19th Century


“Humbugs and fol-de-rols!”: Highlights from Nineteenth-Century American Drama

This final release of plays from Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes a devastating assault on Abraham Lincoln, an all-female cast in a courtroom drama meant to ridicule women, and a “Negro sketch in two scenes.”


The Royal Ape. By William Russell Smith (1863)

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William Russell Smith was a U.S. congressman from Alabama who served from 1851 to 1857. He subsequently served as a member of the first and second Confederate Congresses. Smith was not the first, nor the last, to describe Lincoln as a simian. He wrote this “dramatic poem” after the Union’s defeat in the Battle of Manassas as the South preferred to call what the North called the First Battle of Bull Run. It is dated January 1, 1863, in anticipation of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Smith’s cast of characters—with the exception of two former slaves, two White House maids, and extras including officers, soldiers, citizens, and senators—are all prominent politicians and generals of the time. In following the action of the play, knowledge of the actual events of the time provides some perspective.

Act I, Scene I, occurs in the White House on the eve of the battle which Smith refers to as Manassas. We discover Mrs. Lincoln and her son Robert who would have been age 20. He has just returned from the House of Representatives and describes with gusto a physical fight that had broken out there.

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“Humbugs and fol-de-rols!”: Highlights from Nineteenth-Century American Drama

“The Drama Is—Rubbish”: The Early Impact of ‘The Black Crook,’ the Shocking and Scandalous American Musical

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“The Black Crook”—the progenitor of spectacular theater in the United States—opened at Niblo’s Garden, a 3,000-seat New York City playhouse, on September 12, 1866. Whether this American musical can be called the country’s first, “The Black Crook” had an immense impact on the future of popular entertainment in the U.S.  Its initial production ran for nearly 500 performances and created a nationwide mania, stimulated by the clergy who railed against its abundant display of female pulchritude.

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In his preface to “The Naked Truth!”: An Inside History of The Black Crook (1897), digitized from the holdings of the New-York Historical Society and found in American Pamphlets, Joseph Whitton wrote:

It is curious that the history of the Black Crook—the pioneer of the American Spectacular Drama, and greater in tinseled gorgeousness and money-drawing power than any of its followers—should never have been told, or, rather, truthfully told.

Whitton by his own account had a “connection with the financial department of Niblo’s Garden, previous to the production and during the run of the Crook,” which “enables him to know the facts…”

“The Drama Is—Rubbish”: The Early Impact of ‘The Black Crook,’ the Shocking and Scandalous American Musical

‘Savage Sessions: The Lost History of Congressional Violence in Antebellum America’ – Announcing the 2019 Readex ALA Breakfast Event

Readex will host a special breakfast presentation titled “Savage Sessions: The Lost History of Congressional Violence in Antebellum America” at the 2019 American Library Association conference in Washington, D.C.  An open discussion will follow the talk by Joanne B. Freeman, Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University.

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About the Presentation

In 1856, on the eve of the Civil War, a South Carolina congressman named Preston Brooks viciously attacked Senator Charles Sumner, an outspoken Massachusetts abolitionist, as he sat at his desk in the U.S. Senate chamber. Sumner’s caning is unquestionably the most famous violent incident in Congress, but it was far from the only one.

After more than fifteen years of research and writing, historian Joanne Freeman—a leading authority on early American political culture—has uncovered roughly 70 incidents of physical violence in the House and Senate chambers in the decades leading up to the Civil War, most of them long forgotten. Fistfights, guns and knives, canings, duels, and all-out brawls were essentially censored out of the period’s equivalent of the Congressional Record. These incidents show how violence—both the threat of it and the actual fact of it—was a tool of debate on the part of Southerners who threatened Northerners into compliance or silence on the contentious issue of slavery.

About the Presenter

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‘Savage Sessions: The Lost History of Congressional Violence in Antebellum America’ – Announcing the 2019 Readex ALA Breakfast Event

‘A Melancholy Catalogue of Events’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

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The April release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, has added more than 350 additional documents to this unique digital collection. Among them are the two Civil War-era reports below from top officials of the New Mexico Territory: Henry Connelly and William Frederick Milton Arny. Both were appointed to their positions by President Lincoln.


Third Annual Message of Governor Connelly to Legislature, December 6, 1864

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Addressing “Gentlemen of the Council And House of Representatives,” Henry Connelly writes:

The mind of man is a mighty maze in which is engendered, not only the more amiable qualities of the heart, those which teach us charity towards our fellow-beings, and amiabilities of social life, but it is also the laboratory from which do sometimes issue the effects of passion, that lead to the unhappiness of the human race. Pride, envy, egotism, malevolence, and ambition, so unamiable in private life, frequently become criminal when carried into the discharge of public duties.

Connelly continues:

The exercise of these virtues is as essential in legislation as it is in the intercourse of social life. Courtesy in discussion, charity and consideration, with respect to the motives and intentions of your associates, and harmony in your councils, cannot fail to result in honor to yourselves and in benefit to the public.

‘A Melancholy Catalogue of Events’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

Secrets, Deception and Thwarted Love: Comediettas in Nineteenth-Century American Drama

Hundreds of plays in Nineteenth-Century American Drama are designated as comedies in their titles. Of these, there are scores of scripts subtitled as comedietta which oxforddictionaries.com defines as “a short comedy, typically light-hearted or farcical in tone or subject matter.” Some common themes are entwined in most comediettas. As seen in these examples, these themes include mistaken identity (accidental or deliberate), talking at cross purposes and other miscommunications, inheritances with conditions, and love triumphant.


Miss Madcap: A Comedietta in One Act

By Charles Townsend

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This comedy concerns a will with conditions that necessitate deception. When the curtain rises, Clara is sorting through her mail, opening a letter from her father. She reads it aloud.

“My dear daughter. Your aunt Charlotte is dead. She leaves her fortune to your cousin, Augustus Everson, and yourself—provided you two marry. If either of you refuse to marry, the property goes to the other. I have just seen Augustus. He looks like a dude, but he will hardly throw away a fortune by refusing to marry you, and, although he is a bitter pill—well, suit yourself. He is coming to see you. As ever, your loving father.”

Secrets, Deception and Thwarted Love: Comediettas in Nineteenth-Century American Drama

Illuminating Our Own Moment (Nineteenth-Century American Drama): A Conversation with Professor Amy E. Hughes

Amy E. Hughes is Associate Professor of Theater History and Criticism at Brooklyn College (CUNY). In this January 2019 interview, she discusses how the study of theater deepens our understanding of history and society; what happens in the classroom when students use these kinds of primary sources; and what the digitization of collections like Nineteenth-Century America Drama has meant to her.

 

 

Prof. Hughes’ first book, Spectacles of Reform: Theater and Activism in Nineteenth-Century America, received the 2013 Barnard Hewitt Award from the American Society for Theatre Research. Her latest book is A Player and a Gentleman: The Diary of Harry Watkins, Nineteenth-Century U.S. American Actor (2018), a critical and digital edition of the pre-Civil War diary of actor-playwright Harry Watkins, coedited with Naomi J. Stubbs.


For more information about Nineteenth-Century American Drama, please contact Readex Marketing.

Illuminating Our Own Moment (Nineteenth-Century American Drama): A Conversation with Professor Amy E. Hughes

“He saw the folly of it, and died”: Highlights from Nineteenth-Century American Drama

There are over 200 scripts whose authorship is credited to Anonymous in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900. An examination of these titles suggests several categories into which many of these can be sorted. Thirty of these are “Ethiopian” or other less cautious euphemisms. Others are meant for school exercises or home entertainment, while still others are the scripts of unique college or club, church, and charity productions. Some of the dramas seem to have been commissioned for specific celebrations, usually political or historical. There are also scripts that deal with sensitive or social issues that were controversial in their time. These are among the most interesting plays attributed to Anonymous.


The Lost Spade; or, The Grave Digger’s Revenge (1864)

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This political drama was published when the American Civil War still raged. The title page offers a further subtitle: “A great political, martial, serio-comic legendary, romantic and farcial [sic] drama.” It also notes that it was “Written by the Happy Democratic Family, expressly for the Peace Democracy.” The Peace Democracy refers to the Copperheads who were also called Peace Democrats. These Democrats were opposed to the war and favored appeasing the Confederacy. In 1864 prominent Copperheads were put on trial for treason.

Because this script focuses on this dissident bloc of northern Democrats, some of whom were prone to violence, the author may well have had sufficient reason to write anonymously. He provides staging directions and a cast list.

“He saw the folly of it, and died”: Highlights from Nineteenth-Century American Drama

‘The Corrupt and Imbecile Administration’: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

The March release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes speeches delivered in a Massachusetts church exalting the nation, in the Tennessee House of Representatives describing a conspiracy that divided the country, and in the U.S. Senate asking a fundamental question of the country’s citizenry.


De Profundis Clamavi: The Cause, the Crime, and the Cure of our National Suicide (1861)

By Daniel Steele

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On September 26, 1861, five months after the Civil War began, Pastor Daniel Steele (1824-1914) gave a sermon celebrating nationalism.

Nationality magnifies and exalts the insignificant individual, crowns him with dignity and honor, throws an arm of protecting power about him, and holds a broad shield over his defenseless head.

Steele then presents the first of several comparisons he uses to illustrate American superiority.

‘The Corrupt and Imbecile Administration’: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

‘The Language and Sentiments of Treason’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

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The February release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes a Civil War-era warning of an impending invasion from Texas, a petition to allow black suffrage under the Colorado constitution, and reports of murder and robbery on the Mexican border.


Address of Legislature to Citizens, on Invasion from Texas, January 29, 1862

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In 1862 Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley led a brigade of volunteer cavalry to invade the Territory of New Mexico. By advancing north along the Rio Grande from Fort Bliss, he hoped to eventually seize the gold and silver mines in Colorado. In the days leading up to the attack, the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico issued an address to the citizenry, warning them of the coming incursion and alerting them to the dangers they faced.

‘The Language and Sentiments of Treason’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

‘Void of Sincerity’: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

The February release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes three congressional speeches from 1862 in support of legislation that would allow the confiscation of rebel property and the emancipation of their slaves.


The Constitutionality and Expediency of Confiscation Vindicated

Speech of Hon. Lyman Trumbull of Illinois

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Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896) served as the Illinois Secretary of State, sat on the bench of the Illinois Supreme Court, was elected to the U.S. Senate, and co-wrote the Thirteenth Amendment.

On April 7, 1862, Trumbull offered two minor amendments to a “bill to confiscate the property and free the slaves of rebels” before directing his attention to the opposition’s attacks on the bill.

‘Void of Sincerity’: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

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