Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Hankin, St. John Emile Clavering

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HANKIN, ST. JOHN EMILE CLAVERING (1869–1909), playwright, born on 26 Sept. 1869 at Southampton, was third and youngest son of four children of Charles Wright Hankin, a descendant of the ancient Cornish family of Kestell, and at one time headmaster of King Edward VI's grammar school, Southampton. His mother was Mary Louisa (d. 1909), daughter of Edmund Thomas Wigley Perrot, who inherited estates at Craycombe, Worcestershire. In January 1883 Hankin entered Malvern College as house and foundation scholar, and at the age of seventeen he won an open postmastership at Merton College, Oxford, as well as a close Ackroyd scholarship, for which he was qualified hereditarily through his mother. He matriculated on 21 Oct. 1886, and took second classes in honour moderations (1888) and in the final classical school (1890). On leaving the university Hankin engaged in journalism in London. From 1890 he contributed to the 'Saturday Review.' In 1894 he joined the staff of the 'Indian Daily News' at Calcutta. After a year in India an attack of malaria drove him home. For a time Hankin worked on 'The Times,' and he contributed to other papers dramatic criticisms and miscellaneous articles. His keen wit and shrewd commonsense were seen to advantage in two series of papers which appeared in 'Punch' and were afterwards published independently, viz. 'Mr. Punch's Dramatic Sequels' (1901), which added supplementary acts to the great classics of the English drama, and 'Lost Masterpieces' (1904), a series of subtle parodies of eminent authors in both prose and verse.

Playwriting of a realistic frankness was Hankin's main ambition. The first of his plays to be acted was 'The Two Mr. Wetherbys,' which was privately performed in London by the Stage Society in Feb. 1903 and later by Mr. William Hawtrey in Australia and New Zealand. When in 1905 the strain of a journalist's life in London compelled him to retire to Campden in Gloucestershire, he mainly devoted himself to writing for the stage. His translation of Brieux's 'Les trois filles de Monsieur Dupont' was produced, again privately, by the Stage Society in 1905, and its boldness excited some censure. Hankin, who thoroughly believed in his own powers and principles, obtained genuine success in the witty and pungently ironical comedy called 'The Return of the Prodigal,' which was publicly produced on 26 Sept. 1905 by Messrs. Vedrenne and Barker at the Court Theatre, and was revived on 29 April 1907. 'The Charity that began at Home' and 'The Cassilis Engagement,' which was perhaps the most popular of his plays, proved less incisive; both were first performed privately by the Stage Society in London in 1906 and 1907 respectively, and were afterwards successfully repeated at repertory theatres in Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow. The three last-named plays were published in 1907 under the ironic title of 'Three Plays with Happy Endings,' with a preface in which he replied to adverse criticism in the press. In 'The 'Last of the De Mullins,' produced by the Stage Society in December 1908 and published in 1909, Hankin's merciless and outspoken realism went even further than before. He also wrote two one-act pieces, 'The Burglar who Failed,' which had a successful run at the Criterion Theatre in November 1908, and 'The Constant Lover,' which was produced at the Royalty Theatre in February 1912.

Hankin's dramatic work, in so far as it satirised middle-class conventional standards of morality, bore traces of Mr. Bernard Shaw's influence. But he showed originality in his absolute freedom from any semblance of romantic illusion and in his impatience of sentiment, which led him usually to end his comedies with the victory of the unscrupulous scamp. Although his plots were carefully elaborated, and his pieces technically well planned, he chiefly aimed at a coldly acute analysis of character. His finely pointed wit failed to reconcile the public at large or the critics in the press to his cynical attitude to life. Never of robust health, Hankin suffered much since 1907 from neurasthenia, and he more than once derived benefit from the baths at Llandrindod Wells. Thither he went in the early summer of 1909, and in a fit of depression drowned himself in the river Ithon on 15 June 1909. His ashes were buried after cremation at Golder's Green. He married in 1901 Florence, daughter of George Routledge, J.P., the publisher. He left no children.

[The Times, 21 June 1909: Athenæum, 26 June 1909; Desmond MacCarthy's The Court Theatre, 1907; Malvern College Register, 1904; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1888; Max Beerbohm, A Book of Caricatures, 1907, No. xix.; private information from Mrs. St. John Hankin.]

G. S. W.