THE INDEPENDENT THEATRE.TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES.
Sir, Since the beginning of the present month my name has been frequently brought before the public in connexion with the Independent Theatre; and since the performance of Ghosts at the Royalty many newspapers have stated that certain articles written by me have furnished Mr. J. T. Grein with the idea for the foundation of a society having for object the performance of plays by Ibsen and Tolstoi. Had such statements not been made I should be hardly justified in addressing you on the subject of the Independent Theatre, and this is why I refer to them and not because I would seek recognition for my contribution to Mr. Greins project; all the credit that attaches to it must go to him, who by his individual will and stubborn energy has transformed a vague dream into a distinct and definite reality. Nor am I inclined to ask you to allow me to defend the aims and ambitions of the new society. In many published letters and in an excellent speech given at the close of the performance last Friday, Mr. Grein has done this. True it is that his explanation has been misinterpreted and traduced exactly as all such explanation has been misinterpreted and traduced since the artist first attempted to take the crowd into his confidence; and, convinced that my words would meet with the same fate as his have met with, I shall not plead the artistic necessity of an independent theatre in London, nor shall I apply myself to the task of the defence of the art or the morals of Ibsen or Tolstoi. I will rather ask you to allow me to draw attention to a matter of far deeper and wider interest to the fact that the very first right of the individual, the right of no, not of public, but of private discussion has been seriously jeopardized by the attitude that some of the most influential critics of the daily Press have assumed towards the Independent Theatre. I hasten to say that I do not speak now of the virulence of their attacks on the play of Ghosts. Had their articles been ten times as long and a hundred times as bitter I should have been glad to wait in silence, certain of seeing Ghosts and Rosmersholm vindicate the genius of Ibsen as triumphantly as Lokengrin and Tristan have vindicated the genius of Wagner. But, doubtful of the strength of their arguments, these critics have not hesitated to invoke the aid of the law; in some cases the appeal to force has been allusive and indirect, in other cases an open and crude demand has been made that the Lord Chamberlain shall intervene and that our society shall be crushed.
Now, Ghosts is a play that many people, rightly or wrongly, hold to be a great moral lesson, equal in power for good to the greatest sermon ever preached from a pulpit; and none will say that its language is plainer than that employed in Exeter-hall, whither young men are summoned on Sunday afternoon to listen to discourses on the dangers of fast living. Is it not, therefore, strongly unjust and in direct contradiction to the instincts of Englishmen that an appeal should be made to force in order to prevent people from educating themselves morally and mentally as they think proper? Is it not disgraceful that public morality should be pleaded for such a purpose?
On another occasion we propose to produce Tolstois Dominion of Darkness. Again, this is a play which would not be sanctioned for public performance; but, rightly or wrongly, we believe this play to be a work of sublime genius which is at the same time penetrated with a profound moral purpose, and unless a heavy blow be struck at the liberty of the subject we do not see how we can be prevented from subscribing towards and witnessing a private performance of this play. An interdiction would seem to us to be a step in the direction of an inquisition. For, in our case, public morality cannot be pleaded and it may be well to remark here that public morality should never be used as a weapon whereby any one may strike down all that is artistically antipathetic to him. It may be also well to remind our opponents that this is Protestant England, where every one is allowed to keep his own conscience, and where every one should be careful lest he should unwillingly slip into dogma. And for conclusion, I have only to reaffirm our position. We are a small, inoffensive society, interested in social, religious, philosophical, and artistic problems. We may be fools, but that is not a reason why we should be persecuted. If our opponents in the Press do not like our plays let them stay away; we admit that we do not like the plays they praise, and, rightly or wrongly, we think the farcical comedies and burlesques which find favour in their eyes far more indecent than the plays we admire. Again I say that we ask only for leave to think and speak within our own circle as we think proper; and it really is difficult to see how so modest a demand can be refused in Protestant England.
8. Kings Bench-walk, Temple.