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The sun. [volume] (New York [N.Y.]) 1916-1920, February 02, 1919, Section 5 Books and the Book World, Image 48

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THE SUN, SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 1919.
William Winter's "Life of David Belasco
By BARRETT II. CLARK.
TIIE position of William Winter in
tho history of our native stage 13
secure. Tt is at present impossible to es
timate tlie exact importance of his volum
inous contributions, hut not even his niot
unsympathetic detractors can deny that
lie is an imposing figure, one impoiblc
to ignore. Were it only for the mass of
material that he has alreadv collected in
book form his writings -would loom large
in our libraries and form the basis of
jnuch of our material on tho American
theatre.
Winter was not only a critic who prac
tically dominated a great dramatic or
Jet us say theatrical epoch, he was a
man of letters; his books would demand
attention by reason of their delightful
Btylc if not for their matter.
"Si Monumentum Requjris '
The publishers arc rendering a distinct
service in issuing volume after volume of
the collected works of the veteran critic
These already include three scries of
Studies relating to Shakespeare on the
Stage, two volumes of miscellaneous ma
terial in Hie Wallet of Time, two on The
Life and Art of Richard Mansfield, not
to mention biographies of actors, single
volumes of reminiscences, and finally, the
most imposing of all the biographies, The
Life of David Belasco two volumes,
with a total of 1,093 pages I
A quick glance at this formidable set is
sufficient to see that tho writer has been
at pains to gather all available material
not only on the Kfe of Mr. Belasco, but
On the numerous associates' of Mr. Belasco
and tho various activities with which he
has been identified. Indeed, had Winter
confined himself merely to a biography of
David Belasco that manager must surely
have protested. Bernard Shaw's biog
rapher dared not devote over half the
space to his hero that Mr. Winter has
given to his, and I know of no Goetho
biography even by a German that is
longer than the work now under consid--'
eration. Surely "William Winter must
have considered his subject rather as a
centre of activities, a point of departure,
than a demigod.
Belasco's Claim to Fame.
I intend no disrespect to Mr. Belasco,
who is a very able manager, a play
tinker of talent who rendered signal ser
vice to the American theatre during a
period of depression. In all probability
the obstacles he was called upon to face
and surmount wre fully as great, if not
greater, than those faced and surmounted
by our younger managers and play
wrights. But seriously, is there any com
parison between the plays produced by
Bclaseo and the manner in which he
mounted them, and the' plays and artistic
achievements of Arthur Hopkins and
JJobert K. Jones J At a time when Europe
Newest, Books
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Letters of Susan Hale
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Can Mankind Survive
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Racial Factors in
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By Philip Ainsworth Means
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Tb Bobbs-Merrill Company, Publishers
was building theatres that wc are just be
ginning to iniilate, when managers were
putting into practice lighting devices
which Belasco has just "discovered," our
own "Wizard of the Stage" was erecting
ill-vc-ntilated and uncomfortablo play
houses and producing plays mnc-tenllis
of which were of no more than passing
interest.
In spite of this our biographer is right
in his fundamental implication: that
Belasco was in his day the right man in
the right place, though he is pitifully
wrong in claiming for him a position he
does not deserve. The chief interest in
his Life of David Belasco is not David
Belasco, but the variegated and moving
picture we are offered of the American
stage of the past four decades. The style
of William Winter has rarely been put to
such excellent use as in the descriptions
of tho late palmy days with which these
volumes arc studded.
The "Good Old Days."
Here, as in The Life of Richard Mans
field and The Wallet of Time, wc arc in
vited to enjoy the first nights of the '80s
and J!)0s and the quarrels of actors and
managers; we are guided by a preju
diced observer, however through the
mazes of the old Syndicate intrigues and
finally wo find ourselves perchance be
guiled into thinking for a moment that
perhaps the palmy days were indeed
palmy, nuiil we are rudely jolted by one
of thoso ill-advised outbursts of temper
which the old gentleman could not re
strain and forced to admit that tho palms
were simply dead palms. To Winter tho
past was beautiful not because it was the
past, but because it was not the present,
and his later years were one long drawn
wail over the invasion of the new, the vile
excrescences of the Gloomy Norwegian,
the sewage of Shaw, and the pruriencies
of Pinero.
And yet somehow the work is vitally in-,
teresting. Tor one thing the documenta
tion is tho ugh. This is in the shape of
letters, photographs and programmes,
many of them of the first importance to
tie student of the period, and nearly all
of prime interest to the general reader.
Tho historian of the future will find this
part of the book indispensable. Unfor
tunately he will find himself unable to ac
cept Winter's judgments as they stand.
Due allowance in every case must be
made for the personal equation. There is
no use repeating what is now a common
place: William Winter was constitution
ally incapable of understanding the first
priciples of the art of Ibsen and his fol
lowers.' An Angry Old Man.
Had he" been- content i o champion the '
"wholesome" drama of the past, which he .
understood, and not set- himself against
tho new movement, which he did not
understand and which he wa3 eternally
striving to belittle because it stood for
ideas that were radically opposed to his
own, we should still have been able to
abide by his judgments; but in condemn
ing modem plays and modern actors he
became obsessed with the notion that tho
earlier actors and the earlier plays were
far superior to all else. Ue lost his sense
of proportion and, consumed with a
mania of impotent rage, spluttered help
lessly in a sea of exasperated invective.
The vindictive note is everywhere pres
ent in the later works. In The Life and
Art of Richard Mansfield his spitefulness
takes the form of childish tricks when ho
considers the famous Beau Brummellcasc',
for example, he consistently avoids re
ferring to Clyde Fitch by his rightful
name, preferring for his purpose such
devices as calling tho well known dramat
ist "Mr. W. C. Fitcli," "C. Fitch" and
the like. In The Life of David Belasco
we are afforded the same sort of thing.
Says Winter on page 267 of the second
volume in reference to one of the con
spicuously few first rate plays produced
by Mr. Belasco:
A Winter Come to Judgment.
"Mr. Eugene Walters play called The
Easiest Way, is one of the most obnox
ious specimens of theatrical trash that
have been obtruded on the modern Stage.
. . . It" is melancholy and deplor
able that he Belasco should have lent his
great reputation to the support of tho
vicious play which now disgraces his
Stuyvesaut Theatre. . . . Wc do
not want to see in the Theatre the vile
ness that sliould be shunned; we want to
sec the beauty that should ho emulated
and loved I" I am not aw are. that Winter
criticised Hamlet or 3Ia.bcth on the same
grounds.
It would be unfair to quote further in
stances of our critic's aberrations; I wish
only to indicate his greatest defect. I am
even willing to grant that essentially he
may have been riglit and Hint the future
will sec in him a prophet in the evil dny3
of twentieth century drama: but on the
other hand it cannot he doubled that his
method of attack was fatally urong, and
the note of spile that u constantly
sounded n continual warning to the wary
reader in search of facts.
Tho reviewer is often embarrassed in
tho appraisal of a work of this sort in
his effort not to lay (oo great s-lrr-s on
the shortcomings, and yet it takes po
much more space to describe these than
to praise the whole. Personally I am
grateful, if not ovcrgmriou, to the
writer of The Life of David Itchtscn for
having afforded me a broad if not un
prejudiced view of a very important man
and of an epoch thttt is fa-t slipping
from us into the gilded piit of American
theatrical historv.
THE LIFE OF DAVID BKI.ASPO. Hv
WllxiAil Wiktkk, editd and completed
by Ills son, Jefferson Winter. In two o
tunes. Moffat, Yard & Co. $11.
From Examination Papers
in Victorian Literature
MATTHEW AKXOLD had a rule
by which poetry could be meas
ured for worth of thought and style. It
was not, however, applicable to vers libre.
Dickens was a romantic, realist. Which
means that he had the qualities of a good
scenario writer.
Tennyson was made Poet Laureate of
England because, he wrote "the Charge of
the Light Brigade.
Thackeray was the. first man who ex
perienced the horrors of serial writing.
The "devil" was always after him for
more and more copy, a fact which ex
plains why he had to kill Col. Newcome
so prematurely.
Georgo Elliot read 2,000 histories of
Florentine life at the time of Syvanarola
before she wrote Romola.
Charles Kingslcy was a preacher who
incidentally w rote borcsome novels.
Thomas MacAuley was die opposite of
Carlyle.
James Stuart Mill wrote a rom'ndiiim
of thu world's history at the age of eight
and fell in love at twenty.
Charlotte Hrontc's Jam: Eyre j-hocked
the prudish Victorian public because sJia
was the firt woman in any Englidi novel
who made amorous advances to a man.
Tennyson opposed woman suffrage.
This is proved by the fact that he wrote
"Woman is the lesser man!"
Thackeray was a cynic beeauw! he hated
snobs. M. J. A.
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JAMES BRANCH CABELL
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THE GREAT HUNGER
"ascends beyond prosaic narrative to lyric splendor. It is or ought
to be an enduring book."
Price $1.60 Net. At all bookstores.
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