The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XVIII. The Drama, 1860–1918

§ 11. Local Color

The successes of those early days when Howard was knocking at the doors of Daly and Palmer, were fitful, and, though they are known by name today, their lack of a true note of reality and their stereotyped romanticism make them impossible either as reading dramas or as revivals. Joaquin Miller’s The Danites (Broadway Theatre, 22 August, 1877), J. Cheever Goodwin’s burlesque Evangeline (Niblo’s Garden, 27 July, 1874), Bartley Campbell’s My Partner (Union Square, 16 September, 1879), Wallack’s Rosedale (Wallack’s Theatre, 30 September, 1863), Olive Logan’s Surf (Daly’s Theatre, 12 anuary, 1870),—these were the types of native successes. None of them exploited deep-founded American characteristics, though they suggested the melodrama of American life. It was only by individualizing and localizing that the American drama, previous to 1860, became distinct. Only by these raditional marks could one recognize American drama of the early days. Until Howard’s attempt at reality, New York “society” drama was either English or else crudely rustic, like Asa Trenchard in Taylor’s Our American Cousin (Laura Keene’s Theatre, 18 October, 1858). Over into this period of transition came the Yankee, the backwoodsman, the humorous lawyer of “flush times.” As Howard said, writing of the American drama, the native dramatists were concerned with American character, hence Solon Shingle, Colonel Sellers, Judge Bardwell Slote, and Mose the fire-boy. Without them, we should not have had Joshua Whitcomb, Davy Crockett, and Pudd’nhead Wilson. Perhaps one of the most typically American pieces produced in this period of the seventies was Frank Murdock’s Davy Crockett (New York, Niblo’s Garden, 9 March, 1874), reminiscent in its colour of the elder Hackett’s Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, and a romantic forerunner of Moody’s The Great Divide. Mrs. Bateman’s Self finds continuation in Howard’s Saratoga and Mrs. Logan’s Surf, while these point the way to Langdon Mitchell’s The New York Idea, written when dialogue for the theatre had grown in literary form and feeling, when a sense of atmosphere created an ironic response to fashionable manners and customs.

It is because of this isolated, accidental character of American drama that Bronson Howard’s position was all the more remarkable in 1870, and thereafter. Yet his plays are dated. It may be that some day Saratoga can be made over into a costume play, though it was written as an up-to-date “society” comedy. But the difference between it and Mitchell’s The New York Idea (19 November, 1906) is that the latter contains some of the universal depth that mere change in time and condition will not alter.

The theatre of the sixties and seventies was surfeited with the strong melodrama and romantic violences which suited a special robust acting. When David Belasco turned East, as stock dramatist for The Madison Square Theatre, a house to compete with the traditions of the Union Square and Daly’s, there came into vogue a form of drama which allowed of a quiet, domestic atmosphere—in imitation of what Robertson, Byron, and their British contemporaries were striving for in London. The “milk and water” acting which was here introduced was what made of The Young Mrs. Winthrop (Madison Square Theatre, 9 October, 1882) such a phenomenal success. It was this tradition, not new but novel, which evolved into the present naturalistic method of acting. But the Madison Square Theatre gave impetus to something more than a school of acting. In its intimate management it furthered the dramatic writing of Steele MacKaye, whose Hazel Kirke (4 February, 1880) was written expressly for the stock company gathered there, and it brought Belasco and De Mille together in preparation for their later collaboration when, with Daniel Frohman, they went over to the Lyceum Theatre and in rapid succession wrote The Wife (1 November, 1887), Lord Chumley (21 August, 1888), The Charity Ball (19 November, 1889), Men and Women (21 October, 1890).