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  I WISH it were not so hackneyed a custom, that of quoting Punch's advice to people about to marry, and applying it to the particular question in hand, because I wanted to do the very same thing here. I wanted to begin these papers with: "Advice to people about to write plays. Don't." But the idea has been done to death, and so, of course, I can't make use of it.

  And it would have been good advice too. Goethe, who, one might think, would have escaped the flints and briars of the literary path if anybody could have done so, said (I am not using the exact words; it is easier to paraphrase than to hunt up a reference), that, if young men only knew what a trying, troublous life an author had to lead, the courts of the Muses would be but sparsely crowded with aspirants. This was spoken of authorship in general, and is certainly true enough of it. But dramatic authorship is to the profession of literature as reversing is to waltzing--an agony within a misery. A man who means to be a dramatist must be prepared for a life of never-ending strife and fret--a brain and heart-exhausting struggle from the hour when, full of hope, he starts off with his first farce in his pocket to the days when, involuntarily taking the advice of one of the early masters of his own craft, to wit, old rare Ben Jonson, he leaves "the loathed stage, and the more loathsome age."

  The mere writing of a play is generally allowed to be moderately harassing business of itself, but this, if not the last, is at all events the very least of a dramatic author's difficulties It is only a necessary preliminary, like the catching of the hare before you jug it. His real work begins when his three or four acts are neatly "typed" out, and tied up with red tape. When, after months, perhaps years, of hawking it about from pillar to post--and very wooden-headed posts some of them are--of trotting attendance here, of waiting attendance there, of urging and scheming elsewhere, it is, at length, accepted, even then he is not much nearer the goal of production than he was before; for, if the proverb "There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip" should be kept in mind more constantly by any one class than another in this uncertain sphere, it is by those having business in connection with the British drama. The glorious uncertainty of the turf, the fascinating fickleness of woman, the interesting variableness of the weather, fade into insignificance beside the magnificent unreliableness of all theatrical arrangements and affairs. But that I do not care to tell the secrets of my prison-house, I could tales unfold--tales of disappointments and delays, of hopes deferred, of chances dashed from the grasp at the very moment they seemed clutched, of weary waitings rewarded by failure, of enterprise and effort leading only to defeat, of hard work winning only loss--tales whose lightest word would harrow up the soul of the would-be dramatist, freeze his young blood, and make his each particular hair to stand on end, But this theatrical blazon must not be to ears outside the Profession. Nor need it be. There is no necessity to go behind the scenes to gather proof of the doubt and indecision that spread like a baneful fungus over every dramatic flower-bed. Each week the theatrical columns of the newspapers teem with evidences of the unfortunate fact, and he who runs can read. Let me cull a few examples from the records of a past season.(*) An announcement appears in the papers that Mr. Jos. Hatton and Mr. Wm. Terriss are writing a drama for the Adelphi. Messrs. Gatti immediately reply that they know nothing whatever about this. Mr. Hatton thereupon writes that he and Mr. Terriss drafted out the complete plot of a play and read it to the Adelphi management, and that he certainly was under the impression that it had been virtually accepted, and that nothing remained but to fill in the dialogue. This is the last heard of the business. Reflection:--What were and are Mr. Hatton's inward feelings upon the subject; ditto Mr. Terriss'. Again, and in connection with the same house, it was understood that Mr. Geo. R. Sims--not a young beginner to whom disappointment would come like mother's milk--was collaborating with Mr. Pettitt in a piece to follow The Harbour Lights. Then came news that that arrangement was off, and that the next production would be from the pen of Messrs. Grundy and Pettitt. Then, that Messrs. Grundy and Pettitt's piece--written, accepted, and settled for--has been indefinitely postponed, and that a revival of Peep o' Day was to be put on during the autumn, and that Messrs. Grundy and Pettitt were not altogether pleased about the business--a surmise well within the pale of belief. As for the making and upsetting of plans at the Globe during the same season referred to, the mind grows dizzy at contemplation of them. A new comedy, by Geo. P. Hawtrey, entitled I.O.U. is to follow The Pickpocket. Out comes The Lodgers. I.O.U. is to follow The Lodgers. A new farcical comedy by Mr. Grundy is to follow The Lodgers. Mr. F.C. Burnand is adapting La Doctoresse for the Globe, and the piece will be put on in a week or two. Out comes a revival of The Snowball. Mr. Grundy's new piece will follow The Snowball. Mr. Burnand's adaptation of The Doctoresse will follow The Snowball. Mr. Hawtrey is in treaty for a new farce by Manville Fenn and J.H. Darnley. Then more talk of Grundy's piece, and then, after all this groaning, the mountain produces a revival of The Private Secretary. To follow The Secretary, a new farcical comedy by W. Lestocq and Walter Everard was in active production. Instead of that, we had at last The Doctor. Put yourself, my dear reader, in the place of Mr. Geo. P. Hawtrey, of Mr. Grundy, of Mr. Manville Fenn, of Mr. Lestocq, of Mr. Walter Everard, and imagine that your brilliant comedy, after dangers and difficulties innumerable, all happily surmounted, had at last been accepted, and was, as you fondly imagined, on the eve of production, that you had told all your friends about it, and they had congratulated you, and had hoped, with somewhat unnecessary anxiety, that it would be a success, and you had, in anticipation of your forthcoming wealth, ordered a new hat, and had airily hinted to your tailor that he could send his bill in if he liked (if he liked!), aud that, indeed, matters were so far forward and so firmly fixed that you had sent round announcements to the papers, a thing you would not do until you felt your footing pretty certain for fear of being laughed at afterwards. And the next morning, Hey Presto! all your substantial looking castle has tumbled down about your ears, and you are, standing, half blinded, in the dust and dirt of its ruins.

  (*) 1886-7. 1786-7 would have done just as well as a sample. 1986-7 will produce a precisely similar state of affairs.

  Call to mind the announcements and counter-announcements regarding nearly every theatre in London, and the same ghastly spectre of uncertainty is conjured up before you. At the Princess's a new romantic drama by Henry Herman was to have been brought out in the spring. What has become of that?

  These are all recent instances, examples drawn from the 1886-7 season. But the tale has ever been the same. I have before me old programmes, announcing dozens upon dozens of forthcoming productions in the most particular and positive manner, not one of which has ever seen the light. To speak of more recent times, what has become of the Hypatia that a well-known London journalist had written for Mary Anderson? When is Mr. Irving going to produce that piece which Mr. Frank Marshall told us some years ago was in his hands? Where is Theodora, twice on the eve of being played at the Princess's? Take in The Stage, my dear young reader, and cut out the announcements each week of plays that are being written, of plays that have been accepted, of plays that are about to be produced. Paste them all into a book, and when one is played--no matter whether it be a success or a failure, that is another matter altogether--put a tick against it. When a year, say, has gone by, and nothing has been heard of another, put a cross against that other, and compare, as you go on, the number of ticks with the number of crosses. And remember that each cross represents a very heavy heart being carried about for many a long day under somebody or other's waistcoat--tells that somebody or other feels very sick and cold down the back as he moves about his little world, trying to appear careless and to laugh it off--that somebody or other feels very tired and weary of the struggle, and almost wishes now and then that it were over.

  And if such are the discomfitures and defeats of men who have already fought their way into the dramatic citadel--of men like those I have referred to, who are all known, and more or less influential in theatrical circles--if such are their disappointments what, think you, must be the struggles and heartbreakings of the young beginners--of the nameless fighters, who with no friend within to show them a ladder, with no golden key to unlock the iron gates, are tearing their hands against the jagged walls without?

  Their disappointment cannot be traced by reference to programmes and paragraphs in Theatrical Chit Chat. Their failures upon failures, their daily repulses, their broken hopes are known only to the one pet sister, the one staunch chum. But you may be sure that for every single buffet among the one group there are fifty knock-down blows among the other.

  Therefore it is that I feel it my duty to advise you not to try to become a dramatist.

  Not that I expect for a moment that you will follow my advice. Not that I should respect you much if you did. Every profession has its drawbacks. Every state of life into which you are called, or into which you push your way, without waiting to be called, has its anxieties and perplexities. But to every workman his own trade appears the most undesirable of all; and if you wait to enter a calling until those already in it recommend it to you, you will sit and twiddle your thumbs till grave-time. A baker sees all the disadvantages incident to a bakehouse, and imagines a butcher's business is all smooth sailing. Play-writing seems to me a thing to be shunned and escaped from; but, were I a lawyer, there is little doubt but that, like all the solicitors I know, I should warn young men against entering the law; and had I adopted the profession of a chimneysweep, I expect I should never weary of telling people to be anything but that, and of expatiating on the discomforts of early rising, and the sinfulness of smoke-consuming grates.

  I knew a young man once who thought he would go on the stage, and he mentioned the idea to some friends of his who were in the business, and they talked to him, and told him things about an actor's life, till he couldn't go to sleep of nights for terror, so he gave up the notion of being an actor, and determined to become a doctor, which was, perhaps, not so pleasant, but more practicable. And he consulted the family physician on the subject, and a cousin, who was an army surgeon, and he also explained his intention to a couple of old schoolfellows in London; and they just opened his eyes to the thing a bit, and he saw clearly that the professions were all done for, and must soon come to an end. So he made up his mind not to bother about ambition, but to keep a small shop and live comfortably. And he asked the local tradesman what would be the best sort of shop for him to keep, and they recommended him not to keep any shop at all, but to buy two yards of good stout rope and hang himself, because that was what he'd have to do in the end, if he did keep a shop; and that, if he did it at the beginning, he'd save the shop's keep during the intervening period. Then he concluded that he might just as well be an actor after all. He is doing remarkably well now.

  Be a dramatist, my young friend, if you feel you have any talent in that direction, and possess the pluck to fight down the hundred difficulties that will confront you at every step, the endurance to stand firm against the hundred disappointments that will surge round you at every point. You will, if you are careful to look fairly at your own work with clear mental eyesight, and not gloat over it through the microscope of conceit, soon discover whether you have any real dramatic ability or not. If not, by all means quit the business promptly, for the most you will accomplish, in such case, will be to gain the position of a theatre hack--grinding out childish drivel, and earning thereby, at tremendous cost of labour, an average but uncertain income of from a hundred to two hundred a year.

  If, however, you have dramatic talent, it would be wicked, in the present state of affairs, not to let the British stage have the benefit of it; and if you can put together anything better than a hotch-potch of old scenes and incidents, explained in language that no human being was ever known to employ off the stage, and enlivened by wit of that character which is usually associated with a horse collar, the public--which has been a long while waiting for you--will, you may be sure, welcome and reward you right royally.

  Therefore, I say again, that if you want to be a dramatist by all means try; and if you will follow me to the next chapter, we will discuss the making of the play which you are to thunder at the dingy portal of the Thespian Castle wherein the Princess Fame lies captive.

  But mind! if things do turn out wrong; if time and labour are both wasted; if only failures crown your efforts, and you come back from the field wounded and o'erthrown, remember, please, that I knew very well how 'twould be, and that I told you so!

  This reflection will, I feel, be a consolation to you.

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