- White Whittlesey, star of this production -
by Robert Buchanan
London: Comedy Theatre. 3 February to 30 March, 1894
Bath: Theatre Royal. 20 August, 1894. First provincial performance.
Daniel Frohman, the manager of New York’s Lyceum theatre, originally commissioned Buchanan to write a play about Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but then rejected it in favour of another play on the same subject by Paul M. Potter. Frohman’s explanation is given in the article from The New York Times below. Buchanan’s version of events was published in The Era, prompting replies from Paul M. Potter and Daniel Frohman.
Buchanan cited the failure to secure an American production of Dick Sheridan as one of the causes of his bankruptcy in June, 1894. And there was another court case involving the play later that year.
The Morning Post (5 June, 1893 -p.4)
Mr. E. H. Sothern, whose success on the American stage is maintaining the hereditary celebrity of his name, is to impersonate the principal character in the new play which Mr. Robert Buchanan has written in illustration of the life and times of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The piece will be produced in the first instance on the New York stage, but will doubtless find its way to London in due course.
The Echo (14 August, 1893 - p.1)
There has been a storm in a tea-cup over Sheridan lately in the literary world. Advance paragraphs had gone the round of the newspapers informing us that Mr. Oscar Wilde’s new play for the Garrick would be based on the story of Miss Linley’s elopement from Bath with her future husband, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and the title, we were assured, was “Sheridan; or, The Maid of Bath.” Now, it happened that Mr. Robert Buchanan had a play ready for Mr. Comyns Carr’s new venture at the Comedy based on this very subject, and previously shown to Mr. Hare, only to be voted unsuitable for the Garrick caste. Here was splendid material for a charge of plagiarism—at any rate, it seemed a remarkable coincidence. But, unfortunately, the fun is spoiled by latest advices, for we learn that the new Wilde play is, to quote the grandiloquent language of official assurances: A comedy of modern manners.
New-York Daily Tribune (6 September, 1893 - p.6)
E. H. SOTHERN AS SHERIDAN.
At the Lyceum Theatre last night E. H. Sothern presented a new play before the best audience that has yet assembled in New-York this season. It was called “Sheridan, or the Maid of Bath,” and was written by Paul M. Potter. Mr. Sothern is an actor of great and deserved popularity. He continues, as each year passes and as he shows himself in each new part, to exhibit versatility, care, study, feeling and charm. His impersonations are always looked forward to with interest, and have thus far been received with favor. He presents Richard Brinsley Sheridan as an energetic and ambitious young man, fired by a youthful love, impulsive, hot-headed and quick-tempered, but also generous, tender and self-sacrificing. Such a personality is bound to be agreeable to an audience, whether the name given to it be Sheridan or John Doe. Investing a character of this quality with circumstances calling its attributes into vigorous play, Mr. Sothern makes it picturesque and fascinating. The faults as well as the virtues of his Sheridan are lovable, and so he adds another to his list of enjoyable dramatic creations.
The lesser personages of the play are for the most part historical people whose lives in reality came in contact more or less with that of Sheridan, but by no means, in many cases, in the ways in which they are here represented. The most interesting one, of course, is Miss Betty Linley, a part agreeably played by Miss Grace Kimball. The costume of the time is becoming to her, and her gown and her powdered hair made her a most attractive picture, to which a worthy and engaging companion was furnished by Miss Marion Giroux as Miss Dorothy Neville. Charles Harbury was rather ponderously violent and sportive as David Garrick, and R. Buckstone was elastic and unrestful as Michael Kelly. A most finished and agreeable impersonation of Dr. Thomas Linley was given by C. P. Flockton. He was composed, correct and dignified. Morton Selten, as Captain Matthews, the villain of the play, exhibited his usual grace of bearing and propriety of action. Mrs. Kate Pattison-Selten appeared as Lady Erskine, and a small part was prettily played by Miss Rebecca Warren.
The play is worked to satisfactory climaxes at the ends of the acts, but for the rest it has something too much of talk and preparation, rather noisy at time, and a lack of action in the best sense and development of character. The attempt is made to introduce the originals of some of the characters which Sheridan used in his plays. The plan sounds promising, b ut one of the results of it, which should not have been hard to foresee, is that persons whom the public has been used to observe saying and doing brilliant and incomparable things, are here found saying and doing comparatively commonplace ones. David Garrick is shown implicated in a love affair, sadly inconsistent with another drama which has for some time enjoyed a degree of popularity. A note in the programme admits that his connection with the plot is not historical, but even with this apology, the spectacle is unpleasant.
The setting of the stage is sumptuous and in faultless taste. The picture of Dr. Linley’s library is a most excellent stage arrangement, and that of the manager’s room at the Covent Garden Theatre deserves scarcely less commendation. The costumes are rich and beautiful, and every detail of stage management is attended to with the thoroughness which invariably marks productions at this theatre.
The Graphic (23 September, 1893 - Issue 1243)
The American dramatist who determined to make the author of The Rivals and The School for Scandal the hero of a play has stolen a march upon Mr. Robert Buchanan, who is known to have done the same. The American piece has already been brought out by Mr. Sothern at the Lyceum Theatre, New York. It is a comedy in four acts, entitled Sheridan, or The Maid of Bath. The Maid of Bath is, of course, Miss Linley, afterwards Mrs. Sheridan. The piece depicts the courtship of these twain at Bath, and has a scene in the famous Pump-Room. It also introduces us to Covent Garden Theatre on the momentous night of the production of The Rivals. Mr. Sothern plays Sheridan, Miss Grace Kemball, Miss Linley. The piece seems to have been received with favour.
The Stage (5 October, 1893 - p.11)
Mr. H. B. Irving, the eldest son of the Lyceum chief, will return to the stage to play the rôle of Richard Brinsley Sheridan in the new play by Robert Buchanan, which is to follow on at the Comedy when Sowing the Wind shall have exhausted its drawing powers. It will be remembered that some time ago it was said that Mr. H. B. Irving had determined to relinquish the stage in favour of the law. Whether this return to the old love may be looked upon as permanent remains to be seen.
The Stage (18 January, 1894 - p.11)
Dick Sheridan or Sheridan, the new piece by Robert Buchanan, is now being rehearsed at the Comedy, where it will, when wanted, follow Sowing the wind. Last week I mentioned Mr. H. B. Irving and Miss Winifred Emery as having the two parts Sheridan and Miss Linley respectively. Now I learn that Mr. Brandon Thomas, Mr. Cyril Maude, Mr. Lewis Waller, Mr. Sydney Brough, Mr. Edmund Maurice, Miss Lena Ashwell, and Miss Pattie Browne will also appear in the cast. In the meantime the present programme at the Comedy is attracting good business, and an extra spurt has been given to the matinées in consequence of the interest displayed in the performances by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, who has secured a private box and a number of seats in the dress circle for every afternoon during the season, so that she may give her youthful friends an opportunity of witnessing The Piper of Hamelin and Sandford and Merton.
Black and White (3 February, 1894)
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.
THE romantic elements in the life of the brilliant author of The Rivals and The School for Scandal, have doubtless furnished Mr. Robert Buchanan with more than sufficient material for his new play, which is produced on Saturday next at the Comedy. Indeed, his difficulty was probably that of selecting from the abundance offered by the life and the period with which he was concerned.. Much is strange, much fascinating in Sheridan’s career, and there seems reason to believe that Mr. Buchanan has chosen not the least interesting portion of his hero’s history, viz., the year 1777, when Sheridan was six-and-twenty, and his School for Scandal first saw the footlights. We sincerely hope that Mr. Buchanan will add another leaf to his laurels.
Reynolds’s Newspaper (4 February, 1894 - Issue 2269)
LAST NIGHT’S THEATRICALS.
Last night Mr. J. Comyns Carr produced the much-looked-for comedy by Mr. Robert Buchanan, founded on the love episode of the popular author of the “School for Scandal” and the beautiful singer, Miss Linley. “Dick Sheridan,” as the comedy is entitled, is written in four acts, and the author disclaims any historical accuracy in matters of detail, though he relates with praiseworthy fidelity the elopement of the dramatist with Miss Linley to France, his subsequent marriage, and the motives which prompt the keeping of the marriage secret until he could offer her a fitting home and withdraw her from the public stage. The first act takes place at the Assembly Rooms, Bath, where we find the famous singer beset by the amorous attentions of a senile old beau and the nefarious designs of Captain Matthews, whilst she entertains only a regard for the poor author. Mr. Linley favours the suit of the amorous Lord Dazzleton, and to escape his clutches she accepts the offer of Captain Matthews’ escort to France, but, learning his true character, she decides to allow Dick Sheridan to conduct her to her cousin. The second act, at Sheridan’s lodgings, shows the aspiring dramatist suffering the pangs of poverty, but with his foot on the first rung of the ladder of fame. Here he is persecuted by Matthews, whose creditor he is, who holds over him the punishment of the debtors’ prison if he does not relinquish all pretensions to the hand of Miss Linley. And the subsequent ones are taken up with the clearing of the difficulties which beset the young loving couple. The comedy is, however, not entirely satisfactory.
Mr. Buchanan is too much of a master of stagecraft to write a bad play, but in “Dick Sheridan” he is unnecessarily prolix, and some of the scenes could easily be dispensed with. When the excisive process, however, has taken place, there is no reason to doubt the ultimate success of the comedy, which last night was received with enthusiasm. The comedy is brilliantly staged and the dresses are of wonderful beauty, whilst the company could hardly have been better chosen. Mr. H. B. Irving, in the name part, although a trifle nervous, gave an admirable embodiment of the dramatist and politician; and Miss Winifred Emery, as Betty Linley, adds another strong character to her long list of successes. Mr. Brandon Thomas, as the faithful servitor of Sheridan, gives an excellent character sketch, and Mr. Sydney Brough as Sir Harry Chase, Mr. Lewis Waller as Matthews, and Mr. Cyril Maude as the foppish Lord Dazzleton, all give perfect pourtrayals of their respective parts. All the principals were called at the termination of each act, and when the comedy has been dovetailed “Dick Sheridan” will satisfy the expectations of those most interested.
The New York Times (5 February, 1894)
The Story Of “Dick Sheridan.”
A Play Rejected By An American Manager Produced in London
There is an interesting story connected with the production at the Comedy Theatre, London, Saturday night, of Buchanan’s comedy, “Dick Sheridan.” It is not often, if indeed it has ever happened before, that a play rejected by an American manager, has been presented to a London audience; but this is the case with “Dick Sheridan.” The play, which was thought too poor for New-York, has at last made its appearance in the metropolis of the world, and Mr. Buchanan’s wounded pride is probably measurably solaced, although the verdict of the audience was that the plot and character were “hackneyed.”
The real author of “Dick Sheridan,” the English play, and of “Sheridan,” Paul M. Potter’s American comedy, so far as originating the idea and suggesting the story is concerned, is Daniel Frohman, Manager of the Lyceum Theatre of this city. When E. H. Sothern had made a success of “Lord Chumley,” Mr. Frohman, who is his manager, prudently began to look about him for a new play to take the place of “Chumley,” when it had run its course.
It occurred to Mr. Frohman, who was in London, that Sothern’s personality fitted him to personate Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and that the romance of Elizabeth Linley, the beautiful “Maid of Bath,” furnished an excellent foundation for a comedy. The manager consulted Robert Buchanan. After a few conferences, during which Mr. Frohman expressed his ideas very fully as to what the play should be, Buchanan agreed to write it, and have it ready for production at a specified time. A contract was drawn up, a retaining fee paid—for English playwrights of prominence always exact a retaining fee before beginning work—and Mr. Frohman returned ton New-York easy in his mind regarding the success of “Chumley.”
Promptly on schedule time Mr. Buchanan’s play, “Dick Sheridan,” was received by Mr. Frohman, but when he had read the piece he decided at once that it would not do for Sothern. It was nothing like the play he had arranged in his own mind, and he was not willing to risk its production. He wrote to Buchanan, explaining in detail what he regarded as the faults of “Dick Sheridan,” and suggested the rewriting of certain scenes on new lines, the excision of certain others, and the addition of some wholly new material.
The English playwright was apparently affronted because an American manager had assumed to criticise his work, and he refused to make the changes. Mr. Frohman then returned the manuscript to Buchanan as “rejected,” preferring to lose the money advanced on the work rather than to risk the reputation of Sothern and himself by its production at the Lyceum. Paul M. Potter was then commissioned to write “Sheridan,” on the lines laid down by Mr. Frohman, and one of Mr. Sothern’s most artistic characterizations was the result. Buchanan, when he heard of this, made the charge that his manuscript had been used in the preparation of the new play, and accused Mr. Frohman of stealing from his work. A caustic letter from the American manager followed, in which he denied the charges, and practically invited Mr. Buchanan to take his grievance into court.
As a matter of fact, with the exception that the romance of the “Maid of Bath” is the foundation of both plays, there is no similarity between them, and that foundation was furnished by Mr. Frohman himself. Certainly there is nothing “hackneyed” in the plot or character of “Sheridan,” and the fact that this is the verdict of London on “Dick Sheridan” would seem to vindicate the judgment of Mr. Frohman in rejecting Mr. Buchanan’s play.
Internet Broadway Database: Sheridan
New York Times: February 5, 1894