Review of the April Monthly
The Harvard Dramatists' Number of the Monthly is in general far above the average undergraduate publication--but then, most of the important contributions are not by undergraduates. The undergraduates must be credited, however, with the work that makes the number peculiarly noteworthy. Their reviews of the playwrights, critics, actors, and managers who are Harvard graduates, make an interesting and, for many, a valuable record of the University's contribution to the American stage. The criticism, the poem, and the two plays, from the graduates themselves serve to illustrate by practical demonstration.
W. P. Eaton '00, who has established an honorable position for himself in the world of American letters, especially in the field of criticism, opens the number with a forceful plea that proper respect be paid the professions of theatrical manager, playwright, or actor. He is right. We may say what we will of the degeneracy of the stage. The theatre will remain where it is until educated, high-minded men, realizing its almost unlimited possibilities as a factor in the up-lifting of our ideals, have the courage to make its improvement their life work.
But if the short play by David Carb '09, which follows Mr. Eaton's article, is a specimen of what our eager young dramatists are planning to give us, a more efficient censorship than that sporadically exercised by the Mayor of Boston will be necessary. "The Easiest Way" was a brutal play, dealing frankly with a brutal subject, but it at least succeeded in making vice hideous. Mr. Carb's play, "The Other Side," attempts to inform the reader (the play is fortunately too short for the stage) that for a woman there is more chance of happiness in vice than in unmarried virtue. Incidentally one happens to know that this is false and that the author knows it also. In a review later on in the Monthly, Mr. Westcott says that we sometimes hear that "art for art's sake is decadent--whatever that means." It ought not to mean anything. As a matter of fact it does mean that the disciple of the doctrine thinks himself freed from the truth that morality has any relation to art. A pure-souled idealist like Shelley could depart from traditional codes of morals and make for himself a new code that was yet noble. But Shelley escaped, in his poetry, from the vulgar details of life into an ideal world inhabited by ideal beings whose childlike vision was as pure as his. Even he could not have purified such a situation as Mr. Carb conceives--but he never would have conceived it.
From such a bit of false realism it is pleasant to turn to Miss Lincoln's play, "A Piece of Ivory." Here we have real people, who are true because they are complex. The little play is very far from being a great drama, but it is good, sound, healthful, consistent work that vividly touches the emotions.
Except for one short story by Mr. Seligman, well told and amusing, the rest of the number is taken up with reviews of current plays and with spring poems. The reviews are delightful, really interpretative and appreciative, especially one by K. M. which is illuminating and charmingly written. The best of the poems is one entitled "To Jaques" by Percy Mackaye '97, but most have a melodiousness about them that is clean and refreshing like the arias in the old Italian operas.
The whole number of the Monthly is well written, important in what it has to say, and, with the exception of Mr. Carb's rather degrading attempt at realism--which I have perhaps made too much of in taking seriously--is one of which the editors may well be proud.