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Nebraska State Journal


4 November 1894
page 12

MORE OR LESS PERSONAL.

It is useless to go squirrel hunting with a cannon, and it is useless to level the guns of serious criticism at anything written by Mr. Hoyt .  Mr. Hoyt is not a scheming villain, or a corrupter of public morals; he is simply a very pleasant, clever, brainless man who is exceedingly wise in his generation.  Mr. Hoyt does not know a great deal, but he knows the American public better than any other man connected with the stage.  The one thing about him worthy of respect is his staunch Americanism.  He is really and sincerely American.  He is really the exponent of the average American's taste in the matter of comedy.  Of course the public taste will some day outgrow "A Trip to Chinatown" and "A Hole in the Ground."   It will some day be able to feel the more delicate humor which cuts cleaner and deeper, but at present it certainly is not.  One charm about Mr. Hoyt is that he is so very unpretentious, anything will serve him for a theme, any little existing annoyance that we have all felt and fretted over.  His plays can't last long because their interest is entirely local, but he is not writing plays for posterity, but for the living present and the box-office receipts of the living present.

          

The "Green Carnation" is both a clever and an inane book.  Clever in that it is a bright satire, inane in that it devotes itself to parodying a school almost wearisome to parody.  It is not immoral as the publishers for business reasons have advertised, mere epigrams cannot be immoral.  The book is a collection of epigrams on and off the subject.  It certainly ought to succeed in disgusting people with Mr. Wilde's epigrammtic school once and for all.  It turns and twists those absurb mannersisms and phrases of Wilde's until they appear as ridiculous as they really are.  The hero thinks jam must be immortal because it is so good; his friend thinks deviled kidneys must be wicked because they are so beautiful.  So the books strings on from driveling effeminacy to maudliness.  In a sense it is a timely book for the English speaking world needs prodding in the matter of epigrams.  There are a number of really talented young writers who are sacrificing the strength, vitality and common sense of their style in straining after the epigramatics.  So far as the writer remembers no really great English author has ever been epigramatic.  It's not in the blood—or the climate.  The Frenchman is born with an epigram on his lips.  He uses them unconsciously.  When he is a child and fights over his marbles he disputes in epigrams.  The peasants speak in epigrams.  But the English were made for slower, heavier speech.  The Frenchman cuts like a rapier, but the Englishman crushes like a sledge.  If he studies French word fencing he only makes a clown of himself.  He can never apply his power through a slender blade and he is at best only a poor imitation.  The affectation poisons his style, his vigor and his whole personality.  He loses not only his art but his manhood.  The Anglo-Saxon must be content to plod heavily along as his fathers did before.  He can be good or wicked or great whichever he chooses, but be cannot be all three at once.  He cannot discuss art and vice in the same breath.  The Frenchman may live en concubinage with his muse, but the Englishman must live in wedlock, chaste and holy and devoted, "forsaking all other and clinging to her only."  He may be basely, sordidly, contemptibly wicked if he wishes, but he can never be gracefully or artistically wicked.

          

In all that dreary b ok there is one refreshing character, Lady Lock's little boy Tommy .  He is lively and healthy and eats strawberries instead of making aphorisms about them.  We hope that he grew up to be a big English trooper, and that he drank scotch whisky and smoked Turkish tobacco and swore only as an Englishman can, and that he never even learned the meaning of that despicable word "artistic."

          

It is not customary to praise existing institutions, that is generally reserved for the institutions of the seventeenth century.  But the present condition of the state penitentiary can be praised with all fairness.  It would be hard to find a better kept prison anywhere.  Warden Beemer has humanized the whole place and made it like a dwelling place of men.  There are window plants in every window of the big work shop, there is a greenhouse and a fish pond in the yard, the convicts now eat at long tables instead of having their food thrown to them in their cells.  The dirty old flagging of the old cell room has been removed and new laid.  The whole place is as clean and trim as the army barracks.  The old sullen discontent has died off the prisoners' faces and many of them seem to be receiving an actual education there.  The old idea that a prison is a place of punishment is one of the most barbarous.  It is generally conceded that as a rule the men who are there are there because they lack the finer distinction between right and wrong, and because one seems to them quite as good as the other.  If prisons are to do any good beyond keeping the more dangerous element of society away from the less harmful, it must be in cultivating whatever aesthetic sense its inmates may happen to have.

          

"Yes." said the leading man with a sigh, "I played two years with the Kendalls , and I have the warmest admiration for their acting.  Personally?  Oh, 'Willie' is a finefellow, but he is of course somewhat the worse for long years of subjugation.  Originally he was the greatest actor of the two.  You don't think he has done as much as his talents warranted?  Good heavens!  he has lived with Mrs. Kendall , what more do you expect of one man?  I don't believe there is another man in England who is artist enough to have done that.  All a lie about temper?  Well, I guess not.  He doesn't dare to say a word at rehearsals, she assigns him his parts and his stage business and he meekly carries them out.  The public will never know the price that man has paid for his wife's good name. Her temper is no better than Lillian Russell's , only Lillian never found so patient a man.  Time was when William Kendall promised to be the greatest emotional actor in all England, now he will go down into history as Mrs. Kendall's leading man.  You see it's the subjection that has done it.  No artist can stand subjection, it kills all his best possibilities.  He has cared more for her work and fame than he has for his own.  He has endured all her violence, gratified all her whims, and because he has endured, because he has prostrated himself completely, the world calls Mr. Kendall good.  Thralldom like that always seems wrong to me even when it's legal and has been sanctioned by a parson.  It has hurt him just as it has ruined poor Bob Mantell , though his is of the respectable kind and Mantell's is shocking.  The only difference is that Kendall is slated for life and Mantell might some day shake Berrens off.  Willie Kendall had the chance to be known as a great artist—is known as a very amiable husband.  Well, that's one way of using talent.  I hope he has enjoyed it.  He is one of the men who wasn't selfish enough to be great.  Ah, well, it's all in a lifetime.  It's one way of spending 'a fire God meant for other ends.'  I see by your smile you know the preceding line of that quotation.  No reflection on Madge at all.  Good night."

          

Mrs. Burton Harrison is writing on etiquet for the Ladies' Home Journal .  That is exactly where Mrs. Harrison belongs and we rejoice that she has found her level at last.  Her novels are discussions on gowns and table manners, interspersed with dialogue.  If she omits the dialogue and confines herself to etiquet proper she may do some good in the world and will certainly cause less pain.

          

The Nineteenth century is rich in mechanical inventions.  Pictures, music, statues are made by machinery, as well as the more practical things of life, but Dr. Owen is the first man who has made literature by machinery.  For the benefit of those who may be fortunate enough to be in ignorance of Dr. Owen and his so-called Baconian cycles, it may be stated that he has invented a wheel which he runs over the pages of the works of Shakespeare , Marlowe , Greene and others, and which selects certain words on that page arranged with mathematical precision which tell a story of their own.  These cipher productions Dr. Owen has published in several volumes and is still busily at work grinding out poetry.  Dr. Owen interprets that Lord Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Greene, Burton and several others, besides the twenty odd stout volumes that are accredited to him.  In short he claims that Lord Bacon was the author of the Elizabethan age. In the first volume of the cipher Bacon tells his own story.  He claims that he, and, indeed, a goodly share of the rest of the population of England, are the sons and direct heirs of Elizabeth .  Then his lordship proceeds to speak in a very naughty and unfilial way of his mamma and calls her all the unpleasant names which Shakespeare, Marlowe, Greene and all the rest of them ever called women, and they all could be pretty hard on the ladies when they felt so disposed.  The list of sins which he assigns to the queen is remarkable and unique: the only difficulty is that no one woman's life would be long enough to accomplish so much wickedness The meter in which these startling revelations is set forth is also remarkable; there is none which can equal it in lameness and faultiness unless it is that of the awful epic on America entitled " The Columbiad ," which was perpetrated somewhere about the beginning of this century.

          

Dr. Owen is now at work unraveling " The Tragical Historie of Mary Queen of Scots ."  The play thus evolved is a string of meaningless, high sounding words without action, without deeper meaning, utterly unfit for the stage and very unpleasant to read.  The scene between Mary and Elizabeth which Shakespeare would have filled so full of action is but a long tirade of ugly epithets.  Here is a sample of what Mary says to Elizabeth: Oh! Inspeakable injustice! Oh, monstrous, miserable, moth eaten judge! Dame Atropos to thee resigns her fatal knife— Although, no doubt, the murd rous knife is dull and blunt Till it be whetted on thy stone-hard heart— To revel in the entrails of tender lambs! False to thy God, thy father, and thy brother; Conspirant against thy sister; well I wot, Whoever got thee, thou has thy mother's guilt! Had but thy father, Henry, Match'd according to his state, Thou hadst been an anointed queen; But when he took a beggar to his bed, And grac'd thy mother with her bridal day, His honor then he cast away. If ever lady wronged her lord so much, Thy mother took into her blameful bed, Some stern, untutor'd churl; and thus her stock Was graft with crab-tree slip, whose fruit though art.

That is as queenly and as elegant as her language ever becomes.  Compare it with this: Such an act That blurs the grace and blush of modesty, Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose From the fair forehead of an innocent love, And sets a blister there, makes marriage-vows As false as dicers' oaths:  O, such a deed As from the body of contraction plucks The very soul, and sweet religion makes A rhapsody of words:  heaven's face doth glow; Yea, this solidity and compound mass, With tristful visage, as against the doom, Is thought-sick at the act.

This last, which is by no means in Shakespeare's best style, has nothing in common with the first, it is true, except that they both call hard names and are rather unpleasant reading.  The man who could contently and continuously write in the style of the first passage quoted could not write the last. The man who wrote "Mary of Scots" could not have written " Hamlet " or " Lear ."  The end stopped lines, the grotesque exaggerated figures, the false force, all make the passage ring hollow.  The only resemblance it bears to anything ever attributed to Shakespeare is to some parts of " Henry VII. ," which it is generally conceded Shakespeare did not write.  His lines betray the absurd mixture of Shakespeare diluted by inferior dramatists.

          

According to Mr. Owen's theory Bacon's real object in writing at all was to set forth his history and "The Tragical History of Mary Queen of Scots" and the rest of them.  The so called Shakespearian plays are merely disguises to hide what at that time Bacon feared to tell plainly.  Then Bacon certainly made the disguise of his work infinitely more beautiful than his real work.  He lavished more care, art and imagination on the straw in which his marbles were packed than on the statues themselves.  This alone is absurd.  A man's best work goes where his heart is, where his purpose lies.  If the "Tragical History of Mary" were better literature than Hamlet then we might believe Hamlet is only wrapping paper.  If we are to believe Dr. Owen, " Cymbeline ," " A Winter's Tale ," " Romeo and Juliet " are merely dominoes, flimsy masquerade suits in which Lord Bacon's plays have been disporting themselves through the centuries.  If so, we are the more deceived.  It is an appalling practical joke on the world that its greatest literature should be a sham.

          

The proofs of the genuineness of Shakespeare, like that of the New Testament, are internal, not external.  Shakespeare is a truth, a law, not to be influenced by external circumstances or discoveries.  The one invulnerable proof that the plays were written for themselves is their high seriousness and earnestness.  The fact that for three hundred years these plays have wrought the great minds of every nation up to the highest pitch of intensity and emotion, is proof positive that they were written at the white heat of intensity by the greatest mind of all.  They are the most serious product of the most serious of races, the highwater mark of the literature of the world.  Whatever they may conceal they reveal more of the highest triumph of human art, more of the deepest reading of human life than any other of the works of man.  As to Shakespeare himself it doesn't matter much.  "One will say he is in the desert, come forth, and another he is in the inner chamber."  It is immaterial.  But the plays will stand till the judgment after the name of the builder is forgotten, enduring throughout time, the admiration of all generations past, the wonder of all generations to be.

          

It is a peculiar fact that Signora Duse has never allowed her daughter to enter a theatre or to see a play.  It is another evidence of how vastly Duse differs from all other women of the stage.  The love of admiration, of homage, of publicity, the warm fellow feeling for others of the same profession, the genuine affection for the very outside of the theatre which are the almost inevitable accompaniments of an actress' life, seem never to have touched her.  She has moved through the crowd of babbling Thespians without seeing or hearing them, she has worn the motley as though it were a nun's hood, she has gone from theatre to theatre as though she were going from shrine to shrine to perform some religious worship.  Of her own personality, of her private life, the public has never had a glimpse; we know as little of it as we know of Shakespeare.  The most enterprising reporters have never been able to interview her, her answer has always been the same, "I cannot see what the public wants of one off the stage, I am not beautiful and I am ill."  Even the most imaginative newspapers cannot say what wines she drinks, what books she reads, or who are her friends.  In this respect she is greater than any other woman who has ever been before the public.  She has kept her personality utterly subdued and unseen and spoken only through her art.  It is like the music one hears in a convent where the tones awaken and thrill, but the singer is hidden behind the veiled grating of the choir.  No one knows what manner of woman it is that this music comes from.  Apparently she has no confidential friends, there is no man whom she loves, no woman whom she trusts.  She is utterly alone upon the icy heights where other beings cannot live.  She is an actress, yet not of "the profession."  In a calling that is the least austere she leads the life of a nun.  One wonders what great sorrow or what hidden joy it is that Signora Duse guards so closely.

She is the only actress for whom the public never has a word of contempt or a sneering jest.  She has kept her own life so completely secluded that even the newspapers feel an awe of her.  She come and goes "one fall form, companionless."  One night she is as wicked as the wickedest French comedy, another night she is sublime as the sublimest tragedy.  Beyond this we know absolutely nothing except that this woman is great and ill and unhappy, and wants neither the world's ridicule nor its sympathy. 



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