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I did not go to Paris to witness the fetes in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Victor Hugo's "La Legende des Siecles," but I happened to be in Paris while they were afoot. I might have seen one of Hugo's dramas at the Theatre Francais, but I avoided this experience, my admiration for Hugo being tempered after the manner of M. Andre Gide's. M. Gide, asked with a number of other authors to say who was still the greatest modern French poet, replied: "Victor Hugo--alas!" So I chose Brieux instead of Hugo, and saw "La Robe Rouge" at the Francais. Brieux is now not only an Academician, but one of the stars of the Francais. A bad sign! A bad play, studded with good things, like all Brieux's plays. (The importance attached to Brieux by certain of the elect in England is absurd. Bernard Shaw could simply eat him up--for he belongs to the vegetable kingdom.) A thoroughly bad performance, studded with fine acting! A great popular success! Whenever I go to the Francais I tremble at the prospect of a national theatre in England. The Francais is hopeless--corrupt, feeble, tedious, reactionary, fraudulent, and the laughing-stock of artists. However, we have not got a national theatre yet.
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Immediately after its unveiling I gazed in the garden of the Palais Royal at Rodin's statue of Victor Hugo. I thought it rather fine, shadowed on the north and on the south by two famous serpentine trees. Hugo, in a state of nudity, reclines meditating on a pile of rocks. The likeness is good, but you would not guess from the statue that for many years Hugo travelled daily on the top of the Clichy-Odeon omnibus and was never recognized by the public. Heaven knows what he is meditating about! Perhaps about that gushing biography of himself which apparently he penned with his own hand and published under another name! For he was a weird admixture of qualities--like most of us. I could not help meditating, myself, upon the really extraordinary differences between France and England. Imagine a nude statue of Tennyson in St. James's Park! You cannot! But, assuming that some creative wit had contrived to get a nude statue of Tennyson into St. James's Park, imagine the enormous shindy that would occur, the horror-stricken Press of London, the deep pain and resentment of a mighty race! And can you conceive London officially devoting a week to the recognition of the fact that fifty years had elapsed since the publication of a work of poetic genius! Yet I think we know quite as much about poetry in England as they do in France. Still less conceivable is the participation of an English Government in such an anniversary. In Paris last Thursday a French Minister stood in front of the Hugo statue and thus began: "The Government of the Republic could not allow the fiftieth anniversary of the 'Legend of the Centuries' to be celebrated without associating itself with the events." My fancy views Mr. Herbert John Gladstone--yes, him!--standing discreetly in front of an indiscreet marble Wordsworth and asserting that the British Government had no intention of being left out of the national rejoicings about the immortality of "The Prelude"! A spectacle that surely Americans would pay to see! On Sunday, at the Francais, Hugo was being declaimed from one o'clock in the afternoon till midnight, with only an hour's interval. And it rained violently nearly all the time.
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