The Story of My Life
Part 5 out of 7
floor so that she could find her way back to her chair. I never knew why
she dropped it--she used to do it so naturally with a start when
Mephistopheles knocked at the door--until one night when it was in my
way and I picked it up, to the confusion of poor Mrs. Stirling, who
nearly walked into the orchestra.
"Faust" was abused a good deal as a pantomime, a distorted caricature of
Goethe, and a thoroughly inartistic production. But it proved the
greatest of all Henry's financial successes. The Germans who came to see
it, oddly enough, did not scorn it nearly as much as the English who
were sensitive on behalf of the Germans, and the Goethe Society wrote a
tribute to Henry Irving after his death, acknowledging his services to
It is a curious paradox in the theater that the play for which every one
has a good word is often the play which no one is going to see, while
the play which is apparently disliked and run down is crowded every
Our preparations for the production of "Faust" included a delightful
"grand tour" of Germany. Henry, with his accustomed royal way of doing
things, took a party which included my daughter Edy, Mr. and Mrs. Comyns
Carr, and Mr. Hawes Craven, who was to paint the scenery. We bought
nearly all the properties used in "Faust" in Nuremberg, and many other
things which we did not use, that took Henry's fancy. One beautifully
carved escutcheon, the finest armorial device I ever saw, he bought at
this time and presented it in after years to the famous American
connoisseur, Mrs. Jack Gardiner. It hangs now in one of the rooms of her
palace at Boston.
It was when we were going in the train along one of the most beautiful
stretches of the Rhine that Sally Holland, who accompanied us as my
"Uncommon pretty scenery, dear, I must say!"
When we laughed uncontrollably, she added:
"Well, dear, _I_ think so!"
During the run of "Faust" Henry visited Oxford and gave his address on
"Four Actors" (Burbage, Betterton, Garrick, Kean). He met there one of
the many people who had recently been attacking him on the ground of too
long runs and too much spectacle. He wrote me an amusing account of the
duel between them:
"I had supper last night at New College after the affair. A---- was
there, and I had it out with him--to the delight of all.
"'_Too much decoration_,' etc., etc.
"I asked him what there was in 'Faust' in the matter of
appointments, etc., that he would like left out?'
"'Too long runs.'
"'You, sir, are a poet,' I said. 'Perhaps it may be my privilege
some day to produce a play of yours. Would you like it to have a
long run or a short one?' (Roars of laughter.)
"Answer: 'Well--er--well, of course, Mr. Irving, you--well--well, a
short run, of course for _art_, but--'
"'Now, sir, you're on oath,' said I. 'Suppose that the fees were
rolling in L10 and more a night--would you rather the play were a
failure or a success?'
"'Well, well, as _you_ put it--I must say--er--I would rather my
play had a _long_ run!'
"He has all his life been writing articles running down good work
and crying up the impossible, and I was glad to show him up a bit!
"The Vice-Chancellor made a most lovely speech after the
address--an eloquent and splendid tribute to the stage.
"Bourchier presented the address of the 'Undergrads.' I never saw a
young man in a greater funk--because, I suppose, he had imitated me
"From the address:
"'We have watched with keen and enthusiastic interest the fine
intellectual quality of all these representations from Hamlet to
Mephistopheles with which you have enriched the contemporary stage.
To your influence we owe deeper knowledge and more reverent study
of the master mind of Shakespeare.'
"All very nice indeed!"
I never cared much for Henry's Mephistopheles--a twopence colored part,
anyway. Of course he had his moments--he had them in every part--but
they were few. One of them was in the Prologue, when he wrote in the
student's book, "Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil." He never
looked at the book, and the nature of the _spirit_ appeared suddenly in
a most uncanny fashion. Another was in the Spinning-wheel Scene when
Faust defies Mephistopheles, and he silences him with, "_I am a
spirit_." Henry looked to grow a gigantic height--to hover over the
ground instead of walking on it. It was terrifying.
I made valiant efforts to learn to spin before I played Margaret. My
instructor was Mr. Albert Fleming, who, at the suggestion of Ruskin, had
recently revived hand-spinning and hand-weaving in the North of England.
I had always hated that obviously "property" spinning-wheel in the
opera, and Margaret's unmarketable thread. My thread always broke, and
at last I had to "fake" my spinning to a certain extent; but at least I
worked my wheel right, and gave an impression that I could spin my pound
of thread a day with the best.
Two operatic stars did me the honor to copy my Margaret dress--Madame
Albani and Madame Melba. It was rather odd, by the way, that many
mothers who took their daughters to see the opera of "Faust" would not
bring them to see the Lyceum play. One of these mothers was Princess
Mary of Teck, a constant patron of most of our plays.
Other people "missed the music." The popularity of an opera will often
kill a play, although the play may have existed before the music was
ever thought of. The Lyceum "Faust" held its own against Gounod. I liked
our incidental music to the action much better. It was taken from many
different sources and welded into an effective and beautiful whole by
our clever musical director, Mr. Meredith Ball.
In many ways "Faust" was our heaviest production. About four hundred
ropes were used, each rope with a name. The list of properties and
instructions to the carpenters became a joke among the theater staff.
When Henry first took "Faust" into the provinces, the head carpenter at
Liverpool, Myers by name, being something of a humorist, copied out the
list on a long thin sheet of paper, which rolled up like a royal
proclamation. Instead of "God save the Queen!" he wrote at the foot,
with many flourishes: "God help Bill Myers!"
The crowded houses at "Faust" were largely composed of "repeaters," as
Americans call those charming playgoers who come to see a play again and
again. We found favor with the artists and musicians too, even in Faust!
Here is a nice letter I got during the run (it _was_ a long one) from
that gifted singer and good woman, Madame Antoinette Sterling:--
"My dear Miss Terry,--
"I was quite as disappointed as yourself that you were not at St.
James's Hall last Monday for my concert.... Jean Ingelow said she
enjoyed the afternoon very much....
"I wonder if you would like to come to luncheon some day and have a
little chat with her? But perhaps you already know her. I love her
dearly. She has one fault--she never goes to the theater. Oh my! What
she misses, poor thing, poor thing! We have already seen 'Faust' twice,
and are going again soon, and shall take the George Macdonalds this
time. The Holman Hunts were delighted. He is one of the most interesting
and clever men I have ever met, and she is very charming and clever too.
How beautifully plain you write! Give me the recipe.
"With many kind greetings,
"Believe me sincerely yours,
"ANTOINETTE STERLING MACKINLAY."
My girl Edy was one of the angels in the vision in the last act of
"Faust," an event which Henry commemorated in a little rhyme that he
sent me on Valentine's Day with some beautiful flowers:
"White and red roses,
Sweet and fresh posies,
One bunch for Edy, _Angel_ of mine--
One bunch for Nell, my dear Valentine."
Mr. Toole ran a burlesque on the Lyceum "Faust," called
"Faust-and-Loose." Henry did not care for burlesques as a rule. He
thought Fred Leslie's exact imitation of him, face, spectacles,
voice--everything was like Henry except the ballet-skirt--in the worst
taste. But everything that Toole did was to him adorable. Marie Linden
gave a really clever imitation of me as Marguerite. She and her sister
Laura both had the trick of taking me off. I recognized the truth of
Laura's caricature in the burlesque of "The Vicar of Wakefield" when as
Olivia she made her entrance, leaping impulsively over a stile!
There was an absurd chorus of girl "mashers" in "Faust-and-Loose,"
dressed in tight black satin coats, who besides dancing and singing had
lines in unison, such as "No, no!" "We will!" As one of these girls
Violet Vanbrugh made her first appearance on the stage. In her case "we
will!" proved prophetic. It was her plucky "I will get on" which finally
landed her in her present successful position.
Violet Barnes was the daughter of Prebendary Barnes of Exeter, who, when
he found his daughter stage-struck, behaved far more wisely than most
parents. He gave her L100 and sent her to London with her old nurse to
look after her, saying that if she really "meant business" she would
find an engagement before the L100 was gone. Violet had inherited some
talent from her mother, who was a very clever amateur actress, and the
whole family were fond of getting up entertainments. But Violet didn't
know quite how far L100 would go, or wouldn't go. I happened to call on
her at her lodgings near Baker Street one afternoon, and found her
having her head washed, and crying bitterly all the time! She had come
to the end of the L100, she had not got an engagement, and thought she
would have to go home defeated. There was something funny in the tragic
situation. Vi was sitting on the floor, drying her hair, crying, and
drinking port wine to cure a cold in her head!
I told her not to be a goose, but to cheer up and come and stay with me
until something turned up. We packed the old nurse back to Devonshire.
Violet came and stayed with me, and in due course something did turn up.
Mr. Toole came to dinner, and Violet, acting on my instructions to ask
every one she saw for an engagement, asked Mr. Toole! He said, "That's
all right, my dear. Of course. Come down and see me to-morrow." Dear old
Toole! The kindliest of men! Violet was with him for some time, and
played at his theater in Mr. Barrie's first piece "Walker London." Her
sister Irene, Seymour Hicks, and Mary Ansell (now Mrs. Barrie) were all
in the cast.
This was all I did to "help" Violet Vanbrugh, now Mrs. Arthur Bourchier
and one of our best actresses, in her stage career. She helped herself,
as most people do who get on. I am afraid that I have discouraged more
stage aspirants than I have encouraged. Perhaps I have snubbed really
talented people, so great is my horror of girls taking to the stage as a
profession when they don't realize what they are about. I once told an
elderly aspirant that it was quite useless for any one to go on the
stage who had not either great beauty or great talent. She wrote saying
that my letter had been a great relief to her, as now she was not
discouraged. "I have _both_."
There is one actress on the English stage whom I did definitely
encourage, of whose talent I was _certain_.
When my daughter was a student at the Royal Academy of Music, Dr. (now
Sir Alexander) Mackenzie asked me to distribute the medals to the
Elocution Class at the end of the term. I was quite "new to the job,"
and didn't understand the procedure. No girl, I have learned since, can
be given the gold medal until she has won both the bronze and the silver
medals--that is, until she has been at the Academy three years. I was
for giving the gold medalists, who only wanted certificates, _bronze_
medals; and of one young girl who was in her first year and only
entitled to a bronze medal, I said: "Oh, she must have the gold medal,
She was a queer-looking child, handsome, with a face suggesting all
manner of possibilities. When she stood up to read the speech from
"Richard II." she was nervous, but courageously stood her ground. She
began slowly, and with a most "fetching" voice, to _think_ out the
words. You saw her think them, heard her speak them. It was so different
from the intelligent elocution, the good recitation, but bad
impersonation of the others! "A pathetic face, a passionate voice, a
_brain_," I thought to myself. It must have been at this point that the
girl flung away the book and began to act, in an undisciplined way, of
course, but with such true emotion, such intensity, that the tears came
to my eyes. The tears came to her eyes too. We both wept, and then we
embraced, and then we wept again. It was an easy victory for her. She
was incomparably better than any one. "She has to work," I wrote in my
diary that day. "Her life must be given to it, and then she will--well,
she will achieve just as high as she works." Lena Pocock was the girl's
name, but she changed it to Lena Ashwell when she went on the stage.
In the days of the elocution class there was still some idea of her
becoming a singer, but I strongly advised the stage, and wrote to my
friend J. Comyns Carr, who was managing the Comedy Theater, that I knew
a girl with "supreme talent" whom he ought to engage. Lena was engaged.
After that she had her fight for success, but she went steadily forward.
Henry Irving has often been attacked for not preferring Robert Louis
Stevenson's "Macaire" to the version which he actually produced in 1883.
It would have been hardly more unreasonable to complain of his producing
"Hamlet" in preference to Mr. Gilbert's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern."
Stevenson's "Macaire" may have all the literary quality that is claimed
for it, although I personally think Stevenson was only making a
delightful idiot of himself in it. Anyhow, it is frankly a burlesque, a
skit, a _satire_ on the real Macaire. The Lyceum was _not_ a burlesque
house! Why should Henry have done it?
It was funny to see Toole and Henry rehearsing together for "Macaire."
Henry was always _plotting_ to be funny. When Toole as Jacques Strop hid
the dinner in his pocket, Henry, after much labor, thought of his hiding
the plate inside his waistcoat. There was much laughter later on when
Macaire, playfully tapping Strop with his stick, cracked the plate, and
the pieces fell out! Toole hadn't to bother about such subtleties, and
Henry's deep-laid plans for getting a laugh must have seemed funny to
dear Toole, who had only to come on and say "Whoop!" and the audience
Henry's death as Macaire was one of a long list of splendid deaths.
Macaire knows the game is up, and makes a rush for the French windows at
the back of the stage. The soldiers on the stage shoot him before he
gets away. Henry did not drop, but turned round, swaggered impudently
down to the table, leaned on it, then suddenly rolled over, dead.
Henry's production of "Werner" for one matinee was to do some one a good
turn, and when Henry did a "good turn," he did it magnificently. We
rehearsed the play as carefully as if we were in for a long run.
Beautiful dresses were made for me by my friend Alice Carr. But when we
had given that one matinee, they were put away for ever. The play may be
described as gloom, gloom, gloom. It was worse than "The Iron Chest."
[Footnote 1: _From my Diary, June_ 1, 1887.--"Westland-Marston Benefit
at the Lyceum. A triumphant success entirely due to the genius and
admirable industry and devotion of H.I., for it is just the dullest play
to read as ever was! He made it _intensely_ interesting."]
While Henry was occupying himself with "Werner," I was pleasing myself
with "The Amber Heart," a play by Alfred Calmour, a young man who was at
this time Wills's secretary. I wanted to do it, not only to help
Calmour, but because I believed in the play and liked the part of
Ellaline. I had thought of giving a matinee of it at some other theater,
but Henry, who at first didn't like my doing it at all, said: "You must
do it at the Lyceum. I can't let you, or it, go out of the theater."
So we had the matinee at the Lyceum. Mr. Willard and Mr. Beerbohm Tree
were in the cast, and it was a great success. For the first time Henry
saw me act--a whole part and from the "front" at least, for he had seen
and liked scraps of my Juliet from the "side." Although he had known me
such a long time, my Ellaline seemed to come quite as a surprise. "I
wish I could tell you of the dream of beauty that you realized," he
wrote after the performance. He bought the play for me, and I continued
to do it "on and off" here and in America until 1902.
Many people said that I was good but the play was bad. This was hard on
Alfred Calmour. He had created the opportunity for me, and few plays
with the beauty of "The Amber Heart" have come my way since. "He thinks
it's all his doing!" said Henry. "If he only knew!" "Well, that's the
way of authors," I answered. "They imagine so much more about their work
than we put into it, that although we may seem to the outsider to be
creating, to the author we are, at our best, only doing our duty by
Our next production was "Macbeth." Meanwhile we had visited America
three times. It is now my intention to give some account of my tours in
America, of my friends there, and of some of the impressions that the
vast, wonderful country made on me.
THE FIRST OF EIGHT TOURS
The first time that there was any talk of my going to America was, I
think, in 1874, when I was playing in "The Wandering Heir." Dion
Boucicault wanted me to go, and dazzled me with figures, but I expect
the cautious Charles Reade influenced me against accepting the
When I did go in 1883, I was thirty-five and had an assured position in
my profession. It was the first of eight tours, seven of which I went
with Henry Irving. The last was in 1907 after his death. I also went to
America one summer on a pleasure trip. The tours lasted three months at
least, seven months at most. After a rough calculation, I find that I
have spent not quite five years of my life in America. Five out of sixty
is not a large proportion, yet I often feel that I am half American.
This says a good deal for the hospitality of a people who can make a
stranger feel so completely at home in their midst. Perhaps it also says
something for my adaptableness!
"When we do not speak of things with a partiality full of love, what we
say is not worth being repeated." That was the answer of a courteous
Frenchman who was asked for his impressions of a country. In any case it
is imprudent to give one's impressions of America. The country is so
vast and complex that even those who have amassed mountains of
impressions soon find that there still are mountains more! I have lived
in New York, Boston and Chicago for a month at a time, and have felt
that to know any of these great cities even superficially would take a
year. I have become acquainted with this and that class of American, but
I realize that there are thousands of other classes that remain unknown
I set out in 1882 from Liverpool on board the _Britannic_ with the fixed
conviction that I should never, never return. For six weeks before we
started, the word America had only to be breathed to me, and I burst
into floods of tears! I was leaving my children, my bullfinch, my
parrot, my "aunt" Boo, whom I never expected to see alive again, just
because she said I never would; and I was going to face the unknown
dangers of the Atlantic and of a strange, barbarous land. Our farewell
performances in London had cheered me up a little--though I wept
copiously at every one--by showing us that we should be missed. Henry
Irving's position seemed to be confirmed and ratified by all that took
place before his departure. The dinners he had to eat, the speeches that
he had to make and to listen to, were really terrific!
One speech at the Rabelais Club had, it was said, the longest peroration
on record. It was this kind of thing: Where is our friend Irving going?
He is not going like Nares to face the perils of the far North. He is
not going like A---- to face something else. He is not going to China,
etc.,--and so on. After about the hundredth "he is not going," Lord
Houghton, who was one of the guests, grew very impatient and
interrupted the orator with: "Of course he isn't! He's going to New York
by the Cunard Line. It'll take him about a week!"
Many people came to see us off at Liverpool, but I only remember seeing
Mrs. Langtry and Oscar Wilde. It was at this time that Oscar Wilde had
begun to curl his hair in the manner of the Prince Regent. "Curly hair
to match the curly teeth," said some one. Oscar Wilde _had_ ugly teeth,
and he was not proud of his mouth. He used to put his hand to his mouth
when he talked so that it should not be noticed. His brow and eyes were
Well, I was not "disappointed in the Atlantic," as Oscar Wilde was the
first to say, though many people have said it since without
acknowledging its source.
My first voyage was a voyage of enchantment to me. The ship was laden
with pig-iron, and she rolled and rolled and rolled. She could never
roll too much for me! I have always been a splendid sailor, and I feel
jolly at sea. The sudden leap from home into the wilderness of waves
does not give me any sensation of melancholy.
What I thought I was going to see when I arrived in America I hardly
remember. I had a vague idea that all American women wore red flannel
shirts and carried bowie knives and that I might be sandbagged in the
street! From somewhere or other I had derived an impression that New
York was an ugly, noisy place.
Ugly! When I first saw that marvelous harbor I nearly cried--it was so
beautiful. Whenever I come now to the unequaled approach to New York I
wonder what Americans must think of the approach from the sea to London!
How different are the mean, flat, marshy banks of the Thames and the
wooden toy lighthouse at Dungeness to the vast, spreading Hudson with
its busy multitude of steamboats, and ferryboats, its wharf upon wharf,
and its tall statue of Liberty dominating all the racket and bustle of
the sea traffic of the world!
That was one of the few times in America when I did not miss the poetry
of the past. The poetry of the present, gigantic, colossal and enormous,
made me forget it. The "sky-scrapers"--what a brutal name it is when one
comes to think of it!--so splendid in the landscape now, did not exist
in 1883, but I find it difficult to divide my early impressions from my
later ones. There was Brooklyn Bridge though, hung up high in the air
like a vast spider's web.
Between 1883 and 1893 I noticed a great change in New York and other
cities. In ten years they seemed to have grown with the energy of
tropical plants. But between 1893 and 1907 I saw no evidence of such
feverish increase. It is possible that the Americans are arriving at a
stage when they can no longer beat the records! There is a vast
difference between one of the old New York brownstone houses and one of
the fourteen-storied buildings near the river, but between this and the
Times Square Building or the still more amazing Flat Iron Building,
which is said to oscillate at the top--it is so far from the
ground--there is very little difference. I hear that they are now
beginning to build downwards into the earth, but this will not change
the appearance of New York for a long time.
I had not to endure the wooden shed in which most people landing in
America have to struggle with the Custom-house officials--a struggle as
brutal as a "round in the ring," as Paul Bourget describes it. We were
taken off the _Britannic_ in a tug, and Mr. Abbey, Laurence Barrett, and
many other friends met us--including the much-dreaded reporters.
They were not a bit dreadful, but very quick to see what kind of a man
Henry was. In a minute he was on the best of terms with them. He had on
what I used to call his best "Jingle" manner--a manner full of
refinement, bonhomie, elegance and geniality.
"Have a cigar--have a cigar." That was the first remark of Henry's,
which put every one at ease. He also wanted to be at ease and have a
good smoke. It was just the right merry greeting to the press
representatives of a nation whose sense of humor is far more to be
relied on than its sense of reverence.
"Now come on, all of you!" he said to the interviewers. He talked to
them all in a mass and showed no favoritism. It says much for his tact
and diplomacy that he did not "put his foot in it." The Americans are
suspicious of servile adulation from a stranger, yet are very sensitive
"These gentlemen want to have a few words with you," said Henry to me
when the reporters had done with him. Then with a mischievous expression
he whispered: "Say something pleasant! Merry and bright!"
Merry and bright! I felt it! The sense of being a stranger entering a
strange land, the rushing sense of loneliness and foreignness was
overpowering my imagination. I blew my nose hard and tried to keep back
my tears, but the first reporter said: "Can I send any message to your
friends in England?"
I answered: "Tell them I never loved 'em so much as now," and burst into
tears! No wonder that he wrote in his paper that I was "a woman of
extreme nervous sensibility." Another of them said that "my figure was
spare almost to attenuation." America soon remedied that. I began to put
on flesh before I had been in the country a week, and it was during my
fifth American tour that I became really fat for the first time in my
When we landed I drove to the Hotel Dam, Henry to the Brevoort House.
There was no Diana on the top of the Madison Square Building then. The
building did not exist, to cheer the heart of a new arrival as the first
evidence of _beauty_ in the city. There were horse trams instead of
cable cars, but a quarter of a century has not altered the peculiarly
dilapidated carriages in which one drives from the dock, the muddy
side-walks, and the cavernous holes in the cobble-paved streets. Had the
elevated railway, the first sign of _power_ that one notices after
leaving the boat, begun to thunder through the streets? I cannot
remember New York without it.
I missed then, as I miss now, the numberless _hansoms_ of London plying
in the streets for hire. People in New York get about in the cars,
unless they have their own carriages. The hired carriage has no reason
for existing, and when it does, it celebrates its unique position by
charging two dollars (8_s._) for a journey which in London would not
cost fifty cents (2_s._)!
I cried for two hours at the Hotel Dam! Then my companion, Miss
Harries, came bustling in with: "Never mind! here's a piano!" and sat
down and played "Annie Laurie" very badly until I screamed with
laughter. Before the evening came my room was like a bower of roses, and
my dear friends in America have been throwing bouquets at me in the same
lavish way ever since. I had quite cheered up when Henry came to take me
to see some minstrels who were performing at the Star Theater, the very
theater where in a few days we were to open. I didn't understand many of
the jokes which the American comedians made that night, but I liked
their dry, cool way of making them. They did not "hand a lemon" or
"skiddoo" in those days; American slang changes as quickly as thieves'
slang, and only "Gee!" and "Gee-whiz!" seem to be permanent.
There were very few theaters in New York when we first went there. All
that part of the city which is now "up town" did not exist, and what was
then "up" is now more than "down" town. The American stage has changed
almost as much. In those days their most distinguished actors were
playing Shakespeare or old comedy, and their new plays were chiefly
"imported" goods. Even then there was a liking for local plays which
showed the peculiarities of the different States, but they were more
violent and crude than now. The original American genius and the true
dramatic pleasure of the people is, I believe, in such plays, where very
complete observation of certain phases of American life and very real
pictures of manners are combined with comedy almost childlike in its
naivete. The sovereignty of the young girl which is such a marked
feature in social life is reflected in American plays.
This is by the way.
What I want to make clear is that in 1883 there was no living American
drama as there is now, that such productions of romantic plays and
Shakespeare as Henry Irving brought over from England were unknown, and
that the extraordinary success of our first tours would be impossible
now. We were the first and we were pioneers, and we were _new_. To be
new is everything in America.
Such palaces as the Hudson Theater, New York, were not dreamed of when
we were at the Star, which was, however, quite equal to any theater in
London in front of the footlights. The stage itself, the lighting
appliances, and the dressing-rooms were inferior.
Henry made his first appearance in America in "The Bells." He was not at
his best on the first night, but he could be pretty good even when he
was not at his best. I watched him from a box. Nervousness made the
company very slow. The audience was a splendid one--discriminating and
appreciative. We felt that the Americans _wanted_ to like us. We felt in
a few days so extraordinarily at home. The first sensation of entering a
foreign city was quickly wiped out.
The difference in atmosphere disappears directly one understands it. I
kept on coming across duplicates of "my friends in England." "How this
girl reminds me of Alice." "How like that one is to Gill!" We had
transported the Lyceum three thousand miles--that was all.
On the second night in New York it was my turn. "Command yourself--this
is the time to show you can act!" I said to myself as I went on to the
stage of the Star Theater, dressed as Henrietta Maria. But I could not
command myself. I played badly and cried too much in the last act. But
the people liked me, and they liked the play, perhaps because it was
historical; and of history the Americans are passionately fond. The
audience took many points which had been ignored in London. I had always
thought Henry as Charles I. most moving when he made that involuntary
effort to kneel to his subject, Moray, but the Lyceum audiences never
seemed to notice it. In New York the audience burst out into the most
sympathetic spontaneous applause that I have ever heard in a theater.
I know that there are some advanced stage reformers who prefer to think
applause "vulgar," and would suppress it in the theater if they could.
If they ever succeed they will suppress a great deal of good acting. It
is said that the American actor, Edwin Forrest, once walked down to the
footlights and said to the audience very gravely and sincerely: "If you
don't applaud, I can't act," and I do sympathize with him. Applause is
an instinctive, unconscious act expressing the sympathy between actors
and audience. Just as our art demands more instinct than intellect in
its exercise, so we demand of those who watch us an appreciation of the
simple unconscious kind which finds an outlet in clapping rather than
the cold, intellectual approval which would self-consciously think
applause derogatory. I have yet to meet the actor who was _sincere_ in
saying that he disliked applause.
My impression of the way the American women dressed in 1883 was not
favorable. Some of them wore Indian shawls and diamond earrings. They
dressed too grandly in the street and too dowdily in the theater. All
this has changed. The stores in New York are now the most beautiful in
the world, and the women are dressed to perfection. They are as clever
at the _demi-toilette_ as the Parisian, and the extreme neatness and
smartness of their walking-gowns are very refreshing after the floppy,
blowsy, trailing dresses, accompanied by the inevitable feather boa of
which English girls, who used to be so tidy and "tailor-made," now seem
so fond. The universal white "waist" is very pretty and trim on the
American girl. It is one of the distinguishing marks of a land of the
free, a land where "class" hardly exists. The girl in the store wears
the white waist; so does the rich girl on Fifth Avenue. It costs
anything from seventy-five cents to fifty dollars!
London when I come back from America always seems at first like an
ill-lighted village, strangely tame, peaceful and backward. Above all, I
miss the sunlight of America, and the clear blue skies of an evening.
"Are you glad to get back?" said an English friend.
"It's a land of vulgarity, isn't it?"
"Oh yes, if you mean by that a wonderful land--a land of sunshine and
light, of happiness, of faith in the future!" I answered. I saw no
misery or poverty there. Every one looked happy. What hurts me on coming
back to England is the _hopeless_ look on so many faces; the dejection
and apathy of the people standing about in the streets. Of course there
is poverty in New York, but not among the Americans. The Italians, the
Russians, the Poles--all the host of immigrants washed in daily on the
bosom of the Hudson--these are poor, but you don't see them unless you
go Bowery-ways, and even then you can't help feeling that in their
sufferings there is always hope. The barrow man of to-day is the
millionaire of to-morrow! Vulgarity? I saw little of it. I thought that
the people who had amassed large fortunes used their wealth beautifully.
When a man is rich enough to build himself a big new house, he remembers
some old house which he once admired, and he has it imitated with all
the technical skill and care that can be had in America. This accounts
for the odd jumble of styles in Fifth Avenue, along the lakeside in
Chicago, in the new avenues in St. Louis and elsewhere. One
millionaire's house is modeled on a French chateau, another on an old
Colonial house in Virginia, another on a monastery in Mexico, another is
like an Italian palazzo. And their imitations are never weak or
pretentious. The architects in America seem to me to be far more able
than ours, or else they have a freer hand and more money. It is sad to
remember that Mr. Stanford White was one of the best of these splendid
It was Stanford White with Saint-Gaudens--that great sculptor, whose
work dignifies nearly all the great cities in America--who had most to
do with the Exhibition buildings of the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893.
It was odd to see that fair dream city rising out of the lake, so far
more beautiful in its fleeting beauty than the Chicago of the
stock-yards and the Pit which had provided the money for its beauty. The
millionaires did not interfere with the artists at all. They gave their
thousands--and stood aside. The result was one of the loveliest things
conceivable. Saint-Gaudens and the rest did their work as well as though
the buildings were to endure for centuries instead of being burned in a
year to save the trouble of pulling down! The World's Fair always
recalled to me the story of Michael Angelo, who carved a figure in snow
which, says the chronicler who saw it, "was superb."
Saint-Gaudens gave me a cast of his medallion of Bastien-Lepage, and
wrote to a friend of mine that "Bastien had '_le coeur au metier_.' So
has Miss Terry, and I will place that saying in the frame that is to
replace the present unsatisfactory one." He was very fastidious about
this frame, and took such a lot of trouble to get it right. It must have
been very irritating to Saint-Gaudens when he fell a victim to that
extraordinary official puritanism which sometimes exercises a petty
censorship over works of art in America. The medal that he made for the
World's Fair was rejected at Washington because it had on it a beautiful
little nude figure of a boy holding an olive branch, emblematical of
young America. I think a commonplace wreath and some lettering were
Saint-Gaudens did the fine bas-relief of Robert Louis Stevenson which
was chosen for the monument in St. Gile's Cathedral, Edinburgh. He gave
my daughter a medallion cast from this, because he knew that she was a
great lover of Stevenson. The bas-relief was dedicated to his friend Joe
Evans. I knew Saint-Gaudens first through Joe Evans, an artist who,
while he lived, was to me and to my daughter the dearest of all in
America. His character was so fine and noble--his nature so perfect.
Many were the birthday cards he did for me, original in design,
beautiful in execution. Whatever he did he put the best of himself into
it. I wrote to my daughter soon after his death:--
"I heard on Saturday that our dear Joe Evans is dangerously ill.
Yesterday came the worst news. Joe was not happy, but he was just
heroic, and this world wasn't half good enough for him. I keep on
getting letters about him. He seems to have been so glad to die. It
was like a child's funeral, I am told, and all his American friends
seem to have been there--Saint-Gaudens, Taber, etc. A poem about
the dear fellow by Mr. Gilder has one very good line in which he
says the grave 'might snatch a brightness from his presence there.'
I thought that was very happy, the love of light and gladness being
the most remarkable thing about him, the dear sad Joe."
Robert Taber, dear, and rather sad too, was a great friend of Joe's.
They both came to me first in the shape of a little book in which was
inscribed, "Never anything can be amiss when simpleness and duty tender
it." "Upon this hint I spake," the book began. It was all the work of a
few boys and girls who from the gallery of the Star Theater, New York,
had watched Irving's productions and learned to love him and me. Joe
Evans had done a lovely picture by way of frontispiece of a group of
eager heads hanging over the gallery's edge, his own and Taber's among
them. Eventually Taber came to England and acted with Henry Irving in
"Peter the Great" and other plays.
Like his friend Joe, he too was heroic. His health was bad and his life
none too happy--but he struggled on. His career was cut short by
consumption, and he died in the Adirondacks in 1904.
I cannot speak of all my friends in America, or anywhere, for the matter
of that, _individually_. My personal friends are so many, and they are
all wonderful--wonderfully staunch to me! I have "tried" them so, and
they have never given me up as a bad job.
My first friends of all in America were Mr. Bayard, afterwards the
American Ambassador in London, and his sister, Mrs. Benoni Lockwood, her
husband and their children. Now after all these years they are still my
friends, and I can hope for none better to the end.
William Winter, poet, critic and exquisite man, was one of the first to
write of Henry with whole-hearted appreciation. But all the criticism in
America, favorable and unfavorable, surprised us by the scholarly
knowledge it displayed. In Chicago the notices were worthy of the
_Temps_ or the _Journal des Debats_. There was no attempt to force the
personality of the writer into the foreground nor to write a style that
should attract attention to the critic and leave the thing criticized to
take care of itself. William Winter, and, of late years, Allan Dale,
have had their personalities associated with their criticisms, but they
are exceptions. Curiously enough the art of acting appears to bore most
dramatic critics, the very people who might be expected to be interested
in it. The American critics, however, at the time of our early visits,
were keenly interested, and showed it by their observation of many
points which our English critics had passed over. For instance, writing
of "Much Ado about Nothing," one of the Americans said of Henry in the
Church Scene that "something of him as a subtle interpreter of doubtful
situations was exquisitely shown in the early part of this fine scene by
his suspicion of Don John--felt by him alone, and expressed only by a
quick covert look, but a look so full of intelligence as to proclaim him
a sharer in the secret with his audience."
"Wherein does the superiority lie?" wrote another critic in comparing
our productions with those which had been seen in America up to 1884.
"Not in the amount of money expended, but in the amount of brains;--in
the artistic intelligence and careful and earnest pains with which every
detail is studied and worked out. Nor is there any reason why Mr. Irving
or any other foreigner should have a monopoly of either intelligence or
pains. They are common property, and one man's money can buy them as
well as another's. The defect in the American manager's policy
heretofore has been that he has squandered his money upon high salaries
for a few of his actors and costly, because unintelligent, expenditure
for mere dazzle and show."
William Winter soon became a great personal friend of ours, and visited
us in England. He was one of the few _sad_ people I met in America. He
could have sat upon the ground and told "sad stories of the deaths of
kings" with the best. He was very familiar with the poetry of the
_immediate_ past--Cowper, Coleridge, Gray, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats,
and the rest. He _liked_ us, so everything we did was right to him. He
could not help being guided entirely by his feelings. If he disliked a
thing, he had no use for it. Some men can say, "I hate this play, but
of its kind it is admirable." Willie Winter could never take that
unemotional point of view. In England he loved going to see graveyards,
and knew where every poet was buried.
His children came to stay with me in London. When we were all coming
home from the theater one night after "Faust" (the year must have been
1886) I said to little Willie:
"Well, what do you think of the play?"
"Oh my!" said he, "it takes the cake."
"Takes the _cake_!" said his little sister scornfully, "it takes the
"Won't you give me a kiss?" said Henry to the same young miss one night.
"No, I _won't_ with all that blue stuff on your face." (He was made up
for Mephistopheles.) Then, after a pause, "But why--why don't you _take_
it!" She was only five years old at the time!
I love the American papers, especially the Sunday ones, although they do
weigh nearly half a ton! As for the interviewers, I never cease to
marvel at their cleverness. I tell them nothing, and the next day I read
their "story" and find that I have said the most brilliant things! The
following delightful "skit" on one of these interviews suggested itself
to my clever friend Miss Aimee Lowther:--
WHAT CONSTITUTES CHARM
AN ILLUSTRATED INTERVIEW WITH MISS ELLEN TERRY
"Yes, I know that I am very charming," said Miss Ellen Terry, "a
perfectly delightful creature, a Queen of Hearts, a regular witch!" she
added thoughtfully, at the same time projecting a pip of the orange she
was chewing, with inimitable grace and accurate aim into
THE REPORTER'S EYE.
"You know, at all events, that you have charm?" I said.
"What do you think, you idiot! I exercise absolute power over my
audiences--I cast over them an irresistible spell--I do with them what I
will.... I am omnipotent, enthralling--and no wonder!"
I looked at her across the table, wondering at so much simple modesty.
"But feeling your power, you must often be tempted to experiment with
it," I ventured.
"Yes, now and then I am," replied Miss Terry. "Once, I remember, when I
was to appear as Ophelia, on making my entrance and seeing the audience
waiting breathlessly--as they always do--for what I was going to do
next, I said to myself, 'You silly fools, you shall have a treat
to-night--I will give you something you will appreciate more than
Shakespeare!' Hastily slipping on a
which I always carry in my pocket, I struck an attitude, and then turned
"Ah! the applause, the delirious, intoxicating applause! That night I
felt my power, that night I knew that I had wished I could have held
them indefinitely! But I am only one of several gifted beings on the
stage who are blessed with this mysterious quality. Dan Leno, Herbert
Campbell, and Little Tich all have it. Dan Leno, in particular, rivets
the attention of his audience by his entrancing by-play, even when he
doesn't speak. And yet it is
NOT HIS BEAUTY
precisely that does it."
At that moment Miss Terry's little grandchild, who was playing about the
BEGAN TO HOWL
"Here is a little maid who was a charmer from her cradle," said the
delightful actress, picking up the child and
it out of the third-floor window. Seeing me look relieved, though
somewhat surprised, she said merrily: "I have plenty more of them at
home, and they are
every one of them! If you want to be charming you must be natural--I
always am. Even in my cradle I was
And now, please go. Your conversation bores me inexpressibly, and your
countenance, which is at once vacuous and singularly plain, disagrees
with me thoroughly. Go! or I shall
So saying the great actress gave me a
which landed me outside her room, considerably shaken, and entirely
under the spell of her matchless charm.
* * * * *
For "quite a while" during the first tour I stayed in Washington with
my friend Miss Olive Seward, and all the servants of that delightful
household were colored. This was my first introduction to the negroes,
whose presence more than anything else in the country, makes America
seem foreign to European eyes. They are more sharply divided into high
and low types than white people, and are not in the least alike in their
types. It is safe to call any colored man "George." They all love it,
perhaps because of George Washington, and most of them are really named
George. I never met such perfect service as they can give. _Some_ of
them are delightful. The beautiful, full voice of the "darkey" is so
attractive, so soothing, and they are so deft and gentle. Some of the
women are beautiful, and all the young appeared to me to be well-formed.
As for the babies! I washed two or three little piccaninnies when I was
in the South, and the way they rolled their gorgeous eyes at me was "too
cute," which means in British-English "fascinating."
At the Washington house, the servants danced a cake-walk for me--the
colored cook, a magnificent type, who "took the cake," saying, "that was
because I chose a good handsome boy to dance with, Missie."
They sang too. Their voices were beautiful--with such illimitable power,
yet as sweet as treacle.
The little page-boy had a pet of a wooly head. Henry once gave him a
tip--"fee," as they call it in America--and said: "There, that's for a
new wig when this one is worn out," gently pulling the astrakhan-like
hair. The tip would have bought him many wigs, I think!
"Why, Uncle Tom, how your face shines to-night!" said my hostess to one
of the very old servants.
"Yes, Missie, glycerine and rose-water, Missie!"
He had taken some from her dressing-table to shine up his face in honor
of me! A shiny complexion is considered to be a great beauty among the
negroes! The dear old man! He was very bent and very old; and looked
like one of the logs that he used to bring in for the fire--a log from
some hoary, lichened tree whose life was long since past. He would
produce a pin from his head when you wanted one; he had them stuck in
his pad of white wooly hair: "Always handy then, Missie," he would say.
"Ask them to sing 'Sweet Violets,' Uncle Tom."
He was acting as a sort of master of the ceremonies at the entertainment
the servants were giving me.
"Don't think they know dat, Miss Olly."
"Why, I heard them singing it the other night!" And she hummed the tune.
"Oh, dat was 'Sweet Vio-_letts_,' Miss Olly!"
Washington was the first city I had seen in America where the people did
not hurry, and where the social life did not seem entirely the work of
women. The men asserted themselves here as something more than machines
in the background untiringly turning out the dollars, while their wives
and daughters give luncheons and teas at which only women are present.
Beautifully as the women dress, they talk very little about clothes. I
was much struck by their culture--by the evidences that they had read
far more and developed a more fastidious taste than most young
Englishwomen. Yet it is all mixed up with extraordinary naivete. The
vivacity, the appearance, at least, of _reality_, the animation, the
energy of American women delighted me. They are very sympathetic, too,
in spite of a certain callousness which comes of regarding everything in
life, even love, as "lots of fun." I did not think that they, or the men
either, had much natural sense of beauty. They admire beauty in a
curious way through their intellect. Nearly every American girl has a
cast of the winged Victory of the Louvre in her room. She makes it a
point of her _education_ to admire it.
There! I am beginning to generalize--the very thing I was resolute to
avoid. How silly to generalize about a country which embraces such
extremes of climate as the sharp winters of Boston and New York and the
warm winds of Florida which blow through palms and orange groves!
SOME LIKES AND DISLIKES
It is only human to make comparisons between American and English
institutions, although they are likely to turn out as odious as the
proverb says! The first institution in America that distressed me was
the steam heat. It is far more manageable now than it was both in hotels
and theaters, because there are more individual heaters. But how I
suffered from it at first I cannot describe! I used to feel dreadfully
ill, and when we could not turn the heat off at the theater, the plays
always went badly. My voice was affected too. At Toledo once, it nearly
went altogether. Then the next night, after a good fight for it, we got
the theater cool, and the difference that it made to the play was
extraordinary. I was in my best form, feeling well and jolly!
No wonder the Americans drink ice-water and wear very thin clothes
indoors. Their rooms are hotter than ours ever are, even in the height
of the summer--when we have a summer! But no wonder, either, that
Americans in England shiver at our cold, draughty rooms. They are
brought up in hot-houses.
If I did not like steam heat, I loved the ice which is such a feature at
American meals. Everything is served on ice, and the ice-water, however
pernicious the European may consider it as a drink, looks charming and
cool in the hot rooms.
I liked the traveling; but then we traveled in a very princely fashion.
The Lyceum company and baggage occupied eight cars, and Henry's private
parlor car was lovely. The only thing that we found was better
understood in England, so far as railway traveling is concerned, was
_privacy_. You may have a _private_ car in America, but all the
conductors on the train, and there is one to each car, can walk through
it. So can any official, baggage man or newsboy who has the mind!
The "parlor car" in America is more luxurious than our first class, but
you travel in it (if you have no "private" car) with thirty other
"What do you want to be private for?" asked an American, and you don't
know how to answer, for you find that with them that privacy means
concealment. For this reason, I believe, they don't have hedges or walls
round their estates and gardens. "Why should we? We have nothing to
In the cars, as in the rooms at one's hotel, the "cuspidor" is always
with you as a thing of beauty! When I first went to America the "Ladies'
Entrance" to the hotel was really necessary, because the ordinary
entrance was impassable! Since then very severe laws against spitting in
public places have been passed, and there is a _great_ improvement. But
the habit, I suppose due to the dryness of the climate, or to the very
strong cigars smoked, or to chronic catarrh, or to a feeling of
independence--"This is a free country and I can spit if I
choose!"--remains sufficiently disgusting to a stranger visiting the
The American voice is the one thing in the country that I find
unbearable; yet the truly terrible variety only exists in one State, and
is not widely distributed. I suppose it is its very assertiveness that
makes one forget the very sweet voices that also exist in America. The
Southern voice is very low in tone and soothing, like the "darkey"
voice. It is as different from Yankee as the Yorkshire burr is from the
This question of accent is a very funny one. I had not been in America
long when a friend said to me:
"We like your voice. You have so little English accent!"
This struck me as rather cool. Surely English should be spoken with an
_English_ accent, not with a French, German, or double-dutch one! Then I
found that what they meant by an English accent was an English
affectation of speech--a drawl with a tendency to "aw" and "ah"
everything. They thought that every one in England who did not miss out
aspirates where they should be, and put them in where they should not
be, talked of "the rivah," "ma brothar," and so on. Their conclusion
was, after all, quite as well founded as ours about _their_ accent. The
American intonation, with its freedom from violent emphasis, is, I
think, rather pretty when the quality of the voice is sweet.
Of course the Americans would have their jokes about Henry's method of
speech. Ristori followed us once in New York, and a newspaper man said
he was not sure whether she or Mr. Irving was the more difficult for an
American to understand.
"He pronounces the English tongue as it is pronounced by no other man,
woman or child," wrote the critic, and proceeded to give a phonetically
spelled version of Irving's delivery of Shylock's speech of Antonio.
"Wa thane, ett no eperes
Ah! um! yo ned m'clp
Ough! ough! Gaw too thane! Ha! um!
Yo com'n say
Ah! Shilok, um! ouch! we wode hev moanies!"
I wonder if the clever American reporter stopped to think how _his_
delivery of the same speech would look in print! As for the
ejaculations, the interjections and grunts with which Henry interlarded
the text, they often helped to reveal the meaning of Shakespeare to his
audience--a meaning which many a perfect elocutionist has left perfectly
obscure. The use of "m'" or "me" for "my" has often been hurled in my
face as a reproach, but I never contracted "my" without good reason. I
had a line in Olivia which I began by delivering as--
"My sorrows and my shame are my own."
Then I saw that the "mys" sounded ridiculous, and abbreviated the two
first ones into "me's."
There were of course people ready to say that the Americans did not like
Henry Irving as an actor, and that they only accepted him as a
manager--that he triumphed in New York as he had done in London, through
his lavish spectacular effects. This is all moonshine. Henry made his
first appearance in "The Bells," his second in "Charles I.," his third
in "Louis XI." By that time he had conquered, and without the aid of
anything at all notable in the mounting of the plays. It was not until
we did "The Merchant of Venice" that he gave the Americans anything of a
My first appearance in America in Shakespeare was as Portia, and I could
not help feeling pleased by my success. A few weeks later I played
Ophelia at Philadelphia. It is in Shakespeare that I have been best
liked in America, and I consider that Beatrice was the part about which
they were most enthusiastic.
During our first tour we visited in succession New York, Philadelphia,
Boston, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit,
and Toronto. To most of these places we paid return visits.
"To what do you attribute your success, Mr. Irving?"
"To my acting," was the simple reply.
We never had poor houses except in Baltimore and St. Louis. Our journey
to Baltimore was made in a blizzard. They were clearing the snow before
us all the way from New Jersey, and we took forty-two hours to reach
Baltimore! The bells of trains before us and behind us sounded very
alarming. We opened in Baltimore on Christmas day. The audience was
wretchedly small, but the poor things who were there had left their warm
firesides to drive or tramp through the slush of melting snow, and each
one who managed to reach the theater was worth a hundred on an ordinary
At the hotel I put up holly and mistletoe, and produced from my trunks a
real Christmas pudding that my mother had made. We had it for supper,
and it was very good.
It never does to repeat an experiment. Next year at Pittsburg my little
son Teddy brought me out another pudding from England. For once we were
in an uncomfortable hotel, and the Christmas dinner was deplorable. It
began with _burned hare soup_.
"It seems to me," said Henry, "that we aren't going to get anything to
eat, but we'll make up for it by drinking!"
He had brought his own wine out with him from England, and the company
took him at his word and _did_ make up for it!
"Never mind!" I said, as the soup was followed by worse and worse.
"There's my pudding!"
It came on blazing, and looked superb. Henry tasted a mouthful.
"Very odd," he said, "but I think this is a camphor pudding."
He said it so politely, as if he might easily be mistaken!
My maid in England had packed the pudding with my furs! It simply reeked
So we had to dine on Henry's wine and L.F. Austin's wit. This dear,
brilliant man, now dead, acted for many years as Henry's secretary, and
one of his gifts was the happy knack of hitting off people's
peculiarities in rhyme. This dreadful Christmas dinner at Pittsburg was
enlivened by a collection of such rhymes, which Mr. Austin called a
"Lyceum Christmas Play."
Every one roared with laughter until it came to the verse of which he
was the victim, when suddenly he found the fun rather labored!
The first verse was spoken by Loveday, who announces that the "Governor"
has a new play which is "_Wonderful_!" a great word of Loveday's.
_George Alexander_ replies:
"But I say, Loveday, have I got a part in it,
That I can wear a cloak in and look smart in it?
Not that I care a fig for gaudy show, dear boy--
But juveniles must _look_ well, don't you know, dear boy.
And shall I lordly hall and tuns of claret own?
And may I murmur love in dulcet baritone?
Tell me at least, this simple fact of it--
Can I beat Terriss hollow in one act of it?
Pooh for Wenman's bass! Why should he make a boast of it?"
[Footnote 1: Alexander had just succeeded Terriss as our leading young
[Footnote 2: Wenman had a rolling bass voice of which he was very proud.
He was a valuable actor, yet somehow never interesting. Young Norman
Forbes-Robertson played Sir Andrew Ague Cheak with us on our second
"If he has a voice, I have got the ghost of it!
When I pitch it low, you may say how weak it is,
When I pitch it high, heavens! what a squeak it is!
But I never mind; for what does it signify?
See my graceful hands, they're the things that dignify;
All the rest is froth, and egotism's dizziness--
Have I not played with Phelps?
I'll teach you all the business!"
(Of whom much has already been written in these pages.)
"What's this about a voice? Surely you forget it, or
Wilfully conceal that _I_ have no competitor!
I do not know the play, or even what the title is,
But safe to make success a charnel-house recital is!
So please to bear in mind, if I am not to fail in it,
That Hamlet's father's ghost must rob the Lyons Mail in it!
No! that's not correct! But you may spare your charity--
A good sepulchral groan's the thing for popularity!"
(The "agricultural" actor, as Henry called him.)
"Boys, take my advice, the stage is not the question,
But whether at three score you'll all have my digestion.
Why yearn for plays, to pose as Brutuses or Catos in,
When you may get a garden to grow the best potatoes in?
You see that at my age by Nature's shocks unharmed I am!
Tho' if I sneeze but thrice, good heavens, how alarmed I am!
But act your parts like men, and tho' you all great sinners are,
You're sure to act like men wherever Irving's dinners are!"
_J.H. Allen_ (our prompter):
"Whatever be the play, _I_ must have a hand in it,
For won't I teach the supers how to stalk and stand in it?
Tho' that blessed Shakespeare never gives a ray to them,
_I_ explain the text, and then it's clear as day to them!
Plain as A B C is a plot historical,
When _I_ overhaul allusions allegorical!
Shakespeare's not so bad; he'd have more pounds and pence in him,
If actors stood aside, and let me show the sense in him!"
[Footnote 1: Once when Allen was rehearsing the supers in the Church
Scene in "Much Ado about Nothing," we overheard him show the sense in
Shakespeare like this:
"This 'Ero let me tell you is a perfect lady, a nice, innercent young
thing, and when the feller she's engaged to calls 'er an 'approved
wanton,' you naturally claps yer 'ands to yer swords. A wanton is a kind
of--well, you know she ain't what she ought to be!"
Allen would then proceed to read the part of Claudio:
"... not to knit my soul to an approved wanton."
Seven or eight times the supers clapped their "'ands to their swords"
without giving Allen satisfaction.
"No, no, no, that's not a bit like it, not a bit! If any of your sisters
was 'ere and you 'eard me call 'er a ----, would yer stand gapin' at me
as if this was a bloomin' tea party!"]
Louis Austin's little "Lyceum Play" was presented to me with a silver
water-jug, a souvenir from the company, and ended up with the following
pretty lines spoken by Katie Brown, a clever little girl who played all
the small pages' parts at this time:
"Although I'm but a little page,
Who waits for Portia's kind behest,
Mine is the part upon this stage
To tell the plot you have not guessed.
"Dear lady, oft in Belmont's hall,
Whose mistress is so sweet and fair,
Your humble slaves would gladly fall
Upon their knees, and praise you there.
"To offer you this little gift,
Dear Portia, now we crave your leave,
And let it have the grace to lift
Our hearts to yours this Christmas eve.
"And so we pray that you may live
Thro' many, many, happy years,
And feel what you so often give--
The joy that is akin to tears!"
How nice of Louis Austin! It quite made up for my mortification over the
Pittsburg has been called "hell with the lid off," and other insulting
names. I have always thought it beautiful, especially at night when its
furnaces make it look like a city of flame. The lovely park that the
city has made on the heights that surround it is a lesson to Birmingham,
Sheffield, and our other black towns. George Alexander said that
Pittsburg reminded him of his native town of Sheffield. "Had he said
Birmingham, now instead of Sheffield," wrote a Pittsburg newspaper man,
"he would have touched our tender spot exactly. As it is, we can be as
cheerful as the Chicago man was who boasted that his sweetheart 'came
pretty near calling him "honey,"' when in fact she had called him 'Old
When I played Ophelia for the first time in Chicago, I played the part
better than I had ever played it before, and I don't believe I ever
played it so well again. _Why_, it is almost impossible to say. I had
heard a good deal of the crime of Chicago, that the people were a rough,
murderous, sand-bagging crew. I ran on to the stage in the mad scene,
and never have I felt such sympathy! This frail wraith, this poor
demented thing, could hold them in the hollow of her hand.... It was
splendid! "How long can I hold them?" I thought: "For ever!" Then I
laughed. That was the best Ophelia laugh of my life--my life that is
such a perfect kaleidoscope with the people and the places turning round
At the risk of being accused of indiscriminate flattery I must say that
I liked _all_ the American cities. Every one of them has a joke at the
expense of the others. They talk in New York of a man who lost both his
sons--"One died and the other went to live in Philadelphia." Pittsburg
is the subject of endless criticism, and Chicago is "the limit." To me,
indeed, it seemed "the limit"--of the industry, energy, and enterprise
of man. In 1812 this vast city was only a frontier post--Fort Dearborn.
In 1871 the town that first rose on these great plains was burned to the
ground. The growth of the present Chicago began when I was a grown
woman. I have celebrated my jubilee. Chicago will not do that for
another fifteen years!
I never visited the stock-yards. Somehow I had no curiosity to see a
live pig turned in fifteen minutes into ham, sausages, hair-oil, and the
binding for a Bible! I had some dread of being made sad by the spectacle
of so much slaughter--of hating the Chicago of the "abattoir" as much as
I had loved the Chicago of the Lake with the white buildings of the
World's Fair shining on it, the Chicago built on piles in splendid
isolation in the middle of the prairie, the Chicago of Marshall Field's
beautiful palace of a store, the Chicago of my dear friends, the Chicago
of my son's first appearance on the stage! Was it not a Chicago man who
wrote of my boy, tending the roses in the stage garden in "Eugene Aram,"
that he was "a most beautiful lad"!
"His eyes are full of sparkle, his smile is a ripple over his face,
and his laugh is as cherry and natural as a bird's song.... This
Joey is Miss Ellen Terry's son, and the apple of her eye. On this
Wednesday night, January 14, 1885, he spoke his first lines upon
the stage. His mother has high hopes of this child's dramatic
future. He has the instinct and the soul of art in him. Already the
theater is his home. His postures and his playfulness with the
gardener, his natural and graceful movement, had been the subject
of much drilling, of study and practice. He acquitted himself
beautifully and received the wise congratulations of his mother, of
Mr. Irving, and of the company."
That is the nicest newspaper notice I have ever read!
At Chicago I made my first speech. The Haverley Theater, at which we
first appeared in 1884, was altered and rechristened the "Columbia" in
1885. I was called upon for a speech after the special performance in
honor of the occasion, consisting of scenes from "Charles I.," "Louis
XI," "The Merchant of Venice," and "The Bells," had come to an end. I
think it must be the shortest speech on record:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been asked to christen your beautiful
theater. 'Hail Columbia!'"
When we acted in Brooklyn we used to stay in New York and drive over
that wonderful bridge every night. There were no trolley cars on it
then. I shall never forget how it looked in winter, with the snow and
ice on it--a gigantic trellis of dazzling white, as incredible as a
dream. The old stone bridges were works of _art_. This bridge, woven of
iron and steel for a length of over 500 yards, and hung high in the air
over the water so that great ships can pass beneath it, is the work of
_science_. It looks as if it had been built by some power, not by men at
It was during our week at Brooklyn in 1885 that Henry was ill, too ill
to act for four nights. Alexander played Benedick, and got through it
wonderfully well. Then old Mr. Mead did (_did_ is the word) Shylock.
There was no intention behind his words or what he did.
I had such a funny batch of letters on my birthday that year. "Dear,
sweet Miss Terry, etc., etc. Will you give me a piano?"!! etc., etc.
Another: "Dear Ellen. Come to Jesus. Mary." Another, a lovely letter of
thanks from a poor woman in the most ghastly distress, and lastly an
offer of a _two years'_ engagement in America. There was a simple coming
in for one woman acting at Brooklyn on her birthday!
Brooklyn is as sure a laugh in New York as the mother-in-law in a London
music hall. "All cities begin by being lonesome," a comedian explained,
"and Brooklyn has never gotten over it."
My only complaint against Brooklyn was that they would not take Fussie
in at the hotel there. Fussie, during these early American tours, was
still _my_ dog. Later on he became Henry's. He had his affections
alienated by a course of chops, tomatoes, strawberries, "ladies'
fingers" soaked in champagne, and a beautiful fur rug of his very own
presented by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts!
How did I come by Fussie? I went to Newmarket with Rosa Corder, whom
Whistler painted. She was one of those plain-beautiful women who are so
far more attractive than some of the pretty ones. She had wonderful
hair--like a fair, pale veil, a white, waxen face, and a very good
figure; and she wore very odd clothes. She had a studio in Southampton
Row, and another at Newmarket where she went to paint horses. I went to
Cambridge once and drove back with her across the heath to her studio.
"How wonderfully different are the expressions on terriers' faces," I
said to her, looking at a painting of hers of a fox-terrier pup. "That's
the only sort of dog I should like to have."
"That one belonged to Fred Archer," Rosa Corder said. "I daresay he
could get you one like it."
We went out to find Archer. Curiously enough I had known the famous
jockey at Harpenden when he was a little boy, and I believe used to come
round with vegetables.
"I'll send you a dog, Miss Terry, that won't be any trouble. He's got a
very good head, a first-rate tail, stuck in splendidly, but his legs are
too long. He'd follow you to America!"
Prophetic words! On one of our departures for America, Fussie was left
behind by mistake at Southampton. He could not get across the Atlantic,
but he did the next best thing. He found his way back from there to his
own theater in the Strand, London!
Fred Archer sent him originally to the stage-door at the Lyceum. The man
who brought him out from there to my house in Earl's Court said:
"I'm afraid he gives tongue, Miss. He don't like music, anyway. There
was a band at the bottom of your road, and he started hollering."
We were at luncheon when Fussie made his debut into the family circle,
and I very quickly saw his _stomach_ was his fault. He had a great
dislike to "Charles I."; we could never make out why. Perhaps it was
because Henry wore armor in one act--and Fussie may have barked his
shins against it. Perhaps it was the firing off of the guns; but more
probably it was because the play once got him into trouble. As a rule
Fussie had the most wonderful sense of the stage, and at rehearsal would
skirt the edge of it, but never cross it. But at Brooklyn one night when
we were playing "Charles I."--the last act, and that most pathetic part
of it where Charles is taking a last farewell of his wife and
children--Fussie, perhaps excited by his run over the bridge from New
York, suddenly bounded on to the stage! The good children who were
playing Princess Mary and Prince Henry didn't even smile; the audience
remained solemn, but Henry and I nearly went into hysterics. Fussie knew
directly that he had done wrong. He lay down on his stomach, then rolled
over on his back, whimpering an apology--while carpenters kept on
whistling and calling to him from the wings. The children took him up to
the window at the back of the scene, and he stayed there cowering
between them until the end of the play.
America seems to have been always fatal to Fussie. Another time when
Henry and I were playing in some charity performance in which John Drew
and Maude Adams were also acting, he disgraced himself again. Henry
having "done his bit" and put on hat and coat to leave the theater,
Fussie thought the end of the performance must have come; the stage had
no further sanctity for him, and he ran across it to the stage door
barking! John Drew and Maude Adams were playing "A Pair of Lunatics."
Maude Adams, sitting looking into the fire, did not see Fussie, but was
amazed to hear John Drew departing madly from the text:
"Is this a dog I see before me,
His tail towards my hand?
Come, let me clutch thee."
She began to think that he had really gone mad!
When Fussie first came, Charlie was still alive, and I have often gone
into Henry's dressing-room and seen the two dogs curled up in both the
available chairs, Henry _standing_ while he made up, rather than disturb
When Charlie died, Fussie had Henry's idolatry all to himself. I have
caught them often sitting quietly opposite each other at Grafton Street,
just adoring each other! Occasionally Fussie would thump his tail on the
ground to express his pleasure.
Wherever we went in America the hotel people wanted to get rid of the
dog. In the paper they had it that Miss Terry asserted that Fussie was a
little terrier, while the hotel people regarded him as a pointer, and
funny caricatures were drawn of a very big me with a very tiny dog, and
a very tiny me with a dog the size of an elephant! Henry often walked
straight out of an hotel where an objection was made to Fussie. If he
wanted to stay, he had recourse to strategy. At Detroit the manager of
the hotel said that dogs were against the rules. Being very tired Henry
let Fussie go to the stables for the night, and sent Walter to look
after him. The next morning he sent for the manager.
"Yours is a very old-fashioned hotel, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir, very old and ancient."
"Got a good chef? I didn't think much of the supper last night; but
still--the beds are comfortable enough--I am afraid you don't like
"Yes, sir, in their proper place."
"It's a pity," said Henry meditatively, "because you happen to be
overrun by rats!"
"Sir, you must have made a mistake. Such a thing couldn't--"
"Well, I couldn't pass another night here without my dog," Henry
interrupted. "But there are, I suppose, other hotels?"
"If it will be any comfort to you to have your dog with you, sir, do by
all means, but I assure you that he'll catch no rat here."
"I'll be on the safe side," said Henry calmly.
And so it was settled. That very night Fussie supped off, not rats, but
terrapin and other delicacies in Henry's private sitting-room.
It was the 1888 tour, the great blizzard year, that Fussie was left
behind by mistake at Southampton. He jumped out at the station just
before Southampton, where they stop to collect tickets. After this long
separation, Henry naturally thought that the dog would go nearly mad
with joy when he saw him again. He described to me the meeting in a
"My dear Fussie gave me a terrible shock on Sunday night. When we
got in, J----, Hatton, and I dined at the Cafe Royal. I told Walter
to bring Fussie there. He did, and Fussie burst into the room while
the waiter was cutting some mutton, when, what d'ye think--one
bound at me--another instantaneous bound at the mutton, and from
the mutton nothing would get him until he'd got his plateful.
"Oh, what a surprise it was indeed! He never now will leave my
side, my legs, or my presence, but I cannot but think, alas, of
that seductive piece of mutton!"
Poor Fussie! He met his death through the same weakness. It was at
Manchester, I think. A carpenter had thrown down his coat with a ham
sandwich in the pocket, over an open trap on the stage. Fussie, nosing
and nudging after the sandwich, fell through and was killed instantly.
When they brought up the dog after the performance, every man took his
hat off.... Henry was not told until the end of the play.
He took it so very quietly that I was frightened, and said to his son
Laurence who was on that tour:
"Do let's go to his hotel and see how he is."
We drove there and found him sitting eating his supper with the poor
dead Fussie, who would never eat supper any more, curled up in his rug
on the sofa. Henry was talking to the dog exactly as if it were alive.
The next day he took Fussie back in the train with him to London,
covered with a coat. He is buried in the dogs' cemetery, Hyde Park.
His death made an enormous difference to Henry. Fussie was his constant
companion. When he died, Henry was really alone. He never spoke of what
he felt about it, but it was easy to know.
We used to get hints how to get this and that from watching Fussie! His
look, his way of walking! He _sang_, whispered eloquently and low--then
barked suddenly and whispered again! Such a lesson in the law of
The first time that Henry went to the Lyceum after Fussie's death, every
one was anxious and distressed, knowing how he would miss the dog in his
dressing-room. Then an odd thing happened. The wardrobe cat, who had
never been near the room in Fussie's lifetime, came down and sat on
Fussie's cushion! No one knew how the "Governor" would take it. But when
Walter was sent out to buy some meat for it, we saw that Henry was not
going to resent it! From that night onwards the cat always sat night
after night in the same place, and Henry liked its companionship. In
1902, when he left the theater for good, he wrote to me:
"The place is now given up to the rats--all light cut off, and only
Barry and a foreman left. Everything of mine I've moved away,
including the Cat!"
[Footnote 1: The stage-door keeper.]
I have never been to America yet without going to Niagara. The first
time I saw the great falls I thought it all more wonderful than
beautiful. I got away by myself from my party, and looked and looked at
it, and I listened--and at last it became dreadful and I was
_frightened_ at it. I wouldn't go alone again, for I felt queer and
wanted to follow the great flow of it. But at twelve o'clock, with the
"sun upon the topmost height of the day's journey," most of Nature's
sights appear to me to be at their plainest. In the evening, when the
shadows grow long and all hard lines are blurred, how soft, how
different, everything is! It was noontide, that garish cruel time of
day, when I first came in sight of the falls. I'm glad I went again in
other lights--but one should live by the side of all this greatness to
learn to love it. Only once did I catch Niagara in _beauty_, with pits
of color in its waters, no one color definite--all was wonderment,
allurement, fascination. The _last_ time I was there it was wonderful,
but not beautiful any more. The merely stupendous, the merely marvelous,
have always repelled me. I cannot _realize_, and become terribly weak
and doddering. No terrific scene gives me pleasure. The great canons
give me unrest, just as the long low lines of my Sussex marshland near
Winchelsea give me rest.
At Niagara William Terriss slipped and nearly lost his life. At night
when he appeared as Bassanio, he shrugged his shoulders, lowered his
eyelids, and said to me--
"Nearly gone, dear,"--he would call everybody "dear"--"But Bill's luck!
What tempus had to do with it, I don't quite know!
When we were first in Canada I tobogganed at Rosedale. I should say it
was like flying! The start! Amazing! "Farewell to this world," I
thought, as I felt my breath go. Then I shut my mouth, opened my eyes,
and found myself at the bottom of the hill in a jiffy--"over hill, over
dale, through bush, through briar!" I rolled right out of the toboggan
when we stopped. A very nice Canadian man was my escort, and he helped
me up the hill afterwards. I didn't like _that_ part of the affair quite
Henry Irving would not come, much to my disappointment. He said that
quick motion through the air always gave him the ear-ache. He had to
give up swimming (his old Cornish Aunt Penberthy told me he delighted in
swimming as a boy) just because it gave him most violent pains in the
Philadelphia, as I first knew it, was the most old-world place I saw in
America, except perhaps Salem. Its redbrick side-walks, the trees in the
streets, the low houses with their white marble cuffs and collars, the
pretty design of the place, all give it a character of its own. The
people, too, have a character of their own. They dress, or at least
_did_ dress, very quietly. This was the only sign of their Quaker
origin, except a very fastidious taste--in plays as in other things.
Mrs. Gillespie, the great-grandchild of Benjamin Franklin, was one of my
earliest Philadelphia friends--a splendid type of the independent woman,
a bit of the martinet, but immensely full of kindness and humor. She had
a word to say in all Philadelphian matters. It would be difficult to
imagine a greater contrast to Mrs. Gillespie of Philadelphia than Mrs.
Fields of Boston, that other great American lady whom to know is a
Mrs. Fields reminded me of Lady Tennyson, Mrs. Tom Taylor, and Miss
Hogarth (Dickens's sister-in-law) all rolled into one. Her house is full
of relics of the past. There is a portrait of Dickens as a young man
with long hair. He had a feminine face in those days, for all its
strength. Hard by is a sketch of Keats by Severn, with a lock of the
poet's hair. Opposite is a head of Thackeray, with a note in his
handwriting fastened below. "Good-bye, Mrs. Fields; good-bye, my dear
Fields; good-bye to all. I go home."
Thackeray left Boston abruptly because a sudden desire to see his
children had assailed him at Christmas time!
As you sit in Mrs. Field's spacious room overlooking the Bay, you
realize suddenly that before you ever came into it, Dickens and
Thackeray were both here, that this beautiful old lady who so kindly
smiles on you has smiled on them and on many other great men of letters
long since dead. It is here that they seem most alive. This is the house
where the culture of Boston seems no fad to make a joke about, but a
rare and delicate reality.
This--and Fen Court, the home of that wonderful woman Mrs. Jack
Gardiner, who represents the present worship of beauty in Boston as Mrs.
Fields represents its former worship of literary men. Fen Court is a
house of enchantment, a palace, and Mrs. Gardiner is like a great
princess in it. She has "great possessions" indeed, but her best, to my
mind, is her most beautiful voice, even though I remember her garden by
moonlight with the fountain playing, her books and her pictures, the
Sargent portrait of herself presiding over one of the most splendid of
those splendid rooms, where everything great in old art and new art is
represented. What a portrait it is! Some one once said of Sargent that
"behind the individual he finds the real, and behind the real, a whole
He has painted "Mrs. Jack" in a tight-fitting black dress with no
ornament but her world-famed pearl necklace round her waist, and on her
shoes rubies like drops of blood. The daring, intellectual face seems to
say: "I have possessed everything that is worth possession, through the
energy and effort and labor of the country in which I was born."
Mrs. Gardiner represents all the _poetry_ of the millionaire.
Mrs. Gardiner's house filled me with admiration, but if I want rest and
peace I just think of the houses of Mrs. James Fields and Oliver Wendell
Holmes. He was another personage in Boston life when I first went there.
Oh, the visits I inflicted on him--yet he always seemed pleased to see
me, the cheery, kind man. It was generally winter when I called on him.
At once it was "four feet upon a fender!" Four feet upon a fender was
his idea of happiness, he told me, during one of these lengthy visits of
mine to his house in Beacon Street.
He came to see us in "Much Ado about Nothing" and, next day sent me some
little volumes of his work with a lovely inscription on the front page.
I miss him very much when I go to Boston now.
In New York, how much I miss Mrs. Beecher I could never say. The
Beechers were the most wonderful pair. What an actor he would have made!
He read scenes from Shakespeare to Henry and me at luncheon one day. He
sat next to his wife, and they held hands nearly all the while; I
thought of that time when the great preacher was tried, and all through
the trial his wife showed the world her faith in his innocence by
sitting by his side and holding his hand.
He was indeed a great preacher. I have a little faded card in my
possession now: "Mrs. Henry W. Beecher." "Will ushers of Plymouth Church
please seat the bearer in the Pastor's pew." And in the Pastor's pew I
sat, listening to that magnificent bass-viol voice with its persuasive
low accent, its torrential scorn! After the sermon I went to the
Beechers' home. Mr. Beecher sat with a saucer of uncut gems by him on
the table. He ran his hand through them from time to time, held them up
to the light, admiring them and speaking of their beauty and color as
eloquently as an hour before he had spoken of sin and death and
He asked me to choose a stone, and I selected an aquamarine, and he had
it splendidly mounted for me in Venetian style to wear in "The Merchant
of Venice." Once when he was ill, he told me, his wife had some few
score of his jewels set up in lead--a kind of small stained-glass
window--and hung up opposite his bed. "It did me more good than the
doctor's visits," he laughed out!
Mrs. Beecher was very remarkable. She had a way of lowering her head and
looking at you with a strange intentness--gravely--kindly and quietly.
At her husband she looked a world of love, of faith, of undying
devotion. She was fond of me, although I was told she disliked women
generally and had been brought up to think all actresses children of
Satan. Obedience to the iron rules which had always surrounded her had
endowed her with extraordinary self-control. She would not allow herself
ever to feel heat or cold, and could stand any pain or discomfort
without a word of complaint.
She told me once that when she and her sister were children, a friend
had given them some lovely bright blue silk, and as the material was so
fine they thought they would have it made up a little more smartly than
was usual in their somber religious home. In spite of their father's
hatred of gaudy clothes, they ventured on a little "V" at the neck,
hardly showing more than the throat; but still, in a household where
blue silk itself was a crime, it was a bold venture. They put on the
dresses for the first time for five o'clock dinner, stole downstairs
with trepidation, rather late, and took their seats as usual one on each
side of their father. He was eating soup and never looked up. The little
sisters were relieved. He was not going to say anything.
No, he was not going to say anything, but suddenly he took a ladleful of
the hot soup and dashed it over the neck of one sister; another ladleful
followed quickly on the neck of the other.
"Oh, father, you've burned my neck!"
"Oh, father, you've spoiled my dress!"
"Oh, father, why did you do that?"
"I thought you might be cold," said the severe father
That a woman who had been brought up like this should form a friendship
with me naturally caused a good deal of talk. But what did she care! She
remained my true friend until her death, and wrote to me constantly when
I was in England--such loving, wise letters, full of charity and simple
faith. In 1889, after her husband's death, I wrote to her and sent my
picture, and she replied:
"My darling Nellie,--
"You cannot know how it soothes my extreme heart-loneliness to receive a
token of remembrance, and word of cheer from those I have faithfully
loved, and who knew and reverenced my husband.... Ellen Terry is very
sweet as Ellaline, but dearer far as my Nellie."
The Daly players were a revelation to me of the pitch of excellence
which American acting had reached. My first night at Daly's was a night
of enchantment. I wrote to Mr. Daly and said: "You've got a girl in your
company who is the most lovely, humorous darling I have ever seen on the
stage." It was Ada Rehan! Now of course I didn't "discover" her or any
rubbish of that kind; the audience were already mad about her, but I did
know her for what she was, even in that brilliant "all-star" company and
before she had played in the classics and won enduring fame. The
audacious, superb, quaint, Irish creature! Never have I seen such
splendid high comedy! Then the charm of her voice--a little like Ethel
Barrymore's when Miss Ethel is speaking very nicely--her smiles and
dimples, and provocative, inviting _coquetterie_! Her Rosalind, her
Country Wife, her Helena, her performance in "The Railroad of Love"! And
above all, her Katherine in "The Taming of the Shrew"! I can only
exclaim, not explain! Directly she came on I knew how she was going to
do the part. She had such shy, demure fun. She understood, like all
great comedians, that you must not pretend to be serious so sincerely
that no one in the audience sees through it!
As a woman off the stage Ada Rehan was even more wonderful than as a
shrew on. She had a touch of dignity, of nobility, of beauty, rather
like Eleonora Duse's. The mouth and the formation of the eye were
lovely. Her guiltlessness of make-up off the stage was so attractive!
She used to come in to a supper with a lovely shining face which scorned
a powder puff. The only thing one missed was the red hair which seemed
such a part of her on the stage.
Here is a dear letter from the dear, written in 1890:
"My dear Miss Terry,--
"Of course the first thing I was to do when I reached Paris was to write
and thank you for your lovely red feathers. One week is gone. To-day it
rains and I am compelled to stay at home, and at last I write. I thought
you had forgotten me and my feathers long ago. So imagine my delight
when they came at the very end. I liked it so. It seemed as if I lived
all the time in your mind: and they came as a good-bye.
"I saw but little of you, but in that little I found no change. That was
gratifying to me, for I am over-sensitive, and would never trouble you
if you had forgotten me. How I shall prize those feathers--Henry
Irving's, presented by Ellen Terry to me for my Rosalind Cap. I shall
wear them once and then put them by as treasures. Thank you so much for
the pretty words you wrote me about 'As You Like It.' I was hardly fit
on that matinee. The great excitement I went through during the London
season almost killed me. I am going to try and rest, but I fear my
nerves and heart won't let me.
"You must try and read between the lines all I feel. I am sure you can
if any one ever did, but I cannot put into words my admiration for
you--and that comes from deep down in my heart. Good-bye, with all good
wishes for your health and success.
"Yours most affectionately,
I wish I could just once have played with Ada Rehan. When Mr. Tree could
not persuade Mrs. Kendal to come and play in "The Merry Wives of
Windsor" a second time, I hoped that Ada Rehan would come and rollick
with me as Mrs. Ford--but it was not to be.
Mr. Daly himself interested me greatly. He was an excellent manager, a
man in a million. But he had no artistic sense. The productions of
Shakespeare at Daly's were really bad from the pictorial point of view.
But what pace and "ensemble" he got from his company!
May Irwin was the low comedian who played the servants' parts in Daly's
comedies from the German. I might describe her, except that she was far
more genial, as a kind of female Rutland Barrington. On and off the
stage her geniality distinguished her like a halo. It is a rare quality
on the stage, yet without it the comedian has uphill work. I should say
that May Irwin and J.B. Buckstone (the English actor and manager of the
Haymarket Theater during the 'sixties) had it equally. Generous May
Irwin! Lucky those who have her warm friendship and jolly, kind
John Drew, the famous son of a famous mother, was another Daly player
whom I loved. With what loyalty he supported Ada Rehan! He never played
for his own hand but for the good of the piece. His mother, Mrs. John
Drew, had the same quiet methods as Mrs. Alfred Wigan. Everything that
she did told. I saw Mrs. Drew play Mrs. Malaprop, and it was a lesson to
people who overact. Her daughter, Georgie Drew, Ethel Barrymore's
mother, was also a charming actress. Maurice Barrymore was a brilliantly
clever actor. Little Ethel, as I still call her, though she is a big
"star," is carrying on the family traditions. She ought to play Lady
Teazle. She may take it from me that she would make a success in it.
Modjeska, who, though she is a Polish actress, lives in America and is
associated with the American stage, made a great impression on me. She
was exquisite in many parts, but in none finer than in "Adrienne
Lecouvreur." Her last act electrified me. I have never seen it better
acted, although I have seen all the great ones do it since. Her Marie
Stuart, too, was a beautiful and distinguished performance. Her Juliet
had lovely moments, but I did not so much care for that, and her broken
English interfered with the verse of Shakespeare. Some years ago I met
Modjeska and she greeted me so warmly and sweetly, although she was very
During my more recent tours in America Maude Adams is the actress of
whom I have seen most, and "to see her is to love her!" In "The Little
Minister" and in "Quality Street" I think she is at her best, but above
all parts she herself is most adorable. She is just worshiped in
America, and has an extraordinary effect--an _educational_ effect upon
all American girlhood.
I never saw Mary Anderson act. That seems a strange admission, but
during her wonderful reign at the Lyceum Theater, which she rented from
Henry Irving, I was in America, and another time when I might have seen
her act I was very ill and ordered abroad. I have, however, had the
great pleasure of meeting her, and she has done me many little
kindnesses. Hearing her praises sung on all sides, and her beauties
spoken of everywhere, I was particularly struck by her modest evasion of
publicity _off_ the stage. I personally only knew her as a most
beautiful woman--as kind as beautiful--constantly working for her
religion--_always_ kind, a good daughter, a good wife, a good woman.
She cheered me before I first sailed for America by saying that her
people would like me.
"Since seeing you in Portia and Letitia," she wrote, "I am convinced you
will take America by storm." Certainly _she_ took _England_ by storm!
But she abandoned her triumphs almost as soon as they were gained. They
never made her happy, she once told me, and I could understand her
better than most since I had had success too, and knew that it did not
mean happiness. I have a letter from her, written from St. Raphael soon
after her marriage. It is nice to think that she is just as happy now as
she was then--that she made no mistake when she left the stage, where
she had such a brief and brilliant career.
"GRAND HOTEL DE VALESCURE,
"ST. RAPHAEL, FRANCE.
"Dear Miss Terry,--
"I am saying all kinds of fine things about your beautiful work in my
book--which will appear shortly; but I cannot remember the name of the
small part you made so attractive in the 'Lyons Mail.' It was the first
one I had seen you in, and I wish to write my delightful impressions of
"Will you be so very kind as to tell me the name of your character and
the two Mr. Irving acted so wonderfully in that play?
"There is a brilliant blue sea before my windows, with purple mountains
as a background and silver-topped olives and rich green pines in the
middle distance. I wish you could drop down upon us in this golden land
for a few days' holiday from your weary work.
"I would like to tell you what a big darling my husband is, and how
perfectly happy he makes my life--but there's no use trying.
"The last time we met I promised you a photo--here it is! One of my
latest! And won't you send me one of yours in private dress? DO!
"Forgive me for troubling you, and believe me your admirer
"MARY ANDERSON DE NAVARRO."
Henry and I were so fortunate as to gain the friendship and approval of
Dr. Horace Howard Furness, perhaps the finest Shakespearean scholar in
America, and editor of the "Variorum Shakespeare," which Henry
considered the best of all editions--"the one which counts." It was in
Boston, I think, that I disgraced myself at one of Dr. Furness's
lectures. He was discussing "As You Like It" and Rosalind, and proving
with much elaboration that English in Shakespeare's time was pronounced
like a broad country dialect, and that Rosalind spoke Warwickshire! A
little girl who was sitting in the row in front of me had lent me her
copy of the play a moment before, and now, absorbed in Dr. Furness's
argument, I forgot the book wasn't mine and began scrawling
controversial notes in it with my very thick and blotty fountain pen.
"Give me back my book! Give me my book!" screamed the little girl. "How
dare you write in my book!" She began to cry with rage.
Her mother tried to hush her up: "Don't, darling. Be quiet! It's Miss
"I don't care! She's spoilt my nice book!"
I am glad to say that when the little girl understood, she forgave me;
and the spoilt book is treasured very much by a tall Boston young lady
of eighteen who has replaced the child of seven years ago! Still, it was
dreadful of me, and I did feel ashamed at the time.
I saw "As You Like It" acted in New York once with every part (except
the man who let down the curtain) played by a woman, and it was
extraordinarily well done. The most remarkable bit of acting was by
Janauschek, who played Jacques. I have never heard the speech beginning
"All the world's a stage" delivered more finely, not even by Phelps, who
was fine in the part.
Mary Shaw's Rosalind was good, and the Silvius (who played it, now?) was
Unfortunately that one man, poor creature (no wonder he was nervous!),
spoiled the end of the play by failing to ring down the curtain, at
which the laughter was immoderate! Janauschek used to do a little sketch
from the German called "Come Here!" which I afterwards did in England.
In November, 1901, I wrote in my diary: "_Philadelphia._--Supper at
Henry's. Jefferson there, sweeter and more interesting than ever--and
Dear Joe Jefferson--actor, painter, courteous gentleman, _profound_
student of Shakespeare! When the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy was
raging in America (it really _did_ rage there!) Jefferson wrote the most
delicious doggerel about it. He ridiculed, and his ridicule killed the
Bacon enthusiasts all the more dead because it was barbed with
He said that when I first came into the box to see him as "Rip" he
thought I did not like him, because I fidgeted and rustled and moved my
place, as is my wicked way. "But I'll get her, and I'll hold her," he
said to himself. I was held indeed--enthralled.
In manner Jefferson was a little like Norman Forbes-Robertson. Perhaps
that was why the two took such a fancy to each other. When Norman was
walking with Jefferson one day, some one who met them said:
"No," said Jefferson, "but I wish he were! The young man has such good
Our first American tours were in 1883 and 1884; the third in 1887-88,
the year of the great blizzard. Henry fetched us at half-past ten in the
morning! His hotel was near the theater where we were to play at night.
He said the weather was stormy, and we had better make for his hotel
while there was time! The German actor Ludwig Barnay was to open in New
York that night, but the blizzard affected his nerves to such an extent
that he did not appear at all, and returned to Germany directly the
Most of the theaters closed for three days, but we remained open,
although there was a famine in the town and the streets were impassable.
The cold was intense. Henry sent Walter out to buy some violets for
Barnay, and when he brought them in to the dressing room--he had only
carried them a few yards--they were frozen so hard that they could have
been chipped with a hammer!
We rang up on "Faust" three-quarters of an hour late! This was not bad
considering all things. Although the house was sold out, there was
hardly any audience, and only a harp and two violins in the orchestra.
Discipline was so strong in the Lyceum company that every member of it
reached the theater by eight o'clock, although some of them had had to
walk from Brooklyn Bridge.
The Mayor of New York and his daughter managed to reach their box
somehow. Then we thought it was time to begin. Some members of Daly's
company, including John Drew, came in, and a few friends. It was the
oddest, scantiest audience! But the enthusiasm was terrific!
Five years went by before we visited America again. Five years in a
country of rapid changes is a long time, long enough for friends to
forget! But they didn't forget. This time we made new friends, too, in
the Far West. We went to San Francisco, among other places. We attended
part of a performance at the Chinese theater. Oh, those rows of
impenetrable faces gazing at the stage with their long, shining,
inexpressive eyes! What a look of the everlasting the Chinese have! "We
have been before you--we shall be after you," they seem to say.
Just as we were getting interested in the play, the interpreter rose and
hurried us out. Something that was not for the ears of women was being
said, but we did not know it!
The chief incident of the fifth American tour was our production at
Chicago of Laurence Irving's one-act play "Godefroi and Yolande." I
regard that little play as an inspiration. By instinct the young author
did everything right. The Chicago folk, in spite of the unpleasant theme
of the play, recognized the genius of it, and received it splendidly.
In 1901 I was ill, and hated the parts I was playing in America. The
Lyceum was not what it had been. Everything was changed.
In 1907--only the other day--I toured in America for the first time on
my own account--playing modern plays for the first time. I made new
friends and found my old ones still faithful.
But this tour was chiefly momentous to me because at Pittsburg I was
married for the third time, and married to an American. My marriage was
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