March 20, 1915
Page 9

Chemel-roi, Once Stage Director of Opéra Comique, Also Had the Distinction of Meeting Napoleon!—His Age Now 108

A SHORT distance beyond the fortifications of Paris, in the suburb of Neuilly, there lives a famous old man I frequently visit, who was born at the Chateau of Versailles more than 108 years ago. Chemel-roi is his name—a name which held no small significance in France during the long period of his career.
When a very young man, through his remarkable fund of knowledge concerning the stage and things historical, he was appointed chef-costumier and director of the mise-en-scène at both the Opéra Comique and the Théâtre Français, and, as such, his fame extended over all Europe. Enjoying at the same time much personal popularity, because of his supreme cleverness as musician and conversationalist, he came to know all the greatest celebrities of the day.
The old man tells of Grisi, Malibran and Jennie Lind, and compares their art with that of other famous singers, whose names are quite forgotten. It is equally interesting to hear him compare the artists of the Théâtre Français of 1820-1830 with those of later periods.
The list of Chemel-roi’s acquaintances among the great painters, writers and scientists of the early part of the nineteenth century is also interesting, but his personal knowledge of Napoleon I stands out apart from all others. This privilege was brought about through a high official position held by his father.
A great influence in Chemel-roi’s early life was his friendship with Mme. de Cambon, a grande dame d'esprit of the court of Louis XVI, and to persuade him to talk of this illustrious lady is to obtain a glimpse into the eighteenth century. He also knew personally, Louis XVIII, and has on his wall a signed portrait of the King, beside those of Louis Philippe and Napoleon III.
Often, while narrating an episode with the fantastic buoyancy so characteristic of him, Chemel-roi will suddenly stop, take a deep breath, and say: “I am very tired; you understand I have lived a long time.” And a long time it is, indeed, for he played Beethoven sonatas and trios years before Beethoven died, and even had the rare distinction of meeting the composer on the occasion of his first visit to Vienna, in 1826. The time seems still longer, when one realizes that he might be said to have lived contemporaneously with old Father Haydn, since Haydn died in 1809 and Chemel-roi was born in 1807. Very certain it is, however, that he came into this world before either Schumann or Mendelssohn, and is still in it to-day and enjoying excellent health.
Some ten years ago, when a train of circumstances brought him one pecuniary difficulty after another and poverty seemed imminent, Chemel-roi was thrust mercilessly into a home for the aged, from which he made a prompt and dramatic escape. This was a crowning humiliation imposed upon him by the French government. No occurrence during all the years of his life had ever aroused in him so emphatic a protest. What he desired, and intended to have for a few years more, in defiance of all opposition, was freedom! Freedom and peace! Shutting him, Chemel-roi, off from the world in that manner at ninety-eight, was a monstrous indignity an insult to the respect due him! After so long a life of glorious activity, he wanted freedom for his “old age.”
To give one more instance of his unrelaxed clutch on life, he remarked to me one day: “You are a busy man yourself, but have you not some English or American friend who would be willing to come to me three times a week for conversation? I have never an occasion to speak English any more, and should be grieved to forget it entirely.”


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