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ABOUT THE THEATER
PROFESSOR OF DRAMATIC LITERATURE IN COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY; MEMBER
TO AUGUSTUS THOMAS
MY DEAR AUGUSTUS:
Let me begin by confessing my regret that I cannot overhear your first remark when you receive this sheaf of essays, many of which are devoted to the subordinate subdivisions of the art of the stage. As it is, I can only imagine your surprise at discovering that this book, which contains papers dealing with certain aspects of the theater rarely considered to be worthy of criticism, is signed by the occupant of the earliest chair to be established in any American university specifically for the study of dramatic literature. I fancy I can hear the expression of your wonder that a sexagenarian professor should turn aside from his austere analysis of the genius of Sophocles and of Shakspere, of Molière and of Ibsen, to discuss the minor arts of the dancer and the acrobat, to chatter about the conjurer and the negro minstrel, to consider the principles of pantomime and the development of scene-painting. But I am emboldened to hope that your surprise will be only momentary, and that you will be moved to acknowledge that perhaps there may be some advantage to be derived from these deviations into the by-paths of stage history.
You are rather multifarious yourself; "like Cerberus, you are three gentlemen at once"; you have been
a reporter, you have published a novel, you have painted pictures, you have delivered addresses-and you write plays, too. I think that you, at least, will readily understand how a student of the stage may like to stray now and again from the main road and to ramble away from the lofty temple of dramatic art to loiter for a little while in one or another of its lesser chapels. And you, again, will appreciate my conviction that these loiterings and these strollings may be as profitable as that casual browsing about in a library which is likely to enrich our memories with not a little interesting information that we might never have captured had we adhered to a rigorous and rigid course of study. You will see what I mean when I declare my belief that I have come back from these wanderings with an increased understanding of the theory of the theater, and with an enlarged acquaintance with its manifold manifestations.
Perhaps I ought to explain, furthermore, that these excursions into the purlieus of the playhouse began long, long ago. I gave a Punch and Judy show before I was sixteen; I performed experiments in magic, I blacked up as Tambo, I whitened myself as Clown, I played the low-comedy part in a farce, and I attempted the flying trapeze before I was twenty; and I was not encouraged by the result of these early experiences to repeat any of the experiments after I came of age. I think it was as a spinner of hats and as the underman of a "brothers' act" that I came nearest to success; at least I infer this from the fact-may I mention