(Note: Except for one sentence, this section of Burke's essay--probably one of the best portraits ever written about Chaplin--is not part David Robinson's long excerpt in Chaplin: His Life & Art)
"Absorbing him as he sat in my room or moved about it (I never study people by looking at them; I can do it better by turning my eyes from them and absorbing them) I have been aware more than once of a touch of that dark, troubled quality which people have found in those artists who message was most clear and in those whose work was most "human."
There is the warm face and soft grey hair. There are the tiniest hands I have ever seen on a man. There are the clear eyes and the full-lipped, mobile mouth, and the sweet smile, a very different smile from that which he uses for public appearances and calls his "prop" smile. The hands are for ever fluttering, the sweet smile is for ever flashing, and the gentle voice for ever sending out nervous staccato sentences. These characteristics, crystallized by his electric personality (which almost makes a room vibrate) could and do command the friendship even of those few who think they dislike him. He is (still like Dickens) a man of that fierce vitality which is in itself a sign of genius. He seems to spend his last ounce on whatever he is doing, and never at any time to have any reserves. Compared with him, the little child that lightly draws its breath, and feels its life in every limb, is a study in apathy. After a few hours with him, otherwise interesting and brilliant people seem unaccountably dull. Such cascades of talk! Such inexhaustible activity! Such exuberance of spirits--so long as there is any company. Where he was here he was anxious that I should go with him to Berlin, and then to Spain. I refused. I knew that a fortnight of proximity to that million-voltage battery would have left me a cinder. But the gaiety is not spontaneous. It could not be. Charles is a brune, and the cast of our natures is described in our complexions. The easy-going people, those who quickly make friends and are thoroughly at home in the social life, the good mixers, are the blonde. An introspective blonde is as rare as a sanguine brune. The blondes turn outward. The brunes, though more vigorous and often more healthy than the blondes, turn inward. Charles, therefore, despite his vitality, cannot escape being difficult and reserved.
He is interesting enough to listen to--he is not only a copious, but a stimulating talker, agreeably acid and aerated--but he is still more interesting to watch and absorb. His movements are as piquant and precise as a ballerina's. He is slim as a faun and as graceful; so slim and light that he seems scarcely human; and it is recognizing this that one is aware of that touch of the bizarre. Warm as his fascination is, and kind as he can be, you perceive that he is withdrawn from life. He is not much interested in people, either individually or as humanity. The spectacle of life amuses or disturbs him as an artist, but its constituents are of no account to him. There is nothing, I think, that he deeply cares about. But he fears illness."
|This photo of Chaplin accompanied an article in a 1922 issue of|
Pearson's magazine called "The Tragic Comedian."