is not so. And we can only momentarily admit such false
reasoning when we forget what poetry essentially is.
People seem to think that art is a kind of toy, a harmless
amusement, to be indulged in by the opulent and leisurely,
something with which the real business of life can have
no concern. In reality this is only the point of view
of a civilization degenerating through its own commercial
prosperity. A little reflection, a little consideration
of the relative value of material and intellectual welfare,
would dissipate such an idea.
is one of the ultimate, as well as one of the primal,
activities of humanity. Our first business was to be
warmed and fed, clothed, housed and content in body.
And our demand for amusement, for diversion and entertainment
and intercourse, mind with mind, was just as early an
instinct. Certainly it is no less permanent; and there
are reasons for thinking it of equal importance. Industrialism,
and the thousand forms of activity we call business,
are only a complicated means of supplying our creature
wants, after all. Very necessary, if you will, but hardly
the height of ambition for mortals. But spirit is too
restless a thing to be satisfied forever with cakes
and ale; it is not to be put off with the attainment
of luxury; it has a dominion and calling of its own;
and this demand every race must come sooner or later
to recognize. Now, art is one of the chief roads of
the unabiding, questing, untiring human spirit out of
the land of bondage into the borders of freedom and
this is so it is only a question of time when we shall
come as a people to look upon the arts with more respectful
eyes. We shall grow to be somewhat skeptical of the
worth of prosperity alone; we shall begin to think there
may be other measures of greatness, after all; and then
in the richness of humility we may become worthy for
the pursuit of some native national art.
should be sorry to be of those who constantly seek to
belittle their own times, but I shall be more sorry
to be of those who are complacently satisfied with a
world that is "good enough for them." And
to affirm our superior needs is to affirm the superior
value of art.
was quite natural that Mr. Zangwill's recent criticism
of the drama should have been so sharply received by
people of the stage. And yet from another point of view
his strictures seem moderate enough. I do not suppose
any one would soberly contend that the average modern
stage production could rank as literature. That the
best of them are adaptations from novels is itself criticism
of the drama as we have it. And it would not occur to
me to think of the theatre in London or New York as
a patron of English drama. The new, the daring, the
ambitious and original thing is always produced by the
artist alone. He always has tradition, convention and
established order to conquer before he can win a victory
for his art. And here is M. Rostand, a new poet, coming
forward and upsetting all our accepted theories of the
inefficiency of poetry, with a poetic drama, whose fame
walks around the world like sunshine.
ought to go far toward hastening a revival of the drama;
it ought to make us all skeptical of our lack of faith
in poetry. It ought to be the beginning of a new era
in American letters as well as in American stage management.
If managers should come to rely a little more on the
poetic sympathy of their public, writers should come
to rely much more on their own inspiration and the wisdom
of conviction. They would abandon the idle task of writing
with both eyes on the box office, and pay some little
heed to the demands of art and beauty. They would see
the fatuousness of heeding any one's business but their
own. And success, which escaped their pursuit, might
visit them in the dignity of a more modest, but more
the matter of verse. It is safe to say that not one
person in a hundred, hearing Mr. Mansfield's admirable
rendering of Cyrano, guesses the version is written
in blank verse-the form of Shakespeare's plays and the
English drama generally. Yet I am sure that much of
the charm of the performance would have been lost had
Mr. Mansfield been a less devoted artist than he is,
and contented himself with any prose translation. As
it is, he is the embodiment and personation of a beautifully
poetic masterpiece, and every one who cares in the least
for beauty or art or poetry owes him a debt of gratitude.
That any manager should be willing to put forth a garbled
travesty of the play, merely to suit the calibre of
his company, shows by comparison to what degradation
unscrupulous illiteracy has brought the American stage.
the blank verse translation on which Mr. John Davidson
is engaged may prove to be one cannot say; meanwhile,
Mr. Kingsbury's is easily the best. I must say I was
disappointed in Mrs. Gertrude Hall's prose rendering.
She is herself a poetess of such charm, and she has
given us such sympathetic verse translations from Verlaine,
that I had looked forward eagerly to her version of
Cyrano-only to find it prose, with the savor of the
poetry quite evaporated. It seems to me much too hard
and literal, and I believe she could not have let the
original suffer such detriment had she allowed it to
retain the illusion and glamour which verse bestows.
Mr. Kingsbury, for instance, turns one of Cyrano's famous
speeches in part thus:
what must I do?
Seek some protector stray, get me a patron,
And like some humble vine, that twines a trunk,
Upheld by it, the while it strips its bark,
Climb by mere artifice, not rise by strength?
No, thank you. Dedicate, as others do,
Verses to bankers? Make myself a clown
In hopes of seeing on a statesman's lips
A friendly smile appear? I thank you, no!"
Miss Hall has for the same passage:
what should a man do. Seek some grandee, take him for
a patron, and like the obscure creeper clasping a tree-trunk,
and licking the bark of that which props it up, attain
to height by craft instead of strength? No, I thank
you. Dedicate, as they all do, poems to financiers?
Wear motley in the humble hope of seeing the lips of
a minister distend for once in a smile not ominous of
ill? No, I thank you."
you have the difference between verse and prose. Mr.
Kingsbury's simple and conscientious use of metre has
helped him to an acceptable rendering of the poetry,
while Mrs. Hall's gift for poetry has not saved her
from the stilted banality of our old schoolboy "cribs."