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"How splendidly he does it!" I said to myself as I listened. "How perfect and complete the pose! Years of assiduous practice have gone to the making of this so delicate work of art."
But a few minutes later I surrendered myself completely to him, and vowed again that never would I, even secretly to myself, accuse him of insincerity, of acting, of seeking to make an impression. Time has turned him into the elf he copies. He is a little more than human. One very early morn fifty years ago the fairies gathered about his cradle.
Miss Gonne urged me to return to her house that evening. Not without enjoyment and, I verily believe, some malicious amusement had she watched Yeats reacting to my personality, and perhaps she wished to observe the effect I would have on J. K. Stephens, George Russell ("E"), Edward Martyn, and other friends of hers I met at nine that night.
But when the evening came I found I was to have little talk with any one save Miss Gonne, for I made the mistake of telling her that since my visit that afternoon I had written a short impressionistic article on her. She smiled that secret, gratified smile that even the cleverest of us cannot entirely restrain when we are flattered. Moreover, I called this courageous, tempestuous creature "Madame,"—by mistake, I do believe, and the word pleased her. She took me to a corner of the room, her tall, slightly stooping figure clad entirely in white, taking possession of me as a hen takes possession of her chickens.
"You 've written something about me?" she asked.
"Yes. It's rather nice, I think. I've got you. I describe this large, bare room, the white flowers growing proudly on your little tables, your face of suffering, your eloquence, and-and so on."
it, though, when I had finished, she was kind enough to say:
She leaned forward.
"Sit here," she invited, and indicated two chairs that chance was it?-had placed in that remote region of the room. We sat down side by side, and I began to read in my rather indistinct voice the little sketch I had so carefully and, it seemed to me, so beautifully painted in four or five hundred mots justes.
She was disappointed. I could feel
"Very pretty. But, really, Mr. Cumberland, do you honestly think I'm like that?"
"To me you are."
"But you 've described a rather battered angel, and I 'm anything but an angel. I'm a rebel,-an ex-jailbird, if you like, a woman full of anger and indignation, a political-"
She confided to me stories of plots, escapes, sufferings, police futilities, intrigues. But there was little in what she told me that I did not already know, for Maud Gonne's romantic career, her passionate sacrifices of self, and her superb devotion to her country are known to all who have studied Ireland's fate. But I listened intently and did not speak until she had finished and there had been silence for many moments.
"But that is all beyond my powers,' I said. "I cannot write of those things. My pen is light and satirical and, they tell me, malicious."
She held out her hand for the article I had written, and I gave it to her. As she read it she smiled.
"Very well, print it. So far as it goes it's true enough, but it does n't go very far."
Later on I heard a deep, vibrant voice, and saw a huge, white-haired, florid man who, by the aid of a stick and restricted by gout, was stumping heavily about the room. I questioned Miss Gonne with my eyebrows and said: ""Dear Edward"?"
"Ought I to be introduced?" "Oh, yes; most certainly."
She took me to Edward Martyn, a kindly, self-important, and entirely humorless man, who, looking into my candid eyes, took me to his heart at once. He talked with an almost passionate interest in his own words-church music; masses; John McCormack, whom, it appeared, he had years ago employed in his choir, singing; and, eventually and inevitably, Palestrina. He became lyrical and dramatic by turns; in moments of excitement his loud voice rose to a noble shout. Fascinated by the manner rather than by the man, I stood half hypnotized. But church music is not one of
my subjects, and knowing that this strange man had another god besides Palestrina, and that god Wagner, I waited for an opportunity to breathe his name. As I write, I am teased by my inability to remember anything that Edward Martyn said, though I am confident that his words were wise, his opinions just, and his discretion all (and perhaps more than) it should have been. Occasionally, sometimes in the deep middle of a sentence, he would pause to breathe, and I would form my lips for the enunciation of the word "Wagner"; but before the sound could come, he had started again. I remember well looking full on his face, and from the tail of my eye seeing J. K. Stephens moving about the room like a leprechawn.
At last my moment came. Martyn stuck at a name.
"All that influence," he was saying, "all that Preraphaelite influence has now died down, I think. Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Holman Hunt, and-ertut-tut-his name 's on the tip of my tongue-Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Holman Hunt, and—er—’
were outside the Grosvenor Hotel, where I was staying, and he was promising to dine with me the following Friday, when, I assured him, innocent fish only should appear on our table. But, alas! that dinner was never eaten, for on the following day I was summoned hastily to Belfast to listen to music.
J. K. Stephens, as I have said, is like a leprechawn in appearance, and, at least when talking to me, in manner like some one not very successful on the stock exchange. He is a cock-sure little man; he knows about it all. He knows. said he believed in "inspiration," in not writing save "when the mood was on him"; he added something about "one book every two or three years."
"To live on?" I queried.
He took this little question as an affront, and I distinctly saw him bridle.
"Many men write more," I said in a conciliatory tone. conciliatory tone. "H. G. Wells, for
"Yes, but what is it all about?" he asked. "What is Wells trying to say?" "At the moment?"
"Oh, any time."
"He 's said a lot about aëroplanes, for example, and sex and science and marriage and religion and sociology and our national hypocrisies and-"
"Yes, I dare say," he interrupted contemptuously.
"You don't read Wells?"
"When I read, I either read the newspaper, my letters, or-literature."
"Quite," said I. "I see we don't agree." This conversation took place in a large room of the Irish National Gallery on the day following my visit to Miss Gonne's. Stephens was sitting at a desk doing clerical work, and though he seemed very willing, nay, eager, to talk to me, he did not invite me to be seated; indeed, throughout our interview I did not detect anything in his manner that led me to believe he was likely to do so.
"I have recently come back from a year's stay in Paris," he said, "but it's not my milieu. It has atmosphere, of course, but not my atmosphere."
Paris, I felt, was condemned.
"Perhaps you don't speak or read French?" I asked, and he admitted that he did not. "But now you 're back in Dublin-"
"Oh, yes, I shall write, but not at present. The mood delays, but it will come." "And then?"
"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps a book of poems. Or a story. One does not force these things. They arrive."
Did I, indeed, intend to be rude?
"I don't believe any good writing is accomplished without hard work, though, of course, the work may all have been done before the hour of writing. On one or two occasions I have written an enormous amount in a few weeks; then again a year or two may pass in which I produce only a few pages."
It was, I admit, indiscreet of me to mention George Moore, but I did. He froze. There is not much hero-worship about Stephens. Some people worship others; others have a good conceit of themselves. I felt that an effort was being made to impress me; it did not greatly succeed.
"I consider George Moore a very great writer," I said; "to my mind, a greater writer even than Joseph Conrad. 'Esther Waters' is at least as fine as 'Madame Bovary.'"
"Oh, I dare say, I dare say," he muttered impatiently, and picked up a book from his desk. This, I felt, was dismissal indeed.
So I turned to go. He relented; but he had nothing more to say, and five minutes later, when out in the street, I told myself what I have often told myself:
"How like his books he is!"
And yet how unlike! But I know well that my personality antagonized him, for I was not a worshiper. I can imagine that with the right sort of person, in the right sort of place, at the right sort of time, he might be as charming as one of the pages of beaten gold of which his books are composed; but time, place, and person on this occasion were all that they ought not to be.
That evening I sat in the stalls of the Abbey Theatre and witnessed one of the clever, but drab and rather sordid, plays of St. John Ervine. This theater, about which much has been written, is dreadfully vieux jeu. Strangely using the past tense, they say it has been a barn. The people who entered it were rather like the people I used to meet in the
repertory theaters in Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham, consciously high-brow, palely anemic. Consciously high-brow is St. John Ervine himself. He lived in Dublin for a short period as manager or "art director," or whatever it is he called himself, of the Abbey Theatre; but he was not very popular or, I believe, very successful, and he returned to London, that simple city where it is easy to make headway.
I should like to have met Ervine in Dublin. In London, working on a labor paper, I found him supercilious, exclusive, and free from geniality; but in Ireland's capital, I am told, he was esthetic and literary dictator, a position he would have esteemed.
I fell to thinking of Ervine as, late at night, I walked, depressed and disappointed, from the Abbey Theatre to my hotel. Here, said I to myself, is a typical Irishman: that is to say, a pushful man with brains; a man who, at all costs, will "get on" in the world; a man who saves and is careful; a man who works with an almost desperate energy. He has all the qualities with which the traditional Irishman is not endowed. But the traditional Irishman never existed outside the novels of Lever. Bernard Shaw also conforms to type. Only the other day I saw him in Leicester Square, clad gravely and respectably in black and almost offensively clean, the Puritan in excelsis. The Irishman of tradition is fond of leaning against the bar of a public house, but Bernard Shaw does not even take the whisky-bottle from the cellaret. W. B. Yeats thinks inns are picturesque, but has not George Moore recorded that in the old days this poet's refreshment at midday was a bun and a glass of milk? No, the feckless, jolly, generous, drinking Irishman has been created for literary-commercial purposes. Synge's playboy is the result of two generations of careful fiction and deliberate lying. It is in St. John Ervine and Bernard Shaw that one sees the typical Irishman; a fellow who, despite his imagination and sympathy, lives with one eye on the Muse and the other on the cash-box.
On the evening of the following day I was taken to see George Russell, far and away the greatest Irishman of the present generation. Poet, painter, politician,
mystic, editor, man of business, organizer, his life is full to overflowing. So great is his genius for friendship that men of directly opposite political beliefs find in him their ideal man.
It was a Sunday, I remember, and as I entered the room and swept my gaze round the semicircle of black-coated men sitting before the generous fire, I thought how respectable, how Sundayish, and how provincial the little gathering looked. All had donned their best clothes, greased their hair, and assumed a manner of finicking fastidiousness that is often to be seen in Irishmen of education. One notices that kind of fastidiousness in men who are aware that they are "not quite" gentlemen and are yet anxious to be a little more than gentle
The room was large and comfortable. At one end were windows; at the other were folding-doors or curtains, I forget which, connecting it with a second and somewhat smaller room. There were books in plenty. On the walls hung a number of paintings from the brush of George Russell himself. Before sitting down I glanced at these, and immediately received the impression that I was surrounded by works of a vital and striving beauty whose essence was of another world than this. And during the next couple of hours, while I was exasperated and depressed by the brilliant, barren talk, I saw vividly in my mind's eye (for my back was turned on the pictures) light and beauty and mystery walking hand in hand on a pathway of stars.
I was fated to witness a competition of cleverness. Almost every one "showed off" with fatal ill breeding. They said not the true thing, but the brilliant thing. They argued not to track truth to her lair, but to disclose their own smartness. The air was alive with epigrams; now and again a little satirical laugh would tear the ear like the ripping of calico.
President Wilson and Lord French became butts for malevolence to aim at. This leaping agility of mind, this constant striving for effect, was, strangely enough, called into being solely by the desire to impress their host, who, it was clear, is the last man in the world to look favorably upon the quick sparkle of alert intellects. For some time this big, bearded man, with his great shoulders and face in which there is no guile, remained silent and ruminative, only occasionally intervening to state in simple, quiet words views so wise that in a moment they annihilated the brilliant twaddle of which he and I had for long been the unwilling victims.
I rose quietly, and having left the circle, wandered slowly round the room, stopping for a brief space before each wonderful picture. They tell me that George Russell cannot draw or paint. I do not know, for of these things I have little technical knowledge. But I do know that the beauty lavished on those spread canvases pierced me instantly and left me wondering at the strangeness of the soul of man that, dwelling in our fleshly habitation, can hold commerce with the unseen and impalpable.
I did not return to the circle that night. I sat apart, waiting for Russell's voice, watching his every movement, trying in vain to capture his secret. All I saw was a kindly, humorous, wise man of enormous tact and great toleration. If vanity is the womb of genius, then Russell has no genius. He is simple, he is courteous, he is free from pose. Best of all, he does not talk cleverly.
When at midnight I left, he accompanied me to the hall-door, and I could not but feel as he took my hand that I had for some few hours been in the presence of a man of noble mind and strange, disturbing genius. And I know well that throughout my life I shall be accompanied by a quick, vivid memory of his painted dreams.
By BRANDER MATTHEWS
N the recently collected correspondence of Henry James there are two or three quite violent outcries against the necessary connection of the drama and the theater. James felt that the drama was forever fascinating, and he found that the theater was eternally repulsive. He went so far as to wish that the drama might be detached from the theater, so that a play could be performed in some theoretic or hyperbolic fashion, uncontaminated by stage scenery, actors, and accessories, and above all relieved from any control by managers. This wish is one which could never have been expressed by an author who was a born playwright. To the born playwright the theater is not abhorrent; it is attractive in all its forms and in all its manifestations. And better than any one else is the born playwright aware that the drama and the theater are Siamese twins, linked together by living flesh, and doomed to speedy death when sundered.
The drama cannot flourish unless the organization of the theater is fairly efficient; and to-day the drama is flourishing in English as it has not flourished in at least two centuries. On both sides of the Atlantic there are now dramatists of varied ability who have mastered the mystery of playmaking and who are setting before us on the stage the life of our own time, ingeniously, inventively, and on occasion imaginatively. No longer do British and American managers pick up the crumbs that fall from the tables of the French; they can set forth a bounteous feast without being forced to import canned meats from foreign parts. Probably very few even of those who take a keen interest in the things of the theater are awake to the really remarkable dramatic achievement of the three decades from 1890 to 1920. Professor
William Lyon Phelps has been emboldened to the assertion that during this period "there have been more good plays written in the English language than during any other succession of thirty years since the death of Shakspere in 1616."
We are too close to this period to be able to declare which are the outstanding plays that deserve to survive. We cannot attempt to calculate our harvest until time has winnowed the wheat from the chaff. But those who are most familiar with the arid deserts in the history of the drama of the two Englishspeaking peoples in the last two centuries are the least likely to underestimate the enduring value of the score or more plays of the prolific present which are destined to take the place, more or less permanent, by the side of the scant score which has descended to us from the host of playwrights who were born. after Shakspere died. The two hundred years which went before 1890 were years of famine, and we have solid reasons for hope that the hundred years following 1890 will be years of plenty.
That the drama of our language has been born again in the last three or four decades is proof positive that the organization of the theater has been fairly efficient. It cannot be as defective as has been shrilly proclaimed by juvenile enthusiasts, who are in a hurry for the millennium and who are disappointed that it does not arrive overnight. To say this is not to imply that the organization of the theater is now perfectly satisfactory. The most we can safely assert is that our organization is probably no worse than it is or has been in other countries or in other centuries.
It is to be put to the credit of the existing organization of the theater here in the United States that in one city at least, in the city of New York, the persistent playgoer has a very wide range of opportunity-probably unrivaled any