Part 7 out of 9
And I read in an English newspaper, the _Times_, this paragraph:
DRAWING-ROOM COMEDIES OF MLLE. SARAH BERNHARDT, UNDER THE MANAGEMENT OF
SIR JULIUS BENEDICT.--"The _repertoire_ of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt is
composed of comedies, proverbs, one-act plays, and monologues, written
specially for her and one or two artistes of the Comedie Francaise.
These comedies are played without accessories or scenery, and can be
adapted both in London and Paris to the _matinees_ and _soirees_ of the
best society. For all details and conditions please communicate with Mr.
Jarrett (secretary of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt) at Her Majesty's Theatre."
As I was reading the last lines it dawned on me that Jarrett, learning
that I was certainly coming to London, had begun to advertise me. I
explained this frankly to Perrin.
"What objection is there," I said, "to my making use of my evenings to
earn money? This business has been proposed to me."
"I am not complaining--it's the committee."
"That is too bad!" I cried, and calling for my secretary, I said, "Give
me Delaunay's letter that I gave you yesterday."
He brought it out of one of his numerous pockets and gave it to Perrin
"Would you care to come and play _La Nuit d'Octobre_ at Lady Dudley's on
Thursday, June 5? We are offered 5000 francs for us two. Kind
"Let me have this letter," said the manager, visibly annoyed.
"No, I will not. But you may tell Delaunay that I spoke to you about his
For the next two or three days nothing was talked of in Paris but the
scandalous notice in the _Times_. The French were then almost entirely
ignorant of the habits and customs of the English. At last all this talk
annoyed me, and I begged Perrin to try and stop it, and the next day the
following appeared in the _National_ (May 29): _"Much Ado about Nothing.
_--In friendly discussion it has been decided that outside the
rehearsals and the performances of the Comedie Francaise each artiste is
free to employ his time as he sees fit. There is therefore absolutely no
truth at all in the pretended quarrel between the Comedie Francaise and
Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt. This artiste has only acted strictly within her
rights, which nobody attempts to limit, and all our artistes intend to
benefit in the same manner. The manager of the Comedie Francaise asks
only that the artistes who form this company do not give performances in
This article came from the Comedie, and the members of the committee had
taken advantage of it to advertise themselves a little, announcing that
they also were ready to play in drawing-rooms, for the article was sent
to Mayer with a request that it should appear in the English papers. It
was Mayer himself who told me this.
All disputes being at an end, we commenced our preparations for
I had been but once on the sea when it was decided that the artistes of
the Comedie Francaise should go to London. The determined ignorance of
the French with regard to all things foreign was much more pronounced in
those days than it is at present. Therefore I had a very warm cloak
made, as I had been assured that the crossing was icy cold even in the
very middle of summer, and I believed this. On every side I was besieged
with lozenges for sea-sickness, sedatives for headache, tissue paper to
put down my back, little compress plasters to put on my diaphragm, and
waterproof cork soles for my shoes, for it appeared that above all
things I must not have cold feet. Oh, how droll and amusing it all was!
I took everything, paid attention to all the recommendations, and
believed everything I was told.
The most inconceivable thing of all, though, was the arrival, five
minutes before the boat started, of an enormous wooden case. It was very
light, and was held by a tall young man, who to-day is a most remarkable
individual, possessing all orders and honours, a colossal fortune, and
the most outrageous vanity. At that time he was a timid inventor, young,
poor, and sad: he was always buried in books which treated of abstract
questions, whilst of life he knew absolutely nothing. He had a great
admiration for me, mingled with a trifle of awe. My little court had
surnamed him "La Quenelle." He was long, vacillating, colourless, and
really did resemble the thin roll of forcemeat in a _vol-au-vent_.
He came up to see me, his face more wan-looking even than usual. The
boat was moving a little. My departure terrified him, and the wind
caused him to plunge from right to left. He made a mysterious sign to
me, and I followed him, accompanied by _mon petit Dame_, and leaving my
friends, who were inclined to be ironical, behind. When I was seated he
opened the case and took out an enormous life-belt invented by himself.
I was perfectly astounded, for I was new to sea voyages, and the idea
had never even occurred to me that we might be shipwrecked during one
hour's crossing. La Quenelle was by no means disconcerted, and he put
the belt on himself in order to show me how it was used.
Nothing could have looked more foolish than this man, with his sad,
serious face, putting on this apparatus. There were a dozen egg-sized
bladders round the belt, eleven of which were filled with air and
contained a piece of sugar. In the twelfth, a very small bladder, were
ten drops of brandy. In the middle of the belt was a tiny cushion with a
few pins on it.
"You understand," he said to me. "You fall in the water--paff!--you stay
like this." Hereupon he pretended to sit down, rising and sinking with
the movement of the waves, his two hands in front of him laid upon the
imaginary sea, and his neck stretched like that of a tortoise in order
to keep his head above water.
"You see, you have now been in the water for two hours," he explained,
"and you want to get back your strength. You take a pin and prick an
egg, like this. You take your lump of sugar and eat it; that is as good
as a quarter of a pound of meat." He then threw the broken bladder
overboard, and from the packing case brought out another, which he
fastened to the life-belt. He had evidently thought of everything. I was
petrified with amazement. A few of my friends had gathered round, hoping
for one of La Quenelle's mad freaks, but they had never expected
anything like this one.
M. Mayer, one of our _impresarii_, fearing a scandal of too absurd a
kind, dispersed the people who were gathering round us. I did not know
whether to be angry or to laugh, but the jeering, unjust speech of one
of my friends roused my pity for this poor Quenelle. I thought of the
hours he had spent in planning, combining, and then manufacturing his
ridiculous machine. I was touched by the anxiety and affection which had
prompted the invention of this life-saving apparatus, and I held out my
hand to my poor Quenelle, saying, "Be off now, quickly; the boat is just
going to start."
He kissed the hand held out to him in a friendly way, and hurried off. I
then called my steward, Claude, and I said, "As soon as we are out of
sight of land, throw that case and all it contains into the sea."
The departure of the boat was accompanied by shouts of "Hurrah! Au
revoir! Success! Good luck!" There was a waving of hands, handkerchiefs
floating in the air, and kisses thrown haphazard to every one.
But what was really fine, and a sight I shall never forget, was our
landing at Folkestone. There were thousands of people there, and it was
the first time I had ever heard the cry of "Vive Sarah Bernhardt!"
I turned my head and saw before me a pale young man, the ideal face of
Hamlet. He presented me with a gardenia. I was destined to admire him
later on as Hamlet played by Forbes Robertson. We passed on through a
crowd offering us flowers and shaking hands, and I soon saw that I was
more favoured than the others. This slightly embarrassed me, but I was
delighted all the same. One of my comrades who was just near, and with
whom I was not a favourite, said to me in a spiteful tone:
"They'll make you a carpet of flowers soon."
"Here is one!" exclaimed a young man, throwing an armful of lilies on
the ground in front of me.
I stopped short, rather confused, not daring to walk on these white
flowers, but the crowd pressing on behind compelled me to advance, and
the poor lilies had to be trodden under foot.
"Hip, hip, hurrah! A cheer for Sarah Bernhardt!" shouted the turbulent
His head was above all the other heads; he had luminous eyes and long
hair, and looked like a German student. He was an English poet, though,
and one of the greatest of the century, a poet who was a genius, but who
was, alas! later tortured and finally vanquished by madness. It was
The crowd responded to his appeal, and we reached our train amidst
shouts of "Hip, hip, hurrah for Sarah Bernhardt! Hip, hip, hurrah for
the French actors!"
When the train arrived at Charing Cross towards nine o'clock we were
nearly an hour late. A feeling of sadness came over me. The weather was
gloomy, and then, too, I thought we should have been greeted again on
our arrival in London with more hurrahs. There were plenty of people,
crowds of people, but none appeared to know us.
On reaching the station I had noticed that there was a handsome carpet
laid down, and I thought it was for us. Oh, I was prepared for anything,
as our reception at Folkestone had turned my head. The carpet, however,
had been laid down for their Royal Highnesses the Prince and the
Princess of Wales, who had just left for Paris.
This news disappointed me, and even annoyed me personally. I had been
told that all London was quivering with excitement at the very idea of
the visit of the Comedie Francaise, and I had found London extremely
indifferent. The crowd was large and even dense, but cold.
"Why have the Prince and Princess gone away to-day?" I asked M. Mayer.
"Well, because they had decided beforehand about this visit to Paris,"
"Oh, then they won't be here for our first night?" I continued.
"No. The Prince has taken a box for the season, for which he has paid
four hundred pounds, but it will be used by the Duke of Connaught."
I was in despair. I don't know why, but I certainly was in despair, as I
felt that everything was going wrong.
A footman led the way to my carriage, and I drove through London with a
heavy heart. Everything looked dark and dismal, and when I reached the
house, 77 Chester Square, I did not want to get out of my carriage.
The door of the house was wide open, though, and in the brilliantly
lighted hall I could see what looked like all the flowers on earth
arranged in baskets, bouquets, and huge bunches. I got out of the
carriage and entered the house in which I was to live for the next six
weeks. All the branches seemed to be stretching out their flowers to me.
"Have you the cards that came with all these flowers?" I asked my
"Yes," he replied. "I have put them together on a tray. All of them are
from Paris, from Madame's friends there. This one is the only bouquet
from here." He handed me an enormous one, and on the card with it I read
the words, "Welcome!--Henry Irving."
I went all through the house, and it seemed to me very dismal-looking. I
visited the garden, but the damp seemed to go through me, and my teeth
chattered when I came in again. That night when I went to sleep my heart
was heavy with foreboding, as though I were on the eve of some
The following day was given up to receiving journalists. I wanted to see
them all at the same time, but Mr. Jarrett objected to this. That man
was a veritable advertising genius. I had no idea of it at that time. He
had made me some very good offers for America, and although I had
refused them, I nevertheless held a very high opinion of him, on account
of his intelligence, his comic humour, and my need of being piloted in
this new country.
"No," he said; "if you receive them all together, they will all be
furious, and you will get some wretched articles. You must receive them
one after the other."
Thirty-seven journalists came that day, and Jarrett insisted on my
seeing every one of them. He stayed in the room and saved the situation
when I said anything foolish. I spoke English very badly, and some of
the men spoke French very badly. Jarrett translated my answers to them.
I remember perfectly well that all of them began with, "Well,
Mademoiselle, what do you think of London?"
I had arrived the previous evening at nine o'clock, and the first of
these journalists asked me this question at ten in the morning. I had
drawn my curtain on getting up, and all I knew of London was Chester
Square, a small square of sombre verdure, in the midst of which was a
black statue, and the horizon bounded by an ugly church.
I really could not answer the question, but Jarrett was quite prepared
for this, and I learnt the following morning that I was most
enthusiastic about the beauty of London, that I had already seen a
number of the public buildings, &c. &c.
Towards five o'clock Hortense Damain arrived. She was a charming woman,
and a favourite in London society. She had come to inform me that the
Duchess of ---- and Lady ---- would call on me at half-past five.
"Oh, stay with me, then," I said to her. "You know how unsociable I am;
I feel sure that I shall be stupid."
At the time fixed my visitors were announced. This was the first time I
had come into contact with any members of the English aristocracy, and I
have always had since a very pleasant memory of it.
Lady R---- was extremely beautiful, and the Duchess was so gracious, so
distinguished, and so kind that I was very much touched by her visit.
A few minutes later Lord Dudley called. I knew him very well, as he had
been introduced to me by Marshal Canrobert, one of my dearest friends.
He asked me if I would care to have a ride the following morning, and he
said he had a very nice lady's horse which was entirely at my service. I
thanked him, but I wanted first to drive in Rotten Row.
At seven o'clock Hortense Damain came to fetch me to dine with her at
the house of the Baroness M----. She had a very nice house in Prince's
Gate. There were about twenty guests, among others the painter Millais.
I had been told that the _cuisine_ was very bad in England, but I
thought this dinner perfect. I had been told that the English were cold
and sedate: I found them charming and full of humour. Every one spoke
French very well, and I was ashamed of my ignorance of the English
language. After dinner there were recitations and music. I was touched
by the gracefulness and tact of my hosts in not asking me to recite any
I was very much interested in observing the society in which I found
myself. It did not in any way resemble a French gathering. The young
girls seemed to be enjoying themselves on their own account, and
enjoying themselves thoroughly. They had not come there to find a
husband. What surprised me a little was the _decollete_ of ladies who
were getting on in years and to whom time had not been very merciful. I
spoke of this to Hortense Damain.
"It's frightful!" I said.
"Yes, but it's chic."
She was very charming, my friend Hortense, but she troubled about
nothing that was not _chic_. She sent me the "_Chic_ commandments" a few
days before I left Paris:
_Chester Square tu habiteras._ In Chester Square thou shalt live
_Rotten Row tu monteras_ In Rotten Row thou shalt ride
_Le Parlement visiteras_ Parliament thou shalt visit
_Garden-parties frequenteras_ Garden parties thou shalt frequent,
_Chaque visite tu rendras_ Every visit thou shalt return
_A chaque lettre tu repondras_ Every letter thou shalt answer
_Photographies tu signeras_ Photographs thou shalt sign
_Hortense Damain tu ecouteras_ To Hortense Damain thou shalt listen
_Et tous ses conseils, les suicras._ And all her counsels thou shalt follow.
I laughed at these "commandments," but I soon realised that under this
jocular form she considered them as very serious and important. Alas! my
poor friend had hit upon the wrong person for her counsels. I detested
paying visits, writing letters, signing photographs, or following any
one's advice. I adore having people come to see me, and I detest going
to see them. I adore receiving letters, reading them, commenting on
them, but I detest writing them. I detest riding and driving in
frequented parts, and I adore lonely roads and solitary places. I adore
giving advice and I detest receiving it, and I never follow at once any
wise advice that is given me. It always requires an effort of my will to
recognise the justice of any counsel, and then an effort of my intellect
to be grateful for it: at first, it simply annoys me.
Consequently, I paid no attention to Hortense Damain's counsels, nor yet
to Jarrett's; and in this I made a great mistake, for many people were
vexed with me (in any other country I should have made enemies). On that
first visit to London what a quantity of letters of invitation I
received to which I never replied! How many charming women called upon
me and I never returned their calls. Then, too, how many times accepted
invitations to dinner and never went after all, nor did I even send a
line of excuse. It is perfectly odious, I know; and yet I always accept
with pleasure and intend to go, but when the day comes I am tired
perhaps, or want to have a quiet time, or to be free from any
obligation, and when I am obliged to decide one way or another, the time
has gone by and it is too late to send word and too late to go. And so I
stay at home, dissatisfied with myself, with every one else and with
LONDON LIFE--MY FIRST PERFORMANCE AT THE GAIETY THEATRE
Hospitality is a quality made up of primitive taste and antique
grandeur. The English are, in my opinion, the most hospitable people on
earth, and they are hospitable simply and munificently. When an
Englishman has opened his door to you he never closes it again. He
excuses your faults and accepts your peculiarities. It is thanks to this
broadness of ideas that I have been for twenty-five years the beloved
and pampered artiste.
I was delighted with my first _soiree_ in London, and I returned home
very gay and very much "anglomaniaised." I found some of my friends
there--Parisians who had just arrived--and they were furious. My
enthusiasm exasperated them, and we sat up arguing until two in the
The next day I went to Rotten Row. It was glorious weather, and all Hyde
Park seemed to be strewn with enormous bouquets. There were the
flower-beds wonderfully arranged by the gardeners; then there were the
clusters of sunshades, blue, pink, red, white, or yellow, which
sheltered the light hats covered with flowers under which shone the
pretty faces of children and women. Along the riding path there was an
exciting gallop of graceful thoroughbreds bearing along some hundreds of
horsewomen, slender, supple, and courageous; then there were men and
children, the latter mounted on big Irish ponies. There were other
children, too, galloping along on Scotch ponies with long, shaggy manes,
the children's hair and the manes of the horses streaming in the wind of
their own speed.
The carriage road between the riding-track and the foot passengers was
filled with dog-carts, open carriages of various kinds, mail-coaches,
and very smart cabs. There were powdered footmen, horses decorated with
flowers, sportsmen driving, ladies, too, driving admirable horses. All
this elegance, this essence of luxury, and this joy of life brought back
to my memory the vision of our Bois de Boulogne, so elegant and so
animated a few years before, when Napoleon III. used to drive through on
his _daumont_, nonchalant and smiling. Ah, how beautiful it was in those
days--our Bois de Boulogne, with the officers caracoling in the Avenue
des Acacias, admired by our beautiful society women!
The joy of life was everywhere--the love of love enveloping life with an
infinite charm. I closed my eyes, and I felt a pang at my heart as the
awful recollections of 1870 crowded to my brain. He was dead, our gentle
Emperor, with his shrewd smile. Dead, vanquished by the sword, betrayed
by fortune, crushed with grief.
The thread of life in Paris had been taken up again in all its
intenseness, but the life of elegance, of charm, and of luxury was still
shrouded in crape. Scarcely eight years had passed since the war had
struck down our soldiers, ruined our hopes, and tarnished our glory.
Three Presidents had already succeeded each other. That wretched little
Thiers, with his perverse _bourgeois_ soul, had worn his teeth out with
nibbling at every kind of Government--royalty under Louis Philippe,
Empire under Napoleon III., and the executive power of the French
Republic. He had never even thought of lifting our beloved Paris up
again, bowed down as she was under the weight of so many ruins. He had
been succeeded by MacMahon, a good, brave man, but a cipher. Grevy had
succeeded the Marshal, but he was miserly, and considered all outlay
unnecessary for himself, for other people, and for the country. And so
Paris remained sad, nursing the leprosy that the Commune had
communicated to her by the kiss of its fires. And our delightful Bois de
Boulogne still bore the traces of the injuries that the national defence
had inflicted on her. The Avenue des Acacias was deserted.
I opened my eyes again. They were filled with tears, and through their
mist I caught a glimpse once more of the triumphant vitality which
I wanted to return home at once, for I was acting that night for the
first time, and I felt rather wretched and despairing. There were
several persons awaiting me at my house in Chester Square, but I did not
want to see any one. I took a cup of tea and went to the Gaiety Theatre,
where we were to face the English public for the first time. I knew
already that I had been elected the favourite, and the idea of this
chilled me with terror, for I am what is known as a _traqueuse_. I am
subject to the _trac_ or stage fright, and I have it terribly. When I
first appeared on the stage I was timid, but I never had this _trac_. I
used to turn as red as a poppy when I happened to meet the eye of some
spectator. I was ashamed of talking so loud before so many silent
people. That was the effect of my cloistered life, but I had no feeling
of fear. The first time I ever had the real sensation of _trac_ or stage
fright was in the month of January 1869, at the seventh or perhaps the
eighth performance of _Le Passant_. The success of this little
masterpiece had been enormous, and my interpretation of the part of
Zanetto had delighted the public, and particularly the students. When I
went on the stage that day I was suddenly applauded by the whole house.
I turned towards the Imperial box, thinking that the Emperor had just
entered. But no; the box was empty, and I realised then that all the
bravos were for me. I was seized with a fit of nervous trembling, and my
eyes smarted with tears that I had to keep back. Agar and I had five
curtain calls, and on leaving the theatre the students ranged on each
side gave me three cheers. On reaching home I flung myself into the arms
of my blind grandmother, who was then living with me.
"What's the matter with you, my dear?" she asked.
"It's all over with me, grandmother," I said. "They want to make a
'star' of me, and I haven't talent enough for that. You'll see they'll
drag me down and finish me off with all their bravos."
My grandmother took my head in her hands, and I met the vacant look in
her large light eyes fixed on me.
"You told me, my child, that you wanted to be the first in your
profession, and when the opportunity comes to you, why, you are
frightened. It seems to me that you are a very bad soldier."
I drove back my tears, and declared that I would bear up courageously
against this success which had come to interfere with my tranquillity,
my heedlessness, and my "don't care-ism." But from that time forth fear
took possession of me, and stage fright martyrised me.
It was under these conditions that I prepared for the second act of
_Phedre,_ in which I was to appear for the first time before the English
public. Three times over I put rouge on my cheeks, blackened my eyes,
and three times over I took it all off again with a sponge. I thought I
looked ugly, and it seemed to me I was thinner than ever and not so
tall. I closed my eyes to listen to my voice. My special pitch is "_le
bal,_" which I pronounce low down with the open _a, "le baaal_" or take
high by dwelling on the _l--"le balll._" Ah, but there was no doubt
about it; my "_le bal_" neither sounded high nor low, my voice was
hoarse in the low notes and not clear in the soprano. I cried with rage,
and just then I was informed that the second act of _Phedre_ was about
to commence. This drove me wild. I had not my veil on, nor my rings, and
my cameo belt was not fastened.
I began to murmur:
"_Le voici! Vers mon coeur tout mon sang se retire.
J'oublie en le voyant...._"
That word "_j'oublie_" struck me with a new idea. What if I did forget
the words I had to say? Why, yes. What was it I had to say? I did not
know--I could not remember. What was I to say after "_en le voyant_"?
No one answered me. Every one was alarmed at my nervous state. I heard
Got mumble, "She's going mad!"
Mlle. Thenard, who was playing Oenone, my old nurse, said to me, "Calm
yourself. All the English have gone to Paris; there's no one in the
house but Belgians."
This foolishly comic speech turned my thoughts in another direction.
"How stupid you are!" I said. "You know how frightened I was at
"Oh, all for nothing," she answered calmly. "There were only English
people in the theatre that day."
I had to go on the stage at once, and I could not even answer her, but
she had changed the current of my ideas. I still had stage fright, but
not the fright that paralyses, only the kind that drives one wild. This
is bad enough, but it is preferable to the other sort. It makes one do
too much, but at any rate one does something.
The whole house had applauded my arrival on the stage for a few seconds,
and as I bent my head in acknowledgment I said within myself,
"Yes--yes--you shall see. I'm going to give you my very blood--my life
When I began my part, as I had lost my self-possession, I started on
rather too high a note, and when once in full swing I could not get
lower again--I simply could not stop. I suffered, I wept, I implored, I
cried out; and it was all real. My suffering was horrible; my tears were
flowing, scorching and bitter. I implored Hippolyte for the love which
was killing me, and my arms stretched out to Mounet-Sully were the arms
of Phedre writhing in the cruel longing for his embrace. The inspiration
When the curtain fell Mounet-Sully lifted me up inanimate and carried me
to my dressing-room.
The public, unaware of what was happening, wanted me to appear again and
bow. I too wanted to return and thank the public for its attention, its
kindliness, and its emotion. I returned. The following is what John
Murray said in the _Gaulois_ of June 5, 1879:
"When, recalled with loud cries, Mlle. Bernhardt appeared, exhausted by
her efforts and supported by Mounet-Sully, she received an ovation which
I think is unique in the annals of the theatre in England."
The following morning the _Daily Telegraph_ terminated its admirable
criticism with these lines:
"Clearly Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt exerted every nerve and fibre, and her
passion grew with the excitement of the spectators, for when, after a
recall that could not be resisted, the curtain drew up, M. Mounet-Sully
was seen supporting the exhausted figure of the actress, who had won her
triumph only after tremendous physical exertion--and triumph it was,
however short and sudden."
The _Standard_ finished its article with these words: "The subdued
passion, repressed for a time, until at length it burst its bonds, and
the despairing, heart-broken woman is revealed to Hippolyte, was shown
with so vivid a reality that a scene of enthusiasm such as is rarely
witnessed in a theatre followed the fall of the curtain. Mlle. Sarah
Bernhardt in the few minutes she was upon the stage (and coming on, it
must be remembered, to plunge into the middle of a stirring tragedy) yet
contrived to make an impression which will not soon be effaced from
those who were present."
The _Morning Post _said:
"Very brief are the words spoken before Phedre rushes into the room to
commence tremblingly and nervously, with struggles which rend and tear
and convulse the system, the secret of her shameful love. As her passion
mastered what remained of modesty or reserve in her nature, the woman
sprang forward and recoiled again, with the movements of a panther,
striving, as it seemed, to tear from her bosom the heart which stifled
her with its unholy longings, until in the end, when, terrified at the
horror her breathings have provoked in Hippolyte, she strove to pull his
sword from its sheath and plunge it in her own breast, she fell back in
complete and absolute collapse. This exhibition, marvellous in beauty of
pose, in febrile force, in intensity, and in purity of delivery, is the
more remarkable as the passion had to be reached, so to speak, at a
bound, no performance of the first act having roused the actress to the
requisite heat. It proved Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt worthy of her
reputation, and shows what may be expected from her by the public which
has eagerly expected her coming."
This London first night was decisive for my future.
MY PERFORMANCES IN LONDON--MY EXHIBITION--MY WILD ANIMALS--TROUBLE WITH
THE COMEDIE FRANCAISE
My intense desire to win over the English public had caused me to
overtax my strength. I had done my utmost at the first performance, and
had not spared myself in the least. The consequence was in the night I
vomited blood in such an alarming way that a messenger was despatched to
the French Embassy in search of a physician. Dr. Vintras, who was at the
head of the French Hospital in London, found me lying on my bed,
exhausted and looking more dead than alive. He was afraid that I should
not recover, and requested that my family be sent for. I made a gesture
with my hand to the effect that it was not necessary. As I could not
speak, I wrote down with a pencil, "Send for Dr. Parrot."
Dr. Vintras remained with me part of the night, putting crushed ice
between my lips every five minutes. At length towards five in the
morning the blood vomiting ceased, and, thanks to a potion that the
doctor gave me, I fell asleep.
We were to play _L'Etrangere_ that night at the Gaiety, and, as my
_role_ was not a very fatiguing one, I wanted to perform my part
Dr. Parrot arrived by the four o'clock boat, and refused categorically
to give his consent. He had attended me from my childhood. I really felt
much better, and the feverishness had left me. I wanted to get up, but
to this Dr. Parrot objected.
Presently Dr. Vintras and Mr. Mayer, the impresario of the Comedie
Francaise, were announced. Mr. Hollingshead. the director of the Gaiety
Theatre, was waiting in a carriage at the door to know whether I was
going to play in _L'Etrangere_, the piece announced on the bills. I
asked Dr. Parrot to rejoin Dr. Vintras in the drawing-room, and I gave
instructions for Mr. Mayer to be introduced into my room.
"I feel much better," I said to him very quickly. "I'm very weak still,
but I will play. Hush!--don't say a word here. Tell Hollingshead, and
wait for me in the smoking-room, but don't let any one else know."
I then got up and dressed very quickly. My maid helped me, and as she
had guessed what my plan was, she was highly amused.
Wrapped in my cloak, with a lace fichu over my head, I joined Mayer in
the smoking-room, and then we both got into his hansom.
"Come to me in an hour's time," I said in a low voice to my maid.
"Where are you going?" asked Mayer, perfectly stupefied.
"To the theatre! Quick--quick!" I answered.
The cab started, and I then explained to him that if I had stayed at
home, neither Dr. Parrot nor Dr. Vintras would have allowed me to
"The die is cast now," I added, "and we shall see what happens."
When once I was at the theatre I took refuge in the manager's private
office, in order to avoid Dr. Parrot's anger. I was very fond of him,
and I knew how wrongly I was acting with regard to him, considering the
inconvenience to which he had put himself in making the journey
specially for me in response to my summons. I knew, though, how
impossible it would have been to have made him understand that I felt
really better, and that in risking my life I was really only risking
what was my own to dispose of as I pleased.
Half an hour later my maid joined me. She brought with her a letter from
Dr. Parrot, full of gentle reproaches and furious advice, finishing with
a prescription in case of a relapse. He was leaving an hour later, and
would not even come and shake hands with me. I felt quite sure, though,
that we should make it all up again on my return. I then began to
prepare for my _role_ in _L'Etrangere_. While dressing I fainted three
times, but I was determined to play _quand-meme_.
The opium that I had taken in my potion made my head rather heavy. I
arrived on the stage in a semi-conscious state, delighted with the
applause I received. I walked along as though I were in a dream, and
could scarcely distinguish my surroundings. The house itself I only saw
through a luminous mist. My feet glided along without any effort on the
carpet, and my voice sounded to me far away, very far away. I was in
that delicious stupor that one experiences after chloroform, morphine,
opium, or hasheesh.
The first act went off very well, but in the third act, just when I was
about to tell the Duchesse de Septmonts (Croizette) all the troubles
that I, Mrs. Clarkson, had gone through during my life, just as I should
have commenced my interminable story, I could not remember anything.
Croizette murmured my first phrase for me, but I could only see her lips
move without hearing a word. I then said quite calmly:
"The reason I sent for you here, Madame, is because I wanted to tell you
my reasons for acting as I have done. I have thought it over and have
decided not to tell you them to-day."
Sophie Croizette gazed at me with a terrified look in her eyes. She then
rose and left the stage, her lips trembling, and her eyes fixed on me
all the time.
"What's the matter?" every one asked when she sank almost breathless
into an arm-chair.
"Sarah has gone mad!" she exclaimed. "I assure you she has gone quite
mad. She has cut out the whole of her scene with me."
"But how?" every one asked.
"She has cut out two hundred lines," said Croizette.
"But what for?" was the eager question.
"I don't know. She looks quite calm."
The whole of this conversation, which was repeated to me later on, took
much less time than it does now to write it down. Coquelin had been
told, and he now came on to the stage to finish the act. The curtain
fell. I was stupefied and desperate afterwards on hearing all that
people told me. I had not noticed that anything was wrong, and it seemed
to me that I had played the whole of my part as usual, but I was really
under the influence of the opium. There was very little for me to say in
the fifth act, and I went through that perfectly well. The following day
the accounts in the papers sounded the praises of our company, but the
piece itself was criticised. I was afraid at first that my involuntary
omission of the important scene in the third act was one of the causes
of the severity of the Press. This was not so, though, as all the
critics had read and re-read the piece. They discussed the play itself,
and did not mention my slip of memory.
The _Figaro_, which was in a very bad humour with me just then, had an
article from which I quote the following extract:
"_L'Etrangere_ is not a piece in accordance with the English taste.
Mlle. Croizette, however, was applauded enthusiastically, and so were
Coquelin and Febvre. Mile. Sarah Bernhardt, nervous as usual, lost her
memory.'" (_Figaro_, June 3rd.)
He knew perfectly well, this worthy Mr. Johnson, [Footnote: T. Johnson,
London correspondent of _Le Figaro_.] that I was very ill. He had been
to my house and seen Dr. Parrot; consequently he was aware that I was
acting in spite of the Faculty in the interests of the Comedie
Francaise. The English public had given me such proofs of appreciation
that the Comedie was rather affected by it, and the _Figaro_, which was
at that time the organ of the Theatre Francais, requested Johnson to
modify his praises of me. This he did the whole time that we were in
My reason for telling about my loss of memory, which was quite an
unimportant incident in itself, is merely to prove to authors how
unnecessary it is to take the trouble of explaining the characters of
their creations. Alexandre Dumas was certainly anxious to give us the
reasons which caused Mrs. Clarkson to act as strangely as she did. He
had created a person who was extremely interesting and full of action as
the play proceeds. She reveals herself to the public, in the first act,
by the lines which Mrs. Clarkson says to Madame de Septmonts:
"I should be very glad, Madame, if you would call on me. We could talk
about one of your friends, Monsieur Gerard, whom I love perhaps as much
as you do, although he does not perhaps care for me as he does for you."
That was quite enough to interest the public in these two women. It was
the eternal struggle of good and evil, the combat between vice and
virtue. But it evidently seemed rather commonplace to Dumas, ancient
history, in fact, and he wanted to rejuvenate the old theme by trying to
arrange for an orchestra with organ and banjo. The result he obtained
was a fearful cacophony. He wrote a foolish piece, which might have been
a beautiful one. The originality of his style, the loyalty of his ideas,
and the brutality of his humour sufficed for rejuvenating old ideas
which, in reality, are the eternal basis of tragedies, comedies, novels,
pictures, poems, and pamphlets. It was love between vice and virtue.
Among the spectators who saw the first performance of _L'Etrangere_ in
London, and there were quite as many French as English present, not one
remarked that there was something wanting, and not one of them said that
he had not understood the character.
I talked about it to a very learned Frenchman.
"Did you notice the gap in the third act?" I asked him.
"No," he replied.
"In my big scene with Croizette?"
"Well then, read what I left out," I insisted.
When he had read this he exclaimed:
"So much the better. It's very dull, all that story, and quite useless.
I understand the character without all that rigmarole and that romantic
Later on, when I apologised to Dumas _fils_ for the way in which I had
cut down his play, he answered, "Oh, my dear child, when I write a play
I think it is good, when I see it played I think it is stupid, and when
any one tells it to me I think it is perfect, as the person always
forgets half of it."
The performances given by the Comedie Francaise drew a crowd nightly to
the Gaiety Theatre, and I remained the favourite. I mention this now
with pride, but without any vanity. I was very happy and very grateful
for my success, but my comrades had a grudge against me on account of
it, and hostilities began in an underhand, treacherous way.
Mr. Jarrett, my adviser and agent, had assured me that I should be able
to sell a few of my works, either my sculpture or paintings. I had
therefore taken with me six pieces of sculpture and ten pictures, and I
had an exhibition of them in Piccadilly. I sent out invitations, about a
hundred in all.
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales let me know that he would come
with the Princess of Wales. The English aristocracy and the celebrities
of London came to the inauguration. I had only sent out a hundred
invitations, but twelve hundred people arrived and were introduced to
me. I was delighted, and enjoyed it all immensely.
Mr. Gladstone did me the great honour of talking to me for about ten
minutes. With his genial mind he spoke of everything in a singularly
gracious way. He asked me what impression the attacks of certain
clergymen on the Comedie Francaise and the damnable profession of
dramatic artistes had made on me. I answered that I considered our art
quite as profitable, morally, as the sermons of Catholic and Protestant
"But will you tell me, Mademoiselle,'" he insisted, "what moral lesson
you can draw from _Phedre_?"
"Oh, Mr. Gladstone," I replied, "you surprise me. _Phedre_ is an ancient
tragedy; the morality and customs of those times belong to perspective
quite different from ours and different from the morality of our present
society. And yet in that there is the punishment of the old nurse
Oenone, who commits the atrocious crime of accusing an innocent person.
The love of Phedre is excusable on account of the fatality which hangs
over her family and descends pitilessly upon her. In our times we should
call that fatality atavism, for Phedre was the daughter of Minos and
Pasiphae. As to Theseus, his verdict, against which there could be no
appeal, was an arbitrary and monstrous act, and was punished by the
death of that beloved son of his, who was the sole and last hope of his
life. We ought never to do what is irreparable."
"Ah," said the Grand Old Man, "you are against capital punishment?"
"Yes, Mr. Gladstone."
"And quite right, Mademoiselle."
Frederic Leighton then joined us, and with great kindness complimented
me on one of my pictures, representing a young girl holding some palms.
This picture was bought by Prince Leopold.
My little exhibition was a great success, but I never thought that it
was to be the cause of so much gossip and of so many cowardly
side-thrusts, until finally it led to my rupture with the Comedie
I had no pretensions either as a painter or a sculptress, and I
exhibited my works for the sake of selling them, as I wanted to buy two
little lions, and had not money enough. I sold the pictures for what
they were worth--that is to say, at very modest prices.
Lady H---- bought my group _After the Storm_. It was smaller than the
large group I had exhibited two years previously at the Paris Salon, and
for which I had received a prize. The smaller group was in marble, and I
had worked at it with the greatest care. I wanted to sell it for L160,
but Lady H---- sent me L400, together with a charming note, which I
venture to quote. It ran as follows:
"Do me the favour, Madame, of accepting the enclosed L400 for your
admirable group, _After the Storm_. Will you also do me the honour of
coming to lunch with me, and afterwards you shall choose for yourself
the place where your piece of sculpture will have the best light.--ETHEL
This was Tuesday, and I was playing in Zaire that evening, but
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I was not acting. I had money enough now
to buy my lions, so without saying a word at the theatre I started for
Liverpool. I knew there was a big menagerie there, Cross's Zoo, and that
I should find some lions for sale.
The journey was most amusing, as although I was travelling incognito, I
was recognised all along the route and was made a great deal of.
Three gentlemen friends and Hortense Damain were with me, and it was a
very lively little trip. I knew that I was not shirking my duties at the
Comedie, as I was not to play again before Saturday, and this was only
We started in the morning at 10.30, and arrived at Liverpool about 2.30.
We went at once to Cross's, but could not find the entrance to the
house. We asked a shopkeeper at the corner of the street, and he pointed
to a little door which we had already opened and closed twice, as we
could not believe that was the entrance.
I had seen a large iron gateway with a wide courtyard beyond, and we
were in front of a little door leading into quite a small, bare-looking
room, where we found a little man.
"Mr. Cross?" we said. "That's my name," he replied.
"I want to buy some lions," I then said.
He began to laugh, and then he asked:
"Do you really, Mademoiselle? Are you so fond of animals? I went to
London last week to see the Comedie Francaise, and I saw you in
"It wasn't from that you discovered that I like animals?" I said to him.
"No, it was a man who sells dogs in St. Andrew's Street who told me. He
said you had bought two dogs from him, and that if it had not been for a
gentleman who was with you, you would have bought five."
He told me all this in very bad French, but with a great deal of humour.
"Well, Mr. Cross," I said, "I want two lions to-day."
"I'll show you what I have," he replied, leading the way into the
courtyard where the wild beasts were. Oh, what magnificent creatures
they were! There were two superb African lions with shining coats and
powerful-looking tails, which were beating the air. They had only just
arrived and they were in perfect health, with plenty of courage for
rebellion. They knew nothing of the resignation which is the dominating
stigma of civilised beings.
"Oh, Mr. Cross," I said, "these are too big. I want some young lions!"
"I haven't any, Mademoiselle."
"Well, then, show me all your animals."
I saw the tigers, the leopards, the jackals, the cheetahs, the pumas,
and I stopped in front of the elephants. I simply adore them, and I
should have liked to have a dwarf elephant. That has always been one of
my dreams, and perhaps some day I shall be able to realise it.
Cross had not any, though, so I bought a cheetah. It was quite young and
very droll; it looked like a gargoyle on some castle of the Middle Ages.
I also bought a dog-wolf, all white with a thick coat, fiery eyes, and
spear-like teeth. He was terrifying to look at. Mr. Cross made me a
present of six chameleons which belonged to a small breed and looked
like lizards. He also gave me an admirable chameleon, a prehistoric,
fabulous sort of animal. It was a veritable Chinese curiosity, and
changed colour from pale green to dark bronze, at one minute slender and
long like a lily leaf, and then all at once puffed out and thick-set
like a toad. Its lorgnette eyes, like those of a lobster, were quite
independent of each other. With its right eye it would look ahead and
with its left eye it looked backwards. I was delighted and quite
enthusiastic over this present. I named my chameleon "Cross-ci
Cross-ca," in honour of Mr. Cross.
We returned to London with the cheetah in a cage, the dog-wolf in a
leash, my six little chameleons in a box, and Cross-ci Cross-ca on my
shoulder, fastened to a gold chain we had bought at a jeweller's.
I had not found any lions, but I was delighted all the same.
My servants were not as pleased as I was. There were already three dogs
in the house: Minniccio, who had accompanied me from Paris; Bull and
Fly, bought in London. Then there was my parrot Bizibouzou, and my
Madame Guerard screamed when she saw these new guests arrive. My steward
hesitated to approach the dog-wolf, and it was all in vain that I
assured them that my cheetah was not dangerous. No one would open the
cage, and it was carried out into the garden. I asked for a hammer in
order to open the door of the cage which had been nailed down, thus
keeping the poor cheetah a prisoner. When my domestics heard me ask for
the hammer they decided to open it themselves. Madame Guerard and the
women servants watched from the windows. Presently the door burst open,
and the cheetah, beside himself with joy, sprang like a tiger out of his
cage, wild with liberty. He rushed at the trees and made straight for
the dogs, who all four began to howl with terror. The parrot was
excited, and uttered shrill cries; and the monkey, shaking his cage
about, gnashed his teeth to distraction. This concert in the silent
square made the most prodigious effect. All the windows were opened, and
more than twenty faces appeared above my garden wall, all of them
inquisitive, alarmed, or furious. I was seized with a fit of
uncontrollable laughter, and so was my friend Louise Abbema. Nittis the
painter, who had come to call on me, was in the same state, and so was
Gustave Dore, who had been waiting for me ever since two o'clock.
Georges Deschamp, an amateur musician with a great deal of talent, tried
to note down this Hofmannesque harmony, whilst my friend Georges
Clairin, his back shaking with laughter, sketched the never-to-be
The next day in London the chief topic of conversation was the Bedlam
that had been let loose at 77 Chester Square. So much was made of it
that our _doyen_, M. Got, came to beg me not to make such a scandal, as
it reflected on the Comedie Francaise. I listened to him in silence, and
when he had finished I took his hands.
"Come with me and I will show you the scandal," I said. I led the way
into the garden, followed by my visitor and friends. "Let the cheetah
out!" I said, standing on the steps like a captain ordering his men to
take in a reef.
When the cheetah was free the same mad scene occurred again as on the
"You see, Monsieur le Doyen," I said, "this is my Bedlam." "You are
mad," he said, kissing me; "but it certainly is irresistibly comic," and
he laughed until the tears came when he saw all the heads appearing
above the garden wall.
The hostilities continued, though, through scraps of gossip retailed by
one person to another and from one set to another. The French Press took
it up, and so did the English Press. In spite of my happy disposition
and my contempt for ill-natured tales, I began to feel irritated.
Injustice has always roused me to revolt, and injustice was certainly
having its fling. I could not do a thing that was not watched and
One day I was complaining of this to Madeleine Brohan, whom I loved
dearly. That adorable artiste took my face in her hands, and looking
into my eyes, said:
"My poor dear, you can't do anything to prevent it. You are original
without trying to be so. You have a dreadful head of hair that is
naturally curly and rebellious, your slenderness is exaggerated, you
have a natural harp in your throat, and all this makes of you a creature
apart, which is a crime of high treason against all that is commonplace.
That is what is the matter with you physically. Now for your moral
defects. You cannot hide your thoughts, you cannot stoop to anything,
you never accept any compromise, you will not lend yourself to any
hypocrisy--and all that is a crime of high treason against society. How
can you expect under these conditions not to arouse jealousy, not to
wound people's susceptibilities, and not to make them spiteful? If you
are discouraged because of these attacks, it will be all over with you,
as you will have no strength left to withstand them. In that case I
advise you to brush your hair, to put oil on it, and so make it lie as
sleek as that of the famous Corsican; but even that would never do, for
Napoleon had such sleek hair that it was quite original. Well, you might
try to brush your hair as smooth as Prudhon's, [Footnote: Prudhon was
one of the artistes of the Theatre Francais.] then there would be no
risk for you. I would advise you," she continued, "to get a little
stouter, and to let your voice break occasionally; then you would not
annoy any one. But if you wish to remain _yourself_, my dear, prepare to
mount on a little pedestal made of calumny, scandal, injustice,
adulation, flattery, lies, and truths. When you are once upon it,
though, do the right thing, and cement it by your talent, your work, and
your kindness. All the spiteful people who have unintentionally provided
the first materials for the edifice will kick it then, in hopes of
destroying it. They will be powerless to do this, though, if you choose
to prevent them; and that is just what I hope for you, my dear Sarah, as
you have an ambitious thirst for glory. I cannot understand that myself,
as I only like rest and retirement."
I looked at her with envy, she was so beautiful: with her liquid eyes,
her face with its pure, restful lines, and her weary smile. I wondered
in an uneasy way if happiness were not rather in this calm tranquillity,
in the disdain of all things. I asked her gently if this were so, for I
wanted to know; and she told me that the theatre bored her, that she had
had so many disappointments. She shuddered when she spoke of her
marriage, and as to her motherhood, that had only caused her sorrow. Her
love affairs had left her with affections crushed and physically
disabled. The light seemed doomed to fade from her beautiful eyes, her
legs were swollen and could scarcely carry her. She told me all this in
the same calm, half weary tone.
What had charmed me only a short time before chilled me to the heart
now, for her dislike to movement was caused by the weakness of her eyes
and her legs, and her delight in retirement was only the love of that
peace which was so necessary to her, wounded as she was by the life she
The love of life, though, took possession of me more violently than
ever. I thanked my dear friend, and profited by her advice. I armed
myself for the struggle, preferring to die in the midst of the battle
rather than to end my life regretting that it had been a failure. I made
up my mind not to weep over the base things that were said about me, and
not to suffer any more injustices. I made up my mind, too, to stand on
the defensive, and very soon an occasion presented itself.
_L'Etrangere_ was to be played for the second time at a _matinee_, June
21, 1879. The day before I had sent word to Mayer that I was not well,
and that as I was playing in _Hernani_ at night, I should be glad if he
could change the play announced for the afternoon if possible. The
advance booking, however, was more than L400, and the committee would
not hear of it.
"Oh well," Got said to Mr. Mayer, "we must give the _role_ to some one
else if Sarah Bernhardt cannot play. There will be Croizette, Madeleine
Brohan, Coquelin, Febvre, and myself in the cast, and, _que diable!_ it
seems to me that all of us together will make up for Mademoiselle
Coquelin was requested to ask Lloyd to take my part, as she had played
this _role_ at the Comedie when I was ill. Lloyd was afraid to undertake
it, though, and refused. It was decided to change the play, and
_Tartufe_ was given instead of _L'Etrangere_. Nearly all the public,
however, asked to have their money refunded, and the receipts, which
would have been about L500, only amounted to L84. All the spite and
jealousy now broke loose, and the whole company of the Comedie, more
particularly the men, with the exception of M. Worms, started a campaign
against me. Francisque Sarcey, as drum-major, beat the measure with his
terrible pen in his hand. The most foolish, slanderous, and stupid
inventions and the most odious lies took their flight like a cloud of
wild ducks, and swooped suddenly down upon all the newspapers that were
against me. It was said that for a shilling any one might see me dressed
as a man; that I smoked huge cigars, leaning on the balcony of my house;
that at the various receptions where I gave one-act plays I took my maid
with me to play a small part; that I practised fencing in my garden,
dressed as a pierrot in white; and that when taking boxing lessons I had
broken two teeth of my unfortunate professor.
Some of my friends advised me to take no notice of all these turpitudes,
assuring me that the public could not possibly believe them. They were
mistaken, though, for the public likes to believe bad things about any
one, as these are always more amusing than the good things. I soon had a
proof that the English public was beginning to believe what the French
papers said. I received a letter from a tailor asking me if I would
consent to wear a coat of his make when I appeared in masculine attire,
and not only did he offer me this coat for nothing, but he was willing
to pay me a hundred pounds if I would wear it. This man was an ill-bred
person, but he was sincere. I received several boxes of cigars, and the
boxing and fencing professors wrote to offer their services
gratuitously. All this annoyed me to such a degree that I resolved to
put an end to it. An article by Albert Wolff in the Paris _Figaro_
caused me to take steps to cut matters short.
This is what I wrote in reply to the article in the _Figaro_, June 27,
"Albert Wolff, _Figaro_, Paris.
"And you, too, my dear Monsieur Wolff--you believe in such insanities?
Who can have been giving you such false information? Yes, you are my
friend, though, for in spite of all the infamies you have been told, you
have still a little indulgence left. Well then, I give you my word of
honour that I have never dressed as a man here in London. I did not even
bring my sculptor costume with me. I give the most emphatic denial to
this misrepresentation. I only went once to the exhibition which I
organised, and that was on the opening day, for which I had only sent
out a few private invitations, so that no one paid a shilling to see me.
It is true that I have accepted some private engagements to act, but you
know that I am one of the least remunerated members of the Comedie
Francaise. I certainly have the right, therefore, to try to make up the
difference. I have ten pictures and eight pieces of sculpture on
exhibition. That, too, is quite true, but as I brought them over here to
sell, really I must show them. As to the respect due to the House of
Moliere, dear Monsieur Wolff, I lay claim to keeping that in mind more
than any one else, for I am absolutely incapable of inventing such
calumnies for the sake of slaying one of its standard-bearers. And now,
if the stupidities invented about me have annoyed the Parisians, and if
they have decided to receive me ungraciously on my return, I do not wish
any one to be guilty of such baseness on my account, so I will send in
my resignation to the Comedie Francaise. If the London public is tired
of all this fuss and should be inclined to show me ill-will instead of
the indulgence hitherto accorded me I shall ask the Comedie to allow me
to leave England, in order to spare our company the annoyance of seeing
one of its members hooted at and hissed. I am sending you this letter by
wire, as the consideration I have for public opinion gives me the right
to commit this little folly, and I beg you, dear Monsieur Wolff, to
accord to my letter the same honour as you did to the calumnies of my
enemies.--With very kind regards,
This telegram caused much ink to flow. Whilst treating me as a spoiled
child, people generally agreed that I was quite right. The Comedie was
most amiable. Perrin, the manager, wrote me an affectionate letter
begging me to give up my idea of leaving the company. The women were
most friendly. Croizette came to see me, and putting her arms round me,
said, "Tell me you won't do such a thing, my dear, foolish child! You
won't really send in your resignation? In the first place; it would not
be accepted, I can answer for that!"
Mounet-Sully talked to me of art and of probity. His whole speech
savoured of Protestantism. There are several Protestant pastors in his
family, and this influenced him unconsciously. Delaunay, surnamed Father
Candour, came solemnly to inform me of the bad impression my telegram
had made. He told me that the Comedie Francaise was a Ministry; that
there was the Minister, the secretary, the sub-chiefs and the
_employes_, and that each one must conform to the rules and bring in his
share either of talent or work, and so on and so on. I saw Coquelin at
the theatre in the evening. He came to me with outstretched hands.
"You know I can't compliment you," he said, "on your rash action, but
with good luck we shall make you change your mind. When one has the good
fortune and the honour of belonging to the Comedie Francaise, one must
remain there until the end of one's career."
Frederic Febvre pointed out to me that I ought to stay with the Comedie,
because it would save money for me, and I was quite incapable of doing
"Believe me," he said, "when we are with the Comedie we must not leave;
it means our bread provided for us later on."
Got, our _doyen_, then approached me.
"Do you know what you are doing in sending in your resignation?" he
"No," I replied.
"You are mistaken," I answered; "I am not deserting: I am changing
Others then came to me, and they all gave me advice tinged by their own
personality: Mounet as a seer or believer; Delaunay prompted by his
bureaucratic soul; Coquelin as a politician blaming another person's
ideas, but extolling them later on and putting them into practice for
his own profit; Febvre, a lover of respectability; Got, as a selfish old
growler understanding nothing but the orders of the powers that be and
advancement as ordained on hierarchical lines. Worms said to me in his
"Will they be better towards you elsewhere?"
Worms had the most dreamy soul and the most frank, straightforward
character of any member of our illustrious company. I liked him
We were about to return to Paris, and I wanted to forget all these
things for a time. I was in a hesitating mood. I postponed taking a
definite decision. The stir that had been made about me, the good that
had been said in my favour and the bad things written against me--all
this combined had created in the artistic world an atmosphere of battle.
When on the point of leaving for Paris some of my friends felt very
anxious about the reception which I should get there.
The public is very much mistaken in imagining that the agitation made
about celebrated artistes is in reality instigated by the persons
concerned, and that they do it purposely. Irritated at seeing the same
name constantly appearing on every occasion, the public declares that
the artiste who is being either slandered or pampered is an ardent lover
of publicity. Alas! three times over alas! We are victims of the said
advertisement. Those who know the joys and miseries of celebrity when
they have passed the age of forty know how to defend themselves. They
are at the beginning of a series of small worries, thunderbolts hidden
under flowers, but they know how to hold in check that monster
advertisement. It is a sort of octopus with innumerable tentacles. It
throws out on the right and on the left, in front and behind, its clammy
arms, and gathers in through its thousand little inhaling organs all the
gossip and slander and praise afloat, to spit out again at the public
when it is vomiting its black gall. But those who are caught in the
clutches of celebrity at the age of twenty know nothing. I remember that
the first time a reporter came to me I drew myself up straight and was
as red as a cock's-comb with joy. I was just seventeen years old--I had
been acting in a private house, and had taken the part of Richelieu with
immense success. This gentleman came to call on me at home, and asked me
first one question and then another and then another. I answered and
chattered, and was wild with pride and excitement. He took notes, and I
kept looking at my mother. It seemed to me that I was getting taller. I
had to kiss my mother by way of keeping my composure, and I hid my face
on her shoulder to hide my delight. Finally the gentleman rose, shook
hands with me, and then took his departure. I skipped about in the room
and began to turn round singing, _Trois petits pates, ma chemise brule_,
when suddenly the door opened and the gentleman said to mamma, "Oh,
Madame, I forgot, this is the receipt for the subscription to the
journal. It is a mere nothing, only sixteen francs a year." Mamma did
not understand at first. As for me, I stood still with my mouth open,
unable to digest my _petits pates_. Mamma then paid the sixteen francs,
and in her pity for me, as I was crying by that time, she stroked my
hair gently. Since then I have been delivered over to the monster, bound
hand and foot, and I have been and still am accused of adoring
advertisement. And to think that my first claims to celebrity were my
extraordinary thinness and delicate health. I had scarcely made my
_debut_ when epigrams, puns, jokes, and caricatures concerning me were
indulged in by every one to their heart's content. Was it really for the
sake of advertising myself that I was so thin, so small, so weak; and
was it for this, too, that I remained in bed six months of the year,
laid low by illness? My name became celebrated before I was myself.
On the first night of Louis Bouilhet's piece, _Mademoiselle Aisse_, at
the Odeon, Flaubert, who was an intimate friend of the author,
introduced an _attache_ of the British Embassy to me.
"Oh, I have known you for some time, Mademoiselle," he said; "you are
the little stick with the sponge on the top."
This caricature of me had just appeared, and had been the delight of
idle folks. I was quite a young girl at that time, and nothing of that
kind hurt me or troubled me. In the first place, all the doctors had
given me up, so that I was indifferent about things; but all the doctors
were mistaken, and twenty years later I had to fight against the
THE COMEDIE FRANCAISE RETURNS TO PARIS-SARAH BERNHARDT'S COMMENTS ON
ACTORS AND ACTRESSES OF THE DAY
The return of the Comedie to its home was an event, but an event that
was kept quiet. Our departure from Paris had been very lively and gay,
and quite a public function. Our return was clandestine for many of the
members, and for me among the number. It was a doleful return for those
who had not been appreciated, whilst those who had been failures were
I had not been back home an hour when Perrin was announced. He began to
reproach me gently about the little care I took of my health. He said I
caused too much fuss to be made about me.
"But," I exclaimed, "is it my fault if I am too thin? Is it my fault,
too, if my hair is too curly, and if I don't think just as other people
do? Supposing that I took sufficient arsenic during a month to make me
swell out like a barrel, and supposing I were to shave my head like an
Arab and only answer, 'Yes' to everything you said, people would declare
I did it for advertisement."
"But, my dear child," answered Perrin, "there are people who are neither
fat nor thin, neither close shaven nor with shocks of hair, and who
answer 'Yes' and 'No.'"
I was simply petrified by the justice and reason of this remark, and I
understood the "because" of all the "whys" I had been asking myself for
some years. There was no happy medium about me; I was "too much" and
"too little," and I felt that there was nothing to be done for this. I
owned it to Perrin, and told him that he was quite right. He took
advantage of my mood to lecture me and advise me not to put in an
appearance at the opening ceremony that was soon to take place at the
Comedie. He feared a cabal against me. Some people were rather excited,
rightly or wrongly--a little of both, he added, in that shrewd and
courteous way which was peculiar to him. I listened to him without
interrupting, which slightly embarrassed him, for Perrin was an arguer
but not an orator. When he had finished I said:
"You have told me too many things that excite me, Monsieur Perrin. I
love a battle, and I shall appear at the ceremony. You see, I have
already been warned about it. Here are three anonymous letters. Read
this one; it is the nicest."
He unfolded the letter, which was perfumed with amber, and read as
"MY POOR SKELETON,--You will do well not to show your horrible Jewish
nose at the opening ceremony the day after to-morrow. I fear that it
would serve as a target for all the potatoes that are now being cooked
specially for you in your kind city of Paris. Have some paragraphs put
in the papers to the effect that you have been spitting blood, and
remain in bed and think over the consequence of excessive advertisement.
Perrin pushed the letter away from him in disgust. "Here are two more,"
I said; "but they are so coarse that I will spare you. I shall go to the
"Good!" replied Perrin. "There is a rehearsal to-morrow. Shall you
"I shall come," I answered.
The next day at the rehearsal not one of the artistes, man or woman,
seemed to care about going on to the stage to bow with me. I must say,
though, that they all showed nevertheless much good grace. I declared,
however, that I would go on alone, although it was against the rule, for
I thought I ought to face the ill humour and the cabal alone.
The house was crowded when the curtain rose.
The ceremony commenced in the midst of "Bravos!" The Public was
delighted to see its beloved artistes again. They advanced two by two,
one on the right and the other on the left, holding the palm or the
crown to be placed on the pedestal of Moliere's bust. My turn came, and
I advanced alone. I felt that I was pale and then livid, with a will
that was determined to conquer. I went forward slowly towards the
footlights, but instead of bowing as my comrades had done, I stood up
erect and gazed with my two eyes into all the eyes turning towards me, I
had been warned of the battle, and I did not wish to provoke it, but I
would not fly from it. I waited a second, and I felt the thrill and the
emotion that ran through the house; and then, suddenly stirred by an
impulse of generous kindliness, the whole house burst into wild applause
and shouts. The public, so beloved and so loving, was intoxicated with
joy. That evening was certainly one of the finest triumphs of my whole
Some artistes were delighted, especially the women, for there is one
thing to remark with regard to our art: the men are more jealous of the
women than the women are amongst themselves. I have met with many
enemies among male comedians, and with very few among actresses.
I think that the dramatic art is essentially feminine.
To paint one's face, to hide one's real feelings, to try to please and
to endeavour to attract attention--these are all faults for which we
blame women and for which great indulgence is shown. These same defects
seem odious in a man. And yet the actor must endeavour to be as
attractive as possible, even if he is obliged to have recourse to paint
and to false beard and hair. He may be a Republican, and he must uphold
with warmth and conviction Royalist theories. He may be a Conservative,
and must maintain anarchist principles, if such be the good pleasure of
At the Theatre Francais poor Maubant was a most advanced Radical, and
his stature and handsome face doomed him to play the parts of kings,
emperors, and tyrants. As long as the rehearsals went on Charlemagne or
Caesar could be heard swearing at tyrants, cursing the conquerors, and
claiming the hardest punishments for them. I thoroughly enjoyed this
struggle between the man and the actor. Perhaps this perpetual
abstraction from himself gives the comedian a more feminine nature.
However that may be, it is certain that the actor is jealous of the
actress. The courtesy of the well-educated man vanishes before the
footlights, and the comedian who in private life would render a service
to a woman in any difficulty will pick a quarrel with her on the stage.
He would risk his life to save her from any danger in the road, on the
railway, or in a boat, but when once on the boards he will not do
anything to help her out of a difficulty. If her memory should fail, or
if she should make a false step, he would not hesitate to push her. I am
going a long way, perhaps, but not so far as people may think. I have
performed with some celebrated comedians who have played me some bad
tricks. On the other hand, there are some actors who are admirable, and
who are more men than comedians when on the stage. Pierre Berton, Worms,
and Guitry are, and always will be, the most perfect models of friendly
and protecting courtesy towards the woman comedian. I have played in a
number of pieces with each of them, and, subject as I am to stage
fright, I have always felt perfect confidence when acting with these
three artistes. I knew that their intelligence was of a high order, that
they had pity on me for my fright, and that they would be prepared for
any nervous weaknesses caused by it. Pierre Berton and Worms, both of
them very great artistes, left the stage in full artistic vigour and
vital strength, Pierre Berton to devote himself to literature, and
Worms--no one knows why. As to Guitry, much the youngest of the three,
he is now the first artist on the French stage, for he is an admirable
comedian and at the same time an artist, a very rare thing. I know very
few artistes in France or in other countries with these two qualities
combined. Henry Irving was an admirable artist, but not a comedian.
Coquelin is an admirable comedian, but he is not an artist. Mounet-Sully
has genius, which he sometimes places at the service of the artist and
sometimes at the service of the comedian; but, on the other hand, he
sometimes gives us exaggerations as artist and comedian which make
lovers of beauty and truth gnash their teeth. Bartet is a perfect
_comedienne_ with a very delicate artistic sense. Rejane is the most
comedian of comedians, and an artist when she wishes to be.
Eleonora Duse is more a comedian than an artist; she walks in paths that
have been traced out by others; she does not imitate them, certainly
not, for she plants flowers where there were trees, and trees where
there were flowers; but she has never by her art made a single personage
stand out identified by her name; she has not created a being or a
vision which reminds one of herself. She puts on other people's gloves,
but she puts them on inside out. And all this she has done with infinite
grace and with careless unconsciousness. She is a great comedian, a very
great comedian, but not a great artist.
Novelli is a comedian of the old school which did not trouble much about
the artistic side. He is perfect in laughter and tears. Beatrice Patrick
Campbell is especially an artist, and her talent is that of charm and
thought: she execrates beaten paths; she wants to create, and she
creates. Antoine is often betrayed by his own powers, for his voice is
heavy and his general appearance rather ordinary. As a comedian there is
therefore often much to be desired, but he is always an artist without
equal, and our art owes much to him in its evolution in the direction of
truth. Antoine, too, is not jealous of the actress.
MY DEPARTURE FROM THE COMEDIE FRANCAISE-PREPARATIONS FOR MY FIRST
AMERICAN TOUR--ANOTHER VISIT TO LONDON
The days which followed the return of the Comedie to its own home were
very trying for me. Our manager wanted to subdue me, and he tortured me
with a thousand little pin-pricks which were much more painful for a
nature like mine than so many stabs with a knife. (At least I imagine
so, as I have never had any.) I became irritable, bad-tempered on the
slightest provocation, and was in fact ill. I had always been gay, and
now I was sad. My health, which had ever been feeble, was endangered by
this state of chaos.
Perrin gave me the _role_ of the _Aventuriere_ to study. I detested the
piece, and did not like the part, and I considered the lines of
_L'Aventuriere_ very bad poetry indeed. As I cannot dissimulate well, in
a fit of temper I said this straight out to Emile Augier, and he avenged
himself in a most discourteous way on the first opportunity that
presented itself. This was on the occasion of my definite rupture with
the Comedie Francaise, the day after the first performance of
_L'Aventuriere_ on Saturday, April 17,1880. I was not ready to play my
part, and the proof of this was a letter I wrote to M. Perrin on April
"I regret very much, my dear Monsieur Perrin," I said, "but I have such
a sore throat that I cannot speak, and am obliged to stay in bed. Will
you kindly excuse me? It was at that wretched Trocadero that I took cold
on Sunday. I am very much worried, as I know it will cause you
inconvenience. Anyhow, I will be ready for Saturday, whatever happens. A
thousand excuses and kind regards.
I was able to play, as I had recovered from my sore throat, but I had
not studied my part during the three days, as I could not speak. I had
not been able to try on my costumes either, as I had been in bed all the
time. On Friday I went to ask Perrin to put off the performance of
_L'Aventuriere_ until the next week. He replied that it was impossible;
that every seat was booked, and that the piece had to be played the
following Tuesday for the subscription night. I let myself be persuaded
to act, as I had confidence in my star.
"Oh," I said to myself, "I shall get through it all right." I did not
get through it, though, or rather I came through it very badly. My
costume was a failure; it did not fit me. They had always jeered at me
for my thinness, and in this dress I looked like an English tea-pot. My
voice was still rather hoarse, which very much disconcerted me. I played
the first part of the _role_ very badly, and the second part rather
better. At a certain moment during the scene of violence I was standing
up resting my two hands on the table, on which there was a lighted
candelabra. There was a cry raised in the house, for my hair was very
near to the flame. The following day one of the papers said that, as I
felt things were all going wrong, I wanted to set my hair on fire so
that the piece should come to an end before I failed completely. That
was certainly the very climax of stupidity. The Press did not praise me,
and the Press was quite right. I had played badly, looked ugly, and been
in a bad temper, but I considered that there was nevertheless a want of
courtesy and indulgence with regard to me. Auguste Vitu, in the _Figaro_
of April 18, 1880, finished his article with the phrase: "The new
Clorinde (the Adventuress) in the last two acts made some gestures with
her arms and movements of her body which one regrets to see taken from
Virginie of _L'Assommoir_ and introduced at the Comedie Francaise." The
only fault which I never have had, which I never shall have, is
vulgarity. That was an injustice and a determination to hurt my
feelings. Vitu was no friend of mine, but I understood from this way of
attacking me that petty hatreds were lifting up their rattlesnake heads.
All the low-down, little viper world was crawling about under my flowers
and my laurels. I had known what was going on for a long time, and
sometimes I had heard rattling behind the scenes. I wanted to have the
enjoyment of hearing them all rattle together, and so I threw my laurels
and my flowers to the four winds of heaven. In the most abrupt way I
broke the contract which bound me to the Comedie Francaise, and through
that to Paris.
I shut myself up all the morning, and after endless discussions with
myself I decided to send in my resignation to the Comedie. I therefore
wrote to M. Perrin this letter:
"TO THE DIRECTOR.
"You have compelled me to play when I was not ready. You have only
allowed me eight rehearsals on the stage, and the play has been
rehearsed in its entirety only three times. I was unwilling to appear
before the public. You insisted absolutely. What I foresaw has happened.
The result of the performance has surpassed my anticipations. A critic
pretended that I played Virginie of _L'Assommoir_ instead of Dona
Clorinde of _L'Aventuriere_. May Emile Augier and Zola absolve me! It is
my first rebuff at the Comedie; it shall be my last. I warned you on the
day of the dress rehearsal. You have gone too far. I keep my word. By
the time you receive this letter I shall have left Paris. Will you
kindly accept my immediate resignation, and believe me
In order that this resignation might not be refused at the committee
meeting, I sent copies of my letter to the _Gaulois_ and the _Figaro_,
and it was published at the same time as M. Perrin received it.
Then, quite decided not to be influenced by anybody, I set off at once
with my maid for Havre. I had left orders that no one was to be told
where I was, and the first evening I was there I passed in strict
incognito. But the next morning I was recognised, and telegrams were
sent to Paris to that effect. I was besieged by reporters.
I took refuge at La Heve, where I spent the whole day on the beach, in
spite of the cold rain which fell unceasingly.
I went back to the Hotel Frascati frozen, and in the night I was so
feverish that Dr. Gibert was requested to call. Madame Guerard, who was
sent for by my alarmed maid, came at once. I was feverish for two days.
During this time the newspapers continued to pour out a flood of ink on
paper. This turned to bitterness, and I was accused of the worst
misdeeds. The committee sent a _huissier_ to my hotel in the Avenue de
Villiers, and this man declared that after having knocked three times at
the door and having received no answer, he had left copy, &c. &c.
This man was lying. In the hotel there were my son and his tutor, my
steward, the husband of my maid, my butler, the cook, the kitchen-maid,
the second lady's maid, and five dogs; but it was all in vain that I
protested against this minion of the law; it was useless.
The Comedie must, according to the rules, send me three summonses. This
was not done, and a law-suit was commenced against me. It was lost in
Maitre Allou, the advocate of the Comedie Francaise, invented wicked
little histories about me. He took pleasure in trying to make me
ridiculous. He had a big file of letters from me to Perrin, letters
which I had written in softer moments or in anger. Perrin had kept them
all, even the shortest notes. I had kept none of his. The few letters
from Perrin to myself which have been published were given by him from
his letter-copy book. Of course, he only showed those which could
inspire the public with an idea of his paternal kindness to me, &c. &c.
The pleading of Maitre Allou was very, successful: he claimed three
hundred thousand francs damages, in addition to the confiscation for the
benefit of the Comedie Francaise of the forty-three thousand francs
which that theatre owed me.
Maitre Barboux was my advocate. He was an intimate friend of Perrin. He
defended me very indifferently. I was condemned to pay a hundred
thousand francs to the Comedie Francaise and to lose the forty-three
thousand francs which I had left with the management. I may say that I
did not trouble much about this law-suit.
Three days after my resignation Jarrett called upon me. He proposed to
me, for the third time, to make a contract for America. This time I lent
an ear to his propositions. We had never spoken about terms, and this is
what he proposed:
Five thousand francs for each performance and one-half of the receipts
above fifteen thousand francs; that is to say, the day the receipts
reached the sum of twenty thousand francs I should receive seven
thousand five hundred francs. In addition, one thousand francs per week
for my hotel bill; also a special Pullman car, on all railway journeys,
containing a bedroom, a drawing-room with a piano, four beds for my
staff, and two cooks to cook for me on the way. Mr. Jarrett was to have
ten per cent, on all sums received by me.
I accepted everything. I was anxious to leave Paris. Jarrett immediately
sent a telegram to Mr. Abbey, the great American _impresario_, and he
landed on this side thirteen days later. I signed the contract made by
Jarrett, which was discussed clause by clause with the American manager.
I was given, on signing the contract, one hundred thousand francs as
advance payment for my expenses before departure. I was to play eight
pieces: _Hernani, Phedre, Adrienne Lecouvreur, Froufrou, La Dame aux
Camelias, Le Sphinx, L'Etrangere_, and _La Princesse Georges_.
I ordered twenty-five modern dresses at Laferriere's, of whom I was then
At Baron's I ordered six costumes for _Adrienne Lecouvreur_ and four
costumes for _Hernani_. I ordered from a young theatre _costumier_ named
Lepaul my costume for _Phedre_. These thirty-six costumes cost me
sixty-one thousand francs; but out of this my costume for _Phedre_ alone
cost four thousand francs. The poor _artist-costumier_ had embroidered
it himself. It was a marvel. It was brought to me two days before my
departure, and I cannot think of this moment without emotion. Irritated
by long waiting, I was writing an angry letter to the _costumier_ when
he was announced. At first I received him very badly, but I found him
looking so unwell, the poor man, that I made him sit down and asked how
he came to be so ill.
"Yes, I am not at all well," he said in such a weak voice that I was
quite upset. "I wanted to finish this dress, and I have worked at it
three days and nights. But look how nice your costume is!" And he spread
it out with loving respect before me.
"Look!" remarked Guerard, "a little spot!"
"Ah, I pricked myself," answered the poor artist quickly.
But I had just caught sight of a drop of blood at the corner of his
lips. He wiped it quickly away, so that it should not fall on the pretty
costume as the other little spot had done. I gave the artist the four
thousand francs, which he took with trembling hands. He murmured some
unintelligible words and withdrew.
"Take away this costume, take it away!" I cried to _mon petit Dame_ and
my maid. And I cried so much that I had the hiccoughs all the evening.
Nobody understood why I was crying. But I reproached myself bitterly for
having worried the poor man. It was plain that he was dying. And by the
force of circumstances I had unwittingly forged the first link of the
chain of death which was dragging to the tomb this youth of
twenty-two--this artist with a future before him.
I would never wear this costume. It is still in its box, yellowed with
age. Its gold embroidery is tarnished by time, and the little spot of
blood has slightly eaten away the stuff. As to the poor artist, I learnt
of his death during my stay in London in the month of May, for before
leaving for America I signed with Hollingshead and Mayer, the
_impresarii_ of the Comedie, a contract which bound me to them from May
24 to June 24 (1880).
It was during this period that the law-suit which the Comedie Francaise
brought against me was decided.
Maitre Barboux did not consult me about anything, and my success in
London, which was achieved without the help of the Comedie, irritated
the committee, the Press, and the public.
Maitre Allou in his pleadings pretended that the London public had tired
of me very quickly, and did not care to come to the performances of the
Comedie in which I appeared.
The following list gives the best possible denial to the assertions of
PERFORMANCES GIVEN BY THE COMEDIE FRANCAISE
AT THE GAIETY THEATRE
(The * indicates the pieces in which I appeared.)
1879. Plays. Receipts in Francs
June 2. Le Misanthrope (Prologue); *13,080
Phedre (Acte II.);
Les Precieuses Ridicules
" 3. L'Etrangere *12,565
" 4. Le Fils naturel 9,300
June 5. Les Caprices de Marianne;
La Joie fait Peur 10,100
" 6. Le Menteur;
Le Medecin malgre lui 9,530
" 7. Le Marquis de Villemer 9,960
" 7. Tartuffe (matinee);
La Joie fait Peur 8,700
" 9. Hernani *13,600
" 10. Le Demi-monde 11,525
" 11. Mlle. de Belle-Isle;
Il faut qu'une porte soit
ouverte ou fermee 10,420
" 12. Le Post-Scriptum;
Le Gendre de M. Poirier 10,445
" 13. Phedre *13,920
" 14. Le Luthier de Cremone;
Le Sphinx *13,350
" 14. Le Misanthrope (matinee);
Les Plaideurs 8,800
" 16. L'Ami Fritz 9,375
" 17. Zaire;
Les Precieuses Ridicules *13,075
" 18. Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard;
Il ne faut jurer de rien 11,550
" 18. Le Demi-monde 12,160
" 20. Les Fourchambault 11,200
" 21. Hernani *13,375
" 21. Tartufe (matinee);
Il faut qu'une porte soit
ouverte ou fermee 2,115
" 23. Gringoire;
On ne badine pas avec
" 24. Chez l'avocat;
Mlle. de la Seigliere 9,660
" 25. L'Etrangere (matinee) *11,710
" 25. Le Barbier de Seville 9,180
" 26. Andromaque;
Les Plaideurs *13,350
" 27. L'Avare;
" 28. Le Sphinx;
Le Depit amoureux *12,860
" 28. Hernani (matinee) *13,730
" 30. Ruy-Blas *13,660
July 1. Mercadet;
L'Ete de la St. Martin 9,850
" 2. Ruy-Blas *13,160
" 3. Le Mariage de Victorine;
Les Fourberies de Scapin 10,165
" 4. Les Femmes savantes;
" 5. Les Fourchambault 10,700
" 5. Phedre (matinee);
La Joie fait Peur *14,265
" 7. Le Marquis de Villemer 10,565
" 8. L'Ami Fritz 11,005
" 9. Hernani *14,275
" 10. Le Sphinx *13,775
" 11. Philiberte;
" 12. Ruy-Blas *12,660
" 12. Gringoire (matinee);
Hernani (Acte V.);
Total receipts ... 492,150 francs
The average of the receipts was about 11,715 francs. These figures show
that, out of the forty-three performances given by the Comedie
Francaise, the eighteen performances in which I took part gave an
average of 13,350 francs each, while the twenty-five other performances
gave an average of 10,000 francs.
* * * * *
While I was in London I learned that I had lost my lawsuit. "The
Court--with its 'Inasmuch as,' 'Nevertheless,' &c.--declares hereby that
Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt loses all the rights, privileges, and advantages,
resulting to her profit from the engagement which she contracted with
the company by authentic decree of March 24, 1875, and condemns her to
pay to the plaintiff in his lawful quality the sum of one hundred
thousand francs damages."
I gave my last performance in London the very day that the papers
published this unjust verdict. I was applauded, and the public
overwhelmed me with flowers.
I had taken with me Madame Devoyod, Mary Jullien, Kalb, my sister
Jeanne, Pierre Berton, Train, Talbot, Dieudonne--all artistes of great
I played all the pieces which I was to play in America.
Vitu, Sarcey, Lapommeraye had said so much against me that I was
stupefied to learn from Mayer that they had arrived in London to be
present at my performances.
I could no longer understand what it all meant. I thought that the
Parisian journalists were leaving me in peace at last, and here were my
worst enemies coming across the sea to see and hear me. Perhaps they
were hoping--like the Englishman who followed the lion-tamer to see him
devoured by his lions!
Vitu in the _Figaro_ had finished one of his bitter articles with these
"But we have heard enough, surely, of Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt! Let her go
abroad with her monotonous voice and her funereal fantasies! Here we
have nothing new to learn from her talents or her caprices...."
Sarcey, in an equally bitter article, _a propos_ of my resignation at
the Comedie, had finished in these terms:
"There comes a time when naughty children must go to bed."
As to the amiable Lapommeraye, he had showered on my devoted head all
the rumours that he had collected from all sides. But as they said he
had no originality, he tried to show that he also could dip his pen in
venom, and he had cried, "Pleasant journey!" And here they all came,
these three, and others with them. And the day following my first
performance of _Adrienne Lecouvreur_, Auguste Vitu telegraphed to the
_Figaro_ a long article, in which he criticised me in certain scenes,
regretting that I had not followed the example of Rachel, whom I had
never seen. And he finished his article thus:
"The sincerity of my admiration cannot be doubted when I avow that in
the fifth act Sarah Bernhardt rose to a height of dramatic power, to a
force of expression which could not be surpassed. She played the long
and cruel scene in which Adrienne, poisoned by the Duchesse de Bouillon,
struggles against death in her fearful agony, not only with immense
talent, but with a science of art which up to the present she has never
revealed. If the Parisian public had heard, or ever hears, Mlle. Sarah
Bernhardt cry out with the piercing accent which she put into her words
that evening, 'I will not die, I will not die!' it would weep with her."
Sarcey finished an admirable critique with these words:
"She is prodigious!"
And Lapommeraye, who had once more become amiable begged me to go back
to the Comedie, which was waiting for me, which would kill the fatted
calf on the return of its prodigal child.
Sarcey, in his article in the _Temps_, consecrated five columns of
praises to me, and finished his article with these words:
"Nothing, nothing can ever take the place of this last act of _Adrienne
Lecouvreur_ at the Comedie. Ah! she should have stayed at the Comedie.
Yes, I come back to my litany! I cannot help it! We shall lose as much
as she will. Yes, I know that we can say Mlle. Dudlay is left to us. Oh,
she will always stay with us! I cannot help saying it. What a pity! What
And eight days after, on June 7, he wrote in his theatrical
_feuilleton_, on the first performance of _Froufrou_:
"I do not think that the emotion at any theatre has ever been so
profound. There are, in the dramatic art, exceptional times when the
artistes are transported out of themselves, carried above themselves,
and compelled to obey this inward 'demon' (I should have said 'god'),
who whispered to Corneille his immortal verses.
"'Well,' said I to Mlle. Sarah Bernhardt, after the play: 'this is an
evening which will open to you, if you wish, the doors of the Comedie
Francaise. 'Do not speak of it,' said she, 'to me. 'We will not speak of
it.' But what a pity! What a pity!"
My success in _Froufrou_ was so marked that it filled the void left by
Coquelin, who, after having signed, with the consent of Perrin, with
Messrs, Mayer and Hollingshead, declared that he could not keep his
engagements. It was a nasty _coup de Jarnac_ by which Perrin hoped to
injure my London performances. He had previously sent Got to me to ask
officially if I would not come back to the Comedie. He said I should be
permitted to make my American tour, and that everything would be
arranged on my return. But he should not have sent Got. He should have
sent Worms or _le petit pere Franchise_--Delaunay. The one might have
persuaded me by his affectionate reasoning and the other by the falsity
of arguments presented with such grace that it would have been difficult
Got declared that I should be only too happy to come back to the Comedie
on my return to America, "For you know," he added, "you know, my little
one, that you will die in that country. And if you come back you will
perhaps be only too glad to return to the Comedie Francaise, for you
will be in a bad state of health, and it will take some time before you
are right again. Believe me, sign, and it is not we who will benefit by
it, but you!"
"I thank you," I answered, "but I prefer to choose my hospital myself on
my return. And now you can go and leave me in peace." I fancy I said,
That evening he was present at a performance of _Froufrou_; he came to
my dressing-room and said:
"You had better sign, believe me! And come back to commence with
_Froufrou_! I promise you a happy return!"
I refused, and finished my performances in London without Coquelin.
The average of the receipts was nine thousand francs, and I left London
with regret--I who had left it with so much pleasure the first time. But
London is a city apart; its charm unveils little by little. The first
impression for a Frenchman or woman is that of keen suffering, of mortal
_ennui_. Those tall houses with sash windows without curtains; those
ugly monuments, all in mourning with the dust and grime and black and
greasy dirt; those flower-sellers at the corners of all the streets,
with faces sad as the rain and bedraggled feathers in their hats and
lamentable clothing; the black mud of the streets; the low sky; the
funereal mirth of drunken women hanging on to men just as drunken; the
wild dancing of dishevelled children round the street organs, as
numerous as the omnibuses--all that caused twenty-five years ago an
indefinite suffering to a Parisian. But little by little one finds that
the profusion of the squares is restful to the eyes; that the beauty of
the aristocratic ladies effaces the image of the flower-sellers....
The constant movement of Hyde Park, and especially of Rotten Row, fills
the heart with gaiety. The broad English hospitality, which is
manifested from the first moment of making an acquaintance; the wit of
the men, which compares favourably with the wit of Frenchmen; and their
gallantry, much more respectful and therefore much more flattering, left
no regrets in me for French gallantry.
But I prefer our pale mud to the London black mud, and our windows
opening in the centre to the horrible sash windows. I find also that
nothing marks more clearly the difference of character of the two
nations than their respective windows. Ours open wide; the sun enters in
our houses even to the heart of the dwelling; the air sweeps away all
the dust and all the microbes. They shut in the same manner, simply as
English windows open only half-way, either the top half or the bottom
half. One may even have the pleasure of opening them a little at the top
and a little at the bottom, but not at all in the middle. The sun cannot
enter openly, nor the air. The window keeps its selfish and perfidious
character. I hate the English windows. But now I love London and--is
there any need to add?--its inhabitants.
Since my first visit I have returned there twenty-one times, and the
public has always remained faithful and affectionate.
A TOUR IN DENMARK--ROYAL FAMILIES--THE "TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS" OF
After this first test of my freedom I felt more sure of life than
before. Although I was very weak of constitution, the possibility of
doing as I wanted without hindrance and without control calmed my
nervous system, and my health, which had been weakened by perpetual
irritations and by excessive work, was improved. I reposed on the
laurels which I had gathered myself, and I slept better. Sleeping
better, I commenced to eat better. And great was the astonishment of my
little court when they saw their idol come back from London round and
I remained several days in Paris; then I set out for Brussels, where I
was to play _Adrienne Lecouvreur_ and _Froufrou_.
The Belgian public--by which I mean the Brussels public--is the one most
like our own. In Belgium I never feel that I am in a strange country.
Our language is the language of the country; the horses and carriages
are always in perfect taste; the fashionable women resemble our own
fashionable women; _cocottes_ abound; the hotels are as good as in
Paris; the cab-horses are as poor; the newspapers are as spiteful.
Brussels is gossiping Paris in miniature.
I played for the first time at the Theatre de la Monnaie, and I felt
uncomfortable in that immense and frigid house. But the benevolent
enthusiasm of the public soon warmed me, and I shall never forget the
four performances I gave there.
Then I set out for Copenhagen, where I was to give five performances at
the Theatre Royal.
Our arrival, which doubtless was anxiously expected, really frightened
me. More than two thousand persons who were assembled in the station
when the train came in gave a hurrah so terrible that I did not know
what was happening. But when M. de Fallesen, manager of the Theatre
Royal, and the First Chamberlain of the King entered my compartment, and
begged me to show myself at the window to gratify the curiosity of the
public, the hurrahs began again, and then I understood. But a dreadful
anxiety now took possession of me. I could never, I was sure, rise to
what was expected from me. My slender frame would inspire disdain in
those magnificent men and those splendid and healthy women. I stepped
out of the train so diminished by comparison that I had the sensation of
being nothing more than a breath of air; and I saw the crowd, submissive
to the police, divide into two compact lines, leaving a wide path for my
carriage. I passed slowly through this double hedge of sympathetic
sight-seers, who threw me flowers and kisses and lifted their hats to
me. In the course of my long career I have had many triumphs,
receptions, and ovations, but my reception by the Danish people remains
one of my most cherished memories. The living hedge lasted till we
reached the Hotel d'Angleterre, where I went in, after thanking once
more the sympathetic friends who surrounded me.
In the evening the King, the Queen, and their daughter, the Princess of
Wales, were present at the first performance of _Adrienne Lecouvreur_.
This is what the _Figaro_ of August 16, 1880, said:
"Sarah Bernhardt has played _Adrienne Lecouvreur_ with a tremendous
success before a magnificent audience. The royal family, the King and
the Queen of the Hellenes, as well as the Princess of Wales, were
present at the performance. The Queens threw their bouquets to the
French artiste, amidst applause. It was an unprecedented triumph. The
public was delirious. To-morrow _Froufrou_ will be played."
The performance of _Froufrou_ was equally successful. But as I was only
playing every other day, I wanted to visit Elsinore. The King placed the
royal steamer at my disposal for this little journey.