Henry Irving

Sir Henry Irving (1838–1905), born John Henry Brodribb, English actor, and pupil of F. M. Alexander.


Irving started acting in 1856 and made his London début ten years later. It was his success in The Bells in London (1871) which secured his reputation. (Note, that Alexander saw Walter Bentley in the lead role in The Bells in Melbourne in 1891 which inspired him to write a poem called ‘The Dream of Matthias the Burgomaster’[1]). With his Shakespearian rôles Irving gained his reputation as the greatest English actor of his time. He is reported to have had ‘a striking presence and flair for interpreting the subtler emotions’ which made him successful in the portrayal of ‘static characters such as Shylock and Malvolio.’[2] He was actor and manager of the Lyceum in London (1878–1899) during which time he also had his famous theatrical partnership with Ellen Terry. He toured Canada and the USA several times. Irving wrote The Drama (1893) and published an edition of Shakespeare’s plays (1888). He became the first actor to receive a knighthood (1895). Of his sons, Henry Brodribb Irving, was also an actor and a pupil of Alexander.[3] [4]

Connection with Alexander

In an advertisement flyer F. M. Alexander quotes a letter received from the ‘late Sir Henry Irving’:[5]

19th January 1905

Dear Mr Alexander,

I am sorry that for a time I am obliged to suspend my interesting experience. I am sure your method makes only for good, and I look forward to an opportunity of meeting you again. With all good wishes,

(Signed) HY. Irving

Sir Henry Irving  *6 February 1838 – †13 October 1905.

See also Henry Brodribb Irving.


[1] Up From Down Under by Rosslyn McLeod (Mouritz, 2017), pp. 57–59; 199-201.
[2] Magnus Magnusson (ed.), Chambers Biographical Dictionary (1993), p. 761.
[3] P. Hartnoll (ed.), The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre (1972), p. 267.
[4] Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), endnote 148, p. 311.
[5] Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), back of jacket.