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Nebraska State Journal


28 October 1894
page 13

UTTERLY IRRELEVANT.

It is a strangly significant fact that the book which is unquestionably the great book of the year should be the work of a man who never wrote a novel until he was fifty.  The practice of youthful novel writing has done as much as any other one thing to weaken and vitiate literature. The notion seems to have gone abroad that a man can write before he has lived; that he can project his personality before he has any personality to project.  Literature is generally regarded as a craft which anyone who has a thorough classical education and a dictionary of synonyms can practice at will.  The talent for writing is largely the talent for living, and is utterly independent of knowledge.  The less craft and cult there is about literature the better.  There is nothing more fatal than the habit so cultivated by young authors of seeing things in a "literary" way.  There is only one way to see the world truly, and that is to see it in a human way.  The scientist who sees the world as a collection of atoms and forces, the political economist who sees it as a set of powers and federations, sees falsely.  They see facts, not truths.  The only things which are really truths are those which in some degree affect all men.  Atoms are not important; the world would be just as happy if we did not know of their existence.  The ultimate truths are never seen through the reason, but through the imagination.  The litterateur who reduces his work to a craft makes the fatal mistake of regarding success as the sum of his knowledge and cleverness, whereas in reality it is the result of his living. 

          

The young writers who spend their time in making epigrams, who rack their brains for clever comparisons, who torture their tiny imaginations to find a new figure to fit the "golden leaves of autumn" or the "moaning of the surf" are all on the wrong track.  It may be well enough to describe a daisy in an inimitable phrase, but daisies play such a small part in the real life of the world.  Word artists have had their day of greatness and are rapidly on the decline.  We want men who can paint with emotion, not with words.  We haven't time for pastels in prose and still life; we want pictures of human men and women.  We are not even satisfied with ideas; we want people.  Even the great essayists are not read much now, because the Nineteenth century demands humanness.  There are requisitions in all arts, and in literature there is one that is inexorable: An author must live, live deeply and richly and generously, live not only his own life, but all lives.  He must have experiences that cannot be got out of a classical dictionary or even in polite society.  He must know the world a good deal as God knows it, in all the pitiable depravity of its evil, in all the measureless sublimity of its good.

          

No one on the road has received more flattering notices this season than Pauline Hall .  Her success in her new opera "Dorcas" has been almost phenomenal. Theatrical Tidings says of her:

"Pauline Hall has one of the best balanced and at the same time individually clever organizations on the road.  Her prima donna is pretty Jeanette St. Henry , formerly with De Wolf Hopper ; her baritone is James Aldrich Libby , who has had more songs written for him than any other light opera singer of today; her basso is William Broderick , her eccentric comedy woman is Kate Davis , the singer with four voices, and her comedian is Charles Bradshaw ."

Miss Hall appears in "Dorcas" at the New Funke opera house November 6.

          

There is one peculiar feature about the Lincoln theatre-going public, or rather there are a good many, and one of the most peculiar is its cold reception of all comediennes, from soubrettes up.  A man with a genteel face and a painted abdomen causes deep and lasting joy.  The dress circle waxes glad and the gallery waxes loud.  But the prettiest, the cleverest, the wickedest soubrette finds dead silence in the house.  The spectators unanimously give her ice.  It is not from conscientious reasons, either, for if a skirt dancer stands on her head the fact at length dawns upon them that that must be rather naughty, and that therefore they ought to laugh.  New York has been raving all summer because its population is not yet educated out of its overweening weakness for pretty actresses who can not act, but we, alas, have never even got educated up to that ordinary point.  On the Lincoln stage a homely man takes better than a pretty woman, which is an unusual and unnatural state of affairs.  It speaks of a liking for coarser comedy and a certain obtuseness for more delicate fun.  Not that it is any better than any other audience, O, no, but it likes to hear coarseness boldly stated rather than delicately insinuated it likes the little element of poesy and beauty which is the only redeeming element about many stage practices left out.  Even Anna Boyd , whose magnetism and catching eyes are almost irresistible, failed to arouse the audience when she was here with "A Trip to Chinatown" last season.  The other night Mamie Mayo , who is almost Anna Boyd over again on a little lower scale, met with the same chilly reception.  It may be bad taste to like the delicately suggestive, but it is still worse taste to like the distorted and grotesque.  If people have no taste for champagne they might at least drink a respectable brand of whisky.

          

"Is there no way in which I can rouse this house?  I have exhausted myself on them.  It's like running up against a stone wall," groaned Mamie Mayo as she was getting off her "Bowery Girl" make-up.

"Oh yes, if you put on a red wig and stick on a red wax nose over your own pretty one and go on and be as generally disgraceful as possible you'll wake them up."

          

"Charley's Aunt" is making a great hit in Paris and promises a long run.  M. Sarcey says the reason of its popularity is that it is so thoroughly clean and wholesome.  That sounds rather paradoxical for Paris, but the wise Frenchman argues that Paris has been without a clean comedy so long, has been so soaked and saturated with Zolaism and realism that it finds this simple, childish little English comedy delightful and restful, just as a man whose system is poisoned by absinthe relishes buttermilk and spring strawberries.  He says that Paris had forgotten that there was any fun besides doing evil and that it is rather delighted to find that there is.  The little play touches a chord which has slumbered so long in France that the people really enjoy the novelty of it.

          

The New York World is undoubtedly a newsy paper, and it undoubtedly possesses two of the best dramatic critics in the country, but it also possesses a young woman who needs the worst kind of boycotting. The young person who calls herself Meg Merrilles is, if possible, more obtrusive and more insane than her predecessor, Nelly Bly .  Meg Merrilles claims that she will do "all that may become a man," which would be all well enough if she stuck to it, but she don't; she banks upon her sex to sell stuff that would be simply commonplace if she were a man, but which because she is a woman is absurd enough to be read.  She fights a round with Corbett and writes six columns about it, visits a gambling den and takes great credit to herself therefor, allows herself to be run over by a motor car, and explodes in double-column headlines and exclamation points the fact that she took a shock from an electric battery.  Now, if Miss Mervilles discovered anything new or threw new light on anything old there might be some excuse for her painful parading of her personality, but she is as totally lacking in originality as she is in self-respect.  If she could say things that were sharp or write things that were unusual it would be different, but she is limited to the most commonplace phrases that are none the less trite because they are about unusual and unpleasing subjects.

          

The peculiar persistence of the American newspapers is sometimes wonderful.  Every Sunday the papers tell us about Calve's enormous success in Paris and her expected return to America this winter, when Madam Calve is lying at death's door and has been for a month.  A letter received yesterday from a singer in Paris says: "How did you ever manage away out there in Lincoln to find out about Calve's serious illness.  The New York and Boston papers are still discussing her American tour and informing you that she is in 'excellent form' this winter.  Why, she is in no form at all; she is in vapor baths and mustard plasters all the time and it is doubtful that she will ever sing again.  THE JOURNAL is the only American paper I have seen besides the Dramatic Mirror that acknowledges the fact of her illness at all.  'Tout Paris' is in perfect hysterics over it, but then 'Tout Paris' is always hysterical over something.  You are rash, though, in stating certainly that it is cancer.  The nature of her disease is kept close, though the current opinion is cancer."

          

Whatever else Lincoln is or is not it is certainly a much beclubbed town.  It is particularly rich in ladies, literary clubs.  All week long the intellectual female may be seen haunting the public libraries, stretching the seams of her best black silk handling massive volumes and writing unreadable notes with her kid gloves on.  About once a week the literary ladies meet together and mingle the "glories that were Greece and the grandeur that was Rome" with tea and muffins and Saratoga chips.  These club meetings are highly beneficial in many ways, and particularly so in the pleasure and sense of self-satisfaction they give the participants.  But the idea of women's clubs is just a little ludicrous.  In the first place women have no particular talent for good fellowship.  They can't leave their family affairs behind them and can't resist declaiming upon the faults of their last maid or the high marks their daughters get at the high school or university.  Now a man who went to club and discussed his family affairs would be promptly and violently sat down upon.  Of course, if we may trust the dialogue of the club scene in "Lady Windermere's Fan," men frequently discuss worse things than their family affairs.  It is decidedly to the credit of women that their interests are concentrated where their affections are; a woman whose interests are not is distasteful, even to one of her own sex.  But this sort of concentration is almost laughable in a club.  Women have no talent for good fellowship.  Most of them acknowledge it.  The only woman of this century who has been noted for that talent is Miss Trilby O'Ferrall , and she had no family affairs, at least none to speak of.  It is this same capacity for friendship and companionship that makes some women think her so shocking.

          

Ladies' literary clubs are particularly funny. Family matters mix so strangely with Kant's philosophy or Ruskin's theories of art.  If the good ladies made their assemblies entirely matters of novels and recreation they ought to get a good deal of pleasure and even profit out of them.  But they are too desperately learned.  They read all the dryest books in the world because they are the most scholarly and endure a great deal of chaff to get a very little wheat. Now, outside of a university or a laboratory, Kant's philosophy is not half so enjoyable or beneficial as a novel by Thackeray or Meredith , or even the mild though undoubtedly great Mr. Howells .  This world is not a scholarly world, and it is perhaps better that it should not be. Self-improvement is so often gone at in the wrong way and a little of it so often makes bores of very nice people.  After all this life is so short we do pretty well if we get through it comfortably at all, with or without "self-improvement."  If we are the happier for Kant's philosophy, by all means let us have it; if we are not it is doubtful if it is worth while stopping for. 

Of all the ladies' clubs the Sordello clubs are undoubtedly the funniest.  Sordello doesn't seem to mix well with tea and muffins, though perhaps he had too many of them when he was hanging around Verona after his debut and that was what was the matter with him.  At any rate he was never a ladies' man and he always appears uncomfortable amid roses and ices and gold-rimmed nose glasses.

"Sleep and forget, Sordello."

          

The population of a state penitentiary is always rather interesting because it is so often made up of extreme types.  There are men who are there because they have no brains, and men who there because they have too much, and men who, even in face and form, are scarcely men at all, and a good many men who are just like many other men, "only they got found out."  At present there is one rather interesting young man residing temporarily at Beemerville.  He is an actor, Mr. G. W. Murdock , and is playing his present engagement because he has been too much married.  It is easy to pick him out when he is with the other convicts assembled in chapel.  He is a tall, fine-looking man with dark hair just a little longer than the "unprofessional" citizen ever wears it, and wears the collar of his striped coat turned up behind in the manner ever dear to the heart of the Thespian. The walls of his cell are ornamented with pictures of "stars" and "leading men" and his table strewn with numbers of the Clipper and Dramatic Mirror until it really looks more like a dressing room than a cell.  The young man has good taste.  Since he has been there he has frescoed the bare ugly walls of that prison, upstairs and down, until it really presents a cheerful aspect.  He was very willing to be interviewed and after the regulation actor's bow, which seemed all the more comical in stripes, he sat down.

"Who have I travelled with?  Well, the best engagement I ever held was with Robert Downing .  I was with his company when he and Eugenia Blair were married in St. Joe.  Since then I have traveled with a good many smaller companies.  I was with the Lindons in Lincoln at the same time John Griffith was.  How is Griffith doing in "Faust?"   I haven't seen anyone who knew anything about stage matters for an age."

After a number of professional questions Mr. Murdoch proceeded: "Times are so hard among the professional people that I don't know but I'm in luck to be holding this job down, though it is rather a suburban engagement.  I only got sixty days," he said with considerable pride, "and my conscience don't trouble me much.  You see my position is somewhat delicate.  That first affair began down in New York.  I was playing there and she was playing there, both of us in the same company, and—well, you know how theatrical affairs du coeur often go under those circumstances.  Well, this affair went, you understand.  After I came west I met a little soubrette and became enamored of her and married her and tried to do the right thing by her.  The marriage got into the dramatic papers and the other woman saw it and got jealous.  She is a Catholic and she got the whole church after me.  You know that there is no land wide enough and no sea deep enough to hide a man from the vengeance of the church of Rome," with an eloquent gesture.  "The priests came into court and they hunted up that old, obsolete common law marriage that lives only on the New York statute books and they downed me.  It's no use to fight with the Catholic church.  But the worst they could get me was only sixty days, so I'm not so badly off."

          

Presently he continued: "Warden Beemer has shown me every kindness and consideration.  He is a gentleman in the highest sense of the word and knows how to appreciate and deal with misfortune.  The gallows is too good for a man who complains of the treatment in this prison now.  I can't say that my sojourn here has been altogether unprofitable nor my time lost.  I have seen lots of human nature and that always counts for something, and I have read a good deal that I always wanted to read and never had time to, and I have learned stories enough to make my fortune, if I were a Kipling .  The most important thing I have done has been to write a play.  The title of it is "Convict 2452," my own number.  It is a realistic play of prison life and I think by touring the state with it I ought to make some money.  It is almost completed and it has cost me considerable labor.  I think the play has its good points, and I know it has its bad ones; they always have those.  If you get hard up for stories at any time just call on me; I shall be glad to accommodate you, and there are plenty of them here."  With courteous wave of his hand convict 2452 stepped into line and departed for his little grated dressing room in that "ground floor" theatre, where the actors are cultivating their literary talents and their knowledge of human nature. 



Notes

Go back Trilby: George Du Maurier's novel of Parisian artistic life, Trilby, was serialized in the U.S. in Harper's Weekly in early 1894. The book version, illustrated by Du Maurier himself, appeared later that year. Trilby is an artist's model who loves Little Billee, an artist of a higher social class. Some years later, Little Billee sees her singing on the stage, though she had never been able to carry a tune before. Her voice is the result of hypnotism by the evil Svengali; when he dies, Trilby dies also.

The book was immensely popular; it helped shape the image of the bohemian artistic life in Paris, gave the name of trilby to a kind of hat, and the name of Svengali to hypnotists and sinister star-makers. It was made into a play by Paul Potter (1895) and into movies—shorts in 1896 and 1898—and feature films in 1914 (Britain), 1915 and 1923 (U.S.), 1927 (Germany, as Svengali), 1931 (U.S., with John Barrymore), and 1954 (Britain, as Svengali).

Go back Pastels in Prose: Pastels in Prose (1890) was an anthology of contemporary French prose writers, translated by Stuart Merrill, and with an introduction by William Dean Howells. Daudet, Huysman, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Judith Gautier were some of the authors included. The collection introduced the idea of the prose poem to English, where it was taken up by such writers as Oscar Wilde and Ernest Dowson, and influenced later surrealist and symbolist writers.

Cather borrowed the phrase for a series of satirical sketches in The Hesperian, the student paper she edited 1893-94. One of the sketches, recognizably that of Roscoe Pound, led to a breach with her friend Louise Pound and the entire Pound family.

Go back Great essayists: Cather may be referring to such English writers as Bacon, Addison and Steele, Lamb, and De Quincy, and such French essayists as Montaigne, Diderot, and Joubert.

Go back Pauline Hall: Singer, dancer, and actress Pauline Hall (1860-1919) was born Pauline Schmidgall in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she made her stage debut in 1876 as a ballet dancer. She played in Mary Anderson's company for a time before joining Edward Rice's company. She created the role of Erminie in the 800-performance run at the Casino Theatre in New York in 1885; later (c. 1892) she organized her own company. She married and divorced both Edward White and George B. McClellan, jr.

Cather refers to a picture of Pauline Hall in tights in book II, ch. 11 in The Song of the Lark, and the Moonstone Orchestra plays selections from Erminie (book I, ch. 8) at a town concert.

Images at Google Books and University of Washington Digital Library.

Go back Dorcas: Dorcas, an operetta (or "operatic comedy," as it was sometimes described), was written by Harry and Edward Paulton and produced in 1894. Pauline Hall toured with it for several years, as did a few other companies.

Go back Theatrical Tidings: The Theatrical Tidings, a theatrical newspaper, merged with Jerome Eddy's Weekly Squibb to become the Weekly Squibb and Theatrical Tidings in November 1897.

Go back Jeanette St. Henry: Soprano Jeannette St. Henry was featured in the original cast of Wang (1891) with De Wolf Hopper and Della Fox, and played Donna Inez in their Panjandrum in 1893. She also played in the cast of Gustave Kerker's Kismet when it opened in New York in August 1895. In 1896 she was playing in one of Hoyt's farces, A Black Sheep.

Go back DeWolf Hopper: William DeWolf Hopper (1858-1935) made his stage debut in 1878. At 6 feet 2 inches he was considered too tall for serious acting roles, and his big bass singing voice drew him to musical theater; he starred in The Black Hussar in 1885, and had his first pairing with Della Fox in Castles in the Air in 1890, followed by Wang in 1891 and Panjandrum in 1893; he starred in many more Broadway shows. One of his most popular acts was his recitation of Thayer's poem, "Casey at the Bat," which he helped to make popular; he recited it at curtain calls, recorded it in 1906, and performed it in a silent movie in 1916, and on the radio.

Hopper married six times, most notably to actress Elda Furry, best known as the feared gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. His son by her, William DeWolf Hopper, Jr., played Paul Drake on the 1950s Perry Mason televion series.

Go back Mr. James Aldrich Libby: Singer James Aldrich Libby (c. 1872-1925) made the song, "After the Ball," a hit, selling over five million copies of the sheet music, when he sang it in Hoyt's comedy, A Trip to Chinatown in 1893.

Go back William Broderick: Actor and singer William Broderick (1859-1904) appeared frequently in light opera; he played the father of the heroine in DeKoven's The Fencing Master.

William Broderick married another singer, Emma Kraus; their daughter, Helen Broderick Crawford, also an actress, was the mother of motion picture and television actor Broderick Crawford.

Go back Kate Davis: Actress and singer Kate Davis (c. 1850-1901) was in Frohman's company in 1891, in Belasco's Miss Helyett which marked the debut of Mrs. Leslie Carter. However, Frohman found Davis difficult to get along with and dismissed her; she sued for breach of contract.

Go back Charles Bradshaw: Actor Charles H. Bradshaw toured with Lotta in the early 1880s, and played with Fanny Rice c. 1890-91. He played in Frohman’s company for many years. After the failure of two plays he appeared in in 1903 he went into vaudeville, returning to the legitimate stage in 1910 for a revival of Sherlock Holmes with William Gillette in 1910.

Charles Bradshaw appeared in an early short film, of a scene from Old Kentucky (1900).

Image at University of Louisville Digital Library.

Go back The Funke: The Funke Opera House was built in 1885 by Fred Funke (d. 1890), a Lincoln wholesale cigar, wine, and liquor dealer, on the southwest corner of 12th and O St. Until the Lansing Theatre was built it was the largest and finest theater in town. The first manager was Ed A. Church (d. 1927), followed by Robert McReynolds; Frank Zehrung managed it briefly, from July 1889 to January 1890, when L. M. Crawford took over. Zehrung resumed management in 1894. The building housed shops on the ground floor and offices in parts of the upper floors, as well as the theater itself. The Funke Opera House, Lincoln, Nebraska, late nineteenth century.

Go back soubrette: The soubrette in a play is the role of a pert, coquettish character, often a maidservant or the comic friend of the heroine; the name was often given to actresses who played such roles.

Go back Miss Anna Boyd:

Anna Boyd (d. 1916) appeared in several of Hoyt's productions in the late 1880s and early 1890s; perhaps her most famous and most successful role was as the Widow in Hoyt's A Trip to Chinatown (1892).

Of an earlier production, Zig Zag (1888), the New York Times reviewer said, "Of the ladies in the cast, Miss Anna Boyd is easily the premiere acrobat. Her dancing and her brick bat throwing are the essence of energy and accuracy, while her girlish simplicity is in an indirect ratio to her matronly development" (19 February 1889).

Boyd married actor Joe Coyne in 1898; they were divorced in 1909.

Go back A Trip to Chinatown: In Charles Hoyt's musical "A Trip to Chinatown", Mrs. Guyer, a widow from Chicago, comes to San Francisco and fosters romance among several young couples with the help of a rich man's lost wallet. The song, "The Bowery" (music by Percy Gaunt, words by Charles Hoyt), was one of the first big Broadway show tune hits. Later the song "After the Ball" was added; the two songs came to exemplify two dominant strains of the 1890s stage, the slightly naughty and the overtly sentimental. This was Charles Hoyt's biggest success. It toured the country for nearly a year before opening on Broadway in 1891, where it ran for a record-breaking 657 performances—a record that would not be broken for nearly thirty years. It toured the country for years after.

A 1912 musical, A Winsome Widow, was based on the play, and later commentators have seen many echoes of the plot in the mid-twentieth century hit, Hello, Dolly!

Playbill: http://www.musicals101.com/News/chinatownpbl.jpg

Go back Mamie Mayo: No actress named Mamie or Margaret Mayo is listed in the indexes to Odell's Annals of the New York Stage or the New York Times drama reviews for this period. She appeared in Lincoln, Nebraska, in The Hustler on October 24, 1894.

Go back Charley's Aunt: This farce by Brandon Thomas (d. 1914) opened in London in 1892, and in New York October 2, 1893. Two Oxford undergraduates in love need a chaperone for an intimate lunch with their sweethearts. When Charley's aunt from Brazil is delayed, they press a fellow undergraduate into the role, complicated when the real aunt arrives unexpectedly.

The play has been a favorite, especially for amateur and small professional productions ever since it was written. It was made into a silent film in 1925 starring Syd Chaplin; an early talkie in 1930, starring Charles Ruggles; another film in 1941 starring Jack Benny and Kay Francis; a musical, "Where's Charley" starring Ray Bolger, and a Playhouse 90 television production.

Go back Mr. Francisque Sarcey: French critic Francisque Sarcey (1827-1899) began his career as a journalist in Paris in 1858 and his career as a drama critic the following year. His "Feuilletons" in Le Temps, beginning in 1867, established him as the most important drama critic in France; he was particularly interested in acting (he reviewed Sarah Bernhardt's debut) and in stage presentation, rather than the drama as literature. His Souvenirs d'âge mur (1892) was translated into English in 1893.

Go back Zolaism: In literature, naturalism, or Zolaism, was the form of literary realism that depicted the lives and environment of the poorest people. It was named for its most famous exponent, Emile Zola (1840-1902).

Go back realistic school: William Dean Howells was the leading American exponent of a school of realism that paid close attention to the details of the ordinary lives of middle-class people. Another form of realism—now generally called naturalism—which focused on the lives of the poor was emerging into prominence in the 1890s; Zola was its French leader.

Go back two of the best dramatic critics: Possibly Andrew Carpenter Wheeler, who began writing drama criticism for the World in the 1870s, and Louis De Foe, who had begun his career in Chicago, and who wrote for the World until about 1920, when he was succeeded by later distinguished drama critics like Alexander Woollcott and Heywood Broun.

Go back Meg Merrilles: "Meg Merrilies" was a general by-line for several women reporters for the New York World in the early 1890s who did stunt reporting, such as going into a lion's den or investigating workers' conditions in the bridge foundations under the East River. According to Jean Marie Lutes, the by-line was meant to keep other women reporters on the staff, such as Nell Nelson, from achieving the fame and influence that Nellie Bly had ("Into the Mad-house With Nellie Bly: Girl Stunt-Reporting in Late Nineteenth Century America," American Quarterly 54.2 [2002], 240).

Meg Merrilies was the name of the gypsy woman in Sir Walter Scott's Guy Mannering.

Go back Nelly Bly: American journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran (1864-1922) was born in Pennsylvania. Her family moved to Pittsburgh in 1880 after her father's death and her mother's divorce from an abusive second husband. She was given a job on the Pittsburgh Despatch after she refuted a columnist's claim that women were unsuited to the work; the editors gave her the byline "Nellie Bly" after the girl in a Stephen Foster song. She did investigative reporting on the conditions of the poor, but the editors kept steering her to the traditional woman's page reporting. After six months of reporting in Mexico, she went to New York in 1887, and finally got a job with the New York World. Her first famous assignment was going undercover to investigate conditions at the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island; her most famous "stunt" was going around the world without a male escort in seventy-two days, beating the fictional Phineas Fogg's eighty days. She opened the way for other "girl stunt reporters" to get out of the traditional women's department on newspapers. Bly married Robert Seaman in 1894 and retired from journalism in favor of manufacturing boilers and barrels (on which she held a patent) until 1913, after her husband's death.

Go back All that may become a man: In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act I, scene 7, Macbeth has second thoughts, in the speech beginning, "If it were done when 'tis done, 'twere well / It were done quickly," about actually killing Duncan to gain the throne. However, Lady Macbeth enters and calls him a coward; Macbeth replies, "I dare do all that may become a man; / Who dares do more is none."

Go back James J. Corbett: American boxer James J. Corbett (1866-1933) was born in San Francisco, where he began to make his name as a boxer, first as an amateur middleweight. He became heavyweight champion in 1892, when he knocked out champion John L. Sullivan in the twenty-first round, in the first championship fight under Marquess of Queensbury rules, with three-minute rounds and padded leather gloves. He made his first defense of his world heavyweight boxing title on January 25, 1894, against Charles Mitchell, the English champion. Corbett, using his speed and knowledge of his opponent, helped to make boxing a 'scientific' contest, instead of a brute force fight. However, he lost his championship in 1897 to Bob Fitzsimmons. Several of his fights were filmed, including an exhibition match for Thomas Edison's kinetograph in 1894.

Corbett was known as "Gentleman Jim" because of his good looks, education, and manners; he used his fame to go on stage, playing the lead in Shaw's Cashel Byron's Profession, and later into films. He divorced his first wife, Olive Lake, in 1895 and married actress Vera Stanwood (born Jessie Taylor) that same year. His autobiography, The Roar of the Crowd, was published in 1924; Hollywood made a movie of his life, Gentleman Jim, starring Errol Flynn, in 1942.

James J. Corbett

Go back Emma Calve: Singer Emma Calvé, born Rosa Emma Calvet (1858-1942), was born in France and brought up in Spain. She studied under influential voice teacher Mathilde Marchesi, and made her debut in Brussels in 1882. She sang in Paris before making her London debut in 1892, where she sang Carmen; she became the greatest Carmen of her time. Calvé was also famous in the role of Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana (1890). She retired in 1925 to teach. Her autobiography is I Have Sung Under Every Sky (1937).

Go back a singer in Paris: The singer has not been identified, though she presumably had personal ties to Cather.

Go back The Nebraska State Journal: The Nebraska State Journal was founded in 1867 by Charles H. Gere as the Nebraska Commonwealth, a solidly Republican newspaper. It became the leading paper in Lincoln for many years, finally merging with its rival, the Lincoln Star, in 1995. The managing editor for many years was Will Owen Jones; other employees whom Cather knew were Walt Mason, A. L. Bixby, and printer Flora Bullock, a classmate and the first bibliographer of Cather's journalism.

Charles Gere's wife, Mariel Clapham Gere, and their daughters Mariel, Frances, and Ellen, were long-time friends of Cather.

Go back The Dramatic Mirror: The New York Dramatic Mirror began as the New York Mirror in 1879 and assumed this name in 1889; millionaire Harrison Grey Fiske (1861-1942) became editor at the age of 18, and sold it in 1918. By then it had become the Dramatic Mirror of Stage and Motion Pictures and survived under variants of that name until 1922.

Go back glories that were Greece and the grandeur that was Rome: The second verse of Edgar Allan Poe's poem, "To Helen," praises her classic beauty, and says,

Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face, Thy Naiad airs, have brought me home To the glory that was Greece And the grandeur that was Rome.

Go back Lady Windermere's Fan: In the first of Oscar Wilde's witty comedies, produced in 1893, the young Lady Windermere objects to her husband's relationship to Mrs. Erlynne, not realizing that Mrs. Erlynne is her divorced (and therefore socially disgraced) mother. Lady Windermere runs away to an admirer, Lord Darlington: Mrs. Erlynne follows her to persuade her not to take such a disastrous step. Lord Windermere comes to Darlington's unexpectedly and recognizes his wife's fan, but Mrs. Erlynne saves her daughter and disgraces herself again by claiming the fan as her own.

Go back Trilby: George Du Maurier's novel of Parisian artistic life, Trilby, was serialized in the U.S. in Harper's Weekly in early 1894. The book version, illustrated by Du Maurier himself, appeared later that year. Trilby is an artist's model who loves Little Billee, an artist of a higher social class. Some years later, Little Billee sees her singing on the stage, though she had never been able to carry a tune before. Her voice is the result of hypnotism by the evil Svengali; when he dies, Trilby dies also.

The book was immensely popular; it helped shape the image of the bohemian artistic life in Paris, gave the name of trilby to a kind of hat, and the name of Svengali to hypnotists and sinister star-makers. It was made into a play by Paul Potter (1895) and into movies—shorts in 1896 and 1898—and feature films in 1914 (Britain), 1915 and 1923 (U.S.), 1927 (Germany, as Svengali), 1931 (U.S., with John Barrymore), and 1954 (Britain, as Svengali).

Go back Immanuel Kant: Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was born in East Prussia, where he lived all his life. His early work was in the sciences, especially in astronomy, but turned increasingly to philosophy and logic in the 1760s. His essay, "Observations on the Feeling of the Sublime and the Beautiful" (1764) had a profound impact on the development of Romanticism. Perhaps his most important work was the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), which, despite its difficulty, eventually established Kant as the most important philosopher of the eighteenth century.

Go back Ruskin: British art and social critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) was influential in many areas of Victorian life and thought. In an age when access to works of art was limited, his writing sought to convey the visual and emotional qualities of the works he discussed. His Modern Painters (1843 and 1846) led to public appreciation of the work of J. M. W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. His Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1853) did the same for Gothic architecture, and led to the founding of such organizations as the National Trust and the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. As a social critic (and socialist), Ruskin was also influential in the trade union and arts and crafts movements.

Ruskin was also a poet and artist himself, as well as a writer of such fantasies as The King of the Golden River (1841).

Go back Thackeray: William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), English novelist and essayist, was born in India, and educated in England. He lost the fortune he had inherited from his father as a young man, and became a professional journalist. The serial publication of his most famous novel, Vanity Fair (1847-48), set in Regency England during the Napoleonic wars, established him as an author. It was followed by another historical novel, Henry Esmond (1852), the semi-autobiographical Pendennis (1848), and The Newcomes (1855). He was also a successful lecturer, touring the United States with talks that would later become The English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century (1853) and The Four Georges (1860). He founded the Cornhill Magazine in 1860 and was its editor until his death.

Go back George Meredith: English novelist and poet George Meredith (1828-1909) was the son of a tailor, but small family legacies enabled him to acquire some formal education in England and in Germany by the time he was sixteen. He had an early unhappy marriage (which eventually gave him material for some of his best poetry in Modern Love in 1863) and a long struggle for financial independence and artistic recognition. His first novel to achieve recognition was The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859), followed by Evan Harrington, or, He Would Be a Gentleman (1860); The Egoist (1879) and Diana of the Crossways (1885) established his popularity and reputation as a writer of brilliant romantic and psychological comedies and creator of complex, spirited women. His last three novels were published in 1891, 1894 and 1895; by then he was widely acknowledged as the greatest living British novelist.

Go back William Dean Howells: William Dean Howells (1837-1920), American novelist, critic, and editor, grew up in Ohio. He became assistant editor (1865), then editor (1871-1881) of The Atlantic Monthly, and then of Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1886-1892 and 1899-1909) where he was a publisher and champion of literary realism and of writers such as Henry James, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Charles Chesnutt, as well as European writers such as Ibsen, Zola, and Tolstoy. His first novels were about middle-class life, followed by international novels of manners, then by novels examining current social problems; A Modern Instance (1882), The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), and A Hazard of New Fortunes (1890) are some of his best-known works.

Go back Sordello: The thirteenth-century poet and troubadour, Sordello, was born in Mantua. Little is known of his life beyond official papers documenting his difficulties with the law or his association with patrons such as Charles of Anjou—or both: while in Verona at the court of Richard of Bonifazio in 1226, he abducted Richard's wife and was forced to flee to Provence. Some of his poetry survives, but he is best known now because he was praised by Dante, and appears as a character in the Purgatorio.

Robert Browning's poem, Sordello (1840), was based on the turbulent life of the poet. The perceived obscurity of his language helped to give him a reputation as a difficult poet—an intellectual's poet.

Go back Sordello clubs: Many clubs devoted to the study of Robert Browning's poetry sprang up in America in the 1870s and 1880s. Although it is unlikely that many clubs devoted themselves entirely to his poem, Sordello (1840), Louise Greer, in Browning and America (1952), noted that at least one Browning club started with Sordello and spent three years trying to explicate it.

Go back Verona: Verona, in northern Italy, was a city long before its conquest by the Romans in 300 BC. Its wealth derived from its strategic position on a number of trade roads. Its medieval political history was turbulent, with external warfare and internal, and even fratricidal, strife.

Dante, Petrarch, and Giotto were associated with Verona, and the city is the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

Go back Sleep and forget, Sordello: At the end of Browning's poem, Sordello (1840), the narrator says,

And thus bereft Sleep and forget, Sordello . . . in effect He sleeps, the feverish poet—I suspect Not utterly companionless.

Go back penitentiary: The Nebraska State Penitentiary was then south of Lincoln. Alexandra Bergson visits the penitentiary in O Pioneers! It is possible Cather had visited it herself, given these and other references, but no record has been found of her doing so. The Nebraska State Penitentiary, Lincoln, Nebraska, circa 1909.

Go back Beemerville: Cather refers to the Nebraska State Penitentiary after its warden, Allen D. Beemer, rather than the town of Beemer, Nebraska, which Beemer founded in 1886.

Go back G. W. Murdock: No record of an actor of this name has been found.

Go back unprofessional citizen: Actors referred to acting as "the profession," so Cather refers to ordinary citizens as "unprofessionals." Long hair in men was a sign of artistic pretensions.

Go back New York Clipper: The New York Clipper—later shortened to The Clipper— was begun by Frank Queen in 1853; it was a weekly trade paper specializing in entertainment, especially the circus and the theater, the performing arts, and sports (it dropped sports coverage in 1894, however). The paper was absorbed by Variety in 1924.

Go back Robert Downing: Robert Downing (1857-1944) appeared in minor roles Mary Anderson's company in New York by 1880; by 1882 he was playing leading roles with her, such as Claude in Lady of Lyons. When Anderson left for London, Downing played with Joseph Jefferson's company between 1883 and 1888. Odell first notes his appearance in New York as Spartacus in The Gladiator in 1886 (Annals of the New York Stage, XIII: 230), and return engagements thereafter, saying that Downing was "trying to be a Forrest" (XIII: 459). He was best known for his physique as displayed in the lead role of such plays as The Gladiator. Downing's basic repertoire in the early 1890s consisted of The Gladiator, Virginius, Ingomar, Damon and Pythias, Julius Caesar, and Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Go back Miss Eugenia Blair: Eugenie Blair (c. 1868-1922) was born in South Carolina, but made her professional debut in Chicago. She toured with the D.P. Powers and James O'Neill companies, and then played supporting roles in Frederick B. Warde's company in the mid-1880s, winning modest praise in the New York Times reviews. By 1888 she was playing in Robert Downing's company; they were married by 1891, and divorced by 1910. She continued active in the theater, performing character roles on Broadway as she aged. She died after suffering a heart attack backstage during a performance of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie (1921), for which she created the role of Marthy. Blair's daughter was actress Eleanor Montell.

Image at: Google Books.

Go back Frank Lindon: Actor Frank Lindon and his company played the Count of Monte Cristo in smaller cities in the U.S. This may be the actor-manager Frank Linden (1851-1911) listed in Stage Death. A Frank P. Lindon was touring in Utah in 1903.

Cather recalled seeing Lindon in Monte Cristo in her letter to the Omaha World-Herald lamenting the loss of small-town opera houses in 1929. She said, "When old Frank Lindon in a frilled shirt and a velvet coat blazing with diamonds . . . revealed his identity to . . . his faithless Mercedes, . . . [he] raised his eyebrows, permitted his lip to curl, and said softly and bitterly, 'A fidelity of six months!' then we children were not in the opera house in Red Cloud we were in Mme Danglars' salon in Paris, in the middle of lives so very different from our own" (Bohlke 187).

Go back John Griffith: Actor John Griffith (c. 1860-1911) began his acting career in Edwin Booth's company when he was 16; he also played with Thomas Keene and Richard Mansfield. He formed his own road company, playing in smaller cities and specializing in tragedies and Shakespearean roles; he was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1903. He had just completed a tour with his new company at the time of his death (obituary, New York Times, 26 November, 1911).

Go back Faust: Part one of Goethe's verse drama was published in 1808, the second shortly before his death in 1832. In it Goethe presents Faust as a romantic hero, a seeker after knowledge who is ultimately purified and saved from damnation. Goethe's Faust inspired many other 19th century versions, including a cantata by Hector Berlioz (1846) and an opera by Charles Gounod (1859). Later versions tended to focus more on the love story between Faust and Marguerite.

Lawrence Fossler, professor of German at the University of Nebraska, presented a series of lectures, "Goethe and Faust," in the fall of 1891 which Cather, then a freshman, may have attended. In "Old Mrs. Harris," the young Vickie Templeton looks at a German edition of Goethe's Faust and wishes she could read it (Obscure Destinies 90).

Go back Common-law marriage: Common-law marriage, or "marriage by habit and repute," is a form of marriage by mutual consent but without governmental license or religions solemnization. The man and woman must consider themselves and be known to be husband and wife—simple cohabitation is not sufficient. Common-law marriages have the same legal obligations as state-sanctioned marriages.

Go back Warden Allan D. Beemer: Allan D. Beemer (1842-after 1904) was born in Pennsylvania, and served four years with the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War. He came to West Point, Nebraska, in 1868, engaging in real estate and livestock, as well as serving as sheriff of Cumming County for six years. In 1886 he founded the town of Beemer and its bank. He served as warden of the Nebraska State Penitentiary from 1893-95, and again in 1902-1904. He was preceded by James P. Mallon (1893) and D. H. Hopkins (1892). The Nebraska report in the 1895 Report of the Conference of Charities and Correction noted that the prison had made steady progress in the improvement of conditions under Warden Beemer.

Beemer married Belle Akerley in 1873.

Go back Rudyard Kipling: Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was born in Bombay, India; he was educated in England, first in a foster home (an experience rendered in "Baa Baa, Black Sheep" [1888]) and then at boarding school (Stalky & Co. [1899]). He returned to India in 1882, working as a journalist for seven years and exploring Indian and Anglo-Indian life in poems and stories. His verses were collected in Departmental Ditties (1886) and his stories in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and other collections published before his return to England in 1889, where he found himself famous for his vigor and the freshness of his style and material. Kipling married an American, Caroline Balestier, in 1892 and they came to America to live until 1896. His best work was published in the 1890s and shortly thereafter: The Light That Failed (1890), Barrack-Room Ballads (1892), the Jungle Books (1894 and 1895), Captains Courageous (1897), and Kim (1901).

Go back Convict 2452: No record of the production of the play, Convict 2452, by G. W. Murdock, has yet been found.


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