Wednesday, July 10, 2019

415. Ricketts and Shannon as Robert Ross's Characters (6)

In 1907, Robert Ross published yet another criticism in the form of a play, called 'Shavians from Superman' (published in Masques & Phases, 1910, pp. 224-235). As a starting point it takes the last scene of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, blends it with G.B. Shaw's Man and Superman and discusses the ongoing problems with the censors that authors encountered during these years. Shaw had several plays banned by the office of the Lord Chamberlain, and he particularly protested against the decisions of the censor George Alexander Redford - he was the examiner of plays between 1895 and 1911 (and he died in 1916). 

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan' (oil painting, c. 1911) [Collection: Tate, London]
The ban on Wilde's Salomé is discussed as well, and Ross has the Princess Salomé perform the 'dance of the Seven Censors'. Ricketts's theatre and costume designs are mentioned, but this time he doesn't appear as a character in Ross's play. However, Shannon plays his part.

Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman'

Donna Ana has vanished to sup her man at the Savoy; the Devil and the Statue are descending through trap, when a voice is heard crying, ‘Stop, stop’; the mechanism is arrested and there appears in the empyrean Mr. Charles Hazelwood Shannon, the artist, with halo.
The Devil (while Shannon regains his breath). Really, Mr. Shannon, this is a great pleasure and quite unexpected. I am truly honoured. No quarrel I hope with the International? Pennell quite well? How is the Whistler memorial getting on?
Shannon. So-so. To be quite frank I had no time to prepare for Heaven, and earth has become intolerable for me. (Seeing the Statue.) Is that a Rodin you have there? Ah, no, I see, rather late sixteenth-century - Jean Goujon? Not in very good taste. We don't like sixteenth-century sculpture.
Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' (fragment) (1910)
The Devil. Oh! I forgot, let me introduce you. Commander! Mr. C.H. Shannon, a most distinguished painter, the English Velasquez, the Irish Titian, the Scotch Giorgione, all in one. Mr. Shannon, his Excellency the Commander.

Shannon. Delighted, I am sure. The real reason for my coming here is that I could stand Ricketts no longer. Ricketts the artist I adore. Ricketts the causeur is delightful. Ricketts the enemy, entrancing. Ricketts the friend, one of the best. But Ricketts, when designing dresses for the Court, Trench, and other productions, is not very amiable.

The Statue (sighing). Ah! yes, I know Ricketts.

The Devil (sighing). We all know Ricketts. Never mind, he shall not come here. I shall give special orders to Charon. Come on to the trap and we can start for the palace.

Shannon. Ah! yes. I heard you were moving to the Savoy. Think it will be a success?

[They descend and no reply is heard. Whisk! Mr. Frank Richardson on this occasion does not appear; void and emptiness; the fireproof curtain may be lowered here in accordance with the County Council regulations; moving portraits of deceased, and living dramatic critics can be thrown without risk of ignition on the curtain by magic lantern. The point of this travesty will be entirely lost to those who have not read ‘Man and Superman.’ It is the first masterpiece in the English literature of the twentieth century. It is also necessary to have read the dramatic criticisms in the daily press, and to have some acquaintance with the Court management, the Stage Society, and certain unlicensed plays; and to know that Mr. Ricketts designs scenery. This being thoroughly explained, the Curtain may rise; discovering a large Gothic Hall, decorated in the 1880 taste. Allegories by Watts on the wall - ‘Time cutting the corns of Eternity,’ ‘Love whistling down the ear of Life,’ ‘Youth catching Crabs,’ &c. Windows by Burne-Jones and Morris. A Peacock Blue Hungarian Band playing music on Dolmetsch instruments by Purcell, Byrde, Bull, Bear, Palestrina, and Wagner, &c. Various well-known people crowd the Stage. Among the living may be mentioned Mr. George Street; Mr. Max Beerbohm and his brother; Mr. Albert Rothenstein and his brother, &c. The company is intellectual and artistic; not in any way smart. The Savile and Athenæum Clubs are well represented, but not the Garrick, the Gardenia, nor any of the establishments in the vicinity of Leicester Square. The Princess Salomé is greeting some of the arrivals, who stare at her in a bewildered fashion.

G.F. Watts, 'Time, Death and Judgment' [Tate, London]

The Devil. Silence, please, ladies and gentlemen, for his Excellency the Commander. (A yellowish pallor moves over the audience; effect by Gordon Craig.)

The Statue. It was my intention this evening to make a few observations on flogging in the Navy, Vaccination, the Censor, Vivisection, the Fabian Society, the Royal Academy, Compound Chinese Labour, Style, Simple Prohibition, Vulgar Fractions, and other kindred subjects. But as I opened the paper this morning, my eye caught these headlines: 'Future of the House of Lords,' 'Mr. Edmund Gosse at home,' 'The Nerves of Lord Northcliffe,' 'Interview with Mr. Winston Churchill,' 'Reported Indisposition of Miss Edna May.' A problem was thus presented to me. Will I, shall I, ought I to speak to my friends here - ahem! - and elsewhere, on the subject about which they came to hear me speak. (Applause.) No, I said; the bounders must be disappointed; otherwise they will know what to expect. You must always surprise your audience. When it has been advertised (sufficiently) that I am going to speak about the truth, for example, the audience comes here expecting me to speak about fiction. The only way to surprise them is to speak the truth and that I always do. Nothing surprises English people more than truth; they don't like it; they don't pay any attention to those (such as my friend Mr. H.G. Wells and myself) who trade in truth; but they listen and go away saying 'How very whimsical and paradoxical it all is,' and 'What a clever adventurer the fellow is, to be sure.' 'That was a good joke about duty and beauty being the same thing' - that was a joke I did not make. It is not my kind of joke - but when people begin ascribing to you the jokes of other people, you become a living - I was going to say statue - but I mean a living classic.

The Devil. I thought you disliked anything classic?

The Statue. Ahem! only dead classics - especially when they are employed to protect romanticism. Dead classics are the protective tariffs put on all realism and truth by bloated idealism. In a country of plutocrats, idealism keeps out truth: idealism is more expensive, and therefore more in demand. In America there are more plutocrats, and therefore more idealists.... as Mr. Pember Reeves has pointed out in New Zealand. ...

The Devil. But I say, is this drama?

The Statue. Certainly not. It is a discussion taking place at a theatre. It is no more drama than a music-hall entertainment, or a comic opera, or a cinematograph, or a hospital operation, all of which things take place in theatres. But surely it is more entertaining to come to a discussion charmingly mounted by Ricketts - discussion too, in which every one knows what he is going to say - than to flaccid plays in which the audience always knows what the actors are going to say better often than the actors. The sort of balderdash which Mr. ---- serves up to us for plays.

The Devil (peevish and old-fashioned). I wish you would define drama.

Hankin (advancing). Won't you have tea, Commander? It's not bad tea.

The Statue. I was afraid you were going to talk idealism.

Hankin (aside). Excuse my interrupting, but I want you to be particularly nice to the Princess Salomé. You know she was jilted by the Censor. She has brought her music.

Charles Ricketts, Design for stage-setting of Oscar Wilde's 'Salome' produced at the King's Hall,
Covent Garden, April 1, 1906. Pencil and chalk [Victoria & Albert Museum]
The Devil. You might introduce her to Mrs. Warren. But I am afraid that the Princess has taken rather too much upon herself this evening.

The Statue. Yes, she has taken too much; I am sure she has taken too much.

A Journalist. Is that the Princess Salomé who has Mexican opals in her teeth, and red eyebrows and green hair, and curious rock-crystal breasts?

The Devil. Yes, that is the Princess Salomé.

Shannon. I know the Princess quite well. Ricketts makes her frocks. Shall I ask her to dance?

The Devil. Yes, anything to distract her attention from the guests. These artistic English people are so easily shocked. They don't understand Strauss, nor indeed anything until it is quite out of date. I want to make Hell at least as attractive as it is painted; a place as well as a condition within the meaning of the Act. Full of wit, beauty, pleasure, freedom ---

The Statue. Ugh-ugh.

Shannon. Will you dance for us, Princess?

Salomé. Anything for you, dear Mr. Shannon, only my ankles are a little sore tonight. How is dear Ricketts? I want new dresses so badly.

Shannon. I suppose by this time he is in Heaven. But won't you dance just to make things go? And then the Commander will lecture on super-maniacs later on!

Salomé. Señor Diavolo, what will you give me if I dance to-night?

The Devil. Anything you like, Salomé. I swear by the dramatic critics.

Hankin (correcting). You mean the Styx.

The Devil. Same thing. Dance without any further nonsense, Salomé. Forget that you are in England. This is an unlicensed house.

     [Salomé dances the dance of the Seven Censors.

Robert Ross, 'Shavians from Superman' (fragment) (1910)
The Devil (applauding). She is charming. She is quite charming. Salomé, what shall I do for you? You who are like a purple patch in some one else's prose. You who are like a black patch on some one else's face. You are like an Imperialist in a Radical Cabinet. You are like a Tariff Reformer in a Liberal-Unionist Administration. You are like the Rokeby Velazquez in St. Paul's Cathedral. What can I do for you who are fairer than ----

Salomé. This sort of thing has been tried on me before. Let us come to business. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. No, not that. You must not ask that. I will give you Walkley's head. He has one of the best heads. He is not ignorant. He really knows what he is talking about.

Arthur Bingham Walkley. Portrait by Alfred Ellis,
(Eglington & Co., 
carbon print, published 1 May 1892)
Collection: National Portrait Gallery]
Salomé. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé, listen to me. Be reasonable. Do not interrupt me. I will give you William Archer's head. He is charming - a cultivated, liberal-minded critic. He is too liberal. He admires Stephen Phillips. I will give you his dear head if you release me from my oath.

SaloméI want Mr. Redford's head on the top of a four-wheel cab. Remember your oath!

The Devil. I remember I swore at - I mean by - the dramatic critics. Well, I am offering them to you. Exquisite and darling Salomé, I will give you the head of Max Beerbohm. It is unusually large, but it is full of good things. What a charming ornament for your mantelpiece! You will be in the movement. How every one will envy you! People will call upon you who never used to call. Others will send you invitations. You will at last get into English society.

SaloméI want Mr. Redford's head on the top of a four-wheel cab. 

The Devil. Salomé, come hither. Have you ever looked at the Daily Mirror? Only in the Daily Mirror should one look. For it tells the truth sometimes. Well, I will give you the head of Hamilton Fyffe. He is my best friend. No critic is so fond of the drama as Hamilton Fyffe. (Huskily.) Salomé, I will give W.L. Courtney's head. I will give you all their heads.

Salomé. I have the scalps of most critics. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé! You do not know what you ask. Mr. Redford is a kind of religion. He represents the Lord Chamberlain. You know the dear Lord Chamberlain. You would not harm one of his servants, especially when they are not insured. It would be cruel. It would be irreligious. It would be in bad taste. It would not be respectable. Listen to me; I will give you all Herod's Stores..... Salomé, Shannon was right. You have taken too much, or you would not ask this thing. See, I will give you Mr. Redford's body, but not his head. No that, not that, my child.

Salomé. I want Mr. Redford's head on a four-wheel cab.

The Devil. Salomé, I must tell you a secret. It is terrible for me to have to tell the truth. The Commander said that I would have to tell the truth. Mr. Redford has no head!

      [The audience long before this have begun to put on their cloaks, and the dramatic critics have gone away to describe the cold reception with which the play has been greeted. All the people on the stage cover their heads except the Statue, who has become during the action of the piece more and more like Mr. Bernard Shaw. Curtain descends slowly.

Charles Ricketts, 'Don Juan in Hell' (oil painting, 1931) [Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool]
Ross dedicated this piece to Arthur Clifton (1862-1932), one of Oscar Wilde's oldest friends. 

[This is the last episode in our series commemorating the life of Robert Ross, who was born 150 years ago, in 1869.]