The Bailie ‘My conscience!’
Glasgow, Wednesday, October 26th, 1881.
MEN YOU KNOW—No. 471
HENRY IRVING is the leading artistic figure of our generation. In no other walk of art—neither in poetry, nor in pictorial nor plastic art, have we another personality which commands the same interest, which is possessed of a like magic. That “uncanny;’ weird face, with its strange comeliness, and its eager, and yet reticent and self-contained air; that hasty figure; and those gestures in which a pronounced mannerism, and a free and unconventional grace seem to strive for the mastery, form the outward shows of an intellect which is at once precise and imaginative, uncertain and powerful, and which is first, last, and always magnetic with the magnetism of genius. Only twice before, in the annals of the English Stage, has the individuality of an actor engrossed the attention of the public to the same degree as that of Mr. IRVING.
By the generation which comes after us these days of ours will be talked of as the days of IRVING, just as we talk now of the days of Garrick or the days of Edmund Kean. Mr. IRVING at once preserves a tradition and accentuates the supreme value of original thought and action. While he maintains the line of our great actors he is altogether unlike all who have gone before him. Although still in early middle life, HENRY IRVING has for ten years been the recognised head of the dramatic profession. Nay, for over ten years, ever since that June night of 1870. when he stepped on the stage of the London Vaudeville in the role of Digby Grant, the more competent organs of critical opinion have pronounced him the most considerable actor of his time. There is no necessity to-day to go over the long catalogue of Mr. IRVING’S successes.
To do this, indeed, it would be necessary to step further back than his Vaudeville engagement, and to recall his performances of Doricourt and Rawdon Scudarnore, at the London St. James’s, in the autumn and winter of 1866. His Bob Gassit, moreover, his Redburn, and his Bill Sikes,were three assumptions of wonderful skill. Even at this early period of his career Mr. IRVING possessed the faculty of taking infinite pains—whatever he did was done with all his might—and his acting was therefore devoid of that crudeness, of that want of “keeping” which weakens the style of so many young and inexperienced, although promising, and even, it may be, powerful players. It is to the influence of Mr. IRVING that we owe what may be termed the renaissance of the poetical drama in this country. At a period when cup-and-saucer comedy had seemingly blotted out the memory of all that was mightiest in the literature of the stage, he stepped forward as the vindicator of the great style of acting. The commonplaces of the school-house and the drawing-room were thrust aside in his person for the quick passions and overwhelming forces which dominate the lives of men and women. For dialogues over a milk jug were substituted Eugene Aram -Hamlet’s all encompassing, frenzied love for Ophelia – the touches of tenderness, the regretful remorse which, even at the crowning moments of his wickedness, show that Macbeth was not altogether lost to the promptings of his better nature.
And while Mr. IRVING has done this for the acted drama, it should never be forgotten that he has likewise exerted himself, and exerted himself successfully, towards improving the position, socially and otherwise, of the actor. As he said in his eloquent address delivered three years ago at the Perry Bar Institute in Birmingham, “the, work of the actor is hard, and intensely laborious – feverish, and dangerously exciting. It is all this even when successful. It is often nothing short of heart-breaking when success is missed or sickeningly delayed.” The conditions, however, under which the work of the actor is exercised are vastly different to-day from what they were a score of years ago, and the difference is mainly owing to the personal example and the personal influence of the manager of the London Lyceum – the most generous, the most successful of managers, as he is the most powerful, the most scholarly, the most artistic of actors. This week and next week Mr. IRVING is sustaining a round of his more famous parts on the stage of the Royalty Theatre. Some three years have elapsed since his last visit to Glasgow, and his fame, in the interval, has been constantly on the increase. Popular, therefore, as were his former appearances here, we may expect that the measure of enthusiasm with which he is greeted to-day will be even greater than that manifested towards him on any previous occasion.
A MAN YOU KNOW
He played in the Two Roses
That night when first we met
He played the villain in the piece –
Methinks I see him yet;
‘He scowled and looked his fiercest,
And his very legs they spoke,
Says I, The critics in this man
An actor great may “smoke”
I saw him then but one night,
Yet the picture’s with me now—
The coal-black hair, the jerky stride,
The all-bewrinkled brow.
Next time I chanced to see him—
Mathias in The Bells
Was what he played—you know it,
You’ve heard his cries, his yells,
When from his dream he wakens
And hears distinct and clear
The sleigh-bells of the man he slayed
A-tinkling in his ear
It seemed much more than acting—
In truth, it haunts me now—
That face as pale as is his shirt,
The sweat upon his brow.
Then after many years had passed
The actor-student came;
He now in his profession
The foremost place can claim
He wore the garb of “Hamlet,”
And, all informed with thought,
The mighty Shakespeare’s mighty part
He to the life had caught
We recognise his genius
We know his greatness now;
The tragic muse indeed has dropped
Her wreath upon his brow.
The above feature and poem is taken from a local periodical and reprinted verbatim by courtesy of the Mander & Mitchenson Theatre Collection.