In the days of the elocution class there was still some idea of her becoming a singer, but I strongly advised the stage, and wrote to my friend J. Comyns Carr, who was managing the Comedy Theater, that I knew a girl with “supreme talent” whom he ought to engage. Lena was engaged. After that she had her fight for success, but she went steadily forward.
Henry Irving has often been attacked for not preferring Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Macaire” to the version which he actually produced in 1883. It would have been hardly more unreasonable to complain of his producing “Hamlet” in preference to Mr. Gilbert’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.” Stevenson’s “Macaire” may have all the literary quality that is claimed for it, although I personally think Stevenson was only making a delightful idiot of himself in it. Anyhow, it is frankly a burlesque, a skit, a satire on the real Macaire. The Lyceum was not a burlesque house! Why should Henry have done it?
It was funny to see Toole and Henry rehearsing together for “Macaire.” Henry was always plotting to be funny. When Toole as Jacques Strop hid the dinner in his pocket, Henry, after much labor, thought of his hiding the plate inside his waistcoat. There was much laughter later on when Macaire, playfully tapping Strop with his stick, cracked the plate, and the pieces fell out! Toole hadn’t to bother about such subtleties, and Henry’s deep-laid plans for getting a laugh must have seemed funny to dear Toole, who had only to come on and say “Whoop!” and the audience roared!
Henry’s death as Macaire was one of a long list of splendid deaths. Macaire knows the game is up, and makes a rush for the French windows at the back of the stage. The soldiers on the stage shoot him before he gets away. Henry did not drop, but turned round, swaggered impudently down to the table, leaned on it, then suddenly rolled over, dead.
Henry’s production of “Werner” for one matinee was to do some one a good turn, and when Henry did a “good turn,” he did it magnificently. We rehearsed the play as carefully as if we were in for a long run. Beautiful dresses were made for me by my friend Alice Carr. But when we had given that one matinee, they were put away for ever. The play may be described as gloom, gloom, gloom. It was worse than “The Iron Chest.”
[Footnote 1: From my Diary, June 1, 1887.—“Westland-Marston Benefit at the Lyceum. A triumphant success entirely due to the genius and admirable industry and devotion of H.I., for it is just the dullest play to read as ever was! He made it intensely interesting.”]
While Henry was occupying himself with “Werner,” I was pleasing myself with “The Amber Heart,” a play by Alfred Calmour, a young man who was at this time Wills’s secretary. I wanted to do it, not only to help Calmour, but because I believed in the play and liked the part of Ellaline. I had thought of giving a matinee of it at some other theater, but Henry, who at first didn’t like my doing it at all, said: “You must do it at the Lyceum. I can’t let you, or it, go out of the theater.”