The New York Times, June 2, 1968

At 75 S. N. Behrman, Speaking as a Survivor, Not a Contemporary, talks of many things, but principally of people he misses and of war and peace


One morning you wake up and, with no encouragement whatever from anybody, find yourself 70. I am so inured to the Biblical tradition in which I was brought up that I felt that the very next day was already an overdraft. You never think, when you are younger, in terms of decades—you are too busy—but this particular numeral is peremptory. In a week (D. V.), I shall wake up to 75, but I am by now so overdrawn that I am grooved for it. Samuel Goldwyn's hilarious remarks have been quoted all over the world for 50 years. It is pleasant now to set down a profound one. Ira Gershwin met Goldwyn, who is well over 80, at a party recently and complimented him: "You're looking very well, Sam." "What good does it do?" said Goldwyn.

In the fancy synagogues, the deceased of each week are described as having "received the summons from on high." They make it sound like a telegram from the boss offering a vacation with pay. The poignant aspect of it is that almost every morning, when you open The Times, you are made conscious that you are not a contemporary but a survivor; you are forced to say an unpremeditated farewell to a vacationer.

In London, in 1946,I had dinner with Somerset Maugham in his suite at the Dorchester. He said: "Whenever I come back to London, the first thing I do is to look at the obituary columns of The Times. I know that one morning my name will appear in those columns, but I don't believe it!" It is exactly true of all of us, and rightly so. Speculations about the "next world"—is it next or is it antecedent? —are useless because they are acts of life. It is like trying to imagine what it is to be a rock. When it does happen, it won't be to you that it happens because you will be gone. You will exist only in the memories of the few who knew you. It will always be a few, even in the case of the most eminent. Take the most prestigious historian of 16th-century London. He can give you only a marginal account of those who lived in 16th-century London, only of those who achieved notoriety in it, its rulers and its poets. The rest will remain forever anonymous. History is for the articulate. Sometimes the dying are articulate. In his remarkable biography of Lytton Strachey, Michael Holroyd quotes Lytton's last remark: "If this is dying, I don’t think much of it.”

The other day I read that Edna Ferber had died. I knew her intermittently over a period of many years and never well. Her obituary evoked in me a single memory and it made me smile. I was having tea in his apartment with George S. Kaufman. Edna came in, harried. "Oh," she said, "I had the most terrible nightmare last night, really horrible. It's made the whole day hideous." We inquired. "I dreamt," she said dramatically, "that I was a wallflower at an orgy!"

Sometimes these intelligences open long corridors and wring you. Last September The Times struck me in the face with the announcement that the English poet, Siegfried Sassoon, had died. It opened a long corridor, from the day I met him in 1921 to the last letter I had from him, a year ago. I had a job on The Times Book Review. The editor, Clifford Smyth, sent me to interview Sassoon, who was here on a lecture tour to read his war poems. I didn't have far to go: Siegfried was staying in Westover Court, which used to be behind the Putnam Building on the site later occupied by the Paramount Building. In a book published 30 years later, "Siegfried's Journey," Sassoon described the extra illumination he got in his rooms from a vast sign atop the Putnam Building: " . . . my nocturnal outlook was dominated by the Putnam Building, above which blazed the electric sign of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum. Flanked by two peacocks whose tails were cascades of quivering color, about a square acre of advertising space contained the caption, 'Don't argue but stick it in your face.' "

Westover Court was a very unlikely place to find in New York even then: four stories high, built around a court with a tree in the middle. On winter nights, when you came home late, the bare branches of this tree would be covered with night birds who resorted to it in lieu of a forest. Westover Court was a bachelor establishment with two-room apartments; it was like a dormitory in a New England college. Actors and artists and singers lived in it. The telephone in the hall leading from 44th Street was presided over by the McGraw sisters, who took turns. They knew all the secrets and kept their mouths shut.

GREAT DAYS—Behrman, left, in 1940 with Maxwell Anderson and Robert E. Sherwood during the run of Sherwood's Pulitzer prize-winning "There Shall Be No Night." The play, inspired by the Russian invasion of Finland, had been staged by the Playwrights' Company, founded by the three gentlemen shown plus Elmer Rice and Sidney Howard.

I can’t remember the interview I did with Sassoon for The Times Book Review; it couldn't have come to much, but the talk I had with him on that first meeting did. It led to a friendship that lasted for more than 40 years. He told me his story. The war poems were so bitterly antiwar that their publication led to a Parliamentary inquiry. Sassoon faced court-martial. What made the military scratch their heads in bewilderment was the perplexing fact that Sassoon's war record was recklessly heroic. He had been cited for bravery. But there is nothing beyond the military mind; it came up with a solution: that Sassoon was crazy—they called it shell shock. He was sent to a lunatic asylum. Had it not been for the accidental presence there of a great man, Dr. William Halse Rivers—a famous English psychiatrist and anthropologist for whom Sassoon's duality as war hero and pacifist was not in the least paradoxical—he should never, Siegfried told me, have survived that experience.

I saw him constantly the rest of the summer and went to many of his readings. Sassoon was tall and lithe and extraordinarily handsome. He read quietly, without "effect," without inflection. I remember the stunned silence that followed the reading of one poem at the Free Synagogue in Carnegie Hall. I copy it from the little book of his war poems that he left me when he returned to England:


Does it matter? —losing your legs? . . .
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.

Does it matter? —losing your sight? . . .
There's such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on your terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.

Do they matter? —those dreams from the pit? . . .
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you're mad;
For they'll know that you've fought for your country,
And no one will worry a bit.

I found out not long after that Sassoon was lacerated by a private agony. What made his situation intolerable was that he had the time to brood over this agony. He explained that when he got the idea for a poem it took him very little time to write it. But how could he forget when the anodyne of creation had worn off? I recalled a remark of Copey's—Charles Townsend Copeland's—in English 12 at Harvard: that poets wrote the best prose. I nudged him toward trying prose. I still have some pages, in his beautiful handwriting, of a novel he began that summer, which he never completed. The prose project kept our correspondence alive after he returned to England. The eventual result is an exquisite classic: "The Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man."

Some six years after I met Sassoon in Westover Court, I became a trans-Atlantic traveler myself and I often stayed with him in various houses, including Heytesbury House, in which he died. Staring at the sensitive face of the young Sassoon in The Times, as the memories crowded in, I found myself again smiling. On my first visit to London, Sassoon took me to see Sir Edmund Gosse. Gosse was perhaps the last of the great Victorians still living in London. He was of medium height, compactly built, with gray hair parted in the middle. He wore a black patch over one eye. I discovered later that he shifted this patch from eye to eye, according to mood, thereby anticipating an advertising genius by about 50 years. It was February; I stood shivering in the icy hall. Sir Edmund noticed this. "Our guest is cold," he said. "We must go into the library." The difference in temperature that was perceptible to Gosse was imperceptible to me: I shivered in the library.

Gosse had a booming voice; his sentences were beautifully designed; he took pleasure in pronouncing them. He was delighted with a method he had discovered a week before for getting away from an evening party at Buckingham Palace. "I took Lady Gosse by the arm," he said, "and started her on a round of admiring the pictures. We toured the room, admiring each picture, until our tour led us to the entrance doors. We walked through these with the abstracted air of art lovers on the quest for still more bounties. Isn't it ingenious?"

Gosse never stopped talking, Siegfried punctuating here and there with appreciative exclamations. Sassoon must have felt, finally, that I was being left out of the conversation. He made an effort to admit me.

"Mr. Behrman," he said, "has a play in London."

Gosse made a show of interest.

"Ah," he said. "Really? And who is in it?"

"Noel Coward is in it!"

"Ah! Noel Coward! That young man!"

"Do you know him?"

"Certainly I know him. I met him at dinner at Sir James Barrie's."

Somewhat satirically, Sassoon said: "Was he nice to you?"

"Nice to me! Why he fluttered round me like a butterfly around an OAK!"

The next time I went to England, Sassoon told me of another visit he had made to Gosse. Lady Gosse had just died. It was a radiantly happy marriage which lasted over 50 years. Sassoon went to pay a condolence visit. He expected to find his old friend depressed; on the contrary, he was in great form, exuberant. He jumped up from the sofa when Sassoon came in.

"Ah! Siegfried! It does me good to see you. 'The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'"

Sassoon said he was pleased to find him in such good spirits.

"At my age," said Gosse, "death becomes such a commonplace that you can't take it seriously."

The last time I saw Sassoon was in Cambridge, England, in 1952. He had just come from hearing Robert Frost, and he said that he was so moved by Frost's reading that his eyes filled with tears. That notice in The Times permitted me to do very little else that day but remember. I browsed among the books Siegfried had given me. One was a charming book of drawings: "Sketches Near Salisbury." I had come to spend my last night in England in a cottage Sassoon had taken near Salisbury. The next morning he drove me to Southampton when I boarded the Queen Mary. The book, inscribed to me, is dated:

Fitz House - 23-4-32
On Shakespeare's Birthday
Off to catch the boat

Siegfried Sassoon was one of the few men I have known who had the attribute of nobility.

I was telling the editor of a local magazine the other day about the frustrating difficulty I had getting a job after I graduated from Harvard in 1916. He said that it was very different now. "Anybody with any talent at all," he said, "is snapped up immediately after they graduate and often before they graduate. Often, they're put in jobs which are much too big for them." He told of one young man who was made book editor of an important magazine. He felt himself that he wasn't equipped for the job, but the managing editor insisted.

I have a single, vivid memory of the June day when I sat in Soldiers Field in Cambridge waiting for my degree. It is of John Singer Sargent, magnificent in his scarlet robe and bright yellow, nicotined mustache and beard, who rose to get his honorary degree, pinned on him personally by Abbot Lawrence Lowell. After Sargent and I got our degrees, I was assailed by a problem which, I am sure, did not bother Sargent, but which had for years been eroding me: what to do next? It took me 11 years to find out. I tried everywhere to get a job, went to every newspaper in New York and even to Philadelphia and Baltimore. I had some plays, but I was allowed to keep them. In desperation and financed by my older brothers, I went to Columbia to get an M.A. in English.

I took a seminar course in 19th-century French drama with Brander Matthews. He was a tall, thin man with rather wispy mutton-chop whiskers. He was an established man-of-the-world, easy and anecdotal, the friend of Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, in fact of everybody whom most people didn't know. We read a lot and heard a lot about the two most popular French playwrights of the 19th century, Scribe and Sardou. As an example of Sardou's skill as a technician—or was it Scribe's? —how quickly and easily he could establish his leading character as a sophisticated worldling, Matthews drew attention to a restaurant scene in which the protagonist enters and says casually to the head waiter, "Good evening, Henry." This established, so dexterously, that the hero knew his way around expensive restaurants.

He told us a lot about the bitter rivalry between the two playwrights. When Sardou was dying—or was it Scribe?—the doctor said to him: "Pouvez-vous siffler, Sardou?", and got the prompt reply: "Pas même siffler Scribe." He explained that siffler meant to breathe and also to hiss in the theatre.

One day I made the mistake of bringing into the small class a copy of The New Republic. Matthews looked at it and said, "I am sorry to see you wasting your time on that stuff." He was a stanch Republican and a friend of Theodore Roosevelt's. Still, Matthews was a kind man. He gave a classmate and me cards to visit the Players' Club, which thrilled us, and me an invitation to hear Henri Bergson lecture in English. I was startled by the immaculateness and the decorum of Bergson's English. When I reported this to Matthews, he said: "It is the English of a foreigner who doesn't know English only the English classics."

The M.A. degree gave me a leg up. I got a job on The Times typing up and classifying the want ads. The hours were from 3 in the afternoon to 3 in the morning. I worked on the widest machine I had ever seen; it was like driving a truck. It was safe and lovely to walk to my room on West 36th Street at 3 in the morning. I can't remember how it happened, but from the third floor I crept up to the 10th and got a job with Smyth, the editor of the Book Review. He was a kind man, and after a few months he put me in charge of the Queries & Answers column. The flood of queries about obscure Middle-Western poets began to bore me. I got the bright idea of sending myself inquisitive letters. "What has become of Ambrose Bierce?"

It turned out that Queries & Answers was Mr. Ochs's favorite column. He liked the obscure Midwestern poets; he found their view of life uplifting and salvationist. He put an end to my fascinating correspondence. The tenure I didn't have lapsed. I was confronted by the same question that hit me the day John Singer Sargent got his degree: "What to do?"

There were compensations, though not monetary, on The Times. I got to know E. M. Kingsbury, an editor. H. L. Mencken said that the best writer in America had never had his name signed to anything. He meant E. M. Kingsbury. We used to meet in a bar on 44th Street after work. He suggested a game. He would say the first line of a poem; I was to follow up with the next line. The first one to get stuck would pay for the drinks. "When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces . . ." Kingsbury's scent—as well as his memory—was much keener than mine. I paid for the drinks. But these losses were recouped in more lasting ways. E. M. Kingsbury was one of the most erudite and delightful men I have ever known. I went to see him many years later in his office at The Times. We had a warm reunion. We went to the bar; we resumed the game. Yeats this time. Kingsbury won.

The Harvard I knew was idyllic. For years I used to dream that I would wake up in Weld Hall. I still dream it occasionally. About 10 years ago I was invited to spend a week in Kirkland House, "to talk to the boys." I wished that they would talk to me, but they didn't. I expected to be needled, which would have been fun, but not at all; they were respectful.

The difference between the Cambridge I had known and the one I saw now was the difference between a small, manageable town and a swollen segment of the Boston-Washington conurbation. Exotics crowded each other in the streets—town and sari. Headmasters complained to me about the difficulties of finding apartments and the astronomical rents. Cambridge, I was told, was overcrowded and had become a very expensive place to live. I met Dr. Gaylord P. Coon, the senior college psychiatrist. I told him that in my day we had the Infirmary; that I had once spent two blissful weeks there getting over the flu, but that we had no clinic for psychiatry. I asked him how it was that we got along without it. Could it be that the proliferation of Freud's ideas and the creation of the profession of psychoanalysis had stimulated the profusion of disease? He said he didn't think so. The need had been as great in my time, but the afflicted, not knowing where to turn, had kept their secrets to themselves.

In any case, he was hard put to it to take care of the undergraduates who came to him daily. He introduced me to a new category: the Icarus-afflicted, and two classes in that: vertical and horizontal. Marathon runners, messengers in plays—horizontal; high divers, chronic fantasists—vertical. The discussion started with Dr. Merrill Moore, whom we both knew. He was Eugene O'Neill's doctor and a marathon sonneteer; he wrote sonnets by the thousands. Him, Dr. Coon classified as horizontal. I was fascinated by Dr. Coon's account of how he had, daily, in his variegated and cunning disguises, to circumvent Icarus. I got a lot out of that week at Kirkland House. Dr. Coon talked to me, even if the students wouldn't.

Should the summons come abruptly and should anyone bother to make note of it, the memorialist might say: "His last years were overshadowed by the Vietnam war." It is so. This war, which has extinguished so many lives, has darkened mine. People are encapsulated in fear, and many serious commentators doubt the durability of our political system. I have lived through many Presidencies and heard many Presidents and near-Presidents. When I was a boy in Worcester, Mass., I wandered into Mechanics' Hall to hear Dudley Field Malone booming an introduction for Woodrow Wilson. It was a noon meeting and hardly anyone was there. I was there because it was the Day of Atonement and I had an hour off from the Providence Street Synagogue. This windfall came to me because they were intoning the prayers for the dead and those whose parents were still alive were not permitted to remain. Malone—without meaning to—sounded like Hubert Humphrey. His barrage was followed by a dissertation, measured and uninflected, by Woodrow Wilson who, without meaning to, sounded like Senator McCarthy.

In the same hall I heard Eugene Debs at a meeting also very poorly attended. I have never forgotten his appearance, his fervor, his eloquence. No speaker I have ever heard gave such a quick sense of genuineness. I am sure he would have a great following if he were alive now. I heard William Jennings Bryan. He was, oddly enough, intentionally funny. He spoofed his own attempts to win the Great Prize. He told of arriving at a South American port on a gunboat. He was greeted in the harbor by a salvo of cannon shots. It sounded to him as if it had the makings of a Presidential salute. He began to count, breathlessly. He counted up to 21. "But," he lamented, "they went right on firing."

I am a registered Democrat. I've voted for Democrats all my life. (I defected only once to vote for John Lindsay. My vote is powerful; my man made it.) In due course, I voted for Lyndon Johnson. There was, in any case, no real choice. How odd that a democracy of 200 million people should be so rigid in its political habit, so unproductive and unimaginative, as to confront us with the choice it gave us in 1964.

I remember the distress with which I watched the Republican convention on television. Governor Rockefeller was howled down by the Goldwater mob in the balcony. He gave up finally with the wistful remark: "After all, this is still a free country." It wasn't at that convention. Goldwater's infamous remark—"extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice . . . moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue"—which he later tried to explain away with his customary ineptitude, was the pivotal sentence of his speech. He waited to deliver it and got the howl of approbation he knew it would get. Then came Johnson and the escalation of the Vietnam war, the repudiation of his own arguments against Goldwater. Our leaders lie to us and betray us. It is the sense of this that is behind the alienation of the young.

I quite agree with W. H. Auden when he says that writers have no special qualification for passing judgment on political matters. I agree, too, with Mary McCarthy, who says in effect that even the most distinguished writer wouldn't have the competence to be mayor of, say, Sandusky, Ohio. In Sanche de Gramont's "Epitaph for Kings" I see a quotation from Louis Madelin: "The French Revolution was caused by a group of writers who believed themselves to be thinkers." I agree with all three of them. Still, in spite of my occupational handicap, I am after all a citizen and a voter. I can't help having opinions. And I know what I dislike. I have never disliked anything as I do the Johnson Administration and the image of Johnson himself as projected in his public utterances. He has befogged the country in a miasma of cant. Eisenhower pulped the language; he made a mollusk of it, spineless and faceless. Johnson has brutalized it. "Nervous nellies." Could this be addressed to parents who do not want their sons to be killed or mangled in Vietnam? "Hang up the old coonskin." At what cost? "Does it matter losing your legs?" To say nothing of your life.

Now we are confronted by Mr. Humphrey. If I am right in believing that the country—certainly the young—seethes with moral revulsion of this war, then what on earth is the sense of considering as Mr. Johnson's successor a man who has for four years collaborated and propagandized for that war? The political columnists tell us, in extenuation of Humphrey, that he never liked or believed in the war. In what category, humanly speaking, does this leave him? No. Evidently Mr. Humphrey would rather be Vice President than right.

The unfeeling sentimentality with which our bigwig politicians talk to the people passes belief. As reported in The Times, Hubert Humphrey pressed hard on the pathos pedal in a speech in Wisconsin. He described the tears in the President's eyes when he spoke of the ordeal faced by his sons-in-law, who were going to Vietnam. Didn't it occur to Mr. Humphrey that the direct implication of this is that the President was moved to tears by the war only when it came close to home? Can it be that Mr. Johnson is a "nervous nelly"? The great reassurance, the cleansing wind, has been the emergence of Senator McCarthy. He was the first to stand up and be counted. He is courageous. The rallying to him of the young and their improvised effectiveness is thrilling. I am hoping against hope that I will be permitted to vote for him.

In the last years another reassurance has unexpectedly come my way. Seven years ago I was elected to the Board of Trustees of Clark University in Worcester, where I had been an undergraduate for two years. I never found out properly what a trustee is supposed to do. I once asked Dr. Abram L. Sachar, the president of Brandeis. He said: "A trustee is supposed to do what the president wants." This didn't help me because Howard B. Jefferson, then president of Clark, never asked me to do anything. He explained to me once the plight of the small college. "The technical colleges," he said, "can get plenty of money. You can get anything for science. But a small liberal arts college like Clark, devoted to the humanities, has tough sledding."

Though I contributed nothing, I got a great deal from these seven years as a Clark trustee. Worcester is 45 minutes from New York by plane, but those 45 minutes take you into another America. Most of the trustees come from outside Worcester: from the faculty of Radcliffe, from Florida, from all over. I have never seen a group of people who work together with such devotion and disinterestedness. Clark is their cause; their work for Clark is the animating scruple of their lives. At one meeting the choice of candidates for honorary degrees was in progress. Dr. Jefferson reported that several undergraduates had petitioned for Danny Kaye. One of the trustees inquired: "Who is Danny Kaye?" In a time when second-rate movie actors become instant statesmen, I found this cultural lag on the part of my colleague inspiriting.

The great project during the time I was there was the building of a new library, the Goddard Library, named in memory of Robert Hutchings Goddard, the pioneer in rocketry who taught for a time at Clark. His widow is now a member of the Board of Trustees. They hired a consultant, Keyes Metcalf, the great library expert. He brought in a measuring tape; he had measured the distances between chair and reading table in many libraries, and he had a precise notion of what that distance in the Goddard Library should be.

Another trustee, the wife of an important industrialist who lives in Worcester (she is now chairman of the board) has made the building of the library her pet project. She describes herself as a housewife but she is a visionary. An argument arose about the tables in a new dormitory. She opted for wood, good solid oak or pine. Those who were for vinyl or some sort of plastic objected to wood because the students would carve their initials in it. "Let 'em carve," she said. She won her point, which, as I observed, was par for the course.

Here in New York, when I get tied up in knots about Vietnam—when a dinner guest, a charming and intelligent university teacher, tells me that, after all, it is a small war and I reply, with perhaps too much heat, that for those who die in it it is as big as a war can be—I simmer down after the guest leaves and it is soothing and reassuring to think: "Well, up there in Worcester, they are measuring and planning and building a library that will nourish generations hopefully saner than ours."

A few years ago, in my mad, gay sixties, I began to work on a book. I had (even then!) begun to brood over the past. I made "a little list" of those I had known who were gone and whom, had I the power, I would most like to resurrect. The book was to be called: "Five I Miss." The five were: Chaim Weizmann, Ernst Lubitsch, Harold Ross, George Gershwin, Rudolph Kommer. The last was a singular character who was deeply loved by a few people. Alexander Woollcott once wrote a profile of him called "The Mysteries of Rudolpho." Kommer came to New York as theatrical correspondent for the Vienna Freie Presse. Later he became chef de cabinet for Max Reinhardt and arranged his American tours. Him I have made a leading character in my first and last novel. Kommer had his cards printed:

aus Czernowitz

He did this because Czernowitz, which was Rumanian from 1918 to 1940 and is now, as Chernovtsy, in the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, had a reputation for venality so pervasive that its citizens always pretended to be from somewhere else when they traveled. It was his act of defiance.

I gave the book project up; I felt that it would take too much research and run the danger of being too anecdotal. I look over some of these anecdotes now—for George Gershwin, singularly, in the week which Mayor Lindsay has designated "Gershwin Week," a felicitous choice which justifies—if it needed justification—my crucial vote for him. A night in 1926. I was walking up Broadway with George toward Child's on 59th Street. The newspapers were black with screaming headlines announcing the marriage of Irving Berlin and Ellin Mackay. We were talking about it, everyone was talking about it. George stopped, seized by a disturbing thought. He looked at me with his candid brown eyes. "You know," he said, "it's a bad thing for all song writers." I am a collector of enigmatic remarks; I have never been able to make out what this one meant. Could he have feared that there would be a mass drive on the part of all song writers to marry Ellin Mackays and that this would distract them from their work?

I see an item, too, about Ira Gershwin—happily still with us. He loved Coney Island. On a hot night, in August, about midnight, he had a compulsive wish to see Coney Island. He got a taxi and away we went. As we drove along the spangled Elysium, Ira, gazing with happiness at the electrified ferris wheel and chute-the-chute, made a large gesture. "My Deauville!" he said.

With Harold Ross I came upon another enigma, which, at the time, baffled both of us. It had to do with Ross's mother, whom he brought from Aspen, Colo., and installed m an apartment uptown. I never met her, but we heard a lot about her. For one thing she rather sniffed at The New Yorker. She demanded of her son why he wasn't on The Saturday Evening Post. One day she called him up at the office in great excitement. She was breathless. "Harold," she said, "I saw the most beautiful theater in the world last night. You've got to come with me. I'll go again just to show it to you." There was no escaping. A dutiful son, Ross went and reported to his friends. "The most beautiful theater in the world turned out to be a Loew's movie house!" He loved to tell it and his friends loved to listen.

On a Sunday not long after, I was invited to come out to Sands Point by Nicholas Schenck, the eminence grise of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; he was known to the ranks as the General. I arrived about noon and found the General at breakfast and, to my delight, Ross sitting beside him. On Ross's other side was Joseph Schenck, the General's brother. We had coffee. Neither of the Schenck brothers was a snappy conversationalist. There was a lull. I gave Ross bad advice.

"Tell them," I said, "about your mother and the most beautiful theater in the world." Ross did. He didn't get from the brothers the reaction to which he was accustomed. There was a heavy silence; Ross saw that he had made a gaffe. Finally, the General put his hand on Ross's arm and spoke in a gentle, admonitory voice, as to an erring son:

"But, my dear Harold, do you know what we've spent to redecorate that theater? Six hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars! It is the most beautiful theater in the world!"

With that the General and his brother got up and left. Ross growled at me:

"For God's sake, will you tell me what the hell we've been laughing at all this time?"

I reneged on "Five I Miss," but I am not quitting. I have been reading Montaigne for many years and have a little library about him and his times. I read, as they came out, Donald M. Frame's lucid translations and, later, his absorbing biography. Just the other day, in Andre Gide's last book, "So Be It, or The Chips Are Down," I came upon the following passage:

. . . We should particularly like to have, not so much monologues of great men, even if they were Racine and Pascal, as their conversations, discussions between Montaigne and La Boétie, rambling conversations among Racine, La Fontaine and Boileau or even with Father Bouhours, like the interview, so wonderfully noted down, of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre on a visit to Jean-Jacques. That is what would really inform us. But everything sinks into the past, even what we are taking care to note down today."

I have been wanting for a long time to write a play about Montaigne. I shall have a try even at his conversation with La Boétie. You couldn't write a play about Montaigne without writing dialogues between him and his best friend. I shall do this with the more security because Gide will never see it. No one probably will ever see it because I am not writing it for production nor even for publication. It will serve to keep me in touch, for the rest, with a sane and independent and civilized mind in a time of killing and terror—like our own.

S. N. BEHRMAN has written, among plays, "Biography" and "No Time for Comedy" and, among books, "Duveen" and "The Worcester Account."

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