Just as we were getting interested in the play, the interpreter rose and hurried us out. Something that was not for the ears of women was being said, but we did not know it!
The chief incident of the fifth American tour was our production at Chicago of Laurence Irving’s one-act play “Godefroi and Yolande.” I regard that little play as an inspiration. By instinct the young author did everything right. The Chicago folk, in spite of the unpleasant theme of the play, recognized the genius of it, and received it splendidly.
In 1901 I was ill, and hated the parts I was playing in America. The Lyceum was not what it had been. Everything was changed.
In 1907—only the other day—I toured in America for the first time on my own account—playing modern plays for the first time. I made new friends and found my old ones still faithful.
But this tour was chiefly momentous to me because at Pittsburg I was married for the third time, and married to an American. My marriage was 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 “Macbeth.”
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.