October 22nd, 1912
FROM THE ARCHIVES:The Belfast-born playwright St John Ervine fired back this spirited riposte to the critics of his one-act play in the Abbey Theatre about a young woman abandoned after she became pregnant out of marriage. The Irish Times critic found it so offensive that he said he would not deign to describe it while attacking its “coarseness” and “wantonness”. –
SIR, HOT to my hand come the Press notices of my play, “The Magnanimous Lover,” and, to my astonishment, I find myself described as the author of a “morbid and disgusting drama,” full of “gross ribaldry” and “gratuitous filth”; “an Abbey shocker,” which is “an atrocity,” leaving “a nauseous taste”: “too foul for dramatic criticism”; “a play which will leave an indelible stain on my reputation.”
One gentleman incites Dublin play-goers to visit the Abbey at nine o’clock, when my play will be over and done with, and they will be able to enjoy Mr. Boyle’s jolly play, “Family Failing,” undisturbed by me. The same gentleman describes me as a charlatan (why, he and heaven alone know), and writes of me more in sorrow than in anger. Another, seemingly bereft of his wits by my play, is led into declaring that he is not a sanitary inspector. The poor fellow ought to have known that this declaration was a work of supererogation, for it is clear from his reference to my play that, so far from, being a sanitary inspector, he is merely an insanitary journalist.
Last of all comes the gentleman who quotes the remarks of two members of the audience. One, a married lady, no less, said but a solitary word, “Abominable.” I thank the restraints of marriage for that brevity. Had she been single! . . The other, a man (whether married or single is not stated), significantly remarked, “I am glad I did not bring a lady to see this show!” That, sir, is precisely what Harry Hinde in my play would have said.
I am isolated here from the currents of thought in Ireland, and my isolation enables me to write this of those who are left in my home: the struggle for political freedom has so absorbed the race that the Irish mind is still where the English mind was in 1800. The Dublin dramatic critics are the symbols of the decadence of Dublin: they are exhausted men, holding their fingers on their lips and whispering, “Oh, hush! Oh, hush!”
You have a hundred years to make up in Ireland; your chief need is to open your minds and to shut your mouths: to learn commonsense, and to cease to play the fool. Wait, just you wait, you Dublin people, till Ireland has Home Rule, and we men of Ulster will put blood in your veins, and show you how to live.
No wonder that my friends refuse to be governed by you; nor will they ever be governed by you! So soon as they can get quit of that typical Dublin man, Sir Edward Carson, they will take you in hand, and make men of you. – Yours, etc.,
St. John G. Ervine,
9 Arcade House, Temple Fortune, Hendon, London, N.W.