WITH A PREFACE BY
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY
G. A. RAPER
WITH FIFTY-FIVE ILLUSTRATIONS
CHAPMAN & HALL, Ltd.
Richard Clay & Sons, Limited,
London & Bungay.
My Dear Huret,
You have given me an attack of vertigo. Ihave been reading your biography of our illustriousfriend. Its rapid, nervous style, its accumulation ofdates and facts, its hurried rush of scenery andevents flying past as though seen from an expresstrain, all help to attain what I imagine must havebeen your object—to give the reader vertigo. Ihave got it.
I knew all these things, but I had forgotten them.They are so many that no one even attempts toreckon them up. We are accustomed to admireSarah. “An extraordinary woman,” we say, withoutat all realizing how true the remark is. Andwhen we find ourselves suddenly confronted with anepic narrative such as yours; with such a series ofbattles and victories, expeditions and conquests, weviiistand amazed. We expected that there was moreto tell than we knew, but not quite so much more!Yes, here is something we had quite forgotten, andhere again is something more! All the earlystruggles and difficulties and unfair opposition!All the adventures and freaks of fancy! Twentytriumphs and ten escapades on a page! You cannotturn the leaves without awakening an echo of fame.Your brain reels. There is something positivelyalarming about this impetuous feminine hand thatwields sceptre, thyrsus, dagger, fan, sword, bauble,banner, sculptor’s chisel, and horsewhip. It is overwhelming.You begin to doubt. But all this istold us by Huret, or, in other words, by History,and we believe. No other life could ever have beenso full of activity. The poet I was used to admirein her the Queen of Attitude and the Princess ofGesture; I wonder now whether the other poet Iam ought not to still more admire in her theLady of Energy.
What a way she has of being both legendary andmodern! Her golden hair is a link between herand fairyland, and do not words change into pearlsand diamonds as they fall from her lips? Has shenot worn the fairy’s sky-blue robe, and is not herixvoice the song of the lark at heaven’s gate? Shemay be an actress following an impresario, but sheis none the less a star fallen from the sky of theThousand and One Nights, and something of themysterious blue ether still floats about her. Butjust as the enchanted bark gives way to the greatAtlantic liner, just as the car drawn by flying frogsand the carriage made out of a pumpkin vanishbefore the Sarah Bernhardt saloon-car, so in thisstory of to-day, intelligence, independence, andintrepidity have replaced the miraculous interventionsin the tales of long ago. This heroinehas no protecting fairy but herself. Sarah is herown godmother. Inflexible will is her only magicwand. To guide her through so many strange andwonderful events to her final apotheosis, she has nogenius but her own.
It seems to me, Jules Huret, that the life of Mme.Sarah Bernhardt will perhaps form the greatestmarvel of the nineteenth century. It will developinto a legend. To describe her tours round theworld, with their ever-changing scenes and actors,their beauties and absurdities, to make the locomotivesand steamers speak, to portray the swelling ofseas and the rustling of robes, to fill up the intervalsxof heroic recitative with speaking, singing, shoutingchoruses of poets, savages, kings, and wild animals:this would need a new Homer built up of ThéophileGautier, Jules Verne, and Rudyard Kipling.
All this, or something like it, courses through mybrain while my attack of giddiness wears off. NowI feel better; I am myself again, and I try to decidewhat to say to you, my dear friend, in conclusion.After reflection, here it is—
I have had an attack of vertigo. There is nodoubt about that. But all these things that I haveknown only in the telling—all these journeys, thesechanging skies, these adoring hearts, these flowers,these jewels, these embroideries, these millions, theselions, these one hundred and twelve rôles, theseeighty trunks, this glory, these caprices, these cheeringcrowds hauling her carriage, this crocodiledrinking champagne—all these things, I say, whichI have never seen, astonish, dazzle, delight, andmove me less than something else which I haveoften seen: this—
A brougham stops at a door; a woman, envelopedin furs, jumps out, threads her way with a smilethrough the crowd attracted by the jingling of thebell on the harness, and mounts a winding stair;xiplunges into a room crowded with flowers andheated like a hothouse; throws her little beribbonedhandbag with its apparently inexhaustible contentsinto one corner, and her bewinged hat into another;takes off her furs and instantaneously dwindles intoa mere scabbard of white silk; rushes on to a dimly-lightedstage and immediately puts life into a wholecrowd of listless, yawning, loitering folk; dashesbackwards and forwards, inspiring every one withher own feverish energy; goes into the prompter’sbox, arranges her scenes, points out the propergesture and intonation, rises up in wrath and insistson everything being done over again; shouts withfury; sits down, smiles, drinks tea and begins torehearse her own part; draws tears from case-hardenedactors who thrust their enraptured headsout of the wings to watch her; returns to her room,where the decorators are waiting, demolishes theirplans and reconstructs them; collapses, wipes herbrow with a lace handkerchief and thinks of fainting;suddenly rushes up to the fifth floor, invadesthe premises of the astonished costumier, rummagesin the wardrobes, makes up a costume, pleats andadjusts it; returns to her room and teaches thefigurantes how to dress their hair; has a piece readxiito her while she makes bouquets; listens to hundredsof letters, weeps over some tale of misfortune, andopens the inexhaustible little chinking handbag;confers with an English perruquier; returns to thestage to superintend the lighting of a scene,objurgates the lamps and reduces the electricianto a state of temporary insanity; sees a super whohas blundered the day before, remembers it, andoverwhelms him with her indignation; returns toher room for dinner; sits down to table, splendidlypale with fatigue; ruminates her plans; eats withpeals of Bohemian laughter; has no time to finish;dresses for the evening performance while themanager reports from the other side of a curtain;acts with all her heart and soul; discusses businessbetween the acts; remains at the theatre after theperformance, and makes arrangements until threeo’clock in the morning; does not make up her mindto go until she sees her staff respectfully endeavouringto keep awake; gets into her carriage; huddlesherself into her furs and anticipates the delights oflying down and resting at last; bursts out laughingon remembering that some one is waiting to readher a five-act play; returns home, listens to thepiece, becomes excited, weeps, accepts it, finds shexiiicannot sleep, and takes advantage of the opportunityto study a part!
This, my dear Huret, is what seems to me moreextraordinary than anything. This is the Sarah Ihave always known. I never made the acquaintanceof the Sarah with the coffin and the alligators. Theonly Sarah I know is the one who works. She isthe greater.
Paris, April 25, 1899.
|“Sarah Bernhardt’s Day”||153|
|Sarah Bernhardt’s ‘Hamlet’||179|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt||Frontispiece|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and her son Maurice at the age of five||6|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and her son Maurice at the age of eleven||8|
|As Junie in Britannicus||14|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt when a girl||17|
|As Zanetto in Le Passant||20|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in François le Champi||21|
|In Le Drame de la Rue de la Paix||24|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s Cheque||26|
|As Cordelia in King Lear||29|
|As Doña Sol in Hernani||32|
|As Léonora in Dalila||35|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and her son Maurice at the age of fifteen||39|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra||43|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in La Fille de Roland||46|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in her coffin||49|
|As Doña Sol in Hernani||53|
|As Doña Sol in Hernani||56|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in her travelling costume||59|
|As Léonora in Dalila||63|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in 1877||67|
|Sketch by Caran d’Ache||70|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt as sculptor||71|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt as painter||75|
|Caricature by André Gill||77|
|Sketch by Mme. Sarah Bernhardt||78|
|As Adrienne Lecouvreur||83xvi|
|As Adrienne Lecouvreur||87|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in travelling costume, during her first American tour||89|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and her friends at Sainte-Adresse||93|
|Scene from Théodora||107|
|As Lady Macbeth||111|
|As Jeanne d’Arc||115|
|Mme. Sarah Bernhardt on one of her tours||117|