TODAY,” I said to myself decidedly, as I opened my eyes, ” I must choose my home.”
It was the fault of the breeze, the little breeze that crept in through my open bedroom window, scattering sunlight across the floor, and carrying a hundred early-morning sounds and perfumes, the twittering of sparrows in the court, the fragrance of spring flowers, and even the plaintive chant of the chickweed-vendor in a distant street, crying his ” Mouron pour les petits oiseaux.” All May was in the breeze. It set one tingling with the desire to do something, but something pleasant, unpractical, inconsequent, not too definite, and so, since choosing my home is the most beautifully useless of all my occupations, I settled on it at once.
” Bon jour, Monsieur Claude,” said Eu-génie, entering with hot water ; “vous avez bien dormi ? ”
“Bon jour, Eugénie; très bien, merci,” I re-plied. Aujourd’hui, Eugénie, je vais choisir une maison pour moi,” I added firmly.
“Vrai, Monsieur Claude ? ” said Eugénie sympathetically, but without surprise. It is impossible for me to surprise Eugénie. This is due partly to her having been born in Paris, a quality as rare as beauty, and partly to the fact that she is consumed with a devotion to me, which does not in the least prevent her from cheating me in buying groceries, but which puts astonishment at anything I may say out of the question, as a kind of disloyalty. In reviewing my characteristics, I have never been able to discover certainly what it is in me that appeals to Eugénie; but the secret may be that, since I am unable to be impersonal with women of any class except those whom I dislike, she feels in the tone with which I speak to her a recognition of her sex. If Eugénie were a mistress, her affection would no doubt take the form of caresses ; as she is a servant, she expends it on polishing my shoes when they do not need it, and some-times even when they do. Not, however, that my position is deficient in other than utilitarian pleasures. Eugénie is the only person who has ever considered me hand-some. It was a few evenings ago, while she stood patiently holding a boutonnière, and I was adjusting a tie, that I became aware of the delusion.
You will observe, Eugénie,” I remarked, “a great difference in mirrors. Now this one,” I said, with a vain ‘endeavor to get near enough to judge of my success, makes me appear almost good-looking, while in this,” crossing the room to another, I am really ugly ! ”
“A strange glass, indeed, Monsieur Claude,” exclaimed Eugénie, with a sincerity which I should be the last to question, ” to make you look ugly ! ”
Our early-morning conversations, when she has entered with hot water and shoes, and I am lying in that delicious state of profound meditation on nothing whatever that just precedes getting up, afford me unfailing amusement ; for Eugénie has a spontaneous sense of humor rare in a woman, and with inimitable verve recounts how, by encouraging the boulangère in the next street to relate her amours, she succeeded in passing a demonetized two-franc piece Napoleon III uncrownedwhich some one had dishonestly given me ; and repeats the piteous plaint of the coal-dealer’s assistant over his inability to get himself white enough on Sunday to be accorded the kisses of his promise, and have anything of the day left. But on this particular morning the conversation was serious.
In what quarter, Eugénie, should you advise me to look for my house ? ” I inquired anxiously.
” Oh,” said Eugénie, closing the window, ” the quartier de l’ Etoile, Monsieur Claude. Il n’y a que ça de vraiment chic.”
“Good,” I thought to myself, smiling.
Eugénie is the only woman I have ever known in whom bad taste is consistent and unfailing. Others many others have it most of the time, but subject to annoying and unexpected relapses ; with her it is always to be depended upon. Whenever I have impulsively bought a vase, of which on critical reflection I begin to have my doubts, I ask Eugénie for her opinion ; and if I feel from the tone of her praise that she really likes it, I give it away as a wedding present. It is only fair to myself to say that I have never acquired anything in Paris over which Eugénie grew genuinely enthusiastic. And so now, when she so confidently recommended the quartier de l’Etoile, my doubts were confirmed, and I knew that I might in all tranquillity omit it from my wanderings. Except for the Champs Elysées and the circle about the noble Arc de Triomphe, that district, with its imposing houses and its enormous new hotels beloved of my countrymen, has seemed to me, for all its ostentation, rather characterless. I some-times amuse myself by imagining what sort of person would typify a house, or a street, or even a whole section of Paris. For the quartier de l’Etoile it would be the pompous man who enunciates banalities as though they were vital, newly discovered truths.
I inhabitperhaps you should be tolda little apartment in Passy, and shall probably as long as I live. That is why, on this sunny, intoxicating May morning, choosing my home seemed the gayest, most harmoniously frivolous and light-hearted thing I could do. That, too, was why I was to set about it so seriously. I have always been able to put my best energy into the search for something which it was unnecessary to find.
When I had dressed, and sat sipping my coffee, I was still deep in reflection, but when at last I set the cup down, my decision was taken.
” I will go first of all,” I said, ” to the Boulevard Maillot.”
(Oh, Eugénie ! Eugénie! Even though I rejected your suggestion, had it not insidiously left me something of your taste for the fleshpots?)
Outside every one was singing, the cochers on their boxes, the boys wheeling delivery-carts, the servants on their way to market. It was still early : the world that is too proud to sing in the street was not yet astir. Even my surly concierge, I remembered joyfully, had been emitting strange raucous sounds which I chose now to believe were song; and when a concierge sings ! . . .
Beneath the quay the Seine rippled daintily by, playing prettily with the reflections of its bridges, and sparkling in the wake of the little boats the bateaux mouches that ” Le ciel est, pardessus le toit, Si bleu, si calme! ”
I sang to myself. Verses of Verlaine’s are continually rising to one’s lips here ; for of all the thousands who have felt the strange wistful appeal of Paris, he alone has been able to turn it into words.
I could not bring myself to leave the river yet, and so strolled along it for a way, up toward the city proper. A strange way surely of going to the Boulevard Maillot. No matter ! On this radiant haphazard morning I would do nothing in the most direct fashion.
On its hill ahead, and slightly to my left, rose the palace of the Trocadéro, its two lofty towers stained pink in the sunlight. People shake their heads over the Trocadéro; and indeed, regarding it nearly, one finds little to say for it. It was built in a period of atrocious taste, of which it is, if the truth must be told, a fair example. Yet I, for one, should be sorry if it were gone; for in the distance its vulgarity fades from sight, and its huge dome and tall oriental minarets take on, especially in early morning or just at sunset, a certain massive charm. After all, as my friend the artist says, there is not much difference between good architecture and bad, from a little way off. Besides, unfortunate as it is, the Trocadéro has not, even when seen close at hand, the kind of badness that offends, possibly because its vastness is not in the least impressive. There is an apologetic air about it that makes one think of some harmless pathetic monster who should say sorrowfully, “I know I ‘m ugly, but I can’t help it”; and that gives one an absurd desire to pet it. ” Don’t laugh,” I said to myself, when I had climbed up past the bronze animals in the garden that leads to it, and was crossing its enormous portico ; ” Don’t laugh : you might make it feel badly.”
Out into the big empty Place du Trocadéro, down the Avenue d’Eylau and the long rue des Belles Feuilles, to the Porte Dauphine. I left the city by this gate and turned into the Allée des Fortifications, that skirts the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. From within the Bois came the soft patter of children’s voices, the song of birds, and the fragrance of acacias ; and all, it seemed, were calling to me.
” No ! No ! No ! ” I said, laughing, “not today ! ”
I must have said it aloud, for a passer-by turned suddenly to look at me; but there was only kindliness in his smile. It was May.
The Boulevard Maillot, which is outside the city limits, runs along the Bois from the Porte Maillot clear to the river. It changes its name, to be sure, at the Avenue de Madrid, where it turns sharply ; but I do not like its second name, and shall speak of it here, if you please, as though it had kept its initial one. For the first ten minutes of following it in its course away from the city gate, I regarded the boulevard with disapproval. There was no lure in the mediocrity of these smug dwellings, resembling unfortunately those that crowd the Newtons or other of the towns about Boston. Here lived the people who, in ordering a jewel or two sent them, would not be able to say The Boulevard Maillot ” without a slight compression of the lips or a touch of consciousness in the tone. I was considering taking a home among the houses where live those to whom the shop-keeper would of his own accord observe, The Boulevard Maillot, doubtless. What number, if you please, monsieur? ” As I continued on my way, however, the houses drew slowly back from the street, and each seemed a little less banal than the one before, to have subtly more of an air of breeding : it was like the transformation scene in a palace of illusions, until at last the acme was reached in a limitless succession of palaces set, among vine-covered oaks and cedars, deep in grounds that were screened from too complete a scrutiny by splendid flowering hedges, but in which, nevertheless, one could from the opposite side of the street, by standing on tip-toe, discern flower-beds, columns, and the greenest of green turf, with sometimes a gardener sprinkling it. The white pillars of little arbors gleamed among the foliage. Everything here was ordered, faultless and serene, exhaling an agreeable aroma of riches. Only a young girl picking roses was needed to make of it a Royal Academy picture.
I fell, I confess, under the spell; yet, though I lingered pleasantly before many of these mansions, it was less in a liking for any particular one among them, than in an appreciation of the idea they collectively expressed, –life freed from all petty concern with existence, and simplified by a lavish systematic complexity (the only manner in which it can be honestly simplified to-day). Never to have to say to myself, ” You can’t afford this,” “You ’11 have to give up that”; never to consider sadly that one’s frock-coat is becoming worn ; to be robbed, doubtless, in a thousand fashions, but never to care ! Oh, decidedly, it was the only way of living ! And I could be trusted with it, too. My tastes were fixed; could wealth destroy my love of books, of pictures, and of music ?
My fancy was loose now, and dragging me along frantically. Innumerable projects presented themselves. I would eliminate ugliness from all about me ; I would make my home so beautiful that artists and authors and even musicians should forget their petty feuds in its suave atmosphere, and become personally the finer selves that they habitually put only into their work. Each of my dinners should be a poem ; I could see the table now, and the whole room, with the candle-light falling on old china and bringing out soft faded colors in the tapes-tries on the walls. The dining-room would be Gothic, I supposed, or Renaissance. At any rate, the salon should be Louis XIII. But I would not furnish my house hastily; many rooms would remain bare a long time. It would be folly to deny myself the joy of the slow accumulation in which each chair or cabinet represents a discovery. I remembered pieces of furniture seen recently. There had been an exquisite Louis XVI dressing-table in the window of a shop on the Quai Voltaire. I hoped it had not been sold; it was just the thing for a “Yes,” said Fancy, “go on for a boudoir ! Of course you’ll have a wife. Every-body on the Boulevard Maillot has one.” I stopped short.
“A wife ! Are you sure?” I asked. “Absolutely certain.”
A wife. I thought with a shiver of a dream I had recently had, in which I was being married, going through the formalities of the rite against my will, muttering yes ” where I wanted to shout ” no,” and recovering from my state of submissiveness only when the last guest had departed and I was left alone with my bride.
“But,” I had cried then, and it did seem to me afterwards to have been a bit rude of me, ” I don’t want to be married ! Can’t you understand ?” (She really appeared not to.) “I want to be free ! free ! ” and so awoke.
A wife ! Why should she come now, to spoil everything? I would not give in at once.
“But you see,” I suggested, I’d be different from the others: I ‘d be an eccentric.”
“Nonsense,” said Fancy sternly. “If you ‘re going to live on the Boulevard Maillot, you must do as the Boulevard Mail-lot does.”
Duty ! Responsibility ! Concern for what others might think ! What a Pandora’s box this imaginary helpmate was opening. In Passy I had suppressed duty ; I did only what I cared to do, and I rarely saw the people I disliked. Could it be that on the Boulevard Maillot one’s liberty was less? A wife
“Why not?” said Fancy coaxingly. “You would n’t have to see her often. You would play with your friends and she with hers, and you’d have separate suites of apartments, it would n’t be bad. On pleasant mornings you’d breakfast together in the garden. You’d get there first, and presently she would come delicately down the steps, in a soft trailing morning-gown ”
I smiled in surrender. Morning-gowns were attractive. I was off again now, but with less exhilaration, and more cautiously, like a rider who has had a bad fall. I would have horses, I thought, and an automobile, one automobile, what was I thinking of? two, even three, perhaps. But this was the end.
“It’s time you left the Boulevard Mail-lot,” I said sternly to myself. “You are becoming too extravagant.”
One must preserve plausibility even in the search for the impossible. Besides, although to correct one’s self for actual faults is so disagreeable an occupation that no wise man would spend a moment’s time on it, to re-prove one’s self for sins that are only of the imagination is an inexhaustible pleasure. There is no bitterness, and the virtuous glow is quite as warm as though the offence had been real. So now it was with genuine relish that I made up my mind to do penance, particularly as the penance meant merely a journey to Montmartre. The truly tolerant man is not the man who is lenient toward the faults of others, but he who is lenient toward his own ; he has so much more to forgive. But when I had taken the little tramway of the Val d’Or to the Porte Maillot, had descended into the musty depths of the Métro, and was being whirled noisily through the dim tunnels beneath Paris, I wondered whether, after all, it was not the thought of the wife that had driven me from the Boulevard Maillot.
Marriage seems to me an ignominious institution. As I steer out among the matrimonial rocks, that beset one’s early progress, toward the open sea of recognized bachelordom, where there is only an occasional clearly seen reef, easy to avoid for one with skill enough to get so far, I feel an increasing exultation. There are men who look upon the fact of having taken a wife with pride, as though they had achieved something difficult. Poor fools, not to see that any one be he as ill-favored as Cerberus or as dull as a maxim of Sir John Lubbock’s can marry, and that they have fallen dupe to Nature ! But I know her now, the jade, for what she is, wily, unscrupulous, deceitful, having at heart a single end, the perpetuation of the race, to reach which she will employ no matter what means. The individual cares nothing for the race, and Nature cares no-thing for the individual, except as he forms part of it. But she needs him, and so she sets her lying snares, into one of which he rushes, silly dreamer, thinking it the gate to paradise, only to find himself a slave. For Nature is pitiless in her unconcern for the man once caught. He must serve her purpose now ; illusions are no longer necessary.
The mystery of love, feminine charm, the dream of an embodied ideal, they appeal to me too, almost irresistibly at times; but I know them for the bait they are, and, aware of the steel springs beneath, find somehow strength to turn aside. I may be trapped one day, but it will at least be with my eyes open, and knowing that I am being deceived.
There is one other lure which I have not yet felt, but which Nature will surely hold out to me when I have grown a little older, for she never gives any one up, the vision of comfort, domesticity, a fireside, and slippers. It is the most dangerous of all; for while the rest were beautiful lies, this has a foundation of truth. It is the basest, too. The young man’s search for a mate in whom shall be nothing lower than what is finest in himself, the endeavor to grasp absolute perfection ; however utopian and pre-doomed to failure such attempts, they are noble dreams; but the desire for comfort is the desire for mediocrity, which lurks somewhere in all of us, except, perhaps, in poets. Comfort degrades. He who has succumbed to its tranquil charm is forever lost to ideas and to creative achievement. The melancholy reflection is that he did not need to be. The opposite of commonplace is not talented, but worth while; and whoever is conscious of general ideas, no matter how primitive or con-fused, is worth while. No one is common-place at twenty; no one need be at forty-five. Mediocrity is not a lack of distinction, but a state of mind. May heaven preserve us all from the lotos-flower ! Men are sometimes to be found, great enough to undergo marriage even a happy marriage without degeneration ; but, considering myself, I shake my head. As the manuals of physiology that we studied in the grammar-school used to say about the use of alcohol : “Since the evil results are so certain and the good so problematic, surely the wisest course is to abstain altogether.” Thus I reflected in the Paris subway, as the electric train carried me swiftly away from the Boulevard Mail-lot and the home that grew every moment less to my taste.
Pigalle! I left the car, ascended a musty staircase, pushed open a door, and stood, just outside, blinking in the sudden light. The Métro, like most other useful contrivances, is disagreeable; but it has its merits. There is, after all, something enchanted and Arabian about it. If I had come to Montmartre from the Boulevard Maillot by tram, by bus, or on foot, the alteration in my surroundings would have taken place so gradually that the final contrast would have been dulled; as it was, had the genie of the ring snatched me up and set me down here, the change could not have been sharper or more absolute. The Boulevard Maillot had been dignified, handsome, and somewhat too well-bred ; the Place Pigalle was careless, ugly, and not well-bred at all. The Boulevard Maillot had breathed a genteel repression ; the Place Pigalle, though it was doing no-thing out of the way now, lacked decorum, like a chorus-girl in repose.
I stood for a moment deliberating where to go first, until the thought of how wonderful Paris must appear this morning from the Butte led me finally into the rue des Martyrs, and so onward, until I came to the foot of the long successive flights of steps that lead to the crest of the hill on which rises the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur. Pausing here to look up, I noted with appreciation the way the dilapidated houses leaned, in all the picturesqueness of squalor, over the dingy stairs. On one of the landings far above me, and half in shadow, half in a pool of sun-light that had fallen, a slanting golden shower, from a gap in the rickety roofs of tenements, a market-woman had paused for breath in her slow descent. Her ample skirts were pinned up, and her extended left arm pressed against her hip a basket of yellow carrots and dusty red beets. A crimson handkerchief was tied about her head. She might have been an Italian of the south, and this a street in Naples, dating from the Middle Ages. So pervasive seemed the mellow spirit of age in this curious thoroughfare, that the phrases “old houses” and “ancient stairs” passed agreeably through my mind.
Then suddenly I became aware not through anything false or melodramatic in the scene, but through an unfortunate acquaintance with the historical geography of Paristhat I was being deceived: the effect of antiquity in my surroundings was an illusion. Here, no longer ago than the forties, were little suburban homes; pleasant gardens covered the slopes of this hill, and attractive cottages crowned it. This was the Mont-rouge of fifty years ago. As I climbed the stairs I looked critically from right to left for some flaw in the setting, for the absence of some touch that only an accumulation of centuries could give; but in vain. The atmosphere of extreme age that seemed to hang over these houses, built within the memory of many a man, was as subtle and convincing as that one feels in Amalfi, and I found myself driven to the conclusion that the mysterious satisfying impression of antiquity is aroused not by antiquity itself but by a certain arrangement of material. Dilapidation alone will not bring it (there were, I remembered, streets as decayed and tumble-down as this in Chicago, and heaven knows there was no glamour of antiquity about them !), but dilapidation must enter in. The effect of age obtained by this narrow street of stairs up which I climbed was purely fortuitous. Until now the requisite arrangement had been unconscious, a matter of chance ; but it need not be.
What a discovery, I thought, I had made for my country ! With our initiative, what might we not do, once the laws that must be followed to produce the impression of antiquity were thoroughly understood ? We would build dilapidated cities in New York State, on the shores of Lake Michigan, or yes even in Kansas, beside which Athens (Greece) would seem modern, and Venice but a village of yesterday. Perugia and Avignon would be rarely visited then ; in-stead, tourists from all over the world would throng to America, to admire reverently, and to scribble their names in pencil on the carefully decaying stones of these more convincingly ancient cities. With which patriotic vision I reached the top of the steps.
I would not look down at once, but walked onward, keeping my eyes averted, saving my sensations as a child saves its choicest sweets, until I reached the platform before the Basilica. Then only I turned to gaze down at the city that unrolled itself ,beneath me. The first thing I remarked was that, for all the bright May sunshine, a haze hung over Paris, not a haze that dulled and concealed, but a delicate luminous presence that interpreted and idealized, bringing out what was beautiful and hiding what was ugly in everything it touched, drawing something of the warm softness of the spring sky down about the city, vaguely full of disseminate color, and as little to be deplored as the mist in a picture of Carrière’s. We in America in those parts of it, at least, with which I am familiar have these warm, radiant hazes only in autumn ; but Paris is seldom without them. It is they, perhaps, together with the pale mystery of the Parisian sky, that give her that subtlety of beauty which even Florence lacks.
My eyes wandered over the spectacle beneath me : there were the Madeleine and the Bourse and the Porte Saint-Denis; there in the middle distance was the river, only a curving thread of light now; and there beyond it was the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and, scarcely seen, the two towers of Saint-Sulpice. I laughed to myself in joy over the unreality of it all. It did not seem a city of stone and mortar, but the setting for a play; one would have said the third act of ” Louise.”
“How strange!” I thought, as I stood leaning over the parapet and picking out the tiny effigies of familiar monuments in the scene below, that by climbing a few stairs I can make the massive Opéra shrink to a toy that I might put in my pocket, and the great Louvre itself dwindle to the size of a child’s house of blocks ! ”
Then suddenly all the clocks of Paris began striking noon, the little cannon boomed faintly from the Eiffel Tower, and I became swiftly conscious of being hungry. I turned away and walked briskly back in the direction I had come, without so much as ascending the few extra steps to the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur.
“There ‘s no use going in,” I assured myself. I ‘ve seen it before, and it’s Byzantine without being extravagant, and Romanesque without being bare, and it ‘s simple and harmonious ; but its excellence is too conscious to inspire so much as a suggestion of the awe and the wonder that we feel in the most imperfect church of the Middle Ages. We can do many things to-day better than they have been done before, but we are wrong to build churches : for to build them nobly the deep reverence that is the result of passionate faith is required, and there is no such faith left in the world, at least not in men intelligent enough to become architects.”
Coward ! Hypocrite ! The constant pose of being finer than one is, is a necessary and admirable condition of one’s relations with others ; but it becomes shameful maintained with one’s self. Why could I not have said:
“No, I will not go in, because I am hungry, and there is not a church in Paris I would go to see when I am hungry except the Sainte-Chapelle, and that not if I was very hungry” ?
Oh, for a poet great enough to convince us of the nobility and the glory of eating when we are really hungry ! We reserve the splendor of our verse for love; but there is not half the high satisfaction in being in love that there is in dining well after a hard gallop over country roads. I know, for I have tried both. Eating, however, is habitual, good for us, and indispensable, while love is not; and we are all agreed that beauty is to be found only in what is superfluous and harmful. Poets have sometimes touched on the subject, but euphemistically, as though eating were something gross that must in art be treated delicately, like an immoral theme in a London play. Keats, you remember, writes of “candied apple, quince and plum, and gourd with jellies . . and lucent syropstinct with cinnamon . . . manna and dates . . . spiced dainties.” I am not sure as to manna, but the rest are all very bad for the digestion. Perhaps it is because it is the worst thing known for the digestion, that we unite in considering love so superlatively poetic.
Arrived for the second time at the Place Pigalle, I entered the cabaret known as the Rat Mort. I was familiar with it already as (in its downstairs room) the least insincere of these restaurants de nuit, and liked it in an unenthusiastic way for the attitude of cynical carelessness and irresponsibility that it ex-pressed. I had found it at midnight as good a place to talk, for friends intimate enough to say whatever came into their heads with-out concern for what that might be, as existed in Montmartre. But I had never seen it by daylight, and I was interested in discovering to what depths of reality a boite which held so little of illusion at three in the morning could sink at noon. So I made my way in, through a babble of voices and the composite odor of many dishes, toward an unoccupied section of the red-plush sofa that bounds the little room, and there, sitting down before one of the little rectangular marble-topped tables to a table d’hôte luncheon at two francs fifty, looked about in mild curiosity.
Opposite me, beside the partition which divides the room in two, stood the upright piano which by night is never silent. But it was closed now and at peace, and the chair belonging to the rest of the orchestra had been pushed back against the wall. And, really, when that is said, all is said. The restaurant was full, or nearly so, but the certain coarse charm that one felt in it during the hours between midnight and dawn was gone now, gone utterly ; only the vulgarity was left. The faces clustered about the tables were no longer units making up a whole that somehow pleased me, but just faces, sordid, dull, often grossly marked with the plain signs of vicious living. It is probable that many of the men were artists; but I was not a schoolgirl to thrill at the mere word, and for most of these the word alone would have an existence. Montmartre is full of cynical daubers, for whom art is not a high calling to be wrestled with Jacob-like, and so subdued to a noble slavery, but a name to cover and excuse their vices and the vagaries of their indolent lives. Some are ratés,the ratés who had only a spark of talent and not persistence enough to keep even that alive, who failed miserably as soon as they put brush to canvas, and about whose failure there is no-thing splendid; but the greater number are impostors, men of no ability, disguising their lack of the technique that only a long drudgery, of which they were morally incapable, could have given them, as a breaking away from sterile academic forms; taking up with each successive new school of extremists in painting; and doing, in the intervals of leisure that their amusements leave them, compositionless monstrosities of color that they call the “New Art” and hang in the Salon des Indépendants (where there is no jury).
I do not assert that there are not true artists in Montmartre, young men struggling toward an honest, sane expression of them-selves that, when achieved, will some day mean recognition and fame, only that there are rather more counterfeits here than elsewhere. But as I looked about me now, I could see none who might be the genuine. Here were caricatures enough : hair worn long, baggy velveteen trousers, a haughty shabbiness,all the traditional symbols of art were present, but displayed with such a lack of enthusiasm, such a jaded effrontery, so clear a consciousness of their being only a make-up, that they were not even amusing. I think I had never felt so oppressive an atmosphere of disillusionment. And it came to me, with a sharp scorn of myself for having been so easily duped, how superficial was the glamour this place held at night. I have touched the truth already; the piano was closed now, and the chair belonging to the rest of the orchestra had been pushed back against the wall.
As I sat over my excellent luncheon at two-francs-fifty, I meditated on the delusion of bohemianism. If bohemianism is taken to mean the ignoring of useless conventions, then every man with mind enough to have a philosophy of life is bohemian, the true aristocrat as much as the needy author,perhaps even more satisfactorily so: for the aristocrat discards only those dull and antiquated forms that clog the daily flow of existence, retaining the many that render it easier and pleasanter, while the author, less civilized, is apt to discard good and bad alike. If this were all bohemianism meant, who would not be a bohemian ? But so moderate a conception of the word is far from the sense in which it is usually taken, and I suggest it only because there is no name for this state of mind, and because it is what I should like bohemianism to mean.
Bohemianism, however, as it is attempted by young artists, or more perfectly conceived by the Philistine (who is at bottom the most sentimental of creatures), stands vaguely for a radiant manner of life, the concomitants of which are poverty, ideals, ambitions, and an ignorance of money entailing a certain pleasant dishonesty in dealing with shop-keepers. The word has to the popular mind a kind of enchantment; it stands for what is left of romance. An existence fulfilling these requirements seems to us, for those fortunate ones who can lead it, an emancipation from weary formalities and rules of conduct.
Error ! Error ! Error ! There is no such thing as liberty. You can free yourself from one set of laws only by establishing another. Bohemianism is an artificial state. The bohemian need not be logical ; no, but he must be illogical. He is not obliged to think of money; but he is obliged by all the rules of the order not to think of it. Three or four boys live in common, and every one does what he pleases but this is because the others know beforehand what he will do,or, at least, what he will not do. I remember to have passed an evening once in the studio of a woman in “the Quarter,” and to have asked, with no intent to offend, where I might put the ashes of my cigarette.
” Oh,” she said reproachfully, ” throw them on the floor, of course ! We’re bohemian, you know.”
And I felt suddenly that my manners had been deficient, and that conventions here were, for being inverted, no less rigorous than in a fashionable apartment at Neuilly. The woman was, of course, a counterfeit bohemian, but it is in caricatures that one most readily sees the truth.
I do not assert that bohemianism does not exist; I think, indeed, that it does some-times, very delightfully. But I do assert that, whether attained or only played at, it is an artificial state. And, after all, even at its best, what charm has bohemianism but the charm of friendship ? That a group of light-hearted young men should live in common, relieving the temporary poverty of one, or profiting by the prosperity of another, of their number, this is external, merely an expression of the loyal, affectionate intimacy that unites them. In every quarter of the world, I am sure, there are little circles of friends whose outlook on life is as buoyant, and whose devotion to one another as warm and generous. Is there any less charm in their relations because they do not live in common, are not obliged to share one another’s belongings, and happen not to be poor? Popularly, yes. A certain mist of romance envelops friendship only when it has these accompaniments.
It was in searching my mind for the occasion of so curious a paradox that I came, as I thought, to an understanding of the true nature of bohemianism. Until now I had been groping, aware that I had not reached the heart of the subject; but now I under-stood: bohemianism was a literary ideal. The word ” romance ” should have given me the clue before; for romance is always literary. In American cities romance is popularly supposed to exist in the country, because the inhabitants of the cities have seen “The Old Homestead” or read “David Harum.” In the North romance is supposed to exist in the South, because northerners have read “Colonel Carter” or seen “In Old Kentucky.” So with bohemianism : there is a halo about its hand-to-mouth existence, be-cause we have read of it in the glowing pages of Murger’s “La Vie de Bohème” ; there is a splendor in its poverty, because we have seen it transfigured in Puccini’s opera. And those who have not seen or read fall easily into the mood of those who have. The poverty of bohemianism as it is dreamed of is a literary poverty, its haphazard existence a literary one. It is of these delusions that the cult is made; for friendship and optimism, all that is real, all that gives a charm to actual bohemianism, there is no enthusiasm.
I have a friend who objects to “La Vie de Bohème” as it is produced at the Opéra Comique, because, he says, there is too much ostentation in the poverty, too much luxury in the squalor. He is wrong. There should be luxury and ostentation. This bohemianism is literary. There is no glamour about real poverty ; it is bitter and hard to endure. The close common existence, in a two-room apartment or a studio, of three or four young men honestly striving to achieve something creative, is cramping to each : for each is an individualist, or this is not true bohemianism. Those families are the happiest, and the only ones with an esprit de corps, in which the right of each member to be alone when he pleases, and to have unquestioned his separate interests, is conceded. No friends can be constantly together day after day without undergoing a revulsion of feeling toward one another; and the closer the intimacy the sharper the reaction. The pressure of personality is deadening and exasperating. It may be one reason for the greater prevalence of wife-murders among the poor than among the rich. No, in actual bohemianism, friendship and optimism do not gain an added lustre from the peculiar conditions under which they exist, but shine in spite of them. They alone are genuinely beautiful ; the charm of all the rest is fiction, de la littérature.
The word “disillusionment” no longer means simply having got rid of illusions, but stands today for the tired, dull, and unenthusiastic state of mind of one who with his illusions has lost his faith and his interest. And how much disillusionment is caused by the attempt to apply literary ideals to life ! That romantic boys and girls should come to Paris expecting to find Mimis and Rudolphes and Musettes in Montmartre or the Quartier Latin, this is crude, of course: it is like looking for Puss-in-Boots or the Jabberwock; but it is symbolic of what we are all continually doing, even when we know better. Our minds are stocked with literary ideals that we are forever trying to apply to life. Literary friendship, literary love, literary heroes and villains, we go hunting them up and down; and when we have found only real friendship, which is too re-served, and real love, which is too human, and neither heroes nor villains anywhere, what can result but disillusionment, unless we have the faculty of self-deceit to convince us that what we have found is what we sought, or intervals of sanity when we see with amusement the absurdity of such a quest, and fall back on our true ideals ? For true ideals do not fail one. We never completely realize them, but following them intermittently, as most of us do in these lucid periods, we feel reality grow constantly richer and more significant of them. The man of forty sees touches of beauty everywhere that he could not have seen at twenty.
Reflecting now in one of these lapses from literature, I saw that it was surely not at Montmartre I should find my home. A room or two in a creaking garret with a view of roofs and chimney-pots ; weeks of fasting, starred occasionally by nights of riotous luxury ; random mistresses lightly taken and as lightly dropped, I enumerated for the sake of thoroughness the conditions of the life; but I faced them as facts, and they held no enchantment. I might put these things and myself into a book, and make, if I did it well enough, a very pretty unoriginal story; but just as surely as the I of the book would be a fictional, adapted, expurgated I, so surely would these things be not themselves but their literary counterparts. As reality, they were unattractive, vulgar and a trifle sordid. There may sometimes be little poetry in wealth ; there is none in poverty.
When I had left the restaurant, I wandered for conscience’ sake a little longer through these shabby streets, but perfunctorily; and at the Place Clichy I climbed to the impériale of one of the motor-buses that ply between that square and the Odéon. To the amateur of sensations these new engines that tear shrieking through once tranquil little streets, scattering passers-by frantically to left and right, and leaving behind them a universal sense of miraculous escape from death, are a joy, combining the excitement of a perilous pastime with the advantage of usefulness; but to the philosopher they are too perturbing. “Now, there is a house,” he says to himself, “that is an excellent example of its epoch. It would be interesting to note whether over the door ” but the house is gone. ” Strange that for so many years that monument should have remained” ; but a sharp turning of a corner throws him panting against the rail of safety, and his thought is forever lost to the world.
A thousand objects of interest flashed swiftly into sight and as swiftly disappeared as we rushed noisily down the hill from Montmartre ; but though I looked back regretfully, I kept my seat. A man whose mind is both inconsequential and reflective must sometimes take motor-buses in Paris, or he would never get anywhere. A moment’s stop on the Boulevard des Italiens and we swept into the rue de Richelieu, formerly a peaceful meditative street, rendered intolerable and ridiculous now by the tumultuous passage of these new monsters. The street has the air of a venerable white-haired man gone suddenly and boisterously mad. All that should normally have lent it dignity, the vast National Library Building, the allegorical Fontaine de Richelieu, only serves to heighten its present absurdity. Alone the statue of Molière seems still appropriate. The great humorist would have loved this incongruity of aspect and behavior ; while as to the memories so rudely disregarded, he always cared less for such things than for living humanity; and the rue de Richelieu is very human.
At the farthest corner of the Palais Royal we paused for an instant if one may call this panting, roaring, vibrating absence of motion a pauseto permit a new inrush of passengers, and I let my eyes wander pleasantly over the familiar unpretentious architecture of the Comédie Française. For some years already the preeminence of this oldest among Parisian playhouses has been but a tradition. So far as I am concerned, there are at least four other theatres I had rather frequent than the Française, which, under the too civilized academic direction of Monsieur Claretie, has become a splendid mausoleum of art, where a glacial perfection of detail in acting has supplanted the genuine portrayal of emotions, and where one may go to see an admirable modern drama and come away, as I did from the ” Amoureuse ” of George de Porto-Riche, convinced of having witnessed a very stupid piece. But so much of its splendid past still clings about the Comédie Francaise that one is unable to gaze at it without a real affection.
I dropped my eyes, as the bus lurched for-ward again, to the graceful statue of de Musset and his muse that occupies the corner in front of the theatre. ” It is very delicate and beautiful,” I reflected, “but with rather too personal and intimate a charm for its situation. Set thus in a public square it is like a Mozart quartet . . . played in a vast … concert-hall.”
There ! ” I said, shaking my fist at the motor-bus, shaking it figuratively, that is to say ; actually I was clinging with both hands to the seat, I did finish that thought in spite of you ! ” But the motor-bus only rattled callously on, into the noble court of the Louvre, out again on the other side, and across the Seine by the Pont du Carrousel to the Quai Voltaire. Here, having somehow descended the perilous narrow stairs from the impériale to the ground, I left the buswhich promptly roared itself, with a final diminuendo of hoots, out of my life and turned by the rue des Saints-Pères and the rue de Verneuil into the old and aristocratic quarter known as the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
One of the most delightful characteristics of Paris is the great variety it offers. Most cities are divided into sections that are respectively rich or poor, banal or brilliant, picturesque or dull; but in Paris every quartier has its peculiar individuality, which no external resemblance of conformation or architecture can make it share with another. The district of narrow involved streets about the Panthéon is as different in character from the Ile de la Cité, as the Ile de la Cité from the Boulevard des Italiens, and the Boulevard des Italiens as different from ‘the Boulevard Sebastopol as any one of them is from the Champs Elysées. Among them all the most distinctively individual is the Faubourg Saint-Germain. It seems, like Poe’s House of Usher,” to have a physical atmosphere of its own with which the wanderer in the quarter feels himself enveloped and penetrated, as with dampness or cold. There had been no reverence in my admiration for the luxury of the Boulevard Maillot, no deference in my attitude toward the poverty of Montmartre; but here I felt suddenly humbled and inferior. I despised myself for the sensation, but through no effort of will or reason could I throw it off. I was like the honest citizen in the galleries of Versailles, who keeps on his hat and hums an air in an attempt to look at ease, but who grows with every step more painfully conscious of being out of place. The silent austerity of the rue de Lille and the rue de Verneuil held for me a profounder impression of age than the street of steps at Montmartre; for here the impression was not, as there, dependent on the real or seeming antiquity of the houses, but on the past that, even if they had been built only a few years ago, as some of them doubtless were, they symbolized ; a past splendid but crushing, intoxicating but hopelessly aloof. A child reading a fairy-tale becomes the prince, a man reconstructing in his fancy scenes from a vanished epoch of history sees himself an actor in them ; yet, though I pictured to my-self, so vividly that my heart beat faster, this quarter as it must have been a century and a half ago: the gardens that swept then from the houses clear to the river, and how they would have looked on the afternoon of some forgotten May, filled with idle lords and gracious ladies, the Court being perhaps at Paris for a few days,I could not imagine myself a part of the gay rout, but only an outsider pressing my forehead hungrily against a grating in the effort to get a glimpse of the Pompadour, and struggling for my place among the canaille who fought together, hummed snatches of uncomplimentary songs apropos of the king’s having taken a mistress who was born a bourgeoise, and were beaten away from time to time by contemptuous lackeys. It was the same with the present. In my search for a home the Faubourg Saint-Germain was the only quarter in Paris to the life of which I could not even fancy myself as belonging. Strange how insurmountable seem the barriers of caste which men them-selves set up, and how much more insignificant we feel before the artificial superiority of aristocracy than before the real superiority of genius ! I could unblushingly imagine meeting Shakespeare, yet I could not project myself mentally into either the past or the present of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.
The thought of its sombre present held me, however, as I walked along the gray silent streets where my footsteps resounded as in a corridor. I knew that the walled-in, imposing exterior of every other one of these mansions was like the expressionless face of the proud man who is suffering. Behind the heavy doors there would be bare lofty salons, cold even in summer, only one of which would there be any attempt to heat and that but scantily with a meagre careful fire in winter. The life within would be very simple and not without its charm; for in these houses the privileges which under the old régime were accepted as a matter of course, have become, now that they are irrevocably lost, passionate tenets of faith. Apart from that degenerate fortune-hunting fraction by which alone we Americans know the titled classes of France, –but which one need not consider, since it al-most invariably dies out in the generation following the one that sees its decay, the remnant of the old nobility in Paris lives with a rigorous simplicity of manners undiscoverable elsewhere. Things have been turned topsy-turvy in more ways than one. This caste, which in the eighteenth century was composed of skeptics crediting no-thing and accepting the conventions of Catholicism off-hand merely as among the polite forms to which a gentleman must acquiesce, is in the twentieth century the only one with an earnest faith in religion ; whereas the great middle class, which then accepted all it was told, now (this is true of Paris, not of the provinces) believes in no-thing. The bourgeoisie has lost convictions; the aristocracy has gained them. Behind the walls of the residences in the rue Saint Dominique and the rue de l’Université there would be a life nearly as austere as that of ancient Rome. But despite its rigidity it held a fascination for me. A lost cause has always a certain charm; and the cause of French aristocracy is so hopelessly lost that devotion to it holds the beauty of a young girl’s utopian dreams. What furious ideal-ism it must demand for one to speak with a reverent inclination of the head and a hushed voice of the gross, petty, and commonplace man who represents the House of Orléans !
I do not think that, had I been able to imagine myself a part of it, I should have liked the life of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. There would have been too many things I must not do, too little liberty of thought, too many opinions handed to me ready-made for acceptance, too artificially sharp a distinction between right and wrong, too firm a belief in one standard of morality for all men, in short, too little chance for individualism. Anatole France would not be read here, nor spoken of except bitterly. That would be hard. I do not think I should have liked the life, but I shall never know.
The Boulevard Saint-Germain cuts diagonally through the centre of the faubourg. I had crossed it twice in wandering about the quarter, but on a third encounter I turned into it and so away from the life of which I was not a part. The Boulevard Saint-Germain is not like other boulevards. For all its animation, there is about itat least about the part that lies between the river and the rue des Saints-Pères, an air of discreet respectability. If it could talk, it would speak in low tones, enunciating distinctly. It is not itself aristocratic, but it is like a tradesman who all his life has dealt with aristocracy and acquired something of its deportment. I walked along it with slow steps in the direction of the Quartier Latin, looking up at the walls which at this hour turned from gray to soft brown, and the windows that shone golden in the slanting sunlight. The tingling exhilaration of the morning was gone; but there was a different charm in the placid. warmth of the spring afternoon, no less sweet for the touch of melancholy one felt in it. It may be that age, which seems to me now so bitter, unfair and impotent an end, holds for him who has reached it a similar reminiscent beauty that he would not exchange for the radiant buoyancy of youth. But I am not sure. The little old man with a skull-cap who lives alone in the apartment opposite mine at Passy, who knocks timidly at my door some-times and comes in for a few minutes to smoke a cigarette or two, told me once, with a wistful smile, that he understood Faust’s selling his soul to the devil to be young again.
With the mood of this gentle spring after-noon the bustling life of the Quartier Latin would have been out of keeping, so I left the boulevard opposite the old church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and turned after five minutes more of wandering into one of the little streets leading from the Place Saint-Sulpice to the Luxembourg Gardens. It was very narrow, scarcely wider than an alley, and despite the low hum that reached it from the great square I had just quitted, more reposeful than the quieter streets of the Faubourg Saint-Germain ; for in it one felt immediately at his ease. The eccentricities of its architecture showed that its past had been too varied to have become a cult for its present. Midway in its brief course I stopped for a more leisurely contemplation of the democratic incongruity in the buildings opposite. Between a vast barn-like structure that I could not classify, and a hybrid three-story affair crowned with a studio, was a diminutive faded house, covered with delicate ornamentation, and dating surely from the Renaissance, dilapidated but coquettish still, like some little old lady of seventy who, yet youthful in spirit, should retain the mincing graces of seventeen.
On my own side a high wall ran nearly the whole length of the street. Anywhere else I should have known logically what it concealed, but here in this anomalous street and this indeterminate quarter that was in theory the Quartier Latin, and yet not it nor definitely any other in spirit, there was no telling, a convent perhaps, or a school, or anything else. Just ahead there was a high gate in the wall; but this did not help me, for its bars were covered with sheet-iron to a point at least a foot above my head. I was in truth only mildly curious, and content to stand here for a moment, sniffing at the perfume of lilacs that came to me from what direction I did not know. But it was this pause that brought the keenest enjoyment of the whole day to me and some measure of success to my search ; for as I stood there the gate in the wall opened and a woman came out. I saw then whence the perfume had come; for she wore a great bunch of the fragrant blue flowers at her belt. She passed quite close to me, with rapid youthful steps, and as she did so raised her eyes to mine in one swift glance, and as quickly dropped them. They were, I observed, a deep blue in color. I do not know why I noticed this, probably because they harmonized so well with the lilacs she carried. There is, I assure you, no romance connected with the personality of the young woman. She turned the corner at the Place Saint-Sulpice and I never saw her again. But she was of importance to me nevertheless ; for in passing out she had left the gate in the wall open, oh, the merest crack, but enough so that by bringing my eyes very close (and perhaps by pushing the iron door just a trifle farther inward), I could see something of what lay beyond the wall.
Set far back in the enclosure rose a great house, how large I could not tell, since the inadequacy of the opening through which I gazed permitted me only a narrow restricted view ; for all I know, the house may have stretched out indefinitely in either direction. The walls, in the patches that showed near the high roof, were a soft gray in tone ; everywhere else they were concealed by a mass of sunny green ivy, across which rippled waves of shadow in the afternoon breeze. From the foot of the tall quaintly-carved double-door, sheltered above by (one of those overhanging marquises that lend a dignified charm to the most banal entrances, three worn granite steps descended to the garden, which filled the wide space between the gate and the house, and continued to left and right, how far, I could only guess. It was formal, as small gardens should be; but in its well-balanced flower-beds there was such a tangle of roses, such a confusion of lilac-bushes, that its conventionality did not in the least affect its naturalness, and was no more to be regretted than good manners in a woman. Just at the limit of my vision on either side rose a small carved pillar, supporting a marble jar from which slender vines trailed downward with a delicate irregular grace; and, as I looked, these two columns took on to my imagination the aspect of guardians refusing me admittance to the paradises beyond them. I longed to push the gate farther for a wider view, but to have done so would, I was sure, have brought down a wrathful gardener to close it with a slam, and so take away what I already possessed.
It seemed to me, as I stood gazing and drawing deep breaths of the fragrance the white and purple lilacs wafted to me, that I had known this place a long time. It was less as though it were the house I should choose, than one that had always been mine. What kind of people, I wondered, lived within the ivy-covered walls and wandered at morning through the pleasant paths of the garden? I was puzzled, and the next moment after glad to have been so. That was it,they would not be of a kind, but unclassified, like the house, the garden, and the quarter itself; people with a few aristocrats among their ancestors, to give them the horror of vulgarity, and that rare gentle distinction of manner which cannot be acquired, but with a preponderance of honest bourgeois to keep these things only the leaven they should be; with just enough money to save their aristocracy from absurdity, and not enough to permit of their bourgeoisie’s be-coming pompous. The longer I looked, the surer I grew that people of ideas must live in this place; and the only people who can have more than the mere beginning of ideas (which they either do not know how, or are afraid, to follow to a conclusion) are those who belong definitely to no caste; for the characteristics of caste are prejudices, con-ventions, and convictions ; and ideas that have grown up amid such surroundings are warped and stunted indeed.
About this garden there was a charm which was not merely that of gardens in general, but something fresh and personal. I felt no jealousy of the people who lived here. If they were what I imagined them, I was glad of their presence. But it seemed unjust that I could not see the wings of the house, or what of garden lay beyond the two columns with their pots of trailing ferns. After all it was my house and my garden,not materially, it is true, but in the finer sense that a thought in a book, or a sudden mood in the music of a symphony, touching something identical in my own nature, is mine.
Then all at once I understood. (Dullard ! to have been so long about it !) It was just this incompleteness that made the whole magic of the place. It is the bungling writer who describes his heroine; the wise novelist says only that she was beautiful. In all the world there was not a garden so lovely as that my fancy created out of the fragment given me. Not for the certainty that no irate gardener existed, would I have pushed the gate wider open now. This should be my house and my garden, but as they were, withdrawn, only half-seen. And I reflected, as I turned away, that in their feminine elusiveness Paris herself was symbolized. For Paris is like a woman one loves and who loves in return, prodigal of her affection, lavishing a thousand tendernesses upon her lover, but always with her reticences, her hidden depths of soul of which one gets only wonderful glimpses now and again. Like a woman, she never gives herself completely : she loves always less than she is loved; it is the secret of her charm.