Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"The Most Beautiful Name in the World"

"Ellen Terry is the most beautiful name in the world; it rings like a chime through the last quarter of the nineteenth century."
-- George Bernard Shaw

Today is the birthday of the actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928) and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography marks the occasion by making her its "Life of the Day."

As the acting partner of Henry Irving at London's Lyceum Theatre, Terry achieved her greatest distinction in Shakespeare, especially in Shakespearian comedy, although she also excelled in other roles. Her portrayal of Queen Henrietta Maria in W.G. Wills's drama Charles I (1879) so entranced Oscar Wilde that he wrote the following sonnet in her honor:

In the lone tent, waiting for victory,
She stands with eyes marred by the mists of pain,
Like some wan lily overdrenched with rain:
The clamorous clang of arms, the ensanguined sky,
War's ruin, and the wreck of chivalry
To her proud soul no common fear can bring:
Bravely she tarrieth for her Lord the King,
Her soul a-flame with passionate ecstasy.
O Hair of Gold! O Crimson Lips! O Face
Made for the luring and the love of man!
With thee I do forget the toil and stress,
The loveless road that knows no resting place,
Time's straitened pulse, the soul's dread weariness,
My freedom, and my life republican!

They don't write fan mail like that anymore.

Shown here: John Singer Sargeant, Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889; Tate Britain (read more about this painting)

Related links:

The Henry Irving Archive: Digital Resouces for Scholars and Students This comprehensive site has a number of biographical sources for Terry and a large image gallery.

Online exhibition: Ellen Terry at the Family Records Centre, London
The documents that make up this online exhibition help untangle a complicated life story that included three marriages and a further relationship that produced two children.

Smallhythe Place
Ellen Terry's house in Tenterden, Kent, is a National Trust property open to visitors from March to October.


Don B said...


Ellen Terry was also the highlighted person on the National Portrait Gallery daily on-line selection at

With best wishes,

Don Barton
University of Worcester
19th Century Studies Post-graduate Student

Kristan Tetens said...

Thanks very much for letting me know that and for reading the blog.

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