Shortly after, I came back to Paris. At the theatre they were preparing for a benefit performance for Bressant, who was about to retire from the stage. It was agreed that Mounet-Sully and I should play an act from Othello, by Jean Aicard. The theatre was well filled, and the audience in a good humour. After the song I was in bed as Desdemona, when suddenly I heard the public laugh, softly at first, and then irrepressibly. Othello had just come in, in the darkness, in his shirt or very little more, with a lantern in his hand, and gone to a door hidden in some drapery. The public, that impersonal unity has no hesitation in taking part in these unseemly manifestations, but each member of the audience, taken as a separate individual, would be ashamed to admit that he participated in them. But the ridicule thrown on this act by the exaggerated pantomime of the actor prevented the play being staged again, and it was only twenty years later that Othello as an entire play was produced at the Théâtre Français. I was then no longer there.
After having played Bérénice in Mithridate successfully, I reappeared in my rôle of the Queen in Ruy Blas. The play was as successful at the Théâtre Français as it had been at the Odéon, and the public was, if anything, still more favourable to me. Mounet-Sully played Ruy Blas. He was admirable in the part, and infinitely superior to Lafontaine, who had played it at the Odéon. Frédéric Febvre, very well costumed, rendered his part in a most interesting manner, but he was not so good as Geffroy, who was the most distinguished and the most terrifying Don Salluste that could be imagined.
My relations with Perrin were more and more strained.
He was pleased that I was successful, for the sake of the theatre; he was happy at the magnificent receipts of Ruy Blas; but he would have much preferred that it had been another than I who received all the applause. My independence, my horror of submission, even in appearance, annoyed him vastly.
One day my servant came to tell me that an elderly Englishman was asking to see me so insistently that he thought it better to come and tell me, though I had given orders I was not to be disturbed.
"Send him away, and let me work in peace."
I was just commencing a picture which interested me very much. It represented a little girl, on Palm Sunday, carrying branches of palm. The little model who posed for me was a lovely Italian of eight years old. Suddenly she said to me:
"He's quarrelling--that Englishman!"
As a matter of fact, in the ante-room there was a noise of voices rising higher and higher. Irritated, I rushed out, my palette in my hand, resolved to make the intruder flee. But just as I opened the door of my studio a tall man came so close to me that I drew back, and he came into the large room. His eyes were clear and piercing, his hair silvery white, and his beard carefully trimmed. He made his excuses very politely, admired my paintings, my sculpture, my "hall"--and this while I was in complete ignorance of his name. When at the end of ten minutes I begged him to sit down and tell me to what I owed the pleasure of his visit, he replied in a stilted voice with a strong accent:
"I am Mr. Jarrett, the impresario. I can make your fortune. Will you come to America?
"Never!" I exclaimed firmly. "Never!"
"Oh well, don't get angry. Here is my address--don't lose it." Then at the moment he took leave he said:
"Ah! you are going to London with the Comédie Française. Would you like to earn a lot of money in London?"
"By playing in drawing-rooms. I can make a small fortune for you."
"Oh, I would be pleased--that is if I go to London, for I have not yet decided."
"Then will you sign a little contract to which we will add an additional clause?"
And I signed a contract with this man, who inspired me with confidence at first sight--a confidence which he never betrayed.
The committee and M. Perrin had made an agreement with John Hollingshead, director of the Gaiety Theatre in London. Nobody had been consulted, and I thought that was a little too free and easy. So when they told me about this agreement, I said nothing.
Perrin rather anxiously took me aside:
"What are you turning over in your mind?"
"I am turning over this: That I will not go to London in a situation inferior to anybody. For the entire term of my contract I intend to be a Sociétaire with one entire share in the profits."
This intention irritated the committee considerably. And the next day Perrin told me that my proposal was rejected.
"Well, I shall not go to London. That is all! Nothing in my contract compels me to go."
The committee met again, and Got cried out, "Well, let her stay away! She is a regular nuisance!"
It was therefore decided that I should not go to London. But Hollingshead and Mayer, his partner, did not see things in this light, and they declared that the contract would not be binding if either Croizette, Mounet-Sully, or I did not go.
The agents, who had bought two hundred thousand francs' worth of tickets beforehand, also refused to regard the affair as binding on them if we did not go. Mayer came to see me in profound despair, and told me all about it.
"We shall have to break our contract with the Comédie if you don't come," he said, "for the business cannot go through."
Frightened at the consequences of my bad temper, I ran to see Perrin, and told him that after the consultation I had just had with Mayer I understood the involuntary injury I should be causing to the Théâtre Français and to my comrades, and I told him I was ready to go under any conditions.
The committee was holding a meeting. Perrin asked me to wait, and shortly after he came back to me. Croizette and I had been appointed Sociétaires with one entire share in the profits each, not only for London, but for always.
Everybody had done their duty. Perrin, very much touched, took both my hands and drew me to him.
"Oh, the good and untamable little creature!"
We embraced, and peace was again concluded between us. But it could not last long, for five days after this reconciliation, about nine o'clock in the evening, M. Perrin was announced at my house. I had some friends to dinner, so I went to receive him in the hall. He held out to me a paper.
"Read that," said he.
And I read in an English newspaper, the Times, this paragraph:
DRAWING-ROOM COMEDIES OF MLLE. SARAH BERNHARDT, UNDER THE MANAGEMENT OF SIR JULIUS BENEDICT.--"The répertoire of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt is composed of comedies, proverbs, one-act plays, and monologues, written specially for her and one or two artistes of the Comédie Française. These comedies are played without accessories or scenery, and can be adapted both in London and Paris to the matinées and soirées of the best society. For all details and conditions please communicate with Mr. Jarrett (secretary of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt) at Her Majesty's Theatre."
As I was reading the last lines it dawned on me that Jarrett, learning that I was certainly coming to London, had begun to advertise me. I explained this frankly to Perrin.
"What objection is there," I said, "to my making use of my evenings to earn money? This business has been proposed to me."
"I am not complaining--it's the committee."
"That is too bad!" I cried, and calling for my secretary, I said, "Give me Delaunay's letter that I gave you yesterday."
He brought it out of one of his numerous pockets and gave it to Perrin to read.
"Would you care to come and play La Nuit d'Octobre at Lady Dudley's on Thursday, June 5? We are offered 5000 francs for us two. Kind regards.--DELAUNAY."
"Let me have this letter," said the manager, visibly annoyed.
"No, I will not. But you may tell Delaunay that I spoke to you about his offer."
For the next two or three days nothing was talked of in Paris but the scandalous notice in the Times. The French were then almost entirely ignorant of the habits and customs of the English. At last all this talk annoyed me, and I begged Perrin to try and stop it, and the next day the following appeared in the National (May 29): "Much Ado about Nothing.--In friendly discussion it has been decided that outside the rehearsals and the performances of the Comédie Française each artiste is free to employ his time as he sees fit. There is therefore absolutely no truth at all in the pretended quarrel between the Comédie Française and Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt. This artiste has only acted strictly within her rights, which nobody attempts to limit, and all our artistes intend to benefit in the same manner. The manager of the Comédie Française asks only that the artistes who form this company do not give performances in a body."
This article came from the Comédie, and the members of the committee had taken advantage of it to advertise themselves a little, announcing that they also were ready to play in drawing-rooms, for the article was sent to Mayer with a request that it should appear in the English papers. It was Mayer himself who told me this.
All disputes being at an end, we commenced our preparations for departure.
I had been but once on the sea when it was decided that the artistes of the Comédie Française should go to London. The determined ignorance of the French with regard to all things foreign was much more pronounced in those days than it is at present. Therefore I had a very warm cloak made, as I had been assured that the crossing was icy cold even in the very middle of summer, and I believed this. On every side I was besieged with lozenges for sea-sickness, sedatives for headache, tissue paper to put down my back, little compress plasters to put on my diaphragm, and waterproof cork soles for my shoes, for it appeared that above all things I must not have cold feet. Oh, how droll and amusing it all was! I took everything, paid attention to all the recommendations, and believed everything I was told.
The most inconceivable thing of all, though, was the arrival, five minutes before the boat started, of an enormous wooden case. It was very light, and was held by a tall young man, who to-day is a most remarkable individual, possessing all orders and honours, a colossal fortune, and the most outrageous vanity. At that time he was a timid inventor, young, poor, and sad: he was always buried in books which treated of abstract questions, whilst of life he knew absolutely nothing. He had a great admiration for me, mingled with a trifle of awe. My little court had surnamed him "La Quenelle." He was long, vacillating, colourless, and really did resemble the thin roll of forcemeat in a vol-au-vent.
He came up to see me, his face more wan-looking even than usual. The boat was moving a little. My departure terrified him, and the wind caused him to plunge from right to left. He made a mysterious sign to me, and I followed him, accompanied by mon petit Dame, and leaving my friends, who were inclined to be ironical, behind. When I was seated he opened the case and took out an enormous life-belt invented by himself. I was perfectly astounded, for I was new to sea voyages, and the idea had never even occurred to me that we might be shipwrecked during one hour's crossing. La Quenelle was by no means disconcerted, and he put the belt on himself in order to show me how it was used.
Nothing could have looked more foolish than this man, with his sad, serious face, putting on this apparatus. There were a dozen egg-sized bladders round the belt, eleven of which were filled with air and contained a piece of sugar. In the twelfth, a very small bladder, were ten drops of brandy. In the middle of the belt was a tiny cushion with a few pins on it.
"You understand," he said to me. "You fall in the water--paff!--you stay like this." Hereupon he pretended to sit down, rising and sinking with the movement of the waves, his two hands in front of him laid upon the imaginary sea, and his neck stretched like that of a tortoise in order to keep his head above water.
"You see, you have now been in the water for two hours," he explained, "and you want to get back your strength. You take a pin and prick an egg, like this. You take your lump of sugar and eat it; that is as good as a quarter of a pound of meat." He then threw the broken bladder overboard, and from the packing case brought out another, which he fastened to the life-belt. He had evidently thought of everything. I was petrified with amazement. A few of my friends had gathered round, hoping for one of La Quenelle's mad freaks, but they had never expected anything like this one.
M. Mayer, one of our impresarii, fearing a scandal of too absurd a kind, dispersed the people who were gathering round us. I did not know whether to be angry or to laugh, but the jeering, unjust speech of one of my friends roused my pity for this poor Quenelle. I thought of the hours he had spent in planning, combining, and then manufacturing his ridiculous machine. I was touched by the anxiety and affection which had prompted the invention of this life-saving apparatus, and I held out my hand to my poor Quenelle, saying, "Be off now, quickly; the boat is just going to start."
He kissed the hand held out to him in a friendly way, and hurried off. I then called my steward, Claude, and I said, "As soon as we are out of sight of land, throw that case and all it contains into the sea."
The departure of the boat was accompanied by shouts of "Hurrah! Au revoir! Success! Good luck!" There was a waving of hands, handkerchiefs floating in the air, and kisses thrown haphazard to every one.
But what was really fine, and a sight I shall never forget, was our landing at Folkestone. There were thousands of people there, and it was the first time I had ever heard the cry of "Vive Sarah Bernhardt!"
I turned my head and saw before me a pale young man, the ideal face of Hamlet. He presented me with a gardenia. I was destined to admire him later on as Hamlet played by Forbes Robertson. We passed on through a crowd offering us flowers and shaking hands, and I soon saw that I was more favoured than the others. This slightly embarrassed me, but I was delighted all the same. One of my comrades who was just near, and with whom I was not a favourite, said to me in a spiteful tone:
"They'll make you a carpet of flowers soon."
"Here is one!" exclaimed a young man, throwing an armful of lilies on the ground in front of me.
I stopped short, rather confused, not daring to walk on these white flowers, but the crowd pressing on behind compelled me to advance, and the poor lilies had to be trodden under foot.
"Hip, hip, hurrah! A cheer for Sarah Bernhardt!" shouted the turbulent young man.
His head was above all the other heads; he had luminous eyes and long hair, and looked like a German student. He was an English poet, though, and one of the greatest of the century, a poet who was a genius, but who was, alas! later tortured and finally vanquished by madness. It was Oscar Wilde.
The crowd responded to his appeal, and we reached our train amidst shouts of "Hip, hip, hurrah for Sarah Bernhardt! Hip, hip, hurrah for the French actors!"
When the train arrived at Charing Cross towards nine o'clock we were nearly an hour late. A feeling of sadness came over me. The weather was gloomy, and then, too, I thought we should have been greeted again on our arrival in London with more hurrahs. There were plenty of people, crowds of people, but none appeared to know us.
On reaching the station I had noticed that there was a handsome carpet laid down, and I thought it was for us. Oh, I was prepared for anything, as our reception at Folkestone had turned my head. The carpet, however, had been laid down for their Royal Highnesses the Prince and the Princess of Wales, who had just left for Paris.
This news disappointed me, and even annoyed me personally. I had been told that all London was quivering with excitement at the very idea of the visit of the Comédie Française, and I had found London extremely indifferent. The crowd was large and even dense, but cold.
"Why have the Prince and Princess gone away to-day?" I asked M. Mayer.
"Well, because they had decided beforehand about this visit to Paris," he replied.
"Oh, then they won't be here for our first night?" I continued.
"No. The Prince has taken a box for the season, for which he has paid four hundred pounds, but it will be used by the Duke of Connaught."
I was in despair. I don't know why, but I certainly was in despair, as I felt that everything was going wrong.
A footman led the way to my carriage, and I drove through London with a heavy heart. Everything looked dark and dismal, and when I reached the house, 77 Chester Square, I did not want to get out of my carriage.
The door of the house was wide open, though, and in the brilliantly lighted hall I could see what looked like all the flowers on earth arranged in baskets, bouquets, and huge bunches. I got out of the carriage and entered the house in which I was to live for the next six weeks. All the branches seemed to be stretching out their flowers to me.
"Have you the cards that came with all these flowers?" I asked my man-servant.
"Yes," he replied. "I have put them together on a tray. All of them are from Paris, from Madame's friends there. This one is the only bouquet from here." He handed me an enormous one, and on the card with it I read the words, "Welcome!--Henry Irving."
I went all through the house, and it seemed to me very dismal-looking. I visited the garden, but the damp seemed to go through me, and my teeth chattered when I came in again. That night when I went to sleep my heart was heavy with foreboding, as though I were on the eve of some misfortune.
The following day was given up to receiving journalists. I wanted to see them all at the same time, but Mr. Jarrett objected to this. That man was a veritable advertising genius. I had no idea of it at that time. He had made me some very good offers for America, and although I had refused them, I nevertheless held a very high opinion of him, on account of his intelligence, his comic humour, and my need of being piloted in this new country.
"No," he said; "if you receive them all together, they will all be furious, and you will get some wretched articles. You must receive them one after the other."
Thirty-seven journalists came that day, and Jarrett insisted on my seeing every one of them. He stayed in the room and saved the situation when I said anything foolish. I spoke English very badly, and some of the men spoke French very badly. Jarrett translated my answers to them. I remember perfectly well that all of them began with, "Well, Mademoiselle, what do you think of London?"
I had arrived the previous evening at nine o'clock, and the first of these journalists asked me this question at ten in the morning. I had drawn my curtain on getting up, and all I knew of London was Chester Square, a small square of sombre verdure, in the midst of which was a black statue, and the horizon bounded by an ugly church.
I really could not answer the question, but Jarrett was quite prepared for this, and I learnt the following morning that I was most enthusiastic about the beauty of London, that I had already seen a number of the public buildings, &c. &c.
Towards five o'clock Hortense Damain arrived. She was a charming woman, and a favourite in London society. She had come to inform me that the Duchess of ---- and Lady ---- would call on me at half-past five.
"Oh, stay with me, then," I said to her. "You know how unsociable I am; I feel sure that I shall be stupid."
At the time fixed my visitors were announced. This was the first time I had come into contact with any members of the English aristocracy, and I have always had since a very pleasant memory of it.
Lady R---- was extremely beautiful, and the Duchess was so gracious, so distinguished, and so kind that I was very much touched by her visit.
A few minutes later Lord Dudley called. I knew him very well, as he had been introduced to me by Marshal Canrobert, one of my dearest friends. He asked me if I would care to have a ride the following morning, and he said he had a very nice lady's horse which was entirely at my service. I thanked him, but I wanted first to drive in Rotten Row.
At seven o'clock Hortense Damain came to fetch me to dine with her at the house of the Baroness M----. She had a very nice house in Prince's Gate. There were about twenty guests, among others the painter Millais. I had been told that the cuisine was very bad in England, but I thought this dinner perfect. I had been told that the English were cold and sedate: I found them charming and full of humour. Every one spoke French very well, and I was ashamed of my ignorance of the English language. After dinner there were recitations and music. I was touched by the gracefulness and tact of my hosts in not asking me to recite any poetry.
I was very much interested in observing the society in which I found myself. It did not in any way resemble a French gathering. The young girls seemed to be enjoying themselves on their own account, and enjoying themselves thoroughly. They had not come there to find a husband. What surprised me a little was the décolleté of ladies who were getting on in years and to whom time had not been very merciful. I spoke of this to Hortense Damain.
"It's frightful!" I said.
"Yes, but it's chic."
She was very charming, my friend Hortense, but she troubled about nothing that was not chic. She sent me the "Chic commandments" a few days before I left Paris:
Chester Square tu habiteras.
In Chester Square thou shalt live
Rotten Row tu monteras
In Rotten Row thou shalt ride
Le Parlement visiteras
Parliament thou shalt visit
Garden parties thou shalt frequent,
Chaque visite tu rendras
Every visit thou shalt return
A chaque lettre tu repondras
Every letter thou shalt answer
Photographies tu signeras
Photographs thou shalt sign
Hortense Damain tu écouteras
To Hortense Damain thou shalt listen
Et tous ses conseils, les suicras.
And all her counsels thou shalt follow.
I laughed at these "commandments," but I soon realised that under this jocular form she considered them as very serious and important. Alas! my poor friend had hit upon the wrong person for her counsels. I detested paying visits, writing letters, signing photographs, or following any one's advice. I adore having people come to see me, and I detest going to see them. I adore receiving letters, reading them, commenting on them, but I detest writing them. I detest riding and driving in frequented parts, and I adore lonely roads and solitary places. I adore giving advice and I detest receiving it, and I never follow at once any wise advice that is given me. It always requires an effort of my will to recognise the justice of any counsel, and then an effort of my intellect to be grateful for it: at first, it simply annoys me.
Consequently, I paid no attention to Hortense Damain's counsels, nor yet to Jarrett's; and in this I made a great mistake, for many people were vexed with me (in any other country I should have made enemies). On that first visit to London what a quantity of letters of invitation I received to which I never replied! How many charming women called upon me and I never returned their calls. Then, too, how many times accepted invitations to dinner and never went after all, nor did I even send a line of excuse. It is perfectly odious, I know; and yet I always accept with pleasure and intend to go, but when the day comes I am tired perhaps, or want to have a quiet time, or to be free from any obligation, and when I am obliged to decide one way or another, the time has gone by and it is too late to send word and too late to go. And so I stay at home, dissatisfied with myself, with every one else and with everything.
Hospitality is a quality made up of primitive taste and antique grandeur. The English are, in my opinion, the most hospitable people on earth, and they are hospitable simply and munificently. When an Englishman has opened his door to you he never closes it again. He excuses your faults and accepts your peculiarities. It is thanks to this broadness of ideas that I have been for twenty-five years the beloved and pampered artiste.
I was delighted with my first soirée in London, and I returned home very gay and very much "anglomaniaised." I found some of my friends there--Parisians who had just arrived--and they were furious. My enthusiasm exasperated them, and we sat up arguing until two in the morning.
The next day I went to Rotten Row. It was glorious weather, and all Hyde Park seemed to be strewn with enormous bouquets. There were the flower-beds wonderfully arranged by the gardeners; then there were the clusters of sunshades, blue, pink, red, white, or yellow, which sheltered the light hats covered with flowers under which shone the pretty faces of children and women. Along the riding path there was an exciting gallop of graceful thoroughbreds bearing along some hundreds of horsewomen, slender, supple, and courageous; then there were men and children, the latter mounted on big Irish ponies. There were other children, too, galloping along on Scotch ponies with long, shaggy manes, the children's hair and the manes of the horses streaming in the wind of their own speed.
The carriage road between the riding-track and the foot passengers was filled with dog-carts, open carriages of various kinds, mail-coaches, and very smart cabs. There were powdered footmen, horses decorated with flowers, sportsmen driving, ladies, too, driving admirable horses. All this elegance, this essence of luxury, and this joy of life brought back to my memory the vision of our Bois de Boulogne, so elegant and so animated a few years before, when Napoleon III. used to drive through on his daumont, nonchalant and smiling. Ah, how beautiful it was in those days--our Bois de Boulogne, with the officers caracoling in the Avenue des Acacias, admired by our beautiful society women!
The joy of life was everywhere--the love of love enveloping life with an infinite charm. I closed my eyes, and I felt a pang at my heart as the awful recollections of 1870 crowded to my brain. He was dead, our gentle Emperor, with his shrewd smile. Dead, vanquished by the sword, betrayed by fortune, crushed with grief.
The thread of life in Paris had been taken up again in all its intenseness, but the life of elegance, of charm, and of luxury was still shrouded in crape. Scarcely eight years had passed since the war had struck down our soldiers, ruined our hopes, and tarnished our glory. Three Presidents had already succeeded each other. That wretched little Thiers, with his perverse bourgeois soul, had worn his teeth out with nibbling at every kind of Government--royalty under Louis Philippe, Empire under Napoleon III., and the executive power of the French Republic. He had never even thought of lifting our beloved Paris up again, bowed down as she was under the weight of so many ruins. He had been succeeded by MacMahon, a good, brave man, but a cipher. Grévy had succeeded the Marshal, but he was miserly, and considered all outlay unnecessary for himself, for other people, and for the country. And so Paris remained sad, nursing the leprosy that the Commune had communicated to her by the kiss of its fires. And our delightful Bois de Boulogne still bore the traces of the injuries that the national defence had inflicted on her. The Avenue des Acacias was deserted.
I opened my eyes again. They were filled with tears, and through their mist I caught a glimpse once more of the triumphant vitality which surrounded me.
I wanted to return home at once, for I was acting that night for the first time, and I felt rather wretched and despairing. There were several persons awaiting me at my house in Chester Square, but I did not want to see any one. I took a cup of tea and went to the Gaiety Theatre, where we were to face the English public for the first time. I knew already that I had been elected the favourite, and the idea of this chilled me with terror, for I am what is known as a traqueuse. I am subject to the trac or stage fright, and I have it terribly. When I first appeared on the stage I was timid, but I never had this trac. I used to turn as red as a poppy when I happened to meet the eye of some spectator. I was ashamed of talking so loud before so many silent people. That was the effect of my cloistered life, but I had no feeling of fear. The first time I ever had the real sensation of trac or stage fright was in the month of January 1869, at the seventh or perhaps the eighth performance of Le Passant. The success of this little masterpiece had been enormous, and my interpretation of the part of Zanetto had delighted the public, and particularly the students. When I went on the stage that day I was suddenly applauded by the whole house. I turned towards the Imperial box, thinking that the Emperor had just entered. But no; the box was empty, and I realised then that all the bravos were for me. I was seized with a fit of nervous trembling, and my eyes smarted with tears that I had to keep back. Agar and I had five curtain calls, and on leaving the theatre the students ranged on each side gave me three cheers. On reaching home I flung myself into the arms of my blind grandmother, who was then living with me.
"What's the matter with you, my dear?" she asked.
"It's all over with me, grandmother," I said. "They want to make a 'star' of me, and I haven't talent enough for that. You'll see they'll drag me down and finish me off with all their bravos."
My grandmother took my head in her hands, and I met the vacant look in her large light eyes fixed on me.
"You told me, my child, that you wanted to be the first in your profession, and when the opportunity comes to you, why, you are frightened. It seems to me that you are a very bad soldier."
I drove back my tears, and declared that I would bear up courageously against this success which had come to interfere with my tranquillity, my heedlessness, and my "don't care-ism." But from that time forth fear took possession of me, and stage fright martyrised me.
It was under these conditions that I prepared for the second act of Phèdre, in which I was to appear for the first time before the English public. Three times over I put rouge on my cheeks, blackened my eyes, and three times over I took it all off again with a sponge. I thought I looked ugly, and it seemed to me I was thinner than ever and not so tall. I closed my eyes to listen to my voice. My special pitch is "le bal," which I pronounce low down with the open a, "le bâââl" or take high by dwelling on the l--"le balll." Ah, but there was no doubt about it; my "le bal" neither sounded high nor low, my voice was hoarse in the low notes and not clear in the soprano. I cried with rage, and just then I was informed that the second act of Phèdre was about to commence. This drove me wild. I had not my veil on, nor my rings, and my cameo belt was not fastened.
I began to murmur:
"Le voici! Vers mon coeur tout mon sang se retire. J'oublie en le voyant...."
That word "j'oublie" struck me with a new idea. What if I did forget the words I had to say? Why, yes. What was it I had to say? I did not know--I could not remember. What was I to say after "en le voyant"?
No one answered me. Every one was alarmed at my nervous state. I heard Got mumble, "She's going mad!"
Mlle. Thénard, who was playing Oenone, my old nurse, said to me, "Calm yourself. All the English have gone to Paris; there's no one in the house but Belgians."
This foolishly comic speech turned my thoughts in another direction.
"How stupid you are!" I said. "You know how frightened I was at Brussels!"
"Oh, all for nothing," she answered calmly. "There were only English people in the theatre that day."
I had to go on the stage at once, and I could not even answer her, but she had changed the current of my ideas. I still had stage fright, but not the fright that paralyses, only the kind that drives one wild. This is bad enough, but it is preferable to the other sort. It makes one do too much, but at any rate one does something.
The whole house had applauded my arrival on the stage for a few seconds, and as I bent my head in acknowledgment I said within myself, "Yes--yes--you shall see. I'm going to give you my very blood--my life itself--my soul."
When I began my part, as I had lost my self-possession, I started on rather too high a note, and when once in full swing I could not get lower again--I simply could not stop. I suffered, I wept, I implored, I cried out; and it was all real. My suffering was horrible; my tears were flowing, scorching and bitter. I implored Hippolyte for the love which was killing me, and my arms stretched out to Mounet-Sully were the arms of Phèdre writhing in the cruel longing for his embrace. The inspiration had come.
When the curtain fell Mounet-Sully lifted me up inanimate and carried me to my dressing-room.
The public, unaware of what was happening, wanted me to appear again and bow. I too wanted to return and thank the public for its attention, its kindliness, and its emotion. I returned. The following is what John Murray said in the Gaulois of June 5, 1879:
"When, recalled with loud cries, Mlle. Bernhardt appeared, exhausted by her efforts and supported by Mounet-Sully, she received an ovation which I think is unique in the annals of the theatre in England."
The following morning the Daily Telegraph terminated its admirable criticism with these lines:
"Clearly Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt exerted every nerve and fibre, and her passion grew with the excitement of the spectators, for when, after a recall that could not be resisted, the curtain drew up, M. Mounet-Sully was seen supporting the exhausted figure of the actress, who had won her triumph only after tremendous physical exertion--and triumph it was, however short and sudden."
The Standard finished its article with these words: "The subdued passion, repressed for a time, until at length it burst its bonds, and the despairing, heart-broken woman is revealed to Hippolyte, was shown with so vivid a reality that a scene of enthusiasm such as is rarely witnessed in a theatre followed the fall of the curtain. Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt in the few minutes she was upon the stage (and coming on, it must be remembered, to plunge into the middle of a stirring tragedy) yet contrived to make an impression which will not soon be effaced from those who were present."
The Morning Post said:
"Very brief are the words spoken before Phèdre rushes into the room to commence tremblingly and nervously, with struggles which rend and tear and convulse the system, the secret of her shameful love. As her passion mastered what remained of modesty or reserve in her nature, the woman sprang forward and recoiled again, with the movements of a panther, striving, as it seemed, to tear from her bosom the heart which stifled her with its unholy longings, until in the end, when, terrified at the horror her breathings have provoked in Hippolyte, she strove to pull his sword from its sheath and plunge it in her own breast, she fell back in complete and absolute collapse. This exhibition, marvellous in beauty of pose, in febrile force, in intensity, and in purity of delivery, is the more remarkable as the passion had to be reached, so to speak, at a bound, no performance of the first act having roused the actress to the requisite heat. It proved Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt worthy of her reputation, and shows what may be expected from her by the public which has eagerly expected her coming."
This London first night was decisive for my future.
My intense desire to win over the English public had caused me to overtax my strength. I had done my utmost at the first performance, and had not spared myself in the least. The consequence was in the night I vomited blood in such an alarming way that a messenger was despatched to the French Embassy in search of a physician. Dr. Vintras, who was at the head of the French Hospital in London, found me lying on my bed, exhausted and looking more dead than alive. He was afraid that I should not recover, and requested that my family be sent for. I made a gesture with my hand to the effect that it was not necessary. As I could not speak, I wrote down with a pencil, "Send for Dr. Parrot."
Dr. Vintras remained with me part of the night, putting crushed ice between my lips every five minutes. At length towards five in the morning the blood vomiting ceased, and, thanks to a potion that the doctor gave me, I fell asleep.
We were to play L'Etrangère that night at the Gaiety, and, as my rôle was not a very fatiguing one, I wanted to perform my part quand-même.
Dr. Parrot arrived by the four o'clock boat, and refused categorically to give his consent. He had attended me from my childhood. I really felt much better, and the feverishness had left me. I wanted to get up, but to this Dr. Parrot objected.
Presently Dr. Vintras and Mr. Mayer, the impresario of the Comédie Française, were announced. Mr. Hollingshead. the director of the Gaiety Theatre, was waiting in a carriage at the door to know whether I was going to play in L'Etrangère, the piece announced on the bills. I asked Dr. Parrot to rejoin Dr. Vintras in the drawing-room, and I gave instructions for Mr. Mayer to be introduced into my room.
"I feel much better," I said to him very quickly. "I'm very weak still, but I will play. Hush!--don't say a word here. Tell Hollingshead, and wait for me in the smoking-room, but don't let any one else know."
I then got up and dressed very quickly. My maid helped me, and as she had guessed what my plan was, she was highly amused.
Wrapped in my cloak, with a lace fichu over my head, I joined Mayer in the smoking-room, and then we both got into his hansom.
"Come to me in an hour's time," I said in a low voice to my maid.
"Where are you going?" asked Mayer, perfectly stupefied.
"To the theatre! Quick--quick!" I answered.
The cab started, and I then explained to him that if I had stayed at home, neither Dr. Parrot nor Dr. Vintras would have allowed me to perform.
"The die is cast now," I added, "and we shall see what happens."
When once I was at the theatre I took refuge in the manager's private office, in order to avoid Dr. Parrot's anger. I was very fond of him, and I knew how wrongly I was acting with regard to him, considering the inconvenience to which he had put himself in making the journey specially for me in response to my summons. I knew, though, how impossible it would have been to have made him understand that I felt really better, and that in risking my life I was really only risking what was my own to dispose of as I pleased.
Half an hour later my maid joined me. She brought with her a letter from Dr. Parrot, full of gentle reproaches and furious advice, finishing with a prescription in case of a relapse. He was leaving an hour later, and would not even come and shake hands with me. I felt quite sure, though, that we should make it all up again on my return. I then began to prepare for my rôle in L'Etrangère. While dressing I fainted three times, but I was determined to play quand-même.
The opium that I had taken in my potion made my head rather heavy. I arrived on the stage in a semi-conscious state, delighted with the applause I received. I walked along as though I were in a dream, and could scarcely distinguish my surroundings. The house itself I only saw through a luminous mist. My feet glided along without any effort on the carpet, and my voice sounded to me far away, very far away. I was in that delicious stupor that one experiences after chloroform, morphine, opium, or hasheesh.
The first act went off very well, but in the third act, just when I was about to tell the Duchesse de Septmonts (Croizette) all the troubles that I, Mrs. Clarkson, had gone through during my life, just as I should have commenced my interminable story, I could not remember anything. Croizette murmured my first phrase for me, but I could only see her lips move without hearing a word. I then said quite calmly:
"The reason I sent for you here, Madame, is because I wanted to tell you my reasons for acting as I have done. I have thought it over and have decided not to tell you them to-day."
Sophie Croizette gazed at me with a terrified look in her eyes. She then rose and left the stage, her lips trembling, and her eyes fixed on me all the time.
"What's the matter?" every one asked when she sank almost breathless into an arm-chair.
"Sarah has gone mad!" she exclaimed. "I assure you she has gone quite mad. She has cut out the whole of her scene with me."
"But how?" every one asked.
"She has cut out two hundred lines," said Croizette.
"But what for?" was the eager question.
"I don't know. She looks quite calm."
The whole of this conversation, which was repeated to me later on, took much less time than it does now to write it down. Coquelin had been told, and he now came on to the stage to finish the act. The curtain fell. I was stupefied and desperate afterwards on hearing all that people told me. I had not noticed that anything was wrong, and it seemed to me that I had played the whole of my part as usual, but I was really under the influence of the opium. There was very little for me to say in the fifth act, and I went through that perfectly well. The following day the accounts in the papers sounded the praises of our company, but the piece itself was criticised. I was afraid at first that my involuntary omission of the important scene in the third act was one of the causes of the severity of the Press. This was not so, though, as all the critics had read and re-read the piece. They discussed the play itself, and did not mention my slip of memory.
The Figaro, which was in a very bad humour with me just then, had an article from which I quote the following extract:
"L'Etrangère is not a piece in accordance with the English taste. Mlle. Croizette, however, was applauded enthusiastically, and so were Coquelin and Febvre. Mile. Sarah Bernhardt, nervous as usual, lost her memory.'" (Figaro, June 3rd.)
He knew perfectly well, this worthy Mr. Johnson, [Footnote: T. Johnson, London correspondent of Le Figaro.] that I was very ill. He had been to my house and seen Dr. Parrot; consequently he was aware that I was acting in spite of the Faculty in the interests of the Comédie Française. The English public had given me such proofs of appreciation that the Comédie was rather affected by it, and the Figaro, which was at that time the organ of the Théâtre Français, requested Johnson to modify his praises of me. This he did the whole time that we were in London.
My reason for telling about my loss of memory, which was quite an unimportant incident in itself, is merely to prove to authors how unnecessary it is to take the trouble of explaining the characters of their creations. Alexandre Dumas was certainly anxious to give us the reasons which caused Mrs. Clarkson to act as strangely as she did. He had created a person who was extremely interesting and full of action as the play proceeds. She reveals herself to the public, in the first act, by the lines which Mrs. Clarkson says to Madame de Septmonts:
"I should be very glad, Madame, if you would call on me. We could talk about one of your friends, Monsieur Gérard, whom I love perhaps as much as you do, although he does not perhaps care for me as he does for you."
That was quite enough to interest the public in these two women. It was the eternal struggle of good and evil, the combat between vice and virtue. But it evidently seemed rather commonplace to Dumas, ancient history, in fact, and he wanted to rejuvenate the old theme by trying to arrange for an orchestra with organ and banjo. The result he obtained was a fearful cacophony. He wrote a foolish piece, which might have been a beautiful one. The originality of his style, the loyalty of his ideas, and the brutality of his humour sufficed for rejuvenating old ideas which, in reality, are the eternal basis of tragedies, comedies, novels, pictures, poems, and pamphlets. It was love between vice and virtue. Among the spectators who saw the first performance of L'Etrangère in London, and there were quite as many French as English present, not one remarked that there was something wanting, and not one of them said that he had not understood the character.
I talked about it to a very learned Frenchman.
"Did you notice the gap in the third act?" I asked him.
"No," he replied.
"In my big scene with Croizette?"
"Well then, read what I left out," I insisted.
When he had read this he exclaimed:
"So much the better. It's very dull, all that story, and quite useless. I understand the character without all that rigmarole and that romantic history."
Later on, when I apologised to Dumas fils for the way in which I had cut down his play, he answered, "Oh, my dear child, when I write a play I think it is good, when I see it played I think it is stupid, and when any one tells it to me I think it is perfect, as the person always forgets half of it."
The performances given by the Comédie Française drew a crowd nightly to the Gaiety Theatre, and I remained the favourite. I mention this now with pride, but without any vanity. I was very happy and very grateful for my success, but my comrades had a grudge against me on account of it, and hostilities began in an underhand, treacherous way.
Mr. Jarrett, my adviser and agent, had assured me that I should be able to sell a few of my works, either my sculpture or paintings. I had therefore taken with me six pieces of sculpture and ten pictures, and I had an exhibition of them in Piccadilly. I sent out invitations, about a hundred in all.
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales let me know that he would come with the Princess of Wales. The English aristocracy and the celebrities of London came to the inauguration. I had only sent out a hundred invitations, but twelve hundred people arrived and were introduced to me. I was delighted, and enjoyed it all immensely.
Mr. Gladstone did me the great honour of talking to me for about ten minutes. With his genial mind he spoke of everything in a singularly gracious way. He asked me what impression the attacks of certain clergymen on the Comédie Française and the damnable profession of dramatic artistes had made on me. I answered that I considered our art quite as profitable, morally, as the sermons of Catholic and Protestant preachers.
"But will you tell me, Mademoiselle,'" he insisted, "what moral lesson you can draw from Phèdre?"
"Oh, Mr. Gladstone," I replied, "you surprise me. Phèdre is an ancient tragedy; the morality and customs of those times belong to perspective quite different from ours and different from the morality of our present society. And yet in that there is the punishment of the old nurse Oenone, who commits the atrocious crime of accusing an innocent person. The love of Phèdre is excusable on account of the fatality which hangs over her family and descends pitilessly upon her. In our times we should call that fatality atavism, for Phèdre was the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë. As to Theseus, his verdict, against which there could be no appeal, was an arbitrary and monstrous act, and was punished by the death of that beloved son of his, who was the sole and last hope of his life. We ought never to do what is irreparable."
"Ah," said the Grand Old Man, "you are against capital punishment?"
"Yes, Mr. Gladstone."
"And quite right, Mademoiselle."
Frederic Leighton then joined us, and with great kindness complimented me on one of my pictures, representing a young girl holding some palms. This picture was bought by Prince Leopold.
My little exhibition was a great success, but I never thought that it was to be the cause of so much gossip and of so many cowardly side-thrusts, until finally it led to my rupture with the Comédie Française.
I had no pretensions either as a painter or a sculptress, and I exhibited my works for the sake of selling them, as I wanted to buy two little lions, and had not money enough. I sold the pictures for what they were worth--that is to say, at very modest prices.
Lady H---- bought my group After the Storm. It was smaller than the large group I had exhibited two years previously at the Paris Salon, and for which I had received a prize. The smaller group was in marble, and I had worked at it with the greatest care. I wanted to sell it for £160, but Lady H---- sent me £400, together with a charming note, which I venture to quote. It ran as follows:
"Do me the favour, Madame, of accepting the enclosed £400 for your admirable group, After the Storm. Will you also do me the honour of coming to lunch with me, and afterwards you shall choose for yourself the place where your piece of sculpture will have the best light.--ETHEL H."
This was Tuesday, and I was playing in Zaïre that evening, but Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I was not acting. I had money enough now to buy my lions, so without saying a word at the theatre I started for Liverpool. I knew there was a big menagerie there, Cross's Zoo, and that I should find some lions for sale.
The journey was most amusing, as although I was travelling incognito, I was recognised all along the route and was made a great deal of.
Three gentlemen friends and Hortense Damain were with me, and it was a very lively little trip. I knew that I was not shirking my duties at the Comédie, as I was not to play again before Saturday, and this was only Wednesday.
We started in the morning at 10.30, and arrived at Liverpool about 2.30. We went at once to Cross's, but could not find the entrance to the house. We asked a shopkeeper at the corner of the street, and he pointed to a little door which we had already opened and closed twice, as we could not believe that was the entrance.
I had seen a large iron gateway with a wide courtyard beyond, and we were in front of a little door leading into quite a small, bare-looking room, where we found a little man.
"Mr. Cross?" we said. "That's my name," he replied.
"I want to buy some lions," I then said.
He began to laugh, and then he asked:
"Do you really, Mademoiselle? Are you so fond of animals? I went to London last week to see the Comédie Française, and I saw you in Hernani."
"It wasn't from that you discovered that I like animals?" I said to him.
"No, it was a man who sells dogs in St. Andrew's Street who told me. He said you had bought two dogs from him, and that if it had not been for a gentleman who was with you, you would have bought five."
He told me all this in very bad French, but with a great deal of humour.
"Well, Mr. Cross," I said, "I want two lions to-day."
"I'll show you what I have," he replied, leading the way into the courtyard where the wild beasts were. Oh, what magnificent creatures they were! There were two superb African lions with shining coats and powerful-looking tails, which were beating the air. They had only just arrived and they were in perfect health, with plenty of courage for rebellion. They knew nothing of the resignation which is the dominating stigma of civilised beings.
"Oh, Mr. Cross," I said, "these are too big. I want some young lions!"
"I haven't any, Mademoiselle."
"Well, then, show me all your animals."
I saw the tigers, the leopards, the jackals, the cheetahs, the pumas, and I stopped in front of the elephants. I simply adore them, and I should have liked to have a dwarf elephant. That has always been one of my dreams, and perhaps some day I shall be able to realise it.
Cross had not any, though, so I bought a cheetah. It was quite young and very droll; it looked like a gargoyle on some castle of the Middle Ages. I also bought a dog-wolf, all white with a thick coat, fiery eyes, and spear-like teeth. He was terrifying to look at. Mr. Cross made me a present of six chameleons which belonged to a small breed and looked like lizards. He also gave me an admirable chameleon, a prehistoric, fabulous sort of animal. It was a veritable Chinese curiosity, and changed colour from pale green to dark bronze, at one minute slender and long like a lily leaf, and then all at once puffed out and thick-set like a toad. Its lorgnette eyes, like those of a lobster, were quite independent of each other. With its right eye it would look ahead and with its left eye it looked backwards. I was delighted and quite enthusiastic over this present. I named my chameleon "Cross-ci Cross-ça," in honour of Mr. Cross.
We returned to London with the cheetah in a cage, the dog-wolf in a leash, my six little chameleons in a box, and Cross-ci Cross-ça on my shoulder, fastened to a gold chain we had bought at a jeweller's.
I had not found any lions, but I was delighted all the same.
My servants were not as pleased as I was. There were already three dogs in the house: Minniccio, who had accompanied me from Paris; Bull and Fly, bought in London. Then there was my parrot Bizibouzou, and my monkey Darwin.
Madame Guérard screamed when she saw these new guests arrive. My steward hesitated to approach the dog-wolf, and it was all in vain that I assured them that my cheetah was not dangerous. No one would open the cage, and it was carried out into the garden. I asked for a hammer in order to open the door of the cage which had been nailed down, thus keeping the poor cheetah a prisoner. When my domestics heard me ask for the hammer they decided to open it themselves. Madame Guérard and the women servants watched from the windows. Presently the door burst open, and the cheetah, beside himself with joy, sprang like a tiger out of his cage, wild with liberty. He rushed at the trees and made straight for the dogs, who all four began to howl with terror. The parrot was excited, and uttered shrill cries; and the monkey, shaking his cage about, gnashed his teeth to distraction. This concert in the silent square made the most prodigious effect. All the windows were opened, and more than twenty faces appeared above my garden wall, all of them inquisitive, alarmed, or furious. I was seized with a fit of uncontrollable laughter, and so was my friend Louise Abbema. Nittis the painter, who had come to call on me, was in the same state, and so was Gustave Doré, who had been waiting for me ever since two o'clock. Georges Deschamp, an amateur musician with a great deal of talent, tried to note down this Hofmannesque harmony, whilst my friend Georges Clairin, his back shaking with laughter, sketched the never-to-be -forgotten scene.
The next day in London the chief topic of conversation was the Bedlam that had been let loose at 77 Chester Square. So much was made of it that our doyen, M. Got, came to beg me not to make such a scandal, as it reflected on the Comédie Française. I listened to him in silence, and when he had finished I took his hands.
"Come with me and I will show you the scandal," I said. I led the way into the garden, followed by my visitor and friends. "Let the cheetah out!" I said, standing on the steps like a captain ordering his men to take in a reef.
When the cheetah was free the same mad scene occurred again as on the previous day.
"You see, Monsieur le Doyen," I said, "this is my Bedlam." "You are mad," he said, kissing me; "but it certainly is irresistibly comic," and he laughed until the tears came when he saw all the heads appearing above the garden wall.
The hostilities continued, though, through scraps of gossip retailed by one person to another and from one set to another. The French Press took it up, and so did the English Press. In spite of my happy disposition and my contempt for ill-natured tales, I began to feel irritated. Injustice has always roused me to revolt, and injustice was certainly having its fling. I could not do a thing that was not watched and blamed.
One day I was complaining of this to Madeleine Brohan, whom I loved dearly. That adorable artiste took my face in her hands, and looking into my eyes, said:
"My poor dear, you can't do anything to prevent it. You are original without trying to be so. You have a dreadful head of hair that is naturally curly and rebellious, your slenderness is exaggerated, you have a natural harp in your throat, and all this makes of you a creature apart, which is a crime of high treason against all that is commonplace. That is what is the matter with you physically. Now for your moral defects. You cannot hide your thoughts, you cannot stoop to anything, you never accept any compromise, you will not lend yourself to any hypocrisy--and all that is a crime of high treason against society. How can you expect under these conditions not to arouse jealousy, not to wound people's susceptibilities, and not to make them spiteful? If you are discouraged because of these attacks, it will be all over with you, as you will have no strength left to withstand them. In that case I advise you to brush your hair, to put oil on it, and so make it lie as sleek as that of the famous Corsican; but even that would never do, for Napoleon had such sleek hair that it was quite original. Well, you might try to brush your hair as smooth as Prudhon's, [Footnote: Prudhon was one of the artistes of the Théâtre Français.] then there would be no risk for you. I would advise you," she continued, "to get a little stouter, and to let your voice break occasionally; then you would not annoy any one. But if you wish to remain yourself, my dear, prepare to mount on a little pedestal made of calumny, scandal, injustice, adulation, flattery, lies, and truths. When you are once upon it, though, do the right thing, and cement it by your talent, your work, and your kindness. All the spiteful people who have unintentionally provided the first materials for the edifice will kick it then, in hopes of destroying it. They will be powerless to do this, though, if you choose to prevent them; and that is just what I hope for you, my dear Sarah, as you have an ambitious thirst for glory. I cannot understand that myself, as I only like rest and retirement."
I looked at her with envy, she was so beautiful: with her liquid eyes, her face with its pure, restful lines, and her weary smile. I wondered in an uneasy way if happiness were not rather in this calm tranquillity, in the disdain of all things. I asked her gently if this were so, for I wanted to know; and she told me that the theatre bored her, that she had had so many disappointments. She shuddered when she spoke of her marriage, and as to her motherhood, that had only caused her sorrow. Her love affairs had left her with affections crushed and physically disabled. The light seemed doomed to fade from her beautiful eyes, her legs were swollen and could scarcely carry her. She told me all this in the same calm, half weary tone.
What had charmed me only a short time before chilled me to the heart now, for her dislike to movement was caused by the weakness of her eyes and her legs, and her delight in retirement was only the love of that peace which was so necessary to her, wounded as she was by the life she had lived.
The love of life, though, took possession of me more violently than ever. I thanked my dear friend, and profited by her advice. I armed myself for the struggle, preferring to die in the midst of the battle rather than to end my life regretting that it had been a failure. I made up my mind not to weep over the base things that were said about me, and not to suffer any more injustices. I made up my mind, too, to stand on the defensive, and very soon an occasion presented itself.
L'Etrangère was to be played for the second time at a matinée, June 21, 1879. The day before I had sent word to Mayer that I was not well, and that as I was playing in Hernani at night, I should be glad if he could change the play announced for the afternoon if possible. The advance booking, however, was more than £400, and the committee would not hear of it.
"Oh well," Got said to Mr. Mayer, "we must give the rôle to some one else if Sarah Bernhardt cannot play. There will be Croizette, Madeleine Brohan, Coquelin, Febvre, and myself in the cast, and, que diable! it seems to me that all of us together will make up for Mademoiselle Bernhardt."
Coquelin was requested to ask Lloyd to take my part, as she had played this rôle at the Comédie when I was ill. Lloyd was afraid to undertake it, though, and refused. It was decided to change the play, and Tartufe was given instead of L'Etrangère. Nearly all the public, however, asked to have their money refunded, and the receipts, which would have been about £500, only amounted to £84. All the spite and jealousy now broke loose, and the whole company of the Comédie, more particularly the men, with the exception of M. Worms, started a campaign against me. Francisque Sarcey, as drum-major, beat the measure with his terrible pen in his hand. The most foolish, slanderous, and stupid inventions and the most odious lies took their flight like a cloud of wild ducks, and swooped suddenly down upon all the newspapers that were against me. It was said that for a shilling any one might see me dressed as a man; that I smoked huge cigars, leaning on the balcony of my house; that at the various receptions where I gave one-act plays I took my maid with me to play a small part; that I practised fencing in my garden, dressed as a pierrot in white; and that when taking boxing lessons I had broken two teeth of my unfortunate professor.
Some of my friends advised me to take no notice of all these turpitudes, assuring me that the public could not possibly believe them. They were mistaken, though, for the public likes to believe bad things about any one, as these are always more amusing than the good things. I soon had a proof that the English public was beginning to believe what the French papers said. I received a letter from a tailor asking me if I would consent to wear a coat of his make when I appeared in masculine attire, and not only did he offer me this coat for nothing, but he was willing to pay me a hundred pounds if I would wear it. This man was an ill-bred person, but he was sincere. I received several boxes of cigars, and the boxing and fencing professors wrote to offer their services gratuitously. All this annoyed me to such a degree that I resolved to put an end to it. An article by Albert Wolff in the Paris Figaro caused me to take steps to cut matters short.
This is what I wrote in reply to the article in the Figaro, June 27, 1879:
"Albert Wolff, Figaro, Paris.
"And you, too, my dear Monsieur Wolff--you believe in such insanities? Who can have been giving you such false information? Yes, you are my friend, though, for in spite of all the infamies you have been told, you have still a little indulgence left. Well then, I give you my word of honour that I have never dressed as a man here in London. I did not even bring my sculptor costume with me. I give the most emphatic denial to this misrepresentation. I only went once to the exhibition which I organised, and that was on the opening day, for which I had only sent out a few private invitations, so that no one paid a shilling to see me. It is true that I have accepted some private engagements to act, but you know that I am one of the least remunerated members of the Comédie Française. I certainly have the right, therefore, to try to make up the difference. I have ten pictures and eight pieces of sculpture on exhibition. That, too, is quite true, but as I brought them over here to sell, really I must show them. As to the respect due to the House of Molière, dear Monsieur Wolff, I lay claim to keeping that in mind more than any one else, for I am absolutely incapable of inventing such calumnies for the sake of slaying one of its standard-bearers. And now, if the stupidities invented about me have annoyed the Parisians, and if they have decided to receive me ungraciously on my return, I do not wish any one to be guilty of such baseness on my account, so I will send in my resignation to the Comédie Française. If the London public is tired of all this fuss and should be inclined to show me ill-will instead of the indulgence hitherto accorded me I shall ask the Comédie to allow me to leave England, in order to spare our company the annoyance of seeing one of its members hooted at and hissed. I am sending you this letter by wire, as the consideration I have for public opinion gives me the right to commit this little folly, and I beg you, dear Monsieur Wolff, to accord to my letter the same honour as you did to the calumnies of my enemies.--With very kind regards,
This telegram caused much ink to flow. Whilst treating me as a spoiled child, people generally agreed that I was quite right. The Comédie was most amiable. Perrin, the manager, wrote me an affectionate letter begging me to give up my idea of leaving the company. The women were most friendly. Croizette came to see me, and putting her arms round me, said, "Tell me you won't do such a thing, my dear, foolish child! You won't really send in your resignation? In the first place; it would not be accepted, I can answer for that!"
Mounet-Sully talked to me of art and of probity. His whole speech savoured of Protestantism. There are several Protestant pastors in his family, and this influenced him unconsciously. Delaunay, surnamed Father Candour, came solemnly to inform me of the bad impression my telegram had made. He told me that the Comédie Française was a Ministry; that there was the Minister, the secretary, the sub-chiefs and the employés, and that each one must conform to the rules and bring in his share either of talent or work, and so on and so on. I saw Coquelin at the theatre in the evening. He came to me with outstretched hands.
"You know I can't compliment you," he said, "on your rash action, but with good luck we shall make you change your mind. When one has the good fortune and the honour of belonging to the Comédie Française, one must remain there until the end of one's career."
Frédéric Febvre pointed out to me that I ought to stay with the Comédie, because it would save money for me, and I was quite incapable of doing that myself.
"Believe me," he said, "when we are with the Comédie we must not leave; it means our bread provided for us later on."
Got, our doyen, then approached me.
"Do you know what you are doing in sending in your resignation?" he asked.
"No," I replied.
"You are mistaken," I answered; "I am not deserting: I am changing barracks."
Others then came to me, and they all gave me advice tinged by their own personality: Mounet as a seer or believer; Delaunay prompted by his bureaucratic soul; Coquelin as a politician blaming another person's ideas, but extolling them later on and putting them into practice for his own profit; Febvre, a lover of respectability; Got, as a selfish old growler understanding nothing but the orders of the powers that be and advancement as ordained on hierarchical lines. Worms said to me in his melancholy way:
"Will they be better towards you elsewhere?"
Worms had the most dreamy soul and the most frank, straightforward character of any member of our illustrious company. I liked him immensely.
We were about to return to Paris, and I wanted to forget all these things for a time. I was in a hesitating mood. I postponed taking a definite decision. The stir that had been made about me, the good that had been said in my favour and the bad things written against me--all this combined had created in the artistic world an atmosphere of battle. When on the point of leaving for Paris some of my friends felt very anxious about the reception which I should get there.
The public is very much mistaken in imagining that the agitation made about celebrated artistes is in reality instigated by the persons concerned, and that they do it purposely. Irritated at seeing the same name constantly appearing on every occasion, the public declares that the artiste who is being either slandered or pampered is an ardent lover of publicity. Alas! three times over alas! We are victims of the said advertisement. Those who know the joys and miseries of celebrity when they have passed the age of forty know how to defend themselves. They are at the beginning of a series of small worries, thunderbolts hidden under flowers, but they know how to hold in check that monster advertisement. It is a sort of octopus with innumerable tentacles. It throws out on the right and on the left, in front and behind, its clammy arms, and gathers in through its thousand little inhaling organs all the gossip and slander and praise afloat, to spit out again at the public when it is vomiting its black gall. But those who are caught in the clutches of celebrity at the age of twenty know nothing. I remember that the first time a reporter came to me I drew myself up straight and was as red as a cock's-comb with joy. I was just seventeen years old--I had been acting in a private house, and had taken the part of Richelieu with immense success. This gentleman came to call on me at home, and asked me first one question and then another and then another. I answered and chattered, and was wild with pride and excitement. He took notes, and I kept looking at my mother. It seemed to me that I was getting taller. I had to kiss my mother by way of keeping my composure, and I hid my face on her shoulder to hide my delight. Finally the gentleman rose, shook hands with me, and then took his departure. I skipped about in the room and began to turn round singing, Trois petits pâtés, ma chemise brûle, when suddenly the door opened and the gentleman said to mamma, "Oh, Madame, I forgot, this is the receipt for the subscription to the journal. It is a mere nothing, only sixteen francs a year." Mamma did not understand at first. As for me, I stood still with my mouth open, unable to digest my petits pâtés. Mamma then paid the sixteen francs, and in her pity for me, as I was crying by that time, she stroked my hair gently. Since then I have been delivered over to the monster, bound hand and foot, and I have been and still am accused of adoring advertisement. And to think that my first claims to celebrity were my extraordinary thinness and delicate health. I had scarcely made my début when epigrams, puns, jokes, and caricatures concerning me were indulged in by every one to their heart's content. Was it really for the sake of advertising myself that I was so thin, so small, so weak; and was it for this, too, that I remained in bed six months of the year, laid low by illness? My name became celebrated before I was myself.
On the first night of Louis Bouilhet's piece, Mademoiselle Aissé, at the Odeon, Flaubert, who was an intimate friend of the author, introduced an attaché of the British Embassy to me.
"Oh, I have known you for some time, Mademoiselle," he said; "you are the little stick with the sponge on the top."
This caricature of me had just appeared, and had been the delight of idle folks. I was quite a young girl at that time, and nothing of that kind hurt me or troubled me. In the first place, all the doctors had given me up, so that I was indifferent about things; but all the doctors were mistaken, and twenty years later I had to fight against the monster.
The return of the Comédie to its home was an event, but an event that was kept quiet. Our departure from Paris had been very lively and gay, and quite a public function. Our return was clandestine for many of the members, and for me among the number. It was a doleful return for those who had not been appreciated, whilst those who had been failures were furious.
I had not been back home an hour when Perrin was announced. He began to reproach me gently about the little care I took of my health. He said I caused too much fuss to be made about me.
"But," I exclaimed, "is it my fault if I am too thin? Is it my fault, too, if my hair is too curly, and if I don't think just as other people do? Supposing that I took sufficient arsenic during a month to make me swell out like a barrel, and supposing I were to shave my head like an Arab and only answer, 'Yes' to everything you said, people would declare I did it for advertisement."
"But, my dear child," answered Perrin, "there are people who are neither fat nor thin, neither close shaven nor with shocks of hair, and who answer 'Yes' and 'No.'"
I was simply petrified by the justice and reason of this remark, and I understood the "because" of all the "whys" I had been asking myself for some years. There was no happy medium about me; I was "too much" and "too little," and I felt that there was nothing to be done for this. I owned it to Perrin, and told him that he was quite right. He took advantage of my mood to lecture me and advise me not to put in an appearance at the opening ceremony that was soon to take place at the Comédie. He feared a cabal against me. Some people were rather excited, rightly or wrongly--a little of both, he added, in that shrewd and courteous way which was peculiar to him. I listened to him without interrupting, which slightly embarrassed him, for Perrin was an arguer but not an orator. When he had finished I said:
"You have told me too many things that excite me, Monsieur Perrin. I love a battle, and I shall appear at the ceremony. You see, I have already been warned about it. Here are three anonymous letters. Read this one; it is the nicest."
He unfolded the letter, which was perfumed with amber, and read as follows:
"MY POOR SKELETON,--You will do well not to show your horrible Jewish nose at the opening ceremony the day after to-morrow. I fear that it would serve as a target for all the potatoes that are now being cooked specially for you in your kind city of Paris. Have some paragraphs put in the papers to the effect that you have been spitting blood, and remain in bed and think over the consequence of excessive advertisement.
Perrin pushed the letter away from him in disgust. "Here are two more," I said; "but they are so coarse that I will spare you. I shall go to the opening ceremony."
"Good!" replied Perrin. "There is a rehearsal to-morrow. Shall you come?"
"I shall come," I answered.
The next day at the rehearsal not one of the artistes, man or woman, seemed to care about going on to the stage to bow with me. I must say, though, that they all showed nevertheless much good grace. I declared, however, that I would go on alone, although it was against the rule, for I thought I ought to face the ill humour and the cabal alone.
The house was crowded when the curtain rose.
The ceremony commenced in the midst of "Bravos!" The Public was delighted to see its beloved artistes again. They advanced two by two, one on the right and the other on the left, holding the palm or the crown to be placed on the pedestal of Molière's bust. My turn came, and I advanced alone. I felt that I was pale and then livid, with a will that was determined to conquer. I went forward slowly towards the footlights, but instead of bowing as my comrades had done, I stood up erect and gazed with my two eyes into all the eyes turning towards me, I had been warned of the battle, and I did not wish to provoke it, but I would not fly from it. I waited a second, and I felt the thrill and the emotion that ran through the house; and then, suddenly stirred by an impulse of generous kindliness, the whole house burst into wild applause and shouts. The public, so beloved and so loving, was intoxicated with joy. That evening was certainly one of the finest triumphs of my whole career.
Some artistes were delighted, especially the women, for there is one thing to remark with regard to our art: the men are more jealous of the women than the women are amongst themselves. I have met with many enemies among male comedians, and with very few among actresses.
I think that the dramatic art is essentially feminine.
To paint one's face, to hide one's real feelings, to try to please and to endeavour to attract attention--these are all faults for which we blame women and for which great indulgence is shown. These same defects seem odious in a man. And yet the actor must endeavour to be as attractive as possible, even if he is obliged to have recourse to paint and to false beard and hair. He may be a Republican, and he must uphold with warmth and conviction Royalist theories. He may be a Conservative, and must maintain anarchist principles, if such be the good pleasure of the author.
At the Théâtre Français poor Maubant was a most advanced Radical, and his stature and handsome face doomed him to play the parts of kings, emperors, and tyrants. As long as the rehearsals went on Charlemagne or Caesar could be heard swearing at tyrants, cursing the conquerors, and claiming the hardest punishments for them. I thoroughly enjoyed this struggle between the man and the actor. Perhaps this perpetual abstraction from himself gives the comedian a more feminine nature. However that may be, it is certain that the actor is jealous of the actress. The courtesy of the well-educated man vanishes before the footlights, and the comedian who in private life would render a service to a woman in any difficulty will pick a quarrel with her on the stage. He would risk his life to save her from any danger in the road, on the railway, or in a boat, but when once on the boards he will not do anything to help her out of a difficulty. If her memory should fail, or if she should make a false step, he would not hesitate to push her. I am going a long way, perhaps, but not so far as people may think. I have performed with some celebrated comedians who have played me some bad tricks. On the other hand, there are some actors who are admirable, and who are more men than comedians when on the stage. Pierre Berton, Worms, and Guitry are, and always will be, the most perfect models of friendly and protecting courtesy towards the woman comedian. I have played in a number of pieces with each of them, and, subject as I am to stage fright, I have always felt perfect confidence when acting with these three artistes. I knew that their intelligence was of a high order, that they had pity on me for my fright, and that they would be prepared for any nervous weaknesses caused by it. Pierre Berton and Worms, both of them very great artistes, left the stage in full artistic vigour and vital strength, Pierre Berton to devote himself to literature, and Worms--no one knows why. As to Guitry, much the youngest of the three, he is now the first artist on the French stage, for he is an admirable comedian and at the same time an artist, a very rare thing. I know very few artistes in France or in other countries with these two qualities combined. Henry Irving was an admirable artist, but not a comedian. Coquelin is an admirable comedian, but he is not an artist. Mounet-Sully has genius, which he sometimes places at the service of the artist and sometimes at the service of the comedian; but, on the other hand, he sometimes gives us exaggerations as artist and comedian which make lovers of beauty and truth gnash their teeth. Bartet is a perfect comédienne with a very delicate artistic sense. Réjane is the most comedian of comedians, and an artist when she wishes to be.
Eleonora Duse is more a comedian than an artist; she walks in paths that have been traced out by others; she does not imitate them, certainly not, for she plants flowers where there were trees, and trees where there were flowers; but she has never by her art made a single personage stand out identified by her name; she has not created a being or a vision which reminds one of herself. She puts on other people's gloves, but she puts them on inside out. And all this she has done with infinite grace and with careless unconsciousness. She is a great comedian, a very great comedian, but not a great artist.
Novelli is a comedian of the old school which did not trouble much about the artistic side. He is perfect in laughter and tears. Beatrice Patrick Campbell is especially an artist, and her talent is that of charm and thought: she execrates beaten paths; she wants to create, and she creates. Antoine is often betrayed by his own powers, for his voice is heavy and his general appearance rather ordinary. As a comedian there is therefore often much to be desired, but he is always an artist without equal, and our art owes much to him in its evolution in the direction of truth. Antoine, too, is not jealous of the actress.
The days which followed the return of the Comédie to its own home were very trying for me. Our manager wanted to subdue me, and he tortured me with a thousand little pin-pricks which were much more painful for a nature like mine than so many stabs with a knife. (At least I imagine so, as I have never had any.) I became irritable, bad-tempered on the slightest provocation, and was in fact ill. I had always been gay, and now I was sad. My health, which had ever been feeble, was endangered by this state of chaos.
Perrin gave me the rôle of the Aventurière to study. I detested the piece, and did not like the part, and I considered the lines of L'Aventurière very bad poetry indeed. As I cannot dissimulate well, in a fit of temper I said this straight out to Emile Augier, and he avenged himself in a most discourteous way on the first opportunity that presented itself. This was on the occasion of my definite rupture with the Comédie Française, the day after the first performance of L'Aventurière on Saturday, April 17,1880. I was not ready to play my part, and the proof of this was a letter I wrote to M. Perrin on April 14,1880.
"I regret very much, my dear Monsieur Perrin," I said, "but I have such a sore throat that I cannot speak, and am obliged to stay in bed. Will you kindly excuse me? It was at that wretched Trocadéro that I took cold on Sunday. I am very much worried, as I know it will cause you inconvenience. Anyhow, I will be ready for Saturday, whatever happens. A thousand excuses and kind regards.
I was able to play, as I had recovered from my sore throat, but I had not studied my part during the three days, as I could not speak. I had not been able to try on my costumes either, as I had been in bed all the time. On Friday I went to ask Perrin to put off the performance of L'Aventurière until the next week. He replied that it was impossible; that every seat was booked, and that the piece had to be played the following Tuesday for the subscription night. I let myself be persuaded to act, as I had confidence in my star.
"Oh," I said to myself, "I shall get through it all right." I did not get through it, though, or rather I came through it very badly. My costume was a failure; it did not fit me. They had always jeered at me for my thinness, and in this dress I looked like an English tea-pot. My voice was still rather hoarse, which very much disconcerted me. I played the first part of the rôle very badly, and the second part rather better. At a certain moment during the scene of violence I was standing up resting my two hands on the table, on which there was a lighted candelabra. There was a cry raised in the house, for my hair was very near to the flame. The following day one of the papers said that, as I felt things were all going wrong, I wanted to set my hair on fire so that the piece should come to an end before I failed completely. That was certainly the very climax of stupidity. The Press did not praise me, and the Press was quite right. I had played badly, looked ugly, and been in a bad temper, but I considered that there was nevertheless a want of courtesy and indulgence with regard to me. Auguste Vitu, in the Figaro of April 18, 1880, finished his article with the phrase: "The new Clorinde (the Adventuress) in the last two acts made some gestures with her arms and movements of her body which one regrets to see taken from Virginie of L'Assommoir and introduced at the Comédie Française." The only fault which I never have had, which I never shall have, is vulgarity. That was an injustice and a determination to hurt my feelings. Vitu was no friend of mine, but I understood from this way of attacking me that petty hatreds were lifting up their rattlesnake heads. All the low-down, little viper world was crawling about under my flowers and my laurels. I had known what was going on for a long time, and sometimes I had heard rattling behind the scenes. I wanted to have the enjoyment of hearing them all rattle together, and so I threw my laurels and my flowers to the four winds of heaven. In the most abrupt way I broke the contract which bound me to the Comédie Française, and through that to Paris.
I shut myself up all the morning, and after endless discussions with myself I decided to send in my resignation to the Comédie. I therefore wrote to M. Perrin this letter:
"TO THE DIRECTOR.
"You have compelled me to play when I was not ready. You have only allowed me eight rehearsals on the stage, and the play has been rehearsed in its entirety only three times. I was unwilling to appear before the public. You insisted absolutely. What I foresaw has happened. The result of the performance has surpassed my anticipations. A critic pretended that I played Virginie of L'Assommoir instead of Dona Clorinde of L'Aventurière. May Emile Augier and Zola absolve me! It is my first rebuff at the Comédie; it shall be my last. I warned you on the day of the dress rehearsal. You have gone too far. I keep my word. By the time you receive this letter I shall have left Paris. Will you kindly accept my immediate resignation, and believe me
In order that this resignation might not be refused at the committee meeting, I sent copies of my letter to the Gaulois and the Figaro, and it was published at the same time as M. Perrin received it.
Then, quite decided not to be influenced by anybody, I set off at once with my maid for Hâvre. I had left orders that no one was to be told where I was, and the first evening I was there I passed in strict incognito. But the next morning I was recognised, and telegrams were sent to Paris to that effect. I was besieged by reporters.
I took refuge at La Hêve, where I spent the whole day on the beach, in spite of the cold rain which fell unceasingly.
I went back to the Hôtel Frascati frozen, and in the night I was so feverish that Dr. Gibert was requested to call. Madame Guérard, who was sent for by my alarmed maid, came at once. I was feverish for two days. During this time the newspapers continued to pour out a flood of ink on paper. This turned to bitterness, and I was accused of the worst misdeeds. The committee sent a huissier to my hotel in the Avenue de Villiers, and this man declared that after having knocked three times at the door and having received no answer, he had left copy, &c. &c.
This man was lying. In the hotel there were my son and his tutor, my steward, the husband of my maid, my butler, the cook, the kitchen-maid, the second lady's maid, and five dogs; but it was all in vain that I protested against this minion of the law; it was useless.
The Comédie must, according to the rules, send me three summonses. This was not done, and a law-suit was commenced against me. It was lost in advance.
Maître Allou, the advocate of the Comédie Française, invented wicked little histories about me. He took pleasure in trying to make me ridiculous. He had a big file of letters from me to Perrin, letters which I had written in softer moments or in anger. Perrin had kept them all, even the shortest notes. I had kept none of his. The few letters from Perrin to myself which have been published were given by him from his letter-copy book. Of course, he only showed those which could inspire the public with an idea of his paternal kindness to me, &c. &c.
The pleading of Maître Allou was very, successful: he claimed three hundred thousand francs damages, in addition to the confiscation for the benefit of the Comédie Française of the forty-three thousand francs which that theatre owed me.
Maître Barboux was my advocate. He was an intimate friend of Perrin. He defended me very indifferently. I was condemned to pay a hundred thousand francs to the Comédie Française and to lose the forty-three thousand francs which I had left with the management. I may say that I did not trouble much about this law-suit.
Three days after my resignation Jarrett called upon me. He proposed to me, for the third time, to make a contract for America. This time I lent an ear to his propositions. We had never spoken about terms, and this is what he proposed:
Five thousand francs for each performance and one-half of the receipts above fifteen thousand francs; that is to say, the day the receipts reached the sum of twenty thousand francs I should receive seven thousand five hundred francs. In addition, one thousand francs per week for my hotel bill; also a special Pullman car, on all railway journeys, containing a bedroom, a drawing-room with a piano, four beds for my staff, and two cooks to cook for me on the way. Mr. Jarrett was to have ten per cent, on all sums received by me.
I accepted everything. I was anxious to leave Paris. Jarrett immediately sent a telegram to Mr. Abbey, the great American impresario, and he landed on this side thirteen days later. I signed the contract made by Jarrett, which was discussed clause by clause with the American manager.
I was given, on signing the contract, one hundred thousand francs as advance payment for my expenses before departure. I was to play eight pieces: Hernani, Phèdre, Adrienne Lecouvreur, Froufrou, La Dame aux Camélias, Le Sphinx, L'Etrangère, and La Princesse Georges.
I ordered twenty-five modern dresses at Laferrière's, of whom I was then a customer.
At Baron's I ordered six costumes for Adrienne Lecouvreur and four costumes for Hernani. I ordered from a young theatre costumier named Lepaul my costume for Phèdre. These thirty-six costumes cost me sixty-one thousand francs; but out of this my costume for Phèdre alone cost four thousand francs. The poor artist-costumier had embroidered it himself. It was a marvel. It was brought to me two days before my departure, and I cannot think of this moment without emotion. Irritated by long waiting, I was writing an angry letter to the costumier when he was announced. At first I received him very badly, but I found him looking so unwell, the poor man, that I made him sit down and asked how he came to be so ill.
"Yes, I am not at all well," he said in such a weak voice that I was quite upset. "I wanted to finish this dress, and I have worked at it three days and nights. But look how nice your costume is!" And he spread it out with loving respect before me.
"Look!" remarked Guérard, "a little spot!"
"Ah, I pricked myself," answered the poor artist quickly.
But I had just caught sight of a drop of blood at the corner of his lips. He wiped it quickly away, so that it should not fall on the pretty costume as the other little spot had done. I gave the artist the four thousand francs, which he took with trembling hands. He murmured some unintelligible words and withdrew.
"Take away this costume, take it away!" I cried to mon petit Dame and my maid. And I cried so much that I had the hiccoughs all the evening. Nobody understood why I was crying. But I reproached myself bitterly for having worried the poor man. It was plain that he was dying. And by the force of circumstances I had unwittingly forged the first link of the chain of death which was dragging to the tomb this youth of twenty-two--this artist with a future before him.
I would never wear this costume. It is still in its box, yellowed with age. Its gold embroidery is tarnished by time, and the little spot of blood has slightly eaten away the stuff. As to the poor artist, I learnt of his death during my stay in London in the month of May, for before leaving for America I signed with Hollingshead and Mayer, the impresarii of the Comédie, a contract which bound me to them from May 24 to June 24 (1880).
It was during this period that the law-suit which the Comédie Française brought against me was decided.
Maître Barboux did not consult me about anything, and my success in London, which was achieved without the help of the Comédie, irritated the committee, the Press, and the public.
Maître Allou in his pleadings pretended that the London public had tired of me very quickly, and did not care to come to the performances of the Comédie in which I appeared.
The following list gives the best possible denial to the assertions of Maître Allou:
PERFORMANCES GIVEN BY THE COMÉDIE FRANÇAISE AT THE GAIETY THEATRE
(The * indicates the pieces in which I appeared.)
|1879||Plays.||Receipts in Francs|
|June 2.||Le Misanthrope (Prologue); Phèdre (Acte II.); Les Précieuses Ridicules||*13,080|
|4.||Le Fils naturel||9,300|
|5.||Les Caprices de Marianne; La Joie fait Peur||10,100|
|6.||Le Menteur; Le Médecin malgré lui||9,530|
|7.||Le Marquis de Villemer||9,960|
|7.||Tartuffe (matinée); La Joie fait Peur||8,700|
|11.||Mlle. de Belle-Isle; Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée||10,420|
|12.||Le Post-Scriptum; Le Gendre de M. Poirier||10,445|
|14.||Le Luthier de Crémône; Le Sphinx||*13,350|
|14.||Le Misanthrope (matinée); Les Plaideurs||8,800|
|17.||Zaïre; Les Précieuses Ridicules||*13,075|
|18.||Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard; Il ne faut jurer de rien||11,550|
|21.||Tartufe (matinée); Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée||2,115|
|23.||Gringoire; On ne badine pas avec l'amour||11,080|
|24.||Chez l'avocat; Mlle. de la Seiglière||9,660|
|25.||Le Barbier de Seville||9,180|
|26.||Andromaque; Les Plaideurs||*13,350|
|28.||Le Sphinx; Le Dépit amoureux||*12,860|
|July 1.||Mercadet; L'Eté de la St. Martin||9,850|
|3.||Le Mariage de Victorine; Les Fourberies de Scapin||10,165|
|4.||Les Femmes savantes; L'Etincelle||11,960|
|5.||Phèdre (matinée); La Joie fait Peur||*14,265|
|7.||Le Marquis de Villemer||10,565|
|12.||Gringoire (matinée); Hernani (Acte V.); La Bénédiction; Davenant; L'Etincelle||*13,725|
|***||Total receipts||492,150 francs|
The average of the receipts was about 11,715 francs. These figures show that, out of the forty-three performances given by the Comédie Française, the eighteen performances in which I took part gave an average of 13,350 francs each, while the twenty-five other performances gave an average of 10,000 francs.
While I was in London I learned that I had lost my lawsuit. "The Court--with its 'Inasmuch as,' 'Nevertheless,' &c.--declares hereby that Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt loses all the rights, privileges, and advantages, resulting to her profit from the engagement which she contracted with the company by authentic decree of March 24, 1875, and condemns her to pay to the plaintiff in his lawful quality the sum of one hundred thousand francs damages."
I gave my last performance in London the very day that the papers published this unjust verdict. I was applauded, and the public overwhelmed me with flowers.
I had taken with me Madame Devoyod, Mary Jullien, Kalb, my sister Jeanne, Pierre Berton, Train, Talbot, Dieudonné--all artistes of great repute.
I played all the pieces which I was to play in America.
Vitu, Sarcey, Lapommeraye had said so much against me that I was stupefied to learn from Mayer that they had arrived in London to be present at my performances.
I could no longer understand what it all meant. I thought that the Parisian journalists were leaving me in peace at last, and here were my worst enemies coming across the sea to see and hear me. Perhaps they were hoping--like the Englishman who followed the lion-tamer to see him devoured by his lions!
Vitu in the Figaro had finished one of his bitter articles with these words:
"But we have heard enough, surely, of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt! Let her go abroad with her monotonous voice and her funereal fantasies! Here we have nothing new to learn from her talents or her caprices...."
Sarcey, in an equally bitter article, à propos of my resignation at the Comédie, had finished in these terms:
"There comes a time when naughty children must go to bed."
As to the amiable Lapommeraye, he had showered on my devoted head all the rumours that he had collected from all sides. But as they said he had no originality, he tried to show that he also could dip his pen in venom, and he had cried, "Pleasant journey!" And here they all came, these three, and others with them. And the day following my first performance of Adrienne Lecouvreur, Auguste Vitu telegraphed to the Figaro a long article, in which he criticised me in certain scenes, regretting that I had not followed the example of Rachel, whom I had never seen. And he finished his article thus:
"The sincerity of my admiration cannot be doubted when I avow that in the fifth act Sarah Bernhardt rose to a height of dramatic power, to a force of expression which could not be surpassed. She played the long and cruel scene in which Adrienne, poisoned by the Duchesse de Bouillon, struggles against death in her fearful agony, not only with immense talent, but with a science of art which up to the present she has never revealed. If the Parisian public had heard, or ever hears, Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt cry out with the piercing accent which she put into her words that evening, 'I will not die, I will not die!' it would weep with her."
Sarcey finished an admirable critique with these words:
"She is prodigious!"
And Lapommeraye, who had once more become amiable begged me to go back to the Comédie, which was waiting for me, which would kill the fatted calf on the return of its prodigal child.
Sarcey, in his article in the Temps, consecrated five columns of praises to me, and finished his article with these words:
"Nothing, nothing can ever take the place of this last act of Adrienne Lecouvreur at the Comédie. Ah! she should have stayed at the Comédie. Yes, I come back to my litany! I cannot help it! We shall lose as much as she will. Yes, I know that we can say Mlle. Dudlay is left to us. Oh, she will always stay with us! I cannot help saying it. What a pity! What a pity!"
And eight days after, on June 7, he wrote in his theatrical feuilleton, on the first performance of Froufrou:
"I do not think that the emotion at any theatre has ever been so profound. There are, in the dramatic art, exceptional times when the artistes are transported out of themselves, carried above themselves, and compelled to obey this inward 'demon' (I should have said 'god'), who whispered to Corneille his immortal verses.
"'Well,' said I to Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt, after the play: 'this is an evening which will open to you, if you wish, the doors of the Comédie Française. 'Do not speak of it,' said she, 'to me. 'We will not speak of it.' But what a pity! What a pity!"
My success in Froufrou was so marked that it filled the void left by Coquelin, who, after having signed, with the consent of Perrin, with Messrs, Mayer and Hollingshead, declared that he could not keep his engagements. It was a nasty coup de Jarnac by which Perrin hoped to injure my London performances. He had previously sent Got to me to ask officially if I would not come back to the Comédie. He said I should be permitted to make my American tour, and that everything would be arranged on my return. But he should not have sent Got. He should have sent Worms or le petit père Franchise--Delaunay. The one might have persuaded me by his affectionate reasoning and the other by the falsity of arguments presented with such grace that it would have been difficult to refuse.
Got declared that I should be only too happy to come back to the Comédie on my return to America, "For you know," he added, "you know, my little one, that you will die in that country. And if you come back you will perhaps be only too glad to return to the Comédie Française, for you will be in a bad state of health, and it will take some time before you are right again. Believe me, sign, and it is not we who will benefit by it, but you!"
"I thank you," I answered, "but I prefer to choose my hospital myself on my return. And now you can go and leave me in peace." I fancy I said, "Get out!"
That evening he was present at a performance of Froufrou; he came to my dressing-room and said:
"You had better sign, believe me! And come back to commence with Froufrou! I promise you a happy return!"
I refused, and finished my performances in London without Coquelin.
The average of the receipts was nine thousand francs, and I left London with regret--I who had left it with so much pleasure the first time. But London is a city apart; its charm unveils little by little. The first impression for a Frenchman or woman is that of keen suffering, of mortal ennui. Those tall houses with sash windows without curtains; those ugly monuments, all in mourning with the dust and grime and black and greasy dirt; those flower-sellers at the corners of all the streets, with faces sad as the rain and bedraggled feathers in their hats and lamentable clothing; the black mud of the streets; the low sky; the funereal mirth of drunken women hanging on to men just as drunken; the wild dancing of dishevelled children round the street organs, as numerous as the omnibuses--all that caused twenty-five years ago an indefinite suffering to a Parisian. But little by little one finds that the profusion of the squares is restful to the eyes; that the beauty of the aristocratic ladies effaces the image of the flower-sellers....
The constant movement of Hyde Park, and especially of Rotten Row, fills the heart with gaiety. The broad English hospitality, which is manifested from the first moment of making an acquaintance; the wit of the men, which compares favourably with the wit of Frenchmen; and their gallantry, much more respectful and therefore much more flattering, left no regrets in me for French gallantry.
But I prefer our pale mud to the London black mud, and our windows opening in the centre to the horrible sash windows. I find also that nothing marks more clearly the difference of character of the two nations than their respective windows. Ours open wide; the sun enters in our houses even to the heart of the dwelling; the air sweeps away all the dust and all the microbes. They shut in the same manner, simply as they open.
English windows open only half-way, either the top half or the bottom half. One may even have the pleasure of opening them a little at the top and a little at the bottom, but not at all in the middle. The sun cannot enter openly, nor the air. The window keeps its selfish and perfidious character. I hate the English windows. But now I love London and--is there any need to add?--its inhabitants.
Since my first visit I have returned there twenty-one times, and the public has always remained faithful and affectionate.