Wednesday, January 23, 2013

78. Shannon spotted in the theatre

A new resource hosted by the National Library of the Netherlands, 'Historical newspapers', gives free access to Dutch newspapers from 1618 to 1995. Not all newspapers are available yet, but the great thing is that word searches are possible, and a search for 'C.H. Shannon', for example, yields seven results, including a very early one that was previously unknown. This article, 'Een vrije schouwburg', about the Independent Theatre, was published on 6 May 1891 in the Java-bode, a newspaper for the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). It was not written by one of their correspondents, but taken from another newspaper, Het dagblad ('The daily') of which no copies have been preserved.
Jack T. Grein
The Théâtre Libre was directed by André Antoine, but the 1891 event that mentioned this name on the programme was staged by Jack T. Grein (1862-1935), and although the article still calls his theatre production by the old name, the performance was in fact the first of a series of the Independent Theatre, a private society that could stage controversial plays using a subscription system. Grein staged Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts on syphilis and adultary at the Royalty Theatre, at 73 Dean Street, Soho, London, on 13 March 1891. The play was considered to be 'repulsive', 'coarse', 'vulgar', 'absurd', 'revolting', you name it.

It took a few months for the event to be covered by a newspaper in the Dutch East Indies, and it probably only did so, because Grein was born a Dutchman who had emigrated to London in 1885 and was naturalized in 1895.

Another Dutchman, Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (1865-1921), lived in London and translated a few plays for the Independent Theatre, and his association with the theatre society was noticed as early as 18 April 1891, when it was reported that he would translate Emile Zola's Thérèse Raquin for Grein. Teixeira de Mattos also worked for several Dutch newspapers, and it may have been 'Tex' who wrote the review that was published in the Java-bode. Its author called himself 'The Man-about-Town'.

Portrait of Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, from  Stephen McKenna, Tex. A chapter in the life of Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (1922)
The newspaper story, full of banter, related how, after the performance, Grein had spoken from the stage, and it described the audience in some detail. The author tells us that the world of literature was represented by the novelist George Moore, by Oscar Wilde, by John Gray, 'the new poet', while artistic circles included 'the painters C.H. Shannon and Richard Savage', among others. Richard Savage was in fact Reginald Savage, an artist and a collaborator of Ricketts's and Shannon's magazine The Dial.

Charles Shannon, Self-Portrait (1897)

Shannon's attendance of the first performance of Ibsen's Ghosts in 1891 places him in the vicinity of 'an apostel of the beautiful' (as the Morning post mockingly called Grein in a review of Ghosts, 14 March 1891), and thus in the forefront of the battle against Victorianism and censorship, but also in an artistic circle which included Wilde and Gray, who were recognized and singled out for his report of the event by the correspondent. English newspapers noted that 'the large audience' included 'more females than might have been expected' for an unlicensed play, but Shannon's name was not mentioned. The 1891 Java-bode was the first to mention Shannon's name in the Dutch language area.