Newspaper Page Text
woe be to the manager who dares to be too daring.
Witness Bernard Shaw's 'Mrs. Warren's Profession.*
If ever a play had a sermon hidden in it, that play did.
But it was strong meat?much too strong for the public
stomach. And it failed. There are certain scenes, certain
places, that have absolutely no license to be pictured
on the stage. The fact that they are true, and
that thev exist, is not sufficient reason for picturing
them. The public doesn't want it, and won't have it."
His eyes twinkled. "I know what it wants of me,"
and then the slow Warfieldian smile broke. "It wants
me to play wholesome, lovable characters. It will pay
to see me just so long as I continue to play the kindly,
whole-souled character. But if I ever were cast for a
villain's part, then a long farewell to all my success.
Drawing by Herbert Paus
To the Reverend Mason Locke Weems, rr m j
Author of "Life of Washington, with
Curious Anecdotes," 8 I
Attic of Hall of Fame, New York City.
PARSON WEEMS?As m
one of those to whom the 22d of l^B
VXB February brings surcease of toil, IwB
'8^.^ 1 am in duty bound to spend a
flflWySr portion of that day in eontem- H
plation of the virtues of G.
Washington, Esquire. Mention
Mnwtn t C o ImtcVlot tVlO ll n tpVl _
Ul U1V uailiu dUK^t0k0 a iiatviivv, CUV tiuvvuet
points to a chorrv tree; and both lead
unerringly back to that Little Masterpiece
of American Fiction which you withheld
from publication until the year following
the hero's death. 11 ^
Perhaps this action was judicious; yet & '
think how entertaining and comforting Btr
some of your anecdotes would have been to
the Father of His Country in the declining |
On my little pilgrimage to the original
sources of the Cherry Tree story, I sought
for you in the catalogue of the Hall of Ft*.**/
Fame, and found you not. You are not fe1
Vm (rrn'it r*Uireir?i'inc onrl ciiraf?rvnc B f '
illllUll^ LI IV. j/ilj OlV luiikJ U11M out^vv/ifo, up
although you spent three years in a medical B j :
college. Xor does your genial face look out
from the ranks of the eminent divines;
though it is a matter of record that you
preached with great acceptation in diverse
places, even to the immortal George?and
that your prayers were not only moderate
in length but were also diverting at times.
Was your exclusion from the Immortals
due to the charge of a contemporary that
Parson Weems is "cheerful in his mien," or to the fact
that you played jingly tunes on your inseparable fiddle
at night? At any rate, you are relegated to the Attic.
And?oh, irony of Fate!?they have placed you
amone the biographers and historians instead of in
your rightful place high up among the great masters of
fiction. But the same thing happened to Plutarch, you
remember. Instead of locating him among the great
novelists of that early day, he is classified with the biographers.
Fate has l>een more kind to Jules Verne and
the amanuensis of Mr. Gulliver.
In your case the dislocation is probably the result of
the carelessness of posterity in merely reading the title
of your biography. I would suggest that in the next
edition the words "A Historical Novel" lie affixed to the
title. Still, it would seem that anybody ought to know
where to lex-ate the author of "A Bad Wife's Looking
( jIuss" and that pleasing persuasive to wedlock, entitled,
"Hvmen's Recruiting Sergeant, or the New Mat
rimonial Tattoo for Old Bachelors." However, there
you are, among the biographers. But it might have
been worse. Think of what you escaped by not being
pedestaled between Jonathan Edwards and Lorenzo
Dow throughout all the centuries!
Asa personality, Parson, every existing trace of your
sojourn in this goodly land exhales a fragrance not in
keeping with the theology of the age in which you served.
You were a gentleman and the companion of gentlemen;
yet you preached to the negroes with unconcealed
delight. You could play "Hark from the Tombs a
Doleful Sound!" on your fiddle; but "Old Dan Tucker"
was much more to your liking. You drove like Jehu
when you had a horse, and plodded cheerfully along
-I. ... ~ 1 1. * 1 lit i i J
xne roan wntn you twin i. .\n<i, aitnougn you lrruaiea
your Bishop like a gouty toe, there was no cant or tomfoolery
about your preaching. Some pyrotechnics,
maybe, but no whine.
But it was as a traveling stiller of books?especially
of your own books?that you rose to preeminence in
your day and generation. Nowadays it is not thought
to be good taste for an author to roam from town to
town and spread his books in front of the courthouse
while he explains their merits to passersby?which may
Ik- one reason why royalties are so meager. But it
m v. un J/I\- tl> W J mill ll lil L ill IV .'llllfllUUl auimu U1 V'^Ul
day who wished to get up among the "Best Sellers" had
to hump himself if he reached even place No. 7. And
the popularity of your books?especially the "Life of
George \\*ashington, with Curious Anecdotes Equally
Honorable to Himself and Exemplary to His Young
The public simply wouldn't come to see me, wouldn't
want to see me. Peculiar little body, this plavgoing
public. You have to humor it. It knows what it wants.
Our mission is to give it that, and not try to tell it or
show it what we want it to eive.
TT'S a very wonderful thing, indeed," he mused, "is
* that public,?or, I should say, as much of it as we
see sitting there in front of us at nights which constitutes
our audience. It sways us, makes us catch its
moods, more often than we behind the footlights swav
it. Many and many a night, after I had been playing
'The Music Master' for countless weeks on weeks, I
found that the constant iteration of the same lines
Continued on page 16
BY EDGAR ALLEN FORBES
^ -^Bj # B f>^K Iff
?^ . ?L ~ ' ' ?J
Countrymen"?proves that the attraction of American
fiction is not of recent origin.
To presentday litterateurs, it is interesting to note
the progressive development of your creative faculties.
Your Masterpiece, for example (which rivals the story
of the Prodigal Son in human interest), did not appear
in the earliest editions, although you were a contemporary
of the Great Man and had access to original
sources of information. It was not until you got out
among the people and found what they liked that the
Cherry Tree "anecdote" came to mind. And you had a
monopoly of it; for nobody else has come along with
the Hatchet in his repertoire.
As a story. Parson, the Cherry Tree bears the stamp
of approval of your own generation and that which succeeded;
but skepticism has arisen in these latter days.
The plot is well constructed; the action is swift and
vigorous; the dialogue is restrained yet emotional; and
the finale is dramatic and full of human interest. But
thp mirrnsmnp (if Inttcr-dnv criticism reveak ccrtrnn
**"? ?vv? j "; w"*
toolmarks that might well be ground off in the subsequent
editions, in order that those who come to the
Cherry Tree to scoff may remain to pray.
As one who venerates the memory of George (but
with moderation) and reads your story with increasing
delight from year to year, may I be allowed to send to
you a copy of the original version, with a few comments on
the side? As you yourself say, the story "is too valuable
to be lost"; but it is hardly "too true to be doubted":
The following anecdote is Omit "anecdote" or sub
a case in point: stitute reminiscence.
It is too valuable to be Chop out the lady: evlost,
and too true to be erybody knows that no
doubted; for it was com- authoress with an imaginamunicated
to me by the tion like that would remain
same excellent lady to whom under a bushel. Give vourI
am indebted for the last. self the credit that you deserve.
" When George," she said, Insert "little" before
"was about six years old. he "hatchet."
was made the wealthy master
of a hatchet, of which,
like most little boys, he was Vivify this: tell about
immoderately fond, and him playing tomahawk and
> ,M n 4 1 , M .. t, .4 b . ? I f rt b d-% < \1 /I
w dd LunMiiuuv KU111K ciiJiiut imuwniK it ai lii^ uiu iuuachopping
everything that ter. The Boy Scouts will
came in his way. like this bit of local color.
One day, in the garden. Cut the pea-sticks:
where he often amused him- George would never have
self hacking his mother's done a thing like that. See
pea-sticks, later biographies.
he unluckily tried It will help the sale on the
the edge of his hatchet on other side if you omit " Engthe
body of a beautiful lish," which is superfluous
young English cherry tree, anyway.
which he barked so terribly Chop the tree down. Parthat
I don't believe the tree son, so the story will fit the
ever got the better of it. illustrations.
The next morning the old It strengthens the plot if
gentleman, finding out what you have everything happen
had befallen his tree,? out in the garden, at the
which, by the by, was a great scene of devastation. This
favorite,?came into the will help the artists,
and with much Give more details here.
asked for the mis- Change " mischievous auchievous
author, declaring thor": captious readers will
at the same time that he interpret this to mean you.
would not have taken five
guineas for his tree.
Nobody could tell him Weak: his hatchet alanvthing
about it. ready had a bad reputation
about the place.
Presently George and his Gut "hatchet": too sughatchet
made their appear- gestive: make it a kitten
ance. or a praycrbook.
" George," said his father. Too benevolent: remem"do
vou know who killed ber that "much warmth."
that beautiful little cherry
tree yonder in the garden?"
This was a tough ques- No, no! That fleeting
tion, and George staggered moment of indecision sugunder
it for a moment; but gests something,
quickly recovered himself,
and, looking at Better put this back into
his father with the sweet your sermon,
face of youth brightened
with the inexpressible charm
of all conquering truth,
he bravely Substitute "Father" for
cried out, "I can't tell a lie, "Pa"; omit "cut" in last
Pa; you know 1 can t tell a sentence; and insert litlie.
I did cut it with my tie" before "hatchet."
" Run to my arms, you Isn't this action too imdearest
boy!" cried his pulsive, in all the circumfather
in transports. "Run stances? Let Pa stagger a
to my arms! Glad am I, moment in indecision.
George, that you killed my
tree; for you have paid me
for it a thousandfold!
"Such an act of heroism in Did Pa really say this?
my son is of more worth than It doesn't sound just like
a thousand trees, though him, somehow,
blossomed with silver, and
their fruits of pure gold."
Considering the plot as a whole, Parson, it is important
to remember that modern repetition of the story
stops abruptly at this point, your hac fabula ducet paragraph
being overlooked. So far as the Juveniles are
concerned, this is not a matter of consequence: they
swallow it hook and bait and sinker. But with the
Pov Scouts the moral is not quite so obvious as you
intended. They are prone to analyze and analogize it
in this fashion:
A murder is committed in the open street. An < >fhcer
grabs a fleeing man, and finds a revolver in his pocket.
The barrel is warm, and one of the cartridges has been
exploded. At the station house it is learned that the
man has a previous record as a gunman. W hen arraigned
before the Judge, he lifts his head proudlv and says, "I
x . 11 _ i: . i., j t a: a .b.t, '. * 10 ?
cailliOL U'U it lie, Juugc. i uiu It wiui Illy hum) .10.
Moral: Plead guilty like a man when caught with the
goods, and you get off with a penitentiary sentence.
Pa had the goods on George, no doubt about that.
And the average boy can figure it out that if he had not
told the truth with great promptness he would have had
one licking for the hatchet exercise and another for the
lie. And, no telling, Mother might have had something
to add on the ]>ea-stiek account. Maybe it would Ik*
better, in the next revision, to strengthen the moral at
the expense of the plot and have George own up before
he was caught.
You will understand, of course, Parson, that I have
no sympathy with those who criticize your I ittle Masterpiece
on the ground that it doesn't work out in real
lifr* TV?o* ic \*mir fault* for mof1f?rn lit<* k -fiiiiti*
II1V . J HUb ! } 11" 'I ? W4I ?UM*Wf - - - ? - - - ? -W
beyond your control. If a boy shoots a prize <'rpington
rooster with his new airgun, and gets the stuffing licked
out of him when he owns up to it George-fashion, his
misfortune is due entirely to the brutal instincts of a
coarse parent whose undeveloped mentality cannot appreciate
"the inexpressible charm of all-conquering
truth," as Pa puts it.
And, so far as George is concerned, it adds not a
little to the enjoyment of the 22d of February to reflect
that we have abundant evidence to show that the Cherry
Tree "anecdote" did not seriously handicap the freedom
of action amid the exigencies of jjolitical life that
sprang up along the pathway of his later years.
Also that the genial and brilliant novelist who gave
the "anecdote" to posterity did not take its moral too
seriously unto himself. For I observe on your title
page the phrase "Formerly Rector of Mount Vernon
Parish,"?which doubtless had much to do with the
sale of your book,?whereas the records of the Parish
show that you merely supplied the pulpit for the real
Rector once in awhile.
Which ought to teach us not to take too much to
+i,? : e t V? o r\r\nn rvrninniie f A flin orrn />f
ill ill l 11ii- liiiiuiuia iiuu iiap^u j/uviuuo tv/ niv, vu
six in the lives of public men.
With appreciation of your creative abilities and of
your skill in evading the personal inconvenience of your
moral, I remain
Edgar Allen Forbes.