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Teaching Dramatic Art

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To the Editor of the Tribune, ( N. Y.) Sir: You refrrred, in a leading editorial article on Wednesday last, to the fact that the art of dramatic writing has been encouraged, iu tlie United States, during the last liftten years under the Common Law, by what is almost equivalent to Internationiil Copyright. American ilramatists are now, as you say, in a pog'ition tocummand asfulland fair remuneración for thelr work as those of Europa H iviiijr reached iliis point, It Is not time Co raise, it possible, the artislic standard of American dramatic work to a plitne worthy of its practical success? l do not refer to anythiiig that American dramatist- do, or are doing. Üur actual producís show simply what lias been done in less than two decade?, bezinning in utter Iiopele8sness and without the benefit of tra'Jition or assnciation. Bul other dramatists are to follow us, and it seenis quite iinnecessary that they should wade tbrough all the ignorance of dramiitlc laws that blinded us when we tirst began. Why need they, like us, educate themselves in tlio6e merely rudimentaiy principies - the A B O of their profession - wiih whlch they ought to be familiar trom the outsel ? These ruüimentary principies ure absorbed by young dramatUta, in Knrope, nu;iely by contact wilh thelr eniors, but that process is as yct impos- ï t I - here. The simplest laws of dramatic construction are rufcueunrealities to moit of III" 'diicated youitg men of America ; yet four tilths of these tducated young men willattempr, orhave already attemptcd to write playa, while many of tliem become critics of the drama. The gtudedéa of our irreat univcrslties are drilled in rhetoric and prosody; they are leem red to ou the poetic beauties of ( KI: ibethan dramatisls. Hm, wilh one execpDiiii. none ot our univeisilics attempt to teacli the elementa of the drama asan :irt; rui without its art, aside from its poctry, no dramatic literature exlsts. Kvery univeisiiy gradúate has heard the word "unilies," but take one of them to the Astor Library; open a volume of old plays; and ask him to put his finger on u '¦ Unity." He knoivs theie must be one 8omewhere in the library, but not bei:i;r a mhid-reader like Mr. Bishop, he is not likely to lind it, even with hls cyes open, yet tliis young man has a w ritten play at bomei or iie may be an eager applicant for the post Of dramatic critic. We were all In his pogltlon once; and f, ilraniatisis or critics, we have learued anytliin{ of dramatic art, it was only by hard labor aud by experimental bluncJrrs, after onr "liberal edueation" was flaUbed. I have referred to " one excepthJn " amoiig tlie learned institutiotis of (his country. Thai cxception ís thu , sity of Michigan. During meroly sonal visit to Ann Arbor, last winter, I , wils ustoüished to rlnd, aniongthe various courscs of lecture, one on tlie principie -s of dramatic coiistruction illustrated by , the works of Curneitle, on the classical ' side, and those of Víctor Hugo and lï vin ir French ilramatists, on tlie modern side. The lecturer was Professor Alfrcd Hennequin, h member ol tlie fauulty. 1 ! tended thle course. About one hundred ' tudents were preent and thcy evinced the closest possible Interest, taking notes ' mul passing, at the eud, a regular examination. Tüuugli au optional course, it was a reeognized part of their collegiate training and held its due place, wit h otlu'i coimes, in their studies for a degree. Professor HenDequin does not confine himelf, as I have said, to the writers , wno have gone, but dleusses the arti.ti' peculiarities, beauties and defects of the li vin si French masters of the drama, ais tlieir work? appear from time to time In Paris - Augler, Feuillet, Sardón, Duinas, etc. I found principies enuncuted anl illustrated by masters, living and deail, wliicli have forced tliemselves upim niyself in the course of iny own work, and whicli t would have been nflnitely valuable to me to have known bcforehand, as these yotinjr students of the University of Michigan do. I also learned many tliings that would be of service to me hereafter. Now, sir, recurrh:)f to whatl have said abovc, inapmuch as American dramatic literatura is established at last on a basis of rinancial prosperity, will it not be well if our in8tltutioii8 of learning do wbat Is in their power to ralse it to the arlii-lic plane of European dramatic literature? N'ecd Columbi, Yale, Harvard anl Princeton leave the Uuiversity of Michigan Boütary and peculiar, as il now is, in this work? Learned professors in somo the?e Eastern instltutions have asked me questions nbout dramatic art in which many j-oui)g students in the University of Michigan could have answcred as well as I. If any young man In the United States seeks a liberal hlcition, (eslrlnp to become a dramatic critic in journalism or a dramatic author, he has no cboice at the present moment hut to go to the University of Michigan. If the qtiestion as to the desirability of a dramatic literature, or a dramatic criticlsm, in th8 country were at issue, there might be room for argument on the subject. But people do go in jtreat nunibers to see Americii) plays; thousands of journalists discuss them; millions of dollars nre invested in theatres. The only quostion at issne is whethertlie people bIibII see American playa and read American criticisms wrltten by trained and skilfnl men, or fee and read merely the experimental work which ifiuorance, occaslonally enliiihteuedby genius, can offer them. Our Eastern universities umy well take a suggestion from their Western .ter. I remullí refpectfully New Itochelle, April 80, 1888.


Ann Arbor Courier
Old News