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There is much good in Mr. W. S. Gilbert's new three-act drama, produced on Monday at this theatre, and entitled "Dan'l Druce, Blacksmith." For one incident in the first act the author is indebted to a suggestion in George Eliot's novel "Silas Marner" The conclusion of the act, indeed, gives Mr. Hermann Vezin an opportunity of a striking attitude, which brings the curtain down on a tableau that excites expectation of a good plot.
We have, however, lately been taught a salutary fear of overgood first-acts, which lead to ultimate anti-climaxes very disappointing to seemingly well-founded hopes. Mr. Gilbert's play is scarcely an exception to this statement, for, certainly, his second and third acts are not equal to his first; but the fact is not fatal to a well-earned triumph, owing to the general excellence of a representation involving much delicate interest, culminating in an acting hit by Mr. Hermann Vezin which literally electrified the house.
Mr. Vezin is probably the most intellectual of our actors, and is the very man for creating an original part, such as that of Dan'l Druce. The hero is a man who has suffered wrong in society, and been disappointed both in love and friendship. He has found refuge from an unsatisfactory world in a ruined hut on the Norfolk coast, where he devotes himself to the cultivation of the avaricious sentiment, worshipping his gold as a "bairn" of his own invention, which increases in size and worth with its years. A Royalist colonel and sergeant, flying from the battle of Worcester, seek his protection, which most unwillingly he promises, and goes forth, as he pretends, to procure food. During his absence, the fugitives discover his treasures, and supply themselves with meat, drink, and money. They then escape to the coast; but they have been compelled to leave behind a female infant, which they decorate with a jewelled necklace, for her future recognition. Finding his gold gone and the child remaining, the superstitious blacksmith, who is a believer in miracles, imagines that the gold, which he had long considered as his growing child, has taken the shape of a foundling babe, and accepts at once with rapture the charge implied in its possession. This is the point of which Mr. Vezin avails himself, making of it an exceedingly fine situation.
At the commencement of the second act the young lady is fourteen years old; and a young gentleman — or, rather, merchant-sailor — of the name of Geoffrey Wynyard, is accepted as her lover, both by the interesting foundling and her guardian blacksmith. They are discovered by the colonel and sergeant, in the shape of Sir Jasper Combe (Mr. Howe) and of Reuben Haines (Mr. Odell); the former being recognised by Dan'l Druce at once as the fugitive who formerly solicited his assistance. Druce fears that the right father of the maiden, Dorothy (Miss Marion Terry), has come at last to deprive him of his adopted child — ultimately, it is discovered that she is his own daughter; or that the sailor-youth will appropriate her as his wife. Geoffrey Wynyard, too, has fears lest Haines, who is a whimsical fop, with a large amount of cavalier learning and impudence, should succeed in his suit with Dorothy, whom in his absurd manner he affects to love; and, as a ruse, seeks to throw the bewildered sergeant off his guard by speaking rather sportively of the maiden.
In the third act this difficulty, however, is got over, and explanations are made by which impediments are removed, and the lovers rendered permanently happy.
The reception of the play was throughout good; for the acting of the parts was irreproachable. Not only was Mr. Vezin excellent, but Mr. Odell revelled in the humour with which the author had plentifully supplied him. Mr. Forbes Robertson was, indeed, the prince of lovers, and Miss Marion Terry wonderfully pathetic. Mr. Howe was faultless in the dignified part of Sir Jasper Combe, and the minor rôles were all adequately filled, particularly that of Marple, the supposed miser's brother, by Mr. Braid.
The metaphysical development implied in the dramatist's peculiar treatment of the subject had relation obviously to some theory in which the writer had believed; but fortunately it was not too abstruse for popular apprehension, though probably not fully understood.
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