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Title: Sarah Bernhardt
Author: Huret, Jules
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt.]










You have given me an attack of vertigo. I have been reading your
biography of our illustrious friend. Its rapid, nervous style, its
accumulation of dates and facts, its hurried rush of scenery and events
flying past as though seen from an express train, all help to attain
what I imagine must have been your object--to give the reader vertigo.
I have got it.

I knew all these things, but I had forgotten them. They are so many
that no one even attempts to reckon them up. We are accustomed to
admire Sarah. “An extraordinary woman,” we say, without at all
realizing how true the remark is. And when we find ourselves suddenly
confronted with an epic narrative such as yours; with such a series of
battles and victories, expeditions and conquests, we stand amazed.
We expected that there was more to tell than we knew, but not quite
so much more! Yes, here is something we had quite forgotten, and here
again is something more! All the early struggles and difficulties and
unfair opposition! All the adventures and freaks of fancy! Twenty
triumphs and ten escapades on a page! You cannot turn the leaves
without awakening an echo of fame. Your brain reels. There is something
positively alarming about this impetuous feminine hand that wields
sceptre, thyrsus, dagger, fan, sword, bauble, banner, sculptor’s
chisel, and horsewhip. It is overwhelming. You begin to doubt. But
all this is told us by Huret, or, in other words, by History, and we
believe. No other life could ever have been so full of activity. The
poet I was used to admire in her the Queen of Attitude and the Princess
of Gesture; I wonder now whether the other poet I am ought not to still
more admire in her the Lady of Energy.

What a way she has of being both legendary and modern! Her golden hair
is a link between her and fairyland, and do not words change into
pearls and diamonds as they fall from her lips? Has she not worn the
fairy’s sky-blue robe, and is not her voice the song of the lark at
heaven’s gate? She may be an actress following an _impresario_, but she
is none the less a star fallen from the sky of the Thousand and One
Nights, and something of the mysterious blue ether still floats about
her. But just as the enchanted bark gives way to the great Atlantic
liner, just as the car drawn by flying frogs and the carriage made
out of a pumpkin vanish before the Sarah Bernhardt saloon-car, so in
this story of to-day, intelligence, independence, and intrepidity
have replaced the miraculous interventions in the tales of long ago.
This heroine has no protecting fairy but herself. Sarah is her own
godmother. Inflexible will is her only magic wand. To guide her through
so many strange and wonderful events to her final apotheosis, she has
no genius but her own.

It seems to me, Jules Huret, that the life of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt will
perhaps form the greatest marvel of the nineteenth century. It will
develop into a legend. To describe her tours round the world, with
their ever-changing scenes and actors, their beauties and absurdities,
to make the locomotives and steamers speak, to portray the swelling of
seas and the rustling of robes, to fill up the intervals of heroic
recitative with speaking, singing, shouting choruses of poets, savages,
kings, and wild animals: this would need a new Homer built up of
Théophile Gautier, Jules Verne, and Rudyard Kipling.

All this, or something like it, courses through my brain while my
attack of giddiness wears off. Now I feel better; I am myself again,
and I try to decide what to say to you, my dear friend, in conclusion.
After reflection, here it is--

I have had an attack of vertigo. There is no doubt about that. But
all these things that I have known only in the telling--all these
journeys, these changing skies, these adoring hearts, these flowers,
these jewels, these embroideries, these millions, these lions, these
one hundred and twelve _rôles_, these eighty trunks, this glory, these
caprices, these cheering crowds hauling her carriage, this crocodile
drinking champagne--all these things, I say, which I have never seen,
astonish, dazzle, delight, and move me less than something else which I
have often seen: this--

A brougham stops at a door; a woman, enveloped in furs, jumps out,
threads her way with a smile through the crowd attracted by the
jingling of the bell on the harness, and mounts a winding stair;
plunges into a room crowded with flowers and heated like a hothouse;
throws her little beribboned handbag with its apparently inexhaustible
contents into one corner, and her bewinged hat into another; takes
off her furs and instantaneously dwindles into a mere scabbard of
white silk; rushes on to a dimly-lighted stage and immediately puts
life into a whole crowd of listless, yawning, loitering folk; dashes
backwards and forwards, inspiring every one with her own feverish
energy; goes into the prompter’s box, arranges her scenes, points
out the proper gesture and intonation, rises up in wrath and insists
on everything being done over again; shouts with fury; sits down,
smiles, drinks tea and begins to rehearse her own part; draws tears
from case-hardened actors who thrust their enraptured heads out of
the wings to watch her; returns to her room, where the decorators are
waiting, demolishes their plans and reconstructs them; collapses, wipes
her brow with a lace handkerchief and thinks of fainting; suddenly
rushes up to the fifth floor, invades the premises of the astonished
costumier, rummages in the wardrobes, makes up a costume, pleats and
adjusts it; returns to her room and teaches the figurantes how to
dress their hair; has a piece read to her while she makes bouquets;
listens to hundreds of letters, weeps over some tale of misfortune,
and opens the inexhaustible little chinking handbag; confers with an
English perruquier; returns to the stage to superintend the lighting of
a scene, objurgates the lamps and reduces the electrician to a state
of temporary insanity; sees a super who has blundered the day before,
remembers it, and overwhelms him with her indignation; returns to her
room for dinner; sits down to table, splendidly pale with fatigue;
ruminates her plans; eats with peals of Bohemian laughter; has no
time to finish; dresses for the evening performance while the manager
reports from the other side of a curtain; acts with all her heart and
soul; discusses business between the acts; remains at the theatre
after the performance, and makes arrangements until three o’clock in
the morning; does not make up her mind to go until she sees her staff
respectfully endeavouring to keep awake; gets into her carriage;
huddles herself into her furs and anticipates the delights of lying
down and resting at last; bursts out laughing on remembering that some
one is waiting to read her a five-act play; returns home, listens to
the piece, becomes excited, weeps, accepts it, finds she cannot sleep,
and takes advantage of the opportunity to study a part!

This, my dear Huret, is what seems to me more extraordinary than
anything. This is the Sarah I have always known. I never made the
acquaintance of the Sarah with the coffin and the alligators. The only
Sarah I know is the one who works. She is the greater.

                    EDMOND ROSTAND.

  _Paris, April 25, 1899._


  Preface                                                            vii

  Sarah Bernhardt                                                      1

  “Sarah Bernhardt’s Day”                                            153

  Sarah Bernhardt’s ‘Hamlet’                                         179


  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

  Mme. Guérard                                                        13

  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                                              83

  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

  As Léa                                                              97

  M. Damala                                                          101

  As Théodora                                                        103

  Scene from _Théodora_                                              107

  As Lady Macbeth                                                    111

  As Jeanne d’Arc                                                    115

  Mme. Sarah Bernhardt on one of her tours                           117

  As Cleopatra                                                       121

  Vestibule of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s studio                         125

  Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s drawing-room                                129

  In _La Dame de Chalant_                                            133

  As Pauline Blanchard                                               136

  Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and the painter Clairin                       137

  As Izeïl                                                           140

  Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in her entrance-hall                          141

  As Gismonda                                                        145

  The Fort-aux-Poulains, Belle-Isle, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s country
      residence                                                      149

  Mme. Sarah Bernhardt, from a drawing by C. Léandre                 159

  As Phèdre                                                          163

  As Phèdre                                                          165

  Caricature of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt by Capiello                     170

  In _La Dame aux Camélias_                                          174

  Scene from _Hamlet_                                                181

  As Hamlet                                                          187


On the 10th February, 1898, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt telephoned to me to
come and see her. The occasion was a serious one. She told me that on
the following day she would leave her house in the Boulevard Pereire
and enter a private hospital in the Rue d’Armaillé, where she was
to undergo a painful operation. For some time past she had suffered
from a dull, aching pain, and during a performance of _Les Mauvais
Bergers_, in which she had to fall flat on her face, she experienced
a sharper pang than usual. She ought to have at once begun to take
care of herself and avoid all fatigue, but when she returned to her
dressing-room, her first act was to fall on her face again to make
sure that what she had felt was not mere imagination. She went on
making sure in this way through the remaining forty performances of
_Les Mauvais Bergers_. Finally, however, she called in Dr. Pozzi, who
immediately discovered serious internal trouble, and informed her
that an operation must be performed in June. In spite of this, Mme.
Sarah Bernhardt organized a provincial tour; but her condition suddenly
became worse, and Dr. Pozzi decided that the operation must take place
almost immediately.

A few days before the date fixed, the actress decided to break the news
to her son. She did this on the eve of his duel with M. Champsaur, of
which, of course, he had not told her.

“You can imagine what a blow it was to him,” Mme. Sarah Bernhardt
remarked to me.

“Were you not afraid?” I asked--I don’t exactly know why, the great
artiste being as gay and alert as usual.

“Afraid?” she replied. “No; there’s no danger with Pozzi. It’s just
a stroke of bad luck,” she added bravely, with a smile. “I had a
wonderful run of success last year, too much in fact, and now this is a

“When is the operation to be?” I asked.

“On Wednesday. Don’t forget to come and see me when I am convalescent.
I will tell you all sorts of fine stories, so that you won’t get bored.”

The operation was perfectly successful, and on the 1st of May, Mme.
Sarah Bernhardt, who was then quite out of danger, was allowed to
see her friends on condition that they should be very few and their
visits very short. As one of these friends, I spent half-an-hour in the

The hospital, situated in the Ternes quarter of Paris, is a species
of small private house with a courtyard in front, and is as little
like a medical establishment as can be imagined. The patient’s room,
scrupulously neat and clean, was on the first floor, overlooking a
small garden containing a few large trees. The great artiste was lying
on a small iron bed, her fair hair completely covering her pillow. She
was smiling and gay, as usual; perhaps a little paler than her wont,
that was all. My mind involuntarily reverted to Lady Macbeth, Doña
Sol, Maria de Neubourg, Phèdre, and Froufrou, and I thought of all the
triumphs, heroic ardour, wild passion and divine melancholy of thirty
years of art and crowded life abruptly cut short and laid low under the
surgeon’s knife. But the wonderful vitality of this rare creature, who
has always vanquished every combination of adverse circumstances, had
once more got the better of misfortune.

“I kept on telling myself every day,” she said, “that this is the price
I have to pay for the great day I had two years ago. I always said
something of this kind was bound to come. Ask Seylor if I didn’t.”

Mlle. Seylor, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s faithful companion, who has not
been absent from her a day for the last ten years, had just entered the

“Didn’t I tell you so, Seylor?” the patient continued. “When you kissed
me and said how happy you were over my ‘glory,’ as you called it,
didn’t I say, ‘Everything has its bad side as well as its good. See if
I don’t pay dearly for to-day!’”

And a shadow of melancholy came over the great artiste’s features, but
soon disappeared. As the song of a bird arose from the garden, she

“Listen to that blackbird; isn’t it delightful? He sings every morning
just as if he had been put there on purpose for me.”

Speaking of the operation, she said--

“It lasted an hour and a half, but I did not feel the slightest pain
either then or afterwards. I have had no fever at all. At the present
moment my temperature is not above 97°. For two days the chloroform
rather annoyed me, and I had touches of nausea, but that was all. The
only pain I had was what I inflicted on my son by running the risk.
Poor boy! it’s the first time I have ever made him suffer of my own
free will!”

My eyes wandered round the room. Apart from a few roses and orchids,
there was nothing on the mantelpiece and tables but portraits of
Maurice Bernhardt as a child, as a youth, and as he is to-day. There
was also a marble bust of him.

“Look!” said Sarah, “there are his first shoe and his first shirt.”

Hanging from the corner of a mirror were a tiny little white
patent-leather shoe, all shrivelled by time, and a shirt that might
have fitted a doll.

“They never leave me,” she added. “When I travel, I take them with me,
and I felt I must have them here. I believe they bring me good luck.”

Before taking leave I inquired as to the probable duration of the

“At the end of the week,” was the reply, “I shall be able to get
up. Within ten days I shall take a walk in the garden, and within a
fortnight I am to go to St. Germain and complete my convalescence at
the Pavillon Henri IV. Come and see me soon and we will talk.”

I took advantage of the permission, and in the course of my visits
I was able to take down, from the great artiste’s own lips, the
information contained in these pages, by far the greater part of which
information will be new to the public.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and her son Maurice at the age of

“I was born in Paris,” Mme. Sarah Bernhardt told me, “at No. 265 Rue
St. Honoré, in the house also occupied by my old friend, Mme. Guérard,
who is still bright and hearty in spite of her seventy-six years. She
saw me come into the world, and she was present at the birth of my son
Maurice, and of my grand-daughter.

“My mother, as you know, was a Dutch Jewess. She was fair, short, and
round, with a long body and short legs, but she had a pretty face and
beautiful blue eyes. She spoke French badly, and with a strong foreign
accent. She had fourteen children, among them being two pairs of twins.
I was the eleventh child. I was put out to nurse with a _concierge_,
and the arrangement worked well enough as long as I was quite small;
but I began to find my confinement wearisome, and one day, when I was
at the window of the _concierge’s_ room--you know those little arched
windows that are still to be seen in the entresols of old houses--I saw
my mother coming in through the _porte-cochère_, and I fell out of the
window in my haste to reach her! She realized the situation, and I was
taken home, where I remained several years with my mother and sisters.
My education had to be thought of, and as my father insisted on my
being baptized, I was sent to the Augustinian convent at Grandchamp,
Versailles. Thus, at the age of twelve I became a Christian, was
baptized, received my first communion on the following day, and was
confirmed on the day after with three of my sisters. I became very
pious. I was seized with an extraordinary, passionate adoration for the
Virgin. For a long time I cherished a tiny gold image of her which some
one had given me. One day it was stolen, to my great grief.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and her son Maurice at the age of

“I was both reserved and fractious. My mother had little love for me;
she preferred my sisters. I was seldom taken out. Sometimes I was
left at the convent during the holidays. I used to feel sad at being
thus neglected, but the feeling of depression soon wore off, and the
spirit of fun in my nature got the upper hand. One day, when we heard
that all the schools in France, except ours, had been given bonbons
on the occasion of the baptism of the Prince Imperial, I proposed to
several other girls that we should run away, and I undertook to manage
it. Being on good terms with the sister in charge of the gate, I went
into her lodge and pretended to have a hole in my dress under the
armpit. To let her examine the hole I raised my arm towards the cord
communicating with the gate, and whilst she was looking at my dress I
pulled the cord, my accomplices rushed out, and I followed them. Our
entire stock of provisions, ammunition, and sinews of war consisted
of a few clothes, three pieces of soap in a bag, and the sum of seven
francs fifty centimes in money. This was to take us to the other end
of the world! A search had to be made for us, and as the good sisters
could hardly undertake it, the police were set on our track. There
was not much difficulty in finding us, as you may imagine. We were
questioned, and Amelia Pluche--I shall never forget the traitress’s
name--denounced me as the ringleader. I was sent home in disgrace, but,
nevertheless, returned to the convent.

“On another occasion, I remember, I had climbed on to the wall
separating the convent from the cemetery. A grand funeral was in
progress, and the Bishop of Versailles was delivering an address to
quite a crowd. I immediately began to gesticulate, shout, and sing
at the top of my voice so as to interrupt the ceremony. You can
imagine the scene--a child of twelve sitting astride a wall, and a
bishop interrupted in the midst of a funeral oration! The scandal was
great, and I was again expelled. My mother did not at all approve
of these escapades, and I was severely scolded, but, owing no doubt
to influence, I was received in the convent once more. Some time
afterwards, having been sentenced to three days’ solitary confinement
for some offence, I climbed up to the top of a chestnut-tree in the
garden. They sought for me in vain, and then set the watch-dog to find
me. He promptly sat down at the foot of the tree and barked. My retreat
was thus discovered, but there was no way of getting me down. The only
man in the convent was an old gardener, who would not trust himself
at such a height, and the ladders were too short. To all the sisters’
commands and threats I merely replied: ‘I will die here! I want to die
here!’ Finally they had to promise on oath that I should be let off my
three days’ confinement, and I came down with the agility of a monkey.
I was very good at gymnastics. My mother, knowing me to be delicate,
urged me to take all sorts of exercise. I remember that the only prizes
I ever got at the convent were for history, composition, and gymnastics.

“On my departure from Grandchamp came the question, What was I to do? I
was religious, in spite of my wayward and passionate temperament. The
patron saint of the convent, St. Augustin, whose portrait was displayed
in every room, was my first passion, which he shared with the Virgin. I
was strongly inclined to become a nun, but my ideas in this direction
underwent a change soon after my departure from the convent. My mother
provided me with a finishing governess, Mlle. de Brabander--a very
superior woman, who had educated the Grand Duchess Marie of Russia.
Mlle. de Brabander adored me. My mother had considerable difficulty
in deciding what to do with me. In spite of my youth I was asked in
marriage by a neighbouring glover, then by a tanner, and finally by a
chemist, from whom I used to buy medicines. I refused them all! One
of my mother’s friends was the Duc de Morny, and he suggested that
I should try the stage as a profession. My mother thought I was not
sufficiently pretty; I was too thin, she considered. Nevertheless,
she decided to adopt the duke’s suggestion. The story of my admission
to the Conservatoire has often been told. I came with a letter of
recommendation from the Duc de Morny, and I had scarcely recited two
verses of La Fontaine’s fable of _The Two Pigeons_, when Auber signed
to me to stop and come to him.

“‘Is your name Sarah?’ he asked.

“‘Yes, sir.’

“‘Are you a Jewess?’

“‘By birth, sir, but I have been baptized.’

“‘She has been baptized,’ said Auber to the jury, ‘and it would have
been a pity for such a pretty child not to be.’ Turning to me, he
added, ‘You said your fable very well and you have passed.’

“Consequently I entered the Conservatoire. The next question was,
in which class was I to study? Beauvallet said, ‘She will be a
tragedienne.’ Regnier maintained, ‘She will be a comedienne,’ and
Provost put them in agreement by declaring ‘She will be both.’ I joined
Provost’s class.

“I began my studies without the slightest enthusiasm. I set to work
because I had been brought to the Conservatoire for that purpose, but
I had neither taste nor inclination for the profession I was to enter.
I went to the theatre for the first time in my life two or three days
before the entrance examination. I was taken to the Théâtre Français to
see _Amphitryon_. It made me cry! The stage had really no attraction
for me. I often felt very unhappy at the prospect, and wept bitterly.
Moreover I was horribly timid. When I discussed my real inclinations
with my dear governess, Mlle. de Brabander, I felt more disposed to
study painting than anything else, but I had to give way. Mlle. de
Brabander used to take me to the Conservatoire every day. My mother
gave me the omnibus fare for both of us. I pocketed it and we walked,
because we both hated coming into contact with all sorts of people in
the omnibus. When we had enough money, that is to say, every alternate
day, we took a cab, so that we could make sure of being alone. I have
always had a horror of being obliged to rub shoulders with people I
don’t know. If I can help it, I never stay in a waiting-room or any
public place where I am obliged to inhale other people’s breath. In
this respect I have always been ferociously unsociable.

“At the commencement of my studies at the Conservatoire, I had
considerable difficulties to overcome. I inherited from my mother a
serious defect in pronunciation--speaking with clenched teeth. In all
the imitations of my style this point is seized upon. In my early
days the defect was ten times more pronounced than it is now, and it
clung to me all the time, whereas now it is only noticeable when I
am nervous, generally in the first act. To cure me of the habit, the
Conservatoire teachers gave me little rubber balls, which prevented
me from closing my mouth. My fellow-pupils included Croizette, Lloyd,
Rousseil, Dica-Petit, Léontine Massin, and Mme. Provost-Poncin. Among
the men was Coquelin, who was always very nice to me.

[Illustration: Mme. Guérard.]

“At my first competitive examination I took the second prize for
tragedy, and Rousseil the first. In my last year I took the second
prize for comedy, and Lloyd the first. I could never manage to get a
first. After taking my second prize for tragedy, I stayed a year at
the Conservatoire, in receipt of a salary of £75, paid by the Comédie
Française, which had views concerning me. Finally it was arranged
that I should make my _début_ at the Comédie in _Iphigénie_, with Mme.
Devoyod as Clytemnestre. I knew no one in the company except Coquelin,
who had just entered it, and was as good to me as he had been at the
Conservatoire. I do not remember experiencing any strong emotions
except a real fear; but I do remember that when I lifted my long, thin
arms--and they were thin!--for the sacrifice, the whole audience
laughed. After that I played in Scribe’s _Valérie_, with Coquelin as
Ambroise. Theatrical life was still uninteresting to me. I never went
inside a theatre except to act. Even now, paradoxical as it may seem,
I know scarcely any plays, and scarcely any artistes except such as I
have encountered at the various theatres in which I have played.

[Illustration: As Junie in _Britannicus_.]

“I was far from resting at the Théâtre Français. Less than a year after
my _début_, my sister Regina one evening accidentally trod on Mme.
Nathalie’s train. Mme. Nathalie, who was one of the leading ladies,
pushed the poor girl so roughly that she knocked her head against a
corner and the blood came. I immediately ‘went for’ Mme. Nathalie, gave
her a resounding smack, and called her a great stupid! The men were
delighted, but the affair created a terrible scandal. The manager told
me I must apologize to Mme. Nathalie. I replied--

“‘I will apologize to Mme. Nathalie if she will do the same to my
little sister.’

“No arrangement could be made, and I left the House of Molière for the
first time.

“Owing to this very pronounced feature in my character, no manager
would have anything to do with me. A fairy extravaganza, the _Biche au
Bois_, was being played at the Porte St. Martin, then managed by Marc
Fournier, and I learnt that Mlle. Debay, a former Odéon star, who was
playing the Princesse Désirée, had been taken ill. As the part was in
verse, I said to myself, ‘Here’s my chance,’ and went to see Fournier,
who engaged me on the spot. As I was very young, I was asked who I was,
and I replied that I was an orphan. I rehearsed twice, and the date of
my _début_ was fixed. I sang a duet with Ugalde, who was kind enough to
take the trouble of teaching me how to sing it. On the very first night
it happened that my guardian was amongst the audience. He immediately
recognized me and came to see me, horrified, after the first act. I
implored him to say nothing to my mother, but he rushed off and brought
her to the theatre. At first she would not let me finish, but finally
she yielded to reason, and I played my part to the end, but that was my
first and last appearance in extravaganza.

“After the Porte St. Martin came the Gymnase. In May 1863 I was engaged
by Montigny to replace Victoria, Lafontaine’s wife. The piece was a
vaudeville in rhymes, and I remember having to sing--

    ‘Un baiser? Non, non!’

“It was too absurd!

“I was very useful to Montigny. I had a marvellous memory, and shrank
from no part, however difficult. I never really loved the stage, but
as it was my profession I did not mean to let the grass grow under
my feet. I was determined to get to the front. One after another I
played in _Le Père de la Débutante_, _Le Démon du Jeu_ by Theodore
Barrière, _La Maison sans Enfants_ by Dumanoir, _L’Etourneau_ by Bayard
and Laya, _Le Premier Pas_ by Labiche and Delacour, and _Un Mari qui
lance sa Femme_ by Raymond Deslandes. In this last piece (April 28,
1864) I was a Russian princess, with nothing to do but eat and dance
all the time. This idiotic part disgusted me to such an extent that I
vowed not to play it a second time. The day after the first performance
I went off to Spain! In the morning I locked my mother in her room so
that she could not interfere with me, and off I set with my accomplice,
a maid who had been discharged by my mother. We went to Marseilles
and got on board a steamer. The only other passenger was a rich
wine-merchant from the south of France. You see how practical we were!
My great object was to go to Madrid--I was mad to see Spain and its
museums--and after encountering a fearful storm we landed at Alicante.
I was dreadfully sick, but fortunately I had brought my little golden
Virgin, and she gave me hope and consolation.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt when a girl.]

“My mother had set the police on my track, but in vain. At last,
however, we were starved out. At the end of two months I had seen all I
wanted to see in Spain, and as all my money was gone I was obliged to
write to my mother for supplies. She made me wait some little time, but
finally sent them, and I returned to Paris.

“One day I encountered Camille Doucet, who, as I told you before, was a
friend of our family.

“‘Well, are you as naughty as ever?’ he asked. ‘Have you been slapping
any more of your confrères lately?’

[Illustration: As Zanetto in _Le Passant_.]

“I explained that I had had no opportunity, and he advised me to apply
to the Odéon, then managed by Chilly and Duquesnel. Chilly was
not much inclined to engage me, but Duquesnel seemed anxious to do
so. Finally he had his way, and it was decided that I should appear
as Junie in _Britannicus_ (January 14, 1867). Taillade, who played
Nero, insisted at rehearsal that I should kiss the hem of his garment.
I imagine he must have set about obtaining this act of superfluous
civility from me rather badly; at any rate, I gave him a sound box on
the ear. Camille Doucet must have thought there was no doubt about my

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in _François le Champi_.

(From a water-colour by Baudoin.)]

“My second appearance was in _Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard_. It was a
hideous ‘frost’! I remember wearing a dress with white, blue, and red
stripes to give me a Louis XV. appearance! Moreover I was as thin as a
lath and absolutely unsuited to the part of Sylvia. Her airs and graces
were never meant for me.

“My first success at the Odéon was as Zacharie in _Athalie_. I recited
the chorus of women, and this was the first occasion on which I really
impressed the public. My reception was, I venture to say, really a
triumph. In _Le Marquis de Villemer_ I next played a wretched part--a
thirty-five-year-old baroness. I wept all the time. George Sand, who
had noticed me, consoled me and promised that I should appear in
_L’Autre_, which she had just finished; and she kept her word. Next
came _Le Passant_. Chilly had been induced with great difficulty to
have this piece played as a benefit performance. He had no faith in
it, and thought it tiresome and without a future. He had so little
confidence in its success that he absolutely refused to pay for the
costumes, and Agar and I were obliged to order our own and settle the
bills out of our own pockets. You know how popular Coppée’s little
piece became. Agar and I played it twice before the Court, with immense

    [1] Mme. Bernhardt afterwards appeared as Armande in _Les
        Femmes Savantes_, in _Les Arrêts_ (a one-act piece by M.
        de Boissières), in _François le Champi_, _Le Testament de
        César Girodot_, _King Lear_, _Le Legs_, _Le Drame de la Rue
        de la Paix_, by Adolphe Belot (1869), and _La Loterie du

[Illustration: In _Le Drame de la Rue de la Paix_.]

“_Kean_ was being prepared at the Odéon. Chilly wanted the part of Anne
Damby to be given to Jane Essler, and Dumas had already promised it to
Antonine. Duquesnel advised me to go and see Dumas, and not to leave
the house without a written authority to at least rehearse the part. I
well remember going to see Dumas. The door was opened by his daughter,
and I found Dumas in his shirt-sleeves, with a woman leaning on his
shoulder--Oceana I believe she was. I timidly explained the object of
my visit. He listened, looked at me, and said--

“‘You would do very nicely, but I have promised the part to Jane

“I persisted in my request, and he confessed that he had also
undertaken to give the _rôle_ to Antonine.

“Then, I said, ‘As you have promised it to two you may just as well
promise it to three.’

“Fortunately I had learnt the part, and I began to recite it to him,
inwardly repeating Duquesnel’s words: ‘Don’t leave him before you get
a letter.’ Then I urged him again to let me rehearse the part, if only
for a week.

“Finally Dumas had enough of it, and gave me a letter for Chilly, to
this effect: ‘Jane Essler is to play Anne Damby, but you can let the
bearer rehearse for a few days.’


“When the others saw me rehearsing for the part, there was a sensation.
The end of it was that I kept the part and played it with very, very
great success. A well-known incident happened at the _première_. Dumas
came into his box accompanied by Oceana, and for three-quarters of an
hour the students shouted ‘A la porte!’ to such purpose that Dumas
was obliged to take the woman out, put her in a cab, and return to his
box, wildly cheered by the students. Their hostility was solely against
the woman who had forced this great man to make such a scandalous
exhibition of himself.

“Next came _Le Bâtard_ by Alphonse Touroude, and _L’Autre_ by George
Sand (September 1869), neither of which has any interesting souvenirs
connected with it.”

The war broke out, and ambulances were soon being established
everywhere. Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt decided to fit one up at the Odéon
at her own expense, and on September 30 she set to work. Twenty-two
beds were erected, long white curtains were hung at the windows and
_portières_ over the doors, linen was neatly piled in cupboards, the
dispensary was provided with bottles and drugs, and the cellars were
filled with wood and coal. All the arrangements having been planned
beforehand and carried out without delay, everything was completed in
forty-eight hours, and there was nothing more to do but wait for the
patients. They came soon enough! Day and night Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt
and her aides-de-camp were kept at work. One of her first patients was
M. Porel (now the manager of the Vaudeville theatre, and the husband
of Mme. Réjane), who was slightly wounded by a fragment of shell.
Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt busied herself not only with the infirmary but
with the office. The ambulance being a military one, and having to
supply daily reports to the central establishment at the Val-de-Grâce
hospital, Mlle. Bernhardt carefully noted all particulars of the
patients admitted and discharged, and kept all her accounts with
remarkable exactitude.

The war and the Commune over, the theatres re-opened their doors, and
M. André Theuriet entrusted Mlle. Bernhardt with the principal _rôle_
in _Jean Marie_, which had just been accepted at the Odéon. Her success
was striking, and she has kept this little piece in her _répertoire_,
reviving it time after time in her tours, just as she has done with

Nothing is more curious and instructive than to note the opinions of
the theatrical critics on Sarah Bernhardt from this period onward.
Sometimes she was lauded to the skies; at other times attempts were
made to crush her by severe and often unjust condemnation. To begin
with, let us take this expression of opinion given by the late M.
Francisque Sarcey on October 14, 1871--

  If I experienced great pleasure in seeing _Jean Marie_, it was
  because the principal part was taken by Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt.
  No one could be more innocently poetic than this young lady. She
  will become a great comedienne, and she is already an admirable
  artiste. Everything she does has a special savour of its own.
  It is impossible to say whether she is pretty. She is thin, and
  her expression is sad, but she has queenly grace, charm, and the
  inexpressible _je ne sais quoi_. She is an artiste by nature,
  and an incomparable one. There is no one like her at the Comédie

[Illustration: As Cordelia in _King Lear_.]

Ten days afterwards came the first performance of _Fais ce que dois_,
a one-act piece in verse, by M. François Coppée. The same critic
dismissed the matter by saying--“The two sisters Bernhardt, Sarah and
Jeanne, have two such insignificant parts that they can make nothing
out of them.” On November 4, M. Sarcey wrote, in reference to the
impending departure of Mlle. Favart from the Comédie Française--“Her
place should most certainly be taken by Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt. Any
other choice would be a monstrous injustice.” In spite of this
impassioned declaration, the Odéon kept its prey. In the same month she
appeared in _La Baronne_, by MM. Charles Edmond and Edouard Foussier.
By this time it was generally recognized that the antique peplum suited
her better than modern dress. Two months afterwards (January 1872) the
indefatigable young actress created the part of Mlle. Aïssé in Louis
Bouilhet’s four-act play of that name. The critic Paul de Saint-Victor
treated her with considerable severity.

  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt, he wrote, played Aïssé very indifferently.
  She was weak and despondent, with no energy and no voice. In
  passages requiring the utmost fire and passion she did not rise
  above a monotonous sing-song. She cannot be said to have killed
  the piece, for it had no life in it, but another actress could
  perhaps have given it a more tragical and impressive ending. Mlle.
  Bernhardt makes it die of languor and inanition.

[Illustration: As Doña Sol in _Hernani_.]

Mlle. Bernhardt now arrived at one of the turning-points in her life.
Victor Hugo, who had returned to France on the downfall of the Empire,
was superintending the revival of his dramas, and MM. Chilly and
Duquesnel decided to bring out _Ruy Blas_. One evening there was a
big dinner at Victor Hugo’s, and the guests set themselves to work to
arrange the cast. Every _rôle_ was satisfactorily allotted except that
of the Queen, on which there was some difference of opinion. M. Paul
Meurice strongly supported Mlle. Jane Essler. Victor Hugo, observing
that Busnach had taken no part in the discussion, asked him his opinion.

“_Ma foi_,” exclaimed the dramatist, “I think Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt is
the only possible choice, and I strongly advise you to have her.”

Busnach argued his case with so much warmth that on the following
day Victor Hugo asked the artiste to go over the part with him, and
accepted her on the spot. Sarah’s success was unmistakable. Auguste
Vitu wrote of her in the _Figaro_ (February 19, 1872)--

  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt displayed feeling, grace, and even passion in
  the comparatively small part of Doña Maria. If, at the beginning
  of the second act, she could succeed in getting rid of the dismal,
  psalm-like intonation which she erroneously regards as the proper
  way to express melancholy, she would perfect a remarkable creation,
  which does her honour.

M. Sarcey was warmer in his praise--

  No _rôle_ was ever better adapted to Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt’s
  talents than that of this melancholy queen. She possesses the gift
  of resigned and patient dignity. Her diction is so wonderfully
  clear and distinct that not a syllable is missed. At the same time
  it is hardly powerful enough for the passionate outbursts in the
  last act, but there is a great deal of warmth and feeling in the
  impassioned passages at the close.

Immediately after this success the newspapers began to urge M. Perrin,
the manager of the Théâtre Français, to engage the brilliant star
which had just made its appearance in the theatrical firmament. Sarah
was, however, bound by her engagement at the Odéon, and the management
would not hear of releasing her. Offers were made to her, and she
decided to take legal proceedings to have the contract set aside.
The decision was against her, and she was obliged to pay the Odéon
the not excessive indemnity of £200. In this way she returned to the
scene of her _début_. The event excited a great deal of comment in the
theatrical world, and especially, as may be imagined, in the House of
Molière. But the success of _Ruy Blas_ and _Le Passant_ silenced the
envious tongues, and her comrades soon found that they would have to
reckon with the new _pensionnaire_. She set to work with astonishing
ardour, and made her appearance on November 5, 1872, in _Mademoiselle
de Belle-Isle_. There could be no doubt of her possessing the fire of
genius, or of her ability to charm and touch her audience. There was
still a certain want of power, but she was full of happy inspirations.
Paul de Saint-Victor, however, persisted in opposing her. He wrote--

  Mlle. Bernhardt made a very indifferent _début_ as Gabrielle. The
  artificial reputation she made at the Odéon and brought with her
  to the Comédie Française does not stand examination. There is
  a deadly monotony about her diction. Everything is on the same
  level. The only tone in her voice is the low and plaintive one.
  When the action of the play quickens and the passions of the
  various characters begin to assert themselves, she dwindles away to
  nothing, and loses all the fire, force, and colour that the part
  ought to have. What good work can Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt do at the
  Théâtre Français? The idea of giving her a leading part in a modern
  drama is out of the question. The most she can do is to act as a
  feeble substitute for Mlle. Favart. The weakness of her voice and
  the insufficiency of her talents exclude her from leading tragedy
  parts, and I do not see that she can take her place anywhere except
  in the background. She might sigh through the tirades of Atalide in
  _Bajazet_ or of Aricie in _Phèdre_ melodiously enough, but that is
  really the extent of her powers, and it is not enough to justify
  the importance attached to a very unpromising _début_.

[Illustration: As Léonora in _Dalila_.]

The reader will readily understand that these unjust criticisms by a
celebrated writer are given here merely as evidence of the vanity of
theatrical criticism.

In January and February 1873, Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt appeared
successively as Junie in _Britannicus_, as Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle,
and as Cherubin in _Le Mariage de Figaro_. With the exception of M.
Sarcey the newspaper critics paid little attention to her. He thought
her one of the best Cherubins he had ever seen: the incarnation of the
adventurous youngster, the little scamp who is sure to be never without
a sweetheart. She had all the self-consciousness of the big school-boy,
with the audacity and impetuousness of a young bantam. She conveyed an
impression of desire without love.

Next month her struggles began again with the production of _Dalila_ by
Edmond About. Her friends seemed inclined to abandon her. M. Sarcey was
far from encouraging--

  I fear, he said, that the management has made a mistake in already
  giving Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt leading parts. I do not know whether
  she will ever be able to fill them, but she certainly cannot do so
  at present. She is wanting in power and breadth of conception. She
  impersonates soft and gentle characters admirably, but her failings
  become manifest when the whole burden of the piece rests on her
  frail shoulders.

Apparently forgetting that, only a year before, he had declared Mlle.
Sarah Bernhardt the only possible successor to Mlle. Favart, M. Sarcey

  After her two celebrated predecessors, Mlles. Fargueil and Favart,
  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt has excited little more than a benevolent
  curiosity. She can do nothing really badly, for she is an artiste
  to the tips of her fingers, but her voice has no sarcasm or irony,
  and is simply hard and distinct. Moreover, her whole personality is
  stiff. There is no clinging softness about her. She is more harsh
  than cold, and more cold than catlike.

Auguste Vitu indulged in a little fun over her thinness, and described
her as “a needle made to look as neat as a new pin.” “There is nothing
of the sorceress about her,” he added, “except the magic wand--herself.”

Paul de Saint-Victor was unmerciful--

  It was a singularly unfortunate idea, he wrote, to let Mlle. Sarah
  Bernhardt appear in this important part of Léonora, still alive
  with the fire breathed into it by Mlle. Fargueil. All the most
  essential elements in the character--conquering charm, sovereign
  pride, haughty and cutting wit, light and stinging insolence,
  pretended pathos and false love--are wanting in her nature. She
  displays nothing but a subdued plaintiveness, and when she tries to
  intensify her tone she merely strikes a jarring note. She seeks to
  be imperious, and is merely violent; her disdain is without hauteur
  and her allurements are vulgar. It is a singular delusion to
  suppose that she will be able to fill and sustain a great _rôle_.
  All the efforts that are made and will be made to push her to the
  front will only display her inadequacy.

Some envious rivals inspired newspaper attacks on her on the ground of
her nationality. She was represented as a German Jewess. “Certainly,”
she replied, “I am a Jewess, but not a German,” and she wrote as
follows to M. Jouvin--

  I should be really very much obliged if you would include in
  your next _feuilleton_ a few words to correct the mistake you
  made in your article on the revival of _Dalila_ at the Comédie
  Française. Since that day I have received a perfect avalanche of
  insulting and threatening letters. Nothing less than this could
  have induced me to write to you. I am French, absolutely French.
  I proved it during the siege of Paris, and the Society for the
  Encouragement of Well-doing awarded me a medal. Would it have
  done so if I had been a German? All my family come from Holland.
  Amsterdam was the birthplace of my humble ancestors. If I have a
  foreign accent--which I much regret--it is cosmopolitan, but not
  Teutonic. I am a daughter of the great Jewish race, and my somewhat
  uncultivated language is the outcome of our enforced wanderings.
  I hope your sense of justice will lead you to rectify a mistake
  which may not only affect my son’s future but is painful to me as a
  Frenchwoman. I thank you in advance, and am, etc.,

                    SARAH BERNHARDT.

On the 4th June, 1873, she created Mrs. Douglas in _L’Absent_, by
Eugène Manuel, and Marthe in _Chez L’Avocat_, a one-act piece by Paul
Ferrier. The parts were insignificant, and brought her no increase of
fame. The Press ignored them, almost entirely. She took no holiday
during the summer of this year. During August she re-appeared in
_Andromaque_, and the _Temps_ became kind to her again--

  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt was tender, bewitching, coquettish, and above
  all feminine. Her performance was like an air, sad and passionate
  by turns, played by a master hand on a violoncello.

A fortnight later, September 17, she was playing Aricie in _Phèdre_.
The _Figaro_ bestowed a few commonplace compliments on her. She was
accused of being badly dressed, badly got up, and even with being
unmistakably untidy; but M. Sarcey brought out his most flattering and
ecstatic adjectives in her honour.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and her son Maurice at the age of

  There can be no doubt about it now. All the opposition excited by
  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt’s success must yield to facts. She simply
  delighted the public. The beautiful verses allotted to Aricie were
  never better delivered. Her voice is genuine music. There was a
  continuous thrill of pleasure among the entire audience.

In January 1874, _Péril en la demeure_, by Octave Feuillet, was
revived. She displayed all her tender poetical grace in the character
of the woman on the brink of surrender to temptation: one of Musset’s
airy creations straying amongst M. Feuillet’s _bourgeois_ proverbs.
In _Le Sphinx_, by the same author, produced on the 23rd March, 1874,
she played the rather subordinate _rôle_ of Berthe de Savigny. The
notices of this performance show it to have been her first unmistakable
success. Hitherto the Paris first-night audiences had merely tolerated
her, but on this occasion she accomplished the feat of making a
secondary part into an important one. Nevertheless, as one of her
critics remarks, she in no way trespassed on her sister actresses’
preserves. She played with great discretion, but her graceful movements
and the music of her golden voice created a deep impression. The
struggle, however, was not yet over. A few connoisseurs admired her
greatly, while others regarded her with positive aversion. Her
engagement by M. Perrin required something very like audacity, and the
wisdom of the step remained doubtful, the majority of opinions being
still unfavourable to her. She excited intense envy among her rivals.
There was great dissatisfaction among the other ladies of the company
when it was known that M. Perrin intended to pay £100 for a costume she
had ordered for _Le Sphinx_. Her next appearance was in a one-act play
in verse, _La Belle Paule_, by M. Paul Denayrouse, and in August she
re-appeared in _Zaïre_. This proved to be the most complete success she
had attained since her engagement at the Comédie Française. It was far
greater than that of any other member of the cast, as M. Vitu and M.
Sarcey recognized. Paul de Saint-Victor alone persisted in depreciating
her. According to him she was monotonous, weak, lackadaisical, and
hardly noticeable!

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra.]

On December 22 she played Phèdre for the first time. The risk was
great, the part being one of the most exhausting in the whole
_répertoire_ of the theatre. During the first act she was intensely
and perceptibly nervous. Her teeth were set, and her enunciation was
hard and abrupt. Her tone was cold and slightly raucous. But in the
second act she began to gain confidence, and after her declaration to
Hippolyte success began and lasted to the end. She delivered the final
lines with consummate art, and, in spite of her delicate physique,
she was excellent in the stormy scene with Hippolyte. In the fourth act
she was completely carried away by her part. At one point she tripped,
and, probably for the first time in her life, mangled a line--she,
the incarnation of poetry! Instead of saying, “Reconnais sa vengeance
aux fureurs de ta fille,” she exclaimed: “Reconnais sa fureur aux
vengeances de ta fille.” The public, however, paid no attention to the
slip, nor perhaps did the actress herself. At any rate, she finished in
triumph. M. Sarcey considered her superior to Rachel; and M. Jouvin,
writing in the _Presse_, declared that Clairon, who has bequeathed us
a summary of her views on the part, could not have failed to applaud
Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt.

The first performance of _La Fille de Roland_, by Henri de Bornier,
took place on February 15, 1875, Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt appearing as
Berthe, with Maubant and Mounet-Sully in other parts. On this occasion
again critical opinion was divided. Paul de Saint-Victor, in the
_Moniteur Universel_, described her as merely an agreeable reciter of
verses, without any of the varied and living qualities of the real

  Her delivery is still the same musical jeremiad as before. All her
  tirades are given with the same plaintive, sing-song intonation.
  When the action quickens the sound rises to a higher key, but the
  melody remains unaltered. This constant recitative gives way in the
  strong passages to breathless cries, painful to hear. Her outbursts
  are those of a breaking voice. They positively wound the ear.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in _La Fille de Roland_.]

According to Auguste Vitu, in the _Figaro_, her interpretation was
fair, and no more. M. Sarcey, however, observed that it was only
justice to admit that she had made something out of nothing. In the
afternoon preceding the _première_, she had been elected a full member,
or _sociétaire_, of the company, together with her comrade Laroche.
Her antagonists had laid down their arms! In the evening the astonished
critics beheld all the lady members of the company vigorously
applauding the new _sociétaire_!

On April 27, 1875 came the revival of Emile Augier’s _Gabrielle_, in
which Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt appeared with Coquelin. She was reproached
with making the character allotted to her into an ideal, poetic, and
romantic woman, quite in opposition to the author’s conception. She
re-studied the part, and in December of the same year she created quite
another Gabrielle. M. Sarcey, who went to see her, was astonished to
observe that she had effected a complete transformation.

When the Salon opened, Sarah Bernhardt gave her rivals another
unpleasant surprise by exhibiting busts of Emile de Girardin and
Busnach. Her new departure excited a great sensation. It was impossible
to set a foot behind the scenes of any Paris theatre without being
assailed by such questions as--

“Have you seen the busts? What do you think of them? Are they really
very good?”

Portraits of Mlle. Bernhardt were exhibited at the Salon by Clairin
and Louise Abbéma. The latter painted her sitter in a black cashmere
bodice with an iron-grey skirt, black _guipure_ chemisette, black
hat and black feathers--the costume worn by her as Mrs. Clarkson in
_L’Etrangère_. M. Clairin’s Sarah Bernhardt was in a white cashmere
_peignoir_, trimmed with white feathers, and with lace ruffles at the
sleeves and neck; black satin slippers, sky-blue stockings, and a large
feather screen: the actress lying on a cerise velvet divan, with a
many-coloured cushion under her head.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in her coffin.]

Sarah Bernhardt was now a full-blown Parisian celebrity, and her fame
was destined to go on increasing. Curiosity began to be felt concerning
even the most insignificant details of her daily life. This public
curiosity stimulated her, as an independent and original person, to
brave the gossip of the city and its _bourgeois_ hypocrisy. All sorts
of more or less true tales of her eccentricities were told about
this time. She was constantly haunted by ideas of death, her frail
organization being, no doubt, still incomplete. From time to time she
fainted on the stage, and her unruly imagination promptly led her to
expect the most direful consequences, but her extraordinary elasticity
of temperament soon supplied her with renewed strength and vitality,
and the complete prostration of to-day was always followed on the
morrow by the most sanguine anticipations. One day she caused herself
to be measured for a coffin, and had it brought to her house. This
coffin, which she courageously keeps at the foot of the bed, is made of
pear-wood. The only ornament consists of the artiste’s initials S. B.,
with the motto _Quand-même_! The inside is lined with white satin, and
is provided with a mattress, bolster, and cushions--a bed fit for the
most charming of coquettes. But for the spectacle of the lid, always
ready to be screwed down, any one would readily lie on this pleasant,
perfumed couch. Unfortunately, the lid is a stern reality. There is
something else to note. Inspired by a strange but poetical fancy,
Mme. Sarah Bernhardt has lined the bottom of the coffin with her most
cherished souvenirs. Love-letters and faded bouquets are there, huddled
together pell-mell, awaiting her coming--waiting to remind her, in the
silence of the tomb, of the sad or happy hours in which she knew them.

The _première_ of _L’Etrangère_ (May 25, 1876) was exclusively a
personal success for her. The newspapers spoke severely of M. Dumas’

  If Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt, said M. Sarcey, had not thrown the
  glamour of her gestures and diction over the silly sentimentality
  of Mrs. Clarkson, the public would have burst out laughing. The
  piece is simply bad melodrama of the Ambigu type.

Her health was still far from robust, and during a performance of
_L’Etrangère_ (May 25, 1876) a painful incident occurred. Before
the curtain rose M. Got had asked the indulgence of the public for
Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt, who was indisposed. The request was far from
unnecessary, for as soon as the young artiste appeared on the stage it
was evident that she was in great pain. The performance followed its
course, but in the middle of her long tirade in the third act, Mlle.
Sarah Bernhardt suddenly turned pale, threw up her arms, and fell to
the floor. Indescribable excitement arose amongst the audience. The
curtain was promptly lowered, and the most alarming rumours were in
circulation, when M. Got came forward and made a reassuring speech,
adding, however, that Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt was far too ill to permit
of her reappearing. Mlle. Lloyd, who had been immediately informed,
took the vacant place, and the performance proceeded, but the anxiety
among actors and public was so great that when the curtain fell general
depression prevailed. Inquiries were made at midnight, and it was
ascertained that the patient was a little better, but that absolute
rest was necessary, and that the doctor had forbidden her even to speak.

Her illness led to a rumour that she was about to retire into a
convent. Paragraphs, of which the following is a specimen, began to
appear in the newspapers--

  It is said that an artiste of the Comédie Française was recently
  driven by private sorrows to take refuge in the sweets of monastic
  solitude. It appears, however, that after two days’ retirement the
  comedienne in question came to the conclusion that she was not yet
  ripe for the cloister. She bade farewell to the bare walls of the
  convent and returned to the theatre, much to the disgust of her
  fellow-actresses, who realized only too well that she was steadily
  growing not only into a star but into a planet. You see, M. Sarcey,
  people can’t do without you!!! (_Figaro_, July 9, 1876).

[Illustration: As Doña Sol in _Hernani_.]

None the less Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt continued to work. On September
27, _Rome Vaincue_, by M. Parodi, was brought out, and this time
she obtained a brilliant and unmistakable success. Not a single
discordant note was heard in the chorus of praise. M. Auguste Vitu

  Draped like an antique statue, her head crowned with long white
  curls under her matron’s veil, Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt made Posthumia
  one of her finest creations. No other living actress could have
  rendered this character with so much nobility, grandeur, and true
  feeling. The genuine tears shed by her audience must have shown her
  how deeply she had touched their hearts and minds.

M. Sarcey was quite poetical--

  When Parodi came to chat with me about the rehearsals then going
  on, he said--“I never imagined how much there was in the part until
  I heard Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt play it. She puts into it all the
  life it has. I cannot recognize my own verses when they fall from
  her lips.” I have indeed rarely seen anything so perfectly fine,
  especially as regards the last act. She was no longer a comedienne,
  but human nature itself, interpreted by a marvellous intelligence,
  a soul full of fire, and the most harmonious and melodious voice
  that ever delighted human ears. She acts with her whole heart
  and soul. She is a marvellous, incomparable artiste, one of the
  _élite_, or, in a word, a genius.

She appeared in _Hernani_ on November 21, 1877, with considerable
success. She was now unmistakably the spoilt child of the public.
She had vanquished almost all her adversaries, and practically every
theatre-goer was an admirer of her talent. She realized this and
profited by it. Nevertheless she had her moments of humility and
self-effacement. She wrote as follows to her manager on New Year’s Day,

  My dear Monsieur Perrin, I have begun the year badly. I caught
  cold this morning when coming back from the cemetery, and I am far
  from well. I should have liked to tell you this evening of all the
  grateful affection I feel for you. If you could only understand how
  entirely I am yours! But all that is difficult for me to express.
  I owe everything to you. The good points I have, you brought out.
  I tried to become a little somebody, and you determined that it
  should be so. Blessings on that determination of yours, and my
  loving greetings to you! My illness depresses me, and I have little
  hope of completing the year just begun. Monsieur Perrin, I love you
  very much.

                    SARAH BERNHARDT.

[Illustration: As Doña Sol in _Hernani_.]

Her celebrity was unmistakably shown by the wild stories which began
to be told about her. She was said to have thrown a live kitten on to
a fire; to have poisoned with her own fair hands two monkeys which
had ceased to please her; to have cut off a dog’s head with a view to
solving the question whether life continues after decapitation; the
skeleton in her bedroom was all that remained of one of her victims,
etc. As a matter of fact, she was then keeping two Russian greyhounds,
a poodle, a bulldog, a terrier, a leveret, a parrot, three cats, and
several birds. Afterwards she kept lions! Could a woman who was so fond
of animals torture them as she was said to have done?

At Bressant’s benefit performance, February 27, 1878, she played two
acts from Jean Aicard’s _Othello_ with M. Mounet-Sully, who failed
completely. M. Sarcey says--

  As for Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt, she simply rescued the piece. Her
  attitude in the death-agony, her head and arms hanging over
  the side of the bed, was so fine, graceful, and tragic, that
  enthusiastic applause came from every part of the house.

M. Auguste Vitu summed up his opinion as follows--

  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt was very fine as Desdemona. It is one of her
  best creations. I say nothing of M. Mounet-Sully, whose efforts
  were not a success.

On April 2 she appeared for the first time as Alcmène in _Amphitryon_.
No notice was taken of this in the newspapers. She again played in
_Zaïre_ (May 30), and _Le Sphinx_ (October 28), with continued success.
In the meantime she made several ascents in Giffard’s captive balloon
at the Exhibition, to the great scandal of the Boulevards. An article
published by Albert Millaud in the _Figaro_ gives a very good idea of
the spirit of gossip then prevailing. Sarah Bernhardt replied to his
article in the following letter--

  Your kind references to the artiste induce me to write in defence
  of the woman. Those who persist in dinning me into the ears of the
  public are clever enemies of mine. It is excessively annoying not
  to be able to do anything without being accused of eccentricity. I
  love balloon ascents, but now I dare not indulge in them. I have
  never skinned dogs or burnt cats alive. My hair is not dyed, and
  my face has a sufficiently corpse-like pallor to absolve me from
  the suspicion of painting. I am told that my thinness is eccentric,
  but what am I to do? I should much prefer to be one of those happy
  people who are neither too fat nor too thin. My illnesses are
  said to attract too much attention, but they come without warning
  and strike me down wherever I may happen to be, and if people
  are there, so much the worse. I am reproached with trying to do
  everything: acting, sculpture, and painting; but these things
  amuse me, and bring me money to spend as best pleases me. Such are
  my crimes. You have taken my part, perhaps without intending to
  do so, but none the less I thank you heartily. As you applauded
  the artiste, I did not like to think that the woman might seem so
  unpleasant a contrast; and then it is such a pleasure to complain!
  Thanks for your kindness, Monsieur Millaud.

                    SARAH BERNHARDT.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in her travelling costume.]

Some little time afterwards she published an account of her ballooning
experiences in an amusing little book entitled, _In the Clouds_;
_Impressions of a Chair_, with some very pretty illustrations by
Clairin. The simple and unstudied gaiety of this book brought it
into great favour. Of course she was accused of another attempt to
advertise herself, and her literary efforts were riddled with epigrams,
but she was beginning to be accustomed to this kind of thing. Several
newspapers asked her to write for them. The _Globe_ requested her to
supply the 1879 Salon critique, and another journal suggested that she
should write an article on England, in which country she was about to
perform. “How in the world,” exclaimed Albert Millaud, with mingled
astonishment and alarm, “can such a frail creature, made up of poetry
and grace, accomplish such labours?”

On February 7, 1879, she played Monime in _Mithridate_ for the first
time. The whole success of the performance fell to her. “If ever a
part suited Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt,” said M. Sarcey, “Monime is that
part.” “Had it been written expressly for her, it could not have fitted
her better,” exclaimed M. Auguste Vitu. Even the unappeasable Paul de
Saint-Victor had to give way.

  The _rôle_, he wrote, is within the scope of her talents, and is
  exactly adapted to her voice. She has all the required uniformity
  of tone and touching sweetness, relieved by one or two outbursts
  of offended dignity and quietly ironical smiles. She obtained
  well-merited applause.

_Ruy Blas_ was reproduced on April 4. According to M. Claretie it would
be impossible to have a more exquisite impersonation of any poetical
creation, or a better rendering of all the emotions of the character.
Emile Zola, who was then theatrical critic on the _Voltaire_,
wrote--“_Ruy Blas_ was played to perfection at the Comédie Française.
Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt is exquisite.” M. Auguste Vitu gave his opinion
in these terms--

  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt did not play the Queen better last night than
  she did at the Odéon in 1872, for the simple reason that she was
  then perfection itself. Yesterday’s applause and calls before the
  curtain must have convinced her that she was quite as charming as
  she was six years ago.

The _Figaro_ descriptive writer tells us--

  Everybody was attacked by stage fright, and Sarah was far from
  being any better than her _confrères_. In the second act, she
  trembled to such an extent that when she tried to take her
  attendant Casilda by the chin she could only indicate the act
  by a gesture. “For goodness’ sake,” whispered Mlle. Baretta,
  “don’t tremble like that; you’ll frighten me horribly.” Back in
  her dressing-room, Sarah began to weep copiously, but this time
  with joy. Victor Hugo remained only a short time in the front
  of the house. Between the first and second acts he paid a visit
  to Sarah before her turn came. Before the fifth act Sarah came
  to the poet for a little of the encouragement he knows so well
  how to administer, and which always gives her so much ardour and

[Illustration: As Léonora in _Dalila_.]

Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt had now been nearly seven years at the Comédie
Française, and those who knew her were beginning to feel surprise at
the length of her stay. The same year, 1879, was to witness several
events leading up to her final flight in search of independence and
freedom of movement. Mr. Mayer engaged the Comédie Française troupe for
a series of performances to be given at the Gaiety Theatre, London,
in June. Sarah was to play in _L’Etrangère_, _Phèdre_, _Le Sphinx_,
_Hernani_, _Andromaque_, and _Zaïre_. The company left for London on
June 1. Next day _Phèdre_ was played, and _L’Etrangère_ on the 3rd.
Sarah was somewhat coldly received at first, but British iciness soon
melted beneath the tragedienne’s fire. On the 9th, M. Sarcey felt
justified in writing--“The English can adore two idols at the same
time, and they are now devoted to Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt.”

On the first evening she insisted on playing the second act of _Phèdre_
as an interlude. Just as her turn was coming, she was seized by one
of those “blue funks” by which actors are sometimes liable to be
paralyzed. She fell down in a state of collapse; her hands and feet
became icy cold, and she had to be rubbed vigorously for ten minutes to
put a little life into her. She was half carried on to the stage. As
was only to be expected, she attacked her words badly, went on worse,
and failed completely. The audience, however, noticed nothing, and
applauded her frantically. She was “called,” and was enthusiastically
cheered as she stood leaning on the arm of M. Mounet-Sully, without
whose support she must have fallen, half dead as she was.

But now things began to go wrong. _L’Etrangère_ had been announced
for a Saturday _matinée_, and _Hernani_ for the evening. Mlle. Sarah
Bernhardt was in both pieces, but her parts were not very tiring
ones. Like Doña Sol, Mrs. Clarkson has only one act calling for real
exertion. Moreover, Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt had not played at all since
her appearance in _Zaïre_, and she had had time to rest. As a matter
of fact--and this was the principal grievance of the Comédie against
her--she did not rest. She had, for instance, performed _Le Passant_
and the second act of _Phèdre_ on the Friday night at a private house,
before an aristocratic audience. When the time came for her to go to
the theatre, she sent her maid to say that she was tired and could not
perform. The effect may easily be imagined. Every seat was taken, the
Saturday performances being always the best attended. It was feared
that the public would take the announcement, which would have to be
made, as a gross breach of politeness. How was it possible to organize
another performance at such short notice? If only she had let them know
in the morning! There was, however, no escape. Coquelin, whose turn it
was to make the announcements for the week, went before the curtain.
In a few well-chosen words he explained what had occurred, asked the
audience to excuse the Comédie Française, and wound up by announcing
that there would be no performance. A great commotion followed, and
several hisses were heard--a very rare occurrence in a good English
theatre. Chance brought an addition to the strength of the company in
the shape of an actor who happened to call at the theatre for his
letters. Some one pointed out that it would now be possible to play
_Tartuffe_, and Coquelin was called upon to make another proclamation.
But Coquelin was too disconcerted to do anything of the kind. “I should
be a perfect weathercock,” he exclaimed. “I really can’t go on and
say the exact opposite of what I said five minutes before. Let Got
go!” Got was the _doyen_ and sage of the company, the last resource in
desperate emergencies. He went forward and delivered a little speech
to the effect that _Tartuffe_ would be performed for those who liked
to remain, and that their money would be returned. As for those who
desired to see _L’Etrangère_, their tickets would be available for a
special _matinée_, which would be given on the Wednesday following.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in 1877.]

Here was a pretty kettle of fish! M. Sarcey, who had, as usual,
accompanied the Comédie Française troupe, observed--

  Another affair of this kind would be more than enough to make the
  Comédie Française unpopular in England. Those persons who, through
  caprice or a desire to show off, or, to put it differently, through
  a mistaken estimate of their own physical powers, place their
  _confrères_ in such difficulties, are greatly to blame, and they
  may be sure that a day will come when they will have to atone for
  such conduct. Spoilt children are amusing until some friend of the
  family wants to know at what time they are put to bed.

[Illustration: Sarah Bernhardt and F. Sarcey. By Caran d’Ache.]

The whole of the French Press rose in wrath. M. Albert Wolff, in
the _Figaro_, was particularly aggressive. He raked up all the old
grievances against the actress, and accused her of having gone about
in male attire, and having organized an exhibition of her sculpture and
paintings in London. Sarah sent him the following reply by telegraph--

                    _London, June 28._


  Do you really believe these insane stories, Monsieur Wolff? Who
  could have given you such information? In spite of all the infamous
  slanders that must have been poured into your ear, I still think
  you a friend with a little kindness for me. I give you my word
  of honour that I have never worn man’s clothes here in London; I
  did not even bring my suit with me. I absolutely deny the story.
  I went once, and only once, to the little exhibition I organized,
  and that was the day on which admission was by invitation only.
  Consequently it is false to say that a single shilling was paid
  on purpose for any one to see me. It is true that I give private
  performances, but you are aware that I am one of the worst paid
  _sociétaires_ of the Comédie Française, and I am entitled to make
  up the difference. That I am exhibiting sixteen pictures and eight
  pieces of sculpture is perfectly true, but as I brought them here
  to sell them I must let them be seen. With regard to the respect
  due to the House of Molière, my dear M. Wolff, I maintain that I
  uphold it better than anybody, because I am incapable of inventing
  such slanders on one of its standard-bearers. If the silly stories
  told about me have wearied the Parisians and decided them, as you
  lead me to fear, to give me a bad reception, I will not expose any
  one to the possibility of having to commit an act of cowardice, and
  I will hand in my resignation. If the London public is incensed
  against me by the rumours in circulation, and has decided to change
  its kindness into hostility, I hope the Comédie will allow me to
  leave England at once, so that the company may not experience the
  pain of seeing one of their number hooted and hissed. I send you
  this letter by telegraph--a piece of extravagance justified by the
  importance I attach to public opinion. I beg you, my dear Monsieur
  Wolff, to accord my letter at least as much consideration as you
  have given to the calumnies circulated by my enemies.

            With a friendly hand-shake, I am, etc.,
                    SARAH BERNHARDT.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt as sculptor.]

She then handed her formal resignation to Got, the _doyen_ of the
Comédie Française. Her colleagues, who fully understood how greatly
she contributed to the success of the company, insisted on her
withdrawing her resignation, made her a _sociétaire_ with a full share
in the profits, promised her two months’ holiday every year, and, in
short, concealed the iron hand of interest under the velvet glove of
amiability. Emile Zola took up his vigorous pen and treated M. Albert
Wolff’s hypocritical arguments with scant ceremony--

  One of the principal grievances against her is that she has not
  confined herself to dramatic art, but has also taken up sculpture,
  painting, and what not. This is too absurd! Not content with
  calling her thin and treating her as a lunatic, people want to
  decide how she is to use her spare time! She might as well be in
  prison. As a matter of fact she is not actually denied the right to
  practise painting and sculpture, but she is calmly told that she
  must not exhibit her works. This pretension is simply unmitigated
  rubbish. We had better pass a law at once to forbid the plurality
  of talents. And Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt’s style is considered to have
  so much individuality that she has been accused of passing off
  other people’s work as her own!

M. Sarcey indulged in a species of funeral oration--

  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt has given in her resignation. The Comédie
  will lose a charming actress in her, and will have to temporarily
  abandon certain pieces which it will be almost impossible to
  perform without her. These pieces, however, are not many. Mlle.
  Bernhardt is a heavenly lyre, but she has only two or three
  strings. I regret that we must do without her, but, as we know, no
  one is indispensable. Actors come and go and their places are soon
  filled up, however exceptional their talents may be. No actress,
  however great, can walk off with the House of Molière sticking to
  the soles of her boots. It will be interesting to see how Mlle.
  Bernhardt will succeed when she follows an _impresario_ and tries
  her powers on uneducated audiences ignorant of our language. But,
  after all, these melancholy reflections are perhaps uncalled for.
  The matter may still be put right. Who knows?

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt as painter.]

[Illustration: Caricature by André Gill.]

The matter was, in fact, put right, but only temporarily. The Théâtre
Français re-opened its doors on August 2nd, with _Les Femmes Savantes_
and _Le Malade Imaginaire_. At midnight the curtain rose for the
well-known ceremony carried out on such occasions. All the artists of
the Comédie came forward, two by two, according to the time-honoured
custom, bowed to the public, and took their seats. Loud, continued, and
hearty applause burst forth from every part of the house when Mlle.
Sarah Bernhardt came slowly forward to the footlights. It was her
formal reconciliation with the Paris public. “We are all delighted
about it,” said M. Sarcey, “and we hope the ‘row’ will be a lesson to
all concerned.”

[Illustration: Sketch by Mme. Sarah Bernhardt.]

All’s well that ends well; but unfortunately in this case the end had
not been reached. The year 1880 witnessed a great event in Mlle. Sarah
Bernhardt’s life: the severance of her connection with the Comédie
Française. On April 17th, _L’Aventurière_, by Emile Augier, was
revived, Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt taking the difficult part of Clorinde.
The newspapers gave her full credit for her usual ability and charm,
but qualified their praise to an unmistakable extent. M. Sarcey wrote
in the _Temps_--

  Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt’s costume hardly struck me as suitable. She
  came on the stage with a head-dress exactly like a nightcap. Her
  comprehension of the part was still more unsatisfactory. It is
  difficult to understand what she intended to make of the character.
  Her Clorinde was absolutely colourless.

In the _Moniteur Universal_, Paul de Saint-Victor devoted several
columns of scathing and even savage criticism to an attack on Mlle.
Sarah Bernhardt. Knowing her hold on the public, she might have ignored
this hostility, but her cup of bitterness was filled to overflowing by
M. Auguste Vitu, who, though a courteous and moderate critic, wrote as
follows in the _Figaro_--

  During the last two acts, the new Clorinde indulged in uncalled-for
  exaggerations. She not merely forced a voice which is pleasing only
  when used in moderation, but she managed her body and arms in a
  style which would do very well for Virginie in _L’Assommoir_, but
  is out of place at the Comédie Française.

This was more than Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt could bear. She sat down and
wrote the following letter to M. Perrin--


  You made me play before I was ready. You gave me only eight stage
  rehearsals, and there were only three full rehearsals of the piece.
  I could not make up my mind to appear under such conditions, but
  you insisted upon it. What I foresaw has come to pass, and the
  result of the performance has even gone beyond what I expected. One
  critic actually charges me with playing Virginie in _L’Assommoir_
  instead of Doña Clorinde in _L’Aventurière_! I appeal to Zola and
  Emile Augier. This is my first failure at the Comédie Française,
  and it shall be my last. I warned you at the dress rehearsal,
  but you took no notice. I now keep my word. When you receive
  this letter I shall have left Paris. Be good enough, Monsieur
  l’Administrateur, to accept my resignation as from this moment, and
  to believe me, etc.,

                    SARAH BERNHARDT.

  _April 18, 1880._

Immediately after writing this letter Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt took the
train to Havre, and ran to earth at Sainte-Adresse. A terrible uproar
followed. The entire Press, the Comédie, the author of the unlucky
play, and the public assailed the fugitive with showers of violent
invective and cutting sarcasm. The _sociétaires_ of the Comédie
were hastily summoned to a meeting, and they decided to take legal
proceedings with a view to obtaining--

  (1) The exclusion of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt from all rights as a
  _sociétaire_ of the Comédie Française.

  (2) The confiscation of her proportion of the reserve fund,
  amounting to over forty thousand francs.

  (3) Three hundred thousand francs damages.

The critics were unanimously against her. Paul de Saint-Victor
opened all the flood-gates of his controversial invective. M. Sarcey
indulged in prophecy, and delivered himself of the following oracular
saying--“She had better not try to deceive herself. _Her success will
not be lasting. She is not one of those artistes who can bear the whole
weight of a piece on their own shoulders, and who require no assistance
to hold the public attention._”

M. Emile Augier, who had expected great things from the revival of his
play, was much annoyed by the defection of the principal exponent.
He wrote M. Perrin a letter in which he attempted to conceal his
irritation under the mask of irony--

  She was as well prepared as she could be. I go further, and say she
  played quite as well as usual, with all her defects and all her
  good qualities, with which art has nothing to do. Moreover, she
  obtained as much applause as ever from an adoring public. What,
  then, was the cause of the trouble? The Press indulged in some
  uncomplimentary remarks, and Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt does not like
  this kind of thing. With whom does the fault lie? Evidently with
  messieurs the critics, who have hitherto treated her as a spoilt
  child. Are these ungrateful Athenians beginning to tire of her
  success, and to think it unjustified?

M. Emile Zola, whose devotion to the cause of generosity and courage
does not date from yesterday, was almost the only journalist to take
Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt’s part, or rather to point out the faults on
both sides, and to make the voice of wisdom heard amid this outburst
of passion. He reminded Sarah that “it is sometimes an honour to be
attacked.” Whilst Emile Zola, and also Emile de Girardin, lifted up
their voices for peace and reconciliation, Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt in her
retirement at Sainte-Adresse enthusiastically proclaimed her joy at
what she called her deliverance. “Do you know how much I earned?” she
asked a representative of the _Gaulois_. “Barely thirty thousand francs
a year. That may be all very well for people who intend to remain
on the stage until they are fifty or sixty years old, but in twenty
years’ time shall I still be in this world? I have always had a horror
of growing old on the stage, and I don’t mean to do it.” Her feeling
was in fact so strong on this point that she incontinently adopted an
heroic resolution--to leave the stage! It had already caused her too
much suffering, she said, and she was quite decided not to die on it.
She thus announced the result of her cogitations to the representative
of the _Gaulois_--

“Yes, it’s all settled. I have learnt painting and sculpture, and I
intend to live by that. My sales bring me in thirty thousand francs a
year. My brush and chisel will make me a second existence, much calmer
and more profitable than the first.”

Observing her guest’s astonishment, she added, gravely, “with a sad
smile which rendered doubt impossible”--

“I came to this decision when I made up my mind to leave the Comédie

Gradually the storm subsided, and the affair began to be forgotten.
The only allusions made to it were when some other artiste took up one
of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt’s parts. The _Figaro_, for instance, amiably

  M. Emile Augier last night assured Mlle. Croizette, who was playing
  Sarah Bernhardt’s _rôle_ in _L’Aventurière_, that this was the
  first time he had known any artiste form an intelligent conception
  of the character of Clorinde.

[Illustration: As Adrienne Lecouvreur.]

According to M. Sarcey--

  Mlle. Bartet has begun to appear as the Queen in _Ruy Blas_, the
  part formerly taken by Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt. Mlle. Bartet is
  meeting with considerable success.

It was a very neat way of saying to the fugitive--

  “You see after all, you are not indispensable.”

Here is another specimen of the kind remarks which the newspapers took
a keen joy in circulating. It was reported that Sarah had said, “I
shall never forgive Victor Hugo for letting Mlle. Bartet play the Queen
in _Ruy Blas_,” to which the poet had retorted that Mlle. Bartet played
the part so well that her name deserved to be indissolubly connected
with it in future.

Exactly a month after her sensational resignation, Sarah Bernhardt
went to London, not, as might have been supposed, to sell some of
her works of art, but to give a series of performances with Mlles.
Lalb and Jeanne Bernhardt, and MM. Dieudonné and Berton. She met with
considerable success, especially in _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, _Froufrou_,
and _Rome Vaincue_. While she was tasting the joys of this apotheosis,
she was by no means forgotten in the city she had abandoned. On the
18th June, the First Chamber of the Civil Tribunal resounded for
three mortal hours with her name, and in spite of all the skill of
her counsel, Maître Barboux, the Court ordered her to pay the Comédie
Française 100,000 francs damages, and to forfeit all right to her
share (about 44,000 francs) of the reserve fund. Her flight thus turned
out to be an expensive affair. There was nothing for it but to pay,
and this was the beginning of the peregrinations destined to spread
Sarah’s fame beyond the seas. In August we find her travelling through
Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. One of those numerous incidents which have
caused incorrigible patriotism to be numbered among Sarah’s virtues,
occurred at Copenhagen. In the course of a _fête_ given in her honour,
the German Minister, Baron Magnus, proposed the health of _la belle
France_. Sarah Bernhardt immediately interposed with--

“I beg your pardon, Baron, but you mean the whole of France, don’t you?”

The German Minister found himself in so awkward a predicament that he
promptly left the room, and it was supposed that he had discovered an
allusion to Alsace-Lorraine in Sarah’s remark.

[Illustration: As Adrienne Lecouvreur.]

She returned to Paris, but left again almost immediately. On the 10th
September she was at Nantes, and afterwards she appeared at Bordeaux,
Toulouse, Lyons, and Geneva. She excited wild enthusiasm everywhere.
Medals bearing her image and superscription, Sarah Bernhardt bracelets
and collars, photographs and biographies were sold in the streets. At
Lyons, the Khedive’s son unsuccessfully offered £80 for a stage-box.
The Old World soon ceased to afford sufficient scope for her activity.
On the 16th October, 1880, she realized a long-cherished desire, and
sailed from Havre to America on a tour, under Mr. Abbey’s management.
She took with her all her company, her servants, and twenty-eight
trunks containing innumerable dresses and particularly one which she
was to wear in _La Dame aux Camélias_. This wonderful toilette had cost
£480, and fifty work-girls, so the story ran, had toiled for a whole
month to embroider the camellias on the mantle. Mr. Abbey had promised
the actress a small fortune: £100 for every performance, plus half the
receipts above £480. Sarah extended her journey to nearly every part of
the States. From the date of her _début_ at New York, on 10th November,
she was incessantly on the move. She appeared at Boston, Hartford,
Montreal, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati,
etc. Her _répertoire_ included _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, _Froufrou_,
_Hernani_, _Phèdre_, _Le Passant_, and _La Dame aux Camélias_. She
became the proprietor of a tame alligator, who soon succumbed to the
champagne diet she inflicted on him. At length, on the 16th May, 1881,
she landed in triumph at Havre, and was greeted by a cohort of friends
from Paris, and by a crowd estimated, somewhat rashly perhaps, by the
_Figaro_, at 50,000 persons. She had earned £36,800 in one hundred and
sixty-six performances. Out of this sum she handed £4000 over to her
agent, Jarrett, and £16,000 to her legal representatives in Paris.
Her travelling expenses amounted to about £8000, so that after paying
all her debts she was left with a balance of £8800. She brought back
from America not only this respectable sum, but something else: the
remembrance of great ovations, unprecedented triumphs, and adventures
in which she invariably preserved her dignity. One day she happened to
enter a Protestant church and heard the minister denounce her as
an “imp of darkness, a female demon sent from the modern Babylon to
corrupt the New World.” Before the day was over, the clergyman received
this note--


  Why attack me so violently? Actors ought not to be hard on one

                    SARAH BERNHARDT.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in travelling costume, during her
first American tour.]

On her return to France, she treated her compatriots to such a surprise
as only a _grand seigneur_ could have conceived. She was urged by
a charitable association at Havre to give a performance in aid of
the funds, and two days after landing she performed _La Dame aux
Camélias_--the same play which had been applauded all over the world
for a year before under the name of _Camille_, but which she had never
yet performed in France. When she appeared as Marguerite Gauthier, on
the 18th of May, 1881, before the Havre public and many of her Paris
friends, including Halanzier, Lapommeraye, Clairin, Busnach, Abbéma,
and many others, her reception was a perfect triumph. And yet Dumas had
said of the part, “It is not made for her!”

After her long journey it might have been supposed that she would
rest on her laurels for a time, but she did nothing of the kind.
In June she was in London, and arrangements were soon in progress
for a long European tour, to commence in October. Before that date
she accomplished another French tour under the management of M.
Félix Duquesnel, who undertook to give her £2800 for thirty-five
performances of _Hernani_ and _La Dame aux Camélias_, between August
27th and October 4th, with Paul Mounet as Hernani and Angelo as Armand
Duval. M. Duquesnel was the same manager who, years before, paid her
six pounds per month out of his own pocket at the Odéon. He was now
getting his money back, with interest. Her French tour completed,
she started again, almost without waiting to take breath, on her
great European expedition, under the management of Mr. Jarrett, who
had accompanied her to America. She visited Russia, Spain, Austria,
Holland, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway: the whole of
Europe, in fact, except Germany, that country being expressly omitted
from the contract. She opened her tour at the Mint Theatre, Brussels,
the King of the Belgians making a hasty return to the capital from his
country seat in the Ardennes to see her. At Vienna she organized an
exhibition of her works of art. She next entered Russia, and reached
Moscow on the 10th December. The last sentence of the following
telegram published in the newspapers gives a fair idea of the sensation
she excited--

  Moscow, December 10.--Sarah Bernhardt is extremely hoarse and
  cannot perform this evening. General consternation prevails.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and her friends at Sainte-Adresse.]

Her success, however, was not unmixed. She was known to be of Jewish
origin, and the Russian fanatics did not omit to remind her of it. At
Odessa she was pelted with stones, and at Kieff she was insulted.
But these things were mere trifles. At St. Petersburg her coming
created as much excitement as if it had been an event of national
importance. The prices charged for the series of twelve performances
are significant.

                                 _Roubles_   £   _s._   _d._
  Pit boxes                         120  =  13    0      0
  Dress circle boxes (front seats)  150  =  16    5      0
  Dress circle (centre box)         180  =  19   10      0
  Dress circle front row             72  =   7   15      0
  Dress circle 2nd and 3rd rows      60  =   6   10      0
  Upper boxes (front)               150  =  16    5      0

Her success was prodigious. Not content with raining flowers on the
stage, ladies in the audience jumped over the partition separating
them from the pit, so that they could approach the great artiste as
closely as possible. She would have received many costly presents had
she not made it known that she would accept nothing but flowers. At
length she tore herself away from her enthusiastic admirers, to whom
she had appeared in _La Princesse Georges_, _Rome Vaincue_, _Hernani_,
_Jean Marie_, and _La Dame aux Camélias_. From St. Petersburg she
went to Warsaw, and thence to Genoa, where she was seized with one of
those sudden attacks which had recurred rather too frequently for some
time past. In the middle of the second act of _La Dame aux Camélias_
she collapsed into a chair with blood pouring from her mouth. The
performance was stopped, but on the following day the indefatigable
woman was _en route_ again. After playing at Bâle and Lausanne, she
gave a series of six performances, beginning on the 16th of February at
Lyons, where she appeared in _Les Faux Ménages_, by Pailleron. Then she
returned to Italy, receiving £240 for each appearance, and meeting with
enthusiastic applause everywhere. She left Italy, and suddenly Paris
was struck dumb by the following extraordinary and totally unexpected
announcement, published by the newspapers on the 8th April--

  London.--At eight o’clock this (Tuesday) morning, April 4th, at the
  Greek Consulate, Sarah Bernhardt was married to her fellow-actor
  _Daria_, who recently took Angelo’s place in her troupe. The news
  may appear improbable, seeing that Sarah was at Naples last Friday,
  and even performed that evening; but it is none the less a fact
  that she left Naples on the following morning, ostensibly for Nice,
  took the train on to Paris, and thence to Boulogne, crossed to
  Folkestone, and finally reached London, accompanied by M. Damala.

Marriage was, in fact, the only eccentricity Sarah had not yet
perpetrated, but she was now enabled to make up for lost time with
the kind assistance of M. Damala, an actor by choice, but formerly an
_attaché_ in the Greek diplomatic service. The newly-married couple
began the first quarter of their honeymoon by immediately taking the
train for Marseilles, whence they started by special steamer on April
5th for Spain, to continue the tour. They returned to Marseilles on
May 5th, and performed at Grenoble, Geneva, Rouen, and Brussels. On
the 26th, a benefit performance was given at Paris for the widow
of M. Chéret, and Sarah Bernhardt and her husband played _La Dame aux
Camélias_ for the first time in the French capital. The performance, a
triumphal success, brought in 59,051 francs (£2362).

[Illustration: As Léa.]

Her wanderings soon began again. London, Brighton, Blackpool,
Manchester, and Scotland saw the wonderful artiste. In the meantime it
was announced that she had made arrangements for a four months’ tour
in America, and that she and her husband were to be paid £40,000 for
fifty performances. Then it became known that after so many wanderings
Sarah was to return to Paris and appear in a new play, _Fédora_, by
M. Sardou, at the Vaudeville. She had been promised £40 a night for
a minimum of a hundred performances. The _première_ on December,
12, 1882, met, with considerable success, but while the perfomances
were proceeding the financial difficulties with which the artiste
had long been struggling were revealed to the public. She had spent
money very freely, and omitted to balance her income and expenditure.
She carried out all sorts of wild schemes, such as that of buying
the Ambigu theatre for her son Maurice, then seventeen years of age.
The affair turned out a very expensive one, and in February 1883,
big placards posted on the walls of Paris announced that Mme. Sarah
Bernhardt-Damala’s diamonds and jewellery were to be sold by auction
on the 8th, 9th, and 10th, at the Hôtel des Ventes. The announcement
created a great sensation, much to the vendor’s advantage, the sale
producing no less than £7128. Actresses such as Mme. Marie Magnier,
Marthe Devoyo, and Julia de Cléry, well-known _demi-mondaines_,
collectors, and boulevardiers, competed for the wonders of Sarah’s
jewel-case. The importance of the sale may be estimated by the
following lots, and the prices at which they were knocked down--

  Very handsome single necklace thickly set with rose    £
      diamonds and enriched with brilliants             960
  Bracelet, 573 pearls in nine rows                     321
  Bracelet                                              302
  Brooch                                                150

[Illustration: M. Damala.]

After the withdrawal of _Fédora_ from the Vaudeville, Sarah Bernhardt
took the play on tour, but it proved only moderately popular in Belgium
and Holland. The intrepid Sarah now made up her mind to a brief period
of repose, but she was none the less kept before the Paris public. On
April 28, 1883, she appeared with Mme. Réjane, M. Saint Germain, M.
Daubray, and M. Guyon, at the Trocadéro, in a two-act pantomime by M.
Richepin, entitled _Pierrot Assassin_. Early in September the papers
published mysterious paragraphs announcing the return of M. Damala to
Paris, and the agreement of the pair to separate. The public was not
previously aware of M. Damala’s absence, or of any disagreement in
the household. The initiated, however, knew that the honeymoon was
a short one, that discord had made its appearance only a few months
after the sensational marriage in London, and that M. Damala had been
obliged to make up his mind to exile--in Tunis, it was said. The
separation did not seem to be a great affliction to Sarah. At the very
beginning of the season she was in arms and eager for the fray. On
September 17, 1883, in company with Marais, she revived _Froufrou_,
which she had never before performed in Paris. This was at the Porte
St. Martin theatre, which had been bought by her under the name of her
son, M. Maurice Bernhardt, in partnership with M. Derembourg. The
success of the piece was considerable, though not absolutely complete.
Nevertheless _Froufrou_ ran for ninety-nine nights. Immediately
afterwards (December 20) she brought out _Nana Sahib_, a seven-act
drama in verse by M. Jean Richepin. Her own success was very great,
though, as usual, it was not unanimously admitted; but the piece itself
was a failure, in spite of the fact that the author himself replaced
M. Marais a week after the _première_. _Nana Sahib_ is connected
in theatrical history with another souvenir. The night before its
production, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt was the central figure in a terrific
scandal. Accompanied by her son Maurice and M. Jean Richepin, she made
her way into the rooms occupied by Mme. Marie Colombier, turned all
the furniture topsy-turvy, smashed the ornaments, and finally set upon
the lady of the house and horsewhipped her in a frenzy of rage. The
reason for this conduct was not far to seek. Mme. Marie Colombier had
just published an abominably offensive book, the title of which, _Sarah
Barnum_, showed clearly enough against whom it was directed. The affair
created a great uproar, but no one ventured to blame the insulted
actress for taking the law into her own hands.

[Illustration: As Théodora.]

_Nana Sahib_ was withdrawn after thirty performances, and on January
26, 1884, Sarah Bernhardt appeared in _La Dame aux Camélias_, which
thus became, as it still is, her chief resource. This revival
lasted for more than a hundred nights. On May 21 it was replaced by
an adaptation of _Macbeth_, by M. Jean Richepin. This ran for only
a month. At the end of June Mme. Sarah Bernhardt left for a short
foreign tour. Next season, in consequence of sundry stories which found
their way into the papers, and particularly of an attempt to poison
her, which Paris did not take seriously, she handed over the Porte
St. Martin theatre to M. Duquesnel, and joined his company at that
theatre. _Macbeth_ was tried again on September 11, but was withdrawn
five weeks afterwards. On December 26 she played _Théodora_, one of
the most undoubted successes of her career. On this point there can be
no mistaking the testimony of figures. _Théodora_ ran for two hundred
consecutive nights, and, when the hundredth performance was given,
the piece had already earned nearly a million francs. After Paris had
had enough of _Théodora_, the piece was taken to Brussels and London,
where it met with renewed success. It was brought back to the Porte
St. Martin on the 28th October, 1885, and was given fifty-four times
before its chief exponent broke down, and was compelled, on the 21st
December, to leave the stage before the performance was over. On the
following day she was obliged to take to her bed, but on the 31st she
was able to appear in _Marion de Lorme_, though she was still visibly
suffering from overwork. On the 27th February she gave another trial
to a Shakespearean adaptation--a somewhat indifferent version of
_Hamlet_, by MM. Cressonnois and Samson, in which she played Ophelia.
_Hamlet_ failed to attract the public any more than _Marion de Lorme_,
and on the 5th April Sarah brought out _Fédora_ again. After sixteen
performances she left on her annual visit to London, and thence to
Liverpool, where she took the steamer for Rio de Janeiro. This was
the beginning of her great American tour under the management of
Messrs. Abbey and Grau. It was one prodigious triumphal progress from
one end of America to the other. It lasted thirteen months, and took
her through Mexico, Brazil, Chili, the United States, and Canada;
The _répertoire_, an extensive one, comprised _Fédora_, _La Dame aux
Camélias_, _Froufrou_, _Phèdre_, _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, _Théodora_,
_Hernani_, _Le Maître de Forges_, and _Le Sphinx_, M. Philippe Garnier
taking the principal male parts. In Brazil the average receipts were
£720 a night. “Absurdly rich men,” says M. Jules Lemaître, “wearing
black whiskers and covered with jewels, like idols, used to wait
outside the stage door, and lay their handkerchiefs on the ground so
that dust should not soil the feet of Phèdre or Théodora.” After her
appearance as Phèdre at Rio de Janeiro she was recalled two hundred
times! The twenty-five performances she gave brought in £12,800, of
which she received £4000. Three performances at New York realized
£5040, and twenty at Buenos Ayres, where the total number of
spectators reached 80,000, produced £20,000. The Argentinos’ enthusiasm
rose to such a pitch that they presented her with an estate of 13,000
acres in the Mission territory, the best part of the Argentine
Republic. She was obliged to promise the generous donors that she would
take advantage of her first month’s leisure to come and taste the
sweets of repose amongst her own gazelles and beneath the shade of her
own gardenias and diamelas!


  Scene from _Théodora_.    Mme. Sarah Bernhardt.    Mme. Marie Laurent.

In the meantime, gossip, the inevitable companion of the capricious
artiste, was not idle. At Rio de Janeiro the Noirmont scandal occurred.
Mme. Noirmont, intermittently an actress, but better known in a
certain circle of society as “la grande Marthe,” was a member of the
company. What was the quarrel between the actress and her manageress?
History sayeth not, but the fact remains that during a rehearsal one
day Mme. Noirmont “went for” Sarah, and gave her a resounding smack,
to the accompaniment of much strong language. Sarah promptly hauled
Mme. Noirmont off to the nearest police-station, where a summons was
duly issued against the offender. But this was not enough for Sarah,
and one evening, when the curtain had only just fallen on the second
act of _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, Sarah seized a horsewhip and paid off
all outstanding scores. Result: a second visit to the police-station,
and a second scandal. Later on, while the company was at Santiago,
another story got into circulation. In April 1878 the American papers
announced the marriage of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and M. Angelo, a member
of her troupe. The New York _Morning Journal_ added that the marriage
was kept secret because the divorce proceedings against M. Damala were
still in progress. The report was promptly denied, and Sarah sent the
following telegram to the _Figaro_--

  The news of my marriage with Angelo is absurd, because he is
  married already, and so am I. Please contradict this mischievous
  story. Thanks in advance.

                    SARAH BERNHARDT.

[Illustration: As Lady Macbeth.]

After thirteen months’ absence Sarah at length returned to Europe.
The total receipts during her American tour were a million dollars,
of which her own share was £60,000. She landed in England on May 6th,
not, as might be supposed, to rest, but to start off again on another
tour, under the management of Mr. Mayer, through England, Scotland, and
Ireland. On August 10th she started for Cauterets, and begun to prepare
for her return to Paris. She re-opened with _La Tosca_ on November
24, 1887, and long and loud was the applause that greeted her. M.
Sarcey alone withheld unstinted praise, and took exception, not to the
artiste’s talents but to her use of them, and indulged in criticisms of
the play itself. M. Sardou responded in a letter addressed to a third
person, in which he took advantage of the opportunity to make a hit at
the critics of his work--


  You ask for my opinion on Sarah Bernhardt. It is simply that she is
  an admirable artiste, and that, in _La Tosca_, she has far exceeded
  anything that has been done in our generation by Georges, Dorval,
  or Rachel. As for Sarcey, who knows nothing about painting, music,
  architecture, or sculpture, and to whom Nature has harshly denied
  all sense of the artistic, it is not surprising that he should be
  not merely indifferent but even hostile to any attempt to reproduce
  the past by means of scenery, costume, and the representation of
  former customs. He showed this feature by his treatment of _La
  Haine_, but it would be unjust to blame him for this defect in his
  intellect. If he likes to play the part of the fox who lost his
  tail, by all means let him do it.

          Cordially yours,
                    V. SARDOU.

This time M. Sardou was on the right side. _La Tosca_ was performed
one hundred and twenty-nine times, and was not taken off the boards
until March 25, 1888. Ten days later, Sarah was playing _La Dame aux
Camélias_ and _La Tosca_ at Bordeaux. Thence she went on to Lisbon and
Madrid. Next the indefatigable traveller began a French tour, under
the management of M. Emile Simon, at Caen. In July she was in London
playing _Francillon_, at the Lyceum, with indifferent success. She was
soon off again, her life being now one incessant round of travel with
brief stoppages in Paris. M. Maurice Grau was once more her manager,
and she opened in October at Antwerp, after which she visited Liège,
Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Arnheim, Brussels, Vienna,
Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, Constantinople, Cairo, and Alexandria.
_La Tosca_ was as great a favourite as it had been in Paris, but
at the Hague the Huguenot scruples of the Dutch _bourgeois_ led to
the performance of the play being forbidden, on the ground that it
contained attacks on Roman Catholicism which might prove offensive to
persons of that religion. At Bucharest Sarah was received by Queen
Natalie, who, living as she was in strict retirement, had been unable
to attend any public performance in spite of her great desire to see
the artiste. Sarah accordingly performed a scene from _La Dame aux
Camélias_ for her at the palace. When the actress uttered the words,
“Shall fallen greatness never rise again?” Queen Natalie, who applied
them to her own case, burst into tears. Every one present, including
Sarah Bernhardt, shared the poor Queen’s emotion, and the performance
had to be interrupted.

From Bucharest Sarah went on to Italy, Russia, and Scandinavia,
returning to Paris on the 21st March. Three weeks afterwards, without
taking time for rest, she appeared at the Variétés in _Léna_, a piece
adapted from the English by M. Pierre Berton, and in which she added
another to the numerous kinds of death already on her list. The piece,
however, was merely an ephemeral success, and was not a great triumph
for its principal interpreter. M. Jules Lemaître says--

  Mme. Sarah Bernhardt played the earlier acts in a rather offhand
  style. Her delivery was sometimes childish and lisping, and
  sometimes hard and guttural.

[Illustration: As Jeanne d’Arc.]

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt on one of her tours.]

On the 16th May, Sarah revived _La Dame aux Camélias_ at the Variétés.
In July she went to London, where she was received with the customary
enthusiasm, and, the summer at an end, she re-appeared on the 4th
September at the Porte St. Martin theatre in _La Tosca_, in which she
had triumphed two years before. A month later came another revival,
_Théodora_, which furnished M. Sarcey with one more opportunity for
lamenting--as, in fact, he had never ceased to do since Sarah’s
desertion of the Comédie Française--the injury her foreign tours had
done her. Regardless of criticism and case-hardened by experience
against the opinions of the Press, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt was devoting
all her energies to the rehearsals of _Jeanne d’Arc_. Perhaps, however,
she was not really far from agreeing with M. Sarcey. On the eve of one
of her tours she remarked--

  Really, I seem to be intended for the export trade! Success abroad
  is very nice, but success in France is still better.

She produced M. Jules Barbier’s _Jeanne d’Arc_ at the Porte St. Martin,
on the 3rd January, 1890. The result was unanimously admitted to be all
that could be desired. M. de Lapommeraye observed--

  The entire performance was one continued triumph for Mme. Sarah
  Bernhardt, who sent a thrill of the noblest emotion and the keenest
  admiration through every heart.

According to M. Henry Bauer, “her success increased with every act and
culminated in a brilliant triumph.” “This woman has a power within
her,” exclaimed M. Jules Lemaître. “It is impossible to see her
without being moved to tears,” said M. Sarcey. M. Vitu wrote--

  She chiefly surprised every one, including her warmest admirers
  as well as her most prejudiced critics, by the extraordinary,
  passionate, irresistible force she imparted to the patriotic
  outbursts of the heroine. But everything, even praises, must have
  an end. What I have said is merely a summary of the expressed
  opinions of the entire audience last night, of what Paris will say
  in a few days, and of what every one will say in a few months when
  Paris and the world will have seen and applauded Sarah again and
  again in this the finest of all the fine creations of her career.

In July she was playing in London, and on the 23rd October she appeared
at the Porte St. Martin in _Cléopâtre_, by MM. Sardou and Moreau. “What
a wonderful actress she is!” exclaims M. de Lapommeraye. “She appears,
she is seen and heard, and she triumphs.”

  “What a pity it is,” regretfully says M. Bauer, “that her
  prodigious gifts, her art, and her powers of perception and
  expression should ever be wasted on M. Jules Barbier’s verses, or
  on brigand stories in prose!”

M. Albert Wolff simply quivers with enthusiasm--

  I have long felt that this rare artiste is not merely a great
  actress, but the only one of our time. She stands without a rival
  in the world. I have never seen Rachel, whose fame still excites
  Mme. Sarah Bernhardt to greater efforts even in the hour of her
  greatest triumphs, but I do not see how it can be possible for any
  one to have more talent than Sarah. Her evening ended in a perfect

[Illustration: As Cleopatra.]

She played Cléopâtre until the beginning of January 1891, and on the
23rd she set off for America and Australia, I went to see her a
few days before her departure. I had already paid several visits
about this time to her delightful sanctum in the Boulevard Pereire.
She had been suffering from an affection of the larynx, and was
hardly able to speak, and I had called to inquire after her health.
To pass away the time while she disposed of her dressmakers, doctors,
attorneys, and what not, I strolled up and down the well-known hall
on the ground-floor--a hall quite unlike any other that I have ever
seen. In the course of my many journalistic visits to the houses of
Paris celebrities I have soon become indifferent to the cold and
hollow display of official _salons_, to M. Renan’s plain walnut-wood
furniture, to M. Zola’s somewhat discordant profusion of decoration,
to Edmond de Goncourt’s art-treasures, and to the solemn comfort
of academic homes. I have viewed, without faltering, the gorgeous
and imposing ceilings of the Hôtel d’Uzès, the pompous display of
multi-millionaire financiers, the faintly pretentious coquetry of the
popular actress’s home, the frills and furbelows and knock-me-down
eccentricities of our celebrated painters; but every time I enter
what Sarah Bernhardt calls her studio, I am immediately struck by
an indefinable something, infinitely pleasing, and not to be met
with elsewhere. No doubt the sensation is partly physical and partly
mental; it must arise from a combination of the perfumed atmosphere
of the place, the ideally artistic arrangement and extraordinary
diversity of everything, the muffled footfalls on the thick carpet,
the subdued twittering of birds hidden in the foliage of rare and
costly plants, the intoxicating play of colour on silk and velvet,
the silent welcome of familiar animals, and above all, the voice and
presence of the mistress of the house when she makes her appearance.
But she is not yet here, and I resume my investigations. At the first
glance it is difficult to see anything more than a delightful chaos
of light and colour, an odd but harmonious profusion of the Oriental
and the modern. Gradually the eye begins to distinguish surrounding
objects. On the walls, which are hung with Turkey-red cotton, with a
pattern of graceful plumes, are all sorts of queer weapons, Mexican
sombreros, feather parasols, and trophies of lances, daggers, sabres,
clubs, quivers and arrows, surmounted by hideous nightmare-like
war-masks. Scattered about are bits of old pottery, Venice mirrors with
wide frames of pale gold, and pictures by Clairin, some representing
Sarah lying on a couch at full length, half hidden among her furs and
brocaded coverings, others, her son Maurice and her big white greyhound.

[Illustration: Vestibule of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s studio.]

Scattered about on stools, on settles, and on the edges of sundry
small articles of furniture are swarms of Buddhas, Japanese monsters,
rare Chinese curios, bits of pottery, enamel, lacquer, and ivory
work, miniatures, ancient and modern bronzes. In a special case is
a collection of valuable souvenirs: gold vases, drinking-cups,
liqueur-flasks, pyxes, beautifully carved golden wreaths, and
exquisitely artistic gold and silver filigree. Flowers are on all
sides: bunches of white lilac, Spanish lilies-of-the-valley, and
mimosa, bouquets of roses and chrysanthemums, mingled with palms
reaching to the glass ceiling. At the further end of the room is
the big cage originally made for Tigrette--a tiger-cat brought home
by Sarah from one of her voyages--and afterwards occupied by two
lion-cubs, Scarpia and Justinian, reared in freedom but despatched to
the menagerie immediately they displayed an intention of providing
their own food. At present the wild animals’ cage, with its closely-set
bars, serves as an aviary. In it birds of brilliant plumage sing and
disport themselves on the branches of an artificial tree. In the corner
opposite the cage and on the right-hand side of the fire-place with
its wrought-iron dogs, is a most magnificent, barbaric, disconcerting
couch--an immense divan made out of a heap of white bear, beaver,
eland, tiger, jaguar, buffalo, and even crocodile skins. The walls of
this lair are also formed of thick furry skins, falling in luxuriant,
enticing curves over the foot of the couch. Piles of faintly-tinted
silk cushions lie scattered over the furs. The light falls from above
through a canopy of colourless silk, embroidered with faded flowers and
supported by two dragon-head standards. The floor is covered from end
to end with Oriental carpets thickly strewn with skins. Jackals’ and
hyenas’ heads and panthers’ paws meet the visitor at every step.

A servant interrupts my reflections and announces that Madame is
waiting for me. I go up-stairs to the study, and find the illustrious
actress in an ample cream cashmere _peignoir_ trimmed with lace.

“I have just come out of my bath, and you must excuse me for keeping
you waiting,” she says, with an outstretched hand and a smile. “I can
talk a little better to-day. What is it you want to know?”

“To begin with,” I reply, “I should like to know the date of your
departure and the extent of your tour?”

“You will find it all on this paper. I am sure I could not tell you all
these things. On my tours I often take the train or steamer without
even asking where I am going. What does it matter to me?”

I read as follows--

“Leave Paris, 23rd January, and Havre, 24th; arrive at New York, 1st
February. New York, 1st February to 14th March; Washington, 16th to
21st March; Philadelphia, 23rd to 28th March; Boston, 30th March to
4th April; Montreal, 6th to 11th April; Detroit, Indianapolis, and St.
Louis, 13th to 18th April; Denver, 20th to 22nd April; San Francisco,
24th April to 1st May. Leave San Francisco for Australia, 2nd May.
Stay in Australia about three months. Open at Melbourne, 1st June;
visit Sydney, Adelaide, and Brisbane, completing engagements at end of
August. Return to San Francisco, 28th September. Principal cities
of the United States, then Mexico and Havana. Return to New York
about 1st March, 1892. If business then better in South America, take
the Argentine Republic, Uruguay, and Brazil in June, July, August,
September, and October, 1892; London, January 1893; then Russia and
European capitals.”

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s drawing-room.]

“Two years!” I said. “Don’t you feel sorry to think of leaving Paris
for two years?”

“Not at all,” replied the Bohemian genius. “Far from it; it is just
the same thing as going to the Bois de Boulogne or the Odéon. I love
travelling. I am delighted to be off, and full of joy to get back
again. There is genuine and healthy excitement in moving from place to
place and getting over so much ground. It never bores me, and then I
haven’t time to be bored. Just think--I have never stayed more than a
fortnight in any one place! At the end of these two years I shall have
gone half round the world. I know North America already, and I have
been there twice; but this time we are going to Australia, which will
be quite new to me. We shall stop at the Sandwich Islands and play
before Queen Pomaré, at Honolulu. There’s a novelty for you!”

“Won’t you miss your home, your comforts, and your friends?”

“I shall have them all again when I come back, and my delight will
be all the greater for being so long deprived of them. And as for
comfort, we travel like princes. Very often we have a special train
for ourselves and our baggage. There is a big car, called the ‘Sarah
Bernhardt,’ containing a fine bedroom, with a four-post bed, bath-room,
drawing-room, and kitchen, all for me, and there are about thirty beds
for the rest of the troupe. You see how convenient it is; and as the
train is our own, we can stop when we like. When we come to a specially
nice neighbourhood we leave the train, play ball games on the prairie,
have pistol practice, and amuse ourselves generally. If we don’t care
to get off the train, we turn the beds up against the sides and have
dancing with a piano. There is plenty of room, as we have three long
cars joined together. You see, we don’t suffer from _ennui_!”

“How do you spend your time on these long sea-voyages?”

“I play chess, draughts, and _nain jaune_. I don’t care much for cards,
but sometimes I play Chinese bezique, because it is very long, and
passes the time. I am a very bad player, and I hate to lose--it enrages
me. This is ridiculous and silly, I know, but there it is! I can’t bear
to be beaten!”

“What do you think of American scenery?”

“I don’t like it. Everything is so big--too big in fact--nothing but
mountains with tops that you can’t see; steppes that stretch away to
the horizon, immense trees and plants, and skies that look ten times
as high as ours. All these things have a supernatural effect, and when
I come back Paris looks like a dear little trinket in a miniature case.”

[Illustration: In _La Dame de Chalant_.]

“And the public?”

“I can’t call them anything but delightful! They adore me! In the
principal American cities, every one of a certain class understands
French, and as the prices are, of course, very high, the audience
is largely composed of this class. In some places I have regular
first-night audiences, who note the smallest effects and shades of

“What about those who don’t understand French?”

“They buy books containing the French text with the translation
opposite. This has a curious effect; everybody turns over at the same
time, and it sounds like a shower of rain a second long.”

All these details, and the manner in which they were told, were very
amusing. I could have gone on asking questions all night, but as it was
becoming late I hastened to put my most inquisitive queries.

“How much baggage do you take?”

“About eighty trunks.”


She laughed at my astonishment.

“Yes,” she added, “there are at least forty-five cases of theatrical
costumes. We take nearly two hundred and fifty pairs of shoes, and they
fill one entire trunk. There is one for linen, one for flowers, and
one for perfumery, and others for my dresses, hats, etc. I really don’t
know how my maid manages to find what she wants!”

[Illustration: As Pauline Blanchard.]

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and the painter Clairin.]

“Would it be indiscreet to ask what payment you are to receive?”

“Not at all; there is no mystery about it. I get £120 for every
performance, plus one-third of the receipts, which makes on the average
a total of £240. Oh! I was forgetting: I am allowed £40 a week for
hotel expenses.”

In accordance with her programme, Sarah left on January 23 for
her second tour in America. She followed the route given above,
with the exception of Mexico and Havana, which she omitted. She
was enthusiastically applauded almost everywhere. In Australia the
excitement rose to a frenzy. Sydney was decorated with flags in her
honour; she was received by members of the Colonial Cabinet; the horses
were taken out of her carriage, she was borne in triumph, and official
receptions were organized for her. At Sydney she appeared for the
first time in _Pauline Blanchard_, by MM. Darmont and Humblot. On this
occasion she also played _La Dame de Chalant_--a piece that has not yet
been seen in France.

[Illustration: As Izeïl.]

During her absence there was some talk of her returning to the House of
Molière for the creation of _La Reine Juana_, by M. Parodi, the author
of _Rome Vaincue_, in which she had scored so many triumphs. Her own
plans, however, were different. She wanted to make her dream a reality:
to be her own mistress and to work on her own account. Thus, barely a
month after her return to Paris in May 1892, she set off for London,
returned to France, and started again on a tour through Russia and the
Continental cities, such as Vienna, Copenhagen, Christiania, etc. It
would take too long to record the triumph she scored in this wild
gallop across Europe. Back in Paris in March 1893, she immediately
began to prepare for another tour in South America. On the 28th May
she played _Phèdre_ at the Vaudeville in aid of the funds of the
Pouponnière, a charitable organization under the presidency of Mme.
Georges Charpentier, wife of the well-known publisher. On the 24th
May, through her American _impresarii_, Messrs. Abbey and Grau, she
purchased the Renaissance theatre. Then came her tour through South
America; dazzling success, big takings, and back to Paris.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt in her entrance-hall.]

Sarah Bernhardt was now at length installed in her own theatre, which
she was to make her own in every sense, and which was destined to
be for several years to come the scene of the finest experiments in
dramatic art in all Paris--experiments carried out with a lavish
disregard for everything except the interests of art. On the 6th
November she opened the Renaissance with a four-act drama by M. Jules
Lemaître, _Les Rois_.

As one critic expressed it, the Renaissance was not a shop but almost a

  At last, exclaims M. Sarcey, we have seen the great and only Sarah
  again, and the Renaissance, under her management, has opened its
  doors with _Les Rois_. How splendid she was, and how she reminded
  us of the Sarah of her best days!

She re-appeared in _La Dame aux Camélias_ on the 16th December, and,
according to the _Figaro_--

  The interpretation of the play was admirable as far as Mme. Sarah
  Bernhardt was concerned. The performance was one of the great
  artiste’s best.

M. Sarcey indulged in reminiscences--

  I well remember the first occasion on which I saw Mme. Sarah
  Bernhardt as Marguerite Gauthier. It was in London, in 1881. She
  played the part on several consecutive evenings, and every time I
  was there, interested, delighted, and enthusiastic! The notices I
  wrote then were simply brimming over with admiration. The Parisians
  thought me slightly mad!

On the 24th January, 1894, _Izeïl_, by MM. Sylvestre and Morand, was
brought out. Every act elicited enthusiastic applause from the public.
Referring to Sarah, M. Jules Lemaître wrote in the _Journal des

  We owe to her one of the strongest artistic impressions we have
  ever experienced. Is it a fact that, for reasons which MM.
  Sylvestre and Morand know as well as I, and which the reader can
  doubtless guess, her creative has had still more play than her
  artistic talent?

M. Sarcey says--

  In this delightfully picturesque play she is herself the most
  delightful and most picturesque spectacle. She does not look
  thirty! The audience was at first quite overcome. Then there was
  a furious outburst of applause, and the house rose at her. What a

[Illustration: As Gismonda.]

These extracts, which might be multiplied _ad infinitum_, show Sarah
Bernhardt at her apogee. From this point her supremacy was undisputed,
and any show of criticism was always tempered by admiring reservations.
This was the attitude henceforth adopted by the entire Press in
regard to her creations. _Fédora_ was revived on the 3rd April, 1894.
M. Lemaître remarks on it--

  I am not quite sure whether Mme. Sarah Bernhardt can say “How
  do you do?” like any ordinary mortal. To be herself she must be
  extraordinary, and then she is incomparable.

Off to London in June, she played _Izeïl_ with tremendous success.
On her return she gave _La Femme de Claude_ on the 19th September.
_Gismonda_, which she produced on the 1st November, elicited another
poetical outburst of admiration in the Press. The _Figaro_ speaks of
her as attaining the perfection of her art. M. Bauer, in the _Echo de
Paris_, calls Gismonda the most wonderful of all her creations. M.
Lemaître, in the _Journal des Débats_, says that “as all the laudatory
adjectives have already been used up in her service, it is difficult
to express the adoration evoked by every fresh appearance of this
extraordinary woman.” M. Sarcey alone was rather reserved in his
praise, and described her as having been applauded with more Italian
than French exaggeration; but he amply atoned for this when Sarah
revived _Phèdre_ on the 24th December of the same year (1894).

  What can I tell you of Sarah that you do not know already? Her
  acting is the summit of art. Our grandfathers used to speak with
  emotion of Talma and Mlle. Mars. I never saw either the one or the
  other, and I have barely any recollection of Rachel, but I do not
  believe that anything more original and more perfect than Mme.
  Sarah Bernhardt’s performance on Wednesday has ever been seen in
  any theatre.

On the 11th February, 1895, came the revival of _Amphitryon_, with
Coquelin, who unfortunately remained with her for only a brief period.
M. Sarcey considered the performance wanting in life. The other
critics treated it as a success for Sarah and Coquelin, but there was
no enthusiasm. On the 15th February, _Magda_, by the German writer
Sudermann, was produced. All the critics described her as admirable.
On the 5th April, _La Princesse Lointaine_, by M. Edmond Rostand,
proved an equally great success for poet and actress. To London and
Scotland again, with _Gismonda_, _Izeïl_, _La Princesse Lointaine_, _La
Tosca_, _Magda_, and _La Femme de Claude_. Then she made arrangements
to produce _Amants_, by M. Maurice Donnay, for which she engaged Mme.
Jeanne Granier. In the meantime what does Sarah do? Rest? Not at all.
On the 5th January the _Figaro_ announced her departure on that day for
America, where she was to give a series of performances. She was back
on the 4th July, 1896. She took two months’ rest at Belle-Isle, and on
the 30th September she revived _La Dame aux Camélias_ with phenomenal
success. On the 8th October she recited before the Tsar and Tsaritsa at
Versailles. _Lorenzaccio_, adapted by M. Armand Dartois from Musset’s
poem, was produced on the 3rd December, and enabled Sarah to score yet
another triumph.

[Illustration: The Fort-aux-Poulains, Belle-Isle, Mme. Sarah
Bernhardt’s country residence.]


On the 8th February she brought out a piece by M. Sardou, _Spiritisme_.
It was a failure. Sarah’s talents were extolled to the skies as usual,
but in comparison with her previous appearances the reception of the
play was cold. After twenty-five indifferent performances she was
obliged to revive _La Tosca_, and then bring out a piece, _Snob_, by
M. Gustave Guiches, in which there was no part for her. Easter week
arrived, and she took advantage of it to give a series of performances
of M. Rostand’s religious drama, _La Samaritaine_, which met with
triumphal success. Says M. Sarcey--“Sarah, transfigured and drinking
in the life-giving Word, and repeating the words ‘I am listening, I am
listening’ with all a neophyte’s ardour, is a sight to be seen. Her
personality completely fills the second act. Full of the divine fire,
she evangelizes the crowd wherever she goes. Her success was very

We now come to the great artiste’s most recent creations. Her dramatic
genius found fresh expression in Octave Mirabeau’s fine social problem
play, _Les Mauvais Bergers_, brought out on the 15th December. After
her appearance as a man in _Lorenzaccio_, and as a divinely inspired
convert in _La Samaritaine_, here she was as one of the working-class,
in a cotton blouse and woollen skirt. Next she gave Gabriel
d’Annunzio’s _Ville Morte_, and, rejuvenated and transfigured after
her severe illness, she produced _Lysiane_ by M. Romain Coolus in the
spring of 1898.

Immediately after her triumph in _Lorenzaccio_, a few of Sarah
Bernhardt’s friends, headed by M. Henry Bauer, decided to organize a
grand _fête_ in her honour, to mark the apogee of her artistic career.
Wednesday, 9th December, 1896, was fixed as the date. Shortly before
the great day, I had requested Sarah to give herself up to one or two
hours’ solitude, to revive the memories of her emotions, struggles, and
triumphs, and, in short, give the readers of the _Figaro_ a glimpse
into her mind on the eve of one of the most memorable events of her
brilliant career. She sent me the following spontaneous and vigorous
account of her meditations--

  _My dear friend, you are asking for nothing less than a full
  confession, but I have no hesitation in answering. I am proud and
  thoroughly happy at the prospect of the_ fête _that is to be given
  me. You ask me to say whether I really and truly believe I deserve
  this honour. If I say Yes, you will think me very conceited. If
  I say No, you will set me down as very blamable. I would rather
  tell you why I am so proud and happy. For twenty-nine years past I
  have given the public the vibrations of my soul, the pulsations of
  my heart, and the tears of my eyes. I have played one hundred and
  twelve parts. I have created thirty-eight new characters, sixteen
  of which are the work of poets. I have struggled like no other
  human being has struggled. My independence and hatred of deception
  have made me bitter enemies. I have overcome and pardoned those
  whom I condescended to encounter. They have become my friends. The
  mud thrown at me by others has fallen from me in dust, dried up by
  the scorching sun of my determination and faith in my own powers.
  I have ardently longed to climb the topmost pinnacle of my art. I
  have not yet reached it. By far the smaller part of my life remains
  for me to live, but what matters it! Every day brings me nearer to
  the realization of my dream. The hours that have flown away with
  my youth have left me my courage and cheerfulness, for my goal is
  unchanged, and I am marching towards it._

  _I have journeyed across the ocean, carrying with me my ideal of
  art, and the genius of my nation has triumphed. I have planted
  the French language in the heart of foreign literature, and
  this is my proudest achievement. My art has been the missionary
  whose efforts have made French the common speech of the younger
  generation. I know this to be true. Teachers in foreign countries
  have told me so, ladies in New York have confirmed it, the public
  has proved it, and I have been openly blamed for my presumption
  by a German professor at Chicago. In Brazil, the students fought
  with drawn swords because an attempt was made to prevent them from
  shouting “Vive la France!” as they dragged my carriage along. In
  the Argentine Republic, the students tried to do honour to my
  country by learning passages from Racine, Corneille, Molière,
  and Jules Lemaître’s critiques, all of which they recited most
  correctly and with scarcely any foreign accent. In Canada, my
  sledge was propelled by members of Parliament to the cry of “Vive
  la France!” and after every performance the students struck up the
  Marseillaise, listened to by the English, standing up, hat in hand,
  with their invariable respect for any noble expression of feeling._

  _Here is a typical incident. When I arrived in Australia, the
  French residents were dominated by the Germans. Our consul was
  neither liked nor esteemed. Immediately upon my arrival I was
  received by the mayor in his robes of office. His wife and children
  offered me flowers, and a military band played the national anthems
  of France and England. I owed this polite attention to orders from
  England. The effect was immediately felt, and this semi-royal
  reception was much to the benefit of our countrymen at Sydney and
  Melbourne. The plays performed by my company and myself met with
  wonderful success, and when the steamer which was conveying us
  back to the northern hemisphere fired her parting gun, our own
  national anthem was sung by more than five thousand people massed
  on the quays. I assure you that those who witnessed that grand and
  heart-stirring scene have not forgotten it._

  _In Hungary, the towns in which I was to perform were decorated
  with French flags, in spite of orders from the Austrian Government.
  Czechs went through their national dances before me with red,
  white, and blue ribbons._

  _These are the trifling victories that have gained me so much
  indulgence. I say nothing of the encounters at which you and all
  the Paris public have been present. And now, after having finished
  my confession, I can still find one little circumstance in my own
  favour. Five months ago I refused an offer of a million francs to
  perform in Germany. If there be any carping critics to say the_
  fête _about to be given me is out of proportion to my talents, tell
  them I am the militant_ doyenne _of a grand, inspiring, elevating
  form of art. Tell them French courtesy was never more manifest than
  when, desiring to honour the art of interpretation and raise the
  interpreter to the level of other creative artists, it selected a

                    _SARAH BERNHARDT._

  _December 8, 1896._

The promised _fête_ took place on the following day, 9th December.
It was a very fine one--much finer than any one could possibly have

It was a charming, delightful festival under a grey wintry sky in the
heart of Paris: an outburst of kindly feeling in the most artistic
form. Some unsympathetic spirits had made merry over the programme, and
it was asserted that the timid poets who were to appear would shrink
from the critical gaze of Paris. Thanks to Sarah and the witchcraft of
her grace and beauty, the ceremony was not only the greatest and most
enviable triumph of her career, but it passed off with perfect harmony,
in an atmosphere warm with cordiality and admiration.

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt, from a drawing by C. Léandre.]

The brief and hurried summary to which I am obliged to confine myself
can give only a faint idea of those six hours of continuous ovations.
Half-an-hour after noon Sarah arrived in her two-horse brougham with
her son and daughter-in-law. As she appeared on the steps in the
courtyard of the Grand Hôtel, cries of “_Vive Sarah!_” were heard, and
the crowd of foreign visitors present spontaneously uncovered as the
great artiste passed through them. The great Salle du Zodiaque, in
which the banquet was held, was already full of guests, all in evening
dress. When Mme. Sarah Bernhardt came down the narrow winding staircase
leading from the first floor into the dining-room, every man and woman
among the five hundred guests rose and frantically applauded again
and again. The long train of her beautiful white dress, trimmed with
English lace, embroidered with gold, and bordered with chinchilla,
followed her like a graceful, tame serpent down the stairs. At every
turn in the winding staircase she bent over the railing and twined her
arm like an ivy-wreath round the velvet pillars while she acknowledged
the acclamations with her disengaged hand. Her lithe and slender body
scarcely seemed to touch the earth. She was wafted towards us as it
were in a halo of glory. There was a continuous fire of applause from
the whole assembly as she made her way to the presidential chair.
She reached it very pale, but smiling and happy. Another thunderous
outburst of cheers, and the meal began.

Sarah Bernhardt had M. Sardou on her right and M. Henry Bauer on her
left. At the head table there were also Mme. de Najac, MM. François
Coppée, H. de Bornier, Ludovic Halévy, Jules Lemaître, Théodore
Dubois, André Theuriet, H. Lavedan, Albert Carré, Coquelin the elder,
Edouard Colonne, and Gabriel Pierné; Mme. Maurice Bernhardt, MM.
Mendès, Silvestre, Maurice Bernhardt, Lord and Lady Ribblesdale, MM.
Jean Lorrain, Haraucourt, Charpentier, Comte Robert de Montesquiou,
Clairin, Armand d’Artois, Morand, Silvain, and Edmond Rostand. At the
other tables the guests took their places as best pleased them, without
regard to the cards. There were three kinds of menus, designed by Mme.
Abbéma, Chéret, and Mucha. The luncheon was a lively one. All eyes were
fixed on the heroine of the feast. Every one was loud in wonder at the
freshness of her colour and the perpetual youth which she owes without
doubt to the incomparable vital energy of her privileged nature. When
the dessert was reached, M. Sardou rose and said--


  I leave to the poets, whom we are to hear later on, the honour
  of extolling, better than I can do, the genius of the unrivalled
  artiste before us, the real creator of every one of her _rôles_,
  the acknowledged sovereign of dramatic art, and hailed as such
  throughout the world. My task is a humbler one. To every one of
  those who owe to her such keen emotions it is not given to see
  her in her home, among her children and her friends, and, after
  applauding the actress, to know the benevolence, the charity, and
  the exquisite kindness of the woman. To her I bear testimony, and
  wish her long life and prosperity, and I ask you all to drink to
  the health of her who is both the great and the good Sarah.

Terrific applause followed this last sentence, the ladies present
being, if possible, more enthusiastic than the men. When silence was
restored, Sarah rose and uttered these simple words--

“To all of you, my friends, from the bottom of a grateful heart I say
‘Thank you! thank you!’”

Her hands, at first clasped upon her breast and then outstretched
towards the guests, seemed to say--

“My heart, my whole heart is yours!”

[Illustration: As Phèdre.]

Repeated volleys of applause followed. Tears coursed down the cheeks of
many of the ladies. M. Sardou was seen to wipe his eyes. The emotion
was truly great and general. The Colonne choir sang the chorus composed
for the occasion by MM. Armand Silvestre and Gabriel Pierné, and then
the guests rose from the table. Mme. Sarah Bernhardt left as she had
come, shaking many a hand on the way, embracing Coquelin, stopping in
front of Jeanne Granier, kissing her twice and congratulating her on
her triumph in _Amants_. As she went slowly up the winding stair, from
time to time sending a smile or a wave of her hand to her admirers
below, she seemed almost to be mounting in triumph towards the sky!

The next act in the great ceremony took place at the Renaissance
theatre at half-past three. As was the case at the Grand Hôtel, mounted
soldiers were posted outside to keep back the crowd assembled to
watch the arrival of the guests. The house was crowded. Every one who
had been at the luncheon was in attendance, and hundreds of others
besides. Literally everybody in art, literature, and society was there.
Greetings were exchanged on all sides, but, unlike most assemblies
of this kind, the gathering did not display a trace of mockery or
hostility. Everybody had come to do honour in real earnest to the great
French tragedienne. The upper galleries were occupied by deputations
from the students’ associations, Polytechnic School, Conservatoire of
Music and Declamation, School of Fine Arts, non-commissioned officers
of the Paris garrison, etc. At a quarter to four the curtain rose on
the third act of _Phèdre_, with M. Darmont as Hippolyte, Mlle. Seylor
as Ismène, Mlle. Mellot as Aricie, and Mme. Grandet as Œnone. Sarah’s
entrance in her peplum and _mousseline de soie_ veil, embroidered with
gold, was the signal for thunders of applause. She spoke, she moaned,
she sang, she called down imprecations on her enemies’ heads, and
when, with a superb gesture, she bared her breast and declaimed--

        “Voilà mon cœur. C’est là que ton bras doit frapper!”--

the ovation she received threatened to literally bring down the house.
The same scenery was used, after the interval, for the fourth act of
_Rome Vaincue_, by M. de Parodi. Enthusiasm rose to a still greater
height when Postumia came forward, blind, in mourning garments, a halo
of white hair about her brow. The whole audience was thrilled by her
cries of anguish, the gestures of her hesitating arms, and the signs of
grief upon her face. I saw all my neighbours shed tears.

[Illustration: As Phèdre.]

After a second interval came the turn of the poets, who, according to
the programme, were each to read a sonnet in honour of the artiste.
There was a distinct thrill of curiosity among the audience. What
would this apotheosis be like, and would the bold idea be carried
out as it ought to be? At this moment I was in fear of seeing a
smile--fear for the great and beloved artiste, and for the courageous
poets whose grateful admiration was perhaps to expose them to the
shafts of malice. The curtain rose again, and applause burst forth
from every part of the house. Sarah, in her Phèdre dress, was seen
seated in a chair of flowers beneath a canopy of green palms standing
on a platform raised two steps above the stage. Her face, pale with
emotion, stood out against a background of red and white camellias.
Amongst the palms were branches of orchids; around Sarah, and at her
feet, were her fellow-actresses, in plain white antique robes, with
wreaths of roses on their brows, gazing at her with smiles of delight.
On her right, and close to the scenery, were the five poets who were to
celebrate her--MM. François Coppée, Edmond Haraucourt, Catulle Mendès,
Edmond Rostand, and André Theuriet. Beside them was a deputation
from the Students’ Association. On the left were all the artistes of
the Renaissance theatre. M. Paul Clerget, of the Renaissance, acted
as master of the ceremonies. M. Paul Tixier, the President of the
Students’ Association, came forward and delivered a witty and tactful
little address. M. Clerget then announced--

The poet, François Coppée.

As M. Coppée came forward, Sarah rose, and it was seen that the flowers
suspended from the palms formed a wreath just above her head. Standing
up, she listened to an indifferent sonnet. After reading his verses M.
Coppée approached Mme. Sarah Bernhardt and kissed both her hands, but
she, bending down towards the poet, offered him her cheeks to kiss. M.
Mendès, M. Haraucourt, and M. André Theuriet then read their sonnets
with the same simple ceremonial, amid applause. A sonnet by M. de
Heredia, read by M. Morand, was not sufficiently audible. Finally, M.
Edmond Rostand came forward and recited the following verses in clear,
resonant tones--

    En ce temps sans beauté, seule encor tu nous restes
    Sachant descendre, pâle, un grand escalier clair,
    Ceindre un bandeau, porter un lys, brandir un fer.
    Reine de l’attitude et Princesse des gestes.

    En ce temps, sans folie, ardente, tu protestes!
    Tu dis des vers. Tu meurs d’amour. Ton vol se perd.
    Tu tends des bras de rêve, et puis des bras de chair.
    Et quand Phèdre paraît, nous sommes tous incestes.

    Avide de souffrir, tu t’ajoutas des cœurs;
    Nous avons vu couler--car ils coulent, tes pleurs!--
    Toutes les larmes des nos âmes sur tes joues.

    Mais aussi tu sais bien, Sarah, que quelquefois
    Tu sens furtivement se poser, quand tu joues,
    Les lèvres de Shakespeare aux bagues de tes doigts.

[Illustration: Caricature of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt by Capiello.]

Long-continued applause greeted these beautiful verses, and it was felt
that the greatest success of the occasion had fallen to M. Rostand. At
this moment Sarah’s emotion reached its height. She stood, with heaving
breast, pale as the camellias about her. Her trembling lips endeavoured
to shape themselves into a grateful smile, but the tears were gathering
in her eyes. Her hands were clasped with all her strength over her
heart as if to keep it from bursting forth. No spectacle could be finer
than this woman, whose unconquerable energy had withstood the struggles
and difficulties of a thirty-years career, standing overwhelmed and
vanquished by the power of a few lines of poetry delivered before
these fifteen hundred enthusiastic auditors. Flowers from the topmost
galleries fell on the stage, and with long-sustained cheers the
ceremony closed. Hundreds of friends, not content with applauding all
day, invaded Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s room. More hand-clasps, embraces,
and happy tears followed. M. and Mme. Maurice Bernhardt were there,
with swollen eyes but joyful faces. There was talk about imaginary
difficulties raised by the Grand Chancellery of the Legion of Honour
as an excuse for not decorating the great artiste. The Cabinet, it was
said, would have to intervene, but it was generally thought that all
difficulties would be overcome before the 1st of January. Besides, how
could this decoration enhance such a demonstration as had just taken
place? I am told that M. Poincaré, who was present, was condoled with
on losing office, and replied, “If I regretted it at all I could not do
so more than I do to-day.” The letters and telegrams received during
the day were handed round. Here are a few selected from the mass--

  From EMMA CALVÉ (who had arrived in New York three days before).

  Chère grande artiste, my heart is with you.

       *       *       *       *       *

  From Mme. RÉJANE.


  The whole Vaudeville company are here to express their admiration
  for you. On their behalf I beg you to accept the accompanying
  flowers with the assurance of my deep affection.


       *       *       *       *       *

                    _Francavilla Mare._


  On this most glorious day a grateful Italy sends her wreath of
  laurel to the immortal enchantress. _Ave._

                    GABRIEL D’ANNUNZIO.

       *       *       *       *       *




  Your brother and sister artistes of the Lyceum theatre send you
  their love and greeting. Your favourite art and all the arts do
  homage to you, and we your comrades in another land in which your
  genius is so highly esteemed are happy to add our tribute to the
  great honour you so well deserve.

        Yours as ever, with affection and admiration,
                    HENRY IRVING.

  [Appended were the signatures of Ellen Terry and thirty-four
  members of the Lyceum Company].

       *       *       *       *       *



  I send you a drawing of a silver wreath, which it will be my great
  pleasure to ask you to accept. The date of the _fête_ to be given
  in your honour was so uncertain that the jewellers have not had
  time to finish the wreath, but I hope to be able to send it to
  you in a few days. Believe me, it is a pleasure to pay this small
  tribute to so great an artiste as yourself, and to one who has
  raised our profession to the high standard it now occupies. Kindly
  send me the names of the different parts created by you which you
  would like to have engraved on the leaves of the wreath. I have the
  honour to be

            Your great admirer,
                    WILSON BARRETT.

       *       *       *       *       *

  A cable from CHICAGO.

  Compliments of all the critics of the _Tribune_, _Times_, _Herald_,
  _Inter-Ocean_, _Post_, _Journal_, and _Dispatch_.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Another from NEW YORK.

  The American Dramatic Authors’ Club instructs me to offer its
  homage to the queen and sovereign, by divine right, of the French
  stage, and to congratulate the Masters of the French drama who,
  thanks to Sarah Bernhardt, have secured a worldwide triumph for
  fine works, and have thus set back the boundaries of art.

                    BRONSON HOWARD,
    President of the American Dramatic Authors’ Club.

Other congratulations came from the St. James’s and Criterion theatres,
Mme. Melba, MM. Jean and Edouard de Reszké, Chartran, etc. Mme. Sarah
Bernhardt spent the evening of this unique day at her son’s house,
among her relations and intimate friends.

On the 20th April, 1898, she scored a fresh triumph in _Lysiane_. M.
Bauer wrote in the _Echo de Paris_--

  Every new part in which Sarah Bernhardt appears is a new revelation
  of her talent. After accustoming us to expect sublime tragedy from
  her, she charms and delights us with light and delicate comedy
  touches and subtle shades of coquetry. How affectionately and
  joyfully the public greeted her ever-flowering genius! How well the
  clapping of hands and excitement aroused by her return to the stage
  showed the sympathy of Paris for her trials and sufferings!

M. Catulle Mendès, in the _Journal_, speaks of the extraordinary
versatility of her talent and its unexpectedly new manifestations. She
has always been subtle, tender, and ardent, he says, and yet in her
_rôle_ she exhibited these qualities in a different form.

[Illustration: In _La Dame aux Camélias._]

After _Lysiane_, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt gave a series of performances of
_La Dame aux Camélias_ and _La Samaritaine_. She then went to London
in June on her annual visit, playing _Phèdre_, _Adrienne Lecouvreur_,
D’Annunzio’s _Spring Morning’s Dream_. July, August, and September she
spent at Belle-Isle-en-Mer. On the 28th October, 1898, she produced
M. Mendès’ _Médée_. It was a dead failure, in spite of all the great
tragedienne’s efforts. The unsatisfactory receipts obliged her to fall
back on _La Dame aux Camélias_, of which she gave a few performances
before leaving for Italy and the south of France on a tour she had been
obliged to postpone a week before.

This brings us to the beginning of the year 1899. The Renaissance
theatre had been prospering for five years. In it, as we have seen,
Mme. Sarah Bernhardt had successively performed _Les Rois_, _La Dame
aux Camélias_, _Phèdre_, _Izeïl_, _Fédora_, _La Femme de Claude_,
_Gismonda_, _Magda_, _Amphitryon_, _L’Infidèle_, _La Princesse
Lointaine_, _Lorenzaccio_, _La Tosca_, _La Samaritaine_, _Les Mauvais
Bergers_, _La Ville Morte_, _Lysiane_, and _Médée_. The plays in which
she did not appear were _Amants_, _La Figurante_, _La Meute_, _Snobs_,
and _Affranchie_. Notwithstanding the success achieved, there was a
feeling of restriction. The field of action was too limited. In spite
of perfect prodigies of ingenuity, and the unsparing efforts of all
Mme. Bernhardt’s co-workers, great spectacular effects were impossible.
Many new plays which the great artiste would have wished to produce
could not be mounted satisfactorily at the Renaissance, and had to
be left to rival theatres. The Théâtre des Nations, vacated by the
removal of the Opéra Comique to its new quarters, tempted her, the
1900 Universal Exhibition being at hand. She applied to the Municipal
Council for the theatre, and obtained it. She opened on the 21st
January with a revival of _La Tosca_. On the 8th March she reproduced
Feuillet’s _Dalila_, and, on the 25th, Rostand’s _Samaritaine_, which
seems to have taken the place of the _Dame aux Camélias_ as general

Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s appearance at the Théâtre des Nations marks
the commencement of a new era in her artistic career. I have already
said that the history of the arts affords no parallel to the life of
Mme. Sarah Bernhardt, and I maintain that we can only bow with respect
before the incomparable expenditure of vital energy which she has
lavished throughout thirty years of intense and varied activity.


Madame Sarah Bernhardt’s appearance in a new French adaptation of
_Hamlet_ took place on Saturday, May 20. Her enterprise was distinctly
a bold one. The series of performances would necessarily have to cease
after June 6, in consequence of the actress’ engagement to appear
in London on the 8th. The play could hardly be expected to prove a
success from the purely financial point of view. As one critic remarks,
it is impossible to make Hamlet Parisian. Moreover, the production
of M. Jean Aicard’s version of _Othello_ at the Comédie Française,
a splendidly-mounted and finely-acted play, might fairly be thought
to have taken off the edge of the public appetite for Shakespearian
revivals in Paris. These considerations, however, did not deter Mme.
Sarah Bernhardt. No one could ever accuse her of wanting the courage of
her opinions. She made up her mind that Hamlet was a part for her to
play, and she played it. She was not the first French actress to make
the attempt. Mme. Judith and Mme. Lerou had both played the Prince
of Denmark with a fair amount of success, and much curiosity was felt
as to Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s interpretation of the character. She had
already given something like a foretaste of Hamlet in Lorenzaccio,
and there are one or two weird incidents in her own career. She has
been identified as the actress whom Edmond de Goncourt shows us, in
_Faustine_, watching at a death-bed with professional curiosity, and
afterwards utilizing the experience on the stage. Be this as it may,
there is a touch of Hamlet’s melancholy philosophy about her daily
contact with her own coffin.


  _The Queen_, Mlle. Marcya.      _Hamlet_, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt.

The translation of _Hamlet_ has often tempted French literary skill.
Dumas and Victor Hugo, each with the assistance of a collaborator, at
different times rendered the play in French verse. The adaptation by
MM. Samson and Cressonnois, in which Mme. Sarah Bernhardt appeared
as Ophelia, was also entirely in verse. Then M. Theodore Reinach
translated Shakespeare’s verse into verse and prose into prose. The
latest adaptation, carried out by MM. Morand and Schwob for Mme.
Sarah Bernhardt, is wholly in prose, and is perhaps the most literal
reproduction of the original ever attempted in France. It is so literal
that in many cases the English word is used in preference to what
might not be a close or satisfactory equivalent in French. Even Victor
Hugo’s version, which was accused of being more Shakespearian than
Shakespeare, did not go as far as this in the effort for exactitude. As
M. Henry Fouquier observes--

“Even in England, _Hamlet_ is never played in its entirety. MM.
Morand-Schwob have reduced the original thirty-two scenes to fifteen,
but they have shown all possible respect for Shakespeare’s masterpiece,
and of all translations made for the stage theirs retains most of
the colour of the original, which can never be followed sufficiently
closely in verse.”

Whatever may be thought of Sarah Bernhardt’s Hamlet in England, there
can be no possible doubt that it has obtained her full honour in her
own country. The Paris critics are not often in accord, but “when they
do agree their unanimity is wonderful,” and in all the opinions which
have been delivered on Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s latest creation it is
impossible to find anything but admiration. She accomplished the rare
feat of satisfying every one by her impersonation of a character second
to none in its capacity for exciting differences of opinion. There
could be no better proof that the fire of genius burns as brightly
as ever in Mme. Sarah Bernhardt. In the words of M. Edmond Rostand,
who is conspicuous among French literary men for his admiration for
Shakespeare--“She never did anything finer. She makes one understand
Hamlet, and understand him beyond the possibility of doubt.”

M. Henry Fouquier, the eminent dramatic critic of the _Figaro_, says--

“The enthusiastic reception given to Mme. Sarah Bernhardt by the public
on this occasion, a memorable one in the annals of the French stage,
was largely due to her clear conception of the character. It was so
thoroughly thought out, that Hamlet’s personality was made plain to the
public without losing any of its mysterious features. It was said of
her, with much truth, that she shed light on the darkness of Hamlet’s
mind. She displayed all his contradictory characteristics, and at the
same time showed that the contradiction was only apparent. Physically,
she was an incarnation of the Hamlet created by Delacroix. Morally
and intellectually she analyzed, synthetized, and condensed into one
harmonious whole the most complex, if not the most obscure, character
in dramatic literature. Her conception of Hamlet is that of Goethe, as
we find it expressed in _Wilhelm Meister_. No one is better qualified
to make us understand Hamlet than the creator of Faust. This character
has more than one point of resemblance with Shakespeare’s hero, and has
a ghost of his own in Mephistopheles, who urges him onward in spite of
his scruples and the weakness of his nature. Hamlet, says Goethe, ‘is
an oak planted in a valuable vase intended only for flowers. The tree
puts forth its roots and shatters the vase. Thus does a pure, noble,
and eminently moral nature, devoid of a hero’s physical energy, perish
under a burden it can neither sustain nor cast off.’”

M. Gustave Larroumet, Permanent Secretary of the Academy of Fine Arts,
who succeeded the late M. Sarcey as dramatic critic of the _Temps_,

“I am not sufficiently ungrateful to consider that Mounet-Sully’s
Hamlet is completely eclipsed, as some well-meaning persons would have
us believe. Mounet-Sully showed us a man of terrible but intermittent
energy. Sarah Bernhardt gives us a youth under the influence of
over-sensitive nerves. The great artiste was never greater. Her
defects, such as they are, sink into insignificance before her
brilliant talents. Her frequently hard and abrupt diction passed almost
unperceived. She was moderate but powerful, ardent but restrained. She
threw a flood of light on a particularly obscure character. I do not
think that stage art could further go than when, in the play scene,
Hamlet holds up a torch to the livid features of his father’s murderer
and puts him to flight, howling with terror.”

M. Emile Faguet, of the _Journal des Débats_, says--

“There are so many ways of playing this puzzling part that I shall not
venture to criticize Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s rendering. She makes Hamlet
sometimes weak and sometimes violent (the latter quality being much
more manifest than the former), capricious, and a creature of nerves.
The dreamy and melancholy part of Hamlet’s temperament she leaves in
obscurity. Still, the result is acceptable. We cannot say either ‘This
is exactly as it should be,’ or, ‘This is not the thing at all.’ It
depends on one’s point of view. In any case the attempt is interesting
and the effect is incontestable. It is impossible to say that the
interpretation is indifferent. One must go further and describe it as
fascinating. It is something that must be seen. The question whether
Hamlet can be played by a woman is now set at rest. It must be admitted
that Hamlet, being, as he is, weak, violent, cunning, undecided, and
constantly on the brink of losing his wits, is a feminine mind in the
body of a young man. Hamlet’s youth cannot be seriously disputed, and
whenever we possess a great actress we can permit and even encourage
her to try her hand on Hamlet.”

M. Catulle Mendès, whose opinions, or rather his vigorous way of
expressing them, earned him a duel with M. Georges Vanor, and a
two-inch-deep puncture in the stomach, is the only critic to agree with
the actress in regard to the simplicity of the character. He says--

“Rouvière played the part like an inspired epileptic, Rossi like a
tenor, and Salvini like a philosopher. Mounet-Sully reproduced all
the best features of previous Hamlets, and added some inspiration of
his own. Now, for the first time, Hamlet stands revealed to us in his
real simplicity, as the poet created him. As to Mme. Sarah Bernhardt,
it is hard to conceive that any human creature can combine so
much instinct and innate intelligence with so much exact knowledge.
Mme. Sarah Bernhardt is something more than an accomplished actress
or an artist who plays upon the strings of our emotions. She is the
incarnation of all gifts and all acquirements. She is the union,
hitherto unhoped-for, of all inspiration and all art.”

[Illustration: Mme. Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet.]

M. Lucien Muhlfeld, in the _Echo de Paris_, says--

“Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s Hamlet is a too learned, too bookish youth,
urged to action by an impending calamity. He finds the weight of
existence too great for his frail shoulders. To hear Hamlet’s
meditations on death through Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s lips is to realize
all the vanity of life. She is the greatest of all actresses in the
great dramatic masterpiece.”

It is interesting to contrast Mme. Sarah Bernhardt’s own opinions
on Hamlet with the views expressed in the foregoing criticisms. In
conversation with the writer, she scouted the idea that the Prince of
Denmark is a complex personality. “I think his character,” she said,
“a perfectly simple one. He is brought face to face with a duty, and
he determines to carry it out. All his philosophizing and temporary
hesitation does not alter the basis of his character. His resolution
swerves, but immediately returns to the channel he has marked out for
it. I know this view is quite heterodox, but I maintain it.” With a
touch of characteristic determination, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt added--“It
is just as well to have a decided opinion of one’s own, and adhere to

“Some critics have argued that Hamlet has a feminine side to his
character, displayed in his alternate excitement and depression, his
terrors and his touches of cruelty. Have you sought to develop this

“Not at all. That there may or may not be something of the woman
about Hamlet, is a question which might give rise to a great deal of
argument, but I think his character is essentially masculine, and I
have endeavoured to represent it as such.”

Further inquiry elicited the fact that Mme. Sarah Bernhardt had studied
the play entirely from French versions, her acquaintance with English
not permitting her to grapple with the difficulties of Shakespeare’s
text. Perhaps the clearness of French literary form may have revealed
to her the hitherto unsuspected simplicity of Hamlet’s character. At
any rate, she does not accept the theory that Hamlet was insane. He
was merely suffering, she thinks, from the bitterness of a wounded
spirit; or, in other words, from that very English complaint, spleen.
He thought himself deceived by all around him, and he suspected every
one, but he was perfectly sane. Besides, a mad Hamlet would be mere
melodrama. As to his age, Mme. Sarah Bernhardt does not agree with the
theory that he was at least thirty. Twenty-five would be nearer the
mark. In the play he is still a student. His friends are his seniors,
and they refer to him as “Young Hamlet.” Polonius and the King speak
to him in the semi-indulgent terms such as would be used towards a
young man under such circumstances. The Grave-digger, it is true,
speaks of Yorick’s skull as having lain in the earth three-and-twenty
years, but that is probably one of those slips from which the greatest
authors are not free.

“Are you satisfied with the reception of the play?” I asked.

“Perfectly,” Mme. Sarah Bernhardt replied; “and if the verdict is
endorsed in London, I shall look back on Hamlet as the greatest success
of my career.”

In producing Shakespeare’s masterpiece in the theatre she now
occupies--a playhouse in the popular acceptation of the term--Mme.
Sarah Bernhardt has not only scored a personal triumph, but is
developing a work of education. She is offering the French public
something far better and higher than they can see at any other
theatre in their country; and at the same time she is carrying out an
achievement which no other actress or any actor on the French stage
could even attempt. In the words of M. Henry Fouquier--“Whilst the
public always derives some benefit from a fine play, if only the vague
conception of and desire for an intellectual existence on a higher
plane than the sordid necessities of daily life, the actors themselves
profit by an acquaintance with anything that is good and original in
foreign master-pieces, alien though they may seem to the genius of our
race. We cannot too much admire those who, like Mme. Sarah Bernhardt,
faithfully interpret the poetry of another people by the light of our
own intellectual clearness.”

                    G. A. R.



_Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London & Bungay._

Transcriber’s Notes

Transcriber added the Table of Contents and deleted two redundant
chapter titles.

Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant
preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained; occurrences of
inconsistent hyphenation have not been changed.

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