The New York Times, February 7, 1943


The Author of "The Pirate" Recalls a Forgotten Playwright

This article will serve as an introduction to the Random House edition of "The Pirate," to be published next month. The play was suggested by Ludwig Fulda's work of the same name. Fulda died on March 30, 1939. His passing went unnoticed in the German press.


All through the preliminary tour of this play I kept hearing, from people who had met him, about Ludwig Fulda. He had lectured in America in 1906 and again in 1913 and covered, evidently, the same ground which his play was to traverse, after his death, thirty years later. In Indianapolis and in Cincinnati retired music critics and editors told me about the impression Fulda had made on them: suave, cultured, personable. On these two trips he lectured in more than thirty cities and sixteen universities. He wrote a book about us, "American Impressions," which was so enthusiastic about this country that he was criticized for it in Germany.

His most famous play in Germany was a drama in verse called "Der Talisman." This is based on an old fairy tale of an ingenious tailor who persuades the emperor that he is selling him a stately garment which has the property of visibility only to the wise and to the loyal. Actually this raiment is very ordinary underwear. Since he is surrounded by yes-men and sycophants, the entire court goes into raptures about the wonder and the beauty of this garment. It is a child who comes out with the truth: "But the Emperor is naked!" A courtier attempting to comfort the embarrassed monarch utters two lines which reverberated shudderingly throughout Germany:

"Sire, you need not be annoyed. You remain a King even in your underwear."

Liberal and Democrat

This was as great a sensation as the use of the word "bloody" in Shaw's "Pygmalion"! It infringed upon the notion of an emperor's divinity and the Kaiser was distressed and vengeful. When the Schiller Prize was awarded to the poet the Emperor refused his sanction and the prize was withdrawn. Nevertheless, in 1914, Fulda defended the Kaiser in magazine articles in this country. With that mystical impermeability which Roussy de Sales in his wonderful book points to as characteristic of even the best Germans, Fulda spoke of "the ethical seriousness of the German Army!" When the rash of nationalism had subsided after the first World War, he devoted his talents to the cause of German democracy. Essentially, he was a passionate liberal and democrat.

In 1889, with Maximilian Harden and Theodore Wolff, Fulda organized Die Freie Buehne, which had a revolutionary influence in the German theatre. This group produced Gerhardt Hauptmann and made his reputation; it started in the literary and theatrical trend known as "naturalism." As a translator Fulda was inspired. He made enchanting transcriptions into German of Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac" and of the plays of Moliere. From "Robinson Island," a play of his published in 1895, J. M. Barrie took the main idea for "The Admirable Crichton."

My friend Bruno Frank tells me that he last saw Fulda in Switzerland just after the advent of Hitler. It was impossible for him to assimilate the concept of no longer being considered a German. He was completely bewildered by what had happened both to Germany and to him. He was over seventy. He had held high honors in his native country. He was distinguished in philanthropy and in letters and yet here he was in Switzerland—an exile—with his country making a virtue and a slogan of the racial principle that had ousted him. He could not take it in. He was stunned and, I gather, never recovered until he died.

And yet a conceit of his, freely adapted, has survived the horrors of these two decades and here it is played by two of the foremost artists in the American theatre. One day, a half century ago, Fulda must have been seized with a comic idea: a world-famous pirate with an itch for respectability retires to a small community, marries and becomes the village censor. It must have seemed pretty good to Fulda and he sat down and wrote his play, "Die Seeraeuber." Is it not a comment on the absurdity of the effort to erect, against freedom of any thought whatever, the tallest dike in history, that it should be so porous that even a little comic idea like his can seep through and flourish bountifully in another land, in another language, in another cultural and intellectual climate altogether? Despite the grimaces of the Herrenvolk and the obscenities of the Gestapo, Fulda's smile at hypocritical pomposity has survived. Surely, if this small laughter can evade the vast censorships and the horrendous propagandas, what chance have these new overlords, with their cosmic structures lasting a thousand years, to shut out major idea's and more inspired indignations? The Emperor is in his underwear indeed!

It is agreeable to be able to make Ludwig Fulda some sort of return in kind. In the freemasonry of art, he was evidently a moving spirit: toward the internationalism beyond Geneva to which in a thousand years we may attain.

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