Henry Arthur Jones.

Michael and his lost angel; a play in five acts online

. (page 1 of 7)
Online LibraryHenry Arthur JonesMichael and his lost angel; a play in five acts → online text (page 1 of 7)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook










All rights reser-ved



Set up and elcctrotypcd Published May, 1896.

J. 8. Gushing & Co. Berwick & Smltb Co.
Norwood, Maaa., U.S.A.



MICHAEL, though styled by Milton "of celestial
armies prince," has found his sword unequal to the
task of combating the well-ordered hosts of dark-

By thousands and by millions ranged for fight.

The author of "Michael and his Lost Angel" seeks
accordingly in print consolation for the rebuffs he
has experienced upon the stage. Some comfort in
the midst of defeat may be found in the fact that
the gods themselves fight vainly against prejudice
and stupidity. I am not in the least seeking to set
aside the verdict pronounced by the majority of
"experts" upon Mr. Jones's latest play and subse-
quently accepted if not ratified by the general public
which would not be induced to see it. All I seek
to do is to deal so far as I am able with the adverse
influences to which it succumbed, and to explain
why I think it a fine work and in many respects a





The misfortunes of " Michael and his Lost Angel "
attended, if they did not anticipate, its conception.
Like Marina in Pericles it had at least

as chiding a nativity

as play has often encountered. Before it saw the
light a war had been waged concerning its name.
That the name itself involved as some seemed to
think a gratuitous insult to any form of religious con-
nection or was even ill chosen I am not prepared
to grant. Michael is not a scriptural character, and
his functions, civil and militant, and his place in the
celestial hierarchy are assigned him by uninspired
writers. But for the use made of him in art and by
Milton it is doubtful whether his name would be
familiar enough to the general public to provoke a
discussion. A discussion was, however, provoked and
with a portion of those present the verdict was pro-
nounced before the piece had been given. An open-
ing scene, meanwhile, in which the very raison-d'etre
of the play is found, an indispensable portion of the
motive began too soon and was, through the noise
and disturbance caused by late arrivals, practically
unheard. The difficulty thus caused was never quite
overcome, and the nature of Michael Feversham's


offence and the value of his expiation were both
partially misunderstood.

That the display of human passions in a sacred
edifice and the lavish use of ecclesiastical ceremonial
might cause offence I could have conceived, had
there not been the immediately previous proof of
the success of another play in which the very words
of the Inspired Teacher are used with a background
of pagan revelry and a lavish and superfluous dis-
play of nudity of limb. Paul of Tarsus is surely a
more recognisable personage, and one more closely
connected with Christian faith than a nebulous being
such as Michael. While, however, the slight banter
in the title of Mr. Jones's play and the reproduction
of the rather florid pageant of the highest Anglican
service has in a work of earnest purpose and mas-
terly execution wounded sensitive consciences, the
presentation as vulgar as inept of a portion of the
holiest mysteries of religion has been received with
sacerdotal benediction as well as with public ap-
plause. Foreign opinion concerning English hypoc-
risy and prudery finds frequent utterance, and our
witty Gallic neighbours have excogitated a word they
believe to be English and take as the cant phrase
of the Briton, schoking. We do at times our best


to furnish foreigners with a justification for their
views; and in the present case at least, we have
shown our capacity to " strain at a gnat and swallow
a camel."

That the author has overburdened his work with
dialogue is shown by the result, since a play that
the public will not have is naturally a play unsuited
to the public.

Some measure of the blame, to my thinking, almost
the whole of the blame, rests with the audience. In
seeking to interest his world in a series of duologues
Mr. Jones has credited it with a knowledge of dra-
matic art and an interest in psychology it does not
possess. His experiment is analogous to that under-
taken in France by the younger Dumas. A premiere
of Dumas was one of the most fashionable and
intellectual of Parisian " functions." With ears sharp-
ened to acutest attention the Parisian public listened
not only to dialogue thrice as long as any Mr. Jones
has attempted, but also to monologue of the most
didactic kind. In the case of Victor Hugo again
there is more than one soliloquy of length abso-
lutely portentous. These things have never wearied
a public art-loving, theatre-loving, before all appre-
ciative of literary subtlety and conscious of what are
the true springs of dramatic interest.


At the moment when these lines are written, the
London playgoer, not perhaps of the most fashion-
able class, receives with delight a scene in which a
hero swims to the rescue of injured innocence,
which a generation ago established the fortunes of
a dramatist and a theatre. I refer, of course, to the
Colleen Bawn of Dion Boucicault, which has once
more been revived. The rescue scene in this hit
exactly the sense of the English public and fulfilled
its ideal. For a year or two afterwards the intellect
of our dramatists was exercised as to the means by
which virtue imperilled could be rescued, whether
by climbing a tower or swinging by a tree, or by
any other contrivance involving the risk of a broken
neck. Those days, happily, are past. We have not,
however, made great progress in our education, and
seem yet to have to learn that the most telling
drama is the psychological, and that dialogue moves
us, or should move us, more than incident. Othello,
in some respects the most poignant of tragedies, is
nearly all duologue, the gradual poisoning of the
Moor's mind by lago being one of the most tre-
mendous scenes ever attempted. The Greeks, the
great art-loving people of antiquity, banished in
tragedy all incident from the stage, and in this re-


spect have been copied by the great school of French

So far, without any very direct purpose or inten-
tion, I have been posing, apparently, as the apolo-
gist for Mr. Jones's play. Underneath this, perhaps,
some few may have traced a design still less defi-
nite of apologising for the English public. Nothing
is further from my intention than to proffer an
excuse for what I regard as a fine and most mov-
ing drama. For myself, I can only say that rarely
indeed have my entrails been stirred by more
forcible pathos, my attention been rapt by more
inspiriting a theme, and my intellect been satisfied
by dialogue more natural, appropriate, and, in the
highest sense, dramatic. In one respect, I am dis-
posed at times to agree with some of Mr. Jones's
censors. The logic of events which brings about
the scene in the island is, perhaps, not sufficiently
inexorable. That Mrs. Lesden is, in the eyes of
the world, hopelessly compromised when she spends
a night alone on the island with her lover, I will
concede. I can conceive, however, Michael treat-
ing her with the more delicacy therefor, abandoning
to her his house, and spending a summer night, no
enormous penalty, in the open air, on the seashore.


This, however, only means that the overmastering
influence of passion over Michael has not been
fully exhibited in action.

With Mr. Jones's previous works with "Judah,"
" The Crusaders," " Saints and Sinners " " Michael
and his Lost Angel" is connected by strong, albeit
not too evident, links. The bent of Mr. Jones's
mind, or the effect of his early environment, seems
to force him into showing the struggle between
religious or priestly training, and high and sincere
aspiration, on the one hand, and, on the other,
those influences, half earthly, half divine, of our
physical nature, which sap where they cannot esca-
lade, and, in the highest natures, end always in
victory. There is nothing in Michael Feversham of
the hypocrite, little even of the Puritan. Subject
from the outset to priestly influences, and wedded
to theories of asceticism, the more binding as self-
imposed, he has come to look upon the renegation
of the most imperative as well as, in one sense, the
holiest functions of our nature as the condition of
moral regeneration. Sic itur ad astra. Crime,
generally, he holds as condemnable, but murder
and theft are things aloof from the human nature
with which he has to deal. They are exceptional



products of diseased organisations or untoward sur.
roundings. Not one of his flock that he is con-
ducting peacefully and unwittingly to Rome, is
coming to him to own in confession to having
stolen an umbrella from a rack or a book from a
stall, still less to having slain his enemy on a secret
path. Had such confession been made, it would
have been an episode of comparatively little inter-
est, a mere skirmish in the war he constantly sus-
tains against the forces of evil. Uncleanness, on
the other hand, as he elects to describe it, is the
one offence against the higher life, in regard to
which, whether as concerns inward promptings or
outside manifestation, it behooves him to be ever
armed and vigilant. Accepting this theory, which,
though subversive of the highest and most obvious
aims of nature, is still held by a considerable sec-
tion of civilised humanity, the conduct of Michael
wins a measure of sympathy. In imposing upon
Rose Gibbard the unutterably shameful and humili-
ating penance, the nature of which reaches us from
the ferocious Calvinism of the Puritan rather than
from the gentler moral discipline of the Romish
church, to which he is hastening, Michael is thor-
oughly sincere and conscientious. He believes it


the best, nay, the only way to save her soul and
restore her to the self-respect and dignity of pure
womanhood. So much in earnest is he that, when
Mrs. Lesden propounds the theory, which among
the virtuous and generous wins acceptance, that "it
is nearly always the good girls who are betrayed,"
he resents the utterance as a levity, not to say a
profanity. A character such as this is not only
conceivable, it is well known. There is nothing in
its psychology to scare the unthinking or alarm the
vulgar. In the humiliation which Michael is him-
self compelled to undergo, I find at once the vin-
dication of a morality immeasurably higher and
more Christian than that taught by any of the
churches, and a soul tragedy of the most harrowing
description. My words will to some appear irrever-
ent. I am sorry, but I cannot help it. It is not
I who said of the woman taken in adultery, " Qui
sine peccato est vestrum, primus in ilia lapidem
mittat " ; and again, " Nee ego te condemnabo.
Vade et jam amplius noli peccare."

That a nature such as that of Michael would be
likely to provoke the curiosity and interest of an
Audrie Lesden, few will contest. Vain, frivolous,
passionate, mutinous, sceptical, defeated, unhappy,


with the sweet milk of true womanhood curdled in
her breast, Audrie Lesden sets herself the task of
breaking through the defences of this " marble saint."
She succeeds. Under her temptations the icy image
thaws. That she herself thaws also, is a matter of
which she scarcely takes cognisance. In her mood
of irritation and defiance what happens to herself
is a matter of comparative indifference. She has
abandoned her positions and called in her reserves,
concentrating all her forces for a combat, in which
victory is, if possible, more disastrous than rout.

Let us take then the position. A man resolute
as he thinks in the maintenance of a standard of
scarcely possible and wholly undesirable purity, a
woman bent at first in wantonness of spirit upon his
subjugation, but finding as she progresses that her
heart is in the struggle, and that instead of being
engaged in a mere sportive encounter ohe is playing
for her life, her all. Here are the materials for a
tragedy, and a tragedy is the outcome. The idea
is happy, the execution is superb, and the result is
a play that must be pronounced so far Mr. Jones's
masterpiece, and that is in effect one of the worthi-
est and in the highest sense of the word, putting
apart the financial result and judging only from the


standpoint of art, one of the most successful dramas
of the age. For the first time the dramatist has
divested himself of all adventitious aid or support,
swimming boldly and skilfully on the sea of drama.
The melodramatic devices on which he has leant dis-
appear, the sketches of eccentric character by which
he strove to fortify past stories have vanished. A
tale of ill-starred love is told with simple downright
earnestness, simplicity, and good faith. Not a char-
acter unnecessary to the action is introduced, not
a word that is superfluous or rhetorical is spoken.
Free from obstruction, unpolluted and undefiled, a
limpid stream of human life and love flows into the
ocean of defeat and death.

In some respects the loves of Michael Feversham
and Audrie Lesden seem to take rank with the
masterpieces of human passion, if not with Romeo
and Juliet, with Cupid and Psyche, with Paul and
Virginia, and shall I add with Edgar of Ravenswood
and Lucy Ashton, at least with Helen and Paris,
Antony and Cleopatra, and Manon Lescaut and the
Chevalier des Grieux. Just enough of fatefulness
as well as of human wilfulness is there to add the
crowning grace of tragedy by showing man the sport
of circumstance. Michael dwells on this point and



finds " a curious bitter amusement " in tracing out the
sequence of events. "The hundred little chances,
accidents as we call them, that gave us to each
other. Everything I did to avoid you threw me at
your feet. I felt myself beginning to love you. I
wrote urgently to Uncle Ned in Italy, thinking I'd
tell him and that he would save me. He came.
I couldn't tell him of you, but his coming kept
Withycombe [the boatman] from getting your tele-
gram. I went to Saint Decuman's to escape from
you. You were moved to come to me. I sent
away my own boat to put the sea between us : and
so I imprisoned you with me. Six years ago I used
all my influence to have the new lighthouse built
on Saint Margaret's Isle instead of Saint Decuman's,
so that I might keep Saint Decuman's lonely for
myself and prayer. I kept it lonely for myself and
you. It was what we call a chance I didn't go
to Saint Margaret's with Andrew and my uncle.
It was what we call a chance that you telegraphed
to my boatman instead of your own. If any one
thing had gone differently " Even so. In this
world, however, " nothing walks with aimless feet "
and the most commonplace and least significant
of our actions may have world-reaching results.


" Oh, God bring back yesterday " is the despairing
cry which, since the beginning of time, has been
wrung from human lips.

The scene on the island seems to me admirable
in management. I am not sure that I care for
Audrie's confession concerning the conquest of the
heart of "a cherub aged ten," though that leads to
the very humorous illustration of his sister's trea-
son. Michael's own confession on the other hand
of his one flirtation with Nelly, the tender oscula-
tion never repeated, and her farewell words " Good-
night, Mike " serve a distinct purpose in preparing
Michael's ultimate subjugation. "She called you
Mike?" says Audrie with some surprise and more
bitterness. He is human then, this austere, ice-
bound man only just beginning to relent to her.
His lips, those lips for which she hungers, have
been pressed upon a woman's face, and he has
had a boy's name by which another woman has
dared to call him, a name her own lips tremble to
frame. She is long before she does frame it aloud.
The idea of that woman however dwells in her
mind, and its full influence and the extent -of her
surrender are shown when at what might be quite,
and is almost, the close of the third act she looks


back and says, "Listen to this. Whatever happens,
I shall never belong to anybody but you. You
understand? I shall never belong to anybody but
you, MIKE." All this is supreme in tenderness and
truthfulness and is the more dramatic and convinc-
ing on account of its simplicity.

So it is throughout the play. There is not a
moment when the effort after rhetorical speech inter-
feres with or mars the downright earnestness and
conviction of the language and the fervour of the
underlying emotion. The love-making so far as we
are permitted to see it is on the woman's side.
Hers are the raptures, the reproaches, the protesta-
tions. Only in the moment of supreme difficulty or
defeat is Michael tortured into amorous utterance,
and then even it is the idea of responsibility and
possession that weighs upon him. The deed is
done, he belongs to the woman with whom he has
sinned, the past is ineffaceable : no expiation can
alter, even if it may atone. He is, moreover, im-
penitent in the midst of penitence, fiercely glad,
fiercely happy, in what he has done, ready to face
all tribulation, loss, and reproach, rather than sacri-
fice the burning, maddening, joyous knowledge of
his guilt. This is the spirit in which love in strong,


austere, unemotional natures manifests itself. "All
for love or the world well lost " is the title Dryden
gives his alteration of Antony and Cleopatra. All
for love or heaven well lost is the phrase Mr. Jones
in effect puts into the lips of his Michael, a phrase
used not for the first time, and savouring of blas-
phemy or sanctity according to the point of view
of the audience.

There are perhaps higher ideals of love. What
dramatist or preacher has said anything finer than
the words of the great cavalier lyrist :

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.

One of the best known of the Tudor dramatists,
Habington, says :

He is but

A coward lover, whom or death or hell
Can fright from 's Mistress.

The enormity of Michael's sacrifice, the very un-
pardonableness of his offence, constitute the sweetest
savour to him as to her. To her it brings an in-
toxicating, a delirious triumph, to him a sense how
much he must hug to himself and cherish a posses-
sion secured at so fearful a price.


It is perhaps the distinguishing characteristic of
Michael's madness that the sin once committed is
not repented. Landor talks of

Modesty who when she flies
Is fled for ever.

This is true of other things beside modesty. Not
seldom it is true of virtue. Sin is our sad portion,
let us make the best of it. If we may not have a
" stately pleasure-house " of love, let us get what
shelter we may and at least cling close together
while the winds of censure rebuke and the rains of
scandal chill. This is, of course, what Audrie would
suggest. " My beloved is mine and I am his."
What matter concerning other things, what other
thing is there to matter? Not so Michael. Lead
me back, he says, to the ways of peace and purity.
Let us march hand in hand to the throne of for-
giveness. There is no such throne, says the moralist
and the priest within him. " Can one be pardoned
and retain the offence?" he asks with Claudius,
and the answer extracted from his conscience is a
negative. After her death, a death for which he is,
as he knows, mainly responsible, he abandons all
struggle, resigns his volition and his being into the


hands of a church that demands implicit obedience
and pardons no questioning of its decisions and
decrees, and taking upon himself monastic vows
enters permanently a cloister.

If this is not according to the present reading of
the word "tragedy," I know not where tragedy is to
be sought. It may be that the subject is one that
cannot with advantage be set before the public with
the fierce and brilliant illumination of stage presen-
tation. Compare however the method of treatment,
earnest, severe, resolute, unfaltering, with that which
was adopted by novelists dealing with clerical trials
and offences of the sort from the time of Diderot to
that of L'Abbe 1 Michon, the reputed author of " La
Religieuse," " Le Maudit," and other works of the

Once more I repeat that "Michael and his Lost
Angel " is the best play Mr. Jones has given the
stage and is in the full sense a masterpiece. It is
the work of a man conscious of strength, and sure
of the weapons he employs. Whether the stage
will know it again who shall say? It will at least
take rank as literature and in its present shape ap-
peal to most readers capable of having an indepen-
dent opinion and clearing their minds of cant.


From the figures as to the receipts which are pub-
lished it appears that a full chance of recording its
opinion was scarcely given the public. On this point
I am not prepared to speak. Such rebuff as the
play encountered was, I fear, due to the precon-
ceived attitude of some representatives of public
opinion rather than to any misunderstanding be-
tween Mr. Jones and the public. Mr. Forbes Rob-
ertson's performance of the hero was superb in all
respects. The refusal of the part of the heroine by
Mrs. Patrick Campbell, its destined exponent, was
so far a calamity that it fostered the belief that there
was something immoral in the part. In other re-
spects I cannot regard the substitution for that
actress of Miss Marion Terry as a misfortune.

LONDON, i2th February, 1896.


THIS play was produced at the Lyceum Theatre
on the 1 5th January, 1896, and was withdrawn on
the 25th, the management suddenly announcing the
last three nights in the morning papers of the 23d.
An impression has therefore prevailed in the public
mind that the piece was a great financial failure.
So far was this from being the case that the receipts
for the first ten nights during which it was played
were more than ^100 higher than the receipts for
the first ten nights of my play "The Middleman,"
which proved so great a financial success in England
and America. The takings during the brief run
at the Lyceum were as follows :

January 15.

^209 -js. 6

January 21.

99 gf.iirf.


128 9 3

" 22.

114 14 4

" 17.

123 12 3

" 23.

121 IS O


203 5 5


146 12 7

" 20.

99 9 4


231 7 o

The great number of sympathetic letters that I
have received about the play and its cordial recep-


tion on the later nights of the run show that it
created a deep impression on those who did see it,
and encourage me to hope that I may introduce it
again to the English public under happier auspices.









Villagers, Congregation, Choristers, Priests.


(Four months pass)


(Two nights and a day pass.)


(A year passes. )


( Ten months pass.)




SCENE. The Vicarage parlour at Cleveheddon. An
old-fashioned comfortable room in an old English
house. A large window, with low broad sill, takes
up nearly all the back of the stage, showing to the
right apart of Cleveheddon Minster in ruins. To the
left a stretch of West Country landscape. A door,
right, leading io house, A fireplace, right. A door,
left. Table with chairs, right. A portrait of
MICHAEL'S mother hangs on wall at a height of
about nine feet. It is a very striking painting of a
lady about twenty-eight, very delicate and spirituelle.
Time. A fine spring morning. Discover at the
window, looking off right, with face turned away
from audience, and in an attitude of strained
attention to something outside, ANDREW GIBBARD.

1 3 4 5 6 7

Online LibraryHenry Arthur JonesMichael and his lost angel; a play in five acts → online text (page 1 of 7)