The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: drama

Velasco: A Tragedy, in Five Acts by Epes Sargent

November, 1837, Epes Sargent’s revenge tragedy, Velasco: A Tragedy, in Five Acts, premiered in Boston. The play was received with approval and published in book form in 1838. Unlike Sargent’s other major play, The Bride of Genoa, this work can be found online. Withholding spoilers, I’ll cover the major plot points in the play and briefly discuss it. You’ll find a small excerpt from the play at the end of this post.

The play, comprising of a cookie-cutter plot, besprinkled with two-dimensional politics and sometimes sub-par humor, threatens its own demise in sinking into the depths of forgotten drama. However, Sargent’s exceptional literary voice, outside of his vague humor, redeems these mundane qualities. The main plot revolves around the love story of Velasco and Izidora. Sargent purports the play to be historical, although “many of its scenes and situations are purely imaginary” (9). According to The Dramatic Mirror, and Literary Companion, Vol. 1, the play was based on “an incident in the life of the celebrated Spanish champion, Don Rodrigo Diar de Bivar” (64). The Dramatic Mirror further illustrates the tale, explaining, “This renowned hero, to avenge an insult offered to his father, slew, in single combat, the aggressor, Don Gomez of Gormaz, being, at the same time, betrothed to his daughter, Donna Ximenar. The Lady appealed to the Spanish monarch for redress; but was, subsequently, if we may credit popular tradition, united to the Campeador” (64). They criticize that Sargent absolutely took “poetical liberties” in the execution of this historical tale, just as Sargent acknowledges in his “Advertisement.” It may be agreed, therefore, that although Don Rodrigo Diar de Bivar’s tale faintly echoes the plot of Sargent’s work, Sargent personifies these historical figures and manipulates them into characters of his own design, paired with a lackluster plot.

This plot is as follows. Velasco and Izidora reunite after Velasco’s absence and vow to marry. Izadora, already engaged to a gentleman by the name of Hernando, breaks off her engagement in order to be with Velasco. Hernando proceeds to conspire and break Velasco and Izidora’s engagement through whatever means possible. Julio, Izidora’s brother, sees through Hernando’s plot and warns both his sister and their father, Gonzalez, of the foreshadowed doom. To further disrupt the unification of Velasco and Izidora, and through Hernando’s dastardly doing, Velasco’s father, De Lerma, shows dishonor towards Izidora’s father, Gonzalez. In order to clear De Lerma’s name, Velasco offers to settle the score between his father and Gonzalez. This is where Velasco and Izidora’s relationship begins to take a major tumble. Two houses are now divided, and Velasco has vowed to reclaim honor to his father’s name by placing honor and chivalric duty before love. As the genre suggests, this tragedy does not end well.

As previously mentioned, the plot is pretty basic. However, based on Sargent’s intelligent dialogue and expert stage directions, it is easy to see why this play was received well during its time. (Although, it feels like many plays were received well during the Victorian era.) It succeeds in carrying a classic air, whether it be due to the language or some vague charm about it that I still can’t pinpoint. Therefore, while in the mood of giving it more credit than I fear is due, Sargent’s play should be ranked outside of “Victorian” literature and placed amongst its successful forebears in drama. The stock plot, superb dialogue, sometimes humorous speech, inclusion of politics, and love story mixed with tragedy equal the proper ingredients to make a successful play, after all. The only thing it’s missing is a paranormal scene—or is it? Read to find out! It’s worth a couple hours of your time.

Here’s a very short excerpt taken from the beginning of the play, to allow you to test the waters.

Before the Castle of De Lerma—Time, sunset.
(Enter Velasco in the full costume of a knight of the eleventh century, followed by Alfonzo, his squire.)

Home! home, at last, Alfonzo! There they shine,
The old ancestral bulwarks, in the rays
Of the declining sun! A year has passed
Since last I gazed upon them—there they rise,
The same, as when a careless child I play’d
Beneath their mighty shadows. How each nook
Prates of the olden time! The very air
Is fragrant as the breath of infancy!
Old towers! I bring you no unworthy inmate,
No spotted scutcheon, no inglorious name!
Alfonzo! By the calendar, what day?
Is it not Santiago’s?

Ay, my lord.

This day completes my term of banishment.

(If you’re interested in reading more of what the Dramatic Mirror had to critically say, click here.)

On That Time When Edward Carey of Carey & Hart Beat a Man With His Umbrella

In keeping up with published scandals of the 19th century, I am happy to provide the following account, copied from The Publishers’ Circular of August 08, 1891 (no. 1310, pg. 133). In this amusing article, we find two epistles recounting a time when Edward L. Carey of Carey & Hart, a 19th century American publishing company, involved himself in a scuffle while overseas in London. I find it amusing that this gentleman, whom I’d imagined to be genial and well-mannered, instigated the commotion! Check this obscure article out and feel free to comment. Who do you think was truly in the wrong here? I’m siding with Mr. Carey. -Ann

The Publishers’ Circular
The following correspondences regarding the series of articles on “Annuals of Sixty Years ago” explains itself, and is not, we think, without interest.
To the Editor of the PUBLISHERS’ CIRCULAR
SIR,—Your interesting article, “The Annuals of Sixty Years Ago,” in your June 27 number, revives graphically in my recollection a tradition in the history of our house.
Away back in the thirties my immediate predecessors, E. L. Carey and A. Hart, bought from the publishers in London, with the exclusive American market, 1,000 copies of one of the “Annuals” named in your list. For these books they paid cash with the order. At the time these books arrived in New York, they received a letter from a New York merchant, not a bookseller, stating that he had received by a certain ship—the same which had brought Carey & Hart’s one thousand copies—from the publishers of this book a certain number of copies of the book which they offered to Carey & Hart.
Finding themselves thus treated, and knowing that those London publishers had dealings with a bookseller in Philadelphia who was a large importer of English books, and ascertaining that this bookseller was indebted to the London house in a considerable sum, they employed a lawyer who took out a writ of foreign attachment of a debt due to the London house, and commenced legal proceedings under that writ. These whole proceedings in the premises, when the case came to be tried in the court in Philadelphia, proving to be irregular, Carey & Hart were non-suited.
In the meantime, the debtor of London publishers became bankrupt, and accordingly those publishers lost their claim, when in turn they brought suit against Carey & Hart for the amount of this lost claim, but after years of litigation, way into the forties, it having been proven that the debtor of the London home was bankrupt when the claim was attached by Carey & Hart, the London house was in turn non-suited. Thus this litigation of perhaps ten years, came to an end, and both Carey & Hart and the publishers of the London “Annual” lost their money.
Subsequently to this transaction by the London publishers, Edward L. Carey was in London, and, calling on the firm, had some pretty high words with one of the partners, which resulted in blows, which would probably have further resulted in an arrest, if Mr.Carey had not left London on the following morning, and sailed immediately thereafter for the United States.
Yours truly,
Philadelphia: July 15, 1891

Sir,—I can give you a very clear answer to your inquiry respecting the firm of London publishers referred to by Mr. Henry Carey Baird in his letter of July 15.
One morning, it must have been in 1838 or 1839, I was in the front room of Mr. Charles Tilt’s office at 86 Fleet Street, when Mr. Carey, the Philadelphia publisher, came in, as he had been in the habit of doing for several days, and walked through to speak to Mr.David Bogue[?] (Mr.Tilt’s partner),in the counting-house. Soon afterwards, Mr. Fisher, of the firm of Fisher, Son & Co., of Newgate Street, the publishers of ‘The Drawing Room Scrap Book,’ followed and asked to speak to Mr. Carey, evidently by appointment. The two gentlemen met in my presence (I do not think they had ever seen one another before), and commenced an earnest conversation in a low voice; presently, however, words became higher, and I heard Mr. Fisher say, in a loud and emphatic tone ‘That’s a lie.’ The words had hardly escaped his mouth before I saw and heard a tremendous blow given by the American gentleman fall on the Englishman’s broad breast. I must tell you that Mr. Fisher was a burly man, six feet in height, and Mr. Carey a slim man not half his weight. Of course Mr. Fisher retaliated, and for a few seconds there was a free fight, Mr. Carey using his umbrella when he had a chance. Fortunately they were in a very narrow space between a high desk and a table, and could not do each other much harm. I got in between them as soon as I could, protesting against their unseemly [?] (not without receiving a blow from the umbrella), and very quickly three or four clerks came from the inner rooms, the strife was ended, and Mr. Fisher left. I remember that we took the part of the American, but, out of all who were then present, I am the only survivor, and it is a curious coincidence that you should have applied to me for information.
Yours obediently,
Wallington: Aug. 3, 1891