Anatole France.

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visit of M. Bergeret. Yet, these two prophets did
not profess unreserved admiration for one another.
In private conversation Anatole France is in the
habit of commenting freely upon the inspiration of
the celebrated artist.

He is a genius. I am sure of it. I have seen
some nudes of his, palpitating with life. But he is
not one of those great decorators such as France
has known, especially in the seventeenth and eigh*


The Opinions of Anatole France

teenth centuries. He seems to me to know nothing
of the science of grouping. Above all, it must be
said, he collaborates too much with accidents.

M. Bergeret explains what he means by these
rather cryptic words:

He abuses his right to destroy what is not per-
fect in a work. Dear old President Failures, who
was one day paying an official visit to the Salon,
stopped in front of a statue which had neither head,
nor arms, nor legs, and said, with great simplicity:

U M. Rodin is certainly a great man, but his
furniture removers are singularly careless."

Then M. Bergeret began to draw upon his store
of anecdotes:

Do you know how he conceived that Victor
Hugo, the half-reclining figure in marble in the
gardens of the Palais-Royal? This is the story:

Rodin had just finished in clay an imposing
statue of the poet. Victor Hugo was standing up-
right on the crest of a rock. All sorts of Muses
and Ocean deities were circling about him. One
morning the scidptor brought a whole troup of
journalists to his studio, that they might contem-
plate the new work. Unfortunately, the evening be-
fore, he had left the window open, and, as a
terrible storm had broken out during the flight, a
stream of water had reduced the huge group to
formless pulp. The cliff had collapsed upon the


Anatole France at Rodin's

dancing deities. As for Victor Hugo, he had
flopped down into a sea of mud.

Rodin opened the door, and allowed his guests
to go in first. Suddenly he beheld the disaster.
He all but tore his beard with despair. But the
chorus of praise had already begun:

"Wonderful! — Marvellous! — Formidable! —
Victor Hugo rising from this bed of slime, what a
symbol! — Master, it is a stroke of genius! —
You have tried to represent the ignominy of an
epoch in which the inspiration of the bard alone
survived, noble and pure. How beautiful!"

"Do you think so?" Rodin asked timidly.

"Of course! It is the masterpiece of master-
pieces. Oh! Please, Master, leave it as it is!"

The story is certainly piquant. . . . Si non e
vero. . . .

In his drawings, continued M. Bergeret, Rodin
represents little more than women showing their
. . . And his monotonous audacity is just a little

The other day I met him at the house of a friend,
and he confided to me with delight that he was
doing a series of water-colours with a darling little

"This young woman," he said to me, "is abso-
lutely Psyche. . . . By the way, you who are a
scholar, could you tell me who Psyche was?"


The Opinions of Anatole France

As I always try to make people happy, I tried to
give him the answer he expected.

"Psyche," said I, "was an obliging young woman,
who was always ready to show her. . . ."

"My word!" cried Rodin, "that is exactly the
way she appears to me. You have made me very

But I cannot reproach him with his eroticism,
added M. Bergeret, for I know very well that sen-
suality makes up three-quarters of the genius of
great artists.

I do not pardon him so easily for his too casual
habit of appropriating the work of others. I was
told lately that a photographer went to Meudon to
take photographs of the Master's sculpture. As
Rodin was away, he was received by a figure-carver.
He noticed a huge block of marble still in the rough,
in which only a knee was visible, finely carved.
He became most enthusiastic:

"' Admirable P* He cried. "Do tell me the
name of this masterpiece."

"It is 'La Pensee,' " replied the carver.

The delighted photographer was already focus-
sing his camera, when he was told: "It is not by
Rodin, but by his collaborator, Despiau."

The photographer turned to another massive
block, from which a nude back emerged.


Anatole France at Rodin's

"Splendid," said he. "What is the name of

"Also 'La Pensee,' but that is not by Rodin
either. It is by Desbois, his collaborator."

The disappointed photographer perceived a third
block, in which a foot stood out.

"Marvellous!" he declared. "What does that

"Still 'La Pensee.' Besides, that is rather
evident! But it is not by Rodin. It is by Bour-
delle, his collaborator."

At this, the photographer became desperate,
hoisted his camera on his back again, and made off
as fast as his legs could carry him.

Rodin, in his turn, sometimes spoke of M. Ber-
geret in rather harsh terms. Of course, he praised
highly the wit of Anatole France and the charm
of his style, but he had scanty esteem for the vary-
ing shades of his thought, which he considered
specious and instable.

He has the gravy, he declared bluntly, but not the

It should be explained that rabbit was his favour-
ite dish. It was a remembrance of the time when
he was a figure-carver and ate his meals in cheap
restaurants. Rabbit seemed to him a food of the
gods. Obviously, Anatole France lacked some-


The Opinions of Anatole France

thing essential when he had no rabbit. Conse-
quently, he would never model the bust of M. Ber-
geret. He had been commissioned to do so by dear
old Dujardin-Beaumetz, the Under-Secretary at the
Ministry of Fine Arts, but he never began. Per-
haps the extraordinary mobility of such a face dis-
couraged him.

• ••••••

Rodin invited M. Bergeret to admire the work
which he had on the stocks, and his collection of
antiques. Then they went into the dining-room.

Rose, the sculptor's old companion, wanted to slip
away. She did not feel at home in the presence of
the illustrious visitor. Rodin caught her by the

Rose, sit down there! he said to her imperiously.

"But, Monsieur Rodin. . . ."

/ tell you to sit down there!

Rose used to call her companion "Monsieur
Rodin" to show her respect for him.

She grumbled again:

"What funny creatures men are ! They think
you can be in the kitchen and the dining-room at
the same time!"

But she sat down with us to eat her soup. Dur-
ing the meal she got up several times, cleared away
the dishes, and trotted off into the kitchen to bring
in the courses. Then she would sit down quickly.


Anatole France at Rodin's

Rodin would not have any other servant near him.

Rose was a most gentle creature. The life of
this woman, timid, discreet, obscured, terrified,
in the shadow of that despotic colossus, haloed
with glory, would make a story for Balzac. Once
upon a time she was a fascinating beauty. Some-
times Rodin would point out in his studio an admir-
able bust of Bellona, with frowning glance. Then,
addressing Rose:

// was you, he would say, who posed for that
Bellona. Do you remember?

In a tremulous voice she would reply :

"Yes, Monsieur Rodin."

The contrast was striking between this nice little
old woman and the terrible helmeted goddess who
had formerly been modelled in her likeness. She
idolized her great man. She had shared with
him the harsh experience of an existence full of
ups and downs. He often tortured her, for he
was the most fantastic and changeable of men. She
used to see lovely women coming into her house,
who were her victorious rivals, and she had to bear
their presence without a word of complaint.

The slightest attention from him filled her with
joy. In her garden at Meudon she passionately
cultivated flowers. One day I saw him pluck one
and offer it to her:

Here, Rose, this is for you.


The Opinions of Anatole France

"Oh! Thank you, Monsieur Rodin," she said,
swelling with celestial happiness.

Let me complete this sketch of a touching picture
with a few more strokes, and recall the last hours
of this humble existence.

When Rose's health declined, Rodin married her.
And it was as if the gates of heaven had opened to
receive her. But her illness was consuming her.
She was installed in a wickerwork armchair on the
steps, so that the rays of the sun might warm her.
Her eyes were too bright in their hollow sockets and
her cheekbones a feverish red. She had a ceaseless
dry cough.

All of a sudden Rodin realized what he was about
to lose. He was well on in years himself. He
sat beside her in a similar chair, and looked at her
in silence. He put his great hairy paw on the thin,
bloodless hand of the poor woman, as if to keep her
by main force.

She breathed her last, and very shortly after, the
giant followed her to the grave.

The dining-room in which we sat was as spring-
like as an idyll. The windows looked out onto the
blueish slopes of Meudon, and upon the valley of
the Seine, winding lazily beneath a silver sky.

Rose served up a huge dish of rabbit, and Rodin
himself fished out rashers and placed them politely


Anatole France at Rodin's

on the plate of Anatole France, whom he wished to

At a certain moment, when the sculptor made
a movement to pour some water into his wine, he
stretched out his hand towards a square decanter
whose glass stopper was curiously ornamented with
coloured spirals, like those glass marbles in which
urchins delight. Suddenly he said:

Rose, I have already told you that I did not
want to see on my table. . . .

Precipitately Rose seized the abhorrent object and
fled with it. She returned a moment later with
another decanter and said to us:

"M. Rodin would have thrown on the ground the
one which annoys him so much !"

We are invaded by ugliness, growled the sculptor.
All the things we use every day are an offence to
good taste. Our glasses, our dishes, our chairs, are
horrible. They are machine-made, and machines
kill the mind. Formerly the slightest domestic
utensils were beautiful, because they reflected the
intention of the artisan who made them. The
human soul ornamented them with its dreams.

I read in Andersen, the adorable Danish writer,
that, when night comes, the furniture and other
domestic objects begin to talk amonst themselves.
The chandeliers chat Hsoith the clock, the fire-dogs
gossip with the tongs. As a matter of fact, all the


The Opinions of Anatole France

relics of the past speak in this fashion, even during
the daytime. They whisper to us a hundred touch-
ing confidetices about the good people who made
them. But our furniture of today is silent.
What could it have to say? The wood of an arm-
chair would reveal to us that it was sold in large
quantities from a mechanical sawmill in the North-
ern provinces; the leather, that it comes from a great
leather-dressing factory in the South; the copper,
that it was cast by thousands in some factory in
the East or West. And if they all began to talk
together, what a dreadful cacophony. It is sad, you
,know, to live at a time when the little familiar house-
hold deities maintain the silence of the grave.

M. Bergeret admitted that our decorative arts
had fallen very low.

Rodin. — If it were only our decorative arts! But
it is art, art pure and simple, which has dwindled
to nothing. No distinction can be made between
decorative art and art. To make a very beautiful
table or model the torso of a woman, is all one.
Art always consists in translating dreams into forms.
We no longer dream! People have forgotten that
every line, if it is to be harmonious , must express hu-
man joy and sorrow. And in what is called great
art, in sculpture y for example, as well as in the mak-
ing of ordinary things, machinery has put dream to


Anatole France at Rodin's

This prophetic outburst disconcerted M. Ber-
geret a little, for it is not his wont to take such
dizzy flights. He brought the conversation down
to a more modest level.

How can machinery influence sculpture? he asked.

How? replied Rodin still grumbling. Why, be-
cause casting is a substitute for talent. 1

France . — Cas ting ?

Rodin. — Yes; nowadays this mechanical process
is commonly employed by our sculptors. They are
satisfied to make casts of living models. The pub-
lic does not know this yet, but in the profession it
is an open secret. Modern statues are nothing
more than casts placed on pedestals. The sculptor
has nothing more to do. It is the maker of plaster-
casts who does all the work.

France. — Allow me to ask a question. I quite
understand what you say when the figures of a mon-
ument are exactly life size. But what do our art-
ists do when they execute figures larger or smaller
than the actual dimensions?

Rodin. — There is no difficulty whatever about

1 When Auguste Rodin began he was accused by the academic
sculptors of having recourse to the process which he disapproves
of so violently. The State, which wanted to purchase his "Age
of Bronze," went so far as to appoint a commission to ascertain
that this work was not simply cast from living models. It is
striking to hear the man of genius, who always spiritualised
nature, turning the tables on his opponents, whose uninspired
technique assuredly deserves his sharp censure.


The Opinions of Anatole France

that, for they have instruments for enlarging or re-
ducing the casts.

France. — And in ancient times, you say, the
sculptors refrained from making casts of living

Rodin. — They used casts only for documentary
purposes. Formerly in the studios one saw arms,
legs, and torsos, in casts, whose contour was per-
fect. The artists studied them to check the position
of the muscles in their works, hut they were careful
never to copy them. They always attempted to put
life into the models to which they referred, to trans-
form them, to breathe into them their inspiration.
It 'was the Italian, Canova, who began, at the close
of the eighteenth century, to incorporate cast pieces
into his statues. The great number of commissions
which he received forced him to adopt this expedi-
tious method. Since then, his example has been uni-
versally followed.

Sculptors have ceased to give their work the
stamp of thought which transfigures objects and
illuminates them with an interior light. They have
sought only vulgar substitutes. Not content with
casting nudes, by a fatal descent they have repro-
duced exactly real clothing. In women's costumes
they have imitated ribbons, laces, trimmings; in
men's clothes, frock-coats, trousers, cuffs, collars, the
whole department of latest fashions. Thus our


Anatole France at Rodin's

streets and the fronts of our national buildings have
become branches of a waxwork museum.

France. — // is only too true, my dear Master,
and this vulgar realism is also visible in modern
sculpture in a quantity of incidentals of ordinary
life, furniture which seems to have come from the
cabinet-maker's, scientific instruments, objects of all
kinds which are a dead weight upon art, for their
stiff precision defies imaginative interpretation. A
strange collection of bric-a-brac could be made of all
the incidental features that disfigure our public mon-

The stove of Bernard Palissy would jostle the
phial of Pelletier and Caventou, the scales of Lav-
oisier, the dissecting-table and dead poodle of
Claude Bernard, Diderot's armchair, the chair of
Camille Desmoulins, Renaudot's press, Doctor Tar-
nier's hospital bed, the revolving stool of Gerome,
etc. . . . But besides this old curiosity shop, an ex-
tensive annex would have to be opened to house the
unusually large items such as Chappe's telegraph and
the Balloon of the Siege.

Rodin. — The artists of today do not know that
the function of art is to express the human soul,
that science cannot be represented by machinery, but
by a thinking forehead and brooding eyes; that
courage cannot be represented by cannons and
dirigibles, but by virile features and resolute breasts.


The Opinions of Anatole France

Accessories are their supreme resource because
they no longer know how to rveal the mind.

M. Bergeret, who is very polite, thought it
necessary to say that our modern sculpture, never-
theless, was not without a certain distinction. And,
as if the allusion were not by himself, Rodin gener-
ously cited Dalou, praising his Republique triom-
phante, drawn by lions in a chariot and followed
by Justice and Plenty.

France. — Certain critics have disapproved of this
mythology, but I do not share their prejudices.
Allegory, which is greatly abused, seems to me alone
capable of expressing general ideas. Do you not
agree with pie?

Rodin. — Quite right! It is simply a question of
rejuvenating old images. Thus, Dalou's Marianne
wearing her Phrygian bonnet reproduces t"he tradi-
tional figure of Liberty, but her gesture, so full of
friendliness, her face, at once grave and modest, are
those of a decent working woman of today.

France. — It is the same in literature. Look at
the allegory of Victory. It is extremely ancient
and seems exhausted. Yet, read the Proclamation
of Napoleon on his return from Elba : "Victory will
come charging onward." Is that the Nike of an-
tiquity, I ask you? No; it is his own Victory which


Anatole France at Rodin's

Napoleon brings thus to the heating of drums.
"Charging onward!" Victory is no longer winged.
She tramps the roads and fields with fury. She is
dusty, dishevelled, plebeian. . . .

Thereupon they agreed that, like every literary
or artistic resource, allegory is effective only by rea-
son of the genius which employs it. The name of
M. Puech happened to be mentioned.

France. — Oh! That man terrifies vie. It
sometimes happens that I cannot avoid crossing
the Luxembourg Gardens. They bristle with fun-
ereal monuments to writers, and give me the
unpleasant impression of being a cemetery of
the Muses. But I particularly pity Leconte de
Lisle, in the embraces of a huge winged woman
made of lard. Whenever I see him I fly, thinking
that perhaps one day, beneath those shady trees,
M. Puech will represent the Dreyfus Affair in suet,
kissing my bust, in margarine, on the mouth.

Rodin gave the laugh of a great good-humoured

The two great men naturally drifted into a con-
versation about the changes which have been made in
Paris. They were both born there, and M. Ber-
geret, who was brought up in a bookshop facing the
Louvre, on the banks of the lazy Seine, tenderly


The Opinions of Anatole France

cherishes the memory of the landscape of friendly
edifices and trembling leaves, which enchanted his
gaze as a child.

They will end, he said, by making our Paris ugly.

Rodin. — As a matter of fact, the old houses
which are its noblest ornament are being everywhere
destroyed. The politicians, engineers, architects
and financiers of today are plotting a damnable
conspiracy against the grace which we have inherited
from the past. The most brilliant remains of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are being de-
molished by the strokes of innumerable pickaxes.
Did they not recently ravage the delightful Ile-
Saint-Louis where dream, hounded everywhere,
seemed to have taken refuge?

Virgil has related a dramatic legend. In order
to feed the flames of a sacrificial fire Aineas breaks
the boughs of a myrtle tree. Suddenly the broken
branches begin to bleed and a groan is heard:

¥ 'Stop, wretch, you are wounding and tearing

The tree was a man metamorphosed by the will of
the gods.

The poet's fable often comes to my mind when I
see the vandals laying the ax to the proud dwell-
ings of long ago. Then it seems to me that the
walls are bleeding, for they are alive and human like
the myrtle tree of Virgil. In the harmonious

Anatole France at Rodin's

rhythm of their buildings do we not hear the voices
of the Frenchmen of old? To break a sixteenth
century stone mask, a seventeenth century portico,
a delicate eighteenth century frieze, is to scar crim-
inally the faces of our ancestors, to strike them on
their eloquent lips. What a crime to stifle their
voices! If the buildings were even beautiful which
are erected in the place of those demolished! But
most of them are hideous.

France. — They are all too tall. The modest
height of the houses was the chief charm of old
Paris. They did not hide from view the soft sky
of the lle-de-F ranee. As ground was cheap, they
developed laterally. That was the secret of their
charm. Ground has become very expensive, and
the houses of today grow higher simply because
they cannot spread out. That is the reason of
their ugliness.

Rodin. — They present neither proportion, nor
style, nor pleasant details. People have forgotten
that architecture, like painting, sculpture, poetry and
music, is an expression of the soul. Taste is dying,
and taste is the mind of a people expressed in its
everyday life; its character made visible in its cos-
tumes, its homes, its gardens, its public places. Our
society hates the mind. It kills dream.

He continued:

Are they not now talking of substituting an enor-


The Opinions of Anatole France

mous iron bridge for the light Pont des Arts, in
front of the Louvre? It is maddening! There
should be only stone in front of the Palace of the
Kings. This mass of iron, which threatens us, will
cross the river just beside the Pointe du Vert-Galant,
it seems.

In this way they will spoil the amazing view
composed of the two banks of the river, the
Louvre, the Palais Mazarin, the Monnaie, the
verdant prow of the Ile-de-la-Cite, and the
Pont-Neuf, majestic as a tragedy of Corneille, or
a canvas of Poussin. If that view is perfect, it is
because from generation to generation Parisians be-
queathed to each other the task of embellishing it.
Just as the strains of Amphion's lyre raised the
obedient stones which formed divine monuments of
themselves, so a secret melody has grouped in
irreproachable order all these radiant edifices around
the Seine, in whose waters their reflection trembles.

Now, all of a swdden, this great masterpiece must
be ravaged!

France. — Practical utility, they say. But, is
there anything more useful to a nation than the
charm of a city which visibly expresses the mind of
the race, sociable, daring, well-balanced, clear and
joyous? That is a lesson which, in my opinion, is
worth all the iron bridges to the life and the future
of a people.


Anatole France at Rodin's

After coffee we went out into the garden, and on
to the edge of a slope from which the eye could
take in the immensity of Paris. As far as the most
distant horizon there spread out an ocean of domes,
towers and steeples. Through the fleecy clouds
the gold and opal rays of the sun shone upon this
vast billow of stone. But frequently the smoke
from the factories which hummed in the valley
spread gigantic black ribbons over this fairyland.

Was it so difficult, asked France, to remove away
from the city these nauseating factories? Is it not
absurd to allow the air of Paris to be poisoned con-
tinually by the lofty chimneys that surround it?
Is it not an odious sacrilege against so lovely 'a city?

Rodin. — Our epoch, in which money rules, tol-
erates the worst outrages upon the right of all to
both health and beauty. It infects and soils every-
thing. It kills Dream/ It kills Dream/

France. — But Dreams always rise again, and per-
haps it will take vengeance. Perhaps it will soon
create another social order less basely utilitarian,
and less contemptuous of the spirit.

Such was the sad discourse held by these two
prophets on the hill of Meudon.


On War

On War

M. Bergeret has always detested war. In sev-
eral of his books, he Lys rouge, L'Orme du Mail
and Le Mannequin d'Osier, for example, he has ex-
pressed his hatred with an irony even more power-
ful than rage. Before the storm broke he would
sometimes say that he did not believe in it, because
formidable armaments would make it too horrible,
and because the governments of Europe, all more or
less tinged with democracy, would hesitate before
the risks of warfare. At other times, however,
like all of us, he was filled with dread.

"It would be madness," he wrote in the preface
to Jeanne d! Arc, "to pretend that we are assured of
a peace which nothing can disturb. The terrible
industrial and commercial rivalries which are grow-
ing up around us, on the contrary, give us a fore-
boding of future conflicts, and there is no guaran-

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