Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 9. Critics; Laurence Hutton; Brander Matthews; William Winter

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

§ 9. Critics; Laurence Hutton; Brander Matthews; William Winter

These days of the theatre have been chronicled by three critics: Laurence Hutton, Brander Matthews, and William Winter. Winter had a long perspective in theatre attendance, and left available a large body of journalistic reporting; it may be said that from 1854 to the time of his death in 1917 his pen was recording theatrical matters continually. But he was not concerned with the development of an American drama; his professional duty was to take the theatre as it came to him nightly; to estimate it as a presented thing, and to measure its acting value. His attitude, as becomes a dramatic critic for newspapers, was not concerned primarily with the literary side. Therefore, neither his The Wallet of Time nor his other voluminous works give one a comprehensive view of American drama. Laurence Hutton, on the other hand, was interested in the appearance of American characteristics on the boards, and no more suggestive chapters can be read than in his Curiosities of the American Theatre. Certainly, his close friend and collaborator, Brander Matthews, must have had Hutton in mind when he compiled his essays A Book About the Theatre. It is to Professor Matthews—who has held the chair of Dramatic Literature at Columbia University since 1900, and who is the author of many poems, stories, and novels, as well as an essayist of wide range—that we must turn for estimates of American dramatists as distinct personalities in a native form of art. He has done for the American play what he has done for the subject of drama in general: popularized the philosophy of the theatre. That service is of inestimable worth. He has edited old texts, he helped to found The Players and The Dunlap Society; but, unfortunately, he has written no book on American drama. Yet his volumes of essays have full reference to the American theatre. He has a more organic sense of its development than either Hutton or Winter. In his reminiscences, These Many Years (1917), we not only have his love of the play well depicted, and his reflection of the New York, London, and Paris theatres during the period just sketched; but there is also the record of his own efforts as a dramatist—efforts coincident with those of Howells and Howard and James. One obtains fleeting glimpses of the managerial guilty conscience regarding the fate of American drama, in the efforts made by managers to engage the literary world in the interest of the theatre. In 1878 Professor Matthews wrote Margery’s Lovers, produced in 1887 at an author’s matinèe at the Madison Square Theatre, by A. M. Palmer, who likewise presented George Parsons Lathrop’s Elaine and Howells’s dramatization of A Foregone Conclusion. In similar fashion was Decision of the Court presented, 23 March, 1893, by the Theatre of Arts and Letters. This organization also offered Mary E. Wilkins’s Giles Corey, Frank R. Stockton’s Squirrel Inn, and Clyde Fitch’s Harvest—which latter was afterwards evolved into The Moth and the Flame. Professor Matthews, as an American dramatist, has scarcely exhibited the qualities or won the fame which belong to him as a professor of Dramatic Literature. The reason may be, as Bronson Howard declared after the experience they had together in collaboration over Peter Stuyvesant (2 October, 1899), that Professor Matthews, used to viewing the finished product in the theatre, was not used to the constant labour which always attends the writing and further re-writing of a play.