Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 36.djvu/265

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Marston
Marston
259

‘Patrician's Daughter’ (1841, 8vo), performed in December 1842. Being brought out by Macready, and accompanied with a prologue by Dickens, this drama, though not an entire success on the stage, obtained a notoriety not altogether gratifying to the author, who would have wished his name to be more intimately associated with his maturer productions. It represents a mission to which he for some time devoted himself—the elevation of ordinary nineteenth-century life to a pitch of feeling at which heroic blank verse seems the only adequate dramatic vehicle. The ‘Patrician's Daughter’ has much literary merit, but the unreasonable, not to say revolting, conduct of the hero must always prevent its being a favourite play. Marston had already produced a little volume entitled ‘Gerald, a Dramatic Poem, and other Poems’ (1842, 12mo), respectable, like everything he wrote, but betraying much less influence from the muse than from his friend the author of ‘Festus.’

Bulwer and Knowles had ceased to write, and for many years Marston was almost the only acted dramatist who wrought with any elevation of purpose. ‘The Heart and the World’ (1847) was a failure, but in 1849 Marston, laying his theories aside for a time, appeared with an historical drama, ‘Strathmore,’ which obtained great success, and which he himself regarded as his best work. It has fine literary qualities, although the author's inability to think himself into the age he exhibits constitutes a grave defect. The same may be said of ‘Philip of France’ and ‘Marie de Méranie’ (1850), ‘a stirring tragedy, of which the verse has an appropriate martial ring,’ and in which Helen Faucit produced a great impression. It is based to some extent on G. P. R. James's novel ‘Philip Augustus.’ In the interim (1852) had appeared ‘Anne Blake,’ another domestic drama, clever, but marred by such situations and dénouements as only occur on the stage. In ‘A Life's Ransom’ (1857) the domestic and historical elements are in some measure blended, the action being laid at the revolution of 1688. Such a piece might be easily produced by a man of Marston's literary ability, but his next tragi-comedy, ‘A Hard Struggle’ (1858), required genuine feeling in the author and great command over the resources of the stage. Being written in prose, it produces a greater impression of reality than his more ambitious efforts; it drew tears and enthusiastic praise from Dickens, and obtained a greater success than any of his pieces, owing in part to the powerful acting of Dillon.

After his marriage Marston lived entirely in London, except for occasional visits to France and short lecturing tours in Scotland and Lancashire. He had become well known in London literary society, especially to Dickens and his circle, and had taken a part in Bulwer's comedy of ‘Not so bad as we seem,’ acted for the benefit of the Guild of Literature and Art. About the same time a tragedy on the history of Montezuma, which would have afforded ample scope for scenic display, was written for and purchased by Charles Kean, but never produced. In 1837 Marston undertook the editorship of the ‘National Magazine’ in conjunction with John Saunders. The early numbers had excellent contributions from Sydney Dobell, Mrs. Crowe, and other writers of mark, and illustrations after young artists of genius like Arthur Hughes and W. L. Windus, and with adequate capital the enterprise would probably have succeeded. Relinquishing it, and also renouncing vain attempts in fiction, for which, strangely enough, he did not appear to possess the slightest qualification, Marston returned to the theatre, and produced successively ‘The Wife's Portrait’ (1862) and ‘Pure Gold’ (1863), prose dramas of little account; ‘Donna Diana’ (1863), the best of all his plays, but mainly taken from Moreto's masterpiece, ‘El Desden con el Desden;’ and ‘The Favourite of Fortune’ (1866), a play of sufficient merit to have kept the stage if it had not been expressly written for an actor of such marked individuality as Sothern. It achieved a conspicuous success upon its production. The same remark applies to ‘A Hero of Romance,’ adapted from Octave Feuillet in 1867, and ‘Life for Life’ (1869), written for Miss Neilson. ‘Broken Spells’ followed in 1873, but with his last play, ‘Under Fire’ (1885), he experienced a mortifying failure. The piece was the weakest he ever wrote, and he had entirely lost touch with the time.

From about 1863 Marston contributed much poetical criticism to the ‘Athenæum.’ The celebrated review of ‘Atalanta in Calydon’ was written by him. Criticism, indeed, seemed rather his forte than original composition. His theoretical knowledge of the histrionic art was also profound; but though he showed little disposition to cultivate it practically, he was an excellent mimic, and Miss Neilson, like many other actors and actresses, owed much to his tuition. No one judged an actor more accurately, and the admonitions of few were more valuable. He proved his power as a critic of acting in his ‘Our Recent Actors: Recollections of