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The New York Times, April 29, 1875


To the Editor of The New York Times:

I have just received a letter from an English friend of mine, whose hospitality I enjoyed some days at his house, in Stratford on-Avon, and I feel sure that the matter he writes about will interest Americans. He incloses a circular, which I will insert in this place:

"A preliminary committee was recently formed for the purpose of ascertaining the possibility of carrying out the project of a Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, the old theatre in the town having been purchased and pulled down by Mr. J. O. Halliwell-Phillips for the purpose of restoring the site to 'New Place' and completing those gardens. A meeting was held at the Town Hall on Monday to receive the committee's report. Sir Robert N. C. Hamilton, Bart., K.C.B., was in the chair. The honorable Secretary, Mr. C. E. Flower, stated that the proposal had been most favorably received, and the committee recommended that the theatre should be erected by subscription and any sum raised beyond the amount required for the building, and any profit realized by the rental on ordinary occasions to be applied, after defraying the necessary expenses of the establishment, to the celebration of the anniversary of the poet's birthday and to the promotion and improvement of legitimate acting, by the establishment of prizes for essays upon the subject, lectures and ultimately a dramatic training school or college. The building to be erected upon a site which has been given for the purpose, the surrounding ground, from which beautiful views of the church and the river can be obtained, to be laid out as ornamental gardens. Connected with the theatre the committee also recommended that a library and saloon or gallery, intended to receive pictures and statuary of Shakespearean subjects, (several of which have been already promised), should be provided. Donors of [pound sign] 100 and upward to be Governors and managers of the property. The Governors to meet annually and vote personally, or by proxy, for the election of the Executive Council and frame rules for the general management of the memorial property and funds. For convenience of administration the association to be incorporated under section 23 of the Companies act, 1867 for associations formed not for profit but for the promotion of science, art, etc. The report was unanimously adopted, a list of promised donations to the amount of [pound sign] 2,563 10s. was read, and generous offers from managers and members of the theatrical profession of free performances were announced. Subscriptions of the smallest amount will be received, and it is hoped that a truly appropriate memorial to Shakespeare in his native town will receive the support of many in all parts of the world who have received instruction and pleasure from his works."

By another circular I perceive that this project, young as it is, is already becoming popular, for no less than twenty two lovers of Shakespeare have come forward with their [pound sign] 100 apiece, and assumed the dignity of Governors of the Memorial Theatre. In this list I find the following: Creswick, the actor; F. B. Chatterton, of the Drury Lane, London; Benjamin Webster, of the Adelphi, London; Buckston, the comedian, and Mr. Sothern.

I now come to my point, which will be found in this extract from my English friend's letter:

"You may possibly remember some timber wharves on the Avon above my garden. These I have bought and given for a site for a Memorial Theatre. I think it possible that some Americans who have visited Stratford might be able and feel inclined to become Governors, (that is, [pound sign 100 shareholders,) in the Memorial Theatre and grounds, and that others not so well off might like to contribute smaller sums to help beautify it."

Therefore he asks me to make the suggestion in point here, and I very gladly do it. I think the mere suggestion is all that is necessary. We are not likely to be backward when called upon to do honor to Shakespeare. One of the circulars says:

"Subscriptions can be paid to the Shakespeare Memorial Fund at the Old Bank, Stratford-upon-Avon, and will be invested in the names of Sir R. N. C. Hamilton, Bart., and C. E. Flower, Esq., who have consented to act as Trustees until the registration is completed."

Will you, Sir, undertake to receive and forward the American subscriptions? Or if not, will you kindly name some responsible person who will do it?

I believe that Americans of every walk in life will cheerfully subscribe to this Shakespeare memorial; I think that some of our prominent actors (I could almost name them) will come forward and enroll themselves as Governors; I think our commercial millionaires and literary people will not be slow to take governorships, or at least come as near it as they feel able; and I think it altogether likely that many of our theatres, like those of England, will give it a benefit.

Americans have already subscribed [pound sign] 1,000 for an American memorial window to be put in the Shakespeare Church at Avon. About three-fourths of the visitors to Shakespeare's tomb are Americans. If you will show me any American who has visited England and has not seen that tomb, Barnum shall be on his track next week. It was an American who roused into its present vigorous life, England's dead interest in her Shakespearean remains. Think of that! Imagine the house that Shakespeare was born in being brought bodily over here and set up on American soil! That came within an ace of being done once. A reputable gentleman of Stratford told me so. The old building was going to wreck and ruin. Nobody felt quite reverence enough for the dead dramatist to repair and take care of his house; so an American came along ever so quietly and bought it. The deeds were actually drawn and ready for the signatures. Then the thing got wind and there was a fine stir in England! The sale was stopped. Public-spirited Englishmen headed a revival of reverence for the poet, and from that day to this every relic of Shakespeare in Stratford has been sacred, and zealously cared for accordingly. Can you name the American who once owned Shakespeare's birth place for twenty-four hours? There is but one who could ever have conceived of such an unique and ingenious enterprise, and he is the man I refer to - P. T. Barnum.

We had to lose the house; but let us not lose the present opportunity to help him build the Memorial Theatre.

HARTFORD, Monday, April 26, 1875

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