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a part so exactly suited to you ! Short figure, short
man, short part ! The critics will say, ' Mr. Hare, a clever
young actor, made his first bow to a London audience,
and was most excellent — in short perfect ! ' "

" Yes, but if I fail," observed John Hare.

" Then," said Byron, " we'll rechristen the piece
' Short Engagements ' ! "

All Tom Robertson's friends were rejoiced when it
was definitely announced that his play " Society " was to
be produced at the little Theatre in the Tottenham
Court Eoad. For we knew how talented and brilliant
he was, and how bad fortune had dogged his heels
through life. Cynic as he pretended to be, he was in
reality the most tender-hearted and sentimental of men.

He was deeply attached to his wife, an actress, who
had bravely borne the burden of his sorrows, though in
dreadful health ; and his son, now dead, has faithfully
recorded how his children adored their father.

He had a mania for children, and could never pass
them in the street looking into a sweet stuff or ))un
shop, without taking them inside, and spending all his
spare coppers on the delighted little ones.



I remember one night at Tom Hood's rooms when
Tve all assembled to read out our contributions to one of
our usual Christmas annuals in a friendly way to one

Burnand must have been there, and Halliday and
W. S. Gilbert, and W. B. Eands and Jeff Prowse, and
Tom Archer. Robertson's contribution was as usual a
theatrical story, or at any rate a story of theatrical
life. I think it was called, " What the Baby's Hand
Unlocked," and I know that in it occurred the now
historical phrase of a child of theatrical parents being
" nursed on rose pink and cradled in properties."

The tale affected us all very deeply. It went straight
to the heart, as Robertson's work ever did ; and to this
story we, his comrades, awarded the prize for talent,
shaking him warmly by the hand for the pleasure he
had given us.

It is a different world in which we live to-day. I do
not think we meet, or discuss our work together, or
cheer our comrades on so much as we did then. We
certainly did not covet our neighbour's goods or " any-
thing that was his " in the way of talent.

So, naturally, we all assembled on the first night of
" Society " to give a cheer to our " pal," — the man who 1
was gravely informed the other day by one of his rela-
tives that I hud never seen or spoken to. But what
will not people say ?

Tom Hood and I stood at the back of the dress circle,
for the house was so crowded that there were no seats
for us. I was a kind of journalistic free lance in those
days, writing in any paper which would give me a
hearing, and pay me a pound, "devilling" for my
friends, and contributing regularly to the Era, for
which, in addition to theatrical matter, I followed Shirley


Brooks with a chatty article on general subjects, called
"Our Omnibus Box."

The new play was simple enough in plot and charac-
terisation ; but the novelty of it, with all its uncon-
ventionality, and its originality of treatment, were very
refreshing. But it was not the unconventionality that
is advocated to-day. Eobertson came at a time when
artifice was conquering art, and the weapon with which
he defeated artifice was nature.

The haters of conventionality to-day would discard
the beauty of nature, and substitute for it a shriek
of desjDair.

We thought very well of young Bancroft, handsome,
well-dressed, enthusiastic, boyish and natural ; and con-
trasted him favourably with the seedy-looking " jeunes
premiers " of his time.

We all loved Marie Wilton, and had done so for some
years ; and, as I have explained, she seemed somehow to
have been self-elected into our set. Miss Larkin was
admirable as Lady Ptarmigant, and so was John Clarke
as the snob, young John Chodd. Fred Dewar as Tom
Stylus seemed exactly the right man in the right place ;
and as the character developed we whispered to one
another, "Horace Green of the Arundel Club." Dr.
Strauss and many more of our boon companions we
recoonised in the Club scene.

But the one performance that made the most impres-
sion on us that memorable night was the Lord
Ptarmigant of John Hare. Few of us had ever heard
of him. To the audience he was a perfect stranger.
But when the sleepy old gentleman, dressed to perfec-
tion, like one's grandfather or great grandfather, came
quietly on the stage dragging a chair behind him, there
was a thrill of astonishment, as well there might be, on


the part of those who knew how " old men " were played
before John Hare came to " reform them altogether."

It was a small and insignificant character, but the little
actor had made the hit of the evening. When we were
told that he was " a mere boy " we laughed ; when we
were introduced to him afterwards and found that off
the stage he was a boy indeed, we could scarcely believe
our eyes.

From that moment John Hare advanced step by
step. He never once went back. Success followed
success until he was pronounced, as he is to-day, the
most polished, observant, and artistic actor of his time.
Meissouier himself and the great Dutch artists never
painted portraits on canvas so exquisitely finished
in every detail, or so perfectly coloured, as John Hare's
studies of character, senile and otherwise, on the Engflish
stage. He leaves nothing to chance in his masterpieces.
And it is a wide field from Sam Gerridge to Benjamin
Goldsmith and from old Eccles to the gay and dissolute
Lord Quex.

The day after " Society " was produced every one in
dramatic London was talking of the new young actor,
John Hare.

Up to this time we had not heard much dialogue like
this on the modern English stage, I mean dialogue that
contained such humorous banter, such cheerful cynicism.


Scene Ist— "The Owls' Roost." (Same as Scene Ist, Act II.)
Dayliglit — the room in order.

Tom discovered writinj,' at table R., boy sitting on table L., and

holding the placards, on whicli is printed "Read the Morning Earth-

qxutk^—n first-class daily paper," etc. On the other, ''the Evemng

Knrthixiake—n. first-class daily paper— latest intelligence," &c.

Tom : Um ! It'll look well on the walls, and at the railway stations. Take


these back to the office (boy jumps down) to Mr. Piker, and tell
him he must wait for the last leader — till it's written.
(Exit boy, c. Tom walks to and fro smoking long clay pipe.)
The M. E. — that is, the Morning EartJuputke — shakes the world for
the first time to-morrow morning, and e\-erything seems to have
gone wrong with it. It is a crude, unmanageable, ill-discifjlined,
ill-regulated earthquake. Heave the first — old Chodd behaves badly
to me. After organising him a first-rate earthquake, engaging him a
brilliant staft', and stunning reporters, he doesn't even offer me the
post of sub-editor — ungrateful old humbug ! Heave the second — no
sooner is he engaged than our editor is laid up with the gout — and
then old Chodd asks me to be a literary warming pan, and
keep his place hot, till colchicum and cold water have done their
work. I'll be even with old Chodd, though ! I'll teach him what it
is to insult a man who has started eighteen daily and weekly papers
—all of them failures.

Heave the third — Sidney Daryl won't write the social leaders.
(Sits L. at end of R. table.) Poor Sidney ! (Takes out the magenta
ribbon which he picked up at the ball.) I sha'n't dare to give him
this — I picked it up at the ball, at which I was one of the dis-
tmguished and illustrious guests. Love is an awful swindler —
always drawing upon Hope, who never honours his drafts — a sort
of whining beggar, continually moved on by the maternal police ;
but 'tis a weakness to which the wisest of us are subject — a kind of
manly measles which this flesh is heir to, particularly when the flesh
is heir to nothing else — even I have felt the divine damnation — I
mean emanation. But the lady united herself to another, which
was a very good thing for me, and anything but a misfortune for her.
Ah ! happy days of youth ! Oh I flowering fields of Runnington-
cum-Wapshotr— where the yellow corn waved, our young loves
ripened, and the new gaol now stands ! Oh ! Sally, when I think of
you and the past, I feel that— (looking into his pot) the pot's empty,
and I could drink another pint (putting the ribbon in his pocket).
Poor Sidney ! — I'm afraid he's going to the bad.

This is the " five shillings " episode from the same
play that caused so much amusement.

(Enter Waiter, C. He gives glass of brandy and water to Sidney,

and glass of grog to Shamheart.)
O'SuU. : What news, Daryl ?
Sidney : None, except that the Ministry is to be defeated. (O'Sullivan

pays waiter.)
AU : No !
Sidney : I say, yes. They're whipping up everybody to vote against


Thunder's motion. Thunder is sure of a majority, and out they go.
Capital brandy. (Coming forvvard.) Tom I (Tom rises — they come
down stage.) I .am ofl' to a soiree.
Tom : (R.— aside.) So am I," but I won't tell him.
Sidney (L.) : I find I've nothing in my portmonnaie but notes. I want

a trifle for a cab. Lend me five shillings.
Tom : I haven't got it ; but I can get it for you.
Sidney : There's a good fellow, do. (Returns to seat.)
Tom : (To Mac Usquebaugh, after looking round.) Mac (whispering),

lend me five bob.
Mac U. : My dear boy, I haven't got so much.
Tom : Then don't lend it.

Mac U. : But I'll get it for you. (Crosses to Bradley — whispers.) Brad-
ley, lend me five shillings.
Brad. : I haven't it about me ; but I'll get it for you. (Crosses to

O'Sullivan — whispers.) O'Sullivan, lend me five shillings.
O'Sull. : I haven't got it ; but I'U get it for you. (Crossing to Scargil —

whispers.) Scargil, lend me five shillings.
Scarg. : I haven't got it ; but I'll get it for you. (Crossing to Macvicz —

whispers.) Doctor, lend me five shillings.
Dr. M. : I am waiting for chaange vor a zoveren ; I'll give it you when de

waiter brings it me.
Scarg. : All right ! (To O'Sullivan.) All right !
O'Sull. : All right ! (To Bradley.) All right !
Brad. : All right ! (To Mac Usquebaugh.) All right !
Mac U. : All right ! (To Tom.) All right !
Tom : (To Sidney.) All right !

It was all SO new, so fresh, so true of the Bohemia
that we all knew.

Chodd, Jun. : No !

(As soon as the sitters see Tom Stylus they give him a friendly nod,
look inquiringly at Chodd, and whisper each other.)

Tom : (R.) You'd better. They are men worth knowing. (Pointing
them out.) That is the celebrated Olinthus O'Sullivan, Doctor of
Civil Laws. (O'Sullivan is at this moment reaching to the gaslight
to light his i)ipe.)

Chodd, Jun. (L.) : The gent with the long pipe ?

Tom : Yes ; one of the finest classical scholars in the world ; might have
sat upon tlie wf.olsack if he'd chosen ; ])ut he didn't. (O'Sullivan is
now tossing with Mac Usquebaugh.) That is the famous Desmond
Mac Usquebaugh, late M.P. for Killcrackskullcoddy, county Galway,
a great i)atriot and orator; might have been Chancellor of the
Excliociuer if he'd chosen ; but he didn't. (Scargil reaches to the


gaslight to light his pipe.) That's Bill Bradley (pointing to Bradley,
who is reading paper with double eye-glass), author of the famous
romance of Time and OppoHunitij ; ran through ten editions. He
got two thousand pounds for it, which was his ruin.

Chodd, Jun. : How was he ruined by getting two thousand pounds ?

Tom : He's never done anything smce. We call him ' ' One book Brad-
ley." That gentleman fast asleep — (looking towards author at table,
L.) — has made the fortune of three publishers, and the buttoned-up
one with the shirt front of beard is Herr Makvicz, the great United
German. Dr. Scargil, there, discovered the mensuration of the
motive power of the cerebral organs. (Scargil takes pinch of snuff
from a box on table.)

Chodd, Jun. : What's that ?

Tom : How many million miles per minute thought can travel. He
might have made his fortune if he'd chosen.

Chodd, Jun. : But he didn't. Who is that mild-looking party, with the
pink complexion and the white hair ? (Looking towards Shamheart.)

Tom : Sam Shamheart, the professional philanthropist. He makes it his
business and profit to love the whole human race. (Shamheart puffs
a huge cloud of smoke from his pipe. ) Smoke, sir ; all smoke I A
superficial observer would consider him only a pleasant oily humbug ;
but I, having known him two-and-twenty years, feel qualified to
pronounce him one of the biggest villains untransported.

Chodd, Jun. : And that man asleep at the end of the table 1

Tom : Trodnon, the eminent tragedian. (Trodnon raises himself from
the table — yawns — stretches himself, and again drops dead on table.)

Chodd, Jun. : I never heard of him.

Tom : Nor anybody else. But he's a confirmed tippler ; and here we
consider drunkenness an infallible sign of genius — we make that a

Chodd, Jun. : But if they are all such great men, Avhy didn't they make
money by their talents ?

Tom. (R.) : Make money ! They'd scorn it ! They wouldn't do it — that's
another rule. That gentleman there (looking towards a very seedy
man with eyeglass in his eye) does the evening parties on the
Belfjravian Banner.

Chodd, Jun. (with interest) : Does he ? Will he put my name in among
the fashionables to-night ?

Tom : Yes.

Chodd, Jun. : And that we may know who's there and everything about
it ? — you'i'e going with me.

Tom : Yes, I'm going into society ; thanks to you're getting me the invita-
tion. I can dress up an account, not a mere list of names, but a
picturesque report of the soirde, and show under what brilliant
auspices you entered the beau-monde.

Chodd, Jun. : Beau-monde ! What's that ?


Tom (chaffing him) : Every man is called a cockney who is born within

the sound of the beau-monde.
Chodd, Jun. (not seeing it) : Oh ! Order nie 200 copies of the Bd-

(jravian . What's its name ?

Tom : Banner.

Chodd, Jun. : The day my name's in it — and put me down as a regular

subscriljer. I like to encourage high-class literature. By the way,

shall I ask the man what he'll take to drink ?
Tom : No, no.
Chodd, Jun. : I'll pay for it. I'll stand, you know. (Going to him,

Tom stops him .)
Tom : No, no — he don't know you, and he'd be offended.
Chodd, Jun. : But, I suppose all these chaps are plaguy poor ?
Tom : Yes, they're poor ; but they are (jentlemen.
Chodd, Jun. (grinning) : I like that notion — -a poor gentleman! — it tickles

me. (Going up R.)
Tom (crossing into L. corner) : Metallic snob !

Tlicu came "Ours" on the 12tli September, 1866.
When the word was placarded on the London walls the
people could not understand it. They thought it was a
French play about a Bear, L'Ours ! It was nothing
of the kind ; it was one of the most stirring and dramatic
little plays that Robertson ever wrote.

He adored soldiers, and liked nothing better than to
write about them ; for he had studied their natures,
manners, customs and eccentricities in the various
garrison towns in which he was quartered as an actor.
All the officers loved Tom Robertson. He talked well,
cliafred well, and told them home truths. They asked
him, the poor actor, to mess, and treated him like one
of themselves. In turn he coached them for their private
theatricals, and tried to teach them how to act.

The best proof that Tom Robertson loved soldiers is
contained in "Ours "and " Caste," and nearly all his
plays, not forgetting " For Love," which he produced,
without much success, at the Holborn Theatre, and
triod to thrill us with the story of the " Wreck of the
Birkenhead." I never heard a play better described


than this one by Eobertson. But the stage mechanism
at the Holborn Theatre wrecked the poor Birkenhead,
and Robertson's ideas vanished in smoke.

In " Ours " we found that all our young friends had
vastly improved, and, like Robertson's soldiers, were
marching to the front.

Hare's Prince Perovsky was another little master-
piece — -a small part, but perfect in its way. It called
forth the special commendation of H.R.H. the Prince
of Wales, an acute critic and accuracy itself on all
questions of uniforms, decorations, and deportment.
Then, and since then, objection has been taken to the
hut scene in the Crimea, where the girls play at soldiers,
and Mary Netley makes the " roley-poley " pudding.
" A roley-poley pudding in the Crimea ! It's a fairy
tale." We were not so critical then ; and how could we
be when Marie Wilton was Mary Netley, the very sun-
shine of joyous comedy; and Lydia Foote — never dis-
tanced in the part — was Blanche Haye, the loving,
sentimental girl ?

Robertson, a born dramatist, knew the value, none
better, of a scene described " off." And it was this
scene that virtually made the success of "Ours."
The departure of the troops to the Crimea, — ^seen
"off," illustrated "off" with bands, tramping of
soldiers, words of command, but described " on " by
Marie Wilton, who worked up the thrilling situation to
a pitch of wild excitement and enthusiasm. The play
may be revived again and again, but I for one shall
ever hear Marie Bancroft's voice in this brief, sharp,
effective passage :

(When she opens window the moonlight, trees, gas, «fcc., are seen at
back. Distant bugle.)
Mary : There's Sir Alick on horseback. (Music ceases. Distant cheers.
On balcony.) Do you hear the shouts ?


Chalcot : Yes.

Mary : And the bands ?

Chal. (on balcony) : Yes, there they go, and the chargers prancing.

Mary : And the bayonets gleaming.

Chal. : And the troops forming.

Mary : And the colours flying. Oh, if I were not a woman, I'd be a

Chal. : So would I.
Mary : Why are you not ?
Chal. : What ? a woman ?
Mary : No, a soldier. Better be anything than nothing. (Cheer.

Bugle.) Better be a soldier than anything. (Tramp of troops

marching heard in the distance.)

There is nothing so effective as a scene described
" off," particulariy v/hen yonr author can depend on a
Marie Bancroft or a Sarah Bernhardt. Who can ever
forget the divine Sarah's description of the battle at the
window in Henri Bornier's " Fille de Roland," or the
scene at the window in Sardou's " Fedora " ? In America
very foolishly they thought to improve on Robertson's
suggestion, and introduced real bands, real regiments,
real officers in command, filing across the stage after the
fashion at Old Astley's. Of course it was a dead failure,
as it deserved to be.

Among the gems of " Ours " is the opening scene
between Sergeant Jones and the gamekeeper. Observe
how simple it all is. Its very strength is its simplicity.
Young dramatists,[please note this !

Sergeant : Good morning I
Houghton : Good morning !

(Sergeant shakes Keeper's hand warmly ; Keeper surprised.)
Serg. (warmly) : How are you ?
Hough. : Quite well. How are you ?
Serg. : I'm — I'm as well as can bo expected.
Hough. : What d'ye mean ? (W itli dialect.)
Serg. (with importance) : I mean that last night my missus (whispers

to Houghton.)
Hough, (surprised) : Nay !
Serg. : Fact !


Hough. : Two? (Sergeant nods.) Twins? (Sergeant nods.) Well,

mate, it does you credit— (shakes hands condolingly)— and I hope

you'll get over it.
Serg. : Eh ?
Hough. : I mean, I hope your missus '11 get over it. Come and ha' some

Serg. : 1 must go to the Hall first. I wish they'd been born at Malta.
Hough. : Where ?
Serg. : A.t Malta.

Hough. : Malta ! That's where they make the best beer.
Serg. : No, it's foreign. When a child's bom in barracks there, it gets

half a pound o' meat additional rations a day.
Hough. : Child does ?
Serg. : Its parents. Twins would ha' been a pound a day — pound of

meat, you know. It's worth while being a father at Malta.
Hough, (looking at Sergeant admiringly, and shouldering his gun) : Come

and ha' some beer to drink this here joyful double-barrelled ewent.

Excellent, also, and quite in tlie best Robertsonian
vein, is the duoloQ-ue between Ano-us Macalister and
Hugh Chalcot about marriage. I may here remark
that Squire Bancroft made a far better Angus than
the original, John Clarke.

Chalcot : Better stop here and smoke. I feel in a confidential humour.
(Angus sits again.) So you're in love with Blanche ?

Angus : Yes.

Chal. : I saw that long ago. You know that I proposed to her ?

Angus : Yes.

Chal. But I'm proud to say she wouldn't have me. Ah ! she's a sensible
girl, and her spirited conduct on that occasion in saying "No ! " laid
me under an obligation to her for life.

Angus : She declined ?

Chal. : She declined very much. I only did it to please Sir Alick, who
thought the two properties would go well together. Never mind the
two humans. Marriage means to sit opposite at table, and be civil
to each other before company. Blanche Haye and Hugh Chalcot !
Pooh! the service would have run — "I, brew-houses, malt- kilns,
public- houses, and premises, take thee, landed property, grass and
arable, farmhouses, tenements, and salmon fisheries, to be my wedded
wife, to have and to hold for dinners and evenmg parties, for
carriage and hoi'seback, for balls and presentations, to bore and to
tolerate till mutual aversion do us part." But land, grass, and arable,
farmhouses, tenements, and salmon fisheries .said, " No ! " and brew-
houses is free.

Anf'us : At all events you could oft'or her a fortune.



Chal. : And you're too proud to make her an offer, because you are poor.
(Angus .sighs.) You're wrong. I have more cause of complaint than
you. I am a great match — a hon paiii. My father was senior partner
in the brewery. When he died he left me heaps. His brother, my
uncle, died, left me more. My cousin went mad — bank notes on the
brain — his share fell to me, and, to cro'v\Ti my embarrassments, a
"rand aunt, who lived in retirement in Cornwall on four hundred
a year, with a faithful poodle and a treacherous companion, died too,
and left me the accumulated metallic refuse of misspent years.
Mammas languished at me for their daughters, and daughters
languished at me, as mamma told them. At last my time came ; I
fell in love — fell do^vn, down, down, into an abyss where there was
neither sense, nor patience, nor reason — nothing but love and hope.
My heart flared with happiness, as if it were lighted up with oxygen.
She was eighteen. Blue eyes — hair yellow as wheat, with a ripple
on it like the com when it bends to the breeze — fair as milk. She
looked like china imth a soul in it. Pa made much of me, ma made
much of me ; so did her brothers and sisters, and uncles and aunts,
and cousins, and cousinettes and cousiniculuigs. How I hated 'em !
One day I heard her speaking of me to a sister. She said — her voice
said — that voice that, as I listened to it, ran up and down my arms
and gave me palpitations — she said, "I don't care much about him ;
but then he's so very rich." That cured me of marriage, and mutual
affection, and the rest of the poetical lies. You've youth, health,
strength, and not a shilling — eveiything to hope for. Women can
love you for yourself. Money doesn't poison your existence. You're
not a prize pig tethered in a golden sty. What is left for me ?
Purchasable charms, every wish gratified in the bud, every aspiration
anticipated ; and the sight of the drays belonging to the firm, rolling
about London with my name on them, and a fat and happy drayman
sitting on the shafts, whom I envy with all my heart. Pity the
poor I Pity the rich ! for they are bankrupts in friendship, and
beggars in love.

Angus : So, because one woman was selfish, you fall in love with poverty,
and the humiliations, and insults — insults you cannot resent — heaped
on you daily by inferiors. Prudent mothers point you out as
dangerous, and daughters regard you as an epidemic. You are a
waiter upon fortune, a man on the look-out for a wife with mtmey, a
creature whose highest aim and noblest ambition is to sell himself
and his name for good rations and luxurious quarters, a footman out
of livery known as the husband of Miss So and So, the heiress. You
talk like a spoilt child. The rich man is to be envied. He can load

Online LibraryClement ScottThe drama of yesterday & to-day (Volume 1) → online text (page 37 of 44)