She Would Be a Soldier/Preface
The following dramatic bagatelle was written in a few days, and its reception, under every circumstance, far exceeded its merits. I had no idea of printing it, until urged to do so by some friends connected with theatres, who, probably, were desirous of using it without incurring the expense of transcribing from the original manuscript. Writing plays is not my "vocation;" and even if the mania was to seize me, I should have to contend with powerful obstacles, and very stubborn prejudices; to be sure, these, in time, might be removed, but I have no idea of being the first to descend into the arena, and become a gladiator for the American Drama. These prejudices against native productions, however they may be deplored as impugning native genius, are nevertheless very natural. An American audience, I have no doubt, would be highly pleased with an American play, if the performance afforded as much gratification as a good English one; but they pay their money to be pleased, and if we cannot afford pleasure, we have no prescriptive right to ask for approbation. In England, writing of plays is a profession, by which much money is made if the plays succeed; hence a dramatic author goes to work, secundum artem.—He employs all his faculties, exhausts all his resources, devotes his whole time, capacity and ingenuity to the work in hand; the hope of reward stimulates him—the love of fame urges him on—the opposition of rivals animates his exertions—and the expectation of applause sweetens his labours—and yet, nine times out of ten, he fails. Mr. Dunlap, of this city, has written volumes of plays, and written well, "excellent well," but he made nothing; nay, he hardly obtained that civic wreath which he fairly earned. Barker, of Philadelphia, whose muse is the most delicate and enticing, has hung up his harp, which, I dare say, is covered with dust and cobwebs; and even Harby, of Charleston, whose talents are of the finest order, and who is a bold yet chaste poet, gained but little profit and applause from his labours. We must not expect, therefore, more encouragement for the American Drama than may be sufficient to urge us on. We will succeed in time, as well as the English, because we have the same language, and equal intellect; but there must be system and discipline in writing plays—a knowledge of stage effect—of sound, cadences, fitness of time and place, interest of plot, spirit of delineation, nature, poetry, and a hundred et ceteras, which are required, to constitute a good dramatic poet, who cannot, in this country, and while occupied in other pursuits, spring up over night like asparagus, or be watered and put in the sun, like a geranium in a flower pot.
I wrote this play in order to promote the benefit of a performer who possesses talent, and I have no objections to write another for any deserving object. New plays, in this country, are generally performed, for the first time, as anonymous productions: I did not withhold my name from this, because I knew that my friends would go and see it performed, with the hope of being pleased, and my opponents would go with other motives, so that between the two parties a good house would be the result. This was actually the case, and two performances produced nearly $2,400; I hope this may encourage Americans of more talent to attempt something.
National plays should be encouraged. They have done everything for the British nation, and can do much for us; they keep alive the recollection of important events, by representing them in a manner at once natural and alluring. We have a fine scope, and abundant materials to work with, and a noble country to justify the attempt. The "Battle of Chippewa" was selected, because it was the most neat and spirited battle fought during the late war, and I wish I was able to do it more justice.
New-York, July, 1819.