4 NOVEMBER 1905, Page 11



SI31,—Your correspondent " Onlooker " in your issue of October 28th is under a very erroneous impression if he thinks that Sir Henry Irving owes to his dramatic euthanasia the honour which, had he died in more prosaic fashion, would have been refused to him. The Dean of West- minster is not the man to be imposed upon by "the hysterical exclamation of a comrade overcome with sudden grief," or even by a chorus of popular lamentation. Inter- ment in the Abbey involves a species of secular canonising, at which I can assure your correspondent that the advocatus diaboli gets an indulgent hearing, and no pains are spared to arrive at a wise decision. The check which "Onlooker" would fain put upon the action of the Abbey authorities by the appointment of an outside Committee virtually exists in the demand that the Dean shall be approached in every case by the most competent witnesses. I have had thirty years' experience of Abbey funerals, under the reigns of three successive Deans, and I have never known a grave to be granted except in answer to a memorial bearing signatures entitled to the highest consideration. In the case of Sir Henry Irving the memorial presented to the Dean bore the names, not only of the acknowledged leaders of the dramatic world, but of persons of great distinction in many professions and callings, who well understood the exceptional character of the honour applied for, and were not at all likely to be carried away by the feelings of the moment. Against the deliberate opinion of these eminent persons "Onlooker" ventures to set his own, tells us that "it is not easy to discover the national service rendered to the Empire," that Irving "honourably followed an honourable calling, but for private gain," that "nothing that he did can live or benefit posterity," that "he was a favourite actor, and that is all." To have raised the English stage to a higher position than it ever occupied before, and to have improved incalculably the status of his profession, are, I maintain, services of the highest value, with which he has

been willingly, credited both at home and abroad, even by those who cared least for his acting. That he acted "for private gain" is an objection which hardly calls for serious notice, unless it can be shown that his neighbours in Poets' Corner refused pay for their performances, or scorned lucrative bargains with their publishers. It is notorious, however, that Irving was the least mercenary of men. "Private gain" entered only too little into his thoughts. We are told that when producing a play he spent lavishly in pursuit of his ideal, pouring out his money without stint for the sake of beauty and completeness where a more prudent manager would have economised. "Onlooker" appears, strangely enough, to expect a great actor to leave behind him something that will "live or benefit posterity." But the actor's power to do this is limited indeed. His work, like that of the singer or the instrumentalist, is essentially ephemeral, and his fame in after days must rest upon tradition. What did Garrick leave behind him P Only a great reputation. And Irving's right to the place allotted to his remains must be judged of in days to come by the recorded consensus of those who were best fitted to appreciate his gifts, and the influence exerted by him in the course of his long and strenuous career. I may explain that cremation rendered possible the interment of his remains only a few inches below the Abbey pavement, and in the most appropriate spot, where it would have been im- possible to dig a grave of ordinary depth without injury to the foundations of the building.—I am, Sir, &c., R. DtrerwonTH, Sub-Dean. Westminster Abbey.