XII A SENSE OF THE DRAMATIC
A SENSE OF THE DRAMATIC
ENGLISHMEN have a horror of being thought "theatrical" or "poseurs." If a man is described as "theatrical," they immediately picture a person of inordinate vanity and no real character striving after outward effect. He may be a petty criminal of weak intellect, glorying because he is the centre of a Police Court sensation., and because his case and his photo are in all the evening papers. He may be a mediocre and not too honest politician trying to exploit some imaginary scandal to increase his own notoriety. These are the types that the Englishman associates with being "theatrical" or a "poseur," and he hates and despises them. But by "a sense of the dramatic" I mean something absolutely different. I mean getting outside yourself and seeing yourself and other people as the characters of a story. You watch them and criticize them from a wholly detached point of view. You just want to see what sort of a story you are helping to make, and what points of interest it would be likely to offer to an outside observer. There is no vanity or superficiality or egoism about this. It is simply realizing the interest in your own life, and it will often enable you to see things in their proper perspective, and so to avoid being bored or oppressed by circumstances which you cannot alter.
After all, every life has a certain amount of interest and romance attached to it if looked at from the right angle. Every one can see something interesting in another fellow's life. We all experience at times a curiosity to know what it feels like to be something quite different from what we are. It is a relic of our childhood, when we used to play at being anything, from the Pope of Rome to a tram-conductor. But it is nearly always the other fellow's job that is interesting, and hardly ever our own. There is romance in dining at the Carlton, except to the habitués of the place. There is romance in dining for a shilling in Soho, unless you are one of the folk who can never afford to dine anywhere else. If you are rich there is romance in poverty, in wresting a living from a society which seems to grudge it you. If you are poor there is romance in opulence and luxury. There is romance in being grown up if you are a child, and there is romance in youth if you are old or middle-aged.
Now a sense of the dramatic means that you see the romance in your own life. If you are rich, it will enable you to see the munificent possibilities in your wealth, as the poor man sees them. You will catch at an ideal, and try to live up to it. Every now and then you will get outside yourself, and compare yourself with your ideal, and see how you have failed. If you are a workman it will enable you to understand the glory of work well done, of strong muscles and deft fingers, of a home which you have built up by your own exertions. Without this sense the rich man is bored by the easiness of his existence, and will always be striving after new sensations, probably unwholesome ones, in order to stimulate his waning interest in life; while the poor man will become oppressed by the grinding monotony of his existence, and will become a waster and a drunkard.
Suppose you are an uncle. If you have no sense of the dramatic you will miss all the fun in tipping your small nephew. You will do it with no air at all. You will do it in a mean and grudging spirit. You will wonder how little you can with decency give the young rascal, and will dispense it with a forced smile like the one which you reserve for your dentist. The urchin will probably make a long nose at you when your back is turned. But if you have a sense of the dramatic, you will see the possibilities of the incident from the nephew's point of view. You will understand the romance of being an uncle. You will disburse your largess with an air of genial patronage and bonhomie which will endear you to the boy for ever. You will go away feeling that you have both been a huge success in your respective parts.
A sense of the dramatic is, of course, closely connected with a sense of humor. If you have this faculty for getting outside yourself and criticizing yourself, you will be pretty sure to see whether you look ridiculous. If you are a real artist in the exercise of the gift, you will also see yourself in your right perspective with regard to other people. The artist must not be an egoist. He must not allow the limelight to be centred on himself. He will see himself, not as the hero of the story, but as one of the characters---the hero, perhaps, of one chapter, but equally a minor character in the others. The greatest artist of all, probably, is the man who prays, and tries to see the story as the Author designed it. He will have the truest sense of proportion, the most adequate sense of humor of all. Undoubtedly prayer is the highest form of exercising this sense of the dramatic.
Probably there is no one to whom this saving grace is more essential than to the fighting soldier, especially in winter. Every detail of his life is sordid and uncomfortable. His feet are always damp and cold. He is plastered with mud from head to foot. His clothes cling to him like a wet blanket. He is filthy and cannot get clean. His food is beastly. He has no prospect of anything that. a civilian would call decent comfort unless he gets ill or wounded. There is no one to sympathize with his plight or call him a hero. If he has no sense of the dramatic, if his horizon is bounded by the sheer material discomfort and filth which surround him, he will sink to the level of the beast, lose his discipline and self-respect, and spend his days and nights making himself and everyone else as miserable as possible by his incessant grumbling and ill-humor. On the other hand, if he has any sense of the dramatic, he will feel that he is doing his bit for the regeneration of the world, that history will speak of him as a hero, and, like Mark Tapley, he will see in his hardships and discomforts a splendid chance of being cheerful with credit. He will know that God has given him a man's part to play, and he will determine to play it as a man should. There are many men of this kidney in the army of the trenches, and they are the very salt of the earth. They have been salted with fire. They are the living proof that pain and suffering are something more than sheer cruelty---rather the conditions which turn human animals into men, and men into saints and heroes fit for the Kingdom of God.
Imagination has its disadvantages; but on the whole, and when well under control, it is a good quality in a leader. Often in war, when the men are tried and dejected, and seemingly incapable of further effort, a few words of cheer from a leader whom they trust will revive their spirits, and transform them into strong and determined men once more. The touch of imagination in their leader's words restores their sense of the dramatic. They see the possibilities in the part which they are called upon to play, and they resolve to make the most of it. The appeal so made is generally not one to individual vanity. In the picture of the situation which his sense of the dramatic conjures up it is not himself that the soldier sees as the central figure. Probably it is his leader. He sees himself, not as an individual hero, but as a loyal follower, who is content to endure all and to brave all under a trusted captain. He looks for no reward but his leader's smile of approval and confidence. His highest ambition is to be trusted and not to fail. Happy is the leader who can command such loyalty as this! And there are many such in the army of the trenches.
Here, again, religion gives the highest, the universal example of the particular virtue. The most perfect form of Christianity is just the abiding sense of loyalty to a divine Master---the abiding sense of the dramatic which never loses sight of the Master's figure, and which continually enables a man to see himself in the rôle of the trusted and faithful disciple, so that he is always trying to live up to his part.
No, a sense of the dramatic is not theatrical, not conducive to, or even compatible with egoism. It is a faculty which gives zest to life: putting boredom and oppression to flight; stimulating humor, humility, and idealism. It is of all faculties the most desirable, being very agreeable to honor and to true religion.