Life a Babel to Hall Caine

The New York Times Saturday Review

April 15, 1899, p. 243

To The New York Times’s Saturday Review:

I quite agree with your correspondent of several weeks since in her estimate of the artistic worth of Mr. Hall Caine’s “The Christian”—particularly as revealed in its dramatization at one of the New York theatres. Art’s highest mission, as I conceive it, is to faithfully reproduce life, and he is the greatest artist who, conformably to those other elements which enter into the production of a masterpiece, most thoroughly eliminates the personal equation and presents the particular under universal aspects; or, as an eminent contemporary critic has it, he who gives the widest possible generalizations to his personal experiences. Judged by this standard, “The Christian” must certainly be classed as an egregious failure. Mr. Caine does not view the world as it is; he does not see civilization as a unit. To him life is a babel of confusing voices, where there are no laws, no coherency, no logical sequences. London is the world, and the world is going to Mantalini’s “demnition bow-wows.”

He is everywhere absolute in his judgments. Everything in life, he holds, is broadly labeled. A thing is either good or bad, and when it is good, it is very, very good, and when it is bad, it could not be worse. The self-seeking materialism and sensualism of the age are to be horse-whipped into spiritual subjection by a wild-eyed fanaticism—John Storm, high priest; Glory Quayle, high priestess.

His type of people is exceptional—Horatio Drake excepted. Nothing proceeds logically and according to well-ascertained mental laws. His central character—Glory Quayle—is a psychological impossibility. She inhales an atmosphere that could hardly be worse; she willingly chooses to be the associate of card sharpers, “faro” kings, seducers of women, and “actresses” whose ways are dark and whose rouge is vain. How long can a woman remain pure in an atmosphere contaminated by the constant present of Lord Robert Ure, Betty Bellman, and the “Faro King”? And, forsooth, according to Mr. Caine, Glory remains not only spotlessly immaculate, but he implies that she does not know the simplest facts of life. She accepts the patronage and presents of Horatio Drake and never dreams—— She deserts this life of a sudden to seek refuge with a man who is a mediaeval fanatic, thinly veneered with modern socialistic sophisms; a man who would not only “save” the world by a forcible imposition of his ideas on a backward generation, but who would gain the object of his love à la Sutton Vane and Frank Harvey. Hysteria! hysteria! and nothing else. When the world shall need regeneration it will find it in Faith plus Will, not in Mr. Caine’s ill-smelling nostrum of Fanaticism plus Hysteria.

Lord Robert Ure’s original has probably never been seen outside the classic Adelphi. He is an unspeakably vulgar creation, and bears as great a likeness to genuine flesh-and-blood villainy as the art of Caine bears to that of Shakespeare, the former’s massive sinciput to the contrary notwithstanding. Villainy in this life does not go around placarded as such—and Ure’s villainy is written in circus-poster type from the top of his head to the bottom of his boots.

The one true-to-life character in the play is Horatio Drake. He leaves us mystified; we do not quite fathom his motives; he is elusive. And is it not so in this life? Do we show our hearts to each other in their nakedness? Can we always fathom our own motives for action, much less those of our fellow-beings? And is there not an elusiveness about those who surround us, no matter how closely we are associated with them? They are mysteries to us ever, and no man may be judged with infallible certainty. Mr. Caine dimly perceived this in creating Drake. He is Mr. Caine’s one artistic conception, so far as “The Christian” is concerned, if the minor Mrs. Callendar be excepted. In Drake the mirror is held up to nature.

“The Christian,” as a whole, is a good melodrama, but with a melodrama’s limitations. I believe the next generation of critics will suspend Mr. Caine, like Mohammed’s coffin, in that thin ethereal region midway between the heaven of romanticism and the terra firma of realism—the cynosure of curious eyes.


Philadelphia, March 31, 1899.