Page images

assured by the collective guaranty of Europe. The Arabic-speaking peoples of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Arabia, freed from Turkish domination, and put temporarily under European guidance, will evolve in time into an empire of their own. The Turks, limited to Constantinople and Asia Minor, will have more hope of political and economic regeneration than in the past, when they held an amorphous and disorganized empire, and were the victims of rival European ambitions. The states of the Balkan Peninsula should be left to work out their own salvation, as the rest of Europe has done. Is not this the application of the avowed policy of the Entente powers toward small nations?

As in the case of Poland, so in the case of the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire. The Entente powers in the third year of the Great War have come to the parting of the ways. If they stick by their original program, and hold fast to the ideals

that have made their cause precious to lovers of humanity throughout the world, there is glorious hope for the future, and they can expect to keep and increase the sympathy and support of neutral nations -a sympathy and support that grow more precious, invaluable indeed, as the European conflict reaches its climax. But if, on the other hand, they are tempted by lust of conquest engendered in the heat of conflict, or if they yield to expediency, so easily confused with right when every nerve is strained to win, the durable peace becomes a castle in Spain. Lovers of France and the advocates of Anglo-Saxon solidarity ought to urge with all their heart and soul that Constantinople be considered in the light of principle and not as a pawn. It is only one of several issues where a choice has to be made; but Constantinople is in its potentialities the most important issue, and in its unmistakable clearness the test issue.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

Mrs. Fiske on Ibsen the Popular

A conversation recorded by ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT

W Fiske and 1, as we sat at tea on

E talked of many things, Mrs.

a wide veranda one afternoon last summer. It looked out lazily across a sunlit valley, the coziest valley in New Jersey. A huge dog that lay sprawled at her feet was unspeakably bored by the proceedings. He was a recruit from the Bide-awee Home, this fellow, a great Dane with just enough of other strains in his blood. to remind him that, like the Danes at Mr. Wopsle's Elsinore, he had but recently come up from the people. It kept him modest, anxious to please, polite. So Zak rarely interrupted, save when at times he would suggestively extract his rubber ball from the pocket of her knitted jacket and thus artfully invite her to a mad game on the lawn.

We talked of many things-of Duse and St. Teresa and Eva Booth and Ibsen.

When we were speaking casually and quite idly of Ibsen, I chanced to voice

the prevailing idea that, even with the least popular of his plays, she had always had, at all events, the satisfaction of a great succès d'estime. I could have told merely by the way her extraordinarily eloquent fan came into play at that moment that the conversation was no longer idle.

"Succès d'estime!" she exclaimed, with fine scorn. "Stuff and nonsense! Stuff, my friend, and nonsense!" And we were off.

"I have always been embarrassed by the apparently general disposition to speak of our many seasons with Ibsen as an heroic adventure, as a series of heroic adventures, just as though we had suffered all the woes of pioneers in carrying his plays to the uttermost reaches of the continent. This is a charming light to cast upon us, but it is quite unfair to a great genius who has given us money as well as inexhaustible inspiration. It is unfair to

Ibsen. I was really quite taken aback not long ago when the editor of a Western paper wrote of the fortune we had lost in introducing the Norwegian to America. I wish I knew some way to shatter forever this monstrous idea. Save for the first season of 'A Doll's House,' many years ago, our Ibsen seasons have invariably been profitable. Now and then, it is true, the engagement of an Ibsen play in this city or that would be unprofitable, but never since the first have we known an unprofitable Ibsen year.

"When I listen, as I have often had to listen, to the ill-considered comments of the unthinking and the uninformed, when I listen to airily expressed opinions based on no real knowledge of Ibsen's history in this country, no real understanding whatever, I am silent; but I like to recall a certain final matinée of 'Rosmersholm' at the huge Grand Opera House in Chicago, when the audience crowded the theater from pit to dome, when the stairways were literally packed with people standing, and when every space in the aisles was filled with chairs, for at that time chairs were allowed in the aisles. And I like to remember the quality of that great audience. It was the sort of audience one would find at a symphony concert, an audience silent and absorbed, an overwhelming rebuke to the flippant scoffers who are altogether ignorant of the everincreasing power of the great theater iconoclast."

And so quite by accident I discovered that, just as you have only to whisper Chatterton's old heresy, "Shakspere spells ruin," to move William Winter to the immediate composition of three impassioned articles, so you have only to question the breadth of Ibsen's appeal to bring Mrs. Fiske rallying to his defense. Then she, who has a baffling way of forgetting the theater's very existence and would always far rather talk of saints or dogs or the breathless magic of Adiron dack nights, will return to the stage. So it happened that that afternoon over the tea-cups we went back over the many seasons of "A Doll's House," "Hedda Ga

bler," "Rosmersholm," and "The Pillars of Society."

"As I say," she explained, "A Doll's House' in its first season was not profitable; but, then, that was my own first season as Mrs. Fiske, and it was only one of a number of plays in a financially unsuccessful repertory. And even that, I suppose, was, from the shrewdest business point of view, a sound investment in reputation. It was a wise thing to do. But the real disaster was predicted by every one for 'Rosmersholm.' There was the most somber and most complex tragedy of its period. No one would go to see that, they said, and I am still exasperated from time to time by finding evidences of a hazy notion that it did not prosper. 'Rosmersholm' was played — and not particularly well played, either-for one hundred and ninety-nine consecutive performances at a profit of $40,000. I am never greatly interested in figures, but I had the curiosity to make sure of these. Of course that is a total of many profitable weeks and some unprofitable ones, and of course it is not an overpowering reward for a half-season in the theater. ing you that Ibsen may be profitable in a money sense I am not so mad as to say other things may not be far more profitable. But $40,000 profit scarcely spells ruin.

In tell

"And I tell you all this because it is so discouraging to the Ibsen enthusiasts to have the baseless, the false idea persist that he and the box-office are at odds. Sensibly projected in the theater—"

"Instead," I suggested, "of being played by strange people at still stranger matinées-"

"Of course. Rightly projected in the theater, Ibsen always has paid and always will. And that is worth shouting from the housetops, because sensibly and rightly projected in the theater, the fine thing always does pay. Oh, I have no patience with those who descend upon a great play, produce it without understanding, and then, because disaster overtakes it, throw up their hands and say there is no public for fine art. How absurd! In New

« PreviousContinue »