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Ella, James, and Jamie O'Neill
"My Name Is Might-Have-Been"

Prologue     I. Ella     II. James     III. Jamie     Appendix


BY Edward L. Shaughnessy
FROM The Eugene O’Neill Review, Suffolk University, 1991


Texts Without Comment

(The poems and essays of James O'Neill, Jr., here reprinted, appeared originally in The Fordham Monthly (November, 1896 - November, 1899). In each instance specific dates of issues and page numbers are supplied. Not every work available has been reprinted.)

Adam's Awakening

To H. C.

'Twas not the gladsome welcome of the wind
Stirring the leaves that never yet were sere;
Nor the mellifluous streams which flowed so near
Their lulling murmurs all in one combined;
Nor note of bird unnamed; nor startled hind
Bursting the brake in wonder, not in fear,
Of her new lord, that woke the untried ear
Of that sole man, who was all human kind.
But 'twas the voice of God walking alone
At eventide in Paradise that filled
The listening air with untold melody.
And when the music-burdened winds had blown
The sound to Adam locked in sleep, it thrilled
Him through, and he awoke in ecstasy.

November 1896 (29)

*          *          *

The Fall of Jupiter.

He feels from Juda's land
The dreaded Infant's hand,
The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;
Nor all the gods beside,
Longer dare abide,
Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe to show his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.


Far to the west,
Amid the waste of Lybian sands, the rest,
I trow, of angel on some earthly quest,
Nestles an isle of green, like speck of blue
When clouds hide all the canopy from view.
Man's hand has checked the wildness of the scene,
For here and there gleams 'mid the trees the sheen
Of polished marble, and the sighing winds,
Deep-laden with the perfume of the vines,
Tell where afar the kine are wandering.
The land of Ammon this, where Jove, the king,
Throned in his temple, guidance gives to men.

High o'er the domes the stars were twinkling, when
A soldier-pilgrim passed unto the king
And prayed, with promise of rich offering,
Entreating the fulfilment of his prayer.
Lo! suddenly upon the midnight air
A cry arose that ne'er was heard in hell.
Upstarts the pilgrim, out from every cell
Leap priest and priestess-then deep silence fell.
When 'neath the power of some mighty hand,
The gods turn eastward bowing to the sand.
Speechless with dread, his eyes glazed as in death,
The suppliant stood, then quickened by the breath
Of some great spirit, spake these words of love:
"O Thou, who all unknown by mighty Jove
Art held in adoration, hear my prayer.

This night I take Thee for my God. But where
Art Thou and who? Methought that Jove was king,
That he it was who bade the seasons bring
Their wealth of beauty, bade the flowers to bloom,
And winds to waft away their sweet perfume;
Who gave unto the sun his golden brightness;
Who robed the moon in garb of purest whiteness;
And all the while 'twas Thou, not Jove. Ah! deign
To let a subject know his sovereign.
But tho' I should not ever know Thee nearer,
Yet Thou shalt be my God, Thy service dearer
Than years of life; and if, at life's decline,
Thee I have vainly sought, I shall not pine,
For Thou art Lord of all, in death I'm Thine."

Thus prayed the man, and rising up straightway
Forsook the humbled gods of yesterday.
And soon was speeding o'er the waste of sand
To Alexander's city, where on the strand
Fades and gleams and fades again the light
Of Pharos.

December 1896 (54)

*          *          *

On Chivalry

When I read of the jousts of chivalry,
The heart of me thrills to its core.
'Tis like seeing the shock of cavalry,
When I read of the jousts of chivalry.
Oh! for the love-born rivalry
That spurred on the brave knights of yore

When I read of the jousts of chivalry,
The heart of me thrills to its core.

January 1897 (71)

*          *          *

Whence, Pretty Dove?

From Anacreon.

Whence, pretty dove, have thy humid wings brought thee?
Whence come the odors that perfume the air,
Filling with fragrance the winds that have caught thee?
Who art thou, pretty one? What is thy care?

I am Anacreon's dove, and I carry
A message of love to Bathulla, his thrall;
Charming she is; at her beck many tarry

She loves my master the best of them all.

Venus once heard my Anacreon singing,
Filled with delight she gave him a bird;
He in return to Olympus sent ringing,
As ardent a love song as ever you heard.

I am the bird and I bear, as you see me,
Letters and songs to my kind master's loves.
Shortly he says he is going to free me,
Tho' as his slave, I'm the fondest of doves.

Why should I fly over valleys and mountains,
Sleep thro' the night time, perched in the trees,
Eat the wild roots and drink of the fountains,
When I may stay and live at my ease?

Foolish I'd be if I left him, I'm thinking,
When from his hand I can peck the sweet bread,
Sip from the goblet from which he is drinking,
Sip till the fumes ascend to my head;

Then round him fly with my wings his brow cooling,
While to the harp he a love ditty sings,
Till with his song my senses o'erruling
Sleep with its soothing charms rest to me brings.

That is my story. Away, man! My gracious,
Even a crow would be less loquacious!

June 1897 (164)

*          *          *

The Hero of the Iliad

In every language the grandest form of poetry is the epic. Homer gave it birth; Virgil nursed it; Dante educated it, and in the hands of Milton it burst into glorious maturity. An epic poem must be written in lofty metre and concern a lofty subject, it must tell a storyan interesting story, and it must have a hero.

The first and probably the greatest epic poem is Homer's Iliad. The "Prince of Poets" looked into the darkness of the blind and beheld Troy—he saw its wondrous siege and learned the charming cause of it—he gazed on those marvelous men and women wondrous fair—he watched their deeds—then he put the whole into the most beautiful language the world has known, and men have wondered ever since.

The story of the wrath of Achilles, Peleus' son, may be very briefly told: Homer supposes everyone to have a perfect knowledge of the contest for the "Prize of Beauty," in which Venus, Minerva, and Juno clearly show that they are only women after all with exaggerated womanly attributes. He takes it for granted also that all know how Venus won the Golden Apple, and what was Paris' reward,—in what an ungodly way it was given him, and the consequent war. He dashes at once into the full action of the story—into the tenth year of the war, and presents to our view the Greek army seated before Troy and disturbed by the first symptoms of the wrath of Achilles. Then comes Achilles (sic) fit of sulking in his tent which results in the victories of the Trojans; then the death of Patroclus and Achilles' revenge. This great combat of Achilles and Hector is the most thrilling event in this most thrilling poem; these two heros (sic) whose deeds are so constantly rehearsed in the story that one often wonders what would be the result of their mutual conflict, are at last brought together and the fittest survives—the Greek hero eclipses Hector in battle as he does also in character and in every mental and physical accomplishment.

This last assertion is one open to much discussion, and in it I finally light upon my real subject: Was Achilles really a greater, nobler character than Hector—or the reverse? I claim he is the most perfect specimen—even of goddess-born men that we find in the Iliad.

The character of Achilles has for its most marked characteristics: intensity, grandeur and scope. It is heroic entirely, and yet each part is so nicely graduated that it is in perfect keeping throughout. In this Achilles excels all other heroes of poetry and romance. In all others a stain can be pointed out—a link can be found missing in the chain of perfection—Achilles alone forms a perfect whole. But some one will object that he had no self-control; that he was childish when opposed to his friends and showed brutal ferocity toward his enemies. It is true he displayed but little self-control, but even the least control over such volcanic forces as his, is marvelous. His whole history in the Iliad is a constantly recurring effort at rule over a constantly recurring rebellion. The poem starts with his inward conflict at the first assembly and ends with a repetition of it in the closing scene with Priam. His self-command is always in danger, but never entirely lost. This is wonderful when we consider with what ease he vanquished his enemies and what a strain was put upon his strength to suppress his own passions. It is true also that he acted like a child, if a proper indignation at the arrogance of Agamemnon was childish, or if it is childish to weep. And this I consider one of the noblest parts of the Iliad, to see this man, to whom other men were as pygmies, withdrawing from his friends and with outstretched hands and tears in his eyes calling upon his mother. When he weeps in sympathy with Priam, we weep in sympathy with him, and the tears do not come to our eyes out of grief for a sniveling child, but in tribute to a magnificent man. It is true that ferocity is an element in his character, but not its base, as has been often supposed. Indulged against the Greeks, it is the reaction of a very fine nature against a foul injustice heightened with a number of surrounding aggravations. Indulged against Hector it is the counterpart of his profound, inconsolable affection for Patroclus. Summed up in Achilles (sic) character is every quality that makes man the "Paragon of Animals." He had beauty of form and feature, great bodily strength and remarkable swiftness of foot. His persuasive eloquence made him first in the councils of the Greeks, as his remarkable skill and endurance made him without compare in battle. In his gigantic proportions he towered aloft and cast a shadow of obscurity over the other heroes. Hector alone dared raise his glancing helm within striking distance, only to fall back dead.

This audacious Hector was a Trojan commonplace among Trojans because he was a son of King Priam. He was a most noble youth—the mainstay of his country. Tall, elegantly formed, using all warlike weapons with facility and skill, he was easily the greatest warrior opposed to the Greeks. Troy depended on him and in many a battle where his personal valor helped drive the enemy nearer to their ships, he proved worthy of her trust. Neither the entreating eyes nor the persuasive tongue of his ideal wife Andromache, nor the tiny soft arms of his babe twined round his neck could keep him from the fray; and once in it, neither the warrior Diomedi, nor the giant Ajax, nor crafty Ulysses nor Agamemnon, king of men, could force him to desist. Hector is human through and through and we are compelled to admire him more for his honest love for his wife and child, for his pitying condonation of Helen, for his half contemptuous kindness to his weak brother Paris, and for his hearty and unselfish devotion to his country, than for all his warlike deeds and victories.

We understand and sympathize with Hector as a brother; Achilles is beyond our comprehension, and we bow before him in admiration. Achilles is the very model of a hero—Hector a model man. One out of pure choice accepts a brief career of victory, a warrior's death and undying glory in preference to wealth and peace, and a long life of inglorious ease; the other fights because in a way he has to; his country, his family, his life are at stake. It does not require a hero to do this; the dullest plodder who has a spark of manhood in his breast will fight under such conditions. "Lion-Hearted" Achilles is called because he never knew fear; Hector trembled before Ajax, and fled with all speed when Achilles found him near the Skian gates. Achilles is far less human than Hector, who has many palpable mortal weaknesses. He is as little susceptible to Hector's alternations of confidence and panic as to his tender anxieties about his wife and child. A boastful tongue is an attribute of these two Homeric heroes, only the Greek makes good his vows while the Trojan very often fails to do so. Achilles is the flower of chivalry; in many ways he is the prototype of Sir Launcelot. "The goodliest person that ever came among press of knights, the truest friend to his lover that ever bestrode horse, the sternest man to his mortal foe that ever put spear in rest." Hector is only acknowledged second among the Knights of the Iliad, and when he meets his mortal foe, it is only to fly like the dove from the falcon. We admire Hector up to this point in the poem—until we behold him running away from his adversary, then we ask ourselves a question that admits of only one reply: Can such a craven be classed with the intrepid chief who answered the prophetic horse Zanthus:

"So let it be!
Portents and prodigies are lost on me;
I know my fate; to die, to see no more
My much-loved country and my native shore;
Enough when Heaven ordains I sink in night.
Now perish Troy! he said, and rushed to fight."

December 1897 (12-16)

*          *          *

"The Scrape of the Lock"

What dire offense from hidden causes springs
What mighty contests rise from trivial things."
I sing, O Muse, a tale—and may it please,

Of fingers fat—a lock—a bunch of keys.
Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,
If, as he labored, he approve my lays.

Say, what strange motive, Goddess, could compel
A likely lad to shun his friends a spell?
What strange cause, O do for us explore,
Made this fair youth so bolt and bar his door?
T'was eight o'clock, as yet the night was young,
When first that lock with grating noise was sprung.
The corridor was still—'pon study bent,
The youths scarce breathed—their minds were so intent,
When sudden came the noise of key in lock
That broke the stillness with an awful shock.
"A key! No keys allowed! Who can it be
That breaks the rules with such audacity?
Not Jacques? No! no!—may Gracious Gods forefend!
He ne'er a hand to wickedness would lend."
Alas, too true! O Virtue, shade your eyes,
T'was Jacques indeed.—Imagine our surprise
To think a boy—but gentle goodness knows,
When he's a wolf wrapped-up in lambkin's clothes.
Alas! that I this noisome tale must tell
That smells of sulphur,—not the Anch'rite's cell.
But do thou, reader, hear me, and attend
While I recount this deed from start to end.

As I have said, 'twas eight when first the sound
Of key in lock appalled the ears around.
Now let me tell you it was ten before
That self-same rattle stopped, to sound no more.
And why was this? A friend possessed the key,
And that door locked refused to unlocked be.
This, too, despite a gladiator's strength,
Lodged in huge arms of mighty bulk and length.
Such arms! That could a strong man tear in two,
"E'en as a chicken might be torn by you."
Despite, also, a world of groans and sighs,
And tears that dimmed the lustre of brown eyes.
In spite of all, that lock unmoved remained,
And shocks of strength, and soft entreat sustained.
At last some succor came, the prefect told,
Though lost in wonder, that a thing so bold
By gentle Jacques should be thus undertook,
Unto the scene his hasty steps betook,
And at the door, unyielding to his touch,
He labored long but ne'er effected much.
Like great Gibraltar, guardian of the seas,
That door stayed firm, despite hostilities.
Another came; all three together strained;
By them to be undone the door disdained.
What need to tell of the ensuing strife,
Assailed with chisel, auger, axe and knife,
At length it fell (be sure you scorn it none,
So would you fall 'gainst odds of ten to one),
Disclosing Jacques all trembling like a leaf,
As fearing less dilemma than relief.
'Oh, pray forgive me, sir," in accents wild,
"I never meant to be a naughty child,
"Cried Jacques—his cheeks all mantled red with shame,
To think that he had tainted his fair fame.
His dread dispelled by words endearing—kind,
We all awoke that we to sleep inclined.
So off to bed each boy his way did creep,
And soon soft silence soothed us into sleep.

March 1898 (243-245)

*          *          *

"The Three Kids."

(Martial, Epigr. Book VI.)

Not fierce assault nor Poison's deadly cup
Nor Murder's red right hand to slay held up
Is in my suit;
but only the mean theft
Of my three goats of which I stand bereft.
My neighbor here with malice and forethought
Has ta'en the kids he surely hadn't ought;

Thus stands the case the judge wants you to prove,
But far from it, O Posthumus, you rove;

With thundering voice and madly waving hands
You laud the battles of far distant lands,
On Mithradates and on Hannibal
On Sulla and on Marius you call!

To stop your raptures really shame forbids,
But kindly say a word of my three kids!

October 1898, (9)

*          *          *

The Drama in America

(This piece took first place in the year's literary essay competition.)

The grey beards of this country ever and anon raise a hue and a cry over the decadence of the drama. They look back upon the golden age in the history of the stagean age that was ornamented by such men as the elder Booth, Forest (sic), McCullough, and Edwin Booth; they compare these men and the plays of Shakespeare, which they were exponents of, with the actors and plays of today; they recognize the deplorable weakness of our contemporaneous actors and the frothiness of our drama, and they sigh for the times that were.

Public taste is essentially the dictator in regard to the drama. What the people want they will have, and the play and the poor player, whose very existence depends upon their patronage, must toady to their wants or fail most decidedly. It is the light and frivolous taste, which at present characterizes the American people, that causes the neglect of Shakespeare and the flooding of the country with inane society plays, risqué farce comedies, costly extravaganzas, and light, plotless, comic operas. In all these there is a dearth of seriousness that makes a thoughtful man wonder what has come over the American people. We seem to be gorging ourselves with mental dessert and the inevitable result will be mental indigestion, and what Mark Twain calls "Bright's disease of the intellect." A little comedy is not a dangerous thing, and a good laugh once in a while is the best of tonics; but this inordinate pursuit of trifles must in the end be harmful. It is apt to subvert our serious consideration of undeniably important matters. Soon life itself will become a farce whose end and object is fun, and death and what follows ita huge joke!

Our tastes have descended from the sublime to the ridiculous—from Shakespeare to Vaudeville. And what is the reason? Men who have studied the question tell us this state of affairs is due to the fact that the average American passes his whole day in the toils of business—in the stern pursuit of bread and butter. His mind is engaged through the day in solving hard, knotty problems, and hence it is the most natural thing in the world that he should seek some relaxation at night. But this is only a half answer at best, because it makes no mention of women, and it has almost become an axiom that women are the real support of the stage. Have we then no serious women? Are they all the mere butterflies cynics would have us believe—forever flitting from flower to flower, and sipping nothing but sweets? Do they never pause in delight over some substantial garden or waving field? We won't acknowledge that this is so—it would be too painful in the first place, and then also it would be absurd. All of us, even the most light-hearted and fun-loving, have our graver moods—women as well as men—moods in which the soul yearns for something grand, noble and elevating. And we must stifle this. longing,—for the actor giants that were in those golden days, have all passed away, and Shakespeare, who can so exquisitely "set to music" all the varied moods of the human heart, has been banished to one-night stands, and is mangled and done to death by the clumsy hands of the bombastic ranter.

Things have indeed come to a pretty pass when in the great city of New York, with its two millions of inhabitants, there is not a single play-house devoted to tragedy; when the times are such that it is an incontrovertible fact that any attempt to produce Shakespeare on Broadway is equivalent to wooing financial disaster. There are thirty-five theatres in New York City which are more or less crowded every night, and in only two of them can one find anything which he could even with a considerable stretch of the imagination, pronounce solid and beneficial. Think of it! Thirty-five theatres, each possessing great opportunities for doing good, like the pulpit itself, and comparatively nothing to come of them! Go to any one of them and expect to find there something your soul can grasp and take away with it, and what is the result? You sit for three hours groping blindly about, in a maze of bad puns, imitation—society smart talk, tunelesss songs, and grotesque acting; the curtain comes down and the great bubble breaks, and you go away with a deep scorn in your heart for the nothingness of it all. It is a crying shame that thousands and thousands of people in this one city leave the theatre night after night without having acquired one iota of good. It was not thus in the olden times when a Booth played upon men's heart-strings and forced them to hate villainy, and admire and cherish virtue.

The much abused and ridiculed conventional melodrama, with its virtuous heroine and her heavily mortgaged farm, with its inevitable villain, who holds the mortgage and incidentally murders the old miser his uncle, with its big-hearted, long-suffering hero who is enmeshed in the web of circumstantial evidence, but who finally breaks away, convicts the villain, pays off the mortgage, and marries the beautiful heroine, is after all the only kind of play in vogue that is productive of good. It is true its field lies among common, uneducated people, and its worshippers are the gallery-gods, but what a world of good can be planted in just such healthy, rugged soil as this! BlasF society, satiated with sensation, can no longer stomach such "rot" as melodrama; it takes a particularly vivid "disrobing act" to arouse them from their ennui; and the only effect the spectacle of vice discomfited and virtue triumphant would have on them, would be to make them politely gape behind their fans, or give vent to a tired sneer.

It is a question in my mind whether it is the lack of strong plays that accounts for the conspicuous absence of great actors or vice-versa. I think the former theory the more tenable. It is easily understood how one epoch only is blessed with a Shakespeare, but he alone has had no successor. There have been great actors in a continuous chain since his time. However, there is not today a single tragedian of recognized merit in this country. Of late years we have been importing the supposedly great English stars. It was a fad and they got bushels of money from our Anglo-maniacs, but thoughtful people who had really looked forward to their coming, and hoped to find in their work something soul-inspiring and grand, were disappointed. They discovered that in England he who gives a great production, is considered a great actor, and if he but have acquired a lot of absurd mannerisms, he is hailed as a genius.

May we not,—our sight obscured by this English dramatical fog,—have, perhaps, passed over unnoticed some one among ourselves in whose soul there burns the unquenchable flame of dramatic genius and art? Surely this country, prolific of great artists in the past, can not have suddenly become so barren as it now appears!

In this age of monopolies and trusts, the theatre, like almost everything else under the sun, is controlled by a syndicate. The decline of the drama here is in a great measure due to this cause. The Jews who own or have leased all the theatres in the big cities throughout the United States, are not impelled by enthusiasm for art or any such nonsense as that. They are after the spoils, and none realize as well as they what an unprofitable investment a serious play is apt to be. Hence they eschew all such and serve up to the people only what will tickle their degenerate palates. How long will this condition of affairs continue? How much longer will we allow ourselves to be surfeited with burlesques and Vaudeville and farces? There have been reforms attempted in almost everything else. The drama alone is allowed to get worse and worse, with never a check. Have we not cause to fear that like an avalanche it will become stronger and more uncontrollable with every descent, until finally in irresistible might, it will sweep all before it and crush out all noble sentiments and the very moral life of the country itself? The drama is a wonderful power for good when properly directed, but in the hands of unscrupulous men, it can destroy in a night what the church and religion have been building up for years. The drama of today is very much in need of a reform.

December 1898 (164-169)*

*The essay was signed by "Thiman In a Hurry," but Jamie's authorship was acknowledged in the February 1899 issue (344).

*          *          *

From Anacreon.

One night, 'twas at the midnight hour,
And all was still within my bower,
Soft slumber o'er my eyes held sway,
And closing lids drove care away,
When hark! an infant's weary wail
My sleeping ears with sound assail.
"Oh! pray," it sobbed, in accents wild,
"Save from the night a wandering child.
The rain is cold, the wind is high
And there's no other shelter nigh!"
I mark how fierce the night winds blow,
And pity feel for so much woe.
My head is light—my heart feels queer,
As through the opened door I peer.
I see a babe—with wings! a bow!

A babe I surely ought to know,
If only 'cause my heart beats so!
('Twas Love I rescued from the night,
That ever restless little sprite!)
I take him in, and as the blaze
Around the hearth sends genial rays,
The glistening rain forsakes his head,

Dry silken curls are there instead.
Now soon the fire's red bright cheer,
Drives from his soul all thought of fear;
"Oh dear," he cries, with anxious sigh,
"My bow, I pray thee, let me try.
Through rain and cold I've wandered so
It might be injured, don't you know."
The fatal bow the infant draws,
A careful aim—a steady pause,
Then, with a twang the arrow flies;
Transfixed, my poor heart quivering lies,
And "Now farewell," I hear him say,
A whir of wings,—and he's away.
But in my heart his sting deep lies,
And soothing balm or cure defies.

January 1899 (243-44)

*          *          *

"Patience and Perseverance Overcome Mountains."

That patience and perseverance alone give success is so universally acknowledged that the divers languages of the world simply teem with sayings to this effect. Patience looks an obstacle calmly and unflinchingly in the face, sizes it up and takes its measure; then Perseverance steps in' and gradually, with deliberate and repeated effort, overcomes it. Impatience, on the contrary, approaches an obstacle with hasty step, gives one or two irascible pushes, becomes appalled by the magnitude of the work, and hastens away to join its fitful, fickle companionInconstancy.

The patient man succeeds because he views his difficulty in detail and surmounts it piece by piece, (sic) he perseveres in his original design and has his work completed while his impatient brother is still dissatisfied and casting aside plan after plan. Patience and Perseverance surmounted the Alps for Hannibal; and Patience, Perseverance and Pebbles made an orator of Demosthenes. Straw by straw the sparrow builds its nest, and grain by grain the industrious ant tunnels out its labyrinthine home. The cloud-buffeted pyramids and the continent of Florida are everlasting proofs of what Patience and Perseverance can accomplish. They not only overcome mountains—they make them.

Wherever Shakespeare is read it is known that if one but screws his courage to the sticking place, he will not fail. The master-minds of all ages have been forever dinning this fact—only differing in words—into the ears of their contemporaries. Even the groveling Chinaman, in a lucid
interval between tea and opium, solemnly wags his pig-tailed cranium and tells us: "There is nothing difficult under the sun,
it's only men's minds that are not determined." Let us therefore be patient, and when we have acquired patience let us only persevere, and be the mountain ever so high we will finally o'ertop it.

February 1899 (334-335)

*          *          *

The Effect of Progress of Physical Science on the Poetic Spirit.

The world in its evolution from ignorance and barbarism to learning and civilization, from chaos to marble temples and regularly laid out cities and towns, has been very like a man. In the beginning, the babe enraptured at the possession of a toy and seeing all the treasures of Ind in a piece of shining glass; then childhood with its great round questioning eyes, its fear of ghosts and the wicked shapes that lurk in the dark, its imagination that never tires but pictures scene after scene, wild, fantastic, mystical; then careless boyhood which romps and plays, wastes time and grows, and revels in the mere fact of living; then youth with its sighs and long, long thoughts, its ambitions and chateaux in Spain, its trials and temptationsits love; next, the steady married man, scarred by time and full of business, ever on the alert for dollars and cents, talks of stocks and his spirits fluctuate with the quotations; after this comes age with its cane and rheumatism and tales of the times that were, and then finis.

The spirit of the world has passed through all these stages up to the twentieth century which beholds its manhood, its age of bustle and business. Childhood and youth have gone and with them in the lapse of centuries poetry too has slipped away unnoticed, has become a happy remembrance like a boy's pranks, sports and aspirations become to himself when looking back on them from mature manhood.

Today, hard common sense rules the earth and the ages which produced Giants and Epics, the inspiring times of the long ago when eyes really did "In a fine frenzy roll," pierce through the ocean and the clouds and behold the "Angels in Heaven above and the Demons down under the sea" have become subjects of legend and tradition. In this matter-of-fact money-mad country of ours where a man nonchalantly steps up to a telephone and chats with a friend three thousand miles away, across a continent, poetry has lost caste. What poets used to dream about and set to word-music, tenacious, plodding, hard-working man has accomplished and facts have superseded fevered fancies. Aladdin and his wonderful lamp are commonplace beside an electric light; the Genius its possession controlled, whose approach was heralded by a clap of thunder and who came with a rushing of mighty winds, in comparison with the modern check-book as a wealth-producer was an infant in arms; the monsters so interestingly descanted upon in the yarns of Sinbad the Sailor may be seen free by the New York public on Sundays in the Aquarium; his hair-raising adventures wane into insignificance when a Rougemont testifies, and an up-to-date rapid-fire gun would make the greatest prodigy he saw, picayune and ridiculous. The nineteenth century has vanquished distance, it has caught and enslaved the forked lightning of the heavens, the tops of our buildings will soon be covered with perpetual snow, our divers stroll upon the deepest bottom of the sea, our railroads have threaded continents, our miners tunnel into the very bowels of mountains, it is an age of miracles and face to face with its deeds the song of the poet has become a dead language! We still read poetry, most of us admire it greatly, no man is considered educated who is not thoroughly acquainted with it and its best producers, we converse about it frequently—between dances or when the curtain falls at the theatre—but we really haven't the time to engage in it ourselves. The stage-coach of poetic romantic times has given way to the railroad train; the world is rushing along too fast nowadays—stop to write a poem and you'll be left behind.

Science has made the world too luxurious for the habitation of poets. The time may be ripe for a Juvenal or a Horace, but ye shades of Cromwell! Imagine your secretary Milton, the stern rigorous Puritan, reclining in an easy chair in a room of one of our palatial hotels. He languidly presses the electric button for pen, ink and paper, dictates an immortal stanza or two to his typewriter, a valet helps on his hat and coat, the elevator brings him down stairs and an automobile carriage transports him to an afternoon tea where the ladies admire his long hair and ethereal expression and where he talks unintelligibly about aesthetics. This is not the atmosphere that produces poets, this is not the existence that inspires lofty ideals and sublime sentiments! There are no electric buttons nor afternoon teas in Parnassus, on the contrary we are told "Its barren soil and silent woods render it fit and agreeable for poetic meditation."

Among all the sciences of today, the one most eagerly studied and persistently indulged in is the science of money-making. To this can probably be traced the death-blow to poetry. Poetry is too God-given a gift to be reeled off at so many dollars a square inch, and the Muse is the most coy and elusive maiden and is not in the habit of throwing herself at one, simply because a publisher wants to fill up space and offers a fabulous price for a sonnet on some celebrity's eyebrows. Rudyard Kipling, (sic) is the only active writer today to whom a veracious man could point and without a blush say: "There is a Poet;" —and that, only if to have said some poetic things is to have merited the title of poet. But even he—our solitary boast—is rapidly developing into a machine for filling the magazines. Too soon we fear, the Midas touch will have turned the Muse into a cold unresponsive statue.

The very science of versification itself is a hobble on Pegasus. The book of Job is the sublimest poetry the world has ever seen or ever will and it is prose. 'Tis true the world can boast of a Homer, a Vergil, a Dante, and a Milton, who in verse have astounded and delighted mankind with their daring conceptions and beautiful imageries, but they are such a minority compared with the legions of mere versifiers that surely they are the exceptions which but prove what we say. Again they made use of the simplest in form, of all verse. Blank verse can hardly be called the science of versification, it is rather the first step in the science. Rhyme and metre hindered Pope, who might have been a colossus in the poetic world had he not been a slave to polish and elegant epigrammatic verse. Poetry can no more be bridled and restrained than the roaring cataract; it is too vast for confines, in its very essence it is to (sic) elevated, too wild and free to move in a certain fixed gait.

The two most conspicuous examples of men who brought science and scientific experiment into their work are Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson. Browning is intensely scientific and unintelligible. His thoughts were grand, poetic, but he could not fit them into the metre; he did the best he could and left the rest out; hence the difficulty to understand him. Tennyson, rather "Dipt into the future, and saw the wonders that would be" than dwelt on those that were.

Today science is warring against the Catholic Church and, ipso facto, against poetry itself: The Church after Greece and Rome, through centuries of barbaric atrocity and persecution preserved and fostered education which makes poetry possible because it gives that appreciation of the truly beautiful and the power of expressing it in words which is the sine qua non of the poet. The Church today as formerly, is the refuge and consolation of all that is good and beautiful. We are living in an age of commercial progress and invention, an age of immorality and infidelity. In our midst poetry wanders unheeded and alone. The rumble of trains, the clang of bells, the whirl of wheels, bewilder her. The smoke of our manufactories sickens her. The sight of our moral degradation horrifies her. To whom shall she fly in her extremity but to that Church which has cherished her before, to that Church which relies on the most poetic of books for confirmation of its doctrine, to that Church whose ceremonies are still sublime in an age of ridicule, to that Church which teaches a religion which is a true epic having Christ for its hero and in the inspired words of a Matthew, a Mark, a Luke, and a John.

November 1899 (79-83)

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Works Cited


Alexander, Doris. The Tempering of Eugene O'Neill. New York: Harcourt, 1962.

Bogard, Travis. Contour in Time: The Plays of Eugene O'Neill. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.

Boulton, Agnes. Part of a Long Story. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958.

Bowen, Croswell. The Curse of the Misbegotten: A Tale of the House of O'Neill. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

Brustein, Robert. The Theatre of Revolt. Boston: Little, Brown, 1964.

Floyd, Virginia. The Plays of Eugene O 'Neill: A New Assessment. New York: Ungar, 1985.

Gelb, Arthur and Barbara. O'Neill. Rev. ed. New York: Harper, 1973.

Grandstaff, Russell James. "A History of the Professional Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1861-1886." Diss. U. of Michigan, 1963.

Holbrook, Francis X. and August A. Stellwag. When September Comes ... A History of Fordham Preparatory School, 1841-1991. New York: 1991.

Huneker, James. Chopin: The Man and His Music (with a new introduction, footnotes, and index, by Herbert Weinstock). New York: Dover, 1966 (1900).

Marker, Lise-Lone. David Belasco: Naturalism in the American Theatre. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1975.

McCandless, Marion. Family Portaits: (A) History of the Holy Cross Alumnae Association of St. Mary's College. Notre Dame, Ind., 1952.

Miller, Kerby. Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. New York: Oxford UP, 1985.

O'Neill, Eugene. A Moon for the Misbegotten. New York: Random House, 1952.

O'Neill, Eugene. Long Day's Journey into Night. New Haven: Yale UP, 1989.

O'Neill, Eugene. Selected Letters of Eugene O'Neill. Bogard, Travis and Jackson R. Bryer, eds. New Haven: Yale UP, 1988.

Raleigh, John Henry. The Plays of Eugene O'Neill. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1965.

Ranald, Margaret Loftus. The Eugene O'Neill Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Pr., 1984.

Sheaffer, Louis. O'Neill, Son and Playwright. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968 (called "Sheaffer I" in the text).

Sheaffer, Louis. O'Neill, Son and Artist. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973 (called "Sheaffer II" in the text).

Stoddard, Charles Warren. School Days at Notre Dame: Diary, Vol. IV, 1936 (U of Notre Dame Archives).

Stroupe, John H., ed. Critical Approaches to O'Neill. New York: AMS Press, 1988.

Timberlake, Craig. The Life & Work of David Belasco: The Bishop of Broadway. New York: Library Publishers, 1954.

Wagner, Sister Monica, C.S.C. Benchmarks: Saint Mary's College, How It Grew. Notre Dame, Ind., 1990.

Warren, Robert Penn. All the King's Men. New York: Harcourt, 1946.

Winter, William. The Life of David Belasco. 2 vols. New York: Moffat, Yard,

Journal and Newspaper Articles

Anderson, John. "Two on the Aisle," New York Evening Post, December, 19, 1925.

A.E.B. "James O'Neill" (interview). New York Dramatic Mirror, February 2, 1895.

Dunleavy, Sr. M. Rosaleen (archivist, St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana), personal letters (June 19, 1990, April 15, 1991, and July 8, 1991). Holbrook, Francis X. (archivist, Fordham Preparatory School), personal letters (June 17, 1991, and July 15, 1991).

"James O'Neill Celebrates His Sixtieth Birthday To-Day." New York Sun, November 15, 1909 (unsigned).

"James O'Neill Dies after Long Illness." (Obituary.) New York Times, August 11, 1920.

"James O'Neill Dies at His Home in New London, Ct." (Obituary). Boston Pilot, August 14, 1920.

"James O'Neill, Famous Actor, is at Rest in St. Mary's Cemetery." New London Day, August 12, 1920.

"James O'Neill Is Dead." New London Day, August 10, 1920.

"James O'Neill Muses of Days Long Ago." Cincinnati Times Star, October 11, 1911 (unsigned).

Leslie, Amy. "Threatens to Desert: Goodbye to Monte Cristo," Chicago Daily News, July 10, 1909.

Mallett, Manley W. "The O'Neill Family" (an unpublished, two-page typewritten history), Nov. 12, 1974. (Mallett was a grandson of Anastasia, James O'Neill's sister. His contributions are invoked by Louis Sheaffer in "Correcting Some Errors" in Critical Approaches to O'Neill, in Stroupe.)

Obituary of James O'Neill, Sr. New York Dramatic Mirror, August 21, 1920.

"Recalling the Romantic Era." (Obituary.) Literary Digest, August 28, 1920.

Reynolds, Jon K (archivist, Lauinger Library, Georgetown University), personal - letters (September, 1990, June, 1991, and July 10, 1991).

"Scenes in Stageland." St. Louis Star Times, January 8, 1893.

"Some Stories of the Stage: Early Experiences of James O'Neill." Chicago Times, May 20, 1898 (unsigned).

Archival Materials

Duane Library, Fordham University. Reprinted poems and essays taken from issues of the Fordham Monthly (November, 1896 - November, 1899). University Catalogues (1896-1899).

Fordham Preparatory School. Grades and awards to James O'Neill, Jr., Fall, 1895-1897.

Hesburgh Memorial Library, University of Notre Dame. Cited issues and reprinted pieces from the Notre Dame Scholastic (1885-1902). Materials from Day Books, Account Ledgers (1885-1894). Personal letters from James
O'Neill, Sr., and James O'Neill, Jr., to Fr. Thomas Walsh and Fr. Andrew Morrissey (Presidents of Notre Dame).

Lauinger Library, Georgetown University. Entrance and departure dates, grades and awards, to James H. O'Neill, Jr., (Sept. 1894 - Feb. 1895).


I should like to thank for invaluable assistance the following persons: Father Gerard Connolly, S.J., and Brother Christopher Jensen, S.J., Fordham University Archives; Sister M. Rosaleen Dunleavy, C.S.C., St. Mary's College Archives; Dr. Francis X. Holbrook, emeritus head of the history department and school archivist, Fordham Preparatory School; Ms. Lois Erickson McDonald, Associate Curator, Monte Cristo Cottage Museum and Library; Mr. Jon K. Reynolds, Georgetown University Archives; Ms. Sharon Sumpter and Dr. Wendy Clauson Schlereth, University of Notre Dame Archives; Ms. Sharon Lewis (Irwin Library) and Mr. Robert Stalcup, Butler University; and Dr. Gary Vena, Manhattan College.


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