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Jeu," " Le Vieux Marcheur," " Le Marquis de
Priola." He reached the Academy with his
"Nouveau Jeu," a play '' ddcolletde jusqu a la
ceinture,'' as a shocked critic wrote who denounced
the author as a mere public amuser, despite his
apparent efforts to inculcate morality from the stage
by ridiculing vice. In April, 1905, M. Lavedan


scored another great triumph by his " Duel," staged
at the Comddie Fran9aise. It is one of his best-
written and certainly his most successful play. The
duel is between two brothers, one a doctor, the other
a priest, who both love the Duchesse de Chailles,
whose husband is dying in a private asylum kept
by the medical man. The duke dies and the duchess
goes to the doctor, the priest having, naturally, to
eschew carnal love or to leave his calling. The
curious thing about the play was that it was a
demonstration in favour of God. Every time the
word '' Dieu" was pronounced in the play, all the
fashionable people at the Theatre FranQais clapped
their gloved hands. It was decidedly a manifestation
for the Deity and against the anti-clerical Govern-
ment. It was also curious to see M. Le Bargy,
the jeune premier of the house, the successor of
Delaunay, the Beau Brummel of the French stage who
sets fashions in cravats and ties, as the Abbe Daniel.

Other remarkable dramatists whom I call to mind
as having emerged from '' chez Antoine" are M.
Frangois de Curel, M. Maurice Donnay, M. Georges
Courteline, and M. Eugene Brieux. I remember
when M. Brieux was a hard-working, ordinary
journalist, just as was that other extremely suc-
cessful man, M. Alfred Capus. These two gentle-
men, instead of spending their nights in stuffy
newspaper offices as they did of old, have now
their own comfortable homes in Paris and in the
provinces. M. Capus spends most of his time in
his country house, about fifty miles from town, and
M. Brieux does his work durinsf the winter on the
sunny shores of the Bay of Antibes, close to Nice.


Alfred Capus.


To face p. 349.


M. Brieux has caused more commotion by his
*' Avaries " than by any of his other plays. This
strange study of lock-hospital subjects shocked the
French dramatic censors, and they refused to allow
the first performance to take place. The author
then carried it to Belgium, and had it staged suc-
cessfully at Liege. In February, 1905, it was
allowed a footing in Paris, and was brought out at
Antoine's. M. Brieux had many harsh critics, but
the play was well received by a crowd of curiosity-
mongers. Most of the spectators knew the work
by heai for it had long been discounted owing to
the performances in Belgium. M. Brieux is an
overwhelmingly serious dramatist, and his gloomy
picture of the diseased man who refuses to follow
the advice of the doctor, and insists on marrying
a young lady with money which he wants, is the
most fearful of his medico-social sermons from the
stage. He is held to have had hints from Ibsen's

It is a relief to turn fron: him to M. Capus or ot
M. Courteline. M. Capus is never dull and his
" Capusisms " are sometimes as good as " Shavisms."
His years of struggle as a hard-working, under-paid
journalist have not embittered him. Neither has he
been affected by the failure of the three or four novels
written by him before his successes on the stage.
Here is a man who was educated at the Polytechnic
School with a view to his being a State engineer. He
does not become an engineer, but a journalist, one of
his first contributions to the Press being an obituary
notice of Charles Darwin. We next find him writing
all sorts of things for the Gaulois, notably jokes and


" nouvelles a la main.'' Then one fine day we wake
up in Paris, and Capus also wakes up, to find that his
play " La Veine " has been a thundering triumph.
This was compensation for the novels, which fell flat.
Capus was well consoled by the success of " La
Veine," for he had taken it from one of his ill-fated
novels "Qui perd Gagne."

To look at M. Capus one would never suppose that
he worked hard. He strolls along the boulevards,
eye-glass in eye, dark in features — for he is a
Southerner — amiable, easy-going, ddbonnaire. Yet he
is one of the most laborious of men, and no sooner is
one play finished than he is busily constructing another.
How long the " Veine " will last is a problem. He
seems destined to go on for years as Scribe did before
him, and as Sardou is doing in his time.

Georges Courteline, the Moliere of the Grand Caf6,
formerly of the Cafe Napolitain, where he was wont
to foregather with his friends at the absinthe hour, is
also an easy-going, affable humourist who seems to
take life lightly. He jumped into fame by his " Client
Serieux," in which the barrister BarbemoUe pleads for
a client named Lagoupille, and proves that he was a
most honest man, even though he has been several
times in prison. In the course of the case BarbemoUe
receives notice that he has been appointed to take the
place of the judge or magistrate before whom he
pleads. He accordingly turns on his client and repre-
sents him to be a scoundrel of the inkiest description.
M. Courteline herein tried to show that lawyers lacked
conscience, and he made the bourgeoisie laugh. It
was this one-act play of Courteline's that not only
made him famous, but started the small theatres which


now abound in Paris. No sooner had the ** Client "
taken root as a play which everybody had to see than
the author emptied his bag of reserves, and presented
" Theodore Cherche des Allumettes," " Hortense
Couche-toi," " Lidoire/' and finally " Boubouroche,"
also a great hit. Another remarkable one-act play of
Courteline's is the " Paix du Manage," some scenes of
which have been seriously declared worthy of the
author of " Les Femmes Savantes." In this playlet
a novelist, Trielle, is married to a shrew. She makes
his life a burden, so he hits on the expedient of curtail-
ing her monthly allowance by fines inflicted for her
scoldings. Thus at the end of the month he reads
such inscriptions in his book of fines as " Plus, du
vingt-cinquieme pour m'avoir traite, de mufle, 2 francs
75 cents." ** Plus, du vingt - sixieme, pour avoir
rep^t^ a plusieurs reprises que mes romans n'ont pas
le sens commun (ce qui n'est que trop reel), 12 francs
50 cents." The wife is furious and threatens to throw
herself into the street, so he opens the window for her
and goes on registering fines. The shrew conquers
him in the end and he has to pay.

After the fun of M. Courteline it is not easy to
appreciate the more serious playwrights, such as M.
Paul Hervieu, for instance. So much has been written
about M. Hervieu that it is needless to refer to him at
great length here. He is the rigid logician of drama,
as in " Le Dedale," which gives him a far higher place
than that held of old by the younger Dumas ; for
he goes down more deeply into the emotions, and,
as a French favourable critic said, " atteignant parfois
I'humanite, ou plutot la maternite, aux entrailles, la
pensee en ses profondeurs." Naturally ; for the scenes


in the " D^dale " between Marianne de Pogis and her
divorced husband, when they meet by the bedside of
their ailing child, are of a nature to make women weep
and to agitate strong men who happen to be married
and fathers of children. The weak part of the great
play is the melodramatic ending of Max de Pogis and
his rival in the affections of his wife, Guillaume
le Breuil.

M. Paul Hervieu has been a very lucky man
socially and professionally. He was born with a
golden spoon in his mouth, and all his plays, " Les
Tenailles," "la Loi de I'Homme,*' "La Course du
Flambeau," " L'enigme," and " Le Dedale," were
both favourably received by the critics and the first-
nighters, and successful. The "Dedale" and the
" Course du Flambeau " made a great impression on
me when I went to see them, although I tried to steel
myself a gainst emotion. The "Course du Flambeau"
is less emotional than the other play, but it also grips
your attention by its poignancy, and you forget that
a lot of it is forced and far-fetched. The dramatist
takes his title from Lucretius on the torch-race of the
successive generations, one sacrificing itself to the
other. There is a consumptive girl, daughter of a
widow, Madame Revel. For the widow an American
named Stangy is dying. He wants to marry her, but
she has to think of her daughter. The latter on her
side wants to marry a youth, Didier, and gets him.
Then there are money troubles, and Madame Didier's
grandmother is sacrificed for the family. Madame
Didier is ordered to the Engadine, but the grand-
mother will not advance money unless she goes too.
The Engadine is not for her, as she has heart disease,


but she is not told of the danger. She dies in the En-
gadine, and Madame Revel cries, ''Pour sauver ma
fillefaitudinamerey The "Course du Flambeau"
was saluted with enthusiasm by the critics. Nothing so
true and terrible had been given to the stage since
Henry Becque's play " Les Corbeaux," the strife of
lawyers over a succession or estate. Becque was the
precursor of the whole of the young school of drama-
tists. He taught them their trade by his " Parisienne,"
played in February, 1885. I remember the man well,
a gloomy, cynical person, sometimes to be met in the
boulevard cafes laying down the law on the drama. But
he was more frequently in his study writing. Becque
had reason to be morose, gloomy, and melancholy.
He was poor and fell into debt in bringing out his first
play, " Michel Pauper." After a lot of trouble Perrin
was induced to stage " Les Corbeaux," in September
1882, at the Comedie Fran^aise. Everybody of
experience knew that the play was of what is termed
the "epoch-making" order, but it did not "give
satisfaction " to the subscribers, so Perrin had to with-
draw it, and Becque had to struggle on in poverty.
He succeeded in dethroning Dumas yf/y who had been
master of the stage for thirty years, and who had marked
a progress on Scribe, inasmuch as he put truth above
intrigue or plot. Before he died Becque had mapped
out the skeleton of a play which he hoped would
be his masterpiece. It was to be called the " Monde
d'argent," that is to say the Bourse, of which he knew
something, for he had been an unsuccessful stock-
jobber for nearly eleven years. Dumas had also done
something similar in his " Question d'Argent," dating
from 1857. It is in the "Question d'Argent" that



business is described as " other people's money," ** les
affaires cest V argent des autres'' Both Dumas and
Becque have been imitated by M. Octave Mirbeau in
" Les Affaires sont les Affaires," a modern presentment
of the moneyed magnate.

M. Mirbeau has been luckier than Becque, for
he has made money. His play " Les Affaires," with
its central character, Isidore Lechat, the brutal,
hustling millionaire, who is stricken by the death of
his son, was a splendid success.

Playwrights in France being as numerous as black-
berries in the season, I cannot attempt to deal with
them all. Two I must mention, as they were among
those who impressed me of late years. M. Marcel
Provost made a great hit in '* Le Plus Faible " at
the Com6die Fran^aise, thanks chiefly to M. de
F^raudy's acting. The subject of the play is thread-
bare — a struggle between passion and prejudices.
There is incidental preaching or a moral, to the effect
that free unions between clever people, however
elaborately organised, are liable to become failures
sooner than orthodox marriages. M. Marcel Prevost
is a man who holds his own very ably as a dramatist
and novelist, although his enemies accuse him of
being an imitator of Georges Ohnet, and even bad
at that, and also brand him as a notable commergant
of letters who knows how to sell his books.

I must also find place to mention M. Maurice
Donnay, who tickled Paris by his " Retour de Jeru-
salem," an elopement play of anti-Semitic cast.
One of the Jews introduced was a caricature of Dr.
Max Nordau the writer and Zionist, but who does
not go to live in Jerusalem, manifestly preferring

Edmond Rostand.


Paris, which he has made his home, as also did his
greater co-religionist Heine. Max Nordau was irate
especially as M. Donnay represented him as being a
sort of Mr. Snevellicci as regards women. After all
the doctor was being paid rather in his own coin
for he has written stinging things about Parisian
dramatists and poets.

M. Edmond Rostand's plays I went to see through
sheer curiosity. He was advertised by M. Coquelin
who is said to have declared that there was nobody
since Shakespeare who was both poet and homme de
theatre at the same time except Rostand. It was
M. Coquelin who showed the way to the dramatist
in the elaboration of " Cyrano de Bergerac," by indi-
cating an old vaudeville " Roquelaure ou I'homme,
le plus laid de France," presented at the Gatt6 in
1836. And M. Rostand applied his too facile system
of versification to the subject with a talent which won
for him the applause of the bourgeoisie. Anyway he
gained fame, glory, and additional fortune, for he was
born rich, by "Cyrano" and the "Aiglon." He has
had to pay something, however, for his glory and
celebrity in two continents. If he had interested or
enthusiastic eulogists, such as M. Catulle Mendes,
for instance, who said, " Fortunate the century which
began with Victor Hugo and ended with Edmond
Rostand," there are also numerous detractors, such
as M. Hauser, who wrote that the Academy disgraced
itself by electing M. Rostand as an ** Immortal." This
election was also denounced by a literary man who
lectures to students in the Latin quarter, and who
declared that M. Rostand was a dramatist in the same
way that Paul de Kock was a novelist. Poor Paul


de Kock ! He is always falling In for hard knocks,
although he succeeded In enlivening his generation
by a process of his own. M. Baragnon, the lecturer,
further asserted that if M. Rostand had some knack
as a versifier, he was a revivalist of Gongorism, and
a Trissotiuy no poet.

Then there was the charge of plagiarism brought
against M. Rostand by Mr. Gross of Chicago, who
claims that "Cyrano" was cribbed from his play, "The
Merchant Prince of Corneville." The French com-
mentators on this event simply directed the attention
of Mr. Gross of Chicago to the old vaudeville of
"Roquelaure" already alluded to, and labelled him as a
plagiarist too. There were even four old plays about
this ugliest man in France, Roquelaure. M. Rostand
borrowed from the play by Messrs. de Leuven, de
Livry, and Lherie, and borrowed largely too. Cyrano
is the Due de Roquelaure, Christian is Captain de
Candal, and Roxane Is Helene de Solanges of the play
by the three dramatists first named. M. Rostand
finely embroidered the theme of the older dramatists.
It is doubtful if they could have ever produced those
lines of the cadets of Gascony, which breathe the
spirit of the old French swashbucklers and black-


" Ce sont les cadets de Gascogne
De Carbon de Castel-Jaloux :
Bretteurs et menteurs sans vergogne
Ce sont les cadets de Gascogne !
Parlant blason, lambel, bastogne
Tous plus nobles que des iilous,
Ce sont les cadets de Gascogne
De Carbon de Castel-Jaloux."

In the matter of French poetry I am beset at


the beginning by one preponderating name, that of
Victor Hugo. I have read through nearly all his
work, and admire much of it. I have seen him many
times, in the Senate, on the tops of 'buses, in the
streets, and I remember that famous occasion on
which he went about in a lustrous tall hat. The
article had been purchased by the poet at the time
when he thought that he would be elected President of
the Republic. He was beaten by Jules Gr6vy, the
hat was put in a bandbox, and Victor Hugo went on
turning out good and bad verse, sometimes too facile
and factitious, sometimes strong and splendid. He
has been called all sorts of names, such as the
journalist of poetry, the Goncourt of poetry, "half
genius, half charlatan," according to Amiel, and
** more craftsman than artist " according to Renouvier.
Mr. Swinburne, on the other hand, made an idol of
him, as the French '' Hugoldtres'" have done. Any-
how, some of him is immortal.

Victor Hugo wrote admirably in prose as well as
in verse, but he never composed anything so power-
ful, so poignant, and so terrible as those prose passages
from the undoubted poet Lamartine quoted by
M. Emile Ollivier in the eleventh volume of his
" Empire Liberal." Writes the author of the
"Meditations Poetiques," in his lamentation, "Job
lu dans le desert : "

"Tout pese, tout balance, tout calcuM, tout pens6
et repens^ en dernier r^sultat, la vie humaine — si on
soustrait Dieu, c'est a dire I'infini — est le supplice le
plus divinement ou le plus infernalement combine
pour faire rendre, dans un espace de temps donne,
a une creature pensante la plus grande masse de


souffrances physiques ou morales, de gemissements,
de desespoir, de cris, d'imprecations, de blasphemes,
qui puissent etre contenus dans un corps de chair et
dans une ame de . . . nous ne savous pas meme le nom
de cette essence par qui nous sommes ! Jamais un
homme, quelque cruel qu'on le suppose, n'aurait pu
arriver a cette infernale et sublime combinaison de
supplice ; il a fallu un Dieu pour I'inventer. . . . Y a-t-il
quelque chose de plus monstreux que d'appeler a la vie
— et quelle vie ! — etde reveillerdela mort non sentie pour
remourir dans les tortures d'une seconde mort sentie,
un etre qui ne demandait ni ce bienfait, ni ce supplice,
et qui dormait de son sommeil de neant, comme dit
Job ? . . . Et que dire des conditions de la vie
physique? La mort nourissant la vie, la vie nouris-
sant la mort." The poet touches next, as Tennyson
does in " Maud," on the incessant war carried on
through the domain of creation. And the end of it
all : '' Nous vivons tres peu de temps, aucun temps
meme, si nous comparons ce clignement d'oeil appel^
une vie a I'incommensurable dur^e des ^ternites sans
premier et sans dernier jour. A quoi bon tenir a
quelque chose quand tout va vous etre arrache a la
fois. Encore si le jour et I'heure de cette mort etaient
connus et fix^s d'avance, quelque courte que fut la vie,
ou pourrait regler ses pensees sur son horizon. Mais
non, tout est acheve dans cette invention de la mort.
Mais I'imprevu de la mort, ce n'est rien encore, non
rien en comparaison de I'inconnu du s^pulcre. Ou
allons-nous? allons-nous meme quelque part par ce
tenebreux chemin ? "

As M. Ollivier remarks, no writer in any language
has ever penned passages of such terrible pathos.


And yet Lamartine was no pessimist, such as Baude-
laire, the sombre author of the " Fleurs de Mai."
Somebody must yet arise to penetrate the secret of
this terrible passage. Was it on account of Elvire,
who died of consumption ? It was in Savoy that she
met the poet in 1 8 1 6.

" O lac ! L'annee a peine a fini sa carriere
Et pres des flots cheris qu'elle devait revoir,
Regarde ! je viens seul m'asseoir sur cette pierre

Ou tu la vis s'asseoir.
Que le vent qui gemit, le roseau qui soupire,
Que les parfums legers de ton air embaume,
Que tout ce qu'on entend, I'on voit et I'on respire

Tout dise : lis ont aime."

Elvire was a Creole orphan brought up in the house
of the Legion of Honour at Saint Denis. She
married one of the teachers there, an elderly man,
and died in Paris in 181.7. Graziella, daughter of a
Neapolitan fisherman, had previously died of love for
the French poet.

Baudelaire, to whom I have referred, has uttered
in poetry some of the terrible truths enunciated by
Lamartine in the prose passage just quoted :

" O douleur ! O douleur ! Le Temps mange la vie
Et I'obscur Ennemi qui nous ronge le coeur
Du sang que nous pardons croit et se fortifie."

And the fearful pessimism in '* Une Charogne." His
mistress is to become carrion, too :

" Et pourtant vous serez semblable a cette ordure,
A cette horrible infection
Etoile de mes yeux, soleil de ma nature,
Vous, mon ange et ma passion,"


I never had leisure to follow the movements of the
modern Decadents and Symbolists in poetry, and I
have not read a line of Mallarm^. I have read
Verlaine, who did not want to be called a Symbolist,
but was one, since he endeavoured to produce emotions
by sound, as in the opening of the " Crimen Amoris,"

"Dans un palais sole et or, dans Ecbatane,"

which M. Morice has compared to the crash of a brass
band. Verlaine at his best does not equal old Villon,
to whom he is often compared. He could never have
written such a gem as the " Ballade des Dames du
temps jadis" — the " Ballad of Dead Ladies" — so finely
translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with the
familiar refrain " Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan," or
the " Ballade de la belle Heaulmiere," both in the
"Grand Testament" of Maistre Frangois Villon.
The two men, Villon and Verlaine, were equal in
this, that they tried to practise their religion before
they died. Says Villon :

" Je suys pecheur, je le s^ay bien ;
Pourtant Dieu ne veult pas ma mort,
Mais convertisse et vive en bien."

The nineteenth century Villon, on his side, died a good
Catholic. Verlaine I used to see at one time engaged
in his favourite pastime of drinking, sometimes
absinthe and sometimes rum, in a cafe in the Latin
Quarter. He was a contemporary of another remark-
able poet, Georges Rodenbach, the Belgian, author
of " Bruges-la-morte."

Rodenbach was not, of course, the Bohemian that


Verlaine was. He was a domesticated married man,
and besides producing that admirable verse of his,
descriptive chiefly of his native country, and especially
of Bruges, he wrote for the leading newspapers.
There was one poet or versifier in Paris whom I read
very regularly, Raoul Ponchon. I have referred to
Ponchon already, and to his mock elegy on the death
of poor Chincholle of the Figaro. He writes a
"Gazette rimee" every week for Le Journal ^ and
contributes comic verse also to the Courrier Frangais.
He is an imitator, but thoroughly modern, of Villon,
and although many do not deign to notice his work,
it is the most quaint and curious " copy " ever printed.
One of the finest things he ever wrote was on the
dissensions between Queen Wilhelmina of Holland
and her husband :

" Or, cet infortune prince
Disait : Mince !
Sur terre, est-il pire sort
Titre plus aleatoire

Qu celui-la de consort.

Quand j'epousai cette hermine,

Pouvais-je done, moi, Gotha,
Prevoir que ce mariage
Deviendrait mon Golgotha ?

En mon for, je pensais faire

Une affaire
Comme on dit — de tout repos.
A payer sur Sa cassette

Quelque dette
Je me sentais tout dispos.


II me fallait en rebattre

Apres quatre
Ou cinq mois de fol espoir,
Car la Reine, quoique riche,

Est tres chiche
EUe ne veut rien savoir

Non seulement de mes dettes,

Mes emplettes,
Mais, je le dis tout a trac
De cette femme inhumaine

C'est a peine
Si j'en ai pour mon tabac."

These are only a few excerpts from a long gazette
rim^e, which, with the equally queer and quaint lines
on Madame Humbert's empty safe, is among the best
of the ephemeral compositions in verse thrown off by
the prolific Ponchon, who taps a fountain of fun which
is never dry.


Return to politics after literature — President Loubet's retire-
ment — His new home — His successor, M. Armand
Fallieres — A Republic of Lawyers — Close of the Dreyfus
Case — M. Clemenceau, President of the Council, and
General Picquart, War Minister — General de Galliffet on
Picquart's rise — General Andre and his revelations —
The mysteries of modern Paris — Farewell to Paris.

IN the late autumn of 1905 there was a good
deal of talk about the impending resignation of
President Loubet. Conflicts of opinion arose on the
matter, and there were many who held that the
astute President was only hoaxing those to whom he
declared that he was tired of office. The opposition
papers called M. Loubet a crafty old " bonhomme,"
and he was compared to Jules Grevy, who clung to
the Elysee until he had to leave it. M. Loubet was
in earnest despite his detractors' doubts and denuncia-

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Online LibraryWalter F LonerganForty years of Paris → online text (page 23 of 25)