I have always desired some other memorial to Henry Irving than his honored grave, not so much for his sake as for the sake of those who loved him and would gladly welcome the opportunity of some great test of their devotion.
Henry Irving’s profession decided last year, after much belated discussion, to put up a statue to him in the streets of London. I believe that it is to take the form of a portrait statue in academic robes. A statue can never at any time be a very happy memorial to an actor, who does not do his work in his own person, but through his imagination of many different persons. If statue it had to be, the work should have had a symbolic character. My dear friend Alfred Gilbert, one of the most gifted sculptors of this or any age, expressed a similar opinion to the committee of the memorial, and later on wrote to me as follows:
“I should never have attempted the representation of Irving as a mummer, nor literally as Irving disguised as this one or that one, but as Irving—the artistic exponent of other great artists’ conceptions—Irving, the greatest illustrator of the greatest men’s creations—he himself being a creator.
“I had no idea of making use of Irving’s facial and physical peculiarities as a means to perpetuate his life’s work. The spirit of this work was worship of an ideal, and it was no fault of his that his strong personality dominated the honest conviction of his critics. These judged Irving as the man masquerading, not as the Artist interpreting, for the single reason that they were themselves overcome by the magic personality of a man above their comprehension.
“I am convinced that Irving, when playing the role of whatever character he undertook to represent, lived in that character, and not as the actor playing the part for the applause of those in front—Charles I. was a masterpiece of conception as to the representation of a great gentleman. His Cardinal Wolsey was the most perfect presentation of greatness, of self-abnegation, and of power to suffer I can realize.... Jingle and Matthias were in Comedy and Tragedy combined, masterpieces of histrionic art. I could write volumes upon Irving as an actor, but to write of him as a man, and as a very great Artist, I should require more time than is still allotted to me of man’s brief span of life and far, far more power than that which was given to those who wrote of him in a hurry during his lifetime.... Do you wonder, then, that I should rather elect to regard Irving in the abstract, when called upon to suggest a fitting monument, than to promise a faithful portrait?... Let us be grateful, however, that a great artist is to be commemorated at all, side by side with the effigies of great Butchers of mankind, and ephemeral statesmen, the instigators of useless bloodshed....”