IRISH PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY The Riverside Press Cambridge
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY CORNELIUS WEYGANDT ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published February 1913
There are so many who have helped me with this book that I cannot begin to thank them one by one. If I name any, however, there are four I would name together. There is my old friend, long since dead, Lawrence Kelly, of County Wexford, who first told me Irish folk-stories, adding to the wonderment of my boyhood with his tales of Finn McCool, Dean Swift, and "The Red-haired Man." There is Dr. Robert Ellis Thompson, of Philadelphia, who quickened, by his enthusiasm, over "twenty golden years ago," my interest in all things Irish. There is Dr. Clarence Griffin Child, my colleague, who recognized the power of these men I write of in "Irish Plays and Playwrights" when there were fewer to recognize their power than there are to-day. There is Mr. John Quinn, of New York, without whose aid ten years ago the current Irish dramatic movement would not have progressed as it has. He has lent for reproduction here the sketches by Mr. J.B. Yeats of Synge, Mr. George Moore, and Mr. Padraic Colum. All but all of the writers I mention particularly in these chapters have put me under obligation by cheerful response to many letters full of questions as to their work. Mr. James H. Cousins and Mr. S. Lennox Robinson have taken especial trouble in my behalf, and Lady Gregory, Mr. W.B. Yeats, and Mr. George W. Russell have put themselves out in many ways that I might learn of Irish Letters.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, December 28, 1912.
I. THE CELTIC RENAISSANCE 1
II. THE PLAYERS AND THEIR PLAYS, THEIR AUDIENCE AND THEIR ART 13
III. MR. WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS 37
IV. MR. EDWARD MARTYN AND MR. GEORGE MOORE 72
V. MR. GEORGE W. RUSSELL ("A.E.") 114
VI. LADY GREGORY 138
VII. JOHN MILLINGTON SYNGE 160
VIII. THE YOUNGER DRAMATISTS—MR. PADRAIC COLUM; MR. WILLIAM BOYLE; MR. T.C. MURRAY; MR. S. LENNOX ROBINSON; MR. RUTHERFORD MAYNE; "NORREYS CONNELL"; MR. ST. JOHN G. ERVINE; MR. JOSEPH CAMPBELL 198
IX. WILLIAM SHARP ("FIONA MACLEOD") 251
APPENDIX 297 PLAYS PRODUCED, IN DUBLIN, BY THE ABBEY THEATRE COMPANY
W.B. YEATS Frontispiece From a photograph by Alice Boughton.
DOUGLAS HYDE 10 From a photograph by Alice Boughton.
SARA ALLGOOD 24 From a photograph by Alice Boughton.
SCENE FROM "CATHLEEN NI HOULIHAN" 50
GEORGE MOORE 72 Reproduced by courtesy of John Quinn, Esq.
GEORGE W. RUSSELL 114
LADY GREGORY 138
JOHN MILLINGTON SYNGE 160 Reproduced by courtesy of John Quinn, Esq.
PADRAIC COLUM 198 Reproduced by courtesy of John Quinn, Esq.
T.C. MURRAY 216
LENNOX ROBINSON 222 From a photograph by Alice Boughton.
WILLIAM SHARP 250
IRISH PLAYS AND PLAYWRIGHTS
THE CELTIC RENAISSANCE
To the general reader the Celtic Renaissance was a surprise, and even to Irish writers deeply interested in their country the phenomenon or movement, call it which you will, was not appreciated as of much significance at its beginning. Writing in 1892, Miss Jane Barlow was not hopeful for the immediate future of English literature in Ireland;—it seemed to her "difficult to point out any quarter of the horizon as a probable source of rising light." Yet Mr. Yeats had published his "Wanderings of Oisin" three years before; Mr. Russell had already gathered about him a group of eager young writers; and Dr. Hyde was organizing the Gaelic League, to give back to Ireland her language and civilization, and translating from the Gaelic "The Love Songs of Connacht" (1894) into an English of so new and masterful a rhythm, that it was to dominate the style of many of the writers of the movement, as the burden of the verse was to confirm them in the feelings and attitudes of mind, centuries old and of to-day, that are basic to the Irish Gael. Even in 1894, when Mrs. Katherine Tynan Hinkson wrote the article that for the first time brought before America so many of the younger English poets, all that she said of the Renaissance was, "A very large proportion of the Bodley Head poets are Celts,—Irish, Welsh, Cornish." She had scarcely so spoken when there appeared the little volume, "The Revival of Irish Literature," whose chapters, reprinted addresses delivered before she had spoken by Sir Charles Gavan Duffy and Dr. George Sigerson and; Dr. Douglas Hyde, turned the attention of the younger men to literature, the fall of Parnell and the ensuing decline of political agitation having given them a chance to think of something else than politics. In 1895 all the English-speaking world that heeds letters was talking of the Celtic Renaissance, so quickly did news of it find its way to men, when it was once more than whispered of abroad. It was as frequently referred to then as "The Irish Renaissance," because Ireland contributed most to it and because it was in Ireland that it acquired its most definite purpose. This purpose was to retell in English the old Irish legends and the still current Irish folk-songs, and to catch and preserve the moods of Irish men and women of to-day, especially those moods which came to them out of their brooding over Ireland, its history, its landscape, the temper of its people. It would be absurd, of course, to regard all of the writing of the movement as a result of a definite literary propaganda, but the very fact that we instinctively speak of the Celtic Renaissance as a movement rather than as a phenomenon proves that it was that in part. But even that part of it that was a result of propaganda came not from an intention to realize the tenets of the propaganda, but from the kindling of Irish hearts by thoughts that came of the propaganda, thoughts of the great past of Ireland, of its romance of yesterday and to-day, of its spirituality.
It is not so easy to account for the less quickening of the other Celtic countries by the forces that brought about the Renaissance. Renan, in his "Poetry of the Celtic Races" (1859), and Arnold, in his "On the Study of Celtic Literature" (1867), had roused all the Celtic countries to an interest in their old literature, an interest that extended much further than discussion of the authenticity of Macpherson's "Ossian" or of the proper treatment of Arthurian stories, until then the Ultima Thule of talk on things Celtic. Frenchman and Englishman both had spoken to Wales and Brittany, the Highlands of Scotland and the Isle of Man, as well as to Ireland, and it does not altogether explain to say that Ireland listened best because in Ireland there was a greater sense of nationality than in these other lands. Ireland did listen, it is true, and, listening, developed popularizers of the old tales such as Mr. Standish James O'Grady and Dr. P.W. Joyce, to pass knowledge of them along to the men of letters. It is hardly true, indeed, to say that Ireland had a greater sense of nationality than Brittany or Wales. Brittany, of course, since her tongue other than her native Breton was French, gave what was given to the movement in other than Breton in French. Cornwall may hardly be called a Celtic country, but if it may it is easy to account for its slight interest in the movement by the little that was preserved of its old literature and by the little it had of distinctive oral tradition to draw upon. And yet, I think, had Sir Arthur T. Quiller-Couch been born ten years later Cornwall had not wanted a shanachie. Wales, too, gave little to English literature as the result of the Renaissance, because, perhaps, her chiefest literary energy is in her native language. Wales was proud of George Meredith, whose Welsh ancestry is more evident in his work than is his Irish ancestry, but not only is his writing representative of Great Britain rather than of any one part of Great Britain, but his say had been said before the movement began. The writing of Mr. Ernest Rhys underwent a change because of his interest in the Celtic Renaissance, but Wales has little writing outside of his to point to as a result of the awakening. In Scotland, William Sharp, whose "Lyra Celtica" (1896) was a prominent agent in bringing the Renaissance before the world, was transformed into another writer by it. His work as "Fiona Macleod," both prose and verse, was very different from his earlier work in prose and verse. Mr. Neil Munro, too, was affected by the Renaissance, and in the tales of "The Lost Pibroch" (1896) and in the novels of "John Splendid" (1898) and "Gillian the Dreamer" (1899) and "The Children of Tempest" (1903) he reveals an intimacy with Highland life such as informs the writing of no other novelist of our day. Of recent years Mr. Munro has wandered farther afield than his native Argyll, and, I feel, to the lessening of the beauty of his writing. In the Isle of Man, T.E. Brown had been striving for years to put into his stories in verse the fast-decaying Celtic life of his country, but even with his example and with all that has been done since the Renaissance began, in the preservation of Manx folk-lore and in the recording of vanishing Manx customs, no writer of Brown's power has been developed, or in fact any writer of powers equal to those of the best men of the younger generation in the other Celtic lands. It is with the Celtic Renaissance as it appears in Ireland, then, that I have to deal chiefly in this book, as it is only in Ireland, of the countries that retain a Celtic culture, that the movement is the dominating influence in writing in English; and it is with the drama only that I have now to deal, though when a playwright is a poet or a story-teller, too, I have written of his attainment in verse and tale also. Had I been writing five years ago, I should have said that it was in poetry that the Celtic Renaissance had attained most nobly, but since then the drama has had more recruits of power than has poetry, and it is a question as to which of the two is greater as art. There is no doubt, however, but that the drama has made a stronger and wider appeal, whatever its excellence, than has the verse, and it is therefore of greater significance for its time than is the poetry, whatever the ultimate appraisement will be. Of the men I have written of here, Mr. Yeats and Mr. Russell are to me poets before they are dramatists, and Lionel Johnson, whose only direct connection with the dramatic movement was his beautiful prologue in verse to the first performances of "The Irish Literary Theatre" in 1899, is to me a poet of a power as great as theirs.
One wonders, at first thought, that Ireland had never until our day given to English literature a novelist of first rank. The Irishman is famous the world over as a story-teller, but neither in romance nor in the story of character had he reached first power, reached a position where he might be put alongside of other Europeans as a novelist. No Irishman from the time of Scott on, until Mr. George Moore wrote "Esther Waters" (1894), had written a story that might stand the inevitable comparison with the work of Thackeray and Dickens, Meredith and Mr. Hardy. Of Mr. George Moore I have written in detail below.
Miss Edgeworth may have taught Scott his manner of delineating peasant character, but her comparatively little power is revealed when you put her beside Miss Austen, and so it is all the way down the list to our own day. There are many contemporary story-tellers who have managed well the tale, but what Irish novelist of to-day other than Mr. Moore bulks big, can be compared to even lesser men, like Scotland's Mr. Neil Munro or Dartmoor's Mr. Phillpotts?
Lady Gilbert (Rosa Mulholland) has written many, pleasant stories of Irish life, and Mrs. Katherine Tynan Hinkson has followed worthily in her footsteps. Equally pleasant, but lighter and more superficial, is the writing of the two ladies who subscribe their names "E.OE. Somerville and Martin Ross." Their "Some Experiences of an Irish R.M." (1899) and their "All on the Irish Shore" (1903) are like so much of the Irish writing of a generation ago,—Irish stories by Irish people for English people to laugh at.
The Hon. Emily Lawless has written many kinds of stories about the West Coast, reaching almost to greatness in her "Grania" (1892). In the short story, Miss Jane Barlow, accused of superficiality by many Irish critics and as eagerly declared to get the very quality of Connemara peasant life by others, has sure power and a charm all her own. No one who reads "Irish Idylls" (1892) will stop at that collection. Mr. Seumas MacManus is as truly a shanachie as the old story-tellers that yet tell the old tales about peat fires in Donegal. "Through the Turf Smoke" (1899) and "In Chimney Corners" (1899) and "Donegal Fairy Stories" (1900) are alike in having the accent of the spoken story, but when the last word is said you cannot admit their author to be more than a clever entertainer. The Rev. Dr. Sheehan, although you will find him writing about the effect of the Irish Renaissance in remote parishes in the South, has not subscribed to its ideals, but continues the fashion of story-writing of an earlier generation. "Luke Delmege" (1900) is, however, an interesting character study, and "My New Curate" (1899) very illuminative of the conservatism of the peasantry.
Mr. Shan Bullock, writing of the farmers and farm laborers of the North, has not unwisely gone to Mr. Hardy to learn his art. "Irish Pastorals" (1901) is racy of Fermanagh as "Tess" is of Wessex. "The Squireen" (1903) is a strong and gloomy story. From "By Thrasna River" (1895) to "Dan the Dollar" (1905), Mr. Bullock did no story without power in it. Ireland still looks to him as it looked to Mr. William Buckley, ten years ago, for better work. "Croppies Lie Down" brought Mr. Buckley before the public in 1903, but his writing since then has fallen far short of this his best book. Now, however, the young man with a future, in the estimation of many is Mr. James Stephens. There is more hope in him, in his twenties, than there is now in "George A. Birmingham" (Rev. J.O. Hannay), another man who ten years ago was like Mr. Buckley, a young man of promise. "The Seething Pot" (1904) was a serious study of conditions in Ireland but since its author conceived of the character of the Rev. Joseph John Meldon, he has found it more discreet to continue the adventures of that clergyman than to write seriously out of his own varied experience of West-Country Irish life.
It is perhaps because the energy that in many countries goes into the writing of the essay is absorbed in controversy in Ireland that in the past Ireland has produced few essayists. In the battles of the dramatic movement with the patriotic societies and with the official class, Mr. Yeats and Mr. Moore have dealt good blows, and Mr. Russell and "John Eglinton" (Mr. W.K. Magee) have led the disputants out of their confusion. Among these men, "John Eglinton" is the one who has thrown his greatest energy into the essay, almost all his energy, and in it, in the chapters of "Two Essays on the Remnant" (1896), "Pebbles from a Brook" (1901), and "Bards and Saints" (1906), he has written with subtlety and illumination.
In the collection and clarification and retelling of folk-literature William Larminie and Lady Gregory and Dr. Hyde stand out as the leading workers. Mr. Larminie's "West Irish Folk-Tales" (1895) are model work of their kind as are Lady Gregory's several books, of which I speak in detail later. The work of Dr. Hyde is the most important work of this sort, however, and it is not too much to say, as I intimated at the outset, that, without his translation of "The Love Songs of Connacht" (1894) and "The Religious Songs of Connacht" (1906), the prose of the movement would never have attained that distinction of rhythm which reveals English almost as a new language. I would gladly have written at length of Dr. Hyde, but he has chosen to write his plays in Irish as well as most of his verses. Yet so winning are the plays as translated by Lady Gregory, and so greatly have they influenced the folk-plays in English of the Abbey Theatre, that there is almost warrant for including him. I cannot, of course, but I must at least bear testimony to the many powers of these plays. Dr. Hyde can be trenchant, when satire is his object, as in "The Bursting of the Bubble" (1903); or alive with merriment when merriment is his desire, as in "The Poorhouse" (1903); or full of quiet beauty when he writes of holy things, as in the "Lost Saint" (1902). There are many other playwrights in Irish than Dr. Hyde, but as no other plays in Irish than his have reacted to any extent on the plays in English of the movement, I do not consider them, my object in this book being to consider the dramatic writing in English of the Celtic Renaissance, with relation to its value as a contribution to the art of English letters. That there is a great deal else in the Celtic Renaissance than its drama, I would, however, emphasize, though it is true that every man of first literary power in the movement, except Lionel Johnson and "John Eglinton," has tried his hand on at least one Irish play. That Johnson would have come to write drama I firmly believe, for in drama he could have reconciled two of the four loves that were his life. He could not have put his love of Winchester, his school, or his love of the classics into plays, but his love of Ireland and his love of the Catholic Church would have blended, I believe, into plays, still with the cloistered life of the seventh century, that would have rivaled "The Hour-Glass," and plays about "Ninety-Eight" that would have rivaled "Cathleen Houlihan."
There are many other poets, though, of the Celtic Renaissance that are of powers only short of greatness, Nora Hopper Chesson chief among them. Only Mr. W.B. Yeats of them all has more "natural falterings" in his verse than she. Mrs. Hinkson, too, whose name has come inevitably into these pages from time to time, is a poet with as sure a place in English literature to-day as has Mrs. Meynell. Beginning, like Mr. Yeats, as an imitator of the Pre-Raphaelites, Mrs. Hinkson found herself in little poems on moods of her own and moods of landscape She writes also of her love of God, of St. Francis, and of Ireland. "Moira O'Neill" (Mrs. Skrine), too, has a sure place, her verses crying out her homesickness for Ireland, and redolent, every line of them, of the countryside. "The Passing of the Gael" is known wherever there are Irish emigrants, but there are other verses of "Ethna Carberry" (Mrs. Anna Johnstone MacManus) that are as fine as this. Mrs. Dora Sigerson Shorter is a balladist of stark power, and Miss Eva Gore-Booth a lyric poet whose natural lilt no preoccupation with mysticism can for more than a moment obscure.
Mr. Herbert Trench has of recent years surrendered to theatrical management, but there is to his credit a substantial accomplishment of lyrical verse that George Meredith would have approved. Mr. Colum's verse I have spoken of below, incidentally, in considering his plays. A distinct talent, too, is Mr. Seumas O'Sullivan's, whose "Twilight People" (1905) indicates by its title the quality of his verse.
I have mentioned all these writers, some known in America, but others utterly unknown, not only to indicate the relation of the drama to the other literary forms of the Renaissance, but to account, perhaps in some measure, for the literary quality of the plays themselves. They are written, as plays in English during the past century have too seldom been written, by writers who have read widely in all forms of literature and to whom words are, if not "the only good," at least a chief good. Mr. Russell and Mr. Yeats have sent all the younger men who would write to the masterpieces of the world, telling them to get what they need of the technique of the centre, to know the best in the world, but to write of the ground under their feet. The plays are, as I have said, written, many of them, by men who are widely read, and by men whose friends are writers of some other form of literature, by men who wish their work in drama to be of as high intention as the work of their friends who are poets or essayists or writers of stories. All the other writing the Renaissance has, then, contributed to make of the drama what it is, and one must, if one would see the drama in relation to the Ireland of our day, know what is the accomplishment of the other sorts of writing of the Renaissance.
THE PLAYERS AND THEIR PLAYS, THEIR AUDIENCE AND THEIR ART
The drama of the Celtic Renaissance is of an ancestry as mixed as is that of the people of Ireland themselves. There is less in it perhaps of the Gael than in them, for Gaelic literature, until to-day, never approached nearer to the drama than the dialogue, the racy give-and-take of two characters, alike of lively imagination, whether gentle or simple. But even had the colloquies of St. Patrick and Oisin, of Dean Swift and his man Jack, of the Lout and his Mother, been developed, by 1890, to a drama as finished as that of Congreve or Goldsmith, Sheridan or Wilde, those who would have their plays abreast of our time would have gone, just as, with the conditions as they are, the dramatists of the Renaissance did go, to Ibsen and M. Maeterlinck, like all the rest of the world. It is a matter of reproach, in the estimation of many patriotic Irishmen, that Mr. Martyn learned his art of Ibsen, and Mr. Yeats a part of his of M. Maeterlinck, but that attitude is as unreasonable as that which would reproach the Irish Industries Organization Society for studying Danish dairy farms or Belgian chickeries. It is only the technique of the foreigners, modern or ancient, Scandinavian or Greek, that the Abbey dramatists have acquired or have adapted to Irish usage. Stories are world-wide, of course, the folk-tale told by the Derry hearthside being told also in the tent in Turkestan—Cuchulain kills his son as Rustum does, and the Queen of Fairy lures Bran oversea as Venus lures Tannhaeuser to the Hoerselberg. It is in character, in ideals, in atmosphere, in color, that drama must be native, and in color and in atmosphere, in ideals and in character the Abbey Theatre drama is Irish. Reading of life and style are personal qualities, qualities of the artist himself, though they, too, may take tone and color from national life, and in the drama of many of the Abbey dramatists they do. These dramatists have been more resolutely native, in fact, many of them, than the national dramatists of other countries have been, of France and Germany to-day, of the Spain or the England of the Renaissance. It would seem idle to be saying this were not the contention being raised all the time by certain patriotic groups of Irishmen in America as well as in Ireland that the new drama is not a native drama. It is, as a matter of fact, no less natively Irish than the Elizabethan drama is natively English; it is really more native, for no part of it of moment veils its nationality under even so slight a disguise as "the Italian convention" of that drama. The new Irish drama is more native in its stories than is the Elizabethan drama, as these stories, even when they are stories found in variant forms in other countries, are given the tones of Irish life. The structural forms and the symbolic presentation of ideas of which the Abbey dramatists have availed themselves have no more denationalized their plays than has the Church, a Church from oversea, to which most of them belong, denationalized the Irish people.
Synge, the master dramatist of the new movement, while he does not reproduce the average Irishman, is just as natively Irish in his extravagance and irony as the old folk-tale of the "Two Hags"; Lady Gregory in her farces is in a similar way representative of the riot of West-Country imagination; and Mr. Yeats, if further removed from the Irishmen of to-day, is very like, in many of his moods, to the riddling bards of long ago. The later men, many of them, are altogether Irish, representative of the folk of one or another section of the country, Mr. Murray and Mr. Robinson of Cork, Mr. Mayne and Mr. Ervine of Down, Mr. Colum and Mr. Boyle of the Midlands.
One need not say that the Irishman is a born actor; all the Celts are famed for "the beautiful speaking"; for eloquence; for powers of impersonation; for quick changes of mood; for ease in running the gamut of the emotions. Of these things come art of the stage, and these things are the Irishman's in fullest measure. The Abbey Players have, however, gone abroad for some elements of their art, perhaps for their repose of manner, a quietude that is not the quietude of moodiness, a condition not unusual in the Irishman; and in addition to this repose of manner, which is fundamental and common to their presentation of realistic modern plays and of poetic plays of legendary times, for a slowness and dignity of gesture in the plays of legend, which is perhaps a borrowing from the classic stage. Their repose of manner may come from modern France; at least so held Mr. Yeats, pointing to such a source in "Samhain" of 1902.
The other day [he writes] I saw Sara Bernhardt and DeMax in "Phedre," and understood where Mr. Fay, who stage-manages the National Theatrical Company, had gone for his model. For long periods the performers would merely stand and pose, and I once counted twenty-seven quite slowly before anybody on a fairly well-filled stage moved, as it seemed, so much as an eyelash. The periods of stillness were generally shorter, but I frequently counted seventeen, eighteen, or twenty before there was a movement. I noticed, too, that the gestures had a rhythmic progression. Sara Bernhardt would keep her hands clasped over, let us say, her right breast for some time, and then move them to the other side, perhaps, lowering her chin till it touched her hands, and then, after another long stillness, she would unclasp them and hold one out, and so on, not lowering them till she had exhausted all the gestures of uplifted hands. Through one long scene DeMax, who was quite as fine, never lifted his hand above his elbow, and it was only when the emotion came to its climax that he raised it to his breast. Beyond them stood a crowd of white-robed men who never moved at all, and the whole scene had the nobility of Greek sculpture, and an extraordinary reality and intensity. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen upon the stage, and made me understand, in a new way, that saying of Goethe's which is understood everywhere but in England, "Art is art because it is not nature." Of course, our amateurs were poor and crude beside those great actors, perhaps the greatest in Europe, but they followed them as well as they could, and got an audience of artisans, for the most part, to admire them for doing it.
With these words of Mr. Yeats, written ten years ago, in my memory, it was arresting to hear ten years later a somewhat similar comparison of the acting of the Irish Players to the acting of yesterday on the French stage. A man who in the late eighties and early nineties had spent seven years as an art student in Paris saw the Abbey Players in Boston. In Paris he had gone frequently to the Theatre Francais, and only there, he said, before he saw the Irish Players, had he seen acting so full of dignity, but never at all before acting so natural.
There is possible, too, however, a native origin for this repose of manner, or perhaps it would be truest to say that it is a blending, like the dramas themselves, of native and foreign elements. Speaking of "Cathleen ni Houlihan" in the notes to his "Collected Works" of 1908, Mr. Yeats says, "I cannot imagine this play, or any folk-play of our school, acted by players with no knowledge of the peasant, and of the awkwardness and stillness of bodies that have followed the plow, or too lacking in humility to copy these things without convention or caricature." Here, too, he refers to the "quiet movement and careful speech which has given our players some little fame" as "arising partly out of deliberate opinion and partly out of the ignorance of the players."
Undoubtedly Mr. Fay knew the still ways of the peasant, and I do not doubt that he was influenced by such knowledge and did in some degree train his actors to bring their movements on the stage in accord with the "awkwardness and stillness of bodies that have followed the plow." But since there are ways of the peasant that are far from still, it is likely, too, that he was led to select such movements, instead of the vehement gesture and lively facial expression that are just as characteristic of the peasant, by a memory of the restrained acting of the French stage. It is likely, too, that the very inexperience and lack of knowledge of artifice to which Mr. Yeats refers was an element in making the art of the company what it became. But it is not altogether impossible that certain traditions of the English stage—of the statuesque acting of the Kembles, for instance—had come down into the time of Mr. Fay's stage experience, to those days before he became stage manager of the performances of "The Daughters of Erin" in 1900, and that these traditions influenced his training of the company that was to attain to a new art of the stage.
Before this there had been two series of performances in Dublin, each of a week's duration, by "The Irish Literary Theatre," one in 1899, and the other in 1900, with English actors gathered together in London by Mr. George Moore; and another week's series followed in 1901 by the Benson Company and some amateurs of the Gaelic League under the leadership of Dr. Douglas Hyde. It was the performances of "The Countess Cathleen" of Mr. Yeats and of "The Heather Field" of Mr. Martyn at the Antient Concert Rooms in Dublin, respectively May 8 and 9, 1899, by "The Irish Literary Theatre," that inaugurated the drama of the Celtic Renaissance, fully a year before there came into being the group of amateurs that were to bring that drama home to Ireland as no players who inherited the standards and conventions of the English stage could possibly have brought it home.
It is Mr. Fay's distinction to have been, as I have intimated, the leader who started these players on the long way to their new art. Such leadership his record hardly augered. It was in the very lowest forms of vaudeville, in what is the analogue abroad of our negro minstrelsy, that Mr. Fay had his stage experience, a stage experience that had made him well enough known in burlesque roles to make it difficult for him to assume with success serious roles in the early years of the National Dramatic Company. Because of this old association, Dublin audiences insisted in 1902 in seeing humor in his Peter Gillane in "Cathleen ni Houlihan." For all this past, however, Mr. Fay was intent on serious drama, and, with the precept and example of Mr. Russell and Mr. Yeats always present to him in the early days of the National Theatre Company, and with what he had gathered from the experimental performance of Irish plays by "The Irish Literary Theatre," he advanced surely in his art until his withdrawal from the company in January, 1908. His loss was compensated for only by the results of his training of other actors, such as Miss Sara Allgood and Mr. Arthur Sinclair, who on certain roads have outrun their master. When I saw Mr. Fay in 1902, in the little hall in Camden Street, Dublin, with no knowledge of what his stage experience had been, I accepted him at once for what he was, a finished "character" actor of poise and confidence, a dignified figure for all his stature and his predilection for comedy, and the possessor of a speaking voice whose natural pleasantness he had made into something higher than pleasantness by his art in the use of it, if it never attained the resonance and nobility of phrasing of that of his brother, Mr. Frank J. Fay. It was a memorable experience to me, that of that August evening in 1902 on which I was taken to Camden Street to a rehearsal of the Irish National Dramatic Company. Our guide was Mr. James H. Cousins, whose "Racing Lug" and "Connla" were among the plays produced in the following autumn and which that night were in rehearsal. He piloted us to an entranceway by the side of a produce shop. We knocked on the door and waited, and waited. We knocked again, and at last heard steps coming nearer and nearer. The door opened and revealed a young man in work-a-day black suit and derby, with a candle in one hand and a property spear in the other. He conducted us down a narrow, drafty hallway, into a hall in which were wooden benches as rude as those in the bandstand of a backwoods country fair in the States, and a slightly raised platform at the farther end. We were soon in eager conversation with young store clerks and typists and artisans who were about to set to work at that in which their hearts lay, the interpreting of plays out of Ireland's heart. It was good talk we listened to from those young men and women, boys and girls all of them in their fervor and zest and high aim. Their enthusiasm carried through "Connla," "The Racing Lug," and "Deirdre" with real impressiveness. Of Mr. Cousins's two plays one was realistic of the north of Ireland shore life of to-day, and the other, "Connla," like Mr. Russell's "Deirdre," made out of Ireland's heroic age.
Of the actors we met that night, but Miss Walker (Maire ni Shiubhlaigh) was with the Irish Players on their American tour of 1911-12, and even she has not been continuously with them since 1902. The amateurs had then but begun, under the direction of Mr. Fay, on the slow fashioning of themselves into the finished folk-actors they proved themselves in America. But even this acting, so little removed from that of amateurs at these rehearsals, had distinction, the distinction of fidelity to life in "The Racing Lug," the distinction of possession by dream in "Deirdre"; and let it be remembered, too, that it was a rehearsal without costume, and that one had to be carried away from the conventional dress of the Dublin streets, and had to be made to feel that the characters in "The Racing Lug" were primitive fishermen, and the people of "Connla" and "Deirdre" the people of Ireland's Homeric age.
Miss Maire T. Quinn, Mr. T. Dudley Digges, Mr. P.J. Kelly, with Miss Walker and the brothers Fay,—Mr. W.G. Fay and Mr. Frank J. Fay,—were then the leading actors of the company. The playwrights, too, took part in their own or their fellows' plays in the lesser roles, Mr. Russell sometimes playing the druid in his "Deirdre" and Mr. Colum carrying a spear or wearing a pea-jacket as need was. One circumstance or another, politics or need, gradually lost the company every one of these actors that took part in its first performances in 1902. There were comparatively few changes, though, until 1904, the year in which Miss Horniman, "a generous English friend," took for them the old Mechanic Institute Theatre and, rebuilding it in part, turned it over to the Irish National Dramatic Company for six years. Up to this time the actors had received no pay, giving their services for love of country and of art, but with the more frequent performances and their attendant rehearsals it became necessary to take a large part of the time of the leading men and women, and then, of course, they had to be paid. Before the opening of the Abbey Theatre, three of the chief actors, Miss Quinn and Mr. Digges and Mr. Kelly, came to this country to appear in Irish plays in the Irish Section of the St. Louis Fair. The public that gathered in St. Louis was not prepared for the new drama, being more used to the musical play of the type Mr. Olcott has made familiar in America, or to the Bowery Irishman of the Harrigan plays, or to the gross caricatures, Galwayed and ape-accoutred, of the before-curtain interlude of the variety show. As a result the former National Players protested against the policy of the Irish Section and returned to New York. Miss Walker was the principal actress of the company after Miss Quinn's departure to America, and upon Miss Walker's withdrawal in 1905 the burden of the chief women's roles fell upon Miss Allgood.
Mr. W.G. Fay and Mr. Frank J. Fay were still the leading men of the company, creating the principal characters of all the plays of Synge and of those of Mr. Yeats and Lady Gregory that were produced before 1908. Early in this year, as I have said, Mr. and Mrs. W.G. Fay and Mr. F.J. Fay left the company, and, coming to America in the spring, played "The Rising of the Moon" and "A Pot of Broth" in New York. They made, unfortunately, no great success in their appearances, as their plays were not presented in bills devoted solely to Irish plays, but as curtain-raisers to the usual conventional farce. Almost all the actors whom I have mentioned as leaving the National Players eventually found their way into the conventional plays, but almost none of them made successes there comparable in any degree to their successes in folk-drama or in plays out of old Irish legend. Nor can it be said that actors trained in the dominant forms of present-day English drama, even when so skilled as Mrs. Patrick Campbell, were wholly satisfying in their assumption of roles in the plays of the Renaissance. It was Miss Allgood, chief musician in the London performances of Mr. Yeats's "Deirdre" in 1908, who won the greatest approval from the London critics, and not Mrs. Campbell as Deirdre herself.
Miss Allgood had played principal parts with the Abbey Company from 1904 on. In 1906, her sister, who plays under the name of Miss Maire O'Neill, came into the company, assuming the more romantic roles with a success as great as that of Miss Allgood in character parts and comedy. From 1906 they have shared the principal women's roles, but, owing to Miss O'Neill's inability to come to America in the fall of 1911, Miss McGee fell heir to many of her roles. After the departure of the Messrs. Fay, Mr. Sinclair, Mr. O'Donovan, and Mr. Kerrigan became the leading men. It is not altogether accurate, however, to speak of any actor or actress of the company as leading man or leading woman, for not only is one "a leading lady" one night, as was Miss McGee as Pegeen Mike in "The Playboy of the Western World" on the American tour, and one of the village girls in "The Well of the Saints" the next night, but the men and women alternate in the same parts on different nights, as, for instance, on the American tour Cathleen ni Houlihan was played now by Miss Allgood and now by Miss Walker.
The fact that few of the actors who have learned their art with the Irish National Dramatic Society have achieved greatly in other drama is perhaps a proof that their powers are limited to the folk-drama and the legendary drama that comprises almost the entire repertoire of the company. Miss Allgood was, it is true, lent to Mr. Poel for the performances of "Measure for Measure" in the spring of 1908, and won an unquestioned success as Isabella, but actors so skilled as the Messrs. Fay have attained no notable success in other than Irish plays. During the American tour of 1911-12 both Mr. Sinclair and Miss Allgood were much importuned by the managers to accept American engagements, and it is hardly to be doubted but that both could win success in conventional comedy. And yet one feels it was the part of wisdom as well as of loyalty for them to withstand the lure.
The distinguishing characteristic of the art of the Abbey Players is naturalness. It is not that their personalities happen to coincide with certain types of Irish character, but that they know so well the types of the folk-plays, and even the characters who are not types that appear in the folk-plays, that they are able to portray them to the life. The Abbey Players have discarded most of the tricks of the stage, or perhaps it would be truer to say they do not inherit the tricks of the stage or any traditional characterizations of parts. They are taught to allow their demeanor and gesture and expression to rise out of the situation, to "get up" their parts from their own ideas; and these ideas are interfered with only if they run definitely counter to the ideas of stage-manager or author. The smallness of the Abbey Theatre has saved them from the necessity of heightening effects that they may carry to the farthest corners of a large house, a necessity that leads so often to over-emphasis by our own actors. There are less than six hundred seats in the Abbey theatre (five hundred and sixty-two by actual count), and it is so arranged that the words uttered on the stage carry easily without emphasis all over the house.
It is an old saying that the English of Dublin is the most beautiful English in the world. However that may be, there can be no doubt whatsoever but that the English that is spoken in Dublin falls on the ear with a mellowness of sound that is a joy to all who cherish proper speech. In the earlier years of the company Mr. Yeats was very desirous of having his dramatic verse spoken with "the half chant men spoke it [poetry] with in old times." It was in some such way that Mr. Yeats had tried to have his lines in "The Land of Heart's Desire" spoken when it was put on at the Avenue Theatre, London, in 1894; and thirteen years later Miss Florence Farr, whom he believes to speak English more beautifully than anybody in the world, spoke his dramatic verses in a "half chant," and his lyrical verses, many of them, to a definite musical notation, on her American tour of 1907. It was noticeable, however, when she played one of the musicians in his "Deirdre" on its later presentations, that he method of intoning the verses differed a great deal from their delivery by the regular members of the company. If Mr. Yeats has not changed his views somewhat in regard to the speaking of dramatic verse, he no longer insists on the half chant as it was practiced by Miss Farr, but is content if the actors reproduce its rhythm in "the beautiful speaking" that is characteristic of their art. The most beautiful English that I have ever listened to is the English of Synge as spoken by Mr. O'Donovan in Christy's "romancin'" to Pegeen Mike in the third act of "The Playboy of the Western World." His voice, full and mellow by nature, and in perfect control, responds to all the many changes of emotion that the part demands, the unmatched rhythm of the prose rendered as he renders it carrying one clean out of one's self as one listens. It is only when one comes to one's self on the curtain-fall that one finds one's self wondering, Can this be prose? Surely, never before was prose, English prose, as beautiful to the ear as English verse.
As Miss O'Neill did not come with the Abbey Players to America, we did not have a chance to hear Pegeen Mike's lines spoken with a beauty comparable to Christy's. The part is not one to which Miss Allgood is physically adapted, and Miss McGee is as yet too new to the stage to speak with the confident abandon the lines demand. We did, however, have a chance to hear Miss Allgood's very beautiful musical utterance of the verses given to Cathleen ni Houlihan in this first of the movement's folk-plays, and her equally beautiful speaking of the prose lines of the play. This part of Cathleen ni Houlihan is sufficiently removed from the other parts of the play, folk-parts, and from the parts of the other folk-plays, to give us an insight into the versatility of Miss Allgood; and we saw enough of Mr. Sinclair and Mr. O'Donovan and Mr. Kerrigan to realize that they, too, could worthily bear parts in heroic romance.
The rendering of the songs in the plays—it is chiefly in the plays of Mr. Yeats that they appear—is a distinguishing characteristic of their production. Mr. Yeats will not have them rendered by what, in the ordinary sense, is singing. Writing in the notes to volume III of his "Collected Works" he says:—
No vowel must ever be prolonged unnaturally, no word of mine must ever change into a mere musical note, no singer of my words must ever cease to be a man and become an instrument.
The degree of approach to ordinary singing depends on the context, for one desires a greater or lesser amount of contrast between the lyrics and the dialogue according to situation and emotion and the qualities of players. The words of Cathleen ni Houlihan about the "white-scarfed riders" must be little more than regulated declamation; the little song of Leagerie when he seizes the "Golden Helmet" should in its opening words be indistinguishable from the dialogue itself. Upon the other hand Cathleen's verses by the fire, and those of the pupils in "The Hour-Glass," and those of the beggars in "The Unicorn," are sung as the country people understand song. Modern singing would spoil them for dramatic purposes by taking the keenness and the salt out of the words. The songs in "Deirdre," in Miss Fair's and in Miss Allgood's setting, need fine speakers of verse more than good singers: and in these, and still more in the song of the Three Women in "Baile's Strand," the singers must remember the natural speed of words. If the lyric in "Baile's Strand" is sung slowly it is like church-singing, but if sung quickly and with the right expression it becomes an incantation so old that nobody can quite understand it. That it may give this sense of something half-forgotten, it must be sung with a certain lack of minute feeling for the meaning of the words, which, however, must always remain words. The songs in "Deirdre," especially the last dirge, which is supposed to be the creation of the moment, must upon the other hand, at any rate when Miss Farr's or Miss Allgood's music is used, be sung or spoken with minute passionate understanding. I have rehearsed the part of the Angel in "The Hour-Glass" with recorded notes throughout, and believe this is the right way; but in practice, owing to the difficulty of finding a player who did not sing too much the moment the notes were written down, have left it to the player's own unrecorded inspiration, except at the "exit," where it is well for the player to go nearer to ordinary song.
At times Irish actresses who have not come to the stage through the Abbey Company, as has every one of its regular actresses, and every one of its men save Mr. W.G. Fay, have lent it their assistance, as in the instance of Mrs. Patrick Campbell referred to above, and as Miss Darragh did in productions of "The Shadowy Waters" and of "Deirdre" in 1906. It was four years earlier than this, however, that an Irishwoman, better known in her country than either Miss Darragh or Mrs. Patrick Campbell, lent her art to the performance of Cathleen ni Houlihan. "Miss Maud Gonne played very finely," writes Mr. Yeats in recording the incident, "and her great height made Cathleen seem a divine being fallen into our mortal infirmity." With these three exceptions, so far as I have been able to find out, no actors or actresses outside of the company have, since 1902, essayed any other than a subordinate part. Yet such is the versatility of the company, men and women both, within the range of plays the company feels called upon to present,—folk-drama of to-day and of yesterday in Ireland, folk-history plays, morality plays, and plays in verse out of old legends,—that though there have never been as many as twenty actors in the company there has very seldom been much difficulty in casting a part. Molly Byrne in "The Well of the Saints" and the Wandering Friar of the same play have given the most trouble to the stage directors.
From the very beginning of the Irish National Dramatic Company, Mr. Yeats has been an advocate of scenery that is background chiefly, and in no way divertive of attention from the play itself, its thought, its words, its acting. He would have it, in a way, decorative, but subdued and in harmony with the subject of the play. A very few simple sets suffice for the plays of peasant life, a cottage interior, a village street, a crossroads in a gap of the hills, all to serve the action and the words as background, and to be no more obtrusive than the background of a portrait. It may be that this attitude of Mr. Yeats is in a measure due to his talks with Mr. Gordon Craig, but it is equally true, I think, that some of Mr. Gordon Craig's ideas are due in part to his talks with Mr. Yeats. Equally simple, though of another sort of simplicity, would Mr. Yeats have the scenery for plays out of old legend. "I would like to see," writes Mr. Yeats in "Samhain" of 1902, "poetic drama, which tries to keep at a distance from daily life, that it may keep its emotion untroubled, staged with but two or three colors." Old reds, misty blues, imperial purples, greens that have about them the dimness of haunted woods, and dulled golds have been among the colors used in the legendary plays of Mr. Yeats and in the folk-histories of Lady Gregory, the color schemes being generally either those of Mr. Yeats or of Mr. Robert Gregory, Lady Gregory's son. Scenery and costumes alike are simple. No audience at the Abbey has ever marveled at cycloramic landscape, and no audience and no actress has ever been able to take the joy of the dressmaker and the dressed, of the milliner and the millinered, in gown or hat.
The National Theatre Society, Limited, which is the legal name of the organization that controls the Abbey Theatre Company, may not play what plays it will at the Abbey; the two leading theatres of commerce in Dublin, the Gaiety and the Theatre Royal, having, as Mr. Yeats records, "vigorously opposed" the Abbey being given "a patent as little restricted" as their own. "The Solicitor-General," Mr. Yeats continues, "to meet them halfway, has restricted our patent to plays written by Irishmen or on Irish subjects or to foreign masterpieces, provided these masterpieces are not English." This restriction has not interfered with any feature of the work of the Abbey Theatre, Mr. Yeats believes, save in the building-up of an audience, some people remaining away, perhaps, who might have been attracted had "such bodies as the Elizabethan Stage Society, which brought 'Everyman' to Dublin some years ago, been able to hire the theatre."
No phase of the dramatic movement has been more interesting and none has been more important than this building-up of an audience to appreciate the plays. Whether with the poetic plays of Mr. Yeats and the ironic extravaganzas of Synge alone, such an audience as has been built up—an audience estimated by Mr. Yeats in 1906 to consist of four thousand young men and women—could have been won is problematical; that is, it may be doubted that the very best the movement has produced would have attracted a sufficient audience to enable the company to keep together after the expiration in 1910 of Miss Horniman's guarantee. Certain it is, however, that Lady Gregory's farces were a great help, both in building up and in holding the Abbey audience. It was for the purpose of affording comic relief to the plays of Mr. Yeats and to the first plays of Synge that Lady Gregory started to create them. They attracted all who loved laughter and merriness and a loving caricature of country-folk,—and who do not?—and one of them, "The Rising of the Moon" (1907), had a distinct patriotic appeal, as had Mr. Yeats's "Cathleen ni Houlihan," which brought some who would not otherwise have come to the Abbey Theatre. The third most definitely "national" play of the movement, "The Piper" (1908) of Mr. O'Riordan, may have also drawn some who would not otherwise have come to the theatre, but if it did so it brought them there, as did "The Playboy of the Western World" (1907), to object.
The first appeal of the Irish Players, in April, 1902, was trough the "Deirdre" of "A.E.," a play out of old legend, national legend, and "Cathleen ni Houlihan," a symbolic national play of '98. Then followed Mr. Cousins's two little plays above referred to; "The Laying of the Foundations," by Mr. Frederick Ryan,—a realistic satire of Dublin life; and Mr. Yeats's incursion into farce, "A Pot of Broth." The appeal of the repertoire was widened in 1903 by the inclusion of plays by Lady Gregory, Mr. Colum, and Synge. "Twenty-five" could give offense to none in its story of self-sacrificing love, and Mr. Colum's "Broken Soil," coming as it did after "In the Shadow of the Glen," would have escaped hostile criticism in such a situation even had it been much more severe in its portrayal of peasant life in the Midlands than it was.
From the time of "The Countess Cathleen" (1899) to the time of "In the Shadow of the Glen" (1903), no one of the plays in the movement had seriously offended any large section of the public, and the younger generation of all classes was contributing largely of its intellectual members to the audience of the National Dramatic Company. The West Britons, the Dublin Castle set, the Trinity College group, were not much interested, and, indeed, that portion of the theatrical audience that fills the stalls in the average theatre the English-speaking world over has never taken very much interest in the plays of the movement, save to protest against "The Rising of the Moon" as disloyal to England, and to approve, misunderstanding its purpose, "The Playboy of the Western World" as a savage satire of the Irish Irishman. The audience that the movement has built up is an audience of free intelligences, largely from the poorer elements of the public, an audience that fills the cheaper places in the house. "The Pit" of the Abbey Theatre is the envy of all the theatrical managers of Dublin. It is a pit of people young in years or young in heart and mind, who are interested in intellectual things, a group of people largely self-taught, or taught by the Celtic Renaissance, to appreciate fine things. With these has come that element of the intellectuals among the Trinity College set that is interested above all things in Ireland, but this element is not large.
This play and that have attracted, either for purposes of approval or for purposes of disapproval, groups of people outside of the faithful pit that is interested in every sincere portrayal of Irish life. Such a group, from the patriotic societies, prevented the rest of the house from hearing "The Playboy of the Western World," after its first performance on January 26, 1907, for four performances more; and such a group similarly protested against "The Piper," a little more than a year later, because it seemed to the members of the group to be an unpatriotic revelation of the lack of cohesion among Irish political and patriotic factions.
Despite opposition, however, and with new dramatists one by one gaining a place in the repertoire of the company, Mr. Boyle in 1905 and Mr. Robinson in 1908, Mr. Murray in 1910 and Mr. Ervine in 1911, more and more people continued to become interested in the new drama, and by the time Miss Horniman's support, promised in 1904 for six years, was withdrawn at the expiration of that period, the Abbey Theatre was apparently a fixture in the artistic life of Ireland.
It has been the custom, of recent years, for the Abbey Theatre to begin its Dublin season In October and to continue it on until May, when the company goes to London for a month. In the earlier years, before the company had a home at the Abbey, and even for a year or two after that, performances were not so continuous. Nor are they now given every week or always on every night of a week, the theatre being turned over to the Theatre of Ireland or some other dramatic organization occasionally, and being let, now and then, for lectures or concerts or the like. The London season in May is followed, or preceded sometimes, by visits to other English cities, Manchester and Leeds, Oxford and Cambridge among them; and at home in Ireland, in the intervals between weeks at the Abbey, the company goes to Cork or Belfast for a few performances.
In this country the audiences that attended the performances of the plays of the Abbey Theatre Players were of a very different composition. At their average they included a certain proportion of the younger intellectuals among the Irish-Americans, but very many of these were kept away from the performances, as many, indeed, in Ireland and in England, too, are kept away from the performances, by the opposition in the patriotic societies. In America, as in London and in Manchester, and in the English university towns, it has been largely from among those who are seriously interested in a literary drama that the audiences have been drawn. It was such people as do not habitually go to the theatre, but that are to be found at revivals of old English comedy and Ibsen plays and symphony concerts, that made up the audiences of the Irish Players in America, whether in Boston or in Philadelphia or Chicago. These audiences approximated to the Dublin audiences only in the fact that they were constant in attendance at all the plays of the repertoire. There were, of course, some who came out of curiosity and the love of ruction, but these after all were few. The plays appealed on their merits and won the success that they did win because of their art and their reading of life, and not because of the sensational incidents that had occurred at some of the productions of the company.
The Abbey Theatre has been able to maintain itself successfully in the years that have elapsed since the arrangement between Miss Horniman and the National Theatre Society came to an end. It has begotten many other companies, the Ulster Literary Theatre, best of them all; the Theatre of Ireland; the National Players; the Cork Dramatic Society. It has brought into being a kind of folk-drama that, despite its avowed and evident Scandinavian origin, is a new folk-drama, and it has brought into being, too, a school of dramatists. It has done much more than Mr. Yeats claimed it had done in 1908 when he wrote, "We know that we have already created a taste for sincere and original drama and for sincere, quiet, simple acting. Ireland possesses something which has come out of its own life, and the many failures of dramatic societies which have imitated our work, without our discipline and our independence, show that it could not have been made in any other way." But even were this all it had done, it had done much. What it has done I have attempted to put down in some detail, and to put values upon, in the following pages. Here I wish further to say but this: that I think the dramatic movement the most significant part of the Celtic Renaissance, a movement to me the most original movement in letters the world has known since that movement in Norway which so definitely stimulated it, a movement that gave Bjoernson and Ibsen to the world.
 Shakespeare Head Press, Stratford-on-Avon, 1908.
MR. WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
There has never been a poet who used better the gifts his country gave him than Mr. Yeats. The heroic legends of Ireland are in his poetry, Irish folk-lore is there, and the look of the country; and a man moulded as only Irish conditions, of old time and of to-day, could mould him, Irish conditions spiritual, intellectual, and physical; a man with eyes on a bare countryside in the gray of twilight, thinking of the stories the peasants tell and of the old legends whose setting this is before him. At this hour, with such surroundings, and in such thought, the Other World is as near to all men as their natures will let it come, and to Mr. Yeats it is very near. Waking dreams come to him at such hours, and he puts them into his verse, waking dreams of his country's legendary past and of its fairy present, and waking dreams born of books of old magic he has read indoors. Now it will be one sort of dream is present, now the other, and now the third, and often two or even all three sorts of dream are intermingled. His volume of prose sketches, "The Celtic Twilight" (1893), gives the title some of his countrymen have fastened on his verse, and the verse of others that take his attitude and use like material, "The Twilight School of Poetry." It is not inapt as giving the quality of most of his writing; but some of his verses have warm sunlight in them, which, strangely, since it is sunlight as it visits Irish shore and mountain, he has deplored. The explanation may be that Mr. Yeats is of those who do not live intensely until the oncoming of night, and so holds out of harmony with his genius the coloring of its moments of lesser energy.
Legends and folk-tales and landscapes and books of mysticism and magic not only give Mr. Yeats the material of his poetry, but suggest its images, its color, and in part its rhythms; but before he found the "faint and nervous" rhythms best fitted to his poetry, and put in it the gray-greens and browns and soft purples and bright whites of Irish landscape, and the symbols from fairy-lore and mythology, he had paid patient heed to certain of the great poets of his language, to Spenser and Blake, to Shelley and William Morris. And in learning the art of drama, which he began to study very carefully after his early plays were tested in "The Irish Literary Theatre," Mr. Yeats has very evidently pondered a good deal on the English morality and taken into account the effects of Greek tragedy as he had before explored M. Maeterlinck and the earlier Ibsen.
As a boy Mr. Yeats wrote in the "Dublin University Review" that the "greatest of the earth" often owned but two aims, "two linked and ardorous thoughts—fatherland and song." Twenty-six years have gone since then and Mr. Yeats is still devoted to poetry and to his country, for all that the Nationalists deplore that his greater interest is now in his art. His art, indeed, he cherishes with an ardor that is akin to the ardor of patriotism; to him, as to Spenser, the master of his youth, poetry is a divine enthusiasm. At first eager to paint, as did and does his father, Mr. J.B. Yeats, he studied in Dublin Arts Schools, but as Nature "wanted a few verses" from him, she sent him "into a library to read bad translations from the Irish, and at last down into Connaught to sit by turf fires." He read, too, Sir Samuel Ferguson, the poet who had done most with Irish legend, and Allingham, who wrote of Irish fairies, and the patriotic poets of the young Ireland group, Davis chief among them. His father, an admirer of Whitman, preached to him the doctrine embodied in the text—
"Will you seek afar off? You surely come back at last, In things best known to you finding the best."
Many influences thus conspired to make Mr. Yeats find his inspiration in Ireland, overcoming, for the time, the denationalizing influences that the art of the centre must always exert. Not only were the national legends and folk-lore constantly with him in these years, but the interest in magic and all things that are hidden. He was one of the Hermetic Society, of which Mr. George W. Russell was the high priest, as early as 1886, but this interest, which has dominated so often in his later poetry, is not to the forefront in "The Wanderings of Oisin" of 1889. The material of the title poem of this volume Mr. Yeats found in the libraries. It recounts the Fenian poet's three hundred years of "dalliance with a demon thing" oversea in three wondrous lands, where were severally pleasure and fighting and forgetfulness, and in each of which Oisin spent a century. It has a half-dramatic framework of question and answer between St. Patrick, who appears as upbraider, and the poet, who laments joys gone and the Christian present of Ireland and his own feeble age. Although it is a story Mr. Yeats is telling, the beauties of the poems are lyrical beauties. In exuberance and richness of color it is Mr. Yeats's most typically Irish poem based on legend, and nowhere do his lines go with more lilt, or fall oftener into inevitability of phrase, or more fully diffuse a glamour of otherworldliness. "The Wanderings of Oisin" revealed poetry as unmistakably new to his day as was Poe's to the earliest Victorian days. Beside the title poem another from legend had this new quality, "The Madness of King Goll," with its refrain that will not out of memory, "They will not hush, the leaves a-flutter round me, the beech leaves old." "Down by the Salley Gardens" and "The Meditation of the Old Fisherman" bear witness to talks before turf fires, or in herring boats off Knocknarea, and other developments of folk-song or tale have the place-names of his home county of Sligo; but this distinctive quality is theirs in less measure, and few others in the little volume have it at all.
In the years just before "The Wanderings of Oisin," Mr. Yeats had been eager to unite the young writers of Ireland in a movement to give the country a national literature in English. This project developed side by side with Dr. Hyde's to give Ireland its own language again and a modern literature in it. Neither leader was the first to advance either idea, but each was the first to establish the movement in which he was most interested; Mr. Yeats's "Wanderings of Oisin" (1889) is the starting-point of the Celtic Renaissance, and Dr. Hyde's "Leabhar Sgeuluigheachta" (1889), the starting-point of the Gaelic League, though this was not organized until 1893. From that day to this these two men and Mr. George W. Russell ("A.E.") have been the great forces in the literature of the Renaissance. Mr. Yeats was busy in those early days with editing fairy and folk-tales and short stories from the Irish novelists, and in reading these it was but natural that he should be led to write stories. First came "John Sherman" and "Dhoya" in 1891, the one a condensed novel with the slightest of plots about a slow-pulsed young man's troubles with love and laziness in Sligo and London, and the other a sketch of Irish faery in old time. Some of the sketches of "The Celtic Twilight" (1893) approach the tale, but such narrations are not told for their own sake, but as illustrations of fairy-lore, or they have too little body to win for themselves the title of tale. In "The Secret Rose" (1897) there are true tales, some out of Ireland's legendary past, some out of her fairy present, and, akin to both, the Hanrahan series. These last Mr. Yeats so rewrote in 1904 as to be "nearer to the mind of the country places where Hanrahan and his like wandered and are remembered." As they stand now they are his best prose, rid almost entirely of preciousness, and simple and full of mystery as the countryside they reflect. In "The Secret Rose" are two "alchemical" tales and in "The Tables of the Law" (1904), two others of like subject. To me, for all the qualities they share with poetry of his of similar inspiration, they do not seem to be mastered by him. Alone among his writings they are incomplete.
Mr. Yeats was unable until the last few years to give himself up to the writing nearest his heart, drama. He continued to edit Irish literature, to write on literature and fairy-lore for the magazines. The articles about fairies he has published, and a great mass of belief collected but as yet unprinted, he will gather some day into a great book. Known now in the Irish countryside as a man with a power to exorcise spirits, he will then no doubt attain a reputation that will put him well above that of the Irish-American archbishop who was his only rival in that practice in the belief of many Irish peasants. Other of his magazine writing Mr. Yeats has gathered into "The Celtic Twilight" and more of it into the later edition (1900) of this book. Still other of these articles are to be found in "Ideas of Good and Evil" (1903), some of them stating his philosophy, never too definitely formulated. These two collections are very interesting in themselves, but both, like his "Discoveries" (1907), are more interesting as commentary on his powers. Mr. Yeats has used many notes to explain obscure allusions in his poems, though the most obscure he, perhaps with premeditation, fails to explain. Yet the reader unacquainted with his use of symbols will find much interpretation in these essays, especially those in "Ideas of Good and Evil."
Up to 1899, when Mr. Yeats's serious efforts to build up an Irish national drama began with "The Irish Literary Theatre," he devoted his happiest moments to lyric poetry, though the play of "The Countess Cathleen" made half of his second volume of verse, and the third was wholly given to the little play, "The Land of Heart's Desire." Since 1899, in which year "The Wind among the Reeds" appeared, Mr. Yeats has published, of other than dramatic verse, only the little volume of "In the Seven Woods," the little series on Flamel, and a few snatches, in all about a thousand lines. Some of this verse Mr. Yeats wrote for the psaltery, and in 1902 he was determined to write all his shorter poems for recitation to this instrument and "all his longer poems for the stage."
Mr. Yeats was thirty-four when he practically gave up lyrical poetry for dramatic poetry. From the beginning he had written plays, but they were lyrical plays, dramatic only in form, and they were, as soon as he had mastered the technique of verse, great lyrical poems. In the plays he has written since he has striven at that hardest of literary tasks, to make true dramatic speech high poetry, he has written nothing more beautiful than "The Countess Cathleen" and "The Land of Heart's Desire." He has rewritten and rewritten these later plays, and in almost every rewriting made them more dramatic, but sometimes the later versions have lost as poetry, not in the mere decorative features and "lyrical interbreathings," but in the accent of the play and in the sheer poetical qualities. To me it seems a pity, inevitable though it be, that the poet who has struck the most distinctly new note of all the English poets since Swinburne should, at thirty-four, have changed from an art he knew to an art he did not know. That is a ripe age for a poet to begin to learn to write in a form barely essayed before. Unlike so many of the English poets, who as public school boys were bred up to write verse, Mr. Yeats had to teach himself to write verse. Overcoming triumphantly this handicap, though losing by it years usually fullest of impulse to write, Mr. Yeats greatly attained, and for the ten years from 1889 to 1899 devoted himself to the writing of lyrics. For the past thirteen years he has been busiest with dramas, in none of which has he more than approximated to a dramatic quality that is as great as the quality of his lyrics. He has owned himself one reason of such shortcoming, in the notes to "Deirdre." "The principal difficulty with the form of dramatic literature I have adopted is that, unlike the loose Elizabethan form, it continually forces one by its rigour of logic away from one's capacities, experiences, and desires, until, if one have not patience to wait for the mood, or to rewrite again and again till it comes, there is rhetoric and logic and dry circumstance where there should be life."
It may be that Mr. Yeats will one day overcome the difficulties that he alludes to here, but he is now forty-seven, and I, for one, doubt if, at his age, he can overcome them. As they are, his plays are beautiful in ideas and words, and striking in a lyric and decorative way, if not all of them in a dramatic way, though in some he has in vain sacrificed poetry to attain true dramatic speech attaining instead only "rhetoric and logic and dry circumstance." One values the plays of Mr. Yeats highest when one thinks of them as a new kind of drama, as a redevelopment of epic and lyric poetry into drama, an epic and lyric poetry illustrated by tableaux against backgrounds out of faery. Let us not forget that there is one effect which is of "The Tempest," and another effect which is of "Lear," and that it is after all something of a convention to call the latter a success of drama and the former a success of something other than drama. Yet it is just as necessary to remember that drama does mean a definite sort of literature, and the success of a new sort of drama, whether it be a "static" drama, as M. Maeterlinck has called his early drama, or whether it be the kind of drama that Mr. Yeats has created, is the success of something other than what we conventionally term drama. It is curious that no matter how great may be the success of an author in a form he has invented, he will almost invariably attempt also the accepted form from which he has diverged. Impelled by a desire to see his wife in a drama of his own but of the old dramatic sort, M. Maeterlinck made "Monna Vanna" in accord with the usual rules of the theatre, but to find it fall far short of the strange new beauty of his earlier plays. As yet Mr. Yeats has not compromised with the current taste in drama, but it may be that a desire to see some such actress as Mrs. Patrick Campbell in a part of his may lead to such compromise, as the thought of her acting his Deirdre inspired him to rewrite that part for Mrs. Campbell.
Mr. Yeats has not yet passed beyond the danger of falling between two stools. If it prove that he has really attained in a drama in which the verse is true dramatic speech and not lyric ecstasy or decoration, the success of such drama will be worth the sacrifice of the lyric poetry that he has not written because of the absorption of all of his energy in his dramatic writing. If it prove he has not so attained, we shall have no adequate compensation for the lost lyrics that he is now too old to write. I say no "adequate compensation," for compensation there is in the lyrical passages that no play of his is without, lyrical passages that arrest us as do his poems of the nineties; but, after all, these are but passages, not poems with unity and finality of form.
Another question altogether, a question outside of the question of the value as art of the writing of Mr. Yeats which is what I am considering, is the question as to whether there would have been a dramatic movement at all comparable to what has been, if Mr. Yeats had not devoted so large a portion of his time to drama. I believe there would have been a dramatic movement, but I am sure, from what I know of the other dramatic organizations in Dublin, that they would not have amounted to much unless some other great writer as loyal to art as Mr. Yeats had played for them the beneficent tyrant. And other such great writers, as loyal to art, and as devoted to drama, are far to seek in Ireland as in other countries. It is not in Mr. Russell's nature so to act; it is not in Dr. Hyde's plan of life to foster in others other than propagandist literature; it is more than likely that had Mr. Martyn attempted it it had come to the end to which he has come as playwright. Without Mr. Yeats as moving power, Synge had not been, without Mr. Yeats to interest her in the movement, Lady Gregory had not written her farces and folk-histories; and without the Abbey Theatre's plays as standard, the younger playwrights of Cork and Belfast would have written plays very other than those they have written.
No wonder Mr. Yeats wants to see his dreams take on bodily reality upon the stage, and to hear beautifully spoken the words in which he has caught them. There can be no greater pleasures than these to a writer when he is past the imaginative intensity of youth. In youth his imaginings are so real to him he needs no objective embodiment to see them, and the roll and sing of their lines are always sounding to his inner ear, but as he passes "out of a red flare of dreams," such as is youth's, "into a common light of common hours" in middle age, his imaginative life grows less intense and needs the satisfaction of seeing itself concretely represented.
Mr. Yeats leaves out of his collected poems the plays of his boyhood, "The Island of Statues" (1885) and "Mosada" (1886). They were not of Ireland, but the Arcady of the one and the mediaeval Spain of the other he could easily have paralleled in Irish legend, where anything wonderful and tragic is possible. Nor is "The Countess Cathleen" (1892-99), in its presentation of the drama of a woman that sells her soul that the souls of her tenantry may be saved, essentially Irish. It is curious that among English poets of Mr. Yeats's generation it should be Mr. Kipling that has happened upon the same legend, which he adapts to his ends in "The Sacrifice of Er-Heb." The background of "The Countess Cathleen" in the earlier versions was not more essentially Irish than the story. "The great castle in malevolent woods" and the country about it is very like the part of fairyland that M. Maeterlinck refound by following the charts of early discoverers in Arthurian legend. In its later versions "The Countess Cathleen" is more Irish and perhaps more dramatic, though its greatnesses, after that of atmosphere, the great lines we may no more forget than those about "the angel Israfel"
"Whose heart-strings are a lute";
"magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in fairy lands forlorn";
"old, unhappy, far-off things And battles long ago";
or about hearing
"the far-off curfew sound Over some wide-watered shore Swinging slow with sullen roar,"
were most of them in the earlier versions. There were those lines of Maire's denouncement of the two demons and her prophecy to them:—
"You shall at last dry like dry leaves, and hang Nailed like dead vermin to the doors of God";
and those wonderful lines of Cathleen dying:—
"Bend down your faces, Oona and Aleel: I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes Upon the nest under the eave, before He wander the loud waters";
and those last lines of all, great as only the greatest lines are great,—
"The years like great black oxen tread the world, And God the herdsman goads them on behind, And I am broken by their passing feet."
It was about this time, too, that Mr. Yeats wrote that most startling of all his lines,—
"And God stands winding his lonely horn",
and "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," that so charmed Stevenson that he had to write its author, and say it cast over him a spell like that of his first reading of the "Poems and Ballads" of Swinburne and the "Love in the Valley" of Meredith.
There is no greater lyric poetry anywhere in the writing of Mr. Yeats than in "The Land of Heart's Desire" (1894), that little folk-play whose constant boding and final tragedy cannot overcome, either while it is playing or as you remember it, the sing and lilt that are in the lines. It tells of the luring away by a fairy child of the soul of a newly married bride on May-Eve, and of her death when her soul has passed to the "Land of Heart's Desire"—
"Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise, Where nobody gets old and godly and grave, Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue, And where kind tongues bring no captivity."
It is a story out of folk-lore, and so far back in time, and so far away from the life that we know is it, that all that happens seems not only possible but inevitable.
"The Land of Heart's Desire" was the first play of Mr. Yeats to be put on the stage, being presented at the Avenue Theatre in London in 1894; and it was also the first play of Mr. Yeats to be put on in America, being presented with Miss Mabel Taliaferro in the fairy's role as the curtain-raiser to Mrs. Le Moyne's production of "In a Balcony," in the spring of 1901. Fragile as is its charm, it crossed the footlights and made itself felt as a new beauty of the theatre. It was the lyrical interbreathings that appealed most to me, but the strife of priest and fairy for Maire Bruin's soul was very real drama. It was the fairy's song, however, that haunted me after I left the theatre, as it could not but be. It haunts me still, coming into my mind whenever I think of Mr. Yeats, as inevitably as the last lines of "The Countess Cathleen," or as "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," or "The Valley of the Black Pig," or "The Rose of the World," or the ecstasies of Forgael and Dectora, or the song in "Deirdre." "The lonely of heart is withered away" is its burden, a burden that will not out of mind.
"The Land of Heart's Desire" has probably been most often played, counting American performances as well as performances in Ireland and England, being played as frequently by amateurs as by professionals in this country, but the prose play "Cathleen ni Houlihan," because of its national theme, has had more playings in Ireland. Its effect upon the stage is very different from its effect in the study. Read, it seems allegory too obvious to impress. The old woman, Cathleen ni Houlihan, with "too many strangers in the house" and with her "four beautiful green fields" taken from her, is so patently Ireland possessed by England, all four provinces, that one fails to feel the deep humanity of the sacrifices of Michael Gillane for her, his country, even though that sacrifice be on his wedding eve. Seen and listened to, "Cathleen ni Houlihan" brings tears to the eyes and chokes the throat with sobs, so intimately physical is the appeal of its pathos. He is, indeed, dull of understanding or hard of heart who can witness a performance of this play and not feel that something noble has come his way. It seizes hold of the Irishmen of the patriotic societies as does "The Wearing of the Green," and even the outlander, little sympathetic to the cause of Ireland and holding patriotism a provincial thing, is moved in some strange way he does not understand. Performance brings out its homeliness, its touches of humor, its wistfulness, its nobility. It is with this thought of its nobility that every thought of "Cathleen ni Houlihan" ends, that is every thought of it on the stage. Off the stage it is, except to him to whom the cause is all, something that falls short of nobility, to many little more than eloquent allegory. In the autumn of 1904 Miss Margaret Wycherly played "The Land of Heart's Desire" and "Cathleen ni Houlihan" a few times in America, and "The Countess Cathleen"; and "The Hour-Glass" (1903) and "A Pot of Broth" (1902), both plays in prose. "The Hour-Glass," a morality, was written after "Everyman" had won Mr. Yeats, and "A Pot of Broth" was written, perhaps, to prove that its author could do farce.
"The Hour-Glass" is based on a story that Mr. Yeats found in Lady Wilde's "Ancient Legends of Ireland" (1887), the story of a wise man who is saved from eternal damnation by the faith of a child. Mr. Yeats leaves the wise man the great scholar that he was in the old tale, a scholar whose teaching had taken away the faith of a countryside, but he changes the child who saved the scholar into Teig the Fool, and infuses into the record of the frantic hour, in which the wise man knows his life ebbing away as the sand falls, a spirit that is as reverent as the spirit of the old religious drama.
"A Pot of Broth" is a variant of a widely spread folk-tale in which a beggarman tricks a provident housewife out of a meal. He pretends a stone that he has, and which he gives her after his meal, makes good broth, but it is her chicken that has made the broth. It is a trifle, amusing enough, but remarkable chiefly for its difference from other work of Mr. Yeats. There is little doubt, I take it, in the mind of any one that it is not chiefly Lady Gregory's, as it surely is in its wording, and in its intimacy with the details of cottage life.
Prose also is "Diarmid and Grania," written in collaboration with Mr. George Moore and played at the last year's performance (1901) of "The Irish Literary Theatre." As this play as performed was in tone more like the writings of Mr. Moore than of Mr. Yeats, I have considered it among his plays rather than among the plays of Mr. Yeats.
His other prose play, "Where there is Nothing" (1903), is a statement of revolt against "the despotism of fact" that is perhaps as characteristic of the artist as of the Celt. The world would say that its hero, Paul Ruttledge, was mad, but no one that reads can deny him a large share of sympathy. This play was produced by the Stage Society in London in 1904. Lady Gregory having had a share in its creation, Mr. Yeats has since relinquished the theme to her; and now rewritten by her alone as "The Unicorn from the Stars," it would hardly be recognized as the same play.
His Paul Ruttledge, gentleman, becomes her Martin Hearne, coach-builder. Both are alike at the outset of their frenzy, in that they would be destroyers of Church and Law, both use tinkers as their agents of destruction, and both die despised of men. Both are "plunged in trance," but their trances differ. That of Lady Gregory's hero is cataleptic and directly productive of his revolt, from a revelation, as he thinks it is, that comes to him while he is "away." Paul Ruttledge, on the other hand, deliberately gives up his conventional life, and that as largely because of boredom as because of belief in its wrongness. One cannot, as one reads "Where there is Nothing," fail to see in its hero much of Mr. Yeats himself. He is not the professional agitator, literary or social, as was Oscar Wilde and as is Mr. Shaw, but he here delights in turning things topsy-turvy, just as they do, in a fashion that has been distinctive of the Irishman for many generations. Mr. Yeats is himself, often, like his hero, "plunged in trance," if one may call trance his "possessed dream," such as that in which "Cap and Bells" or "Cathleen ni Houlihan" came to him. The lyric came to him, he says, as a "vision," and so, too, the play. It is in the dedication to volumes I and II of "Plays for an Irish Theatre," volumes containing "Where there is Nothing," "The Hour-Glass," "Cathleen ni Houlihan," and "A Pot of Broth," that he tells us of the latter vision, and of the beginnings of that collaboration with Lady Gregory that taught her her art, and so profoundly influenced his. So informing is it that I quote it in full.