Henry Arthur Jones was born on September 20, 1851, in Grandborough, Buckinghamshire. His background was Nonconformist; his father was a farmer, and his mother was a farmer’s daughter. Jones’s formal education seems to have stopped at the age of twelve, when he was sent to work for his uncle, who had a draper’s shop on the Kentish coast at Ramsgate. Jones stayed for three and a half years in Ramsgate before moving to Gravesend, which was nearer to London, and to another draper’s shop. In 1869, he moved into London, where he was to remain for most of his life. Self-educated, he read widely; his favorite authors were John Milton, Herbert Spencer, and Samuel Butler, and his favorite works were about scientific advancements. From Milton—a lifetime obsession—Jones learned verse drama techniques and the interweaving of biblical quotation into the texture of his plays. Scientists, explorers, and doctors often appear in his plays, and he makes frequent use of Spencerian and Butlerian ideas. In his first year in London, Jones wrote several unstaged one-act plays and an unpublished novel. Hearts of Oak, the first of his plays to be produced, premiered at the Theatre Royal, Exeter, on May 29, 1879, and the production encouraged Jones to devote his whole energies to drama. A Clerical Error, his first London play, was performed in October, 1879. Jones’s reputation was secured by The Silver King, which opened at the Princess’s Theatre on November 16, 1882. The success of this play provoked a dispute over its authorship, which Wilson Barrett, an actor-manager, claimed to share with Jones and Henry Herman. A 1905 legal settlement denied Barrett’s claim. The Silver King gave Jones some degree of financial security. His experience with Barrett soured Jones’s attitude toward the prevailing actor-manager theatrical hierarchy of his day, but The Crusaders, his self-financed effort, which was produced in November, 1891, proved to be a financial failure.
In the 1890’s Jones’s work met with mixed fortune. The Masqueraders, The Tempter,...
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