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THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING 




Photo: Lock and Whitfield, London. 

HENRY IRVING IN 1878. 



THE LIFE OF 



HENRY IRVING 



AUSTIN BRERETON 




VOL. I. 

WITH TWELVE COLLOTYPE PLATES 
AND ELEVEN OTHER ILLUSTRATIONS 



LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO. 

39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON 

NEW YORK, BOMBAY, AND CALCUTTA 

1908 



PREFACE. 



As this book tells the story of the life of Henry Irving, it 
follows that, in regard to the author, it is almost entirely 
impersonal. So that a few words of explanation and ac- 
knowledgment may be permitted by way of preface to the 
actual narrative. In writing this book, I have assumed the 
position of a third person. That is to say, I have en- 
deavoured to view the subject from an independent point 
of view. In other words, I have tried to relate the career 
of the man and the actor as it really was. I have in- 
variably held myself aloof and have allowed the story to 
tell itself. This attitude could not have been adopted had 
I not possessed certain qualifications for the work. The 
first of these qualifications, I take it, is my sympathy for the 
man and my admiration for the artist. It is no mere figure 
of speech to say that this book is the result of a labour of 
love. It is that, at least. Irving was my constant friend for 
twenty-five years. His friendship never wavered in all 
those years, and it deepened with time. If I have nothing 
else to be thankful for, I should ever hold it, as a proud and 
blessed memory, that, in the closing years of his life, so good 
and so great a man, and one a score of years or so my elder, 
could wear me in his heart. 

But something more than sympathy and admiration are 
required for a biographer. This book is not a panegyric. 
Irving would have hated any such thing, and I possess, if 



vi PREFACE 

I may be allowed to say so, too much knowledge of my 
subject to permit me to indulge in any mere effort of eulogy. 
I am old enough to remember Irving in the heyday of his 
success, and as a writer, either as critic or journalist, it was 
my privilege to see him many times and in many places. 
Soon after taking up my abode in London, on the completion 
of my nineteenth year, be it said, I became intimately as- 
sociated with Clement Scott, first of all as his private 
secretary and then as assistant-editor of his magazine, the 
Theatre. In this way, and as I was also the dramatic critic 
of the Stage, then beginning its useful career, my knowledge 
of the theatrical world became extensive and valuable. I 
was one of the first people to be informed of Irving's decision 
to visit America, and I forthwith proposed to write a bio- 
graphy of the actor dealing with his career up to that year 
1883. He gave his hearty encouragement to the youth of 
twenty-one, with the result that " Henry Irving : A Bio- 
graphical Sketch " contained much information then new to 
the public. Twenty years later, it fell out that I wrote the 
history of the Lyceum from its origin down to the end of 
Henry Irving's management of the house. Again in 1903, 
as in 1883, he took a keen interest in the work, and he 
annotated many of its pages. While the book was in progress, 
he suggested that all biographical matter, excepting that 
dealing strictly with the Lyceum, should be cut out, as being 
unnecessary to the book and detrimental to the interests of a 
biography which he knew I intended to write at the termina- 
tion of his career, a proposal in which I acquiesced with 
alacrity. Thus, in 1883 and in 1903, did I receive much 
information from the fountain-head. But more was to follow. 
From the summer of 1898, I acted for Henry Irving in an 
official and confidential capacity. He found it necessary, for 
divers specific reasons, to have his interests guarded, in 
certain directions, in the newspaper world, and I was his trusted 
representative in these matters. From this time until his 
death, he told me much of his life's story, and sent me many 



PREFACE vii 

letters containing valuable notes and suggestions in regard 
to his career. 

In these circumstances, I was not greatly perturbed when 
the tragic death of the actor caused a flood of biographical 
material to pour forth from the press. In regard to the 
various books which have lived through the intervening 
years, that by Bram Stoker has won a well-merited popularity. 
It is full of entertaining gossip and reminiscence. On the 
other hand, it does not pretend to be a biography. Mr. 
Stoker, indeed, expressly says that his book is not to be 
regarded in that light, and in no instance have I had re- 
course to its pages for a fact, a date, or an incident. Curiously 
enough, however, Mr. Stoker has, unconsciously, been of 
considerable assistance to me. He took a deep interest in 
an Irving memorial which was formed, during several years, 
by his friend, Mr. E. W. Hennell. To this memorial which 
consists of old play-bills, autograph letters, portraits, pro- 
grammes, and printed matter of all sorts Mr. Stoker was a 
generous contributor. In due course, this large collection, 
containing some two or three thousand inlaid sheets, passed 
into the possession of my friend, Mr. Merton Russell Cotes, 
who made me a welcome guest at East Cliff Hall, Bourne- 
mouth, and through whose kindness I gathered many useful 
and interesting items. I have also to thank Mr. Cotes for 
his permission to copy the picture of Irving as Charles the 
First, which helps to adorn these pages. 

And this reminds me that my indebtedness in other 
quarters is so large that I am doubtful of ever repaying it. 
I must, however, express my most cordial thanks to the 
members of Sir Henry Irving's family for their willing help. 
I am deeply obliged to Lady Irving for having given me the 
particulars of her marriage : I thought it best to obtain the 
necessary facts from so reliable a source. Lady Irving 
responded with readiness to my request, and her courteous 
response makes me her debtor. Her sons, also, gave me 
considerable, I may say, invaluable help in writing the Life 



x PREFACE 

Edward Plumbridge, and of the friend of his youth, Charles 
Dyall. Through it, I have had many delightful conversa- 
tions with the friend of Irving's Edinburgh days and his friend 
and stage-manager for nearly twenty-eight years Harry J. 
Loveday, whose affectionate remembrance has touched me 
deeply. To the widows and children of two other loyal 
officers of "the chief," Louis Frederick Austin and Charles 
E. Howson, I must also express my thanks for having lent 
me many documents of interest. Another friend, Alfred 
Darbyshire, who helped me in regard to details concerning 
Irving's career in Manchester, unfortunately passed away a 
few weeks ago. Mr. William Crooke, of Edinburgh, has, 
I consider, placed me under a lasting obligation by giving 
me permission to use the beautiful portrait, hitherto un- 
published, which forms the frontispiece to the second volume. 
It is an exquisite picture in itself, but all the more interesting 
because the expression is so absolutely lifelike. I cannot 
thank, by name, all the other people who have aided me in 
my efforts, but, in one way or another, I am particularly in- 
debted to Mr. Harry Chevalier, Mr. Arthur Collins, Mr. 
Burnham W. Horner, Mr. W. J. Lawrence, Mr. J. H. 
Leigh, Sir Edward Letchworth, Sir A. C. Mackenzie, Mr. 
Austin Gates, and Mr. A. W. Pinero ; to one and all I 
tender my grateful thanks. Finally, my sincere thanks are 
due to my friend, Mr. Nicol Dunn, who read the first proofs 
and frequently encouraged me in my work by his sympathetic 
verdict. At the same time, as Mr. Dunn only read the 
" rough " proofs, I must take upon my own shoulders any 
technical errors, which I have striven hard to avoid, but 
which may, despite my pains, have crept in. Should there 
be any such, I shall take it as a favour if I am informed of 
them. 

In conclusion, I am fain to quote some words spoken by 
Henry Irving, in Edinburgh, in 1883 : 

" What acknowledgment can I make to you of the Pen 
and Pencil to-night ? The best would, of course, be to say 



PREFACE 



XI 



' I am proud of being a Scotchman ! ' But, alas ! no possible 
miracle of genealogy can make me anything but a degenerate 
Southron. However, there is one consolation. I am told 
that some one has done me the honour of writing my life. 
He had much better, I think, have waited until I was dead, 
and then anything unpleasant which he might have to say 
would not have mattered so much ; but when I tell you that, 
although neither the author nor the subject of this biography 
is Scotch, yet that the printers are Scotchmen, you will 
readily see that this is a work which must be read." 

History repeats itself, and a remark, uttered in a merry 
moment, comes strangely into fulfilment. A quarter of a 
century has passed, and I have again, for the last time, as 
in 1883 it was for the first, written the biography of Henry 
Irving ; and again, I may say, the same observation applies 
to the printers. My great friend is dead, but his memory 
lives. I trust that my tribute to that memory will be con- 
sidered worthy of the trust which has been reposed in me. 



AUSTIN BRERETON. 



September, 1908. 



CONTENTS OF VOL. I. 



CHAPTER I. 



PAGE 



1838-1856 



The birthplace of the actor His parentage His early recollections His remem- 
brance of Bristol His mother His life in Cornwall His reminiscences of his 
boyhood His school-life in London Those times described by the friend of his 
boyhood Serves in various offices in the city His kind remembrances of those 
days Joins the City Elocution Class Described by his companion in the class 
His own recollections of a performance at the Soho Theatre Visits Sadler's 
Wells and the Adelphi Studies under William Hoskins Encouragement from 
Samuel Phelps Exit, Brodribb. 



CHAPTER II. 



1856-1859 . 



Enter, Henry Irving His study of fencing Purchase of " properties "Sets out for 
Sunderland His first appearance on the stage His extreme nervousness 
Advised to return to London Begins a long engagement in Edinburgh Criti- 
cised, but encouraged, by the press Praised for his attention to details 
Always letter-perfect Acts with various "stars" Cloten to Helen Faucit's 
Imogen Beaus^ant in "The Lady of Lyons " Venoma, a spiteful fairy 
"Frizzling and grizzling" Cyril Baliol, a successful impersonation Irving in 
burlesque Plays Claude Melnotte for his benefit His first speech Leaves 
Edinburgh for London. 



CHAPTER III. 
1859-1863 

Irving's first appearance in London His great disappointment Succeeds in getting 
released from his engagement Reads from " The Lady of Lyons " and " Vir- 
ginius " at Crosby Hall Favourable verdict of the London press Replaces an 
old favourite in Dublin Hissed and hooted at for three weeks The sequel- 
Plays in Glasgow and Greenock Macduff Manchester Adolphe in "The 
Spy " The amatory alchymist His walk and elocution Instructive criticisms 
in the Manchester papers Makes a success as Mr. Dombey Acts with Edwin 
Booth His Claude Melnotte The Titan Club Thyrsites Irving's first story 
His remembrance of a kind deed. 



37 



xiv CONTENTS 

PAGE 

CHAPTER IV. 
1864-1865 . . 53 

Still in Manchester Mercutio Hamlet after Sir Thomas Lawrence Hamlet in real 
earnest Criticisms on the performance Joseph, in " Deborah" Hamlet again, 
Bob Brierley, the Lancashire lad At Oxford An encouraging criticism His 
reminiscences of Manchester Playing before the pantomime His Robert 
Macaire Exposes the Davenport Brothers His amusing speech and great 
success Leaves the Theatre Royal At the Prince's Theatre Claudio, Edmund, 
and the Due de Nemours More reminiscences of Manchester His tribute to 
Charles Calvert. 



CHAPTER V. 
1865-1866 69 

Edinburgh again Robert Macaire A friendly criticism and a prophecy Hamlet at 
Bury lago and Macduff at Oxford Plays with Fechter in Birmingham His 
poverty there Liverpool, and the Isle of Man Liverpool again Amusing 
criticisms A " sterling actor " Praise from the Porcupine His Robert Macaire 
favourably received Supports J. L. Toole in the provinces John Peerybingle 
His reminiscences of Liverpool Acts Rawdon Scudamore Receives three offers 
from London in consequence The Ghost, Bob Brierley, and Fouche" Leaves 
the north for London, having acted five hundred and eighty-eight parts during 
his apprenticeship to the stage. 



CHAPTER VI. 
1866-1867 79 

Irving begins his London career Stage-manager, as well as actor, at the St. James's 
Doricourt His success in " The Belle's Stratagem " The friendship of Charles 
Mathews Rawdon Scudamore Irving's accuracy in costume "The Road to 
Ruin," and other plays Joseph Surface Robert Macaire Plays in Paris with 
Sothern On tour with Miss Herbert Liverpool praises him Leaves the St. 
James's Engaged at the Queen's Theatre, Long Acre His Petruchio severely 
criticised Miss Ellen Terry's reminiscence of this early meeting. 



CHAPTER VII. 
1868-1871 89 

Irving recognised as an impersonator of villains His Bob Gassitt, Bill Sikes, and 
Robert Redburn Dickens prophecies that he will become ' ' a great actor " 
Plays the hero for a change Various characters On tour with Toole An un- 
successful engagement at the Haymarket His marriage Acts in "Formosa" 
at Drury Lane Gives a recital at Bayswater Mr. Chevenix at the Gaiety 
More praise from Dickens Digby Grant in " Two Roses " A great success in 
London and the provinces Recognised as an actor who could create Recites 
" The Dream of Eugene Aram " And makes a wonderful impression. 




CONTENTS xv 



PAGE 

CHAPTER VIII. 



1871-1872 . .108 



A deserted theatre The Lyceum taken in order to exploit Miss Isabel Bateman 
Irving becomes a member of the company His own story of the engagement 
The failure of " Fanchette " Alfred Jingle A personal triumph " The Bells " 
Irving insists on its production The manager gives way London rings with 
Irving's great impersonation of Mathias Unanimity of the Press "Commenda- 
tory Criticisms" The Times and other papers write in appreciation "The 
Bells" acted for one hundred and fifty-one consecutive nights The London 
verdict endorsed by the Provinces Irving's Jeremy Diddler described. 



CHAPTER IX. 
[872-1873 128 

Charles the First" produced "A very awkward lump in the throat" for the 
Standard Controversy about the character of Cromwell Irving's impersonation 
of the king extolled on all sides The author's defence The play published The 
Spectator eulogises Irving's impersonation The Prince and Princess of Wales 
witness "Charles the First" Extraordinary scenes in consequence Irving 
appears as Eugene Aram Another personal success More critical eulogy 
Especially from the Spectator End of Irving's second season at the Lyceum 
Remarkable enthusiasm Plays "Charles the First " on tour. 

CHAPTER X. 

1873-1874 . . . 148 

" Richelieu" at the Lyceum Irving compared with Macready in the character John 
Oxenford's great praise " Tragic acting in the grandest style " The Standard 
eulogises Irving's Richelieu The drama acted for over four months at the Lyceum 
The young critics, Dutton Cook and Clement Scott, dissent from the general 
praise An old-fashioned "slating" Illness of Irving's father His death 
Production of "Philip" The Globe on Irving's position "Charles the First" 
revived Irving plays Eugene Aram and Jeremy Diddler for his benefit. 

CHAPTER XI. 
1874-1875 . 166 

Irving's first appearance in London as Hamlet Melancholy forebodings not justified 
The poor scenery for this revival of " Hamlet" The Lyceum pit Irving's feel- 
ings on the first night An "electrical " effect on the audience Clement Scott's 
vivid description The hundredth representation A pleasant supper Irving's 
success influences other managers Death of "Colonel" Bateman Irving's 
tribute to his old manager Tennyson and Frith on Irving's Hamlet Sir Edward 
Russell's essay on Irving as Hamlet. 

CHAPTER XII. 
1875-1876 186 

"Macbeth " revived It brings in its train a series of severe criticisms Castigation by 
the Figaro Irving's conception of the part His impersonation endorsed by the 
Times Praise from other quarters A "scurrilous libel "Letter to " A Fashion- 
able Tragedian " The defendants summoned They apologise in open court 
Irving accepts their apology At his request, the case is not sent for trial 
"Macbeth" played for eighty nights Literary effect of the revival. 



xvi CONTENTS 

PAGE 

CHAPTER XIII. 

1876-1877 . . 199 

" Othello " revived Salvini's rendering of the character Severe criticism on Irving's 
impersonation Even his costume offends Gladstone introduces himself to 
Irving " Queen Mary " produced A ' ' family play " Irving's success stimulates 
theatrical enterprise He reads a paper on Amusements at Shoreditch A busy 
month Helen Faucit acts lolanthe for Irving's benefit A triumphal tour 
Honours in Dublin Reappears in London as Macbeth " Richard III." 
revived His rooms in Grafton Street described. 

CHAPTER XIV. 

1877 . . . 220 

Irving contributes to the Nineteenth Century His preface to " Richard III." He 
receives various souvenirs Mr. H. J. Loveday joins the Lyceum " The Lyons 
Mail" A reading in Dublin Other events The Prince and Princess of Wales 
see " The Lyons Mail" Their verdict on Irving's acting in this play A long 
provincial tour " The Fashionable Tragedian " A scurrilous pamphlet 
Causes Irving to be misrepresented His explanation and views on the subject 
Account of Irving's initiation into, and connection with, Freemasonry. 

CHAPTER XV. 

1878 ... .235 

Irving acts Louis XI. for the first time Charles Kean in the character Irving's 
complete success Indifferent support Farces still popular " Vanderdecken " 
produced A personal success " The Bells " and Jingle again Unsatisfactory 
conditions Mrs. Bateman resigns Her tribute to Irving Contributions to 
the Nineteenth Century Delivers an address at the Perry Bar Institute 
Lays the foundation stone of Harborne and Edgbaston Institution Gives a 
reading at Northampton Presented with addresses Reads and recites at 
Belfast in aid of a charity. 

CHAPTER XVI. 

1878 . . . . .253 

A triumphal tour Praise from Liverpool and Dublin A speech in Dublin Man- 
chester recognises the beauty of his Hamlet And extols his Richelieu Sheffield 
braves the wind and the wet Irving's views on a National Theatre set forth 
Gives readings in Edinburgh and Glasgow in aid of the sufferers by the failure 
of the City of Glasgow Bank Letter from him in regard to America " Becket " 
being written for him Death of old friends Evil prognostications His policy 
for the future of the Lyceum outlined Miss Ellen Terry engaged for the 
Lyceum Her career up to this period. 

CHAPTER XVII. 
3oth December, 1878- August, 1879 . . . . . .267 

Henry Irving inaugurates his management of the Lyceum The Preface to 
"Hamlet" Letters to Frank Marshall Some reminiscences Irving's friends 
His company and lieutenants Monday, 3oth December, 1878 A great night 
Fees abolished The theatre altered and redecorated Enthusiasm of the 
audience and of the Press Miss Ellen Terry's Ophelia The Hamlet of 1878 
The literary interest of the revival "To produce the ' Hamlet ' of to-night, I 
have worked all my life" Benefit to an old actor " The Lady of Lyons" 
revived Other revivals A remarkable proof of versatility Irving's speech on 
the last night of the season Opinions of French writers Irving's fine hands- 
Courtesy to Sarah Bernhardt More reminiscences A well-won holiday. 



CONTENTS 



xvn 



CHAPTER XVIII. 



2oth September, 1879-3 ist J u ty> 

Money paid for unproduced plays Mr. A. W. Pinero's first piece " The Iron 
Chest" revived Irving's impersonation praised His speech on the first night 

Preparations for "The Merchant of Venice" Small amount expended on 
scenery "This is the happiest moment of my life" Irving's own statement 
regarding the scenery His interpretation of Shylock in 1879 eulogised by the 
Spectator The leading critics of the day write in praise An "unobtrusive" 
background Illness of Miss Ellen Terry A feeble outcry Ruskin incensed 
The hundredth night A wonderful transformation Distinguished guests Lord 
Houghton surprises his hearers Irving's humorous reply An act of generosity 

" lolanthe" Irving's speech on the last night of the season The receipt-. 



PAGE 



296 



CHAPTER XIX. 
1 8th September, 1880-2 9th July, 1881 

Mr. Pinero's " Bygones " Favourable comment " The Corsican Brothers " revived 
Introduction of the souvenir "The Cup" in preparation Tennyson and 
" Becket " Cost of production of " The Cup" A notable audience Camma 
and Synorix "The Belle's Stratagem" revived Edwin Booth at the Lyceum 
The true story of this engagement Booth's testimony Also, William Winter's 
Booth's tribute to Irving Various revivals Irving as Modus His speech on 
the last night of the season Takes the chair at the Theatrical Fund Dinner A 
satirical speech Interesting reminiscences. 



322 



CHAPTER XX. 
5th September, i88i-June, 1882 

A triumphal tour Enormous receipts Manchester extols Irving's Shylock An 
address in Edinburgh " The Stage as It Is "Alterations at the Lyceum 
' ' Mr. Irving is above advertising himself " Amusing skit in Punch The 
reopening of the Lyceum Great demand for seats The revival of "Two 
Roses" Irving's Digby Grant " had improved with keeping" "Romeo and 
Juliet " revived Irving's Preface and restoration The Prince and Princess of 
Wales present on the first night Irving acts Shylock at the Savoy Theatre 
The looth night of " Romeo and Juliet" Lord Lytton's tribute. 



343 



CHAPTER XXI. 

June, 1 882- nth October, 1883 . 



361 



Master Harry and Master Laurence Irving The success of "Romeo and Juliet" 
161 performances and a profit of ,10,000 A reading of " Much Ado" A 
remarkable speech" Much Ado about Nothing" revived Its wonderful success 
212 consecutive performances and a profit of ,26,000 An enthusiastic 
audience Irving's valedictory speech Some interesting figures Farewell 
banquet in St. James's Hall Lord Coleridge's eloquent tribute Farewell visits 
to Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Liverpool Speech at the Edinburgh Pen and Pencil 
Club Farewell speech in Liverpool Sails for America. 

Bibliography to the end of 1883 . 



VOL. I. 



ILLUSTRATIONS FOR VOL. I. 

FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS. 

Henry Irving in 1878 . . . . . . . Frontispiece 

From a photograph by Lock fir 5 Whitfield, London. 

The Birthplace of Henry Irving . ... To face page 2 

From a photograph. 

Botolph Lane ........ ,, 10 

From a 



Henry Irving in 1866 ....... ., 76 

From a photograph. 

Alfred Jingle 112 

From a photograph by the London Stereoscopic Company. 

Mathias ,, 120 

From a photograph by the London Stereoscopic Company. 

Charles the First 138 

From the painting in the possession of M. Russell Cotes, Esq. 

Vanderdecken 242 

From a photograph by H. Van der Weyde copyright^ Langfier, 
London. 

Miss Ellen Terry in 1878 ,,262 

From a photograph by Lock & Whitfield, London. 

Henry Irving as Hamlet; Miss Ellen Terry as Ophelia, 

1879 - ,280 

From the picture by Edward H. Bell. 



xx ILLUSTRATIONS 

" Much Ado About Nothing " at the Lyceum, Act IV. . To face page 288 

From the picture by J. Forbes- Robertson. 

Miss Ellen Terry as Portia . 356 

From a photograph by Lock 6 s Whitfield, London. 



ILLUSTRATIONS IN THE TEXT. 

PAGE 

Irving's signature in 1859, as it appears in his scrap-book . . 36 
" All for Money " 97 

i5A Grafton Street, Bond Street, as it appeared during Irving's long 

residence there 99 

Digby Grant in " Two Roses " " A little cheque ! " . . .104 

Digby Grant in " Two Roses " " You annoy me very much " . . 105 

Miss Bateman as Queen Mary ; Irving as Philip . . . .209 

Lesurques and Dubosc in " The Lyons Mail" . . . .226 

i. The effect on a Dublin audience of "The Bells"; 2. The effect 

on the same audience of " The Belle's Stratagem " . . . 345 

Westward Ho !" 376 

Britannia mourning the loss of Henry Irving . . . . 378 

Irving as Louis XI. ......... 379 

From the drawing by Fred. Barnard. 



CHAPTER I. 

1838-1856. 

The birthplace of the actor His parentage His early recollections 
His remembrance of Bristol His mother His life in Cornwall His 
reminiscences of his boyhood His school-life in London Those times 
described by the friend of his boyhood Serves in various offices in the 
city His kind remembrances of those days Joins the City Elocution Class 
Described by his companion in the class His own recollections of a 
performance at the Soho Theatre Visits Sadler's Wells and the Adelphi 
Studies under William Hoskins Encouragement from Samuel Phelps 
Exit, Brodribb. 

THE year one thousand eight hundred and thirty eight was a 
momentous one in English history. The coronation of the 
Queen in Westminster Abbey ushered in an era which will be 
for ever memorable for its wonderful inventions. In the same 
year that Victoria came to the throne the first iron steamer 
from Liverpool, and the earliest one with water-tight compart- 
ments, crossed the Atlantic, the voyage occupying nineteen 
days, four times as much as that taken by the turbine vessels of 
to-day. The first mails were sent by railway instead of coach, 
the electric telegraph came into operation, Whetstone's stereo- 
scope was made, and Nasmyth invented the steam hammer. 
The world of art and letters was marked by the opening of 
the National Gallery and by the publication of works by 
Carlyle, Macaulay, Browning, Dr. Pusey, Cardinal Newman, 
Samuel Lover, and Charles Dickens. And, on the 6th of 
February, a child was born who subsequently became the 
predominating influence of the English stage. No lucky star 
ushered in his birth. For the air was full of wars and re- 
bellions, and there was nothing of promise in the circumstances 
of his coming. He was the only child of humble folk whose 
chief assets were sound health and righteousness of heart. 

VOL. I. I 



2 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAR i. 

Keinton Mandeville, where he was born, was a dreary place 
seventy years ago, difficult of access, shut off from the busy 
world. It is seven miles from the famous Abbey of Glaston- 
bury, and, with its grey stone buildings the surrounding 
district is noted for its quarries is by no means inspiriting. 
An anonymous writer, some years back, made a special 
pilgrimage to the place and described the view north of the 
village as " dreamily poetical. Level after level of pasture, 
ridge after ridge of foliage, stretch away to the foot of the hills. 
Behind them wrapped in haze, are the Mendips, doubtful, un- 
defined, containing infinite possibilities. It is English with a 
slight Dutch flavour, a little sad, a little vague, but soft, 
tender, mystic. Keinton Mandeville is like a monk's cell- 
clean, stony, unembellished. Everything is stone the houses, 
the garden hedges made of great grey slabs, even the drying 
posts." The place has a general air of solitude. Here, in 
an unpretentious stone cottage, the hero of this story was born. 
His parents occupied two of the half-dozen small rooms a 
sitting-room on the left, as the cottage is entered, and a bed- 
room above. 

His father was Samuel Brodribb, a tall, somewhat portly 
man, and an excellent rider as were all the male members of 
his family, for they were of yeoman stock and were accustomed 
to riding in to the markets at Bath and Bristol from the village 
of Glutton, their ancestral home. The old church has many 
memorials of the Brodribb family, for Henry Irving's grand- 
father and various other ancestors were buried in Glutton. 
Samuel Brodribb was the youngest of four brothers, and a 
man who had not the good fortune to be successful in a 
commercial sense. He opened a small shop in Keinton 
Mandeville on the other side of the way to the cottage in 
which the future actor was born, and before that event. But 
prosperity did not come to him. In fact, when their one child 
was little more than four years of age, the parents found it 
necessary to remove to Bristol. When Henry Irving had 
become famous, he could only recall the place of his birth as 
" a God-forsaken little village. My memory of it is an infantile 



1841] MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD 3 

one. I left it when I was about four, I suppose, and I could 
not have been more than three when the incident occurred 
which is implanted in my mind as the chief thing I remember 
about Keinton. I used to toddle into a neighbour's farm. 
One day I was attacked by some sheep, more particularly 
a ram. I was a good deal knocked about by the brute with 
horns. The occurrence is in my mind even now as a dreadful 
memory." This recollection was in 1888, when he related 
the circumstance to his friend, Joseph Hatton. The visit to 
which he alluded took place in the early seventies, in the 
company of his manager, Colonel Bateman. He thought 
he would recollect the place, but it was quite strange to 
him. " It was altogether a different place from what I had 
thought, not at all like the picture that I had in my mind. I 
could not even remember the name of the farmer in whose 
meadow I had come to grief with the sheep. I fancied, how- 
ever, that I should remember it if I saw it, so I went into the 
churchyard, and, after a little while I came across it Hoddy. 
I looked about for the house where I had lived, but could not 
recall it. At last I came to a house that I felt that I knew. 
I went in and questioned the people. They said no one had 
lived in it by the name of Brodribb. After mentioning 
several dead and gone people who had resided in it, they at 
last came to Hoddy. It was the house of the farmer to whom 
the sheep had belonged ! " 

Within a year of his death, he addressed a gathering 
of Somersetshire men in Liverpool, and gave a final remini- 
scence of his birthplace : " I remember the old quarries at 
Keinton Mandeville, where I was born ; and my childish 
mind was haunted in those days by the guinea fowls which 
perched on ghostly trees and made uncanny sounds. What 
part they have played in my career, I do not know, unless 
they gave me a dramatic yearning for the society of Shake- 
speare's raven, which doth bellow for revenge. I must con- 
fess that I have only once re-visited Keinton Mandeville ; 
and then I was shown a stone edifice, supposed to be my 
old home. The place was quite unfamiliar to me. But in 



4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. i. 

my childhood I must have known something of Glastonbury, 
only six miles away. I will not tell you that on the Quantock 
Hills my father fed his flock, though he was a Somerset man 
before me. Nor will I pretend that I mused deeply on 
Alfred who made his stronghold among the Somerset Saxons. 
But I think it is possible that a child on the height of Avalon 
may have taken into his blood sub-consciously the old legends 
of Arthur." 

Bristol is the next scene in the story. A speech, made 
by the actor in that city in 1904, gives an interesting picture 
of these childish days: " Although I cannot claim to have 
been born in Bristol, here were spent some of my youngest 
days. Some vast amount of years ago, the SS. Great 
Britain l was launched ; and I remember, on the occasion, 
being greatly impressed by the moustache worn by Prince 
Albert, the Prince Consort. Being desirous of emulating a 
fashion, then almost singular, I expressed a desire being 
five years of age to cultivate a moustache myself. This 
ambition (certainly a harmless one) coming to the know- 
ledge of a particular friend of mine a local chemist in St. 
James's Barton he said he would prepare and grow one 
for me if I would abide in patience. Days passed, which 
I endured restlessly, when, tired to death, I suppose, of my 
importunities, my friend at last put me upon a stool and 
magically effected the much-desired growth. My happiness 
was, of course, supreme ; and proceeding to my home, a 
few houses off, I was most indignant to find vulgar and 
ill-mannered persons turning round and laughing at my 
dignified appearance, and, bitterly complaining to my mother 
of their conduct, she laughed more heartily than anybody, 
and, soothing and appeasing me, she, with the aid of a little 
soap and water, gently removed the adornment, which en- 
tirely consisted of burnt cork. But I think my first spark of 
ambition was really struck on that glorious morning when I 
saw Van Amburgh, the famous lion-tamer, drive, I think it 

1 The first iron screw steamer, 1845. Length, 300 feet, tonnage, 2084, 
as against the 790 feet and the 31,940 tons of the Mauretania, 



1 845] HIS MOTHER 5 

was twenty-four horses, down Park Street, and afterwards 
give his thrilling performance in the lions' den. I don't say 
that I yearned from that moment to drive a herd of horses 
or to domesticate lions ; but they seem to me emblematic of 
the pictorial side of the drama its pomp and circumstance. 
And in later years I found that it needed a cool head almost 
as cool as Van Amburgh's to manage a theatre, where 
there are steep places almost as steep as Park Street 
but in another way. Besides, in a theatre, the actor is always 
in a den of lions (I hope this will not be quoted as an ex- 
pression of opinion against theatrical entertainments), and if 
he arrives at my time of life without being eaten, he may 
think himself lucky." 

Samuel Brodribb's wife was a Cornish woman, Mary 
Behenna, one of six sisters. When troublous times came to 
her husband, she naturally bethought herself of her native 
county and its invigorating air, and she accordingly deter- 
mined hard though it was for her to part from her only son 
that the boy should not accompany her to London, whither 
she was going. Accordingly, before journeying to the metro- 
polis, she took her child to Cornwall, and left him in charge 
of her sister, Sarah, whose husband was Captain Isaac Pen- 
berthy, a Cornish miner of note in his day. The grief of his 
first separation from his mother was never effaced from the 
memory of Henry Irving. " At first I was miserable enough ; 
I parted from my mother as though my heart was breaking, 
but did not show half I felt, nor she either," he said in after 
years, and his fond remembrance was always shown whenever 
he mentioned her. She was "lovable, devoted, a woman 
of fine feeling, whose affections were self-sacrificing". 

Fortunately for John Henry Brodribb, Mr. and Mrs. 
Penberthy were splendid types of upright, deeply religious 
people. Isaac Penberthy was a man of great physical strength, 
a giant in stature, and possessed of an iron will. He was 
held in such deep respect in Cornwall that his funeral, in 1848, 
was attended by two thousand miners, many of whom came 
from great distances for the ceremony. Mr. and Mrs. Pen- 



6 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. i. 

berthy had three children, two boys and a girl, and in this 
household the boy lived for six years. His sojourn in Corn- 
wall had a great spiritual, as well as constitutional, effect. 
Halsetown, the residence of his uncle and aunt, was one of 
the wildest and most romantic spots in Cornwall. Religion 
was deeply rooted among the people, and superstition, if not 
altogether popular, was rife. Two years before his death, the 
great actor gave his impressions of his boyhood in Cornwall : 
" To this day, they are vivid and convincing. At this distance 
of time it may be, because of it faces, incidents, and hap- 
penings stand out very clearly. But I have lost the half-tones, 
the subtle lights and shades of my early life. Perhaps they 
might modify my present mental attitude. I do not know. 
I have the belief that the things that last in the recollection 
are the lasting things, the enduring things, and that, in the 
vista of years, the trivial and insignificant get blotted out. Yet 
I don't think I shall uphold the statement when I tell you that 
at this moment, roving back over the past, I recall equally 
well my aunt reading the Bible, a joke we children once played 
on an old Granny, my uncle Penberthy in a rare passion, and 
the comic waddling of a lame duck across the roadway, 
falling over itself in haste to reach the evening meal ! I don't 
think I can justify the lame duck as a chief event in my youth. 
It is evidently one of the trivialities which get permanently 
photographed on the memory." 

He had, however, an abiding mental picture of the place 
and its people. He remembered Halsetown as "a village 
nestling between sloping hills, bare and desolate, disfigured by 
great heaps of slack from the mines, and with the Knill monu- 
ment standing prominent as a landmark to the east. It was 
a wild and weird place, fascinating in its own peculiar beauty, 
and taking a more definite shape in my youthful imagination 
by reason of the fancies and legends of the people. The stories 
attaching to rock, and well, and hill, were unending ; every 
man and woman had folklore to tell us youngsters. We took 
to them naturally they seemed to fit in wisely with the 
solitudes, the expanses, the superstitious character of the 



1848] HIS UNCLE AND AUNT 7 

Cornish people, and never clashed in our minds with the 
scriptural teachings which were our daily portion at home. 
These legends and fairy stories have remained with me but 
vaguely I was too young but I remember the 'guise- 
dancing,' when the villagers went about in masks, entering 
houses and frightening the children. We imitated this once, 
by breaking in on old Granny Dixon's sleep, fashioned out in 
horns and tails, and trying to frighten her into repentance for 
telling us stones of hell-fire and brimstone"- an attempt that 
was none too successful. 

Halsetown gave the boy a healthy start in life. In after 
life, he attributed much of his ability to endure fatigue "to the 
free, and open, and healthy years I lived at Halsetown, and 
to the simple food and regular routine ordained by my aunt. 
We rambled much over the desolate hills, or down to the rocks 
at the seashore. There was plenty of natural beauty to look 
for, and I suppose that we looked for it. I know the sea had 
a potent attraction for me. I was a wiry youth, as I believe, 
when the time came for me to join a London school." There 
may possibly have been more volumes in his uncle's house 
than those of the Bible, some old English ballads, and " Don 
Quixote," but these were the only ones which he could recall 
in 1883. His uncle was a big man, bearded, broad in the 
shoulders, a trifle rough perhaps, and possessed of a Celtic 
temper. " He was a man born to command and to be loved. 
I can hardly describe to you how dominating was his personal- 
ity, and yet how lovable. I remember that my aunt, my 
cousins, and myself went to meet him coming home from the 
mines every evening, that his greeting was boisterously affec- 
tionate, and that we knew no better task than to win his 
approval. I find this the more remarkable when I remember 
my aunt. It was the union of two strong individualities. She 
was a woman of severe simplicity in dress the straight lines 
of her gowns are before me now and deeply religious in 
character. It was the time of the great religious revival in 
Cornwall. My aunt was a teetotaller and a Methodist, and 
her whole life was coloured by her convictions. Perhaps the 



8 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. i. 

stern asceticism of the daily routine imposed by my aunt may 
have jarred upon us youngsters, but it was tempered by strong 
affection. At any rate, the angles have worn off that recol- 
lection. My aunt inspired both respect and affection among 
us, and I have no doubt that her discipline was good and 
healthful." This admirable woman survived her husband for 
many years and lived to witness the triumph of her nephew. 
In the year 1849, the boy was removed from Cornwall to 
London, and sent to the City Commercial School, George 
Yard, Lombard Street. It was not long before his early in- 
stincts came into being, for, at one of the school entertainments, 
which were held at Sussex Hall, Leadenhall Street, he wished 
to recite " The Uncle," by Edward Glassford Bell, a gruesome 
poem, to the weirdness of which he did ample justice in his 
maturer years. The worthy schoolmaster, however, with good 
humour and sound discretion, selected Curran's " Defence of 
Hamilton Rowan". One of these school entertainments was 
witnessed by a well-known tragedian of the day, William 
Creswick, who, on loth December, 1879, at a benefit given at 
the Lyceum by the great actor-manager in aid of a brother 
player, made a speech in which he described the circumstances : 
" I was once invited to hear some schoolboys recite speeches 
previous to their breaking up for the holidays. The school- 
master was an old friend of mine, whom I very much respected. 
The room was filled from wall to wall with the parents and 
friends of the pupils. I was not much entertained with the 
first part. I must confess that I was a little bored. But 
suddenly there came out a lad who struck me as being a little 
uncommon, and he riveted my attention. The performance, 
I think, was a scene from ' Ion,' in which he played Adrastus. 
I well saw that he left his schoolfellows a long way behind. 
That schoolboy was Master Henry Irving. Seeing that he 
had dramatic aptitude, I gave him a word of encouragement, 
perhaps the first he had ever received, and certainly the first 
he had ever received from one in the dramatic profession, to 
which he is now a distinguished honour." There was a 
Shakespearean touch about the name of the principal of the 



i8 5 o] 



SCHOOL IN LONDON 



school, Pinches, and one of the masters rejoiced in the name 
of Dickens. 

The boys had to write formal letters to their parents 
although their homes were within a little walking distance 
from George Yard before the Christmas holidays and invite 
them to the distribution of prizes and the entertainment which 
followed. For this purpose, they were provided with elaborate 
letter paper, the margin of which was stamped with coats of 
arms and laudable injunctions in Latin, " Gloria in excelsis 
Deo et in terra pax," being the most prominent of the precepts. 
But our hero had to take to heart no motto more strongly 
than that conveyed in the single word " Perseverando " which 
stood for a lonely knight in armour in the corner where John 
Henry Brodribb signed his name when inviting his father and 
mother to Sussex Hall in December, 1850. The boy's home 
was in the City, at 65 Old Broad Street the original building 
was demolished some years since for modern offices, the site 
being marked by the Dresdner Bank where his parents 
occupied the top floor. Master Henry cared more for white 
mice than schoolbooks, and arithmetic was an abomination to 
him. So his friend in the school, Edward Plumbridge, fre- 
quently did his sums for him in the evening, and, as he was his 
monitor at George Yard, certified to their correctness on the 
next morning an admirable arrangement ! Young Brodribb 
had thus early developed a taste for play-acting, and he often 
practised, with a wooden sword as tall as himself, the defeat 
of the enemy. His companion in these childish pranks was 
almost his exact age Mr. Plumbridge was born in the same 
year and month, but nine days later. He is still hale and 
hearty and carries his seventy years with the alertness and 
vivacity of a man of forty. His father was an importer of 
fruit and nuts, and the family resided in premises, above the 
warehouse, in Botolph Lane. Here young Brodribb often 
came to play. These early recollections were uppermost in 
his thoughts within a few weeks of his death. For, one night 
at the end of July, 1905, he told the present writer of these 
evenings in Botolph Lane. His memory was impressed by 



io THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. i. 

the circumstances that it was a point of honour with the boys 
that although they could play among the stores as much as 
they liked, they should not take a single nut and the freshness 
of that recollection has recently been confirmed by young 
Brodribb's school-mate. The nuts were brought from Spain 
in a schooner, the Hawk, owned by Mr. Plumbridge, senior, 
and were shot loose into the cellar. The playmates sank up 
to their knees in them and progress was slow. The boys left 
school in the same year, 1851, and, as is often the case with 
those whose walks of life are divergent, the young friends 
drifted apart. But it is pleasant to know that they did not 
forget each other. For, when Henry Irving returned to 
London in 1866, one of his first duties was to seek out his 
old school friend in the City and invite him to the theatre. 
Mr. Plumbridge has nothing but kindly recollections of " young 
Brodribb," and of his mother "a tall and homely body, 
whom anyone would like ". Strictly speaking, the City 
Commercial School stood in Ball Alley, which can be entered 
from Gracechurch Street and Lombard Street, as well as 
from George Yard. 

It was one of the most delightful traits in the nature of 
Henry Irving that he invariably spoke with kindness of his 
old associates. In this respect, we have two more charming 
glimpses of his youthful days. On leaving school in 1851, he 
was placed in the office of a firm of lawyers in the City of 
London, Paterson and Longman, Milk Street, Cheapside, a 
locality famous as the birthplace of Sir Thomas More. Being 
requested in after years by the daughter of one of the partners 
to give some information on the point, he wrote as follows : 

" 28^ September, 1892. 

11 DEAR MADAM, It is quite true that I was in Mr. 
Churchill- Longman's office. I was very young at the time, 
not more than thirteen, but I remember your father and his 
kindness very well. Mr. Paterson I have known all my life, 
but I have not seen him for the last year or two. 

4 'Yours faithfully, 

11 HENRY IRVING." 



R-a 




From a photograph. 



BOTOLPH LANE. 



1851] IN A LONDON OFFICE n 

Having gone through the usual routine of a junior clerk 
for a twelvemonth, the boy was taken from the lawyer's office 
in Milk Street and placed with a firm of East India merchants, 
in Newgate Street, with the prospect of going to India and 
attaining an excellent position in the commercial world. But 
commerce had no attraction for him. All his thoughts were 
turned to the stage. Thus early, he had determined upon 
his future profession, and he bent his mind to the accomplish- 
ment of his purpose ; every possible moment that could be 
spared from his regular work was devoted to the study of 
plays and poems. Not only did he earn his own living at 
the age of thirteen, but, out of the little pocket-money which 
his mother could spare from her earnings as caretaker of the 
offices over which she and her son lived, he managed to buy 
a few books. He frequently rose at four in the morning, 
walked to Thames-side for a bath, and fared chiefly on bread 
and butter. He led this arduous life for several years. 

But he never forgot these early days in Newgate Street, 
and, when he was on the threshold of his London career, 
he remembered the manager of the East India merchants' 
office. On the day before he started his engagement at the 
St. James's Theatre, he sent him a letter, signed, it will be ob- 
served, in his real name, the old-fashioned courtesy of which 
is very striking : 

"8 OLD QUEBEC ST., 
" BRYANSTON SQUARE, 

"5^ October, '66. 

"My DEAR SIR, 

" I make my first appearance at the St. James's 
on Saturday evening. 

" If you be inclined (for old remembrance) to see me, 
please fill in date to enclosed for that night or any other 
that may suit you better. 

" With best wishes, 

" Very faithfully yours, 

" HENRY BRODRIBB. 

" Should you write to me, direct please to Henry Irving. 
"H. R. BLACKWELL, Esq." 



12 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. i. 

When the future actor was in his seventeenth year, he 
gave some indications of his dramatic powers. In 1853, he 
joined the City Elocution Class, a sort of mutual improvement 
society, the members of which criticised one another's efforts, 
presided over by Henry Thomas, a man of considerable 
ability as a teacher. These classes were first held in Gould 
Square, Fenchurch Street, and subsequently in Sussex Hall. 
One evening a youth of some fifteen years of age presented 
himself. His appearance was such as would make ladies ex- 
claim " What a nice boy!" He was rather tall for his age, 
dressed in a black cloth suit, with a round jacket, over the top 
of which was turned a deep white linen collar. His face was 
very handsome, with a mass of wavy, black hair, and eyes 
bright and flashing with intelligence. He was called upon 
for his first recitation, and he fairly electrified the class with a 
display of elocutionary skill and dramatic intensity. John 
Henry Brodribb as he was still known became a great 
favourite in the class, and his efforts as an amateur were re- 
cognised in print. The " Theatrical Journal " has long ceased 
to exist, but its pages contained the earliest public references 
to the embryo actor. A certain Thomas William Cooper, 
writing in the issue of Wednesday, 4th January, 1854, gives 
some interesting details of an entertainment in the middle of 
the previous month at the Sussex Hall. The programme 
began with a scene from "The Rivals". " Mr. Brodribb, as 
Captain Absolute, and Mr. Dyall, as Sir Anthony, played 
their parts with a very intelligent tact and with great credit to 
their teacher, Mr. Thomas." Later on, "'The Last Days of 
Herculaneum ' was given in a style worthy the talented powers 
of so young a Roscius as Mr. Brodribb". On nth April, 
1854, the farce, "Catching an Heiress," concluded the enter- 
tainment at Sussex Hall, and "both Mr. Cooper and Mr. 
Brodribb were also well up in their characters, and are de- 
serving of particular mention". In the following autumn, 
" Mr. Brodribb " won favourable mention for his acting in the 
farce, "My Wife's Dentist". 

The Mr. Dyall who is here mentioned, for many years 



1854] AN AMATEUR ACTOR 13 

the curator of the Liverpool Art Gallery, was an intimate 
and life-long friend of the .man and the actor. His recollec- 
tions of the City Elocution Class are very interesting, for 
he was a member when young Brodribb joined it. Mr. 
Dyall recalls the original class-room, which was under a 
railway arch in Gould Square, but the only piece which he 
saw there was a farce, " The Mummy," in which the youthful 
comedian, J. L. Toole, appeared. His remembrance of Mr. 
Thomas is that of a " bright, genial, sunny, mercurial, and 
eminently lovable man. In his dramatic proclivities, he was 
a follower of Charles Mathews, and undertook, with much go 
and spirit, the same kind of parts. His wife was a buxom 
little woman, brimming over with fun ; not ethereal enough 
for the young heroines, but invaluable in such parts as * Little 
Toddlekins,' for whose acceptance I, as Sir Barnaby Babbi- 
come, brought in the little mannikin. When the Elocution 
Class held its meetings in Sussex Hall, we found it a very 
cosy and comfortable room ; well seated, and with a very 
handsome white balustrade running across to within twenty 
feet of the length. The club fitted up the stage portion with 
two three-fold screens, having a practical door in the centre 
of each ; these were handsomely papered, a darker paper 
being used for the doors. An opening at the back, with 
drapery, left another means for exits and entrances ; with a 
few chairs and a table or two, a vase of flowers and some 
ornaments, we had a very effective drawing-room for the 
small pieces we played. The weekly meetings of the club 
were devoted to recitations by the members, with Henry 
Thomas as chairman. The only teaching was by mutual 
criticism ; the members helping each other to pick up dropped 
'h's,' and put them in their proper places ; pointing out wrong 
accents, bad pronunciation, inappropriate gesture, awkward 
positions of the hands and feet, etc. These criticisms did 
great good to the members of the class, especially in the 
matter of extempore speaking. The pieces played were 
mostly of a light character, many of them are now almost 
forgotten, but they were highly appreciated at the time. 



i 4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. i. 

They consisted of ' Boots at the Swan,' ' Delicate Ground/ 
' The Man with the Carpet Bag,' * Love in Humble Life,' 
1 Who Speaks First,' ' Little Toddlekins,' 'A Silent Woman,' 
and others of a like class suitable for presentation as drawing- 
room performances. The new member of the City Elocution 
Class soon became a great favourite at these meetings, every 
opportunity being taken to cast him for such parts as his 
youthful appearance would admit of. He was successful in 
everything he undertook, and when opportunity served he 
displayed unmistakable gifts. One of the rules of the class 
was, that each member should know the words of his part, and 
any one failing in this respect met with the utmost ridicule. 
Our young member was always letter-perfect, so that his mind 
was free to give due effect to the author's meaning. But it 
was in recitation that, at this time, he appeared to the greatest 
advantage, his youth being against his assumption of manly 
parts. One of his most successful efforts at this period was 
the part of Wilford, in selected scenes from 'The Iron Chest,' 
the Sir Edward Mortimer being myself. On this occasion 
his lines were given with such force, earnestness, and pathos, 
as to elicit the most enthusiastic applause." 

A performance given by the students of the City Elocution 
Class at the Soho Theatre now the Royalty was always im- 
pressed upon our hero. The old comedy, " The Honeymoon," 
was represented, and Mr. Thomas's pupils appeared in "all 
the glory of tights, silk cloaks, and hats and feathers ". Many 
years afterwards, in July, 1884, tne Irving Amateur Dramatic 
Club entertained their president, after whom their club had 
been named, at supper in the Freemasons' Tavern, where he 
spoke of this, his first performance in a regular theatre : 
"Amateur acting is a very different thing to what it was 
when I was a young man and I am not like that horrible 
old playgoer who sits upon everything and calls it bad. I 
believe that you act under many advantages that were not 
enjoyed by amateurs in the past certainly, as far as my ex- 
perience goes. I was once a member of what was called an 
^locution class, and we suffered under one disadvantage we 



i8ss] AT THE SOHO THEATRE 15 

had not the pleasure of enjoying the society of amiable and 
accomplished ladies. We chose pieces in which the ladies 
had not very prominent parts, and, wherever the parts were, 
they were cut down. Sometimes, the chambermaid was 
transformed into some hobbledehoy young man, and the 
entertainments, I dare say, were not very interesting. But 
I remember that I once did take part in an amateur per- 
formance, the only occasion in my life when my ambition was 
satisfied, where there was a real stage, and real scenery, real 
footlights, real dresses, real everything. We had the Soho 
Theatre, and they had a rather peculiar method there. The 
amateurs who wanted to furnish parts, paid different prices. 
The prices seemed to vary according to the vice or the virtue 
of the characters two guineas for I ago, three guineas for 
Romeo. I had three guineas' worth, and it was rather a 
memorable occasion for me and to those, I should think, who 
saw me! Rehearsals were out of the question altogether, 
and the supporters were principally a lot of superannuated 
actors. Of course, the cast was conducted by any confiding 
amateur ; they were glad to get the money, and if not they 
were happy to have emergency men. I had a costume ; it was 
a sort of red cotton-velvet shirt on a pair of white cotton legs, 
a very tall black hat and two white feathers, very large black 
shoes and blue rosettes. What I remember particularly was 
I certainly will take credit to myself I got lost once or twice 
in the scenery. Being at the time a young man, I thought 
it necessary to wear a wig, and during one part of the per- 
formance I lost that, too ; and also, my dagger. However, 
I got through to the entire satisfaction of some ten or twelve 
friends of mine young clerks in the City and I cannot tell 
you whether the event was recorded in any of the theatrical 
papers of the time, but at any rate there was not much 
Italian romance about the business, though certainly I went 
to work like a man and a Briton, that I will say. But 
at all events, you may belong, my friends, to an elocution 
class, and learn the rules and the method, and when you 
become an actor with some little reputation, you may find 



16 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. i. 

perhaps at last you are not able to make your speech intel- 
ligible." 

On an another occasion, when addressing, in 1885, the 
students of Harvard College, he said that, as a boy, he had a 
habit which he thought " would be useful to all students. 
Before going to see a play of Shakespeare's, I used to form- 
in a very juvenile way a theory as to the working out of the 
whole drama, so as to correct my conceptions by those of the 
actors, and though I was, as a rule, absolutely wrong, there 
can be no doubt that any method of independent study is of 
enormous importance, not only to youngsters, but also to 
students of a larger growth." In the light of these words, it 
is interesting to know that his first visit to a theatre was to 
Sadler's Wells, where he had the advantage of seeing Samuel 
Phelps as Hamlet. This performance was indelibly impressed 
on his memory, and he often told the friends of his manhood 
of the pleasure which he derived from it. Another vivid re- 
collection was his first visit to a theatre alone. He sat in the 
gallery of the Adelphi Theatre, depressed by a sense of 
wickedness, and with a feeling that the gallery would probably 
fall into the pit for his particular punishment. But a neighbour 
entered into conversation with him, his spirits revived, and he 
became so interested in the entertainment which consisted of 
"The Haunted Man," "The Enchanted Isle," and the farce, 
" Slasher and Crasher " that he left the theatre with reluctance 
at one in the morning, after six hours' enjoyment, and arrived 
home an hour later to find his mother awaiting him in a state 
of terrible anxiety. 

But the study of books, his amateurish efforts in the City 
Elocution Class, and his witnessing of Shakespeare at Sadler's 
Wells, were not his only means of preparation for his future 
career. About the year 1854, he enlisted the sympathy of a 
member of Phelps's company, William Hoskins, 1 who was so 

1 Hoskins was a man of education. His father was Alexander Hoskins, 
of Newton Hall, Derbyshire, and he was educated at Oxford. He went on 
the stage in 1834, in his nineteenth year, and eventually became a member 
of Phelps's company at Sadler's Wells, He played Austin Tresham in " A 



1856] AN OFFER FROM PHELPS 17 

much impressed by the earnestness and capability of the boy, 
that he rendered him far more assistance than strict duty de- 
manded of him. For the youth had to be at his office soon 
after nine o'clock, and, in order to accommodate his pupil, 
Hoskins began his teaching at eight an early hour for any 
one in the theatrical profession at his house in Myddleton 
Square. The kind old actor became so pleased with the 
progress of the youth, that he introduced him to Phelps. The 
tragedian, after hearing the aspirant recite Othello's Address 
to the Senate, smiled a kind approval. But he urged him 
not to join such an ill-requited profession as that of the player. 
" Well, sir," said the ambitious amateur, " it seems strange that 
such advice should come from you ; seeing that you enjoy so 
great a reputation as an actor, I think I shall take my chance 
and go upon the stage." "In that case, sir," was the en- 
couraging reply, "you may come next season to Sadler's 
Wells, and I'll give you two pounds a week to begin with." 
Young Brodribb, completely taken aback, could only stammer 
a few words of grateful thanks, but he did not accept the flat- 
tering offer. He had determined to begin his career in the 
provinces. At this important point in his life, Hoskins stepped 
into the breach. He was on the eve of sailing for Australia, 
and he approached Mrs. Brodribb with an offer, if she would 
allow her son to accompany him, of an engagement at five 
pounds per week. Fortunately, the offer was not accepted, 
whereupon Hoskins told Mrs. Brodribb that the time would 

Blot in the 'Scutcheon," and Buckingham in " Henry VIII." He re- 
mained in Australia for thirty years, and was greatly respected. In the 
gold rush, he made ^"50,000, nearly all of which he subsequently lost in 
theatrical management in Melbourne. But New Zealand brought him 
another spell of luck, and on his marriage there to a popular actress, Miss 
Florence Colville, the ceremony was attended by a notable gathering, which 
included the Governor of the colony, various Ministers of the Crown, 
members of Parliament, and other prominent persons. His death took 
place in Melbourne, at the age of seventy-one, on 28th September, 1886. 
Soon afterwards, a meeting was held in that city in order to devise a scheme 
in honour of the old actor and manager. The first communication read to 
the assembly was a cablegram from the pupil whom he had befriended thirty 
years before, which said : " Please add hundred pounds remembrance dear 
old friend Hoskins. Henry Irving ". 
VOL. I. 2 



i8 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. i. 

come when her child would earn fifty pounds a night. It may 
be proper to remark that the mother of the future actor-manager 
of the Lyceum had an innate dread of her son going upon the 
stage. "I used frequently," says Mr. Dyall, "to visit at the 
house in Broad Street for the purpose of rehearsing the scenes 
in which John and I were to act together. I remember her 
as being rather tall, somewhat stately, and very gentle. On 
one occasion, she came to me with tears in her eyes and im- 
plored me to dissuade John from thinking of the stage as 
a profession, and, having read much of the vicissitudes of 
actors' lives, their hardships and the precariousness of their 
employment, I joined my voice to hers to try and prevent 
him." As Hoskins could not induce the ambitious lad to go 
to Australia with him, he gave him a letter to a well-known 
manager, E. D. Davis, saying : " You will go upon the stage. 
When you want an engagement, present that letter, and you 
will find one." This kind friend sailed for Sydney early in 
1856, and, by September of that year, his talismanic letter 
had opened the portals of fame to Henry Irving for as 
Brodribb he passes out of this story. 



CHAPTER II. 

1856-1859. 

Enter, Henry Irving His study of fencing Purchase of " properties " 
Sets out for Sunderland His first appearance on the stage His ex- 
treme nervousness Advised to return to London Begins a long engage- 
ment in Edinburgh Criticised, but encouraged, by the press Praised for 
his attention to details Always letter-perfect Acts with various "stars" 
Cloten to Helen Faucit's Imogen Beauseant, in " The Lady of Lyons " 
Venoma, a spiteful fairy "Frizzling and grizzling" Cyril Baliol, a 
successful impersonation Irving in burlesque Plays Claude Melnotte for 
his benefit His first speech Leaves Edinburgh for London. 

WHEN Henry Irving set out for Sunderland, where he was 
to make his first appearance in the regular theatre, he was 
well-equipped for his self-appointed task. Youth for he was 
but eighteen and a half years of age and an iron constitution 
were on his side. He had, as we have seen, studied as- 
siduously for his adopted profession, and he had practised, as 
much as was possible, on the amateur stage. During those 
hard- working years of his youth in London he had also taken 
lessons in dancing, and, for a long time two years he went 
twice a week to Shury's school of arms, in Chancery Lane, 
where he studied and practised fencing. This practice, it may 
be well to note in this place, he never allowed to lapse until 
he had become one of the best swordsmen on the theatrical 
boards ; he continued his practice in fencing when in Edinburgh 
under a well-known master of the art, Captain Roland, and, 
in London, at Angelo's. But, when he arrived in Sunderland, 
he had some minor qualifications, in addition to those enum- 
erated, for the work that was before him. He had had a little 
money left to him, and, as actors in those days were obliged 
to provide certain articles generally known as "properties" 
wigs, tights, swords, shoes, and gloves he had laid in an ample 

19 2 * 



20 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

stock of these things. Even then, his small store of cash was 
not exhausted, so that the irony of a certain remark which 
appeared in reference to his first performance, caused him 
much quiet amusement, and he never forgot it. When he 
arrived in Sunderland, two weeks before the opening of the 
theatre, he had some difficulty in finding the establishment, 
for it was in the hands of the builders and surrounded by 
hoardings. The rehearsals were conducted in a state of con- 
fusion, and, when the theatre was at last opened, he was so 
afraid of his beloved properties being stolen if they were left 
in the dressing-room, that he carried them to and from the 
playhouse, to his lodgings, two miles away, each night, in a 
carpet bag. His landlady was proud, in after years, of this 
early association. She had two lodgers the embryo actor 
and a curate and it often happened that the former would be 
reciting his part in one room, while the young clergyman was 
declaiming his sermon in another. Even then, Irving was 
remarkable for his punctuality, in his private, as in his public, 
engagements. Forty-eight years afterwards, in a speech 
which he made on the occasion of a public presentation to 
him in Sunderland, he spoke of this momentous period in 
his career : " It is a long time ago, close upon half a century, 
and I cannot flatter myself that any of you even the oldest 
have any personal recollection of that event. Indeed, I 
may say with confidence, that I am the only person who 
is qualified to give a plain, unvarnished account of what 
happened here on the night of i8th September, 1856, when the 
play of* Richelieu' was produced at the Lyceum Theatre ; and 
not only that evening is vivid in my memory, but the whole 
preceding fortnight, for such was my eagerness to lose no 
opportunity, to leave nothing to chance, that I arrived in Sun- 
derland before the theatre was built. The first night was 
passed at an hotel, and there, too, my advent was premature. 
The magnificence of hotels was not suited to that period of 
my apprenticeship, so I took a lodging a mile or two out of 
the town, and walked in every morning to superintend the 
building operations, and to wonder how on earth they would 



1856] SUNDERLAND 21 

be finished in time for my first appearance on any stage. Well, 
the builders did finish their work perhaps, after all, they knew 
what was at stake and ' Richelieu ' was prepared with most 
disconcerting haste ; and the boy, full of trembling hope, saw the 
curtain which shielded him from the audience rise abruptly, 
and then he had to speak the opening words of the play 
' Here's to our enterprise! ' Gaston, Duke of Orleans, is re- 
presented by the dramatist as a bit of a craven, but he could 
never have been so afraid of the Cardinal as I was of 
Sunderland when I tried to utter those words. I cannot 
truthfully say for I feel the responsibility of being the only 
witness I cannot truthfully say that he did utter them. * Our 
enterprise,' my enterprise, stuck in his throat. At any rate, 
it made entirely the wrong impression, for one critic of that 
performance urged the actor to take the first steamer back to 
his comfortable home, and abandon all idea of pursuing a vo- 
cation for which he was manifestly unfitted. I remember so 
well that the ' first steamer ' was recommended, not the first 
train, and I suppose the critic wanted to associate my peni- 
tential departure with the thriving sea traffic of your great port, 
and so point the contrast between my final discomfiture and 
your increasing prosperity. Certainly the voyage would have 
given me ample time to ponder the enormity of my presump- 
tion. But I did not go. I stayed here five months, learning 
useful lessons of perseverance by the helpful kindness of my 
old manager, Mr. E. D. Davis, and of the Sunderland play- 
goers, whom I found to be extremely patient, for they received 
me with the utmost good humour in the singing part of Henry 
Bertram, for which my confiding manager had cast me, as 
adequate support to Charlotte Cushman in her great character 
of Merrilies." 

From another account, furnished by Mr. Alfred Davis, the 
son of the manager of the Sunderland theatre, it seems that 
Henry Irving did actually speak that oft-quoted line, " Here's 
to our enterprise ! " the first words in " Richelieu " on this his- 
toric occasion. " The words of the speech had in them," said 
Mr. Davis, " almost a prophetic tone of aspiration and success. 



22 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

So busy was I in front, and behind the scenes, that I was 
barely able to reach my place on the stage in time for the ris- 
ing of the curtain. I kept my back to the audience till my 
cue to speak was given, all the while buttoning up, tying and 
finishing my dressing generally, so that scant attention would 
be given to others. But, even under these circumstances, I 
was compelled to notice, and with perfect appreciation, the 
great and most minute care which had been bestowed by our 
aspirant on the completion of his costume. In those days, 
managers provided the mere dress. Accessories, in 'pro- 
perties,' as they were called, were found by the actor. Henry 
Irving was, from his splendid white hat and feathers, to the 
tips of his shoes, a perfect picture ; and, no doubt, had borrowed 
his authority from some historical picture of the Louis XIII. 
period." The new house, curiously enough, in the light of 
after events, was called the Lyceum ; Alfred Davis was the 
Sieur de Beringhen in Bulwer Lytton's play, Richelieu being 
taken by the proprietor and manager of the theatre, E. D. 
Davis. The programme concluded with a burlesque, "The 
Enchanted Lake," in which Irving was one of five cooks. On 
the next evening, he was the second officer in "The Lady of 
Lyons ". During the week, " The Merchant of Venice " was 
given with an actor who was afterwards engaged by Irving for 
some of his productions at the Lyceum as Shylock. This was 
Thomas Mead. Another actor remembered by Irving when 
he had become famous, and long a member of his Lyceum 
company, was Samuel Johnson, the low comedian of Irving's 
first season on the stage. Still later on, Alfred Davis came 
to the Lyceum for work, and found it. 

Despite his nervousness, Irving's first week in Sunderland 
passed off creditably. But he was much discomfited when 
called upon to play Cleomenes in " The Winter's Tale," an un- 
dertaking with which he had to " double " the part of a " third 
gentleman ". The part is a fairly long one for a novice, and, 
unfortunately for the aspirant to theatrical honours, the re- 
vival was fixed for the Monday. Irving's religious train- 
ing had taught him to hold Sunday as a day of rest, and, 



1857] HIS FIRST SALARY 23 

relying upon his powers of study, he left the learning of his 
words until the day of the performance. The result was 
unforeseen, almost disastrous. All went well until the fifth 
act, when the young actor completely forgot his words, and, 
interpolating some lines from another play, exclaimed, to the 
astonishment of his comrades on the stage, "Come on to the 
market-place, and I'll tell you further," and vanished into the 
wings. His manager, however, put down his failure to the 
natural nervousness of the novice, and, instead of dispensing 
with his services, gave him some sound, practical advice. It 
is also more than probable that Mr. Davis bore in mind the 
fact that, for the first month of his engagement, young Irving 
received no financial reward for his services. Nor did he 
receive any other encouragement, for the newspaper notice of 
his acting in Sunderland which has come down to us con- 
demned him severely. "The minor parts," said the local 
critic, "were creditably performed, with the exception of 
Cleomenes, by Mr. Irving, who utterly ruined the last scene 
but one, where he should have described Leontes' discovery 
of his daughter. He came on the stage without knowing 
a single word of his part, and, although he had the cue pitched 
at him by the prompter in a tone loud enough to be heard in 
most parts of the house, he was unable to follow it, and was 
compelled to walk off the stage amid a shower of hisses." 
This was an unpromising beginning, but it had its lesson, for 
it was the first and last time that such a fault was ever com- 
mitted by Henry Irving. He remained in Sunderland until 
February, and, although he had made such progress that Mr. 
Davis would have gladly retained him, he decided to go to 
Edinburgh, where he had obtained an engagement which 
proved most advantageous to him. In addition to Charlotte 
Cushman, Miss Glyn, Sims Reeves, Ira Aldridge "the 
African Roscius," as the coloured tragedian was called and 
other players of importance appeared in Sunderland during 
Irving' s stay there. So that he had the opportunity of seeing 
much acting that was exceedingly good and of great variety. 
After the first month, he received a salary of twenty-five 



24 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

shillings a week a fair wage for a beginner on the stage 
half a century ago and even later still. 

The Edinburgh engagement was of vast importance to the 
young actor. It lasted for two and a half years, during which 
he played a marvellous number of parts. He also had the ad- 
vantage of studying the methods of the best representatives of 
the old school of acting. To say that he worked assiduously 
during this period is only to indicate one of the merits which 
marked his life-work. Ever ardent and alert in the pursuit 
of his art, he was singled out in these early days for the 
scrupulous care with which he dressed his parts and for the 
exactitude of his facial make-up. More important still, he 
was almost invariably letter-perfect. He was constantly held 
out in these three paramount points of the threatrical embryo 
as a model for the other members of the company. Naturally 
enough, his perfection in these particulars created a certain 
amount of envy, but it won him a great deal of admiration. 
And, in later years, it was a tremendous aid to him. He was 
by nature thorough and determined. His work in Edinburgh, 
and, subsequently, in Manchester, strengthened these innate 
qualities, and, as he grew in years so they developed, helping 
him to the summit of his ambition and never being allowed 
to desert him. He was only just nineteen years of age when 
he began his engagement in Edinburgh, but, before he was 
twenty, he had made his mark, and the press, which was 
much more out-spoken half a century ago than it is at present, 
had recognised his good qualities. It had also noted some 
of his defects. His manager here was R. H. Wyndham. 

The bill of the play for Saturday, 7th February, 1857, 
heralded the return to Edinburgh, after an absence of eight 
years, of Barry Sullivan, an admirable actor in a deep-voiced, 
physically-strong fashion, who was justly popular in the north 
of England, particularly in Liverpool and Manchester, and in 
Dublin. One of the parts in which he drew crowded houses 
was Richelieu, and it was in the familiar role of Gaston, Duke 
of Orleans, that Henry Irving first played at the Theatre 
Royal, Edinburgh, the Irish tragedian being the Cardinal. 



1857] EDINBURGH 25 

He was again chosen for this part some three weeks later, 
when an actor whose name has long passed away, was the 
Richelieu. On the latter occasion, " Richelieu" was followed 
by a " grand ballet divertissement," the programme conclud- 
ing with a lively nautical drama entitled "The Pilot," which 
painted in very glowing colours the supremacy of the British 
navy. Its chief character was Long Tom Coffin, who had a 
truly "desperate combat" with a rival. The piece concluded 
with a "general combat and the final triumph of the British 
Flag". For those were the days of patriotism. It is also to 
be observed that the audience had plenty for their money at 
that period. A ballet and a fairly long after-piece in which, 
by the way, Irving's part was a small one may be considered 
a pretty good return for a place in the gallery for sixpence or 
a seat for half a crown the highest price in the dress-circle. 
The doors were opened at seven o'clock each evening, with 
the exception of Saturday, when half-past six was the time, 
the performance beginning half an hour later. 

Between his two appearances as Gaston at the Theatre 
Royal, Irving acted several minor parts including that of Baron 
Giordine in "The Corsican Brothers" and another "walking 
gentleman," Antoine, Sieur de Courcy, an esquire to the 
Court, in a five-act melodrama "The Cagot! or Heart for 
Heart". In the middle of March, an "actress and pantomi- 
mist" appeared in Edinburgh whose advent was so important 
that it was advertised that "during the engagement of this 
distinguished Artiste the complimentary Free List (with the 
exception of the Gentlemen of the Press) will be entirely 
suspended ". The " Gentlemen of the Press " is good. They 
were polite to newspaper critics in those times. The "distin- 
guished artiste" was Madame Celeste, who took the title role 
in a drama called "The Mysterious Stranger". She also 
essayed four other characters, with an additional mark of 
exclamation to each, so that when the celebrated actress had 
arrived on the programme at the part of a Young French 
Officer having, in the meantime, impersonated a Wild 
French Boy, an Italian Prima Donna, and a Polish Princess 



26 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

she had won the distinction of being set down as " Madame 
Celeste ! ! ! ! ! " Irving's part was a minor one, that of 
Captain Gasconade. It is unnecessary to enumerate in this 
place all the characters which fell to the lot of the young actor 
during his first twelve months in Edinburgh, but it may be 
noted that, during May, he played some Shakespearean parts 
which prove conclusively that he had earned the good opinion 
of his manager. These were Horatio in " Hamlet," Banquo 
in " Macbeth," and Catesby in " King Richard III." He 
often thought of his early training when he was playing the 
chief characters in these tragedies at the Lyceum. In June of 
this year, 1857, he met an actor who became his life-long 
friend, John Laurence Toole. The comedian appeared as 
Autolycus in a burlesque of <( The Winter's Tale," Irving 
being the Camillo. With Toole as Paul Pry, he acted 
Harry Stanley in Poole's comedy ; and he played Dazzle 
in " London Assurance," the star of Dion Boucicault's 
comedy being Sir William Don, Bart., whose title was a 
greater attraction than his acting. He also acted various 
other characters with this gentleman, including one that is 
known to many playgoers of a later generation Charley the 
Carpenter, in the "screaming farce," as it was called, of 
"Good for Nothing". 

He then had the advantage of appearing with Helen Faucit, 
in "Cymbeline," and we have an interesting reminiscence 
from an Edinburgh resident who witnessed Irving's perform- 
ance. This admirer subsequently recalled the experience : 
"Charles Dickens somewhere remarked that, 'The check- 
taker never sees the play ; ' but on this occasion it happened 
otherwise, for the Bed-chamber scene in Act 1 1. was proceeding 
as my check was demanded in the gallery, of course whither 
I had betaken myself. This impressive scene had a powerful 
effect, as may be supposed ; and 'When the well-bred actor/ 
etc. the following scene, charged as it is with the charming 
song, ' Hark, hark, the lark ' was barely listened to until 
Imogen again appears, and at every turn scathes poor Cloten. 
Towards the end of that scene, Pisanio 



i857] ACTS WITH HELEN FAUCIT 27 

A sly and constant knave ; not to be shak'd 
The agent for his master 

came on the stage a tall, thin, angular, nervous-looking 
young man, and a stranger evidently. Says the check-taker, 
in answer to a question, ' That's a young man lately joined 
the company. He's on his mettle, and will give a good 
account of himself to-night.' This was the future tragedian, 
Henry Irving. Pale and anxious he looked, and eager to do 
his best with his limited stock of stagecraft, hitherto perfect. 
I well remember he went through the trying business of Scene 
II., Act III., but made no special impression, overshadowed 
as he was by the greater genius. Nevertheless, tyro as he 
was, he held his own, and soon afterwards shared in the 
triumphs of that memorable evening. It does take an audience 
some little time to discriminate the smaller lights when a bril- 
liant genius is ever and again on the stage, and when the 
thoughts of all are wrapt in the representation of a character 
to which he or she is the only adequate exponent. That 
the soliloquy and scene previous to that now to be referred 
to more particularly was acceptable to the audience must be 
inferred, as it paved the way for what followed. In Scene IV., 
Act. III., wherein the agony of Imogen is delineated, and 
where the now doubly 'constant Pisanio' has but little to 
speak, but much to act, the audience seemed spell-bound 
and so also seemed the trembling neophyte. Standing in 
the centre, facing the rapt audience, with the great queen of 
tragedy kneeling before him racked with anguish caused by 
foul slander on a fair soul, she draws Pisanio's sword, and, 
forcing it into his hand, reiterating her husband's order, ' Do 
his bidding, strike ! ' the pent-up feeling in the honest servitor's 
soul finds vent in the passionate : 

Hence, vile instrument ; 

Thou shalt not damn my hand ! 

This was said when and as it should be said, and the sword 
flung off the stage. The effect was electrical, and a round 
of hearty plaudits resounded from all parts of the house on 
the instant. The expression is often heard of a great actor 



28 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

'reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning'. This was 
one flash, and an early one, from an actor who has now earned 
his name. Even here the inspiration of author and actress 
must have lifted him up, for the harmony was complete." 

With the Christmas season, we find Irving as Scruncher, 
the Captain of the Wolves, in the pantomime of " Little 
Bo-Peep". All these parts had been played by him at the 
Theatre Royal. But in November of this same year, 
Wyndham had taken a lease of the Queen's Theatre and 
Opera House, and here, on the 28th of that month, Irving 
played Montano in " Othello," and, on the i4th of December, 
Rashleigh Osbaldistone in " Rob Roy". On 26th February, 
1858, the last appearance in Edinburgh of Henry Vandenhoff 
was announced. He played Cardinal Wolsey in " King 
Henry VIII.," the part of the Earl of Surrey being allotted 
to Irving who, it will be gathered, was kept employed at both 
theatres in Shakespeare Square and Leith Walk. 

This year was a memorable one in the early career of the 
young actor, for he now began to attract considerable attention 
in the local press. The first page in his book of extracts, cut 
from the Edinburgh press, is of great interest. It is headed, 
in his own handwriting, 1858, and the initial comment is as 
follows : " Mr. Irving, although somewhat new to the stage, 
is rapidly becoming a good performer. A little more firm- 
ness would aid him considerably ; but we think we see symp- 
toms of his gaining this, and counsel him to continue. One 
thing in his favour, he is generally perfect." We can imagine 
with what gladness the earnest young actor gummed these 
encouraging words into his scrap-book ! The second extract 
must also have helped him in his endeavour : " Mr. Irving is 
still rather nervous, but is holding on the right path to secure 
public esteem". As the disagreeable Beauseant in "The 
Lady of Lyons" he acted "so well that some of the audience 
in the closing scene were inclined to show their joy at his losing 
the hand of Pauline in a rather offensive manner no mean 
testimony to the ability evinced in the part". Fergus 
Connor in Westland Marston's domestic drama, "A Hard 



1858] A FEAT OF MEMORY 29 

Struggle," brought him still more notice. He rendered the 
character, wrote one of the daily papers, " we need hardly say, 
with care and good taste, and, we may add, with a depth of 
feeling worthy of wider scope than the part afforded. No 
playgoer can have failed to notice the steady and rapid pro- 
gress which this young actor is making in his profession, in 
which we have no doubt his perseverance and ability will at 
no distant day gain him a high position. In the study ap- 
parent in all his personations, and the invariable finish and 
propriety of his 'make-up,' it would be well if some other 
members of the company would try to imitate him." On 
another occasion, his acting did not meet with the approbation 
of a section of the spectators, or, as is not unlikely, the rise of 
the young player was not to the advantage of some other 
members of the company. " We noticed with regret," said 
one of the newspapers, "a disposition on the part of a certain 
class amongst the audience to receive Mr. Irving with marked 
disapprobation. Mr. Irving is a young actor of greater promise 
and intelligence than any who have appeared in the ranks of 
the Edinburgh company for a long time, and bids fair, when 
he has acquired wider stage experience, and smoothed down 
certain trifling mannerisms, to occupy a creditable position in 
his profession. His performances are generally marked by 
careful study, and his conception, if not always correct, invari- 
ably displays thought and feeling." 

Thus early did his efforts encounter opposition, and the 
iron entered his soul. For, in taking leave of Edinburgh some 
twelve months later, he spoke of these uncomplimentary hisses. 
On the other hand, he was constantly encouraged by judicious 
criticism, and he pursued his course with unfaltering zeal. 
Thus in "An Hour at Seville" a piece written for Mrs. 
Barney Williams, who played no less than eight parts in it 
he had a long and arduous character to sustain as Mr. 
Peregrine Pyefinch. Moreover, he had no opportunity of 
leaving the stage and refreshing his memory, so that " the feat 
of being almost perfect in words was of itself no mean triumph. 
But when we state that he was not only perfect, or nearly so, 



30 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

in the words of the part but that he acted throughout (despite 
a little nervousness) with a quiet ease and gentlemanly humour 
which perfectly fitted his part, we are only stating the truth ; 
and we feel assured the audience quite appreciated his exer- 
tions". In order to realise this praise, it must be borne 
in mind that he frequently played three parts some of which 
were entirely new in one night. At this time, he was con- 
tinually complimented on his care and earnestness, on his 
feeling, intelligence, and good taste. He had also arrived 
at the dignity of being called before the curtain, for, when he 
played Charles in " London Assurance," "the audience ex- 
pressed their delight at the performance" by summoning all 
the "stars" of the cast and Mr. Irving. He had another 
interesting experience in the pantomime which was produced 
during the winter season of 1858 at the Theatre Royal. At 
the first blush, it would not seem that Venoma, a spiteful fairy, 
could do much to enhance the fame of a serious young actor. 
Her abode formed the opening scene of the pantomime, and, 
according to a contemporary chronicle, it was "a gruesome 
place enough. Here we find the old hag 'frizzling and grizz- 
ling ' herself on a gridiron. Not willingly does she submit to 
this unpleasant form of heating ; a stronger power had doomed 
her to that punishment for fifty years, which period has all but 
expired when we make her acquaintance." It is difficult to 
see where originality could have scope in such a part, yet, 
" Mr. Irving's personation stamps him as an actor of more 
than average ability. This gentleman is well worthy of 
praise ; whatever character he undertakes he invariably 
exerts himself to the utmost to give it effect. His 'make-up,' 
as it is termed, is perfect." By what standard the make-up 
of a wicked fairy in a pantomime is to be judged, is somewhat 
of a mystery. But that of Irving as Venoma must have been 
extremely effective, for another critic found it "astonishingly 
correct, even to the most minute detail". 

Much more important work than the playing of the evil 
genius of a pantomime came with the turn of the year. And 
this new work won fresh honours and more encourage- 



1859] HIS FIRST SUCCESS 31 

ment. In February, 1859, a play called " Hamilton of 
Bothwellhaugh, or the Regent Murray of Linlithgow," was 
produced at the Royal. Irving had, as Cyril Baliol, a priest, 
to pourtray a character which was described as being lago- 
like. "It would be unjust to many great actors who have 
failed as lago to say that Mr. Irving's rendering of Cyril 
Baliol was perfect, but it is only 'fair to a talented and pains- 
taking young artist to state that he succeeded to a degree 
even beyond the anticipation of his warmest admirers." So 
said one of the daily papers. The continuation of this criticism 
is instructive inasmuch as it throws a side-light on his acting 
at this time : " The quality Mr. Irving's characterisation most 
lacked was subtlety, its absence being less conspicuous in his 
voice and face than in his occasionally hurried manner of 
stepping across the stage". It is easy to understand that 
nervousness would give the rapidity of movement to the 
actor, which time taught him to control. Even so, that 
subtlety which was present to so large a degree in his later 
acting, was not manifest at the outset of his career. He was 
slowly, but surely, meeting with recognition from the critical 
press. The part of Cyril Baliol a plotting priest was a 
considerable advancement for him. "We have had occasion 
frequently to speak in high terms of the acting of Mr. Irving," 
wrote another leading journal, "but we were unprepared 
for his powerful delineation of the part of Cyril Baliol. It 
completely eclipses any of his previous efforts, much as they 
are entitled to praise ; it is, in one word, one of the best pieces 
of acting we have witnessed for a considerable time. We 
will not go so far as to assert that it is altogether perfection, 
but this much we will say, that the faults are so few that we 
can easily afford to overlook them. He was honoured with 
a call at the end of the third act, and though we are no 
advocates for this custom, which would in many instances be 
' more honoured in the breach than in the observance/ yet we 
think by his excellent acting he fairly won the honour so- 
called ". In another play, called " The Vagrant," brought out 
at this time, he was given the chief part somewhat to the as- 



32 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

tonishment of this same discriminating critic, who confessed to 
being "not a little surprised to find" Mr. Irving as the lead- 
ing character, "it being a part so different from any we have 
been accustomed to see him in. It is but justice to state that 
we were both surprised and gratified with his performance. 
It occurs to us that he is making rapid strides in his profes- 
sion ; and it would be well if some of the other members of 
the company, on whom we have our eye, were to pay as 
much attention, both to the business of the stage and to their 
style of dressing or ' getting-up,' as they call it, as he invari- 
ably does." This, it will be observed, was not the first time 
that he had been held up as a model for his fellow players, 
who could hardly have loved him for the admonishment. 
The management, however, made due note of his ability, and 
we find him, in March, appearing as Coitier to the Louis XI. 
of Charles Dillon and as the King to that actor's Hamlet. 
This was advancement indeed. 

In short, with his impersonation of Cyril Baliol he emerged 
from the humble position of the mere tyro. He met with a 
considerable amount of criticism, but it was never harsh, 
never calculated to wound as was some of that which he ex- 
perienced when he had attained celebrity. This, for instance, 
was written in a spirit of friendliness : " We notice in this 
gentleman's acting a slight tendency to mannerism parti- 
cularly in his walk and gestures ; we pray him to avoid that, 
and to walk as nature dictates, not as actors strut. Mr. 
Irving is sure to rise in his profession, and he can quite afford 
to take our hints in the spirit in which they are meant." 
The criticism, like the prophecy, was good. It should be 
observed that his peculiar gait was noticed at the outset of his 
career, for it has been said that he cultivated it with a view to 
notoriety. On the contrary, it was natural to him, and it 
says much for his personality that the spectator who was not 
actually opposed to him never thought twice of his walk 
after witnessing one of his performances. That he valued 
the Edinburgh criticism is proved by the fact that he kept it. 
That his walk was a real detriment to him at this time is 



1859] SUCCESS IN BURLESQUE 33 

shown by his being given the parts of Fag in "The Rivals" 
and Careless in "The School for Scandal"- characters in 
which the strut of which complaint was made was unsuited. 
His progress was continuous. Four nights prior to the clos- 
ing of the old Theatre Royal, " Macbeth," was revived. 
But, instead of Banquo, as two years previously, he now 
acted Macduff. On the last night of the old house, " Masks 
and Faces" was the chief item in the programme, with Mr. 
and Mrs. Wyndham as Triplet and Peg Woffington. Irving 
was the Soaper, and in the farce, "His Last Legs," he played 
Charley. This was on 25th May, 1859. 

Wyndham now took possession of the Queen's Theatre, 
which he opened under royal letters patent, or as a fully- 
licensed house, on 25th June. Here, in burlesque, Irving 
made two of his greatest successes, and on its stage he took 
leave of the Edinburgh public before his departure for his 
first venture in London. In a burlesque which was wonder- 
fully popular in its day, "The Maid and the Magpie," the 
" most cleverly enacted part was, undoubtedly, the Fernando 
Villabella of Mr. Irving. His 'make up' was most original, 
while his conception of the character was no less so." Again, 
" Mr. Irving whom we are sorry that we are going to loss 
so soon has been out-doing himself, and giving unmistak- 
able earnest of his success in the new and more important 
sphere upon which he is about to enter. His 'make-up' as 
a refugee, and his rendering of the part in * The Maid and 
Magpie,' were really beyond all praise." His make-up was 
often alluded to, and always in terms of commendation, at 
this time. It was much praised in William Brough's 
burlesque of " Kenil worth," in which he appeared as Way land 
Smith. The critics fell foul of the travesty, and of a certain 
"popular comedian " one Sydney of whose voice it was 
said that "the grinding of scissors is a sound comparatively 
soft and inoffensive to the nerves ". Irving, as Way land Smith, 
made his first entrance in a half-famished condition at a fete 
at which Queen Elizabeth was present, and upon observing 

her he had to say, " Tis long since I beheld a sovereign ". 
VOL. i. 3 



34 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

We cannot imagine that such work was very congenial to him. 
He also had, in common with some of the other members of 
the company, to take part in "that absurd dancing, which, 
having been successful as given by Mr. Robson and one or 
two more, has now been taken up by every actor on the stage. 
Mr. Irving is perhaps the only one at the Queen's who does 
it perfectly well." He played many parts in those months 
and these very different in style Dazzle in " London Assur- 
ance," King James in " Cramond Brig," Ishmael in "The 
Flowers of the Forest," Frank Hawthorn in " Extremes," and, 
once more, the King in " Hamlet". A few nights before he 
left Edinburgh for the south, his acting in " French Before 
Breakfast" caused some laconic and amusing "criticism". 
" As to Fader-de-She," said the North Briton, " enacted by 
Mr. Irving, one may just repeat the rather energetic exclama- 
tion of a pit critic ' Damned good '." 

The evening of Tuesday, i3th September, 1859, was a 
momentous one in the career of the young actor. For he 
then bade farewell to his friends of the press and the public in 
Edinburgh he had many, and they were always faithful to 
him in the character of Claude Melnotte. The occasion 
called forth much kindly comment, of which one specimen 
will suffice : "We observe from our advertising columns that 
Mr. Irving, a member of the dramatic company of the Queen's 
Theatre, is about to take a farewell benefit. Mr. Irving is 
one of the most rising actors among us ; and it is with regret 
that we part with him. Always gentlemanly in his deport- 
ment, his conception of the parts he undertook was just and 
accurate ; while his acting was marked by a taste and an 
ability that give promise of the highest excellence. We are 
sure that his numerous admirers here will take care by their 
presence to mark their strong sense of Mr. Irving's talents, 
and to encourage him in his future career." 

Mr. Irving's "numerous admirers" did their duty, and 
there was what used to be described as a "bumper house". 
At the conclusion of "The Lady of Lyons," the hero of the 
night came forward, and, in the language of the play-bill, 



1859] HIS FIRST SPEECH 35 

addressed a few words to his friends. This was his first 
public speech, and, for a man of twenty-one, it was a model 
of modesty and diplomacy. He said : " Ladies and gentle- 
men, I feel I have undertaken rather a difficult task a task 
in which I fear I am liable to be charged with either ingrati- 
tude or presumption ingratitude if I go away without saying 
good-bye to old friends, and presumption for having attempted 
to do so. Still, I am bound to speak. It is now three years 
since I first went before the footlights in Sunderland, and a 
year afterwards I was transplanted to Edinburgh. But I 
was a long time before I succeeded in giving you satisfaction. 
(Cries of 'No' and applause.) I was sometimes hissed in 
this theatre, and I can assure you that thousands of plaudits 
do not give half so much pleasure as one hiss gives pain, more 
especially to a young actor. But I am very glad to be able 
to think that I have won your esteem. (Applause.) I am 
also very grateful to the newspaper press for the encourage- 
ment they have given me, and also to the management for the 
many excellent and suitable parts into which I have been 
cast. In bidding you farewell in order to fulfil an engagement 
in a larger sphere in the metropolis, I trust it is not the last 
time I will have the pleasure of appearing before you. (Ap- 
plause.) Ladies and gentlemen, I now bid you good-bye." 
At the end of his brief address, the actor was greeted with 
hearty cheers, and, with the plaudits of critical Edinburgh 
ringing in his ears, he set out for London. The enormous 
amount of experience which he obtained during his first three 
years on the stage in reality, allowing for the summer vaca- 
tions, only two and a half working years may be imagined 
from the bare idea that he impersonated no less than four 
hundred and twenty-eight characters. When we take into 
consideration the care which he devoted to his work, this 
record is stupendous. It has no parallel in the history of great 
actors. Some thirty-two years afterwards in November, 
1891 when addressing the Students' Union Dramatic Society 
in Edinburgh, he said that he had once been a member of a 
university there- the old Theatre Royal. " There I studied 

3* 



36 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. n. 

for two years and a half my beautiful art, and there I learned 

the lesson which you will all learn that- 
Deep the oak 

Must sink in stubborn earth its roots obscure, 
That hopes to lift its branches to the sky." 

THE ENTR'ACTE, 



EDINBURGH. Mr. George Honey has been the attraction 
during the past week. Miss St. George concluded her engage- 
ment on Saturday evening. Mr. Irving has also left for the 
Princess*. London. A contemporary thus sppaka of this young 



actor: "-We have frequently adverted to the rapid progress 
Mr. Irving has achieved in his profession by unremitting zeal 



and stud.vT but on the occasion of his .benefit and"last appear- 
ance, on Tuesday last, he excelled all his previous personations. 



ance. on Tuesday last, he excelled all his previous personations. 
Some may have deemed, ^somewhat ambitious that an actor, whfr 



Fas not been quite three ygarson .the : stage, should" attempt the 
character of "CJ.aiideJ^jcfn'otte.' 1 in The Lady of Lyons, but the 
which Mr. Irving sustained the part, efi'ectuaily"' 



finish with . ... _^ ... ._.. ^ , 

proved thatlieliad not over-estimated his powers. Thrice was 



_ 
e called in tho course of the piece to receive the plaudits of an 



and TagmoggplY filled house. Mr. Irving took leave 
m a most modest speech, and retired 



oniud_ their encouraging 'adieux^ Miss T J^anny Jtleeves and 



"Mr. Jttliof Galer make an appearance this evening. 

SEPTEMBER 19, 1859. 





IRVING'S SIGNATURE IN 1859, AS IT APPEARS IN HIS SCRAP-BOOK, UNDER THE 
PRINTED EXTRACT ABOVE. 



CHAPTER III. 

1859-1863. 

Irving's first appearance in London His great disappointment Suc- 
ceeds in getting released from his engagement Reads from " The Lady 
of Lyons" and "Virginius" at Crosby Hall Favourable verdict of the 
London press Replaces an old favourite in Dublin Hissed and hooted 
at for three weeks The sequel Plays in Glasgow and Greenock Macduff 
Manchester Adolphe, in "The Spy" The amatory alchymist His 
walk and elocution Instructive criticisms in the Manchester papers 
Makes a success as Mr. Dombey Acts with Edwin Booth His Claude 
Melnotte The Titan Club Thyrsites Irving's first story His remem- 
brance of a kind deed. 

BEFORE coming to Henry Irving's first appearance in London 
which took place in the same month as that in which he left 
Edinburgh it is necessary to set right a mis-statement which 
was printed in a biography published in 1893, an error which 
has crept into other books about the actor. In March, 1859, 
so it was printed, " we find our actor at the old Surrey 
Theatre, playing under Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Creswick, 
for * a grand week of Shakespeare, and first-class pieces,' " the 
part of Siward being attributed by the writer of the biography 
to Irving. These statements are easily disproved by certain 
facts which are incontrovertible. In 1883, Henry Irving 
gave me the details of his early career, and these details in- 
cluded the date of his first appearance in London ; in 1903, 
he read the proof of a biographical sketch which was orginally 
intended for inclusion in the history of the Lyceum Theatre, 
but which, in view of the present biography, it was subse- 
quently decided to omit. Again, the only characters which 
he acted in " Macbeth " until he played the Thane at the 
Lyceum were Lay ton, Rosse, Banquo, and Macduff. 
" Lastly, and to conclude," as Dogberry says, he was fairly 

37 



38 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. m. 

busy in Edinburgh at the time, for in the particular month 
mentioned he studied and played the following important 
parts : Coitier in " Louis XL," the King in " Hamlet," 
Rashleigh Osbaldistone in " Rob Roy," and Malcolm Graeme 
in "The Lady of the Lake," in addition to King Henry IV. 
in "Richard III." and Jasper Drysdale in "Mary Queen 
of Scots". In view of these important facts, it is impossible 
to understand how the mistake in question could have arisen. 
But there is no reason why it should be perpetuated. 

We have seen that Henry Irving took his farewell of 
Edinburgh on I3th September, 1859. On the 24th of that 
month, having accepted an engagement at the Princess's 
Theatre, from Augustus Harris, the father of Augustus 
Harris the celebrated producer of autumn drama and panto- 
mime at Drury Lane he was now seen for the first time on 
the London stage. The play in which he appeared was "Ivy 
Hall," an adaptation by John Oxenford, the dramatic critic of 
the Times, of " Le Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre". 
Much to his amazement and discomfiture, he found that he 
had only half a dozen lines to speak at the commencement of 
the four-act drama. Very wisely, and with that grim deter- 
mination which was so conspicuous a part of his character, he 
insisted on being released from the engagement. In vain 
did the manager endeavour to make him change his mind. 
The young actor gained the day, he was released from his 
three years' contract, and he resolved not to accept another 
engagement in London until he could see his way to doing him- 
self justice. While still at the Princess's he had to undertake 
a task which must have been very uncongenial to the Horatio 
and Claudius of Edinburgh he was called upon to act 
Osric to the Hamlet of an actor of no importance. 

His personal friends in London had been somewhat 
mortified by the treatment meted out to him at the Princess's. 
He therefore gave two readings, at Crosby Hall, by way of 
showing that he was justified in his ambition as an actor and 
in proof of the benefit of his experience in Edinburgh. On 
1 9th December, he read "The Lady of Lyons," and, on 



i86o] READINGS AT CROSBY HALL 39 

8th February, 1860, " Virginius". It is interesting, after the 
lapse of almost half a century, to read some of the criticisms 
which were given on these readings. That of "The Lady 
of Lyons," according to the Daily Telegraph "was char- 
acterised by considerable ability, and showed a correct ap- 
preciation of the several characters and of the spirit of the 
dramatist. Mr. Irving possesses a good voice, and combines 
with it dramatic power of no mean order ; and, judging from 
his performance on this occasion, he is likely to make a name 
for himself in the profession of his choice." The Standard 
remarked that his delineations of the various characters were 
admirably graphic and were rewarded with frequent bursts of 
applause. " If Mr. Irving's reading on the stage," it pro- 
ceeded, "is as effective as it was in Crosby Hall, we may 
predict for him a brilliant and a deserved success, for his con- 
ception is good, his delivery is clear and effective, and there 
is a gentlemanly ease and grace in his manner which is ex- 
ceedingly pleasing to an audience. Towards the end of the 
performance, the audience became deeply affected, and, from 
some parts of the hall, sobs were distinctly audible. At the 
close, an enthusiastic burst of applause rewarded him as he 
retired, and was continued until he again made his appearance 
on the platform and acknowledged the compliment. ' ' Another 
leading paper, after commenting on the mediocrity and 
tediousness of the average reader, admitted a most agreeable 
disappointment. Instead of finding the usual conventionality, 
"we were gratified by hearing the poetical * Lady of Lyons' 
poetically read by a most accomplished elocutionist, who gave 
us not only words, but that finer indefinite something which 
proves, incontestably and instantaneously, that the fire of 
genius is present in the artist." This was high praise indeed, 
but it was justified by attainments in the future. The read- 
ing of "Virginius" called forth similar encouragement. It 
enabled the actor to display his versatility, for there could 
hardly be a greater contrast than the flowing language of 
Bulwer Lytton, and the rough, strong tragedy of Sheridan 
Knowles. Here, again, the reader's transitions from one 



40 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. m. 

character to another were singularly felicitous. His de- 
lineation, indeed, of each and every character proved him to 
be "an artist who has not mistaken his vocation, but who has 
the intelligence and ability to grapple with the refinements of 
his profession and overcome every difficulty that stands in the 
way of success". Some dozen other notices, all in the same 
pleasing strain, were printed about these readings at Crosby 
Hall one of the most interesting episodes in the history of 
this ancient building, but one that, curiously enough, was 
omitted from the official chronicle of Crosby Hall prior to its 
proposed demolition last year. It was well that the young 
actor had not failed. For he was now about to undergo one 
of the most severe trials that can befall any actor, young 
or old. 

The readings at Crosby Hall had attracted the attention 
of Henry Webb, the manager of the old Queen's Theatre, 
Dublin, who, having had to dismiss his "juvenile lead," an 
actor named George Vincent, made the unsuspecting Irving 
an offer of a four weeks' engagement. This offer was accepted, 
and the player, who had celebrated his twenty-second birth- 
day four weeks previously, made his first appearance in Dublin 
on 5th March, 1860, as Cassio to the Othello of T. C. King, 
an actor who was popular in his day, particularly in Dublin. 
Henry Irving, however, had not calculated on the loyalty of 
a Dublin audience to an old favourite. And he certainly had 
not understood the situation, or he would not have risked the 
excellent reputation which he had won by his three years of 
hard work. "Is that theomadhaun, Mike?" asked one gal- 
lery boy from another when Cassio spoke his first lines. 
" No," was the instant reply, " them's the young man's clothes 
they'll shove him out later on." He was greeted with a 
storm of hisses whenever he came on the stage. This was 
bad, but worse was to follow three nights later. On 8th 
March, Gerald Griffin's tragedy, "Gisippus," which had been 
produced on 23rd February, was played for the eleventh time, 
with Irving as Titus Quintus, the character originally taken 
by the dismissed actor, Vincent. This was adding insult to 



i86o] HISSED FOR THREE WEEKS 41 

injury with a vengeance. In after years, he recalled the ex- 
perience : " There was I standing aghast, ignorant of having 
given any cause of offence, and in front of me a raging, Irish 
audience, shouting, gesticulating, swearing volubly, and in 
various forms indicating their disapproval of my appearance. 
Nor was it a matter of mere temporary disturbance. Night 
after night, I had to fight through my part in the teeth of a 
house whose entire energies seemed to be concentrated in a 
personal antipathy to myself. A roughish experience that 
to have to hold your own amid a continual uproar." So that, 
still to use his own words, he "went through the ordeal effac- 
ing for three weeks the howling and hooting of as merry, 
reckless and impulsive an audience as were ever gathered 
together. At last, the indignant manager protested, soundly 
rated and rebuked 'the boys,' who, on discovering the injus- 
tice they had done the young actor, as warmly encouraged 
and applauded him for one week, as they had before damned 
him unmercifully for three." 

Other measures were taken on behalf of order and 
decency, in addition to the managerial appeal. So uproarious 
were the scenes on occasion, that two policemen were always 
employed to keep some little check on the galleryites. The 
treasurer of the theatre, whose benefit was approaching, 
waited on the superintendent of police, and spoke of the 
recent rowdiness. "The amiable chief swore he would soon 
settle that, and kept his word by drafting an extra force of 
police into the house, with instructions to eject all and sundry 
who were too demonstrative in their disapproval. A single 
night of stern treatment gave the conspiracy its quietus, and, 
during the last week of his engagement, Irving not only was 
freed from trouble, but received the applause that was his 
due." During this lively Dublin engagement, Irving played, 
among a variety of parts, Laertes in " Hamlet," Florizel in 
" The Winter's Tale," Frank Friskly in " Boots at the Swan," 
and Didier in "The Courier of Lyons". With his acting of 
the last-named part on 315! March, he bade good-bye to the 

1 W. J. Lawrence, in the Dublin Evening Mail, 2ist May, 1907. 



42 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. m. 

Queen's Theatre, Dublin. He made an excellent impression 
as Laertes, which was pronounced "a clever and judicious 
performance". On 7th April, he joined the company at the 
Theatre Royal, Glasgow. He remained in this position for 
five months. In Glasgow, and in Greenock, he continued in 
the work which fell to the provincial player of that period. 
His most notable performance here was Macduff. During 
his Glasgow engagement, he returned to Edinburgh, for one 
night only Saturday, I2th May the occasion being the 
benefit of his friend Edward Saker. The advertisement of 
this event gave him three lines to himself, it evidently being 
thought that he was worthy of considerable publicity ; he 
played Captain Popham in a popular farce, "The Eton Boy". 
He made many friends during his first visit to Glasgow, 
especially among the newspaper men, one of whom, Mr. W. 
Hodgson, writing in the Fifeshire Journal many years ago, 
recalled a most interesting scene : " It is midnight in the 
supper-room of a hotel in Wilson Street, Glasgow. Around 
the table are frequently a din of friendly voices and the 
laughter of healthy natures. They are those of newspaper 
people with work yet to do and of actors with work just done. 
They have come hither for the indispensable professional 
meal under the auspices of club life. Beside me sits a young 
man with long, glossy black hair, liquid eyes of subdued fire, 
and a great richness of features, which, you observe, are in 
profound repose. We two are the youngest people in the 
group ; and our pleasure it is as the evenings suit to listen 
quietly, and add our timid approbations, to the witty repartee 
as it flashes along, or to the drollery that is tossed about. 
We have so intimately cottoned together as to know that this 
same young man has no disposition to talk except in the 
monosyllable, and in the brief but genial remark when it is 
challenged. He has cut no figure at all on the stage in 
Dunlop Street : an Italian prince in the melodrama of the 
4 Taking of Lucknow ; or Dinna ye Hear It?' has been the 
great achievement in the barbaric pearl and gold of the 
Dunlop Street properties. On the boards there, as in this 



i86o] GLASGOW AND GREENOCK 43 

cosy supper room, in which there are men of made reputations 
(Toole, for instance), he is modestly pleased to take the with- 
drawal seat beside me. As is habitual with mortals who are 
constantly having their destinies wrought out for them, their 
own share subdued in that decree, the severance comes. 
This unobtrusive, strikingly-figured young man goes away 
south with an indomitable purpose in his soul that he had 
never revealed in all our confidences. Our parting was with- 
out ceremony. It was without knowledge ; for the notice to 
sever came suddenly, and amid pre-occupations, I rather 
think, on my side. It was well it was so, for we were deeply 
attached ; and Providence, I have often thought, is kindest 
when not consulting us that there shall be any ceremonious fare- 
well. Six years ago in Dundee I reshook that young man's 
hand ; no longer young, its owner no longer unknown ; no 
longer having raveny hair ; no longer in the back seat, but 
now the hand of the renowned Henry Irving! There was 
change, indeed ; but not in heart, nor in manner, nor in the 
winning smile. Much had occurred in the interval to both 
of us ; but nothing to turn either his head or heart from the 
companion in Glasgow when all the world was before the 
two, and the odds tremendous against the one." 

During the first half of this year, and for long afterwards, 
the memory of the good position which he had, by slow 
degrees, attained in Edinburgh, backed up by the favourable 
verdict of London on his readings at Crosby Hall, helped to 
sustain him through many trials. His experience at the 
Princess's Theatre was disheartening enough in all conscience, 
but to be admonished for three weeks just because he had 
been selected to fill the place of another player, who had been 
dismissed from the theatre, was a poor recompense for 
laborious work. Glasgow and Greenock did not tend to 
improve matters, for, with but the one exception of Macduff, 
good parts did not fall to his lot. Moreover, the slender cap- 
ital with which he had embarked on his career had been in- 
vested, as we have seen, in theatrical "properties," and there 
was not much to be saved out of his salary in Edinburgh of 



44 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. m. 

thirty shillings a week. And, when he left that city, it was 
with flying colours and with high hopes, for he was coming to 
London with a three years' engagement in his pocket. With 
Manchester, the case was different, for it was entirely a 
matter of speculation. 

The story is best told in his own words. Speaking twenty- 
seven years afterwards at a banquet given in his honour at 
the Manchester Arts Club, on 3Oth July, 1887 h related 
this early adventure : " I came all the way from Greenock to 
Manchester with a few shillings in my pocket, and I was ac- 
companied by Miss Henrietta Hodson, now Mrs. Henry 
Labouchere. We had the good fortune to be engaged by a 
dear old friend of mine, Thomas Chambers. Somehow, he 
picked us out and offered us an engagement." This engage- 
ment was for the Theatre Royal, which was controlled by 
John Knowles, a dramatic enthusiast and wealthy man, whose 
manager was Charles Calvert. Irving's opening part in 
Manchester was a small one that of Adolphe, a soldier, in a 
favourite little adaptation called "The Spy, or a Government 
Appointment," the date of his first appearance here being 2Qth 
September, 1860. The bill concluded with the National An- 
them, in the singing of which he also joined. " So you see, 
gentlemen," he continued in his Manchester speech of 1887, 
" that as a vocalist I even then had some proficiency, although I 
had not achieved the distinction subsequently attained by my 
efforts in Mephistopheles. Well, gentlemen, you will admit 
that the little piece from the French and the one-act farce 
' God save the Queen ' was left out after the first night, 
through no fault of mine, I assure you you will admit that 
these two pieces did not make up a very sensational bill of 
fare. I cannot conscientiously say that they crammed the 
theatre for a fortnight. But what did that matter ? We were 
at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, perhaps the finest theatre 
in the kingdom, the manager was a man of substance, and we 
were all very happy and comfortable. By playing as much 
music as possible between the acts, we managed to eke out 
the performance until half-past nine. We could get to bed 



1860] THE AMATORY ALCHYMIST 45 

early, if we chose, for Manchester people, we were told, were 
early people but remember, gentlemen, I am speaking of 
twenty -seven years ago. The next bill of fare at the Theatre 
Royal was ' Faust and Marguerite,' which had been pro- 
duced very successfully a season or two before. This was 
Charles Kean's version of a French melodrama, from which 
Gounod took his libretto of * Faust '. It was in three acts, 
and had four scenes ; and I remember Dr. Faust being trans- 
ported at the end of the play to the bottom of a well amidst 
sulphurous and tormenting flames, which was a deserving re- 
compense for the performance." Other people shared this 
opinion of Irving's about the performance of " Faust," as may 
be judged from the following criticism : " Mr. H. Irving 
was rather too tall to permit of his successfully realising the 
popular idea of a learned doctor, and there was not the least 
of an alchymist which we certainly think there ought to 
have been -about his appearance. He offered a very truthful 
picture of a ' spooney ' youth who was ready to die, and some- 
thing more, for the object of his passion, but the portrait failed 
to recall the original : and the consequence was, that when he 
went ' below,' much more of our pit followed him than the 
author intended he should receive." This "criticism" is a 
little bewildering, for it sets up a curious standard in regard 
to the stature of " learned doctors ". As for the " alchymist," 
a little information as to what should precisely go to the ap- 
pearance of such an individual would, no doubt, have been 
welcomed by the actor. 

"The labour we delight in physics pain," and Henry 
Irving had to labour unceasingly before he made his mark in 
Manchester. During his first season here, he appeared in 
some thirty different characters. On three nights running, no 
less than seven new parts were acted by him. Yet he was 
hardly noticed by the press. We have to go from 27th 
November, 1860 when the Examiner observed that, al- 
though young, he had "material to make an actor" to I3th 
May, 1 86 1, for any allusion to him in the Manchester papers. 
On that date, the same paper, in commenting on a repre- 



46 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. m. 

sentation of a play called " Jacob's Truck," said: "There 
is a word or two due to Mr. Irving for his clever impersona- 
tion of Slipton Stacher. This young actor possesses many 
good qualities Nature has done much for him, and requires 
a grateful return. But he is acquiring habits that will 
ultimately interfere with legitimate progress. Why should 
he be ambitious to imitate the automaton rather than a 
graceful and manly bearing? Nature's idea of a gentle- 
man is not that of a modern 'swell,' with jerking walk 
and stiff neck and spasmodic elocution. Mr. Irving has a 
good presence, an intellectual-looking head and eye, a fine 
sonorous voice, and no slight amount of intelligence. He 
will be an actor if he has resolution to let Nature have more 
of her own way." This genuine criticism is instructive, for 
it shows that those faults in his style which he was after- 
wards accused of having cultivated and exaggerated for the 
sake of notoriety were strongly marked at the outset of his 
career. His peculiar walk had already been criticised ad- 
versely in Edinburgh in 1859. The defect seems to have 
grown with years. But the Manchester critic was wrong in 
one respect. If the jerking walk and spasmodic elocution 
were not in accordance with Nature herself, they were in- 
herent to the man. He did his best to overcome these 
defects, and, if he did not entirely succeed in so doing, he 
made them so subservient to himself, and to his great quali- 
ties, that, in the end, they did not matter. The most curious 
allusion in this criticism is perhaps that to the "fine sonorous 
voice". If Irving's voice ever was really sonorous, many 
years of unceasing toil, and early privations, must have 
robbed it of that quality. He could make it carry, even to 
the day of his death, to the remotest recesses of the theatre, 
but it is impossible for those who saw him in the zenith of his 
career to think of it as sonorous. 

That he strove to profit by the Examiner s criticism is 
proved by the next notice from that paper. This occurred, 
on Qth June, in connection with the first production in Man- 
chester of John Brougham's comedy, "Playing with Fire". 



i86i] HELPFUL CRITICISM 47 

The piece is based upon a series of misconceptions, and 
Irving had to help, in the part of a young married man, in 
the general excitement. " Mr. Irving gave us less of his 
peculiar mannerisms, to which we need not further allude," 
said the Examiner, "and showed in many points that he 
had studied the play, as well as the character of Herbert 
Waverley." It will be seen, from this observant criticism, 
that he had, thus early, become noted for a characteristic 
trait which never left him a thorough knowledge of the 
piece in which he was acting, in addition to the mastery of 
his own part. 

Even at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, there was a 
good deal of acting of the old " penny plain, twopence 
coloured" order. This was not the fault either of the theatre 
or of Manchester. But the members of the stock company 
had to support the various theatrical luminaries who then pere- 
grinated the provinces. Some of these players were given 
to shouting themselves hoarse and thereby splitting the ears 
of the groundlings with their fearsome noise. Irving had 
seen much of this robustious kind of acting in Edinburgh, but 
he was too young to venture out on a line of his own. 
Happily, however, he had in Manchester a mentor who 
was artistic as a manager and natural as an actor Charles 
Calvert, to whom he often acknowledged his indebtedness. 
When he was noticed again by the Examiner, there was 
no reference at all to his mannerisms, but, with the leading 
members of the company, he was praised for his avoidance of 
the faults of the old school. This was on i7th September, in 
reference to a mediocre domestic drama called "The Family 
Secret". The acting of the piece saved it from failure, "and 
in this respect," said the paper in question, "we have not 
often seen actors deserving of more honourable mention. 
Mr. C. Calvert, Mr. Irving, and Miss Annie Ness were each 
and all true to nature, and, consequently, won the respect of 
the judiciously critical, who, in these days, when our leading 
actors are ' tearing passion to tatters, to very rags,' see too 
little of what is genuine in art." This first year in Man- 



48 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. m. 

chester must have been sadly disheartening to the young 
actor ; but the recognition which he won for himself from the 
press at the end of the twelve months had its effect on the 
management inasmuch as he was allotted much better parts 
for the second season. Furlong in " Handy Andy" on 
24th September, and Travers in "The Irish Emigrant" on 
3<Dth September, paved the way for an impersonation which 
brought him considerable, and favourable, comment. This was 
Mr. Dombey in John Brougham's version of " Dombey and 
Son," in which the American comedian, W. J. Florence, and 
Mrs. Florence, appeared as Captain Cuttle and Susan Nipper. 
The cold and stately Mr. Dombey was not the character 
usually associated with Irving, yet at the age of twenty-three, 
be it borne in mind he succeeded, despite the presence of 
" stars " of some magnitude in the cast, in making his rendering 
stand out. H e was * ' very life-like, ' ' said the critical Examiner, 
and, according to the Guardian, he " showed an excellent ap- 
preciation of the character ". A third play by John Brougham 
helped Irving to further success. This was a three-act comedy, 
called " Flies in the Web," which the comedian produced for 
his benefit early in December. He played the principal male 
character, and Mrs. Calvert appeared as a young orphan, a 
Creole, who was handsome and accomplished, and wealthy as 
well. She was not, however, exactly a paragon of perfection, 
for she was imperious, impulsive, passionate, and tyrannical 
a rather curious mixture. Irving played Paul Weldon, the 
possessor of a solitary shilling, "a young man who finds it 
hard work, without special industrial qualifications, to gain an 
honest livelihood". As those were old-fashioned days, it is 
almost needless to say that the impecunious young man 
eventually married the beautiful heiress. What must have 
been much more gratifying to the hero of this story was the 
Examiner s pronouncement that " Mr. Irving, we are glad to 
say, excelled, in our opinion, any of his previous efforts". 
Another impersonation which won him enhanced reputation 
was that of Sir Herbert Denzil in " A Word in Your Ear". 
Various Shakespearean characters were acted by him dur- 



1862] HIS INDIVIDUALITY 49 

ing the season of 1861-62. The majority of these parts were 
played during October, when Edwin Booth visited Man- 
chester : Laertes in " Hamlet," Cassio in " Othello," Benvolio 
in " Romeo and Juliet," Malcolm in " Macbeth," Philip in 
"King John," Orlando in "As You Like It," and Banquo in 
"Macbeth". But he was eclipsed by the "stars" of the 
time, and it was not until he acted Cornelius Nepos, in 
a little play, written by W. S. Hyde, called "The Dead 
Letter," that he was again deemed worthy of extended notice. 
The criticism in the Examiner is notable, for it touched upon 
the actor's individuality: "There are occasions when Mr. 
Irving indicates much intelligence along with a truthful per- 
ception of character, and he has not often been more fortunate 
in this respect than on Thursday evening. Certain portions 
of what he had to do exhibited genuine acting, the true em- 
bodiment of individuality." The same paper had more dis- 
criminate praise for him a month later. On 4th April, Irving 
played Claude Melnotte a favourite part with him in his 
younger days for the benefit of another member of the 
company. " This young actor has shown on several occasions 
during the season talent which may ere long ripen into first- 
class acting," the Examiner remarked prophetically. " Mr. 
Irving's Claude Melnotte, though one might have considered 
the part beyond his powers, deserved the applause so liberally 
bestowed upon him. He delivered many passages with fine 
feeling, and, we have little doubt, surprised many present who 
have only seen him in characters of less importance." 

Despite the advancement which the young actor had 
made in his art, progress in any other direction was painfully 
slow. The year 1862 was a tedious one for him, for he had 
little money and his work was not of an interesting nature. As 
he had already gone through much of the drudgery of the 
stage, he must have found it "weary, stale, flat and unprofit- 
able ". The following year was hardly less dispiriting, and it 
was seldom that the critic of the Examiner had the opportunity 
of noticing him. He had no part in " Our American Cousin," 

in which E. A. Sothern acted in Manchester in April, 1863, 
VOL. i. 4 



50 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. in. 

but he supported him in " My Aunt's Advice," and " confirmed 
an established good opinion, showing that earnest, careful, 
and intelligent study of character which must eventually place 
him in a first-class position". Apart from his work in Man- 
chester, he was never idle. His summer vacations were 
spent in readings at different places. For instance, at the 
Ball Room, Buxton, on 8th August, 1863, " Mr. Henry Irving, 
of the Theatres Royal, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Manchester," 
had "the honour to announce" a dramatic reading of "The 
Lady of Lyons ". He printed a circular for the occasion giv- 
ing extracts from the notices which he had received at Crosby 
Hall in 1859. The reserved seats were two shillings each, 
and the others one shilling, and sixpence. Much courage and 
inflexible determination were required in these trying years. 
But Henry Irving was not of common mould, and he never 
faltered in his high ambition. His provincial probation was 
not yet ended, nor was there any prospect of London in sight. 
It may be imagined that there was little opportunity for 
social gatherings among the members of the company, but 
still there were moments of relaxation from the strict routine 
and occasional hours of jollity after the night's work was done. 
The Titan Club afforded the actors much relief from their 
labours. This social institution owed its origin to the members 
of the Theatre Royal company, and was founded in the 
autumn of 1859. It was, according to its rules, "a literary 
club of a convivial character," and it proved a boon and a 
blessing to its members, and, as actors and authors who were 
visiting the town were admitted to the select circle, it fostered 
a friendly feeling all round. It existed from October, 1859, 
until early in 1864. The members were so poor that they 
could not afford a club-house of their own, and they met at 
an adjacent tavern, the Printers' Arms. Each member was 
designated by a Shakespearean name, and "any brother 
addressing another except by his cognomen " was mulcted in 
the sum of one penny. The first president of the club was 
Thomas Chambers, the treasurer of the Theatre Royal, who 
was called Prospero ; Charles Calvert, named Hamlet, was 



1 862] THE TITAN CLUB 51 

the first vice-chairman ; and the first secretary and treasurer 
was Wybert Reeve. Henry Irving was admitted to the 
Titans a few nights after his first appearance at the Theatre 
Royal. On i6th October, 1860, he was duly introduced, 
and, as Thyrsites, enrolled a member. Why he should have 
selected if, indeed, he had any choice in the matter the 
" deformed and scurrilous " Grecian of " Troilus and Cressida " 
as his cognomen, is a mystery. Nor is it a matter of moment. 
It is of some interest, however, to know that, in December, 
1862, "Thyrsites," in preference to being fined half a crown 
for cash was extremely scarce delivered a "True Ghost 
Story" to his fellow members. The story is remarkably well 
written, interesting throughout, and quite dramatic. It is too 
long for quotation, but the opening sentence may be given : 
"Brother Titans," he began, "having from my earliest re- 
membrances possessed a reverence for good, jolly, hearty 
Saint Christmas, and all his good, jolly, hearty customs, and 
having also an aversion to throw away recklessly the sum of 
two shillings and sixpence, I have endeavoured faintly to 
combine homage to the fine old roysterer aforesaid with respect 
to my conscience, pocket, and the Titan Club ; and accordingly 
have done my best to string together the fragments of an 
anecdote I once heard". 1 Irving spoke with more truth than 
might have appeared on the surface in regard to the forfeiture 
of half a crown, for, out of his salary of three pounds, he 
religiously sent his father thirty shillings each week, and, in 
order to do this, he was obliged to pay frequent visits to a 
pawnbroker's shop. 

Among the members of the Titan Club was Joseph 
Robins, whose cognomen was Dogberry, an actor whose kind- 
ness Irving ever remembered with gratitude. For he told 
of the pathetic incident on more than one occasion, even 
so recently as on the eve of his departure for his last tour in 
America, when, being asked for some Christmas memories, 

1 These particulars are taken from the " History and Proceedings of the 
Manchester Titan Club," edited by Alfred Darbyshire, F.S.A., and related 
by him in the Manchester Herald, 1899-1900. 

4* 



52 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. m. 

his mind went back to these times of semi-starvation and to 
the good-hearted actor whose act of kindness never faded from 
his recollection : "I always like to call to mind the story of a 
poor and unknown actor a story that I may have told before, 
and make no apology for telling again, because it illustrates 
the brotherhood of Christmas by one of those experiences that 
no man should forget. This poor actor went to dine one 
Christmas Day at the house of a comrade who was far from 
affluent except in native kindliness. That invitation was a 
godsend to the guest, who had no other prospects of a satis- 
fying meal, or even of a generous fireside. He found the 
temperature just then most undesirably keen, for somehow 
his salary had left no margin for winter garments. He 
shivered on the journey to his friend's house, and he shivered 
when he went in, though he made believe heroically to have 
stirred up his circulation with an invigorating walk. His host 
gazed at him, fidgetted a little, and seemed unaccountably 
absent 'dried up,' as we actors say in the most elementary 
conversation. Then he looked at his watch, and said : 
' Nearly dinner-time, by Jove ; you'd like to go upstairs and 
have a wash,' and led the way to the bedroom. Hanging over 
a chair was a suit of underclothes, most uncommonly warm- 
looking underclothes, of quite an attractive tint ; and the host 
glanced hastily at them, and looked as if trying to avoid them. 
Then he made for the door, went out, put his head in again, 
and exclaimed, as if by a sudden and rather violent inspiration : 
' Those clothes on the chair, old man upon my word, I think 
you'd better put 'em on. It's deuced cold for the time of 
year, you know.' The good fellow choked on the last word, 
and shut the door quickly, and the poor actor sat down on the 
chair, and burst into tears. One of these two has been dead 
these many years ; he is not forgotten. That gift, which he 
could ill afford, still warms the heart of his old friend, who 
thinks, moreover, that the story is good to tell at any time, 
but especially at Christmas time. Don't you agree with 
him?" 



CHAPTER IV. 

1864-1865. 

Still in Manchester Mercutio Hamlet after Sir Thomas Lawrence 
Hamlet in real earnest Criticisms on the performance Joseph, in 
" Deborah " Hamlet again, Bob Brierley, the Lancashire lad At Oxford 
An encouraging criticism His reminiscences of Manchester Playing 
before the pantomime His Robert Macaire Exposes the Davenport 
Brothers His amusing speech and great success Leaves the Theatre 
Royal At the Prince's Theatre Claudio, Edmund, and the Due de 
Nemours More reminiscences of Manchester His tribute to Charles 
Calvert. 

IF his fortunes did not change considerably for the better 
during the two succeeding years, he at least broke through 
some of his fetters and proved to the Manchester public that 
he was a man of mettle. Early in 1 864, too, he had made a 
hit in the production of " The Colleen Bawn ." In addition to 
the author, Dion Boucicault, and his wife, there was a com- 
pany of actors who were generally esteemed by local play- 
goers. But the hot-headed actor-author spoke harshly of 
them all with one exception. Oddly enough, considering 
that in after years Boucicault was one of the various "dis- 
coverers" of Irving who, as this story will presently show, 
discovered himself he averred that the stock company of 
the Theatre Royal contained only one actor not Henry 
Irving who was worthy of praise. For all that, the Hard- 
ress Cregan of Henry Irving was much liked, and is spoken 
of in terms of praise to this day by old Manchester play- 
goers. Mercutio, in "Romeo and Juliet," brought him ad- 
ditional notice of an acceptable kind, and then, in April, the 
celebration of Shakespeare's birthday enabled him to dis- 
tinguish himself in a remarkable manner. The tercentenary 
of the dramatist's natal day was honoured in Manchester by 

53 



54 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. iv. 

some readings from Shakespeare by Charles Calvert and 
some tableaux vivants. Mrs. Calvert posed as Lady 
Macbeth, and Irving was selected for Hamlet. Thanks 
to his own dark hair and personal appearance, he was en- 
abled to give a remarkable representation of John Philip 
Kemble as he is represented in the famous painting by Sir 
Thomas Lawrence. It is interesting to think of him standing 
thus, attired in the black cloak and the hat with the enormous 
funereal plumes, skull in hand, on the stage of the Manchester 
Theatre Royal on the afternoon of Saturday, 23rd April, 1864. 
Ten and a half years later, he appeared as Hamlet at the 
Lyceum and rose to the foremost place in his profession. 

Even now he was thinking most seriously of the character, 
and, two months after his striking realisation of the Lawrence 
picture, he acted Hamlet in Manchester. Prior to this 
event, however, he had merited and received much praise 
for his performance in a new domestic drama called "Ye 
Merchant's Storye" an adaptation from the French and in 
a dramatic version of Miss Braddon's novel, "Aurora Floyd". 
Monday, 2Oth June, was fixed for his benefit his first in 
Manchester and he selected " Hamlet " for the occasion. 
He had the loyal help of Mr. Calvert as the Ghost and of 
Mrs. Calvert as Ophelia. Mrs. Calvert also supplemented 
the tragedy by acting in a burlesque on "Medea" in which, 
a few nights earlier, she had made a great success. The pit 
and galleries were crowded, and "the boxes contained a good 
muster of Mr. Irving's admirers ". The young actor received 
some kindly criticism on his early he was but twenty-six 
years old impersonation of the Prince of Denmark. The 
criticisms are all the more interesting to look back upon, for 
they were not mere gush. It is evident that the writers in- 
tended to be helpful. The three most important notices 
appeared in the Examiner, Guardian, and Courier. The 
first-named journal said : " Mr. Henry Irving took his benefit 
last night, and drew around him a large number of friends, so 
numerous indeed as to present to him an assurance of the 
respect in which he is held in Manchester, Selecting 



1 864] HAMLET FOR THE FIRST TIME 55 

Hamlet, he took upon himself the arduous task of in- 
terpreting Shakespeare in one of his wonderful creations. 
The attempt was a bold one, but far from being a failure. 
In the more impassioned passages Mr. Irving wanted power, 
more from physical, however, than mental deficiency. Where 
the plaintive predominated the noted soliloquy * to be or not 
to be' for instance again in the advice to the players and 
the other colloquial passages, there was much for com- 
mendation nor should we omit in this estimate the beautiful 
lines commencing 'What a piece of work is man,' the poetry 
of which was finely appreciated by the actor. On the whole, 
it was a performance which exhibited very considerable in- 
telligence, and conscientious study, and well deserved the 
warm applause with which it was greeted." The Guardian 
was not quite so liberal in its praise : " When a man aims 
high, it does not always happen that he strikes high. We 
credit him with the intention, and record regretfully that his 
achievement does not equal it. In the whole range of the 
dramatic art there is no character that requires loftier and 
more varied accomplishments for its efficient presentation than 
that of Hamlet, which was assumed last night by Mr. 
Henry Irving on the occasion of his benefit ; and to say that 
his personation was not such a success as one would wish for 
an intelligent and studious man, is simply to add his name to 
a long list of worthy actors who have done well in other 
histrionic spheres, if they have not shone in the highest. A 
more robust physique than Mr. Irving has is wanted to make 
a Prince of Denmark, and consequently his voice was un- 
equal to the demands which Hamlet makes upon it. 
This is a failing which no art can supply. But study can 
give a greater command over the vocal tones than Mr. Irving 
displayed ; and by more variety in the intonation and greater 
clearness, the deficiency in power may be, as it were, hidden, 
if not compensated. Judging by the applause of a full 
house, our estimate of the hero's part was not endorsed 
by the public. Perhaps Mr. Irving was somewhat unnerved 
at the outset by the earnestness of the welcome that 



56 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. iv. 

greeted him. He was called before the curtain after every 
act." 

Here, it is to be noted, was complaint of his lack of 
physique and deficiency of voice. The latter was no longer 
" sonorous," and it is doubtful if it ever possessed that quality. 
The Courier, although critical, found much to commend : 
" Nothing could be more encouraging than the reception 
given to Mr. Henry Irving last night, when for the first time 
he stepped on the stage in the role of Hamlet ; and, 
throughout the night, a generous sympathy with commendable 
emulation was evinced by a well-filled house, disposed to be 
considerate as well as critical. Having, perhaps, unnerved 
Mr. Irving by an early display of good feeling, it sought to 
reassure him by calling him before the curtain at the close of 
each act. The house knew well Mr, Irving's ability in light 
drama, and scarcely expected an ideal Hamlet from him. 
It knew beforehand that Mr. Irving was unequal physically 
to the expression of the highest tragic power, and it therefore 
judged his efforts by the known strength of the actor, as well 
as by the comparative success which he attained. Sub- 
stantially, it attested that, with a more powerful voice that 
would have accommodated the word to the action, Mr. Irving, 
by repetition, would suit the action to the word in the most 
critical speeches and scenes of the tragedy. He was best, 
and perhaps a little too off-hand and easy, in ordinary dialogue, 
and at times, much too hasty for the development of the plot. 
In the play scene, he was too impetuous in approaching the 
King, who ought to rise discomfited by the play, without 
having its meaning forcibly applied by Hamlet. At other 
times Mr. Irving found it difficult to avoid the gait and mien 
of comedy, or rather fell into it from long usage. Such things 
were to be expected, and they are not mentioned disparagingly. 
Mr. Irving's conception of the character, whilst capable of 
emendation by study, was generally good, and his readings, 
when within his vocal compass, were impressive and effec- 
tive." 

All this was well said, and, as the criticism was discriminat- 



1 864] HAMLET . 57 

ing, it was of service. It is worthy of note that for this early 
impersonation he followed an innovation which had been made 
in regard to make-up by Charles Fechter, who, in March, 
1 86 1, when he played Hamlet at the Princess's, wore 
blonde hair. So, as the idea was thought well of at the 
time, Irving followed it, and adopted a fair wig for his first 
Hamlet. As is well-known, he used his own hair for the 
Lyceum Hamlet. A week after his first performance of 
Hamlet, he added to his local fame by a remarkable inter- 
pretation of the chief male character, Joseph, in a version of 
Mosenthal's drama, " Deborah," in which Miss Bateman 
with whom he subsequently played at the Lyceum had just 
made her mark at the Adelphi. The Examiner was moved 
into observing that it had " never seen Mr. Irving in a char- 
acter that suited him so well, or in which he has done better. 
His make-up was elegant and prepossessing, and his acting 
that of the scholar and gentleman he was intended to repre- 
sent." But he had not finished with Hamlet yet. His first 
performance was so highly appreciated by Manchester play- 
goers that he repeated his rendering on the Saturday night 
following, 25th June. More encouraging still, a third repre- 
sentation was given on Saturday, 9th July, the last night of 
the season at the Theatre Royal. In drawing attention to 
this event, the Guardian noted that the experience gained by 
the actor in the course of the second performance of this diffi- 
cult character "has given Mr. Irving greater power, as it 
always does when availed of by so earnest a student as he is ". 
These few words must have been consoling, and, indeed, 
there was much need of consolation. For the mortifications 
to which the young actor was subjected were by no means 
ended. Irving always spoke most affectionately of Manchester, 
but his experience there was long and trying. He had, 
however, the fortitude to endure it, and he justified his faith 
in himself. 

During the closing of the Manchester theatre, certain 
members of the company played at the Theatre Royal, Ox- 
ford, and Irving won considerable popularity during this 



58 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. iv. 

engagement. The opening programme had "The Ticket- 
of- Leave Man" as its principal attraction, with Irving as the 
hero, Bob Brierley, the Lancashire lad, a character which had 
been taken by Mr. Henry Neville in the original production 
of the drama at the Olympic Theatre on 27th May, 1863. 
Irving also acted Claude Melnotte, Hamlet, and Macduff 
at Oxford. He again wore long flaxen hair as the Prince of 
Denmark. He impressed the audience by the evidence of 
his deep study of the part and his intense earnestness. On 
returning to Manchester, he played Jim Dalton, the bold and 
expert thief of " The Ticket-of- Leave Man," in support of Mr. 
Neville as Bob Brierley, with such effect that he was rewarded 
with praise on all sides. Another success was made by him 
in the production of a three-act drama, by Watts Phillips, 
called "Camilla's Husband". He played the chief part, 
Maurice Warner, a poor, abandoned, ambitious artist, who 
is married for money to a woman whom he binds himself to 
forget. The Examiner was greatly impressed by this imper- 
sonation, the more so as it discovered in the actor a quality 
which it had not previously discerned. "We have always 
credited Mr. Irving with many excellencies," it said, "but we 
will now add another to the list that of genuine pathos. His 
conduct towards the woman who makes him her husband, is 
marked by a nice perception of the probabilities of human 
action in such a position : he shows passion where passion is 
needed, self-respect and manly dignity where the occasion de- 
mands. But there were flashes of feeling at times which could 
only be struck out by a gifted actor, and one who possessed 
a fine sense of the proprieties of expression and suggestion. 
Mr. Irving may have found his true sphere in such parts as 
Maurice Warner. If so, he has only to add the power of 
self-restraint in scenes where calmness, rather than violence 
tells, to reach distinction to which he has, perhaps, scarcely 
hoped to attain." 

These kind words, evidently those of a thoughtful critic, 
appeared on 26th October. It is significant that the next 
notice in Irving's treasured volume is dated in January 




1864] REMINISCENCES 59 



nearly three months later. This is accounted for by the 
change in management of the Theatre Royal. Several ad- 
mirers of Charles Calvert, who had recognised his ability and 
earnestness as actor and producer, had induced him to leave 
the Royal and to take over the management of the newly- 
erected Prince's Theatre. He accordingly opened that house 
on 1 5th October, 1864, with "The Tempest". In the follow- 
ing year, he revived " Much Ado About Nothing" and "A 
Midsummer Night's Dream," and, in 1866, "Antony and 
Cleopatra". As Irving remained at the Theatre Royal, his 
business connection with Calvert ceased. But he always re- 
membered the kindness of his old manager and of his wife. 
Soon after Irving became a member of the company at the 
Royal, Mr. and Mrs. Calvert often brought the young actor 
home to supper a meal which was much needed. "Some- 
times, when the fire in the small sitting-room had gone out, 
they all three adjourned to the kitchen, where the fire was 
still burning, and there, with their chairs in a little semi-circle 
and their feet on the fender, they discussed plays and playing 
till nearly daybreak. . . . Did he reveal, in his looks and 
his talk, the powers that, in years to come, were to sway men 
so forcibly ? Mrs. Calvert says he did not that he was just 
a pleasant, intellectual young man, with no special suggestion 
of power." Irving was for four years under the guidance of 
Calvert. He never forgot his old friend and manager. In 
the year 1881, when he was on tour in the provinces, he was 
entertained at a public banquet in Manchester. Dr. A. W. 
Ward, who was in the chair, made a eulogistic speech in 
proposing the health of the actor. Irving alluded in felicitous 
terms to his association with, and gave some extremely 
interesting reminiscences of his early days in, Manchester. 
"I lived here for five years," he said, "and wherever I 
look to the right or to the left, to the north or the south 
I always find some remembrance, some memento of those 
five years youthful aspirations, youthful hopes, battles 

1 " Reminiscences and Anecdotes of Mrs. Charles Calvert," communi- 
cated by M. H. Walbrook, Pall Mall Magazine, September, 1907. 



6o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. iv. 

fought, battles won, battles lost, early ambitions, and many 
things that fill my mind with pleasure and sometimes with 
pain. But there is one association connected with my life that 
probably is unknown to but a few in this room. That is an 
association with a friend, which had much to do, I believe, 
with the future course of our two lives. When I tell you that 
our communions were very grave and very deep, that our 
friendship was a strong one, and for months and years we 
fought together, and worked together to the best of our power, 
and with the means we had then, to give effect to the art we 
were practising ; when I tell you we dreamt of what might be 
done, but was not done, and patted each other on the back 
and said, * Well, old fellow, perhaps the day will come when 
you may have a little more than sixpence in your pocket ; ' 
when I tell you that that man was well-known to you, and 
that his name was Calvert, you will understand the nature of 
my associations with Manchester. Our lives were separated 
even while he lived, and our intercourse ceased altogether ; 
he was working here and I was working elsewhere. I have 
no doubt you will be able to trace in my own career, and the 
success I have had, the benefit of the communion I had with 
him. 

"W T hen I was in Manchester I had very many friends. 
I needed good advice at that time, for I found it a very diffi- 
cult thing as an actor to pursue my profession, and to do 
justice to certain things that I always had a deep, and perhaps 
rather an extravagant, idea of, on the sum of ^75 a year. I 
have been making a calculation within the last few minutes of 
the amount of money that I did earn in those days, and I find 
it was about ^75 a year. Perhaps one would be acting out 
of the fifty- two weeks of the year for some thirty-five. The 
other part of the year one would probably be receiving nothing. 
Then an actor would be tempted perhaps to take a benefit, 
by which he generally lost 20 or ^30. Any friend of mine 
present who may have thought a little less of me at that time, 
perhaps because of my continuous state of impecuniosity, will 
forgive me when I confess the amount of my earnings. How- 



1864] REMINISCENCES 61 

ever, that time is past, but if there are any odd half-crowns 
that I owe I shall be glad to pay them. I have a very fond 
recollection, I have an affection for your city, for very many 
reasons. The training I received here, which Professor Ward 
has alluded to, was a severe training ; I must say at first it 
was very severe. I found it a difficult thing to make my way 
at all with the audience ; and I believe the audience, to a 
certain extent, was right ; I think there was no reason that I 
should make my way with them. I don't think I had learnt 
enough ; I think I was too raw, too unacceptable. But I am 
very proud to say that it was not long before, with the firm- 
ness of the Manchester friendship which I have always found, 
they got to like me ; and I think before I parted with them 
they had an affection for me. At all events, I remember 
when in this city as little less or little more than a walking 
gentleman, I essayed the part of Hamlet, the Dane, I was 
looked upon as a sort of madman, who ought to be taken to 
a sort of asylum and shut up ; but I found in acting it before 
the audience that their opinion was a very different one, and 
before the play was half gone through I was received with a 
fervour and a kindness which gave me hope and expectation 
that in the far and distant future I might perhaps be able to 
benefit by their kindness. Perhaps they thought that by 
encouraging me they might help me on in the future. I be- 
lieve they thought that, I believe that was in the thoughts of 
many of the audience, for they received me with an enthusiasm 
and kindness which my merits did not deserve." 

The change of management at the Theatre Royal re- 
sulted in Irving's withdrawal from that establishment ere long. 
His three performances of Hamlet, and his successes in 
other parts, notably, Hardress Cregan and Maurice Warner, 
had endeared him to a large section of Manchester playgoers. 
It was, therefore, all the more galling to find that he had 
nothing noteworthy to do from October, 1864, until the 
following January. And then he had to appear in a comedy, 
entitled " Where there's a Will there's a Way," which " played 
the people in " to the pantomime ! Early in February, he was 



62 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. iv. 

still in the same position. A drama called "The Dark 
Cloud," written by Arthur Sketchley, preceded the pantomime. 
He had to act the evil genius of the play, one Philip Austin. 
His personation of this bold, shameless ruffian was hailed as 
the most important, and most meritorious, part of the per- 
formance. Careful preparation and study were manifest 
throughout. And the Examiner was "happy in adding an- 
other testimony to his merits, and to that versatility of talent 
which increases with his years". He never lost heart of 
grace, but worked steadfastly in spite of every obstacle. His 
performance of Robert Macaire was his last character of any 
importance at the Theatre Royal in 1 865. The play was given 
on Saturday, i8th February, before the pantomime. Here 
the natural refinement of his style was somewhat against him, 
and the Examiner did not hesitate to say so : " His ' make- 
up' is capital, and his assumption of gentlemanly ease and 
nonchalance very clever. There are, however, natural ob- 
stacles in the way of Mr. Irving's perfect realisation of the 
brave, bold ruffian of the genuine French stamp. Personal 
instincts of a refined and estimable kind do not easily give 
way in his effort to pourtray the fierce rascality which marks 
Macaire's treatment of his companion, and we observed a lack 
of the dash and vigour which constitute no unimportant items 
of the villain's nature. Coolness there was, and effrontery, 
but not of that devil-may-care sort necessary to throw out the 
prominent features of Macaire. Thus, the earlier portions of 
Mr. Irving's acting were most satisfactory, as requiring less 
energy and greater finish. From those strictures we except 
the death scene, in which he succeeded in producing a natural 
and impressive finale. We ought not to omit a hearty re- 
cognition of the tact displayed in the dance with the village 
girl ; the fine gentleman in rags changing his one glove from 
one hand to the other as his partner changed sides, and main- 
taining his severe politeness to the very close, was quite a 
masterly piece of acting." And the Guardian, which hither- 
to had not been lavish in its praise, found something to say 
in his favour, despite the refinement which it was impossible 



1865] HIS REFINEMENT 63 

for him to overcome entirely : " Mr. Irving has always shown 
that a close study, and conscientious care, have guided him in 
the elocution and action belonging to his part, whatever that 
has been. A certain refinement was so identified with him, 
that to find him assuming the villain was a surprise. Re- 
cently, he excited admiration by his jollity in a rollicking 
character, which yet did not sacrifice his gentlemanliness. 
Now he has made a considerable step ahead, in disclosing the 
versatility of his resources by enacting the part of Robert 
Macaire. Here his refinement is his greatest difficulty ; but 
he has managed cleverly to conceal it, and his excellent dis- 
guise harmonises well with the nonchalant air of the wander- 
ing thief. His dance with the peasant girl is full of oddity." 
The Courier described in detail his rendering of the character, 
winding up with its " sanction to put this down as one of his 
most successful" impersonations. 

Another opportunity for good acting came to him in April 
of this year. He had returned, for a brief engagement, to his 
old manager, Charles Calvert, who was then in the first flush 
of his Shakespearean success at the Prince's Theatre. But 
the reason for his leaving the Royal was forced upon him : it 
was not of his own inclining. Indeed, it was closely connected 
with the high ideal which he had already set himself to attain 
for the stage. Two tricksters, who called themselves the 
Davenport Brothers, had succeeded in gulling the susceptible 
people of England or, at any rate, a large proportion of 
them with so-called spiritualistic seances. In an unhappy 
moment for them, their agent had the audacity to offer a 
hundred pounds to any person who could perform their feats. 
This tempting bait appealed very strongly to a certain needy 
actor called Henry Irving, to a fellow player, Phillip Day, 
and to. Frederick Maccabe, who subsequently became ex- 
tremely popular as an entertainer. It is not recorded that the 
trio ever obtained the hard cash, but they had the satisfaction 
of completely annihilating as impudent a pair of charlatans as 
ever existed. On the afternoon of Saturday, 25th February, 
1865, the Library Hall of the Manchester Athenaeum was 



6 4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. iv. 

filled with some five hundred ladies and gentlemen in response 
to an invitation issued by the performers to a display of " pre- 
ternatural philosophy," in a " private seance a la Davenport." 
The exposure was complete, and Irving obtained a vast 
amount of notoriety through his share in the unmasking of the 
adventurers. The daily papers devoted columns to the affair. 
Process for process, phenomena for phenomena, trick for trick, 
the new " brothers" rivalled their prototypes and amazed and 
delighted their audience. After some people of position had 
been chosen to superintend the binding of the " brothers," 
Irving stepped forward, and in a modest, gentlemanly address, 
stated the object of the meeting. He said that, in common 
with others of his friends, his attention had been called to the 
so-called manifestations of the notorious Davenports ; that two 
gentlemen believed themselves capable of doing under pre- 
cisely similar conditions all that the " brothers" did; that 
the entire affair was the result of skill, tact, and clever mani- 
pulation ; and that the Davenports were no better than show- 
men. Having read several extracts from a pamphlet in which 
it was alleged that spiritualism had been part and parcel of 
the inheritance of the Davenports, he proceeded to introduce 
the new " brothers". In so doing, he made great capital by 
his burlesque of a certain Dr. Ferguson, who had taken part 
in the original seance. The rapid assumption of a wig and 
beard, a few adroit facial touches, a neckerchief of the ap- 
proved sort, and a lightly-buttoned surtout, soon changed the 
actor into an admirable "double " of the renowned " doctor". 
The resemblance was so faithful that it was immediately 
greeted with applause and amusement. He addressed the 
audience with all the serious demeanour of the original, repro- 
ducing the exact tone, accent, expression, and gesture so ac- 
curately as to be " irresistible in their ludicrous likeness to 
nature". His speech was as follows : 

" In introducing to your notice the remarkable phenomena which have 
attended the gentlemen who are not brothers who are about to appear 
before you, I do not deem it necessary to offer any observations upon the 
extraordinary manifestations. I shall therefore at once commence a long 
rigmarole for the purpose of distracting your attention, and filling your in- 



1865] EXPOSURE OF THE DAVENPORTS 65 

telligent heads with perplexity. I need not tell this enlightened audience of 
the gigantic discoveries that have been made and are being made in the un- 
fathomable abyss of science I need not tell this enlightened audience (be- 
cause if I did they wouldn't believe me) (laughter) I say I need not tell 
this enlightened audience that the manifestations they are about to witness 
are produced by an occult power (the meaning of which I don't clearly 
understand) (laughter) ; but we simply bring before your notice facts, and 
from these facts you must form your own conclusions, (hear, hear, and re- 
newed applause). Concerning the early life of these gentlemen, columns of 
the most uninteresting description could be written (laughter). I will 
mention one or two interesting facts connected with these remarkable men, 
and for the truth of which I personally vouch. In early life one of them, 
to the perfect unconcern of everybody else, was instantly and most uncon- 
sciously floating about his peaceful dwelling in the arms of his amiable nurse 
(laughter) while, on the other occasions, he was frequently, with invisible 
hands, tied to his mother's apron strings (renewed laughter). Peculiarities 
of a like nature were exhibited by his companion, whose acquaintance with 
various spirits commenced many years ago, and has increased to the present 
moment, with pleasure to himself and profit to others (roars of laughter). 
These gentlemen have not been celebrated throughout the vast continent 
of America they have not astonished the whole civilised world, but they 
have travelled in various parts of this glorious land the land of Bacon 
(laughter) and are about to appear in a new phase in your glorious city of 
Manchester (laughter). Many really sensible and intelligent individuals 
seem to think that the requirement of darkness seems to infer trickery 
(laughter) so it does (cheers). But I will strive to convince you that it does 
not (hear, hear). Is not the dark chamber necessary to the process of 
photography ? and what would we reply to him who would say, ' I believe 
photography to be a humbug do it in the light, and we will believe other- 
wise ? ' It is true, we know why darkness is essential to the production 
of the sun picture, and if scientific men will subject these phenomena to 
analysis, they will find why darkness is essential to our manifestations 
(laughter) but we don't want them to find (laughter) we want them to 
avoid a common-sense view of mystery (laughter). We want them to be 
blinded by our puzzle, and to believe with implicit faith in the greatest 
humbug of the nineteenth century (loud applause and laughter)." 

The papers were eloquent in their praise of Irving's persona- 
tion. The Guardian was moved to unwonted eulogy, "for 
the happiness of Mr. Irving's burlesque, the smartness of 
his art, and his readiness of repartee, went far to make the 
entertainment the most enjoyable that has been given in 
Manchester for a long time. Again and again, the room re- 
sounded with the heartiest laughter at Mr. Irving's humorous 
sallies, whose fun was heightened by the mock gravity with 
which they were delivered. Mr. Irving thus supplied a great 

intellectual gratification, which, combined with the skilful ex- 
VOL. i. ' 5 



66 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. iv. 

posure of the Davenport humbug by his confreres, made one 
feel that it was a privilege to be one of the invited guests." 

The entertainment aroused such excitement in Manchester 
that it was repeated a week later, this time in the Assembly 
Room of the Free Trade Hall. The doors were opened at 
half-past one o'clock, but, before that hour, the entrance was 
surrounded by an eager group of persons "of highly respect- 
able and influential position in the City," waiting for admission. 
Irving again introduced the mock brothers, and made another 
humorous speech. And, once more, the leading papers gave 
a long account of the clever exposure. Irving had to pay the 
penalty of this success. For the management of the Theatre 
Royal tried to induce him to repeat the entertainment on the 
stage of their play-house. But he considered that such a 
programme was not in keeping with the dignity of a leading 
theatre. His refusal meant his severance with the Royal. 
He did not remain very long with Calvert at the Prince's, 
but he added Claudio in "Much Ado About Nothing," 
Edmund in " King Lear," and the Due de Nemours in 
" Louis XL," to his already long list of parts. The latter 
character brought him many congratulations. It is curious 
to think of Irving, who was now twenty-seven years of age, 
acting the hero of this melodrama in which, years afterwards, 
he made such a great hit as Louis XI. that the play remained 
in his repertoire from that time until the end of his career from 
1878 until 1905. The Examiner was able to speak of his 
impersonation of the bold Nemours in high terms : " it was 
careful, intelligent, well-studied throughout ; the bedroom 
scene," where the avenger "checks his uplifted hand and 
spares the miserable monarch's life, was a masterly display of 
art". This performance closed the season, and, on the even- 
ing of 1 2th April, Irving took a temporary farewell of 
Manchester. As the occasion was announced as his benefit, 
it is satisfactory to know that the large room of the Free 
Trade Hall " never presented a more crowded and animated 
appearance ". Irving was " received with vehement and pro- 
longed cheering" a proof that he had established himself in 



1865] REMINISCENCES 67 

the favour of Manchester playgoers. He recited an address, 
which had been written for him by a local gentleman, Mr. 
Fox Turner, in which the Davenport phenomena were satiric- 
ally alluded to, and then played Captain Charles in Dance's 
comedietta, " Who Speaks First ? " Frederick Maccabe 
gave a selection from his entertainment, " Begone Dull Care," 
and a repetition of the Davenport exposure, with, of course, 
Irving as the "doctor," preceded "Raising the Wind," with 
Irving in his familiar character of Jeremy Diddler. An 
actress, whose recent success at the Hay market Theatre 
will be fresh in the minds of many London theatre-goers, Miss 
Florence Haydon, played in the first item in the programme, 
and her sister, Miss Maud Haydon, acted in both plays. 
The prices of admission, judged by the present scale, were 
very moderate- one shilling for the body of the hall, double 
that sum for the gallery, and four shillings for the reserved 
seats. 

In a speech at the Manchester Arts Club in 1887, 
Irving recalled these early years. They were years of 
struggle, and there was much bitterness in them. But it was 
characteristic of the man that there was no tinge of bitterness 
in his reflections. "Theatrical management in those days 
was not a very complicated business," he said, "there was 
no competition, no over-crowding, no one could say that the 
theatre was not well-ventilated ; but, though the houses were 
dull, we were a merry family. Our wants were few; we 
were not extravagant. We had a good deal of exercise, and 
what we did not earn, we worked hard to borrow as frequently 
as possible from one another. Ah, gentlemen, they were 
very happy days. But do not think, gentlemen, that this 
was always our practice of an afternoon. There was plenty 
of admirable and good work done in the theatre. The public 
of Manchester was in those days a critical public, and could 
not long be satisfied with such meagre fare as I have pictured. 
During the five years of my sojourn in Manchester there was 
a succession of brilliant plays performed by first-rate actors, 
and I must say that I owe very much to the valuable experi- 

5* 



68 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. iv. 

ence which I gained in your Theatre Royal under the 
management of John Knowles. Whether we were all first- 
rate actors, I will not say. We thought so, and were happy 
in that belief. . . . When I first came to your city, art was 
not as potent as it is now. To feel how great a change has 
been wrought, and how far-reaching an influence has been 
exercised, one has only to walk through your art galleries. 
Stage art improved very much in Manchester under the in- 
fluence of Charles Calvert, with his Shakespeare and other 
revivals. Calvert's was a worthy ambition which should 
hardly, I think, be left to purely private enterprise certainly 
in a city like Manchester, with its art schools and encourage- 
ment." Irving's tribute to Calvert in this speech should be 
noted ; also, his advocacy of a municipal theatre a subject 
always dear to his heart. 



CHAPTER V. 

1865-1866. 

Edinburgh again Robert Macaire A friendly criticism and a pro- 
phecy Hamlet at Bury lago and Macduffat Oxford Plays with Fechter 
in Birmingham His poverty there Liverpool, and the Isle of Man 
Liverpool again Amusing criticisms A " sterling actor " Praise from the 
Porcupine His Robert Macaire favourably received Supports J. L. 
Toole in the provinces John Peerybingle His reminiscences of Liverpool 
Acts Rawdon Scudamore Receives three offers from London in con- 
sequence The Ghost, Bob Brierley, and Fouche Leaves the north for 
London, having acted five hundred and eighty-eight parts during his 
apprenticeship to the stage. 

AT the time of his leaving Manchester, Irving was twenty- 
seven years of age. Eight and a half years had passed since 
he joined the theatrical profession, yet he had to endure the 
drudgery of the life of a strolling player for another eighteen 
months, ere he obtained a footing in London. These last 
months of his probation were extremely varied. From Man- 
chester, he proceeded to Edinburgh where, at the Prince of 
Wales's Operetta House, he played Robert Macaire, and in 
"A Dark Cloud" and several light pieces. This was only 
a temporary theatre, better known as the Waterloo Rooms, 
and the appointments were not of the best, as may be im- 
agined from the use in the French drama of " The Roadside 
Inn" of a bottle-basket labelled No. 5 Leith Street, Edin- 
burgh. But the actor triumphed over these minor difficulties, 
and his Macaire was accorded a hearty welcome by his old 
friends. The North Briton was "glad to note the fact of Mr. 
Irving's improved style. He has now been long enough on 
the stage to find out and feel the force of our hints and critic- 
isms of five years ago." Upon the occasion of his playing in 
" An Hour at Seville" (1858) "we predicted that he would 



70 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. v. 

become a useful and good actor, but now we can foresee that 
he will have a career! " This friendly paper lived long 
enough to see its prophecy fulfilled. From Edinburgh, Irving 
returned to Lancashire, and acted Hamlet on Friday, 23rd 
June, at the Athenaeum, Bury. He was supported in the 
male parts with the exception of that of the Ghost by 
amateur actors of Bury and Manchester, the Polonius being 
Mr. Alfred Darbyshire, the well-known architect, who after- 
wards became one of his warmest personal friends. The 
Ophelia was Miss Florence Haydon. The Davenport enter- 
tainment was announced as a conclusion to the bill, but, as 
" Hamlet" did not terminate until half-past eleven o'clock, the 
farce, " My Wife's Dentist," was substituted, with Irving in 
the title role. " Hamlet " was repeated on the Saturday night. 
Irving's greatest hits appear to have been made in the soli- 
loquy at the close of the meeting between Hamlet and the 
players " O, what a rogue and peasant slave ami!"- in 
the conclusion of the play scene, and, above all, in the closet 
scene, in which Hamlet's tenderness to his mother was very 
marked. A few weeks later, at Oxford, he acted I ago and 
Macduff, winning much commendation in both characters. 
Here, again, his tenderness when Macduff learns of the 
murder of his wife and children was much extolled. But it 
is curious to read that the audience was worked up to the high- 
est pitch of enthusiasm in the last act of the tragedy in which 
Macbeth and Macduff are engaged in deadly combat, and 
''during that long and fierce struggle there was incessant 
cheering ". These were the palmy days of the drama. From 
Oxford, he went to Birmingham, where he played from the 
beginning of September until November, at the Prince of 
Wales's Theatre. The local critics seem to have liked his 
Bob Brierley better than anything else, and, although they 
were not impressed by his Laertes, his acting of that char- 
acter nevertheless was sufficiently impressive to induce 
Charles Fechter to make him a tempting offer to join his 
company at the Lyceum. But he was under an engagement 
from which he could not be released, and he was not destined 



1 86s] LIVERPOOL 71 

to reach London until nearly a year later. These Birming- 
ham experiences were extremely trying, as Irving recalled in 
1 897 when, in a speech made at the Clef Club, he referred to 
the poverty which, through no fault of his own, he had to 
endure. 

He went from Birmingham to Liverpool where, at St. 
James's Hall, on the I3th of November, he opened in his old 
part of Philip Austin in " A Dark Cloud". But burlesque, 
followed by farce, was the staple bill of fare. Irving did not 
appear in the former, but he acted Captain Charles another 
familiar part in "Who Speaks First?" and Captain Or- 
mond in "Tom Noddy's Secret". A brief engagement in 
Douglas, Isle of Man, preceded a long season at the Prince 
of Wales 's Theatre a small house, now put to other uses, 
which was a gold-mine in its day where, on the nth of 
December, he acted Archibald Carlyle in a version of " East 
Lynne". Although there was a "star" actress in the cast, 
Irving received very prominent notice for his performance, 
and this despite the fact that the part was little more than a 
lay figure. But he managed to infuse it with life and interest. 
It was noted that he was careful, quiet, and gentlemanly in 
all his actions, and that, without sacrificing the true meaning 
of the character, he gave it an air of reality which, without his 
own personality, it would have lacked. Liverpool at this 
period possessed two critical weekly journals. Their nature 
was sufficiently indicated by their respective titles the 
Tomahawk and the Porcupine. Although they differed in 
many graver issues, they were at one in their liking for the 
young actor. The first-named paper, however, was a little 
vitriolic on occasion. In criticising " Only a Clod," having 
drawn attention in parentheses to a somewhat perplexing state- 
ment " Mr. Henry Irving makes his first appearance for 
the second time at this theatre" it castigated him for his 
defects. Having set him down as "a sterling actor," it up- 
braided him for his disagreeable peculiarities, such as "licking 
his lips, wrinkling his forehead, and speaking through his 
nose". The first of this trio of mannerisms he retained to 



72 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. v. 

the end, especially when speaking in front of the curtain, but 
it is to his credit that he abolished the other two. On another 
occasion, the slashing critic of the Tomahawk opined that 
"he would meet with far greater success if he were more 
himself on every occasion and managed to leave off the 
drowsiness of voice which he patronises and the monotony of 
attitude into which he now and then falls". It had much to 
say in his praise on this and other occasions. It was particu- 
larly favourable to his Philip Austin in "A Dark Cloud" 
which it described as " a remarkable piece of character acting, 
betraying in nearly all cases a surprising amount of study from 
life. Not alone was this noticeable in the nasal voice and 
effective, unexaggerated make-up, but most especially in the 
actions accompanying passages which quite warranted, but 
did not suggest, the filling-up accorded them by Mr. Irving." 
From which it will be seen that he was even then still think- 
ing for himself in his delineation of character. 

Liverpool enabled Irving to renew his acquaintance with 
Charles Mathews, whom he had met five years previously at 
Glasgow, and to cement a friendship which only ended with 
the death of the famous comedian. Mathews produced " The 
Silver Lining" during the second week of his engagement at 
the Prince of Wales's Theatre, and Irving won new honours 
by his impersonation of Arthur Merivale. The daily and 
weekly papers united in his praise and boldly stated that he 
shared the honours of the performance with Mathews. The 
prickly Porcupine analysed his delineation very closely and 
congratulated him " on the artistic vividness and decision of 
his personation. . . . There was something handsomely dia- 
bolic in the fixed sneer on his appropriately pale face ; and the 
almost snarling tone in which he gave some of his most dis- 
agreeable speeches added immensely to their force. ... In 
the case of another actor, it might be found that the mere talk 
of the part was so uninfluential as to give the development 
more than a touch of the ridiculous ; but with Mr. Irving, 
manner, bearing, facial expression, and voice become full of 
alarming suggestiveness." Another remarkable impersona- 



1865] A WILY HYPOCRITE 73 

tion followed immediately. This was Fox Bromley in West- 
land Marston's drama, "The Favourite of Fortune," which 
had been brought out during the previous week in Glasgow. 
E. A. Sothern, then in the height of his popularity, was the 
"star," but he did not overshadow the younger actor. It is 
evident that his capacity for getting at the heart of a character 
was on the increase. "In his hands," the Porcupine said, 
"the character is such a perfect study, down even to the 
minutest details, that we should have been glad to see more 
of him in the course of the piece, and it would have been still 
more interesting if his talk had been as forcible as his make-up, 
or as suggestive as his acting : it seemed a pity to expend so 
much artistic elaboration on a personage of such comparative 
unimportance. From an individual who looked like Mephis- 
topheles in reduced circumstances, with a cross of German 
philosopher and a dash of Fosco, 1 we would naturally expect 
something more than smooth meanness and abject mendi- 
city. . . . He is a remarkable character actor and bestows 
an amount of attention on every part he plays that nearly 
always results in the most unquestioned triumph. In Fox 
Bromley, he was fully equal to his previous notoriety. 
The wily hypocrite was noticeable in every lineament 
of face, form, and voice, and the thin, black moustache 
gave a ghastly grimness to his smile that might freeze the 
blood in the veins of any one over whom the wretch had 
power." 

In those days, the younger members of the stock com- 
pany had to play almost anything for which they were cast 
by the management. The Whitsuntide attraction at " the 
little house in the square" was Burnand's burlesque, "Paris, 
or Vive Lempriere". As OEnone, Irving had an absurd 
part in the representation of which he "displayed as much 
histrionic ability as he invariably does when he has an 
intelligent part to render". He also gave some clever 

1 Count Fosco, in "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins, then 
exceedingly popular. 



74 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. v. 

parodies of favourite players of the day. His greatest triumph 
in Liverpool was in " Robert Macaire," which he played for 
his benefit on 24th May. The Porcupine, having recognised 
the versatility which he had shown throughout the season, 
found that his Macaire "was a Chesterfield and a gaol-bird 
in one, with a dash of Machiavelli, and a dash of Jingle. He 
was merribly miserable, jocosely wretched, and laughed with 
a grim determination and an echo suggesting a gallows- 
shriek." Truly, it must have been an inspiriting performance ! 
However, there was "a great audience"- which was ex- 
tremely satisfactory, considering the circumstances " and it 
roared with jocularity, burst into ringing plaudits, and stamped 
its approval upon every broad touch of nature in the per- 
formance. But for the accident that the end of the season 
had come, Robert Macaire and Jacques Strop might have 
played their tragic comedy, their farcical burlesque of a melo- 
drama, many nights on the same boards ; and the Liverpudlian 
dramatic world have been the wiser and the better for the 
experience." After leaving Liverpool, he played with his 
friend, J. L. Toole, at Newcastle-on-Tyne and other places. 
The principal play of the evening was " Caleb Plummer," in 
which Irving acted John Peerybingle a great proof of his 
versatility and, it was said, realised all the manly, tender, 
and true-hearted attributes of the honest carrier to perfection. 
He also acted Victor Dubois in " Ici On Parle Franfais,"' 
Brown in "The Spitalfields Weaver," and recited the for- 
bidden poem of his boyhood, "The Uncle". 

He invariably spoke of his early days in Liverpool with 
kindly feeling. Within twelve months of his death, at a luncheon 
given by the Lord Mayor, at the Liverpool Town Hall, he 
said : "I have known Liverpool nearly fifty years. I re- 
member it in the days which were for me days of apprentice- 
ship and struggle, but also of considerable buoyancy, stimu- 
lated by the kindness which has culminated now, and in this 
distinguished company. Perhaps I was not quite so buoyant 
in the year 1860 as to anticipate the course that events were 
to take. In that year I spent a fortnight in Liverpool, and 



1 866] MANCHESTER AGAIN 75 

played a modest engagement at the old Theatre Royal. 1 
Five years later, I was here again, and did something or 
other at the St. James's Hall in Lime Street. The eye of 
a young man is sometimes very prophetic ; at any rate, it 
often seems to him in after years that he used to see a long 
way ahead. But I don't think my prophetic eye saw me 
across the gulf which separated St. James's Hall from the 
Town Hall. What I did in Lime Street I have forgotten 
but what other people did, or failed to do, had the effect of 
leaving me to walk about that thoroughfare with a total lack 
of anything tangible to cling to. I must have indulged at 
that time in a good deal of airy speculation. There was 
nothing else to indulge in ; but I am inclined to doubt, my 
Lord Mayor, whether I came down to the Exchange flags, 
and took a good look at the Town Hall, and said to myself: 
' Well, there's a capital lunch, and there's uncommonly good 
company there for me about forty years from now ! ' To 
the uneasy wayfarer in Lime Street there came in that year, 

1865, a stroke of fortune in the shape of a six months' en- 
gagement at the Prince of Wales's Theatre in Clayton Square. 
From that time dates the encouragement I have always 
found in Liverpool encouragement I owe above all to my 
old friend, Sir Edward Russell, one of the very finest critics of 
the drama this country has ever known." 

The dreariness of the struggle in the provinces was now 
drawing to a close. Dion Boucicault, remembering the 
success which Irving had made in the part of Hardress 
Cregan two years previously, offered him an engagement to 
play an original part in his forthcoming drama, ''The Two 
Lives of Mary Leigh". Accordingly, on Monday, 3Oth July, 

1866, he acted the character of Rawdon Scudamore in the 
production of the drama at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester. 
His success was the stepping-stone to London, for he forthwith 

1 This was soon after his first appearance in Manchester. The Theatre 
Royal there being required for Italian Opera, "Faust and Marguerite" was 
transferred for two weeks to Liverpool, where his impersonation of the 
"amatory alchymist" met with considerable favour. 



;6 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. v. 

received three offers for the metropolis from Charles Reade, 
Tom Taylor, and Dion Boucicault. He felt so sure of 
himself now, that when he accepted Boucicault's offer to 
play in Manchester, it was on the understanding that if he 
made a success as Rawdon Scudamore in the provinces, he 
should act the character in the London production of the 
drama. His interpretation of the part was so remarkable 
that it brought the offers of engagement from the three skilled 
judges of acting aforesaid, and he was no doubt wise in de- 
ciding to open in the metropolis in a part in which he knew that 
he could do himself justice. The local press noted that 
Irving, during his year's absence from Manchester, had im- 
proved in his acting " Many indications in his Scudamore," 
said the Guardian, in the course of a long notice of him, 
"show a progress in the capacity to realise and reflect the 
subtle traits which in inferior hands are overlooked or brushed 
aside in a comprehensive generalisation. Mr. Irving never 
neglects the little things which go far to sustain the unity of a 
character, nor does he deal with them with any seeming art. 
Having carefully and closely studied his part, he is simply 
consistent alike in the more marked features and in the lesser 
details. Hence it is that in the new drama he is a thorough 
rogue, and the instinctive shrinking from him is only an 
evidence of the cleverness with which Mr. Irving has suc- 
ceeded in his self-imposed task." This recognition of his 
industry and ability must have been pleasing to him, as a 
reward for his long trial in Manchester. Before leaving that 
city, he played three other parts which were as different as 
possible, yet his merit in all was fully recognised. There 
could hardly be three characters more divergent than the 
Ghost in " Hamlet," honest Bob Brierley in " The Ticket-of- 
Leave Man," or the wily Fouche in "Plot and Passion". 
He delivered the lines of the first-named part, it need hardly 
be said, intelligently, but in a distinct voice which was in the 
approved sepulchral tones of the time. As Bob Brierley, 
he played easily and earnestly, giving assurance from the 
first that he was thoroughly at home in the part, as indeed he 







From a photograph. 



HENRY IRVING IN 1866. 



1 866] TEN YEARS OF TRIAL 77 

was. The chief merit of that performance was his consistent 
and carefully thought out rendering of the character. His 
Fouche, in dress, look, manner, tone in everything in fact, 
was an excellent rendering. 

Exactly ten years passed before he succeeded, thanks to his 
foresight in making the stipulation with Boucicault in regard 
to the production of " The Two Lives of Mary Leigh," ere he 
got a foothold in London. During that strenuous period he 
had accomplished an amount of work which, even to those 
who knew his enormous capacity in this connection, is stup- 
endous. During his first two and a half years on the stage, 
he acted as was first recorded in my "biographical sketch" 
of 1883 tne amazing number of four hundred and twenty- 
eight parts. Between 5th March 1860, and 3oth July 1866, 
he added one hundred and sixty characters to his credit. In 
London he played eighty-three parts, including thirteen Shake- 
spearean ones. The total number of characters which he im- 
personated is six hundred and seventy-one. 1 So that, when he 
came to London, he had a fine record for industry and a reputa- 
tion as an ambitious actor. He had been in the best schools of 
acting the stock companies of Edinburgh and Manchester 
and he had supported some of the foremost players of the day 
including Helen Faucit, Charlotte Cushman, John Vandenhoff, 
Frederick Robson, Edwin Booth, E. A. Sothern, G. V. 
Brooke, and Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Florence. From a personal 
point of view, it was also his good fortune to meet, for the 
first time at Edinburgh, his lifelong friend, J. L. Toole, and, 
at Glasgow, Charles Mathews, who became one of his best 
and staunchest friends. 

That these were ten years of trial and privation, is self- 
evident. Yet he never alluded to them in a complaining 
spirit. When he did recall them, it was only with a fleeting 
thought, or, as in the case of the kindly act of Joseph Robins, 
with tenderness. His sufferings, mental and physical, brought 
out the sympathetic side of his nature and inclined him to a 

1 Charles Macklin played one hundred and fifty-eight parts, David 
Garrick but ninety-three, 



78 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. v. 

" heart of melting charity ". Twenty years after his hard- won 
probation in the provinces, he discoursed at the University of 
Oxford on four great actors of the past. In speaking of 
Edmund Kean, in connection with the early life of that famous 
player, there is no doubt that his own experiences had helped 
him to paint this vivid word-picture : " For many years after 
boyhood, his life was one of continual hardship. With that un- 
subdued conviction of his own powers which is often the sole 
consolation of genius, he toiled on and bravely struggled 
through the sordid miseries of a strolling player's life. The 
road to success lies through many a thorny course, across 
many a dreary stretch of desert land, over many an obstacle, 
from which the fainting heart is often tempted to turn back. 
But hope, and the sense of power within, which no discourage- 
ments can subdue, inspire the struggling artist still to continue 
the conflict, till at last courage and perseverance meet with 
their just reward, and success comes. The only feeling then 
to which the triumphant artist may be tempted is one of good- 
natured contempt for those who are so ready to applaud those 
merits which, in the past, they were too blind to recognise." 
These words, spoken of Kean by Henry Irving, were equally 
true of the latter actor. Even in 1866, his fight was only 
beginning. There were five more years of incessant work 
before him ere London was made aware of his remarkable 
power. 



CHAPTER VI. 

1866-1867. 

Irving begins his London career Stage -manager, as well as actor, at 
the St. James's Doricourt His success in " The Belle's Stratagem " The 
friendship of Charles Mathews Rawdon Scudamore Irving's accuracy in 
costume "The Road to Ruin," and other plays Joseph Surface Robert 
Macaire Plays in Paris with Sothern On tour with Miss Herbert 
Liverpool praises him Leaves the St. James's Engaged at the Queen's 
Theatre, Long Acre His Petruchio severely criticised Miss Ellen Terry's 
reminiscence of this early meeting. 

WHEN Henry Irving made his first appearance at the St. 
James's Theatre his first appearance in London that matters 
adversity seemed to be still his fate. For he had antici- 
pated making this important essay in the metropolis, accord- 
ing to agreement, in a character which he had already 
mastered, that of Rawdon Scudamore. Moreover, he had 
undertaken the duties of stage-manager, so that his anxieties 
were greater than those of the ordinary actor, who has only to 
play his part. There were difficulties in the way of producing 
Boucicault's drama at the opening of the season, and it was 
arranged that the old comedy, "The Belle's Stratagem," 
should be put up as a stop-gap. Oddly enough, out of the 
hundreds of parts which Irving had already acted, Doricourt 
had not fallen to his lot. Yet, on this memorable night of 
6th October, 1866, he came out of the trying ordeal with flying 
colours. Long afterwards, in recalling the circumstances, he 
said : " I was cast for Doricourt, a part which I had never 
played before, and which I thought did not suit me ; and I 
felt that this was the opinion of the audience soon after the 
play began. The house appeared to be indifferent, and I be- 
lieved that failure was conclusively stamped upon my work, 
when suddenly, upon my exit after the mad scene, I was 

79 



8o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vi. 

startled by a burst of applause, and so great was the en- 
thusiasm of the audience that I was compelled to re-appear 
upon the scene, a somewhat unusual thing, except upon the 
operatic stage." He had, in addition to the applause of the 
audience, the satisfaction of receiving most favourable mention 
in a dozen newspapers, and this in spite of the fact that the 
manageress of the theatre, Miss Herbert, naturally came in 
for the larger share of notice in the character of Letitia 
Hardy. The majority of the criticisms gave him credit for 
being easy and gentlemanly. Another pointed out that in 
addition to these attributes, he was handsome, and that his 
acting evinced such a command over the resources of his art, 
such intelligence and innate power, as gave promise of much 
more than mere efficiency as a "jeune premier," rare as such 
efficiency then was. Another paper thought that he wanted 
the courtly air and the dash of polished gallantry " which Mr. 
Charles Kemble is said to have imparted to the character ". 
The same journal went on to remark that, in the difficult 
scene in which Doricourt affects insanity, the actor was so 
successful that he " almost tempted the audience into the 
genuine lunacy of encoring his freak of mock madness " a 
statement so contrary to the fact that not much reliance can 
be placed on the criticism in general. One fair example of 
the general tone of the criticisms will suffice for all: "Mr. 
Henry Irving is a most valuable addition to the St. James's 
company, and we welcome him to London with all sincerity. 
Doricourt's feigned mad scene was most artistically played, 
and quite devoid of exaggeration. Mr. Irving was summoned 
back to the stage in the middle of a scene to receive the con- 
gratulations of the audience." The stage-manager was less 
fortunate than the actor, for he had no opportunity in the 
matter of scenery. The comedy, it was said, "was ex- 
ecrably put on the stage. In four or five different scenes, 
intended to represent interiors of various rooms in gentlemen's 
houses, we had a wing on which was painted a rickety old 
cupboard, surmounted by jam-pots and pickle-jars. On the 
other side was a bit of a cottage ; over the jam-pots hung a 



1 866] LONDON AT LAST 81 

portrait." Still, acting was more important then than scenery. 
During the short run of the comedy, Irving was recalled each 
night in the middle of the act, a compliment which was the 
more remarkable since, as was pointed out in print at the time, 
he was quite unconnected with the management and had no 
friends in the front of the house, beyond the public, to aid in 
this tribute to the efficiency of his playing. 1 

Boucicault altered the name of his drama for London, 
calling it " Hunted Down," and making "The Two Lives of 
Mary Leigh " a sub-title. The villain of the play is Rawdon 
Scudamore, who hunts down the virtuous heroine for three 
acts, and is, of course, duly punished in the end. There was 
not a single note of dissension in the recognition which was 
given to this performance, Irving's ability and emotional 
power more than confirming the favourable impression which 
he had made in the preceding month. And, with another 
twelve critical commendations to add to those on his Doricourt, 
he began to receive some reward for his years of hard work. 
Here, as in the early days in Edinburgh, his attention to the 
details of dress was sufficient to attract attention. " Of Mr. 
Irving's Rawdon Scudamore," wrote one of the chief critics, 
" I find difficulty in speaking too highly. His ' make-up ' and 
general tone indicate precisely the sort of scamp intended by 
Mr. Boucicault. When he is seedy, his seediness is not 
indicated by preposterous rags or by new trousers with a hole 
in them ; his clothes are clothes that are well but not too 
well worn. In the second act, which shows him under more 

1 " In my early days Mathews was a true friend to me yes, and in the 
later days too. I remember when I first went to the St. James's Theatre, 
I went as stage -manager, and there were a lot of old actors there 
amongst them Frank Matthews and Walter Lacy. I was a young man 
amongst these old stagers. I admit to feeling nervous, and was fearful lest 
I might do something which the older men might resent. The first day 
came. All went very nicely, and we were just commencing to rehearse 
' The Belle's Stratagem,' when who should skip on to the stage but Charles 
Mathews ! Stopping the rehearsal for the moment, he rushed up to Frank 
Matthews and Walter Lacy. ' Ah ! Frank, my boy Walter ! one moment. 
My young friend, Irving Frank, Walter. Be kind to him. Good-bye. God 
bless you ! ' And he was gone ! " 

VOL. I. 6 



82 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vi. 

prosperous circumstances, his prosperity does not take the 
form of flashy coats, white hats, and patent-leather boots ; he 
is dressed just as a ' roue ' of some taste (but a ' roue ' never- 
theless) would dress himself. . . . The cool, quiet insolence 
with which he treats his devoted wife the insolence of a man 
who is certain of her love, and wishes he was not is the 
finest piece of undemonstrative acting that I have witnessed 
since I saw Mr. Hare as Prince Perovsky." In several other 
quarters, the Times especially, his performance was noticed 
for his very remarkable ability in depicting, merely by dint of 
facial expression, the most malignant feelings. 1 

" Hunted Down," produced on 5th November, was suc- 
ceeded, on Qth February, 1867, by a revival of Holcroft's 
comedy, " The Road to Ruin ". The chief part fell to Walter 
Lacy, an older and much esteemed actor in light comedy, 
Irving being cast for the dissipated hero, Young Dornton. 
By some papers he was praised for his grace and earnestness, 
in which he was thought to resemble Fechter, but, strangely 
enough, in his eagerness to bring out in strong colours the 
good points of the repentant rake, he was thought, by another 
writer "to miss the elegance and refinement of manner by 
which the part ought to be distinguished. There is plenty of 
remorse and anguish, but no vestige of the dash and brilliancy 
of the man of fashion." The allusion to his success in the 
pourtrayal of remorse and anguish at this stage of his career is 
interesting. He never was "a man of fashion". Holcroft's 
comedy was followed, on 3rd March, by " A Rapid Thaw"- 

l " Seated in a stage-box at the St. James's Theatre during the spring 
of 1866 were a gentleman and lady both distinguished in -letters, and both 
good judges of the art of the player. They were absorbed in the piece 
performed on the stage ; this happened to be ' Hunted Down,' notable for 
Miss Herbert's graceful performance of an ungracious part ; on the present 
occasion specially notable for the appearance with her of Henry Irving, who 
enacted the villain of the play. . . . To the enquiry of the lady in the stage- 
box of her companion ' What do you think of him ? ' the answer came ' In 
twenty years he will be at the head of the English stage '. Thoughtfully 
murmured the lady, ' He is there, I think, already '. The two interlocutors 
in the conversation now recalled were the novelist known as George Eliot 
and George Henry Lewes." T. H. S. Escott, in Personal Forces of the 
Period. 



1 867] WITH SOTHERN IN PARIS 83 

an ominous title! an adaptation by T. W. Robertson, of 
Sardou's " Le Degel," in which he played a fortune-hunting 
Irishman, O' Hooligan. The play failed and was withdrawn 
as speedily as possible. Revivals of ' ' The School for Scandal ' ' 
in which Irving played Joseph Surface and " Robert 
Macaire," in which he again acted the title role, filled in the 
time until the production, on 22nd April, of " Idalia, or the 
Adventurers," a three-act drama partly founded on Ouida's 
novel. Irving played a mysterious being who, in the end, 
turns out to be the father of the heroine, a most desirable 
lady whose " loveliness is such that no man's heart is proof 
against, and her riches are almost as great as her beauty". 
Count Falcon had an excellent dying scene in which he 
cleared the way for the marriage of his daughter, the beauteous 
Idalia, to a passionate young Englishman, a part in which 
Charles Wyndham made his first appearance at the St. James's. 
Irving, it was said, played Count Falcon with much care and 
power, giving a fine picture of a resolute, unflinching man, in 
whose nature so little of good was interwoven ''that what 
was best in nature became almost bad in development "- 
truly, a difficult character. Various performances were given 
for benefits towards the end of the season in May. Irving, 
for his own benefit, repeated his impersonation of Rawdon 
Scudamore, and acted Charles Arundell in " My Aunt's 
Advice," his friend, Sothern, playing Captain Leslie. For 
the benefit of the manageress, " Lady Audley's Secret" was 
produced, with Irving as Robert Audley, and, in aid of a 
charitable performance, he acted Charles Torrens in "A 
Serious Family". 

On 8th July, Irving began his one and only engagement 
in Paris. Sothern, then in the very hey-day of his success, 
appeared at the Theatre des Italiens as Lord Dundreary, 
and among the company supporting him were two old friends 
who had met in Edinburgh, Edward Saker, and Henry Irving 
who played the drunken lawyer's clerk, Abel Murcott 
and the American comedian, John T. Raymond. The 
Parisians did not understand Lord Dundreary, but this lack 

6* 



84 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vi. 

of appreciation did not prevent Sothern and his companions 
from enjoying their visit to the French capital. The change 
of scene must have been a pleasant one for Irving, although 
it was not exactly a holiday. For, early in August, he was 
on tour with Miss Herbert, his repertory including, in addition 
to Doricourt, Joseph Surface, and Robert Audley, Captain 
Absolute in "The Rivals,". Young Marlow in "She Stoops 
to Conquer," and Young Wilding in Charles Mathew's re- 
duced version of Foote's comedy, "The Liar". In such 
critical theatrical centres as Manchester, Dublin, Bristol, and 
Bath, his efforts were received with every appreciation. The 
praise bestowed upon him in Manchester must have been 
particularly gratifying to him. The Courier eulogised his 
Joseph Surface as a conception of a high and uniform type, 
which "well deserved the call which it obtained at the fall of 
the curtain. His polished and courteous manner, veiling the 
intense and heartless selfishness which peeps out from time to 
time, is admirably sustained ; nor is the accidental failure of 
temper in the last scene less artistic or less carefully studied". 
And to be favourably noticed by the Irish Times must have 
been some small consolation for the hisses and jeers of the 
Dublin "boys" of 1860. 

At the end of September, immediately following the tour 
with Miss Herbert, he played a special engagement in Liver- 
pool which gave him further encouragement and strengthened 
him for a disappointment which he met with on his return to 
London in October. The "inauguration of the regular 
comedy and burlesque season" at the Prince of Wales's 
Theatre was marked by the performance of Craven's comedy- 
drama, " Meg's Diversion," with Miss Milly Palmer as the 
heroine, and Burnand's burlesque, " Helen, or Taken from 
the Greek". The former play was not new to Liverpool, 
but it was given much notice in the local press. The philo- 
sophical baronet, Ashley Merton, was warmly praised, and 
what is more remarkable still, the Daily Post ventured on a 
statement and a prophecy which must have given consider- 
able gratification to the writer, whoever he was, if he lived 



1 867] LIVERPOOL'S PROPHECY 85 

until the end of 1871. " Mr. Irving's representation," said 
this critic, "was a strong confirmation of our opinion that he 
is one of the few great actors on the stage. Not that his 
performance had any greatness in it, but for the reason that 
he succeeded in making it as remarkable an assumption as 
the limited area created by the dramatist would allow. He 
seemed superior to his part, and it would be difficult to drive 
away the impression that there is any role superior to him. j 
His rendering was the only one that gave us unalloyed satis-j 
faction." These discerning and prophetic words must have 
been a tremendous help at this important part of his career 
to the ambitious actor. There is no wonder that he always 
thought with kindness and gratitude of Liverpool and its 
people. 

After this brief, but, in his case, successful tour, in the 
artistic sense, at least, he returned to the St. James's Theatre 
under engagement to the American actor, John Sleeper 
Clarke, who, on i6th October, made his first appearance in 
London as Major Wellington de Boots in "The Widow 
Hunt," a slightly altered version of a comedy entitled " Every- 
body's Friend," in which the Major had originally been acted 
by J. B. Buckstone. The light comedy part of Felix 
Featherley was not an advance for the actor whose merits 
as Rawdon Scudamore had won him such an excellent repu- 
tation in London as a character actor, nor was the excitable 
dunderhead, Ferment, in "The School of Reform" in which 
Clarke played Tyke -of service to him. Moreover, as stage- 
manager during the previous season at the St. James's, he 
had received additional remuneration beyond his salary as an 
actor. As this was now refused to him although he had 
returned to the St. James's on the understanding that he was 
to receive the same terms as before he left that theatre. 

While he was performing at the St. James's Theatre, a 
new play-house was opened in Long Acre. This was called 
the Queen's. It stood on the site, and within the walls, of 
St. Martin's Hall, the scene of the first reading in London 
by Charles Dickens. "The Double Marriage," a five-act 



86 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vi. 

drama, by Charles Reade, was the chief attraction on the 
opening night, on 24th October, 1867. This was followed, 
in November, by a revival of " Still Waters Run Deep," which 
held the bill until Christmas week. Then came, on 26th 
December, " Katherine and Petruchio," in w r hich Henry 
Irving and Miss Ellen Terry met for the first time on any 
stage. For Irving had been engaged at the Queen's Theatre 
by Alfred Wigan, who was announced as lessee and manager 
of the new house. The company included, in addition to 
Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Wigan, John Ryder, John Clayton, 
Mr. Lionel Brough, Mr. Charles Wyndham, Miss Carlotta 
Addison, Miss Henrietta Hodson (now Mrs. Henry Labou- 
chere), and Miss Ellen Terry. The position of the latter 
lady may be gathered from the fact that her salary was 1 5 
a week, while Irving's was little more than half that sum &. 
Even Wyndham, a beginner, received 12. " Katherine 
and Petruchio" Garrick's ruthless condensation of "The 
Taming of the Shrew " was a comparatively minor item of 
the programme. For the great feature of the season was the 
popular and he was then extremely popular comedian, 
J. L. Toole. He followed the opening piece of the evening 
in " Doing for the Best " and "The Birthplace of Podgers". 
It is more than probable that he had been instrumental in 
getting Irving engaged at the Queen's, as he was a power 
with the management, as may be imagined from his salary, 
which was the highest of all 32 IDS. a week. Be this as 
it may, the Petruchio of the moment received a severe casti- 
gation from the Times the only criticism which was kept 
by Henry Irving's father. " Mr. H. Irving who made his 
London debut at the St. James's about a twelvemonth since," 
it said, "is a very valuable actor, and the manager of the 
new Queen's has shown great judgment in securing his 
services. His representation of the gamester in Mr. Bouci- 
cault's 'Hunted Down' an excellent piece, never appreci- 
ated according to its deserts and the drunkenness of despair 
proper to Henry Dornton in the latter portion of 'The Road 
to Ruin,' were, in their way, perfect; but Petruchio is just 



1 868] 



PLAYS WITH ELLEN TERRY 



one of those parts which he cannot hit. Those who are old 
enough to recollect the late Mr. Charles Kemble's Petruchio 
will easily bring to mind the gentlemanlike rollick with which 
he carried off the extravagancies of the shrew tamer, showing 
that at bottom he was a man of high breeding, though for the 
nonce he found it expedient to behave like a ruffian. No 
impression of this kind is left by Mr. H. Irving. His early 
scenes are feeble, and when he has brought home his bride 
he suggests the notion rather of a brigand chief who has 
secured a female captive than of an honest gentleman en- 
gaged in a task of moral reform. Moreover, before he takes 
his position as a speaker of blank verse, certain defects of 
articulation require emendation." This was certainly severe, 
but it was holiday time, and the farce was only the first of 
the three pieces on the programme. 

Soon after her performance of Katherine, Miss Ellen 
Terry retired into private life, and she was not seen again in 
public until early in 1874. Her next meeting with Henry 
Irving was at the end of 1878 eleven years after she was the 
Katherine to his Petruchio. In the meantime, as so much 
ridiculous nonsense has been written about this chance ac- 
quaintance in 1867, it is important for the accuracy of stage 
history that it should be borne in mind that in the interim 
since their playing at the Queen's, Henry Irving had attained 
his great position as the recognised head of the English stage. 
The details will be dealt with in their proper place, but it 
should be set down here that, after losing sight of Miss Terry 
at the commencement of 1868, and before he saw her again 
nearly eleven years later, Henry Irving had acted Mathias in 
" The Bells," Charles the First, Eugene Aram, Richelieu, 
Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Richard the Third, Lesurques 
and Dubosc, and Louis XI. Several of these characters 
Mathias, Charles the First, Lesurques and Dubosc, and 
Louis XI. he acted.continually until his death. Miss Terry's 
own evidence in regard to her early association with Henry 
Irving is rather interesting. In her " Stray Memories," she 
says: " From the first I noticed that Mr. Irving worked 



88 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vi. 

more concentratedly than all the other actors put together, 
and the most important lesson of my working life I learnt 
from him, that to do one's work well, one must work con- 
tinually, live a life of constant self-denial for that purpose, and 
in short, keep one's nose upon the grind-stone. It is a 
lesson one had better learn early in stage life, I think, for the 
bright, glorious, healthy career of a successful actor is but 
brief at the best. There is an old story told of Mr. Irving 
being ' struck with my talent at this time, and promising that 
if he ever had a theatre of his own he'd give me an engage- 
ment ! ' But that is all moonshine. As a matter of fact, 
I'm sure he never thought of me at all at that time. I was 
just then acting very badly, and feeling ill, caring scarcely at 
all for my work, or a theatre, or anybody belonging to a 
theatre." 



CHAPTER VII. 

1868-1871. 

Irving recognised as an impersonator of villains His Bob Gassitt, 
Bill Sikes, and Robert Redburn Dickens prophecies that he will become 
"a great actor" Plays the hero for a change Various characters On 
tour with Toole An unsuccessful engagement at the Haymarket His 
marriage Acts in "Formosa" at Drury Lane Gives a recital at Bays- 
water Mr. Chevenix at the Gaiety More praise from Dickens Digby 
Grant, in " Two Roses " A great success in London and the provinces 
Recognised as an actor who could create Recites " The Dream of Eugene 
Aram " And makes a wonderful impression. 

IRVING remained at the Queen's Theatre for over a year, and 
during that time he played three parts which did much to 
enhance his reputation. The first of these was Bob Gassitt 
in " Dearer than Life," the second Bill Sikes, the third 
Robert Redburn in " The Lancashire Lass" a trio of villains 
of different types. " Dearer than Life," a three-act drama by 
Henry J. Byron, was written for J. L. Toole, and, though 
not avowedly indebted to "The Porter's Knot," in which 
Frederick Robson was celebrated, it was very like that play, 
the truth being that both pieces were more or less founded on 
experiences in real life. Toole, who was chiefly known as the 
interpreter of outrageous farce at the Adelphi, was provided 
with a character in which he showed his wonderful command 
of pathos. His Michael Garner was a most admirable 
performance. It is unnecessary to go into the details of the 
plot, but it may be stated that the affectionate, self-sacrificing 
father, Michael Garner, had an only son, Charlie represented 
by Mr. Wyndham who was lured into evil paths by Bob 
Gassitt, a vulgar, dissipated scoundrel a flash, uneducated 
loafer. One notice of Irving's impersonation of this scamp 

was rather curious. It praised him for making " a finished 

8 9 



90 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vn. 

sketch," yet objected to "his hair as improbably long, and 
the gilt buttons on his coat for the waistcoat they are well 
enough are improbably outrageous ; but the portraiture of the 
Champagne Charlie swell, is as striking as it is new, and Mr. 
Irving adds as finishing touches some of those traces of 
amorous passion in the midst of villainy, for which he has an 
especial gift." In another paper, the staid Globe, the repre- 
sentative of Bob Gassitt was very strongly recommended to 
indulge in gagging. " Mr. H. Irving," said this mentor, "has 
a capital part, makes-up effectively, and plays with admirable 
tact and judgment. As a piece of stage portraiture, not 
overdrawn or varied from fact, the character is equal to any- 
thing at present on the boards of the metropolis. The only 
point to which we should like to call the actor's attention is 
the pronunciation. Gassitt is rightly supposed to be illiterate, 
but in some of the scenes Mr. Irving makes him more so than 
in others. The habit of slang is not sufficiently characterised 
as distinct from the ignorance evinced in the manner of 
speech. We suspect there is something w r rong with the 
words, and the actor would do well to examine them with 
this view. 'Gagging,' is a bad habit, but it would be better 
to adopt it than spoil the part. However, the author is at 
hand, and could surely be induced to make some emendations. 
We notice this matter at length because Bob Gassitt is quite 
as good and as important in its way as was the character in 
which Mr. Bancroft kept * Caste ' running at the Prince of 
Wales' so long." The Bancrofts, by the way, had made 
their little house off the Tottenham Court Road it was so 
small that the stage of the present Scala Theatre almost 
covers the entire site a home of domestic comedy, the chief 
apostle of which was T. W. Robertson, the author of " School," 
" Caste," "Ours," and kindred plays. It was considered a 
great compliment to Irving to compare him with the artists 
of this theatre and to compare him favourably. " Mr. Irving, 
like Mr. Mathews, Mr. Sothern, and other eminent artists, 
studies, and studies successfully, in this school of nature ; his 
types are drawn from human nature not stage-nature, as too 



1 868] BILL SIKES 91 

many actors' notions of a part appear to be ; and his im- 
personations, therefore, are truthful and eminently satisfactory. 
Not only in rendering the words and the general 'business,' as 
it is called, is he admirable, but he shows the true perceptions 
of an artist in his knowledge of bye-play. For instance, as 
Bob Gassitt, in his scene with Lucy in the last act, his posi- 
tion before the fire is capital ; more noticeable still is the 
tarrying at the window to make up his mind before breaking 
to her the cruel falsehood he has prepared." The criticisms 
on Bob Gassitt were the longest which he had received 
since coming to London. They were also very favourable, 
and they are the more noteworthy from the presence in the 
play of an established favourite. They point, indeed, to the 
fact that Irving was at last beginning to make himself felt. 
"Dearer than Life," brought out on 8th January, 1868, ran 
for three months. 

His Bill Sikes was another step in his favour. There 
was some little excitement prior to the production on Satur- 
day, the nth April of John Oxenford's dramatisation of 
" Oliver Twist". For there were rumours that a license had 
been refused by the Lord Chamberlain. The Morning Post, 
somewhat unkindly, thought it a pity that " Oliver Twist" had 
been allowed to seethe footlights. "It has only been revived 
to be buried once more, for there seems little doubt that the 
unfavourable verdict of last Saturday night's audience will be 
generally approved by the majority of the public " a verdict 
that was stultified by future events, for Toole was seen in a 
modified version of the piece for many years. His " Artful 
Dodger," however, was not accounted a success at first. 
" Many an admirable actor has made a mistake before now, 
and though Mr. Toole has in this instance made a mistake, 
he is nevertheless an admirable actor. Mr. Irving's * Bill 
Sikes,' on the other hand," continued the Morning Post, 
"was really artistic and good. His make-up closely and 
accurately copied from George Cruikshank was admirable, 
and, except when he awkwardly paced the stage after Fagin's 
denunciation of Nancy, he played the character remarkably 



92 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vn. 

well almost as well, indeed, as he looked it, and that is great 
praise." 

Another morning paper denounced "Oliver Twist" in 
good set terms. It doubted " whether it was wise to secure 
this dramatic novelty, curious and comic as it is, at the risk of 
disgusting the public by a broad delineation of the Sikes 
department of the story. These awakened unqualified dis- 
approval, though the Sikes of Mr. Irving was in its very 
brutishness a fine intellectual study, and Miss Nelly Moore, as 
Nancy, carried the sympathies of the audience as thoroughly 
as Mr. Dickens himself could have desired." Poor Toole and 
some provincial audiences came in for very severe treat- 
ment : " Even Mr. Toole's slangy gaieties as the Dodger 
seemed to surfeit very rapidly, and points of exceeding clever- 
ness, which great audiences in Birmingham, Edinburgh, 
Liverpool, Glasgow, and Belfast are well-known to find end- 
lessly and uproariously amusing, were scanned with a suspi- 
cious and critical air by no means likely to keep up the spirits 
of such a favourite as Mr. Toole, to whom anything but the 
most balmy public favour is an absolutely new experience". 
Thus spake the Morning Star. But it had much to say 
in praise of Bill Sikes and Nancy, as interpreted by Henry 
Irving and Miss Nelly Moore. Nancy <( has always, in spite 
of her cotton gown, and cheap shawl, her curl papers, and 
her street-door key, been a real favourite with the readers of 
the story, and Miss Moore equally retains the sympathies of 
those who see the play. Her acting is full of gentleness, and 
yet full offeree abounding in pathos, and ready, when need 
is, to brighten into humour. As for Mr. Irving, he seems to 
have solved what seemed a difficulty even to Mr. Dickens 
himself, who, in asserting that * there are such men as Sikes, 
who being followed through the space of time and through 
the same current of circumstances, would not give by the 
action of a moment the faintest indication of a better nature,' 
was in doubt ' whether every gentler human feeling is dead 
within such bosoms, or the proper cord has rusted and is hard 
to find'. In the grim brutality of Sikes's face, as realised by 



: 



868] YET ANOTHER VILLAIN 93 






Mr. Irving, there lives a rooted bitterness of loathing for 
himself, his life, his luck, his surroundings, which suggests 
another and not less pregnant explanation of the character, 
for where remorse is truly hopeless the last light of good in 
a man may well have become extinct. It is in the constant 
angry brooding of the villain that Mr. Irving profoundly ex- 
hibits to us a probable source of all his callous and unmiti- 
gated ruffianism." 

Irving's third villain at the Queen's did not give him as 
much scope as either of its predecessors. But, as "The 
Lancashire Lass " had a run of six months, it was useful in 
keeping him before the public for a long time, in a character 
which he acted admirably. The drama was, like "Dearer 
than Life," the work of Henry J. Byron, and it had had a 
preliminary trial in Liverpool during the previous autumn. 
It was produced in London on the 24th July, and Irving 
acted Robert Redburn, an adventurer of most conventional 
pattern a cigar -smoking scamp, " whose rascality is associ- 
ated with the utmost degree of cool audacity, and whose 
heartlessness is displayed by a simultaneous knitting of the 
brows and caress of the moustache ". Both the Times and 
the Daily Telegraph praised the performance, and the Morning 
Star analysed it at great length. It thought Irving "a very 
Disraeli of the genus" adventurer. He "dressed with great 
care and modest variety made-up as to the head, in dealing 
with which most of our actors are exceedingly clumsy, with 
most suggestive, yet most natural significance ingenious in 
those little actions which, while intrinsically unmeaning, reveal 
character and relieve the stress on an audience's attention, 
this admirable actor of polished villains is a most unbounded 
success. Neither he nor his audience were for a moment 
ill at ease. His repose was perfect without languor, his strong 
passages emphatic without effort ; that he was capable of real 
feeling was proved by the volumes of emotion revealed in the 
voice with which, during Clayton's imprisonment, Redburn 
urged his mad suit to Ruth ; that he was incapable of weak- 
ness or soft-heartedness was evident from the aspect of the 



94 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAR vn. 

man as he listened to the description of his own character by 
his would-be accomplice, ' the party by the name of Johnson '." 
The latter character was impersonated by Sam Emery, other 
parts being taken by Mr. Lionel Brough, Mr. Wyndham, 
Miss Henrietta Hodson, and Miss Nelly Moore. Unfor- 
tunately, there is no record of Irving's Bill Sikes having 
been witnessed by Charles Dickens. But the author did 
see him as Robert Redburn, and in discussing " The Lanca- 
shire Lass," on his return from the drama, said : " But there 
was a young fellow in the play who sits at the table and is 
bullied by Sam Emery ; his name is Henry Irving, and if 
that young man does not one day come out as a great actor, 
I know nothing of art ". 

The impersonations of these three typical scoundrels were 
Irving's most marked successes at the Queen's Theatre. But 
he acted several other parts there. On ist June, 1868, he 
played Charles Surface on the occasion of his benefit, the 
cast including Alfred Wigan as Joseph Surface, Mr. Lionel 
Brough as Crabtree, Toole as Moses, Miss Nelly Moore as 
Lady Teazle, Miss Henrietta Hodson as Lady Sneerwell, 
and Mrs. Wigan as Mrs. Candour. Four days later, at an 
afternoon performance, at the Hay market Theatre, in aid of 
the funds of the now defunct Royal Dramatic College, he ap- 
peared as Cool in " London Assurance". It was the season 
of benefits for, on 8th July, Alfred Wigan took his, at the 
Queen's Theatre, with "The Rivals" in which Irving acted 
Faulkland -as the chief attraction. The next production after 
" The Lancashire Lass" took place on I3th February, 1869. 
It was a four-act play, by Watts Phillips, called " Not Guilty ". 
There were villains galore in this piece, and, although one of 
them, a scoundrel who bore a facial resemblance to "an 
officer and a gentleman," might have suited Henry Irving, 
he elected to appear as the typical, long-suffering, virtuous 
hero, Robert Arnold, who, after many adventures by flood 
and field, was eventually proclaimed " not guilty " of a crime 
which he had not committed, and for which he had been sent 
to penal servitude. The drama, even for the unsophisticated 



1 869] A HERO IN MELODRAMA 95 

play -goer of forty years ago, was a little too transparent. The 
story is far too long to be quoted in full. The final scene is 
a fair example of the entire piece. The persecuted heroine 
has just departed when "the false Sir Ormond and Arnold 
enter, the former cynical and self-possessed, the latter full of 
indignant passion. At last, goaded by the sneering insolence 
of his rival, Arnold raises his hand, a short struggle ensues, 
interrupted by the entrance of St. Clair, Alice, guests, and 
others, from the neighbouring croquet lawn, and then the 
false Sir Ormond proclaims Robert Arnold unfit, as a convict 
who had escaped, ten years ago, from Dartmoor, for the 
society of ladies and gentlemen. 'But he was not guilty,' is 
St. Glair's indignant exclamation! 'The real robber was 
Silas Jarrett ! ' cries a voice behind the false Sir Ormond, 
whose sleeve is, at the same time, ripped up to the elbow by 
Jack Snipe, who, with the two rascals, Vidler and the Pole- 
cat, has crept down the stage unperceived. ' Read for your- 
selves,' he cries, pointing to the arm, which is tattooed with 
the words ' Silas Jarrett, traitor ! ' ' This old-fashioned stuff 
was too much even for the innocent theatre-goer of 1869. 
A month later, the chief actors took their benefits at the Queen's 
and their departure therefrom. On i5th March, " She Stoops 
to Conquer " was given by Mr. Lionel Brough for his benefit, 
Irving being the Young Marlow. On the i9th, for his own 
benefit, he appeared as Henri de Neuville in " Plot and 
Passion," supported by Mrs. Hermann Vezin as Marie de 
Fontanges, Toole as Desmarets, Mr. Brough as Grisboulle, 
and Sam Emery as Fouche". During this month he also 
played, at Drury Lane, Brown in " The Spitalfields Weavers," 
for a charity performance, and, at the Queen's, he acted Victor 
Dubois in " Ici On Parle Fran^ais" and John Peerybingle in 
"Caleb Plummer". In the three latter plays he was, of 
course, associated with his old friend, Toole. 

On leaving the Queen's, he accompanied the popular 
comedian on a tour of the provinces and some of the theatres 
in the London district including the Standard and the Surrey. 
In regard to the latter house, Toole refused to book the en- 



96 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. VIL 

gagement at first on account of the manager declining to pay 
Irving's salary. Toole stuck to his friend, and the salary was 
paid. His characters during this tour were varied : Bob 
Gassitt, in " Dearer than Life ;" Bill Sikes ; Brown, in " The 
Spitalfields Weavers;" Victor Dubois, in " Ici on parle 
Fran9ais;" and Peerybingle, in Boucicault's version, then 
called "Caleb Plummer," of "The Cricket on the Hearth". 
It is strange to think of Irving as honest John Peerybingle, 
especially after his late round of villains, but he was praised 
in several papers for his manly, tender impersonation. He 
also recited Bell's poem, " The Uncle," an honour which, it 
will be recalled, had been denied to him in his boyhood by 
the worthy Mr. Pinches. On returning to London, he ap- 
peared, at the Haymarket Theatre, in the production, on I2th 
July, of "All for Money". The regular company was 
away on tour, the season was only a supplementary one, and 
the comedy had a brief life. But, to the few people who 
saw it, it served to increase the good opinion which had been 
formed of the acting of Henry Irving at the St. James's and 
Queen's theatres. He played Captain Fitzhubert, an im- 
pecunious gambler, who marries for money. "When it is 
stated that Mr. Henry Irving plays the part," said the 
Times, "it will be readily believed that a thoroughly artistic 
personation is the result." He was dubbed " the very king 
of fashionable villains" by one organ, while another pro- 
nounced him "absolutely without a rival" in this class of 
character. 

And thereby hangs a tale. " All for Money " was well re- 
membered by Irving, for two special reasons. In January, 
1903, an actress who was well-known in her day, Miss Roma 
Guillon Le Thiere, died, and one of our morning papers 
fell into the mistake, in its obituary, of attributing, not only 
the authorship of "All for Money" to the deceased actress, 
but the responsibility of putting it on the stage. " In July, 
1869," it stated, "she produced at the Haymarket a comedy 
written by herself entitled * All for Money '. The cast included 
Miss Amy Sedgwick, Sir Henry Irving, and Mrs. Stephens." 



1869] 



HIS MARRIAGE 



97 



The paper was hardly damp from the press ere the actor sent 
me a note in which he corrected the statement. He underlined 
the word " produced" in the paragraph and wrote under it: 
" No she did not, she wrote a comedy Miss Amy Sedgwick 
produced it and forgot to pay actors salaries for the last week 
/ was one of 'em " 



~~U<M Mfgeo Cenietorj tomorrow 
at balf-jwst eleYan o'clock. Miss Rorau Guillon 
Le Thiera made her first appearance oa the London 
stage in 1865 at the New Pwoyalty Theatre in 
the character of Emilia in "Othello." Subsequent lj 
she played at the St. Jamas' s, the Lyceum, the Prince of 
Wales', and Drury Lice. In July. 1869, she 
uced at the Haymarkefc a comedy written *Ey" 



herself entitled "AJ1 for Money." The cast included MUa 
Amy Sejilg wick, Sir Henry Irvins:, and Mrs. Stephens. 



I - 



;> 



VA. 

i 
s 




VOL. I. 



98 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. VIL 

There was a very special reason for the circumstance in 
question being vividly impressed on his recollection. For 
financial worry is out of place at all times in the life of an 
artist, but more especially during the honeymoon. And, 
within three days of the production of "AD for Money," 
Henry Irving had married a young and pretty Irish girl, tall 
and fair-haired, Miss Florence O'Callaghan, the daughter of 
Surgeon-General O'Callaghan, a man for whom he had great 
friendship and admiration. The ceremony took place on 
1 5th July, 1869, at the parish church of St. Marylebone ; 
the wedding reception being held at the house of Mr. and 
Mrs. Frank Matthews, Linden Grove, Bayswater. The 
father of the bride was a distinguished man Daniel James 
O'Callaghan, whose eldest brother, John Cornelius, was one 
of the celebrated literary men of Ireland of the last century 
the author of "The Green Book, or Gleanings from the 
Desk of a Literary Agitator ". His father, John O'Callaghan, 
was one of the first Catholics admitted to the profession of 
attorney in Ireland after the partial relaxation of the penal 
laws in 1793. He acquired considerable wealth. Daniel, 
his youngest son, was born in Merrion Square, Dublin, and 
was educated at the Jesuit College of Chongowes Wood, 
County Kildare. After serving in the navy, he joined the 
Honourable East India Company's service in January, 1842. 
He was employed with the Field Hospital of the Army of 
the Sutlej with the 49th Bengal Native Infantry. He was 
also engaged in the Chinese war of 1860, for which he re- 
ceived the medal. In the Indian Mutiny in 1857, he acted 
as Surgeon in Chief Medical Charge of Foot Artillery at the 
siege of Delhi, and was present at the storming and capture 
of the city, for which he received the medal and clasp. Until 
December, 1872, he was the Inspector-General of Hospitals. 
He retired in that year, with the rank of Surgeon-General. 
He died, in August, 1900, at the age of eighty-five. While 
in India, he was noted for his contributions to the press, and 
he was on the staff of the chief Calcutta papers. His wife 
was a Miss Elizabeth Walsh, daughter of Mr. George Walsh, 



1869] 



HIS CHILDREN 



99 



of the Foreign Office, and of King's County family. Miss 
Walsh was remarkable for her intellect no less than her per- 
sonal beauty. 

There were two children of the marriage of Henry Irving 
to Miss Florence O'Callaghan Henry Brodribb, born on 
5th August, 1870, and Laurence Sidney Brodribb, born on 
2 ist December, 1871. In reference to his elder son, Sir 
Henry, in June, 1901, observed a statement in one of the 
Sunday papers, in connection with the death of Dr. Morley, 
brother of Mr. John Morley. The veracious gossiper affirmed 
that the deceased doctor attended the birth of Mr. H. B. 
Irving, an event which was supposed to have occurred in 
Blackburn, and that the actor had spent a winter in the Lan- 
cashire town. Whereupon Irving wrote to me: "The 
truthful paragraphist ! Amusing! I never met him, and 
was never in Blackburn in my life! Harry was born in 
London." The birth of their second 
son also took place in London. In 
three months after that, the parents 
were parted, the husband leaving his 
domicile for reasons which do not 
concern the public, and need not be 
entered upon and taking up his abode 
with the Bateman family, first of all at 
Kensington Gore and then at Rutland 
Gate. He subsequently lived, for a 
little while, in chambers in Bruton- 
street, Bond-street ; he then took the 
chambers in Grafton-street, Bond- 
street, which he occupied, for many 
years, until 1899, when he was advised 
by his doctors to remove to sunnier 

quarters in StrattOn-Street, Piccadilly. ISA GRAFTON STREET, BOND 

It was not until 1879, when a deed DURING i** m silZ 
of separation was entered into between DENCE THERE - 
the actor and his wife, that the final parting came. Lady 
Irving, who survives her husband, had the care of the 




ioo THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vn. 

children until they went to college, and they lived with her 
until they married. 

Irving's celebrity as an impersonator of " fashionable 
villains" next took him to Drury Lane, where, on 5th August, 
he played the villain again a comparatively mild one, but a 
villain still in the production of Boucicault's drama, " For- 
mosa, or the Railroad to Ruin ". The play was condemned as 
being an imitation of a better piece, " The Flying Scud," by 
the same author, and for introducing to the English stage a 
picture of life to which, unfortunately, twentieth-century 
audiences have become habituated. One specimen of the 
denunciation of " Formosa" may be given. The Sunday 
Times the criticisms in which carried great weight protested 
that it had "never been numbered among those who would 
unduly limit the subjects with which art may concern itself. 
We would leave the artist's finger to roam at will over the 
gamut of life, choosing whatever notes produce the fullest 
harmony. But there is no question here of art or harmony. 
To vindicate the production on the stage of such scenes as 
those exhibited in Mr. Boucicault's second act on the ground 
that they are common, would justify a good many things 
dramatists are not likely .to attempt. For God's sake, let us 
leave to the French the exhibition of the sickly splendour and 
sentiment of the life of the courtesan. We know, and will con- 
cede, that when a young man goes with fullest rapidity to ruin, 
infamous women generally aid his fall. We may even allow, 
in truly artistic works, indications of the agencies by which 
the ruin has been accomplished. But to exhibit, at length, 
with however moral a purpose, the nastiness of life in the 
' demi-monde,' is an innovation we see with regret." Despite 
this, and other protests of a similar nature, "Formosa" had 
a run at Drury Lane of one hundred and seventeen con- 
secutive nights. The character played by Henry Irving, 
Compton Kerr, had no distinguishing features. As one 
observant journal was fain to remark, " Mr. Irving has 
played a villain sufficiently frequent to be up in the part. 
He presented, accordingly, in satisfactory fashion, the ap- 



1 869] 



MR. CHEVENIX 



101 



pearance and manner of the high-bred rascal of modern 
days." 

There was really no more to be said. Irving was by now 
a past master in presenting the conventional villains of melo- 
drama. And, as it turned out, he finished with them before 
1870. At that time, he numbered among his personal friends 
a handsome young actor, then a member of the Prince of 
Wales's Theatre, H. J. Montague, and this friendship resulted, 
indirectly, in his engagement at the Lyceum two years after- 
wards. In the autumn of 1869, the two young actors joined 
forces and gave, on the afternoon of Saturday, 23rd October, 
some dramatic readings and recitals at the Westbourne 
Hall, Westbourne Grove, Bayswater. The two friends 
relied entirely upon their own efforts ; they had not even 
the assistance of music. Their interesting programme was 
as follows : 



Reading 
Recital - 
Reading 
Reading 
Reading 

Reading 
Reading 
Recital - 
Reading 



PART I. 

- " Gemini and Virgo " - 

Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

- " The Demon Ship " - 

Mr. MONTAGUE. 
" Waterloo " (Childe Harold) - 

Mr. IRVING. 
1 Paddy O'Rafferty's Say Voyage " - 

Mr. MONTAGUE. 

" Ion " (selection), Act 2, Scene i - 
Messrs. IRVING and MONTAGUE. 

PART II. 



C. S. C. 
Hood. 

Byron. 

Anon. 

Talfourd. 

Shakespeare. 



"Othello" (selection), Act 2, Scene 3 

Messrs. MONTAGUE and IRVING. 
Death of Joe the Crossing Sweeper " (Bleak House) Dickens. 
Mr. MONTAGUE. 
-"The Uncle"- - - - H. G. Bell. 

Mr. IRVING. 

" The Rivals" (selection), Acts 2 and 3, Scene i Sheridan. 
Messrs. MONTAGUE and IRVING. 



Irving's next character, Reginald Chevenix, enabled him, 
once and for all, to get away from the stage villain. A piece 
called " Uncle Dick's Darling" had been written for Toole 
by H. J. Byron. Toole was anxious for Irving to act with 
him again, and the feeling was heartily reciprocated. But 
"Formosa" was still running at Drury Lane, and the new 
play was due early in December. But, very fortunately for the 



102 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. VIL 

subject of this biography, the manager of the Gaiety Theatre, 
John Hollingshead, had "some slight influence" with the 
manager of Drury Lane, F. B. Chatterton, who released his 
"gentlemanly villain" from his engagement. Accordingly, 
on 1 3th December, Henry Irving acted Mr. Chevenixat the 
Gaiety, and made a pronounced success. The play was very 
reminiscent of other works, more particularly, " Doctor Mari- 
gold's Prescription," by Dickens, and the character acted by 
Irving had obviously been modelled on Mr. Dombey. It is, 
therefore, not surprising to find that he made an impression 
that was just as favourable in London as that created by him 
in 1 86 1, when he played Mr. Dombey in Manchester. Mr. 
Chevenix is a conceited, cold, pompous, methodical man of 
the world, with an aristocratic bias. Irving's personation was 
as full of delicate work as one of Meissonier's pictures. His 
make-up with stiff stock and curls, similar to the old "bucks" 
of Cruikshank's middle period was generally recognised as 
a triumph of its kind. "It is the fashion," wrote one critic, 
"to say that Mr. Irving can only play villains. Well, he 
certainly can play villains ; but I know few young actors who 
could so thoroughly interpret, both in appearance and acting, 
the author's meaning in Mr. Chevenix." The Prince of 
Wales, it may be added, was present on the first night, and 
sent for Mr. Toole, to whom he expressed his gratification at 
the performance. Dickens witnessed the play and was 
favourably impressed by Irving's acting, 

After long years of working and watching for his oppor- 
tunity, Irving at last got his chance and took it. His friend, 
H. J. Montague, joined forces with two extremely favourite 
players, David James and Mr. Thomas Thorne, in the 
management of the Vaudeville Theatre, then a new house. 
It was opened on i6th April, 1870, with a comedy, by 
Andrew Halliday, entitled "For Love or Money". The 
part of Alfred Skimmington, "a handsome west-end swell, 
who is currently reported to be worth ,3,000 a year, but 
who has not given his attention very closely to morals," was 
not capable of much development, though Irving was credited 



1 870] DIGBY GRANT 103 

with a carefully finished portrait. Nor was the comedy a 
success. It was succeeded, on 4th June, by a play which 
brought the impersonator of Digby Grant into great promin- 
ence "Two Roses," the work of James Albery, then a new 
writer. The play had its own intrinsic merit, and its general 
interpretation was exceptionally good. The cast, indeed, 
was a strong one, including George Honey, H. J. Montague, 
Mr. Thorne, and Miss Amy Fawsitt all admirable actors 
in addition to Irving. Digby Grant, is the father of the 
" Two Roses," Lottie and Ida, an impecunious gentleman 
who, to the slenderest of purses, adds descent from a noble 
family, with the result which is usual on the stage pride of 
birth and ancestry upon which he frequently descants. In 
the earlier scenes, he is struggling hard, in the face of financial 
embarrassment, to preserve his dignity. But, compelled by 
his inability otherwise to command certain wants and luxuries 
which his tastes demand, he condescends to associate with 
some people who are beneath him in birth, and some amusing 
situations are the result. He suddenly comes into a fortune, 
and at once discards the friends of his adversity and repays 
his obligations by the presentation to each of his former as- 
sociates of "a little cheque". But Nemesis awaits him, for 
it turns out that he is not the rightful heir, and his pride has 
a terrible fall. From this brief outline of the character, it may 
be judged that the part allowed ample scope for elaboration 
by an actor of experience and resource. Henry Irving took 
the utmost advantage of this opening, and London play- 
goers were warm in his praise. So, also, were many of his 
admirers in the country, for, after a long run in the metropolis, 
"Two Roses" was taken on tour, and in Manchester, Liver- 
pool, Bristol, Dublin, and other places, the Digby Grant of 
Henry Irving was greeted with the acclamation of the public 
and the praise of the press. It would take several pages of 
this book to quote a tithe of the laudatory criticisms which 
Henry Irving received for his original rendering of this 
character. But it is necessary to cite some instances by way 
of showing the extraordinary effect which he created. The 



104 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vn. 

Globe, after a careful description of the character said : "It 
is in the hands of Mr. Henry Irving; we need scarcely say 
more about it. As a character actor, Mr. Irving has no 
rival upon the English stage. His delineation of the hollow- 
hearted meanness, the contemptible presumption, and the 
disgusting hypocrisy of Digby Grant is extraordinary. The 




" A little cheque ! " 
DIGBY GRANT IN "Two ROSES". 

tones of the voice betray the character of the man in all its 
varied phases ; and the whole impersonation is at once a work 
of art and a triumph of genius." Another critic considered 
the impersonation "so original in conception and so masterly 
in execution as to enable the artist to take rank among the 
very best actors on the London stage," and a third said : 



i8;o] 



A GREAT ADVANCE 



105 



" He is one of the best character actors on the English stage, 
and he derives immense advantage from the circumstance 
that he is able to speak the English language like an English 
gentleman. His Digby Grant is perfect." This chorus ot 
praise was echoed in the provinces. In short, Henry Irving 
had now attained a position which removed him from the 




" You annoy me very much." 
DIGBY GRANT IN " Two ROSES". 

level of an intelligent, earnest, and painstaking actor. He 
had demonstrated that he had some force of his own which 
separated him from the ordinary run. He could create. He 
could think for himself. 

Now that he had got so far, he determined upon giving 
the public a proof of the real power which he felt that he 



io6 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAR vn. 

possessed. This was on the two hundred and ninety-first 
night of " Two Roses," the occasion being his benefit. After 
the comedy, the author, Mr. Albery, read an address entitled 
4 'Our Secretary's Reply," and Toole once again proved his 
friendship, and acted Robson's celebrated character, Jacob 
Earwig, in " Boots at the Swan," Irving playing Frank 
Friskly. Before the farce, Henry Irving gave his first proof 
in London of his powers as a delineator of tragedy by reciting 
" The Dream of Eugene Aram ". Since that time, thousands 
of people have heard the actor give this recital if, indeed, 
that is the right word to use for what was in effect a magnifi- 
cent piece of acting but it is curious to see what impression 
he created in 1871. This is how the Observer, of 26th March, 
of that year, described this important event in the career of 
Henry Irving: " In other days, when the stage had a 
different history, and supplied other wants, it is not unnatural 
to suppose that an artist like Mr. Irving would have been 
found assisting at one of the large theatres devoted to the 
poetical drama and to classical English comedy. He has 
just the stuff in him which the great actors of whom we read 
must have possessed. He has appreciation, unquestionable 
intelligence, and that great gift of which we see so little now-a- 
days power. Failing to get together for a one-night benefit 
the kind of assistance which would have been necessary for 
one of the old plays, Mr. Irving contented himself with doing 
what he had to do unassisted. He prepared for himself a 
most trying task ; it was to recite Hood's poem of * Eugene 
Aram,' or, rather, to act it. The difficulties attending such a 
task were obvious. An actor comes before the footlights in 
ordinary evening dress, and, without any assistance from 
scenery or properties, makes the audience forget the gentleman 
in evening dress and think only of the conscience-stricken 
man. This recital was nothing like a reading in the ordinary 
sense of the term. It was not what is commonly called a 
reading or a recitation. It was a vigorous and powerful bit 
of acting. The power of the actor soon told home. The 
poem is long, but Mr. Irving soon grasped his audience, and 



1871] RECITES "EUGENE ARAM" 107 

bent it at his will. The description of the murder, illustrated 
by action, was admirably vivid : 

Two sudden blows with a rugged stick, 
And one with a heavy stone, 
One hurried gash with a hasty knife, 
And then the deed was done. 

From this point, on went Mr. Irving sweeping along with the 
irresistible fury of the poem. The horror of the discovery of 
the dead body in the dry river bed was again a powerful 
dramatic point, and the tragic effect culminated in the second 
horror : 

As soon as the mid-day task was done, 
In secret I was there, 
And a mighty wind had swept the leaves, 
And still the corse was bare. 

Here the audience, thoroughly excited, could restrain its ex- 
citement no further, and the theatre rang with genuine and 
thoroughly enthusiastic applause. It was a daring experiment, 
but, as it turned out, thoroughly successful. It was such 
acting as is now seldom seen, and the thought must have 
struck many in the theatre whether, with our little plays and 
pretty sketches, our dainty realisation of every-day life, our 
clever sarcasms, our elegancies and sensation drama, we are 
not losing sight of those great passions, that tragedy of human 
life which it belongs to the actor to interpret." 



CHAPTER VIII. 

1871-1872. 

A deserted theatre The Lyceum taken in order to exploit Miss Isabel 
Bateman Irving becomes a member of the company His own story of 
the engagement The failure of " Fanchette " Alfred Jingle A personal 
triumph "The Bells" Irving insists on its production The manager 
gives way London rings with Irving's great impersonation of Mathias 
Unanimity of the Press " Commendatory Criticisms " The Times and 
other papers write in appreciation "The Bells" acted for one hundred 
and fifty-one consecutive nights The London verdict endorsed by the 
Provinces Irving's Jeremy Diddler described. 

IN the year 1871, when Henry Irving was still playing 
Digby Grant at the Vaudeville, there was a deserted 
theatre which was destined to become famous for ever in the 
annals of the stage. This was the Lyceum, which had been 
in existence as a place of entertainment of one kind or an- 
other since 1772. The actual building in which Irving won 
so many triumphs dated from 1834. The house had an 
extremely chequered career, and, in 1869, it had fallen upon 
such evil days that there was no regular management and it 
was only opened at fitful intervals. In that year, the effects of 
the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks the meetings of which 
had been held in premises adjoining the theatre and con- 
nected with the building were sold by auction. Two comic 
operas were given at the Lyceum in 1870 "Chilperic" on 
22nd January, and " Breaking the Spell" on the 2nd May. 
Both were failures, but the title of the latter piece was 
prophetic, for the theatre had been lying idle for over a year 
when an enterprising American manager, who wished to 
exploit his youngest daughter, took the theatre for that pur- 
pose. With that object, he gathered together a company of 
actors of recognised merit, including the representative of 

108 



1871] AT THE LYCEUM 109 

Digby Grant whom he had seen at the Vaudeville, a visit 
which induced him to exclaim, "that young man should play 
Richelieu " an event which came to pass, under his own 
management, in 1873. There have been so many versions 
in regard to Irving's engagement by Bateman that it may be 
as well to set down, once and for all, the true story, as told 
by Henry Irving himself. " Much against the wish of my 
friends, I took an engagement at the Lyceum, then under the 
management of Mr. Bateman. I had successfully acted in 
many plays, besides the 'Two Roses,' which ran three 
hundred nights. It was thought by everybody interested in 
such matters, that I ought to identify myself with what they 
called * character parts ' though what that phrase means, by 
the way, I never could exactly understand, for I have a pre- 
judice in the belief that every part should be a character. I 
always wanted to play in the higher drama. Even in my 
boyhood, my desire had been in that direction. When at 
the Vaudeville, I recited the poem of * Eugene Aram ' 
simply to get an idea as to whether I could impress an 
audience with a tragic theme. I hoped I could, and at once 
made up my mind to prepare myself to play characters of 
another type to those with which I had hitherto been associ- 
ated. When Mr. Bateman engaged me, he told me that he 
would give me an opportunity, if he could, to play various 
parts, as it was to his interest, as much as mine, to discover 
what he thought would be successful though, of course, never 
dreaming of Hamlet or of Richard the Third. Well, the 
Lyceum opened, but did not succeed. Mr. Bateman had 
lost a lot of money, and he intended giving it up. He pro- 
posed to me to go to America with him. By my advice, and 
against Mr. Bateman's wish, * The Bells ' was rehearsed, but 
he did not believe in it much. When I persuaded the man- 
ager to produce 'The Bells,' I was told there was a prejudice 
against that sort of romantic play. It was given to a very 
poor, but enthusiastic house, and from that time the theatre 
prospered." But we must not anticipate events. 

The Lyceum opened under the Bateman management 



no THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

on Monday, the nth September, 1871. The choice of play 
was not a good one. " Fanchette, or the Will o' the Wisp," 
was an adaptation made by the manager's wife, from the 
German, " Die Grille," which owed its origin to George 
Sands' story, " La Petite Fadette," a stage version of which, 
under the title of "The Grasshopper," had been previously 
seen in London, The occasion, be it remembered, was for 
the debut before a London audience of a young actress whose 
sister, Miss Kate Bateman, made a great success at the 
Adelphi Theatre, in 1863, as Leah. This was Miss Isabel 
Bateman the third of the four daughters of Colonel Bate- 
man : Kate, Ellen, Isabella, and Frances. Henry Irving 
was merely a member of the company engaged to support 
her. The Morning Post, on the morning following the pro- 
duction, congratulated the young player on the result, "for 
probably no actress in modern times ever made a first ap- 
pearance more auspiciously, or more satisfactorily, in every 
respect ". Fanchette derives her nick-name from her uncanny 
appearance, and from the fact that she is the grandchild of a 
reputed witch, Mother Fadette, whose life has been blighted 
by the conduct of Father Barbeau, a rich farmer, who had 
prevented his brother from marrying her. One of old Bar- 
beau's sons, Landry, is the beau of the village, and he falls 
under the spell of the little enchantress, who makes him 
dance with her during the entire evening, on the occasion 
of a festival. 

Landry Barbeau was a thin and unsatisfactory part for 
an actor who had won distinction as the chief representative 
of stage villains, as the pompous Mr. Chevenix, as the proud 
Digby Grant, and who had thrilled a London audience by his 
rendering of the tragic " Dream of Eugene Aram ". It was 
a case of making bricks without straw. Still, little as he had 
to do, he drew credit to himself for the earnestness and 
thoughtfulness of his love-making scenes, and the journal 
already quoted in this connection pronounced him "the best 
actor in romantic drama that we possess ". So far, so good. 
But " Fanchette " was not a strong play, and the intelli- 



1871] ALFRED JINGLE in 

gent young actress was not the attraction which her father 
anticipated. So the piece and the actress were replaced, on 
23rd October, by an adaptation of the " Pickwick Papers," 
with Henry Irving as Alfred Jingle. The version was by 
Mr. James Albery, whose reputation as a playright had been 
made by " Two Roses ". He, no doubt, had the first Digby 
Grant in his mind's eye when he undertook the work, and 
he was criticised very strongly for his deficiencies in attempt- 
ing what was really an impossible task. He was advised 
that he might just as reasonably have called his piece " Pick- 
ings from Pickwick," or " Pictures from Pickwick," as Pick- 
wick, and that a better name for his work would have been 
" Jingle" a suggestion that was adopted at the Lyceum, 
when Irving revived the piece in 1887. Pickwick became a 
secondary character, and there was " a remarkable composite 
reproduction of ' the bedroom scene ' which, by the indiscreet 
efforts of one of the actors to heighten the effect becomes 
offensive to good taste and painfully uninteresting". There 
is no doubt for the documentary evidence is convincing on 
the point that the Alfred Jingle of Henry Irving was the hit 
of the performance. It is only necessary to cite two out of 
the dozens of the criticisms on this performance. The Stan- 
dard, which was not prejudiced in favour of the actor, said 
that the full excellence of Irving's acting was more than 
usually distinguishable. "His grotesque, shabby-genteel ap- 
pearance the dignified serenity with which he pursued his 
ulterior aims his imperturbable impudence and unflinching 
confidence won their way at once to the favour of the audi- 
ence and thoroughly deserved the applause that greeted him 
in every scene and the tumultuous recall that brought him 
before the footlights at the close of the performance." The 
London critic of the Liverpool Porcupine a most exacting 
journal said that the actor was so identified with " the char- 
acter on the first night that over and over again he turned 
minor stage accidents and shortcomings to account, as though 
they were parts of the personation. The facile hands were 
never quiet, the plotting eyes were always glinting, and the 



ii2 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

ready tongue was never at a loss. The actor, to use an 
Americanism, ' went ' for the house, and as completely 
* fetched ' it. All the other characters were completely 
thrown into the shade by Jingle." 

The personal triumph of an actor who had not yet risen 
to fame, in a sketchy part, was not expected to fill the theatre 
at a time when the drama was at a deplorably low ebb and 
theatre-going was out of fashion with the majority of the 
better-class patrons of the playhouse. Something of an extra- 
ordinary nature was necessary to drag the unfortunate Lyceum 
out of the desperate straits into which it had sunk. The re- 
sources of Mr. Bateman were almost at an end. He had 
tried and failed, and, after two months at the Lyceum, he 
thought, as we have already seen, of abandoning his scheme 
and returning to America. It was at this moment that Henry 
Irving stepped into the breach, and, with invincible belief in 
himself, urged upon Bateman the one thing needful to save 
the situation from disaster. This was the production of "The 
Bells," a translation of " Le Juif Polonais," which had been 
offered to him by one Leopold Lewis. The same person had 
already offered the play to Bateman, who had peremptorily 
refused it. This made Irving's fight all the harder. More- 
over, Bateman had in his mind the popular idea of a burgo- 
master, and, looking at the slender figure before him, laughed 
in the actor's face. "You a burgomaster!" he exclaimed, in 
good-natured derision, and would hear no more of the sub- 
ject. The resolution of the actor was not to be shaken. And 
fortune, for once, favoured him in his plans, but in a manner 
which would have caused the majority of men to hesitate and 
then to abandon the project. This was the announcement of 
another version of the same story. Irving felt that it was 
now or never. The most critical moment in his career 
had arrived and he did not falter. He took advantage 
of his opportunity and pressed his suit with renewed ardour. 
The manager, as a last resort, yielded to the earnest en- 
treaty of the actor, and consented to give his views a trial. 
The piece was put into rehearsal, and Bateman went over to 




Photo : London Stereoscopic Co. 

ALFRED JINGLE. 



1871] "THE BELLS" 113 

Paris, where the French play was being acted, to see if he 
could gain any valuable hints for the English production. The 
company thought that Irving was bereft of his senses, but he 
worked assiduously at rehearsals, and the scenery and pro- 
perties were hastily prepared. In the meantime, the spirits 
of all concerned save, only, those of the future Mathias 
were lowered to their utmost limit by the complete failure of 
the rival version on its production, at the Alfred Theatre, on 
Monday, i3th November. 1 This failure only added to the 
determination of the actor to succeed in his cherished idea. 
"The Bells" was produced on Saturday, 25th November, 
1871. Irving's performance of Mathias electrified the audi- 
ence. The spectators on this auspicious occasion were few 
and they had come in a spirit of boredom. Henry Irving 
beat down their coldness and reserve, the theatre re-echoed 
with such applause as had not been heard within its walls for 
many years, and, by the Monday morning, all play-going 
London was aware that a great personality and a great actor 
had come into his hard-won kingdom. 

He had fought for over fifteen years with London as the 
goal of his ambition, and the struggle, long, anxious, and ab- 
solutely unparalleled in the history of the stage, had been won. 
It had been won, fairly and squarely, without any social or 
any other influence, without money, and, as we have seen, 
in the face of prejudice and managerial opposition. To do 
Colonel Bateman justice, it is only fair to say that, having once 
given way in regard to " The Bells," he did all that lay within 
his power for the production. The company was a capable 
one, and the scenery was, for those days, so good that its 
excellence was commented on in the press. He also brought 
over from Paris a conductor who was thoroughly acquainted 
with the music of the play a great assistance. In order 

1 It was called " Paul Zegers, or, The Dream of Retribution " and was 
announced as " a new and original drama," by F. C. Burnand. The burgo- 
master was taken by an actor whose name is now unknown. The Royal 
Alfred Theatre had a varied history, under several names the Marylebone 
and West London, as well as Alfred. 

VOL. I. 8 



ii4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

thoroughly to appreciate the surrounding circumstances, it 
should be noted that "The Bells " was only one item in what 
would be called nowadays "a triple bill". The "star" of the 
company was a comedian, George Belmore, who began the 
proceedings with the farce, " My Turn Next," and also ap- 
peared in the last piece, " Pickwick," the actors in which 
were announced in this order : George Belmore, Henry 
Irving, and E. P. Addison. It will be observed that Irving, 
despite his success as Jingle, was still playing second fiddle 
to the elder actor. "The Bells" changed all that, though 
not at once. In order to fill his house, and save his pocket, 
the clever Colonel adopted a novel plan in regard to the 
opinions of the press. It would have required several columns 
to have published anything like the complete, and favourable, 
comments. So he had a two-inch advertisement, headed 
with " The Bells," and " Mr. Henry Irving," in capitals, 
followed by this announcement: "The Press has, with start- 
ling unanimity, expressed so favourable an opinion of the new 
drama, 'The Bells,' and also of the marvellous acting of Mr. 
Henry Irving in the character of Mathias, that the manage- 
ment would desire to publish in the form of an advertisement 
the whole of the notices. This, however, being impossible, 
Mr. Bateman cannot do less, in acknowledgment of these 
opinions, than to enumerate the papers which have contained 
such unprecedented commendatory criticisms. " The manager 
then gave a list, printed in capitals, in double-column, of the 
forty-one London newspapers which had extended such an 
enthusiastic welcome to the creator of Mathias for Henry 
Irving was, in the French sense, at least, the creator of the 
character. Of this, however, more anon. The papers cited 
by Mr. Bateman for their " commendatory criticisms " of 
Irving as Mathias were the following: 

Athenaeum Daily Telegraph 

Army and Navy Gazette Examiner 

Bell's Life Echo 

Civil Service Gazette Era 

Court Journal Figaro 

Daily News Fun 



1871] "COMMENDATORY CRITICISMS" 115 



Globe 

Graphic 

Hornet 

Illustrated London News 

Illustrated Times 

Illustrated Newspaper 

John Bull 

Judy 

Lloyd's 

Morning Post 

Morning Advertiser 

News of the World 

Observer 

Orchestra 

Pall Mall Gazette 



Punch 

Queen 

Reynolds' 

Shipping Gazette 

Sporting Life 

Sportsman 

Standard 

Sun and Central Press 

Sunday Times 

Times 

Vanity Fair 

Weekly Dispatch 

Weekly Times 

Westminster Papers 



It is not generally known, although the critics of 1871 were 
well aware of the state of the case, that there is a great dif- 
ference between "The Bells," as played by Henry Irving, 
and the original work by Emile Erckmann and Alexandre 
Chatrian. This was intended to be "une simple etude dram- 
atique ecrite sans aucune preoccupation du theitre ". The 
French theatrical managers saw the possibilities of " Le Juif 
Polonais " on the stage, and it was produced at the Theatre 
Cluny in 1869. The original Mathias of the French stage, 
Talien, and his French successors, the elder Coquelin and M. 
Got, made the part that of a prosperous, somewhat easy-going 
Alsatian, whose fears are not very intense, and whose death, 
in accordance with the views of the authors, is attributed to 
too much white wine. This is the more faithful rendering of 
the part, strictly speaking, but a typical, commonplace burgo- 
master would not have been acceptable to the English public, 
and it is not difficult to see why no one had any faith whatever 
in "The Bells" beyond Henry Irving. The manager, as we 
know, produced it against his will, having first refused to do 
so and having laughed in Irving's face at the absurdity of the 
thing. Even when the piece was being rehearsed, Irving's 
fellow players looked at him askance. The failure of the 
version at the Alfred Theatre was, to all but one member of 
the Lyceum company, a depressing incident ; it only stimu- 
lated Irving to his highest endeavour. "Paul Zegers" was 

8 * 



1 16 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

more an adaptation, than a translation, of the French work. 
It had a prologue and it conformed largely to the accepted 
idea of a stage play. It treated the story as a dream, and 
ended happily. The version which had been offered to Irving 
was by a Bohemian of the old, and now defunct, school of 
men who preferred to do hack work for the theatres rather 
than attend to the business into which they had entered. 
Leopold Lewis had been a solicitor, but he abandoned law 
for the pen of the playwright. His version of " Le Juif 
Polonais " is, in general, little more than a translation of the 
original, which is in dialogue. But he altered the end, and 
he varied the termination of the first act. In the original, 
a chance visitor, dressed like a Polish Jew, comes to the door 
of the inn, and Mathias, excited by the visions conjured up 
by the talk about the mesmerist, falls down in a fit and the act 
terminates as Heinrich calls for the doctor. 1 The adaptor was 
criticised in some quarters for this drastic change, it being held 
that the author wished to keep the audience in suspense as to 
their knowledge of Mathias being a murderer or not. This 
treatment applies to a book, but long experience has proved 
that the Lyceum version of the incident a vision seen by 
Mathias of the actual murder is extremely effective. So 
it proved on the memorable night of 25th, November, 1871. 
Mathias was the turning point in Irving's career. He 
literally awoke to find himself famous. The newspapers, as 
we have seen from the managerial pronouncement, united in a 
chorus of praise. The leading authority in dramatic criticism 
in London, the Times, while recalling Irving's service as "a 
valuable actor, especially of bad men in good society," regarded 
his appearance as a tragic artist as a debut. Having given 
a detailed description of the story, it continued: "It will be 
obvious to every reader that the efficiency of this singular 
play depends almost wholly upon the actor who represents 
Mathias. To this one part all the others are subordinate, and 
while it is most grateful to an artist who can appreciate and 
grapple with its difficulties, it would altogether crush an aspirant 

1 " Le medecin . . . courez chercher le medecin." 



i8 7 i] 



LONDON AT HIS FEET 



117 



whose ambition was disproportionate to his talents ; but, re- 
markable for the strength of his physique, Mr. H. Irving has 
thrown the whole force of his mind into the character, and 
works out bit by bit the concluding hours of a life passed in a 
constant effort to preserve a cheerful exterior, with a conscience 



THE BELLS. 
First acted at the Lyceum, 25th November, 1871. 



MATHIAS ... 

WALTER 

HANS .... 

CHRISTIAN - 
MESMERIST 
DOCTOR ZIMMER 
NOTARY 
TONY - 

FRITZ 

JUDGE OF THE COURT - 
CLERK OF THE COURT - 
CATHERINE - 
ANNETTE - 

SOZEL- 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. FRANK HALL. 
Mr. F. W. IRISH. 
Mr. H. CRELLIN. 
Mr. A. TAPPING. 
Mr. DYAS. 

Mr. COLLETT. 

Mr. FREDERICKS. 

Mr. FOTHERINGHAM. 

Mr. GASTON MURRAY. 
Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 
Miss G. PAUNCEFORT. 
Miss FANNY HEYWOOD. 
Miss HELEN MAYNE. 



ACT I. The Burgomaster's Inn at Alsace. ACT II. Best 
Room in the Burgomaster's House. ACT III. Bedroom in 
the Burgomaster's House. Vision, the Court. Period, Alsace, 
1833- 



tortured till it has become a monomania. It is a marked pecu- 
liarity of the moral position of Mathias that he has no confidant, 
that he is not subject to the extortions of some mercenary 
wretch who would profit by his knowledge. He is at once in 
two worlds, between which there is no link an outer world 
which is ever smiling, an inner world which is a purgatory. 
Hence a dreaminess in his manner, which Mr. Irving accur- 
ately represents in his frequent transitions from a display of the 
domestic affections to the fearful work of self-communion. In 
the dream, his position is changed. The outer world is gone, 
and conscience is all-triumphant, assisted by an imagination 
which violently brings together the anticipated terrors of a 
criminal court and the mesmeric feats he has recently witnessed. 
The struggle of the miserable culprit, convinced that all is lost, 
but desperately fighting against hope, rebelling against the 
judges, protesting against the clairvoyant, who wrings his secret 
from him, are depicted by Mr. Irving with a degree of energy 



n8 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

that, fully realising the horror of the situation, seems to hold 
the audience in suspense. On Saturday, it was not till the 
curtain fell, and they summoned the actor before it with a 
storm of acclamation, that they seemed to recover their self- 
possession. Nevertheless, so painful is the interest of the 
scene that, notwithstanding the excellent manner in which it 
is played, we would suggest its reduction to a smaller com- 
pass." 

To hold an audience spell-bound, as Irving did on the 
first night of Mathias, for a full twenty minutes in the last act, 
was a remarkable triumph for the actor whose greatest suc- 
cess hitherto had been the stilted Digby Grant. The 
scene, no doubt, was extremely harrowing at all times, and 
then it was in strong contrast to the theatrical fare of the day, 
which consisted for the most part of cheap melodrama, milk 
and- water comedies, and inane burlesques. The death scene 
was also thought to be too agonising. But there was praise 
in more than the forty odd papers enumerated by the manager 
who, thanks to his having taken the advice of the actor, now 
found himself with restored fortunes. One of the most 
thoughtful critics of that period was Dutton Cook. He was 
then writing in the Pall Mall Gazette. He was, despite a 
certain sympathy with the serious side of the actor's work, 
rather cold in style and measured in his praise. His verdict 
on the first performance of "The Bells" is, therefore, all the 
more interesting. He commended the vision in which the 
murdered man is seen sitting in the sledge, with Mathias 
crouching behind, axe in hand, as he thought the figure of 
the second Jew in the original a disturbing element. The 
play, he says, " was listened to with the most breathless at- 
tention, and extraordinary applause followed the fall of the 
curtain. How far it may secure enduring success remains, of 
course, to be seen. Our audiences have been so long ac- 
customed to flimsy exhibitions upon the stage, that they have 
perhaps forgotten that the British drama once possessed a 
robust constitution that did not shrink upon occasion from the 
distressing or even the appalling. In any case, this tragic 



1871] "A MASTERLY PERFORMANCE" 119 

story of Alsace is well worth seeing, not merely for itself, but 
for the remarkable power displayed by Mr. Irving in the part 
of the burgomaster. Acting at once so intelligent and so 
intense has not been seen on the London stage for many 
years. The earlier scenes may lack repose somewhat, and 
the vision of the trial is certainly protracted unduly, but the 
actor is thoroughly possessed by his part, and depicts its 
agonising fear and passionate despair with real artistic force." 
There was a remarkable unanimity among the critics, not 
only in regard to Irving's impersonation, but in regard to the 
length of the trial scene. This, however, was never altered, 
as it was found that the spectators in front of the curtain 
liked its intensity. It would be easy to fill many pages of 
this book by giving examples of the highly favourable 
criticisms bestowed upon this first performance by Henry 
Irving of the character of Mathias. Such a proceeding, 
however, is unnecessary, for all the notices were of a kind. 
The Athenceum, indeed, blamed the actor for not following 
in the footsteps of the original exponent of the part, who made 
Mathias, in the early scenes, a bright, cheery man giving way 
under depression to the agony of fear and self-accusation. It 
also thought him "much too youthful in appearance for the 
character". Having said so much, it affirmed that, in the 
stronger situations, the actor had "a ghastly power not easy 
to surpass. There is no question," it continued, "that the 
man who could give such portraiture as Mr. Irving afforded 
of the conflict of emotion and passion has histrionic power 
of the rarest kind." This was praise indeed. Such ex- 
pressions as "marvellously fine," "nothing finer has been 
seen for years," "a masterly performance," "great act- 
ing," " histrionic power such as is rarely seen upon the 
modern English stage," and so forth, appeared over and over 
again during the first week of the run at the Lyceum. 
Irving's tragic impersonation captivated the critics, as well 
as the audience, by its intelligence and its intensity. Several 
papers also gave the manager sound advice in reference to 
overworking the creator of Mathias. " Unless Mr. Bateman 



120 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

desires to lose the services of a valuable actor," said the 
Observer on 26th November, "he will soon make some ar- 
rangement whereby Mr. Irving is relieved of the double duty 
of Mathias and Jingle. It is a pity to over-drive a willing 
horse, or to allow the horse to be overdriven." Another 
journal of weight said that " * The Bells ' should ring in 
crowded audiences for many nights to come, and soon 
silence the jingle of such a theatrical atrocity as 'Pickwick'." 
Punch, also, had something to say on the subject. In con- 
cluding a laudatory notice, it said: " 'Pickwick' finishes the 
entertainment at the Lyceum. Mr. Irving plays Jingle. 
This, after Mathias, is an incongruity. It looks like Kean 
' afterwards Clown '. We hear that some one else is to take 
this part in future ; perhaps the change has already been 
made. In any case, we prefer to see Mr. Irving play the 
Bells without the Jingle." For business reasons, no doubt, 
this advice was not taken, and Irving continued to play both 
parts for four months ; and, when a change was made, Irving 
acted Jeremy Diddler instead of Jingle. In fairness to the 
memory of Mr. Bateman, it should be stated that the drama 
was excellently mounted on its first production. There 
is no opportunity for scenic display in "The Bells," but 
everything that was possible was done to give a faithful re- 
presentation of Alsatian life. Button Cook found the cos- 
tumes, stage-fittings, and scenery "of a most liberal and 
costly nature. The mechanical contrivances are perfect." 
The Standard wrote : " Nothing can be better than the 
careful manner in which" the drama "has been put upon the 
stage. The scenery and the mechanical effects are really 
excellent." There are various other allusions in the con- 
temporary press which show that the scenery, for which Mr. 
Hawes Craven was chiefly responsible, was excellent of its 
kind if it did come to grief after twelve years of use, many 
railway journeys, and an ocean voyage, there is nothing 
much to be wondered at in the circumstance. Once the 
American manager had pledged himself to the production of 
the play, he did his best for it. Not only did he give it 




Photo : London Stereoscopic Co. 



MATHIAS, 



1871] MATHIAS A " CREATION" 121 

proper mounting, but as previously related, he brought over 
M. Singla, the leader of the orchestra at the Theatre Cluny, 
who had arranged the characteristic music of the play, and 
the company supporting Henry Irving in his first tragic essay 
in London was a thoroughly competent one. Bateman did 
his best in all these respects. 

To Irving, however, and to no one else, belongs the initial 
credit for the representation of the drama. If it had not been 
for his indomitable will, his persuasive powers, and his profound 
faith in himself, "The Bells" would never have been seen at 
the Lyceum or anywhere else. And, the opportunity once 
gone, it would have been many more weary years ere the 
actor could have got a similar opening. As it was, he had 
risen, at a single step, and ere he was thirty-four years of 
age, to a popularity which never abated during his future 
career, a popularity which lasted from 1871 to 1905 a proud 
record which has no equal in the history of the great actors 
of the English stage. In regard to the means by which he 
first attained fame in the character, it is only necessary leav- 
ing aside, for the moment, his other qualifications to allude 
to his originality. He created Mathias. His impersonation 
of that character differed, not only from the French inter- 
preters of the part, but from the original burgomaster of 
Erckmann-Chatrian. This capacity for thinking for him- 
self was one of his greatest gifts. It was evident in all his 
work. Although he had, on the stage, to interpret the words 
of others, he was always original. This quality in his acting 
was strongly in evidence in his Mathias. In one of his 
earliest addresses on the art of the actor, he alluded to the 
originality which entitled certain members of his profession 
to be considered as creators. He claimed, for the properly- 
equipped actor, that u his favourite traditions have been ar- 
rived at long ago by the study and practice of trained intellects, 
and that the tracks he treads have been marked out with the 
best available skill and judgment, and are the survivals of a 
process by which the stage is constantly effacing, by disuse, 
the mistakes of former times. I am the last man to admire 



122 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

a slavish or even an unthinking adherence to the interpreta- 
tions and conceptions of traditions. My own conviction is 
that there are few characters or passages of our great drama- 
tists which will not repay original study. . . . There is a natural 
dramatic fertility in every one who has the smallest histrionic 
gift ; so that, as soon as he knows the author's text and ob- 
tains self-possession, and feels at home in a part without being 
too familiar with it, the mere automatic action of rehearsing 
and playing it at once begins to place the author in new lights 
and to give the passage being played an individuality partly 
independent of, and yet consistent with, and rendering more 
powerfully visible, the dramatist's conception. It is the vast 
power a good actor has in this way which has led the French 
to speak of creating a part when they mean its being first 
played ; and French authors are so conscious of the extent 
and value of this co-operation of actors with them that they 
have never objected to the phrase, but, on the contrary, are 
uniformly lavish in their homage to the artists who have 
created on the boards the parts which they themselves have 
created on paper." It can hardly be contended that the con- 
science-haunted murderer of Erckmann-Chatrian is a great 
conception, but Mathias was made a great character by 
Henry Irving's interpretation. 

So attractive was "The Bells" during its first season at 
the Lyceum that it was played one hundred and fifty-one 
consecutive times. Not only did it fill the popular parts of 
the house, but it drew all literary and artistic London to 
Wellington Street. Among the many judges of the highest 
work in dramatic art who felt the power for good possessed 
by the new actor was the Earl of Lytton, then in his sixty-ninth 
year. The author of " The Lady of Lyons " and " Richelieu " 
wrote that Irving's personation "was too admirable not to be 
appreciated by every competent judge of art. It will," he 
continued, "be a sure good fortune to any dramatic author to 
obtain his representation in some leading part worthy of his 
study and suited to his powers." The actor was always 
proud of the compliment paid to him at this early stage of his 



1872] <( THE BELLS" ON TOUR 123 

London career by Mrs. Sartoris (Miss Adelaide Kemble), 1 
who said that he reminded her of the most famous members of 
her family. She begged him, with great earnestness, to de- 
vote himself to the higher walks of the drama. Despite this 
artistic, and enormously popular, success, Henry Irving was still 
playing in another piece as well as in " The Bells " in 1872 for, 
in March of that year, " Pickwick" was replaced by " Raising 
the Wind". This old farce by James Kenney it had been 
first produced at Covent Garden in 1803, w ^ tn "Gentleman" 
Lewis 2 as Jeremy Diddler, the character now taken by the 
creator of Mathias was certainly an antidote to the horrors of 
"The Bells," for Irving's acting kept the audience in roars of 
laughter. It was played until the last night of the season, 1 7th 
May, 1872. 

The natural result of the great excitement caused by 
Irving's fascinating acting in "The Bells" was a tour of the 
principal towns in the provinces, where he was received with 
extraordinary enthusiasm. Some of the highest praise 
awarded to him was in places where he had acted in less 
happy days. His impersonation was received in Manchester 
with great appreciation. The Courier found that, as Mathias, 
he reached a height of artistic excellence such as had not, in 
living memory, "been approached by any other actor. . . . 
It is impossible to say that any one of Mr. Irving's scenes is 
over-done, and it is worth while to contemplate the profundity 
with which all have been conceived and the terrible truthful- 
ness with which they are interpreted. ... It will be gathered 
from these remarks that 'The Bells,' if not a pleasing drama 
in the ordinary acceptation of the term, supplies a medium 

1 Younger daughter of Charles Kemble (1775-1854), a famous Falstaff 
and Mercutio, and niece of John Philip Kemble (1757-1823), the great 
actor of the classical, or declamatory, school. Her sister, Frances Anne, 
" Fanny " (1809-1893), afterwards Mrs. Butler, was famous as Mrs. Haller, 
Lady Macbeth, Constance, Portia, Queen Katherine, etc. Mrs. Sartoris 
died in 1879, at tne a ge of sixty-five. 

2 William Thomas Lewis (1748-1811). The original Doricourt and 
Faulkland, as well as Jeremy Diddler ; deputy manager of Covent Garden, 
1782-1804; lessee of the Liverpool theatre, 1803, until his death. Played 
a large number of comedy parts. 



i2 4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

whereby a powerful actor is enabled to present a terrible view 
of the consequences inseparable from the worst of crimes, and 
the excellence of Mr. Irving's acting becomes apparent 'only 
as the spectator is able to enter into his views of the character, 
and to estimate the skill with which it is presented. We are 
ourselves fully impressed with the belief that Mr. Irving has 
in this extraordinary role accomplished a triumph in his art, 
the result of which will be recognised hereafter in displays 
more congenial it may be to recognised taste, but not less 
powerful in design and realisation." But the greatest praise 
came from Liverpool, where he played Mathias for three 
weeks in the month of June, acting, in addition, Jingle during 
the first six nights, and Jeremy Diddler during the last week. 
He was rewarded in all the local papers with full, critical, and 
most appreciative criticisms. In fact, the Liverpool critics 
vied with each other in giving recognition to his work. The 
morning journals had reviews which were as exhaustive as in- 
telligent, the Daily Post and the Courier each giving a column 
of careful criticism. It is impossible, on account of their length, 
to cite more than a representative example from each notice. 
The fame of Irving's great performance in "The Bells" 
having preceded him, he would have been honoured on this 
account alone by the remarkable demonstration "which 
greeted him when he came on the stage," said the Daily Post, 
"even if he had not been one of the most popular actors by 
whom Liverpool is visited. He was destined, however, to 
enjoy more conspicuous and unmistakable marks of success. 
After each act he was recalled, and after two of the three he 
had to appear a second time, so great was the enthusiasm of 
the audience. This honour, rarely paid to an actor" for 
calls in those days were hardly earned and seldom granted 
" was the reward and due of a piece of tragedy almost unique 
in these times, and scarcely excelled in any past triumphs of 
the stage. Comparisons are of all things most odious to 
artists, and we will, therefore, only say in general terms that 
in marvellous intensity and vividness, and in the powerful 
abandon with which the tragedian's conception is carried out, 



1872] "A GREAT ACTOR" 125 

only one or two performances at most which are known to 
this generation are worthy to be placed beside Mr. Irving's 
Mathias. Though a young man, this already famous actor 
has had a considerable experience of theatrical travel. In no 
town would he find a readier predisposition to believe in his 
achievements than in Liverpool. Even those, however, who 
were not astonished by the singular excellence of his perform- 
ance in the * Two Roses ' must have been astounded by 
the representation which they witnessed last night a repre- 
sentation by which with a single wild spring Mr. Irving has 
leaped into the highest place among tragic actors." This was 
only the commencement of a long article which gave a fine 
description of the play and awarded unstinted praise to its 
chief interpreter. The Courier could not find words with 
which to praise sufficiently this " masterpiece of psychological 
insight and accurate expression. What Lessing says of 
Shakespeare may be said of Mr. Irving's Mathias, with this 
modification, of course, that what the great poet accomplished 
many times, the actor has yet achieved only once : ' He gives 
a living picture of all the most minute and secret artifices by 
which a feeling steals into our souls, of all the imperceptible 
advantages which it there gains, of all the stratagems by which 
every other passion is made subservient to it, till it becomes 
the sole tyrant of our desires and our aversions '. The court 
scene of the third act is an epitome of this power first the 
prompting to the deed of violence, then its perpretation, and 
finally the whirlwind harvest which comes in due season. 
This act alone is enough to stamp Mr. Irving a great actor. 
Such a piece of art does not come by inspiration : it is a care- 
fully studied part, prepared with elaborate attention to detail, 
blended harmoniously in all its incidents, and controlled from 
first to last by a true knowledge of the feelings and actions 
which such a situation would create. There is nothing false 
to nature or art in the impersonation of that overpowering 
wretchedness of woe. . . . We might speak of the earlier 
portions of the drama, and find points of commendation, but 
the dream is the natural climax of the piece, alike in acting 



126 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. vm. 

and construction. It is the portion which brings into strongest 
relief Mr. I rving's powers, which are of high order in conception 
and expression. His countenance is a mirror of the soul ; 
every changing form of word and feeling is written on his 
face, whose mobility and expressiveness are wonderful." 

From Mathias to Jeremy Diddler was a vast change, the 
greater as it occurred on the same evening, a circumstance of 
which the Liverpool press took due note. The Journal 
published a long essay on the part and I rving's interpretation : 
"The distinguishing merit of his performance," it said, "is 
that, by making Jeremy a thorough 'character part,' he 
renders intelligible and interesting the dramatic and personal 
consistency of the more beggarly with the more gentlemanly 
phase of this queer adventurer. In doing this Mr. Irving has 
availed himself to the utmost of the assistance of dress. ' ' After 
a learned disquisition on the subject of costume, the article 
proceeds : " Mr. Irving seizes the right notion in aiming at 
the strong development of Diddler's character as a wildly 
peculiar adventurer. He puts together short sight, fidgetty 
gait, intense coolness when doing most daring things, great 
readiness and magnificence of language, endless fertility in 
practical jokes and constant forgetfulness that his pockets 
are full of stolen provisions ; and with these he makes one of 
the most extraordinary pictures ever conceived. A mere 
swindler he is not. He is a genius in impetuous and reckless 
social adventure. To conceive such a man being endured 
for an instant in any one's house, you must imagine him to be 
so strange and fascinating an eccentric that no one can quite 
believe him to be a swindler, and this is just the fellow that 
Mr. Irving represents with great address and abundant in- 
ventiveness. The most humourous bit of action is the 
perpetual throwing open of other people's coats. The artistic 
way that Mr. Irving does this surveying the frontispiece of 
every man's costume with the eye of a 'connoisseur,' ap- 
proaching it, touching it, trying it, and, finally, with a dexterous 
touch, throwing the coat open and leaving the waistcoat bare, 
producing as many various pictures as there are subjects for 



I8 7 2] 



JEREMY DIDDLER 



127 



the operation is intensely funny. Why, it would be difficult 
to say. The problem would have to be referred to the 
philosopher, Herbert Spencer, who wrote a chapter on the 
reason why we laugh at a baby with a man's hat on. But 
of the fact there is no doubt. The trick seems more laughable 
every time Mr. Irving plays it." 



CHAPTER IX. 

1872-1873. 

" Charles the First " produced " A very awkward lump in the throat " 
for the Standard Controversy about the character of Cromwell Irving's 
impersonation of the king extolled on all sides The author's defence 
The play published The Spectator eulogises Irving's impersonation The 
Prince and Princess of Wales witness " Charles the First " Extraordinary 
scenes in consequence Irving appears as Eugene Aram Another personal 
success More critical eulogy Especially from the Spectator End of 
Irving's second season at the Lyceum Remarkable enthusiasm Plays 
"Charles the First" on tour. 

THE instantaneous and pronounced popular and artistic suc- 
cess made by Henry Irving in "The Bells" placed the actor 
in a proud, an interesting, and yet a singularly difficult, posi- 
tion. He had leaped into fame, and although he was not yet 
hailed as the regenerator of the stage, it was felt that the 
drama had now, not only an earnest student of its most serious 
side, but an exponent of it who might reach the highest limits 
of his art. The power to dominate and thrill the playgoer, not 
only of London, but the provinces, had been amply de- 
monstrated. And this power, to the extent which Irving 
possessed, and exercised it, is the gift of only one man in several 
generations. But the purely psychological study of Mathias 
was hardly, to many minds, the proper prelude to the dignity 
of the " Royal Martyr," no matter how the character of 
Charles the First might be depicted by the dramatist. A 
man who had murdered for greed of gold, and had become so 
conscious-stricken that the sound of sleigh-bells paralysed his 
senses, was a curious way of approaching the dignity of the 
traditional King. London theatre-goers and critics still thought 
of Irving as an impersonator of bad and disagreeable men 

in general and of villains in particular. They had no know- 

128 



1872] -CHARLES THE FIRST' 129 

ledge of the versatility which he had displayed in his earlier 
days on the stage. If Londoners had known that he had acted 
Claude Melnotte, they would have smiled at the bare idea. 
As for Hamlet well, yes, he might have experimented in 
the part for a joke, on the occasion of his benefit for actors 
were allowed full licence to play any pranks which pleased 
them on such a night. The idea was not to be taken seri- 
ously. Yet, in two years from this period, he was to begin, 
at the Lyceum, a series of representations of Hamlet which 
has never been approached in the history of the tragedy. 
On 28th September, 1872, the idea of his acting "Charles 
the First" was not inspiring, even to his many friends 
among the public. Up to that time, the " unhappy king" was 
unknown as a stage figure, and there was as much curiosity 
to see how W. G. Wills had treated the subject as there was 
in regard to the interpretation of the character by the new 
actor. As for the play, its domestic nature soon touched the 
audience, and the pathetic personation of the king completed 
the alluring picture. The majority of the spectators were in 
tears at more than one part of the play, and the final scene 
reduced the entire house to weeping. Even the stolid Stand- 
an/had to "confess to a very awkward lump in the throat 
about this time," and another sober-minded journal opined that 
"those who love what the ladies call 'a good cry' cannot do 
better than hurry off to the Lyceum with a goodly supply of 
pocket-handkerchiefs ". This is a common-place kind of com- 
ment, but it suggests the thought that many, many thousands 
of people must have wept over this beautiful scene it has 
touched the hearts of all who witnessed it in London, in the 
country, in America. Henry Irving never failed in it, and he 
acted it, with exquisite pathos, until the end of his career. 

Had Mr. Bateman been so minded, he could now have 
published the names of a longer list of papers which gave 
favourable notices than in the case of "The Bells". Again, 
the praise was more for the actor than the play. The critics 
fell foul of the author for his treatment of the character of Crom- 
well, but this was all to the advantage of the theatre, for it 

VOL. i. 9 



130 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 

was so much cheap advertisement. The extraordinary scene 
in the last act in which Cromwell hints that he will befriend 
the king, provided that the earldom of Essex may descend 
to him, excited much discussion, as well it might. Mr. Wills 
availed himself to the fullest extent of the " poet's licence," 
and he caused it to be stated on the programme that "the 
author feels it to be unnecessary to confess or enumerate 
certain historical inaccuracies as to period and place which 
have arisen from sheer dramatic necessity, and are justified, 
he believes, by the highest precedent ". The author defended 
himself most vigorously, and he wrote a long "justification" 
of his action to the Morning Post, beginning with the reflec- 



CHARLES THE FIRST. 



First acted at the Lyceum 

CHARLES I. 

OLIVER CROMWELL - 

MARQUIS or HUNTLEY 

LORD MORAY 

IRETON 

PAGES 

PRINCESS ELIZABETH - 

PRINCE JAMES - 

PRINCE HENRY - 

LADY ELEANOR DAVYS 

QUEEN HENRIETTA MARIA 



on 28th September, 1872. 

Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. GEORGE BELMORE. 

Mr. ADDISON. 

Mr. EDGAR. 

Mr. MARKBY. 

Misses E. MAYNE and J. HENRI. 

Miss WILLA BROWN. 

Miss ALLCROFT. 

Miss WELCH. 

Miss G. PAUNCEFORT. 

Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I. Gardens at Hampton Court. ACT II. The King's 
Cabinet at Whitehall. ACT III. The Scottish Camp at 
Newark. ACT IV. Whitehall, at Daybreak. 



tion that "the character of Cromwell may bear a little 
good-humoured discussion without alarming his most jealous 
admirers". In regard to the "obnoxious interview" between 
the king and Cromwell, " I have only endeavoured to paint 
the humble yet influential burgess of Cambridge not the 
Protector ; whose sagacity was in effect almost equivalent to 
principle and whose outrageous despotism grew to a sort of 
grandeur". He also pointed out a somewhat obvious fact 
"the play is of Charles, and not of Cromwell". This discus- 
sion, which anticipated the methods of modern days, did no 
harm to the popularity of the piece, although that was secured 
by the impersonation of the king. The drama drew crowded 



1872] THE PLAY PUBLISHED 131 

houses for eight months, or, to speak with perfect accuracy, 
for one hundred and eighty nights a remarkable record for 
a poetical and a sad piece. After the first performance, 
there was an enthusiastic call for the author. " Mr. Irving 
explained that he was not in the house, and promised to con- 
vey to him the cordial reception given to his noble play" 
an expression which he so frequently applied, in after years, 
to "Becket". 

Soon after the production, the " historical tragedy," as it 
was called by its author, was published by the firm of William 
Blackwood and Sons, at half a crown a tribute to the 
literary interest of the piece. In his introduction to the book, 
the editor called attention to the low state into which the stage 
had fallen and from which it was being rescued : " The first 
emancipation of the modern English stage from the French 
stage was effected by the means of short original comedies, 
in which the transient habits of this country were, with more 
or less accuracy, portrayed. But even those who rejoiced in 
the moderate reform thus far carried out refused to believe 
that it tended towards the revival of a drama at once national 
and poetical. The English drawing-room and the English 
croquet-ground might indeed be exhibited with all their de- 
tails, and fine ladies and gentlemen figuring therein might 
indulge in good English repartee. But as far as tragic drama, 
or anything that approached it, that had gone for ever. 
Under these circumstances, it was but natural that the pro- 
duction of * Charles the First ' at the Lyceum Theatre took 
every one by surprise. An historical tragedy, it had been re- 
ceived not with cold approbation had attained not what our 
neighbours call a * succes d'estime ' but it had evidently ap- 
pealed to the sympathies of the public more strongly than any 
new poetical work brought out within the memory of living 
men. People not generally used to the melting mood felt them- 
selves compelled to shed tears, not over the woes of some half- 
comic paterfamilias in a domestic tale, but over the sorrows of 
a king who perished considerably more than two centuries ago. 
, , , When the appearance of a new author is simultaneous 

9* 



i 3 2 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 

with the rise of an actor who can give reality to his imaginings, 
the coincidence is most felicitous. The chroniclers of our 
stage still dwell on the good fortune of William Shakespeare 
in being the contemporary of Richard Burbage. It is not the 
least merit of Mr. Wills that he has created a character 
which has first allowed full development to the genius of Mr. 
Henry Irving." The compliment thus paid to Mr. Wills's in- 
terpreter was much more richly deserved than in the case of 
his predecessor. 

For " Charles the First," although it contains many ex- 
quisite passages and many lines of poetic feeling and literary 
elegance, is a succession of isolated tableaux rather than a 
play. It depends entirely on the impersonation of the king 
for its popular success. A good company and adequate 
scenery are useful adjuncts, but the part of Charles and the 
player thereof are so interwoven that they are one. If the 
actor fails, then the play must go to the wall. But Henry 
Irving did not fail either in 1872 or on any other occasion 
when he acted this part. His first performance of this char- 
acter received even a warmer welcome than that with which 
Mathias was greeted. There was nothing terrorising, as in 
the case of " The Bells," either in the play or the performance. 
The death scene was dignified and infinitely pathetic, a great 
contrast to the horror of that of Mathias. The faithful 
chronicler is embarrassed in looking over the contemporary 
criticisms of this performance. Of all the notices which ap- 
peared at that time there were long articles in all the 
daily and weekly papers of value the most illuminating, 
perhaps, was that in the Spectator, which published a most 
discriminating essay on the subject. Where all are so 
good, from every point of view, it is a little difficult to select 
the right criticism, but the paper in question represented the 
case quite fairly. It took the author to task for his historical 
inaccuracies and rated him for the abuse of what he called 
the " sheer dramatic necessity" of the moment. Having 
stated its own views on this point, it described the perform- 
ance, dwelling mainly upon the chief character as " person- 



1872] PRAISE FROM THE SPECTATOR 133 

ated by Mr. Irving, who looks as if he had stepped off the 
canvas, now of Rubens anon of Vandyck a magnanimous, 
gallant, chivalrous, right royal king, loving to his people, 
faithful to his friends, pious and patriotic, passionately de- 
voted to his wife and children, as firmly attached to his duties 
as to his rights. Accepting this utterly unhistorical picture, 
we follow Mr. Irving's impersonation with the interest and 
admiration it is calculated to inspire, through several scenes 
of unequal, but always considerable merit. The garden 
scene at Hampton Court is very impressive. The peace- 
fulness of its familiar beauty, contemplated for a little, while 
the stage is yet empty, awakens exactly the yearning, re- 
monstrating regret for the foreknown interruption of its peace, 
the ruin of its old traditions, which ought to be aroused before 
the monarch, fresh from the arbitrary exercise of power 
which ruptured the sacred pact between King and Commons, 
enters, in the black-satin suit, graceful cloak, and rich collar and 
ruffles of Spanish lace, with the long rippling, pale brown 
hair, the peaked beard, and the doomed look so familiar to 
us all. The effect of Mr. Irving's entrance as the king with 
the royal children, who are dressed from Vandyck's family 
group, is perfect. The scene with the children is quite 
beautiful. The King throws off his weariness and depression, 
and plays with them, repeating the ballad of King Lear- 
while his wife impatiently urges him to attend to his business 
with exquisite natural tenderness and sweetness, talking to 
them with little touches in the dialogue which do great credit 
to the author and his interpreter. Very fine, too, is the 
king's interview with Huntley, who has brought him bad 
news, and offers him good advice. There is a great deal of 
genuinely good writing in this dialogue, and the king's lament 
for the change which has come over the relations between 
sovereign and people, holding them so far apart, is note- 
worthy, and very finely delivered. . . . Mr. Wills s Charles 
is perpetually hugging Henrietta Maria in everybody's 
presence, and it is not the least significant of the many 
proofs of Mr. Irving's consummate art, that the audience 



i 3 4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 

takes these proceedings quite gravely. Not a titter from the 
gallery turns this ' business ' into the ridiculous, and this is not 
because the audience is deeply impressed by the intrinsic 
solemnity of the piece, for they laugh unhesitatingly at an 
awful crisis, when the little Duke of York makes the historic 
reply to his father's solemn injunction, in a shrill, pretty, piping 
cry. It is because Mr. Irving's acting is so fine that the 
escape from the absurd, though narrow, is complete. 

" Here we have Charles, full of love for his wife, and of 
consideration for her, alive to the growing dislike and distrust 
of her in the public mind, so swayed by it, that he offends her 
by the dismissal of her suite, and gravely warns her against 
the lightest indiscretion. The same chivalrous devotion char- 
acterises him in the second act ; and in the third, when he 
is betrayed and sold by the Scottish lords and taken prisoner 
by Cromwell at Newark, his passionate pleading for the ful- 
filment of Moray's promise, the grandeur and pathos of his 
address to the traitor, are equalled by the intensity of his 
solicitude for his wife, and the anguish of his regret for his 
friends. The words which Aytoun puts into the mouth of 
Charles's grandson : 

Oh, the brave, the noble-hearted, 
Who have died in vain for me ! 

come to one's mind with the mere look of the wan face, and 
the burning woeful eyes. So far, the framework of history 
has been preserved sufficiently to keep this fancy portrait of 
the King from distortion. But how does it come out in the 
fourth act, in which we have to test the validity of Mr. Wills's 
plea of * dramatic necessity ' by either of its possible meanings ? 
The Queen has returned to England, comes to Whitehall, 
has a fruitless interview with Cromwell on the morning of the 
day fixed for the execution of Charles, is present at the famous 
parting between him and his children, on which ensues a 
solemn, agonising, farewell scene between the wretched 
husband and wife, and Charles goes out to the scaffold, his 
last word being the historic ' remember '. We freely grant that 



1872] PATHETIC ACTING 135 

the closing scene is beautiful, but we believe that the real 
closing scene was infinitely more so, and that Mr. Wills has 
lost dramatic effect by the change, besides having destroyed 
the unity of his great central character. Let it be said at 
once that what Mr. Irving has to represent, he represents to 
absolute perfection ; that the farewell scene with the children 
is so dreadfully, so agonisingly pathetic, so simply beautiful, 
that it is hardly bearable ; and that the pictorial effect of the 
farewell to the wife is wonderfully fine. As she stands in his 
arms, the King's hands grasp the Queen's head, bending it 
backwards with fingers sunken in the hair upon the temples, 
and his eyes devour her face with greedy love, and grief, in 
which the joy of the past, the anguish of the present, the re- 
luctant dread of the future are all visible. But Charles is 
going to die, she has to live ; he is leaving her hated by the 
people as he never was, the foreign papist woman made a pre- 
text by his enemies throughout (and more strongly insisted on 
in that light in the play than in history), quite defenceless, 
with the tradition of murder in her own country and in his, 
to quicken his sensibilities now slumbering for the first time, 
as to her fate. His beautiful, touching, eloquent address to 
her, full of exquisitely subtle traits, might have been spoken 
had he been leaving her in perfect security, to the indulgence 
of the grief he covets, for whose continuance, in softened form 
of sweet memory, he prays in words and tones which wring 
the heart." 

The play and its interpretation drew the town from the 
very first. On the morning after the production, the Observer 
declared that " the public will hurry to the Lyceum when Mr. 
Irving's last and incomparably best performance gets noised 
abroad. The actor took us all by surprise. We had known 
him as a first-rate character actor, and as a terrible imper- 
sonator of ghastly and terrible scenes. We remember well 
his Digby Grant, his Mr. Chevenix, and his Mathias, and 
some fancied either the necessary mannerisms of one set of 
characters, or the superhuman efforts required for others, 
would to a certain extent mar his style. Never was a greater 



136 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 

mistake." The Morning Post, in the course of lavish praise, 
said that he had now " placed himself at the head of the 
school of character actors". Moreover, ''there were no re- 
miniscences of any former character in Mr. Irving's Charles- 
it was an original creation upon which he may safely base his 
claim to be considered as a representative actor of the 
highest class ". This was good, but the Standard was even 
more emphatic : " A more complete and more deserved 
triumph has rarely if ever been gained, and by this perfect, 
and perfectly artistic realisation of an historical character so 
familiar to all, and therefore so difficult to portray, Mr. Irving 
has unquestionably asserted his right to take the foremost 
place among the tragedians of the day, and an abiding record 
among the distinguished names associated with the English 
stage. To Mr. Irving's playing alone went up such shouts as 
only English throats can send forth. The ' calls ' at the termina- 
tion were uproarious in their warmth, and the vehemence 
which ardent approbation lent to hands and tongues needs 
other words than are in our vocabulary to express." There 
is scarcely a word in all the columns of congratulations which 
Irving's acting as Charles called forth about "mannerisms". 
They had gone by the board in fact, they were largely the 
creation and imagination of jealousy. They had not, at this 
time, been discovered to the fearful and wonderful extent 
which, we are to suppose, according to some writers, marred 
his acting from the first. In short, Irving's impersonation 
was, in 1872, as it was in 1905, one of the most beautiful and 
pathetic pieces of acting which the English stage has ever 
seen. 

Other circumstances, in addition to the merits of the 
drama and the acting, helped in the success of the first run of 
"Charles the First". On Monday, 22nd October, the Prince 
and Princess of Wales visited the Lyceum. The occasion 
was noted at length by the press, for there was curiosity to 
known how such a royalist drama would be received on such a 
night. One-third of the audience, according to the Standard, 
"were staunch royalists, about a half were interested in the 



TSya] A ROYAL VISIT 137 

play, and not in politics present or past, and only a small 
minority were devoted Liberals, jealous of every touch that 
seemed to blot the fair fame of the Radical idol. When the 
Prince and Princess arrived, just before the commencement 
of the piece, they were received in the usual loyal and un- 
demonstrative manner ; and all went quietly enough until the 
second act. The touching picture on the lawn of Hampton 
Court was appreciated, no doubt, and the acting was recog- 
nised and applauded as it deserved. It was, however, in the 
second act that the excitement, as usual, began. The Queen 
arranges with Lord Huntley that if danger threatens the King 
in the interview in his cabinet with imperious Oliver she shall 
call 'the loyal gentlemen of Lincoln's Inn to the rescue,' with 
a cry of * God save the King'. ' It is an honest signal,' says 
the Marquis, and then one or two loyalists made a little ap- 
plause. Some of the same party seemed to find an allusion 
to the present time in Charles's speech to Cromwell : 

Lord Huntley often has commended you 
As one who shows high promise of the statesman, 
And who with lusty speech can rule a throng, 
Holding their passions in his hands like reins. 

But it was not until Cromwell's rudeness produces from the 
indignant King the protest : 

Tis not for you to limit or set forth, 
The rights divine of an anointed King 

that there came at once both cheers and hissing, the former, 
however, mightily predominating. The Liberals had their 
turn at cheering Cromwell's demand : 

A people's rights ; and are they not divine ? 

But the hissing of the minority was drowned in the loyal 
shouting when the representative of Charles replied : 

The people's rights, Sir, are indeed divine, 
Not so the wrong of rebels. 



138 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 

Hast thou no reverence 

For the marble pile of England's past ? 

Oh, Sir, 'tis such as thou deface the fairest 

Monuments of history ; inscribing with coarse sacrilege 

Their names on its most sacred tablets, 

Scarring beauty it took centuries to make, 

And but an hour to mar. 

The manner in which this was cheered till the house rang 
again was a thing to remember. But perhaps the climax 
came when the King says, after learning Cromwell's demand 
for the reversion of the earldom of Essex : 

Methinks I see a modern Attila, 

One who, if once our dynasty should wane, 

Would rally to the front with iron baton ; 

A tyrant, maundering and merciless, 

Anarch of liberty, at heart a slave, 

A scourge the Commons plait to lash themselves, 

A heel to tramp their constitution under foot 

for then the audience made the allusion fit somebody, and 
almost equal was the applause when Cromwell was fain to doff 
his hat by order of the King. Not less full was the full ap- 
preciation of the home thrust : 

Thou and thy dupes have driven me to war. 

But when the Queen burst in to save the King at the head 
of the loyal gentlemen of Lincoln's Inn, to the cry of ' God 
save the King,' it was curious to see how two-thirds of the 
listeners were like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the 
start." 

Early in the year 1873, Victorien Sardou's play, "Sam" 
was interdicted by the then minister of the Fine Arts in Paris, 
a circumstance which enabled one of our leader writers to 
pour forth the vials of his wrath upon the unfortunate Wills. 
He contrasted the wretched state of our laws in regard to 
stage plays with those of the French. He could not, unhappily, 
foresee that the playwrights of England to the incredible 
number of seventy odd would, thirty-five years later band 
together to protest against the iniquity of the Examiner of 
Plays, or that a weak Secretary of State would amuse the 




Esq. 



CHARLES THE FIRST. 



1872] PROSPERITY OF THE PLAY 139 

Japanese, in the year of grace 1907, by prohibiting the per- 
formance of an innocent piece like "The Mikado" just be- 
cause a Japanese official of high degree happened to be 
visiting England. However, this is what the irate leader- 
writer said: "Our dramatic writers are free to play ducks 
and drakes with the susceptibilities of every nation, including 
our own ; and when we have a play produced that seriously, 
if not intentionally, burlesques and insults one of the noblest 
characters and one of the greatest periods in English history, 
the public is not greatly put out. We are not deeply disturbed 
by the fact that a certain playwright chooses to exhibit a 
little perversity of sentiment and a good deal of ignorance. 
We go to see an actor in a big wig play some pretty domestic 
charades with one or two children, and if he should, in subse- 
quent scenes, talk a vast deal of nonsense in an affected style 
of elocution, who is hurt by it? " Nevertheless, Charles pros- 
pered exceedingly at the Lyceum. 

It is only necessary to say, in regard to the general per- 
formance, that Irving had good support in the Queen Henri- 
etta of Miss Isabel Bateman who, on the whole, was warmly 
praised by the press for her intelligent performance. But the 
Oliver Cromwell gave him little help. This was not the fault 
of the actor, for, being a low comedian, he was wrongly cast 
for the character of the bluff burgess of Wills 's play. This 
mistake was soon recognised by the management, and Mr. 
Henry Forrester was playing the part when the Prince and 
Princess of Wales witnessed the drama during the first month 
of the run. Mr. Hawes Craven was again responsible for the 
chief part of the scenery. It should also be recorded that the 
Cromwell discussion was also incidentally instrumental in the 
production, at the Queen's Theatre, in December, 1872, of a 
five-act play by Colonel Bates Richards entitled "Cromwell," 
in which the Protector was canonised. But the glorification 
process did not pay, and the play was an ignominious failure, 
despite the ability and pathos of Mr. George Rignold as 
Cromwell and the acting of John Ryder and Miss Wallis. 
The piece would never have been played had it not been for 



140 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 

the production of " Charles the First," to which it was brought 
out as a counterblast. A curious result of the success of 
" Charles the First " was pointed out by the admiring yet inde- 
pendent critic of a paper which had given Henry Irving much 
encouragement in his younger days the Liverpool Porcupine, 
which summed up the situation in a few words : " Mr. Henry 
Irving has accomplished a proud feat. He has made the 
critics speak in one voice. Gushers, growlers, enthusiasts and 
sneerers all have united in pronouncing Mr. Irving's Charles 
the First the finest and best dramatic impersonation of the 
present day. Such loud-spoken praise would be dangerous 
to some actors, but Mr. Irving, with his fine artistic apprecia- 
tion of men and things, will wear his honours becomingly, and 
not allow himself to be carried away by a torrent of tempestu- 
ous praise. I have endeavoured cynic that I am- to pick a 
hole in Mr. Irving's impersonation, but I cannot do it, and for 
once in a way the critics are right. Charles the First almost 
lives over again, and we rejoice over the fact. Not that his 
resuscitation would be particularly welcome to Mr. Gladstone 
and his Cabinet, but purely and simply that it gives modern 
playgoers the opportunity of witnessing a great dramatic and 
artistic achievement." 

Having now succeeded in the creation of two absolutely 
dissimilar parts, in which he had won the instant and thorough 
recognition of the press and the public, he essayed a third 
character in which he was at a disadvantage. By the wish 
of the manager, his next part was Eugene Aram, in a 
drama specially written for the Lyceum by the author of 
"Charles the First". The subject was bound to be gloomy, 
and the second murderer followed hard upon the first 
Mathias. Soon after the appearance of Lord Lytton's novel 
in 1831, various stage versions appeared, but without success, 
and none of these was familiar to the public of 1873. But 
the book was well known, and Hood's poem was a favourite 
with readers and reciters. So that there was little in the way 
of novelty with which to tempt the playgoer. The author 
certainly relied upon himself, and his treatment of the story 



i873] 



EUGENE ARAM 



141 



was something of a surprise, for some of the audience anti- 
cipated a melodrama highly spiced with visible assassination, 
with the reproduction of a real criminal court, and, perhaps, a 
procession to the gallows. But Mr. Wills did not indulge 
the spectators with a murder either on the stage, or off, and 
there was not a trial, let alone a scaffold scene. Moreover, 
he kept the action of his piece in one place although there 
was a different scene for each of the three acts and within 
the space of twelve hours a rigidity of construction which 
vied with that of the ancient Greek dramatists. Before 
coming to the acting, it is instructive to take the evidence of 
the Times as to the reception of Henry Irving and the position 



EUGENE ARAM. 
First acted at the Lyceum on rgth April, 1873. 



EUGENE ARAM - 

PARSON MEADOWS 

RICHARD HOUSEMAN - 

JOWELL - 

JOEY - 

RUTH MEADOWS - 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. W. H. STEPHENS. 
Mr. E. F. EDGAR. 
Mr. F. W. IRISH. 
Miss WILLA BROWN. 
Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I. The Vicar's Garden. ACT II. The Home Room of 
the Parsonage. ACT III. The Churchyard in the Grey Light 
of Dawn. 



which he had now attained. " Rarely is a theatrical audi- 
ence," it said, before describing the play, "save on some 
festive occasion indicated by the almanack, so anxious as the 
crowd which on Saturday evening filled the Lyceum Theatre 
to overflowing. Yet nobody acquainted with the present 
state of the theatrical atmosphere expected that it would be 
otherwise. Not only was * Charles the First ' one of the 
most thoroughly successful and generally impressive pieces of 
the winter season, but it was a work of a new kind. The 
patrons of the drama are much more earnest and numerous 
than they were twenty years ago, and any amount of interest 
could be fully accounted for by the fact that ' Charles the 
First,' withdrawn after Friday's performance, was to be re- 
placed on Saturday by a new play, written by the same 
author, and sustained by the same principal actor. The im- 



i 4 2 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 

portance attached to the actor must not be overlooked. The 
success of ' Charles the First ' is closely associated with that of 
Mr. Henry Irving, who was comparatively in the background 
three years ago, but whose progress is now anxiously watched 
as an upward career to which none can assign a possible limit." 
This was, indeed, a promising beginning of an im- 
portant criticism, but there was more satisfaction in the 
remainder of the notice. In the second act, where Eugene 
Aram, having hitherto assumed a bearing of lofty bravado 
when in the presence of his accomplice and accuser, becomes 
crushed by the force of circumstances, " Mr. Irving's delinea- 
tion of the fall from a haughty defiance of daring to a state 
of helpless humiliation is not to be surpassed in force and 
elaboration." His greatest triumph was in the last act, 
which was as originally played practically a soliloquy. 
Eugene Aram is alone in the churchyard in an agony of re- 
morse. He thinks that all chance of forgiveness is denied 
him, when he receives a visit from the vicar's daughter, Ruth, 
who loves him. To her as to a guardian angel, he makes 
a full confession of his guilt. He relates that the murder 
was committed in extenuating circumstances comprising the 
atrocious wrongs inflicted by his victim on the woman he 
fondly loved, but the weight of conscience is too strong for 
him, and he dies in the arms of Ruth, who is faithful to the 
end. " We could not without quotation convey a notion of 
the vigour with which this is written, nor even with a quota- 
tion could we convey a notion of Mr. Irving's marvellous re- 
presentation of the various phases of mental agony, under- 
gone by the wretched criminal. ... A burst of admiration 
followed the termination of the drama, and this had a re- 
markable effect, following, as it did, upon the breathless 
attention with which it had been watched. If the conclusion 
of 'Charles the First' gained a portion of its celebrity from the 
abnormal quantity of tears shed in the sometimes apathetic 
stalls, the death of Eugene was equally remarkable for the 
blank terror which it seemed to diffuse a terror, be it ob- 
served, produced by purely dramatic means apparently of the 



1873] A TREMENDOUS EFFECT 143 

simplest kind. Throughout the play, not so much as the 
composition of one elaborate living picture is attempted. 
When the stage is occupied by the fewest persons, the drama 
is at its strongest. Our opinion of the admirable acting of 
Mr. Irving has been briefly expressed in the course of our 
narrative. He is the figure that chiefly absorbs attention." 

On every hand, the representation of Eugene Aram was 
acclaimed. " That an actor would get variety out of such 
an unrelieved scene," said the Observer, in reference to the 
last act, " is marvellous. The confession was listened to with 
the deepest attention, and the on-coming death, now at the 
tomb, now writhing against the tree, and now prostrate on 
the turf, brings into play an amount of study which is little 
less than astonishing, and an amount of power for which 
credit would be given to Mr. Irving by few who have seen 
his finest performances." The Morning Post pointed out 
certain defects in the play, especially that of the last act: "a 
still greater mistake is to present a character through one 
entire act prone on the ground, or, at best, rising only to 
kneel or stand, and again to fall " a very difficult position, it 
will be admitted, for any actor. But it found Irving equal to 
the tremendous responsibility thrown upon him, and it re- 
corded the fact that "his personation of Eugene Aram pro- 
duced an absolutely tremendous effect upon the audience". 

The Spectator published an illuminating criticism in the 
course of which it compared Irving's acting of Mathias and 
Eugene Aram : " The points of difference between Mathias in 
' The Bells ' and Eugene Aram are as striking as the points 
of resemblance ; in both the active passion is remorse, in both 
it kills, kills at the very moment when the victim, in each 
case ' a great sinner, uncondemned,' believes himself to be at 
length emancipated from it ; in both the murderer confesses, 
and describes his crime in words and action ; but there re- 
semblance ceases. In his impersonation of the unsuspected 
murderer of the Polish Jew, Mr. Irving has no enemy but 
himself, and the study is finer, though not nearly so fine as it 
might have been, had the author's idea been left in its in- 



H4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 

tegrity, had not the English adapter resorted to the vulgar 
expedient of a phantom to produce the effect intended to be 
the work of conscience only. The close and terrible wrestle 
of Mathias with the betrayer within his own breast, the 
tremendous solitude of the murderer's soul, the vain piteous 
cunning, the terrific yielding up of the secret, which yet is 
never told to the world without, under the pressure of 
mental torture made as visible as the wrenching of the limbs 
by mechanical cruelty, blend in a perfect and unique repre- 
sentation, of which his impersonation of Eugene Aram is, in 
some sense, a repetition, but more strictly a variation. The 
prosperous, calculating, popular, secretive tavern-keeper, who 
struggles with his haunting fiend, and generally banishes 
him ; who hoards the stolen gold, and reckons it q^tand 
mme ; whose remorse is all throughout so strangely physical, 
is replaced by the gentle, pensive, studious teacher, whose 
enemy has found him, and abides with him ; a shadow in the 
noon, not only of his love, but of every day, who is hardly 
glad, even for a moment, even on the eve of his marriage, 
" To Eugene Aram, too, comes detection and ruin, but 
they come from without, and for a little while the spirit of 
fierce resistance springs up, and he strives against his fate, in 
the person of Houseman ; but the enemy within surrenders 
quickly to the enemy without, and the heart vanquished by 
both, numbed by long suffering, wakes up to rage for but 
a little while before it breaks. The acting of Mr. Irving in 
this character is wonderfully fine, so deeply impressive that 
once only, by a bit of * business ' with lights and a looking- 
glass quite unworthy of the play and of him, does he remind 
one that he is acting and not living through that mortal 
struggle ; so various, that to lose sight of his face for a 
moment is to lose some expression full of power and of 
fidelity to the pervading motive of the part. In the first 
scene with his betrothed Ruth, the pathetic wanness of the 
face, the faint flicker of the attempted smile, the infinite woe 
of the look, unseen by her, with which he replies to her 
question, ' Eugene, were you ever gay ? ' the frequent, slight 



1873] MORE PRAISE 145 

shudder, the absent yet watchful glance, the recurrent un- 
easiness about 'the stranger,' who has asked the gardener for 
a spade and talked about St. Robert's cave, are of finished 
skill and perfection. In the second act, the anguish of his 
mind is intensified with every moment, until in the sudden 
outburst of his fury, his defiance of Houseman, his proud 
boast of his character in the place and the influence of it, the 
change, fierce yet subtle, from sad and dreamy quiet to the 
hard, scoffing, worldly wisdom of the criminal at bay before 
his accomplice, there is a positive relief for him and for our- 
selves. Then comes the terror, abject indeed for a while, 
with desperate breathless rally, thick incoherent speech, failing 
limbs, ghastly face, dry lips, and clicking throat, as dreadful 
as only fear can be, and horribly true. The quick, gasping 
sentences he speaks to the old rector, his return to the room, 
the infinite anguish of the horror which has seized upon him 
because men's hands have stirred the mouldering remains 
that for ever haunt his fancy ; the fight of the mind which is 
torturing with the body which is betraying him, are all perfect ; 
and if he did not look at himself and talk about his scared 
face, and then rush out, without tying the white cravat, which 
streams about him in a wild disorder, not easy to be accounted 
for to the curious crowd outside, there would be nothing to 
impair the overwhelming effect. In the concluding scenes, 
one, in which he sends Houseman flying from the churchyard 
appalled at the sight of his sufferings, a second, in which, in 
accents of heartrending grief and contrition, he implores 
heaven for a sign of pardon, and flings himself down by a 
cross, with an awful face, the white, mute impersonation of 
mental despair and physical exhaustion ; and a third, in which 
he makes a confession to Ruth, and dies, the play of his 
features, the variety and intensity of his expression, are most 
remarkable. But the dead face of Eugene Aram the murderer 
is quite unlike the dead face of Mathias the murderer ; the 
morning sun comes up behind the trees and shines upon the 
churchyard, Ruth's kneeling figure, and the 'great sinner,' who 

has repented and confessed, white, peaceful, pardoned." 
VOL. i. 10 



1 46 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. ix. 



" Eugene Aram," produced on Saturday, iQth April, 
1873, ran f r tnree months at the Lyceum. The last night 
of the season, Saturday, I9th July, was set apart for the 
benefit of the actor who was now famous throughout England. 
"The Bells" was revived, for this occasion, and the enthusi- 
asm was so remarkable that "for once we have to record," 
said a contemporary chronicle, "that an actor, during the 
progress of a three-act play, was summoned to the footlights 
seven times "- - an event which compelled the use of italics ! 
" and that at the end the ladies, who are one and all great 
admirers of Mr. Irving, showed their estimate of his talents by 
pelting him with bouquets ". The programme concluded with 
the last act of "Charles the First". The fall of the curtain 
was the signal for an outburst of cheering which was pro- 
longed until the hero of the night had appeared three times 
before the curtain. Even then, despite the beaming presence 
of Mr. Bateman, the storm of bravos continued, and " Irving, 
Irving," rang through the house. At last, according to a 
trustworthy source, "as there seemed some probability that 
those present would continue cheering, stamping, shouting, 
and clapping their hands until midnight, Mr. Irving once 
more came to the footlights, and, when silence was restored," 
said : " Ladies and gentlemen, I have no words in which to 
express to you my heartfelt thanks for the extraordinary re- 
ception you have this evening given me, and I only hope 
with all sincerity that the same kindly feeling may be extended 
to me next season, when we re-open in Bulwer's play of Riche- 
lieu'." So ended Henry Irving's second season at the 
Lyceum. It might have been thought that the hard- worked 
actor would have taken a prolonged holiday, especially as he 
had to prepare for his first impersonation of a character 
made famous on the stage by Macready, Richelieu. But, 
within a few weeks, he was seen in some of the chief towns 
of the provinces in "Charles the First". In Liverpool, as 
usual, he received the warmest of welcomes. The Daily 
Post, in the course of a minute description of his performance, 
asserted that "Mr. Henry Irving has laboured with a fulness 



1 873] A "TRULY GREAT PERFORMANCE" 147 

of care and a resulting display of histrionic power and grace 
which bring to mind Carlyle's definition of genius as a super- 
lative power of taking trouble. Every action and accent 
that well-directed study could arrive at is here achieved with 
rare truth of instinct and balance of effect. Even the some- 
what measured and stilted delivery of the King in his lively 
gossip with his children on the sward at Hampton Court has 
its significance. It suggests the character of a man every 
inch a king, not in the sense of one naturally and exuber- 
antly kingly, but in the sense of one in whom kingship was 
a noble egotism, a sort of distinguished pedantry ; one who 
might be described as a royal Malvolio, wrapt up even in 
moments of domestic abandonment in a perpetual conscious- 
ness of the monarchial character and all that it involved. 
Never laying altogether aside in the family relations of the 
King this solemn tone of kindliness and playfulness, Mr. 
Irving shows great art in casting off with infinite ease all 
monarchial affectation when called upon to do real work with 
the representatives of the Parliament. The work done may 
be foolish, but it is done royally. The King's demeanour 
in the interview with Cromwell in the second act is very 
grand. His pulses quicken, his eloquence becomes pungent, 
his resolution glows, his very frame vibrates with a manly, 
soldierly, kingly daring, which makes small account of the 
most formidable obstacles, and holds no parley even with 
tremendous odds. Another phase of the character most nobly 
portrayed is that which follows the fatal betrayal at Newark. 
The spirit of the King, though saddened, is not abased. He 
towers above all around him. He awes the handsome traitor 
who has sold him into grovelling penitence. He consoles as 
well as he can the wife whose earlier years of married happi- 
ness he has tended with ever fresh devotion. Then he 
surrenders his sword with the calm submission of a martyr." 
An over-flowing house applauded most rapturously and in the 
right places, the recalls after each act were enthusiastic, and 
the actor's " truly great performance " received a worthy recog- 
nition at the hands of his many old Liverpool admirers. 

10* 



CHAPTER X. 

1873-1874. 

" Richelieu " at the Lyceum Irving compared with Macready in the 
character John Oxenford's great praise " Tragic acting in the grandest 
style " The Standard eulogises Irving's Richelieu The drama acted for 
over four months at the Lyceum The young critics, Button Cook and 
Clement Scott, dissent from the general praise An old-fashioned " slat- 
ing " Illness of Irving's father His death Production of " Philip "- 
The Globe on Irving's position " Charles the First " revived Irving plays 
Eugene Aram and Jeremy Diddler for his benefit. 

IRVING had now reached a critical stage in his career. He 
was still a young man. He had established his reputation 
as a serious actor with Mathias at the age of thirty-three, and 
had confirmed it with Charles a year later. A false step at 
this important period would have been most prejudicial. He 
was still a salaried actor and under the management of Colonel 
Bateman, a worthy man whose daughter was a member of 
the company and had to be considered. This circumstance 
being remembered, it is all the more to his credit that he had 
produced "The Bells," in which there was no part for Miss 
Isabel Bateman. The young actress had her chance in 
" Charles the First " and in "Eugene Aram". The words 
of Bateman when he saw Irving as Digby Grant must also 
be borne in mind " That young man should play Richelieu ". 
And play Richelieu he did, although very unwillingly. For 
he regarded himself as an original actor, and, while the 
interpreter of Shakespeare may think for himself, the imper- 
sonator of Richelieu was obliged to follow, to a great extent, 
the beaten track of tradition. More dangerous still, he was 
bound to bear the brunt of comparison with Macready, who 
was still the apostle of a large army of keen admirers. It 

may be as well to bring into evidence the statement made 

148 



1873] RICHELIEU 149 

twenty years later by Irving in regard to the early pro- 
ductions at the Lyceum under the Bateman management. 
We have seen that "The Bells" was brought out against 
Bateman's wish and that the theatre had, as Irving modestly 
put it in 1884, "prospered". It was difficult to find a suc- 
cessor to " The Bells". " It was thought that whatever part 
I played it must be a villain, associated with crime in some 
way or other ; because I had been identified with such sort 
of characters, it was thought my forte lay in that direction. 
I should tell you that I had associated histrionically with all 
sorts of bad characters, housebreakers, black-legs, assassins. 
When ' Charles the First ' was announced, it was said that 
the bad side of the King's character should be the one por- 
trayed, not the good, because it would be ridiculous to expect 
me to exhibit any pathos, or to give the domestic and loving 
side of the character. After the first night, the audience 
thought differently. Following 'Charles the First,' 'Eugene 
Aram ' was, by Mr. Bateman's desire, produced. Then Mr. 
Bateman wished me to play Richelieu. I had no desire to 
do that, but he continued to persuade, and, to please him, 
I did it." A more conscientious actor than Henry Irving, 
or one who worked more assiduously at the task which he 
had undertaken, never lived. Although he did not, owing 
to the nervousness incidental to such a trying experiment, do 
himself full justice on the first night of the revival Saturday, 
27th September, 1873, which was also the opening night of 
the season he created an impression which was greatly in 
his favour. 1 John Oxenford, in the Times, prefaced his de- 
scription of the performance with a summary of the state of 
the stage at that period, and pointed out that the Lyceum 
was now the only possible home in London for tragedy and 
pieces akin to tragedy, "unassisted by spectacle " an obser- 
vation of some significance. All the same, "such a demon - 

l " Richelieu" was first acted at Covent Garden on yth March, 1839, 
under the management of Macready. Helen Faucit (afterwards Lady 
Theodore Martin) was the original Julie de Mortemar. This was Lord 
Lytton's third essay as a dramatist. " The Duchesse de Valliere " was 
his first play, in 1837, "The Lady of Lyons" his second, in 1838. 



ISO THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. x. 

stration as that which was made on Saturday could not 
have been anticipated even by the most sanguine among the 
hopeful. 

" The play itself, excellent as a specimen of dramatic talent 
employed in the treatment of an historical subject, is not one 
that might be particularly expected to excite enthusiasm or 
curiosity. It has never wholly disappeared from the boards 
since it was originally brought out by Mr. Macready at 
Covent Garden, and it has always had a place in the reper- 
tory of Mr. Phelps. The great Cardinal, whom the poet has 
whitewashed all over, leaving nothing untouched but his 
vestment, is nevertheless but a figure composed of materials 
of which the idols of a mob commonly consist. His patriotism, 
his love for France in the abstract, whom he personifies in his 
imagination, is of so purely ideal a kind that we can hardly 
fancy that even Frenchmen would be greatly moved by it. 
He stands apart from that dramatic interest which is often 
found to be of such inestimable value, and to which ' Charles 
the First' owed much of its success. In spite of all rehabili- 
tation, he remains a wily politician, with a very hot temper, 
who, taking Lysander for his model and consequently eking 
out the hide of the lion with that of the fox, contrives by ex- 
treme craft, to overthrow every enemy who crosses his path. 

11 In spite of all this, never did aristocratic statesman leap 
with greater agility into favour with a multitude, which com- 
prised idolaters of every class, than did ' Armand du Plessis- 
Richelieu ' on the night of Saturday last. The feat is to be 
attributed wholly and solely to the genius of Mr. Irving. 

"The proficiency of this gentleman in making himself up 
into the semblance of an historical personage, as shown in 
1 Charles the First,' is again revealed in ' Richelieu'. Those 
who are familiar with the portrait of the Cardinal must be at 
once struck by its presentation in a living form when Mr. 
Irving makes his first appearance. The face, the manner, 
the attitudes, all give evidence of thought and study. The 
elocution in the earlier scenes is even and well-sustained, and 
the apostrophe to France, with which the first act terminates, 



i873] 



EULOGY FROM THE TIMES 



is all that could be desired. The passing regret over bygone 
strength, which is expressed more by gesture than by words, 
when Richelieu finds himself unable to lift the sword which 
he wielded in his youth, is subtly given, but the actor reserves 
the plenitude of his power for the fourth act. His defence of 
Julie de Mortemar when the minions of the King would 
snatch her from his arms, the weight of the sacerdotal autho- 
rity with which he threatens to ' launch the curse of Rome ' on 
his assailant, his self-transformation into the semblance of a 
Hebrew prophet of the olden time, with whom imprecations 
were deeds, combine together to produce a most astounding 
effect. Here is tragic acting in the grandest style, and it will 
be borne in mind that, although ' Richelieu ' is not a tragedy, 



RICHELIEU. 
Revived at the Lyceum on 2yth September, 1873. 



CARDINAL RICHELIEU 

Louis XIII. - 

GASTON (DUKE OF ORLEANS) 

BARADAS - 

DE MAUPRAT - 

DEBERINGHEN- 

JOSEPH - 

HUGUET .... 

FRANCOIS - 

DE CLAREMONT - 

CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD - 

FIRST SECRETARY 

SECOND SECRETARY - 

THIRD SECRETARY 

MARION DE LORME - 

JULIE DE MORTEMAR 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. JOHN CLAYTON. 
Mr. BEAUMONT. 
Mr. H. FORRESTER. 
Mr. J. B. HOWARD. 
Mr. F. CHARLES. 
Mr. JOHN CARTER. 
Mr. E. F. EDGAR. 
Mr. H. B. CONWAY. 
Mr. A. TAPPING. 
Mr. HARWOOD. 
Mr. W. L. BRANSCOMBE. 
Mr. HENRY. 
Mr. COLLETT. 
Miss LE THIERE. 
Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Salon in the House of Marion de Lorme; 
SCENE 2. Richelieu's Cabinet in Palais Cardinal. ACT II., 
SCENE i. Apartment in Mauprat's New House; SCENE 2. 
Richelieu's Apartment, as before. ACT III. Richelieu's Apart- 
ment at Ruelle a Gothic Chamber. ACT IV. Gardens in 
the Louvre. ACT V. The King's Closet at the Louvre. 



it belongs practically to the tragical category, as none can do 
justice to it but a tragedian. Before the effect of the fulmina- 
tion has subsided come the well-known lines : 

Walk blindfold on behind thee stalks the headsman. 
Ha ! ha ! how pale he is ! Heaven save my country. 

"The scornful laugh by which the flow of indignation is 



152 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. x. 

checked, and which was a great point with Mr. Macready 
had told with surprising force, and when the Cardinal had 
fallen back exhausted, the descending drop-curtain on Satur- 
day night gave the signal, as it were, to the scene to which 
we have above referred. The old-fashioned excitement which 
we associate with Edmund Kean and his ' wolves ' was mani- 
fested once more in all its pristine force. Enthusiastic shouts 
of approbation came from every part of the house. The pit 
not only rose, but it made its rising conspicuous by the waving 
of countless hats and handkerchiefs. Not bare approval, but 
hearty sympathy was denoted by this extraordinary demon- 
stration, and this sympathy nothing but genius and thorough 
self-abandonment on the part of the artist could have produced. 

" The triumph of the fourth act was continued through the 
fifth ; the quiet comments of the apparently dying Cardinal 
on the effete projects of the King and the newly appointed 
Ministers were most delicately doled out, and the sudden 
transformation of extreme debility into an assertion of pristine 
vigour was followed by another storm of applause. Of the 
success of the performance there could not be the shadow of 
a doubt. Not since the curse pronounced by the elder Miss 
Bateman in ' Leah' have we seen an audience so strongly 
stirred by the utterance of one tragic artist." 

The Daily Telegraph found much to commend in this 
initial impersonation of " Richelieu," and it rightly recognised 
the " extreme nervousness and a sense of the heavy responsi- 
bility of the task," which somewhat marred the first perform- 
ance. Nor did it regard the revival as " secure of one of those 
long runs to which the patrons of the Lyceum have grown ac- 
customed " a prophecy which, happily, was not borne out by 
subsequent events, for " Richelieu" had a successful career of 
a hundred and twenty nights at the Lyceum a very satisfac- 
tory result in view of the fact that it was an old play, and one 
that had been frequently acted, not only by Macready and 
Samuel Phelps, but by every other tragedian of the time. 
This result was largely due to Irving's wonderful capacity for 
taking pains and for improving upon his first impersonation of 



1873] MORE ENCOURAGEMENT 153 

a character a faculty which increased with his years. So re- 
markable a hold had he obtained on public opinion when he 
acted Richelieu, that the Standard then in the height of its 
popularity and an organ of authority in other matters than those 
of politics published a second article on " Richelieu ". It is a 
remarkable piece of criticism and a wonderful tribute to the 
actor. It is given here, word for word, as it appeared on 
Tuesday, 1 4th October, 1873: 

"The brilliant success which marked Mr. Irving's first 
appearance as Cardinal Richelieu has proved to be no straw- 
fire smouldering down to ashes when the enthusiasm of a 
band of immediate friends and adherents had burnt itself out. 
Rather is it a well-trimmed lamp, which, though it may have 
flared a little wildly under the first stormy gusts of the popular 
voice, now burns steadily and brightly a beacon to guide 
many a goodly houseful within the pleasant portals of the 
Lyceum. It is a fact on which London has to congratulate 
itself not a little, for in Mr. Irving it sees an actor of its own 
rearing, who has grown to his present intellectual and artistic 
stature by the sole experience he has gained on London 
boards, and whose genius has been fostered by the approba- 
tion of London audiences ; proving that, though that pro- 
vincial training which was once thought so indispensable to 
the ripening of an actor, is no longer possible, a decided 
vocation may in a few years mature itself to the highest 
proficiency unaided by any such preparatory academy. Truly 
wonderful, and in the highest degree encouraging, indeed, 
is it to note how this young actor, purely from the strength 
and light within him, with no beaten path of tradition to 
facilitate his early footsteps, no guiding hand of some famed 
master, no brilliant models to dart inspiration and shorten 
study, has yet with almost unhesitating tread climbed the 
rugged steep of art and gained the upper heights, reaching 
the topmost summits, as it were, at a leap. If it be re- 
membered how very few years ago it is that Mr. Irving was 
credited with the happy characterisation of such a part as 
Mr. Chevenix in ' Uncle Dick's Darling,' as his utmost effort. 



154 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. x. 

to speak thus will appear no exaggeration when he appears 
before us now as the representative of Cardinal Richelieu, 
rendering Bulwer's clever play a possible entertainment for 
modern audiences, to whom it must otherwise have remained 
a problematical subject of reading-room study, and so opening 
up for the future such a prospect of dramatic edification as 
only yesterday was deemed an almost desperate anticipation. 
Thanks to Mr. Irving, young England may yet know some- 
thing of a national drama, and not grow to associate the stage 
entirely with glittering show, glib punning, and graceful 
nether-limbs. Not that Cardinal Richelieu is a part of the 
highest exigency in point of intellectual grasp, or as a means 
of expounding through art subtle apprehensions of the springs 
of feeling and action, but it implies an ample command of 
the mechanical resources of the actor's craft, without which 
he could not hope, whatever might be his sympathies with the 
highest productions of the stage and his mental power of 
probing their depth and significance, to realise the heroic 
figures round which they centre. Written expressly to bring 
out these executive capabilities in an actor then at the most 
mature period of his very great powers, and whose life had 
been one strenuous study of the means of producing strong 
and impressive effects, of suddenly startling or deeply stirring 
an audience within the limits of truth and without over-step- 
ping the strict though flowing curves of beauty or the peril- 
ous hedge of the sublime, such a part was perhaps better 
calculated to set at rest the question as to the justice of Mr. 
Irving's pretensions to become a leading tragic actor than 
had he undertaken any of the usual round of Shakespearean 
characters in which the point of his technical and physical 
sufficiency would have got mixed up with the profundity or 
propriety of his interpretations of text or character. An actor 
who has so thoroughly mastered the requisites of his art, and 
has shown the sustained power to fill up a canvas of such 
dimensions with good work to the last inch, need not flinch 
before the task of presenting the most arduous and colossal 
of the heroes of our stage. It was observed by us that on 




1873] PRAISE INDEED 155 

the first night Mr. Irving appeared, in the fiery zeal of 
ambition, to have exaggerated the necessities of the case, and 
to have lavished a disproportionate amount of minuteness of 
finish and intensity of exertion on what was on the part of 
the author broad and dashing as it might be still only a 
clever sketch, the elaborate working up of which would but 
serve to betray original defects of drawing. Purposely, or as 
the result of that instinct which causes the craftsman to do 
everything with the least expenditure of effort, the balance is 
restored, and the amount of powder used is no more than 
necessary to carry the shot home. Freed from the inalien- 
able anxieties of a first night, and instructed by its indispens- 
able lessons, Mr. Irving now presents to the world a picture 
of the old cardinal vigorous and sharply marked as one of 
Retsch's outlines, and, though without over elaboration, more 
minutely and carefully filled in with touches of truthful and 
telling colour and significance not stuck on for effect, as from 
afterthought, but woven into the texture of the part than 
was ever the case with any other representation of the 
character we have seen, not excepting that of Macready him- 
self. In the first act, hugged in his furred robe, darting with 
arrowy keenness vulpine glances from beneath his shaggy 
brows, a smile, bitter or benevolent, ever hovering about the 
stern pursed-up lip, the senile gait still preserving remnants 
of vigour, made up a perfect picture to the eye, while the 
measured and significantly terse speech, illustrated by ever- 
varied and appropriate attitude, the thoughtful by-play, as it 
is called, completed to the sense, in the most satisfactory full- 
ness, both of character and situation. The rhapsody ending 
this act, delivered with an eloquent fervour, gaunt arms and 
glistening eyes uplifted, worthy of words weighted with more 
genuine metal, gives the first hint of Mr. Irving's emotional 
intensity. As the play proceeds these vivid outbursts of 
strongly realised feeling become more frequent, upheaving 
like volcanic commotions, and pouring out words in a boiling 
torrent, fiery and scathing as lava. Such was the threat of 
Rome's anathema commencing : 



156 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. x. 

Aye is it so ? 

Then wakes the power which in the age of iron 
Burst forth to curb the great and raise the low 

when the tempest of the soul seemed to act outwardly on 
the frame, swaying and lifting it bodily from the ground, like 
an uprooted tree, towards the object of the cardinal's terrific 
wrath. The physical grandeur of this explosion, combined 
with the overbearing moral force, is unmatched by any other 
similar exhibition of the actor's power throughout the play, 
and only approached by the triumphant springing up of the 
cardinal from his arm-chair at the close of the action, and after 
the finely-wrought scene of feigned exhaustion, when, tramp- 
ling the state paper, so perplexing to poor Louis, beneath his 
feet, he lowers up in savage exultation at the recovery of his 
lost power, and the distant prospect of dire vengeance over 
his discomfited enemies. The concentrated malignity with 
which, as he half-glided, half-tottered towards Baradas, his 
clenched teeth and parched throat, rather than his lips, force 
out the words 'thou hast lost the stake/ could scarcely be 
surpassed for spell-like power over the imagination the man 
seemed transformed into some huge cobra. We have dwelt 
more emphatically on these passages, denoting the actor's 
capacity for expressing vigorous passion, as it undoubtedly 
forms his strongest side, but that there is no deficiency of 
pathos in his nature was abundantly proved in the various 
passages of tender expansion towards Julie, and more especi- 
ally in the return upon himself in the fourth act, ' I am not 
made to live,' where the notable simile between the cardinal's 
star and a rocket occurs, which piece of profound bathos Mr. 
Irving's art disguised into an utterance of touching and heart- 
moving melancholy. But we have said enough, nor must we 
court the danger, in our anxious desire to signalise the un- 
doubted and marvellous achievements of a young and rising 
actor, of overstating his claims and painting a picture in colours 
which others less enthusiastic may not recognise in the original. 
But as truth is great and will prevail, so with her sister, art, 
whose genuine presence once established, her ultimate triumph 
is only a question of time," 




YOUNG CRITICS 157 

The play, which had been slightly condensed for the Ly- 
ceum revival, was mounted with much liberality and complete- 
ness of decoration, the costumes being rich and tasteful : 
"the characters wear the aspect of animated Vandycks," said 
one critic. But Irving, in regard to acting, had the entire 
weight of the play on his shoulders. Macready had a most 
capable company to support him, every part in the play being 
taken by actors who were excellent in their respective parts. 
" The Lyceum company numbers few actors of any note, and 
occasionally the drama suffered gravely from the incompetence 
of its exponents. The characters of Julie and De Mauprat 
were even so inefficiently filled as to provoke the displeasure 
of an audience that seemed otherwise disposed to regard the 
performance with excessive leniency and to lavish applause 
at every possible opportunity." Despite these deficiencies, 
" Richelieu" was played for over four months at the Lyceum. 

Lest it should be imagined that Irving's career was en- 
tirely a bed of roses when he began his brilliant reign as 
Richelieu, the reverse side of the picture must be given. There 
were some young critics in London who, with the impetuosity 
of youth, agreed to differ with such experienced judges of 
acting as John Oxenford. One of these was Button Cook, 
who invariably was grudging in his praise of Irving. Some- 
times, indeed, he was the model of cold and calculated con- 
tempt. He had scarcely the proverbial bone to throw at a dog 
for Irving as Richelieu. " Mr. Irving appears as Richelieu," 
he wrote, in the World, "the actor's recent successes on the 
stage justifying, perhaps," note the qualification "his ambi- 
tion to distinguish himself in so important a character. Mr. 
Irving plays with care and intelligence, his physical gifts, with 
the assistance of appropriate costume, enabling him to present 
a striking resemblance to the well-known portraits of the 
Cardinal. His performance, on the whole, however, is de- 
ficient in sustained force and fails to impress. Richelieu has 
to be depicted as prematurely old and decrepit, and yet must 
be represented by an actor of untiring energy and inordinate 
strength of voice. He is charged with the delivery now of 



i 5 8 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. x. 

mordant jests, and now of protracted rhapsodies. Mr. Irving's 
system of elocution is somewhat monotonous, and his longer 
speeches appear to tax him severely, their effect upon the 
audience being oppressive " a statement, by the way, which 
is not in accordance with the recorded facts, as already evinced. 
However, this sapient critic continues : " His sarcastic utter- 
ances lose point from his too deliberate manner and his lack 
of a penetrating, resonant quality of voice. Upon the humorous 
side of the character he lays little stress, and neglects the 
many opportunities of this kind provided by the dramatist for 
the enlivenment of the audience. In the hands of Macready, 
Richelieu during the earlier scenes of the play was almost a 
comic part, and thus contrast and variety were secured as the 
story advanced. Mr. Irving is spiritless enough for three acts, 
but he permits himself a grand burst of passion at the close of 
the fourth. Here, indeed, his vehemence has something more 
of deliriousness about it than the situation really demands, 
involving a total loss of the cardinal's dignity ; but the actor's 
genuine ardour evoked storms of applause. His most success- 
ful effort was the last scene, which was in many respects very 
finely rendered. Mr. Irving will no doubt improve upon his 
performance with a view to investing it with increase of har- 
mony and coherence ; at present, it is somewhat disappointing 
to his admirers." But, severe as was this criticism, it was 
mildness itself in comparison with that which greeted the 
actor, when, a few hours after the first performance, he read 
the notice written in the Observer by Clement Scott. It is 
rather amusing to look upon such excited utterances after the 
lapse of years, but such slashing, dashing criticism especially 
on the part of a writer who had but comparatively little ex- 
perience of his work, for Scott was only twenty-eight years of 
age could not be considered helpful. Not that it mattered, 
in the long run, and there was much worse, in the way of so- 
called criticism, to come during the next few years. No 
useful purpose would be served by quoting the article, which 
is of inordinate length, in full, but here are a few specimens 
of criticism as it was occasionally written in these early years 



1873] A "SLASHING" NOTICE 159 

by over-confident critics. Scott wrote much in praise of 
Irving, but this kind of condemnation over-stepped the limits 
of judicial criticism : 

" Let us agree to differ. This serious, earnest, kindly compromise stands 
us in good stead occasionally. On some points of dramatic art there is no 
argument whatever. Discussion is out of the question, comparing of notes 
is utterly useless. Let us then out with it honestly, and own that the long- 
expected, anxiously-awaited performance of 'Richelieu,' at one of the best 
of our theatres, was but very slightly to our liking. We are not afraid of our 
opinion, for we shall state the why and the wherefore ; but it is truly an un- 
grateful task to speak anything but praise of a theatre which is the very home 
of art, or of an actor who is justly regarded as one of its most brilliant 
ornaments. We own at once we are in a serious minority. The old play 
went as it has probably never gone before. The principal actor was cheered 
and feted with such a triumph as has fallen to few actors in our time. 
Hats and handkerchiefs were waved ; the pit and gallery leaped upon the 
benches ; the house shook and rang with the applause, but the excitement 
was unwholesome, and the cheers were forced. It was the wild delirium of 
a revival meeting, an excited, earnest enthusiast having previously created 
slaves, bent them all to his imperious will. The greater the shouting on the 
stage, the more the cheering of the audience. It was a triumph of din, an 
apotheosis of incoherence. Seriously, we cannot fail to feel a little vexed 
when all our dearest hopes and ambitions are thus cruelly dashed to the 
ground. We talk of the old school, the old stilted elocution, the old un- 
pardonable mannerisms, the old drawls, and groans, and sighs, and forced 
efforts to create effect, and, behold, we have a famous old play, as it appears 
to us, with the sense more mangled, and the exaggeration more sublime. 
One can well pardon the artists for ' o'erdoing termagant,' since last even- 
ing the delicacy and grace of acting were lost in a whirlwind of noise. Nice 
points and rare graces of thought were absolutely smothered and crushed 
out by this intemperate, leather-lunged audience, and of interesting examples 
of refined and thoughtful acting there were not a few. 

" Let us briefly summarise the acts according to the impression they 
seemed to make upon the audience. It was all tame, lifeless, and unin- 
telligible until the appearance of Mr. Irving as Richelieu, and then the 
actor received such a welcome and a shout as fall but seldom to a monarch. 
The picturesque appearance of the man at once impressed the whole house, 
the splendid presence, the noble and most expressive face, the sunk eyes, 
ascetic features and thoughtful brow, the long taper fingers, and the refined 
dignity at once filled up the picture. We forgot that awkward halting (not 
decrepit) walk. We did not linger upon the occasional ungainly action. 
The man, Richelieu, as he stood, impressed and convinced the audience 
that a great performance was at hand. But why did it not come ? We 
had all read ' Richelieu ' beforehand. We had all made ourselves masters 
of the nervous vigorous language. We had all made up our minds where 
points would be made, and where some poetical fancy would carry the 
audience away. But, strange to say, the delivery of the verse by Mr. 
Irving was monotonous and stilted. He seemed to say to the audience, 



160 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. x. 

' I am about to deliver some hundreds of lines of blank verse, and you all 
know that a tone and an air are assumed when legitimate blank verse is 
delivered '. But surely this was the old difficulty all over again. This is 
just what we have so often protested against. We had hoped that verse 
might be pronounced without any air and special chant, and we who love 
natural and not conventional acting, regarded Mr. Irving as the Horatius, 
boldly prepared to step forward and defend the bridge of unconventionality. 
But it was not to be. The attitudes were new, the business thoughtful; 
but poor Lord Lytton's verse was thrust into the old mill, and it was being 
wound off for the edification of the audience. It was not the kind of verse 
that deserved such treatment, and those who had read over the play before- 
hand, delighted in the thought how passage after passage would come out 
clear and new at the beckoning of Mr. Irving. 

" In the second act, the monotony of Mr. Irving's general delivery 
increased very much, and his best (and admirable) business with the sword, 
his failing strength, ending with a short, dry, hacking cough, was naturally 
but very little appreciated by an audience who believed in no acting that 
did not ' fetch them '. It was, to tell the truth, a dull act. The third act 
was even duller still, mainly owing to the darkness and the failure of Mr. 
Irving to make any impression whatever in his long soliloquy. The sudden 
end of the act with the 'Richelieu is dead,' and the picture, created a 
reaction, but the play was not at this point going well. No one doubted 
that the performance of Mr. Irving was intelligent and extremely picturesque. 
That came without saying. But many in the audience expected a great 
performance, and it did not appear as if the power was forthcoming. As 
a picture, the Richelieu was everything that could be desired, but the 
acting was only of average merit. The excitement of the evening was re- 
served for the end of the fourth act, when Richelieu launches the curse of 
Rome on Baradas. 

" Seldom has such excitement been seen at a theatre, and seldom have 
we so entirely disagreed with the verdict. We said at the outset, we agree 
to differ. At this speech, and at the final words, the pit rose, and literally 
yelled for Mr. Irving. But what had been done? Voice, strength, and 
energy overtaxed ; a speech delivered so incoherently, that few could follow 
one syllable ; one of those whirlwinds of noise which creates applause, 
mainly owing to an irresistible, but still unhealthy, excitement. We doubt 
not, many consider this very great acting. It looks so ; it sounds so. In 
the last act Mr. Irving once more commanded our sympathies, and once 
more disappointed us. What could be better than the action, the look, 
the attitude of the old man ' semi mort ' ? How really very fine was that 
scene when the secretaries told their story, and the Cardinal half-buried 
and half-dying in the chair, watched his irresolute master, and waited for 
the supreme moment of reaction ! But what followed, unhappily, with the 
reaction the loss of voice, the absence of power, the acting which looked 
wonderful, mainly from its extravagance. We refuse to prophesy concern- 
ing future verdicts. We merely declare that we disagree with that recorded 
last night. A more picturesque, a possibly more intelligent, Richelieu has 
seldom been seen. 

" The audience deliberately voted for the management. With great re- 
gret, and for reasons into which it is impossible to enter now, we cannot 
endorse the popular verdict." 



1 874] "PHILIP" 161 

Henry Irving had other matters to disturb him in 1873 
beyond a little adverse criticism which, however much or how 
little, deserved, did not affect the public estimation of him. 
During the run of " Richelieu," he was troubled by the illness 
of his father. On a certain Sunday morning, he sent a letter 
by messenger to his friend, Frank Marshall, which speaks for 
itself: 

" MY DEAR FRANK, 

" I am very sorry that I can't be with you to-day. 
I start for Birmingham at five o'clock my father is ill there 
and has expressed a wish to see me. 

" Please tell your brother how I regret being unable to ac- 
cept his hospitality. 

" I struggled hard last night to be with you but was 
really too done up. Richelieu twice is a trifle too much." 

Here we see the young actor of thirty-five, having played 
a most arduous part in the afternoon and again in the evening 
of the previous day, journeying to Birmingham in order to 
see his sick father, and returning to London in time to resume 
his work at the theatre on the Monday. Until the shadow 
of the end fell upon him, Irving never betrayed any feeling of 
fatigue or depression to those who met him, either in business 
or socially. He had an iron constitution, of which he was 
justly proud. His father, it may be mentioned here, kept 
his affectionate record of his son's career until the end of the 
summer season of 1874. Samuel Brodribb died, in Bristol, 
on 2Oth June, 1876, so that he lived to know of his son's 
great triumph as Hamlet. 

As we have the documentary evidence of the Standard 
and other papers to testify, Irving stimulated himself to 
further efforts after the first night of Lytton's play, and his 
Richelieu became a great achievement. It was an extremely 
popular performance, not only in London, but when, at the 
end of the season, he went on tour with it in the provinces. 
" Richelieu" was succeeded, on Saturday, 7th February, 1874, 
by " Philip," a drama in four acts, by Hamilton Aide, in 

VOL. I. II 



162 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. x. 

which Irving acted the part of a romantic young lover, who 
imagines that he is a murderer. For, at the end of the first 
act, Philip, in self-defence, shoots his half-brother, and leaves 
him for dead. In the later acts, Philip, having married his 
first love, about whom he had quarrelled and for whom he 
had committed as he thinks a terrible crime, is actuated 
by the pangs of jealousy. So that, in some respects, Philip 
resembled Eugene Aram, for both characters are overcome 
by remorse. In the last act, Philip, maddened by the thought 
that his wife is unfaithful, and knowing that the man whom 
he suspects is concealed within his wife's oratory, orders the 



PHILIP. 
First acted at the Lyceum on yth February, 1874. 



COUNT PHILIP DE MIRAFLORE 
COUNT JUAN DE MIRAFLORE 
COUNT DE FLAMARENS 
BARON DE BEAUFORT - 
SAINT AIGNAN 
MONSIEUR DE BRIMONT 
THIBAULT - - - - 
COUNT KITCHAKOFF - 
COUNT DE CHARENTE- 
MARQUIS DE LALLEMONT - 
MONSIEUR VIREY 
SERVANT - 
MADAME DE PRIVOISIN 
COUNTESS DE MIRAFLORE - 
LOUISE - 

INEZ 

MARIE - ... 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. JOHN CLAYTON. 
Mr. H. B. CONWAY. 
Mr. F. CHARLES. 
Mr. BRENNEND. 
Mr. BEAUMONT. 
Mr. JOHN CARTER. 
Mr. HARWOOD. 
Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

Mr. COLLETT. 

Mr. TAPPING. 

Mr. A. LENEPVEN. 

Miss VIRGINIA FRANCIS. 

Miss G. PAUNCEFORT. 

Miss St. ANGE. 

Miss J. HENRI. 

Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I. Exterior of Ancient Moorish Castle in Andalusia. 
Parapet overlooking the Guadalquiver. Act II. Salon of Ma- 
dame de Privoisin in Paris. Act III. Exterior of the Chateau 
de St. Leon in Brittany. Act IV. The Boudoir and Oratory 
of Madame de St. Leon. 



entrance thereto to be bricked up. After a scene of terrible 
suspense, the object of Philip's jealousy is released, and the 
jealous husband, relieved at finding that the man is his half- 
brother, whom he had left for dead eight years previously, 
allows him to depart, and a fairly happy ending brings the 
drama to a close. There is nothing very much in the play, 
and, although the scene was laid amid romantic surroundings, 
it might just as well have been in England as in Andalusia or 



1 874] INTELLECTUAL FORCE 163 

France. The critics complained that there was "no Spanish 
colouring to the dialogue," but a more serious fault was the 
lack of novelty. The dramatic incident of the last act, first 
related in one of Balzac's novels, had already done duty on 
the stage in a French drama which, adapted by Morris Barnett 
under the title of "The Married Unmarried," had been pro- 
duced, within the memory of many playgoers, by Charles Kean, 
when the process of bricking-up the too ardent lover was 
shown to the audience with abundance of harrowing detail. 
Mr. Aide's play possessed much literary grace, but, despite 
the supposititious murder of the first act in reality, a pro- 
logue and the walling-up incident of the last act, it was not 
a good drama. Still, Irving drew much credit to himself by 
his impersonation of the leading part. "The play owes its 
most intellectual attraction to the fine acting of Mr. Irving, 
who gives artistic and impassioned expression to the love, 
pride, anger, jealousy, and high-souled sense of honour which 
are the chief constituents in the character of Philip," said the 
Morning Post, "the transport of indignant rage flashing from 
the face of the young Spaniard, and thrilling every nerve and 
fibre of his frame in his quarrel with his recreant brother, is 
only to be equalled by the terror, anguish, and remorse with 
which Philip surveyed the prostrate body of the kinsman 
whom he is supposed to have slain." 

Even with such a slight and unsatisfactory part in com- 
parison with his preceding characters at the Lyceum Irving 
attracted a vast amount of attention. His position at this 
period is clearly shown by an article in the Globe on the 
Monday following the production of Mr. Aide's play. "The 
progress of Mr. Irving," it said, "cannot but be watched with 
interest by all who care for the welfare of the stage. He is 
among the few actors of the time who can bring a strong 
intellectual force to the consideration of many problems of 
their art, and in certain qualities of strength and intensity he 
stands alone. His presence on the stage carries always the 
conviction of earnestness and serious purpose, which, coming 
amongst much that is only half-hearted and of vague meaning, 



1 64 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. x. 

is absolutely startling in its effect. Everything done is felt to 
have been done deliberately. Critics may differ as to the 
merit of the conception, but it is impossible to complain that 
it is not clearly and definitely set before them. The motive 
is always consistent, the expression always precise, and in 
these two facts alone there is much to distinguish Mr. Irving 
from the larger number of his fellows. Thus it happens that 
what he does, whether rightly or wrongly, serves at least to 
awaken interest and criticism. It is impossible to feel in- 
different to what bears so strong an impress of individuality, 
and if the interpretation given is not felt to be true and 
accurate, there is at least sufficient strength in it to suggest 
anew the problems with which the actor has tried to grapple." 
The same observant critic indicated a curious belief which 
had grown up concerning the actor in regard to the audiences 
at the Lyceum which "have so often beheld Mr. Irving re- 
morseful for murders actually committed that it is a little 
difficult to believe in his innocence now ; and when it was 
found that Philip really had not slain his brother, the sense of 
relief was not wholly unmixed with a measure of incredulity ". 
One can quite imagine that the impersonator of Mathias and 
Eugene Aram had inspired certain people with the idea that 
he could seldom be innocent on the stage. It took a number 
of years to remove that impression. 

On Monday, ist June, the actor gave fresh proof of his 
untiring spirit, his unceasing desire to improve upon his 
previous work. On that evening, "Charles the First" was 
revived, and the occasion called forth fresh criticism and all 
of a favourable nature. The Daily Telegraph had a long 
article referring once more, in the most laudatory terms, to 
the play and the chief player. Having called attention to the 
worth of Mr. Wills's drama, it proceeded : "No better proof 
can be given of its value than the cheers which burst out at 
the conclusion of the second act, and the streaming eyes 
giving evidence of the author's subtle power over the heart. 
There are new reasons, however, for strongly and earnestly 
recommending a renewed acquaintance with this play, and 



1874] CHARLES THE FIRST AGAIN 



165 



they will be found chiefly in the acting which, throughout its 
long career, was never better than at this moment. Famili- 
arity with the work does not now, as in so many instances, 
suggest a fatigue and distaste for it. All have approached 
their task with new energy, fresh fire, and refined taste. 
Critical essays of some worth have been written on the 
Charles the First of Mr. Henry Irving of all his perform- 
ances, the most genuine, the least mannered, and the most 
highly cultivated. His warmest admirers will find in the re- 
vived Charles fresh motive for honest praise. Never before 
has he expressed with such artistic nicety the o'ershadowing 
of pathos over the sad King's life or the struggle against 
inevitable fate." There was more to the same purport, and 
the Queen of Miss Isabel Bateman was cordially approved. 
The cast was materially strengthened for the revival by the 
appearance and acting of John Clayton, a most admirable 
Cromwell. There was also a new Moray in Mr. H. B. Con- 
way. Monday, 22nd June, 1874, was fixed for the last night 
of the season and the benefit of the leading actor, who elected 
to appear in the widely-contrasted characters of Eugene 
Aram and Jeremy Diddler. 



CHAPTER XL 

1874-1875. 

Irving's first appearance in London as Hamlet Melancholy fore- 
bodings not justified The poor scenery for this revival of " Hamlet " The 
Lyceum pit Irving's feelings on the first night An "electrical" effect on 
the audience Clement Scott's vivid description The hundredth repre- 
sentation A pleasant supper Irving's success influences other managers 
Death of " Colonel " Bateman Irving's tribute to his old manager- 
Tennyson and Frith on Irving's Hamlet Sir Edward Russell's essay on 
Irving as Hamlet. 

BEFORE he was thirty-six years of age, Irving had borne the 
brunt of much criticism. But it was honest criticism not 
mere abuse, such as was, very soon afterwards, heaped upon 
him and he had profited by it. He made an artistic triumph 
in "Richelieu"; and the public applauded his improved im- 
personation for more consecutive performances than had ever 
been given of the play. This feat was all the more remark- 
able, seeing that it was achieved despite comparison and de- 
spite the hide-bound tradition of " point-making ". He had, 
however, apart from establishing himself firmly with the pub- 
lic, obtained recognition as an actor who could think for him- 
self. Even since his death, his detractors and he had many 
after his death, as in his life have admitted the possession 
of intellect. They conceded this point, in 1874, when 
they could not admit anything else that was a virtue. They 
granted that at any rate he was original. His Mathias, 
Charles, and Eugene Aram were creations in the literal, 
as well as in the French, meaning of the term, and his con- 
ception of the character of Richelieu differed from that of his 
predecessors and was afterwards recognised as a great im- 
personation. This was all very well, said his enemies, but it 
was no matter after all, for Mathias was not to be compared 

166 



1874] HAMLET 167 

even to the well-known characters in the classic drama, and 
Bulwer Lytton was not Shakespeare. All of which was 
perfectly true. So that when it was whispered that the new 
actor intended to attempt to play Hamlet, the rumour was re- 
ceived with incredulity. As the report grew into certainty, 
it spread consternation in the camp of the enemy. Surprise 
gave way to indignation, and the definite date for the trial 
was treated with a combination of wrath and contempt. But 
the wiseacres, who by this time should have respected the 
determination of the player, even though they could not ad- 
mire his art, were rash in prophesying disaster. As for the 
statement that Henry Irving had once played Hamlet some- 
where in the provinces, such ridiculous experiments might go 
down in Manchester or wherever it was, but London, for- 
sooth ! Just let him try ! Well, he did try, and with the 
same grim determination which never forsook him, and with 
the same inward sense of humour which enabled him to en- 
dure trials to which no other actor was ever subjected. Even 
his friend, the manager and Bateman was a real friend, as 
Irving frequently acknowledged was as doubtful about 
" Hamlet "as he had been about "The Bells". "What I 
did play, by my own desire, and against his Bateman's 
belief in its success, was Hamlet ; for you must know that 
at that time there was a motto among managers * Shake- 
speare spells ruin'." This saying, it may be mentioned, 
originated with the manager of Drury Lane, F. B. Chatter- 
ton, who, in September, 1873, had produced "Antony and 
Cleopatra " with magnificent scenery and disastrous results. 
His spectacular revival of " Sardanapalus " had no better fate. 
Hence arose his lament, "Shakespeare spells ruin and Byron 
bankruptcy," which became a stock-phrase in the theatrical 
world. 

So that, with the adverse criticism in advance to which 
Irving was subjected and the disaster of Drury Lane as an 
example, it would be unfair to blame Bateman for his lack 
of enthusiasm about " Hamlet ". He tried a revival of " The 
Bells," with which the season began on 28th September, 



1 68 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 



1874; and, on Saturday, 3ist October, the great venture 
took place. Bateman's absolute want of faith in the experi- 



HAMLET. 
Revived at the Lyceum on 3 ist October, 1874. 



HAMLET 

KING 

POLONIUS 

LAERTES 

HORATIO 

GHOST - 

OSRIC - 

ROSENCRANTZ 

GUILDENSTERN 

MARCELLUS - 

BERNARDO - 

FRANCISCO - 

ist ACTOR 

2nd ACTOR 

PRIEST - 

MESSENGER - 

ist GRAVEDIGGER - 

2nd GRAVEDIGGER 

GERTRUDE - 

PLAYER QUEEN 

OPHELIA 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. THOMAS SWINBOURNE. 

Mr. CHIPPENDALE. 

Mr. E. LEATHES. 

Mr. G. NEVILLE. 

Mr. THOMAS MEAD. 

Mr. H. B. CONWAY. 

Mr. WEBBER. 

Mr. BEAUMONT. 

Mr. F. CLEMENTS. 

Mr. TAPPING. 

Mr. HARWOOD. 

Mr. BEVERIDGE. 

Mr. NORMAN. 

Mr. COLLETT. 

Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

Mr. COMPTON. 

Mr. CHAPMAN. 

Miss G. PAUNCEFORT. 

Miss HAMPDEN. 

Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Elsinore. A platform before the Castle. 
SCENE 2. A Room of State in the Castle. SCENE 3. A Room 
in Polonius's House. SCENE 4. The platform. SCENE 5. A 
more remote part. ACT II., SCENE i. A Room in Polonius's 
House. SCENE 2. A Room of State in the Castle. ACT III., 
SCENE i. The same. SCENE 2. A Room in the Castle. SCENE 
3. Another Room in the same. ACT IV., SCENE i. A Room in 
the Castle. ACT V., SCENE i. A Churchyard. SCENE 2. 
Outside the Castle. SCENE 3. A Hall in the Castle. 



ment was conclusively shown in the scantiness of the produc- 
tion from the scenic point of view. He had backed up 
" Charles the First" and " Richelieu" with considerable liber- 
ality in regard to scenery and costume. But he left 
" Hamlet" to shift for itself, the total expenditure in this case 
amounting to a poor hundred pounds, although, in various 
managerial pronouncements, he had whetted the public ap- 
petite by hints as to " months of careful preparation," and 
similar cajolements which would have no effect nowadays. 
Such was the poverty of the production that even Irving's 
stern adversary, Button Cook, was moved to point out that 
there was "no particular desire to garnish the play with 
spangles, with needless upholstery, or with swarms of super- 




1 874] MEAGRE SCENERY 169 

numeraries. The scenic decorations are reasonably appropri- 
ate, but do not pretend to be of luxurious quality : there is 
thriftiness, indeed, in employing the view of the churchyard 
in which Eugene Aram was wont nightly to expire in great 
agonies a season or two ago as the background to the repre- 
sentation of the interment of Ophelia." Irving had to depend 
upon himself, upon his own unaided efforts, for success in this 
culminating point of his career. Failure now would have 
meant disaster from which recovery would have been difficult 
in the extreme, if not absolutely impossible. His ambition 
did not desert him and he knew that he had the faith of the 
public. This was his great consolation and the final spur to 
his endeavour. If the manager had announced, instead of 
"months of careful preparation" as applied to the playhouse, 
''years of careful preparation" on the part of the actor, he 
would have been near the truth. For the Hamlet of 1864 
was by no means the work of a novice, and, in the interven- 
ing ten years, Henry Irving had not been idle. He had won 
his great fight to a certain point, but his Hamlet was a 
matter of vital importance to him. Apart from other con- 
siderations, it differed from the impersonations of the majority 
of celebrated actors, who, before coming to London, had be- 
come celebrated in the country for their interpretations of the 
leading parts in Shakespeare. They had, as a result, a fixed 
idea as to how far they could go in the bid for applause and 
what effects they could reasonably be expected to make. 
Irving's interpretation was an untried performance and 
one that was to be the touchstone of his career. However, 
his faith in himself never wavered, and the interest of the 
public was so great that the patrons of the pit assembled four 
hours before the opening of the doors at seven o'clock in 
their eagerness to see the new Hamlet. In those days, the 
occupants of the pit, apart from the professional critics, were 
the real judges of dramatic art, and their verdict on a first 
night was of vital moment to the success of an actor or a play. 
The pit occupied almost the entire ground floor ; orchestra 
stalls had not come into fashion pit-stalls were introduced 



i;o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 

into the Lyceum in 1856. So that the compliment of an 
assemblage at the pit-door at three o'clock in the afternoon 
was by no means an empty one. Nor were these earnest 
students of the drama wanting in enthusiasm for the actor to 
whom, as they well knew, the result of that evening was 
fraught with gravity. But they were inclined to be reserved 
in their judgment. He was greeted with great warmth when 
he made his entrance in the first act, but the simplicity of his 
appearance amazed his audience. As the readers of this 
history are aware, Irving had, in the year 1864, represented 
Kemble as Hamlet, and he could now, had he chosen, have 
appeared as an exact fac-simile of Lawrence's famous portrait. 
But he relied upon himself, and he did not now adopt as he 
had done in Manchester the fair wig which owed its initia- 
tive to Fechter. He discarded the elaborate funereal trap- 
pings of the old-fashioned Hamlet, and the gigantic order of 
the Danish Elephant which had been conspicuous as part of 
the costume of Fechter his immediate predecessor in the 
part was not to be seen. The best personal description of 
Irving as Hamlet on this eventful night, and of his reception 
in the part, was written by Clement Scott, who was now as 
enthusiastic as he had been condemnatory in regard to 
Richelieu. "We see before us," he wrote, immediately 
after the event, "a man and a prince, in thick-ribbed silk, and 
a jacket or paletot, edged with fur ; a tall, imposing figure, so 
well-dressed that nothing distracts the eye from the wonderful 
face ; a costume rich but simple, and relieved only by a heavy 
chain of gold ; but, above and beyond all, a troubled, wearied 
face. The black, disordered hair is carelessly tossed about 
the forehead, but the fixed and rapt attention of the whole 
house is directed to the eyes of Hamlet : the eyes which de- 
note the trouble which tell of the distracted mind. Here 
are 'the windy suspiration of forced breath,' ' the fruitful river 
in the eye,' the dejected * haviour of the visage '. So subtle 
is the actor's art, so intense is his application, and so daring 
his disregard of conventionality, that the first act ends with 
disappointment." 



1 874] AN "ELECTRICAL" EFFECT 171 

This was not a hopeful beginning, especially for an actor 
who knew that when Garrick left the stage after Hamlet's 
first scene with the Ghost the applause of the audience was 
deafening and was continued until the two characters re- 
appeared. Almost two acts of the tragedy were allowed to 
pass in silence at the Lyceum before the spectators began to 
understand the actor and what he had in his mind. At the 
end of the first act, Irving left the stage with a feeling of de- 
pression, which was not to be wondered at. But this feeling 
was caused by the thought that he had failed to reach the 
ideal for which he had been striving. " I felt," as he after- 
wards related about this first-night, "that the audience did 
not go with me until the first meeting with Ophelia, when 
they changed towards me entirely." From this point in the 
play, his personation was recognised by the spectators as the 
most human Hamlet that they had ever seen. His success 
in the play scene was- electrical. There is no other word 
which so exactly describes it, and, as so many people seem 
to think that this kind of tremendous, instantaneous, over- 
whelming effect caused by an actor is akin to genius, or the 
direct outcome of that badly defined gift, it may be fitting to 
mention the bare fact, before giving a critical account of the 
impersonation. It should also be recorded that the audience 
remained until after a quarter to one o'clock on the Sunday 
morning at which hour the curtain fell. This circumstance 
enabled Clement Scott to indulge in some of that "picturesque 
reporting," as he called his criticisms, for which he was noted. 
But Mr. Scott, in those early days of his career, was far more 
than a picturesque reporter he loved the stage and all that 
was highest in its art. He was, above all, an enthusiast, and 
his criticisms reviews, reports, pen-portraits, call them what 
you will are certainly valuable as truthful impressions. We 
have, in the illustrations of this biography, two portraits of 
Irving as Hamlet, while Onslow Ford's beautiful statue 
shows, in addition, the delicate hands for which Irving was 
so distinguished. These will speak for themselves to future 
students of stage history. Aided by Scott's impressionist 



172 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 

pen-picture, we can get an accurate view of Irving as he ap- 
peared as Hamlet on this memorable first night. It is not 
necessary to quote the article in its entirety, but its salient 
passages are as follows : 

" Those who have seen other Hamlets are aghast. Mr. Irving is missing 
his points, he is neglecting his opportunities. Betterton's face turned as 
white as his neck-cloth, when he saw the Ghost. Garrick thrilled the house 
when he followed the spirit. Some cannot hear Mr. Irving, others find 
him indistinct. Many declare roundly he cannot read Shakespeare. There 
are others who generously observe that Hamlets are not judged by the 
first act ; but over all, disputants or enthusiasts, has already been thrown 
an indescribable spell. None can explain it ; but all are now spell-bound. 
The Hamlet is ' thinking aloud,' as Hazlitt wished. He is as much of the 
gentleman and scholar as possible, and ' as little of the actor '. 

" We in the audience see the mind of Hamlet. We care little what he 
does, how he walks, when he draws his sword. We can almost realise the 
workings of his brain. His soliloquies are not spoken down at the foot- 
lights to the audience. Hamlet is looking into a glass, into ' his mind's 
eye, Horatio ! ' His eyes are fixed apparently on nothing, though ever 
eloquent. He gazes on vacancy and communes with his conscience. Those 
only who have closely watched Hamlet through the first act could ade- 
quately express the impression made. But it has affected the whole 
audience the Kemble lovers, the Kean admirers, and the Fechter rhap- 
sodists. They do not know how it is, but they are spell-bound with the 
incomparable expression of moral poison. 

"The second act ends with nearly the same result. There is not an 
actor living who on attempting Hamlet has not made his points in the 
speech, ' Oh ! what a rogue and peasant slave am I ! ' But Mr. Irving's 
intention is not to make points, but to give a consistent reading of a 
Hamlet who ' thinks aloud '. For one instant he falls ' a-cursing like a 
very drab, a scullion ' ; but only to relapse into a deeper despair, into more 
profound thought. He is not acting, he is not splitting the ears of the 
groundlings ; he is an artist concealing his art ; he is talking to himself; he 
is thinking aloud. Hamlet is suffering from moral poison and the spell 
woven about the audience is more mysterious and incomprehensible in the 
second act than the first. 

" In the third act the artist triumphs. No more doubt, no more 
hesitation, no more discussion. If Hamlet is to be played like a scholar 
and a gentleman, and not like an actor, this is the Hamlet. The scene 
with Ophelia turns the scale, and the success is from this instant complete. 
But we must insist that it was not the triumph of an actor alone ; it was 
the realisation of all that the artist has been foreshadowing. Mr. Irving 
made no sudden and striking effect, as did Mr. Kean. ' Whatever nice 
faults might be found on this score,' says Hazlitt, 'they are amply re- 
deemed by the manner of his coming back after he has gone to the ex- 
tremity of the stage, from a pang of parting tenderness to press his lips to 
Ophelia's hand. It had an electrical effect on the house.' Mr. Irving did 
not make his success by any theatrical coup, but by the expression of the 



1 874] A VIVID PEN-PICTURE 173 

pent-up agony of a harassed and disappointed man. According to Mr. 
Irving, the very sight of Ophelia is the keynote of the outburst of his moral 
disturbance. He loves this woman ; ' forty thousand brothers ' could not 
express his overwhelming passion, and think what might have happened if 
he had been allowed to love her, if his ambition had been realised. The 
more he looks at Ophelia, the more he curses the irony of fate. He is 
surrounded, overwhelmed, and crushed by trouble, annoyance, and spies. 

" They are watching him behind the arras. Ophelia is set on to assist 
their plot. They are driving him mad, though he is only feigning madness. 
What a position for a harassed creature to endure ! They are all against 
him. Hamlet alone in the world is born to ' set it right '. He is in the 
height and delirium of moral anguish. The distraction of the unhinged 
mind, swinging and banging about like a door ; the infinite love and tender- 
ness of the man who longs to be soft and gentle to the woman he adores : 
the horror and hatred of being trapped, and watched, and spied upon, were 
all expressed with consummate art. Every voice cheered, and the points 
Mr. Irving had lost as an actor were amply atoned for by his earnestness 
as an artist. Fortified with this genuine and heart-stirring applause, he 
rose to the occasion. He had been understood at last. To have broken 
down here would have been disheartening ; but he had triumphed. 

" The speech to the players was Mr. Irving's second success. He did 
not sit down and lecture. There was no affectation or princely priggishness 
in the scene at all. He did not give his ideas of art as a prince to an actor, 
but as an artist to an artist. Mr. Irving, to put it colloquially, buttonholed 
the First Player. He spoke to him confidentially, as one man to another. 
He stood up, and took the actor into his confidence, with a half-deferential 
smile, as much as to say, ' I do not attempt to dictate to an artist, but still 
these are my views on art '. But with all this there was a princely air, a 
kindly courtesy, and an exquisite expression of refinement which astonished 
the house as much from its daring as its truth. Mr. Irving was gaming 
ground with marvellous rapidity. His exquisite expression of friendship 
for Horatio was no less beautiful than his stifled passion for Ophelia. For 
the one he was the pure and constant friend, for the other the baffled lover. 

" Determined not to be conquered by his predecessors, he made a signal 
success in the play scene. He acted it with an impulsive energy beyond 
all praise. Point after point was made in a whirlwind of excitement. He 
lured, he tempted, he trapped the King, he drove out his wicked uncle 
conscience -stricken and baffled, and with an hysterical yell of triumph he 
sank down, ' this expectancy and rose of the fair State,' in the very throne 
which ought to have been his, and which his rival had just vacated. It is 
difficult to describe the excitement occasioned by the acting in this scene. 
When the King had been frighted, the stage was cleared instantaneously. 
No one in the house knew how the people had gone off. All eyes were 
fixed on Hamlet and the King ; all were forgetting the real play and the 
mock play, following up every move of the antagonists, and, from constant 
watching, they were almost as exhausted as Hamlet was when he sank a 
conqueror into the neglected throne. 

" It was all over now. Hamlet had won. He would take the Ghost's 
word for a thousand pounds. The clouds cleared from his brow. He 
was no longer in doubt or despair. He was the victor after this mental 



174 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 

struggle. The effects of the moral poison had passed away, and he attacked 
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the recorder scene with a sarcasm and a 
withering scorn which were among the results of a reaction after pent-up 
agony. But this tremendous act was even now not yet over. There was 
the closet-scene still to come a scene which still further illustrates the 
daring defiance of theatrical tradition exhibited by Mr. Irving. If the 
Hamlet was to be a mental study it should be one to the last. The actor 
who could conquer prejudices so far, was bound to continue, and when the 
audience looked at the arras for the pictures, or round the necks of the 
actors and actresses for the counterfeit presentment of two brothers, they 
found nothing. 

" The nervousness and paralysing excitement occasioned by such an 
evening, made its mark on the actors. It was too great an effort. The 
fear of being shut out from a glass of beer before midnight frightened the 
audience, and there were a few minutes of doubt and anxiety. But art 
conquered, and the audience obeyed. . . . 

" It may be that the intellectual manager will yet have to see how far 
" Hamlet " can be curtailed to suit this luxurious and selfish age. There 
are not many audiences which will relinquish their beer for the sake of art. 
This was a very special occasion. But the supreme moment for the 
audience had come when the curtain fell. If they had sacrificed their re- 
freshment, waiting there, as many of them had done, since three o'clock in 
the afternoon, they had done something for art. They had, at least, de- 
served the pleasure of cheering the artist who had inspired them. It was 
no ' succes d'estime '. The actor of the evening had, in the teeth of tradi- 
tion, in the most unselfish manner, and in the most highly artistic fashion 
convinced his hearers. William Hazlitt, the critic, was right. Here was 
the Hamlet who thinks aloud ; here was the scholar, and so little of the 
actor. So they threw crowns, and wreaths, and bouquets, at the artist, and 
the good people felt that this artistic assistance had come at a turning point 
in the history of English dramatic art. . . . The position of Mr. Irving, 
occasionally wavering and pleasantly hesitating in the balance, has now 
been firmly established. The Hamlet of Henry Irving is a noble contribu- 
tion to dramatic art." 

The Hamlet fever which set in on the night of 3ist 
October, 1874, raged for many months, and ended only with 
the last night of the revival, by which time two hundred con- 
secutive performances had been recorded. The hundredth 
representation occurred on Friday, 26th February, 1875. It 
was celebrated by a supper which was given in the saloon of 
the theatre. The late Edward Pigott, the Examiner of Plays, 
proposed the chief toast, and the health of the hero of the 
hour was drunk with hearty good will, the company number- 
ing over a hundred literary men, including some of the chief 
critics. A noteworthy effect of the success of " Hamlet" at 



1 874] DEATH OF BATEMAN 175 

the Lyceum was the change which took place in the public 
taste, and, consequently, in the programmes of several theatres. 
For instance, when the hundredth night of " Hamlet" had 
arrived, Shakespeare was being represented at three other 
theatres in London, the specialities of two of which had hitherto 
been burlesque and opera-bouffe, and of the third equestrian 
performances "A Midsummer Night's Dream," at the 
Gaiety, " As You Like It" at the Opera Comique, and "The 
Merchant of Venice " at the Holborn Amphitheatre ; while 
the last-named play was in preparation at the Prince ofWales's 
Theatre, the dainty home of Robertsonian comedy. Phelps, 
as Bottom, was the feature of the Gaiety revival, and Mr. and 
Mrs. Kendal were the Rosalind and Orlando at the Opera 
Comique, Mr. Hermann Vezin being the Jaques. 

The long run of the tragedy at the Lyceum came to an end 
on 2 Qth June, 1875. During all that time, the theatre had 
only been closed for one week, and that in consequence of 
the death, on 22nd March, of Mr. Bateman, Irving's friend 
as well as manager. Afterwards, in a speech at the termina- 
tion of the first night of the revival of " Macbeth," Irving made 
this graceful allusion to the old Colonel : " In my pride and 
pleasure at your approval, I cannot but remember the friend 
whose faith in me was so firm, a friend to whom my triumphs 
were as dear aye, dearer, I believe, than had they been his 
own. The announcement last autumn that I, a young actor, 
was thought fitted to attempt Hamlet came from a warm and 
generous heart, and I cannot but deeply feel that he to whose 
unceasing toil and unswerving energy we owe in great measure 
the steadfast restoration of the poetic drama to the stage I 
cannot but regret that he will never meet me, as he has done 
on so many occasions, to confirm your approval with affec- 
tionate enthusiasm and tears of joy." The death of Bateman 
was a great loss to the actor in more ways than one. It left 
him, for instance, open to unjustifiable attack, since an actor 
cannot always be defending himself, and, by the death of 
Bateman, Irving lost a doughty champion. " Hamlet," how- 
ever, continued to prosper, and so famous had the actor be- 



i;6 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 

come, that he drew all ranks of people to the theatre, including 
many who had forsaken the playhouse for several years. All 
artistic and literary London crowded to the Lyceum to see 
Irving as Hamlet. Tennyson admitted that he " liked it 
better than Macready's," although it was " not a perfect Hamlet ; 
the pathetic side of him is well done, and the acting original ". 
Again, W. P. Frith considered Irving's Hamlet superior to 
Macready's. " In a few characters," he says, in his Auto- 
biography, "such as Virginius, William Tell, Rob Roy, and 
some others, Macready was, I think, unapproachable ; but to 
compare his Hamlet or Shy lock with Irving's rendering of 
those characters would be disastrous for Macready." Of 
course, there was much controversy concerning the new 
Hamlet, but, on the whole, it was distinctly in favour of 
Irving. 

During the first three weeks of the tragedy at the 
Lyceum, one of the most masterly essays in dramatic critic- 
ism of modern days was written by Edward R. Russell, and 
published in the Liverpool Daily Post. It was subsequently 
issued in pamphlet form, with the title, "Irving as Hamlet". 
It is now, and for many years it has been, difficult to obtain 
a copy of this essay. This may possibly be the reason 
why other biographies have passed it over, and why some 
have only alluded to it in a few words. It is a clear exposi- 
tion of the character, as conceived by Irving and as played 
by him. It is one of the most illuminating essays in the 
entire history of dramatic criticism. No apology is needed 
for drawing upon so invaluable a document, but regret may 
be expressed that it cannot, owing to its length, be reprinted, 
in this book, in its entirety : 

" While believing that Hamlet may be successfully played with almost 
any physique which is not obnoxiously unromantic, we avow the opinion 
that such a physique as Irving's nervous, excitable, and pliant, suggestive 
of much thought and dreamy intellect, yet agile and natural and individual 
in its movements comes nearer the normal English pre-conception of 
such a character than one more characterised by physical beauty and 
gesticulatory and elocutionary grace. In moments of high excitement 
Irving rapidly plods across and across the stage with a gait peculiar to him 

walk somewhat resembling that of a fretful man trying to get very 



1 874] POETRY OF ASPECT 177 

quickly over a ploughed field. In certain passages his voice has a queru- 
lous piping impatience which cannot be reconciled with stage elegance. 
But there is no reason why Hamlet should not have had these peculiar- 
ities ; and if we are to see him really living in the midst of what has come 
upon him, the genius of the actor who accomplishes this all-important feat 
as only genius can, will be distinctly helped by any little ineffaceable 
peculiarities which, while not inconsistent with the character, give the re- 
presentation of it a stamp of personal individuality. This, though a minor 
characteristic, has greatly distinguished Irving's acting in all his noted parts, 
although the merit has not been much recognised in the surface criticism 
of the day. In each case in Digby Grant, Mathias, Eugene Aram, Philip, 
even in the necessarily stilted King Charles, and, in spite of too young- 
looking a countenance, most pre-eminently in Richelieu play-goers have 
felt that they have come to know a new and distinct and actual person, just 
as really and with just as true a sensation of novelty and kindled curiosity as 
when an interesting acquaintance is made at a dinner-table or in travelling. 
The secret lies in a bold combination of tragedy with character acting, 
which Irving has been the first to essay. He shows the nicest instinct in 
the degree to which he pushes it. Those who should expect his Hamlet to 
be as minutely individual as his Richelieu would show almost as much 
coarseness of perception as the queer critics who praised him for avoiding 
the temptation to make the death of Hamlet as horribly realistic as the 
death in 'The Bells'. But even in his Hamlet there is a strongly marked 
and courageously preserved individuality, which is more helpful to the due 
effect of the play than any amount of insipid personal beauty and grace. 

" When plain incongruities have been avoided, and an impression of 
living personality instead of mere stage assumption has been created, there 
is little more that manner and idiosyncrasy can do to illuminate Hamlet. 
The rest must be acting thought, conception, imagination, finding ex- 
pression through the various channels of technical skill, and in this great 
undertaking Irving has succeeded, mainly because of the simpleness and 
singleness of mind with which he has addressed to it his well -disciplined 
powers. . . . 

" Remembering past Hamlets good and great as many have been it 
seems to us that there remained yet one new though obvious conception to 
be realised. Every great actor has been anxious to show how he could play 
Hamlet ; no one has quite succeeded in showing how Hamlet would have 
played it. And this is what Irving does. It is some years since Edwin 
Booth, who most nearly approached this natural and touching conception, 
was in England, and the impressions under which we name him are there- 
fore not fresh. That he is the best or at least the truest Hamlet, except 
Irving, we have, however, no doubt. He is so unequal an actor that his 
other performances give no indication of the grace, the intellect, the poig- 
nant nature of his Hamlet ; and the highest praise that can be accorded to 
Irving is that to the princeliness, the ease, the gravity, the intellect, and the 
naturalness of Booth all of which he possesses, though a little more deeply 
stamped with personal manner he adds these two remarkably contrasted 
qualities : a sort of domestic sensibility of the calamities and perplexities 
by which Hamlet is inundated, and a wild poetry of aspect and speech 
which till now unless indeed by the old actors before our time has not 

VOL. I. 12 



178 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 

been even hinted except by painters. The root of all, as we divine, is a 
simple, steady resolution on Irving's part to be what Hamlet must have 
been, and to let the rest take care of itself. If being Hamlet should 
lead to good points, they would be welcome, and the applause evoked by 
them would be as delicious to Irving as to another; but to make points by 
ceasing to be Hamlet was to him an impossible profanation. When 
certain critics tell him he still lacks the characteristics of the great French 
actors, they little appreciate his avoidance of all that is worst in French 
tragedy, and have failed to perceive how deeply he has drunk of the spring 
of all that is best in French comedy finding in it a tragic inspiration 
which it might least have been expected to yield. ... A little common 
sense is worth a good deal of subtlety here ; and to appreciate what Hamlet 
goes through, without preconceptions which is what we imagine Irving to 
have done is the best way of raising to the highest point the human in- 
terest of the character. In reading much of the criticism on Hamlet, one 
feels that it is written in an artificial manner by persons who have never 
really conceived what has happened to the hero, and are not properly im- 
pressed with the difficulty of his extricating himself from the circumstances 
in which he is placed. It is positively laughable to hear Hamlet sneered at 
for infirmity of purpose by writers who probably never in their lives had a 
more serious question to settle than whether they should give up a house 
at the Midsummer or Christmas quarter. Nor is it much less ludicrous to 
read in an ambitious critique, that Irving as Hamlet shows an unmanly 
degree of dejection. As if having to kill your mother's second husband 
within a few months of your father's murder, upon the injunction of your 
father's ghost, were a quite ordinary piece of work by which no well-regulated 
mind would suffer itself to be disturbed ! 

"The tone and spirit of the whole play, and of Irving's impersonation, 
and of the Lyceum representation, is at antipodes with such ideas. The 
mounting of the play has been studiously kept from being too splendid. 
It is regal, but eminently domestic. The scenes without, where the ghost 
is first encountered, are as wild as the text suggests they should be, but the 
apartments of the palace all look habitable. They are not brand new. 
They are not mere audience chambers. They are usable and used. The 
habitues move about as if they were at home, and at night they light them- 
selves about with torches. It is complained that Irving leaves one apart- 
ment torch in hand, and immediately enters his mother's chamber with a 
bedroom lamp. What more natural ? The lamp is no doubt left without 
the chamber on a slab, to be lit at the torch which is carried through the 
dark stone passages, and put out by knocking it against the wall or on the 
foot when the lamp is taken in hand. Such details are not of the first 
consequence, but they are important when the chief actor has seized the 
idea that, to sustain the imagination in the direction Shakespeare indicates, 
an air of castle domesticity must be kept up, so that the conception of a 
house blighted by the occurrences set forth in the action, and finally en- 
umerated in the speech of Horatio which we have quoted above, may be 
the background of all Hamlet's dramatic effects. Even the melodious but 
primitive harps which sound at the entrance of King and Queen in their 
comparatively simple state, serve the general purpose which the new Hamlet 
has kept steadily in view. 









1874] A STROKE OF GENIUS 179 

" That purpose has, however, been most brilliantly served by a new and 
clear reading of a hitherto obscure aspect of Hamlet's character. 

" Irving is no mature dreamer, long accustomed to metaphysical prob- 
lems, and fond of putting them into fine language. He is not a precocious 
and priggish young philosopher airing his cleverness. Nor is he a mere 
master of theatrical devices, flooding the stage with tears perhaps at the 
very moment when Hamlet complains that he cannot weep, or exemplifying 
that common form of strenuous but imperfect absorption in a character 
which practically amounts to making its different phases inconsistent with 
each other. He is what Hamlet was. His mind has been enlarged and 
refined by much vagrant contemplation, but has never lost its exquisite 
simplicity, its fresh susceptibility. He is extremely self-observant, not in 
vanity or complacency, but because self-study is to him a fascinating avenue 
through which to approach all other knowledge of life and character. And 
from this point Irving has advanced to a detail absolutely new, and posi- 
tively regenerating to some passages, if not to the general scope of the 
play. He has noticed that Hamlet not merely is simple-minded, frankly 
susceptible, and naturally self-contemplative, but has a trick not at all 
uncommon in persons whose most real life is an inner one of fostering 
and aggravating his own excitements. This discovery of Irving is a stroke 
of genius, and will identify his Hamlet as long as the memory of it endures. 
The idea will be handed down, and the mechanical execution of it will 
probably be imitated; but the vivid, flashing, half-foolish, half-inspired, 
hysterical power of Irving in the passages where it is developed is a triumph 
of idiosyncrasy, which, even with the help of the traditions he is founding, 
is not very likely to be achieved by any other actor. Critics who carry 
about their own standards as other artisans carry pocket foot-rules, may 
pronounce this feature of Irving's Hamlet unmanly ; but it is the business 
of a great actor to play Hamlet, not to improve him. If he was partly 
hysterical, and aggravated half-consciously his own excitements, the actor 
who plays him, and sees this, must not hide it ; and if he show it to us, we 
shall see in his performance the truth, and probably the beauty, of a phase 
of Shakespeare's creation which has hitherto been neglected. . . . Few of 
us have Hamlet's sensitive constitution. Still fewer have his stong provo- 
cations to crime. None of us are agitated by supernatural visitations. But 
we can all understand, as we watch Irving, how such a man as Hamlet 
would be affected by such influences. With Irving the tragedy is as little 
a show-piece as it would have been to a real Hamlet. It is life and death 
you are gazing at while he is on the stage. The royal house of Denmark 
has a black shadow over it, and a bright, fresh young prince, * the rose and 
expectancy of the fair State,' is doomed to peer amidst the gloom, now 
peopled with his own imaginings, and anon disturbed by a lurid and fitful 
supernatural light, for the truth of its origin, and the means of dissipating 
it by vengeance. Faithful in this pursuit, Irving defies alike the temptations 
of tradition and allurements of a text which invites declamation. He will 
not be drawn out of the character. And the character lives in him as it 
probably never lived before. 

"Upon one point we differ from, or at least cannot wholly agree with, 
the first dramatic critic of the day, who, writing in the Times, has picked 

12 * 



i8o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 

out, as the leading characteristic of Irving's Hamlet, a repugnance to 
cruelty. He says : 

'"If we rightly interpret Mr. Irving's performance, his reply to this 
question is to the effect that the nature of Hamlet is essentially tender, 
loving, and merciful. He is not a weak man called upon to do something 
beyond his powers, but he is a kindly man urged to do a deed, which, 
according to the " lex talionis," may be righteous, but which is yet cruel. 
In Mr. Henry Taylor's "Philip van Artevelde," one of the personages asks 
Philip, in order to ascertain his fitness to become a ruler in very stormy 
times "Can you be cruel?" thereby implying that without something 
like an element of cruelty in his nature his appointed work cannot be 
effectually done. According to Mr. Irving as we suppose it is to the 
utter lack of cruelty in his nature that Hamlet's short-comings are to be 
attributed. He is a judge to whom the black cap is so abhorrent that he 
can never persuade himself to put it on. Mercy will always usurp the seat 
of Justice when her usurpation is least desirable. He is capable of any 
amount of sorrow sorrow for his dead father, sorrow for Ophelia. An 
undercurrent of tearfulness runs through all his discourse, but of unmitigated 
hate he is unsusceptible, if we answer in the negative Shylock's question, 
" Hates any man the thing he would not kill ? " more unsusceptible than 
he himself suspects. The hideous crime revealed by the ghost may cause 
him to " fall a-cursing like a drab," and bestow upon his uncle a large 
number of ugly adjectives ; but for all that he does not like to kill him.' 

" Now of the tenderness and lovingness of Hamlet's disposition we are 
as well persuaded as the writer of this passage. That Hamlet could not 
possibly have been cruel without just provocation is certain ; and it is not 
less so that gratuitous cruelty is a quality impossible to be associated with 
the character as impersonated by Irving. But of any conscious revulsion 
against cruel vengeance upon his uncle there is no sign in the play, and we 
observed none in the player. If it is to the ' utter lack of cruelty in his 
nature' that Hamlet's shortcomings are to be attributed, 'according to 
Irving,' how shall we account for the restoration of the rarely played 
scene, in which Hamlet abstains from killing Claudius at his prayers, 
because that would send him straight to heaven, whereas his victim, 
Hamlet's father, was suddenly slain, with all his imperfections on his head ? 
Only by a forced and untenable supposition that, in reciting the speech in 
a tone of vehement savagery, Irving means to convey the idea that Hamlet 
is playing a part to himself, and humouring his mercifulness behind a show 
of refined cruelty. ... It is a mistake in philosophy, as well as in criticism, 
to see in the purblind motions of Hamlet towards a more advanced moral 
atmosphere, a clear and conscious aversion to a cruelty which by him, and 
all the men of his day, was deemed righteous and unexceptionable. And 
especially is it a mistake to read thus the performance of an actor who, by 
restoring and acting very powerfully the most savage scene in which 
Hamlet appears, shows that he is bent'on facing all the seeming incongruities 
of the character, and means to succeed, not by presenting a sweet and 
elegant Hamlet of his own, but by a true representation of the much 
harassed and almost distraught young prince, whom Shakespeare's search- 
ing eye saw as he would have been, amidst the trouble and conflict into 
which he was plunged. . . . 



1 874] HAMLET AND OPHELIA 181 

"Afterwards, when Hamlet, by the contrivance of Polonius, meets 
Ophelia, we learn, in the scene in which Irving rises highest perhaps in 
tragic grandeur, that there are circumstances which may bring out, even 
when he is not alone, the strange ecstacy in which is Hamlet's nature, as 
this fine actor reads it, to expatiate. When he begins to talk to Ophelia 
he is on his guard. Other business than love-making is in his thoughts. 
An instinct warns him to shun the distractions and wooings of the passion. 
Yet the fair Ophelia is before him, and the love of forty thousand brothers 
is in his heart. He has no shield, no disguise, but his ' antic disposition ' ; 
and he puts it on. The rule with modern Hamlets is to pretend to be 
mad later, when they have perceived behind the arras the King and 
Polonius, lawful but despicable espials. This is not Irving's idea. It is 
in the coolness of the opening conversation that he affects the forgetful- 
ness, the eccentricity, the insensibilty of derangement. His love peeps 
forth sadly, in a melancholy line or accent, here and there, but the general 
tone of his talk to the poor jilted Ophelia is mere baffling unaccountable- 
ness. The excitement, however, as rt mounts, is evidently too much for 
him. The two strongest feelings he has ever had are at odds which shall be 
master. He is as self- watching by habit as he is impulsive in the passionate 
processess of his affections. He is accustomed, and knows he is ac- 
customed, to yield himself up to overwhelming feelings. He now finds 
himself between two. He remembers well the irresistible tumult into 
which the sight of Ophelia used to throw him. He is puzzled by a sort of 
paralysis of the affection which he well knows still holds lordship in his 
bosom. He loves Ophelia ; and with the old love ; but not with the old 
tempestuousness. A stronger power has curbed and bitted his hitherto 
untameable passion. A vocation has been thrust upon him, which fully 
tasks his powers, and will probably expel for ever from his heart the 
capacity for domestic pleasure. As he hastily pierces here and there, with 
strong yet futile glances, the thick-gathering darkness of his situation, the 
time, though only a few moments, seems to those who watch Irving with 
understanding eyes, to cover an indefinite period of anxious and exciting 
thought. What can young Hamlet do, with the ' prettiness ' of his life 
thus turned into an inferno, and with neither time to think, nor chance of 
thinking to any purpose ? There is nothing for it but wild and whirling 
words, and these he utters amidst many strange, fitful glarings, and many 
a suffering pressure of the hand to his throbbing head. What is beauty ? 
A temptress. What is Ophelia's honesty? A mere fleeting virtue, that 
can neither live nor inoculate her natural depravity. He did love her 
once this in a momentary interval of melancholy sincerity but she 
should not have believed him. Why should she be a breeder of sinners? 
For himself, though indifferent honest, he could accuse himself of such 
things, that it were better his mother had not borne him. What should 
such fellows as he arrant knaves all do crawling between earth and heaven ? 
Then suddenly he sees Polonius and the King, and the climax comes. 
But not as hitherto usual, in the shape of pretended madness. Rather 
does his lunacy become all but real and pronounced. To all his other 
griefs, as if they were not enough, is added environment by spies. Nothing 
could so agonisingly cut to the inmost sense of one already almost dis- 
tracted by agony. For a moment he is stern in self-defence. Her father 



182 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 

is at home. Let the doors be shut upon him that he may play the fool 
only there. But these are the last words he can say with any degree of 
sanity. His first sudden 'farewell,' is a frantic ebullition of all-encom- 
passing, all-racking pain. What was till now histrionic, passes, as the 
histrionic phase of highly strung natures easily does, into real frenzy. His 
words come faster and wilder. His eyes flash with a more sinister lightning 
as he gives Ophelia the plague of inevitable calumny for her dowry. Again 
' farewell ' ; and now he rushes forth, but only to return laden, as it were, 
with a new armful of .hastily gathered missiles of contumely. He is getting 
now to the very leavings of his mind. He has nothing to hurl at his love 
but the common-places of men against women. They paint, they jig, they 
amble, they lisp, and make their wantonness their ignorance. There shall 
be no more of it and one almost feels that so furious and fiery a re- 
former may prevent it by flinging sheer terror about him, like brands from 
a conflagration. There shall be no more marriages. It hath made him 
mad, he says ; and it is almost true. He flies as if his head and feet were 
winged like Mercury's his now for ever discarded love. A flash of frenzy, 
and he has quitted the scene. He leaves behind him the fair maiden who 
has ere now sucked the honey of his music vows, bemoaning her destiny, to 
have seen what she has seen, see what she sees. The audience, which this 
episode leaves petrified with a strange and seldom experienced feeling of ex- 
haustion from pent excitement, may well show after a moment's pause, by 
rare demonstrations of enthusiasm, its vivid comprehension of a feat of 
pyschological acting which has hardly been paralleled in living memory. 
Forty lines or so of print contain the whole of the text, but in the acting 
there is a whole volume of power. . . . Irving's prince is young es- 
sentially young not merely in the matter of his own actual years, but in 
spirit. To this Hamlet belongs perpetual youth. He is of the tem- 
perament that will see a play at fifty as eagerly, and hear a speech as 
readily, as at twenty. Above all, his love of woman, his interest in her, 
his chivalry about her, his knowledge (like Will Honeycomb's) that we can 
only know she is not to be known, is of the kind which in some men never 
burns out, nor is snuffed out, nor flickers into noisome knowingness. It 
is this mood, in the form it takes on the threshold of manhood, that sup- 
plies Hamlet with the slights he hurls upon Ophelia ; and this mood the 
mood of perennial simplicity, brightness, excitableness, and juvenility 
Irving's genius has unerringly singled out as that which Shakespeare 
meant to exhibit, acted upon by the exceptional circumstances of the 
weird tragedy of Elsinore. ... As given on the first night by Irving, these 
soliloquies were conceived with so little attention to their essentially 
declamatory traditions, that he did not even study to end them with the 
usual perorative inflections, which give a distinct and satisfying sense of 
something concluded to the ear. This seems to be carrying purism of 
reality and character farther than is warranted by the structure and tone of 
Shakespeare's work ; and with an actor of less power and slower instincts, it 
might have injured the general effect of the performance. . . . 

' In all other respects than that of declamatory form, Irving's soliloquies 
are full of beauties, to enumerate which would be a very tedious form of 
homage. And, indeed, having made clear our idea of the conception upon 
which he has worked, it will now be easy to indicate with brevity the most 



1 874] THE PLAY-SCENE 183 

conspicuous remaining instances in which in detail he has individualised his 
performance. 

" One of these is the advice to the players, the pleasantness, grace, and 
point of which produce a thrill of satisfaction, such as only attends the 
very finest high comedy. Most Hamlets in this speech are saved by the 
words ; Irving helps the words ; and for once it is possible to say that there 
is not a passage in the play in which Hamlet runs counter to his own 
directions. Similarly graceful is Irving's conduct during the quiet parts of 
the play-scene. The key of it is in the remark made to Horatio before it 
begins ' I must be idle '. Irving is idle. Before the spectators enter, his 
demeanour is not subtle and contriving, but anxious, and his looks are 
haggard. He has set more than his life upon the cast. But when the King 
and Queen and courtiers enter, he becomes gay and insouciant. Ophelia's 
fan, with which he plays, is of peacocks' feathers, and as he lies at her feet 
patting his breast with it, at the words, ' Your majesty, and we that have 
free souls,' the feathers themselves are not lighter than his spirits seem. 
In his double-meaning replies to the King there is none of that malignant 
significance with which it is the custom for Hamlets to discount the coming 
victory. His ' no offence i' the world ' is said drily, and that is all. His 
watching of the King is not conspicuous. He does not crawl prematurely 
towards him, or seize his robe. Even up to the crisis, though his excite- 
ment rises, his spirits bear him almost sportively through. But when once 
the King and Queen start from their chairs, Hamlet springs from the 
ground, darts with a shrill scream to the seats from which they vanished like 
ghosts, flings himself a happy thought into the chair which the King 
has vacated, his body swaying the while from side to side in irrepressible 
excitement, and recites there though the roar of applause into which the 
audience is surprised renders it barely audible the well-known stanza, 
1 Why, let the stricken deer go weep '. A still greater, because wild and 
bizarre, effect follows as Hamlet leaves the chair, and in a sort of jaunty 
nonsense rhythm chants the seldom-used lines, 

For thou dost know, O Damon dear, 

This realm dismantled was 
Of Jove himself; and now reigns here 

A very, very peacock. 

At the last word, said suddenly after a pause, he looks at Ophelia's fan, 
which he has kept till now, and throws it away, as if it had suggested a 
word and was done with. There is infinite significance in the apparent in- 
consequence of this last boyish burst, and it is very suggestive of the force 
and truth of Irving's conception, that the audience receive it with as much 
enthusiasm as if it were a perfectly logical and intelligible climax. The 
doggerel has only the faintest if any connection with the event, but it is 
evidently introduced by Shakespeare, as another example of Hamlet's con- 
stitutional exuberance, and upon this Irving has worked. So vivid a 
rendering of the play-scene lives not in our recollection. . . . 

" We pass to the scene between Hamlet and his mother. The celebrated 
opening of this the murder of Polonius is not amongst Irving's strongest 
episodes. For some reason not easy to assign, he does not give the usual 
force to the question, 'Is it the King?' in which Charles Kean was, and 



1 84 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XL 

Sullivan is, great. The idea that Hamlet is startled into the most vehement 
excitement by the thought that he has done upon hazard the deed for which 
he has been trying to nerve and prepare himself, does not appear to have 
been so overpoweringly present to the new Hamlet as to his predecessors. 
All the rest of the scene is very fine, Hamlet's beseeching of his mother 
to whom, be it remembered, he has come in mercy, not in judgment is 
affecting beyond measure. His dispensing with the miniatures, in con- 
trasting the two brothers, raises to a greater height of poetry language which 
has hitherto been lowered by these said pictures towards prose. And, above 
everything else, poignant and impressive is the earnestness with which 
Hamlet kneels and casts his head upon his mother's lap, at the adjuration 
to her not to escape the reproaches of her conscience by attributing to him 
madness. Here, with a mother to save from sin and destruction, there is 
nothing left of the son's antic disposition ; but the deep, the tearful, sus- 
ceptibility, which lies so near the base of his character, remains. Under- 
stood in the full significance of the relations between Hamlet and Gertrude, 
which Irving helps us to perceive by throwing aside all the accustomed 
stilted magnificence of the ' leading tragedian,' the spectacle is most memor- 
able. A son kneeling where he said his first prayers, to implore the mother 
who taught him to lisp them to forsake her sin, is an incident worthy of the 
greatest poet, and only to be fitly enacted by the greatest of tragic actors. . . . 
Irving's performance of the churchyard scene has fitness, vigour, and genuine 
poetry, but no novelty nothing noticeable, indeed, except subtle indications 
of the restraint which is placed on Hamlet when he is not alone by a quick 
sense of the ridiculous. But when we pass from this to the last scene, the 
whole spirit of the play is made new by his originality. Instead of producing 
the impression of a duly arranged shambles, usually conveyed by the moodi- 
ness and solemnity of all concerned in the fencing bout except Osric, the 
scene, as here played, gives one the feeling of a real trial of skill. For a 
wager Hamlet has for the nonce cast his nighted colour off, and is ready 
for sport. It is breathing- time of day with him, and he has no arriere 
penste. He is sorry, heartily, for having injured Laertes, and makes amends 
like a true gentleman. He fences like one also, with delightful ease and 
brilliancy. Between the hits he talks merrily and self-complacently with 
his backers. All his troubles have not extinguished in him his liking for 
ribands in the cap of his youth. Probably he has begun to see that in great 
undertakings chance or Providence has more to say than we have. At any 
rate he is free for the time. Trouble will come soon enough. He is 
happier than he has seemed since he threw away Ophelia's fan. He means 
the King to win his wager, and will not heed the odd hits. 

In fact, for anything that appears in this portion of the scene, the 
fencing match might be a mere lightsome parenthesis in the tragedy, not 
tending in any way to its catastrophe. But the mountebank's unction is 
to change all this. ' No cataplasm so rare, collected from all simples that 
have virtue under the moon/ can save an hour longer the long-forfeited 
life of Claudius. On a sudden, the fencers are incensed. They change 
foils in a brilliantly contrived pass. They mutually inflict fatal wounds. 
Then the truth gushes forth from the lips as the life-blood from the side of 
Laertes. Hamlet's misgiving, ' such as might trouble a woman,' has come 
true. There is a providence in the bating of a foil as in the fall of a 



1874] "IMMORTALITY" OF HIS HAMLET 185 

sparrow. In Hamlet there is not half an hour's life. But a moment will 
suffice. The envenomed point might be dispensed with, so savage is the 
prince's onslaught on his adulterous uncle. Hamlet seizes the King by 
the collar of his royal robe as he might an intrusive scullion runs him 
through as he holds him flings him down backwards to the earth like 
carrion. The vengeance has come at last, from his hands and by his will, 
but not by his contrivance. There is no triumph in his victory. He has 
to die, and he yearns but to clear himself to those who look pale and 
trembling at this chance. He compels Horatio to live and do him justice. 
Then peacefully he expires, reaching his right hand upward to the heaven 
he hopes for, and then falling back in silence upon the earth that ' sterile 
promontory ' where the best year of his life has been made unutterably 
unhappy. 

" So dies Hamlet but lives immortal ; henceforth more than ever a 
pathetic ideal of refined humanity, torn and wrecked upon cruel and coarse 
troubles ; of young philosophy ; of peering irresolution ; of awed yet 
venturesome imagination ; of wayward tricksiness ; of religion faintly clouded 
with doubt, yet clear in tenderness of conscience and purity of sweet 
counsel ; of love, domestic and sexual, embittered and shattered ; of a 
heart riven by the sorrow most trying to it ; of powers coping with problems 
horrible either to be mastered by, or to master ; of thoughts teeming with 
imagery and conjecture, on which the world never tires of meditating ; of 
a fate fitfully shunned, recklessly challenged, and at last encountered by 
mere chance medley ; of many other things, also, which even Shakespeare 
can barely express, and about which lesser men can only wrangle. 

" To present this matchless figure worthily and vividly to the men of 
his time has been the highest ambition of every great actor, and that 
ambition Henry Irving has abundantly attained. To prove it, we have 
dwelt not on his general philosophical sublimity or tragic grandeur in 
which he could but rank with noble predecessors, but on the features of 
Hamlet's being he has especially revealed and illuminated. In this 
character a thousand undying beauties and significances of art have been 
piously cherished from age to -age. To Irving belongs the merit of snatch- 
ing with a hand feverish, perhaps, but sure graces which were not, and 
can hardly become, in a stage sense, traditional. He has made Hamlet 
much more, and something more ethereal, than a type of feeble doubt, of 
tragic struggle, or even of fine philosophy. The immortality of his Hamlet 
is immortal youth, immortal enthusiasm, immortal tenderness, immortal 
nature." 



CHAPTER XII. 

1875-1876. 

" Macbeth " revived It brings in its train a series of severe criticisms 
Castigation by the Figaro Irving's conception of the part His imper- 
sonation endorsed by the Times Praise from other quarters A "scur- 
rilous libel" Letter to "A Fashionable Tragedian" The defendants 
summoned They apologise in open court Irving accepts their apology 
At his request, the case is not sent for trial " Macbeth " played for eighty 
nights Literary effect of the revival. 

THE popularity of " Hamlet " led to the decline of burlesque and 
the revival, as already noted in reference to the hundredth 
night of Shakespeare's tragedy, of the poetic drama. It also 
encouraged Irving to make his second venture in the Shake- 
spearean field. This was a great opportunity for the carping 
critics and detractors in general. For was not Macbeth a 
bold and brawny warrior sent to his doom by the infernal 
promptings of the witches and the incessant urging of his 
terrible wife? Here was a straightforward character indeed, 
and one which could only be played by a man of muscle. 
Brains were not wanted here, but the physique of a bull and 
the roaring of a lion. So that the production of " Macbeth " on 
1 8th September, 1875, was an opportunity not to be neglected. 
This was the beginning of some so-called " criticism" which 
was a disgrace to English newspapers and to the writers of 
the abuse. Irving had to endure, for some years, volleys of 
scandalous slanders which, if attempted nowadays, would be 
silenced in a month. If any actor of to-day were written 
about in the scurrilous tone which was thought fit to be ap- 
plied to Henry Irving in 1875, J ^76, and 1877 indeed 
until he became his own manager and was able to fight his 
own battles vigorously the authors of the libels would have 
time to repent of their iniquities while languishing in gaol. In 

186 



A "MEDIAEVAL MATHIAS 



187 



the eyes of some people, success is a crime, and, in Irving's 
case, the climax came when, having played Hamlet for 
two hundred nights, he ventured to give his own view of the 
character of Macbeth. Some critics condemned his perform- 
ance as effeminate which Irving never was, at any time, 



MACBETH. 
Revived at the Lyceum, i8th September, 1875. 

DUNCAN - ... Mr. HUNTLET. 

MALCOLM - Mr. BROOKE. 

DONALBAIN - - - Miss CLAIR. 

MACBETH ... - Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

BANQUO - Mr. FORRESTER. 

MACDUFF - Mr. SWINBOURNE. 

LENNOX .... Mr. STUART. 

Ross - - Mr. G. NEVILLE. 

MENTEITH - - - Mr. MORDAUNT. 

CAITHNESS - - - Mr. SEYMOUR. 

FLEANCE - ... Miss W. BROWN. 

SIWARD - ... Mr. HENRY. 

YOUNG SIWARD - - Mr. SARGENT. 

SEYTON - Mr. NORMAN. 

DOCTOR - ... Mr. BEAUMONT. 

PORTER .... Mr. COLLETT. 

AN ATTENDANT - - - Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

MURDERERS ... Messrs. BUTLER and TAPPING. 

C Miss BROWN. 
APPARITIONS - - \ Mr. HARWOOD. 

I Miss K. BROWN. 

LADY MACBETH - - Miss BATEMAN (Mrs. CROWE). 
GENTLEWOMAN - - - Miss MARLBOROUGH. 
HECATE - - - - Miss PAUNCEFORT. 

f Mr. MEAD. 
WITCHES - 4 Mr. ARCHER. 

I Mrs. HUNTLEY. 

ACT I., SCENE i. A Desert Place; SCENE 2. A Heath; 
SCENES. Palace at Forres; SCENE 4. Macbeth's Castle ; SCENE 
5. Exterior of Macbeth's Castle; SCENE 6. Macbeth's Castle. 
ACT II., SCENE. Court of Macbeth's Castle. ACT ILL, SCENE 
i. Palace at Forres ; SCENE 2. Park near the Palace ; SCENES. 
Palace at Forres. ACT IV., SCENE i. The Pit of Acheron ; 
SCENE 2. England ; A Lane ; SCENE 3. Dunsinane : Ante-room 
in the Castle. ACT V., SCENE i. Country near Dunsinane ; 
SCENE 2. Dunsinane: Room in the Castle ; SCENES. Birnam 
Wood; SCENE 4. Dunsinane Castle; SCENE 5. Dunsinane Hill ; 
SCENE 6. Outer Court of the Castle. 



or in any part while his terror was entirely opposed to Mac- 
beth's reputation for courage. This was not Macbeth at all, 
but a sort of mediaeval Mathias. " In Mr. Irving's conception 
there is intention, but it is wrong, and there are individual 
merits which will not compound for systematic error." This 



1 88 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xn. 

was milk and honey compared to some of the references to 
Irving's Macbeth. The bare fact that he dared to be original 
acted like a match to the train of explosive wrath. The 
Figaro, which was noted for its trenchant criticisms, would 
not tolerate the Lyceum Macbeth in any degree. To do it 
justice, it expressed itself in decent language, although a trifle 
vehemently. "The latest representation of Macbeth which 
has, in many circles, been looked forward to with a hopefulness 
somewhat tempered by anxiety, must, in its leading features, 
be pronounced a disappointment ; and a disappointment not 
only to those who believed that in the Lyceum management 
was to be found the chief promise of the long-delayed re- 
generation of the poetic drama. That the upward career of 
an intelligent and hardworking young actor should receive its 
first distinct check is no doubt unfortunate : for we have too 
many actors whose ambition is sufficient to lead them into any 
danger such as has proved fatal to Mr. Irving. But that a 
sincere and genuine effort, no matter what its motives, to sus- 
tain popular interest in the worldly representation of classic 
tragedy should, through the incompetence of its leading sup- 
porters, be covered with something very like ridicule, is little 
less than a calamity. The good which has been accomplished 
is undone, and the capacities of the theatre for future useful- 
ness are seriously, though let us trust not irretrievably, injured ; 
and those who had just begun to regard the temporary stage 
as a valuable agent for the illustration of our nobler national 
drama may be expected to look with sorrow and surprise upon 
a performance which, save in one particular, never helps its 
spectators to a better appreciation of the work illustrated. 
With a Lady Macbeth who is weak, and a Macbeth who to 
his weakness adds the mgst painful defects of style, how can 
we console ourselves with the excellence of the scenery and 
the appropriate acting of the witches? How can we avoid 
thinking that the picture is unworthy of the frame, and that 
any popularity which the melodramatic vulgarisation of the 
play in its principal character may have attained is to be re- 
garded as an injury rather than as a boon? The Hamlet of 



i87S] " A SELFISH ASSASSIN" 189 

Mr. Irving was so thoroughly a student's Hamlet, and evinced 
so earnest a study of the part and its meaning, that the dis- 
cussion provoked by his reading of the character of Macbeth 
was inevitable. Into this, however, we need not here enter 
at length, although it is sufficiently obvious that, if the actor's 
conception be, as we believe it, radically wrong, no amount of 
excellence in the execution could make his performance an 
artistic success." 

Irving's conception of the character, be it said, was that 
Macbeth, though brave in the field, was the trembling prey 
of his imagination from the moment that he entered upon his 
terrible course of murder, and the collapse of his courage was 
completed when, with words of withering scorn, his wife 
snatched the dagger from his palsied hands. Irving repre- 
sented Macbeth as a selfish assassin tinged by a touch of 
poetry. He imagined and his views were based on careful 
study that the idea of murder was not new to Macbeth, for 
it had been in his mind long before the opening of the play. 
The meeting- with the weird sisters was due to the sympathy 
of evil with evil, and in order to urge him along the fatal path 
upon which, as they well know, he has already entered. He 
is unable to resist their temptation, but his cowardice and the 
remnants of his better self make him shrink from the actual 
perpetration of the crime until his wife screws his courage to 
the sticking point. His distress after the murder arises from 
abject terror, not remorse. There is no need to dwell further, 
at this point, on Irving's conception of the character, which 
never changed, since it enters into the history of the play 
when he subsequently revived it under his own management. 
Let us rather look at the reception of it in 1875. The Fig- 
aro, having concluded that Irving's view of Macbeth was 
not its own, castigated the player somewhat soundly : " Let 
it, however, be granted that the actor has, if not sufficient, 
at any rate plausible, grounds for the view which he has 
taken of the motive of the part : let it be admitted that great 
interest might attach to this possible phase of Macbeth's 
character : let it be recollected, too, that for the illustration 



i 9 o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xn. 

of this unmanly Macbeth, Mr Irving's powers, as hitherto 
indicated, are far better suited than for the representation of 
a more robust hero. Let us grant all this, and then ask how 
far the artist has done justice to his own conception ? thus 
trying his performance by a test lower than that which might 
legitimately be applied. On doing so, we are compelled to 
pronounce the manner even less satisfactory than the sub- 
stance. 

" The mouthing mannerism, which was happily suppressed 
in all the important points of the actor's Hamlet, proves 
itself as inappropriate to dignified poetic tragedy as it was 
effective in morbid melodrama. It is as though an attempt 
were made to indicate the deepest feelings of the human 
heart by spasmodic hysteria hysteria, moreover, sustained 
far beyond the powers of its subject. In the famous speech, 
' If it were done,' etc., the actor, leaning meditatively against 
a pillar in the room, and showing his special power of natural 
soliloquy, as well by his attitude as by his tones, gives a 
pleasant touch of pathos to the lines expressive of his com- 
punction : 

He's here in double trust ; 
First as I am his kinsman and his subject, 
Strong both against the deed ; then as his host, 
Who should against his murderer shut the door, 
Not bear the knife myself. 

But the kindly feeling is utterly out of keeping with the mean- 
spirited hound to whom, in the other scenes, we are introduced. 
In the dagger speech, however, there is not a good point, 
unless it be in the averted posture of the hands which dread 
to clutch the handle hovering before them. By repeating the 
needless whisper, adopted by Miss Bateman in the preceding 
scene, Mr. Irving produces a most irritating effect upon the 
ear, which is no by means lessened when the whispers are regu- 
larly alternated, line by line, with the ordinary pitch of voice. 
The beauty of the blank verse dialogue is of course utterly 
destroyed when it is jerked about as though for a feat of 
ventriloquy ; and a valuable occasional aid to impressiveness 



1875] ENCOURAGED BY THE TIMES 191 

of elocution is frittered away. Worse, however, remains 
behind : if the soliloquy in its struggle after unworthy effect 
is poor, what shall be said of the ranting, screaming exit, after 
the murder? That Mr. Irving's vocal power would fail him 
was, no doubt, to be expected ; as his voice invariably plays 
him false when it is raised in passion. But why the screeching 
and staggering at all? Could not a great tragedian indicate 
to us any horror other than that of the nervous school-girl ? 
Is it necessary, according to the text, that Macbeth should 
at this juncture never speak without gasping, and never gasp 
without almost falling to pieces ? 

" So again in the banquet scene, Macbeth's terror, whilst 
exaggerated, gains nothing by its exaggeration, and is utterly 
lacking in the element of solemnity, which so well-contrived 
a ghost should impart. Not until the last act, when, in spite 
of his previous efforts, the actor makes Macbeth a fine bold 
soldier, do we find anything in Mr. Irving's performance to 
really carry us out of ourselves into the poet's creation, and 
to realise for us a hero worthy of a tragedy higher in type 
than ' The Bells '. So good, indeed, is the combat with 
Macduff, that we may say of this Macbeth as Malcolm says 
of Cawdor : 

Nothing in his life 
Became him like the leaving it." 

Poor Miss Bateman came in for an equal, though not so 
lengthy, a censure, and the lesser members of the company 
fell under the same ban. "And without any flippant ex- 
aggeration," concluded the diatribe, "it may be said that the 
witches, and especially that of Mr. Mead, form the only 
really satisfactory representations of the evening." The young 
critics of 1875 were certainly outspoken. 

On the other hand, there were critics and experienced 
ones, too who thoroughly endorsed Irving's reading of the 
part. "The popular Macbeth," wrote John Oxenford in the 
Times, "was not only a brave soldier, with all the physical 
qualities proper to his vocation, but likewise an apparently 
well-disposed man, who could have gone on safely to the end 



i 9 2 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xii. 

of his days if he had not unluckily met three evil old women 
on a heath, who put wicked thoughts into his head, and had 
he not, moreover, been cursed with an unscrupulous wife, who 
did her best, or rather her worst, to mature those thoughts 
into action. The evil agencies by which Macbeth is influenced 
are universally recognised ; not so the extreme facility with 
which he yields to them. In the very first scene, when he 
has not been on the stage two minutes, no sooner has he been 
greeted by the witches as Glamis, Cawdor, and ' King here- 
after/ than his manner suggests to Banquo, in whom the 
witches cause no terror whatever, the question : 

Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear 
Things that do sound so fair ? 

The information a few minutes afterwards that the first 
prediction has been fulfilled leads immediately to a self-con- 
fession of murderous devices, conveyed in a speech too familiar 
to need citation. There is no nobility of nature about Mac- 
beth ; he is totally impotent to resist the very earliest allure- 
ments to crime, and is utterly without the fortitude to endure 
the consequences. After she has read his letter, and before 
she has seen him, his lady speaks of him as one who would 
not play false and yet would wrongly win." This, by the way, 
was the last criticism which Mr. Oxenford was destined to 
write. 

As to the Macbeth of the hour, it was generally ad- 
mitted by critics who objected to his conception of the part, 
that its interpretation was carried out consistently, and with 
great power. The murder scene was terrifically impressive ; 
and Irving's acting at the close his desperate resolution, his 
consciousness of more than human destiny, and his defiance 
of that destiny when it is turned against him, formed, said 
the Pall Mall Gazette, " a picture such as is not imagined 
without genius nor made visible without art ". ^^Illustrated 
London News treated the subject with conspicuous fairness 
and dignity. It published a thoughtful essay on the subject 
in its Christmas number. " It was to be expected," it began, 



1875] MORE ENCOURAGEMENT 193 

"that on Mr. Irving assuming the character of Macbeth he 
would be liable to more severe criticism than he had sustained 
on the performance of Hamlet. It is harder to secure the 
second step in progress than the first. Indulgence is granted 
to the first, mainly because it is the first, and if, in despite of 
some shortcomings, a certain degree of merit is recognisable, 
it is probable that, in general esteem, a success will be 
registered. In making the second attempt the first will have 
an antagonistic operation. The actor may have been equal 
to Hamlet; but is he therefore equal to Macbeth? The 
intellectual elements so cunningly mixed up in him may have 
exactly fitted him for the Prince of Denmark, but may be 
exactly the reverse in regard to the Thane of Cawdor. In 
fact, the contrast of the two characters is greater than their 
comparison. On the Continental stage, indeed, the same 
actor who had identified himself with Hamlet or Romeo, 
would scarcely be regarded as suited to Macbeth, Lear, or 
Othello. These parts represent different lines of art, and 
presuppose different powers to the artist. They stand in the 
relation, to begin with, of young and old ; and the same 
person runs a risk of looking too young for the old part, or too 
old for the young one, too heavy for the one and too light for 
the other. The audience, on the first night, compared Mr. 
Irving's Macbeth with Mr. Irving's Hamlet ; and it naturally 
happened that there were several who preferred the latter. 
Those who were willing to grant a fair trial to the former 
were at the same time cautious in pronouncing on the new 
attempt. They reserved their opinion until they had witnessed 
the performance a second time." The article then entered 
into a minute study of the character and it was in absolute 
agreement with Irving's conception, namely, that Macbeth's 
crime was contemplated long before he had met the witches- 
Shakespeare treats them as the exponents of Macbeth's 
state of mind, not as the prompters of his guilt. " Mr. 
Irving," the article continued, "is perfectly right in taking a 
philosophical view of the witch element in the drama, and 

portraying Macbeth, in the latter phases of the action, as 
VOL. i. 13 



194 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xn. 

completely independent of it, and resuming that comparative 
nobility and valour with which he is accredited in the earlier 
scenes. Upon the whole, therefore, we conclude that Mr. 
Irving, in his Macbeth delineation, has shown considerable 
genius and great judgment." 

Allusion has been made to the scurrilous attacks upon 
Henry Irving which were prevalent at this time. As a rule, 
they were beneath the notice of the actor. Irving's staunch 
friend and manager, Bateman, was no longer in the land of 
the living, and Mrs. Bateman could not enter into the field of 
controversy. But one article was so bad that Irving was 
advised that he was bound, in self-defence, to take action in 
the matter. Had it stood alone it might have been passed 
over, but it was a continuation although not written by the 
same pen of a series of attacks in the same journal. On 
Christmas Eve, 1875, Mr. George Lewis, jr. now Sir 
George Lewis appeared at the Guildhall Police Court and 
handed to the magistrate, Sir Robert Garden, a copy of the 
paper containing the alleged libel. Mr. Lewis said that Mr. 
Irving had played parts in " The Bells," "Charles the First," 
" Eugene Aram," " Richelieu," " Philip," " Hamlet," and 
" Macbeth," and it had been announced that he was to play 
Othello, so that there could be no doubt as to whom the 
article was intended for. There was no question, he said, 
that it was a deliberate attempt to injure Mr. Irving ; and, if 
the expressed intention of the writer was carried out, there was 
no doubt that it would do Mr. Irving a great injury. He 
(Mr. Lewis) therefore asked for a summons against the printer 
and publisher of Fun for libel, and that it should be made 
returnable immediately, so that the attacks might be put a 
stop to. Sir Robert Garden said that, having read the article, 
he could not imagine any other than a malicious motive in 
it, and he had no hesitation in granting the summons, as it 
was a " scurrilous libel". The summons was then issued, 
and, on the following Tuesday, the printer of the paper 
appeared in answer to it. The article in question was ad- 
dressed 




i8;s] A "SCURRILOUS LIBEL" 195 

TO A FASHIONABLE TRAGEDIAN 

and was as follows : 

" SIR, I read with regret that it is your intention as soon as the 
present failure at your house can be with dignity withdrawn to startle 
Shakespearean scholars and the public with your conception of the character 
of Othello. In the name of that humanity to which, in spite of your 
transcendent abilities, you cannot avoid belonging, I beseech you, for the 
sake of order and morality, to abandon the idea. For some years past you 
have been the prime mover in a series of dramas which, carried by you to 
the utmost point of realistic ghastliness, have undermined the constitution 
of society, and familiarised the masses with the most loathsome details of 
crime and bloodshed. With the hireling portion of the Press at your 
command, you have induced the vulgar and unthinking to consider you a 
model of histrionic ability and the pioneer of an intellectual and cultured 
school of dramatic art. Having thus focussed the attention of the mob, 
you have not hesitated nightly to debauch its intelligence, to steep it in an 
atmosphere of diabolical lust and crude carnage, to cast around the foulest 
outrages the glamour of a false sentimentality. You have idealised blank- 
verse butchery until murder and assassination have come to be considered 
the natural environments of the noble and the heroic. Already the deadly 
weeds whose seeds you have so persistently scattered are spreading in rank 
luxuriance over the whole surface of society. Men revel in the details of 
the lowest forms of human violence; women crowd the public courts to 
gloat over the filthy details of murder and license ; children in their nurses' 
arms babble the names of miscreants who have in sober earnest performed 
the deeds which you so successfully mimic for a weekly consideration. I 
maintain that for the disgusting bloodthirstiness and callous immorality of 
the present day you are in a great measure responsible. You have pandered 
to the lowest passions of our nature by clothing in an attractive garb the 
vilest actions of which we are capable. As a burgomaster, a schoolmaster, 
a king, a brother, a prince, and a chieftain, all of murderous proclivities, 
you have deluged the modern stage with the sanguine fluid, and strewn it 
with corpses. That a succession of such lessons could be harmlessly 
witnessed by mixed audiences it is absurd to contend. Let any thinking 
man look around him, and the fruits of this so-called elevation of the drama 
will be painfully apparent in a myriad incidents of our daily life. Elevate 
the drama, forsooth ! You have canonised the cut-throat, you have 
anointed the assassin. Be content with the ghastly train of butchers you 
have foisted upon public attention and let your next venture, at least, be 
innocent of slaughter. If your performance of Othello be trumpeted to 
the four winds of Heaven by the gang of time-serving reporters in your 
employ, you will increase the epidemic of wife-murder one hundredfold, and 
degrade the national drama a further degree towards the level of the 
' Penny Dreadful '. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, A DISINTERESTED 
OBSERVER." 

Ultimately, the printer was dismissed from the case, and 
the responsible parties the editor of the paper and the writer 

13* 



196 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xn. 

of the article admitted their offence. Had not the de- 
fendants apologised in open court, the magistrate would have 
sent the case for trial. In accepting the apology, Mr. Lewis, 
on behalf of the actor, said : " Mr. Irving having heard from 
the lips of each of the defendants their expression of extreme 
regret at the conduct of which they have been guilty, has 
instructed me now not to ask you to send this case for trial. 
Mr. Irving having performed his duty to society, and having 
done what he thinks was necessary for the protection of the 
interests of his profession, accepts the apologies. I have now 
to ask you, on behalf of the defendants, that they may be 
discharged. . . . This article was in no way honest, and it 
was in no way an attempt at criticism. Whatever may have 
been the object of the two defendants, it was a publication 
which it was perfectly impossible for Mr. Irving, having 
regard for his own self-esteem and his duty to society, to 
allow to pass unnoticed." In regard to the two defendants, 
it is only necessary to say that one has been dead for a 
number of years, and the other who was only twenty-eight 
years of age when he wrote the article in question has since 
risen to eminence, and has often expressed his regret for the 
rash act of his younger days. Irving forgave him at the 
time, and there the matter ended. 

It was in this case that one of those extraordinary dis- 
plays of ignorance or affectation for which the judicial 
bench is notorious, took place. Mr. Toole, in the course of 
his evidence, said : " If it is suggested to Mr. Irving not to 
play in tragedy, it is most impertinent, and in the worst taste," 
whereupon the magistrate remarked : " Perhaps it is quite out 
of Mr. Toole's line. No one ever shed a tear who saw Mr. 
Toole," to which remarkable statement the astonished actor 
could only ejaculate, "I am sorry to hear you say that". 
For his Michael Garner in " Dearer Than Life" had drawn 
tears from thousands of spectators, and his " Caleb Plummer " 
had been noted for its pathos for over thirteen years. 

" Macbeth," notwithstanding the criticisms of the cavillers, 
was played for eighty nights. Apart from the merits of 



1875] LITERARY INTEREST 197 

Irving's impersonation and these were freely recognised in 
after years the revival had a literary interest which has, 
generally speaking, been overlooked in previous biographies. 
Never, since the Restoration, had the tragedy been presented 
with more regard to the intention of the author, and, on no 
other occasion, had to put the case on very modest ground 
the play been given with more exact study or cultivated 
taste. Tradition went by the board, and Irving thought for 
himself. This welcome change was greeted warmly by one 
of the least enthusiastic of Irving's critics Joseph Knight 
who wrote in the Athenceum: " In place of the curious mosaic 
to which the stage is used, we have the words of Shakespeare, 
the music which Lock or some one else wrote for Davenant's 
verses is thrust into its proper place, in the entr' actes ; and 
readings which are authoritative are given in place of those 
which are popular or effective. A vindication of this method 
of treatment, the only treatment defensible in the case of 
Shakespeare, could scarcely be desired more complete than 
was in the present instance afforded. Not only was no sense 
of loss begotten by the absence of the familiar appendages, 
but the scenes, now first divested of extraneous matter, pro- 
duced, for the first time, their full effect. From the moment 
when, in the opening scene, the witches were revealed by 
flashes of lightning to that wherein they executed, in their 
final appearance, that ' antic rdund' to cheer the spirits of 
Macbeth, which all editions concur in giving, the scenes re- 
mained impressive. The scenery illustrated the action with- 
out overpowering it, and the costumes, from the highest to 
the lowest, were at once artistic and full of character. " Some 
slight innovations in the text were also commended by Mr. 
Knight, a critic, by the way, who never tired, at this period, 
of pointing out those unfortunate mannerisms partly in- 
herent, partly the result of excess of nervousness which Irving 
controlled with such mastery in his later years that it seemed 
impossible that they could have been so pronounced as, it is 
certain, they were. To have triumphed over them was but a 
proof and a remarkable one of the actor's greatness. One 



198 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

specimen of Mr. Knight's remarks on this head will suffice : 
" Mr. Irving must learn," he wrote, in connection with the 
performance of Macbeth, "that his mannerisms have de- 
veloped into evils so formidable they will, if not checked, end 
by impeding his career. His slow pronunciation and his 
indescribable elongation of syllables bring the whole, occasion- 
ally, near burlesque. Mr. Irving has youth, intelligence, 
ambition, zeal, and resolution. These things are sacrificed to 
vices of style, which have strengthened with the actor's 
success, and, like all weeds of ill growth, have obtained ex- 
cessive development. It is impossible to preserve the music 
of Shakespeare if words of one syllable are to be stretched 
out to the length of five or six. Mr. Irving's future depends 
greatly on his mastery of these defects." Such a pronounce- 
ment, coming with the dignity of the Athenczum, and not 
prompted by any desire to wound, must have been an en- 
couragement to the small fry of the press to air their spite of 
the man who had succeeded in drawing, at the age of thirty- 
seven, all ranks of playgoers for two hundred nights to 
Hamlet. 



CHAPTER XIII. 
1876-1877. 

"Othello" revived Salvini's rendering of the character Severe 
criticism on Irving's impersonation Even his costume offends Gladstone 
introduces himself to Irving " Queen Mary " produced A " family play " 
Irving's success stimulates theatrical enterprise He reads a paper on 
Amusements at Shoreditch A busy month Helen Faucit acts lolanthe 
for Irving's benefit A triumphal tour Honours in Dublin Reappears 
in London as Macbeth "Richard III." revived His rooms in Grafton- 
street described. 

"THUS bad begins," may be said, in the words of the 
Prince of Denmark, of some of the newspaper writers of the 
days before Irving became his own manager, but "worse 
remains behind ". They had been obliged to tolerate Ham- 
let, for public opinion was too strong for them on this point, 
and they had steeped their pens in vitriol over Macbeth. 
But they were now to get their greatest chance of all. 
"Macbeth" was followed by a brief revival of "Hamlet," 
pending a production of " Othello " ! This spirit of bravado 
was too much for anybody to endure. Had not the great 
Italian actor, Tommaso Salvini he of enormous physique, of 
organ-like voice been seen as the Moor, the true Moor, 
the veritable Moor, the only Moor that ever was, could, or 
should be? Had he not, in April, 1875, come to London 
and conquered, as Othello, and should this stripling actor, who 
might possibly have brains, but certainly did not possess a 
bulky frame, or a round, mellow voice which could coo as 
sweetly as a sucking-dove or anon roar like thunder, be al- 
lowed to masquerade as Othello? What right had he, an 
Englishman, to attempt a feat in which the Italian had 
succeeded ? Not to speak of Salvini, there was the shade 
of Gustavus Vaughan Brooke hovering round and forbidding 

199 



200 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

such a profanation of the sacred shrine. But even Irving's 
worst enemies could never deny that he had courage 
although they called this admirable quality by another name. 
Accordingly, having made his mind up to attempt the awful 
task of doing what he had a perfect right to do, he appeared 
as Othello on Monday, I4th February, 1876. Leaving, 
until five years later, a brief description of Irving's im- 



OTHELLO. 

Revived at the Lyceum, I4th February, 1876. 



OTHELLO - 
DUKE 
BBABANTIO 
RODERIGO 
GRATIANO - 
LODOVICO - 
CASSIO 
IAGO 

MONTANO - 

ANTONIO - 

JULIO 

MARCO 

PAULO 

DESDEMONA 

EMILIA 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. COLLETT. 

Mr. MEAD. 

Mr. CARTON. 

Mr. HUNTLEY. 

Mr. ARCHER. 

Mr. BROOKE. 

Mr. FORRESTER. 

Mr. BEAUMONT. 

Mr. SARGENT. 

Mr. TAPPING. 

Mr. HARWOOD. 

Mr. BUTLER. 

Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 

Miss BATEMAN (Mrs. CROWE). 



ACT I., SCENE i. A Street in Venice; SCENE 2. Another 
Street in Venice; SCENE 3. A Council Chamber. ACT II., 
SCENE i. The Harbour at Cyprus ; SCENE 2. A Street in 
Cyprus ; SCENE 3. The Court of Guard. ACT III., SCENE. 
Othello's House. ACT IV., SCENE i. Othello's House; 
SCENE 2. A Street in Cyprus. SCENE 3. Exterior of lago's 
House. ACT V., SCENE. A Bedchamber. 



personation his conception of Othello did not vary be- 
tween 1876 and 1 88 1, when he acted it again it may be 
instructive to look at some onslaughts which were the conse- 
quence of an innocent attempt of a popular player to continue 
his essays so auspiciously begun with Hamlet in Shake- 
speare. It may be remarked, in passing, that Salvini had 
undoubtedly made a great impression as Othello in the 
previous April. An impartial observer, the critic of the 
Athenceum, who, as already pointed out, was not chary in 
censuring Henry Irving, said that Salvini's Othello was 
"splendid alike in its qualities and its defects, in virtues 
which raise it to something like supremacy in tragic art, and 
in defects powerful enough to mar its beauty, and leave the 



1 876] NOT A SECOND SALVINI 201 

prevalent impression on the mind one not far from disappoint- 
ment. 

" Much as English actors may learn from the distin- 
guished stranger who now comes among us, it will be an evil 
day for art when young actors begin to train themselves in 
the school of which he is the most illustrious exponent." 
Yet, because he was not a second Salvini, Irving was con- 
demned out of hand for his early impersonation of Othello. 
The same impartial critic observed the gradual conquest of 
the intellectual nature, and its disappearance before the rising 
passion and fury, which were the keynotes of Salvini's per- 
formance. In the earlier part of the play, the merits of the 
impersonation overshadowed its many defects. But in the 
concluding scenes of the last act, the conquest of the civilised 
being by the barbarian, was carried out at the sacrifice of 
Shakespeare's intentions and that of art. The murder scene, 
as he handled it, was one of the most repulsive things of the 
kind ever witnessed on the stage. " He seizes Desdemona by 
the hair of the head, and, dragging her on to the bed, strangles 
her with a ferocity which seems to delight in its office. The 
murder committed, Othello walks agitatedly backwards 
and forwards, not answering the cry of Emilia. When she 
tells him of the death of Roderigo by the hand of Cassio he 
starts, then relapses into sullen fury of discontent. He re- 
mains motionless for a while with eye glazing, as he learns 
how mightily he has been abused, then staggers forward with 
open mouth and with a countenance charged with tragic 
passion. The following words are delivered in a wild aban- 
donment of grief, that in the end becomes inarticulate in 
utterance, and with an accompaniment of beating of his head 
with his hands which, according to English canons of art, is 
excessive. Suddenly the thought of the tempter comes to 
him. Crouching like a wild beast, he prepares for a spring. 
A sword is in the girdle of one of the attendants. Upon this 
he seizes, and passes it with one thrust through the traitor's 
body. Staggering then to a seat, he commences, sitting and 
weeping, the final speech. Nearing the end, he rises, and at 



202 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

the supreme moment cuts his throat with a short scimitar, 
hacking and hewing with savage energy, and imitating the 
noise that escaping blood and air may make together when 
the windpipe is severed. Nothing in art so terribly realistic 
as this death-scene has been attempted. It is directly op- 
posed to Shakespeare, who makes Othello say : 

I took by the throat the circumcised dog, 
And smote him thus. 

A man does not take by the neck one whose throat he is 
going to cut, since he would cut his own fingers in so doing. 
He seizes one, on the contrary, into whose heart he is about 
to plunge a dagger. The word 'smote' in Shakespeare is 
indeed sufficiently clear to leave no room for doubt or mis- 
conception. The effect on the audience is repellent to the 
last degree. This kind o/ death-scene needs only such slight 
and easily provided additions as the rupture of a bladder 
of blood, which the actor might place within reach, the ex- 
hibition of a bleeding throat, and a stream of blood serpenting 
upon the floor, to reach the limits of attainable realism. 
Tendencies in the direction of this kind of so-called art were 
seen in Signora Ristori, and marred her marvellously artistic 
impersonations. In the present case, the effect is singularly 
detrimental to the artistic value of the performance." 

The murder scene, as acted by Salvini, marred an other- 
wise magnificent performance. But the Italian actor, never- 
theless, was treated with extreme courtesy by the press. On 
the other hand, Irving was treated more like a man who had 
committed a crime, than an actor who had done his best, for 
venturing upon Othello. This was mild in comparison with 
some of the invectives : " Brain, industry, and nervous energy 
may do much, but voice, concentrated strength, and grace do 
much more for the highest form of tragedy. At certain im- 
portant moments, Mr. Irving, well knowing what he wishes 
to do, is still not master of himself, and somehow the fascina- 
tion of such plays as ' The Bells ' has made him over- 
enamoured with his own style. This style, or mannerism, is 
increased rather than corrected, and we observe fresh instances 



1876] CONDEMNATION 203 

of that habit of so losing the character in the dream of an idea 
that it becomes extremely difficult for the audience to follow 
the actor. It ought not to be necessary to know the text in 
order to keep up with the artist, but rather to be so attracted 
by the interpretation as to hurry back to the book. If Mr. 
Irving could always correctly express what he means, he 
would be one of the greatest of English actors. These fail- 
ings are only brought prominently to notice when such char- 
acters as the Moor of Venice are attempted. The physical 
necessities required for a Hamlet or an Othello are not to be 
compared." These observations, if not very profound, were 
made in a kindly manner. In other quarters, he was con- 
demned in advance: ''After the impression made upon us 
by the wonderful impersonation of Signor Salvini in the same 
role, we confess that we did not give way to expectations of a 
satisfactory performance. Striking it was sure to be, and, in 
some respects, highly artistic. But we could not, by any 
process of imagination, fancy Henry Irving as a fit exponent 
of the ardent and passionate Moorish general." A critic who 
started out with such pre-conceived notions could not be ex- 
pected to find much pleasure in the performance. It is, 
therefore, not surprising to be told that "the result was not 
satisfactory ". 

The new Othello gave great offence at the outset by 
his costume : (< Mr. Irving appeared at first clothed in a 
very picturesque scarlet mantle, with a hood ; and from the 
beginning he looked entirely different from what any student 
of Shakespeare can imagine Othello to have been. His per- 
formance throughout evidenced such an amount of care, of 
study, and of elaboration that it becomes a matter of difficulty 
to condemn his entire performance as decisively as it deserves 
to be condemned. Mr. Irving had evidently laboured to 
avoid any of the features of Salvini's performances. He has 
carried his eccentricity of both voice and gesture to the verge 
of the grotesque. In the scene where he interrupts the fight- 
ing between Cassio and Montano with ' Put up your bright 
swords or the dew will rust them/ Mr. Irving made an in- 



204 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

articulate exclamation which caused an audible laugh in the 
gallery. In the temptation scene, 'Villain, be sure thou 
prove/ etc., his simulation of rage was impotent ; and when 
he seized lago by the throat there was no dignity in his 
wrath, and one felt surprised at a man of lago's manliness 
submitting to such rough usage. His elocution, though in 
one or two passages extremely good, seemed to be marred 
by the violence of his efforts to express passion. It is to be 
regretted that an actor of Mr. Irving's genius should select 
parts which by nature he is unfitted to play, when he might 
easily find others suited to his characteristics, and which, with 
half the study, would prove more satisfactory." As a speci- 
men of wholesale condemnation, the following may be cited : 
" It would be serving no good purpose, either in the interest 
of dramatic art or in consideration of the future of a talented 
artist, to gloss over or discover excuses for the new Othello 
at the Lyceum. There are times, no doubt, when all are 
anxious and willing to deal gently with ambitious efforts, and 
to err on the side of appreciation wherever and whenever it 
is clearly shown that ambition and modesty are combined. 
Encouragement, on the whole, is far more valuable as an in- 
centive than wholesale depreciation ; and many a one of a 
sanguine and energetic temperament has been saved to the 
stage and to the ennobling of art by kindly criticism, whereas 
he might have been disheartened and prostrated by condemna- 
tion, which is, after all, the easiest form of criticism. But in the 
case of Mr. Henry Irving no such scruples are needed. He 
has made his way by his own intellect, and has received 
generous encouragement at the hands of the public. He has 
been praised and congratulated with impulsive liberality. As 
a young man, and, comparatively speaking, an untried artist, 
he has been lifted over the heads of his seniors in the profes- 
sion who have borne the labour and heat of the day, and 
probably there is no actor of the present time who can so 
well afford to be told, clearly and emphatically, when he has 
made a mistake. We do not beat about the bush, or ask 
people to read between the lines. We have no reason to go 



i8;6] WHOLESALE ABUSE 205 

out of our way to smooth over our disappointment or ask for 
mercy, and under these circumstances we do not hesitate to 
declare our disapproval of the Othello of Mr. Henry Irving. 
To approve such a performance would be tacitly to condemn 
the great English representatives of the character. To speak 
favourably of such acting would be to express ignorance of a 
mass of past criticism. To countenance the admission of 
fatal mannerisms and false elocution would be to help sow the 
seeds of a system which might be fatal to the stage. If it be 
true that the art of the actor is to hold the mirror up to nature 
then on that one ground should this new Othello be con- 
demned, for a representation of the part more antagonistic to 
the first principles of natural acting it would be difficult to 
conceive. For nature we get exaggeration ; for elocution, 
scolding ; for affection, melancholy ; and for deportment, 
trick." Some seven hundred words of vituperation succeeded, 
and the abuse was half-apologised for by this excuse : " Over- 
much tragedy in long potent doses and a distinct want of 
physical power may in a measure account for this disappoint- 
ment. But we do not see that anything can alter it. The 
mannerisms which have been overlooked for so many years 
have now asserted themselves so prominently that they seri- 
ously interfere with the effect of that admirable study which 
Mr. Irving always devotes to his work. It is vexing, no doubt, 
that the change should have come so soon. His Hamlet 
was one of those charming performances to which the play- 
goer looks back with infinite pleasure, and we can only ex- 
press our regret that any persuasion should have induced the 
actor to follow up such a success with characters for which he 
showed so few physical qualifications." And so the weary 
tale went on. There were some writers who took Irving's 
view of Othello, and who understood his interpretation. But 
the performance met with general censure, and there is no 
doubt that, even as an expression of Irving's own idea of 
the character, it was not equal to his interpretation of 1881. 
Nor did he himself think Othello one of his most successful 
efforts, for, after the latter date, he did not repeat it. 



206 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

Irving had, by now, formed some valuable friendships 
with people who were eminent in other worlds than his own. 
When walking down Bond Street one day, he was touched 
on the shoulder by Mr. Gladstone, "who introduced himself 
with characteristic frankness," an incident which gave rise to 
several caricatures. A night or two later, the eminent states- 
man visited the Lyceum and congratulated the actor very 
warmly. Another friendship was that with Alfred Tennyson, 
one outcome of which was the production of the first play of 



QUEEN MARY. 

First acted at the Lyceum, i8th April, 1876. 



PHILIP OF SPAIN - 

GARDINER 

SIMON RENARD - ... 

LE SlEUR DE NOAILLES 

EDWARD COURTENAY ... 

LORD WILLIAM HOWARD 

SIR THOMAS WHITE ... 

COUNT DE FERIA - 

MASTER OF WOODSTOCK 

LORD PETRE 

MESSENGER 

STEWARD TO PRINCESS ELIZABETH 
ATTENDANT - - - - - 
MARY OF ENGLAND ... 
PRINCESS ELIZABETH - 
LADY CLARENCE - - - - 
LADY MAGDALEN DACRES 

JOAN 

TIB 

MAID OF HONOUR- - 

ALICE 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. SWINBOURNE. 

Mr. BROOKE. 

Mr. WALTER BENTLEY. 

Mr. CARTON. 

Mr. MEAD. 

Mr. HUNTLEY. 

Mr. BEAUMONT. 

Mr. COLLETT. 

Mr. STUART. 

Mr. SARGENT. 

Mr. NORMAN. 

Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

Miss BATEMAN (Mrs. CROWE). 

Miss VIRGINIA FRANCIS. 

Miss PAUNCEFORT. 

Miss CLAIRE. 

Mrs. HUNTLEY. 

Mr. ARCHER. 

Miss HALL. 

Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I., SCENE. An Apartment at Whitehall. ACT II., SCENE i. 
The Guildhall ; SCENE 2. The Gatehouse at Westminster. ACT III., 
SCENE i. Apartment at Woodstock ; SCENE 2. Whitehall. ACT IV., 
SCENE i. Street in Smithfield ; SCENE 2. Apartment at Whitehall. 
ACT V., SCENE i. Mansion near London ; SCENE 2. The Queen's 
Oratory. 



the Poet Laureate. This was " Queen Mary," a five-act 
drama which, on i8th April, succeeded "Othello". The 
piece, regarded as a work for dramatic representation, was a 
poor one, quite unfitted for the stage. The poet had done 
his own condensation and had done it so ruthlessly that no 
less than twenty-seven characters more than half were 
omitted from the stage version. The most stirring scenes, 



1876] THE SPANIARD PRINCE 207 

oddly enough, were cut out, and the play was reduced to a 
monotonous story of Mary's unrequited love, Philip's disdain, 
and the hopes of the Princess Elizabeth. Cranmer, bishops 
and priests, and the crowd were left out in order, presumably, 
not to wound the religious susceptibilities of the audience. 
But a line, " I am English Queen, not Roman Emperor," 
which was retained, produced a mild ebullition of feeling. 
The demonstration in question aroused one paper to the 
"retort direct," for it hastened to point out, with a directness 
which did it credit, that "the political pulse of the nation can 
never be gauged by the cheers or hisses of the fools that form 
a due proportion of every theatrical audience". This was 
plain speaking. But no amount of political discussion could 
save a poor play, one, moreover, which did not contain a 
prominent part for the mainstay of the theatre. The elder 
Miss Bateman had the chief character, Queen Mary, and her 
performance of a dull part could not raise the piece to dis- 
tinction. Her youngest sister, Miss Virginia Francis Bateman 
was the Elizabeth, and Miss Isabel Bateman had another 
role. In fact, it was a sort of family play. Irving did not 
come on the stage until the second scene of the third act and 
he disappeared with the fourth act, the final portion of the 
play being left to the representative of Queen Mary, whose 
sorrows were bewailed through the last act. Irving, in ap- 
pearance, was a perfect Titian portrait, and, for once, there 
was no complaint of his " mannerisms ". In look and speech, 
he was Philip absolutely. He represented the stiff Spaniard 
and cold, heartless grandee to the life. The part might have 
been easily exaggerated. But he kept it within proper limits. 
He was, undoubtedly, the poet's Philip, princely in exterior, 
sarcastic without reserve, cynically crafty, aching with supreme 
ennui in the presence of the woman who would give her life 
for a share of his love. Philip was not a great part, but it 
was completely presented. An independent critic advised 
"all who take an interest in English acting to go and see 
how efficiently, how superbly, with what just balance and due 
discretion, the Spaniard Prince is personated by Mr. Irving. 



208 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

Gestures, tone, and * station ' are alike admirable, profoundly 
studied and shown forth." 

"Queen Mary" was, at least, useful in giving a respite 
from strenuous work and in allaying the abuse of acrimonious 
critics. The action for libel which had preceded it had, no 
doubt, a wholesome effect in the latter direction. But the rise 
of the young actor had also an influence on the London 
theatres and the playgoing public in general. The Easter 
of 1876 witnessed unusual activity on the stage. Indeed, 
the number of plays then acted had not been approached 
within the recollection of the oldest playgoer. In addition 
to the piece by Tennyson, there was a new drama by 
Wilkie Collins ''Miss Gwilt," adapted from his novel, 
" Armadale" at the now defunct Globe Theatre ; a melo- 
dramatic comedy, "Wrinkles," by Henry J. Byron, at the 
Prince of Wales's Theatre, Tottenham Court Road ; a comic 
melodrama, "Struck Oil," at the Adelphi ; a three-act Palais 
Royal farce, "The Great Divorce Case," with Charles 
Wyndham in the principal part, at the Criterion ; and a 
nautical transpontine drama at the Surrey. The St. James's 
and the Royalty were devoted to comic operas, the Charing 
Cross (afterwards Toole's, and subsequently destroyed for the 
enlargement of the hospital) had been opened " with varieties " 
by John Hollingshead, while a new spectacle had been pro- 
duced at the Alhambra. There were also two distinguished 
foreign artists in London the Italian tragedian, Ernesto 
Rossi, at Drury Lane, and a German tragedienne, Madame 
Janauschek, at the Hay market. The Irving influence was 
already benefiting the other members of his profession. In 
connection with " Queen Mary," Robert Browning, who was 
present on the first night wrote the next day to " my dear 
Tennyson " assuring him, rather prematurely, of " the complete 
success" of the play. "Irving was very good indeed," he 
continued, "and the others did their best, not so badly. The 
love as well as admiration for the author was conspicuous, 
indeed, I don't know whether you ought to have been present 
to enjoy it, or were safer in absence from a smothering of 



1876] 



"IS SUPPER READY?" 



209 




VOL. I. 



210 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

flowers and deafening * tumult of acclaim'. But Hallam was 
there to report, and Mrs. Tennyson is with you to believe. 
All congratulations to you both." According to a less 
enthusiastic spectator, the play was received, at the first re- 
presentation, with respectful attention and frequent tokens of 
enthusiasm. At the conclusion, Irving appeared before the 
curtain and announced that, unfortunately, the author had 
not been able to be present, but that, "with permission," he 
was about to telegraph him that the play had been "with the 
audience generally, a confirmed success". Irving, as Philip, 
wore light hair and a beard. 

Friday, the 3ist of March, was a memorable date in the 
life of the subject of this biography. Henry Irving then 
delivered the first of his many addresses on the stage. His 
paper was entitled "Amusements," and it was read at the 
Conference in connection with the Church of England Tem- 
perance Society, in the Town Hall, Shoreditch. He de- 
nounced the evils of drinking among the lower orders, and 
urged that the theatre should be advocated as a resort where 
an entertainment could be enjoyed by the middle and lower 
classes alike. " Make the theatre respected by openly recog- 
nising its services," he pleaded. " Make it more respectable 
by teaching the working and lower middle classes to watch 
for good or even creditable plays, and to patronise them 
when presented. Let members of religious congregations 
know that there is no harm, but, rather, good in entering 
into ordinary amusements, as far as they are decorous. Use 
the pulpit, the press, and the platform to denounce, not the 
stage, but certain evils that find allowance on it. In England, 
attendance at a theatre I know this well, for I was brought 
up in Cornwall is too commonly regarded as a profession 
of irreligion. Break down this foolish and vicious idea, and 
one may hope that some inroads may be made on the do- 
minions of the drink demon and some considerable acreages 
annexed to the dominions of religion and virtue." 

June was an exceedingly busy month for the hardworking 
actor who had raised the Lyceum Theatre to such eminence. 



1 876] DORICOURT AGAIN 211 

On the afternoon of Thursday the 8th, "The School for 
Scandal" was acted at Drury Lane for the benefit of the 
popular comedian, J. B. Buckstone, who was associated for 
so long with the Hay market Theatre. The performance, in 
fact, was a well-earned recognition of his connection with that 
house, as lessee and manager, for twenty-three years, and of 
his public services as an actor for close upon half a century. 
Irving played Joseph Surface a character which, it will be re- 
called, he acted at the St. James's Theatre in 1867. The 
cast of the Drury Lane performance embraced all the principal 
players of the day, and was as follows : Sir Peter Teazle, 
Samuel Phelps ; Sir Oliver Surface, S. Emery ; Joseph Sur- 
face, Henry Irving; Charles Surface, Charles Mathews ; Sir 
Benjamin Backbite, J. B. Buckstone ; Crabtree, John Ryder ; 
Careless, C. F. Coghlan ; Trip, Mr. S. B. Bancroft ; Moses, 
David James ; Snake, B. Webster ; Rowley, Henry Howe ; 
Sir Harry, Mr. Charles Santley ; Musical guest, J. Parry; 
Sir Toby, F. Everill ; Servant to J. Surface, Edward Righton ; 
Servant to Sir P. Teazle, Mr. C. Sugden ; Servant to Lady 
Sneerwell, Arthur Cecil ; Lady Teazle, Adelaide Neilson ; 
Mrs. Candour, Mrs. Stirling ; Lady Sneerwell, Mrs. Alfred 
Mellon ; Maria, Miss Lucy Buckstone ; Lady Teazle's Maid, 
Miss E. Farren. Mrs. Keeley delivered an address, written 
by Henry J. Byron, to which Buckstone responded. The 
stage-manager was Edward Stirling. It is sad to think 
that of all that gallant crowd there are now only three sur- 
vivors Sir Squire Bancroft, Sir Charles Santley, and Mr. 
Charles Sugden. 

On the following Monday, I2th June, "The Bells" and 

' The Belle's Stratagem " were revived at the Lyceum. As 
the former play had been acted so recently, it did not require 
much rehearsal, but Mrs. Cowley's comedy was new to the 
present company. Irving, of course, was the Doricourt and 
thereby recalled his'previous performance of 1 866. Miss Isabel 

Bateman was the Letitia Hardy. Her sister, Miss Virginia 
" Francis," was the Mrs. Racket, and the cast included the 
late Miss Lucy Buckstone daughter of the Haymarket Buck- 

14* 



212 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

stone Mr. E. H. Brooke, and Mr. Walter Bentley. On 
the following Friday afternoon, Irving appeared at a charity 
performance. His position is somewhat curiously indicated 
by the following reference : " It has come to pass that wher- 
ever Mr. Henry Irving appears, or whatever he performs, 
there are two or three gathered together in his name. There- 
fore, it was a wise and politic thing of the promoters of the 
benefit performance in aid of the funds of ' The Samaritan 
Free Hospital for Women and Children ' to seek the assistance 
of the popular tragedian. The performance took place in St. 



THE BELLE'S STRATAGEM. 



Revived at the Lyceum, 

DORICOURT - 

Mr. HARDY 

SIR GEORGE TOUCHWOOD - 

FLUTTER 

SAVILLE 

VILLERS - 

COURTALL - - - - - 

LETITIA HARDY - 

Mrs. RACKET - ... 

LADY FRANCES TOUCHWOOD 



I2th June, 1876. 

Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. J. ARCHER. 

Mr. BEAUMONT. 

Mr. BROOKE. 

Mr. BENTLEY. 

Mr. CARTON. 

Mr. STUART. 

Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 

Miss VIRGINIA FRANCIS. 

Miss LUCY BUCKSTONE. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Lincoln's Inn ; SCENE 2. An Apartment at 
Doricourt's ; SCENE 3. A Room in Hardy's House. ACT II., 
SCENE. Ballroom. ACT III., SCENE i. Hardy's House; 
SCENE 2. Doricourt's Bedchamber; SCENE 3. Queen Square; 
SCENE 4. A Room in Hardy's House. 



George's Hall, and Mr. Irving recited Hood's ' Dream of 
Eugene Aram ' in his well-known style. As soon as he had 
finished, a number of his more immediate worshippers rose 
and left the house. So soon as the excitement consequent 
upon their exodus had subsided, the curtain rose upon the 
chief feature of the entertainment, namely, 'His Last Legs,' 
performed by amateurs." The unconscious humour of the 
last sentence is not bad. 

On Friday, the 23rd, Irving took his benefit at the Lyceum, 
and played three parts Count Tristan in Sir Theodore Mar- 
tin's version of " King Rent's Daughter," Eugene Aram, and 
Doricourt Additional interest was lent to the occasion by 
the circumstance that Miss Helen Faucit, who played lolanthe 
to the Count Tristan of Henry Irving, then made her last 



1876] HONOURS IN DUBLIN 213 

appearance on the stage. The season, which was memorable 
for several reasons, closed on the following evening with 
"Hamlet". 

The autumn of 1876 was an auspicious one for the actor. 
It brought him renewed triumphs and fresh honours, and it 
ushered in a year of great artistic and popular success. He 
had the satisfaction of attracting nearly eighteen thousand 
people in a city where he had endured many trials and done 
much hard work Manchester. Crowded audiences, the en- 
thusiasm of which was striking, also welcomed him in Birming- 
ham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Dundee, Glasgow, 
Belfast, and Dublin. The warmth of his reception in the latter 
city more than atoned for the unmerited wrath which had been 
heaped upon his innocent head sixteen years previously. On 
9th December, the graduates and undergraduates of Trinity 
College presented him the ceremony taking place in the 
historic dining-hall of the University of Dublin with an ad- 
dress which read as follows : " Sir, The engagement which 
you bring to a conclusion to-night at the Theatre Royal has 
given the liveliest pleasure to the graduates and undergraduates 
of Trinity College, Dublin. To the most careful students of 
Shakespeare you have, by your scholarly and original inter- 
pretation, revealed new depths of meaning in * Hamlet,' and 
aroused in the minds of all a fresh interest in our highest poetry. 
As Charles the First, in the new drama of our countryman, 
Mr. Wills, you have set forth the dignity of fallen grandeur. 
You have depicted in 'The Bells,' with a terrible fidelity, the 
Nemesis that waits on crime. For the delight and instruction 
that we (in common with our fellow-citizens) have derived from 
all your impersonations, we tender you our sincere thanks. 
But it is something more than gratitude for personal pleasure 
or personal improvement that moves us to offer this public 
homage to your genius. Acting such as yours ennobles and 
elevates the stage, and serves to restore it to its true function 
as a potent instrument for intellectual and moral culture. 
Throughout your too brief engagement our stage has been a 
school of true art, a purifier of the passions, and a nurse of 



2i 4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

heroic sentiments ; you have even succeeded in commending 
it to the favour of a portion of society, large and justly influ- 
ential, who usually hold aloof from the theatre. It is not too 
much to say that with opportunities such as you have afforded 
us, Dublin audiences might again become what tradition re- 
ports them once to have been a tribunal whose approval 
went far to make the fame of an artist hitherto unknown, and 
without whose sanction no reputation was considered to be 
absolutely assured." A few hours later, the Theatre Royal 
was packed from floor to ceiling, and " Hamlet" was played 
before an audience headed by the Lord- Lieutenant of Ireland 
and the Duke of Connaught, and including five hundred students 
of Trinity College as well as the representative men of Dublin 
in other walks of life, many clergymen being conspicuous. Ail 
the University men, past and present, wore rosettes, and, when 
the actor whom they had come to honour made his first ap- 
pearance, it seemed as though the applause would never cease. 
At the end of the tragedy, the enthusiasm knew no bounds, 
nor did it abate until the students had escorted the hero of the 
hour to his hotel. 

On the following Monday, i6th December, Irving returned 
to the Lyceum and reappeared in open defiance of all the 
carping critics as Macbeth. His judgment in so doing was 
endorsed by the verdict of the public. For he was received 
and it is well to take the recorded description of a very 
guarded critic "with an enthusiasm which may best be de- 
scribed as passionate. A sight such as is now presented is 
quite unprecedented in stage history, and is worth taking into 
account by those who study the age in its various manifesta- 
tions. We have here a man whom a large portion of the 
public, and by no means the least cultivated section, receives 
as a great actor. The manifestations are, moreover, such as 
we read of in the case of the greatest of his predecessors, and 
contain that mixture of admiration and personal regard which 
men like Kean or Kemble were able to inspire in their ad- 
mirers. Yet criticism holds itself aloof, discontented and 
unsympathetic " this was not the casein regard to " Hamlet," 



i8;7] 



RICHARD III. 



215 



or in the provinces, nor was it true in a general sense "and 
the actor's own profession, though it is, of course, sensible of 
merit, fails to partake the enthusiasm of the public." This 
observation about Irving's "brother" actors is very curious, 
as it shows their disposition towards him in 1876. But, for 



RICHARD THE THIRD. 

Revived at the Lyceum, agth January, 1877. 



KINO EDWARD IV. - 

EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES 

RICHARD, DUKE OF YORK - 

GEORGE, DUKE OF CLARENCE 

RICHARD, DUKE OF GLOUCESTER 

HENRY, EARL OF RICHMOND 

CARDINAL BOURCHIER 

DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM 

DUKE OF NORFOLK - 

LORD RIVERS .... 

LORD HASTINGS - 

LORD STANLEY .... 

LORD LOVEL - 

MARQUIS OF DORSET - 

LORD GREY .... 

SIR RICHARD RATCLIFF 

SIR WILLIAM CATESBY 

SIR JAMES TYRREL - 

SIR JAMES BLUNT ... 

SIR ROBERT BRACKENBURY- 

DR. SHAW 

LORD MAYOR .... 

FIRST MURDERER 

SECOND MURDERER ... 

QUEEN MARGARET - 

QUEEN ELIZABETH 

DUCHESS OF YORK ... 

LADY ANNE .... 



Mr. BEAUMONT. 
Miss BROWN. 
Miss HARWOOD. 
Mr. WALTER BENTLEY. 
Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. E. H. BROOKE. 

Mr. COLLETT. 

Mr. T. SWINBOURNE. 

Mr. HARWOOD. 

Mr. CARTON. 

Mr. R. C. LYONS. 

Mr. A. W. PINERO. 

Mr. SERJEANT. 

Mr. SEYMOUR. 

Mr. ARTHUR DILLON. 

Mr. LOUTHER. 

Mr. J. ARCHER. 

Mr. A. STUART. 

Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

Mr. H. SMYLES. 

Mr. TAPPING. 

Mr. ALLEN. 

Mr. T. MEAD. 

Mr. HUNTLEY. 

Miss BATEMAN. 

Miss PAUNCEFORT. 

Mrs. HUNTLEY. 

Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I., SCENE i. A Street. ACT II., SCENE i. King's 
Ante-Chamber ; SCENE 2. Prison in the Tower ; SCENE 3. 
Ante-Chamber. ACT III., SCENE i. Chamber in the Tower ; 
SCENE 2. Hastings' House; SCENE 3. Council Chamber in 
Baynard's Castle. ACT IV., SCENE i. The Presence Cham- 
ber; SCENE 2. Room in the Tower; SCENE 3. Tower Hill. 
ACT V., SCENE i. Richmond's Encampment; SCENE 2. The 
Royal Tent; SCENE 3. Richmond's Tent; SCENE 4. The 
Battle Field. 



all that, he guided his own course then, as in after years, and, 
while " Macbeth" was being played, preparations were afoot 
for a fourth Shakespearean venture. This was " Richard 1 1 1.," 
which was produced on 29th January, 1877, and thereby 
accomplishing, among other things, the overthrow of the tra- 
vesty of the tragedy by Colley Gibber which had held the 



THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xin. 

stage for close upon two centuries. The Lyceum programme 
stated that the version then presented was "strictly the original 
text, without interpolations, but simply with such omissions 
and transpositions as have been found essential for dramatic 
representation ". This restoration of the original play was 
commended in all quarters. As for the interpretation of 
the chief character, it was generally conceded, even by the 
most adverse of Irving's critics, that the impersonation was 
a splendid one and that the " mannerisms " had been so sub- 
dued as to be almost invisible. The truth was that Irving's 
supremacy with the public was paramount, and there was no 
use in flying in the face of the popular verdict. Even Button 
Cook had to relax the studied rigidity of his style. Yet 
he could not do so without a gibe which was not in strict 
accordance with facts. " Of late there has been a measure 
of decline in the fervour of the reception awarded to Mr. 
Irving's performances of Shakespeare." The great towns of 
the provinces, it will be observed, had no place for the London 
critic, and he ignored the warmth of the reception in the 
previous month of Irving as Macbeth. However, in his 
grudging way, for he had an ineradicable habit of taking back 
with his left hand that which he gave with his right, he con- 
ceded the merits of the rendering. "The performance," he 
concluded, "will without doubt gain by the further considera- 
tion the artist can now bring to his undertaking ; experience 
will teach him to economise his forces, to reduce the ine- 
qualities of his portraiture, and to rid himself of the minor 
defects of redundant action and excessive play of face. But, 
as it stands, this representation of Shakespeare's Richard may 
surely take its place among the most remarkable of histrionic 
achievements. As an actor's first impersonation of a part 
entirely new to him, it is startling in its originality, in its power, 
and completeness. " The same critic pointed out the inefficiency 
of the company, so that Irving as Richard had to fight his 
battles alone not that this was any new thing for the actor. 
"The fact that the Lyceum company includes several very 
inefficient performers may be accepted as a sufficient reason 



1 877] AT HOME IN GRAFTON STREET 217 

for the excision of much matter which otherwise might well 
have been retained," he said. "If, for instance, we are to have 
a ranting Duke of Clarence, it seems but prudent to limit his 
opportunities of speech ; and so, considering the monotonous 
violence of Miss Bateman's Margaret of Anjou, there is sound 
judgment manifested in the elimination of that vociferous 
character from the later acts of the tragedy." He does not 
otherwise notice the acting of the subsidiary characters in the 
revival, and Joseph Knight, having dealt exhaustively with 
the acting of Irving as Richard, merely says : " The remainder 
of the cast affords little opportunity for favourable comment ". 
At the same time it is only just to state that other writers 
were in favour of the intelligence of Miss Isabel Bateman as 
Lady Anne and of the value of Miss Bateman as Queen 
Margaret. And many old playgoers recall that Mr. Walter 
Bentley secured great applause for the power and elocutionary 
skill which he displayed in the delivery of Clarence's dream. 
It is worthy of note that Mr. A. W. Pinero made his first 
appearance at the Lyceum as Lord Stanley in this revival. 

In autumn of this year Irving had won the right to be in- 
cluded among the " Celebrities at Home," in the World, 
the paper founded and then edited by Edmund Yates. 
The part dealing with the rooms in Grafton Street, Bond 
Street, in which the actor then lived, is pleasant reading. 
After a chatty dissertation upon the characteristic home life 
of the actor of that time who, as a rule, greatly favoured 
the Brompton district the article dealt with "the excep- 
tion" in the person of "the gentleman who, above all others 
in the present day, evokes the applause of the British play- 
goer. He has pitched his tent within the busy haunts of 
men, and elaborates his studies of the creations of the Bard 
of Avon, within cry of St. James's Street clubs. Yet is his 
dwelling wholly different from the ordinary 'rooms' or 
' chambers ' tenanted by the wealthy wifeless which abound in 
the vicinity. The ordinary trophies of the upholsterer's art 
with which these latter are decorated are indeed to be found in 
the tragedian's dining-room, and in the room where he courts 



THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xm. 

his slumbers if rumour is to be believed, not until long after 
ordinary mortals are at rest. But his study, his sanctum, 
the room in which he sits deep into the night, reading or 
musing or chatting if the odd intermittent fragments of 
criticism, of anecdote, or enquiry, can be described by so 
bald a word has in its appearance much that is quaint and 
special, and suggestive of nothing in common with the apart- 
ment occupied by gilded youth or club-haunting fogey. It 
has a somewhat sombre air ; for the London sunlight, never 
too brilliant, is further modified by having to find its way 
through windows of stained glass, and there are evidences 
that the sacrilegious brush of the housemaid is never per- 
mitted within the precincts. Nowhere could be found a more 
perfect example of the confusion and neglect of order in which 
the artistic mind delights. It is visible everywhere in the 
yawning gaps in the bookshelves, from which the volumes now 
strewing the floor have been hastily dragged for reference or 
study ; in the rucks and folds of the huge tiger-skin rug, which 
has suffered grievously under the impatient trampings of its 
owner ; in the table pushed on one side, and groaning under 
its accumlated litter of books, prints, MSS. what an enormous 
amount of dormant talent may there not be in these MSS. with 
which a favourite actor is so constantly pelted ! its blotting- 
book, gaping inkstand, and ' chevaux de frise ' of pens. The 
piano is opened perhaps Robert Stoepel, most sympathetic 
of musical conductors, left it so, after trying a little introduc- 
tory ' melo,' quaint and weird as that tremulous composition 
of his which announces the advent of the Ghost in the * Corsi- 
can Brothers '. At the foot of the music-stool is a large brown 
paper package, obviously containing boxes of cigars, and bear- 
ing the name of a well-known tobacconist in Pall Mall ; a 
Louis Quinze clock ticks from an unsuspected corner ; a few 
antique chairs shrug their high shoulders, as though com- 
pletely overwhelmed by the confusion ; and the broad sofa 
seems, from the variety of its contents, to have lost its identity, 
and to be undecided whether it was intended for a wardrobe, a 
bookcase, or a portfolio. On the walls are to be found many 



18;;] PERSONALITY 219 

a 'vera effigies' of the owner's friends, both public and 
private, but noteworthy fact when the owner is an actor- 
no portrait of himself. Here is a proof of Maclise's splendid 
representation of the play-scene in ' Hamlet' ; here are prints 
of Paul Delaroche's * Last Banquet ' of the Girondins, and 
of Richelieu sailing in his barge ; here, with an autograph in- 
scription * a L'amico Irving,' is a portrait of Rossi, the 
Italian tragedian, as Nero ; here, with the fragment of a 
pleasant note, is a clever sketch by John Tenniel, showing his 
notion for the armour of Othello. In the space between two 
doors hangs a copy of that marvellous photograph of Charles 
Dickens, taken on his last visit to New York by Gurney, in 
which the furrows, deeply graven by time and trouble and 
hard work, are so pitilessly rendered, but which is, after all, 
the most satisfactory likeness to those who knew and loved 
him in his later years. Close by is a medallion of Emile 
Devrient, another of Charles Young by Marochetti, and a 
splendid head of Sir John Herschell. 

"The owner of these rooms is just now one of the best- 
known men in London. As he jerks along the street with 
league-devouring stride, his long, dark hair hanging over his 
shoulders, his look dreamy and absent, his cheeks wan and 
thin, the slovenly air with which his clothes are worn in con- 
trast with their fashionable cut, people turn to stare after him 
and tell each other who he is. His is the high place now in 
that particular section of society which pats itself complacently 
on the forehead, and tells itself how clever it is ; the dilettante 
givers of breakfasts and the huntresses of two-legged lions 
struggle for his company ; and he bestows it upon them now 
and then, though he is happier with an old friend and a cigar 
and a long talk deep into the night of the ups and downs, the 
incomings and outgoings, the mysterious workings of that pro- 
fession which he follows and loves." In the following year, 
Yates published a volume of these articles in " Celebrities of 
the Day," beginning, of course, with the Prince of Wales. 
Next in order came Tennyson, John Bright, Gladstone, and 
Henry Irving. 



CHAPTER XIV. 

1877. 

Irving contributes to the Nineteenth Century His preface to " Richard 
III." He receives various souvenirs Mr. H. J. Loveday joins the 
Lyceum "The Lyons Mail" A reading in Dublin Other events The 
Prince and Princess of Wales see "The Lyons Mail" Their verdict on 
Irving's acting in this play A long provincial tour "The Fashionable 
Tragedian " A scurrilous pamphlet Causes Irving to be misrepresented 
His explanation and views on the subject Account of Irving's initiation 
into, and connection with, Freemasonry. 

His impersonation of Richard tempted him to enter the 
literary field, for it brought him more vividly than ever before 
the public, and his " Notes on Shakespeare," in the Nineteenth 
Century for April and May, 1877, attracted considerable 
attention. His acting in " Hamlet," in the scene where the 
Prince discovers that his interview with Ophelia has been 
spied upon by the King and her father, had been taken to 
task in certain quarters, and he now defended his reading of 
the character at this point. It is in this scene, he contended, 
that " Hamlet's excitement reaches its greatest height. Goaded 
within and without, nay, dragged even by his own feelings in 
two opposite directions, in each of which he suspects he may 
have gone too far under the eyes of the indignant witnesses, he 
is maddened by the thought that they are still observing him, 
and as usual, half in wild exultation, half by design, begins to 
pour forth more and more extravagant reproaches on his 
kind. He must not commit himself to his love, nor unbosom 
his hate, nor has he a moment's pause in which to set in order 
a continued display of random lunacy. As usual, passion and 
preconceived gloomy broodings abundantly supply him with 
declamation which may indicate a deep meaning, or be mere 
madness, according to the ears that hear it ; while through all 



220 



1877] PREFACE TO "RICHARD III." 221 

his bitter ravings there is visible the anguish of a lover forced 
to be cruel, and of a destined avenger almost beside himself 
with the horrors of his provocation and his task. The shafts 
fly wildly, and are tipped with cynic poison ; the bow from 
which they are sped is a strong and constant, though anxious 
nature, steadily, though with infinite excitement, bent upon 
the one great purpose fate has imposed upon it. The fitful 
excesses of his closing speech are the twangings of the bow 
from which the arrow of avenging destiny shall one day fly 
straight to the mark." 

Another interesting event in connection with this period 
was the issue of an acting edition of " Richard III.," a small 
volume of ninety-three pages, some six inches high and less 
than four wide. It' bears the imprint of a City firm E. S. 
Boot, 38 Gracechurch Street. It has a brief Preface, signed 
Henry Irving, as follows : "In the task of arranging Shake- 
speare's ' King Richard 1 1 1. 'for stage representation which it 
has been thought desirable to place before the public in book 
form I have been actuated by an earnest wish to rescue 
from the limbo of 'plays for the closet not for the stage,' a 
tragedy, which, in my humble opinion, possesses a variety of 
action, and a unity of construction, which readily account for 
its great popularity in the days of the author. 

"The task of a succeeding generation overlaid it with 
ornament as antagonistic to the fashions of our own day as the 
hair powder and knee-breeches which were then indispensable 
to the recognised tragic dress. But while fashions change, truth 
remains unalterable, and the words of Shakespeare now speak 
to the human soul of human passions as clearly as when they 
were written, and require no interpolations to convey their 
lesson to succeeding generations. 

" Of the favour with which this version of ' Richard III.' has 
been received it is not for me to speak. I trust, however, it 
is not egotism that induces me to add, that the crowning 
satisfaction to me of this revival, has been the thought that, 
by this successful restoration of the text of Shakespeare to the 
London stage, I have been able to lay a laurel spray on the 



222 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xiv. 

grave of my honoured and regretted friend, the late manager 
of the Lyceum Theatre. 
"Feb. 1877. 

" HENRY IRVING." 

The little book is exceedingly scarce, and is known to very 
few people, even among the collectors of Irvingiana. Richard 
had some personal associations of a gratifying kind for the 
actor. On the first night of the revival, he was presented with 
the sword which had been used by Edmund Kean in the same 
character. This was given to him by William Henry 
Chippendale, who had acted with Kean and had been as- 
sociated with the Haymarket Theatre for a long period. He 
was a celebrated impersonator of old men, and, in the character 
of Polonius, he had played with Irving at the Lyceum in 1874- 
75. Born in 1801, he lived until 1888, thus enjoying the usual 
long life of the actor. Another relic of Kean the Order of 
St. George, which had been worn by him- was also given to 
Irving in commemoration of his impersonation of Richard. 
Not long before, he had been presented, by the Baroness 
Burdett-Coutts, with a ring worn by David Garrick, who 
bequeathed it to his butler. It passed, in the course of time, 
into the possession, in 1865, of Miss Burdett-Coutts, as she 
then was, and she gave it, in July, 1876, to Henry Irving, 
"in recognition of the gratification derived from his Shake- 
spearean representations ". 

One of Irving's most cherished associations with " Richard 
III." lay in the fact that on the date of the production, 2Qth 
January, 1877, tne Lyceum forces were strengthened by the 
addition of Mr. Henry J. Loveday who, on that night, went 
in front of the house and made notes on the performance for 
the friend of his youthful days. When Irving was in Edin- 
burgh in 1858-1859, his future stage-manager was the chief 
violin player in the orchestra of the theatre, and, on the night 
that Irving took his farewell benefit, as Claude Melnotte, 
his "chum" for the actor and the musician were great 
friends occupied the conductor's seat. They were friends 



1 877] "THE LYONS MAIL" 223 

for nearly half a century, and business associates for over 
twenty-eight years. 

After playing Richard for three months, Irving left the 
higher walks of the stage for a time. This, of course, was a 
great opportunity for his opponents, one of whom thought " his 
return to melodrama one of the best pieces of taste he has yet 
shown ". Still, even melodrama has its good points, and there 
are many thousands of playgoers alive to-day who bear testi- 
mony to the beauty of Irving's acting as the innocent Lesurques, 
a performance of so fine a nature that, despite the devilry of 
his Dubosc, it left the stronger impression. The play in 
which these two characters are introduced is, as most people 
are aware, founded on fact. In 1796, an innocent man, 
Joseph Lesurques, was condemned to the guillotine for a 
murder committed by a notorious captain of a band of robbers, 
Dubosc, whom he had the misfortune to resemble in ap- 
pearance. The truth came to light too late for a reprieve, and 
the unhappy man was executed. Four years after this de- 
plorable miscarriage of justice, the real criminal was discovered 
and guillotined. There is still to be seen in the cemetery of 
Pere la Chaise a simple white marble monument bearing this 
pathetic epitaph : " A la me" moire de Joseph Lesurques, vic- 
time de la plus deplorable des erreurs humains, 31 Octobre, 
1796. Sa veuve et ses enfants, martyrs tous deux sur la 
terre, tous deux sont reunis au ciel." The remarkable trial 
furnished the groundwork of " Le Courier de Lyons," a drama 
by MM. Moreau, Siraudin, and Delacour, first represented at 
the Theatre de la Gaite", Paris, on i6th March, 1850, with 
M. Lacressoniere in the dual role of Lesurques and Dubosc. 
The dramatists had the express sanction of the descendants 
and heirs of Joseph Lesurques for the use of that unhappy 
man's name. The drama was soon transplanted to England. 
On loth March, 1851, it was acted at the Standard Theatre, 
and on 26th June, 1854, it was represented at the Princess's 
Theatre, with Charles Kean in the double character Charles 
Reade's adaptation as arranged for the Princess's was used 
for the revival of the drama at the Lyceum. The title used 



224 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xiv. 



at the Lyceum was given to the piece by Mr. J. W. Clark, 
of the Cambridge A.D.C. 

"The Lyons Mail" depends very largely for its success 
on the special ability of the impersonator of Lesurques and 
Dubosc. But it is one of those plays which must be acted 
well by all concerned in its production. Irving had the good 
support when he first appeared in it so far as the father, 
Jerome Lesurques, was concerned of that fine old actor, 



THE LYONS MAIL. 
First acted at the Lyceum, igth May, 1877. 



JOSEPH LESURQUES - 
DUBOSC - 
JEROME LESURQUES - 
DIDIER - 

JOLIQUET - 
M. DORVAL 

LAMBERT - 

GUERNEAU 

POSTMASTER AT MONTGERON 

Coco - 

GARON AT CAFE" 

GUARD .... 

POSTILLION ... 

COURRIOL - 

CHOPPARD - 

FOUINARD - 

DUROCHAT 

JULIE 
JEANNETTE 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. T. MEAD. 
Mr. E. H. BROOKE. 
Miss LYDIA HOWARD. 
Mr. F. TYARS. 
Mr. LOUTHER. 
Mr. GLYNDON. 

Mr. COLLETT. 

Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

Mr. TAPPING. 

Mr. HARWOOD. 

Mr. ALLEN. 

Mr. R. C. LYONS. 

Mr. HUNTLEY. 

Mr. J. ARCHER. 

Mr. HELPS. 

Miss VIRGINIA FRANCIS. 

Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Room in the Cafe", 17 Rue de Lac, Paris; 
SCENE 2. Exterior of the Inn at Lieursaint, on the Lyons 
Road. ACT II., SCENE. Salon in the House of M. Lesurques. 
ACT III., SCENE i. Panelled Chamber overlooking the Garden 
in M. Lesurques' House; SCENE 2. The Prison; SCENE 3. 
First Floor of a Cabaret, overlooking the Place of Execution. 



Thomas Mead. And Miss Isabel Bateman made much of 
the small part of Jeannette. But, for the rest, there was much 
to deplore. The representatives of the boy, Joliquet, and 
the fop, Courriol, were particularly out of place, if one may 
judge by some of the condemnation of the moment. ''All 
notion of youth, innocence, frankness, and fear disappeared in 
the mincing mannerisms and conscious assertiveness of the 
former," while the Courriol was set down as being "ill at 
ease, a modern Osric, with the most stagey veneer ". Clement 
Scott, who made these remarks, also observed : " It is strange, 



1877] AN IRATE GALLERY 225 

that when so many actors could so successfully perfect such 
small characters as these, a blot should have been unneces- 
sarily made on a play demanding good acting all round. It 
will not do, in these days, to neglect the care due to the 
smallest parts, and, if it were worth the while to do so, fault 
could be found with many of the minor characters." There 
were other troubles on the first night to add to the anxieties of 
the chief actor. Some one had thought it wise to do away 
with the customary farce which eked out a short programme, 
the result being that the performance ended at the unusual hour 
often o'clock. This was too much or rather not enough ! for 
the occupants of the pit and gallery, and Irving had to do his 
best to pacify the irate members. "Calls were made for 
Mr. Reade, calls were made for Mr. Irving, appeals were 
made for a speech, and, at one time, there seemed a likelihood 
of a debate on the relative value of farces persistently put up 
at the Lyceum. But Mr. Irving, with commendable diplo- 
macy, elected to refer the matter to the management." And 
the press advised Mrs. Bateman that the prices charged for 
admission were such that an entertainment of greater length 
was required. These prices, it may be noted, were somewhat 
less than those which now prevail : dress circle, 55. ; upper 
circle, 33. ; pit, 2s. ; gallery, is. The stalls which, in the pre- 
vious year, were 73., had now been raised to IDS. 

Despite the trials of the first night, "The Lyons Mail" 
made a great hit, and it ran until the end of the season, filling 
not only the pit and gallery, but the better parts of the house. 
This result, of course, was due to the acting of Henry Irving. 
It is a wonderful proof of his popularity in this piece that he 
retained the play in his repertoire until the end of his career 
over twenty-eight years and, a fact still more remarkable, 
his acting in it, far from being dulled by repetition, developed 
into one of his finest achievements. Frequently as the play 
was revived at the Lyceum not to mention the numberless 
performances by Irving throughout the United Kingdom and 
in America and Canada there was advancement, never re- 
trogression, in the portrayal of the two characters. The 
VOL. i. 15 



226 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xiv. 

curious physical resemblance between Lesurques and Dubosc 
counted for much in the popular view, but the rendering of 





these characters the middle-aged, refined, affectionate son 
and father, and the bullying, brutal drunkard gave Irving an 
opportunity for contrast which resulted in two most fascinating 



i8;7] A READING IN DUBLIN 227 

portraits. To think of Irving as Lesurques as thousands of 
playgoers still remember him is , to recall a splendid picture 
of innocence, paternal love, and dignity. And the terrible 
ferocity of the last act when Dubosc, maddened with brandy 
and lust for the blood of his victim, watches the approach of 
Lesurques to the scaffold is remembered as a picture of ap- 
palling ferocity. In France, it may be noted, the play was 
provided with two endings, the innocent Lesurques being 
duly executed one night, while, on the other, a reprieve 
arrived and Dubosc was arrested. The latter conclusion was 
adopted in the English version. 

During the first run of " The Lyons Mail " at the Lyceum, 
Irving visited Dublin and gave a reading from Shakespeare 
and Dickens. It was the intention of Mrs. Bateman to end 
the season on i6th June, and Irving, accordingly, had made 
a promise to give his readings in Dublin on the following 
Monday, the i8th. But the success of "The Lyons Mail" 
was so great that it was desirable to extend the run of that 
play. Irving, however, kept his engagement in Dublin, a 
good deal of extra hard work being imposed upon him in con- 
sequence. In order to keep faith with his friends and fulfil a 
promise which he had made, as the outcome of good nature, 
six months previously, he left London at midnight on the 
Saturday, after his performance of Lesurques and Dubosc. 
He was accompanied by the stage-manager of the Lyceum, 
Mr. H. J. Loveday, and his devoted friend, Frank Marshall. 
The reading took place, on the Monday afternoon, in the 
Examination Hall of Trinity College, in the presence of the 
Provost, the Dean, and a large number of students. It 
consisted of the third scene of the third act of " Othello," the 
opening scene of "Richard III.," the scene between David 
Copperfield and the waiter, and "The Dream of Eugene 
Aram." He was subsequently entertained to dinner at the 
Fellows' Table in the College, and he left, on his return to 
London, on the same evening. Some other incidents belong- 
ing to the first six months of 1877 should be noted. For 
instance, it being the custom to close the London theatres on 

i5* 



228 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xiv. 

Ash Wednesday, Irving gave, in February of this year, a 
reading from " Macbeth" in the Birmingham Town Hall, for 
the benefit of the building fund of the Perry Bar Institute. 
In March, he recited " The Uncle" at a benefit for an old actor, 
Henry Compton, at Drury Lane. In April, he received an 
offer of one hundred pounds a night and a percentage of the 
profits to play in America. In May, his portrait by Whistler, 
which has since become celebrated, was exhibited at the 
Grosvenor Gallery. His impersonation of Richard III. 
formed the subject of still another painting, by Edwin Long ; 
and, in July, the Prince and Princess of Wales saw "The 
Lyons Mail " at the Lyceum, and said that Irving's perfor- 
mance was "one of the best pieces of acting that they had 
ever witnessed". 

" Hamlet" was given on the last night of the season, 3ist 
July. There was little rest for the actor, inasmuch as, in 
August, he gave a reading, which included scenes from 
" Hamlet," and " Richard III.," at Southampton, in aid of the 
restoration fund of St. Michael's Church. In Portsmouth, he 
began a long provincial tour, his chief plays being " Ham- 
let," "Richard III.," and "The Lyons Mail". He acted in 
Liverpool, Preston, Sheffield, Bradford, Newcastle, Glasgow, 
Dundee, Edinburgh, Greenock, Belfast, Dublin, Birmingham, 
and Brighton. Although his Richard met with a severe 
reception in Manchester for long the stronghold of Barry 
Sullivan, especially in that character the tour was a 
triumph. It had only one real note of unpleasantness one 
that can be viewed calmly now, although it was injurious at 
the time. Now that the years have rolled away, it does not 
matter, and it is only mentioned here as part of the story of 
continuous struggle in certain directions which was the actor's 
lot for so many years. He had achieved great things, and 
he was generally recognised as the upholder of all that was 
best on the stage. His popularity, among all classes, was 
unbounded, in the provinces, as well as in London, and his 
fame was world- wide. But he was subject to more petty 
annoyance in the way of cruel caricature by pen and pencil, 



1877] "THE FASHIONABLE TRAGEDIAN" 229 

in pictures and in printed matter, than any other actor who 
has ever lived. He had patience and he endured, until 
at last he attained a position in public estimation which was 
absolutely unassailable. Even with his death, the attacks 
upon his acting did not cease. He despised the majority of 
the small-minded people who could not see his point of view 
because it was not their own, and he treated the writers with 
the contempt which they deserved. He respected criticism 
which was sincere and decorous. But he held in derision 
anything that was either cruel in intention or in effect. 
When it touched his honour as a man as in the Fun 
libel he took action. When his acting was the only con- 
cern, he could afford to let time settle the account. For 
instance, the pamphlet which was industriously circulated 
when he was touring the country in 1877, only assailed his 
acting, and, for this reason, his hands were tied. But if such 
an effusion were perpetrated in the present time granted 
that a publisher could be found to take the risk of issuing it 
the object of its attack would, in all probability, seek the 
protection of the law. Irving was an exceptionally busy 
man in 1877, his success was assured, and he had to keep his 
mind steadily fixed upon his work in, and for, the theatre. 
So he allowed " The Fashionable Tragedian " to pass. There 
was offence even in the title, for it recalled the libel of two 
years previously. It was issued anonymously, in a brown 
paper cover, with a cruel caricature of Irving as Mathias 
outside. It was called u a criticism, with ten illustrations". 
Its "criticism" was simply an onslaught upon Irving the 
actor, and its illustrations were caricatures which were all the 
more hurtful because they were so ingenious. Some six 
years later, one of the authors, Mr. William Archer, re- 
canted in part for some of his remarks in this brochure ; 
his co-author was the late Robert William Lowe, sub- 
sequently a great student of English dramatic literature, an 
authority on the history of the stage, and, personally, a kind 
and delightful companion. The young men Mr. Archer 
was only twenty-one meant no harm, but such skits as 



2 3 o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xiv. 

this have power to wound and should not be indulged in 
lightly. 

Irving's great offence, in the eyes of these young writers, 
seems to have lain in the fact that he was not "a heaven- 
born actor like Salvini," and that he did not slavishly follow 
tradition. After an attempt to explain his great position 
with the public, they indulged in a long essay in extenua- 
tion of their argument, which was " merely to prove that he 
is a very bad actor ". There is no occasion to wade through 
the diatribe, but the opening statement may be quoted as an 
indication of the abuse- there is no other word for it which 
follows : " No actor of this, or indeed of any other, age has 
been so much and so indiscriminately belauded as Mr. Henry 
Irving. For more than five years he has been the ' bright 
particular star' of the British dramatic firmament. Night 
after night has he filled the dingy old Lyceum, from the front 
row of the stalls to the back row of the gallery, with audiences 
which applauded every jerk, every spasm, every hysteric 
scream we had almost said every convulsion in which he 
chose to indulge. In the provinces he has met with the 
same success and the same laudation. Newspaper 'critics' 
have ransacked and exhausted their by no means limited 
vocabulary in the search for words in which to express his 
greatness. He is, we are told, the resuscitator of the past 
glories of the British drama, with the addition of new glories 
peculiarly his own. He is the 'interpreter of Shakespeare to 
the multitude,' the apostle of popular dramatic culture. 
Criticism has not been entirely silent, it is true, but its voice 
has been drowned in the plaudits of enthusiasm. Men of 
science, men of learning, poets, philosophers, vie with each 
other in singing his praises. Bishops eulogise him in after- 
dinner speeches ; statesmen * tap him on the shoulder while 
walking down Bond Street,' and introduce themselves to him 
with expressions of enthusiastic admiration ; peeresses engage 
the stage-box night after night to gaze at his contortions'." 
It is a curious thought that Irving could have been described 
as " one of the worst actors that ever trod the British stage" 
in so-called "leading characters" by these impetuous youths. 




1877] SCURRILOUS ABUSE 231 

It seems incredible that they could have written of him as 
possessing, among other disqualifications for the stage, "a 
face whose range of expression is very limited". Many 
people, even then, must have been surprised to learn that 
"abject terror, sarcasm, and frenzy are the only passions 
which Mr. Irving's features can adequately express ". Again, 
"his figure utterly precludes the possibility of dignity, grace, 
or even ease : some of his most effective attitudes might well 
be taken for a representation of the last stage of Asiatic 
cholera total collapse ". As for the great scene with Ophelia, 
these superior young gentlemen could not find any merit in 
it. " We should be inclined to apply to it a shorter and uglier 
term" than their own, "psychologically subtle" -"and 
call it vulgar." There was much more of the same sort of 
"criticism," and although the pamphlet was directed against 
Irving, the captious critics forgot that Miss Bateman was a 
woman and an artist, and thus dismissed her Lady Macbeth : 
" If the actual Lady Macbeth was in any way like Miss 
Bateman's representation of her, one cannot wonder that 
her unhappy husband was driven to the most horrible of 
crimes, only that suicide would certainly have been his first 
idea". They described Irving's Hamlet as "a weak-minded 
puppy," his Macbeth as "a Uriah Heep in chain armour," 
his Othello as an "infuriated Sepoy," and his Richard as "a 
cheap Mephistopheles ". There is no occasion to quote 
further from an indiscreet pamphlet which, doubtless, its 
authors afterwards regretted. 

" The Fashionable Tragedian " would have died a natural 
death but, in an unfortunate moment, a writer who called 
himself Yorick, rushed in with a defence of the actor. He 
issued, in a grey cover and with a dignified portrait of the 
distinguished player, a letter concerning Mr. Henry Irving 
addressed to E. R. H. 1 The defence was not necessary, 

1 Probably a mistake for G. R. H., the initials of Mr. G. R. Halkett, 
who drew the illustrations to the original pamphlet. Mr. Halkett was also 
possessed of the irresponsibility of youth, for he was but twenty-two years 
of age. Mr. Archer, who was bom on 23rd September, 1856, was eighteen 
months his junior. 



232 THE LIFE OE HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xiv. 

and as it was not as clever as it might have been, it only drew 
attention to the brochure by which it had been provoked. As 
a consequence, a second edition was issued of "The Fashion- 
able Tragedian," in a green cover with a hideous new cari- 
cature of Irving as Richard III. The back page of the cover 
contained a reprint of some of the " Opinions of the Press" 
on the first edition. These, in justice to the press of this 
country were, be it said, not by any means favourable to the 
good taste of the authors of the disparagement. There was 
a postscript to the second edition in which the writers defended 
their original position and renewed their attack. 

The pamphlet was the cause of a misrepresentation 
being made in regard to an alleged statement by Irving 
about the press which necessitated the writing of the following 
letter : it is printed as published, and it explains itself : 

" 5th December, 1877. 

" My attention having been called to the report of a 
speech alleged to have been spoken by me at a public dinner 
in Edinburgh, in which newspaper reporters and critics in 
general are alluded to in insulting terms, I desire to have an 
opportunity of putting myself right with you and the members 
of your staff. 

"The dinner referred to, at which I was present, was an 
entirely private one, to which I had the privilege of inviting 
any guest I chose. On that occasion, the conversation turned 
on a scurrilous pamphlet which had preceded me in Glasgow, 
Dundee, and Edinburgh, where it was published, and which 
pamphlet, I was then informed, had been written by four 
Edinburgh reporters. 

"After dinner, my health was proposed, and in a jocose 
manner the way I had been treated by a certain few members 
of the Press was alluded to. In my reply, having this 
pamphlet and its authors exclusively in my mind, I said, in a 
bantering sort of way, that it was useless to consider every- 
thing that was written about one, as a dramatic critic was a 
man who required training, experience, and culture, so that 



1877] UNFAIR TREATMENT 233 

his point would carry weight ; that in every profession there 
were black sheep ; and (still thinking of this pamphlet) I said 
that dramatic notices were sometimes written by such people ; 
and I estimated their statements by the lowest sums earned 
in their calling. 

" I further said in the same vein which the entire 
company, principally composed of literary and artistic men, 
thoroughly understood that 'of course I never read the 
papers,' * of course I never did this and never did that,' with 
many other frivolous things too ridiculous to mention, the 
tone, manner, and meaning being perfectly intelligible to any 
mind except the dullest. 

" So greatly did I feel my obligations to the Press that on 
the occasion alluded to, I turned to a gentleman who was 
invited to this dinner at my express desire, and thanked him 
for the kindly and able manner in which (as I thought and 
had been told) he had criticised me in a daily paper, with 
which he was connected. This gentleman replied that the 
dramatic criticisms had not been written by him, but by one 
of his confreres, whereupon I begged him to express my 
thanks to the writer of those criticisms. I then invited him, 
along with my other friends at the table, to supper during 
the following week. He replied that, if able, he would gladly 
come, cordially shook hands, and expressed his pleasure at 
our meeting. 

" I should also say that * The Press ' was proposed, and 
replied for in grateful terms by this gentleman. 

" Judge of my amazement, when, on the following morning, 
I read in the newspaper with which this gentleman was con- 
nected, a serious, lengthy, and inaccurate report of a few 
jesting words I had said at this perfectly private dinner, and 
in that report no allusion whatever there made to the circum- 
stances in which certain words had been said. 

1 These, sir, are the simple facts of the case, and I leave 
it to you and every member of the profession I so highly 
esteem to say whether the treatment I received was justifiable. 

"In nearly every city I have visited, I have been treated 



234 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xrv. 

by the Press with the greatest consideration, kindness, and 
courtesy, and many of its members I number amongst my 
personal friends. 

" I am, dear Sir, 

" Yours obediently, 

" HENRY IRVING." 

In this year, 1877, Henry Irving was initiated into free- 
masonry in the Jerusalem Lodge, by the Master, the late 
Sir William George Cusins. This lodge, which is one of 
the few "red apron" lodges, has always prided itself upon 
having men of distinction among its members. It was the 
first lodge in England to entertain His Majesty, then 
Prince of Wales, after his initiation into the Order, and he 
remained an honorary member of it until his accession to the 
throne. Irving took his second and third degrees in 1882, 
when both degrees were conferred upon him by the present 
Grand Secretary of Freemasons, Sir Edward Letchworth, 
who, at the time, was Master of the lodge the ceremony 
of " passing " was rendered notable by the presence of the 
Duke of Albany. Among the members of the Jerusalem 
Lodge who were co-temporaries of Irving were the late Earl 
of Fife, Sir C. Hutton Gregory, Sir John Monckton, Sir 
Horace Jones, Sir G. Findlay, Sir W. Allport, Sir Henry 
Oakley, Sir Miles Fenton, Sir Frederick Harrison, the Ven. 
Archdeacon Sinclair, Charles Barry, the architect, and Phil 
Morris, A.R.A. In February, 1887, Irving was one of the 
founders of the Savage Club Lodge, of which he remained 
a member until his death. He was the first treasurer of the 
Savage Club Lodge, but his time was so occupied with his 
other duties that he had to resign the office in December of 
the first year, when he was succeeded by Mr. Edward Terry. 
In 1893, he joined the St. Martin's Lodge, of which he was 
a member for eleven years. He was a liberal supporter 
of the masonic charities. 



CHAPTER XV. 

1878. 

Irving acts Louis XL for the first time Charles Kean in the character 
Irving's complete success Indifferent support Farces still popular 
" Vanderdecken " produced A personal success " The Bells " and Jingle 
again Unsatisfactory conditions Mrs. Bateman resigns Her tribute to 
Irving Contributions to the Nineteenth Century Delivers an address 
at the Perry Bar Institute Lays the foundation stone of Harborne and 
Edgbaston Institution Gives a reading at Northampton Presented with 
addresses Reads and recites at Belfast in aid of a charity. 

IRVING re-opened in London on Tuesday, 26th December, 
1877, m "The Lyons Mail". The old -fashioned farce was 
still in the ascendant, for " Just My Luck" " played the people 
in " to the melodrama and " Diamond Cut Diamond " saw them 
out. Irving's impersonations of Lesurques and Dubosc, 
Mathias, and Charles the First crowded the Lyceum for the 
next few weeks. While he was thus engaged, he was also 
studying a character his rendering of which subsequently be- 
came famous. On Saturday, gth March, he acted Louis XL, 
with such complete success that his enemies were silenced, 
even though they had, as in the case of Richard III., to 
qualify their praise by the remark that the actor's man- 
nerisms suited the part! In the course of time, Irving's 
impersonation of this character improved marvellously and 
became masterly. Even at first, it was a performance which 
broke down the strongest barriers of opposition and com- 
manded respect for its supreme skill. He carried the play to 
success on his own shoulders, as he was but indifferently 
supported by Mrs. Bateman's company, and the drama, as 
many modern playgoers are aware, is by no means a work of 
a high class. Casimir Delavigne had not the gift of original- 
ity. In " Marino Faliero," he borrowed from Lord Byron, and 

235 



236 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 



his " Louis XL " was indebted to " Quentin Durward " long a 
popular novel in France. He imitated Shakespeare in " Les 
Enfants d'Edouard," Kotzebue in " L'Ecole des Vielliards," 
and Victor Hugo in " La Fille du Cid". His " Louis XI. " 
was given for the first time at the Theatre Francois on 1 1 th 
February, 1832, with Ligier an actor of considerable note 
in his day in the title-role. The first act, a species of pro- 
logue, in which Louis does not appear, might be omitted 
from representation without any detriment to the play. Nor 



LOUIS XI. 

First acted at the Lyceum, gth March, 1878. 



Louis XI. 

DUKE DE NEMOURS - 
THE DAUPHIN - 
CARDINAL D'ALBY - 
PHILIP DE COMMINES 
COUNT DE DREUX - 
JACQUES COITIER 
TRISTAN L'ERMITE - 
OLIVER LE DAIN 
FRANCOIS DE PAULE 

MONSEIGNEUR DE LUDE 

THE COUNT DE DUNOIS 
MARCEL - 
RICHARD - 

DIDIER 

OFFICER OF THE ROYAL GUARD 
MONTJOIE - 

TOISON D'OR - - - - 
KING'S ATTENDANTS 

MARIE 

JEANNE - 
MARTHA - 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. F. TYARS. 

Mr. ANDREWS. 

Mr. COLLETT. 

Mr. F. CLEMENTS. 

Mr. PARKER. 

Mr. J. FERNANDEZ. 

Mr. W. BENTLEY. 

Mr. J. ARCHER. 

Mr. T. MEAD. 

Mr. HOLLAND. 

Mr. LANETON. 

Mr. E. LYONS. 

Mr. SMITH. 

Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

Mr. HARWOOD. 

Mr. CARTWRIGHT. 

Mr. TAPPING. 

Messrs. EDWARDES and SIMPSON 

Miss VIRGINIA FRANCIS. 

Mrs. ST. JOHN. 

Mrs. CHIPPENDALE. 



ACT I. Exterior of the Castle, Plessis lies Tours. ACT II. Throne 
Room in the Castle. ACT III. A Forest Glade. ACT IV. The 
King's Bedchamber. ACT V. The Throne Room. 



is a piece without a heroine one which makes an appeal to 
the average audience. Delavigne went further than his 
model, for whereas Walter Scott's Louis has some redeeming 
features, that of the French dramatist is a character of un- 
deniable villainy, and, what is worse, a very monotonous one. 
Irving realised this latter defect before he acted the part for 
the first time, and he, accordingly, allowed himself more 
licence than, perhaps, a strict delineator of the author would 
have rendered necessary. Again, he had to follow Charles 






1878] LOUIS XL 237 

Kean in the character, and, for this reason also, he was com- 
pelled to be as original as possible. Kean first represented 
the character, at the Princess's Theatre, on I3th January, 
1855, in a version prepared by Dion Boucicault, who con- 
densed the text of the original, substituted blank verse for 
flowing rhyme, and consulted English prejudice by providing 
a "happy ending" with the freedom of Nemours. Kean's 
impersonation was modelled upon that of Ligier and was 
thought, by many good judges, superior to the original. It 
was his most successful achievement as an actor, and " was 
remarkable for its intensity and concentrated power, for its 
absolute self-command not less than for its moments of sudden 
abandonment to the vehemence and passion of the situation. 
In this part, the actor's physical peculiarities, his eccentricities 
of look and tone, gait and gesture, were, if not forgotten, so 
merged in his performance, as to lend it valuable support and 
distinction ". 

Irving had, quite deliberately, courted comparison with 
Charles Kean and the other representatives of the part, 
and he came through the ordeal with flying colours. He 
made Louis somewhat older than history warranted for the 
King was only sixty at the time of his death and he made 
other changes, as will be seen presently. He was still criticised, 
but with decency, for he had now become a power in the land, 
and, as a matter of fact, there was little in his performance 
with which the most censorious critic could find fault. It 
must have caused the actor some amusement, as well as 
satisfaction, when he found Button Cook becoming for him 
quite eulogistic, for he was constrained to admit that the 
"performance is throughout very masterly, even and consistent, 
subtle and finished. There is no neglect of the small, delicate 
touches which give completeness to a picture, while the 
stronger portions of the design are executed with supreme 
breadth and boldness. Mr. Irving boasts the great actor's 
art or gift of at once riveting the attention of his audience ; 
presently his influence extends more and more, until each 
word and glance and action of this strange king he represents 



238 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 

so grotesque of aspect, so cat-like of movement, so ape-like 
of gesture, so venomous in his spite, so demoniac in his rage, 
and meanwhile so vile and paltry and cringing a poltroon- 
are watched and followed with a nervous absorption that has 
something about it of fascination or even of terror. The 
performance reaches its climax perhaps in the King's paroxysm 
of fear after Nemours' assault upon him ; the actor's passionate 
rendering of this scene, his panic-stricken cries and moans, 
prayers and threats, and the spectacle of physical prostration 
that ensues, affecting the audience very powerfully. The 
death of the King is elaborately treated, but with no undue 
straining after the horrible. Here the slipping of the sceptre 
through the flaccid, nerveless fingers of Louis, the moment 
after he has announced himself 'strong and capable,' may be 
noted as an original and ingenious artifice on the part of the 
actor." Irving also compelled admiration from another luke- 
warm critic, Joseph Knight: " There was a tremendous dis- 
play of power in the closing scenes of the fourth and fifth acts. 
These acts, however, were comparatively ineffective"- in the 
judgment of the critic, but not in that of the audience, be it 
observed. " In earlier scenes, there were no signs whatever 
of effort, and in these the greatest and most undisputed 
triumph was obtained. There is no need to dwell on single 
blemishes or shortcomings in the case of a performance like 
this. It is pleasanter to admit frankly that, so far as concerns 
the conception of the character, especially on its comic side, 
it is worthy of warm praise." 

It would be easy, but not to the purpose, to quote columns 
of enthusiastic eulogy of this performance. It redounds 
greatly to the credit of the impersonator of Louis that he won 
his success in spite of comparison and entirely on his own 
merit. The scenic accessories were very creditable, but the 
interpretation of the majority of the minor characters was 
sadly inefficient. " Much of the acting was wretched, how- 
ever so deficient in spirit and life that, had the chief person 
been less powerfully presented, the success of the venture 
would have been compromised." On the other hand, the 



1878] A SPELL-BOUND AUDIENCE 239 

stage-management was admirable, and the incidental music, 
under the direction of Robert Stoepel the musical conductor 
during the Bateman regime was an important help. The dis- 
tant hymn in the fourth act, where Louis sits warming himself, 
was an extremely effective moment. The death scene was 
so tremendously impressive on the first night that the audience 
remained spell-bound. It had expressed its enthusiasm 
with great vehemence up to this point, and it was not until 
the reaction had come that it gave way to cheer upon cheer 
such as was given whenever afterwards for over twenty- 
eight years Henry Irving acted Louis. The enthusiasm, 
on the first night, was such that Irving was obliged to 
make a speech of thanks, and he took advantage of the 
occasion to pay a gracious tribute to the widow of Charles 
Kean for her kindness in allowing him the use of Boucicault's 
version of the drama, and for her assistance, in other directions, 
in regard to the Lyceum revival. One of the most critical 
notices of the performance appeared in Punch, which prophe- 
sied the enduring success of the actor in the part and praised 
him highly. It also pointed out certain blemishes, as it con- 
sidered them, in his reading. One of these faults, as it thought, 
was the hypocrisy which he gave vent to when the King was 
saying the Angelus. " Now Louis was superstitious, but he 
was no fool : he believed and trembled : he prayed because 
he feared : he sinned because his faith was without love. 
His devotion, the result of his perfect belief in, and abject 
terror of, an Eternity of Punishment and Reward, was most 
intense ; it never could have been, in outward expression, 
contemptible buffoonery. To have seen the attitude of Louis 
in prayer would have rejoiced a saint ; to have known his heart 
at the time would have made angels weep. Mr. Irving can 
have no authority for this grotesque, nay burlesque, devotion, 
for had he even been guided by Sir Walter Scott, he would 
have found that Louis ' doffed, as usual, his hat, selected from 
the figures with which it was garnished that which represented 
his favourite image of the Virgin, placed it on a table, and 
kneeling down, repeated reverently the vow he had made'." 



2 4 o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 

He never altered this reading, for he felt that the gloom of 
the play required as much lightness as he could impart into 
it, and this was just one of the opportunities which seemed a 
relief to the monotony. Farces were still popular at this 
period, and " Louis XI." was preceded by one "Turning 
the Tables ". 

After a run of some seventy nights, " Louis XI." gave way 
to the production of a new play, written by Mr. Percy Fitz- 
gerald in conjunction with the late W. G. Wills. It was in 
five acts, and was a version of the immortal legend of "The 
Flying Dutchman ". The story first appeared in English in 
BlackwoocCs Magazine, in May, 1821, under the title, " Van- 
derdecken's Message Home, or the Tenacity of Natural 
Affection". From this came "The Flying Dutchman," 
written by Edward Fitzball, and brought out at the Adelphi 
Theatre on 4th December, 1826, with T. P. Cooke as a 
pantomimic Vanderdecken, who emerged from the sea amid 
blue flames and waving aloft the piratical emblem of a black 
flag decorated with the traditional skull and cross-bones. It 
was in this play, which contained some excellent music by 
Herbert Rod well, that Wagner found the germs of " Der 
Fliegende Hollander". The poetical idea of the curse being 
lifted from the Dutchman through the love of a faithful 
woman, willing to sacrifice her life in order to save his soul, 
was due to Heine and utilised by Wagner. The opera was 
first performed in London in 1876, and, as related by Mr. 
Fitzgerald, "the idea had occurred to many and, not un- 
naturally, that here was a character exactly suited to Irving's 
methods. He was, it was often repeated, the 'ideal' Vander- 
decken. He himself much favoured the suggestion, and after 
a time the ' Colonel ' entrusted me and my friend Wills with 
the task of preparing a piece on the subject. For various 
reasons, the play was laid aside, and the death of the manager 
and the adoption of other projects interfered. It was, how- 
ever, never lost sight of, and, after an interval, I got ready 
the first act, which so satisfied Irving that the scheme was 
once more taken up. After many attempts and shapings and 



VANDERDECKEN 



241 



re-shapings, the piece was at last ready Wills having under- 
taken the bulk of the work, I myself contributing, as before, 
the first act. The actor himself furnished some effective situa- 
tions, notably the strange and original suggestion of the 
Dutchman's being cast upon the shore and restored to life by 
the waves. . . . Nothing could be more effective than his 
first appearance, when he was revealed standing in a shadowy 
way beside the sailors, who had been unconscious of his pres- 
ence. This was his own subtle suggestion. A fatal blemish 
was the unveiling of the picture, 1 on the due impressiveness 



VANDERDECKEN. 
First acted at the Lyceum, 8th June, 1878. 



PHILIP VANDERDECKEN 

NILS - --- 

OLAF - 

PASTOR ANDERS BEEN 

ALDERMAN JORGEN - 

JANS STEFFEN - 

SCREEN 

NURSE BIRGIT - 

CHRISTINE - 

JETTY 

OLD NANCY 

THEKLA 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. JAMES FERNANDEZ. 
Mr. WALTER BENTLEY. 
Mr. EDMUND LYONS. 
Mr. A. W. PINERO. 
Mr. R. LYONS. 
Mr. ARCHER. 
Miss PAUNCEFORT. 
Miss JONES. 
Miss HARWOOD. 
Miss ST. JOHN. 
Miss ISABEL BATEMAN. 



ACT I. Evening, SCENE. Cottage of old Nils, the Pilot, 
near the entrance of the Christiania Fjord. ACT II. Day- 
break, SCENE i. Quay of the Fishing Village ; SCENE 2. 
Interior of the Cottage. ACT III., SCENE. Path leading by 
the cliff to the cottage of Nils ; distant view of the Skager 
Rack. ACT IV., SCENE i. Interior of the Cottage; SCENE 2. 
Deck of the Phantom Ship. The Haven. 



of which much depended, and which proved to be a sort of 
picturesque daub, greeted with much tittering a fatal piece 
of economy on the part of the worthy manageress." 

1 From her youth, Thekla, the heroine, has felt herself prompted by 
mysterious solicitation or warning to await some call of fate or duty in con- 
nection with a portrait that has been discovered in her father's house. At 
length, wearied by delay, she consents to betrothal to a handsome young 
sailor, Olaf, the man of her father's choice. While the ceremony is in pro- 
gress, Vanderdecken appears. Without any expression of wonderment or 
coyness, but, on the contrary, with a complete possession which conquers 
every maidenly instinct, Thekla surrenders herself to the man whom she 
has expected for so long the man of the portrait and goes with him on 
board the fatal ship. 

VOL. i. 16 



242 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 

This "romantic poetic drama" was produced on 8th June, 
but a summer of unusual warmth, added to the gloom of the 
play, soon sealed the fate of this version of the old story. 
There was considerable merit in the play, however, and the 
poetical language of Mr. Wills was one of its most worthy 
features. Irving had little more to do than appear picturesque 
and impressive an accomplishment which needed no effort 
on his part but it was generally conceded that the character 
was not worthy of so fine an actor. Vanderdecken made way, 
after a brief reign of only a month, for a revival, on Monday, 
8th July, of "The Bells" and "Jingle," for the benefit of the 
creator of Mathias. He was received with a remarkable scene 
of enthusiasm, the plaudits at the conclusion of the play in 
which he had first drawn the town being remarkable, even at 
the Lyceum in those days and for many years afterwards, 
when thunders of applause constantly testified to the popu- 
larity of the actor. On the occasion under notice, he was 
greeted with a tempest of cheers on making his first entrance 
as Mathias, called twice at the end of the first act, thrice at 
the end of the second, and, after five calls at the end, " bouquets 
and laurel wreaths were showered upon him in abundance. 
There were hand-clappings and hurrahs, and wavings of 
handkerchiefs and shouts of congratulation, and, indeed, all 
possible signs of admiration for the popular idol." " Jingle," of 
course, was a re-arrangement by James Albery of his " Pick- 
wick," in which Irving had acted in October, 1871. Instead 
of the four acts of " Pickwick," there were now six tableaux which 
were labelled Jingle the Stroller, Jingle the Lover, Jingle 
the Financier, Jingle the Dandy, Jingle the Swindler, and 
Jingle the Penitent. At the end of Jingle's adventures, 
there was another tremendous outburst of enthusiasm, and 
Irving, in complying with the demands for a speech, said : 
" Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope to have the honour of ap- 
pearing before you again ere the season closes, and then I 
shall have an opportunity of saying a few words. I have to 
thank you for the brilliant attendance here to-night. Such 
occasions as these, few as they are in the experiences of a life, 




Photo : H. Van der Weyde ; copyright, Langfier, London. 

VANDERDECKEN. 



1878] MRS. BATEMAN RESIGNS 243 

must of necessity make a lasting impression. Your kindness 
I never shall forget. I wish I could have done more for you 
to-night. Some friends asked me to recite, and if they should 
be present on the last night of the season, I shall be happy to 
oblige them. Some asked that I would play Hamlet, and 
these I may inform that that tragedy will be revived next 
season. I cannot express all that I feel, but you may be as- 
sured I am more than grateful, and that I shall always strive 
to do all I can to please you and to meet your wishes." 

This programme proved so popular that it was repeated 
until the end of the season in August. In the meantime, 
Dame Rumour had been busy, for it was openly said that 
Irving was dissatisfied with some of the old-fashioned methods 
which still prevailed at the Lyceum, and it was felt that he 
could not remain much longer in a position which compelled 
him to be as undoubtedly he was the vital attraction of 
the theatre, yet left him no real voice in the management of 
the house. Mrs. Bateman moreover and not unnaturally 
could not see that her own children had any defects, and she 
insisted upon the retention of Miss Isabel Bateman as the 
leading actress. The position was intolerable, and Irving 
decided that he could no longer remain in it. His decision 
was tantamount to Mrs. Bateman's retirement. So that, auto- 
matically, the theatre fell into his hands, and he acquired the 
lease of the Lyceum. The theatre closed, somewhat suddenly, 
in the third week of August, and the old manageress issued a 
valedictory address in the course of which she paid a just 
tribute to her successor. Dated 3ist August, 1878, it ran as 
follows : " Mrs. Bateman begs to announce that her tenancy 
of the Lyceum Theatre terminates with the present month. 
For seven years it has been associated with the name she 
bears. During the three years and a half that the business 
management has been under her special control, the liberal 
patronage of the public has enabled her to wind up the affairs 
of each successive season with a profit. During this period 
' Macbeth ' was produced for the first time in London without 
interpolation from Middleton's * Witch '. Tennyson's first play, 

16* 



244 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 

' Queen Mary,' was given ; and Shakespeare's ' King Richard 
III./ for the first time in London from the original text. Mrs. 
Bateman's lease has been transferred to Mr. Henry Irving, 
to whose attraction as an artist the prosperity of the theatre 
is entirely attributable, and she confidently hopes that under 
his care it may attain higher artistic distinction and complete 
prosperity. In conclusion, Mrs. Bateman ventures to express 
her gratitude for the kindness and generosity extended to her 
by the public kindness that has overlooked many shortcom- 
ings and generosity that has enabled her to faithfully carry out all 
her obligations to the close of her tenancy." 

Apart from his proud position as an actor, Henry Irving 
had achieved distinction as a writer and speaker on the sub- 
ject of the stage before he became his own manager. In 
1877, he contributed two articles, one of which has been al- 
luded to already, entitled " An Actor's Notes on Shakespeare," 
to the Nineteenth Century. The first of these, in the April 
number, was in support of his contention that the Third 
Murderer in " Macbeth " was not as some commentators urge 
the Thane himself, but an attendant who figures in the 
opening of the third act. In his second article, on Hamlet 
and Ophelia, in the May issue of the publication, he sought 
to exonerate Ophelia from complicity in the plot of the King 
and Polonius to spy upon the Prince of Denmark : "There is 
nothing in the text or stage directions that convicts her of 
actual complicity. Her feeling was somewhat vague and 
confused, especially as she would not be taken more into con- 
fidence than necessary. Much that was said in the interview 
between the Queen, the King, and Polonius might have 
been spoken apart from Ophelia, the room in the castle being 
probably a large one, in which a knot of talkers might not be 
overheard by a pre-occupied person. When suggestions of 
this kind were condemned as over-refined, it is, I think, too 
often forgotten that it must be settled between stage-manager 
and players, in every case, how the latter are to dispose 
themselves when on the stage ; that Shakespeare himself 
must have very much affected the complexion of his plays by 







1878] ADDRESS AT PERRY BAR 245 



his personal directions ; that the most suggestive and there- 
fore most valuable of these have been lost ; and that in re- 
producing old plays, in which there is much scope and even 
great necessity for subtle indications of this kind, nothing can 
be too refined which intelligibly conveys to an audience a 
rational idea of each individuality and a consistent theory of 
the whole." In the latter part of this passage is found the 
idea which dominated the actor in all his Shakespearean and 
other productions. His third essay, in the same magazine, 
appeared in February, 1879, and in it he explained his 
reasons for discarding the use of pictures or medallions in 
Hamlet's scene with his mother in the Queen's closet. 

On the 6th of March, 1878, the year which was destined 
to see the beginning of his glorious reign at the Lyceum, he 
delivered, in his capacity as president, an address at the 
Perry Bar Institute, near Birmingham. In accepting the 
post thus conferred upon him, he wrote : ''To be numbered 
with the representatives of so admirable an institution is, I 
can sincerely say, one of the greatest distinctions I can hope 
to attain. The honour which has been conferred upon me is 
the more appreciated as I recognise in it a tribute not so 
much to myself as to my profession, and to the elevating 
character of the Drama as one of the intellectual influences of 
the time. By this proof of their esteem for an actor, the 
Council of the Perry Bar Institute have offered the best 
answer to those who have misrepresented the true spirit of 
the stage, as inconsistent with the moral and educational 
progress of the nation." The opening part of his address, 
which was entitled "The Stage," was as follows : "Standing 
here, as I do, in succession to distinguished men with whom 
it would be arrogance to compare myself, it is natural that 
a feeling of affectionate reverence should come over me for 
the art to which my life has been devoted. To it, I owe 
all. To it, not least of all, I owe the honour of speaking to 
you to-day. It were strange if I could forget, or at such a 
moment prefer any other theme than the immemorial and 
perpetual association of the stage with the noblest instincts 



246 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 

and occupations of the human mind." The address was 
one of the most eloquent and vigorous appeals for fair play 
ever made on behalf of the stage, and, if he had done noth- 
ing else in his career but this, his brother and sister players 
would be mightily be-holden to him. The essay is far too 
long for anything like full quotation, but some of its most 
notable passages may be given: "The stage whose cause I 
plead is that which Shakespeare worked for and made im- 
mortal. It is that which he would have religiously pre- 
served, in defiance of all current immoral tastes. I advocate 
the stage, as at its best it is among us ; as it may be in every 
theatre in the kingdom, as it would be if you, the public, 
would make it so." 

He then paid to Samuel Phelps one of the highest 
eulogies that could possibly be bestowed by one actor upon 
another, and his tribute to Macready was no less remark- 
able. In connection with the latter actor, he recalled the 
fact that, not long after Byron's bitter denunciation of the 
stage of his time, "came the admirable lesseeship of Mac- 
ready, with its grand contributions, both to the literature of 
the stage and the character of the theatre. Byron's ' Werner ' 
and ' Sardanapalus' were impersonated by Macready, an actor 
I never had the good fortune to see, but who was not, I 
believe and am told, unworthy of the best days of the stage, 
though pursued during a part of his career by the shafts of 
malignity which fastened on the original genius which was 
his glory "- words which must have been uttered with some 
poignancy, for the speaker himself had already suffered 
keenly from "the shafts of malignity". In the concluding 
passages of his address, the actor gave utterance to his pro- 
fession of faith. "We go forth," he said, "armed with the 
luminous panoply which genius has forged for us, to do battle 
with dulness, with coarseness, with apathy, with every form 
of vice and evil. In every human heart there gleams a 
bright reflection of this shining armour. The stage has no 
lights or shadows that are not lights of life and shadows of 
the heart. To each human consciousness it appeals in 



1878] THE REWARD OF THE ACTOR 247 

alternating mirth and sadness, and will not be denied. Err 
it must, for it is human, and, being human, it must endure. 
The love of acting is inherent in our nature. Watch your 
children at play, and you will see that almost their first con- 
scious effort is to act and to imitate. It is an instinct, and 
you can no more repress it than you can extinguish thought. 
Some of the earliest drafts of the stage are current still, en- 
dorsed by many names of great actors who have not lessened 
their credit, and who have increased and quickened their 
circulation. Some of its latest achievements are not un- 
worthy of their predecessors. Some of its youngest devotees 
are at least as proud of its glories and as anxious to preserve 
them as any who have gone before. Theirs is a glorious 
heritage. I ask you to honour it. They have a noble, but 
a difficult, and sometimes a disheartening task. I ask you to 
encourage it. No word of kindly interest or criticism 
dropped in the public ear from friendly lips goes unregarded 
or is unfertile of good. 

" I hope I shall not be thought to be adopting too humble 
and apologetic a key if I plead for actors, not merely that their 
labours have honour, but that their lives be regarded with 
kindly consideration. Their work is hard, intensely laborious 
feverish and dangerously exciting. It is all this even when 
successful. It is often nothing short of heartbreaking when 
success is missed or sickenjngly delayed. 

"In our art of acting we strive to embody some conception 
of our poets, or to revive some figure of history. We win if 
we can. If we fail we have only ' our shame and the odd 
hits/ and, whether we fail or not, the breath of applause and 
the murmurs of censure are alike short-lived and our longest 
triumphs are almost as brief as either. 

" In the long run of popular remembrance the best reward 
to be hoped for by those of us who most succeed is to be cited 
to unbelieving hearers, when we are dead and gone, as illustra- 
tions of the vast superiority of bygone actors to anything that 
is to be seen on the stage of to-day. 

" Such a life is fraught with various and insidious temptations, 



248 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 

and should be solaced by the thoughtfulness, brightened by 
the encouragement, softened by the liberal estimation of the 
public, instead of being held at arm's length by social prejudice, 
or embittered by uncharitable censoriousness. 

" We actors have in charge a trust and a deposit of enormous 
value, such as no dead hand can treasure. Upon our studies, 
our devotion, our enthusiasm must depend thoughts and emo- 
tions of coming times which no literary tradition can pass down 
to the future. The living voice, the vivid action, the tremulous 
passion, the animated gesture, the subtle and variously placed 
suggestion of character and meaning these alone can make 
Shakespeare to your children what Shakespeare is to you. 
Only these can open to others with any spark of Shakespeare's 
mind the means of illuminating the world. Such is our birth- 
right and yours such a succession in which it is ours to labour 
and yours to enjoy. If you will uphold the stage, honestly, 
frankly, and with wise discrimination, the stage will uphold in 
future, as it has in the past, the literature, the manners, the 
morals and the fame of our country." 

Another high compliment in connection with an institution 
of a similar nature to that at Perry Bar a society, by the way, 
affiliated with the Midland Institute was paid to the actor 
five months after the delivery of the above address. On I2th 
August a few days after which Mrs. Bateman's management 
of the Lyceum ended he laid the foundation stone of the 
Harborne and Edgbaston Institute. He profited by his 
presence to again urge his favourite plea on behalf of the actor- 
one of which he never tired throughout the entire course of his 
career. " It is not for me," he said, " to speak in detail of the 
course of study to be pursued at your Institute to recommend 
one branch of study in preference to another ; but, speaking as 
an actor " he invariably insisted upon his own profession when 
addressing a body of spectators out of the theatre he felt that 
" they would see that it was as difficult for player as for professor 
to forget his calling for five minutes he was glad to know that 
they would not leave out of their culture that legitimate devel- 
opment of the imagination without which life was but a dry 



1878] VARIETY IN DRAMATIC ART 249 

routine. If they did not idealise something, this was a painfully 
prosaic world. Poetry and fiction did much to lighten their 
care, and for many people the drama did more, for it sometimes 
helped many especially the poor, the uncultured, and un- 
lettered to a right appreciation of life. He did not argue 
and he was sure they did not expect him to argue whether the 
dramatic exposition had or had not a beneficial influence in the 
main upon society. If they differed on that point he should 
not have been there, and he should not have had the satisfac- 
tion of having been chosen by his friends at Perry Bar as the 
representative of the association of dramatic art with the edu- 
cational work. With those people who maintained that there 
was a something radically vicious in the whole theory and 
principle of the stage well, they must live as comfortably as 
they could. Such persons would like to rob actors of their 
audiences, but actors did not bear them any malice for that. 
What sensible men had to do was not to make futile attempts 
to destroy an institution which was bound up with some of the 
best instincts of human nature, but to strive to remove its abuses 
and elevate its tone. He was sure the members of that 
Institute would never forget what they owed, and what the 
world owed, to that great, supreme genius who had shed im- 
mortal lustre on the dramatic literature of the country. Far 
above the merits of any individual actor, there was this con- 
sideration, that if he aimed at the highest standard of his pro- 
fession, he helped thousands to a fellowship, sympathy, and 
intelligence with the great mind which gave to the drama its 
noblest form. But some people said, ' Oh, we think Shake- 
speare very admirable, and if you played nothing but his works 
at every theatre we should be delighted to support you'. 
It seemed to him that one might almost as well say, 'if every 
book of poetry I take up has not the lofty inspiration of Milton, 
I must refuse to support poetry'. But it was impossible for 
Shakespeare to be played in every theatre, for many obvious 
reasons. In dramatic representation, as in everything else, 
there must be a variety of tastes. Art had many phases, and 
every one of them contained something admirable and excel- 



250 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 

lent in its way. Certainly, the higher the general level of their 
culture, the more exalted would be their taste ; and he felt 
assured that the efforts of the members of that Institute and 
kindred Institutes would be directed to foster what was worthiest 
in dramatic art." 

During a visit to Northampton, Irving told at the meet- 
ing of the Shakespeare Society of that town, an anecdote 
which was widely copied, embellished, and distorted. As he 
first related it, the story went that, ten years previously, that 
is to say, in the summer of 1868, while passing through 
Stratford-on-Avon in the company of his friend Toole, he saw 
a rustic sitting on a fence. " That's Shakespeare's house, 
isn't it ? " he asked, pointing to the building. " Yes." " Ever 
been there?" " No." " How long has he been dead?" 
" Don't know." " Many people come here?" "Yes, lots." 
"Been to the house?" "No, never been to the house." 
" What did he do ? " " Don't know." " Brought up here ? " 
"Yes." "Did he write for the Family Herald or anything 
of that sort?" "Oh, yes; he writ." "What was it? You 
must know." "Well," said the rustic, "I think he writ for 
the Bible." 

His reading at Northampton was given on 8th August, in 
the Town Hall, in aid of a fund for the restoration of Hart- 
well Church. The programme comprised "The Feast of 
Belshazzar," "The Captive, "scenes from " Hamlet," " Richard 
III.," and " David Copperfield," and "The Dream of Eugene 
Aram " an entertainment of considerable length, but Irving 
never spared himself on such occasions. After the reading, 
came a supper party in the Council Chamber and the presenta- 
tion of a beautifully illuminated address. "To realise the 
true aspirations of poetic genius, and to give adequate ex- 
pression to the true emotions of the soul, is," it said, "the 
highest triumph of the player. This enviable distinction has 
been attained by few, and it is most gratifying to know that 
among the honoured ones your name is unmistakably enrolled. 
It is the earnest hope of this society that you may live long 
to grace the art of which you are so distinguished an orna- 



1878] A READING IN BELFAST 251 

meat, and which, as a moral teacher, is so potent, and as an 
intellectual recreation so fascinating." The presentation was 
made, on behalf of the Northampton Shakespeare Society, 
by the Rev. Mr. Sanders, who said, thanks to the splendid 
genius of their honoured guest, the prospects of the stage at 
that moment were particularly bright. In the course of his 
speech in reply, Irving assured the company that, although he 
had not done very much, what he had done was the outcome 
of a reverent desire to get at the core of the poet's meaning. 
An actor might be very dignified and very declamatory, but 
unless he endeavoured to lay bare the springs of the character 
he represented, his work would be of little use. The stage 
was governed by traditions compared with which the laws of 
the Medes and Persians were very elastic ; but it was possible, 
he thought, "even in these degenerate days, to throw some 
new light on the poet's meaning ; and, although the persons 
who attempted that might be looked upon by many people as 
rather dangerous characters," such an endorsement as they 
had given that evening of the contrary opinion could not be 
otherwise than gratifying. 

On the following Monday, as already recorded, he laid 
the foundation stone of the Harborne and Edgbaston In- 
stitute. Here, also, an illustrated address was presented 
to the actor. " We esteem it a great privilege," it said, "to 
associate your name with our undertaking a name which 
so worthily stands in the first rank of dramatic art. We trust 
you may be long spared to adorn the profession you have 
adopted, and to continue your praiseworthy endeavours to 
elevate the drama to its high and proper position. Amongst 
these arduous duties may you still find time to assist those 
who, like ourselves, may be desirous of increasing the sources 
of mental and rational enjoyment, and of knitting communities 
together in bonds of fellowship and goodwill." Three days 
later, Irving gave some readings, in aid of the Samaritan 
Hospital, Belfast, in the Ulster Hall of that city. The pro- 
gramme was similar to that at Northampton. He had no 
holiday this summer, for, his various readings and addresses 



252 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xv. 

over, his provincial tour began immediately, the Lyceum, 
meanwhile, being occupied by the eldest Miss Bateman with 
a revival of Tom Taylor's drama, " Mary Warner," in which 
she had the support of Mr. James Fernandez, the late John 
Billington, and her sister, Miss Virginia Francis. 



CHAPTER XVI. 

1878. 

A triumphal tour Praise from Liverpool and Dublin A speech in 
Dublin Manchester recognises the beauty of his Hamlet And extols his 
Richelieu Sheffield braves the wind and the wet Irving's views on a 
National Theatre set forth Gives readings in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 
aid of the sufferers by the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank Letter from 
him in regard to America " Becket " being written for him Death of old 
friends Evil prognostications His policy for the future of the Lyceum 
outlined Miss Ellen Terry engaged for the Lyceum Her career up to 
this period. 

IRVING'S tour of 1878 was a series of artistic and pecuniary 
triumphs. From Leicester and Preston, he proceeded to 
one of his strongholds, Liverpool, where he appeared as 
Hamlet. The Alexandra Theatre a large house, now 
converted into a music-hall was packed from floor to ceiling 
and the demeanour of the audience was a high tribute to the 
performance. The spectators listened eagerly to every word 
that fell from Hamlet's lips, and, from the opening of the play 
until its close, silence reigned supreme save when plaudits 
rang through the house. " To the genuine student of Shake- 
speare's meaning," said the Daily Post, " Mr. Irving's 
Hamlet affords, in all its parts, and especially in the refined 
and intellectual connection of its parts in its silence as well 
as in its speech in its previsions as well as in its realisations 
a degree of instruction and suggestion, a varied stimulus to 
thought, such as far outweighs in truth and value all mere 
popular effect. And in addition to all this, it transcends in 
popular effect, at the point where this is permissible and 
desirable, every other impersonation with which experience 
or tradition acquaints us. Mr. Irving, caring little in the 
main for those prompt successes with an audience, which in 

253 



254 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvi. 

' Hamlet ' are as easily attainable as they are inappropriate 
and out of the spirit of the play, seizes the one great oppor- 
tunity with magnificent power. During the rest of the action 
he is a rare embodiment of the irresolute, poetical, fate-driven, 
fascinating frailty of temperament which the great dramatist 
has with such originality associated with Hamlet's mental 
vigour. The effect of the play -scene was never greater than 
last night, and no audience has ever more clamorously Con- 
fessed the magic of the actor's overwhelming tragic force in 
executing this sublime conception, which brings the passion 
of the play within the domain of irresistible reality, without 
sacrificing on the contrary, rather heightening its lofty 
poetry." " Richelieu" and " Louis XI." were also played in 
Liverpool, and, of course, were warmly received. 

He next proceeded to Dublin where the greeting was, 
if possible, warmer than on his visits in 1876 and 1877. 
His Richelieu and Louis XL which, unlike his Hamlet, 
were new to Dublin took his Irish friends by surprise. 
"The general satisfaction so warmly evinced throughout," 
said one critic, "affords proof that rant and roar and strut are 
not the qualities by which is compelled the approbation of a 
Dublin audience. The performance " that of " Richelieu "- 
"as far as the principal personage was concerned, was quiet 
and subdued, but full of force, power, and impressiveness. 
Every minute detail, from the comparatively trifling episode 
where he examines Huguet's arquebus, to the moment where 
he falls, pallid, shrinking, helpless, into his chair, at the com- 
mencement of the last scene, was most delicately elaborated. 
His manner with Julie was most gentle and tender ; his 
comedy refined and subtle ; his bursts of anger truly vivid 
and eloquent." Equal enthusiasm was displayed by the press 
and public of Dublin towards his Louis XI. On the last 
night but one of the engagement, Friday, 4th October, he 
made a speech, the manuscript of which is in the Hennell 
collection. It is evident that it was written with extreme 
care and it shows the infinite pains which he took over such 
comparatively minor details. "I cannot," he said, "let this 



1878] SUCCESS IN MANCHESTER 255 

occasion pass without expressing my heartfelt thanks for 
your kindness and help in the present and in the past. You 
can imagine what a delight it has been to me to find that on 
each occasion that I have come amongst you I have gained 
new friends without losing the old. This I know, for although 
the numbers have increased on each successive occasion, I 
see every night the old familiar faces and hear the voices that 
I know and like so well. For your welcome and far more 
than all for your sympathy and for your appreciation of my 
work and efforts how am I to thank you ? Those only can 
know the exquisite delight of sympathetic applause who have 
spent their lives in the patient, loving study of an art, and, 
borne up by the hope of a joy such as is mine to-night, have 
lived through all the bitterness of disappointed hopes and 
baffled aspirations." 

On 7th October, he began a fortnight's engagement at 
the Theatre Royal, Manchester. The local critics who, in 
the previous year, had written disparagingly of his Richard, 
now reluctantly admitted his claims to recognition as Hamlet 
and Richelieu, and went into extravagance of praise over 
his Louis. "There is one crucial test of a Hamlet," said the 
Guardian, ''which Mr. Irving has borne, and that should be 
accepted as in some degree a measure of success. He has 
thoroughly individualised the part, and large houses are never 
wanting to witness and applaud when he forms the central 
figure of the play. An actor must soar far beyond mediocrity 
to bear the test of time in this most exacting of all characters. 
This Mr. Irving has done, and his most adverse critic cannot 
gainsay his success." He had strong opposition during this 
engagement. Not only were the times bad in a financial 
sense in Manchester, but Barry Sullivan, then in the height 
of his popularity, was pitted against him. But he held his 
own, even his Richelieu one of the most popular of Sullivan's 
impersonations, as it was one of his most robustious perform- 
ances was recognised as a fine piece of acting. The Ex- 
aminer, in allusion to Irving's rendering of the Cardinal, said : 
" There have been actors in some respects more powerful than 



256 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvi. 

Mr. Irving who have subordinated to a lofty conception of a 
mighty and inflexible ruler of the destinies of a nation all 
those lighter phases of his character which the dramatist sup- 
plied. By Mr. Irving's naturalistic method that fault is 
avoided, and as under the developing solution of his talent the 
portrait comes forth, we feel that this is no mere creation of 
the poet's fancy, and something more than a clever example 
of the actor's power ; but some such a man as Richelieu may 
well have been only greater in his intellect than, and not 
different in his species from, his contemporaries. The beauty 
of Mr. Irving's interpretation is its naturalness and its thorough 
consistency ; but it is no less distinguished by its energy and 
its exquisite art." As for Louis XL the writers could not find 
words of sufficient eloquence with which to express them- 
selves. The Guardian went so far as to allow itself to de- 
scribe the performance not only as " magnificent" but as 
"one of the most complete and powerful efforts the present 
generation has seen ". 

Visits to Greenock, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Shef- 
field, and Birmingham, all told the same tale of houses 
crowded to their utmost capacity and columns of praise with- 
out a jarring note. Each town vied with the other in the 
warmth of its demonstrations. This was particularly notice- 
able in Sheffield. " In spite of the wind and the wet, there 
was not a vacant seat in the Theatre last night when the 
famous player was to repeat the impersonation with which he 
charmed Sheffield audiences twelve months ago. It is one 
of the most cheering concomitants of theatrical diversion to 
see a crowded 'house/ eager and attentive, bending forward 
in perfect stillness to catch the accents of the performers. 
This is what the patrons of the play did last evening from the 
very moment of the rising of the act-drop to the fall of the 
heavy green-baize curtain. The entire building as far as the 
footlights glistened with faces, and when the occasion came, 
as it very often did, for a demonstration of hands and feet, 
the unanimity and heartiness were irresistibly impressive as a 
mere spectacle." 



1878] VIEWS ON A NATIONAL THEATRE 257 

Such gratifying scenes, which were now the ordinary oc- 
currences of Irving's public life, were some recompense for 
the hardships he had endured. But they did not lessen his 
energy. On the contrary, they were a further spur to his 
ambition. The four months' tour ended in Birmingham in the 
middle of December. Despite the hard work of rehearsing, 
acting, and travelling, he was giving his constant attention to 
his plan of campaign at the Lyceum engaging his company 
and suggesting alterations in the theatre. Nor was his pen 
idle during all this extraordinarily busy time. The December 
number of one of the magazines contained a most interesting 
article from his pen on "The Grave of Richard III."; and, 
being asked for his views concerning a National Theatre, for 
a paper which was read at the Social Science Congress in 
October, he wrote as follows : "The question of the establish- 
ment of a National Theatre is surrounded by so many diffi- 
culties, and has so many side issues, that the time at present 
at my disposal does not allow me to go properly into it. The 
two questions which must from the beginning be held in view 
are : Is a National Theatre desirable ? Is its establishment 
upon a permanent basis a possibility? With regard to its 
desirability, I have little, if any, doubt. In this country, 
artistic perfection of a high ideal is not always the road to 
worldly prosperity ; and so long as open competition exists 
there will always be found persons whose aim is monetary 
success rather than the achievement of good work. In order 
that the stage may be of educational value, it is necessary 
that those who follow its art should have an ideal standard 
somewhat above the average of contemporary taste. This 
standard should be ever in advance, so that as the taste and 
education of the public progress, the means for their further 
advancement should be ready. To effect this some security 
is necessary. If the purifying and ennobling influence of the 
art is to be exercised in such a manner as to have a lasting 
power, it is necessary that the individual be replaced by 
something in the shape of a corporation, or by the working 

of some scheme by its nature fixed and permanent. It would, 
VOL. i. 17 



258 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvi. 

I think, be at present unadvisable to touch upon the subject 
of State subsidy with reference to the British stage. The 
institutions of this country are so absolutely free that it would 
be dangerous if not destructive to a certain form of liberty 
to meddle with them. ' Quid pro quo ' is a maxim which holds 
good of State aids, and a time might come when an un- 
scrupulous use might be made of the power of subsidy. Be- 
sides, in this country, the State would never grant monetary 
aid to individual enterprise under any guarantees whatsoever. 
As the State could not possibly of itself undertake the establish- 
ment and management, the adoption of some corporate form 
would be necessary with reference to the stage before the 
subsidy could be raised with any possibility of success. 

"A 'National Theatre' implies an institution which, in its 
nature, is not either limited or fleeting. Such a scheme must 
be thorough, must rest upon a very secure basis, and must 
conform to the requirements of art, polity, and commerce. It 
must be something which, in the ordinary course of things, 
will, without losing any of its purpose or any of its indiv- 
iduality, follow with equal footsteps the changes of the age. 
In order to do this, it must be large, elastic, and independent. 
Let us consider these conditions. Firstly, as to magnitude. 
As the National Theatre must compete with private enterprise, 
and be with regard to its means of achieving prosperity 
weighted with a scrupulosity which might not belong to its 
rivals, it should be so strong as to be able to merge in its 
steady average gain temporary losses, and its body should be 
sufficiently large to attempt and achieve success in every 
worthy branch of histrionic art. Secondly, the corporate 
body should be to a certain extent elastic. The production 
of talent in a country or an age is not always a fixed 
quantity ; and whilst for the maintenance of a high standard 
of excellence no one manifestly under the mark of his fellows 
should be admitted, all those worthy of entrance should be 
absorbed. Thirdly, the National Theatre should be in- 
dependent. Once established under proper guarantees, it 
should be allowed to work out its own ideas in its own way. 



1878] OFFERS FROM AMERICA 259 

Art can never suffer by the untrammelled and unshackled 
freedom of artists more especially when the idiosyncrasies 
of individuals, with the consequent possible extravagance, are 
controlled by the wisdom and calmness of confluent opinion. 
The difficulties of systematisation would be vast, but the 
advantages would be vast also. The merits of the con- 
centration of purpose of men following kindred pursuits have 
been tested already, and the benefits both to individuals and 
the bodies are known. Our art alone has yet no local 
habitation, no official recognition, no political significance. 
Should the scheme of a National Theatre be carried out, 
great results might follow much good to the great body of 
aspirants to histrionic fame. Provision might, at a small ex- 
pense to each individual, be made for the widow and the 
orphan. Old age would be divested of the terrors of want. 
A restraining influence would be exercised on unscrupulous- 
ness. A systematic school of teaching would arise ; and the 
stage would acquire that influence and position which, what- 
ever they may be in the present, are to be in the future 
great." Thus, thirty years ago, Irving said all that there was 
to be said in regard to a National Theatre, which, despite 
recent discussion, seems as far from realisation as ever. 

Apart from his other work while on tour in the autumn of 
1878, he gave, at Edinburgh and Glasgow, two readings in 
aid of the sufferers by the failure of the City of Glasgow Bank. 
He was the first, by the way, to suggest a subscription on 
their behalf. He did so while addressing an enthusiastic 
crowd at the stage-door of the theatre in Greenock. The 
readings resulted in the addition of ^730 to the fund. The 
desk and gas apparatus which he used on those occasions were 
the same as those used by Charles Dickens, whose family had 
presented them to the actor. At this time, also, his eminence 
was so great, that a professional visit to America was seriously 
mooted. Early in 1877, as already noted, he had received 
an alluring offer for a tour of the United States, and there 
were other offers from the same quarter in the autumn of 
1878. Nor was it a particularly new experience for him tq 

17* 



2 6o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvi. 

be misrepresented in this, as in other affairs. He had oc- 
casion to put himself right, and accordingly caused the follow- 
ing letter to the Press to be published : 

" SIR, In your last issue you adverted to a letter which is 
supposed to have been written by me, and in which these 
sentences occur * I am not foolish enough to consider my 
success certain among the American people, of whose tastes 
I know nothing. In England, I know what I am about.' 

"This extract is a pure fabrication, and I will be glad if 
you will let me say so. 

" Far from not wishing to visit America, I earnestly look 
forward to going there, for I love the country and have troops 
of friends in it. 

" Yours very truly, 

" HENRY IRVING. 

"GLASGOW, \%th November, 1878." 

By a curious coincidence, the announcement that " Mr. 
Tennyson is writing a play on the history of Thomas a 
Becket " the character in which Irving won one of his great- 
est successes in America was made just at the time that he 
wrote the above letter. This eventful year brought to Irving 
a loss which he felt keenly the death, on 24th June, of his 
old and true friend, Charles James Mathews ; and on 6th 
November there passed away the fine old actor, Samuel 
Phelps, from whom Irving, as a youth, had received his first 
offer of a theatrical engagement. 

Incredible as it may appear to the impartial mind, there 
were prophets of evil in connection with the announcement 
of Henry Irving's management of the Lyceum. Actor- 
managers had never, or hardly ever, succeeded. So it was 
said, and with truth. Macready and Charles Kean had failed, 
and why should " the fashionable tragedian " succeed ? There 
was the notable case, still fresh in the memory of the public, 
of Charles Mathews, " who never seemed able to do any good 
for himself except when he was under some one else's manage- 
ment, and this although the fare offered to the public was 



1878] THE NEW POLICY 261 

under both sets of circumstances the same. In no offensive 
sense of the words, it may be said that on the stage, as 
elsewhere, the good servant has frequently proved the bad 
master." This was from a journal the intentions of which 
were avowedly friendly to the actor. There was much more 
to the same purpose in other quarters. Misgivings were, in- 
deed, general. The very fact that Irving, apart from his 
merit as an actor and his unbounded popularity, had proved 
himself an earnest student of his art and the greatest champion 
for the elevation of the stage that had ever lived, was against 
him in a commercial success. On the other hand, he had 
many doughty champions, and it was pointed out, some three 
months before he began his management of the Lyceum, that 
" the actor who conscientiously respects what he believes to 
be the intention of the author, who will spare no pains to 
determine the exact signification of a line or a passage, or a 
stage direction, and who makes himself acquainted with every 
available authority upon the subject with which he deals 
this player surely shows that he has not a few of the qualities 
most to be desired in a manager whose efforts, as he himself 
states, are to be directed not only towards immediate results 
of pounds, shillings, and pence, but towards the future founda- 
tion of a School of Dramatic Art ". 

This latter allusion was founded on Irving's statement as 
to his intentions in a speech made on his benefit night at the 
Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool, in September. "At the 
termination of my present tour," he said, "my professional 
career in London will enter upon a new period, though with- 
out change of scene. When an actor turns manager, it is not 
with a greedy wish to monopolise either profits or opportunities. 
I, at least, most earnestly profess that it will be my aim at the 
Lyceum Theatre, of which I am now manager, to associate 
upon the stage all the arts and all the talents within my power 
to subsidise, so as to make the theatre a true school of dramatic 
art. I cannot myself pretend to be a master of any school ; 
but I can say that most eminent members of my profession 
have joined me, and will help to make my theatre all I should 



262 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvi. 

wish It to be for the benefit of the public from whom I have 
received so much kindness." There was evidence in this ad- 
dress that the new manager did not intend to leave anything 
to chance. The most important of the "eminent members" 
of the profession who had elected to serve under his banner 
was Miss Ellen Terry, whose exquisite performance of Olivia 
at the Court Theatre in the previous April had drawn the at- 
tention of Henry Irving to the great charm of the actress and 
the possibilities of her future. The engagement was hailed 
with delight. Miss Terry was then in her thirty-first, the 
actor-manager in his forty-first, year. 

As Miss Terry shared so largely in the artistic triumphs of 
Henry Irving's management an association which lasted for 
over twenty-three years itjs necessary to note, as briefly as 
may be, her career prior to December, 1878. The child of 
players, she was born in Coventry, where her father and 
mother, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Terry, were under engage- 
ment, on 27th February, 1848. She is the second of four 
daughters, Miss Kate Terry (Mrs. Arthur Lewis) being the 
eldest, and Miss Marion Terry, the third daughter. The 
youngest sister, Miss Florence Terry, who died in 1896, was, 
as will be seen in due course, a member of the Lyceum com- 
pany for several seasons. Ellen Alicia Terry to give her 
full name made her first appearance on the stage as a child 
actress at the Princess's Theatre, Oxford Street, then the 
home of Shakespearean drama. Charles Kean was the man- 
ager, and the first night 28th April, 1856 of his production 
of "The Winter's Tale" was honoured by the presence of 
Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and the Princess Royal. So 
that the eight-year old impersonator of the boy, Mamillius, 
entered upon her public career under happy auspices. After 
"The Winter's Tale," which ran for over a hundred nights, 
there came, on I5th October, "A Midsummer- Night's 
Dream". "Miss Ellen Terry," wrote a contemporary critic, 
"played the merry goblin, Puck, a part that requires an old 
head on young shoulders, with restless, elfish animation, and 
an evident enjoyment of her own mischievous pranks ". The 




Photo : Lock and Whitfield, London. 

Miss ELLEN TERRY IN 1878. 



1878] ELLEN TERRY'S EARLY CAREER 263 

child actress appeared in various other parts at the Princess's 
sometimes playing two a night and, on 5th April, 1858, 
she acted a boy, Karl, in a poor adaptation from the French, 
called " Faust and Marguerite". In another piece, a come- 
dietta, she was again a boy, a " tiger". On i8th October, 
of the same year, she made a striking success as Prince 
Arthur in " King John". The Kean management termin- 
ated in 1859, and the Terry sisters, Kate and Ellen, were 
taken on tour, after an experimental trip at the Colosseum, 
Regent's Park a building which Rogers, the poet, pro- 
nounced " finer than anything among the remains of archi- 
tectural art in Italy " in a drawing-room entertainment, 
the first part of which was called ''Distant Relations," the 
second being entitled " Home for the Holidays". The little 
party, which included a pianist, in addition to Mr. and 
Mrs. Terry, toured for several months, the journeys being 
generally accomplished by coach or carriage. The young 
actress re-appeared in London in November, 1861, at the 
Royalty Theatre, in an adaptation of Eugene Sue's " A tar- 
Gull". From the Royalty, the juvenile actress went to the 
Theatre Royal, Bristol, a house which, under the management 
of J. H. Chute, possessed one of the finest stock companies 
in the country; and on I5th September, 1862, in an extra- 
vaganza called " Endymion," "made a Cupid who was his 
own apology for all the influence exerted". Miss Terry 
played other similar parts here, and, on 4th March, 1863, we 
find her at Bath, on the occasion of the opening of the new 
Theatre Royal, as the Spirit of the Future in the prologue, 
and as Titania in "A Midsummer-Night's Dream". During 
her engagements at Bristol and Bath she played many parts 
and gained valuable experience. Her reputation, also, was 
such that, child as she still was, the metropolis again claimed 
her. 

The young actress returned to London under an engage- 
ment to support E. A. Sothern at the Hay market Theatre. 
And, here, on iQth March, 1863 being then only just fifteen 
years of age she acted the heroine in " The Little Treasure " 



264 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvi. 

a version of " La Joie de la Maison " with such ingenuous- 
ness and sincerity that she was brought into particular promin- 
ence. A little later, she was a "graceful and winning" Hero 
in " Much Ado About Nothing". During her stay at the 
Haymarket, she also acted Lady Frances Touchwood in 
"The Belle's Stratagem," Julia in "The Rivals," and Mary 
Meredith in " Our American Cousin ". At the Theatre Royal, 
Holborn, on 8th June, 1867, she was the heroine of a weird 
melodrama, called "The Antipodes, or the Ups and Downs 
of Life ". At another vanished playhouse, the Queen's, in 
Long Acre, she acted, on 24th October in the same year, in 
Charles Reade's " Double Marriage," and, on i4th November, 
Mrs. Mildmay in "Still Waters Run Deep". On 26th De- 
cember, " Katherine and Petruchio" was revived, the occasion 
being noticeable, as a matter of stage history, from the fact 
that, as stated in Chapter VI., Ellen Terry and Henry Irving 
acted together for the first time. Ellen Terry then retired 
from public life for six years. Her return to the stage was 
made at the Queen's Theatre on 28th February, 1874, in 
Reade's drama, "The Wandering Heir," a play founded on 
the Tichborne case. In April, the company gave a few 
performances at Astley's Amphitheatre, and here, in addition 
to the heroine of the " Wandering Heir," Miss Terry was 
seen as Susan in " It's Never too Late to Mend". 

The period of probation was now over. Ellen Terry 
having, as a mere child, played many parts, and, as a still 
extremely youthful actress, having obtained invaluable ex- 
perience of the stage, received an offer which resulted in her 
remarkable personality being brought into play with such 
effect that the seal of success was set upon the one great 
Shakespearean actress of the latter half of the nineteenth 
century. At the end of 1874, Mr. and Mrs. Bancroft, whose 
"little theatre in Tottenham Court Road," the old Prince of 
Wales 's, the site of which is now covered by the stage of 
the Scala Theatre, was, thanks to the Robertsonian plays and 
their interpretation, synonymous with success, determined 
upon a revival of "The Merchant of Venice". The revival 



1878] PORTIA IN 1875 265 

was on a most lavish scale, and the cast was chosen with 
extreme care and without regard to cost, but for all that, 
and for reasons which do not concern this history, it was a 
failure. The theatrical world, however, owes a debt of 
gratitude to the Bancrofts for giving to us, on the memorable 
night of i;th April, 1875, the enchanting Portia of Ellen 
Terry. The critics of that day exhausted themselves in her 
praise, and, in more recent years, this exquisite performance 
charmed countless thousands of playgoers in London, in 
the provinces, and throughout Canada and the United States 
of America. To return, however, to the Bancroft regime. 
"The Merchant of Venice" gave way, on 29th May, 1875, 
to " Money," in which Miss Terry, as Clara Douglas, made 
another remarkable success. This was followed, at a special 
matinee, on iQth June, by "A Happy Pair," with Miss Terry 
as Mrs. Honey ton. Her next great hit, however, was as Pauline 
in a Dingle performance of "The Lady of Lyons," at the 
Princess's Theatre, on 7th August of the same year. Once 
more the critics exhausted themselves in eulogy. " Money" 
had a long run, and it was not until 6th November, 1875, 
that it was succeeded by " Masks and Faces," with Miss 
Terry as Mabel Vane. On 6th May, 1876, she acted her last 
part in the historic little playhouse off Tottenham Court Road 
Blanche Haye, in a revival of " Ours". She then joined 
Mr. (now Sir) John Hare's company at the Court Theatre, 
and here she appeared, in November, 1876, in "Brothers," 
and, in December, in "New Men and Old Acres ". In the 
latter piece, which was only put up as a stop-gap, but which, 
nevertheless, enjoyed a prolonged career, she made another 
step on the ladder of fame, despite the fact that there is not 
much opportunity for the actress in the character of Lilian 
Vavasour. On ist March, 1877, Ellen Terry made her 
first appearance on the stage of Drury Lane, on which, 
curiously enough, she was not seen again until her Jubilee 
Commemoration, I2th June, 1906. The previous occasion 
was the benefit of Henry Compton, and she appeared as 
Georgina Vesey in "Money". Remaining at the Court 



266 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvi. 

Theatre, she next played there, in October, 1877, in "The 
House of Darnley," a posthumous play by Lord Lytton, 
which, being a prompt failure, was succeeded in January, 
1878, by " Victims," which was also unsuccessful, and in 
which she had a very poor part. 

Then came, on 3Oth March, the dramatisation, by the late 
W. G. Wills, of "The Vicar of Wakefield," called "Olivia". 
The beauty of Miss Terry's impersonation was instantly 
recognised. "Olivia" ran throughout the season at the 
Court. During the summer, Miss Terry acted in the pro- 
vinces, chiefly as Olivia. She also played two other parts 
one in a little classical comedy, "The Cynic's Defeat," or 
"All is Vanity," the other, Dora, in Charles Reade's drama- 
tisation of Tennyson's poem, a character which had been 
acted by Miss Kate Terry in the original production. On 
this tour, and on her tours of 1879 and 1880, her "leading 
man" was her husband, Charles Kelly (his real name was 
Wardell). 



CHAPTER XVII. 

3oth December, 1878 August, 1879. 

Henry Irving inaugurates his management of the Lyceum The Pre- 
face to " Hamlet " Letters to Frank Marshall Some reminiscences 
Irving's friends His company and lieutenants Monday, 3oth December, 
1878 A great night Fees abolished The theatre altered and redecor- 
ated Enthusiasm of the audience and of the Press Miss Ellen Terry's 
Ophelia The Hamlet of 1878 The literary interest of the revival "To 
produce the ' Hamlet ' of to-night, I have worked all my life " Benefit to 
an old actor "The Lady of Lyons" revived Other revivals A remark- 
able proof of versatility Irving's speech on the last night of the season 
Opinions of French writers Irving's fine hands Courtesy to Sarah Bern- 
hardt More reminiscences A well-won holiday. 

IT is important, as a matter of stage history, to observe that 
Miss Terry was, in 1878, only on the threshold of her glorious 
career. Her two chief successes, Portia and Olivia, had been 
achieved as the result, partly, of her youthful experience, but 
mainly by her temperament. Her girlish charm and the in- 
describable wistfulness of her manner at this period made her 
an ideal Olivia, and, as Irving well divined, she was the one 
actress whose talents fitted her for Ophelia. Consequently, 
she was admirably suited for the position of leading lady at 
the Lyceum that is to say, for the young heroines of Shake- 
spearean and other poetical dramas. 

On the other hand, a matter of far greater importance to 
the proper view of the life-work of the great actor-manager 
of the Lyceum, Henry Irving's position on the stage was an 
assured one. His triumphs as Mathias, as Charles, as Eugene 
Aram, as Richelieu, as Richard III., as Lesurques and 
Dubosc, as Louis XL, had all been won. He had acted 
Macbeth and Othello. Above all, he had played Hamlet 
for two hundred consecutive nights and to profitable business. 

His impersonation of Hamlet, and the unequalled number 

267 



268 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 



of consecutive performances attained by the tragedy in con- 
sequence, formed one of his proudest achievements. He 
always remembered this unique success. At various times 
in his career, he referred to it, and always with the same 
glowing, and justifiable, pride. Thus, for instance, in No- 
vember, 1878, he wrote from Sheffield to his friend, Frank 
Marshall : 

" MY DEAR FRANK, I want you to write a Preface about 
seventy or eighty lines for the edition of ' Hamlet ' which I 
mean to publish for sale at the Lyceum. You know my 
views they are yours. ..." 



HAMLET. 

Revived at the Lyceum on the opening night of Henry 
living's management, 3oth December, 1878. 



HAMLET 

CLAUDIUS 

POLONIUS 

LAERTES 

HORATIO 

OSRIC 

ROSENCRANTZ 

GUILDENSTERN 

MARCELLUS - 

BERNARDO 

FRANCISCO 

REYNALDO 

IST PLAYER - 

2ND PLAYER - 

PRIEST - 

IST GRAVEDIGGER 

2ND GRAVEDIGGER 

MESSENGER - 

GHOST OF HAMLET'S FATHER 

GERTRUDE - 

PLAYER QUEEN 

OPHELIA - 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. FORRESTER. 
Mr. CHIPPENDALE. 
Mr. F. COOPER. 
Mr. T. SWINBOURNE. 
Mr. KYRLE BELLEW. 
Mr. A. W. PINERO. 
Mr. ELWOOD. 
Mr. GIBSON. 
Mr. ROBINSON. 
Mr. TAPPING. 
Mr. CARTWRIGHT. 
Mr. A. BEAUMONT. 
Mr. EVERARD. 
Mr. COLLETT. 
Mr. S. JOHNSON. 
Mr. A. ANDREWS. 
Mr. HARWOOD. 
Mr. T. MEAD. 
Miss PAUNCEFORT. 
Miss SEDLEY. 
Miss ELLEN TERRY. 



In a second letter to Marshall he says : 

" Cannot it be put down that I played it at the Lyceum 
two hundred consecutive nights ? I should like it to read 
* It will be found, etc., production of the play at the Lyceum 
(3Oth October, 1878) when Mr. Irving played Hamlet for two 
hundred consecutive nights. The alterations have been made 
by him in accordance with the experience gained by frequent 
representations of the character of Hamlet.' ' 



1878] AN ENVIABLE POSITION 269 

And, in a third letter to Marshall concerning the Preface 
to his acting edition of ' Hamlet,' he re-iterates these views. 
Again, in 1896, an article appeared in one of the English 
magazines in which the writer made bold to settle the actor's 
"claims" once and for all. "It is pleasant to have one's 
'claims' settled like that, monument, epitaph, and all," he 
said, when spoken to on the subject : 

" I recognised some affable, familiar ghosts in that article 
the Lyceum scenery ghost, the National Theatre ghost, 
and the perturbed spirits of the original dramas I might pro- 
duce and won't ! . . . Except in one case, which I will deal 
with presently, 1 the scenic art has never been made the 
cardinal element of my policy. Let me inflict on you a piece 
of stage history. I became associated with the Lyceum 
twenty-five years ago. For the first seven or eight years, 
nothing was heard of this predominance of scenery. In the 
days of Mr. Bateman's management, we produced * Hamlet/ 
which had the unprecedented run of two hundred nights, at a 
net profit of ,10,000. The entire production cost about one 
hundred ! Only two new scenes were painted. The church- 
yard, with a yew in it, was borrowed from ' Eugene Aram ' ; the 
dresses were hired. Obviously the success of those years 
was not due to lavish expenditure on decoration. When I 
became manager, my first Shakespeare play was * The Mer- 
chant of Venice'. It was then that some of Mr. 's 

ancestors became restive. They shook their heads at the 
scenery, and yet the total cost of that production was only 
,1200 a very small outlay on a picture of Venice." 

Henry Irving began his management with many things in 
his favour. His position as an actor was already great and 
assured. Even those who disputed his ability as a player, 
admitted his intellectuality and his untiring advocacy of the 
rightful mission of the stage. His friends were many and 

1 This was his production, in 1892, of "Henry VIII. " "In my judg- 
ment, 'Henry VIII.' is a pageant or nothing. Shakespeare, I am sure, had 
the same idea, and it was in trying to carry it out that he burnedi 
the Globe Theatre by letting off a cannon! H. I." 



270 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

powerful. Gladstone, Alfred Tennyson, and the late Baroness 
Burdett-Coutts were numbered among his staunch admirers. 
His indomitable will had asserted itself long before and had 
enabled him to triumph over difficulties which seemed, at first 
sight, insurmountable. He had two other qualities which 
stood out prominently and were of inestimable value, not only 
at this particular period, but throughout his career a diplomacy 
which was based upon fine feeling and a keen knowledge of 
human nature, and an infinite capacity for taking pains. The 
company which he gathered together for his first season was 
the best that he could obtain for the purpose. Apart from Miss 
Ellen Terry, it included, among the generation of experienced 
actors, the veteran comedian, W. H. Chippendale, Thomas 
Swinbourne, Henry Forrester, and Miss Pauncefort. In the 
younger ranks were Mr. Kyrle Bellew, Mr. Frank Cooper, 
Mr. Arthur W. Pinero, the late Arthur Elwood, and Mr. 
Charles Cartwright. And, a sign of his unfailing remembrance 
of old friends, there was the comedian, Sam Johnson, an actor 
with whom he had played in Sunderland, twenty-two years 
previously. He retained the scenic artist, Mr. Hawes 
Craven, who had been associated with the Lyceum through- 
out the Bateman management, but, in place of Robert Stoepel, 
there was a new musical conductor in Mr. Hamilton Clarke. 
He also retained Mr. H. J. Loveday, who, as we have seen, 
had joined the Lyceum staff, as stage-manager, in January, 
1877. Mr. Bram Stoker, at the solicitation of the actor- 
manager, gave up his position in the Dublin Civil Service, 
and became business manager for Henry Irving. Both the 
latter gentlemen retained their posts until the death of the 
actor in 1905 a tribute, not only to themselves, but to the 
loyalty of their chief. 

The name of Henry Irving as "sole lessee and manager" 
of the Royal Lyceum Theatre was seen on the programme 
for the first time on Monday, 3Oth December, 1878. 
There were many points of interest for the spectators to note 
before the beginning of the performance. The audience itself 
was exceptionally interesting. Literature, art, the learned 



1878] FEES ABOLISHED 271 

professions, rank and fashion were well represented in the 
stalls and private boxes. The pit and the gallery were filled to 
repletion. Indeed, the approaches to the unreserved portion 
of the theatre had been occupied for hours before the opening 
of the doors. " For such a spectacle as the house presented," 
said a contemporary writer, " we have no precedent in England : 
the great players of the past could rely for ardent support upon 
only one section of their audience ; Mr. Irving seems to be 
popular with all classes. In the West-end, it has become 
the fashion to see him in every character he undertakes ; the 
enthusiasm he excites among the great mass of playgoers is 
indisputable. " The printed programme was in itself an augury 
of good taste for, instead of the old-fashioned, common sheet, 
printed in heavy type and black ink, there was a neat sheet 
of buff paper, printed in a light chocolate ink which did not 
spoil the gloves or dirty the hands, the form of which was 
retained at the Lyceum for over twenty years. Moreover, 
it bore the following conspicuous announcement : 

44 The Bill of the Play will in every part of the House be 
supplied without charge. 

" No Fees of any kind will be permitted, and Mr. Irving 
trusts that in his endeavour to carry out this arrangement he 
may rely on the co-operation of the Public." 

Thus, at one fell swoop, he abolished payment for pro- 
grammes and charges for the use of the cloak-rooms. He 
rigidly adhered to this innovation throughout the period of 
his management. Again, he had called in the assistance of 
an old friend in Manchester the Polonius to his youthful 
Hamlet Mr. Alfred Darbyshire, by this time a well-known 
architect, with whose help he carried out many alterations in 
the structure and decoration of the theatre. The general 
scheme of decoration was sage green and turquoise blue. 
Comfortable stalls were provided, backs and rails were put 
to the seats in pit and gallery, and other minor improvements 
were effected. Formerly of a dingy aspect, the interior of the 
Lyceum was now exceedingly pleasing to the eye, not the least 
of its attractions being a new and graceful act-drop. " I need 



272 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

not enter into the details of my work at the Lyceum Theatre, 
done for my friend and to the satisfaction of the Lord Chamber- 
lain and Mr. Arnold, the owner. Suffice it to say that the 
works were of much importance, and that nothing of historic or 
art value was injured or destroyed. The Bartolozzi ornaments 
on the circle fronts were maintained with that respect due to 
the work of a great artist, who was the father of Madame 
Vestris, once the lessee of the theatre. I recollect on one 
occasion, during the carrying out of the decorative work, the 
venerable Walter Lacy was present when the ceiling of the 
auditorium was being stripped prior to the new scheme of de- 
coration. The process revealed a scheme of ornament in imi- 
tation of lace work on a pink coloured ground. On showing a 
piece of this to the good old actor he exclaimed : * This is a por- 
tion of the work done to please Madame Vestris ! Why ! my 
boy, the whole place was hung with imitation lace ; it was a 
fairylike oriental ecstacy ! The figure groups and raised orna- 
ments were modelled by Bartolozzi.'" 1 

Apart from the brilliant assemblage of notabilities on this 
historic evening, there was one feature which possessed the 
same characteristic which distinguished the actor throughout 
his career, especially in its closing years his attraction for the 
youth, of both sexes, of the country. The crowds of young 
people which he drew to Drury Lane during his last season 
in London are still fresh in the remembrance. He had just 
the same influence in 1878, for, when he initiated his manage- 
ment on 30th December with " Hamlet," the popular portions 
of the theatre were filled with an assemblage of " intelligent 
high-spirited youth, whose presence showed how profound an 
influence the theatre is calculated to exercise over the future 
of a nation, while their behaviour proved the sincerity of their 
convictions that in Mr. Irving they had found the realisation of 
their ideal. Such enthusiasm and such faith should almost 
make an actor. He must be less than man who in presence 
of such manifestations as were last night heard did not feel his 

1 Alfred Darbyshire in "The Art of the Victorian Stage," 1906. 



1878] THE HAND OF THE MASTER 273 

soul stirred to a resolution to merit such appreciation and trust. 
There was an absolute frenzy of rage when any one during a 
performance, the pauses in which were the shortest, took his 
seat late, or in any other manner made a noise that interfered 
with the power of hearing what was spoken ; and it was easy 
to imagine that any one creating purposely a disturbance 
would have had an ill time of it. Not less impressive than 
the stillness of the audience in the moments of passionate in- 
terest was the outburst when the whole of the occupants of 
the house rose and shouted their approval and admiration. 
The influence was irresistible and electrical. Whatever may 
be the feeling of the spectator as to the exposition that is 
afforded, it can scarcely be maintained by any that this tribute 
was undeserved. For the first time the same kind of intel- 
lectual care has been bestowed upon the mounting of a dra- 
matic masterpiece that has previously been reserved for the 
domestic comedy of English life, or the imported comedy of 
French manners. We have in Mr. Irving a man who, besides 
supplying a thoughtful and elaborate interpretation of the 
highest character, extends over an entire play the kind of 
care we are thankful to find attendant upon a single role. 
We feel throughout every vibration of the huge machine that 
the hand of the master is upon the lever, and that every 
movement is directed by one responsible and powerful will. 
From first to last, accordingly, the performance is integral. 
It may be wrong or right, it is at least whole. Scenery, 
decorations, dresses, everything in fact in connection with the 
play is arranged with a view to producing a symmetrical re- 
sult. For the first time we have a Shakespearean play given 
with ensemble. The gain thus afforded cannot be over- 
estimated. It amounts, so far as Shakespeare is concerned, 
to revelation." 

There were many similar tributes in the newspaper press 
of the day to that just quoted from the Globe and the 
eminent position which had already been achieved by Henry 
Irving was admitted on all sides. Nor were these tributes 
confined to those who were either his personal friends or the 
VOL. i. 1 8 



274 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

most sympathetic towards his aspirations. Many pages could 
be filled with the praise which was lavished upon him by im- 
partial observers, but the best proof of his position as the leader 
of his profession and of his unexampled popularity is, perhaps, 
to be found in the recognition which he at last exacted from 
his two old opponents Button Cook and Joseph Knight. 
Both these critics were gentlemen, and expressed themselves 
as such. That is to say, their writing was not on the same 
level as that of the men who only sought to vilify the actor 
and most of whom, by the way, had been silenced, by now, 
through the force of public opinion. Button Cook and Joseph 
Knight could not have been blackguardly in their criticism, 
had they tried. But they were severe on occasion, and Henry 
Irving received considerable chastening from them in his ear- 
lier years. He, no doubt, profited by their strictures, and, that 
he bore no malice was amply demonstrated towards one of them 
as will be shown hereafter a few months before his death. 
It is only necessary to take one brief excerpt from each writer. 
Button Cook began his notice with the statement that : " Mr. 
Irving's managerial career has commenced most auspiciously. 
The opening representation was, indeed, from first to last 
simply triumphant. A distinguished audience filled to over- 
flowing the redecorated Lyceum Theatre, and the new im- 
presario was received with unbounded enthusiasm. These 
gratifying evidences of good-will were scarcely required, how- 
ever, to convince Mr. Irving that his enterprise carried with 
it very general sympathy. His proved devotion to his art, 
his determination to uphold the national drama to its utmost, 
have secured for him the suffrages of all classes of society. 
And it is recognised that he has become a manager, not to en- 
hance his position as an actor for already he stands in the 
front rank of his profession but the better to promote the in- 
terests of the whole stage, and to serve more fully, to gratify 
more absolutely the public, his patrons." 

Mr. Knight's recognition of an obvious state of affairs was 
couched in somewhat warmer language : " Mr. Irving received 
such manifestations of delight and approval as recall the most 



1878] A GREAT TRIUMPH 275 

brilliant triumphs of the tragedians of past time. It is impos- 
sible to doubt the sincerity of the convictions that found ex- 
pression in ringing cheers and shouts of affectionate welcome. 
No amount of care or expense could have organised a demon- 
stration of the kind ; nothing short of spontaneous and over- 
mastering enthusiasm could have produced it. The most 
severely critical estimate of Mr. Irving's powers does not in- 
volve any scepticism as to the value of a demonstration like 
this. While successive governments, with a timidity and 
mistrust of the people which speak little for their intelligence, 
leave all questions of literature and art to look after themselves, 
the public recognises a debt of gratitude to those who en- 
deavour by private action to make up for national shortcom- 
ings. To present a Shakespearean masterpiece under favour- 
able conditions, with an adequate cast and artistic surround- 
ings, is a work of no small difficulty or importance. In saying, 
as he did, in a short address to the public after the performance, 
that the dream of his life had been to do this, Mr. Irving ob- 
tained implicit credence. It has, indeed, required years of 
preparation to bring about the result. As some motive of 
personal ambition is sure to colour most private effort, it was 
necessary for the actor to win acceptance for his own concep- 
tion of Hamlet or some other leading Shakespearean character. 
This in itself means delaying an experiment until the top of 
an arduous profession is reached. A theatre has then to be 
obtained, and actors, seldom too amenable to discipline, have 
to be drilled until they become one harmonious whole. This 
triumph Mr. Irving has obtained. The representation of 
'Hamlet' supplied on Monday night is the best the stage, 
during the last quarter of a century, has seen, and it is the 
best also that is likely, under existing conditions, to be seen for 
some time to come. Scenic accessories are explanatory with- 
out being cumbersome, the costumes are picturesque and strik- 
ing and show no needless affectation of archaeological accuracy ; 
and the interpretation has an ensemble rarely found in any 
performance, and never, during recent years, in a representa- 
tion of tragedy." 

18* 



276 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

Here was high praise indeed. Mr. Knight, as did 
Mr. Cook, devoted a long essay to the discussion of Irving's 
interpretation of Hamlet and the general representation of 
the tragedy. Both critics admired Miss Terry's exquisite 
rendering of Ophelia, and gave her all credit for her beautiful 
performance. But, in each case, the critic evidently thought 
that a few lines six in one, and a dozen in the other- 
sufficient recognition of the young actress. Another critic, 
who had the advantage of seeing the representation after the 
first night when "her mad scene was robbed of much of its 
effect by a slight hoarseness and want of self-possession "- 
considered her Ophelia "a poem in action. Her change of 
countenance at the first allusion in her presence to Hamlet ; 
her- placing her hand upon her brother's shoulder as though 
to add weight to the counsel given to him by Polonius ; her 
lingering look at the presents as she returned them to the 
giver ; the silent anguish in which she parted from the 
cherished day-dream of her youth all this may be classed 
with those May-fly glories of the stage which can hardly be 
perpetuated by literary skill." The Saturday Review, among 
other journals, gave a detailed account of Miss Terry's im- 
personation, and found much reason for commendation, not 
only of her conception of the part, but for a rendering " so 
perfect that every word seems to be spoken, every gesture 
to be made, from the emotion of the moment, on the impor- 
tance of which we have already insisted. The pathos of the 
mad scene is not more thought out or more natural than 
the emotion shown in the scene where Polonius dismisses 
Laertes to his ship, a scene of which Miss Terry relieves the 
possible tedium by exhibiting, during Polonius's speech, the 
interest which a sister would naturally feel in her brother's 
prospects. Miss Terry's performance begins by striking a 
note of nature, and is natural and complete throughout, with 
one exception. Throughout, one is impressed by the con- 
sistency of the actress's conception, and by the perfect ex- 
pression given to her idea. These qualities are especially 
remarkable in the mad scene. Here, instead of the incoherent 



1878] A HUMAN HAMLET 277 

outpouring of imbecile unconnected phrases which has too 
often passed for Shakespeare's representation of Ophelia's 
madness, Miss Terry shows us an intelligible, and (if one 
may use a seemingly paradoxical term) consistent state of 
dementia. That is, her power of facial expression, her action, 
and her intonation, combine to show us the origin in her dis- 
ordered state of mind of each wild and whirling word that she 
utters. Every broken phrase and strange image is suggested 
by some recollection of the time before she was distraught. 
The intense pathos with which this catching up of interrupted 
threads of thought is presented it is impossible to describe, 
except in the words of Laertes : 

Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself, 
She turns to favour and to prettiness. 

The exception referred to above occurs in the scene where 
Ophelia returns Hamlet's presents. Here Miss Terry is too 
much given to tears, too little to amazement. But this is a 
very small blemish, if it is a blemish, in a performance full of 
beauty." 

The Hamlet of 1878 was substantially that of 1874 a 
little more elaborate, a little more human if that were possible 
but, its most marked change, more tender in its treatment of 
Ophelia. Irving's Hamlet was that of the prince and lover, as 
well as the courtier, soldier, and scholar. " Though he reso- 
lutely blots out from his life as a ' trivial, fond record ' that fond 
love for Ophelia which has been his solace and stay in the 
midst of doubt and fear, he can only do so when he is out of 
her presence. In spite of his affected cynicism, he loves her to 
distraction, and when he bids her depart to a nunnery, his 
passion speaks in his every gesture and through his every 
word. It is impossible to dwell on the abundant details of 
which the performance is made up. We can only say that it 
is strongest in the scenes in his mother's closet, most imagina- 
tive in those immediately succeeding the play scene, most 
tender in the interview with Ophelia, most thoughtful in the 
conversation with the gravediggers, Many points of de- 
parture, so far as regards matters of detail, from the previous 



278 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvu. 

representation were noticeable. None of these, however, 
greatly affected the scope of the entire 'conception. Mr. 
Irving's rendering was watched with painful attention and no 
point in it escaped approval, or indeed failed to elicit en- 
thusiasm." 1 

" The all-round excellence of the representation was freely 
recognised, the performance being compared, in this respect, 
to the leading feature of the subsidised theatres of the Contin- 
ent. And the revival had a literary interest, for the Lyceum 
version the work of the actor-manager differed from any 
previous stage-versions, in many respects. Fortinbras, as 
usual, did not appear, and in the first scene, the ghost made 
its appearance, not in a 'front' scene of meagre proportions, 
but in the battlements of the castle. The old stage direction that 
the * perturbed spirit ' should make the revelation on ' another 
part of the platform' was probably due to the absence of 
scenery from Elizabethan theatres. At the Lyceum, the 
revelation was made in a lonely spot at some distance from 
the castle. This change is in strict accordance with the text ; 
Hamlet follows the ghost from midnight until the approach of 
dawn, and his words, ' I'll go no further,' joined to the diffi- 
culty experienced by Horatio and Marcellus in finding him, 
suggest unless, indeed, the scene occurs at a time of year 
when the interval between midnight and daybreak is very 
short that a considerable distance has been traversed. Con- 
sequently, the revelation is made with greater effect in a de- 
serted spot than within earshot of the revelry which is taking 
place in the castle. The quaint apostrophes to the ghost 
' Art thou there, old truepenny ? ' and * Well said, old mole ' 
were wisely restored at the Lyceum, for they show both 
the unhinged state of Hamlet's mind and his anxiety to mis- 
lead his friends as to the true state of the supernatural vision. 
The closet scene was enacted in a room adjoining the Queen's 
bedchamber, and the ghost passed through the door of the 
latter as if to enforce the behest- 
Let not the Royal bed of Denmark, etc. 
lr The Globe, 3ist December, 1878. 



1878] LITERARY INTEREST 279 

The Lyceum ghost appeared in a sort of robe, instead of the 
armour usual on the stage an alteration justified by a di- 
rection in the first quarto of the play ' Enter the ghost in 
his night gowne ' and by Hamlet's exclamation 

My father, in his habit as he lived ! 

In the last act, Ophelia was buried at nightfall ; first, because 
that used to be the custom in the case of suicide, and, secondly, 
because of Hamlet's allusion to the ' wandering stars '. From 
two lines in the quarto of 1603, it is clear that Shakespeare 
intended the events of the fifth act to take place in one day. 
These lines, however, are omitted from all subsequent editions, 
and it is evident that the after-intention of the author was 
to allow a night to elapse between the burial of Ophelia and 
the fencing-match. Is it likely, as was pointed out by F. A. 
Marshall in the Preface which he had been commissioned to 
write for the Lyceum acting-version, that such a match would 
have been proceeded with on the day of interment? The 
scene between Hamlet and Osric had hitherto been played in 
a 'hall'. At the Lyceum, it was enacted 'outside the 
castle,' and the line- 
Put your bonnet to the right use ; 'tis for the head 

was no longer felt as being inappropriate. In saying, ' I will 
walk here, in the hall,' Hamlet may have indicated the 
castle by a gesture. The change also had the advantage of 
giving variety to the final scene, which was laid in a hall, 
through some arches of which at the back were seen a 
lawn and the orchard in which Hamlet's father had been 
poisoned. Objection was made to this change, inasmuch as 
Hamlet's injunction, ' Let the door be locked,' is rendered 
unintelligible, but, on the other hand, the idea of having the 
punishment of the murderer meted out to him within sight of 
the scene of his crime was singularly happy. 

' The intelligent manner in which the tragedy was pro- 
duced, in regard to its stage-management and its decoration, 
received high praise in all quarters, In regard to costume, 



280 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

the task was attended with considerable difficulty. Hamlet, 
it may be presumed, lived in the fifth or sixth century. Yet 
the story is treated by the dramatist as one of the Elizabethan 
age and with a fine disregard for local colouring or historical 
accuracy. The personages in the play talk and think in an 
Elizabethan style ; Hamlet himself is an incarnation of the 
intellectual agitation to which the Reformation gave rise, and 
cannon and other instruments of modern warfare are alluded 
to. The Danish costume of the dark ages was far from 
picturesque, and the adoption for this revival of dresses of a 
sixteenth century character was the wiser of two courses. 
These costumes, it need hardly be said, were in good taste 
and agreeable contrast. The scenery, without being pre- 
tentious, marked a distinct advance in the decoration of the 
stage. Two scenes were especially beautiful. The first was 
that in which the ghost makes the revelation to Hamlet. 
The Prince of Denmark has followed the spirit of his father to 

The dreadful summit of the cliff, 
That beetles o'er his base into the sea. 

Standing among a number of massive rocks, the ghost pro- 
ceeds with the supernatural impartment. The soft light of 
the moon falls upon the spectral figure ; not a sound from 
below can be heard ; the first faint flashes of the dawn are 
stealing over the immense expanse of water before us. The 
weird grandeur of the scene can hardly be appreciated from 
description. Equally striking in its way is that of the burial 
of Ophelia. The churchyard is on a hill near the palace, and, 
as night comes on, the funeral procession winds slowly up the 
ascent. Never before have the 'maimed rites' been so 
exactly and impressively performed. The scene in the 
battlements at Elsinore, with the illuminated windows of the 
palace in the background, and the star alluded to by Bernardo 
glistening in the northern sky, is also very satisfactory." Mr. 
Marshall, in his Preface, claimed for Henry Irving that, 
"without attempting to overburden the play with spectacular 

1 The Theatre, February,* 1879. 




From the picture by Edward H. Bell. 

HENRY IRVING AS HAMLET. 

Miss ELLEN TERRY AS OPHELIA. 

1879. 



1878] "I FEEL NOW LIKE A CHILD" 281 

effect, and to smother the poet under a mass of decoration," 
he had " endeavoured to obtain as much assistance from the 
scene-painter's art as the poet's own description may seem to 
justify ". It was generally admitted that this object had been 
attained at the Lyceum : the scenery, like every other 
accessory, aiding the imagination, instead of disturbing it. 

On the first night of the revival, the new actor-manager, 
in response to what was described in the Press of the follow- 
ing day as "the most enthusiastic summons ever probably 
accorded to an actor," spoke a few words to the audience. 
" I cannot allow this event to pass," he said, " without telling 
you how much I thank you for the way in which you have 
received our efforts. As long as I am lessee here, rest as- 
sured I shall do my utmost for the elevation of my art, and to 
increase your comfort. In the name of one and all con- 
cerned in the production of this piece, I thank you from my 
soul. To produce the * Hamlet' of to-night I have worked 
all my life ; and I rejoice to think that my work has not been 
in vain. You have attested in a way that goes quickest to 
the actor's heart that you have been satisfied. When the 
heart is full, the weakness of man's nature manifests itself, and 
I feel now like a child." 1 That the revival was successful in 
a popular, as well as in an artistic sense, goes without saying. 
One hundred and eight representations were given through- 
out the season, and of these eighty-eight were consecutive. 

During the run of " Hamlet," two interesting events 
occurred. One of these was the sudden closing of Drury 
Lane Theatre early in February. The pantomime at that 
house depended, for several seasons, very largely, if not 
entirely, on the popularity of a famous troupe of pantomimists 
and dancers the Yokes Family. One of the most favourite 
members of the little company, Miss Rosina Yokes, had lately 
retired from the troupe, and it was thought, doubtless with 

1 " Do Richard the Second," shouted someone in the pit while this 
speech was being made. Oddly enough, Irving never produced " Richard 
II." although, as will be seen hereafter, he had it in preparation for pro- 
duction at the Lyceum. 



282 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAR xvn. 

some foundation of fact, that the public had " tired of seeing 
Mr. Fred Yokes throw his legs at the heads of his sisters, 
Victoria and Jessie". This was true, to a certain extent, but 
the real reason for the disastrous failure was due to causes un- 
connected with the pantomime of " Cinderella ". In October, 
F. B. Chatter ton the manager who had pronounced the 
famous dictum that " Shakespeare spells ruin "-had re-opened 
Old Drury with "The Winter's Tale". The play was 
elaborately, but not artistically, mounted, and the performance 
generally was "deficient in histrionic aptitude and intellectu- 
ality ". The sequel was found in the sudden closing of the 
theatre, " to the surprise of most of the members of the company 
and to the dismay of all " when the pantomime, in the ordinary 
course of events, would have had at least three more weeks 
to run. This premature closing was followed by the petition 
of the lessee and manager for the liquidation of his affairs, the 
amount of his debts being roughly estimated at ,40,000, as 
against assets which were practically nil consisting as they did 
chiefly, if not entirely, of copyright dramatic manuscripts. 
This failure, the primary cause of which was the unpopularity 
of "The Winter's Tale," was not very encouraging to a 
manager who relied very largely on Shakespeare for his 
attraction. Still, it was a lesson by which he profited. 

The other event was of a more gratifying nature. The 
night of 24th February was set aside for the benefit and last 
appearance at the Lyceum of W. H. Chippendale, the Polonius 
of the cast, an admirable actor of "old men". Indeed, he 
seemed expressly destined to represent the old gentlemen of 
comedy of the eighteenth century plays, and for many years 
he divided the honours of Sir Peter Teazle with Samuel Phelps. 
He could also grasp the nicest shades of character in Shake- 
spearean comedy: his Adam in "As You Like It" was an 
artistic and touching performance. He was originally em- 
ployed in the office of the famous printer, James Ballantyne ; 
Walter Scott, who knew his father well, would pat him 
on the head and call him "a chip of the old block". He 
went on the stage in 1819, and, after a lucrative tour in 



1 879] "ELEANOR AND ROSAMOND" 283 

America, appeared at the Hay market in 1853. When he 
took his farewell of the public at the Lyceum, the programme 
stated that " The entire receipts will be given to Mr. Chippen- 
dale, who, after a career of sixty-eight years upon the stage, 
will on this occasion bid good-bye to the public he has so 
faithfully served. The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Dramatic 
Company of the Lyceum have on this occasion one and all 
gracefully tendered their services ". The proceeds of the per- 
formance, amounting to nearly ^300, were presented to him 
without any deduction "a princely, and, I believe, unpre- 
cedented gift," said the veteran player in his address to the 
audience, "from a young actor to an old one, and enhanced 
in value by the delicate and graceful manner in which the 
whole thing has been managed by him ". Another announce- 
ment made at this time is somewhat curious reading " Mr. 
Tennyson has written for the Lyceum a new play in five acts, 
and in verse, entitled 'Eleanor and Rosamond'." Twenty- 
four years were to pass before Henry Irving produced this 
play. It is curious to reflect that he had the character of 
Becket, in which he may be said to have died, in his mind for 
all those years. 

Irving's next excursion took him into the artificial land of 
"The Lady of Lyons" a managerial mistake which can 
only be attributed to the fact that he had played Claude 
Melnotte before and wished to do so again. For this drama 
is opposed to all natural acting. Unless it is played in bom- 
bastic style, it has no attraction. Besides, its sentiment is 
very unreal, not to say mawkish. However, Macready was 
a good precedent. Accordingly, on i7th April, Lytton's play 
was presented at the Lyceum. For a description of its re- 
ception, we may take the evidence of the Daily Telegraph : 
"No applause could have been more vigorous, and no out- 
ward marks of appreciation more complimentary. When it 
became known to those well-trained in the observation of 
such matters, that the old play had won a gorgeously 
decorated frame, but had not lost its spirit and buoyancy, 
the cheers came down with redoubled vigour, the principal 



284 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XVIL 

actors were called again and again, twice or three times the 
curtain was drawn up at the bidding of the public, and the 
evening was not allowed to close without one of those speeches 
wrung from a favourite actor, as an answer to so cordial an 
expression of friendliness and kind feeling. There was no 
need for Mr. Irving to apologise for any shortcomings on the 
part of the management, or any feeble efforts or mistakes 
incidental to a first representation, for probably nay, certainly 
the playgoers of our time have never seen ' The Lady of 



THE LADY OF LYONS. 

Revived at the Lyceum, lyth April, 1879. 



CLAUDE MELNOTTE 
COLONEL DAMAS 
BEAUSEANT ... 
GLAVIS --.. 
MONSIEUR DESCHAPPELLES 
LANDLORD - 
GASPAR - 
CAPTAIN GERVAISE 
CAPTAIN DUPONT - 
MAJOR DESMOULINS 
NOTARY - 

SERVANT ... 
SERVANT ... 
MADAME DESCHAPPELLES 
WIDOW MELNOTTE 
JANET - 
MARIAN - 
PAULINE - 



Mr. IRVING. 
Mr. WALTER LACY. 
Mr. FORRESTER. 
Mr. KYRLE BELLEW. 
Mr. C. COOPER. 
Mr. S. JOHNSON. 
Mr. TYARS. 
Mr. ELWOOD. 
Mr. CARTWRIGHT. 
Mr. ANDREWS. 
Mr. TAPPING. 
Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 
Mr. HOLLAND. 
Mrs. CHIPPENDALE. 
Miss PAUNCEFORT. 
Miss MAY SEDLEY. 
Miss HARWOOD. 
Miss ELLEN TERRY. 



ACT I., SCENE i. A room in the house of M. Deschappelles ; 
SCENE 2. The exterior of " The Golden Lion " ; SCENE 3. 
The interior of Melnotte's Cottage. ACT II., SCENE. The 
Gardens of M. Deschappelles. ACT III., SCENE i. The 
exterior of "The Golden Lion"; SCENE 2. The interior of 
Melnotte's Cottage. ACT IV., SCENE. The cottage as before. 
ACT V. (Two and a half years are supposed to have elapsed.) 
SCENE i. A street in Lyons ; SCENE 2. A room in the house 
of M. Deschappelles. 



Lyons' placed before them with such scrupulous care and 
exactness in the smallest detail. Even those who are un- 
affectedly weary of the old-fashioned sentiment of the play, 
and are bold enough to have formed a very decided opinion 
on the characteristic of Claude and the pride of Pauline, can 
gaze contentedly at faultless pictures, at costume raised to 
the dignity of an art, if occasionally astonishing in its accuracy, 



1879] CLAUDE AND PAULINE 285 

and at innumerable graces of arrangement and movement, 
which please the eye when the ear is out of tune with the 
passion." 

The same paper analysed the acting at length, and asked 
" Where, then, was the pride of the new Pauline, where were 
her indignation, her remorse, and her scorn ? They were not 
there, and, apparently, they were not wanted. Fascinated 
by the picturesque appearance of the actress, and watching 
her power of assimilating herself to the decoration of the 
scene, the audience was content to accept for the proud 
Pauline, a tender, tearful, and sympathetic lady, who has no 
heart to rail, and no strength to curse. . . . The tenderly 
fragile, the constantly fainting, and tearfully pathetic Pauline 
of Miss Ellen Terry will not surprise more than the deeply 
tragic, absorbed, and highly nervous Claude Melnotte of 
Mr. Henry Irving. He brings to bear all the weight of his 
intelligence, his reflection, and the depth of his earnestness 
upon a character that is directly antagonistic to the sombre- 
ness of his manner and to the accepted peculiarities of his 
style. If the Pauline of Miss Ellen Terry is overcharged 
with fantastic sentiment, the Claude of Mr. Irving is over- 
whelmed with an abiding sorrow." It required, indeed, high 
moral courage on the part of the actor to appear as Claude 
Melnotte at this stage of his career. From a theatrical point 
of view, the character of the gardener's son is inferior to that 
of the woman upon whom he imposes, especially when Pauline 
is presented by an actress of rare gifts and the charm of 
youth. The part was unsuited, in every way, to Henry 
Irving. "The Lady of Lyons" was played for forty -one 
nights, and, during the last two months of the season, four 
additional performances were given. After June, 1879, it 
was a closed book to Henry Irving. 

These months were devoted to a series of interesting 
revivals" Louis XI," " Hamlet," " Charles the First," " The 
Lady of Lyons," "The Lyons Mail," "The Bells," " Eugene 
Aram," and "Richelieu," in the order named. On 25th 
July, the last night but one of the season, Irving gave a re- 



286 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

markable proof of his versatility by acting six characters of 
great divergence Richard III. in the first act of the tragedy ; 
Richelieu, in the fourth act of the play ; Charles the First, 
in the last act; Louis XI. in the third act; Hamlet, in the 
third act ; and Jeremy Diddler, in " Raising the Wind ". 
Such an occasion, of course, could not be allowed to pass with- 
out a speech. The demand was, on this occasion, eminently 
fit and proper, for Irving had now completed the first seven 
months of his management of the Lyceum, and the occasion 
was one of unusual interest to the audience. The speech is 
interesting to look back upon, for it includes mention of the 
preparations for one Shakespearean piece which he did not 
produce until twenty-three years later and of one play which 
he never acted. He said : 

" I cannot resist the temptation of saying a few words 
to you to-night, for when last I had the honour of speaking 
to you at the commencement of my management, your 
sympathy and generous approval gave me vast hopes 
which hopes have been almost realised, for at the close 
of my first season I can tell you of an achieved and distinct 
success. The friendship, Ladies and Gentlemen, which ex- 
ists between us, and which I have the inestimable privilege 
of enjoying, is not a thing of to-day, or yesterday, or a year 
ago. For nearly eight years we have met in this theatre, 
and the eloquence of your faces and of your applause has 
thrilled me again and again. You will not, therefore, I am 
sure, consider it as springing from any vain feeling on my 
part, when I tell you the receipts of this theatre during the 
past seven months. We have taken at the doors, since we 
opened on the 3Oth December, the large sum of ^36,00x5. 
I can give you no better proof than this of your generous 
appreciation of our work. To-night I have chosen to appear 
before you not in one character, but in six, for each part has 
been associated with so much pleasure, so many kindly wishes 
from you, and such sympathetic recognition, that I wished, 
before taking my first real holiday for a long time, to renew 
in one night some of the memories of many. I should like 



1879] A LAST-NIGHT SPEECH 287 

to have played half a dozen other characters, but was warned 
that five hours would tax even your patience, so I reluctantly 
consented to the short programme I have set before you. 
My next season, Ladies and Gentlemen, if all be well, will 
be a longer one than the past has been. To stay amongst 
you I have forgone all engagements out of London, and I 
intend to begin again here on Saturday, 2Oth of September, 
eight weeks from to-morrow. I shall try my utmost to con- 
tinue in your favour, and I have such belief in your judgment 
that I feel the way to get and keep that favour is to deserve 
it. The germ of the future we should seek in the past, and 
I mean that the future of my management shall profit by the 
experience I have lately gained. The lesson that I have 
learned is that frequent change in a theatre is a desirable 
element an element gratefully accepted by the public, and 
perhaps even more gratefully by the actors ; and during the 
coming time I shall endeavour to put before you such pieces 
as I believe you desire, and which will give you pleasure. 
For a week or two after our opening we shall play ' Hamlet' 
once during the week, and that will be continued as long 
as you come to see it. That this is not a rash resolve you 
will believe when I tell you that during the past seven 
months we have acted 'Hamlet' one hundred and eight 
times, and each time to an overflowing house. During the 
first week of my campaign, I shall present to you Colman's 
play of 'The Iron Chest,' in which I shall have the temerity 
to attempt a celebrated character of Edmund K can's Sir 
Edward Mortimer. This drama I shall produce with much 
of the old music, and I shall try to show you what our fore- 
fathers delighted in. With this play I shall occasionally 
revive some of your old favourites, and so give time for the 
preparation of one of our master's master-plays ' Coriolanus ' 
in the production of which I shall have the invaluable bene- 
fit of the research of that gifted painter, Mr. Alma Tadema. 
Of other kinds of work, I have a store, and two original plays 
ready, one of which has already excited much interest I 
mean Mr. Frank Marshall's drama founded on the romantic 



288 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XVIL 

and pathetic story of Robert Emmet. And so, Ladies and 
Gentlemen, I trust that next season our boat will ' sail freely 
both with wind and stream'. I am reluctant to leave you, 
for almost my happiest hours are spent in your company, but 
as I have still to * raise the wind ' to-night, I must bring these 
parting words to an end. In the names of one and all be- 
hind our curtain I thank you for your past kindness, and in 
eight weeks' time, when we meet again, I hope you will see 
me once more sustained by new hopes and old remem- 
brances." 

It may be observed that Miss Ellen Terry acted, during 
her first engagement at the Lyceum, in addition to Ophelia 
and Pauline, Lady Anne, Ruth Meadows (in " Eugene 
Aram "), and the Queen in " Charles the First ". "The Lady 
of Lyons," by the way, was preceded by the old farce, " High 
Life Below Stairs," in which Mr. Kyrle Bellew, Mr. Pinero, 
and Miss Alma Murray played. The latter actress made 
her first appearance at the Lyceum on I3th June, as Julie to 
Irving's Richelieu, and created a most favourable impression. 
The season terminated on 26th July, " Eugene Aram" and 
"Raising the Wind" constituting the bill. The receipts for 
the last night were ^396 8s. lod. The sale of the books of 
the Lyceum version of " Hamlet" brought in ^307 75. and 
the performances were witnessed by 204,334 people. " Ham- 
let" was seen twice, in January, by Mr. Gladstone. 

In addition to the Chippendale testimonial performance, 
there were two matine'es of exceptional interest, apart from 
the regular programme, during the first season of Henry 
Irving's management. On 2Qth May, a benefit was given 
to Henry Marston (1804-1883), a valued actor of the old 
days, who had fallen into ill-health in his declining years. 
The proceedings opened with a " classical comedietta" en- 
titled " All is Vanity," an adaptation by Alfred Thompson 
from " La Revanche d'Iris," originally produced at the Prince 
of Wales's Theatre, Liverpool, in the summer of 1878, with 
Miss Ellen Terry as Iris and Mr. Charles Kelly, her husband, 
as Diogenes. Miss Terry and Mr. Kelly resumed these 



1 879] DISTINGUISHED VISITORS 289 

parts at the Lyceum. " Much Ado About Nothing," with 
Mr. W. H. Kendal as Benedick, Miss Henrietta Hodson as 
Beatrice, Mr. Edward Terry as Dogberry, and other well- 
known actors in the cast, was given. Another interesting 
morning performance for a hospital charity which was given 
on 24th June, introduced the second act of Robertson's comedy, 
"Ours," to the Lyceum stage, interpreted by Mr. and Mrs. 
Bancroft (as they then were), the late Arthur Cecil, the late 
John Clayton, Mr. H. B. Conway, the late Miss Le Thiere, 
and the late Amy Roselle. The second and fourth acts of 
"Charles the First," with Irving as Charles and Miss Ellen 
Terry as the Queen, were given, and the performance con- 
cluded with "Cox and Box," conducted by the composer, 
Arthur Sullivan. Arthur Cecil was the Box, Corney Grain 
the Sergeant Bouncer, and Mr. George Grossmith now the 
Elder, then the Younger the Cox. " Cox and Box," by 
the way, has an intimate association with the Lyceum stage 
inasmuch as the original " Box and Cox" was produced there 
on ist November, 1847. The farce was adapted from the 
French "Frisette" and "La Chambre a Deux Lits"- by 
J. Maddison Morton, " with the evident purpose of giving Mr. 
Buckstone and Mr. Harley some special fun to enact "-the 
former being the Box, the latter the Cox. In 1866, Mr. 
(now Sir) F. C. Burnand took Maddison Morton's "book" 
in hand with a view to adapting it to the musical requirements 
of Arthur Sullivan. The names in the title of the old farce 
were reversed, and "Cox and Box" is still played at benefits 
by amateurs. So that this "amusing interlude," as it was 
called in 1847, has held the stage for over sixty years. 

During June and July, the Gaiety Theatre was occupied 
by the entire company from the Theatre Frangais, an event 
of great importance in the dramatic world, for the Comedie 
Franchise then included M. Got, M. Delaunay, M. Coquelin, 
M. Mounet Sully, Mile. Croizette, Mile. Samary, and, last 
but not least, "Mile." Bernhardt she was so styled on the 
bills. Their performances attracted the greatest attention, 

and, not unnaturally, Henry Irving's experiment at the Lyceum 
VOL. i. 19 



2 9 o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

came in for comparison with the representations given by the 
members of the House of Moliere: "Side by side with the 
performances of the most perfectly organised and the most 
richly endowed dramatic company in the world, we have the 
opportunity of witnessing the result of some eight or nine 
years' labour on the part of a single actor to revive, not the 
interest of a select circle of dilettanti, but the practical sym- 
pathy of the general public of this country in the higher forms 
of the drama. First, as the employe of a most shrewd and 
able manager, next as the virtual partner in management, 
lastly as sole and autocratic manager himself, Mr. Irving has 
had the opportunity of working in the service of an art which 
he loves, and for an end which, from the commencement of 
his career, among countless discouragements and in spite of 
frequent disappointments, he has always kept in view. We 
cannot help thinking that a fair comparison of the services 
rendered to art by Mr. Irving and the Com^die Frangaise 
will not be unfavourable to the former, and will reassure those 
lovers of the drama in England whom the visit of our talented 
guests may have somewhat disconcerted." 

Many of these "guests" were made welcome at the 
Lyceum. So, also, were some writers who came in their train. 
These writers, not knowing English, were unable to ap- 
preciate Irving in all his parts, but Richelieu and Louis XL, 
being familiar to them, were understood. The great theatrical 
critic, the late Francisque Sarcey, saw Irving in the latter 
character. " He is a master," he wrote, " of the art of dressing 
and making up for a character. His Louis XI. seems like a 
portrait of the time detached from its frame. The whole of the 
first part of Louis XI. is played in a sober and very animated 
style. In the second, I thought he went too far in seeking for 
realistic effects. Thus, whe.n Nemours leaves him with his 
life, he remains for some time with his face on the ground, 
uttering inarticulate cries. At times, with his bursts of true 
passion, and his bizarre eccentricities, he reminds one of 
Rouviere, over whom he has the advantage of being elegant 
and proud of aspect. His face is mobile and animated ; his 




FRENCH CRITICISM 291 

smile is very pleasing. His hands are graceful and speaking, 
and are used on the stage with great skill. In the last act, 
when he appears in all the paraphernalia of royalty, and, 
awaking from a sort of trance, rises up and stretches out his 
trembling fingers to pluck the crown from the Dauphin, the 
attitude is superb, and a painter who was with me at the time 
gave vent to a cry of admiration." 

Another eminent French critic, M. Jules Claretie now 
the adminstrator of the Comedie Franchise saw Irving as 
Richelieu, Hamlet, and Louis XL "The name of M. Henry 
Irving," he wrote, "must be added to the last of the greatest 
actors who have graced the English stage. The production 
of * The Bells ' marks an important turning-point in his career. 
Down to that time, he had been simply applauded ; since then, 
he has been received with enthusiasm. The truth is that he 
possesses considerable tragic power, joined to a perseverance 
and a love of his art, in which but few could have equalled him. 
. . . ' Richelieu ' was the first play in which I saw M. Irving. 
Here he is superb. The performance amounts to a resur- 
rection. The great Cardinal, lean, worn, eaten up with am- 
bition, less for himself than for France, is admirably rendered. 
His gait is jerky, like that of a man shaken by fever ; his eye 
has the depth of a visionary's ; a hoarse cough preys upon 
that feeble frame. When Richelieu appears in the midst of the 
courtiers, when he flings his scorn in the face of the mediocrity 
that is to succeed him, when he supplicates and adjures the 
vacillating Louis XIII., M. Irving endows that fine figure 
with a striking majesty. 

" What a profound artist this tragedian is ! The perform- 
ance over, I was taken to see him in his dressing-room. I 
found him surrounded by portraits of Richelieu. He had 
before him the three studies of Philippe de Champaigne, one 
representing Richelieu in full face, and the others in profile. 
There was also a photograph of the same painter's full length 
portrait of the Cardinal. When he plays Louis XL M. 
Irving studies Comines, Victor Hugo, Walter Scott, and all 

who have written of the bourgeois and avaricious king, who 

19* 



292 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

wore out the elbows of his ' pourpoint de ratine ' on the tables 
of his gossips, the skindressers and shoemakers. The actor 
is an adept in the art of face-painting, and attaches great im- 
portance to the slightest details of his costume. 

" M. Irving is as agreeable off the stage as he is upon it. 
His dressing-room, with the pictures it contains and the 
hospitality which awaits visitors thereto, reminds one of the 
' loge artistique ' which the novel of Madame Sand, ' Pierre qui 
Roule,' or the famous drama of Alexandre Dumas, ' Kean,' 
presents to the imagination. In this case, however, we must 
not add the second title of the play referred to, ' D6sordre 
et Genie'. In the society of M. Irving, you feel under the 
inspiration of a lettered artist and gentleman. 

" M. Irving's literary and subtle mind leans to psychological 
plays, plays which, if I may so express myself, are more tragic 
than dramatic ; he is the true Shakespearean actor. ' Richelieu,' 
a work of but little value and false to history, acquires vitality 
in his hands ; he draws it up to his own level. The same is 
the case with 'The Bells' and 'The Lyons Mail'. Mathias 
has the deep remorse of a Macbeth ; the destiny which governs 
Hamlet weights over the head of Lesurques. How great was 
the pleasure which the performances of Hamlet afforded me ! 
The spectre appears with effects of electric light under the 
stars. The interior of the palace, with its Roman columns, 
the flags suspended from the arches, the raised throne and the 
tiger skins which lie about it, and lastly, the taste and variety 
of the costumes, bring to mind some of the pictures from the 
easels of Alma Tadema and Jean Paul Laurens. The 
courtiers bow to the King ; Polonius bends under the weight 
of age ; the guards are in mail. In the midst of these 
splendours Hamlet appears, superb, pale, borne down by a 
great sorrow. M. Irving is admirable in the play and death 
scenes ; in the latter it seems as though he saw his father again 
in the depths of the infinite. The scene of the burial of 
Ophelia the representative of whom, Miss Ellen Terry, 
would be taken by one for a pre-Raphaelite apparition, for a 
living model of Giovanni Bellini is put on the stage with 



' 9 ] SARAH BERNHARDT WELCOMED 293 

remarkable completeness. Here, again, is a picture which 
Laurens might have painted. I have never seen anything so 
deeply, tragically true. 

" In * Louis XI.' M. Irving has been adjudged superior to 
Ligier. Dressed with historical accuracy, he is admirable in 
the comedy element of the piece and the chief scenes with the 
monk and Nemours. The limelight, projected like a ray of 
the moon on his contracted face as he pleads for his life, excited 
nothing less than terror. The hands, lean and crooked as 
those of a Harpagon the fine hands whose character is 
changed with each of his roles, aid his words. And how strik- 
ing in its realism is the last scene, representing the struggle 
between the dying king and his fate ! In a word, I have been 
much struck by the beautiful acting of M. Irving. I hope 
that he will be induced to play in Paris. In Shakespearean 
parts, he would create a sensation would exercise a powerful 
influence upon many men." 

Irving's unfailing courtesy was extended to Sarah Bern- 
hardt, when she first came, a stranger in our midst, in this year, 
1879. The circumstances are thus related by Madame Bern- 
hardt in her recently-published autobiography : " Everything 
looked dark and dismal, and when I reached the house, 77 
Chester Square, I did not want to get out of my carriage. The 
door of the house was wide open, though, and in the brilliantly 
lighted hall I could see what looked like all the flowers on earth 
arranged in baskets, bouquets, and huge bunches. . . . * Have 
you the cards that came with all these flowers ? ' I asked my 
man-servant. ' Yes,' he replied, * I have put them together on 
a tray. All of them are from Paris, from Madame's friends 
there. This is the only bouquet from here/ He handed me 
an enormous one, and on the card with it I read the words, 
'Welcome, Henry Irving'." 

Irving, as it may be readily understood, was exceedingly 
busy with his ordinary work during this season, yet he found 
time for an interview with a representative of the press, on the 
subject of his audiences, which is of considerable interest. It 
was suggested that in his case, there was an active sympathy 



294 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvn. 

and confidence on both sides of the footlights that was practic- 
ally unique in the history of acting. * ' I don't know, " he replied, 
" that it is without parallel ; but in the presence of my audience 
I feel as safe and content as sitting down with an old friend." 
He was then asked if, under the influence of an audience, he 
had ever altered his reading of a part during a first representa- 
tion. " Except once," he replied, " no ; I can always tell when 
the audience is with me. It was not with me in ' Vander- 
decken,' and I changed the last scene. Neither was it on the 
first night of ' Hamlet'. I then felt that the audience did not 
go with me until the first meeting with Ophelia. Now I know 
that they like it are with me, heart and soul. ' Hamlet' has 
been my greatest pecuniary success. Before * Hamlet,' so 
far as regards what is called the classic and legitimate drama, 
my successes, such as they were, had been made outside it, 
really in eccentric comedy. As a rule, actors who have 
appeared for the first time in London in such parts as 
Richard III., Macbeth, Hamlet, and Othello, have played 
them previously for years in the country. My audience knew 
this, and I am sure they estimated the performance accordingly, 
giving me their special sympathy and good wishes. I believe 
in the justice of audiences ; they are sincere and hearty in their 
approval of what they like, and have the greatest hand in 
making an actor's reputation. Journalistic power cannot be 
overvalued ; it is enormous : but in regard to actors it is a re- 
markable fact that their permanent reputations, the final and 
lasting verdict of their merits, are made chiefly by their aud- 
iences. I am quite certain within twelve hours of the produc- 
tion of a new play of any importance all London knows whether 
the piece is a success or a failure, no matter whether it has been 
noticed in the papers or not. Each one of the audience is the 
centre of a little coterie, and the word is passed on from one 
to the other. 

" I confess I am happiest in the presence of what you call 
the regular play -going public. I am apt to become depressed 
on a first night. I know that while there is a good hearty 
crowd who have come to be pleased, there are some who have 



1879] A WELL-WON HOLIDAY 295 

not come to be pleased. Audiences are intellectually active, 
and find many ways of showing their opinions. One night, 
in * Hamlet,' something was thrown on the stage from the 
gallery. The donor was a sad-looking woman, evidently very 
poor, who said she often came to the Lyceum gallery, and 
wanted me to have this little heirloom. Here it is an old- 
fashioned gold cross. On both sides is engraved * Faith, Hope, 
and Charity ' ; on the obverse, ' I believe in the forgiveness of 
sins ' ; and on the reverse, * I scorn to change or fear '. They 
said in front that she was a poor mother who had lost her son. 
At Sheffield one night, in the grouse season, a man in the gal- 
lery threw a brace of birds on the stage with a rough note of 
thanks and compliments, and one of the pit audience sent me 
round a knife which he had made himself. The people who 
do these things have nothing to gain ; they judge for themselves, 
and they are representative of that great public opinion which 
in the end is always right. When they are against you it is 
hard at the time to be convinced that you are wrong ; but you 



are." 



In August, 1879, Henry Irving had been before the public 
continuously for nearly twenty- three years. In all that time 
as readers of this biography can see for themselves but 
scant leisure had been his. He had not enjoyed a real rest 
since his boyish days. With a great position achieved, and a 
mind comparatively free from care, he was now able to accept 
an invitation to accompany a party of friends which had been 
formed by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts for a cruise in her 
yacht, the Walrus, to the Mediterranean. This, his first 
voyage from his native shores was the means of a recuperation 
of health of which he stood in much need. The party left 
Weymouth on 3ist July, and arrived at Malta on 22nd August. 



CHAPTER XVIII. 

2oth September, 1879 3ist July, 1880. 

Money paid for unproduced plays Mr. A. W. Pinero's first piece 
" The Iron Chest " revived Irving's impersonation praised His speech on 
the first night Preparations for " The Merchant of Venice " Small amount 
expended on scenery " This is the happiest moment of my life " Irving's 
own statement regarding the scenery His interpretation of Shylock in 
1879 eulogised by the Spectator The leading critics of the day write in 
praise An "unobtrusive" background Illness of Miss Ellen Terry A 
feeble outcry Ruskin incensed The hundredth night A wonderful trans- 
formation Distinguished guests Lord Houghton surprises his hearers 
Irving's humorous reply An act of generosity " lolanthe " Irving's 
speech on the last night of the season The receipts. 

IRVING began his season of 1879-80 under the best of auspices. 
Refreshed in mind and body, he was ready and eager for the 
fray. Although he held the highest place in the estimation 
of the public, no one felt more keenly than he himself that 
it could only be sustained by increased vigilance and incessant 
work. He did not rest upon his oars either now or at any 
other time. It was his intention to revive, in the season which 
was about to begin, famous plays, not only of Shakespeare, 
but of other authors, and he was in treaty with some of the 
ablest of contemporary writers for new plays. He had also 
publicly announced his desire to have frequent changes of bill. 
In two of these good resolutions, fate helped him to a contrary 
decision. The gloom of " The Iron Chest " caused him very 
happily to abandon all thought of those lugubrious and stilted 
dramas, "The Stranger" and "The Gamester". On the 
other hand, the magnificent success of "The Merchant of 
Venice " made it impossible for the prudent manager to with- 
draw that play until two hundred and fifty performances the 
longest run of any Shakespearean piece had been given. As 

for new plays, he was already in negotation with the Poet 

296 



1879] "BECKET' 297 

Laureate and he produced the two first plays written by Mr. 
Arthur W. Pinero. Again, during this season he paid out no 
less a sum than ^900 to authors on account of plays which 
he could not produce, including ^150 for a piece on the sub- 
ject of " Robert Emmet" and ^700 for " Rienzi". 1 It was 
said at the time, and the prophecy was fulfilled, that " Mr. 
Irving has only to go on as he has begun to make the Lyceum 
Theatre a national institution, not by a vote granted by Act 
of Parliament, but by the consensus of opinion amongst those 
who take most interest in our acted drama as it is, and who 
have most faith in its future development." The Lyceum, 
under his management, was a national theatre, but without a 
subsidy. 

The opening night of the autumn season 2 was 2Oth 
September, "The Bells" being the attraction. It was pre- 
ceded by Bayle Bernard's old farce, "The Boarding School," 
acted by Miss Myra Holme, Miss Florence Terry, Miss 
Pauncefort, Mr. J. H. Barnes, and others ; and it was followed 
by "an original comedietta," entitled " Daisy's Escape," Mr. 
Pinero 's first play. The " escape " is that of a young girl from 
an ill-chosen bridegroom, with whom she is foolishly eloping 
for want of something better to do. Daisy White has run 
away in haste with Mr. Augustus Caddel, and, before the 
journey is over, she repents at leisure her unaccountable choice 
of a future husband who is vulgar, rude, and ill-tempered. 
The conduct of the badly-matched couple and their conversa- 
tion are very diverting, and, as the piece was well played at 

1 "Mr. Tennyson's new drama, 'Thomas a Becket,' has been sent to 
Mr. Irving, with a view to its production at the Lyceum. If accepted, it 
will have to be considerably reduced." The Theatre, ist October, 1879. 

2 During his absence from London, the Lyceum was let by Irving for 
four weeks (at ^150 a week), to Miss Genevieve Ward, who produced, on 
2nd August, an "original romantic drama " called "Zillah," in which she 
"doubled" two characters. The play was a dire failure, and was im- 
mediately succeeded by an adaptation from Victor Hugo's tragedy, 
" Lucretia Borgia," in which Miss Ward played the leading role. On 2ist 
August, the first performance took place of " Forget-me-Not " in which 
Miss Ward, in the character of Stephanie de Mohrivart, acquired great 
celebrity. Mr. Forbes Robertson was the original Horace Welby. 



298 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvin. 

the Lyceum, it became popular. Mr. Pinero who was a 
member of the Lyceum company from January, 1877, unt ^ 
July, 1 88 1 was the eccentric Mr. Caddel, Miss Alma Murray 
was the Daisy, and Mr. Frank Cooper a young lover. 

"The Bells," however, was only a stop-gap pending the 
completion of the preparations for the revival, on Saturday, 
27th September, of George Colman the Younger's play, " The 
Iron Chest," which was first brought out at Drury Lane in 
1796. It is founded on Godwin's novel, " Caleb Williams". 
It is, at best, a dull and heavy piece, and the Lyceum revival 
served the good purpose of banishing it to an oblivion in 
which it has since remained. The play was written by John 
Philip Kemble, and the failure was, with gross unfairness, 
attributed by the author to the actor. " Frogs in a marsh," 
wrote Colman, " flies in a bottle, wind in a crevice, a 
preacher in a field, the drone of a bagpipe, all, all yielded to 
the inimitable and soporific monotony of Mr. Kemble." The 
play was condemned by Macready, and, although Edmund 
Kean acted Sir Edward Mortimer finely, he could not put 
much life into the sombre tragedy. Moreover, in Irving's 
case, the chief part being that of a murderer who suffers from 
remorse, there was too much reminder of Mathias and Eugene 
Aram in it. Again, the language is of the most bombastic 
kind, and, although there are sixteen parts in the play, 
there are really only two characters, Sir Edward Mortimer 
and his secretary, Wilford. Irving put his own individuality 
into the character, and with good effect. From the moment 
when, dressed as a gentleman of the last decade of the eight- 
teenth century, with bloodless face and prematurely grey hair, 
he was first seen by the audience the dull glare of the fire 
falling upon the figures in armour and the antique furniture 
of the library from that moment until the death, under the 
pressure of a troubled conscience, of Sir Edward Mortimer, 
he fascinated the spectators. His best acting was found in 
the pathos which he infused into the speech as to the captured 
poacher, the restrained anguish with which he related the 
story of his crime, the depth of meaning underlying his seem- 



1879] 



THE IRON CHEST' 



299 



ingly commonplace injunctions to Wilford, his cruel and 
inflexible resolution in preferring the false charge against the 
latter, his fierce agony at the discovery of his secret, and, 
above all, the revulsion of feeling with which he fell upon 
Wilford's shoulder with a plea of forgiveness. In this, as in 
all the characters portrayed by him which had been written 
before his time, he departed from precedent. It was noticed, 
moreover, that he enunciated every word with a remarkable 
clearness and that every action was distinguished by self-con- 
tained repose. The merit of his performance was generally re- 



THE IRON CHEST. 

Revived at the Lyceum, 27th September, 1879. 



SIR EDWARD MORTIMER 

CAPTAIN FITZHARDING - 

WILFORD - 

ADAM WINTERTON 

RAWBOLD 

SAMSON RAWBOLD 

PETER .... 

GREGORY - 

ARMSTRONG - 

ORSON - - - - 

ROBBERS - 

ROBBERS' BOY 

LADY HELEN 

BLANCHE 

BARBARA 

JUDITH 



Mr. IRVING. 

Mr. J. H. BARNES. 

Mr. NORMAN FORBES. 

Mr. J. CARTER. 

Mr. MEAD. 

Mr. S. JOHNSON. 

Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

Mr. TAPPING. 

Mr. F. TYARS. 

Mr. C. COOPER. 

Messrs. FERRAND, CALVERT, HARWOOD, ETC. 

Miss HARWOOD. 

Miss FLORENCE TERRY. 

Miss MYRA HOLME. 

Miss ALMA MURRAY. 

Miss PAUNCEFORT. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Rawbold's Cottage ; SCENE 2. Hall in Sir Edward 
Mortimer's House ; SCENE 3. Ante-room in Sir Edward Mortimer's 
House; SCENE 4. Sir Edward's Library. ACT II., SCENE i. The Ante- 
room ; SCENE 2. The Library. ACT III., SCENE i. Lady Helen's Cot- 
tage; SCENE 2. A Ruined Abbey. ACT IV., SCENE i. The Library; 
SCENE 2. The Hall ; SCENE 3. The Library. Period, 1794. 



cognised in the press, so much so, indeed, that he appended to 
his programme, after the first night, three pages of excerpts 
therefrom. " As a picture of despair and resolution," said the 
Athenczum, "sombre and funereal, illumined by bursts of 
passion which rend and convulse the frame, and are yet as 
evanescent as they are powerful, the performance is marvel- 
lous. The grimmer aspect of Mr. Irving's powers has never 
been seen to equal advantage, and if the performance is not 
so fine as the Louis XL, it is only because the comic element 
is wanting. Mr. Irving's face is capable of being charged 



300 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

with any amount of tragic expression, and it is not easy to 
conceive a picture of remorse burning fiercely behind the 
closed shutters of a resolute will more powerful than that he 
presents in the scene in which he sets himself to work a cruel 
and deliberate vengeance on the boy whose curiosity has stirred 
his fears." It will be remembered that Irving, as a boy, had 
acted Wilford, and, from his own experience of the part, he was 
able to assist the representative of the character at the Lyceum. 
Irving's speech on the first night of "The Iron Chest" 
showed how unsafe it is to make any promises in the affairs 
of the play-house. " Ladies and Gentlemen," he said, " I need 
hardly tell you how delighted I am on this, the first representa- 
tion of a play in which none of us have appeared before, at the 
manner in which you have received it. It is no easy task, I 
assure you, to get through a piece of this kind without exciting 
well, to say the least, some amusement. I am proud to find 
that you have listened to it with interest, and I am the more 
pleased because it is my intention to reproduce other old plays. 
This one will in future be added to our repertory. It will 
improve on acquaintance, as you will find : if you come and 
see it again. It will be played every evening for a reasonable 
time until further notice." But, after 27th October, "The 
Iron Chest " vanished from the Lyceum stage and repertory, 
and was played no more by Henry Irving. A reference to 
the cast will show the presence in it of many admirable actors. 
Colman's play was preceded by "Daisy's Escape" and fol- 
lowed by "The Boarding School," so that the programme 
was a full one. As in the case of " Hamlet," Irving published 
his acting version of " The Iron Chest," to which he appended 
the following note: "In presenting 'The Iron Chest' to the 
public, I have adhered to the original form of the play as 
closely as is consistent with the exigencies of the modern 
stage. I have taken as the period the year 1794, a somewhat 
different date from that hitherto chosen. In doing so, I have 
been guided by the original story Godwin's novel of ' Caleb 
Williams,' from which the principal characters and many of 
the incidents of the play were drawn." 



1 879] "THE MERCHANT OF VENICE" 301 

While Colman's dreary drama was dragging its painful 
course, the preparations for the revival of " The Merchant of 
Venice" were proceeding apace. Pending this production, 
" Hamlet" was given on certain evenings, beginning on 
Wednesday, i5th October, with Miss Ellen Terry, returned 
from a provincial tour, as Ophelia. The first night of 
"The Merchant of Venice" at the Lyceum was Saturday, 
ist November, 1879. The general effectiveness of the pro- 
duction was a revelation. But it was made so by intelligence 
and admirable acting, not, as some people seem to think if 
we are to judge by their writings by the scenery. In 1896, 
as we have already seen, Henry Irving had publicly stated 
that the total cost of the production was ,1,200. Yet, in a 
book published two years later, we are told that the revival 
was "on a scale entirely unparalleled in its magnificence. . . . 
Up to that time [November, 1879] no play had been 
mounted with such astonishing care and completeness " a 
statement, by the way, that was a little unfair to the produc- 
tions by Charles Kean at the Princess's. The false idea 
about the "magnificence" of the revival doubtless had its 
origin in the pages of Blackwood' s Magazine. In April, 1879, 
there had appeared an article in which Irving's Hamlet had 
been attacked, in the course of which the actor was described 
as labouring at his work "like an athlete of Michael Angelo, 
with every muscle starting and every sinew strung to its ut- 
most tension". In the December number, "The Merchant 
of Venice" came in for severe handling by a writer who 
apparently sought to belittle the players of the day by the 
process of exalting a certain admirable actress, but one 
whose career had closed. He decried, in language which 
now seems strange, so wanting was it in judgment, Sarah 
Bernhardt as well as Miss Terry. "It was no less than 
pitiable," he said, " to see how people who profess to be learned 
in the matters of art went mad over the feeble performances 
of Mile. Sarah Bernhardt last summer." Such essays in 
" criticism " do not matter much in the end, but they are open 
to censure when they mis-state facts. The wholesale con- 



302 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

demnation of Miss Terry's Portia is rather amusing reading 
nowadays. But to descant upon the revival of " The Mer- 
chant of Venice" as though the manager had spent a fortune 
on the scenery was the outcome of a wrong impression. 
There was really nothing in the scenery to rave about". This 
may be imagined from the fact that less than two months had 
been occupied in active preparations for the production. This 
is shown from Irving's speech at the end of the first perform- 
ance when "the pit, the dress circle, and the gallery rose at 
Mr. Irving and the roar of applause must have aroused the 
neighbourhood". In response to the customary demand for 
a speech, he said : " This is the happiest moment of my life, 
and I may claim for myself, and those associated with me in 
this production, the merit, at least, of having worked hard, for 
on the 8th of October last, not a brush had been put upon the 
scenery, nor a stitch in any of the dresses". He concluded 
by thanking the audience in the words of Bolingbroke in 
4 Richard II.':- 

I count myself in nothing else so happy 
As in a soul remem'bring my good friends. 

From time to time during the run, there were additional ex- 

)enses for new scenes and costumes, but the total production 

account for " The Merchant of Venice" only amounted, at the 

nd of July, 1880, to ,2,061 a wonderfully small sum for 

" magnificent " Shakespearean production. The truth of the 

matter was that the beautiful pictures presented in the course 

of the play were the result of art the scene painters, Mr. 

Hawes Craven, Mr. Walter Hann, and Mr. William Telbin 

forking for a general purpose which was expressed by Henry 

Irving in the prefatory note to his acting version of the 

play: " In producing 'The Merchant of Venice,' I have 

endeavoured to avoid hampering the natural action of the 

piece with any unnecessary embellishment ; but have tried 

not to omit any accessory which might heighten the effects. 

I have availed myself of every resource at my command to 

present the play in a manner acceptable to our audiences." 

Irving's interpretation of Shylock in his first revival 



8 7 9] 



UNBIASSED CRITICS 



303 



differed materially from that of later years. His Jew was 
then an extremely dignified and sympathetic figure. Several 
Jewish writers considered it as a vindication of their race. 
There were many discussions as to the correctness, or other- 
wise, of this reading of the character, but, no matter what 
view was taken on that point, there was nothing but praise 
for the effectiveness of the rendering. The London and pro- 
vincial papers had many columns of glowing praise, much of 



THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. 

Revived at the Lyceum, ist November, 1879. 



SHYLOCK - 

DUKE OF VENICE 

PRINCE OF MOROCCO - 

ANTONIO - 

BASSANIO - 

SALANIO 

SALARINO - 

GRATIANO - 

LORENZO - 

TUBAL 

LAUNCELOT GOBBO 

OLD GOBBO 

GAOLER 

LEONARDO - 

BALTHAZAR 

STEPHANO - 

CLERK OF THE COURT 

NERISSA 

JESSICA 

PORTIA 



Mr. IRVING. 

Mr. BEAUMONT. 

Mr. TYARS. 

Mr. FORRESTER. 

Mr. BARNES. 

Mr. ELWOOD. 

Mr. PINERO. 

Mr. F. COOPER. 

Mr. N. FORBES. 

Mr. J. CARTER. 

Mr. S. JOHNSON. 

Mr. C. COOPER. 

Mr. HUDSON. 

Mr. BRANSCOMBE. 

Mr. TAPPING. 

Mr. GANTHONY. 

Mr. CALVERT. 

Miss FLORENCE TERRY. 

Miss ALMA MURRAY. 

Miss ELLEN TERRY. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Venice A Public Place; SCENE 2. Bel- 
mont Portia's House ; SCENE 3. Venice A Public Place. 
ACT II., SCENE i. A Street; SCENE 2. Another Street; 
SCENE 3. Shylock's House by a Bridge. ACT III., SCENE i. 
Belmont Room in Portia's House; SCENE 2. Venice A 
Street ; SCENE 3. Belmont Room in Portia's House ; SCENE 4. 
Venice A Street; SCENE 5. Belmont Room in Portia's 
House. ACT IV., SCENE. Venice A Court of Justice. 
ACT V., SCENE. Belmont Portia's Garden, with Terrace. 



which was as discriminating as it was eulogistic. It is well 
to see how the Shylock of 1879 impressed the unbiassed 
critics of that time. This can be done by taking the evidence 
of the Spectator which, in the course of a long article, said : 
" Mr. Irving's Shylock is a being quite apart from his sur- 
roundings. When he hesitates and questions with himself 
why he should go forth to sup with those who would scorn 
him if they could, but can only ridicule him, while the very 



3 o 4 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

stealthy intensity of scorn of them is in him, we ask, too, why 
should he? He would hardly be more out of place in the 
' wilderness of monkeys,' of which he makes his sad and 
quaint comparison when Tubal tells him of that last coarse 
proof of the heartlessness of his daughter 'wedded with a 
Christian ' the bartering of his Leah's ring. What mean, 
pitiful beings they all are, poetical as is their language, and 
fine as are the situations of the play, in comparison with the 
forlorn, resolute, undone, baited, betrayed, implacable old 
man who, having personified his hatred of the race of 
Christians in Antonio, whose odiousness to him, in the treble 
character of a Christian, a sentimentalist, and a reckless 
speculator, is less of a mere caprice than he explains it to be. 
He reasons calmly with the dullards in the Court concerning 
this costly whim of his, yet with a disdainful doubt of the 
juctice that will be done him ; standing almost motionless, 
his hands hanging by his sides they are an old man's hands, 
feeble, except when passion turns them into gripping claws, 
and then that passion subsides into the quivering of age, 
which is like palsy his grey, worn face, lined and hollow, 
mostly averted from the speakers who move him not ; except 
when a gleam of murderous hate, sudden and deadly, like 
the flash from a pistol, goes over it, and burns for a moment 
in the tired, melancholy eyes ! Such a gleam there came 
when Shy lock answered Bassanio's palliative commonplace, 
with 

Hates any man the thing he would not kill ? 

At the wretched gibes of Gratiano, and the amiable maunder- 
ing of the Duke, the slow, cold smile, just parting the lips and 
touching their curves as light touches polished metal, passes 
\ / pver the lower part of the face, but does not touch the eyes 
or lift the brow. This is one of Mr. Irving's most remark- 
able facial effects, for he can pass through all the phases of 
a smile, up to surpassing sweetness. Is it a fault of the actor's 
or of ours that this Shylock is a being so absolutely apart, that 
it is impossible to picture him as a part of the life of Venice, 



1879] PRAISE FROM THE SPECTATOR 305 

that we cannot think of him ' on the Rialto ' before Bassanio 
wanted 'monies,' and Antonio had 'plunged' like any London 
City man in the pre-' depression ' times, that he absolutely be- 
gins to exist with the ' Three thousand ducats well ? ' These 
are the first words uttered by the picturesque personage to 
whom the splendid and elaborate scene, whose every detail 
we have previously been eagerly studying, becomes merely 
the background. He is wonderfully weird, but his weirdness 
is quite unlike that of any other of the impersonations in 
which Mr. Irving has accustomed us to that characteristic ; it 
is impressive, never fantastic sometimes solemn and terrible. 
There was a moment when, as he stood, in the last scene, with 
folded arms and bent head, the very image of exhaustion, a 
victim, entirely convinced of the justice of his cause, he looked 
like a Spanish painter's Ecce Homo. The likeness passed 
in an instant, for the next utterance is : 

My deeds upon my head. I crave the law, 
The penalty and forfeit of my bond. 

" In the opinion of the present writer, his Shylock is Mr. 
Irving's finest performance, and hisjfinal exit is its best point, /j/y ft 
The quiet shrug, the glance of ineffable, unfathomable con- 
tempt at the exulting booby Gratiano, who having got hold 
of a good joke, worries it like a puppy with a bone, the ex- 
pression of defeat in every limb and feature, the deep, gasping ., 
sigh, as he passes slowly out, and fhe crowd rush from the"""' 
court to hoot and howl at him outside, make up an effect which 
must be seen to be comprehended. Perhaps some students 
of Shakespeare, reading the Jew's story to themselves, and 
coming to the conclusion that there was more sentiment than 
legality in that queer, confused, quibbling court, where judge 
and advocate were convertible terms, may have doubted 
whether the utterer of the most eloquent and famous satirical 
appeal in all dramatic literature, whose scornful detestation of 
his Christian foes rose mountains high over what they held to 
be his ruling passion, drowning avarice fathom deep in hatred, 
would have gratified those enemies, by useless railing, and an 

VOL. i. 20 



3 o6 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

exhibition of impotent rage. But there is no ' tradition ' for this 
rendering, in which Mr. Irving puts in action for his Shylock 
one sense of Hamlet's words 'The rest is Silence'. The 
impression made by this consummate stroke of art and touch 
of nature upon the vast audience was most remarkable, and 
the thrill that passed over the house was a sensation to have 
witnessed and shared. " 

It is a curious fact that there was absolute unanimity 
among the three leading dramatic critics of the day con- 
cerning this revival. Button Cook, Joseph Knight, and 
Clement Scott expounded and praised the acting of Henry 
Irving and Miss Ellen Terry. The first-named writer em- 
phasised the fact that the actor had obtained complete mastery 
of himself. "The performance is altogether consistent and 
harmonious," he wrote, "and displays anew that power of 
self-control which has come to Mr. Irving this season as 
a fresh possession. Every temptation to extravagance or 
eccentricity of action was resolutely resisted, and with the 
happiest results. I never saw a Shylock that obtained more 
commiseration from the audience ; for usually, I think, Shy- 
lock is so robustly vindictive and energetically defiant, as to 
compel the spectators to withhold from him their sympathies. 
But Mr. Irving's Shylock, old, haggard, halting, sordid, re- 
presents the dignity and intellect of the play ; beside him, the 
Christians, for all their graces of aspect and gallantry of 
apparel, seem but poor creatures." He wrote of Miss Terry : 
" A more admirable Portia there could scarcely be. Nervous 
at first, and weighed down possibly by the difficulty of 
equalling herself and of renewing her former triumph, the lady 
played uncertainly, and at times with some insufficiency of 
force ; but, as the drama proceeded, her courage increased 
and her genius asserted itself. Radiantly beautiful in her 
Venetian robes of gold-coloured brocaded satin, with the look 
of a picture by Giorgione, her emotional acting in the casket- 
scene with Bassanio ; her spirited resolve, confided to Nerissa, 
to prove ' the prettier fellow of the two ' ; her exquisite 
management of the most melodious of voices in the trial 



1879] UNOBTRUSIVE SCENERY 307 

before the Doge ; the high comedy of the last act these 
left nothing to be desired, and obtained, as they deserved, the 
most enthusiastic applause." 

It is significant, in view of the irresponsible talk about the 
4 'magnificence" of the production, that Mr. Cook does not 
mention the scenery at all until the end of his criticism 
and then only to say that : "The new scenes by Mr. Hawes 
Craven and others are excellently artistic, and the costumes 
and furniture very handsome and appropriate". Nor did Mr. 
Knight feel himself called upon to decry the "splendour " of 
the mounting which he certainly would have done had there 
been occasion. On the contrary, he considered the per- 
formance "an interpretation superior to anything of its class 
that has been seen on the English stage by the present 
generation, while, as a sample of the manner in which Shake- 
speare is hereafter to be mounted, it is of the highest interest. 
In thus speaking"- and the point is very important he ex- 
pressly stated that he did not confine his "praise to what may 
be called the upholstery portion of the accessories. An im- 
mense stride has been made in the direction of a thoroughly 
satisfactory presentation of the early drama, and the foundation 
is established of a system of performances which will restore 
Shakespeare to fashion as an acted dramatist, and will render 
attractive to the student, whatever his culture, that observation 
of the acted drama of Shakespeare which is indispensable to 
a full estimate of his powers. A background which is at once 
striking, natural, and" mark this word "unobtrusive, is 
supplied, and from this the action receives added intelligibility." 
The same critic cited, as an example of Irving's " ingenious 
and intelligent explanation and comment in the shape of 
action," the introduction among the spectators of the Trial 
scene of a knot of eager and interested Jews upon whom the 
sentence upon Shylock, condemning him to deny his religion, 
fell like a thunderbolt. Another thoughtful interpretation of 
the meaning of the poet will be recalled by recent witnesses, 
as well as the earlier ones, of Henry Irving's Shylock, namely, 
the return of Shylock after the flight of Jessica. The pathetic 

20 * 



308 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvin. 

figure of the Jew, lantern in hand, on the darkened stage, as 
he knocks and waits at the door of the deserted house is one 
of those illuminating bits of acting which denote the great in- 
terpreter. For they are within the spirit of the play and 
illustrate, without exaggeration, the true meaning of the 
dramatist. He did not "read Shakespeare by flashes of 
lightning," but by supreme intelligence and patient study. 

On the first night of the revival, Irving had to bear much 
of the burden in addition to his own interpretation and his 
legitimate responsibilities as a manager. For instance, he 
was slightly disconcerted in the scene of Shylock's discovery 
of the loss of his daughter and his ducats by a blunder on the 
part of the representative of Tubal. Again, the general 
performance was good, but some of the players, despite their 
excellent reputations, did not do themselves justice on this 
important occasion. Antonio and Gratiano, for instance, 
were "but weakly interpreted," according to one writer of 
authority, while Clement Scott censured the Nerissa as "an 
unfortunate mistake in more ways than one," for the character 
should be individual, "and not a feeble echo of Portia. 
There should be contrast, and not diminutive imitation. 
Under any circumstances, the employment of sisters would 
be hazardous, but in this case a very distressing attack of 
nervousness blunted the activity of Miss Florence Terry, and 
jeopardised several important scenes." These first-night 
trials, however, did not mar the general effect : they were 
soon remedied, and the play sailed for months on the smooth 
sea of success. 

"The Merchant of Venice" was played without a break 
for seven months a record without precedent and one that 
since has had no equal. Of course, there were a few petty 
troubles, but Irving was so attuned to such things that he 
invariably triumphed over them. A heavy fog descended 
upon London in the middle of December, and penetrated, 
as is the wont of such evil ministrations, into every playhouse. 
In the Lyceum, according to a scribe who was usually truthful, 
it was difficult to discern the features of the actors or the 



i88o] A STRANGE PROTEST 309 

colours of their costumes : " Mr. Irving as Shylock felt his 
way about the stage looking for that 'pound of flesh,' and in 
the final scene the soft moonbeams were very irreverently 
referred to, and bright pictures referred to by fond lovers on 
'such a night as this' seemed a trifle facetious." More dis- 
tressing, perhaps, than the fog was the indisposition of Miss 
Ellen Terry in February. Happily, however, there was a 
substitute of more than usual ability in Miss Alma Murray, 
who played Portia for several nights. The performance was 
described as ''exceedingly intelligent and pleasing. The 
youthful actress has an expressive face, a voice of sweet and 
silvery quality, and a style in which quiet power and gentle- 
ness are blended. These attributes enabled her to give a 
very effective reading of portions of the play, notably the 
scene of the three caskets." So that the revival did not suffer 
materially from Miss Terry's temporary absence. 

No manager can protect himself against fogs and the 
illness of members of his company. These are incidents of 
everyday life. But Henry Irving was always liable to assaults 
of the kind from which even prominent actors are usually free. 
In November, he had been praised, as was his due, for hav- 
ing restored to the stage the fifth act of " The Merchant of 
Venice". In the case of the majority of his predecessors, this 
scene had always gone by the board, for, as Shylock dis- 
appears from the stage with the Trial scene, they had no 
need for it. Now, however, there was a feeble outcry because 
it was announced that on the occasion of Miss Terry's bene- 
fit in May when a one-act play was to be given for the 
first time the last act of Shakespeare's drama would be 
omitted. It seems scarcely credible, but it is a fact that a 
printed form of protest against the proposed " mutilation " was 
vigorously circulated, the promoters of the petition being four 
in number a well-known critic of the time, an antiquarian 
writer, an individual whose name was otherwise unknown, 
and the part author of a vulgar burlesque. This impudent 
attempt to interfere with the prerogative of the manager met 
with the contempt which it deserved. For, in due course, 



3 io THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

Miss Terry had her benefit and played lolanthe, the last act 
of " The Merchant of Venice " being omitted on that occasion. 
Another interesting incident arose from a visit of Mr. Ruskin 
to the Lyceum. It was afterwards reported, by a " good- 
natured friend," that he had met the representative of Shylock 
after the performance and had congratulated him upon an 
interpretation " noble, tender, and true," whereat the great 
art critic waxed exceedingly wroth. " In personal address to 
an artist, to whom one is introduced for the first time," he 
wrote to a correspondent, "one does not usually say #//that 
is in one's mind. And if expressions limited, if not even 
somewhat exaggerated, by courtesy, be afterwards quoted as 
a total and carefully expressed criticism, the general reader 
will be or may be easily much misled. I did and do admire 
Mr. Irving's own acting of Shylock, but I entirely dissent (and 
indignantly, as well as entirely) from his general reading and 
treatment of the play. 1 And I think a modern audience will 
invariably be not only wrong, but diametrically and with 
polar accuracy opposite to, the real view of any great author 
in the moulding of his work." Of course, this dogmatic as- 
sertion may possibly be right. If so, the many thousands 
of people who have seen and applauded Irving in "The 
Merchant of Venice" must be wrong. 

But the most surprising of the events which occurred 

1 It would have been impossible for Ruskin, unless he had recanted, 
to express his approval of the Lyceum revival, for, in 1862, he had set 
down his opinion of Shakespeare's play: "And this (the inhumanity of 
mercenary commerce) is the ultimate lesson which the leader of English 
intellect meant for us (a lesson, indeed, not all his own, but part of the 
old wisdom of humanity), in the tale of ' The Merchant of Venice ' ; in 
which the true and incorrupt merchant, or usurer, the lesson being deepened 
by the expression of the strange hatred which the corrupted merchant 
bears to the pure one, mixed with intense scorn ' This is the fool that 
lent out money gratis ; look to him, jailor ' (as to a lunatic no less than 
criminal) the enmity, observe, having its symbolism literally carried out by 
being aimed straight at the heart, and finally foiled by a literal appeal to 
the great moral law that flesh and blood cannot be weighed, enforced by 
Portia (Portion), the type of divine fortune, found, not in gold, not in 
silver, but in lead ; that is to say, in endurance and patience, not in splen- 
dour," 



i88o] THE HUNDREDTH NIGHT 311 

during the first run of "The Merchant of Venice" at the 
Lyceum was in connection with the celebration of the 
hundredth performance of the play. The unexpected does not 
always happen, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, 
even in theatrical management. But St. Valentine's Day, 
1880, ushered in a most curious and utterly unforeseen cir- 
cumstance at the Lyceum, the toast of the evening the 
health of the honoured host being made the vehicle for air- 
ing personal views at the expense of the giver of the feast. 
The incidents which led up to this extraordinary breach of 
custom and of etiquette must be briefly related. On the 
afternoon of I4th February, "The Merchant of Venice" was 
played for the hundredth time. In celebration of this unique 
event, some three hundred and fifty gentlemen, every one of 
whom was a celebrity art, science, law, medicine, the army, 
commerce, literature, politics, and society being well repre- 
sented were invited by Henry Irving to supper in the 
theatre. It was natural, for the Lyceum was then strange 
to such celebrations, that curiosity should be piqued as to the 
nature of the affair, and those who had expected something 
out of the common were not disappointed. The mere stage- 
management was a triumph of management. At eleven 
o'clock, the curtain fell on the garden scene of Portia's house 
at Belmont, and, at nine minutes before midnight the first 
of the procession of guests entered upon the stage. During 
the fifty-one minutes which had elapsed, a veritable transfor- 
mation scene had been effected. All the paraphernalia of 
the stage and the piece had been removed, and over the 
whole vacant space, of some four thousand square feet, rose 
an immense pavilion of white and scarlet bands, looped 
around the walls with tasteful draperies, and lit by two 
gigantic chandeliers, whose hundreds of lights, in lily-shaped 
bells of muffled glass, shone with a soft and starry radiance, 
and by the twinkling gleams of many hundreds of wax 
candles which rose in clusters from the long tables. The 
transformation was so magically effected, and displayed such 
thoroughness of organisation in all concerned, that to those 



3 i2 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

interested in the practical working out of effects, some details 
may not come amiss. In seven and a half minutes, the stage 
was cleared to the bare walls, and in fifteen minutes the 
pavilion was erected, the chandeliers were hung, and the 
stage servants, numbering some hundreds, reinforced by the 
manipulators of the pavilion, retired in favour of the refresh- 
ment contractors, who put another army in the field, over one 
hundred strong. In the meantime, the guests were assemb- 
ling. Entering the private doorway in Exeter Street, they 
passed through a passage crimson-carpeted, gracious with 
graceful palms and many-coloured flowers piled along the 
sides and up the margin of the staircase. Through a 
curtained door, they entered the armoury of the theatre, 
itself a picture, with its gleaming arms of every kind and 
date : pikes, helmets, breastplates, whole suits of plate and 
chain armour, swords of every make and date, all arrayed in 
admirable order, shields, racks of muskets, and all the para- 
phernalia of the various Lyceum repertory. Thence they 
passed into the reception-room, which was none other than 
the club-room of the old Beefsteak Club, enlarged to its 
fullest extent, with Tudor arches and groined ceiling, its 
oaken panelled walls of soft green, rich with choice paintings, 
conspicuous among which was Long's portrait of Irving as 
Richard III. The room was set with beautiful furniture of 
various periods, a number of high palms and graceful foliage 
plants, placed in every corner, forming an admirable back- 
ground. At a few minutes before twelve, a move to the 
supper-room took place, the host bringing with him Lord 
Houghton and Admiral Sir Henry Keppel, who sat at his 
right hand and his left, supported by the Earls of Dunraven, 
Fife, and Onslow, Lord Londesborough, Sir Frederick 
Pollock, Admiral Gordon, Sir Coutts Lindsay, Sir Henry 
Thompson, Sir Charles Young, Sir Gordon Cumming, Tom 
Taylor, J. L. Toole, Mr. (as he then was) Alma Tadema, 
W. G. Wills, Major-General Hutchinson, Mr. (now Sir 
Squire) Bancroft, and a host of others. There were nine 
long tables, eight from the concealed footlights upwards, and 



i88o] A BRILLIANT GATHERING 313 

one across. It was a very remarkable sight ; the huge 
pavilion with its myriad lights and brilliant lines and fairy- 
like melting distance, as the light of the theatre, kept full 
ablaze, shone dimly through the canvas like starlight upon a 
summer sea ; the great banner with its legend of crimson on 
a ground of grey velvet "At first and last the hearty 
welcome," which hung on the tent wall opposite to the dais 
table, the beautiful grouping of palms and exotics which 
ranged the walls, and the wealth of flowers which graced the 
tables. Not merely these features were remarkable, but the 
elements of which the gathering was composed. One could 
not look in any direction without seeing dozens of faces of 
men conspicuous for their acts. 

It must have been a proud moment for Henry Irving, as 
he sat at the head of his table, ringed round by all the leaders 
of his time, and granted the premier position in his chosen art 
by the suffrages of all. The supper was a very elaborate 
affair ; during its progress a quintet discoursed soft and finished 
music, and at its close when the host proposed the loyal toast 
"the Queen and the Royal Family," a choir of boys' voices 
broke out into the National Anthem. The music from the 
unseen musicians stole softly through the empty house and fell 
on the ears of those within the pavilion with the quiet faint- 
ness of distance. The attendants then brought round books 
of " The Merchant of Venice," as arranged by Irving, specially 
prepared for the occasion. They were bound in white parch- 
ment and lettered in gold, the cover as well as the title-page 
containing the dates of the production of the piece at the 
Lyceum and of the hundredth performance. In the first 
page of each was printed in red letters Irving's favourite 
quotation from Richard II. Bound in the volume was the 
bill of the play for the evening. Presently Lord Houghton 1 

1 Houghton, Richard Monckton Milnes (1809-1885), poet, educated 
at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was an " Apostle " and a friend 
of Tennyson, Hallam, and Thackeray ; M.A., 1831 ; travelled 1832-6 ; 
Conservative M.P., Pontefract, 1837; did much to secure the Copyright 
Act ; published poems of a meditative kind, and political and social writ- 
ings. 



314 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XVIIL 

arose amid a hush of expectation, to propose the one toast of 
the evening. It was in the course of his speech that the un- 
expected happened. He said : "This was a convivial and 
private meeting, but he was commanded to give them a toast 
' The health of Mr. Henry Irving and the Lyceum Theatre'. 
The occasion on which they met was a centenary of the per- 
formance of 'The Merchant of Venice'. He did not like 
centenaries, but * Our Boys ' had had a great many cen- 
tenaries and therefore our men should have more. 'The 
Bells of Corneville' had been ringing on he did not know 
how many nights, and ' The Bells ' of Alsace nearly as many. 
For his part, looking back to the days of his youth, he pre- 
ferred the arrangement by which the same pieces came on 
never more than twice a week, when one could see various 
actors in various r61es with various and additional interest, and 
he was not sure that the present system did not entail upon 
the performers great personal exertions almost to the injury of 
their health, and he was quite sure it could not be any great 
benefit to art. But things must be accepted as they were, 
and it was under that state of things that Mr. Irving had 
accepted the management of that theatre, and he had done 
so under very favourable auspices, for dramatic art was 
popular with all classes. He had come also at a time when 
the stage was purified very much from the impurity, and it 
might be the scandal attaching to it before, so that the tradi- 
tion of good breeding and high conduct was not confined to 
special families, like the Kembles, or to special individuals, 
like Young or Mr. Irving himself, but had spread over the 
larger part of the whole profession, so that families of condition 
were ready to allow their sons, after a university education, to 
enter into the dramatic profession. There had been a school 
of historians who had taken upon themselves to rehabilitate 
all the great villains of the world. These historians made 
Nero and Tiberius only a little diverted from their benevolent 
intention, either by the wish to promote order amongst their 
people or by an inordinate love of art. They made Richard 
III. a most amiable sovereign, particularly fond of nephews, 



i88o] A TRUE ARTIST 315 

while French historians showed that Marat and Robespierre 
were only prevented from regenerating the human race by 
their dislike to shedding human blood. While upon that 
stage they had seen a rehabilitation of something of the same 
nature, for the old Jew, Shy lock, who was regarded usually 
as a ferocious monster, whose sole desire was to avenge him- 
self in the most brutal manner on the Christians of his neigh- 
bourhood, had become a gentleman of the Hebrew persuasion, 
with the manners of Rothschild, and not more ferocious than 
became an ordinary merchant of the period, afflicted with a 
stupid, foolish servant, and a wilful, pernicious daughter ; and 
the process went on till the Hebrew gentleman, led by a 
strange chance into the fault of wishing to vindicate in his own 
person the injuries of centuries of wrong to his ancestors, is 
foiled by a very charming woman ; but he, nevertheless, 
retired as the avenger of the wrongs of centuries heaped upon 
his race, accompanied by the tears of women and the admira- 
tion of men. He could quite imagine if Mr. Irving chose to 
personate I ago he would be regarded, not as a violent, but as 
a very honest man, only devoted to the object of preserving 
the honour of his wife ; or if he chose to resume the character 
of Alfred Jingle he would, instead of a disreputable character, 
go down to posterity as nothing more than an amiable young 
man who wished to marry the maiden aunt and give her some 
of the joys of married life. But there was one character 
which Mr. Irving would never pervert or misrepresent, and 
that was his own. He would always show in the manage- 
ment of his theatre the dramatic spirit which his country 
demanded. He would always be the true artist, loving art 
for its own sake, following in the personalities which he re- 
presented no mere dramatic form, not merely tradition, but 
carrying out as best he could the high forms of his own great 
imagination. They would see him in his relations with others, 
as in the management of the theatre and that was^a very 
large relation they would see him considerate to all about 
him, kind and cognisant of the merits of others a very difficult 
thing in all forms of art, and especially in the one Mr. Irving 



316 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

occupied. He believed that under these circumstances Mr. 
Irving would achieve a great name, and that when the 
children's children of those at that gathering were reading the 
dramatic annals of the present time, and found how highly 
the name of Mr. Irving had been mentioned under all con- 
ditions of dramatic life, they would be proud to find from their 
family traditions that their progenitors had been there that 
night." Lord Houghton concluded by proposing the health 
of Mr. Irving, which was drunk with enthusiasm, the guests 
rising to do honour to the toast. 

The speech was not a happy one, nor in good taste for 
such an occasion -the celebration of the marked success of a 
play and it seemed to disappoint the listeners till the last 
sentence or two, which they received with such applause as 
showed, by contrast, their dissatisfaction at the cynical mirth 
of the speaker. On rising to reply, Mr. Irving was received 
with loud and continuous cheers and the waving of handker- 
chiefs, which, in the great expanse of the room, produced a very 
peculiar effect. He said that it had been his intention not to 
afflict his guests with any long set speeches. He had, how- 
ever, been over-ruled by a dear and valued friend, who told him 
it was nonsense ; that his health would have to be proposed, 
and who had undertaken to nominate the proposer. Lord 
Houghton had kindly undertaken the task, so that he had not 
been taken by surprise at the toast being given. He had 
been thinking of what to say in response, but as Lord Hough- 
ton had not, as he had anticipated, described him as the most 
extraordinary person that had ever trod the face of the earth, 
who had done wonders for dramatic art and other things not 
a bit of which he believed himself his speech in reply had 
been knocked into a cocked hat. He was very much indebted, 
however, to Lord Houghton, for during his speech he had be- 
gun to think seriously about a play which he had in his pos- 
session an admirable play in five acts in blank verse. It 
was not by Lord Houghton, but perhaps by a friend of his. 
It was called "The After- Life of Shylock". The last scene 
might be made singularly effective Shylock returning to 



:88oJ A CLEVER SPEECH 317 

Belmont with a basket of lemons on his .back. Being 
pathetically told in blank verse, he did not know but that this 
side of Shylock might be made interesting for all the tribe, 
and, as it was a very large one, their sympathy and counten- 
ance contributed a great deal towards the success of any play. 
They came from all parts to see "The Merchant of Venice," 
and the only people who did not like it were the Germans. 
Seriously, however, he did not know how to thank them for 
the kind way in which they had responded to the toast ; but, 
however, they could not at that hour discuss Shylock, for they 
were not a Shakespearean debating society. He desired, on 
his own behalf, and as equally on behalf of one who was not 
present, but who had contributed so greatly to the success of 
" The Merchant of Venice," and who, he could not but regret, 
was unable to grace that board with her wit and beauty, and, 
on behalf of all the Lyceum company, present and absent, to 
thank the noble lord for the kind and friendly manner in 
which he had spoken of them. There was not one of the 
company who was not pleased at the meeting to celebrate the 
hundredth performance of " The Merchant of Venice ". They 
all felt as modest and as grateful as he did himself that they 
should have been able to carry on the play so long, a result 
which he did not think could have been attained if Shylock 
had been the Whitechapel old gentleman which he has been 
sometimes represented, and which appeared to be the ideal 
of the character in the mind of my Lord Houghton, but which 
was certainly not his own conception. Though people would 
come to the thousandth representation of "The Corsican 
Brothers," "The Merchant of Venice" was proverbially an 
unpopular play, and they could only be grateful for the gifts 
which the gods had provided. Again he must thank one and 
all of his guests for honouring him with their presence ; and 
although they had not, as they did to the fair lady of Belmont, 
come from the four corners of the earth, to this place, they 
had certainly come from the four corners of Great Britain and 
Ireland. Looking round the tables he saw men of all stations 
and of all creeds ; and knowing that they were allied by the 



3i8 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

ties of art and friendship, he believed that Shakespeare him- 
self, if he could be present, would rejoice to think that the seed 
he had sown broad-cast three centuries ago had borne such 
good fruit, and that the work which he had done for the sake 
of art brought fortune in its wake. He could not say more 
in conclusion, than by repeating the beautiful words of Shake- 
speare : 

I count myself in nothing else so happy 
As in a soul rememb'ring my good friends. 

At the conclusion of his speech, which was delivered with 
grace and dignity, the actor received a perfect ovation. All 
the guests stood up, and cheer after cheer, again and again re- 
peated, rang through the pavilion. It was a sight never to 
be forgotten, and every actor in the room felt that the occasion 
had done much for the dignity of his art and the social status 
of the actor. 

Immediately after the adjournment to the smoking-room, 
Irving's great friend, the late J. L. Toole, apparently dis- 
satisfied with the tone and manner of the proposal of the toast 
of the evening, himself made a speech in reference to the 
occasion, and a more graceful, earnest, or generous setting 
forth of the views of himself and his brother actors could not 
have been given. The hearty approval and continuous ap- 
plause which his eloquent words evoked did credit to the general 
good feeling which prevailed. The night was not long enough 
for the entertainment, for daylight came upon the company 
smoking in the Beefsteak Room, whilst still unwilling to de- 
part. So closed one of the most brilliant gatherings ever 
held under the auspices of dramatic art. 

A characteristic act of generosity was performed by the 
actor-manager during the early part of the run of "The 
Merchant of Venice". Not only did he lend his theatre, but 
he played Digby Grant, for the benefit of an old actor, 
William Belford, who had fallen on evil times. The entertain- 
ment took place on Wednesday afternoon, loth December, 
1879, and realised the sum of ^1,100, so that the last days 
of the veteran player he died within two years of the benefit 






END OF THE SEASON 319 

were relieved from pecuniary anxiety. Miss Ellen Terry 
also appeared on this occasion, and delivered an address from 
the pen of Mr. Clement Scott, who, by the way, wrote that 
the impersonation of Digby Grant was infinitely better than 
that of 1870. Five months later, Irving acted another part 
which he had already played, although in another version of 
the same story. It will be recalled that in June, 1876, he had 
acted Count Tristan, the young lover, in " King Rene's 
Daughter," to the lolanthe of Helen Faucit, for his own 
benefit. On 2Oth May, 1880, for the benefit of Miss Ellen 
Terry, a new adaptation of Henrik Hertz's poem, made by 
W. G. Wills, was given after the fourth act of " The Mer- 
chant of Venice" under the title of " lolanthe," and Irving was 
the Tristan to Miss Terry's lolanthe. Towards the end of the 
season, a few performances of " The Bells" and "Charles the 
First" took place. The programme for the last night, 3ist 
July, was, as usual on these occasions, a miscellaneous one. 
"Charles the First" was followed by songs by Mr. Herbert 
Reeves and a reading by Mrs. (now Lady) Bancroft ; Sims 
Reeves sang " The Bay of Biscay " and " Tom Bowling " ; Miss 
Terry recited for the first time " Monk " Lewis's poem, 
"The Captive"; and J. L. Toole gave his favourite sketch, 
" Trying a Magistrate ". Irving's recitation of the " Dream of 
Eugene Aram " was still popular and remained so throughout 
his career despite the complaints of a certain Sunday paper. 
A speech on such occasions was an invariable part of the pro- 
gramme. In the course of his address to his friends, Irving 
apologised for not having been able to keep his word in certain 
respects. "When I stood before you this time last year," he 
said, " I laid down a programme of intentions for this past season 
which I honestly intended to fulfil. In my intentions, however, 
I was frustrated by those of more than a quarter of a million of 
people. Having bowed to their wish, I am obliged to appear 
before you as a man guilty in a way of a breach of promise 
of breaches of several promises. Your judgment of the play 
which has occupied nearly the whole of the past season ' The 
Merchant of Venice' was spoken with no uncertain voice, 



320 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xvm. 

and that your judgment was right in the minds of the larger 
portion who were not here to give their opinion on the first of 
last November was shown by the fact that for 250 perform- 
ances the piece held the Lyceum stage. I shall, therefore, 
take to heart the lesson of last season, and when telling you 
of our hopes for the next, I shall merely say definitely what 
we are going to open with, and then, lest you should think 
that I am vain enough to suppose that every piece will run a 
season, I shall promise that no piece shall be kept in the bills 
longer than you desire. I have several plays to produce, and 
when I think of the number of them, I am inclined to hope 
that some of them will be disastrous failures ; for really if they 
all prove successes, I shall be placed in an awkward position- 
in fact tossed on the horns of a dilemma ; either I shall have to 
break faith with you by not doing what I wish to do, or I shall 
have to fly in the face of Providence by exceeding the limit of 
years allotted to man. I have a play by Alfred Tennyson a 
very remarkable play -which I shall positively produce in the 
coming season. I have also a play by Mr. Wills in my pos- 
session another remarkable play, I believe on the subject 
of Rienzi. I have also in my possession an historical drama 
by Mr. Frank Marshall Mr. Alma Tadema has completed 
his magnificent series of studies for Coriolanus, and there is 
another Shakespearean play I wish to produce as soon as 
possible that is, if the public will only be good enough to 
help me a little by staying away. However, I shall open 
about the middle of September with ' The Corsican Brothers,' 
and shall hope to see on the opening night many of those 
friends whose faces cheer and gladden me to-night. I must 
thank you for your reception to-night, not only of myself, but 
of all my fellows who have come forward on this occasion. 
As they have not the opportunity of thanking you personally, 
it is my privilege to do so for them, and I must thank 
them myself. It is a very great delight to be surrounded by 
such friends. I feel, in conclusion, I should before you, and 
in the most public way I can, thank all the members of the 
Lyceum for their good and loyal services during the season. 



i88o] 



RECEIPTS FOR THE SEASON 



321 



You will be more than glad to know that I have been for- 
tunate in retaining the services, in spite of innumerable baits 
to take her away, of Miss Ellen Terry, and how you appreci- 
ate her exceptional gifts is shown by your reception of her to- 
night. For myself, I thank you again and again, and au 
revoir with a hearty good-bye." 

The receipts for this season amounted to the respectable 
sum of ,59,000 an average of close upon ^200, a perform- 
ance. Of this amount, ^500 was brought in by the sale of 
the books of " The Merchant of Venice". The monetary 
capacity of the Lyceum was much smaller then than in 1882, 
and subsequently, as will be gathered later on. 



vou I. 



CHAPTER XIX. 

i8th September, 1880 2Qth July, 1881. 

Mr. Pinero's "Bygones" Favourable comment "The Corsican 
Brothers" revived Introduction of the souvenir "The Cup" in prepara- 
tion Tennyson and "Becket" Cost of production of "The Cup" A 
notable audience Camma and Synorix " The Belle's Stratagem " revived 
Edwin Booth at the Lyceum The true story of this engagement Booth's 
testimony Also, William Winter's Booth's tribute to Irving Various 
revivals Irving as Modus His speech on the last night of the season 
Takes the chair at the Theatrical Fund Dinner A satirical speech In- 
teresting reminiscences. 

ACCORDING to the promise made in July, the Lyceum was 
re-opened on i8th September, with Henry Irving Miss Ellen 
Terry was again touring the country on her own account- 
in "The Corsican Brothers". On the same evening, and 
preceding the chief piece, Mr. Pinero's " Bygones" was brought 
out. The staging of a new first piece on such a night was 
an innovation which was hailed with delight by all play -goers, 
especially the patrons of the cheaper parts of the house. To 
modern ideas, the innovation may not seem so important as 
it really was. The almost startling nature of the change, 
however, drew much favourable comment to the management 
of the Lyceum. " Punctuality, order, and good taste are the 
watchwords of Mr. Irving's management," Clement Scott 
pointed out in the Daily Telegraph, "and the days of discord 
during the preliminary piece are at an end. Time was when 
managers had too much to think about with their novelty to at- 
tend to pretty plays for opening the evening's entertainment, 
and were content that an exciting melodrama should be pre- 
ceded by a noisy farce, indifferently acted. Discipline can 
soon correct this error, and those who had taken the trouble 
to come early were rewarded with a great treat in the shape 

322 



i88o] MR. PINERO'S " BYGONES " 323 

of a charming one-act play, full of gentle and refined feeling. 
Tinged with an occasional flavouring of genial humour, and 
acted extremely well, Mr. A. W. Pinero would have been 
pleased, could he have taken his attention from the character 
he was acting so well, to find that he had touched the hearts 
of his audience by the simple pathos of his homely story. . . . 
Freshly written, neatly constructed, and with a decided origin- 
ality in the treatment of an old story, * Bygones ' not only 
pleasantly opened the evening with a pretty surprise, but the 
applause that greeted the young author must have assured 
him that whenever he makes a bolder bid for fame, he will 
receive the sympathetic encouragement of those who have 
watched his brief career with interest, and who see far more 
than average merit in his well-considered and conscientious 
work. The pathetic simplicity and comic innocence of a 
simple, old gentleman as played by Mr. Pinero, had a charm- 
ing contrast in the freshness and simplicity of Miss Alma 
Murray as the girlish heroine, Ruby." 

This was a good beginning, and but heightened the ex- 
pectancy with which " The Corsican Brothers "* was awaited. 
This kind of melodrama is now out of fashion in West-end 
London although "The Corsican Brothers" was played 
with success by Mr. Martin Harvey, long a member of the 
Lyceum company, for a brief season at the Adelphi Theatre 
in the autumn of 1907 but Irving, relying upon his own 
individuality and popularity, which he was careful to supple- 

" Les Freres Corses," the famous story by Alexandre Dumas, was first 
adapted to the stage in 1850. On loth August of that year it was pre- 
sented at the Theatre Historique, Paris. There were several English 
versions, but the best of them was that made by Dion Boucicault a very 
clever specimen of this kind of work, by the way for Charles Kean, who 
produced it at the Princess's Theatre on 24th February, 1852. This was 
the version used by Irving. Fechter, who was the original stage represen- 
tative of the brothers, in Paris, brought out a version at the Lyceum on 
iyth May, 1866. He excluded the sliding-trap and he made but little use 
of the famous "ghost melody". G. H. Lewes thought that Kean, in the 
lighter scenes of the two first acts, wanted the light and graceful ease of 
Fechter ; but in the more serious scenes and throughout the third act, he 
surpassed the Frenchman with all the weight and intensity of a tragic actor 
in situations for which the comedian is unsuited. 

21 * 



324 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 



ment with a fine production, secured a profitable return 
from his revival of the old piece. Irving contrasted the 
twin brothers most admirably, and, in the scenes with 
Chateau Renaud, he quite overpowered the late William 
Terriss. His best effect was in the duel scene in the last 
act. His calm, determined appearance suggested the very 
embodiment of fate. " He seldom has acted so well, with 
such solidity and purpose," said a contemporary critic. 



THE CORSICAN BROTHERS. 
Revived at the Lyceum, i8th September, 1880. 



M. FABIEN DEI FRANCHI \ 
M. Louis DEI FRANCHI / 
M. DE CHATEAU RENAUD 
THE BARON DE MONTGIRON - 
M. ALFRED MEYNARD 
COLONA - - 
ORLANDO - 
ANTONIO SANOLA - 
GIORDANO MARTELLI 

GRIFFO 

BOISSEC 

M. VERNER - 

TOMASO - 

M. BEAUCHAMP - 

A SURGEON - 

EMILIE DE LESPARRE 

MADAME SAVILIA DEI FRANCHI 

MARIE - 

CORALIE 

CELESTINE - 

ESTELLE 

ROSE 

EUGENIE - 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. W. TERRISS. 
Mr. ELWOOD. 
Mr. PINERO. 
Mr. JOHNSON. 
Mr. MEAD. 
Mr. TAPPING. 
Mr. TYARS. 
Mr. ARCHER. 
Mr. CARTER. 
Mr. HUDSON. 
Mr. HARWOOD. 
Mr. FERRAND. 
Mr. LOUTHER. 
Miss FOWLER. 
Miss PAUNCEFORT. 
Miss HARWOOD. 
Miss ALMA MURRAY. 
Miss BARNETT. 
Miss HOULISTON. 
Miss COLERIDGE. 
Miss MORELEY. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Corsica Hall and Terrace of the Chateau 
of the Dei Franchi at Cullacaro. The Apparition. The 
Vision. ACT II., SCENE i. Paris Bal de 1'Opera ; SCENE 2. 
Lobby of the Opera House ; SCENE 3. Salon in the House of 
Montgiron ; SCENE 4. The Forest of Fontainebleau. The 
Vision. ACT III., SCENE. Fontainebleau Glade in the 
Forest. The Duel. The Vision. 



" There he stood, defiant, with vengeance in his eyes and 
scorn in his accent. Surely he knows that this man must 
die at his hands, and so he does not shrink from his ter- 
rible purpose. To make the scene completely effective, 
Chateau Renaud should play the game as firmly from his 
point of view as Fabien does. We should scarcely sympa- 
thise with the practised duellist, who appears to us absolutely 



i88o] "THE CORSICAN BROTHERS" 325 

powerless in the hands of the Corsican powerless all through, 
at the first and the last. However, the scene is effective 
as it was, intense, weird, and gloomy and what is lost in the 
presence of Chateau Renaud is gained in the poetic accessories 
of the scene that closes the story with solemnity, but makes 
a marked impression upon the beholders." It is indicative 
of Irving's policy that while he thought it necessary to decor- 
ate the play to the best of his ability it has never been 
presented, apart from his revivals, so sumptuously he re- 
tained, not only the old-fashioned " ghost melody " which runs 
through the play, but the still more old-fashioned ghost which 
came up through a trap-door, facing the audience in stilted 
fashion. It was in vain that modern inventions in the matter 
of lime-light and magic lanterns were brought to his notice. 
He steadily refused all the examples set before him of 
the ghosts presented by conjurers. He had made up his 
mind to have the old-fashioned ghost and he had it. " The 
Corsican Brothers" drew enormous houses to the Lyceum 
until January, when a new play by the Poet Laureate was 
produced. It was then acted in conjunction with that piece, 
one hundred and ninety performances being given during the 
season. "The Corsican Brothers" was reproduced at the 
Lyceum in 1891 May to July and acted, together with 
" Nance Oldfield," fifty-seven times. During its first run at 
the Lyceum, Irving introduced one of the profitable devices 
of management the souvenir. That of "The Corsican 
Brothers " is a rather quaint brochure, the illustrations of which, 
and the style of printing, are now completely out-of-date, In 
the 1 8 80-8 1 season, this source of revenue brought ^235 
odd into the Lyceum treasury. During November, so great 
was the demand for seats at the Lyceum, eight performances 
a week had to be given. On 5th October, it should be 
recorded, the actor managed to travel to Birmingham with- 
out interrupting the performances at the Lyceum in order 
to open a bazaar for the Perry Bar Institute, of which he 
was then the ex-president. 

While "The Corsican Brothers" was in the full tide of 



3 26 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

its prosperity at the Lyceum, Miss Ellen Terry was appearing 
in the principal provincial towns, together with Mr. Kelly, as 
Lilian Vavasour, Lady Teazle, and Portia. Her most re- 
markable achievement at this period was the performance of 
Beatrice. On the evening of Friday, 3rd September, 1880, 
" Miss Ellen Terry will play Beatrice for the first time on 
any stage, at the Grand Theatre, Leeds ". So ran the pre- 
liminary announcement of what proved to be the forerunner 
of the revival at the Lyceum of " Much Ado About Nothing" 
one of the most brilliant pages in the achievements of Henry 
Irving. In July, Irving had spoken of "a remarkable play" 
by Alfred Tennyson. This was "The Cup," active prepara- 
tions for the production of which were made early in October. 
It is related that the poet, in speaking of this piece to his 
friend, the late William Allingham, said : " I gave Irving my 
Thomas a Becket : he said it was magnificent, but it would 
cost him ,3,000 to mount it : he couldn't afford the risk. If 
well put on the stage it would act for a time, and it would bring 
me credit (he said), but it wouldn't pay. He said, ' If you 
give something short, I'll do it'. So I wrote him a play in 
two acts, * The Cup '." It is further related that on the 4th of 
the month preceding the actual production, the late Sir James 
Knowles wrote to the Poet Laureate : " Irving is in a great 
state of excitement, and he is most anxious that you should 
read over the play, not only to himself and Ellen Terry, but 
to all the company which is to enact it. He would like it to 
be on next Thursday week, when Ellen Terry will be back 
in town and everything advanced enough to make such a 
reading of the greatest and most opportune value." Now, 
as to the "risk" of spending ^3000 on the Becket play, that 
was but a polite way of postponing a piece which, in its written 
form, was unactable, and, as Irving knew from his experience, 
in 1876, with the same writer's " Queen Mary," good poets did 
not always write good plays. It was not a question of money 
at all : he knew that Becket was unsuitable for the stage, and, 
at the time, it would have been injudicious to have suggested 
the drastric compression which he himself afterwards made. 



i88i] 



"THE CUP" 



327 



As a matter of fact, the production account of "The Cup" 
amounted to ,2,369 45. id., and that of Becket to ,4,723 
is. 2d. On the day that Knowles wrote to Tennyson, over 
450 had already been paid out on account of scenery for 
"The Cup". 

The production took place on Monday, 3rd January, 1880, 
before one of the most representative audiences ever seen at 
the Lyceum : the Prime Minister, Mr. Gladstone, with Mrs. 
Gladstone and other members of his family, occupied one of 



THE CUP. 
First acted at the Lyceum, 3rd January, 1881. 



GALATIANS 



SYNORIX - 

SlNNATUS 

ATTENDANT 
BOY 
MAID 
PHCEBE - 

GAMMA - 



ROMANS : 



ANTONIUS 
PUBLIUS - 
NOBLEMAN 
HERALD 



Mr. IRVING. 
Mr. TERRISS. 
Mr. HARWOOD. 
Miss BROWN. 
Miss HARWOOD. 
Miss PAUNCEFORT. 
Miss ELLEN TERRY. 



Mr. TYARS. 
Mr. HUDSON. 
Mr. MATTHISON. 
Mr. ARCHER. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Distant view of a City in Galatia. (After- 
noon) ; SCENE 2. A room in the Tetrarch's house. (Even- 
ing) ; SCENE 3. Distant view of a City of Galatia. (Dawn.) 
Haifa year is supposed to elapse between the acts. ACT II., 
SCENE. Interior of the Temple of Artemis. The scene is 
laid in Galatia, a Province of Asia Minor. 



the stage boxes, while literature, art, and science furnished 
many other celebrities. Flowers were rained upon Miss Terry, 
and the calls were innumerable. A speech, it need hardly be 
said, was demanded, and the actor-manager, who promised to 
telegraph the news of the success of the piece to the author, 
congratulated himself on the honour of producing such a play, 
and hinted that it would not be the last experiment of the kind. 
As " The Cup " has now passed out of the acted drama it 
would never have seen the stage save for the special circum- 
stances which caused its production at the Lyceum it is un- 
necessary to enter into details concerning the acting. The 



328 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

case for the play and the players was summed up by an able 
writer of the day who, after discussing the work of the poet 
and the merits of the production, said : " All these things are 
important aids to a dramatist ; and a far greater one is to be 
found in the acting, for the two principal characters, Synorix 
and Gamma, are filled by two performers capable of poetry in 
its highest significance Mr. Henry Irving and Miss Ellen 
Terry. Gamma possesses everything, loses nothing, in Miss 
Terry's representation. Her fair beauty, her movements, free 
and graceful, her tender tones, win the heart, and the passion 
of Synorix is at once understood. She wears the Greek cos- 
tume as if she had been born in it, and as if by chance, but 
probably by the study that knows how to conceal itself, she 
falls into positions which recall the best of the Greek sculp- 
tures. Her song of love and fear stirs our sweetest emotions, 
and when, as the Priestess white and cold, with a stony 
stare she moves on to her act of meditated punishment or 
revenge, she does not strut, or bellow, or assume a new char- 
acter, but is still the same woman, though with another passion 
at her heart. She speaks verse with an appearance of spon- 
taneity, and at the same time with a full appreciation of the 
sound and music of the poet. Synorix is a personage who 
demands all Mr. Irving's skill and intellect to give him interest, 
for, beyond his intelligence and strength of purpose, he has no 
quality to call our sympathy. As now acted, he is interesting. 
His ruling passion, his craft, his courage, and the destiny to- 
wards which he seems impelled to move, are so shown forth 
as to stimulate and constantly engage attention ; yes, even 
when, the glow of the setting sun stealing over the mountain 
tops threaten to distract general observation ; and one of the 
audience exclaiming, ' Oh ! look at the sunset, it is quite real ! ' 
is silenced by another, who replies in a tone of rebuke, * Hush ! 
Irving is going to speak, and he is still more a reality'." 

The mounting of Tennyson's drama was superb. The 
scene in which Synorix, at the very moment of his triumph, 
when the laurel wreath binds his brow and love seems to 
crown his hopes, is destroyed by the woman who appeared to 



i88i] BOOTH AT THE LYCEUM 329 

yield to his will only to complete her revenge, was a re- 
markable picture. The interior of the temple looked like a 
solid piece of architecture ; and the huge figure of the god- 
dess, Artemis, the grouping of the worshippers, the invocation, 
and the thunderclap which answered Gamma's appeal, gave a 
wonderfully vivid realisation of the solemnity of the heathen 
rites. "The Cup," beautiful as it was, in many respects, was 
not sufficiently long for an evening's entertainment. So it 
was played in conjunction with "The Corsican Brothers" until 
9th April, when the theatre was closed for a few nights 
during Good Friday week. When the Lyceum re-opened, 
on 1 6th April, the melodrama was replaced by "The Belle's 
Stratagem," with Miss Terry as Letitia Hardy and Irving as 
Doricourt the character which he had first acted at the St. 
James's Theatre in 1866. One hundred and ninety per- 
formances were given of " The Corsican Brothers," one 
hundred and twenty-seven of "The Cup". 

The next event at the Lyceum was one of the most re- 
markable incidents in the history of the theatre the appear- 
ance of the American actor, Edwin Booth, with Henry 
Irving and Miss Ellen Terry, in "Othello". Those who 
have followed the history of the great English actor so far 
will not need to be told that this act of good feeling and 
generosity has been frequently misrepresented. These 
slanders have long ago found their own level, but, for all that, 
the true story may now be given, and an interesting one it is. 
It has frequently been stated that the suggestion that Booth 
should play at the Lyceum emanated from Irving, as a 
master-stroke of diplomacy. But the true state of the case 
was the exact opposite. The proposition came from Booth. 
Precisely two years before he did appear at the Lyceum, the 
following statement was authoritatively issued : " It is highly 
probable that Mr. Booth will appear with Mr. Irving in two 
or three pieces at the Lyceum Theatre, London, next year ". 
Booth had written to Irving, and, in a letter dated 27th 
April, 1879, from Chicago, he mentions that he had not yet 
had a reply from him. The suggestion fell through, but it 



330 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

was revived, as a consequence of Booth's professional visit to 
England in 1880. On 6th November, of that year, Booth 
began an engagement at the Princess's Theatre, in " Hamlet." 
4 'The choice of that part," says his biographer, William 
Winter, "was not, perhaps, judicious, since it seemed to 
challenge comparison with the reigning favourite of the 
London stage, Henry Irving. Booth was apprised that the 
newspapers in general would be hostile to him, and the antici- 
pation of harsh treatment thereupon made him stern and 
cold. . . . The courteous and gelid manner commonly 
adopted by the London press, and sometimes carried to a 
ludicrous extreme, is not always accompanied by either 
depth of thought, wisdom of judgment, or depth of feeling. 
Some of the London journals talked down to Booth from an 
Olympian height which they had not previously been sup- 
posed to occupy. In the main, however, he was received 
with honour. Many pages might be filled with tributes 
from the newspapers. Booth's embodiments of Richelieu, 
Bertuccio, I ago, and Lear elicited public sympathy and en- 
thusiastic fervour." 

It is perfectly obvious, from these observations by the 
doyen of American critics and one of Booth's most devoted 
friends that there had been an endeavour to promote 
hostile feeling. It was yet another case of "save me from 
my friends". In 1880, London was an unknown land to all 
but a mere handful of Americans, and even they did not 
understand either London or its newspaper press. It was a 
mistaken policy on their part to state that Henry Irving was 
jealous of their representative actor. As will presently be 
seen, upon the testimony of Edwin Booth, the men were 
perfectly good friends ; they met at the houses of mutual ac- 
quaintances, they interchanged the ordinary civilities and 
courtesies of everyday life. When Booth first appeared in 
London as Hamlet, the performance was analysed with 
marked care and generous good feeling. The criticisms or 
rather, garbled accounts of them were cabled to New 
York and made the subject of acrimonious comment. Booth 



i88i] 



BOOTH AND IRVING 



had arrived in London, at the end of August, without any 
definite plan. He wanted to open in London in the spring, 
but he "found that time at Drury Lane was promised to 
McCullough, and Irving preparing a new production ". In this 
dilemma, he accepted an offer to play at the newly-con- 
structed Princess's Theatre, "which is now a mass of ruins". 
The remainder of the story, leading up to his appearance at 
the Lyceum in May, 1881, is contained in the letters written 
by him, from November, 1880, to his friends in America 



OTHELLO. 

Revived at the Lyceum, 2nd May, 1881. 



OTHELLO 

IAGO 

CASSIO - 

BRABANTIO 

RODERIGO 

DUKE 

MONTANO 

GRATIANO 
LUDOVICO 
MESSENGER 
PAULO 
ANTONIO - 
JULIO 
MARCO - 
EMILIA - 
DESDEMONA 



Mr. EDWIN BOOTH. 
Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. W. TERRISS. 
Mr. MEAD. 
Mr. PINERO. 
Mr. BEAUMONT. 
Mr. TYARS. 
Mr. CARTER. 
Mr. HUDSON. 
Mr. MATTHISON. 
Mr. FERRAND. 
Mr. CLIFFORD. 
Mr. LOUTHER. 
Mr. HARWOOD. 
Miss PAUNCEFORT. 
Miss ELLEN TERRY. 



ACT I., SCENE i. A Street in Venice; SCENE 2. Another 
Street in Venice; SCENE 3. A Council Chamber. ACT II., 
SCENE i. The Harbour at Cyprus; SCENE 2. A Street in 
Cyprus; SCENES. The Court of Guard. ACT III., SCENE. 
Othello's House. ACT IV., SCENE i. Othello's House; 
SCENE 2. A Street in Cyprus; SCENE 3. Exterior of lago's 
House ; ACT V., SCENE. A Bedchamber. 



Edmund Clarence Stedman and David C. Anderson. " I've 
been and gone and done it ! The cable has told you all 
about it," he wrote, a week after his appearance at the 
Princess's. "I cannot but add that the feeling for me is 
warming every day, and the faint praises lavished by the 
press have tended rather to increase than to diminish the 
interest. From various high places I have kindly words of 
encouragement, and the vista looks lovely. After the pro- 
gramme is changed (' Hamlet' is so hackneyed!), there will 



332 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

also be a change of tone in the theatrical columns of the 
papers. The few attempts at criticism I have seen are very 
feeble and wishy-washy. Shakespeare is yet a sealed book 
to those who sit in judgment on the actor." He certainly had 
a poor opinion of London critics, for, on the day after he had 
penned the observations just quoted, he wrote : "the myriad 
English papers have been full of me all, with but a few ex- 
ceptions, patting me on the back, and endeavouring to damn 
me with faint praise. But the public is with me, and I re- 
ceived many cordial congratulations from high jink nobs of 
Britain. As we used to say in the classic days, * Ye goose 
'angs %h,' etc., and in a few weeks I shall have had even 
the 'crickets' chirping pleasantly." The "crickets" chirped 
pleasantly enough over Booth's Richelieu and Lear, and all 
was well. 

But the American actor had many disadvantages to con- 
tend against. On i7th December, he writes : " Irving called 
over, 1 but we have had little opportunity to chat. I have the 
greatest odds to battle with that an actor ever experienced, in 
spite of all the good in my favour that I have mentioned. A 
deep-rooted love for their idol, who certainly deserves his 
reward for what he has achieved for the drama here ; an un- 
popular theatre that is, unpopular with the first-class element : 
for years, a sort of ' Bowery,' given up to ' Drink,' ' Streets of 
London,' etc. and a sort of 'Cheap John' management, 
with a wretched company, and poorly furnished stage, com- 
pared with Irving's superior settings." On 9th January, 
Booth wrote : " Irving has lately been very genial and atten- 
tive ; he is a pleasant fellow. Yesterday he called, and we 
had a pleasant hour together. He gave me a fine copy of a 
celebrated portrait of Richelieu, and we are to lunch together 
on Wednesday at Lady Burdett-Coutts'." 

1 Booth stayed at the now demolished St. James's Hotel during this 
visit. He frequently mentioned the weather in his letters. For instance : 
" I've been fortunate in weather, very few fogs, and they slight " Amer- 
icans used to regard London in winter as a city of perpetual fog. " The 
nights are really beautiful," he also observed. All lovers of London are 
aware that the hours between midnight and dawn are, with hardly an ex- 
ception, beautiful indeed, in the great city. 



i88i] BOOTH'S EVIDENCE 333 

We now arrive at the Lyceum engagement, and the 
evidence of William Winter is invaluable, for it shows pre- 
cisely how it was effected. Booth, he states, " had formed 
the plan of giving a series of morning performances in London, 
to include a round of parts, and he now proposed to Henry 
Irving that these performances should occur at the Lyceum 
Theatre. Irving at once accepted that proposal, but a little 
later suggested a combination between Booth and himself, 
with the purpose of presenting ' Othello,' and alternating the 
characters of Othello and I ago the performances to be given 
at night. That plan, conceived by Irving, and suggested in 
a spirit of rare and fine generosity, was adopted, and on 2nd 
May, 1 88 1, Booth made his first appearance at the Lyceum 
Theatre, performing Othello. Irving was lago which he 
played for the first time in his life. The matchless Ellen 
Terry was the Desdemona. The picturesque William 
Terriss assumed Cassio. Mead, with his sonorous and beauti- 
ful voice, presented Brabantio. Miss Pauncefort appeared as 
Emilia, and Mr. Pinero as Roderigo." 

We have an interesting sidelight on this engagement from 
Booth himself. It must have been an enormous relief to him, 
after his trials and tribulations at the Princess's, to play in the 
well-ordered Lyceum. Writing on the day after the closing 
of his season at the Oxford Street house, he said: "At last 
my great London engagement is ended. Thank God, a 
thousand times, again and again repeated ! I never had such 
an uphill drag of it in all my professional experience, to say 
nothing of the many annoyances connected with the mean 
and tricky management of - and- -. . . On the whole, 
the critics have used me well. So Irving and I are at last 
to hitch together, but only for a short pull of four weeks at 
' Othello '. Every seat worth securing is booked for the 
greater part of the brief term of our combination, and London 
is very much excited over it." Again, on 8th May, he wrote : 
"All went well. . . . Irving, his company, and the audiences 
treat me splendidly. . . . The houses are jammed, the play 
well set and very well acted." In a letter written at the time 



334 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

of the engagement, to William Winter, he said : "Its success 
is very great, in all respects, and only my domestic misery " 
the serious illness of his wife " prevents it from being the 
happiest theatrical experience I have ever had. I wish I 
could do as much for Henry Irving, in America, as he has 
done for me here." In a subsequent conversation with his 
biographer, he spoke of his season with Irving at the Lyceum 
as one of much happiness. Such testimony should silence 
cavil in regard to this engagement, once and for all. The 
two actors remained friends to the end. In July, 1882, Booth 
was in London again : " Irving was with me last night till 
two this A.M. Winter, Aldrich, and Barrett came a few days 
ago, and we all dined together last night. Saturday, after 
the play, we 'chop' with Irving. Headache Sunday." The 
last two words indicate that Booth and Irving enjoyed more 
than one pleasant evening together! Five months later, 
Booth saw "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Lyceum, 
and pronounced it "the finest production, in every respect, I 
ever saw. Terry is Beatrice herself: Irving's conception and 
treatment of the part are excellent." 

A week after the beginning of the engagement at the 
Lyceum that is to say, on Qth May Booth played lago and 
Irving Othello. In the latter character, Irving obtained his 
chief success in the earlier scenes, where he was impressive, 
self-contained, and stately. He declaimed well, and he de- 
livered Othello's address to the Senate with excellent art. In 
appearance, he resorted to magnificence of a barbaric sort : 
" Jewels sparkle in his turban and depend from his ears, 
strings of pearls circle from his dusky throat, he is abundantly 
possessed of gold and silver ornaments, and his richly-brocaded 
robes fall about him in the most lustrous and ample folds. 
He is blacker of face than the Othello of the stage has ventured 
to be since the times of Macready, and altogether he presents 
as superb an appearance as an Eastern king pictured by Paolo 
Veronese." 1 As for lago, "the spirit and originality of the 

button Cook. 



i88i] BOOTH'S FAREWELL SPEECH 335 

embodiment" according to the late L. F. Austin, "fairly won 
most of his unfriendly critics. They were carried away by 
the brilliant devilry of the whole performance. There was 
the soldierly frankness which made the appelation 'honest 
I ago,' so natural. Never did a fiend wear so engaging a 
mask, and the careless freedom with which this I ago ate grapes 
was even made a source of complaint by some writers, who 
persuaded themselves that for lago to eat grapes when he 
was meditating murder was too horrible a mockery." It 
should be stated that " Othello " was in no sense an elaborate 
"production," as some people would have us believe. The 
play was artistically and beautifully put on the stage, but 
there could not be much of a "production" for ^643 still, 
that was a large sum to expend on a play which the manager 
of the Lyceum had no intention of using again. 

" Othello" was only acted on three nights a week Mon- 
days, Wednesdays, and Fridays "The Cup "and "The Belle's 
Stratagem " being played on the other evenings. The charge 
for seats in the higher-priced parts of the house were raised 
for the Booth engagement stalls to i is., dress-circle to 
i os. ; and private boxes from i 2s. to $ 55. Irving kept 
to the ordinary prices for the rest of the house upper-circle, 
45. ; amphitheatre, 2s. 6d. ; pit, 2s. ; and gallery, is. The 
financial result of the twenty-two performances of "Othello" 
was enormous. The engagement came to an end on Saturday, 
nth June Othello being acted by Irving, lago by Booth. 
On that night, Booth addressed the audience as follows : "It 
is, for me, a strange sensation to speak any other words than 
those set down for me. Yet I feel that I cannot let an 
occasion like the present pass without breaking the silence. 
It is a pleasant duty to acknowledge to you the gratification 
it has been to me to see nightly such splendid audiences as 
have here assembled. I feel that I owe you a debt of gratitude 
for your appreciation of my efforts to please you. My visit 
to the Lyceum has been an uninterrupted pleasure. I have 
to thank my friend, Mr. Irving, for his generous hospitality, 
and the talented lady with whom I have had the honour of 



336 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

playing, for her pleasant companionship and kind assistance. 
Indeed, to all on the stage, and all associated with the Lyceum 
Theatre, my best thanks, for the courtesy and consideration 
which I have received, are due, and are most heartily 
tendered. Believe me, the kind and generous treatment I 
have received from the gentlemen of the press, and from all 
with whom I have been associated during this engagement, 
and the generous reception I have met with at your hands, 
must ever be among the pleasantest recollections of my long 
professional career. I hope to have the pleasure of appearing 
before you again, at no distant day. In the meantime, I 
thank you most heartily, and bid you, for the present, 
adieu." 

Thus terminated a memorable and happy interlude in the 
lives of the two actors. With Booth, the impression of Irving's 
chivalry was ever present. On I4th April, 1884, when Irving 
was on the eve of completing the first of his many triumphal 
tours in America, Booth gave him a breakfast in New York 
at Delmonico's, then the chief restaurant of that city. There 
were no set speeches, but Booth took the opportunity of ex- 
pressing his old indebtedness to his brother player : " You 
all know that I went to another theatre in London, and that 
I was a big failure, though some newspapers on my side of 
the water had said that I would make Henry Irving and the 
other English actors sit up. Well, I didn't make them sit up. 
Yes, I was a big failure. But what happened then? Henry 
Irving invites me to act at his theatre and makes me share 
the success that he has well earned. He changes my big 
failure into a success. What can I say about such generosity ? 
Was the like of it ever seen before ? I am left without words. 
Friend Irving, I have no words to thank you." Such a simple 
and beautiful tribute from one great actor to another does not 
call for any comment. It silences, at once and for ever, the 
malicious charge of interested motive. When Booth died, one 
of the very first messages of sympathy received in New York 
certainly the first from England was the following cable 
dispatch : 



i88i] A HAPPY SPEECH 337 

"LONDON, Zthjune, 1893. 

" MY DEAR WINTER, I am grieved beyond measure at the 
sad news of poor dear Booth's death. The world is poorer 
to-day by a great and true man. All love. 

" HENRY IRVING." 

The remaining six weeks of the summer season of 1 880 
were devoted to revivals of various Lyceum successes. 
"Hamlet" took pride of place with nineteen performances, 
then came " The Merchant of Venice " with seven representa- 
tions. "The Bells" was played four times, "Charles the 
First " and " Eugene Aram " twice. The evening of Wednes- 
day, 1 5th June, was devoted to the benefit of Miss Ellen 
Terry. On this occasion, "Othello" was played for the last 
time, " Mr. Booth having most kindly offered his services on 
this his last appearance at the Lyceum "- - he was the Othello 
to Irving's I ago ; and ordinary prices were charged. The 
last night of the season, Saturday, 23rd July, was set aside for 
"Mr. Irving's benefit," "The Bells" being the chief attrac- 
tion. Irving's faithful friend, J. L. Toole, assisted by ap- 
pearing in "The Birthplace of Podgers," a farce in which he 
had first acted, on the same stage, on 6th March, 1858. The 
well-known scene in which Modus abandons Ovid's " Art of 
Love" for the more efficacious teaching of Helen, put a new 
complexion on this episode from "The Hunchback". For 
Miss Ellen Terry was a Helen "who wooed her student 
cousin with enchanting grace and coquetry," and Henry 
Irving was a Modus who, " with infinite variety and humour, 
realised that happy condition when with * a touch, a kiss, the 
charm was snapt ! ' ' The-actor manager's speech, a long 
one, contained some happy expressions in regard to the 
interest and success of the season which had been so fruitful 
in good-will. Having reviewed the salient features of the 
previous nine months, he paid a graceful compliment to 
Edwin Booth, "my friend and fellow artist. Of Mr. Booth's 
great qualities as an actor you have had no scanty proof, 
for, after representing at the Princess's Theatre with singular 

VOL. I. 22 



338 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

ability many of the leading characters in the Shakespearean 
drama, Mr. Booth received here a nightly demonstration of 
enthusiasm which more than confirmed the great impression 
he had already made on the public, and which was as gratify- 
ing to myself as it must have been to himself." He then 
refuted some idle rumours which had been circulated by 
mischievous people and announced certain impending struc- 
tural alterations in the theatre. " I have now a painful 
announcement to make. During our five months' absence 
the theatre will be closed. This, as you may imagine, will 
entail a very heavy expense, I regret to say, and I am sure 
I shall have your sincere sympathy in my affliction, when I 
state that I am going to make that expense still heavier by 
improving the ventilation, increasing your comfort in other 
ways, and by enlarging some parts of the house especially 
the pit (' Bravo! ' and cheers) I knew that statement would 
move you to tears (laughter.) No doubt you are aware 
that amongst the playful little fables about myself, which 
some worthy people with a good deal of spare time are con- 
stantly circulating, was the story that I had lately purchased 
the freehold, or leasehold, or goodness knows what, of the 
Lyceum, for a hundred thousand pounds, fifty thousand 
pounds, anything you please (laughter). Some persons im- 
proved upon this, and said the theatre had been presented to 
me. I have had no such good or evil fortune (a laugh). 
I have not given a hundred thousand pounds, because I 
don't possess it ; and I have not paid fifty thousand pounds, for 
a somewhat similar reason. But what has happened is this : 
I have obtained a lengthened lease of the Lyceum ; and 
through the excellent and friendly feeling which exists be- 
tween the owner of this property, Mr. Arnold, and myself, I 
have the lease under most favourable conditions, which will 
enable me in a very short time to make some important 
changes. I shall shortly have the lease of four houses adjoin- 
ing this theatre, and the long-desired opportunity of greatly 
improving the entrance, exits, and frontage of the house, not 
forgetting that region which is my own immediate realm 



i88i] A POWERFUL PLEA 339 

namely, behind the scenes. I cannot tell you how delighted 
I am at this welcome prospect of increasing your comfort and 
making the Lyceum in every way worthy of your patronage." 

He then announced that his next Shakespearean venture 
would be " Romeo and Juliet," to be followed in due course by 
" Coriolanus ". " But now, ladies and gentlemen," he concluded, 
" I must say farewell. In all places and on all occasions, I 
shall ever be sensible of my lasting debt to my loyal and 
good friends, whom I am proud to think I have grappled to 
me with * hoops of steel'." During the season thus brought 
to a felicitous end, he had improved the exit from the stalls 
by making a door communicating with the pit entrance, by 
means of which there was a direct exit, on the stalls level, to 
the Strand. 

His labours for this period, arduous as they had been, 
were not yet over. He had to pay the penalty of fame by 
taking the chair at the thirty-sixth anniversary festival of the 
Royal General Theatrical Fund, on Friday evening, 2Qth 
July, at the Freemasons' Tavern. He had performed a 
similar office some six years previously. He was in sar- 
castic vein, and while upholding the dignity of his profes- 
sion, he managed to make more than one "palpable hit". 
Having made some pointed allusions to the "flowers of 
rhetoric" of his predecessors in the chair, he said : "We do 
not make our appeal with 'bated breath and whispering 
humbleness '. The actor contributes so much to the general 
gaiety, gives such a zest to true and honest pleasure, lightens 
so many hearts often when his own is heavy, that when he is 
old, past work, infirm, and unfortunate, he has an undoubted 
title to the brotherly and sisterly kindness of all whom he has 
again and again sent away from the play refreshed, invigor- 
ated, instructed, or amused (cheers). But, then, it is said 
actors would not want if they were not so improvident. Im- 
providence, if you please, is * the badge of all our tribe ' : we are 
the most careless, spendthrift, happy-go-lucky people on the 
face of the earth. Some persons are kind enough to say, by 
way of extenuation, that we are not responsible beings that 



340 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

we live in a sort of fairyland that we get so demoralised by 
pasteboard goblets and property jewellery, that we cannot 
enter into the realities of life. Of course, no actor was ever 
known to educate his children, or toil, not only for his own, 
but for a comrade's daily bread, or show a proud reluctance 
to appeal for help when overwhelmed with sickness and mis- 
fortune ! Ah ! ladies and gentlemen, judge us by the stand- 
ard of common humanity, and if one of us ends his career 
after providing for everybody but himself, and if a chorus 
of charitable people who, perhaps, never gave a sixpence in 
their lives cry, * Oh, the improvidence of these actors ! ' we 
simply answer that there is as much integrity, prudence, 
steady endeavour, and self-respect in our profession as the 
world ever heard of as there is in any other section of the 
community. Now, the General Theatrical Fund holds out 
to all who put by but a small amount each year a provision 
against poverty, and, more than that, ensures them against 
vicissitudes arising from ill-health or accident, and I think 
few funds are better or more economically managed. There 
are no superfluous expenses, no little dinners for the gentle- 
men of the committee no extravagant outlay on reams of 
paper never used, and stacks of quill pens supplying the 
treasurer with toothpicks ; and, above all, no baronial halls for 
officials to kick their heels in, and for poor recipients of the 
fund to spend their days in exchanging reminiscences of the 
legitimate drama before it began to decline." In contrasting 
the salaries of actors with those paid in earlier days, he brought 
in a little reminiscence of his engagement at the St. James's 
Theatre in 1866. " Then your leading man might be receiv- 
ing the modest emolument of 2 2s. per week, with the 
necessity of providing himself with hats, shoes, tights, and 
Heaven knows what. Many of us present know all about 
that ; but now, forsooth, many a dashing young spark, aping 
a society drawl and possessing a few well-cut suits of clothes, 
may obtain his ten guineas (they always ask guineas) or more 
a week, as a representative of what is called society drama. 
Why, not fifteen years ago, when I made what was really 



i88i] TRADITION IN ACTING 341 

my first appearance in London at a well-known theatre, I 
was engaged as a leading actor and stage manager at a 
salary of j per week. I tried for guineas, and they would 
not give it. Well, I was content, and so was my manager ; 
but I firmly believe now, if I were to apply to any London 
manager for a similar position, that he would give me double 
that money. Things have so altered." In conclusion, he 
reverted to the influence exercised by the stage : " But before 
I sit down I would draw your attention to the extraordinary 
influence which the stage has upon society at large, and 
remembering this, I would, upon this ground alone, seek 
your support for such a society as this. In the practice of 
our art we win if we can if we fail we have ' only our shame 
and the odd hits ' and whether we fail or not, the breath of 
applause or the murmurs of censure, are alike shortlived, and 
our longest triumphs are almost as brief as either. Our lives 
are fraught with many temptations, and should be solaced by 
the thoughtfulness, brightened by the encouragement, and 
softened by the liberal estimation of the public ; for we actors 
have in charge a trust and a deposit of enormous value, such 
as no dead hand can treasure. The living voice, the vivid 
action, the tremulous passion, the animated gesture, the subtle 
and variously placed suggestion of character and meaning 
these alone can make Shakespeare to your children what 
Shakespeare is to you. Such is our birthright, and such is 
yours." 

In replying to the toast of his health proposed by J. L. 
Toole he defended himself from the charge of not slavishly 
following tradition in his acting. " I am very grateful," he 
said, "for the cordiality with which you have received this 
toast, and for the earnest words of my old friend who has 
proposed it. I only hope that one-half of the pleasant things 
he has said about me may be true. Ladies and gentlemen, 
I make no claim upon your consideration, except that of 
one who, whatever the results, has, at all events, laboured 
earnestly for his art. Mistakes may have been made none 
of us can hope to avoid them altogether but there has, I 



342 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xix. 

trust, been no unworthy aim nothing of which any lover of the 
English stage need be ashamed. There is a charge, to which 
I suppose I must plead guilty and that is, that I have not 
in everything shown an absolute deference to tradition. I 
do not know that there is any special reason that a man 
should boast that he has done his work in what he honestly 
believes to be the right way. But about tradition I venture 
to say this that it was all very well for those who invented 
it, but is simply injurious to those who merely imitate it 
(cheers). If a conception is not part of a man's own brain 
if it is not the impulse of his own creative faculty then it 
cannot bear that stamp of individuality without which there 
can be no true art (hear, hear). Michael Angelo and 
Raphael may vary in their conception of the character they 
so loved to paint, as a Garrick and a Kean in their con- 
ception of Hamlet or Macbeth. It is difficult at all times to 
struggle against the idea some people have of the way in 
which Shakespeare's tragedy ought to be represented. If 
you do not assume a ponderous manner, and let even your 
whispers be like muttered thunder, you are said to be reduc- 
ing poetry to the level of commonplace conversation. I think 
Shakespeare has himself given us definite instructions on 
this point ; and if the actor only learns to hold the mirror up 
to nature, he may be assured that the great purpose of play- 
ing is accomplished. I do not lay the flattering unction to 
my soul that I have done this. I am an eccentric creature, 
who has somehow stumbled into the dramatic profession, to 
which I have clung with mistaken tenacity for twenty-five 
years ; but I do my best to afford a little entertainment to 
the public, and I shall hold on as long as the great English 
public care to come and see me." 

Henry Irving presided over the anniversary dinner on 
behalf of the Royal General Theatrical Fund on four oc- 
casions : ist July, 1875 >' 2 9 tn Juty* J 88i ; 2Qth May, 1884 ; 
and 3 ist May, 1894. On the second occasion, the subscrip- 
tion list, which included one hundred guineas from Queen 
Victoria and a hundred pounds from Mr. George Rignold, 
amounted to 



CHAPTER XX. 

5th September, 1881 June, 1882. 

A triumphal tour Enormous receipts Manchester extols Irving's 
Shylock An address in Edinburgh " The Stage as It Is " Alterations at 
the Lyceum "Mr. Irving is above advertising himself" Amusing skit in 
Punch The re-opening of the Lyceum Great demand for seats The 
revival of "Two Roses" Irving's Digby Grant "had improved with 
keeping " " Romeo and Juliet " revived Irving's Preface and restorations 
The Prince and Princess of Wales present on the first night Irving acts 
Shylock at the Savoy Theatre The looth night of " Romeo and Juliet " 
Lord Lytton's tribute. 

THERE was but little time for rest between the closing of the 
London season and the opening of a provincial campaign of 
the most elaborate nature that was ever carried out. But 
Irving spent a few days in Edinburgh and at Oban in the 
early part of August. The tour of the country began, at the 
Grand Theatre, Leeds, on 5th September ; Miss Ellen Terry, 
Mr. Terriss, Mr. Howe, Mr. Mead, and all the other members 
of the company appeared, and the various plays were mounted 
in exactly the same style as at the Lyceum. From Leeds, 
Irving went in turn to Liverpool where he played for three 
weeks Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, 
Birmingham, and Bristol. "Hamlet" and "The Merchant 
of Venice " proved extremely popular. The tour ended on 
1 7th December, with the ninety -second performance. Irving's 
share of the receipts two-thirds of the takings amounted to 
the sum of ,23,666 53. 6d. 

But he had other successes than monetary ones. There 
was not a single jarring note in the enthusiasm with which he 
was greeted, and the press was lavish and voluminous in his 
praise. One brief quotation from the many columns of 
criticism must suffice as an example of the most discriminating 

343 



344 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

of the great number of articles which greeted him in the vari- 
ous towns. He may well have been gratified by the attitude 
of the Manchester Guardian in reference to the opening of his 
twelve nights' engagement at the Prince's Theatre on 2ist 
November, for that paper has always prided itself on upholding 
the right of Manchester to the same artistic standard as that 
of London or Paris. It began its criticism by a just recogni- 
tion of the general completeness of Irving's productions, and 
concluded its observations on this head by observing that 
" Mr. Irving's present visit will set an admirable precedent. 
The city in which he first showed what was in him will thus 
have reason to be grateful to him, and we hope and think 
that the results of his present visit will show that, in its ap- 
preciation of good and honest art, Manchester is in no way 
behind Glasgow and Edinburgh " where his performances in 
the previous four weeks had elicited unbounded applause on 
all sides. In a clever analysis of the impersonation of Shy- 
lock, it rightly denoted one of the great merits of this particular 
interpretation, as well as one of the chief points in all Irving's 
work his intellectuality. " A good performance of Shylock," 
said the Guardian, "must be subtle and must be intellectual 
whatever else it is or is not, and in subtlety and intelligence 
Mr. Irving's severest critics have never pretended that he was 
deficient. Shylock's immense intellectual superiority is one of 
the chief notes of his character, and nothing could have been 
finer than the way in which Mr. Irving conveyed this in such 
test passages as those in which Shylock speaks of Antonio's 
'low simplicity,' of 'his Christian courtesy,' of 'the fool that 
lent out money gratis/ or than the supreme contempt with 
which he treated the butterfly Gratiano in the trial scene." 
It gave him unqualified praise for his treatment of this side of 
the character, and it was equally in his favour in regard to the 
actor's general conception of the motives which sway Shy- 
lock against Antonio the main one being, of course, hatred. 
Quoting part of Shylock's speech in reference to Antonio : 

So I can give no reason, nor I will not, 
More than a lodg'd hate and a certain loathing 
I bear Antonio 



i88i] 



SHYLOCK IN MANCHESTER 



345 



it said that " this last word of ' loathing,' uttered by Mr. Irving 
as it were from the depths of his soul, is the right word. Shy- 
lock's hatred is not calculating enmity for definite losses in- 
curred through Antonio, any more than it is an impersonal and 
almost magnanimous desire to be revenged on the oppressor 
of his race. Both these elements enter into his feeling, but 
it is deeper lodged than any of them. The fierce passion 




From a Dublin paper in 1881. 

1. THE EFFECT ON A DUBLIN AUDIENCE OF 

2. THE EFFECT ON THE SAME AUDIENCE OF 



' THE BELLS ". 
THE BELLE'S STRATAGEM". 



(Irving played in both pieces on the same evening.) 

which shakes Shylock in the frenzied scene after he has heard 
of Jessica's disappearance and his utter remorselessness in the 
trial scene are consistent only with a personal hatred pushed 
almost to the verge of monomania. It is his success in 
rendering these which makes Mr. Irving's performance one of 
the truest, as well as the grimmest things he has ever done." 



346 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

The same critic W. T. Arnold gave an admirable de- 
scription of Irving 's treatment in Manchester, which differed 
somewhat from his original playing of it, of the great scene of 
the denunciation to Tubal. He quoted G. H. Lewes in re- 
ference to Macready's acting : " Shylock has to come on in a 
state of intense rage and grief at the flight of his daughter. 
Now it is obviously a great trial for the actor ' to strike twelve 
at once'. He is one moment calm in the green-room, and the 
next he has to appear on the stage with his whole nature in 
an uproar. Unless he has a very mobile temperament, quick 
as flame, he cannot begin this scene at the proper state of 
white heat. Accordingly, we see actors come bawling and 
gesticulating, but leaving us unmoved because they are not 
moved themselves. Macready, it is said, used to spend some 
minutes behind the scenes, lashing himself into an imaginative 
rage by cursing sotto voce, and shaking violently a ladder 
fixed against a wall. To bystanders the effect must have 
been ludicrous. But to the audience the actor presented 
himself as one really agitated." Continuing its criticism, the 
Guardian remarked : " We do not know whether Mr. Irving 
is compelled to have recourse to a similar preparation, but he 
certainly kindles very rapidly into flame. The scene is almost 
painful there is, indeed, something animal in the Jew's entire 
loss of self-control, and Mr. Irving spares us no detail of the 
wild eyes, wolfish teeth, and foaming mouth but it is con- 
summately played, and its repulsiveness is not more than is 
necessary to express Mr. Irving's conception of the character. 
We notice with some satisfaction that in this scene Mr. Irving 
delivers the famous words, * I would not have given it for a 
wilderness of monkeys,' differently from the manner in which 
he delivered them at the Lyceum two years ago. He then 
made them grotesque, but they are said in all seriousness by 
Shylock, and should be so said by the actor." The critic had 
only the highest praise for Irving's acting in the trial scene. 
Another critic, writing in the same paper eighteen years later, 
began his article with the words : " Sir Henry Irving's Shylock 
is one of the very finest of his accomplishments a performance 



i88i] AN ABLE ADDRESS 347 

full of beauty, wrought with perfect discretion, infinitely stimu- 
lating and impressive ". 

This triumphant tour was also the means of enabling 
Irving to deliver one of the most powerful addresses that he 
gave throughout his career in the cause that he had so deeply 
at heart. On the afternoon of 8th November he read the 
opening address of the winter session of the Edinburgh 
Philosophical Institution, in the Music Hall of the Scottish 
capital, the meeting being presided over by Sir Alexander 
Grant. He chose " The Stage as It Is " for his subject. The 
address is too long for free quotation ; moreover, it was widely 
printed in the papers and also published in pamphlet form. 
Again, in 1893, it was the fi rst i n the volume of four addresses 
by Henry Irving then issued. He began the reading of his 
paper by noting that the comparative neglect of the theatre 
" fortunately there is less of this than there used to be," he 
said arose partly from intellectual superciliousness, partly from 
timidity as to moral contamination. To boast of being able 
to appreciate Shakespeare more in reading him than in seeing 
him acted used to be a common method of affecting special 
intellectuality. But the pitiful delusion has mostly died out. 
It conferred a cheap badge of superiority on those who enter- 
tained it. It seemed to each of them an inexpensive oppor- 
tunity of worshipping himself on a pedestal. But what did it 
amount to? It was little more than a conceited and feather- 
headed assumption that an unprepared reader, whose mind is 
usually full of far other things, will see on the instant all that 
has been developed in hundreds of years by the members of 
a studious and enthusiastic profession. Irving's own convic- 
tion was that there are few characters or passages of our great 
dramatists which will not repay original study. But at least, 
he continued, "we must recognise the vast advantages with 
which a practised actor, impregnated by the associations of 
his life and by study with all the practical and critical skill 
of his profession up to the date at which he appears whether 
he adopts or rejects tradition, addresses himself to the inter- 
pretation of any great character, even if he have no originality 



348 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

whatever. There is something still more than this, however, 
in acting. Everyone who has the smallest histrionic gift has 
a natural dramatic fertility ; so that as soon as he knows the 
author's text and obtains self-possession, and feels at home in 
a part without being too familiar with it, the mere automatic 
action of rehearsing and playing it at once begins to place the 
author in new lights and to give the personage being played 
an individuality partly independent of, and yet consistent with, 
and rendering more powerfully visible, the dramatist's concep- 
tion. It is the vast power a good actor has in this way which 
has led the French to speak of creating a part when they 
mean its being first played ; and French authors are so con- 
scious of the extent and value of this co-operation of actors 
with them that they have never objected to the phrase, but, 
on the contrary, are uniformly lavish in their homage to the 
artists who have created on the boards the parts which they 
themselves had created on paper." He went on to observe 
that while there is but one Shakespeare, and there are but 
comparatively few dramatists sufficiently classic to be read 
with close attention, there is a great deal of average dramatic 
work excellently suited for representation. From this the 
public derive pleasure as well as instruction and mental 
stimulus. So it is plain that if, because Shakespeare is good 
reading, people were to give the cold shoulder to the theatre, 
the world would lose all the vast advantage which comes to it 
through the dramatic faculty in forms not rising to essentially 
literary excellence. As to the fear of moral contamination, 
the theatre of fifty years before did sometimes need reforming 
in the audience part of the house. " But it has been re- 
formed ; and if there is moral contamination from what is per- 
formed on the stage, so there is from books, so there may be 
at lawn tennis, clubs, and dances. But do we, therefore, bury 
ourselves? The theatre, as a whole, is never below the 
average moral sense of the time ; and this is truer now than 
ever it was before. The stage is no longer a mere appendage 
of Court-life, but the property of the educated people. It 
must satisfy them or pine in neglect. This being so, the 



i88i] ALTERATIONS AT THE LYCEUM 349 

stage is no longer proscribed. Its members are no longer 
pariahs in society." Was his own appearance there not a 
sign of that? He felt his position as a representative one, 
and it marked an epoch in the estimation in which the art 
he loved was held by the British world. Referring to the 
lament that there were no schools for actors, he said the com- 
plaint was idle. Practice was their school. They should 
have a sincere and absorbing sympathy with all that is good, 
and great, and inspiring. He went on to dwell on the adapt- 
ability of the theatre to the prevailing wants and taste of 
the time, and concluded with a fine peroration picturing 
the actor's pleasure in abandoning himself to his author's 
" grandest flights of thought and noblest bursts of emotional 
enthusiasm ". 

During the absence from London of the actor-manager, 
the theatre had been in the hands of an army of workpeople, 
and extensive alterations had been made for the benefit of the 
public, and, incidentally, the holding capacity of the house had 
been increased very considerably. By taking in a corridor at 
the back of the dress-circle, sixty or seventy new seats were 
added to that part of the house, while, by bringing a saloon 
within the area of the pit, room with a direct view of the stage 
was obtained for about two hundred more persons. Nor 
was he unmindful of his friends up aloft. An objectionable 
arch was removed from the gallery so that the stage could be 
seen clearly from the highest line of seats. The ventilation of 
this part of the theatre was improved greatly, and the gallery 
seats were cushioned. Striking alterations were made in re- 
gard to entrances and means of egress. The main staircase, 
which had previously sufficed for the entire audience, except 
the pit and gallery, was increased in width from eight to eigh- 
teen feet. The pit entrance was widened, and, instead of tak- 
ing an awkward turn, looked directly towards the Strand on 
the level of the street. From the proscenium arch up to the 
entire height of the roof above the stage, concrete took the 
place of timber. The pit was entirely re -seated, and various 
other minor alterations tended to the comfort of the audience. 



350 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

He had received tremendous advertisement in London 
from the unprecedented success of his provincial tour, and by 
reason of the structural alterations at the Lyceum. During 
his absence, he also obtained an indirect advertisement 
through an action for libel brought by Clement Scott. 
During the hearing of the case, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord 
Coleridge of the silvery voice, made a statement which gave 
rise to much amusing comment. " Mr. Irving is above ad- 
vertising himself," he said. This suggested to Punch a brief 
but entertaining article headed " Mr. Irving on Himself". 
Taking as its text the dictum of Lord Coleridge, it remarked : 

" Isn't he ? Haven't we seen two or three advertisements 
per diem lately about the re-opening of the Lyceum ? And 
if the following manifesto has not already appeared in a morn- 
ing paper, that's not his fault : 

" To THE NATION. On the return of Mr. IRVING to the 
Lyceum Theatre, it is felt to be a public duty to briefly 
chronicle the brilliant and unprecedented result of his triumphal 
march through the provinces. An illuminated balance-sheet, 
with gilt edges, will be handed, free of charge, to every visitor 
at the Lyceum Theatre ; the no-fee system being, it is hoped, 
strictly adhered to on the part of the public." 

" A leading Belfast newspaper says : 

" * Mr. IRVING is the greatest Actor that has ever trod the 
boards, judged by the standpoint of his profits, by the side of 
which the most sublime efforts of GARRICK, KEAN, KEMBLE, 
and RACHEL sink into insignificance. The three kingdoms have 
vied with each other in noble rivalry to do substantial homage 
to him who has undoubtedly placed himself at the head of that 
trade which he is never tired of upholding, and which if per- 
severing in the course he has recently taken he will un- 
doubtedly succeed in placing on a level with that of the enter- 
prising Grocer and advertising Tea-dealer. 

" ' To illustrate the lavish nature of Mr. IRVING'S genius we 
may mention the fact that two special trains are necessary in 
order to meet the requirements of travel one train being set 
apart for the distinguished Tragedian himself, the other con- 



i88i] "TWO ROSES" REVIVED 351 

veying the costumes, which are the most expensive that can 
be procured for the money, the scenery being designed by 
Royal Academicians at immense outlay, the company engaged 
to support their chief, the properties, and the Acting-manager, 
who may be described as the most courteous on the road. 

" * Mr. IRVING will shortly return to the scene of his former 
triumphs newly decorated and calculated to hold considerably 
more money. Bearing ever in mind that his motto that 'Art 
is to conceal artfulness,' Mr. IRVING hopes, by constant atten- 
tion to business, to merit that support to which he is undoubtedly 
entitled. . . . We may add that for the above particulars we 
are indebted to the courtesy of the great Tragedian's Acting- 
manager himself.' 

" NOTICE. A special staff has been told off to allot the 
seats for the opening night. Many thousands must necessarily 
be disappointed ; but Mr. IRVING sincerely hopes that no block 
will cause any interruption of the coronetted carriage-traffic in 
the Strand. 

" Mr. IRVING will do his very best to provide seats for 
everybody in the course of time, only they really must 
wait their turn. The Lyceum has been re-decorated and 
re-ceipted no, re-seated, only Mr. IRVING couldn't resist 
the allusion." 

There was, of course, a huge demand for seats for "Two 
Roses," with which the Lyceum re-opened on Monday, 
26th December. It was announced that tickets would be 
allotted according to priority of date of application ; further- 
more, "Mr. Irving regrets" so ran the advertisement 
" that it is not possible to place seats for such special occasions 
at the disposal of the various libraries ". The latter statement 
was rendered necessary through the enormous prices which 
had been obtained by the "libraries" when the famous 
"society" beauty, Mrs. Langtry, made her first appearance 
on the stage at the Hay market Theatre. This was just 
before the re-opening of the Lyceum, when three, four, and, 
so it was said, as much as ten guineas had been paid for a 
stall, in consequence of the majority of the seats having been 



352 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

bought in advance by the libraries. Irving did not play 
Digby Grant after this season, as the part was too small for 
him, and the play had lost its savour. Moreover, the compari- 
sons between the members of the new cast and those of the 
original were not altogether in favour of the more modern 
players. A special engagement was made for this occasion 
in the person of David James who, after the first production, 
had acted " Our Mr. Jenkins" in succession to George Honey. 



TWO ROSES. 

Revived at the Lyceum, 26th December, 1881. 



MR. DIGBY GRANT - 

MR. FURNIVAL 

JACK WYATT - 

CALEB DEECIE- 

FOOTMAN - 

OUR MR. JENKINS 

IDA - 

MRS. CUPPS 

OUR MRS. JENKINS - 

LOTTIE - 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. H. HOWE. 

Mr. W. TERRISS. 

Mr. G. ALEXANDER. 

Mr. HARBURY. 

Mr. DAVID JAMES. 

Miss HELEN MATTHEWS. 

Miss C. EWELL. 

Miss PAUNCEFORT. 

Miss WINIFRED EMERY. 



ACT I., SCENE. Mr. Digby Grant's Cottage. ACT II., 
SCENE. Jack Wyatt's Lodgings. ACT III., SCENE. Vassal- 
wick Grange. 

CAST OF THE FIRST PRODUCTION, AT THE 
VAUDEVILLE, 4 TH JUNE, 1870. 



MR. DIGBY GRANT 
JACK WYATT - 
CALEB DEECIE 
MR. JENKINS - 
MR. FURNIVAL 
LOTTIE 
IDA - 

MRS. CUPPS 
MRS. JENKINS - 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 
Mr. H. J. MONTAGUE. 
Mr. THOMAS THORNE. 
Mr. GEORGE HONEY. 
Mr. W. H. STEPHENS. 
Miss AMY FAWSITT. 
Miss A. NEWTON. 
Miss PHILLIPS. 
Miss T. LAVIS. 



Mr. George Alexander made his first appearance on the 
London stage as the blind Caleb Deecie, and William 
Terriss was the Jack Wyatt. The " roses," Lottie and Ida, 
were Miss Winifred Emery and Miss Helen Mathews, and 
Mr. Howe, Miss Pauncefort, and Miss C. Ewell completed 
the cast. The Times said that the impersonation of Digby 
Grant "had improved with keeping. The mannerisms of 
which we have heard so much in Mr, Irving's acting obtruded 



i88i] DIGBY GRANT AGAIN 353 

themselves certainly in the opening scene, but under the 
strong, commanding individuality of the actor they seemed to 
become merged in the idiosyncrasies of the 'broken gentle- 
man' who affects theatrical airs with his washerwoman, and 
who sponges shamelessly on his daughter's suitor. In the 
subsequent acts they were not seen at all, or seen only as a 
part and parcel of the character itself. The transitions from 
poverty to affluence and again from affluence to poverty in 
Digby Grant's circumstances were managed by the actor with 
rare skill : in the offensively purse-proud soi-disant ' gentle- 
man' who has paid off all his old friends with a 'little cheque,' 
and who preaches down his daughter's heart with his selfish 
and worldly ideas, there was the same innate baseness as 
before, but baseness gilded and subdued by wealthy sur- 
roundings. The character was consistent throughout '. it had, 
too, all the indefinable touches of tone, gesture, look which 
only genius supplies ; and, to descend to a detail which is 
perhaps more important than it seems, Mr. Irving's make-up, 
not so much in the character of the broken gentleman, as in 
that of the pretentious ' swell,' was singularly true and perfect." 
Albery's comedy was preceded by Planche's comedietta, 
"The Captain of the Watch," acted by Terriss, Miss Louisa 
Payne, Miss Helen Mathews, and others. This was the last 
time that the old-fashioned farce was seen at the Lyceum as 
part of the ordinary bill. "Two Roses" was played until 
3rd March, sixty performances being given. The theatre 
was then closed for the final rehearsals of " Romeo and 
Juliet." 

In his speech to the audience on the first night of the 
revival of "Two Roses," Irving declared that "Romeo and 
Juliet" was ready for production whenever it was required. 
And the revival was well in hand at that time. But the in- 
tervening weeks were put to good use, and when, on Wednes- 
day, 8th March, 1882, the revival of Shakespeare's immortal 
love tragedy took place, the Lyceum presented a series of 
poetical and beautiful pictures such as the stage had not 
previously seen. Irving felt his own limitations and he knew 

VOL. i. 23 



354 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

quite well that he could not be the love-sick, ardent Romeo 
any more than Miss Ellen Terry could be the passionate 
Italian girl. The history of the stage teems with the attempts 
of ladies of uncertain age most of whom were old enough to 
be mothers, while some might have been grandmothers, had 
they been ordinary domestic persons ! to play Juliet, and 
there was no reason why a man of forty-four should not have 
been a fairly successful lover. The "too old at forty" fetish 
was unknown to the philosophy of a quarter of a century ago. 
Irving could not be a boy-Romeo, but he meant to capture 
the public. And he did so. In the first place, he devoted 
himself to the text, and he abolished certain excrescences 
which had grown upon the play. H e destroyed these barnacles 
unmercifully and presented the tragedy in its pristine purity. 
In his acting edition, which was published simultaneously with 
his production, he announced his intention : " I have availed 
myself of every resource at my command to illustrate without 
intrusion" mark these words, "without intrusion "- " the 
Italian warmth, life, and romance of this enthralling love-story. 
Such changes as have been made from the ordinary manner 
of presentation are, I think, justified by the fuller develop- 
ment of our present stage, of the advantages of which the 
Poet would, doubtless, have freely availed himself had his own 
opportunities been brought up to the level of our time." In 
regard to the arrangement of the text, he stated that he had 
" endeavoured to retain all that was compatible with the 
presentation of the play within a reasonable time," and he 
acknowledged his indebtedness to the Variorum of Furness 
and the editions of Dyce and Singer. The most important 
of his restorations was "that of Romeo's unrequited love for 
Rosaline, omitted amongst other things in Garrick's Georgian 
version. Its value can hardly be over-appreciated, since 
Shakespeare has carefully worked out this first baseless love 
of * Romeo' as a palpable evidence of the subjective nature of 
the man and his passion." The conclusion to his Preface 
was, as usual when he spoke of his own efforts, extremely 
modest : " In securing for the production of this play the co- 



1882] 



-ROMEO AND JULIET' 



355 



operation and assistance of some of the distinguished repre- 
sentatives of our time of the various Arts I have been most 
fortunate ; and although the art of the actor must ever fail to 
realize the ideal of the Poet, still we hope that suggestions in 



ROMEO AND JULIET. 
Revived at the Lyceum, 8th March, 1882. 



ROMEO - 
MERCUTIO 
TYBALT - 
PARIS 
CAPULET - 
MONTAGUE 
FRIAR LAURENCE 
APOTHECARY - 
PRINCE ESCALUS 
BENVOLIO 
GREGORY 
SAMPSON - 
ABRAHAM 
BALTHASAR 
PETER 
FRIAR JOHN 
CITIZEN - 
CHORUS - 
PAGE 

NURSE - 
LADY MONTAGUE 
LADY CAPULET 
JULIET - 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. WILLIAM TERRISS. 

Mr. CHARLES GLENNEY. 

Mr. GEORGE ALEXANDER. 

Mr. HOWE. 

Mr. HARBURY. 

Mr. FERNANDEZ. 

Mr. MEAD. 

Mr. TYARS. 

Mr. CHILD. 

Mr. CARTER. 

Mr. ARCHER. 

Mr. LOUTHER. 

Mr. HUDSON. 

Mr. ANDREWS. 

Mr. BLACK. 

Mr. HARWOOD. 

Mr. HOWARD RUSSELL. 

Miss KATE BROWN. 

Mrs. STIRLING. 

Miss H. MATTHEWS. 

Miss L. PAYNE. 

Miss ELLEN TERRY. 



ACT I., SCENE i. Verona The Market Place ; SCENE 2. 
Verona Loggia of Capulet's House ; SCENE 3. Verona 
Before Capulet's House ; SCENE 4. A Hall in Capulet's 
House. ACT II., SCENE i. Verona Wall of Capulet's Gar- 
den ; SCENE 2. Verona The Garden ; SCENE 3. Verona 
The Monastery ; SCENE 4. Verona Outside the City ; 
SCENE 5. Verona Terrace of Capulet's Garden ; SCENE 6. 
Verona The Cloisters. ACT III., SCENE i. Verona A 
Public Place; SCENE 2. Verona The Loggia; SCENE 3. 
Verona A Secret Place in the Monastery ; SCENE 4. Verona 
Capulet's House; SCENE 5. Verona Juliet's Chamber. 
ACT IV., SCENE i. Verona The Friar's Cell ; SCENE 2. 
Verona Juliet's Chamber (Night); SCENE 3. Verona The 
Same (Morning). ACT V., SCENE i. Mantua A Street ; 
SCENE 2. Verona The Friar's Cell; SCENE 3. Verona 
Churchyard with the Tomb of the Capulets; SCENE 4. 
Verona The Tomb. 



the interpretation of the play may be offered on which the 
mind may dwell with pleasure and profit, and which may 
justify our attempt." 

The interest taken in the revival was intense. All ranks 

of playgoers were eager to see the new " Romeo" and the 

23* 



356 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

first night audience was headed by the Prince and Princess 
of Wales (Edward VII. and Queen Alexandra), and the 
rest of the distinguished company included the Earl of Lytton, 
the Duke and Duchess of Wellington, the Countess of 
Breadalbane, Lord and Lady Londesborough, the Earl of 
Fife, the Lord and Lady Mayoress of London, Sir Frederick 
and Lady Pollock, Sir Dighton Probyn, Admiral Sir W. 
Hewitt, Sir Julius and Lady Benedict, Baron Ferdinand 
Rothschild, and the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. " The superb 
character of the revival," said the Daily Telegraph, "cannot 
be sufficiently appreciated at a single inspection. The mind, 
anxious to take in so much, inevitably passes over many 
instances of colour and arrangement. Such scenes as these 
the outside of Capulet's house lighted for the ball, the 
sunny pictures of Verona in summer, the marriage chant to 
Juliet changed into a death dirge, the old, lonely street in 
Mantua, where the Apothecary dwells, the wondrous solid 
tomb of the Capulets are as worthy of close and renewed 
study as are the pictures in a gallery of paintings. " These 
were, in a pictorial sense, the lesser things of the revival. 
The ball-room scene of the first act was one of the most 
sumptuous stage pictures ever presented. And the fight 
between the representatives of the Montagues and the 
Capulets in the Market Place of Verona proved that Henry 
Irving had nothing to learn from the players of Saxe-Mein- 
engen, whose appearance at Drury Lane in the previous 
year had drawn attention to their dexterous handling of stage- 
crowds. In the last act, the tomb scene was most impressive. 
The Lyceum Romeo dragged the body of the murdered 
Paris down the steps at the back of the stage the dim light 
and the general effect of distance were most weird and im- 
pressive. Irving's best scenes were Romeo's fight with 
Tybalt, his passionate acting when Romeo learns of his 
banishment, and the scene with the Apothecary. The last 
was a marvellous bit of acting, and will be remembered as a 
fine, artistic touch. In the ability to express profound melan- 
choly and to indicate coming doom, Irving has had no rival 




Photo : Lock and Whitfield, London. 

Miss ELLEN TERRY AS PORTIA. 



1882] SHYLOCK AT THE SAVOY 357 

on the stage. This one scene in Irving's hands was worth 
any number of vigorous, " manly" Romeos prancing about 
Juliet's garden and offering the salutation of rhapsody to the 
love-lorn lady on the balcony. By the same rule, Miss Ellen 
Terry was not an " ideal" Juliet old playgoers could not 
banish memories of Adelaide Neilson and Stella Colas but 
she had the charm of youth and her own indefinable grace 
and beauty. Her best scenes were those with the Nurse. 
That in which the news of Romeo's impending visit to the 
Friar's cell is delayed, and, finally, conveyed to Juliet, was 
exquisitely acted. Its matchless charm is an abiding memory. 
Miss Terry had an admirable representative of the Nurse to 
assist her in the late Mrs. Stirling. Other able players who 
gave invaluable aid to the production were the late Henry 
Howe, Mr. James Fernandez, William Terriss as Mercutio, 
and Thomas Mead as the Apothecary. In short, generally 
speaking, the tragedy has never had so superb a cast. For 
the chorus, there was Mr. Howard Russell, a good actor of 
the "old school," who is still before the public. Special 
music was composed by Sir Julius Benedict, the costumes 
were designed by an artist who was exceedingly clever in 
such matters, the late Alfred Thompson, while Mr. Hawes 
Craven, Mr. Walter Hann, and the late William Telbin 
were chiefly responsible for the scenery. 

On the first night of the revival, the representative of 
Romeo announced that the tragedy would be played at the 
Lyceum "until further notice". Some months passed ere 
that notice was given. In the meantime, some interesting 
events came to pass. First of all, on the afternoon of 
Wednesday, 2ist June, Miss Florence Terry took her fare- 
well of the stage, in view of her approaching marriage and 
retirement. The Savoy Theatre was selected for this leave- 
taking, and on its stage Henry Irving appeared as Shy lock 
in the Trial scene. Miss Ellen Terry was Portia, Miss 
Florence Terry the Nerissa, and Miss Marion Terry added 
to the interest of the occasion and the incongruity of the 
scene ! by appearing as the Clerk of the Court. The 



353 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

hundredth night of ''Romeo and Juliet" followed hard upon 
this 24th June being the exact date. The occasion was 
celebrated by a banquet on the stage of the Lyceum which, 
for the time being, was turned into a festive hall, adorned 
with tapestry and flowers. A grove of artificial greenery 
divided the stage from the auditorium, where, in the "dim, 
religious light," music was played at intervals. The Earl of 
Lytton ("Owen Meredith," 1831-1891), presided over a 
company of over a hundred representatives of art, the drama, 
and literature. In giving the toast of the evening, he 
touched, most happily, upon some of the reasons for Irving's 
success with the Shakespearean drama, and he made a deep 
impression upon his audience as to the true sense of Irving's 
artistic mission. "In the course of his brilliant career as an 
actor," he said, " Mr. Irving has sustained many characters. 
In all of them he will be long and admirably remembered ; 
but in none of them has he established a more general and 
permanent claim to our gratitude than in the character by 
which he is so worthily known to us as the illustrious successor 
of my lamented friend, the late Mr. Macready, in the 
beneficent task of restoring to the British stage its ancient 
and now prolific alliance with the literature and poetry of our 
country. Speaking here as the son of an English writer, 
who was not unconnected with the stage, and who, were he 
still living, would, I am sure, be worthily interested in the 
success of Mr. Irving's noble undertaking, and gratefully 
acknowledge, in all that tends to record and confirm such 
an alliance, the promise of a threefold benefit a benefit to 
our national literature, because, without it, that literature 
would remain comparatively barren or undeveloped in one 
of the highest departments of imaginative writing a benefit 
to our national stage, because without it the genius of our 
actors, when seeking opportunities for the expression of its 
highest powers in the performance of great parts and great 
plays, must remain dependent more or less upon the dramatic 
productions, either of former generations or foreign countries ; 
and a benefit to our national society, because there is no 



i882] "OWEN MEREDITH'S" TRIBUTE 359 

surer test of the relative place to be assigned to any modern 
community in a state of social civilisation than the intellectual 
character of its public amusements ; and in elevating these 
you exalt the whole community. Now I feel sure you will 
agree with me that no living English actor has done more in 
this direction than Mr. Irving ; and he has done it not by 
sacrificing all other conditions of dramatic effect to the dis- 
play of his own idiosyncrasy as an actor, but by associating 
his peculiar powers as an actor with a rarely cultivated and 
thoughtful study of that harmonious unity of dramatic im- 
pressions which is essential to the high order of dramatic per- 
formances. Mr. Irving's eminence as an actor needs from 
me no individual recognition. 1 1 has long ago been established, 
and in connection with its latest manifestation, it has been 
re-affirmed with enthusiasm by a popular verdict which 
supersedes all personal comment. But there is one character- 
istic of his talents which has, I think, been specially conducive 
to its popularity. It requires a great actor to perform a great 
part, just as it requires a great author to write one. But it 
requires, I think, from a great actor certain special and un- 
common powers to enable him to throw the whole force of 
his mind creatively into every detail of a great play, giving 
to the pervading vital spirit of it an adequately complete, ap- 
propriate, and yet original embodiment. This peculiar quality 
of Mr. Irving's mind and management has been conspicuously 
revealed in his conception and production of the play, whose 
one hundredth performance at this theatre we celebrate to-night. 
" Now, though ' Romeo and Juliet ' is one of the most poetic, 
it is certainly one of the least dramatic, of Shakespeare's 
tragedies. To us its main charm and interest must always 
be poetic rather than dramatic. Even in the versification of 
it Shakespeare has adopted, as he has adopted in no other 
drama, forms peculiar to the early love-poetry of Italy and 
Provence. Its true dramatis personae are not mere mortal 
Montagues and Capulets, they are those beautiful immortals, 
love and youth, in an ideal land of youth and love and those 
delicate embodiments of a passionate romance Shakespeare 



360 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xx. 

has surrounded with a scenery and invested with an atmos- 
phere of sensuous beauty. This atmosphere is the only 
medium through which we can view them in their true 
poetic perspective and right relation to that imaginary world 
in which alone they naturally breathe and move and have 
their being. But it is this subtle atmosphere of surrounding 
beauty which invariably and inevitably escapes in the ordin- 
ary stage performance of the play, and it is, I conceive, the 
surpassing merits of Mr. Irving's conception and treatment 
of the play to have restored to it, or rather to have given for 
the first time to its stage performance, the indefinable, per- 
vading charm of what I can only call its natural poetic 
climate. In the production of this result he has successfully 
employed, no doubt, scenic effects, which attest a creative 
imagination of no common force and sweetness. But the 
result is by no means due to scenic effect alone. Did time 
allow, I think I could trace it through numerous details of 
singular delicacy to the unobtrusive and pervading influence 
of an original mind upon the whole arrangement and per- 
formance of the play, and we should indeed be ungrateful 
for the pleasure it has given us, if we forget, on this occasion, 
how largely that pleasure is due to the refined and graceful 
exercise of such charming talents as those which delighted us 
in the acting of Miss Terry and Mrs. Stirling, and to the 
general intelligence of all who have supported Mr. Irving in 
thus successfully carrying out his own brilliant conception of 
the play." 

In his reply to this simple, direct, and truthful testimony 
to his achievements an "appreciation" which was all the 
more gratifying since it was not mere empty eulogy the 
actor-manager touched with a light hand upon the subject so 
dear to him the stage and created an impression of "rare 
intellectual sympathy ". The harmony of the evening was 
increased by the proposal of the health of the Lord Mayor 
by George Augustus Sala in a speech in the happiest and 
most genial manner of that brilliant journalist. 



CHAPTER XXI. 



June, 1882 nth October, 1883. 

Master Harry and Master Laurence Irving The success of " Romeo 
and Juliet " 161 performances and a profit of ^10,000 A reading of 
" Much Ado " A remarkable speech " Much Ado About Nothing " 
revived Its wonderful success 212 consecutive performances and a pro- 
fit of ^26,000 An enthusiastic audience Irving's valedictory speech 
Some interesting figures Farewell banquet in St. James's Hall Lord 
Coleridge's eloquent tribute Farewell visits to Glasgow, Edinburgh, and 
Liverpool Speech at the Edinburgh Pen and Pencil Club Farewell 
speech in Liverpool Sails for America. 

ANOTHER event occurred in June, 1882, which should 
be chronicled, inasmuch as it appertains to the personal his- 
tory of the subject of this biography. On Friday, the 3Oth 
of that month, at the Duke of Wellington's Riding School, 
Knightsbridge, a "Grand Lilliputian Fancy Fair" was held, 
in aid of a charity, and the screen scene from " The School 
for Scandal " was given amongst other entertainments 
with the following cast : 



SIR PETER TEAZLE - 
JOSEPH SURFACE 
CHARLES SURFACE - 
SERVANT - 
LADY TEAZLE - 



Miss JOSEPHINE WEBLING. 
Master HARRY IRVING. 
Master LAURENCE IRVING. 
Master JOHN GARRETT. 
Miss PEGGY WEBLING. 



The children, who had been trained by Mrs. Chippendale, 
acquitted themselves well in somewhat unfavourable circum- 
stances, for there was an intolerable noise from the fair. 
Nevertheless, a discerning critic discovered that "the two 
juvenile sons of Mr. Henry Irving manifest a decided his- 
trionic 'heredity 'in their impersonations". It is interesting 
to think that while his children they were then in their 
twelfth and eleventh years, respectively were thus showing 
their hereditary talent, Henry Irving was in a brilliant and 

361 



362 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XXL 

unassailable position. After many years of incessant hard 
work he had reached a period in his career which lasted in 
unshaken, steady success until health and strength could no 
longer stand against disasters which would have appalled the 
weak, but which left him still determined. 

These days of " Romeo and Juliet" were happy ones 
and they ushered in still better times. One of the many 
people who have written biographies of the actor-manager 
says: " one feels anxious, in the interests of Irving, to pass 
over * Romeo and Juliet' quickly". There is no need, how- 
ever, for apology on this score. Romeo was not by any 
means Irving's best performance, any more than Juliet was 
Ellen Terry's highest achievement. But, in neither case, 
was there anything to be ashamed of; and the actor has not 
yet lived who was equally good in every character which he 
undertook. It was not a crime, as some people seem to 
think, for an actor at the age of forty-four to attempt to 
impersonate Romeo, even though he was lacking in the 
physical qualifications of the part. The public did not think 
so indifferently of the experiment, for "Romeo and Juliet" 
was played throughout the season 8th March to 2 9th July 
inclusive and, on the re-opening of the Lyceum in September, 
it was again brought out and played until one hundred and 
sixty-one performances had been given, with only a break of 
five weeks for the necessary summer vacation. Moreover 
and this should be noted during the first five months of its 
run it drew ,34,000 odd. On this sum, despite the enormous 
expenses and no other manager ever had so heavy a pay- 
roll there was a profit of ,10,000. "Two Roses" brought 
in a balance to the good of more than "2,000, so that the 
net financial result of the eight months' season did not leave 
much cause for complaint. The sale of books of the Lyceum 
version of the immortal love tragedy realised over "400. 

Not content with his duties to the public, Irving occasion- 
ally gave readings in private. One of the most notable of 
these appearances took place on 2Oth July at the residence 
of Sir Theodore and Lady Martin (Helen Faucit), 31 Onslow 



i882] END OF A MEMORABLE SEASON 363 

Square. The programme on this interesting occasion was as 
follows : 

"MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING." 

BEATRICE Lady MARTIN. 

HERO Miss ROSINA FILIPPI. 



URSULA - 
BENEDICK 
LEONATO 
ANTONIO - 
CLAUDIO - 
DON PEDRO 



Miss STOKES. 

Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Rev. ALFRED AINGER. 

Sir THEODORE MARTIN. 

Mr. TREVOR. 

Mr. BENSON. 



FRIAR Mr. W. FARREN, Junr. 

A few nights afterwards on Saturday, 2 9th July an- 
other memorable season ended at the Lyceum. The actor- 
manager, who now knew that he had the world at his feet, 
took occasion to rebuke some of the various people who were 
constantly attempting to teach him his own business. He was 
getting just a little tired of such impertinences as they would 
certainly be considered if applied to any modern actor but 
he did not give vent to indignation or vehemence. He was 
sure of his proud place with the public, so he resorted to that 
mild sarcasm in which he knew well how to indulge. The text 
of his speech is given in full on this occasion, as such an address, 
in his own words, proves how- even now, when he was at the 
zenith of his career the yelping of the envious and the 
snarling at his success went on unceasingly. This is what he 
said : "The curtain has fallen on ' Romeo and Juliet' for the 
one hundred and thirtieth time, and I hope you will permit it 
on 2nd September, this day five weeks, to rise again upon the 
play presented to-night. I am told sometimes that I do wrong 
to inflict on you the tediousness of Shakespeare, an author 
whose works some of the wise judges of dramatic art assure 
us are rather dull and tiresome to a nineteenth-century audience. 
Perhaps Shakespeare would find some of us a little dull and 
tiresome, too ; but, be that as it may, I fear I shall continue in 
my misguided course as long as I meet with your support to 
warrant my perseverance ; and, for those who find his works 
dull and tedious, we shall be happy to put them on the free 
list when you are kind enough to leave room for them. I am 



364 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xxi. 

glad to tell you that the season just past has realised nothing 
but success. We began with the * Two Roses,' which you re- 
ceived with great favour, and which was played until the pro- 
duction of * Romeo and Juliet'. ' Romeo and Juliet' was no 
light undertaking, and it is perhaps worth recording that, out 
of twenty characters, more or less, in the play, not one of them 
had ever been attempted by any of us before ; so that to each 
actor in the cast it was a first night's representation. This, 
in a Shakespeare play, is somewhat remarkable, and difficult 
beyond belief to all who know the difficulties under which 
actors labour on their first appearances in what are called 
legitimate parts. Every part has been acted before and 
various standards of opinions have been formed and volumes 
probably written upon them. It is a common thing to hear 
an actor say, 'Ah, give me an original part,' meaning a part 
that cannot be judged by precedent. It was thought by some, 
I remember, that I had overdone our play with scenery and 
trappings, and that I had spent too much upon its production. 
That I don't dispute, but that it was overdone I do. 
Nothing, to my mind, can be overdone upon the stage that is 
beautiful I mean correct and harmonious, and that heightens, 
not dwarfs, the imagination and reality. I took no less com- 
parative pains in producing ' The Captain of the Watch ' or 
the ' Two Roses '. The next play and I must again inflict 
upon you the tediousness of Shakespeare the next play which 
we shall have the honour of presenting will be * Much Ado 
About Nothing,' the cast of which will be the best I can by 
every possibility command. What our next venture may be 
after that I can hardly now say, for, like a good skipper, I 
must closely watch the breeze of your desire and trim my sails 
accordingly. 

" On behalf of the Lyceum company, I must thank you for 
the manifold kindness you have shown, and I must especially 
thank you on behalf of Mrs. Stirling, whose performance of the 
Nurse will, I am sure, be long remembered by you, and on 
behalf of Miss Ellen Terry. To play the part of Juliet one 
hundred and thirty consecutive times and never to have faltered 



1882] 



AN OLD CUSTOM 



365 



is an effort calling forth an energy both of brain and soul a 
feat of physical endurance not often accomplished, and seldom, 
I am glad to say, if ever, required of an artist. You will per- 
haps say, ' Then why require it ? ' Ladies and gentlemen, 
' Those who live to please must please to live '. Success cannot 
be commanded in theatrical matters. If you like the present- 
ment of a play you will come and see it ; if you don't like it you 
will stay away, and if you do come and see it in goodly 
numbers, it is a manager's duty to continue it. * While you 
have success keep it,' should be the motto of the manager of 
a big theatre, for sympathy without success will soon shut up 
his theatre. For myself, whilst thanking you for the brilliant 
attendance with which you have honoured me to-night (another 
proof of your favour), I have a confession to make which lies 
heavy upon my breast, for if I am to credit a certain authority, 
I have grievously offended you. It seems I have been guilty 
of sanctioning a custom more honoured in the breach than 
the observance the custom of what is called taking a ' benefit '. 
Benefits, it appears, should never be taken, should be forgot, 
at least by actors whom your favour has cherished with pros- 
perity and honour. Now, I beg to differ from this view, and 
having the respect and honour of my calling thoroughly and 
seriously at heart, would not forget the old custom. Ladies 
and gentlemen, few of you, I daresay, have come here to- 
night with the impression that your money will be welcome to 
an impoverished treasury. It is not to put money in my purse 
or to take it out of yours that I cling to the old custom. But 
I cannot deny myself at the end of each season the gratifica- 
tion of reading in your kindly faces that approbation which I 
deserve so imperfectly, but which, believe me, I value so 
highly. Thanks to your generous favour, every night is a 
benefit or otherwise to me as a manager, but on occasions like 
this I come forward and I am not ashamed to do so, as many 
great masters of my art have done so before me to take a 
special benefit, the benefit of seeing around me many of my 
best and well-tried friends best and well-tried because 
throughout my career, through all my struggles, through my 



3 66 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xxi. 

failures and successes, they have succoured me with their 
hearty sympathy and cheered me with their ungrudging en- 
couragement. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you with all my 
heart, and wish you but for a little time ' Good-bye,' and I hope 
I shall never be guilty of worse taste or greater vulgarity than 
in appearing before you as I do to-night ; and whether it may 
be called a benefit or by any other name, I shall be proud of 
the occasion which can gather together su p ch a distinguished 
assembly as have honoured me with their presence to-night." 



MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. 
Revived at the Lyceum, nth October, 1882. 



BENEDICK 
DON PEDRO - 
DON JOHN 
CLAUDIO 
LEONATO 
ANTONIO 
BALTHAZAR - 
BORACHIO 

CONRADE 

FRIAR FRANCIS 

DOGBERY 

VERGES - 
SEACOAL 
OATCAKE 
A SEXTON 
A MESSENGER 
A BOY - 
HERO - 
MARGARET 
URSULA - 
BEATRICE 



Mr. HENRY IRVING. 

Mr. W. TERRISS. 

Mr. C. GLENNEY. 

Mr. FORBES-ROBERTSON. 

Mr. FERNANDEZ. 

Mr. H. HOWE. 

Mr. J. ROBERTSON. 

Mr. F. TYARS. 

Mr. HUDSON. 

Mr. MEAD. 

Mr. S. JOHNSON. 

Mr. STANISLAUS CALHAEM. 

Mr. ARCHER. 

Mr. HARBURY. 

Mr. CARTER. 

Mr. HAVILAND. 

Miss K. BROWN. 

Miss MILLWARD. 

Miss HARWOOD. 

Miss L. PAYNE. 

Miss ELLEN TERRY. 



ACT I., SCENE. Leonato's House. ACT II., SCENE i. Before 
Leonato's House ; SCENE 2. Hall in Leonato's House. ACT 
III., SCENE i. Before Leonato's House; SCENE 2. Leonato's 
Garden Evening; SCENE 3. Leonato's Garden Morning; 
SCENE 4. The Cedar Walk; SCENE 5. A Street. ACT IV., 
SCENE. Inside a Church. ACT V., SCENE i. A Prison; 
SCENE 2. Leonato's Garden ; SCENE 3. The Monument of 
Leonato ; SCENE 4. Hall in Leonato's House. 



As promised in July, Irving re-opened the Lyceum on 2nd 
September, with " Romeo and Juliet." On that date, the 
tragedy was presented by him for the hundred and sixty-first, 
and last, time. On nth October, he revived " Much Ado 
About Nothing " and entered upon a period of prosperity and 
popularity for which we look in vain for any approach in the 
history of the higher drama. In recent years, there has been a 



1882] "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING" 367 

disposition to belittle, among Irving's other achievements, this 
particular revival, and, of course, without any foundation but 
the usual one of " envy, malice, and all uncharitableness ". To 
those who are possessed of the knowledge of the true state of 
the case, such statements could only seem ridiculous if they 
were not so absolutely wicked. For the present, it will suffice to 
state a few facts which are beyond all controversy. Let us 
begin with the actual reception of the performance on the first 
night of the revival. The Daily Telegraph opened a two- 
column account of the revival with a reference to the audience : 
" There was but one remark heard last night as an audience, 
with pleasure written on every countenance, filed out of the 
handsome theatre into the wet and miserable streets. All had 
gone more than well far better, indeed, that the most sanguine 
could have expected to instances of individual excellence was 
added a high tone of general merit, and never before in the 
memory of the oldest playgoer, had ' Much Ado About Noth- 
ing ' been so well acted or so sumptuously attired. Of course 
Mr. Irving came forward when all was over, with genuine 
satisfaction written on his face, and modestly talked of the 
' shortcomings ' of himself and company, at which all present 
set up a disapproving shout, and intimated, as was indeed the 
case, how excellently each performer had gone through with 
his allotted task. The spirit and gaiety of the acting were 
delightful to the ordinary spectator ; the interpretation of the 
play, from first to last, was welcome to the most precise and 
exacting student." Page after page of praise for the revival 
and of every phase of it -might be cited, but, for the moment, 
let us confine ourselves to mere fact. Let us take the opinion 
of Dutton Cook the least enthusiastic of the dramatic critics 
of his day as to the Benedick. He described the character, 
as impersonated by Irving, as " a valorous cavalier, who rejoices 
in brave apparel and owns a strong feeling for humour ; over 
his witty encounters with Beatrice there presides a spirit of 
pleasantness ; his rudest sallies are so mirthfully spoken as to 
be deprived of all real offensiveness ; he banters like a gentle- 
man, and not like a churl ; he is a privileged railer at women, a 



3 68 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XXL 

recognised jester at marriage, but a popular person neverthe- 
less. The stage Benedick has been apt to be something of a 
bully, as the stage Beatrice has been often very much of a 
scold. At the Lyceum it is clearly shown that the very com- 
bativeness of Benedick and Beatrice is an evidence of their 
mutual regard. They delight in controversy, because, uncon- 
sciously, it involves companionship. Their war of words is 
always 'a merry war'. The aversion with which their love 
commences is purely artificial ; the more they traffic in satire 
and epigram, the closer they are brought together ; their passion 
for ridicule is a sort of common ground upon which they meet, 
and in the sequel are unwilling to part." Benedick and 
Beatrice, in short, were presented at the Lyceum in the spirit 
of high comedy. Irving's chief successes were in Benedick's 
soliloquy in the third act, "which is very happily delivered, 
while in the later dialogues with Beatrice, and the scene of his 
challenging Claudio, the actor's success is supreme." As a 
production, " Much Ado About Nothing" was one of the 
most beautiful of all Irving's tributes to Shakespeare. Apart 
from its wealth of scenery and costume, it was notable for be- 
ing the fourth Shakespearean play with Italian pictures for a 
background which he had brought out within three years. 
Yet, fine as were the revivals of "The Merchant of Venice," 
" Othello," and " Romeo and Juliet," not only did " Much Ado 
About Nothing " eclipse them all in the matter of decoration, 
but it differed in respect to the variety of scene which Irving 
gave to it. For he was the one man of his time who under- 
stood that money could not accomplish everything on the stage 
he was lavish, when need be, but he possessed supreme taste, 
as well as infinite patience. 

As for the Beatrice of Miss Ellen Terry, it was an imper- 
sonation of sheer brilliancy and allurement. It received, and 
deservedly so, the warmest admiration from all ranks of play- 
goers. It was, indeed, felt to be a matchless performance, 
radiant with good humour and instilled with grace. Then, 
again, the excellence of the general cast was wonderful. More 
than twenty-five years have passed since that first night, but 



1 883] A REMARKABLE SCENE 369 

the memory of it brings back pictures of harmonious acting 
which, in this particular play, would be impossible of attain- 
ment under modern conditions. And the artistic success of 
the revival was equalled by the financial result. The comedy 
was represented without interruption from i ith October, 1882, 
until ist June, 1883, and was then withdrawn, literally in the 
height of its success, in consequence of arrangements the 
forthcoming visit to America which made certain revivals 
imperative. The profit for this first run two hundred and 
twelve consecutive performances was nearly ,26,000, and 
this with an expenditure of ten thousand pounds more than 
that sum ! 

The revivals in question were the outcome of an arrange- 
ment which had been made a twelvemonth previously for a 
tour of America. Irving, who never left anything to chance, 
regarded these revivals not only as potent attractions as 
they proved to be but as rehearsals for his important under- 
taking. These farewell performances began with "The 
Bells," and were followed by "The Lyons Mail" in which 
Miss Terry acted the small part of the outcast Jeanette 
"Charles the First," " Hamlet," "The Merchant of Venice," 
"Eugene Aram" reduced to one act and "The Belle's 
Stratagem, "and " Louis XI." On the afternoon of I4th June, 
it should also be mentioned, Irving resumed a familiar char- 
acter, Robert Macaire, in a performance given on behalf of 
the Royal College of Music, which resulted in the addition of 
the handsome sum of a thousand pounds to the funds of that 
institution. 

One of the most remarkable scenes in the history of the 
English stage took place on the closing night of the season. 
As usual, this was allotted to the actor-manager's "benefit". 
The programme was opened with the condensed version of 
" Eugene Aram," with Irving as the conscience-stricken 
murderer and Miss Terry as Ruth Meadows. A song by 
Mr. Herbert Reeves, Toole in his sketch, "Trying a Magis- 
trate," " The Death of Nelson " and " Then You'll Remember 

Me," rendered with wonderful effect by Sims Reeves 
VOL. i. 24 



370 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. xxi. 

preceded " The Belle's Stratagem " reduced for the occasion 
to two acts with Irving as Doricourt and Miss Terry as 
Letitia Hardy. But the real event of the evening was the 
actor-manager's farewell speech. Hardly had the curtain 
fallen on the last act of the comedy ere the audience, animated 
by one feeling, gave vent to their pent-up excitement in loud 
shouts of "Irving, Irving!" The stage was deluged with 
wreaths and bouquets, in the midst of which Henry Irving 
presently appeared. The actor was still in his costume as 
Doricourt, but without the wig, looking very pale and evidently 
much affected by the affectionate greeting. When the cheers 
had subsided, he advanced to the footlights and spoke as 
follows : " Ladies and Gentlemen, I have often had to say 
'good-bye' to you on occasions like this, but never has the 
task been so difficult as it is to-night, for we are about to have 
a longer separation than we have ever had before. Soon an 
ocean will roll between us, and it will be a long time before 
we can hear your heart-stirring cheers again. It is some con- 
solation, though, to think that we shall carry with us across 
the Atlantic the goodwill of many friends who are here to- 
night, as well as of many who are absent. Here in this 
theatre have we watched the growth of your great and 
generous sympathy with our work, which has been more than 
rewarded by the abundance of your regard, and you will be- 
lieve me when I say I acutely feel this parting with those 
who have so steadily and staunchly sustained me in my career. 
Not for myself alone I speak, but on behalf of my comrades, 
and especially for Miss Ellen Terry. Her regret at parting 
with you is equal to mine. You will, I am sure, miss her 
as she will certainly miss you. But we have our return to 
look forward to, and it will be a great pride to us to come 
back with the stamp of the favour and good-will of the 
American people, which, believe me, we shall not fail to obtain. 
The 2nd of next June will, I hope, see us home with you 
again. We shall have acted in America for six months, from 
2 Qth October to the 2 9th of the following April, during which 
time we shall have played in some forty cities. Before our 



1 883] A STRANGE CONTRAST 371 

departure we shall appear in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Liver- 
pool, from whence we start upon our expedition. This theatre 
will not be closed long; for on the ist of September a lady 
will appear before you whose beauty and talent have made 
her the favourite of America from Maine to California- 
Miss Mary Anderson a. lady to whom I am sure you will 
give the heartiest English welcome that is a foregone con- 
clusion. You will, I know, extend the same welcome to my 
friend, Lawrence Barrett, the famous American actor, who will 
appear here in the early part of next year. It is a delight to 
me, as it must have been to you, to have my friend Sims 
Reeves here to-night, and I hope that the echo of the words so 
beautifully sung by him will linger in your memories, and that 
you will remember me ; and it has also been a great delight 
to have had my old friend, Toole, and my young friend, Herbert 
Reeves, here to-night. At all times it is a happy thing to be 
surrounded by friends, and especially on such an occasion as 
this. And now, ladies and gentlemen, I must say 'Good- 
bye '. I can but hope that in our absence some of you will 
miss us ; and I hope that when we return you will be here, or 
some few of you at least, to welcome us back. From one and 
all to one and all, with full, and grateful, and hopeful, hearts, 
I wish you, lovingly and respectfully, * Good-bye ! '" Words are 
almost useless to describe the scene which followed. The 
band played " Auld Lang Syne," and the curtain was again 
raised disclosing the entire Lyceum company on the stage, a 
sight which caused the great audience to burst into an extra- 
ordinary tumult of enthusiasm. Henry Irving might well 
have felt that he had no more triumphs to win ; for such a 
tribute of enthusiastic affection would fill up the measure of 
the most exacting ambition. The Doricourt of that evening 
was in strange contrast to that of 1866. In the one case, a 
young and experienced actor was on the threshold of his 
career in London ; in the other, he had conquered the play- 
goers of his native land and he was on the eve of triumphs, 
such as no other English actor has secured, across the At- 
lantic. 

24* 



372 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XXL 

If this book were a mere chronicle of facts and figures, 
some very remarkable statistics might be given. But we 
must be content with only a glance, here and there, at the 
extraordinary sums received by Henry Irving from the public. 
Thus, for instance, the season which had just closed brought 
in precisely ,86,579 123. Qd. Against this, there was the 
heavy expenditure of ,53,477 7s. id. Even so, a profit of 
over 33,000 in eleven months is fairly handsome in theatrical 
enterprise. A sum of 700 was paid by the public in this 
season for books of the Lyceum version of " Romeo and Juliet " 
and " Much Ado About Nothing". The triumph of London 
was continued in the provinces, but, ere the London season 
closed, some social events took place which must be recorded. 
On Monday, 8th May, after the performance of " Much Ado 
About Nothing," Irving entertained the Prince of Wales at sup- 
per on the stage of the Lyceum converted for the occasion into 
a handsome tent and among the small company were three 
actors, Mr. S. B. Bancroft, Mr. James Fernandez, and J. L. 
Toole, and George Augustus Sala. On Wednesday, 4th 
July, a banquet was given to the actor in St. James's Hall. 
The chair was taken by the Lord Chief Justice of England. 
The company included representatives of law and art, music 
and the drama, science and literature, the navy and army 
in short, over five hundred of the most distinguished men in 
London of the time united in honouring the great actor. Lord 
Coleridge in proposing the toast of the evening, made a long 
and learned speech in the course of which he reviewed Irving's 
work and praised him highly as a manager as well as an actor. 
He laid particular emphasis on Irving's influence in connection 
with the stage : " The general tone and atmosphere of a theatre, 
wherever Mr. Irving's influence is predominant, has been 
uniformly higher and purer. The pieces which he has acted, 
and the way he has acted them, have always been such that 
no husband need hesitate to take his wife, no mother to take 
her daughter, where Mr. Irving is the ruling spirit. He has, 
I believe, recognised that in this matter there lies upon him, 
as upon every one in his position, a grave responsibility. He 



1883] LORD COLERIDGE'S TRIBUTE 373 

has felt, possibly unconsciously, that the heroic signal of Lord 
Nelson ought not to be confined in its application simply to 
men of arms, but that England expects every man to do his 
duty when it lays upon him a duty to do, and to do it nobly 
(cheers). Moreover, I believe that what has brought us to- 
gether to-night, besides that feeling, is the remembrance of 
the generosity and unselfishness of Mr. Irving's career 
(cheers). He has shown that generosity not only in the 
parts he has played, but in the parts he has not played. He 
has shown that he did not care to be always the central figure 
of a surrounding group, in which every one was to be sub- 
ordinated to the centre, and in which every actor was to be 
considered as a foil to the leading part. He has been superior 
to the selfishness which now and again has interfered with 
the course of some of our best actors, and he has had his re- 
ward. He has collected around him a set of men who, I 
believe, are proud to act with him (cheers) men whose 
feeling to wards him has added not a little to the brilliant success 
which his management has achieved ; men who feel that they 
act, not merely under a manager, but under a friend ; men 
who are proud to be his companions, and many of whom have 
come here to-night to show by their presence that they are 
so (cheers)". 

In extolling the high purpose which had actuated Henry 
Irving which continued to actuate him, be it said, until his 
death Lord Coleridge said : " It is because we believe that 
those high aims have been pursued by Mr. Irving, and be- 
cause we admire his character in so pursuing them, that this 
unexampled gathering has come here to-night," whereat 
there were loud and prolonged cheers. Irving replied briefly, 
with that perfect taste which ever distinguished him when 
addressing an audience. " I cannot conceive a greater hon- 
our entering into the life of any man," he said, "than the 
honour you have paid me by assembling here to-night. To 
look around this room and scan the faces of my distinguished 
hosts, would stir to its depths a colder nature than mine. It 
is not in my power, my lords and gentlemen, to thank you 



374 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XXL 

for the compliment you have to-night paid me. ' Those friends 
thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul 
with hoops of steel.' Never before have I so strongly felt 
the magic of those words ; but you will remember it is also 
said in the same sentence, ' Give thy thoughts no tongue '. 
And gladly, had it been possible, would I have obeyed that 
wise injunction to-night. The actor is profoundly influenced 
by precedent, and I cannot forget that many of my predecessors 
have been nerved by farewell banquets for the honour which 
awaited them on the other side of the Atlantic ; but this oc- 
casion I regard as much more than a compliment to myself, I 
regard it as a tribute to the art which I am proud to serve 
and I believe that feeling will be shared by the profession to 
which you have assembled to do honour. The time has long 
gone by when there was any need to apologise for the actor's 
calling. The world can no more exist without the drama than 
it can without its sister art music. The stage gives the 
readiest response to the demand of human nature, to be trans- 
ported out of itself into the realms of the ideal not that all 
our ideals on the stage are realised none but the artist knows 
how immeasurably he may fall short of his aim or his conception, 
but to have an ideal in art and to strive through one's life to 
embody it, may be a passion to the actor as it may be to the 
poet. Your lordship has spoken most eloquently of my career. 
Possessed of a generous mind and a high judicial faculty, your 
lordship has been to-night, I fear, more generous than judicial. 
But if I have in any way deserved commendation, I am proud 
that it was as an actor that I won it. As the director of a 
theatre my experience has been short, but as an actor I have 
been before the London public for seventeen years ; and on 
one thing I am sure you will all agree that no actor or 
manager has ever received from that public more generous, 
ungrudging encouragement and support. . . . The climax 
of the favour extended to me by my countrymen has been 
reached to-night. You have set upon me a burden of re- 
sponsibility a burden which I gladly and proudly bear. The 
memory of to-night will be to me a sacred thing a memory 



1883] KNIGHTHOOD DECLINED 375 

which will, throughout my life, be ever treasured a memory 
which will stimulate me to further endeavour, and encourage 
me to loftier aim." 

Covers, it may be added, were laid for five hundred and 
twenty gentlemen, and four hundred ladies heard the speeches 
from the galleries of the hall. Long accounts appeared in the 
American newspapers the United States Ambassador, the 
Hon. J. Russell Lowell, made one of the chief speeches of 
the evening. This public testimonial was followed by a 
supper of honour at the Garrick Club given by Mr. Bancroft 
and attended by over eighty representatives of the stage 
the greater number of those present being prominent English 
and American actors. There is no occasion to print the 
glowing eulogy of the host or the full reply made by the guest 
of the evening. It is curious, however, to recall Irving's 
remarks on the subject of titles for actors. It was an open 
secret that he had been offered and had declined a knight- 
hood. " Titles for painters," he said, " if you like they paint 
at home ; for writers they write at home ; for musicians 
they compose at home. But the actor acts in the sight of 
the audience he wants a fair field and no favour he acts 
among his colleagues, without whom he is powerless ; and to 
give him any distinction in the play-bill which others would 
not enjoy would be prejudicial to his success, and fatal, I 
believe, to his popularity." The American actor, Lawrence 
Barrett, who was present on this interesting occasion, paid an 
eloquent tribute to Irving, and prophesied for him "a grand 
welcome in America, where every actor, great and small, is 
proud of him. At his landing he will be greeted with warm 
clasps of the hands, and every actor will feel that a part of 
his glory is shared with the brothers of his craft that each will 
share in his triumph and take a leaf from his chaplet of laurel." 

The six weeks before Irving sailed for America were days 
and nights of hard work. Not only were there constant 
changes of programme 1 during the fortnight in each of the 

1 " Hamlet," " The Merchant of Venice," " Charles the First," " Eugene 
Aram," " The Belle's Stratagem," "The Cup," " The Bells," "Louis XI." 
and " Othello " (with J. B. Howard as the Moor) were represented. 



376 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XXL 

big towns which he visited Glasgow, Edinburgh, and 
Liverpool but farewell banquets were the order of the day 
and night. The Glasgow Pen and Pencil Club entertained 
him on 6th September. In Edinburgh, he had a most arduous, 
yet a joyous, time. On Monday, loth September, he opened 
the new theatre called, in compliment to him, the Lyceum, 
with a representation of " Much Ado About Nothing". On 
the 2Oth of that month, a supper was given to him, in the 




" WESTWARD Ho ! " 

DESIGN FROM THE MENU CARD OF THE " SPECIAL MEETING IN COMPLIMENT TO MR. 
HENRY IRVING" OF THE EDINBURGH PEN AND PENCIL CLUB, THURSDAY, ZOTH 
SEPTEMBER, 1883. 

Freemasons' Hall, by the Edinburgh Pen and Pencil Club. 
About one hundred and seventy gentlemen, connected with 
literature and art, were presided over by Dr. Pryde, LL.D. 
the Principal of the Edinburgh Ladies' College, who ob- 
served with truth that Irving's tour was a triumphal pro- 
cession. In replying to the toast of his health and prosperity, 
Irving once more insisted on the dignity of the stage. " I 
look upon this gathering to-night," he began, " as a recognition 
that you acknowledge the stage as an institution of intellectual 



1883] SAILS FOR AMERICA 377 

delight a place of recreation for intelligent people. I am 
proud of being an actor and I am proud of my art." He 
then defended himself for the position which he had taken in 
regard to the interpretation of Shakespeare. "As I would 
be natural in the representation of character, so I would be 
truthful in the mounting of plays. My object in this is to do 
all in my power to heighten, and not distract, the imagination 
to produce a play in harmony with the poet's ideas, and to 
give all the picturesque effect that the poet's text will justify." 
He concluded with a charming allusion to his early days in 
Edinburgh some twenty-four years earlier. " I have told 
you so often and you must be tired of hearing it that 
Edinburgh was my alma mater ; and when I think of my 
dreams here, some of which have not been wholly unrealised, 
and when I recall the friendships I formed here, some of 
which have never faltered, and of the friends I have lost only 
through the too swift embrace of the fell serpent, death you 
will know how dear to me is your noble city." 

His memory, indeed, was crowded with those early recol- 
lections when he was on the eve of quitting his native land. 
On Saturday, 6th October, he gave his last performance of this 
triumphant season at the Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool, in the 
character of Louis XL, and, on the nth, sailed from that port 
on board the White Star steamer, Britannic. In the in- 
terim between the close of his Liverpool engagement and 
his sailing for America he paid a flying visit to London. 
Returning to the north, he renewed his friendly intercourse 
with Mr. Gladstone at a luncheon party given by the Earl 
of Derby at Knowsley. On the morning of his departure 
for the United States, he gave a breakfast to the directors 
of the Royal General Theatrical Fund, who paid a special 
visit to Liverpool in order to wish u God speed" to Irving, 
who, with Mr. Alfred de Rothschild and J. L. Toole, was 
a trustee of the Fund. This volume may well close with his 
speech on the last night of his engagement in Liverpool. He 
was ever grateful to Liverpool play -goers and to Liverpool 
writers. And he never failed to express his remembrance 



378 THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XXL 

and his regard. "It is my privilege," he said on this oc- 
casion, "to thank the Liverpool public for the sympathy and 
goodwill which they have lavished upon us, and which have 
been the climax of the favour we have received during our 
present short tour. I am afraid all that you could do to 
spoil us you have done ; but I hope that we have worked 
none the less earnestly on that account, and I hope that when 
our American cousins discover our many failings they will 
lay but little blame on the good nature of the British public. 




BRITANNIA MOURNING THE Loss OF HENRY IRVING. 

From Liverpool we start on our expedition, and when from 
America we return, at Liverpool we land again. But it is not 
simply as a starting and landing place that we shall remember 
your city. I have many memories of Liverpool. One of 
them is of a time, eighteen years ago, when I stood upon the 
stage of the Prince of Wales's Theatre without an engagement, 
and wondered what on earth I should do next. Fortunately, 
I have been able to do something ; but I shall never forget 
that the Liverpool Press gave me the warmest encouragement 




IRVING AS Louis XI. 

From the drawing by Fred. Barnard, 



3 8o THE LIFE OF HENRY IRVING [CHAP. XXL 

at a time that was a critical part of my career. I have another 
memory which comes vividly to me as I stand upon these 
boards. I am thinking of my old comrade, Edward Saker, 
who was honoured and loved by all who knew him (loud 
applause). On what his skill and enterprise did for the Liver- 
pool stage, I need not dwell. You could tell the story better 
than I could. But I may at least be permitted to say that 
the tradition of sound and able management which he estab- 
lished here is most worthily sustained by the lady who was 
for many years the partner of his public success as well as of 
his home life. I rejoice that she is able to so courageously 
follow in his wake, and that she is surrounded by a staff as 
loyal as it is efficient. Once more I thank you on behalf of 
one and all of us, and on behalf of Miss Ellen Terry, whose in- 
debtedness to you is equal to my own. Like Sir Peter Teazle, 
we leave our characters behind us, but we are more confident 
than Sir Peter that they will be well taken care of; and so, 
with full hearts and big hopes, we wish you a respectful and 
affectionate farewell." 



BIBLIOGRAPHY TO THE END OF 1883. 

1875. Irving as Hamlet. By Edward R. Russell. 8vo, is. London. 

1875. Macbeth at the Lyceum. Mr. Irving and his Critics. By two 
amateurs. A defence of Irving's view of Macbeth. 8vo, is. 
London. 

1876. Sheridan Knowles' Conception and Mr. Irving's Performance of 

Macbeth. London. 

1877. Richard III. and Macbeth : the Spirit of Romantic Play in relationship 

to the principles of Greek and of Gothic art, and to the picturesque 

interpretations of Mr. Henry Irving : a Dramatic Study. By T. H. 

Hall Caine. 8vo, 6d. London and Liverpool. 
1877. The Fashionable Tragedian: a Criticism. With ten illustrations. 

1 2 mo, 6d. Edinburgh. 
1877. Second edition, with postscript. By William Archer and Robert W. 

Lowe. Illustrated by G. R. Halkett. Issued anonymously. i2mo, 

6d. London. 

1877. A letter concerning Mr. Henry Irving addressed to E. R. H. A 

reply to the Fashionable Tragedian. 8vo, 4d. Edinburgh. 

1878. The Stage. Address delivered by Mr. Henry Irving at the Perry 

Bar Institute, near Birmingham, on 6th March, 1878. 8vo, 6d. 
London. 

1878. Notes on Louis XI. With some short extracts from Comines' 
Memoirs. By A. E. 4to. Privately printed. London. 

1 88 1. The Stage as It Is. A Lecture, by Henry Irving, delivered at the 
Sessional opening of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, 8th 
November, 1881. 8vo, is. London. 

1883. Talma on the Actor's Art. With Preface by Henry Irving. 8vo, is. 
London. 

1883. The Paradox of Acting. Translated by Walter Henries Pollock. 
With a preface by Henry Irving. London. 

1883. The Henry Irving Birthday Book. Composed of quotations from 
some of the characters which Mr. Irving has acted, etc. By Viola 
Stirling. London. 

1883. Henry Irving, Actor and Manager. A Critical Study. An essay of 
some fifteen thousand words. By William Archer. i6mo, is. 
London. 

1883. Henry Irving, Actor and Manager. A "Criticism of a critic's criti- 
cism ". By an Irvingite. (By Frank Marshall, in answer to William 
Archer's Critical Study.) 8vo. London. 

1883. Henry Irving. A Short Account of his Public Life. With 4 illustra- 
tions. A small book of 200 pages, compiled from different English 
newspapers, and in a friendly spirit. The preface is dated August, 
1883. New York. 

1883. Henry Irving, a Biographical Sketch. By Austin Brereton. Illus- 
trated with seventeen full-page portraits. Large 8vo, ics. 6d. 
Large paper, ^4 43. London and New York. 

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The life of Henry Irving