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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Augustin Eugène Scribe (1791–1861)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
AFTER the spirited comedy of Beaumarchais came a lull in dramatic production in France. The public yawned over long dull plays, or applauded mediocre work for its cheap reflection of popular sentiment. Then Eugène Scribe came to the rescue, having gradually found out what the public taste craved. He had learned this through perhaps a dozen failures, when his shrewd instinct guided him to seize upon vaudeville, and dignify it to the rank of laugh-provoking comedy. His plot, as ingeniously contrived as a Chinese puzzle, was a frame upon which he hung clever dialogue, catchy songs, puns, popular allusions, and manifold witticisms.  1
  His first successful vaudeville, ‘Une Nuit du Garde National,’ in one act, written in collaboration with Poirson, another young author, was played at the Gymnase in 1816, and was the beginning of Scribe’s astonishing popularity.  2
  For about forty years he was the master playwright of France. He grew more and more cunning in estimating his audience, flattering their foibles, and reflecting contemporary interests. He was strictly unmoral, and offered no problems. His light frothy humor required no mental effort; he diverted without fatiguing. So Paris loved Scribe, paid him a fortune, made him a great social as well as literary light, and in 1836 admitted him to the Academy. From his father, a prosperous silk merchant in Paris, where he himself was born in 1791, he inherited decided business talent. Perhaps no author has ever received fuller measure of pecuniary success.  3
  Wonderful tales are told of his intuitive comprehension of dramatic possibilities. One day “La Chanoinesse,’ a dull five-act tragedy, was read to him. Before the end had been reached, his mind had the plot transformed into a witty one-act burlesque. He was less inventive than skillful at adaptation, so he often borrowed ideas from more fertile and less executive brains. For these, Scribe, always this honorable business man, gave due credit. So it is said that many a poverty-stricken writer was surprised to be claimed as collaborator by the great M. Scribe, and to receive generous payment for ideas which in their changed form he could hardly recognize as his own.  4
  After 1840 Scribe partially deserted the clever buffoonery of his vaudeville, and attempted serious five-act dramas. Of these, two of the best—‘Adrienne Lecouvreur’ and ‘La Bataille des Dames’ (The Ladies’ Battle)—were written with Legouvé; and in translation are familiar to American play-goers.  5
  Scribe turned his hand to most kinds of composition. He wrote several volumes of charming tales. He was especially skillful in the composition of librettos for the operas of Verdi, Auber, Meyerbeer, and other composers. He was remarkably prolific, and about four hundred pieces are included in the published list of his works; from which, however, many waifs and strays of his talent are omitted.  6
  Although most of his plays, once so cordially liked, are now obsolete, Scribe has a lasting claim to remembrance in that his mastery of stage technique guided greater dramatists than himself to more effective expression. Perhaps no one ever lived with a stronger sense of scenic requirements. His plays could not drag. Although often superficial in his effort to sketch lightly contemporary life, and in his preoccupation with everyday general human interests, Scribe anticipated the drama of realism.  7
 
 
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