other is intended to be seen on the stage by a crowd; it ought to be
obvious to all who care to consider the question, and yet there are many
who fail to grasp the distinction, deceived by the illusive but
superficial similarities between the two forms, each of which contains a
story carried on by characters who take part in dialogs. And as a result
of this failure to apprehend the vital differences between the two types
of story-telling, the narrative to be perused and the action to be
witnessed, our theaters have long been invaded by dramatized novels, and
our book-stores are now being besieged by novelized plays. In many
cases, if not in most of them, the motive for the transformation is
simply commercial; and in view of the immediate gain to be garnered, the
artistic disadvantages of the procedure are overlooked. If hundreds of
thousands of readers have found pleasure in following the footsteps of a
fascinating heroine thru the pages of a prose fiction, it is possible
always that hundreds of thousands of spectators may be lured to behold
her adventures when they are set forth anew in a stage-play. And if a
compelling plot has drawn audiences night after night into the theater,
it is possible again that this plot may attract book-buyers in equal
numbers when it is retold in a narrative for the benefit of those
remote from the playhouse, or reluctant to risk themselves within its
portals. Managers are ready to tempt the novelist with the hope of a
second crop of fame and fortune, and publishers dangle the same golden
bait before the eyes of the dramatist.

Altho this effort to kill two birds with one stone is more frequent of
late than it used to be, it is not at all new--indeed it existed before
the rise of prose fiction. The dramatic poets of Greece borrowed
episodes from the earliest epic poets. Centuries later Shakspere laid
violent hands on Italian tales and on English romances. On the other
hand, while it must be admitted that the dramatizing of novels has been
far more prevalent in the past than the novelizing of plays, this latter
practise, suddenly popular in the twentieth century, was not unknown in
the centuries that preceded ours. For example, Le Sage levied upon the
Spanish playwrights for many of the characters and the situations he
needed, for his rambling, picaresque novels, 'Gil Blas' and its sister
stories. Another illustration can be found in England earlier than any
in France; and before the play of 'Pericles,' which Shakspere seems to
have edited and improved, was printed and perhaps even before it was
performed, it was novelized by an obscure writer named Wilkins, who was
very probably the author of the original version of the straggling piece
that Shakspere revised. Thru the long years prose fiction and the drama
have struggled with each other for the favor of the public, and each of
them has always been willing to borrow from its rival whenever it found
material fitted for its own special purpose.


But altho the dramatizing of novels was less uncommon a century or two
ago than the novelizing of plays, neither was frequent and neither of
them was in any way prohibited by law. That is to say, the novel and the
play were held to be so different that the novelist could not prevent
the dramatist from borrowing his stories, and the playwright could not
forbid the writer of prose fiction from taking over his plots. Even the
dramatizing of novels was so uncommon that the earlier story-tellers
were not moved to protest when they saw their fictions employed by the
playwrights; in fact, they were often inclined to accept this as a
compliment to their original invention. Marmontel, for instance, in the
preface to a late edition of his 'Moral Tales,' pointed with pride to
the fact that one of these prose narratives had been turned into a play,
and suggested complacently that there were other stories in his
collection worthy of the same fate. Tennyson borrowed the story of his
'Dora' from Miss Mitford; and Charles Reade had no scruple in making a
play out of Tennyson's poem. It must be admitted that Reade's attitude
was rather inconsistent, for he writhed in pain when one of his own
novels was cut into dialog and put on the stage without his permission,
and yet he himself made plays out of novels by Anthony Trollope and by
Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett without asking their leave, and without
heed to their subsequent protests against his high-handed proceeding.
Apparently, when he was the aggressor he thought that he was doing a
service to his victims.

When Reade was guilty of this offense against the developing literary
morals of the nineteenth century, he was probably within his legal
rights, since the British law had not then advanced to the point of
recognizing the author's complete ownership of the fiction he had
created. This defect has been remedied at last, and in the existing
copyright and stage-right legislation of Great Britain and the United
States authors are assumed to reserve to themselves every privilege
which they do not specifically deprive themselves of; and they need no
longer announce that they desire to retain all rights for their own
profit. Both in the British code and in the American the novelist has
now the sole privilege of making a play out of his story, and the
dramatist has the sole privilege of making a novel out of his play.
_Dramatization_ is a word of respectable antiquity, and the
corresponding word, _novelization_, has now been legally recognized as a
distinctive term. The authors had felt a wrong when others could legally
make money out of a plot they had invented; and they asserted a moral
right to control their own works whatever might be the form of
presentation. The progress of legal reform was slow, as it usually is,
but it was also certain. The moral right has now become a legal right of
which the original author may avail himself or not, as he pleases. He
may, if he chooses, dramatize his own novel and novelize his own play;
or, if he prefers, he can sell the permission to rehandle his material
to a professional playwright or to a professional storyteller.


There is one peculiar distinction between the novel and the play which
Professor Bliss Perry did not emphasize. A novel may please long, and
please many when it is only a study of character, like the 'Crime of
Sylvestre Bonnard' of M. Anatole France, or when it is only the record
of a series of adventures and misadventures passing before the eyes of
the chief personage, like the 'Huckleberry Finn' of Mark Twain. A play,
on the other hand, is likely to fail to please audiences in the theater
unless it sets before the spectators a clearly defined struggle, a
conflict of desires, a stark assertion of the human will. That is to
say, the drama must deal with a struggle, and the novel need not. The
drama must be dynamic and the novel may be static--if these scientific
terms may be employed without pedantry. Therefore, while any play may be
novelized, with more or less chance of pleasing its new public, if the
task is skilfully accomplished, only those novels can be successfully
dramatized which happen to present an essential struggle and to display
the collision of contending volitions. Any dramatization of the 'Crime
of Sylvestre Bonnard' or of 'Huckleberry Finn,' of 'Gil Blas' or of the
'Pickwick Papers,' is foredoomed to failure, for these prose fictions
do not contain the stuff out of which a vital play could be made. But
'Jane Eyre,' for example, and the 'Tale of Two Cities,' and 'Uncle Tom's
Cabin' do possess this necessary dramatic element, and they can be made
into plays with a prospect of pleasing audiences in the theater.

Even when the novel chances to have the essential struggle which the
drama demands, the task of adapting it to the stage is not so easy as
the non-expert supposes. At first sight it may seem as if there ought to
be very little difficulty in turning a novel into a play. There is a
story ready-made, situations in abundance, and characters endowed with
the breath of life. Yet as a matter of fact, it is harder to make a play
out of a novel than it is to write an original play. The immediate
danger before the theatrical adapter is that he may be tempted to serve
up the story merely as a panorama of successive episodes instead of
casting out resolutely everything, however good in itself, which does
not bear directly upon the fundamental conflict. This is one reason why
the novelist had better leave the work of dramatization to an
experienced playwright, who will ruthlessly omit many an episode that
the story-teller could not bring himself to discard. In fact, it is hard
even for the expert adapter to disentangle the special situations of a
novel which alone are available in a play, and he is often tempted to
retain much that he had better leave out.

Perhaps it is not too daring a paradox to suggest that a prose fiction
is most likely to be made into a good play when the playwright has not
read the book he is dramatizing, but has only been told the story, so
that he is free to handle the situations afresh in accord with the
conditions of dramatic art, and free to discard the special developments
chosen by the novelist in accord with the very different conditions of
narrative art. The best version of Mrs. Henry Wood's 'East Lynne' is the
French play, 'Miss Multon,' by Adolphe Belot and Eugène Nus; and neither
of the French collaborators knew any more about the English novel than
its bare story, which was told to one of them by a French actress, who
could read English. Now and again a clever playwright, even when he has
the disadvantage of complete familiarity with the novel, can break loose
from it and yet preserve its full flavor; and this is what Mr. George M.
Cohan was able to do in the play wherein he presented the leading
characters of Mr. George Randolph Chester's 'Get-Rich-Quick-Wallingford'
in a set of situations very different from those in the original story.

Thus we see that only a few novels are really fit to be dramatized, and
that even these are often dramatized ineffectively because the
playwright has followed the story-teller too closely instead of putting
the plot back into solution, so to speak, and letting it recrystallize
in dramatic form. The novelizer has a larger liberty since every play
contains a story and characters capable of being transferred to prose
fiction. But his task has its equivalent danger, and the writer of the
narrative may be content merely to tread in the footsteps of the
dramatist, and to do no more than write out more amply the dialog and
the stage business, instead of reconceiving the plot afresh to tell it
more in accord with the divergent principles of the art of prose
fiction. The limitations of time to "the two hours' traffic of the
stage" compel the dramatist to extreme compression; his dialogs must be
far compacter and more pregnant than is becoming in the more leisurely
novel, where the author can take all the time there is. Moreover, the
playwright often does no more than allude to episodes which it would
profit the novelist to present in detail to his readers; and the adroit
novelizer will be quick to seize upon hints of this sort to amplify into
chapters containing interesting material for which the original play
supplied only the most summary suggestion.


The novelizing of plays is frequent and profitable in America in these
early years of the twentieth century; and it had been attempted
infrequently even in the seventeenth century. Yet only one of these
novelized plays has succeeded in winning an honorable place for itself
in prose fiction. This is the charming tale of theatrical life in the
eighteenth century, 'Peg Woffington,' which Charles Reade made out of
the comedy of 'Masks and Faces,' written by him in collaboration with
Tom Taylor. Reade took the liberty of novelizing this comedy without
asking Taylor's permission, and even without consulting his
collaborator; and all the comment that need be made is that the
procedure was truly characteristic of Reade's lordly attitude toward
others--an attitude taken by him on many other occasions. But whatever
injustice he did to his fellow worker, he did none to the joint product
of their invention; he transmuted a play into a novel with due
appreciation of the demands of the other art, and he produced a
fascinating tale with a fascinating heroine, which has been read by
thousands who have had no suspicion that Peg Woffington had originally
figured in a comedy.

Charles Reade was able to accomplish this feat because he was more
skilful as a novelist than as a dramatist, altho he fancied himself
rather as a maker of plays than as a writer of stories. More than once
did he attempt to repeat this early success in winning two prizes with
the same horse. He took the 'Pauvres de Paris' of Brisebarre and
Nus--the same play which Dion Boucicault had adapted as the 'Streets of
New York'--and made a version which he called 'Gold,' under which name
it had a few performances. He had materially modified the French plot in
his English play; and he got still further away from Brisebarre and Nus,
when he novelized 'Gold,' and called it 'Hard Cash,' a matter-of-fact
romance. Later he dramatized this novel of his, and the resulting play
did not bear any close resemblance to the 'Pauvres de Paris.'

Reade also collaborated a few years later with Henry Pettitt in a piece
called 'Singleheart and Doubleface,' which he promptly proceeded to
novelize--again without consulting his partner. For this indelicacy,
swift vengeance followed, as the British novel, being then unprotected
by copyright in the United States, was immediately dramatized by Messrs.
George H. Jessop and William Gill. It may be noted here casually that
another of Reade's romances, 'White Lies,' afterward dramatized by him,
had been originally novelized from a French play called the 'Château de
Grantier,' written by Auguste Maquet (the ally of Dumas in the 'Three
Guardsmen' and 'Monte Cristo'). It is not a little surprising that a man
like Reade, who prided himself on his originality, and who even went so
far as to accuse George Eliot of stealing his thunder, should have been
willing to call so frequently on the aid of collaborators, and to derive
so much of his material from foreign sources.

The only other author who has ventured to turn a play into a novel, and
then back into a play varying widely from the original piece, is Sir
James Barrie, and what he did was not quite what Reade had done. Sir
James wrote a charming story, called the 'Little White Bird,' and he
found in his own prose fiction part of the material out of which he was
moved later to make a charming play, called 'Peter Pan.' For reasons
best known to himself, but deplored by all who are interested in the
progress of the English drama, Sir James Barrie has chosen to publish
only a few of his comedies. Yet he met the demands of a multitude of
readers by borrowing from his fantastic piece a part of the material
which he made into a delightful tale, called 'Peter Pan in Kensington
Gardens.' These successive rehandlings of an idea, first in prose
fiction, then in dramatic form, and finally again in prose fiction, were
possible only to a novelist who was also a dramatist--to an author who
had mastered the secrets of two different methods of story-telling, the
method of the theater and the method of the library.


The novelist-dramatist of this type is a comparatively new figure in
literature. Formerly there was a sharp line of cleavage between the man
who wrote novels and the man who wrote plays, altho one or the other
might be lured on occasion into a sporadic raid into the territory of
the other. During three-quarters of the nineteenth century prose fiction
reigned supreme in every modern literature except that of France, and
the novelists were rather inclined to look down on the playwrights, and
to dismiss the drama as an inferior form, likely to be absolutely
superseded by prose fiction. But toward the end of the century there
began to be visible signs of an awakening interest in the drama, and
also of a slackening interest in prose fiction. The novelists of the
twentieth century, so far from holding the drama to be an inferior form,
are discovering that it is at least a more difficult form, and therefore
artistically more attractive. As a result of this discovery not a few
novelists have turned playwrights, taking the pains to learn the
principles of the more dangerous art of play-making. Sir James Barrie in
England, M. Paul Hervieu in France, Herr Sudermann in Germany, and
Signor d'Annunzio in Italy may not have abandoned altogether the prose
fiction in which they first won fame, but at least they now devote the
major part of their energies to the drama. It may be recalled that Clyde
Fitch began his literary career as a writer of short stories, and that
Mr. Bernard Shaw originally emerged to view as the author of a novel.

On the other hand, it must be noted as significant that the playwrights
are not tempted to turn novelists; they seem to be satisfied with their
own art as the more exacting, and therefore the more interesting. M.
Rostand and M. Maeterlinck, Sir Arthur Pinero and Mr. Henry Arthur
Jones, Mr. William Gillette and Mr. Augustus Thomas have not been lured
from the drama into prose fiction. The novel is a loose form which makes
only lax demands on its practitioners, and which does not require an
artist always to do his best. The play has a severe technic, and it
tolerates no carelessness of construction. The more gifted a
story-teller may be, and the more artistic, the more probable it is that
in the immediate future he will seek to express himself in the drama,
even if he is also moved now and again to return to the easier path of
prose fiction.

And this raises another interesting point. Now that the drama is rising
again into rivalry with prose fiction, is not the playwright who allows
his piece to be novelized a traitor to his cause? Is he not, in fact,
confessing that he esteems the play inferior to the novel? Apparently
this is the attitude taken by the more prominent dramatists of the day;
most of them publish their plays to be read, and few of them allow these
plays to be novelized--altho they might find a superior profit if they
descended to this. It is an unfortunate fact that the public which is
eager to read prose fiction is not so eager to read the drama. In the
dearth of dramatic literature in our language during the nineteenth
century, the public lost the habit of reading plays, a habit possessed
by the public of the eighteenth century before the vogue of the novel
had been established in consequence of the overwhelming popularity of
Scott, followed speedily by that of Dickens and Thackeray.

Yet there are signs that the general reader is slowly recovering the
ability to find pleasure in the perusal of a play. The social dramas of
Ibsen have, most of them, been performed here and there in the theaters
of Great Britain and the United States; but they have been read by
thousands who have had no opportunity to see them on the stage. So it is
with the plays of Mr. Bernard Shaw, most of which have also appeared in
our playhouses. So it is with the plays of M. Maeterlinck, only a few of
which have been produced in the American theater. In time, it seems
highly probable that the reading public will extend as glad a welcome to
a play by Mr. Galsworthy or by Mr. Booth Tarkington as to one of their
novels. But this happy state can be brought about only if the
dramatists resolutely refrain from novelizing their plays themselves,
and from authorizing novelization by others.



                            WOMEN DRAMATISTS

                            WOMEN DRAMATISTS


To some of the more ardent advocates of the theory that women are
capable of rivaling men in every one of the arts it is a little
surprising, not to say disconcerting, that there are so few female
playwrights. The drama is closely akin to the novel, since it is another
form of story-telling; and in the telling of stories women have been
abundantly productive from a time whereof the memory of man runneth not
to the contrary. And as performers on the stage women have achieved
indisputable eminence; in fact, acting is probably the earliest of the
arts (as possibly it is still the only one) in which women have won
their way to the very front rank; and in the nineteenth century there
were two tragic actresses, Mrs. Siddons and Rachel, certainly not
inferior in power and in elevation to the most distinguished of tragic
actors. Why is it, then, that women story-tellers have not thrust
themselves thru the open stage door to become more effective competitors
of the men playwrights?

Before considering this question, it may be well to record that women
playwrights have appeared sporadically both in French literature and in
English. In France Madeleine Béjart, whose sister Molière married, was
credited with the authorship of more than one play; and in the last
hundred years George Sand and Mme. de Girardin brought out comedies and
dramas, several of which succeeded in establishing themselves in the
repertory of the Comédie-Française. In England at one time or another
plays of an immediate popularity were produced by Mrs. Aphra Behn, Mrs.
Centlivre, and Mrs. Inchbald; and in America Mrs. Bateman's 'Self,' and
Mrs. Mowatt's 'Fashion' held the stage for several seasons, while few of
recent successes in the New York theaters had a more delightful
freshness or a more alluring fantasy than Mrs. Gates's 'Poor Little Rich
Girl,' and few of them have dealt more boldly with a burning question
than Miss Ford's 'Polygamy.' These examples of woman's competence to
compose plays with vitality enough to withstand the ordeal by fire
before the footlights are evidence that if there exists any prejudice
against the female dramatist it can be overcome. They are evidence,
also, that women are not debarred from the competition; and fairness
requires the record here that, when Mr. Winthrop Ames proffered a prize
for an American play, this was awarded to a woman.

But to grant equality of opportunity is not to confer equality of
ability, and when we call the roll of the dramatists who have given
luster to French literature and to English, we discover that this list
is not enriched by the name of any woman. The fame of George Sand is not
derived from her contributions to dramatic literature, and the
contributions of Mrs. Behn, Mrs. Centlivre, and Mrs. Inchbald, of Mrs.
Bateman and Mrs. Mowatt, entitle them to take rank only among the minor
playwrights of their own generations; and to say this is to say that
their plays are now familiar only to devoted specialists in the annals
of the stage, and that the general reader could not give the name of a
single piece from the pen of any one of these enterprising ladies. In
other words, the female playwrights are so few and so unimportant that a
conscientious historian of either French or English dramatic literature
might almost neglect them altogether without seriously invalidating his
survey. Perhaps the only English titles that are more than mere items in
a barren catalog are Mrs. Centlivre's 'Wonder' and Mrs. Cowley's
'Belle's Stratagem'; and the French pieces of female authorship which
might protest against exclusion are almost as few--Mme. de Girardin's
'La Joie fait Peur,' and George Sand's 'Marquis de Villemer' and
'Mariage de Victorine.'

Indeed, the women playwrights of the past and of the present might be
two or three times more numerous than they are, and two or three times
more important without even treading upon the heels of the male
play-makers. This is an incontrovertible fact; yet it is equally
indisputable that as performers in the theater women are competitors
whom men respect and with whom they have to reckon, and that as
story-tellers women are as popular and as prolific as men. And here we
are brought back again to the question with which this inquiry began:
Why is it then that women have not been as popular and as prolific in
telling stories on the stage? Why cannot they write a play as well as
they can act in it?

One answer to this question has been volunteered by a woman who
succeeded as an actress, and who did not altogether fail as a dramatic
poetess, altho she came in later life to have little esteem for her
earlier attempts at play-writing. It is in her 'Records of a Girlhood'
that Fanny Kemble expressed the conviction that it was absolutely
impossible for a woman ever to be a great dramatist, because "her
physical organization" was against it. "After all, it is great nonsense
saying that intellect is of no sex. The brain is, of course, of the same
sex as the rest of the creature; beside the original female nature, the
whole of our training and education, our inevitable ignorance of common
life and general human nature, and the various experiences of existence
from which we are debarred with the most sedulous care, is insuperably
against it"--that is, against the possibility of a really searching
tragedy, or of a really liberal comedy ever being composed by a woman.
To this rather sweeping denial of the dramaturgic gift to women Fanny
Kemble added an apt suggestion, that "perhaps some of the manly, wicked
queens, Semiramis, Cleopatra, could have written plays--but they lived
their tragedies instead of writing of them."


At first sight it may seem as if one of Fanny Kemble's assertions--that
no woman can be a dramatist because of her inevitable ignorance of life
and of the experiences of existence from which she is debarred--is
disproved by the undeniable triumphs of women in acting, and by the
indisputable victories won by women in the field of prose fiction,
achieved in spite of these admitted limitations. But on a more careful
consideration it will appear that as an actress woman is called upon
only to embody and to interpret characters conceived by man with the aid
of his wider and deeper knowledge of life. And when we analyze the most
renowned of the novels by which women have attained fame, we discover
that the best of these deal exclusively with the narrower regions of
conduct, and with the more restricted areas of life with which she is
most familiar as a woman, and that when she seeks to go outside her
incomplete experience of existence she soon makes us aware of the gaps
in her equipment.

One of the strongest stories ever written by a woman is the 'Jane Eyre'
of Charlotte Brontë; and the inexperience of the forlorn and lonely
spinster is almost ludicrously made manifest in her portrayal of
Rochester, a superbly projected figure, not sustained by intimate
knowledge of the type to which he belongs. Charlotte Brontë knew Jane
Eyre inside and out; but she did not know even the outside of Rochester.
Because women are debarred with the most sedulous care from various
experiences of existence they can never know men as men can know women.
This is the basis for the shrewd remark that in dealing with affairs of
the heart men novelists rarely tell all they know, whereas women
novelists are often tempted to tell more than they know. Even women like
George Eliot and George Sand, who have more or less broken out of
bounds, are still more or less confined to their individual associations
with the other sex; and they lack the inexhaustible fund of information
about life which is the common property of men.

Women have most satisfactorily displayed their special endowment for
fiction not in what must be called the dramatic novel, not in
soul-searching studies like the 'Scarlet Letter' and 'Anna Karénine,'
but rather in less solidly supported inquiries into the interrelation of
character and social convention, as in 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Castle
Rackrent.' It would be unfair to assert that Maria Edgeworth and Jane
Austen are superficial; yet it is not unfair to say that they do not
explore deeply, and that they do not deal with what Stevenson called the
great passionate crises of existence, "when duty and inclination come
nobly to the grapple." This is the essential struggle of the drama; and
the authoress of 'Jane Eyre' sought to present it boldly, even if she
was handicapped by insufficient information; and this essential struggle
was what Charlotte Brontë herself missed in Jane Austen: "The passions
are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance
with that stormy sisterhood. What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves
flexibly, it suits her to study; but what throbs fast and full, tho
hidden, what the blood rushes thru, what is the unseen seat of life, and
the sentient target of death--this Miss Austen ignores."

Jane Austen spent her great gift on the carving of cherry-stones,
laboring with exquisite art to lift into temporary importance the
eternally unimportant; and Charlotte Brontë, in her ampler endeavor, was
ever hampered by inadequacy of knowledge. George Eliot, with wider
opportunity than either of these predecessors, profited by both of them
and borrowed their processes in turn; she was broader than they were,
and bolder in her attack on life; her effort is more strenuously
intellectual than theirs, and therefore a little fatiguing, and this is
perhaps why her vogue seems now to be evaporating slowly. And when all
is said, no one of these clever story-tellers really attains to an
altitude of accomplishment where she can fairly be considered as a
competitor of the mighty masters of prose fiction. No woman novelist is
to be ranked among the supreme leaders, worthy to stand by the side of
Cervantes and Fielding, Balzac and Tolstoi. The merits of the women
novelists are many and they are beyond cavil; but no one of them has yet
been able to handle a large theme powerfully and to interpret life with
the unhasting and unresting strength which is the distinguishing mark of
the mightier masters of fiction.


Furthermore, we find in the works of female storytellers not only a lack
of largeness in topic, but also a lack of strictness in treatment. Their
stories, even when they charm us with apt portraiture and with adroit
situation, are likely to lack solidity of structure. 'Castle Rackrent,'
an illuminating picture of human nature in a special environment, is a
straggling sequence of episodes; 'Pride and Prejudice' is almost
plotless, when considered as a whole; and 'Romola' is ill-proportioned
and misshapen. No woman has ever achieved the elaborate solidity of 'Tom
Jones,' the superb structure of the 'Scarlet Letter,' or the simple
unity of 'Smoke.' And here we come close to the most obvious explanation
of the dearth of female dramatists--in the relative incapacity of women
to build a plan, to make a single whole compounded of many parts, and
yet dominated in every detail by but one purpose.

The drama demands a plot, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and
with everything rigorously excluded which does not lead from the
beginning thru the middle to the end. The novel refuses to submit itself
to any such requirement; it can make shift to exist without an
articulated skeleton. There is little or no plot, there is only a casual
succession of more or less unrelated incidents in 'Gil Blas' and
'Tristram Shandy,' in the 'Pickwick Papers,' and in Huckleberry Finn.'
The novel may be invertebrate and yet survive, whereas the play without
a backbone is dead--which is biologic evidence that the drama is higher
in the scale of creation than prose fiction.

"The novel, as practised in English, is the perfect paradise of the
loose end," so Mr. Henry James once pointed out, whereas "the play
consents to the logic of but one way, mathematically right, and with the
loose end as gross an impertinence on its surface and as grave a
dishonor as the dangle of a snippet of silk or wool on the right side of
a tapestry." The action of a story may be what its writer pleases, and
he can reduce it to a minimum or embroider it at will with airy
arabesques of incessant digression; but the plot of a play must be a
straight line, the shortest distance between two points, the point of
departure and the point of arrival. And it is because of this imperative
necessity for integrity of construction that the drama is more difficult
than prose fiction. Since a part of our pleasure in any art is derived
from our consciousness of the obstacles to be overcome by the artist,
and from our recognition of the skill displayed by him in vanquishing
them, we have here added evidence in behalf of the belief in the
artistic superiority of the play over the novel merely as a form of

The drama may be likened to the sister art of architecture in its
insistent demand for plan and proportion. A play is a poor thing, likely
to expire of inanition, unless its author is possessed of the ability to
build a plot which shall be strong and simple and clear, and unless he
has the faculty of enriching it with abundant accessories in accord with
a scheme thought out in advance and adhered to from start to finish.
With this constructive skill women seem to be less liberally endowed
than men; at least, they have not yet revealed themselves as architects,
altho they have won a warm welcome as decorators--a subordinate art for
which they are fitted by their superior delicacy and by their keener
interest in details. Much of the pervasive charm of many of the
cleverest novels of female authorship lies in the persistent ingenuity
with which the lesser points of character, of conduct, and of manners
are presented. In Jane Austen, in Maria Edgeworth, and often also in
George Eliot, we are delighted by little miracles of observation, and by
little triumphs in the microscopic analysis of subtle and unsuspected
motives. But in these very books, the story, however felicitously
decorated, is not sustained by a severe architectural framework. And it
is this firm certainty of structure that the drama imperatively demands.

In other words, women seem to be less often dowered than men with what
Tyndall called "scientific imagination," with the ability to put
together a whole in which the several parts are never permitted to
distend a disproportionate space. This scientific imagination is
essential to the playwright; and the novelist is fortunate if he also
possesses it, altho it is not essential to him. A novel may be only a
straggling succession of episodes; a play must have fundamental unity. A
novelist may fire with a shot-gun and bring down his bird on the wing,
whereas a playwright needs a rifle to arrest the charging lion.

It is a significant fact that only once was George Sand really
triumphant as a dramatist, and that this single success was won by the
secret aid of the cleverest of contemporary playwrights. She was
passionately devoted to the theater; she had many intimate friends among
the stage-folk; she delighted in private theatricals; and she wrote a
dozen or more plays, several of them dramatized from her own stories.
The sole play which held its own on the stage in rivalry with the best
work of Augier and Dumas _fils_ was the 'Marquis de Villemer,' and it
owed its more fortunate fate to the gratuitous and unacknowledged
collaboration of Dumas _fils_.

For the author of the 'Mariage de Victorine,' the author of the 'Dame
aux Camélias' had a high esteem, which he took occasion to express more
than once in his critical papers; and she regarded him with
semi-maternal affection, often inviting him to join the little parties
at Nohant. On one of his visits he heard her say that she was intending
to dramatize the 'Marquis de Villemer,' but that she did not quite see
her way to compact its leisurely action in conformity with the rigid
restrictions of the stage. That evening he borrowed a copy of the novel
to take up to his own room; and the next morning when he came down to
the late breakfast, he laid before her half a dozen sheets of paper,
whereon she found a complete scenario for her guidance, an adroit
division of her novel into acts and scenes, needing only to be clothed
with dialog. With his intuitive understanding of the principles of
play-making, and with his masterly power of construction, he had solved
her problems for her and made it easy for her to write the play.

Here is an unexampled kind of collaboration, since the invention of the
story, the creation of the characters, the dialog to be spoken--these
were all due to George Sand alone; but the concentrating of the
interest, the heightening of the personages of the narrative to adjust
themselves to the perspective of the theater, the serried and
irresistible momentum of the action--these were the contribution of
Dumas, a freewill offering to his old friend. The piece that she wrote
was hers and hers alone, and yet it had a dramatic vitality lacking in
all her other plays, because a man had intervened at the right moment to
provide the architectural framework which the woman could not have
bestowed upon it, however felicitous she might be in the decoration.


Thus it is that we can supply two answers to the two questions posed at
the beginning of this inquiry: Why is it that there are so few women
playwrights? And why is it that the infrequent plays produced by women
playwrights rarely attain high rank? The explanation is to be found in
two facts: first, the fact that women are likely to have only a
definitely limited knowledge of life, and, second, the fact that they
are likely also to be more or less deficient in the faculty of
construction. The first of these disabilities may tend to disappear if
ever the feminist movement shall achieve its ultimate victory; and the
second may depart also whenever women submit themselves to the severe
discipline which has compelled men to be more or less logical.






Only recently have students of the stage seized the full significance of
the fact that dramatic literature is always conditioned by the
circumstances of the special theater for which it was designed. They are
at last beginning to perceive that they need to know how a play was
originally represented by actors before an audience and in a theater to
enable them to appreciate adequately the technical skill of the
playwright who composed it. The dramatist is subdued to what he works
in; and he can accomplish only that which is possible in the particular
playhouse for which his pieces were destined. For the immense open air
auditorium of ancient Athens, with its orchestra leveled at the foot of
the curving hillside whereon thousands of spectators took their places,
the dramatic poet had to select a simple story and to build massively.
For the unadorned platform of the Tudor theater, with its arras pendent
from the gallery above the stage, and with its restless groundlings
standing in the yard, the playwright was compelled to heap up swift
episodes violent with action. For the eighteenth-century playhouse, with
its apron projecting far beyond the line of the curtain, the dramatist
was tempted to revel in ornate eloquence and in elaborate wit. And
nowadays the dramatic author utilizes skilfully all the manifold
resources of the twentieth-century picture-frame stage, not only to give
external reality to the several places where his story is supposed to be
laid, but also to lend to these stage-sets the characteristic atmosphere
demanded by his theme.

Merely literary critics, secluded in their studies, intent upon the
poetry of a play and desirous of deducing its philosophy, rarely seek to
visualize a performance on the stage, and they are, therefore, inclined
to be disdainful of the purely theatrical conditions to which its author
has had, perforce, to adjust his work. As a result they sometimes
misunderstand the dramatic poet's endeavors, and they often misinterpret
his intentions. On the other hand, purely theatrical critics may be
inclined to pay too much attention to stage-arrangements,
stage-business, and stage-settings, and even on occasion to disregard
the dramatist's message and his power of creating character to consider
his technic alone. And yet it can scarcely be denied that the theatrical
critics are nearer to the proper method of approach than the literary
critics who neglect the light which a careful consideration of
stage-conditions and of stage-traditions may cast upon the masterpieces
of the drama.

Since all these masterpieces of the drama were devised to be heard and
to be seen rather than to be read, the great dramatic poets have always
been solicitous about the visual appeal of their plays. They have ever
been anxious to garnish their pieces with the utmost scenic
embellishment and the utmost spectacular accompaniment of the special
kind that a play of that particular type could profit by. In view of the
importance of this scenic embellishment and of its influence upon the
methods of the successive playwrights, there is cause for wonder that we
have no satisfactory attempt to tell the history of the art of the
scene-painter as this has been developed thru the long ages. The
materials for this narrative are abundant, even if they still lie in
confusion. Certain parts of the field have been surveyed here and there;
but no substantial treatise has yet been devoted to this alluring
investigation. The scholar who shall hereafter undertake the task will
need a double qualification; he must master the annals of painting in
Renascence Italy, and later in France and in England, and he must
familiarize himself with the circumstances of the theater at the several
periods when the art of the scene-painter made its successive steps in

It is partly because we have no manual covering the whole field that we
find so many unwarranted assertions in the studies of the scholars who
confine their criticism to a single period of the development of the
drama. Partly also is this due to the fact that we are each of us so
accustomed to the theaters of our own century and of our own country
that we find it difficult not to assume similar conditions in the
theaters of other centuries and other countries. Thus the Shaksperian
commentators of the early eighteenth century seem not to have doubted
that the English playhouse in the days of Elizabeth was not unlike the
English playhouse in the days of Anne; and as a result they cut up the
plays of Shakspere into acts and into scenes, each supposed to take
place in a different spot, in accord with the eighteenth-century stage
practise, and absolutely without any justification from the customs of
the Tudor theater. This was the result of looking back and of believing
that the late sixteenth-century stage must have resembled the early
eighteenth-century stage. We are now beginning to see that, in any
effort to recapture the methods of the Elizabethan theater, we must
first understand the customs of the medieval stage, and then look
forward from that point. Of all places in the world the playhouse is,
perhaps, the most conservative, and the most reluctant to relinquish
anything which has proved its utility in the past and which is accepted
by the public in the present; and many of the peculiarities of the Tudor
theater are survivals from the medieval performances.

There are still to be found classical scholars who accept the existence
of a raised stage in the theater of Dionysus at Athens, and even of
painted scenery such as we moderns know; and they find support in the
assertion of Aristotle that among the improvements due to Sophocles was
the introduction of "scenery." But what did the Greek word in the text
of Aristotle which is rendered into English as "scenery" really mean? At
least, what did it connote to an Athenian? Something very different, we
may be sure, from what the term "scenery" connotes to us. Certainly,
the physical conditions of the stageless Attic theater precluded the
possibilities of painted scenes such as we are now familiar with. That
there were no methods of representing realistically, or even summarily,
the locality where the action is taking place is proved by the detailed
descriptions of these localities which the dramatic poet was careful to
put into the mouths of his characters whenever he wished the audience to
visualize the appropriate background of the action. We may be assured
that the dramatists would never have wasted time in describing what the
spectators had before their eyes. Ibsen and Rostand and d'Annunzio are
poets, each in his own fashion, but their plays are devoid of all
descriptions of the special locality where the action passes--that task
has been spared them by the labors of the modern scene-painter working
upon their specific directions.

As there was no scenery in the Greek theater so there was little or none
in the Roman. M. Camille Saint-Saëns once suggested that certain airy
scaffoldings in the Pompeian wall-paintings were perhaps derived from
scenic accessories. But this seems unlikely enough; and the surviving
Latin playhouses have a wide and shallow stage closed in by a sumptuous
architectural background, suggesting the front of a palace with three
portals, often conveniently utilized as the entrances to the separate
dwellings of the several characters. Again, we may infer the absence of
scenery from the elaboration with which Plautus, for one, localizes the
habitations of his leading characters. In Rome, as in Athens, some kind
of a summary indication of locality, some easily understood symbol, may
have been employed; but of scene-painting, as we moderns know the art,
there is not a trace.


It is not until we come to the mysteries of the Middle Ages that we find
the beginnings of the modern art, and even here it is only a most
rudimentary attempt that we can discover. The mystery probably developed
earliest in France, as it certainly flourished there most abundantly;
and the French represented the dramatized Bible story on a long, shallow
platform, at the back of which they strung along a row of summary
indications of certain necessary places, beginning with Heaven on the
spectator's left, and ending with Hell on his right, and including the
Temple, the house of the high priest and the palace of Herod. These
necessary places were called "mansions," and they served to localize the
action whenever this was deemed advisable, the front of the platform
remaining a neutral ground which might be anywhere. But these mansions
do not prove the existence of scene-painters; they were very slight
erections, a canopy over an altar serving to indicate the Temple, and a
little portico sufficing to represent a palace; and they were probably
built by house-carpenters and painted by housepainters, just as any boat
which might be called for would be constructed by the shipwrights.

[Illustration: The Roman Theater at Orange
From the model at the Paris Opéra]

[Illustration: The multiple set of the French medieval stage
From the model in the Dramatic Museum of Columbia University]

[Illustration: The set of the Italian comedy of masks]

And as we need not assume the forming of a guild of scene-painters
because of these mansions which performed some of the functions of our
modern scenery, so also we must not assume it because the medieval
artisans invented a variety of elaborate spectacular devices, flying
angels, for example, and roaring flames from Hell-Mouth. Even in the
stageless and sceneless Attic theater, there had been many mechanical
effects of one kind or another, especially in the plays of
Euripides--the soaring dragon-chariot of Medea, for instance, and the
similar contrivance whereby a god might descend from the skies.
Mechanical tricks even when they are most ingenious, do not imply the
aid of the scene-painter; and even to-day they are the special task of
the property-man, or of the master-mechanic, altho the scene-painter's
aid may be invoked also to make them more effective. That there were
property-makers in the Middle Ages admits of no doubt, and also highly
skilled artificers delighting in the daring ingenuity of their
inventions. There were abundant properties, it may be noted, on the
Elizabethan stage, well-heads, thrones, and arbors; and Henslow's diary
records payment for a variety of such accessories. But there is not in
that invaluable document a single entry indicating any payment for
anything equivalent to the work of the scene-painter.

Adroit as were the French mechanics who prepared the abundant
spectacular effects of the medieval mysteries, they were surpassed in
skill by the Italian engineers of the Renascence, who lent their aid to
the superb outdoor festivals wherein the expanding artistic energy of
the period was most magnificently displayed. Leonardo da Vinci did not
disdain to design machines disclosing a surprising fertility of
resource. It was from those outdoor spectacles of the Italians that the
French court-ballets are directly descended, and also the English masks,
which demanded the collaboration of Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson. But at
first the Italians got along without the aid of the yet unborn
scene-painter, and the inventions of the engineer were carried out by
the mechanic and the decorator. Even as late as the seventeenth century
a magnificent spectacle presented in the garden of the Pitti Palace in
Florence relied mainly upon the ingenious engineer and scarcely at all
upon the scene-painter. It seems probable that it is here in Italy in
the Renascence, and at first as an accompaniment of the outdoor
spectacle, or of its indoor rival, that the art of the actual
scene-painter had its birth. The engineers required the aid of the
artists--indeed, in those days, when there was little specialization of
function, the engineers were almost always artists themselves, capable
of their own decoration.

[Illustration: An outdoor entertainment in the gardens of the Pitti
Palace in Florence in the early sixteenth century
From a contemporary print]

In time there would be necessary specialization, and after a while
certain artists came to devote themselves chiefly to scene-painting,
finding their immediate opportunity in the decoration of the operas,
which then began to multiply. The opera has always been aristocratic,
expensive, and spectacular, and it continued the tradition of the
highly decorated open-air festivals. In fact, it improved upon this
tradition, in so far as that was possible, and it achieved a variety of
mechanical effects scarcely less complicated than those which charm our
eyes to-day in 'Rheingold' and 'Parsifal.' Thirty years ago the late
Charles Nuitter, the archivist of the Paris Opéra and himself a
librettist of wide experience, drew my attention to Sabbatini's
'Practica di fabricar scene e machini ne' teatri' (published in 1638),
and he assured me that the resources of the Opéra did not go beyond
those which were at the command of the Italians three centuries earlier.
"They could do then," he asserted, "almost everything that we can do now
here at the Opéra. For example, they could bring a ship on the stage
under full sail. We have only one superiority over them: we have
abundant light now, we have electricity, and they were dependent on
candles and lamps."

Yet even in Italy in the Renascence the most popular form of the drama,
the improvised play which we call the comedy-of-masks, was performed in
a traditional stage-setting representing an open square, whereon only
the back-cloth seems to have been the work of the scene-painter, the
sides of the stage being occupied by four or more houses, two or three
on each side, often consisting of little more than a practicable door
with a practicable window over it, not made of canvas, but constructed
out of wood by the carpenter, with the solidity demanded by the climbing
feats of the athletic comedians and by their acrobatic agility. The
traditional set of the comedy-of-masks conformed to that recommended for
the comic drama by Serlio, in his treatise on architecture, published in
1545; but it may be noted also that Serlio's suggested set for the
tragic drama was not dissimilar even if it were distinctly more


The opera seems to have been the direct descendant of the court-ballet,
known in England as the mask, as that in its turn was derived from the
open-air spectacle of the Italian Renascence, such as survived in
Florence in the seventeenth century. In the beginning the court-ballets
of France, like the masks of England, were not given in a theater with a
stage shut off by a proscenium arch, but in the ball-room or
banqueting-hall of a palace. One end of this spacious apartment, often
but not always provided with a raised platform, served as the stage
whereon one or more places, a mountain, for instance, and a grotto, were
represented, at first by the decorated machines of the artistic
engineers only, but afterward by the canvas frames of scene-painters.
The action of the court-ballets or of the masks was not necessarily
confined to this stage, so to call it. The spectators were ranged along
the walls and under the galleries (if there were any), leaving the main
part of the hall bare; and the performers descended frequently into this
area, which was kept free for them, and which was better fitted for
their dances and processions and other intricate evolutions than the
scant and cluttered stage.

A twentieth-century analog to this sixteenth-century practise can be
seen in the spectacle presented in our modern three-ringed circuses--the
'Cleopatra,' for example, which was the opening number on the Barnum and
Bailey program not long ago, where the Roman troops and the Egyptian
populace came down from the stage and paraded around the arena. Bacon in
his essay on 'Masques,' used the word "scenery" as tho he meant only
decorated scaffolds, perhaps movable; and his expression of desire for
room "to be kept clear" implies the use of the body of the hall for the
maneuvers of the performers. Ludovic Celler, in his study of 'Mise en
scène au dix-septième siècle' in France, shows that the action of the
court-ballet was sometimes intermitted that the spectators could join in
the dancing, as at an ordinary ball. In the earlier Italian open-air
festivals, and in the earlier French court-ballets there was not even a
proscenium sharply separating the stage from the rest of the hall; but
in England by the time of Inigo Jones the advantage of a proscenium had
been discovered, and we have more than one of the sketches which that
skilful designer devised for his masks. But even then this proscenium
was not permanent and architecturally conventionalized; it was invented
afresh for every successive entertainment, and it was adorned with
devices peculiar to that particular mask. Inigo Jones had also advanced
to the use of actual scenery, that is to say, of canvas stretched upon
frames and then painted. Mr. Hamilton Bell believes it possible that the
invention of grooves to sustain wings and flats may be ascribed to Inigo
or to his assistant and successor, Webb.

Even in the Italian opera, where all the scenery was due to the brush of
the scene-painter, there was for a long while a formal and monotonous
regularity. Whether the set was an interior or an exterior, a public
place or a hall in a palace, the arrangement was rectangular, with a
drop at the back and a series of wings on either side equidistant from
one another. This stiff representation of a locality is preserved for us
nowadays in the toy-theaters which we buy for our children, altho it is
now seen on the actual stage only in certain acts of old-fashioned
operas. It lingers also in the variety-shows, where it is the proper
setting for many items of their miscellaneous programs.

Altho the Italians had discovered perspective early in the Renascence
they utilized it on the stage timidly at first, bestowing this
rectangular regularity upon all their sets, both architectural interiors
or exteriors and rural scenes, in which rigid wood-wings receded,
diminishing in height to a landscape painted on the drop at the back,
thus leaving the whole stage free for the actors. Not until the end of
the seventeenth century did an Italian scene-painter, Bibiena, venture
to abandon the balanced symmetry of the square set, and to slant his
perspective so as to present buildings at an acute angle, thereby not
only gaining a pleasing variety, but also enlarging immensely the
apparent spaciousness of the scene, since he was able to carry the eyes
of the spectator into vague distances, and to suggest far more than he
was able to display. This advance was accompanied by a more liberal use
of stairways and platforms--"practicables" as the stage-phrase is--that
is to say, built up by the carpenters so that the actors could go from
one level to another. Hitherto flights of steps and balconies had been
only painted, not being intended for actual use by the performers.

[Illustration: The set for the opera of 'Persée' (as performed at the
Opéra in Paris in the seventeenth century)]

[Illustration: A prison (designed by Bibiena in Italy in the eighteenth

A similar development took place also in the landscape scenes; the
foreground was raised irregularly, so that the persons of the play might
climb up. Practicable bridges were swung across torrents, and the
earlier formality of pastoral scenes began to disappear. Apparently the
scene-painters were influenced at this time by the landscape-painters,
more especially by Poussin. The interrelation of painting and
scene-painting, each in turn affecting the other, is far closer than
most historians of art have perceived. It is not unlikely, for example,
that Gainsborough and Constable, who were the fathers of the Barbizon
men, had been stimulated by the stage-pictures of De Lutherbourg. David
Garrick profited by the innovating art of De Lutherbourg, a pupil of
Vanloo, who came to England in 1771. Apparently it was De Lutherbourg
who invented "raking-pieces"--as the scene-painters term the low
fragments of scenery which mask the inclines of mounds. To him also is
credited the first use of transparent scenes to reproduce the effect of
moonlight upon water, and to suggest the flames of volcanoes. Thus to
him must be ascribed the beginnings of that complicated realism by which
our latter-day scene-painters are enabled to create an appropriate
atmosphere for poetic episodes.


The next step in advance, and one of the most important in the slow
development of the scene-painter's art, took place in France early in
the nineteenth century, and simultaneous with the romanticist movement,
which modified the aims and ambitions of the artists as much as it did
those of the poets. The severe stateliness of the stage-set which was
adequate for the classicist tragedies of Racine and Voltaire, generally
a vague interior of an indefinite palace, stiff and empty, was
hopelessly unsuitable for the fiery dramas of Victor Hugo and the elder
Dumas. An even greater opportunity for spectacular regeneration was
afforded, in these same early decades of the nineteenth century, by the
bold and moving librettos which Scribe constructed for Meyerbeer and
Halévy at the Opéra, and for Auber at the Opéra-Comique. The exciting
cause of the scenic complexities that we find in Wagner's music-dramas
can be discovered in these librettos of Scribe's, from 'Robert the
Devil' to the 'Africaine.' For one act of 'Robert the Devil,' that in
which the spectral nuns dance among the tombs under the rays of the
moon, Ciceri invented the most striking and novel setting yet exhibited
on any stage--a setting not surpassed in poetic glamor by any since
seen in the theater, altho its eery beauty may have been rivaled by one
scene in the 'Source,' a ballet produced also at the Opéra forty-five
years ago--a moon-lit tarn in a forest-glade, with half-seen sylphs
floating lightly over its silvered surface. This exquisitely poetic set
was imported from Paris to New York and inserted in the brilliant
spectacle of the 'White Fawn.'

The ample effect of these scenes was made possible only by the immense
improvement in the illumination of the stage due to the introduction of
gas. Up to the first quarter of the nineteenth century the
stage-decorator had been dependent upon lamps--a few of these arranged
at the rim of the curving apron which jutted out into the auditorium far
beyond the proscenium, and a few more hidden here and there in the flies
and wings. Early in the nineteenth century gas supplanted oil; and a
little later than the middle of the century gas was powerfully
supplemented by the calcium light. Toward the end of the century gas in
its turn gave way to the far more useful electric light, which could be
directed anywhere in any quantity, and which could be controlled and
colored at will. It was Henry Irving, more especially in his marvelous
mounting of a rather tawdry version of 'Faust,' who revealed the
delicate artistic possibilities of our modern facilities for stage

In France the romanticist movement of Hugo was swiftly succeeded by the
realistic movement of Balzac, who was the earliest novelist to relate
the leading personages of his studies from life to a characteristic
background and to bring out the intimate association of persons and
places. From prose fiction this evocation of characteristic surroundings
was taken over by the drama; and a persistent effort was made to have
the successive sets of a play suggestive and significant in themselves,
and also representative of the main theme of the piece. The actors were
no longer dependent upon the "float," as the footlights were called;
they did not need to advance out on the apron to let the spectators
follow the changing expression of their faces, and in time the apron was
cut back to the line of the proscenium, and the curtain rose and fell in
a picture-frame which cut the actors off from their proximity to the
audience--a proximity forever tempting the dramatic poet to the purely
oratorical effects proper enough on a platform.

When the modern play calls for an interior this interior now takes on
the semblance of an actual room. Apparently the "box-set," as it is
called, the closed-in room with its walls and its ceiling, was first
seen in England in 1841, when 'London Assurance' was produced; but very
likely it had earlier made its appearance in Paris at the Gymnase. To
supply a room with walls of a seeming solidity, with doors and with
windows, appears natural enough to us, but it was a startling innovation
fourscore years ago. When the 'School for Scandal' had been originally
produced at Drury Lane in 1775, the library of Joseph Surface, where
Lady Teazle hides behind the screen, was represented by a drop at the
back, on which a window was painted, and by wings set starkly parallel
to this back-drop and painted to represent columns. There were no
doors; and Joseph and Charles, Sir Peter and Lady Teazle, walked on thru
the openings between the wings, very much as tho they were passing thru
the non-existent walls. To us, this would be shocking; but it was
perfectly acceptable to English playgoers then; and to them it seemed
natural, since they were familiar with no other way of getting into a
room on the stage.

[Illustration: The screen scene of the 'School for Scandal' at Drury
Lane in 1778 From a contemporary print]

The invention of the box-set, of a room with walls and ceilings, doors
and windows, led inevitably to the appropriate furnishing of this room
with tangible tables and chairs. Even in the eighteenth century the
stage had been very empty; it was adorned only with the furniture
actually demanded by the action of the drama; and the rest of the
furniture, bookcases and sideboards, chairs and tables, was frankly
painted on the wings and on the back-drop by the side of the painted
mantelpieces, the painted windows, and the painted doors. In the plays
of the twentieth century characters sit down and change from seat to
seat; but in the plays produced in England and in France before the
first quarter of the nineteenth century all the actors stood all the
time--or at least they were allowed to sit only under the stress of
dramatic necessity--as in the fourth act of 'Tartuffe,' for instance. In
all of Molière's comedies there are scarcely half a dozen characters who
have occasion to sit down; and this sitting-down is limited to three or
four of his more than thirty pieces. Nowadays every effort is made to
capture the external realities of life. Sardou was not more careful in
composing his stage-sittings in his fashion than was Ibsen in
prescribing the scenic environment that he needed. The author's minute
descriptions of the scenes where the action of the 'Doll's House' and of
'Ghosts' passes prove that Ibsen had visualized sharply the precise
interior which was, in his mind, the only possible home for the
creatures of his imagination. And Mr. Belasco has recently bestowed upon
the winning personality of his 'Peter Grimm' the exact habitation to
which that appealing creature would return in his desire to undo after
death what in life he had rashly commanded.


While the scene-painter of our time is most often called upon to realize
the actual in an interior and to delight us with a room the dominant
quality of which is that it looks as tho it was really lived in by the
personages we see moving around in it, he is not confined to those
domestic scenes. There are other plays than the modern social dramas;
and these other plays make other demands upon the artist. On occasion he
has to supply a gorgeous scenic accompaniment for the Roman and Egyptian
episodes of 'Antony and Cleopatra,' to suggest the blasted heath where
Macbeth may meet the weird sisters, and to call up before our delighted
eyes the placid charm of the Forest of Arden. The awkward and
inconsistent sky-borders, strips of pendent canvas wholly
unsatisfactory as substitutes for the vast depths of the starry heavens,
he is able to dispense with by lowering a little the hangings at the top
edge of the picture-frame, and by thus limiting the upward gaze of the
spectators, so that he can forgo the impossible attempt to imitate the
changing sky. He can achieve an effect of limitless space, as in the
last act of the 'Garden of Allah' (which brings before us the endless
vision of Sahara), by the use of a cyclorama background, the drop being
suspended from a semicircular rod which runs around the top of the
stage, shutting in the view absolutely, and yet yielding itself to a
representation of sand and sky meeting afar off on the faint horizon.

[Illustration: A landscape set Designed by P. Fontanesi in Italy in the
eighteenth century]

[Illustration: A set for the opera of 'Robert le Diable' At the Paris

In the past half-century, and more especially since the improvement of
the electric light, scene-painting has become very elaborate and very
expensive. Instead of being kept in its proper place as the decoration
of the drama, as a beautiful accessory of the action, it has often been
pushed to the front, so as to attract attention to itself, and thereby
to distract attention from the play which it was supposed to illuminate.
Sometimes Shakspere has been smothered in scenery, and sometimes the art
of the actor has been subordinated to the art of the scene-painter. Now,
it must be admitted that nothing is too good for the masterpieces of the
drama, and that Sophocles no less than Shakspere ought to be presented
to the public with all the pomp that his lofty themes and his marvelous
workmanship may demand. But the plays of the mighty dramatic poets
ought not to be used merely as pegs on which to hang gorgeous apparel.
After all, the play's the thing; and whenever the scene-painter and his
invading partner, the stage-manager, are prompted to oust the drama from
its pre-eminence, and to substitute an exhibition of their accessory
arts, the result is a betrayal of the playwright.

A well-known British art critic once told me that when the curtain rose
at a certain London revival of 'Twelfth Night,' and disclosed Olivia's
garden, he sat entranced at the beauty of the spectacle before his eyes,
with its subtle harmonies of color, so entranced, indeed, that he found
himself distinctly annoyed when the actors came on the stage and began
to talk. For the moment, at least, he wished them away, as disturbers of
his esthetic delight in the lovely picture on which his eyes were
feasting. But even a stage-setting as captivating as this might very
well be justified if it had been employed to fill a gap in the action,
and to buttress up the interest of an episode where the dramatist had
allowed the appeal of his story to relax. Perrin, the manager of the
Comédie-Française thirty years ago, declined to produce a French version
of 'Othello' because he found a certain dramatic emptiness in the scenes
at Cyprus at the opening of the second act, which he felt he would have
to mask by the beauty of spectacular decoration, too costly an expedient
in his opinion for the finances of the theater just then.

[Illustration: The set of the last act of the 'Garden of Allah' From the
model in the Dramatic Museum of Columbia University]

[Illustration: A set for 'Medea' Designed by Herr Gustav Lindemann]

It was Perrin, however, who produced the French version of the
'OEdipus the King' of Sophocles, and who bestowed upon it a single set
of wonderful charm and power, at once dignified, appropriate, and
beautiful in itself. It represented an open space between a temple and
the palace of the ill-fated OEdipus, with an altar in the center, and
with the profile of another temple projected against the distant sky and
relieved by the tall, thin outline of poplar-trees. The monotony of this
rectangular architectural construction was avoided by placing all the
buildings on a slant, the whole elevation of the temple being visible on
the left of the spectators, whereas only a corner of the colonnade of
the palace on the right was displayed. This set at the Théâtre-Français
was the absolute antithesis of the original scenic surroundings in the
theater of Dionysus more than two thousand years ago, when the
masterpiece of Sophocles had been performed in the open-air orchestra,
with only a hut of skins or a temporary wooden building to serve as a
background for the bas-reliefs of the action.

So elaborate, complicated, and costly have stage-sets become in the past
half-century, that there are already signs of the violent reaction that
might be expected. Mr. Gordon Craig, an artist of remarkable
individuality, has gone so far as to propose what is almost an abolition
of scene-painting. He seeks to attain effects of massive simplicity by
the use of unadorned hangings and of undecorated screens, thus
substituting vast spaces for the realistic details of the modern
scene-painter. No doubt, there are a few plays for which this method of
mounting would be appropriate enough--M. Maeterlinck's 'Intruder,' for
one, and his 'Sightless' for another, plays which are independent of
time and space, and in which the action appears to pass in some
undiscovered limbo. As yet the advanced and iconoclastic theories of Mr.
Craig have made few adherents, the most notable being the German,
"Professor" Reinhardt, who lacks Mr. Craig's fine feeling for form and
color, and who is continually tempted into rather ugly eccentricities of
design, being apparently moved by the desire to be different from his
predecessors rather than by the wish to be superior to them.


Interesting as are Mr. Craig's suggestions, and wellfounded as may be
his protest against the excessive ornamentation to which we are too
prone nowadays, there is no reason to fear that his principles will
prevail. The art of the scene-painter is too welcome, it is too plainly
in accord with the predilections of the twentieth century, for it to be
annihilated by the fiat of a daring and reckless innovator. It will be
wise if the producers should harken to Mr. Craig's warnings and curb
their tendency to needless extravagance; but we may rest assured that a
return to the bareness of the Attic theater or of the English theater in
the time of the Tudors is frankly unthinkable now that the art of
scene-painting has been developed to its present possibilities. In
fact, the probability is rather that the scene-painters will continue to
enlarge the boundaries of their territory and to discover new means and
new methods of delighting our eyes by their evocations of interesting

[Illustration: The set of 'OEdipe-Roi' (at the Théâtre Français)]

[Illustration: The set of the 'Return of Peter Grimm' From the model in
the Dramatic Museum of Columbia University]

Perhaps they would be more encouraged to go on and conquer new worlds if
there was a wider recognition of the artistic value of their work. Altho
De Lutherbourg and Clarkson Stanfield won honorable positions in the
history of painting by their easel-pictures, the art of scene-painting
does not hold the place in the public esteem that many of its
practitioners deserve. Théophile Gautier, often negligible as a critic
of the acted drama, was always worth listening to when he turned to
pictorial art; and he was frequent in praise of the scene-painters of
his time and of scene-painting itself as a craft of exceeding difficulty
and of inadequate appreciation. Probably one reason why the
scene-painter has not received his due meed of praise is because his
work is not preserved. It exists only during the run of the play which
it decorates. When the piece disappears from the boards, the scenes
which adorned it vanish from sight. They linger only in the memory of
those who happened to see this one play--and even then, in fact, only in
the memory of such spectators as have trained themselves to pay
attention to stage-pictures. For the scene-painter there is no
Luxembourg; still less is there any Louvre. As Gautier sympathetically
declared, "it is sad to think that nothing survives of those
masterpieces destined to live a few evenings only, and disappearing
from the washed canvas to give place to other marvels, equally fugitive.
How much invention, talent, and genius may be lost--and not always
leaving even a name!"

It is pleasant to know that at the Opéra in Paris a formal order of the
government has for now a half-century prescribed the preservation of the
original models--the little miniature sets which the scene-painter
submits for the approval of the manager and the dramatist before he
begins work upon the actual scene. These models are always upon the same
scale, and in the gallery connected with the library of the Opéra a
dozen of these models are set up to be viewed by visitors. Of course no
tiny model, however cleverly fashioned, can give the full effect of the
scene which has been conceived in terms of a huge stage; and yet the
miniature reproductions do not betray the scene-painter as much as an
engraving or a photograph often betrays the painter. Whatever its
limitations, and they are obvious enough, the collection of models at
the Opéra is at least an attempt to retard the oblivion that Théophile
Gautier deplored, and to provide for the scene-painter a substitute,
however inadequate, for the Louvre and the Luxembourg.



                         THE BOOK OF THE OPERA

                         THE BOOK OF THE OPERA


A few years ago _Punch_ had a satirical drawing representing a British
matron conveying a bevy of youthful daughters to the French play in
London. To a friend who called her attention to the rather risky
atmosphere of the very Parisian comedy which they were about to behold,
the worthy mother promptly explained that she was not bringing her
daughters to see the play itself; she was bringing them to see only the
acting. Probably a great many opera-goers would make a similar
explanation if they were asked whether they were interested in the book
of the opera or only in the music. They would be likely to protest that
they cared little or nothing for the libretto, and that they were
attracted solely by the score. But, as a matter of fact, the opera-goers
who might make this reply would be self-deceived. Whether they are aware
of it or not, they are unlikely to be attracted to any opera unless it
happens to have an interesting story, built up into a coherent and
captivating plot. When the libretto is unintelligible or uninteresting,
the most delightful music fails to allure them into the opera-house.
This is one of the reasons why the 'Magic Flute,' which contains much of
Mozart's most beautiful melodic invention, is so rarely heard in our
opera-houses, and why it is so sparsely attended when it is presented.
The libretto of the 'Magic Flute' is dull and ineffective, and even
Mozart's genius proved unable to overcome this initial handicap.

The ordinary opera-goer is likely to treat the libretto with calm
contempt. He is prone to assert that nobody cares about the words, and
he does not reflect that behind and beneath the words is the supporting
structure of the story. After all, an opera is a play, it is a
music-drama, and the plot is as important in a play the words of which
are to be sung as in a play the words of which are to be spoken. True it
is, of course, that in an opera the words may not be heard distinctly,
and perhaps they need not be seized with certainty, since the emotion
they set forth is more amply conveyed by the music. But the musician
cannot express emotion musically, unless there is emotion for him to
express, unless he has characters immeshed in a series of situations
which evoke vivid and contrasting sentiments for him to translate into
music. As the music-drama is a drama, it must obey the laws of the
drama; it must represent a conflict of contending desires; it must be
carried on by characters firm of purpose and resolute in achieving their
several aims. These characters must be sharply individualized and boldly
contrasted; and the story in which they take part must be at once strong
and simple, calling for no elaborate explanation and moving forward
steadily and irresistibly. It must have a lyric aspect, lending itself
naturally to song; and it ought also to afford opportunity for the
spectacular effects appropriate to the large stage of the opera-house.

So contemptuous of the libretto is the ordinary opera-goer that he
rarely inquires as to the name of the author of the book, altho he is
generally familiar with the name of the composer of the score. He may or
he may not be aware that Wagner was his own librettist, and quite
possibly he supposes that it is the ordinary custom of the composers to
write the words for their own music. He knows that 'Carmen' was composed
by Bizet, and that the 'Huguenots' was composed by Meyerbeer; but he
would be greatly puzzled if he was asked to name the librettists of
these two operas, the adroit playwrights who devised the skeletons of
dramatic action which sustained the composers and provided them with
ample opportunities for the exercise of their melodic gift. As a matter
of fact, the book of 'Carmen' was written in collaboration by two of the
most distinguished French dramatists of the nineteenth century, Meilhac
and Halévy, the authors of 'Froufrou' and of the librettos of
Offenbach's 'Belle Hélène,' 'Grand Duchess of Gérolstein,' and
'Périchole.' And the book of the 'Huguenots' was the work of the master
stage-craftsman, Scribe, the author of 'Adrienne Lecouvreur' and of the
'Ladies' Battle,' and of countless other plays performed in every modern
language, and in all the countries of the world.

Bizet wrote other operas besides 'Carmen,' and if these other operas
have vanished from the stage, the reason may be that the librettos to
which they were composed were not as ingenious and not as interesting
as the book of 'Carmen.' One of these forgotten operas of Bizet's was a
dramatization of the 'Fair Maid of Perth,' and another was called the
'Pearl Fisher'; but neither of these books was devised by Meilhac and
Halévy. And Scribe was not only the librettist of the 'Huguenots' and of
the 'Africaine' for Meyerbeer; he also wrote the books of 'Fra Diavolo'
and of 'Crown Diamonds' for Auber, the book of the 'Dame Blanche' for
Boïeldieu, and the book of the 'Juive' for Halévy. Indeed, it is evident
that Wagner himself as a librettist must be considered as a direct
disciple of Scribe; certainly his book of the 'Flying Dutchman' has its
points of resemblance with the books Scribe invented for 'Robert the
Devil,' and for the 'Prophet.' Even the libretto of Wagner's
'Master-Singers of Nuremberg,' altho it is far richer in tone than any
of Scribe's librettos for Auber, is constructed in accord with
principles already applied by the French playwright. In fact, the
influence of Scribe is patent thruout the long history of opera in the
nineteenth century; he was not only the most prolific of librettists
himself, but the operatic formula he devised was borrowed by the best of
the librettists who followed him. Scribe was not the writer of the books
of 'Faust,' or of 'Roméo et Juliet,' or of 'Aïda,' but all these
librettos were carefully built in accord with the principles that he had
practised for half a century.


Probably the average opera-goer is contemptuous of the libretto, because
he thinks it is an easy task to write the mere words of an opera. To
him, no doubt, the opera lives by its music, and by its music alone. But
there is really no warrant for this uncomplimentary attitude. An opera
is a music-drama, and if it is to achieve success, wide-spread and
long-lasting, its drama must be as effective as its music. Experience
proves that, so far from being as easy as it seems, the construction of
a satisfactory libretto is really a difficult feat, to be achieved only
by an expert in stage-craft. It is no task to be confided to an amateur
play-maker, to a mere lyrist, ignorant of the art of the theater. First
of all, a satisfactory book must contain the skeleton of a good play;
and, second, this must be the special kind of play which will not only
inspire the musician, but afford him a succession of special
opportunities for the exercise of his own art. The book of an opera must
be a good play; and more than once have we seen a libretto deprived of
its music and written out again in prose for production in non-musical
theaters. 'Carmen' is one example of this transformation. The late Sir
Henry Irving was so taken with Wagner's 'Flying Dutchman' that he had it
made over into a play for his own acting--'Vanderdecken.'

The book of an opera must be a good play, and therefore not a few
successful operas have been composed on plots which had already won
approval as plays on the stage. Indeed, many modern composers are so
convinced of the necessity that librettos shall be attractive in
themselves that they are continually borrowing popular plays to deck
with melody. 'Salomé' and 'Pelléas et Mélisande,' 'Madam Butterfly' and
'Cavalleria Rusticana,' the 'Bohème' and the 'Tosca' were all successful
without music before they were set to music to win a second success. The
book of Verdi's 'Rigoletto' is based on Victor Hugo's drama, 'Le Roi
s'Amuse'; and oddly enough it was the operatic libretto, rather than the
original poetic drama, which suggested the English play on the same
theme, Tom Taylor's blank-verse drama, the 'Fool's Revenge.' Another of
Verdi's librettos was borrowed from Hugo's 'Hermani', while his
'Traviata,' as we all know, is taken from the play of the younger Dumas,
long popular in America as 'Camille.' Two of Verdi's latest operas had
Shaksperian themes, 'Otello' and 'Falstaff.'

It is instructive to note, so an American musical critic once asserted,
that of all Gounod's dozen operas, "the only two which have survived are
the two which are derived from Goethe's 'Faust' and from Shakspere's
'Romeo and Juliet'"; and he added a reminder that in these operas the
music owes its success "not only to the aid derived from its
associations with a favorite play, but also in part to the fact that the
composer's creative imagination was fertilized by the splendid
opportunities for dramatic composition offered by these plays. Gounod
was moved by the joys and woes of Margaret and of Juliet, and it is
only under the influence of deep feeling that such masterworks can be
created." When Gounod set to music a poetic play by Goethe, and when
Verdi set to music a group of characters created by Shakspere, the
composers might well be inspired by the poets; and they were thus aided
to attain the utmost of which they are capable as musicians.

But it may be doubted whether any musician could find any really helpful
inspiration in dramas of vulgar violence, such as the 'Tosca' of Sardou,
and the 'Salomé' of Oscar Wilde; and it is extremely improbable that the
operas composed to such unworthy themes will be able to achieve any
durable popularity. In plots of so coarse a character there is neither
beauty nor poetry, and the vogue of music-dramas having subjects so
debased is likely to be fleeting. On the other hand, there was both
poetry and beauty in the original plays of 'Madam Butterfly' and
'Cavalleria Rusticana,' and we need not be surprised if the operas
composed on these themes prove to have a long life in the musical
theaters. We may even go further and suggest that there was a haunting
and ethereal grace about Maeterlinck's 'Pelléas et Mélisande' which
seemed almost to demand translation into the sister art of music.

The two most effective French comedies of the eighteenth century, the
'Barber of Seville' and the 'Marriage of Figaro,' supplied librettos,
one for Rossini and the other for Mozart. We may be sure that sooner or
later some other composer, Italian or American or German, will be
tempted to undertake an opera based on Fulda's 'Two Sisters,' in which
there could not help being a very effective part for the prima donna.
And sooner or later again some musician with an appreciation of humor
and sentiment will be moved to take for his libretto the comedy of
'Masks and Faces,' by Charles Reade and Tom Taylor, generally known by
the name of its fascinating heroine, Peg Woffington. No doubt there are
not a few other modern plays in which composers will discover musical


The key to an understanding of the importance of the libretto lies in
the term Wagner used to describe the art-work of the future; he called
this a "music-drama." The exclusive lover of music is tempted to look
down on opera because its music is contaminated with drama; and for a
similar reason, the exclusive lover of the drama is not attracted to
opera because the drama is there more or less sacrificed to the music.
But there are many opera-goers who best relish music and the drama when
they are presented in conjunction. In a music-drama of the highest type,
in Wagner's 'Tannhaüser,' for example, the music and the drama are
Siamese twins; they were brought forth at a single birth. Each helps the
other, and neither calls upon the other for any undue sacrifice. They
can be enjoyed together better than they can be enjoyed apart, since
each depends upon the other; and united they stand or fall.

Mr. H. T. Finck was not overstating the case when he insisted that the
ideal opera is one in which the book and the score are each of them of
absorbing interest, "and yet make a doubly deep impression when heard
together." The stories of 'Faust' and of 'Carmen' and of 'Lohengrin' are
delightful in themselves, merely to read; and a musical expert can find
pleasure in playing the music from them on the piano. "Yet how much more
effective they are when we hear and see music and play together on the
stage." And then the same writer goes on to point out that the best
"libretto is one which tells its story to the eye," as in the case of
'Carmen,' for example. "No one with eyes to see can fail, for instance,
to follow the career of 'Carmen,' from her flirtation with the young
officer to the scene before the bullring where he stabs her."

It was an acute French dramatic critic who once asserted that "the
skeleton of every good play is a pantomime," and the assertion is more
emphatically true when applied to the skeleton of a libretto. Indeed, as
the words are rarely heard distinctly, and as they are often in a
foreign language, there is double need of a story so clear and so
straightforward that it can be caught by the eye alone from the actions
and gestures and facial expressions of the performers without the aid of
the actual words. But the inventing and the constructing of a plot of
this seemingly simple effectiveness is a task of extraordinary
difficulty--if we may judge by the infrequency of its achievement. And
undoubtedly it is this difficulty which has led so many musicians to
compose their scores to books only slightly altered from plays which had
already an attested popularity in the theater. By so doing it has seemed
to them that they were minimizing the risk of finding their music
handicapped by an ineffective story. The danger in this case lies in the
temptation to set to music any play which may chance to be successful
without considering sufficiently whether it is really worthy of the
composer's labor.

There is another disadvantage also in this snatching at successful plays
to serve as opera-librettos. Most successful plays nowadays deal with
modern life, and they may owe much of their success to the skill with
which the dramatist has been able to seize the external aspects of
reality. Now, it is an interesting question whether a realistic piece of
this sort can ever supply an entirely satisfactory book for an opera,
since music is emotional and idealizing. To many persons the opera seems
singularly unreal, strangely remote from actual life. Such persons are
shocked that Tristan, for instance, should sing for half an hour when he
is dying from physical weakness. Tolstoy sided with those who take this
attitude, and he had no difficulty in showing up the absurd unreality of
an operatic performance, if one insists upon applying to it the standard
of our ordinary existence, since we do not burst into song ordinarily to
express our every-day desires. Of course, there would be no great
difficulty in showing up the absurd unreality of every other art, if the
same standard is insisted upon. No art can justify itself for a moment
unless we are willing to admit the essential conventions which alone
permit it to exist.

Tolstoy might as well have pointed out that sculpture is ridiculous,
since no human being is ever all of one color, body and clothes, as a
statue must be, whether it is made of marble or of bronze. He could have
declared that painting is equally untrue to the mere facts of life,
since it represents nature absolutely without motion, as when it depicts
a field of waving corn which does not really wave but stands fixed
forever. If Tolstoy or any one else refuses to accept the conventions of
any art, there is no possible reply, except to make it clear to him that
he is thereby depriving himself of the delight which that art can give.
A departure from the mere fact underlies every art; and it is only
because of that departure that the art exists. By convention, that is to
say, by tacit agreement between the artist and the public, the artist is
allowed to deny certain of the facts of life in order to provide the
public with the specific pleasure which only his art can afford.

In the Shaksperian drama the underlying convention is that the persons
of the play belong to a race of people who always express themselves
poetically in English blank verse. In opera this necessary agreement
requires us to concede the existence of men and women to whom song is
the natural means of communicating all their sentiments and all their
thoughts. If we are willing to accept this implied contract, then there
is no absurdity in Tristan's singing with his dying breath, since he
belongs to a race of creatures who have no other method of speech. If we
are unwilling to be parties to this agreement, if we deny the existence
of any such creatures, then there is nothing for us to do but to keep
out of the opera-house. It was this convention which Tolstoy rejected,
and by this rejection he refused the enjoyment which the opera can give
to those who are satisfied to accept its conditions.


But there is no denying that the imperative operatic convention requires
us to admit a very violent departure from the facts of life as we all
know them. We are now so accustomed to blank verse in Shakspere's plays,
tragic and comic, that we accept it almost without noticing it. By long
habit, we have come to consider blank verse as "natural" in a poetic
play, especially when that play sets before us heroic figures of the
remote past. And here is the danger in the operas which have been
composed on books made out of modern popular pieces, more or less
realistic in their atmosphere. The "naturalness" of the men and women in
these plays of to-day tends to draw attention to the "unnaturalness" of
their customary use of song to express their emotions.

This danger Wagner skilfully avoided in his later music-dramas derived
from the Nibelungen myth. He set before us shadowy creatures involved
in strange intrigues far back in the legendary past and wholly devoid
of any modern or realistic suggestion. As Tristan and Siegfried and
Brunhild are all idealized persons, taking part in poetic fictions, we
are willing enough to accept their exclusive use of song; and we
recognize at once the artistic inconsistency of Tolstoy's protest. To
beings so remote from our daily life, from our ordinary experience, the
standard of fact cannot fairly be applied. We acknowledge the full right
of such creatures to dwell eternally in the land of song alone.

But we are perhaps a little less willing to make this acknowledgment
when we find the composer asking us to believe that men and women of our
own time and of our own country, the characters of the 'Girl of the
Golden West,' for example, or even some of those of 'Madam Butterfly,'
should eschew the plain prose of ordinary speech and insist on
discussing their love-affairs in the obviously "unnatural" medium of
song. That is to say, there is a striking incongruity between musical
expression and the realistic characters of most modern plays. We enjoy
the opera partly because it is not "natural," not "real," in the
ordinary meaning of these words; and if the plot and the people are
aggressively modern and matter-of-fact, our attention is necessarily
called to the "unnaturalness" of their incessant vocalization. A certain
remoteness from real life, even a certain vaporous intangibility as to
time and place, seem to be a helpful element in our enjoyment of a

Perhaps it is due to this remoteness, to this unreality, that the
opera-goer is willing enough to have a story end unhappily, altho the
playgoer is now likely to be painfully affected by a tragic ending.
Whatever the reason, it is a fact that most of our popular plays end
merrily in a church, while most of our popular operas end sadly in a
churchyard. The calculation has been made that out of twoscore operas
sung in New York at the two opera-houses a season or so ago, only half a
dozen ended happily; the large majority of them culminated in the death
of the hero or of the heroine or of both together. Music is a sister of
poetry, and we need not wonder that the musicians are likely to prefer
the opera-book which has a tragic catastrophe.



                      THE POETRY OF THE DANCE

                      THE POETRY OF THE DANCE


The Greek of old was wise in his generation and poetic as was his habit,
when he imagined nine muses and when he feigned that each of them was to
watch over a separate art, and to inspire those who might strive to
excel in this. It is true that nowadays we cannot help feeling that the
sister-muses of Tragedy and of Comedy have been a little derelict to
their duty, if they are really responsible for all the plays of our
time, not a few of which seem to be sadly lacking in inspiration. But of
late another of the sacred nine appears to have aroused herself out of
her lethargy and to have awakened to a fuller realization of her
opportunity. At least, there are many evidences now visible in the
United States that Terpsichore has been attending strictly to business,
and sending out travelers with many diverse specimens of her wares.
Indeed, there has probably never been a time when so many different
varieties of the dance have been on exhibition before the American
people. It was once remarked by a shrewd observer that there were only
three kinds of dancing, the graceful, the ungraceful, and the
disgraceful. And in the United States we have had presented to us in the
past few years specimens of all three kinds.

In the middle of September, 1910, the Playground Association of America
held an outdoor session in Van Cortlandt Park, in New York, and three
hundred persons, mostly children, took part in the exercises. The most
interesting feature of the program was a series of national folk-dances
executed by boys and girls from the public schools. New York is the huge
melting-pot where all nationalities of Europe meet to be fused into
Americans; and these children were, most of them, executing the dances
of the countries their parents had come from--dances for which they had,
therefore, a traditional and hereditary predilection. German girls in
the costumes of the Rhine, gave a peasant dance to the simple tune of
'Ach, du lieber Augustin'; and colored children, in perfect rhythm,
moved thru a reel to the music of the 'Suwanee River.' The wild
Hungarian _czardas_ was carried off with a splendid swing by men and
women born on the banks of the Danube; and an Irish quartet displayed
their agility and their precision of time-keeping in a four-handed
country-dance. And at the end, all the participants in the several
national dances took part in a general harvest-dance. This was an
effective spectacle, possible only here in America, where
representatives of many peoples come to mingle, even tho each of them
retains a sentiment of loyalty to the old home it has left forever.

Here in the open air, in a public park, at this meeting of the
Playground Association, there was this joyous and wholesome revival of
the folk-dances of a dozen different races; and at the same time, in one
or another of half a score of the theaters of the great city,
ill-trained and half-clothed women were vainly capering about the stage
in doubtful efforts to suggest the Oriental contortions of Salomé. These
were, most of them, consciously and deliberately inartistic, appealing
directly to the baser instincts and to the lower curiosities of man.
Nothing could have been in sharper contrast with the folk-dances of the
foreign-born children, which were gay and healthy and spontaneous. The
exercises in the park were examples of the kind of dancing which cannot
help being graceful, while most of the performances in the theaters were
specimens of the kind of dancing which can fairly be described as
ungraceful, even if they cannot all of them be dismissed as disgraceful.
While the folk-dances of the children would fill the heart with a pure
delight, the sorry spectacle presented in some of the theaters was not
to be witnessed without a certain loss of self-respect; it recalled the
gross pantomimes of the later Roman theater, righteously denounced by
the Fathers of the Church.

Yet it is only just to record that in other theaters there were then
other spectacles to make amends for these sorry exhibitions. There were
several interesting attempts to recall the severe beauty of Greek
dancing. Lithe figures with free and floating draperies sought to
recapture the irreclaimable charm that lives for us in the lovely
Tanagra figurines, or that flits elusively around the sides of Attic
vases. Ambitious efforts were made by one dancer and by another to
translate into step and posture and gesture the intangible poetry of
Shelley and the haunting music of Mendelssohn. Unfortunately, the result
was rarely commensurate with the effort; and, in fact, a complete
success was not possible. The muse of dancing has no right to endeavor
to annex the territory of her sisters, who are charged with the care of
poetry and music. The several arts are strongest when each remains
strictly within its own limitations. For example, program-music is not
yet assured of its welcome, and program-dancing is far more difficult to
follow with complete comprehension.

And there was a further defect in these efforts to revive the classic
dances and to devise more modern interpretations of poetry and music.
Success, if possible at all, would be possible only to a highly trained
performer, mistress of every device of the terpsichorean art and
elaborately schooled in pantomimic expression. Now, it is not unfair to
say that no one of the performers of these so-called classic dances had
undergone this severe schooling. No one of them had the lightness, the
ease, the perfect mastery of method, the floating grace of the true
dancer, who has been taught from childhood, until all the tricks of the
craft are second nature. Without this arduous training any one who
attempts an ambitious display can scarcely fail to reveal instantly the
lamentable fact that she is not mistress of the technic of the art she
has undertaken to practise. She does not know how to get her effects;
she does not even know what effects are possible. She is almost certain
to appear amateurish, and she is likely to seem awkward also, not to say
ungainly. As Pope put it tersely: "Those move easiest who have learned
to dance."

These well-meant attempts to link dancing with poetry and music could be
entirely satisfactory only to those who have given little consideration
to dancing as an art, or who have small opportunity to see any really
beautiful dancing. There is no wonder that any effort to spiritualize
dancing, to give it a soul, to elevate it to the lofty level of the
lyric, should be welcomed by those who have been disgusted by the ugly
and vulgar high-kicking of the so-called pony ballets. The acrobatic
contortions of these athletic performers were wholly without charm, as
unalluring as they were violent. And equally unacceptable are the
frequent exhibitions of toe-dancing, sheer gymnastic feats, difficult,
indeed, but essentially uninteresting. Of a truth, these pony ballets on
the one hand, and these toe-dancers on the other, are exponents of
eccentricity. What they accomplish lies outside the true art of dancing.
It is not inspired by Terpsichore, and the saddened muse must veil her
face when she is forced to behold these crude exhibitions of misplaced


The true art of dancing is entirely free from all apparent effort. No
matter how difficult may be the feat that is accomplished, it must seem
easy. Every gesture must be expressive, every movement must be
beautiful, every step must have ease and lightness and grace. Forty
years ago and more, the 'Black Crook' brought to America three or four
dancers trained in the best schools of Europe--Bonfanti and Betty Rigl,
Rita Sangalli and Morlacchi. One of this quartet, Rita Sangalli, was
afterward the chief dancer at the Paris Opéra, where she was followed in
time by Rosita Mauri, a dancer who added beauty of face and of form to a
masterly accomplishment. They were all gifted pantomimists; they had all
of them the perfection of technic; they were all of them capable of the
most varied difficulties of the art; and they all of them vanquished
these difficulties with unobtrusive ease. They had attained to that
perfection of art, when the art itself is hidden, and when only the
consummate result is visible. Each of them had absolute certainty of
execution, and each of them could float across the stage the embodiment
of grace, exquisite in its ethereal delicacy.

For those whose memories cannot recall the haunting remembrance of the
days that are gone there is abundant compensation in the opportunity
which has been afforded of late to behold the dancing of Mlle. Genée and
of Mlle. Pavlova. They are, at least, the equal of any of their
predecessors, and it may be doubted whether Taglioni or Fanny Elssler
surpassed them in mastery. They are the perfection of effortless ease;
altho they suggest only the lightness of the butterfly, they have the
steel strength of the gymnast. Behind their marvelous and bewildering
accomplishment there is a native gift, rich and full; and there is also
the utmost rigor and perseverance in training. What they are able to do
with seeming spontaneity and with apparent freedom is the result of
indefatigable industry and of merciless labor.

But tho this schooling sustains them, it is never paraded--indeed, it is
scarcely perceived. There is not the faintest suggestion of hard work
about their performances; there is nothing that hints at effort; their
art is able to conceal itself absolutely, and to delight us only with
the perfect result of their long apprenticeship. Capable of the most
obstinate feats of strength and of agility, Mlle. Genée and Mlle.
Pavlova never "show off"; they are never guilty of parading a difficulty
for its own sake, and their conquest of technical obstacles serves only
to support and intensify the continuous suggestion of aerial elevation
and of ineffable lightness. It is to be noted, also, that as they scorn
the task of the mere gymnast, they do not wear the scant costume of the
acrobat; they are enveloped in ample draperies, which fall into lines of
beauty with every movement.

Nothing more exquisite than their dancing has ever been seen on the
American stage. Theirs is the dancing which is graceful--which, indeed,
is grace itself. Here is the art at its utmost possibility, purged of
all its dross. When they are floating effortless thru space we cannot
help recalling the possibly apocryphal anecdote which records the visit
of Emerson and Margaret Fuller to the theater to see Fanny Elssler. They
gazed with increasing delight, until at last Margaret Fuller could not
contain her enthusiasm. She turned and said: "Ralph, this is poetry!" To
which the philosopher is said to have responded: "Margaret, this is

Perfection is always rare, and there is now only one Mlle. Genée, and
only one Mlle. Pavlova, as there was only one Rosita Mauri a quarter of
a century ago. It is a pity that the Danish dancer has had to appear
here in an ordinary musical show and not in a framework more worthy of
her and of her art, and better fitted to display it. She has revealed
herself only in two or three _entrées de ballet_, as the French term
them--incidental dances; and she has not yet been seen here in a _ballet
d'action_, a complete story told in pantomime. It was the poet, François
Coppée, who devised the plot of the 'Korrigane' for Rosita Mauri; and he
had had Théophile Gautier as a predecessor in the preparation of a
ballet-libretto. All those who are interested in every manifestation of
the art of the drama, must find pleasure in the _ballet d'action_, with
its adroit commingling of dance and pantomime; it gives a delight
possible to no other form of the drama; and at its best it is more
closely akin to pure poetry. Being her own manager, Mlle. Pavlova has
been seen in a series of ballets more appropriate to her extraordinary
gifts than those in which Mlle. Genée has been permitted to appear.


There was one scene of the 'Source,' a ballet popular at the Opéra in
Paris during the exhibition of 1867, which must linger in the memory of
all who had the good fortune to behold it--a scene so beautiful that it
was borrowed for the 'White Fawn,' which was the successor of the 'Black
Crook' here in the United States. It represented a silvery glade in the
lone forest, with a mysterious lake, on the surface of which the spirits
of the springtime came forth to disport themselves. It was a vision of
airy grace and of haunting legend; and it is only one example of the
poetic possibilities of the contribution of dance and pantomime in a
coherent story. It may be well to recall the fact that the plots of
these _ballets d'action_ are often strong enough to enable them to serve
as the basis of a libretto for an opera. It was a ballet of Scribe's,
for example, which was taken for the book of the 'Somnambula'; and the
book of the favorite opera 'Martha' began its existence as a libretto
for a ballet.

While the _ballet d'action_ affords the fullest opportunity for the
perfect art of dancers like Rosita Mauri and Adeline Genée and Anna
Pavlova, there are other forms not to be despised. Twenty-five years ago
the Italian Marenco brought out his stupendous 'Excelsior,' which was
taken from Italy to Paris, then to New York, and finally to London.
'Excelsior' was an allegorical ballet; it represented the conflict of
light and darkness, of progress and superstition, of invention and
reaction. It filled a whole evening with spectacle and glitter and
movement. It lacked the poetic simplicity of the 'Source' and of the
'Korrigane'; but it had other qualities of its own. What set it apart
from all the ballets that had gone before was the subordination of the
individual terpsichorean artist to the main body. Marenco employed the
best dancers to be found in Italy, no doubt, but he did not rely on them
so much as on the intricate and ingenious handling of the crowds of
lesser dancers, by whom they were surrounded.

The novelty of 'Excelsior' and of the two or three gigantic Italian
spectacles which were patterned upon it--'Messalina' and 'Sieba'--lay in
the maneuvering of the masses, in the extraordinary skill with which
squadrons of figures were made to charge across the stage and combine
and melt into one another most unexpectedly and most delightfully. The
whole stage was a blaze of artfully contrasted colors, and it was filled
with a riot of motion and of glitter. And Marenco made use of male
dancers far more abundantly than any of his predecessors, utilizing them
to wear the more somber colors, to suggest a sterner vigor, and to
emphasize a bolder contrast. He was responsible also for another
novelty, often employed by others since; he increased the height of his
swerving lines of dancers, now and again, by mounting some of the
figures on stands, and by putting revolving globes and iridescent
banners into the hands of the men in the background.

It is the method of Marenco in 'Excelsior' which has been followed in
the often pleasing ballets of the Hippodrome in New York. Really good
soloists are now very scarce, even in Milan and in Vienna, long the
nurseries of the ballet; and there seem to be none too many even in
Petrograd, which has preserved and improved upon the traditions of Paris
and Milan. And in the absence of accomplished soloists, the deviser of
the ballets at the Hippodrome has been compelled to get along without
them as best he could. He has been forced to rely on the maneuvering of
masses of girls, possessed of only a rudimentary instruction in the
elements of the terpsichorean art. In other words, he has had to make up
in quantity for the absence of quality. But he has at his disposition an
immense stage, across which he could set his squadrons marching and
gliding and glittering. He could not count on the skill of his
principals who were not expert enough to demand the attention of the
spectators; but he could seek striking effects of light and color in the
costumes, as he moved his masses to and fro and as he swung them
together. If only there had been a little better training for the more
prominent performers, the 'Four Seasons' would have been a most artistic
entertainment, in spite of the absence of any single dancer of real


The dearth of remarkable dancers is due to the inexorable fact that
dancing is the most arduous of all the arts; its technic is the most
difficult to acquire. Indeed, this technic can be acquired only in early
youth, when the muscles are flexible and when they can be supplied at
will. It is early in her teens that a dancer must begin her training if
she aspires to eminence in the art. This training is very severe, and it
must never be relaxed. Rubinstein used to say that if he omitted his
practise for a single day he noticed it in his playing; if he omitted it
two days his enemies found it out; and if he omitted it three days even
his friends discovered it. The apprentice dancer can never omit a single
day of hard and uninteresting toil. Incessant application, during all
the long years of youth, is the price the ambitious beginner must pay
for the mastery of her art. She can have no vacations; she can have few
relaxations; she must keep herself constantly in training; she must be
prepared to surrender many of the things which make life worth living.
And it is no wonder that so few have the courage to persevere, and that
there is only one Rosita Mauri, only one Adeline Genée, and only one
Anna Pavlova in a quarter of a century. It is no wonder that the
inventor of terpsichorean spectacles nowadays finds himself compelled to
get along as best he can without a satisfactory soloist and to rely
rather on his handling of a mass of inadequately trained dancers.

But even if the highly accomplished soloist, absolute mistress of all
the possibilities of the art, is very rare, there are certain forms of
dancing which do not demand this ultimate skill and which call for
little more than grace and ease and charm, combined with a knowledge of
the simpler steps. For example, the Spanish Carmencita, whose portraits
by Mr. Sargent and by Mr. Chase now hang in the Luxembourg in Paris and
in the Metropolitan Museum in New York--Carmencita was not a skilful
dancer; she had undergone no inexorable schooling; she glided thru only
a few elementary movements. But she made no effort; she did not pretend
to what was not in her power; she was simple and unaffected. Her charm
was not in her singing or in her dancing; it was in her personality, in
the alluring and exotic suggestion of her individuality.

Nor could anybody venture to assert that Miss Kate Vaughan and Miss
Letty Lind were dancers in the same class with Mauri, Genée, and
Pavlova; but then they did not pretend to be. They knew only a few steps
of obvious simplicity, and they displayed no unexpected dexterity. But
the skirt-dance as they performed it was a memory of delight, with its
grace and its ease, with its perfect rhythm and with the swish of its
clinging draperies. It had a fascination of its own, quite different
from the fascination of the more poetic and ethereal ballet-dancing of
Rita Sangalli and Rosita Mauri. It was not of the stage exactly, but
almost of the drawing-room. It gave the same pleasure which we felt when
we were privileged to behold a court minuet led by the late Mrs. G. H.
Gilbert, who had been a dancer in the days of her youth. There is one
perfect beauty of the best ballet-dancing and there are other beauties
of different kinds in the skirt-dancing of the two Englishwomen and in
the languorous swaying of the Spanish gipsy.

Beauty of yet another order there was in an exhibition which was called
a dance, perhaps because there was no other word for it, but which
demanded no skill with the feet and which necessitated rather strength
in the arms. This was the luminous dance of Miss Loie Fuller, when she
swirled voluminous and prolonged draperies in lights that came from
above and from below, and from both sides--lights that changed by
exquisite gradations from one tint to another, the figure of the dancer
spinning around, now slowly and now swiftly, while her arms weaved
fantastic circles in the air, revealing unexpected combinations of
color, controlled by perfect taste. This may not have been dancing, by
any strict definition of the word, but it was decorative, artistic,
imaginative, and inexpressibly beautiful. It supplied a glimpse of
unsuspected delight; and probably Terpsichore would not disdain to claim
it for her own, however vigorously she might repel the suggestion that
she had any responsibility for the violence of the toe-dances, for the
vulgarity of the pony ballet, or for the ungainly caperings which
pretend to recapture the free movements of the Greeks.



                      THE PRINCIPLES OF PANTOMIME

                      THE PRINCIPLES OF PANTOMIME


In his suggestive study of ancient and modern drama, M. Émile Faguet
dwells on the fact that the drama is the only one of the arts which can
employ to advantage the aid of all the other arts. The muses of tragedy
and comedy can borrow narrative from the muse of epic poetry and song
from the muse of lyric poetry. They can avail themselves of oratory,
music, and dancing. They can profit by the assistance of the architect,
the sculptor, and the painter. They can draw on the co-operation of all
the other arts without ceasing to be themselves and without losing any
of their essential qualities. This was seen clearly by Wagner, who
insisted that his music-dramas were really the art-work of the future,
in that they were the result of a combination of all the arts. Quite
possibly the Greeks had the same idea, since Athenian tragedy has many
points of similarity to Wagner's music-drama; it had epic passages and a
lyric chorus set to music; it called for stately dancing against an
architectural background.

But altho the muses of the drama may invoke the help of their seven
sisters, they need not make this appeal unless they choose. They can
give their performances on a bare platform, or in the open air, and
thus get along without painting and architecture. They can disdain the
support of song and dance and music. They can concentrate all their
effort upon themselves and provide a play which is a play and nothing
else. And this is what Ibsen has done in his somber social-dramas.
'Ghosts,' for example, is independent of anything extraneous to the
drama. It is a play, only a play, and nothing more than a play.

Yet it is possible to reduce the drama to an even barer state than we
find in Ibsen's gloomy tragedy in prose. Ibsen's characters speak; they
reveal themselves in speech; and it is by words that they carry on the
story. A story can be presented on the stage, however, without the use
of words, without the aid of the human voice, by the employment of
gesture only, by pure pantomime. No doubt, the drama makes a great
sacrifice when it decides to do without that potent instrument of
emotional appeal, the human voice; and yet it can find its profit, now
and then, in this self-imposed deprivation. Certain stories there are,
not many, and all of them necessarily simplified and made very clear,
which gain by being bereft of the spoken word and by being presented
only in the pantomime. And these stories, simple as they must be, if
they are to be apprehended by sight alone without the aid of sound, are,
nevertheless, capable of supporting an actual play with all the
absolutely necessary elements of a drama.

In his interesting and illuminating volume on the 'Theory of the
Theater,' Mr. Clayton Hamilton has a carefully considered definition of
a play. He asserts that "a play is a story devised to be presented by
actors on a stage before an audience." Perhaps it might be possible to
amend this by saying "in a theater," instead of "on a stage," since we
are now pretty certain that there was no stage in the Greek theater when
Sophocles was writing for it. But this is but a trifling correction, and
the definition as a whole is excellent. It includes every possible kind
of dramatic entertainment, Greek tragedy and Roman comedy, medieval
farce and modern melodrama, the music-drama of Wagner and the
problem-play of Ibsen, the summer song-show and the college boy's
burlesque. Obviously it includes the wordless play, the story devised to
be presented on a stage and before an audience by actors who use gesture
only and who do not speak.

In forgoing the aid of words the drama is only reducing itself to its
absolutely necessary elements--a story, and a story which can be shown
in action. It is not quite true that the skeleton of a good play is
always a pantomime, since there are plays the plot of which cannot be
conveyed to the audience except by actual speech. Yet some of the
greatest plays have plots so transparent that the story is clear, even
if we fail to hear what the actors are saying. It has been asserted that
if 'Hamlet,' for example, were to be performed in a deaf-and-dumb
asylum, the inmates would be able to understand it and to enjoy it. They
would be deprived of the wonderful beauty of Shakspere's verse, no
doubt, and they would scarcely be able even to guess at the deeper
significance of the philosophy which enriches the tragedy; but the story
would unroll itself clearly before their eyes so that they could follow
the succession of scenes with adequate understanding.

With his customary shrewdness and his usual gift of piercing to the
center of what he was engaged in analyzing, Aristotle more than four
thousand years ago saw the necessity of a neatly articulated plot. "If
you string together a set of speeches," he said, "expressive of
character and well finished in point of diction and thought, you will
not produce the essential tragic effect nearly so well as with a play,
which, however deficient in these respects, yet has a plot and
artistically constructed incidents." No broader statement than this
could be made as to the all-importance of the story itself--and
pantomime is a story and nothing else, a story capable of being
translated by the actions of the performers, without the aid of speech.
Nor need we suppose that a play without words is necessarily devoid of
poetry. There may be poetry in the "set of speeches expressive of
character and well finished in point of thought and diction"; but there
may be poetry also in the theme itself, in the actual story. 'Romeo and
Juliet,' for example, is fundamentally poetic in its theme, and it
retains its poetic quality even when it is made to serve as the libretto
of an opera, as it would also retain this if it should be stripped bare
to be presented in pantomime.

In a recent work on the 'Essentials of Poetry,' Professor William A.
Neilson has made this clear: "Many a drama is a genuine poetic creation,
altho it may be simple to the point of baldness in diction and exhibit
the fundamental qualities of poetry only in the characterization and in
the significance, proportion, and verisimilitude of the plot." That is
to say, the drama can use two kinds of poetry, that which is internal
and contained in the plot, and that which is external and confined to
the language. It can employ

          jewels five-words long,
    That on the stretched forefinger of all Time
    Sparkle forever.

But it can also attain poetry without the use of superb and sonorous
phrases and solely by its choice of theme. This is what the poets have
often felt, and as a result French lyrists, like Théophile Gautier and
François Coppée, have not disdained to compose librettos for pantomimic
ballets, 'Giselle' and the 'Korrigane.' One of the most successful of
the recent Russian ballets was simply a representation of Gautier's
poetic fantasy, 'One of Cleopatra's Nights,'


Perhaps because the pantomime contains only the essential element of the
drama--action--it has always been a popular form of play; and it appears
very early in the history of the theater. Indeed, it seems to be the
sole type of play achievable by primitive man--if we may judge from
observations made among savages who are still in the earlier periods of
social development. Gesture precedes speech, and a pantomime was
possible even before a vocabulary was developed. In the Aleutian
Islands, for example, the pantomime is the only form of play known. One
of the little plays of the islanders has been described. It was acted by
two performers only, one representing a hunter, and the other a bird.
The hunter hesitates but finally kills the bird with an arrow; then he
is seized with regret that he has slain so noble a bird; whereupon the
bird revives and turns into a beautiful woman who falls into the
hunter's arms. This is the simplest of stories, but it lends itself to
effective acting; it is capable of being interpreted adequately by means
of gesture alone; and it is just the kind of play which would appeal to
an Aleutian audience, being wholly within their experience and their

Pantomime flourished in Rome and in Constantinople in the sorry years of
the decline and fall of the empire; and it was then low and lascivious.
A great part of the fierce hostility to the theater displayed by the
Fathers of the Christian Church was due to the fact that the only drama
of which they had any knowledge was pantomime of a most objectionable
character, offensive in theme and even more offensive in presentation.
With the conversion of the empire to Christianity, pantomimes of this
type, appealing only to lewd fellows of the baser sort, was very
properly prohibited. But pantomime of another type sprang up in the
Middle Ages in the Christian churches to exemplify and to make visible
to the ignorant congregations, certain episodes of sacred history. In
the Renascence dumb-shows were represented before monarchs, at their
weddings and at their stately entrances into loyal cities. And
dumb-shows were often employed in the Elizabethan stage, sometimes as
prologs to the several acts, as in 'Gorboduc,' for example, and
sometimes within the play itself, as in 'Hamlet.'

In the eighteenth century pantomime had a double revival, in France and
in England. In France, Noverre elevated the _ballet d'action_, that is
to say, the story told in pantomime and adorned with dances. Sometimes
these _ballets d'action_ were in several acts, relying for interest on
the simple yet ingenious plot, and only decorated, so to speak, with
occasional dances. From Noverre and from France the tradition of the
pantomime with interludes of dancing, spread at first to Italy and
Austria, and later to Russia.

In England the development of pantomime was upon different lines, due to
the influence of the Italian comedy-of-masks, with its unchanging
figures of Pantaleone, Columbina, and Arlecchino. These figures were
still further simplified; and to Pantaloon, Columbine, and Harlequin
there was added the characteristically British figure of the Clown. The
most famous impersonator of the clown was Grimaldi, whose memoirs were
edited by Charles Dickens. The mantle of Grimaldi fell upon an American,
G. L. Fox, whose greatest triumph, in the late sixties, was in a
pantomime called 'Humpty-Dumpty'--the riming prolog of which was
written by A. Oakey Hall (then Tweed's mayor of New York). G. L. Fox and
his brother, C. K. Fox (who was the inventor of the comic scenes), had
been preceded in America by a family of French pantomimists known as the
Ravels; and they were followed by the family known as the Hanlon-Lees,
who had originally been acrobats, and who appeared in a French play, in
which the other characters spoke while the Hanlon-Lees expressed
themselves only in gesture. Here again Scribe had been before them, with
his libretto for the opera of 'Masaniello,' in which there is a
principal part for a pantomimic actress, Fenella. And when the great
French actor, Frédéric Lemaître, had lost his voice by overstrain,
Dennery wrote a play for him, the 'Old Corporal,' in which he appeared
as a soldier of Napoleon's Old Guard, who had been stricken dumb during
the retreat from Russia.

This exploit of Frédéric Lemaître's is not as extraordinary as it seems.
A truly accomplished actor ought to be able to forgo the aid of speech.
Even in our modern plays gesture is more significant than speech. To
place the finger on the lips is more effective than to say "Hush!" The
tendency of the modern drama on our amply lighted picture-frame stage is
to subordinate the mere words to the expressive action. In Mr.
Gillette's 'Secret Service,' for example, the impression is sometimes
made rather by gesture than by speech; and a large portion of the most
effective scene, that where the hero is wounded while he is sending a
telegraph message, is presented in pantomime with little assistance from
actual dialog. Similar effects are to be found in many of Mr. Belasco's
plays, especially in the 'Darling of the Gods.' In all good acting the
gesture precedes the word; and often the gesture makes the word itself
unnecessary, because it has succeeded in conveying the impression and in
making the full effect by itself, so that the spoken phrase lags


In France in the final decades of the nineteenth century there was a
wide-spread revival of interest in pantomime, where the art had been
dormant since the days of Deburau. A society was formed for its
encouragement, and a host of little wordless plays was the result. The
most ambitious effort was the 'Enfant Prodigue,' a genuine comedy in
three acts, by M. Michel Carré, with music by M. Alfred Wormser. This
wordless play on the perennially attractive theme of the Prodigal Son
proved to be the modern masterpiece of pantomime. It was limpidly clear
in its story; it was ingeniously put together in its plot; it combined
humor and pathos; and it was devoid of the acrobatic features and of the
slap-stick fun which have generally been considered the inevitable
accessories of pantomime. We had brought before us the dull and prim
home life of old Pierrot and of his wife, and we were made to behold the
impatience of young Pierrot with this prim dullness. We saw the
Prodigal rob his father and go forth in search of pleasure. In the
second act we were witnesses of the sad results of the pleasure young
Pierrot had sought superabundantly, and we discovered that he had spent
his money and that he was capable of descending to marked cards to win
more gold to satisfy the caprices of the woman who had fascinated him.
We saw his return with his ill-gotten gains after his charmer had been
tempted to go off with a wealthier man. And in the third act we were
taken back to the home of his broken-hearted parents; and we witnessed
the Prodigal's return, poverty-stricken, disenchanted, and reformed. His
mother takes him to her arms; but his father is obdurate. Then we hear
the fife and drum afar off, and young Pierrot, if he has lived
unworthily for himself, can at least die worthily for his country. So
the old father relents and bestows his blessing on the erring son as the
boy goes forth to war.

The art of the 'Enfant Prodigue' was at once delicate and firm; and its
popularity was not confined to France. Here was a true play, moving to
tears as well as to laughter, holding the interest by a human story of
universal appeal. It was taken across the Channel from Paris to London,
and from London it was taken across the ocean to New York. Augustin
Daly, always on the alert for novelty, brought it out at his own
theater, first with his own company, and then a little later with a
French company. Excellent as was the performance of the French company,
two characters were as well sustained by the American company. Charles
Leclercq appeared as old Pierrot, and he had had in his youth experience
in pantomime in England. Mrs. G. H. Gilbert appeared as Mrs. Pierrot,
and in her youth she had been a ballet dancer, and had taken part in
pantomimes. To these two performers the principles of the art of gesture
were perfectly familiar; and it was a constant delight to follow the
dexterity and the adequacy of their gestures. But Miss Rehan, who
appeared as the Prodigal Son, had had no pantomimic experience, and she
was not able to acquire the art offhand. In dozens of dramas she had
revealed herself as an actress, not only of great personal charm, but
also of great histrionic skill. Merely as an actress she was
incomparably superior to the impersonator of the Prodigal Son in the
French company; but merely as a pantomimist she was inferior. More than
once she appeared as if she wanted to speak, failing because she was
deprived of voice. Her gestures seemed like afterthoughts; they lacked
spontaneity and inevitability. She suggested at moments that she was a
poor dumb boy gasping for words.

Now, the convention underlying pantomime is that we are beholding a
story carried on by a race of beings whose natural method of
communicating information and ideas is gesture--just as the convention
of opera is that we are beholding a story carried on by a race of beings
whose natural method of communicating information and ideas is song. No
such races of beings ever existed; but we must admit the existence of
such races as a condition precedent to our enjoyment of pantomime and of
opera. The spectators must accept the art as it is, and the performers
must refrain from any suggestion that they would speak if they could.
This underlying convention was viciously violated in "Professor"
Reinhardt's overpraised 'Sumurun,' when the Hunchback gives a shriek of
horror as he sees the woman he loves in the arms of another man. It is
viciously violated again in the same play when Sumurun and two
attendants are heard singing. If Sumurun can sing, why can she not
speak? If the Hunchback can shriek and sob audibly, why is he ordinarily
reduced to mere gesture?

'Sumurun' was provided with a plot devised by Herr Freksa, and with
music composed by Herr Hollaender; and it was produced by "Professor"
Max Reinhardt. The story was a little complicated, and it lacked the
transparent simplicity of the 'Enfant Prodigue,' as it lacked also the
broad humanity of the French piece. Its chief claim to attention was
that it is an amusing spectacle, sensual as well as sensuous. Its humor
had a Teutonic heaviness in marked contrast with the Gallic lightness of
the 'Enfant Prodigue.' "Professor" Reinhardt sought eccentricity rather
than originality, queerness rather than beauty. His effort was directed
to the achieving of something unexpected and something different rather
than to the attaining of something good in itself, or of something
poetic. Esthetically, musically, dramatically the German pantomime was
pitiably inferior to the French; and yet so potent and so permanent is
the appeal of the wordless play that 'Sumurun' pleased a host of younger
playgoers, not old enough to be able to recall the 'Enfant Prodigue' or
'Humpty-Dumpty,' the Hanlon-Lees, or the Ravels.


'Sumurun,' like the 'Enfant Prodigue,' was supported by its music, which
sustained the gestures and which sometimes suggested more than gesture
alone can do. In the 'Enfant Prodigue,' for example, one of the most
amusing scenes is that in which the elderly rich man tenders his
affections to the charmer who has fascinated the Prodigal Son. She
insists upon marriage. It would be difficult to convey this idea in pure
pantomime. So she points to the fourth finger of the left hand, and the
orchestra plays the familiar Wedding March, thus instantly conveying the
idea. When she goes off to get her bonnet, the elderly suitor repeats
her gesture, and the orchestra repeats the Wedding March, whereupon he
winks and shakes his head, giving us clearly to understand that his
intentions are strictly dishonorable.

'Sumurun' is rather a spectacle than a play; and therefore it makes
comparatively little use of the conventionalized gestures which may be
described as the accepted vocabulary of pantomime, and which have been
developed by the followers of Noverre in France and in Italy. This
vocabulary of gesture is only a codification of the signs which we
naturally make--shaking the head for "no," nodding for "yes," and laying
a finger on the lips for "hush!" The basis of any such vocabulary must
be the series of gestures by the aid of which man has always expressed
his emotions. This is why the traditional gestures of theatrical
pantomime do not, and indeed cannot, differ greatly from any natural
sign language. The universality of this pantomimic vocabulary was
curiously evidenced forty years ago when Morlacchi, the Italian dancer,
married Texas Jack, the American scout. She had been trained in
pantomime at La Scala, in Milan, and he had acquired the sign language
of the Plains Indians. And they found that they could hold converse with
each other in pantomime, she using the Italian-French gestures and he
employing the gestures of the redskins.



                        THE IDEAL OF THE ACROBAT

                        THE IDEAL OF THE ACROBAT


When Huckleberry Finn went to the circus he sneaked in under the tent
when the watchman was absent. He had money in his pocket, but he feared
that he might need this. "I ain't opposed to spending money on
circuses," he confessed, "when there ain't no other way, but there ain't
no use in _wasting_ it on them." In spite of the fact that he had not
paid for his seat, and that he was thereby released from the necessity
of getting his money's worth, he declared cheerfully that "it was a real
bully circus. It was the splendidest sight that ever was, when they all
come riding in, two and two, a gentleman and a lady, side by side, the
men just in their drawers and undershirts, and no shoes nor stirrups,
and resting their hands on their thighs, easy and comfortable ... and
every lady with a lovely complexion, and perfectly beautiful, and
looking like a gang of real sure-enough queens.... And then, one by one,
they got up and stood, and went a-weaving around the ring so gentle and
wavy and graceful, the men looking ever so tall and airy and straight,
with their heads bobbing and skimming along, away up there under the
tent roof, and every lady's rose-leaf dress flapping soft and silky
around her hips, and she looking like the most loveliest parasol."

However much Huck was impressed by the Grand Entry, he seems to have
been more pleased by the surprising act, traditionally known as 'Pete
Jenkins,' and never better described than by Mark Twain's youthful hero.
"And by and by a drunk man tried to get into the ring--said he wanted to
ride; said he could ride as well as anybody that ever was. They argued
and tried to keep him out, but he wouldn't listen, and the whole show
came to a standstill. Then the people began to holler at him and make
fun of him.... So then the ring-master he made a little speech, and said
he hoped there wouldn't be no disturbance, and if the man would promise
he wouldn't make no more trouble, he would let him ride, if he thought
he could stay on the horse.... The minute he was on the horse he began
to rip and tear and jump and cavort around ... the drunk man hanging
onto his neck, and his heels flying in the air every jump.... But pretty
soon he struggled up astraddle and grabbed the bridle, a-reeling this
way and that; and the next minute he sprung up and stood! and the horse
a-going like a house afire, too. He just stood there, a-sailing around
as easy and as comfortable as if he warn't ever drunk in his life--and
then he begun to pull off his clothes and sling them. He shed them so
thick they kind of clogged up the air, and altogether he shed seventeen
suits. And then, here he was, slim and handsome, and dressed the
grandiest and prettiest you ever saw, and he lit into that horse and
made him hum--and finally skipped off and made his bow and danced off
to the dressing-room, and everybody just a-howling with pleasure and
astonishment. Then the ring-master, he see how he had been fooled, and
he was the sickest ring-master you ever see, I reckon. Why, it was one
of his own men! He had got up that joke all out of his own head, and
never let on to nobody!"

Yet in this enjoyment of a practical joke, dear to every boy's heart,
Huck did not fail to note that the skilful rider who had pretended to be
intoxicated, stood up at last, "slim and handsome." Even Huck Finn,
neglected son of the town-drunkard, was quick to respond to the appeal
of the supple and well-proportioned figure of the rider after the
superimposed clothing had been discarded, just as he had felt the
attraction of the varied colors and the graceful evolutions of the Grand
Entry. At bottom, it was the beauty of the display that he appreciated
most keenly. By the side of this passage from Mark Twain's masterpiece
may be set a passage from Mr. Hamlin Garland's best story, 'Rose of
Dutcher's Coolly,' in which we find recorded the impressions of a girl
of about the same age, the daughter of a hard-working Wisconsin farmer.
Rose had never seen a circus before, and even the morning street parade
fired her imagination.

"On they came, a band leading the way. Just behind, with glitter of
lance and shine of helmet, came a dozen knights and fair ladies riding
spirited chargers. They all looked strange and haughty, and sneeringly
indifferent to the cheers of the people. The women seemed small and
firm and scornful, and the men rode with lances uplifted, looking down
at the crowd with a haughty droop in their eyelids." Rose "did not laugh
at the clown jigging by in a pony-cart, for there was a face between her
and all that followed--the face of a bare-armed knight, with brown hair
and a curling mustache, whose proud neck had a curve in it as he bent
his head to speak to his rearing horse.... His face was fine, like
pictures she had seen."

In the afternoon Rose attended the performance in the tent and "sat in a
dream of delight as the band began to play.... Then the music struck
into a splendid gallop and out from the curtained mysteries beyond, the
knights and ladies darted, two by two, in glory of crimson and gold, and
green and silver. At their head rode the man with the brown mustache." A
little later "six men dressed in tights of blue and white and orange ran
into the ring, and her hero led them. He wore blue and silver, and on
his breast was a rosette. He looked a god to her. His naked limbs, his
proud neck, the lofty carriage of his head, made her shiver with
emotion. They all came to her, lit by the white radiance; they were not
naked, they were beautiful.... They invested their nakedness with
something which exalted them. They became objects of luminous beauty to
her, tho she knew nothing of art. To see him bow and kiss his fingers to
the audience was a revelation of manly grace and courtesy." When at last
the show was over and Rose went out into the open air, "it seemed
strange to see the same blue sky arching the earth; things seemed
exactly the same, and yet Rose had grown older. She had developed
immeasurably in those few hours." As they looked back at the tents, Rose
knew that "something sweet and splendid and mystical was passing out of
her life after a few hours' stay there. Her feeling of loss was none the
less real because it was indefinable to her."

She never saw this acrobat again, and after a little while she knew that
she did not want to see him. He lingered in her memory, a vision from
another world than any she had ever dreamed--a world of heroic romance
and of lofty idealism. "She began to live for him, her ideal. She set
him on high as a being to be worshiped, as a man fit to be her judge. In
the days and weeks which followed she asked herself: 'Would he like me
to do this?' When the sunset was very beautiful, she thought of him....
Vast ambitions began in her.... She would do something great for his
sake.... In short, she consecrated herself to him as to a king, and
seized upon every chance to educate herself to be worthy of him." And
while her soul was thus expanding under the influence of this poetic
idealization of a manly figure revealed to her only for two or three
hours, all unconsciously she patterned her movements upon his. She
walked with a free stride, and her body came to have the easy carriage
of the athlete. Later, when Rose had matured into a beauty of her own,
she confessed to an elder woman this sentimental awakening in her early
girlhood; and it became evident to her friend that "the beautiful poise
of the head, and supple swing of the girl's body was in part due to the
suggestion of the man's perfect grace."


To the realistic imagination of the boy, Huck, the circus was a fleeting
spectacle of beauty; and to the romantic imagination of the girl, Rose,
it lingered long as a dream of poetry. Young Americans, both of them,
living in these modern days when the human form, male and female, is
decorously dissembled and disguised by ugly and complicated garments,
they had been allowed by the exceptional freedom of the circus to
recapture something of the frank and innocent delight of the Greeks in
the beauty of the body, in its beauty merely as a body, and not as the
habitation of the mind and the soul. Alert as the Greeks were to admire
the deeds of the mind--no race ever more so--they were no less keen in
their appreciation of the things of the body. They were glad to crown
the poet for his lyric conquest, but they bestowed the laurel wreath
also on the athlete who had won to the front in the race. The lofty
nobility of their tragedy testifies to the clarity of their
intelligence; and the supreme power of their sculpture is evidence of
their loving study of the human body, bearing itself in beauty, clad in
few and flowing garments which allowed the eye to follow the free play
of the muscles.

It is only in the circus or the gymnasium or the swimming-pool that we
moderns are permitted to behold what was a daily spectacle to the
Greeks; and it is because the circus preserves for us this occasional
privilege that it deserves to survive. The jocularities of the clowns,
the intricate evolutions of the trained animals, the golden glitter of
the gorgeous cavalcades--all these are but the casual accompaniments of
the essential privilege of the circus to present to us a succession of
men and women, with their bodies in perfect condition, to exhibit to us
that purely physical beauty which we are ever in danger of overlooking
or even forgetting. These acrobats, slim and handsome, as Huck Finn
found them, in their "shirts and drawers," may display their daring and
their grace, standing on a circling steed or swinging from a flying
trapeze, revolving on a horizontal bar or building themselves up into
human pyramids on the bark of the arena; but, except for the sake of
variety, the way in which they may choose to exhibit their skill and to
show themselves is unimportant. What is important is that we may have
the shifting spectacle of the human body in the highest condition of
physical efficiency, delighting our eyes by obedience to the everlasting
laws of beauty.

While the Greeks had far more opportunities than are vouchsafed to us
moderns to behold the human body exhibiting its strength and its skill
in graceful play, we have the advantage that many of the most effective
exercises are latter-day inventions. It seems unlikely that the
Athenians and the Spartans, even tho they were horsemen, had attained to
the art of bareback riding; they may have bestraddled a saddleless
steed, but they had not learned how to stand on his back, and to turn
somersets in time with the stride of the horse. It is, of course,
possible that they were familiar with this, but no sculpture and no
vase-painting, no anecdote in the works of the prose-writers, and no
line of the lyrists survives to authorize us to believe it. And it is
fairly certain, also, that they lacked the horizontal bar, which affords
limitless possibilities to the adventurous acrobat of our own times,
both when it is erected singly and when it is combined in sets of three,
either fixed in the arena or raised aloft in the air to produce the
appearance of a remoter ethereality.

The trapeze has a name of Greek origin, and it was possibly known to the
Greeks. But the Greeks did not foresee the full possibilities of the
trapeze, since its most startling utilization, the feat known as the
Flying Trapeze, was invented by the French acrobat, Léotard, only a
little later than the middle of the nineteenth century. The Flying
Trapeze is the ultimate achievement of acrobatic art, and it demands the
utmost combination of skilful strength and of easy grace. It was a feat
that the Greeks would have appreciated and enjoyed, since it demanded
and disclosed the perfection of physical courage and of physical skill.
Of late, the Flying Trapeze has been complicated and doubled in
difficulty by the introduction of a second performer, who at first makes
the leap simultaneously with his partner, and afterward separates from
him and springs thru the air to the trapeze which his associate has
just abandoned, the pair thus floating past each other in mid-air. In
this more elaborated form the task is more perilous, no doubt, and far
less easy of accomplishment; but it cannot be achieved with quite the
same graceful mastery as when a single performer seems to glide
ethereally from bar to bar, as tho it was impossible for him to fall or
to fail to catch his almost invisible support. This graceful mastery was
the most marked characteristic of Léotard, the original inventor of the
Flying Trapeze; and it may be doubted whether any of those who have
followed the path he traced thru the air, and who have vanquished
difficulties beyond those which he conquered, have been able to outdo
him in the abiding essential of grace.


The overcoming of difficulty is one of the elements of the pleasure
which we take in any art, and part of our enjoyment of a sonnet, for
example, must be ascribed to the apparent ease with which the poet is
able to express his thought, amply and completely, within the rigid
limitations of his fourteen lines, with their prescribed arrangement of
five or six rimes. But our delight is diminished if we are made
conscious of the effort it has cost the artist to attain his aim. Many a
later performer on the Flying Trapeze let us see that the feats he is
attempting are so difficult that they cannot be accomplished without
obvious effort. That is to say, we are made aware that the acrobat is
exhibiting a "stunt," and this is bad art. Difficulty overcome is worth
while only when it is overcome seemingly without any strain, and when
art is sufficient to conceal itself. However difficult the artist's
achievement may be, its charm is doubled if he can make it appear to be

It happens that I am able to bring his personal testimony to the fact
that this was the principle which always governed Léotard himself. When
the French gymnast paid his only visit to the United States, more than
forty years ago, he used to practise in a gymnasium which I also
frequented. He spoke no English, and I had a little school-boy French,
so that a certain intimacy sprang up. One day Léotard asked me to swing
a trapeze for him, and he sprang off and caught it with a single hand,
and then as the second trapeze returned he twisted and grasped the first
trapeze again with one hand. This evoked from me an immediate
exclamation of astonishment and admiration at the startling conquest of
difficulty, and it was followed by the natural question why so
extraordinary a feat had never been exhibited in public. Léotard
explained that the leaps from trapeze to trapeze with the aid of one
hand only must be lopsided, since the body is inevitably more or less
twisted, and he added that as there was an unavoidable and ungraceful
wrenching of the person, he had determined never to exhibit this feat in
public, difficult as it might be.

But altho Léotard was not willing to perform in public with only one
hand, it was a most invaluable exercise in private. His ability to
accomplish his leaps thus handicapped gave him a redoubled confidence
when he was using both of his hands. That he was right in resisting the
temptation to startle the spectators by a "stunt" of surprising
difficulty is beyond question. It could not be made to seem easy, and it
could not be accomplished with grace. Therefore it was not fit for
exhibition, even tho Léotard might feel sure that he could do it without
risk of failure. Here the French acrobat revealed himself as bound by
the eternal principles which underlie all the arts, that of the acrobat
no less than those of the painter and the poet. There is lack of art in
the performances of many acrobats of remarkable skill, who attempt feats
which they are not always certain of achieving. Indeed, they are
sometimes willing to profit by this very uncertainty. They fail the
first time of trying, and even the second, and these failures serve the
purpose of advertising to the spectators the difficulty of the task they
have undertaken. Then the third time, or the fourth, they succeed,
whereupon they reap the unworthy reward of applause from the unthinking.

The artist should never let us see his failures. If he is not certain
that he can perform what he promises, then he had better refrain from
the attempt. It was in the same winter that Léotard was in New York, in
the late sixties of the nineteenth century, that the Hanlon Brothers
paid one of their welcome visits to America. The Hanlons they were then,
and they were acrobats pure and simple, altho later, when they called
themselves the Hanlon-Lees, they had become pantomimists. As acrobats
they held fast to the same principles which governed Léotard in his
performances. They insisted upon certainty of execution; they never
failed to perform the feat they set out to accomplish, and to perform it
successfully the first time they attempted it. And no matter how
difficult the feat might be, or how novel or how effective, if they
could not attain absolute certainty of execution, they refrained from
setting it before the public. I was told at the time that there were two
or three surprising and alluring exercises which the Hanlons had
invented themselves, which they practised laboriously and faithfully all
that winter, and which they wisely refrained from ever putting on their
program because they were never able to assure themselves of a uniformly
successful result. They could do any one of these feats four times out
of five, but the fifth time there would be a miscalculation of energy,
and the attempt would have to be repeated. And they were unwilling to
let the public witness any performance of theirs which was not perfect
in its execution.


Here again the modern acrobat, who is guided by a real feeling for his
art, is in accord with the principles which the Greeks obeyed. In Attic
tragedy, for example, there are no exhibitions of violence, no scuffles,
and no assassinations, and this is not so much because the Greeks
shrank from scenes of blood, as some critics have vainly contended, but
rather because the actors in the Attic drama were raised on thick boots
and were topped by towering masks, which made it almost impossible for
them to take part in episodes of vigorous action, in hand-to-hand
struggles, in murders before the eyes of the spectators, without danger
of displacing the mask, and thereby distracting the attention of the
audience from the immediate purpose of the dramatic poet. What could not
be done gracefully the Greeks refrained from attempting. The exhibition
of difficulty for the sake of difficulty, still more the failure to
accomplish a "stunt" for the sake of calling attention to its
difficulty--these things the Greeks abhorred. They would as surely have
disapproved of the misguided artifices of the acrobats who make a
practise of failing once or twice in order to multiply the immediate
effect of their ultimate success as they would reprove the exhibition of
a difficulty conquered for its own sake. It is only in the best
acrobatic performances that we moderns are privileged to perceive what
was a constant delight to the Greeks--the beauty of the human form, in
its finest physical perfection, certain of its strength and easy in its



                        THE DECLINE AND FALL OF



Of all the varied and manifold kinds of theatrical entertainment
negro-minstrelsy is the only one which is absolutely native to these
States, and the only one which could not have come into existence
anywhere else in the civilized world. Here in America alone has the
transplanted African been brought into intimate contact with the
transplanted European. Other nations may have disputed our claim to the
invention of the steamboat and the telegraph, but negro-minstrelsy is as
indisputably due to American inventiveness as the telephone itself. Here
in the United States it had its humble beginnings; here it expanded and
flourished for many years; from here it was exported to Great Britain,
where it established itself for many seasons; from here it has made
sporadic excursions into France and into Germany; and here at last it
has fallen into a decline and a degeneracy and a decay which seem to
doom it to a speedy extinction. Its life was little longer than that
vouchsafed to man, threescore years and ten, for it was born in the
fifth decade of the nineteenth century, and in the second decade of the
twentieth it lingers superfluous on the stage, with none to do it

Time was when the negro minstrels held possession of three or four
theaters in the single city of New York, and when a dozen or more troops
were traveling from town to town; and now they have long ago surrendered
their last hall in the metropolis, and only a solitary company winds its
lonely way from theater to theater thruout the United States. The few
surviving practitioners of the art are reduced to the presentation of
brief interludes in the all-devouring variety-shows, or to the
impersonation of sparse negro characters in occasional comedies. The
Skidmore Guards, who paraded so gaily at Harrigan and Hart's, are
disbanded now these many years; Johnny Wild of joyous memory is no more,
and Sweatnam, bereft of his fellows in sable drollery, is seen only in a
chance comedy like 'Excuse Me,' or the 'County Chairman.' George Christy
and Dan Emmett and Dan Bryant have gone and left only fading memories of
their breezy songs, their nimble dances, and their flippant quips. Edwin
Forrest and Edwin Booth blacked up more than once, Joseph Jefferson and
Barney Williams besmeared themselves with burnt cork on occasion; but it
is not by these darker episodes in their artistic careers that they are
now recalled, and the leading actors of to-day think scorn of
negro-minstrelsy--whenever they deign to give it a thought. And yet it
must be noted frankly that when The Lambs wanted to raise money for
their new club-house, they did not disdain the art of the negro
minstrel, and more than twoscore of them went forth to conquer,
willingly disguised in the uniform blackness assumed long ago by George
Christy and Dan Bryant.

It is to be hoped that some devoted historian will come forward before
it is too late and tell us the history of this very special form of
theatrical art, the only one indigenous to our soil. Indeed, now that
our American universities are paying attention to the drama, what more
alluring theme for the dissertation demanded of all candidates for the
doctorate of philosophy than an inquiry into the rise and fall of
negro-minstrelsy? In the late Laurence Hutton's conscientious and
entertaining volume on the 'Curiosities of the American Stage,' there is
a chapter in which the subject is treated historically, altho the
chronicler wasted much of his precious space in considering the
succession of sable characters in the regular drama--Shakspere's
Othello, Southerne's Oroonoko, Bickerstaff's Mungo, Boucicault's Pete
(in the 'Octoroon'), Uncle Tom, Topsy, Eliza, and their companions (in
the undying dramatization of Mrs. Stowe's story). These were all parts
in plays wherein white characters were prominent. The first performer of
a song-and-dance, that is of a sketch in which the darky performer was
sufficient unto himself, and was deprived of any support from persons of
another complexion, seems to have been "Jim Crow" Rice--the title of
whose lively lyric survives in the name bestowed upon the cars reserved
for colored folk on certain Southern railroads. Rice found his pattern
in an old negro who did a peculiar step after he had sung to a tune of
his own contriving:

    Wheel about, turn about;
        Do jus' so:
    An' ebery time I turn about,
        I jump Jim Crow.

Rice carried Jim Crow to England, and he made a specialty of dandy
darkies. But he was not the discoverer of negro-minstrelsy, as we know
it, altho he blazed the trail for it. Indeed, it was quite probably due
to the influence of Rice and his darky dandies that the negro minstrels
confined their efforts to the imitation of the town negro rather than of
the plantation negro, the field-hand of the Uncle Remus type. Rice first
impersonated Jim Crow in the late twenties, and it was in the middle of
the thirties that he went to England. And it was in the early forties
that Dan Emmett, Frank Brower, Billy Whitlock, and Dick Pelham happened
to meet by accident in a New York boarding-house, and amused themselves
with songs accompanied by the banjo, the tambourine, and the bones.
Pleased by the result of their exercises, they appeared together at a
benefit, and negro-minstrelsy was born. At first there was no
differentiation into Interlocutors and End-men; they all took an equal
share in the more or less improvised dialog; they sang, and they played,
and they danced the 'Essence of Old Virginny.'

Probably Emmett began early to provide new tunes for them. He was the
composer of 'Old Dan Tucker' and the 'Boatman's Dance,' of 'Walk Along,
John,' and 'Early in the Morning,' and one walk-around which he devised
in the late fifties for Bryant's Minstrels, 'Dixie,' was introduced by
Mrs. John Wood into a burlesque, which she was playing in New Orleans,
just before the outbreak of the Civil War. The sentiment and the tune
took the fancy of the ardent Louisianans, and they carried it with them
into the Confederate army, where it soon established itself as the
war-song of the South. And then when Richmond had fallen at last,
Lincoln ordered the bands of the victorious army to play 'Dixie,' with
the wise explanation that as we had captured the Southern capital, we
had also captured the Southern song. And 'Dixie,' which had begun life
so humbly as a walk-around in a minstrel-show in New York, bids fair to
survive indefinitely as the musical testimony to the fact that the cruel
war is over, and that these States are now one nation.


It was only a year or two after the quartet of Emmett, Brower, Whitlock,
and Pelham had shown the possibilities of the new form of amusement that
troops of negro minstrels began to supply an entire evening's amusement.
The regulation First Part was devised with its curving row of vocalists,
instrumentalists, and comedians. The dignified Interlocutor took his
place in the middle of the semicircle, and uttered the time-honored
phrase: "Gentlemen, be seated. We will commence with the overture."
Bones captured the chair at one end, and Tambo pre-empted that on the
other; and they began their wordy skirmish with the Middleman, in which
that pompous presiding officer always got the worst of it. This device
for immediate and boisterous laughter, this putting down of the
Middleman by the End-man, the negro minstrels appear to have borrowed
from the circus, where the clown is also permitted always to discomfit
the stiff and stately ring-master.

But altho the minstrels may have taken over this effective trick from
the circus, with which some of the earlier performers had had intimate
relations, the trick itself is of remote antiquity. The side-splitting
colloquy of the End-man with the Middleman may be exactly like the
interchange of merry jests between the clown and the ring-master, yet it
is far older than the modern circus. It existed in Paris, for example,
in the sixteenth century, when the quack doctor was accompanied by his
jack-pudding. Many of the dialogs heard on the Pont-Neuf between Mondor
and Tabarin have been preserved, and the method is precisely that of the
dialogs between ring-master and clown, Interlocutor and End-man, even to
the persistent repetition of the question which contains the catch.
"Master," Tabarin would begin, "can you tell me which is the more
generous, a man or a woman?" And the quack doctor would solemnly reply:
"Ah, Tabarin, that is a question which has been greatly debated by the
philosophers of antiquity, and they have been unable to decide which is
truly the more generous, a man or a woman." Then Tabarin would briskly
retort: "Never mind the old philosophers. I can tell you." And with
great contempt the ponderous quack doctor would return: "What, Tabarin,
do you mean to say that you can tell us which is the more generous, a
man or a woman." Tabarin promptly responded that he could. "Then," asked
Mondor, "pray do so. Which is the more generous, a man or a woman?" And
thereupon, to the great disgust of Mondor, Tabarin would proffer his
ribald explanation. Unfortunately the explanation he gave is frankly too
ribald to be given here, for nowadays we are more squeamish than the
idlers who gathered around the quack doctor's platform in Paris three or
four centuries ago. The dialogs of Mondor and Tabarin were brief enough,
but they often made up for their brevity in their breadth.

This kind of catch-question was known in England, under Elizabeth, as
"selling a bargain," and it is not infrequent in the plays of the time.
It will be found more than once in earlier plays of Shakspere; for
example, when his "clowns" (as the low-comedy characters were then
called) were allowed to run on at their own sweet will. Not a little of
the dialog of the two Dromios is closely akin in its method to the
interchange of question and answer between the Interlocutor and the
End-man. We may be sure this method of evoking laughter was employed
also by the improvising comedians of the Italian comedy-of-masks, with
which negro-minstrelsy has other points of resemblance. It must have
been popular with the wandering glee-men of the rude Middle Ages; and
now that negro-minstrelsy is disappearing and now that our circuses
have burgeoned into three rings under a tent too vast for any merely
verbal repartees, it has not departed from among us, since it still
survives as the staple of the so-called "sidewalk conversationalists"
who swap personalities in our superabundant variety-shows.

We do not know with historic certainty how soon the First Part
crystallized into the form which has long been traditional--the opening
overture, the catch-questioning of End-man and Middleman, the comic
songs of Bones and Tambo in turn, the sentimental ballads by the
silver-throated vocalists, and the concluding walk-around. The rest of
the evening's entertainment never took on any definite framework, altho
the final item on the program was likely to be a piece of some length,
often a burlesque of a serious drama then popular, and this little play
"enlisted the whole strength of the company." Between the stately First
Part and the more pretentious terminating sketch, the minstrels
presented a variety of acts in which the several members exhibited their
specialities. A clog-dance was always in order--altho the mechanical
precision of this form of saltatorial exercise was wholly foreign to the
characteristics of the actual negroes whom the minstrels were supposed
to be representing. A stump-speech was certain of a warm
reception--altho this again departed from the true negro tradition, and,
in fact, often degenerated into frank burlesque, wholly unrelated to the
realities of life. Sketches, like those which Rice had earlier composed
for his own acting, were likely to have a little closer relation to the
genuine darky.

Yet here again the negro minstrel was not avid of overt originality. He
was willing to find his profit in the past and to translate into negro
dialect any farce, however ancient, which might contain comic situations
or humorous characters that could be twisted to suit his immediate
purpose. He seized upon the ingenious plots of certain of the pantomimes
brought to America from France half a century ago by the Ravels. And on
occasion he went, unwittingly, still further afield for his prey. There
is in print, in a collection of so-called Ethiopian drama, an amusing
sketch, entitled the 'Great Mutton Trial'; and the remote source of this
is to be sought in the oldest and best farce which has survived in
French literature. 'Maître Pierre Pathelin' is now acted occasionally by
the Comédie-Française in Paris, in a version which preserves its
original flavor; but in the eighteenth century an adaptation, made by
Brueys and Palaprat, and called the 'Avocat Pathelin,' was popular. It
was this later perversion which served as the basis of an English farce,
entitled the 'Village Lawyer,' and the 'Great Mutton Trial' is simply
the 'Village Lawyer' transmogrified to suit the bolder and more robust
methods of the negro minstrels.


And here we may discover the real reason why negro-minstrelsy failed to
establish itself. It neglected its opportunity to devote itself
primarily to its own peculiar field--the humorous reproduction of the
sayings and doings of the colored man in the United States. To represent
the negro in his comic aspects and in his sentimental moods was what the
minstrels pretended to do; but the pretense was often only a hollow
mockery. Even the musical instruments they affected, the banjo and the
bones, were not as characteristic of the field-hand, or even of the town
darky, as the violin. Indeed, the bones cannot be considered as in any
way special to the negro; they were familiar to Shakspere's Bottom, who
declared: "I have a reasonable good ear in music; let us have the tongs
and the bones." And the wise recorder of the words and deeds of Uncle
Remus asserted that he had never listened to the staccato picking of a
banjo in the negro-quarters of any plantation.

"I have seen the negro at work," so Harris once stated, "and I have seen
him at play; I have attended his corn-shuckings, his dances, and his
frolics; I have heard him give the wonderful melody of his songs to the
winds; I have heard him give barbaric airs to the quills" (that is to
say, to the Pan-pipes); "I have heard him scrape jubilantly on the
fiddle; I have seen him blow wildly on the bugle, and beat
enthusiastically on the triangle; but I have never heard him play on
the banjo." Mr. George W. Cable thereupon came forward with his
evidence to the effect that, altho the banjo was to be found
occasionally on a plantation, it was far less frequently seen than the
violin. It will be noted that Harris was speaking of the Georgian negro,
and that Mr. Cable was talking about the negro in Louisiana; and perhaps
the true habitat of the banjo is to be found farther north and near to
the border States. At any rate, there is a footnote to one of Thomas
Jefferson's 'Notes on Virginia' (published in 1784), which informs us
that the instrument proper to the slaves of the Old Dominion is "the
banjar, which they brought hither from Africa, and which is the origin
of the guitar, its chords being precisely the four lower chords of the

Now and again some one negro minstrel did make a serious study of a
negro type; such a performer was J. W. McAndrews, the "Watermelon Man."
But the most of them were content to be comic without any effort to
catch the special comicality of the darky; and sometimes they strayed so
completely from the path as to indulge in songs in an alleged Irish
brogue or in a dislocated German dialect. Now, nothing could well be
conceived more incongruously inartistic than a white man blacked up into
the semblance of a negro, and then impertinently caroling an impudent
Irish lyric. Yet the general neglect of the opportunities for a more
accurate presentation of negro characteristics is to be seen in the
strange fact that the minstrels failed to perceive the possible
popularity of rag-time tunes, and failed also to put the cake-walk on
the stage. Even at the height of its vogue in the mid years of the
nineteenth century, negro-minstrelsy did not occupy its own field, and
did not try to raise therein the varied flowers of which they had the

Instead of cultivating the tempting possibilities which lay before them,
and devoting themselves to a loving delineation of the colored people
who make up a tenth of our population, they turned aside to devote
themselves to the spectacular elaboration of their original
entertainment. The clog-dances became most intricate and more
mechanical--and thereby still more remote from the buck-and-wing dancing
of the real negro. The First Part was presented with accompaniments of
Oriental magnificence and of variegated glitter. The chorus was
enlarged; the musicians were multiplied; the End-men operated in relays;
and at last the bass-drum which towered aloft over Haverly's Mastodon
Minstrels bore the boastful legend: "40. Count Them. 40." And when the
suspicious spectator obeyed this command, he discovered to his surprise
that the vaunt was more than made good since he had a full view of at
least half a dozen performers in addition to the promised twoscore.

At the apex of his inflated prosperity Haverly invaded Germany with his
mastodonic organization; and one result of his visit was probably still
further to confuse the Teutonic misinformation about the American type,
which seems often to be a curious composite photograph of the red men of
Cooper, the black men of Mrs. Stowe, and the white men of Mark Twain
and Bret Harte. And it was reported at the time that another and more
immediate result of this rash foray beyond the boundaries of the
English-speaking race was that Haverly was, for a while, in danger of
arrest by the police for a fraudulent attempt to deceive the German
public, because he was pretending to present a company of _negro_
minstrels, whereas his performers were actually white men!

It should be recorded that while the vogue lasted, there did come into
existence sundry troops of minstrels whose members were all of them
actually colored men, altho they conformed to the convention set by
those whom they were imitating and conscientiously disguised themselves
with burnt cork, to achieve the sable uniformity temporarily attained by
the ordinary negro minstrels. Perhaps the most obvious parallel of the
blacking up of veritable colored men to follow the example of the white
men who pretended to imitate the negro is to be found in the original
performance of 'As You Like It,' on the Elizabethan stage, when the
shaven boy-actor who impersonated Rosalind disguised himself as a lad,
and then had to pretend to Orlando that he was a girl.


For the decline and fall of negro-minstrelsy it is easy to find more
than one sufficient explanation. First of all, it may have been due to
its failure to devote itself lovingly to the representation of the many
peculiarities of the negro himself. Second, it is possible that
negro-minstrelsy had an inherent and inevitable disqualification for
enduring popularity, in that it was exclusively masculine and
necessarily deprived of the potent attractiveness exerted by the members
of the more fascinating sex. And in the third place, its program was
rather limited and monotonous, and therefore negro-minstrelsy could not
long withstand the competition of the music-hall, of the variety-show,
and of the comic musical pieces, which satisfied more amply the exactly
similar taste of the public for broad fun commingled with song and

Whatever the precise cause may be, there is no denying that
negro-minstrelsy is on the verge of extinction, however much we may
bewail the fact. It failed to accomplish its true purpose, and it is
disappearing, leaving behind it little that is worthy of preservation
except a few of its songs. This, at least, it has to its credit--that it
gave Stephen Collins Foster the chance to produce his simple melodies.
Perhaps we might even venture to assert that the existence of
negro-minstrelsy is justified by a single one of these songs--by 'Old
Folks at Home,' which has a wailing melancholy and an unaffected pathos,
lacking in the earlier and more saccharine 'Home, Sweet Home,' which
the English composer, Bishop, based on an old Sicilian tune. After
Foster came Root and Work, and 'My Old Kentucky Home' was succeeded by
'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching,' and by 'Marching thru
Georgia'--which last lyric now shares its popularity only with 'Dixie'
as a musical relic of the Civil War.

It would be pleasant to know whether it was one of Foster's songs, and
which one it may have been that once touched the tender heart of
Thackeray. "I heard a humorous balladist not long since," the novelist
recorded, "a minstrel with wool on his head, and an ultra Ethiopian
complexion, who performed a negro ballad that I confess moistened these
spectacles in a most unexpected manner. They have gazed at dozens of
tragedy-queens dying on the stage and expiring in appropriate blank
verse, and I never wanted to wipe them. They have looked up, with deep
respect be it said, at many scores of clergymen without being dimmed,
and behold! a vagabond with a corked face and a banjo, sings a little
song, strikes a wild note, which sets the heart thrilling with happy






In an advertisement issued by one of the huge department stores of New
York not long ago, the assertion was made that the house had on sale
"all the new novelties." A purist in language might be moved to protest
that this proclamation was plainly tautological, because it is the
essential quality of every novelty to be new. But even a purist in
language, if he happens also to be an honest observer of things as they
are, would be forced to admit that his supercilious cavil had only a
superficial justification, since, as a matter of fact, there are many
novelties which are not new, and which, indeed, are venerably ancient.
It was Solomon, superabundantly married, and therefore in an excellent
position to acquire wisdom, who declared that there is nothing new under
the sun. Wireless telegraphy is only a development of the signaling by
beacon-fires, which was practised by the Greeks and which they employed
to convey immediately to Greece the glad tidings of the fall of Troy;
and moving-pictures are only an ingenious amplification of the zoëtrope
of our childhood.

The amusement-parks which sprang up all over the United States in the
early part of the twentieth century, in imitation of those at Coney
Island, bear an undeniable resemblance to the Foire Saint Laurent and
to the other fairs of Paris in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,
and even the loud-voiced crier who proclaims the merits of the several
side-shows, and who is now known as a "barker," bears a name which is
only a translation of that given to his forbears two hundred years ago
in France--_aboyeur_.

The so-called cabaret-shows, prevalent in the larger cities of the
United States in the winter of 1911-1912, were hailed as the very latest
form of amusement, combining as they did the solid pleasures of the
table with the ethereal delights of song-and-dance; and yet Froissart is
a witness that something very like the cabaret-show was known in the
Middle Ages, and Gibbon has recorded its existence nearly a thousand
years earlier, at the court of Theodoric. Indeed, the Romans, and the
Greeks before them, had employed performers of one sort or another to
relieve the monotony of their banquets. Gaditanian dancers were popular
thruout the wide realm of Rome, almost two thousand years before
Carmencita came from Cadiz to warble and caper at midnight in the
studios of American painters, just before and just after the guests had
enjoyed the refreshments provided by their artistic hosts.

As the cabaret-show is only another form of the well-known "vaudeville
supper," it must be relegated to the class of novelties which are not
new. And vaudeville itself is only the long familiar variety-show. It
may now be called by a new name, and many of those who do not look
behind a label may accept it as a new thing; nevertheless it is very
old, indeed. The name "vaudeville" is an absurd misnomer, like so many
other terms due to our habit of careless borrowing from other tongues.
In French _vaudeville_ originally designated a kind of topical song,
bristling with pointed gibes at the follies of the moment; and then in
time it took on another meaning, when it was used to describe a light
and lively farce interspersed with occasional lyrics set to
old-fashioned tunes. It is impossible to say just how and why this
French word, which had two distinct meanings in its own language, should
have been imported into English to characterize improperly a form of
amusement which we had long known by the admirably exact name of
variety-show. The French themselves call their own type of variety-show,
at which refreshments are served, a _café-concert_. Their nickname for
it is a _beuglant_, a place where there is "howling"--which seems to
imply that they do not expect too much melody from the singers, who
appear at these performances. In England an establishment of this kind
is called a music-hall; and it was more than half a century ago that
Planché described their blatant lyrics set to brazen tunes as "most
music-hall, most melancholy."

Whatever its name may be in the different parts of the world, the
entertainment is much the same. The most frequent item on the program is
the comic song, often accompanied by a rudimentary dance. Sometimes it
is in the martial staccato of Paulus's 'En revenant de la révue' which
boosted General Boulanger into a furious but fleeting political
popularity. Sometimes it is the coonful melody of 'Under the Bamboo
Tree' or 'Dinah, the Moon am Shining.' Sometimes it is an almost
epileptic lyric, like 'Tarara-boom-de-ay.' Sometimes a singer of a more
delicate art, like Yvette Guilbert, ventures upon songs of a more subtly
sentimental appeal. There may be a swift succession of solos, male
singers and female alternating, those of the most fame appearing latest,
as is the practise in the first part of the Parisian open-air
_café-chantant_, the Alcazar or the Ambassadeurs. There may be duets or
trios or quartets, serious or comic, decorously unadorned or diversified
by dancing. There may be songs to be interpreted by half a dozen
performers, accompanied by more or less dramatic action, like the
'Mulligan Guards,' which was the simple germ wherefrom sprouted the long
series of more and more elaborate Harrigan and Hart plays, delineating
with keen insight and with sympathetic humor the manifold aspects of
tenement-house life in New York, and possessing a rich flavor of fun
curiously akin to that which amuses us in the plays wherein Plautus had
sketched the tenement-house life in Rome two thousand years ago.

While the song and the song-and-dance and the song-and-parade may be the
staple of the entertainment, the variety-show justifies its name by the
medley of other exhibitions it presents. It delights in the dance
unaccompanied by the song; and in some of the English music-halls, the
Alhambra and the Empire in London, the ballet is the foremost
attraction, providing an opportunity for the display of her dainty art
to so exquisite a dancer as Mlle. Genée. In New York it is now a refuge
for the waifs and strays of vanishing negro-minstrelsy. It is ready to
welcome the wandering conjurer and the strolling juggler. It extends its
hospitality to the acrobat, single or in groups, throwing flipflaps on
the stage, flying thru the air on a trapeze or diving into the water in
a tank. It acts as host to the trainer of performing animals, dogs and
cats, seals and elephants. It lends its stage to the puppet-show
performer, to the sidewalk conversationalist, and to the ventriloquist,
with his pair of stolid figures seemingly seated uncomfortably on his
knees and actually supported by his hands, while his adroit fingers
manipulate their mechanical mouths.

Of late, the variety-show has accepted the aid of the exhibitors of
moving-pictures, just as the exhibitors of moving-pictures have invoked
the casual assistance of song-and-dance teams and of other vaudeville
performers to relieve the strain on the eyes of their spectators. And
the introduction of the cinematograph, or the bioscope, or whatever it
may be called, is, perhaps, the only real novelty in our latter-day
variety-show. All the other performers are presenting feats of a kind
known to our remote ancestors, even if these feats are now more
skilfully presented. Animals were put thru their paces hundreds of years
ago; and performing dogs and educated bears figure frequently in the
illuminations which decorate many a medieval manuscript. There were
tight-rope dancers in Alexandria and in Byzantium; there were
contortionists in Rome and in Greece, and the flexibility of these
latter is preserved for us in the vase-paintings which have been
replevined from the ashes of Pompeii and the lava of Herculaneum.
Quintillian tells us of the wonderful feats of certain performers on the
stage in his day, "with balls, and of other jugglers whose dexterity is
such that one might suppose the things which they throw from them to
return of their own accord, and to fly wheresoever they are commanded."
The art of modern magic has enlarged its boundaries by the aid of the
modern sciences of mechanics and physics, but elementary
sleights-of-hand were known to a remote antiquity, and savages always
had their medicine-men and their marabouts, workers of primitive wonders
to strike awe into the souls of their unsophisticated beholders. The
variety-show may have the variety it vaunts itself as possessing; but to
novelty it can lay little claim.


The constituent elements of the variety-show as we know it to-day have
existed since a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the
contrary--to use the old legal phrase. The appeal of almost every one of
these elements and of the variety-show as a whole is ever to the eye and
to the ear, to the senses rather than to the emotions; and to the
intellect it appeals even more infrequently. Its primary purpose is to
afford a kaleidoscopic succession of contrasted amusements for the
benefit of those who are easily satisfied by glitter of spectacle, by
incessant movement, and by violent music. It is the ideal entertainment
for that redoubtable entity, the Tired Business Man, who checks his
brains with his overcoat, and who resents having to witness anything in
the theater which might make him think. Not only does the variety-show
flourish because it is exactly adjusted to the unintellectual and purely
sensational likings of the Tired Business Man and to the similar tastes
of his fit mate, who is fatigued because her life is idle and empty, but
for his benefit also, and for hers the summer song-show and the alleged
"comic opera" and the misnamed "review" have been called into existence.
Indeed, it is obvious enough that most of our summer song-shows and many
of our "comic operas" and "reviews" are, in reality, only more or less
disguised variety-shows.

With facts as they are, there is never any excuse for quarreling. The
Tired Business Man is a fact; and it is only fair that what he demands
shall be supplied by caterers to the cravings of the populace. But even
tho his name is legion, the Tired Business Man is to be accepted only
with contemptuous toleration. He is to be endured only so long as he
does not insist on imposing his likings upon others who have a more
delicate perception, and who are willing to bring their brains with them
when they take their places in the theater. Even in the variety-show
which seems often to exist only for the pleasure of those who still
linger in what one of George Eliot's wise characters aptly called "a
puerile state of culture," nevertheless, we can now and again discover
signs of a longing for something less void of purpose than mere
spectacle. For example, it was in a variety-show that Mr. Belasco's
finely imaginative dramatization of Mr. Long's 'Madame Butterfly' was
set before the American public several years prior to its being adorned
by the pathetic music of Puccini for the benefit of opera-goers.

In fact, it is well to remember that the _opéra comique_ of the French
had its humble origin in the theater of the Parisian fairs, where also
we can discover the rude beginnings of that crude form of melodrama
which Victor Hugo lifted into literature in 'Hernani' and 'Ruy Bias,'
casting the cloth-of-gold of his splendid lyricism over the arbitrarily
articulated skeleton of his violent action. It was an old negro-minstrel
act, representing the rehearsal of an amateur band, that the Hanlon-Lees
borrowed to amplify into a rough-and-tumble pantomime for performance in
a variety-show in Paris; and this knockabout sketch proved to be the
stepping-stone which enabled them soon to achieve the fantastic
eccentricity of their 'Voyage en Suisse,' performed in real theaters,
first in Paris and then in New York, to the joy of all who could
appreciate the perfection of their art as pantomimists. And, once again,
it was in a variety-show of the lowest class that Denman Thompson first
appeared as 'Josh Whitcomb Among the Female Bathers,' a vulgar episode
of indelicate humor, wherein, however, was contained the germ of that
perennially popular play, the 'Old Homestead,' which gave a pure
pleasure to countless thousands of theater-goers, season after season,
for at least a quarter of a century.

When we look back over the long annals of the variety-show we cannot
escape the conclusion that here is its real opportunity, its true
function, and its necessary justification. For the most part, it
supplies a purely sensational amusement for the unthinking; and yet it
is continually serving as a nursery for the actual theater. It is thus
seen to be a proving ground for the seeds of widely different dramatic
species--_opéra comique_ and melodrama in France, the _ballet d'action_
in England, the rural play in the United States. It is not always
conscious of its possibilities, nor does it always improve them to best
advantage. Normally it provides an entertainment appealing mainly to the
senses, often empty, and often unsatisfying because of its monotony. But
on occasion it is capable of grasping at higher things, and of
encouraging artists who will sooner or later outgrow its limitations and
transfer their activities to the theaters wherein audiences are more
eager for veracity of character portrayal.


On one side the variety-show intersects the ring of the circus and the
curving line of the First Part of negro-minstrelsy, while on the other
it impinges on the sphere of the more literary drama. Its existence is
evidence that the show business is always the show business, no matter
how manifold and dissimilar its manifestations may seem to be. The men
and women who have grown up in the regular theaters are a little
inclined to be scornfully jealous of the less highly esteemed performers
in the variety-show, even if they themselves are occasionally tempted by
the lure of high pay for hard work to condescend to vaudeville
engagements. No doubt, the bill of fare set before us more often than
not in the variety-show justifies this attitude on the part of the high
priests of the more legitimate drama; yet they ought to be broad-minded
enough to recognize merit wherever it may be found. The late John
Gilbert, best of Sir Peter Teazles, and of Sir Anthony Absolutes, was
not a little provoked by the praise bestowed upon Harrigan and Hart and
their associates by Mr. Howells and by other critics of the acted drama,
who relished the peculiar flavor of 'Squatter Sovereignty' and its
companion plays. Gilbert was puzzled to discover any reason why any
criticism whould be wasted on pieces which pretended to be little more
than variety-show sketches. But Joseph Jefferson, a far more versatile
comedian than John Gilbert, was swift to discern merit, and he was
wholly free from toplofty condescension toward other forms of the
histrionic art than that in which he was himself pre-eminent--perhaps,
because in his youth he had often appeared as a burlesque actor, an
experience which he gladly admitted to have been very valuable to him.
After Jefferson had gone to see one of the nondescript pieces at Weber
and Fields's music-hall, joyous spectacles commingled of song and dance,
of eccentric character and of sheer fun, he was loud in his praise of
the histrionic art displayed here and there in the course of the
performance, declaring without hesitation that one episode, in which the
two managers took part, was simply the finest piece of comic acting he
had seen that whole winter. Probably the ordinary playgoers, who had
flocked to be amused by this loose-jointed piece, took a somewhat
apologetic attitude toward the pleasure they had received; and probably
they supposed that their pleasure at the entertainment offered to them
was due mainly to the pervading bustle and dazzle of the kaleidoscopic
show. But Jefferson had a keener insight into the practise of the art he
adorned; and he recognized at once the sheer histrionic skill which lent
the illusion of life to the fantastic impossibility of the humorous

Jefferson, one may venture to assert, would not have been surprised if
he had learned that an American university professor of dramatic
literature, whenever he came to discuss the lyrical-burlesques of
Aristophanes, was in the habit of sending his whole class to Weber and
Fields that his students might see for themselves the nearest modern
analog to the robust fantasies of the great Greek humorist. Aristophanes
was a many-sided genius; as a lyric poet of ethereal elevation he must
be set by the side of Shelley; as a keen satirist of contemporary fads
and foibles he must be compared with Rabelais; and as a fun-maker pure
and simple, as a comic playwright, willing and able to evoke unexpected
laughter by ludicrous antics, he reveals an undeniable likeness to the
adroit devisers of the hodgepodge of humorous episodes represented with
contagious humor by Weber and Fields. And the heterogeneous pieces which
used to be produced by the two performers who devote themselves to the
dislocation of the English language were outgrowths of the variety-show,
from which, indeed, the two performers themselves were graduates.

It is this aspect of the variety-show, its supplying of opportunities
for artistic development to ambitious performers, and its own
spontaneous generation of dramatic forms capable of being lifted into
literature--it is this aspect of the variety-show which would be
emphasized by any competent writer undertaking to narrate its long and
involved history. That no one has yet written a history of the
variety-show is as surprising as that no one has yet written a history
of negro-minstrelsy. The materials for such a book are accessible and
abundant, since there are already richly documented accounts of the
fairs of Paris and of London, in which the variety-show flourished
centuries ago. There are accounts of the English concert-halls as they
now exist and of the French _café-concerts_. The historian will also be
aided by the various treatises on the ballet, and on the circus, and on
the puppet-show, with all of which forms of entertainment the
variety-show has always had intimate relations.

It may be that the future historian will be moved to point out the
superficial likeness between the variety-show and the Sunday issues of
certain American newspapers. These Sunday newspapers are really
magazines--that is to say, they occupy a position midway between
journalism and literature, just as the variety-show occupies a position
midway between the circus and the theater. The magazine pages of these
Sunday newspapers set before their readers a very variegated bill of
fare; they provide photographs of recent events--which are the
equivalent of the moving-pictures of the variety-show; they contain
short-stories--which are, in narrative, what the brief plays of the
variety-show are in dialog and action; they abound in anecdotes and in
comic sayings--which are closely akin to the utterances of the sidewalk
conversationalists of the variety-show. And the variety-show itself is
like journalism, in that it is a modern combination of elements of the
remotest antiquity, for altho the actual newspaper is only two or three
centuries old, there were always channels by which news was conveyed to
the eager public. The men of Athens nearly two thousand years ago were
glad to hear and to tell some new thing, and their wants were supplied,
even if there was in classical antiquity and in the Middle Ages no
organization faintly anticipating the marvelous machinery for
collecting and distributing information possessed by the newspapers of
the twentieth century.



                       THE METHOD OF MODERN MAGIC

                       THE METHOD OF MODERN MAGIC


"Autobiography," said Longfellow--altho the remark does not seem
especially characteristic of this gentle poet--"is what biography ought
to be." And in the long list of alluring autobiographies, from Cellini's
and Cibber's, from Franklin's and Goldoni's, there are few more
fascinating than the 'Confidences of a Prestidigitator' of
Robert-Houdin. A hostile critic of Robert-Houdin's career has recorded
the fact--if it is a fact--that Robert-Houdin once confided to a fellow
magician that his autobiography had been written for him by a clever
Parisian journalist; and it must be admitted that not a few amusing
French autobiographies have not been the children of their putative
parents--for instance, the memoirs of Vidocq, the detective. Yet this is
not as damaging an admission as it may seem at first sight since the
clever Parisian journalist may have been little more than the amanuensis
of the prestidigitator, hired only to give literary form to the actual
recollections of his employer. Such a proceeding would not deprive
Robert-Houdin's autobiography by its authenticity. It remains a classic,
beloved by all who joy in the delights of conjuring. Unfortunately the
hostile critic has gone further in his attack upon Robert-Houdin's
reputation, and he has succeeded in showing that the renowned French
conjurer claimed as his own invention not a few illusions which had been
already exhibited by his predecessors in the art of deception.

Yet this unjustified boasting does not invalidate Robert-Houdin's title
to be considered the father of modern magic. Even if he was treading in
the path of those who had gone before, he attained at last to a
consistent theory of the art, far in advance of that held by earlier
magicians. Many of his marvels, and perhaps more than one of the most
striking of them, may have been but improvements upon effects originally
contrived by others; yet every succeeding generation can rise only by
standing upon the shoulders of the generations that went before, and it
is justified in availing itself of all that these earlier generations
may have discovered and invented. Robert-Houdin tells us himself that he
was greatly indebted to the Comte de Grisy, whose stage-name was
Torrini. In fact, Robert-Houdin might be called a pupil of Torrini, as
Mr. John S. Sargent is a pupil of Carolus Duran. It was upon Torrini's
dignified simplicity as a magician that Robert-Houdin modelled his own
unpretending presentation of his feats of magic. Apparently it was a
famous conjurer named Frikell, who first discarded the cumbersome and
glittering array of apparatus which used to be displayed on the stage to
dazzle the eyes of the spectators; but this discarding of obtrusive
paraphernalia was not deliberate, being due only to the accidental
destruction of Frikell's stage-furniture by fire, whereby the performer
was suddenly forced to rely upon the less complicated experiments, which
could be exhibited without extraneous aid. The abandoning of overt
apparatus, which Frikell was forced into by misfortune, Robert-Houdin
adopted as an abiding principle. He kept his stage as unencumbered as
possible, altho, of course, he brought forward from time to time the
special objects necessary for the illusions he was about to exhibit.

Not only did he perform on a stage which was intended to resemble a
drawing-room, he also eschewed any other costume than that appropriate
to a drawing-room. Earlier performers had not hesitated to deck
themselves in Oriental apparel or in the flowing garb of a medieval
magician. Robert-Houdin was always modern and never medieval; and he
adopted this attitude deliberately. He was the first to formulate the
fundamental principle of the modern art of magic--that a conjurer should
be "an actor playing the part of a magician." One of the foremost
exponents of modern magic, Mr. Maskelyne, notes that many conjurers
strive only to play the part of some other conjurer; and it might be
added that there are not a few who fail entirely to see the necessity
for playing a part and who content themselves with a purposeless display
of their misplaced dexterity. But the masters of the art are men like
Robert Heller and Buatier da Kolta, who were accomplished comedians,
each in his own fashion, and who presented a succession of little
plays--for a truly good experiment in magic is really a diminutive

It may be brief and simple--a play in one act; or it may be prolonged
and complicated--a play in three or five acts. But like any other play
it ought to possess a central idea and to have a definite plot. It
should tend straight toward its single conclusion, which must be the
logical development of all that has gone before; that is to say, it must
possess what the critics of the drama term Unity of Action. It should
have a beginning, a middle, and an end, in accord with Aristotle's
requirement for a tragedy. It must work up to its culmination with a
steadily increasing intensity of interest. It must contain nothing not
directly contributory to the startling climax which is its surprising
and satisfying conclusion. It must not digress or dally in by-paths,
however entertaining these may be in themselves, but push onward to its
inevitable finish. It is only by conceiving of every one of his
successive experiments as a play, complete in itself and governed by the
inexorable laws of the drama, that the magician can rise to the summit
of his art. He is a conjurer and a comedian at the same time, making his
dexterity the servant of his drama, and never for a single moment
allowing this dexterity to force itself upon the attention of the
audience. Indeed, the one thing he ought to conceal is his possession of
any special gift in manipulation. He should keep his audience ever
guessing as to the method of his apparent miracles.


It is because Robert-Houdin was seemingly the first conjurer to adopt
these principles as his irrefragable code of procedure that he is to be
accepted as the father of modern magic. He never allowed himself to
parade his skill in manipulating coins and cards at the risk of
distracting the attention of the spectators from the central and
culminating effect around which he had constructed his plot. No doubt,
he possessed dexterity in abundance, but it was subordinate to his
dramatic intent. No doubt, again, some of the devices he used had
sometimes been employed by a long succession of his predecessors in
conjuring. As a matter of course he availed himself of all sorts of mere
tricks, of ingenious sleights, and of artful apparatus that the
conjurers who went before him had devised for their own use long before
he was born. An experiment in magic--to use the term that Mr. Maskelyne
prefers, is not a mere trick--or at least it ought not to be. It is not
the exhibition of a device or of a sleight or of an adroit mechanical
apparatus. Rather is it a coherent whole, direct in its development, no
matter how many subtleties of concealment and deception it may employ in
the course of its accomplishment.

Most amateurs in the art of magic, and also only too many professional
performers, place their reliance mainly upon the trick itself--the
deceptive manipulation or the novel apparatus--and are satisfied to get
out of it what they can. They invent new methods of changing a card or
of making coins pass into a box, overlooking the fact that these
inventions are valueless except as they may be utilized to facilitate
the execution of one of those larger feats which only are fairly to be
entitled experiments in magic, and which are distinguished always by the
direct simplicity and the straightforward unity of their plots. In fact,
an experiment in magic must aim at that totality of effect, that perfect
subordination of the minor means to the major end, which Poe insisted
upon as the dominant characteristic of the true short-story. And this
totality of effect can be achieved only by the rigorous exclusion of
everything which in any way contradicts that central idea out of which
the true short-story must always be developed. Unity and totality, and a
rigorous obedience to what Herbert Spencer called the Principle of
Economy of Attention--these are the essential elements in the
presentation of a worthy experiment in magic.

An intimate friend of the late Alexander Hermann, the last of a long
line of Hermanns who have been eminent in the history of the art, has
asserted that Alexander Hermann was wont to insist that the conjurer
must possess three qualifications for the practise of his profession.
The first of these is dexterity; the second is dexterity; and the third
is also dexterity. Now, there is a sense in which this assertion is
true; but it may be easily misapprehended. A conjurer needs to be
dexterous, altho more than one master of modern magic, notably Robert
Heller, has not been pre-eminent in the possession of this
qualification. A moderate degree of dexterity is essential, and perhaps
more than a moderate degree; but dexterity is not the prime requisite,
which is rather the dramatic instinct, or, perhaps, it had better be
called the dramaturgic imagination, that can hit on a new idea and build
it up into a plot, and thus devise an experiment in magic completely
satisfactory to the artistic sense.

What the master of the magic art never forgets is that dexterity is not
an end in itself; it is only one of the means by the aid of which the
marvel may be wrought. There are, to-day, performers of a surpassing
skill in the manipulation of cards and coins, capable of feats which
would have been the despair of Robert-Houdin and of Robert Heller; and
some of them are so enamored of their own dexterity that in their
eagerness for its exhibition they lose sight of unity and totality. As a
result of this lapse from the loftier standards of their art they
present a disconcerting huddle of sleights of hand until the amazed
spectators lose all sense of progression, as these bewildering effects
tumble over one another without any attempt at climax. Such a
performance is an empty display of difficulty conquered for its own
sake; it is only a sequence of "stunts"; it is mere vanity and vexation
of spirit. It is like the favorite Scotch dish, the haggis, which is
said to supply only "confused feeding."

It is always interesting to note how the principles of the arts have a
certain relation, and how we can constantly discover parallels in two
wholly different fields. This abuse of dexterity in the art of modern
magic is closely akin to the abuse of toe-dancing in the art of the
ballet. As the conjurer ought to have dexterity at his command to serve
when it is needed, so the accomplished ballet-dancer ought to be able to
walk on her toes, when this feat will fit into the scheme of the special
dance she has undertaken to perform. But for a dancer to confine herself
to the executing of a series of difficult steps involving nothing more
than toe-dancing is to circumscribe the range of her art and to accept
as the end what ought to be only the means. Here again, we have a frank
substitution of a single "stunt" for the larger liberty accorded by a
more intelligent understanding of the true principles of the art. The
excessive toe-work of the dancer, like the excessive dexterity of the
conjurer, is at bottom only what boys call "showing off"; and in the
long run even boys tire of this. To descend to showing off is equivalent
to the blunder common in bad architecture, when we cannot help seeing
that the artist has gone afield to construct his ornament, instead of
concentrating his effort on ornamenting his construction.

So far from permitting himself ever to show off, or to invite attention
to his own skill, the master of modern magic is careful always to
conceal as far as possible the method by which he accomplishes his
wonders. He utilizes at will and in conjunction ingenious apparatus and
manual dexterity, without ever calling the attention of the spectators
to either. He refrains even from turning up his sleeves or from passing
for special examination any of the objects he is employing, while
taking care to let it be seen accidentally that these objects are really
above suspicion. Like the playwright constructing a play, the composer
of an experiment in magic must ever keep in mind his audience; and he
must strive always to foresee the exact impression he is making upon the
spectators. Like the playwright, the modern magician must so build up
each of his experiments that it seizes the attention of the spectators
early, that it arouses their interest, that it holds this interest
unrelaxed to the end, and that at last it satisfies while it surprises.
This can be achieved only when all the elements of the experiment, the
idea itself, the plot, the dexterous devices, and the ingenious
apparatus which may be necessary, are all so combined and controlled and
harmonized as to leave on the memory of the audience a clear and
consistent impression--indeed, an impression so sharp that a majority of
those who witnessed the experiment could describe it the next day.

It is the disadvantage of the empty display of dexterity for its own
sake that fails to leave this definite deposit in the memory; and the
spectators are quite unable to recall the central effect. This is
generally because there was, in fact, no central effect for them to
seize, the performer having scattered his efforts, as tho he were using
a shot-gun instead of hitting the bull's-eye with a single rifle-shot.
The master of the art is careful to economize the attention of his
audience, to focus it, so to speak, and to arrange his sequence of
effects so adroitly that, however multifarious and even complicated may
be the means whereby he is achieving his object, the result is attained
so directly and so simply that it can be apprehended by the spectators
readily and instantly. The experiment has been exhibited as tho it were
the easiest thing in the world, even if it is at the same time perceived
to be the most impossible to account for. To arrive at this result the
performer must preserve an absolute simplicity of manner; he presents
himself as a gentleman amusing himself by amusing other gentlemen, who
have come together at his invitation to be amused.


A gentleman amusing other gentlemen--that should be the ideal; and this
ideal not only forbids any foolish clowning and any trivial buffoonery
on the part of the performer, but it prohibits also any attempt on his
part to incite the gentlemen he is amusing to laugh at any one of their
own number who may have been kind enough to lend a hat or a watch, or to
come up on the stage as a volunteer assistant by request. Nothing is
cheaper, and nothing is in worse taste, than for the performer to make
personal remarks about any member of his audience or to hold any one of
the spectators up to ridicule. The conjurer is a comedian playing the
part of a modern magician, but he is not a low-comedian, ready to get a
laugh at any price and at the cost of any one else. He may be as
pleasant as he can, and even as humorous, but he can preserve his own
self-respect only by having due regard to the self-respect of all those
who have gathered to enjoy his performance. Readers of Robert-Houdin's
memoirs will remember how one of the old-school performers used to
advertise that he would Eat a Man Alive, and how he sprinkled flour and
pepper and salt all over the hapless creature who volunteered to be
devoured, and then proceeded to bite the finger of the disgusted and
unfortunate victim. This is "most tolerable and not to be endured."

If a demand were to be made for a list of the books likely to be the
most useful to those who desire to master the principles of the art of
modern magic, one would have to begin by recommending the preliminary
perusal of the autobiography of Robert-Houdin, from which a host of
useful hints may be gleaned. The Frenchman tells us, for instance, how
he once showed off before Torrini and exhibited his manipulative skill
over a pack of cards, making a needless display of dexterity, designed
to dazzle the eyes of the spectators; and how Torrini pointed out the
futility and the disadvantage of this. Then it would be well to consult
the invaluable series of volumes on modern magic by "Professor Hoffman"
wherein the various tricks and sleights and apparatus are described and
illustrated. These books contain what may be called the raw material of
the art, the processes which the magician can employ at will in building
up his larger experiments in magic, each of which should be a complete
play in itself. Finally, when the student has found out how tricks can
be done, he would do well to turn his attention to 'Our Magic,' by Mr.
Maskelyne and his associate, Mr. David Devant. And from this logical
treatise he can learn how experiments in magic ought to be composed. It
is from this admirable discussion of the basic principles of modern
magic that several of the points made in this essay have been borrowed.

Mr. Devant calls attention to the fact that new tricks are common, new
manipulative devices, new examples of dexterity, and new applications of
science, whereas new plots, new ideas for effective presentation, are
rare. He describes a series of experiments of his own, some of which
utilize again, but in a novel manner, devices long familiar, while
others are new both in idea and in many of the subsidiary methods of
execution. One of the most hackneyed and yet one of the most effective
illusions in the repertory of the conjurer, is that known as the Rising
Cards. The performer brings forward a pack of cards, several of which
are drawn by members of the audience and returned to the pack, whereupon
at the command of the magician they rise out of the pack, one after the
other, in the order in which they were drawn. In the oldest form in
which this illusion is described in the books on the art of magic, the
pack is placed in a case supported by a rod standing on a base; and the
secret of the trick lies in this rod and its base. The rod is really a
hollow tube, and the base is really an empty box. The tube is filled
with sand, on the top of which rests a leaden weight, to which is
attached a thread so arranged over and under certain cards as to cause
the chosen cards to rise when it descends down the tube; and in putting
the cards into the case the conjurer releases a valve at the bottom of
the tube, so that the sand might escape into the box, whereby the weight
is lowered, the thread then doing its allotted work, and the cards
ascending into view, no matter how far distant from them the performer
may be standing when he achieves his miracle.

It seems likely that the invention of this primitive apparatus may have
been due to the fact that some eighteenth-century conjurer happened to
observe the sand running out of an hour-glass, and set about to find
some means whereby this escape of sand could be utilized in his art. The
hollow rod, the escaping sand, and the descending weight have long since
been discarded; but the illusion of the Rising Cards survives and is now
performed in an unending variety of ways. The pack may be held in the
hand of the performer, without the use of any case; or it may be placed
in a glass goblet; or it may be tied together with a ribbon and thus
suspended from cords that swing to and fro almost over the heads of the
spectators, and however they may be isolated, the chosen cards rise
obediently when they are bidden. The original effect subsists, even tho
the devices differ.

It was left for Mr. Devant to give a new twist to this old illusion. For
a full pack of playing-cards he substituted ten cards two or three times
larger than playing-cards, and with the ten numerals printed or painted
in bold black. These pasteboards are given for examination, and so is a
case into which they fit. After they have been duly inspected they are
put into the case which is hung from chains. A clean slate is also
shown, and wrapped up and given to a spectator to hold. Then three
members of the audience are invited to write each a number composed of
three figures, and these three numbers are added by a fourth spectator.
The total is found to be written on the slate; and then at the behest of
the performer the cards containing the figures of this total rise in
proper sequence out of the case. It may be noted that the writing on the
slate is also an old and well-worn device, and so is the method of
making sure that the total of the three numbers written by different
persons shall agree with that already concealed on the slate. Yet these
three familiar effects are here united in a refreshingly novel
experiment in magic, being now fitted into a new plot. The devices
themselves are old enough, but Mr. Devant is entitled to full credit for
the new combination.


The fundamental principles which Robert-Houdin accepted and which he
seems to have taken over from Torrini, Messrs. Maskelyne and Devant have
elucidated in their philosophic disquisition, and yet in one particular
their practise is not yet level with their preaching. Before
Robert-Houdin and Frikell, or at least before Torrini, and even after
these three artists had set a better example, the majority of conjurers
filled the stage with gaudy apparatus and insisted on its blazing with
an unnecessary prodigality of lights. One magician in the middle of the
nineteenth century came forward on a stage absolutely dark, and suddenly
fired a pistol, thereby lighting two hundred candles arranged in
pyramids behind him. Another hung his stage with black velvet and
adorned it with skulls. Torrini and Robert-Houdin made an approach to
the unadorned simplicity of an actual drawing-room, altho Robert-Houdin
seems to have permitted himself a long shelf at the back of his stage on
which his various automatic figures were assembled awaiting their
summons to take part in the program. Even Messrs. Maskelyne and Devant
are satisfied with a stage-setting which is frankly only a
stage-setting--as stagy, in fact, as the ordinary scenery to be seen in
a variety-show.

Now, it may be admitted that a nondescript set of this sort, vaguely
Oriental, with arches and curtains, and somewhat suggestive of comic
opera, may not be inappropriate when any one of the bolder illusions is
to be presented--the Box Trick or the Aerial Suspension, the Mystic
Cabinet or the Talking Sphinx. Indeed, a special set of scenery is often
actually necessary for the presentation of marvels depending mainly on
optics or mechanics. But for the first part of the program, when the
performer appears in ordinary evening-dress, and when he is presenting
himself as a gentleman in a drawing-room, amusing other gentlemen, by
means of experiments in magic, every one of which may be likened to a
little play, why should not the stage-set be that of a drawing-room, or
of a bachelor's study, as accurately reproduced as similar rooms are
reproduced in the modern comedies of Mr. Henry Arthur Jones and Mr.
Augustus Thomas? The set accepted by Messrs. Maskelyne and Devant is
devoid of the actuality of a real room; it is fantastically stagy, and
therefore it lacks both veracity and dignity.

Sooner or later some modern magician, in advance over his rivals, will
take this final step, and the curtain will rise on a stage with a
box-set realistically reproducing a handsome room, with all its
decorations and hangings and furniture in harmony, Jacobean in style, or
Chippendale, as the performer's preference may be. There will be chairs
and tables in their proper places; there will be book-cases, and
window-boxes of flowers; and perhaps there will be a cellaret, where the
performer may procure any goblet or decanter he needs. There will be a
broad desk in the center, with its writing-pad and its book-rack, and
possibly its heap of magazines and weekly papers. This set thus
furnished will look like a room that has really been lived in; it will
have a door in each of the side walls, and when the curtain rises the
stage will be empty. Then the doorbell will ring, and the servant will
enter at one door, and, going across the stage to the other, he will
admit his master--the master at last of the truly modern art of magic.
The magician will give his hat and coat to the servant, who will take
them out, and who will never appear on the stage again except in
response to the master's pressure on the electric button, ordinarily
used to summon a servant. And the magician will present his succession
of experiments in magic, utilizing only the objects which he may borrow
from the spectators, or which would naturally be found in a gentleman's
room. The apparent absence of all apparatus, the naturalness of the
environment, the easy simplicity and the convincing reality of the
back-ground--all these elements will coalesce to heighten the effect of
the marvels to be wrought by a comedian playing the part of a magician.



                       THE LAMENTABLE TRAGEDY OF
                             PUNCH AND JUDY



When we consider how cosmopolitan is the population of these United
States, and how freely we have drawn upon all the races of Europe, it is
very curious that the puppet-show does not flourish in our American
cities as it flourishes in many of the towns on the other side of the
Western Ocean. The shrill squeak of Punch is not infrequent in the
streets of London--altho it may not now be heard as often as it was a
score of years ago. In Paris in the gardens of the Tuileries and of the
Luxembourg, and again in the Champs-Elysées where the children
congregate in the afternoon, there are nearly half a dozen enclosures
roped off and provided with cane chairs so that spectators, old and
young, may be gladdened by the vision of Polichinelle, and by the pranks
of Guignol. Yet even in Paris there are not now as many puppet-shows as
there were fifty years ago; and in Italy and in Germany the traveler
fails to find as frequent exhibitions of this sort as he used to meet
with in the years that are gone. Apparently there is everywhere a waning
interest in the plays performed by the little troop of personages
animated by the thumb and fingers of the invisible performer. And
perhaps the declining vogue of this diminutive drama in old Europe is
one reason why it has never achieved a wide popularity in young America.

In France the puppet-show is stationary; it has its fixed habitation and
abode; and its lovers can easily discover where to find it when they
seek the specific pleasure it alone can provide. In England the
spectacle of Punch and Judy is ambulatory; the bloodthirsty hero and the
bereaved heroine roam the streets at large, and their arrival in any one
avenue of traffic can never be predicted with certainty. In the United
States poor Punch has never ventured to show his face in the open
street, seeking the suffrages of the casual throng; he is not
peripatetic but intermittent, and he makes his appearances only in
private houses, and only when he is sent for specially to entertain the
children's party. Here in America Punch is still a stranger to the broad
public; he has an exotic flavor; he suggests Dickens, somehow; and he
must be wholly unknown to countless thousands who would rejoice to make
his acquaintance and to laugh at his terrible deeds.

His terrible deeds!--perhaps there is in these words a possible
explanation for the failure of Punch to win favor among the descendants
of the Puritans, who are always inclined to apply severe moral standards
of conduct. Now, if we apply any moral standard at all to the conduct of
Mr. Punch, the result is simply appalling, for the customary drama of
which he is the sole hero sets before us a story of triumphant
villainy, adequately to be compared only with the dastardly history of
Richard III in Shakspere's melodramatic tragedy. Mr. Punch is an
accessory before the fact in the death of his infant child, and when his
devoted wife very naturally remonstrates with him, he turns upon her
with invective and violence--a violence which culminates in
assassination. Having once seen red and tasted blood, he finds himself
swiftly started upon a career of crime. His total depravity tempts him
to a startling succession of hideous murders. He slays an inoffensive
negro, a harmless clown, and a worthy policeman. Then he succeeds, by a
simple trick, in hanging the hangman himself. By his fatal assaults upon
these two officers of justice, the necessary policeman and the useful
hangman, Mr. Punch exhibits his contempt for the majesty of the law. He
stands forth, without a shred of conscience, as a practical anarchist,
rejecting all authority. His hand is against every man and every man's
hand is against him. And having violated the laws of this world, he
finally discloses his callous contempt for the punishment which ought to
await him in the next world; he has a hand-to-hand fight with the devil
himself--a deadly struggle from which he emerges victorious. And this is
the end, which crowns the work.

[Illustration: Behind the scenes]

[Illustration: Punch throws away the child]

[Illustration: Punch, Judy, and their child]

[Illustration: Punch quiets Judy]

When we consider the several episodes of Mr. Punch's abhorrent history,
we are reluctantly forced to the conclusion that his story is even less
informed with morality than that of Richard III. The crookbacked king
comes to a bad end at last; he meets with the just retribution for his
many misdeeds; and he falls before the sword of Richmond. But Mr. Punch
comes to a good end, and so far as we may know, he lives happy ever
after, like the princes and princesses of the fairytales. He may even
marry again and have another child, to be made away with in its turn.
The more we consider his misdeeds and his misadventures the more
shocking they are to our moral sense. Mr. Punch appears as a monster of
such hideous mien that to be hated he needs but to be seen. This is how
he must appear to every one of us who applies a moral standard to the
drama, and who is willing to hold every character in a play to a strict
accountability for his words and deeds. If we apply this moral standard
to the play of Punch and Judy, then that play must be dismissed as
profoundly and hopelessly immoral, carrying ethical infection to all who
are so unfortunate as to be spectators at its performance. And more
particularly, it is an absolutely unfit piece for the young, whose
immature minds need to be guarded against everything which might tend to
confuse the delicate distinctions between right and wrong.

But, of course, we do not apply a moral standard to the sayings and
doings of Mr. Punch, for the plain and sufficient reason that he is not
a human being. He is not a man and a brother, upon whom we may be
tempted to pattern ourselves. He is but a six-inch puppet, a thing of
shreds and patches, a wooden-headed doll, vitalized for a moment only by
the hand concealed inside his flimsy body with its flaunting colors. He
is too fantastic, too impossible, too unreal, too unrelated to any
possible world, for us to feel called upon to frown upon his misdeeds or
to take them seriously. He is a joke, and we know that he is a joke, and
all the children know that he is only a joke. Even the youngest child is
never tempted to believe in his existence and to be moved to follow his
example or to imitate his dark deeds. The proof of the pudding is in the
eating; and the proof of a play is in the effect it produces upon the
spectators. We may question whether any one of the millions of
performances of the lamentable tragedy of Mr. Punch has suggested to a
single father the fatal neglect of his offspring or to a single husband
the possibility of wife-murder. And we may doubt whether any child,
after witnessing Mr. Punch's murderous combats with the policeman and
the devil, has ever felt any lessening of his respect for those two
time-honored guardians of law and order.

[Illustration: Punch on his steed]

[Illustration: Punch teaches Jack Ketch how to hang a man]

[Illustration: Punch in prison]

[Illustration: Punch kills the Devil]

The plea of confession and avoidance which is here set up for Punch and
Judy is much the same as that set up by Charles Lamb for the frolicsome
Restoration comedies. Lamb admitted that they were degradingly
immoral--if you took them seriously and accepted them as pictures of
life. But he insisted that they were not really amenable to this moral
standard, since they were plainly impossible in any world known to man.
Macaulay had no difficulty in showing that Lamb was judging others by
his clever and sophisticated self. To Lamb the creatures of Wycherley
and Congreve might reveal manners and customs which removed them from
the sphere of recognizable humanity; but the majority of his
fellow-spectators were not so nimble-witted; they saw characters on the
stage personated by living performers, and they beheld these characters
shamelessly doing shameful things. Because the persons in the play were
represented by actual human beings they seemed indisputably human; and
their deeds could not be considered as outside morality. Yet the plea
made by Lamb for the Restoration comedies has a certain validity when it
is put forward in behalf of Mr. Punch. He is not personated by an actual
human being; and even the least sophisticated of juvenile spectators
does not accept him as a fellow-creature strictly amenable to the human


Historians of the Greek drama have often commented on the fact that the
Athenian actors wore towering masks, and that thereby they were deprived
of all facial expression. In our snug modern theaters, with their
well-lighted stages, we follow with our eyes the shifting emotions as
these chase each other across the faces of the actors; and this is one
of our keenest pleasures in the playhouse. In the huge theater of
Dionysius at Athens, with its ten or twenty thousand spectators, seated
tier on tier, along the curving hillside of the Acropolis, the actor was
too far removed from most of the playgoers for any play of feature to be
visible; and critics have commiserated the Attic dramatists on their
deprivation of this element of potent appeal. Yet the question arises
whether the Greek playwrights were really the losers by this immobility
of the actors' faces; and we may be allowed to doubt that they were when
we recall the fact that the faces of Mr. Punch and of Mrs. Judy, of the
policeman and of the hangman, are also fixed once for all. The
expression that Mr. Punch wears when he is fondling the baby is,
perforce, the same which illuminates his face when he is engaged in
joyful combat with the devil, a foeman worthy of his stick. Here the
imagination of the spectator comes to the rescue. The wooden head of Mr.
Punch is unchanging, no doubt; but those who gaze entranced upon his
marvelous doings never miss the play of feature which they would expect
if they were part of the audience in a playhouse for grown-ups. Quite
possibly the Athenian spectators did not mind the immobility of the
masks their actors wore; indeed, that very immobility may have been an
incentive to their imaginations. When the Greeks went to their open-air
theater, as when we gather around the tent-like theater of Mr. Punch,
they knew in advance, as we also know, that the faces of the performers
would be unchanging; therefore they did not expect any variety of
expression; and probably they got along as well without it as we do at a

There is another likeness between Attic tragedy and Punch and Judy;
there is a limitation in the number of characters we are allowed to see
at the same time. As the hidden performer who operates all the figures
has only two hands, he can bring before us at any one moment only Mr.
Punch and one other of the several characters. The fingers of the right
hand animate Mr. Punch, and the fingers of the left hand animate in turn
Mrs. Judy and the negro and the clown. At Athens (for reasons which need
not here be discussed) the dramatist had the use of only three actors,
even tho these might each of them "double" and appear as two or more of
the successive characters of the play. So it was that there were never
more than three persons taking part in any given episode of an Attic
tragedy as there are never more than two persons taking part in any
given episode of Punch and Judy. In the thumb-and-finger plays devised
in Paris by M. Lemercier de Neuville, he felt so severely the
inconvenience of his limitation to two characters that he devised a kind
of spiral-spring arrangement inside the costumes of his little figures
to hold up their heads; and he prepared invisible supports jutting out
just below the flat ledge which forms the base of the proscenium. Thus
he was enabled to leave the figure in sight, while he withdrew his hand
to animate another character. His _Pupazzi_, as he called them, were
clever caricatures of contemporary celebrities; and he was ingenious
enough sometimes to maneuver half a dozen of them at once with his
single pair of hands, four adjusted into the projecting rests, and two
on his fingers.

In the sumptuous puppet-show in the gardens of the Tuileries the same
result is achieved by the employment of two or three manipulators, so
that four or even six figures may appear at once. This has greatly
enlarged the scope of the performance; and the manager of this theater
has very ambitious aims. He likes to rearrange for his juvenile audience
the most appropriate of the pieces which have won favor in the real
theaters, and to present these with all sorts of spectacular adornments.
He has even ventured to give plays as elaborate as 'Around the World in
Eighty Days.' But it may be doubted whether this vaulting ambition has
not overleaped itself, and whether a puppet-show does not gain rather
than lose by restricting its efforts within narrower limits. After all,
nothing so delights us at a puppet-show as the feats which are most
characteristic and least difficult of accomplishment. We joy to behold
one tiny figure belaboring another with his solid club or to follow the
vicissitudes of a bout at single-stick, when both combatants thwack
lustily at each other's wooden heads.


Yet this mention of M. Lemercier de Neuville's _Pupazzi_, with their
varied repertory of Aristophanic commentaries on current events, and
this memory of the spectacular efforts exhibited in the gardens of the
Tuileries, suggest a possible explanation for the fact that Punch and
Judy have failed to find wide-spread favor here in America and that they
seem to be losing their pristine popularity in England. There is a
pitiable monotony of program in all English-speaking puppet-shows. They
confine their repertory to the single play which sets forth the deeds
and misdeeds of Mr. Punch. Now, in the Continent of Europe there is no
such monotony. Not only in the gardens of the Tuileries but in the
Champs-Elysées a young spectator can sit thru performance after
performance without fear of having to witness the same piece. Punch
appears in only one drama, whereas his French rival, Guignol, in his
time plays many parts, with a host of other characters to be his
associates, some in one piece and some in another. And the several plays
are adorned with a variety of scenery. Of course, there cannot be a very
wide range of subject; and always is the stick a prominent feature in
the miniature drama. There are a certain number of traditional Guignol
pieces, handed down from generation to generation. Some of these have
been printed for the use of devoted students of the drama, and some are
to be had in little pamphlets for the benefit of the happy French
children who may have had a puppet theater with its dozen or more
figures presented to them as a New Year's gift. There is in the Dramatic
Museum of Columbia University the manuscript of half a dozen of these
little plays, written out (in all the license of his own simplified
spelling) by the incomparable performer who was in charge of the leading
Guignol in the Champs-Elysées in 1867.

It is rather curious that the English puppet-show should have confined
itself for now nearly a hundred years to the unique Punch and Judy,
when the puppet-shows of other countries have a changing repertory. It
was a puppet performance of a German perversion of Marlowe's 'Doctor
Faustus' which first introduced Goethe to the Faust legend. George Sand,
unlike the great German poet in most ways, was yet like him in her
delight in the puppet-show. In her country place at Nohant, she had a
tiny theater of her own for which she dressed all the puppets, while her
son Maurice carved the heads, painted the scenery, devised the plays,
and improvised the dialog. Maurice Sand it was, sometimes alone, but
occasionally with the aid of a friend, who manipulated the little
figures and bestowed upon them a momentary vitality. His mother
persuaded him to write out a dozen of the more successful of his little
plays for puppets and to publish them; and this volume, the 'Théâtre des
Marionnettes à Nohant,' appeared in 1876. George Sand herself wrote a
delightful account of the humble beginnings of this famous puppet-show,
and described how there came in time to be all sorts of ingenious
improvements for achieving spectacular effects.

She declared that the puppet-show is not what it is vainly thought,
because it demands an art of a special kind, not only in the
construction of the little figures themselves, but more especially in
the story which these little figures are to interpret. She held that the
particular field of the puppet playwright-performer was to be found in
the dramatization of protracted fantastic romances, abounding in comic
characters and in comic episodes and gratifying the fundamental human
liking for long-drawn tales of adventure and for fantastic
fairy-stories. She found in her son's acted narratives a rest from
reality, a release from the oppression of every-day life, an excursion
into a realm of fancy and of legend--even if the legend was itself a
fanciful invention of the improvising performer. And she declared that
she liked the puppet playhouse in her own home, because it was a
domestic and fireside pleasure, which could be enjoyed without the
exertion imposed by a visit to a real theater. Obviously she found as
much delight in being a spectator--after having been a costumer--as her
son did in being the author and operator of the spectacle.


There is one note to be made upon George Sand's account of the slow
development of the puppet-show at Nohant, beginning as early as 1847. If
you will look at any set of Punch and Judy figures hung up to-day in the
toy store to tempt the eye of Young America, you will discover alongside
Mr. Punch and Mrs. Judy, Jack Ketch and the Devil, a strange green
figure with huge jaws and double rows of white teeth. This verdant beast
has a body like all other Punch and Judy figures, a loose cloth funnel
to slip over the sleeve of the operator; but its head suggests the head
of an alligator, or of a crocodile, or of a dragon. Now, if you will
turn to the classic text of the English play of Punch and Judy, edited
with a learned introduction and an abundance of scholarly annotation by
John Payne Collier--at least, so it is believed, altho the rare little
book is anonymous--you will find no mention of any strange beast of this
sort. Collier's text of the play is adorned by two dozen illustrations,
etched by George Cruikshank, and in no one of these plates will you
discover any crocodile, or alligator, or dragon. You will find Toby, the
dog, who still survives in most of the few shows to be seen to-day in
the streets of London; and you will find Hector, the gallant steed that
Mr. Punch mounts with difficulty--and it is sad to have to record that
Hector is no longer in the service of Mr. Punch. In fact, one devoted
admirer of puppet-shows, whose memory goes back nearly fifty years, is
ready to declare that he has never laid eyes on Hector--except in
Cruikshank's illustrations. But Mr. Punch, deprived of the privilege of
bestriding Hector, now enjoys the fiercer delight of overcoming the
green-eyed alligator.

Here we have a question of profound historic interest. Whence came the
strange beast with the wide jaws? And here is where George Sand's
pleasant paper is a very present help in time of need. She tells us that
her son besought her to make a green monster for one of the earliest
pieces he devised for her puppet-figures. She did as she was bid, and
she sacrificed a pair of blue velvet slippers to provide the marvelous
creature with his gently smiling jaws. She draws attention to the fact
that the slippers were blue, and to the further fact that nevertheless
the strange beast was always called the Green Monster. And here may be
the explanation of the historic mystery. The fame of the puppets of
Nohant was borne abroad; they were talked about all thru France; and
they were discussed again and again in the Parisian newspapers. What
more likely than that one of the professional puppet players should have
seen the infinite possibilities of the Green Monster, and should have
perceived its novel fascination for children? Thereupon he borrowed it
for his own performances. Certainly it is that the Green Monster is a
character in at least one of the manuscript plays preserved in the
Dramatic Museum of Columbia University, and written out half a century
ago. Probably the Green Monster strayed from the puppet-show of the
Champs-Elysées sooner or later to one of the toy stores of Paris at the
request of some boy who desired it for his own. When the Green Monster
had elected domicile in the stores of Paris, he was soon appropriated by
the toy-makers of Germany for export to Great Britain and the United






In her charming and instructive account of the ingenious puppet-shows
with which her son Maurice used to amuse himself and her guests at
Nohant half a century ago, George Sand records the fact that the erudite
scholar, Magnan, who wrote a learned history of the puppet-show from the
remotest antiquity, did not discriminate sharply between the two
entirely different kinds of little figures, both of which are carelessly
called puppets in English, and marionettes in French. One class
comprises these empty and flexible figures which are animated by the
thumb and two fingers of the performer who exhibits them by holding his
hands above his head, as in the 'Punch and Judy' show. The other
contains the larger dolls, suspended on wires (which are supposed to be
invisible) and manipulated by one or more performers overhead, who give
life to these figures by jerking the various strings as the action of
the play may require. These last are the true marionettes; and for the
first we have, unfortunately, no distinctive name. It is greatly to be
regretted that the two very different types of puppets are not set apart
from each other satisfactorily by the contributor of the article on
marionettes in the latest edition of the 'Encyclopedia Britannica.'

Each of these two sorts of puppets has an interest of its own; and each
of them has its special and peculiar relation to the drama. Both of them
have a long and honorable history, and can be traced back in the scanty
records of a remote antiquity; altho it seems more likely that the true
marionette--the little figure moved by wires from overhead--is the older
of the two, antedating by many centuries the Punch and Judy figure,
which owes its abrupt and awkward movements to the human thumb and
fingers. Both classes are to be found to-day all over the world, not
only in the cities of civilization, but in unsuspected nooks and corners
on all the shores of all the seven seas. In Turkey, for example, under
the name of Karaguez, there is a Punch and Judy of enormous popularity
and of doubtful decency, while in Siam there are marionettes which
perform religious plays of traditional appeal. Apparently the
puppet-show of one type or the other satisfies in its fashion that
dramatic instinct which every people possesses in greater or less

Both kinds of puppet-show flourish in France, and have there been lifted
to a more elevated plane of art; and both kinds retain their popularity
in Italy, altho in an humbler form. The French are inveterate artists;
and they are like the Greeks in desiring to do all things decently and
in order. The Italians have, perhaps, a stronger native gift for the
drama and they are ready to enjoy a simpler and more primitive
puppet-play. It is from Italy that we who speak English have derived our
Punch and Judy. Mr. Punch is a direct descendant of that favorite figure
of robust Neapolitan farce, Pulcinella; and so is the French
Polichinelle. And in Italy to-day the true marionettes have an even
broader popularity than the Punch and Judy figures. The Italians who
have lately flocked to America in their thousands, until New York now
contains more of them than Venice, have imported in the original
package the legendary puppet-show setting forth the romantic stories of
the Middle Ages and of the early Renascence. We look upon Mr. Punch as
comic; but the Italians take their pleasure seriously and the
marionettes in their puppet-shows to be seen in New York are truly
heroic, and not infrequently highly tragic.

[Illustration: Roman puppets Greek and Roman puppets Puppet of Java]

In the interesting discussion of 'Medieval Story,' in which Professor W.
W. Lawrence of Columbia University has traced the influence of various
ideals of the Middle Ages upon our modern social organization, he has a
striking description of the marionette performances which the exiles of
Italy have brought with them to America. "Any one who walks thru the
Italian quarter of New York City in the evening may notice over a
doorway an illuminated sign, 'Theater of Marionettes.' If his curiosity
tempts him inside, into the low room crowded with enthusiastic
spectators, he will see, on a rude stage, a group of puppets almost as
large as life, representing knights and ladies, acting out a little
drama in response to the jerking of strings fastened to their arms, and
of iron rods firmly fixed in their heads. The warriors are gorgeously
attired in shining armor and plumed helmets; and the ladies have
wonderful costumes of bright colors, with a great deal of embroidery and
decoration. An Italian in shirt-sleeves in the wings at the side of the
stage speaks their lines for them, with all the elocutionary flourishes
which he can command. Fiercely immobile as to expression, but most
active as to arms and legs, these manikins march about, soliloquize,
make love, and debate in council. But it is their battles which arouse
the greatest enthusiasm among the audience; and, indeed, these are
fought in a way that is a joy to see. Then it is that heroic deeds are
done--tin swords resound upon tin armor, helmets are battered about and
knocked off, dust rises from the field, the valiant dead fall in staring
heaps. At such moments the spectators can hardly restrain themselves
from emotion, yet the story is well known to them--perhaps some one
sitting near by will volunteer to explain it, asserting that he has
known it ever since he was a boy and that he has read it all in a book
which he has at home, called 'Reali di Franci.' It is a version of the
old tale of Charlemagne and his knights, which, after traveling far from
its native home in France, was taken up by the Italian people many
centuries ago, and made so much their own that few heroes have been
closer to their hearts than Roland, or as they call him, Orlando. Even
in their homes in the New World they still celebrate him, so that the
very newsboys in the streets of modern America are keeping alive the
heroic traditions of the age of Charlemagne."

[Illustration: A Sicilian marionette show
From "By Italian Seas," by Ernest C. Peixotto]


When we compare the account which Professor Lawrence has here given of
the Italian puppet-shows in New York with the description of these same
performances in their native land half a century ago, which we find in
the 'Roba di Roma' of W. W. Story, the American sculptor-poet, we
perceive that there has been little modification of method in the past
threescore years. Story studied all sides of the Roman populace, and he
maintained that nothing was more characteristically Italian than the
marionette theater. He tells us that the love for the acting of
_burattini_ [or puppets] is universal among the lower classes thruout
Italy, and in some cities, especially in Genoa, no pains are spared "in
their costume, construction, and movement to render them lifelike. They
are made of wood, generally from two to three feet in height, with very
large heads, and supernatural glaring eyes that never wink, and are clad
in all the splendor of tinsel, velvet, and steel. Their joints are so
flexible that the least weight or strain upon them effects a
dislocation, and they are moved by wires attached to their heads and
extremities. The largest are only about half the height of a man, yet as
the stage and all the appointments and scenery are upon the same scale
of proportion, the eye is soon deceived, and accepts them as of
life-size. But if by accident a hand or arm of one of the wire-pullers
appears from behind the scenes or descends below the hangings, it
startles you by its portentous size; and the audience in the
stage-boxes instead of reducing the _burattini_ to Lilliputians by
contrast, as they lean forward, become themselves Brobdingnagians, with
elephantine hands and heads."

Story insisted that there is nothing ludicrous to an Italian audience in
the performances of these diminutive men and women. On the contrary,
nothing is more serious both to the spectators and to the unforeseen
operators. In fact, he declared, no human being could be so serious as
these tiny performers. "Their countenances are as solemn as death, and
more unchanging than the face of a clock. Their terrible gravity when,
with drooping heads and collapsed arms, they fix on you their great
goggle-eyes is at times ghastly. The plays they perform are mostly
heroic, romantic, and historical. They stoop to nothing which is not
startling in incident, imposing in style, and grandiose in movement. And
the Italian audience listens with a grave and profound interest, as tho
the performers were not mere puppets, but actually the heroes they are
supposed to be. The inflated and extravagant discourse of the characters
is accepted at its face value; to the spectators it is grand and noble.
And the foreign visitor must control any desire he may feel to smile at
the extraordinary spectacle he is witnessing, and at the marvelous
rodomontade he is hearing. To laugh out loud at one of these heroic
puppet-plays would be as indecorous as to indulge in laughter during a
church service."

[Illustration: A Belgian puppet A Chinese puppet theater Puppet figure
representing the younger Coquelin]

Incidental to the heroic dramas which the puppets play are interludes of
ballet-dancing like those which are intercalated, more or less adroitly,
into the grand opera performed by full-grown men and women. The Italians
are born pantomimists, and they are accomplished dancers. Therefore,
there is no reason for surprise that human pantomime and human dancing
are imitated in the marionette theaters. There is reason for surprise,
however, that Story did not perceive clearly the advantages possessed by
the dancing puppets over the dancers of more solid flesh and blood. He
found something comic in the pantomime of the puppets, "whose every
motion is effected by wires, who imitate the gestures of despair with
hands that cannot shut, and, with a wooden gravity of countenance, throw
their bodies into terrible contortions to make up for the lack of
expression in the face." In mere pantomime it is probable that the
puppets would labor under a serious disability, for if a performer
cannot use his voice, he needs facial expression to assist the gestures
by which only can he then convey his meaning to the other performers and
to the spectators. Perhaps it is not too much to assert that the
puppet-show is not the proper place for pantomime.


We need not wonder that Story admitted their dancing to be superior to
their pantomime. Yet he failed to appreciate the true cause of this
superiority, and he was inclined to comment upon the dancing of the
_burattini_ in a somewhat satiric fashion. He tells us how the principal
dancer suddenly appears, "knocks her wooden knees together, and jerking
her head about, salutes the audience with a smile quite as artificial as
we could see in the best trained of her fleshly rivals." But this
artificial smile must have been fixed and permanent on the features of
this diminutive dancer--or else the Roman-American essayist merely
imagined its presence. "Then, with a masterly ease, after describing
air-circles with her toes far higher than her head and poising herself
in impossible positions, she bounds or rather flies forward with
superhuman lightness, performs feats of choreography to awaken envy in
Cerito and drive Elssler to despair, and, poising on her pointed toe
that disdains to touch the floor, turns never-ending pirouettes on
nothing at all, till at last, throwing both her wooden hands forward,
she suddenly comes to a swift stop to receive your applause."

This description is unsympathetic, and it induces the surmise that the
operator of the _burattini_ at the performance described was not a
master of his art and did not know how to profit by the possibilities of
that art. Yet one of Story's phrases serves to explain why the suspended
puppet is superbly qualified to excel in ballet-dancing; that phrase is
the one which credits the dancing doll with "supernatural lightness." A
skilful operator of the wires which bestow life and movement and grace,
is able to imitate easily and exquisitely the most difficult feats of
the human dancer. If he is sufficiently adroit he robs his suspended
figure of all awkwardness, and he dowers her with a floating ethereality
surpassing that attainable by any living performer. Now, this floating
ethereality is precisely the quality which gives us most pleasure when
we are spectators at the performance of a really fine ballet. It is the
supreme art of the great dancer to soar lightly aloft, seeming to spurn
the stage and to abide in the air. Only very rarely is this illusion
possible to the merely human dancer; and when achieved it is but
fleeting. Yet this illusion is absolutely within the control of the
manipulator of the puppet-dancers. He can make them execute feats of
levitation, achievable only by the most marvelously gifted and by the
most arduously trained of human dancers.

[Illustration: Puppets in Burma]

[Illustration: The puppet play of Master Peter (Italian)]

Of course, the skilful performer must carefully avoid swinging his tiny
figures aimlessly thru the air. He must limit the feats that he permits
them to accomplish to those which can be actually accomplished by human
beings, altho he can do easily what the human beings can achieve only
with more or less obvious effort, and he can impart a volatile
elasticity a little beyond the power of any human being however favored
by Terpsichore. When 'Salome' was, for a season, the sensation of the
hour, it was produced by Holden's marionettes; and it afforded a
delightful spectacle long to be remembered by all who had the felicity
of beholding it. Whatever of vulgarity or of grossness there might be in
the play itself, or in the Dance of the Seven Veils, was purged away by
the single fact that all the performers were puppets. So dexterous was
the manipulation of the unseen operator who controlled the wires and
strings which gave life to the seductive Salome as she circled around
the stage in most bewitching fashion, and so precise and accurate was
the imitation of a human dancer, that the receptive spectator could not
but feel that here at last the play of doubtful propriety had found its
only fit stage and its only proper performer. The memory of that
exhibition is a perennial pleasure to all who possess it. A thing of
beauty it was; and it abides in remembrance as a joy forever. It
revealed the art of the puppet-show at its summit. And the art itself
was eternally justified by that one performance of the highest technical
skill and of the utmost delicacy of taste.

If the most marvelous exploits of terpsichorean art, almost inexecutable
by the human toes and the human legs of living dancers, are capable of
reproduction by puppets skilfully manipulated by the puller of the wires
and strings whereby the little figures are suspended, so also are the
dexterous feats of the juggler. One of the specialties of the sole
surviving puppet-show of this sort in the Champs-Elysées is the
performance of a juggler who tosses aloft and catches in turn a number
of glittering balls. The delicate balancing of the tight-rope walker,
with her frequent pirouettes on her toes, and with her surprising
summersets, is also one of the exhibitions in which the puppet can defy
the rivalry of any living executant, however skilful in the art. At the
circus we feel that the tightrope dancer might fall, whereas at the
puppet-show we know with certainty that any fatal mishap is impossible.
In Holden's marionette program the miniature mimicry of humanity was
carried to the utmost edge of the possible; and no item on his bill of
fare was more delectable than the series of scenes in which the
traditional Clown and Pantaloon played tricks on the traditional
Policeman, and in which they joined forces in belaboring an inoffensive
donkey. As the unfortunate quadruped was also a puppet, there was no
painful strain on our sympathy.


If a performance by puppets deprived 'Salome' of its vulgar grossness by
removing it outside the arena of humanity, so to speak, and by
relegating it to an unreal world beyond the strict diocese of the
conscience, so a performance by puppets of a passion-play or of any
other drama in which the Deity has perforce to appear as a character, is
thereby relieved of any tincture of irreverence. We no longer see a
divine being interpreted by a human being. We cannot help feeling that
all the persons in the play, whether they dwell in heaven or on earth,
are equally remote from our common humanity. And therefore we need not
be surprised when we discover that the marionette has long been allowed
to appear in religious drama. Indeed, it appears probable that the very
name _marionette_ is directly derived from the name of the Virgin.

Very early in the history of the Christian Church were the puppets
permitted to perform passion-plays and little dramas derived from the
stories contained both in the New and the Old Testaments. In England
under Elizabeth and James religious puppet-shows of this kind went
wandering about the kingdom, taking into the smallest villages an
entertainment which would afford to the rural inhabitants the same kind
of pleasant instruction which the dwellers in the larger towns had in
the more elaborate and long-drawn mysteries performed by the
trade-guilds on the Corpus Christi day. That masterly rogue Autolycus in
the 'Winter's Tale' tells us that in his time he had been on the road
with "a motion of the Prodigal Son"--and a _motion_ was the Elizabethan
term for a marionette-exhibition. In like manner one of the characters
in Ben Jonson's 'Every Man out of His Humor' speaks of "a new motion of
the city of Nineveh, with Jonas and the whale." Of course, the puppet
performers, like the grown-up actors, did not long confine themselves to
sacred themes; they ventured also into contemporary history. A puppet
showman who appears in Ben Jonson's 'Bartholomew Fair' tells us that a
certain motion setting forth the mysterious Gunpowder Plot, was "a

Story described one puppet-play which he saw in a little village on the
main road from Rome to Naples, and which had for its central figure
Judas Iscariot. But here again his attitude is unsympathetic, perhaps
because the performance was clumsy. "The kiss of Judas, when, after
sliding along the stage, he suddenly turned with a sidelong jerk and
rapped the other wooden puppet's head with his own, as well as the
subsequent scene in which he goes out and hangs himself, beggar
description." Yet the expatriated American spectator honestly recorded
that the Italian spectators "looked and listened with great gravity,
seemed to be highly edified, and certainly showed no signs of seeing
anything ludicrous in the performance." We may venture the suggestion
that even the sophisticated sculptor-poet himself would have seen
nothing ludicrous in this performance if the operator of Judas had been
as skilful as the operator of Salome in Holden's marionettes.

[Illustration: A Neapolitan Punchinella
From "By Italian Seas," by Ernest C. Peixotto]

A few years ago in Paris one of the younger poets wrote a passion-play
which was performed during Lent by a company of dolls, designed and
dressed in fit and appropriate costumes by an artist friend familiar
with the manners and customs of the Holy Land. While the wires were
managed by expert hands, the words of the dialog were spoken by the poet
himself, and by two or three other poets who came to his aid. This must
have been a seemly spectacle, and it won careful consideration from more
than one of the most eminent dramatic critics of France. Here we may
find a useful suggestion for those who wish to see certain plays by
modern dramatic poets, in which the Deity is a necessary
character--Rostand's 'Samaritaine,' for one, and Hauptmann's 'Hannele,'
for another. Many of the devout have a natural repugnance to any
performance on the stage (with its materialistic environment and its
often sordid conditions) which calls for the impersonation of a divine
being by an actor of ordinary flesh and blood. Yet if these same plays
were reverently performed by marionettes the aroma of irreverence would
be removed. It might even be possible to reproduce in the puppet-show
not a little of the solemn religious effect which is felt by all
visitors to the passion-play at Oberammergau.






An American; improving on a suggestion of a Frenchman, has declared that
"language was given to man to conceal his thoughts--and to woman to
express her emotions." Unfortunately, language is so often inexact that
even when it is sufficient to express emotion, it is not precise enough
even to conceal thought. Sometimes a term is wholly devoid of truth, as
when we call a certain solid a "lead-pencil," which contains no lead,
and when we label a certain liquid "soda-water," which contains no soda.
Sometimes the term is so vague that it may mean all things to all men.
Who, for example, would be bold enough to insist on his own definition
of "romanticism"? Sometimes again the term covers two or three things
which demand a sharper differentiation. This is the case with the
compound word "shadow-pantomime." It is the only name for three distinct

First, there is the representation by the dark profile of the human hand
upon a wall or a screen, of human heads, and of animal figures, either
by an adroit arrangement of the fingers alone, or by the aid of adjusted
shapes of cardboard, so as to suggest a hat on the head and a pipe in
the mouth and other needed accessories; this primitive entertainment is
sometimes styled "shadowgraphy."

Second, there is the full-sized silhouette of a human figure, due to the
shadow cast by the body standing before a lamp, and magnified or
diminished as it approaches or recedes the spectators. This is the
familiar parlor amusement which Sir James Barrie cleverly utilized with
dramatic effect in the final act of his 'Professor's Love-Story,' when
one of the characters, standing outside a house, sees the black profiles
of other characters projected clearly on the drawn shade of the window
before which he is placed.

Then, thirdly, there is the true shadow-pantomime, called by the French
"Chinese shadows," _ombres chinoises_, in which the tiny figures, made
either of flat cardboard or of metal, are exhibited behind a translucent
screen and before a strong light. This is by far the most interesting
and the most important of the three widely different kinds of
semi-dramatic entertainment, often carelessly confounded together even
in the special treatises devoted to this humble art. In France these
Chinese shadows have been popular for more than a hundred years, since
it was in the eighteenth century that the performer who took the name of
Séraphin established his little theater and won the favor of the younger
members of the royal family by his presentation of the alluring
spectacle, the rudimentary little piece, still popular with children,
and still known by its original title, the 'Broken Bridge.'

It may not be fanciful to infer that the immediate suggestion for this
spectacle was derived from the contemporary vogue of the silhouette
itself, this portrait in solid black taking its name from the Frenchman
who was minister of finance in 1759. At all events, it was in 1770 that
Séraphin began to amuse the children of Paris; and it was more than a
century thereafter that M. Lemercier de Neuville elaborated his
ingeniously articulated _Pupazzi noirs_. It was a little later still
that Caran d'Ache delighted the more sophisticated children of a larger
growth, who were wont to assemble at the Chat Noir, with the striking
series of military silhouettes resuscitating the mighty Napoleonic epic.
And it was at the Chat Noir again that Rivière revealed the further
possibilities latent in shadow-pantomime, and to be developed by the aid
of colored backgrounds supplied by a magic lantern. Restricted as the
sphere of the shadow-pantomime necessarily is, the native artistic
impulse of the French has been rarely better disclosed than by their
surprising elaboration of a form of amusement, seemingly fitted only to
charm the infant mind, into an entertainment satisfactory to the richly
developed esthetic sense of mature Parisian playgoers. Just as the
rustic revels of remote villagers contained the germ out of which the
Greeks were able to develop their austere and elevating tragedy, and
just as the modern drama was evolved in the course of centuries out of
the medieval mysteries, one source of which we may discover in the
infant Christ in the cradle still displayed at Christmastide in
Christian churches thruout the world, so the simple Chinese shadows of
Séraphin supplied the root on which Parisian artists were able to graft
their ingenious improvements.

The little spectacle proffered originally by Séraphin was frankly
infantile in its appeal, and the 'Broken Bridge' is as plainly adjusted
to the simple likings of the child as is the lamentable tragedy of Punch
and Judy or the puppet-show in which Polichinelle exhibits his hump and
his terpsichorean agility. The two arms of the broken bridge arch over a
little stream but fail to meet in the center. A flock of ducks crosses
leisurely from one bank to the other. A laborer appears on the left-hand
fragment of the bridge and begins to swing his pick to loosen stones at
the end, and these fragments are then seen to fall into the water. The
figure of the workman is articulated, or at least one arm is on a
separate piece and moves on a pivot so that a hidden string can raise
the pick and let it fall. The laborer sings at his work; and in France
he indulges in the traditional lyric about the Bridge of Avignon, where
everybody dances in a circle. Then a traveler appears on the right-hand
end of the bridge. He hails the laborer, who is hard of hearing at
first, but who finally asks him what he wants. The traveler explains
that he wishes to cross and asks how he can do this. The laborer keeps
on picking away, and sings that "the ducks and the geese they all swim
over." The irritated traveler then asks how far it is across, and the
laborer again sings, this time to the effect that "when you're in the
middle you're half-way over." Then the traveler inquires how deep the
stream may be, and he gets the exasperating response in song, that if
he will only throw in a stone, he'll soon find the bottom. This dialog
bears an obvious resemblance to that traditionally associated with the
tune of the 'Arkansaw Traveler.'

[Illustration: The broken bridge]

[Illustration: _Reproduced by permission of Hachette & Co., Paris_
Plan showing the construction of a shadow-picture theater]

[Illustration: A Hungarian dancer. This explains the mechanism of the
shadow picture opposite
A Hungarian dancer
From a shadow picture by Lemercier de Neuville]

Then a boatman appears, rowing his little skiff, his backbone pivoted so
that his body can move to and fro. The traveler makes a bargain with him
and is taken across, after many misadventures, one of them with a
crocodile, which opens its jaws and threatens to engulf the boat--this
amphibious beast having been a recent addition to the original playlet,
and probably borrowed from the Green Monster not long ago added to the
group of Punch and Judy figures. And the exciting conclusion of this
entrancing spectacle displays a most moral application of the principle
of poetic justice. The ill-natured laborer advances too far out on his
edge of the broken bridge, and detaches a large fragment. As this
tumbles into the water he loses his footing and falls forward himself,
only to be instantly devoured by the crocodile, which disappears with
its unexpected prey, whereupon the placid ducks and geese again swim
over--and the curtain falls.


There are a score of other little plays like the 'Broken Bridge,'
adroitly adjusted to the caliber of the juvenile mind. In a British
collection may be found a piece representing a succession of appalling
episodes supposed to take place in a 'Haunted House,' and in a French
manual for the use of youthful amateurs may be discovered a rudimentary
version of Molière's 'Imaginary Invalid,' to be performed by silhouettes
with articulated limbs. Here again we perceive the inaccuracy of the
term "shadow-pantomime," since the most of the figures are not
articulated, and, being motionless, they are deprived of the freedom of
gesture which is the essential element of true pantomime. Moreover, they
are all made to take part in various dialogs, and this again is a
negation of the fundamental principle of pantomime, which ought to be
wordless. Here the French term "Chinese shadows" is more exact and less
limiting than the English "shadow-pantomime." It is perhaps a pity that
the old-fashioned term "gallanty-show," has not won a wider acceptance
in English.

The little pieces due to Séraphin and his humble followers in France and
in England, devised to amuse children only, were simple enough in plot,
and yet they were sufficient to suggest to admirers of this unpretending
form of theatrical art plays of a more imposing proportion. M. Paul
Eudel, the art critic, has published an amply illustrated volume in
which he collected the fairy-pieces, and the more spectacular melodramas
composed by his grandfather in the first quarter of the nineteenth
century, in the dark days that preceded Waterloo. And in the third
quarter of the nineteenth century, in the dark days that preceded Sedan,
M. Lemercier de Neuville, relinquishing for a while the Punch and Judy
puppets which he called _Pupazzi_, and which he had exhibited in a
succession of gentle caricatures of Parisian personalities with a mildly
Aristophanic flavor of contemporary satire, turned to the familiar
Chinese shadows of his childhood and devised what he called his _Pupazzi
noirs_, animated shadows. He also has issued a collection of these
little pieces with a full explanation of the method of performance and
with half a hundred illustrations, revealing all the secrets of
maneuvering the little figures. Indeed, Lemercier de Neuville's manual
is the most ample which has yet appeared; and it is the most interesting
in that he was at once his own playwright, his own designer of figures,
and his own performer.

[Illustration: The return from the Bois de Boulogne
Four shadow pictures by Caran d'Ache]

[Illustration: The ballet
From a shadow picture by Lemercier de Neuville]

[Illustration: _Reproduced by permission of Hachette & Co., Paris_
A regiment of French soldiers
From a shadow picture by R. de La Nézière]

As the grandfather of M. Eudel had been more ambitious than Séraphin, so
Lemercier de Neuville was more ambitious than the elder Eudel. And yet
his procedure was precisely that of his predecessors, and he did not in
any way modify the principles of the art. All he did was to elaborate
the performance by the use of more scenery, of more spectacular effects,
and of more numerous characters. He introduced a company of Spanish
dancers, for example, and he did not hesitate to throw on his screen the
sable and serrated profile of a long line of ballet dancers. He followed
Eudel in arranging a procession of animals, rivaling a circus parade,
many of them being articulated so that they could make the appropriate
movements of their jaws and their paws. And he paid special attention to
his silhouette caricatures of contemporary celebrities, Zola for one,
and Sarah-Bernhardt for another.

Then the Franco-Russian draftsman, who called himself Caran d'Ache, made
a new departure and started the art of the shadow-pantomime in a new
career. He called his figures "French shadows," _ombres françaises_, and
he surrendered the privilege of articulating his figures so that they
could move. At least, he refrained from this except on rare occasions,
preferring the effect of immobility and relying mainly upon a new
principle not before employed by any of his predecessors. He made a
specialty of long lines and of large masses of troops, not all on the
same plane, but presented in perspective. He chose also to forgo the aid
of speech and his figures were silent, except when some officer called
out a word of command, or when a company of Cossacks rode past singing
one of the wailing lyrics of the Caucasus as melancholy as the steppes.

One of the most attractive items on his program was a representation of
the return of vehicles and equestrians from the Bois de Boulogne in the
afternoon. Some of the figures were merely characteristic types sharply
seized and outlined with all the artist's masterly draftsmanship, and
some of them were well-known personages easily recognizable by his
Parisian spectators--Lesseps on horseback, for example, and Rochefort in
an open cab. These successive figures were simply pushed across the
screen one after another, each of them as motionless as a statue, the
men fixed in one attitude, and the legs of the horses retaining always
the same position. This absence of animal movement was, of course, a
violation from the facts of life, like that which permits the painter to
depict a breaking wave or a sculptor to model a running boy at a single
moment of the movement. Yet this artistic conversion was immediately
acceptable since the spectator received a simplified impression and
his attention was not distracted by the inevitable jerkiness of the
limbs of the men and the beasts.

[Illustration: _Reproduced by permission of E. Flammarion, Paris_
The Sphinx I: Pharaoh passing in triumph
From a shadow picture by Amédée Vignola]

Caran d'Ache's masterpiece, however--and it may honestly be styled a
masterpiece--was not the 'Return from the Bois de Boulogne' but his
'Epopée,' his epic evocation of the grand army of Napoleon. Single
figures like the Little Corporal on horseback, and like Murat and others
of the Emperor's staff, he projected with a fidelity and a veracity of
accent worthy of Détaille or even Meissonier. Yet fine as these single
figures might be, they were only what had been attempted by earlier
exponents of the art--even if they were more impressive than had been
achieved by any one of his predecessors. These single figures were
necessarily presented all on the same plane, and the startling and
successful innovation of the Franco-Russian draftsmanship was his
skilful use of perspective, a device which had not occurred to any of
those in whose footsteps he was following, even Lemercier de Neuville
having presented his ballet dancers in a flat row. What Caran d'Ache did
was to bring before us company after company of the Old Guard, and troop
after troop of cuirassiers, their profiles diminishing in height as
the figures receded from the eye. He thus attained to an effect of
solidity and even of immensity, far beyond anything ever before achieved
by any earlier exhibitor of shadows. He succeeded in suggesting space,
and of maneuvering before the astonished eyes of the entranced
spectators a vast mass of men under arms, marching forward resolutely in
serried ranks to victory or to death.

The late Jules Lemaître, the most open-minded of French dramatic
critics, and the most hospitable in his attitude toward the minor
manifestations of theatric art, has recorded that this Napoleonic epic
of Caran d'Ache communicated to him not only an emotion of actual
grandeur, but also the thrill of war itself. He declared that "by the
exactness of the perspective preserved in his long files of soldiers,
Caran d'Ache gives us the illusion of number and of a number immense and
indefinite. And by the automatic movement which sets all his troops in
action at once, he gives us the illusion of a single soul, of a communal
thought animating innumerable bodies--and thereby he evokes in us the
impression of measureless power.... His silent poem, with its sliding
profiles is, I think, the only epic in all French literature." And those
who are familiar with the other French efforts to attain to lyric
largeness, and who have had also the unforgetable felicity of beholding
Caran d'Ache's marvelous projection of the Napoleonic legend, will be
prepared to admit that Lemaître did not overstate the case.

[Illustration: _Reproduced by permission of E. Flammarion, Paris_
The Sphinx II: Moses leading his people out of Egypt
From a shadow picture by Amédée Vignola]


What the Franco-Russian artist had done was to reveal the alluring
possibilities placed at the command of the shadow-pantomimist by the
ingenious employment of perspective; and there remained only one more
step to be taken for the final development of the art to its ultimate
capacity. This was the addition of color; and this step was taken by an
associate of Caran d'Ache in the exhibitions given at the Chat
Noir--Henri Rivière. Color could be added in two ways. In the first
place, the outlines of lanterns and of battle-flags could be cut out,
and slips of appropriately tinted paper could be inserted in the
openings so that the light might shine thru. This relieved the monotony
of the uniformity of the sable figures, and added a note of amusing
gaiety. But this was an innovation of very limited scope; and it could
have been earlier utilized in the flat figures of Lemercier de Neuville,
for example, if he had happened to think of it. Far wider in its
artistic possibilities was the second of Rivière's improvements. For the
ordinary lamp which cast a steady glow on the white screen whereon the
profile figures appeared, he substituted a magic lantern, the painted
slides of which enabled him to supply an appropriately colored
background. Then he went further and employed two magic lanterns,
superimposed; and these enabled him to get the effect of "dissolving
views" whereby he could vary his background at will. The immediate
result of this ingenious improvement was that the artist could bestow
upon his shadow-pantomime not a little of the richness of color which
delights our eyes in the stained glass of medieval cathedrals.

Rivière was not only an inventor, he was also an artist, richly gifted
with imagination; and his imagination suggested to him at once the three
or four themes best fitted for treatment by his novel apparatus. One of
these was the 'Wandering Jew'; another was the 'Prodigal Son'; and a
third was the 'Temptation of Saint Anthony'--all legends of combined
dramatic and pictorial appeal. Yet the most effective of all the
experiments in this new form was due not to Rivière himself but to the
collaboration of two of his disciples, M. Fragerolle and M. Vignola.
This was the 'Sphinx,' in which the artists most adroitly combined all
the advantages of the original flat profiles, and of the long files of
figures in perspective such as Caran d'Ache had employed, with varied
backgrounds due to the aid of the magic lantern first utilized by
Rivière. Of all human monuments no one has had so marvelous a series of
spectacles pass before its sightless eyes as the Sphinx, reclining
impassive at the edge of the desert, and at the foot of the pyramids.
Race after race has descended into the valley of the Nile, and lingered
for a little space, a few centuries more or less, and departed at last.
Conqueror after conqueror has come and gone again; and the Sphinx has
kept its inscrutable smile.

[Illustration: _Reproduced by permission of E. Flammarion, Paris_
The Sphinx III: Roman warriors in Egypt
From a shadow picture by Amédée Vignola]

M. Fragerolle composed the music and the words of the stately chants
which accompanied the exhibition of the figures passing before the
backgrounds, due to the pencil and the palette of M. Vignola. By the aid
of the magic lantern the gigantic visage of the lion with a woman's head
towers aloft, permanent and immutable, while the joyous procession of
Egyptian dancers and soldiers and priests celebrates the completion of
the statue itself. Then we are witnesses of the fierce invasion of the
Assyrians, with the charge of their chariots and their horsemen; and we
behold the rout of the natives while their capital burns in the
distance. Next we gaze at the departure of the Jews, led by Moses and
laden with the spoils of the Egyptians. After the Hebrews have gone,
Sesostris appears, to be greeted by a glad outpouring of the populace.
Yet soon the Persians descend on Egypt, with their castellated elephants
and their immense hordes of fighting men. Still the Sphinx looks down,
immovable and implacable; and the Greeks in turn take the valley of the
Nile for their own. One of their daughters, Cleopatra, floats past in
her galley by night; and in the morning she extends her hospitality to
the Roman, Cæsar or Antony. And while the Latins are the rulers of the
land of Egypt, the Virgin and her Son with the patient ass that bears a
precious burden, skirt the sandy waste, and go on their way to the Holy
Land, leaving the Sphinx behind them as they journey forward in the
green moonlight. After long centuries the Arabs break in with their
brilliant bands of horsemen, and a little later the Crusaders come to
give them battle. More long centuries elapse and suddenly Napoleon
emerges at the head of the troops of the French Republic. Then we have
the Egypt of to-day, with the British soldiers parading before the feet
of the Sphinx; and finally the recumbent statue appears to us once more
and for the last time, when the light of the sun is going out, and the
world is emptied of its population again, and the ice is settling down
on the Sphinx, alone amid freezing desolation. And this last vision is
projected by the magic lantern, without the aid of any profile figures,
since man has ceased to be.

Here we have a true epic poem, simple yet grandiose, and possible only
to the improved shadow-pantomime of France at the end of the nineteenth
century--even if this art is only a logical evolution from the
gallanty-show of Séraphin. "This humble black profile," said Jules
Lemaître, "which had been thought fit at best of a few comic effects to
amuse little children only, has been diversified and colored; it has
been made beautiful, serious, tragic; by the multiplication of the
devices it has been rendered capable of giving us a powerful impression
of collective life, and the artists who have developed it have known how
to make it translate to our eyes the great spectacles of history and the
sweeping movement of multitudes."


[Illustration: _Reproduced by permission of E. Flammarion, Paris_
The Sphinx IV: The British troops to-day
From a shadow picture by Amédée Vignola]





It is now no longer in dispute that there has been in the past score or
two of years a striking revival of the drama in the English language,
and that there are to-day British and American playwrights who write
plays which are worth while--plays which are both actable and
readable--plays which often deserve and which sometimes even demand
serious critical consideration. This revival has necessarily resulted in
calling attention to the present condition of dramatic criticism in
Great Britain and in the United States. In a period of dramatic
productivity, dramatic criticism has an indisputable function and is
charged with an undeniable duty, both to the aspiring play-makers and to
the main body of the playgoing public. We cannot help asking ourselves
whether our dramatic critics rightly apprehend their function and
whether they properly discharge their duty; and to these pressing
questions the most conflicting answers are returned.

Some there are who insist that it is hopeless to expect the desired
outflowering of dramatic literature in our language to take place so
long as our dramatic criticism is as inadequate, as incompetent, and as
unsatisfactory as they declare it to be. Others there are who take a
more tolerant view, holding the public itself to be at fault for the
existing state of things, and who, therefore, believe that we are now
getting dramatic criticism quite as good as we deserve. Few there are
who venture to deny that there is room for improvement--altho no two of
these agree in their suggestions for bringing about a bettering of
present conditions. In the multitude of these counsellors there is
darkness and confusion.

Perhaps there is a dim possibility of dissipating a little of this dark
confusion by an analysis of the exact content, which we discover in the
term "dramatic criticism," and then by a further inquiry as to whether
our customary use of the term is not misleading. "Dramatic criticism" to
most of us connotes the newspaper reviewing of the nightly spectacles in
our theaters. Plainly this was the meaning of the term in the mind of
Mr. Howells years ago, when he declared that "our dramatic criticism is
probably the most remarkable apparatus of our civilization" and that it
"surpasses that of other countries as much as our fire-department. A
perfectly equipped engine stands in every newspaper office, with the
steam always up, which can be manned in nine seconds and rushed to the
first theater where there is the slightest danger of drama within five
minutes; and the combined efforts of these tremendous machines can pour
a concentrated deluge of cold water upon a play which will put out
anything of the kind at once."

There is no denying that this use of the term by Mr. Howells is
supported by custom. Yet it is distinctly unfortunate, for if the
newspaper comment upon the novelties of the stage is to be accepted as
"dramatic criticism," then what term have we left to describe the more
piercing and the more comprehensive discussion of the first principles
of the art of play-making which we find in Francisque Sarcey and in
George Henry Lewes, not to go back to Lessing and to Aristotle? It is
equally unfortunate that there is an equivalent inaccuracy in bestowing
the title of "literary criticism" upon the newspaper comments upon the
current books, for if this journalistic summarizing is to be accepted as
"literary criticism," then what are we to call the exquisite evaluation
of favorite authors which we find in Matthew Arnold and Sainte-Beuve?

Of course, it is always idle to protest against the popular use or
misuse of words and terms and phrases. The people as a whole own the
language, and have a right to make it over and to modify the original
meaning of words. If popular usage chooses not to distinguish between
two very different things, and to call both of them "dramatic
criticism," there is no redress, and yet it is impossible to discuss the
problem of dramatic criticism except by trying to separate the two
things thus confounded. Therefore, for the purpose of this inquiry only,
and without any hope of changing the accepted usage, I make bold to
suggest that "play-reviewing" might be employed to describe the notices
written in the office of a newspaper, notices necessarily prepared under
pressure and under strict limitations of time and space.

These newspaper notices are sometimes careless, they are sometimes
perfunctory, and they are sometimes cruel; and occasionally they are
careful, conscientious, and clever, done with a dexterity worthy of high
praise when we consider all the conditions under which it is displayed.
But even at its best, play-reviewing cannot attain to the level of true
dramatic criticism, more leisurely in its composition, larger in its
scope, and more discriminating in its choice of topic. The
play-reviewing of the daily journal is akin in aim to the
book-reviewing, which has for its purpose the swift consideration of the
volume in vogue at the moment. In our morning and evening papers the
book-reviewing and the play-reviewing are both of them necessarily
up-to-date, in fact, up-to-the-last-minute. To be contemporaneous,
instantly and necessarily and inexorably, is their special quality and
their immediate purpose; it is the reason for their existence and the
excuse for their being.


Here it may be well to cite again the oft-quoted confession of the late
Jules Lemaître, writer of volume after volume in which he discussed the
leading men of letters of his own time and of his own country:
"Criticism of our contemporaries is not criticism--it is conversation."
Now, conversation may be a very good thing; indeed, when it is as clear
and as sparkling as was Lemaître's, it is an excellent thing; yet he
was right in admitting that it is not criticism, since it could not but
lack the touchstone of time, the perspective of distance, the assured
application of the eternal standards. And play-reviewing, like
book-reviewing, cannot be anything but conversation about our
contemporaries. It may descend to chaff-like chatter about the writers
of the hour and to empty gossip about their sayings and doings; or it
may have the sterner merits of brilliant conversation at its best. But
it is not really criticism in the finer sense of the word; it cannot be;
and one may go further and say that it ought not to be, since true
criticism is more or less out of place in a newspaper--because the
direct object of a newspaper is to present the news, with only the
swiftest of commentaries thereon.

The final distinction between literature and journalism is to be sought
in their diverging and irreconcilable objects. The desire of the former
is for permanence, and the aim of the latter is the immediate
impression. When literature triumphs it is for all time--more or less.
When journalism most completely achieves its purpose its success is
temporary, to be retained only by iteration and reiteration, since it
has for its target the events of the fleeting moment. If we admit this
distinction between journalism and literature, we have no difficulty in
discovering journalism in many places other than the daily and weekly
papers; very properly it fills the most of the space in the monthly
magazines, and even in the quarterly reviews; and it abounds in our
book-stores, since only a small proportion of the volumes which pour
from the press every year possess the combined substance and style, the
solidity of matter and the delightfulness of manner which lift mere
writing up to the loftier level of literature.

On the other hand, we may find literature of inexpugnable quality, not
only in the magazines, but also now and again in the newspapers. Drake's
'American Flag' and Kipling's 'Recessional' appeared in daily journals,
and so did the literary criticism of Sainte-Beuve and the dramatic
criticism of Lessing and of Lemaître. But these were but happy
accidents, and the great newspaper editor has rarely striven to make his
journal a persistent vehicle for the publication of literature. He feels
that this is foreign to his main purpose, and he is content when his
editorial articles, and his news stories are vigorous and
picturesque--clean, clear, and cogent in their English. He knows, better
than any one else, that it is not by its external literary merits that
newspaper-writing is to be judged. What he wants above all else is the
news, all the news, and nothing but the news--accompanied, of course, by
the obligatory comment this news may deserve. He needs editorial
writers, reporters, and correspondents who are newspaper men, and not
men of letters, except in so far as these men of letters may have
accepted the special conditions of newspaper work.

Now, criticism, whether literary or dramatic, is a department of
literature, dealing with the permanent, and having little to do with the
temporary. It demands qualifications very rarely united--insight,
equipment, disinterestedness, and sympathy. So far from being easy,
criticism is quite as difficult as creation--more difficult, indeed, if
we may judge by its greater rarity. In a superbly creative period there
are sometimes three or four distinguished poets, friendly rivals, almost
contemporaneous; and even at such a time there is rarely more than one
critic worthy to be companioned with them. Æschylus and Sophocles and
Euripides followed one after the other; and in time the sole Aristotle
came forward as their critic. Corneille and Molière and Racine labored
side by side, and only Boileau was competent to interpret and to
encourage them.

When it attains to the serene plane of Aristotle and Boileau, of Lessing
and Sainte-Beuve, criticism is actually creation. "The critical faculty
as applied to the masterpieces of literature, and still more the
critical faculty as applied to the art of literature itself, is akin to
the creative faculty of the artist," so Professor Mackail has told us.
"It does not deal with letters as something detached from life, but as
the form or substance in which life is intelligibly presented. Its
interpretation is also creation." But the criticism of dramatic
literature which is also creation, is possible only when the critical
faculty is applied to the masterpieces of dramatic literature; and
nobody knows better than the play-reviewer that masterpieces of dramatic
literature do not present themselves frequently and that they cannot be
acclaimed as masterpieces until they have stood the test of time. And
this is why a critic-creator would be a little out of place on the staff
of a newspaper, daily or weekly, whether he was assigned to deal with
the drama or with literature at large.


The necessary task of the book-reviewer or of the play-reviewer, is not
criticism of the creative kind, since for that he is always likely to
lack material. His task is humbler even if it is honorable; it is to
report upon the novelties of the day, and to inform the readers of the
newspaper as to the nature and the merits of these novelties. His work
is essentially reporting, even if it is reporting of a special kind,
calling for special qualifications. The connection of the drama with the
show business is intimate, and it always has been. In the long history
of the theater there is no period without its successful pieces, the
appeal of which was mainly sensuous--to the eye and to the ear, rather
than to the emotions and to the intellect. While the drama is an art,
and perhaps the loftiest of the arts, the show business is a trade. This
is no new thing--altho ignorant idealists often declare it so to be, and
altho it may make itself a little more obvious at one time than at
another. What confronts us is the condition of things as they are, not
the theory of things as they might be.

There would be occupation for a dramatic critic, who was also a creator,
only if our theaters were presenting in rapid succession a sequence of
masterpieces, tragedies of austere power, comedies of searching satire,
social dramas of piercing suggestion. But this is not the case now here
in the United States in the twentieth century; and it never has been the
case anywhere or anywhen, not even in Weimar when Goethe dominated the
ducal theater. In our playhouses we are proffered our choice of
Shakspere and Ibsen, Pinero and Hauptmann, Henry Arthur Jones and
Augustus Thomas, Barrie and Gillette, Sardou and George M. Cohan; and at
the same time we are invited to choose between 'Trilby' and the
'Celebrated Case,' melodramas and farces, summer song-shows and
ultra-contemporary reviews, alleged comic operas and terpsichorean
spectacles. Most of these latter exhibitions do not demand or deserve
criticism of any kind; but they need to be reported upon like any other
item in the news of the day.

If this is the case, it might as well be recognized frankly. There is
always advantage in seeing things as they are, in fronting the facts and
in looking them squarely in the face. Sooner or later some one of those
who are in charge of our metropolitan newspapers will perceive the
possibility of a change of method. He will charge one of his staff with
the supervision of the theatrical news, the announcements of new plays,
and the personal gossip about the players; and he will authorize this
editor to send competent reporters to all first performances, directed
to report upon them as they would report upon any other event of
immediate interest. He would warn these reporters that they were
strictly to consider themselves as reporters, and that they were,
therefore, to refrain from explicit criticism. He would so select his
men that a melodrama should be dealt with by a reporter who liked a good
melodrama, and that a summer song-show should be described by a reporter
who could find pleasure in inoffensive and amusing spectacle. If this
policy should be adopted, and announced clearly and emphatically,
probably most of the occasions for quarrel between managers and editors
would disappear; and the immense majority of the readers of the daily
paper would be supplied with exactly the information they would prefer.

Then, for the benefit of the smaller number who are really interested in
the drama as a serious art, the editor-in-chief might avail himself of
the fact that the Sunday issue, while it is still a newspaper containing
the news of the preceding twenty-four hours, is also a magazine, to be
read in more leisurely fashion, and therefore at liberty to treat timely
topics with a larger freedom. Here space could be found for genuine
dramatic criticism by the most competent expert available. This dramatic
critic should have nothing whatever to do with the news of the theaters,
or with the first-night play-reviewing. He should not be tired and bored
by having to go to the theater half a dozen times a week, and by being
forced to analyze plays which do not reward analysis. He would be
expected to select out of the current performances that one which
promised to be most worthy of careful consideration, and he would feel
himself free to discuss this at such length as it might seem to him to
deserve. To him also should be intrusted the more significant of the new
books upon the history of the theater, and upon the art of the drama. In
the summer (and also whenever at any other season there might be a
dearth of inspiring topics), this dramatic critic would not be expected
to contribute, since he should never be called upon to make bricks
without straw.

Even in New York this method is not as new as it may seem, and more than
one metropolitan daily has approximated to it, altho no one of them has
completely detached the dramatic critic from the play-reviewer and from
the supervisor of theatrical gossip. And it has long been adopted in
certain of the Paris newspapers. In the _Temps_, for example, when
Sarcey was its dramatic critic, there was a daily column of theatrical
announcements and of brief reports upon first-night performances; and
with this department of the news of the theaters Sarcey had nothing to
do, and for it he had no responsibility. Then in the ample space
specially reserved for him in the issue of every Sunday afternoon, he
dealt with the dramatic themes that seemed to him worth while. If a play
appeared to demand prolonged study, he might go to see it two, or even
three times, before he undertook to formulate his opinion; and on
occasion he would carry over his detailed discussion of a very important
drama into the article of the following Sunday. On the other hand, if
no recent play seemed to him to deserve his continued attention, he
would devote himself to one of the recent books about the theater or to
a detailed discussion of the proper interpretation of one of the
classics of the French drama kept constantly in the repertory of the


The adoption of this method would relieve the dramatic critic from one
of his existing disadvantages; he would be released from criticising the
pieces which are beneath criticism. The literary critic, and even the
ordinary book-reviewer, never spends his time in considering dime
novels--whereas the dramatic critic is now called upon to waste many
evenings in beholding a play which is only the theatrical equivalent of
a dime novel. The immediate result of this futile and fatiguing
expenditure of energy is likely to be discouraging and even enervating.
If the dramatic critic could be totally relieved from all contact with
the show business when the show business has only a casual connection
with the drama, it would tend to keep him fit for his essential task.
Under the present conditions it is no wonder that the theatrical
reviewer wearies of his task and loses the gusto and the zest without
which all work tends to degenerate into the perfunctory and the

We need not fear that the first-night reporting would be ill done if
competent reporters were instructed that they were not to consider
themselves as critics, and that it was their sole duty to report, as
they would report anything else, conscientiously and accurately. The
difficulty would not be in finding reporters able to discharge this
duty, it would be in the discovery of dramatic critics possessing the
fourfold qualifications of insight, equipment, disinterestedness, and
sympathy, which every critic must be endowed with whatever the art he
undertakes to analyze. And the difficulty would be increased by the fact
that the dramatic critic needs an understanding of three different arts,
the art of acting, the art of literature, and the art of the drama--of
play-making as distinct from literature.

It would be idle to hope that even if this method were adopted we should
soon be able to develop in the United States and in Great Britain a
group of dramatic critics of the capacity and the quality of Lessing and
Sarcey, of George Henry Lewes and William Archer. Yet it is solely by
the adoption of this method that we can hope to provide the opportunity
for the appearance of the true dramatic critic, who can fit himself for
his finer work only by being set free from the necessity of doing work
quite unworthy of him, altho necessary to the newspaper itself. And the
development of a group of dramatic critics of a higher type than can be
found to-day--except possibly in a scant half-dozen dailies and weeklies
and monthlies--is a condition precedent to the development of our drama.
Of course, these dramatic critics, whatever their endowment, could give
little help directly to the dramatic authors, since it is a mistake to
suppose that the critic is capable of counselling the author, or that he
is charged with any such duty. Where the critic can help is by
disseminating knowledge about the dramatic art, and by raising the
standard of appreciation in the public at large--that public which even
the mightiest dramatist has to please or else to fail of his purpose.


                          TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:

Passages in italics were indicated by _underscores_.

Small caps were replaced with ALL CAPS.

Throughout the document, the [oe] ligature was replaced with "OE".

The illustrations have been moved so that they do not break up
paragraphs and so that they are next the text they illustrate. Thus the
page number of the illustration might not match the page number in the
List of Illustrations, and the order of illustrations may not be the
same in the List of Illustrations and in the book.

Errors in punctuations and inconsistent hyphenation were not corrected
unless otherwise noted below:

Throughout the book, "avalanch" was replaced with "avalanche".

On page 56, the single quotation mark was removed from the block-quoted

On page 116, "denial of of" was replaced with "denial of".

On page 230, "Amercan" was replaced with "American".

On page 296, "air-cirlces" was replaced with "air-circles".

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Book About the Theater" ***

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