Transcribed from the 1900 Charles Scribners sons edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE WAYS OF MEN
by Eliot Gregory (An Idler) Author of Worldly Ways and Byways.
NEW YORK Charles Scribners Sons MCM
Copyright, 1900, by Charles Scribners Sons
D. B. Updike, The Merrymount Press, Boston
TO Edith Wharton
I have not lacked thy mild reproof, Nor golden largess of thy praise.
CHAPTER 1Uncle Sam
The gentleman who graced the gubernatorial armchair of our state when this century was born happened to be an admirer of classic lore and the sonorous names of antiquity.
It is owing to his weakness in bestowing pompous cognomens on our embryo towns and villages that to-day names like Utica, Syracuse, and Ithaca, instead of evoking visions of historic pomp and circumstance, raise in the minds of most Americans the picture of cocky little cities, rich only in trolley-cars and Methodist meeting-houses.
When, however, this cultured governor, in his ardor, christened one of the cities Troy, and the hill in its vicinity Mount Ida, he little dreamed that a youth was living on its slopes whose name was destined to become a household word the world over, as the synonym for the proudest and wealthiest republic yet known to history, a sobriquet that would be familiar in the mouths of races to whose continents even the titles of Jupiter or Mars had never penetrated.
A little before this century began, two boys with packs bound on their stalwart shoulders walked from New York and established a brickyard in the neighborhood of what is now Perry Street, Troy. Ebenezer and Samuel Wilson soon became esteemed citizens of the infant city, their kindliness and benevolence winning for them the affection and respect of the community.
The younger brother, Samuel, was an especial favorite with the children of the place, whose explorations into his deep pockets were generally rewarded by the discovery of some simple sweet or home-made toy. The slender youth with the nutcracker face proving to be the merriest of playfellows, in their love his little band of admirers gave him the pet name of Uncle Sam, by which he quickly became known, to the exclusion of his real name. This is the kindly and humble origin of a title the mere speaking of which to-day quickens the pulse and moistens the eyes of millions of Americans with the same thrill that the dear old flag arouses when we catch sight of it, especially an unexpected glimpse in some foreign land.
With increasing wealth the brickyard of the Wilson brothers was replaced by an extensive slaughtering business, in which more than a hundred men were soon employeda vast establishment for that day, killing weekly some thousand head of cattle. During the military operations of 1812 the brothers signed a contract to furnish the troops at Greenbush with meat, packed in full bound barrels of white oak; soon after, Samuel was appointed Inspector of Provisions for the army.
It is a curious coincidence that England also should have taken an ex-army-contractor as her patron saint, for if we are to believe tradition, St. George of Cappadocia filled that position unsatisfactorily before he passed through martyrdom to sainthood.
True prototype of the nation that was later to adopt him as its godfather, the shrewd and honest patriot, Uncle Sam, not only lived loyally up to his contracts, giving full measure and of his best, but proved himself incorruptible, making it his business to see that others too fulfilled their engagements both in the letter and the spirit; so that the U.S. (abbreviation of United States) which he pencilled on all provisions that had passed his inspection became in the eyes of officers and soldiers a guarantee of excellence. Samuels old friends, the boys of Troy (now enlisted in the army), naïvely imagining that the mystic initials were an allusion to the pet name they had given him years before, would accept no meats but Uncle Sams, murmuring if other viands were offered them. Their comrades without inquiry followed this example; until so strong did the prejudice for food marked U.S. become, that other contractors, in order that their provisions should find favor with the soldiers, took to announcing Uncle Sam brands.
To the greater part of the troops, ignorant (as are most Americans to-day) of the real origin of this pseudonym, Uncle Sams beef and bread meant merely government provisions, and the step from national belongings to an impersonation of our country by an ideal Uncle Sam was but a logical sequence.
In his vigorous old age, Samuel Wilson again lived on Mount Ida, near the estates of the Warren family, where as children we were taken to visit his house and hear anecdotes of the aged patriots hospitality and humor. The honor in which he was held by the country-side, the influence for good he exerted, and the informal tribunal he held, to which his neighbors came to get their differences straightened out by his common sense, are still talked of by the older inhabitants. One story in particular used to charm our boyish ears. It was about a dispute over land between the Livingstons and the Van Rensselaers, which was brought to an end by Uncle Sams producing a barrel of old papers (confided to him by both families during the war, for safe keeping) and extracting from this original strong box title deeds to the property in litigation.
Now, in these troubled times of ours, when rumors of war are again in the air, ones thoughts revert with pleasure to the half-mythical figure on the threshold of the century, and to legends of the clear-eyed giant, with the quizzical smile and the tender, loyal heart, whose lifes work makes him a more lovable model and a nobler example to hold up before the youth of to-day than all the mythological deities that ever disported themselves on the original Mount Ida.
There is a singular fitness in this choice of Uncle Sam as our patron saint, for to be honest and loyal and modest, to love little children, to do ones duty quietly in the heyday of life, and become a mediator in old age, is to fulfil about the whole duty of man; and every patriotic heart must wish the analogy may be long maintained, that our loved country, like its prototype, may continue the protector of the feeble and a peace-maker among nations.
CHAPTER 2Domestic Despots
Those who walk through the well-to-do quarters of our city, and glance, perhaps a little enviously as they pass, toward the cheerful firesides, do not reflect that in almost every one of these apparently happy homes a pitiless tyrant reigns, a misshapen monster without bowels of compassion or thought beyond its own greedy appetites, who sits like Sinbads awful burden on the necks of tender women and distracted men. Sometimes this incubus takes the form of a pug, sometimes of a poodle, or simply a bastard cur admitted to the family bosom in a moment of unreflecting pity; size and pedigree are of no importance; the result is always the same. Once Caliban is installed in his stronghold, peace and independence desert that roof.
We read daily of fathers tyrannizing over trembling families, of stepmothers and unnatural children turning what might be happy homes into amateur Infernos, and sigh, as we think of martyrdoms endured by overworked animals.
It is cheering to know that societies have been formed for the protection of dumb brutes and helpless children. Will no attempt be made to alleviate this other form of suffering, which has apparently escaped the eye of the reformer?
The animal kingdom is dividedlike all Gaulinto three divisions: wild beasts, that are obliged to hustle for themselves; laboring and producing animals, for which man provides because they are useful to himand dogs! Of all created things on our globe the canine race have the softest snap. The more one thinks about this curious exception in their favor the more unaccountable it appears. We neglect such wild things as we do not slaughter, and exact toil from domesticated animals in return for their keep. Dogs alone, shirking all cares and labor, live in idle comfort at mans expense.
When that painful family jar broke up the little garden party in Eden and forced our first parents to work or hunt for a living, the original Dog (equally disgusted with either alternative) hit on the luminous idea of posing as the champion of the disgraced couple, and attached himself to Adam and Eve; not that he approved of their conduct, but simply because he foresaw that if he made himself companionable and cosy he would be asked to stay to dinner.
From that day to the present, with the exception of occasionally watching sheep and housesa lazy occupation at the bestand a little light carting in Belgium (dogs were given up as turn-spits centuries ago, because they performed that duty badly), no canine has raised a paw to do an honest days work, neither has any member of the genus been known voluntarily to perform a useful act.
How thenone asks ones self in a wonderdid the myth originate that Dog was the friend of Man? Like a multitude of other fallacies taught to innocent children, this folly must be unlearned later. Friend of man, indeed! Why, the Little Brothers of the Rich are guileless philanthropists in comparison with most canines, and unworthy to be named in the same breath with them. Dogs discovered centuries ago that to live in luxury, it was only necessary to assume an exaggerated affection for some wealthy mortal, and have since proved themselves past masters in a difficult art in which few men succeed. The number of human beings who manage to live on their friends is small, whereas the veriest mongrel cur contrives to enjoy food and lodging at some dupes expense.
Facts such as these, however, have not over-thrown the great dog myth. One can hardly open a childs book without coming across some tale of canine intelligence and devotion. My tender youth was saddened by the story of one disinterested dog that refused to leave his masters grave and was found frozen at his post on a bleak winters morning. With the experience of years in pet dogs I now suspect that, instead of acting in this theatrical fashion, that pup trotted home from the funeral with the most prosperous and simple-minded couple in the neighborhood, and after a substantial meal went to sleep by the fire. He must have been a clever dog to get so much free advertisement, so probably strolled out to his masters grave the next noon, when people were about to hear him, and howled a little to keep up appearances.
I have written the richest and most simple minded couple, because centuries of self-seeking have developed in these beasts an especial aptitude for spotting possible victims at a glance. You will rarely find dogs coquetting with the strong-minded or wasting blandishments where there is not the probability of immediate profit; but once let even a puppy get a tenderhearted girl or aged couple under his influence, no pity will be shown the victims.
There is a house not a square away from Mr. Gerrys philanthropic headquarters, where a state of things exists calculated to extract tears from a custom-house official. Two elderly virgins are there held in bondage by a Minotaur no bigger than your two fists. These good dames have a taste for travelling, but change of climate disagrees with their tyrant. They dislike house-keeping and, like good Americans, would prefer hotel life, nevertheless they keep up an establishment in a cheerless side street, with a retinue of servants, because, forsooth, their satrap exacts a back yard where he can walk of a morning. These spinsters, although loving sisters, no longer go about together, Caligulas nerves being so shaken that solitude upsets them. He would sooner expire than be left alone with the servant, for the excellent reason that his bad temper and absurd airs have made him dangerous enemies below stairsand he knows it!
Another household in this city revolves around two brainless, goggle-eyed beasts, imported at much expense from the slopes of Fuji-yama. The care that is lavished on those heathen monsters passes belief. Maids are employed to carry them up and down stairs, and men are called in the night to hurry for a doctor when Chi has over-eaten or Fu develops colic; yet their devoted mistress tells me, with tears in her eyes, that in spite of this care, when she takes her darlings for a walk they do not know her from the first stranger that passes, and will follow any boy who whistles to them in the street.
What revolts me in the character of dogs is that, not content with escaping from the responsibilities entailed on all the other inhabitants of our globe by the struggle for existence, these four-legged Pecksniffs have succeeded in making for themselves a fallacious reputation for honesty and devotion. What little lingering belief I had in canine fidelity succumbed then I was told that St. Bernardsthose models of integrity and couragehave fallen into the habit of carrying the flasks of brandy that the kind monks provide for the succor of snowbound travellers, to the neighboring hamlets and exchanging the contents forchops!
Will the world ever wake to the true character of these four-legged impostors and realize that instead of being disinterested and sincere, most family pets are consummate hypocrites. Innocent? Pshaw! Their pretty, coaxing ways and pretences of affection are unadulterated guile; their ostentatious devotion, simply a clever manuvre to excite interest and obtain unmerited praise. It is useless, however, to hope that things will change. So long as this giddy old world goes on waltzing in space, so long shall we continue to be duped by shams and pin our faith on frauds, confounding an attractive bearing with a sweet disposition and mistaking dishevelled hair and eccentric appearance for brains. Even in the Orient, where dogs have been granted immunity from other labor on the condition that they organized an effective street-cleaning department, they have been false to their trust and have evaded their contracts quite as if they were Tammany braves, like whom they pass their days in slumber and their nights in settling private disputes, while the city remains uncleaned.
I nurse yet another grudge against the canine race! That Voltaire of a whelp, who imposed himself upon our confiding first parents, must have had an important pull at headquarters, for he certainly succeeded in getting the decree concerning beauty and fitness which applies to all mammals, including man himself, reversed in favor of dogs, and handed down to his descendants the secret of making defects and deformities pass current as qualities. While other animals are valued for sleek coats and slender proportions, canine monstrosities have always been in demand. We do not admire squints or protruding under jaws in our own race, yet bulldogs have persuaded many weak-minded people that these defects are charming when combined in an individual of their breed.
The fox in the fable, who after losing his tail tried to make that bereavement the fashion, failed in his undertaking; Dutch canal-boat dogs have, however, been successful where the fox failed, and are to-day pampered and prized for a curtailment that would condemn any other animal (except perhaps a Manx cat) to a watery grave at birth.
I can only recall two instances where canine sycophants got their deserts; the first tale (probably apocryphal) is about a donkey, for years the silent victim of a little terrier who had been trained to lead him to water and back. The dogas might have been expectedabused the situation, while pretending to be very kind to his charge, never allowed him to roll on the grass, as he would have liked, or drink in peace, and harassed the poor beast in many other ways, getting, however, much credit from the neighbors for devotion and intelligence. Finally, one day after months of waiting, the patient victims chance came. Getting his tormentor well out into deep water, the donkey quietly sat down on him.
The other tale is true, for I knew the lady who provided in her will that her entire establishment should be kept up for the comfort and during the life of the three fat spaniels that had solaced her declining years. The heirs tried to break the will and failed; the delighted domestics, seeing before them a period of repose, proceeded (headed by the portly housekeeper) to consult a vet as to how the life of the precious legatees might be prolonged to the utmost. His advice was to stop all sweets and rich food and give each of the animals at least three hours of hard exercise a day. From that moment the lazy brutes led a dogs life. Water and the detested Spratt biscuit, scorned in happier days, formed their meagre ordinary; instead of somnolent airings in a softly cushioned landau they were torn from chimney corner musings to be raced through cold, muddy streets by a groom on horseback.
Those two tales give me the keenest pleasure. When I am received on entering a friends room with a chorus of yelps and attacked in dark corners by snarling little hypocrites who fawn on me in their masters presence, I humbly pray that some such Nemesis may be in store for these faux bonhommes before they leave this world, as apparently no provision has been made for their punishment in the next.
CHAPTER 3Cyrano, Rostand, Coquelin
Among the proverbs of Spanish folk-lore there is a saying that good wine retains its flavor in spite of rude bottles and cracked cups. The success of M. Rostands brilliant drama, Cyrano de Bergerac, in its English dress proves once more the truth of this adage. The fun and pathos, the wit and satire, of the original pierce through the halting, feeble translation like light through a ragged curtain, dazzling the spectators and setting their enthusiasm ablaze.
Those who love the theatre at its best, when it appeals to our finer instincts and moves us to healthy laughter and tears, owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Mansfield for his courage in giving us, as far as the difference of language and rhythm would allow, this chef duvre unchanged, free from the mutilations of the adapter, with the authors wishes and the stage decorations followed into the smallest detail. In this way we profit by the vast labor and study which Rostand and Coquelin gave to the original production.
Rumors of the success attained by this play in Paris soon floated across to us. The two or three French booksellers here could not import the piece fast enough to meet the ever increasing demand of our reading public. By the time spring came, there were few cultivated people who had not read the new work and discussed its original language and daring treatment.
On arriving in Paris, my first evening was passed at the Porte St. Martin. After the piece was over, I dropped into Coquelins dressing-room to shake this old acquaintance by the hand and give him news of his many friends in America.
Coquelin in his dressing-room is one of the most delightful of mortals. The effort of playing sets his blood in motion and his wit sparkling. He seemed as fresh and gay that evening as though there were not five killing acts behind him and the fatigue of a two-hundred-night run, uninterrupted even by Sundays, added to his record.
After the operation of removing his historic nose had been performed and the actor had resumed his own clothes and features, we got into his carriage and were driven to his apartment in the Place de lEtoile, a cosy museum full of comfortable chairs and priceless bric-à-brac. The conversation naturally turned during supper on the piece and this new author who had sprung in a night from obscurity to a globe-embracing fame. How, I asked, did you come across the play, and what decided you to produce it?
Coquelins reply was so interesting that it will be better to repeat the actors own words as he told his tale over the dismantled table in the tranquil midnight hours.
I had, like most Parisians, known Rostand for some time as the author of a few graceful verses and a play (Les Romanesques) which passed almost unnoticed at the Français.
About four years ago Sarah Bernhardt asked me to her hôtel to hear M. Rostand read a play he had just completed for her. I accepted reluctantly, as at that moment we were busy at the theatre. I also doubted if there could be much in the new play to interest me. It was La Princesse Lointaine. I shall remember that afternoon as long as I live! From the first line my attention was riveted and my senses were charmed. What struck me as even more remarkable than the piece was the masterly power and finish with which the boyish author delivered his lines. Where, I asked myself, had he learned that difficult art? The great actress, always quick to respond to the voice of art, accepted the play then and there.
After the reading was over I walked home with M. Rostand, and had a long talk with him about his work and ambitions. When we parted at his door, I said: In my opinion, you are destined to become the greatest dramatic poet of the age; I bind myself here and now to take any play you write (in which there is a part for me) without reading it, to cancel any engagements I may have on hand, and produce your piece with the least possible delay. An offer I dont imagine many young poets have ever received, and which I certainly never before made to any author.
About six weeks later my new acquaintance dropped in one morning to read me the sketch he had worked out for a drama, the title rôle of which he thought would please me. I was delighted with the idea, and told him to go ahead. A month later we met in the street. On asking him how the play was progressing, to my astonishment he answered that he had abandoned that idea and hit upon something entirely different. Chance had thrown in his way an old volume of Cyrano de Bergeracs poems, which so delighted him that he had been reading up the life and death of that unfortunate poet. From this reading had sprung the idea of making Cyrano the central figure of a drama laid in the city of Richelieu, dArtagnan, and the Précieuses Ridicules, a seventeenth-century Paris of love and duelling.
At first this idea struck me as unfortunate. The elder Dumas had worked that vein so well and so completely, I doubted if any literary gold remained for another author. It seemed foolhardy to resuscitate the Three Guardsmen epochand I doubted if it were possible to carry out his idea and play an intense and pathetic rôle disguised with a burlesque nose.
This contrasting of the grotesque and the sentimental was of course not new. Victor Hugo had broken away from classic tradition when he made a hunchback the hero of a drama. There remained, however, the risk of our Parisian public not accepting the new situation seriously. It seemed to me like bringing the sublime perilously near the ridiculous.
Fortunately, Rostand did not share this opinion or my doubts. He was full of enthusiasm for his piece and confident of its success. We sat where we had met, under the trees of the Champs Elysées, for a couple of hours, turning the subject about and looking at the question from every point of view. Before we parted the poet had convinced me. The role, as he conceived it, was certainly original, and therefore tempting, opening vast possibilities before my dazzled eyes.
I found out later that Rostand had gone straight home after that conversation and worked for nearly twenty hours without leaving the study, where his wife found him at daybreak, fast asleep with his head on a pile of manuscript. He was at my rooms the next day before I was up, sitting on the side of my bed, reading the result of his labor. As the story unfolded itself I was more and more delighted. His idea of resuscitating the quaint interior of the Hôtel de Bourgogne Theatre was original, and the balcony scene, even in outline, enchanting. After the reading Rostand dashed off as he had come, and for many weeks I saw no more of him.
La Princesse Lointaine was, in the meantime, produced by Sarah, first in London and then in Paris. In the English capital it was a failure; with us it gained a succès destime, the fantastic grace and lightness of the piece saving it from absolute shipwreck in the eyes of the literary public.
Between ourselves, continued Coquelin, pushing aside his plate, a twinkle in his small eyes, is the reason of this lack of success very difficult to discover? The Princess in the piece is supposed to be a fairy enchantress in her sixteenth year. The play turns on her youth and innocence. Now, honestly, is Sarah, even on the stage, any ones ideal of youth and innocence? This was asked so naïvely that I burst into a laugh, in which my host joined me. Unfortunately, this grandmamma, like Ellen Terry, cannot be made to understand that there are rôles she should leave alone, that with all the illusions the stage lends she can no longer play girlish parts with success.
The failure of his play produced the most disastrous effect on Rostand, who had given up a year of his life to its composition and was profoundly chagrined by its fall. He sank into a mild melancholy, refusing for more than eighteen months to put pen to paper. On the rare occasions when we met I urged him to pull himself together and rise above disappointment. Little by little, his friends were able to awaken his dormant interest and get him to work again on Cyrano. As he slowly regained confidence and began taking pleasure once more in his work, the boyish author took to dropping in on me at impossible morning hours to read some scene hot from his ardent brain. When seated by my bedside, he declaimed his lines until, lit at his flame, I would jump out of bed, and wrapping my dressing-gown hastily around me, seize the manuscript out of his hands, and, before I knew it, find my self addressing imaginary audiences, poker in hand, in lieu of a sword, with any hat that came to hand doing duty for the plumed headgear of our hero. Little by little, line upon line, the masterpiece grew under his hands. My career as an actor has thrown me in with many forms of literary industry and dogged application, but the power of sustained effort and untiring, unflagging zeal possessed by that fragile youth surpassed anything I had seen.
As the work began taking form, Rostand hired a place in the country, so that no visitors or invitations might tempt him away from his daily toil. Rich, young, handsome, married to a woman all Paris was admiring, with every door, social or Bohemian, wide open before his birth and talent, he voluntarily shut himself up for over a year in a dismal suburb, allowing no amusement to disturb his incessant toil. Mme. Rostand has since told me that at one time she seriously feared for his reason if not for his life, as he averaged ten hours a day steady work, and when the spell was on him would pass night after night at his study table, rewriting, cutting, modelling his play, never contented, always striving after a more expressive adjective, a more harmonious or original rhyme, casting aside a months finished work without a second thought when he judged that another form expressed his idea more perfectly.
That no success is cheaply bought I have long known; my profession above all others is calculated to teach one that truth.
If Rostands play is the best this century has produced, and our greatest critics are unanimous in pronouncing it equal, if not superior, to Victor Hugos masterpieces, the young author has not stolen his laurels, but gained them leaf by leaf during endless midnight hours of brain-wringing efforta price that few in a generation would be willing to give or capable of giving for fame. The labor had been in proportion to the success; it always is! I doubt if there is one word in his duel ballad that has not been changed again and again for a more fitting expression, as one might assort the shades of a mosaic until a harmonious whole is produced. I have there in my desk whole scenes that he discarded because they were not essential to the action of the piece. They will probably never be printed, yet are as brilliant and cost their author as much labor as any that the public applauded to-night.
As our rehearsals proceeded I saw another side of Rostands character; the energy and endurance hidden in his almost effeminate frame astonished us all. He almost lived at the theatre, drilling each actor, designing each costume, ordering the setting of each scene. There was not a dress that he did not copy from some old print, or a passade that he did not indicate to the humblest member of the troop. The marvellous diction that I had noticed during the reading at Sarahs served him now and gave the key to the entire performance. I have never seen him peevish or discouraged, but always courteous and cheerful through all those weary weeks of repetition, when even the most enthusiastic feel their courage oozing away under the awful grind of afternoon and evening rehearsal, the latter beginning at midnight after the regular performance was over.
The news was somehow spread among the theatre-loving public that something out if the ordinary was in preparation. The papers took up the tale and repeated it until the whole capital was keyed up to concert pitch. The opening night was eagerly awaited by the critics, the literary and the artistic worlds. When the curtain rose on the first act there was the emotion of a great event floating in the air. Here Coquelins face assumed an intense expression I had rarely seen there before. He was back on the stage, living over again the glorious hours of that nights triumph. His breath was coming quick and his eyes aglow with the memory of that evening. Never, never have I lived through such an evening. Victor Hugos greatest triumph, the first night of Hernani, was the only theatrical event that can compare to it. It, however, was injured by the enmity of a clique who persistently hissed the new play. There is but one phrase to express the enthusiasm at our first performanceune salle en délire gives some idea of what took place. As the curtain fell on each succeeding act the entire audience would rise to its feet, shouting and cheering for ten minutes at a time. The coulisse and the dressing-rooms were packed by the critics and the authors friends, beside themselves with delight. I was trembling so I could hardly get from one costume into another, and had to refuse my door to every one. Amid all this confusion Rostand alone remained cool and seemed unconscious of his victory. He continued quietly giving last recommendations to the figurants, overseeing the setting of the scenes, and thanking the actors as they came off the stage, with the same self-possessed urbanity he had shown during the rehearsals. Finally, when the play was over, and we had time to turn and look for him, our author had disappeared, having quietly driven off with his wife to their house in the country, from which he never moved for a week.
It struck two oclock as Coquelin ended. The sleepless city had at last gone to rest. At our feet, as we stood by the open window, the great square around the Arc de Triomphe lay silent and empty, its vast arch rising dimly against the night sky.
As I turned to go, Coquelin took my hand and remarked, smiling: Now you have heard the story of a genius, an actor, and a masterpiece.
CHAPTER 4Machine-made Men
Among the commonplace white and yellow envelopes that compose the bulk of ones correspondence, appear from time to time dainty epistles on tinted paper, adorned with crests or monograms. Ha! ha! I think when one of these appears, here is something worth opening! For between ourselves, reader mine, old bachelors love to receive notes from women. Its so flattering to be remembered by the dear creatures, and recalls the time when life was beginning, and poulets in feminine writing suggested such delightful possibilities.
Only this morning an envelope of delicate Nile green caused me a distinct thrill of anticipation. To judge by appearances it could contain nothing less attractive than a declaration, so, tearing it hurriedly open, I read: Messrs. Sparks & Splithers take pleasure in calling attention to their patent suspenders and newest designs in reversible paper collars!
Now, if thats not enough to put any man in a bad humor for twenty-four hours, I should like to know what is? Moreover, I have patents in horror, experience having long ago revealed the fact that a patent is pretty sure to be only a new way of doing fast and cheaply something that formerly was accomplished slowly and well.
Few people stop to think how quickly this land of ours is degenerating into a paradise of the cheap and nasty, but allow themselves to be heated and cooled and whirled about the streets to the detriment of their nerves and digestions, under the impression that they are enjoying the benefits of modern progress.
So complex has life become in these later days that the very beds we lie on and the meals we eat are controlled by patents. Every garment and piece of furniture now pays a royalty to some inventor, from the hats on our heads to the carpets under foot, which latter are not only manufactured, but cleaned and shaken by machinery, and (be it remarked en passant) lose their nap prematurely in the process. To satisfy our national love of the new, an endless and nameless variety of trifles appears each season, so-called labor and time-saving combinations, that enjoy a brief hour of vogue, only to make way for a newer series of inventions.
As long as our geniuses confined themselves to making life one long and breathless scramble, it was bad enough, but a line should have been drawn where meddling with the sanctity of the toilet began. This, alas! was not done. Nothing has remained sacred to the inventor. In consequence, the average up-to-date American is a walking collection of Yankee notions, an ingenious illusion, made up of patents, requiring as nice adjustment to put together and undo as a thirteenth-century warrior, and carrying hardly less metal about his person than a Crusader of old.
There are a number of haberdashery shops on Broadway that have caused me to waste many precious minutes gazing into their windows and wondering what the strange instruments of steel and elastic could be, that were exhibited alongside of the socks and ties. The uses of these would, in all probability, have remained wrapped in mystery but for the experience of one fateful morning (after a night in a sleeping-car), when countless hidden things were made clear, as I sat, an awestruck witness to my fellow-passengerstoilets?No! Getting their machinery into running order for the day, would be a more correct expression.
Originally, tags were the backbone of the toilet, different garments being held together by their aid. Later, buttons and attendant button-holes were evolved, now replaced by the devices used in composing the machine-made man. As far as I could see (I have overcome a natural delicacy in making my discoveries public, because it seems unfair to keep all this information to myself), nothing so archaic as a button-hole is employed at the present time by our patent-ridden compatriots. The shirt, for instance, which was formerly such a simple-minded and straightforward garment, knowing no guile, has become, in the hands of the inventors, a mere pretence, a frail scaffold, on which an elaborate superstructure of shams is erected.
The varieties of this garment that one sees in the shop windows, exposing virgin bosoms to the day, are not what they seem! Those very bosoms are fakes, and cannot open, being instead pierced by eyelets, into which bogus studs are fixed by machinery. The owner is obliged to enter into those deceptive garments surreptitiously from the rear, by stratagem, as it were. Why all this trouble, one asks, for no apparent reason, except that old-fashioned shirts opened in front, and no Yankee will wear a non-patented garmentif he can help it?
There was not a single accessory to the toilet in that car which behaved in a normal way. Buttons mostly backed into place, tail-end foremost (like horses getting between shafts), where some hidden mechanism screwed or clinched them to their moorings.
Collars and cuffs (integral parts of the primitive garment) are now a labyrinth, in which all but the initiated must lose themselves, being double-decked, detachable, reversible, and made of every known substance except linen. The cuff most in favor can be worn four different ways, and is attached to the shirt by a steel instrument three inches long, with a nipper at each end. The amount of white visible below the coat-sleeve is regulated by another contrivance, mostly of elastic, worn further up the arm, around the biceps. Modern collars are retained in position by a system of screws and levers. Socks are attached no longer with the old-fashioned garter, but by aid of a little harness similar to that worn by pug-dogs.
One traveller, after lacing his shoes, adjusted a contrivance resembling a black beetle on the knot to prevent its untying. He also wore hygienic suspenders, a discovery of great importance (over three thousand patents have been taken out for this one necessity of the toilet!). This brace performs several tasks at the same time, such as holding unmentionable garments in place, keeping the wearer erect, and providing a night-key guard. It is also said to cure liver and kidney disease by means of an arrangement of pulleys which throw the strain according to the wearers positionI omit the rest of its qualities!
The watches of my companions, I noticed with astonishment, all wore India-rubber ruffs around their necks. Here curiosity getting the better of discretion, I asked what purpose that invention served. It was graciously explained to me how such ruffs prevented theft. They were so made that it was impossible to draw your watch out of a pocket unless you knew the trick, which struck me as a mitigated blessing. In fact, the idea kept occurring that life might become terribly uncomfortable under these complex conditions for absent-minded people.
Pencils, I find, are no longer put into pockets or slipped behind the ear. Every commercial gent wears a patent on his chest, where his pen and pencil nestle in a coil of wire. Eyeglasses are not allowed to dangle aimlessly about, as of old, but retire with a snap into an oval box, after the fashion of roller shades. Scarf-pins have guards screwed on from behind, and undergarmentsbut here modesty stops my pen.
Seeing that I was interested in their make-up, several travelling agents on the train got out their boxes and showed me the latest artifices that could be attached to the person. One gentleman produced a collection of rings made to go on the finger with a spring, like bracelets, an arrangement, he explained, that was particularly convenient for people afflicted with enlarged joints!
Another tempted me with what he called a literary shirt front,it was in fact a paper pad, from which for cleanliness a leaf could be peeled each morning; the wrong side of the sheet thus removed contained a calendar, much useful information, and the chapters of a continued story, which ended when the dickey was used up.
A third traveller was pushing a collar-button that plied as many trades as Figaro, combining the functions of cravat-holder, stud, and scarf-pin. Not being successful in selling me one of these, he brought forward something without which, he assured me, no gentlemans wardrobe was complete! It proved to be an insidious arrangement of gilt wire, which he adjusted on his poor, overworked collar-button, and then tied his cravat through and around it. No tie thus made, he said, would ever slip or get crooked. He had been so civil that it was embarrassing not to buy something of him; I invested twenty-five cents in the cravat-holder, as it seemed the least complicated of the patents on exhibition; not, however, having graduated in a school of mechanics I have never been able to make it work. It takes an hour to tie a cravat with its aid, and as long to get it untied. Most of the men in that car, I found, got around the difficulty by wearing ready-made ties which fastened behind with a clasp.
It has been suggested that the reason our compatriots have such a strained and anxious look is because they are all trying to remember the numbers of their streets and houses, the floor their office is on, and the combination of their safes. I am inclined to think that the hunted look we wear comes from an awful fear of forgetting the secrets of our patents and being unable to undo ourselves in an emergency!
Think for a moment of the horror of coming home tired and sleepy after a convivial evening, and finding that some of your hidden machinery had gone wrong; that by a sudden movement you had disturbed the nice balance of some lever which in revenge refused to release its prey! The inventors of one well-known cuff-holder claim that it had a bull-dog grip. Think of sitting dressed all night in the embrace of that mechanical canine until the inventor could be called in to set you free!
I never doubted that bravery was the leading characteristic of the American temperament; since that glimpse into the secret composition of my compatriots, admiration has been vastly increased. The foolhardy daring it must requiredressed as those men wereto go out in a thunder-storm makes one shudder: it certainly could not be found in any other race. The danger of cross-country hunting or bull-fighting is as nothing compared to the risk a modern American takes when he sits in a trolley-car, where the chances of his machinery forming a fatal short circuit must be immense. The utter impossibility in which he finds himself of making a toilet quickly on account of so many time-saving accessories must increase his chances of getting left in an accident about fifty per cent. Who but one of our people could contemplate with equanimity the thought of attempting the adjustment of such delicate and difficult combinations while a steamer was sinking and the life-boats being manned?
Our grandfathers contributed the wooden nutmeg to civilization, and endowed a grateful universe with other money-saving devices. To-day the inventor takes the American baby from his cradle and does not release him even at the grave. What a treat one of the machine-made men of to-day will be to the archeologists of the year 3000, when they chance upon a well-preserved specimen, with all his patents thick upon I him! With a prophetic eye one can almost see the kindly old gentleman of that day studying the paraphernalia found in the tomb and attempting to account for the different pieces. Ink will flow and discussions rage between the camp maintaining that cuff-holders were tutelar deities buried with the dead by pious relatives and the croup asserting that the little pieces of steel were a form of pocket money in the year 1900. Both will probably misquote Tennyson and Kipling in support of their theories.
The question has often been raised, What side of our nineteenth-century civilization will be most admired by future generations? In view of the above facts there can remain little doubt that when the secrets of the paper collar and the trouser-stretcher have become lost arts, it will be those benefits that remote ages will envy us, and rare specimens of ventilated shoes and reversible tissue-paper undergarments will form the choicest treasures of the collector.
Many years ago, a gentleman with whom I was driving in a distant quarter of Paris took me to a house on the rue Montparnasse, where we remained an hour or more, he chatting with its owner, and I listening to their conversation, and wondering at the confusion of books in the big room. As we drove away, my companion turned to me and said, Dont forget this afternoon. You have seen one of the greatest writers our century has produced, although the world does not yet realize it. You will learn to love his works when you are older, and it will be a satisfaction to remember that you saw and spoke with him in the flesh!
When I returned later to Paris the little house had changed hands, and a marble tablet stating that Sainte-Beuve had lived and died there adorned its façade. My student footsteps took me many times through that quiet street, but never without a vision of the poet-critic flashing back, as I glanced up at the window where he had stood and talked with us; as my friend predicted, Sainte-Beuves writings had become a precious part of my small library, the memory of his genial face adding a vivid interest to their perusal.
I made a little Pilgrimage recently to the quiet old garden where, after many years delay, a bust of this writer has been unveiled, with the same companion, now very old, who thirty years ago presented me to the original.
There is, perhaps, in all Paris no more exquisite corner than the Garden of the Luxembourg. At every season it is beautiful. The winter sunlight seems to linger on its stately Italian terraces after it has ceased to shine elsewhere. The first lilacs bloom here in the spring, and when midsummer has turned all the rest of Paris into a blazing, white wilderness, these gardens remain cool and tranquil in the heart of turbulent Bohemia, a bit of fragrant nature filled with the song of birds and the voices of children. Surely it was a gracious inspiration that selected this shady park as the Poets Corner of great, new Paris. Henri Murger, Leconte de Lisle, Théodore de Banville, Paul Verlaine, are here, and now Sainte-Beuve has come back to his favorite haunt. Like François Coppée and Victor Hugo, he loved these historic allées, and knew the stone in them as he knew the Latin Quater, for his life was passed between the bookstalls of the quays and the outlying street where he lived.
As we sat resting in the shade, my companion, who had been one of Sainte-Beuves pupils, fell to talking of his master, his memory refreshed by the familiar surroundings. Can anything be sadder, he said, than finding a face one has loved turned into stone, or names that were the watchwords of ones youth serving as signs at street cornersla rue Flaubert or Théodore de Banville? How far away they make the past seem! Poor Sainte-Beuve, that bust yonder is but a poor reward for a life of toil, a modest tribute to his encyclopædic brain! His works, however, are his best monument; he would be the last to repine or cavil.
The literary world of my day had two poles, between which it vibrated. The little house in the rue Montparnasse was one, the rock of Guernsey the other. We spoke with awe of Father Hugo and mentioned Uncle Beuve with tenderness. The Goncourt brothers accepted Sainte-Beuves judgment on their work as the verdict of a Supreme Court. Not a poet or author of that day but climbed with a beating heart the narrow staircase that led to the great writers library. Paul Verlaine regarded as his literary diploma a letter from this Balzac de la critique.
At the entrance of the quaint Passage du Commerce, under the arch that leads into the rue Saint-André-des-Arts, stands a hotel, where for years Sainte-Beuve came daily to work (away from the importunate who besieged his dwelling) in a room hired under the assumed name of Delorme. It was there that we sent him a basket of fruit one morning addressed to Mr. Delorme, né Sainte-Beuve. It was there that most of his enormous labor was accomplished.
A curious corner of old Paris that Cour du Commerce! Just opposite his window was the apartment where Danton lived. If one chose to seek for them it would not be hard to discover on the pavement of this same passage the marks made by a young doctor in decapitating sheep with his newly invented machine. The doctors name was Guillotin.
The great critic loved these old quarters filled with history. He was fond of explaining that Montparnasse had been a hill where the students of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries came to amuse themselves. In 1761 the slope was levelled and the boulevard laid out, but the name was predestined, he would declare, for the habitation of the Parnassiens.
His enemies pretended that you had but to mention Michelet, Balzac, and Victor Hugo to see Sainte-Beuve in three degrees of rage. He had, it is true, distinct expressions on hearing those authors discussed. The phrase then much used in speaking of an original personality, He is like a character out of Balzac, always threw my master into a temper. I cannot remember, however, having seen him in one of those famous rages which made Barbey dAurévilly say that Sainte-Beuve was a clever man with the temper of a turkey! The former was much nearer the truth when he called the author of Les Lundis a French Wordsworth, or compared him to a lay bénédictin. He had a way of reading a newly acquired volume as he walked through the streets that was typical of his life. My master was always studying and always advancing.
He never entirely recovered from his mortification at being hissed by the students on the occasion of his first lecture at the Collège de France. Returning home he loaded two pistols, one for the first student who should again insult him, and the other to blow out his own brains. It was no idle threat. The man Guizot had nicknamed Werther was capable of executing his plan, for this causeless unpopularity was anguish to him. After his death, I found those two pistols loaded in his bedroom, but justice had been done another way. All opposition had vanished. Every student in the Quarter followed the modest funeral of their Senator, who had become the champion of literary liberty in an epoch when poetry was held in chains.
The Empire which made him Senator gained, however, but an indocile recruit. On his one visit to Compiègne in 1863, the Emperor, wishing to be particularly gracious, said to him, I always read the Moniteur on Monday, when your article appears. Unfortunately for this compliment, it was the Constitutionnel that had been publishing the Nouveaux Lundis for more than four years. In spite of the united efforts of his friends, Sainte-Beuve could not be brought to the point of complimenting Napoleon III. on his Life of Cæsar.
The author of Les Consolations remained through life the proudest and most independent of men, a bourgeois, enemy of all tyranny, asking protection of no one. And what a worker! Reading, sifting, studying, analyzing his subject before composing one of his famous Lundis, a literary portrait which he aimed at making complete and final. One of these articles cost him as much labor as other authors give to the composition of a volume.
By way of amusement on Sunday evenings, when work was temporarily laid aside, he loved the theatre, delighting in every kind of play, from the broad farces of the Palais Royal to the tragedies of Racine, and entertaining comedians in order, as he said, to keep young! One evening Théophile Gautier brought a pretty actress to dinner. Sainte-Beuve, who was past-master in the difficult art of conversation, and on whom a fair woman acted as an inspiration, surpassed himself on this occasion, surprising even the Goncourts with his knowledge of the Eighteenth century and the women of that time, Mme. de Boufflers, Mlle. de Lespinasse, la Maréchale de Luxembourg. The hours flew by unheeded by all of his guests but one. The débutante was overheard confiding, later in the evening, to a friend at the Gymnase, where she performed in the last act, Ouf! Im glad to get here. Ive been dining with a stupid old Senator. They told me he would be amusing, but Ive been bored to death. Which reminded me of my one visit to England, when I heard a young nobleman declare that he had been to such a dull dinner to meet a duffer called Renan!
Sainte-Beuves Larmes de Racine was given at the Théâtre Français during its authors last illness. His disappointment at not seeing the performance was so keen that M. Thierry, then administrateur of La Comédie, took Mlle. Favart to the rue Montparnasse, that she might recite his verses to the dying writer. When the actress, then in the zenith of her fame and beauty, came to the lines
Jean Racine, le grand poête, Le poête aimant et pieux, Après que sa lyre muette Se fut voilèe à tous les yeux, Renonçant à la gloire humaine, Sil sentait en son âme pleine Le flot contenu murmurer, Ne savait que fondre en prière, Pencher lurne dans la poussière Aux pieds du Seigneur, et pleurer!
the tears of Sainte-Beuve accompanied those of Racine!
There were tears also in the eyes my companion turned toward me as he concluded. The sun had set while he had been speaking. The marble of the statues gleamed white against the shadows of the sombre old garden. The guardians were closing the gates and warning the lingering visitors as we strolled toward the entrance.
It seemed as if we had been for an hour in the presence of the portly critic; and the circle of brilliant men and witty women who surrounded himFlaubert, Tourguéneff, Théophile Gautier, Renan, George Sandwere realities at that moment, not abstractions with great names. It was like returning from another age, to step out again into the glare and bustle of the Boulevard St. Michel.
CHAPTER 6Modern Architecture
If a foreign tourist, ignorant of his whereabouts, were to sail about sunset up our spacious bay and view for the first time the eccentric sky-line of lower New York, he would rub his eyes and wonder if they were not playing him a trick, for distance and twilight lend the chaotic masses around the Battery a certain wild grace suggestive of Titan strongholds or prehistoric abodes of Wotan, rather than the business part of a practical modern city.
But, as John Drew used to say in The Masked Ball, what a difference in the morning! when a visit to his banker takes the new arrival down to Wall Street, and our uncompromising American daylight dispels his illusions.
Years ago spiritual Arthur Gilman mourned over the decay of architecture in New York and pointed out that Stewarts shop, at Tenth Street, bore about the same relation to Ictinus noble art as an iron cooking stove! It is well death removed the Boston critic before our city entered into its present Brobdingnagian phase. If he considered that Stewarts and the Fifth Avenue Hotel failed in artistic beauty, what would have been his opinion of the graceless piles that crowd our island to-day, beside which those older buildings seem almost classical in their simplicity?
One hardly dares to think what impression a student familiar with the symmetry of Old World structures must receive on arriving for the first time, let us say, at the Bowling Green, for the truth would then dawn upon him that what appeared from a distance to be the ground level of the island was in reality the roof line of average four-story buildings, from among which the keeps and campaniles that had so pleased him (when viewed from the Narrows) rise like gigantic weeds gone to seed in a field of grass.
It is the heterogeneous character of the buildings down town that renders our streets so hideous. Far from seeking harmony, builders seem to be trying to go each other one story better; if they can belittle a neighbor in the process it is clear gain, and so much advertisement. Certain blocks on lower Broadway are gems in this way! Any one who has glanced at an auctioneers shelves when a job lot of books is being sold, will doubtless have noticed their resemblance to the sidewalks of our down town streets. Dainty little duodecimo buildings are squeezed in between towering in-folios, and richly bound and tooled octavos chum with cheap editions. Our careless City Fathers have not even given themselves the trouble of pushing their stone and brick volumes into the same line, but allow them to straggle along the shelfI beg pardon, the sidewalkaccording to their own sweet will.
The resemblance of most new business buildings to flashy books increases the more one studies them; they have the proportions of school atlases, and, like them, are adorned only on their backs (read fronts). The modern builder, like the frugal binder, leaves the sides of his creations unadorned, and expends his ingenuity in decorating the narrow strip which he naively imagines will be the only part seen, calmly ignoring the fact that on glancing up or down a street the sides of houses are what we see first. It is almost impossible to get mathematically opposite a building, yet that is the only point from which these new constructions are not grotesque.
It seems as though the rudiments of common sense would suggest that under existing circumstances the less decoration put on a façade the greater would be the harmony of the whole. But trifles like harmony and fitness are splendidly ignored by the architects of to-day, who, be it remarked in passing, have slipped into another curious habit for which I should greatly like to see an explanation offered. As long as the ground floors and the tops of their creations are elaborate, the designer evidently thinks the intervening twelve or fifteen stories can shift for themselves. One clumsy mass on the Bowling Green is an excellent example of this weakness. Its ground floor is a playful reproduction of the tombs of Egypt. About the second story the architect must have become discouragedor perhaps the owners funds gave outfor the next dozen floors are treated in the severest tenement house manner; then, as his building terminates well up in the sky, a top floor or two are, for no apparent reason, elaborately adorned. Indeed, this desire for a brilliant finish pervades the neighborhood. The Johnson Building on Broad Street (to choose one out of the many) is sober and discreet in design for a dozen stories, but bursts at its top into a Byzantine colonnade. Why? one asks in wonder.
Another new-comer, corner of Wall and Nassau Streets, is a commonplace structure, with a fairly good cornice, on top of whichan afterthought, probablya miniature State Capitol has been added, with dome and colonnade complete. The result recalls dear, absent-minded Miss Matty (in Mrs. Gaskells charming story), when she put her best cap on top of an old one and sat smiling at her visitors from under the double headdress!
Nowhere in the worldnot even in Moscow, that city of domescan one see such a collection of pagodas, cupolas, kiosks, and turrets as grace the roofs of our office buildings! Architects evidently look upon such adornments as compensations! The more hideous the structure, the finer its dome! Having perpetrated a blot upon the city that cries to heaven in its enormity, the repentant owner adds a pagoda or two, much in the same spirit, doubtless, as prompts an Italian peasant to hang a votive heart on some friendly shrine when a crime lies heavy on his conscience.
What would be thought of a book-collector who took to standing inkstands or pepperboxes on the tops of his tallest volumes by way of adornment? Yet domes on business buildings are every bit as appropriate. A choice collection of those monstrosities graces Park Row, one much-gilded offender varying the monotony by looking like a yellow stopper in a high-shouldered bottle! How modern architects with the exquisite City Hall before them could have wandered so far afield in their search for the original must always remain a mystery.
When a tall, thin building happens to stand on a corner, the likeness to an atlas is replaced by a grotesque resemblance to a waffle iron, of which one structure just finished on Rector Street skilfully reproduces the lines. The rows of little windows were evidently arranged to imitate the indentations on that humble utensil, and the elevated road at the back seems in this case to do duty as the handle. Mrs. Van Rensselaer tells us in her delightful Goede Vrouw of Mana-ha-ta that waffle irons used to be a favorite wedding present among the Dutch settlers of this island, and were adorned with monograms and other devices, so perhaps it is atavism that makes us so fond of this form in building! As, however, no careful Hausfrau would have stood her iron on its edge, architects should hesitate before placing their buildings in that position, as the impression of instability is the same in each case.
After leaving the vicinity of the City Hall, the tall slabs that like magnified milestones mark the progress of Architecture up Broadway become a shade less objectionable, although one meets some strange freaks in so-called decoration by the way. Why, for instance, were those Titan columns grouped around the entrance to the American Surety Companys building? They do not support anything (the business of columns in architecture) except some rather feeble statuary, and do seriously block the entrance. Were they added with the idea of fitness? That can hardly be, for a portico is as inappropriate to such a building as it would be to a parlor car, and almost as inconvenient.
Farther up town our attention is arrested by another misplaced adornment. What purpose can that tomb with a railing round it serve on top of the New York Life Insurance building? It looks like a monument in Greenwood, surmounted by a rat-trap, but no one is interred there, and vermin can hardly be troublesome at that altitude.
How did this craze for decoration originate? The inhabitants of Florence and Athens did not consider it necessary. There must, I feel sure, be a reason for its use in this city; American land-lords rarely spend money without a purpose; perhaps they find that rococo detail draws business and inspires confidence!
I should like to ask the architects of New York one question: Have they not been taught that in their art, as in every other, pretences are vulgar, that things should be what they seem? Then why do they continue to hide steel and fire-brick cages under a veneer of granite six inches thick, causing them to pose as solid stone buildings? If there is a demand for tall, light structures, why not build them simply (as bridges are constructed), and not add a poultice of bogus columns and zinc cornices that serve no purpose and deceive no one?
Union Square possesses blocks out of which the Jackson and Decker buildings spring with a noble disregard of all rules and a delicious incongruity that reminds one of Falstaffs corps of ill-drilled soldiers. Madison Square, however, is facile princeps, with its annex to the Hoffman House, a building which would make the fortune of any dime museum that could fence it in and show it for a fee! Long contemplation of this structure from my study window has printed every comic detail on my brain. It starts off at the ground level to be an imitation of the Doges Palace (a neat and appropriate idea in itself for a Broadway shop). At the second story, following the usual New York method, it reverts to a design suggestive of a county jail (the Palace and the Prison), with here and there a balcony hung out, emblematical, doubtless, of the inmates wash and bedding. At the ninth floor the repentant architect adds two more stories in memory of the Doges residence. Have you ever seen an accordion (concertina, I believe, is the correct name) hanging in a shop window? The Twenty-fifth Street Doges Palace reminds me of that humble instrument. The wooden part, where the keys and round holes are, stands on the sidewalk. Then come an indefinite number of pleats, and finally the other wooden end well up among the clouds. So striking is this resemblance that at times one expects to hear the long-drawn moans peculiar to the concertina issuing from those portals. Alas! even the most original designs have their drawbacks! After the proprietor of the Venetian accordion had got his instrument well drawn out and balanced on its end, he perceived that it dwarfed the adjacent buildings, so cast about in his mind for a scheme to add height and dignity to the rest of the block. One day the astonished neighborhood saw what appeared to be a roomy suburban villa of iron rising on the roof of the old Hoffman House. The results suggests a small man who, being obliged to walk with a giant, had put on a hat several times too large in order to equalize their heights!
How astonished Pericles and his circle of architects and sculptors would be could they stand on the corner of Broadway and Twenty-eighth Street and see the miniature Parthenon that graces the roof of a pile innocent of other Greek ornament? They would also recognize their old friends, the ladies of the Erechtheum, doing duty on the Reveillon Building across the way, pretending to hold up a cornice, which, being in proportion to the building, is several hundred times too big for them to carry. They cant be seen from the sidewalk,the street is too narrow for that,but such trifles dont deter builders from decorating when the fit is on them. Perhaps this one got his caryatides at a bargain, and had to work them in somewhere; so it is not fair to be hard on him.
If ever we take to ballooning, all these elaborate tops may add materially to our pleasure. At the present moment the birds, and angels, it is to be hoped, appreciate the effort. I, perhaps, of all the inhabitants of the city, have seen those ladies face to face, when I have gone on a semi-monthly visit to my roof to look for leaks!
Its all very well to carp and cavil, many readers will say, but Idler forgets that our modern architects have had to contend with difficulties that the designers of other ages never faced, demands for space and light forcing the nineteenth-century builders to produce structures which they know are neither graceful nor in proportion!
If my readers will give themselves the trouble to glance at several office buildings in the city, they will realize that the problem is not without a solution. In almost every case where the architect has refrained from useless decoration and stuck to simple lines, the result, if not beautiful, has at least been inoffensive. It is where inappropriate elaboration is added that taste is offended. Such structures as the Singer building, corner of Liberty Street and Broadway, and the home of Life, in Thirty-first Street, prove that beauty and grace of façade can be adapted to modern business wants.
Feeling as many New Yorkers do about this defacing of what might have been the most beautiful of modern cities, it is galling to be called upon to admire where it is already an effort to tolerate.
A sprightly gentleman, writing recently in a scientific weekly, goes into ecstasies of admiration over the advantages and beauty of a steel mastodon on Park Row, a building that has the proportions of a carpenters plane stood on end, decorated here and there with balconies and a colonnade perched on brackets up toward its fifteenth story. He complacently gives us its weight and height as compared with the pyramids, and numerous other details as to floor space and ventilation, and hints in conclusion that only old fogies and dullards, unable to keep pace with the times, fail to appreciate the charm of such structures in a city. One of the points this writer makes is the quality of air enjoyed by tenants, amusingly oblivious of the fact that at least three façades of each tall building will see the day only so long as the proprietors of adjacent land are too poor or too busy to construct similar colossi!
When all the buildings in a block are the same height, seven eighths of the rooms in each will be without light or ventilation. Its rather poor taste to brag of advantages that are enjoyed only through the generosity of ones neighbors.
Business demands may force us to bow before the necessity of these horrors, but it certainly is rubbing it in to ask our applause. When the Eiffel Tower was in course of construction, the artists and literary lights of Paris raised a tempest of protest. One wonders why so little of the kind has been done here. It is perhaps rather late in the day to suggest reform, yet if more New Yorkers would interest themselves in the work, much might still be done to modify and improve our metropolis.
One hears with satisfaction that a group of architects have lately met and discussed plans for the embellishment of our neglected city. There is a certain poetical justice in the proposition coming from those who have worked so much of the harm. Remorse has before now been known to produce good results. The United States treasury yearly receives large sums of conscience money.
CHAPTER 7Worldly Color-Blindness
Myriads of people have no ear for music and derive but little pleasure from sweet sounds. Strange as it may appear, many gifted and sensitive mortals have been unable to distinguish one note from another, Apollos harmonious art remaining for them, as for the elder Dumas, only an expensive noise.
Another large class find it impossible to discriminate between colors. Men afflicted in this way have even become painters of reputation. I knew one of the latter, who, when a friend complimented him on having caught the exact shade of a pink toilet in one of his portraits, answered, Does that dress look pink to you? I thought it was green! and yet he had copied what he saw correctly.
Both these classes are to be pitied, but are not the cause of much suffering to others. It is annoying, I grant you, to be torn asunder in a collision, because red and green lights on the switches combined into a pleasing harmony before the brakemans eyes. The tone-deaf gentleman who insists on whistling a popular melody is almost as trying as the lady suffering from the same weakness, who shouts, Ninon, Ninon, que fais-tu de la vie! until you feel impelled to cry, Que faites-vous, madame, with the key?
Examinations now keep daltonic gentlemen out of locomotives, and ladies who have lost their keys are apt to find their friends pianos closed. What we cannot guard against is a variety of the genus homo which suffers from social color-blindness. These well-meaning mortals form one of the hardest trials that society is heir to; for the disease is incurable, and as it is almost impossible to escape from them, they continue to spread dismay and confusion along their path to the bitter end.
This malady, which, as far as I know, has not been diagnosed, invades all circles, and is, curiously enough, rampant among well-born and apparently well-bred people.
Why is it that the entertainments at certain houses are always dull failures, while across the way one enjoys such agreeable evenings? Both hosts are gentlemen, enjoying about the same amount of unearned increment, yet the atmosphere of their houses is radically different. This contrast cannot be traced to the dulness or brilliancy of the entertainer and his wife. Neither can it be laid at the door of inexperience, for the worst offenders are often old hands at the game.
The only explanation possible is that the owners of houses where one is bored are socially color-blind, as cheerfully unconscious of their weakness as the keyless lady and the whistling abomination.
Since increasing wealth has made entertaining general and lavish, this malady has become more and more apparent, until one is tempted to parody Mme. Rolands dying exclamation and cry, Hospitality! hospitility! what crimes are committed in thy name!
Entertaining is for many people but an excuse for ostentation. For others it is a means to an end; while a third variety apparently keep a debit and credit account with their acquaintancesin books of double entry, so that no errors may occurand issue invitations like receipts, only in return for value received.
We can rarely tell what is passing in the minds of people about us. Some of those mentioned above may feel a vague pleasure when their rooms are filled with a chattering crowd of more or less well-assorted guests; if that is denied them, can find consolation for the outlay in an indefinite sensation of having performed a duty,what duty, or to whom, they would, however, find it difficult to define.
Let the novice flee from the allurements of such a host. Old hands know him and have got him on their list, escaping when escape is possible; for he will mate the green youth with the red frump, or like a premature millennium force the lion and the lamb to lie down together, and imagine he has given unmixed pleasure to both.
One would expect that great worldly lights might learn by experience how fatal bungled entertainments can be, but such is not the case. Many well-intentioned people continue sacrificing their friends on the altar of hospitality year after year with never a qualm of conscience or a sensation of pity for their victims. One practical lady of my acquaintance asks her guests alphabetically, commencing the season and the first leaf of her visiting list simultaneously and working steadily on through both to finis. If you are an A, you will meet only As at her table, with perhaps one or two Bs thrown in to fill up; you may sit next to your mother-in-law for all the hostess cares. She has probably never heard that the number of guests at table should not exceed that of the muses; or if by any chance she has heard it, does not care, and considers such a rule old-fashioned and not appropriate to our improved modern methods of entertaining.
One wonders what possible satisfaction a host can derive from providing fifty people with unwholesome food and drink at a fixed date. It is a physical impossibility for him to have more than a passing word with his guests, and ten to one the unaccustomed number has upset the internal arrangements of his household, so that the dinner will, in consequence, be poor and the service defective.
A side-light on this question came to me recently when an exceedingly frank husband confided to a circle of his friends at the club the scheme his wife, who, though on pleasure bent, was of a frugal mind, had adopted to balance her social ledger.
As we dine out constantly through the year, remarked Benedict, some return is necessary. So we wait until the height of the winter season, when everybody is engaged two weeks in advance, then send out our invitations at rather short notice for two or three consecutive dinners. Youd be surprised, he remarked, with a beaming smile, what a number refuse; last winter we cancelled all our obligations with two dinners, the flowers and entrées being as fresh on the second evening as the first! Its wonderful! he remarked in conclusion, how simple entertaining becomes when one knows how! Which reminded me of an ingenious youth I once heard telling some friends how easy he had found it to write the book he had just published. After his departure we agreed that if he found it so easy it would not be worth our while to read his volume.
Tender-hearted people generally make bad hosts. They have a way of collecting the morally lame, halt, and blind into their drawing-rooms that gives those apartments the air of a convalescent home. The moment a couple have placed themselves beyond the social pale, these purblind hosts conceive an affection for and lavish hospitality upon them. If such a host has been fortunate enough to get together a circle of healthy people, you may feel confident that at the last moment a leper will be introduced. This class of entertainers fail to see that society cannot he run on a philanthropic basis, and so insist on turning their salons into hospitals.
It would take too long to enumerate the thousand idiosyncrasies of the color-blind; few, however, are more amusing than those of the impulsive gentlemen who invite people to their homes indiscriminately, because they happen to feel in a good humor or chance to be seated next them at another house,invitations which the host regrets half an hour later, and would willingly recall. I cant think why I asked the So-and-sos! he will confide to you. I cant abide them; they are as dull as the dropsy! Many years ago in Paris, we used to call a certain hospitable ladys invitations soup tickets, so little individuality did they possess.
The subtle laws of moral precedence are difficult reading for the most intelligent, and therefore remain sealed books to the afflicted mortals mentioned here. The delicate tact that, with no apparent effort, combines congenial elements into a delightful whole is lacking in their composition. The nice discrimination that presides over some households is replaced by a jovial indifference to other persons feelings and prejudices.
The idea of placing pretty Miss Débutante next young Strongboys instead of giving her over into the clutches of old Mr. Boremore will never enter these obtuse entertainers heads, any more than that of trying to keep poor, defenceless Mrs. Mouse out of young Tom Cats claws.
It is useless to enumerate instances; people have suffered too severely at the hands of careless and incompetent hosts not to know pretty well what the title of this paper means. So many of us have come away from fruitless evenings, grinding our teeth, and vowing never to enter those doors again while life lasts, that the time seems ripe for a protest.
If the color-blind would only refrain from painting, and the tone-deaf not insist on inviting one to their concerts, the world would be a much more agreeable place. If people would only learn what they can and what they cant do, and leave the latter feats alone, a vast amount of unnecessary annoyance would be avoided and the tiresome old grindstone turn to a more cheerful tune.
CHAPTER 8Idling in Mid-Ocean
To those fortunate mortals from whom Poseidon exacts no tribute in crossing his broad domain, a transatlantic voyage must afford each year an ever new delight. The cares and worries of existence fade away and disappear in company with the land, in the deep bosom of the ocean buried. One no longer feels like the bored mortal who has all winter turned the millstone of work and pleasure, but seems to have transmigrated into a new body, endowed with a ravenous appetite and perfectly fresh sensations.
Perhaps it is only the novelty of the surroundings; but as I lie somnolent in my chair, tucked into a corner of the white deck, watching the jade-colored water rush past below, and the sea-gulls circle gayly overhead, the summum bonum of earthly contentment seems attained. The book chosen with care remains uncut; the sense of physical and mental rest is too exquisite to be broken by any effort, even the reading of a favorite author.
Drowsy lapses into unconsciousness obscure the senses, like the transparent clouds that from time to time dim the sunlight. A distant bell in the wheel-house chimes the lazy half-hours. Groups of people come and go like figures on a lantern-slide. A curiously detached reeling makes the scene and the actors in it as unreal as a painted ship manned by a shadowy crew. The inevitable child tumbles on its face and is picked up shrieking by tender parents; energetic youths organize games of skill or discover whales on the horizon, without disturbing ones philosophic calm.
I congratulate myself on having chosen a foreign line. For a week at least no familiar name will be spoken, no accustomed face appear. The galling harness of routine is loosened; one breathes freely again conscious of the unoccupied hours in perspective.
The welcome summons to luncheon comes as a pleasant shock. Is it possible that the morning has passed? It seems to have but commenced. I rouse myself and descend to the cabin. Toward the end of the meal a rubicund Frenchman opposite makes the startling proposition that if I wish to send a message home he will undertake to have it delivered. It is not until I notice the little square of oiled paper he is holding out to me that I understand this reference to the pigeon post with which the Compagnie Transatlantique is experimenting. At the invitation of this new acquaintance I ascend to the upper deck and watch his birds depart.
The tiny bits of paper on which we have written (post-card fashion) message and address are rolled two or three together, and inserted into a piece of quill less than two inches long, which, however, they do not entirely fill. While a pigeon is held by one man, another pushes one of the birds tail-feathers well through the quill, which is then fastened in its place by two minute wooden wedges. A moment later the pigeon is tossed up into the air, and we witness the working of that mysterious instinct which all our modern science leaves unexplained. After a turn or two far up in the clear sky, the bird gets its bearings and darts off on its five-hundred-mile journey across unknown seas to an unseen landa voyage that no deviation or loitering will lengthen, and only fatigue or accident interrupt, until he alights at his cote.
Five of these willing messengers were started the first day out, and five more will leave to-morrow, poor little aërial postmen, almost predestined to destruction (in the latter case), for we shall then be so far from land that their one chance of life and home must depend on finding some friendly mast where an hours rest may be taken before the bird starts again on his journey.
In two or three days, according to the weather, we shall begin sending French pigeons on ahead of us toward Havre. The gentleman in charge of them tells me that his wife received all the messages he sent to her during his westward trip, the birds appearing each morning at her window (where she was in the habit feeding them) with their tidings from mid-ocean. He also tells me that the French fleet in the Mediterranean recently received messages from their comrades in the Baltic on the third day by these feathered envoys.
It is hoped that in future ocean steamers will be able to keep up communication with the land at least four out of the seven days of their trips, so that, in case of delay or accident, their exact position and circumstances can be made known at headquarters. It is a pity, the originator of the scheme remarked, that sea-gulls are such hopeless vagabonds, for they can fly much greater distances than pigeons, and are not affected by dampness, which seriously cripples the present messengers.
Later in the day a compatriot, inspired doubtless by the mornings experiment, confided to me that he had hit on a great scheme, which he intends to develop on arriving. His idea is to domesticate families of porpoises at Havre and New York, as that fish passes for having (like the pigeon) the homing instinct. Ships provided with the parent fish can free one every twenty-four hours, charged with the mornings mail. The inventor of this luminous idea has already designed the letter-boxes that are to be strapped on the fishes backs, and decided on a neat uniform for his postmen.
It is amusing during the first days out to watch the people whom chance has thrown together into such close quarters. The occult power that impels a pigeon to seek its kind is feeble in comparison with the faculty that travellers develop under these circumstances for seeking out congenial spirits. Twelve hours do not pass before affinities draw together; what was apparently a homogeneous mass has by that time grouped and arranged itself into three or four distinct circles.
The sporty gentlemen in loud clothes have united in the bonds of friendship with the travelling agents and have chosen the smoking-room as their headquarters. No mellow sunset or serene moonlight will tempt these comrades from the subtleties of poker; the pool on the run is the event of their day.
A portly prima donna is the centre of another circle. Her wraps, her dogs, her admirers, and her brand-new husband (a handsome young Hungarian with a voice like two Bacian bulls) fill the sitting-room, where the piano gets but little rest. Neither sunshine nor soft winds can draw them to the deck. Although too ill for the regular meals, this group eat and drink during fifteen out of the twenty-four hours.
The deck, however, is not deserted; two fashionable dressmakers revel there. These sociable ladies asked the commissaire at the start to introduce all the young unmarried men to them, as they wanted to be jolly. They have a numerous court around them, and champagne, like the conversation, flows freely. These ladies have already become expert at shuffleboard, but their sea legs are not so good as might be expected, and the dames require to be caught and supported by their admirers at each moment to prevent them from trippingan immense joke, to judge by the peals of laughter that follow.
The American wife of a French ambassador sits on the captains right. A turn of the diplomatic wheel is taking the lady to Madrid, where her position will call for supreme tact and self-restraint. One feels a thrill of national pride on looking at her high-bred young face and listening as she chats in French and Spanish, and wonders once more at the marvellous faculty our women have of adapting themselves so graciously and so naturally to difficult positions, which the women of other nations rarely fill well unless born to the purple. It is the high opinion I have of my countrywomen that has made me cavil, before now, on seeing them turned into elaborately dressed nullities by foolish and too adoring husbands.
The voyage is wearing itself away. Sunny days are succeeded by gray mornings, as exquisite in their way, when one can feel the ship fight against contending wind and wave, and shiver under the blows received in a struggle which dashes the salt spray high over the decks. There is an aroma in the air then that breathes new life into jaded nerves, and stirs the drop of old Norse blood, dormant in most American veins, into quivering ecstasy. One dreams of throwing off the trammels of civilized existence and returning to the free life of older days.
But here is Havre glittering in the distance against her background of chalk cliffs. People come on deck in strangely conventional clothes and with demure citified airs. Passengers of whose existence you were unaware suddenly make their appearance. Two friends meet near me for the first time. Hallo, Jones! says one of them, are you crossing?
Yes, answers Jones, are you?
The companys tug has come alongside by this time, bringing its budget of letters and telegrams. The brief holiday is over. With a sigh one comes back to the positive and the present, and patiently resumes the harness of life.
CHAPTER 9Climbers in England
The expression Little Englander, much used of late to designate an inhabitant of the Mother Isle in contra-distinction to other subjects of Her Majesty, expresses neatly the feeling of our insular cousins not only as regards ourselves, but also the position affected toward their colonial brothers and sisters.
Have you ever noticed that in every circle there is some individual assuming to do things better than his comradesto know more, dress better, run faster, pronounce more correctly? Who, unless promptly suppressed, will turn the conversation into a monologue relating to his own exploits and opinions. To differ is to bring down his contempt upon your devoted head! To argue is time wasted!
Human nature is, however, so constituted that a man of this type mostly succeeds in hypnotizing his hearers into sharing his estimate of himself, and impressing upon them the conviction that he is a rare being instead of a commonplace mortal. He is not a bad sort of person at bottom, and ready to do one a friendly turnif it does not entail too great inconvenience. In short, a good fellow, whose principal defect is the profound conviction that he was born superior to the rest of mankind.
What this individual is to his environment, Englishmen are to the world at large. It is the misfortune, not the fault, of the rest of the human race, that they are not native to his island; a fact, by the way, which outsiders are rarely allowed to lose sight of, as it entails a becoming modesty on their part.
Few idiosyncrasies get more quickly on American nerves or are further from our hearty attitude toward strangers. As we are far from looking upon wandering Englishmen with suspicion, it takes us some time to realize that Americans who cut away from their countrymen and settle far from home are regarded with distrust and reluctantly received. When a family of this kind prepares to live in their neighborhood, Britons have a formula of three questions they ask themselves concerning the new-comers: Whom do they know? How much are they worth? and What amusement (or profit) are we likely to get out of them? If the answer to all or any of the three queries is satisfactory, my lord makes the necessary advances and becomes an agreeable, if not a witty or original, companion.
Given this and a number of other peculiarities, it seems curious that a certain class of Americans should be so anxious to live in England. What is it tempts them? It cannot be the climate, for that is vile; nor the city of London, for it is one of the ugliest in existence; nor their cuisinefor although we are not good cooks ourselves, we know what good food is and could give Britons points. Neither can it be art, nor the opera,one finds both better at home or on the Continent than in England. So it must be society, and here ones wonder deepens!
When I hear friends just back from a stay over there enlarging on the charms of country life, or a London season, I look attentively to see if they are in earnest, so incomparably dull have I always found English house parties or town entertainments. At least that side of society which the climbing stranger mostly affects. Other circles are charming, if a bit slow, and the Bohemia and semi-Bohemia of London have a delicate flavor of their own.
County society, that ideal life so attractive to American readers of British novels, is, taken on the whole, the most insipid existence conceivable. The women lack the sparkle and charm of ours; the men, who are out all day shooting or hunting according to the season, get back so fagged that if they do not actually drop asleep at the dinner-table, they will nap immediately after, brightening only when the ladies have retired, when, with evening dress changed for comfortable smoking suits, the hunters congregate in the billiard-room for cigars and brandy and seltzer.
A particularly agreeable American woman, whose husband insists on going every winter to Melton-Mowbray for the hunting, was describing the other day the life there among the women, and expressing her wonder that those who did not hunt could refrain from blowing out their brains, so awful was the dulness and monotony! She had ended by not dining out at all, having discovered that the conversation never by any chance deviated far from the knees of the horses and the height of the hedges!
Which reminds one of Thackeray relating how he had longed to know what women talked about when they were alone after dinner, imagining it to be on mysterious and thrilling subjects, until one evening he overheard such a conversation and found it turned entirely on children and ailments! As regards wit, the English are like the Oriental potentate who at a ball in Europe expressed his astonishment that the guests took the trouble to dance and get themselves hot and dishevelled, explaining that in the East he paid people to do that for him. In England amusers are invited expressly to be funny; anything uttered by one of these delightful individuals is sure to be received with much laughter. It is so simple that way! One is prepared and knows when to laugh. Whereas amateur wit is confusing. When an American I knew, turning over the books on a drawing-room table and finding Hares Walks in London, in two volumes, said, So you part your hair in the middle over here, the remark was received in silence, and with looks of polite surprise.
It is not necessary, however, to accumulate proofs that this much described society is less intelligent than our own. Their authors have acknowledged it, and well they may. For from Scott and Dickens down to Hall Caine, American appreciation has gone far toward establishing the reputation of English writers at home.
In spite of lack of humor and a thousand other defects which ought to make English swelldom antagonistic to our countrymen, the fact remains that smart London tempts a certain number of Americans and has become a promised land, toward which they turn longing eyes. You will always find a few of these votaries over there in the season, struggling bravely up the social current, making acquaintances, spending money at charity sales, giving dinners and fêtes, taking houses at Ascot and filling them with their new friends friends. With more or less success as the new-comers have been able to return satisfactory answers to the three primary questions.
What Americans are these, who force us to blush for them infinitely more than for the unlettered tourists trotting conscientiously around the country, doing the sights and asking for soda-water and buckwheat cakes at the hotels!
Any one who has been an observer of the genus Climber at home, and wondered at their way and courage, will recognize these ambitious souls abroad; five minutes conversation is enough. It is never about a place that they talk, but of the people they know. London to them is not the city of Dickens. It is a place where one may meet the Prince of Wales and perhaps obtain an entrance into his set.
One description will cover most climbers. They are, as a rule, people who start humbly in some small city, then when fortune comes, push on to New York and Newport, where they carry all before them and make their houses centres and themselves powers. Next comes the discovery that the circle into which they have forced their way is not nearly as attractive as it appeared from a distance. Consequently that vague disappointment is felt which most of us experience on attaining a long desired goalthe unsatisfactoriness of success! Much the same sensation as caused poor Du Maurier to answer, when asked shortly before his death why he looked so glum, Im soured by success!
So true is this of all human nature that the following recipe might be given for the attainment of perfect happiness: Begin far down in any walk of life. Rise by your efforts higher each year, and then be careful to die before discovering that there is nothing at the top. The excitement of the strugglethe rapture of the chaseare greater joys than achievement.
Our ambitious friends naturally ignore this bit of philosophy. When it is discovered that the world at home has given but an unsatisfactory return for cash and conniving, it occurs to them that the fault lies in the circle, and they assume that their particular talents require a larger field. Having conquered all in sight, these social Alexanders pine for a new world, which generally turns out to be the Old, so a crossing is made, and the Conquest of England begun with all the enthusiasm and push employed on starting out from the little native city twenty years before.
It is in Victorias realm that foemen worthy of their steel await the conquerors. Home society was a too easy prey, opening its doors and laying down its arms at the first summons. In England the new-comers find that their little game has been played before; and, well, what they imagined was a discovery proves to be a long-studied science with donnant! donnant! as its fundamental law. Wily opponents with trump cards in their hands and a profound knowledge of Hoyle smilingly offer them seats. Having acquired in a home game a knowledge of bluff, our friends plunge with delight into the fray, only to find English society so formed that, climb they never so wisely, the top can never be reached. Work as hard as they may, succeed even beyond their fondest hopes, there will always remain circles above, toward which to yearnpeople who will refuse to know them, houses they will never be invited to enter. Think of the charm, the attraction such a civilization must have for the real born climber, and you, my reader, will understand why certain of our compatriots enjoy living in England, and why when once the intoxicating draught (supplied to the ambitious on the other side) has been tasted, all home concoctions prove insipid.
CHAPTER 10Calvé at Cabrières
While I was making a cure last year at Lamalou, an obscure Spa in the Cevennes Mountains, Madame Calvé, to whom I had expressed a desire to see her picturesque home, telegraphed an invitation to pass the day with her, naming the train she could meet, which would allow for the long drive to her château before luncheon. It is needless to say the invitation was accepted. As my train drew up at the little station, Madame Calvé, in her trap, was the first person I saw, and no time was lost in getting en route.
During the hour passed on the poplar-bordered road that leads straight and white across the country I had time to appreciate the transformation in the woman at my side. Was this gray-clad, nunlike figure the passionate, sensuous Carmen of Bizets masterpiece? Could that calm, pale face, crossed by innumerable lines of suffering, as a spiders web lies on a flower, blaze and pant with Sapphos guilty love?
Something of these thoughts must have appeared on my face, for turning with a smile, she asked, You find me changed? Its the air of my village. Here Im myself. Everywhere else Im different. On the stage I am any part I may be playing, but am never really happy away from my hill there. As she spoke, a sun-baked hamlet came in sight, huddled around the base of two tall towers that rose cool and gray in the noonday heat.
All that wing, she added, is arranged for the convalescent girls whom I have sent down to me from the Paris hospitals for a cure of fresh air and simple food. Six years ago, just after I had bought this place, a series of operations became necessary which left me prostrated and anæmic. No tonics were of benefit. I grew weaker day by day, until the doctors began to despair of my life. Finally, at the advice of an old woman here who passes for being something of a curer, I tried the experiment or lying five or six hours a day motionless in the sunlight. It wasnt long before I felt life creeping back to my poor feeble body. The hot sun of our magic south was a more subtle tonic than any drug. When the cure was complete, I made up my mind that each summer the same chance should be offered to as many of my suffering sisters as this old place could be made to accommodate.