Public Places


For Mesdemoiselles Joseph-Rosa1

   As in this part of the season the theatrical columns are drawing to a close, so too are increasing in number the productions that in these very pages our collaborator M.P. has described so well under the name of café-concert critic, - and we have hardly got past the month of February. - Zeus preserve us, and M. Sarcey!2 from taking up on our part the stance of the usual "Saint John of the Nouveau-Cirques" that are harboured by, for example, the Journal des débats. The Goddess of the Ambassadeurs - that is to say Mlle Vanoni,3 - regrets, it seems, the Buddhistic obstinacy of the attitudes whereby our pampered summer performances usually incite, during the present time of the year, the expert theatre critics of that daily, less severe than our very own Mensuel and she declares despondently that it is left to M. Leconte de Lisle, with his ingenious way with words, to pronounce their name: Valmiki.
   The time has perhaps come for us no longer to view our most extraordinary café-concert singers as almost supernatural marionettes. Our collaborator M.P. has pointed out as much in terms that we can not be unmindful of; he jokes, with all the gracious good-will that is proper, about the fantastic fetishism with which this new cult surrounds itself. Would he however go so far as to deny the divinity of that M. Clovis,4 whose existence his audience at the Alcazar can vouch for every evening, those very people who have nothing to do with gods? We have already had the pleasure of listening to M. Clovis, this winter, at the Concert-Parisien, where Mlle Yvette Guilbert5 was attracting curiosity today. We recall the joviality he showed when driver of a funeral train, and the extreme abundance of gaiety that the memory of his contemporaneous internees plunged him into. The drinkers leaning on their elbows in front of their cherry liqueurs in the Alcazar can, for now, see him perform the most heart-stopping and seriously complicated acrobatics. You need to listen very closely to his monologue about an interview with a totally foreign actor, who, called upon to perform, in I don't know what far off theatre, in a new play by M. Pierre Loti, lieutenant-commander, attributes it, after some difficulties in the last act, to M. Pierre Loto, lieutenant of Vessie!6 A ripple of laughter runs through the gallery, where M. Sarcey is nowhere to be seen.
   The charms of Sulbac,7 who could paint you? The charms of Sulbac, whoever witnesses you could never describe you.

I guess it's all the same to you,
Halle aux Vins, place Pigalle,

whispers the dainty versifier,

To find out what becomes of her,
Place Pigalle, Halle aux Vins.

   And it went on like that for a quarter of an hour... Also the laugh of indulgent scorn should be seen as it hovers, not on the lips of the spectators, but on M. Sulbac's, whereas the excellent public guffaws and M. Francisque Sarcey seeks the summer freshness among the numbered vaults of the Bouffe-du-Nord theatre, revealed by him to the population, and where criminal minds install, as they say, the most combustible machines, with the unavowed yet because of that the most self-evident, intention to raise the temperature and weary the prince of criticism. - "Oh, noble shade of Victor Hugo! ... Nicely witty, all the same... Poetry! enough of your tricks..." M. Sulbac exclaims from time to time, when he judges with no academic qualifications the verses of the sort that he appreciates with the freedom and expression of a disciple of José Dupuis.8 And this is not the least keen of the pleasures that he gives us as this original way of striking, through the insufficience of things he utters, at the snobbishness of the host of people who applaud his beaming face like that of a glorious and very sarcastic cherub.
   You buxom beauties of the café-concerts, vegetable creatures, less of whose clothing one wishes had been left in the dressing-room, you do not deserve to have your charms analyzed any more than the men do. While the notable Mlle Valti9 lisps her songs so that she gives the vague appearance of borrowing from the dear departed, the dancing girls of the rue de Caire, and Mme Duparc10 practices sanctimonious bawdiness, Mlle Yvette Guilbert, that genuine and unique artist, so skillful and spontaneous, soars too high for us to feel the briefest temptation to include her among the multiple and diminutive Yvettes and divettes11 from here there and everywhere; she allows us plenty of space to notice at the Ambassadeurs the very attractive Mlle Viguier,12 whose voice alone, though perhaps a little hard, promises to shape itself agreeably all the same into the required harmonies. That dusky flower with such matt Creole skin seems to us the youngest and in any case the most approachable of the stars of the café-concert: her light has shone on us but two years. We might be forgiven for having forgotten, next to this elegant woman, the name of those that hiss her or tolerate her with a more sceptical or resigned indifference than formerly. This is how time is spent at the Ambassadeurs and these are the noises that are made there. The universality of indifference had spread through them in turn. Oh! this fin de siècle... It is not the fault of M. Kam-Hill,13 the deplorable M. Kam-Hill: this ever glittering man of the world grimaces through Scottish songs which he has the temerity, it seems to us, to feel the need to croon.
   But it is here that the paths, the paths come together. How are we going to be able to give account of our priceless and already so classical Paulus14 (he is imitated at the Conservatoire: note the tragic mask of M. de Max15), the long arms and the leers of M. Brunin,16 the amusing gawky poses of a large woman who sings obscenities somewhere or other, finally the dancing gaiety of Eugénio17 and the single abdominal cavity of Mlles Rosa-Josepha, the rather gossiping contemplators to whom we dedicated, let us not forget, this article, and who must delight in the spectacles of summer? "Rosa is quite ordinary, but Josepha is very intelligent (or the other way round)", we were told, my friends Émile Philippi, Robert Dreyfus and me, with respect to these young women, by an individual of undoubted importance, because he was excessively decorated, from the theatre that exhibited them. "They each have their moral individuality," continued our obliging interlocutor; "and to top it all they have only one pelvis. That is what is most remarkable about them." We approved then, and we approve now. But space too is lacking to dishonour as I should like those heifers with padded horns and the lack of humanitarian intelligence shown by the lions at the Hippodrome, who can never, ever make up their minds to eat a little piece of their tamers!


Article first published in Le Mensuel, no 10, July 1891.

1. Rosa and Josepha Blažec, (1878 - 1922), conjoined twin sisters and music hall artists.

2. Francisque Sarcey (1827 - 1899), French critic.

3. Singer and dancer described as a female Paulus.

4. French music hall artist.

5. Yvette Guilbert (1867 - 1944), French actress and singer.

6. Untranslatable puns. Lieutenant de vaisseau is a lieutenant-commander, the word vaissie literally means a bladder. Le Loto is the state-run lottery.

7. Alfred Sulbac, French singer.

8. Belgian singer and actor (1833 - 1900).

9. Valentine Mestre, music all artist.

10. Mme Duparc, French music hall artist.

11. Divettes: musical comedy actresses.

12. French music hall artist.

13. Camile Kam-Hill (1856 - 1935), French cabaret performer and singer.

14. Jean Paul Habans (Paulus) (1845 - 1908), celebrated French comic singer.

15.Édouard de Max (1869 - 1924), French actor.

16. French music hall artist.

17. French music hall artist.


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