Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE LAMBS CLUB AT NO. 70 WEST 36TH STREET

The Lambs, while aiming to be, first of all, the club of the theatrical profession, has, nevertheless, a strong literary element. Its membership includes almost all of the leading American playwrights, and such writers as Booth Tarkington, Edward W. Townsend, Lloyd Osbourne, and others.

by women in American literary endeavour of recent years, it was only through

the Honorary Roll that a woman could ever claim the privileges of the Authors' Club. According to the constitution, but one American Honorary Member may be elected each year, and in 1887 the name selected was that of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Since the organisation of the club in 1882 there have been chosen but seventeen Honorary Members. Among these, three eminent foreigners who have since died were Robert Louis Stevenson, Matthew Arnold and Alphonse Daudet. At present there are but seven names upon the Honorary Roll-those of James Bryce, D. G. Mitchell, John Morley, Edmund Clarence Stedman, Goldwin Smith, Jean Jules Jusserand, the French Ambassador, and Maarten Maartens. When, in the spring of 1895, the name J. M. M. van der Poortch Schwartz-this being the real name of the distinguished Dutch novelist was brought up for election, there were some gasps of amazement. The late "Bill" Nye brought in a suggestion that the membership committee act on the first half of the name at once, but hold over the last half until the autumn, when the weather would be cool.

[graphic]

VI.

THE PLAYERS.

In the Century, the literary atmosphere and membership has been an inevitable development in a club begun as an artists' club. That of the Players has been a like natural growth in an organisation founded originally in the interest and honour of the dramatic profession. As Mr. Story's lines go:

"All arts are one-all branches on one treeAll fingers, as it were, upon one hand."

In fact, there are times in the day of the Players where the profession of the founder is almost entirely obscured by other professions and interests. There is a story to the effect that a number of New York clubmen, sitting about a table one afternoon, began to discuss at what club they should dine. They finally decided on the Players, because, as one of them expressed it, they would not be likely to meet any of those "dashed actors there." But this tale, like the similar one at the expense of the Authors, it must be said,

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][merged small][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small][graphic][merged small]
[graphic][merged small]

was conceived and repeated in a spirit of gross exaggeration.

The constitution of the club limits its membership to those who are connected with the dramatic profession or with the professions of literature, painting, architecture, sculpture, or music, or to patrons of the arts. The last clause is an elastic one. By virtue of it the governors may pass favourably on the nomination of any one, whatever his calling may be, whom they deem to have the making of a desirable Player. The result of this has been that twenty-five or thirty per cent. of the club membership at the present time is made up outside of the allied professions-lawyers, physicians, business men and several clergymen, for since the time when the Rev. Dr. Houghton of the "Little Church Around the Corner" became chaplain in ordinary to the profession, the cloth has been exceedingly popular in the little brown club-house of Gramercy Park. Against but one profession is there any settled discrimination. An unwritten law holds as ineligible the dramatic critic, for there is a feeling that his presence would necessarily be incompatible with perfect harmony. This law was tested in a peculiar way a few years ago. Before that occasion it had been simply a question of keeping the dramatic critic out of the club, a very simple matter, for the unwritten law was generally understood, and nobody could well be guilty of the faux pas of nominating or seconding a man of that profession for membership. But the case in question had to do with a well-known magazine writer, who had been a member for some years before he turned his hand to dramatic criticism. He was a good Player and a good all-around man, generally liked and esteemed. Yet there could be no exception made. He knew that the thing to do was to offer his resignation. He did so, and it was very promptly accepted.

Occasionally the Century is spoken of as bearing in a general way a resemblance to the London Athenæum. Much more felicitously the Players may be likened to the Garrick-that Garrick which Thackeray loved so well. Many an Englishman visiting New York and spending an evening in the hospitable depths of the club

house facing Gramercy Park has commented on the similarity of atmosphere and environment. Many an American Player visiting the older London club for the first time has received the same impression. But the history of the Players has happily been free from a scandal which grew out of the squabble between Thackeray and Edmund Yates; and without churlishness, it may be added that the hospitality of the Players has never been limited to certain hours of the day and to certain parts of the club-house.

Unlike the other New York clubs with which these papers have to do, the Players, since its foundation, has had but one home-the house bequeathed to it by Edwin Booth. Athough for years Mr. Booth had had the club in mind, it was not definitely planned until the summer of 1887, when Mr. Booth, in company with Lawrence Barrett, Laurence Hutton, William Bispham, and Thomas Bailey Aldrich was a guest of Mr. E. C. Benedict on the latter's steam yacht Oneida. The name "The Players" was the suggestion of Mr. Aldrich. The club took definite form the following year. In January, 1888, at a breakfast given by Augustin Daly, Messrs. Lawrence Barrett, William Bispham, Edwin Booth, S. L. Clemens, Augustin Daly, Joseph F. Daly, John Drew, Henry Edwards, Laurence Hutton, Joseph Jefferson, John A. Lane, James Lewis, Brander Matthews, S. H. Olin, A. M. Palmer and William Tecumseh Sherman resolved to incorporate themselves into a club, the name of which should be the Players. Before another year had gone around the Players, of which the membership had reached one hundred, was in full possession of its own home, Mr. Booth making over the clubhouse by deed of gift at the moment the ringing of bells and the tooting of horns began sounding the arrival of the year 1889. 1889. Mr. Booth's generosity has been one of the greatest factors in the subsequent success of the club. With its handsome club-house, thoroughly equipped and filled with artistic treasures, it began at a point at which few clubs arrive until after years of endeavour and struggle, a point at which most clubs never arrive at all. It entered the struggle full armed and free from the irritations and exac

tions which beset an organisation straining every nerve to provide for itself to fight debts and deficiencies and to sustain an adequate home.

One of the most valuable of the Players' many valuable possessions is its collection of pictures. "There is a book in that collection-the pictures of the Players," said Mr. Brander Matthews to the writer a little while ago, and this is so true that any attempt to do more than mention three or four here would lead to hopeless entanglement. Sentiment naturally gives first place to the full-length portrait of Mr. Booth, by Sargent, framed over the fireplace in the reading room. This picture, which represents the founder standing before the yule log of the hall, was the gift of Mr. E. C. Benedict, and of it Thomas Bailey Aldrich

wrote:

That face which no man ever saw

And from his memory banished quite,
With eyes in which are Hamlet's awe
And Cardinal Richelieu's subtle light,
Looks from this frame. A master's hand
Has set the master player here,
In the fair temple that he planned
Not for himself. To us most dear
This image of him! "It was thus
He looked; such pallor touched his cheek;
With that same grace he greeted us-
Nay, 'tis the man, could it but speak!”
Sad words that shall be said some day-
Far fall the day! O cruel Time,
Whose breath sweeps mortal things away,
Spare long this image of his prime,
That others standing in the place
Where, save as ghosts, we come no more,
May know what sweet majestic face
The gentle Prince of Players wore!

Four paintings of great interest in the hall are John Collier's Edwin Booth in the character of Richelieu, Sir Thomas Lawrence's John Philip Kemble as Hamlet, and two by Sargent, one of Lawrence Barrett and one of Joseph Jefferson in the character of Dr. Pangloss. Here, also, are portraits of W. J. Florence, of Mrs. Gilbert, and of Fanny Davenport. But the portraits of the Players are not confined to the main floor. From top to bottom they adorn the walls of the rooms and one side of the broad winding stair

The writer wishes to correct an error which appeared on page 396 in the June issue. The dinner at which Captain Coghlan recited the famous "Me unt Gott" poem was given not, as stated, by the Lotos Club but by the Union League Club.

case. The front of the main floor, facing on Gramercy Park, is given over to the long reading-room and the writing-room. Back of the reading-room is the main hall, and beyond is the grill-room, the windows of which command a view through the garder. to Nineteenth Street. Between the hall and the grill-room there are on each side of the passageway safes filled with curious relics. Here is a spring dagger, formerly the property of Edwin Forrest, the crooked staff which Charlotte Cushman used when playing Meg Merrilies, a ring that once belonged to David Garrick, and the blonde wig which Fechter wore as Hamlet.

A club has been defined as an institution supported by thousand men for the benefit of a hundred. If this definition applies to the Players, it must be said that the benefiting hundred is very representative. If you will go into the grillroom-perhaps the most beautiful and original room in the house, with its oaken beams overhead and its blue tiled fireplaces at either end-at the hour of luncheon, you will see men who are eminent in every profession. To begin with the church, Dr. Rainsford makes his way here not infrequently, and Bishop Potter comes from time to time. Almost every day the arbiters of the Century Magazine, Mr. Richard Watson Gilder, Mr. Robert Underwood Johnson and Mr. Buell, will be found seated round one of the corner tables. Among other magazine men who frequent the Players at this time of day are Mr. Caspar Whitney of Outing, Mr. Cosgrave of Everybody's, when he is not in Boston urging on Mr. Lawson to fresh instalments of "Frenzied Finance;" Mr. Albert Bigelow Paine of St. Nicholas, Mr. Boyden and Mr. Burnett of McClure's, Mr. Dwyer of the Delineator, and David Monroe of the North American Review. About the round table in the bay window will usually be found a gathering of painters and sculptors, men like St. Gaudens and Reid and Smedley. Among those who work on canvas will bitterly resent the word "artist,” holding that the term has become ignoble through its abuse, and styling themselves simply "paintermen." More likely than not you will catch a glimpse of Oliver Herford buttonholing a friend in order

« PreviousContinue »