The Story of My Life
Part 6 out of 7
my own affair, but very few people seemed to think so, and I was
overwhelmed with "inquiries," kind and otherwise. Kindness and loyalty
won the day. "If any one deserves to be happy, you do," many a friend
wrote. Well, I am happy, and while I am happy, I cannot feel old.
THE MACBETH PERIOD
Perhaps Henry Irving and I might have gone on with Shakespeare to the
end of the chapter if he had not been in such a hurry to produce
We ought to have done "As You Like It" in 1888, or "The Tempest." Henry
thought of both these plays. He was much attracted by the part of
Caliban in "The Tempest," but, he said, "the young lovers are
everything, and where are we going to find them?" He would have played
Touchstone in "As You Like It," not Jacques, because Touchstone is in
the vital part of the play.
He might have delayed both "Macbeth" and "Henry VIII." He ought to have
added to his list of Shakespearean productions "Julius Caesar," "King
John," "As You Like It," "Antony and Cleopatra," "Richard II.," and
"Timon of Athens." There were reasons "against," of course. In "Julius
Caesar" he wanted to play Brutus. "That's the part for the actor," he
said, "because it needs acting. But the actor-manager's part is
Antony--Antony scores all along the line. Now when the actor and
actor-manager fight in a play, and when there is no part for you in it,
I think it's wiser to leave it alone."
Every one knows when the luck first began to turn against Henry Irving.
It was in 1896 when he revived "Richard III." On the first night he
went home, slipped on the stairs in Grafton Street, broke a bone in his
knee, aggravated the hurt by walking on it, and had to close the
theater. It was that year, too, that his general health began to fail.
For the ten years preceding his death he carried on an indomitable
struggle against ill-health. Lungs and heart alike were weak. Only the
spirit in that frail body remained as strong as ever. Nothing could bend
it, much less break it.
But I have not come to that sad time yet.
"We all know when we do our best," said Henry once. "We are the only
people who know." Yet he thought he did better in "Macbeth" than in
Was he right after all?
His _view_ of "Macbeth," though attacked and derided and put to shame in
many quarters, is as clear to me as the sunlight itself. To me it seems
as stupid to quarrel with the conception as to deny the nose on one's
face. But the carrying out of the conception was unequal. Henry's
imagination was sometimes his worst enemy.
When I think of his "Macbeth," I remember him most distinctly in the
last act after the battle when he looked like a great famished wolf,
weak with the weakness of a giant exhausted, spent as one whose
exertions have been ten times as great as those of commoner men of
rougher fiber and coarser strength.
"Of all men else I have avoided thee."
Once more he suggested, as he only could suggest, the power of Fate.
Destiny seemed to hang over him, and he knew that there was no hope, no
The rehearsals for "Macbeth" were very exhausting, but they were
splendid to watch. In this play Henry brought his manipulation of crowds
to perfection. My acting edition of the play is riddled with rough
sketches by him of different groups. Artists to whom I have shown them
have been astonished by the spirited impressionism of these sketches.
For his "purpose" Henry seems to have been able to do anything, even to
drawing, and composing music! Sir Arthur Sullivan's music at first did
not quite please him. He walked up and down the stage humming, and
showing the composer what he was going to do at certain situations.
Sullivan, with wonderful quickness and open-mindedness, caught his
meaning at once.
"Much better than mine, Irving--much better--I'll rough it out at once!"
When the orchestra played the new version, based on that humming of
Henry's, it was exactly what he wanted!
Knowing what a task I had before me, I began to get anxious and worried
about "Lady Mac." Henry wrote me such a nice letter about this:
"To-night, if possible, the last act. I want to get these great
multitudinous scenes over and then we can attack _our_ scenes....
Your sensitiveness is so acute that you must suffer sometimes. You
are not like anybody else--see things with such lightning quickness
and unerring instinct that dull fools like myself grow irritable
and impatient sometimes. I feel confused when I'm thinking of one
thing, and disturbed by another. That's all. But I do feel very
sorry afterwards when I don't seem to heed what I so much value....
"I think things are going well, considering the time we've been at
it, but I see so much that is wanting that it seems almost
impossible to get through properly. 'To-night commence, Matthias.
If you sleep, you are lost!'"
[Footnote 1: A quotation from "The Bells."]
At this time we were able to be of the right use to each other. Henry
could never have worked with a very strong woman. I might have
deteriorated, in partnership with a weaker man whose ends were less
fine, whose motives were less pure. I had the taste and artistic
knowledge that his upbringing had not developed in him. For years he did
things to please me. Later on I gave up asking him. In "King Lear" Mrs.
Nettleship made him a most beautiful cloak, but he insisted on wearing a
brilliant purple velvet cloak with spangles all over it which swamped
his beautiful make-up and his beautiful acting. Poor Mrs. Nettleship was
almost in tears.
"I'll never make you anything again--never!"
One of Mrs. "Nettle's" greatest triumphs was my Lady Macbeth dress,
which she carried out from Mrs. Comyns Carr's design. I am glad to think
it is immortalized in Sargent's picture. From the first I knew that
picture was going to be splendid. In my diary for 1888 I was always
writing about it:
"The picture of me is nearly finished, and I think it magnificent.
The green and blue of the dress is splendid, and the expression as
Lady Macbeth holds the crown over her head is quite wonderful.
"Henschel is sitting to Sargent. His concerts, I hear, can't be
carried on another year for want of funds. What a shame!
"Mr. Sargent is painting a head of Henry--very good, but mean about
the chin at present.
"Sargent's picture is talked of everywhere and quarreled about as
much as my way of playing the part.
"Sargent's 'Lady Macbeth' in the New Gallery is a great success.
The picture is the sensation of the year. Of course opinions differ
about it, but there are dense crowds round it day after day. There
is talk of putting it on exhibition by itself."
Since then it has gone over nearly the whole of Europe, and now is
resting for life at the Tate Gallery. Sargent suggested by this picture
all that I should have liked to be able to convey in my acting as Lady
_My Diary._--"Everybody hates Sargent's head of Henry. Henry also.
I like it, but not altogether. I think it perfectly wonderfully
painted and like him, only not at his best by any means. There sat
Henry and there by his side the picture, and I could scarce tell
one from t'other. Henry looked white, with tired eyes, and holes in
his cheeks and bored to death! And there was the picture with white
face, tired eyes, holes in the cheeks and boredom in every line.
Sargent tried to paint his smile and gave it up."
Sargent said to me, I remember, upon Henry Irving's first visit to the
studio to see the Macbeth picture of me, "What a Saint!" This to my mind
promised well--that Sargent should see _that_ side of Henry so swiftly.
So then I never left off asking Henry to sit to Sargent, who wanted to
paint him too, and said to me continually, "What a head!"
_From my Diary._--"Sargent's picture is almost finished, and it is
really splendid. Burne-Jones yesterday suggested two or three
alterations about the color which Sargent immediately adopted, but
Burne-Jones raves about the picture.
"It ('Macbeth') is a most tremendous success, and the last three
days' advance booking has been greater than ever was known, even at
the Lyceum. Yes, it is a success, and I am a success, which amazes
me, for never did I think I should be let down so easily. Some
people hate me in it; some, Henry among them, think it my best
part, and the critics differ, and discuss it hotly, which in itself
is my best success of all! Those who don't like me in it are those
who don't want, and don't like to read it fresh from Shakespeare,
and who hold by the 'fiend' reading of the character.... One of the
best things ever written on the subject, I think, is the essay of
J. Comyns Carr. That is as hotly discussed as the new 'Lady
Mac'--all the best people agreeing with it. Oh, dear! It is an
From a letter I wrote to my daughter, who was in Germany at the time:
"I wish you could see my dresses. They are superb, especially the
first one: green beetles on it, and such a cloak! The photographs
give no idea of it at all, for it is in color that it is so
splendid. The dark red hair is fine. The whole thing is
Rossetti--rich stained-glass effects, I play some of it well, but,
of course, I don't do what I want to do yet. Meanwhile I shall not
budge an inch in the reading of it, for that I know is right. Oh,
it's fun, but it's precious hard work for I by no means make her a
'gentle, lovable woman' as some of 'em say. That's all pickles. She
was nothing of the sort, although she was _not_ a fiend, and _did_
love her husband. I have to what is vulgarly called 'sweat at it,'
The few people who liked my Lady Macbeth, liked it very much. I hope I
am not vain to quote this letter from Lady Pollock:
"... Burne-Jones has been with me this afternoon: he was at
'Macbeth' last night, and you filled his whole soul with your
beauty and your poetry.... He says you were a great Scandinavian
queen; that your presence, your voice, your movement made a
marvelously poetic harmony; that your dress was grandly imagined
and grandly worn--and that he cannot criticize--he can only
But Burne-Jones by this time had become one of our most ardent admirers,
and was prejudiced in my favor because my acting appealed to his _eye_.
Still, the drama is for the eye as well as for the ear and the mind.
Very early I learned that one had best be ambitious merely to please
oneself in one's work a little--quietly. I coupled with this the
reflection that one "gets nothing for nothing, and damned little for
Here I was in the very noonday of life, fresh from Lady Macbeth and
still young enough to play Rosalind, suddenly called upon to play a
rather uninteresting mother in "The Dead Heart." However, my son Teddy
made his first appearance in it, and had such a big success that I soon
forgot that for me the play was rather "small beer."
It had been done before, of course, by Benjamin Webster and George
Vining. Henry engaged Bancroft for the Abbe, a part of quite as much
importance as his own. It was only a melodrama, but Henry could always
invest a melodrama with life, beauty, interest, mystery, by his methods
"I'm full of French Revolution," he wrote to me when he was
preparing the play for rehearsal, "and could pass an examination.
In our play, at the taking of the Bastile we must have a starving
crowd--hungry, eager, cadaverous faces. If that can be well carried
out, the effect will be very terrible, and the contrast to the
other crowd (the red and fat crowd--the blood-gorged ones who look
as if they'd been all drinking wine--_red_ wine, as Dickens says)
would be striking.... It's tiresome stuff to read, because it
depends so much on situations. I have been touching the book up
though, and improved it here and there, I think.
"A letter this morning from the illustrious Blank offering me his
prompt book to look at.... I think I shall borrow the treasure. Why
not? Of course he will say that he has produced the play and all
that sort of thing; but what does that matter, if one can only get
one hint out of it?
"The longer we live, the more we see that if we only do our own
work thoroughly well, we can be independent of everything else or
anything that may be said....
"I see in Landry a great deal of Manette--that same vacant gaze
into years gone by when he crouched in his dungeon nursing his
"I shall send you another book soon to put any of your alterations
and additions in. I've added a lot of little things with a few
lines for you--very good, I think, though I say it as shouldn't--I
know you'll laugh! They are perhaps not startling original, but
better than the original, anyhow! Here they are--last act!
"'Ah, Robert, pity me. By the recollections of our youth, I implore
you to save my boy!' (_Now_ for 'em!)
"'If my voice recalls a tone that ever fell sweetly upon your ear,
have pity on me! If the past is not a blank, if you once loved,
have pity on me!' (Bravo!)
"Now I call that very good, and if the 'If and the 'pitys' don't
bring down the house, well it's a pity! I pity the pittites!
"... I've just been copying out my part in an account book--a
little more handy to put in one's pocket. It's really very short,
but difficult to act, though, and so is yours. I like this 'piling
up' sort of acting, and I am sure you will, when you play the part.
It's restful. 'The Bells' is that sort of thing."
The crafty old Henry! All this was to put me in conceit with my part!
Many people at this time put me in conceit with my son, including dear
Burne-Jones with his splendid gift of impulsive enthusiasm.
"WEST KENSINGTON, W.
"Most Dear Lady,--
"I thought all went wonderfully last night, and no sign could I see of
hitch or difficulty; and as for your boy, he looked a lovely little
gentleman--and in his cups was perfect, not overdoing by the least touch
a part always perilously easy to overdo. I too had the impertinence to
be a bit nervous for you about him, but not when he appeared--so
altogether I was quite happy.
"... Irving was very noble--I thought I had never seen his face so
beautified before--no, that isn't the word, and to hunt for the right
one would be so like judicious criticism that I won't. Exalted and
splendid it was--and you were you--YOU--and so all was well. I rather
wanted more shouting and distant roar in the Bastille Scene--since the
walls fell, like Jericho, by noise. A good dreadful growl always going
on would have helped, I thought--and that was the only point where I
"And I was very glad you got your boy back again and that Mr. Irving was
ready to have his head cut off for you; so it had what I call a good
ending, and I am in bright spirits to-day, and ever
"Your real friend,
"I would come and growl gladly."
There were terrible strikes all over England when we were playing "The
Dead Heart." I could not help sympathizing with the strikers ... yet
reading all about the French Revolution as I did then, I can't
understand how the French nation can be proud of it when one remembers
how they butchered their own great men, the leaders of the
movement--Camille Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre and the others. My man
is Camille Desmoulins. I just love him.
Plays adapted from novels are generally unsatisfactory. A whole story
cannot be conveyed in three hours, and every reader of the story looks
for something not in the play. Wills took from "The Vicar of Wakefield"
an episode and did it right well, but there was no _episode_ in "The
Bride of Lammermoor" for Merivale to take. He tried to traverse the
whole ground, and failed. But he gave me some lovely things to do in
Lucy Ashton. I had to lose my poor wits, as in Ophelia, in the last act,
and with hardly a word to say I was able to make an effect. The love
scene at the well I did nicely too.
Seymour Lucas designed splendid dresses for this play. My "Ravenswood"
riding dress set a fashion in ladies' coats for quite a long time. Mine
was copied by Mr. Lucas from a leather coat of Lord Mohun's. He is said
to have had it on when he was killed. At any rate there was a large stab
in the back of the coat, and a blood-stain.
This was my first speculation in play-buying! I saw it acted, and
thought I could do something with it. Henry would not buy it, so I did!
He let me do it first in front of a revival of "The Corsican Brothers"
in 1891. It was a great success, although my son and I did not know a
word on the first night and had our parts written out and pinned all
over the furniture on the stage! Dear old Mr. Howe wrote to me that
Teddy's performance was "more than creditable; it was exceedingly good
and full of character, and with your own charming performance the piece
was a great success." Since 1891 I must have played "Nance Oldfield"
hundreds of times, but I never had an Alexander Oldworthy so good as my
own son, although such talented young actors as Martin Harvey, Laurence
Irving and, more recently, Harcourt Williams have all played it with me.
Henry's pride as Cardinal Wolsey seemed to eat him. How wonderful he
looked (though not fat and self-indulgent like the pictures of the real
Wolsey) in his flame-colored robes! He had the silk dyed specially by
the dyers to the Cardinal's College in Rome. Seymour Lucas designed the
clothes. It was a magnificent production, but not very interesting to
me. I played Katherine much better ten years later at Stratford-on-Avon
at the Shakespeare Memorial Festival. I was stronger then, and more
reposeful. This letter from Burne-Jones about "Henry VIII." is a
delightful tribute to Henry Irving's treatment of the play:
"My Dear Lady,--
"We went last night to the play (at my theater) to see Henry
VIII.--Margaret and Mackail and I. It was delicious to go out again and
see mankind, after such evil days. How kind they were to me no words can
say--I went in at a private door and then into a cosy box and back the
same way, swiftly, and am marvelously the better for the adventure. No
"I have written to Mr. Irving just to thank him for his great kindness
in making the path of pleasure so easy, for I go tremblingly at present.
But I could not say to him what I thought of the Cardinal--a sort of
shame keeps one from saying to an artist what one thinks of his
work--but to you I can say how nobly he warmed up the story of the old
religion to my exacting mind in that impersonation. I shall think always
of dying monarchy in his Charles--and always of dying hierarchy in his
Wolsey. How Protestant and dull all grew when that noble type had gone!
"I can't go to church till red cardinals come back (and may they be of
exactly that red) nor to Court till trumpets and banners come back--nor
to evening parties till the dances are like that dance. What a lovely
young Queen has been found. But there was no YOU.... Perhaps it was as
well. I couldn't have you slighted even in a play, and put aside. When
I go back to see you, as I soon will, it will be easier. Mr. Irving let
me know you would not act, and proposed that I should go later
on--wasn't that like him? So I sat with my children and was right happy;
and, as usual, the streets looked dirty, and all the people muddy and
black as we came away. Please not to answer this stuff.
"Ever yours affectionately,
"--I wish that Cardinal could have been made Pope, and sat with his foot
on the Earl of Surrey's neck. Also I wish to be a Cardinal; but then I
sometimes want to be a pirate. We can't have all we want.
"Your boy was very kind--I thought the race of young men who are polite
and attentive to old fading ones had passed away with antique
pageants--but it isn't so."
When the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire gave the famous fancy dress
ball at Devonshire House, Henry attended it in the robes which had
appealed so strongly to Burne-Jones's imaginative eye. I was told by one
who was present at this ball that as the Cardinal swept up the
staircase, his long train held magnificently over his arm, a sudden wave
of reality seemed to sweep upstairs with him, and reduce to the
prettiest make-believe all the aristocratic masquerade that surrounded
I renewed my acquaintance with "Henry VIII." in 1902, when I played
Queen Katherine for Mr. Benson during the Shakespeare Memorial
performances in April. I was pretty miserable at the time--the Lyceum
reign was dying, and taking an unconscionably long time about it, which
made the position all the more difficult. Henry Irving was reviving
"Faust"--a wise step, as it had been his biggest "money-maker"--and it
was impossible that I could play Margaret. There are some young parts
that the actress can still play when she is no longer young: Beatrice,
Portia, and many others come to mind. But I think that when the
character is that of a young girl the betrayal of whose innocence is the
main theme of the play, no amount of skill on the part of the actress
can make up for the loss of youth.
Suggestions were thrown out to me (not by Henry Irving, but by others
concerned) that although I was too old for Margaret, I might play
_Martha_! Well! well! I didn't quite see _that_. So I redeemed a promise
given in jest at the Lyceum to Frank Benson twenty years earlier, and
went off to Stratford-upon-Avon to play in Henry VIII.
Mr. Benson was wonderful to work with. "I am proud to think," he wrote
me just before our few rehearsals began, "that I have trained my folk
(as I was taught by my elders and betters at the Lyceum) to be pretty
quick at adapting themselves to anything that may be required of them,
so that you need not be uneasy as to their not fitting in with your
"My folk," as Mr. Benson called them, were excellent, especially Surrey
(Harcourt Williams), Norfolk (Matheson Lang), Caperius (Fitzgerald), and
Griffith (Nicholson). "Harcourt Williams," I wrote in my diary on the
day of the dress-rehearsal, "will be heard of very shortly. He played
Edgar in 'Lear' much better than Terriss, although not so good an actor
I played Katherine on Shakespeare's Birthday--such a lovely day, bright
and sunny and warm. The performance went finely--and I made a little
speech afterwards which was quite a success. I was presented publicly on
the stage with the Certificate of Governorship of the Memorial Theater.
During these pleasant days at Stratford, I went about in between the
performances of "Henry VIII."--which was, I think, given three times a
week for three weeks--seeing the lovely country and lovely friends who
live there. A visit to Broadway and to beautiful Madame de Navarro (Mary
Anderson) was particularly delightful. To see her looking so handsome,
robust and fresh--so happy in her beautiful home, gave me the keenest
pleasure. I also went to Stanways--the Elchos' home--a fascinating
place. Lady Elcho showed me all over it, and she was not the least
lovely thing in it.
In Stratford I was rebuked by the permanent inhabitants for being kind
to a little boy in professionally ragged clothing who made me, as he has
made hundreds of others, listen to a long, made-up history of
Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare, the Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar
and other things--the most hopeless mix! The inhabitants assured me that
the boy was a little rascal, who begged and extorted money from visitors
by worrying them with his recitation until they paid him to leave them
Long before I knew that the child was such a reprobate I had given him a
pass to the gallery and a Temple Shakespeare! I derived such pleasure
from his version of the "Mercy" speech from "The Merchant of Venice"
that I still think he was ill-paid!
"The quality of mercy is not strange
It droppeth as _the_ gentle rain from 'Eaven
Upon _the_ place beneath; it is twicet bless.
It blesseth in that gives and in that takes
It is in the mightiest--in the mightiest
It becomes the throned monuk better than its crownd.
It's an appribute to God inself
It is in the thorny 'earts of kings
But not in the fit and dread of kings."
I asked the boy what he meant to be when he was a man. He answered with
decision: "A reciterer."
I also asked him what he liked best in the play ("Henry VIII.").
"When the blind went up and down and you smiled," he replied--surely a
naive compliment to my way of "taking a call"! Further pressed, he
volunteered: "When you lay on the bed and died to please the angels."
LAST DAYS AT THE LYCEUM
I had exactly ten years more with Henry Irving after "Henry VIII."
During that time we did "King Lear," "Becket," "King Arthur,"
"Cymbeline," "Madame Sans-Gene," "Peter the Great" and "The Medicine
Man." I feel too near to these productions to write about them. The
first night of "Cymbeline" I felt almost dead. Nothing seemed right.
"Everything is so slow, so slow," I wrote in my diary. "I don't feel a
bit inspired, only dull and hide-bound." Yet Imogen was, I think, the
_only_ inspired performance of these later years. On the first night of
"Sans-Gene" I acted _courageously_ and fairly well. Every one seemed to
be delighted. The old Duke of Cambridge patted, or rather _thumped_, me
on the shoulder and said kindly: "Ah, my dear, _you_ can act!" Henry
quite effaced me in his wonderful sketch of Napoleon. "It seems to me
some nights," I wrote in my diary at the time, "as if I were watching
Napoleon trying to imitate H.I., and I find myself immensely interested
and amused in the watchings."
"The Medicine Man" was, in my opinion, our only _quite_ unworthy
_From my Diary._--"Poor Taber has such an awful part in the play,
and mine is even worse. It is short enough, yet I feel I can't cut
too much of it.... The gem of the whole play is my hair! Not waved
at all, and very filmy and pale. Henry, I admit, is splendid; but
oh, it is all such rubbish!... If 'Manfred' and a few such plays
are to succeed this, I simply must do something else."
But I did not! I stayed on, as every one knows, when the Lyceum as a
personal enterprise of Henry's was no more--when the farcical Lyceum
Syndicate took over the theater. I played a wretched part in
"Robespierre," and refused L12,000 to go to America with Henry in
In these days Henry was a changed man. He became more republican and
less despotic as a producer. He left things to other people. As an actor
he worked as faithfully as ever. Henley's stoical lines might have been
written of him as he was in these last days:
"Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods there be
For my unconquerable soul.
"In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud:
Beneath the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed."
Henry Irving did not treat me badly. I hope I did not treat him badly.
He revived "Faust" and produced "Dante." I would have liked to stay with
him to the end of the chapter, but there was nothing for me to act in
either of these plays. But we never quarreled. Our long partnership
dissolved naturally. It was all very sad, but it could not be helped.
It has always been a reproach against Henry Irving in some mouths that
he neglected the modern English playwright; and of course the reproach
included me to a certain extent. I was glad, then, to show
that I _could_ act in the new plays when Mr. Barrie wrote
"Alice-sit-by-the-Fire" for me, and after some years' delay I was able
to play in Mr. Bernard Shaw's "Captain Brassbound's Conversion." Of
course I could not have played in "little" plays of this school at the
Lyceum with Henry Irving, even if I had wanted to! They are essentially
plays for small theaters.
In Mr. Shaw's "A Man of Destiny" there were two good parts, and Henry,
at my request, considered it, although it was always difficult to fit a
one-act play into the Lyceum bill. For reasons of his own Henry never
produced Mr. Shaw's play and there was a good deal of fuss made about it
at the time (1897). But ten years ago Mr. Shaw was not so well known as
he is now, and the so-called "rejection" was probably of use to him as
"A Man of Destiny" has been produced since, but without any great
success. I wonder if Henry and I could have done more with it?
At this time Mr. Shaw and I frequently corresponded. It began by my
writing to ask him, as musical critic of the _Saturday Review_, to tell
me frankly what he thought of the chances of a composer-singer friend of
mine. He answered "characteristically," and we developed a perfect fury
for writing to each other! Sometimes the letters were on business,
sometimes they were not, but always his were entertaining, and mine
were, I suppose, "good copy," as he drew the character of Lady Cecily
Waynflete in "Brassbound" entirely from my letters. He never met me
until after the play was written. In 1902 he sent me this ultimatum:
"_April 3, 1902._
"Mr. Bernard Shaw's compliments to Miss Ellen Terry.
"Mr. Bernard Shaw has been approached by Mrs. Langtry with a view to the
immediate and splendid production of 'Captain Brassbound's Conversion.'
"Mr. Bernard Shaw, with the last flash of a trampled-out love, has
repulsed Mrs. Langtry with a petulance bordering on brutality.
"Mr. Bernard Shaw has been actuated in this ungentlemanly and
unbusinesslike course by an angry desire to seize Miss Ellen Terry by
the hair and make her play Lady Cicely.
"Mr. Bernard Shaw would be glad to know whether Miss Ellen Terry wishes
to play Martha at the Lyceum instead.
"Mr. Bernard Shaw will go to the length of keeping a minor part open for
Sir Henry Irving when 'Faust' fails, if Miss Ellen Terry desires it.
"Mr. Bernard Shaw lives in daily fear of Mrs. Langtry's recovering
sufficiently from her natural resentment of his ill manners to reopen
"Mr. Bernard Shaw begs Miss Ellen Terry to answer this letter.
"Mr. Bernard Shaw is looking for a new cottage or house in the country,
and wants advice on the subject.
"Mr. Bernard Shaw craves for the sight of Miss Ellen Terry's once
The first time he came to my house I was not present, but a young
American lady who had long adored him from the other side of the
Atlantic took my place as hostess (I was at the theater as usual); and I
took great pains to have everything looking nice! I spent a long time
putting out my best blue china, and ordered a splendid dinner, quite
forgetting the honored guest generally dined off a Plasmon biscuit and a
Mr. Shaw read "Arms and the Man" to my young American friend (Miss Satty
Fairchild) without even going into the dining-room where the blue china
was spread out to delight his eye. My daughter Edy was present at the
reading, and appeared so much absorbed in some embroidery, and paid the
reader so few compliments about his play, that he expressed the opinion
that she behaved as if she had been married to him for twenty years!
The first time I ever saw Mr. Shaw in the flesh--I hope he will pardon
me such an anti-vegetarian expression--was when he took his call after
the first production of "Captain Brassbound's Conversion" by the Stage
Society. He was quite unlike what I had imagined from his letters.
When at last I was able to play in "Captain Brassbound's Conversion," I
found Bernard Shaw wonderfully patient at rehearsal. I look upon him as
a good, kind, gentle creature whose "brain-storms" are just due to the
Irishman's love of a fight; they never spring from malice or anger. It
doesn't answer to take Bernard Shaw seriously. He is not a man of
convictions. That is one of the charms of his plays--to me at least. One
never knows how the cat is really jumping. But it _jumps_. Bernard Shaw
is alive, with nine lives, like that cat!
On Whit Monday, 1902, I received a telegram from Mr. Tree saying that he
was coming down to Winchelsea to see me on "an important matter of
business." I was at the time suffering from considerable depression
about the future.
The Stratford-on-Avon visit had inspired me with the feeling that there
was life in the old 'un yet and had distracted my mind from the
strangeness of no longer being at the Lyceum permanently with Henry
Irving. But there seemed to be nothing ahead, except two matinees a
week with him at the Lyceum, to be followed by a provincial tour in
which I was only to play twice a week, as Henry's chief attraction was
to be "Faust." This sort of "dowager" engagement did not tempt me.
Besides, I hated the idea of drawing a large salary and doing next to no
So when Mr. Tree proposed that I should play Mrs. Page (Mrs. Kendal
being Mrs. Ford) in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at His Majesty's, it
was only natural that I should accept the offer joyfully. I telegraphed
to Henry Irving, asking him if he had any objection to my playing at His
Majesty's. He answered: "Quite willing if proposed arrangements about
matinees are adhered to."
I have thought it worth while to give the facts about this engagement,
because so many people seemed at the time, and afterwards, to think that
I had treated Henry Irving badly by going to play in another theater,
and that theater one where a certain rivalry with the Lyceum as regards
Shakespearean productions had grown up. There was absolutely no
foundation for the rumors that my "desertion" caused further
estrangement between Henry Irving and me.
"Heaven give you many, many merry days and nights," he telegraphed to me
on the first night; and after that first night (the jolliest that I ever
saw), he wrote delighting in my success.
It _was_ a success--there was no doubt about it! Some people accused the
Merry Wives of rollicking and "mafficking" overmuch--but these were the
people who forgot that we were acting in a farce, and that farce is
farce, even when Shakespeare is the author.
All the summer I enjoyed myself thoroughly. It was all such _good
fun_--Mrs. Kendal was so clever and delightful to play with, Mr. Tree so
indefatigable in discovering new funny "business."
After the dress-rehearsal I wrote in my diary: "Edy has real genius for
dresses for the stage." My dress for Mrs. Page was such a _real_
thing--it helped me enormously--and I was never more grateful for my
daughter's gift than when I played Mrs. Page.
It was an admirable all-round cast--almost a "star" cast: Oscar Asche as
Ford, poor Henry Kemble (since dead) as Dr. Caius, Courtice Pounds as
Sir Hugh Evans, and Mrs. Tree as sweet Anne Page all rowed in the boat
with precisely the right swing. There were no "passengers" in the cast.
The audience at first used to seem rather amazed! This thwacking
rough-and-tumble, Rabelaisian horse-play--Shakespeare! Impossible! But
as the evening went on we used to capture even the most civilized, and
force them to return to a simple Elizabethan frame of mind.
In my later career I think I have had no success like this! Letters
rained on me--yes, even love-letters, as if, to quote Mrs. Page, I were
still in "the holiday-time of my beauty." As I would always rather make
an audience laugh than see them weep, it may be guessed how much I
enjoyed the hearty laughter at His Majesty's during the run of the
madcap absurdity of "The Merry Wives of Windsor."
All the time I was at His Majesty's I continued to play in matinees of
"Charles I." and "The Merchant of Venice" at the Lyceum with Henry
Irving. We went on negotiating, too, about the possibility of my
appearing in "Dante," which Sardou had written specially for Irving, and
on which he was relying for his next tour in America.
On the 19th of July, 1902, I acted at the Lyceum for the very last time,
although I did not know it then. These last Lyceum days were very sad.
The reception given by Henry to the Indian Princes, who were in England
for the Coronation, was the last flash of the splendid hospitality which
had for so many years been one of the glories of the theater.
During my provincial tour with Henry Irving in the autumn of this year I
thought long and anxiously over the proposition that I should play in
"Dante." I heard the play read, and saw no possible part for me in it. I
refused a large sum of money to go to America with Henry Irving because
I could not consent to play a part even worse than the one that I had
played in "Robespierre." As things turned out, although "Dante" did
fairly well at Drury Lane, the Americans would have none of it and Henry
had to fall back upon his repertoire.
Having made the decision against "Dante," I began to wonder what I
should do. My partnership with Henry Irving was definitely broken, most
inevitably and naturally "dissolved." There were many roads open to me.
I chose one which was, from a financial point of view, _madness_.
Instead of going to America, and earning L12,000, I decided to take a
theater with my son, and produce plays in conjunction with him.
I had several plays in view--an English translation of a French play
about the patient Griselda, and a comedy by Miss Clo Graves among them.
Finally, I settled upon Ibsen's "Vikings."
We read it aloud on Christmas Day, and it seemed _tremendous_. Not in my
most wildly optimistic moments did I think Hiordis, the chief female
character--a primitive, fighting, free, open-air person--suited to me,
but I saw a way of playing her more _brilliantly_ and less _weightily_
than the text suggested, and anyhow I was not thinking so much of the
play for me as for my son. He had just produced Mr. Laurence Houseman's
Biblical play "Bethlehem" in the hall of the Imperial Institute, and
every one had spoken highly of the beauty of his work. He had previously
applied the same principles to the mounting of operas by Handel and
It had been a great grief to me when I lost my son as an actor. I have
never known any one with so much natural gift for the stage.
Unconsciously he did everything right--I mean all the technical things
over which some of us have to labor for years. The first part that he
played at the Lyceum, Arthur St. Valery in "The Dead Heart," was good,
and he went on steadily improving. The last part that he played at the
Lyceum--Edward IV. in "Richard III."--was, maternal prejudice quite
apart, a most remarkable performance.
His record for 1891, when he was still a mere boy, was: Claudio (in
"Much Ado about Nothing"), Mercutio, Modus, Charles Surface, Alexander
Oldworthy, Moses (in "Olivia"), Lorenzo, Malcolm, Beauchamp; Meynard,
and the Second Grave-Digger!
Later on he played Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo on a small provincial
tour. His future as an actor seemed assured, but it wasn't! One day when
he was with William Nicholson, the clever artist and one of the
Beggarstaff Brothers of poster fame, he began chipping at a woodblock in
imitation of Nicholson, and produced in a few hours an admirable
wood-cut of Walt Whitman, then and always his particular hero. From that
moment he had the "black and white" fever badly. Acting for a time
seemed hardly to interest him at all. When his interest in the theater
revived, it was not as an actor but as a stage director that he wanted
What more natural than that his mother should give him the chance of
exploiting his ideas in London? Ideas he had in plenty--"unpractical"
ideas people called them; but what else should _ideas_ be?
At the Imperial Theater, where I spent my financially unfortunate season
in April 1903, I gave my son a free hand. I hope it will be remembered,
when I am spoken of by the youngest critics after my death as a
"Victorian" actress, lacking in enterprise, an actress belonging to the
"old school," that I produced a spectacular play of Ibsen's in a manner
which possibly anticipated the scenic ideas of the future by a century,
of which at any rate the orthodox theater managers of the present age
would not have dreamed.
Naturally I am not inclined to criticize my son's methods. I think there
is a great deal to be said for the views that he has expressed in his
pamphlet on "The Art of the Theater," and when I worked with him I found
him far from unpractical. It was the modern theater which was
unpractical when he was in it! It was wrongly designed, wrongly built.
We had to disembowel the Imperial behind scenes before he could even
start, and then the great height of the proscenium made his lighting
lose all its value. He always considered the pictorial side of the scene
before its dramatic significance, arguing that this significance lay in
the picture and in movement--the drama having originated not with the
poet but with the dancer.
When his idea of dramatic significance clashed with Ibsen's, strange
things would happen.
Mr. Bernard Shaw, though impressed by my son's work and the beauty that
he brought on to the stage of the Imperial, wrote to me that the
symbolism of the first act according to Ibsen should be Dawn, youth
rising with the morning sun, reconciliation, rich gifts, brightness,
lightness, pleasant feelings, peace. On to this sunlit scene stalks
Hiordis, a figure of gloom, revenge, of feud eternal, of relentless
hatred and uncompromising unforgetfulness of wrong. At the Imperial,
said Mr. Shaw, the curtain rose on profound gloom. When you _could_ see
anything you saw eld and severity--old men with white hair impersonating
the gallant young sons of Ornulf--everywhere murky cliffs and shadowy
Into this symbolic night enter, in a blaze of limelight, a fair figure
robed in complete fluffy white fur, a gay and bright Hiordis with a
timid manner and hesitating utterance.
The last items in the topsy-turviness of my son's practical significance
were entirely my fault! Mr. Shaw was again moved to compliments when I
revived "Much Ado about Nothing" under my son's direction at the
Imperial. "The dance was delightful, but I would suggest the
substitution of trained dancers for untrained athletes," he wrote.
I singed my wings a good deal in the Imperial limelight, which, although
our audience complained of the darkness on the stage, was the most
serious drain on my purse. But a few provincial tours did something
towards restoring some of the money that I had lost in management.
On one of these tours I produced "The Good Hope," a play by the Dutch
dramatist, Heijermans, dealing with life in a fishing village. Done into
simple and vigorous English by Christopher St. John, the play proved a
great success in the provinces. This was almost as new a departure for
me as my season at the Imperial. The play was essentially modern in
construction and development--full of action, but the action of incident
rather than the action of stage situation. It had no "star" parts, but
every part was good, and the gloom of the story was made bearable by the
beauty of the atmosphere--of the _sea_, which played a bigger part in it
than any of the visible characters.
For the first time I played an old woman, a very homely old peasant
woman too. It was not a big part, but it was interesting, and in the
last act I had a little scene in which I was able to make the same kind
of effect that I had made years before in the last act of
"Ravenswood"--an effect of _quiet_ and stillness.
I flattered myself that I was able to assume a certain roughness and
solidity of the peasantry in "The Good Hope," but although I stumbled
about heavily in large sabots, I was told by the critics that I walked
like a fairy and was far too graceful for a Dutch fisherwoman! It is a
case of "Give a dog a bad name and hang him"--the bad name in my case
being "a womanly woman"! What this means I scarcely apprehend, but I
fancy it is intended to signify (in an actress) something sweet, pretty,
soft, appealing, gentle and _underdone_. Is it possible that I convey
that impression when I try to assume the character of a washerwoman or a
fisherwoman? If so I am a very bad actress!
My last Shakespearean part was Hermione in "A Winter's Tale." By some
strange coincidence it fell to me to play it exactly fifty years after I
had played the little boy Mamilius in the same play. I sometimes think
that Fate is the best of stage managers! Hermione is a gravely beautiful
part--well-balanced, difficult to act, but certain in its appeal. If
only it were possible to put on the play in a simple way and arrange the
scenes to knit up the raveled interest, I should hope to play Hermione
MY STAGE JUBILEE
When I had celebrated my stage jubilee in 1906, I suddenly began to feel
exuberantly young again. It was very inappropriate, but I could not help
The recognition of my fifty years of stage life by the public and by my
profession was quite unexpected. Henry Irving had said to me not long
before his death in 1905 that he believed that they (the theatrical
profession) "intended to celebrate our jubilee." (If he had lived he
would have completed his fifty years on the stage in the autumn of
1906.) He said that there would be a monster performance at Drury Lane,
and that already the profession were discussing what form it was to
After his death, I thought no more of the matter. Indeed I did not want
to think about it, for any recognition of my jubilee which did not
include his, seemed to me very unnecessary.
Of course I was pleased that others thought it necessary. I enjoyed all
the celebrations. Even the speeches that I had to make did not spoil my
enjoyment. But all the time I knew perfectly well that the great show of
honor and "friending" was not for me alone. Never for one instant did I
forget this, nor that the light of the great man by whose side I had
worked for a quarter of a century was still shining on me from his
The difficulty was to thank people as they deserved. Stammering speeches
could not do it, but I hope that they all understood. "I were but little
happy, if I could say how much."
Kindness on kindness's head accumulated! There was _The Tribune_
testimonial. I can never forget that London's youngest newspaper first
conceived the idea of celebrating my Stage Jubilee.
[Footnote 1: I am sorry to say that since I wrote this _The Tribune_,
after a gallant fight for life, has gone to join the company of the
courageous enterprises which have failed.]
The matinee given in my honor at Drury Lane by the theatrical profession
was a wonderful sight. The two things about it which touched me most
deeply were my reception by the crowd who were waiting to get into the
gallery when I visited them at two in the morning, and the presence of
Eleonora Duse, who came all the way from Florence just to honor me. She
told me afterwards that she would have come from South Africa or from
Heaven, had she been there! I appreciated very much too, the kindness of
Signor Caruso in singing for me. I did not know him at all, and the gift
of his service was essentially the impersonal desire of an artist to
honor another artist.
I was often asked during these jubilee days, "how I felt about it all,"
and I never could answer sensibly. The strange thing is that I don't
know even now what was in my heart. Perhaps it was one of my chief joys
that I had not to say good-bye at any of the celebrations. I could still
speak to my profession as a fellow-comrade on the active list, and to
the public as one still in their service.
One of those little things almost too good to be true happened at the
close of the Drury Lane matinee. A four-wheeler was hailed for me by the
stage-door keeper, and my daughter and I drove off to Lady Bancroft's in
Berkeley Square to leave some flowers. Outside the house, the cabman
told my daughter that in old days he had often driven Charles Kean from
the Princess's Theater, and that sometimes the little Miss Terrys were
put inside the cab too and given a lift! My daughter thought it such an
extraordinary coincidence that the old man should have come to the
stage-door of Drury Lane by a mere chance on my jubilee day that she
took his address, and I was to send him a photograph and remuneration.
But I promptly lost the address, and was never able to trace the old
I have now nearly finished the history of my fifty years upon the stage.
A good deal has been left out through want of skill in selection. Some
things have been included which perhaps it would have been wiser to
I have tried my best to tell "all things faithfully," and it is possible
that I have given offense where offense was not dreamed of; that some
people will think that I should not have said this, while others,
approving of "this," will be quite certain that I ought not to have said
"One said it thundered ... another that an angel spake."
It's the point of view, for I have "set down naught in malice."
During my struggles with my refractory, fragmentary, and unsatisfactory
memories, I have realized that life itself is a point of view: is, to
put it more clearly, imagination.
So if any one said to me at this point in my story: "And is this, then,
what you call your life?" I should not resent the question one little
"We have heard," continues my imaginary and disappointed interlocutor,
"a great deal about your life in the theater. You have told us of plays
and parts and rehearsals, of actors good and bad, of critics and of
playwrights, of success and failure, but after all, your whole life has
not been lived in the theater. Have you nothing to tell us about your
different homes, your family life, your social diversions, your friends
and acquaintances? During your life there have been great changes in
manners and customs; political parties have altered; a great Queen has
died; your country has been engaged in two or three serious wars. Did
all these things make no impression on you? Can you tell us nothing of
your life in the world?"
And I have to answer that I have lived very little in the world. After
all, the life of an actress belongs to the theater as the life of a
soldier belongs to the army, the life of a politician to the State, and
the life of a woman of fashion to society.
Certainly I have had many friends outside the theater, but I have had
very little time to see them.
I have had many homes, but I have had very little time to live in them!
When I am not acting, the best part of my time is taken up by the most
humdrum occupations. Dealing with my correspondence, even with the help
of a secretary, is no insignificant work. The letters, chiefly
consisting of requests for my autograph, or appeals to my charity, have
to be answered. I have often been advised to ignore them--surely a
course that would be both bad policy and bad taste on the part of a
servant of the public. It would be unkind, too, to those ignorant of my
busy life and the calls upon my time.
Still, I sometimes wish that the cost of a postage stamp were a
sovereign at least!
* * * * *
In 1887, the year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, I find that I wrote in my
diary:--"I am not yet forty, but am pretty well worn out."
It is twenty years since then, and I am still not worn out. Wonderful!
THE DEATH OF HENRY IRVING
It is commonly known, I think, that Henry Irving's health first began to
fail in 1896.
He went home to Grafton Street after the first night of the revival of
"Richard III." and slipped on the stairs, injuring his knee. With
characteristic fortitude, he struggled to his feet unassisted and walked
to his room. This made the consequences of the accident far more
serious, and he was not able to act for weeks.
It was a bad year at the Lyceum.
In 1898 when we were on tour he caught a chill. Inflammation of the
lungs, bronchitis, pneumonia followed. His heart was affected. He was
never really well again.
When I think of his work during the next seven years, I could weep!
Never was there a more admirable, extraordinary worker; never was any
one more splendid-couraged and patient.
The seriousness of his illness in 1898 was never really known. He nearly
"I am still fearfully anxious about H.," I wrote to my daughter at
the time. "It will be a long time at the best before he gains
strength.... But now I do hope for the best. I'm fairly well so
far. All he wants is for me to keep my health, not my _head_. He
knows I'm doing that! Last night I did three acts of 'Sans-Gene'
and 'Nance Oldfield' thrown in! That is a bit too much--awful
work--and I can't risk it again."
"A telegram just come: 'Steadily improving....' You should have
seen Norman as Shylock! It was not a bare 'get-through.' It
was--the first night--an admirable performance, as well as a plucky
one.... H. is more seriously ill than anyone dreams.... His look!
Like the last act of Louis XI."
[Footnote 1: Mr. Norman Forbes-Robertson.]
In 1902, on the last provincial tour that we ever went together, he was
ill again, but he did not give in. One night when his cough was rending
him, and he could hardly stand up from weakness, he acted so brilliantly
and strongly that it was easy to believe in the triumph of mind over
matter--in Christian Science, in fact!
Strange to say, a newspaper man noticed the splendid power of his
performance that night and wrote of it with uncommon discernment--a
_provincial_ critic, by the way.
In London at the time they were always urging Henry Irving to produce
new plays by new playwrights. But in the face of the failure of most of
the new work, and of his departing strength, and of the extraordinary
support given him in the old plays (during this 1902 tour we took L4,000
at Glasgow in one week!), Henry took the wiser course in doing nothing
but the old plays to the end of the chapter.
I realized how near, not only the end of the chapter but the end of the
book was, when he was taken ill at Wolverhampton in the spring of 1905.
We had not acted together for more than two years then, and times were
I went down to Wolverhampton when the news of his illness reached
London. I arrived late and went to an hotel. It was not a good hotel,
nor could I find a very good florist when I got up early the next day
and went out with the intention of buying Henry some flowers. I wanted
some bright-colored ones for him--he had always liked bright
flowers--and this florist dealt chiefly in white flowers--_funeral_
At last I found some daffodils--my favorite flower. I bought a bunch,
and the kind florist, whose heart was in the right place if his flowers
were not, found me a nice simple glass to put it in. I knew the sort of
vase that I should find at Henry's hotel.
I remembered, on my way to the doctor's--for I had decided to see the
doctor first--that in 1892 when my dear mother died, and I did not act
for a few nights, when I came back I found my room at the Lyceum filled
with daffodils. "To make it look like sunshine," Henry said.
The doctor talked to me quite frankly.
"His heart is dangerously weak," he said.
"Have you told him?" I asked.
"I had to, because the heart being in that condition he must be
"Did he understand _really_?"
"Oh, yes. He said he quite understood."
Yet a few minutes later when I saw Henry, and begged him to remember
what the doctor had said about his heart, he exclaimed: "Fiddle! It's
not my heart at all! It's my _breath_!" (Oh the ignorance of great men
"I also told him," the Wolverhampton doctor went on, "that he must not
work so hard in future."
I said: "He will, though,--and he's stronger than any one."
Then I went round to the hotel.
I found him sitting up in bed, drinking his coffee.
He looked like some beautiful gray tree that I have seen in Savannah.
His old dressing-gown hung about his frail yet majestic figure like some
mysterious gray drapery.
We were both very much moved, and said little.
"I'm glad you've come. Two Queens have been kind to me this morning.
Queen Alexandra telegraphed to say how sorry she was I was ill, and now
He showed me the Queen's gracious message.
I told him he looked thin and ill, but _rested_.
"Rested! I should think so. I have plenty of time to rest. They tell me
I shall be here eight weeks. Of course I sha'n't, but still--It was that
rug in front of the door. I tripped over it. A commercial traveler
picked me up--a kind fellow, but d--n him, he wouldn't leave me
afterwards--wanted to talk to me all night."
I remembered his having said this, when I was told by his servant,
Walter Collinson, that on the night of his death at Bradford, he
stumbled over the rug when he walked into the hotel corridor.
We fell to talking about work. He said he hoped that I had a good
manager ... agreed very heartily with me about Frohman, saying he was
always so fair--more than fair.
"What a wonderful life you've had, haven't you?" I exclaimed, thinking
of it all in a flash.
"Oh, yes," he said quietly ... "a wonderful life--of work."
"And there's nothing better, after all, is there?"
"What have you got out of it all.... You and I are 'getting on,' as
they say. Do you ever think, as I do sometimes, what you have got out of
"What have I got out of it?" said Henry, stroking his chin and smiling
slightly. "Let me see.... Well, a good cigar, a good glass of wine--good
friends." Here he kissed my hand with courtesy. Always he was so
courteous; always his actions, like this little one of kissing my hand,
were so beautifully timed. They came just before the spoken words, and
gave them peculiar value.
"That's not a bad summing-up of it all," I said. "And the end.... How
would you like that to come?"
"How would I like that to come?" He repeated my question lightly yet
meditatively too. Then he was silent for some thirty seconds before he
snapped his fingers--the action again before the words.
I thought of the definition of inspiration--"A calculation rapidly
made." Perhaps he had never thought of the manner of his death before.
Now he had an inspiration as to how it would come.
We were silent a long time, I thinking how like some splendid Doge of
Venice he looked, sitting up in bed, his beautiful mobile hand stroking
I agreed, when I could speak, that to be snuffed out like a candle would
save a lot of trouble.
After Henry Irving's sudden death in October of the same year, some of
his friends protested against the statement that it was the kind of
death that he desired--that they knew, on the contrary, that he thought
sudden death inexpressibly sad.
I can only say what he told me.
I stayed with him about three hours at Wolverhampton. Before I left I
went back to see the doctor again--a very nice man by the way, and
He told me that Henry ought never to play "The Bells" again, even if he
acted again, which he said ought not to be.
It was clever of the doctor to see what a terrible emotional strain "The
Bells" put upon Henry--how he never could play the part of Matthias with
ease as he could Louis XI., for example.
Every time he heard the sound of the bells, the throbbing of his heart
must have nearly killed him. He used always to turn quite white--there
was no trick about it. It was imagination acting physically on the body.
His death as Matthias--the death of a strong, robust man--was different
from all his other stage deaths. He did really almost die--he imagined
death with such horrible intensity. His eyes would disappear upwards,
his face grow gray, his limbs cold.
No wonder, then, that the first time that the Wolverhampton doctor's
warning was disregarded, and Henry played "The Bells" at Bradford, his
heart could not stand the strain. Within twenty-four hours of his last
death as Matthias, he was dead.
What a heroic thing was that last performance of Becket which came
between! I am told by those who were in the company at the time that he
was obviously suffering and dazed, this last night of life. But he went
through it all as usual. The courteous little speech to the audience,
the signing of a worrying boy's drawing at the stage-door--all that he
had done for years, he did faithfully for the last time.
Yes, I know it seems sad to the ordinary mind that he should have died
in the entrance to an hotel in a country-town with no friend, no
relation near him. Only his faithful and devoted servant Walter
Collinson (whom, as was not his usual custom, he had asked to drive back
to the hotel with him that night) was there. Do I not feel the tragedy
of the beautiful body, for so many years the house of a thousand souls,
being laid out in death by hands faithful and devoted enough, but not
the hands of his kindred either in blood or in sympathy!
I do feel it, yet I know it was more appropriate to such a man than the
deathbed where friends and relations weep.
Henry Irving belonged to England, not to a family. England showed that
she knew it when she buried him in Westminster Abbey.
Years before I had discussed, half in joke, the possibility of this
honor. I remember his saying to me with great simplicity, when I asked
him what he expected of the public after his death: "I should like them
to do their duty by me. And they will--they will!"
There was not a touch of arrogance in this, just as I hope there was no
touch of heartlessness in me because my chief thought during the funeral
in Westminster Abbey was: "How Henry would have liked it!" The right
note was struck, as I think was not the case at Tennyson's funeral
thirteen years earlier.
"Tennyson is buried to-day in Westminster Abbey," I wrote in my
diary, October 12, 1892. "His majestic life and death spoke of him
better than the service.... The music was poor and dull and weak,
while he was _strong_. The triumphant should have been the
sentiment expressed.... Faces one knew everywhere. Lord Salisbury
looked fine. His massive head and sad eyes were remarkable. No face
there, however, looked anything by the side of Henry's.... He
looked very pale and slim and wonderful!"
How terribly I missed that face at Henry's own funeral! I kept on
expecting to see it, for indeed it seemed to me that he was directing
the whole most moving and impressive ceremony. I could almost hear him
saying, "Get on! get on!" in the parts of the service that dragged. When
the sun--such a splendid, tawny sun--burst across the solemn misty gray
of the Abbey, at the very moment when the coffin, under its superb pall
of laurel leaves, was carried up the choir, I felt that it was an
effect which he would have loved.
[Footnote 1: Every lover of beauty and every lover of Henry Irving must
have breathed a silent thanksgiving that day to the friends who had that
inspiration and made the pall with their own hands.]
I can understand any one who was present at Henry Irving's funeral
thinking that this was his best memorial, and that any attempt to honor
him afterwards would be superfluous and inadequate.
Yet when some further memorial was discussed, it was not always easy to
sympathize with those who said: "We got him buried in Westminster Abbey.
What more do you want?"
After all it was Henry Irving's commanding genius, and his devotion of
it to high objects, his personal influence on the English people, which
secured him burial among England's great dead. The petition for the
burial presented to the Dean and Chapter, and signed, on the initiative
of Henry Irving's leading fellow-actors, by representative personages of
influence, succeeded only because of Henry's unique position.
"We worked very hard to get it done," I heard said--more than once. And
I often longed to answer: "Yes, and all honor to your efforts, but you
worked for it between Henry's death and his funeral. _He_ worked for it
all his life!"
I have always desired some other memorial to Henry Irving than his
honored grave, not so much for _his_ sake as for the sake of those who
loved him and would gladly welcome the opportunity of some great test of
Henry Irving's profession decided last year, after much belated
discussion, to put up a statue to him in the streets of London. I
believe that it is to take the form of a portrait statue in academic
robes. A statue can never at any time be a very happy memorial to an
actor, who does not do his work in his own person, but through his
imagination of many different persons. If statue it had to be, the work
should have had a symbolic character. My dear friend Alfred Gilbert, one
of the most gifted sculptors of this or any age, expressed a similar
opinion to the committee of the memorial, and later on wrote to me as
"I should never have attempted the representation of Irving as a
mummer, nor literally as Irving disguised as this one or that one,
but as _Irving_--the artistic exponent of other great artists'
conceptions--_Irving_, the greatest illustrator of the greatest
men's creations--he himself being a creator.
"I had no idea of making use of Irving's facial and physical
peculiarities as a means to perpetuate his life's work. The spirit
of this work was worship of an ideal, and it was no fault of his
that his strong personality dominated the honest conviction of his
critics. These judged Irving as the man masquerading, not as the
Artist interpreting, for the single reason that they were
themselves overcome by the magic personality of a man above their
"I am convinced that Irving, when playing the role of whatever
character he undertook to represent, lived in that character, and
not as the actor playing the part for the applause of those in
front--Charles I. was a masterpiece of conception as to the
representation of a great gentleman. His Cardinal Wolsey was the
most perfect presentation of greatness, of self-abnegation, and of
power to suffer I can realize.... Jingle and Matthias were in
Comedy and Tragedy combined, masterpieces of histrionic art. I
could write volumes upon Irving as an actor, but to write of him as
a _man_, and as a very great Artist, I should require more time
than is still allotted to me of man's brief span of life and far,
far more power than that which was given to those who wrote of him
in a hurry during his lifetime.... Do you wonder, then, that I
should rather elect to regard Irving in the abstract, when called
upon to suggest a fitting monument, than to promise a faithful
portrait?... Let us be grateful, however, that a great artist is to
be commemorated at all, side by side with the effigies of great
Butchers of mankind, and ephemeral statesmen, the instigators of
ALFRED GILBERT AND OTHERS
Alfred Gilbert was one of Henry's sincere admirers in the old Lyceum
days, and now if you want to hear any one talk of those days
brilliantly, delightfully, and whimsically, if you want to live first
nights and Beefsteak Room suppers over again--if you want to have Henry
Irving at the Garrick Club recreated before your eyes, it is only Alfred
Gilbert who can do it for you!
He lives now in Bruges, that beautiful dead city of canals and Hans
Memlings, and when I was there a few years ago I saw him. I shall never
forget his welcome! I let him know of my arrival, and within a few hours
he sent a carriage to my hotel to bring me to his house. The seats of
the _fiacre_ were hidden by flowers! He had not long been in his house,
and there were packing-cases still lying about in the spacious, desolate
rooms looking into an old walled garden. But on the wall of the room in
which we dined was a sketch by Raffaele, and the dinner, chiefly cooked
by Mr. Gilbert himself,--the Savoy at its best!
Some people regret that he has "buried" himself in Bruges, and that
England has practically lost her best sculptor. I think that he will do
some of the finest work of his life there, and meanwhile England should
be proud of Alfred Gilbert.
In a city which can boast of some of the ugliest and weakest statues in
the world, he has, in the fountain erected to the memory of the good
Lord Shaftesbury in Piccadilly Circus, created a thing of beauty which
will be a joy to future generations of Londoners.
The other day Mr. Frampton, one of the leaders of the younger school of
English sculptors, said of the Gilbert fountain that it could hold its
own with the finest work of the same kind done by the masters of the
past. "They tell me," he said, "that it is inappropriate to its
surroundings. It is. That's the fault of the surroundings. In a more
enlightened age than this, Piccadilly Circus will be destroyed and
rebuilt merely as a setting for Gilbert's jewel."
"The name of Gilbert is honored in this house," went on Mr. Frampton. We
were at the time looking at Henry Irving's death-mask which Mr. Frampton
had taken, and a replica of which he had just given me. I thought of
Henry's living face, alive with raffish humor and mischief, presiding at
a supper in the Beefsteak Room--and of Alfred Gilbert's Beethoven-like
head with its splendid lion-like mane of tawny hair. Those days were
Now it seems to me that I did not appreciate them half enough--that I
did not observe enough. Yet players should observe, if only for their
work's sake. The trouble is that only certain types of men and
women--the expressive types which are useful to us--appeal to our
I remember one supper very well at which Bastien-Lepage was present, and
"Miss Sarah" too. The artist was lost in admiration of Henry's face, and
expressed a strong desire to paint him. The Bastien-Lepage portrait
originated that evening, and is certainly a Beefsteak Room portrait,
although Henry gave two sittings for it afterwards at Grafton Street. At
the supper itself Bastien-Lepage drew on a half-sheet of paper for me
two little sketches, one of Sarah Bernhardt and the other of Henry,
which are among my most precious relics.
My portrait as Lady Macbeth by Sargent used to hang in the alcove in the
Beefsteak Room when it was not away at some exhibition, and the artist
and I have often supped under it--to me no infliction, for I have
always loved the picture, and think it is far more like me than any
other. Mr. Sargent first of all thought that he would paint me at the
moment when Lady Macbeth comes out of the castle to welcome Duncan. He
liked the swirl of the dress, and the torches and the women bowing down
on either side. He used to make me walk up and down his studio until I
nearly dropped in my heavy dress, saying suddenly as I got the
swirl:--"That's it, that's it!" and rushing off to his canvas to throw
on some paint in his wonderful inimitable fashion!
But he had to give up _that_ idea of the Lady Macbeth picture all the
same. I was the gainer, for he gave me the unfinished sketch, and it is
certainly very beautiful.
By this sketch hangs a tale of Mr. Sargent's great-heartedness. When the
details of my jubilee performance at Drury Lane were being arranged, the
Committee decided to ask certain distinguished artists to contribute to
the programme. They were all delighted about it, and such busy men as
Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema, Mr. Abbey, Mr. Byam Shaw, Mr. Walter Crane,
Mr. Bernard Partridge, Mr. James Pryde, Mr. Orpen, and Mr. William
Nicholson all gave some of their work to me. Mr. Sargent was asked if he
would allow the first Lady Macbeth study to be reproduced. He found that
it would not reproduce well, so in the height of the season and of his
work with fashionable sitters, he did an entirely new painting of the
same subject, which _would_ reproduce! This act of kind friendship I
could never forget even if the picture were not in front of me at this
minute to remind me of it. "You must think of me as one of the people
bowing down to you in the picture," he wrote to me when he sent the new
version for the programme. Nothing during my jubilee celebrations
touched me more than this wonderful kindness of Mr. Sargent's.
Burne-Jones would have done something for my jubilee programme too, I
think, had he lived. He was one of my kindest friends, and his
letters--he was a heaven-born letter-writer--were like no one else's;
full of charm and humor and feeling. Once when I was starting for a long
tour in America he sent me a picture with this particularly charming
"_July 14, 1897._
"My dear Miss Terry,--
"I never have the courage to throw you a huge bouquet as I should like
to--so in default I send you a little sign of my homage and admiration.
I made it purposely for you, which is its only excellence, and thought
nothing but gold good enough to paint with for you--and now it's done, I
am woefully disappointed. It looks such a poor wretch of a thing, and
there is no time to make another before you go, so look mercifully upon
it--it did mean so well--as you would upon a foolish friend, not holding
it up to the light, but putting it in a corner and never showing it.
"As to what it is about, I think it's a little scene in Heaven (I am
always pretending to know so much about that place!), a sort of patrol
going to look to the battlements, some such thought as in Marlowe's
lovely line: 'Now walk the angels on the walls of Heaven.' But I wanted
it to be so different, and my old eyes cannot help me to finish it as I
want--so forgive it and accept it with all its accompanying crowd of
good wishes to you. They were always in my mind as I did it.
"And come back soon from that America and stay here, and never go away
again. Indeed I do wish you boundless happiness, and for our sake, such
a length of life that you might shudder if I were to say how long.
"Ever your poor artist,
"If it is so faint that you can scarcely see it, let that stand for
modest humility and shyness--as I had only dared to whisper."
Another time, when I had sent him a trifle for some charity, he wrote:
"This morning came the delightful crinkly paper that always means you!
If anybody else ever used it, I think I should assault them! I certainly
wouldn't read their letter or answer it.
"And I know the check will be very useful. If I thought much about those
wretched homes, or saw them often, I should do no more work, I know.
There is but one thing to do--to help with a little money if you can
manage it, and then try hard to forget. Yes, I am certain that I should
never paint again if I saw much of those hopeless lives that have no
remedy. I know of such a dear lad about my Phil's age who has felt this
so sharply that he has given his happy, lucky, petted life to give
himself wholly to share their squalor and unlovely lives--doing all he
can, of evenings when his work is over, to amuse such as have the heart
to be amused, reading to them and telling them about histories and what
not--anything he knows that can entertain them. And this he has daily
done for about a year, and if he carries it on for his life time he
shall have such a nimbus that he will look top-heavy with it.
"No, you would always have been lovely and made some beauty about you if
you had been born there--but I should have got drunk and beaten my
family and been altogether horrible! When everything goes just as I
like, and painting prospers a bit, and the air is warm and friends well
and everything perfectly comfortable, I can just manage to behave
decently, and a spoilt fool I am--that's the truth. But wherever you
were, some garden would grow.
"Yes, I know Winchelsea and Rye and Lynn and Hythe--all bonny places,
and Hythe has a church it may be proud of. Under the sea is another
Winchelsea, a poor drowned city--about a mile out at sea, I think,
always marked in old maps as 'Winchelsea Dround.' If ever the sea goes
back on that changing coast there may be great fun when the spires and
towers come up again. It's a pretty land to drive in.
"I am growing downright stupid--I can't work at all, nor think of
anything. Will my wits ever come back to me?
"And when are you coming back--when will the Lyceum be in its rightful
hands again? I refuse to go there till you come back...."
* * * * *
"I have finished four pictures: come and tell me if they will do. I have
worked so long at them that I know nothing about them, but I want you to
see them--and like them if you can.
"All Saturday and Sunday and Monday they are visible. Come any time you
can that suits you best--only come.
"I do hope you will like them. If you don't you must really pretend to,
else I shall be heartbroken. And if I knew what time you would come and
which day, I would get Margaret here.
"I have had them about four years--long before I knew you, and now they
are done and I can hardly believe it. But tell me pretty pacifying lies
and say you like them, even if you find them rubbish.
"Your devoted and affectionate
I went the next day to see the pictures with Edy. It was the "Briar
Rose" series. They were _beautiful_. The lovely Lady Granby (now Duchess
of Rutland) was there--reminding me, as always, of the reflection of
something in water on a misty day. When she was Miss Violet Lindsay she
did a drawing of me as Portia in the doctor's robes, which is I think
very like me, as well as having all the charming qualities of her
well-known pencil portraits.
The artists all loved the Lyceum, not only the old school, but the young
ones, who could have been excused for thinking that Henry Irving and I
were a couple of old fogeys! William Nicholson and James Pryde, who
began by working together as "The Beggarstaff Brothers," and in this
period did a poster of Henry for "Don Quixote" and another for "Becket,"
were as enthusiastic about the Lyceum as Burne-Jones had been. Mr. Pryde
has done an admirable portrait of me as Nance Oldfield, and his "Irving
as Dubosc" shows the most extraordinary insight.
"I have really tried to draw his _personality_" he wrote to me thanking
me for having said I liked the picture (it was done after Henry's
death).... "Irving's eyes in Dubosc always made my hair stand on end,
and I paid great attention to the fact that one couldn't exactly say
whether they were _shut_ or _open_. Very terrifying...."
Mr. Rothenstein, to whom I once sat for a lithograph, was another of the
young artists who came a good deal to the Lyceum. I am afraid that I
must be a very difficult "subject," yet I sit easily enough, and don't
mind being looked at--an objection which makes some sitters constrained
and awkward before the painter. Poor Mr. Rothenstein was much worried
over his lithograph, yet "it was all right on the night," as actors say.
"Dear Miss Terry,--
"My nights have been sleepless--my drawing sitting gibbering on my
chest. I knew how fearfully I should stumble--that is why I wanted to do
more drawings earlier. I have been working on the thing this morning,
and I believe I improved it slightly. What I want now is a cloak--the
simplest you have (perhaps the green one?), which I think would be
better than the less simple and worrying lace fallalas in the drawing. I
can put it on the lay figure and sketch it into the horror over the old
lines. I think the darker stuff will make the face blonde--more
delicate. Please understand how nervously excited I have been over the
wretched drawing, how short it falls of any suggestion of that
personality of which I cannot speak to you--which I should some day like
to give a shadow of....
"You were altogether charming and delightful and sympathetic. Perhaps if
you had looked like a bear and behaved like a harpy, who knows what I
might not have done!
"... You shall have a sight of a proof at the end of the week, if you
have any address out of town. Meanwhile I will do my best to improve the
"Always yours, dear Miss Terry,
My dear friend Graham Robertson painted two portraits of me, and I was
Mortimer Menpes' first subject in England.
Sir Laurence Alma-Tadema did the designs for the scenery and dresses in
"Cymbeline," and incidentally designed for Imogen one of the loveliest
dresses that I ever wore. It was made by Mrs. Nettleship. So were the
dresses that Burne-Jones designed for me to wear in "King Arthur."
Many of my most effective dresses have been what I may call "freaks."
The splendid dress that I wore in the Trial Scene in "Henry VIII." is
one example of what I mean. Mr. Seymour Lucas designed it, and there was
great difficulty in finding a material rich enough and somber enough at
the same time. No one was so clever on such quests as Mrs. Comyns Carr.
She was never to be misled by the appearance of the stuff in the hand,
nor impressed by its price by the yard, if she did not think it would
look right on the stage. As Katherine she wanted me to wear steely
silver and bronzy gold, but all the brocades had such insignificant
designs. If they had a silver design on them it looked under the lights
like a scratch in white cotton! At last Mrs. Carr found a black satin
which on the right side was timorously and feebly patterned with a
meandering rose and thistle. On the wrong side of it was a sheet of
silver--just the _right_ steely silver because it was the _wrong_ side!
Mrs. Carr then started on another quest for gold that should be as right
as that silver. She found it at last in some gold-lace antimacassars at
Whiteley's! From these base materials she and Mrs. Nettleship
constructed a magnificent queenly dress. Its only fault was that it was
But the weight that I can carry on the stage has often amazed me. I
remember that for "King Arthur" Mrs. Nettleship made me a splendid
cloak embroidered all over with a pattern in jewels. At the
dress-rehearsal when I made my entrance the cloak swept magnificently
and I daresay looked fine, but I knew at once that I should never be
able to act in it. I called out to Mrs. Nettleship and Alice Carr, who
were in the stalls, and implored them to lighten it of some of the
"Oh, do keep it as it is," they answered, "it looks splendid."
"I can't breathe in it, much less act in it. Please send some one up to
cut off a few stones."
I went on with my part, and then, during a wait, two of Mrs.
Nettleship's assistants came on to the stage and snipped off a jewel
here and there. When they had filled a basket, I began to feel better!
But when they tried to lift that basket, their united efforts could not
On one occasion I wore a dress made in eight hours! During the first
week of the run of "The Merry Wives of Windsor" at His Majesty's, there
was a fire in my dressing-room--an odd fire which was never accounted
for. In the morning they found the dress that I had worn as Mrs. Page
burnt to a cinder. A messenger from His Majesty's went to tell my
daughter, who had made the ill-fated dress:
"Miss Terry will, I suppose, have to wear one of our dresses to-night.
Perhaps you could make her a new one by the end of the week."
"Oh, that will be all right," said Edy, bluffing, "I'll make her a dress
by to-night." She has since told me that she did not really think she
_could_ make it in time!
She had at this time a workshop in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. All
hands were called into the service, and half an hour after the message
came from the theater the new dress was started. That was at 10.30.
Before 7 p.m. the new dress was in my dressing-room at His Majesty's
And best of all, it was a great improvement on the dress that had been
burned! It stood the wear and tear of the first run of "Merry Wives" and
of all the revivals, and is still as fresh as paint!
That very successful dress cost no time. Another very successful
dress--the white one that I wore in the Court Scene in "A Winter's
Tale," cost no money. My daughter made it out of material of which a
sovereign must have covered the cost.
My daughter says to know what _not_ to do is the secret of making stage
dresses. It is not a question of time or of money, but of omission.
One of the best "audiences" that actor or actress could wish for was Mr.
Gladstone. He used often to come and see the play at the Lyceum from a
little seat in the O.P. entrance, and he nearly always arrived five
minutes before the curtain went up. One night I thought he would catch
cold--it was a bitter night--and I lent him my white scarf!
He could always give his whole great mind to the matter in hand. This
made him one of the most comfortable people to talk to that I have ever
met. In everything he was _thorough_, and I don't think he could have
been late for anything.
I contrasted his punctuality, when he came to see "King Lear," with the
unpunctuality of Lord Randolph Churchill, who came to see the play the
very next night with a party of men friends and arrived when the first
act was over.
Lord Randolph was, all the same, a great admirer of Henry Irving. He
confessed to him once that he had never read a play of Shakespeare's in
his life, but that after seeing Henry act he thought it was time to
begin! A very few days later he pulverized us with his complete and
masterly knowledge of at least half a dozen of the plays. He was a
perfect person to meet at a dinner or supper--brilliantly entertaining,
and queerly simple. He struck one as being able to master any subject
that interested him, and once a Shakespeare performance at the Lyceum
had fired his interest, there was nothing about that play, or about past
performances of it, which he did not know! His beautiful wife (now Mrs.
George Cornwallis West) wore a dress at supper one evening which gave me
the idea for the Lady Macbeth dress, afterwards painted by Sargent. The
bodice of Lady Randolph's gown was trimmed all over with green beetles'
wings. I told Mrs. Comyns Carr about it, and she remembered it when she
designed my Lady Macbeth dress and saw to its making by clever Mrs.
Lady Randolph Churchill by sheer force of beauty of face and
expressiveness would, I venture to prophesy, have been successful on the
stage if fate had ever led her to it.
"BEEFSTEAK" GUESTS AT THE LYCEUM
The present Princess of Wales, when she was Princess May of Teck, used
often to come to the Lyceum with her mother, Princess Mary, and to
supper in the Beefsteak Room. In 1891 she chose to come as her birthday
treat, which was very flattering to us.
A record of those Beefsteak Room suppers would be a pleasant thing to
possess. I have such a bad memory--I see faces round the table--the face
of Liszt among them--and when I try to think when it was, or how it was,
the faces vanish as people might out of a room when, after having
watched them through a dim window-pane, one determines to open the
door--and go in.
Lady Dorothy Nevill, that distinguished lady of the old school--what a
picture of a woman!--was always a fine theater-goer. Her face always
cheered me if I saw it in the theater, and she was one of the most
clever and amusing of the Beefsteak Room guests. As a hostess, sitting
in her round chair, with her hair dressed to _become_ her, irrespective
of any period, leading this, that and the other of her guests to speak
upon their particular subjects, she was simply the _ideal_.
Singers were often among Henry Irving's guests in the Beefsteak
Room--Patti, Melba, Calve, Albani, Sims Reeves, Tamagno, Victor Maurel,
and many others.
Calve! The New York newspapers wrote "Salve Calve!" and I would echo
them. She is the best singer-actress that I know. They tell me that
Grisi and Mario were fine dramatically. When I saw them, they were on
the point of retiring, and I was a child. I remember that Madame Grisi
was very stout, but Mario certainly acted well. Trebelli was a noble
actress; Maria Gay is splendid, and oh! Miss Mary Garden! Never shall I
forget her acting in "Griselidis." Yet for all the talent of these
singers whom I have named, and among whom I should surely have placed
the incomparable Maurel, whose Iago was superb, I think that the arts of
singing and acting can seldom be happily married. They quarrel all the
while! A few operas seem to have been written with a knowledge of the
difficulty of the conventions which intervene to prevent the expression
of dramatic emotion; and these operas are contrived with amazing
cleverness so that the acting shall have free play. Verdi in "Othello,"
and Bizet in "Carmen" came nearest solving the problem.
To go back to Calve. She has always seemed to me a darling, as well as a
great artist. She was entirely generous and charming to me when we were
living for some weeks together in the same New York hotel. One wonderful
Sunday evening I remember dining with her, and she sang and sang for me,
as if she could never grow tired. One thing she said she had never sung
so well before, and she laughed in her delicious rapturous way and sang
it all over again.
Her enthusiasm for acting, music, and her fellow-artists was
magnificent. Oh, what a lovable creature! Such soft dark eyes and
entreating ways, such a beautiful mixture of nobility and "calinerie"!
She would laugh and cry all in a moment like a child. That year in New
York she was raved about, but all the excitement and enthusiasm that she
created only seemed to please and amuse her. She was not in the least
spoiled by the fuss.
I once watched Patti sing from behind scenes at the Metropolitan Opera
House, New York. My impression from that point of view was that she was
actually a _bird_! She could not help singing! Her head, flattened on
top, her nose tilted downwards like a lovely little beak, her throat
swelling and swelling as it poured out that extraordinary volume of
sound, all made me think that she must have been a nightingale before
she was transmigrated into a human being! Near, I was amazed by the
loudness of her song. I imagine that Tetrazzini, whom I have not yet
heard, must have this bird-like quality.
The dear kind-hearted Melba has always been a good friend of mine. The
first time I met her was in New York at a supper party, and she had a
bad cold, and therefore a frightful _speaking_ voice for the moment! I
shall never forget the shock that it gave me. Thank goodness I very soon
afterwards heard her again when she hadn't a cold!
"All's well that ends well." It ended very well. She spoke as
exquisitely as she sang. She was one of the first to offer her services
for my jubilee performance at Drury Lane, but unfortunately she was ill
when the day came, and could not sing. She had her dresses in "Faust"
copied from mine by Mrs. Nettleship, and I came across a note from her
the other day thanking me for having introduced her to a dressmaker who
was "an angel." Another note sent round to me during a performance of
"King Arthur" in Boston I shall always prize.
"You are sublime, adorable _ce soir_.... I wish I were a millionaire--I
would throw _all_ my millions at your feet. If there is another
procession, tell the stage manager to see those imps of Satan _don't
chew gum_. It looks awful.
I think that time it was the solemn procession of mourners following the
dead body of Elaine who were chewing gum; but we always had to be
prepared for it among our American "supers," whether they were angels or
devils or courtiers!
In "Faust" we "carried" about six leading witches for the Brocken Scene,
and recruited the forty others from local talent in the different towns
that we visited. Their general direction was to throw up their arms and
look fierce at certain music cues. One night I noticed a girl going
through the most terrible contortions with her jaw, and thought I must
"That's right, dear. Very good, but don't exaggerate."
"How?" was all the answer that I got in the choicest nasal twang, and
the girl continued to make faces as before.
I was contemplating a second attempt, when Templeton, the limelight man,
who had heard me speak to her, touched me gently on the shoulder.
"Beg pardon, miss, she don't mean it. She's only _chewing gum_!"
One of my earliest friends among literary folk was Mr. Charles
Dodgson--or Lewis Carroll--or "Alice in Wonderland." Ah, _that_ conveys
something to you! I can't remember when I didn't know him. I think he
must have seen Kate act as a child, and having given _her_ "Alice"--he
always gave his young friends "Alice" at once by way of establishing
pleasant relations--he made a progress as the years went on through the
whole family. Finally he gave "Alice" to my children.
He was a splendid theater-goer, and took the keenest interest in all
the Lyceum productions, frequently writing to me to point out slips in
the dramatist's logic which only he would ever have noticed! He did not
even spare Shakespeare. I think he wrote these letters for fun, as some
people make puzzles, anagrams, or Limericks!
"Now I'm going to put before you a 'Hero-ic' puzzle of mine, but
please remember I do not ask for your solution of it, as you will
persist in believing, if I ask your help in a Shakespeare
difficulty, that I am only jesting! However, if you won't attack it
yourself, perhaps you would ask Mr. Irving some day how _he_
"My difficulty is this:--Why in the world did not Hero (or at any
rate Beatrice on her behalf) prove an 'alibi' in answer to the
charge? It seems certain that she did _not_ sleep in her room that
night; for how could Margaret venture to open the window and talk
from it, with her mistress asleep in the room? It would be sure to
wake her. Besides Borachio says, after promising that Margaret
shall speak with him out of Hero's chamber window, 'I will so
fashion the matter that Hero shall be absent.' (_How_ he could
possibly manage any such thing is another difficulty, but I pass
over that.) Well then, granting that Hero slept in some other room
that night, why didn't she say so? When Claudio asks her: 'What man
was he talked with yesternight out at your window betwixt twelve
and one?' why doesn't she reply: 'I talked with no man at that
hour, my lord. Nor was I in my chamber yesternight, but in another,
far from it, remote.' And this she could, of course, prove by the
evidence of the housemaids, who must have known that she had
occupied another room that night.
"But even if Hero might be supposed to be so distracted as not to
remember where she had slept the night before, or even whether she
had slept _anywhere_, surely _Beatrice_ has her wits about her! And
when an arrangement was made, by which she was to lose, for one
night, her twelve-months' bedfellow, is it conceivable that she
didn't know _where_ Hero passed the night? Why didn't _she_ reply:
"But good my lord sweet Hero slept not there:
She had another chamber for the nonce.
'Twas sure some counterfeit that did present
Her person at the window, aped her voice,
Her mien, her manners, and hath thus deceived
My good Lord Pedro and this company?'
"With all these excellent materials for proving an 'alibi' it is
incomprehensible that no one should think of it. If only there had
been a barrister present, to cross-examine Beatrice!
"'Now, ma'am, attend to me, please, and speak up so that the jury
can hear you. Where did you sleep last night? Where did Hero sleep?
Will you swear that she slept in her own room? Will you swear that
you do not know where she slept?' I feel inclined to quote old Mr.
Weller and to say to Beatrice at the end of the play (only I'm
afraid it isn't etiquette to speak across the footlights):
"'Oh, Samivel, Samivel, vy vornt there a halibi?'"
Mr. Dodgson's kindness to children was wonderful. He _really_ loved them
and put himself out for them. The children he knew who wanted to go on
the stage were those who came under my observation, and nothing could
have been more touching than his ceaseless industry on their behalf.
"I want to thank you," he wrote to me in 1894 from Oxford, "as
heartily as words can do it for your true kindness in letting me
bring D. behind the scenes to you. You will know without my telling
you what an intense pleasure you thereby gave to a warm-hearted
girl, and what love (which I fancy you value more than mere
admiration) you have won from her. Her wild longing to try the
stage will not, I think, bear the cold light of day when once she
has tried it, and has realized what a lot of hard work and weary
waiting and 'hope deferred' it involves. She doesn't, so far as I
know, absolutely need, as N. does, to earn money for her own
support. But I fancy she will find life rather a _pinch_, unless
she can manage to do something in the way of earning money. So I
don't like to advise her strongly _against_ it, as I would with any
one who had no such need.
"Also thank you, thank you with all my heart, for all your great
kindness to N. She does write so brightly and gratefully about all
you do for her and say to her."
"N." has since achieved great success on the music-halls and in
pantomime. "D." is a leading lady!
This letter to my sister Floss is characteristic of his "Wonderland"
style when writing to children:
"Ch. Ch., _January, 1874._
"My dear Florence,--
"Ever since that heartless piece of conduct of yours (I allude to the
affair of the Moon and the blue silk gown) I have regarded you with a
gloomy interest, rather than with any of the affection of former
years--so that the above epithet 'dear' must be taken as conventional
only, or perhaps may be more fitly taken in the sense in which we talk
of a 'dear' bargain, meaning to imply how much it has cost us; and who
shall say how many sleepless nights it has cost me to endeavor to
unravel (a most appropriate verb) that 'blue silk gown'?
"Will you please explain to Tom about that photograph of the family
group which I promised him? Its history is an instructive one, as
illustrating my habits of care and deliberation. In 1867 the picture was
promised him, and an entry made in my book. In 1869, or thereabouts, I
mounted the picture on a large card, and packed it in brown paper. In
1870, or 1871, or thereabouts, I took it with me to Guilford, that it
might be handy to take with me when I went up to town. Since then I have
taken it two or three times to London, and on each occasion (having
forgotten to deliver it to him) I brought it back again. This was
because I had no convenient place in London to leave it in. But _now_ I
have found such a place. Mr. Dubourg has kindly taken charge of it--so
that it is now much nearer to its future owner than it has been for
seven years. I quite hope, in the course of another year or two, to be
able to remember to bring it to your house: or perhaps Mr. Dubourg may
be calling even sooner than that and take it with him. You will wonder
why I ask you to tell him instead of writing myself. The obvious reason
is that you will be able, from sympathy, to put my delay in the most
favorable light--to make him see that, as hasty puddings are not the
best of puddings so hasty judgments are not the best of judgments, and
that he ought to be content to wait even another seven years for his
picture, and to sit 'like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.'
This quotation, by the way, is altogether a misprint. Let me explain it
to you. The passage originally stood, '_They_ sit like patients on the
Monument, smiling at Greenwich.' In the next edition 'Greenwich' was
printed short, 'Green'h,' and so got gradually altered into 'grief.' The
allusion of course is to the celebrated Dr. Jenner, who used to send all
his patients to sit on the top of the Monument (near London Bridge) to
inhale fresh air, promising them that, when they were well enough, they
should go to 'Greenwich Fair.' So of course they always looked out
towards Greenwich, and sat smiling to think of the treat in store for
them. A play was written on the subject of their inhaling the fresh air,
and was for some time attributed to him (Shakespeare), but it is
certainly not in his style. It was called 'The Wandering Air,' and was
lately revived at the Queen's Theater. The custom of sitting on the
Monument was given up when Dr. Jenner went mad, and insisted on it that
the air was worse up there and that the _lower_ you went the _more airy_
it became. Hence he always called those little yards, below the
pavement, outside the kitchen windows, '_the kitchen airier_,' a name
that is still in use.
"All this information you are most welcome to use, the next time you are
in want of something to talk about. You may say you learned it from 'a
distinguished etymologist,' which is perfectly true, since any one who
knows me by sight can easily distinguish me from all other etymologists.
"What parts are you and Polly now playing?
"Believe me to be (conventionally)
No two men could be more unlike than Mr. Dodgson and Mr. J.M. Barrie,
yet there are more points of resemblance than "because there's a 'b' in
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