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BRONSON HOWARD (1842-1908)

The following biography was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 219-20.

Bronson Croker Howard was born at Detroit, in 1842. Receiving his primary education in Detroit, he prepared himself for Yale at an eastern preparatory school, but was prevented from entering college because of an affection of the eyes. He then returned to Detroit and joined the staff of the Free Press, to which he made numerous contributions. At the same time he was experimenting with the play-form. Most of his early attempts were never produced. His first play was a dramatization of an episode from Les Misérables, called Fantine; this was produced in Detroit in 1864. The following year Howard came to New York, wrote for the Tribune and the Post, carried plays from manager to manager during a period of five years, until in 1870 Augustin Daly accepted and produced Saratoga, which was immensely successful. From then on Howard's success was assured; The Banker's Daughter, Young Mrs. Winthrop, The Henrietta, Shenandoah, and Aristocracy were among the best-known and best-liked of American plays [of their day]. Howard died at Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey, in 1908.

Brander Matthews (in "An Appreciation") says: "Bronson Howard's career as a dramatist covered the transition period of the modern drama when it was changing from the platform-stage to the picture-frame-stage. His immediate predecessor, Dion Boucicault, worked in accordance with the conditions of the platform-stage, with its rhetorical emphasis, its confidential soliloquies to the audience, and its frequent changes of scene in the course of the act.... When Bronson Howard began to write for the stage he accepted the convenient traditions of the time, although he followed T.W. Robertson in giving only a single scene to each act. As a result of this utilization of conventions soon to seem outworn, certain of his earlier plays appeared to him late in life incapable of being brought down to date, as they had been composed in accordance with a method now discarded.... He moved with his time; and his latest plays, Aristocracy for one, and Kate for another, are in perfect accord with the more modern formula. Yet he did not go as far as some other playwrights of today. He knew that the art of the theater, like every other art, can live only by the conventions which allow it to depart from the mere facts of life." Howard deserves the title of "Dean of American Drama" because he was the first to awaken to the fact that in the America of his day there was material for an indigenous drama, and he did his best, in spite of French influences, to throw off the conventions of the past and point a way to the future.