Sir Henry Irving – The World Mourns

Bradford Daily Telegraph, Monday October  16, 1905.









The death of Sir Henry Irving after his performance in Bradford on Friday night has aroused a truly wonderful outburst of appreciation and affection. We remember nothing like it in the annals of the theatrical profession.

Irving was not only admired as an actor, but he was loved as a man.

Among the messages of sympathy received by the family is one from the King and Queen. There is another from President Roosevelt.

The leading members of the theatrical profession give expression to their grief, and pay tribute to Sir Henry Irving’s genius.

An effort is being made to secure the burial of the remains in Westminster Abbey, but no arrangements regarding the funeral have yet been made.


“I am commanded to convey to Sir Henry Irving’s family His Majesty and the Queen’s sincere sympathy on poor Sir Henry’s death. Their Majesties say he will, indeed, be a great loss to the profession of which he was such a distinguished ornament.

(Signed)                                                                                     DIGHTON PROBYN


Mr Bram Stoker’s Affecting Narrative


Mr Bram Stoker, who has been closely associated with Sir Henry for over a quarter of century, gave to a representative of the “Daily Telegraph” the following account of his friend’s last hours.

Sir Henry was not ill in Bradford, but on the second day of his visit he looked very weak. He was entertained at luncheon by the Mayor, and in entering the dining hall he seemed to feel some difficulty in going up the steep steps. He, however, got through his speech all right, although some of those who sat near him at the table were a little concerned at his lack of physical strength. That night he played “Louis XI.,” and did not appear any the worse of it, but next morning he seemed very weak, and at night in his dressing room, was less inclined to begin dressing than I had ever seen him. He played “The Bells” as usual, excellently and vigorously, but at the end of the performance he seemed thoroughly exhausted – so much so that we arranged that he should not play “The Bells” for the remainder of the tour. Accordingly Mr Loveday, the stage manager, and I had a meeting with him next day(Friday), and arranged for the rest of the tour what plays were to be taken, where, and in what sequence.

Sir Henry seemed greatly relieved at being released from so arduous a part and was quite cheerful. That night when he came down to the theatre he looked a great deal stronger, and was so cheery that we took it for granted that whatever had been wrong with him had passed, and that he was getting accustomed to the continuous stress of work after having been out of the bill for three months. We chatted for a while after the play, and I left him, not notably strong, nor in any way cast down, and not more exhausted than had been usual for some time.

A little more than three quarters of an hour afterwards, I was sent for by the man who had attended Sir Henry from the theatre, who told me that he had fainted or collapsed on entering the Midland Hotel. Hurrying down I found Sir Henry lying in the hall – dead. He had been dead for about two minutes. The actual time of his death was about ten minutes to 12, and while I was attempting to gather some details the chimes of midnight sounded.

Two doctors were with him when he died, although they had not been present at his seizure. They said he had died from syncope. We had him carried up to his room and laid on the bed. They told me from the moment he sank down he had never been conscious, that he suffered no pain and that the end was peaceful. No man could have died a better or a simpler death. He had evidently braced himself to his work, and he carried it through triumphantly to the last.

So far as I know Henry Irving – and I was his intimate friend, companion, and fellow worker for 27 years – I cannot imagine any form of death which he would have chosen in preference. Had he died on the stage, as might have happened, it would have given shock and bitter memory to many tender hearts. As it was he had done his work – well – and when silence came it was silence only between himself and God.

I should like to say that the conduct of everybody in Bradford, from the highest official to the smallest worker, was such as to be an honour to any city. The Mayor Ald. Priestley who had entertained Sir Henry two days before, was away on business, but he immediately telegraphed to his deputy – because they wished to do the honour to the dead as a city as well as individuals – and ex Mayor Lupton showed an amount of personal consideration and kindness which is beyond all speech. Throughout the city bells were tolled and flags were flown at half mast. Saturday night is not usually quiet in cities like Bradford, but I have never in my life seen anything like the silent crowd through which we passed when we left the hotel to drive to the station. The streets round about were filled with a sea of faces. Not a word was spoken – not even any of the casual expressions that are sometimes heard from the less thinking individuals in a crowd. Only sobs came from the packed mass of men and women. Those of us who saw and heard can never forget it – we never want to.

It is impossible to describe the many instances of personal grief which were seen round the death chamber. Members of Sir Henry’s company, many friends, some of old standing, some of recent, all showed a depth of feeling such as is only called forth by strong affection. One of the most touching incidents was the visit of the workmen of the company, who came in a body before the closing of the coffin. After a minute or two in the room they left, a silent procession, the shoulders of all bowed in sorrow, their eyes wet with the silent tears of strong men.


Pathetic Scenes at Bradford Station.

Amidst many manifestations of deep sorrow the remains of the late Sir Henry Irving were conveyed from Bradford on Saturday night to the late actor’s chambers in Stratton Street, London. An effort was made to keep the time of removal as quiet as possible. “The Telegraph”, however, on Saturday announced the times of the departure from the Midland Hotel and the station, and this brought together a large concourse of people. Shortly before nine o clock a large crowd had gathered in front of the Midland Hotel, including many influential Bradford personages. There was a strong desire manifested for a civic procession through the town to the Exchange Station, but on being approached on the subject Mr H B Irving intimated that he preferred no ceremony whatever. As the coffin, conveying all that was mortal of the great tragedian, was borne to the hearse in waiting, the crowd very reverently uncovered their heads, and many expressions of sympathy were heard. It was, indeed, an affecting spectacle. A popular idol was being borne away from earthly ken. The remains were conveyed slowly to the Exchange Station to the 9.55 Great Northern train. The precincts of the Station were crowded , and the greatest respect was shown by all present as the coffin was placed in the van adjoining the special coaches engaged for the party. The platform was reserved for specially privileged persons, and there were present a number of prominent citizens and all the members of the company who had remained in Bradford. Prior to the departure of the train many touching incidents were witnessed in front of the compartment where the coffin had been reverently placed. Mr William Wade, as President of the Bradford Amateur Operatic Society, had placed a beautiful cross on the coffin, and other floral tributes were put in the van from the Bradford theatre managers and others. For many of those assembled it was truly a time of deep sorrow. Mr F Tyars, who had been associated with Irving for over forty years, and had shared in his all his greatest successes, was in a pitiable state. Words of cheer were spoken to him by Mr Lawrence Irving, and it was with great difficulty that the old actor was supported till the train had moved away. Amongst those present on the platform were Mr W.C. Lupton, Mr Wm. Wade representing the Bradford Amateur Operatic Society, Mr S. Midgley, representing the Mayor of Bradford (Ald.W.E.B Priestley), Dr. Carroll, Dr. Rabagliati, Mr.  John Hart, the Chief Constable (Mr. Joe Farndale), Mr. Percival Craig (manager Empire Theatre), Mr. P. Saunders (Deputy Town Clerk), Mr. H.C. Derwent, Mr Sheldon, Ald. Peel, and several members of the Corporation and public men; also Mr. Henry Matthews, stationmaster at the Exchange Station. A few minutes before the departure the two sons took their leave of the company present and as the train left the platform all present bared their heads as a last token of respect for the departed guest. The crowd were easily controlled by a company of police constables under the command of Chief Supt. Ackroyd and Inspector Holmes – indeed as Mr. Bram Stoker points out, the attitude of the people of Bradford was kindly and sympathetic in the extreme.



“Henry Irving has died the death that everyone would wish him – that he would have wished for himself – a death peaceful, painless and triumphant. The echoes of the plaudits showered on him by an enthusiastic public must have been still ringing in his ears. It is a comforting reflection to all of us who knew him well. He belonged to the theatre absolutely – he lived for it, he died for it, for undoubtedly work killed him.”


“I mourn the death of a dear friend, the world loses its greatest artist; and to the stage the loss is irreparable.”


“I feel that I have lost my dearest friend, the most gentle and loving man I ever met. I feel my loss so greatly that I cannot express myself. I am very ill; and am quite heartbroken.”


“The death of our friend and comrade gives us a sorrow too deep for words.”


“Sir Henry Irving’s influence as an actor and manager can be traced in every serious theatre in London. He was the greatest actor of our time, the most wonderful stage manager and producer of plays and his record at the Lyceum has never been equalled. I am proud to have served so great a master and so true a gentleman.”


“I share with all my colleagues in profound regret at the loss of our distinguished comrade. We lose in him a great man and a great actor. His striking individuality was merged in the character he portrayed, and this is assuredly the actor’s highest achievement. He leaves honoured successors in his two sons.”


“We have lost.” said Mr. J. Forbes Robertson in the course of an interview, “one whom we can never replace. The news of his death has so stunned me that I can hardly speak of him. He was the most distinguished member of our calling in this country or any other country of all time. Yes, of all time. From what we know and what we read of the great actors of the past, I do not hesitate to say that Irving will be ranked the greatest. For he was not only supreme in the art of an actor, but he was supreme in the art of the poet, and supreme in the art of the artist. He was moreover, one of the most noble and most loveable of men. I don’t suppose that the extent of his private benefactions – the story of his great good heartedness to any and every case of trouble brought before him – will ever be known. I am but one in the profession of the actor alone whom he has helped and encouraged. And now he is dead. Then let him be buried in the Abbey or St.Paul’s. His funeral should be that of the greatest of men”


Mr. F. R. Benson, speaking at the Bath Theatre Royal, at the close of a week’s visit to the city, referred to the death of Sir Henry Irving. He said they behind the curtain, and he believed, some among the audience, were grieving at the loss of a noble and well loved leader. He need not labour or try to add any tribute as to the imagination and poetry which he brought to bear on the work with which he please so many thousands of his fellowmen and women. He need not, he thought add his humble testimony to the high courage and endeavour, strenuous endeavour, of the great man’s life. He need not say anything of the courage, nobility, and high ideals which Sir Henry professed, and which he acted up to during his life. They were the common property and the common pride of the public as well as the profession. It was only they who had the privilege of knowing anything of the private side of the man, of the large heartedness, large mindedness, gentle patience, and tender affection of which he was capable, the unswerving belief he had in the nobility of the mission of his calling and the boundless and absolute secret charity which it was his pleasure to administer whatever and whenever he could.”


Mr Martin Harvey, at the close of the play, “The Only Way” at Newcastle upon Tyne Theatre Royal on Saturday night, said: The news is so sudden, the loss so irreparable, and our sorrow so profound, that I dare not trust myself to speak to any great extent of that terrible loss tonight. There is so much that I should like to say. I had the inestimable privilege of being under his splendid guidance for many years, and from him I learnt all of what little I know of my art, and whilst under him, also, the reverence I have for my calling. It is impossible for me to say that all that there is in my heart at this moment. I know I speak to sympathetic ears when I say the memory of that great man will be enshrined in the hearts of all those who loved him through his work.

All other leading British actors send messages.


Miss Ellen Terry, who appeared at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Birmingham, last week, was so affected by the news of Sir Henry’s death that she was unable to appear on Saturday night.  She declined to see any interviewers but sent the following message:

‘I have nothing to say except that I know all this has happened as he wished. In full possession of his faculties, he worked to the very last. It rejoices me that he finished his evening’s work. His last words upon the stage were “Through night to light – into Thy hands, O God, into Thy hands”

His last expressed wish – the wish of his life – was for a municipal theatre – a theatre where everything shall be of the highest order, where the standard of true drama, as distinguished from miscellaneous entertainments, which would be successfully upheld. The realisation of this wish should be a fitting monument.”


The following message has been received by the family of Sir Henry Irving from M. Jules Claretie, Director of the Comedy Francaise, Paris: – “Henry Irving, fils, Londres- Toutes mes pensees tristesse, tous les sentiments affliges de la Comedie Francaise prient dire quand derniers hommages seront rendus a votre cher pere – Jules Claretie.”


“I have played “Hamlet” and “Othello” but only from seeing Irving play and I really understood Shakespeare. Every time I went to London he received me with that charm and grace which were so characteristic of the man. There was magnetism in his aspect that was arresting. He was not only a great tragedian but a great comedian. I regret that I did not know Irving more intimately. We have sat and conversed but through an interpreter, as I did not know English and he did not know French.”


“It was with profound emotion that I learnt of his death. I knew that his health had been indifferent for some time, but I did not think that the end was so near. I have long admired his energy and great merit. He was indeed a great man.

From his letters I judged him to be an extremely courteous man, a gentleman in every sense of the term.”