For the first time I played an old woman, a very homely old peasant woman too. It was not a big part, but it was interesting, and in the last act I had a little scene in which I was able to make the same kind of effect that I had made years before in the last act of “Ravenswood”—an effect of quiet and stillness.
I flattered myself that I was able to assume a certain roughness and solidity of the peasantry in “The Good Hope,” but although I stumbled about heavily in large sabots, I was told by the critics that I walked like a fairy and was far too graceful for a Dutch fisherwoman! It is a case of “Give a dog a bad name and hang him”—the bad name in my case being “a womanly woman”! What this means I scarcely apprehend, but I fancy it is intended to signify (in an actress) something sweet, pretty, soft, appealing, gentle and underdone. Is it possible that I convey that impression when I try to assume the character of a washerwoman or a fisherwoman? If so I am a very bad actress!
My last Shakespearean part was Hermione in “A Winter’s Tale.” By some strange coincidence it fell to me to play it exactly fifty years after I had played the little boy Mamilius in the same play. I sometimes think that Fate is the best of stage managers! Hermione is a gravely beautiful part—well-balanced, difficult to act, but certain in its appeal. If only it were possible to put on the play in a simple way and arrange the scenes to knit up the raveled interest, I should hope to play Hermione again.
When I had celebrated my stage jubilee in 1906, I suddenly began to feel exuberantly young again. It was very inappropriate, but I could not help it.
The recognition of my fifty years of stage life by the public and by my profession was quite unexpected. Henry Irving had said to me not long before his death in 1905 that he believed that they (the theatrical profession) “intended to celebrate our jubilee.” (If he had lived he would have completed his fifty years on the stage in the autumn of 1906.) He said that there would be a monster performance at Drury Lane, and that already the profession were discussing what form it was to take.
After his death, I thought no more of the matter. Indeed I did not want to think about it, for any recognition of my jubilee which did not include his, seemed to me very unnecessary.
Of course I was pleased that others thought it necessary. I enjoyed all the celebrations. Even the speeches that I had to make did not spoil my enjoyment. But all the time I knew perfectly well that the great show of honor and “friending” was not for me alone. Never for one instant did I forget this, nor that the light of the great man by whose side I had worked for a quarter of a century was still shining on me from his grave.
The difficulty was to thank people as they deserved. Stammering speeches could not do it, but I hope that they all understood. “I were but little happy, if I could say how much.”