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“PEER GYNT.” D Y far the most interesting dramatic event that has happened for D long enough has been the appearance of Ibsen's “Peer Gynt" in an English translation, made—and admirably made—by Mr. William Archer and his brother.' At last a dramatic masterpiece which holds something of the same relationship to modern Scandinavian literature that “Faust” does to German literature, is at the service of every lover of a great poetic play. I expressed, in another place, the wish that one might have the promise “though distant, yet, indeed, revealed,” that there should be sooner or later a performance of “Peer Gynt” on an English stage. I feared that it was not likely, but the privilege of Pandora's is always ours, and in hope, at least, the thing is done. It is perfectly feasible, of course. Does not Germany often play the whole of “Faust”? But we are not Germany, and the thing would be, I fear, beyond the powers of the Independent Theatre just yet ; for it would be an expensive business to stage it to the show. Is there, I asked, in that other place, in any corner of the world, a millionaire who is devoted to the study of Ibsen ? There may be at this moment in some Nevada silver mine or Australasian sheep-run, some individual of enormous wealth, whose delight in life is in the reading of Ibsen's plays, and whose ambition is to pay some worthy tribute to the master. If such an one there were, I urged him to send me a large cheque, and I promised to give a performance of “ Peer Gynt" that would mark an epoch in the history of the stage. But I added that I did not expect to get that cheque, or to mark that epoch.
THE DRAMA AS IT is. D UT if the printed drama is inspiriting enough, if the translated
D Ibsen and the original work of Henley and Stevenson cheer, the actual plays now being played on the London boards are the reverse of exhilarating. It is nearly half a century since Thomas Carlyle, struggling with his Brocken spectre of a Cromwell, turned for one moment his thoughts to the possibility of a Cromwell play by him, and then put the thought from him for ever, with the declaration that the drama was dead in England. Strindberg made the same assertion very lately. Indeed, in ranging over the list of plays now or lately being performed, there is little or nothing to lead one to a contrary opinion. At one theatre a race-horse is the hero of the piece, is, in fact, the piece, a thing which supports Swift's theory of
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the superiority of the horse to man. At another theatre a beautiful woman wore beautiful dresses in the worst play that has been seen upon our stage for many a long day. What is to be said of “A Lucky Dog," of the revival of “Our Boys,” of “ The Awakening”? What of—but the list is too long. Tedious it were to tell and harsh to hear. And in the midst of all this desolation there never was more fuss made about the stage and its plays and its players. Newspapers publish columns of confessions from our dramatic authors, telling the city and the world how they write their plays. Critics of reputation, leaders of the Old School and leaders of the New, in their feverish excitement about the condition of the drama, forget their suavity, and treat each other with a personality of address that recalls the warrings of the Schoolmen. Infinite talk there is “about it and about,” infinite argument, exacerbating, it would seem, to the nerves of the disputants, and, as far as can be seen, nothing is coming of it. For the plays of Mr. Henley and Mr. Stevenson have not been born of the recent agitation. They were in existence before the existing strife began ; they have nothing to do with the shrill strife and the heady wrangle now raging. The whole business is one to make the angels weep, who with our spleens would all themselves laugh mortal—if, indeed, it could by any stretch of imagination be supposed that angels could have any concern for the plays of this passing hour.
JUSTIN HUNTLY MCCARTHY.
ALFRED BARON TENNYSON, BORN AUGUST 5, 1809.
DIED OCTOBER 6, 1892.
PEERAGE and a tomb in Westminster Abbey-such are the
rewards Great Britain reserves for those she seeks most to honour. Common enough has been in the past each form of distinction. Until recent days, tombs in the Abbey were allotted to absolute obscurities ; and the list of names of occupants supplied by Dean Stanley in his “Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey,” ranges from Chaucer, Jonson, Dryden, Handel, and Newton, to Mr. Thomas Smith and Nicholas Bagenall, an “infant of two months old, by his nurse unfortunately overlaid.” Peerages meanwhile have not seldom been the well-known recompense of servility and venality. Where both honours-a peerage and a tomb in either Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's—have been awarded, national service has generally been rendered. Nine times out of ten the recipient of such distinctions has been a fighter.
The soldier and the sailor still stand foremost in the world's pageant, and their brows are those ordinarily “lighted” by the coronet. Whose are the statues that are seen in our streets ? To whom rise the tall columns which grace our squares and public places ? To whom are given by a grateful country the palaces from which their descendants lightly part? In almost every case to warriors. If not to such, to successful misrulers and prosperous lawyers. Among these stood Lord Tennyson: a unique instance in this country of a man attaining the highest places for purely literary accomplishment, untainted with military or political service.
PROSAIC if brilliant recognition is that we have rendered. In
France, where idea stands for far more than in England, a decoration is all that a country, as apart from a king, has been able to bestow. In Italy, in which life has been more picturesque, a wreath of bay leaves accorded during the lifetime of the writer has been
held to suffice. One can still see Tasso, after a lifetime of poverty, difficulty, struggle, and defeat, making his triumphal entry into Rome, for the purpose of receiving from the Pope the crown, "the ornament of emperors and poets.” A distinction of that kind, real and, in a sense, adequate in Italy, would in England be regarded as ridiculous. A poet would accept no such decoration, nor would a Government dare to dream of offering it. Such honours and rewards as are in the power of the Government were ungrudgingly awarded, and it was only in the poet's own profession that any condemnation was heard of the pecuniary grant by which honours and titles were accompanied. The public did the rest. Tennyson might even have followed the example of Scribe, and, taking the pen for crest, have accompanied it with the motto Inde fortuna et libertas. He might, indeed, have followed further the example of his far less renowned and illustrious predecessor, and have written on the front of the house at Aldworth, with the alteration of la poésie for le théâtre, what Scribe put over a châlet in his domain of Séricourt :
Le théâtre a payé cet asile champêtre :
ATURE has joined with man in rendering homage to the
departed poet, and has closed with a death he would have chosen a life such as he desired. It is not every one who takes the view of death ascribed to Ernest Renan, whose own departure prefaced by a few days only that of Tennyson. To Renan the most desirable death appeared to be a shot received in action; and he is alleged even to have dreamed of accepting honours that might subject him to the chance of being the victim of popular violence. Granting even that the antagonist or the assassin is deft in the execution of his task, and that, instead of lingering in agony,
Scorched with the death thirst, and writhing in vain, the death is swift and sudden, it is too heroic for average humanity. On the other hand, Webster, in the “White Devil,” makes one of his characters exclaim :
How miserable a thing it is to die
'Mongst women howling. Neither violent nor harrowing was the death of the ex-Laureate. His days had not quite come in length to those of
The many-wintered crow that leads the clanging rookery home ;
but full of years as of honours, with his family around him, he expired in the reposeful silence of his unlighted chamber. “Gloriously beautiful,” Sir Andrew Clark said, was his departure. In words that will not soon be forgotten Sir Andrew continues, “In all my experience I have never witnessed anything more glorious. There were no artificial lights in the chamber, and all was in darkness save for the silvery light of the moon at its full. The soft beams of light fell upon the bed and played upon the features of the dying poet like a halo.” To this, thinking of the worth of the man and the warmth of a nation's recognition, it is natural to apply the passage in “Samson Agonistes," too appropriate not to have been 'quoted before, in which Manoah speaks of the death of his son, with God “favouring and assisting to the end."
No time for lamentation now.
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
THE DEATH OF POETS.
T is a favourite fancy that when the poet dies Nature mourns.
The idea Sir Walter Scott has crystallised in well-known lines beginning
Call it not vain ; they do not err who say
Of Dante it is said that his future eminence was foretold in the fact that he was born on the moment of the 8th of May, 1265, when the sun was in the sign of Gemini, and that the year of his death (1321) was memorable for a total eclipse of the sun. If such dreams could merit attention it would be easy to believe that in the case of poets such as Marlowe, Chatterton, Keats, Shelley, Byron-who died by accident or disease, before their full strength had been shown and their whole message delivered to the world—Nature might be supposed to share the sorrows of man. Seeing, however, that death comes to all, and may not be avoided, there is no cause for lamentation when it arrives only in the plenitude of time. That the full moon shone with unsurpassable brightness on the night on which Tennyson expired many must have observed. In this case, then, Nature's homage seems