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Nebraska State Journal

October 14, 1894
page 13


The summer that is just ending has been a most eventful one in the theatre. Among the other great presentations that ran through the hot months were the two great London seasons of Bernhardt and Duse . William Winter accuses the American people of having a sneaking admiration of Madame Bernhardt's personality. Well, there are some things about her that compel admiration. All artists who have the supreme assurance and strength of their art command admiration. Early in the summer Signora Duse went to London, playing "Camille," "La Tosca" and "Fedora," the plays that for so many years have meant Bernhardt. Duse is a great artist, altogether original, altogether modern. London went wild, that is, as wild as London ever gets. The delicacy and power of the woman enchanted the critics. They thought these lofty and spiritualized passions infinitely grander than the fierce and fiery ones of the old Frenchwoman. We always think the higher and colder passions better when the warmer and lower are away from us; it's one redeeming trait in human nature. One morning the London papers said unanimously that Duse was greater than Bernhardt. Bernhardt was over in Paris recalling old days with Sardou , using unrepeatable language to her creditors and reading everything in the world, as she always does. At last the growing rumble of a great fame reached her, a fame that was not hers. For the first time in her life she had a rival, a woman young, modern and indisputably a genius. Bernhardt is old, nearing sixty now. She never was beautiful, and London said that she belonged to a school that is growing passe. It was generally supposed that she would realize that her star was setting and would quietly yield. But she never was a woman to yield anything. Her age and wrinkles did not trouble her, she never had any beauty to depend on, nothing but her whirlwind of passion and her flawless art. She read those London papers through and when she had finished her cigarette she telephoned for her manager. She cancelled her Paris engagement, sent her fond adieux to her despairing creditors, packed up her son and grandson and boa constrictors and in a week was in London. She rented the biggest theatre and began playing her rival's plays in her rival's very teeth. She had none but the kindest feelings and the most appreciative words for and of Signora Duse, but she had been challenged and came for war. It was simply a duel of genius, not pique or vanity, but an artist's defense of her self-respect and her art. Madame Bernhardt has seen a good deal of men, individually and collectively, and she doubtless knew from her very vast and varied experience that loyalty once re-conquered is all the stronger for a little unfaithfulness, because it has the spur and sting of remorse. That is true, even in phlegmatic London. Before a week was over the great London public had surged back to the feet of its premier amour. It repented and apologized, it wondered and marveled and was amazed. Why, this woman was sixty and the old irresistible magnetism was there still, the mighty force that seemed to go back and awaken the primitive elements in man and analyze things into their first and simplest constituents. All who have felt it remember it too well. It is like red lava torn up from the bowels of the earth where the primeval fires of creation are still smoldering. With all the coquetry and Parisian capriciousness, it is still a force which has in it something of the savagery of the stone age and arouses in the individual the forgotten first instincts of the race. London went from intoxication to delirium. It published her picture, it raved over her as it did years ago when she was young, it declared that she alone was great and that there was none like unto her. Then, having made her honor clean, Bernhardt went back to Paris to her wine cellar and her creditors.

Surely in all the category of stage women none has had power and magnetism like hers. It is almost probable that her greatness will not die with her, that generations unborn will feel the thrill of her presence, the magic of her power, just as we feel Cleopatra's . Bernhardt is more like the royal Egyptian than any other woman ever was, and it is not unlikely that future generations will associate them together.


It is pleasant to know that theatrical people really like to play in the Lansing. Many of them say that there is no theatre in the country where they are treated more courteously and considerately. The stage hands are noted far and wide for their gentlemanly conduct and boundless good nature. Mr. John Dowden has always been a favorite with professional people, who all of them know how to appreciate that rare commodity, a gentleman in the box office.


One of the sad attendant circumstances of the growth and development of any institution is the proportionate growth of its egotism. This is particularly true of educational institutions. We have no western universities as yet that can compete with Harvard or Yale in that line, but we can hold our own just the same. Very often university people are heard bewailing the fact that the town does not appreciate the vital importance of the university. Of course they are right. Lincoln exists merely because of the university, the city is merely builded about that great institution, the churches, residences, court house and even the state house are little ornaments to beautify the campus. The banks are run solely to accommodate the university, the lawyers are here merely to lecture before the law school, the dry goods men have no other business than to sell scarlet and cream bunting. They very side walks are merely approaches to the university, to be trod by adoring disciples. Without that mighty seat of learning business would stagnate and Lincoln, the suburb of the state university, would be depopulated. The people of the town have no other business than to boom the university and all the homes about the city are merely little preparatory institutions to hurry youngsters out of dresses and knickerbockers into cadet suits. The only wonder is that the town doesn't abandon city government altogether and that the churches, business houses, banks and theatres are not controlled and regulated solely by the faculty of the university of Nebraska.


The last great man of all that school of great men that flourished in New England half a century ago has gone to his reward. When Dr. Holmes died a wit, a scholar and a gentleman left this world, where there are too few of his kind. Of all that guild of poets and philosophers Dr. Holmes was the most unamerican. He never consciously imitated a foreign school, but nature made him an Englishman. He was an autocrat and almost the only American who has ever been one. He was a scholar and a dilettante, neither of which a typical American can be. His humor was entirely unamerican. Mark Twain's broad humor is the characteristic American humor. But Dr. Holmes' wit was delicate and classic as that of Horace or Charles Lamb , while his scholarship was as profound and feeling and free from pedantry as that of Mr. Andrew Lang . He was a man who read more than he wrote, and who wrote not in the heat of great inspiration or with the fire of great purpose, to please and delight himself with a gentle, easy flow of rich language and imagery. His wit is so sunny, so timid, so unassertive, that it charms more than it amuses. Even his early work was mature, never showy or pedantic, but one always felt that the repose and strength of profound scholarship over which his graceful fancies chased each other like light and shadow. Dr. Holmes could not write a novel; he lacked the force, the passion and seriousness of a great novelist. He could not create men, only paint fancies; he could not handle great situations, only pleasing epigrams. He had too great a sense of humor to be a serious novelist. A novelist cannot stand a very keen sense of humor. He must be able to take himself and the world seriously. To him life must be a tragedy, not a comedy. No, Dr. Holmes could not write a novel, it is only because of the "Autocrat" that we can forgive "Elsie Venner" and the "Guardian Angel." But through all his work there is the charm of a truly human personality. His readers have an almost personal affection for him. His warm disposition never left him and his heart never grew old. After his hair grew gray he kept the warm sympathies of youth. It was a moment of universal sorrow when the chambered nautilas outgrew the shell forever.


Dr. Holmes' literary career was a most happy one. His recognition came early in youth, when recognition is most sweet, and his success was permanent. Only one misfortune ever befel him, and that came late in life, when Madame Sarh Grand took him for her especial hobby and quoted him repeatedly in the classic pages of "The Heavenly Twins." If Dr. Holmes had not lived to an age seldom reached by man, it would seem almost probable that this hastened his end.


He sat in the dressing room of a delicious little soubrette watching her don a fetching dinner gown of twilight blue.

"Have you read 'Trilby?' " she inquired as she balanced a powder puff daintily in her hand.

"Stop, for the love of heaven, stop! I discuss that book with my minister, my physician, my wife, my mother and my mother-in-law. I did not come here to discuss 'Trilby.'"

"But don't you think it is a beautiful—" but he had seized his hat and was hurrying out of the stage entrance into the street.


It is a curious thing, that mutual extermination of barbarians that is going on in the Eastern hemisphere. There hasn't been such a picturesque combat in the memory of many generations. No one can tell how or when it will stop. It may continue half a century. It has taken about six hundred years for the Chinese to get brought up to the fighting point and heaven only knows how long it will take them to stop. They will probably fight until the men give out, and if they only lose several thousand a week the war may go on for an indefinite length of time. There are so awfully many Chinamen. The king never worries over the number of the slain; men are cheaper than arms or ammunition. The barbarian disregard of life is something we cannot understand. No Chinaman values his life very highly and in that perhaps they are foolish and perhaps they are wise. When one regiment is completely destroyed another steps into the place, just as yellow and just as silent as the first. They fight without any particular courage or enthusiasm, and clad in fantastic armor that would be a credit to a spectacular extravaganza. It is too bad that Mr. Kipling don't go over and write up that war. It's entirely in his line and there must be color enough to make another "Gate of a Hundred Sorrows."


"Was Mr. Hayes still with Downing?" inquired the pseudo aunt of Mr. Frohman's company. "Playing in leads and the best one in the company, is he? Well, now, I'm glad to hear that. He is an awfully nice fellow and I always thought he had a good deal of promise. He is built for the classic drama, though. I played with him when he brought out 'The Bells' as an experiment in Chicago. He wanted to star in it, but the piece fell flat, all because Ed cannot do anything modern. He hasn't the right voice or the right carriage. He couldn't even wear his clothes well, and he carries a dress suit a little worse than any man I ever saw. He used to handle his overcoat like a toga. If he sticks to classic roles he's all right, but he makes the stiffest modern lover you ever saw."


Word comes to us of a peculiar state of school matters in a city not far from Lincoln. The superintendent is a man of very decided views and refuses to employ any teacher in the schools without first submitting them to a little examination of his own in which all the ancient catch questions of the country school of former days are dragged to light. He recently refused to accept a graduate from the classical course of Cornell without first subjecting her to an examination in reading, writing and arithmetic. The superintendent himself, by the way, is a graduate of some little academy somewhere in Illinois where they teach Cæsar and arithmetic through fractions. He belongs to the school that believes in absolute knowledge and no other kind. His idea of an educated man is a man who knows facts, regardless of their application. He is of that sect to whom arithmetic is the acme of culture. Mathematics have been, from time immemorial, at war with that higher culture which is spiritual and emotional. The creative mind is all spiritual; it asserts, affirms and warms into life. The mathematical mind is wholly material; it analyzes, counts, reduces, it is the "spirit that denies." All the higher achievements of man, art, poetry, music, the drama, are the work of the creative mind; all the lower achievements, which administer only to the comfort of the body, are the work of the mathematical mind. The higher standards of morality, the exaltation of the affections, have all come about wholly through the imaginative minds of society, the minds that were capable of conceiving and being loyal to an ideal. The mathematical mind knows neither good nor evil, it knows only love and gain.


It is a serious question as to just how far the mathematical and "practical" should prevail in the public schools. The public schools are not conducted for the benefit of the students who are preparing for a higher education. They are for the children of the people, the children who will probably be bound close to their work bench or plow all their lives. Those few school years are a pause in the life of a boy in which he is to see something of the best that the world has to give him, in which he may live with princes and commune with men greater than kings. All his life is to be one unceasing round of the practical, one long apprehension and fear of poverty, a struggle to exist. That is the law of the universe, from the first atoms down. These first few years in this lad's life, these fresh, untrammeled years, before he is narrowed by either a burning need or greed of money, are set apart by the state for him to receive in his soul the circumcision of culture and on his forehead the seal of a higher existence. Perhaps they are the only years in his life when he will have time to see the beauty of nature, or to know the beauty of art. His life will of necessity teach him practicality; those few years are set apart for better things. Besides, how much of the so-called "practical" knowledge is practical? How often in his life does a business man use cube root? But the books he read and the taste he formed at school will influence his whole moral being, this life in this world and his chances in the next. There is no contradiction to the fact that to see beauty is the end of culture, and to feel clean and lofty enjoyment is the end of education. The man who teaches mere materialism and practicality to youth, already bound and fettered with practicality, corrupts and debases the purest years of living. He gives a stone and a serpent to those that cry unto him for bread.


This type of teacher is by no means new, nor is the gentleman in question the only one of his kind. He is fortunate in that he belongs to the majority. He has noted predecessors, the men who expelled Shelly from Oxford, the men who whipped Byron at Eton, the men who tortured Poe at the university of Virginia. He comes of a noted line of pedagogues who have devoted their lives to the suppression of talent wherever they found it.

Will there ever be a generation of teachers who will teach men how to feel and see? Who will teach the things that the world most needs to know? Who will elevate taste, and, as Browning says, will "save the soul besides?" Will the pedagogues of the world always give us the bones of knowledge and keep from us the living truth? Scattered here and there are even now a few who, so far as they are able, reveal the hidden things, who let God work out his own plan in every child's soul, which is surely God's right, and the child's. There was one even in the town referred to, one who was never harsh with the dreams of youth, who did his best to open the eyes of the blind and never mocked at the poor boy who saw visions and dreamed dreams.


The latest startling thing in the sensational field of Lincoln journalism is an ominous resuscitation of Vanity Fair. If it were possible to run a sheet with just enough vanity it might be a good thing; it would keep the animals stirred up and the donkey from dozing. But, despite a contrary affirmation by a highly respected authority, all is not vanity. The only trouble about the vanity fair of the world is that they are not willing to give the world credit for any good at all, not understanding that by so doing they are making evil commonplace and interesting and are so defeating their own ends. The sensational papers have a fault of being coarse where they should only be suggestive. A Vanity Fair might be published which even people of culture would like to read, even though they would hide it under the sofa pillows when the doorbell rang. It is too bad that when there are so many clever ways to say wicked things, people will insist on using the most offensive.


Mr. Brown says that so far as Lincoln trade is concerned, there has been no book published for years that has had the sale of "Ships That Pass in the Night." He himself has handled several hundred copies,