So we had the matinee at the Lyceum. Mr. Willard and Mr. Beerbohm Tree were in the cast, and it was a great success. For the first time Henry saw me act—a whole part and from the “front” at least, for he had seen and liked scraps of my Juliet from the “side.” Although he had known me such a long time, my Ellaline seemed to come quite as a surprise. “I wish I could tell you of the dream of beauty that you realized,” he wrote after the performance. He bought the play for me, and I continued to do it “on and off” here and in America until 1902.
Many people said that I was good but the play was bad. This was hard on Alfred Calmour. He had created the opportunity for me, and few plays with the beauty of “The Amber Heart” have come my way since. “He thinks it’s all his doing!” said Henry. “If he only knew!” “Well, that’s the way of authors,” I answered. “They imagine so much more about their work than we put into it, that although we may seem to the outsider to be creating, to the author we are, at our best, only doing our duty by him.”
Our next production was “Macbeth.” Meanwhile we had visited America three times. It is now my intention to give some account of my tours in America, of my friends there, and of some of the impressions that the vast, wonderful country made on me.
THE FIRST OF EIGHT TOURS
The first time that there was any talk of my going to America was, I think, in 1874, when I was playing in “The Wandering Heir.” Dion Boucicault wanted me to go, and dazzled me with figures, but I expect the cautious Charles Reade influenced me against accepting the engagement.
When I did go in 1883, I was thirty-five and had an assured position in my profession. It was the first of eight tours, seven of which I went with Henry Irving. The last was in 1907 after his death. I also went to America one summer on a pleasure trip. The tours lasted three months at least, seven months at most. After a rough calculation, I find that I have spent not quite five years of my life in America. Five out of sixty is not a large proportion, yet I often feel that I am half American. This says a good deal for the hospitality of a people who can make a stranger feel so completely at home in their midst. Perhaps it also says something for my adaptableness!
“When we do not speak of things with a partiality full of love, what we say is not worth being repeated.” That was the answer of a courteous Frenchman who was asked for his impressions of a country. In any case it is imprudent to give one’s impressions of America. The country is so vast and complex that even those who have amassed mountains of impressions soon find that there still are mountains more! I have lived in New York, Boston and Chicago for a month at a time, and have felt that to know any of these great cities even superficially would take a year. I have become acquainted with this and that class of American, but I realize that there are thousands of other classes that remain unknown to me.