There is a great mistake being made by certain warm adherents of the legitimate drama in trying to force every actor of prominence into Shakespeare and the classic comedies. Just as soon as an actor achieves a pronounced and signal success in modern drama, just as soon as he demonstrates his fitness to play the best productions of modern playwrights, his friends all straightway beseach him to take his Shakspearian degree. The question of Shakespearian productions is entirely one of fitness. No one doubts or disputes that Shakespeare was the greatest of all dramatists, but the world is not always ready for the best. Sophocles certainly wrote better plays than Henry Guy Carlton , but the greatest tragedian of France played "Antigone" and "Oedipus Rex" to empty houses in New York last winter. We can not always sing the old songs because they are the best, nor should we despise the new because they are not perfect. "Old order changeth, yielding place to new And God fulfills Himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world."
The people of this century have a right to demand something that is close to them, something that touches their everyday life. The drama is not for nor supported by students of literature. No actor has been pre-eminently successful in Shakespearian roles since Booth , no actress since Anderson and Mather . Most of them have tried it, and after losing money and prestige have given it up with a sigh. People do not go to see "Twelfth Night" or "The Taming of the Shrew;" they go to see Julia Marlowe or, Ada Rehan with their great abundance of pretty costumes and stage settings. The old comedies grow old quicker than the old tragedies.
If Mr. Goodwin and Sol Smith Russell relegate themselves to classic comedy they will find that the public will gradually grow cold toward them. They will be respected more, perhaps, but certainly less beloved. Mr. Crane made the venture only a few weeks ago, but he found that he could never come as near to the hearts of the people in "Falstaff" as in "The Senator." Some way nowadays, coats of mail and iron breastplates seem to keep from us the living man beneath them. We do not want old wine in new bottles nor new wine in old bottles, we want the tragedy and comedy of life as we find it, in the clothes we wear and in the language we speak.
The Shakespearian people need not mourn. Wherever there is a great Shakespearian actor there will be a revival of Shakespeare. At present there are none, and it is folly to try to mould common clay into classic marbles.
"Mr." sounds dignified, but there are thousands and thousands who like "Sol" better. It is not probable that Mr. Russell will ever be in classic comedy what he has been in the simple, homely roles that the people have laughed and cried over for ten years and more.
There is a new school of stage realism which undoubtedly rather startles even the most enthusiastic advocates of things realistic. Formerly a great deal of time and talent was expended in making the villains of melodrama, and clever actors labored assiduously to acquire the carriage, looks and speech of the bold, bad men who shake a mortgage in the face of the bankrupt fathers and pursue the daughters with their unwelcome attentions. Now, there is a much shorter and more expedient method. Stage managers simply import a villain from real life and trick is done. Today the rising school of art is that of Steve Brodie . John L. Sullivan . Jim Corbett , Duncan B. Harrison , Peter Jackson , Bob Fitzsimmons , Jim Root , Hunt, the train robber, Tom Gould, the bartender, Angelina Allen , Eva Ray Hamilton , Lowery, the crook, they are all there, and alas, some of them making money. Sometimes it looks as though the theatre were going to descend to the level of the old gladiatorial shows again. In that case any of us who are unfortunate enough to have any interest in it or any real love for it had better speedily transfer our affections elsewhere. Just now prize-ring training counts for more than a course in the most rigid dramatic school, and to have been in prison insures artistic success. It is useless to complain. The only thing to do is to have faith in humanity and wait. There must be a regulating power somewhere and it must take an interest even in the footlights at last.
The reason for this influx of rascals is simply this; two years ago actors were making money. Vagrants went on the stage for the same reason that vagrants went to the Cherokee strip, to get rich without work, by a turn of the hand to come[?] into the millions of Monte Christo . That is the dream of the vagrant's soul. Anyone who could get a play, a soubrette, a manager and an advance man went on the stage. These hard times are good for the real actors if they only knew it. The scarcity of money is bound to strand most of these combinations, which make every self-respecting professional blush for his profession. The vengeance of heaven is frequently tardy[?], but[?] it generally comes at last. The "Swanee River" company went to pieces in Beatrice, the "Derby Winner" is losing money steadily. Another hard year will do the stage more good than harm. True, some of the leading men may have to cut down their tailor bills and wear fewer neckties, but they can afford to endure some discomfort to rid[?] the stage of prize fighters and horse thieves[?]. The stage needs a financial [obscured] ais[?]. It has been soaring to a height of opulence that was never meant for it. There are too many men acting for money and too few for love. There must be a sort of last judgement in the box office in which the elect shall barely be saved. Even the wholesale cutting of salaries is not so bad a thing as it seems. It is not good for an actor to be rich, any more than to be courted by society. The salary cut will cool the ambition of young men who want to leave the counters and yardsticks for the cap and bells. Players have always been treated by society with something of contempt and their life has always been something of a vagabond's. For their own sakes it is fortunate that this is so. It would be better to have the conditions such in every art that a man must be willing to be poor and despised for its sake. Artist's lives would be freer from vanity and falseness, richer in creation and success.
"Yes," said Madame Helen von Doenhoff , of the Tavary opera company, as she bustled wildly about her dressing room, speaking of music in general, "to always want to sing, to be always young and in love, to keep up the enthusiasm, to sustain the ecstacy, that is what it means to be a singer. Of course Tavary and I are no more sixteen, but," as she gave her satin slipper an impatient toss, "art does not come at sixteen."
There are a large number of people who are fond of attributing a deep and hidden personal meaning to every paragraph in a newspaper. Now, when a newspaper paragraph is fortunate enough to have any meaning at all, it is very seldom personal. To be frank, most reporters and editors are very busy, much too busy to spend time digging individuals, unless the individuals chance to be no less persons than that of Edward E. Rosewater , or the governor elect. If reporters were guilty of all the sly and crafty malice with which they are accredited, they would be combinations of Richelieu and Louis XI . It is unwise to seek for hidden motives. If Susy or Sammy is omitted from the society column it is not because their grandfathers neglected to pay the editor's grandfather for a tallow candle, nor even because they forgot to pay their subscription. It is more likely that the reporter's memory was at fault, or that his information was not correct. If a silver tongued orator makes a two hours' speech and it is reported in ten lines it does not mean that the paper "has it in" for him, but that a newspaper has a great many things to look after and can not devote itself entirely to oratory. A paper's main object is to look out for itself, and not to mutilate people's feelings.
There is a new and very exquisite perfume called Lillian Russell . If one is fond of perfumes that quickly pass, let him invest in that brand and trust to the fickleness which the name suggests.
One interesting member of the Tavary opera company whose name did not appear upon the program is Madame. Tavary's little dog, Folie. He was given to her by the late Ludwig II. , king of Bavaria, and has been all over Europe three times and had adventures that could only fall to the lot of an opera singer's dog and confident. He is just about four inches long and madame invariably extends him to a stranger to be caressed. If you don't happen to fancy dogs and draw back she says, with pathetic seriousness, "Indeed he vill not bite." Madame Tavary always takes the dog and a novel to the theatre with her to amuse her between acts. She carries the dog and the maid her novel. Folie is well along in years now and cannot crack lumps of sugar soaked in brandy so well as he used to in the late king's day, nor go through all the antics that Tavary and his royal highness used to teach him. He has had a romantic history. He has known what it is to be a royal favorite and envied by all beholders. He was very intimately acquainted with his majesty, more so perhaps than anyone else except the favored prima donna herself. He knows all about royal whims and royal music and royal suppers laid for two. He knows more about Ludwig than all his biographers, and a large part of Bavarian history will die with his little tan dogship. He carries all the burden of state secrets and court intrigues still. When the king of Bavaria died all the old court favorites were scattered, Folie among them.
Now he travels about playing one night stands and sputtering over hotel brandy like any other operatic dog. He is not at all ambitious. He goes to the theatre and conscientiously performs his duty by amusing madame, but the brilliant part of his career closed when death put out the lights of the gay and reckless court of Ludwig. Folie regards that he has lived his life, this is only existence. He endures it because it is necessary to do so, and he would not care to leave madame to endure and remember alone.
Paris is now agitated over whether it shall decorate Bernhardt with the legion of honor. It is the most sensible agitation that Paris has had for some time. There are indeed a few who oppose it, but they are greatly in the minority. Their argument is that Bernhardt is great enough without a crown and is above such recognition. Artists are seldom above recognition. They are made with an abnormal craving for it. It is their grand passion, the supreme love of their lives. They can never have enough of it, for triumph is the one thing which does not grow stale. If it will be any pleasure to her, let Sarah have her crown. Who has done more for the art of France?
Last Sunday's World was even more strictly classic and conservative than usual. It devoted a column to a discussion of Frohman's new play, "The Masqueraders," and three columns to the description of the costumes. The World will soon have its dramatic criticism on the hang of a gown and the colors in a bonnet. The reputation of an actress will rest solely with her dresses, and the milliners and dressmakers will make a play or strand it.