The Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

A Story of Waterloo (review 26 september 1894)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

A Story of Waterloo is a review of the Arthur Conan Doyle's play written by M. C. S. published in The Sketch on 26 september 1894.


The Sketch (26 september 1894, p. 455)

Never was Mr. Irving's personal magnetism more potently exercised than it was on Friday last, when it drew a score or so of critics from London to Bristol, and filled the pretty Prince's Theatre in that city with an enthusiastic audience to witness the production of a little one-act play by Dr. Conan Doyle. But though "A Story of Waterloo" is only a curtain-raiser, it is worth going a very long way to see when Mr. Irving appears as Corporal Gregory Brewster, late of the Third or Scots Guards, who fought at Waterloo and performed noble deeds of derring do. "A Story of Waterloo" is not a play in the accepted sense of the term; it has neither plot nor dramatic situation; it is merely an admirable sketch of character, a study of the last hour of life of an heroic old warrior who has fallen into his dotage. And with what consummate art, with what masterly power, with what fine instinct and imagination, Mr. Irving portrays his character and gives vitality to this study! The man lives before us; the episode becomes for us a bit of actual experience. We realise the pity and pathos of broken old age as we seldom have the chance of realising it, and, at the same time, the exquisite art of the whole study unobtrusively commands our admiration. Mr. Irving has never achieved a greater artistic triumph than this, although, of course, it is on a smaller scale than any of the great efforts which have acquired for him his fame. On Friday night "The Bells" was played after Dr. Conan Doyle's little play; yet I am not sure that Mr. Irving did not appear to me and to many of his audience as a greater actor when impersonating the feeble old soldier than he did in his remarkable embodiment of the remorse-haunted Mathias. Dr. Doyle has elected to show us his Waterloo veteran at the very end of his life, and though, after all, eighty-six years do not necessarily produce such a condition of senility as that of Corporal Brewster — witness, for instance, the virile vigour of that grand old octogenarian, Mr. Howe, in Mr. Irving's own company — the author has pictured the old man in that common mental state of the aged when the events of yesterday are but a blur in the memory, while seventy years ago has become as yesterday, with all the long past incidents clearly remembered. This, of course, would explain the fact of a man of eighty-six talking still of the stage-coach, and expressing surprise at a young girl travelling forty miles by train, and also of an old soldier who lives in Woolwich forgetting that the modern breechloader had taken the place of the old Brown Bess of Waterloo days. With numberless simple touches like these, Dr. Doyle gives life and nature to the sketch, which Mr. Irving amplifies with all the subtle resources of his art. And what a beautifully pathetic picture this is of the dying old soldier, surrounded by his affectionate little niece — most tenderly and charmingly personated by Miss Annie Hughes — and by a spirited young sergeant of Artillery and the Colonel of his old regiment, the Scots Guards — these gallantly represented by Mr. Fuller Mellish and Mr. Haviland. When his dormant senses are aroused at the sight and sound of a marching regiment, and he feebly tries to rise to the salute in the presence of the Colonel, and then begs the favour of a flag and a firing party when his final "call" shall come, I defy any man of sensibility to look on without experiencing a thrill of emotion. Lyceum audiences may well look forward to an artistic treat when "A Story of Waterloo" is seen in Wellington Street. — M. C. S.