Daughter of Richard Whiskin Crawford Merington
Although born in England, Marguerite Merington spent most of her life in America after her father emigrated because of business interests. Merington was teaching Greek at the Normal College in New York City when she wrote her most famous work, Captain Lettarblair, for the prominent actor E. H. Sothern. The play was produced by Daniel Frohman at the Lyceum Theatre in 1891 and revived during the next two seasons.
Captain Lettarblair Litton of the Irish Fusilliers has been scrimping to pay off a debt to clear the name of his wronged, deceased father. He hopes to marry Fanny Hadden. So strongly does she desire a proposal from him that she contrives to send him a large sum of money as though it came from his estate. However, in order to do so, she must press for payment of an old debt owed to her estate, not realizing that the debtor is Lettarblair himself.
The captain is forced to sell all his possessions, including his mare, and to renounce hope of marrying Fanny. The check that Fanny sends him is stolen from the mail pouch by the villainous Merivale, a rival for Fanny's hand, who leads her to believe that Lettarblair has squandered the money. By such complications is the flimsy plot sustained until the lovers are united in act 3. It is further buoyed up by moments of farcical business, such as the scene in which Lettarblair negotiates a sale through the window of his quarters while his valet tries to hold the door against the collection agent, or the scene in which Fanny is stranded in Lettarblair's room with her skirt caught in the door and the knob fallen off out of reach.
The popularity of Captain Lettarblair may be attributed to the performance of Sothern. To the modern reader, the play is belabored and contrived, but it won critical acclaim from the New York Times : "Miss Merington has a knack of devising pictures which is a valuable theatrical gift, and she writes dialogue with great facility. Some of the Hibernicisms of the hero are delightful." In 1906, it was published in an elaborate book edition with numerous photographs from the production.
Love Finds the Way (1898) was Merington's last professionally produced play and the one Merington considered her best. Thereafter, Merington turned to writing mostly fairy-tale plays for young children and literary adaptations and historical dramas for high-school students. Merington's sincere dedication to these audiences is evident in her article "The Theatre for Everybody" in The World's Work (December 1910): "I regard the stage, rightly employed, as part of a broad general training. To language it is invaluable—and what trade is there, what calling, in which language is not a tool?… The theatre was part of the national life of the Greeks in their civilization's heyday—and there are matters in which we have yet to outstrip the wisdom of the Greeks."
Although Merington's children's plays now seem dated, they were popular in their time. Snow White (1905), written for the dramatic department of the Hebrew Educational Alliance, drew hundreds of children to each Sunday matinee.
In addition to Merington's several collections of fairy-tale plays and plays for holidays, one collection of particular interest is her Picture Plays (1911). These are very short one-act plays based upon famous paintings: The Last Sitting (da Vinci's "Mona Lisa"), A Salon Carré Fantasy (Titian's "Man with the Glove"), His Mother's Face (Watteau's "Une Fête champêtre"), and so forth. Scribner's magazine published many of Merington's sonnets, which, she later told an interviewer, one editor liked to call "Merington's 57 Varieties of Love, Life, and Death."
Merington had met Elizabeth Bacon Custer, the widow of General George A. Custer, in 1894. They became close friends, and when Mrs. Custer died, Merington was her literary executor. Merington's only major nondramatic work was an edition of the letters of General Custer and his wife, published in 1950. At the time of Merington's death, she was working on a book of recollections of the pianist Paderewski.
The success of Merington's fifty-nine-year career as a writer may be attributed to the dedication and sincerity of purpose by which she labored at her craft.
Oh, Belinda (1892). Goodbye (1893). An Everyday Man (1895). Daphne; or, The Pipes of Arcadia (1896). Bonnie Prince Charlie (1897). Old Orchard (1900). The Gibson Play (1901). Cranford (1905). The Lady in the Adjoining Room (1905). Snow White (1905). The Turn of the Tide (1905). Scarlet of the Mounted (1906). The Vicar of Wakefield (1909). Holiday Plays (1910). The Elopers (1913). Festival Plays (1913). More Fairy-Tale Plays (1917). A Dish o' Tea Delayed (1937). Booth Episodes (1944). The Custer Story: The Life and Intimate Letters of General George A. Custer and His Wife Elizabeth (1950).
Ten undated plays in typewritten manuscripts are at the New York Public Library.
NYT (23 Oct. 1891, 21 May 1951). NYTBR (12 Feb. 1950). Theatre Magazine 6 (Oct. 1906).
—FELICIA HARDISON LONDRÉ