Nat Gould

His life and books

The Selling Plater

First published in 1905 by John Long.

Nat Gould was criticised for writing this novel in which a famous actor died after appearing in a stage performance, as the story was remarkably similar to the actual death of the actor Sir Henry Irving.

It transpired however that Nat had actually finished his manuscript of his book in May 1905, whereas Irving did not die until the following October. Any accusation of bad taste was therefore unjustified. Nat defended himself robustly, taking pride in a letter he had received during May from Sir Henry himself – although that might well have been just a polite acknowledgment of a fan letter.

In a letter to the Publishers' Circular, Nat Gould wrote:

"The book was finished during Sir Henry's season at Drury Lane (in May last). One night, during a performance of Becket, something seemed to tell me our great actor would die during his impersonation of this character. His final scenes were so terribly realistic that I sat spell-bound, almost certain he was going to collapse - this feeling was also experienced by my wife and sons. We were in the stalls and saw clearly every movement and facial expression. Even those acting with him seemed to hover round him, fearing he might fall. In The Selling Plater Austin Delmar dies at the end of "The Merchant of Venice" after playing Shylock. I chose this play, and not Becket, because Sir Henry Irving alone played in the latter, and there were other Shylocks. Becket would have been too "personal"; that is the reason I did not use the name. One critic is doubtful of the good taste of this chapter in my book. Perhaps when he learns I finished the MS. in May and Sir Henry Irving died in October, he will change his opinion. Sir Henry Irving would have been the last to take offence of what on my part was merely a tribute to his wonderful acting -- I may add that when Sir Henry died I was in Brussels; and when I saw the heading announcing he was no more, I was not far off guessing the manner of his death".

There is a full report in the issue of the Middlesex Chronicle dated 2 December 1905.