Article on demoralization in recent performances

Event Information

Wallack's Theatre
Niblo's Garden
Booth's Theatre
French Theatre

Manager / Director:
Lester Wallack
Edwin Thomas Booth

Event Type:
Play With Music

Record Information


Last Updated:
20 March 2019

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

15 Mar 1869


Article: New-York Daily Tribune, 15 March 1869, 4.

“Public attention has been repeatedly called in this country, as well as in Europe, to the perverted taste of playgoers. The prudency of theatrical exhibitions, especially in the form of nearly nude female performers, has been most properly reprobated in the pages of The Tribune, as well as in the manifesto of the Lord Chamberlain, who is by law the licenser and censor of theatres in England; but there is a consideration which has been overlooked in the reprobation, and should be fairly weighed in apportioning the blame to the public. And this is the amount of amusement provided for the necessities or requirements of the day. Mr. Charles Kean, Mr. Booth, and Mr. Wallack, may be properly cited as an illustration of this rule, and its adaptation to the wants of playgoers. The first of these gentlemen, without in any way pandering to the bad taste and worse passions of mankind, produced the ‘Winter’s Tale’ at a minor theater of London, in a style and with a magnificence that left nothing to be desired. Purity and correctness of detail—every modern appliance of scientific and artistic excellence was freely lavished on the stage; and the result was an unprecedented measure of public favor. The two latter gentlemen, Mr. Booth especially, deserved commendation for conducting their establishments on the same principle, and certainly with the same success. It is true, as in the time of Hamlet, the player’s aim is ‘to hold, as it were, the ‘mirror [sic] up to nature.’ The age only alters the conditions. This present generation has a natural inclination for all that is sensation and attractive to the senses. We are not one whit the less susceptible of the emotions of the finer chords of nature in us. Even the most vulgar audience is just as much moved now as ever it was by the successful trial of virtue. The discomfiture of vice, however triumphant, and the sentiments of ennobling character which fall from the player’s lips, are readily applauded by the galleries of every theater in every country. But no one can read the novels of the day, or be conversant with literature, without being aware of the tendency of the public for startling effects. We are moved more by our senses. If, therefore, as we believe to be the case, one of the readiest means of moving the public mind is through the drama, those who truly understand its true objects should accommodate it to the prevailing fancy. The mind is easily habituated to the scenes it witnesses. The Spanish ladies look with pleasure on scenes in the bull-ring which excite only horror in the breasts of others, and smile with simple incredulity at the demoralizing tendency of such exhibitions when urged on them by strangers. So the true interest of the purveyors of public amusement is to elevate the public taste by exhibitions of true art, sustained by the best and newest specimens of music and painting, which should satisfy the severest as well as the simplest taste. Experience has shown that the most popular is the highest style of musical entertainment. Musard and Jullien made the most of their palpable hits in familiarizing Mozart and Mendelssohn to the shilling audiences which crowded their concerts. The public is always willing to pay well for a good thing. But the good thing must be dressed and served to suit the taste of the day, which is, as we have before said, sensational. And, if the plays of Shakespeare are put on the stage with all the adjuncts which characterize the other popular exhibitions which draw thousands to such spectacles as the Forty Thieves or Genevieve de Brabant, minus the indecency implied, as in the French Theater, or broadly suggested, as in the figures and postures of the fair dances at Niblo’s and elsewhere, the natural result is a popularity such as Mr. Booth and such artists as he most deservedly command. Mankind is never wholly bad. There are always strings which pull the mind aright, if the hand that moves them knows its cunning. It is because proprietors presuppose a severity of taste which does not exist, and are careless of effects, more often are parsimonious in the outlay necessary for the suitable production of the best efforts of dramatists, that what is called the Legitimate Drama has appeared to go down. With a more liberal and scientific rendering, it would again take its proper place in popular favor.”