The scarf, witnessing to that untiring love of throwing new light on his impersonations which distinguished Henry to the last, is now in my daughter’s possession. She values no relic of him more unless it be the wreath of oak-leaves that she made him for “Coriolanus.”
We had a beautiful scene for this play—a garden with a dark pine forest in the distance. Henry was not good in it. He had a Romeo part which had not been written by Shakespeare. We played it instead of the last act of “The Merchant of Venice.” I never liked it being left out, but people used to say, like parrots, that “the interest of the play ended with the Trial Scene,” and Henry believed them—for a time. I never did. Shakespeare never gives up in the last act like most dramatists.
Twice in “Iolanthe” I forgot that I was blind! The first time was when I saw old Tom Mead and Henry Irving groping for the amulet, which they had to put on my breast to heal me of my infirmity. It had slipped on to the floor, and both of them were too short-sighted to see it! Here was a predicament! I had to stoop and pick it up for them.
The second time I put out my hand and cried: “Look out for my lilies,” when Henry nearly stepped on the bunch with which a little girl friend of mine supplied me every night I played the part.
Iolanthe was one of Helen Faucit’s great successes. I never saw this distinguished actress when she was in her prime. Her Rosalind, when she came out of her retirement to play a few performances, appeared to me more like a lecture on Rosalind, than like Rosalind herself: a lecture all young actresses would have greatly benefited by hearing, for it was of great beauty. I remember being particularly struck by her treatment of the lines in the scene where Celia conducts the mock marriage between Orlando and Ganymede. Another actress, whom I saw as Rosalind, said the words, “And I do take thee, Orlando, to be my husband,” with a comical grimace to the audience. Helen Faucit flushed up and said the line with deep and true emotion, suggesting that she was, indeed, giving herself to Orlando. There was a world of poetry in the way she drooped over his hand.
Mead distinguished himself in “Iolanthe” by speaking of “that immortal land where God hath His—His—er—room?—no—lodging?—no—where God hath His apartments!”
The word he could not hit was, I think, “dwelling.” He used often to try five or six words before he got the right one or the wrong one—it was generally the wrong one—in full hearing of the audience.
“THE MERCHANT OF VENICE” TO “ROMEO AND JULIET”
“The Merchant of Venice” was acted two hundred and fifty consecutive nights on the occasion of the first production. On the hundredth night every member of the audience was presented with Henry Irving’s acting edition of the play bound in white velum—a solid and permanent souvenir, paper, print and binding all being of the best. The famous Chiswick Press did all his work of this kind. On the title page was printed: