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The Passing Of The Stage Sundial
by [?]

It has been many years since I have seen a sundial on the stage. There was a time when the stage could not get along without them; but styles have changed. “Iram indeed has gone with all his rose,” and Eddie Sothern, best beloved of romantic actors in your generation and mine, has written his theatrical memoires, which is the player’s method of saying farewell. The Melancholy Tale of Me, he calls them, perhaps because they are not in the least melancholy–a good and sufficient reason. Yet Mr. Sothern strangely neglects the subject of sundials in his book, although they were his prop in how many a play back in the golden Nineties!–the golden, promise-laden, contradictory Nineties, that fin-de-siecle decade when Max Nordau thundered that we were going to the dogs of degeneracy, and we youngsters knew that we were headed not alone for a new heaven, but what is much more important, a new earth.

My school and college days fell entirely in the Nineties, or almost entirely, for I finally emerged with a sheepskin written in Latin I could no longer translate, in June, 1900. I saw my first modern realistic play in 1893, when I was a little junior middler at Phillips Andover. It was Shore Acres, and I have not yet forgotten, after a quarter of a century, the thrill of that revelation. It was almost as if my grandfather’s kitchen had been put upon the stage, and with Herne himself to play the leading role, to blow on the frosty pane that he could peer into the night, to bank the fires, tip the stove lids, lock the door, and climb slowly up to bed while the old kitchen, in semi-darkness, seemed like a closing benediction before the downrush of the final curtain, I caught the poetry of the commonplace, I had my first unconscious lesson in literary and dramatic fidelity. And I ended my college days, a much more sophisticated person, championing Pinero and Jones, rushing eagerly to special performances of Ibsen, and ardently admiring the plays of G. B. Shaw, two of which, Arms and the Man and The Devil’s Disciple, had been acted in America by Richard Mansfield before the end of the century.

Considering these plays now, and their effect upon me–and not forgetting, either, the passionate admiration, almost the worship, we young men of twenty had in those days for the acting of Mrs. Fiske–it would be easy to infer that the whole period of the Nineties for us youngsters was a period of revolt and forward-urging, that we were crusaders for what Henry Arthur Jones called “the great realities of modern life” in art. Crusaders we were, to be sure. I well remember long debates with my father, a man of old-fashioned tastes in poetry, and a particular fondness for Burns, over the merits of Kipling’s poems. (Think of considering Kipling’s poems revolutionary! Indeed, think of considering some of them poems!). We debated from still more divergent viewpoints over the novels of d’Annunzio. In college, in my last year or two, some of us even adopted the views of Tolstoy in his What is Art? and under the urge of this new sociological passion we took volunteer classes in night schools. I remember instructing a group of Jewish youths in the principles of oral debate, or, rather, debating the principles of debating with them, for being unblessed with an expensive preparatory school and college education, and being Jews into the bargain, they did not propose to take anything on faith. I used to return to my room in the college Yard wondering just why it was that these working lads, mere “foreigners”, of a race infinitely inferior, of course, to the Anglo-Saxon, and without the precious boon of a Harvard training, had so much more real intellectual curiosity and mental grasp than any of us “superior” youths. These classes interfered seriously with my academic work, yet it seems to me now that they were infinitely more profitable.