Page images

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

[ocr errors]

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 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 we 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 "lt" or a "d" at the end.

[ocr errors]

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.



Yogi Night at the Provincetown Playhouse - The Drama Finds a New Level in "The Depths" -A Wife Who Had to Know - The "Ring" Returns to the Metropolitan-A French Modern Competes with Zuloaga's Posters-"Enkindled Driftwood"-Hot Afternoons There Have Been in Urbana.

URING the past month, in the course of reading some of the vast number of periodicals and newspapers which plague our nation, the New Yorker stumbled upon an extraordinary sentence in a review by Stark Young, one of our most intelligent critics, which read: "People who take the theatre as mere pastime will not find the piece at the Provincetown Playhouse to their liking."

On the face of the matter, the sentence appears to be a simple statement, yet on considering it one finds there the kernel of a philosophy which largely dominates the spirit of experiment in the world of contemporary art and letters. The obvious query to such a statement is, "Well, if the theatre does not exist for the sole purpose of providing pastime, why does it exist at all?" Are we to make of the theatre a sort of mental gymnasium whither we turn our steps regularly to exercise our brains? Are we to consider it a sort of higher mathematics? Are we to work at our theatregoing? One might have slipped past that opening sentence without noticing it save for the inclusion of the word "mere". There is about the nice placing of that word, about the inflection it demands, something which indicates a certain polite condescension. It says, "The theatre is all very well but it is not the place for one to go in

search of diversion. Or, at least, it should not be such a place."

It would appear that these newcomers in the history of the theatre would change the whole basis of its existence. They would make it something to be taken painfully. Fortunately there is no danger of such a revolution. Once the theatre becomes painful the public will desert it, and so there will be no theatre at all.

The play which Mr. Young was engaged in reviewing at the moment of his self betrayal was an extraordinarily painful exercise translated from the German of Walter Hasenclever, called vaguely "Beyond", and produced on the stage of the Provincetown Theatre. Save for the Theatre Guild, the public owes a greater debt of pleasure to the Provincetown group than to any management in New York during the present dull season. "Beyond" came as a blow. At the dress rehearsal the little theatre was crowded by spectators who could be divided roughly into three classes: (a) the "arty" ones who gasped with awe at hidden wonders of the piece, (b) those who received it in a mildly dazed condition, and (c) those who, in defiance of the hostile glares of the "arty" ones, laughed through three acts and then, abandoning the final two, went home to listen to the radio.

The evening might well have been

called "Yogi Night at the Provincetown Theatre". Hasenclever, according to program notes, is an ardent Buddhist. The notes, however, neglected to say that, so far as one can judge from this piece, his mind is an extremely mediocre one which ejects quite regularly the most ponderous bromides. The piece had but two characters, but this lack of variety was compensated by the number of scenes, totaling twenty two, labeled variously "cellar", "telephone", "roof", "bed", etc., etc. Not that the piece was a spectacle; on the contrary, the variation of scenes was denoted by the shifting of a chair, a sofa, a bed, from one position to another, and by the periodical appearance of a pair of shutters. Nevertheless the lighting and the settings were by far the best part of the piece. Under the skilful hand of Robert Edmond Jones they attained an amazing degree of insinuating beauty and effect.

The play was stupid. One was told that perhaps it was beyond comprehension, and of course, such a statement can be taken quite easily in two distinct senses. The author aimed to eliminate all save the essential speeches or, in other words, to clear away all the detail which makes for interest and is so troublesome to the playwright. The result was a series of such revolutionary and brilliant speeches as "What is reality? Reality is nothing." Well, everybody knows that. The story is that of a man who becomes involved in a love affair with the wife of his friend, at the moment of his friend's death. Eventually the ghost of the first husband returns and drives the second to kill the wife of both. Much to the confusion of the clearminded, there is an immense amount of mystical Yogi talk.

"Beyond" was by no means so in

telligent or so interesting a piece as "Processional", the experimental play produced earlier in the season by the Theatre Guild. Helen Gahagan, in a handsome red velvet gown, played the wife, and Walter Abel, with the gestures of an automaton, essayed the rôle of lover. Fortunately no helpless actor was assigned the rôle of the dead husband.

The month was notable for the production of two utterly incredible plays: one called "The Depths" and the other an unnamed play staged by Richard Herndon at special matinées with the offer of a prize for the best title. The New Yorker has thought of several titles, but they are not printable. Jane Cowl was the excuse for "The Depths", and on this occasion not a very good excuse. The original play by Hans Mueller had, so reports go, extraordinary merits as a psychological study of the time old situation between a woman of the streets and a pure young man with whom she falls in love. Somewhere along the way these merits were dropped overboard. One has the impression that, during the lengthy road tour of the piece, it was entirely rewritten according to the desires of the cast or the manager rather than the author. The result, in any case, is one that is prize taking in its banality. And the program is prefaced by a quotation from Havelock Ellis which refers scornfully to "old platitudes"! Miss Cowl is quite bad.

At the Times Square, Grace George returned after much too long an absence from New York in a charming comedy by Paul Geraldy dealing with the absurdity of a woman's character. It is called "She Had to Know" and is concerned with the desire of a wife to know whether she is appealing to men. The whole comedy is whipped cream, but the cream, fortunately, never

[ocr errors]

sinks; throughout the piece there were volleys of masculine chuckles which testified to the accuracy of the author's psychological details. Miss George, as usual, gave a spirited, graceful, and intelligent performance. At this sort of comedy she is unexcelled. The cast included Bruce McRae, who was delightful as the heavy, honest, unimaginative husband profoundly in love with his wife. For intelligent people this is a refreshing piece.

For the first time in nearly nine years the complete "Ring" of Wagner is being given at the Metropolitan. The war, of course, made it for a time impossible, and after the war there was a shortage of German singers. But now all is well again and the Metropolitan is doing itself proud on every score of the production save possibly that of the scenery which, owing to the hocuspocus which Wagner placed in his librettos, has never been properly solved. In addition to the Wagnerian singers of the past season or two, the Metropolitan now has a host of strength in Nanny Larsen-Todsen, Maria Müller, and Karin Branzell. These three women are not only fine singers and gifted with dramatic power but, strange as it may seem, are handsome in appearance and look like goddesses. Indeed, the physical appearance of the singers now doing the "Ring" is startling; they look much as the heroes and heroines of the "Nibelungen Lied" should look, and the operas gain accordingly. Bohnen, as Wotan, is magnificent. There is but one thing There is but one thing to be hoped for that some day Siegfried and Seigmund and Parsifal and all the others will give up wearing wigs which resemble frayed hair mattresses. There are times when it is worthwhile breaking with the grand tradition, even at the expense of angering Frau Cosima Wagner.

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

At Scott and Fowles Gallery Paul Manship held an exhibition recently of some fifteen examples of his recent work in portrait and decorative sculpture. It was a singularly satisfactory show. The busts, in which he abandoned his archaic style and adopted a straightforward conventional model, are as good as any that have been done during the present generation. Best among them are the portraits of former Dean Frederick Keppel of Columbia College, and the dean of Bryn Mawr. There were also some fine bronzes, and the models for two heroic figures in the manner which has come to stamp Manship and his followers.

Three water colors by Horace Brodsky were notable in a charming small

« PreviousContinue »