Page images

been or are to be distributed among these colleges. It is probably safe to say that not one dollar in a hundred of his immense benefaction will ever reach any class of young men situated as he was in early life, and whom it was his especial desire to assist.

It is probable, indeed, that the salaries of professors may be increased, new professorships and free scholarships may be endowed, and palatial structures called Fayerweather halls may arise in some of the colleges. But, if this benefaction follows the prevailing trend, the general effect will be to raise the tone of college life in the direction of showy expenditure, so that the student of limited means will feel less at home and be less able to sustain himself in the college than before the benefaction was received.

It is perhaps time to inquire whether the general effect of the large amounts of money which are from time to time donated to our great universities, is not to raise them higher and higher above the reach of common life, and to write, Procul este profani! in letters of gold over their portals; whether these great universities are not, more and more, in effect, though not in intention, adopting the sentiment of the Roman poet, Odi profanum vulgus et

It is well worth while, for those who have money to bestow in educational endowments, to consider whether the effect will be really to diminish educational privileges for young men in industrial life while increasing them for the sons of the wealthy, or whether it will be possible to place their benefactions in such way and form that they will be available for the better education of the poorer and industrial class. Let there be but one example of an institution which unquestionably and clearly gives the higher educational privileges to the common people, in such form and under such conditions that such as are so disposed can accept and profit by them, thus proving the effective availability of such benefactions, and the tide of benevolence will flow thitherward, or elsewhere to accomplish similar results, instead of Aowing into the treasuries of the great universities to reappear in stately piles of architecture and a still more forbidding splendor, with increased opportunities for the sons of wealth, but in which the struggling masses, the sons of toil, the bone and sinew of the nation, can have no lot or part.






(Read Tuesday morning.]

In discussing the educational features of the drama, we must ever remember that the educational element, or factor, is quite inseparable from each and every form of dramatic representation. Education is commonly limited to the discipline of the mental faculties; but, in the larger and perfectly legitimate derivative sense, education has to do with moulding and regulating the principles and the character. With linguistic propriety we speak of an education in vice or virtue, of mind and body, in æsthetics or calisthenics, in truth or falsehood, in perception of the real or unreal; and, since the appeal of the drama is to every phase and motive of life, the educational feature thereof works both upward and downward. One can hardly fail of becoming, for the time at least, a nobler creature in the contemplation of such a character as Harebell in the “Man o' Airlie,” because, as William Winter says of the late Lawrence Barrett in the part, “this delightful character expresses devotion to the beautiful, the honest impulses of an affectionate heart, and the ideal of friendship that is too pure and simple even to dream that such a thing as guile can exist anywhere in the world.” On the other hand, one can hardly fail of becoming a worse creature when exposed to the vile atmosphere of reeking sensuality which envelopes like a murky cloud many modern plays,-- plays whose motif and situation suggest unutterable viciousness, but whose masterly constructive skill and breathless movement of plot enthrall the attention and secure the patronage of the fashionable clientèle.

The drama, by which is meant either tragedy or comedy and the inferior species like opera, farce, and melodrama, educates upward through its appeal to thoughts and sentiments that enlarge the horizon of our diviner selves or it educates downward by stimulating certain propensities and passions which degrade manhood and woman

hood. Even the thinnest of roaring farces does not minister to entertainment alone. There is an ethic in all relaxation. The lightest word of the lightest stage dialogue is, for the moment, a seed sown in the fallow ground of impressionable human hearts. I have noted a pantomimic gesture, expressed in the fraction of a second, which ought to bring a blush of shame to the most brazen cheek. And I have heard the crackling, inimitable laugh of that sterling comedian, the late James Lewis, when every joyous note seemed like pouring bottled sunshine into the seven by nine room of finite wretchedness. Ethical forces are never in a state of rest. The motion of their tides is accelerated or retarded by influences impalpable as the ether that permeates the void of space. All that one does, sees, hears, feels, experiences, and purposes, elevates or lowers the character, however imperceptibly. Hence, I say, there is no light or shadow upon the stage, no accent of voice or sweep of gesture, that does not infinitesimally shape human conduct.

It is undoubtedly the case that the educational feature of dramatic representation is the very last thought in the minds of the great majority that flock to the doors of the play-house. And it may be worth while, in passing, to remark that there are four principal classes of theatre-goers. The first is composed of people who do not know what on earth to do with themselves of an evening unless they visit the theatre. The second class is made up of men and women whose instincts are vicious, and to whom the drama is chiefly the means of gratifying erotic tendencies. They study the most attractive bill-boards and newspaper advertisements, and are lured by seductive promises of gilt and spangle, ballet and buffoon; and their faculty of appreciation seldom rises higher than the inanities of spectacular performances that are chiefly remarkable for appalling indecencies. The third class, by far the largest in great cities, comprises the multitudes worn and weary with the hard, hopeless grind of business and household cares, men and women who seek the diversion of light comedy or roaring farce merely to ease the stress of strenuous toil. It makes little difference to them what the play is, so that it prove entertaining. Patronage is chiefly determined by proximity. People go to the nearest theatre as to the nearest church. And, last of all, we have the relatively few people of refinement and culture whose appreciation of the best dramatic literature is at once keen and discriminating. Cherishing high ideals of art for art's sake,

but more especially for the function of art in educating the noblest faculties of the mind, this class of patrons will give no countenance whatever to corrupt and demoralizing plays. Their support is given exclusively to what may be termed the legitimate drama,- the drama forever glorified by the genius of Garrick, Siddons, Kemble, Macready, Kean, Booth, Barrett, and Irving; and it is wholly a work of supererogation to say to this intelligent audience that a constituency of this description will enjoy very limited opportunities for the gratification of a cultivated taste in matters theatrical. I have a friend of wide reputation as the interpreter of Shakspere and Tennyson in public recital. Recently he made a week's venture in the elaborate stage presentation of the “Merchant of Venice.” Put on at great cost and with a competent cast, the play was enthusiastically received ; but, when my friend approached certain shrewd millionaires for financial backing to restore high-class plays to the American stage, he was greeted with a cynical smile and a shrug of the shoulders, followed by the remark: “If you want $50,000 for an extravaganza, like the ‘Girl from Paris,' i'll think of it. But Shakspere! Who cares for Shakspere now? He's a back number on the stage.” In spite of the favor accorded the “Merchant of Venice” in this particular city, the judgment of the millionaire is sound. Pessimism in respect to present affairs dramatic in America is both thoroughly defensible and salutary. To see facts exactly as they are, and not as one would like them to be, is the first step in the programme of reform. And with this I submit the classification of theatre-goers for what it may be worth, and swing back once more into the main current of our discussion.

It was said a moment ago that the educational feature of the drama was the last thought in the minds of the majority of the patrons of the theatre. The fact remains, however, that, all unconsciously, this upward or downward process of education by stage example and motive goes steadily onward. It is too much to say that the theatre in every period of history reflects the morals of the people as a whole. It is not quite accurate to affirm that the theatre is a predominant factor in shaping the morals of the community. But it is safe to remark that there is a close connection between the plays that are most in evidence at a given period and the tendencies uppermost in the life of the community, Whether, in the large view, the history of the drama has been the history of education in vice, is the strong affirmative of

Christian moralists since the days of the Puritan Reformation. Hence the theatre as an institution is condemned in toto.

It is a very curious and interesting study to trace - if one had room in this paper - the growth of churchly hostility to the theatre. And I mention the church, because that organization embodies — or is supposed to embody - the highest ethical conceptions. In the earliest periods of history the drama was identified with religious rites and ceremonies. On the authority of Livy, it once formed a portion of the religion of the Athenian State. The theatre was a temple in which audiences were taught how the will of men and gods must submit to the inevitable force of destiny. The Greek tragic poets present religious truths with dramatic power. And Greek tragedies, well acted, produced on the listeners a powerful impression for good. But, confining our attention to the Anglo-Saxon period, it is to be noted that in England the theatre at first had considerable support from ecclesiastical dignitaries. One of the first theatres in the realm had Geoffrey, a monk, for manager. In the time of King James two notable archbishops - foremost for piety-gave strong prelatical sanction. But with the reign of Charles the First ended all connection between the church and theatre. At the death of the king the Puritan reaction set in, and thereafter it was war to the knife. A bitter and relentless opposition raged against the playhouse, which continued with unabated virulence down to a comparatively recent era. Actors had previously been described as the “ Caterpillars of the Commonwealth," whatever this stunning epithet may mean; but it was reserved for Prynne, in his famous “ Histriomastix,” a book of a thousand pages, to exhaust invective and argument against the theatre. This divine, apparently of a somewhat peppery type, argued that plays were invented by the heathen : therefore, they must be bad for Christians. Where in the Bible is there any authority for the profession of an actor ? Actors have been known to die after the play was over. Inference obvious. Theatres have been burned and audiences suffocated : ergo, Providence frowns upon that venerable institution. If I do not err, the same ridiculous deduction was advanced by certain American clergymen after the destruction of the Richmond theatre by fire in the beginning of the present century. Such puerilities are of a piece with the homily of Bishop Grindal, who traced the rise of the awful pestilence of 1563 to the wickedness of the stage.

« PreviousContinue »