Dear old Mrs. Wigan! The stories that have been told about her would fill a book! She was exceedingly plain, rather like a toad, yet, perversely, she was more vain of her looks than of her acting. In the theater she gave herself great airs and graces, and outside it hobnobbed with duchesses and princesses.
This fondness for aristocratic society gave additional point to the story that one day a blear-eyed old cabman in capes and muffler descended from the box of a disreputable-looking growler, and inquired at the stage-door for Leonora Pincott.
“Any lady ’ere of that name?”
“Well, I think she’s married, and changed her name, but she’s ’ere right enough. Tell ’er I won’t keep ’er a minute. I’m ’er—old father!”
In “Still Waters Run Deep” I was rather good as Mrs. Mildmay, and the rest of the cast were admirable. Mrs. Wigan was, of course, Mrs. Sternhold. Wyndham, who was afterwards to be such a splendid Mildmay, played Hawksley, and Alfred Wigan was Mildmay, as he had been in the original production. When the play is revived now, much of it seems very old-fashioned, but the office scene strikes one as freshly and strongly as when it was first acted. I don’t think that any drama which is vital and essential can ever be old-fashioned.
One very foggy night in December 1867—it was Boxing Day, I think—I acted for the first time with Henry Irving. This ought to have been a great event in my life, but at the time it passed me by and left “no wrack behind.” Ever anxious to improve on the truth, which is often devoid of all sensationalism, people have told a story of Henry Irving promising that if he ever were in a position to offer me an engagement I should be his leading lady. But this fairy story has been improved on since. The newest tale of my first meeting with Henry Irving was told during my jubilee. Then, to my amazement, I read that on that famous night when I was playing Puck at the Princess’s, and caught my toe in the trap, “a young man with dark hair and a white face rushed forward from the crowd and said: ’Never mind, darling. Don’t cry! One day you will be queen of the stage.’ It was Henry Irving!”
In view of these legends, I ought to say all the more stoutly that, until I went to the Lyceum Theater, Henry Irving was nothing to me and I was nothing to him. I never consciously thought that he would become a great actor. He had no high opinion of my acting! He has said since that he thought me at the Queen’s Theater charming and individual as a woman, but as an actress hoydenish! I believe that he hardly spared me even so much definite thought as this. His soul was not more surely in his body than in the theater, and I, a woman who was at this time caring more about love and life than the theater, must have been to him more or less unsympathetic. He thought of nothing else, cared for nothing else; worked day and night; went without his dinner to buy a book that might be helpful in studying, or a stage jewel that might be helpful to wear. I remember his telling me that he once bought a sword with a jeweled hilt, and hung it at the foot of his bed. All night he kept getting up and striking matches to see it, shifting its position, rapt in admiration of it.