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Two Young American Playwrights
by [?]

“Gautier had a theory to the effect that to be a member of the Academy was simply and solely a matter of predestination. ‘There is no need to do anything,’ he would say, ‘and so far as the writing of books is concerned that is entirely useless. A man is born an Academician as he is born a bishop or a cook. He can abuse the Academy in a dozen pamphlets if it amuses him, and be elected all the same; but if he is not predestined, three hundred volumes and ten masterpieces, recognized as such by the genuflections of an adoring universe, will not aid him to open its doors.’ Evidently Balzac was not predestined but then neither was Moliere, and there must have been some consolation for him in that.”

Edgar Saltus.

In the newspaper reports relating to the death of Auguste Rodin I read with some astonishment that if the venerable sculptor, who lacked three years of being eighty when he died, had lived two weeks longer he would have been admitted to the French Academy! In other words, the greatest stone-poet since Michael Angelo, internationally famous and powerful, the most striking artist figure, indeed, of the last half century, was to be permitted, in the extremity of old age, to inscribe his name on a scroll, which bore the signatures of many inoffensive nobodies. I could not have been more amused if the newspapers, in publishing the obituary notices of John Jacob Astor, had announced that if the millionaire had not perished in the sinking of the Titanic, his chances of being invited to join the Elks were good; or if “Variety” or some other tradespaper of the music halls, had proclaimed, just before Sarah Bernhardt’s debut at the Palace Theatre, that if her appearances there were successful she might expect an invitation to membership in the White Rats…. These hypothetical instances would seem ridiculous … but they are not. The Rodin case puts a by no means seldom-recurring phenomenon in the centre of the stage under a calcium light. The ironclad dreadnaughts of the academic world, the reactionary artists, the dry-as-dust lecturers are constantly ignoring the most vital, the most real, the most important artists while they sing polyphonic, antiphonal, Palestrinian motets in praise of men who have learned to imitate comfortably and efficiently the work of their predecessors.

* * * * *

If there are other contemporary French sculptors than Rodin their names elude me at the moment; yet I have no doubt that some ten or fifteen of these hackmen have their names emblazoned in the books of all the so-called “honour” societies in Paris. It is a comfort, on the whole, to realize that America is not the only country in which such things happen. As a matter of fact, they happen nowhere more often than in France.

If some one should ask you suddenly for a list of the important playwrights of France today, what names would you let roll off your tongue, primed by the best punditic and docile French critics? Henry Bataille, Paul Hervieu, and Henry Bernstein. Possibly Rostand. Don’t deny this; you know it is true, unless it happens you have been doing some thinking for yourself. For even in the works of Remy de Gourmont (to be sure this very clairvoyant mind did not often occupy itself with dramatic literature) you will find little or nothing relating to Octave Mirbeau and Georges Feydeau. True, Mirbeau did not do his best work in the theatre. That stinging, cynical attack on the courts of Justice (?) of France (nay, the world!), “Le Jardin de Supplice” is not a play and it is probably Mirbeau’s masterpiece and the best piece of critical fiction written in France (or anywhere else) in the last fifty years. However Mirbeau shook the pillars of society even in the playhouse. Le Foyer was hissed repeatedly at the Theatre Francais. Night after night the proceedings ended in the ejection and arrest of forty or fifty spectators. Even to a mere outsider, an idle bystander of the boulevards, this complete exposure of the social, moral, and political hypocricies of a nation seemed exceptionally brutal. Le Foyer and “Le Jardin” could only have been written by a man passionately devoted to the human ideal (“each as she may,” as Gertrude Stein so beautifully puts it). Les Affaires sont les Affaires is pure theatre, perhaps, but it might be considered the best play produced in France between Becque’s La Parisienne and Brieux’s Les Hannetons.