EMPIRE AND DRAMA
An Address by MARTIN HARVEY, ESQ., before the Empire Club of Canada, February 26, 1914.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,--I am sure you will believe me that I pay you no empty compliment when I say I am highly flattered to be your guest today. This occasion will certainly stand out in my remembrance not only on account of the distinction it carries with it, but as a pleasant variation in the long catalogue of addresses I have delivered since arriving on this illimitable Continent. (Laughter.) One of the strongest impressions, gentlemen, which I shall carry away with me from Canada will be your inexhaustible capacity for receiving addresses. (Laughter.) Not ten minutes after our arrival in Halifax I was the proud recipient of an invitation to address the Canadian Club there. And I have been addressing Canadian Clubs in pretty nearly every city we have appeared in since then. But it does not stop at your Canadian Clubs; I have lately been made aware that the ladies also have their Canadian Clubs, and a pleasant rivalry appears to exist between these institutions. I had an experience of this a few weeks back. I had been honoured by an invitation to address the Women's Canadian Club in a certain city. No sooner had I arrived at my hotel than I was swooped down by ten gentlemen who hustled me into a car and carried me off to the men's Canadian Club. (Laughter.) "But," I said, "I am not prepared for this." They said, "Well, here is the invitation card for the members announcing that you will address them." (Laughter.) "But," I protested, "I am down to address the Women's Canadian Club." "Never mind," they said, "Come and address us first." (Laughter.)
Then on another occasion I fell into conversation, harmless conversation, with a certain distinguished Judge in your Province, and we happened to talk about education. Suddenly he said, "Well, Harvey, you must come up to the Normal School and give them an address on this subject." (Laughter.) I said, "No, no, I know nothing about it." (Laughter.) "Besides, Lord Haldane has said all there is to say about education." "Never mind," he said, "come up and say something." And up I had to go and I found myself confronted by some hundreds of young ladies, to whom I had to tally on a subject I really knew nothing whatever about. (Laughter.)
Now, gentlemen, I must not enlarge too much upon these experiences because my time is limited, and I have a much more serious matter to talk about to you.
I have ventured to give to my address this afternoon the title of "Empire and Drama." Because it seems to me that by means of the drama we actors from the Old Country may help in a modest way to knit together those bonds which hold our Empire together. (Applause.). Certainly there exists no such vehicle as the drama as an instrument of appeal to the great mass of the people. The rulers of ancient Greece knew that when they provided for the populace free performances of the greatest tragedies of all time. The ancient Roman Church knew it when they used the morality and the mystery play to strengthen by its emotional appeal the faith of their flocks. And some similar presentiment seems to be astir in Canada. Namely, that there exists in serious drama an instrument, the use of which might be more carefully considered and applied to the cultivation and expression of national life in this Dominion. Something of this idea is responsible for the visit of my own company here. Some little time ago a leading spirit among your public men here said to my friend Mr. Win. Hopis, "We are not satisfied with the condition of the theatre in Canada. We are very much at the mercy of merely speculative men who send us what they choose, and who are not in touch with Imperial and Canadian ideals in this country. (Hear, hear.) We want the, growth of a sense of Empire continually encouraged here. We want stories of the old world's history set before us in drama that our youth may grow up in continual touch with that Empire, the free subjects of which in every corner of the globe should be bound together under the comradeship of the Union Jack." (Applause.)
Well, my friend, Mr. William Hollis, said in effect--he is a very enterprising and energetic gentleman--he said in effect "Very well, I will see that it is done." It was a fairly large order but I think, gentlemen, you must confess in a little time that he was as good as his word. And so sprang into life the British-Canadian Theatre Organization under whose auspices I have the honour of traveling through this country. And it is a mighty proud reflection, gentlemen, to us that we are the first entirely British organization to bring serious drama from England for a tour confined solely and entirely to Canadian territory. (Applause.) It is hoped-and there is every reason why this hope should be realized-that, as time goes on, this British-Canadian enterprise will develop beyond its present scope. The ambition of the promoters is that as the supply of British -companies like my own, is forthcoming-and that supply is practically already assured=this organization will join hands with New Zealand and Australia and India and Africa, and then a theatrical company will be able to start from London, travelling over what will be an all-red route, playing continuously all around the world under their own flag. (Applause.)
Now, I call that a splendid Imperial idea and it will, please God, be realized. (Hear, hear.) This dissatisfaction, however, with the present conditions of the drama in Canada seems to have been pretty widely felt through your Dominion.
I was reading only a day or two ago an address delivered by Mr. Bernard Sandwell in the Conservatory of Music, Hamilton, last August. Mr. Sandwell gives voice very pointedly to the suspicion that while there is no real occasion to worry about the economic future of Canada, there is some reason for consideration of her spiritual welfare.
In a recent address to a Canadian Club I ventured to repeat the warning of Scriptures, that "man shall not live by bread alone." (Applause.) There comes a time in the history of every new world when the thought of its leading spirits should be turned in the direction of other things than the material things of this life. I am not speaking of the practice of religious belief-I have no need to speak of that-but I am speaking of that other spiritualizing, humanizing power, art. Now, Mr. Sandwell, in reviewing the condition of art in this country, and more especially the dramatic art, points out that however excellent and admirable the technical qualities of the many distinctly American plays which visit this country may be, they deal after all, and very naturally, with their own problems. (Hear, hear.) He feels (and of course he speaks with much greater authority on the subject than I, who have only been here for a few weeks). that in the Canadian attitude towards the Old World there is something fundamentally different to the attitude of those across the line; that this element goes to the root of the Canadian character and must find an echo in its drama. It seems to me that Mr. Sandwell is right there, and in his contention that those who have the care of the national Canadian character at heart and the fostering of imperial ideas, must see it to it that in considering the things which mould that character and feelings, these ideals are not neglected. I should like, however, here and at once to interject a strong appeal that my words may not be misconstrued. Looking back upon the history of the Canadian stage, which has been so bound up with the stage of the United States, I think that Canada has every reason to be grateful for the influence which the many distinguished actors and actresses have brought to it, and who have upheld the highest traditions of dramatic art.
I know, gentlemen, that I am speaking to a sympathetic audience when I say that I have only to mention the names of Edwin Booth, Lawrence Barrett, Joseph Jefferson, Madame Modjeska--who practically adopted the United States as her own country-and in later times of Mr. Edward Southern, Mr. Otis Skinner and many others who have borne aloft in the old days, and the younger of whom still bear aloft, the banner of legitimate and classical drama on this continent. (Applause.) Nor should we forget the loyal and devoted support the people of the United States as well as Canada gave so bountifully to my old chief Sir Henry Irving--(applause)--whose influence in the higher walks of the drama was as powerfully felt in Canada here as in his own country. I am sure, gentlemen, that no yearning for the expression of a more national feeling will ever blind us to the debt we owe to such distinguished names. But this mighty Canadian nation is a great fact, and in the words of Wordsworth:
"It feels its life in every limb."
And the time is coming, if it is not already here, when it must express itself in art. It is doing so in some walks of art already. No one can look upon many of your recently erected public and city buildings, or upon those vast structures reared by the Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk railways for their depots and their hotels, without feeling that Canada is already expressing herself with a very strong individuality in architecture; nor is evidence lacking of a virile national expression in much of the work of your pictorial art. But in the expression of herself in drama, that most vital of all arts--there is certainly room for growth. The time will no doubt soon come when the stuff of which this Continent is made will find voice in a national drama. Certainly the stories of those old heroes who played such a valiant part in the defence of their liberties, and later on in the moulding of the varied elements which compose this vast Dominion into a national entity, as also the conflict of racial characteristics which still goes on--these elements, I say, would form inspiring themes for the coming Canadian playwright. Such a drama must come in time. For the moment we are confronted with immediate difficulties. Mr. Sandwell hopes to find the solution of these difficulties in the founding of a repertoire theatre.
Well, gentlemen, the repertoire theatre movement has been an active one for some time on our side. It was a national reaction from the purely commercial managers of theatres, who were concerned simply in giving the people what they are supposed to want-though the effort of those who are supposed to give the people what they want brings them little more success, I think, than those who give the people what they want themselves. The repertoire theatre aimed at satisfying the craving of the "intellectuals," who were in the minority among play-goers, and very properly it seems to me, because the bulk of the people go to the theatre to have their emotions aroused, and not to satisfy their intellects. And the bulk of the people are right. Emotion is the sphere of art and not intellect, as Ruskin has pointed out. You will remember he allows the artist occasionally the use of his intelligence, but not at the expense of his own province, the emotions, and only when-as he most delightfully expresses it-he has nothing better to do. (Laughter.) At the same time there is no doubt that the repertoire theatre has done much good to the theatre at home. It has brought forward many brilliant dramatists--Shaw, Houghton, Galsworthy and others, and last, and greatest of all perhaps, the Irish poet Synge. It has broadened the appeal of the theatre among a class of theatre-goers who were content before to take their drama in their study, and it has let in a gush of fresh air into an atmosphere which was decidedly stuffy with the accumulation of the worn-out devices of the stage.
But it is a very debateable question whether the repertoire theatre system will endure. And if it is not to endure I doubt whether it is worth your while to give it much serious attention. For the quality of endurance, it seems to me, is the very corner stone of that spectacle that Canada presents to us today. I would venture to suggest that Canada might go further than the founding of repertoire theatre. She might go to the length of founding a national or municipal theatre. (Hear, hear.) That is what we in the Old Country are aiming at today, and we are reaching it partly by the way of the repertoire theatre; but there is no need for you gentlemen to traverse a by-path when you can take a short cut to the goal.
Let me give you in a few words an outline of what we in the Old Country are engaged upon in this respect.
In 1916 we shall celebrate the tercentenary of Shakespeare's death. A movement was started some years back to erect a monument to him on this occasion worthy of the British race and of the stupendous genius we wish to honour. Some were for a sculptural monument; others--by far the greater number--saw an opportunity for the realization of a vision we had long contemplated, viz., the building of a national theatre. A general committee, embracing almost all the distinguished names in the British Isles, was formed and an Executive committee--of which I have the honour of being a member--was selected to carry out the scheme. We appealed for 500,000 pounds; roughly, 250,000 pounds for site and building and 250,000 pounds for endowing it. The supreme controlling authority is to be a body of governors, five appointed by the Crown, nine by the Universities and other public bodies and among the ex-officio governors one is to be the High Commissioner of Canada. (Applause.) Its objects are to give a Shakesperian play at least once a week; to revive any vital English classical drama, and to produce new plays and translations of representative work of foreign drama. A splendid stimulus was given to the undertaking by the gift from one anonymous donor of 70,000 pounds. Since then subscriptions have been coming in-not so fast, I am bound to say, as we could wish. I, myself, was able to add same thousand pounds to the fund by giving lectures on the project through the provincial cities and forming local committees pledged to carry on the work. We have now acquired a magnificent site opposite the British Museum, and we are in hopes that an enlightened Government--(laughter)--well, we are in hopes--(laughter)--that an enlightened Government will ultimately help by giving us a substantial grant, and thus giving proof that we in England recognize the claim which Shakespeare has upon the gratitude of all English-speaking people; the enormous educational value of the serious drama; the necessity of providing some standard of representation against the fluctuating tastes of succeeding generations of people, and the need of taking our place among the other enlightened countries of Europe, which already have their great national theatres, endowed by the state, the sovereign or the municipality. (Hear, hear.) It seems monstrous that we in England have neglected this matter so long and have left to the enterprise of self-sacrificing men like Sir Henry Irving to carry on his own shoulders the burden of an institution which in other countries has been subsidized by the state or the sovereign. The foundation of such an institution is the only permanent salvation of the drama in England, as it is the only permanent salvation of the drama in Canada. I hand the consideration of this matter to you, gentlemen, with a profound conviction that, in your determination to leave no stone unturned which shall be to the advantage and culture and education of your people, you will find no force so potent as the maintenance of national theatres throughout your Dominion.
Finally, you may ask me how I justify my allusions to our own project of a national theatre to the title of my address, "Drama and Empire." I justify it in foreshadowing the obvious outcome of national theatres here and at home, viz., the periodical exchange of the companies performing at their respective theatres. The permanent company associated with the national theatre in England will visit your great centres here, as you will send the companies which grow up in your national theatres here to visit us. The foundation of a chain of national theatres through the English speaking world would do more to tighten the bonds of Empire than all the utilitarian and political schemes put together. It will form a common ground of association far British people removed far above party questions, in an atmosphere of art and culture. And remember, gentlemen, that the great states of the world have covered themselves with more glory by their encouragement of the arts than anything else.
The patriotic man who will lead the way in such a movement will achieve a guerdon of renown and earn the gratitude of his fellow Britons more highly by this means than by any other. He will be creating a new and indestructible link which no question of political or local expediency will weaken. Do reflect upon it, gentlemen!
I was talking to a friend of mine over in Hamilton and he said; "If I go to my fellow citizens with this they will say, Yes, that is all very well, my dear fellow, but it is not business." Well, what if it is not business? We do a great many things in this world, gentlemen, which are not business. We apply ourselves to a great many ideals which are not business, and there may be no business, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, in a national theatre, but you do not expect your museums to pay; you do not expect any return for your endowments of music, you do not expect your picture galleries to pay, and therefore you have no reason to expect a great educational force like the drama to pay. There is no question of loyalty in this Dominion. (Applause.) Nothing is more profoundly moving, gentlemen, to the traveller than the spectacle here of your unswerving loyalty to the Crown and the Motherland. (Applause.) . Well, forge another bond; shape and weld us together on the common ground of that most potent human appeal, the drama. Let me alter one word and conclude with the lines of Barry Straton
"Shall we not all be one race
Shaping and welding the nation?
Is not our Country too broad
For the schisms that rend petty lands?
Yea, we shall join in our might
And keep sacred our firm Federation,
Shoulder to shoulder arrayed
Hearts open to hearts, hands to hands."