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Chapter 2: the early drama, 1756-1860

Arthur Hobson Quinn, Ph.D., Dean of the College, University of Pennsylvania.
  • The origins of the drama in College exercises.
  • -- influence of the early companies. -- Godfrey's Prince of Parthia, the first American play. -- the closing of the theatres. -- the Revolutionary satirists. -- Tyler's contrast. -- William Dunlap. -- J. N. Barker. -- J. H. Payne. -- beginning of the creative period. -- Stone's Metamora. -- the Philadelphia group: R. M. Bird, R. P. Smith, Conrad, Boker. -- types of drama. -- romantic tragedy. -- historical and national plays. -- comedy and melodrama. -- the “Yankee” plays. -- the realistic New York drama. -- social satire. -- romantic comedy. -- Gothic melodrama. -- domestic drama. -- farce. -- the periods in the development of the American drama

Our native drama, even though it antedated the novel and the short story, has practically no history until the latter half of the eighteenth century. The first drama written in this country which is now in existence, the satirical farce, Androborus, was printed, it is true, in 1714. It was by Governor Richard Hunter1 of New York, but as he was an Englishman, the interest in his work is limited to its representation of local conditions. Androborus was not acted, and had no influence in the development of an acting drama. The two forces which seem to have led to the production of a native play upon the stage were the indirect influence of the early performances of masques and of dramatic odes and dialogues at the colleges, and more directly, the acting of the first regular company of professional players.

The earliest college exercise, including original composition, that has survived, is Francis Hopkinson's revision of The Masque of Alfred, originally written by Thomson and revised by Mallet in 1751, which deals with the invasion of England by the Danes. It was performed, according to Hopkinson's statement,2 several times during the Christmas holidays of 1756-7 in the College of Philadelphia.3 Hopkinson's original lines number more than two hundred, besides a new prologue and epilogue, and new scenes are introduced so that the masque may be considered as in large measure original. What makes [216] it of special interest is the fact that Thomas Godfrey, our first dramatist, who grew up under the tutelage of William Smith, Provost of the College, and who was a close friend of Hopkinson,4 was in all probability prompted to write by witnessing this and similar early attempts at dramatic composition.

Among these college exercises others that have survived are An exercise containing a dialogue and ode sacred to the memory of his late gracious Majesty, George II, performed at the public commencement in the College of Philadelphia, 23 May, 1761, the dialogue being by the Rev. Dr. William Smith, the first Provost, and the ode by Francis Hopkinson. A similar exercise on the accession of George III was performed at the public commencement on 18 May, 1762. The epilogue on this occasion was by the Rev. Jacob Duche, Hopkinson's classmate and afterwards chaplain of Congress. A similar entertainment, The military glory of great Britain, was performed at the commencement in the College of New Jersey,5 29 September, 1762, while there is evidence of dramatic interest at Harvard College if not dramatic authorship as early as 1758.6

Of more direct influence, however, on early dramatic writing, were the performances of plays by the company under David Douglass. There seem to have been theatrical performances in this country since 1703,7 but the permanent establishment of professional acting dates from the arrival of Lewis Hallam and his company from England in 1752. This company acted in Philadelphia in 1754, where Godfrey doubtless saw them, and it was to this company after its reorganization under Douglass in 1758 that he offered his play, The Prince of Parthia, which he had finished before the end of 1759. It was not performed at this time, but was acted on 24 April, 1767, at the Southwark Theatre, in Philadelphia, according to an advertisement in [217] The Pennsylvania journal and weekly Advertiser of 23 April, which contains a list of the players who were to take part. Godfrey did not live to see his play, but died in 1763, two years before it was published. This play, the first written by an American to be produced by a professional company, is a romantic tragedy, laid in Parthia about 200 B. C., and is written in blank verse of a flexible and dignified character. It is no unworthy beginning for American dramatic poetry, but it led at the time to no school of writing. It is interesting, however, to note that at a later period the most significant literary drama in this country was produced in the field of tragedy to which The Prince of Parthia belongs.

The Pre-Revolutionary period was purely a tentative one. The work of Charlotte Lenox, who was born here but whose plays were written and played in England, hardly concerns us, while such plays as Ponteach, by Major Robert Rogers (1766), or The disappointment of Col. Thomas Forrest (1767), since they were not acted, fail to be significant, however tragic the recital of Indian wrongs in the former or however comic the hoax described in the latter may be. The Conquest of Canada, performed at the Southwark Theatre in Philadelphia, 17 February, 1773, has been sometimes referred to as “the second American play,” but its author, George Cockings, was an Englishman, who wrote the play while in Boston, and it is in any case of little value either in matter or form.

On 20 October, 1774, the Continental Congress convened and passed a recommendation in its Articles of Association — that the colonists “discountenance and discourage all horse racing and all kinds of gaming, cock fighting, exhibitions of shows, plays and other expensive diversions and entertainments.” Douglass and his “American Company,” which had occupied the theatres in the colonies for almost a quarter century, left for the West Indies and the first period in the history of the American drama was closed.

During the Revolution a number of political satires were written, none of them, however, in strict dramatic form. The most important are The Adulateur (1773) and The group (1775), by Mrs. Mercy Warren, of Boston, The fall of British tyranny (1776), by John Leacock, and the anonymous farce The Blockheads (1776), which has been attributed to Mrs. [218] Warren, but which internal evidence indicates is not by her. They paint the Tory officeholders and the British soldiers in very unflattering colours, but in no worse hues than the satirists on the loyalist side portray their enemies in such products as The Americans roused in a cure for the Spleen (1775?) or The battle of Brooklyn (1776). There is no conclusive evidence that any of these were acted, though on the title page of The group it is represented “as lately Acted, and to be Reacted, to the Wonder of all Superior Intelligences Nigh Head Quarters at Amboyne.” The literary quality is not remarkable in any event, although Mrs. Warren8 at times writes a blank verse of considerable distinction, but their chief interest lies in their close relation to the great conflict they represent.

The authority of Congress, except when ratified by action of the several states, did not extend beyond a recommendation to discontinue plays, but with the exception of a brief season in 1778 at the Southwark Theatre in Philadelphia, the activities of the Baltimore Company which began in 1781, and the later ventures of Ryan's Company in New York, the wishes of Congress were generally respected. With the coming of peace, the feeling against plays began to lessen. Lewis Hallam, the younger, returned to Philadelphia in 1784, and when he was coldly received there took to New York the reorganized American Company that was to be so closely associated with the history of the drama in that city. Prom the point of view of the production of dramatic writing, however, nothing is worthy of record until 1787.

In that year, dramatic performances were given by the American Company in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Annapolis. There was a more decided interest in things theatrical, but most important was the production in New York on 16 April, 1787, of The contrast by Royall Tyler,the first American comedy to be produced by a professional company. As had been the case with Godfrey, the local company served as the inspiration for Tyler. The theme of the play is the contrast between simple native dignity as typified in Colonel Manly and imported foppery and follies represented by Dimple, Charlotte, and Letitia. The most important character, however, is that of Jonathan, the servant of Manly, who is the prototype of a [219] long succession of stage Yankees. Tyler also wrote a comic opera in two acts, May day in town or New York in an Uproar, performed 18 May, 1787, in New York, and after his return to Boston produced a dramatic satire entitled A Georgia Spec. or Land in the Moon, aimed at the rage for speculating in the Georgia lands of the Yazoo Purchase. It was played in Boston and New York in 1797.9

Important historically as Tyler was, this period is dominated by the personality of William Dunlap, whose first acted play, The father, performed in New York on 7 September, 1789, was a comedy of manners inspired by the success of The contrast. The success of this play and that of his drama Leicester, the second American tragedy, played first under the title of The fatal Deception, on 24 April, 1794, inspired him to go on. According to his own statement he wrote fifty plays10 “and other pieces unpublished,” most of which were acted successfully. These include tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, opera, and interlude. He is especially significant as an adaptor of German and French plays, and it was through him that Kotzebue was introduced to the American stage. His first adaptation from Kotzebue, The Stranger, played on 10 December, 1798, was from an English version, but the success of this led him to study German, and he adapted and produced at least thirteen plays of Kotzebue, the most significant being False Shame, played in 1799, and The Virgin of the sun and Fraternal Discord, both acted in 1800. He also adapted Zschokke's Abaellino in 1800 with great success, while his earlier adaptation of Schiller's Don Carlos in 1799 had been a failure. He did not neglect American themes, however, and one of his most popular plays, Andre; (1798), afterwards rewritten as The glory of Columbia (1803), represents the Revolutionary period. His career as manager of the American Company from 1796 to 1805 and the influence he had upon the development of the stage at that time make it fitting to close this period with the date at which financial difficulty forced him to shut his doors. He became connected with the theatre again from--806 to 1811 and wrote even after that, but his later contribution was comparatively [220] unimportant. This period is noteworthy also for the beginning of organized dramatic criticism in New York in the work of a group headed by Peter Irving and Charles Adams, who met after the play, wrote critiques in common, and secured their publication.

The next period begins naturally with the work of James N. Barker of Philadelphia and John Howard Payne of New York. Barker's first play, Tears and Smiles, was produced in 1807. This comedy continued the representation of contemporary manners started in The contrast and reflected also the reproduction of recent events in the reference to the Tripoli pirates. In his dramatization of historical American life in The Indian Princess (1808), probably the first dramatic version of the Pocahontas story, and Superstition (1824), whose motif was the witchcraft delusion in New England, Barker represents the American playwright working with native material. Even in Marmion (1812) he put in King James's mouth a ringing speech which, while seeming to apply to Scottish conditions, actually reflected the feeling of America toward England in 1812. Marmion was played as late as 1848. Payne, unlike Barker, represents foreign influence. From 1806 when his Julia, or The Wanderer, was acted in New York, his dramatic work consisted largely of adaptation from English, French, and German sources. His complete bibliography11 records sixty-four plays, of which nineteen were published. His most significant work was done in the field of tragedy, such as his Brutus, first played in London in 1818, or in comedy like Charles II, first performed in London in 1824, while the bulk of his work is composed of melodrama or farce. It was in his opera of Clari (1823) that the song Home sweet home was first sung. Payne's achievement can hardly be properly rated until it is ascertained how much of his work is original, and so far as his treatment of native material goes, he is not so significant as lesser dramatists such as M. M. Noah, who made a brave attempt to dramatize American history in She would be a soldier (1819) and Marion (1821). She would be a soldier was based on the battle of Chippewa in 1812. It proved popular; Forrest acted the Indian Chief in 1826, and it was repeated as late as 1848. [221]

There are several reasons why the year 1825 forms a convenient point of departure in the development of the drama. Up to about 1822, largely through the excellence of the company at the Chestnut Street Theatre where Jefferson, Warren, and Wood formed a triumvirate in comedy, Philadelphia had been the theatrical metropolis. Then the growing importance of the port of New York brought an increasing number of foreign actors to that city and made it important for an actor to begin his career there. The year 1825-6, according to Ireland,2 was remarkable in the history of the New York stage, since it witnessed the first attempt to establish Italian opera with a fully organized company, the beginning of Hackett's career as a comedian, and the combination of Placide, Hilson, Barnes, and Miss Kelly in comedy at the Park Theatre. Most important, this year marked the real beginning of Edwin Forrest's career, both in Philadelphia and in New York.

The very prominence of New York and its proximity to Europe, however much they added to its theatrical prestige, hindered the development of the drama. The succession of English actors who were brought over as “stars” resulted in little encouragement to native writers, while in Philadelphia, under the encouragement of Edwin Forrest and others, a group of dramatists arose whose work became widely known both at home and abroad. For the year 1829-30 Durang lists nine plays by American writers, among them Pocahontas by George Washington Custis and John Kerr's first draft of Rip Van Winkle.

In 1829 Forrest produced the Indian play of Metamora by John Augustus Stone, an actor who lived during his creative period in Philadelphia. The play was a bit bombastic and the speeches of Metamora show a curious mixture of Indian and Ossian, but they are at times very effective and some of the phrases of this play became bywords in the mouths of the people.

Forrest also inspired Robert Montgomery Bird of Philadelphia to write The Gladiator in 1831. It was played by Forrest in all parts of the Union and at Drury Lane in 1836. In this play Dr. Bird combined the principal sources of dramatic interest-self-preservation, love of wife, child, and brother, desire 12 13 [222] for freedom, and personal loyalty — in one central character, expressed this combination of qualities and sentiments in a vigorous personality, especially suited for Forrest, and clothed the sentiments expressed in a dignified and flexible blank verse, varied at times by prose. Bird's tragedy of Peru, Oralloossa (1832), but more especially his Broker of Bogota (1834), both produced by Forrest, are among the most significant of American dramas. The character of Febro in The Broker of Bogota, energetic, with a middle-class mind but courageous and with a passion for his children, is admirably conceived. Bird was also known as a novelist, and one of his romances, Nick of the woods, dramatized by Louisa Medina in 1838, proved to be one of the most successful melodramas of the time. His Infidel was dramatized by Benjamin H. Brewster and played in Philadelphia in 1835, and The Hawks of hawk Hollow was put on the stage in 1841.14

Bird's fellow-citizen, Richard Penn Smith, while not so great a dramatist, is significant on account of his laudable attempts to treat native material. At least fifteen of his plays were performed, eleven of which have been preserved in print or in manuscript. Of his tragedy Caius Marius, in which Forrest starred, we have only tradition and one scene. His national plays, The eighth of January, celebrating Jackson's victory at New Orleans, William Penn, his drama of colonial and Indian life, both played in 1829, and The triumph at Plattsburg (1830), concerned with McDonough's victory on Lake Champlain, are vigorous plays and were well received.

Although Robert T. Conrad's historical play of Jack Cade, first acted in Philadelphia in 1835, was not written originally for Forrest, it was through his acting that it received its best interpretation. This play was a worthy rival of Bird's dramas for favour here and abroad. It has a deeper significance than appears at first glance, for it was made a vehicle for the expression of democratic ideals, and this strengthened its hold on the American people.

The most significant of this group of Philadelphia dramatists was George Henry Boker. His first play, Calaynos, is a tragedy based on the hatred of the Spaniards for the Moors. Previous to its performance in Philadelphia in 1851, it had a [223] long run at the Sadlers Wells Theatre in London in 1849, where Samuel Phelps played Calaynos and G. K. Dickenson, Oliver.15 His second tragedy, Leonor de Guzman, produced in 1853, was also laid in Spain and is concerned with the revenge of the injured Queen, Maria of Portugal. His comedy The betrothal,16 produced successfully in Philadelphia and New York in 1850, and played in England in 1853, is laid in Italy. With the exception of Under a Mask, a prose comedy, performed in Philadelphia in 1851, all of Boker's acted plays are of a distinguished quality. His masterpiece, however, was his tragedy Francesca da Rimini, first acted by E. L. Davenport in 1855 in New York and Philadelphia, and revived by Lawrence Barrett in 1882 and by Mr. Otis Skinner in 1901. The art with which the medieval Italian life is depicted, the music of the verse and the noble conception of Lanciotto, the wronged husband and brother, lift this tragedy to its deserved place in the first rank of verse dramas written in the English language during the nineteenth century.

It is not to be supposed that dramatic talent was limited to Philadelphia. Epes Sargent and Julia Ward Howe in Boston, Nathaniel Parker Willis of Boston and New York, Charlotte Barnes Conner and Anna Ogden Mowatt of New York, and George H. Miles of Baltimore, to mention only a few, wrote plays that were definite contributions to literature as well as practically adapted for the stage. From this point it becomes necessary, however, owing to the wealth of material and the imposed limits of the chapter, to treat the plays from the point of view of types of the drama, rather than as the work of individuals, and this is also most productive of results. Examination of printed plays before 1860, combined with search through the histories of the stage, discloses about seven hundred plays by American writers actually placed upon the boards. These figures are obviously incomplete,17 but they show at least the [224] wide activity of our early playwrights notwithstanding the difficulties under which they laboured, and to which one of them so vigorously refers.18

Of greatest distinction as literature are the tragedies. About eighty of these were performed, forty of which are extant, and they belong usually to the type known as romantic tragedy. In many cases there is an additional historical interest. Among those dealing with ancient history the most significant are Payne's Brutus (1818), Bird's Gladiator (1831), David Paul Brown's Sertorius, the Roman Patriot, acted by the elder Booth in 1830, and Waldimar by John J. Bailey, produced by Charles Kean in 1831 and based on the massacre at Thessalonica in the fourth century A. D. Dunlap's Leicester (1794), Barker's Marmion (1812), and Conrad's Jack Cade (1835) are the best of the dozen dealing with English history, while the historical interest is also definite in such tragedies as John Burk's Female patriotism or the death of Joan D'arc (1798), Dunlap's Virgin of the sun (8000), Mrs. Ellet's Teresa Contarini (1835), a Venetian tragedy, Epes Sargent's Velasco, laid in Burgos in 1046, and acted by E. L. Davenport in 1837, and Bianca Visconti, by Nathaniel Parker Willis, based on the career of Francesco Sforza. This play won the prize competition offered by Josephine Clifton, who produced it in 1837 in the principal cities of this country. It held the stage as late as 1852. George H. Miles's prize play of Mohammed, performed in 1851, and Leonor de Guzman and Francesca da Rimini of Boker belong also to this group. Even in the historical tragedies, however, it is the unhappy lot of the main character and the interest of the unfamiliar that hold the attention rather than the background, and there is no clear line to be drawn between those which are historical and those which are not. To the latter class belong Bird's Broker of Bogota, and a tragedy of peculiar interest, Octavia Brigaldi, by Mrs. Conner, in which she acted in the title r61e in 1837. The play was repeated often in this country and was successfully produced in London. It was based on the killing, in 1828, by Colonel Beauchamp of Kentucky, of Colonel Sharpe, who had seduced Beauchamp's wife before their marriage.19 Mrs. Conner transferred the scene to Milan [225] at the close of the fifteenth century. This preference for foreign scenes, especially in Spain or Italy, remains one of the significant features of this type of play. There has been a tendency to criticize these playwrights for failing to confine themselves to national themes, which in view of the existence of Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and Othello seems beside the point. But there is nothing so satisfactory in a review of our early drama as the steady progress in romantic tragedy from The Prince of Parthia in 1767 to Francesca da Rimini in 1855.

Little criticism, indeed, may be levelled at the quantity of the plays based upon native themes, historical or contemporary. Disregarding mere pantomime, theatrical history down to 1860 records performances of nearly two hundred plays with a national background, of which some forty are available for examination. First in point of time come the Indian dramas, of which the most important are Stone's Metamora, Bird's Oralloossa, and the series of plays dealing with the Pocahontas theme. The best of these are The Indian Princess by Barker (1808), Pocahontas or the settlers of Virginia by George Washington Custis, first played in Philadelphia, 16 January, 1830, Pocahontas, by Robert Dale Owen, acted first 8 February, 1838, in New York, with-Charlotte Cushman as Rolfe, and The forest Princess, by Charlotte Barnes Conner, acted in Philadelphia, 16 February, 1848. They all emphasize the love story of Rolfe and Pocahontas and make John Smith a central character. Mrs. Conner alone takes Pocahontas to England, where she dies. Of the colonial dramas, Barker's Superstition (1824) and R. P. Smith's William Penn (1829) seem the most significant.

As was natural, the Revolution was the most appealing theme. Practically every great event from the Boston Tea Party to the Battle of Yorktown was dramatized. The treason of Arnold and Andre's capture was a favourite theme and it is to our credit that Andre usually is a heroic figure.20 Marion and Franklin were also favourites, but everyone else runs a bad second to Washington so far as the stage is concerned. One of [226] the most interesting scenes occurs in Blanche of Brandywine (1858) by J. G. Burnett, in which Howe deliberately puts himself in Washington's power in order, apparently, to offer him a dukedom. After refusing in terms which are refreshingly human, considering the usual vocabulary allotted to the Father of his Country in literature, Washington calmly lets his antagonist depart in peace. Patriotism must have covered a multitude of sins in this class of drama, for it otherwise is difficult to explain the success of John Burk's Bunker Hill (1797), hard to recognize as the work of the author of Joan D'arc. Dunlap's Glory of Columbia is not bad, and such a play as Love in 1876 (1857) by Oliver Bunce must have given a good opportunity for a clever actress.

Leaving the Revolution, we find the troubles with the Barbary States celebrated in eight plays, beginning with Mrs. Rowson's Slaves in Algiers (1794), which is made a vehicle to express abolition sentiments in general. The War of 1812 was reflected in such popular plays as She would be a soldier of Noah (1819), and R. P. Smith's The eighth of January (1829), and The triumph at Plattsburg (1830). As an illustration of the quick reflection of events upon the stage we find a statement in Durang21 that on 8 December, 1812, there came news of the capture of the Macedonian by the United States and that on I December a patriotic sketch entitled The return from a Cruise was performed at the Chestnut Street Theatre, in Philadelphia, including a part for Captain Decatur. Almost as prompt had been the dramatization of the victory of the Constitution over the Guerriere. The fight occurred on 31 August, 1812. On 9 September, William Dunlap's Yankee Chronology was played in New York, while on 28 September, the opening night, a play was on the stage in both Boston and Philadelphia. Clapp tells us22 that “in the early days of the theatre, every public event of sufficient importance was immediately dramatized, and during the progress of the war, the spirit was kept up by the frequent production of pieces in honour of our naval victories.”

The Mexican War furnished its quota of plays, none, however, of special significance. Nor was the ready appeal to the [227] stage limited to martial themes. We find the Anti-Masonic agitation represented in such a play as Captain Morgan or the Conspiracy Unveiled (1827), while toward the close of our period the adventures of Walker in Nicaragua, the Mormon emigration, and the California gold fever find dramatic expression. Most important, of course, was the great question of abolition, reflected in the run of G. L. Aiken's version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was first acted at the Museum in Troy, New York, in September, 1852, and after long runs there and elsewhere was performed almost nightly in New York City from 18 July, 1853, to 19 April, 1854. Though it was not the first23 stage version it distanced all others as to popularity. It follows the book quite closely in its language but is melodramatic in the extreme and is really a succession of scenes rather than a play. The same criticism may be applied to Mrs. Savage's Osawattomie Brown, which placed on the stage of the Bowery Theatre on 16 December, 1859, a dramatic account of the raid of I November.

The line is not easy to draw between these patriotic spectacles, dealing with events that have now become historic, and the comedies which reflected contemporary manners and customs. Both tend to become melodrama, and it would be fruitless to classify rigidly the large number of melodramatic comedies that are recorded as having had their day on the stage. Among plays of which record of performance has been kept, about four hundred in number, the largest group would be that of comedy, and it was from this group that the most significant plays from the point of view of stage development evolved.

In our first comedy, The contrast, Tyler developed the stage Yankee in Jonathan, and though J. Robinson's Yorker's Stratagem (1792) and Barker's Tears and Smiles (1807) contain Yankee characters, it was not till The forest Rose, by Samuel Woodworth, was placed on the stage in 1825 that a Yankee character was developed which permanently held the boards. The part of Jonathan Plowboy was played afterward by Henry Placide, G. H. Hill, Joshua Silsbee, and others. In the preface24 to the play it is stated that Silsbee played Jonathan for [228] over one hundred consecutive nights in London. The comedy, which was accompanied by songs, is an interesting one, the action is quick and the conversation clever. In 1829 J. H. Hackett transformed the character of Solomon Gundy in Colman's Who wants a Guinea? into Solomon Swop and, rechristening the play Jonathan in England, made a great success in it. Other well-known Yankee parts were Lot Sap Sago in Yankee land (1834) and Deuteronomy Dutiful in The Vermont wool Dealer (1839), both written by C. A. Logan, Jedediah Homebred in The Green Mountain boy (1833) and Solon Shingle in The people's lawyer (1839), both by Joseph S. Jones, and Sy Saco in John A. Stone's prize play of The Knight of the golden Fleece (1834). These plays are usually of the same type, a comedy or melodrama into which a Yankee comic character has been inserted. He bears little relation to the play, but it is this very detachment that makes him important, for he is the one spot of reality among a number of stage conventions, and it is no doubt this flavour of earth that secured the warm reception which these plays received. Read now, they seem hardly to justify it, but they point forward at least to a time when in the hands of an artist like James A. Herne this same material received a more significant treatment.

Another interesting development is represented in the local drama representing actual conditions, frequently of lower life, in the larger cities. The date of the first production of such a play would be hard to determine. Dunlap25 speaks of a Life in New York, or the fireman on duty, before 1832. As early as 1829 Hackett appeared in a play called The times or life in New York, in which he acted a Yankee character. From the cast, however, as given in Ireland26 it seems hardly likely that there was much realism in this play, however interesting it is as a point of connection with the species just described. More promising is the description of The New York merchant and his Clerks, performed in 1843, with scenery “representing the Battery, Wall St., Chatham Square and the Lunatic Asylum.” These plays, however, have not survived, but there can be little doubt that when F. J. Chanfrau made his great success in A Glance at New York in 1848, the public had been prepared to [229] enjoy the type of play he furnished. The story of the building of this play is an interesting one. It was written by Benjamin A. Baker, the prompter at the Olympic Theatre, who when Mitchell, the manager, had refused to produce it, insisted on its production at his own benefit and had the satisfaction of witnessing the tumultuous reception that Chanfrau received in the part of Mose, the New York fireman. Chanfrau had made a number of imitations of firemen before on the stage, and the play was, therefore, a growth. It is melodramatic, but there is a reality about the scenes in the dives and streets that points forward rather than backward. Baker continued in New York as it is (1848) to exploit Mose, and the interest in that form of play was capitalized immediately by other writers and actors. Philadelphia as it is appeared in 1849, and in Boston George Campbell produced in 1848 a local drama in which a scene in a police court was introduced.27

The vogue of these plays continued to the end of our period and beyond, and there is little distinction, so far as type is concerned, to be made between them and such a later play as Augustin Daly's Under the Gaslight. Such titles as The dry goods clerk of New York (1851), The Seamstress of New York (1851), New York by Gaslight (1856), The poor of New York (1857), Life in Brooklyn, its lights and Shades, its virtues and vices (1858) illustrate the nature of the species perhaps sufficiently, while Mose in California (1849) and Mose in China (1850) show how cosmopolitan that gentleman became.

Much more important from the artistic standpoint were the comedies proceeding by means of social satire. Here, too, we turn back to our first comedy, The contrast, for the beginning of the type, but while we note in 1841 the production of a “cutting satire upon fashionable life” 28 in the comedy of Saratoga springs, which was very successful, it was not until the production of Fashion by Anna Ogden Mowatt on 24 March, 1845, at the Park Theatre in New York that we can chronicle a social satire of any distinction. Fashion is a good-humoured satire upon the artificial qualities of society in New York, and introduces the snob who is taken in by a French barber, the merchant ruined by his wife's extravagance, the confidential clerk who blackmails his employer, and as contrasts to these, [230] the true-hearted farmer and his granddaughter who, by her efforts to save the daughter of the self-seeking social striver, almost loses her own lover. These are all types, to be sure, but they are made alive and the dialogue is clever. The play had a great success here and abroad,29 and may be said to have founded a school of playwriting which lasts to this day. Its immediate successors, however, hardly came up to the standard set by Fashion. One of the best of them, Nature's nobleman, produced in New York in 1851, was written by Henry O. Pardey, an English actor, who laid his scenes in Saratoga, Cape May, and a farm in New York State, and established quite well a contrast between American and English types. Mrs. Bateman's Self, E. G. Wilkins's Young New York, Cornelius Mathews's False Pretences; or, both sides of good Society, all played in 1856, become caricature of a descending quality. Perhaps the most clever of the later comedies of social life is Americans in Paris by W. H. Hurlbert, performed in 1858.

In romantic comedy, there was very little that could compare with the achievement in romantic tragedy. The Deformed, played in 1830, by Richard Penn Smith, has some real merit, though it owes much to Dekker. Tortesa, the Usurer, by N. P. Willis, was played by J. W. Wallack in 1839 in New York and later in England, where Lester Wallack played Angelo to his father's Tortesa. It is an excellent play, and the last act, in which the usurer rises to the dignity of self-sacrifice, is especially appealing. Another play in which the two Wallacks were associated, The Veteran (1859), written by Lester Wallack, is an entertaining comedy laid in France and Algeria. Boker's Betrothal has already been mentioned. Mrs. Mowatt's Armand, or The Child cf the People, produced in 1847 in New York and in 1849 in London, is a blank verse comedy of some merit. But here again the line between comedy and melodrama is hard to draw. Especially is this true in the plays dealing with Irish life, of which there are a number. One of the most interesting records in this connection is that describing the production, in 1842, after the playwright's death, of the adaptation of the novel of The collegians by Louisa Medina. This play has not survived, but the [231] cast30 of characters is significant in view of the later dramatization of the same material in Dion Boucicault's Colleen Bawn.

The Gothic melodrama, illustrated by Dunlap's Fontainville Abbey, played in 1795, or his Abaellino, performed in 1801, was popular and in it he had a number of followers, some of whom, like S. B. Judah, in his Rose of Aragon, played in 1822, preserved the original meaning of the word Gothic. More interesting, if not more artistic, was the melodrama that dealt with contemporary events, such as Woodworth's Lafayette or the Castle of Olmutz, played in 1824, the year of Lafayette's visit to this country. Dunlap's importation of the domestic drama of Kotzebue had also its effect. Some of the dramas of this class, notably Noah's Wandering boys, played first in Charleston in 1812 under the title of Paul and Alexis, were vastly popular. Most important in this class was the genesis of Rip Van Winkle. As early as 26 May, 1828, Thomas Flynn seems to have played a version of Rip Van Winkle in Albany. It was written by an native of Albany.31 In October, 1829, there was produced in Philadelphia32 a version written in whole or part by John Kerr, in which W. Chapman and later J. H. Hackett played Rip Van Winkle and “J. Jefferson” played Knickerbocker. This version was very popular and was afterward played in New York. A later play by Charles Burke is an adaptation of this one, with certain changes, notably the preservation of Dame Van Winkle, and the final version of Boucicault and Joseph Jefferson the younger is a development in its turn from Burke's play.

The farce as a species of comedy in the broader sense has already been spoken of in connection with the treatment of certain comic themes. Payne developed a form of farce largely from foreign sources, and W. E. Burton, by the development of farcical characters like the Toodles out of material whose history goes back to sentimental domestic drama, scored one of his greatest popular successes.

The dramatization of American novels calls for a word of comment here. The work of Cooper, W. G. Simms, J. P. Kennedy, C. F. Hoffman, R. M. Bird, T. S. Fay, Mrs. Stowe, [232] and others, was quickly placed on the stage. It will be noticed that it was chiefly in the sphere of the romance that this was the case, Cooper being the prime favourite. Though this work was rarely done by a dramatist of distinction, it was often popular.

What impresses one most in a survey of these types of drama is the evidence of organic growth. It is possible to trace in the development of the drama in this country before the Civil War certain fairly distinct periods. The first ends with the closing of the theatres in 1774 and has as its principal event the production of The Prince of Parthia in 1767. The second, from 1774 to 1787, includes the Revolutionary satirists and is a transition period. The third begins with the production of The contrast in 1787 and closes with the termination of Dunlap's first period of managership in 1805. It was a period of tentative effort, partly under the influence of German and French models. The fourth period from 1805 to 1825 is one of development, with considerable native effort, but still largely under foreign influence, both English and Continental. The fifth was a significant and creative period, from 1825 to the Civil War, with its climax in Francesca da Rimini in 1855.

This development was interrupted naturally by the Civil War. What would have been its course had the war not occurred it is perhaps fruitless to speculate. There were signs of a quickening of dramatic interest in the late fifties under the encouragement of such managers as Lester Wallack and Laura Keene, but the domination of the stage by Dion Boucicault and John Brougham, while it resulted in some significant plays, especially in a later period, was not an unmixed blessing from the point of view of the production of American drama. The dramatization of English and French novels with resultant long runs, indeed the very success of Boucicault's original dramas, made for conditions in which the work of new playwrights became less in demand. The old days in which a manager was willing to put on a play for a few nights were going fast, and with them went our early drama. That its significance in the history of our literature has never been appreciated is due largely perhaps to the fact that some of its most important monuments are still unprinted. But of its significance both in itself and for the later drama there is no shadow of doubt. [233]

1 For a description of Androborus, see Ford, P. L., The Beginnings of American Dramatic Literature in The New England magazine, Feb., 1894, New Series, vol. IX., No. 6, p. 674.

2 See The Pennsylvania gazette, 20 and 27 Jan.; 3 and 10 Feb., 1757, for a detailed account of the Masque, giving Hopkinson's lines.

3 Now the University of Pennsylvania.

4 For Hopkinson, see also Book I, Chap. IX.

5 Now Princeton University.

6 Matthews, Albert, Early plays at Harvard, nation, vol. XCVIII, no. 2542, p. 395, 19 March, 1914.

7 Sonneck, O. G., Early opera in America, 1915, p. 7. See also, for the beginning of theatrical companies, Daly, Charles P., When was the drama introduced in America? 1864, reprinted in Dunlap Soc. Pub., Ser. 2, vol. I, 1896; Ford, P. L., Washington and the Theatre, Dunlap Society Pub., Ser. 2, vol. VIII, 1899. For earlier performances by amateurs, see Bruce, P. A., An early Virginia play, nation, vol. LXXXVIII, no. 2276, p. 136, II Feb., 1909, and Neidig, W. J., The First Play in America, Nation, vol. LXXXVIII, no. 2274, p. 86, 28 Jan., 1909.

8 For Mrs. Warren see also Book I, Chap. IX.

9 For Tyler, see also Book I, Chap. IX, and Book II, Chaps. in and VI.

10 A complete bibliography of Dunlap records sixty-five plays. See Bibliography.

11 See Bibliography.

12 See Durang, C., History of the Philadelphia stage, Second Series, Chap. III, and Wemyss, F. C., Twenty-Six Years of the Life of an Actor-Manager, vol. I, p. 74.

13 Ireland, Records of the New York stage, vol. I, p. 483.

14 See also Book II, Chap. VII.

15 Calaynos, Lond. ed., n.d., p. 8.

16 The facts given here and in the Bibliography are based upon the manuscripts of Boker, in the possession of his family.

17 The histories of Dunlap, Durang, Wood, Ireland, Brown, Seilhammer, Clapp, Wemyss, and the Mss. diary of Wood have been carefully examined in preparation of these figures, but inaccuracies, confusions of titles of acted and printed plays, difficulty of deciding in all cases as to the nationality of the playwright, etc., make the statements only relatively exact.

18 See “Letter from the author” in Moll Pitcher, by Joseph S. Jones (1855).

19 Trent, W. P., William Gilmore Simms, 1892, p. 117. W. G. Simms wrote two novels, Beauchampe (1842) and Charlemont (1856), upon this event, and C. F. Hoffman his Greyslaer (1840). Beauchampe was dramatized in 1856 by John Savage under the title of Sybil, which was frequently played.

20 See Matthews, Brander, Int. to his reprint of Andre in Dunlap Soc. Pub., Ser. I, No. 4, 1887.

21 Durang, First Series, Chap. XLIX.

22 Clapp, W. W., Jr., Records of the Boston Stage, 1853, p. 134.

23 See Brown, T. A., History of the New York stage, 1903, vol. I, pp. 312-319, for an interesting account of the different dramatizations of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

24 Woodworth, S., The forest Rose, Boston, 1854. For Woodworth, see also Book II, Chaps. v and VI.

25 Dunlap, History of the American Theatre, London, 1833, vol. II, p. 381.

26 Ireland, vol. I, p. 624.

27 >Clapp, p. 457.

28 Ireland, vol. II, p. 378.

29 For an interesting contemporary critique of Fashion, see Poe's Works, Virginia Edition, vol. XI, pp. 112-121 and 124-129.

30 Ireland, vol. II, p. 393.

31 Phelps, H. S., Players of a century, Albany, 1880.

32 Durang, Second Series, Chap. L.

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