Henry Irvine, The Farewell Tour, 1905

Sir,  Henry Irving – Retirement

Henry Irving’s retirement was planned to coincide with having completed fifty years on the stage.  Henry himself  made the announcement on June 1, 1904 at a supper given to him by the Manchester Arts Club.  Having made his intentions known publicly, this gave Henry two years in which to bid farewell, although this time span at first appeared generous it was in fact an ambitious plan.   There would only be 40 working weeks  per year and of those 30 would be taken up in America and Canada, the provinces requiring three tours of  twelve weeks each.

Farewell tour

Plans were made, the best towns were picked in sequence to minimise railway travel between each.   Cardiff was the first venue followed by Swansea, whereupon completion of the play, the audience remained seated and at one began to sing, the strains of  Newman’s Hymn, “Lead Kindly Light,” filled the theatre, followed by the Welsh national anthem, “Hen fwlad fen Hadne”  - “Land of my fathers.”     Irving was touched to tears,  after the final cheering by the audience,  Henry went back to his dressing room, his face still wet from his emotion.

Henry first appeared in Sunderland in 1856, the City now wished to honour him publicly with a banquet on October 28, 1904.  This visit  brought back special memories for Henry and he left delighted at the affection shown to him from the City where he made his first appearance.

Spring 1905

The next part of the provincial tour was arranged for the spring of 1905,  beginning in Portsmouth it was to complete in Wigan, on the 8th of April.   It was not to be,  Henry was to be taken prematurely ill,  despite persevering with the dates, his collapse at his Waterloo hotel led to the end the tour some days later at Wolverhampton, mid March.  Bram Stoker, visited Henry on March 17, whilst still in Wolverhampton.  After  consulting with the doctors Stoker postponed  the American tour till the following year.

Having secured rest at Torquay, Henry felt well enough to press on, the next appointment being a short 6 week season at Drury Lane beginning on the 29th of April.  The season was made up of three weeks of  Becket, two weeks of  The Merchant of Venice, ending with three nights of Louis XI, all went well and despite his illness early in the year,  was non the worse.

Autumn Tour

The Autumn tour was fixed for ten and a half weeks, beginning at Sheffield on 2nd of October, the tour started off  exceedingly well, on 3rd October Sheffield Lord Mayor, Sir Joseph Jonas, gave a banquet for Henry  at the town hall.  On 7th October he played to a full house where the enthusiasm touched Henry as he said farewell.


Henry  along with his manager Bram Stoker, travelled to Bradford, booking into the Midland Railway Hotel,  Sunday October 8, Henry had less than a week to live…

Despite his company being used to a little feebleness on occasion  in Henry, it was never displayed on stage and Monday and Tuesday performances at the Theatre Royal, Manningham Lane, went off without any problems.  At around 1pm On Wednesday,  Bram Stoker, went to meet Henry at the Midland Hotel,  Henry was to be given a luncheon in his  honour  by the Mayor, Mr Priestley, at Bradford’s Town Hall.    Stoker noted Henry was very feeble that morning, climbing the Town Hall steps he paused a couple of times regaining his breath,  Irvine publicly, had become adept at hiding these little moments, he would shift the focus by making conversation,  this would give him the necessary time  to recompose.   The luncheon passed without incident,  as always Henry Irvine captivated his audience despite appearing slightly feeble.

Thursday October 12, was the night Stoker dreaded, The Bells,  he had been at the Midland Hotel with Henry on the morning and completed all work with satisfaction despite remaining in a feeble condition.  When Henry arrived at the Theatre Royal, Stoker ever the friend noticed him to be even more frail, though not ill.  On this night he did what he had never done before, he hesitated and delayed his change into costume, however on the stage, he did not let his adoring public down.   It was only afterwards that he let Stoker see just how thoroughly exhausted he was.  It was then that his faithful friend Bram, gave instructions that, The  Bells, be sent back to London..

Friday  October 13, 1905

Despite appearing undoubtedly feeble, when he met Bram Stoker and Loveday, at the Midland Hotel on Friday the 13th, Henry appeared calm and cheerful despite The Bells, being sent back to London.  When he appeared at the Theatre that night he gave the impression of being much stronger and infinitely more cheerful than of late.  He played well however, on this occasion there was no speech, the last words he spoke on stage were Becket’s Last words in the play, “Into Thy hands O Lord! into Thy hands!”    Bram Stoker,  sat with him afterwards where they chatted quite normally, stoker believed him to be on the mend having turned the corner .

Last Words

As the  two friends parted going out of  the theatre, Henry said to Bram, ” button up your throat, old chap.  It is bitterly cold to-night and you have a cold.  Take care of yourself ! Good – night 1 God bless you ! ”  Those were the last words that Bram ever heard Henry Irvine Speak..