Page images
PDF
EPUB

wounds tells its tale of personal devotion. If there have been regrettable incidents, there have also been numerous incidents of collective and individual heroism. The colonial troops have shown fine fighting qualities, and have nobly upheld the great military traditions of the British people. At a time of real national difficulty the Colonies, as those who knew them confidently expected, have given the most practical proof of their patriotism and have inaugurated a new Imperial era. War, with its losses and its sorrows, has drawn closer all the members of the Empire, and has taught mutual understanding and mutual confidence. The great work of transporting more than 200,000 men across the sea and of supplying them has been accomplished with marked success, and the scope of our unrivalled national resources has been practically demonstrated. The way has been made straight for a military organisation based upon Imperial requirements, embracing the splendid fighting material at our disposal and effectually guaranteeing peace, progress, and prosperity. If this great work is now accomplished, the heavy sacrifices which the South African war has entailed will not have been made in vain. If the many bitter lessons of the past year are not turned to account intelligently and with special care to avoid hasty generalisations from a campaign which has many abnormal features, we shall before long be brought face to face with national disaster. It is remedies earnestly and thoroughly applied that are needed, not recriminations. There have been many mistakes which must never recur, and the promised inquiry, if carried out in the right spirit, will point the way to the necessary reforms. The words spoken in the House of Commons by Cromwell, greatest of British army reformers, deserve to be recalled

· As I must acknowledge myself guilty of oversights, so I know that they can rarely be avoided in military matters. Therefore, waiving a strict inquiry into the causes of these things, let us apply ourselves to the remedy which is most necessary. And I hope that we have such true English hearts and zealous affections towards the general weal of our mother country as no member of either House will scruple to deny themselves and their own private interests for the public good.'

In this spirit, broadened and deepened by the responsibilities of Empire, should our military problems be now approached. Thus only can our New Model' be attained.

[ocr errors]

vers.

Paris,

[ocr errors]

ART. II.-M. Edmond Rostand and the Literary Prospects of

the Drama.
La Samaritaine. Evangile en trois tableaux, en

Paris, Charpentier et Fasquelle: 1898.
Cyrano de Bergerac. Comédie Héroïque, en vers.

Charpentier et Fasquelle : 1898.
Les Romanesques. Comédie en trois actes, en vers. Paris,

Charpentier et Fasquelle : 1899. La Princesse Lointaine. Pièce en quatre actes, en vers.

Paris, Charpentier et Fasquelle : 1899. L'Aiglon. En six actes, en vers. (Unpublished : 1900.) THE HE Drama, the oldest and the most complicated of the

Arts, is, strangely enough, the only art for which there is no margin of opportunity. For a play succeeds or it fails. Architecture, music, painting, every form of literature not written directly for production before the footlights, can count upon incalculable chances of revision; of reconsideration ; of suspended judgement, and even of fluctuating esteem. But the fortunes of a stage-play can only be absolute. On the stage alone there is no appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober. The stage-play, the drama under modern conditions, can only live in so far as it can pay for its footing night by night. For the art of the modern drama is above all things art exploited as commerce. It is the reproduction of human accident and human emotion moving, with more or less of force and dexterity, between the excisions of the Censor and the exigencies of the boxoffice; bound by every circumstance of its production to conquer the approval of a crowd within the first few hours of its existence, or, in sober fact, to cease to exist.

No other art lives under similar conditions. And in spite of the remarkable revival of public interest in things relating to the theatre which has taken place in England during the last twenty-five years—an interest generous enough to include the private idiosyncrasies and adventures, the incomes, the wardrobes, and the opinions of actors and actresses—it is perhaps uncertain, if we judge from our own dramatists exclusively, whether these conditions have not finally severed that connexion between the stage and literature which the Elizabethans did so much to establish. In the same way that the influences of our climate, the size of our modern houses, and our disuse as meeting-places

of public buildings, have limited the field for sculpture, so it may be that the cost and money-making necessities of our theatres will end by strictly limiting the intellectual proportions of the modern play. Already there are not wanting critics, steady, sober and honest, lovers of the drama, and yet disposed to regard the little brotherhood of modern dramatists, groping their way in worlds of art half realised, as so many children at play in some old curiosityshop; a place where all the material is worn; is very old ; made precious by dead and gone effort ; and where the only novelty possible consists in some new anachronism. For fanatics such as these the Days of Creation are strictly limited to six. The Greek dramatists, the Latins, Shakespeare, have spoken the last word of a noble and a living art; and to our generation only remains the no less vital, but simpler, evolution of the music-hall.

Obviously this is a defensible point of view. And so is the point of view which advocates a State theatre, subsidised ; respected ; controlled on something of the lines of the Théâtre Français, as a protest against our present system of the actor-manager; of opportunist and ephemeral writing; and of protracted runs. Although whether this latter scheme, given the protestant and inartistic attitude of the average Anglo-Saxon mind, can ever be more than a counsel of perfection, seems doubtful, to say the least. Yet the opportunist play, however brilliant, the play designed to run its season like any other fashionable object, though it may be a valuable piece of property, can hardly be a valuable contribution to literature; and, while admitting unreservedly that success on the English stage does not in the smallest degree depend upon a conscious preoccupation with the art of the drama (unconscious preoccupation there must be, or there could be no play)-it would be interesting to inquire whether, and how far, such a consciousness would necessarily imperil that success? We are as a nation only too apt to plume ourselves over our least obviously artistic achievements. Yet if the gaiety, the good temper, the abounding animal spirits of, say, 'Charley's Aunt' have kept that joyous production alive for some thousands of triumphant nights, it is only fair to remember that • Antony and

Cleopatra' has lasted longer still. It is not the presence of the literary quality, it is the deadness of the literary quality present, the deficiency of it, the affectation of it, the imitation of it, which send so many of the so-called serious' plays hurtling down the dusty steeps of theatrical

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

6

failure. Because a thing which is vital, commonly handled, has the power to live, need a thing as vital, but delicately and beautifully manipulated, run a distinctly poorer chance? Not treatment, not selection, but life-vitality-an organic being, is the very first essential and condition of the dramatic art. It is the first-mais après ?

Journalism, the ideal journalism, consists in formulating brilliantly what the man in the street was on the verge of saying. And there are hundreds and hundreds of definitely successful plays—and therefore living plays—which never rise for one moment in point of treatment above the level of smart and workmanlike journalism-of journalism which is to literature what a wall-paper is to a picture. You must be able to command it in large quantities before it begins to count. And it is precisely because the public attention has been so strenuously called upon to take note of these restricted successes, it is because the public imagination has been so fired by the financial interests which they represent, that any discussion of the literary side of the drama appears so irrelevant and academic. Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien to every non-artistic conscience; and capacity for the nobler

feeling,' said Stuart Mill long ago, is in most natures a very tender plant, easily killed, not only by hostile influences, but by mere want of sustenance. As a race we British do more than distrust-we dislike all conscious experiments in art, not apologised for and made reputable by age, or death, or tradition. To hurl a brick-bat at the passing ‘literary wherever detected in daily life, serves, in some fashion, to vindicate the choice of pleasures of The Plain Citizen. And indeed the literary quality as he understands it-art' considered as something extraneous to life, 'art' visualised as a collection of black old masters and the minor poets, 'art' as an attitude, an excrescence, a reminiscencedeserves much of the peculiar form of encouragement he is prepared to offer.

Naturally this does not affect the fact that in all real art (as Spinoza says of morality) imitation has no place. Success, even the vulgarest success, can neither be copied nor forged precisely because of the modicum of artistic presentation which every living record of life contains. And if we set aside as too local, too near to us for illustrative criticism, our own still somewhat unclassified playwrightswithout attempting to count the various measures of success attained by Mr. Pinero; by Mr. Parker; by Mr. Bernard Shaw ; by Captain Marshall's neat and happy fantasy; or

[ocr errors]

by the industry of Mr. Grundy-it is surely possible to expect many precious things still of an art which has so lately blossomed into work so experimental in purpose, so classic in treatment, so flexible, so vivid, so full-fed, as the brilliant group of plays we owe to M. Edmond Rostand. And it matters little, considered from the point of view of the wealth of the contemporary drama, that we should quote the works of a foreigner, a Frenchman ; since it is surely one of the divine attributes of art that what enriches one enriches all. When M. Rostand, not content with the ordinary problems and difficulties of stage-craft, deliberately assumes the additional burden of expressing himself exclusively in rhymed verse, he adopts a literary attitude towards the drama, and exhibits a force of literary passion for the purities of form which is noticeable even in France. His is an extreme case. For him as for Gautier :

l'æuvre sort plus belle D'une forme au travail Rebelle,

Vers, marbre, onyx, émail ; ... and his work—which is ours, a part of our intellectual capital, exactly in proportion to our capacity for enjoying it-may well serve to illustrate what is really the pressing question, “la question du jour,' of the ambitious modern play-writer, How far, under actual conditions of theatrical production, does the literary quality make or mar the fortunes of the contemporary play?

He has given us five plays—Les Romanesques,'a comedy in three acts, produced at the Comédie Française in 1894, and crowned by the French Academy; a four-act play, “La Princesse Lointaine,' which appeared at the Renaissance Theatre, with Madame Sarah Bernhardt in the title rôle, in 1895; ‘La Samaritaine’ in April of 1897, also produced by the same actress, and described as 'An Evangel, in three - tableaux ; '. •Cyrano de Bergerac,' a heroic comedy in five acts, which also appeared in 1897, at the Porte SaintMartin; and 'L'Aiglon,' a drama written in no less than six acts, treating of the life and death of the young Duc de Reichstadt, the son of Napoleon I., and again with Madame Bernhardt as chief interpreter. This last play is actually on the stage in Paris, and, at the moment we write, is still unrevised and unpublished. Cyrano de * Bergerac' and the • Romanesques' (under the title of * The Fantasticks') were both acted in English, and in London, for a brief period last season. Neither Mr. Wyndham

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »