Trend Of American Drama From 1750 To 1870
( Originally Published 1911 )
THE amusement world is large enough to foster repertory houses, for America cannot afford to let dramatic material go to waste. Certain excellent quality in the satire of Charles Hoyt's farces should be rehabilitated, and there is no doubt that Edward Harrigan's Irish fun was fraught with a genuineness that should be perpetuated. Professor Matthews once spoke of Weber and Fields and their products as the Aristophanes period of American drama, yet it is as impossible to perpetuate the peculiar genius of these two as to recreate the unctuousness of the elder Hackett, the geniality of John Gilbert, or the humor of John T. Raymond.
The time has come for stock companies; these institutions are the real dramatic storehouses of the country. But Daniel Frohman, in his "Memories of a Manager," is far from believing that a return to the old-time system can be effected. Repertory companies reproduce successes of only a few seasons past, like Davis's "Soldiers of Fortune" and Thomas's "Arizona." They occasionally take standardized plays, like Lottie Blair Parker's "Way Down East" (1897) or "Under Southern Skies" (1901), and like C. T. Dazey's "In Old Kentucky," familiar to everyone. In the face of theatrical circuits, however, audiences are more likely to want the success of the season immediately past — a season which wins for the play the headline that "it ran for one hundred and fifty consecutive nights in New York." Yet such advertising, though it dupe the provincial theatre-goer, is not always true, for, as pointed out in a pamphlet on "The Amusement Situation in the City of Boston," "hardly a bulletin-board announcing a New York run but brazenly and boldly lies about its extent. Ten or twelve weeks in New York (several of which were very probably in Brooklyn or in remotely situated theatres) is advertised on the road as `One Year in New York,' or '300 Nights on Broadway.' A season of thirty weeks (divided among the same groups of theatres) is advertised on the road as ` Seventy weeks in New York,' or `490 days in New York.' More conscientious managers actually run their plays in the smaller New York theatres week after week at considerable loss to themselves, in order to get some excuse for sending them upon the road as a claimed ` Broadway Success,' with a record for a long run!"
I quote this as authentic evidence of the fact that with the increase of theatrical business, the road has either become a place for trying out, or for duping. The manager peddles his wares, unless he has no wares to peddle; then he falls back upon the scrap heap, out of which he builds himself a repertory.
These stock company houses are good things, even though they tend unmercifully to overwork the actor. They are excellent measure of the vitality of a play, and, except in the instances of special revivals, they are the only havens where the theatre-goer may hope to keep in touch with the past. When the New Theatre was contemplating the revival of a few old American dramas, it might have been well had the Director kept his eye upon these repertory centres.
It would seem, to go a step further, that the time has even arrived for us to renovate some of the popular plays of the past. Robson and Crane became noted in their production of Howard's "The Henrietta;" and "The Young Mrs. Winthrop," by the same author, still has appeal and literary flavor. These plays are old-fashioned—not in their plots, not in their essential human interest, but in their contemporaneousness. This contemporaneousness should be made contemporary, unless the play is dependent upon the atmosphere of the past.
B. E. Woolf's "The Mighty Dollar" (1875), with literally "millions in it," used to draw crowded houses, quite as much on account of the amusing characteristics of Judge Bardwell Slote, M.C., from Cohosh district, as because of the acting of W. J. Florence. Mulberry Sellers, the famous vehicle for John T. Raymond, made Mark Twain's "The Gilded Age"— a play with ample humor, and worth renovating. Professor Matthews, always ready with a literary analogy, would connect the latter play with Jonson's "The Divill is an Ass" (1616). Maybe Mr. Clemens sought to renovate the Elizabethans, even as Colley Cibber rewrote Shakespeare, but there is enough good matter in Sellers to have a revival, after the manuscript has been adequately reinforced by a skilled craftsman.
This much we know: that there are no available copies of "The Mighty Dollar" or of "The Gilded Age," and that they should be in type. Their historical importance lies in the attempt they made to create the American for the stage. They were eccentric, in the sense that Weber and Fields were eccentric, and they depended largely upon the genius of the actor. They were built parts, in the sense that Dundreary, under the fashioning of E. A. Sothern's nimble wit, was a growth from forty-seven lines. It is my belief that the old-fashioned conception of the American would be as amusing to present generations—even though out of date— as the conventional Englishman in Dundreary, which was revived by Sothern, the son. But, in order to retain some vestige of originality, despite the evanescent character of much of the dialogue, it should be made incumbent upon the author or the producer to publish the play as originally conceived.
It may be claimed with justice that such actors as Sothern, Irving, Jefferson, and Mansfield have created marvellous acting parts; but there is much doubt as to whether the public of the older generation would accept Sothern's son as Dundreary, Jefferson's son as Rip Van Winkle, and Irving's son as Mathias in " The Bells." They are commendable substitutes, but they are in no way just as good. Even now, there is prejudice in the minds of those who have seen Booth, as though lingering memory will better theatrical condition! Yet one cannot discount the prejudices of an audience, and there is ample cause to believe that were an actor to play "Beau Brummel" or "A Parisian Romance," ripe upon Mansfield's death, he would suffer in comparison. But must we, because of a prejudice, sacrifice plays that are effective theatrically, whatever the time or season? There is life in all success — for success comes from general approval, and the public heart is much the same always.
I am speaking entirely of dramas that in their day have created wonderful theatrical impressions. There is only one guide a manager should follow in the matter of repertory: renovation must be carried on in the light of modern technique, but in a manner wholly consistent with the tenor of the piece. Social drama is constructed on the Ibsen pattern; therefore, the screws must be tightened throughout "The Young Mrs. Winthrop," originally modeled on Scribe. The art of renovation is even more of an art than that of translation.
This suggestion of renovation seems both startling and humorous; in it also there is an element of danger. No one wishes to see a modernized Rembrandt, and for my part I deplore amended Miltons and simplified Scotts. But only in an art which is fluid would I consider renovation. For all dramatists know, as the trite saying goes, that plays are never written; that they are rewritten. And they might just as well be revamped in 1911 as in 1875. Yet, without the sanction of the playwright, without his personal super-vision, faith must be kept with the original, and that original must be published.
If one should be asked, however, to frame a list of American plays suitable for immediate revival, the task would be disillusionizing. For it would show that previous to 1870, the larger part of American drama only had interest historically and histrionically. It was either history or the actor that encouraged native product — a product cast in foreign mould from the very outset.' The way of reviewing the past in American drama is simply to assume points of view that will accord with a consistent grouping of the many plays. The tendencies are much more evident and [much more distinctive than the national traits.
For the very earliest theatrical records indicate that our very earliest audiences were accustomed to such comedies as Beaumont and Fletcher's "Rule a Wife and Have a Wife," broad in humor and Elizabethan in diction. In fact, when the drama first came to America, and began its existence at the Williamsburg Theatre, under the patronage of Governor Dinwiddie (September 5, 1752), American civilization was thoroughly English. If the drama started in the South, it was because the Cavalier spirit was ready to receive it, because the Southern landed proprietor, a devotee of Addison and Steele, believed in the luxury of living rather than in making constant preparation for death. The drama forced its way in the North, despite the Puritan prejudice in New England and the Quaker feeling in Philadelphia. Yet we cannot quite blame the qualms of the latter city when its first theatre, opened on April 15, 1754, had for its bill, Rowe's tragedy, "The Fair Penitent." Certain it was that, apart from Shakespeare Cibberized, the early theatre-going taste was atune to Congreve and Farquhar, while the glory of Garrick stamped all acting.'
Our first historians of the drama record amateur performances as early as 1749; Otway and Addison were the favored dramatists. But American theatrical enterprise started with William Hallam, whose company constituted the first real "road" organization. This history applies strictly to the rise and progress of the theatre; the type of play, which had nothing whatever to do with the spirit of America, reflected the colonial taste. Some people there are who would so far stretch a point as to claim that for a performance of Garrick's farce, "Lethe," a prologue was prepared, according to the custom of the day, and that this prologue represents the first bit of writing done in America for the theatre. I do not believe that an arduous search through the provincial columns of the Pennsylvania Gazelle or of the New York Post-boy would bring to light any hidden American dramatist before Royall Tyler appeared upon the scene; that is, one whose distinct aim was to display the American spirit.
By the time our colonists became accustomed to "profane stage plays," the controversial period of American history had arrived, and when the British reached New York and Philadelphia, they turned the playhouses to their own pleasure, the redcoats becoming actors for the occasion. There was a drop curtain in existence for a long while after the Revolution, which tradition claims was painted by Major André.
In our search for dramatic activity in America, it were well to dispose in a word of certain forms of writing done for the stage. Washington was an inveterate theatre-goer, and when the Continental Congress closed the playhouses on October 24, 1774, he was very much perturbed. So that, after his death, the theatres paid him a tribute by having the leading actress, "in the character of the Genius of America weeping over the Tomb of her beloved HERO," recite "A Monody on the Death of GENERAL WASHINGTON." Certainly we cannot in any way regard General Burgoyne as an American playwright, even though his farce, "The Blockade of Boston," dealt with an American subject. But this farce from the British pen, in which the Continental Army was derided, drew from Mrs. Mercy Warren a counter-thrust in "The Blockheads," a burlesque polemic.'
It will be seen from such entries that during the Revolution the theatre was a place for satire, smacking of oratory.
The product came from the heat of the moment. One might just as well claim that the references to America in Chapman's "Eastward Hoe" or in Shakespeare's "The Tempest," or that Governor Berkeley's dramas were American, as that these controversial pieces were either plays or, strictly speaking, American. For example, Paul Leicester Ford points to "The Battle of Brooklyn," a play by an unknown author, and, despite its ridicule of Washington, doubts whether its origin is British or American. We find many expressions concerning the fall of British tyranny, and as early as 1753, one Le Blanc de Villeneuve wrote Le Père Indian." We find the students of Yale, under their ministerial president, presenting Barnabas Bidwell's "The Mercenary Match" (1785). In another direction, an activity strictly modern in its haste has been noted in these words by the historian, Clapp: "It was the custom in the earlier days of the theatre to signalize passing events by such appropriate notice as the resources of the stage would permit. The proposed launch of the frigate `Constitution,' which was set down for September 20, 1797, was regarded by Manager Hodgkinson as an event worthy of his attention. In fortyeight hours he completed a very passable piece, and announced its performance."
These several records will show that the first definite tendency to note in American drama is that the subject-matter, when it drew upon American life and manners, arranged itself in accord with periods in American history. There were, for example, definite Indian plays,' some smacking of the aboriginal. But today, the only ones that strike the memory are John Brougham's clever "Po-ca-hon-tas,"
John Augustus Stone's "Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags," and the recent attempt made by Mary Austin in "The Arrow Maker." There were Revolutionary dramas, ranging from John D. Burke's "Bunker Hill; or, The Death of Gen. Warren" (1798) and Dunlap's "André" (1798) to W. Ioor's "The Battle of the Eutaw Springs, and Evacuation of Charleston; or, The Glorious 14th of December, 1782," first presented in Charleston during 1817. The American historical plays of this period were strictly patriotic, as the titles will imply; they were heroic, bombastic, and, as Lancaster has noted, filled with "romantic traditions, local annals, individual eccentricity, temporary sensation, spread-eagle patriotism, and redskin melodrama." It is enough to record the heroic measures of Hugh Henry Brackenridge's "The Battle of Bunker Hill" (1776), or the same author's dramatic elegy on "The Death of General Montgomery at the Siege of Quebec" (1777). James Nelson Barker wrote "The Indian Princess" (1808) and "Superstition" (1823), and M. M. Noah tried his hand at "Marion; or, The Hero of Lake George." There is no end to the plays based on incidents of the Revolution or of the War of 1812.
And the striking characteristic of many of these plays was that in them representations of live historical personages were introduced. When Victor Mapes's "Captain Barring-ton" (1903) actually brought the figure of Washington on the boards, people showed surprise, and, to the credit of the actor playing the rôle, they went away further surprised that their patriotic sensibilities were not shocked, for historic characters on the stage flavor of the Eden Musée.
But at close range, as in the instance of Royall Tyler, our first American dramatist, in contradistinction to Robert Hunter, whose "Androboros" was the first dramatic piece printed in America (1714), there was no hesitancy regarding historical representation or political allusions. Concerning Dunlap's heroic blank-verse drama of " André," as Professor Matthews has pointed out, the piece was produced on March 30, 1798, with Arnold and Washington still alive, and close upon the incident of André's hanging in 1780. Washington was introduced as one of the characters. The type of play marking the Revolution and the War of 1812 was one of feeling, in which Royalist and American bandied words.
Mr. Ford calls attention to the fact that as early as 1690 the African slave was dealt with in a drama by one Afara Behn, a play called "The Widow Ranter; or, Bacon in Virginia." But the most portentous drama on the subject proved to be the dramatization of Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." The novel was published in 1851, and was almost immediately prepared for the stage by George L. Aitkin, and first presented at the Troy Museum in 1852. This popularity undoubtedly suggested to Dion Boucicault the spirit for his "The Octoroon; or, Life in Louisiana," which was produced toward the end of 1859.
These types never die out. Dunlap's "André" may be balanced by Clyde Fitch's "Major André"; J. N. Barker's "Superstition" by Herman Hagerdorn's version of "The Witch"; "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Edward Sheldon's "The Nigger." The differences to be found in them lie in their several techniques, and in their economic and social approaches. If they are not heard of today, it is because their vitality was momentary. Take such titles as Charles Gayler's "Bull Run"; as "The Federal Spy; or, Pauline of the Potomac" and "Union Prisoners; or, the Patriot's Daughter." They were hammered out in moments of heat, and possessed none of the healthy value of Gillette's "Secret Service."
The next characteristic to note in American drama is the influence of Germany upon the theatre, not only with the plays of Schiller, but more particularly with the prolific Kotzebue's (1761—1819) examples of melodrama. We know, for instance, how thoroughly influenced William Dunlap' (1766—1839) became by such pieces; how prone he was to be interested in drama of the type of "Douglas" and "Venice Preserved." Hence, a large part of his time was spent in translating Kotzebue, after he had gone to the trouble of mastering German for that special purpose. Dunlap was our first dramatic manipulator; he was the first theatre manager to illustrate how readily foreign material might be turned to American advantage, without costing much.
It is strange that Tyler (1758-1826) on one hand, and that Dunlap on the other, did not at first approach the theatre with any direct intention of writing for it. In fact, the former, graduate of Harvard, was a soldier and a lawyer, and had never been to the theatre in his life until sent to New York on diplomatic service relating to Shays' Rebellion. Then it was that the stage took hold of him, and within a few weeks he had written "The Contrast" (1787), crude but pleasing to the tastes of Wignell, low comedian. Tyler seems to have been quite indifferent to his success, though he immediately proceeded to write the libretto for a comic opera, "May-day in Town; or, New York in an Uproar," and some years after, in 1797, he was ready with " A Good Spec; or, Land in the Moon," dealing with the Yazoo scandal in Georgia.
During this time, Dunlap was in Europe, and had heard nothing of Tyler's favor with "The Contrast." He had been studying art under Benjamin West, and though he could boast of a liking for the theatre in London, with Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, Palmer, Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Abingdon, and Miss Farren in the ascendancy, he might not be considered to have been in the least stage-struck. But Tyler fired his enthusiasm, and he immediately began on that career which was to cover several decades, and to win for him the name of "Father of the American Drama." His first play — discounting his youthful dramatization of " The Arabian Nights," — was "Modest Soldier; or, Love in New York," and was never mounted. During 1789, "The Father; or, American Shandyism" was given at the New York John Street Theatre —a' play which was revised in 1807 under the title of "Father of an Only Child." It was after this that he became manager of a theatre— at first with Hallam and Hodgkinson, but afterwards by himself.'
There is a character in "The Contrast" which is a definite drawing of Yankee eccentricities, and may be taken as the first effort of an American dramatist to be subtly American. It suggests another tendency in the subject-matter we are tracing: that effort to catch the national traits marking the American people. The general fault in this type of play has been very well stated by Professor Matthews:
"An apt epigram is afloat — ascribed to Mr. Boucicault — to the effect that `All that the Americans seem to recognize as dramatic here is the caricature of character, and that is what the successful plays are — caricature of eccentric character set in a weak dramatic framework.' This, like most epigrams, is a smart setting of a half-truth. Americans recognize the character through the caricature, accepting the latter only for lack of the former. The want is want of art on the part of the authors."
But though such further efforts as those of Samuel Wood-worth in "The Forest Rose; or, American Farmers" (1825) may be regarded in the historical evolution, the Yankee came, not by way of literary dramatic expression, but by way of eccentric American acting. If one should desire the real cause for the American type, it would be necessary to examine into the nature and temperament of the comedians, George H. Hill and James H. Hackett.' The fact is, Hackett assumed the rôle of Jonathan Ploughboy in Woodworth's pastoral, and then, being identified with things American, set to work to create such characterizations as Rip Van Winkle, Col. Nimrod Wildfire in James K. Paulding's "The Lion of the West (1831),—which proved to be so popular that Bayle Bernard introduced the same character in a drama entitled "The Kentuckian," —and three Dutch Governors, in a play of that title, which Bernard dramatized from Irving's. "Knickerbocker History."
It was the genius of the actors, therefore, that encouraged the American type. Their ability to create an accent, as broad and as humorous as their French or Irish, resulted in a following for the eccentric in drama,. Hackett's Yankee Solomon Swap, and his Horse-shoe Robinson, based on John P. Kennedy's novel, were dependent absolutely upon the live personality of the player. Anyone reading J. S. Jones' "The People's Lawyer," in which occurs the character of Solon Shingle, a country teamster, would hardly draw from it what audiences drew from the work of John E. Owens, or of George H. Hill when it was first played at the Boston National, in 1839. The required costume of Solon would alone measure the broadness of the caricature: "Dark drab old-fashioned surtout with capes, Sheep's grey trowsers, lead colored striped vest, old style black stock, cow-hide boots, broad-brimmed low-crowned hat, bald-headed flaxen wig." The same latitude is to be found in C. A. Logan's "Yankee Land" which, produced at the Park Theatre in 1834, introduced Hackett as Lot Sap Sago.
Tom Taylor, quick to fathom the popular appeal, now prepared "Our American Cousin," in which Asa Trenchard, the rough, whole-souled Yankee, was pitted against Dun-dreary. This was as surely the outcome of Hackett's Yankee victories as Davy Crockett was the successor of Nimrod Wild-fire.
The land resounded with the Yankee brogue, or with local eccentricities, North, South, East, and West .2 The first of Lowell's "Biglow Papers" appeared in 1846; Mark Twain fixed indelibly life on the Mississippi River in the early '50's; Bret Harte, in 1854, went to California to catch the mountain dialect and the mountain manner. In the South, there was a whole line of humorists, including Joseph G. Baldwin, Augustus B. Longstreet, W. T. Thompson, and J. J. Hooper, who caught the eccentric character of the Black Belt. As far as the stage was concerned, a good actor could make a bad play go, but, because of the flimsy material, the play ceased with the actor. Playgoers understand, for example, what Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner's "The Gilded Age" suffered from the hands of George B. Dinsmore, who, unauthorized, put Colonel Sellers in a play. Litigation ensued, and the manuscript reverted to Mr. Clemens, who touched it up, but John T. Raymond alone made Sellers.' According to Howells, who wrote of it in 1875, the play was " scarcely more than a sketch, a frame-work almost as naked as that which the Italians used to clothe on with their commedia d'arte; and it [was] as unlike good literature as many other excellent acting plays. . . . [It was] true, in its broad way, to American conditions, and [was] a fair and just satire upon our generally recognized social and political corruptions."
Such social satire, slightly vulgarized, was to be found in B. E. Woolf's " The Mighty Dollar" (187.5), which, as we have said, W. J. Florence made so famous by his characterization of Judge Bardwell Slote, a speculative drama whose modern counterpart some critics detected in W. H. Crane's delineation of Hannibal Rivers in "The Senator" (1890). These national types narrowed down to local idols, and no more popular character was known to the stage of 1848 than Mose, a New York Fire Boy, whom Chanfrau personated in "A Glance at New York." Reading it through, one discovers strange local allusions marking the time, but more than that one detects the identical movement so familiar in the humor of modern melodrama. I imagine Mose might slip into the cast of "Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model" with perfect impunity. It is the tough type later dealt with in Townsend's " Chimmie Fadden" and in Owen Kildare's "My Mamie Rose," but with none of the naturalism of present day technique. It was familiar rough-and-tumble drama, with glaring pathos, coarse humor, and burlesque interruptions.
But already we note this fact concerning the regard of the American dramatist. in his effort to create the American type he was obliged to create American condition. And we soon find the trail of society drama sketching the manners and customs of distinct decades. That is why, in reading the early American dramas, it were well to connect Mrs. Mowatt's " Fashion " (1845) and Mrs. Sidney F. Bateman's "Self" (1856) with the reading of Fanny Kemble's New York experiences and with the travels of Tyrone Power. John Brougham came to New York around 1842, and he used to shoot birds in the woods near Twenty-third Street, and to take suburban drives around the old reservoir on Forty-second Street, where the New York Public Library now stands.
The current papers seemed surprised over the facility of ordinary dialogue used in these plays — dialogue containing local allusion of the street and parlor of that time, introducing the conventional English dialect, exploiting the parvenu desire to utter French phrases, making use of negro dialect as incongruous as that resorted to by Poe in "The Gold Bug." One may trace the period by the references to civic improvements, as when Mrs. Bateman makes one of her characters speak of horses slipping on the Russ pavements. There is a slight touch of Harriet Martineau's political economy in attitudes strictly feminine.
At the time of Mrs. Mowatt's "Fashion," New York whirled around Canal Street. All society drama seemed to know but one situation: the mad rush after money and social prestige at the moment when financial ruin threatened a family. It sought to be satire aimed particularly at the effort to be English, for the American is introduced breezily and roughly,— note Adam Trueman, the farmer, in "Fashion." Lower. Broadway was the promenade, with its busses and carriages rolling out into the country — possibly to Central Park — carrying parties for recreation. The theatres were clustered around the lower end of New York when "Fashion" was presented at the Park Theatre (March 24, 1845), opposite the old Astor House on Vesey Street. Even then theatrical life had flowed from the Battery to Park Row; it was soon to creep up Broadway, the Wallacks going from Brougham's Lyceum near Broome Street on Broadway to Thirteenth Street, thence to Thirtieth. New York theatres have moved with the parks. At one time, Twenty-third Street was considered a central location For drama, but now Forty-second Street seems to be the established point of activity. Theatrical conditions have enlarged since the days of "Fashion," and so has social life.
Poe was not quite in accord with the "modern drama" of his day, yet, despite his prejudiced feeling, his comments anent "Fashion" have truth in them. If I quote him at length, it is to illustrate how aloof he was, nevertheless, from the true spirit of the theatre, even though his literary sense measured aptly the "monstrous inartisticalities." He wrote:
"The day has at length arrived when men demand rationalities in place of conventionalities. It will no longer do to copy, even with absolute accuracy, the whole tone of even so ingenious and really spirited a thing as the `School for Scandal.' It was comparatively good in its day, but it would be positively bad at the present day, and imitations of it are inadmissible at any day.
" Bearing in mind the spirit of these observations, we may say that `Fashion' is theatrical but not dramatic. It is a pretty well-arranged selection from the usual routine of stage characters, and stage manoeuvres — but there is not one particle of any nature, beyond greenroom nature, about it. No such events ever happened in fact, or ever could happen, as happen in `Fashion.' Nor are we quarreling, now, with the mere exaggeration of character or incident; were this all, the play, although bad as comedy, might be good as farce, of which the exaggeration of possible incongruities is the chief element. Our faultfinding is on the score of deficiency in verisimilitude — in natural art —that is to say, in art based on the natural laws of man's heart and understanding."
It is this violent distortion which marks Boucicault's "The Streets of New York" (1857), Daly's "Under the Gaslight" (1867), and Howard's "Saratoga" (1870), equally as lacking in verisimilitude as "Fashion" or as "Self." In contrast with these, Langdon Mitchell's "The New York Idea" (1906) is a striking and excellent example of the progress made in American social drama. The early stage cared nothing for invention or plot, and its wit lay in caricature. Mr. Mitchell's comedy' is good reading; it has literary tone, and, above all, it lacks grotesque wit, substituting instead brilliant humor.
The progress of the American theatre is marked by the manager as well as by the actor. John Brougham, of Irish extraction, did much for the stage practically as well as literarily. His mind was prolific in the interests of W. E. Burton, who was himself a devotee of the pen. Comedies, farces, melodramas, comediettas, dramatizations, especially of Dickens, spectaculars and burlesques are to the credit of Brougham, yet not one of his plays has had vitality enough to hold the boards. Yet in the '50's, no man was more prominent than he — writer, manager, and actor.
Succeeding him came the Wallack galaxy, J. W. Wallack revising Congreve's "Love for Love," and Lester Wallack (1820-1888) writing "Two to One; or, The King's Visit" (1854), "First Impressions" (1856), "The Veteran" (1859), "The Romance of a Poor Young Man" (1859), "Central Park" (1861), and "Rosedale" (1863). Close upon the brilliancy of Wallack's stock companies came Palmer's Union Square Theatre Company,' which carried its prestige to the Madison Square Theatre and thence to the Lyceum, when Daniel Frohman came into the horizon. In the mean-time, Augustin Daly (1838-1899), in 1862, adapted "Leah, the Forsaken" from Mosenthal, and therewith began his career, which was to include his pruning and arranging of the Elizabethan drama, and his adaptations of French pieces like "Frou-Frou." Such a survey as is here given cannot ignore the managerial régime of Laura Keene, or the dramatization of "Camille" by Matilda Heron (1856).
But Wallack with his English proclivities, and Palmer with his numerous D'Ennery and Sardou adaptations by A. R. Cazauran, which were deprived of social significance, and Daly with his German dependence, might hardly be deemed influences on the American dramatist, until 1870 brought Bronson Howard to the field. Yet these managers had much to say concerning the American drama. In 1893, Palmer wrote, apropos of Bartley Campbell and his contemporaries:
"The prominent evil tendency of the American writer has been to look for his types among his countrymen of the baser sort, who never by any possibility pronounce English words properly and who seem to take the greatest pains to speak slang and utter vulgarisms, and to act as if good manners were a reproach instead of an accomplishment."
Augustin Daly became general, after specifying that the American dramatist of his day sought to emulate the masterpieces of modern fiction. He wrote (1886) :
"Boker might have idealized the Kentucky tragedy in-stead of the Rimini drama, and Bird might have made his Spartacus an Indian Chief — but our national theatre has lost nothing by their omission. The present masterpieces of the stage, in every tongue, are pictures of the passions of mankind in general."
Finally, I quote the opinions of Boucicault,' whose dramas are prolific and whose plots are ingenious —Boucicault, the sentimentalist, whose Irish humor was not native, but who directed himself into native channels because he was enough of the playwright to give the public what was opportune, like "The Relief of Lucknow" (1858). He deplored "the philosophical school of sociology," and deprecated the naturalism of Zola and the realism of Ibsen. Given always to broad expressions of opinion, he wrote (1890) :
"Tragedy and high comedy will always be held in respect on the future American stage, but it seems probable that the drama of modern life, the reflex of the period, will prevail over every other kind of entertainment. This drama will present a character, or a group of characters, not a complicated or sensational action, affording a physiological study by way of illustration, not by way of description."
Thus spoke those most prominent in the theatrical field before the advent of Charles and Daniel Frohman, before the actual period when the American dramatist found it an advantage to be American. There are other tendencies in the development, to be noted in the next chapter, but this summary will be sufficient to indicate that, though the body of American drama is large, its form is out of fashion and is of interest simply as history or as a measure of histrionic ability.
We do not repudiate the development of American drama before 1870, but we do not rank it as high. We revere the names of Booth and Barrett, of Jefferson and Holland, of Davenport, Gilbert, and Clarke, of Laura Keene and Charlotte Cushman. But the drama in those days developed under peculiar social and economic conditions which are over; the type, the form, and the manner are over.
We are sure to find the average and the below-the-average in each and every age. There was as much mediocre stage material before 1870 as after, in fact more. I only question a production in the light of what I know of my time; I test its artistic quality by whatever culture I may have; I challenge its morality by what I have learned of the moral atmosphere in which I live. No critic should undervalue or overvalue. But the service of an historical perspective in such a survey as this lies in the conclusions which result. For one who has read dramatic history aright can see that the modern theatre calls for different acting because of the change in stage technique. The business of the theatre to-day cannot be managed as Booth mismanaged his theatre in New York. If the drama often lies in the hands of money-changers, such condition is a business condition which has to alter before art may flourish. The drama must pass through its evolution, through its periods of types and conditions. If people are interested in social reform, it must reflect society. That seems to be where it is to-day.
Before 1870, the American dramatist, as we take him in the studies to follow, did not exist. But effort toward Americanism did find root, even as early as Royall Tyler, and in tracing this persistent effort is to be found the chief value of any literal historical survey.