THE idea of attributing a serious purpose to such a man as Aleqandre Dumas may seem absurd, yet a purpose of some sort he must have had when he wrote "Camille." As nearly as can be gathered from the play itself, his purpose was this: He wished to show that the greatest and highest type of love is the love that can sacrifice not only itself but its object, the love that will destroy before it would degrade. He wished to show that this intensest of human passions is not experienced by all humanity alike. That all men feel it in some degree, just as all men have imaginations in some degree, but that a love like Camille's is as much of a phenomenon as an imagination like Shelley's . Further, he wished to show that this peculiar strength of emotion was a phenomenon that was not influenced by ordinary social distinction, that it might occur in the highest ranks of society or in the lowest.
To illustrate this in the strongest way he knew, he gives this love to the heroine of his novel, and lets it make a bad woman good. This is the Camille that Clara Morris plays. Modjeska and Duse both make a very different and a very much higher woman out of the role. Modjeska makes her sweet and womanly, Duse makes her cold, both make her entirely the victim of circumstances. She has seen sin without perceiving it, known it without really understanding it, evil has touched her and left its stain upon her, but it is and always has been hateful to her. This is a very lofty and beautiful creation, but it is not the Camille of Alexandre Dumas. Clara Morris pitches her acting in a much lower key. She has worn camelias because she liked them, it is only when she takes heather rose from Armand's hand that she has any inclination for them. She is not altogether what the world has made her, there have been times when she has exulted in being the queen of the camelias. This Camille is not a very lofty or a very ideal woman. Modjeska has dwelt among those grand dream women of the great master so long that she unconsciously purifies a part when she touches it. Clara Morris in one of her climaxes would frighten Juliet or Imogen to death. She does not see the world any better than it is, she sees the black problems that stare civilization in the face, and she has neither the delicacy nor falsehood in her to close her eyes upon them. Perhaps this is disgusting, revolting, at any rate it is realism.
HE is a peculiar looking baby. He has the unmistakable chin and the unmistakable nose of an unmistakable race. He lies back in his baby carriage with the same air that an old man leans back in his chair. His small black eyes are bright and black, but he stares in front of him as though he were thinking. His little brow is wrinkled as though he had the cares of a lifetime on his shoulders. His lips are thin and drawn tightly together, and he's rubbing his little hands together. He looks like a very, very old man. He is one of the oldest races in the world, and he looks as though he had never been made over when he was transmigrated, but as though he carried the years of all his lives upon him. He looks as though he might have made brick in Pharaoh's brickyard, and now as he lies in his carriage he looks as if he might be thinking over some old business transaction that he conducted with the workman Hiram, king of Tyre, some three thousand years ago. Every now and then he puts his hand up to his chin as though feeling for the gray beard that ought to be there. Presently he begins to cry in a high, cracked voice that is not at all like a baby's, it seems strange and foolish and rude in him to cry. One can not imagine why he does it. He is too old to have a right to cry. To comfort him his mother, a dark stout woman of her people gives him not an orange or a bon bon, but a penny. He reaches out for it eagerly and looks at it carefully on both sides as though seeing if it were genuine. Then he folds his long thin little fingers over it and settles back on his pillow with a long sigh of content, and dreams of the things he will sell when he is a man.
SHE sat playing the piano for a dance. She was a little gray-haired woman with a look of sad experience in her face. She played with that strong touch and perfect time that are delightful to dance to, but her movements were careless and mechanical and she evidently held in contempt the dance music she played. Occasionally she glanced over her shoulders at the dancers and the lines about her mouth deepened into an ironical smile. She had a right to smile, she had seen enough of the pitiful comedy of the world to laugh over it. She used to play for us when we were young, and she knows how we have grown too stout for our old dress suits and how our old sweathearts have outgrown their dancing shoes. She knows those of us who still carry little seared places from the old flames that died hard; she knows those of us who obtained our heart's desires and have since sought refuge from them by process of law, she knows that the friend of my youth, whom I loved better than myself and to whom I gave my sweetheart, I yesterday sued for $20,000. She has played for other feet and knows the end of it all. Perhaps she can even recognize on some dancer a knot of real lace her mother wore when she danced to that same waltz twenty years ago, and she sees that my son's hair, in spite of all the brushing of his barber, standing on the crown just as mine used to when I had some there. She has every right to be a cynic. She is on the last dance now. When it is over she turns around on the stool with a sigh of relief. A young man comes hastily up to her, his eyes shining and his face is flushed.
"Please play one more waltz, just one, just part of a one." He thrusts his hands into his pockets and offers her a bill for it that shakes and flutters in his grasp as he hastily glances across the room in an agony of nervous apprehension. She has a good right to laugh, but she does not laugh this time, but her sharp eyes cloud over and she says quietly:
"Never mind the money. The violinists are tired and have gone, but I will play for you." I must seek her in the morning and scold her for her good heart, that last waltz is likely to cost me dear. She ought to have known better after all these years.
HE was the last man in the world you would expect of having concealed manuscripts, and yet he drew that one from his desk as quietly and calmly as though he had handled manuscripts instead of bank statements all his life.
"Yes it is a novel, I did it when I was very young. Of course it is crude and violent and often flat, but it had some promise in it, at least the publishers thought and they are generally impartial judges. I meant it very decidedly when I wrote it. I suppose that is its redeeming features. I never had it published. I had a good offer from a publisher in New York, but I did not accept it. My wife rather objected. She does not approve of the realistic school and this is decidedly realistic and even pessimistic. I was brought up in a mining town in the world and I saw the rough side of the world first and imagined I wanted to tell the world a few things about itself, but I suppose it is just as well off without knowing them, and probably other men have said the same thing better by their time anyway. Then there is more money in banking."
We talked on of business and politics and the chances of the next election and kept the interest up with cigars and Scotch whisky, but I noticed he left his hand on the bundle of paper most of the time, unconsciously stroking it. When we went to go before he turned out the gas I saw him look at it tenderly as he put it away, as one looks at a weakly, deformed child that one loves for its very weakness because it is one's own.
Later when we reached his home I heard his wife entertaining the new author from Colorado with her views and hopes on western literature. She is a nice little woman, his wife, I don't know of one who can give a better dinner or sing songs better, or be more charming at a theatre party. They are very nice ladies, these Delilahs of our day. They are a great improvement on the old fashioned ones of four thousand years back. They do not turn a great mob of Philistines on us to shear us of our strength, they only insist from the standpoint of polite society that we visit a barber occasionally. Not that they have any grudge against our strength, but they can't have us going around with our locks streaming, and I don't blame them.