“You Americans,” he said, “are a wonderful people. You think nothing of going around the world.”
We were surprised to find that he took the keenest interest in American politics.
“It must be a terribly difficult country to govern,” he said. And then he asked us eagerly for news of our “extraordinary President.” We suggested Mr. Wilson.
“Oh, no! no!” he explained. “The extraordinary man who was President before him.”
Yes, that was the man—a most remarkable man that! So Colonel Roosevelt may be interested to hear that the poet-king of Provence is an enthusiastic Bull Mooser.
Of course, we talked too of the “felibrige,” and it was beautiful to see how M. Mistral’s face softened at the mention of his friend Joseph Roumanille, and with what generosity he attributed the origin of the great movement to his dead friend.
“But you must by all means call on Mme. Roumanille,” said he, “when you go to Avignon, and say that I sent you”—for Roumanille’s widow still lives, one of the most honoured muses of the “felibrige.”
When it was time for us to go on our way, nothing would satisfy M. and Mme. Mistral but that we drink a glass of a cordial which is made by “Elise” from Mistral’s own recipe; and as we raised the tiny glasses of the innocent liqueur in our hands, Mistral drank “A l’Amerique!”
Then, taking a great slouch hat from a rack in the hall, and looking as though it was his statue from Aries accompanying us, the stately old man led us out into the road, and pointed us the way to Avignon.
On the 30th of this coming September that great old man—the memory of whose noble presence and beautiful courtesy will remain with us forever—will be eighty-three.
The longevity of trees is said to be in proportion to the slowness of their growth. It has to do no little as well with the depth and area of their roots and the richness of the soil in which they find themselves. When the sower went forth to sow, it will be remembered, that which soon sprang up as soon withered away. It was the seed that was content to “bring forth fruit with patience” that finally won out and survived the others.
These humble, old-fashioned illustrations occur to me as I apply myself to the consideration of the question provoked by the lightning over-production of modern fiction and modern literature generally: the question of the flourishing longevity of the fiction of the past as compared with the swift oblivion which seems almost invariably to over-take the much-advertised “masterpieces” of the present.
I read somewhere a ballade asking—where are the “best sellers” of yesteryear? The ballad-maker might well ask, and one might re-echo with Villon: “Mother of God, ah! where are they?” During the last twenty years they have been as the sands on the seashore for multitude, yet I think one would be hard set to name a dozen of them whose titles even are still on the lips of men—whereas several quieter books published during that same period, unheralded by trumpet or fire-balloon, are seen serenely to be ascending to a sure place in the literary firmament.