Whatever niche in the hall of theatrical fame posterity eventually awards to Edwin Forrest, the actor, no theatre lover eager to see this country one day produce a great playwright, a modern Shakespeare who shall reflect and glorify the enormous vitality and peculiar genius of our people, will fail to give him credit for what he did, as a patriot, to promote the cause of the American national drama.
Up to Forrest's time, America had no dramatic literature. It was the golden age of American letters in every form except the dramatic form. Webster, the lexicographer; Prescott, Motley, Bancroft, Parkman, the historians; Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, James Russell Lowell, William Greenleaf Whittier, Walt Whitman, the poets; Washington Irving, Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Brockden Brown, J.K. Paulding, Bret Harte, the novelists; Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the essayists and philosophers; Mark Twain and Artemus Ward, the humorists--these made up a glorious company that shed lustre on American literature wherever the english tongue was spoken.
Of these literary titans only Longfellow, Irving, Holmes, Paulding, Poe and Brown ever attempted to write for the stage, and only Paulding and Brown had any success in that field. Longfellow wrote several plays, none of which were acted. His blank verse drama "The Spanish Student" was published in 1843 and the Tragedies in 1868. Irving collaborated on more than one play with John Howard Payne, but insisted on his share being concealed. Poe wrote a play called "Politian," from which he claimed Longfellow had plagiarized his "Spanish Student." Oliver Wendell Holmes, in 1831, contributed a "Scene from an Unpublished Comedy" to a Boston monthly. James Russell Lowell's translation of Professor Child's operetta "Il Pesceballo" was acted by amateurs in 1862.
One reason, undoubtedly, for the aloofness of polite literature was the Puritanical prejudice which still persisted against all things theatrical. Another was the indefinable hostility against, and the open contempt for, the stage which literary workers have always affected. This attitude of literature toward the theatre is succinctly expressed by Gertrude Atherton, the well known author:
A novelist is not entirely trained to the humiliation of a playwright, and is entirely opposed to the autocracy of the producer. Since a novel is an intimate revelation of real character, I am afraid that the theatre can never do entire justice to the author. I am very fond of the theatre, but I always wish there were better taste, a nicer selection of language, and a closer attention to untheatrical atmosphere than we usually find in plays on the American stage. 
A still more potent reason for the absence of our early literary workers from the theatrical field was perhaps the fact that they fully realized the difficulties of dramatic construction, that the drama had a technique of its own entirely different to the one governing their own art, and which was only to be acquired by a long and arduous apprenticeship. The late F. Marion Crawford told the present writer that the stage appealed to him most strongly as a medium of expression, but that he had always recoiled from any attempt in that direction, awed as he was by the enormous difficulties of the craft.
Many of our literary men have taken a keen interest in the theatre. Both the parents of Edgar Allan Poe were players. Washington Irving was a constant frequenter of the playhouse, and wrote about it most entertainingly. He and Bret Harte and Oliver Wendell Holmes have on occasion written addresses in verse for the opening of theatres.
Up to the year 1830, America had no national drama. As previously noted, there had been some desultory writing done for the stage by native authors, but nothing had been produced characteristic and vital enough to deserve being classed as national drama. Yet the American drama is older than the American theatre itself. That is to say, American authors wrote plays long before there was in this country a single theatre in which to perform them.
Very early in the Seventeenth Century, references to America in English plays were frequent. Shakespeare in "The Tempest" makes allusion to the "still vexed Bermoothes" (Bermudas). In "Eastward Hoe," written in 1605 by George Chapman, Ben Jonson and John Marston, there is a scene in praise of Virginia, which colony was then the fashionable topic of the day, and Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia in 1641, while in America, wrote a play called "Cornelia" which was acted in London in 1662. In Mrs. Aphra Behn's play, "The Widow Ranter, or Bacon in Virginia," the scene is laid in America, the subject dealing with the insurrection known as Bacon's. We also have Anthony Aston's own word that when in America in 1702 he "wrote a play on the subject of the country."
The earliest play written by a native of this country, of which we have any knowledge, was "Gustavus Vasa," acted by the students of Harvard College in 1690. Its author, Benjamin Colman, was born in Boston in 1673 and died there in 1747. He was graduated from Harvard in 1692 and entered the pulpit the following year at Medford, Mass. "On a voyage to England in 1695," says John Malone in his introduction to Oscar Wegelin's  valuable compilation of titles of early plays by American authors, "his vessel was attacked by a French privateer. He fought with the crew and was taken with them and confined in France as a prisoner of war. He was finally exchanged and was enabled to go on to London. He preached there several times and was urged to remain, but was called to be first minister of Brattle Street Church in Boston where he officiated until his death."
Another early play of native origin acted in America was written by a French officer, Le Blanc de Villeneuve. This piece, entitled "Le Père Indien" and dealing with the voluntary sacrifice of a Choctaw father to save his son's life, was produced by amateurs in New Orleans in 1753.
The first play to be printed in America was a farce in three acts called "Androborus" (The Man Eater). It was written by Robert Hunter, governor of New York, in collaboration with Lewis Morris, a native New Yorker and chief justice of the New York colony. This piece, printed in New York in 1714 by William Bradford and bearing the fictitious imprint of "Monoropolis" (Fool's Town, meaning New York), was a satire on the political conditions of the day, and was doubtless put out to check the meddling of Trinity Parish officials in the affairs of the colony. From the viewpoint of dramatic construction it was not without merit. "The play," says Paul Leicester Ford, "was seemingly never intended for stage production, for a part of the plot turns on so filthy an incident as to preclude its performance even in the coarse and vulgar time of its writing. The piece is dramatic, however, despite its politics and lack of women's parts, the characters are admirably drawn and it abounds in genuine humor. The trick played on Androborus, of making him believe himself dead, is both quaint and effective, and the part of Tom of Bedlam is notable in its Mrs. Malapropisms." 
Only one copy of this play is to-day known to exist and in the eyes of collectors of rare Americana it is literally worth considerably more than its weight in gold. The single copy which has survived is fortunately in this country. After having been in turn the property of Garrick, Kemble and the Duke of Devonshire, it is now in the library of Mr. H.E. Huntington of New York City.
The first American printed play to be acted had only two characters and was entitled "An Exercise Containing a Dialogue and Ode Sacred to the Memory of George II." This was acted on May 23, 1761, by the Students of the College of Philadelphia. A year later, at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), the graduating class presented "The Military Glory of Great Britain." As significant of the times, it was only fourteen years later that the tragi-comedy "The Fall of British Tyranny," by John Leacock, made its bid for popular patronage. The tragedies of Hugh Henry Brackenridge, the American lawyer-author (1748-1816), have been mentioned elsewhere.
A tragedy in blank verse "Ponteach, or the Savages of America," written by Major Robert Rogers, the Indian ranger and a native of New Hampshire, was printed in London in 1766, but never acted.
The first play written by an American to be acted by professional players and also printed, was, as already noted in an earlier chapter, "The Prince of Parthia," by Thomas Godfrey, Jr., produced by Douglass in Philadelphia in 1765. Twenty years later (1785) the students at Yale produced another tragedy by an American author--Barnabas Bidwell's "The Mercenary Match."
The first American woman known to have written plays was Charlotte Lennox, daughter of an English government official. She was born in this country, but later took up her residence in London where she became intimate with Dr. Johnson, Goldsmith and other celebrities. In 1748 she went on the stage, and some years later wrote a play called "Philander, a Dramatic Pastoral," which was printed but never acted. In 1769 she wrote a comedy entitled "The Sister," a dramatization of her own novel which was produced at Covent Garden. It proved such a failure that the author would not permit it to be given a second time, yet it was translated into German in 1776, being the first play by an American to be translated into a foreign language.
These and other early efforts at native dramatic composition, including the political satires of Mercy Warren, and the Revolutionary and other plays dealing with the passions of the time, are to-day chiefly interesting as literary curiosities. They had little, if any, bearing on the development of the native American drama. It was not until Royall Tyler and William Dunlap began to write successful American plays and Edwin Forrest held out substantial pecuniary inducements to native authors that the native American drama was born. As Edith J.R. Isaacs says:
From the days of "The Contrast" there has been an American drama in and out of the theatre, struggling for expression, fighting for survival. Its history can be traced as clearly as a vein of gold by any one who cares enough to look for it. It is always vital, always American, always dramatic; it is not always good art. Until Bronson Howard's day, it had little respect in the theatre and practically none in literature. Therefore, much of it has disappeared and the rest will disappear unless we can help to breed that high sounding but exceedingly simple thing, a "national consciousness," toward the drama as an art and the theatre as an institution which is taken for granted in every other civilized country. 
The period of American playwriting that lay between William Dunlap and the so-called Philadelphia school, was bridged by several native dramatists of ability: Charles Jared Ingersoll (1782-1862), James Nelson Barker (1784-1858), Samuel Woodworth (1785-1842), Mordecai N. Noah (1785-1851), George Washington Parke Custis (1786-1857), Richard Penn Smith (1790-1854), John Howard Payne (1791-1852).
Charles Jared Ingersoll, a Philadelphia lawyer of note, wrote a five act tragedy "Edwy and Elgiva" which was performed in Philadelphia in 1801, with Mrs. Merry in the part of the heroine.
James Nelson Barker, whom Ireland characterizes as "one of the best of American authors," was mayor of Philadelphia in 1820. All his plays are on native themes. His comedy "Tears and Smiles" was first acted at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, in 1807. His next play "The Indian Princess," the first of many plays having the Indian maiden Pocahontas for heroine, was produced at the Chestnut Street Theatre April 6, 1808. "Marmion," a dramatization of Scott's poem, was first acted in New York at the Park Theatre in 1812. "Superstition," one of the earliest plays based upon Colonial history, was first seen in Philadelphia at the Chestnut Street Theatre March 12, 1824. According to F.C. Wemyss, who acted the part of George Egerton, the piece was a success, but was seldom performed because Mary Duff, who played Mary, outshone Mrs. Wood as Isabella.
Samuel Woodworth, the creator of Jonathan Ploughboy, a Yankee character made familiar by J.H. Hackett, Alexander Simpson, G.H. Hill, Henry Placide and Joshua Silsbee, was born in Scituate, Mass., and began his career as a printer. In1810 he went to New York, where he was one of the founders of the New York Mirror. He wrote five plays, all of which were produced: "The Deed of Gift," a comic opera produced at the City Theatre, New York, in 1823; "Lafayette," a drama seen at the Park Theatre in 1824; "The Forest Rose," acted at the Chatham Theatre, New York, in 1825; "The Widow's Son," also seen at the Park, and "The King's Bridge Cottage," a Revolutionary drama.
Mordecai N. Noah, journalist and critic, wrote "The Fortress of Sorrento," "The Grecian Captive," "Marion," "She Would be a Soldier," "The Wandering Boys" and other dramas of wide popular appeal.
George Washington Custis, author of "Pocahontas or the Settlers of Virginia," produced at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, January 16, 1830, was the son of John Park Custis, the stepson of Washington. He fought in the War of 1812 and afterwards was well known as a writer of prose and verse. Other plays by him are "The Railroad," a drama produced in Philadelphia in which a steam locomotive was introduced; "North Point, or Baltimore Defended," acted at the Baltimore Theatre in 1833, and "The Eighth of January," performed January 8, 1834, at the Park Theatre, New York.
Richard Penn Smith was born in Philadelphia and educated as a lawyer. He wrote altogether twenty plays, turning out pieces with such facility that the last act of "William Penn," a play dealing with Penn's intervention to save the life of the Indian chief Tammany, he began and completed on the afternoon previous to the first performance. Other plays by this author are "Quite Correct," produced at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, in 1828; "Is She a Brigand?" first seen at the Arch Street Theatre in 1833; "The Disowned," a melodrama presented at the Balitmore Theatre in 1829; "A Wife at a Venture," seen at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia the same year; "The Deformed," produced at the Chestnut Street Theatre in 1830; "The Triumph of Plattsburg," dealing with the War of 1812, produced at the Chestnut Street Theatre in 1830. He also won a prize offered by Edwin Forrest with his play, "Caius Marius." Two of his plays, "The Deformed" and "The Disowned," were acted successfully in London.
John Howard Payne, actor, editor, author and song writer, wrote and adapted over sixty plays. His first piece, "Julia, or the Wanderer," was acted at the Park Theatre, February 7, 1806. An historical tragedy, "Brutus, or the Fall of Tarquin," was first seen in London at Drury Lane in 1818. "Charles the Second," a comedy in collaboration with Washington Irving, was presented at the Park Theatre, New York, October 25, 1824. Payne was more at home in the field of melodrama, and such pieces as "Therèse, or the Orphan of Geneva," "Clari or the Maid of Milan" (which contains the song Home Sweet Home, and first seen in London in 1823) were very popular.
All these were interesting native productions, but it was not until Forrest offered substantial money prizes for plays by American authors and began to produce the pieces offered, that any real stimulus was given to the national American drama. The real beginnings of the native American dramatist may, therefore, be said to date from Forrest's time.
Until then, there was little incentive for the American to write for his own stage. The few native authors who were admitted to the footlights were made to feel keenly the humility of their position. They were seldom, if ever, paid. The author was the most inconsequential person back of the curtain. Sometimes out of compassion the manager would condescend to give him a benefit. His compensation thus came to him in the form of charity. Is it a wonder, under such circumstances, that the successful literary men of that day saw little to attract their talents to the theatre?
Prejudice against the home-made play was almost unsurmountable and has continued in a minor degree until our own day. Barker relates how, because of this prejudice, his play "Marmion" was put on in New York in 1812 as "an English play by Thomas Morton, Esq.," and further announced as "received with unbounded applause in London." After running several nights with success, the American authorship was given out, when the receipts immediately fell off.
Even so modern a manager as Charles Frohman had little real sympathy with, or faith in, the native dramatist. He produced American plays as a matter of policy, but most of his relations were with Barrie, Pinero, Captain Marshall, Haddon Chambers, Henry Arthur Jones and other British dramatists.
The early theatre managers looked to London exclusively for their plays and had found it convenient to ignore the question of authors' royalties, which in the absence of international copyright  they could do with impunity. The English plays were all printed and copies could be purchased for a few pence. Dunlap prints a letter he received from Kotzebue in which the German dramatist speaks of Covent Garden paying him a hundred pounds for each of his plays. Dunlap does not say if he himself took the hint and also paid that sum for the many dramas he adapted from Kotzebue, but if he did it was not because he had to, but merely as a matter of courtesy and good business ethics. Accustomed to getting for nothing the best pieces by the most popular English authors, it is hardly surprising that the earlier managers looked with little favor on the unknown American dramatist. As to the suggestion that managers should pay American authors--the idea was preposterous.
Forrest argued differently. The money incentive was a powerful one. What was worth doing at all, he insisted, was worth paying for, and the sequel proved that he was right. New dramatists of ability were immediately attracted to the stage. In quick succession Forrest produced several plays by hitherto unknown native authors--"Metamora" (1829), by John Augustus Stone; "The Gladiator," "Oraloosa" and "The Broker of Bogota," by Dr. Robert Montgomery Bird. These authors, together with Robert T. Conrad, author of "Jack Cade" (1841), and George H. Boker, author of "Francesca de Rimini" (1856), all of whom were natives of Philadelphia, became known as the Philadelphia School of dramatists.
John Augustus Stone, the author of "Metamora," was born in Concord, Mass., in 1801. After making his début as an actor in Boston at the Washington Garden Theatre, he appeared at the Park Theatre, New York, in 1822, as Old Hardy in "The Belle's Stratagem." Later, he was identified with the Bowery and Chatham Theatres. Afterwards, he took up his residence in Philadelphia, where he acted at the Chestnut and Walnut Street Theatres. When Forrest offeted $500 for the best American play suited to his peculiar style, Mr. Stone submitted a drama in verse entitled "Metamora," the leading character being the noble red man depicted in Fenimore Cooper's novels, whom Mark Twain wittily describes as belonging to an "extinct tribe which never existed." The piece was accepted and first produced at the Park Theatre, New York, December 15, 1829. Two months later it was seen at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia. Although the play was inferior as a literary production, it met with immediate success, and, having been written for Forrest's personality, the part of Metamora became one of that actor's most famous and popular rôles. A later play by Stone, entitled "The Ancient Briton," for which Forrest paid the author $1000, had more merit as literature, but never attained the popularity of the first piece. A few years after fame had come to him, Stone committed suicide. One day in 1834 in a fit of mental depression he threw himself into the Schuylkill River, and was drowned. In recognition of his ability, Forrest erected a monument on his grave bearing this inscription: "In memory of the author of "Metamora," by his friend, Edwin Forrest."
The success of "Metamora" resulted in the remarkable run of Indian plays, "from which," as Laurence Hutton puts it, "theatregoers throughout the country suffered between the years of 1830 and 1840." The titles of some of these plays were: "Sassacus, or the Indian Wife"; "Kairrissah"; "Oraloosa"; "Outalassie"; "The Pawnee Chief"; "Onylda, or the Pequot Maid"; "Ontiata, or the Indian Heroine"; "Osceola"; "Oroonoka"; "Tuscatomba"; "Wacousta"; "The Wept of the Wish-ton Wish"; "Tutoona"; "Yemassee"; "Wissahickon"; "Carabasset"; "Hiawatha"; "Narramattah"; "Miautoumah"; "Eagle Eye"; "Lamorah"; "The Wigwam"; "The Manhattoes"; "The Indian Prophecy"; etc.
For ten years and more these Indian plays were very popular, but at last a reaction set in. In 1846, James Rees  wrote that the Indian drama in his opinion "had become a perfect nuisance," but it was not until John Brougham, in 1855, came with his extravagant burlesque, "Pocahontas, or the Gentle Savage," that the Indian play received its final coup de grâce.
Dr. Robert Montgomery Bird (1803-1854), author of "The Gladiator," in which Forrest scored another big success in the character of Spartacus, was born in Delaware. He began life as a physician, and later took to literature. He wrote many novels, among them "Nick of the Woods," which was afterwards turned into a popular play by Miss L.H. Medina. Forrest was a personal friend of the physician, and they frequently travelled together. "The Gladiator" was first performed on October 24, 1831, at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, before an immense audience. The play proved a triumph, the poetic beauty of many of the passages and the bold, impressive language causing it to be considered one of the tragedian's noblest impersonations. The tremendous scene at the close of the second act, when the gladiators break loose from their tyrants and raise the standard of revolt, aroused the audience to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. The play held the stage for seventy years. It was acted in England by Macready, and in America by John McCullough and Robert Downing, but none of these actors reached Forrest's heights in the rôle. Another play by Dr. Bird, "Oraloosa," a story of Spanish cruelty in Peru, produced by Forrest the following year, was also received with favor, and after this came "The Broker of Bogota," also Spanish in atmosphere, which is the most finished, as a work of literature, of all Bird's plays.
Another play, written by R.T. Conrad, a Philadelphian, in which Forrest appeared at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, in 1841, with great success, was "Aylmere, or the Bondman of Kent." This tragedy, written with lofty purpose and which has a stirring patriotic appeal, at once gave its author high rank among our native dramatists. Robert Taylor Conrad (1810-1858) was a lawyer and mayor of Philadelphia in 1854. The piece, at first entitled "Jack Cade," was originally written for A.A. Addams. Four years later, Judge Conrad rewrote the play for Forrest, and the title was changed to "Aylmere." Subsequently, the original title was restored. The tragedy contains some fine passages. As an example of American romantic classic drama, one of these passages, where Aylmere is in the Coliseum, is worth quoting:
- One night,
- Rack'd by these memories, methought a voice
- Summon'd me from my couch. I rose--went forth.
- The sky seem'd a dark gulf where fiery spirits
- Sported; for o'er the concave the quick lightning
- Quiver'd, but spoke not. In the breathless gloom,
- I sought the Coliseum, for I felt
- The spirits of a manlier age were forth:
- And there, against the mossy wall I lean'd,
- And thought upon my country. Why was I
- Idle and she in chains? The storm now answer'd!
- It broke as Heaven's high masonry were crumbling.
- The heated walls nodded and frown'd i' the glare,
- And the wide vault, in one unpausing peal,
- Throbb'd with the angry pulse of Deity.
- LACY.--Shrunk you not 'mid these terrors?
- AYLMERE.--No, not I.
- I felt I could amid this hurly laugh,
- And laughing, do such deeds as fireside fools
- Turn pale to think on.
- The heavens did speak like brothers to my soul;
- And not a peal that leapt along the vault,
- But had an echo in my heart. Nor spoke
- The clouds alone: for, o'er the tempest din,
- I heard the genius of my country shriek
- Amid the ruins, calling on her son,
- On me! I answered her in shouts; and knelt
- Even there, in darkness, 'mid the falling ruins,
- Beneath the echoing thunder-trump--and swore
- (The while my father's pale form, welted with
- The death-prints of the scourge, stood by and smiled),
- I swore to make the bondman free!
After the production of "Jack Cade," Forrest made several efforts to procure another play suited to him. He offered a prize of $3,000 for a play written by an American, "and promised," says James Rees, "$1000 for that play among the number (provided none realized his first intention) which should possess the highest literary merit. In answer to this invitation, Mr. Forrest received upwards of seventy plays, but none answered his original design. He, however, awarded to G.H. Miles $1,000 for his play, 'Mohammed,' deeming it the best literary production in the collection." This play Forrest did not produce himself. He lent the play to Mr. Neaffie, who produced it September 27, 1852, at Brougham's Theatre, New York, where it was a complete failure.
In the competitions inaugerated by Forrest, two hundred plays were submitted, nine received prizes, and $20,000 in all was paid by him to native dramatists, a mere bagatelle, of course, compared with what actors and managers now pay authors for plays. But to-day it is an established practice to pay liberal royalties to authors. In Forrest's time it was not.
Forrest's offers of $500 prizes and a similar offer made by Manager J.H. Caldwell, of New Orleans, at about the same time, spurred James H. Kennicott, a native schoolmaster of New Orleans, to try his hand at playwriting. The result was a tragedy entitled "Irma," which was eventually produced by Caldwell. This was the first American play, written by an American, to be performed in the city of New Orleans.
A native dramatist who had considerable success at this time was Cornelius A. Logan (1806-1853), who wrote for J.H. Hackett a three-act play called "The Wag of Maine." It was performed at the Park Theatre in 1835. He also wrote the comedy, "Yankee Land," introducing Hackett as Lot Sap Sago, and the farce, "The Vermont Wool Dealer." Later, when manager of a theatre in Cincinnati, he attracted much attention by his bold defense of the stage against the attacks of the pulpit. His younger daughter, Olive Logan, was well known as an actress and author. 
Another successful American playwright was Epes Sargent (1813-1880), a once-prominent Boston journalist, whose five-act tragedy, "Velasco," produced at the Tremont Theatre, Boston, in 1837, was a phenominal success, largely owing to the acting of Miss Ellen Tree, who made of the heroine Izadora one of her best parts.
Nathanial P. Willis (1806-1867), the successful writer, one of the publishers of the New York Mirror and later editor of the Home Journal, won a prize offered by Josephine Clifton  with a verse tragedy, entitled "Bianca Visconti." The piece was produced at the Park Theatre, New York, August 25, 1837, and was seen later in Philadelphia and Boston. J.W. Wallack then encouraged him to write "Tortesa the Userer," which was produced at the National Theatre April 8, 1839, with great success.
James K. Paulding (1779-1860), who had been associated with Washington Irving in the publication of the Salmagundi, wrote several clever comedies which diverted audiences of the middle of the Nineteenth Century. Among his plays, "The Bucktails, or Americans in England," is best known, the dialogue sprightly and the characters well sustained. Another piece by the same author, "The Lion of the West," written for J.H. Hackett, had so popular a character, Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, that Bayle Bernard introduced a similar character in his drama, "The Kentuckian." This favorite stage hero wore buckskin clothes, deerskin shoes and a coonskin hat. "He had," says Laurence Hutton,  "many contemporary imitators, who copied his dress, his speech and his gait and stalked through the deep-tangled wildwoods of East Side stages for many years, to the delight of city-bred pits and galleries who were perfectly assured that the Arkansas Traveller--and one of the best of his class--was the real thing until they saw Buffalo Bill with actual cowboys and bonafide Indians in his train and lost all further interest in 'The Scouts of the Plains' or in 'Nick of the Woods,' which hitherto filled their idea of life on the plains."
The foregoing were the principal among the American writers who attempted the stage as a medium until the coming of Anna Cora Mowatt, whose comedy, "Fashion," scored a success at the Park, and of another distinguished American poet, George H. Boker (1823-1890), whose fine poetic tragedy, "Francesca da Rimini," is the only American work of that period which has stood the test of time and is still played with success on our boards.
The creator of our poetic drama, George Henry Boker was born in Philadelphia. After graduating from Princeton, he studied law, but never practiced. His first play, "Calaynos," a tragedy, was written in 1848. Then came "Anne Boleyn" (1850), "The Betrothal" (1850), "Leonar de Guzman" (1853), "Francesca da Rimini" (1856). Of his plays, the late Richard Henry Stoddard said:
That his tragedies were capable of effective representation was known to those of us who saw Mr. Davenport and Miss Dean in "Francesca da Rimini" years ago, and is known to those of us who have since seen Mr. Barrett and Miss Wainwright in the same play. The conception of his tragedies and comedies, their development, their movement, and their catastrophes, are dramatic. Poetical, they are not overweighed with poetry; emotional and passionate, their language is naturally figurative, and the blank verse rises and falls as the occasion demands. One feels in reading them that the writer had studied the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists, and that they harmed as well as helped him. If he could have forgotten them and remembered only his own genius, his work would have been more original.
En Résumé the American drama may be divided into several classes: (1) Revolutionary and other war plays, such as Burk's "Bunker Hill" and Gillette's "Secret Service"; (2) the Indian plays, of which "Metamora" was one of the most popular; (3) Yankee character comedies, J.S. Jones' "The People's Lawyer" (Solon Shingle) and Mark Twain's "Gilded Age"; (4) Dion Boucicault's Irish dramas; and plays of the backwoods, such as "Davy Crockett"; (5) Society plays, Mrs. Mowatt's "Fashion" and the more modern drawing-room comedies of Bronson Howard and Clyde Fitch; (6) Sociological plays, of which James A. Herne's "Margaret Fleming" and William Vaughn Moody's "The Great Divide" are distinguished examples; (7) Poetic drama, represented by George H. Boker, William Young and Percy Mackaye; (8) Farce, Charles H. Hoyt and Margaret Mayo; (9) Burlesque, in which Weber and Fields once ruled supreme and which Brander Matthews has referred to as the Aristophanes period of American drama.
The plays of the Yankee character have always been immensely popular. The first stage Yankee, the Jonathan in Royall Tyler's "The Contrast," contributed no little to the success of the first American comedy. From that time on, there set in a steady demand for the Yankee type on our stage. Hackett responded with Jonathan Ploughboy and Lot Sap Sago, two rôles that endeared him to audiences everywhere. Then came Solon Shingle, the simple-minded old man from New England with the soul which soared no higher than the financial value of a bar'l of apple-sass--a delicious character played with great success for years by "Yankee" Hill , Joshua Silsbee, J.H. Hackett and John E. Owens. Among local stage types none was ever more popular than that of Mose, the tough fire boy, in "A Glance at New York," in which F.S. Chanfrau won his greatest triumph in the forties. And what theatregoer of the sixties can forget Jefferson's Asa Trenchard, the rough, kindhearted Yankee, played in sharp contrast to Sothern's Dundreary in Tom Taylor's "Our American Cousin," or the amusing character Colonel Mulberry Sellers, in "The Gilded Age," which, ten years later, made the fortune of that delightful comedian, John T. Raymond? And who does not remember W.J. Florence as the Hon. Bardwell Slote in Woolf's "Mighty Dollar"--that vulgar politician with all the vices of his class, yet with amiable qualities which made him after all a lovable character? Among more modern stage Yankees, Denman Thompson as Joshua Whitcomb won the affection of millions in "The Old Homestead," and William H. Crane was almost as successful in "David Harum."
Probably the most successful American play ever written, judged from the number of performances given, and the amount of money taken in at the box office, is "Uncle Tom's Cabin," a dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous anti-slavery novel. The piece has been acted uninterruptedly ever since it was first produced fifty years ago, and, still performed in the popular houses, there seems no limit to it longevity. Some years ago--in the summer of 1902--there were no fewer than sixteen companies playing the piece under canvas. C.W. Taylor's dramatization was the first seen in New York, at Purdy's National Theatre, in 1852, and a year later the Howard family staged the George L. Aiken version, opening at the same theatre, where the play ran three months. George C. Howard acted St. Clair, "and," says a writer, "he made an ideal Southern planter." The writer continues:
On and off the stage, he invariably wore a black broadcloth frock coat with brass buttons, and he always had on lavender trousers. When he was around the hotels and on the streets of the towns where the show was being given, people who had seen him at the theatre recognized him at once and exclaimed: "There goes Eva's father!" Mrs. Howard was Topsy, and there has never been any one yet to equal her in the character. Little Cordelia, her daughter, was a born actress. Nothing more natural or beautiful than the way she played little Eva could be imagined. 
The rest of the cast included Greene C. Germon, who played Uncle Tom; George L. Fox, afterwards the famous pantomimist, who was the Phineas Fletcher; Charles K. Fox, who acted Gumption Cute; Samuel M. Siple, who played George Harris, and Mrs. W.G. Jones, who was the Eliza; W.J. Le Moyne, a popular member of Daniel Frohman's Lyceum Theatre stock company, played the Deacon.
Playwriting, early in the Nineteenth Century, was by no means the profitable occupation it has since become. It is doubtful if any of our earlier dramatists received pecuniary compensation for their plays. There is no record of Royall Tyler being paid anything for his successful comedy, "The Contrast," although it is possible that he was given an author's benefit. It is not known if Dunlap was paid anything for his first play, "The Father." He says nothing about compensation in his History, and, of course, his later assumption of the management resulted in his being rewarded only incidentally for the writing of plays. During the early decades of the last century, it seems to have been the custom to give the author the gross receipts of the third night's performance, and, doubtless, it was on this basis that such early dramatists as James Nelson Barker and John Howard Payne were paid. It is also possible, if not probable, that Payne's plays, having been first produced in England, were used without his consent.
An examination of the manuscript diary of William B. Wood, manager of the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, from 1810 to 1827, shows no reference to payments made to dramatists, and in the manager's statements of expenses, no account appears to have been kept of any sums paid for the authors' "third night," if such a night existed in his system. For example, on Tuesday, May 27, 1828, Richard Penn Smith's play, "Quite Correct," was performed, but there is no statement about the dramatist even by name. Throughout all of the performances of John Howard Payne in 1811-12, there is no reference, except to a benefit now and then, which he seems to have received rather as an actor than as a dramatist. James Nelson Barker's play, "Marmion," was performed January 1, 1813. There is no mention made of any payment, although he may have received the receipts of the third night.
As previously mentioned, Forrest started the practice of offering money prizes for suitable plays, and probably found it a good investment, since he secured plays like "Metamora," "The Gladiator," and "The Broker of Bogota" with a comparitively small outlay.
The earliest date at which American dramatists began to be paid certain stipulated sums is not known. They were certainly receiving royalties by 1850, when George Henry Boker's plays were acted. "Boker," says Arthur Hobson Quinn, "seems to have received a royalty of five percent on the gross receipts of each night's performance. Statements from the treasurers of the different theatres where four of his plays, 'Calaynos,' 'The Betrothal,' 'The World a Mask,' 'Leonor de Guzman,' were given, show a total of $994.56 paid to him in royalties. These figures omit at least two series of performances of 'Calaynos' and all of 'Francesca da Rimini.' It would seem fair to estimate his total royalties from plays up to the time of their production in 1856 at $1,500." 
Down to the eighties, however, the average dramatic author got what he could. Some had a separate agreement with every manager. Sometimes, plays were sold to managers or stars for a lump sum. Fifty years ago John Brougham would write a play to order for $3,000. Laurence Barrett paid Lester Wallack $50 a night and $25 a matinee for "Rosedale." About 1880 began a practice which still holds--the dramatist receiving either a percentage of the gross receipts, or a weekly stipend until a certain sum was reached. This sum at first ran from $1,000 to $50,000, rarely beyond that. When one recalls that nowadays it is nothing unusual for a popular dramatist to make $500,000 with one play, that the late Clyde Fitch during the eighteen years he was writing for the stage, made $1,500,000 in royalties, it can readily be seen that the American dramatist has made considerable progress since the days of "Androborus."
It is not known what Daly gave Bronson Howard for "Saratoga," probably not very much. Later Howard charged $5,000 for a play, the manager to assume all the risks. That was what was paid for "One of our Girls." The same author's war play, "Shenandoah," probably marks the first big royalty-payer. For this piece Howard was paid over $100,000 for its first year alone. It is doubtful if Steele Mackaye got a quarter of that out of the amazing run of "Hazel Kirke."
Augustin Daly went through all the phases of paying authors. He did all the tricks of translation, adaptation, rearrangement at bargain prices, in sums down, salary, and royalty.
Foreign plays were seldom paid for before Albert M. Palmer's time. That manager succeeded in getting a court decision which prevented rival managers from producing unprinted foreign plays which he had contracted for and produced, he paying the foreign authors so much a performance, probably not more than $50. Until the introduction of international copyright in 1891, printed foreign plays were pirated without apology.
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