La Follette Statue One of World's Greatest
THE OTHER DAY a young man from the Middle West landed in Paris. He had come from the ship as directly as possible and when we met him had been in the city two or three days. "Where do you go from here?" we asked in the course of conversation. "That's the big question," he replied. "My plans were to take a little jaunt through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and then to sail home from England. But I'm weakening. I'm for cutting them all out and spending my whole time in Paris. Why, I never, dreamed there was such a place," he went on, growing enthusiastic. "It's what I've longed for since my kid days without knowing exactly what I wanted." When I asked him to tell more precisely what he meant, he grew less articulate. Not that he stopped talking, though he was not the talkative type, but what he said lacked a little in coherence. It came like a series of explosions or as if he were coughing it out of the deepest recesses of his soul. Certain words he kept repeating. They were "release," "freedom," "self-confidence," "uninhibited," and the like. These he seemed literally to jam into words opposed to them, such as "repressed," "thwarted," "brow-beaten," as if he were bent upon destroying their force forever.
He said nothing about buildings, or gardens, or art gardens. It transpired that he hadn't seen anything of these as yet. Something else was on his mind and one got the purport of this well enough. It may be put in this way: "I'm sick of being watched and forced to adjust my life to the ideas of others, in Paris you are free from all that. Here a man is left to his own responsibility. If he wants to go to the devil that's his affair. And they aren't so quick to decide that that's his aim as they are in the town I come from. They don't seem to have it on their minds as they do at home. And believe me, I like the change. I could stay here a long time without half trying."
There can be no doubt that this young man expressed a very general attitude, nor that the freedom he praised accounts, to a considerable extent, for the fascination of Paris. Not for all of it. No one who has strolled in the Champs Elysees or along the Seine could dream of saying such a thing. Yet the part it plays in charming the Americans of both sexes and of all ages is not easy to exaggerate. An English writer recently explaining why American tourists much prefer Paris to the cities of his own country, gave as an important reason the fact that "Paris is the one city of all others where the lid most naturally and safely flies off."
It is unlikely that one who is no longer young when he first comes upon this phenomenon can appreciate its significance. Fears or regrets, induced by the conflict between the behavior he observes and habits he has formed, will blur his vision. Still, if it is his wont to speculate upon what he experiences he can hardly refrain from doing so in the presence of this so challenging contrast to conditions and customs familiar to him. Perhaps he may come to a new appreciation of the amount of hypocrisy which results from the unwillingness of Americans to face moral facts frankly and their refusal or, perhaps we had better say their inability, to live their lives openly before men. And he may come to the conclusion that there is something worse than disregarding a set code of right and wrong, namely, to live a life which, however correct outwardly, secretly undermine the integrity of one's personality. There seems every probability that more and more people, especially young people, will be coming abroad. One good effect of this will be, let us hope, that our whole moral outlook will become more rational, more imaginative and healthy. Perhaps that is what a professor in one of the American universities was thinking of when he wrote: "France is the one free country left in this world and therefore it must more and more become the mecca of all freedom-loving people."
We came to Paris by way of Heidelberg and the Rhine, a beautiful journey. The dress of Heidelberg was made in heaven and imported direct. Therefore it is not possible to instill into words the romantic quality of this lovely city, nestled between noble green hills, on the banks of the quiet Neckar. Most famous places fall short of expectations; there is something to be overlooked or forgotten before they can work their charm upon the visitor. Heidelberg captures at once and surpasses its image which reports had created. Perhaps this judgment is not entirely objective. To sit writing on the bank of the beautiful stream along which one loved to wander before one's serious work in life had begun, is an experience which no doubt influences the eye and the heart. Still, only one of our party had been in Heidelberg in those days and we were now unanimous in our delight.
The Rhine did not quite meet our expectations. A wonderful river, to be sure, and very beautiful stretches here and there, but as a whole the journey was just a bit monotonous. Perhaps the cold wind and the raw day had something to do with our impression, or it may be that we are not sufficiently sensitive to the effect created by ruined castles. Moreover, cities like Mainz and Koblenz were ruined for us by the presence of French, English and Belgian soldiers, thousands of them. Nearly ten years after the peace and no news yet as to exactly what the terms are on which they stay. How glad we were that our men were at home! No credit to our government is implied in this; none is deserved; yet it would have been extremely hard to have seen our soldiers occupying choice quarters in these cities or strolling in large numbers through the parks and streets. We were greatly relieved to find Bonn no longer occupied by troops. A beautiful city is Bonn and beautifully situated. And such music as we heard there! We had altered our whole plan to hear the violinist, Fritz Busch, and to attend one more Beethoven centenary, our fourth, and were richly repaid. It was in Bonn, too, that we heard of Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic. The news brought to us by a young physician who saw in it only another evidence of the great people we were. During our stay in Bonn he was constantly finding new reasons why we should be proud to be Americans. "Such a practical people," he would say, "you know how to apply your knowledge, not just spin it out into theories." His enthusiasm was really touching.
Once in France, we began to notice things we had missed before—numerous cattle in the pastures, for example. Out of the sight of buildings and the flaming red poppies one could have imagined oneself in Wisconsin. Much more building was going on than in Austria or Germany; indeed, a great deal of it was going on. And since we did not stop to look at battlefields, we saw no sign of war. Everything looked prosperous. The ride into Paris was much like riding into our American cities, through unprepossessing quarters. The sun was setting (which it does much later over here than at home) when we were swallowed up in the city we had been headed for these months.
Four weeks is quite a time to devote to one city and yet one leaves Paris reluctantly however long one stays. We missed the hood music of Germany, but on Sundays we could go to the Russian orthodox church and hear the best singing we have heard anywhere. The rugged faces one sees there! The devotion one witnesses three, not satisfied with kneeling but prostrating itself to the ground! And for the lover of art where is there a place like the Louvre? Unfortunately here as everywhere, pictures that do not touch one, outnumber by hundreds those that do. There are, however, those that do, and one goes to see them again and again. And so one takes away for life an image of that exquisite statue, the Venus de Milo, as seen against dark, purple background at the end of a long corridor, if one was fortunate enough to approach it in the right way. But there is no end.
One of our best adventures was an hour in Jo Davidson's studio. The sculptor is himself a man of rare charm and his work combines delicacy and strength to a most unusual degree. A large bust of the elder Rockefeller in natural colors is so like life as to be uncanny. There were striking plaques and beautiful modeled torsos and symbolic figures of marvelous power. In my eyes, however, the studio was dominated by the seated statue of' former Senator La Follette. There aren't really many great statues in the world. The more one sees, the more one realizes that fact. This statue will take its place, I believe, with the few. Somehow the keen intelligence, the extraordinary force of will of the Senator, have been caught. You look at it from one side and you see what a fighter he was. You look at it from another side and you are aware of his warm emotional life. And above it all you are conscious that he is rising to attack the enemies of his beloved people, to define and defend their rights. Powerful mind, great heart, unwearied devotion, it all speaks out of that mass of marble. The original is to be in the Capitol at Washington. A bronze replica of this extraordinary creation ought to stand in Madison, as an evidence of our grateful memory as well as of our artistic taste!
From Paris it is not far to London, and more people are flying over every year. Some are still courageous and cross the English Channel. They give up a good deal to make the journey in that way, and most of the courage goes along with the rest. And what a blustering day it was we chose for the crossing!