Some works deserve to be forgotten, and Grace Luce Irwin’s Drawing Room Plays (1903) is one of these.
Grace Adelaide Luce (1877-1914) grew up in San Diego, and after two years at Stanford University she moved to San Francisco. There she met and married Wallace Irwin, author of Paul Elder’s perhaps best-selling book, Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum. They soon moved to New York City, where Wallace enjoyed success for some years. Grace also became a writer, mostly for magazines, but she also authored several books.
Why should you forget this book? At the turn of the 20th century it was acceptable in the American media to use overt racism in humor, especially towards the Chinese and Japanese. This is a common theme in Wallace Irwin’s work, and sadly, so it was in Grace Irwin’s writing as well. I will spare you the details.
Grace Irwin died on Long Island, New York in 1914 at the young age of 37. She is buried in San Diego.
The artwork is by an unidentified artist, initials “A. W.” It does not appear to be Audley B. Wells, whose signatures for other Elder works looks very different. I have been unable to conclusively decipher the curious vignette at the center of the title page, but the circular device may be a combination of the letters D R P G L I (Drawing Room Plays Grace Luce Irwin). I don’t know what the red background squiggle means.
The introduction to Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson begins:
“The Stanford English Club issues this little book in connection with, and in commemoration of, the presentation of Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour at Stanford University in March, 1905.
“This is one of a series of presentations of old English plays in the Elizabethan manner, the first of which was the revival of Beaumont and Fletcher’s Knight of the Burning Pestle, in March, 1903. The enthusiastic reception accorded this effort encouraged the English Club to preserve the Elizabethan stage built for the play, so that it might be permanently available for such presentations, and to invite Mr. Ben Greet and his company of English players to come to Stanford in the fall semesters of both 1903 and 1904. the Greet company produced, beside the old Morality play of Everyman, two Shaksperean [sic] comedies, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing, and last of all, Hamlet–the second time in America that Shakspere’s greatest work has been produced in full and in the Elizabethan manner.”
The stage that the Stanford English Club built (see frontispiece at right) was modeled in part on the Swan Theatre as represented in a 1596 drawing reproduced in 1903’s Knight of the Burning Pestle. The stage extended directly to the “pit” where the “groundlings” (who had only paid for standing room) were gathered. The stage included a rear portion between two pillars, screened if necessary from downstage by a curtain called a “traverse,” and a upper balcony on the second floor.
After the introduction, the book contains several essays on Jonson and the Elizabethan era:
Ben Jonson wrote Every Man in His Humour in 1598 as a “humours comedy,” in which each major character is dominated by an overriding humour or obsession. The play was probably performed for the first time by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1598 at the Curtain Theatre. Based on the playlist published in the 1616 folio of Jonson’s works, the part of Kno’well, the aged father, was almost certainly performed by William Shakespeare himself, who evidently enjoyed playing older characters.
In March 1903, the English Club of Stanford University performed a production of “The Knight of the Burning Pestle,” an early 17th-century pastiche play by the English poet and dramatist Francis Beaumont. The English Club performed the work at both Stanford and UC Berkeley, and went so far as to write a short book about it. That book, The True Historie of the Knyght of the Burning Pestle, appears to have been published just as Paul Elder bought out Morgan Shepard and reorganized the firm: while the title page reads “Elder & Shepard,” the copyright notice on the verso reads “The Tomoye Press,” which did not exist until after the creation of Paul Elder & Company.
In 1903, it was thought that “Knight of the Burning Pestle” was jointly written by Beaumont and John Fletcher, but modern scholarship now credits only the former. Francis Beaumont (1584-1616), a contemporary of Shakespeare, is remembered today as a dramatist, but during his lifetime was known as a poet. “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” is a satire on chivalry, along the lines of Don Quixote, and is considered the first complete parody play in the English language.
The title page credits the author as “The English Club of Stanford University,” but the book was almost certainly written by Raymond Macdonald Alden (1873-1924), then assistant professor of English literature at Stanford. Two months later, Alden would write Consolatio, also published by Elder.
The book begins with a short introduction called “On Seeing An Elizabethan Play,” followed by three short essays by “R. M. A.” (Alden): “The Theatre”, “The Knight of the Burning Pestle”, and “The Songs and Music.”
Following the music essay, the book includes a number of facsimiles: music to several songs, the interior of the Swan Theatre, and the title page of Thomas Dekker’s Guls Horne-Booke. Lastly, the authors include the text of Chapter VI of the Hornbook, “How a Gallant Should Behave Himself In a Play-house.”
Bibliographically speaking, Elder has made it difficult to ascertain what the title of this book really is. Normally, the title is what’s printed on the title page, which is in this case is The True Historie of the Knyght of the Burning Pestle. The cover, however, reads “On Seeing An Elizabethan Play, with some particular discourse of The Knight of the Burning Pestle.” And in the colophon on page 59, the authors call the book “The Knight of the Burning Pestle.” I have chosen the text of the title page.