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Duchesnois, possessed sensibility, and it was especially by the electric action of that sensibility on the public that they aroused their passions while they softened their feelings. Mademoiselle Rachel astonishes, charms, moves her auditors by a diction which is neither wanting in just intonations nor in grandeur. She creates in her studied recitals notes of a sympathising sensibility, of a deep and intimate emotion. But she stops half-way. After having carried away, and, as it were, transfixed, her audience, she leaves it without illusions, if not cold, at all events with a mind at once calm and serene. Her talent takes hold of the intelligence without winning the heart; it does not penetrate so far as that!
Dr. Véron remarks, after this long psychological and physiological analysis of the greatest tragedian of the day, that had Talma lived in her time she would have profited much by him. A literary man as well as an artist, he used to give useful lessons to every one. Mademoiselle Rachel, on the contrary, "charmingly and cleverly ignorant,” as she herself avows, receives advice from every one, but it is true that she knows how to appreciate it at its just value with a rare discretion.
A proof of the great power or the profound policy of the artist is also to be found in the fact of her reputation having upheld itself for so many years without a check, with the resources of so slender a tragical repertory: Modern poets have only contributed two parts for Mademoiselle Rachel that have stood the test of time : that of Virginie, in the play of the same name, by M. Latour Saint Ybars, and that of Cleopâtre, in the play written by Madame Emile de Girardin. Casimir Delavigne and Victor Hugo have never written anything for Mademoiselle Rachel. “I expressed my surprise one day at this circumstance. "They do not know,' she said, “how to write a part for a woman.
Dr. Véron is astonished that the health of this frail young girl should have been able to hold up against so inany fatigues, so many emotions, and such long and rough travel. Accompanied by a nomadic troop, kept at her own expense, the great tragedian has made the genius of Racine and of Corneille familiar to the English, the Germans, and the Russians. In France she has astonished all the great provincial theatres, and even those of small towns, with her poetry and her art.
Starting on the 26th of May, 1849, for one of these long artistic journeys, Mademoiselle Rachel wrote as follows to Dr. Véron :
"I am much grieved at not being able to see you apd bid you farewell ; a rehearsal of Iphigénie' this morning at eleven o'clock claims my attendance at the theatre.”
Here follows a list of thirty-five towns and seventy-four performances, with intervals of one day's rest only once a week, and sometimes less. This list terminates thus:
“What a journey!
“Good-by, dear friend; do not forget me during these three months. I love you with all my heart, and subscribe myself the most devoted of your friends.-RACHEL.”
The expressions of friendship contained in this letter, Dr. Véron hastens to explain, arose from the good understanding which springs up so quickly between artists of great talent and public papers of a high standing. “I was in 1849 one of the proprietors of the Constitutionnel.” During these long and fatiguing excursions, Mademoiselle Rachel used to sleep as she travelled, upon a bed disposed for that purpose in her carriage. “I one day," writes Dr. Véron, "expressed my astonishment how her health could resist so much fatigue.” “ These journeys,” she said to me," on the contrary, do me a great deal of good ; the movement and the agitation that accompany them drive away unpleasant feelings and bad thoughts, as they also quell all evil inclinations!”
Jules Janin wrote of Rachel that “she is a problem, an enigma, an excess in all things; there is not a reproach or there is not a praise that she does not deserve; excessive in all things, in bad as in good, in inspiration, en terre-à-terre, slave and queen, ambitious and resigned, eloquent, brilliant, inspired or languishing, inanimate, overwhelmed--a statue ! á spectre ! a force! a shadow!"
Dr. Véron remarks, that in society, the young artist, with the most natural manners in the world, still showed herself to be a great lady, and gave proof of all those mental qualities which must readily subjugate men even of a superior order. Like Célimène, her policy was to please all. Her graceful attentions, her amiable coquetry, recognised no shades of position, fortune, or importance. If some despised unknown hid himself through timidity or modesty in the corner of a room, the tragic Célimène would be all attentions and attractions to that very person. With Rachel a great deal of art and ready wit were also hidden beneath an affected naïveté and simplicity.
Count Molé said to her one day, with the graceful kindness of a great lord which is familiar to him, "You have, madame, saved the French
“ language.” Mademoiselle Rachel answered with a most respectful bow; and turning towards Dr. Véron, she said, “That is very lucky, since I never learnt it.”
Strong in the philosophy which more particularly springs from great contrasts in fortune and position in life, Rachel was never carried away by pride or vainglory. She was never happier por more charming than in her own family, or at supper with a few friends, just after she had been overwhelmed with applause, flowers, and crowns.
Returning one night from Windsor, where she had recited some verses before the Queen of England, still stupefied by all the praise bestowed upon her, and the attention paid to her by the Court, she exclaimed, on returning to her home, throwing herself at the same time into an arm-chair, in the midst of a company composed of her mother, her sister, and a few friends of the house : " Ah! my dear friends, que j'ai besoin de m'encanailler !” “The loftiest minds,” Dr. Véron remarks upon this,
soon come to the end of mundane honours; all feel sooner or later that liberty and sans-gêne are the best things here below, and that, to speak the language of our fathers, there is nothing so good as to live à ventre déboutonné.”
A young Bohémienne, suddenly transformed into a great lady, certainly presents a curious picture to contemplate. Nothing more capricious or more changeable than a mind moved by every passing wind. One moment we have folly, another wisdom; one moment sorrow, another the joy of life-wild laughter and tears.
Rachel only lives for the theatre. As to retiring, she will never do so—as long as she can help it. She must live within sight of the foot-lights, she must have fine verses to repeat, violent passions to depict, a minister to seduce, a manager to vex ; she could not exist without noise, movement, and applause. When she used to have to perform one of her great parts, which demanded her whole strength, she could not sleep, and would spend the previous night in turning all her furniture upside down, or in roving about Paris clandestinely.
Dr. Véron draws a comparison, more ingenious than sound, between Rachel and Thiers, and he carries it out to the point that both alike are given to intemperance of language.
One day she got into dispute with me. I held out. I heard her muttering between her teeth the word canaille ! At length we settled the matter. “All that is good and well,” I said; “but you have apostrophised me with one of those epithets which no one has ever permitted himself to address to me. You called me canaille !" “ Well, what of that ?" she said, laughingly; "it is only from that moment that you belong to the family."
“ The life of Mademoiselle Rachel,” Dr. Véron goes on afterwards to say,
“ has it remained free from those faults, those weaknesses, without which, if we are to believe the history of the theatre, art would be powerless, and the actress incomplete ? Adrienne Lecouvreur was twice a mother: it is a new point of resemblance between Adrienne Lecouvreur and Mademoiselle Rachel, between the romantic and agitated existence of these two dramatic illustrations."
“ As a daughter, as a sister, and as a mother, Mademoiselle Rachel cherishes in her heart an ardent family love. In this world of comedians and actresses, people quarrel, separate, only to come nearer next time, to embrace and to love more than ever. The wealthy tragedian seals these frequent reconciliations with rich presents and the most magnificent gifts."
“ Do not think that Mademoiselle Rachel is a dangerous woman with a wicked heart : she always takes as much pleasure in repairing mischief as she sometimes takes a malignant pleasure in committing the same. Yet be mistrustful, do not let your heart be inflamed by that sudden expiosion of coquetry and feeling with which the tragedian delights sometimes by caprice to astound her friends : she will forget in the morning her seductive manner, her enticing words of the evening before, and will even laugh at the passion which it pleased her to inspire !" Alas, poor Bilboquet ! we fear that this clever bit of scandal is founded on a scene in real life—actor, the ex-director of the Opera-actress, Mademoiselle Rachel.
The last chapter of Dr. Véron's amusing volume is devoted to his connexion with the Constitutionnel. The history of this connexion can be curiously summed up in a few words:
“I paid to M. de Saint-Albin 270,000 francs in order to have the honour of being a shareholder, an administrator, and a responsible editor of the Constitutionnel, and to confer upon myself the inestimable privilege of listening to M. Thiers talk politics, at the time of his toilette, et pendant qu'il faisait sa barbe. It was rather dear."
What a revelation!
A TRAGEDY BY ONE OF HER MAJESTY'S COUNSEL.* Mr. Henry Bliss, one of Her Majesty's Counsel, has perpetrated a tragedy. It is called “Robespierre." In it the Sea-green Incorruptible, as Čarlyle dubs him, appears almost as much sinned against as sinning. He was not over-endowed with feelings; yet even his feelings would have been hurt by the sort of figure he cuts in these five acts and forty
In one sense, by the perpetration of this tragedy Mr. Bliss has proved himself a greater offender than even Robespierre : Robespierre's forte was crime ; but one of Her Majesty's Counsel has here gone a step further, for his tragedy is worse than a crime, 'tis a blunder.
To this, peradventure, he will demur. His Preface, if it does not exactly warn off the critics, as good as sets them at nought, though in the best of good humour. He is prepared for the worst. He anticipates the possibility of having no reader but his friend Mr. Moile, and no purchaser but the trunk-maker. He owns, indeed, his desire to “ contribute to the amusement of others," as an incentive to the production of this “ Robespierre : a Tragedy;" and although “ amusement” is not usually the and aim of writers of tragedy, in this instance there is every reason to prognosticate success : few may read “ Robespierre,” but all of the few will be “ amused.” On the other hand, supposing him to have failed in his appeal to a discriminating public, he falls back on the conviction that “abundant consolation may be found in the pleasure of the effort, and, let us hope, sufficient justification in the innocence of the motive."
Mr. Moile, it seems, had written a tragedy, “ Philip the Second,” in rhyming couplets, and Mr. Bliss is fired to imitate both the fact and the style of his learned friend's composition. He feels, nevertheless, that tragedies in rhyming couplets are not the order of the day; and facetiously says in his dedication, “ I am sadly afraid
and I individual (that being one of the few English words that have a dualt termination) to whom the fitness of such verse for such subjects is apparent.” Mr. Moile, we suspect, is not over well pleased either with his disciple's tragedy, or his own implication in it. Nolens volens he finds himself mixed up with the transaction-or rather nolens only. His answer to Mr. Bliss's prefatory letter is inserted at the close of the volume; and from it we gather that had the Queen's Counsel taken the opinion of the Special Pleader ere he rushed into print, the present catastrophe of five acts and one-and-forty scenes might have been averted. One good piece of advice, however, in this ex post facto extremity, Mr. Moile does venture to give to Mr. Bliss-to wit, “ Whenever
feel curiosity about the reception of your tragedy, let me advise you neither to inquire of your acquaintance, nor to look into newspapers or magazines.” Candid Mr. Moile to give such advice! Heroically candid Mr. Bliss to print and publish it! Happy man be his dole.
Robespierre : a Tragedy. By Henry Bliss, One of Her Majesty's Counsel. London : Kimpton. 1854.
† After this singular joke, let us hope Mr. Bliss does not meditate comedy as well as tragedy. “ Robespierre" ought to do for both.
This tragedy has a construction which we will not attempt to construe. To construe some of its single lines has been too much for us. It rarely diverges much from the narratives of the prose chroniclers of the epoch; the chief divergence, perhaps, being that they give a less prosy account of the matter. Yet the poet is no groundling, either; he soars pretty high at times, and leaves us in amaze at the altitudes he affects. His imagery is almost as profuse as that of Mr. Alexander Smith, though without much likeness in other respects. Let us cull a dainty similitude here and there—not, indeed, picking and choosing, but taking them indifferently as they come. Saith Barrère to Robespierre
And perched in mist, as high an eagle sits,
You haunt the Jacobins—like youth in lust.
To-morrow, then, tell France, and tell mankind,
To cheer our colleagues, and pledge peace in blood. But as soon as he is gone, Robespierre (who, like ourselves, appears dull to the beauty of Barrère's similitudes) is distrustful enough to observe to St. Just
His olive flies to pilot us to wreck; and St. Just concurs, by adding,
Their axe and helve seek nothing but our neck ! whereupon his bilious guide, philosopher, and friend remarks
But his to-morrow shall be ripe and rank,
To chop with half his colleagues o'er the plank. (A couplet that might, peradventure, “bring down the house,” if the house limited its entrance fees to “Boxes threepence,” and pit and gallery in proportion. Indeed, Mr. Bliss is great in passages that the gods of the minors—Di minorum-would relish ; Whitechapel butchers,
. for instance, and the subs and supers of the slaughter-house ; for he has a knack at writing such lines as,
Whence, flash on flash, a clanking cleaver swoops ;
The neck-stroke echoes, and heads roll as hoops. (p. 4.)
A clink, a cleaver's swoop, a clank, cut, crash