The Psychoscope: Introduction
By Lawrence I. Berkove
Quite probably the first flower of American realistic drama bloomed in a four-day forward spring in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1872. A generation ahead of their time, Rollin Mallory Daggett and Joseph Thompson Goodman, an editor and the owner-publisher of the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, respectively, wrote a play that delighted and shocked the residents of one of America's least inhibited communities. Now made available in published form for the first time after more than one hundred and thirty years, it can take its place as a phenomenon of precocity in literary history. The Psychoscope unexpectedly lives up to its name for it recalls to view an advanced experiment in dramatic innovation that was lost and almost forgotten.
If nineteenth-century Nevada seems a peculiar place for this experiment to have occurred, it must be remembered that the wealth of the Comstock Lode, perhaps the richest concentration of gold and silver ore ever discovered, attracted not only miners but also adventurous men of talent in every field. Those with literary ability, such as Mark Twain and Dan De Quille, found a base in the trade of journalism, for newspapers appeared in every mining town of importance. Once the matter of news was taken care of, the reporters and editors with creative gifts supplied the mining camps' appetite for imaginative writing: whimsy, fiction, poetry, and also drama. The wonder is not that good writing occurred in the roughest parts of the Old West but that it wasn't sought after and collected before now.(1)
Virginia City was the cultural as well as the industrial hub of the Comstock. In the early seventies, as it approached its peak population of 20-25,000 permanent residents plus a floating population of five or ten thousand more, it boasted two opera halls and some music halls, a theater, and a National Guard Hall that could serve as a playhouse, a library, a hospital, elegant restaurants, fine hotels, and several newspapers. It was also on the main American circuit for lecturers and popular entertainment. Plays were especially popular and travelling dramatic companies brought with them name actors and a large repertoire of plays.(2) Almost every night, in some seasons, at least one dramatic performance was scheduled, and occasionally a matinee was added, often for women and children.(3) Occasionally, some of these performances were designated "benefits," a means by which individual actors would receive a bonus of a portion of the ticket proceeds over and above their salaries. Performances usually consisted of a main play or musical feature and an interlude or afterpiece of a shorter farce, olio, or dramatic reading. The offerings were eclectic; a typical season would include fare as varied as Hamlet; The Black Crook; The Irish Exile; Live Eagle; The Eaton Boy; Ingomar the Barbarian; Eight Hours a Day, or The Workingman's Lick; Nick of the Woods, or the Jibbenainosay; Dutch Sketches; and Shoo-Fly Can-can.
Some of these plays, like Hamlet or Bulwer's Lady of Lyons, were either established classics of the dramatic repertoire or contemporary plays written by eminent English or European authors. Others, like The Black Crook, were nationally popular works originating in the East. Still others were the works of local playwrights or compositions aimed at a specifically Western audience, such as Virginia Above and Below Ground ("an extravaganza written by J.C. Arnold expressly for the Alhambra") and The Gambling Days of `49. The Psychoscope is an unusual play in many respects, the first and most obvious of which is that it does not fit conveniently into any of these categories: although definitely the work of local playwrights it is not at all Western in locale or theme; it is set in New York and was written with a national audience in mind.
The Psychoscope was the result of the collaboration of two of Mark Twain's associates on the Territorial Enterprise, at the time the largest, most talent-laden, and most respected newspaper between Chicago and San Francisco. Such fame as both Joseph Goodman and Rollin Daggett have had up to this time rests principally upon their association with Mark Twain, yet their colleagues and contemporaries knew them as versatile men of outstanding talent. In addition to their journalism, they both went on to distinguished careers. Goodman first became an author(4), then a stock broker, a magazine publisher, a grape grower, and, in his later years, a successful paleographer who was one of the first, and is still respected as one of the most important, interpreters of Mayan hieroglyphs. Daggett became an author(5) and also a Congressman from Nevada and Minister to Hawaii.
Although both men, like many Western journalists, were autodidacts, they read widely and deeply, especially in the classics and standard works of modern literature, and acquired educations that were at least equivalent to that of most modern college graduates. There are a number of allusions, for example, to Hamlet in the play, and in Act IV, scene 1, there are, besides an additional pointed allusion to Midsummer's Night's Dream, quoted passages in heroic couplets about the Twelve Labors of Hercules, and from the Lancelot and Elaine section of Tennyson's Idylls of the King (ll. 1106-22 and 1146-54). Few literature majors today would be able to quote these lines, if indeed they even recognized the allusions. During the years when Daggett and Goodman worked together on the Enterprise both men had literary ambitions. They competed in writing poetry, most of which--with a few exceptions--now seems somewhat ornate, and they cooperated in composing The Psychoscope, subtitled "A Sensational Drama in Five Acts."
Their cooperation on this play was a consequence of the strong interests both men had in the theater. Sam Davis, a respected contemporary journalist and historian of the Comstock, attributes the "first original Comstock play produced in Virginia City" (whose name has not survived) to Goodman. He says of it that "[i]t was a `stilted' production, and that some of the magnificent lines read like Richelieu. It was full of great men, Roman Senators and the like, and the last act made a roaring burlesque of all the preceding ones."(6) We also know that Goodman and Daggett were particularly fond of reviewing plays for the Enterprise, and were able on occasion to collaborate on reviews and blend their comments seamlessly.(7) A 1909 memoir relates that some years before they composed The Psychoscope, they had collaborated on another play called The Woodhunters, a highly successful and effective political burlesque. According to Joe Goodman's account of The Psychoscope's genesis, on the day Daggett first suddenly conceived the idea for the germ of the play, both men, finding their minds "complementary," within an hour laid out the entire plot of the play and its characters, and decided who was to write what. The play was completed within a month (see Appendix 9)(8).
The play was completed, privately printed, and copyrighted in 1871. It was produced for the first time at Piper's Opera House in Virginia City by John McCullough on August 15-18, 1872, the last four days of his California Theatre Company's season. McCullough, a very popular and respected actor, played the hero, Percy Gresham, and was supported by what was generally regarded as a highly competent cast. The second night of the performance was scheduled to be a benefit for J.C. Williamson, with some added attractions to follow the main performance. These were an ethnic farce, "Paddy's Mischief"; the recitation by McCullough of the popular poem, "Sheridan's Ride"; and the recitation by Williamson of "Schneider's Ride," probably a companion parody, most likely in mock-"Dutch" (i.e. German) vernacular. All in all, what with considerable advance newspaper publicity and the strong reputations of Goodman and Daggett, a full house was anticipated. And that was what, in fact, attended the play at most of its five performances. The last newspaper ads for the play describe it as an "immense success,"(9) and the 1909 account of it reports that a song in it "caught on" so well that townspeople sang or whistled it. In addition to the popularity that derived from the successes of its plot and sensational effects, the controversy caused by the play was certainly another factor that contributed to its full houses and especially to the consequence that The Psychoscope became a cause célèbre that did not fade from memory.
According to Sam Davis, The Psychoscope was one of the most outstanding of the many dramatic productions that played on the Comstock. Davis relates that it was "a really wonderful play, which old Comstockers will remember. The California Theatre Company came up and performed it to crowded houses for a week. John McCullough offered $10,000 for the piece, if he could be permitted to eliminate one scene which he considered too loud for eastern audiences. The authors would permit no such weakening of their effort, and refused the offer."(10) The 1909 memoir supports Davis, and an 1873 editorial notes that the play was highly acclaimed by Booth, Barrett, and Wallack, outstanding actors of the period, as "the most attractive [play] written during the past quarter of a century" (see Appendix 8). The story of this play and its offending scene should enhance the Comstock's place in literary history.
What upset its early viewers so much was what we would now identify as an element of unusually frank realism: the play's portrayal of prostitutes and its depiction of what goes on in a brothel. Although anticipated on the English-speaking stage by Gay's Beggar's Opera (1728), The Psychoscope's scenes involving prostitutes caused great controversy and, as we now know, were directly responsible for keeping the play out of future production. Four of the actresses play prostitutes, one of whom, Minnie Lattimer, the list of characters specifically describes as "a pretty street walker," and another of whom, Molly McPherson, is the madam of their panel-house (brothel).(11) Prostitutes appear in a total of four scenes in the text, including two which are set in the panel-house. In Act II, Scene 3--almost certainly the scene that John McCullough hoped to remove--Minnie and Molly and the other two prostitutes entertain the delightful, good-hearted, but unsuspecting rustic, Philo Bundy, get him drunk, drug him, rob him of his valuables, and then have him dumped in a street. The playwrights later intimated that the scene was intended as comic but its raw accuracy was obviously too much for Virginia City.
The scene was strong enough by itself, but added to that were the facts that at least one of the prostitutes was "pretty," none of them apparently repented a life of sin, justice is meted out in the end only to Molly, and a woman is allowed to curse (Molly twice uses "d--n" and "d----d" in her anger at being caught). Although Virginia City was one of the most wide-open cities in the West, with a large and well-frequented red-light district a short walk away from the theater, and although just a few years earlier the entire town had turned out to mourn the murder of Juliette Bulette, the madam of the most popular brothel on the Comstock, The Psychoscope's realistic depiction of prostitutes and the way they worked so shocked the town that the scene was responsible for a stormy first night and undoubtedly contributed to the brevity of the play's career. The journalistic dispute is recorded in the 1872 theatrical reviews of the Comstock press, seven of which have survived; in an 1873 Territorial Enterprise editorial; and in a 1909 memoir. These records have been collected and included herein as appendices.
The nature of the controversy may be inferred from the details of the heavy resistance the play incurred. More than normal opening night roughness seems to have marred the first performance; the play appears to have been sabotaged by an actors' revolt. Anger at their misrepresentation of the play appears in the first review in the morning edition of the Friday, August 16 Enterprise, Goodman and Daggett's own newspaper. The anonymous reviewer(12) begins his critique ominously: "Never, we venture to say, did an audience enter into the portals of the Opera House with a more favorable predisposition, or leave it with a keener sense of disappointment. What `The Psychoscope' may be, as conceived by its authors, it is impossible to determine from the abortive rendition of it last night." The rest of the review advances a "sweeping charge of wanton or irresponsible butchery" against the cast, not excepting McCullough and the actress who played Minnie Lattimer.(13)
The Virginia City Evening Chronicle, in its review of the same date, reacts to the morning Enterprise's condemnation of the performance by supplying explanatory background information. Conceding that the cast was not up to its usual standard, it puts the blame on the play itself, especially on the one scene "which would not be tolerated in any community outside of Virginia....The play itself, in original text, is not of a nature to win applause from a moral public. This the managers of the theatre knew, and in revamping it entirely destroyed the whole construction, and threw the ladies in the company positively in roles so conflicting with their natures as to cause tameness. It is well known that the actresses of the company positively refused to personate characters as originally written--hence the displeasure of the authors." The reviewer sympathizes with the actresses, declares the play "unfit to be placed upon the stage," and concludes with a familiar moral admonition: "Any scene or word that causes the blush of shame to tingle the cheek should never be produced upon the stage." This review represents the main-line orthodox position of the day. Exactly the same sentiments would have been expressed in reviews and discussions of the theater in major American newspapers and journals of the turn-of-the-century, and beyond.
A more balanced (and diplomatic) review of the play by Alf Doten occurs in the Gold Hill News of August 16.(14) He observes that the play "certainly portrays a considerable amount of human nature, including many of its frailties, and some, doubtless, object to the introduction of those vivid and elaborate parlor scenes from the abode of the frail and fair. The portrayal, we presume, may be correct and all that sort of thing, yet it was rather strongly drawn and of doubtful propriety. As we said before, the piece is exceedingly well written, yet some of the characters are made to use language much more forcible than elegant." Doten concludes with praise and good-intentioned criticism, judging the play "a good success, although it can and doubtless will be considerably improved upon."
The play was improved, although it is not clear that it was "improved upon." In what must have been an unusual course of action, probably a reflection of the facts that the playwrights were two eminent--and powerful--Comstock journalists, and that the Enterprise reviewed the play the morning after for three days straight, and the Gold Hill News for three afternoons. Evidently, the attacks of the Enterprise convinced McCullough and his troupe to do a better job.(15) Apart from the justice of the attacks, the lasting enmity of the Enterprise was not something any intelligent acting company that annually returned to the Comstock would wish to incur. The announcements in the reviews that the troupe was altering its rendering of the play seem to have reversed a falling off of attendance at the second performance and brought back full houses. The last Enterprise review, of August 18, concluded with a "mingled sense of resignation and satisfaction," as if it was convinced that the actors though still short of what they might have done had nevertheless come a long way, and it rewarded them with a praise of somewhat forced generosity for having become more professional. The News independently recognized that the actors were now doing a better job on what was generally a "meritorious" play, but did not refrain from sardonically observing in its August 19 review that the play itself was "not by any means faultless, as would be supposed by reading the Enterprise's notices of it--that keen critic not having been able yet to discover any fault in the play, but only in the players." It is possible at this distance to recognize the arm-twisting that Daggett and Goodman must have engaged in to persuade McCullough and troupe to live up to professional expectations. While some egotism was undoubtedly at work, it would be quite unfair to ignore the fact that the main issue, for the two playwrights, was principle.
Goodman, especially, has an impressive record of taking principled stands. Well-known is his unwavering support of Mark Twain when the latter's "A Bloody Massacre near Carson" (1863) elicited a firestorm of indignation from Enterprise readers who had fallen for the hoax, including many who cancelled subscriptions and some newspapers which refused to continue exchanging articles. Goodman comforted the distraught Twain with the observation that no newspaper could be responsible for supplying common sense to readers.(16) A year later, when Twain's expose of corruption in the San Francisco police force caused another eruption of hostility and threats, and a printer asked if he should withhold another controversial article, Goodman again backed Twain to the hilt, saying "Let it go in, every word. If Mark can stand it, so can I." This support was more than friendship on Goodman's part, however. Goodman was backing artistic integrity in the former case and accurate journalism in the latter.
Less well known was a stand that Goodman took in 1864 on Adah Isaac Menken's use of a skin-tight costume in Mazeppa that gave her the appearance of nudity. When a number of reviewers, including Mark Twain, criticized her scandalous appearance, Goodman strongly defended her on aesthetic grounds by comparing her choice to those of "painting and sculpture, and the other arts which have developed their most beautiful and divine conceptions in ideal likenesses of the human form."(17) Goodman was thus aesthetically avant-garde not only on the Comstock, but in the country.
Committed on principle to being straightforward in their reportorial and editorial positions, Daggett and Goodman refused to compromise with McCullough and his company and allow the brothel scenes to be removed for "improvement" of the play. Nor did they did sell the rights to produce the play although their refusal meant turning down McCullough's impressive offer of $10,000. As a consequence, The Psychoscope was never produced again in Daggett and Goodman's lifetimes. Daggett later blamed this withdrawal of the play on the low quality of available actors, "the scrubs who now travel about the country," and predicted that it would be fifty years before the play would stand a chance to be appreciated.(18) The 1873 editorial, almost certainly either written or influenced by Goodman and Daggett, belittles John McCullough and his actors with its depreciative description of the "meagre abilities of a traveling dramatic company." Although the playwrights' complaints are understandable, rather than blaming actors alone they also--and with more justification--might have criticized the critical standards of the age. Even in England, which was then ahead of America in the field of drama, Mrs. Warren's Profession (1898), George Bernard Shaw's play about prostitution, ran into heavy opposition from the British censor. Although the play does not have any scenes as realistic as The Psychoscope's, it was allowed only two private performances in London in 1902. It had to wait until October 1925 for its first public performances, and those were in New Haven, Connecticut and New York City.
One aspect of The Psychoscope that was entirely overlooked in the reviews was its unusual and extended emphasis, in Act II, Scene 1, on the theater. Several references to Hamlet make clear that the authors had in mind Hamlet's references to the function of actors and the theater (Hamlet II, ii and III, ii) and to the device of a play within a play. Tripp's reintroduction in the second act as a playwright rather than a journalist creates some obvious and interesting parallels to Daggett and Goodman. Most particularly, Tripp's comments on how actors can endow a play with a life that is surprising even to its author, on the contributions of stage properties and effects to the success of a play, on the demand of the public for the sensational features of crime and misery in plays, and on the relationship of the presence of virtue--even though it may be as obvious as a pointed moral--to the total effect of a play, serve as a reflexive commentary by Daggett and Goodman on their own craft.
The commentary, however, should not be read too simply or directly. Tripp, for example, defends himself at one point from the requirement that playwrights should correct "depraved popular taste" by arguing that "it is simply a choice of floating on the torrent or being overwhelmed by it." This is too facile an explanation, one that Tripp does not hold to and certainly one that Daggett and Goodman did not believe. It is more, in context, an easy answer to avoid a truer and deeper one. And when pressed with the objection that his play does not always reward virtue or punish vice, Tripp comes out into the open. His spirited response unveils a remarkable and eloquent example of native, pre-Howellsian realism at its best. He argues that his play is moral precisely because it is true to life: "Is the story of the crucifixion less instructive because the curtain rings down with Christ upon the cross and his enemies exultant? To pervert the scene would rob it of its moral force. The spectacle of flagrant injustice is the best of moral teachers." Clearly, the playwrights had independently thought their way, far in advance of most of their Eastern contemporaries, to a boldly stated and sophisticated understanding of what realism could offer literature.
The issue of which partner wrote what is one for which no hard evidence presently exists. But some educated guesses may be made. That Goodman, for example, probably wrote Percy's Gresham's more florid lines may be deduced from Goodman's occasional tendency to highly correct and literary dialogue in such short stories of his as "A Temporary Millionaire," "A Study in Psychology," and "Criminal or Crank?" all of which appeared in the Argonaut in 1881 and 1882. The realistic elements of the play, but especially Tripp's defense of true-to-life depiction, are, paradoxically, most probably also Goodman's.(19)
As shown above, Goodman was an outspoken champion of realism as an exponent of truth telling. A late story of his, "The Trumpet comes to Pickeye!"(20) is in the same realistic tradition as Twain's "Journalism in Tennessee" (1869). On the other hand, Daggett tended to write conventionally elegant poetry but in his prose he inclined to be closer to "real speech." Unless he radically changed his mind as he grew older, an 1895 article of his on realism which claims that "[s]ubject is nothing; treatment everything," places him in a different wing of the camp of realism.(21)
The play ran only five times between August 15 and 18, 1872: four evening performances and one matinee, and it has been performed only once since: a week-long production in May 1949 by a drama instructor and student players from the University of Nevada, Reno in celebration of Mackay Day. It was revived as an artifact of John Mackay's time, but contemporary newspaper accounts indicate that it was treated as "plush sensationalism" and "tear-jerking" melodrama. That the drama instructor did not appreciate the deeper importance of the play to literary history is additionally shown by his emphasis on it simply as a play of the 1870s; he insisted that all male actors wear whiskers and he included a performance by ten University coeds of the can-can, which he pointed out that although not part of the play itself had already arrived on the Comstock by the 1870s.(22) The Psychoscope was almost lost to us because only a very small edition was printed, just enough for copyright and performance purposes, and only several copies have survived. The claim of the 1873 editorial that the play was never presented in its entirety, and the additional implication that only one act was shown, appear to be exaggerations.
There is reason to believe that while the playwrights held the line on retaining the most controversial parts of their play, they might have made some other alterations in the text. This conclusion may be deduced from the detailed plot summary offered by the Enterprise review of August 17, 1872. According to it, the last scene takes place in the Royalton mansion, but in our text the last scene occurs in a church. Also, none of the reviewers comment on the change in Percy's diction in the second half of the play, in the text. Even granting that he is overwrought by tension and frustration, his lines are excessively turgid. It is commonplace for playwrights to refine texts once the play is on the road, but although we will probably never know exactly what changes were introduced, toning down Percy's diction would have been a relatively minor and cosmetic modification. On central matters, however, we can be confident that what made the play so memorable and controversial an event for Comstockers and so rare a find for us has been preserved in the text we have.
The play has in common with most other serious dramas of its time a five-act structure, a somewhat involved and melodramatic plot, a substantial amount of coincidence, and a moralistic ending. It also includes a foreigner, Jimmy Dobson, the comic English "prig" (in British slang a pickpocket or thief), who speaks in lower-class dialect and considers "wipe-snatching" (in British slang stealing handkerchiefs, items easily fenced). As a "sensational" drama, it offered excitement in both plot and unusual stage effects. Although dramatic in its result, the psychoscope itself as a variation on a magic lantern was probably relatively easy to simulate; the prototype acetylene torch used in Act III, scene 2 would have been spectacular in its own right. But character development in the play is minimal. The nineteenth century was a low point in the history of English-speaking drama. Although some of the finest writers on both sides of the Atlantic tried their hand at drama--e.g. Shelley, Dickens, Tennyson, Twain, and Henry James--no play from that period has become part of the standard stage repertoire. While The Psychoscope is not likely to alter this record, it still reads well, is better than most of its contemporaries, and is certainly one of the most innovative plays of its time. What is particularly exciting about it are those features that make it atypical and, in fact, more than a generation ahead of its time. Insofar as realism is concerned, for example, the play was ahead of even the cutting edge of nineteenth-century American dramatic developments. Its use, moreover, of science fiction and elements of the detective story, its early interest in psychology, and its anticipation of a lie detector device mark its authors as perceptive and even prescient agents of change in the national literary taste.
Brenda Murphy summarizes American theater as being "far from realistic in 1880. Its drama was primarily formulaic melodrama or comedy. Its acting was stagy and self-conscious; its stage-craft was sensational."(23) These descriptions imperfectly fit The Psychoscope, and as for her claim that social criticism was only nascent in the drama of the period, The Psychoscope with its controversial frankness must be seen as a historically significant exception. The panel house scenes were only the most extreme cases of a realism that was judged too raw for American audiences; the play's treatment of the prostitutes was itself a daring bit of realism. For its New York setting, the playwrights might have made use of Matthew Hale Smith's popular Sunshine and Shadow in New York (1868), which as its title implies was an account of both the attractions and seamy aspects of the city. The book devotes an entire chapter to the phenomenon of panel houses, and in Act II, scene 1, Lucy may be alluding to the book when she observes how in the "wicked" city there is "so much shadow and so little sunshine."
Goodman, of course, not only saw prostitutes in Virginia City, San Francisco, and Sacramento, but also on his trips to New York, London, and Paris, where some accounts of those cities claimed that they were so numerous that it was practically impossible to avoid encountering them on the street. The Psychoscope's inclusion of them, therefore, might be regarded as one of the play's "sensational" effects, but it can also be seen as the kind of accurate reporting that Goodman championed in journalism and now insisted on transferring to the theater. Considering the difficulties the play ran into even in so rough and ready a town as Virginia City, if realism lagged in its appearance on the American stage, the reason for it must have had more to do with the mores of American audiences and theatrical troupes of the time than with able playwrights like Joseph Goodman and Rollin Daggett who were ready and willing to introduce realism into American theater.
The Psychoscope also merits attention as a play that parallels the literary innovations of Mark Twain and that, in fact, goes somewhat beyond him in its testing of the limits of literary propriety in realistic situation and language as well as in its experimenting with realistic content. Inasmuch as both Daggett and Goodman were friends of Twain, and Goodman especially maintained a lifelong and influential relationship with him, The Psychoscope reinforces the importance of the Comstock milieu as a formative influence on Twain's career.(24) Unique in its time, the play is both an important testament to the literary values of its Comstock authors and an early, bold, original, and impressive manifestation of the realistic impulse in American drama.
A Note on the Text
The Psychoscope was privately printed in a limited edition of unknown number in 1871. Few copies have survived, and only several of those are known to be complete: those at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno, the Beinecke Library of Yale University, and the Library of Congress. Of these few, it is apparent that the limited edition consisted of two states. One of the typographical errors (there were several) was apparently discovered after some copies were run off. It was corrected in the remaining copies of the run. When the play was briefly revived by drama students of the University of Nevada at Reno in 1949, a number of typed copies were made for the use of the cast. A few of these are in the collections of the Washoe County Library and the library of the University of Nevada at Reno, but all are flawed by introduced typographical errors. The present edition is a slightly enlarged facsimile of the second state copy sent to the Library of Congress for copyright registration.
An incomplete copy at the Huntington Library at San Marino lacks a few pages but it is full of deletions, insertions, and additions in the hand, apparently, of Joe Goodman. (Just one textual correction he made in it--"And" to "An" on p. 22, l. 25--has been adopted.) As numerous as the changes are, however, it is not at all clear what the final text was to have been. It appears to be only a preliminary and rough draft of a revision. So many deletions are indicated, for example, and so few additions made in their place that what is left would leave the play incomplete and incoherent. Among the deletions is the scene that caused the uproar in Virginia City, so it appears that the changes were made some time after the play was first produced. In light of the playwrights' declared refusal to alter the play, these changes cannot be satisfactorily explained. By way of conjecture, it is possible that Goodman briefly considered revising the play to conform to the critics' wishes, but gave up on the venture, and the Huntington copy is the record of that experiment.
Even more mystifying is a second copyrighted version of the play in 1902. Its modified title is "The Psychoscope" A Modern Drama in Five Acts, the playwrights' names are omitted, and it is copyrighted by R. H. Davis. This is almost certainly Robert H. Davis, the brother of Sagebrush author and editor Sam Davis, a close friend of Joe Goodman. The offending scene has also been deleted from this version, and other changes are made, including a new ending. Robert Davis was a well-known New York journalist. He wrote a number of columns during his career about Mark Twain and the Comstock, but almost none of them are reliable. The reason for Davis's action is presently unknown, but as Goodman was still alive in 1902, it is very difficult to believe that a rare copy of his and Daggett's play was obtained, revised, and copyrighted without his knowledge and assent. Speculation may suggest that Goodman tried again to trim the play for tame audiences, and allowed Sam's brother to be a surrogate copyrighter, but no evidence exists for this. All that is certain is that the text that follows herein is what both playwrights copyrighted in 1871, and that it contains the elements that caused a scandal in Virginia City in 1872, that attracted the praise of distinguished contemporary actors and ensured the play's fame on the Comstock for many years, and that earn The Psychoscope our attention and interest today.
1. For representative collections of Comstock and Sagebrush literature, see my editions of Dan De Quille, The Fighting Horse of the Stanislaus: Stories & Essays by Dan De Quille, (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990) and The Sagebrush Anthology (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006). Sam Davis's comic operetta, The Prince of Timbuctoo, is included in Lawrence I. Berkove and Gary Scharnhorst, eds., The Old West in the Old World: Lost Plays by Bret Harte and Sam Davis (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006).
2. See Thomas Schirer, Mark Twain and the Theatre (Nürnberg, Germany: Verlag Hans Carl, 1984) Ch. 3, for an overview of the theater scene in Virginia City insofar as Twain was concerned with it. David Belasco, Gala Days of Piper's Opera House and the California Theater (Sparks, NV: Falcon Hill Press, 1991) and Walter Moore Leman, Memories of an Old Actor (San Francisco: A. Roman, 1886) describe Virginia City from the perspectives of actors who lived and worked there. Clearly, it was a hive of theatrical activity and the site of more innovation and experimentation than has been generally recognized.
3. One interesting explanation for the matinee occurs in the Territorial Enterprise of April 2, 1870: "A matinee will be given at the Alhambra this afternoon. This will give the ladies and children a chance of witnessing the entertainment given night after night at this place to the great amusement of the gentlemen. Of course lager will not be passed around among the ladies, nor will smoking be allowed. The nightly attendants of this theatre will insist on drinking lager and smoking cigars, and both are allowed by the proprietors. This renders the place quite unfit for ladies during the night performance, hence the matinee is given for their special benefit. The entertainment will commence at 2 o'clock."
4. Beyond what he wrote in his editorial capacity on the Enterprise, Goodman had the reputation of being one of the Comstock's leading poets and, on the basis of travel letters he wrote from Europe in 1870, an excellent prose stylist. See my edition, "'An Irregular Correspondent': The European Travel Letters of Mark Twain's Editor and Friend Joe Goodman," Mark Twain Journal 35:2 (Fall 1997). He subsequently published short stories in other periodicals and, in his later years, he contributed columns of Comstock memoirs to San Francisco papers.
5. Daggett in 1882 published Braxton's Bar, a novel based upon his own experience of crossing the plains and mining gold in California, and in 1888 he collaborated with King Kalakaua of Hawaii on The Legends and Myths of Hawaii. He later contributed columns of Comstock and California memoirs to the San Francisco Call. Both Daggett and Goodman are represented among the authors in The Sagebrush Anthology.
6. See "Dramatic Recollections," Nevada Monthly 1:5 (July 1880): 227-28. Richelieu was a play based on the romance by G. P. R. James, a disciple of Sir Walter Scott.
7. Sam Davis reports that Goodman, Dan De Quille, and Daggett used to attend plays together, write independent critiques, and then decide which one, or what blend of two or more, should be used for the Enterprise review. History of Nevada, rpt. of 1913 ed., vol. 2 (Las Vegas: Nevada Publications, n.d.) 718.
8. Although this memoir appeared pseudonymously in the Nevada Mining News of March 4, 1909, it is almost certain that Joseph Goodman himself was the author. The "old office lounger" who narrates the memoir is a fiction. Only two people knew how The Psychoscope came to be: Goodman and Daggett. And Daggett died in 1901.
9. An entire ad appeared in the 1909 memoir, another reason to conclude that Goodman wrote it. A playbill has been photographically reproduced in this volume.
10. Sam Davis, "Dramatic Recollections," 228. Although Davis apparently knew what the play was about he did not personally see it because he did not arrive on the Comstock until 1875. He misremembered the title of the play as the Cycroscope, but in the context of his article there can be no doubt that The Psychoscope is the play he meant.
11. A panel house was a specialized brothel that was constructed in such a way that panels concealed spaces behind walls where stolen goods or criminals might be hidden. Once a victim was enticed inside the brothel and drugged or made intoxicated, a panel could be opened and confederates of the prostitutes admitted to the room to assist in the robbing and disposing of the victim. This is what happens to Philo Bundy in the play. Another possible scenario, however, was that a victim could be surprised and intimidated by the sudden entrance of confederates from a panel and overpowered if he resisted. In any case, as the final act of the play shows, robbed loot was often cached behind a panel.
12. The review appeared in the "Local Intelligence" column. Normally, Dan De Quille wrote this column but probably was not the author of this one because, according to Alf Doten, De Quille might have been recently discharged from the Enterprise for "dissipation": an incapacitating alcoholic binge. See the entry of January 27, 1873 in The Journals of Alfred Doten: 1849-1903, vol. 2, ed. Walter Van Tilburg Clark (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1973): 1187.
13. The only modern discussion of this play appears to have missed the point of this review by misinterpreting its animus as directed to the play itself rather than to the cast. See Francis Phelps Weisenburger, The Idol of the West: The Fabulous Career of Rollin Mallory Daggett (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1965) 88-90.
14. Doten's authorship of the review has been established by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, the editor of Doten's journals. See The Journals of Alfred Doten, vol. 2, 1171-1172.
15. McCullough's troupe's record was not unblemished; it had had at least one previous run-in with the Enterprise, as evidenced by its June 27, 1868 review of the troupe's performance of The Merchant of Venice: "Owing to the shortcomings of some of the supporting members of the cast with the result of idiocy, drunkenness and almost general demoralization, the piece was dragged, gagged, and prompted to a general conclusion.
"Audible and persistent maledictions of McCullough indiscriminately hurled at all around him, were impotent to correct, and his skillful but unaided efforts utterly failed to redeem. The play was mercilessly mangled, and the curtain fell upon a weary and almost disgusted audience."
16. See Goodman's memoir of the event in [The Origin of Twain's Hopkins Massacre Hoax] in The Sagebrush Anthology.
17. Quoted in Fatout, Paul in Mark Twain in Virginia City (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994): 163. For more information on Goodman's literary standards see my essay "Joe Goodman, In His Own Write," Nevada Magazine 61:1 (Jan/Feb 2001):16-19.
18. Daggett, as quoted in Davis, "Dramatic Recollections," 228.
19. For a more detailed evaluation of issues in the play relating to realism and, especially, a rationale for assigning Goodman credit for Tripp's speech, see my "The Psychoscope: Frontier Realism" in ATQ 11:1 (March 1997).
20. Joseph T. Goodman, The Trumpet Comes to Pickeye! (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1939). No date or source is given there for its initial publication, but a late date in Goodman's career can be inferred from its retrospective perspective. Reprinted in The Sagebrush Anthology.
21. Rollin Mallory Daggett, "Motion and Emotion in Fiction: The Real Versus the Realist," Overland Monthly (December 1895): 614-617.
22. A file of newspaper clippings and photographs of the 1949 production is available at the University of Nevada, Reno library.
23. Brenda Murphy. American Realism and American Drama, 1880-1940, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 23.
24. The possibility that The Psychoscope might have had some influence on Twain's composition of the literary fragment from the 1880s called "Clairvoyant," which it might seem to resemble, appears remote to me. In that piece, the main character can become permanently attuned to someone's inner thoughts after peering once into his ears. Furthermore, the story fragment does not give any emphasis to either science or detectives. See Walter Blair, Mark Twain's Hannibal, Huck & Tom (Berkeley: U of California P, 1969): 58-66. I think that whatever continuing influence Goodman had on Twain was not so much in the particulars of plot as it was in ethical commitment and in nurturing Twain's disposition to tell the truth, even hard and unpopular truths. Goodman was ahead of Twain in his pioneering of realism and, as we now know, extensively influenced Twain not only in Virginia City but, through continuing counsel, during the rest of Twain's life. Twain was a more circumspect (as well as more literary) realist than Goodman, but at the core of Twain's fiction is a dedication to honesty and an intention to do right. In this deeper respect, Goodman was most probably a mentor in realism to Twain.
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