Clement Scott (6 October 1841–1904) was an influential English theatre critic for the Daily Telegraph, and a playwright and travel writer, in the final decades of the 19th century. His style of criticism - acerbic, flowery, and (perhaps most importantly) carried out on the first night of productions, set the standard for theatre reviewers through to today.
Life and career
Born the son of William Scott, the vicar of Hoxton in north London, Clement William Scott converted to Roman Catholicism before his 21st birthday. Educated at Marlborough College, he became a civil servant, working in the War Office beginning in 1860.
Encouraged to write by the humorist Tom Hood the younger, who also was a clerk in the War Office, Scott contributed to Era, Weekly Dispatch, and to Hood's own paper, Fun, where Scott and W. S. Gilbert were colleagues. Scott's interest in writing and the theatre led him to brief dalliance with the failed Victoria Review.
He became the dramatic writer for The Sunday Times in 1863 but held the position for only two years because of the intemperance of his published opinions and his unpopular praise of the French theatre. In 1871, Scott began his nearly thirty years as a theatre critic with The Daily Telegraph. He also contributed regularly to Theatre magazine and wrote sentimental poetry and song lyrics (including "Oh Promise Me"), which were often published in the magazine Punch by his friend, the editor, F. C. Burnand. Scott continued to work at the War Office until 1879, when he finally decided to earn his living entirely by writing.
As well as criticism, Scott wrote plays, including The Vicarage, The Cape Mail, Anne Mié, Odette, and The Great Divorce Case. He wrote several English adaptations of Victorien Sardou's plays, some of which were written in collaboration with B. C. Stephenson, such as Nos intimes (as Peril) and Dora (1878, as Diplomacy). The latter was described by the theatrical paper The Era as "the great dramatic hit of the season". It also played with success at Wallack's Theatre in New York. Scott and Stephenson also wrote an English version of Halévy and Meilhac's libretto for Lecocq's operetta Le Petit Duc (1878). Their adaptation so pleased the composer that he volunteered to write some new music for the English production. For all of these, Scott adopted the pen name "Saville Rowe" (after Savile Row) to match Stephenson's pseudonym, "Bolton Rowe", another Mayfair street. The pieces with Stephenson were produced by the Bancrofts, the producers of T. W. Robertson's plays, which Scott admired. He also wrote accounts of holiday tours around the British Isles and abroad, becoming known for his florid style. Scott's travels also inspired his creative writing. After a tour of New Zealand, he wrote "Now Is the Hour" (Haere Ra) known as the Māori farewell song, based on a traditional New Zealand melody, which is also used as the tune for the hymn "Search Me, O God" with lyrics by J. Edwin Orr.
Poppyland and later life
In 1883, the Daily Telegraph printed an article which Scott had written about a visit to the north Norfolk coast. He became enamoured of the district and gave it the name Poppyland. His writing was responsible for members of the London theatre set visiting and investing in homes in the area. It is there that he is perhaps best remembered, but ironically, he was unhappy at the result of his popularization of this previously pristine area.
Scott married Isobel du Maurier, and the couple had four children. Du Maurier died in 1890, and he remarried Margarite Brandon, a journalist, in San Francisco. Scott's long-time wish to be elected a member of the famous literary gentlemen's club, the Garrick Club (to which Henry Irving, Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, among many other notable men belonged), was finally realized in 1892. Scott worked for a couple of years at the end of the century for the New York Herald, later returning to London. In 1900, he founded The Free Lance, a Popular Society and Critical Journal, for writers who worked by the job, which he edited.
Scott died in Norfolk at the age of 62.
Style, controversies and influence
Scott's position on the Daily Telegraph and the support of its proprietor, J. M. Levy, allowed him to pioneer the essay-style review of drama, which came to replace the earlier bare notices. His column of notes and reviews became very popular throughout Britain, and later his own magazine, Theatre, achieved wide circulation. His method of writing theatre reviews involved writing his impressions as soon as he had seen the piece, and publishing them without revision. This habit, together with his hasty temper and his dislike of the movement of critic William Archer, the chief English supporter of Ibsen, combined to involve him in frequent and prolonged controversy.
Scott especially became embroiled in legal claims through his outspoken criticism of various actors and actresses. Early in his career, he wrote approvingly of the "cup and saucer" realism movement, led by T. W. Robertson, whose plays were notable for treating contemporary British subjects in realistic settings. Later, he favoured the grand and spectacular type of London theatrical production which had developed with new types of theatre building, electric lighting and technologies allowed more and more adventurous staging. As time went on, he became strongly conservative and opposed to the new drama of Ibsen and Shaw, arguing that domestic intrigue, sexual situations and wordy philosophising were inappropriate for an evening at the theatre, and even harmful to society, especially young women. The verdict of history has been that Scott was wrong.
Scott played an important part in encouraging a more attentive attitude by theatre audiences. In his early days, it was not uncommon for audiences to be very boisterous and noisy, frequently booing and talking during productions, especially through the overture. He also insisted on first night reviews. It had been common for reviewers to wait a few days before writing about a production. Scott insisted that the paying audience on the first night should expect to see a fully fledged production, and not one where the leading characters did not know all their lines. He also supported actor-managers of his time by providing them with translations of popular French plays and with his own plays.
His papers are located in the library of Rochester University, New York State. Film maker John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown, Captain Corelli's Mandolin) made his first feature film for the BBC, Poppyland (1985), around the story of Scott's visit to Poppyland.
- The Era, 23 June 1878, p. 12
- "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 7 April 1878, p. 6
- "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 28 April 1878, p. 7
- "Theatrical Gossip", The Era, 24 September 1876, p. 4
- "Norfolk History and Past Times – Louie Jeremy", Norfolkcoast.co.uk, 2005, accessed September 21, 2009
- "Norfolk History and Past Times – Garden of Sleep", Norfolkcoast.co.uk, 2005, accessed September 21, 2009
- Poppyland - Strands of Norfolk History, Stibbons and Cleveland, Pub: Poppyland Publishing, Fourth ed. 2001, ISBN 0-946148-56-2
- Poppyland in Pictures, Elizabeth Jones, Pub: Poppyland Publishing, Second ed. 2004, ISBN 0-946148-66-X
- The Drama of Yesterday and Today, Clement Scott, Pub: Macmillan, London, 1899, two volumes
- Ellen Terry, Clement Scott, Pub: Frederick A.Stokes, NY 1900
- From The Bells to King Arthur, Clement Scott, Pub: John Macqueen, London, 1896
- Some Notable Hamlets of the Present Time, Clement Scott, Illus: Will G. Mein, Pub: Greening & Co., London, 1900.
- Emeljanow, Victor. "Scott, Clement William (1841–1904)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, September 2004
- Profile of Scott and description of his papers
- Poppyland (1985) (TV) at the Internet Movie Database
- Information about the Scott and Stephenson collaborations
- Brief discussion of Scott's New Zealand "Maori farewell song"
- Information about the Broadway productions of Scott plays
- Sheet Music for "O Promise Me", G. Schirmer, Inc., 1889.