Punch, April 22, 1903


Mr. Punch, Sir,—It is the custom, I believe, in theatrical circles, for dramatists to submit a scenario of their threatened effort to the Manager whom they have marked down as their quarry. The Manager then extracts the best ideas, hands them over to a friend to work up, and returns the scenario to its gratified author as unsuitable for production. It is with a view to avoiding this fate that I send the following notes to you instead of to the usual address. My drama is based on the following paragraph, which has appeared in some of the papers:—“Society Craze For Tattooing.—Philadelphia Society has adopted the tattooing craze. Many young girls, the daughters of the best families, are not only being tattooed themselves, but are taking lessons so that they may ornament their friends.” You notice that the craze is at present in America. Exactly. What America thinks to-day, England will think in a year or so, which will enable me to have my play ready just in time.

The hero of my drama, Emerson P. Rockitt, a young but rising candy manufacturer of unimpeachable morals and appearance, has fallen a victim to the charms of Magnolia J. Keggs, the daughter of an eminent pork-packer. Her beautiful form and profuse illustrations have conquered a heart previously adamant in its dealings with the tattooed sex. At the beginning of the play the course of true love appears to be running smooth. The happy pair are engaged, and the inauguration of the connubial orgies is only delayed by the non-arrival of the bride’s trousseau. Unhappily, however, my hero has a rival, Jasper W. Morgan, a rich but unscrupulous scoundrel residing in the immediate vicinity. Jasper is the proprietor of a peripatetic Dime Museum, and hopes to add Magnolia to the programme as a Tattooed Princess. He has offered her the part on several occasions, only to be indignantly repulsed, and he now determines to resort to guile. Accordingly, disguising his handwriting, he despatches an anonymous letter to Emerson, in which he bids him, ere it be too late, to lift the curl that hangs over Magnolia J. Keggs’ left temple. His reason for this singular instruction appears later.

The one flaw in Emerson P. Rockitt’s nature is a proneness to jealousy which is often found even in the best regulated bosoms. He lifts the curl—this will be a great scene—and starts back with a stifled groan. On the temple is tattooed a heart, and in the heart the initials S.B.P. “Farewell,” he cries. “Stay,” shrieks Magnolia, “I can explain all.” “ ’Tis useless,” says he, “I can’t wait.” Off he goes, Magnolia faints, and the curtain comes down on a powerful situation. End of Act One.

The rest of the play is, I am afraid, at present in a less completely thought-out condition. In Act Two, to give scope for scenic effects, I depict my hero’s wanderings. I may make him go to Delhi, and work the Durbar in; or almost anywhere except Biarritz, Siberia, and the Mediterranean littoral.

But it is the last Act that will be the hardest. Briefly, what happens is this. Somehow or other Emerson gets to find out that he has wronged Magnolia. Of course, the initials on her brow are not those of a man at all. They were tattooed by her girlhood’s earliest friend, Sadie B. Polkinghorne, of New Birmingham, Va., when they were at school together. How the hero is to find this out is at present unsettled. But he does find it out, and hurries back to Philadelphia, arriving just in time. Magnolia’s father is ruined, owing to somebody else having cornered pork, and Magnolia is just signing the articles which bind her to become a Tattooed Princess for life in Jasper’s Dime Museum at a salary of two dollars a week, when Emerson enters, fells Jasper to the ground, clasps Magnolia in his arms, and announces (a) that all is forgiven, (b) that he proposes to lead Magnolia to the nearest altar at once. Jasper, with a hideous oath (stifled), recoils in anguish, and marries the Strong Woman attached to his Dime Museum, a powerful and hot-tempered lady who can be relied upon to make him repent everything. Curtain.

That is the plot, a little ragged at present, but with some judicious overhauling capable of being developed into a drama that will astonish nations and charm crowned heads.

Yours, &c., Henry William-Jones.




Unsigned article as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 124 of Punch.