Among the Comedians

THE players are no longer “ the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time.” The Associated Press, the telegraph, and “Our Own Correspondent” have usurped their functions in this behalf. and so far their occupation ‘s gone. Yet we should not the less worthily bestow them; for where dignity, self-respect, and honor go hand in hand with genius in the person of the player, he still has claims akin to those of the poet whose passion, feeling, and humor he interprets.

We are not of those who hold that the stage is in its decadence ; that all the great players went out about the time the grandfathers of the present generation ceased to frequent the theatre. There are many noble actors still upon the stage, and few have been more richly endowed with those talents which are the life and honor of the theatre, than the players who are altogether of the present time. There is an old fellow, garrulous as ourselves, occupying the adjoining desk in our down-town office, whose mind is a storehouse of pleasant recollections of the players who fretted their brief hour upon the stage in his prime. “They are all gone now,” he says, regretfully. as if all good acting and the glory of the drama had gone down into their graves with them. The Siddons, Kemble, and Kean delighted the town in his London days, but the name on which he lingers longest is that of “Old Jefferson,” our own “ Old Joe,” whom he saw later, — a famous actor then, as any of the last generation of play-goers will tell you. Yet with all our memories of his excellence still fresh, and after carefully weighing all contemporary criticism, we are disposed to believe that his son, “Young Joe,” is at least his worthy successor.

Those who contest the palm with him are Mr. John Sleeper Clarke, sometime pupil of Mr. Jefferson, Mr. John E. Owens, and William Warren, son of that great William Warren, manager and comedian.

The style of acting of each, if not always original, is marked by strong personal characteristics ; and as regards Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Owens, they may be fairly considered from their impersonation of one or two characters. Whatever natural powers or acquired abilities they possess are best shown in the rendition of certain parts of vivid individuality which they have made peculiarly their own. Mr. Owens seems almost inseparably connected with Solon Shingle, and Mr. Jefferson may be content to allow his fame to rest upon his personation of Rip Van Winkle.

It is an accepted dogma in dramatic art, that whatever is presented on the stage must necessarily be measurably enlarged and exaggerated, or, as it were, looked at through a mental as well as a material lorgnette; that in no other wise can the fictions of the stage be made real to the senses of the spectator. In consequence of the actor’s belief in this theory, he is apt to represent all shades and degrees of passion through the medium of exaggerated tone, stride, and gesture. And indeed it seems without the bounds of reason to suppose, that, should the tragedian speak the words of Hamlet in his ordinary tones of feeling, he would very adequately express the sublimity and weirdness of Hamlet’s griefs, doubts, and struggles, or show, as in a mirror, the subtile depths of his nature. And yet, after witnessing the rendition of the character of Rip Van Winkle by Mr. Jefferson, we are disposed to think that, if he who enacted Hamlet possessed the genius of this comedian, he might show us such a portrait of the Dane as no one has seen since Betterton, without exaggeration of tone or robustious action, charmed the town in that part.

In the play of “ Rip Van Winkle,” the scant material of Irving, borrowed by him from the German, is eked out by the skill of the dramatist into a play of moderate excellence, but admirably adapted to display Mr. Jefferson’s peculiar powers.

From the moment of Rip’s entrance upon the scene, — for it is Rip Van Winkle, and not Mr. Jefferson, — the audience has assurance that a worthy descendant of the noblest of the old players is before them. He leans lightly against a table, his disengaged hand holding his gun. Standing there, he is in himself the incarnation of the lazy, good-natured, dissipated, good-for-nothing Dutchman that Irving drew. Preponderance of humor is expressed in every feature, yea, in every limb and motion of the light, supple figure. The kindly, simple, insouciant face, ruddy, smiling, lighted by the tender, humorous blue eyes, which look down upon his dress, elaborately copied bit by bit from the etchings of Darley ; the lounging, careless grace of the figure ; the low, musical voice, whose utterances are “ far above singing ” ; the sweet, rippling laughter, —all combine to produce an effect which is rare in its simplicity and excellence, and altogether satisfying.

The impersonation is full of what are technically known as points; but the genius of Mr. Jefferson divests them of all “staginess,” and they are only such points as the requirements of his art, its passion, humor, or dignity, suggest. From the rising of the curtain on the first scene, until its fall on the last, nothing is forced, sensational, or unseemly. The remarkable beauty of the performance arises from nothing so much as its entire repose and equality.

The scene, however, in which the real greatness of the player is shown in his “ so potent art,” is the last scene of the first act. It is marvellously beautiful in its human tenderness and dignity. Here the debauched goodfor-nothing, who has squandered life, friends, and fortune, is driven from his home with a scorn pitiless as the stormfilled night without. The scene undoubtedly owes much to the art of the dramatist, who has combined the broadest humor in the beginning with the deepest pathos at the close. Here there is “room and verge enough” for the amplest display of the comedian’s power. And the opportunities are nobly used. His utterance of the memorable words, “ Would you drive me out like a dog ? ” is an unsurpassed expression of power and genius. His sitting with his face turned from the audience during his dame’s tirade, his stunned, dazed look as he rises, his blind groping from his chair to the table, are all actions conceived in the very noblest spirit of art.

In a moment the lazy drunkard, stung into a new existence by the taunts of his vixenish wife, throws off the shell which has encased his better self, and rises to the full stature of his manhood,— a man sorely stricken, but every inch a man. All tokens of debauchery are gone ; vanished all traces of the old careless indolence and humor. His tones, vibrating with the passion that consumes him, are clear and low and sweet, — full of doubt that he has heard aright the words of banishment, —full of an awful pain and pity and dismay. And so, with one parting farewell to his child, full of a nameless agony, he goes out into the storm and darkness.

The theatre does not “rise at him”: it does more, — gives finer appreciation of the actor’s power ; it is deadly silent for minutes after, or would be, but for some sobbing women there.

After a scene so effective, in which the profoundest feelings of his auditors are stirred, the task of the comedian in maintaining the interest of the play becomes exceedingly onerous; but Mr. Jefferson nowhere fails to create and absorb the attention of his audience. One scene is enacted as well as another ; and that he not always creates the same emotion is not his fault, but that of the dramatist. The player is always equal to the requirements of his art.

The versatility of Mr. Jefferson’s powers is finely shown in the scene of Rip’s awaking from his sleep in the Catskills, and in those scenes which immediately follow. Here he has thrown off his youth, his hair has whitened, his voice is broken to a childish treble, his very limbs are shrunken, tottering, palsied. This maundering, almost imbecile old man, out of whose talk come dimly, rays of the old quaint humor, would excite only ridicule and laughter in the hands of an artist less gifted than Mr. Jefferson; but his griefs, his old affections, so rise up through the tones of that marvellous voice, his loneliness and homelessness so plead for him, that old Lear, beaten by the winds, deserted and houseless, is not more wrapped about with honor than poor old Rip, wandering through the streets of his native village.

Exactly wherein lies Mr. Jefferson’s chief power it is not easy to show. With the genius inherited from “Old Joe,” he possesses a mind richly stored, a refined taste, and that rare knowledge of his art which teaches the force of repression as well as expression. Mr. Jefferson is also a close and conscientious student. The words that flow from his tongue in such liquid resonance seem the very simplest of utterances. And so they are ; but it would be interesting to know how many hours of study it cost him to arrive at that simplicity which is the crowning charm and secret of success. Why, in the very speaking of his daughter’s name in the last scene, — in that matchless appeal to her for recognition, —“ Meenie, Meenie,” — there is a depth of pathos, tenderness, and beauty that charms like music, and attunes the heart to the finest sense of pity.

There is but one other artist within our knowledge possessing the rare facial mobility or expression of Mr. Jefferson, whose features are at all times the running commentary of the text. In the momentary pauses between sentences, or even parts of sentences, his face foretells the coming bursts of humor or pathos, as surely as the overcharged summer sky presages the lightning’s flash. The wide blue eyes and the nervous, sensitive mouth are as illustrative of the artist’s power as the utterance of the most sonorous passages.

This actor, whose every movement is full of an indescribable grace, seems never to attitudinize. Whatever he does appears to be the one most natural thing for a man so situated to do. Indeed, we are disposed to think, after all, that the exquisite beauty and excellence of Mr. Jefferson’s acting lie mostly in the fact that he has subdued it to the very complexion of nature. In Rip Van Winkle, he utters words which have the power to summon from the heart the profoundest emotion; yet they are spoken in no louder tone than any quiet gentleman would use at his own fireside. The voice is ever exquisitely controlled, and in its utterances there is that depth of feeling which makes it fit to be, as it were, the echo of “ silver-tongued Barry,” who long ago made the air of the theatre musical with the speeches of amorous Romeo.

While Mr. Jefferson is essentially an American actor, (and by that we mean imbued with the dramatic spirit of the new nation,) he has formed his style so thoroughly upon that of the best old English players, that he is almost the only young American actor retaining the excellence of that old school, whose followers were quiet, modest, learned gentlemen off the stage, and matchless actors on it. His range of characters is as wide as that of any contemporary comedian, embracing almost everything in comedy, from his exquisite delineation of the pathetic story of Caleb Plummer, in “ The Cricket on the Hearth, ” to that of the broadest of broad farce, Diggory, in “The Spectre Bridegroom.” And they are all full of that simple tranquillity, propriety, and freedom from exaggeration, which characterize the true artist. None other, however, is so marked by his peculiar excellence as his Rip Van Winkle.

In speaking of Mr. John Sleeper Clarke as the pupil of Mr. Jefferson, — as he was in the last seasons of the Old Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia,— we are not certain that he will feel especially grateful for being so designated. Nor is he altogether Mr. Jefferson’s, or any one’s pupil, if by that he is understood to be merely a blind follower of another’s method. As an imitator or copyist of other actors he fails to disclose the extent of his abilities. When he relies entirely upon his own conception of character, he is always correct, admirable, irresistible. But when he attempts parts that Mr. Jefferson often played, during the seasons in which they were together, Mr. Clarke plays them only in such a manner as to show how inferior the imitation is to the original. Again, as Toodles, or as Dr. Ollapod, Mr. Clarke, amusing as he undoubtedly is in these characters, painfully reminds us of the late Mr. Burton, whose stage “business,” dress, and manner the later actor reproduces to the minutest particular. But, however closely followed, it is not Burton, who was the drollest of comedians, whose figure was sacred to comedy, whose voice had unrivalled unctuousness of humor, whose face was Momus’s mask in all its entirety. Fun of the deepest and broadest dwelt in his eyes, and played in every line about his generous mouth. Too broad the humor often was, bordering on coarseness, nor always stopping this side of vulgarity, — conveying often a double, foul meaning, with a leer that made the spectator laugh, even while he grieved for offended taste and decency. Mr. Clarke is never vulgar, never a buffoon ; his voice lacks that rich flavor which was the charm of the elder actor. His face has not the other’s breadth of expression, nor, in certain phases, its power. Burton’s was not the face of a gentle, kindly nature, while Mr. Clarke’s is a face suggestive of a frank and generous heart; and when a smile breaks over it, it becomes as pleasant to look upon as a broad summer landscape. This very refinement and tenderness in it are what will preventhim from ever successfully appearing in those parts of low comedy in which we have been accustomed to see Burton perform.

Mr. Clarke’s power as a comedian chiefly lies, and is shown to the best advantage, in characters which he has solely created. Take, for example, his rendition of Salem Scudder, Bob Tyke, Waddilove, and De Boots, — parts which, for his fame’s sake and the public’s entertainment, he plays less frequently than he should. The first of these impersonations is a pure creation of his genius, —and the same remark will apply equally well to the last two, — full of the finest conceptions, and played with such exquisite judgment and meaning as to place him among the first of living players. In that scene in “The Octoroon” where he has the struggle for life with the brutal overseer, whose knife he has wrenched from his hand, and whom he is pressing to the earth with his knee fixed on his breast, he rises above the ruffian the very picture of retributive justice. At first it seems right that he should kill the murderous scoundrel, and he tells him in those low, thrilling tones that he feels tempted to do it. “Then why don’t you ?” asks the surly womanwhipper. Nothing can be finer, fuller of dignity and repressed power, than Salem Scudder’s reply, which is so spoken as to seem the protest of all mankind against the Devil’s code of law, the bowie-knife and pistol: “ Because,” he slowly, almost regretfully, says, — “because the spirit of civilization within me won’t let me do it.” And as he says it, the spectator can see that “the spirit of civilization” is having a tough struggle with that wandering Yankee for the slave-driver’s blood; but civilization conquers, and he removes his knee, letting the miscreant go. The whole scene is exquisitely rendered, and is worthy of the highest commendation. As Bob Tyke, another eccentric character, not strictly belonging to comedy, he displays throughout the same rarely beautiful traits of restrained power. But we are afraid that Mr. Clarke considers these characters beneath his care, and they are falling out of his répertoire; yet they are, as he plays them, portraits strong as a Titian drew.

As an instance of his quality in a different line of comedy, let us take his Waddilove, that wretched fat boy, borrowed in all his loutish, sleepy entirety by the dramatist from Dickens. It has been said of Jack Bannister that he did not go out of himself to take possession of his part, but put it on over his ordinary dress, like a surtout, snug, warm, and comfortable. Sometimes, as we have hinted, Mr. Clarke puts on a character over his dress, and, peeping through it, we catch glimpses of the rare repose and quaint humor of Jefferson, or the broader action of Burton ; but when he dons the baggy, buttony breeches of Waddilove, he is so encased, wrapt up, and buried out of sight in the character, — the actor’s identity is so lost, — that his own mother would fail to recognize her son in that stupid, blundering fag of the school. Will any one who has been so happy as to witness this matchless performance ever forget that baggy, baddish boy on his return from his egg-stealing expedition, when, with that thick utterance and egotistic leer of triumph over the despoiled chickens, he recounts his exploits, and, thrusting his hands into his pockets to bring forth the plunder and the proofs of his valor, finds the eggs smashed to pulpy juiciness ? Will any one who has seen that sorely driven fag, we ask, ever forget his face at that supreme moment of discovery, or how he drew his fingers slowly out, dripping, yellow, unsavory, his countenance for one moment blank as a sheet, unmeaning as the face of an oyster, then suddenly clouded with a look of dismay, of imbecility so absolute, so absurd, that to look at it was sufficient to bring the tears into our convulsing laughter? The expression of broad farce can go no further than this.

Mr. Clarke plays so many parts, and plays them all so well, that it is not necessary to enter into detail concerning them. He differs from Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Warren in that he has not the delicacy of conception, the quiet and exquisite force of execution, which distinguish the acting of these great artists. Mr. Clarke’s humor is spontaneous, its effects are electric, while Mr. Jefferson arrives at the same results from a mental review of the merits of the situation, by profound study of all its salient points, and, above all, through the medium of that something called genius, inherited from his father. Mr. Clarke, when not playing in imitation of others, is never still, his very ears and scalp are instinct with motion ; he is never graceful, he is amusing out of the fulness of life, enjoying his own acting as keenly as his audiences do, and showing in his face and walk and gesture that he does so. Mr. Jefferson is always graceful, always unconscious of himself and of his audience, and only conscious of his author.

It is more years ago than we care to remember, since we crossed over into the east side of the city of New York, one night, to see a young actor, who was drawing vast crowds to the “Old Bowery,” personate a noble fireman, named Mose, in a drama sacred to that classic locality and the temple of everdying Kirby. We are happy to say that the “noble Fireman” of that day — probably from his close resemblance to the “noble Savage” — has almost disappeared from the earth. We imagine that Colonel Wilson had a good deal to do with his extinction, and, so far, we are that gentleman’s debtor. The drama was called “ The New York Fireman,” when played in that city, but it found a new name wherever the young actor in question was invited to produce it. The actor was John E. Owens, a favorite comedian with Baltimore audiences. The drama was altogether a very bad drama, not elevating in its tendencies even to the audiences of that neighborhood, — not largely calculated to raise either their dramatic taste or their morals; yet there was something in Mr. Owens’s portraiture of the New York Rough, so excellent, natural, and marked, that there was no reason for astonishment in the crowds he drew to witness it. It might be a very bad specimen of a man, yet it was as true to its order as one brick from a Philadelphia house is to the entire building. As he played it, Mose was a jolly butcher-boy, generous, impulsive, chivalric, somewhat addicted to waving the American flag, slang, running “ wid de machine,” and “going” with Elizer; in fact, he was as devotedly attached to that young person as Jacques Strop to Robert Macaire, or Harlequin to Columbine. Another thing to which he was addicted, and which slightly conflicted with his general nobility of character, was “free fights,” in which he “ put in big licks,” and which, to use an expression of his own, not elegant but terse, he “gassed ” about rather more than befitted a modest gentleman. He also affected a red flannel shirt, a black beaver hat—about which was a band of crape—jauntily perched over his left ear, and black pantaloons tucked into frightful boots. The fashion in which Mose wore his hair, very short behind the ears and very long before, was unknown to the barbers on the west side of the town. These forward locks were soaped, and he used them with peculiar emphasis, by twisting them around his fingers, whenever he desired to give weight to his utterances. In short, the Mose of real life was an unmitigated nuisance, whom it was well to abate, and in the drama he was never an agreeable character to us ; yet for a number of years the announcement that Mr. Owens would appear in that part at the Bowery, or at any other theatre in the country, would attract audiences for months together.

On the night mentioned, when we went over into the Bowery, — having to fight our way to our seat through a surging mass of human beings who blocked up the corridors and the street without,— Mr. Owens also performed a broad comedy part in the farce of “ The Wild Indian,” which performance, we are compelled to say, was not a success. We had seen Mr. Burton in the same character only a few evenings before, and that stoutish gentleman, whose oily humor “ larded the lean earth ” as he walked, played it out to a different conclusion. But we said of Mr. Owens, that night, “ His is a true genius, real and strong, though just now it is groping in the dark.”

A good many years passed away, and Mr. Owens seemed to have departed with them. Mose, Eiizer, and Jakey grew to be only shadowy memories, even in the Bowery. The once noble fireman was dead and buried,—buried out of sight and mind, “deeper than e’er plummet sounded.”

When Mr. Owens emerged again, it was not at night, before the foot-lights, but in the broad light of day. His audience this time were some Alpine guides, who, gathering about him, beheld the amiable comedian once more waving the American flag, after the fashion of the old Bowery days, but now from the highest attainable point of Mont Blanc. Having thus asserted his nationality, he came down again, and in concert halls showed us some well-painted pictures illustrative of his ascent, and, in a pleasant, gossiping way, told us how it was done.

But one night Mont Blanc, like Mose, failing to attract, Mr. Owens gracefully closed his remarks, and rolled up his pictures and buried them in a long, coffin-like pine box among the useless properties and rusty traps that fill the cellar of the old Front Street Theatre. And there they lie to this day.

But where was Mr. Owens ? Was he buried along with the decaying pictures of Mont Blanc ? No concert or lyceumhall proprietor smilingly welcomed him, no manager announced his first appearance in blank years. Where was Mr. Owens ? A great many curious people, hangers-on of the theatres and others, asked that question without eliciting any very satisfactory reply, until one day a rumor made its way up from the City of Monuments, that the comedian had retired to his farm for study, and had developed a rather eccentric affection for his overseer, an old fellow who served as a type of the shrewd Yankee farmer, drifted away from his moorings, down East, — a man somewhat partial to his ox-team, to apple-sauce, lawsuits, and reminiscences of his grandfather, who had fought in the war of the Revolution.

Dropping into the Broadway Theatre one evening, in the winter of 65, we had confirmation of the truth of this rumor; for there, upon the stage on which the elder Wallack and a host of noble players had shone, we saw that same old Yankee ox-driver, descendant of Revolutionary sires. Perker was the name by which we knew him in the days of the Baltimore farm, but in the Broadway Theatre he was known as Solon Shingle. No matter what his name, however, it was Perker we saw, — Perker from broad-brimmed felt hat to the somewhat too large cowhide boots. Ox-team, old white coat, tobacco, impertinent curiosity, queer speech, and all the rest of that old fellow’s physical and mental fibre, were there reproduced before us. It was not the dress only that Mr. Owens had slipped on over his own, but he had crept into the very nature of the man, catching the trick of moving each spring and lever of his thought, habit, and feeling. In the same degree, and just as Mr. Owens’s Mose was a living photograph of the noble fireman, as he existed in the eyes of the Bowery audiences, was Solon Shingle a literal translation into comedy of Perker, who was typical of the uncouth, litigious, maundering countryman. Both were marked by the same excellences ; both were strong, fibrous developments of common nature, and characters such as no living American player but Owens could elaborate.

In “Solon Shingle” the groping genius of the comedian had found light. It was not, as we were forced to admit, a pure genius ; the light was somewhat dim, and not unmixed with some grossness of conception and execution; yet for more than two years this character was in Mr. Owens’s hands the delight of the theatre. “Solon Shingle” became a tangible reality, whose personal identity was gravely discussed by old and young, from the Points to the Avenues. Everybody went to see him, and everybody admired the personation. New York had often seen finer displays of dramatic wit, and had not taken especial note of them either. New York had seen Charlotte Cushman, Burton, Blake, Matthews, Brougham, Walcott senior, Mark Smith, and Charles Fisher all together in “ The School for Scandal,” one of the most brilliant comedies of the theatre, and it had not crowded the house for one night as it did later for hundreds of nights to see the performance of a single artist, in probably the very worstwritten play that was ever put upon the stage.

“ Solon Shingle” was not an inspiration of art, but rather a faithful copy from a peculiarly marked original, and just so far was it an artistic triumph. Mr. Jefferson evolved and developed the character of Rip Van Winkle from a purely poetic conception, that had no existence except in the mind of the dramatist and in the genius of his interpreter. Its humor, pathos, and passion were, until Mr. Jefferson’s rare talents moulded them into shape, dim and intangible as Irving’s weird legend, or as the mists that enwrapped the sullen Catskills. With Mr. Owens it was different: he had the man he impersonated to sit to him for his picture, and the popularity and the merits of the performance rested upon the sure foundation of its wonderful fidelity to nature. As a copy, it was as exact as a photograph, or as a landscape thrown upon a blank wall by the camera obscura, and almost as cold. There was perfection alike in the dress, the uncouth action, the awkward, rolling gait, suggestive of following the plough and straddling furrows, the shrewd, inquisitive habit, and the quaint patois, as true to the original in the pronunciation of each syllable as in the whole. And to attain this fidelity of accent was a greater difficulty than Mr. Jefferson had to overcome in reproducing the guttural dialect of Rip Van Winkle. Mr. Jefferson had simply to adhere to certain well-known principles in following the peculiarities of the Dutchman’s language; but the oddities in Mr. Owens’s case were all arbitrary ; and consequently not only each word, but all its parts, became a matter of individual study, into which the entire performance resolved itself, — a profound study for the reproduction of the personal identity of one man standing as a type for many.

But excellent as the study was, justly admired as it was, there is one thing that will be remembered concerning it, — while it excited praise in abundance, it seldom shook the audiences of pit and boxes from their propriety by virtue of its intrinsic drollery. There were, indeed, some points that convulsed the house, yet they were confined to things not humorous in themselves, but in their frequent repetition and exaggeration by the comedian. As, for instance, his ever-recurring reference to that “ bar’I of apple-sars,” — his as frequent utterance of “Jess so!” — or his making that very peculiar ejaculation in sitting down. And the way in which this latter action was accomplished was one of the best assurances we saw of the actor’s power. The slow drawing up of the draggling coat-tails, his feeble gropings for the arm of the chair, his letting himself down to within an inch of the seat, then, when the bent old legs would bend no more, his suddenly dropping into it like over-ripe fruit from a tree, — this action and the scene in the witness-box, often gross and in bad taste as they always seemed to us, were the finest points he made. The first he weakened by too frequent recurrence.

In the whole performance we recognized the same merits, and only those, which once made his personation of another character the delight of equally crowded houses for quite as extended a period. In both characters exactly the same rare powers of reproduction, the same excellences and detects, were elicited. And from these we conclude that Mr. Owens’s talents lie exclusively in detecting and seizing the salient points of an individual nature, and producing therefrom a copy faultless, “ rounded, whole ” as the original. It is not only bodily eccentricities that he copies,— for if his powers ended here, he would be simply a clever mimic ; but he catches the very trick of the original’s process of thought, and takes the measure of his entire mental capacity. His talents lead him no further. His wit is of that dry and saturnine sort which is provocative more of admiration than laughter: it does not tickle the heart, but appeals to the mind. There is in it nothing of the generous, broad spontaneity of Clarke, or the genial delicacy of Jefferson and Warren. The baggy trousers of Waddilove would smother him in their comic folds, the quaint humor and exquisite pathos of Rip Van Winkle would strike him dumb, while the courtly grace of Warren’s Sir Peter Teazle could never be touched by him. In Mose, as in Solon Shingle, no mobility of countenance, no music of voice, was required, for there were no phases of passion to depict, no words to grapple tender pity or stir the heart to laughter ; and happily so, for Mr. Owens’s face is not expressive, and his voice is cold, unsympathetic. Of his features, his eyes alone are fine, and they are dark, quick, lurid. His powers are limited, but within that limitation they shine pre-eminent; though he plays only a few parts with even excellence, yet in those few he has no rival.

But while Rip Van Winkle, Waddilove, and Solon Shingle deluge the theatre with laughter, there is standing at the wing, soberly regarding them, and, let us believe, sincerely rejoicing in their triumph, an actor who has come down to us from another generation of the theatre. He is dressed to-night for the part of Sir Peter Teazle. No, he is Sir Peter, — the very living embodiment of that amorous, peremptory, irascible, kindly, courtly old nobleman. But, as we said, he belongs to a former age of the theatre ; he is a living link connecting an earlier generation with the present, and an exponent of that rare old school of legitimate comedy, which has left few followers, and no devotee so ardent as himself.

The youngsters of the theatre of to-day, wrapped about and blinded by their own success, say of that “ old school,” that it not only lacked inspiration, but decried it; that its teachings led its followers into a thousand errors of the head, while they permitted the heart to have nothing to do with the matter in hand ; that it was cold, artificial, and, if not quite upon the stilts, only lately descended from them. As if we could forget that among the followers of this school were Rufus Blake and Charles Bass, and are John Gilbert, and he who to-night enacts Sir Peter Teazle ! William Warren is son of that William Warren to whom the American theatre is more largely indebted than to any other actor, the contemporary of Cooper, Jefferson, Wood, and Francis,—-founder, too, of the Wood and Warren company, which played “The Castle Spectre” before George Washington. In the days of that old school there were giants ; and has this last generation any greater masters of our emotions than they were ? Do any of our young men act from the heart more absolutely than Rufus Blake did? is there another such a Jesse Rural as he was ? another such a “Last Man” as Charles Bass? such another gallant, courtly Lord Ogleby as John Gilbert? or such another Sir Peter Teazle as William Warren ? Has the new school, which flouts the old, furnished any successors to them in these grand parts ? If so, we have not seen them.

But Rufus Blake and Charles Bass are scarcely remembered now, though the grass has been green above their graves but a few years. Oblivion is the price the actor pays for his hour of triumph. No history embalms him ; no poet sings pæans to his memory when he is dead and gone. We know some old players who once held the undisputed allegiance of the theatre, poor and neglected now, hanging like ghosts about the stage, haunting the scenes of their old triumphs, and taking eleemosynary benefits, now and then, to lighten their load of years and poverty. And sorrowful enough it is to see these old fellows, who, in the fulness of their youth and strength, so often set the benches in a roar, — fellows of infinite jest once, but dumb now as the gibing tongue of Yorick.

But of this sort is not William Warren, as honorable now in the character of Sir Peter as he was in his youth in that of Charles Surface. He is one of the four great comedians of the American stage; not the least of them, either, but introduced here at the end only because he is of a different method from those of whom we have spoken, — one of that class to which he, like Joseph Jefferson, is allied by birth, education, and tradition.

Until within a few years, the country was familiar with only the fame of this great artist; for the city of Boston, which absorbs genius as New York absorbs wealth, recognized his powers, and year after year kept him perforce. And measurably he was satisfied to remain, for his audiences were of that cultivated, critical character capable of appreciating his excellence, and liberal enough to reward it. Not only that, but they have a test of worth in that rather crooked city of notions that is not so widely recognized elsewhere in this country of universal equality. They estimate a man there by his moral and intellectual fibre, and, if he bears the test, he is alike honored, whether he be preacher or player. There, a man is not necessarily a social Pariah because he interprets the poets. The cleverest actor of a Philadelphia theatre recently retired from it in the meridian of his days. “ Not that I do not love my profession,” said he, “but because my family are socially ostracized on account of it.” This gentleman, having studied law, is now satisfactorily respectable. In Boston he would not have been obliged to make the sacrifice.

Two years ago Mr. Warren made a starring tour among the principal theatres of the country, and his success was unbounded, and as gratifying to the artist as it was complimentary to the taste of his audiences.

The crowds who gathered to witness his impersonations then will not soon or willingly forget his manifold excellences, nor fail to remember the rare finish, beauty, and felicity of his acting in such parts as Sir Peter Teazle, Dr. Pangloss, Dr. Ollapod, Paul Pry, Bob Acres, or Sir Harcourt Courtly. It was not alone the general perfection with which his art clothed these characters that made them so satisfying and pleasing, but there was in every tone and gesture, and in every article of his dress and make-up, such a conscientious study of detail, as to win for him the highest praise from the most refined and critical audiences. And these parts, it will be remarked, are, without exception, legitimate comedy, in which intelligence and feeling alone assist the artist to their proper development; in either of them mere farcical buffoonery would be only less than sacrilege. With two exceptions these parts are played by Messrs. Jefferson, Clarke, and Owens ; but the last two gentlemen are impotent to grasp their subtile meaning and profound humor, or to turn them to wise results ; and, indeed, even Mr. Jefferson, in whose acting the oldschool excellence is so prominent a feature, does not approach Warren nearly enough in these characters to discompose the elder comedian.

In the name of the drama we wish here to record a virtue of this sterling actor : he never mutilates a play There are some players, and Mr. Clarke is one of them, who, in playing certain characters, cut out all the brilliancies of dialogue from the parts of those who are on the stage with them, and thus shine more refulgently from the obscurity forced upon their fellowartists of the scene. But Mr. Warren, sincere in his respect for the drama, secure in his strength, and “founded as the rock,” gives to each actor the full measure of the part, curtails him or her of nothing, and yet shines preeminently above them all by the pure light of his genius. It is this generous regard for others that secures him the esteem of audience and actors.

Outside of purely legitimate comedy, Mr. Warren has some specialties in which as an artist he stands alone and invincible, and these parts are often in the range of lowest comedy or broadest farce. And if they do not afford the same degree of intellectual pleasure that we find in his Sir Peter Teazle and kindred performances, they serve to stretch our laughter to the very “ top of our lungs,” and their whimsical oddities show us how generous and versatile a thing his genius is. His Sir Peter, with its dignity, repose, gentleness, magnanimity, and plaintive tenderness, is a portraiture satisfying, altogether finished, and complete. But as Jeremiah Beetle, in “Babes in the Wood,” Mr. Sudden, in “ Breach of Promise,” Jonathan Chickweed, in “Nursery Chickweed,” or as Mr. Golightly, in “ Lend me Five Shillings,” he stands apart from his fellows, and altogether inapproachable. He has all the exuberance and natural drollery of Clarke, all his farcical buoyancy, and to these he adds that traditional oldschool finish, which stops nowhere this side of perfection, and which Mr. Clarke and Mr. Owens have not at all, Mr. Warren’s audience cannot reason about the manner in which he plays these parts : they can only laugh and be merry over their exquisite funniness. In these characters there is the contagion of laughter in his face, gait, eyes, gesture, and voice.

But as if his genius were “general as the casing air,” Mr. Warren, while he compels our admiration in these parts, forces us to acknowledge the breadth of his powers in a purely eccentric part, — that of the poor French tutor in “ To Parents and Guardians.” And here his French scholarship stands him in good stead. In this impersonation a genius that he seldom develops shines pre-eminent, — that rare genius which makes the actor master of our tears. The whole performance is so quiet, so thoughtful, so profound in its pain and so subdued in its joy at the end, that, through all the old tutor’s sorry blunders and eccentricities, we cannot laugh at the stupid figure ; or if we do, tears underlie our mirth, and while the smile trembles on the lip, the eye grows dim with pity. So ample is Mr. Warren’s power, and with such tenderness does he cast over Tourbillon’s ludicrous side the mantle of the old exile’s griefs and sorrows, that we can see in him, not the scoff and gibe of the school, but the sorely stricken parent, recovering at last his long-lost child. There is something beautiful in this performance, (lifting it up almost to the height of Mr. Jefferson’s Rip Van Winkle.) and Mr. Warren has imparted to it a dignity and grace which only a profound genius could bestow.

In like manner he has taken from “ Masks and Faces ” a third-rate part, that of Triplett, and made it of almost the first importance in the play. No one who has seen it can forget the exquisite display of humor and pathos in this impersonation. And it is in such characters, where deep feeling alternates with whimsical oddity, that his rare facial expression has full scope. His voice is adapted with exact fidelity to the look, and to such perfection is this carried, that a blind man might almost know his expression from the emphasis of his words.

Whether in the grace and high-bred courtesy of Sir Peter, the cowardly bluster of Bob Acres, the pathos of Tourbillon, or the drollery of Peter Dunducketty, this great artist of the old school has no superior in the new one, Mr. Jefferson, in the assurance of a genius pure, steady, and true, may contest the day with him upon his own ground, and excel him off of it, but Mr. Jefferson’s method is more than half composed of the same characteristics which altogether distinguish Mr. Warren’s.

The talents of these actors are alike in great measure inherited, for their fathers in the early days of the American theatre contended, shoulder to shoulder, for the applause of the town, night after night, for long years. William Warren, comedian and manager, died in a hale, prosperous old age, almost in sight of the theatre, while old Joe Jefferson, his long-time comrade, true to his love for nature in the evening of his days as in their morning, turning his back upon the tinsel of the stage and the gloom of the city, took up his staff, and wandered away to where the fields were green and the birds sang; and so wandering, he came at last to a little village among the mountains of Pennsylvania, where rippled the blue waters of the Susquehanna; and there he rested for a while, died, and was laid away in a favorite corner of a little churchyard ; and ten years after John Bannister Gibson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, came to the grave of his old friend, laid thereon a decent slab, and wrote for the grand old comedian an epitaph, full of beauty and feeling.

We cannot take leave of these great artists, who, no less through their “so potent art ” than through the daily beauty of their lives, lend honor to the drama, without expressing the profound sense of our obligation for the pleasure they have time and again afforded us ; and in this we do but echo the voices of the many thousands whom they have delighted.

The comedians are of the true knighterrantry, — they correct all errors, reward all virtue, punish all wrong, between the rise and fall of the green curtain. They are good geniuses who scatter our cares, delay the coming wrinkles that threaten our brows, and out of the plenitude of their exuberant life so gild ours with laughter that we make friends with fortune and sit down with content.