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JAMES A. HERNE (1839-1901)

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. 228-9.

James A. Herne was born in 1839 at Cohoes, New York. After receiving a very rudimentary education he left home at the age of twenty and joined a theatrical company in Troy, and began his actor's career in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Soon after, he joined another company, played in Albany, then Baltimore, and at the age of thirty he became manager of the New York Grand Opera House. Leaving this situation, he became an actor again, and toured the country. His second marriage, in 1878, was a decisive point in his career: his wife, Miss Katherine Corcoran, helped and encouraged him to devote his time to the writing, rather than the acting of plays. His first play, Hearts of Oak, was produced the year after his marriage. Shore Acres, Drifting Apart, The Minute Men, and Sag Harbor, written during the next twenty years, brought their author fame and a good share of success. Herne continued to act for many years. He died in 1901.

Herne is a very important figure in American drama: in his melodramas there is a note of simplicity, of sympathy, of reality, which lifts them into the realm of true drama. In his most ambitious achievements, The Rev. Griffith Davenport and Margaret Fleming, there was said to be "tragic sentiment," "forcefulness," and "serious simplicity." Herne delighted and excelled in drawing rural types, and though he occasionally placed his characters in conventional settings and melodramatic situations, they were nearly always faithful and kindly portrayals of life. His technique was "old-fashioned," his ideas possibly antiquated, according to modern standards, but he was a force, an influence, an ideal.