The performance was splendid—a large orchestra, the magnificent organ, eight harps, and eight trumpets sounding their flourishes in the organ loft, and a large chorus for the peroration of such splendor that it was compared to the set pieces at the close of a display of fireworks. The reception and ovation which the crowd gave the great poet, who rarely appeared in public, was beyond description. The honeyed incense of the organ, harps and trumpets was new to him and pleased his Olympian nostrils.
“Dine with me to-night,” he said to me. And from that day on, I often dined with him informally with M. and Mme. Lockrou, Meurice, Vacquerie and other close friends. The fare was delightful and unpretentious, and the conversation was the same. The master sat at the head of the table, with his grandson and granddaughter on either side, saying little but always something apropos. Thanks to his vigor, his strong sonorous voice, and his quiet good humor, he did not seem like an old man, but rather like an ageless and immortal being, whom Time would never touch. His presence was just Jove-like enough to inspire respect without chilling his followers. These small gatherings, which I fully appreciated, are among the most precious recollections of my life.
Time, alas, goes on, and that fine intellect, which had ever been unclouded, began to give signs of aberration. One day he said to an Italian delegation, “The French are Italians; the Italians are French. French and Italians ought to go to Africa together and found the United States of Europe.”
The red rays of twilight announced the oncoming night.
Those who saw them will never forget his grandiose funeral ceremonies, that casket under the Arc de Triomphe, covered with a veil of crape, and that immense crowd which paid homage to the greatest lyric poet of the century.
There was a committee to make musical preparations and I was a member. The most extraordinary ideas were proposed. One man wanted to have the Marseillaise in a minor key. Another wanted violins, for “violins produce an excellent effect in the open air.” Naturally we got nowhere.
The great procession started in perfect order, but, as in all long processions, gaps occurred. I was astonished to find myself in the middle of the Champs Elysees, in a wide open space, with no one near me but Ferdinand de Lesseps, Paul Bert, and a member of the Academie, whose name I shall not mention as he is worthy of all possible respect.
De Lesseps was then at the height of his glory, and from time to time applause greeted him as he passed.
Suddenly the Academician leaned over and whispered in my ear,
“Evidently they are applauding us.”
THE HISTORY OF AN OPERA-COMIQUE