BOOKS BY CARL VAN VECHTEN
MUSIC AFTER THE GREAT WAR 1915
MUSIC AND BAD MANNERS 1916
INTERPRETERS AND INTERPRETATIONS 1917
THE MERRY-GO-ROUND 1918
THE MUSIC OF SPAIN 1918
Carl Van Vechten
"Tournez, tournez, bons chevaux de bois, Tournez cent tours, tournez mille tours, Tournez souvent et tournez toujours, Tournez, tournez au sons de hautbois." PAUL VERLAINE
New York Alfred A. Knopf
COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
IN DEFENCE OF BAD TASTE 11
MUSIC AND SUPERMUSIC 23
EDGAR SALTUS 37
THE NEW ART OF THE SINGER 93
Au Bal Musette 125
MUSIC AND COOKING 149
AN INTERRUPTED CONVERSATION 179
THE AUTHORITATIVE WORK ON AMERICAN MUSIC 197
OLD DAYS AND NEW 215
TWO YOUNG AMERICAN PLAYWRIGHTS 227
De Senectute Cantorum 245
IMPRESSIONS IN THE THEATRE
I The Land of Joy 281
II A Note on Mimi Aguglia 298
III The New Isadora 307
IV Margaret Anglin Produces As You Like It 318
THE MODERN COMPOSERS AT A GLANCE 329
Some of these essays have appeared in "The Smart Set," "Reedy's Mirror," "Vanity Fair," "The Chronicle," "The Theatre," "The Bellman," "The Musical Quarterly," "Rogue," "The New York Press," and "The New York Globe." In their present form, however, they have undergone considerable redressing.
In Defence of Bad Taste
"It is a painful thing, at best, to live up to one's bricabric, if one has any; but to live up to the bricabric of many lands and of many centuries is a strain which no wise man would dream of inflicting upon his constitution."
In Defence of Bad Taste
In America, where men are supposed to know nothing about matters of taste and where women have their dresses planned for them, the household decorator has become an important factor in domestic life. Out of an even hundred rich men how many can say that they have had anything to do with the selection or arrangement of the furnishings for their homes? In theatre programs these matters are regulated and due credit is given to the various firms who have supplied the myriad appeals to the eye; one knows who thought out the combinations of shoes, hats, and parasols, and one knows where each separate article was purchased. Why could not some similar plan of appreciation be followed in the houses of our very rich? Why not, for instance, a card in the hall something like the following:
This house was furnished and decorated according to the taste of Marcel of the Dilly-Billy Shop
We are living in the kind of house Miss Simone O'Kelly thought we should live in. The decorations are pure Louis XV and the furniture is authentic.
It is not difficult, of course, to differentiate the personal from the impersonal. Nothing clings so ill to the back as borrowed finery and I have yet to find the family which has settled itself fondly and comfortably in chairs which were a part of some one else's aesthetic plan. As a matter of fact many of our millionaires would be more at home in an atmosphere concocted from the ingredients of plain pine tables and blanket-covered mattresses than they are surrounded by the frippery of China and the frivolity of France. If these gentlemen were fortunate enough to enjoy sufficient confidence in their own taste to give it a thorough test it is not safe to think of the extreme burden that would be put on the working capacity of the factories of the Grand Rapids furniture companies. We might find a few emancipated souls scouring the town for heavy refectory tables and divans into which one could sink, reclining or upright, with a perfect sense of ease, but these would be as rare as Steinway pianos in Coney Island.
For Americans are meek in such matters. They credit themselves with no taste. They fear comparison. If the very much sought-after Simone O'Kelly has decorated Mr. B.'s house Mr. M. does not dare to struggle along with merely his own ideas in furnishing his. He calls in an expert who begins, rather inauspiciously, by painting the dining-room salmon pink. The tables and chairs will be made by somebody on Tenth Street, exact copies of a set to be found in the Musee Carnavalet. The legs under the table are awkwardly arranged for diners but they look very well when the table is unclothed. The decorator plans to hang Mr. M.'s personal bedroom in pale plum colour. Mr. M. rebels at this. "I detest," he remarks mildly, "all variants of purple." "Very well," acquiesces the decorator, "we will make it green." In the end Mr. M.'s worst premonitions are realized: the walls are resplendent in a striking shade of magenta. Along the edge of each panel of Chinese brocade a narrow band of absinthe velvet ribbon gives the necessary contrast. The furniture is painted in dull ivory with touches of gold and beryl and the bed cover is peacock blue. Four round cushions of a similar shade repose on the floor at the foot of the bed. The fat manufacturer's wife as she enters this triumph of decoration which might satisfy Louise de la Valliere or please Doris Keane, is an anachronistic figure and she is aware of it. She prefers, on the whole, the brass bedsteads of the summer hotels. Mr. M. himself feels ridiculous. He never enters the room without a groan and a remark on the order of "Good God, what a colour!" His personal taste finds its supreme enjoyment in the Circassian walnut panelling, desk, and tables of the directors' room in the Millionaire's Trust and Savings Bank. "Rich and tasteful": how many times he has used this phrase to express his approval! In the mid-Victorian red plush of his club, too, he is comfortable. "Waiter, another whiskey and soda!"
Mildred is expected home after her first year in boarding school. Her mother wishes to environ her, so to speak. Mildred is delicate in her tastes, so delicate that she scarcely ever expresses herself. Her mind and body are pure; her heart beats faster when she learns of distress. Voluptuousness, Venus, and Vice are all merely words to her. Mother does not explain this to the decorator. "My daughter is returning from school," she says, "I want her room done." "What style of room?" "After all you are supposed to know that. I am engaging you to arrange it for me." "Your daughter, I take it, is a modern girl?" "You may assume as much." In despair for a hint the decorator steals a look at a photograph of the miss, full-lipped, melting dark eyes, and blue-black hair. Sensing an houri he hangs the walls with a deep shade of Persian orange, over which flit tropical birds of emerald and azure; strange pomegranates bleed their seeds at regular intervals. The couch is an adaptation, in colour, of the celebrated Sumurun bed. The dressing table and the chaise-longue are of Chinese lacquer. A heavy bronze incense burner pours forth fumes of Bichara's Scheherazade. From the window frames, stifling the light, depend flame-coloured brocaded curtains embroidered in Egyptian enamelled beads. It is a triumph, this chamber, of style Ballet Russe. Diana is banished ... and shrinking Mildred, returning from school, finds her demure soul at variance with her surroundings.
A man's house should be the expression of the man himself. All the books on the subject and even the household decorators themselves will tell you that. But, if the decoration of a house is to express its owner, it is necessary that he himself inspire it, which implies, of course, the possession of ideas, even though they be bad. And men in these United States are not expected to display mental anguish or pleasure when confronted by colour combinations. In America one is constantly hearing young ladies say, "He's a man and so, of course, knows nothing about colour," or "Of course a man never looks at clothes." It does not seem to be necessary to argue this point. One has only to remember that Veronese was a man; so was Velasquez. Even Paul Poiret and Leon Bakst belong to the sex of Adam. Nevertheless most Americans still consider it a little effemine, a trifle declasse, for a business man (allowances are sometimes made for poets, musicians, actors, and people who live in Greenwich Village), to make any references to colour or form. He may admire, with obvious emphasis on the women they lightly enclose, the costumes of the Follies but he is not permitted to exhibit knowledge of materials and any suddenly expressed desire on his part to rush into a shop and hug some bit of colour from the show window to his heart would be regarded as a symptom of madness.
The audience which gives the final verdict on a farce makes allowances for the author; permits him the use of certain conventions. For example, he is given leave to introduce a hotel corridor into his last act with seven doors opening on a common hallway so that his characters may conveniently and persistently enter the wrong rooms. It may be supposed that I ask for some such license from my audience. "How ridiculous," you may be saying, "I know of interior decorators who spend weeks in reading out the secrets of their clients' souls in order to provide their proper settings." There doubtless are interior decorators who succeed in giving a home the appearance of a well-kept hotel where guests may mingle comfortably and freely. I should not wish to deny this. But I do deny that soul-study is a requirement for the profession. If a man (or a woman) has a soul it will not be a decorator who will discover its fitting housing. Others may object, "But bad taste is rampant. Surely it is better to be guided by some one who knows than to surround oneself with rocking chairs, plaster casts of the Winged Victory, and photographs of various madonnas." I say that it is not better. It is better for each man to express himself, through his taste, as well as through his tongue or his pen, as he may. And it is only through such expression that he will finally arrive (if he ever can) at a condition of household furnishing which will say something to his neighbour as well as to himself. It is a pleasure when one leaves a dinner party to be able to observe "That is his house," just as it is a pleasure when one leaves a concert to remember that a composer has expressed himself and not the result of seven years study in Berlin or Paris.
But Americans have little aptitude for self-expression. They prefer to huddle, like cattle, under unspeakable whips when matters of art are under discussion. They fear ridicule. As a consequence many of the richest men in this country never really live in their own homes, never are comfortable for a moment, although the walls are hung double with Fragonards and hawthorne vases stand so deep upon the tables that no space remains for the "Saturday Review" or "le Temps." And they never, never, never, will know the pleasure which comes while stumbling down a side street in London, or in the mouldy corners of the Venetian ghetto, or in the Marche du Temple in Paris, or, heaven knows, in New York, on lower Fourth Avenue, or in Chinatown, or in a Russian brass shop on Allen Street, or in a big department store (as often there as anywhere) in finding just the lamp for just the table in just the corner, or in discovering a bit of brocade, perhaps the ragged remnant of a waistcoat belonging to an aristocrat of the Directorate, which will lighten the depths of a certain room, or a chair which goes miraculously with a desk already possessed, or a Chinese mirror which one had almost decided did not exist. Nor will they ever experience the joy of sudden decision in front of a picture by Matisse, which ends in the sale of a Delacroix. Nor can they feel the thrill which is part of the replacing of a make-shift rug by the rug of rugs (let us hope it was Solomon's!).
I know a lady in Paris whose salon presents a different aspect each summer. Do her Picassos go, a new Spanish painter has replaced them. Have you missed the Gibbons carving? Spanish church carving has taken its place. "And where are your Venetian embroideries?" "I sold them to the Marquise de V.... The money served to buy these Persian miniatures." This lady has travelled far. She is not experimenting in doubtful taste or bad art; she is not even experimenting in her own taste: she is simply enjoying different epochs, different artists, different forms of art, each in its turn, for so long as it says anything to her. Her house is not a museum. Space and comfort demand exclusion but she excludes nothing forever that she desires.... She exchanges.
Taste at best is relative. It is an axiom that anybody else's taste can never say anything to you although you may feel perfectly certain that it is better than your own. If more of the money of the rich were spent in encouraging children to develop their own ideas in furnishing their own rooms it would serve a better purpose than it does now when it is dropped into the ample pockets of the professional decorators. Oscar Wilde wrote, "A colour sense is more important in the development of the individual than a sense of right and wrong." Any young boy or girl can learn something about such matters; most of them, if not shamed out of it, take a natural interest in their surroundings. You will see how true this is if you attempt to rearrange a child's room. Those who have bad taste, relatively, should literally be allowed to make their own beds. On the whole it is preferable to be comfortable in red and green velvet upholstery than to be beautiful and unhappy in a household decorator's gilded cage.
September 3, 1915.
Music and Supermusic
"To know whether you are enjoying a piece of music or not you must see whether you find yourself looking at the advertisements of Pears' soap at the end of the program."
Music and Supermusic
What is the distinction in the mind of Everycritic between good music and bad music, in the mind of Everyman between popular music and "classical" music? What is the essential difference between an air by Mozart and an air by Jerome Kern? Why is Chopin's G minor nocturne better music than Thecla Badarzewska's La Priere d'une Vierge? Why is a music drama by Richard Wagner preferable to a music drama by Horatio W. Parker? What makes a melody distinguished? What makes a melody commonplace or cheap? Why do some melodies ring in our ears generation after generation while others enjoy but a brief popularity? Why do certain composers, such as Raff and Mendelssohn, hailed as geniuses while they were yet alive, soon sink into semi-obscurity, while others, such as Robert Franz and Moussorgsky, almost unrecognized by their contemporaries, grow in popularity? Are there no answers to these conundrums and the thousand others that might be asked by a person with a slight attack of curiosity?... No one does ask and assuredly no one answers. These riddles, it would seem, are included among the forbidden mysteries of the sphynx. The critics assert with authority and some show of erudition that the Spohrs, the Mendelssohns, the Humperdincks, and the Montemezzis are great composers. They usually admire the grandchildren of Old Lady Tradition but they neglect to justify this partiality. Nor can we trust the public with its favourite Piccinnis and Puccinis.... What then is the test of supermusic?
For we know, as well as we can know anything, that there is music and supermusic. Rubinstein wrote music; Beethoven wrote supermusic (Mr. Finck may contradict this statement). Bellini wrote operas; Mozart wrote superoperas. Jensen wrote songs; Schubert wrote supersongs. The superiority of Voi che sapete as a vocal melody over Ah! non giunge is not generally contested; neither can we hesitate very long over the question whether or not Der Leiermann is a better song than Lehn' deine Wang'. Probably even Mr. Finck will admit that the Sonata Appassionata is finer music than the most familiar portrait (I think it is No. 22) in the Kamennoi-Ostrow set. But, if we agree to put Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, and a few others on marmorean pedestals in a special Hall of Fame (and this is a compromise on my part, at any rate, as I consider much of the music written by even these men to be below any moderately high standard), what about the rest? Mr. Finck prefers Johann Strauss to Brahms, nay more to Richard himself! He has written a whole book for no other reason, it would seem, than to prove that the author of Tod und Verklarung is a very much over-rated individual. At times sitting despondently in Carnegie Hall, I am secretly inclined to agree with him. Personally I can say that I prefer Irving Berlin's music to that of Edward MacDowell and I would like to have some one prove to me that this position is untenable.
What is the test of supermusic? I have read that fashionable music, music composed in a style welcomed and appreciated by its contemporary hearers is seldom supermusic. Yet Handel wrote fashionable music, and so much other of the music of that epoch is Handelian that it is often difficult to be sure where George Frederick left off and somebody else began. Bellini wrote fashionable music and Norma and La Sonnambula sound a trifle faded although they are still occasionally performed, but Rossini, whose only desire was to please his public, (Liszt once observed "Rossini and Co. always close with 'I remain your very humble servant'"), wrote melodies in Il Barbiere di Siviglia which sound as fresh to us today as they did when they were first composed. And when this prodigiously gifted musician-cook turned his back to the public to write Guillaume Tell he penned a work which critics have consistently told us is a masterpiece, but which is as seldom performed today as any opera of the early Nineteenth Century which occasionally gains a hearing at all. Therefor we must be wary of the old men who tell us that we shall soon tire of the music of Puccini because it is fashionable.
Popularity is scarcely a test. I have mentioned Mendelssohn. Never was there a more popular composer, and yet aside from the violin concerto what work of his has maintained its place in the concert repertory? Yet Chopin, whose name is seldom absent from the program of a pianist, was a god in his own time and the most brilliant woman of his epoch fell in love with him, as Philip Moeller has recently reminded us in his very amusing play. On the other hand there is the case of Robert Franz whose songs never achieved real popularity during his lifetime, but which are frequently, almost invariably indeed, to be found on song recital programs today and which are more and more appreciated. The critics are praising him, the public likes him: they buy his songs. And there is also the case of Max Reger who was not popular, is not popular, and never will be popular.
Can we judge music by academic standards? Certainly not. Even the hoary old academicians themselves can answer this question correctly if you put it in relation to any composer born before 1820. The greatest composers have seldom respected the rules. Beethoven in his last sonatas and string quartets slapped all the pedants in the ears; yet I believe you will find astonishingly few rules broken by Mozart, one of the gods in the mythology of art music, and Berlioz, who broke all the rules, is more interesting to us today as a writer of prose than as a writer of music.
Is simple music supermusic? Certainly not invariably. Vedrai Carino is a simple tune, almost as simple as a folk-song and we set great store by it; yet Michael William Balfe wrote twenty-seven operas filled with similarly simple tunes and in a selective draft of composers his number would probably be 9,768. The Ave Maria of Schubert is a simple tune; so is the Meditation from Thais. Why do we say that one is better than the other.
Or is supermusic always grand, sad, noble, or emotional? There must be another violent head shaking here. The air from Oberon, Ocean, thou mighty monster, is so grand that scarcely a singer can be found today capable of interpreting it, although many sopranos puff and steam through it, for all the world like pinguid gentlemen climbing the stairs to the towers of Notre Dame. The Fifth Symphony of Beethoven is both grand and noble; probably no one will be found who will deny that it is supermusic, but Mahler's Symphony of the Thousand is likewise grand and noble, and futile and bombastic to boot. Or sai chi l'onore is a grand air, but Robert je t'aime is equally grand in intention, at least. Der Tod und das Madchen is sad; so is Les Larmes in Werther.... But a very great deal of supermusic is neither grand nor sad. Haydn's symphonies are usually as light-hearted and as light-waisted as possible. Mozart's Figaro scarcely seems to have a care. Listen to Beethoven's Fourth and Eighth Symphonies, Il Barbiere again, Die Meistersinger.... But do not be misled: Massenet's Don Quichotte is light music; so is Mascagni's Lodoletta....
Is music to be prized and taken to our hearts because it is contrapuntal and complex? We frequently hear it urged that Bach (who was more or less forgotten for a hundred years, by the way) was the greatest of composers and his music is especially intricate. He is the one composer, indeed, who can never be played with one finger! But poor unimportant forgotten Max Reger also wrote in the most complicated forms; the great Gluck in the simplest. Gluck, indeed, has even been considered weak in counterpoint and fugue. Meyerbeer, it is said, was also weak in counterpoint and fugue. Is he therefor to be regarded as the peer of Gluck? Is Mozart's G minor Symphony more important (because it is more complicated) than the same composer's, Batti, Batti?
We learn from some sources that music stands or falls by its melody but what is good melody? According to his contemporaries Wagner's music dramas were lacking in melody. Sweet Marie is certainly a melody; why is it not as good a melody as The Old Folks at Home? Why is Musetta's waltz more popular than Gretel's? It is no better as melody. As a matter of fact there is, has been, and for ever will be war over this question of melody, because the point of view on the subject is continually changing. As Cyril Scott puts it in his book, "The Philosophy of Modernism": "at one time it (melody) extended over a few bars and then came to a close, being, as it were, a kind of sentence, which, after running for the moment, arrived at a full stop, or semicolon. Take this and compare it with the modern tendency: for that modern tendency is to argue that a melody might go on indefinitely almost; there is no reason why it should come to a full stop, for it is not a sentence, but more a line, which, like the rambling incurvations of a frieze, requires no rule to stop it, but alone the will and taste of its engenderer."
Or is harmonization the important factor? Folk-songs are not harmonized at all, and yet certain musicians, Cecil Sharp for example, devote their lives to collecting them, while others, like Percy Grainger, base their compositions on them. On the other hand such music as Debussy's Iberia depends for its very existence on its beautiful harmonies. The harmonies of Gluck are extremely simple, those of Richard Strauss extremely complex.
H. T. Finck says somewhere that one of the greatest charms of music is modulation but the old church composers who wrote in the "modes" never modulated at all. Erik Satie seldom avails himself of this modern device. It is a question whether Leo Ornstein modulates. If we may take him at his word Arnold Schoenberg has a system of modulation. At least it is his very own.
Are long compositions better than short ones? This may seem a silly question but I have read criticisms based on a theory that they were. Listen, for example, to de Quincy: "A song, an air, a tune,—that is, a short succession of notes revolving rapidly upon itself,—how could that by possibility offer a field of compass sufficient for the development of great musical effects? The preparation pregnant with the future, the remote correspondence, the questions, as it were, which to a deep musical sense are asked in one passage, and answered in another; the iteration and ingemination of a given effect, moving through subtile variations that sometimes disguise the theme, sometimes fitfully reveal it, sometimes throw it out tumultuously to the daylight,—these and ten thousand forms of self-conflicting musical passion—what room could they find, what opening, for utterance, in so limited a field as an air or song?" After this broadside permit me to quote a verse of Gerard de Nerval:
"Il est un air pour qui je donnerais Tout Rossini, tout Mozart, et tout Weber, Un air tres-vieux, languissant et funebre, Qui pour moi seul a des charmes secrets."
And now let us dispassionately, if possible, regard the evidence. Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony, admittedly one of his weakest works and considered very tiresome even by ardent Straussians, plays for nearly an hour while any one can sing Der Erlkonig in three minutes. Are short compositions better than long ones? Answer: Love me and the World is Mine is a short song (although it seldom sounds so) while Schubert's C major Symphony is called the "symphony of heavenly length."
Is what is new better than what is old? Is what is old better than what is new? Schoenberg is new; is he therefor to be considered better than Beethoven? Stravinsky is new; is he therefor to be considered worse than Liszt?
Is an opera better than a song? Compare Pagliacci and Strauss's Standchen. Is a string quartet better than a piece for the piano? But I grow weary.... Under the circumstances it would seem that if you have any strong opinions about music you are perfectly entitled to them, for the critics do not agree and you will find many of them basing their criticism on some of the various hypotheses I have advanced. H. T. Finck tells us that the sonata form is illogical, forgetting perhaps that once it served its purpose; Jean Marnold dubbed Armide an oeuvre batarde; John F. Runciman called Parsifal "decrepit stuff," while Ernest Newman assures us that it is "marvellous"; Pierre Lalo and Philip Hale disagree on the subject of Debussy's La Mer while W. J. Henderson and James Huneker wrangle over Richard Strauss's Don Quixote.
The clue to the whole matter lies in a short phrase: Imitative work is always bad. Music that tries to be something that something else has been may be thrown aside as worthless. It will not endure although it may sometimes please the zanies and jackoclocks of a generation. The critic, therefor, who comes nearest to the heart of the matter, is he who, either through instinct or familiarity with the various phenomena of music, is able to judge of a work's originality. There must be individuality in new music to make it worthy of our attention, and that, after all is all that matters. For the tiniest folk-song often persists in the hearts and minds of the people, often stirs the pulse of a musician, pursuing its tuneful way through two centuries, while a mighty thundering symphony of the same period may lie dead and rotting, food for the Niptus Hololencus and the Blatta Germanica. We still sing The Old Folks At Home and Le Cycle du Vin but we have laid aside Di Tanti Palpiti. Any piece of music possessing the certain magic power of individuality is of value, it matters not whether it be symphony or song, opera or dance. What most critics have forgotten is that in Music matter, form, and idea are one. In painting, in poetry the idea, the words, the form, may be separated; each may play its part, but in music there is no idea without form, no form without idea. That is what makes musical criticism difficult.
January 24, 1918.
"O no, we never mention him, His name is never heard!"
To write about Edgar Saltus should be vieux jeu. The man is an American; he was born in 1858; he accomplished some of his best work in the Eighties and the Nineties, in the days when mutton-legged sleeves, whatnots, Rogers groups, cat-tails, peacock feathers, Japanese fans, musk-mellon seed collars, and big-wheeled bicycles were in vogue. He has written history, fiction, poetry, literary criticism, and philosophy, and to all these forms he has brought sympathy, erudition, a fresh point of view, and a radiant style. He has imagination and he understands the gentle art of arranging facts in kaleidoscopic patterns so that they may attract and not repel the reader. America, indeed, has not produced a round dozen authors who equal him as a brilliant stylist with a great deal to say. And yet this man, who wrote some of his best books in the Eighties and who is still alive, has been allowed to drift into comparative oblivion. Even his early reviewers shoved him impatiently aside or ignored him altogether; a writer in "Belford's Magazine" for July, 1888, says: "Edgar Saltus should have his name changed to Edgar Assaulted." Soon he became a literary leper. The doctors and professors would have none of him. To most of them, nowadays, I suppose, he is only a name. Many of them have never read any of his books. I do not even remember to have seen him mentioned in the works of James Huneker and you will not find his name in Barrett Wendell's "A History of American Literature" (1901), "A Reader's History of American Literature" by Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Henry Walcott Boynton (1903), Katherine Lee Bates's "American Literature" (1898), "A Manual of American Literature," edited by Theodore Stanton (1909), William B. Cairns's "A History of American Literature" (1912), William Edward Simonds's "A Student's History of American Literature" (1909), Fred Lewis Pattee's "A History of American Literature Since 1870" (1915), John Macy's "The Spirit of American Literature" (1913), or William Lyon Phelps's "The Advance of the English Novel" (1916). The third volume of "The Cambridge History of American Literature," bringing the subject up to 1900, has not yet appeared but I should be amazed to discover that the editors had decided to include Saltus therein. Curiously enough he is mentioned in Oscar Fay Adams's "A Dictionary of American Authors" (1901 edition) and, of all places, I have found a reference to him in one of Agnes Repplier's books.
You will find few essays about the man or his work in current or anterior periodicals. There is, to be sure, the article by Ramsay Colles, entitled "A Publicist: Edgar Saltus," published in the "Westminster Magazine" for October, 1904, but this essay could have won our author no adherents. If any one had the courage to wade through its muddy paragraphs he doubtless emerged vowing never to read Saltus. Besides only the novels are touched on. In 1903 G. F. Monkshood and George Gamble arranged a compilation from Saltus's work which they entitled "Wit and Wisdom from Edgar Saltus" (Greening and Co., London). The work is done without sense or sensitiveness and the prefatory essay is without salt or flavour of any sort. An anonymous writer in "Current Literature" for July, 1907, asks plaintively why this author has been permitted to remain in obscurity and quotes from some of the reviews. In "The Philistine" for October, 1907, Elbert Hubbard takes a hand in the game. He says, "Edgar Saltus is the best writer in America—with a few insignificant exceptions," but he deplores the fact that Saltus knows nothing about the cows and chickens; only cities and gods seem to interest him. Still there is some atmosphere in this study, which is devoted to one book, "The Lords of the Ghostland." In the New York Public Library four of Saltus's books and one of his translations (about one-sixth of his published work) are listed. You may also find there in a series of volumes entitled "Nations of the World" his supplementary chapters bringing the books up to date. That is all.
All these years, of course, Saltus has had his admiring circle, people of intelligence, of whom, unfortunately, I cannot say that I was one. These, who have been content to read and admire without spreading the news, may well be inclined to regard my performance as repetitive and impertinent. Of these I must crave indulgence and of Saltus himself too. For he, knowing how well he has done his work, must sit like Buddha, ironic and indulgent, smiling on the poor benighted who have yet to approach his altars. Once, at least, he spoke: "A book that pleases no one may be poor. The book that pleases every one is detestable."
I seem to remember to have heard his name all my life, but until recently I have not read one line concerning or by him. I find that my friends, many of whom are extensive readers, are in the same sad state of ignorance. There is an exception and that exception is responsible for my conversion. For six years, no less, Edna Kenton has been urging me to read Edgar Saltus. She has been gently insinuating but firm. None of us can struggle forever against fate or a determined woman. In the end I capitulated, purchased a book by Edgar Saltus at random, and read it ... at one sitting. I sought for more. As most of his books are out of print and as the list in the Public Library conspicuously omits all but one of his best opera the matter presented difficulties. However, a little diligent search in the old book shops accomplished wonders. In less than two weeks I had dug up twenty-two titles and in less than two weeks I had read twenty-four; since then I have consumed the other four. There are few writers in American or any other literature who can survive such a test; there are few writers who have given me such keen pleasure.
The events of his life, mostly remain shrouded in mystery. His comings and goings are not reported in the newspapers; he does not make public speeches; and his name is seldom, if ever, mentioned "among those present." That he has been married and has one daughter "Who's Who" proclaims, together with the few biographical details mentioned below. That is all. May we not herein find some small explanation for his apparent neglect? Many thousands of lesser men have lifted themselves to "literary" prominence by blowing their own tubas and striking their own crotals. Even in the case of a man of such manifest genius as George Bernard Shaw we may be permitted to doubt if he would be so well known, had he not taken the trouble to erect monuments to himself on every possible occasion in every possible location. Fame is a quaint old-fashioned body, who loves to be pursued. She seldom, if ever, runs after anybody except in her well-known role of necrophile.
Edgar Evertson Saltus was born in New York City June 8, 1858. He is a lineal descendant of Admiral Kornelis Evertson, the commander of the Dutch fleet, who captured New York from the English, August 9, 1673. Francis Saltus, the poet, was his brother. He enjoyed a cosmopolitan education which may be regarded as an important factor in the development of his tastes and ideas. From St. Paul's School in Concord he migrated to the Sorbonne in Paris, and thence to Heidelberg and Munich, where he bathed in the newer Germanic philosophies. Finally he took a course of law at Columbia University. The influence of this somewhat heterogeneous seminary life is manifest in all his future writing. Beginning, no doubt, as a disciple of Emerson in New England, he fell under the spell of Balzac in Paris, of Schopenhauer and von Hartmann in Germany. Pages might be brought forward as evidence that he had a thorough classical education. His knowledge of languages made it easy for him to drink deeply at many fountain heads. If Oscar Wilde found his chief inspiration in Huysmans's "A Rebours," it is certain that Saltus also quaffed intoxicating draughts at this source. Indeed in one of his books he refers to Huysmans as his friend. It is further apparent that he is acquainted with the works of Barbey d'Aurevilly, Josephin Peladan, Baudelaire, Mallarme, Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Catulle Mendes, and Jules Laforgue, especially the Laforgue of the "Moralites Legendaires." His kinship with these writers is near, but through this mixed blood run strains inherited from the early pagans, the mediaeval monks, the Germanic philosophers, and London of the Eighteen Nineties (although there is not one word about Saltus in Holbrook Jackson's book of the period), and perhaps, after all, his nearest literary relative was an American, Edgar Allan Poe, who bequeathed to him a garret full of strange odds and ends. But Saltus surpasses Poe in almost every respect save as a poet.
Joseph Hergesheimer has expressed a theory to the effect that great art is always provincial, never cosmopolitan; that only provincial art is universal in its appeal. Like every other theory this one is to a large extent true, but Hergesheimer in his arbitrary summing up, has forgotten the fantastic. The fantastic in literature, in art of any kind, can never be provincial. The work of Poe is not provincial; nor is that of Gustave Moreau, an artist with whom Edgar Saltus can very readily be compared. If you have visited the Musee Moreau in Paris where, in the studio of the dead painter, is gathered together the most complete collection of his works, which lend themselves to endless inspection, you can, in a sense, reconstruct for yourself an idea of the works of Edgar Saltus. One finds therein the same unicorns, the same fabulous monsters, the same virgins on the rocks, the same exotic and undreamed of flora and fauna, the same mystic paganism, the same exquisitely jewelled workmanship. One can find further analogies in the Aubrey Beardsley of "Under the Hill," in the elaborate stylized irony of Max Beerbohm. Surely not provincials these, but just as surely artists.
Moreover Saltus's style may be said to possess American characteristics. It is dashing and rapid, and as clear as the water in Southern seas. The man has a penchant for short and nervous sentences, but they are never jerky. They explode like so many firecrackers and remind one of the great national holiday!... Nevertheless Edgar Saltus should have been born in France.
His essays, whether they deal with literary criticism, history, religion (which is almost an obsession with this writer), devil-worship, or cooking, are pervaded by that rare quality, charm. Somewhere he quotes a French aphorism:
"Etre riche n'est pas l'affaire, Toute l'affaire est de charmer,"
which might be applied to his own work. There is a deep and beneficent guile in the simplicity of his style, as limpid as a brook, and yet, as over a brook, in its overtones hover a myriad of sparkling dragon-flies and butterflies; in its depths lie a plethora of trout. He deals with the most obstruse and abstract subjects with such ease and grace, without for one moment laying aside the badge of authority, that they assume a mysterious fascination to catch the eye of the passerby. In his fictions he has sometimes cultivated a more hectic style, but that in itself constitutes one of the bases of its richness. Scarcely a word but evokes an image, a strange, bizarre image, often a complication of images. He is never afraid of the colloquial, never afraid of slang even, and he often weaves lovely patterns with obsolete or technical words. These lines, in which Saltus paid tribute to Gautier, he might, with equal justice, have applied to himself: "No one could torment a fancy more delicately than he; he had the gift of adjective; he scented a new one afar like a truffle; and from the Morgue of the dictionary he dragged forgotten beauties. He dowered the language of his day with every tint of dawn and every convulsion of sunset; he invented metaphors that were worth a king's ransom, and figures of speech that deserve the Prix Montyon. Then reviewing his work, he formulated an axiom which will go down with a nimbus through time: Whomsoever a thought however complex, a vision however apocalyptic, surprises without words to convey it, is not a writer. The inexpressible does not exist." It is impossible to taste at this man's table. One must eat the whole dinner to appreciate its opulent inevitability. Still I may offer a few olives, a branch or two of succulent celery to those who have not as yet been invited to sit down. One of his ladies walks the Avenue in a gown the "color of fried smelts." Such figurative phrases as "Her eyes were of that green-grey which is caught in an icicle held over grass," "The sand is as fine as face powder, nuance Rachel, packed hard," "Death, it may be, is not merely a law but a place, perhaps a garage which the traveller reaches on a demolished motor, but whence none can proceed until all old scores are paid," "The ocean resembled nothing so much as an immense blue syrup," "She was a pale freckled girl, with hair the shade of Bavarian beer," "The sun rose from the ocean like an indolent girl from her bath," "Night, that queen who reigns only when she falls, shook out the shroud she wears for gown," are to be found on every page. Certain phrases sound good to him and are re-used: "Disappearances are deceptive," "ruedelapaixian" (to describe a dress), "toilet of the ring" (lifted from the bull-fight in "Mr. Incoul's Misadventure" to do service in an account of the arena games under Nero in "Imperial Purple"), but repetition of this kind is infrequent in his works and seemingly unnecessary. Ideas and phrases, endless chains of them, spurt from the point of his ardent pen. Standing on his magic carpet he shakes new sins out of his sleeve as a conjurer shakes out white rabbits and juggles words with an exquisite dexterity. He is, indeed, the jongleur de notre ame!
From the beginning, his style has attracted the attention of the few and no one, I am sure, has ever written a three line review of a book by Saltus without referring to it. Mme. Amelie Rives has quoted Oscar Wilde as saying to her one night at dinner, "In Edgar Saltus's work passion struggles with grammar on every page!" Percival Pollard has dubbed him a "prose paranoiac," and Elbert Hubbard says, "He writes so well that he grows enamoured of his own style and is subdued like the dyer's hand; he becomes intoxicated on the lure of lines and the roll of phrases. He is woozy on words—locoed by syntax and prosody. The libation he pours is flavoured with euphues. It is all like a cherry in a morning Martini." A phrase which Remy de Gourmont uses to describe Villiers de l'Isle Adam might be applied with equal success to the author of "The Lords of the Ghostland": "L'idealisme de Villiers etait un veritable idealisme verbal, c'est-a-dire qu'il croyait vraiment a la puissance evocatrice des mots, a leur vertu magique." And we may listen to Saltus's own testimony in the matter: "It may be noted that in literature only three things count, style, style polished, style repolished; these imagination and the art of transition aid, but do not enhance. As for style, it may be defined as the sorcery of syllables, the fall of sentences, the use of the exact term, the pursuit of a repetition even unto the thirtieth and fortieth line. Grammar is an adjunct but not an obligation. No grammarian ever wrote a thing that was fit to read."
At his worst—and his worst can be monstrous!—garbed fantastically in purple patches and gaudy rags, he wallows in muddy puddles of Burgundy and gold dust; even then he is unflagging and holds the attention in a vise. His women have eyes which are purple pools, their hair is bitten by combs, their lips are scarlet threads. Even the names of his characters, Roanoke Raritan, Ruis Ixar, Tancred Ennever, Erastus Varick, Gulian Verplank, Melancthon Orr, Justine Dunnellen, Roland Mistrial, Giselle Oppensheim, Yoda Jones, Stella Sixmuth, Violet Silverstairs, Sallie Malakoff, Shane Wyvell, Dugald Maule, Eden Menemon (it will be observed that he has a persistent, balefully procacious, perhaps, indeed, Freudian predilection for the letters U, V, and X), are fantastic and fabulous ... sometimes almost frivolous. And here we may find our paradox. His sense of humour is abnormal, sometimes expressed directly by way of epigram or sly wording but may it not also occasionally express itself indirectly in these purple towers of painted velvet words, extravagant fables, and unbelievable characters he is so fond of erecting? Some of his work almost approaches the burlesque in form. He carries his manner to a point where he seems to laugh at it himself, and then, with a touch of poignant realism or a poetic phrase, he confounds the reader's judgment. The virtuosity of the performance is breath-taking!
He is always the snob (somewhere he defends the snob in an essay): rich food ("half-mourning" [artichoke hearts and truffles], "filet of reindeer," a cygnet in its plumage bearing an orchid in its beak, "heron's eggs whipped with wine into an amber foam," "mashed grasshoppers baked in saffron"), rich clothes, rich people interest him. There is no poverty in his books. His creatures do not toil. They cut coupons off bonds. Sometimes they write or paint, but for the most part they are free to devote themselves exclusively to the pursuit of emotional experience, eating, reading, and travelling the while. And when they have finished dining they wipe their hands, wetted in a golden bowl, in the curly hair of a tiny serving boy. A character in "Madam Sapphira" explains this tendency: "A writer, if he happens to be worth his syndicate, never chooses a subject. The subject chooses him. He writes what he must, not what he might. That's the thing the public can't understand."
There is always a preoccupation with ancient life, sometimes freely expressed as in "Imperial Purple," but more often suggested by plot, phrase, or scene. He kills more people than Caligula killed during the whole course of his bloody reign. Murders, suicides, and other forms of sudden death flash their sensations across his pages. Webster and the other Elizabethans never steeped themselves so completely in gore. In almost every book there is an orgy of death and he has been ingenious in varying its forms. The poisons of rafflesia, muscarine, and orsere are introduced in his fictions; somewhere he devotes an essay to toxicology. Daggers with blades like needles, pistols, drownings, asphyxiations, play their roles ... and in one book there is a crucifixion!
Again I find that Mr. Saltus has said his word on the subject: "In fiction as in history it is the shudder that tells. Hugo could find no higher compliment for Baudelaire than to announce that the latter had discovered a new one. For new shudders are as rare as new vices; antiquity has made them all seem trite. The apt commingling of the horrible and the trivial, pathos and ferocity, is yet the one secret of enduring work—a secret, parenthetically, which Hugo knew as no one else."
His fables depend in most instances upon sexual abberrations, curious coincidences, fantastic happenings. Rapes and incests decorate his pages. He does not ask us to believe his monstrous stories; he compels us to. He carries us by means of the careless expenditure of many passages of somewhat ribald beauty, along with him, captive to his pervasive charm. We are constantly reminded, in endless, almost wearisome, imagery, of gold and purple, foreign languages, esoteric philosophies, foods the names of which strike the ear as graciously as they themselves might strike the tongue. From Huysmans he has learned the formula for ravishing all our senses. Words are often used for their own sakes to call up images, colour flits across every page, across, indeed, every line. We taste, we smell, we see. There is the pomp and circumstance of the Roman Catholic ritual in these pages, the Roman Catholic ritual well supplied with mythical monsters, singing flowers, and blooming women. Strange scarlet and mulberry threads form the woof of these tapestries, threads pulled with great labour from all the art of the past. There is, in much of his work, an undercurrent of subtle sensuous erotic poison; in one of her stories Edna Kenton tells us that chartreuse jaune and bananas form such a poison. There is a suggestion of chartreuse jaune and bananas in much of the work of Edgar Saltus.
He is constantly obsessed by the mysteries of love and death, the veils of Isis, the secrets of Moses. While others were delving in the American soil his soul sped afar; he is not even a cosmopolitan; he is a Greek, a Brahmin, a worshipper of Ishtar. There is a prodigious and prodigal display of genius in his work, savannahs of epigrams, forests of ideas, phrases enough to fill the ocean. There is enough material in the romances of Edgar Saltus to furnish all the cinema companies in America with scenarios for a twelve-month.
Early in the Eighties a writer in "The Argus" referred to him as "the prose laureate of pessimism." His philosophy may be summed up in a few phrases: Nothing matters, Whatever will be is, Everything is possible, and Since we live today let us make the best of it and live in Paris. And through all the opera of Saltus, through the rapes and murders, the religious, philosophical, and social discussions, rings Cherubino's still unanswered question, Che cosa e amor? like a persistent refrain.
After having said so much it seems unnecessary to add that I strongly advise the reader to go out and buy all the books of Edgar Saltus he can find (and to find many will require patience and dexterity, as most of them are out of print). To further aid him in the matter I have prepared a short catalogue and with his permission I will guide him gently through this new land. I have also added a list of publishers, together with the dates of publication, although I cannot, in some instances, vouch for their having been the original imprints. It may be noted that almost all his books have been reprinted in England.
"Balzac," signed Edgar Evertson Saltus (for a time he used his full name) is such good literary criticism and such good personal biography that one wishes the author had tried the form again. He did not save in his prefaces to his translations, his essay on Victor Hugo, and his short study of Oscar Wilde. In its miniature way, for the book is slight, "Balzac" is as good of its kind as James Huneker's "Chopin," Auguste Ehrhard's "Fanny Elssler," and Frank Harris's "Oscar Wilde." In style it is superior to any of these. It is a very pretty performance for a debut and if it is out of print, as I think it is, some enterprising publisher should serve it to the public in a new edition. The two most interesting chapters, largely anecdotal but continuously illuminating, are entitled "The Vagaries of Genius," wherein one may find an infinitude of details concerning the manner in which Balzac worked, and "The Chase for Gold," but tucked in somewhere else is a charming digression about realism in fiction and the bibliography should still be of use to students. Saltus tells us that Balzac took all his characters' names from life, frequently from signs which he observed on the street. In this respect Saltus certainly has not followed him; in another he has been more imitative: I refer to the Balzacian trick of carrying people from one book to another.
"The Philosophy of Disenchantment" is an ingratiating account of the pessimism of Schopenhauer, a philosophy with which it would seem, Saltus is fully in accord. Two-thirds of the book is allotted to Schopenhauer, but the remainder is devoted to an exposition of the teachings of von Hartmann and a final essay, "Is Life an Affliction?" which query the author seems to answer in the affirmative. One of the best-known of the Saltus books, "The Philosophy of Disenchantment" is written in a clear, translucent style without the iridescence which decorates his later opera.
"After-Dinner Stories from Balzac, done into English by Myndart Verelst (obviously E. S.) with an introduction by Edgar Saltus" contains four of the Frenchman's tales, "The Red Inn," "Madame Firmiani," "The 'Grande Breteche'," and "Madame de Beauseant." The introduction is written in Saltus's most beguiling manner and may be referred to as one of the most delightful short essays on Balzac extant. The dedication is to V. A. B.
"The Anatomy of Negation" is Saltus's best book in his earlier manner, which is as free from flamboyancy as early Gothic, and one of his most important contributions to our literature. The work is a history of antitheism from Kapila to Leconte de Lisle and, while the writer in a brief prefatory notice disavows all responsibility for the opinions of others, it can readily be felt that the book is a labour of love and that his sympathy lies with the iconoclasts through the centuries. The chapter entitled, "The Convulsions of the Church," a brief history of Christianity, is one of the most brilliant passages to be found in any of the works of this very brilliant writer. Indeed, if you are searching for the soul of Saltus you could not do better than turn to this chapter. Of Jesus he says, "He was the most entrancing of nihilists but no innovator." Here is another excerpt: "Paganism was not dead; it had merely fallen asleep. Isis gave way to Mary; apotheosis was replaced by canonization; the divinities were succeeded by saints; and, Africa aiding, the Church surged from mythology with the Trinity for tiara." Again: "Satan was Jew from horn to hoof. The registry of his birth is contained in the evolution of Hebraic thought." Never was any book so full of erudition and ideas so easy to read, a fascinating opus, written by a true sceptic. Following the Baedeker system, adopted so amusingly by Henry T. Finck in his "Songs and Song Writers," this book should be triple-starred.
"Tales before Supper, from Theophile Gautier and Prosper Merimee, told in English by Myndart Verelst and delayed with a proem by Edgar Saltus." Translation again. The stories are "Avatar" and "The Venus of Ille." The essay at the beginning is a very charming performance. This book is dedicated to E. C. R.
"Mr. Incoul's Misadventure," Saltus's first novel, is also the best of his numerous fictions. It, too, should be triple-starred in any guide book through this opus-land. In it will be found, super-distilled, the very essence of all the best qualities of this writer. It is written with fine reserve; the story holds; the characters are unusually well observed, felt, and expressed. Irony shines through the pages and the final cadence includes a murder and a suicide. For the former, bromide of potassium and gas are utilized in combination; for the latter laudanum, taken hypodermically, suffices. There are scenes in Biarritz and Northern Spain which include a thrilling picture of a bull-fight. There is an interesting glimpse of the Paris Opera. There is a description of an epithumetic library which embraces many forbidden titles, (How that "baron of moral endeavour ... the professional hound of heaven," Anthony Comstock, would have gloated over these shelves!), a vibrant page about Goya, and another about a Thibetian cat. Many passages could be brought forward as evidence that Mr. Saltus loves the fire-side sphynx. The Mr. Incoul of the title gives one a very excellent idea of how inhuman a just man can be. There is not a single slip in the skilful delineation of this monster. The beautiful heroine vaguely shambles into a tapestried background. She is moyen age in her appealing weakness. The jeune premier, Lenox Leigh, is well drawn and lighted. Time after time the author strikes subtle harmonies which must have delighted Henry James. Why is this book not dedicated to author of "The Turn of the Screw" rather than to "E. A. S."? The pages are permeated with suspense, horror, information, irony, and charm, about evenly distributed, all of which qualities are expressed in the astounding title (astounding after you have read the book). There is a white marriage in this tale, stipulated in the hymeneal bond. In 1877 Tschaikovsky made a similar agreement with the woman he married.
"The Truth About Tristrem Varick" is written with the same restraint which characterizes the style of "Mr. Incoul's Misadventure," a restraint seldom to be encountered in Saltus's later fictions. One of the angles of the plot in which an irate father attempts to suppress a marriage by suggesting incest, bobs up twice again in his stories, for the last time nearly thirty years later in "The Monster." Irony is the keynote of the work, a keynote sounded in the dedication, "To my master, the philosopher of the unconscious, Eduard von Hartmann, this attempt in ornamental disenchantment is dutifully inscribed." The heroine, as frequently happens with Saltus heroines, is veiled with the mysteries of Isis; we do not see the workings of her mind and so we can sympathize with Varick, who pursues her with persistent misunderstanding and arduous devotion through 240 pages. He attributes her aloofness to his father's unfounded charge against his mother and her father. When he learns that she has borne a child he suspects rape and, with a needle-like dagger that leaves no sign, he kills the man he believes to have seduced her. Then he goes to the lady to receive her thanks, only to learn that she loved the man he has killed. Varick gives himself into the hands of the police, confesses, and is delivered to justice, the lady gloating. A strikingly pessimistic tale, only less good than "Mr. Incoul." There is superb writing in these pages, many delightful passages. La Cenerentola and Lucrezia Borgia are mentioned in passing. Saltus has (or had) an exuberant fondness for Donizetti and Rossini. Here is a telling bit of art criticism (attributed to a character) descriptive of the Paris Salon: "There was a Manet or two, a Moreau and a dozen excellent landscapes, but the rest represented the apotheosis of mediocrity. The pictures which Gerome, Cabanel, Bouguereau, and the acolytes of these pastry-cooks exposed were stupid and sterile as church doors." This required courage in 1888. One wonders where Kenyon Cox was at the time! Give this book at least two stars.
"Eden" is the third of Saltus's fictions and possibly the poorest of the three. Eden is the name of the heroine whose further name is Menemon. Stuyvesant Square is her original habitat but she migrates to Fifth Avenue. The tide is flowing South again nowadays. Her husband is almost too good, but nevertheless appearances seem against him until he explains that the lady with whom he has been seen in a cab is his daughter by a former marriage, and the young man who seems to have been making love to Eden is his son. Characteristic of Saltus is the use of the Spanish word for nightingale. There are no deaths, no suicides, no murders in these pages: a very eunuch of a book! A motto from Tasso, "Perdute e tutto il tempo che in amor non si spende" adorns the title page and the work is dedicated to "E——H Amicissima."
With "The Pace that Kills" Saltus doffs his old coat and dons a new and gaudier garment. Possibly he owed this change in style to the influence of the London movement so interestingly described in Holbrook Jackson's "The Eighteen-Nineties." The book begins with abortion and ends with a drop over a ferry-boat into the icy East River. There is an averted strangulation of a baby and for the second time in a Saltus opus a dying millionaire leaves his fortune to the St. Nicholas Hospital. Was Saltus ballyhooing for this institution? The hero is a modern Don Juan. Alphabet Jones appears occasionally, as he does in many of the other novels. This Balzacian trick obsessed the author for a time. The book is dedicated to John S. Rutherford and bears as a motto on its title page this quotation from Rabusson: "Pourquoi la mort? Dites, plutot, pourquoi la vie?"
In "A Transaction in Hearts" the Reverend Christopher Gonfallon falls in love with his wife's sister, Claire. A New England countess, a subsidiary figure, suggests d'Aurevilly. This story originally appeared in "Lippincott's Magazine" and the editor who accepted it was dismissed. A year or so later a new editor published "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Still later Saltus tells me he met Oscar Wilde in London and the Irish poet asked him for news of the new editor. "He's quite well," answered Saltus. Wilde did not seem to be pleased: "When your story appeared the editor was removed; when mine appeared I supposed he would be hanged. Now you tell me he is quite well. It is most disheartening." Saltus then asked Wilde why Dorian Gray was cut by his friends. Wilde turned it over. "I fancy they saw him eating fish with his knife."
"A Transient Guest and other Episodes" contains three short tales besides the title story: "The Grand Duke's Riches," an account of an ingenious robbery at the Brevoort, "A Maid of Athens," and "Fausta," a story of love, revenge, and death in Cuba. If the final cadence of the book is a dagger thrust the prelude is a subtle poison, rafflesia, a Sumatran plant, intended for the hero, Tancred Ennever, but consumed with fatal results by his faithful fox terrier, Zut Alors. The story is arresting and, as frequently happens in Saltus romances, a man finds himself no match for a woman. "A Transient Guest" is dedicated to K. J. M.
The slender volume entitled "Love and Lore" contains a short series of slight essays, interrupted by slighter sonnets, on subjects which, for the most part, Saltus has treated at greater length and with greater effect elsewhere. He makes a whimsical plea for a modern revival of the Court of Love and in "Morality in Fiction" he derides that Puritanism in American letters whose dark scourge H. L. Mencken still pursues with a cat-o'-nine-tails and a hand grenade. He gives us a fanciful set of rules for a novelist which, happily, he has ignored in his own fictions. The most interesting, personal, and charming chapter, although palpably derived from "The Philosophy of Disenchantment," is that entitled "What Pessimism Is Not"; here again we are in the heart of the author's philosophy. Those who like to read books about the Iberian Peninsula can scarcely afford to miss "Fabulous Andalucia," in which an able brief for the race of Othello is presented: "Under the Moors, Cordova surpassed Baghdad. They wrote more poetry than all the other nations put together. It was they who invented rhyme; they wrote everything in it, contracts, challenges, treaties, treatises, diplomatic notes and messages of love. From the earliest khalyf down to Boabdil, the courts of Granada, of Cordova and of Seville were peopled with poets, or, as they were termed, with makers of Ghazels. It was they who gave us the dulcimer, the hautbois and the guitar; it was they who invented the serenade. We are indebted to them for algebra and for the canons of chivalry as well.... It was from them that came the first threads of light which preceded the Renaissance. Throughout mediaeval Europe they were the only people that thought." The book is dedicated to Edgar Fawcett, "perfect poet—perfect friend" and is embellished with a portrait of its author.
"The Story Without a Name" is a translation of "Une Histoire Sans Nom" of Barbey d'Aurevilly, and is preceded by one of Saltus's charming and atmospheric literary essays, the best on d'Aurevilly to be found in English. When this book first appeared, Mr. Saltus informs me, a reviewer, "who contrived to be both amusing and complimentary," said that Barbey d'Aurevilly was a fictitious person and that this vile story was Saltus's own vile work!
"Mary Magdalen," on the whole disappointing, is nevertheless one of the important Saltus opera. The opening chapters, like Oscar Wilde's Salome (published two years later than "Mary Magdalen") owe much to Flaubert's "Herodias." The dance on the hands is a detail from Flaubert, a detail which Tissot followed in his painting of Salome.... From the later chapters it is possible that Paul Heyse filched an idea. The turning point of his drama, Maria von Magdala, hinges on Judas's love for Mary and his jealousy of Jesus. Saltus develops exactly this situation. Heyse's play appeared in 1899, eight years after Saltus's novel. However, Saltus has protested to me that it is an idea that might have occurred to any one. "I put it in," he added, "to make the action more nervous." The book begins well with a description of Herod's court and Rome in Judea, but as a whole it is unsatisfactory. Once the plot develops Saltus seems to lose interest. He lazily quotes whole scenes from the Bible (George Moore very cleverly avoided this pitfall in "The Brook Kerith"). The early chapters suggest "Imperial Purple," which appeared a year later and upon which he may well have been at work at this time. There is a foreshadowing, too, of "The Lords of the Ghostland" in a very amusing and slightly cynical passage in which Mary as a child listens to Sephorah the sorceress tell legends and myths of Assyria and Egypt. Mary interrupts with "Why you mean Moses! You mean Noah!" just as a child of today, if confronted with the situations in the Greek dramas would attribute them to Bayard Veiller or Eugene Walter. Saltus is too much of a scholar to find much novelty in Christianity. But aside from this passage cynicism is lacking from this book, a quality which makes another story on the same theme, "Le Procurateur de Judee," one of the greatest short stories in any language. Mary's sins are quickly passed over and we come almost immediately to her conversion. Herod Antipas, with his "fan-shaped beard" and vacillating Pilate, quite comparable to a modern politician, are the most human and best-realized characters in a book which should have been greater than it is. "Mary Magdalen" is dedicated to Henry James.
"The facts in the Curious Case of H. Hyrtl, esq." is a slight yarn in the mellow Stevenson manner, with a kindly old gentleman as the messenger of the supernatural who provides the wherewithal for a marriage between an impoverished artist, who is painting Heliogabolus's feast of roses, and his sweet young thing. Quite a departure this from the usual Saltus manner; nevertheless there are two deaths, one by shock, the other in a railway accident. The plot depends on as many impossible entrances and exits as a Palais Royal farce and the reader is asked to believe in many coincidences. The book is dedicated to Lorillard Ronalds who, the author explains in a few French phrases, asked him to write something "de tres pure et de tres chaste, pour une jeunesse, sans doute." He adds that the story is a rewriting of a tale which had appeared twenty years earlier.
"Imperial Purple" marks the high-tide of Saltus's peculiar genius. The emperors of imperial decadent Rome are led by the chains of art behind the chariot wheels of the poet: Julius Caesar, whom Cato called "that woman," Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, the wicked Agrippina, for whom Agnes Repplier named her cat, Claudius, Nero, Hadrian, Vespasian, down to the incredible Heliogabolus. Saltus, who has given us many vivid details concerning the lives of his predecessors, seemingly falters at this dread name, but only seemingly. More can be found about this extraordinary and perverse emperor in Lombard's "L'Agonie" and in Franz Blei's "The Powder Puff," but, although Saltus is brief, he evokes an atmosphere and a picture in a few short paragraphs. The sheer lyric quality of this book has remained unsurpassed by this author. Indeed it is rare in all literature. Page after page that Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, or J. K. Huysmans might have been glad to sign might be set before you. The man writes with invention, with sap, with urge. Our eyes are not clogged with foot-notes and references. It is plain that our author has delved in the "Scriptores Historiae Augustae," that he has read Lampridius, Suetonius, and the others, but he does not strive to make us aware of it. The historical form has at last found a poet to render it supportable. Blood runs across the pages; gore and booty are the principal themes; and yet Beauty struts supreme through the horror. The author's sympathy is his password, a sympathy which he occasionally exposes, for he is not above pinning his heart to his sleeve, as, for example, when he says, "In spite of Augustus's boast, the city was not by any means of marble. It was filled with crooked little streets, with the atrocities of the Tarquins, with houses unsightly and perilous, with the moss and dust of ages; it compared with Alexandria as London compares with Paris; it had a splendour of its own, but a splendour that could be heightened." Here is a picture of squalid Rome: "In the subura, where at night women sat in high chairs, ogling the passer with painted eyes, there was still plenty of brick; tall tenements, soiled linen, the odor of Whitechapel and St. Giles. The streets were noisy with match-pedlars, with vendors of cake and tripe and coke; there were touts there too, altars to unimportant divinities, lying Jews who dealt in old clothes, in obscene pictures and unmentionable wares; at the crossings there were thimbleriggers, clowns and jugglers, who made glass balls appear and disappear surprisingly; there were doorways decorated with curious invitations, gossipy barber shops, where, through the liberality of politicians, the scum of a great city was shaved, curled and painted free; and there were public houses, where vagabond slaves and sexless priests drank the mulled wine of Crete, supped on the flesh of beasts slaughtered in the arena, or watched the Syrian women twist to the click of castanets." The account of the arena under Nero should not be missed, but it is too long to quote here. The book, which we give three stars, is dedicated to Edwin Albert Schroeder. Fortunately, of all Saltus's works, it is the most readily procurable.
"Imperial Purple" has had a curious history. Belford, Clarke and Co., who hid their identity behind the "Morrill, Higgins" imprint, failed shortly after they had issued the book. "Presently," Mr. Saltus writes me, "a Chicago bibliofilou brought it out as the work of some one else and called it 'The Sins of Nero.'" Meanwhile Greening published it in London and finally Mitchell Kennerley reprinted it in New York. In 1911 Macmillan in London brought out "The Amazing Emperor Heliogabolus" by the Reverend John Stuart Hay of Oxford. In the preface to this book I found the following: "I have also the permission of Mr. E. E. Saltus of Harvard University (sic) to quote his vivid and beautiful studies on the Roman Empire and her customs. I am also deeply indebted to Mr. Walter Pater, Mr. J. A. Symonds, and Mr. Saltus for many a tournure de phrase and picturesque rendering of Tacitus, Suetonious, Lampridius, and the rest." The Reverend Doctor certainly helped himself to "Imperial Purple." Words, sentences, nay whole paragraphs appear without the formality of quotation marks, without any indication, indeed, save these lines in the preface, that they are not part of the Doctor's own imagination, unless one compares them with the style in which the rest of the book is written. "In one instance," Mr. Saltus writes me, "he gave a paragraph of mine as his own. Later on he added, 'as we have already said' and repeated the paragraph. The plural struck me as singular."
"Madam Sapphira" is a vivid study in unchastened womanhood. We see but little of the lady in the 251 pages of this "Fifth Avenue Story"; her character is exposed to us through the experiences of her poor fool husband, who colloquially would be called a simp, by denizens of the Low World a boob. He redeems himself to some extent by sending Madam Sapphira a belated bouquet of cyanide of potassium. On the whole, though characters and phrases in his work might be brought forward to prove the contrary, Mr. Saltus obviously has a low opinion of women and thinks that men do better without them. The greater part of the time he appears to agree with Posthumus:
"Could I find out The woman's part in me! For there's no motion That tends to vice in man but I affirm It is the woman's part; be it lying, note it The woman's; flattering, hers; deceiving, hers; Lust and rank thoughts, hers, hers; revenges, hers; Ambitions, covetings, changes of prides, disdain, Nice longings, slanders, mutability, All faults that may be named, nay that hell knows, Why, hers, in part or all; but rather, all; For even to vice They are not constant, but are changing still One vice of a minute old for one Not half so old as that. I'll write against them, Detest them, curse them.—Yet 'tis greater skill In a true hate, to pray they have their will: The very devils cannot plague them better."
"Enthralled, a story of international life setting forth the curious circumstances concerning Lord Cloden and Oswald Quain": a mad opus this, an insane phantasmagoria of crime, avarice, and murder. For the second time in this author's novels incest plays a role. This time it is real. Quain is indeed the half-brother of the lady who desires to marry him. He is as vile and virulent a villain as any who stalks through the pages of Ann Ker, Eliza Bromley, or Mrs. Radcliffe. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde motive is sounded. An ugly man comes back from London a handsome fellow after visits to a certain doctor who rearranges the lines of his face. The transformation is effected every day now (some of our prominent actresses are said to have benefited by this operation), but in 1894 the mechanism of the trick must have been appallingly creaky. This story, indeed, borders on the burlesque and has almost as much claim to the title as "The Green Carnation." Was the author laughing at the Eighteen Nineties? The period is subtly evoked in one detail, constantly reiterated in Saltus's early books: ladies and gentlemen when they leave a room "push aside the portieres." Sometimes the "rings jingle." He has in most instances mercifully spared us further descriptions of the interiors of New York houses at this epoch.... At a dinner party one of the guests refers to Howells as the "foremost novelist who is never read." The book is dedicated to "Cherubina, dulcissime rerum." Saltus returned to the central theme of "Enthralled" in a story called "The Impostor," printed in "Ainslee's" for May, 1917.
"When Dreams Come True" again brings us in touch with Tancred Ennever, the stupid hero of "The Transient Guest." In the meantime he has become an almost intolerable prig. It is probable that Saltus meant more by this fable than he has let appear. The roar of the waves on the coast of Lesbos is distinctly audible for a time and the denoument seems to belong to quite another story.... Ennever has turned author. We are informed that he has completed studies on Huysmans and Leconte de Lisle; he is also engaged on a "Historia Amoris." There is an interesting passage relating to the names of great writers. Alphabet Jones assures us that they are always "in two syllables with the accent on the first. Oyez: Homer, Sappho, Horace, Dante, Petrarch, Ronsard, Shakespeare, Hugo, Swinburne ... Balzac, Flaubert, Huysmans, Michelet, Renan." The reader is permitted to add ... "Saltus"!
"Purple and Fine Women" is a misnamed book. It should be called "Philosophic Fables." The first two stories are French in form. Paul Bourget himself is the hero of one of them! In "The Princess of the Sun" we are offered a new and fantastic version of the Coppelia story. "The Dear Departed" finds Saltus in a murderous amorous mood again. In "The Princess of the Golden Isles" a new poison is introduced, muscarine. Alchemy furnishes the theme for one tale; the protagonist seeks an alcahest, a human victim for his crucible. We are left in doubt as to whether he chooses his wife, who wears a diamond set in one of her teeth, or a gorilla. There are dramas of dual personality and of death. Metaphysics and spiritualism rise dimly out of the charm of this book. There is a duchess who mews like a cat and somewhere we are assured that Perche non posso odiarte from La Sonnnambula is the most beautiful aria in the Italian repertory. Here is a true and soul-revealing epigram: "The best way to master a subject of which you are ignorant is to write it up." Certainly not Saltus at his best, this opus, but far from his worst.
"The Perfume of Eros" is frenzied fiction again; amnesia, drunkenness, white slavery, sex, are its mingled themes. There is a pretty picture, recognizable in any smart community, of a witty woman of fashion, and a full-length portrait of a bounder. "The Yellow Fay," Saltus's cliche for the Demon Rum, was the original title of this "Fifth Avenue Incident." Romance and Realism consort lovingly together in its pages. There is an unforgetable passage descriptive of a young man ridding himself of his mistress. He interrupts his flow of explanation to hand her a card case, which she promptly throws out of the window.
"'That is an agreeable way of getting rid of twelve thousand dollars,' he remarked.
"Yet, however lightly he affected to speak, the action annoyed him. Like all men of large means he was close. It seemed to him beastly to lose such a sum. He got up, went to the window and looked down. He could not see the case and he much wanted to go and look for it. But that for the moment Marie prevented."
"The Pomps of Satan" is replete with grace and graciousness, and full of charm, a quality more valuable to its possessor than juvenility, our author tells us in a chapter concerning the lost elixir of youth. Neither form nor matter assume ponderous shape in this volume, which in the quality of its contents reminds one faintly of Franz Blei's lady's breviary, "The Powder Puff," but Saltus's book is the more ingratiating of the two. Satan's pomps are varied; the author exposes his whims, his ideas, images the past, forecasts the future, deplores the present. There is a chapter on cooking and we learn that Saltus does not care for food prepared in the German style ... nor yet in the American. He forbids us champagne: "Champagne is not a wine. It is a beverage, lighter indeed than brandy and soda, but, like cologne, fit only for demi-reps." But he seems untrue to himself in an essay condemning the use of perfumes. His own books are heavily scented. With the rare prescience and clairvoyance of an artist he includes the German Kaiser in a chapter on hyenas (in 1906!); therein stalk the blood-stained shadows of Caligula, Caracalla, Atilla, Tamerlane, Cesare Borgia, Philip II, and Ivan the Terrible. The paragraph is worth quoting: "Power consists in having a million bayonets behind you. Its diffusion is not general. But there are people who possess it. For one, the German Kaiser. Not long since somebody or other diagnosed in him the habitual criminal. We doubt that he is that. But we suspect that, were it not for the press, he would show more of primitive man than he has thus far thought judicious." Has Mme. de Thebes done better? Saltus also foresaw Gertrude Stein. Peering into the future he wrote: "When that day comes the models of literary excellence will not be the long and windy sentences of accredited bores, but ample brevities, such as the 'N' on Napoleon's tomb, in which, in less than a syllable, an epoch, and the glory of it, is resumed." Saltus forsakes his previous choice from Bellini and installs Tu che a Dio as his favourite Italian opera air. Here is another flash of self-revealment: "Byzance is rumoured to have been the sewer of every sin, yet such was its beauty that it is the canker of our heart we could not have lived there." Always this turning to the far past, this delving in rosetta stones and palimpsests, this preoccupation with the sights and sins of the ancient gods and kings. A chapter on poisons, another on Gille de Retz, which probably owes something to "La Bas," betray this preference. He playfully suggests that the Academy of Arts and Letters be filled up with young nobodies: "They have, indeed, done nothing yet. But therein is their charm. An academy composed of young people who have done nothing yet would be more alluring than one made up of fossils who are unable to do anything more." Herein are contained enough aphorisms and epigrams to make up a new book of Solomonic wisdom. Hardly as evenly inspired as "Imperial Purple," "The Pomps of Satan" is more dashing and more varied. It is also more tired.
"Vanity Square" in Stella Sixmuth boasts such a "vampire" as even Theda Bara is seldom called upon to portray. Not until the final chapters of this mystery story do we discover that this lady has been poisoning a rich man's wife, with an eye on the rich man's heart and hand. Oraere is this slow and subtle poison which leaves no subsequent trace. She is thwarted but in a subsequent attempt she is successful. Robert Hichens has used this theme in "Bella Donna." There is a suicide by pistol. An exciting story but little else, this book contains fewer references to the gods and the caesars than is usual with Saltus. To compensate there are long discussions about phobias, dual personalities (a girl with six is described) and theories about future existence. Vanity Square, we are told, is bounded by Central Park, Madison Avenue, Seventy-second Street and the Plaza.
It will be remembered that Tancred Ennever was at work on "Historia Amoris" in 1895, which would seem to indicate that Saltus had begun to collect material for it himself at that time. The title is a literal description of the contents of the book: it is a history of love. Such a work might have been made purely anecdotal or scientific, but Saltus's purpose has been at once more serious and more graceful, to show how the love currents flowed through the centuries, to show what effect period life had on love and what effect love had on period life. Beginning with Babylon and passing on through the "Song of Songs" we meet Helen of Troy, Scheherazade (though but briefly), Sappho (to whom an entire chapter is devoted), Cleopatra (whom Heine called "cette reine entretenue"), Mary Magdalen, Heloise.... The Courts of Love are described and deductions are drawn as to the effect of the Renaissance on the Gay Science. "Historia Amoris" is concluded by a Schopenhauerian essay on "The Law of Attraction." Cicisbeism is not treated in extenso, as it should be, and I also missed the fragrant name of Sophie Arnould. Readers of "Love and Lore," "The Pomps of Satan," "Imperial Purple," and "The Lords of the Ghostland" will find much of their material adjusted to the purposes of this History of Love, which, nevertheless, no one interested in Saltus can afford to miss.
In "The Lords of the Ghostland, a history of the ideal," Saltus returns to the theme of "The Anatomy of Negation." The newer work is both more cynical and more charming. It is, of course, a history and a comparison of religions. With Reinach Saltus believes that Christianity owes much to its ancestors. Brahma, Ormuzd, Amon-Ra, Bel-Marduk, Jehovah, Zeus, Jupiter, and many lesser deities parade before us in defile. Prejudice, intolerance, tolerance even are lacking from this book, as they were from "Imperial Purple." "The Lords of the Ghostland" is neither reverent nor irreverent, it is unreverent. Mr. Saltus finds joy in writing about the gods, the joy of a poet, and if his chiefest pleasure is to extol the gods of Greece that is only what might be expected of this truly pagan spirit. Students of comparative theology can learn much from these pages, but they will learn it unwittingly, for the poet supersedes the teacher. Saltus is never professorial. The scientific spirit is never to the fore; no marshalling of dull facts for their own sakes. Nevertheless I suspect that the book contains more absorbing information than any similar volume on the subject. With a fascinating and guileful style this divine devil of an author leads us on to the spot where he can point out to us that the only original feature of Christianity is the crucifixion, and even that is foreshadowed in Hindoo legend, in which Krishna dies, nailed by arrows to a tree. This book should be required reading for the first class in isogogies.
Most of the scenes of "Daughters of the Rich" are laid in Paris. The plot hinges on mistaken identity and the whole is a very ingenious detective story. The book begins rather than ends with a murder, but that is because the tale is told backward. Through lies, deceit, and treachery the woman in the case, one Sallie Malakoff, betrays the hero into marriage with her. When he discovers her perfidy he cheerfully cuts her throat from ear to ear and goes to join the lady from whom he has been estranged. She receives him with open arms and suggests wedding bells. No woman, she asserts, could resist a man who has killed another woman for her sake. This is decidedly a Roman point of view! Some of the action takes place in a house on the Avenue Malakoff, which must have been near the hotel of the Princesse de Sagan and the apartment occupied by Miss Mary Garden.... A fat manufacturer's wife confronts the proposal of a mercenary duke with an epic rejoinder: "Pay a man a million dollars to sleep with my daughter! Never!"... Again Saltus demonstrates how completely he is master of the story-telling gift, how surely he possesses the power to compel breathless attention.
"The Monster" is fiction, incredible, insane fiction. The monster is incest, in this instance inceste manque because it doesn't come off. On the eve of a runaway marriage Leilah Ogsten is informed by her father that her intended husband is her own brother (he inculpates her mother in the scandal). Leilah disappears and to put barriers between her and the man she loves becomes the bride of another. Verplank pursues. There are two fabulous duels and a scene in which our hero is mangled by dogs. The stage (for we are always in some extravagant theatre) is frequently set in Paris and the familiar scenes of the capital are in turn exposed to our view. It is all mad, full of purple patches and crimson splotches and yet, once opened, it is impossible to lay the book down until it is completed. From this novel Mr. Saltus fashioned his only play, The Gates of Life, which he sent to Charles Frohman and which Mr. Frohman returned. The piece has neither been produced nor published.