During these pleasant days at Stratford, I went about in between the performances of “Henry VIII.”—which was, I think, given three times a week for three weeks—seeing the lovely country and lovely friends who live there. A visit to Broadway and to beautiful Madame de Navarro (Mary Anderson) was particularly delightful. To see her looking so handsome, robust and fresh—so happy in her beautiful home, gave me the keenest pleasure. I also went to Stanways—the Elchos’ home—a fascinating place. Lady Elcho showed me all over it, and she was not the least lovely thing in it.
In Stratford I was rebuked by the permanent inhabitants for being kind to a little boy in professionally ragged clothing who made me, as he has made hundreds of others, listen to a long, made-up history of Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare, the Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar and other things—the most hopeless mix! The inhabitants assured me that the boy was a little rascal, who begged and extorted money from visitors by worrying them with his recitation until they paid him to leave them alone.
Long before I knew that the child was such a reprobate I had given him a pass to the gallery and a Temple Shakespeare! I derived such pleasure from his version of the “Mercy” speech from “The Merchant of Venice” that I still think he was ill-paid!
“The quality of mercy
is not strange
It droppeth as the gentle rain from ’Eaven
Upon the place beneath; it is twicet bless.
It blesseth in that gives and in that takes
It is in the mightiest—in the mightiest
It becomes the throned monuk better than its crownd.
It’s an appribute to
It is in the thorny ’earts of kings
But not in the fit and dread of kings.”
I asked the boy what he meant to be when he was a man. He answered with decision: “A reciterer.”
I also asked him what he liked best in the play ("Henry VIII.").
“When the blind went up and down and you smiled,” he replied—surely a naive compliment to my way of “taking a call”! Further pressed, he volunteered: “When you lay on the bed and died to please the angels.”
LAST DAYS AT THE LYCEUM
I had exactly ten years more with Henry Irving after “Henry VIII.” During that time we did “King Lear,” “Becket,” “King Arthur,” “Cymbeline,” “Madame Sans-Gene,” “Peter the Great” and “The Medicine Man.” I feel too near to these productions to write about them. The first night of “Cymbeline” I felt almost dead. Nothing seemed right. “Everything is so slow, so slow,” I wrote in my diary. “I don’t feel a bit inspired, only dull and hide-bound.” Yet Imogen was, I think, the only inspired performance of these later years. On the first night of “Sans-Gene” I acted courageously and fairly well. Every one seemed to be delighted. The old Duke of Cambridge patted, or rather thumped, me on the shoulder and said kindly: “Ah, my dear, you can act!” Henry quite effaced me in his wonderful sketch of Napoleon. “It seems to me some nights,” I wrote in my diary at the time, “as if I were watching Napoleon trying to imitate H.I., and I find myself immensely interested and amused in the watchings.”