« ZurückWeiter »
probably secured early attention for his translations, and the way in which he made the democratic free-trade organ play a few weak protectionist tunes when the Music Hall v. Theatres controversy was in its infancy, was worthy of some little reward. The Star has since wisely discovered that it cannot safely be Conservative when even the Morning Herald is Liberal on this subject.
The weekly papers are represented by writers who have quite a3 little to do with stage business. The Examiner critic is Mr. Henry Morley, who reads plays, but never writes them. The Dispatch is represented by Mr. Bayle Bernard, a conscientious and retired dramatist. The Weekly Times notices are written by Mr. F. G. Tomlins. Mr. Sidney Blanchard represents Lloyd's. The Atheneum and the Illustrated London News both obtain their dramatic criticisms from Mr. J. A. Heraud, a mystic dramatist, who obtains a footing occasionally at the minor theatres. The Saturday Review obtains its dramatic matter from Mr. John Oxenford. The Spectator theatrical notices are very rare, except when Miss Kate Terry is acting. The Illustrated Times is represented by Mr. W. S. Gilbert, a young burlesque writer. The Era and the Sunday Times, both professedly theatrical papers, and bound to praise everything, may be left out of the catalogue. The Observer is represented by a gentleman of taste, who is not a dramatic author, but simply an old playgoer. The sporting papers may be passed by; and the religious papers never meddle with anything so abandoned as public amusements.
Out of this long list of newspapers, daily and weekly, only three are represented by active dramatic authors, and only six, including those three, by dramatic authors passive and active-a sufficient answer to those who assert that the hope of selling pieces, mostly translations from the French, at fancy prices, is the chief cause of newspaper critical mildness. Dramatic authors, far from being gentle judges of the work of their fellow-craftsmen, are often remarkable for Draconian severity. Mr. Tom Taylor is the most prolific modern dramatist, with the exception of Mr. Boucicault, and when he gets an opportunity of passing judgment upon a contemporary drama, he is far from being merciful. His criticisms in the now defunct Reader were full of spleen and indignation, and his notices in The Times (during the illness of Mr. Oxenford), of “A Wild Goose,” at the Haymarket, and of the defects of stage-management at the Adelphi, when his own drama of "Henry Dunbar was revived, were like galvanic shocks to the readers of the leading journal. The public, used to nothing but cri
tical sugar, were not prepared for this sudden dose of bitters, and the change of diet was evidently a mystery to the uninitiated.
All the writers named above have their individual peculiarities apart from the system of criticism they are supposed to uphold. Mr. Oxenford is a graceful and scholarly writer, never eager to use the admitted power of his journal to crush an actor or an author. Having written for the same paper for nearly thirty years, and being a sensible, observant, and cautious, not to say timid, man, it is almost unnecessary to remark that he is thoroughly imbued with the spirit of The Times newspaper. On the first night of a new drama he is not so anxious to ascertain whether the play is bad or good, when judged by a high literary standard, as to see whether it is accepted by the public, and has the chance of becoming popular. If it will "run" a hundred nights, it is quite good enough for The Times, and the analytical criticism is reserved for the pages of the Saturday Review.
Mr. Dumphie's criticisms in the Morning Post are the work of a thoughtful reading man, whose natural amiability is often sorely tried by the rubbish he is compelled to witness. Mr. F. G. Tomlins is one of the most accomplished Shaksperian scholars on the London press, and one of the most genial humourists. If his dramatic notices in the Morning Advertiser do not more frequently show traces of fun and eulture, it is because they have to be written hurriedly very late at night, or because the dramas produced seldom justify any writing beyond the merest reporting. Mr. Desmond Ryan, the dramatic critic of the Standard and Herald, is a writer of great experience with no very strong opinions, except in conversation; and Mr. E. L. Blanchard, of the Daily Telegraph, is a writer of equal experience, who represents a journal of enormous circulation, and is careful not to use his power recklessly. Mr. Leicester Buckingham, who represents the Star, is very fond of long words, and rings the changes on “emotional facial ” and “facial emotional,” until he confuses himself and his readers. He can write an able criticism when he likes, but his prevailing faults are a weakness for praising everything in petticoats that is good-looking, and a passion for scolding that is almost feminine. Mr. G. H. Lewes, once well known as a clever dramatic adapter under the name of “Slingsby Laurence,” writes occasionally in the Pall Mall Gazette with sense and critical power, but with too great an affectation of superiority to all other critics.
These are the chief critics of the London daily press, and it is their misfortune to work at a time when the drama is not much
respected by intellectual people. Some editors who have very lofty notions of the place they occupy amongst the governing powers of the world, affect to speak of actors as "those people," and pretend not to care much how their dramatic reporting is done as long as they are not troubled with complaints and corrections. The critics who are blessed with such mighty editors, of course, are encouraged in that lazy habit, which puts off a notice until the next day or the next, and as far as the drama is concerned, turns an otherwise well-conducted daily newspaper into a weekly or retrospective review. A critic who is not able to write his notices on the first nights of new dramas, is evidently not strong enough for the place, and ought to resign in favour of more robust, if less clever men. The readers of a daily newspaper look to their journal first for news, and secondly for style. The critic who can leave a theatre at midnight, rush to his office, and give a clear and amusing account, one column in length, of a new three or four-act drama, tracing it to its source, apportioning praise and blame with an unprejudiced pen, and, above all, spelling the names of the actors correctly, is a treasure to his journal, and the proper critic for a daily newspaper.
All hair-splitting, and the Anglo-German style of criticism may be left to the weekly newspapers.
Editors who know what a daily journal ought to be, will support a critic who never shuffles out of his work with the following paragraph :-“The play did not conclude until a very late hour, and we consequently reserve our remarks for a future number.” It would be difficult to believe that such confessions of incapacity could creep into a well-conducted journal, if other similar confessions of failure were not frequently observable. On the nights of a heavy debate, or some equally expected event, we often see the following humiliating sentence :-“In consequence of the great pressure on our space, we are compelled to omit our law report, and many articles of intelligence.” A manager of a paper who puts such a paragraph into type may well say that he is compelled to dispense with intelligence. In plain English, he tells the public that his machinery, his writers, his printers, and his management, have utterly broken down, but hope to resume their labours in the course of a day T two!
A dramatic critic is the servant of the public-a taster sent in advance to try to report upon theatrical productions, upholding what are vaguely called the interests of art to the best of his ability It is not every manager, however, who regards the critic in this light.
Some managers look upon him as their servant, and not the public's. They resent any uncomplimentary remarks upon their dramas and their companies as personal insults, forgetting that a critic is in the same position as a judge. A manager may have friendly relations with a magistrate without expecting him to misinterpret the law in exchange for dinners and other civilities, but I am afraid that critics are regarded as more purchasable material. Some managers have the human weakness not to mind any abuse lavished on their actors and authors, even to the injury of their pockets, but then such managers are actors and authors themselves. A manager will accept a fortune made for him by an author or an actor; but lie will not conceal his contempt for his benefactor if he feels it. The anxiety of an actor to influence theatrical notices is more pardonable. He has often a just. ground of complaint in the character of the criticisms. A critic generally seems to think that his opinion overrides everything. He has: only to assert that a piece or an actor is bad, and the piece ar thie actor must be so accepted. He gives no reason for the faith that is in him. He has said it, and you must bow down and worship tlıo unsupported opinion. There is no court of appeal, and if you write to the journal, you only get another snubbing.
Critics are human like other people, and have their likes and dislikes, their whims and prejudices. One man hates Shakspere on tho stage, and has the courage to say so; another man hates slip-slop French translations; another man hates the public for their ccarso and idiotic tastes; one man detests burlesque, with all its attendant glitter and folly; another man hates realistic effects, real cabs, rea' pumps, and real water; one man admires the old school of actingthe Turveydrop and deportment school; another likes the new and more dippant school; one man admires beautiful scenery and stageupholstery; another likes the pauper simplicity of more “legitimate" managers ;—but they all strive to do justice to authors and actor because they all have an affection for authors and actors. If their criticisms are not generally more lofty in tone, the fault lies, in a great. measure, with the public. What is the use of proving, according to all received canons of criticism, that a piece is bad, when theatres can bo filled by it for two or three hundred nights? If the public want a higher order of criticism, they have only to ask for it. If theatrical notices during the last few months have exhibited an unusual severity, the cause may be found in the revival of hissing as a stage corrective, Hissing is the respected parent of dramatic criticism.
BY ERNEST GRISET. “Richard replied, ' It must be known to you That tales improbable may yet be true.'' -CRABBE, Ta'es of the Hall, Book iii.
POINTS FOR MEDITATION.
The sailor landed. Now, says he, • I wonder what these here can be ?!” - Spike Island, Canto I.
UP A TREE.