(1889); and Ravenswood—Herman Merivale’s dramatic version of Scott’s Bride of Lammermoor (1890). Fine assumptions in 1892 of the characters of Wolsey in Henry VIII. and of King Lear were followed in 1893 by a striking and dignified performance of Becket in Tennyson’s play of that name. During these years too, Irving, with the whole Lyceum company, paid several visits to America, which met with conspicuous success, and were repeated in succeeding years. The chief remaining novelties at the Lyceum during Irving’s sole managership (the theatre passed, at the beginning of 1899, into the hands of a limited liability company) were Comyns Carr’s King Arthur in 1895; Cymbeline, in which Irving played Iachimo, in 1896; Sardou’s Madame Sans-Gêne in 1897; Peter the Great, a play by Laurence Irving, the actor’s second son, in 1898; and Conan Doyle’s Waterloo (1894). The new régime at the Lyceum was signalized by the production of Sardou’s Robespierre in 1899, in which Irving reappeared after a serious illness, and in 1901 by an elaborate revival of Coriolanus. Irving’s only subsequent production in London was Sardou’s Dante (1903), a vast spectacular drama, staged at Drury Lane. He died “on tour” at Bradford on the 13th of October 1905, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Both on and off the stage Irving always maintained a high ideal of his profession, and in 1895 he received the honour of knighthood, the first ever accorded an actor. He was also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Dublin, Cambridge and Glasgow. His acting, apart from his genius as a presenter of plays, divided criticism, opinions differing as to the extent to which his mannerisms of voice and deportment interfered with or assisted the expression of his ideas. So strongly marked a personality as his could not help giving its own colouring to whatever part he might assume, but the richness and originality of this colouring at its best cannot be denied, any more than the spirit and intellect which characterized his renderings. At the least, extraordinary versatility must be conceded to an actor who could satisfy exacting audiences in rôles so widely different as Digby Grant and Louis XI., Richard III. and Becket, Benedick and Shylock, Mathias and Dr Primrose.
Sir Henry Irving had two sons, Harry Brodribb (b. 1870) and Laurence (b. 1872). They were educated for other walks of life, the former for the bar, and the latter for the diplomatic service; but both turned to the stage, and the elder, who had already established himself as the most prominent of the younger English actors at the time of his father’s death, went into management on his own account.
IRVING, WASHINGTON (1783–1859), American man of letters, was born at New York on the 3rd of April 1783. Both his parents were immigrants from Great Britain, his father, originally an officer in the merchant service, but at the time of Irving’s birth a considerable merchant, having come from the Orkneys, and his mother from Falmouth. Irving was intended for the legal profession, but his studies were interrupted by an illness necessitating a voyage to Europe, in the course of which he proceeded as far as Rome, and made the acquaintance of Washington Allston. He was called to the bar upon his return, but made little effort to practise, preferring to amuse himself with literary ventures. The first of these of any importance, a satirical miscellany entitled Salmagundi, or the Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff and others, written in conjunction with his brother William and J. K. Paulding, gave ample proof of his talents as a humorist. These were still more conspicuously displayed in his next attempt, A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by “Diedrich Knickerbocker” (2 vols., New York, 1809). The satire of Salmagundi had been principally local, and the original design of “Knickerbocker’s” History was only to burlesque a pretentious disquisition on the history of the city in a guidebook by Dr Samuel Mitchell. The idea expanded as Irving proceeded, and he ended by not merely satirizing the pedantry of local antiquaries, but by creating a distinct literary type out of the solid Dutch burgher whose phlegm had long been an object of ridicule to the mercurial Americans. Though far from the most finished of Irving’s productions, “Knickerbocker” manifests the most original power, and is the most genuinely national in its quaintness and drollery. The very tardiness and prolixity of the story are skilfully made to heighten the humorous effect.
Upon the death of his father, Irving had become a sleeping partner in his brother’s commercial house, a branch of which was established at Liverpool. This, combined with the restoration of peace, induced him to visit England in 1815, when he found the stability of the firm seriously compromised. After some years of ineffectual struggle it became bankrupt. This misfortune compelled Irving to resume his pen as a means of subsistence. His reputation had preceded him to England, and the curiosity naturally excited by the then unwonted apparition of a successful American author procured him admission into the highest literary circles, where his popularity was ensured by his amiable temper and polished manners. As an American, moreover, he stood aloof from the political and literary disputes which then divided England. Campbell, Jeffrey, Moore, Scott, were counted among his friends, and the last-named zealously recommended him to the publisher Murray, who, after at first refusing, consented (1820) to bring out The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (7 pts., New York, 1819–1820). The most interesting part of this work is the description of an English Christmas, which displays a delicate humour not unworthy of the writer’s evident model Addison. Some stories and sketches on American themes contribute to give it variety; of these Rip van Winkle is the most remarkable. It speedily obtained the greatest success on both sides of the Atlantic. Bracebridge Hall, or the Humourists (2 vols., New York), a work purely English in subject, followed in 1822, and showed to what account the American observer had turned his experience of English country life. The humour is, nevertheless, much more English than American. Tales of a Traveller (4 pts.) appeared in 1824 at Philadelphia, and Irving, now in comfortable circumstances, determined to enlarge his sphere of observation by a journey on the continent. After a long course of travel he settled down at Madrid in the house of the American consul Rich. His intention at the time was to translate the Coleccion de los Viajes y Descubrimientos (Madrid, 1825–1837) of Martin Fernandez de Navarrete; finding, however, that this was rather a collection of valuable materials than a systematic biography, he determined to compose a biography of his own by its assistance, supplemented by independent researches in the Spanish archives. His History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (London, 4 vols.) appeared in 1828, and obtained a merited success. The Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus (Philadelphia, 1831) followed; and a prolonged residence in the south of Spain gave Irving materials for two highly picturesque books, A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada from the MSS. of [an imaginary] Fray Antonio Agapida (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1829), and The Alhambra: a series of tales and sketches of the Moors and Spaniards (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1832). Previous to their appearance he had been appointed secretary to the embassy at London, an office as purely complimentary to his literary ability as the legal degree which he about the same time received from the university of Oxford.
Returning to the United States in 1832, after seventeen years’ absence, he found his name a household word, and himself universally honoured as the first American who had won for his country recognition on equal terms in the literary republic. After the rush of fêtes and public compliments had subsided, he undertook a tour in the western prairies, and returning to the neighbourhood of New York built for himself a delightful retreat on the Hudson, to which he gave the name of “Sunnyside.” His acquaintance with the New York millionaire John Jacob Astor prompted his next important work—Astoria (2 vols., Philadelphia, 1836), a history of the fur-trading settlement founded by Astor in Oregon, deduced with singular literary ability from dry commercial records, and, without laboured attempts at word-painting, evincing a remarkable faculty for bringing scenes and incidents vividly before the eye.