Throughout the United States where-ever the name of New England is held in respect there is the name of Denman Thompson a household word. His genius has embodied in a drama the finer yet homlier characteristics of New England life, its simplicity, its rugged honesty, its simple piety, its benevolence, partially hid beneath a rough and uncouth exterior. His drama is an epic—a prose poem—arousing a loyal and patriotic love for the land of the Pilgrims in the hearts of her sons, whether at home, on the rolling prairies of the West, in the sunny South, amid the grand scenes of the Sierras, or on the Pacific slope.
That Denman Thompson was not a native of New Hampshire was rather the result of chance. His parents were natives of Swanzey, where they are still living at a ripe old age, and where they have always lived, save for a few years preceeding and following the birth of their children. In 1831 the parents moved to Girard, Erie County, Pennsylvania, when, October 15, 1833, was born their gifted son. The boy was blessed with one brother and two sisters, and death has yet to strike its first blow in the family.
At the age of thirteen years Denman accompanied his family to the old home in Swanzey, where for several years he received the advantages of the education afforded by the district school. For his higher education he was indebted to the excellent scholastic opportunities afforded by the Mount Caesar Seminary in Swanzey.
At the age of nineteen he entered the employ of his uncle in Lowell, Massachusetts, serving as book-keeper in a wholesale store, and in that city he made his debut as Orasman in the military drama of the FRENCH SPY.
In 1854, at the age of twenty-one years, he was engaged by John Nickerson, the veteran actor and manager, as a member of the stock company of the Royal Lyceum, Toronto. From the first his success was assured, for aside from his natural adaptation to his profession he possesses indomitable perseverance, a quality as necessary to the rise of an artist as genius. On the provincial boards of Toronto he studied and acted for the next few years, perfecting himself in his calling and preparing for wider fields. Then he acted the rollicking Irishman to perfection; the real live Yankee, with his genuine mannerisms and dialect, with proper spirit and without ridiculous exaggeration, and the Negro, so open to burlesque. The special charm of his acting in those characters was his artistic execution. He never stooped to vulgarities, his humor was quaint and spontaneous, and the entire absence of apparent effort in his performance gave his audience a most favorable impression of power in reserve. His favorite characters were Salem Scudder in THE OCTOROON, and Myles Na Coppaleen in COLLEEN BAWN.
In April, 1862, Mr. Thompson started for the mother country, and there his reception was worthy a returning son who had achieved a well-earned reputation. His opening night in London was a perfect ovation, and during his engagement the theatre was crowded in every part. He met with flattering success during his brief tour, performing at Edinburg and Glasgow before his return to Toronto the following fall.