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Art In England
by [?]

My friend the Apostle was in hot haste, and would not stay to be contradicted. “Not going to-night!” he cried, in horror-struck accents. “Why, to-night is the turning-point in the history of the British drama! To-night is the test-battle of the old and the new; it is the shock of schools, the clash of nature against convention. This play will decide the fate of our drama for the rest of the century. Here you have a play by a leader of the old school produced at a leading theatre. If it succeeds, the old drama may linger on for a year or two more; but if it fails, it will be the death-blow of the old gang. They may pack up!” The Apostle was at the other end of the street ere I had taken in the full import of these brave words. What! there was a crisis in the drama, and I, living in the heart of art, had heard nothing about it! Fortunately it was not too late. I could still make amends for my ignorance. It was still open to me to assist at this historic contest, for the arena was to be the Haymarket, where I am a persona gratis. Visions of the great first night of “Hernani” thronged tumultuously before me; my blood pulsed with something of its ancient youthful ardour as I girded my loins with black trousers for the fray, and adjusted my white tie with faltering fingers. I had half a mind to don a gilet rouge, but the reflection that my wardrobe did not boast of coloured waistcoats gave the victory to the other half. I dashed up to the theatre. All was placid. The stalls were packed with a brilliant audience in correct and unemotional costume. There were classic faces, and romantic faces, and faces that were realistic, but each and all blank of the consciousness of a crisis. The talk was of everything save art and literature. The critics did not even sharpen their pencils. They looked bored to a man. In vain my eye roved the arm-chairs in search of a fighting figure. I could not even see the musical iconoclast who had carried his pepper-and-salt suit into the holy of holies of the Italian opera. My heart sank within me. When the orchestra ceased I gave one last despairing glance all round the theatre in search of my friend the Apostle. He was not there!

The play was “The Charlatan,”–the work of that other apostle, whose outspoken Epistles to the English chronically relieve the dull decorum of London journalism; the man of whom Tennyson came near writing–

Buchanan to right of him,
Buchanan to left of him,
Buchanan in front of him,
Volleyed and thundered.

But that night it was the audience that volleyed and thundered, in unanimous applause. Hisses or party-cries were not. During the intense episodes, when the house was wrapt in silence, and you could have heard a programme drop, no opposition partisan as much as laughed. The author was called at curtain-fall, and retired uninjured. Next morning the critics were scrupulously suave, with no sign of the battle they had been through. Most wonderful to relate, Mr. William Archer, the risen hope of the stern and unbending Radicals, launched into unwonted praise, and gave an airing to some of the eulogistic adjectives that had been mouldering in his dictionary; nor did he even appear to be aware that he had gone over to the enemy!

For one thing, Bard Buchanan had given us neither old school nor new, but a blend of both–nay, a blend of all forms of both–a structure at once modern and mediaeval, with a Norwegian wing. It combined the common-sense of England with the glamour of the East, the physiology of the hypnotist with the psychology of Ibsen. More! It was an epitome of all the Haymarket plays, a resume of all Mr. Tree’s successes. The heroine was a mixture of Ophelia and hysteria, the hero was a combination of Captain Swift, Hamlet, and the Tempter; the paradoxical pessimist was a reminder of Mr. Wilde’s comedies, the bishop and scientist were in the manner of Mr. Jones. How clever! Social satire a la Savoy, seance a la salle Egyptienne, sleep-walking a la Bellini, moonlight poetry a la Christabel, a touch of spice a la Francaise, and copious confession a la Norvegienne, all baked into one pie. How characteristic! And characteristic, mark you, not only of Mr. Buchanan’s chaotic cleverness, but of Mr. Tree’s experimental eclecticism. Did I say an epitome of the Haymarket plays? This is but another way of saying an abstract and brief chronicle of the time, to whose age and body Mr. Tree so shrewdly holds up the mirror. For this dying century of ours is all things to all men. We are living in the most picturesque confusion of the old and new known to history–in a cross-road of chronology where all the ages meet. ‘T is a confusion of tongues outbabbling Babel, a simultaneous chattering of the centuries. And, more troubled than the Tower-builders, we understand, one another better than we understand ourselves; again, like “The Charlatan,” half odic force, half fraud, who is never so honest as when he confesses himself charlatan.