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flowers that set the hills on fire ; in The Complaint of a Forsaken
Indian Woman, based on Hearne; in the address to Hartley
Coleridge, reminiscent of Carver; in Book Third of The Pre-
lude, where the ideal environment for a university and its
students is clearly that of Bartram's "Alatamaha" River,
"where the generous and true sons of liberty securely dwell";
and in Book Third of The Excursion. Here the Solitary, a re-
turned American traveller, first relates his dissatisfaction with
the "unknit Republic," echoing Ashe, and English opinion in
the year 1814, and then tells of his vain search for the natural
man of Rousseau. He found little more to please him than
"the Muckawiss," of Carver:

So, westward, tow'rd the unviolated woods
I bent my way ; and, roaming far and wide,
Failed not to greet the merry Mocking-bird;
And, while the melancholy Muccawiss
(The sportive bird's companion in the grove)
Repeated o'er and o'er his plaintive cry,
I sympathised at leisure with the sound;
But that pure archetype of human greatness,
I found him not. There, in his stead, appeared
A creature, squalid, vengeful, and impure;
Remorseless, and submissive to no law
But superstitious fear, and abject sloth.

The Solitary is not Wordsworth, but a dramatically conceived
malcontent. The animating note that is characteristic of
American travel at its best was sounded, not by English poets
in the time of George the Third, but forty years before the

2i4 Travellers and Observers

close of the French and Indian War in Berkeley's anticipatory
lines On the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America:

There shall be sung another golden age,

The rise of empire and of arts . . .
Westward the course of empire takes its way.


The Early Drama, 1756-1860

OUR native drama, even though it antedated the novel
and the short story, has practically no history until the
latter half of the eighteenth century. The first drama
written in this country which is now in existence, the satirical
farce, Androborus, was printed, it is true, in 1714. It was by Gov-
ernor Richard Hunter 1 of New York, but as he was an English-
man, the interest in his work is limited to its representation of
local conditions. Androborus was not acted, and had no in-
fluence in the development of an acting drama. The two forces
which seem to have led to the production of a native play upon
the stage were the indirect influence of the early performances
of masques and of dramatic odes and dialogues at the col-
leges, and more directly, the acting of the first regular com-
pany of professional players.

The earliest college exercise, including original composition,
that has survived, is Francis Hopkinson's revision of The
Masque of Alfred, originally written by Thomson and revised
by Mallet in 1751, which deals with the invasion of England
by the Danes. It was performed, according to Hopkinson's
statement, 2 several times during the Christmas holidays of
1 756-7 in the College of Philadelphia. 3 Hopkinson's original
lines number more than two hundred, besides a new prologue
and epilogue, and new scenes are introduced so that the masque
may be considered as in large measure original. What makes

1 For a description of Androborus, see Ford, P. L., The Beginnings of American
Dramatic Literature in The New England Magazine, Feb., 1894, New Series, vol.
ix., No. 6, p. 674.

2 See The Pennsylvania Gazette, 20 and 27 Jan.; 3 and 10 Feb., 1757, for a
detailed account of the Masque, giving Hopkinson's lines.

* Now the University of Pennsylvania.

216 The Early Drama

it of special interest is the fact that Thomas Godfrey, our first
dramatist, who grew up under the tutelage of William Smith,
Provost of the College, and who was a close friend of Hopkin-
son, was in all probability prompted to write by witnessing
this and similar early attempts at dramatic composition. I

Among these college exercises others that have survived are
An Exercise Containing a Dialogue and Ode Sacred to the Memory
of his late Gracious Majesty, George II, performed at the public
commencement in the College of Philadelphia, 23 May, 1761,
the dialogue being by the Rev. Dr. William Smith, the first
Provost, and the ode by Francis Hopkinson. A similar exercise
on the accession of George III was performed at the public
commencement on 18 May, 1762. The epilogue on this occasion
was by the Rev. Jacob Duche, Hopkinson's classmate and after-
wards chaplain of Congress. A similar entertainment, The
Military Glory of Great Britain, was performed at the commence-
ment in the College of New Jersey, 2 29 September, 1762, while
there is evidence of dramatic interest at Harvard College if not
dramatic authorship as early as I758. 3

Of more direct influence, however, on early dramatic writing,
were the performances of plays by the company under David
Douglass. There seem to have been theatrical performances
in this country since I7O3, 4 but the permanent establishment
of professional acting dates from the arrival of Lewis Hallam
and his company from England in 1752. This company acted
in Philadelphia in 1754, where Godfrey doubtless saw them, and
it was to this company after its reorganization under Douglass
in 1758 that he offered his play, The Prince oj Parthia, which he
had finished before the end of 1759. It was not performed at
this time, but was acted on 24 April, 1767, at the Southwark
Theatre, in Philadelphia, according to an advertisement in

1 For Hopkinson, see also Book I, Chap. IX.

3 Now Princeton University.

s Matthews, Albert, Early Plays at Harvard, Nation, vol. xcvui, no. 2542, p.
295, 19 March, 1914.

4 Sonneck, O. G. f Early Opera in America, 1915, p. 7. See also, for the begin-
ning of theatrical companies, Da.ly, Charles P., When Was the Drama Introduced in
America? 1864, reprinted in Dunlap Soc. Pub., Ser. 2, vol. I, 1896; Ford, P. L.,
Washington and the Theatre, Dunlap Society Pub., Ser. 2, vol. vin, 1899. For
earlier performances by amateurs.see Bruce.P. A., An Early Virginia Play, Nation,
vol. LXXXVIII, no. 2276, p. 136, ir Feb., 1909, and Neidig, W. J., The First Play
in America, Nation, vol. LXXXVIII, no. 2274, p. 86, 28 Jan., 1909.

The First Period 217

The Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser of 23 April,
which contains a list of the players who were to take part.
Godfrey did not live to see his play, but died in 1763, two years
before it was published. This play, the first written by an
American to be produced by a professional company, is a
romantic tragedy, laid in Parthia about 200 B.C., and is written
in blank verse of a flexible and dignified character. It is no
unworthy beginning for American dramatic poetry, but it led
at the time to no school of writing. It is interesting, however,
to note that at a later period the most significant literary drama
in this country was produced in the field of tragedy to which
The Prince of Parthia belongs.

The Pre- Revolutionary period was purely a tentative one.
The work of Charlotte Lenox, who was born here but whose
plays were written and played in England, hardly concerns us,
while such plays as Ponteach, by Major Robert Rogers (1766),
or The Disappointment of Col. Thomas Forrest (1767), since
they were not acted, fail to be significant, however tragic the
recital of Indian wrongs in the former or however comic the
hoax described in the latter may be. The Conquest of Canada,
performed at the Southwark Theatre in Philadelphia, 17 Febru-
ary, 1773, has been sometimes referred to as "the second Ameri-
can play, " but its author, George Cockings, was an Englishman,
who wrote the play while in Boston, and it is in any case of
little value either in matter or form.

On 20 October, 1774, the Continental Congress convened
and passed a recommendation in its Articles of Association -
that the colonists "discountenance and discourage all horse
racing and all kinds of gaming, cock fighting, exhibitions of
shows, plays and other expensive diversions and entertain-
ments. " Douglass and his "American Company," which had
occupied the theatres in the colonies for almost a quarter
century, left for the West Indies and the first period in the
history of the American drama was closed.

During the Revolution a number of political satires were
written, none of them, however, in strict dramatic form. The
most important are The Adulateur (1773) and The Group
( I 775). by Mrs. Mercy Warren, of Boston, The Fall of British
Tyranny (1776), by John Leacock, and the anonymous farce
The Blockheads (1776), which has been attributed to Mrs.

2i8 The Early Drama

Warren, but which internal evidence indicates is not by her.
They paint the Tory officeholders and the British soldiers in
very unflattering colours, but in no worse hues than the satirists
on the loyalist side portray their enemies in such products as
The Americans Roused in a Cure for the Spleen (1775?) or
The Battle of Brooklyn (1776). There is no conclusive evidence
that any of these were acted, though on the title page of The
Group it is represented "as lately Acted, and to be Reacted,
to the Wonder of all Superior Intelligences Nigh Head Quar-
ters at Amboyne. " The literary quality is not remarkable in
any event, although Mrs. Warren at times writes a blank verse
of considerable distinction, but their chief interest lies in their
close relation to the great conflict they represent. r

The authority of Congress, except when ratified by action
of the several states, did not extend beyond a recommendation
to discontinue plays, but with the exception of a brief season
in 1778 at the Southwark Theatre in Philadelphia, the activities
of the Baltimore Company which began in 1781, and the later
ventures of Ryan's Company in New York, the wishes of Con-
gress were generally respected. With the coming of peace, the
feeling against plays began to lessen. Lewis Hallam, the
younger, returned to Philadelphia in 1784, and when he was
coldly received there took to New York the reorganized
American Company that was to be so closely associated with
the history of the drama in that city. From the point of
view of the production of dramatic writing, however, nothing
is worthy of record until 1787.

In that year, dramatic performances were given by the
American Company in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and
Annapolis. There was a more decided interest in things theatri-
cal, but most important was the production in New York on
1 6 April, 1787, of The Contrast by Royall Tyler,the first Ameri-
can comedy to be produced by a professional company. As
had been the case with Godfrey, the local company served as
the inspiration for Tyler. The theme of the play is the contrast
between simple native dignity as typified in Colonel Manly and
imported foppery and follies represented by Dimple, Charlotte,
and Letitia. The most important character, however, is that
of Jonathan, the servant of Manly, who is the prototype of a

1 For Mrs. Warren see also Book I, Chap. IX.

Dunlap 219

long succession of stage Yankees. Tyler also wrote a comic
opera in two acts, May Day in Town or New York in an Uproar,
performed 18 May, 1787, in New York, and after his return to
Boston produced a dramatic satire entitled A Georgia Spec, or
Land in the Moon, aimed at the rage for speculating in the
Georgia lands of the Yazoo Purchase. It was played in Boston
and New York in 1 797. *

Important historically as Tyler was, this period is domi-
nated by the personality of William Dunlap, whose first acted
play, The Father, performed in New York on 7 September, 1789,
was a comedy of manners inspired by the success of The Con-
trast. The success of this play and that of his drama Leicester,
the second American tragedy, played first under the title of
The Fatal Deception, on 24 April, 1794, inspired him to go on.
According to his own statement he wrote fifty plays 2 "and other
pieces unpublished," most of which were acted successfully.
These include tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, opera, and
interlude. He is especially significant as an adaptor of German
and French plays, and it was through him that Kotzebue was
introduced to the American stage. His first adaptation from
Kotzebue, The Stranger, played on 10 December, 1798, was
from an English version, but the success of this led him to
study German, and he adapted and produced at least thirteen
plays of Kotzebue, the most significant being False Shame,
played in 1799, and The Virgin of the Sun and Fraternal Discord,
both acted in 1800. He also adapted Zschokke's Abaellino in
1 80 1 with great success, while his earlier adaptation of Schiller's
Don Carlos in 1799 had been a failure. He did not neglect
American themes, however, and one of his most popular plays,
Andre (1798), afterwards rewritten as The Glory of Columbia
(1803), represents the Revolutionary period. His career as
manager of the American Company from 1796 to 1805 and the
influence he had upon the development of the stage at that time
make it fitting to close this period with the date at which finan-
cial difficulty forced him to shut his doors. He became con-
nected with the theatre again from 1806 to 1811 and wrote
even after that, but his later contribution was comparatively

1 For Tyler, see also Book I, Chap. IX, and Book II, Chaps, in and vr.
a A complete bibliography of Dunlap records sixty-five plays. See Biblio-

220 The Early Drama

unimportant. This period is noteworthy also for the beginning
of organized dramatic criticism in New York in the work of a
group headed by Peter Irving and Charles Adams, who met
after the play, wrote critiques in common, and secured their

The next period begins naturally with the work of James
N. Barker of Philadelphia and John Howard Payne of New
York. Barker's first play, Tears and Smiles, was produced in
1807. This comedy continued the representation of contem-
porary manners started in The Contrast and reflected also the
reproduction of recent events in the reference to the Tripoli
pirates. In his dramatization of historical American life in
The Indian Princess (1808), probably the first dramatic version
of the Pocahontas story, and Superstition (1824), whose motif
was the witchcraft delusion in New England, Barker represents
the American playwright working with native material. Even
in Marmion (1812) he put in King James's mouth a ringing
speech which, while seeming to apply to Scottish conditions,
actually reflected the feeling of America toward England in
1812. Marmion was played as late as 1848. Payne, unlike
Barker, represents foreign influence. From 1806 when his
Julia, or The Wanderer, was acted in New York, his dramatic
work consisted largely of adaptation from English, French, and
German sources. His complete bibliography 1 records sixty-
four plays, of which nineteen were published. His most
significant work was done in the field of tragedy, such as his
Brutus, first played in London in 1818, or in comedy like Charles
II, first performed in London in 1824, while the bulk of his
work is composed of melodrama or farce. It was in his opera of
Clari (1823) that the song Home Sweet Home was first sung.
Payne's achievement can hardly be properly rated until it is ;
ascertained how much of his work is original, and so far as his !
treatment of native material goes, he is not so significant as
lesser dramatists such as M. M. Noah, who made a brave ,'
attempt to dramatize American history in She Would Be a
Soldier (1819) and Marion (1821). She Would Be a Soldier <
was based on the battle of Chippewa in 1812. It proved popu- ,
lar; Forrest acted the Indian Chief in 1826, and it was repeated f
as late as 1848.

1 See Bibliography.

Edwin Forrest and the Philadelphia Group 221

There are several reasons why the year 1825 forms a con-
venient point of departure in the development of the drama.
Up to about 1822, largely through the excellence of the com-
pany at the Chestnut Street Theatre where Jefferson, Warren,
and Wood formed a triumvirate in comedy, Philadelphia had
been the theatrical metropolis. T Then the growing importance
of the port of New York brought an increasing number of
foreign actors to that city and made it important for an actor
to begin his career there. The year 1825-6, according to Ire-
land, 2 was remarkable in the history of the New York stage,
since it witnessed the first attempt to establish Italian opera
with a fully organized company, the beginning of Hackett's
career as a comedian, and the combination of Placide, Kilson,
Barnes, and Miss Kelly in comedy at the Park Theatre. Most
important, this year marked the real beginning of Edwin
Forrest's career, both in Philadelphia and in New York.

The very prominence of New York and its proximity to
Europe, however much they added to its theatrical prestige,
hindered the development of the drama. The succession of
English actors who were brought over as "stars" resulted in
little encouragement to native writers, while in Philadelphia,
under the encouragement of Edwin Forrest and others, a group
of dramatists arose whose work became widely known both at
home and abroad. For the year 1 829-30 Durang lists nine plays
by American writers, among them Pocahontas by George Wash-
ington Custis and John Kerr's first draft of Rip Van Winkle.

In 1829 Forrest produced the Indian play of Metamora by
John Augustus Stone, an actor who lived during his creative
period in Philadelphia. The play was a bit bombastic and the
speeches of Metamora show a curious mixture of Indian and
Ossian, but they are at times very effective and some of the
phrases of this play became by words in the mouths of the people.

Forrest also inspired Robert Montgomery Bird of Philadel-
phia to write The Gladiator in 1831. It was played by Forrest
in all parts of the Union and at Drury Lane in 1836. In this
play Dr. Bird combined the principal sources of dramatic in-
terest self-preservation, love of wife, child, and brother, desire

1 See Durang, C., History of the Philadelphia Stage, Second Series, Chap. Ill,
and Wemyss, F. C., Twenty-Six Years of the Life of an Actor- Manager, vol. i, p. 74.
1 Ireland. Records of the New York Stage, vol. I, p. 483.

222 The Early Drama

for freedom, and personal loyalty in one central charac-
ter, expressed this combination of qualities and sentiments in
i vigorous personality, especially suited for Forrest, and
clothed the sentiments expressed in a dignified and flexible
blank verse, varied at times by prose. Bird's tragedy of Peru,
Oralloossa (1832), but more especially his Broker of Bogota
(1834), both produced by Forrest, are among the most significant
of American dramas. The character of Febro in The Broker of
Bogota, energetic, with a middle-class mind but courageous
and with a passion for his children, is admirably conceived.
Bird was also known as a novelist, and one of his romances,
Nick of the Woods, dramatized by Louisa Medina in 1838,
proved to be one of the most successful melodramas of the time.
His Infidel was dramatized by Benjamin H. Brewster and
played in Philadelphia in 1835, and The Hawks of Hawk
Hollow was put on the stage in I84I. 1

Bird's fellow-citizen, Richard Penn Smith, while not so
great a dramatist, is significant on account of his laudable
attempts to treat native material. At least fifteen of his plays
were performed, eleven of which have been preserved in print
or in manuscript. Of his tragedy Caius Marius, in which
Forrest starred, we have only tradition and one scene. His
national plays, The Eighth of January, celebrating Jackson's
victory at New Orleans, William Penn, his drama of colonial
and Indian life, both played in 1829, and The Triumph at
Plattsburg (1830), concerned with McDonough's victory on
Lake Champlain, are vigorous plays and were well received.

Although Robert T. Conrad's historical play of Jack Cade,
first acted in Philadelphia in 1835, was not written originally
for Forrest, it was through his acting that it received its best
interpretation. This play was a worthy rival of Bird's dramas
for favour here and abroad. It has a deeper significance than
appears at first glance, for it was made a vehicle for the expres-
sion of democratic ideals, and this strengthened its hold on the
American people.

The most significant of this group of Philadelphia drama-
tists was George Henry Boker. His first play, Calaynos, is a
tragedy based on the hatred of the Spaniards for the Moors.
Previous to its performance in Philadelphia in 1851, it had a

1 See also Book II, Chap. vn.

Boker 223

long run at the Sadlers Wells Theatre in London in 1849, where
Samuel Phelps played Calaynos and G. K. Dickenson, Oliver. 1
His second tragedy, Leonor de Guzman, produced in 1853, was
also laid in Spain and is concerned with the revenge of the
injured Queen, Maria of Portugal. His comedy The Betrothal, 2
produced successfully in Philadelphia and New York in 1850,
and played in England in 1853, is laid in Italy. With the ex-
ception of Under a Mask, a prose comedy, performed in Phila-
delphia in 1851, all of Boker's acted plays are of a distinguished
quality. His masterpiece, however, was his tragedy Francesca
da Rimini, first acted by E. L. Davenport in 1855 in New
York and Philadelphia, and revived by Lawrence Barrett in
1882 and by Mr. Otis Skinner in 1901. The art with which
the medieval Italian life is depicted, the music of the verse
and the noble conception of Lanciotto, the wronged husband
and brother, lift this tragedy to its deserved place in the first
rank of verse dramas written in the English language during
the nineteenth century.

It is not to be supposed that dramatic talent was limited to
Philadelphia. Epes Sargent and Julia Ward Howe in Boston,
Nathaniel Parker Willis of Boston and New York, Charlotte
Barnes Conner and Anna Ogden Mowatt of New York, and
George H. Miles of Baltimore, to mention only a few, wrote
plays that were definite contributions to literature as well as
practically adapted for the stage. From this point it becomes
necessary, however, owing to the wealth of material and the
imposed limits of the chapter, to treat the plays from the point
of view of types of the drama, rather than as the work of in-
dividuals, and this is also most productive of results. Examina-
tion of printed plays before 1860, combined with search through
the histories of the stage, discloses about seven hundred plays
by American writers actually placed upon the boards. These
figures are obviously incomplete, 3 but they show at least the

1 Calaynos, Lond. ed., n.d., p. 8.

3 The facts given here and in the Bibliography are based upon the manuscripts
of Boker, in the possession of his family.

3 The histories of Dunlap, Durang, Wood, Ireland, Brown, Seilhammer, Clapp,
Wemyss, andtheMSS. diary of Wood have been carefully examined in preparation
of these figures, but inaccuracies, confusions of titles of acted and printed plays,
difficulty of deciding in all cases as to the nationality of the playwright, etc., make
the statements only relatively exact.

224 The Early Drama

wide activity of our early playwrights notwithstanding the
difficulties under which they laboured, and to which one of
them so vigorously refers. l

Of greatest distinction as literature are the tragedies.
About eighty of these were performed, forty of which are
extant, and they belong usually to the type known as romantic
tragedy. In many cases there is an additional historical interest.
Among those dealing with ancient history the most significant
are Payne's Brutus (1818), Bird's Gladiator (1831), David Paul
Brown's Sertorius, the Roman Patriot, acted by the elder
Booth in 1830, and Waldimar by John J. Bailey, produced by
Charles Kean in 1831 and based on the massacre at Thessalonica
in the fourth century A.D. Dunlap's Leicester (1794), Barker's
Marmion (1812), and Conrad's Jack Cade (1835) are the best
of the dozen dealing with English history, while the historical
interest is also definite in such tragedies as John Burk's Female
Patriotism or The Death of Joan D 'Arc (1798), Dunlap's Virgin
of the Sun (1800), Mrs. Ellet's Teresa Contarini (1835), a Vene-
tian tragedy, Epes Sargent's Velasco, laid in Burgos in 1046,
and acted by E. L. Davenport in 1837, and Bianca Visconti, by
Nathaniel Parker Willis, based on the career of Francesco
Sforza. This play won the prize competition offered by
Josephine Clifton, who produced it in 1837 in the principal
cities of this country. It held the stage as late as 1852. George
H. Miles's prize play of Mohammed, performed in 1851, and
Leonor de Guzman and Francesco, da Rimini of Boker belong also

Online LibraryWilliam Peterfield TrentThe Cambridge history of American literature → online text (page 22 of 144)