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When various friends of mine came to Tours he always received them as cordially as if they had been his own. I introduced him to one friend a Red Cross worker - who prided herself on her French accent, which really was extremely good. After she had left I commented to France on her accent. "Yes," he said, "she speaks French too well."
These were the hard times of the war. Mademoiselle knew little of how to procure the necessities of life. Hampered by her illness, France was incapable of looking out for himself. He had no coal and his house was freezing. Half the time he had no flour or other essential provisions. Yet in the midst of complaints concerning the discomforts of war, he would branch out into cultural conversation. When, for instance, I brought him some white bread, which few in France had eaten in three years, tears came to his eyes. A minute afterward he was seeking to collate an edition of "Candide" that I had also
brought to him. I suppose that a mind so steeped in the arts could not long be hampered by the events of life which to the ordinary individual seem so important. I met him in Tours one day, sobbing. He told me that his daughter had just died. They had been estranged for several years and France, with his customary negligence of the daily tasks, had let slip a possible reconciliation. He deplored this fact, then remarked that after all, even though one were sad, one forgot quickly. He corroborated this by adding that, grief stricken as he was, he had eaten a delightful lunch - he even remembered the pleasures of a savory cassoulet. Whereupon he discoursed on the excellencies of the cuisine in southern France.
When the false armistice was ru
mored, I found France in Madame Tridon's bookshop in Tours. It was his custom to go into the back of this shop and discourse on almost every subject before a crowd of admiring villagers. On that day he was delighted that peace had been signed, though embittered, as usual, because he seemed to see his country's ruin as well. A few minutes afterward, with his great love of literature, he began talking to me about Racine and went into ecstasies over some batiks I showed him
he had never seen any before. When the real armistice came along the little town of Tours celebrated it with a nocturnal parade. I dined with France and Mademoiselle and later we watched the fireworks from the balcony of the hotel to which he had moved on account of the coal shortage. Tears came to his eyes at the thought that peace was at last imminent. For France was always a pacifist, though a Frenchman at heart. At the beginning of the war, in spite of advanced age, he had volunteered. Later he had written two books on the war which by their very shortness suggested that he loathed war. He finally came to believe that the war was being continued for the betterment of the profiteers and he wrote me the following dedication in "Sur la Voie Glorieuse":
WHAT OUR DEAD SAY
But in December 1916, hearing that Austria had made peace propositions that had been kept secret by the allied governments, from then on I kept silence, being unwilling to make myself an accomplice to men who were either cupidinous or fanatical and who were continuing a war the necessity of which no longer appeared to
I saw very little of France for a while after the armistice, since he went to take a cure at St. Cloud. But before leaving, with his thoroughgoing kindness and thoughtfulness, he gave
He was staying at St. Cloud with his great friends the Couchouds, trying to build up his strength which had been weakened by the war. He had become very much interested in a new phase of spiritualism, and showed me various pictures taken through mediums. At this time, a company had formed to produce moving pictures of some of his books. France rather marveled at the movies but put little faith in them. This is quite easy to understand. 'His books do not readily lend themselves to the screen, since so much in them depends on the style and the philosophy.
Presently France returned to Tours, and the fortunes of peace sent me back there as well. I readily gave up the gaieties of Paris for the pleasure of renewing my delightful visits to La Bechellerie. It was thoroughly stimulating to hear France discussing life, art, and literature, and making cynically apt remarks about everything. One day, when we were talking of women, he remarked that Pasiphae was less reprehensible than Lady Macbeth, for she at least had had physical pleasure in her sin, whereas Lady Macbeth had been prompted merely by the lust of ambition. As to death, he said, in effect: Life in itself is so wonderful that had we, before birth, the knowledge of life's beauty and death's inevitability, we would choose not to live, because of the pain of giving up life.
At this period my military career became irksome to me, and I began to think of how I might get my discharge in France. We discussed this matter frequently. Finally France, in his modest way, said that perhaps my commanding officer had heard of him, and might help me get my discharge were he to think that France needed me. Consequently he penned the following letter, with its obvious fiction:
decided to write immediately the book on DEAR EDWARD WASSERMANN: Having America about which I have spoken to you so often, I beg that you come to me as soon have promised me. as possible to serve as my secretary as you
I cannot do without you to accomplish this great task.
Unfortunately I have no right other than my favorable sentiments toward America to solicit your demobilization of your superiors, but as soon as you are free I count on you to take your position of secretary with me.
Dear E. W. I cordially shake your hand.
Of the French Academy.
Needless to say, it was over two months before I regained my liberty. By this time spring had come and I had arranged a two day leave to Paris. France told me that he would be motoring up himself, and I delayed my departure for his. One morning he, Mademoiselle, and I started out bright and early, driving through the graceful hills of the Loire Valley. France commented on the beauty of nature and on the suavity of the landscape. But soon he was off quoting Racine, one of his favorite authors, whom he knew almost entirely by heart. At about noon we neared Chartres. We left Mademoiselle at the hotel and started, as was his wont, to hunt old books and antiques. We found a modest bookseller with a rather uninteresting line of musty wares. France kept darting from one pile to another, taking out book after book; just as a sparrow, with
Nowy avons reçu joyentement voy beav présents. Now ! je n' avang
pricieuse édition the la Henriade. in cette pièce introuvable fail lorg de l'avènement de Louis XVI. Quant
La boite, mademoiselle Emma l'et
qui de n avail
d'une de ses poudreuses.
a du a
pris celle. Ia sang remords, après avoir longtemps contemple' l'ostean perché
Nous vous embrastons.
pieds de Maden in fella at mademoiselle Emma..
vole charmante hear,
perfonne la play accomplie qu'che
Facsimile of the Letter Translated on Page 202.
his head inquisitively perched to one side, pecks at and leaps from crumb to crumb. Naturally we were late for lunch. Afterward, reluctantly (we had heard there were other shops that had escaped us), we continued on our route to Paris, for Mademoiselle insisted upon our arriving there before evening. Before leaving Chartres, however, we took a hurried view of the famous Cathedral. France described to me the beauties of the low reliefs depicting the stages of the Cross, and ended by admitting that Christianity must have been a great religion to inspire so many great artists.
During my stay in Paris my sister and I called on France, and he presented her with a most interesting objet d'art. It was a tile from the floor of the Borgia's apartment in the Vatican. France (old satyr that he was) told us that on these floors had taken place the famous incident in which the Pope, his family and friends, stood on a balcony and threw down some oranges to a host of naked girls. This fruit was then being grown in Italy for the first time and the novelty inspired the fair damsels to a wanton game of catch-ascatch-can.
At about this time there came to me the following letter:
GREETINGS, HAPPY NEW YEAR, MY SON.
We received joyously your beautiful presents. No! I did not have that rare and precious edition of "La Henriade" nor that unfindable article made at the time of the accession to the throne of Louis XVI. As to the box, Mademoiselle Emma remembered that she did not have a tortoise shell box for patches to go with the garniture of one of her poudreuses and she remorselessly took yours after contemplating for a long time the little bird perched on a bough which ornaments the cover.
We embrace you.
I lay myself at the feet of Miss Wassermann, and Mademoiselle Emma tells me that your charming sister is the most accomplished person she has ever known.
After my discharge I spent some time in traveling, but would frequently take a trip to Tours, where I found France most pessimistic because Mademoiselle was very ill. He would weep and tell me that if anything happened to her he would undoubtedly commit suicide, that life without her was impossible. But then again his love of literature would burst forth, and he would lead me enthusiastically to his library to collate my first editions of Voltaire or to show me a new design of Prud'hon, one of his favorite artists.
In August I spent a weekend at La Bechellerie. Mademoiselle was still ill and France was not too cheerful, but he talked about many things — love, art, de Musset, or Rodin. I had noticed that Rodin's collection of Greek art was rather ugly. France declared that Rodin had ugly antiques intentionally, in order to show that his own statues were more beautiful.
It was a delightful weekend. France was revising "Le Lys Rouge" but was only too glad to find an excuse to wander around his place, either fixing a twig of ivy or admiring a bush, and then breaking off into some classical quotation. I was reluctant to take my departure. The morning I left, France came down to awaken me and we chatted for a while almost as father and son. Then, after breakfast, he motored me to the station and waved a friendly farewell, for I was leaving for America.
I went abroad again in 1920, and was delighted to learn that France had returned to Paris and was living once more at the Villa Said. I rushed to see him. He was gradually fixing up the house, and I found him engaged in hanging pictures and placing furniture. He despaired of ever getting his home livable again and bewailed the fact that his books had been mixed with those of
Mademoiselle Laprévotte. From then on I used to see him every morning, when we would hang pictures and discuss prints and events in my life - for his, he said, was over. His friend Prouté, who owned a shop on the Rive Gauche, would come over from time to time with various drawings. France was particularly fond of early Italian drawings and French eighteenth century prints, including those of the little known Vivant Denon about whom he even wrote an opuscule. Steinlen would frequently saunter in, always with pencil and paper in hand, and as we chatted he would draw innumerable sketches of France.
France's life was very simple. He would get up late, rummage around the house in the morning, and after lunch and a nap would go out for a drive to Versailles, where he once owned a house, to St. Cloud to visit his friends the Couchouds, or even across the Seine to his beloved print shops and bookshops. Occasionally, he would enter the social world, but very rarely
he was too old for such frivolity, he announced. However, he came to me for tea to meet Claude Farrère, because Farrère was on good terms with the naval authorities. France was at the moment engaged in helping out some youngster whose liberal views had got him into trouble in the navy. Then again, we drove out into the Bois for tea. And once I took him to an all night restaurant to show him the modern dances, which enchanted him, and to the Casino de Paris where the gorgeous revue also pleased him tremendously. He was equally impressed by the behavior of an American woman in our party whose intolerance made her condemn a beautiful Negress in the revue. Such bigotry clashed with France's democratic and æsthetic views.
His character, as I knew it, had as many sides as his great genius. He was above all the personification of kindness, with a tremendous sense of the brotherhood of man. For instance, even when he was feeble he would not allow his servant to put on his shoes, because he said that was debasing a brother of his. He was keen to the utmost degree; from some slight conversation he could reach a person's fundamental character. He was apt to be rather moody and suffer fits of great depression, for instance if Mademoiselle were ill; yet so changeable was his nature that he would immediately forget his troubles in a discussion of art. He very seldom lost his temper; when he did, he quickly regained control and laughed at the stupid thing that had aroused his anger. He was ever ready to help anyone in need, and his greatest interest besides intellectual pursuits was in trying to shape humanity toward better results. He was a pacifist during the war because he hated to see men suffer, as may be shown by speeches he made from time to time.
France had no use for Clemenceau, whom he reproached for having so frequently changed parties. He was very friendly to Caillaux, the minister who has recently been allowed to return to Paris after being absolved by the Herriot government of the wartime charge of having carried on communications with Germany to establish peace. France always declared that Caillaux was the cleverest politician in France and that he, for one, would prefer the rule of a clever rascal to that of some upright fool. When some woman, knowing his friendship for the imprisoned minister, said that she pitied Caillaux because he must be suffering, France remarked that suffering was only relative, and corroborated this statement by adding that a small boy,