THE RECORD OF A LIFE
By SIDNEY DARK
HAROLD CHAPIN was born in Brooklyn, U.S.A., on February 15th, 1886. He was killed at the Battle of Loos, on September the 26th, 1915.
His family is of old New England stock, descended from Huguenot refugees, and there are family legends of an Indian princess who married one of his ancestors. With his characteristic love of the picturesque, Harold always insisted on the reality of his Indian ancestress.
His mother was a Unitarian, and it was in this faith that he was reared. In the autumn of 1888, Mrs. Chapin brought her baby son to Europe. They stayed for a little while in Paris, and, before he was three years of age, they came to London. It was in England that Harold Chapin lived the rest of his life.
His mother is an actress, and in August, 1893, when Harold was seven years old, she was engaged to play Volumnia in "Coriolanus" during the Shakespeare Festival at Stratford-on-Avon. The Festival was postponed that year from April to August owing to Sir Frank Benson's illness. Harold went to Stratford with his mother. Mr. Benson was attracted by the small boy and asked Mrs. Chapin to let him play young Marcus. His first appearance, therefore, on any stage was in the Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, in this part.
His first essay in playwriting was made when he was only a few months older. His main interest at that time was nigger minstrelsy and this first play called "False Colours" was designed for the Moore and Burgess Minstrels.
Harold Chapin made various appearances on the stage during his childhood, but his mother would not allow his schooling to be interfered with, and his work on the stage was limited to special holiday weeks. He was sent, when he was nine, to the North London Collegiate School and afterwards to the Norwich Grammar School. He disliked boarding school intensely, and he afterwards always denounced the custom of sending boys away from home to be educated. He finished his education (1901 and 1902) at University College School, two very happy years always remembered with satisfaction, and one of the many plans he made for his own small son was that he should be sent to this same school.
Harold Chapin, as a boy, was quick and intelligent, but always far less interested in the work appointed for him than in his own desultory reading and his own many adventures. He loved wandering about the country, filled with an insatiable and detailed curiosity. He was a tiring companion when he was quite little, for he had to stop every other minute to examine a new stone, to prod down a hole to discover where it led, to pick an unfamiliar flower, to gaze at a spider or a toad. In London he would explore mean streets and little-known alleys, observing and remembering. One of his boyish characteristics was a deep and gentle love of animals. This remained with him to the end and is reflected in the humorous letters to his dog, Emma, written from the front, and included in this book.
In the autumn of 1902, Harold Chapin went on the stage in earnest, playing Billy in a "fit up" tour of "Sherlock Holmes." A tour with "The Red Lamp" followed. In 1903, he spent some time with a real Crummles' Company in which he played many and various parts from Hastings in "Jane Shore" to the father in "Maria Martin" or "The Murder in the Red Barn." This relative should really have been Maria's mother but, women running short, the sex was changed to suit the exigencies of the company. Chapin thoroughly enjoyed this rather uncomfortable experience. The queer people with their queer characteristics and queerer patois appealed to his keen sense of humour and to his delight in every living thing from a bumble bee to a bad actor, and this engagement undoubtedly gave him the idea of his first long play "The Marriage of Columbine." The tour was short and unproductive and ended in a wire asking for money to get back to civilization.
A pause in town followed while he studied singing. His voice was baritone, well modulated and full of expression, but he never made any professional use of it. Music, however, was always to him a means of rest and the Queen's Hall often helped him through weary rehearsals. He wrote a good deal of poetry in these beginning years, and in 1905 he tried his hand at the book of a comic opera which he called "Kings in Ireland."
At Christmas, 1905, he was in the Drury Lane pantomime, understudying and playing the comic policeman in the Harlequinade, the bustle and fun of which delighted him immensely. He never lost his love for the more simple and ingenuous forms of theatrical entertainment and one of his many unfulfilled ambitions was to write a revue and play in it, himself.
During 1906 and 1907 he acted in "The Prodigal Son" at Drury Lane, "A Pantomime Rehearsal" on tour, "The Bondman " at the Adelphi, and "Her Love Against the World," "The Midnight Wedding," and "The Christian" at the Lyceum. He became assistant stage manager when this last play was moved to the Shaftesbury.
In 1908, he played Balthazar in "Romeo and Juliet" at the Lyceum, and later in the year he joined Mr. Frohman's management at the Duke of York's. Here he was first associated with Mr. Granville Barker. In 1909, he played in "What Every Woman Knows" and "Strife," and stage managed the special matinees of "Press Cuttings at the Court."
With all this hard work he never for a moment forgot his ambition to write plays. That was to be his real work. He always carried in his pocket a little notebook in which he would write down lines and situations as they occurred to him. He continued his voyages of discovery, often in the middle of the night and after a long day's work at the theatre.
In 1910 he was engaged for the Repertory Season at the Duke of York's, playing many parts, among them Callow in "Prunella." Early this year his first one-act play, "Augustus in Search of a Father," was produced at the Court by the Play Actors, the author himself appearing as Augustus. In March, his "Marriage of Columbine" was played by the same society. His mother has a charming recollection of this important evening.
"He was such an excited boy that night. He sat back in his box, concealed from the audience watching eagerly and anxiously, and when the genuine enthusiasm at the close of the performance told him that his play was a success he put his head on my shoulder and whispered: 'Do they like it. Do you really think they like it?'"
On June 4th, 1910, he married Calypso Valetta. He and his wife had met as members of the same company. The Frohman Repertory Season lasted until the end of July and then he and his wife went to Bernaval for their first real honeymoon. He came back to the Duke of York's to play in "A Bolt from the Blue," which had only a short run, and then, after a month or so of touring in a sketch, he joined the Glasgow Repertory Theatre as one of the producers. His wife went to Glasgow with him and played with the company. During 1911, his one-act plays "Muddle Annie" and "The Autocrat of the Coffee Stall" were produced in Glasgow, and "Augustus in Search of a Father" and "The Marriage of Columbine" were revived. He came back to London in the summer of 1911, stage managed "The Girl Who Couldn't Lie" at the Criterion and acted in a special performance of Strindberg's "The Father." In September he went back to Glasgow for a second season during which "The Dumb and the Blind" (first called "God and Mrs. Henderson") was produced. In December, 1911, his son was born, and when the child was less than a month old, Harold Chapin and his wife came back to town. Before leaving Glasgow he wrote to Mr. Granville Barker asking if he could give him an engagement. Mr. Barker replied that he was then producing a musical comedy and inquired if Chapin could sing. He promptly wired back "Yes, trained baritone voice." He did not, however, appear in the musical comedy, Mr. Barker engaging him as stage manager at the Kingsway, where "Fanny's First Play" was then being performed.
The constant strain of work led at this time to a rather serious breakdown, but he recovered in time to attend the rehearsals of his brilliant comedy, "Art and Opportunity," which was produced in the autumn of 1912 at the Prince of Wales's Theatre by Miss Marie Tempest. This production made him known to a wider public and he was recognized by all the most considerable critics as one of the two most promising of the younger men writing for the British theatre. While "Art and Opportunity" was running at the Prince of Wales's, he became stage director of the Savoy during Mr. Barker's series of Shakespearian revivals, an engagement which was to him an unqualified delight. About the same time his four-act play "Elaine," written while he was in Glasgow, was produced by Miss Horniman at the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester, and at Christmas his "Wonderful Grandmamma; or, The Wand of Youth" was played at the same theatre.
In 1913 and the first half of 1914 his "Dumb and the Blind" was acted for several months at the Prince of Wales's first as part of a triple bill and then as a front piece, "It's the Poor that 'Elps the Poor" and "Every Man for His Own " were produced, and "Dropping the Baby" was played as a first piece at the Playhouse.
Early in 1913, he acted at the Vaudeville in Mr. Jerome K. Jerome's "Robina in Search of a Husband," and he understudied during Messrs. Mackinnel and Whelen's season at this theatre. He played David Quixano in Mr. Israel Zangwill's "The Melting Pot" when it was produced by the Play Actors. When the play was afterwards taken to the Comedy he was the stage manager and he played the leading part towards the conclusion of the run. He afterwards produced and played in Mr. Zangwill's "Plaster Saints." By this time his great ability as a producer was widely recognized and he received may offers for this kind of work.
War was declared on August the 4th 1914, and at once all Harold Chapin's interests and thoughts were changed. He could only think of the war and of England's share in it. He could not act. "It seemed so silly," he said. He could not write. He could only watch for war news and attend classes in first aid. Finally, on September 2nd, he enlisted in the R.A.M.C. From the moment he joined, as is evident from his early letters, he threw all his enthusiasm, his strength, and his power of concentration into the new task. The artist and the dreamer became the enthusiastic soldier, enduring the unaccustomed hardships with a cheery good nature which made him immensely popular with his comrades. One of his mother's old friends wrote her a letter in which she said how noble it was of her son "to fight for king and country." Harold laughed when he was shown the letter. "I'm fighting for no king," he said, "and the best of this king is that he knows we are not fighting for him."
Harold Chapin's character is vividly revealed in his letters---his acute power of observation, his humour, his courage, his wide democratic sympathies, and his intense affection. He died at the beginning of his life and when the man in him was still in the making.
He was my friend, and when one's friend dies a hero's death the fact fills one with pride and humility. Until the last two years, it was not what we expected of our friends. They were kind and considerate and understanding, but we never suspected them of heroism. We had, indeed, lost faith in ourselves. We had ceased to believe that man was made in the image of God. Now we know better.
Chapin's best and most characteristic work is, unquestionably, to be found in his one-act plays, in most of which he is concerned with the life of the very poor. He never gushes or sentimentalizes. He always writes with critical sympathy. His touch is sure, and his line is clear. A good short play is as rare as a good short story, and nothing better of their kind has been given to the English stage, in our time, than his "The Dumb and the Blind " and his "It's the Poor that 'Elps the Poor." It is certain that, if he had lived, his work must have grown in range and power, and his death is a grievous loss for a theatre largely left to vulgar futilities. The men of acknowledged genius who do write for the theatre are inhuman. Their eyes are blinded by their lentil diet. Harold Chapin was at least a man.
He was fastidious, self-reliant, sure of himself, and eager, above all things, to do the best work of which he was capable. He cared less than nothing for the extra loaves and fishes that come with success, and, as he told me in the last gossip we ever had, his most miserable days were during the run of "Art and Opportunity," when substantial royalties were coming to him every week. He was a splendid friend, because of his gift of understanding. He was ascetic in all his tastes. He was indeed a Puritan, with infinite toleration and with the soul of the artist.
Harold Chapin was killed on Sunday, September 26th, at the battle of Loos. He was only twenty-nine on that Sunday afternoon, but he had lived worthily and he died gloriously.
HOW HAROLD CHAPIN DIED.
The following letter from Mr. Richard Capell, one of Harold Chapin's comrades, was the first intimation Mrs. Chapin received of her husband's death. It was, of course, written hurriedly and under trying conditions, but it gives so touching and dramatic an account of Harold Chapin's last days, that it is fell that it must be included in this book exactly as it was received.
October 3rd, 1915.
MY DEAR MRS. CHAPIN,
I beg you to accept my heartfelt condolences. I would not so much as hint at the word consolation to you after this unutterably cruel blow,---even to us, his chance friends of less than a year, it seems too cruel to be realisable,---were it not that I can give you some account, at first hand, of the splendid work of your husband on those days, September 25th and 26th. It must surely be, eventually, a consolation to you to think that he died no mean, casual death, but that he was shot down (on the afternoon of Sunday a week ago) when actually on an errand of help, and after giving himself up for hour after hour to heavy and perilous toil for the wounded.
I have been at some pains to get for you some details of that fatal afternoon, but I cannot---the reason will be obvious---now tell you quite all there is. The essential is that on Sunday morning an appeal came to our station for stretcher-bearers to assist a battalion, seven of whose bearers were out of action. Your husband and two other men set out for the trenches in question, which were to the south-west of Loos. The journey, itself, had its perils. Over the distance of two miles or thereabouts, the Germans, who were rallying after their defeat of the day before, could enfilade our ground. One day I will explain the position with precision. The three of them eventually reached the series of trenches at a moment when the Germans were counter-attacking, and were told by an officer that stretcher-work was impossible at such a moment. It was suicide to show one's head above the parapet. This was, of course, one of the old German trenches, and the enemy fire came both from front and right flank. Chapin consequently told the two others to wait for him while he reported to the medical officer who had appealed in the morning, his intention being to return to collect the wounded after dark, as we did during the week as a matter of routine. The two never saw him again.
Our line that afternoon wavered for a moment, before the counter-attack. There was a short period of confusion, and some of our men were caught in the open by German rifle and machine-gun fire. You may possibly one day get an exact account from an actual eye-witness, but from what I can piece together, your husband went over the parapet to fetch in some wounded man. He was certainly shot in the foot. It appears that he persisted and was then killed outright by a shot through the head.
Our work was so exacting at that moment, that hours passed before Chapin's absence was noticed at our station, and it was not till the following morning that we felt anxious.
I pass over a series of extravagant adventures that befell me as I made my way, then, to your husband's destination of the day before, with the idea of getting first-hand information. I found myself on the scene when the English were making a further attack. It was impossible, in daylight, to go into the open, but I found from a medical officer that a lance-corporal of the R.A.M.C. had, the night before, been seen dead over the parapet. The English attack, that afternoon, improved the position. The next morning, we had a run out there; your husband had been buried in the night near where he fell. I went down on Wednesday to the trenches, saw the officer who had been in charge of the burial party, and eventually got the papers, watch, etc., which were found on his body. These you will have received by now, I suppose. There can be no harm in telling you that he lies with six other London Territorials, within a few hundred yards of Loos cemetery.
If I have the pleasure of seeing you again, when this ghastly business is over, I will tell you something of Chapin's fine work on the Saturday, collecting wounded on the wire before the first captured German trench. For many hours I was out there with him;--heartbreaking conditions, twenty appeals for help where one could only heed one; rain for hour after hour, and no little annoyance from crossfire. On one journey, three of us (your husband was one) came in for a tempest of fire. Two of us lay low with the laden stretcher on the grass, while your husband volunteered to go ahead into the village, using a communication trench to bring back the "wheels," by which we get stretchers along at a good pace over roads. Eventually the tempest ended, and the whole day ended without casualties for us. We went to bed at midnight for two hours. Before daybreak I joined a party that was going to Loos, and so began the fatal Sunday.
If, dear Mrs. Chapin, you succeed in getting more detailed information of your husband's death it will be from some one or another in the 17th Battalion London Regiment.
I feel that I am intruding on your grief. Excuse me, and believe me, with profound sympathy,
Yours very sincerely,
HAROLD CHAPIN, DRAMATIST
By WILLIAM ARCHER
The following appreciation written after the Chapin Memorial Performance was published in the "New York Nation" of January 20th, 1916. It is reproduced here by the gracious permission of the Editor and of Mr. Archer.
The name of Harold Chapin is one of which America may well be proud; for, though English bred, he was born in America, of American parents. The occasion to which I refer was a presentation of four of his one-act plays, given in honour of his memory. For he is dead: he fell in battle before Loos; and with the single exception of Rupert Brooke, no English-speaking man of more unquestionable genius has been lost to the world in this world-frenzy. Chapin was more fortunate than Brooke, for he died in active and devoted service.
Can you wonder at the emotion with which I, who had watched Chapin and believed in him from the outset of his career, saw the four little plays which remain perhaps the best witness to the promise so sadly unfulfilled?
The outset of his career as a dramatist, I ought to have said. His career as an actor began when he was a child; for he came of a theatrical stock. As an actor, however, he made no great mark. Like Granville Barker, he was much more interested in producing plays---and in writing them. A queer semi-fantastic comedy, "The Marriage of Columbine," brought him into notice some five years ago. A good play it was not, yet it was full of unmistakable talent and originality. Several of its lines were of that subtle quality which takes an appreciable time to get home to the apprehension of the audience, so that one can actually watch their effect kindling from row to row, as it were, through the house. But it was not like the play in "Le Monde où l'on s'ennuie" in which "il-y-avait un beau vers." It had vitality throughout, and was never commonplace, either in its merits or its defects. A year or two later Chapin got his one chance of a regular production at a West End theatre. "Art and Opportunity," a three-act play written for Miss Marie Tempest, did not show him at his best. It was brimful of cleverness; but in adapting the heroine's character to Miss Tempest's vivacious, showy talent, Chapin sacrificed some of his sincerity. He created for her a new type of adventuress who, from a sort of sporting instinct, makes a system of playing with her cards upon the table. Her half-real, half-affected candour is so successful that a hostile critic says of her: "Why, Henry, she's as transparent as a jellyfish;" to which Henry replies: "Do you know why a jelly-fish is transparent? So as not to be seen too clearly." Not only wit, but real insight, went to the making of these lines.
His one-act plays, however, show his talent at its best, and were rightly chosen for the memorial performance. The first, entitled "It's the Poor that 'Elps the Poor," is a low-life sketch of extraordinary poignancy. Ted Herberts has been sent to prison for assaulting the police. During his absence his child has died, and the curtain rises upon the funeral party of neighbours, returned from the cemetery. In clumsy and grotesque ways, they show their sympathy with the bereaved mother; but it is evident that in reality the funeral is an occasion of pleasurable excitement to them. Then the husband, released from prison before his time, bursts in upon the party. He has read the report of the inquest and has seen that the child practically died of starvation. To the consternation of the mourners, who are revelling in the consciousness of their own goodness of heart, he turns upon them and asks what the sympathy is worth which can "wake" a dead child, but cannot make the trifling sacrifices that would have kept it alive. They allege various excuses; it is evident that they have been thoughtless rather than actually callous; and at last the father's bitterness of spirit is swamped in a burst of natural human grief. Though there is something of the French comédie rosse in the play, its humour is not in the least cruel. It leaves no bad taste behind it, but simply a poignant sense of the hard conditions of life for those on the margin of subsistence, and of the prevailing shiftlessness of the very poor.
Simpler and more delicate is the second little play, "The Dumb and the Blind." The avocations of Joe Henderson, bargeman, have been such as to permit of his spending only two nights a week in his domestic circle. But now he returns, accompanied by his pal, Bill, to announce to his wife, Liz, that he has been promoted to a post that will give him an additional ten shillings a week and enable him to come home every night. In an opening scene between Liz and her sharp daughter, Emmy, we have gained the impression that Mr. Henderson's household is more agreeable without his bodily presence; and this impression is confirmed when we find him treating his wife, not with actual brutality, but with captious and blustering harshness. At last he sends her out for the indispensable jug of beer, and sits gossiping with his crony. Impatient of her delay, he goes to the door and looks out, when it is evident that he sees something---we know not what---that somehow impresses him. He calls "Liz!" and she comes in rather guiltily, with the jug still empty. He asks Bill to fetch the beer, and meanwhile questions his wife. "Wot was you a-doin' of?" "Puttin' on me 'at." "No, you wasn't. . . . I see you kneelin' wiv your head on the bed." With great reluctance she confesses that she was saying her prayers. "You don't 'ave to say yer prayers before fetching a drop of beer, do you?" No; but it just came over her, like, that she wanted to. Why? Because she felt grateful like---she wanted to sort o' thank Gawd. The domestic tyrant can scarcely believe his ears. He questions her closely to make sure that this is not merely a mechanical habit of hers, and gradually yields to the strange conviction that she is positively glad to have him at home for good. The realization induces in him a mood of such solemnity that when Bill returns with the beer Joe declines his share of it---a phenomenon which leaves Bill, in his turn dumfounded. This rough summary does great injustice to a veritable masterpiece in its way---a thing Dickens would have delighted in. There is not a single false note in the little play: it is as restrained as it is touching. We feel that the dumb has spoken and the blind has seen; and we hope, without too much confidence, that a new era is dawning on the Henderson household.
The third play, "The Philosopher of Butterbiggens," was acted for the first time on any stage. It is in the Barrie vein, and yet is no mere echo of Barrie. Its delightful humour would lose too much in narration, so I shall not attempt it, but will only say that it is as good in its lighter way as "The Dumb and the Blind," and that the audience was charmed with it. A more commonplace comedietta, "Innocent and Annabel," brought the programme to a close. It was very amusing, but not markedly individual.
The general impression left by the performance was deep and memorable. It was no mere respectful solemnity: the audience vividly enjoyed every word of it. Something was due to the excellent acting; for many of our best artists had come forward to do honour to their lost comrade. But what one realizes most keenly in retrospect is the abounding vitality of Chapin's talent. There was not a moment when one did not feel one's self in touch with a living spirit, bounteously endowed with thought, observation, humour, craftsmanship. It filled one with a sort of dumb rage to think that such rare promise had been extinguished, on the threshold of fulfilment, by the brute hazard of the battlefield. It was a youth in his twenties who had done all this fine work---what might we not have expected from the ripened man? In Professor Gildersleeve's recently reprinted "Creed of the Old South " I find a line of Schiller exactly apt to the occasion:
Ja, der Krieg verschlingt die Besten
though one would be sorry to continue the quotation, and say:
Denn Patroklus liegt begraben,
Und Thersites kommt zur¸ck.
This would be a gross injustice to thousands of men who are none the less brave for being fortunate. But, at any rate, Schiller gives no countenance to the notion that war subserves the survival of the fittest. If one could believe that the champions of that criminal fallacy would be exterminated, there would be some consolation even for a loss like that of Harold Chapin. But most of them, alas! keep snugly aloof from the firing-line.
HAROLD CHAPIN'S PLAYS.
|"Augustus in Search of a Father"||One Act.|
|"The Marriage of Columbine"||Four Acts.|
|"Muddle Annie"||One Act.|
|"The Autocrat of the Coffee Stall"||One Act|
|"Innocent and Annabel"||One Act.|
|"The Dumb and the Blind"||One Act.|
|"The Threshold"||One Act.|
|"Art & Opportunity"||Three Acts.|
|"Wonderful Grandmama"||Two parts.|
|"The New Morality"||Three Acts.|
|"It's the Poor that 'Elps the Poor"||One Act.|
|"Every Man for His Own"||One Act.|
|"Dropping the Baby"||One Act|
|"The Philosopher of Butterbiggins"||One Act|
|"The Well Made Dress Coat."||Four Acts|
Licensed by the Lord Chamberlain to Mr. ALFRED BUTT,
25, Marlborough Place, London)
Kindly lent by Mr. FREDERICK WHELEN
THE HAROLD CHAPIN
To Build a Y.M.C.A. Hut at the Front
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14th, at 6 o'clock.
Chairman, Sir Herbert Tree.
|Henry Ainley.||Sidney Dark.||J. T. Grein.|
|William Archer.||P. Michael Faraday.||Ernest Mayer,|
Hon. Manager, G. Dickson-Kenwin.
Hon. Secretary, Miss Ruth Parrott.
Four One-Act Plays by HAROLD CHAPIN
"It's the Poor that 'elps the Poor"
|Mrs. Harris||BLANCHE STANLEY|
|Mr. Harris||STANLEY TURNBULL|
|Mr. Charles King||PERCIVAL CLARKE|
|Mrs. Pipe||AGNES THOMAS|
|Emily Pipe||KATHLEEN RUSSELL|
|Willy Pipe ..||JACK RENSHAW|
|Mr. Pickard||BEN FIELD|
|Mrs. Manley||SYDNEY FAIRBROTHER|
|Alfred Wright||BEN WEBSTER|
|Walter Wright||A. HARDING STEERMAN|
|Mrs. Herberts||CALYPSO VALETTA|
|Ted||GERALD du MAURIER|
Produced by W. G. FAY
Stage Manager - W.T.LOVELL
"The Dumb and the Blind "
Produced by SIDNEY VALENTINE
Stage Manager --J. STEWART DAWSON
"The Philosopher of Butterbiggins"
For the First Time on any Stage
|John Bell||ALLAN JEAYES|
Produced by H. K. AYLIFF
Stage Manager --- CHARLES RUSS
Interval of Fifteen Minutes.
"Innocent and Annabel"
|Achille Innocent||STANLEY LOGAN|
|Mrs. Achille||MARY JERROLD|
|Servant||MAY EDWARD SAKER|
Produced by EILLE NORWOOD
Stage Manager --- OSWALD MARSHALL
All the Artistes appear by kind permission of their respective Managers.
Hon. Manager - G. Dickson-Kenwin
(By permission of Mr. J. T. Grein)
Hon. General Stage Manager - J. Stewart Dawson
(By permission of Messrs. Vedrenne & Eadie)
Hon. Stage Manager - Charles Russ
(for Queen's Theatre)
(By permission of Mr. Frederick Whelen)
Hon. Musical Director Napoleon Lambelet
[NOTE.---As a result of this performance, a "Harold Chapin" Y.M.C.A. Hut has been erected in France in the advanced British Lines.]
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