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Nous avons reçus joyentement présents. Now! je n' avais pas
pricieuse édition the la Meuriade. in cette pièce introuvable fails lors de l'avènement de Louis XVI. Quant la boste, mademoisele Emma 'et
qui due n avail
à mone has
d'une de ses poudreuses.
pris celle. I'a sang remords, après avoir longtemps contemple' l'ostean perché
Nous vous embrastons.
one le couvercle.
at mademorsche Emma-
qu'elle of vole charmante bear, ди
performe la play accomplic
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. 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,
when he saw a couple locked in amorous embrace, also said, "How they must be suffering." His humor was really delightful though, to say the least, as broad as might be expected of one with his infinite tolerance.
France was averse to discussing his own work. He always stated that he hated to write and that it was a terrible effort for him, since he had to work over each phrase until it became almost perfect. He was very partial to "L'Histoire Comique", which never enjoyed as much popularity as most of his other books. It was more or less suggested by a love affair which France had with an actress during his South American trip, and I think he liked it for that reason. He was also very fond of "Le Révolte des Anges", but rather looked down on his earlier "Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard" which had gained him admission to the French Academy. Academy days were things of the past, because of Madame de Caillavet's death and even more because his free political ideas were viewed askance by this ultra conservative body. He cared for his more personal books and often talked to me of "Le Petit Pierre" which appeared while I was seeing him. His second published book, an essay on Alfred de Vigny, seemed negligible to him and he was surprised when I showed him a copy I had unearthed. He was never very much impressed by his prefaces to various of the classics republished in a collected form as "Le Génie Latin", but this was probably due to the fact that Lemerre, the editor, forced him to write them at such a starvation fee that finally France sued him. He was very fond of all his philosophical books such as "Le Jardin d'Epicure", "Sur la Pierre Blanche", and "Crainquebille". He was inclined rather to underrate his most popular book, "La Rôtisserie de la Reine
Pédauque". He liked "Le Lys Rouge" and was very partial to "Clio", which, as well as many of his short stories, he wrote to prove how different history seems in the process of formation from what it appears later on.
France always found interest in talking about other writers. "Proust", said he to me, "is too long and life is too short and I feel that I have no time to waste in reading him." He considered Abel Hermant the best of the living novelists and was fond also of Daudet. He admired the beautiful style of Villiers and of Barbey d'Aurévilly, and said that when Farrère published "L'Homme qui Assassina" anonymously it was so well written that many people thought he had written it himself. He was not blind to his friends' faults, and never overpraised Pierre Mille, Ségur, Louis Barthou, or Michel Corday, even though the last named was one of his most intimate friends. He liked Corday, he said, for his character, not for his work, and was loath to understand how the latter could be so inferior to the former. He considered Flaubert a truly great author. Mallarmé with his Impressionism remained incomprehensible to him, and Coppée he thought absolutely bereft of talent. He admired Zola as a psychologist but not as a writer. Hugo he considered somewhat old fashioned, though he admired his beautiful verse. De Musset he found delightful. But, after all, it was the ancients that France loved best.
In the spring of 1920 the first signs of his illness began. One morning I found him in a semi-delirious condition. Mademoiselle did not know what to do so I went out for a doctor, who said that France was overtired. A rest was prescribed which in a few days restored him to health. One day I took him to one of my favorite restaurants, run by
a woman called Madame Coconnier. She came up to our table to greet me, and when I introduced France to her she very politely said, "I am delighted to make your acquaintance. It seems to me I've heard about you." France accepted this eulogy with his customary simplicity. Another day lunched at the top of the Butte with Steinlen and a group of journalists from the Midi. France was charmed to be with this band of young men and was the life of the party, joking with everyone and drinking several glasses with us a rather rare happening, for he claimed to be no longer able to stand much wine. Of course, when he refrained it was not for ethical reasons. Indeed, he used to tell me that it was a good idea to go out and get drunk once a month and then rejoice in a hangover until the next month.
About the middle of the summer I went on an extended trip through Italy and Spain, returning to Paris only in September. France was back in St. Cloud taking a rest cure. When I went out there he told me that he was going to be married. I was much surprised until I learned that he was taking this step because, according to French law, he could not leave Mademoiselle any of his property unless they were married; otherwise it would have to go to his first wife whom he had divorced years before. Soon afterward he went back to Tours, and I started to prepare for my return to America. On October eleventh I followed him down there to see him married. eve of this event we spent together chatting about what was going to become of me, for I was reluctant to return to America. Then he told me of his youth, how he had been loath to do any work whatsoever, and how finally, driven to it by necessity, he had
started out on the career which was, he said, to culminate in his present marriage. Whereupon we drank several bumpers to the coming event. He told me that it was so long since he had signed his real name (Thibault) that he was really unable to spell it and at the Mairie had been forced to ask whether it had an "It" or a "d" at the end.
The wedding morn, as wedding morns should be, was sunny and bright. At about eleven o'clock we motored up to La Bechellerie. The wedding party formed there and the guests went halfway down the hill to the Mairie of Saint Cyr. The Mayor made a speech, the contract was signed, a delegation of women Socialists wished the couple all sorts of happiness. France thanked them in a few words broken by emotion, and we returned to his house for the wedding breakfast. There were seventeen people at the marriage - the Baronne Dubreton whom I had presented to France and whose love of Racine as much as her charming personality had completely won him over, her daughter, the Dubiaus who kept a department store in Tours, the Mignons, a country doctor and his wife, the Couchouds, the Calmann-Lévys (his publishers), the Kahns (Mr. Kahn looked after France's business details), the Cordays, the bride and groom, and myself. After a lunch of delicacies which Mademoiselle in her pride as housekeeper and wife had had sent down from Paris, washed down by many delightful glasses of Vouvray and champagne, we wandered around the garden and had our pictures taken. Finally, with tears in my eyes I took my departure, hoping against expectation to return soon to my beloved friend. This was the last time we met.