Elizabethan and Jacobean Studies

By Frank Percy Wilson | Go to book overview

Memories of Harley Granville-Barker and Two of His Friends

J. DOVER WILSON

My dear F. P. Did you ever meet Granville-Barker?

I KNEW him first as the actor, and I can see him now as Eugene Marchbanks in Candida, slinking miserably along the back of the stage while the Rev. Mavor Morell preached at him; then as the dentist in You Never Can Tell, leaning triumphantly over the gassed Crampton; later still as Jack Tanner, made up as the young Shaw with a little red beard, bouncing on to the stage with the Revolutionist's Handbook under his arm; and lastly as the mad priest in John Bull Other Island. How he enchanted us! And what a lovely voice he had, given perfect scope in the incantations by the last-named: To my mind that was the finest voice I ever heard on or off the stage, and its owner one of the greatest actors. The performances I speak of took place in 1905, when I was a young schoolmaster in Croydon, shamefully neglecting to correct the Latin exercises of two forms in order to play truant during the Vedrenne-Barker season at the Court Theatre, Sloane Square. You were sixteen then, I reckon, and I think a schoolboy in Birmingham, so that you probably missed my luck. All young London at any rate went mad over Shaw at that time. People who write about Harley today, now that he can't reply, tell us that he owed everything to Shaw. We who can go back to 1905 say to ourselves that Shaw owed everything to him or at any rate that the debt was reciprocal. We had read Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant and Three Plays for Puritans as undergraduates, volumes in which the plays were fitted out with elaborate stage-directions for the reader because the author couldn't get anybody to risk producing them on the popular stage; and we all said: 'Very brilliant, but of course quite unactable since the characters are points of view, not human beings at all.' It was Harley in Sloane Square who taught us how wrong we were, and Shaw knew it, and felt all the more bitter when the split came.

In January 1906 I went off to Finland as the first English Lector in the University of Helsingfors, and when soon after I got there my professor asked me to put on a course of public lectures about some

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