As the years went on and I grew fat, she made a change in the compliment:
“Beautiful and thin to-night, dear.”
Mr. Fernandez played Friar Laurence in “Romeo and Juliet.” He was a very nervous actor, and it used to paralyze him with fright when I knelt down in the friar’s cell with my back to the audience and put safety pins in the drapery I wore over my head to keep it in position while I said the lines,
“Are you at leisure,
holy father, now
Or shall I come to you at evening mass?”
Not long after the production of “Romeo and Juliet” I saw the performance of a Greek play—the “Electra,” I think—by some Oxford students. A young woman veiled in black with bowed head was brought in on a chariot. Suddenly she lifted her head and looked round, revealing a face of such pure classic beauty and a glance of such pathos that I called out:
“What a supremely beautiful girl!”
Then I remembered that there were no women in the cast! The face belonged to a young Oxford man, Frank Benson.
We engaged him to play Paris in “Romeo and Juliet,” when George Alexander, the original Paris, left the Lyceum for a time. Already Benson gave promise of turning out quite a different person from the others. He had not nearly so much of the actor’s instinct as Terriss, but one felt that he had far more earnestness. He was easily distinguished as a man with a purpose, one of those workers who “scorn delights and live laborious days.” Those laborious days led him at last to the control of two or three companies, all traveling through Great Britain playing a Shakespearean repertoire. A wonderful organizer, a good actor (oddly enough, the more difficult the part the better he is—I like his Lear), and a man who has always been associated with high endeavor, Frank Benson’s name is honored all over England. He was only at the Lyceum for this one production, but he always regarded Henry Irving as the source of the good work that he did afterwards.
“Thank you very much,” he wrote to me after his first night as Paris, “for writing me a word of encouragement.... I was very much ashamed and disgusted with myself all Sunday for my poverty-stricken and thin performance.... I think I was a little better last night. Indeed I was much touched at the kindness and sympathy of all the company and their efforts to make the awkward new boy feel at home.... I feel doubly grateful to you and Mr. Irving for the light you shed from the lamp of art on life now that I begin to understand the labor and weariness the process of trimming the Lamp entails.”
LYCEUM PRODUCTIONS (continued)
“MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING” TO “FAUST”
Our success with “The Belle’s Stratagem” had pointed to comedy, to Beatrice and Benedick in particular, because in Mrs. Cowley’s old comedy we had had some scenes of the same type. I have already told of my first appearance as Beatrice at Leeds, and said that I never played the part so well again; but the Lyceum production was a great success, and Beatrice a great personal success for me. It is only in high comedy that people seem to know what I am driving at!