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produced a family,—and will love that child as if it were his own. That happens to Bigelow. The son of his loved and lost idol is the light of his eyes and the joy of his heart. There is no labor that he will not do, and no sacrifice that he will not make, for the lad, of whom he ardently prophesies success and honor. The boy, Robert, has been intrusted with money, the property of the Grand Army veterans, and, instead of placing it in the bank, as directed to do, he has used it in speculation, and lost it. When the knowledge of that fault comes to the veteran he is, at first, stunned by it; then enraged; and then broken by the conflict betwixt the sense of shame and the struggle of affection. He tries to thrash the boy with a horsewhip, but in that manifestation of wrath he fails: his cherished pet cannot have done wrong; has only erred through accident; can surely be redeemed; must, of course, make amends, and all will be well. The case comes to trial, before a judge who, privately, is hostile to Bigelow, and measures are taken to insure conviction. The veteran offers to replace the money that has been used by his ward,-supposing that the complaint will then be dismissed. That money he has obtained by sale of his personal effects, and also by means of a mortgage imposed on his farm. The old soldier makes an impassioned, pathetic appeal to the court, but the hostile magistrate cannot be appeased. Robert is convicted and is sent to prison for one year. A little
time passes, and Robert's sweetheart, the daughter of the malicious judge, leaves her father's abode and seeks refuge with Bigelow and the kind old woman who keeps house for him. Robert is pardoned, at the intercession of the veteran's military comrades, and he comes home, to his guardian and his love, on New Year's Day.
Nothing could be more simple than that unpretentious idyl of home. It is in situations of simplicity, however, that an actor is subjected to the most severe test of his inherent power, his fibre of character, his knowledge of the human heart, his store of experience, his resources of feeling, and his artistic faculty of expression. Mr. Warfield endured that test, allowing the torrent of feeling to precipitate itself without apparent restraint, and, at the same time, to control and guide it. Such artistic growth he had evinced in his impersonation of the Music Master, and he evinced it even more effectively in his assumption of the Grand Army Man,-going to Nature for his impulse, and obeying a right instinct of art in his direction of it. In the portrayal of the noble, sweet-tempered yet fiery old soldier he aimed especially at self-effacement, at abnegation of every motive or trait of selfishness. On finding that his boy loves the daughter of his enemy, and is by her beloved, the veteran is, almost at once, disposed to placate that enemy and favor those young lovers. There is, to be sure, a little reluctance, a little struggle in his mind; but that is soon over. The actor
denoted that struggle and that surrender in a lovely spirit. In the tempestuous scene of Bigelow's horrified consternation, the agonizing conflict between anger and love, when the misconduct of the boy is exposed and confessed, and the old man, after trying to beat him as a felon, clasps him to his heart as only the victim of an unfortunate, venial error, the anguish and the passionate affection of a strong, even splendid, nature were expressed with cogent force. The appeal spoken in the courtroom, -an outburst of honest, simple, rugged eloquence, all the more fervid and poignant because unskilled and fettered,—had the authentic note of heartfelt emotion. In circumstance those situations, which are the pivotal points of the play, recall certain supreme effects in “Olivia” and “The Heart of Mid-Lothian,” but Mr. Warfield's treatment of those situations was fresh, and his achievement in them displayed him as an actor to whom the realm of pathos is widely open, and who can tread with a sure footstep in the labyrinth of the domestic emotions, one of the most perplexing fields with which dramatic art is concerned. All observers know how easy it is, in treatment of themes of the fireside, the family, the home, to lapse into tameness. An actor must possess an ardent and beautiful spirit, and must be greatly in earnest, who can sustain such themes and invest them with the glow of passionate life. Neither this part nor any other that Mr. Warfield has assumed, except Peter Grimm, involves the
supreme faculty of imagination or impinges on the domain of poetry. Edwin Booth-Joseph JeffersonHenry Irving—they are all dead. Let us have sense and justice: let no enthusiast of a button-making theatrical period fall into the delusion that the empty throne has been filled. Mr. Warfield is a capital actor, but, while he has shown fine power and done fine things, he has not yet attained the summit of eminence as an imaginative actor. There is still much to be achieved.
“The heights that great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
Were toiling upward, in the night.”
“ THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM.”
In drama, whether prose or verse, the device has frequently been used of bringing back to our material world the spirits of persons who have passed out of mortal life, and causing them to pervade the scenes with which they were associated in the body. That device is employed in “The Return of Peter Grimm,” in which Mr. Warfield made his first and, thus far, his only approach to the realm of imagination. Peter Grimm, a prosperous, self-willed, kind, good old man, who in the government of his family and the arrangement of his worldly affairs has made serious errors,—the most deplorable of them being the separation of his ward from a youth who loves her and whom she loves,
and her betrothal to his nephew, a hypocrite and a scoundrel,—is suddenly stricken dead, of heart disease, and, after a little time, his spirit returns to the place which was his earthly home, intent on retrieving those errors, discomfiting the rascal by whom he has been deceived, and making his foster-child happy. Mr. Warfield, personating Peter Grimm, first presented him as a mortal, afterward as a spirit. The character,honest, sturdy, opinionated, worldly-wise, somewhat rough and imperious, yet intrinsically genial,—was correctly assumed and expressed, but the actor's denotement of spiritual being was neither imaginative nor sympathetic, and it did not create even the slightest illusion.
The purpose of the dramatist seems to have been to intimate a notion, comfortable to the general mind, that spiritual existence of beings once mundane is merely a continuation of their everyday condition in this world. In the absence of knowledge on the subject that assumption is as tenable as any other. Persons who are commonplace in what we call Time may reasonably be held to remain commonplace in what we call Eternity. No one knows. The Book of Destiny has not been opened. But the rationality of assumption which makes of "that undiscovered country” only a prolongation of this earthly scene at once dissipates, especially for dramatic purpose and effect, all atmosphere of spirituality, all glamour of the ideal, which happily might be super