The Calvert Revivals at the Manchester Prince’s Theatre – By Alfred Darbyshire, F.R.I.B.A.


[77] He would be a bold man who would attempt to impart elementary knowledge, or who would “lay the flattering unction to his soul” that he could say anything new or scholarly on the subject of Shakespeare, to such an audience as I have now the honour of addressing.

When I think of the learned and eloquent discourses which have been annually delivered in this room, and before this cultured audience, I feel that I have accepted a responsibility which I cannot hope to discharge worthily; and had not a certain line of thought been suggested to me, I would not have ventured to stand here to-night, and attempt a discourse on such a splendid theme as William Shakespeare.

It is natural to avoid seriousness, solemnity, and gloom, and to love sunlight, happiness, and mirth. We are here to-night, I trust, to be merry, and may be to thank Providence for that twenty-third day of April, 1564, which ushered into the world that spirit “whose great name we revere.” When, however, an occasion like this is devoted to a discourse about Shakespeare, one cannot resist serious thoughts, neither can one quite avoid a feeling of depression. Think for a moment of the subject – how vast it is! When I reflect that our Poet’s name is written in that record which marks the three great epochs of the “rolling ages,” that he stands enshrined with Homer and Dante, and that the purity and beauty of our language are due to his magic pen, I indeed feel that I have undertaken a [78] task which is not only serious, but hopeless of fulfilment. I cannot give you any fresh information on the Poet’s life or works; and to attempt a panegyric on his genius would only be

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily;
To throw a perfume on the violet
Or with a taper light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to varnish.

These prefatory remarks are necessary to account for the method I shall employ in placing before you the few observations I shall have the honour of offering for your consideration this evening.

It has been suggested that I should confine my remarks to a consideration of the Stage Representation of the Dramatic Works of our Poet. On this suggestion I accepted the responsibility of this address. I think I may say also that I accepted it with pleasure, inasmuch as I felt it afforded me an opportunity of speaking of the work of two of the most valued friends of my life, Charles Calvert and Henry Irving. Without the work of these two men to review, my subject would be blank or nearly so. It is true that Charles Kean and Samuel Phelps were the pioneers in the great work of Shakespearian production, but the developments made under the Calvert “Revivals” in Manchester, and now being carried beyond the most sanguine expectations by our great actor-manager, Henry Irving, have caused the earlier efforts to fade almost away into the historic past; and there are only a few old playgoers who remember them, and from whom we can obtain any detailed account.

Before we review the work of modern Stage Representation, it will be well, I think, to deal with what I still fear is a vexata quæstio with some persons, namely: Did Shakespeare write to be read or to be acted? because on this issue depends the whole question of stage representation.

[79] It seems almost an idle waste of time to discuss this point, but as there are still some few students and scholars who cling to the old-fashioned idea that our Poet’s works should only be recited or declaimed on a platform, with a green baize screen behind the persons so reciting or declaiming, it behoves us to give the matter some consideration at the outset of our subject.

At this point it will be interesting to quote the opinion of a Shakespearian scholar: an opinion of much value, coming as it does from a great ecclesiastic, and a man of high intellectuality. It may not be generally known that the late Cardinal Wiseman devoted some of the last hours of his life to recording his thoughts upon our Poet and his works; and his last literary effort was to dictate his Lecture on William Shakespeare. After saying that he never in his life had seen Shakespeare acted, he goes on to say that this was to his disadvantage, for “Shakespeare wrote to be acted and not to be read.” After a declaration like this, what more need be said? Yet mark how strong within him was the scholar’s enthusiasm notwithstanding. He says:-

But on the other hand, is it not something to have approached this wonderful man, and to have communed with him in silence and in solitude, face to face with him alone; to have read and studied and meditated on him in early youth, without gloss or commentary or preface or glossary? For such was my good or evil fortune; not during the still hours of night, but during that stiller portion of an Italian afternoon, when silence is deeper than in the night, under a bright and sultry sun, when all are at rest, all around you hushed to the very footsteps in a well-peopled house, except the unquelled murmuring of a fountain beneath orange trees, which mingled thus the most delicate of fragrance with the most soothing of sounds, both stealing together through the half-closed windows of wide and lofty corridors.

Yet, after all this ecstasy, His Eminence could frankly declare that “Shakespeare wrote to be acted and not to be read.”

[80] I shall assume, for the purpose of progression, that this proposition is accepted by this audience of the Arts Club, and proceed to discuss the second question affecting our subject, namely: As Shakespeare wrote for the Stage and not the scholar, how should the Stage give expression to his inspired works? On this point I have only one opinion – All that Art, intellect, and stagecraft can produce, should be forthcoming to provide a glorious and gem-like setting suitable for the brightest jewels which have ever sparkled from the human brain. I am conscious that in speaking thus strongly I shall come into conflict with those persons who are content with a moderate setting of the Shakespearian Drama, and who joined in the cry against Charles Kean, when he was called the “Upholsterer,” and not the upholder, of the Drama. It has always seemed to me a strange thing that this class of objectors to complete representation should not have taken the trouble to look into the Poet’s own pages for some argument in favour of their theory. Perhaps they have done so, and found all the internal evidence against them; at least such I judge to be the case, inasmuch as I have failed to detect any authoritative utterance on the subject; and one would fain believe that the often ill-natured and ignorant criticism of twenty years ago, has disappeared and died a natural death in face of the superb conditions under which we now behold the Shakespearian Drama.

When we contemplate the adverse conditions under which Shakespeare wrote and produced his plays for the Blackfriars playhouse, and the Globe on the Bank side, we should, I think, congratulate ourselves that we live in an age in which it is possible to do ful justice to his works; and that although the reign of the great Elizabeth can boast the production of our Poet’s genius, the reign of another great Queen has produced the men whose high intellectual qualities have helped to enshrine that genius in the hearts of the English people, by making it understood [81] and appreciated through the Art of the Victorian Stage.

I have often thought whilst helping in a small way to do honour to the memory of Shakespeare by worthy representation of his works, that if the spirits of the departed knew aught of this world which held them in the flesh, then the great spirit of our Poet as it moves through the “Elysian Fields” will look with satisfaction and approval on what has been done, and on what is still being done, to honour his memory. When I remember how that spirit cried out after the creation of his historical play of Henry the Fifth:-

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A Kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

And again –

But pardon gentles all
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object; can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?

Piece-out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puisance;
Think, when we talk of horses, that ye see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings.

All this shows how keenly Shakespeare felt the inadequacy of his time to give expression to the pictures that filled his fertile brain; for although the first four collected editions of his works (the last dated 1685) do not give a “local habitation and a name” to the scenes of his dramas, [82] we cannot suppose for a moment but that these scenes arose vividly before his fertile imagination. The First Folio describes the action of The Tempest as taking place in “an uninhabited island,” but it would be an insult to the genius of the great poet of Nature, to suppose when creating that beautiful work that “his eye in a fine frenzy rolling,” did not see the sylvan scenes of that “Enchanted Island,” as Pope calls it. Yes assuredly, he would see that fearful tempest, he would hear the sailors cry out amidst its howling and hissing; then the beautiful calm; the sunlight filtering across the hills, darting down the dales into the woods and over the purling brooks, and far away across the blue depths of the Mediterranean Sea. He would hear that strange music which filled the Isle, and he would follow the flight of his dainty Ariel as he shaped out the lives and destinies of the foolish mortals who made up the human interest of these enchanting scenes.

In working out the loveliest comedy ever written, Shakespeare would, in As You Like It, live in the scenes of his dramatic action; he would plunge into the depths of the forest; he would pause in some opening glade, and gaze on the refined beauty of “Heavenly Rosalind” as she leans against some huge forest monarch, conning those love tales woman delights in. He would see in an opening gorge the gentle deer come tripping out of the pine forest, and cross –

The current that with gentle murmur glides,
And makes sweet music with the enamell’d stones.

Suddenly he would see the herd startled, and dart into the opposite wood, leaving the languishing one that –

From the hunter’s aim had ta’en a hurt,

augmenting the swift brook with tears.

When working out the beauties of his plays purely imaginative in idea and scene, his mind was free and unshackled; the scenes were simply nature; but in dealing with the events of history, Shakespeare’s mind pictured, the [83] scenes in which the action took place. The quotation I have given from the Chorus in Henry V clearly indicates that in rolling out that grand blank verse, he pictured the actual scenes; he followed the progress of the French campaign, he saw that glorious battle, the triumphal entry into London, and the magnificent nuptials of his favourite hero and the fair Catherine of France. Again, in Julius Cæsar , his poetic fancy would hurry him along till he saw that Hall of a Hundred Columns, built by Pompeius Magnus in the plains of the Campus Martius; he would follow the conspirators with the noble Brutus at their head, as they hurried up the slopes of the Capitol, brandishing their weapons, red with the blood of the greatest man on earth.

And so, on through the entire range of his Histories, Tragedies, and Comedies, his great mind dwelt on actual scenes, whether historic or ideal, and as a playwright, actor, and manager, he would naturally regret the want of resource of the stage of his time, and indulge in the hope of better days to come. How vainly he cherished this hope. The first effort made to develop the resources of the theatre resulted in disaster. When Henry VIII was produced the wads from the real cannon let off at the christening of the infant princess, lodged in the thatched roof of the Globe Theatre, and removed that “Cockpit” (that “Wooden O”) from the face of the earth.

Bearing these considerations and facts in mind, can we be surprised that enthusiastic devotees of Shakespeare exist who have taken advantage of the resources of this 19th century, to worthily and adequately produce his works? Is it to be wondered at that the great actor-managers, Kean, Phelps, Calvert, and Irving, have spent the best years of their lives, and their treasure, in efforts to place Shakespeare upon our stage with all the accessories and surroundings, calculated to secure an honourable setting for the jewels of his mind? Surely we cannot but approve of these noble efforts; let us then welcome them as a [84] fitting tribute of respect and adoration, which the resources of our age have enabled us to bestow on the genius of the man in whose honour we are assembled, and whose memory we are here to venerate.

It would be interesting to glance at the history of stage production, from the days of the Mysteries, Miracle Plays, Moralities, and Chronicle Plays, down to the complete representations of our own time. Such a review, however, would lead us wide of our subject this evening; we must therefore confine our attention to a consideration of those “Revivals” of Shakespeare’s Plays, which have rendered the latter half of our century remarkable in the annals of the Art of the Stage.

I have said that Charles Kean was the pioneer in this great movement; his efforts therefore demand our first attention and consideration. I had the good fortune to witness his production of Henry VIII. at the Princess’s Theatre, and although I was deeply impressed by it, I am astonished when I review the progress made, and at the development of the resources of the Theatre since that time. It must be borne in mind, that with the exception of that rendered by the venerable Planchè (Somerset Herald) and George Scharf, F.S.A., Charles Kean had little outside assistance in his work. Now Henry Irving can command the best energies of a Tadema, a Lucas, or a “Garter King”: men of Art and Literature, are proud of being associated with our great actor-manager in his work; and the highest antiquarian and artistic knowledge is at his disposal.

When I review the work of Charles Kean I am impressed with its magnitude and importance. If the world owes a debt of gratitude to Hemming and Condell for the preservation of Shakespeare’s work, to Charles Kean belongs the credit of producing that work on the stage in a manner calculated to display its beauty, and its sublimity before the English people.

Charles Kean opened the Princess’s Theatre in [85] September, 1850, with Twelfth Night and Hamlet. These were not strictly “Revivals,” but in the following year the great idea of his life dawned upon him, and then followed that series of splendid productions with which his name will ever be associated. The Merchant of Venice was produced in 1851, succeeded by The Merry Wives of Windsor, King John, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Henry IV., Richard III., Henry VIII., Winter’s Tale, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard II., The Tempest, King Lear, and Henry V. I shall shortly allude to the production of the last play by Charles Calvert, but it is a curious thing that the Art of the Stage in 1859 and in 1872, reached its culminating point in the representation of the life and heroism of the Victor of Agincourt. Charles Kean spent his best energies, and gave expression to his profound knowledge of mediæval times in the production of Henry V.; the same may be truly said of the effort in the same direction made by Charles Calvert at the little Prince’s Theatre, in this city of Manchester.

It was a day of regret when Charles Kean took leave of the Princess’s Theatre, on the 29th of August, 1859, and I think you will pardon me if I read a few extracts from his farewell speech. The valedictory addresses of our “Revival” Managers are full of interest, and seem to explain or sum up the work of their lives.

At the close of the performance of Henry VIII. Charles Kean said:-

This night concludes my managerial career. The good ship which I have commanded for nine years, through storm and sunshine, calm and tempest, is now about to re-enter harbour, and, in nautical phrase, to be paid off. I may perhaps be expected on an occasion like the present to make some allusions to the principles of management I have invariably adopted. I have always entertained the conviction that in illustrating the great plays of the grandest poet who ever wrote, historical accuracy might be so blended with pictorial effect that instruction and amusement would go hand in hand. I find it impossible that, because every detail is studied with [86] an eye to truth, such a plan can in the most remote degree detract from the beauties of the Poet.

I remember that when I produced the Winter’s Tale as a Greek play, that is, with Greek dresses, Greek customs, and Greek architecture, an objection was raised by some that although the scene was situated in Syracuse – then a Greek colony, whose King consults the celebrated Oracle of Delphi – yet the play was said to be essentially English, and ought to be so presented, because allusions in various parts bore reference to this country, and to the period when the author wrote.

You would perhaps have been somewhat astonished and perplexed to have seen the chest containing the answer of the Greek Oracle to the Greek King, supposed to have been delivered above two thousand years ago, borne upon the stage by the Beefeaters of Queen Elizabeth. You would perhaps have been equally surprised to have witnessed at this theatre Leontes as a Greek King, in the last act, attired as Hamlet Prince of Denmark, and yet such an incongruity was accepted within the last twenty years.

But to carry out my system of pictorial illustration, the cost has been enormous, far too great for the limited arena in which it was incurred. As a single proof I may state that in this little theatre, where £200 is considered a large receipt, and £250 an extraordinary one, I expended in one season alone a sum little short of £50,000. During the run of some of the great revivals, as they are called, I have given employment, and, consequently, weekly payment to nearly 550 persons.

Having said this much, I need not deny that I have been no gainer in the commercial sense. I do not now retire from the direction of this theatre through any feeling of disappointment, but from the remembrance of the old adage, ‘The pitcher goes often to the well, but the pitcher at last may be broken.’

After alluding to his forthcoming provincial tour, he concluded by saying:-

Let me fondly cherish the hope that you will sometimes bestow a thought on the absent wanderer; and confiding in your sympathy and regard, I now respectfully and gratefully take my leave, bidding you Farewell – a long Farewell.

[87] What shall I say of the life work of Samuel Phelps? I confess when I think of what he accomplished in the direction of an artistic representation of Shakespeare on our stage, I experience feelings of astonishment and gratitude. His work was not only stupendous, it was heroic. He fought the battle of Shakespearian production against fearful odds, and in the face of a prejudice begotten of a degraded taste. I have called Charles Kean the pioneer of what we are pleased to call “Revivals,” but Phelps was certainly the originator of the idea of what we understand by the word “Productions.” There is a difference in meaning between these two terms. In the first case the pieces are staged with that elaborate detail and accuracy resulting from scholarly and antiquarian knowledge under the control of the actor-manager; in the latter case, the Shakespearian Drama is exhibited in a beautiful and appropriate setting, which may be called the intermediate method between the slipshod style of the Garrick era, and the method of production inaugurated by Kean, continued by Calvert, and now brought to its utmost limit of completeness by Irving. Although the method adopted by Phelps was not as elaborate as that of the “Revivalists,” its effect upon the Shakespearian stage of our time was wonderful, and this country may ever hold in high esteem the memory of Samuel Phelps, for the noble efforts he made to bring the works of our Poet home to the hearts of the people, through his beautiful and appropriate “productions.” I sometimes think we are apt to forget, or, at all events, we fail to realise, the titanic work of this great actor and manager. Think for a moment of the task he set himself to perform, and of what he actually accomplished for the Art of the Stage! He did not seek to labour in the heart of fashionable London; he sought out a suburban theatre attached to the old historic “Sadler’s Wells,” planted the works of our immortal bard in rude, uncultivated soil, and for a period of nearly nineteen years, he never ceased in his efforts to make that soil receptive [88] of all that was beautiful and actable from the Shakespearian page.


In 1851, Charles Dickens wrote:-

Seven or eight years ago this theatre (Sadler’s Wells) was in the condition of being entirely delivered over to as ruffianly an audience as London could shake together. Without, the theatre by night was like the worst of the worst kind of fair in the worst kind of town. Within, it was a bear-garden, resounding with foul language, oaths, cat-calls, shrieks, yells, blasphemy, obscenity, a truly diabolical clamour. Fights took place anywhere, at any period of the performance, and the audience were, of course, directly addressed in the entertainments.

Phelps conceived the desperate idea of changing the character of the dramatic entertainments presented at this den from the lowest to the highest, and of utterly changing with it the character of the audience.

It is to be observed (says Dickens) that these plays have not been droned through in the old jog-trot, dreary, matter-of-course manner, but have been presented with the utmost care, with great intelligence, with an evidently sincere desire to understand and illustrate the beauties of the poem. The smallest character has been respectfully approached and studied; the smallest accessory has been well considered; every artist in his degree has been taught to adapt his part in the complete effect to all the other parts uniting to make up the whole.

A completeness has been attained which twenty times the cost would never have bought if Mr. Phelps were not a gentleman in spirit, and an accomplished and devoted student of his Art.

Phelps opened Sadler’s Wells Theatre, in conjunction with Mrs. Warner, in June, 1844, with Macbeth, and he left the scene of his labours on the 6th of November, 1862, in the character of Brutus. During this period he produced no less than thirty-four plays of Shakespeare; in fact all the First Folio Plays with the exception of the three parts of Henry VI.Troilus and Cressida, Richard II., and Titus Andronicus. He also produced Pericles, which, as you are aware, did not appear in the compilation published by Hemming and Condell in 1623.

[89] Truly this is a noble record. It was the work of a hero. I shall have occasion to allude to Phelps again in connection with the work of Charles Calvert, but I cannot on such an occasion as this, omit to pay his memory a tribute of respect. He was a genial, kind-hearted gentleman a great actor, and a man of attainments consequent on a high intellectuality. Although he did not exhibit his knowledge to the full extent of his stage productions, he possessed the culture which would have enabled him to make those “productions” partake of the character of “Revivals” had he so desired. I remember on one of those occasions when he came to the old Brasenose Club to rest and chat, I turned the conversation on Irving’s forthcoming production of Hamlet. At that time my antiquarian knowledge was not very profound, and I happened to tell Phelps that Irving was going to wear a scarlet cloak. “Quite right,” was his reply; “don’t you know, my boy, that scarlet was the mourning colour of the royal house of Denmark at the period of the play?” “Ah!” he said, “Irving is a plucky man; I would not have dared to do that at Sadler’s Wells.”

Much might be said of Samuel Phelps and the great work he achieved in honour of Shakespeare, but time is limited, and I must rest content with quoting a few passages from his farewell address which he delivered at the “Wells” on that memorable night of November 6 th, 1862. He said:-

Most of you doubtless are aware that formerly, by virtue of their patents, Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and the Haymarket were the only theatres allowed to act Shakespeare, and the high-class drama usually termed legitimate. The restrictions preventing other theatres from doing so were removed, and after some consideration myself and Mrs. Warner issued an address to the public.

In a short time Mrs. Warner withdrew, and I was left alone in the management. I at once determined to make it the object of my life and the end of my management to represent the whole of Shakespeare’s plays. I have succeeded in placing upon the stage thirty-four of them, and they have been acted between three and four thousand nights.

[90] The production of thirty-four plays of Shakespeare, some of which have been considered unactable, is a feat I believe never before attempted by any manager, at least in modern times. It has been to me a labour of love – an object of pride rather than a source of profit, for when I tell you that the single play of Pericles cost in its production £1,000, and the expense lavished upon the others being very great, you will easily perceive how impossible it was in such a theatre as this that my labour should be rewarded by a large pecuniary profit.

Before I conclude allow me to observe how much I have been gratified in having been the means of bringing to this house a large body of young men – men most of whom have received their first theatrical impressions in witnessing the plays of Shakespeare. The amusements of the people are a most important item in the composition of our social system. Dramatic representations have stood, and I believe in some form or other always will stand in the foremost rank of these amusements; and it is surely better that the young, who are so easily and strongly impressed by them, should receive those impressions from the plays of Shakespeare, rather than from sensation dramas or translations from the French of questionable morality. And now having long endeavoured to deserve your respect, I feel that I leave you accompanied by good wishes to some future scene of action, and respectfully bid you – farewell.

We now approach a point in our subject, in which I trust we all feel an especial interest. I allude to the glorious decade of Shakespearian Revivals placed on the stage of our little Prince’s Theatre, in this city of Manchester.

Some of you may remember that eventful evening of October 15th, 1864, when Charles Alexander Calvert opened the new Prince’s Theatre with his first revival of The Tempest. I venture to think that that event was of vital importance in the history of our local stage. That night inaugurated a policy from which, in spite of adverse criticism and prophecy of financial disaster, manager Calvert never swerved or departed in the slightest degree. The Tempest was produced with beautiful scenery, good [91] acting, good music (will the episode of Julia St. George singing “Where the bee sucks,” time after time, ever be forgotten by those who were present?), in fact everything was as good as money and brains could produce. It would be impossible in a discourse such as this to give anything like a complete history of the work which illustrated Calvert’s policy of Shakespearian production. I will therefore rest content with a few allusions to the main features of that work, and to its influence on the world of art and culture.

Let us at the outset enumerate the “Revivals” in order of time. I have just said the theatre was opened with The Tempest in 1864. This was followed in 1865 by Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was produced in the same year, Antony and Cleopatra in 1866, Winter’s Tale in 1869, Richard III. in 1870, Timon of Athens in 1871, Merchant of Venice also in 1871, Henry V. in 1872, Twelfth Night in 1873, and Henry IV. (second part) in 1874. Henry VIII. was Calvert’s last Shakespearian Revival at the Theatre Royal, after he had severed his connection with the Prince’s Theatre.

In the three first productions, Calvert tested the public taste. In Antony and Cleopatra everything was achieved by a lavish expenditure of art, knowledge, and money. There may be those present here to-night who remember this wonderful production, with its quaint, old-world architecture, its revel under the shadow of Philæ, its Augustan grandeur, and its Egyptian mysticism. Tom Taylor wrote to the Manchester Guardian:-

Feeling grateful to Mr. Calvert for the pleasure that he has given me, I feel it a reflected credit for Manchester that it should be made the scene of such a theatrical venture … I can only wish that we had in the Metropolis more of the spirit which, judging by this revival, does not despair of recognition and reward in this great seat of manufacturing industry.

Helen Faucit also wrote:-

[92] I may sincerely say, that neither at home nor abroad have I seen a play put upon the stage more satisfactorily in all its details of scenery, grouping, and costume.

These expressions of opinion determined Calvert to continue the line of action he adopted when the Prince’s Theatre opened its doors. He foresaw the attainment of prestige for the theatrical enterprise of which he was the “head and front”; a prestige which, I venture to say, has never been attained by any provincial theatre of our time. He was loyally backed by those for whom he laboured, and he called to his aid such artistes and scholars as Grieve, Telbin, Alma Tadema, J.D. Watson, Rawdon Brown, and Arthur Sullivan. As these revivals advanced in popular favour, it was curious to note the influence that Calvert obtained over those who had to provide the necessary funds. I recollect an incident that happened at the full dress rehearsal of Richard III. We were watching the progress of the piece from the stalls, when one of the directors exclaimed: “Calvert, this beats the lot; it’s a rare good piece! Who wrote it?” The effect on the little auditory may be better imagined than described.

The production of the Merchant of Venice illustrated Calvert’s enthusiasm, and the confidence that was placed in the policy he was pursuing. He was sent to Venice, where he gathered a mass of material and local colouring, purchased and brought home a gondola (afterwards transferred to the waters of the Thames), and everything that trouble, research, and money could do, was done in honour of this immortal play. It was in this revival that Calvert realised one of those artistic master-strokes which took the art world by storm, so to speak, and cast a halo of poetry over the piece which still lives sweetly in the memory. Portia’s last speech begins, “It is almost morning,” and on this Calvert built up a result that was fascinating in its beauty. At the end of the speech the pages went round and quietly extinguished the lights, the guests dispersed to the sounds of song and music, the scene became [93] gradually empty, dark, and silent, and the curtain slowly fell. This was a bold stroke of stage art, but it was exquisite in its quiet beauty. The audience dispersed with a consciousness that their hearts had been galddened, and drawn very closely towards the genius of the immortal dramatist. The power and beauty of his work were made apparent, and a feeling of thankfulness was expressed in the applause, which burst forth for the manager who was doing so much in honour of the great master.

I may here remind you of a similar inspiration which came to Irving as a finish to Ravenswood. The play over, the curtain slowly ascended upon a lonely but glorious prospect of setting sun, and of sea placidly lapping the foreground of sand. One solitary figure, good old Caleb Balderstone, was seen picking up the last memento of his master left by the engulfing quicksand. This was a beautiful, pathetic, and poetic end to a world of trouble, misery, and tragedy. Such inspirations are not only legitimate as stage illustration, but they serve to accentuate the beauty of the poem and the impressiveness of its moral.

Calvert’s greatest, and, I think, his favourite work, was Henry V. In this revival he reached the zenith of his managerial efforts. In speaking of Calvert’s work, it should be borne in mind that he not only desired to please the eye and delight the ear, but he strove to make his revivals educational; consequently he found in Henry V. an opportunity of illustrating the life and manners of mediæval warfare, and “the pomp and circumstance” of mediæval warfare; in short, that period of English history was displayed on the stage immediately before the advent of the Renaissance under the Tudors. It was the epoch of plate armour, flowing robe, picturesque architecture, and of that pictorial splendour which could appropriately be cast around Shakespeare’s favourite hero.

I cannot give you anything like a true idea of the amount of trouble, research, and anxiety, that this revival involved. Calvert was so desirous of presenting a faithful [94] historical picture of the period of the early part of the 15 thCentury, that he solicited and obtained the help of those who could afford any special knowledge on the archæology, costume, and heraldry, of the play. The architecture and the scenery were as nearly as possible reproductions of the streets of London, the seaport of Southampton, the walled town of Harfleur, the battlefield of Agincourt, the palaces of Westminster and Rouen, and the Cathedral of Troyes. The costumes were made from a series of beautiful drawings by that master of pictorial habiliments, the late J.D. Watson. Watson’s enthusiasm knew no bounds; he not only made his careful drawings from the best authorities, but he would actually cut out the patterns to ensure correctness and exactitude, and personally superintend the work of the costumier. The most difficult scene to represent was “The Entry into London,” described by “Chorus.” In this case it was necessary to follow the accounts of the old chroniclers of the period; not only had the architecture of Old London to be reproduced, but the decorations and incidents which constituted “The Pageant.” Metrical histories, Harleian MSS., and all the available sources of information had to be consulted before the scene model could be made. When that great scene was set up and lighted, everybody felt satisfied and repaid for the trouble and expense it had involved. The scene settled on, the entry and the incidents of the pageant had to be realised.

The British public has no idea of the difficulty a manager experiences in drilling a crowd of “supers.” The “super” is an individual as a rule without intellectuality; in fact, if he had any he would not be a “super.” It was only by incessant drilling that the crowd of soldiers, and the mass of London citizens, could be got to do the right thing at the right moment. There is an amusing story told which illustrates the quality of the “super” mind. When Faust was being prepared at the Lyceum, Irving hit upon the idea of the “Brocken” scene; after some trouble the [95] leading idea of the scene was firmly planted in the brain of the “super master.” He then proceeded to drill his men in squads, and worked hard till the rehearsal of the complete scene. After weeks of labour, what was the result? The witches rushed on exactly in the style of frolicsome pantomime demons. The super master was simply horrified; he shouted at the top of his voice, “No! No!! No!!! No!!!! not so ‘appy, not so ‘appy, go back – you’re not on ‘ampstead ‘eath, you’re in ‘ell!”

The entry into London in Henry V. contained between two and three hundred persons, but on the first night they were perfect and all went “merry as a marriage bell.” That great scene no doubt still lives in your memories. To me it was the realisation of an ideal; it represented all that art and stage craft could do to illustrate a great historical poem. You will not have forgotten the crowd of citizens, artisans, youths, maidens, and nobles of the land, who filled the streets and temporary balconies hung with tapestries, who with eager expectation awaited the arrival of the young King-hero at the entrance to London Bridge. You will remember the distant hum of voices, and how the volume of sound swelled, as the little army approached on its march from Blackheath, how the sound burst into a mighty shout as the hero of Agincourt rode through the triumphal archway; then hymns of praise filled the air, showers of gold dust fell from the turrets, red roses of Lancaster covered the rude pavements, the bells clashed out, and a great thanksgiving went up to heaven for the preservation of the gallant King and his little army of heroes. The curtain descended on a picture perfect as a realisation of mediæval England. If any doubts existed as to the proper method of producing the plays of Shakespeare, this revival of Henry V. removed them and settled the question beyond argument.

I have said that Charles Calvert’s revivals were educational in their scope, as well as dramatic. In Henry V. an effort was made to display the heraldry of the time, and [96] the banners, shields, and other devices actually used at Agincourt were, after much labour and research, faithfully reproduced. In the process of investigation, certain points in English heraldry, about which doubts had existed, were set at rest and settled, and for the first time the Agincourt roll of arms was blazoned. It cannot be doubted that this production of Henry V., in Manchester, was an event of importance in stage history. The annals of our stage will record the production of the piece in America, under Calvert’s supervision, at Booth’s Theatre, New York, on February 8th, 1875, and the immense success it achieved. The Boston Herald wrote:-

More than 100,000 persons have already visited Booth’s Theatre to enjoy the magnificent revival of Henry V., and there is thus far no perceptible diminution in the size of the audience.

It is a matter of history in stage annals how George Rignold carried the piece through the States and into Australia, and that immense sums of money were taken by its exhibition, till it finally disappeared from the stage.

A pleasant feature of Calvert’s career was his engagement of Phelps, from whom he confessed he had learned his art. The great actor came to Manchester after the doors of the Sadler’s Wells were closed, and made Twelfth Night and Henry IV. historic in our local annals, by playing Malvolio, the King, and Justice Shallow. I feel sure you will agree with me when I say that in the latter part finer or more artistic acting was never seen on any stage.

I must now dismiss Calvert and his work by quoting a few passages from his farewell address on the last night of Henry V. He said:-

This night is the end of a memorable event, and in reviewing the results of this our latest effort, I see three special reasons for mutual exultation – the success in every sense of the production, the enlarging tastes for the works of the greatest dramatist that ever lived, and the indisputable fact that the ignorant prejudice against the theatre as an institution [97] is declining. I feel assured that these three truths are as gratifying to you as they are to me, and although at this moment it is your good pleasure to direct your approval towards your humble servant, still the chief merit rests with you; for had you not supported and encouraged us we should have reaped nothing but the consolation that we had suffered in a good cause. But this night marks the accomplishment of one of the greatest Shakespearian triumphs that has ever been known in the history of Art. A greater amount of money has been paid to obtain admission to the performance of Henry V., and a greater display of enthusiasm has been shown regarding the play than can be recorded in our previous annals. I ask you who, by your oft-repeated visits to these representations, have testified that to Shakespeare at the Prince’s Theatre you owe many and many an evening of keen enjoyment, to bear your testimony to the certain truth, that that inspired man has not written in vain; nor should the stage of our country, that he so graced by his genius, be denounced as a vain thing.

I appreciate very highly the honour you do me this night. My crown of ‘borrowed majesty’ I now give up. My court is dismissed; my soldiers disbanded and their bows unstrung; and all our glories fade from your view; but I hope not from your memories. The laurels you bestow on me by your applause, and by your hearty and enthusiastic patronage during the seventy-four representations of the play, you will, I am sure, allow me to share with my brothers and sisters in Art, to whom I am indebted for a zealous and hearty co-operation, and who are now assembled in some numbers behind this curtain, and anxious with me to bow their acknowledgements of the honours you this night confer.

Amid the applause which greeted this address, the curtain rose, discovering the whole company who seized the opportunity of testifying their appreciation of their manager by a hearty round of cheering, and thus Henry V. and all his mimic surroundings became matters of history in the theatrical annals of Manchester.

It would be impossible in the time at our disposal this evening to say all I would wish to say of the great work Henry Irving has accomplished, in the direction of Shakespearian production.

[98] The history of Irving’s régime at the Lyceum will some day be written by a pen capable of recording the wonderful efforts he has made in honour of the “great master.” I cannot attempt in an address like this to do justice to the almost herculean labours of the Lyceum manager. When the task is attempted it will be a heavy one, but full of interest; and the detailed history of the marvellous series of Shakespearian Revivals, which will make up a record of work since the theatre opened with Hamlet on December 30 th, 1878, will be honourable to Art, and I trust an ornament to English Literature.

I recollect discussing the production of Hamlet with Irving; on that occasion he remarked he intended his work at the Lyceum should be Elizabethan in character. I thought at the time it would be impossible to realise the idea, and it was not long before an incident occurred which confirmed my doubt. When the scenes were set and lighted, they were all carefully examined by the manager, who would view them from all parts of the house. I recollect we were seated in the front row of the gallery when the beautiful scene of the Castle of Elsinore, painted by Hawes Craven, was revealed. After looking in silence for some time, Irving quietly remarked, “I wish it didn’t look so like the Westminster Palace Hotel.” This was criticism in a nutshell. The scene was Elizabethan in character, that is to say, the window opening space was equal to if not in excess of the wall area, whereas in fortified architecture, the reverse is the case. I need not remind you that every production at the Lyceum has been truthful and accurate in all details of scenery and costume, and everything has been appropriate to the place and period indicated in the plays represented.

Those triumphs of Stage Art are fresh in your memories. I would, however, take this opportunity of recording a few facts, which render the work of the Lyceum manager memorable in the history of Shakespearian production, [99] and which constitute a record hitherto unapproached in the annals of the Stage.

Although the Lyceum opened, as I have said, under Irving’s sole management on December 30 th, 1878, we must remember that the Shakespearian pieces produced under the Bateman management were Irving’s work, and that their success was owing to his strong personality. Hamlet was first produced on the 31 st of October, 1874, and ran without intermission for 200 nights or performances. Macbeth followed on the 18th of September, 1875, with 80 performances, Othello on February 14th, 1876, with 70 representations, and Richard III. January 29th , 1877, with a run of 200 performances.

With the first representation of Hamlet, on the night of 30th December, 1878, was inaugurated the magnificent series of Revivals which constitute such a brilliant record of work under the sole control and direction of Henry Irving. The second revival of Hamlet ran for 100 nights; then followed the Merchant of Venice with a run of 250 performances; Othello (second revival), on May 2nd, 1881; Romeo and Juliet, March 8th , 1882, running 161 nights; Much Ado About Nothing, October 11 th, 1882, with a splendid run of 212 representations; Twelfth Night, July 8th , 1884, followed by a second revival of Macbeth, on December 29 th, 1888, with a run of 151 nights. Henry VIII. was produced on January 5th, 1892, running through 203 performances; and lastly, King Lear, on November 10th, 1892, and repeated 72 times. Truly this is an unique chronicle in the history of the Theatre, and the run of the pieces (hitherto unequalled), have proved that Shakespeare at the Lyceum, has spelt anything but ruin.

The effect of Irving’s work on the present generation has been extraordinary; the prejudice against the Theatre has been entirely removed; the Lyceum is the rallying place of all classes of society, and the common ground of culture, refinement, and Art. I know of nothing in the history of [100] modern civilisation that can compare with the revolution in thought and idea, caused by Irving’s work in connection with the Theatre as a national institution. When we think of the past history and vicissitudes of the drama in this country, we are able to realise what has been achieved; we can with difficulty believe that when our immortal ddramatist wrote, the names of the scenes of his plays were written on boards, and hoisted over the platform, and that every character, whether Greek, Roman, or mediæval, was habited in the costume of the Elizabethan era.

In Shakespeare’s time the “players” had no social repute; they were strollers on the face of the earth; now they are honoured by all, from the gracious Sovereign on the throne to the hard-working son of toil. How has this wonderful change been brought about? I venture to say that it is owing to the culture and enthusiasm of the men who took up the Art of the Stage on Macready’s retirement, and who have spent their best energies and the best part of their lives in bringing the genius of Shakespeare home to the hearts of the English people, by illustration and exposition on the lines I have advocated this evening. Let us then, as a section of this great community, thankfully acknowledge the services rendered to Art by the actor-managers of our time; and especially when they are assembled to celebrate the advent of that great genius whose work they have loved and honoured.

I am thankful to say that I cannot conclude this section of my address with quotations from Irving’s farewell speech; long may that speech remain unspoken, and long may he be spared to adorn our British Theatre with “settings” of the songs of the “Sweet Swan of Avon,” and with the greatest poems ever written for the Stage.

It is curious to note the disposition of the English playgoer with regard to the production of Shakespeare’s plays. He has now become accustomed to see them mounted with respect and reverence, and woe betide the manager who is content to mount them in a slipshod or poverty-stricken [101] manner. Such a method of presentation is certain to spell ruin and disaster. If the work is not strictly of the nature of “revival,” it must be at least well done, or left undone. This truth has been recognised by such managers of culture and refinement as Beerbohm Tree and Benson. The former has run his Hamlet for a considerable time, and the latter will always be welcome when his beautiful Midsummer Night’s Dream occupies the “boards.” The present condition of the Stage with regard to Shakespeare is entirely due to the educational and artistic labours of the managers, whose work and methods we have passed under review this evening. Let us then honour the memories of those who have passed away, and wish success and fortune to those who are living.

Permit me, in conclusion, to remind you that the chimes hard by will, ere long, ring in another anniversary of the Patron Saint-day of England – that blessed day of St. George, which marked the entrance of Shakespeare on the stage of human existence, and which (strange coincidence) also recorded his exit to

The undiscover’d country
From whose bourn no traveller returns.

If the grand old Greek who gave the Iliad to the antique world was dear to the sons of Hellas, should not the creator of Macbeth ever hold a place in the hearts and affections of Englishmen? Shakespeare is our own; he was “native and to the manner born”; and on this eve of St. George we gather round in his honour; we venerate his memory, and we celebrate the advent of that mighty genius which has “made the whole world wonder.” Let us then (we of the Arts Club) place our laurel wreaths, and our immortelles, on the shrine of his memory, with thankful and reverent hearts.