was not happy, but he was just heroic, and this world wasn't half good enough for him. I wonder if he has gone to a better. I keep on getting letters about him. He seems to have been so glad to die. It was like a child's funeral, I am told, and all his American friends seem to have been there—Saint-Gaudens, Taber, etc. A poem about the dear fellow by Mr. Gilder has one very good line in which he says the grave 'might snatch a brightness from his presence there.' I thought that was very happy, the love of light and gladness being the most remarkable thing about him, the dear sad Joe."
Robert Taber, dear, and rather sad too, was a great friend of Joe's. They both came to me first in the shape of a little book in which was inscribed: "Never anything can be amiss when simpleness and duty tender it." "Upon this hint I spake," the book began. It was all the work of a few boys and girls who from the gallery of the Star Theatre, New York, had watched Irving's productions and learned to love him and me. Joe Evans had done a lovely picture by way of frontispiece of a group of eager heads hanging over the gallery's edge, his own and Taber's among them. Eventually Taber came to England and acted with Henry Irving in "Peter the Great" and other plays.
Like his friend Joe, he too was heroic. His health was bad and his life none too happy—but he struggled on. His career was cut short by consumption and he died in the Adirondacks in 1904.
I cannot speak of all my friends in America, or anywhere, for the matter of that, individually. My personal friends are so many, and they are all wonderful—wonderfully staunch to me! I have "tried" them so, and they have never given me up as a bad job.
Dramatic Criticism in America
William Winter, poet, critic, and exquisite man, was one of the first to write of Henry with whole-hearted appreciation. But all the criticism in America, favourable and unfavourable, surprised us by the scholarly knowledge it displayed. In Chicago the notices were worthy of the Temps or the Journal des Débats. There was no attempt to force the personality of the writer into the foreground nor to write a style that would attract attention to the critic and leave the thing criticised to take care of itself. William Winter and, of late years, Alan Dale have had their personalities associated with their criticisms, but they are exceptions. Curiously enough, the art of acting appears to bore most dramatic critics, the very people who might be expected to be interested in it. The American critics, however, at the time of our early visits, were keenly interested, and showed it by their observation of many points which our English critics had passed over. For instance, writing of "Much Ado about Nothing," one of the Americans said of Henry in the Church Scene that "something of him as a subtle interpreter of doubtful situations was exquisitely shown in the early part of this fine scene by his suspicion of Don John—felt by him alone, and expressed only by a quick covert look, but a look so full of intelligence as to proclaim him a sharer in the secret with his audience."
"Wherein does the superiority lie?" wrote another critic in comparing our productions with those which had been seen in America up to 1884. "Not in the amount of money expended, but in the amount of brains; in the artistic intelligence and careful and earnest pains with which every detail is studied and worked out. Nor is there any reason why Mr. Irving or any other foreigner should have a monopoly of either intelligence or pains. They are common property and one man's money can buy them as well as another's. The defect in the American manager's policy heretofore has been that he has squandered his money upon high salaries for a few of his actors; and in costly, because unintelligent, expenditure for mere dazzle and show."
William Winter and His Children
William Winter soon became a great personal friend of ours, and visited us in England. He was one of the few sad people I met in America. He could have sat upon the ground and "told sad stories of the deaths of kings" with the best. In England he loved going to see graveyards, and knew where every poet was buried. He was very familiar with the poetry of the immediate past—Cowper, Coleridge, Gray, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and the rest. He liked us, so everything we did was right to him. He could not help being guided entirely by his feelings. If he disliked a thing, he had no use for it. Some men can say, "I hate this play, but of its kind it is admirable." Willie Winter could never take that unemotional point of view.
His children came to stay with me in London. When we were all coming home from the theatre
one night after Faust (the year must have been 1886), I said to little Willie:
"Well, what do you think of the play?"
"Oh my!" said he, "it takes the cake."
"Takes the cake," said his little sister scornfully. "It takes the ice-cream!"
"Won't you give me a kiss?" said Henry to the same little girl one night.
"No, I won't, with all that blue stuff on your face." (He was made up for Mephistopheles.) Then, after a pause, "But why—why don't you take it!" She was only five years old at the time!
Discovering the Southern Darkey
For quite a while during the first tour I stayed in Washington with my friend, Miss Olive Seward, and all the servants of that delightful household were coloured. This was my first introduction to the negroes, whose presence in the country makes America seem more foreign than anything to European eyes. They are more sharply divided into high and low types than white people, and are not in the least alike in their types. It is safe to call any coloured man "George." They all love it, perhaps because of George Washington; and most of them are really named George. I never met with such perfect service as they can give. Some of them are delightful. The beautiful, full voice of the "darkey" is so attractive—so soothing, and they are so deft and gentle. Some of the women are beautiful, and all the young appeared to me to be well-formed. As for the babies! I washed two or three little piccaninnies when I was in the South, and the way they rolled their gorgeous eyes at me was "too cute," which means, in British-English, "fascinating."
At the Washington house, the servants danced a cake-walk for me—the coloured cook, a magnificent type, who "took the cake," saying, "That was because I chose a good handsome boy to dance with, Missie." They sang, too. Their voices were beautiful—with such illimitable power, yet as sweet as treacle.
The little page boy had a pet of a woolly head—Henry once gave him a tip, a "fee," in American-English, and said: "There, that's for a new wig when this one is worn out," gently pulling the astrakhan-like hair. The tip would have bought him many wigs, I think!
"Why, Uncle Tom, how your face shines to-night!" said my hostess to one of the very old servants.
"Yes, Missie, glycerine and rose-water, Missie!"
He had taken some from her dressing-table to shine up his face in honour of me! A shiny complexion is considered to be a great beauty among the blacks. The dear old man! He was very bent and very old; and looked like one of the logs that he used to bring in for the fire—a log from some hoary, lichened tree whose life was long since past. He would produce pins from his head when you wanted one; he had them stuck in his pad of white woolly hair. "Always handy then, Missie," he would say.
"Ask them to sing 'Sweet Violets,' Uncle Tom."
He was acting as a sort of master of the ceremonies at the entertainment the servants were giving me.
"Don't think they know dat, Miss Olly."