The production on the London stage of a piece called 'The Schoolmistress' no doubt caused many lovers and students of the drama to consider for a moment whether—and, if so, to what extent—the general subject of school-life had been dealt with by preceding playwrights.
Mr. Pinero was fortunate, to begin with, in the fact that he had hit upon a title for his piece hitherto unused—so far as I am aware—by any dramatist of whom history bears record. And this piece of originality is in itself remarkable, seeing that novelty in title is nowadays sufficiently rare. There is no official registry of such things, and, where so many active pens have been at work, a playwright must be self-confident indeed who can be sure that he has alighted upon a name which has never been used by any other native dramatist. To give only a few instances out of dozens:—Mr. Albery's play of 'The Spendthrift' had been anticipated, so far as title was concerned, by 'The Spendthrift' of Matthew Draper, acted in 1731, and by 'The Spendthrift' of Dr. Kenrick, performed in 1758, to say nothing of two anonymous plays, each called 'The Spendthrift,' dating from 1680 and 1762 respectively. And to come down to quite recent days, the 'Loyal Lovers' played lately at the London Vaudeville had had a predecessor, in the matter of name, in the 'Loyal Lovers,' by Major Manuche, which saw the light so long ago as 1652. Similarly, the 'Woman of the World,' performed at the Haymarket in 1886, had had its prototype, so far as the title was concerned, in the 'Woman of the World' of Nelson Lee and Stirling Coyne.
Exceptionally lucky, indeed, is the dramatic writer who can now discover a wholly new name for his production. A wholly fresh subject is, of course, even more difficult to achieve. Take what phase of life you will—make what use of it you please—you cannot secure absolute novelty. You cannot find a piece of ground which has not been trodden, however slightly, however differently, by a predecessor. The author of 'The Schoolmistress' introduces his audiences to a very charming lady pupil-teacher, and to three scarcely less charming lady pupils. But one thinks at once of the still more delightful bevy of tutors and scholars presented to us just nineteen years ago, by T. W. Robertson, who, inspired by a German original, gave us not only Bella and Naomi Tighe, but a 'rosebud garden of girls,' of which the attraction has by no means yet departed. Mr. Ruskin has sneered at Bella as 'an amiable governess who, for the general encouragement of virtue in governesses, is rewarded by marrying a lord.' But for all that, she is a pleasant figure, and Naomi is a piquant one, and the English stage has witnessed few more agreeable scenes than those in which Dr. and Mrs. Sutcliffe's young ladies take part in the course of 'School.'
As everybody knows, there is an 'angry schoolboy' in 'The Alchemist,' who is likely to survive not only in literature, but in history, by reason of the effective use which Sheridan once made of him when retorting upon Pitt in the House of Commons. Is there not, too, a comedy of Brome's—'The Antipodes'—in which the fathers go to school instead of their sons, and are made to ape the habits of the youthful scholar? Richard Lovelace, we read, wrote a comedy called 'The Scholar,' but it was never printed, and probably had reference to the adult rather than the juvenile student. In the early years of last century, 'The Schoolboy' was the title given to a farce played at Drury Lane, a piece of which one Johnny was the hero—a Johnny who had the honour of being impersonated by the great Roscius himself, and by actors, too, of the calibre of Woodward, Shuter, and J. W. Dodd. Early, again, in the present century, 'The Scholar' was the name of a play adapted from the French by Buckstone; but in this case, as, no doubt, there was in Lovelace's, there is more of the scholastic than of the school. The subject and title of 'Schoolfellows' was taken by Douglas Jerrold, the schoolfellows in it being, however, no longer under the tutelage of their old master. A 'Schoolboy's Masque' was printed in 1742; a 'School Moderator' was included in Garrick's collection; a 'School Play,' it is recorded, was performed at a private grammar school in Middlesex, in 1663; and of recent years an extravaganza has been endowed with the suggestive title of 'School Bored.'
There is, of course, a sense in which the word 'school' can be used for the larger opportunities of education given by contact with the world. And in this sense the word has been used by English dramatists with remarkable and characteristic frequency. In the second quarter of the seventeenth century Shirley printed, as 'the firstfruits of his Muses,' his comedy called 'The School of Compliment,' which had been played at Drury Lane; and in the list of comedies of the nineteenth century will be found 'The School of Reform,' by Thomas Morton, and the 'School of Intrigue,' by Mr. Mortimer; the former devoted to instructing ladies 'how to rule a husband,' and the latter to a fresh treatment of the world-famous story of the Count and Countess Almaviva. But the dramatic pieces whose titles begin with 'The School of' are few indeed in comparison with those whose names begin with 'The School for.' Of the latter the most famous is, of course, 'The School for Scandal,' now just 111 years old. But Sheridan's work had been preceded, in the following order, by 'The School for Lovers,' 'The School for Guardians,' 'The School for Rakes,' 'The School for Fathers,' and 'The School for Wives.' Nor is it surprising that, the fashion having once been set, Sheridan's comedy should be followed successively by 'The School for Eloquence,' 'The School for Ladies,' 'The School for Vanity,' 'The School for Greybeards,' 'The School for Widows,' 'The School for Arrogance,' 'The School for Prejudice,' 'The School for Friends,' 'The School for Authors,' 'The School for Grown Children,' 'The School for Grown Gentlemen,' and 'The School for Scheming'—this last being one of the numerous performances of Mr. Boucicault.
Nor is this all. History relates that Steele began a comedy named 'The School for Action,' and there are records of pieces called 'The School for Husbands,' 'The School for Women,' 'The School for Coquettes,' 'The School for Daughters,' and 'The School for Tigers.' Probably no word has been so often utilized by the dramatists as 'School,' and probably, too, no modern playwright would be disposed to add lightly to the number of those who have 'annexed' it.
PUNS AND PATRONYMICS.
Probably there are few things more common, and at the same time more opposed to good taste, than punning upon people's names. Possibly the impertinence of it has some attraction; for, of course, all such 'witticisms' are impertinent—unless, indeed, a man puns on his own name, or, if he puns upon another's, takes care to make the observation complimentary. No doubt, neither Mrs. Cuffe nor Mrs. Tighe was very offended when Sydney Smith described one as 'the cuff that every one would wear,' and the other as 'the tie that no one would loose.' These are word-plays of the innocuous sort. Would that all such jests were equally inoffensive!
However, it is of little use to complain of a 'stream of tendency' which cannot be diverted from its course. The most distinguished people have had to tolerate the liberties taken with their names. Even the first of men has had to suffer, Hood having long ago said what a pity it was that, when Eve offered him the apple, poor Adam was not adam-ant. And when one turns to the celebrities of one's own country, one finds that many of them have had to endure attentions of the kind. There was, for example, that distinguished Marquis of whom it was said on one occasion that 'The nation's asleep, and the minister Rockingham.' There was also that Mr. Ward, afterwards Lord Dudley, of whom Byron declared that he would return to the Whigs if they would re-Ward him. How hard, again, was Punch upon Sir Francis Head, for his well-known apologia for Louis Napoleon:
'He wrote to the Times In defence of the crimes Disgraceful to the heart and to the Head, Head, Head.'
Hood pretended that, when he heard 'Those Evening Bells,' they did but remind him of the statesman who had invented and established the income-tax:
'Recalling only how a Peel Has taxed the comings-in of Time!'
That Mr. Disraeli's popular diminutive should suggest punning was inevitable, and so we find Shirley Brooks proposing, in 1865, that,
'Having finished his Iliad and ceased to be busy, Lord Derby should try and translate his Odd-Dizzy.'
The annals of the Church are no more free from jingles on names than those of any other institution. Familiar to many is the laconic epitaph on Archbishop Potter:
'Alack and well-a-day: Potter himself is turned to clay!'
Horace Walpole wrote bitterly of Thomas Secker, Archbishop of Canterbury, that 'His grace signed his own proper name—Thomas Cant.,' which would certainly have read better as 'Thomas Cantuar.' But the bishops' signatures have always been regarded as fair game. What puns have been made on the unhappy, because so obvious, 'Oxon!' In 1848, when Bishop Hampden was accused of heresy by the party headed by the Bishop of Oxford, the would-be satirist wrote that
'As once the Pope with fury full, When Luther laid his heavy knocks on, At the Reformer loosed a Bull— So these at Hampden set an Ox-on.'
Again, when Archdeacon Hale figured prominently in the old churchyard controversy, Punch observed:
'The intramural churchyard's reeking pale Breathes health around it, says a reverend party; But though the spot may keep a parson Hale, Can people who in-hale its fumes be hearty?'
Turning to the records of the other professions, one finds a good deal of the same sort of thing. Literature affords such examples as those which are supplied in the well-known lines by John Henley on William Broome and by Lord Byron on Tom Moore ('Now 'tis Moore that's Little'). There were journal writers before Greville and Carlyle, and, when Lady Bury published her 'Diary of the Times of George IV.,' Hood, no doubt, was justified in crying, as he did:
'Oh, may I die without a Diary, And be interred without a Bury-ing!'
In a very different spirit were James Smith's lines on Miss Edgeworth's works:
'Good and bad join in telling the source of their birth; The bad own their edge, and the good own their worth.'
The vocal and histrionic arts have often had their victims. Who can possibly have forgotten Luttrell's famous compliment to Miss Tree:
'On this Tree when a nightingale settles and sings, The Tree will return her as good as she brings.'
Here, if ever, was a pun on a name defensible. Less well known is this quatrain on the famous actor, William Farren, who died in 1861:
'If Farren, cleverest of men, Should go to right-about, What part of town will he be then? Why, "Farren-done-Without"!'
Those ladies of beauty and fashion whose names were susceptible at once of pun and compliment have naturally inspired the wits of their respective days. Thus, it was said of the charming sisters Gunning, that Cupid, perceiving that the beaux of the time were proof against his darts, had now laid down his bow and conquered by 'gunning.' But perhaps the best thing of the sort ever composed was Lord Lyttelton's tribute to Lady Brown:
'When I was young and debonair, The brownest nymph to me was fair; But now I'm old and wiser grown, The fairest nymph to me is Brown.'
Other celebrities could be named who came off badly in their encounter with the punsters. But, indeed, the list of such jests might be indefinitely extended, for the habit of making puns on patronymics has always been very widely spread, and has found many a sympathetic historian.
Nobody ever yet found very great difficulty in starting a letter. Young lovers may have hesitated from time to time between such modes of address as 'Dear,' 'Dearest,' 'Sweetest,' 'Darling,' and the like; but only for a moment. Usually, the overburdened heart hits at once upon the exact word or phrase which best expresses its ecstatic feeling. And so with less impassioned matters. There is a well-recognised gradation in the methods of epistolary salutation. The stranger is addressed as 'Sir,' the person of whom something is known as 'Dear Sir.' 'My Dear Sir' accompanies a rather better acquaintance; 'Dear Mr. Brown' marks an approach to intimacy; while 'Dear Brown' signifies the acme of friendship and of camaraderie. Here, again, there may be a temporary pause before passing from 'Sir' to 'Dear Sir,' and so forth, but in general the transitions are sufficiently well emphasized to be obvious to the average intelligence.
Very different is it with the other end of the letter. There we find opportunity for the widest divergence. Royal or official, pompous or irate, people have been known to finish an epistle, abruptly, with the simple appendix of their name; but these are the exceptions which prove the rule. And the rule is certainly to preface the name by some expression of feeling, however brief and perfunctory. The least you can do is to describe yourself as 'yours.' We find Sterne thus describing himself to Garrick; while, by way of slight variety, Cowper, writing to Joseph Hill, ends with a 'Yours, dear Joe.' Still further variety is secured when, as in the case of Lord Eglinton addressing his countess in 1619, the hackneyed 'I remain, yours' takes the form of 'I rest, yours'—a phrase which is not, however, likely to be often used. And let it not be supposed that plenty of meaning cannot be thrown into the 'yours' alone. Take, for instance, the reply made by 'The' Macdonald, when Glengarry claimed the chieftainship of the clan. 'As soon,' said the former, 'as you can prove yourself my chief I shall be ready to acknowledge you as such, but in the meantime I am yours, Macdonald.' There, for once in a way, the 'yours' meant something.
When we go farther than the mere 'yours,' the possible variations are, of course, endless. There is 'yours truly'—perhaps the most widely used of all such combinations; but there are persons who rebel against its tyranny, and who with daring originality substitute the heartier and less conventional 'very truly,' 'most truly,' or 'right truly.' Second only to 'yours truly' come 'yours faithfully' and 'yours sincerely,' with their comparative 'very faithfully' and superlative 'most sincerely;' and many people are well content to keep within the safe borders of these wholly innocent and uncompromising forms. On the other hand, less indifferent minds will go farther afield for their qualifying adverbs, and say, with Sterne, 'very cordially yours,' or, with Father Matthew, 'yours devotedly,' and so on. Whewell, asked once for his autograph, signed himself 'yours autographically,' and of such deviations there are abundant examples, mostly with a tendency to the flippant. 'Yours ever' Byron declared himself to John Murray; 'yours ever and evermore,' wrote Cowper to a friend; while Steele, in a letter to his wife, protested that he was, with his whole heart, hers for ever—which may be pronounced the best of the three.
But there is no reason in the world, to be sure, why we should cling to the 'yours' in any shape or modification. There are multitudinous other ways of being valedictory with effect. There is the simple word 'Adieu.' 'And so, my dear madam, adieu,' writes Pepys to a lady. 'With all my love, and those sort of pretty things, adieu!' wrote the future Mrs. Scott to her sweetheart, the Great Magician. And then there is the English equivalent of the word—surely not less available. 'I wish you were at the devil,' wrote Sir Philip Francis to Burke, 'for giving me all this trouble, and so farewell!' In the old days, as we read in the 'Paston Letters,' they had a sufficiently formal fashion of concluding epistles. 'By your cousin, Dame Elizabeth Brews'—'By your man, Thomas Kela;' such are two examples of the custom. 'Written at Norwich, on St. Thomas's even, in great haste, by your mother, Agnes Paston'—there is another. 'From your Russell,' is the end of a letter from the famous Lady Russell to her husband; and it does not read or sound untenderly. Junius signed himself to Woodfall, 'your friend.' Less cold was Mrs. Maclehose to Burns: 'I may sign, for I am already sealed, your friend, Clarinda.'
The elaborate style of description has always largely obtained, as being obviously suitable for so many occasions. Thus one is not surprised to find the future Charles II. professing to be his father's 'most humble and most obedient son and servant,' or to note how that very complete letter-writer, James Howell, claimed to be the Countess of Sunderland's 'most dutiful servant.' Dr. Johnson did well to announce himself haughtily as Chesterfield's 'most humble, most obedient servant;' while what could Sir Walter Scott be to his Duke of Buccleuch other than 'your Grace's truly obliged and grateful'? A similar sense of propriety induced Hood, in a certain memorable epistle, to tell Sir Robert Peel that he had the honour to be, Sir, his most grateful and obedient servant. One cannot object, either, to the 'Your most obliged and faithful friend' of Evelyn when addressed to Pepys, or to the 'Your very faithful, humble servant' of Bishop Percy, when penned to Boswell. It is, however, a little diverting to observe that Sir Simonds d'Ewes, after addressing his ladylove as 'Fairest,' concludes with 'Your humble servant,' and that the Tatler of his time, rounding off a dedicatory letter to his 'Prue,' says: 'I am, Madam, your most obliged husband, and most obedient, humble servant, Richard Steele.'
Over and over again have letter-writers made their final description of themselves so wholly a part of their last sentence that the former cannot be dissociated from the latter. 'I have not room to tell you any more,' wrote Stephen Duck to Joseph Spence in 1751, 'than that I am, Dear Sir, your most affectionate.' 'These,' said her royal mistress to Mrs. Delany in 1785, 'are the true sentiments of my dear Mrs. Delany's very affectionate Queen, Charlotte.' Hood once finished a charming epistle to a child in this way: 'Give my love to everybody, from yourself down to Willy, with which and a kiss, I remain, up hill and down dale, your affectionate lover, Thomas Hood.' Most people remember the pithy correspondence between Foote and his mother: 'Dear Sam,—I am in prison for debt; come and assist your loving mother, E. Foote.'—'Dear Mother,—So am I; which prevents his duty being paid to his loving mother by her affectionate son, Sam Foote.' Not everybody, however, can wind up a letter so neatly as that. A certain commercial house abroad was, perhaps, over-ingenious in its turn of phrase when, writing to an English correspondent, and desiring to be very civil to him, it said: 'Sugars are falling more and more every day; not so the respect and esteem with which we are,' etc., etc.
There is, and long has been, a prevalent impression that the penning of postscripts is peculiarly characteristic of the feminine letter-writer. Cynics have even gone so far as to assert that no woman can indite an epistle without the addition of a 'P.S.,' and, in support of this grievous aspersion, have been wont to trot out the venerable 'chestnut' about the lady who accepted from her husband a bet that she would not send him a letter without the inevitable addendum—the result being that, after having composed the epistle and signed her name, she artlessly appended the observation, 'You see I have written you a letter without a postscript,' capping it with 'Who has won the wager, you or I?'
It might be argued, even if it could not be proved, that, putting aside mere business communications, and confining one's self to ordinary social correspondence, men are guilty of as many postscripts as women are. But even if the stereotyped charge against the ladies be really well-founded, what of it? Does it convey any tangible reproach? What harm is there in a 'P.S.,' or a 'P.P.S.'? It may be not only a defensible, but positively a praiseworthy, thing. Often it proceeds from nothing more condemnable than a genuine overflow of feeling—a stream of sentiment which, checked by the signature of the writer, bursts its bonds and reasserts its power in a final sentence or two. What could be more charming, for example, than the instances of this afforded in so many of the heroic Lady Russell's letters to her husband—as in that particularly pleasing one in which, after assuring him that all the household are well, and that as he is 'the most enduring husband in the world,' so she is 'the most grateful wife,' she adds her signature, and then recurs to the subject of her children—'Boy is asleep, girls singing abed'—telling of the proposed kindness of a neighbour towards them.
Note, again, the superabundant playfulness of Cowper in one of his epistles to Lady Hesketh, where, after a few lines of personal description, he appears to conclude, but returns to the topic with a
'P.S.—That the view I give you of myself may be complete I add the following items: That I am in debt to nobody, and that I grow fat.'
Sometimes there will be pathos in a postscript, as in the case of Beethoven's touching communication to his brothers Carl and Johann in the matter of his deafness. In the body of the letter he has been begging them not to think him hostile, morose, or misanthropical, and making clear to them how little they know of the secret cause of his apparent indifference. Then, on the outside of the packet, comes this last melancholy outpouring:
'Thus, then, I take leave of you, and with sadness too. The fond hope I brought with me here [to Heiligenstadt] of being to a certain degree cured, now utterly forsakes me. As autumn leaves fall and wither, so are my hopes blighted.'
Of this spontaneous running-over from text into postscript, literature has many specimens—none, perhaps, more effective in its way than the kindly stanza with which Mr. Bret Harte makes Truthful James bring to a close 'His Answer to Her Letter':
'P.S.—Which this same interfering Into other folks' ways I despise, Yet if it so be I was hearing That it's just empty pockets as lies Betwixt you and Joseph, it follers That, having no family claims, Here's my pile; which it's six hundred dollars, As is yours, with respect, Truthful James.'
One might, indeed, say more for postscripts than that they are often pardonable; they are often actually useful. They can be bent to the service of the writer; and over and over again, I dare say, have been appended with careful deliberation. They are invaluable as modes of emphasizing matter contained within the limits of the letter proper. They form 'last words' which can be charged with any measure of significance. Many people remember the case of the sailor who, after mentioning thrice in the course of one short epistle the desired purchase of some pigtail, felt constrained to add yet another reminder in the shape of a 'P.S.—Don't forget the pigtail.' Not less impressive, probably, was Sir Hew Dalrymple when, writing in 1775 to a friend to exhort him to give preferment to a worthy young cleric, he observed, in a postscript:
'Think what an unspeakable pleasure it will be to look down from heaven and see Rigby, Masterton, all the Campbells and Nabobs, swimming in fire and brimstone, while you are sitting with Whitefield and his old women, looking beautiful, frisking and singing; all which you may have by settling this man!'
There can be no question that a well-planted 'P.S.' is of great utility in clinching an argument raised in the main portion of a communication. Thus, when Artemus Ward wrote 'to the editor of ——,' asking for a line concerning the state of the show business in his locality, he knew what he was about. 'I shall hav my hanbills dun at your offiss,' he observed. 'Depend upon it. I want you should git my hanbills up in flamin' stile. Also git up a tremenjus excitement in yr. paper 'bout my onparaleld Show. We must fetch the public sumhow.' Then, at the end, came the summing-up of the whole transaction: 'P.S.—You scratch my back and Ile scratch your back.' There is at least one instance on record in which a postscript was made to convey a smart reproof. Talleyrand, having one day entrusted a valet with a letter to deliver, happened to look out of the window, and saw the man reading the message en route. Next day he despatched another letter to the same address by the same servant, taking care to append to it the following: 'P.S.—You may send a verbal answer by the bearer. He is perfectly acquainted with the whole affair, having taken the precaution to read this previous to delivery.'
On the whole, whether postscripts are defensible or not, it is clear that their history is eminently interesting. Some valuable matter has from time to time been put into them. There is at least one letter of Thomas Gray's, written in 1764 to the Rev. Norton Nicholls, the 'P.S.' of which is worth the whole of the remainder of the communication, so charming a bit of descriptive writing is embodied in it. Then, how full of good stuff are the epistolary addenda of Charles Lamb, with whom 'the cream of the correspondence' (as Tony Lumpkin has it) was very often rather in the postscript than in 'the inside of the letter,' in the sense of its larger portion. It is in one of these addenda that one finds the first record of a well-known sentence: 'Summer, as my friend Coleridge waggishly observes, has set in with its usual severity.' Elsewhere one comes across such tributes as: 'My friend Hood, a prime genius and hearty fellow, brings this.' Always characteristic in thought and in expression, Lamb was never more so than in the finales to his letters. 'I do not think your handwriting at all like ——'s,' he says to Southey; 'I do not think many things I did think.' He winds up a dog-Latin epistle to Bernard Barton, in 1831, with: 'P.S.—Perdita in toto est Billa Reformatura.' And to Coleridge he says, with delightful frankness:
'Write your German as plain as sunshine, for that must correct itself. You know I am homo unius linguae: in English—illiterate, a dunce, a ninny.'
Sometimes a postscript is unconsciously full of humour, as in the case of a note written by a certain Mr. O. to a recent Bishop of Norwich:
'Mr. O——'s private affairs turn out so sadly that he cannot have the pleasure of waiting upon his lordship at his agreeable house on Monday next.—N.B. His wife is dead.'
Elliot Stock, Paternoster Row, London.
Passages in italics are indicated by underscore.
Additional spacing after some of the quotes is intentional to indicate both the end of a quotation and the beginning of a new paragraph as presented in the original text.
The following misprint has been corrected: "writting" corrected to "writing" (page 221)
Printer's inconsistencies in spelling and hyphenation usage have been retained.