Copyright
Unknown.

Victorien Sardou, poet, author, and member of the Academy of France; a personal study online

. (page 1 of 6)
Online LibraryUnknownVictorien Sardou, poet, author, and member of the Academy of France; a personal study → online text (page 1 of 6)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


VICTORIEN SARDOU



A PERSONAL STUDY




Frontispiece.



FjmiLij% Fjces
ICTORIEN SaRDOU

POETy AUTHOR, AND MEMBER OF THE
ACADEMY OF FRANCE



A PERSONAL STUDY



BLANCHE ROOSEVELT

OFFICER OF THE ACADEMY OF FRANCE

AUTHOR OF "life AND REMINISCENCES OF GUSTAVE DORE '

**LIFE OF LONGFELLOW," ** VERDI," " THE COPPER QUEEN "

ETC. ETC.



PREFACE BY

W. BEATTY-KINGSTON



Some lives in peaceful vieadoivs Jlow ;
Like brook that steals frovi hidden glen,
Their tranquil days ebb to and fro,
Their actions '^' scape the mark o/ men."
Far more ivojild I the fiercest strife
Engage, and strike for good or ill ;
Who has not warred knoivs naught of life :
Fate conquers maji, man fate through will.

*' First Poems " : Blanche Roosevelt



LONDON

KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH, TRUBNER & Co., L^i^-

1892



ro

XTbc S)cav ^emov^

OF

FRANC B. WILKIE

(POLINTOj

IN ADMIRATION OF HIS KAKE GENIUS, IN RECOLLECTION

OF HIS FklENDSHir, AND WITH GRATITUUE FOR

HIS ENCOURAGEMENT— MY OLDEST

LITERARY FRIEND

FROM HIS FAITHFUL FOLLOWER

BLANCHE ROOSEVELT



PREFACE

Although, as I have been assured,
the function of blowing one's own
trumpet is not absolutely distasteful to
some eminent personages in the world
of art and letters^ there are others,
to my personal knowledge, who expe-
rience an unconquerable reluctance to
perform upon that instrument, however
importunately they may be solicited to
do so by hosts of admiring friends.
This is why I, in its author's stead, am
writing the preface to this booklet.
The purpose of these introductory lines
is to set forth Blanche Roosevelt's
qualifications for fulfilling the task she
has undertaken, not to trespass upon



viii PREFACE

the literary ground she has taken up
as a biographer of contemporary cele-
brities. To the English public there is
a good deal to be said, more or less
new and interesting, about Victorien
Sardou, who in this country is tolerably
well known as a dramatist, but not at
all as a man. Hitherto no memoir of
this distinguished playwright has, as
far as I know, been printed in our lan-
guage. Miss Roosevelt has prepared
one which consists mainly of personal
narrative and anecdote immediately
derived from its subject ; of matter,
in short, that has never heretofore
been given to publicity. This work
has been built up on a foundation
identical in all essential respects with
that which underlay her biographies of
Longfellow, Gustave Dore, Carmen
Sylva, and Giuseppe Verdi, each of
which, so to speak, was suffused with



PREFACE ix

the personality of its illustrious subject,
while bearing the impress of its author's
vigorous individuality.

These were the secrets of their indis-
putable charm : that Blanche Roosevelt
knew, and knew well, the persons about
whom she wrote ; that she is gifted
with a Boswellian memory, singularly
retentive and exact, which enables her
to reproduce the style as well as
substance of her interlocutors' verbal
statements ; and that she is capable of
describing what she has seen with
peculiar felicity of expression. In re-
spect to its profuse display of these
enviable faculties, and of the poetic
temperament with which bountiful
Nature has also endowed "la belle
Americaine " — the epithet was Victor
Hugo's — her "Life of Gustave Dore "
is one of the most remarkable and
attractive books of the past decade ;



X PREFACE

and it is high, but by no means unde-
served praise of her biographical sketch
of Victorien Sardou, to say that it is
entitled to rank " with and after " that
admirable work, although designed and
executed upon a much smaller scale.

I may be permitted in this place
to briefly summarise Miss Roosvelt's
special qualifications for undertaking
the task embodied in this volume. She
has for several years been privileged
to count Sardou among her intimate
personal friends; has been a frequent
visitor at his house, and has enjoyed
many opportunities of listening to his
brilliant talk and interesting remin-
iscences of an exceptionally eventful
and adventurous youth. Her first
meeting with him took place at the
hospitable table of Victor Hugo, in
whose house, during the later years of
the venerable poet's life, she was a



PREFACE xi

favourite and ever-welcome guest. There,
at different times, she became acquainted
with the leading lights of the con-
temporary French schools of belles
lettres and the plastic arts ; with Arsene
Houssaye, Jules Claretie, Francois Cop-
pee, Guy de Maupassant, Barbey
d'Aurevilly, Alphonse Daudet, Joseph
Peladan, Catulle Mendes, Paul Bourget,
Meilhac, Halevy, Tourgenieff, Gustave
Dore, and many other poets and roman-
cists of the day, who cordially recog-
nised her claims to literary distinction,
and associated with her on terms of
frank and genial comradeship. Her
place among Hugo's habitual cominen-
saux was at the right hand of her
illustrious host, whose admiration of
her prompted him — on a memorable
occasion, recorded by Arsene Houssaye
in his brilliant preface to the French
edition of *' Gustave Dore " — to address



xii PREFACE

her as " The Beauty and Genius of the
New World." When this supreme
tribute of appreciation was paid to
her by the greatest poet of France
she was a girl of seventeen, and, accord-
ing to Houssaye's graphic description
of her appearance, *' lovely with every
loveliness ; her fair hair rippling with
sunshine ; her blue eyes as deep as the
sky, beneath their dark lashes ; tall,
slight and supple as a reed ; her profile
one that might have been designed by
Apelles or Zeuxis." A few years later
the Academic Frangaise confirmed Victor
Hugo's judgment of her literary abilities
by creating her one of its officers. It
is scarcely necessary to observe that this
high distinction is seldom conferred by
the ''Immortal Forty" upon native
authors of the female sex, and still more
rarely upon foreigners. Even more :
Blanche Roosevelt was the first Ameri-



PREFACE xiii

can authoress to be decorated by the
French Academy.

Perhaps no stronger recommendation
of this book can be preferred than the
assurance — which I am authorised to
tender to its readers — that, having been
submitted to M. Victorien Sardou in its
present form, it has secured his hearty
and unqualified approval. He has in-
deed defined it as " the most curious
and intelligent study of himself and
his works that has ever heretofore been
produced." To this pronouncement —
" praise from Sir Hubert Stanley " — I
have nothing to add, save the expression
of my belief that its justice will be gene-
rally acknowledged by the press and the
public.

In literary and dramatic circles on
either side the Atlantic it will be
learned with interest that M. Sardou is
collaborating with Miss Roosevelt in



xiv PREFACE

the dramatisation of her justly cele-
brated novel " The Copper Queen," an
English version of which will ere long
be produced upon the English and
American stage.

W. BEATTY-KINGSTON.



CONTENTS

PAGE

A PERSONAL STUDY I

PERSONAL APPEARANCE . . . .' . 29

MY DIARY 41

SARDOU AT HOME 59

SARDOU'S WORKS 76

THERMIDOR I06

HOW I TOOK THE TUILERIES . . . . 130

SARDOU , . 144



VICTORIEN SARDOU



A PERSONAL STUDY

The world wants to know all about
its celebrated men and women ; what
they are, where they live and how,
what they eat and drink, the part they
play in everyday life ; and, having
talents beyond the ordinary, how much,
besides, of the ordinary everyday man
and woman. This is not curiosity, but
interest. What would we not give to
have had a page from some gossiping
neighbour who had personally known
wise Omar ; known of his loves, his
wine, his roses ; a page from one who

A



2 VlCTORIEN SARDOU

had seen Dante and fair Beatrice
walking in the vales of amber Arno ;
to have had one word from Tasso as
he mourned the cruelty of the house of
d'Este, or the trivial fond record of
some goodly neighbour who had drank
a friendly posset with Shakespeare and
Shakespeare's love, — sweet Ann Hatha-
way — and yet none can unfold such
pages. There are many men, however,
before the world to-day, not greater
than the past masters, but whose lives
in this busy epoch are of the deepest
interest, and who will bear the same
relation to future generations as their
great predecessors bear to the present.
Among others, Victorien Sardou, mem-
ber of the French Academy, poet, dra-
matist and author, recently before the
public with his plays of " Cleopatra "
and " Thermidor," a remarkable man in
the annals of any time, and one whose



A PERSONAL STUDY 3

life and career cannot be without
interest to whomsoever appreciates the
final triumph of genius over poverty,
evil fortune, and dire despair.

If you know Paris well, you must
know the ancient Quartier St. Antoine
— that portion of the city rich in his-
toric interest — where, could it speak,
every paving-stone would cry out with
a voice from the historic past ; a
district of wide streets, old-fashioned
squares, antique palaces set in quaint
old gardens, protected by grim, sentinel-
like walls ; that in their impassability
and solidity have been witnesses to some
of* the greatest scenes in France's his-
tory ; long quays fringed with tattered
book-stalls or shops ; the Quai des
Celestins, where witty Rabelais has a
plaque consecrated to his memory, and
where the march of modern progress
and commerce has obliterated neither



4 VICTORIEN SARDOU

the spirit nor form of the dim long-ago.
This quarter is still sacred to the eager
tourist, the old houses are hallowed to
the memory of illustrious names, their
walls have seen the light of illustrious
eyes, and their wide gateways have
resounded to the footsteps of many,
how many, of France's most illustrious
dead. Flowers have bloomed in the
old gardens for wearers whose very
names are a perfume from a fragrant
past ; whose lives belong to the worlds
and whose memories, like hidden streams
silently stealing from mountainous
causeways, have flowed onward with
resistless impulse to join the great
ocean of life and immortality and pro-
gress.

The old Quartier St. Antoine was
divided up into sub-quarters, among
others the Quartier St. Paul, the old
Hotel St. Paul, first known to history



A PERSONAL STUDY 5

as the Palace and Gardens of the Kings
of France ; and in the ancient plan of
the city we see that this demesne com-
prised a portion of the Quai des Celes-
tins, and extended beyond the Place de
la Bastille, to the Barriere du Trone ;
ever memorable for the Revolution of
1848, and for that greater page stained
by the name of Robespierre and the
fatal guillotine. Later, the King's
Gardens were divided into streets, each
bearing a name with reference to its
former state : Rue Beautreilles (literally
street of the beautiful trellis). Rue des
Cerisiers, Rue des Noisettiers, and, most
quaint of all, I remember a streetlet
whose name from an etymological point
of view is most curious. In old French
it was styled '' Rue de Pute y Musse,"
in more modern French "Fille s'y
cache," and at the time of the Revolu-
tion " Fille s'y cache " was condensed



6 VICTORIEN SARDOU

into " Rue du Petit Musse," a name, I
think which it bears to this very day.

At that period this was the Parisian
Haymarket, a street outlawed to virtue,
and a general rendezvous for corruption
and vice ; a corner held in horror and
shunned by all the good people living
in its immediate neighbourhood.

While the century was still in its adol-
escence a certain Professor Sardou and
his wife lived in a charming house set
in a quaint garden, in the Rue Beau-
treilles, and on the 5 th September
1 83 1 Madame Sardou presented her
husband with an heir — Victorien
Sardou, the greatest living dramatist.
One more added to the memorable
names which adorn France's galaxy of
greatness to-day, and have, since many a
day, been renowned in the annals of
France and of French dramatic art.

Good Professor Sardou, in his



A PERSONAL" STUDY 7

modesty, little dreamed that his son's
name was destined to become, not
alone a household word in his native
country, but a household word wherever
literature, the stage, or drama have
found shrines and enthusiastic fol-
lowers ; but so it was, and, as all the
world knows the genius, many would
like to know the man ; as all the world
knows his artistic life, many would also
like to know his home life ; to read one
of those cloud-pages which publicity
rarely opens, but which, when opened,
exhale a sweeter perfume than any
flower of fame. Being privileged, I
open the pages ; being persistent, you
may peruse them.

Sardou once said to me : " Never be
afraid of slow commencements ; have
your characters fully, solidly planted,
engrafted as it were into the soil.
Balzac and your Walter Scott and



S VICTORIEN SARDOU

Dickens knew how to do that"; and in
virtue of the dramatist's own words, in
order to appreciate the development of
so rich and varied a genius, we must go
back to his earliest days, when he
trundled his hoop with other lads in
P^re Beaumarchais* garden at the cor-
ner of the Place de la Bastille ; a boy
at school, when he pattered around the
old Quais des C^lestins, d'Orsay and
Voltaire, studying with eager curiosity
the advertisements on the illuminated
kiosks, or thumbing with childish
reverence the musty volumes heaped
in picturesque confusion on the low-
lying shelves of the riverside book
vendors.

Monsieur Sardou, senior, whose resi-
dence has been transferred to Nice,
was, and is, a most remarkable man.

At the time of Victorien's birth he
was a leading professor in one of the



A PERSONAL STUDY 9

leading Parisian Colleges, author of
several elementary classics, a man of
deep historical research and a certain
literary attainment, also famous for
editing an edition of Rabelais, the
envy of even Lacroix — better known
as the Bibliophile Jacob. Sardou's
wife shared his talent in much, and his
taste in everything ; their home was
simple ; they lived very retired, but
whenever they went out or received,
they frequented the choicest wits of
France ; hence Victorien was rocked by
birth, so to speak, in a literary and
artistic cradle. He once said to me :

"My father knew everything and
went everywhere. I do not so much
remember great people at our house,
but I never heard other than great
names spoken, other talk than talk of
the popular authors and celebrities of
the day ; and I remember that I was



10 VICTORIEN SARDOU

never happier than when I went to
play in Pere Beaumarchais' garden.
Not alone because he was a dear
man, but I suppose because he was
Beaumarchais."

As a lad his precocity and memory
were fabulous ; he absorbed, he never
learned ; his lightning-like quickness
and retentiveness were the marvel of
family friends and neighbours. Add
to this a curiosity without limit, a
faculty of observation approaching
witchcraft, a sensitiveness more in
character with a romantic growing
girl than with a clever, highly strung
youth, and you have a picture of the
dramatist from his early years to that
latest florescence when he dreamed of
becoming, not an author, but — do not
start — an ^sculapius : one of the
famous Parisian medical brigade who
have also an academy ; rivals of that



A PERSONAL STUDY ii

noble forty among whom Victorien
Sardou is one of the most brilliant
and universally renowned.

Sardou studied medicine and cul-
tivated hospitals and dissecting tables ;
he attended lectures and clinics and
coteries ; frequented Professor This,
the celebrated nerve man, and Pro-
fessor That, the renowned phthisis
man ; attended the soirees of Madame
la Professeur This, and danced at the
cotillons of Madame la Professeur
That ; but all to no avail. If people
felt ill they did not send for him, and
if they died — they could not blame him.
The blackest of poverty stared him
chronically in the face ; he worked on
hope, but starved on despair, and his
unique solace was studying the old
Greek drama ; but one day it dawned
upon him that he preferred the dissect-
ing table of ancient history to that of



12 VICTORIEN SARDOU

human ills and human anatomy. He
gave up medicine and became historian
and student ; working in those fertile
meads, embroidered by the genius of a
Michelet, a Thiers, or a Taine.

Only those who have known the
sting of bitter want can fully appreciate
the agony of the intellectual student's
career. The eager brain, the famished
body, the long night watches and
hideous nightmares, the struggle to
make both ends meet, to keep body
and soul together, the continual battle
with poverty, pride, ambition, hope, and
despair.

Sardou's young life was such a
struggle ; and the terrible ordeals to
which his ardent receptive nature was
subjected — in spite of himself — have
left their mark. As we must crush the
rose to get the attar, so there are human
flowers which thrive best under mis-



A PERSONAL STUDY 13.

fortune. Sardou possessed a valiant
soul ; one of those resisting plants
which flourish in adversity, which blos-
som on the dew of tears, and bloom
only to their fullest beauty under the
sun of never-failing courage and am-
bition.

He did not give way ; the more he
had to work against, the harder he
worked, and every new trial fell like a
pointless dart against the steel armour
of his resistance. He determined to
be some one, and realised that the
bridge which connects greatness and
nothingness is knowledge. Although
he daily passed the old Theatre Moli^re
in the ancient square of St. Paul's, and
was familiar with the artists and authors
of the day, he never once thought of
becoming a playwright , but in order to
prosecute his studies gave lessons in
history, philosophy, and mathematics.



14 VICTORIEN SARDOU

He wrote articles for dictionaries, dailies
and even medical journals; he wrote
essays and essayed serious stories ; and
one novelette, " La Perle Noire," found
its way into the hands of a good, even
discriminating public. He toiled day
and night with the dogged perseverance
which ever has been and is one of his
most eminent characteristics ; no pains
were too great to take ; he was never
behindhand in any promised work, and
ever striving to improve his mind ; to
garner up such a store of miscellaneous
information as few, even of the most
noted erudites, possess to-day. He
thus laid the foundations, not alone of
that fame and fortune so justly his due,
but of all the envy, jealousy, and ridicu-
lous exaggeration afloat in France,
which repeatedly, though vainly, assails
one of her most brilliant and versatile
sons.



A PERSONAL STUDY 15

In the midst of these enforced classi-
cal studies, Sardou began to feel the
quickening of that dramatic instinct
which has brought to life such splendid
and noble creations. He adored the
play, but was equally devoted to the
opera, and, speaking of the latter one
day, said :

" Ah, don't talk to me of music ;
that is one of my passions. I re-
member, a long time ago, when I went
to the opera, not in box or stalls, but
right up in the gallery, to hear the
* Huguenots ' or the * Prophet' I de-
lighted in Meyerbeer. The seats were
four francs apiece. I had probably
pawned my best coat to get there ; but
there I was, and I never think of those
costly evenings without remembering
how I enjoyed them, and felt a certain
sense of gratification that I have never
experienced since."



i6 VICTORIEN SARDOU

" And now," I replied, " other stu-
dents pawn their best clothes to sit in
the gallery or on the roof, not to hear
Meyerbeer, but Sardou."

*^ Mais naturellement," he said, laugh-
ing, " c'est ainsi que va le monde."

My mind went back to the past, to
the old Rue Lepelletier Opera House.^
I did not see the successful author in
white cravat and regulation swallow-tail,
but a poor lad in working jacket and
Dantesque cap, leaning over the gallery
rails, happiest among the gallery gods,
an enthralled student, forgetting the
long day of worry, fatigue, and care ;
forgetting that he had not dined, even
though his best cutaway was at " my

* Napoleon III. was going to this theatre the
night of the famous Orsini throwing of bombs. The
house was burned in November 1873, ^^^ very day
on which Count de Chambord threatened to come
from Versailles, en Rio, with the famous but fated
white flag of the Bourbons.



A PERSONAL STUDY 17

uncle's/' oblivious of all and everything
but the splendour of the scene, the
music, the lights, the public ; filling his
soul with the inspiration of the divine ;
inspired, shabby and ignorant, yet
dreaming of the day when he should be
something or somebody; wearing in
his bosom the rose of youth and youth's
happiest, dearest illusions.

Then, the opera finished, I could see
him going back to his modest home,
humming a gay tune as he crossed the
Pont d'Orsay, happy as he supped on a
biscuit and glass of syrup and water,
happy and hopeful as he seized pen and
paper and scribbled off that first play,
" La Taverne des Etudiants," brought
out at the Odeon, and destined to be,
not his first success, but his first most
complete, irremediable failure.

This was in 1854, and Sardou was
so disgusted and disappointed that he



i8 VICTORIEN SARDOU

determined never to write another play ;
happily for himself, however, and the
world at large, this determination did
not hold good. In 1858 he married
Mile, de Brecourt, and found in this
charming companion a panacea to
many of the ills of existence. He took
courage, and again thought of the
theatre, but life was a sore struggle
with poverty, chagrin, disappointment,
and overwork. His supersensitive
nature was beginning to feel the effect
of these constant and rude shocks that
a precarious existence entails upon the
lives of genius ; blows which fell on all
sides and began to undermine both
physical and moral force.

Ordinary people cannot live in the
world and be impervious to its contact
and its contamination ; those alone can
do this who have the poet's nature, the
resource of its ideal ; the eternal back-



A PERSONAL STUDY 19

ground of beauty and delight, which
makes a palace of the most sordid
hovel, and gardens of Paradise of the
meanest courtyard. It must be a very
strong character that can resist the
daily communication with all that is
mean, much that is abasing, and more
that is distasteful, without the original
sweetness of the nature becoming
soured. Sardou's bright hopefulness
was quenched, and the wit that
enchanted friends and family soon
sharpened to a satirical blade which
cut right and left, as sure and fatal as
the scythe which sweeps the dewy
meadow of its earliest blooms.

Still, in many respects the Sardou
of to-day is the same Sardou. With
all the old nervousness, the quick sym-
pathy, the brilliant wit, the ready tear ;
a good lover, a good hater ; a man of
extremes, the most loyal of friends, the



20 VICTORIEN SARDOU

most bitter of enemies ; anything you
like, eager, intense, interesting and in-
terested, but never indifferent. He
rarely alludes to his past experience,
but if anything brings it forward, he
speaks with the utmost naturalness and
unconcern. There is nothing pontifical
about Sardou ; his simplicity is delight-
ful as agreeable, very unlike many suc-
cessful writers of the day, who cross
the street when they see the old friends
who knew them in poverty, and read
all of Tom Hood excepting the lines :
" And I would that the coats of my
stomach were such that my uncle might
take."

Sardou is of such a striking indivi-
duality that after a few moments in his
presence you realise at once that you
are before a man and a mind which
have lived through the most terrible of
ordeals. To the romantic impression-



A PERSONAL STUDY 21

able lad, running all over Paris with
verses in one pocket and plays in
another (a second Frederick the Great
on the eve of more than a seven years'
war), to this lad, in his impressionability
and facile enthusiasm, it were easy to
predict his future character ; the con-
tact of the world, the absorption of
worldliness, hopes fled and dreams
vanished ; the bloom brushed from the
grape and the perfume fled from the
flower. The old story of idealism
versus realism, when for long years the
latter dominates ; until the world seems
one vast sea of commonplaces covered
but by the floating wrecks of vanished
dreams ; themselves dreams of dreams,
shades of shadows, already become a
vague mass of that distant vague hori-


1 3 4 5 6

Online LibraryUnknownVictorien Sardou, poet, author, and member of the Academy of France; a personal study → online text (page 1 of 6)