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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

§ 16. Augustus Thomas

If, however, one reads the early dramas of Augustus Thomas and Clyde Fitch, it will be realized how dexterously the American playwright profited by the French technician in whom the commercial manager had faith. Considering the demands of the box-office, it is surprising that these dramatists developed so often along the lines of their own interests. Their plays are representative in part of the demands of the theatre of the time, but also they measure something more personal. Thomas at first wrote local dramas, like Alabama (1 April, 1891) and Arizona (Chicago, 12 June, 1899), which in content he never excelled; he showed his brilliancy of observation and terseness of dialogue in such pieces as Mrs. Leffingwell’s Boots (11 January, 1905) and The Other Girl (29 December, 1903). Then he arrived at his serious period, where interest in psychic phenomena resulted in The Witching Hour (18 November, 1907), The Harvest Moon (18 October, 1909), and As a Man Thinks (13 March, 1911)—the latter extravagant in its use of several themes, excellent in its sheer talk. This development was not imposed on Thomas by commercial conditions.

But, like his contemporaries, Thomas was experimental in form; he was not moved by a body of philosophy in his dealing with character or theme. He was just as ready to write a farce like The Earl of Pawtucket (5 February, 1903) as he was to do a costume play like Oliver Goldsmith (19 March, 1900); just as willing to turn a series of cartoons into a play, like The Education of Mr. Pipp (20 February, 1905), as he was to dramatize popular novels of such different range as F. Hopkinson Smith’s Colonel Carter of Cartersville (22 March, 1892) and Richard Harding Davis’s Soldiers of Fortune (17 March, 1902). Thomas’s observation of “things about town” is acute; one sees that to best advantage in The Other Girl and The Witching Hour. Most of his plays, as his introductions to the printed editions suggest, reveal his method of workmanship.