WESTLAND MARSTON’S PLAY
‘THE PATRICIAN’S DAUGHTER’
PROLOGUE TO ‘THE PATRICIAN’S DAUGHTER’
The Patrician’s Daughter was the title bestowed upon a play, in the tragic vein, by a then unknown writer, J. Westland Marston, it being his maiden effort in dramatic authorship. Dickens took great interest in the young man and indicated a desire to promote the welfare of his production by composing some introductory lines. To Macready he wrote: ‘The more I think of Marston’s play, the more sure I feel that a prologue to the purpose would help it materially, and almost decide the fate of any ticklish point on the first night. Now I have an idea (not easily explainable in writing, but told in five words) that would take the prologue out of the conventional dress of prologues, quite. Get the curtain up with a dash, and begin the play with a sledge-hammer blow. If, on consideration, you should agree with me, I will write the prologue, heartily.’ Happily for the author, his little tragedy was the first new play of the season, and it thus attracted greater attention. Its initial representation took place at Drury Lane Theatre on December 10, 1842, and the fact that Dickens’s dignified and vigorous lines were recited by Macready, the leading actor of his day, undoubtedly gave prestige to this performance; but the play, although it made a sensation for the moment, did not enjoy a long run, its motive being for some reason misunderstood. As explained by the Editors of The Letters of Charles Dickens, it was (to a certain extent) an experiment in testing the effect of a tragedy of modern times and in modern dress, the novelist’s Prologue being intended to show that there need be no incongruity between plain clothes of the nineteenth century and high tragedy.
The Patrician’s Daughter: A Tragedy in Five Acts, appeared in pamphlet form during the year prior to its being placed upon the boards. The Prologue was printed for the first time in the Sunday Times, December 11, 1842, and then in The Theatrical Journal and Stranger’s Guide, December 17, 1842. By the kind permission of Miss Hogarth, the lines are here reproduced from the revised and only correct version in The Letters of Charles Dickens.
In the preface to the second edition of the play (1842), the author thus acknowledges his indebtedness to Dickens for the Prologue, which, however, does not appear in the book: ‘How shall I thank Mr. Dickens for the spontaneous kindness which has furnished me with so excellent a letter of introduction to the audience? The simplest acknowledgment is perhaps the best, since the least I might say would exceed his estimate of the obligation; while the most I could say would fail to express mine.’
‘THE PATRICIAN’S DAUGHTER’
(Spoken by Mr. Macready)
No tale of streaming plumes and harness bright Dwells on the poet’s maiden harp to-night; No trumpet’s clamour and no battle’s fire Breathes in the trembling accents of his lyre; Enough for him, if in his lowly strain He wakes one household echo not in vain; Enough for him, if in his boldest word The beating heart of man be dimly heard. Its solemn music which, like strains that sigh Through charmèd gardens, all who hearing die; Its solemn music he does not pursue To distant ages out of human view; Nor listen to its wild and mournful chime In the dead caverns on the shore of Time; But musing with a calm and steady gaze Before the crackling flames of living days, He hears it whisper through the busy roar Of what shall be and what has been before. Awake the Present! Shall no scene display The tragic passion of the passing day? Is it with Man, as with some meaner things, That out of death his single purpose springs? Can his eventful life no moral teach Until he be, for aye, beyond its reach? Obscurely shall he suffer, act, and fade, Dubb’d noble only by the sexton’s spade? Awake the Present! Though the steel-clad age Find life alone within its storied page, Iron is worn, at heart, by many still— The tyrant Custom binds the serf-like will; If the sharp rack, and screw, and chain be gone, These later days have tortures of their own; The guiltless writhe, while Guilt is stretch’d in sleep, And Virtue lies, too often, dungeon deep. Awake the Present! what the Past has sown Be in its harvest garner’d, reap’d, and grown! How pride breeds pride, and wrong engenders wrong, Read in the volume Truth has held so long, Assured that where life’s flowers freshest blow, The sharpest thorns and keenest briars grow, How social usage has the pow’r to change Good thoughts to evil; in its highest range To cramp the noble soul, and turn to ruth The kindling impulse of our glorious youth, Crushing the spirit in its house of clay, Learn from the lessons of the present day. Not light its import and not poor its mien; Yourselves the actors, and your homes the scene.