WITH the death of William Warren, at Boston, on the 21st of September, 1888, the line of leading American comedians of the old school came almost to an end, Mr. John Gilbert alone surviving as their representative. Mr. Warren’s career as an actor, beginning in 1832, and continuing for an exact half century, covered nearly all the period within which the stage of America has a history large enough to reward the pen of a chronicler. When he made his first histrionic venture, — at the Arch Street Theatre of Philadelphia, in the earlier year above named. — there were not thirty theatres in the United States, and only a few hundred actors ; now the theatres are counted by hundreds, and the profession numbers its thousands. Fifty years ago there was a narrow but orderly stock system, under which plays were presented by actors in residence, who sometimes supported a visiting artist, but generally filled, or were expected to fill, the public eye without the added light of “stars ; ” now there are a bare dozen or so of regular stock companies, but scores upon scores of “ stars,” who rush over the country, trailing their “ troupes ” behind them. In 1832 the theatre depended for its maintenance principally upon a small wealthy upper class ; now it is the occasional distraction of the few, and affords a chief, eagerly devoured pabulum of entertainment to the many. In and through all these changes, Mr. Warren, almost inexperienced in any other professional life than that of a comedian in the Museum stock company in Boston, steadily grew in skill and in reputation, until, at the zenith of his fame and his force, — say in the year 1870, — he was recognized as the first, or next to the first, of American humorous actors: and here he fairly sustained himself, even when the tide of fashion began a little to set against him; even when his power as an artist, with his bodily strength, was on the wane; even to the end of his public career.
Through Mr. Warren’s life it is possible to read the whole inner history of the theatre in America, to trace the causes of the general poverty and abortiveness of our stage, to discover the secret of its few but brilliant triumphs, to cast the horoscope of its future. I have no idea of setting myself this task in terms, but any fairly intelligent discussion of Mr. Warren’s achievement as an actor must have some of the large outlook just now indicated. At the outset, his lineage and blood relationships tell the familiar tale of the peculiar power of heredity to give the histrionic. bent. He was the son of an English actor and an American lady of an acting family, and counted among his near relatives a father, an aunt, four sisters, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins who attained good position upon the stage, Joseph Jefferson being one of the cousins in the second degree. It was at first intended that he should be a merchant, and he was educated for a mercantile life; but when, at the age of twenty, his own tastes and the needs of his father’s household sent him on the stage, he had already begun to be a Cultivated gentleman, as his letters of that date demonstrate. Thenceforward, as long as he lived, he was assiduous in educating himself, both broadly and generously as a man and minutely and technically as an actor. He is to be regarded in a special sense as representative of that small class of American actors whose natural aptitudes have been developed under the refining and chastening influences of a careful culture. I deliberately use the word “ culture ” and its modifying adjective, although I am aware how wide a gulf separates any professional training possible to an American performer of this century from the training of a modern French player of high grade,—a gulf which only genius can overpass. To an actor like M. Coquelin, matured under the tutelage of the Comédie Francaise, in a school which perfects the pupil’s enunciation and his pronunciation; which makes him master of gesture ; which trains his eye, his hand, his foot, and every joint in his body ; which clarifies his intelligence and refines his taste, strengthens his judgment and deepens his intuition, all in the light of a splendid tradition, through definite methods approved by the success of generations of graduates and applied at the hands of artists skilled to make artists,—to such a one the means of technical education accessible to Mr. Warren must seem poor indeed. Yet these means were not despicable. They included a tradition inferior to that of the Théâtre Français, yet of much intrinsic worth, handed down through a long series of English actors, who, in spite of a certain subservience to dry conventionalism, had honest notions of an artist’s duty to his art and his patrons, clear ideas concerning the classic British drama and the scope and possibilities of its characters, and strong convictions as to the value of industry, patience, and study to the ambitious player. There was no school eo nomine in which these notions were inculcated, none in which even the rudiments of the histrionic art could be acquired. But the old-fashioned stock company, with its dignity, its respect for achieved distinction, its strict regimen, its abundantly afforded opportunities for observation, imitation, and criticism, and its thoroughly professional atmosphere, was a not wholly inadequate substitute for such a school. Indeed, to an exceptionally apt and earnest learner, it supplied all that was quite essential in preliminary training. From every rational point of view it had a distinct, calculable value, and, narrow as it was, it wrought some large and worthy results. How worthy those results were can be fully realized only after an inspection of the present chaos of the American stage. It is a chaos with a few well-regulated corners, — a chaos out of which a beautiful order, I devoutly believe, is presently to be born ; but, viewed as a whole, it must also be described — saving your presence ! — as pandemonium. On the one hand, a crowd of self-denominated “ stars,” shining for the most part by virtue of some single presumed success, respectful of no law but the law of demand and supply, and shaking their dollars in the face of the public as a refutation of the timid criticisms of judicious spectators ; on the other hand, a throng of " supporting ” players, many of them honest, earnest, and clever, but hopeless of obtaining the instruction which they need, nearly all utterly confused on every important question of taste, and distracted by the shifty, inconsistent demands of a fickle public and irresponsible newspaper criticism, — this is a spectacle which might move the least conservative observer to join the ranks of the praisers even of our meagre past time.
As a member of a few stock companies and of several strolling troupes, managed substantially in accordance with stock-company tradition, playing both tragic and comic parts, but constantly gaining in position, and gradually eliminating characters of tragedy from his repertory, Mr. Warren, through fifteen years of hard apprenticeship, labored in his vocation, until, in 1847, he entered, as " low comedian,” into the service of the Boston Museum, there to remain, with a break but for a single twelvemonth, for thirty-five consecutive years. What a record of his persistent, intelligent toil is afforded by this period ! It would be incredible if it were not vouched by simple arithmetic. Thirteen thousand three hundred and forty-five performances of five hundred and seventy-seven characters ! The old fairy and Arabian Nights spectacles; The Children of Cyprus, with Adelaide Phillipps as Cherry (French “ Cheri ), in the untrained freshness of her youth and her voice ; The Enchanted Harp, and Horse, and Beauty, Aladdin, and The Forty Thieves, all melodious with Mr. Tom Comer’s tinkling music; Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with Mr. Whitman as the venerable hero, Mrs. Vincent, slender and young, as Cassy, Mr. Warren as the interpolated “Yankee absurdity, Penetrate Partyside, and the clever Miss Gazinski, just graduated from the ballet, as Topsy; the lesser anti-slavery plays which further marked the growing sentiment of the North; the dramatic versions of Dickens, which followed hard upon the success of his novels; the steadily presented and steadily patronized old English comedies, and the old-fashioned farces, with their vast variety of theme and monotonous loudness of treatment; the translations of the plays of the brilliant modern French dramatists ; the sudden ephemeral success of T. W. Robertson’s pieces, of Henry J. Byron’s, and Albery’s, and the like ; and the uncouth dramatic webs of domestic homespun, wherewith the popular taste compelled Mr. Warren often to endue himself. The mere setting down by suggestion of a tithe of the catalogue makes a little history of the drama, over which every Bostonian may renew his youth, and laugh, cry, or philosophize by turns. The terrible strain of body and mind put upon a leading actor under such conditions of labor can hardly be realized by any one who has not studied the subject. The demands made upon the player’s health, endurance, memory, nimbleness, and intelligence are imperious and enormous to a degree often approaching the incredible. The resulting discipline, it may be said, is, of course, proportionally great. That statement is true, but its truth needs examination and qualification. Every kind of active life is disciplinary, but active workers profit by their lives in very different ways. The memory would certainly be well trained in a career like Mr. Warren’s ; but is it certain that the taste and the judgment would be equally profited ? Observation of many actors will make the answer doubtful. The popular comedian of a stock company, even in a city which pronounces itself cultivated, is beset, as an artist, by a thousand perils and temptations ; and to pluck the flower, safety, out of the thickly springing nettle, danger, marks the high quality of the man and the actor. Aside from the hazards of popularity and of contact with audiences whose noisier members are pretty sure to be blind to the finest part of the actor’s performance, and quite likely most to applaud his less worthy work, there is the continuous peril of handling poor dramatic material. Before this danger common players generally succumb; even good ones frequently. It is natural that the dyer’s hand should be subdued to what it works in. When one thinks of the vast quantity of literary rubbish with and in which Mr. Warren was obliged to deal, one’s respect for his artist-fibre becomes profound. The actor who could, with great popular acclaim, impersonate Penetrate Partyside, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, two hundred and forty-eight times ; Jefferson Scattering Batkins, in The Silver Spoon, two hundred and forty-six times; and Mr. Butterscotch, in The Guv’nor, one hundred and thirty-four times, and yet keep his æsthetic poise and his professional fineness and integrity, must be a comedian indeed. Even on the more legitimate lines the comedian’s art was threatened, for conventionalisms bristled on the tradition of the old and standard comedies, and exaggeration, self-consistent and in the line of nature, but extreme, was of the essence of the oldfashioned farce. From all these and other perils Mr. Warren escaped with practically little harm. Always knowing and preferring the best, he yet found a way to grow both in dexterity and in sensibility even when his hand was set to ignoble tasks. From the beginning to the end of his career he embodied the Spirit of the true histrionic artist, whose concern for himself and his audience is habitually subordinated to a reverent concern for his art.
There is little difficulty, I think, in determining Mr. Warren’s rank as an actor among recent American comedians. That his place is very high in the first order will be generally conceded. Precisely to fix his position within that order is a rather invidious task; but “ I persuade myself to speak the truth ; shall nothing wrong ” his illustrious rivals, living or dead. The names of Mr. Jefferson, Mr. John Gilbert, the late Mr. E. A. Sothern, and Mr. John S. Clarke at once suggest themselves as the only contestants with Mr. Warren for the first place. Mr. Clarke, who has almost lost his American reputation by his long absences from this country, ranks highest in the list in respect of the gift of pure drollery, in that sort of humorous power which is always bizarre, and which shows its keen perception of the truth of nature by the perfection of its skill in caricaturing nature. But the eccentricity of Mr. Clarke’s talents, besides being the source of their peculiar charm, is the exponent of their incompleteness. Almost the same judgment may be passed upon Mr. Sothern, even while one recognizes his marvelous cleverness, and recalls, with inextinguishable delight, the uniqueness of that skill which made a single impersonation the delicious epitome of most of the fatuities and stupidities that attend the mind of man in its duller moments. Mr. Gilbert is the only one of the present race of players who vies with Mr. Warren as a general actor of comedy; and while I fully recognize his great merit, and confess the superiority of his singular ease and freshness of style, I must assert his inferiority to Mr. Warren in the higher essentials of delicacy, of insight, of breadth, and of imaginative power. Mr. Jefferson alone remains, and it is as nearly impossible to compare him with Mr. Warren as to weigh a sonnet of Shakespeare against a comedy of Goldsmith. The loftier genius of the creator of Rip Van Winkle must be conceded; it is comparatively narrow, Imt it is a tongue of flame which pierces to the sky. No other American comedian has a gift comparable to this in its kind. But in scope, in variety, in wealth of dramatic resource, in largeness and adaptability of method, even Mr. Jefferson must yield — indeed, he would be the first to yield — the palm to his cousin and elder. Mr. Jefferson I recognize, therefore, as the greatest genius among our modern comedians, while for Mr. Warren I claim the title of first artist. Of Burton, Blake, Finn, and other prominent actors of an earlier time I cannot speak with personal knowledge, and must leave the duty, if there be one, of ranking Mr. Warren among them to critics “ older in practice ” as well as “ abler than ” I for such comparisons. Mr. Warren’s physique was always an important factor in his playing, and even off the stage it was very remarkable. Many of my readers will remember him “ in his habit as he lived,” especially when he was in the fullness of his late manhood, and can testify how conspicuous, in spite of his careful modesty, was his tall, substantial figure, as he moved with easy deliberation through the streets of Boston, his refined and thoughtful face characterized by habitual gravity, but swift in response to a thought from within or a salutation from without, his manner the most unaffectedly elegant and distinguished which Boston had known since the day of Edward Everett. It was sometimes said, by way of adverse criticism upon him, that he was always himself, and that his personality was always recognizable in his assumptions. A like comment has been made upon Coqnelin, to which Mr. Henry James, in his brilliant paper upon the French actor, replied with exquisite aptness that the “ extreme definiteness and recognizableness, as it were, of the performer’s execution, of his physical means, above all of his voice,” did indeed so distinguish his personality that it was unmistakable, — fortunately, and to the advantage of the spectator. Nearly all of Mr. James’s quoted sentence might well be used for a retort courteous in Mr. Warren’s behalf, though it is to be admitted that the American comedian’s tones were sometimes disagreeably stentorian, — probably because of his almost incessant performance of farcical characters during the greater part of his professional life, — and that the high finish of his style sometimes produced a brief effect of hardness. But his voice was very pleasant in quality and wonderfully varied and sympathetic in its intonations, and the brilliant mobile expressiveness of his countenance has seldom been surpassed upon the stage.
Mr. Warren’s style as an actor was so broad, and full as to be hard to describe. Devoid of eccentricities and extravagances, it lacked, like a perfectly proportioned building, the salient peculiarities which at once catch the eye. To his work he brought the true plastic temperament of the actor, a rich native vein of humor, the power of keen and sympathetic observation, a delicate sense of proportion, a strong intelligence, varied culture, and that devoted love for his art which made unresting industry mere delight. The flower of these gifts and virtues was a stylo which united exceptional vividness, force, and sensibility with a fine reserve and an unfailing observance of the modesty of nature. An exact adaptation of means to ends, inspired by precise knowledge of the need of every moment, steadily distinguished his performance. But his precision was almost never mechanical; there was seldom the briefest observable interval between his intent and the result; on the contrary, his playing showed that complete fusion of thought and deed which made analysis of his art impossible until the art had wrought its due effect upon the feeling of the spectator. Such an actor is born, rather than made ; yet Mr. Warren afforded a striking proof of the high value to the performer of a clear, vigorous intellect and of superior cultivation. The mimetic gift, the plastic temperament, and vis comica are two thirds of an actor’s equipment and effectif but they are not the whole. If they were all, Mr. Dixey and Mr. N. C. Goodwin, Jr., would be the first of American comedians, and not — what they are. Critics of acting, it must be said, have suffered the words “ intellect,” “ intelligence,” and “ intelligent ” to become badly demoralized in their hands ; they have even used those words when no other complimentary verbiage could be conjured up, to characterize the playing of actors who lack both inspiration and technical skill, but who so speak their lines that it seems possible they are not wholly devoid of an idea of the author’s meaning. But the penetrating intelligence which marked Mr. Warren’s work was nothing short of this: a just appreciation of every quality and trait, of every light and shade, in the character represented, in the first place ; then, a clear understanding of every speech and situation connected with the part; with these, a constant yet mercurially sensitive recognition of the relation of every line of the dialogue, not only to every other line, to the situation of the moment, and to every other situation, but to the entire character and to the development which it was undergoing. The want of such intelligence — of any intelligence, indeed, remotely approximating this — in most of the uninformed actors and actresses, who now figure both as “ stars ” and " supporters ” upon the American stage, is acutely felt by every good observer. The playing of these ladies and gentlemen is full of sheer mistakes, quite aside from its faults of style; they do not comprehend the demand which the character or the text makes upon them, so that even the expressive power — when they possess it — is of comparatively little value to them. The result is a series of false touches, inexactnesses, and inconsistencies, of which a hundred may be noted in an evening. Scores of performers, who lack, through native defect or imperfect education, this true informing intelligence, go blundering through a long career, gaining something in facility, but in little else, depending for all their meagre success upon their occasional spasmodic effectiveness in making “ points.” Sometimes they thrive in spite of their deficiencies, but, as a rule, the more critical portion of their audience suffers through their mistakes a continued irritation, which is not the less disagreeable because its sources are not always clearly seen. Two of the actors best known upon our stage, who best illustrated, on different lines of performance, the artistic value of the higher form of intelligence, were Miss Adelaide Neilson and Mr. Warren. Each of them stood for histrionic knowledge and training as against histrionic charlatanism ; and the signal success of each is a proof that the public is by no means devoid of the better power of discrimination.
Mr. Warren’s generous culture, besides fulfilling the great functions of refining and elevating his style, made his performance delightful through its perfection in details. His enunciation of English was most clean and pure, his pronunciation elegantly correct. His Latin was faultless, even in the ticklish point of " quantity.” His French was acceptable to keen Paris - trained ears. His dressing was practically above criticism, and its faultlessness was the product, as may well be supposed, of scrupulous care and study, as well as of natural taste and minute technical drill. I recall, through association with the thought of his costume, a remarkable bit of criticism, which will be apropos here. With Rachel, on her visit to America in 1855-6, came M. Leon Beauvallet, as jeune premier of her company and historiographer of the expedition. On his return to Paris he published a thick duodecimo, entitled Rachel and the New World, which is one of the liveliest books of travel ever written by a lively Frenchman. His strictures upon American life and manners were much after the style of John Bull et son Ile, and were a queer and piquant mixture of flippancy, ignorance, and shrewdness. But of acting he was a keen and lucid critic, educated in the high Parisian school, familiar with all the best performance of the Parisian stage. On the first Saturday afternoon of the company’s first season in Boston, Rachel played Adrienne Lecouvreur at the Boston Theatre, and M. Beauvallet, being “ out of the bill,” repaired with much curiosity to the Museum to see Adrienne, the Actress, cast with Miss Eliza Logan as the heroine and Mr. Keach as Maurice de Saxe. He found the performance, as a whole, anything but to his taste, and expressed his displeasure with unsparing frankness. But of Mr. Warren he said this : “ Mr. W. Warren, who plays the rôle of Michonnet, has seemed to me exceedingly remarkable.” (Italics in the original.) “ He acted the part of the old stage manager with veritable talent, and I have applauded him with the whole house.” And after a sweeping expression of disgust concerning the performers’ anachronisms in dress, he was careful to add, “ I do not allude to Mr. Warren, who was irreproachably costumed.”
Next to the fine precision and justness which characterized Mr. Warren’s style, his versatility denoted his distinction as an artist. His range as a comedian has certainly not been surpassed upon the English or American stage. For pathos his gift was scarcely less remarkable than for humor, his touch showing, perhaps, not his greatest facility, but the method being always delicate and the feeling pure and genuine. Yet it was not only upon the broad and deep lines that Mr. Warren excelled. In the art of swift and subtile insinuation, in the power to display mixed or conflicting emotions, he had no rival upon our stage. It seems almost absurd to cite instances of this skill, since many of my readers can remember a thousand such. But I recall two remarkable and wellcontrasted illustrations of his gift in this kind, one of which was used by Mr. George B. Woods in a sketch of Mr. Warren, printed several years ago. In the English version of Sardou’s Fernande, Mr. Warren played the part of De Pomerol, a middle-aged French avocat, good-natured, keen, faultlessly well bred. He is conversing in a Paris gaming-house with a lady of dubious reputation, who gossips about a friend. She describes this friends behavior as intolerably scandalous, and to point her criticism adds, with a direct appeal to De Pomerol, " Now, I don’t set up for a prude.” The intonation and coloring of his quiet reply, which came neither too quick nor too slow, “ Certainly not! ” were something to enjoy for a lifetime : frank assent, with perfect courtesy of tone and manner, yet beneath all — a parenthesis within a parenthesis, as Mr. Woods happily put it — the sharp sarcastic thrust of the man of the world, who understood his interlocutor, and meant she should fully recognize his knowledge. In contrast with this passage I note a phrase in one of the early scenes of Masks and Faces. Triplet, the unpopular actor and starving dramatist, comes with tremulous confidence to learn the news of a supposed triumph in authorship, and in a brief soliloquy comments on his success : " I knew it was sure to come, soon or late, and it has come, — late.” It was worth a long journey to hear and see Mr. Warren speak these fifteen words, — to observe the brisk cheerfulness with which every syllable up to the last was said, the hopeful spirit of the volatile man inspiring his tongue on the first glimpse of good fortune ; then the sudden pause, the fetching of a sigh, and the utterance — in a changed key, in a lower tone, with a deep cadence interrupted by a half sob — of the single word “ late.” A remembered year of disappointment, of famine, of heart-hunger, of bitter shame and pain because of suffering wife and children, all borne to the ear and heart of the listener upon a single breath!
Mr. Warren’s wide range as an actor has already been referred to, and, in the almost hopeless attempt to indicate the varied quality of his talents, a selection from his impersonations must be made which shall give some hint of his extraordinary versatility. A hint it can be, and nothing more. The artist who could represent with almost equal skill and professional sympathy Pillicoddy and Touchstone, Jacques Fauvel and Polonius, John Duck and M. Tourbillon, Mr. Ledger and Michonnet, Templeton Jilt and Jesse Rural, Sir Harcourt Courtly and Tony Lumpkin, Goldfinch and Sir Peter Teazle, can be about as well compassed in a meagre essay as the pictures of the Vatican in a newspaper column. But I propose to sketch in a few lines five of Mr. Warren’s most marked assumptions, which illustrate respectively his skill in English farce, in comedietta, in modern French drama, in Shakespeare’s comedy, and in standard English comedy.
The John Peter Pillicoddy of Mr. Warren was almost worthy to be called a great creation. The old-time farce, which has nearly been superseded by burlesque and extravaganza, had a real artistic reason for being. It had the same place in the drama that humorous caricature has in painting, and served a like purpose. Farce simply took a natural human feeling or habit, magnified and intensified it, and showed how amusing a man might be who was entirely under its control. Mr. Pillicoddy is a nursery gardener and seedsman, a beautifully perfect specimen of the small but prosperous English Philistine. He is devotedly fond of his wife, who was the widow of a sea-captain named O’Scuttle, and all his spirit is possessed by a dread that Mrs. Pillicoddy’s “ first,” who was supposed to have been drowned at sea, may turn up and claim his spouse. His fear soon has something substantial to feed on, for a Captain O’Scuttle does turn up and demand a wife, and the action is occupied simply with the display of Mr. Pillicoddy’s emotions until he discovers that he is dealing with his predecessor’s brother, and not with the predecessor himself. Absurd as the character is, it fairly glowed with life as well as drollery in Mr. Warren’s hands. The farcical force of the scare was irresistible, and Pillicoddy’s subjection to it, body and soul, was so complete as to lay vigorous hold upon the spectator’s imagination. The part, as he played it, was a sort of Sir Giles Overreach, humorously inverted. And, aside from this, Mr. Warren’s John Peter was a delicious representative of the British bourgeois tradesman, timid, good-natured, obstinate, bombastic, narrow, and at once shrewd and credulous. The relations of the humbler English middle class to its servants, the dress, manners, habits, extravagances, economies, and pettinesses of that class, all seemed to be epitomized in Mr. Warren’s performance, and could be learned from it as well as from a volume of John Leach’s sketches. His acting was even more than worthy of the play, which is a gem of its kind, and from its opening scene, where the shop-woman, Sarah, comments upon the sea-captain’s remark that he “ had been detained by the currents,” “ Oh ! not quite ripe, I suppose,” to Mr. Pillicoddy’s attempt to commit suicide with poppy seeds, which “ when taken incessantly for several weeks produce instant death,” is as self-consistent as a tragedy of Shakespeare.
In sharp contrast with Mr. Pillicoddy was M. Tourbillon, the usher of the boarding-school which supplies the personages for the admirable petite comédie, To Parents and Guardians. Mr. Warren’s impersonation of this character was uniquely and delicately picturesque, being informed with a subtile humor, which in its drollest moment was near to pathos, and in its saddest phases touched the very secret place of tears. A member of the French noblesse, impoverished, exiled, bereaved, M. Tourbillon earns his bitter bread in disciplining a bear-garden of English schoolboys and teaching them his language. The squalor of the old man’s lot was brought out by Mr. Warren with just and vivid realism. He talked a dialect of French-English, which was pitifully and comically quaint; his face was worn, his figure thin and bent, his dress as shabby as it was neat; his temper, sadly soured by petty trials, was querulous and irascible. yet with and through all the high-bred gentleman was evidenced by a thousand exquisite touches, Stirring even the crass school-boy consciousness ; and I believe that many of my readers will, upon the mere suggestion, feel an old-time choking in their throats, as they recall the old man’s passion for his native land, his heart-sick yearning for his lost daughter, — the sad yet strong vibration of the words, “ Ma belle France! ” and the tender stress of voice which lingered like a caress on every syllable of “ Ma fille ! Ma chère fille ! ”
M. Jacques Fauvel, the chief personage in Le Centennaire of MM. D’Ennery and Plovier, played in English under the name of One Hundred Years Old, is not so subtile a character creation as M. Tourbillon, but is painted in a larger way and appeals to a wider sympathy. Mr. Warren’s portraiture of the venerable man had almost every charm which a fine sense of humor, a close observation of life and men, and a broad dramatic style could give to a work of art. His reproduction of M. Fauvel’s physique was in itself a masterpiece, the vigor of the centenarian’s natural powers, which a life of purity and temperance had permitted to remain in a sort of shadow or reflection, being suggestively mixed with that feebleness which showed the hour of dissolution to be near. In the exhibition of M. Fauvel’s mental processes Mr. Warren’s art was even more distinct, and I recall with a delight as fresh as yesterday’s the scenes in which the mind of the remarkable hero displayed both his age and its native quality ; its first dullness in seeing a new idea, then its slow gathering up of its forces as it gradually but surely recovered its penetration and adjusted its intellectual object-glasses, and the final intuitive flash when it was fully aroused by the electric excitement of a great emergency. The spirit, also, of the old man was indicated with equal fullness and fineness, and the modern stage has scarcely shown a more lovely figure, a soul more beneficently rich in its sweet maturity, than that of Mr. Warren’s Jacques Fauvel.
The satisfying fullness and completeness of Mr. Warren’s Dogberry made it a matter for regret that the public had so few opportunities to see him in Shakespearean parts. It is vain, and I may say insolent, for an ill-trained or unread actor to essay the character of the chief constable of Messina. To get a thorough mastery merely of the meaning of his text would be a parlous undertaking for many a comedian whom I could name. Mr. Warren was, of course, equal to this as to every other labor involved in the true performing of the part. His Dogberry reproduced the humorous wealth and life of the great original adequately, easily, with clear intelligence, with imaginative insight. The largeness of Dogberry’s vanity, his ponderous good humor, his mental poverty simulating opulence, the slow crassness which has such a glorious faith in its own subtilty ; his profound concern for the dignity of his person, his place, and his years ; and with these the solid English honesty of purpose, which the critics have generally overlooked, but upon which the dénoûment of Much Ado About Nothing directly depends, were all shown with generous, delicious amplitude in Mr. Warren’s assumption.
The part with which, on the whole, Mr. Warren was most closely associated during the last ten years of his professional life was Sir Peter Teazle. His assumption of that character was not more remarkable than many another of his efforts in displaying the reach, variety, and sympathy of his art, but it had such a roundness, such perfect proportions, such exquisite finish, that I am not disposed to question the general verdict which proclaims it to have been his masterpiece. This impersonation stands out even more sharply than his vivid etching of Sir Harcourt Courtly, who, in Mr. Warren’s portraiture, was vain as a peacock, selfish as Iago, shallow, unscrupulous, affected, a fop whose refinement was a polished veneer as hard as adamant and a thousandth of an inch deep, whose gallantry was a peculiar compound of Don Juan’s and Sir Roger de Coverley’s. Mr. Warren’s figure, as, with deliberate step, he first entered upon the scene in The School for Scandal, clad in an incomparable suit of pale green and gold, the anxious cast of his strong, expressive face, the care-betokening droop of his head, made a picture which many of us have not the power, even if we had the desire, to efface from our memory. As that picture rises before me, I hear again the quietly intense delivery of the opening lines, whose mode of utterance struck the keynote of the whole performance: “ When an old bachelor marries a young wife, what is he to expect ? ” Some good critics, some of the best, indeed, of the largest American city, took exception to the lack in unctuousness in Mr. Warren’s Sir Peter. A thousand thanks to the artist who practically eliminated that quality from the chief personage of the piece! The older comedies of this and the previous century are filled, to the point of nausea, with the men of beef and brawn ; and one of these men, Sir Oliver Surface, is enough for Sheridan’s best play. I have little reverence for the author of The School for Scandal, but his extreme cleverness seems to me to deserve at least the tribute of the actor’s wisest and largest skill. Mr. Warren, by his interpretation of Sir Peter, builded better, perhaps, for Sheridan than Sheridan meant to build for himself. The player certainly made a distinct addition to the literature of the drama without defying the writer of the comedy. The text may, without straining, be held to indicate a character whose cynical wit, careful scrupulousness, and extreme sensitiveness ally it to the modern type of gentleman. And upon this theory he was represented by Mr. Warren, who, while he obeyed the plain instruction of the dramatist, and made Sir Peter opinionated, testy, somewhat tyrannical, irritable, and not unerring in his judgments of men, saw also to the bottom of the author’s thought, set out in strong and tender colors the manliness, probity, gentleness, and magnanimity of Sir Peter’s nature, and made his wit and humor so significant of goodness and wisdom that, despite his weaknesses, he commanded entire sympathy and almost unstinted admiration. This was a worthy triumph for Mr. Warren’s art, and justified greater enthusiasm than any mere faultlessness of detail. It was interesting to see how, as Mr. Warren grew older, his assumption of this part grew more and more sober and touching; and it may be admitted that toward the last of his career its sobriety took an almost excessive sombreness of tone.
From Mr. Warren’s career it is easy to draw a long lesson of warning and encouragement for the American stage. There is not, it seems to me, a temperament so finely fitted for the actor’s art as that which has been developed in this country through the influences of climate, race-mixture, and popular education. The typical American appears to combine Anglo-Saxon phlegm and weight with Celtic alertness and sensibility. He ought to be able — indeed, he has already in many instances shown the ability — to unite, as an actor, the seriousness and profound passion of the one race with the delicacy and swift precision of the other. To make the model player he needs only to be instructed. What personal painstaking, supplemented by the best teaching of his time, could accomplish for an American actor, who was also to the manner born, Mr. Warren has shown. It seems possible that now a better day is about to dawn upon our stage, and that the worthy seeker for histrionic honors will look not much longer in vain for the school or the master that is to educate him in his great and difficult art. It is to be added that Mr. Warren’s contentment with the comparatively inglorious and retired career of a stock actor undoubtedly contributed to his attainment as an artist. To one of his mould the conditions were favorable. In his quiet corner, under the sun of steady popular and critical favor, his powers developed freely, equally, naturally; suffering neither the violent chills nor the furious fervors of a wandering professional life, and uncramped by the money-catching spirit which stunts the growth of so many performers.
It will not be deemed impertinent, I hope, for me to close by saying that Mr. Warren lived as he played. Such as he was as an artist he was as a man. Modest, gracious, refined, scrupulous, earnest, sincere, gentle in his judgments of others, unsparing in his criticism of himself, he led a life which not only matched, but inspired and sustained, his work. His life, too short, as is ever the artist’s life, has ended, but his art must reach far beyond his day in its influence for the true, the beautiful, and the good. " Vir nullâ non donandus lauro ! ”
Henry A. Clapp.