[From Hall Caine:Man and Novelist, 1901]
HALL CAINE has writen five plays, three of which have been produced. The drama founded on The Eternal City has been played for copyright purposes only. The first of these plays was called Ben-my-Chree and was the dramatised version of The Deemster. I venture to quote from an excellent biographical article by Mr Robert Harborough Sherard in the Windsor Magazine (November 1895) : " Irving read the book (The Deemster) in America, and seeing that there was here material for a splendid play, with himself in the part of the Bishop, hesitated about cabling to the author. In the meanwhile Wilson Barrett had also read the book, and had telegraphed to Kent to ask Hall Caine to come up to London to discuss its dramatisation. Hall Caine started, but was forced to leave the train at Derby because a terrible fog rendered travelling impossible. He spent the next ten days in the Isaac Walton Inn at Dovedale, near Derby, waiting for the fog to lift, and whilst so waiting wrote the first draft of the play. Barrett was enthusiastic about it, and Ben-nay-Chree was duly produced for the first time at the Princess's Theatre on May 14. (the dramatist's birthday), 1888, before a packed house in which every literary celebrity in London was present. It was, however, by no means a great success: for some unaccountable reason, it failed to `draw,' and after running for a hundred nights, it was withdrawn." Strange to say, it was exceedingly popular in America, and at this moment a company is touring it in the English provinces.
His next drama, The Manxman, was also produced by Mr Wilson Barrett in Leeds on August 20, 1894.. It was successful everywhere "except in Manchester and New York." I do not quite understand Mr Caine's statement that The Manxman was not a success in Manchester, for I myself remember climbing up on to the top row of the gallery at the Theatre Royal (or was it the Prince's ?) because there was no room anywhere else. On that occasion the theatre was crowded, and the reception enthusiastic in every way. Perhaps it was a "return visit" that I witnessed, and the Manchester public had had time to gather its wits and become appreciative.
His third play, The Christian, was produced first in Albany, New York, and afterwards in Liverpool. In this play the dramatist's sister, Miss Lily Hall Caine, took the part of Polly Love, and afterwards, when the play was taken on tour, the part of Glory Quayle. This play is still running, and meets with enthusiastic applause wherever it goes. It has been performed in England and the United States more than two thousand times.
In passing any criticism on Mr Caine's plays, it must at the very outset be confessed that he has not yet done himself justice. For my own part, I have not much faith in the dramatised versions of novels. A plot that lends itself to treatment in the form of a novel is very rarely suitable for production as a drama; and until Hall Caine is inspired with the plot of a drama that is at once cohesive and compact, it seems to me he will never produce anything worthy of the, powers which he undoubtedly possesses. Some regard to the unities of Time and Place is necessary before a drama can be considered seriously as a work of art, and it must be acknowledged that Mr Caine pays very little attention to the technique of dramaturgy. I do not for one moment deny that his plays are full of strong and dramatic situations, that the dialogue is natural, easy and telling, and that they are exceedingly well - constructed from a "popular" standard; but as contributions to dramatic literature they cannot be seriously considered. Mr Caine himself would, I feel sure, be the first to agree with me in all this. I know that he does not consider his dramatic work to be on anything like the same plane as his novel-writing. It is rather a matter of surprise that a writer gifted with so well-developed a dramatic sense should have been comparatively unsuccessful in his plays; but, so far as one can judge, it seems probable that this is due to the fact that he has only attempted plays based on novels. When he shall have developed a plot which obviously lends itself to stage treatment and no other kind of treatment, he may be expected to write a drama which shall take the same position in dramatic literature that his novels have attained in the world of fiction.
In the way of short story writing Mr Caine has done little. A volume entitled Caht'n Davy's Honeymoon, containing three tales, is his only output in this direction. Their excellence, and the delicacy of their treatment, make one regret that he has not seen fit to devote more time to this particular branch of his art. Cajofn Davy's Honeymoon refutes conclusively -all allegations that Mr Caine possesses little or no humour. It is a Manx tale, full of delicate, beautiful touches that create the right atmosphere at the very outset. The second story in the volume, The Last Confession, is situated in Morocco, and in form is based on Rossetti's blankverse poem of the same name. It is a closely-written piece of work, quietly and soberly worked out, yet powerful and convincing. The Blind Mother is the title of the third tale, and consists of a slightly altered episode in his second book, A Son of Hagar. I quote the following extracts of the dedication to Mr Bram Stoker:-
. . . Down to this day our friendship has needed no solder of sweet words to bind it, and I take pleasure in showing by means of this unpretending book that it is founded not only on personal liking and much agreement, but on some wholesome difference and even a little disputation. The Last Confession is an attempt to solve a moral problem which we have discussed from opposite poles of sympathy-the absolute value and sanctity of human life, the right to fight, the right to kill, the right to resist evil and to set aside at utmost need the letter of the sixth commandment. The Blind Mother is a somewhat altered version of an episode in an early romance, and it is presented afresh, with every apology, because you with another friend, Theodore Watts, consider it the only worthy part of an unworthy book, and also because it appears to be at all points a companion to the story that goes before it. Of Capt'n Davy's Honeymoon, I might perhaps say that it is the complement of the other two-all three being stories of great and consuming love, father's, mother's and husband's-but I prefer to confess that I publish it because I know if anyone should smile at my rough Manx comrade, doubting if such a man is in nature and not found among men, I can always. answer him and say, "Ah, then, I am richer than you are by one friend at least,-Capt'n Davy without his ruggedness and without his folly, but with his simplicity, his unselfishness and his honour-Bram Stoker! "
A charming dedication, is it not? and interesting as a revelation of the motives which inspired the only three short stories we have from his pen. The Last Confession and The Blind Mother were issued in America under the title of the former. It is extremely unlikely that Mr Caine will ever return to the short story as a means of expressing himself; the form is of too limited a scope, and of too ephemeral a nature. A story entitled fan, the Icelander, recently appeared in one of the weekly papers; but it was originally prepared by Mr Caine as a dramatic dialogue which, on one or two occasions, he recited in public,
As a poet, Mr Hall Caine has a great claim to our admiration. It is true, he has published no poetry in volume form, and little enough in the magazines, but what has appeared is of undoubted beauty. I am able to give here two sonnets which originally appeared in the Academy in the early eighties. Then, as now, the Academy and the Athenaum were the two foremost literary papers in the kingdom, and at this time Mr Caine was a critic on the permanent staff of both papers. It will be seen that both sonnets reveal a deep and unusual love of Nature ; and it seems to me that that entitled Before Sunrise on Helvellyn ranks with the very best sonnets of Wordsworth. Besides its intrinsic beauty, it contains that " fundamental brain-work " which many critics hold to be an essential of a fine sonnet, although Mr Caine's own criticism is that " it is wanting in the first quality of poetic style-flexibility."
BEFORE SUNRISE ON HELVELLYN
Over the peaks of huge crags uncreate,
Across the stricken stars' usurped demesne,
Through mutinous vapours to her realms terrene-
Behold she comes, the morn inviolate.
Girdled with fire, radiant of face, elate,
Leaping the lit waves of the steep ravine-
Here first since eldest time the earth hath seen
Her vesture's trail, in heaven articulate.
Say not the world grows old: Behold ere long
Forth from the mountains come the swift and strong
Who scale the heights to greet the deathless day;
And in the abysmal plains the sick and sore
Following their feet shall see the imminent grey
Glad dawn has never breathed o'er earth or shore.
This was published in the Academy of January 28, 1882 ; the following was published in the same paper on May 12, 1881, whilst Mr Caine was still in his twenty-eighth year.
WHERE LIES THE LAND ?-(Wordsworth)
'Where lies the land of which thy soul would know?'
Beyond the wearied wold, the songless dell,
The purple grape and golden asphodel,
Beyond the zone where streams baptismal flow.
Where lies the land to which thy soul would go?'
There where the unvexed senses darkling dwell,
Where never haunting, hurrying footfall fell,
Where toil is not, nor builded hope laid low.
Rest! Rest! to thy hushed realm how one by one
Old Earth's tired ages steal away and weep,
Forgotten or unknown, long duty done.
Ah, God ! when death in seeming peace shall steep
Life's loud turmoil, and Time his race hath run-
Shall heart of man at length find rest and sleep ?
Other sonnets appeared at about the same time, particularly noticeable among which are three to Byron, Yeats and Rossetti respectively.
But though poetry was Hall Caine's natural means of expression, and to be a poet his earliest ambition, yet in his youth he recognised the fact that in order to reach a large public some other medium than verse was necessary. So poetry was more or less reluctantly abandoned, and fiction soon took its place.
As a critic, Mr Caine would undoubtedly have won a foremost place among the littdrateurs of our time if he had devoted his whole life to that particular branch of his art; but soon after his thirtieth year professional criticism was abandoned in his absorption in novel-writing. From his earliest years the young student was a critic.
He eagerly discussed every book he read with his friends and acquaintances, and his first contributions to the Press were in the form of literary criticism. When Lord Houghton first saw Caine as a very young man, he prophesied for him a great future as a critic, and there can be no doubt that his powers in this direction are altogether exceptional. I have read a large amount of criticism which he contributed to the Academy and Athenaum in the early eighties, and I was struck not only by the mature judgment and catholic taste displayed therein, but also by the ease and fluency with which he expressed his views. Those were the days of signed articles, and the curious reader may turn up for himself the back numbers of these two great literary papers and read those articles signed "T. Hall Caine." He will find in them much to surprise him, for most of them are truly remarkable as the product of so youthful a writer.
Mr Caine was particularly fortunate in obtaining a place on the Academy staff. Acomplete stranger to Mr J. S. Cotton (at that time the editor of this paper), he called on him and asked for employment. "Certainly! " replied Mr Cotton, much to the young man's confusion, for he had by no means expected so enthusiastic a reception. The acquaintance made in this way soon deepened to a warm friendship which is to-day valued by both men as much as it was twenty years ago.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
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