James A. Herne And The Realistic Drama
( Originally Published 1911 )
IT is rarely that the American people have touched the soil in literature, but when they have, the result has been of the most distinctive order. As a nation, we are too young to have realized any large and original problems in literature. Our authors have been more or less imitators of English models, and even today our stage is attempting to explain American conditions by means of a technique which is not a native technique. We have perhaps brought the short story to a stage of perfection which can only be equaled by a few of the French writers; but our poetry has been largely imitative, our essays reminiscent of the eighteenth century flavor in England, and our fiction by no means fraught with the full value of American life and American characteristics.
The same may be said of American drama, although at the present time there is a decided tendency on the part of the popular dramatist to deal with subjects that are closely related to the lives of American audiences. The position which W. D. Howells occupies is assuredly one of the most original impulses evident in the recent history of American letters. He has been the means of educating the people away from the stereotyped formulas of romanticism; and while he has done much to create a realistic rut in fiction, he has nevertheless enforced the undoubted fact that there is as much richness, if not indeed more truth, in the common life of the land, as in the idealism which has no intimate relation with the fibre of the community. Unfortunately, we are prone, in our literary criticism, to overlook the work that is being done along the same lines in American drama. Take any handbook of literature, and note how absolutely the activity of the American playwright is ignored. The literary critic has not yet awakened to the fact of the importance of a body of native dramaturgy. Otherwise, did he know the history of playwriting, he would not show so thoroughly his ignorance of one of the rare strains in American drama — as distinctive, as invigorating, and as important as that impulse given by Mr. Howells to American letters. I refer to the solid calibre of the dramas of James A. Herne.
In his book on "Criticism and Fiction," Mr. Howells, speaking of the imitative instinct of the average American writer, says truthfully that in general "he is instructed to idealize his personages, that is, to take the lifelikeness out of them, and put the booklikeness into them." And he adds furthermore, as a hopeful sign, that "now we are beginning to see and to say that no author is an authority, except in those moments when he held his ear close to Nature's lips, and caught her very accents." Probably our universities are overdoing the desire to discount the originality of an author, in the zeal to submit his work to the test of those scientific principles underlying the theory of comparative literature. As far as the sane evaluation of realism is concerned, that author is real who faithfully interprets the environment with which he is most familiar. And in this respect, no one can lay better claim to the highest realization of the term than Mr. Herne himself.
Considered in the light of sound standards, he may be said to represent the most original strain that the American drama has produced. Let us grant that in his plots he in-vents conventional situations which are detrimental to the perfection of his stagecraft. Let us acknowledge that his comedy is ofttimes low comedy, although his humor is of the very kindliest and of the most human quality. Let us furthermore realize fully that, having acted in the old school, having assumed characters of diverse range, Mr. Herne unconsciously resorted to an invention which was more imitative than original. Yet, notwithstanding this, he is en-titled to the very highest consideration, because of the fact that in the midst of romantic, melodramatic, and old-fashioned tragic conceptions, which found favor in the eyes of the American public, he put his ear close to the heart of the common life, and drew from the most ordinary experiences the poetry of a simple, fundamental existence.
The surprising characteristic which strikes one after having read Mr. Herne's manuscripts, is the wonderful clarity of vision which, through the medium of the most matter-of-fact details, through the wonderful power of clear and direct expression, could raise the common level of daily existence to the realm of the most tragic drama on the one hand, and to the realm of the most genial, warm-hearted, and pure rural comedy on the other. This is not over-exaggeration or over-enthusiasm, because one cannot help realizing the faults in Mr. Herne's technique, through the very existence in the midst of those faults of the highest type of dramatic literature.
His work, as a whole, is only another illustration of the undoubted fact that American life — the true American life — lies between great cities; that there is more of the native stamina in the small community than in the abnormal community, where a mixture of all nations constitutes the civic body. Mr. Howells has studied the humanity of this intermediate life, and his work is distinctively native; whereas that of Mrs. Edith Wharton is wholly imitative of the English school, as a certain class of life in America is imitative of English life.
When Mr. 'Herne's attention was drawn away from the melodrama with which he had met favor, he seemed to have been prompted by a kind of intuitive realization of what the modern movement in literature was to be. Some would like to say that the influences which were brought to bear upon him at the time he wrote "Margaret Fleming" and "Griffith Davenport" were the foreign influences of such men as Tolstoi and Ibsen; but the impetus given to Mr. Herne was more inward than external. He may be said to have been endowed with that luminosity of spiritual vision which saw the eventual potency of the common life, and which kept him, even at an advanced age, thoroughly attuned to the progressive movements, making him an ardent reader of the philosophic thinkers, as well as a warm adherent of the economic theories of Henry George.
Mr. Herne was born on February 1, 1839, at Cohoes, New York, of Irish parentage, his father, Patrick Herne, being a tradesman of the town. Save for the fact that he received the bare rudiments of an education, Mr. Herne, intellectually as well as materially, may be taken as a type of that self-made man which we Americans rightfully exalt. In his early years he had to earn his livelihood, and this he did in various subordinate positions; while, with the yearning of the average boy, his tastes were turned toward the sea. Though he did not, with the usual inclination of the average boy, slip off and ship upon a merchantman, he retained, until the day of his death, an insatiable love of the water. The rebellion against conditions, however, resulted in his running away at the age of twenty, and joining a theatrical company which was playing at the Adelphi Theatre in Troy. Here he appeared during April, 1859, in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Upon the authority of Clapp, however, it is said that his first appearance was made in an amateur performance of "Toodles," which took place a short while previous to this at Schenectady. At the Adelphi he supported James B. Roberts, assuming such characters as Horatio, Cassio, and Bassanio. His uncle was the treasurer of the house.
That Herne was equal to any emergency may be inferred from the fact that one evening, when Roberts appeared as Richard III, the young actor was ticketed for the three rôles of Tressel, Oxford, and Buckingham. He was indefatigable in his ambition, although at the time he must have been sorely pressed for the necessary income which would supply him with a theatrical wardrobe. For, during one summer, he returned to a brush factory in the neighborhood of Cohoes, working away to eke out his small salary, at the same time, with the artful enthusiasm of a young man, keeping his father in ignorance of his true profession.
His next engagement was at the Gaiety Theatre in Albany; and from there he went to the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore, which was under the management of Ford. There he remained until 1864; and it should be recorded that he likewise played in Washington at the theatre in which Lincoln was killed. In 1869, he was for a period manager of the New York Grand Opera House; and thereafter he toured with Susan Denning along the Pacific slope. Then followed several seasons as leading man with Lucille Western, during which engagement he assumed such parts as Bill Sykes and Sir Francis Levison, succeeding E. L. Davenport in the repertoire rôles. Mr. Herne's first wife was Miss Helen Wes-tern, whom he married on July 17, 1866.
When the actor finally went to Baldwin's Theatre, in San Francisco, it was under the management of Thomas Maguire. He served in the capacity of stage director, as well as assuming an infinite number of rôles, among those to be remembered because of their human unctuousness being his Dickens characterizations of Daniel Peggotty and Captain Cuttle. It was while serving in this capacity that David Belasco, a much younger man than Mr. Herne, came under his influence and profited by his training. For though Mr. Belasco had much originality and enthusiasm, his work needed the guidance of such an experienced actor as Mr. Herne. And it may be said that this meeting with Belasco first suggested to the stage manager his own powers as a writer of plays.
From now on, the career of James A. Herne may be considered entirely from the standpoint of his literary development-and of his personal expansion. For, peculiarly, events in his life are not so significant as the intimate association with a very few people, who might be said to have acted as much upon his artistic unfolding as any of the subtle forces which are supposed to mould the characters of men. The most important event in Mr. Herne's life, both intellectually and spiritually, was his second marriage with Miss Katherine Corcoran, on April 3, 1878.
As a matter of mere romantic record, it is interesting to note that one evening, during Mr. Herne's engagement in San Francisco and before his second marriage, while he was playing Bill Sykes, there was present in the gallery a very much excited and overwrought girl; this happened to be Katherine Corcoran. It is also interesting to read, that in November, 1877, Julia Melville, a dramatic reader, had a pupil of whom she was especially proud, and one whom she was anxious to have Mr. Herne see. So he slipped into the room one morning, to hear this young girl while she was at work; it was Katherine Corcoran. Mrs. Herne's father had fought on the Union side in the Civil War. While still in her teens, she went to California, where after studying, she gained experience in stock at a Portland theatre, thereafter joining James O'Neill and William Seymour at the Baldwin Theatre. One of her initial successes was as Peg Woffington in "Masks and Faces."
There was not a move which Mr. Herne was to make in the future that did not bear the impress of her inspiration. She it was who started him definitely on his career as a dramatist; she it was who encouraged him in those hours when, after having written "Margaret Fleming" and "The Rev. Griffith Davenport," he found himself shut off from all managerial hearing, because of the fact that he had deter-mined to cut aloof from melodrama and to seek for the truth in the commonplace.
From his career thus hastily sketched, there are a few significant factors to be gleaned. While at the Baldwin Theatre, Mr. Herne came under the influence of the Boucicault drama and of that type of melodrama which was rep-resented by such a success as "The Danicheffs." So that it is not surprising to find "Hearts of Oak," "The Minute Men," and "Drifting Apart" tinged with those large emotions which might almost be said to lack subtlety. Even in " Shore Acres, " during the scene in which Uncle Nat struggles with Martin in his effort to light the signal lamp, the sensational is very much in evidence; but the unerring art of Mr. Herne saved him from the accusation of intense, glaring melodrama. He understood thoroughly the balance between tension and quietude, and there is no bit of stage writing more natural, more cheerful, and more real than the act which succeeded this violent one in " Shores Acres," Uncle Nat preparing the Christmas stockings." Those who are fortunate enough to recollect the wonderful naturalness of Mr. Herne's acting, will always point to the final curtain of this play, where Uncle Nat, left alone on the stage, by the very flexibility of his facial expression, depicted the full beauty of his character, as he closed up the room for the night, put out the lamps, and, lighted only by the glow from the fire in the stove, slowly left the room as the cuckoo clock struck twelve. Such work, of which Mr. Herne as an actor was capable, is to a certain extent the realization of Maeterlinck's idea of the static drama.
After seeing "Shore Acres " in 1893, Henry George wrote:
"I cannot too much congratulate you upon your success. You have done what you have sought to do — made a play pure and noble that people will come to hear. You have taken the strength of realism and added to it the strength that comes from the wider truth that realism fails to see; and in the simple portrayal of homely life, touched a universal chord. . . . Who, save you, can bring out the character you have created — a character which to others, as to me, must have recalled the tender memory of some sweet saint of God."
Having made a comfortable fortune with the success of "Hearts of Oak," Mr. Herne's progress, up to the time of "Shore Acres," was marked by persistent opposition and lack of financial success. This initial play of his, which, when first produced at the Baldwin Theatre on September 9, 1879, was known as "Chums," was, in many of its de-tails, based on "The Mariner's Compass," by Henry Leslie. Its main plot was used again in "Sag Harbor;" and despite the fact that it contained many stereotyped romantic speeches, it is well at the outset to note that gift which Mr. Herne possessed — the gift of simplicity, which never deserted him, no matter how old-fashioned and unoriginal some of his scenes might be. There are countless plays and stories dealing with a marriage between a girl and her guardian, which at first is over-clouded by the fact that the girl loves another, but which finally ripens into a full happiness and a satisfactory ending. One cannot quite accept those heroes of fiction or drama, however mature and settled, who would give up their wives because of a conscience.
But these incongruities were more than overbalanced by Mr. Herne's inimitable handling of the commonplace in life. He was able to breathe into his dialogue those small, playful expressions that lighten up the whole character. At one moment serious, he never allowed himself — except in the case of "Margaret Fleming" — to subject his audiences to unrelieved strain. The papers, in receiving his so-called domestic dramas, showed surprise over the effectiveness of the commonplace. They were not used to the little happenings of home life, to the glorification of those situations which abound in comradeship, and of those quiet scenes with a baby which are successful on the stage only when the actor possesses that great art which alone knows how to deal with quiet detail.
"Hearts of Oak" exhibited the influence of Dickens in its character portrayal. Judged by the standards that we now have in these times of ultra-realism, we might call the sentiment old-fashioned, we might even notice certain speeches which point a moral rather than adorn the tale. No one, however, could ever accuse Mr. Herne of being "preachy," — he had that exquisite sense of justice and of the fitness of things which, when the time came for him to write "The Rev. Griffith Davenport," showed itself to a high degree, inasmuch as, dealing with a circuit rider of the South and likewise with the problem of slavery, he could have fallen into the error of the average dramatist who, handling the same subject, has generally falsified the truth in attempting to thrust forward personal theories. "Drifting Apart" is regarded as one of the most powerful temperance sermons ever put on the stage, unless we except the successful melodrama, "Drink." Yet there is little of distinction in the actual script of the piece, save the suggested possibilities in the acting that were so marked on its first presentation at the People's Theatre in New York, on May 7, 1888. Mrs. Herne assumed the rôle of Mary Miller, and infused it with a subtle interpretation of art for truth's sake, a characteristic most distinctive in her work. Mr. Garland spoke of it in these terms: "It was so utterly opposed to the tragedy of the legitimate. Here was tragedy that appalled and fascinated like the great fact of living. . . . The fourth act was like one of Millet's paintings."
And here it is well to note a wonderful point marking Mr. Herne's activity. His lines of life were so cast that he was denied the advantages of the student, although he possessed the mind of the scholar. Without any apparent effort on his part, he absorbed the best literature, and it was an easy matter for him to reach the heart of any subject which attracted his attention. Although he set himself down to write a melodrama when he began "The Minute Men," and although, because of this very self-consciousness on his part, he failed in his attempt, he was nevertheless successful in attaining a certain atmosphere of historical reality, akin to the true Revolutionary spirit. This was more solidly and more artistically accomplished in "The Rev. Griffith Davenport," which is one of Mr. Herne's best contributions to dramatic literature, however much we might be inclined to claim that "Sag Harbor" contains his most finished writing. Of all Civil War dramas it is assuredly the finest example of a balance of truth, artistic situation, and equal justice to both sides, which is lacking in "Shenandoah" and "The Heart of Maryland." The point of view is one which might be said to be as much Southern as Northern. The principle of slavery was antagonistic to Mr. Herne's social philosophy; and should the bias be found at all in this play, it would lie in his interpretation of duty as confronting Griffith Davenport. For the Southerner was fighting as much to sustain State rights as to protect his slave property; historical fact will show that at the beginning of the war, slavery as an institution was decreasing through an economic, evolutionary change. Davenport's struggle was not so much that of a Southerner who was torn between his duty to State and his duty to country, as it was the conception of Mr. Herne, whose idea of duty was wholly from the standpoint of country, and not from that of State. The atmosphere of the drama is very success-fully obtained through the handling of the simple details of Southern life. Perhaps there was an over-accentuation of the darky characteristics, but they were not the customary antics of the stage minstrel or of the conventional Southern drama. As a playwright, Mr. Herne infused into his darkies that same strain of humanity which he is said to have put into a negro character-part he once played with such deter-mined and realistic villainy.
It is significant to obtain Mr. Herne's own estimate of his different plays. We find him analyzing the cause for this success and for that failure; we hear him making a confession that although "Hearts of Oak," in its dealing with Marble-head folk, was a new departure, since it had neither hero nor villain, it was crude in construction. With a simple naïveté, he recognized in "The Minute Men," with its Paul Revere's ride and its Battle of Lexington, a step nearer the truth; while in its character of Dorothy Foxglove it afforded a "glorious" rôle for Mrs. Herne. He was frank enough to confess that in "Drifting Apart," his story of Gloucester fishermen, based on "Mary, the Fisher's Child," there was displayed a weak comedy element in the introduction of the stage soubrette and the funny man. Even in " Margaret Fleming," he evidently felt that there were didactic spots in the dialogue. So that by this self-criticism of the artist, we are able, to a certain extent, to catch glimpses of the whole-souled sincerity of the man, who sought truth externally, simply because he saw clearly its spirit. As he has written: "Art is a personal expression of life. The finer the form and color and the larger the truth, the higher the art. . . . Art is universal; it can be claimed by no man, creed, race, or time, and all art is good."
The change that came over Mr. Herne after having produced "Drifting Apart " was coincident with an intellectual and spiritual change affecting both himself and his wife. As I have said, they were mentally receptive of new ideas. They were following, in Huxley, in Spencer, in Howells, in Tolstoi, those tendencies, which, attracting one to higher conceptions of ethical duty and of social justice, brought one's view-point nearer to the common life. Mrs. Herne was always mentally keen. Hamlin Garland writes of her: "To see her radiant with intellectual enthusiasm, one has but to start a discussion of the nebular hypothesis, or to touch upon the atomic theory, or doubt the inconceivability of matter. She is perfectly oblivious to space and time if she can get some one to discuss Flammarion's supersensuous world of force, Mr. George's theory of land-holding, or Spencer's law of progress."
The next artistic effort that Mr. Herne put his hand to was by no means fraught with elements of popularity. It was truth laid bare, with no gloss of romanticism about it, however much it might be saturated with feeling; souls stark naked in their sin, and in their vigorous dealing with sin. One marvels, after having read "Margaret Fleming," what there is of tangible literary value in such a story, for one undoubtedly feels its value. It proves nothing, it has no direct intent; it is a segment of life painted with no idea of gaining art effects, but showing how very close to life one's vision may be. The realism is almost pitiless in its consequences; it is almost photographic in its detail. It is the commonplace story of the man who goes wrong, and whose illegitimate child is nurtured by his wife after she has discovered his transgressions. It is the close tragedy of a woman's struggle to estimate at its full worth the animal instinct in man.
For the student of American drama, Mr. Herne's activity as a writer falls easily into two classes. We may narrow our consideration down, so as to include "Margaret Fleming" and "The Rev. Griffith Davenport" on the one hand, with "Shore Acres" and "Sag Harbor" on the other; the former representing his realism, and the latter representing — if we must designate him by a term — his rural characteristics which were more vital than those of Denman Thompson, as seen in "The Old Homestead." L When "Margaret Fleming" was ready for presentation, the dramatist found him-self in a peculiar position, for no manager dared risk capital on a piece so freed from what the public was usually accustomed to, and so devoid of a happy ending. Likewise, there were certain situations which appeared to shock the conventional taste. It was at this time that Hamlin Garland began to take that interest in the Herne family which rap-idly ripened into the deepest friendship. He and Mr. Howells seemed to recognize the rare originality which lay in the simple style of Mr. Herne's work. Even in "Drifting Apart," melodramatic though it was, there were certain direct, incisive, and simple passages of writing that partook of the very highest and best qualities in realism.
So that, naturally, "Margaret Fleming" perforce appealed to these two literary men, who became so far interested as not only to suggest the idea, but to further the scheme of leasing Chickering Hall in Boston, and of presenting the play to an intellectual assemblage which, unfortunately, is difficult to gather together for a theatre performance. The piece ran for several weeks, but it was a financial failure, although the press recognized a certain subtle force, a certain plain and vital power which were rarely seen upon the stage. This was in the year 1890, when Ibsen was practically unknown to the American theatre-going public, when the slightest deviation from the accepted conventions of morality was regarded as boldness. It was this attitude of mind more than anything which the play itself contained, that involved it in such disastrous consequences. When the piece was revived at the Art Theatre in Chicago, during 1907, with Miss Chrystal Herne in the title rôle and with Mrs. Herne as stage manager, all of the critics recognized its forcefulness and its serious simplicity, deploring the fact that it had remained in obscurity for so long a time, when in every respect one was justified in regarding it as a high specimen of American dramatic art.
Mr. Herne's next piece, "The Rev. Griffith Davenport," met with the same cold reception, and it is natural to find him becoming somewhat discouraged as to the possibilities of carrying the American public with him along the lines which meant most to him, and which he was best fitted to follow. So he determined thereafter to add popular qualities to his stark realism. Not for a moment could he have discarded his innate ability to deal with simple things; but he drew upon the stock subterfuges of the old school, at times becoming a little over-sentimental, whereas one of the beauties of "Margaret Fleming" was the depth of its tragic sentiment.
The interstices between the completion of his several pieces were filled up by Mr. Herne's acting, and likewise by his excellent stage management, which was always in demand for large productions. There are some who believe that as a stage manager Mr. Herne's influence upon the present is more marked than as a dramatist. Through kindly guidance and illuminating interpretation, he impressed his methods upon all of the actors who were under his care; and many on the stage to-day regard Mr. Herne as the one force which meant most to them in their careers. But in the future, Mr. Herne's position will be dependent entirely upon his value as a dramatist.
There are a few facts, leading up to the close of Mr. Herne's life, which have to be regarded. After going to Boston, around 1890, he lived in a modest little home at Ashmont, in the suburbs. The failure of "Margaret Fleming" was coincident with a rather unsettled period in the history of literary Boston, a period which to use Mr. Garland's expression — was marked by a discovery of the fact that to meet success every one had to go to New York. So that about the same time he, Mr. Howells, and Mr. Herne all went to that city. It was not until 1894 that Mr. Herne moved with his family to his estate in Southampton, Long Island, where the dramatist did much of his final writing, and where he was able to satisfy his love of the sea and his thorough enjoyment of home life. At this time one would be sure to note his fondness for the fields and his enthusiasm for tennis and bicycling. Simple of heart and boyish in action, there was nothing so important that he would not spare the time to mend a broken doll for his daughter Dorothy. Here also he was drawn more and more into interests other than those dealing with drama. His reading became broader, his political opinions became pronounced, in fact so pronounced as to demand his time for public speaking in the interests of Henry George. So ardent was he in his acceptance of the doctrine of free access to the soil, that his theatrical manager at one time advised him to be more careful, inasmuch as his theatre audiences might resent his political views, But Mr. Herne was not a man to fear consequences. To the day of his death, June 2, 1901, he was an ardent supporter of Bryan.
It is hard to separate a consideration of Mr. Herne the dramatist, from an estimate of Mr. Herne the man. His plays contain unmistakable signs of that wonderful kindliness of spirit which was so marked in his daily association with people. He was a man who, in exterior, might be considered blunt; but Nature often endows a person gifted with a love for the human with a certain protection against a too ready acceptance of everyone. And so that guest was fortunate who succeeded in breaking through the reserve, behind which lay the true James A. Herne, inveterate joker, good comrade, and active thinker. In him there was an in-exhaustible fund of joy and, as one critic said, he was always intellectually young. This was strikingly evident in his association with his own children, the family comprising three daughters and one son: Julie Herne, who has already very creditably illustrated her inherited gift of playwriting in "Richter's Wife" — given a hearing several years ago; Chrystal Herne, who has done some distinctive acting; and Dorothy Herne who was on the stage for several years, appearing in "Shore Acres." The three have all appeared severally and together in the juvenile rôles of their father's plays. The son, Jack, is already exhibiting in his school career certain characteristics of his father. The household to-day is permeated with those kindly memories which be-speak more than anything else the full force of Mr. Herne's influence. A mixture of Irish keenness of humor with vigor of ideas marks the daily life of the Herne family, and during the dramatist's lifetime it was just this distinctive vein which was found in the general atmosphere around him.
There are some men born to see clearly, to be zealous after the vital principles of life, the constant truths of the ages, — the interchange of thoughts and ideas which elevate in the effort to live our highest and best. These are the thoughts which were usually upon the lips of Mr. Herne. He was a man of the present, drawing from the moment what was truest from his standpoint. He loved the theatre, but he was always careful, even in the midst of his stage directions, to call attention to those realistic bits of acting which one identifies with life rather than with the simulation of life.
He took his art seriously;' he recognized in it a social force and a civilizing factor. He believed that truth in art was as much within the grasp of the stage as of the pulpit, that the theatre was as much to be upheld in the light of a temple for the work of the dramatist, as a museum was to be considered a civilizing factor in its capacity as temple for the art of the painter. The theatre to him was a place for the upholding of good. He once said: "We must not condemn an art or an institution because a corrupt civilization has affected it." He further said that "the province of the theatre is not to preach objectively, but to teach subjectively." He recognized that an art was vicious only because of the existence of lovers of vicious art. He was broad in his ideas; his voice was always heard in the cause of liberty — whether political or artistic. He was to a certain extent an individualist, recognizing that the Kingdom of God is within us; yet according to his own words: "No individual can emancipate the race; he cannot even emancipate his own calling. The race must be taught to emancipate itself."
We do not find Mr. Herne afraid to state his own position, to formulate his own belief. What was he spiritually but a firm upholder of the force of deed, over and above creed? As though it were his own declaration of faith, he wrote:
"I believe that every human being has a certain amount of divinity—that is, of God —within him; just as much of God as he is capable of holding. And he gives out just as much of that divinity as he is capable of expressing. And I believe that if he were not bound down by unjust social laws, that if he were free, the divinity would grow and develop and prop-agate its specie. In other words, I believe that when we free men, when we free labor, we will free art, we will free the Church, and elevate the theatre, and not until then."
This conviction, this recognition of the spiritual in the material, this connection of the facts of life with the unknown forces in the world, were not confined to theoretical discussions. Mr. Herne's political convictions were likewise founded upon convictions within himself. During the Henry George campaign, when he took the stump in the cause of single tax, we find him connecting art with the civic life of the people, we find him realizing, as only a man can who recognizes that art is an expression of life, that the producers and the non-producers of the world may be regarded from the standpoint of dealing in spirit as well as of dealing in wheat and hemp and tobacco. Art, whether it be the shaping of a statue, the writing of a sonnet, or the growing of a prize ear of corn, has a common point of contact. And so again we hear him saying: "The pen, the easel, the chisel, the harp, the sock and buskin, are in reality tools of labor; and the men who wield them are laborers, and their interests are swayed by the welfare and prosperity of those who till the soil, shear the sheep, and weave the cloth."
There are two characteristic notes throughout Mr. Herne's plays, which stand as a fair indication of the man. We find his love of the beautiful in the sense that truth alone is beautiful; and that he approved of Enneking's belief that "the ideal is the choicest expression of the real," is sufficient measure of his high moral outlook upon life. We note his realization of the human qualities which underlie all nature; and it may be further added that he had that pride of race, that instinct of the parental which were so well exhibited in "Margaret Fleming," and in such comments as these: "Maternity I consider the noblest theme of human kind; and I have no patience with that false prudery which would keep from young people truths they ought to know about in their purest and holiest sense."
Mr. Herne is little known, outside of a limited number of people in this country. Now that he is dead, it is hard to secure actors who can fill rôles that he usually assumed with such fulness of interpretation. William Archer has from time to time called the English public's attention to the plays of America's most distinctive dramatist. But unfortunately, the English public has only seen the rural pieces, slightly amended to accord with English understanding. Even we in America have not been fully awakened to what Mr. Herne means in the general dramatic and literary development. He was a writer of direct and simple prose; his images were not involved, his characters were not obscured by symbolistic motives. In his narrative, in his descriptions — when he was at his best, one is reminded of the vigorous prose of Lincoln; a direct speech based not on any effort for effect, but prompted by desire to say something, or to tell something in the clearest manner possible. And in closing, it were well to quote one paragraph from a speech of Mr. Herne's, which stands out above all others because of the fact that it represents the simplicity, the depth, and the whole-souled sincerity of the man. Moreover, it stands as a beautiful bit of prose. The quotation relates to his turning from the writing of "Margaret Fleming" to a consideration of "The Hawthornes" — which later became "Shore Acres":
"Mrs. Herne had gone with two of our daughters to spend a few weeks of the summer at Lemoyne, on Frenchman's Bay, in Maine, and insisted that I should come there and work on the play, and get the benefit of true color and Maine atmosphere; and I went. What an exalted idea of God one gets, down in that old Pine State. One must recognize the sublimity which constantly manifests itself there. It is worth something to live for two whole months on Frenchman's Bay, that beautiful inconstant bay, one minute white with rage, the next all smiles and gently lapping the foothills of old Mount Desert; with the purple mist on the Blue Hills in the distance on the one hand, the Schoodic range on the other; the perfume of the pine trees in every breath you inhale, the roar of the ocean eight miles away, and the bluest of blue skies overarching all. In such a spot as that a man must realize, if he has never realized it before, that he and this planet are one, and part of the universal whole."
None of Mr. Herne's plays have been published. The only copies extant of "Margaret Fleming" and "The Rev. Griffith Davenport" were burned in a fire that totally destroyed "Herne Oaks," Dec. 11, 1909. The following references will be of use to the student:
"Mr. and Mrs. Herne." Hamlin Garland. Arena, October, 1891, pp. 543-60.
"Old Stock Days in the Theatre." James A. Herne. Arena, 6:401, September, 1892.
"On a Barn Roof." Julie Adrienne Herne. Arena, December, 1893, pp. 131-33.
"Mask or Mirror." B. O. Flower. Arena, 8:304, 1893.
"Truth for Truth's Sake in Drama." James A. Herne. Arena, 17: 361-70, Feb., 1897. [This was used as a lecture before the Home Congress at Cotillion Hall, Boston, Oct. 27, 1896. On Jan. 31, 1897, Mr. Herne appeared in the pulpit of the First Congregational Church, Kansas City, and delivered a lecture on "The Theatre as It Is."]
"James A. Herne: Actor, Dramatist, and Man." An appreciation by Hamlin Garland, J. J. Enneking, and B. O. Flower. Arena, 26:282-92, September, 1901.
"James A. Herne in Griffith Davenport." Marco Tiempo. Arena, 22:375, Sept. 1899.
"Rev. Griffith Davenport." J. Corbin, Harp. Wk., 43:139, 213; John D. Barry, Lit. W., Bost., 30:57; Howells, Literature, 4: 265-66.
" Margaret Fleming." Howells. Harp. Mag., Editor's Study, 83: 478, August, 1891.
"Herne and his New Play, `Sag Harbor'." F. Wayne. Nat'l Mag., Bost., 11:393.
"The American Stage." Third Article. William Archer. Pall Mall Magazine, 20:23-37.
"Players of the Present." John Bouvé Clapp and Edwin Francis Edgett. Dunlap Soc., pt. 1, 1899, p. 148.
"The Stage in America." Norman Hapgood. Macmillan. Chap. III, "Our Two Ablest Dramatists."
"Famous Actors of Today in America." Lewis C. Strang. Page, 1900. Chap. II, "James A. Herne."