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Monsieur de Boisse that he has nothing to fear from the man who has done him the honour to cross swords with him!-(Armand bows. The Colonel continues, with much emotion, and tearing Emmeline's letter). -If you do not love me, madam, at least esteem me."
"Well done, Morbleu!" exclaims that tough but honest-hearted old trooper, the widow Laroche; and so the piece quickly comes to a conclusion, the audience being left to infer the subsequent union of Emmeline and Armand.
Independently of the interest of the plot, there is a great deal of fun and humour in the Fils de Famille, and as is the case with very many of the pieces played at the Gymnase-not a passage to shock even the most fastidious English audience. Translated, or at least adapted, it would make a charming piece for the Lyceum. The cast could not be so strong at any London theatre as it is at the Gymnase; but it might be possible to fill all the parts pretty creditably. The singing scene would probably be a difficulty. A piano is on the stage, and Rose Chéri sits down to it, and accompanies the colonel, who outstrips her accompaniment, and ends with a questionable note. Armand gets up and sings a verse, and then tries to sing the final verse with the colonel; but the commander of the lancers, whom old Kirchet has declared to be "zun cheval," is a horse hard to drive in double harness, and his impetuosity carries him ahead of Armand, just as it had caused him ungallantly to take the lead of Emmeline. Finally, Armand and Emmeline conclude the song together, to the latter's accompaniment. This clever scene is not slurred over, or eked out by orchestral aid, but passes exactly as it might do in private society. It requires three good actors, all three possessing a certain knowledge of music, and a degree of tact and skill which, we fear, is rare amongst English light comedians of the present day. The French are inimitable and unapproachable in this style of thing, of which plenty of other examples might be found, even at theatres of an inferior grade. Thus, at the Porte St Martin, in a popular melodrama
which had an immense run last winter, five actors sing, in the character of itinerant musicians, a long burlesque song, caricaturing the music of different countries, and accompany themselves, extremely well, upon violoncello, harp, violin, flageolet, and guitar. La Faridondaine is one of the successes of the season, thanks to the very agreeable musical and dramatic talent of Madame Hebert Massy, formerly of the Opéra Comique, and to the originality of Bontin in the character of Chanterelle. It is of the class of plays usually performed at the Adelphi Theatre-plus the good singing, and minus the tinge of vulgarity that seems inseparable from the London house. In the absence of Lemaitre, who has now once more returned to the scene of so many of his triumphs, it formed the great attraction at the Porte St Martin all last winter. The return of Lemaitre, impaired though his powers be, makes the company at that theatre a very strong one; especially as it also includes Mélingue, an excellent actor in historical drama, and knightly or military parts. He performed d'Artagnan in the Trois Mousquetaires, and was one of Alexander Dumas' best men during the short time the Théatre Historique was open for the performance of that class of drama. He is a clever painter and sculptor, and, in the play of Benvenuto Cellini, models a statuette upon the stage, in presence of the audience. It certainly materially adds to the dignity and respectability of the dramatic profession in France, that a large number of its members are men of refined taste and liberal education, quite capable, if they chose, of earning a living, and even of making themselves a name, in other arts and pursuits than that they have chosen to follow. Amongst them are to be found elegant scholars, dramatists, poets, painters, sculptors, musicians-not mere dabblers, but proficients of approved merit. At the Comédie Française, most of the principal actors are men of learning and literary accomplishments, profoundly versed in the history and practice of their art, to whose literature they have, in several instances, made valuable additions, and which many of them have studied not only in French,
but in the masterpieces of foreign poets and dramatists. Samson and Régnier may be cited as brilliant examples of the class of stage-players who thus at once illustrate and elevate their profession. At the Odéon, Henry Mounier is at once author, artist, and actor, and in all three lines he is full of originality. He performs in his own plays, and earns double applause. At the same theatre, Tisserant is a musician, and has written vaudevilles and some pleasing poetry. In most of the other theatres, and in various degrees, similar instances might be cited. The Porte St Martin has at this moment amongst its actors, sculptors, poets, vaudevilleists, and the eccentric Bontin, who composes chansonnettes, and is a professor of the guitar.
In its present state, the English stage is not of sufficient importance to give rise to a tithe of the intrigues, jealousies, cabals, and manoeuvres daily witnessed in the dramatic world of Paris, and composing a chronicle, more or less scandalous, deeply interesting to all connected with the theatre, and far from unheeded by the general public. Certain circumstances connected with Ponsard's comedy of L'Honneur et l'Argent gave rise to much discussion and newspaper comment, and to some published correspondence. The truth of the case, as far as it can be elicited from the mass of conflicting statements, was simply this: Ponsard offered his play to the Comédie Française; it was read to the committee of the theatre, who were but moderately impressed by its merits, and doubted its success upon their boards. Out of consideration, however, for the author of Lucrece, and other approved plays, they would have acted the comedy, had Ponsard agreed to make corrections. The poet, however, was displeased by the little enthusiasm shown. He requested the committee to accept his piece as it was, with the understanding that it should not be performed at the Comédie Française. They did as he wished; then he took the comedy across the water to the Odéon. The semi-acceptance by the committee of the principal theatre was skilfully made use of; the poet's admirers and partisans displayed great activity in
the cause; L'Honneur et l'Argent, brought out upon the trans-pontine stage, was declared a prodigious success; has been played upwards of fifty times, and still continues to be nightly performed.
It were erroneous to imagine that a run of this kind is invariably a certain proof, in Paris, of the merit of a play. It is not given to the eye of the profane to penetrate all the mysteries of the feuilleton and the réclame, and to detect the numerous strings pulled to move that big puppet, the public. Such manœuvres are more easily practised at a theatre in the Odéon's position than at the Comédie Française, at which latter house we are fully of opinion that M. Ponsard's comedy, if it had escaped withdrawal after one or two performances, would have found but small success and a very short run.
Our reason for this opinion is, that it is utterly wanting in wit, and that it is full of claptraps which would hardly have drawn applause from a refined audience. Before criticising, let us glance at the plot. This has little that is new or striking. It is a very old and a very common story, which we do not think has acquired any fresh charm by M. Ponsard's manner of telling it. George is a young man of five-and-twenty, the son of wealthy parents. He is open-hearted, generous, hospitable, lavish to prodigality; of course, he is surrounded by much-attached friends. A capitalist is anxious to give him shares in profitable speculations; a statesman urges him to accept a place
a prefecture or a diplomatic appointment. He declines these kind offers; he is happy in his mode of life, and in the pursuit of painting, of which he is passionately fond. His proficiency in the art, his friends assure him, is truly admirable; a thousand pities, they say, that he is not compelled to paint for his living; he would make a handsome income and immortalise his name. He loves Laura, whose father, a gentleman magnanimous in speech, willingly accepts his proposals-not, he says, on account of his wealth, but of his worth. Riches, according to the pompous M. Mercier, are a very secondary consideration, and "an honest man the noblest work of God." George's father dies,
leaving, for sole inheritance, six hundred thousand francs of debts. Still M. Mercier does not withdraw his consent to the marriage, although he makes a little merit of giving his daughter to the young man who has now no other fortune than that of his deceased mother, amounting to thirty thousand francs a-year. But, says this French Pecksniff, speaking from the summit of his stiff neck and white cravat, what is gold, compared to honour? George thinks as he does, and applies his mother's fortune to the extinction of his father's debts, remaining literally penniless. O, ho! what a change of scene and tone ensues! A fine fellow is George, that every one admits, but secretly every one holds him for a Quixotic fool. Mercier has now other views for Laura; he marries her to Richard, a wealthy libertine, whose father has thrice failed, and is consequently immensely rich. The statesman has unfortunately disposed of all his appointments, but will bear George in mind, and try to find him a little clerkship. George's first idea was to support himself by painting, but the picture-dealers decline to make him an offer for his productions, and truly, say his friends-who had once compared him to Décamps and Delacroix the dealers are in the right, and his pictures worth but the canvass. The capitalist is the only man who comes to his aid, and that not with his purse. A spinster of fifty, whose dowry had been in the hands of George's father, and who has received half the poor young man's six bundred thousand francs, offers to restore it to him—with her own hand. George at first declines wealth thus encumbered, but at last, soured and exasperated by the ingratitude he on all sides encounters, wavers, and would perhaps accept, but for the interference and arguments of his blunt but honest friend Rodolph, and for the bright eyes of Lucile, Laura's sister, who, with feminine sweetness and delicacy, pours balm upon his wounded heart. The ungrateful creditors whom George had so nobly paid, and who then were profuse with their offers of service, have refused to lend him a small sum necessary to purchase a paper-mill, once his fa
ther's, and in which he sees a fortune to be made. But a friendly notary supplies him with the money, and in the fifth act we find George, after a year's industry and application, at the head of a flourishing concern, and on the high-road to a fortune which, Rodolph says, will be a better one than that he has lost, because he will owe it to himself and not to his ancestors. Meanwhile the magnanimous Mercier has got into trouble; the son-in-law of his choice, in whom he placed unbounded confidence, has induced him to intrust him with his capital, and Mercier is a ruined man. The play ends, as it is not difficult to foresee, with the marriage of George and Lucile.
George and Rodolph are the two prominent characters in the play, and upon them its whole interest hinges. The former part is judiciously and well performed by Laferrière; and Tisserant, a good actor, with a stentorian voice, does his best to give spirit and interest to the long-winded part of Rodolph-an honest but wearisome cynic, who takes upon himself to lecture everybody, and who, when none are at hand to be lectured, addresses a moral discourse to the first comer. It is poor George, however, who bears the brunt of his inflated oratory; and, after George, Mercier comes in for the greatest amount of sermonising. He sometimes preludes his lectures by preambles essentially undramatic. "I will only speak a few candid words to you," he says; "dictated by friendship as I understand it." And thus he proses on for a page or more. Earnest, ardent persons, such as Rodolph is represented, oftener run over their ideas than thus delay their expression, to say nothing of the cruelty to the victim. It is as if a surgeon, preparing for actual cautery, were carefully to inform his patient that he is heating the iron. No wonder that poor George winces and frets under the reiterated torment, and once loses patience, and requests his friend to leave him in peace. The whole play is didactic rather than dramatic. It is less a comedy (in the popular acceptation of the word) than a moral lecture put into metrical dialogue. M. Ponsard is a dramatist of reputation, and although his style is
cold and somewhat tame, he has unquestionable merit. His voice is sonorous, his vocabulary good. But he is not a man of wit-judging, at least, from this play, in which, from the first scene to the last, there is not a single spark of that quality of which French dramatists are usually considered to possess a larger share than those of almost any other nation. And his stock of ideas seems but limited, since, when he catches one, he uses it over and over again, first smothering it in a cloud of words, and then resuscitating it to smother it again. His play might very well have been compressed into four, or even into three acts. It was unnecessary to repeat, in a dozen different forms of amplification, that men's merits are often measured by their purses' length. Where he certainly excels is in claptrap. His play is full of it; and to that may be attributed a good portion of its success. Owing to its situation and low prices, the Odéon's audiences are in great part composed of the lower classes, to whose sympathies many of the "points" of the play directly appeal. It is to be observed that all the good qualities are on the side of the poor-of George, who is ruined, and of Rodolph, the needy philosopher. Early in the play, M. Ponsard disclaims the design of doing as in melodramas, and constantly contrasting virtuous poor with infamous rich;" but, nevertheless, enough of that effect is conveyed to tell upon the groundlings. A deep sensation is produced when George enters the ball-room at the house of the notary, who has invited him to meet his former friends and creditors, in hopes some of them may proffer him service. His threadbare coat, strictly buttoned to the chin, to imply the absence of a waistcoat, and his pale woe-begone countenance, excite the strong sympathy of the pit, which is profoundly touched when he declares, with some slight want of dignity in his tones, that he has gone without dinner to buy a pair of gloves. On est toujours millionnaire pour aller au bal. Then, when Rodolph-rather brutally, as it appears to us-tells his ruined friend, who recoils from occupation beneath his birth and former station, that he knows many a porter
and letter-carrier qui le valent bien— who are just as good as he-there is a rapturous roar from pit and gallery, and a gleam of delighted approbation on many a grimy visage. Tisserant, who works like a horse, and must have a sore throat, poor lad! at the end of each night's performance, seems as if bent upon atoning by the vigour of his lungs for any weakness in the play, and is very skilful in leading up to the claptraps (most of which fall to his share), and in suffering none of them to escape notice. He speaks them as if he claimed applause, which he seldom fails to obtain. Applause, however, does not go for much at a French theatre, where the better classes of the audience never join in it, and where so much depends upon the claque. The tears of the women, the laughter of the men, form the true criticism of the effect of a play, tragic or comic. At the Odéon, the boxes neither laugh nor cry. They sit the piece out, and seem upon the whole satisfied; and probably they speak well of it afterwards, since it continues to fill the house. For our part, we frankly confess that, what with the oppressive atmosphere, and the moderately-washed audience, we found it hard work to sit out M. Ponsard's moral poem. The success, although we doubt it surviving the season, of a play of this class, goes some way to disprove the assertion, often made, that the play-going palate of the French requires some highly-spiced performances-ladies with camelias, Parisian mysteries, and complicated immorality. The strictly correct tendency of this latest production of M. Ponsard's muse is undeniable, but we cannot help wishing that his propriety were of a rather more lively complexion.
The minute care with which every political allusion is now prevented upon the stage, is evinced by the alteration of a single word at the end of a long and rather heavy scene, in which Rodolph takes Mercier to task, and rebukes him, in some pages of verse, for refusing his daughter to George, and bestowing her upon a man of indifferent character, whom she has scarcely seen. "That gentleman is not at all moral in his discourse," says Mercier, when Rodolph
leaves him: "he is a Socialist." On the stage the word Voltairean is substituted for Socialist, doubtless out of tenderness to the feelings of any members of that discomfited faction who may chance to be amongst the audience.
After a disjointed winter, which has swallowed up spring, a season has at last come when the idler in Paris may cease to cower at the chimney-corner for protection from the inclement gales of May, and need no longer rely upon in-door amusements in well-warmed buildings. The shade of the Tuileries'
tufted chestnuts, the lively scene presented by the Champs Elysées, the drive in the pleasant Bois de Boulogne, the evening saunter on the crowded boulevards, are now at least as seductive as any entertainment that has to be sought within walls, in a blaze of gas, and in a throng of humanity. But when shortening days and chilling airs again admonish us of the year's decline, it were hard to devise, and unreasonable to desire, a better evening pastime than is afforded by the combined efforts of the best French dramatists and actors.
THE FINE ARTS AND THE PUBLIC TASTE IN 1853.
I SCARCELY know how, my dear post-Raphaelite friend, to answer your many queries--whether to include them in one, or take them in detail-whether I should profess to be wise upon the subject-matter, or subscribe myself an ignoramus. What ever be my reply, I shall be sure to give offence to somebody or other in the multifarious throng of dissonant opinion-makers and opinion-receivers. There will be many a metamorphosed "Bottom" with his new-made ears up, to catch such words as may be conscientiously uttered, and, lacking his patient sapience, and mistaking his own condition for mine, bid me write me down in the phraseology of the Weaver. You would have me to be disputatious indeed, and the object of disputation, by discussing Art and Taste; nevertheless, I will assume pretensions which I have been so many long years acquiring, with so much pains and study. You question me on the state of the Fine Arts-you have not considered how wide is your question. Where are the Fine Arts to be found, and put under a scrutiny? There are conditions of art so contradictory, and all demanding supremacy, that I am at a loss where or how to look these real or allegorical personages, “The Fine Arts," in the face. I have looked into galleries old, and galleries new-in some, the Arts are not only "Fine," but superfine-a great deal too fine in others, they are not "Fine" at all, and lamentably dingy.
And stranger still, I find the public running after both kinds with unbounded enthusiasm, and purses that take a pleasure in opening themselves. The extravagance on both sides throws me into a bewilderment; much I doubt myself while I walk scrutinisingly enough through the displays, and say with the philosopher, "What a number of things are here which I do not want." Not want! how many things which I dislike, and which I find multitudes eagerly bidding for, as if each additional "bid" was to stamp the fiat of taste. Do not expect me to give up my judgment all at once; it may be true that I know nothing whatever of Art, or "the Arts;" I have studied the old principles, but it seems they won't do. Then allow me, until time, or sense, or folly shall have initiated me in the new, and dipped in Lethe the intellect which I may have so wrongly cultivated, to indulge my prejudices-for such, if I am modest, I ought to consider all my atoms of former taste to be; and I know you have a leaning to prejudices, and reverentially receive them as instincts, which you have called the elder brothers of Reason.
What a word is Taste! What tomes, ponderous and light, have been written upon it! And lest it should give every argument the slip, the more prudent authors have bound it to genius. Yet with all their toil, it remains the mystery, the "unknown quantity," and quality too! It is still the Sphinx; the riddle never to be