Part 8 out of 9
I had invited all my company.
M. de Fallesen, the First Chamberlain, and manager of the Theatre Royal,
had ordered a magnificent lunch for us, and accompanied by the principal
notabilities of Denmark, we visited Hamlet's tomb, the spring of
Ophelia, and the castle of Marienlyst. Then we went over the castle of
Kronborg. I regretted my visit to Elsinore. The reality did not come up
to the expectation. The so-called tomb of Hamlet is represented by a
small column, ugly and mournful-looking; there is little verdure, and
the desolate sadness of deceit without beauty. They gave me a little
water from the spring of Ophelia to drink, and the Baron de Fallesen
broke the glass, without allowing any one else to drink from the spring.
I returned from this very ordinary journey feeling rather sad. Leaning
against the side of the vessel, I watched the water gliding past, when I
noticed a few rose petals on the surface. Carried by an invisible
current, they were borne against the sides of the boat; then the petals
increased to thousands, and in the mysterious sunset rose the melodious
chant of the sons of the North. I looked up. In front of us, rocked on
the water by the evening breeze, was a pretty boat with outspread sails;
a score of young men, throwing handfuls of roses into the waters, which
were carried to us by the little wavelets, were singing the marvellous
legends of past centuries. And all that was for me: all those roses, all
that love, all that musical poetry. And that setting sun was also for
me. And in this fleeting moment, which brought all the beauty of life
near to me, I felt myself very near to God.
The following day, at the close of the performance, the King sent for me
to come into the royal box, and he decorated me with a very pretty Order
of Merit adorned with diamonds. He kept me some time in his box, asking
me about different things. I was presented to the Queen, and I noticed
immediately that she was somewhat deaf. I was rather embarrassed, but
the Queen of Greece came to my rescue. She was beautiful, but much less
so than her lovely sister the Princess of Wales. Oh, that adorable and
seductive face--with the eyes of a child of the North, and classic
features of virginal purity, a long, supple neck that seemed made for
queenly bows, a sweet and almost timid smile. The indefinable charm of
this Princess made her so radiant that I saw nothing but her, and I went
from the box leaving behind me, I fear, but a poor opinion of my
intelligence with the royal couples of Denmark and Greece.
The evening before my departure I was invited to a grand supper.
Fallesen made a speech, and thanked us in a very charming manner for the
"French week" which we had given in Denmark.
Robert Walt made a very cordial speech on behalf of the press, very
short but very sympathetic. Our Ambassador in a few courteous words
thanked Robert Walt, and then, to the general surprise, Baron Magnus,
the Prussian Minister, rose, and in a loud voice, turning to me, he
said, "I drink to France, which gives us such great artistes! To France,
la belle France, whom we all love so much!"
Hardly ten years had passed since the terrible war. French men and women
were still suffering; their wounds were not healed.
Baron Magnus, a really amiable and charming man, had from the time of my
arrival in Copenhagen sent me flowers with his card. I had sent back the
flowers, and begged an _attache_ of the English Embassy, Sir Francis
----, I believe, to ask the German baron not to renew his gifts. The
Baron laughed good-naturedly, and waited for me as I came out of my
hotel. He came to me with outstretched hands, and spoke kindly and
reasonable words. Everybody was looking at us, and I was embarrassed. It
was evident that he was a kind man. I thanked him, touched in spite of
myself by his frankness, and I went away quite undecided as to what I
really felt. Twice he renewed his visit, but I did not receive him, but
only bowed as I left my hotel. I was somewhat irritated at the tenacity
of this amiable diplomatist. On the evening of the supper, when I saw
him take the attitude of an orator, I felt myself grow pale. He had
barely finished his little speech when I jumped to my feet and cried,
"Let us drink to France, but to the whole of France, Monsieur
l'Ambassadeur de Prusse!" I was nervous, sensational, and theatrical
without intending it.
It was like a thunderbolt.
The orchestra of the court, which was placed in the upper gallery, began
playing the "Marseillaise." At this time the Danes hated the Germans.
The supper-room was suddenly deserted as if by enchantment.
I went up to my rooms, not wishing to be questioned. I had gone too far.
Anger had made me say more than I intended. Baron Magnus did not deserve
this thrust of mine. And also my instinct forewarned me of results to
follow. I went to bed angry with myself, with the Baron, and with all
About five o'clock in the morning I commenced to doze, when I was
awakened by the growling of my dog. Then I heard some one knocking at
the door of the _salon_. I called my maid, who woke her husband, and he
went to open the door. An _attache_ from the French Embassy was waiting
to speak to me on urgent business. I put on an ermine tea-gown and went
to see the visitor.
"I beg you," he said, "to write a note immediately to explain that the
words you said were not meant. The Baron Magnus, whom we all respect, is
in a very awkward situation and we are all upset about it. Prince
Bismarck is not to be trifled with, and it may be very serious for the
"Oh, I assure you, Monsieur, I am a hundredfold more unhappy about it
than you, for the Baron is a good and charming man. He lacked political
tact, and in this case it is excusable, because I am not a woman of
politics. I was lacking in coolness. I would give my right hand to
repair the ill."
"We don't ask you for so much as that, as it would spoil the beauty of
your gestures!" (He was French, you see.) "Here is the rough copy of a
letter. Will you take it, rewrite it, sign it, and everything will be at
But that was unacceptable. The wording of this letter gave twisted and
rather cowardly explanations. I rejected it, and after several attempts
to rewrite it I gave up in despair and did nothing.
Three hundred persons had been present at the supper, in addition to the
royal orchestra and the attendants. Everybody had heard the amiable but
awkward speech of the Baron. I had replied in a very excited manner. The
public and the Press had all been witnesses of my _algarade_; we were
the victims of our own foolishness, the Baron and myself. If such a
thing were to happen at the present time I should not care a pin for
public opinion, and I should even take pleasure in ridiculing myself in
order to do justice to a brave and gallant man. But at that time I was
very nervous and uncompromisingly patriotic. And also, perhaps, I
thought I was some one of importance. Since then life has taught me that
if one is to be famous it can only really become manifest after death.
To-day I am going down the hill of life, and I regard gaily all the
pedestals on which I have been lifted up, and there have been so many,
so many of them that their fragments, broken by the same hands that had
raised them, have made me a solid pillar, from which I look out on life,
happy with what has been and attentive to what will be.
My stupid vanity had wounded one who meant no harm, and this incident
has always left in me a feeling of remorse and chagrin.
I left Copenhagen amidst applause and the repeated cries of "Vive la
France!" From all the windows hung the French flag, fluttering in the
breeze, and I felt that this was not only _for_ me, but _against_
Germany--I was sure of it.
Since then the Germans and the Danes are solidly united, and I am not
certain that several Danes do not still bear me ill-will because of this
incident of the Baron Magnus.
I came back to Paris to make final preparations for my journey to
America. I was to set sail on October 15.
One day in August I was having a reception of all my friends, who came
to see me in full force, because I was about to set out for a long
Among the number were Girardin, Count Kapenist, Marshal Canrobert,
Georges Clairin, Arthur Meyer, Duquesnel, the beautiful Augusta Holmes,
Raymond de Montbel, Nordenskjold, O'Connor, and other friends. I chatted
gaily, happy to be surrounded by so many kind and intellectual friends.
Girardin did all he could to persuade me not to undertake this journey
to America. He had been the friend of Rachel, and told me the sad end of
Arthur Meyer was of opinion that I ought always to do what I thought
best. The other friends discussed the subject. That admirable man, whom
France will always worship, Canrobert, said how much he should miss and
regret those intimate _causeries_ at our five o'clock teas.
"But," said he, "we have not the right to try, in our affectionate
selfishness, to hinder our young friend from doing all she can in the
strife. She is of a combative nature."
"Ah yes!" I cried. "Yes, I am born for strife, I feel it. Nothing
pleases me like having to master a public, perhaps hostile, who have
read and heard all that the Press has said against me. But I am sorry
that I cannot play, not only in Paris but in all France, my two big
successes, _Adrienne_ and _Froufrou_."
"As to that, you can count on me!" exclaimed Felix Duquesnel. "My dear
Sarah, you had your first successes with me, and it is with me that you
will have your last...."
Everybody protested, and I jumped up.
"Wait one moment," said he. "Last successes until you come back from
America! If you will consent, you can count on me for everything. I will
obtain, at any price, theatres in all the large towns, and we will give
twenty-five performances during the month of September. As to financial
arrangements, they will be of the simplest: twenty-five
performances--fifty thousand francs. To-morrow I will give you one half
of this sum, and sign a contract with you, so that you will not have
time to change your mind."
I clapped my hands joyfully. All the friends who were there begged
Duquesnel to send them, as soon as possible, an itinerary of the tour,
for they all wanted to see me in the two plays in which I had gained
laurels in England, Belgium, and Denmark.
Duquesnel promised to send them the details of the tour, and it was
settled that their visits should be drawn by lot from a little bag, and
each town marked with the date and the name of the play.
A week later Duquesnel, with whom I had signed a contract, returned with
the tour mapped out and all the company engaged. It was almost
The performances were to commence on Saturday, September 4, and there
were to be twenty-five of them; and the whole, including the day of
departure and the day of return, was to last twenty-eight days, which
caused this tour to be called "The twenty-eight days of Sarah
Bernhardt," like the twenty-eight days of a citizen who is obliged to
accomplish his military service.
The little tour was most successful, and I never enjoyed myself more
than during this artistic promenade. Duquesnel organised excursions and
_fetes_ outside the towns.
At first he had prepared, thinking to please me, some visits to the
sights of the towns. He had written beforehand from Paris fixing dates
and hours. The guardians of the different museums, art galleries, &c.,
had offered to point out to me the finest objects in their collections,
and the mayors had prepared visits to the churches and celebrated
When, on the eve of our departure, he showed us the heap of letters,
each giving a most amiable affirmative, I shrieked.
I hate seeing public buildings and having them explained to me. I know
most of the public sights of France, but I have visited them when I felt
inclined and with my own chosen friends. As to the churches and other
buildings, I find them very tiresome. I cannot help it--it really
wearies me to see them.
I can admire their outline in passing, or when I see them silhouetted
against the setting sun, that is all right, but further than that I will
not go. The idea of entering these cold spaces, while some one explains
their absurd and interminable history, of looking up at their ceilings
with craning neck, of cramping my feet by walking unnaturally over
highly waxed floors, of being obliged to admire the restoration of the
left wing that they would have done better to let crumble to ruins; to
have some one express wonder at the depth of some moat which once upon a
time used to be full of water, but is now as dry as the east wind--all
that is so tiresome it makes me want to howl. From my earliest childhood
I have always detested houses, castles, churches, towers, and all
buildings higher than a mill. I love low buildings, farms, huts, and I
positively adore mills, because these little buildings do not obstruct
the horizon. I have nothing to say against the Pyramids, but I would a
hundred times rather they had never been built.
I begged Duquesnel to send telegrams at once to all the notabilities who
had been so obliging. We passed two hours over this task, and on
September 3, I set out, free, joyful, and content.
My friends came to see me while I was on tour, in accordance with the
lots they had drawn, and we had picnics by coach into the surrounding
country from all the towns in which I played.
I came back to Paris on September 30, and had only just time to prepare
for my journey to America. I had only been a week in Paris when I had a
visit from M. Bertrand, who was then director of the Varietes. His
brother was director of the Vaudeville in partnership with Raymond
I did not know Eugene Bertrand, but I received him at once, for we had
"What are you going to do when you come back from America?" he asked me,
after we had exchanged greetings.
"I really don't know. Nothing. I have not thought of anything."
"Well, I have thought of something for you. And if you like to make your
reappearance in Paris in a play of Victorien Sardou's, I will sign with
you at once for the Vaudeville."
"Ah!" I cried. "The Vaudeville! What are you thinking of? Raymond
Deslandes is the manager, and he hates me like poison because I ran away
from the Gymnase the day following the first performance of his play _Un
mari qui lance sa femme_. His play was ridiculous, and I was even more
ridiculous than his play in the part of a young Russian lady addicted to
dancing and eating sandwiches. That man will never engage me!"
He smiled. "My brother is the partner of Raymond Deslandes. My
brother--to put it plainly--is myself. All the money put in the affair
by us is mine. I am the sole master. What salary do you want?"
"But----I really don't know."
"Will fifteen hundred francs per performance suit you?"
I looked at him in stupefaction, not quite sure if he was in his right
"But, Monsieur, if I do not succeed you will lose money, and I cannot
agree to that."
"Do not be afraid," he said. "I can assure you it will be a success--a
colossal success. Will you sign? And I will also guarantee you fifty
"Oh no, never! I will sign willingly, for I admire the talent of
Victorien Sardou, but I do not want any guarantee. Success will depend
on Victorien Sardou, and after him on me. So I sign, and thank you for
At my afternoon teas I showed the new contract to my friends, and they
were all of opinion that luck was on my side in the matter of my
resignation (from the Comedie Francaise).
I was to leave Paris in three days. My heart was sore at the idea of
leaving France, for many sorrowful reasons. But in these Memoirs I have
put on one side all that touches the inner part of my life. There is one
family "me" which lives another life, and whose sensations, sorrows,
joys, and griefs are born and die for a very small number of hearts.
But I felt the need of another atmosphere, of vaster space, of other
I left my little boy with my uncle, who had five boys of his own. His
wife was rather a strict Protestant, but kind, and my cousin Louise,
their eldest daughter, was witty and highly intelligent. She promised me
to be on the watch, and to let me know at once if there was anything I
ought to know.
Up to the last moment people in Paris did not believe that I would
really go. My health was so uncertain that it seemed folly to undertake
such a journey. But when it became absolutely certain that I was going,
there was a general concert of spiteful reproaches. The hue and cry of
my enemies was in full swing. I have now under my eyes these specimens
of insanity, calumnies, lies, and stupidities; burlesque portraits,
doleful pleasantries; good-byes to the Darling, the Idol, the Star, the
Zimm! boum! boum! &c. &c. It was all so absolutely idiotic that I was
confounded. I did not read the greater part of these articles, but my
secretary had orders to cut them out and paste them in little
note-books, whether favourable or unfavourable. It was my godfather who
had commenced doing this when I entered the Conservatoire, and after his
death I had it continued.
Happily, I find in these thousands of lines fine and noble words--words
written by J.J. Weiss, Zola, Emile de Girardin, Jules Valles, Jules
Lemaitre, &c.; and beautiful verses full of grace and justice, signed
Victor Hugo, Francois Coppee, Richepin, Haraucourt, Henri de Bornier,
Catulle Mendes, Parodi, and later Edmond Rostand.
I neither could nor would suffer unduly from the calumnies and lies, but
I confess that the kind appreciation and praises accorded me by the
superior minds afforded me infinite joy.
EXPERIENCES AND REFLECTIONS ON BOARD SHIP FROM HAVRE TO NEW YORK
The ship which was to take me away to other hopes, other sensations, and
other successes was named _L'Amerique_. It was the unlucky boat, the
boat that was haunted by the gnome. All kinds of misfortunes, accidents,
and storms had been its lot. It had been blockaded for months with its
keel out of water. Its stern had been staved in by an Iceland boat, and
it had foundered on the shores of Newfoundland, I believe, and been set
afloat again. Another time fire had broken out on it right in the Havre
roadstead, but no great damage was done. The poor boat had had a
celebrated adventure which had made it ridiculous.
In 1876 or 1877 a new pumping system was adopted, and although this
system had been in use by the English for a long time, it was quite
unknown aboard French boats. The captain very wisely decided to have
these pumps worked by his crew, so that in case of any danger the men
should be ready to manipulate them easily.
The experiment had been going on for a few minutes when one of the men
came to inform the captain that the hold of the ship was filling with
water, and no one could discover the cause of it. "Go on pumping!"
shouted the captain. "Hurry up! Pump away!" The pumps were worked
frantically, and the result was that the hold filled entirely, and the
captain was obliged to abandon the ship after seeing the passengers
safely off in the boats. An English whaler met the ship two days after,
tried the pumps, which worked admirably, but in the contrary way to that
indicated by the French captain. This slight error cost the Compagnie
Transatlantique L48,000 salvage money, and when they wanted to run the
ship again and passengers refused to go by it, they offered my
_impresario_, Mr. Abbey, excellent terms. He accepted them, and very
intelligent he was, for, in spite of all prognostications, nothing
further happened to the boat.
I had hitherto travelled very little, and I was wild with delight.
On October 15, 1880, at six o'clock in the morning, I entered my cabin.
It was a large one, and was hung with light red repp embroidered with my
initials. What a profusion of the letters S.B.! Then there was a large
brass bedstead brightly polished, and flowers were everywhere. Adjoining
mine was a very comfortable cabin for _mon petit Dame_, and leading out
of that was one for my maid and her husband. All the other persons in my
service were at the other end of the ship.
The sky was misty, the sea grey, with no horizon. I was on my way over
there, beyond that mist which seemed to unite the sky and the water in a
The clearing of the deck for the departure upset every one and
everything. The rumbling of the machinery, the boatswain's call, the
bell, the sobbing and the laughter, the creaking of the ropes, the
shrill shouting of the orders, the terror of those who were only just in
time to catch the boat, the "Halloa!" "Look out!" of the men who were
pitching the packages from the quay into the hold, the sound of the
laughing waves breaking on the side of the boat, all this mingled
together made the most frightful uproar, tiring the brain so that its
own sensations were all vague and bewildered. I was one of those who up
to the last moment enjoyed the good-byes, the hand-shakings, the plans
about the return, and the farewell kisses, and when it was all over
flung themselves sobbing on their beds.
For the next three days I was in utter despair, weeping bitter tears,
tears that scalded my cheeks. Then I began to get calm again; my
will-power triumphed over my grief. On the fourth day I dressed at seven
o'clock and went on deck to have some fresh air. It was icy cold, and as
I walked up and down I met a lady dressed in black with a sad resigned
face. The sea looked gloomy and colourless, and there were no waves.
Suddenly a wild billow dashed so violently against the ship that we were
both thrown down. I immediately clutched hold of the leg of one of the
benches, but the unfortunate lady was flung forward. Springing to my
feet with a bound, I was just in time to seize hold of the skirt of her
dress, and with the help of my maid and a sailor managed to prevent the
poor woman from falling head first down the staircase. Very much hurt
though she was, and a trifle confused, she thanked me in such a gentle
dreamy voice that my heart began to beat with emotion.
"You might have been killed, Madame," I said, "down that horrible
"Yes," she answered, with a sigh of regret; "but it was not God's will."
"Are you not Madame Hessler?" she continued, looking earnestly at me.
"No, Madame," I answered; "my name is Sarah Bernhardt."
She stepped back and drawing herself up, her face very pale and her
brows knitted, she said in a mournful voice, a voice that was scarcely
audible, "I am the widow of President Lincoln."
I too stepped back, and a thrill of anguish ran through me, for I had
just done this unhappy woman the only service that I ought not to have
done her--I had saved her from death. Her husband had been assassinated
by an actor, Booth, and it was an actress who had now prevented her from
joining her beloved husband.
I went back again to my cabin and stayed there two days, for I had not
the courage to meet the woman for whom I felt such sympathy and to whom
I should never dare to speak again.
On the 22nd we were surprised by an abominable snowstorm. I was called
up hurriedly by Captain Jouclas. I threw on a long ermine cloak and went
on to the bridge. It was perfectly stupefying and at the same time
fairy-like. The heavy flakes met each other with a thud in their mad
waltzing provoked by the wind. The sky was suddenly veiled from us by
all this whiteness which fell round us in avalanches, completely hiding
the horizon. I was facing the sea, and as Captain Jouclas pointed out to
me, we could not see a hundred yards in front of us. I then turned round
and saw that the ship was as white as a sea-gull: the ropes, the
cordage, the nettings, the port-holes, the shrouds, the boats, the deck,
the sails, the ladders, the funnels, the ventilators, everything was
white. The sea was black and the sky black. The ship alone was white,
floating along in this immensity. There was a contest between the high
funnel, spluttering forth with difficulty its smoke through the wind
which was rushing wildly into its great mouth, and the prolonged shrieks
of the siren. The contrast was so extraordinary between the virgin
whiteness of this ship and the infernal uproar it made that it seemed to
me as if I had before me an angel in a fit of hysterics.
On the evening of that strange day the doctor came to tell me of the
birth of a child among the emigrants, in whom I was deeply interested. I
went at once to the mother, and did all I could for the poor little
creature who had just come into this world. Oh, the dismal moans in that
dismal night in the midst of all that misery! Oh, that first strident
cry of the child affirming its will to live in the midst of all these
sufferings, of all these hardships, and of all these hopes! Everything
was there mingled together in this human medley--men, women, children,
rags and preserves, oranges and basins, heads of hair and bald pates,
half open lips of young girls and tightly closed mouths of shrewish
women, white caps and red handkerchiefs, hands stretched out in hope and
fists clenched against adversity. I saw revolvers half concealed under
the rags, knives in the men's belts. A sudden roll of the boat showed us
the contents of a parcel that had fallen from the hands of a
rascally-looking fellow with a very determined expression on his face,
and a hatchet and a tomahawk fell to the ground. One of the sailors
immediately seized the two weapons to take them to the purser. I shall
never forget the scrutinising glance of the man; he had evidently made a
mental note of the features of the sailor, and I breathed a fervent
prayer that the two might never meet in a solitary place.
I remember now with remorse the horrible disgust that took possession of
me when the doctor handed the child over to me to wash. That dirty
little red, moving, sticky object was a human being. It had a soul, and
would have thoughts! I felt quite sick, and I could never again look at
that child, although I was afterwards its godmother, without living over
again that first impression. When the young mother had fallen asleep I
wanted to go back to my cabin. The doctor helped me, but the sea was so
rough that we could scarcely walk at all among the packages and
emigrants. Some of them who were crouching on the floor watched us
silently as we tottered and stumbled along like drunkards. I was annoyed
at being watched by those malevolent, mocking eyes. "I say, doctor," one
of the men called out, "the sea water gets in the head like wine. You
and your lady look as though you were coming back from a spree!" An old
woman clung to me as we passed: "Oh, Madame," she said, "shall we be
shipwrecked with the boat rolling like this? Oh God! Oh God!" A tall
fellow with red hair and beard came forward and laid the poor old woman
down again gently. "You can sleep in peace, mother," he said. "If we are
shipwrecked I swear there shall be more saved down here than up above."
He then came closer to me and continued in a defiant tone: "The rich
folks--first-class--into the sea! The emigrants and the second-class in
the boats!" As he uttered these words I heard a sly, stifled laugh from
everywhere, in front of me, behind, at the side, and even from under my
feet. It seemed to echo in the distance like the laughing behind the
scenes on the stage. I drew nearer to the doctor, and he saw that I was
"Nonsense," he said, laughing; "we should defend ourselves."
"But how many _could_ be saved," I asked, "in case we were really in
"Two hundred--two hundred and fifty at the most, with all the boats out,
if all arrived safely."
"But the purser told me that there were seven hundred and sixty
emigrants," I insisted, "and there are only a hundred and twenty
passengers. How many do you reckon with the officers, the crew, and the
"A hundred and seventy," the doctor answered.
"Then there are a thousand and fifty on board, and you can only save two
hundred and fifty?"
"Well then, I can understand the hatred of these emigrants, whom you
take on board like cattle and treat like negroes. They are absolutely
certain that in case of danger they would be sacrificed!"
"But we should save them when their turn came."
I glanced with horror at the man who was talking to me. He looked honest
and straightforward and he evidently meant what he said. And so all
these poor creatures who had been disappointed in life and badly treated
by society would have no right to life until after _we_ were saved--we,
the more favoured ones! Oh, how I understood now the rascally-looking
fellow, with his hatchet and tomahawk! How thoroughly I approved at that
moment of the revolvers and the knives hidden in the belts. Yes, he was
quite right, the tall, red-haired fellow. We want the first places,
always the first places. And so we should have the first places in the
"Well, are you satisfied?" asked the captain, who was just coming out of
his cabin. "Has it gone off all right?"
"Yes, captain," I answered; "but I am horrified."
Jouclas stepped back in surprise.
"Good Heavens, what has horrified you?" he asked.
"The way in which you treat your passengers----"
He tried to put in a word, but I continued:
"Why--you expose us in case of a shipwreck----"
"We never have a shipwreck."
"Good. In case of a fire, then----"
"We never have a fire----"
"Good! In case of sinking----"
"I give in," he said, laughing. "To what do we expose you, though,
"To the very worst of deaths: to a blow on the head with an axe, to a
dagger thrust in our back, or merely to be flung into the water----"
He attempted to speak, but again I continued:
"There are seven hundred and fifty emigrants below, and there are
scarcely three hundred of us, counting first-class passengers and the
crew. You have boats which might save two hundred persons, and even that
"Well, what about the emigrants?"
"We should save them before the crew."
"But after us?"
"Yes, after you."
"And you fancy that they would let you do it?"
"We have guns with which to keep them in order."
"Guns--guns for women and children?"
"No; the women and children would take their turn first."
"But that is idiotic!" I exclaimed; "it is perfectly absurd! Why save
women and children if you are going to make widows and orphans of them?
And do you believe that all those young men would resign themselves to
their fate because of your guns? There are more of them than there are
of you, and they are armed. Life owes them their revenge, and they have
the same right that we have to defend themselves in such moments. They
have the courage of those who have nothing to lose and everything to
gain in the struggle. In my opinion it is iniquitous and infamous that
you should expose us to certain death and them to an obligatory and
perfectly justified crime."
The captain tried to speak, but again I persisted:
"Without going as far as a shipwreck, only fancy if we were to be tossed
about for months on a raging sea. This has happened, and might happen
again. You cannot possibly have food enough on board for a thousand
people during two or three months."
"No, certainly not," put in the purser dryly. He was a very amiable man,
but very touchy.
"Well then, what should you do?" I asked.
"What would _you_ do?" asked the captain, highly amused at the annoyed
expression on the purser's face.
"I--oh, I should have a ship for emigrants and a ship for passengers,
and I think that would be only just."
"Yes, but it would be ruinous."
"No; the one for wealthy people would be a steamer like this, and the
one for emigrants a sailing vessel."
"But that too would be unjust, Madame, for the steamer would go more
quickly than the sailing boat."
"That would not matter at all," I argued. "Wealthy people are always in
a hurry, and the poor never are. And then, considering what is awaiting
them in the land to which they are going----"
"It is the Promised Land."
"Oh, poor things! poor things! with their Promised Land! Dakota or
Colorado.... In the day-time they have the sun which makes their brains
boil, scorches the ground, dries up the springs, and brings forth
endless numbers of mosquitoes to sting their bodies and try their
patience. The Promised Land!... At night they have the terrible cold to
make their eyes smart, to stiffen their joints and ruin their lungs. The
"It is just death in some out-of-the-world place after fruitless appeals
to the justice of their fellow countrymen. They will breathe their life
out in a sob or in a terrible curse of hatred. God will have mercy on
them though, for it is piteous to think that all these poor creatures
are delivered over, with their feet bound by suffering and their hands
bound by hope, to the slave-drivers who trade in white slaves. And when
I think that the money is in the purser's cash-box which the
slave-driver has paid for the transport of all these poor creatures!
Money that has been collected by rough hands or trembling fingers. Poor
money economised, copper by copper, tear by tear. When I think of all
this it makes me wish that we could be shipwrecked, that _we_ could be
all killed and all of them saved."
With these words I hurried away to my cabin to have a good cry, for I
was seized with a great love for humanity and intense grief that I could
do nothing, absolutely nothing!
The following morning I woke late, as I had not fallen asleep until very
late. My cabin was full of visitors, and they were all holding small
parcels half concealed. I rubbed my sleepy eyes, and could not quite
understand the meaning of this invasion.
"My dear Sarah," said Madame Guerard, coming to me and kissing me,
"don't imagine that this day, your _fete_ day, could be forgotten by
those who love you."
"Oh," I exclaimed, "is it the 23rd?"
"Yes, and here is the first of the remembrances from the absent ones."
My eyes filled with tears, and it was through a mist that I saw the
portrait of that young being more precious to me than anything else in
the world, with a few words in his own handwriting. Then there were some
presents from friends--pieces of work from humble admirers. My little
godson of the previous evening was brought to me in a basket, with
oranges, apples, and tangerines all round him. He had a golden star on
his forehead, a star cut out of some gold paper in which chocolate had
been wrapped. My maid Felicie, and Claude her husband, who were most
devoted to me, had prepared some very ingenious little surprises.
Presently there was a knock at my door, and on my calling out "Come in!"
I saw, to my surprise, three sailors carrying a superb bouquet, which
they presented to me in the name of the whole crew.
I was wild with admiration, and wanted to know how they had managed to
keep the flowers in such good condition.
It was an enormous bouquet, but when I took it in my hands I let it fall
to the ground in an uncontrollable fit of laughter. The flowers were all
cut out of vegetables, but so perfectly done that the illusion was
complete at a little distance. Magnificent roses were cut out of
carrots, camellias out of turnips, small radishes had furnished sprays
of rose-buds stuck on to long leeks dyed green, and all these relieved
by carrot leaves artistically arranged to imitate the grassy plants used
for elegant bouquets. The stalks were tied together with a bow of
tri-coloured ribbon. One of the sailors made a very touching little
speech on behalf of his comrades, who wished to thank me for a trifling
service rendered. I shook hands cordially and thanked them heartily, and
this was the signal for a little concert that had been organised in the
cabin of _mon petit Dame_. There had been a private rehearsal with two
violins and a flute, so that for the next hour I was lulled by the most
delightful music, which transported me to my own dear ones, to my home,
which seemed so distant from me at that moment.
This little _fete_, which was almost a domestic one, together with the
music, had evoked the tender and restful side of my life, and the tears
that all this called forth fell without grief, bitterness, or regret. I
wept simply because I was deeply moved, and I was tired, nervous, and
weary, and had a longing for rest and peace. I fell asleep in the midst
of my tears, sighs, and sobs.
ARRIVAL IN NEW YORK--AMERICAN REPORTERS--THE CUSTOM HOUSE--PERFORMANCES
IN NEW YORK--A VISIT TO EDISON AT MENLO PARK
Finally the ship arrived on October 27, at half-past six in the morning.
I was asleep, worn out by three days and nights of wild storms. My maid
had some difficulty in rousing me. I could not believe that we had
arrived, and I wanted to go on sleeping until the last minute. I had to
give in to the evidence, however, as the screw had stopped, and I heard
a sound of dull thuds echoing in the distance. I put my head out of my
port-hole, and saw some men endeavouring to make a passage for us
through the river. The Hudson was frozen hard, and the heavy vessel
could only advance with the aid of pick-axes cutting away the blocks of
This sudden arrival delighted me, and everything seemed to be
transformed in a minute. I forgot all my discomforts and the weariness
of the twelve days' crossing. The sun was rising, pale but rose-tinted,
dispersing the mists and shining over the ice, which, thanks to the
efforts of our pioneers, was splintered into a thousand luminous pieces.
I had entered the New World in the midst of a display of ice-fireworks.
It was fairy-like and somewhat crazy, but it seemed to me that it must
be a good omen.
I am so superstitious that if I had arrived when there was no sunshine I
should have been wretched and most anxious until after my first
performance. It is a perfect torture to be superstitious to this degree,
and, unfortunately for me, I am ten times more so now than I was in
those days, for besides the superstitions of my own country, I have,
thanks to my travels, added to my stock all the superstitions of the
other countries. I know them all now, and in any critical moment of my
life they all rise up in armed legions, for or against me. I cannot walk
a single step or make any movement or gesture, sit down, go out, look at
the sky or the ground, without finding some reason for hope or for
despair, until at last, exasperated by the trammels put upon my actions
by my thought, I defy all my superstitions and just act as I want to
act. Delighted, then, with what seemed to me to be a good omen, I began
to dress gleefully.
Mr. Jarrett had just knocked at my door.
"Do please be ready as soon as possible, Madame," he said, "for there
are several boats, with the French colours flying, that have come out to
I glanced in the direction of my port-hole, and saw a steamer, the deck
of which was black with people, and then two other small boats no less
laden than the first one.
The sun lighted up all these French flags, and my heart began to beat
I had been without any news for twelve days, as, in spite of all the
efforts of our good captain, _L'Amerique_ had taken twelve days for the
A man had just come on deck, and I rushed towards him with outstretched
hands, unable to utter a single word.
He gave me a packet of telegrams. I did not see any one present, and I
heard no sound. I wanted to know something. And among all the telegrams
I was searching first for one, just one name. At last I had it, the
telegram I had waited for, feared and hoped to receive, signed Maurice.
Here it was at last. I closed my eyes for a second, and during that time
I saw all that was dear to me and felt the infinite sweetness of it all.
When I opened my eyes again I was slightly embarrassed, for I was
surrounded by a crowd of unknown people, all of them silent and
indulgent, but evidently very curious. Wishing to go away, I took Mr.
Jarrett's arm and went to the saloon. As soon as I entered the first
notes of the Marseillaise rang out, and our Consul spoke a few words of
welcome and handed me some flowers. A group representing the French
colony presented me with a friendly address. Then M. Mercier, the editor
of the _Courrier des Etats Unis_, made a speech, as witty as it was
kindly. It was a thoroughly French speech. Then came the terrible moment
of introductions. Oh, what a tiring time that was! My mind was kept at a
tension to catch the names. Mr. Pemb----, Madame Harth----, with the _h_
aspirated. With great difficulty I grasped the first syllable, and the
second finished in a confusion of muffled vowels and hissing consonants.
By the time the twentieth name was pronounced I had given up listening;
I simply kept on with my little _risorius de Santorini_, half closed my
eyes, held out mechanically the arm at the end of which was the hand
that had to shake and be shaken. I replied all the time: _"Combien je
suis charmee, Madame.... Oh! Certainement.... Oh oui!... Oh non!...
Ah!... Oh!... Oh!..."_ I was getting dazed, idiotic--worn out with
standing. I had only one idea, and that was to get my rings off the
fingers that were swelling with the repeated grips they were enduring.
My eyes were getting larger and larger with terror as they gazed at the
door through which the crowd continued to stream in my direction. There
were still the names of all these people to hear and all these hands to
shake. My _risorius de Santorini_ must still go on working more than
fifty times. I could feel the beads of perspiration standing out under
my hair, and I began to get terribly nervous. My teeth chattered and I
commenced stammering: _"Oh, Madame!... Oh!... Je suis cha----cha----"_
I really could not go on any longer. I felt that I should get angry or
burst out crying--in fact, that I was about to make myself ridiculous. I
decided therefore to faint. I made a movement with my hand as though it
wanted to continue but could not. I opened my mouth, closed my eyes, and
fell gently into Jarrett's arms. "Quick! Air!... A doctor!... Poor
thing.... How pale she is! Take her hat off!... Loosen her corset!...
She doesn't wear one. Unfasten her dress!..." I was terrified, but
Felicie was called up in haste, and _mon petit Dame_ would not allow any
_deshabillage_. The doctor came back with a bottle of ether. Felicie
seized the bottle.
"Oh no, doctor--not ether! When Madame is quite well the odour of ether
will make her faint."
This was quite true, and I thought it was time to come to my senses
again. The reporters were arriving, and there were more than twenty of
them; but Jarrett, who was very much affected, asked them to go to the
Albemarle Hotel, where I was to put up. I saw each of the reporters take
Jarrett aside, and when I asked him what the secret was of all these
"asides," he answered phlegmatically, "I have made an appointment with
them for one o'clock. There will be a fresh one every ten minutes." I
looked at him, petrified with astonishment. He met my anxious gaze and
"_Ah oui; il etait necessaire._"
On arriving at the Albemarle Hotel I felt tired and nervous, and wanted
to be left quite alone. I hurried away at once to my room in the suite
that had been engaged for me, and fastened the doors. There was neither
lock nor bolt on one of them, but I pushed a piece of furniture against
it, and then refused emphatically to open it. There were about fifty
people waiting in the drawing-room, but I had that feeling of awful
weariness which makes one ready to go to the most violent extremes for
the sake of an hour's repose. I wanted to lie down on the rug, cross my
arms, throw my head back, and close my eyes. I did not want to talk any
more, and I did not want to have to smile or look at any one. I threw
myself down on the floor, and was deaf to the knocks on my door and to
Jarrett's supplications. I did not want to argue the matter, so I did
not utter a word. I heard the murmur of grumbling voices, and Jarrett's
words tactfully persuading the visitors to stay. I heard the rustle of
paper being pushed under the door, and Madame Guerard whispering to
Jarrett, who was furious.
"You don't know her, Monsieur Jarrett," I heard her say. "If she thought
you were forcing the door open, against which she has pushed the
furniture, she would jump out of the window!"
Then I heard Felicie talking to a French lady who was insisting on
"It is quite impossible," she was saying. "Madame would be quite
hysterical. She needs an hour's rest, and every one must wait!"
For some little time I could hear a confused murmur which seemed to get
farther away, and then I fell into a delicious sleep, laughing to myself
as I went off, for my good temper returned as I pictured the angry,
nonplussed expression on the faces of my visitors.
I woke in an hour's time, for I have the precious gift of being able to
sleep ten minutes, a quarter of an hour, or an hour, just as I like, and
I then wake up quite peacefully without a shake at the time I choose to
rouse up. Nothing does me so much good as this rest to body and mind,
decided upon and regulated merely by my will.
Very often when among my intimate friends I have lain down on the
bear-skin hearth-rug in front of the fire, telling every one to go on
talking, and to take no notice of me. I have then slept perhaps for an
hour, and on waking have found two or three new-comers in the room, who,
not wishing to disturb me, have taken part in the general conversation
whilst waiting until I should wake up and they could present their
respects to me. Even now I lie down on the huge wide sofa in the little
Empire _salon_ which leads into my dressing-room, and I sleep whilst
waiting for the friends and artistes with whom I have made appointments
to be ushered in. When I open my eyes I see the faces of my kind
friends, who shake hands cordially, delighted that I should have had
some rest. My mind is then tranquil, and I am ready to listen to all the
beautiful ideas proposed to me, or to decline the absurdities submitted
to me without being ungracious.
I woke up then at the Albemarle Hotel an hour later, and found myself
lying on the rug. I opened the door of my room, and discovered my dear
Guerard and my faithful Felicie seated on a trunk.
"Are there any people there still?" I asked.
"Oh, Madame, there are about a hundred now," answered Felicie.
"Help me to take my things off then quickly," I said, "and find me a
In about five minutes I was ready, and I felt that I looked nice from
head to foot. I went into the drawing-room where all these unknown
persons were waiting. Jarrett came forward to meet me, but on seeing me
well dressed and with a smiling face he postponed the sermon that he
wanted to preach to me.
I should like to introduce Jarrett to my readers, for he was a most
extraordinary man. He was then about sixty-five or seventy years of age.
He was tall, with a face like King Agamemnon, framed by the most
beautiful silver-white hair I have ever seen on a man's head. His eyes
were of so pale a blue that when they lighted up with anger he looked as
though he were blind. When he was calm and tranquil, admiring nature,
his face was really handsome, but when gay and animated his upper lip
showed his teeth and curled up in a most ferocious sniff, and his grins
seemed to be caused by the drawing up of his pointed ears, which were
always moving as though on the watch for prey.
He was a terrible man, extremely intelligent; but from childhood he must
have been fighting with the world, and he had the most profound contempt
for all mankind. Although he must have suffered a great deal himself, he
had no pity for others who suffered. He always said that every man was
armed for his own defence. He pitied women; did not care for them, but
was always ready to help them. He was very rich and very economical, but
"I made my way in life," he often said to me, "by the aid of two
weapons: honesty and a revolver. In business honesty is the most
terrible weapon a man can use against rascals and crafty people. The
former don't know what it is and the latter don't believe in it; while
the revolver is an admirable invention for compelling scoundrels to keep
He used to tell me about wonderful and terrifying adventures.
He had a deep scar under his right eye. During a violent discussion
about a contract to be signed for Jenny Lind, the celebrated singer,
Jarrett said to his interlocutor, pointing at the same time to his right
eye: "Look at that eye, sir. It is now reading in your mind all that you
are not saying."
"It doesn't know how to read, then, for it never foresaw that," said the
other, firing his revolver at Jarrett's right eye.
"A bad shot, sir," replied Jarrett. "This is the way to take aim for
effectually closing an eye."
And he put a ball between the two eyes of the other man, who fell down
When Jarrett told this story his lip curled up and his two incisors
appeared to be crunching the words with delight, and his bursts of
stifled laughter sounded like the snapping of his jaws. He was an
upright, honest man, though, and I liked him very much, and I like what
I remember of him.
My first impression was a joyful one, and I clapped my hands with
delight as I entered the drawing-room, which I had not yet seen. The
busts of Racine, Moliere, and Victor Hugo were on pedestals surrounded
with flowers. All round the large room were sofas laden with cushions,
and, to remind me of my home in Paris, there were tall palms stretching
out their branches over the sofas. Jarrett introduced Knoedler, who had
suggested this piece of gallantry. He was a very charming man. I shook
hands with him, and we were friends from that time forth.
The visitors soon went away, but the reporters remained. They were all
seated, some of them on the arms of the chairs, others on the cushions.
One of them had crouched down tailor-fashion on a bear-skin, and was
leaning back against the steam heater. He was pale and thin, and coughed
a great deal. I went towards him, and had just opened my lips to speak
to him, although I was rather shocked that he did not rise, when he
addressed me in a bass voice.
"Which is your favourite _role_, Madame?" he asked.
"That is no concern of yours," I answered, turning my back on him. In
doing so I knocked against another reporter, who was more polite.
"What do you eat when you wake in the morning, Madame?" he inquired.
I was about to reply to him as I had done to the first one, but Jarrett,
who had had difficulty in appeasing the anger of the crouching man,
answered quickly for me, "Oatmeal." I did not know what that dish was,
but the ferocious reporter continued his questions.
"And what do you eat during the day?"
He wrote down phlegmatically, "Mussels during the day."
I moved towards the door, and a female reporter in a tailor-made skirt,
with her hair cut short, asked me in a clear, sweet voice, "Are you a
Zoroaster-Theist-or-Deist?" I stood still, rooted to the spot in
bewilderment. She had said all that in a breath, accenting the syllables
haphazard, and making of the whole one word so wildly incoherent that my
impression was that I was not in safety near this strange, gentle
person. I must have looked uneasy, and as my eyes fell on an elderly
lady who was talking gaily to a little group of people, she came to my
rescue, saying in very good French, "This young lady is asking you,
Madame whether you are of the Jewish religion or whether you are a
Catholic, a Protestant, a Mohammedan, a Buddhist, an Atheist a
Zoroastrian, a Theist, or a Deist."
I sank down on a couch.
"Oh, Heavens!" I exclaimed, "will it be like this in all the cities I
"Oh no," answered Jarrett placidly; "your interviews will be wired
"What about the mussels?" I thought to myself, and then in an
absent-minded way I answered, "I am a Catholic, Mademoiselle."
"A Roman Catholic, or do you belong to the Orthodox Church?" she asked.
I jumped up from my seat, for she bored me beyond endurance, and a very
young man then approached timidly.
"Will you allow me to finish my sketch, Madame?" he asked.
I remained standing, my profile turned towards him at his request. When
he had finished I asked to see what he had done, and, perfectly
unabashed, he handed me his horrible drawing of a skeleton with a curly
wig. I tore the sketch up and threw it at him, but the following day
that horror appeared in the papers, with a disagreeable inscription
beneath it. Fortunately I was able to speak seriously about my art with
a few honest and intelligent journalists, but twenty-five years ago
reporters' paragraphs were more appreciated in America than serious
articles, and the public, very much less literary then than at present,
always seemed ready to echo the turpitudes invented by reporters hard up
for copy. I should think that no creature in the world, since the
invention of reporting, has ever had as much to endure as I had during
that first tour. The basest calumnies were circulated by my enemies long
before I arrived in America, there was all the treachery of the friends
of the Comedie, and even of my own admirers, who hoped that I should not
succeed on my tour, so that I might return more quickly to the fold,
humiliated, calmed down, and subdued. Then there were the exaggerated
announcements invented by my _impresario_ Abbey and my representative
Jarrett. These announcements were often outrageous and always
ridiculous; but I did not know their real source until long afterwards,
when it was too late--much too late--to undeceive the public, who were
fully persuaded that I was the instigator of all these inventions. I
therefore did not attempt to undeceive them. It matters very little to
me whether people believe one thing or another.
Life is short, even for those who live a long time, and we must live for
the few who know and appreciate us, who judge and absolve us, and for
whom we have the same affection and indulgence. The rest I look upon as
a mere crowd, lively or sad, loyal or corrupt, from whom there is
nothing to be expected but fleeting emotions, either pleasant or
unpleasant, which leave no trace behind them. We ought to hate very
rarely, as it is too fatiguing; remain indifferent to a great deal,
forgive often and never forget. Forgiving does not mean forgetting--at
least, it does not with me. I will not mention here any of the
outrageous and infamous attacks that were made upon me, as it would be
doing too great an honour to the wretched people who were responsible
for them, from beginning to end dipping their pen in the gall of their
own souls. All I can say is that nothing kills but death, and that any
one who wishes to defend himself or herself from slander can do it. For
that one must live. It is not given to every one to be able to do it,
but it depends on the will of God, who sees and judges.
I took two days' rest before going to the theatre, for I could feel the
movement of the ship all the time: my head was dizzy, and it seemed to
me as though the ceiling moved up and down. The twelve days on the sea
had quite upset my health. I sent a line to the stage manager, telling
him that we would rehearse on Wednesday, and on that day, as soon as
luncheon was over, I went to Booth's Theatre, where our performances
were to take place. At the stage-door I saw a compact, swaying crowd,
very much animated and gesticulating. These strange-looking individuals
did not belong to the world of actors. They were not reporters either,
for I knew them too well, alas! to be mistaken in them. They were not
there out of curiosity either, these people, for they seemed too much
occupied, and then, too, there were only men. When my carriage drew up,
one of them rushed forward to the door of it and then returned to the
swaying crowd. "Here she is! Here she is!" I heard, and then all these
common men, with their white neckties and questionable-looking hands,
with their coats flying open, and trousers the knees of which were worn
and dirty-looking, crowded behind me into the narrow passage leading to
the staircase. I did not feel very easy in my mind, and I mounted the
stairs rapidly. Several persons were waiting for me at the top: Mr.
Abbey, Jarrett, and also some reporters, two gentlemen and a charming
and most distinguished woman, whose friendship I have kept ever since,
although she does not care much for French people. I saw Mr. Abbey, who
was usually very dignified and cold, advance in the most gracious and
courteous way to one of the men who were following me. They raised their
hats to each other, and, followed by the strange and brutal-looking
regiment, they advanced towards the centre of the stage.
I then saw the strangest of sights. In the middle of the stage were my
forty-two trunks. In obedience to a sign, twenty of the men came
forward, and placing themselves each one between two trunks, with a
quick movement with their right and left hands they took the covers off
the trunks on the right and left of them. Jarrett, with frowns and an
unpleasant grin, held out my keys to them. He had asked me that morning
for my keys for the Customs.
"Oh, it's nothing," he said; "don't be uneasy," and the way in which my
luggage had always been respected in other countries had given me
perfect confidence about it.
The principal personage of the ugly group came towards me, accompanied
by Abbey, and Jarrett explained things to me. The man was an official
from the American Custom-house.
The Custom-house is an abominable institution in every country, but
worse in America than anywhere else. I was prepared for all this, and
was most affable to the tormentor of a traveller's patience. He raised
the melon which served him for a hat, and without taking his cigar out
of his mouth made some incomprehensible remark to me. He then turned to
his regiment of men, made an abrupt sign with his hand, and uttered some
word of command, whereupon the forty dirty hands of these twenty men
proceeded to forage among my velvets, satins, and laces. I rushed
forward to save my poor dresses from such outrageous violation, and I
ordered the lady of our company who had charge of the costumes to lift
my gowns out one at a time, which she accordingly did, aided by my maid,
who was in tears at the small amount of respect shown by these boors to
all my beautiful, fragile things. Two ladies had just arrived, very
noisy and businesslike. One of them was short and stout: her nose seemed
to begin at the roots of her hair; she had round, placid-looking eyes,
and a mouth like a snout; her arms she was hiding timidly behind her
heavy flabby bust, and her ungainly knees seemed to come straight out of
her groin. She looked like a seated cow. Her companion was like a
terrapin, with her little black evil-looking head at the end of a neck
which was too long and very stringy. She kept shooting it out of her boa
and drawing it back with the most incredible rapidity. The rest of her
body bulged out flat. These two delightful persons were the dressmakers
sent for by the Custom-house to value my costumes. They glanced at me in
a furtive way, and gave a little bow full of bitterness and jealous rage
at the sight of my dresses; and I was quite aware that two more enemies
had now come upon the scene. These two odious shrews began to chatter
and argue, pawing and crumpling my dresses and cloaks at the same time.
They kept exclaiming in the most emphatic way, "Oh, how beautiful! What
magnificence! What luxury! All our customers will want gowns like these,
and we shall never be able to make them! It will be the ruin of all the
American dressmakers." They were working up the judges into a state of
excitement for this chiffon court-martial. They kept lamenting, then
going into raptures and asking for "justice" against foreign invasion.
The ugly band of men nodded their heads in approval, and spat on the
ground to affirm their independence. Suddenly the Terrapin turned on one
of the inquisitors:
"Oh, isn't it beautiful? Show it! show it!" she exclaimed, seizing on a
dress all embroidered with pearls, which I wore in _La Dame aux
"This dress is worth at least ten-thousand dollars," she said; and then,
coming up to me, she asked, "How much did you pay for that dress,
I ground my teeth together and would not answer, for just at that moment
I should have enjoyed seeing the Terrapin in one of the saucepans in the
Albemarle Hotel kitchen. It was nearly half-past five, and my feet were
frozen. I was half dead, too, with fatigue and suppressed anger. The
rest of the examination was postponed until the next day, and the ugly
band of men offered to put everything back in the trunks, but I objected
to that. I sent out for five hundred yards of blue tarletan to cover
over the mountain of dresses, hats, cloaks, shoes, laces, linen,
stockings, furs, gloves, &c. &c. They then made me take my oath to
remove nothing, for they had such charming confidence in me, and I left
my steward there in charge. He was the husband of Felicie, my maid, and
a bed was put up for him on the stage. I was so nervous and upset that I
wanted to go somewhere far away, to have some fresh air, and to stay out
for a long time. A friend offered to take me to see Brooklyn Bridge.
"That masterpiece of American genius will make you forget the petty
miseries of our red tape affairs," he said gently, and so we set out for
Oh, that bridge! It is insane, admirable, imposing; and it makes one
feel proud. Yes, one is proud to be a human being when one realises that
a brain has created and suspended in the air, fifty yards from the
ground, that fearful thing which bears a dozen trains filled with
passengers, ten or twelve tramcars, a hundred cabs, carriages, and
carts, and thousands of foot passengers; and all that moving along
together amidst the uproar of the music of the metals--clanging,
clashing, grating, and groaning under the enormous weight of people and
things. The movement of the air caused by this frightful tempestuous
coming and going caused me to feel giddy and stopped my breath.
I made a sign for the carriage to stand still, and I closed my eyes. I
then had a strange, undefinable sensation of universal chaos. I opened
my eyes again when my brain was a little more tranquil, and I saw New
York stretching out along the river, wearing its night ornaments, which
glittered as much through its dress with thousands of electric lights as
the firmament with its tunic of stars.
I returned to the hotel reconciled with this great nation.
I went to sleep, tired in body but rested in mind, and had such
delightful dreams that I was in a good humour the following day. I adore
dreams, and my sad, unhappy days are those which follow dreamless
My great grief is that I cannot choose my dreams. How many times I have
done all in my power at the end of a happy day to make myself dream a
continuation of it. How many times I have called up the faces of those I
love just before falling asleep; but my thoughts wander and carry me off
elsewhere, and I prefer that a hundred times over to the absolute
negation of thought.
When I am asleep my body has an infinite sense of enjoyment, but it is
torture to me for my thoughts to slumber.
My vital forces rebel against such negation of life. I am quite willing
to die once for all, but I object to slight deaths such as those of
which one has the sensation on dreamless nights. When I awoke my maid
told me that Jarrett was waiting for me to go to the theatre so that the
valuation of my costumes could be terminated. I sent word to Jarrett
that I had seen quite enough of the regiment from the Custom-house, and
I asked him to finish everything without me, as Madame Guerard would be
there. During the next two days the Terrapin, the Seated Cow, and the
Black Band made notes for the Custom-house, took sketches for the papers
and patterns of my dresses for customers. I began to get impatient, as
we ought to have been rehearsing. Finally, I was told on Thursday
morning that the business was over, and that I could not have my trunks
until I had paid twenty-eight thousand francs for duty. I was seized
with such a violent fit of laughing that poor Abbey, who had been
terrified, caught it from me, and even Jarrett showed his cruel teeth.
"My dear Abbey," I exclaimed, "arrange as you like about it, but I must
make my _debut_ on Monday the 8th of November, and to-day is Thursday. I
shall be at the theatre on Monday to dress. See that I have my trunks,
for there was nothing about the Custom-house in my contract. I will pay
half, though, of what you have to give."
The twenty-eight thousand francs were handed over to an attorney who
made a claim in my name on the Board of Customs. My trunks were left
with me, thanks to this payment, and the rehearsals commenced at Booth's
On Monday, November 8, at 8.30, the curtain rose for the first
performance of _Adrienne Lecouvreur_. The house was crowded, and the
seats, which had been sold to the highest bidders and then sold by them
again, had fetched exorbitant prices. I was awaited with impatience and
curiosity, but not with any sympathy. There were no young girls present,
as the piece was too immoral. Poor Adrienne Lecouvreur!
The audience was very polite to the artistes of my company, but rather
impatient to see the strange person who had been described to them.
In the play the curtain falls at the end of the first act without
Adrienne having appeared. A person in the house, very much annoyed,
asked to see Mr. Henry Abbey. "I want my money back," he said, "as la
Bernhardt is not in every act." Abbey refused to return the money to the
extraordinary individual, and as the curtain was going up he hurried
back to take possession of his seat again. My appearance was greeted by
several rounds of applause, which I believe had been paid for in advance
by Abbey and Jarrett. I commenced, and the sweetness of my voice in the
fable of the "Two Pigeons" worked the miracle. The whole house this time
burst out into hurrahs. A current of sympathy was established between
the public and myself. Instead of the hysterical skeleton that had been
announced to them, they had before them a very frail-looking creature
with a sweet voice. The fourth act was applauded, and Adrienne's
rebellion against the Princesse de Bouillon stirred the whole house.
Finally in the fifth act, when the unfortunate artiste is dying,
poisoned by her rival, there was quite a manifestation, and every one
was deeply moved. At the end of the third act all the young men were
sent off by the ladies to find all the musicians they could get
together, and to my surprise and delight on arriving at my hotel a
charming serenade was played for me while I was at supper. The crowd had
assembled under my windows at the Albemarle Hotel, and I was obliged to
go out on to the balcony several times to bow and to thank this public,
which I had been told I should find cold and prejudiced against me. From
the bottom of my heart I also thanked all my detractors and slanderers,
as it was through them that I had had the pleasure of fighting, with the
certainty of conquering. The victory was all the more enjoyable as I had
not dared to hope for it.
I gave twenty-seven performances in New York. The plays were _Adrienne
Lecouvreur_, _Froufrou_, _Hernani_, _La Dame aux Camelias_, _Le Sphinx_,
and _L'Etrangere_. The average receipts were 20,342 francs for each
performance, including _matinees_. The last performance was given on
Saturday, December 4, as a _matinee_, for my company had to leave that
night for Boston, and I had reserved the evening to go to Mr. Edison's
at Menlo Park, where I had a reception worthy of fairyland.
Oh, that _matinee_ of Saturday, December 4! I can never forget it. When
I got to the theatre to dress it was mid-day, for the _matinee_ was to
commence at half-past one. My carriage stopped, not being able to get
along, for the street was filled by ladies, sitting on chairs which they
had borrowed from the neighbouring shops, or on folding seats which they
had brought themselves. The play was _La Dame aux Camelias_. I had to
get out of my carriage and walk about twenty-five yards on foot in order
to get to the stage door. It took me twenty-five minutes to do it.
People shook my hands and begged me to come back. One lady took off her
brooch and pinned it in my mantle--a modest brooch of amethysts
surrounded by fine pearls, but certainly for the giver the brooch had
its value. I was stopped at every step. One lady pulled out her
note-book and begged me to write my name. The idea took like lightning.
Small boys under the care of their parents wanted me to write my name on
their cuffs. My arms were full of small bouquets which had been pushed
into my hands. I felt behind me some one tugging at the feather in my
hat. I turned round sharply. A woman with a pair of scissors in her hand
had tried to cut off a lock of my hair, but she only succeeded in
cutting the feather out of my hat. In vain Jarrett signalled and
shouted. I could not get along. They sent for the police, who delivered
me, but without any ceremony either for my admirers or for myself. Those
policemen were real brutes, and they made me very angry. I played _La
Dame aux Camelias_, and I counted seventeen calls after the third act
and twenty-nine after the fifth. In consequence of the cheering and
calls the play had lasted an hour longer than usual, and I was half dead
with fatigue. I was just about to go to my carriage to get back to my
hotel, when Jarrett came to tell me that there were more than 50,000
people waiting outside. I fell back on a chair, tired and disheartened.
"Oh, I will wait till the crowd has dispersed. I am tired out I can do
But Henry Abbey had an inspiration of genius.
"Come," said he to my sister. "Put on Madame's hat and boa and take my
arm. And take also these bouquets--give me what you cannot carry. And
now we will go to your sister's carriage and make our bow."
He said all this in English, and Jarrett translated it to my sister, who
willingly accepted her part in this little comedy. During this time
Jarrett and I got into Abbey's carriage, which was stationed in front of
the theatre where no one was waiting. And it was fortunate we took this
course, for my sister only got back to the Albemarle Hotel an hour
later, very tired, but very much amused. Her resemblance to myself, my
hat, my boa, and the darkness of night had been the accomplices of the
little comedy which we had offered to my enthusiastic public.
We had to set out at nine o'clock for Menlo Park. We had to dress in
travelling costume, for the following day we were to leave for Boston,
and my trunks were leaving the same day with my company, which preceded
me by several hours.
Our meal was, as usual, very bad, for in those days in America the food
was unspeakably awful. At ten o'clock we took the train--a pretty
special train, all decorated with flowers and banners, which they had
been kind enough to prepare for me. But it was a painful journey all the
same, for at every moment we had to pull up to allow another train to
pass or an engine to manoeuvre, or to wait to pass over the points. It
was two o'clock in the morning when the train at last reached the
station of Menlo Park, the residence of Thomas Edison.
It was a very dark night, and the snow was falling silently in heavy
flakes. A carriage was waiting, and the one lamp of this carriage served
to light up the whole station, for orders had been given that the
electric lights should be put out. I found my way with the help of
Jarrett and some of my friends who had accompanied us from New York. The
intense cold froze the snow as it fell, and we walked over veritable
blocks of sharp, jagged ice, which crackled under our feet. Behind the
first carriage was another heavier one, with only one horse and no lamp.
There was room for five or six persons to crowd into this. We were ten
in all. Jarrett, Abbey, my sister, and I took our places in the first
one, leaving the others to get into the second. We looked like a band of
conspirators. The dark night, the two mysterious carriages, the silence
caused by the icy coldness, the way in which we were muffled in our
furs, and our anxious expression as we glanced around us--all this made
our visit to the celebrated Edison resemble a scene out of an operetta.
The carriage rolled along, sinking deep into the snow and jolting
terribly; the jolts made us dread every instant some tragi-comic
I cannot tell how long we had been rolling along, for, lulled by the
movement of the carriage and buried in my warm furs, I was quietly
dozing, when a formidable "Hip, hip, hurrah!" made us all jump, my
travelling companions, the coachman, the horse, and I. As quick as
thought the whole country was suddenly illuminated. Under the trees, on
the trees, among the bushes, along the garden walks, lights flashed
The wheels of the carriage turned a few more times, and then drew up at
the house of the famous Thomas Edison. A group of people awaited us on
the verandah--four men, two ladies, and a young girl. My heart began to
beat quickly as I wondered which of these men was Edison. I had never
seen his photograph, and I had the greatest admiration for his genial
brain. I sprang out of the carriage, and the dazzling electric light
made it seem like day-time to us. I took the bouquet which Mrs. Edison
offered me, and thanked her for it, but all the time I was endeavouring
to discover which of these was the great man.
They all four advanced towards me, but I noticed the flush that came
into the face of one of them, and it was so evident from the expression
of his blue eyes that he was intensely bored that I guessed this was
Edison. I felt confused and embarrassed myself, for I knew very well
that I was causing inconvenience to this man by my visit. He of course
imagined that it was due to the idle curiosity of a foreigner eager to
court publicity. He was no doubt thinking of the interviewing in store
for him the following day, and of the stupidities he would be made to
utter. He was suffering beforehand at the idea of the ignorant questions
I should ask him, of all the explanations he would out of politeness be
obliged to give me, and at that moment Thomas Edison took a dislike to
me. His wonderful blue eyes, more luminous than his incandescent lamps,
enabled me to read his thoughts. I immediately understood that he must
be won over, and my combative instinct had recourse to all my powers of
fascination in order to vanquish this delightful but bashful _savant_. I
made such an effort, and succeeded so well that half an hour later we
were the best of friends.
I followed him about quickly, climbing up staircases as narrow and steep
as ladders, crossing bridges suspended in the air above veritable
furnaces, and he explained everything to me. I understood all, and I
admired him more and more, for he was so simple and charming, this king
As we were leaning over a slightly unsteady bridge above the terrible
abyss, in which immense wheels encased in wide thongs were turning,
whirling about, and rumbling, he gave various orders in a clear voice,
and light then burst forth on all sides, sometimes in sputtering
greenish jets, sometimes in quick flashes, or in serpentine trails like
streams of fire. I looked at this man of medium size, with rather a
large head and a noble-looking profile, and I thought of Napoleon I.
There is certainly a great physical resemblance between these two men,
and I am sure that one compartment of their brain would be found to be
identical. Of course I do not compare their genius. The one was
destructive and the other creative, but whilst I execrate battles I
adore victories, and in spite of his errors I have raised an altar in my
heart to that god of glory, Napoleon! I therefore looked at Edison
thoughtfully, for he reminded me of the great man who was dead. The
deafening sound of the machinery, the dazzling rapidity of the changes
of light, all that together made my head whirl, and forgetting where I
was, I leaned for support on the slight balustrade which separated me
from the abyss beneath. I was so unconscious of all danger that before I
had recovered from my surprise Edison had helped me into an adjoining
room and installed me in an arm-chair without my realising how it had
all happened. He told me afterwards that I had turned dizzy.
After having done the honours of his telephonic discovery and of his
astonishing phonograph, Edison offered me his arm and took me to the
dining-room, where I found his family assembled. I was very tired, and
did justice to the supper that had been so hospitably prepared for us.
I left Menlo Park at four o'clock in the morning, and the time the
country round, the roads and the station were all lighted up _a giorno_,
by the thousands of lamps of my kind host. What a strange power of
suggestion the darkness has! I thought I had travelled a long way that
night, and it seemed to me that the roads were impracticable. It proved
to be quite a short distance, and the roads were charming, although they
were now covered with snow. Imagination had played a great part during
the journey to Edison's house, but reality played a much greater one
during the same journey back to the station. I was enthusiastic in my
admiration of the inventions of this man, and I was charmed with his
timid graciousness and perfect courtesy, and with his profound love of
AT BOSTON--STORY OF THE WHALE
The next day, or rather that same day, for it was then four in the
morning, I started with my company for Boston. Mr. Abbey, my
_impresario_, had arranged for me to have a delightful "car," but it was
nothing like the wonderful Pullman car that I was to have from
Philadelphia for continuing my tour. I was very much pleased with this
one, nevertheless. In the middle of it there was a real bed, large and
comfortable, on a brass bedstead. Then there were an arm-chair, a pretty
dressing-table, a basket tied up with ribbons for my dog, and flowers
everywhere, but flowers without an overpowering perfume. In the car
adjoining mine were my own servants, who were also very comfortable. I
went to bed feeling thoroughly satisfied, and woke up at Boston.
A large crowd was assembled at the station. There were reporters and
curious men and women--a public decidedly more interested than friendly,
not badly intentioned, but by no means enthusiastic. Public opinion in
New York had been greatly occupied with me during the past month. I had
been so much criticised and glorified. Calumnies of all kinds, stupid
and disgusting, foolish and odious, had been circulated about me. Some
people blamed and others admired the disdain with which I had treated
these turpitudes, but every one knew that I had won in the end and that
I had triumphed over all and everything. Boston knew, too, that
clergymen had preached from their pulpits saying that I had been sent by
the Old World to corrupt the New World, that my art was an inspiration
from hell, &c. &c. Every one knew all this, but the public wanted to see
for itself. Boston belongs especially to the women. Tradition says that
it was a woman who first set foot in Boston. Women form the majority
there. They are puritanical with intelligence, and independent with a
certain grace. I passed between the two lines formed by this strange,
courteous, and cold crowd, and just as I was about to get into my
carriage a lady advanced towards me and said, "Welcome to Boston,
"Welcome, Madame!" and she held out a soft little hand to me. (American
women generally have charming hands and feet.) Other people now
approached and smiled, and I had to shake hands with many of them.
I took a fancy to this city at once, but all the same I was furious for
a moment when a reporter sprang on the steps of the carriage just as we
were driving away. He was in a greater hurry and more audacious than any
of the others, but he was certainly overstepping the limits, and I
pushed the impolite fellow back angrily. Jarrett was prepared for this,
and saved him by the collar of his coat; otherwise he would have fallen
down on the pavement as he deserved.
"At what time will you come and get on the whale to-morrow?" this
extraordinary personage asked. I gazed at him in bewilderment. He spoke
French perfectly, and repeated his question.
"He's mad!" I said in a low voice to Jarrett.
"No, Madame; I am not mad, but I should like to know at what time you
will come and get on the whale? It would be better perhaps to come this
evening, for we are afraid it may die in the night, and it would be a
pity for you not to come and pay it a visit while it still has breath."
He went on talking, and as he talked he half seated himself beside
Jarrett, who was still holding him by the collar lest he should fall out
of the carriage.
"But, Monsieur," I exclaimed, "what do you mean? What is all this about
"Ah, Madame," he replied, "it is admirable, enormous. It is in the
harbour basin, and there are men employed day and night to break the ice
all round it."
He broke off suddenly, and standing on the carriage step he clutched the
"Stop! Stop!" he called out. "Hi! Hi! Henry, come here! Here's Madame;
here she is!"
The carriage drew up, and without any further ceremony he jumped down
and pushed into my landau a little man, square all over, who was wearing
a fur cap pulled down over his eyes, and an enormous diamond in his
cravat. He was the strangest type of the old-fashioned Yankee. He did
not speak a word of French, but he took his seat calmly by Jarrett,
whilst the reporter remained half sitting and half hanging on to the
vehicle. There had been three of us when we started from the station,
and we were five when we reached the Hotel Vendome. There were a great
many people awaiting my arrival, and I was quite ashamed of my new
companion. He talked in a loud voice, laughed, coughed, spat, addressed
every one, and gave every one invitations. All the people seemed to be
delighted. A little girl threw her arms round her father's neck,
exclaiming, "Oh yes, papa; do please let us go!"
"Well, but we must ask Madame," he replied, and he came up to me in the
most polite and courteous manner. "Will you kindly allow us to join your
party when you go to see the whale to-morrow?" he asked.
"But, Monsieur," I answered, delighted to have to do with a gentleman
once more, "I have no idea what all this means. For the last quarter of
an hour this reporter and that extraordinary man have been talking about
a whale. They declare authoritatively that I must go and pay it a visit,
and I know absolutely nothing about it all. These two gentlemen took my
carriage by storm; installed themselves in it without my permission,
and, as you see, are giving invitations in my name to people I do not
know, asking them to go with me to a place about which I know nothing,
for the purpose of paying a visit to a whale which is to be introduced
to me, and which is waiting impatiently to die in peace."
The kindly disposed gentleman signed to his daughter to come with us,
and, accompanied by them, and by Jarrett and Madame Guerard, I went up
in a lift to the door of my suite of rooms. I found my apartments hung
with valuable pictures and full of magnificent statues. I felt rather
disturbed in my mind, for among these objects of art were two or three
very rare and beautiful things, which I knew must have cost an
exorbitant price. I was afraid lest any of them should be stolen, and I
spoke of my fear to the proprietor of the hotel.
"Mr. X., to whom the knick-knacks belong," he answered, "wished you to
have them to look at as long as you are here, Mademoiselle; and when I
expressed my anxiety about them to him, just as you have done to me, he
merely remarked that 'it was all the same to him.' As to the pictures,
they belong to two wealthy Bostonians." There was among them a superb
Millet, which I should very much have liked to own.
After expressing my gratitude and admiring these treasures, I asked for
an explanation of the story of the whale, and Mr. Max Gordon, the father
of the little girl, translated for me what the little man in the fur cap
had said. It appeared that he owned several fishing-boats, which he sent
out cod-fishing for his own benefit. One of these boats had captured an
enormous whale, which still had two harpoons in it. The poor creature
was thoroughly exhausted with its struggles, and only a few miles
distant along the coast, so it had been easy to capture it and bring it
in triumph to Henry Smith, the owner of the boats. It was difficult to
say by what freak of fancy and by what turn of the imagination this man
had arrived at associating in his mind the idea of the whale and my name
as a source of wealth. I could not understand it, but the fact remained
that he insisted in such a droll way, and so authoritatively and
energetically, that the following morning at seven o'clock fifty of us
assembled, in spite of the icy cold rain, on the quay.
Mr. Gordon had given orders that his mail coach with four beautiful
horses should be in readiness. He drove himself, and his daughter,
Jarrett, my sister, Madame Guerard, and another elderly lady, whose name
I have forgotten, were with us. Seven other carriages followed. It was
all very amusing indeed.
On our arrival at the quay we were received by this comic Henry,
shaggy-looking this time from head to foot, and his hands encased in
fingerless woollen gloves. Only his eyes and his huge diamond shone out
from his furs. I walked along the quay, very much amused and interested.
There were a few idlers looking on also, and alas!--three times over
alas!--there were reporters.
Henry's shaggy paw then seized my hand, and he drew me along with him
quickly to the steps.
I only just escaped breaking my neck at least a dozen times. He pushed
me along, made me stumble down the ten steps of the basin, and I next
found myself on the back of the whale. They assured me that it still
breathed, but I should not like to affirm that it really did; but the
splashing of the water breaking its eddy against the poor creature
caused it to oscillate slightly. Then, too, it was covered with glazed
frost, and twice I fell down full length on its spine. I laugh about it
now, but I was furious then.
Every one around me insisted, however, on my pulling a piece of
whalebone from the blade of the poor captured creature, one of those
little bones which are used for women's corsets. I did not like to do
this, as I feared to cause it suffering, and I was sorry for the poor
thing, as three of us--Henry, the little Gordon girl, and I--had been
skating about on its back for the last ten minutes. Finally I decided to
do it. I pulled out the little whale bone, and went up the steps again,
holding my poor trophy in my hand. I felt nervous and flustered, and
every one surrounded me.
I was annoyed with this Henry Smith. I did not want to return to the
coach, as I thought I could hide bad temper better in one of the huge,
gloomy-looking landaus which followed, but the charming Miss Gordon
asked me so sweetly why I would not ride with them that I felt my anger
melt away before the child's smiling face.
"Would you like to drive?" her father asked me, and I accepted with
Jarrett immediately proceeded to get down from the coach as quickly as
his age and corpulence would allow him.
"If you are going to drive I prefer getting down," he said, and he took
a seat in another carriage. I changed places boldly with Mr. Gordon in
order to drive, and we had not gone a hundred yards before I had let the
horses make for a chemist's shop along the quay and got the coach itself
up on to the footpath, so that if it had not been for the quickness and
energy of Mr. Gordon we should all have been killed. On arriving at the
hotel I went to bed, and stayed there until it was time for the theatre
in the evening. We played _Hernani_ that night to a full house.
The seats had been sold to the highest bidders, and considerable prices
were obtained for them. We gave fifteen performances at Boston, at an
average of nineteen thousand francs for each performance. I was sorry to
leave that city, as I had spent two charming weeks there, my mind all
the time on the alert when holding conversations with the Boston women.
They are Puritans from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot,
but they are indulgent, and there is no bitterness about their
Puritanism. What struck me most about the women of Boston was the
harmony of their gestures and the softness of their voices. Brought up
among the severest and harshest of traditions, the Bostonian race seems
to me to be the most refined and the most mysterious of all the American
As the women are in the majority in Boston, many of the young girls
remain unmarried. All their vital forces which they cannot expend in
love and in maternity they employ in fortifying and making supple the
beauty of their body by means of exercise and sports, without losing any
of their grace. All the reserves of heart are expended in
intellectuality. They adore music, the stage, literature, painting, and
poetry. They know everything and understand everything, are chaste and
reserved, and neither laugh nor talk very loud.
They are as far removed from the Latin race as the North Pole is from
the South Pole, but they are interesting, delightful, and captivating.
It was therefore with a rather heavy heart that I left Boston for New
Haven, and to my great surprise, on arriving at the hotel there I found
Henry Smith the famous whale man.
"Oh, Heavens!" I exclaimed, flinging myself into an armchair, "what does
this man want now with me?"
I was not left in ignorance very long, for the most infernal noise of
brass instruments, drums, trumpets, and, I should think, saucepans, drew
me to the window. I saw an immense carriage surrounded by an escort of
negroes dressed as minstrels. On this carriage was an abominable,
monstrous coloured advertisement representing me standing on the whale,
tearing away its blade while it struggled to defend itself.
Some sandwich-men followed with posters on which were written the
"COME AND SEE
THE ENORMOUS CETACEAN
BY TEARING OUT ITS WHALEBONE FOR HER CORSETS.
THESE ARE MADE BY MADAME LILY NOE,
WHO LIVES," ETC. ETC.
Some of the other sandwich-men carried posters with these words:
"THE WHALE IS JUST AS FLOURISHING (_sic_) AS
WHEN IT WAS ALIVE!
It has five hundred dollars' worth of salt in its stomach,
and every day the ice upon which it is resting is
renewed at a cost of one hundred dollars!"
My face turned more livid than that of a corpse, and my teeth chattered
with fury on seeing this.
Henry Smith advanced towards me, and I struck him in my anger, and then
rushed away to my room, where I sobbed with vexation, disgust, and utter
I wanted to start back to Europe at once, but Jarrett showed me my
contract. I then wanted to take steps to have this odious exhibition
stopped, and in order to calm me I was promised that this should be
done, but in reality nothing was done at all.
Two days later I was at Hartford, and the same whale was there. It
continued its tour as I continued mine.
They gave it more salt and renewed its ice, and it went on its way, so
that I came across it everywhere. I took proceedings about it, but in
every State I was obliged to begin all over again, as the law varied in
the different States. And every time I arrived at a fresh hotel I found
there an immense bouquet awaiting me, with the horrible card of the
showman of the whale. I threw his flowers on the ground and trampled on
them, and much as I love flowers, I had a horror of these. Jarrett went
to see the man and begged him not to send me any more bouquets, but it
was all of no use, as it was the man's way of avenging the box on the
ears I had given him. Then too he could not understand my anger. He was
making any amount of money, and had even proposed that I should accept a
percentage of the receipts. Ah, I would willingly have killed that
execrable Smith, for he was poisoning my life. I could see nothing else
in all the different cities I visited, and I used to shut my eyes to go
from the hotel to the theatre. When I heard the minstrels I used to fly
into a rage and turn green with anger. Fortunately I was able to rest
when once I reached Montreal, where I was not followed by this show. I
should certainly have been ill if it had continued, as I saw nothing but
that, I could think of nothing else, and my very dreams were about it.
It haunted me; it was an obsession and a perpetual nightmare. When I
left Hartford, Jarrett swore to me that Smith would not be at Montreal,
as he had been taken suddenly ill. I strongly suspected that Jarrett had
found a way of administering to him some violent kind of medicine which
had stopped his journeying for the time. I felt sure of this, as the
ferocious gentleman laughed so heartily _en route_, but anyhow I was
infinitely grateful to him for ridding me of the man for the present.
MONTREAL'S GRAND RECEPTION--THE POET FRECHETTE--AN ESCAPADE ON THE
ST. LAWRENCE RIVER
At last we arrived at Montreal.
For a long time, ever since my earliest childhood, I had dreamed about
Canada. I had always heard my godfather regret, with considerable fury,
the surrender of that territory by France to England.
I had heard him enumerate, without very clearly understanding them, the
pecuniary advantages of Canada, the immense fortune that lay in its
lands, &c., and that country had seemed to my imagination the far-off
Awakened some considerable time before by the strident whistle of the
engine, I asked what time it was. Eleven o'clock in the evening, I was
informed. We were within fifteen minutes of the station. The sky was
black and smooth, like a steel shield. Lanterns placed at distant
intervals caught the whiteness of the snow heaped up there for how many
days? The train stopped suddenly, and then started again with such a
slow and timid movement that I fancied that there might be a possibility
of its running off the rails. But a deadened sound, growing louder every
second, fell upon my attentive ears. This sound soon resolved itself
into music--and it was in the midst of a formidable "Hurrah! long live
France!" shouted by ten thousand throats, strengthened by an orchestra
playing the "Marseillaise" with a frenzied fury, that we made our entry
The place where the train stopped in those days was very narrow. A
somewhat high bank served as a rampart for the slight platform of the
Standing on the small step of my carriage, I looked with emotion upon
the strange spectacle I had before me. The bank was packed with bears
holding lanterns. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. In the
narrow space between the bank and the train, which had come to a stop,
there were more bears, large and small, and I wondered with terror how I
should manage to reach my sleigh.
Jarrett and Abbey caused the crowd to make way, and I got out. But a
deputy, whose name I cannot make out on my notes (what commendation for
my writing!)--a deputy advanced towards me and handed me an address
signed by the notabilities of the city. I returned thanks as best I
could, and took the magnificent bouquet of flowers that was tendered in
the name of the signatories to the address. When I lifted the flowers to
my face in order to smell them I hurt myself slightly with their pretty
petals, which were frozen by the cold.
However, I began myself to feel both arms and legs were getting
benumbed. The cold crept over my whole body. That night, it appears, was
one of the coldest that had been experienced for many years past.
The women who had come to be present at the arrival of the French
company had been compelled to withdraw into the interior of the station,
with the exception of Mrs. Jos. Doutre, who handed me a bouquet of rare
flowers and gave me a kiss. The temperature was twenty-two degrees below
zero. I whispered low to Jarrett, "Let us continue our journey; I am
turning into ice. In ten minutes I shall not be able to move a step."
Jarrett repeated my words to Abbey, who applied to the Chief of Police.
The latter gave orders in English, and another police officer repeated
them in French. And we were able to proceed for a few yards. But the
main station was still some way off. The crowd grew bigger, and at one
time I felt as though I were about to faint. I took courage, however,
holding or rather hanging on to the arms of Jarrett and Abbey. Every
minute I thought I should fall, for the platform was like a mirror.
We were obliged, however, to stay further progress. A hundred lanterns,
held aloft by a hundred students' hands, suddenly lit up the place.
A tall young man separated himself from the group and came straight
towards me, holding a wide unrolled piece of paper, and in a loud voice
A SARAH BERNHARDT.
Salut, Sarah! salut, charmante dona Sol!
Lorsque ton pied mignon vient fouler notre sol,
Notre sol tout couvert de givre,
Est-ce frisson d'orgueil ou d'amour? je ne sais;
Mais nous sentons courir dans notre sang francais
Quelque chose qui nous enivre!
Femme vaillante au coeur sature d'ideal,
Puisque tu n'as pas craint notre ciel boreal,
Ni redoute nos froids severes.
Merci! De l'apre hiver pour longtemps prisonniers,
Nous revons a ta vue aux rayons printaniers
Qui font fleurir les primeveres!
Oui, c'est au doux printemps que tu nous fais rever!
Oiseau des pays bleus, lorsque tu viens braver
L'horreur de nos saisons perfides,
Aux clairs rayonnements d'un chaud soleil de mai,
Nous croyons voir, du fond d'un bosquet parfume,
Surgir la reine des sylphides.
Mais non: de floreal ni du blond messidor,
Tu n'es pas, O Sarah, la fee aux ailes d'or
Qui vient repandre l'ambroisie;
Nous saluons en toi l'artiste radieux
Qui sut cueillir d'assaut dans le jardin des dieux
Toutes les fleurs de poesie!
Que sous ta main la toile anime son reseau;
Que le paros brilliant vive sous ton ciseau,
Ou l'argile sous ton doigt rose;
Que sur la scene, au bruit delirant des bravos,
En types toujours vrais, quoique toujours nouveaux,
Ton talent se metamorphose;
Soit que, peintre admirable ou sculpteur souverain,
Toi-meme oses ravir la muse au front serein,
A ta sourire toujours prete;
Soit qu'aux mille vivats de la foule a genoux,
Des grands maitres anciens ou modernes, pour nous
Ta voix se fasse l'interprete;
Des bords de la Tamise aux bords du Saint-Laurent,
Qu'il soit enfant du peuple ou brille au premier rang,
Laissant glapir la calomnie,
Tour a tour par ton oeuvre et ta grace enchante
Chacun courbe le front devant la majeste
De ton universel genie!
Salut donc, O Sarah! salut, O dona Sol!
Lorsque ton pied mignon vient fouler notre sol,
Te montrer de l'indifference
Serait a notre sang nous-memes faire affront;
Car l'etoile qui luit la plus belle a ton front,
C'est encore celle de la France!
He read very well, it is true; but those lines, read at a temperature of
twenty-two degrees of cold to a poor woman dumfounded through listening
to a frenzied "Marseillaise," stunned by the mad hurrahs from ten
thousand throats delirious with patriotic fervour, were more than my
strength could bear.
I made superhuman efforts at resistance, but was overwhelmed with
fatigue. Everything appeared to be turning round in a mad farandole. I
felt myself raised from the ground, and heard a voice which seemed to
come from far away, "Make room for our French lady!" Then I heard
nothing further, and only recovered my senses in my room at the Hotel
My sister Jeanne had become separated from me by the movement of the
crowd. But the poet Frechette, a Franco-Canadian, acted as escort, and
brought her several minutes later, safe and sound, but trembling on my
account, and this is what she told me. "Just imagine. When the crowd was
pressing against you, seized with terror on seeing your head fall back
with closed eyes on to Abbey's shoulder, I shouted out, 'Help! My
sister is being killed.' I had become mad. A man of enormous size, who
had followed us for a long time, worked his elbows and hips to make the
enthusiastic but overexcited mob give way, with a quick movement placed
himself before you just in time to prevent you from falling. The man,
whose face I could not see on account of its being hidden beneath a fur
cap, the ear flaps of which covered almost his entire face, raised you
up as though you had been a flower, and held forth to the crowd in
English. I did not understand anything he said, but the Canadians were
struck with it, for the pushing ceased, and the crowd separated into two
compact files in order to let you pass through. I can assure you that it
made me feel quite impressed to see you, so slender, with your head
back, and the whole of your poor frame borne at arm's length by that
Hercules. I followed as fast as I could, but having caught my foot in
the flounce of my skirt, I had to stop for a second, and that second was
enough to separate us completely. The crowd, having closed up after your
passage, formed an impenetrable barrier. I can assure you, dear sister,
that I felt anything but at ease, and it was M. Frechette who saved me."
I shook the hand of that worthy gentleman, and thanked him this time as
well as I could for his fine poem; then I spoke to him of other poems of
his, a volume of which I had obtained at New York, for alas! to my shame
I must acknowledge it, I knew nothing about Frechette up to the time of
my departure from France, and yet he was already known a little in
He was very much touched with the several lines I dwelt upon as the
finest of his work. He thanked me. We remained friends.
The day following, nine o'clock had hardly struck when a card was sent
up to me on which were written these words, "He who had the joy of
saving you, Madame, begs that your kindness will grant him a moment's
interview." I directed that the man should be shown into the
drawing-room, and after notifying Jarrett, went to waken my sister.
"Come with me," I said. She slipped on a Chinese dressing-gown, and we
went in the direction of the large, the immense drawing-room of my
suite, for a bicycle would have been necessary to traverse without
fatigue the entire length of my rooms, drawing-room, dining-room and
bedroom. On opening the door I was struck by the beauty of the man who
was before me. He was very tall, with wide shoulders, small head, a hard
look, hair thick and curly, tanned complexion. The man was fine-looking,
but seemed uneasy. He blushed slightly on seeing me. I expressed my
gratitude, and asked to be excused for my foolish weakness. I received
joyfully the bouquet of violets he handed me. On taking leave he said in
a low voice, "If you ever hear who I am, swear that you will only think
of the slight service I have rendered you." At that moment Jarrett
entered. His face was pale, as he walked towards the stranger and spoke
to him in English. I could, however, catch the words, "detective ...
door ... assassination ... impossibility ... New Orleans." The
stranger's sunburnt complexion became chalky, his nostrils quivered as
he glanced towards the door. Then, as flight appeared impossible, he
looked at Jarrett and in a peremptory tone, as cold as flint, said,
"Well!" as he went towards the door. My hands, which had opened under
the stupor, let fall his bouquet, which he picked up whilst looking at
me with a supplicating and appealing air. I understood, and said to him
in a loud tone of voice, "I swear to it, Monsieur." The man disappeared
with his flowers. I heard the uproar of people behind the door and of
the crowd in the street. I did not wish to listen to anything further.
When my sister, of a romantic and foolish turn of mind, wished to tell
me about the horrible thing, I closed my ears.
Four months afterwards, when an attempt was made to read aloud to me an
account of his death by hanging, I refused to hear anything about it.
And now after twenty-six years have passed and I know, I only wish to
remember the service rendered and my pledged word.
This incident left me somewhat sad. The anger of the Bishop of Montreal
was necessary to enable me to regain my good humour. That prelate, after
holding forth in the pulpit against the immorality of French literature,
forbade his flock to go the theatre. He spoke violently and spitefully
against modern France. As to Scribe's play (_Adrienne Lecouvreur_), he
tore it into shreds, as it were, declaiming against the immoral love of
the _comedienne_ and of the hero and against the adulterous love of the
Princesse de Bouillon. But the truth showed itself in spite of all, and
he cried out, with fury intensified by outrage: "In this infamous
lucubration of French authors there is a court abbe, who, thanks to the
unbounded licentiousness of his expressions, constitutes a direct insult
to the clergy." Finally he pronounced an anathema against Scribe, who
was already dead, against Legouve, against me, and against all my
company. The result was that crowds came from everywhere, and the four