4 FEBRUARY 1882, Page 13


THAT Mr. Herman liferivale's clever play would make a capital novel, was one of the impressions made by witnessing the performance of The Cynic upon the mind of the present writer, then unaware that the well-known dramatist had appealed to public opinion in the character of a writer of fiction, and that "Faucit of Balliol " is The Cynic, in three volumes. That impression is produced partly by the qualities of the play, but chiefly by its defects, which are such is the scope and freedom of a novel do away with. Count Lestrange, the Cynic—whom everybody hates and fears, who says to himself, "Evil, be thou my good," and then "goes and does it," with the aid of associates who are "mostly fools,"—though he be drawn with all the force and cleverness that characterise the Count Lestrange of the play (the present writer has not read the novel), requires more accounting for than is possible in dramatic composition. Again, the women are unpleasing ; we cannot see enough of their past, with its extenuating circumstances, to be reconciled to them, or interested in the rescue of one of them—Lady Luscombe- from the threat to use her letters against her, by which the Cynic—a scoundrel of the deepest dye, but, as it appears in the end, a feeble exponent of his own philosophy—induces her to enter into a conspiracy against the peace and honour of her own "ward." Daisy Brent, the wife of an objectionable person, absent, "where husbands ought to be, in India," stands in that relation to Lady Luscombe, a wealthy widow, whose conduct as a wife has clearly been debateable. On the stage, Lady Luscombe is simply detestable, until the last act, when she redeems her character to some extent. She is in the power of the Cynic, and she makes an odious compact with him, as the price of the restoration of her letters, to induce her ward to drift into the danger of dishonour, by inviting to her house Guy Faucit, Daisy's old love, whom she jilted (but, as it afterwards appears, from a too exalted sense of filial duty), for John Brent, the object of Count Le- strange's Corsican-like revenge. Of the two secondary women in the play, one is a giggling girl, admirably matched with the Hon. Jem Gosling ; and the other is a spiteful and vulgar worldling, who " catches " the typical drawling swell, Sir Brum- mel Coates, and is of no use in the action of the piece, except to sapply the Cynic with material for one of those over. deliberate expositions of cynicism, which the audience feel to be out of place, in spite of Mr. Vezin's unsurpassable delivery of them. We ask at once how a woman capable of any good. at all could be beguiled into the fiendish complicity into which Count Lestrange lures her P It is plain that the ten thousand pounds staked against Daisy's virtue, (this, with the usual gorgeous liberality of the Stage, is a trifling sum to the wealthy widow), would have bought the letters on the spot from the Mephistopheles in black with crimson points, when the victim, who is not serious enough for the occasion, visits him in the weird apartment, like nothing in the annals of upholstery, except the magician's saloon in Eugene Sue's "Bonne Aventure." Count

Lestrange, as he shows himself to be in the soliloquy that ensues upon the bargain, would have extracted the money down from Lady Luscombe, and trusted to the plain devil in him for other means of ruining Daisy Brent, and being revenged upon her husband.

It is the power, the very rare qualities of this play, that make the spectator, as it proceeds, almost angrily sensitive to its shortcomings ; resentful of a certain sense of disappointment,

accompanying a kind and degree of satisfaction very seldom experienced. Why are all the people worthless except Guy

Faucit, and why is he so lackadaisical, and so foolish P Why does he play the misanthropical hermit, seated at a table ready spread with brandy and soda (all ready for a clever lecture from the Satanic point of view by Count Lestrange), and with his whole appearance suggestive of Mr. Toots before he took that notable resolution" not to neglect his person any more ?" And why does he do all this, only that he may be made a tool of by a charlatan, who restores him to society by the very argu- ment that ought to have driven him deeper into his solitude P The Cynic tells Guy that he is no longer poor, and that the girl who jilted him when he was poor (it must be borne in mind that Guy Faucit knows nothing up to that time of the filial virtue that induced Daisy to marry a man whom she abhors) is close by. If Guy did not see that his proper course was to re- quest Count Lestrange to take himself off, to see that he did it, and then to seclude himself carefully in his "Rook's Nest" until the picnic in the Abbey ruins had left only crumbs and champagne-corks behind, he must indeed have been the fool that Count Lestrange takes him for. Here the back- ground, the filling-in, the character-drawing, for which there is room in a novel, but no place in a play, are all needed to save the "situation." It strikes the least critical spectator as irra- tional, and only the admirable acting of Mr. Vezin, and the creditable acting of Mr. Dacre, rescue it from being absurd. Miss Litton acts the part of Daisy Brent well, though with the incurable restlessness that is, one is forced to believe, a hopeless blemish in English acting. Everybody walks up and down and in and out in a distracting way, and one of the cleverest dialogues (they are all clever) is robbed of half its effect because Miss Litton will flounce about with her head averted from the man she is talking to, trailing behind her a train of the dimensions of a window-curtain, so that the mere worry of the movement and intrusion of the clothes spoil the fine flavour of the brilliant and pointed talk. Count Lestrange never sits down, but then that is Satanic, likewise Vezinesque ; and Mr. Vezin knows how to stand without making his audience feel tired, and to walk about without making his audience feel fidgetty, arts which the other actors have not mastered.

In the fifth act, the scene is a churchyard, and it is snowy weather, to which the ladies are charmingly indifferent, to judge by their dress. The effect is very uncom- fortable. Why the fugitive Daisy could not be discovered in a less dismal place, it is difficult to see, unless the reason be that it was necessary to provide Mr. Wood with a good "character part," which he acts capitally. This act is the least good, and it ends in an inconsistency. The Count has been playing for money all through ; when he is defeated, Lady Lus- combe offers him money ; would so thorough-going a scoundrel, a cynic whose contempt for the intellect of his associates is certainly justified by the conduct of some of them, throw away such a chance for the sake of an epigram, which is not even a brilliant one ? Yet this is what Count Lestrange does, when he casts the parting insult, "it is not leap year," at Lady Luscombe. Mr. Merivale might reconsider this point with advantage, and also correct the too impulsive confidence of Gay Faucit, by making him ask Lady Lnscombe to count the letters in the packet which Count Lestrange hands to her, before he restores the incriminating telegram that forms their ransom to that expert villain. He might also correct the Cynic's impressions concerning Balsam° and Cagliostro. Surely, " Satan " Lestrange should have known that the two names appertained to the same person.

What Mr. Merivale can do in the way of stage dialogue he has proved with increasing success in each of his plays, and in this, which, with many faults, has rare merits, he has surpassed himself. In Forget-Me-Not, he managed to reconcile us to the making of a great fuss, for an inadequate reason, about a stupid little widow, who was hardly seen, and certainly never missed; in The Cynic, he makes us tolerate the fact that the victims of the villain are unworthy of sympathy, and this because everything that everybody has got to say is worth hearing; and the play might be listened to with pleasure by a blind audience. The snaps of sharp, mundane bitterness in Daisy Brent's talk with Guy Faucit; Lady Luseombe's weak, fascinated hankering after Lestrange ; the senseless, slangy nonsense, with good-nature, and some dim notion of honour mixed up with it, of Gosling, are all admirable; while in the impersonation of the Cynic, Mr. Hermann Vezin finds his best opportunity, with the exception of that afforded by Ivo, of exhibiting his refined, polished, subtle skill, enhanced in this instance by the utter absence of passion. A cold, saturnine, deadly devilment, un- belief so complete, cynicism so profound, that one wonders why he should think anything worth the trouble of a scheme or an effort, since the creatures to be harmed are so contemptible, or rather so much beneath contempt, are in every sentence and gesture of Mr. Vezin. Nothing more perfect in dramatic effect than his "Just so !" when he comes in noiselessly, sees Daisy Brent. encircled by the arms of her former lover, and concludes that his bet is won, could be imagined. The whole play depends on Mr. Vezin ; but what he has to do is so admirably suited to him, and he does it so perfectly, that the insignificance of the others seems quite natural. He looks the part of the Cynic as well as he acts it ; the steadily con- temptuous eyes, the thin, pallid line of the under-lip, in which there is a world of expression, the rare and repulsive smile, the punctilious politeness of demeanour, combinfAli with relentless cruelty in action and depravity of mind, the quiet. assertion of power, and the abiding belief in evil that is the key-note of the character, form a whole such as. it has rarely been given to playgoers in London to con- template. Because The Cynic is so good, one is vexed that it. is not better; but at all events, it is hors ligne, a thing apart, the work of a rarely-gifted and rarely-cultured mind; and though it does not quite achieve, it promises greatness. This promise will be fulfilled, when Mr. Merivale casts off the thin veneer of cynicism which has overlain his own real genius since the "White Pilgrim" days, and puts some of his gems of speech into the months of good women and simply honest men. We are grateful to him for a play which we follow with unflagging interest; we shall greet with much pleasure one that will inspire unstinted admiration.