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My First Tragedy
by [?]


I have admired tragedy from my earliest days. I believe I must have acted in it in the nursery–at least the scenes I have in my mind appeared to me to be tragic at the time, although it was not of my own will that I participated in them. The occasions, for instance, when I was stood in the corner for misconduct at table, or thrashed by my big brother for my “cheek,” or dosed with castor oil by the doctor for “mulligrubs,” all stand out in my memory as tragic, and no doubt prepared me to appreciate tragedy later on as a fine art.

As soon as I went to school I found still more extended opportunities for studying that art. Tragedy dogged my footsteps and marked me for her own from the first. I was bullied; that was bad enough. I was caned; that was worse. I had to learn Latin verbs; that was worst of all. I was a practised tragedian at seven. Acts one, two, and three were performed as a rule once a day, and now and then encored.

The worst of it was that the person who got most of the applause was not the wretched actor, but the author. I was quite overlooked. This convinced me early that it is more profitable to make tragedies for other people to act than to act in them oneself; and at a tender age, therefore, I set before myself the profession of a tragic author.

For long enough, however, I had to wait my inspiration. I was kept so busy in the capacity of actor (from which my special talents would not permit me to retire as early as I should myself have wished) that it was comparatively late in life–I mean I had turned twelve–before the grand idea of writing a tragedy dawned in my ardent breast. Even then it was destined to simmer for three or four years, owing to pressure of other work and the still more pressing lack of a subject.

Meanwhile, however, I read tragedies ardently. I read Shakespeare, more or less, and admired him rather, although I could see his weak points, and thought him considerably overrated. I had also read the nursery rhymes carefully, and most of the harrowing stories of history and fiction, particularly the latter. I had, moreover, recently made a tragic acquaintance with the Greek Drama in the person of a scoundrel called Aeschylus, whose sickening lucubrations I was forced to learn by heart, and now and then to copy out, a hundred lines at a time, till I grew to detest him.

All these circumstances combined decided me to write a tragedy on my own account; which, while following Shakespeare in his good points, should avoid his weaknesses, which should embody the best features of the nursery rhymes, and which should avoid like poison the shockingly debased style of Aeschylus.

After mature reflection I hit upon a theme which I flattered myself was original and suggestive. Shakespeare had kept off it, and it was after Aeschylus’ time; and as far as I knew I was the first to clothe it in a tragic garb. I refer to the story of Romulus and Remus. It was classical, sanguinary, and sounded well on a title-page. Besides, as very little was known about it, there was plenty of scope for original treatment, and no one could say whether I was wrong in my facts, because no one was in a position to contradict me. In addition to that, as the story related to boys and athletic sports (both of which subjects I knew something about), it seemed the very theme of a good tragedy, which might make my name immortal, and rank to all generations as an English classic.