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Title: A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2
       To the Close of the 19th Century

Author: George Saintsbury

Release Date: January 22, 2009 [EBook #27872]

Language: English

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A HISTORY OF THE FRENCH NOVEL

MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited

LONDON · BOMBAY · CALCUTTA · MADRAS

MELBOURNE


THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO

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THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.

TORONTO


A HISTORY

OF THE

FRENCH NOVEL

(TO THE CLOSE OF THE 19TH CENTURY)

BY

GEORGE SAINTSBURY

M.A. AND HON. D.LITT. OXON.; HON. L.L.D. ABERD.; HON. D.LITT. DURH.; FELLOW OF THE BRITISH ACADEMY; HON. FELLOW OF MERTON COLLEGE, OXFORD; LATE PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC AND ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH

VOL. II

FROM 1800 TO 1900

MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON

1919

Sólo á veces, con un dejo
de zozobra y de ansiedad,
timido tiembla en sus labios
un viejo y triste cantar,
copla que vibre en el aire
como un toque funeral:
La Noche Buena se viene,
la Noche Buena se va!
Y nosotros nos iremos
y no volveremos más.
Carlos Fernandez Shaw,
La Balada de los Viejos.

COPYRIGHT


[Pg v]

PREFACE

"The second chantry" (for it would be absurd to keep "temple") of this work "is not like the first"; in one respect especially, which seems to deserve notice in its Preface or porch—if a chantry may be permitted a porch. In Volume I.—though many of its subjects (not quite all) had been handled by me before in more or less summary fashion, or in reviews of individual books, or in other connections than that of the novel—only Hamilton, Lesage, Marivaux, and the minor "Sensibility" men and women had formed the subjects of separate and somewhat detailed studies, wholly or mainly as novelists. The case is altered in respect of the present volume. The Essays on French Novelists, to which I there referred, contain a larger number of such studies appertaining to the present division—studies busied with Charles de Bernard, Gautier, Murger, Flaubert, Dumas, Sandeau, Cherbuliez, Feuillet. On Balzac I have previously written two papers of some length, one as an Introduction to Messrs. Dent's almost complete translation of the Comédie, with shorter sequels for each book, the other an article in the Quarterly Review for 1907. Some dozen or more years ago I contributed to an American edition[1] of translations of Mérimée by various hands, a long "Introduction"[Pg vi] to that most remarkable writer, and I had, somewhat earlier, written on Maupassant for the Fortnightly Review. One or two additional dealings of some substance with the subject might be mentioned, such as another Introduction to Corinne, but not to Delphine. These, however, and passages in more general Histories, hardly need specification.

On the other hand, I have never dealt, substantively and in detail, with Chateaubriand, Paul de Kock, Victor Hugo, Beyle, George Sand, or Zola[2] as novelists, nor with any of the very large number of minors not already mentioned, including some, such as Nodier and Gérard de Nerval, whom, for one thing or another, I should myself very decidedly put above minority. And, further, my former dealings with the authors in the first list given above having been undertaken without any view to a general history of the French novel, it became not merely proper but easy for me to "triangulate" them anew. So that though there may be more previous work of mine in print on the subjects of the present volume than on those of the last, there will, I hope, be found here actually less, and very considerably less, réchauffé—hardly any, in fact (save a few translations[3] and some passages on Gautier and Maupassant)—of the amount and character which seemed excusable, and more than excusable, in the case of the "Sensibility" chapter there. The book, if not actually a "Pisgah-sight reversed," taken from Lebanon[Pg vii] instead of Pisgah after more than forty years' journey, not in the wilderness, but in the Promised Land itself, attempts to be so; and uses no more than fairly "reminiscential" (as Sir Thomas Browne would say) notes, taken on that journey itself.

It was very naturally, and by persons of weight, put to me whether I could not extend this history to, or nearer to, the present day. I put my negative to this briefly in the earlier preface: it may be perhaps courteous to others, who may be disposed to regret the refusal, to give it somewhat more fully here. One reason—perhaps sufficient in itself—can be very frankly stated. I do not know enough of the French novel of the last twenty years or so. During the whole of that time I have had no reasons, of duty or profit, to oblige such knowledge. I have had a great many other things to do, and I have found greater recreation in re-reading old books than in experimenting on new ones. I might, no doubt, in the last year or two have made up the deficiency to some extent, but I was indisposed to do so for two, yea, three reasons, which seemed to me sufficient.

In the first place, I have found, both by some actual experiment of my own, and, as it seems to me, by a considerable examination of the experiments of other people, that to co-ordinate satisfactorily accounts of contemporary or very recent work with accounts of older is so difficult as to be nearly impossible. The foci are too different to be easily adjusted, and the result is almost always out of composition, if not of drawing.

Secondly, though I know I am here kicking against certain pricks, it does not appear to me, either from what I have read or from criticisms on what I have not, that any definitely new and decisively illustrated school of novels has arisen since the death of M. Zola.[Pg viii]

Thirdly, it would be impossible to deal with the subject, save in an absurdly incomplete fashion, without discussing living persons. To doing this, in a book, I have an unfashionable but unalterable objection. The productions of such persons, as they appear, are, by now established custom, proper subjects for "reviewing" in accordance with the decencies of literature, and such reviews may sometimes, with the same proviso, be extended to studies of their work up to date. But even these latter should, I think, be reserved for very exceptional cases.

A slight difference of method may be observed in the treatment of authors in Chapter X. and onwards, this treatment being not only somewhat less judicial and more "impressionist," but also more general and less buckrammed out with abstracts of particular works.[4] There appeared to me to be more than one reason for this, all such reasons being independent of, though by no means ignoring, the mechanical pressure of ever-lessening space. In the first place, a very much larger number of readers may be presumed to be more or less familiar with the subjects of discussion, thus not only making elaborate "statement of case" and production of supporting evidence unnecessary, but exposing the purely judicial attitude to the charge of "no jurisdiction." Moreover, there is behind all this, as it seems to me, a really important principle, which is not a mere repetition, but a noteworthy extension, of that recently laid down. I rather doubt whether the absolute historico-critical verdict and sentence can ever be pronounced on work that is, even in the widest sense, contemporary. The "firm perspective of the past" can in very few instances be acquired: and those few, who by good luck have acquired something of it, should not presume too much[Pg ix] on this gift of fortune. General opinion of a man is during his lifetime often wrong, for some time after his death almost always so: and the absolute balance is very seldom reached till a full generation—something more than the conventional thirty years—has passed. Meanwhile, though all readers who have anything critical in them will be constantly revising their impressions, it is well not to put one's own out as more than impressions. It is only a very few years since I myself came to what I may call a provisionally final estimate of Zola, and I find that there is some slight alteration even in that which, from the first, I formed of Maupassant. I can hardly hope that readers of this part of the work will not be brought into collision with expressions of mine, more frequently than was the case in the first volume or even the first part of this. But I can at least assure them that I have no intention of playing Sir Oracle, or of trailing my coat.

The actual arrangement of this volume has been the subject of a good deal of "pondering and deliberation," almost as much as Sir Thomas Bertram gave to a matter no doubt of more importance. There was a considerable temptation to recur to the system on which I have written some other literary histories—that of "Books" and "Interchapters." This I had abandoned, in the first volume, because it was not so much difficult of application as hardly relevant. Here the relevance is much greater. The single century divides itself, without the slightest violence offered, into four parts, which, if I had that capacity or partiality for flowery writing, the absence of which in me some critics have deplored, I might almost call Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. There is the season, of little positive crop but important seed-sowing,—the season in which the greater writers, Chateaubriand and Mme. de Staël, perform their office.[Pg x] Here, too, quite humble folk—Pigault-Lebrun completing what has been already dealt with, Ducray-Duminil and others doing work to be dealt with here, and Paul de Kock most of all, get the novel of ordinary life ready in various ways: while others still, Nodier, Hugo, Vigny, Mérimée, and, with however different literary value, Arlincourt, implant the New Romance. There is the sudden, magnificent, and long-continued outburst of all the kinds in and after 1830. There is the autumn of the Second Empire, continuing and adding to the fruits and flowers of summer: and there is the gradual decadence of the last quarter of the century, with some late blossoming and second-crop fruitage—the medlars of the novel—and the dying off of the great producers of the past. But the breach of uniformity in formal arrangement of the divisions would perhaps be too great to the eye without being absolutely necessary to the sense, and I have endeavoured to make the necessary recapitulation with a single "halt" of chapter-length[5] at the exact middle. It will readily be understood that the loss of my own library has been even more severely felt in this volume than in the earlier one, while circumstances, public and private, have made access to larger collections more difficult. But I have endeavoured to "make good" as much as possible, and grumbling or complaining supplies worse than no armour against Fate.

I have sometimes, perhaps rashly, during the writing of this book wondered "What next"? By luck for myself—whether also for my readers it would be ill even to wonder—I have been permitted to execute all[Pg xi] the literary schemes I ever formed, save two. The first of these (omitting a work on "Transubstantiation" which I planned at the age of thirteen but did not carry far) was a History of the English Scholastics, which I thought of some ten years later, which was not unfavoured by good authority, and which I should certainly have attempted, if other people at Oxford in my time had not been so much cleverer than myself that I could not get a fellowship. It has, strangely enough, never been done yet by anybody; it would be a useful corrective to the exoteric chatter which has sometimes recently gone by the name of philosophy; and perhaps it might shake Signor Benedetto Croce (whom it is hardly necessary to say I do not include among the "chatterers") in his opinion that though, as he once too kindly said, I am a valente letterato, I am sadly digiúno di filosofia.[6] But it is "too late a week" for this. And I have lost my library.

Then there was a History of Wine, which was actually commissioned, planned, and begun just before I was appointed to my Chair at Edinburgh, and which I gave up, not from any personal pusillanimity or loss of interest in the subject, but partly because I had too much else to do, and because I thought it unfair to expose that respectable institution to the venom of the most unscrupulous of all fanatics—those of teetotalism. I could take this up with pleasure: but I have lost my cellar.

What I should really like to do would be to translate in extenso Dr. Sommer's re-edition of the Vulgate Arthuriad.[Pg xii] But I should probably die before I had done half of it; no publisher would undertake the risk of it; and if any did, "Dora," reluctant to die, would no doubt put us both in 'prison for using so much paper. Therefore I had better be content with the divine suggestion, and not spoil it by my human failure to execute.

And so I may say, for good, Valete to the public, abandoning the rest of the leave-taking to their discretion.[7]

GEORGE SAINTSBURY.
1 Royal Crescent, Bath,
Christmas, 1918.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] It is perhaps worth while to observe that I did not "edit" this, and that I had nothing whatever to do with any part of it except the Introduction and my earlier translation of the Chronique de Charles IX, which was, I believe, reprinted in it.

[2] In very great strictness an exception should perhaps be made for notice of him, and of some others, in The Later Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh and London, 1907).

[3] There will, for pretty obvious reasons, be fewer of these than in the former volume. The texts are much more accessible; there is no difficulty about the language, such as people, however unnecessarily, sometimes feel about French up to the sixteenth century; and the space is wanted for other things. If I have kept one or two of my old ones it is because they have won approval from persons whose approval is worth having, and are now out of print: while I have added one or two others—to please myself. Translations—in some cases more than one or two—already exist, for those who read English only, of nearly the whole of Balzac, of all Victor Hugo's novels, of a great many of Dumas's, and of others almost innumerable.

[4] The chief exceptions are Dumas fils, the earliest, and Maupassant, the greatest except Flaubert and far more voluminous than Flaubert himself.

[5] The most unexpected chorus of approval with which Volume I. was received by reviewers, and which makes me think, in regard to this, of that unpleasant song of the Koreish "After Bedr, Ohod," leaves little necessity for defending points attacked. I have made a few addenda and corrigenda to Volume I. to cover exceptions, and the "Interchapter" or its equivalent should contain something on one larger matter—the small account taken here of French criticism of the novel.

[6] I wonder whether he was right, or whether the late Edward Caird was when he said, "I don't think I ever had a pupil [and he was among the first inter-collegiate-lecturers] with more of the philosophical ethos than you have. But you're too fond of getting into logical coaches and letting yourself be carried away in them." I think this was provoked by a very undergraduate essay arguing that Truth, as actually realised, was uninteresting, while the possible forms of Falsehood, as conceivably realisable in other circumstances, were of the highest interest.

[7] I have to give, not only my usual thanks to Professors Elton, Ker, and Gregory Smith for reading my proofs, and making most valuable suggestions, but a special acknowledgment to Professor Ker, at whose request Miss Elsie Hitchcock most kindly looked up for me, at the British Museum, the exact title of that striking novel of M. H. Cochin (v. inf. p. 554 note). I have, in the proper places, already thanked the authorities of the Reviews above mentioned; but I should like also to recognise here the liberality of Messrs. Rivington in putting the contents of my Essays on French Novelists entirely at my disposal. And I am under another special obligation to Dr. Hagbert Wright for giving me, of his own motion, knowledge and reading of the fresh batch of seventeenth-century novels noticed below (pp. xiv-xvi).


[Pg xiii]

ADDENDA AND CORRIGENDA FOR VOL. I

P. 13.—"The drawback of explanations is that they almost always require to be explained." Somebody, or several somebodies, must have said this; and many more people than have ever said it—at least in print—must have felt it. The dictum applies to my note on this page. An entirely well-willing reviewer thought me "piqued" at the American remark, and proceeded to intimate a doubt whether I knew M. Bédier's work, partly on lines (as to the Cantilenae) which I had myself anticipated, and partly on the question of the composition of the chansons by this or that person or class, in this or that place, at that or the other time. But I had felt no "pique" whatever in the matter, and these latter points fall entirely outside my own conception of the chansons. I look at them simply as pieces of accomplished literature, no matter how, where, in what circumstances, or even exactly when, they became so. And I could therefore by no possibility feel anything but pleasure at praise bestowed on this most admirable work in a different part of the field.

P. 38, l. 27.—A protest was made, not inexcusably, at the characterisation of Launfal as "libellous." The fault was only one of phrasing, or rather of incompleteness. That beautiful story of a knight and his fairy love is one which I should be the last man in the world to abuse as such. But it contains a libel on Guinevere which is unnecessary and offensive, besides being absolutely unjustified by any other legend, and inconsistent with her whole character. It is of this only that I spoke the evil which it deserves. If I had not, by mere oversight, omitted notice of Marie de France (for which I can offer no excuse except the usual one of hesitation in which place to put it and so putting it nowhere), I should certainly have left no doubt as to my opinion of Thomas Chester likewise. Anybody who wants this may find it in my Short History of English Literature, p. 194.

P. 55, l. 3.—Delete comma at "French."

P. 60, l. 6.—Insert "and" between "half" and "illegitimate."

P. 72, l. 4.—I have been warned of the "change-over" in "Saracen" and "Christian"—a slip of the pen which I am afraid I have been guilty of before now, though I have known the story for full forty years. But Floire, though a "paynim," was not exactly a "Saracen."[Pg xiv]

P. 75, l. 2 from bottom.—For "his" read "their."

Pp. 158-163.—When the first proofs of the present volume had already begun to come in, Dr. Hagbert Wright informed me that the London Library had just secured at Sotheby's (I believe partly from the sale of Lord Ellesmere's books) a considerable parcel of early seventeenth-century French novels. He also very kindly allowed me perusal of such of these as I had not already noticed (from reading at the B. M.) in Vol. I. Of some, if not all of them, on the principle stated in the Preface of that vol., I may say something here. There is the Histoire des Amours de Lysandre et de Caliste; avec figures, in an Amsterdam edition of 1679, but of necessity some sixty years older, since its author, the Sieur d'Audiguier, was killed in 1624. He says he wrote it in six months, during three and a half of which he was laid up with eight sword-wounds—things of which it is itself full, with the appurtenant combats on sea and land and in private houses, and all sorts of other divertisements (he uses the word himself of himself) including a very agreeable ghost-host—a ghost quite free from the tautology and grandiloquence which ghosts too often affect, though not so poetical as Fletcher's. "They told me you were dead," says his guest and interlocutor, consciously or unconsciously quoting the Anthology. "So I am," quoth the ghost sturdily. But he wants, as they so often do, to be buried. This is done, and he comes back to return thanks, which is not equally the game, and in fact rather bores his guest, who, to stop this jack-in-the-box proceeding, begins to ask favours, such as that the ghost will give him three days' warning of his own death. "I will, if I can," says the Appearance pointedly. The fault of the book, as of most of the novels of the period, is the almost complete absence of character. But there is plenty of adventure, in England as well as in France, and it must be one of the latest stories in which the actual tourney figures, for Audiguier writes as of things contemporary and dedicates his book to Marie de Medicis.

Cléon ou le Parfait Confidant (Paris, 1665), and Hattigé ou Les Amours au Roy de Tamaran (Cologne, 1676), the first anonymous, the second written by a certain G. de Brimond, and dedicated to an Englishman of whom we are not specially proud—Harry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans—are two very little books, of intrinsic importance and interest not disproportioned to their size. They have, however, a little of both for the student, in reference to the extension of the novel kind. For Cléon is rather like a "fictionising" of an inferior play of Moliere's time; and Hattigé, with its privateering Chevalier de Malte for a hero and its Turkish heroine who coolly remarks "L'infidélité a des charmes," might have been better if the author had known how to make it so. Both these books have, as has been said, the merit of shortness. Puget de la Serre's La Clytié de la Cour (2 vols., Paris, 1635) cannot plead even this; for it fills two fat volumes of some 1500 pages. I have sometimes been accused, both in France and in England, of unfairness to Boileau, but I should certainly never quarrel[Pg xv] with him for including La Serre (not, however, in respect of this book, I think) among his herd of dunces. Like most of the novels of its time, though it has not much actual bergerie about it, it suggests the Astrée, but the contrast is glaring. Even among the group, I have seldom read, or attempted to read, anything duller. Le Mélante du Sieur Vidal (Paris, 1624), though also somewhat wordy (it has 1000 pages), is much more Astréean, and therefore, perhaps, better. Things do happen in it: among other incidents a lover is introduced into a garden in a barrow of clothes, though he has not Sir John Falstaff's fate. There are fresh laws of love, and discussions of them; a new debate on the old Blonde v. Brunette theme, which might be worse, etc. etc. The same year brought forth Les Chastes Amours d'Armonde by a certain Damiron, which, as its title may show, belongs rather to the pre-Astréean group (v. sup. Vol. I. p. 157 note), and contains a great deal of verse and (by licence of its title) a good deal of kissing; but is flatly told, despite not a little Phébus. It is a sort of combat of Spiritual and Fleshly Love; and Armonde ends as a kind of irregular anchorite, having previously "spent several days in deliberating the cut of his vestments."

Les Caprices Héroïques (Paris, 1644) is a translation, by Chateaunières de Grenaille, from the Italian of Loredano. It consists of variations on classical stories, treated rather in the declamation manner, and ranging in subject from Achilles to "Friné." How many readers (at least among those who read with their eyes only) will affirm on their honour that they identified "Friné" at first reading? In Italian there would, of course, be less hesitation. The book is not precisely a novel, but it has merits as a collection of rhetorical exercises. Of a somewhat similar kind, though even further from the strict novel standard, is the Diverses Affections de Minerve (Paris, 1625) of the above-mentioned Audiguier, where the heroine is not the goddess, and all sorts of places and personages, mythological, classical, historic, and modern, compose a miraculous macédoine, Brasidas jostling Gracchus, and Chabrias living in the Faubourg Saint-Martin. This is a sort of story, but the greatest part of the volume as it lies before me is composed of Lettres Espagnoles, Epîtres Françaises, Libres Discours, etc.

We can apparently return to the stricter romance, such as it is, with the Histoire Asiatique of the Sieur de Gerzan (Paris, 1633), but it is noteworthy that the title-page of this ballasts itself by an "Avec un Traité du Trésor de la Vie Humaine et La Philosophie des Dames." I confess that, as in the case of most of the books here mentioned, I have not read it with the care I bestowed on the Cyrus. But I perceive in it ladies who love corsairs, universal medicines, poodles who are sacrificed to save their owners, and other things which may tempt some. And I can, by at least sampling, rather recommend Les Travaux du Prince Inconnu (Paris, 1633) by the Sieur de Logeas. It calls itself, and its 700 pages, the completion of two earlier performances, the Roman Historique and the Histoire des Trois Frères Princes de[Pg xvi] Constantinople, which have not come in my way. There is, however, probably no cause to regret this, for the author assures us that his new work is "as far above the two former in beauty as the sun is above the stars." If any light-minded person be disposed to scoff at him for this, let it be added that he has the grace to abstract the whole in the Avis au Lecteur which contains the boast, and to give full chapter-headings, things too often wanting in the group. The hero is named Rosidor, the heroine Floralinde; and they are married with "la réjouissance générale de toute la Chrétienté." What can mortals ask for more?

Polémire ou l'Illustre Polonais (Paris, 1647), is dedicated to no less a person than Madame de Montbazon, and contains much piety, a good deal of fighting, and some verse. L'Amour Aventureux (Paris, 1623), by the not unknown Du Verdier, is a book with Histoires, and I am not sure that the volume I have seen contains the whole of it. L'Empire de l'Inconstance (Paris, 1635), by the Sieur de Ville, and published "at the entry of the little gallery of Prisoners under the sign of the Vermilion Roses," has a most admirable title to start with, and a table of over thirty Histoires, a dozen letters, and two "amorous judgments" at the end. Les Fortunes Diverses de Chrysomire et de Kalinde (Paris, 1635), by a certain Humbert, blazons "love and war" on its very title-page, while Celandre (Paris, 1671), a much later book than most of these, has the rather uncommon feature of a single name for title. Thirty or forty years ago I should have taken some pleasure in "cooking" this batch of mostly early romances into a twenty-page article which, unless it had been unlucky, would have found its way into some magazine or review. Somebody might do so now. But I think it sufficient, and not superfluous, to add this brief sketch here to the notices of similar things in the last volume, in order to show how abundant the crop of French romance—of which even these are only further samples—was at the time.

P. 231, l. 9 from bottom.—Add 's (Herman sla lerman's).

P. 237, note 2, l. 1.—For "revision" read "revisal."

P. 241, 2nd par., last line but two.—For "But" read "Still."

P. 278, l. 7 from bottom.—Delete comma at "Thackeray's."

P. 286, l. 18.—It occurred to me (among the usual discoveries which one makes in reading one's book after it has passed the irremeable press) that I ought to have said "Planchet's" horse, not "D'Artagnan's." True, as a kindly fellow-Alexandrian (who had not noticed the slip) consoled my remorse by saying, the horse was D'Artagnan's property; but the phrase usually implies riding at the moment. And Aramis, brave as he was, would have been sure to reflect that to play a feat of possibly hostile acrobatism on the Gascon, without notice, might be a little dangerous.

P. 304, ll. 4 and 7.—Shift "with his wife and mistress" to l. 4, reading "the relations with his wife and mistress of that Henri II.," etc.

P. 314, l. 12 from bottom.—For "usual" read "common" (common norm.)[Pg xvii]

P. 338, l. 21.—Delete "in" before "among."

P. 381.—One or two reviewers and some private correspondents have expressed surprise at my not knowing, or at any rate not mentioning, the late Professor Morley's publication of Rasselas and a translation of Candide together. I cannot say positively whether I knew of it or not, though I must have done so, having often gone over the lists of that editor's numerous "libraries" to secure for my students texts not overlaid with commentary. But I can say very truthfully that no slight whatever was intended, in regard to a scholar who did more than almost any other single man to "vulgarise" (in the wholly laudable sense of that too often degraded word) the body of English literature. Only, such a book would not have been what I was thinking of. To bring out the full contrast-complement of these two strangely coincident masterpieces, both must be read in the originals. Paradoxically, one might even say that a French translation of Johnson, with the original of Voltaire, would show it better than the converse presentment. Candide is so intensely French—it is even to such an extent an embodiment of one side of Frenchness—that you cannot receive its virtues except through the original tongue. I am personally fond of translating; I have had some practice in it; and some good wits have not disapproved some of my efforts. But, unless I knew that in case of refusal I should be ranked as a Conscientious Objector, I would not attempt Candide. The French would ring in my ears too reproachfully.

P. 396, last line.—Shift comma from after to before "even."

P. 399, l. 10.—For "Rousseau" read "his author."

P. 424, note, first line.—Delete quotes before "The."

P. 453, l. 15.—For "Courray" read "Couvray."

P. 468, l. 17.—For "France has" read "France had."

P. 477.—In the original preface I apologised—not in the idle hope of conciliating one kind of critic, but out of respect for a very different class—for slips due to the loss of my own library, and to the difficulty (a difficulty which has now increased owing to circumstances of no public interest, in respect of the present volume) of consulting others in regard to small matters of fact. I have very gratefully to acknowledge that I found the latter class very much larger than the former. Such a note as that at Vol. I. p. xiii, will show that I have not spared trouble to ensure accuracy. The charge of inaccuracy can always be made by anybody who cares to take "the other authority." This has been done in reference to the dates of Prévost's books. But I may perhaps say, without outrecuidance, that there is an Art de négliger les dates as well as one de les verifier. For the purposes of such a history as this it is very rarely of the slightest importance, whether a book was published in the year one or the year three: though the importance of course increases when units pass into decades, and becomes grave where decades pass into half-centuries. Unless you can collate actual first editions in every case (and sometimes even then) dates of books as given are always second-hand. In reference to[Pg xviii] the same subject I have also been rebuked for not taking account of M. Harrisse's correction of the legend of Prévost's death. As a matter of fact I knew but had forgotten it, and it has not the slightest importance in connection with Prévost's work. Besides, somebody will probably, sooner or later, correct M. Harrisse. These things pass: Manon Lescaut remains.


[Pg xix]

ADDENDA AND CORRIGENDA FOR VOL. II

P. 65.—A reviewer of my first volume, who objected to my omission there of Madame de Charrières, may possibly think that omission made more sinful by the admission of Madame de Montolieu. But there seems to me to be a sufficient distinction between the two cases. Isabella Agnes Elizabeth Van Tuyll (or, as she liked to call herself, Belle de Zuylen), subsequently Madame de Saint-Hyacinthe de Charrières (how mellifluously these names pass over one's tongue!), was a very interesting person, and highly characteristic of the later eighteenth century. I first met with her long ago (see Vol. I. p. 443) in my "Sensibility" researches, as having, in her maturer years, played that curious, but at the time not uncommon, part of "Governess in erotics" to Benjamin Constant, who was then quite young, and with whose uncle, Constant d'Hermenches, she had, years earlier and before her own marriage, carried on a long and very intimate but platonic correspondence. This is largely occupied with oddly business-like discussions of marriage schemes for herself, one of the prétendants being no less a person than our own precious Bozzy, who met her on the Continental tour for which Johnson started him at Harwich. But—and let this always be a warning to literary lovers—the two fell out over a translation of the Corsica book which she began. Boswell was not the wisest of men, especially where women were concerned. But even he might have known that, if you trust the bluest-eyed of gazelles to do such things for you, she will probably marry a market-gardener. (He seems also to have been a little afraid of her superiority of talent, v. his letters to Temple and his Johnson, pp. 192-3, Globe Ed.)

Besides these, and other genuine letters, she wrote not a few novels, concocted often, if not always, in epistolary form. Their French was so good that it attracted Sainte-Beuve's attention and praise, while quite recently she has had a devoted panegyrist and editor in Switzerland, where, after her marriage, she was domiciled. But (and here come the reasons for the former exclusion) she learnt her French as a foreign language. She was French neither by birth nor by extraction, nor, if I do not mistake, by even temporary residence, though she did stay in England for a considerable time. Some of these points distinguish her from Hamilton as others do from Madame de Montolieu. If I put her in, I do not quite see how I could leave Beckford out.

P. 400, ll. 2, 3.—For "1859 ... 1858" read "1857—a year, with its successors 1858 and 1859,"


[Pg xxi]

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

PAGE

Madame de Staël and Chateaubriand 1

Reasons for beginning with Mme. de Staël—Delphine—The tone—The story—Corinne—Its improved conditions—An illustrated edition of it—The story—The character of Nelvil—And the book's absurdities—Compensations: Corinne herself—Nelvil again—Its aesthetics—The author's position in the History of the Novel—Chateaubriand: his peculiar position as a novelist—And the remarkable interconnection of his works in fiction—AtalaRené—Difference between its importance and its merit—Les NatchezLes Martyrs—The story—Its "panoramic" quality—And its remarkable advance in style—Chateaubriand's Janus-position in this—Illustrated.

CHAPTER II

Paul de Kock, other minors of 1800-1830, and Nodier 39

The fate of popular minor novelists—Examples of them—Paul de Kock—L'Enfant de ma FemmePetits Tableaux de MœursGustave—The caricatured AnglaisEdmond et sa CousineAndré le SavoyardJeanLa Femme, le Mari et l'AmantMon Voisin RaymondLe Barbier de Paris—The Pauline grisette—Others—The minors before 1830—Mme. de Montolieu: Caroline de Lichtfield—Its advance on "Sensibility"—Madame de Genlis iterum—The minor popular novel—Ducray-Duminil: Le Petit Carillonneur—V. Ducange—L'Artiste et le SoldatLudovica—Auguste Ricard: L'Ouvreuse de Loges—The importance of these minors not inconsiderable—The Vicomte d'Arlincourt: Le Solitaire—Nodier—His short stories—TrilbyLe Songe d'Or—The minors—La Fée aux MiettesSmarra and Sœur BéatrixInès de las Sierras—Nodier's special quality.

[Pg xxii] CHAPTER III

Victor Hugo 96

Limitations—Han d'IslandeBug-JargalLe Dernier Jour d'un CondamnéClaude GueuxNotre-Dame de Paris—The story easy to anticipate—Importance of the actual title—The working out of the one under the other—The story recovers itself latterly—But the characters?—The thirty years' interval—Les MisérablesLes Travailleurs de la Mer—The genius loci—Guernsey at the time—L'Homme Qui RitQuatre-Vingt-Treize—Final remarks.

CHAPTER IV

Beyle and Balzac 133

Beyle: his peculiarity—ArmanceLa Chartreuse de Parme—The Waterloo episode—The subject and general colour—L'Abbesse de Castro, etc.—Le Rouge et le Noir—Beyle's masterpiece, and why—Julien Sorel and Mathilde de la Mole—The resuscitated work: Lamiel—The Nouvelles InéditesLe Chasseur Vert—Beyle's place in the story—Balzac: conditions of the present dealing—Limitations of subject—And of Balzac himself—Balzac's "general ideas"—Abstinence from abstract—The Œuvres de JeunesseLes ChouansLa Peau de Chagrin—The short stories—The Contes Drolatiques—Notes on select larger books: Eugénie GrandetLe Père Goriot and Les Parents Pauvres—Others: the general "scenic" division—"Balzacity": its constitution—Its effect on successors—And its own character—The "occult" element—Its action and reaction—Peculiarity of the conversation—And of the "story" interest.

CHAPTER V

George Sand 176

George Sand: generalities about her—Note on Elle et Lui, etc., and on Un Hiver à Majorque—Phases of her work—IndianaValentineLélia—The moral of the group and its tragi-comedy—Consuelo—Much better in parts—The degeneration—Recovery; but not maintained quite to the end—La Comtesse de Rudolstadt—The "making good" of Lucrezia Floriani—The story—Its balance of power—The "Idylls": La Petite FadetteLa Mare au DiableFrançois le Champi—Others: MaupratLa DaniellaLes Beaux Messieurs de Bois-DoréLe Marquis de VillemerMlle. La QuintinieFlamarande—Summary and judgment—Style—Conversation and description.

[Pg xxiii] CHAPTER VI

The Novel of Style—Gautier, Mérimée, Gérard de Nerval,
Musset, Vigny
208

Gautier: his burden of "style"—Abstract (with translations) of La Morte Amoureuse—Criticism thereof—A parallel from painting—The reality—And the passion of it—Other short stories—Gautier's humour: Les Jeune-France—Return to Fortunio—And others—Longer books: Le Capitaine Fracasse and others—Mlle. De> Maupin—Mérimée—Carmen—Colomba—Its smaller companions: Mateo Falcone, etc.—Those of Carmen; Arsène Guillot—And L'Abbé AubainLa Prise de la Redoute—The Dernières Nouvelles; Il Viccolo di Madama LucreziaDjoumaneLokisLa Chambre Bleue—The Chronique de Charles IX—The semi-dramatic stories: La JacquerieLe Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement, etc.—Musset: charm of his dramatised stories; his pure narration unsuccessful—Frédéric et BerneretteLes Deux Maîtresses, Le Fils du Titien, etc.—Emmeline—Gérard de Nerval: his peculiar position—La Bohême Galante, Les Filles du Feu, and Le Rêve et la Vie—Their general character—Particular examples—Aurélia—And especially Sylvie—Alfred de Vigny: Cinq-Mars—The faults in its general scheme—And in its details—Stello less of a novel, but containing better novel-stuff—Its framework and "anecdotes"—The death of Gilbert—The satiric episode: contrast—The Chatterton part—The tragedy of André Chénier—Servitude et Grandeur Militaires—The first story—The second—and third—The moral of the three—Note on Fromentin's Dominique: its altogether exceptional character.

CHAPTER VII

The Minors of 1830 281

Sainte-Beuve: Volupté—Its "puff-book"—Itself—Its character in various aspects—Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard—Sandeau's work—Bernard's—Sue, Soulié, and the novel of melodrama: Le Juif Errant, etc.—Melodramatic fiction generally—Le Château des PyrénéesLe Mémoires du Diable—Later writers and writings of the class—Murger—The Vie de BohêmeLes Buveurs d'Eau and the Miscellanies—Reybaud: Jérôme Paturot, and Thackeray on its earlier part—The windfall of Malvina—The difference of the Second Part—Not much of a novel—But an invaluable document—Méry—Les Nuits Anglaises—The minor stories—Histoire d'une Colline—The "Manchester" article—Karr—Roger de Beauvoir: Les Cabaret des Morts—Ourliac: Contes du Bocage—Achard—Souvestre, Féval, etc.—Borel's Champavert.

[Pg xxiv] CHAPTER VIII

Dumas the Elder 323

The case of Dumas—Charge and discharge—Morality—Plagiarism and devilling—The collaborators?—The positive value as fiction and as literature of the books: the less worthy works—The worthier: treatment of them not so much individually as under heads—His attitude to plot—To character—To description (and "style")—To conversation.

CHAPTER IX

The French Novel in 1850 343

The peculiarity of the moment—A political nadir—And almost a literary zenith—The performance of the time in novel—The personnel—The kinds: the historical novel—Appearance of new classes: the historical—Other kinds and classes—The Novel of Romanticism generally—The "ordinary"—Discussion on a point of general novel criticism.

CHAPTER X

Dumas the Younger 365

Division of future subjects—A confession—His general character—La Dame aux CaméliasTristan le RouxAntonineLa Vie à Vingt AnsAventures de Quatre FemmesTrois Hommes FortsDiane de Lys—Shorter stories: Une Loge à CamilleLe Docteur ServansLe Roman d'une Femme—The habit of quickening up at the end—Contes et NouvellesIlkaRevenantsSophie PrintempsAffaire Clémenceau—Story of it—Criticism of it and of its author's work generally—Note on Dumas fils' drama, etc.—Reflections.

CHAPTER XI

Gustave Flaubert 397

The contrast of Flaubert and Dumas fils—Some former dealings with him—His style—The books: Madame BovarySalammbôL'Éducation SentimentaleLa Tentation de Saint-AntoineTrois ContesBouvard et Pécuchet—General considerations.

[Pg xxv] CHAPTER XII

The other "Non-Naturals" of the Second Empire 414

Feuillet—His novels generally—Brief notes on some: Le Roman d'un jeune homme pauvreM. de Camors—Other books—La Petite ComtesseJulia de TrécœurHonneur d'ArtisteLa Morte—Misters the assassins—Alphonse Daudet and his curious position—His "personality"—His books from this point of view and others—His "plagiarisms"—His merits—About: Le Roi des MontagnesTollaGermaineMadelonMaître Pierre, etc.—Summing up—Ponson du Terrail and Gaboriau—The first: his general character—The second—L'Affaire Lerouge—Feydeau: SylvieFanny—Others: Daniel—Droz—Mr., Mme. et Bébé and Entre Nous—Cherbuliez—His general characteristics—Short survey of his books—Three eccentrics—Léon Cladel: Les Va-nu-pieds, etc.—Barbey d'Aurevilly: his criticism of novels—His novels themselves: Les Diaboliques and others—His merits—And defects—Especially as shown in L'Ensorcelée—Champfleury—Les Excentriques.

CHAPTER XIII

Naturalism—The Goncourts, Zola, and Maupassant 459

The beginnings—"Les deux Goncourts"—Their work—The novels—Germinie Lacerteux and Chérie taken as specimens—The impression produced by them—The rottenness of their theory—And the unattractiveness of their style—Émile Zola to be treated differently—Some points in his personality: literary and other—The Pillars of Naturalism—"Document" and "detail" before Naturalism—General stages traced—Some individual pioneers; especially Hugo—Survey of books: the short stories—"Les Rougon-Macquart"—"Les Trois Villes"—"Les Quatre Évangiles"—General considerations—Especially in regard to character—[Maupassant]—Bel-AmiUne VieFort comme la MortPierre et JeanNotre CœurLes Dimanches, etc.—Yvette—Short stories: the various collections—Classes: stories of 1870-71—Norman stories—Algerian and Sporting—Purely comic—Tragic—Tales of Life's Irony—Oddments—General considerations—Huysmans—Belot and others.

CHAPTER XIV

Other Novelists of 1870-1900 518

The last stage—Ferdinand Fabre—L'Abbé> TigraneNorine, etc.—Le Marquis de Pierrerue [Pg xxvi]Mon Oncle CélestinLuciferSylviane and TailleventToussaint Galabru—André Theuriet—SauvageonneLe Fils MaugarsLe Don Juan de Vireloup and Raymonde—General characteristics—Georges Ohnet—Serge PanineLe Maître de ForgesLe Docteur RameauLa Grande Marnière—Reflections—Édouard Rod—La Vie Privée de Michel TeissierLa Sacrifiée—Note on La Seconde Vie de M. T.Le SilenceLà-HautLa Course à la MortLe Ménage du Pasteur NaudiéMademoiselle AnnetteL'Eau CouranteScènes de la Vie Cosmopolite—Catulle Mendès.

Conclusion 556

Appendix 571

Index 577


[Pg 1]

CHAPTER I

MADAME DE STAËL AND CHATEAUBRIAND

Reasons for beginning with Mme. de Staël.

It has often been thought, and sometimes said, that the period of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic wars—extending as it does strictly to more than a quarter of a century, while four decades were more than completed before a distinct turn of tide—is, for France, the least individual and least satisfactorily productive time in all her great literature. And it is, to a large extent, true. But the loss of individuality implies the presence of indiscernibility; and not to go out of our own department, there are at least three writers who, if but partially, cancel this entry to discredit. Of one of them—the lowest in general literature, if not quite in our division of it—Pigault-Lebrun—we have spoken in the last volume. The other two—much less craftsmanlike novelists merely as such, but immeasurably greater as man and woman of letters—remain for discussion in the first chapter of this. In pure chronological order Chateaubriand should come first, as well as in other "ranks" of various kinds. But History, though it may never neglect, may sometimes overrule Chronology by help of a larger and higher point of view: sex and birth hardly count here, and the departmental primes the intrinsic literary importance. Chateaubriand, too, was a little younger than Madame de Staël in years, though his actual publication, in anything like our kind, came before hers. And he reached much farther[Pg 2] than she did, though curiously enough some of his worst faults were more of the eighteenth century than hers. She helped to finish "Sensibility"; she transformed "Philosophism" into something more modern; she borrowed a good deal (especially in the region of aesthetics) that was to be importantly germinal from Germany. But she had practically nothing of that sense of the past and of the strange which was to rejuvenate all literature, and which he had; while she died before the great French Romantic outburst began. So let us begin with her.[8]

Delphine.

"This dismal trash, which has nearly dislocated the jaws of every critic who has read it," was the extremely rude judgment pronounced by Sydney Smith on Madame de Staël's Delphine. Sydney was a good-natured person and a gentleman, nor had he, merely as a Whig, any reason to quarrel with the lady's general attitude to politics—a circumstance which, one regrets to say, did in those days, on both sides, rather improperly qualify the attitude of gentlemen to literary ladies as well as to each other. It is true that the author of Corinne and of Delphine itself had been rather a thorn in the side of the English Whigs by dint of some of her opinions, by much of her conduct, and, above all, by certain peculiarities which may be noticed presently. But Sydney, though a Whig, was not "a vile Whig," for which reason the Upper Powers, in his later years, made him something rather indistinguishable from a Tory. And that blunt common sense, which in his case cohabited with the finest uncommon wit, must have found[Pg 3] itself, in this instance, by no means at variance with its housemate in respect of Anne Germaine Necker.

There are many worse books than Delphine. It is excellently written; there is no bad blood in it; there is no intentional licentiousness; on the contrary, there are the most desperate attempts to live up to a New Morality by no means entirely of the Wiggins kind. But there is an absence of humour which is perfectly devastating: and there is a presence of the most disastrous atmosphere of sham sentiment, sham morality, sham almost everything, that can be imagined. It was hinted in the last volume that Madame de Staël's lover, Benjamin Constant, shows in one way the Nemesis of Sensibility; so does she herself in another. But the difference! In Adolphe a coal from the altar of true passion has touched lips in themselves polluted enough, and the result is what it always is in such, alas! rare cases, whether the lips were polluted or not. In Delphine there is a desperate pother to strike some sort of light and get some sort of heat; but the steel is naught, the flint is clay, the tinder is mouldy, and the wood is damp and rotten. No glow of brand or charcoal follows, and the lips, untouched by it, utter nothing but rhetoric and fustian and, as the Sydneian sentence speaks it, "trash."[9]

The tone.

In fact, to get any appropriate metaphorical description of it one has to change the terminology altogether. In a very great line Mr. Kipling has spoken of a metaphorical ship—

With a drogue of dead convictions to keep her head to gale.

Madame de Staël has cast off not only that drogue, but even the other and perhaps commoner floating ballast and steadier of dead conventions, and is trying to beat up against the gale by help of all sorts of jury-masts and extemporised try-sails of other new conventions that are mostly blowing out of[Pg 4] the bolt-ropes. We said that Crébillon's world was an artificial one, and one of not very respectable artifice. But it worked after a fashion; it was founded on some real, however unrespectable, facts of humanity; and it was at least amusing to the naughty players on its stage to begin with, and long afterwards to the guiltless spectators of the commonty. In Delphine there is not a glimmer of amusement from first to last, and the whole story is compact (if that word were not totally inapplicable) of windbags of sentiment, copy-book headings, and the strangest husks of neo-classic type-worship, stock character, and hollow generalisation. An Italian is necessarily a person of volcanic passions; an Englishman or an American (at this time the identification was particularly unlucky) has, of equal necessity, a grave and reserved physiognomy. Orthodox religion is a mistake, but a kind of moral-philosophical Deism (something of the Wolmar type) is highly extolled. You must be technically "virtuous" yourself, even if you bring a whole second volume of tedious tortures on you by being so; but you may play Lady Pandara to a friend who is a devout adulteress, may force yourself into her husband's carriage when he is carrying her off from one assignation, and may bring about his death by contriving another in your own house. In fact, the whole thing is topsy-turvy, without the slightest touch of that animation and interested curiosity which topsy-turviness sometimes contributes. But perhaps one should give a more regular account of it.

The story.

Delphine d'Albémar is a young, beautiful, rich, clever, generous, and, in the special and fashionable sense, extravagantly "sensible" widow, who opens the story (it is in the troublesome epistolary form) by handing over about a third of her fortune to render possible the marriage of a cousin of her deceased husband. This cousin, Matilde de Vernon, is also beautiful and accomplished, but a dévote, altogether well-regulated and well-conducted, and (though it turns out that she has strong and permanent affections) the reverse[Pg 5] of "sensible"—in fact rather hard and disagreeable—in manner. She has a scheming mother, who has run herself deeply, though privately, into debt, and the intended husband and son-in-law, Léonce de Mandeville, also has a mother, who is half Spanish by blood and residence, and wholly so (according to the type-theory above glanced at) in family pride, personal morgue, and so forth. A good deal of this has descended to her son, with whom, in spite or because of it, Delphine (she has not seen him before her rash generosity) proceeds to fall frantically in love, as he does with her. The marriage, however, partly by trickery on Madame de Vernon's part, and partly owing to Delphine's more than indiscreet furthering of her friend Madame d'Ervin's intrigue with the Italian M. de Serbellane, does take place, and Mme. de Staël's idea of a nice heroine makes her station Delphine in a white veil, behind a pillar of the church, muttering reproaches at the bridegroom. No open family rupture, however, is caused; on the contrary, a remarkable and inevitably disastrous "triple arrangement" follows (as mentioned above), for an entire volume, in which the widow and the bridegroom make despairing love to each other, refraining, however, from any impropriety, and the wife, though suffering (for she, in her apparently frigid way, really loves her husband), tolerates the proceeding after a fashion. This impossible and preposterous situation is at last broken up by the passion and violence of another admirer of Delphine—a certain M. de Valorbe. These bring about duels, wounds, and Delphine's flight to Switzerland, where she puts up in a convent with a most superfluous and in every way unrefreshing new personage, a widowed sister of Madame de Mandeville. Valorbe follows, and, to get hold of Delphine, machinates one of the most absurd scenes in the whole realm of fiction. He lures her into Austrian territory and a chamber with himself alone, locks the door and throws the key out of the window,[10] storms,[Pg 6] rants, threatens, but proceeds to no voie de fait, and merely gets himself and the object of his desires arrested by the Austrians! He thus succeeds, while procuring no gratification for himself, in entirely demolishing the last shred of reputation which, virtuous as she is in her own way, Delphine's various eccentricities and escapades have left her; and she takes the veil. In the first form the authoress crowned this mass of absurdities with the suicide of the heroine and the judicial shooting of the hero. Somebody remonstrated, and she made Delphine throw off her vows, engage herself to Léonce (whose unhappy wife has died from too much carrying out of the duty of a mother to her child), and go with him to his estates in La Vendée, where he is to take up arms for the king. Unfortunately, the Vendéans by no means "see" their seigneur marrying an apostate nun, and strong language is used. So Delphine dies, not actually by her own hand, and Léonce gets shot, more honourably than he deserves, on the patriot-royalist side.

Among the minor characters not yet referred to are an old-maid sister-in-law of Delphine's, who, though tolerably sensible in the better sense, plays the part of confidante to her brother's mijaurée of a widow much too indulgently; a M. Barton, Léonce's mentor, who, despite his English-looking name, is not (one is glad to find) English, but is, to one's sorrow, one of the detestable "parsons-in-tie-wigs" whom French Anglomania at this time foisted on us as characteristic of England; a sort of double of his, M. de Lerensei, a Protestant free-thinker, who, with his divorcée wife, puts up grass altars in their garden with inscriptions recording the happiness of their queer union; an ill-natured Mme. du Marset and her old cicisbeo, M. de Fierville, who suggest, in the dismallest way, the weakest wine of Marmontel gone stale and filtered through the dullest, though not the dirtiest, part of Laclos.

Yet the thing, "dismal trash" as Sydney almost justly called it, is perhaps worth reading once (nothing[Pg 7] but the sternest voice of duty could have made me read it twice) because of the existence of Corinne, and because also of the undoubted fact that, here as there, though much more surprisingly, a woman of unusual ability was drawing a picture of what she would have liked to be—if not of what she actually thought herself.[11] The borrowed beauty goes for nothing—it were indeed hard if one did not, in the case of a woman of letters, "let her make her dream All that she would," like Tennyson's Prince, but in this other respect. The generosity, less actually exaggerated, might also pass. That Delphine makes a frantic fool of herself for a lover whose attractions can only make male readers shrug their shoulders—for though we are told that Léonce is clever, brave, charming, and what not, we see nothing of it in speech or action—may be matter of taste; but that her heroine's part should seem to any woman one worth playing is indeed wonderful. Delphine behaves throughout like a child, and by no means always like a very well-brought-up child; she never seems to have the very slightest idea that "things are as they are and that their consequences will be what they will be"; and though, once more, we are told of passion carrying all before it, we are never shown it. It is all "words, words." To speak of her love in the same breath with Julie's is to break off the speech in laughter; to consider her woes and remember Clarissa's is to be ready to read another seven or eight volumes of Richardson in lieu of these three of Madame de Staël's.

And yet this lady could do something in the novel way, and, when the time came, she did it.

Corinne.

Between Delphine and Corinne Madame de Staël had, in the fullest sense of a banal phrase, "seen a great of the world." She had lost the illusions which the Duessa Revolution usually spreads among clever but not wise persons at her first appearance,[Pg 8] and had not left her bones, as too many[12] such persons do, in the pieuvre-caves which the monster keeps ready. She had seen England, being "coached" by Crabb-Robinson and others, so as to give some substance to the vague philosophe-Anglomane flimsiness of her earlier fancy. She had seen Republicanism turn to actual Tyranny, and had made exceedingly unsuccessful attempts to captivate the tyrant. She had seen Germany, and had got something of its then not by any means poisonous, if somewhat windy, "culture"; a little romance of a kind, though she was never a real Romantic; some aesthetics; some very exoteric philosophy, etc. She had done a great deal of not very happy love-making; had been a woman of letters, a patroness of men of letters, and—most important of all—had never dismounted from her old hobby "Sensibility," though she had learnt how to put it through new paces.

A critical reader of Corinne must remember all this, and he must remember something else, though the reminder has been thought to savour of brutality. It is perfectly clear to me, and always has been so from reading (in and between the lines) of her own works, of Lady Blennerhassett's monumental book on her, of M. Sorel's excellent monograph, and of scores of longer and shorter studies on and references to her English and German and Swiss and French—from her own time downwards, that the central secret, mainspring, or whatever any one may choose to call it, of Madame de Staël's life was a frantic desire for the physical beauty which she did not possess,[13] and a persistent attempt, occasionally successful, to delude herself into believing that she had achieved a sufficient substitute by literary, philosophical, political, and other exertion.

Its improved conditions.

This partly pathetic, partly, alas! ridiculous, but on the whole (with a little charity) quite commiserable endeavour, attained some success, though probably with[Pg 9] not a little extraneous help, in De l'Allemagne, and the posthumous Considérations on the Revolution; but these books do not concern us, and illustrate only part of the writer's character, temperament, and talent, if not genius. Corinne gives us the rest, and nearly, if not quite, the whole. The author had no doubt tried to do this in Delphine, but had then had neither art nor equipment for the task, and she had failed utterly. She was now well, if not perfectly, equipped, and had learnt not a little of the art to use her acquisitions. Delphine had been dull, absurd, preposterous; Corinne, if it has dull patches, saves them from being intolerable. If its sentiment is extravagant, it is never exactly preposterous or exactly absurd; for the truth and reality of passion which are absent from the other book are actually present here, though sometimes in unintentional masquerade.

In fact, Corinne, though the sisterhood of the two books is obvious enough, has almost, though not quite, all the faults of Delphine removed and some merits added, of which in the earlier novel there is not the slightest trace. The history of my own acquaintance with it is, I hope, not quite irrelevant. I read it—a very rare thing for me with a French novel (in fact I can hardly recollect another instance, except, a quaint contrast, Paul de Kock's André le Savoyard)—first in English, and at a very early period of life, and I then thought it nearly as great "rot" as I have always thought its predecessor. But though I had, I hope, sense enough to see its faults, I had neither age nor experience nor literature enough to appreciate its merits. I read it a good deal later in French, and, being then better qualified, did perceive these merits, though it still did not greatly "arride" me. Later still—in fact, only some twenty years ago—I was asked to re-edit and "introduce" the English translation. It is a popular mistake to think that an editor, like an advocate, is entitled, if not actually bound, to make the best case for his client, quite apart from his actual opinions; but in this instance my opinion of the book mounted considerably. And it has certainly[Pg 10] not declined since, though this History has necessitated a fourth study of the original, and though I shall neither repeat what I said in the Introduction referred to, nor give the impression there recorded in merely altered words. Indeed, the very purpose of the present notice, forming part, as it should, of a connected history of the whole department to which the book belongs, requires different treatment, and an application of what may be called critical "triangulation" from different stand-points.

An illustrated edition of it.

By an odd chance and counter-chance, the edition which served for this last perusal, after threatening to disserve its text, had an exactly contrary result. It was the handsome two-volume issue of 1841 copiously adorned with all sorts of ingenious initial-devices, culs-de-lampe, etc., and with numerous illustrative "cuts" beautifully engraved (for the most part by English engravers, such as Orrin Smith, the Williamses, etc.), excellently drawn and composed by French artists from Gros downwards, but costumed in what is now perhaps the least tolerable style of dress even to the most catholic taste—that of the Empire in France and the Regency in England—and most comically "thought."[14] At first sight this might seem to be a disadvantage, as calling attention to, and aggravating, certain defects of the text itself. I found it just the reverse. One was slightly distracted from, and half inclined to make allowances for, Nelvil's performances in the novel when one saw him—in a Tom-and-Jerry early chimneypot hat, a large coachman's coat flung off his shoulders and hanging down to his heels, a swallow-tail, tight pantaloons, and Hessian boots—extracting from his bosom his father's portrait and expressing filial sentiments to it. One was less likely to accuse Corinne of peevishness when one beheld the delineation of family worship in the Edgermond household[Pg 11] from which she fled. And the faithful eyes remonstrated with the petulant brain for scoffing at excessive sentiment, when they saw how everybody was always at somebody else's feet, or supporting somebody else in a fainting condition, or resting his or her burning brow on a hand, the elbow of which rested, in its turn, on a pedestal like that of Mr. Poseidon Hicks in Mrs. Perkins's Ball. The plates gave a safety-valve to the letterpress in a curiously anodyne fashion which I hardly ever remember to have experienced before. Or rather, one transferred to them part, if not the whole, of the somewhat contemptuous amusement which the manners had excited, and had one's more appreciative faculties clear for the book itself.

The story.

The story of Corinne, though not extraordinarily "accidented" and, as will be seen, adulterated, or at least mixed, with a good many things that are not story at all, is fairly solid, much more so than that of Delphine. It turns—though the reader is not definitely informed of this till the book is half over—on the fact of an English nobleman, Lord Edgermond (dead at temp. of tale), having had two wives, the first an Italian. By her he had one daughter, whose actual Christian name (unless I forget) we are never told, and he lived with them in Italy till his wife's death. Then he went home and married a second wife, an English or Scotch woman (for her name seems to have been Maclinson—a well-known clan) of very prudish disposition. By her he had another daughter, Lucile—younger by a good many years than her sister. To that sister Lady Edgermond the second does not behave exactly in the traditionally novercal fashion, but she is scandalised by the girl's Italian ways, artistic and literary temperament, desire for society, etc. After Lord Edgermond's death the discord of the two becomes intolerable, and the elder Miss Edgermond, coming of age and into an independent fortune, breaks loose and returns to Italy, her stepmother stipulating that she shall drop her family name altogether and allow herself[Pg 12] to be given out as dead. She consents (unwisely, but perhaps not unnaturally), appears in Italy under the name of "Corinne," and establishes herself without difficulty in the best Roman society as a lady of means, great beauty, irreproachable character, but given to private displays of her talents as singer, improvisatrice, actress, and what not.

But before she has thus thrown a still respectable bonnet over a not too disreputable mill, something has happened which has, in the long run, fatal consequences. Lord Edgermond has a friend, Lord Nelvil, who has a son rather younger than Corinne. Both fathers think that a marriage would be a good thing, and the elder Nelvil comes to stay with the Edgermonds to propose it. Corinne (or whatever her name was then) lays herself out in a perfectly innocent but, as he thinks, forward manner to please him, and he, being apparently (we never see him in person) not a little of an old fool, cries off this project, but tells Edgermond that he should like his son to marry Lucile when she grows up.

Without an intolerable dose of "argument," it is only possible to say here that Nelvil, after his father's death, journeys to the Continent (where he has been already engaged in a questionable liaison), meets Corinne, and, not at first knowing in the least who she is, falls, or thinks he falls, frantically in love with her, while she really does fall more frantically in love with him. After a sojourn, of which a little more presently, circumstances make him (or he thinks they make him) return home, and he falls, or thinks he falls,[15] out of love with Corinne and into it (after a fashion) with Lucile. Corinne undertakes an incognito journey to England to find out what is happening, but (this, though not impossible in itself, is, as told, the weakest part of the story) never makes herself known till too late, and Nelvil,[Pg 13] partly out of respect for his father's wishes, and partly, one fears, because Lucile is very pretty and Corinne seems to be very far off, marries the younger sister.

It would have greatly improved the book if, with or even without a "curtain," it had ended here. But Madame de Staël goes on to tell us how Nelvil, who is a soldier by profession,[16] leaves his wife and a little daughter, Juliette, and goes to "Les Iles" on active service for four years; how Lucile, not unnaturally, suspects hankering after the sister she has not seen since her childhood; how, Nelvil being invalided home, they all go to Italy, and find Corinne in a dying condition; how Lucile at first refuses to see her, but, communications being opened by the child Juliette, reconciliations follow; and how Corinne dies with Nelvil and Lucile duly kneeling at her bedside.

The minor personages of any importance are not numerous. Besides Lady Edgermond, they consist of the Comte d'Erfeuil, a French travelling companion of Nelvil's; the Prince of Castel-Forte, an Italian of the highest rank; a Mr. Edgermond, who does not make much appearance, but is more like a real Englishman in his ways and manners than Nelvil; an old Scotch nincompoop named Dickson, who, unintentionally, makes mischief wherever he goes as surely as the personage in the song made music. Lady Edgermond, though she is neither bad nor exactly ill-natured, is the evil genius of the story. Castel-Forte, a most honourable and excellent gentleman, has so little of typical Italianism in him that, finding Corinne will not have him, he actually serves as common friend, confidant, and almost as honourable go-between, to her and Nelvil.

On the other hand, French critics have justly complained, and critics not French may endorse the complaint, that the Comte d'Erfeuil is a mere caricature of[Pg 14] the "frivolous" French type too commonly accepted out of France. He is well-mannered, not ill-natured, and even not, personally, very conceited, but utterly shallow, incapable of a serious interest in art, letters, or anything else, blandly convinced that everything French is superlative and that nothing not French is worthy of attention. Although he appears rather frequently, he plays no real part in the story, and, unless there was some personal grudge to pay off (which is not unlikely), it is difficult to imagine why Madame de Staël should have introduced a character which certainly does her skill as a character-drawer very little credit.

The character of Nelvil.

It is, however, quite possible that she was led astray by a will-o'-the-wisp, which has often misled artists not of the very first class—the chance of an easy contrast. The light-hearted, light-minded Erfeuil was to set off the tense and serious Nelvil—a type again, as he was evidently intended to be, but a somewhat new type of Englishman. She was a devotee of Rousseau, and she undoubtedly had the egregious Bomston before her. But, though her sojourn in England had not taught her very much about actual Englishman, she had probably read Mackenzie, and knew that the "Man of Feeling" touch had to some extent affected us. She tried to combine the two, with divers hints of hearsay and a good deal of pure fancy, and the result was Oswald, Lord Nelvil. As with that other curious contemporary of hers with whom we deal in this chapter, the result was startlingly powerful in literature. There is no doubt that the Byronic hero, whose importance of a kind is unmistakable and undeniable, is Schedoni, René, and Nelvil sliced up, pounded in a mortar, and made into a rissole with Byron's own sauce of style in rhetoric or (if anybody will have it so) poetry, but with very little more substantial ingredients. As for the worthy peer of Scotland or England, more recent estimates have seldom been favourable, and never ought to have been so. M. Sorel calls him a "snob"; but that is only one of the numerous and, according to[Pg 15] amiable judgments, creditable instances of the inability of the French to discern exactly what "snobbishness" is.[17] My Lord Nelvil has many faults and very few merits, but among the former I do not perceive any snobbishness. He is not in the least attracted by Corinne's popularity, either with the great vulgar or the small, and his hesitations about marrying her do not arise from any doubt (while he is still ignorant on the subject) of her social worthiness to be his wife. He is a prig doubtless, but he is a prig of a very peculiar character—a sort of passionate prig, or, to put it in another way, one of Baudelaire's "Enfants de la lune," who, not content with always pining after the place where he is not and the love that he has not, is constantly making not merely himself, but the place where he is and the love whom he has, uncomfortable and miserable. There can, I think, be little doubt that Madame de Staël, who frequently insists on his "irresolution" (remember that she had been in Germany and heard the Weimar people talk), meant him for a sort of modern Hamlet in very different circumstances as well as times. But it takes your Shakespeare to manage your Hamlet, and Madame de Staël was not Shakespeare, even in petticoats.

And the book's absurdities.

The absurdities of the book are sufficiently numerous. Lord Nelvil, who has not apparently had any special experience of the sea, "advises" the sailors, and takes the helm during a storm on his passage from Harwich to Emden; while these English mariners, unworthy professional descendants of that admirable man, the boatswain of the opening scenes of The Tempest, are actually grateful to him, and when he goes 'ashore "press themselves round him" to take leave of him (that is to say, they do this in the book; what[Pg 16] in all probability they actually said would not be fit for these pages). He is always saving people—imprisoned Jews and lunatics at a fire in Ancona; aged lazzaroni who get caught in a sudden storm-wave at Naples; and this in spite of the convenient-inconvenient blood-vessels which break when it is necessary, but still make it quite easy for him to perform these Herculean feats and resume his rather interim military duties when he pleases. As for Corinne, her exploits with her "schall" (a vestment of which Madame de Staël also was fond), and her crowning in the Capitol, where the crown tumbles off—an incident which in real life would be slightly comical, but which here only gives Nelvil an opportunity of picking it up—form a similar prelude to a long series of extravagances. The culmination of them is that altogether possible-improbable visit to England, which might have put everything right and does put everything wrong, and the incurable staginess which makes her, as above related, refuse to see Oswald and Lucile together till she is actually in articulo mortis.

And yet—"for all this and all this and twice as much as all this"—I should be sorry for any one who regards Corinne as merely a tedious and not at all brief subject for laughter. One solid claim which it possesses has been, and is still for a moment, definitely postponed; but in another point there is, if not exactly a defence, an immense counterpoise to the faults and follies just mentioned. Corinne to far too great an extent, and Oswald to an extent nearly but not quite fatal, are loaded (affublés, to use the word we borrowed formerly) with a mass of corporal and spiritual wiglomeration (as Mr. Carlyle used expressively and succinctly to call it) in costume and fashion and sentiment and action and speech. But when we have stripped this off, manet res—reality of truth and fact and nature.

Compensations—Corinne herself.

There should be no doubt of this in Corinne's own case. It has been said from the very first that she is, as Delphine had been, if not what her creatress was, what she would have liked to be. The ideal in the former[Pg 17] case was more than questionable, and the execution was very bad. Here the ideal is far from flawless, but it is greatly improved, and the execution is improved far more than in proportion. Corinne is not "a reasonable woman"; but reason, though very heartily to be welcomed on its rare occurrences in that division of humanity, when it does not exclude other things more to be welcomed still, is very decidedly not to be preferred to the other things themselves. Corinne has these—or most of them. She is beautiful; she is amiable; she is unselfish; without the slightest touch of prudery she has the true as well as the technical chastity; and she is really the victim of inauspicious stars, and of the misconduct of other people—the questionable wisdom of her own father; the folly of Nelvil's; the wilfulness in the bad sense, and the weakness of will in the good, of her lover; the sour virtue and borné temperament of Lady Edgermond. Almost all her faults and not a few of her misfortunes are due to the "sensibility" of her time, or the time a little before her; for, as has been more than hinted already, Corinne, though a book of far less genius, strength, and concentration than Adolphe, is, like it, though from the other side, and on a far larger scale, the history of the Nemesis of Sensibility.

Nelvil again.

But Nelvil? He is, it has been said, a deplorable kind of creature—a kind of creature (to vary Dr. Johnson's doom on the unlucky mutton) ill-bred, ill-educated, ill- (though not quite in the ordinary sense) natured, ill-fated to an extent which he could partly, but only partly, have helped; and ill-conducted to an extent which he might have helped almost altogether. But is he unnatural? I fear—I trow—not. He is, I think, rather more natural than Edgar of Ravenswood, who is something of the same class, and who may perhaps owe a very little to him. At any rate, though he has more to do with the theatre, he is less purely theatrical than that black-plumed Master. And it seems to me that he is more differentiated from the Sensibility heroes than even Corinne herself is[Pg 18] from the Sensibility heroines, though one sympathises with her much more than with him. Homo est, though scarcely vir. Now it is humanity which we have been always seeking, but not always finding, in the long and often brilliant list of French novels before his day. And we have found it here once more.

Its aesthetics.

But we find also something more; and this something more gives it not merely an additional but even to some extent a fresh hold upon the history of the novel itself. To say that it is in great part a "guide-book novel," as indeed its second title[18] honestly declares, may seem nowadays a doubtful testimonial. It is not really so. For it was, with certain exceptions in German, the first "guide-book" novel: and though some of those exceptions may have shown greater 'literary genius than Madame de Staël's, the Germans, though they have, in certain lines, had no superiors as producers of tales, have never produced a good novel yet.[19] Moreover, the guide-book element is a great set-off to the novel. It is not—or at any rate it is not necessarily—liable to the objections to "purpose," for it is ornamental and not structural. It takes a new and important and almost illimitably fresh province of nature and of art, which is a part of nature, to be its appanage. It would be out of place here to trace the development of this system of reinforcing the novel beyond France, in Scott more particularly. It is not out of place to remind the reader that even Rousseau (to whom Madame de Staël owed so much) to some extent, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and Chateaubriand to more, as far as what we may call scenery-guide-booking goes, had preceded her. But for the "art," the aesthetic addition, she was indebted only to the Germans; and almost all her French successors were indebted to her.[20]

[Pg 19]

The author's position in the History of the Novel.

Although, therefore, it is hardly possible to call Madame de Staël a good novelist, she occupies a very important position in the history of the novel. She sees, or helps to see, the "sensibility" novel out, with forcible demonstration of the inconveniences of its theory. She helps to see the aesthetic novel—or the novel highly seasoned and even sandwiched with aesthetics—in. She manages to create at least one character to whom the epithets of "noble" and "pathetic" can hardly be refused; and at least one other to which that of "only too natural," if with an exceptional and faulty kind of nature, must be accorded. At a time when the most popular, prolific, and in a way craftsmanlike practitioner of the kind, Pigault-Lebrun, was dragging it through vulgarity, she keeps it at any rate clear of that. Her description is adequate: and her society-and-manners painting (not least in the récit giving Corinne's trials in Northumberland) is a good deal more than adequate. Moreover, she preserves the tradition of the great philosophe group by showing that the writer of novels can also be the author of serious and valuable literature of another kind. These are no small things to have done: and when one thinks of them one is almost able to wipe off the slate of memory that awful picture of a turbaned or "schalled" Blowsalind, with arms[21] like a "daughter of the plough," which a cruel tradition has perpetuated as frontispiece to some cheap editions of her works.


Chateaubriand—his peculiar position as a novelist.

There is perhaps no more difficult person to appraise in all French literature—there are not many in the literature of the world—than François René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand. It is almost more difficult than in the case of his two great disciples, Byron and Hugo, to keep his personality out of the record: and it is a not[Pg 20] wholly agreeable personality. Old experience may perhaps attain to this, and leave to ghouls and large or small coffin-worms the business of investigating and possibly fattening on the thing. But even the oldest experience dealing with his novels (which were practically all early) may find itself considerably tabusté, as Rabelais has it, that is to say, "bothered" with faults which are mitigated in the Génie du Christianisme, comparatively (not quite) unimportant in the Voyages, and almost entirely whelmed in the Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe. These faults are of such a complicated and various kind that the whole armour of criticism is necessary to deal with them, on the defensive in the sense of not being too much influenced by them, and on the offensive in the sense of being severe but not too severe on them.

And the remarkable interconnection of his works in fiction.

The mere reader of Chateaubriand's novels generally begins with Atala and René, and not uncommonly stops there. In a certain sense this reader is wise in his generation. But he will never understand his author as a novelist if he does so; and his appreciation of the books or booklets themselves will be very incomplete. They are both not unfrequently spoken of as detached episodes of the Génie du Christianisme; and so they are, in the illustrative sense. They are actually, and in the purely constitutive way, episodes of another book, Les Natchez, while this book itself is also a novel "after a sort." The author's work in the kind is completed by the later Les Martyrs, which has nothing to do, in persons or time, with the others, being occupied with the end of the third century, while they deal (throwing back a little in Atala) with the beginning of the eighteenth. But this also is an illustrative companion or reinforcement of the Génie. With that book the whole body of Chateaubriand's fiction[22] is thus directly connected; and the entire collection,[Pg 21] not a little supported by the Voyages, constitutes a deliberate "literary offensive," intended to counter-work the proceedings of the philosophes, though with aid drawn from one of them—Rousseau,—and only secondarily designed to provide pure novel-interest. If this is forgotten, the student will find himself at sea without a rudder; and the mere reader will be in danger of exaggerating very greatly, because he does not in the least understand, the faults just referred to, and of failing altogether to appreciate the real success and merit of the work as judged on that only criterion, "Has the author done what he meant to do, and done it well, on the lines he chose?" Of course, if our reader says, "I don't care about all this, I merely want to be amused and interested," one cannot prevent him. He had, in fact, as was hinted just now, better read nothing but Atala and René, if not, indeed, Atala only, immense as is the literary importance of its companion. But in a history of the novel one is entitled to hope, at any rate to wish, for a somewhat better kind of customer or client.

According to Chateaubriand's own account, when he quitted England after his not altogether cheerful experiences there as an almost penniless émigré, he left behind him, in the charge of his landlady, exactly 2383 folio pages of MSS. enclosed in a trunk, and (by a combination of merit on the custodian's part and luck on his own) recovered them fifteen years afterwards, Atala, René, and a few other fragments having alone accompanied him. These were published independently, the Génie following. Les Martyrs was a later composition altogether, while Les Natchez, the matrix of both the shorter stories, and included, as one supposes, in the 2383 waifs, was partly rewritten and wholly published later still. A body of fiction of such a singular character is, as has been said, not altogether easy to treat; but, without much change in the method usually pursued in this History, we may perhaps do best by first giving a brief argument of the various contents and then taking up the censure, in no evil sense, of the whole.[Pg 22]

Atala.

Atala is short and almost entirely to the point. The heroine is a half-breed girl with a Spanish father and for mother an Indian of some rank in her tribe, who has subsequently married a benevolent chief. She is regarded as a native princess, and succeeds in rescuing from the usual torture and death, and fleeing with, a captive chief of another "nation." This is Chactas, important in René and also in the Natchez framework. They direct their flight northwards to the French settlements (it is late seventeenth or early eighteenth century throughout), and of course fall in love with each other. But Atala's mother, a Christian, has, in the tumult of her early misfortunes, vowed her daughter's virginity or death; and when, just before the crucial moment, a missionary opportunely or inopportunely occurs, Atala has already taken poison, with the object, it would appear, not so much of preventing as of avenging, of her own free will, a breach of the vow. The rest of the story is supplied by the vain attempts of the good father to save her, his evangelising efforts towards the pair, and the sorrows of Chactas after his beloved's death. The piece, of course, shows that exaggerated and somewhat morbid pathos of circumstance which is the common form of the early romantic efforts, whether in England, Germany, or France. But the pathos is pathos; the unfamiliar scenery, unlike that of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (to whom, of course, Chateaubriand is much indebted, though he had actually seen what he describes), is not overdone, and suits the action and characters very well indeed. Chactas here is the best of all the "noble savages," and (what hardly any other of them is) positively good. Atala is really tragic and really gracious. The missionary stands to other fictitious, and perhaps some real, missionaries very much as Chactas does to other savages of story, if not of life. The proportion of the whole is good, and in the humble opinion of the present critic it is by far Chateaubriand's best thing in all perhaps but mere writing.[Pg 23]

And even in this it is bad to beat, in him or out of him. The small space forbids mere surplusage of description, and the plot—as all plots should do, but, alas! as few succeed in doing—acts as a bellows to kindle the flame and intensify the heat of something far better than description itself—passionate character. There are many fine things—mixed, no doubt, with others not so fine—in the tempestuous scene of the death of Atala, which should have been the conclusion of the story. But this, in its own way, seems to me little short of magnificent:

"I implored you to fly; and yet I knew I should die if you were not with me. I longed for the shadow of the forest; and yet I feared to be with you in a desert place. Ah! if the cost had only been that of quitting parents, friends, country! if—terrible as it is to say it—there had been nothing at stake but the loss of my own soul.[23] But, O my mother! thy shade was always there—thy shade reproaching me with the torments it would suffer. I heard thy complaints; I saw the flames of Hell ready to consume thee. My nights were dry places full of ghosts; my days were desolate; the dew of the evening dried up as it touched my burning skin. I opened my lips to the breeze; and the breeze, instead of cooling me, was itself set aglow by the fire of my breath. What torment, Chactas! to see you always near me, far from all other humankind in the deepest solitude, and yet to feel that between us there was an insuperable barrier! To pass my life at your feet, to serve you as a slave, to bring you food and lay your couch in some secret corner of the universe, would have been for me supremest happiness; and this happiness was within my touch, yet I could not enjoy it. Of what plans did I not dream? What vision did not arise from this sad heart? Sometimes, as I gazed on you, I went so far as to form desires as mad as they were guilty: sometimes I could have wished that there were no living creatures on earth but you and me; sometimes, feeling that there was a divinity mocking my wicked transports, I could have wished that divinity annihilated, if only, locked in your arms, I might have sunk from abyss to abyss with the ruins of God and of the world. Even now—shall I say it?—even now, when eternity waits to engulf me, when I am about to appear before the inexorable Judge—at the very[Pg 24] moment when my mother may be rejoicing to see my virginity devour my life—even now, by a terrible contradiction, I carry with me the regret that I have not been yours!"

At this let who will laugh or sneer, yawn or cavil. But as literature it looks back to Sappho and Catullus and the rest, and forward to all great love-poetry since, while as something that is even greater than literature—life—it carries us up to the highest Heaven and down to the nethermost Hell.

René.

René[24] has greater fame and no doubt exercised far more influence; indeed in this respect Atala could not do much, for it is not the eternal, but the temporal, which "influences." But, in the same humble opinion, it is extremely inferior. The French Werther[25] (for the attempt to rival Goethe on his own lines is hardly, if at all, veiled) is a younger son of a gentle family in France, whose father dies. He lives for a time with an elder brother, who seems to be "more kin than kind," and a sister Amélie, to whom he is fondly, but fraternally, attached. René has begun the trick of disappointment early, and, after a time, determines to travel, fancying when he leaves home that his sister is actually glad to get rid of him. Of course it is a case of coelum non animum. When he returns he is half-surprised but (for him) wholly glad to be at first warmly welcomed by Amélie; but after a little while she leaves him, takes the veil, and lets him know at the last moment that it is because her affection for him is more than sisterly, that this was the reason of her apparent joy when he left her, and that association with him is too much for her passion.[26] She makes an exemplary nun in a sea-side[Pg 25] convent, and dies early of disease caught while nursing others. He, his wretchedness and hatred of life reaching their acme, exiles himself to Louisiana, and gets himself adopted by the tribe of the Natchez, where Chactas is a (though not the) chief.

Difference between its importance and its merit.

Now, of course, if we are content to take a bill and write down Byron and Lamartine, Senancour and Jacopo Ortis (otherwise Ugo Foscolo), Musset, Matthew Arnold, and tutti quanti, as debtors to René, we give the tale or episode a historical value which cannot be denied; while its positive aesthetic quality, though it may vary very much in different estimates, cannot be regarded as merely worthless. Also, once more, there is real pathos, especially as far as Amélie is concerned, though the entire unexpectedness of the revelation of her fatal passion, and the absolute lack of any details as to its origin, rise, and circumstances, injure sympathy to some extent. But that sympathy, as far as the present writer is concerned, fails altogether with regard to René himself. If his melancholy were traceable to mutual passion of the forbidden kind, or if it had arisen from the stunning effect of the revelation thereof on his sister's side, there would be no difficulty. But, though these circumstances may to some extent accentuate, they have nothing to do with causing the weltschmerz or selbst-schmerz, or whatever it is to be called, of this not very heroic hero. Nor has Chateaubriand taken the trouble—which Goethe,[Pg 26] with his more critical sense of art, did take—to make René go through the whole course of the Preacher, or great part of it, before discovering that all was vanity. He is merely, from the beginning, a young gentleman affected with mental jaundice, who cannot or will not discover or take psychological calomel enough to cure him. It does not seem in the least likely that if Amélie had been content to live with him as merely "in all good, all honour" a loving and comforting sister, he would have really been able to say, like Geraldine in Coleridge's original draft of Christabel, "I'm better now."

He is, in fact, what Werther is not—though his own followers to a large extent are—mainly if not merely a Sulky Young Man: and one cannot help imagining that if, in pretty early days, some one had been good enough to apply to him that Herb Pantagruelion, in form not exactly of a halter but of a rope's end, with which O'Brien cured Peter Simple's mal de mer, his mal du siècle would have been cured likewise.

Of course it is possible for any one to say, "You are a Philistine and a Vulgarian. You wish to regard life through a horse-collar," etc., etc. But these reproaches would leave my withers quite ungalled. I think Ecclesiastes one of the very greatest books in the world's literature, and Hamlet the greatest play, with the possible exception of the Agamemnon. It is the abysmal sadness quite as much as the furor arduus of Lucretius that makes me think him the mightiest of Latin poets. I would not give the mystical melancholy of certain poems of Donne's for half a hundred of the liveliest love-songs of the time, and could extend the list page-long and more if it would not savour of ostentation in more ways than one. But mere temperamental ἑωλοκρασια or κραιπαλη (next-day nausea), without even the exaltation of a previous orgy to ransom it,—mere spleen and sulks and naughty-childishness,—seem to me not great things at all. You may not be able to help your spleen, but you can "cook" it; you may have qualm and headache, but in work of some sort, warlike or peaceful, there is always[Pg 27] small beer, or brandy and soda (with even, if necessary, capsicum or bromide), for the ailment. The Renés who can do nothing but sulk, except when they blunder themselves and make other people uncomfortable in attempting to do something, who "never do a [manly] thing and never say a [kind] one," are, I confess, not to my taste.[27]

Les Natchez.

Both these stories, as will have been seen, have a distinctly religious element; in fact, a distinctly religious purpose. The larger novel-romance of which they form episodes, as well as its later and greater successor, Les Martyrs, increase the element in both cases, the purpose in the latter; but one of the means by which this increase is effected has certainly lost—whether it may or may not ever recover—its attraction, except to a student of literary history who is well out of his novitiate. Such a person should see at once that Chateaubriand's elaborate adoption, from Tasso and Milton, of the system of interspersed scenes of Divine and diabolic conclaves and interferences with the story, is an important, if not a wholly happy, instance of that general Romantic reversion to earlier literary devices, and even atmospheres, of which the still rather enigmatic personage who rests enisled off Saint-Malo was so great an apostle. And it was probably effectual for its time. Classicists could not quarrel with it, for it had its precedents, indeed its origin, in Homer and Virgil; Romanticists (of that less exclusive class who admitted the Renaissance as well as the Dark and Middle Ages) could not but welcome it for its great modern defenders and examples. I cannot say that I enjoy it: but I can tolerate it, and there is no doubt at all, odd as it may seem to the merely twentieth-century reader, that it did something to revive the half-extinct religiosity which had been starved and poisoned in the later days of the ancien régime, forcibly suppressed under the Republic,[Pg 28] and only officially licensed by the Napoleonic system. In Les Martyrs it has even a certain "grace of congruity,"[28] but in regard to Les Natchez, with which we are for the moment concerned, almost enough (with an example or two to come presently) has been said about it.

The book, as a whole, suffers, unquestionably and considerably, from the results of two defects in its author. He was not born, as Scott was a little later, to get the historical novel at last into full life and activity; and it would not be unfair to question whether he was a born novelist at all, though he had not a few of the qualifications necessary to the kind, and exercised, coming as and when he did, an immense influence upon it. The subject is too obscure. Its only original vates, Charlevoix, though always a respectable name to persons of some acquaintance with literature and history, has never been much more, either in France or in England. The French, unluckily for themselves, never took much interest in their transatlantic possessions while they had them; and their dealings with the Indians then, and ours afterwards, and those of the Americans since, have never been exactly of the kind that give on both sides a subject such as may be found in all mediaeval and most Renaissance matters; in the Fronde; in the English Civil War; in the great struggles of France and England from 1688 to 1815; in the Jacobite risings; in La Vendée; and in other historical periods and provinces too many to mention. On the other hand, the abstract "noble savage" is a faded object of exhausted engouement, than which there are few things less exhilarating. The Indian ingénu (a very different one from Voltaire's) Outougamiz and his ingénue Mila are rather nice; but Celuta (the ill-fated girl who loves René and whom he marries, because in a sort of way he cannot help it) is an eminent example of that helpless kind of quiet misfortune the unprofitableness of which Mr. Arnold has confessed and registered[Pg 29] in a famous passage. Chactas maintains a respectable amount of interest, and his visit to the court of Louis XIV. takes very fair rank among a well-known group of things of which it is not Philistine to speak as old-fashioned, because they never possessed much attraction, except as being new- or regular-fashioned. But the villain Ondouré has almost as little of the fire of Hell as of that of Heaven, and his paramour and accomplice Akansie carries very little "conviction" with her. In short, the merit of the book, besides the faint one of having been the original framework of Atala and René, is almost limited to its atmosphere, and the alterative qualities thereof—things now in a way ancient history—requiring even a considerable dose of the not-universally-possessed historic sense to discern and appreciate them.

Outside the "Histoire de Chactas" (which might, like Atala and René themselves, have been isolated with great advantage), and excepting likewise the passages concerning Outougamiz and Mila—which possess, in considerable measure and gracious fashion, what some call the "idyllic" quality—I have found it, on more than one attempt, difficult to take much interest in Les Natchez, not merely for the reasons already given, but chiefly owing to them. René's appearances (and he is generally in background or foreground) serve better than anything in any other book, perhaps, to explain and justify the old notion that accidia[29] of his kind is not only a fault in the individual, but a positive ill omen and nuisance[30] to others. Neither in the Indian characters[Pg 30] (with the exceptions named) nor among the French and creole does one find relief: and when one passes from them to the "machinery" parts—where, for instance, a "perverse couple," Satan and La Renommée (not the ship that Trunnion took), embark on a journey in a car with winged horses—it must be an odd taste which finds things improved. In Greek verse, in Latin verse, or even in Milton's English one could stand Night, docile to the orders of Satan, condescending to deflect a hatchet which is whistling unpleasantly close to René's ear, not that he may be benefited, but preserved for more sufferings. In comparatively plain French prose—the qualification is intentional, as will be seen a little later—with a scene and time barely two hundred years off now and not a hundred then, though in a way unfamiliar—the thing won't do. "Time," at the orders of the Prince of Darkness, cutting down trees to make a stockade for the Natchez in the eighteenth century, alas! contributes again the touch of weak allegory, in neither case helping the effect; while, although the plot is by no means badly evolved, the want of interest in the characters renders it ineffective.

Les Martyrs.

The defects of Les Martyrs[31] are fewer in number and less in degree, while its merits are far more than proportionally greater and more numerous. Needing less historical reinforcement, it enjoys much more. Les Natchez is almost the last, certainly the last important novel of savage life, as distinguished from "boys' books" about savages. Les Martyrs is the first of a line of remarkable if not always successful classical novels from Lockhart's Valerius to Gissing's Veranilda. It has nothing really in common with the kind of classical story which lasted from Télémaque to Belisarius and later. And what is more, it is perhaps[Pg 31] better than any of its followers except Kingsley's Hypatia, which is admittedly of a mixed kind—a nineteenth-century novel, with events, scenes, and décor of the fifth century. If it has not the spectacular and popular appeal of The Last Days of Pompeii, it escapes, as that does not, the main drawback of almost all the others—the "classical-dictionary" element: and if, on the other, its author knew less about Christianity than Cardinals Wiseman and Newman, he knew more about lay "humans" than the authors of Fabiola and Callista.

It is probably unnecessary to point out at any great length that some of the drawbacks of Les Natchez disappear almost automatically in Les Martyrs. The supernatural machinery is, on the hypothesis and at the time of the book, strictly congruous and proper; while, as a matter of fact, it is in proportion rather less than more used. The time and events—those of the persecution under Diocletian—are familiar, interesting, and, in a French term for which we have no exact equivalent, dignes. There is no sulky spider of a René crawling about the piece; and though history is a little strained to provide incidents,[32] "that's not much," and they are not in themselves improbable in any bad sense or degree. Moreover, the classical-dictionary element, which, as has been said, is so awkward to handle, is, at least after the beginning, not too much drawn upon.

The book, in its later modern editions, is preceded not merely by several Prefaces, but by an Examen in the old fashion, and fortified by those elaborate citation-notes[33] from authorities ancient and modern which were a mania at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, and which sometimes divert and sometimes enrage more modern readers in work so different as Lalla Rookh and The Pursuits of Literature, while they provided at the time material for immortal jokes in such other work as the Anti-Jacobin poems. In[Pg 32] the Prefaces Chateaubriand discusses the prose epic, and puts himself, quite unnecessarily, under the protection of Télémaque: in the Examen he deals systematically with the objections, religious, moral, and literary, which had been made against the earlier editions of the book. But these things are now little more than curiosities for the student, though they retain some general historical importance.

The story.

The book starts (after an "Invocation," proper to its scheme but perhaps not specially attractive "to us") with an account of the household of Demodocus, a Homerid of Chios, who in Diocletian's earlier and unpersecuting days, after living happily but for too short a time in Crete with his wife Epicharis, loses her, though she leaves him one little daughter, Cymodocée, born in the sacred woods of Mount Ida itself. Demodocus is only too glad to accept an invitation to become high priest of a new Temple of Homer in Messenia, on the slopes of another mountain, less, but not so much less, famous, Ithome. Cymodocée becomes very beautiful, and receives, but rejects, the addresses of Hierocles, proconsul of Achaia, and a favourite of Galerius. One day, worshipping in the forest at a solitary Altar of the Nymphs, she meets a young stranger whom (she is of course still a pagan) she mistakes for Endymion, but who talks Christianity to her, and reveals himself as Eudore, son of Lasthenes. As it turns out, her father knows this person, who has the renown of a distinguished soldier.

From this almost any one who has read a few thousand novels—almost any intelligent person who has read a few hundred—can lay out the probable plot. Love of Eudore and Cymodocée; conversion of the latter; jealousy and intrigues of Hierocles; adventures past and future of Eudore; transfer of scene to Rome; prevalence of Galerius over Diocletian; persecution, martyrdom, and supernatural triumph. But the "fillings up" are not banal; and the book is well worth reading from divers points of view. In the earliest part there[Pg 33] is a little too much Homer,[34] naturally enough perhaps. The ancient world changed slowly, and we know that at this particular time Greeks (if not also Romans) rather played at archaising manners. Still, it is probably not quite safe to take the memorable, if not very resultful, journey in which Telemachus was, rather undeservedly, so lucky as to see Helen and drink Nepenthe[35] and to reproduce it with guide- and etiquette-book exactness, c. A. D. 300. Yet this is, as has been said, very natural; and it arouses many pleasant reminiscences.

Its "panoramic" quality.

The book, moreover, has two great qualities which were almost, if not quite, new in the novel. In the first place, it has a certain panoramic element which admits—which indeed necessitates—picturesqueness. Much of it is, almost as necessarily, récit (Eudore giving the history of his travels and campaigns); but it is récit of a vividness which had never before been known in French, out of the most accomplished drama, and hardly at all in prose. The adventures of Eudore require this most, of course, and they get it. His early wild-oats at Rome, which earn him temporary excommunication; his service in the wars with the Franks, where, for almost the only time in literature, Pharamond and Mérovée become living creatures; his captivity with them; his triumphs in Britain and his official position in Brittany, where the entrance of the Druidess Velléda and the fatal love between them provide perhaps the most famous and actually one of the most effective of the episodes of the book—all "stand out from the canvas," as the old phrase goes. Nor is the mastery lost when récit becomes direct action, in the scenes of the persecution, and the final purification of the hero and crowning of the heroine in the amphitheatre. "The work burns"; and, while it is practically certain that the writer knew the Scudéry romances, the contrast of this[Pg 34] "burning" quality becomes so striking as almost to justify, comparatively if not positively, the accusations of frigidity and languor which have been somewhat excessively brought against the earlier performances. There is not the passion of Atala—it would have been out of place: and there is not the soul-dissection of René, for there is nothing morbid enough to require the scalpel. But, on the other hand, there is the bustle—if that be not too degrading a word—which is wanting in both; the vividness of action and of change; colour, variety, suspense, what may perhaps best be called in one word "pulse," giving, as a necessary consequence, life.

And its remarkable advance in style.

And this great advance is partly, if not mainly, achieved by another—the novelty of style. Chateaubriand had set out to give—has, indeed, as far as his intention goes, maintained throughout—an effort at le style noble, the already familiar rhetoric, of which, in French, Corneille had been the Dryden and Racine the Pope, while it had, in his own youth, sunk to the artifice of Delille in verse and the "emphasis" of Thomas in prose. He has sometimes achieved the best, and not seldom something that is by no means the worst, of this. But, consciously or unconsciously, he has more often put in the old bottles of form new wine of spirit, which has not only burst them, but by some very satisfactory miracle of literature shed itself into new receptacles, this time not at all leathery but glass of iridescent colour and graceful shape. It was almost inevitable that such a process, at such a time, and with such a language—for Chateaubriand did not go to the real "ancient mother" of pre-grand siècle French—should be now and then merely magniloquent, that it should sometimes fall short of, or overleap, even magniloquence and become bombast. But sometimes also, and not so seldom, it attains magnificence as well; and the promise, at least the opportunity, of such magnificence in capable followers can hardly be mistaken. As in his younger contemporary, compatriot, and, beyond all doubt, disciple, Lamennais, the results are often[Pg 35] crude, unequal, disappointing; insufficiently smelted ore, insufficiently ripened and cellared wine. But the quantity and quality of pure metal—the inspiriting virtue of the vintage—in them is extraordinary: and once more it must be remembered that, for the novel, all this was absolutely new. In this respect, if in no other, though perhaps he was so in others also, Chateaubriand is a Columbus of prose fiction. Neither in French nor in English, very imperfectly in German, and, so far as I know, not in any other language to even the smallest degree, had "prose-poetry" been attempted in this department. "Ossian" perhaps must have some of the credit: the Bible still more. But wherever the capital was found it was Chateaubriand who put it into the business of novel-writing and turned out the first specimens of that business with the new materials and plant procured by the funds.

Chateaubriand's Janus-position in this.

Some difficulties, which hamper any attempt to illustrate and support this high praise, cannot require much explanation to make them obvious. It has not been the custom of this book to give large untranslated extracts: and it is at least the opinion of its author that in matters of style, translation, even if it be of a much higher quality than he conceives himself able to offer, is, if not quite worthless, very inadequate. Moreover, it is (or should be) well known that the qualities of the old French style noble—which, as has been said, Chateaubriand deliberately adopted, as his starting-point if nothing more—are, even in their own language, and still more when reproduced in any other, full of dangers for foreign appreciation. The no doubt largely ignorant and in any case mistaken contempt for French poetry and poetic prose which so long prevailed among us, and from which even such a critic and such a lover (to some extent) of French as Matthew Arnold was not free, was mainly concerned with this very point. To take a single instance, the part of De Quincey's "Essay on Rhetoric" which deals with French is made positively worthless[Pg 36] by the effects of this almost racial prejudice. Literal translation of the more flamboyant kind of French writing has been, even with some of our greatest, an effective, if a somewhat facile, means of procuring a laugh. Furthermore, it has to be remembered that this application of ornate style to prose fiction is undoubtedly to some extent an extraneous thing in the consideration of the novel itself. It is "a grand set off" (in the old phrase) to tale-telling; but it is not precisely of its essence. It deserves to be constaté, recorded and set to the credit of those who practise it, and especially of those who first introduced it. But it is a question whether, in the necessarily limited space of a book like this, the consideration of it ought to occupy a large room.

Still, though the warning, "Be not too bold," should never be forgotten, it should be remembered that it was given only once and its contrary reiterated: so here goes for one of the most perilous of all possible adventures—a translation of Chateaubriand's own boldest undertaking, the description of the City of God, in which he was following not only the greatest of the Hebrew prophets, but the Vision of Patmos itself.

("Les Martyrs," Book III., opening. The Prayer of Cyril, Bishop of Lacedaemon, has come before the Throne.)

Illustrated.

At the centre of all created worlds, in the midst of innumerable stars which serve as its bastions as well as avenues and roads to it, there floats the limitless City of God, the marvels whereof no mortal tongue can tell. The Eternal Himself laid its twelve foundations, and surrounded it with the wall of jasper that the beloved disciple saw measured by an angel with a rod of gold. Clothed with the glory of the Most High, the unseen Jerusalem is decked as a bride for her bridegroom. O monumental structures of earth! ye come not near these of the Holy City. There the richness of the matter rivals the perfection of the form. There hang, royally suspended, the galleries of diamond and sapphire feebly imitated by human skill in the gardens of Babylon. There rise triumphal arches, fashioned of brightest stars. There are linked together porticoes of suns extended across the spaces of the firmament, like the columns of Palmyra over the sands of the desert. This architecture is alive. The City of[Pg 37] God has a soul of its own. There is no mere matter in the abiding places of the Spirit; no death in the locality of eternal existence. The grosser words which our muse is forced to employ deceive us, for they invest with body that which is only as a divine dream, in the passing of a blissful sleep.

Gardens of delight extend round the radiant Jerusalem. A river flows from the throne of the Almighty, watering the Celestial Eden with floods of pure love and of the wisdom of God. The mystic wave divides into streams which entwine themselves, separate, rejoin, and part again, giving nourishment to the immortal vine, to the lily that is like unto the Bride, and to all the flowers which perfume the couch of the Spouse. The Tree of Life shoots up on the Hill of Incense; and, but a little farther, that of Knowledge spreads on all sides its deep-planted roots and its innumerable branches, carrying hidden in the golden leafage the secrets of the Godhead, the occult laws of Nature, the truths of morality and of the intellect, the immutable principles of good and of evil. The learning which intoxicates us is the common food of the Elect; for in the empire of Sovereign Intelligence the fruit of science no longer brings death. Often do the two great ancestors of the human race come and shed such tears as the Just can still let flow in the shadow of the wondrous Tree.

The light which lightens these abodes of bliss is compact of the rose of morning, of the flame of noon, of the purple of even; yet no star appears on the glowing horizon. No sun rises and no sun goes down on the country where nothing ends, where nothing begins. But an ineffable clearness, showering from all sides like a tender dew, maintains the unbroken[36] daylight in a delectable eternity.

Of course any one who is so minded may belittle this as classically cold; even as to some extent neo-classically bedizened; as more like, let us say, Moore's Epicurean than like our greater "prose-poets" of the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries. The presence in Chateaubriand of this dose of the style that was passing, and that he helped to make pass, has been admitted already: but I confess I think it is only a dose. Those who care to look up the matter for themselves might, if they do not[Pg 38] choose to read the whole, turn to the admirable picture of camp-life on the Lower Rhine at the opening of Book VI. as a short contrast, while the story is full of others. Nor should one forget to add that Chateaubriand can, when he chooses, be epigrammatic as well as declamatory. "Such is the ugliness of man when he bids farewell to his soul and, so to speak, keeps house only with his body" is a phrase which might possibly shock La Harpe, but which is, as far as I remember, original, and is certainly crisp and effective enough.

Reassembling, then, the various points which we have endeavoured to make in respect of his position as novelist, it may once more be urged that if not precisely a great master of the complete art of novel-writing, by actual example, he shows no small expertness in various parts of it: and that, as a teacher and experimenter in new developments of method and indication of new material, he has few superiors in his own country and not very many elsewhere. That in this pioneer quality, as well as in mere contemporaneousness, he may, though a greater writer, be yoked with the authoress of Corinne need hardly be argued, for the accounts given of the two should have sufficiently established it.

FOOTNOTES:

[8] Although, except in special cases, biographical notices are not given here, the reader may be reminded that she was born in 1766, the daughter of Necker and of Gibbon's early love, Susanne Curchod; married at twenty the Swedish ambassador, Baron of Staël-Holstein; sympathised at first with the Revolution, but was horrified at the murder of the king, and escaped, with some difficulty, from Paris to England, where, as well as in' Germany and at Coppet, her own house in Switzerland, she passed the time till French things settled down under Napoleon. With him she tried to get on, as a duplicate of himself in petticoats and the realm of mind. But this was clearly impossible, and she had once more to retire to Coppet. She had separated, though without positive quarrel, from her husband, whom, however, she attended on his death-bed; and the exact character of her liaisons with others, especially M. de Narbonne and Benjamin Constant, is not easy to determine. In 1812 she married, privately, a young officer, Rocca by name, returned to Paris before and after the Hundred Days, and died there in 1817.

[9] I never can make up my mind whether I am more sorry that Madame Necker did not marry Gibbon or that Mademoiselle Necker did not, as was subsequently on the cards, marry Pitt. The results in either case—both, alas! could hardly have come off—would have been most curious.

[10] The most obvious if not the only possible reason for this would be intended outrage, murder, and suicide; but though Valorbe is a robustious kind of idiot, he does not seem to have made up such mind as he has to this agreeable combination.

[11] I forget whether other characters have been identified, but Léonce does not appear to have much in him of M. de Narbonne, Corinne's chief lover of the period, who seems to have been a sort of French Chesterfield, without the wit, which nobody denies our man, or the real good-nature which he possessed.

[12] Perhaps, after all, not too many, for they all richly deserve it.

[13] Eyes like the Ravenswing's, "as b-b-big as billiard balls" and of some brightness, are allowed her, but hardly any other good point.

[14] I never pretended to be an art-critic, save as complying with Blake's negative injunction or qualification "not to be connoisseured out of my senses," and I do not know what is the technical word in the arts of design corresponding to διανοια in literature.

[15] I hope this iteration may not seem too damnable. It is intended to bring before the reader's mind the utterly willowish character of Oswald, Lord Nelvil. The slightest impact of accident will bend down, the weakest wind of circumstance blow about, his plans and preferences.

[16] That he seems to have unlimited leave is not perhaps, for a peer in the period, to be cavilled at; the manner in which he alternately breaks blood-vessels and is up to fighting in the tropics may be rather more so.

[17] As I may have remarked elsewhere, they often seem to confuse it with "priggishness," "cant," and other amiable cosas de Inglaterra. (The late M. Jules Lemaître, as Professor Ker reminds me, even gave the picturesque but quite inadequate description: "Le snob est un mouton de Panurge prétentieux, un mouton qui saute à la file, mais d'un air suffisant.") We cannot disclaim the general origin, but we may protest against confusion of the particular substance.

[18] Corinne, ou l'Italie.

[19] If anybody thinks Wilhelm Meister or the Wahlverwandtschaften a good novel, I am his very humble servant in begging to differ. Freytag's Soll und Haben is perhaps the nearest approach; but, on English or French standards, it could only get a fair second class.

[20] Corinne "walks and talks" (as the lady in the song was asked to do, but without requiring the offer of a blue silk gown) with her Oswald all over the churches and palaces and monuments of Rome, "doing" also Naples, Venice, etc.

[21] She was rather proud of these mighty members: and some readers may recall that not least Heinesque remark of the poet who so much shocks Kaiser Wilhelm II., "Those of the Venus of Milo are not more beautiful."

[22] Including also a third short story, Le Dernier Abencérage, which belongs, constructively, rather to the Voyages. It is in a way the liveliest (at least the most "incidented") of all, but not the most interesting, and with very little temporal colour, though some local. It may, however, be taken as another proof of Chateaubriand's importance in the germinal way, for it starts the Romantic interest in Spanish things. The contrast with the dirty rubbish of Pigault-Lebrun's La Folie Espagnole is also not negligible.

[23] For the mother, in a fashion which the good Father-missionary most righteously and indignantly denounces as unchristian, had staked her own salvation on her daughter's obedience to the vow.

[24] Its author, in the Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe, expressed a warm wish that he had never written it, and hearty disgust at its puling admirers and imitators. This has been set down to hypocritical insincerity or the sourness of age: I see neither in it. It ought perhaps to be said that he "cut" a good deal of the original version. The confession of Amélie was at first less abrupt and so less effective, but the newer form does not seem to me to better the state of René himself.

[25] There had been a very early French imitation of Werther itself (of the end especially), Les dernières aventures du sieur d'Olban, by a certain Ramond, published in 1777, only three years after Goethe. It had a great influence on Ch. Nodier (v. inf.), who actually republished the thing in 1829.

[26] This "out-of-bounds" passion will of course be recognised as a Romantic trait, though it had Classical suggestions. Chateaubriand appears to have been rather specially "obsessed" by this form of it, for he not merely speaks constantly of René as le frère d'Amélie, but goes out of his way to make the good Father in Atala refer, almost ecstatically, to the happiness of the more immediate descendants of Adam who were compelled to marry their sisters, if they married anybody. As I have never been able to take any interest in the discussions of the Byron and Mrs. Leigh scandal, I am not sure whether this tic of Chateaubriand's has been noticed therein. But his influence on Byron was strong and manifold, and Byron was particularly apt to do things, naughty and other, because somebody else had done or suggested them. And of course it has, from very early days, been suggested that Amélie is an experience of Chateaubriand's own. But this, like the investigations as to time and distance and possibility in his travels and much else also, is not for us. Once more I must be permitted to say that I am writing much about French novels, little about French novelists, and least of all about those novelists' biographers, critics, and so forth. Exceptions may be admitted, but as exceptions only.

[27] I once had to fight it out in public with a valued and valiant friend for saying something like this in regard to Edgar of Ravenswood—no doubt, in some sort a child of René's or of Nelvil's; but I was not put to submission. And Edgar had truer causes for sulks than his spiritual ancestor had—at least before the tragedy of Amélie.

[28] Not in the strict theological meaning of this phrase, of course; but the misuse of it has aesthetic justification.

[29] I.e. not mere "sloth," but the black-blooded and sluggish melancholy to which Dante pays so much attention in the Inferno. This deadly sin we inadequately translate "sloth," and (on one side of it) it is best defined in Dante's famous lines (Inf. vii. 121-3):

Tristi fummo
Nell' aer dolce che dal sol s' allegra,
Portando dentro accidioso fummo.

Had Amélie sinned and not repented she might have been found in the Second circle, flying alone; René, except speciali gratia, must have sunk to the Fourth.

[30] For instance, he goes a-beaver-hunting with the Natchez, but his usual selfish moping prevents him from troubling to learn the laws of the sport, and he kills females—an act at once offensive to Indian religion, sportsmanship, and etiquette, horrifying to the consciences of his adopted countrymen, and an actual casus belli with the neighbouring tribes.

[31] Its second title, ou Le Triomphe de la Religion Chrétienne, connects it still more closely than Les Natchez with Le Génie du Christianisme, which it immediately succeeded in composition, though this took a long time. No book (it would seem in consequence) exemplifies the mania for annotation and "justification" more extensively. In vol. i. the proportion of notes to text is 112 to 270, in vol. ii. 123 to 221, and in vol. iii., including some extracts from the Père Mambrun, 149 to 225.

[32] Such as Eudore's early friendship at Rome, before the persecution under Diocletian, with Augustine, who was not born till twenty years later.

[33] See note above.

[34] There cannot be too much Homer in Homer; there may be too much outside Homer.

[35] If one had only been Telemachus at this time! It would have been a good "Declamation" theme in the days of such things, "Should a man—for this one experience—consent to be Telemachus for the rest of his life—and after?"

[36] In the original the word which I have translated "unbroken" is éternel, and with the adjacent éternité illustrates (as do tonnerre and étonnante in Bossuet's famous passage on the death of "Madame") one of the minor but striking differences between French and English rhetoric. Save for some very special purpose, we should consider such repetition a jingle at best, a cacophony at worst: they think it a beauty.


[Pg 39]

CHAPTER II

PAUL DE KOCK, OTHER MINORS OF 1800-1830, AND NODIER

The fate of popular minor novelists.

The mediocre poet has had a hard fate pronounced against him of old; but the minor novelist, perhaps because he is much more likely to get some good things in his own time, has usually a harder lot still, and in more than one way, after physical or popular death. In fact it may be said that, the more popular he is in the one day, the more utterly forgotten he is likely to be in the other. Besides the obvious facts that his popularity must always have been gained by the adoption of some more or less ephemeral fashion, and that plenty of his own kind are always ready to take his place—doing, like the heir in the old story, all they can to substitute Requiescat in Pace for Resurgam on his hatchment—there is a more mechanical reason for his occultation. The more widely he or she has been read the more certain either has been of being "read to pieces."

Examples of them.

These fates, and especially the last, have weighed upon the minor French novelists of the early nineteenth century perhaps even more heavily than upon our own: for the circulating library was an earlier and a more widely spread institution in France than in England, and the lower and lowest middle classes were a good deal more given to reading, and especially to "light" reading, there than here. Nor can it be said that any of the writers to be now mentioned, with one possible and one certain exception,[Pg 40] is of importance to literature as literature. But all have their importance to literary—and especially departmental-literary—history, in ways which it is hoped presently to show: and there is still amusement in some. The chief, though not the only, names that require notice here are those of Mesdames de Montolieu and (again) de Genlis, of Ducray-Duminil, born almost as early as Pigault-Lebrun, even earlier a novelist, and yoked with him by Victor Hugo in respect of his novel Lolotte et Fanfan in the sneer noted in the last volume;[37] the other Ducange, again as much "other" as the other Molière;[38] the Vicomte d'Arlincourt; and—a comparative (if, according to some, blackish) swan among these not quite positive geese—Paul de Kock. The eldest put in his work before the Revolution and the youngest before Waterloo, but the most prolific time of all was that of the first two or three decades of the century with which we are dealing.

With these, but not of them—a producer at last of real "letters" and more than any one else except Chateaubriand (more "intensively" perhaps even than he was) a pioneer of Romanticism—comes Charles Nodier.

Paul de Kock.

Major Pendennis, in a passage which will probably, at least in England, preserve the name of the author mentioned long after his own works are even more forgotten with us than they are at present, allowed, when disparaging novels generally, and wondering how his nephew could have got so much money for one, that Paul de Kock "certainly made him laugh." In his own country he had an enormous vogue, till the far greater literary powers and the wider range of the school of 1830 put the times out of joint for him, and even much later. He actually survived the Terrible Year: but something like a lustrum earlier, when running over a not small collection of cheap novels in a French country inn, I do not remember coming across anything of his. And he had long been classed as "not a serious person" (which, indeed, he certainly was not) by French[Pg 41] criticism, not merely of the most academic sort, but of all decidedly literary kinds. People allowed him entrain, a word even more difficult than verve to English exactly, though "go" does in a rough sort of way for both. They were of course not very much shocked at his indecorums, which sometimes gave occasion for not bad jokes.[39] But if any foreigner made any great case of him they would probably have looked, if they did not speak their thoughts, very much as some of us have looked, if we have not spoken, when foreigners take certain popular scribes and playwrights of our own time and country seriously.[40]

Let us see what his work is really like to the eyes of impartial and comparative, if not cosmopolitan, criticism.

L'Enfant de ma Femme.

Paul de Kock, whose father, a banker, was a victim, but must have been a late one, of the Terror, was born in 1794, and took very early to letters. If the date of his first book, L'Enfant de ma Femme, is correctly given as 1812, he must apparently have written it before he was eighteen. There is certainly nothing either in the quantity or the quality of the performance which makes this incredible, for it does not fill quite two hundred pages of the ordinary 18mo size and not very closely packed type of the usual cheap French novel, and though it is not unreadable, any tolerably clever boy might easily write it between the time when he gets his scholarship in spring and the time when he goes up in October. The author had evidently read his Pigault and adopted that writer's revised picaresque scheme. His most prominent character (the hero, Henri de Framberg, is very "small[Pg 42] doings"), the hussar-soldier-servant, and most oddly selected "governor" of this hero as a boy, Mullern, is obviously studied off those semi-savage "old moustaches" of whom we spoke in the last volume, though he is much softened, if not in morals, in manners. In fact this softening process is quite obvious throughout. There is plenty of "impropriety" but no mere nastiness, and the impropriety itself is, so to speak, rather indicated than described. As nearly the last sentence announces, "Hymen hides the faults of love" wherever it is possible, though it would require a most complicated system of polygamy and cross-unions to enable that amiable divinity to cover them all. There is a villain, but he is a villain of straw, and outside of him there is no ill-nature. There seems to be going to be a touch of "out-of-boundness" when Henri, just about to marry his beloved Pauline, is informed that she is his sister, and when the pair, separating in horror, meet again and, let us say, forget to separate. But the information turns out to be false, and Hymen duly uses the not uncomfortable extinguisher which, as noted above, is supplied to him as well as the more usual torch.

To call the book good would be ridiculous, but a very large experience of first novels of dates before, the same as, and after its own may warrant allotment to it of possibilities of future good gifts. The history, such as it is, runs currently; there are no hitches and stops and stagnations, the plentiful improbabilities are managed in such fashion that one does not trouble about them, and there is an atmosphere, sometimes of horseplay but almost always of good humour.

Petits Tableaux de Mœurs.

The matter which, by accident or design, goes with this in mid-century reprints of Paul, is of much later date, but it shows that, for some time, its author had been exercising himself in a way valuable to the novelist at any time but by no means as yet frequently practised. Petits Tableaux de Mœurs consists of about sixty short sketches of a very few pages each (usually two or three) and of almost exactly the[Pg 43] same kind as those with which Leigh Hunt, a little earlier in England, transformed the old Spectator essay into the kind of thing taken up soon afterwards by "Boz" and never disused since. They are sketches of types of men, of Parisian cafés, gardens, and restaurants; fresh handlings of old subjects, such as the person who insists on taking you home to a very bad "pot-luck" dinner, and the like. Once more, there is no great brilliance in these. But they are lightly and pleasantly done; it must be obvious to every one that they are simply invaluable training for a novelist who is to leave the beaten track of picaresque adventure and tackle real ordinary life. To which it may be added, as at least possible, that Thackeray himself may have had the creation of Woolsey and Eglantine in The Ravenswing partly suggested by a conversation between a tailor and a hairdresser in Paul's "Le Banc de Pierre des Tuileries." As this is very short it may be worth giving:

To finish our observations, my friend and I went and sat behind two young men dressed in the extreme of the fashion, who, with their feet placed on chairs as far as possible from those in which they were sitting, gracefully rocked themselves, and evidently hoped to attract general attention.

In a minute we heard the following conversation:

"Do you think my coat a success?" "Superb! delicious! an admirable cut!" "And the pantaloons?" "Ravishing! Your get up is really stunning." "The governor told me to spend three hours in the Grand Alley, and put myself well forward. He wants people to take up this new shape and make it fashionable. He has already one order of some consequence." "And, as for me, do you think my hair well done?" "Why, you look like a very Adonis. By the way, my hair is falling off. Do give me something to stop that." "You must give it nourishment. You see hairs are plants or flowers. If you don't water a flower, you can see it withering." "Very true. Then must I use pommade?" "Yes, but in moderation; just as a tree too much watered stops growing. Hair is exactly like vegetables." "And both want cutting?" "Why, yes; it's like a plantation; if you don't prune and thin the branches it kills the young shoots. Cutting helps the rise of the sap." "Do you hold with false fronts?" "I believe you! Why, I make them; it's just like[Pg 44] putting a new roof on a house." "And that does no harm to one's head?" "Impossible! neither glue nor white of egg, which needs must hinder growth, are used. People who wear them mix their own hair with the front. They are two flocks, which unite to feed together, as M. Marty says so well in the Solitaire."[41] "Two torrents which join in the valley: that is the image of life!"

We had heard enough, and so we left the tailor's young man and the romantic hairdresser to themselves.

Gustave.

In Gustave ou Le Mauvais Sujet, a book still early but some years later than L'Enfant, Paul de Kock got nearer to his proper or improper subject—bachelor life in Paris, in the sense of his contemporary Pierce Egan's Life in London.[42] The hero may be called a French Tom Jones in something (but not so much as in the original phrase) of the sense in which Klopstock was allowed to be a German Milton. He has his Allworthy in a benevolent uncle-colonel, peppery but placable; he is far more plentifully supplied than even Tom was with persons of the other sex who play the parts of Black George's daughter and Mrs. Waters, if not exactly of Lady Bellaston. A Sophia could hardly enter into the Kockian plan, but her place in that scheme (with something, one regrets to add, of Lady Bellaston's) is put in commission, and held by a leash of amiable persons—the erring Madame de Berly, who sacrifices honour and beauty and very nearly life for the rascal Gustave; Eugénie Fonbelle, a rich, accomplished, and almost wholly desirable widow, whom he is actually about to marry when, luckily for her, she discovers his fredaines, and "calls off"; and, lastly, a peasant girl, Suzon, whom he seduces, whom he keeps for six weeks in his uncle's house, after a fashion possibly just not impossible in a large Parisian establishment; who is detected at last by the uncle; who runs away when she hears that Gustave is going to marry Eugénie, and who is at the end produced,[Pg 45] with an infant ready-made, for Paul's favourite "curtain" of Hymen, covering (like the curtain) all faults. The book has more "scabrous" detail than L'Enfant de ma Femme, and (worse still) it relapses into Smollettian-Pigaultian dirt; but it displays a positive and even large increase of that singular readableness which has been noticed. One would hardly, except in cases of actual novel-famine, or after an immense interval, almost or quite involving oblivion, read a book of Paul's twice, but there is seldom any difficulty in reading him once. Only, beware his moral moods! When he is immoral it is in the bargain; if you do not want him you leave him, or do not go to him at all. But when, for instance, the unfortunate Madame de Berly has been frightfully burnt and disfigured for life by an act of her own, intended to save—and successful in saving—her vaurien of a lover, Paul moralises thus at the end of a chapter—

Julie perdit en effet tous ses attraits: elle fut punie par où elle avait pêché. Juste retour des choses ici-bas.

there being absolutely no such retour for Gustave—one feels rather inclined, as his countrymen would say, to "conspue" Paul.[43] It is fair, however, to say that these accesses of morality or moralising are not very frequent.

The caricatured Anglais.

But there is one thing of some interest about Gustave which has not yet been noticed. Paul de Kock was certainly not the author,[44] but he must have been one of the first, and he as certainly was one of the most effective and continuous, promoters of that curious caricature of Englishmen which everybody knows from French draughtsmen, and some from French writers, of the first half of the nineteenth century. It is only fair to say that we had long preceded it by caricaturing Frenchmen. But they had been slow in retaliating, at least in anything like the same fashion. For a long time (as is again doubtless known to many[Pg 46] people) French literature had mostly ignored foreigners. During the late seventeenth and earlier eighteenth centuries few, except the aristocracy, of either country knew much of the other, and there was comparatively little (of course there was always some) difference between the manners and customs of the upper classes of both. Prévost and Crébillon, if not Marivaux,[45] knew something about England. Then arose in France a caricature, no doubt, but almost a reverential one, due to the philosophes, in the drawing whereof the Englishman is indeed represented as eccentric and splenetic, but himself philosophical and by no means ridiculous. Even in the severe period of national struggle which preceded the Revolutionary war, and for some time after the beginning of that war itself, the scarecrow-comic Anglais was slow to make his appearance. Pigault-Lebrun himself, as was noted in the last volume, indulges in him little if at all. But things soon changed.

In the book of which we have been speaking, Gustave and a scapegrace friend of his determine to give a dinner to two young persons of the other sex, but find themselves penniless, and a fresh edition of one of the famous old Repues Franches (which date in French literature back to Villon and no doubt earlier) follows. With this, as such, we need not trouble ourselves. But Olivier, the friend, takes upon him the duty of providing the wine, and does so by persuading a luckless vintner that he is a "Milord."

In order to dress the part, he puts on a cravat well folded, a very long coat, and a very short waistcoat. He combs down his hair till it is quite straight, rouges the tip of his nose, takes a whip, puts on gaiters and a little pointed hat, and studies himself in the glass in order to give himself a stupid and insolent air, the result of the make-up being entirely successful. It may be difficult for the most unbiassed Englishman of to-day to recognise himself in this portrait or to find it half-way somewhere about 1860, or even, going back to actual "temp. of tale,"[Pg 47] to discover anything much like it in physiognomies so different as those of Castlereagh and Wellington, of Southey and Lockhart, nay, even of Tom and Jerry.[46] But that it is the Englishman of Daumier and Gavarni, artistement complet already, nobody can deny.

Later in the novel (before he comes to his very problematical "settling down" with Suzon and the ready-made child) Gustave is allowed a rather superfluous scattering of probably not final wild oats in Italy and Germany, in Poland and in England. But the English meesses are too sentimentales (note the change from sensibles); he does not like the courses of horses, the combats of cocks, the bets and the punches and the plum-puddings. He is angry because people look at him when he pours his tea into the saucer. But what annoys him most of all is the custom of the ladies leaving the table after dinner, and that of preferring cemeteries for the purpose of taking the air and refreshing oneself after business. It may perhaps diminish surprise, but should increase interest, when one remembers that, after Frenchmen had got tired of Locke, and before they took to Shakespeare, their idea of our literature was largely derived from "Les Nuits de Young" and Hervey's Meditations among the Tombs.

Another bit of copy-book (to revert to the Pauline moralities) is at the end of the same very unedifying novel, when the benevolent and long-suffering colonel, joining the hands of Gustave and Suzon, remarks to the latter that she has proved to him that "virtues, gentleness, wits, and beauty can serve as substitutes for birth and fortune." It would be unkind to ask which of the "virtues" presided over Suzon's original acquaintance[Pg 48] with her future husband, or whether the same or another undertook the charge of that wonderful six weeks' abscondence of hers with him in this very uncle's house.

Edmond et sa Cousine.

But no doubt this capacity for "dropping into" morality stood Paul in good stead when he undertook (as it was almost incumbent on such a universal provider of popular fiction to do) what the French, among other nicknames for them, call berquinades—stories for children and the young person, more or less in the style of the Ami des Enfants. He diversified his gauloiseries with these not very seldom. An example is bound up with Gustave itself in some editions, and they make a very choice assortment of brimstone and treacle. The hero and heroine of Edmond et sa Cousine are two young people who have been betrothed from their youth up, and neither of whom objects to the situation, while Constance, the "She-cosen" (as Pepys puts it) is deeply in love with Edmond. He also is really fond of her, but he is a bumptious and superficial snob, who, not content with the comfortable[47] income which he has, and which will be doubled at his marriage, wants to make fame and fortune in some way. He never will give sufficient scope and application to his moderate talents, and accordingly fails very plumply in music, playwriting, and painting. Then he takes to stock-exchange gambling, and of course, after the usual "devil's arles" of success, completely ruins himself, owes double what he has, and is about to blow out his somewhat unimportant brains. But Constance, in the truest spirit of melodrama, and having long sought him in vain under the guidance of a quarta persona, of whom more presently, realises almost the whole of her fortune, except a small pittance, dashes it down before him in the nick of time, and saves him for the moment.

Perhaps the straitest sect of the Berquinaders would[Pg 49] have finished the story here, made the two marry on Constance's pittance, reconciled Edmond to honest work, and so on. Paul, however, had a soul both above and below this. Edmond, with the easy and cheap sham honour of his kind, will not "subject her to privations," still hopes for something to turn up, and in society meets with a certain family of the name of Bringuesingue—a father who is a retired mustard-maker with some money and no brains, a mother who is a nonentity, and a daughter Clodora,[48] a not bad-looking and not unamiable girl, unfortunately dowered with the silliness of her father and the nullity of her mother combined and intensified. There is some pretty bad stock farce about M. Bringuesingue and his valet, whom he pays to scratch his nose when his master is committing solecisms; and about Edmond's adroitness in saving the situations. The result is that the Bringuesingues throw their not unwilling daughter at Edmond's head. To do him the only justice he ever deserves, he does not like to give up Constance; but she, more melodramatic than ever, contrives to imbue him with the idea that she is false to him, and he marries Clodora. Again the thing might have been stopped; but Paul once more goes on, and what, I fear, must be called his hopeless bad taste (there is no actual bad blood in him), and the precious stage notion that "Tom the young dog" may do anything and be forgiven, make him bring about a happy ending in a very shabby fashion. Edmond is bored by his stupid though quite harmless and affectionate wife, neglects her, and treats his parents-in-law with more contempt still. Poor Clodora dies, but persuades her parents to hand over her fortune to Edmond, and with it he marries Constance. "Hide, blushing honour! hide that wedding-day." But, you see, the Paul-de-Kockian hero was not like Lord Welter. There was hardly anything that this "fellow couldn't do."

[Pg 50]

Paul, however, has kept his word with his subscribers by shutting out all sculduddery, even of the mildest kind, and has, if not reconciled, partly conciliated critics by throwing in some tolerable minor personages. Pélagie, Constance's lively friend, has a character which he could somehow manage without Richardsonian vulgarity. Her amiable father, an orchestra musician, who manages to find des jolies choses even in a damned piece, is not bad; and, above all, Pélagie's lover, and, till Edmond's misconduct, his friend, M. Ginguet—a modest Government clerk, who adores his mistress, is constantly snubbed by her, but has his flames crowned at last,—is, though not a particularly novel character, a very well-played part.

André le Savoyard.

One of the author's longer books, André le Savoyard, is a curious blend of the berquinade with what some English critics have been kind enough to call the "candour" of the more usual French novel. The candour, however, is in very small proportion to the berquinity. This, I suppose, helped it to pass the English censorship of the mid-nineteenth century; for I remember a translation (it was the first book of the author's I ever read) far away in the 'fifties, among a collection of books where nothing flagrantly scabrous would have been admitted. It begins, and for the most part continues, in an almost completely Marmontelish or Edgeworthian fashion. A selfish glutton and petit-maître of a French count, M. de Francornard, loses his way (with a postilion, a valet, and his little daughter, whom he has carried off from her mother) in the hills of Savoy, and is rescued and guested by a good peasant, whom he rewards with a petit écu (three livres, not five or six). The peasant dies, and his two eldest boys set out for Paris as chimney-sweeps. The elder (eleven-year-old) André himself is befriended by a good Auvergnat water-carrier and his little daughter Manette; after which he falls in with the Francornards—now, after a fashion, a united family. He is taken into their household and made a sort of protégé by the countess, the child[Pg 51] Adolphine being also very fond of him; while, though in another way, their soubrette Lucile, a pretty damsel of eighteen, is fonder still. Years pass, and the fortunate André distributes his affections between the three girls. Manette, though she ends as his wife, is more of a sister at first; Adolphine is an adored and unhoped-for idol; while Lucile (it is hardly necessary to say that it is in the scenes with her that "candour" comes in) is at first a protectress, then a schoolmistress of the school of Cupid, in process of time a mistress in the other sense, and always a very good-natured and unselfish helper. In fact, Manette is so preternaturally good (she can't even be jealous in a sufficiently human way), Adolphine so prettily and at last tragically null, that one really feels inclined to observe to André, if he were worth it, the recondite quotation

Ne sit ancillae tibi amor pudori,

though perhaps seven years is a long interval in the first third of life.

Jean.

A still better instance of the modified berquinade—indeed, except for the absence of riotous fun, one of the best of all Paul de Kock's books—is Jean, also an example of his middle and ripest period. If translated into English it might have for second title "or, The History of a Good Lout." The career of Jean Durand (one of the French equivalents for John Brown or Jones or Robinson) we have from the moment of, and indeed a little before, his birth to that crowning of a virtuous young Frenchman's hopes, which consists in his marrying a pretty, amiable, sensible, and well-to-do young widow.[49] Jean is the son of a herbalist[Pg 52] father who is an eccentric but not a fool, and a mother who is very much of a fool but not in the least eccentric. The child, who is born in the actual presence (result of the usual farcical opening) of a corporal and four fusiliers, is put out to nurse at Saint-Germain in the way they did then, brought home and put out to school, but, in consequence of his mother's absurd spoiling, allowed to learn absolutely nothing, and (though he is not exactly a bad fellow) to get into very bad company. With two of the choicest specimens of this he runs away (having, again by his mother's folly, been trusted with a round sum in gold) at the age of sixteen, and executes a sort of picaresque journey in the environs of Paris, till he is brought to his senses through an actual robbery committed by the worst of his companions. He returns home to find his father dead: and having had a substantial income left him already by an aunt, with the practical control of his mother's resources, he goes on living entirely à sa guise. This involves no positive debauchery or ruination, but includes smoking (then, it must be remembered, almost as great a crime in French as in English middle-class circles), playing at billiards (ditto), and a free use of strong drink and strong language. He spends and gives money freely, but does not get into debt; flirts with grisettes, but falls into no discreditable entanglement, etc., etc.

His most characteristic peculiarity, however, is his absolute refusal to learn the rudiments of manners. He keeps his hat on in all companies; neglects all neatness in dress, etc.; goes (when he does go) among ladies with garments reeking of tobacco and a mouth full of strange oaths, and generally remains ignorant of, or recalcitrant to, every form of conventional politeness in speech and behaviour.

The only person of any sense with whom he has hitherto come in contact, an old hairdresser named Bellequeue (it must be remembered that this profession or vocation is not as traditionally ridiculous in French literature as in ours), persuades his mother that the one[Pg 53] chance of reforming Jean and making him like other people is to marry him off. They select an eligible parti, one Mademoiselle Adelaide Chopard, a young lady of great bodily height, some facial charms, not exactly a fool, but not of the most amiable disposition, and possessed of no actual accomplishment (though she thinks herself almost a "blue") except that of preserving different fruits in brandy, her father being a retired liqueur manufacturer. Jean, who has never been in the least "in love," has no particular objection to Adelaide, and none at all to the preserved cherries, apricots, etc., and the scenes of his introduction and, after a fashion, proposal to the damsel, with her first resentment at his unceremonious behaviour and later positive attraction by it, are far from bad. Luckily or unluckily—for the marriage might have turned out at least as well as most marriages of the kind—before it is brought about, this French Cymon at last meets his real Iphigenia. Walking rather late at night, he hears a cry, and a footpad (one of his own old comrades, as it happens) rushes past him with a shawl which he has snatched from two ladies. Jean counter-snatches the shawl from him and succours the ladies, one of whom strikes his attention. They ask him to put them into a cab, and go off—grateful, but giving no address. However, he picks up a reticule, which the thief in his fright has dropped, discovers in it the address he wants, and actually ventures to call on Madame Caroline Derville, who possesses, in addition to viduity, all the other attractions catalogued above.

Another scene of farce, which is not so far short of comedy, follows between the lout and the lady, the fun being, among other things, caused by Jean's unconventional strolling about the room, looking at engravings, etc., and showing, by his remarks on things—"The Death of Tasso," "The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis," and the like—that he is utterly uneducated.

There is about half the book to come, but no more abstract can be necessary. The way in which Jean is[Pg 54] delivered from his Adelaide and rewarded with his Caroline, if not quite probable (for Adelaide is made to blacken her own character to her rival), is not without ingenuity. And the narrative (which has Paul de Kock's curious "holding" quality for the hour or two one is likely to bestow on it) is diversified by the usual duel, by Jean's noble and rather rash conduct, in putting down his pistols to bestow sacks of five-franc pieces on his two old friends (who try to burgle and—one of them at least—would rather like to murder him), etc., etc.[50] But the real value—for it has some—of the book lies in the vivid sketches of ordinary life which it gives. The curious Cockneydom, diversified by glimpses of a suburban Arcadia, in which the French bourgeois of the first half of the nineteenth century seems to have passed his time; the humours of a coucou journey from Paris to Saint-Germain; all sorts of details of the Durand and Chopard households—supply these. And not the least of them is given by the bachelor ménage of Bellequeue with his eighteen-year-old bonne Rose, the story whereof need not sadden or shock even Mrs. Grundy, unless she scents unrecounted, indeed not even hinted at, improprieties. Bellequeue, as noted above, is by no means a fool, and achieves as near an approach to a successful "character" as Paul de Kock has ever drawn; while Rose plays the same part of piebald angel as Lucile in André, with a little more cleverness in her espièglerie and at least no vouched-for unlawfulnesses.

La Femme, le Mari et l'Amant.

But perhaps if any one wants a single book to judge Paul de Kock by (with one possible exception, to follow this), he cannot do better than take La Femme, le Mari et l'Amant, a novel again of his middle period, and one which, if it shows some of his less desirable points, shows them characteristically and with comparatively little offence, while it exhibits what the shopkeepers would, I believe, call "a range of his best lines." The autobiographic hero,[Pg 55] Paul Deligny, is one of his nearest approaches to a gentleman, yet no one can call him insipid or priggish; the heroine, Augustine Luceval, by marriage Jenneville, is in the same way one of his nearest approaches to a lady, and, though not such a madcap as the similarly situated Frédérique of Une Gaillarde (v. inf.), by no means mawkish. It is needless to say that these are "l'Amant" and "la Femme," or that they are happily united at the end: it may be more necessary to add that there is no scandal, but at the same time no prunes and prism, earlier. "Le Mari," M. Jenneville, is very much less of a success, being an exceedingly foolish as well as reprobate person, who not only deserts a beautiful, charming, and affectionate wife, but treats his lower-class loves shabbily, and allows himself to be swindled and fooled to the nth by an adventuress of fashion and a plausible speculator. On the other hand, one of this book's rather numerous grisettes, Ninie, is of the more if not most gracious of that questionable but not unappetising sisterhood. Dubois, the funny man, and Jolivet, the parsimonious reveller, who generally manages to make his friends pay the bill, are not bad common form of farce. One of the best of Paul's own special scenes, the pancake party, with a bevy of grisettes, is perhaps the liveliest of all such things, and, but for one piece of quite unnecessary Smollettism or Pigaulterie, need only scandalise the "unco guid." The whole has, in unusual measure, that curious readableness which has been allowed to most of our author's books. Almost inevitably there is a melodramatic end; but this, to speak rather Hibernically, is made up for by a minute and curious account, at the beginning, of the actual presentation of a melodrama, with humours of pit, box, and gallery. If the reader does not like the book he will hardly like anything else of its author's; if he does, he will find plenty of the same sort of stuff, less concentrated perhaps, elsewhere. But if he be a student, as well as a consumer, of the novel, he can hardly fail to see that, at its time and in its kind, it is not so trivial a thing as its subjects and their treatment[Pg 56] might, in the abstract, be pronounced to be by the grave and precise.

Mon Voisin Raymond.

Yet somebody may say, "This is all very well, but what was it that made Major Pendennis laugh?" Probably a good many things in a good many books; but I do not know any one more likely to have received that crown than the exception above mentioned, Mon Voisin Raymond, which also bears (to me) the recommendation of a very competent friend of mine. My experience is that you certainly do begin laughing at the very beginning, and that the laughter is kept up, if not without cessation, with very few intervals, through a remarkable series of comic scenes. The book, in fact, is Paul de Kock's Gilbert Gurney, and I cannot sink the critic in the patriot to such an extent as to enable me to put Theodore, even in what is, I suppose, his best long story, above, or even on a level with, Paul here.

The central point, as one sees almost at once, is that this Raymond (I think we are never told his other name), a not entirely ill-meaning person, but a fâcheux of almost ultra-Molièresque strength, is perpetually spoiling his unlucky neighbour's, the autobiographic Eugène Dorsan's, sport, and, though sometimes paid out in kind, bringing calamities upon him, while at last he actually capots his friend and enemy by making him one of the derniers already mentioned! This is very bold of Paul, and I do not know any exact parallel to it. On the other hand, Eugène is consoled, not only by Raymond's death in the Alps (Paul de Kock is curiously fond of Switzerland as a place of punishment for his bad characters), but by the final possession of a certain Nicette, the very pearl of the grisette kind. We meet her in the first scene of the story, where Dorsan, having given the girl a guiltless sojourn of rescue in his own rooms, is detected and exposed to the malice of a cast mistress by Raymond. I am afraid that Paul rather forgot that final sentence of his own first book; for though Pélagie, Dorsan's erring and unpleasant[Pg 57] wife, dies in the last chapter, I do not observe that an actual Hymen with Nicette "covers the fault" which, after long innocence, she has at last committed or permitted. But perhaps it would have been indecent to contract a second marriage so soon, and it is only postponed to the unwritten first chapter of the missing fifth volume.[51]

The interval between overture and finale is, as has been said or hinted, uncommonly lively, and for once, not only in the final retribution, Paul has distributed the peine du talion pretty equally between his personages. Dorsan has already lost another grisette mistress, Caroline (for whose sake he has neglected Nicette), and a femme du monde, with whom he has for a short time intrigued; while in both cases Raymond, though not exactly the cause of the deprivation, has, in his meddling way, been mixed up with it. In yet other scenes we have a travelling magic-lantern exhibition in the Champs Élysées; a night in the Tivoli Gardens; an expedition to a party at a country house, which, of course, Raymond's folly upsets, literally as well as metaphorically; a long (rather too long) account of a musical evening at a very lower-middle-class house; a roaringly farcical interchange of dinners en cabinet particulier at a restaurant, in which Raymond is the victim. But, on the whole, he scores, and is a sort of double cause of the hero's last and greatest misfortune. For it is a lie of his about Nicette which determines Dorsan to make a long-postponed visit to his sister in the country, and submit at last to her efforts to get him married to the exaggeratedly ingénue Pélagie, and saddled with her detestable aunt, Madame de Pontchartrain. The end of the book is not quite equal to some other parts of it. But there is abundance of excellent farce, and Nicette might reconcile the veriest sentimentalist.

Le Barbier de Paris.

At one time in England—I cannot speak for the[Pg 58] times of his greatest popularity in France—Paul de Kock's name, except for a vague knowledge of his grisette and mauvais sujet studies, was very mainly connected with Le Barbier de Paris. It was an instance of the constant mistakes which almost all countries make about foreign authors. I imagine, from a fresh and recent reading of it, that he probably did take more trouble with it than with most of his books. But, unfortunately, instances of lost labour are not confined to literature. The subject and the author are very ill matched. It is a romance of 1632, and so in a way competing with the most successful efforts of the great Romantics. But for such a task Paul had no gifts, except his invariable one of concocting a readable story. As for style, imagination, atmosphere, and such high graces, it would be not so much cruel as absurd to "enter" the book with Notre-Dame de Paris or the Contes Drolatiques, Le Capitaine Fracasse or the Chronique de Charles IX. But even the lower ways he could not tread here. He did not know anything about the time, and his wicked Marquis de Villebelle is not early Louis Treize at all, but rather late Louis Quinze. He had not the gift (which Scott first showed and Dumas possessed in no small measure) of writing his conversations, if not in actual temporal colour of language, at any rate in a kind of lingua franca suitable to, or at the worst not flagrantly discordant with, any particular time and any particular state of manners. He could throw in types of the kind so much admired by no less a person than Sir Philip Sidney—a garrulous old servant, an innocent young girl, a gasconading coward, a revengeful daughter of Italy, a this and that and the other. But he could neither make individual character nor vivid historical scene. And so the thing breaks down.

The barber-hero-villain himself is the most "unconvincing" of barbers (who have profited fiction not so ill in other cases), of heroes (who are too often unconvincing), and even of villains (who have rather a[Pg 59] habit of being so).[52] Why a man who is represented as being intensely, diabolically, wicked, but almost diabolically shrewd, should employ, and go on employing, as his instrument a blundering poltroon like the Gascon Chaudoreille, is a question which recurs almost throughout the book, and, being unanswered, is almost sufficient to damn it. And at the end the other question, why M. le Marquis de Villebelle—represented as, though also a villain, a person of superior intelligence—when he has discovered that the girl whom he has abducted and sought to ruin is really his daughter; when he has run upstairs to tell her, has knocked at her locked door, and has heard a heavy body splashing into the lake under her window,—why, instead of making his way at once to the water, he should run about the house for keys, break into the room, and at last, going to the window, draw from the fact that "an object shows itself at intervals on the surface, and appears to be still in a state of agitation," the no doubt quite logical inference that Blanche is drowning—when, and only then, he precipitates himself after her,—this question would achieve, if it were necessary, the damnation.

The Pauline grisette.

The fact is, that Paul had no turn for melodrama, history, or tragic matter of any kind. He wrote nearly a hundred novels, and I neither pretend to have read the whole of them, nor, if I had done so, should I feel justified in inflicting abstracts on my readers. As always happens in such cases, the feast he offers us is "pot-luck," but, as too seldom happens, the luck of the pot is quite often good. With the grisette, to whom he did much to give a niche (one can hardly call it a shrine) in literature, whom he celebrated so lovingly, and whose gradual disappearance he has so touchingly bewailed, or with any feminine person of partly grisettish kind, such as the curious and already[Pg 60] briefly mentioned heroine of Une Gaillarde,[53] he is almost invariably happy. The above-mentioned Lucile is not technically a grisette (who should be a girl living on her own resources or in a shop, not in service) nor is Rose in Jean, but both have the requirements of the type—minois chiffonné (including what is absolutely indispensable, a nez retroussé), inexhaustible gaiety, extreme though by no means promiscuous complaisance, thorough good-nature—all the gifts, in short, of Béranger's bonne fille, who laughs at everything, but is perfectly capable of good sense and good service at need, and who not seldom marries and makes as good a wife as, "in a higher spear," the English "garrison hack" has had the credit of being. Quite a late, but a very successful example, with the complaisance limited to strictly legitimate extent, and the good-nature tempered by a shrewd determination to avenge two sisters of hers who had been weaker than herself, is the Georgette of La Fille aux Trois Jupons, who outwits in the cleverest way three would-be gallants, two of them her sisters' actual seducers, and extracts thumping solatia from these for their victims.[54]

Others.

On the other hand, the older and, I think, more famous book which suggested the title of this—L'Homme aux Trois Culottes, symbolising and in a way giving a history of the times of the Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration, and finishing with "July"—seems to me again a failure. As I have said, Paul could not manage history, least of all spread-out history like this; and the characters, or rather personages, though of the lower and lower-middle rank, which he could manage best, are to me totally uninteresting. Others may have been, or may be, more fortunate with them.

So, too, Le Petit Fils de Cartouche (which I read before[Pg 61] coming across its first part, Les Enfants du Boulevard) did not inspire me with any desire to look up this earlier novel; and La Pucelle de Belleville, another of Paul's attempts to depict the unconventional but virtuous young person, has very slight interest as a story, and is disfigured by some real examples of the "coarse vulgarity" which has been somewhat excessively charged against its author generally. Frère Jacques is a little better, but not much.[55]

Something has been said of "periods"; but, after all, when Paul has once "got into his stride" there is little difference on the average. I have read, for instance, in succession, M. Dupont, which, even in the Belgian piracy, is of 1838, and Les Demoiselles de Magazin, which must be some quarter of a century later—so late, indeed, that Madame Patti is mentioned in it. The title-hero of the first—a most respectable man—has an ingénue, who loves somebody else, forced upon him, experiences more recalcitrance than is usually allowed in such cases, and at last, with Paul's usual unpoetical injustice, is butchered to make way for the Adolphe of the piece, who does not so very distinctly deserve his Eugénie. It contains also one Zélie, who is perhaps the author's most impudent, but by no means most unamusing or most disagreeable, grisette. Les Demoiselles de Magazin gives us a whole posy of these curious flower-weeds of the garden of girls—pretty, middling, and ugly, astonishingly virtuous, not virtuous at all, and couci-couci (one of them, by the way, is nicknamed "Bouci-Boula," because she is plump and plain), but all good-natured, and on occasion almost noble-sentimented; a guileless provincial; his friend, who has a mania for testing his wife's fidelity, and who accomplishes one of Paul's favourite fairy-tale or rather pantomime endings by coming down with fifteen thousand francs for an old mistress (she has lost her beauty by the bite of a parrot,[Pg 62] and is the mother of the extraordinarily virtuous Marie); a scapegrace "young first" or half-first; a superior ditto, who is an artist, who rejects the advances of Marie's mother, and finally marries Marie herself, etc. etc. You might change over some of the personages and scenes of the two books; but they are scarcely unequal in such merit as they possess, and both lazily readable in the fashion so often noted.

If any one asks where this readableness comes from, I do not think the answer is very difficult to give, and it will of itself supply a fuller explanation (the words apology or excuse are not really necessary) for the space here allotted to its possessor. It comes, no doubt, in the first place, from sheer and unanalysable narrative faculty, the secret of the business, the mystery in one sense of the mystery in the other. But it also comes, as it seems to me, from the fact that Paul de Kock is the very first of French novelists who, though he has no closely woven plot, no striking character, no vivid conversation or arresting phrases, is thoroughly real, and in the good, not the bad, sense quotidian. The statement may surprise some people and shock others, but I believe it can be as fully sustained as that other statement about the most different subject possible, the Astrée, which was quoted from Madame de Sévigné in the last volume. Paul knew the world he dealt with as well almost as Dickens[56] knew his very different but somewhat corresponding one; and, unlike Dickens, the Frenchman had the good sense to meddle very little[57] with worlds that he did not know. Of course it would be simply bête to take it for granted that the majority of Parisian shop- and work- and servant-girls have or had either the beauty or the amiability or the less praiseworthy qualities of his grisettes. But somehow or other one feels that the general ethos of the class has been caught.[58] His bourgeois interiors[Pg 63] and outings have the same real and not merely stagy quality; though his melodramatic or pantomimic endings may smack of "the boards" a little. The world to which he holds up the mirror may be a rather vulgar sort of Vanity Fair, but there are unfortunately few places more real than Vanity Fair, and few things less unreal than vulgarity.

The last sentence may lead to a remark of a graver kind than has been often indulged in here. Thackeray defined his own plan in Vanity Fair itself as at least partly an attempt to show people "living without God in the world." There certainly is not much godliness in the book, but he could not keep it out altogether; he would have been false to nature (which he never was) if he had. In Paul de Kock's extensive work, on the other hand, the exclusion is complete. It is not that there is any expressed Voltairianism as there is in Pigault. But though the people are married in church as well as at the mairie, and I remember one casual remark about a mother and her daughter going to mass, the whole spiritual region—religious, theological, ecclesiastical, and what not—is left blank. I do not remember so much as a curé figuring personally, though there may be one. And it is worth noting that Paul was born in 1794, and therefore passed his earliest childhood in the time when the Republic had actually gagged, if not stifled, religion in France—when children grew up, in some cases at any rate, without ever hearing the name of God, except perhaps in phrases like pardieu or parbleu. It is not my business or my intention to make reflections or draw inferences; I merely indicate the fact.

Another fact—perhaps so obvious already that it hardly needs stating—is that Paul de Kock is not exactly the person to "take a course of," unless under such[Pg 64] conditions as those under which Mr. Carlyle took a course of a far superior writer, Marryat, and was (one regrets to remember) very ungrateful for the good it did him. He is (what some of his too critical countrymen have so falsely called Dumas) a mere amuseur, and his amusement is somewhat lacking in variety. Nevertheless, few critical readers[59] of the present history will, I think, consider the space given to him here as wasted. He was a really powerful schoolmaster to bring the popular novel into still further popularity; and he made a distinct advance upon such persons as Pigault-Lebrun and Ducray-Duminil—upon the former in comparative decency, if not of subject, of expression; upon the latter in getting close to actual life; and upon both in what may be called the furniture of his novels—the scene-painting, property-arranging, and general staging. This has been most unfairly assigned to Balzac as originator, not merely in France, but generally, whereas, not to mention our own men, Paul began to write nearly a decade before the beginning of those curious efforts, half-prenatal, of Balzac's, which we shall deal with later, and nearly two decades before Les Chouans. And, horrifying as the statement may be to some, I venture to say that his mere mise en scène is sometimes, if not always, better than Balzac's own, though he may be to that younger contemporary of his as a China orange to Lombard Street in respect of plot, character, thought, conversation, and all the higher elements, as they are commonly taken to be, of the novel.


The minors before 1830.

It has been said that the filling-up of this chapter, as to the rank and file of the novelists of 1800-1830, has been a matter of some difficulty in the peculiar circumstances of the case. I have, however, been enabled to read, for the first time or afresh,[Pg 65] examples not merely of those writers who have preserved any notoriety, but of some who have not, and to assure myself on fair grounds that I need not wait for further exploration. The authors now to be dealt with have already been named. But I may add another novelist on the very eve of 1830, Auguste Ricard, whose name I never saw in any history of literature, but whose work fell almost by accident into my hands, and seems worth taking as "pot-luck."


Mme. de Montolieu—Caroline de Lichtfield.

Isabelle de Montolieu—a Swiss by birth but a French-woman by extraction, and Madame de Crousaz by her first marriage—was a friend of Gibbon's friend Georges Deyverdun, and indeed of Gibbon himself, who, she says, actually offered to father her novel. Odd as this seems, there really is in Caroline de Lichtfield[60] not merely something which distinguishes it from the ordinary "sensibility" tale of its time (it was first printed at Lausanne in 1786), but a kind of crispness of thought now and then which sometimes does suggest Gibbon, in something the same way as that in which Fanny Burney suggests Johnson. This is indeed mixed with a certain amount of mere "sensibility" jargon,[61] as when a lover, making a surprisingly honest confession to his beloved, observes that he is going "to destroy those sentiments which had made him forget how unworthy he was of them," or when the lady (who has been quite guiltless, and has at last fallen in love with her own husband) tells this latter of her weakness in these very engaging words: "Yes! I did love Lindorf; at least I think I recognise some relation between the sentiments I had for him and those that I feel at present!"

Its advance on "Sensibility."

A kind of affection was avowed in the last volume for[Pg 66] the "Phoebus" of the "heroics," and something similar may be confessed for this "Jupiter Pluvius," this mixture of tears and stateliness, in the Sentimentalists. But Madame de Montolieu has emerged from the most larmoyante kind of "sensible" comedy. If her book had been cut a little shorter, and if (which can be easily done by the reader) the eccentric survival of a histoire, appended instead of episodically inserted, were lopped off, Caroline de Lichtfield would not be a bad story. The heroine, having lost her mother, has been brought up to the age of fifteen by an amiable canoness, who (to speak rather Hibernically) ought to have been her mother but wasn't, because the actual mother was so much richer. She bears no malice, however, even to the father who, well preserved in looks, manners, and selfishness, is Great Chamberlain to Frederick the Great.

That very unsacred majesty has another favourite, a certain Count von Walstein, who is ambassador of Prussia at St. Petersburg. It pleases Frederick, and of course his chamberlain, that Caroline, young as she is, shall marry Walstein. As the girl is told that her intended is not more than thirty, and knows his position (she has, naturally, been brought up without the slightest idea of choosing for herself), she is not displeased. She will be a countess and an ambassadress; she will have infinite jewels; her husband will probably be handsome and agreeable; he will certainly dance with her, and may very possibly not object to joining in innocent sports like butterfly-catching. So she sets off to Berlin quite cheerfully, and the meeting takes place. Alas! the count is a "civil count" (as Beatrice says) enough, but he is the reverse of handsome and charming. He has only one eye; he has a huge scar on his cheek; a wig (men, remember, were beginning to "wear their own hair"), a bent figure, and a leaden complexion. Caroline, promptly and not unnaturally, "screams and disappears like lightning." Nor can any way be found out of this extremely awkward situation. The count (who is[Pg 67] a thoroughly good fellow) would give Caroline up, though he has taken a great fancy to her, and even the selfish Lichtfield tries (or says he tries) to alter his master's determination. But Frederick of course persists, and with a peculiarly Frederician enjoyment in conferring an ostensible honour which is in reality a punishment, sees the marriage ceremony carried out under his own eye. Caroline, however, exemplifies in combination certain old adages to the effect that there is "No will, no wit like a woman's." She submits quite decently in public, but immediately after the ceremony writes a letter[62] to her husband (whose character she has partly, though imperfectly, gauged) requesting permission to retire to the canoness till she is a little older, under a covert but quite clearly intelligible threat of suicide in case of refusal. There are of course difficulties, but the count, like a man and a gentleman, consents at once; the father, bon gré mal gré, has to do so, and the King, a tyrant who has had his way, gives a sulky and qualified acquiescence. What follows need only be very rapidly sketched. After a little time Caroline sees, at her old-new home, an engaging young man, a Herr von Lindorf; and matters, though she is quite virtuous, are going far when she receives an enormous epistle[1*] from her lover, confessing that he himself is the author of her husband's disfigurement (under circumstances discreditable to himself and creditable to Walstein), enclosing, too, a very handsome portrait of the count as he was, and but for this disfigurement might be still. What happens then nobody ought to need, or if he does he does not deserve, to be told. There is no greatness about this book, but to any one who has an eye for consequences it will probably seem to have some future in it. It shows the breaking of the Sensibility mould and the running of the materials into a new pattern as early as 1786. In 1886 M. Feuillet or M. Theuriet would of course have clothed the story-skeleton differently, but one can quite imagine[Pg 68] either making use of a skeleton by no means much altered. M. Rod would have given it an unhappy ending, but one can see it in his form likewise.[63]

Madame de Genlis iterum.

Of Stéphanie Félicité, Comtesse de Genlis, it were tempting to say a good deal personally if we did biographies here when they can easily be found elsewhere. How she became a canoness at six years old, and shortly afterwards had for her ordinary dress (with something supplementary, one hopes) the costume of a Cupid, including quiver and wings; how she combined the offices of governess to the Orleans children and mistress to their father; how she also combined the voluptuousness and the philanthropy of her century by taking baths of milk and afterwards giving that milk to the poor;[64] how, rather late in life, she attained the very Crown-Imperial of governess-ship in being chosen by Napoleon to teach him and his Court how to behave; and how she wrote infinite books—many of them taking the form of fiction—on education, history, religion, everything, can only be summarised. The last item of the summary alone concerns us, and that must be dealt with summarily too. Mlle. de Clermont—a sort of historico-"sensible" story in style, and evidently imitated from La Princesse de Clèves—is about the best thing she did as literature; but we dealt with that in the last volume[65] among its congeners. In my youth all girls and some boys knew Adèle et Théodore and Les Veillées du Château. From a later book, Les Battuécas, George Sand is said to have said that she learnt Socialism: and the fact is that Stéphanie Félicité had seen so much, felt so much, read so much, and done so much that, having also a quick feminine wit, she could put into her immense body of work all sorts of crude second-hand notions. The two last things that I read of hers to complete my idea of her were Le Comte[Pg 69] de Corke and Les Chevaliers du Cygne, books at least possessing an element of surprise in their titles. The first is a collection of short tales, the title-piece inspired and prefaced by an account of the Boyle family, and all rather like a duller and more spun-out Miss Edgeworth, the common relation to Marmontel accounting for this. The concluding stories of each volume, "Les Amants sans Amour" and "Sanclair," are about the best. Les Chevaliers du Cygne is a book likely to stir up the Old Adam in some persons. It was, for some mysterious reason, intended as a sort of appendix—for "grown-ups"—to the Veillées du Château, and is supposed to have incorporated parabolically many of the lessons of the French Revolution (it appeared in 1795). But though its three volumes and eleven hundred pages deal with Charlemagne, and the Empress Irene, and the Caliph "Aaron" (Haroun), and Oliver (Roland is dead at Roncevaux), and Ogier, and other great and beloved names; though the authoress, who was an untiring picker-up of scraps of information, has actually consulted (at least she quotes) Sainte-Palaye; there is no faintest flavour of anything really Carlovingian or Byzantine or Oriental about the book, and the whole treatment is in the pre-historical-novel style. Indeed the writer of the Veillées was altogether of the veille—the day just expired—or of the transitional and half-understood present—never of the past seen in some perspective, of the real new day, or, still less, of the morrow.

The minor popular novel—Ducray-Duminil—Le Petit Carilloneur.

The batch of books into which we are now going to dip does not represent the height of society and the interests of education like Madame de Genlis; nor high society again and at least strivings after the new day, like the noble author of the Solitaire who will follow them. They are, in fact, the minors of the class in which Pigault-Lebrun earlier and Paul de Kock later represent such "majority" as it possesses. But they ought not to be neglected here: and I am bound to say that the very considerable trouble they cost me has not been[Pg 70] wholly vain.[66] The most noted of the whole group, and one of the earliest, Ducray-Duminil's Lolotte et Fanfan, escaped[67] a long search; but the possession and careful study of the four volumes of his Petit Carillonneur (1819) has, I think, enabled me to form a pretty clear notion of what not merely Lolotte (the second title of which is Histoire de Deux Enfants abandonnés dans une île déserte), but Victor ou L'Enfant de la Forêt, Cælina ou L'Enfant du Mystère, Jules ou le Toit paternel, or any other of the author's score or so of novels would be like.

The book, I confess, was rather hard to read at first, for Ducray-Duminil is a sort of Pigault-Lebrun des enfants; he writes rather kitchen French; the historic present (as in all these books) loses its one excuse by the wearisome abundance of it, and the first hundred pages (in which little Dominique, having been unceremoniously tumbled out of a cabriolet[68] by wicked men, and left to the chances of divine and human assistance, is made to earn his living by framed-bell-ringing in the streets of Paris) became something of a corvée. But the author is really a sort of deacon, though in no high division of his craft. He expands and duplicates his situations with no inconsiderable cunning, and the way in which new friends, new enemies, and new should-be-indifferent persons are perpetually trying to find out whether the boy is really the Dominique d'Alinvil of Marseilles, whose father and mother have been foully made away with, or not, shows command of its own particular kind of ingenuity. Intrigues of all sorts—violent and other (for his wicked relative, the Comtesse d'Alinvil, is always trying to play Potiphar's wife to him, and there is a certain Mademoiselle Gothon who would not figure as she does here in a book by Mr. Thomas Day)—beset[Pg 71] him constantly; he is induced not merely to trust his enemies, but to distrust his friends; there is a good deal of underground work and of the explained supernatural; a benevolent musician; an excellent curé; a rather "coming" but agreeable Adrienne de Surval, who, close to the end of the book, hides her trouble in the bosom of her aunt while Dominique presses her hand to his heart (the aunt seems here superfluous), etc., etc. Altogether the book is, to the historian, a not unsatisfactory one, and joins its evidence to that of Pigault as showing that new sources of interest and new ways of dealing with them are being asked for and found. In filling up the map of general novel-development and admitting English examples, we may assign to its author a place between Mrs. Radcliffe and the Family Herald: confining ourselves to French only, he has again, like Pigault, something of the credit of making a new start. He may appeal to the taste of the vulgar (which is not quite the same sort of thing as "a vulgar taste"), but he sees that the novel is capable of providing general pastime, and he does his best to make it do so.

V. Ducange.
L'Artiste et le Soldat.

"The other Ducange," whose patronymic appears to have been Brahain, and who perhaps took the name of the great scholar[69] for the sake of contrast, was even more famous for his melodramas[70] than for his fiction, one piece especially, "Trente Ans, ou La Vie d'un Joueur," having been among the triumphs of the Porte-Saint-Martin and of Frédérick Lemaître. As a novelist he did not write for children like Ducray-Duminil, and one of his novels contains a boastful preface scoffing at and glorying in the accusations of impropriety brought against him. I have found nothing very shocking in those books of his which I have read, and I certainly have not thought it necessary to extend my acquaintance in search of it. He seems to have been a[Pg 72] quarrelsome sort of person, for he got into trouble not only with the moralists, not only with the Restoration government, but with the Academy, which he attacked; and he is rather fond of "scratchy" references such as "On peut mériter encore quelque intérêt sans être un Amadis, un Vic-van-Vor [poor Fergus!], un Han, ou un Vampire." But his intrinsic merit as a novelist did not at first seem to me great. A book worse charpenté than that just quoted from, L'Artiste et le Soldat, I have seldom read. The first of its five volumes is entirely occupied with the story (not badly, though much too voluminously told) of a captain who has lost his leg at Waterloo, and though tended by a pretty and charming daughter, is in great straits till helped by a mysterious Black Nun, who loves les militaires, and has been entrusted with money to help them by the Empress Josephine. The second, "without with your leave or by your leave" of any kind,[71] jumps back to give us, under a different name for a long time, the early history of this captain, which occupies two whole volumes and part of a third (the fourth of the book). Then another abrupt shift introduces us to the "artist," the younger brother, who bears a third name, itself explained by another jump back of great length. Then a lover turns up for Suzanne, the captain's daughter, and we end the fifth volume with a wedding procession in ten distinct carriages.

Ludovica.

Ludovica ou Le Testament de Waterloo, a much later book, was, the author tells us, finished in June 1830 under the fiendish tyranny of "all-powerful bigots, implacable Jesuits, and restored marquises"; but the glorious days of July came; a new dynasty, "jeune, forte, sincère" (Louis Philippe "young and sincere"!), was on the throne; the ship of state entered the vast sea of liberty; France revived; all Europe seemed to start from its shroud—and Ludovica got published. But the author's joy was a little dashed [Pg 73]by the sense that, unlike its half-score of forerunners, the book had not to battle with the bigots and the Jesuits and the "restored marquises"—the last a phrase which has considerable charms of suggestion.

All this, of course, has its absurd side; but it shows, by way of redemption, that Ducange, in one of the many agreeable phrases of his country, "did not go to it with a dead hand." He seems, indeed, to have been a thoroughly "live" person, if not a very wise one: and Ludovica begins with a rousing situation—a crowd and block in the streets of Paris, brought about by nobody quite knows what, but ending in a pistol-shot, a dead body, the flight of the assassin, the dispersal of the crowd by the gendarmes, and finally the discovery by a young painter, who has just returned from seeing his mother at Versailles, of a very youthful, very pretty, and very terrified girl, speaking an unknown tongue, and not understanding French, who has fled for refuge into a dark alley ending in a flight of cellar-steps. It is to the point that among the confused cries attending the disturbance have been some about a girl being carried off.

It must be admitted that this is not unpromising, and I really think Ludovica (with a caution as to the excessive prolixity of its kind and time) might be recommended to lovers of the detective novel, of which it is a rather early sample. I have confessed, in a later chapter, that this particular "wanity" is not my favourite; but I found myself getting through M. Victor Ducange's six volumes—burdened rather than ballasted as they are by political outbursts, rather "thorn-crackling" attempts at humour, and the like—with considerably less effort than has sometimes attended similar excursions. If they had been three instead of six I hardly think I should have felt the collar at all. The superiority to L'Artiste et le Soldat is remarkable. When honest Jules Janin attributed to Ducange "une érudition peu commune," he must either have been confusing Victor with Charles, or, which is more probable, exhibiting his own lack of the quality he refers to. Ducange does quote[Pg 74] tags of Latin: but erudition which makes Proserpine the daughter of Cybele, though certainly peu commune in one sense, is not so in the other. The purposes and the jokes, as has been said, may bore; and though the style is better than Ducray's, it would not of itself "over-stimulate." But the man is really almost prodigal of incident, and does not manage it badly.

Here, you have Ludovica's father and mother (the former of whom has been crimped to perform a marriage under the impression that he is a priest, whereas he is really a colonel of dragoons) escaping through a hole at the back of a picture from a skylighted billiard-room. There, an enterprising young man, "sitting out" at a ball, to attend which he has disguised himself, kisses his partner,[72] and by that pleasing operation dislodges half his borrowed moustache. It falls, alas! on her hand, she takes it for a spider, screams, and so attracts an unwelcome public. Later in the same evening he finds himself shut up in the young lady's bedroom, and hears her and her mother talking secrets which very nearly concern him. The carrying off of Ludovica from Poland to Paris is very smartly managed (I am not sure that the great Alexander or one of his "young men" did not borrow some details from it for the arrest of D'Artagnan and Porthos after their return from England), and the way in which she and a double of hers, Trinette van Poupenheim, are mixed up is really clever. So is the general cross-purposing. Cabmen turn up just when they should; and though letters dropped out of pockets are as common as blackberries, I know few better excuses for such carelessness than the fact that you have pulled the letter out with a silk wrapper, which you proceed to fold tenderly round the beautiful neck of a damsel in a cab somewhere about midnight. A holograph will made on the eve of Waterloo and preserved for fifteen years by the faithful depositary; a good[Pg 75] doctor, of course; many bad Jesuits, of course; another, and this time virtuous, though very impudent, carrying-off of the other young woman from the clutches of the hated congréganistes;[73] a boghei;[74] a jokei; a third enlèvement of the real Ludovica, who escapes by a cellar-trap; and many other agreeable things, end in the complete defeat of the wicked and the marriage of the good to the tune of four couples, the thing being thus done to the last in Ducange's usual handsome manner.[75] I do not know whether Ludovica was melodramatised. Le Jésuite of the same year by Ducange and the great Pixérécourt looks rather like it; and so does Il y a Seize Ans of a year later, which he seems to have written alone. But if it was not it ought to have been. The half-moustache-spider-kissing-screaming scene, and the brilliant youth retreating through the laughing crowd with the other half of his decoration, might have reconciled even me to the theatre.

Auguste Ricard—L'Ouvreuse de Loges.

A short account of the last novel (except Le Solitaire) mentioned above must stand for sample, not merely of the dozen other works of its author, Auguste Ricard, but for many more advertised on the fly-leaves of this time, and long since made "alms for oblivion." Their titles, Le Portier, La Grisette, Le Marchand de Coco, by Ricard himself, on one side, L'Homme des Ruines, Bleack- (sic) Beard, La Chambre Rouge (by a certain Dinocourt) on the other, almost tell their whole story—the story of a range (to use English terms once more) between the cheap followers of Anne Radcliffe and G. W. M. Reynolds. L'Ouvreuse de Loges, through which I have conscientiously worked, inclines to the latter kind, being[Pg 76] anti-monarchic, anti-clerical, anti-aristocratic (though it admits that these aristocrats are terrible fellows for behaving in a way which the roturier cannot imitate, however hard he tries), and anti-things-in-general. Its title-heroine is a bad old woman, who "keeps the door" in the Elizabethan sense as well as theatrically. Its real hero is a ci-devant duke; malversator under the Republic; supposed but not real victim of the Septembriseurs; atheist; winner and loser of several fortunes; and at last particulier of Paris under a feigned name, with an apartment full of bric-à-brac, a drawer full of little packets of money, after the expenditure of the last of which he proposes to blow his brains out; tall man of stature and of his hands, etc., etc. The book is in a way one of purpose, inculcating the danger of wooing opera-girls, and instancing it with three very weak young men, another duke, a rich young parvenu, and a musician. Of these the first and the last are, with their wives, rather arbitrarily saved from the clutches into which they have fallen, by the mysterious "M. Luc," while the other comes to a very bad end. The novel, which is in five volumes, is, like most of those mentioned in this section, not of the kind that one would read by preference. But it is a very fair specimen of the "below stairs" romance which sometimes prepares the way for others, fit to take their places above stairs. And so it has its place here.[76]

The importance of these minors not inconsiderable.

It has been pointed out more than once that though neglect of such books as these may be perfectly natural and probable in the average reader, such neglect—and still more any contempt of them—is, though it may not be unnatural, utterly unscholarly and uncritical from the point of view of history. Their authors themselves learnt something from their own mistaken experiments, and their[Pg 77] successors learnt a good deal more. They found that "sculduddery" was not a necessary attraction. Ducray does not avail himself of it, and Ducange seems to have left it off. They did not give up, but they came less and less to depend upon, extravagant incident, violent peripeteias, cheap supernaturalities, etc. But the most important thing about them perhaps is the evidence they give of learning what has been called their "business." Already, to a great extent if not wholly, that earliest obsession and preoccupation of the novelist—the idle anxiety to answer the question, "How do you know all these things?"—has begun to disappear. This is rather less the case with another foolish fancy—the belief that it is necessary to account not merely for what we call the consequents, but for the antecedents of all the characters (at least those of any importance) that you introduce. There can be no doubt that this was one of the objects, as it was part of the original cause, of the mistaken Histoire system, which made you, when or soon after you introduced a personage, "tell us all about it," as the children say, in a separate inset tale. You did not now do this, but you made, as in the capital instance of Victor Ducange, huge diversions, retrospects, episodes, in the body of the story itself. This method, being much less skippable than the inset by those who did not want it, was not likely to continue, and so applied the cure to its own ill. And yet further, as novels multiplied, the supposed necessity of very great length tended to disappear. The seven or eight volumes of the eighteenth century, which had replaced the twelves and twenties of the seventeenth, shrank to six (Ludovica), five (L'Artiste et Le Soldat and l'Ouvreuse de Loges), four (Le Petit Carillonneur), and then three or two, though later the historical kind swelled again, and the almost invariable single volume did not establish itself till the middle of the century. As a consequence again of this, the enormous delay over single situations tended, though very slowly, to disappear. It is one of the merits of Pigault-Lebrun that he is not a great sinner in verbosity and prolixity: his contemporary[Pg 78] minors of this volume are far more peccant in this kind.

The Vicomte d'Arlincourt—Le Solitaire.

Le Solitaire is a book which I have been "going to read" for some fifty years, but by some accident did not till the present occasion. I knew it generally as one of the vedettes of Romanticism, and as extremely popular in its own day: also as having been, with its author's other work in poem and play and prose fiction, the subject of some ridicule. But till I read it, and some things about it, I never knew how well it deserved that ridicule and yet how very popular it was, and how really important is its position in the history of the Romantic movement, and so of the French novel and French literature generally. It was published at the end of January 1821, and at the end of November a seventh edition appeared, with an elaborate Io Triumphe! from the publisher. Not only had there been those seven editions (which, it must be remembered in fairness, represent at least seventy at the other end of the century[77]), but it had been translated into four foreign languages; fourteen dramas had been based on it, some half of which had been at least conditionally accepted for performance; painters of distinction were at work on subjects from it; it had reached the stages of Madrid and of London (where one critic had called it "a very beautiful composition"), while French approval had been practically unanimous. Nay, a game had been founded thereon, and—crowning, but perhaps rather ominous honour—somebody had actually published a burlesque imitation.

I have seldom read greater rubbish than Le Solitaire. It is a historical-romantic story (the idolatrous preface refers both to Scott and to Byron), and bears also strong, if sometimes distinctly unfortunate, resemblances to Mrs. Radcliffe, the Germans, and Chateaubriand. The scene is that of Charles the Bold's defeat at Morat: and the "Solitary" is Charles himself—the identification of his body after the decisive overthrow at Nancy was a[Pg 79] little doubtful—who has hidden there partly to expiate, by good deeds, his crime of massacring the monks of the adjoining Abbey of Underlach, and partly to avail himself of a local tradition as to a Fantôme Sanglant, who haunts the neighbourhood, and can be conveniently played by the aid of a crimson mantle. The slaughter of the monks, however, is not the only event or circumstance which links Underlach to the crimes of Charles, for it is now inhabited by a Baron d'Herstall (whose daughter, seduced by the Duke, has died early) and his niece, Elodie de Saint-Maur, whose father, a former favourite of the Burgundian, that prince has killed in one of his fits of rage. Throw in a local priest, Anselm, and you have what may be called the chief characters; but a good Count Ecbert de Norindall, a wicked Prince of Palzo, and divers others figure. Everybody, including the mysterious Bleeding-Phantom-Solitary-Duke himself, falls in love with Elodie,[78] and she is literally "carried off" (that is to say, shouldered) several times, once by the alarming person in the crimson shroud, but always rescued, till it is time for her to die and be followed by him. There are endless "alarums and excursions"; some of the not explained supernatural; woods, caves, ruins, underground passages—entirely at discretion. Catherine Morland would have been perfectly happy with it.

It is not, however, because it contains these things that it has been called "rubbish." A book might contain them all—Mrs. Radcliffe's own do, with the aggravation of the explained wonders—and not be that. It is because of the extraordinary silliness of the style and sentiments. I should imagine that M. d'Arlincourt was trying to write like his brother viscount, the author of Les Martyrs, and a pretty mess he has made of it. "Le char de la nuit roulait silencieux sur les plaines du ciel" (p. 3). "L'entrée du jour venait de s'élancer[Pg 80] radieuse du palais de l'Aurore." "L'amante de l'Érèbe et la mère des Songes[79] avait achevé la moitié de sa course ténébreuse," etc., etc. The historic present is constantly battling with the more ordinary tenses—the very same sentence sometimes contains both. And this half-blown bladder of a style conveys sentiments as feebly pompous as itself. The actual story, though no great thing, is, if you could strip it of its froth and fustian, not so very bad: as told it is deplorable.

At the same time its mere existence—much more the fury of acceptance which for the moment greeted it—shows what that moment wanted. It wanted Romance, and in default of better it took Le Solitaire.


An occasional contrast of an almost violent kind may be permitted in a work requiring something more than merely catalogue-composition. It can hardly be found more appropriately than by concluding this chapter, which began with the account of Paul de Kock, by one of Charles Nodier.

Nodier.

To the student and lover of literature there is scarcely a more interesting figure in French literary history, though there are many greater. Except a few scraps (which, by one of the odd ways of the book-world, actually do not appear in some editions of his Œuvres Choisies), he did nothing which had the quality of positive greatness in it. But he was a considerable influence: and even more of a "sign." Younger than Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël, but far older than any of the men of 1830 proper, he may be said in a way to have, in his single person, played in France that part of schoolmaster to Romanticism, which had been distributed over two generations and many personalities in England; and which Germany, after a fashion, did without, at the cost of a few undisciplined and quickly overbloomed master-years. Although he was born in[Pg 81] 1780, nine years before the Revolution itself, he underwent German and English influences early, "took" Wertherism, Terrorism,[80] and other maladies of that fin de siècle with the utmost facility, and produced divers ultra-Romantic things long before 1830 itself. But he had any number of literary and other avocations or distractions. He was a kind of entomologist and botanist, a kind of philologist (one is a little astonished to find that rather curious and very charlatanish person and parson Sir Herbert Croft, whose secretary Nodier was for a time, dignified in French books by the name of "philologue Anglais"), a good deal more than a kind of bibliographer (he spent the last twenty years of his life as Librarian of the Arsenal), and an enthusiastic and stimulating, though not exactly trustworthy, critic. But he concerns us here, of course, for his prose fiction, which, if not very bulky, is numerous in its individual examples, and is animated in the best of them by a spirit almost new in French and, though often not sufficiently caught and concentrated, present to almost the highest degrees in at least three examples—the last part of La Fée aux Miettes, La Légende de Sœur Béatrix, and, above all, Inès de las Sierras.

For those who delight in literary filiations and genealogies, the kind of story in which Nodier excelled (and in which, though some of his own were written after 1830, he may truly be considered as "schoolmaster" to Mérimée and Gautier and Gérard de Nerval and all their fellows), may be, without violence or exaggeration, said to be a new form of the French fairy-tale, divested of common form, and readjusted with the help of the German Märchen and fantasy-pieces. Le Diable Amoureux had, no doubt, set the fashion of this kind earlier; but that story, charming as it is, is still scarcely "Romantic." Nodier is so wholly; and it is fair to remember that Hoffmann himself was rather a contemporary of his, and subject to the same influences, than a predecessor.[81]

[Pg 82]

His short stories.

The best collection of Nodier's short tales contains nine pieces: Trilby, Le Songe d'Or, Baptiste Montauban, La Fée aux Miettes, La Combe de l'Homme mort, Inès de las Sierras, Smarra, La Neuvaine de la Chandeleur, and La Légende de Sœur Béatrix. Of these I believe Trilby, La Fée aux Miettes, and Smarra have been the greatest favourites, and were pretty certainly the most influential in France. My own special delights are Le Songe d'Or, Inès de las Sierras, and Sœur Béatrix, with part of the Fée. But none is without its attractions, and the Preface to the Fée aux Miettes, which is almost a separate piece, has something of the quintessential in that curious quality which Nodier possesses almost alone in French or with Gérard de Nerval and Louis Bertrand only. English readers may "perceive a good deal of [Charles] Lamb in it," with touches of Sterne and De Quincey and Poe.

Trilby.

It is much to be feared that more people in England nowadays associate the name of "Trilby" with the late Mr. Du Maurier than with Nodier, and that more still associate it with the notion of a hat than with either of the men of genius who used it in literature.

So mighty Byron, dead and turned to clay,
Gave name to collars for full many a day;
And Ramillies, grave of Gallic boasts so big,
Found most perpetuation in a wig.[82]

The original story united divers attractions for its first readers in 1822, combining the older fashion of Ossian with the newer one of Scott, infusing the supernatural, which was one great bait of the coming Romanticism, and steeping the whole cake in the tears of the newer[Pg 83] rather than the older "Sensibility." "Trilby, le Lutin d'Argaïl"[83] (Nodier himself explains that he alters the spelling here with pure phonetic intent, so as to keep the pronunciation for French eyes and ears[84]), is a spirit who haunts the cabin of the fisherman Dougal to make a sort of sylph-like love to his wife Jeannie. He means and does no harm, but he is naturally a nuisance to the husband, on whom he plays tricks to keep him away from home, and at length rather frightens the wife. They procure, from a neighbouring monastery, a famous exorcist monk, who, though he cannot directly punish Trilby, lays on him sentence of exclusion from the home of the pair, unless one of them invites him, under penalty of imprisonment for a thousand years. How the story turns to Jeannie's death and Trilby's duress can be easily imagined, and may be read with pleasure. I confess that to me it seems pretty, but just a little mawkish.[85] Perhaps I am a brute.

Le Songe d'Or.

Le Songe d'Or, on the other hand, though in a way tragic, and capable of being allegorised almost ad infinitum in its sense of some of the riddles of the painful earth, is not in the least sentimental, and is told, till just upon the end, with a certain tender irony. The author called it "Fable Levantine," and the venerable Lo[c]kman is introduced in it. But I have read it several times without caring (perhaps this was reprehensible) to ascertain whether it is in the recognised Lokman bunch or not. All I know is that here Nodier and not Lokman has told it, and that the result is delightful. First a beautiful "kardouon," the prettiest of lizards, all azure and ruby and gold, finds in the desert a heap of gold-pieces. He breaks his teeth on them,[Pg 84] but is sure that such nice-looking things must be good to eat—probably slices of a root which some careless person has left too long in the sun—and that, if properly treated, they will make a famous winter provision. So he conveys them with much care and exertion, one by one, to a soft bed of fresh moss, just the thing to catch the dew, under the shadow of a fine old tree. And, being naturally tired, he goes to sleep beside them. And this is the history of the kardouon.

Now there was in that neighbourhood a poor woodcutter named Xaïloun—deformed, and not much more than half-witted, but amiable—who had taken a great fancy to the kardouon as being a beautiful beast, and likely to make a charming friend. But the kardouon, after the manner of shy lizards, had by no means reciprocated this affection, and took shelter behind stones and tree-stumps when advances were made to him. So that the children, and even his own family, including his mother, used to jeer at Xaïloun and tell him to go to his friend. On this particular occasion, the day after the kardouon's trouvaille, Xaïloun actually found the usually wide-awake animal sleeping. And as the place, with the moss and the great tree-shadow and a running stream close by, was very attractive, Xaïloun lay down by the lizard to wait till he should wake. But as he himself might go to sleep, and the animal, accustomed to the sun, might get a chill in the shade, Xaïloun put his own coat over him. And he too slept, after thinking how nice the kardouon's friendship would be when they both woke. And this is the history of Xaïloun.

Next day again there came a fakir named Abhoc, who was on a pretended pilgrimage, but really on the look-out for what he might get. He saw a windfall at once, was sure that neither of its sleeping guardians could keep it from him, and very piously thanked the Almighty for rewarding his past devotion and self-sacrifice by opening a merry and splendid life to him. But as, with such custodians, the treasure could be "lifted" without the slightest difficulty, he too lay down[Pg 85] by it, and went to sleep, dreaming of Schiraz wine in golden cups and a harem peopled with mortal houris. And this is the history of the fakir Abhoc.

A day and a night passed, and the morrow came. Again there passed a wise doctor of laws, Abhac by name, who was editing a text to which a hundred and thirty-two different interpretations had been given by Eastern Cokes and Littletons. He had just hit upon the hundred and thirty-third—of course the true one—when the sight described already struck him and put the discovery quite out of his head, to be lost for ever. As became a jurist, he was rather a more practical person than the woodcutter or the fakir, if not than the lizard. His human predecessors were, evidently, thieves, and must be brought to justice, but it would be well to secure "pieces of conviction." So he began to wrap up the coins in his turban and carry them away. But there were so many, and it was so heavy, that he grew very weary. So he too laid him down and slept. And this is the history of the doctor Abhac.

But on the fifth day there appeared a much more formidable person than the others, and also a much more criminous. This was the "King of the Desert"—bandit and blackmailer of caravans. Being apparently a bandit of letters, he reflected that, though lizards, being, after all, miniature dragons, were immemorial guardians of treasure, they could not have any right in it, but were most inconveniently likely to wake if any noise were made. The others were three to one—too heavy odds by daylight. But if he sat down by them till night came he could stab them one by one while they were asleep, and perhaps breakfast on the kardouon—said to be quite good meat. And he went to sleep himself. And this is the history of the King of the Desert.

But next day again the venerable Lokman passed by, and he saw that the tree was a upas tree and the sleepers were dead. And he understood it all, and he passed his hand through his beard and fell on his face, and gave glory to God. And then he buried the three covetous[Pg 86] ones in separate graves under the upas itself. But he put Xaïloun in a safer place, that his friends might come and do right to him; and he buried the kardouon apart on a little slope facing the sun, such as lizards love, and near Xaïloun. And, lastly, having stroked his beard again, he buried the treasure too. But he was very old: and he was very weary when he had finished this, and God took him.

And on the seventh day there came an angel and promised Xaïloun Paradise, and made a mark on his tomb with a feather from his own wing. And he kissed the forehead of Lokman and made him rise from the dead, and took him to the seventh heaven itself. And this is the history of the angel. It all happened ages ago, and though the name of Lokman has lived always through them, so has the shadow of the upas tree.

And this is the history of the world.

Only a child's goody-goody tale? Possibly. But for my part I know no better philosophy and, at least as Nodier told it, not much better literature.

Minors.

Baptiste Montauban and La Combe de l'Homme mort are, though scarcely shorter than Le Songe d'Or, slighter. The first is a pathetic but not quite consummate story of "love and madness" in a much better sense than that in which Nodier's eccentric employer, Sir Herbert Croft, used the words as his title for the history of Parson Hackman and Miss Ray.[86] The second ("combe," the omission of which from the official French dictionaries Nodier characteristically denounces, is our own "combe"—a deep valley; from, I suppose, the Celtic Cwm; and pronounced by Devonshire folk in a manner which no other Englishman, born east of the line between the mouths of the Parret and the[Pg 87] Axe, can master) is a good but not supreme diablerie of a not uncommon kind. La Neuvaine de la Chandeleur is longer, and from some points of view the most pathetic of all. A young man, hearing some girls talk of a much-elaborated ceremony like those of Hallowe'en in Scotland and of St. Agnes' Eve in Keats, by which (in this case) both sexes can see their fated lovers, tries it, and discerns, in dream or vision, his ideal as well as his fate. She turns out to be an actual girl whom he has never seen, but whom both his father and her father—old friends—earnestly desire that he should marry. He travels to her home, is enthusiastically greeted, and finds her even more bewitching than her wraith or whatever it is to be called. But she is evidently in bad health, and dies the same night of aneurism. Not guested in the house, but trysted in the morning, he goes there, and seeing preparations in the street for a funeral, asks of some one, being only half alarmed, "Qui est mort?" The answer is, "Mademoiselle Cecile Savernier."

Had these words terminated the story it would have been nearly perfect. Two more pages of the luckless lover's progress to resignation from despair and projected suicide seem to me to blunt the poignancy.

La Fée aux Miettes.

In fact, acknowledging most humbly that I could not write even the worst and shortest of Nodier's stories, I am bound to say that I think he was not to be trusted with a long one. La Fée aux Miettes is at once an awful and a delightful example. The story of the mad shipwright Michel, who fell in love with the old dwarf beggar—so unlike her of Bednal Green or King Cophetua's love—at the church door of Avranches; who followed her to Greenock and got inextricably mixed between her and the Queen of Sheba; who for some time passed his nights in making love to Belkis and his days in attending to the wisdom of the Fairy of the Crumbs (she always brought him his breakfast after the Sabaean Nights); who at last identified the two in one final rapture, after seeking for a Singing Mandrake; and who spent the rest (if not, indeed,[Pg 88] the whole) of his days in the Glasgow Lunatic Asylum;—is at times so ineffably charming that one is almost afraid oneself to repeat the refrain—

C'est moi, c'est moi, c'est moi!
Je suis la Mandragore!
La fille des beaux jours qui s'éveille à l'aurore—
Et qui chante pour toi!

though, after all, every one whose life has been worth living has listened for the song all that life—and has heard it sometimes.

To find any fault with the matrix of this opal is probably blasphemous. But I own that I could do without the Shandean prologue and epilogue of the narrator and his man-servant Daniel Cameron. And though, as a tomfool myself, I would fain not find any of the actions of my kind alien from me, I do find some of the tomfoolery with which Nodier has seasoned the story superfluous. Why call a damsel "Folly Girlfree"? What would a Frenchman say if an English story-teller christened some girl of Gaul "Sottise Librefille"? "Sir Jap Muzzleburn," the Bailiff of the Isle of Man, and his black poodle-equerry, Master Blatt, amuse me but little; and Master Finewood, the shipbuilder,—whose rejected six sons-in-law, lairds of high estate, run away with his thirty thousand guineas, and are checkmated by six sturdy shipwrights,—less. I have no doubt it is my fault, my very great fault, but I wish they would go, and leave me with Michel and La Fée, or rather allow me to be Michel with La Fée.

Smarra and Sœur Béatrix.

Smarra—which made a great impression on its contemporaries and had a strong influence on the Romantic movement generally—is a fantasia of nightmare based on the beginning of The Golden Ass, with, again, a sort of prologue and epilogue of modern love. It is undoubtedly a fine piece of work of its kind and beautifully written. But in itself it seems to me a little too much of a tour de force, and its kind a little rococo. Again, mea maxima culpa perhaps. On the other hand, Sœur Béatrix is a most charmingly told[Pg 89] version of a very wide-spread story—that of Our Lady taking the place of an erring sister during her sojourn in the world, and restoring her to it without any scandal when she returns repentant and miserable after years of absence. It could not be better done.

Inès de las Sierras.

But the jewel of the book, and of Nodier's work, to me, is Inès de las Sierras—at least its first and larger part; for Nodier, in one of those exasperatingly uncritical whims of his which have been noticed, and which probably prevented him from ever writing a really good novel of length, has attached an otiose explanation à la Mrs. Radcliffe, which, if it may please the weakest kind of weak brethren, may almost disgust another, and as to which I myself exercise the critic's cadi-rights by simply ignoring and banishing what I think superfluous. As for what remains, once more, it could not be done better.

Three French officers, at the moment of disturbance of the French garrisons in the north of Spain, owing to Napoleon's Russian disasters (perhaps also to more local events, which it was not necessary for Nodier to mention), are sent on remount duty from Gerona to Barcelona, where there is a great horse-fair on. They are delayed by bad weather and other accidents, and are obliged to stop half-way after nightfall. But the halting-place is choke-full of other travellers on their way to the same fair, and neither at inn nor in private house is there any room whatever, though there is no lack of "provant." Everybody tells them that they can only put up at "the castle of Ghismondo." Taking this for a Spanish folkword, they get rather angry. But, finding that there is a place of the name close by in the hills—ruinous, haunted, but actual—they take plenty of food, wine, and torches, etc., and persuade, with no little difficulty, their arriero and even their companion and the real hirer of the vehicle (a theatrical manager, who has allowed them to accompany him, when they could get no other) to dare the night adventure. On the way the arriero tells them the legend, how, centuries before, Ghismondo de las Sierras, ruined[Pg 90] by debauchery, established himself in this his last possession, with one squire, one page (both of the worst characters), his beautiful niece Inès, whom he has seduced, and a few desperate followers, who help him to live by brigandage. Every night the three chiefs drank themselves senseless, and were regularly dragged to bed by their men. But one Christmas Eve at midnight, Inès, struck with remorse, entered the hall of orgies, and implored them to repent, actually kneeling before Ghismondo, and placing her hand on his heart. To which the ruffian replied by stabbing her, and leaving her for the men-at-arms to find, a corpse, among the drunken but live bodies. For a whole twelvemonth the three see, in dreams, their victim come and lay a burning hand on their hearts; and at its end, on the same day and at the same hour, the dream comes true—the phantom appears, speaks once, "Here am I!" sits with them, eats and drinks, even sings and dances, but finally lays the flaming hand of the dream on each heart; and they die in torture—the men-at-arms entering as usual, only to find four corpses. (Now it is actually Christmas Eve—the Spanish Noche Buena—at "temp. of tale.")

So far the story, though admirably told, in a fashion which mere summary cannot convey, is, it may be said, not more than "as per usual." Not so what follows.

The four travellers—the unnamed captain who tells the story; his two lieutenants, Boutraix, a bluff Voltairian, with an immense capacity for food and drink, and Sergy, a young and romantic Celadon, plus the actor-manager Bascara, who is orthodox—with the arriero, arrive at last at the castle, which is Udolphish enough, and with some difficulty reach, over broken staircases and through ruined corridors, the great banqueting-hall.[87]

Here—for it is less ruinous that the rest of the[Pg 91] building and actually contains furniture and mouldering pictures—they make themselves tolerably comfortable with their torches, a huge fire made up from broken stairs and panels, abundance of provisions, and two dozen of wine, less a supply for the arriero, who prudently remains in the stables, alleging that the demons that haunt those places are fairly familiar to him and not very mischievous. As the baggage has got very wet during the day, the dresses and properties of Bascara's company are taken out and put to air. Well filled with food and drink, the free-thinker Boutraix proposes that they shall equip themselves from these with costumes not unsuitable to the knight, squire, and page of the legend, and they do so, Bascara refusing to take part in the game, and protesting strongly against their irreverence. At last midnight comes, and they cry, "Where is Inès de las Sierras?" lifting their glasses to her health. Suddenly there sounds from the dark end of the great hall the fateful "Here am I!" and there comes forward a figure in a white shroud, which seats itself in the vacant place assigned by tradition to Inès herself. She is extraordinarily beautiful, and is, under the white covering, dressed in a fashion resembling the mouldering portrait which they have seen in the gallery. She speaks too, half rallying them, as if surprised at their surprise; she calls herself Inès de las Sierras; she throws on the table a bracelet with the family arms, which they have also seen dimly emblazoned or sculptured about the castle; she eats; and, as a final piece of conviction, she tears her dress open and shows the scar on her breast. Then she drinks response to the toast they had in mockery proposed; she accepts graciously the advances of the amorous Sergy; she sings divinely, and she dances more divinely still. The whole scene is described supremely well, but the description of the dance is one of the very earliest and very finest pieces of Romantic French prose. One may try, however rashly, to translate it:[Pg 92]

(She has found a set of castanets in her girdle.)

She rose and made a beginning by grave and measured steps, displaying, with a mixture of grace and majesty, the perfection of her figure and the nobility of her attitudes. As she shifted her position and put herself in new aspects, our admiration turned to amazement, as though another and another beautiful woman had come within our view, so constantly did she surpass herself in the inexhaustible variety of her steps and her movements. First, in rapid transition, we saw her pass from a serious dignity to transports of pleasure, at first moderate, but growing more and more animated; then to soft and voluptuous languors; then to the delirium of joy, and then to some strange ecstasy more delirious still. Next, she disappeared in the far-off darkness of the huge hall, and the clash of the castanets grew feeble in proportion to the distance, and diminished ever till, as we ceased to see, so we ceased to hear her. But again it came back from the distance, increasing always by degrees, till it burst out full as she reappeared in a flood of light at the spot where we least expected her. And then she came so near that she touched us with her dress, clashing the castanets with a maddening volubility, till they weakened once more and twittered like cicalas, while now and then across their monotonous racket she uttered shrill yet tender cries which pierced to our own souls. Afterwards she retired once more, but plunged herself only half in the darkness, appearing and disappearing by turns, now flying from our gaze and now desiring to be seen,[88] while later still you neither saw nor heard her save for a far-off plaintive note like the sigh of a dying girl. And we remained aghast, throbbing with admiration and fear, longing for the moment when her veil, fluttering with the dance-movement, should be lighted up by the torches, when her voice should warn us of her return, with a joyful cry, to which we answered involuntarily, because it made us vibrate with a crowd of secret harmonies. Then she came back; she spun round like a flower stripped from its stalk by the wind; she sprang from the ground as if it rested only with her to quit earth for ever; she dropped again as if it was only her will which kept her from touching it at all; she did not bound from the floor—you would have thought that she shot from it—that some mysterious law of her destiny forbade her to touch it, save in order to fly from it. And her head, bent with an expression of caressing impatience, and her arms, gracefully opened, as though in appealing prayer, seemed to implore us to save her.

[Pg 93]

The captain himself is on the point of yielding to the temptation, but is anticipated by Sergy, whose embrace she returns, but sinks into a chair, and then, seeming to forget the presence of the others altogether, invites him to follow her through tortuous and ruined passages (which she describes) to a sepulchre, which she inhabits, with owls for her only live companions. Then she rises, picks up her shroud-like mantle, and vanishes in the darkness with a weird laugh and the famous words, "Qui m'aime me suive."

The other three have the utmost difficulty in preventing Sergy (by main force at first) from obeying. And the captain tries rationalism, suggesting first that the pretended Inès is a bait for some gang of assassins or at least brigands, then that the whole thing is a trick of Bascara's to "produce" a new cantatrice. But Boutraix, who has been entirely converted from his Voltairianism by the shock, sets aside the first idea like a soldier, and Bascara rebuts the second like a sensible man. Brigands certainly would give no such warning of their presence, and a wise manager does not expose his prima donna's throat to cohabitation in ruins with skeletons and owls. They finally agree on silence, and shortly afterwards the three officers leave Spain. Sergy is killed at Lutzen, murmuring the name of Inès. Boutraix, who has never relapsed, takes the cowl, and the captain retires after the war to his own small estate, where he means to stay. He ends by saying Voilà tout.

Alas! it is not all, and it is not the end. Some rather idle talk with the auditors follows, and then there is the above-mentioned Radcliffian explanation, telling how Inès was a real Las Sierras of a Mexican branch, who had actually made her début as an actress, had been, as was at first thought, murdered by a worthless lover, but recovered. Her wits, however, were gone, and having escaped from the kind restraint under which she was put, she had wandered to the castle of her ancestors, afterwards completely recovering her senses and[Pg 94] returning to the profession in the company of Bascara himself.

Now I think that, if I took the trouble to do so, I could point out improbabilities in this second story sufficient to damn it on its own showing.[89] But, as has been said already, I prefer to leave it alone. I never admired George Vavasour in Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? But I own that I agree with him heartily in his opinion that "making a conjurer explain his tricks" is despicably poor fun.

Still, the story, which ends at "Voilà tout" and which for me does so end "for good and all," is simply magnificent. I have put it elsewhere with Wandering Willie's Tale, which it more specially resembles in the way in which the ordinary turns into the extraordinary. It falls short of Scott in vividness, character, manners, and impressiveness, but surpasses him in beauty[90] of style and imagery. In particular, Nodier has here, in a manner which I hardly remember elsewhere, achieved the blending of two kinds of "terror"—the ordinary kind which, as it is trivially called, "frightens" one, and the other[91] terror which accompanies the intenser pleasures of sight and sound and feeling, and heightens them by force of contrast. The scene of Inès' actual appearance would have been the easiest thing in the world to spoil, and therefore was the most difficult thing in the world to do right. But it is absolutely right. In particular, the way in which her conduct in at once admitting Sergy's attentions, and finally inviting him to "follow," is guarded from the very slightest suggestion of the professional "comingness" of a common courtesan, and made the spontaneous action of a thing divine or diabolic, is really wonderful.

[Pg 95]

At the same time, the adverse criticism made here, with that on La Fée aux Miettes and a few other foregoing remarks, will probably prepare the reader for the repeated and final judgment that Nodier was very unlikely to produce a good long story. And, though I have not read quite all that he wrote, I certainly think that he never did.

Nodier's special quality.

In adding new and important masterpieces to the glittering chain of short cameo-like narratives which form the peculiar glory of French literature, he did greatly. And his performance and example were greater still in respect of the quality which he infused into those best pieces of his work which have been examined here. It is hardly too much to say that this quality had been almost dormant—a sleeping beauty among the lively bevies of that literature's graces—ever since the Middle Ages, with some touches of waking—hardly more than motions in a dream—at the Renaissance. The comic Phantasy had been wakeful and active enough; the graver and more serious tragic Imagination had been, though with some limitations, busy at times. But this third sister—Our Lady of Dreams, one might call her in imitation of a famous fancy—had not shown herself much in French merriment or in French sadness: the light of common day there had been too much for her. Yet in Charles Nodier she found the magician who could wake her from sleep: and she told him what she had thought while sleeping.[92]

FOOTNOTES:

[37] Vol. I. pp. 458, 472, notes.

[38] Vol. I. p. 161.

[39] When he published Le Cocu, it was set about that a pudibund lady had asked her book-seller for "Le Dernier de M. Paul de Kock." And this circumlocution became for a time popular, as a new name for the poor creature on the ornaments of whose head our Elizabethans joked so untiringly.

[40] A short essay, or at least a "middle" article, might be written on this way of regarding a prophet in his own country, coupling Béranger with Paul de Kock. Of course the former is by much a major prophet in verse than Paul is in prose. But the attitude of the superior French person to both is, in different degrees, the same. (Thackeray in the article referred to below, p. 62 note, while declaring Paul to be the French writer whose works are best known in England, says that his educated countrymen think him pitoyable.—Works, Oxford edition, vol. ii p. 533.)

[41] A gibe at the Vicomte d'Arlincourt's very popular novel, to be noticed below. I have not, I confess, identified the passage: but it may be in one of the plays.

[42] It would not be fair to compare the two as makers of literature. In that respect Theodore Hook is Paul's Plutarchian parallel, though he has more literature and less life.

[43] Charity, outrunning knowledge, may plead "Irony perhaps?" Unfortunately there is no chance of it.

[44] I really do not know who was (see a little below). Parny in his absurd Goddam! (1804) has something of it.

[45] And he knew something of it through Addison.

[46] The straight hair is particularly curious, for, as everybody who knows portraits of the early nineteenth century at all is aware, Englishmen of the time preferred brushed back and rather "tousled" locks. In Maclise's famous "Fraserians" there is hardly a straight-combed head among all the twenty or thirty. At the same time it is fair to say that our own book-illustrators and caricaturists, for some strange reason, did a good deal to authorise the libels. Cruikshank was no doubt a wonderful draughtsman, but I never saw (and I thank God for it) anything like many, if not most, of his faces. "Phiz" and Cattermole in (for example) their illustrations to The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge sometimes out-Cruikshank Cruikshank in this respect.

[47] Paul's ideas of money are still very modest. An income of 6000 francs (£240) represents ease if not affluence; with double the amount you can "aspire to a duchess," and even the dispendious Irish-French Viscount Edward de Sommerston in La Fille aux Trois Jupons (v. inf.) starts on his career with scarcely more than three thousand a year.

[48] Paul's scholarship was very rudimentary, as is shown in not a few scraps of ungrammatical Latin: he never, I think, ventures on Greek. But whether he was the first to estropier the not ugly form "Cleodora," I know not. Perhaps he muddled it with "Clotilde."

[49] This cult of the widow might form the subject of a not uninteresting excursus if we were not confining ourselves to the literary sides of our matter. It has been noticed before (Vol. I. p. 368), and forms one of the most curious differences between the two countries. For, putting Mr. Weller out of the question, I have known far from sentimental critics who thought Trollope's best book by no means improved by the previous experience of Eleanor Bold. Cherolatry in France, however, is not really old: it hardly appears before the eighteenth century. It may be partly due to a more or less conscious idea that perhaps the lady may have got over the obligatory adultery at the expense of her "dear first" and may not think it necessary to repeat. A sort of "measles over."

[50] He also improves his neglected education in a manner not unsuggestive of Prince Giglio. In fact, I fancy there is a good deal of half-latent parody of Paul in Thackeray.

[51] There might have been fifteen or fifty, for the book is more a sequence of scenes than a schematic composition: for which reason the above account of it may seem somewhat décousu.

[52] I think I have commented elsewhere on the difficulty of villains. It was agreeable to find confirmation, when this book was already in the printer's hands, given at an exemption tribunal by a theatrical manager. For six weeks, he said, he had advertised and done everything possible to supply the place of a good villain, with no success. And your bad stage villain may be comic: while your bad novel villain is only a bore.

[53] Frédérique, Madame Dauberny (who has, without legal sanction, relieved herself of a loathsome creature whom she has married, and lives a free though not at all immoral life), was not very easy to do, and is very well done.

[54] This, which is short and thoroughly lively, is, I imagine, the latest of Paul's good books. It is indeed so late that instead of the jupons, striped and black and white, of which Georgette has made irreproachable but profitable use, she appears at the denouement in a crinoline!

[55] The most interesting thing in it is a longish account by Jacques of his association with a travelling quack and fortune-teller, which at once reminds one of Japhet in Search of a Father. The resemblances and the differences are almost equally characteristic.

[56] Of course I am not comparing him with Paul on any other point.

[57] Except in regard to the historical and other matters noticed above, hardly at all.

[58] For a picture of an actual grisette, drawn by perhaps the greatest master of artistic realism (adjective and substantive so seldom found in company!) who ever lived, see that Britannia article of Thackeray's before referred to—an article, for a long time, unreprinted, and therefore, till a comparatively short time ago, practically unknown. This and its companion articles from the Britannia and the Corsair, all of 1840-41, but summarising ten or twelve years' knowledge of Paris, form, with the same author's Paris Sketch Book (but as representing a more mature state of his genius), the best commentary on Paul de Kock. They may be found together in the third volume of the Oxford Thackeray edited by the present writer.

[59] Unless they start from the position that an English writer on the French novel is bound to follow—or at least to pay express attention to—French criticism of it. This position I respectfully but unalterably decline to accept. A critical tub that has no bottom of its own is the very worst Danaid's vessel in all the household gear of literature.

[60] The scene and society are German, but the author knows the name to have been originally English.

[61] Such, perhaps, as Gibbon himself may have used while he "sighed as a lover" and before he "obeyed as a son." It should perhaps be said that Mme. de Montolieu produced many other books, mostly translations—among the latter a French version of The Swiss Family Robinson.

[62] In dealing with "Sensibility" earlier, it was pointed out how extensively things were dealt with by letter. In such cases as these the fashion came in rather usefully.

[63] The treatment of the authors here mentioned, infra, will, I hope, show that the introduction of their names is not merely "promiscuous."

[64] I am quite prepared to be told that this was somebody else or nobody at all. "Moi, je dis Madame de Genlis."

[65] P. 436.

[66] The kind endeavours of the Librarian of the London Library to obtain some in Paris itself were fruitless, but the old saying about neglecting things at your own door came true. My friend Mr. Kipling urged me to try Mr. George Gregory of Bath, and Mr. Gregory procured me almost all the books I am noticing in this division.

[67] The British Museum (see Preface) being inaccessible to me.

[68] Readers will doubtless remember that the too wild career of this kind of vehicle, charioteered by wicked aristocrats, has been among the thousand-and-three causes assigned for the French Revolution.

[69] Of course the author of the glossaries himself was, by actual surname, Dufresne, Ducange being a seignory.

[70] It should be observed that a very large number of these minor novels, besides those specially mentioned as having undergone the process, from Ducray's downwards, were melodramatised.

[71] That is to say, in the text: the second title of the whole book, "ou Les Enfants de Maître Jacques," does in some sort give a warning, though it is with Maître Jacques rather than with his children that the fresh start is made.

[72] He has, though unknown and supposed to be an intruder, carried her off from an English adorer—a sort of Lovelace-Byron, whose name is Lord Gousberycharipay (an advance on Paul de Kock and even Parny in the nomenclature of the English peerage), and who inserts h's before French words!

[73] If novels do not exaggerate the unpopularity of these persons (strictly the lay members of the S.J., but often used for the whole body of religious orders and their lay partisans), the success of "July" needs little further explanation.

[74] That is to say, not a bogey, but a buggy.

[75] Here is another instance. Ludovica's father and a bad Russo-Prussian colonel have to be finished off at Waterloo. One might suppose that Waterloo itself would suffice. But no: they must engage in single combat, and even then not kill each other, the Russian's head being carried off by some kind of a cannon-ball and the Frenchman's breast pierced by half a dozen Prussian lances. This is really "good measure."

[76] Ousting others which deserved the place better? It may be so, but one may perhaps "find the whole" without particularising everything. Of short books especially, from Fiévée's Dot de Suzette (1798), which charmed society in its day, to Eugénie Foa's Petit Robinson de Paris (1840), which amused me when I was about ten years old, there were no end if one talked.

[77] V. inf. on M. Ohnet's books.

[78] Many people have probably noticed the frequency of this name—not a very pretty one in itself, and with no particular historical or other attraction—in France and French of the earlier nineteenth century. It was certainly due to Le Solitaire.

[79] If any proper moral reader is disturbed at this conjunction of amante and mère, he will be glad to know that M. d'Arlincourt elsewhere regularises the situation and calls Night "l'épouse d'Érèbe."

[80] In the Radcliffian-literary not the Robespierrean-political sense. For the Wertherism, v. sup. on Chateaubriand, p. 24 note.

[81] He was four years older than Nodier, but did not begin to write fiction nearly so early. The Phantasiestücke are of 1814, while Nodier had been writing stories, under German influence, as early as 1803. It is, however, also fair to say that all those now to be noticed are later than 1814, and even than Hoffmann's later collections, the Elixiere des Teufels and Nachtstücke.

[82] The prudent as well as judicious poet who wrote these lines provided a variant to suit those who, basing their position on "Ramillies cock," maintain that it was a hat, not a wig, that was named after Villeroy's defeat. For "grave—big" read "where Gallic hopes fell flat," and for "wig" "hat" simpliciter, and the thing is done. But Thackeray has "Ramillies wig" and Scott implies it.

[83] Nodier, who had been in Scotland and, as has been said, was a philologist of the better class, is scrupulously exact in spelling proper names as a rule. Perhaps Loch Fyne is not exactly "Le Lac Beau" (I have not the Gaelic). But from Pentland to Solway (literally) he makes no blunder, and he actually knows all about "Argyle's Bowling Green."

[84] If phonetics had never done anything worse than this they would not be as loathsome to literature as they sometimes are.

[85] On the other hand, compared with its slightly elder contemporary, Le Solitaire (v. sup.), it is a masterpiece.

[86] Two little passages towards the end are very precious. A certain bridegroom (I abridge a little) is "perfectly healthy, perfectly self-possessed, a great talker, a successful man of business, with some knowledge of physics, chemistry, jurisprudence, politics, statistics, and phrenology; enjoying all the requirements of a deputy; and for the rest, a liberal, an anti-romantic, a philanthropist, a very good fellow—and absolutely intolerable." This person later changes the humble home of tragedy into a "school of mutual instruction, where the children learn to hate and envy each other and to read and write, which was all they needed to become detestable creatures." These words "please the soul well."

[87] The description is worth comparing with that of Gautier's Château de la Misère—the difference between all but complete ruin and mere, though extreme, disrepair being admirably, and by the later master in all probability designedly, worked out.

[88] Et fugit ad salices et se cupit ante videri.

[89] Note, too, a hint at a never filled in romance of the captain's own.

[90] I must ask for special emphasis on "beauty." Nothing can be finer or fitter than the style of Steenie's ghostly experiences. And the famous Claverhouse passage is beautiful.

[91] As Rossetti saw it in "Sibylla Palmifera":

"Under the arch of Life, where Love and Death,
Terror and Mystery guard her shrine, I saw
Beauty enthroned."

[92] Perhaps there are few writers mentioned in this book to whose lovers exactly the same kind of apology is desirable as it is in the case of Nodier. "Where," I hear reproaching voices crying, "is Jean Sbogar? Where is Laure Ruthwen ou les Vampires in novel-plural or Le Vampire in melodrama-singular? Where are a score or a hundred other books, pieces, pages, paragraphs, passages from five to fifty words long?" They are not here, and I could not find room for them here. "But you found more room for Paul de Kock?" Yes: and I have tried to show why.


[Pg 96]

CHAPTER III

VICTOR HUGO

Limitations.

At the present day, and perhaps in all days hitherto, the greatest writer of the nineteenth century in France for length of practice, diversity of administration of genius, height of intention, and (for a long time at least) magnitude and altitude of fame, enjoys, and has enjoyed, more popular repute in England for his work in prose fiction than for any other part of it. With the comparative side of this estimate the present writer can indeed nowise agree; and the reasons of his disagreement should be made good in the present chapter. But this is the first opportunity he has had of considering, with fair room and verge, the justice of the latter part of Tennyson's compliment "Victor in Romance"; and it will pretty certainly be the last. As for a general judgment of the positive and relative value and qualities of the wonderful procession of work—certainly deserving that adjective whatever other or others may be added—which covers the space of a full half-century from Han d'Islande to Quatre-Vingt-Treize, it would, according to the notions of criticism here followed, be improper to attempt that till after the procession itself has been carefully surveyed.

Nor will it be necessary to preface, to follow, or, except very rarely and slightly, to accompany this survey with remarks on the non-literary characteristics of this French Titan of literature. The object often of frantic political and bitter personal abuse; for a long time of almost equally frantic and much sillier political[Pg 97] and personal idolatry; himself the victim—in consequence partly of his own faults, partly of ignoble jealousy of greatness, but perhaps most of all of the inevitable reaction from this foolish cult—of the most unsparing rummage into those faults, and the weaknesses which accompany them, that any poet or prose writer, even Pope, has experienced—Victor Hugo still, though he has had many a vates in both senses of sacer, may almost be allowed carere critico sacro,[93] in the best sense, on the whole of his life and work. I have no pretensions to fill or bridge the whole of the gap here. It will be quite task enough for the present, leaving the life almost alone, to attempt the part of the work which contains prose fiction. Nothing said of this will in the least affect what I have often said elsewhere, and shall hold to as long as I hold anything, in regard to the poetry—that its author is the greatest poet of France, and one of the great poets of the world.

Han d'Islande.

To deal with Hugo's first published, though not first written, novel requires, in almost the highest degree, what Mr. Matthew Arnold called "a purged considerate mind." There are, I believe, some people (I myself know at least one of great excellence) who, having had the good luck to read Han d'Islande as schoolboys, and finding its vein congenial to theirs, have, as in such cases is not impossible, kept it unscathed in their liking. But this does not happen to every one. I do not think, though I am not quite certain, that when I first read it myself I was exactly what may be called a schoolboy pure and simple (that is to say, under fifteen). But if I did not read it in upper school-boyhood (that is to say, before eighteen), I certainly did, not much later. I own that at that time, whatever my exact age was, I found it so uninteresting that I do not believe I read it through. Nor, except in the last respect, have I improved with it—for it would be presumptuous to say, "has it improved with me"—since.[Pg 98] The author apologised for it in two successive prefaces shortly after its appearance, and in yet another after that of Notre-Dame de Paris, ten years later. None of them, it is to be feared, "touches the spot." The first, indeed, is hardly an apology at all, but a sort of goguenard "showing off" of the kind not uncommon with youth; the second, a little more serious, contains rather interesting hits[94] of again youthful jealousy at the popularity of Pigault-Lebrun and Ducray-Duminil; the third and much later one is a very early instance of the Victorian philosophising. "There must be," we are told with the solemnity which for some sixty years excited such a curious mixture of amazement and amusement, "in every work of the mind—drama or novel—there must be many things felt, many things observed, and many things divined," and while in Han there is only one thing felt—a young man's love—and one observed—a girl's ditto—the rest is all divined, is "the fantastic imagination of an adolescent."

One impeticoses the gratility of the explanation, and refrains, as far as may be, from saying, "Words! words!" Unluckily, the book does very little indeed to supply deeds to match. The feeling and the observation furnish forth a most unstimulating love-story; at least the present critic, who has an unabashed fondness for love-stories, has never been able to feel the slightest interest either in Ordener Guldenlew or in Ethel Schumacker, except in so far as the lady is probably the first of the since innumerable and sometimes agreeable heroines of her name in fiction. As for the "divining," the "intention," and the "imagination," they have been exerted to sadly little purpose. The absurd nomenclature, definitely excused in one of the prefaces, may have a slight historic interest as the first attempt, almost a hopeless failure, at that science des noms with which Hugo was later credited, and which he certainly sometimes displayed. It is hardly necessary to say much about Spladgest and Oglypiglaf, Musdaemon and Orugix.[Pg 99] They are pure schoolboyisms. But it is perhaps fair to relieve the author from the reproach, which has been thrown on him by some of his English translators, of having metamorphosed "Hans" into "Han." He himself explains distinctly that the name was a nickname, taken from the grunt or growl (the word is in France applied to the well-known noise made by a paviour lifting and bringing down his rammer) of the monster.

But that monster himself! A more impossible improbability and a more improbable impossibility never conceived itself in the brain of even an as yet failure of an artist. Han appears to have done all sorts of nasty things, such as eating the insides of babies when they were alive and drinking the blood of enemies when they were not dead, out of the skulls of his own offspring, which he had extracted from their dead bodies by a process like peeling a banana: also to have achieved some terrible ones, such as burning cathedrals and barracks, upsetting rocks on whole battalions, and so forth. But the only chances we have of seeing him at real business show him to us as overcoming, with some trouble, an infirm old man, and not overcoming at all, after a struggle of long duration, a not portentously powerful young one. His white bear, and not he, seems to have had the chief merit of despatching six surely rather incompetent hunters who followed the rash "Kennybol": and of his two final achievements, that of poniarding two men in a court of justice might have been brought about by anybody who was careless enough of his own life, and that of setting his gaol on fire by any one who, with the same carelessness, had a corrupt gaoler to supply him with the means.

It would be equally tedious and superfluous to go through the minor characters and incidents. The virtuous and imprisoned statesman Schumacker, Ethel's father, excites no sympathy: his malignant and finally defeated enemy, the Chancellor Ahlefeld, no interest. That enemy's most unvirtuous wife and her paramour[Pg 100] Musdaemon—the villain of the piece as Han is the monster—as to whom one wonders whether he could ever have been as attractive as a lover as he is unattractive as a villain, are both puppets. Indeed, one would hardly pay any attention to the book at all if it did not hold a position in the work of a man of the highest genius partly similar to, and partly contrasted with, that of Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne. But St. Irvyne and Zastrozzi are much shorter than Han d'Islande, and Shelley, whether by accident, wisdom (nemo omnibus horis insanit), or the direct intervention of Apollo, never resumed the task for which his genius was so obviously unsuited.

Still, it must be said for Hugo that, even at this time, he could have—in a manner actually had—put in evidence of not absolute incompetence for the task.

Bug-Jargal.

Bug-Jargal was, as glanced at above, written, according to its author's own statement, two years before Han, when he was only sixteen; was partially printed (in the Constitutionnel) and (in fear of a piracy) rewritten in fifteen days and published, seven years after its composition, and almost as many before Notre-Dame de Paris appeared. Taking it as it stands, there is nothing of the sixteen years or of the fifteen days to be seen in it. It is altogether superior to Han, and though it has not the nightmare magnificence and the phantasmagoric variety of Notre-Dame, it is, not merely because it is much shorter, a far better told, more coherent, and more generally human story. The jester-obi Habibrah has indeed the caricature-grotesquery of Han himself, and of Quasimodo, and long afterwards of Gwynplaine, as well as the devilry of the first named and of Thénardier in Les Misérables; but we do not see too much of him, and nothing that he does is exactly absurd or utterly improbable. The heroine—so far as there is a heroine in Marie d'Auverney, wife of the part-hero-narrator, but separated from him on the very day of their marriage by the rebellion of San Domingo—is very slight; but then, according to the story, she is not wanted to be anything more. The cruelty, treachery,[Pg 101] etc., of the half-caste Biassou are not overdone, nor is the tropical scenery, nor indeed anything else. Even the character of Bug-Jargal himself, a modernised Oroonoko (whom probably Hugo did not know) and a more direct descendant of persons and things in Rousseau, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and to some extent the "sensibility" novelists generally (whom he certainly did know), is kept within bounds. And, what is perhaps most extraordinary of all, the half-comic interludes in the narrative where Auverney's comrades talk while he makes breaks in his story, contain few of Hugo's usually disastrous attempts at humour. It is impossible to say that the book is of any great importance or of any enthralling interest. But it is the most workmanlike of all Hugo's work in prose fiction, and, except Les Travailleurs de La Mer and Quatre-Vingt-Treize, which have greater faults as well as greater beauties, the most readable, if not, like them, the most likely to be re-read.

Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné.

Its merits are certainly not ill set off by the two shorter pieces, both of fairly early date, but the one a little before and the other a little after Notre-Dame de Paris, which usually accompany it in the collected editions. Of these Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné is, with its tedious preface, almost two-thirds as long as Bug-Jargal itself; the other, Claude Gueux, contents itself with thirty pages. Both are pieces with a purpose—manifestos of one of Hugo's most consistent and most irrational crazes—the objection to capital punishment.[95] There is no need to argue against this, the immortal "Que MM. les assassins," etc., being, though in fact the weakest of a thousand refutations, sufficient, once for all, to explode it. But it is not irrelevant to point out that the two pieces themselves are very battering-rams against their own theory. We are not told—the objection to this omission was made at the time, of course, and Hugo's would-be lofty waving-off of this is one of the earliest of many such—what the[Pg 102] condemned person's crime was. But the upshot of his lucubrations during these latest hours of his is this, that such hours are almost more uncomfortable than the minutes of the actual execution can possibly be. As this is exactly one of the points on which the advocates of the punishment, whether from the point of view of deterrence or from that of retribution, chiefly rely, it seems something of a blunder to bring it out with all the power of a poet and a rhetorician. We want "M. l'Assassin," in fact, to be made very uncomfortable—as uncomfortable as possible—and we want M. l'Assassin, in intention or deliberation, to be warned that he will be so made. "Serve him right" sums up the one view, "De te fabula" the other. In fact cheap copies of Le Dernier Jour, supplied to all about to commit murder, would be highly valuable. Putting aside its purpose, the mere literary power is of course considerable if not consummate; it hardly pretends to be a "furnished" story.

Claude Gueux.

The piece, however, is tragic enough: it could hardly fail to be so in the hands of such a master of tragedy, just as it could hardly fail to be illogical in the hands of such a paralogician. But Claude Gueux, though it ends with a murder and an attempt at suicide and an execution, is really, though far from intentionally, a farce. The hero, made (by the "fault of society," of course) a criminal, though not a serious one, thinks himself persecuted by the prison director, and murders that official. The reader who does not know the book will suppose that he has been treated as Charles Reade's wicked governor treated Josephs and Robinson and the other victims in It is Never too Late to Mend. Not at all. The redoubtable Claude had, like the great Victor himself and other quite respectable men, an equally redoubtable appetite, and the prison rations were not sufficient for him. As he was a sort of leader or prison shop-steward, and his fellow-convicts looked up to him, a young fellow who was not a great eater used to give Claude part of his allowance. The director, discovering[Pg 103] this, removed the young man into another ward—an action possibly rather spiteful, possibly also only a slight excess, or no excess at all, of red-tapeism in discipline. Claude not merely asks reasons for this,—which, of course, even if respectfully done, was an act of clear insubordination on any but anarchist principles,—but repeats the enquiry. The director more than once puts the question by, but inflicts no penalty. Whereupon Claude makes a harangue to the shop (which appears, in some astounding fashion, to have been left without any supervision between the director's visits), repeats once more, on the director's entrance, his insubordinate enquiry, again has it put by, and thereupon splits the unfortunate official's skull with a hatchet, digging also a pair of scissors, which once belonged to his (left-handed) wife, into his own throat. And the wretches actually cure this hardly fallen angel, and then guillotine him, which he takes most sweetly, placing at the last moment in the hand of the attendant priest, with the words Pour les pauvres, a five-franc piece, which one of the Sisters of the prison hospital had given him! After this Hugo, not contented with the tragedy of the edacious murderer, gives us seven pages of his favourite rhetoric in saccadé paragraphs on the general question.

As so often with him, one hardly knows which particular question to ask first, "Did ever such a genius make such a fool of himself?" or "Was ever such an artist given to such hopeless slips in the most rudimentary processes of art?"

Notre-Dame de Paris.

But it is, of course, not till we come to Notre-Dame de Paris that any serious discussion of Hugo's claims as a novelist is possible. Hitherto, while in novel at least he has very doubtfully been an enfant sublime, he has most unquestionably been an enfant. Whatever faults may be chargeable on his third novel or romance proper, they include no more childishness than he displayed throughout his life, and not nearly so much as he often did later.

The book, moreover, to adopt and adapt the language[Pg 104] of another matter, whether disputably or indisputably great in itself, is unquestionably so "by position." It is one of the chief manifestos—there are some who have held, and perhaps would still hold, that it is the chief manifesto and example—of one of the most remarkable and momentous of literary movements—the great French Romantic revolt of mil-huit-cent-trente. It had for a time enormous popularity, extending to many who had not the slightest interest in it as such a manifesto; it affected not merely its own literature, but others, and other arts besides literature, both in its own and other countries. To whatever extent this popularity may have been affected—first by the transference of interest from the author's "letters" to his politics and sociology, and secondly, by the reaction in general esteem which followed his death—it is not very necessary to enquire. One certainly sees fewer, indeed, positively few, references to it and to its contents now. But it was so bright a planet when it first came into ken; it exercised its influence so long and so largely; that even if it now glows fainter it is worth exploring, and the analysis of the composition of its light is worth putting on record.

The story easy to anticipate.

In the case of a book which, whether it has or has not undergone some occultation as suggested, is still kept on sale not merely in the original, but in cheap translations into every European tongue, there is probably no need to include an actual "argument" in this analysis. As a novel or at least romance, Notre-Dame de Paris contains a story of the late fifteenth century, the chief characters of which are the Spanish gipsy[96] dancing-girl Esmeralda, with her goat Djali; Quasimodo, the hunchbacked dwarf and bell-ringer of the cathedral; one of its archdeacons, Claude Frollo, theologian, philosopher, expert in, but contemner of, physical and astrological science, and above all, alchemist, if not sorcerer; the handsome and gallant, but "not intelligent" and not very chivalrous soldier Phœbus de Chateaupers, with minors not a few, "supers" very[Pg 105] many, and the dramatist Pierre Gringoire as a sort of half-chorus, half-actor throughout. The evolution of this story could not be very difficult to anticipate in any case; almost any one who had even a slight knowledge of its actual author's other work could make a guess at the scenario. The end must be tragic; the beau cavalier must be the rather unworthy object of Esmeralda's affection, and she herself that of the (one need hardly say very different) affections of Frollo and Quasimodo; a charge of sorcery, based on the tricks she has taught Djali, must be fatal to her; and poetic justice must overtake Frollo, who has instigated the persecution but has half exchanged it for, half-combined it with, later attempts of a different kind upon her. Although this scenario may not have been then quite so easy for any schoolboy to anticipate, as it has been later, the course of the romantic novel from Walpole to Scott in English, not to mention German and other things, had made it open enough to everybody to construct. The only thing to be done, and to do, now was, and is, to see, on the author's own famous critical principles,[97] how he availed himself of the publica materies.

Importance of the actual title.

Perhaps the first impression of any reader who is not merely not an expert in criticism, but who has not yet learnt its first, last, and hardest lesson, shirked by not a few who seem to be experts—to suspend judgment till the case is fully heard—may be unfavourable. It is true that the title Notre-Dame de Paris, so stupidly and unfairly disguised by the addition-substitution of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in English translations—quite honestly and quite legitimately warns any intelligent reader what to expect. It is the cathedral itself, its visible appearance and its invisible aura, atmosphere, history, spirit, inspiration which gives the author—and is taken by him as giving—his real subject. Esmeralda and Quasimodo,[Pg 106] Frollo and Gringoire are almost as much minors and supers in comparison with It or Her as Phœbus de Chateaupers and the younger Frollo and the rest are in relation to the four protagonists themselves. The most ambitious piece of dianoia—of thought as contrasted with incident, character, or description—is that embodied in the famous chapter, Ceci tuera cela, where the fatal effect of literature (at least printed literature) on architecture is inculcated. The situation, precincts, construction, constitution of the church form the centre of such action as there is, and supply by far the larger part of its scene. Therefore nobody has a right to complain of a very large proportion of purely architectural detail.

The working out of the one under the other.

But the question is whether, in the actual employment, and still more in what we may call the administration, of this and other diluents or obstruents of story, the artist has or has not made blunders in his art; and it is very difficult not to answer this in the affirmative. There were many excuses for him. The "guide-book novel" had already, and not so very long before, been triumphantly introduced by Corinne. It had been enormously popularised by Scott. The close alliance and almost assimilation of art and history with literature was one of the supremest articles of faith of Romanticism, and "the Gothic" was a sort of symbol, shibboleth, and sacrament at once of Romanticism itself. But Victor Hugo, like Falstaff, has, in this and other respects, abused his power of pressing subjects into service almost, if not quite, damnably. Whether out of pure wilfulness, out of mistaken theory, or out of a mixture[98] of these and other influences, he has made the first volume almost as little of a story as it could possibly be, while remaining a story at all. Seventy mortal pages, pretty well packed in the standard two-volume edition, which in all contains less than six[Pg 107] hundred, dawdle over the not particularly well-told business of Gringoire's interrupted mystery, the arrival of the Flemish ambassadors, and the election of the Pope of Unreason. The vision of Esmeralda lightens the darkness and quickens the movement, and this brightness and liveliness continue till she saves her unlucky dramatist from the murderous diversions of the Cour des Miracles. But the means by which she does this—the old privilege of matrimony—leads to nothing but a single scene, which might have been effective, but which Hugo only leaves flat, while it has no further importance in the story whatsoever. After it we hop or struggle full forty pages through the public street of architecture pure and simple.

The story recovers itself latterly.

At first sight "Coup d'œil impartial sur l'Ancienne Magistrature" may seem to give even more promise of November than of May. But there is action here, and it really has something to do with the story. Also, the subsequent treatment of the recluse or anchoress of the severest type in the Place Notre-Dame itself (or practically so), though it is much too long and is lengthened by matters with which Hugo knows least of all how to deal, has still more claim to attention, for it leads directly on not merely to the parentage of Esmeralda, but to the tragedy of her fate. And almost the whole of the second volume is, whether the best novel-matter or not, at any rate genuine novel-matter. If almost the whole of the first had been boiled down (as Scott at his best would have boiled it) into a preliminary chapter or two, the position of the book as qualified to stand in its kind could not have been questioned. But its faults and merits in that kind would still have remained matters of very considerable question.

But the characters?

In respect of one fault, the side of the defence can surely be taken only by generous, but hardly judicious or judicial devotees. Hugo's singular affection for the monster—he had Stephano to justify him, but unfortunately did not possess either the humour of that drunken Neapolitan butler or the power[Pg 108] of his and Caliban's creator—had made a mere grotesque of Han, but had been reduced within more artistic limits in Bug. In Le Dernier Jour and Claude Gueux it was excluded by the subjects and objects alike.[99] Here it is, if not an intellectus, at any rate sibi permissus; and, as it does not in the earlier cases, it takes the not extremely artistic form of violent contrast which was to be made more violent later in L'Homme Qui Rit. If any one will consider Caliban and Miranda as they are presented in The Tempest, with Quasimodo and Esmeralda as they are presented here, he will see at once the difference of great art and great failure of art.

Then, too, there emerges another of our author's persistent obsessions, the exaggeration of what we may call the individual combat. He had probably intended something of this kind in Han, but the mistake there in telling about it instead of telling it has been already pointed out. Neither Bug-Jargal nor Habibrah does anything glaringly and longwindedly impossible. But the one-man defence of Notre-Dame by Quasimodo against the truands is a tissue not so much of impossibilities—they, as it has been said of old, hardly matter—as of the foolish-incredible. Why did the numerous other denizens of the church and its cloisters do nothing during all this time? Why did the truands, who, though they were all scoundrels, were certainly not all fools, confine themselves to this frontal assault of so huge a building? Why did the little rascal Jean Frollo not take some one with him? These are not questions of mere dull common sense; it is only dull absence of common sense which will think them so. Scott, who, once more, was not too careful in stopping loose places, managed the attacks of Tillietudlem and Torquilstone without giving any scope for objections of this kind.

Hugo's strong point was never character, and it certainly is not so here. Esmeralda is beautiful, amiable, pathetic, and unfortunate; but the most uncharitable[Pg 109] interpretation of Mr. Pope's famous libel never was more justified than in her case. Her salvage of Gringoire and its sequel give about the only situations in which she is a real person,[100] and they are purely episodic. Gringoire himself is as much out of place as any literary man who ever went into Parliament. Some may think better of Claude Frollo, who may be said to be the Miltonic-Byronic-Satanic hero. I own I do not. His mere specification—that of the ascetic scholar assailed by physical temptation—will pass muster well enough, the working out of it hardly.

His brother, the vaurien Jean, has, I believe, been a favourite with others or the same, and certainly a Villonesque student is not out of place in the fifteenth century. Nor is a turned-up nose, even if it be artificially and prematurely reddened, unpardonable. But at the same time it is not in itself a passport, and Jean Frollo does not appear to have left even the smallest Testament or so much as a single line (though some snatches of song are assigned to him) reminding us of the "Dames des Temps Jadis" or the "Belle Heaulmière." Perhaps even Victor never presumed more unfortunately on victory than in bringing in Louis XI., especially in one scene, which directly challenges comparison with Quentin Durward. While, though Scott's jeunes premiers are not, as he himself well knew and frankly confessed, his greatest triumphs, he has never given us anything of the kind so personally impersonal as Phœbus de Chateaupers.

Per contra there are of course to be set passages which are actually fine prose and some of which might have made magnificent poetry; a real or at least—what is as good as or better than a real—a fantastic resurrection of Old Paris; and, above all, an atmosphere of "sunset and eclipse," of night and thunder and levin-flashes, which no one of catholic taste would willingly surrender. Only, ungrateful as it may seem, uncritical as some may[Pg 110] deem it, it is impossible not to sigh, "Oh! why were not the best things of this treated in verse, and why were not the other things left alone altogether?"

The thirty years' interval.

For a very long stretch of time—one that could hardly be paralleled except in a literary life so unusually extended as his—it might have seemed that one of those voix intérieures, which he was during its course to celebrate in undying verse, had whispered to Hugo some such warning as that conveyed in the words of the close of the last paragraph, and that he, usually the most indocile of men, had listened to it. For all but three decades he confined his production—at least in the sense of substantial publication[101]—to poetry almost invariably splendid, drama always grandiose and sometimes grand, and prose-writing of a chiefly political kind, which even sympathisers (one would suppose) can hardly regard as of much value now if they have any critical faculty. Even the tremendous shock of disappointment, discomfiture, and exile which resulted from the success of Napoleon the Third, though it started a new wave and gust of oceanic and cyclonic force, range, and volume in his soul, found little prose vent, except the wretched stuff of Napoléon le Petit, to chequer the fulgurant outburst of the Châtiments, the apocalyptic magnificence of the Contemplations, and the almost unmatched vigour, variety, and vividness of the Légende des Siècles.

At last, in 1862, a full decade after the cataclysm, his largest and probably his most popular work of fiction made its appearance in the return to romance-writing, entitled Les Misérables. I daresay biographies say when it was begun; it is at any rate clear that even Victor Hugo must have taken some years, especially in view of his other work, to produce such a mass of matter.[Pg 111][102] Probably not very many people now living, at least in England, remember very clearly the immense effect it produced even with us, who were then apt to regard Hugo as at best a very chequered genius and at worst an almost charlatanish rhetorician.

Les Misérables.

It was no doubt lucky for its popularity that it fell in with a general movement, in England as well as elsewhere, which had with us been, if not brought about, aided by influences in literature as different as those of Dickens and Carlyle, through Kingsley and others downwards,—the movement which has been called perhaps more truly than sympathetically, "the cult of the lower [not to say the criminal] classes." In France, if not in England, this cult had been oddly combined with a dash of rather adulterated Romanticism, and long before Hugo, Sues and Sands, as will be seen later, had in their different manner been priests and priestesses of it. In his own case the adoption of the subject "keyed on" in no small degree to the mood in which he wrote the Dernier Jour and Claude Gueux, while a good deal of the "Old Paris" mania (I use the word nowise contumeliously) of Notre-Dame survived, and even the "Cour des Miracles" found itself modernised.

Whether the popularity above mentioned has kept itself up or not, I cannot say. Of one comparatively recent edition, not so far as I know published at intervals, I have been told that the first volume is out of print, but none of the others, a thing rather voiceful to the understanding. I know that, to me, it is the hardest book to read through of any that I know by a great writer. Le Grand Cyrus and Clélie are certainly longer, Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison are probably so. Le Vicomte de Bragelonne is almost as long. There are finer things in it than in any of them, (except the deaths of Lovelace and Porthos and the kidnapping of General Monk) from the pure novel point of view, and not a few passages which ought to have been verse and, even prose as they are, soar far over anything that Mademoiselle de Scudéry or Samuel Richardson or Alexandre Dumas could possibly[Pg 112] have written in either harmony. The Scudéry books are infinitely duller, and the Richardson ones much less varied.

But none of these others besets the path of the reader with things to which the obstacles interposed by Quilp in the way of Sampson Brass were down-pillows, as is the case with Les Misérables. It is as if Victor Hugo had said, "You shall read this at your peril," and had made good the threat by dint of every blunder in novel-writing which he could possibly commit. With his old and almost invariable fault (there is a little of it even in Les Travailleurs de la Mer, and only Quatre-Vingt-Treize avoids it entirely), he delays any real interest till the book, huge as it is, is almost half way through. Twenty pages on Bishop Myriel—that rather piebald angel who makes the way impossible for any successor by his fantastic and indecent "apostolicism" in living; who tells, not like St. Athanasius, an allowable equivocation to save his valuable self, but a downright lie to save a worthless rascal; and who admits defeat in argument by the stale sophisms of a moribund conventionnel—might have been tolerable. We have, in the compactest edition I know, about a hundred and fifty. The ruin and desertion of Fantine would have been worth twenty more. We have from fifty to a hundred to tell us the story of four rather impossibly beautiful grisettes, and as many, alas! too possible, but not interesting, rascals of students. It is difficult to say how much is wasted on the wildly improbable transformation of Jean Valjean, convict and pauper, into "M. Madeleine," maire and (nummis gallicis) millionaire, through making sham jet. All this, by any one who really knew his craft, would have been sketched rapidly in fluent preliminary, and subsequent piecemeal retrospect, so as to start with Valjean's escape from Thénardier and his adoption of Cosette.

The actual matter of this purely preliminary kind extends, as has been ascertained by rough but sufficient calculation of the sort previously employed, to at least three-quarters of an average novel of Sir Walter's: it[Pg 113] would probably run to two or three times the length of a modern "six-shilling." But Hugo is not satisfied with it. A point, an important point, doubtless, but one that could have been despatched in a few lines, connects the novel proper with the Battle of Waterloo. To that battle itself, even the preliminary matter in its earliest part is some years posterior: the main action, of course, is still more so. But Victor must give us his account of this great engagement, and he gives it in about a hundred pages of the most succinct reproduction. For my part, I should be glad to have it "mixed with much wine," even if the wine were of that luscious and headachy south-of-France character which he himself is said to have preferred to Bordeaux or Champagne, Sauterne or even Burgundy. Nay, without this I like it well enough and quarrel with nothing in it, though it is in many respects (from the famous hollow way which nobody else ever heard of downwards) very much of a dream-battle. Victor does quite as much justice as any one could expect him to do—and, thank heaven, there are still some Englishmen who are perfectly indifferent whether justice is done to them or not in these matters, leaving it to poorer persons in such ways who may be glad of it—to English fighting; while if he represents Wellington as a mere calculator and Napoleon as a hero, we can murmur politely (like a Roman Catholic bishop, more real in many ways than His Greatness of Digue), "Perhaps so, my dear sir, perhaps so." But what has it all got to do here? Even when Montalais and her lover sat on the wall and talked for half a volume or so in the Vicomte de Bragelonne; even when His Majesty Louis XIV. and his (one regrets to use the good old English word) pimp, M. le Duc de Saint-Aignan, exhausted the resources of carpentry and the stores of printer's ink to gain access to the apartment of Mlle. de la Vallière, the superabundance, though trivial, was relevant: this is not. When Thénardier tried to rob and was no doubt quite ready to murder, but did, as a matter of fact, help to resuscitate, the gallant French[Pg 114] Republican soldier, who was so glad to receive the title of baron from an emperor who had by abdication resigned any right to give it that he ever possessed, it might have been Malplaquet or Leipsic, Fontenoy or Vittoria, for any relevance the details of the battle possessed to the course of the story.

Now relevance (to make a short paragraph of the kind Hugo himself loved) is a mighty goddess in novelry.

And so it continues, though, to be absolutely just, the later parts are not exposed to quite the same objections as the earlier. These objections transform themselves, however, into other varieties, and are reinforced by fresh faults. The most inexcusable digressions, on subjects as remote from each other as convents and sewers, insist on poking themselves in. The central, or what ought to be the central, interest itself turns on the ridiculous émeute of Saint-Merry, a thing "without a purpose or an aim," a mere caricature of a revolution. The gamin Gavroche puts in a strong plea for mercy, and his sister Eponine, if Hugo had chosen to take more trouble with her, might have been a great, and is actually the most interesting, character. But Cosette—the cosseted Cosette—Hugo did not know our word or he would have seen the danger—is merely a pretty and rather selfish little doll, and her precious lover Marius is almost ineffable.

Novel-heroes who are failures throng my mind like ghosts on the other shore of the river whom Charon will not ferry over; but I can single out none of them who is, without positively evil qualities, so absolutely intolerable as Marius.[103] Others have more such qualities; but he has no good ones. His very bravery is a sort of moral and intellectual running amuck because he thinks he shall not get Cosette. Having, apparently, for many years thought and cared nothing about his father, he becomes frantically filial on discovering that he has inherited from him, as above, a very doubtful and certainly[Pg 115] most un-"citizen"-like title of Baron. Thereupon (taking care, however, to have cards printed with the title on them) he becomes a violent republican.

He then proceeds to be extremely rude to his indulgent but royalist grandfather, retires to a mount of very peculiar sacredness, where he comes in contact with the Thénardier family, discovers a plot against Valjean, appeals to the civil arm to protect the victim, but, for reasons which seem good to him, turns tail, breaks his arranged part, and is very nearly accessory to a murder. At the other end of the story, carrying out his general character of prig-pedant, as selfish as self-righteous, he meets Valjean's rather foolish and fantastic self-sacrifice with illiberal suspicion, and practically kills the poor old creature by separating him from Cosette. When the éclaircissement comes, it appears to me—as Mr. Carlyle said of Loyola that he ought to have consented to be damned—that Marius ought to have consented at least to be kicked.

Of course it may be said, "You should not give judgments on things with which you are evidently out of sympathy." But I do not acknowledge any palpable hit. If certain purposes of the opposite kind were obtruded here in the same fashion—if Victor (as he might have done in earlier days) had hymned Royalism instead of Republicanism, or (as perhaps he would never have done) had indulged in praise of severe laws and restricted education,[104] and other things, I should be "in sympathy," but I hope and believe that I should not be "out of" criticism. Unless strictly adjusted to the scale and degree suitable to a novel—as Sir Walter has, I think, restricted his Mariolatry and his Jacobitism, and so forth—I should bar them as I bar these.[105] And it is the fact that they are not so restricted, with the concomitant[Pg 116] faults which, again purely from the point of view of novel-criticism as such, I have ventured to find, that makes me consider Les Misérables a failure as a novel. Once again, too, I find few of the really good and great things—which in so vast a book by such a writer are there, and could not fail to be there—to be essentially and specially good and great according to the novel standard. They are, with the rarest exceptions, the stuff of drama or of poetry, not of novel. That there are such exceptions—the treacherous feast of the students to the mistresses they are about to desert; the escapes of Valjean from the ambushes laid for him by Thénardier and Javert; some of the Saint-Merry fighting; the guesting of the children by Gavroche in the elephant; and others—is true. But they are oases in a desert; and, save when they would be better done in poetry, they do not after all seem to me to be much better done than they might have been by others—the comparative weakness of Hugo in conversation of the kind suitable for prose fiction making itself felt. That at least is what the present writer's notion of criticism puts into his mouth to say; and he can say no other.

Les Travailleurs de la Mer.

Les Travailleurs de la Mer, on the other hand, is, according to some persons, among whom that present writer desires to be included, the summit of Victor Hugo's achievements in prose fiction. It has his "signatures" of absurdity in fair measure. There is the celebrated "Bug-Pipe" which a Highlander of the garrison of Guernsey sold (I am afraid contrary to military law) to the hero, and on which that hero performed the "melancholy air" of "Bonny Dundee."[106] There is the equally celebrated "First of the Fourth" (Première de la Quatrième), which is[Pg 117] believed to be Hugonic for the Firth of Forth. There are some others. There is an elaborate presentation of a quite impossibly named clergyman, who is, it seems, an anticipator of "le Puseysme" and an actual high-churchman, who talks as never high-churchman talked from Laud to Pusey himself, but rather like the Reverend Gabriel Kettledrummle (with whom Hugo was probably acquainted "in translations, Sir! in translations").[107] Gilliatt, the hero, is a not very human prig outside those extraordinary performances, of which more later, and his consummate end. Déruchette, the heroine, is, like Cosette, a pretty nullity.[108] As always, the author will not "get under way"; and short as the book is, and valuable as is its shortness, it could be cut down to two-thirds at least with advantage. Clubin and Rantaine, the villains, are pure melodrama; Mess Lethierry, the good old man, is rather an old fool, and not so very good. The real business of the book—the salvage by Gilliatt of the steamer wrecked on the Douvres—is, as a schoolboy would say, or would have said, "jolly impossible." But the book as a whole is, despite or because of its tragic quality, almost impossibly "jolly."

The genius loci.

For here—as he did previously (by the help of the form that was more his own and of Jersey) in the Contemplations—he had now got in prose, by that of the smaller, more isolated, and less contaminated[109] island, into his own proper country, the dominion[Pg 118] of the Angel of the Visions of the Sea. He has told us in his own grandiloquent way, which so often led him wrong, that when he settled to exile in the Channel Islands, his son François observed, "Je traduirai Shakespeare," and he said, "Je contemplerai l'océan." He did; and good came of it. Students of his biography may know that in the dwelling which he called Hauteville House (a name which, I regret to say, already and properly belonged to another) he slept and mainly lived in a high garret with much glass window, overlooking the strait between Guernsey and Sark. These "gazebos," as they used to be called, are common in St. Peter Port, and I myself enjoyed the possession of a more modest and quite unfamous one for some time. They are worth inhabiting and looking from, be the weather fair or foul. Moreover, he was, I believe, a very good walker, and in both the islands made the best of opportunities which are unmatched elsewhere. Whether he boated much I do not know. The profusion of nautical terms with which he "deaves" us (as the old Scotch word has it) would rather lead me to think not. He was in this inferior to Prospero; but I hope it is not blasphemy to say that, mutatis mutandis, he had something of the banished Duke of Milan in him, and that, in the one case as in the other, it was the island that brought it out. And he acknowledged it in his Dedication to "Guernesey—sevère et douce."

Guernsey at the time.

Sevère et Douce! I lived in Guernsey as a Master at Elizabeth College from 1868, two years after Victor Hugo wrote that dedication, to 1874, when he still kept house there, but had not, since the "Année Terrible," occupied it much. I suppose the "severity" must be granted to an island of solid granite and to the rocks and tides and sea-mists that surround it. But in the ordinary life there in my time there was little to "asperate" the douceur. Perhaps it does not require so very much to sweeten things in general between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-nine. But the things in general themselves were dulcet enough. The beauty[Pg 119] of the place—extraordinarily varied in its triangle of some half-score miles or a little less on each side—was not then in the least interfered with by the excessive commercial glass-housing which, I believe, has come in since. For what my friend of many days, the late Mr. Reynolds of Brasenose and East Ham, a constant visitor in summer, used to call "necessary luxuries," it was still unique. When I went there you could buy not undrinkable or poisonous Hollands at four shillings a gallon, and brandy—not, of course, exactly cognac or fine champagne, but deserving the same epithets—for six. If you were a luxurious person, you paid half-a-crown a bottle for the genuine produce of the Charente, little or not at all inferior to Martell or Hennessy, and a florin for excellent Scotch or Irish whiskey.[110] Fourpence half-penny gave you a quarter-pound slab of gold-leaf tobacco, than which I never wish to smoke better.

But this easy supplying of the bodily needs of the "horse with wings" and his "heavy rider" was as nothing to other things which strengthened the wings of the spirit and lightened the weight of the burden it bore. I have not been a great traveller outside the kingdom of England: and you may doubtless, in the whole of Europe or of the globe, find more magnificent things than you can possibly find in an island of the dimensions given. But for a miniature and manageable assemblage of amenities I do not think you can easily beat Guernsey. The town of St. Peter Port, and its two castles, Fort George above and Castle Cornet below, looking on the strait above mentioned, with the curiously contrasted islets of Herm and Jethou in its midst; the wonderful coast, first south- and then westward, set with tiny coves of perfection like Bec-du-Nez, and larger bays, across the mouth of which, after a storm and in calm sunny[Pg 120] weather, you see lines of foam stretching from headland to headland, out of the white clots of which the weakest imagination can fancy Aphrodite rising and floating shorewards, to vanish as she touches the beach; the great western promontory of Pleinmont, a scarcely lessened Land's End, with the Hanois rocks beyond; the tamer but still not tame western, northern, and north-eastern coasts, with the Druid-haunted level of L'Ancresse and the minor port of St. Samson—all these furnish, even to the well-girt man, an extraordinary number[111] of walks, ranging from an hour's to a day's and more there and back; while in the valleys of the interior you find scenery which might be as far from the sea as Warwickshire, or on the heights springs which tell you that they must have come from the neighbourhood of the Mount of Dol or the Forest of Broceliande.

With such colour and form of locality to serve, not merely as inspiration but as actual scene and setting, such genius as Hugo's could hardly fail. The thing is sad and delightful and great. As life, you may say, it could not have happened; as literature it could not but have happened, and has happened, at its best, divinely well. The contrast of the long agony of effort and its triumph on the Douvres, with the swift collapse of any possible reward at St. Samson, is simply a windfall of the Muses to this spoiled and, it must be confessed, often self-spoiling child of theirs. There are, of course, absurdities still, and of a different kind from the bug-pipe. I have always wished to know what the experiences of the fortunate and reverend but sheepish Ebenezer had been at Oxford—he must certainly have held a King Charles scholarship in his day—during that full-blooded[Pg 121] time of the Regency. The circumstances of the marriage are almost purely Hugonian, though it does Hugo credit that he admires the service which he travesties so remarkably. But the Dieu (not diable) au corps which he now enjoys enables him to change into a beauty (in the wholly natural gabble of Mess Lethierry on the recovery of the la Durande) those long speeches which have been already noted as blots. And, beauty or blot, it would not have mattered. All is in the contrast of the mighty but conquered Douvres and the comparatively insignificant rocklet—there are hundreds like it on every granite coast—where Death the Consoler sets on Gilliatt's head the only crown possible for his impossible feat, and where the dislike of the ignorant peasantry, the brute resistance of machinery and material, the violence of the storm, the devilish ambush of the pieuvre, and all other evils are terminated and evaded and sanctified by the embrace and the euthanasia of the sea. Perhaps it is poetry rather than novel or even romance—in substance it is too abstract and elemental for either of the less majestical branches of inventive literature. But it is great. "By God! 'tis good," and, to lengthen somewhat Ben's famous challenge, "if you like, you may" put it with, and not so far from, in whatever order you please—the deaths of Cleopatra and of Colonel Newcome.

The book is therefore a success; but that success is an evident tour de force, and it is nearly as evident to any student of the subject that such a tour de force was not likely to be repeated, and that the thing owed its actual salvage to a rather strict limitation of subject and treatment—a limitation hitherto unknown in the writer and itself unlikely to recur. Also that there were certain things in it—especially the travesties of names and subjects of which the author practically knew nothing—the repetition and extension of which was likely to be damaging, if not fatal. In two or three years the "fatality" of which Victor Hugo himself was dangerously fond of talking (the warning of Herodotus in the[Pg 122] dawn about things which it is not lawful to mention has been too often neglected) had its revenge.

L'Homme Qui Rit.

L'Homme Qui Rit is probably the maddest book in recognised literature; certainly the maddest written by an author of supreme genius without the faintest notion that he was making himself ridiculous. The genius is still there, and passage on passage shows us the real "prose-poetry," that is to say, the prose which ought to have been written in verse. The scheme of the quartette—Ursus, the misanthrope-Good-Samaritan; Homo, the amiable wolf; Gwynplaine, the tortured and guiltless child and youth; Dea, the adorable maiden—is unexceptionable per se, and it could have been worked out in verse or drama perfectly, though the actual termination—Gwynplaine's suicide in the sea after Dea's death—is perhaps too close and too easy a "variation of the same thing" on Gilliatt's parallel self-immolation after Déruchette's marriage.[112] Not a few opening or episodic parts—the picture of the caravan; the struggle of the child Gwynplaine with the elements to save not so much himself as the baby Dea; the revulsions of his temptations and persecutions later; and yet others[113]—show the poet and the master.

But the way in which these things are merged in and spoilt by a torrent of silliness, sciolism, and sheer nonsense is, even after one has known the book for forty years and more, still astounding.

One could laugh almost indulgently over the "bug-pipe" and the "First of the Fourth"; one could, being of those who win, laugh quite indulgently over the little outbursts of spite in Les Travailleurs at the institutions and ways of the country which had, despite some rather unpardonable liberties, given its regular and royal asylum[Pg 123] to the exiled republican and almost anarchist author. Certainly, also, one can laugh over L'Homme Qui Rit and its picture of the English aristocracy. But of such laughter, as of all carnal pleasures (to steal from Kingsley), cometh satiety, and the satiety is rather early reached in this same book. One of the chief "persons of distinction" in many ways whom I have ever come across, the late Mr. G. S. Venables—a lawyer of no mean expertness; one of the earliest and one of the greatest of those "gentlemen of the Press" who at the middle of the nineteenth century lifted journalism out of the gutter; a familiar of every kind of the best society, and a person of infinite though somewhat saturnine wit—had a phrase of contempt for absurd utterances by persons who ought to have known better. "It was," he said, "like a drunk child." The major part of L'Homme Qui Rit is like the utterance of a drunk child who had something of the pseudo-Homeric Margites in him, who "knew a great many things and knew them all badly." I could fill fifty pages here easily enough, and with a kind of low amusement to myself and perhaps others, by enumerating the absurdities of L'Homme Qui Rit. As far as I remember, when the book appeared, divers good people (the bad people merely sneered) took immense pains to discover how and why this great man of letters made so much greater a fool of himself. This was quite lost labour; and without attempting the explanation at all, a very small selection of the facts, being in a manner indispensable, may be given.

The mysterious society of "Comprachicos" (Spanish for "child-buyers"), on whose malpractices the whole book is founded; the entirely false conception of the English House of Lords, which gives much of the superstructure; the confusion of English and French times and seasons, manners and customs, which enables the writer to muddle up Henri-Trois and Louis-Quinze, Good Queen Bess and Good Queen Anne: these and other things of the kind can be passed over. For things like some of them occur in much saner novelists than Hugo; and Sir Walter himself is notoriously not free[Pg 124] from indisputable anachronisms.[114] But you have barely reached the fiftieth page when you come to a "Lord Linnæus Clancharlie, Baron Clancharlie et Hunkerville, Marquis de Corleone en Sicile," whose English peerage dates from Edward the Elder (the origin of his Sicilian title is not stated, but it was probably conferred by Hiero or Dionysius), and whose name "Clancharlie" has nothing whatever to do with Scotland or Ireland. This worthy peer (who, as a Cromwellian, exiled himself after the Restoration) had, like others of the godly, a bastard son, enjoying at "temp. of tale" the remarkable courtesy title of "Lord David Dirry-Moir," but called by the rabble, with whom his sporting tastes make him a great favourite, "Tom-Jim-Jack." Most "love-children" of peers would be contented (if they ever had them) with courtesy titles; but Lord David has been further favoured by Fortune and King James II., who has first induced the comprachicos to trepan and mutilate Clancharlie's real heir (afterwards Gwynplaine, the eponymous hero of the book), and has then made Lord David a "pair substitué"[115] on condition that he marries one of the king's natural daughters, the Duchess Josiane, a duchess with no duchy ever mentioned. In regard to her Hugo proceeds to exhibit his etymological powers, ignoring entirely the agreeable heroine of Bevis of Hampton, and suggesting either an abbreviation of "Josefa y Ana" (at this time, we are gravely informed, there was a prevalent English fashion of taking Spanish names) or else a feminine of "Josias." Moreover, among dozens of other instances of this Bedlam nomenclature, we have a "combat of box" between the Irishman "Phelem-ghe-Madone" (because Irishmen are often Roman Catholics?) and the Scotchman "Helmsgail" (there is a place called[Pg 125] Helmsdale in Scotland, and if "gael" why not "gail"?), to the latter of whom a knee is given by "Lord Desertum" (Desart? Dysart? what?).

And so it goes on. There is the immortal scene (or rather half-volume) in which, Hugo having heard or read of peine forte et dure, we find sheriffs who discharge the duty of Old Bailey judges, fragments of Law Latin (it is really a pity that he did not get hold of our inimitable Law French), and above all, and pervading all, that most fearful wildfowl the "wapentake," with his "iron weapon." He, with his satellite the justicier-quorum (but, one weeps to see, not "custalorum" or "rotalorum"), is concerned with the torture of Hardquanonne[116]—the original malefactor[117] in Gwynplaine's case—and thereby restores Gwynplaine to his (unsubstituted) rank in the English peerage, when he himself is anticipating similar treatment. There is the presentation by the librarian of the House of Lords of a "little red book" which is the passport to the House itself: and the very unmannerly reception by his brother peers, from which he is in a manner rescued by the chivalrous Lord David Dirry-Moir at the price of a box on the ears for depriving him of his "substitution." There is the misconduct of the Duchess Josiane, divinely beautiful and diabolically wicked, who covets the monster Gwynplaine as a lover, and discards him when, on his peerification, he is commanded to her by Queen Anne as a husband. And then, after all this tedious insanity and a great deal more, there is the finale of the despair of Gwynplaine, of his recovery of the dying Dea in a ship just starting for Holland, of her own death, and of his suicide in the all-healing sea—a "reconciliation" not far short of the greatest things in literature.

Now I am not of those unhappy ones who cannot[Pg 126] away with the mixture of tragedy and farce. I have not only read too much, but lived too long for that. But then the farce must be in life conceivable and in literature conscious. Shakespeare, and even men much inferior to Shakespeare, have been able to provide for this stipulation munificently.

With Victor Hugo, generally more or less and intensively here, it was unfortunately different. His irony was almost always his weakest point; or rather it was a kind of hit-or-miss weapon, with which he cut himself as often as he cut his inimical objects or persons. The intense absurdity of his personified wapentakes, of his Tom-Jim-Jacks, of his courtesy-title bastards, he deliberately declined (as in the anecdote above given) to see. But these things, done and evidently thought fine by the doer, almost put to rout the most determined and expert sifter of the faults and merits of genius. You cannot enjoy a Garden of Eden when at every other step you plunge into a morass of mire. You cannot drink a draught of nectar, arranged on the plan of certain glasses of liqueur, in superimposed layers of different savour and colour, when every other layer is "stummed" folly or nauseous bad taste. A novel is not like a book of poems, where, as you see that you have hit on a failure, you turn the page and find a success. To which it may be added finally that while erudition of any kind is a doubtful set-off to fiction, the presentation of ragbag erudition of this kind is, to speak moderately and in his own words of something else, "a rather hideous thing."[118]

Still, with readers of a certain quality, the good omens may to some extent shame the ill even here. The death of Dea, with its sequel, is very nearly perfect; it only wants the verse of which its author was such an absolute[Pg 127] master, instead of the prose, where he alternately triumphed and bungled, to make it so. And one need not be a common paradoxer to take either side on the question whether on the whole the omen, if not the actuality, of L'Homme Qui Rit or that of Les Travailleurs de la Mer was the happier. For, while the earlier and better book showed how faults were hardening and might grow worse still, the later showed how these very faults, attaining their utmost possible development, could not entirely stifle the rarer gifts. I do not remember that anybody in 1869 took this apparently aleatory side of the argument. If he did he was justified in 1874.

Quatre-Vingt-Treize.

One enormous advantage of Quatre-Vingt-Treize over its immediate predecessor lay on the surface—an advantage enormous in all cases, but almost incalculable in this particular one. In L'Homme Qui Rit Victor Hugo had been dealing with a subject about which he knew practically nothing, and about which he was prepared to believe, or even practise, anything. Here, though he was still prepared to believe a great deal, he yet knew a very great deal more. A little room for his eccentricities remained, and long after the truth had become a matter of registered history, he could accept the legendary lies about the Vengeur; but there was no danger of his giving us French wapentakes brandishing iron-weapons, or calling a French noble by any appellation comparable to Lord Linnæus[119] Clancharlie.

But, it may be said, is not the removal of these annoyances more than compensated, in the bad sense, by things inseparable from such a subject, as treated by such an author?—the glorification of "Quatre-Vingt-Treize" itself, and, in particular, of the Convention—that remarkable assembly which seems to have made up its mind to prove for all time that, in democracies, the scum comes to the top?—that assembly in which Fabre d'Eglantine stood for poetry, Marat for humanitarianism, Robespierre[Pg 128] for justice, Hébert and Chaumette for decency, Siéyès and Chabot for different forms of religion, the composers of the Republican Calendar[120] for common sense? where the only suggestion of a great man was Danton, and the only substitutes for an honest one were the prigs and pedants of the Gironde? To which the only critical answer must be, even when the critic does not contest the correctness of this description—"Why, no!"

It is better, no doubt, that a novelist, and that everybody else, should be a bien-pensant; but, as in the case of the poet, it will not necessarily affect his goodness in his art if he is not. He had, indeed, best not air his opinions, whatever they are, at too great length; but what they are matters little or nothing. A Tory critic who cannot admire Shelley or Swinburne, Dickens or Thackeray, because of their politics, is merely an ass, an animal unfortunately to be found in the stables or paddocks of every party. On the other hand, absurdities and faults of taste matter very much.

Now from these latter, which had nearly ruined L'Homme Qui Rit, Quatre-Vingt-Treize, if not entirely free, suffers comparatively little. The early and celebrated incident of the carronade running amuck shows characteristic neglect of burlesque possibilities (and, as I believe some experts have maintained, of actual ones), but it has the qualities of the Hugonian defects. An arm-chair critic may ask, Where was the English fleet in the Channel when a French one was allowed to come out and slowly mob the Claymore to destruction, without, as far as one sees, any interference or counter-effort, though the expedition of that remarkable corvette formed part of an elaborate and carefully prepared offensive?[121] Undoubtedly, the Convention scenes must[Pg 129] be allowed—even by sympathisers with the Revolution—to be clumsy stopgaps, unnecessary to the action and possessed of little intrinsic value in themselves. The old fault of verbosity and "watering out" recurs; and so does the reappearance, with very slight change, of figures and situations. Cimourdain in character is very much of a more respectable Claude Frollo; and in conduct, mutatis not so very many mutandis, almost as much of a less respectable Javert. The death of Gauvain is far less effective than that of Sydney Carton, which had preceded it; and the enormous harangue of the Marquis to the nephew who is about to liberate him, though it may be intended to heighten the peripeteia, merely gives fresh evidence of Hugo's want of proportion and of his flux of rhetoric.

All this and more is true; yet Quatre-Vingt-Treize is, "in its fine wrong way," a great book, and with Les Travailleurs de la Mer, completes the pillars, such as they are, which support Hugo's position as a novelist. The rescue of the children by Lantenac is superb, though you may find twenty cavils against it easily: and the whole presentation of the Marquis, except perhaps the speech referred to, is one of the best pictures of the ancienne noblesse in literature, one which—to reverse the contrast just made—annihilates Dickens's caricature thereof in A Tale of Two Cities. The single-handed defence of La Tourgue by "L'Imanus" has of course a good deal of the hyperbole which began with Quasimodo's similar act in Notre-Dame; but the reader who cannot "let himself go" with it is to be pitied. Nowhere is Hugo's child-worship more agreeably shown than in the three first chapters of the third volume. And, sinking particulars for a more general view, one may say that through the whole book, to an extent surpassing even Les Travailleurs de la Mer as such, there is the great Victorian souffle and surge, the rush as of mighty winds and mightier waters, which carries the reader resistlessly through and over all obstacles.

Final remarks.

Yet although Hugo thus terminated his career as a[Pg 130] novelist, if not in the odour of sanctity, at any rate in a comfortable cloud of incense due to a comparative success; although he had (it is true on a much smaller scale) even transcended that success in Les Travailleurs de la Mer; although, as a mere novice, he had proved himself a more than tolerable tale-teller in Bug-Jargal, it is not possible, for any critical historian of the novel as such, to pronounce him a great artist, or even a tolerable craftsman, in the kind as a whole. It has already been several times remarked in detail, and may now be repeated in general, that the things which we enjoy in his books of this kind are seldom things which it is the special business of the novelist to produce, and practically never those which are his chief business. In no single instance perhaps, with the doubtful exception of Gilliatt's battle with brute matter and elemental forces, is "the tale the thing" purely as tale. Very seldom do we even want to know what is going to happen—the childishly simple, but also childishly genuine demand of the reader of romance as such, if not even of the novel also. Scarcely once do we—at least do I—take that interest in the development of character which is the special subject of appetite of readers of the novel, as such and by itself. The baits and the rewards are now splendour of style; now magnificence of imagery; sometimes grandeur of idea; often pathos; not seldom the delight of battle in this or that sense. These are all excellent seasonings of novelry; but they are not the root of the matter, the pièce de résistance of the feast.

Unfortunately, too, Hugo not merely cannot, or at any rate does not, give the hungry sheep their proper food—an interesting story worked out by interesting characters—but will persist in giving them things as suitable (granting them to be in the abstract nourishing) as turnips to the carnivora or legs of mutton to the sheep which walk on them. It would, of course, not be just to press too strongly the objections to the novel of purpose, though to the present writer they seem almost insuperable. But it is not merely purpose in the ordinary[Pg 131] sense which leads Victor astray, or rather (for he was much too wilful a person to be led) which he invents for himself to follow, with his eyes open, and knowing perfectly well what he is doing. His digressions are not parabases of the kind which some people object to in Fielding and still more in Thackeray—addresses to the reader on points more or less intimately connected with the subject itself. A certain exception has been made in favour of some of the architectural parts of Notre-Dame de Paris, but it has been admitted that this will not cover "Ceci Tuera Cela" nor much else. For the presence of the history of the sewers of Paris in Les Misérables and any number of other things; for not a little of the first volume of Les Travailleurs itself; for about half, if not more, of L'Homme Qui Rit, starting from Ursus's Black-book of fancy pleasances, palaces, and estates belonging to the fellow-peers of Lord Linnæus Clancharlie and Hunkerville; for not a few chapters even of Quatre-Vingt-Treize, there is no excuse at all. They are simply repulsive or at least unwelcome "pledgets" of unsucculent matter stuck into the body of fiction, as (but with how different results!) lardons or pistachios or truffles are stuck into another kind of composition.

It is partly, but not wholly, due to this deplorable habit of irrelevant divagation that Hugo will never allow his stories to "march" (at least to begin with marching),[122] Quatre-Vingt-Treize being here the only exception among the longer romances, for even Les Travailleurs de la Mer never gets into stride till nearly the whole of the first volume is passed. But the habit, however great a nuisance it may be to the reader, is of some interest to the student and the historian, for the very reason that it does not seem to be wholly an outcome of the other habit of digression. It would thus be, in part at least, a survival of that odd old "inability to begin" which we noticed[Pg 132] several times in the last volume, aggravated by the irrepressible wilfulness of the writer, and by his determination not to do like other people, who had by this time mostly got over the difficulty.

If any further "dull moral" is wanted it may be the obvious lesson that overpowering popularity of a particular form is sometimes a misfortune, as that of allegory was in the Middle Ages and that of didactics in the eighteenth century. If it had not been almost incumbent on any Frenchman who aimed at achieving popularity in the mid-nineteenth century to attempt the novel, it is not very likely that Hugo would have attempted it. It may be doubted whether we should have lost any of the best things—we should only have had them in the compacter and higher shape of more Orientales, more Chants du Crépuscule, more Légendes, and so forth. We should have lost the easily losable laugh over bug-pipe and wapentake—for though Hugo sometimes thought sillily in verse he did not often let silliness touch his expression in the more majestical harmony—and we should have been spared an immensely greater body of matter which now provokes a yawn or a sigh.

This is, it may be said, after all a question of taste. Perhaps. But it can hardly be denied by any critical student of fiction that while Hugo's novel-work has added much splendid matter to literature, it has practically nowhere advanced, nor even satisfactorily exemplified, the art of the novel. It is here as an exception—marvellous, magnificent, and as such to be fully treated; actually an honour to the art of which it discards the requirements, but an exception merely and one which proves, inasmuch as it justifies, the cautions it defies.[123]

FOOTNOTES:

[93] Mr. Swinburne's magnificent pæans are "vatical" certainly, but scarcely critical, save now and then. Mr. Stevenson wrote on the Romances, but not on "the whole."

[94] See note in Vol. I. p. 472 of this History, and in the present volume, sup. p. 40.

[95] These crazes were not in origin, though they probably were in influence, political: Hugo held more than one of them while he was still a Royalist.

[96] She is of course not really Spanish or a gipsy, but is presented as such at first.

[97] Stated in the Preface to Cromwell, the critical division of his fourfold attack on neo-Classicism, as Les Orientales were the poetical, Hernani was the dramatic, and Notre-Dame itself the prose-narrative.

[98] It is scarcely excessive to say that this mixture of wilful temper and unbridled theorising was the Saturnian influence, or the "infortune of Mart," in Hugo's horoscope throughout.

[99] Unless anybody chooses to say that the gallows and the guillotine are Hugo's monsters here.

[100] The failure of the riskiest and most important scene of the whole (where her surrender of herself to Phœbus is counteracted by Frollo's stabbing the soldier, the act itself leading to Esmeralda's incarceration) is glaring.

[101] Le Beau Pécopin in his Rhine-book is, of course, fairly substantial in one sense, but it is only an episode or inset-tale in something else, which is neither novel or romance.

[102] It must be four or five times the length of Scott's average, more than twice that of the longest books with which Dickens and Thackeray used to occupy nearly two years in monthly instalments, and very nearly, if not quite, that of Dumas' longest and most "spun-out" achievements in Monte Cristo, the Vicomte de Bragelonne and La Comtesse de Charny.

[103] I am not forgetting or contradicting what was said above (page 26) of René. But René does very little except when he kills the she-beavers; Marius is always doing something, and doing it offensively.

[104] The "Je ne sais pas lire" argument has more than once suggested to me a certain historical comparison. There have probably never been in all history two more abominable scoundrels for cold-blooded cruelty, the worst of all vices, than Eccelino da Romano and the late Mr. Broadhead, patron saint and great exemplar of Trade-Unionism. Broadhead could certainly read. Could Ezzelin? I do not know. But if he could not, the Hugonic belief in the efficacy of reading is not strongly supported. If he could, it is definitely damaged.

[105] Vide what is said below on Quatre-Vingt-Treize.

[106] After the lapse of more than half a century some readers may have forgotten, and more may never have heard, the anecdote connected with this. It was rashly and somewhat foolishly pointed out to the poet-romancer himself that the air of "Bonny Dundee" was the very reverse of melancholy, and that he must have mistaken the name. His reply was the most categoric declaration possible of his general attitude, in such cases, "Et moi, je l'appelle 'Bonny Dundee.'" Victor locutus est: causa finita est (he liked tags of not recondite Latin himself). And the leading case governs those of the bug-pipe and the (later) wapentake and justicier-quorum, and all the other wondrous things of which but a few can be mentioned here.

[107] I do not know whether any one has ever attempted to estimate his actual debt to Scott. There are better classics of inquiry, but in the class many worse subjects.

[108] In the opening scene she is something worse. If her writing "Gilliatt" in the snow had been a sort of rustic challenge of the "malo me petit, et fugit ad salices" kind, there might have been something (not much) to say for her. But she did not know Gilliatt; she did not want to know him; and the proceeding was either mere silly childishness, or else one of those pieces of bad taste of which her great creator was unluckily by no means incapable.

[109] I use this adjective in no contumelious sense, and certainly not because I have lived in Guernsey and only visited Jersey. To the impartial denizen of either, the rivalry of the two is as amusing as is that of Edinburgh and Glasgow, of Liverpool and Manchester, or of Bradford and Leeds. But, at any rate at the time of which I am speaking, Jersey was much more haunted by outsiders (in several senses of that word) than Guernsey. Residents—whether for the purposes unblushingly avowed by that sometime favourite of the stage, Mr. Eccles, or for the reasons less horrifying to the United Kingdom Alliance—found themselves more at home in "Caesarea" than in "Sarnia," and the "five-pounder," as the summer tripper was despiteously called by natives, liked to go as far as he could for his money, and found St. Helier's "livelier" than St. Peter Port.

[110] Really good wines were proportionally cheap; but the little isle was not quite so good at beer, except some remarkable old ale, which one small brewery had ventured on, and which my friends of the 22nd Regiment discovered and (very wisely) drank up.—It may surprise honest fanatics and annoy others to hear that, despite the cheapness and abundance of their bugbear, there was no serious crime of any kind in Guernsey during the six years I knew it, and no disorder worth speaking of, even among sailors and newly arrived troops.

[111] The shape of the island; the position of its only "residential" town of any size in the middle of one of the coasts, so that the roads spread fan-wise from it; the absence of any large flat space except in the northern parish of "The Vale"; the geological formation which tends, as in Devonshire, to sink the roads into deep and sometimes "water" lanes; lastly, perhaps, the extreme subdivision of property, which multiplies the ways of communication—these things contribute to this "pedestrian-paradise" character. There are many places where, with plenty of good walking "objectives," you can get to none of them without a disgusting repetition of the same initial grind. In Guernsey, except as regards the sea, which never wearies, there is no such even partial monotony.

[112] It is well known that even among great writers this habit of duplication is often, though very far from always, present. Hugo is specially liable to it. The oddest example I remember is that the approach to the Dutch ship at the end of L'Homme Qui Rit reproduces on the Thames almost exactly the details of the iron gate of the sewers on the Seine, where Thénardier treacherously exposes Valjean to the clutches of Javert, in Les Misérables, though of course the use made of it is quite different.

[113] It must be remembered that this also belongs to the Channel Islands division: and the Angel of the Sea has still some part in it.

[114] Those of Ivanhoe and Kenilworth have enraged pedants and amused the elect for a century. But I do not remember much notice being taken of that jump of half a millennium and one year more in The Talisman, where Count Henry of Champagne "smiles like a sparkling goblet of his own wine." This was in 1192, while the ever-blessed Dom Pérignon did not make champagne "sparkle" till 1693. Idolatry may suggest that "sparkling" is a perpetual epithet of wine; but I fear this will not do.

[115] Substitué means "entailed" in technical French. But I know no instance of this kind of "contingent remainder" in England.

[116] A compound (as Victor himself might suggest) of "Hardyknut" and "Sine qua non"? Or "Hardbake"?

[117] He has been found out through the agency of one "Barkilphedro" (Barkis-Phaedrus?), an Irishman of familiar sept, who is "Decanter of the Bottles of the Sea," and who finds, in one of his trovers, a derelict gourd of confession thrown overboard by the Comprachicos when wrecked (in another half-volume earlier) all over the Channel from Portland to Alderney.

[118] Perhaps there is no more conspicuous instance of irritating futility in this way than the famous αναγκη and αναγνεια of Notre-Dame. Of course anybody who knows no Greek can see that the first four letters of the two words are the same. But anybody who knows some Greek knows that the similarity is purely literal, such as exists between "Chateaubriand" and "Chat Botté" and that the αν has a different origin in the two cases. Moreover, αναγνεια, "uncleanness," is about the last word one would choose to express the liaison of thought—"The dread constraint of physical passion" or "Lust is Fate"—which Hugo wishes to indicate. It is a mere jingle, suggestive of a schoolboy turning over the dictionary.

[119] That the only person at all likely to be "name-father" of this name was not born till a considerable time after his name-child's death would perhaps be worth remarking in another writer. In Hugo it hardly counts.

[120] Let me do even them one justice in this connection. They did not suppose that the only way to make people get up earlier was to make these people's clocks and watches tell lies.

[121] There is a smaller point which might be taken up. Undoubtedly there were many double traitors on both sides in the other Great War. But, like all their kind, they had a knack for being found out. Dumas would, I think, have given us something satisfactory as to the "aristocrat" at Jersey who betrayed the Claymore to the Revolutionary authorities.

[122] It is impossible, with him, not to think of Baudelaire's great line in L'Albatros (which some may have read even before Les Travailleurs)—

"Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher,"

though the sense is not absolutely coextensive.

[123] If I have spoken above "so that the Congregation be thereby offended," let me point out that there is no other way of dealing with the subject critically, except perhaps by leaving a page blank save for such words, in the middle of it, as "Victor Hugo is Victor Hugo; and he is for each reader to take or to leave." He would, I think, have rather liked this; I should not, as a person, dislike it; but I fear it might not suit with my duty as a critic and a historian.


[Pg 133]

CHAPTER IV

BEYLE AND BALZAC

There may possibly be some readers who might prefer that the two novelists whose names head this chapter should be treated each in a chapter to himself. But after trying several plans (for I can assure such readers that the arrangement of this History has been the reverse of haphazard) I have thought it best to yoke them. That they have more in common with each other, not merely than either has with Hugo or Dumas, or even George Sand, but than either of these three has with the others, few will deny. And as a practising novelist Beyle has hardly substance enough to stand by himself, though as an influence—for a time and that no short one and still existing—scarcely any writer in our whole list has been more efficacious. It is not my purpose, nor, I think, my duty, to say much about their relations to each other; indeed Beyle delayed his novel-work so long, and Balzac codified his own so carefully and so early, that the examination of the question would need to be meticulous, and might even be a little futile in a general history, though it is an interesting subject for a monograph. It is enough to say that, generally, both belong to the analytical rather than to the synthetical branch of novel-writing, and may almost be said between them to have introduced the analytical romance; that they compose their palettes of sombre and neutral rather than of brilliant colours; that actual "story interest" is not what they, as a rule,[Pg 134][124] aim at. Finally—though this may be a proposition likely to be disputed with some heat in one case if not in both—their conception of humanity has a certain "other-worldliness" about it, though it is as far as possible from being what is usually understood by the adjective "unworldly" and though the forms thereof in the two only partially coincide.

Beyle—his peculiarity.

Of the books of Henri Beyle, otherwise Stendhal,[125] to say that they are not like anything else will only seem banal to those who bring the banality with them. To annoy these further by opposing pedantry to banality, one might say that the aseity is quintessential. There never—to be a man of great power, almost genius, a commanding influence, and something like the founder of a characteristic school of literature—was such a habitans in sicco as Beyle; indeed his substance and his atmosphere are not so much dry as desiccated. The dryness is not like that which was attributed in the last volume to Hamilton, which is the dryness of wine: it is almost the dryness of ashes. By bringing some humour of your own[126] you may confection a sort of grim comedy out of parts of his work, but that is all. At the same time, he has an astonishing command of such reality, and even vitality, as will (one cannot say survive but) remain over the process of desiccation.

That Beyle was not such a passionless person as he gave himself out to be in his published works was of course always suspected, and more than suspected, by readers with any knowledge of human nature. It was finally proved by the autobiographic Vie de Henri Brulard, and the other remains which were at last given to the world, nearly half a century after the author's death, by M. Casimir Stryienski. But the great part which he played in producing a new kind of novel is properly[Pg 135] concerned with the earlier and larger division of the work, though the posthumous stuff reinforces this.

Armance.

Some one, I believe, has said—many people may have said—that you never get a much truer notion, though you may afterwards get a clearer and fuller, of a writer than from his earliest work.[127] Armance, Beyle's first published novel,[128] though by no means the one which has received most attention, is certainly illuminating. Or rather, perhaps one should say that it poses the puzzle which Beyle himself put briefly in the words quoted by his editor and biographer: "Qu'ai-j'été? que suis-je? En vérité je serais bien embarrassé de le dire." To tell equal truth, it is but a dull book in itself, surcharged with a vague political spite, containing no personage whom we are permitted to like (it would be quite possible to like Armance de Zohiloff if we were only told less about her and allowed to see and hear more of her), and possessing, for a hero, one of the most obnoxious and foolish prigs that I can remember in any novel. Octave de Malivert unites varieties of detestableness in a way which might be interesting if (to speak with only apparent flippancy) it were made so. He is commonplace in his adoration of his mother and his neglect (though his historian calls it "respect") of his father; he is constantly a prig, as when he is shocked at people for paying more attention to him when they hear that his parents are going to be indemnified to a large extent for the thefts of their property at the Revolution; he is such a sneak and such a snob that he is always eavesdropping to hear what people say about him; such a bounder that he disturbs his neighbours by talking[Pg 136] loud at the play; such a brute that he deliberately kills a rather harmless coxcomb of a marquis who rebukes him for making this tapage; and such a still greater brute (for in the duel he had himself been wounded) that he throws out of the window an unfortunate lackey who gets in his way at a party where Octave has, as usual, lost his temper. Finally, he is a combination of prig, sneak, cad, brute, and fool when (having picked up and read a forged letter which is not addressed to him, though it has been put by enemies in his way) he believes, without any enquiry, that his unlucky cousin Armance, to whom he is at last engaged, is deceiving him, but marries her all the same, lives with her (she loves him frantically) for a few days, and then, pretending to go to the succour of the Greeks, poisons himself on board ship—rather more, as far as one can make out, in order to annoy her than for any other reason. That there are the elements, and something more than the elements, of a powerful story in this is of course evident; there nearly always are such elements in Beyle, and that is why he has his place here. But, as has been said, the story is almost as dull as it is disagreeable. Unluckily, too, it is, like most of his other books, pervaded by an unpleasant suggestion that the disagreeableness is intimately connected with the author's own nature. As with Julien Sorel (v. inf.) so with Octave de Malivert, one feels that, though Beyle would never have behaved exactly like his book-child, that book-child has a great deal too much of the uncanny and semi-diabolical doubles of some occult stories in it—is, in fact, an incarnation of the bad Beyle, the seamy side of Beyle, the creature that Beyle might have been but for the grace of that God in whom he did not believe. Which things, however one may have schooled oneself not to let book and author interfere with each other, are not comfortable.

It ought, however, to be said that Armance is an early and remarkable Romantic experiment in several ways, not least in the foreign mottoes, English, Portuguese, Spanish, and German, which are prefixed to the chapters.[Pg 137] Unluckily some of them[129] are obviously retranslated from French versions unverified by the originals, and once there is a most curious blunder. Pope's description of Belinda's neck and cross, not quite in the original words but otherwise exact, is attributed to—Schiller!

La Chartreuse de Parme.

I have read, I believe, as much criticism as most men, possibly, indeed, a little more than most, and I ought long ago to have been beyond the reach of shocking, startling, or any other movement of surprise at any critical utterance whatsoever. But I own that an access of fou rire once came upon me when I was told in a printed page that La Chartreuse de Parme was a "very lively and very amusing book." A book of great and peculiar power it most undoubtedly is, a book standing out in the formidable genealogy of "psychological" novels as (salva reverentia) certain names stand out from the others in the greater list that opens the first chapter of St. Matthew. But "lively"? and "amusing"? Wondrous hot indeed is this snow, and more lustrous than any ebony are the clerestories towards the south-north of this structure.

The Waterloo episode.
The subject and general colour.

To begin with, there rests on the whole book that oppression of récit which has been not unfrequently dwelt upon in the last volume, and sometimes this. Of the 440 pages, tightly printed, of the usual reprint, I should say that two-thirds at least are solid, or merely broken by one or two paragraphs, which are seldom conversational. This, it may be said, is a purely mechanical objection. But it is not so. Although the action is laid in the time contemporary with the writer and writing, from the fall of Napoleon onwards, and in the country (Italy) that he knew best, the whole cast and scheme are historical, the method is that of a lecturer at a panorama, who describes and points while the panorama itself passes a long way off behind a screen of clear but thick glass. In two or perhaps three mostly minute parts or scenes this description may seem[Pg 138] unjust. One, the first, the longest, and the best, is perhaps also the best-known of all Beyle's work: it is the sketch of the débâcle after Waterloo. (It is not wonderful that Beyle should know something about retreats, for, though he was not at Waterloo, he had come through the Moscow trial.) This is a really marvellous thing and intensely interesting, though, as is almost always the case with the author, strangely unexciting. The interest is purely intellectual, and is actually increased by comparison with Hugo's imaginative account of the battle itself; but you do not care the snap of a finger whether the hero, Fabrice, gets off or not. Another patch later, where this same Fabrice is attacked by, and after a rough-and-tumble struggle kills, his saltimbanque rival in the affections of a low-class actress, and then has a series of escapes from the Austrian police on the banks of the Po, has a little more of the exciting about it. So perhaps for some—I am not sure that it has for me—may have the final, or provisionally final, escape from the Farnese Tower. And there is, even outside of these passages, a good deal of scattered incident.

But these interesting plums, such as even they are, are stuck in an enormous pudding of presentation of the intrigues and vicissitudes of a petty Italian court,[130] in which, and in the persons who take part in them, I at least find it difficult to take the very slightest interest. Fabrice del Dongo himself,[131] with whom every woman falls in love, and who candidly confesses that he does not know whether he has ever been really in love with any woman—though there is one possible exception precedent, his aunt, the Duchess of Sanseverina, and one subsequent, Clélia Conti, who saves him from prison, as above—is depicted with extraordinary science of human nature. But it is a science which, once more, excludes[Pg 139] passion, humour, gusto—all the fluids of real or fictitious life. Fabrice is like (only "much more also") the simulacra of humanity that were popular in music-halls a few years ago. He walks, talks, fights, eats, drinks, thinks even, and makes love if he does not feel it, exactly like a human being. Except the "fluids" just mentioned, it is impossible to mention anything human that he lacks. But he lacks these, and by not having them lacks everything that moves the reader.

And so it is more or less with all of them: with the Duchess and Clélia least perhaps, but even with them to some extent; with the Duchess's first cicisbeo and then husband, Count Mosca, prime minister of the Duke of Parma; with his master, the feebly cruel and feebly tyrannical Ranuce-Ernest IV.; with the opposition intriguers at court; with the Archbishop, to whom Fabrice is made, by the influence of Count and Duchess, coadjutor and actual successor; with Clélia's father and her very much belated husband—with all of them in short. You cannot say they are "out"; on the contrary they do and say exactly what in the circumstances they would do and say. Their creator's remarks about them are sometimes of a marvellous subtlety, expressed in a laconism which seems to regard Marivaudage or Meredithese with an aristocratic disdain. But at other times this laconic letter literally killeth. Perhaps two examples of the two effects should be given:

(Fabrice has found favour in the eyes and arms of the actress Marietta)

The love of this pretty Marietta gave Fabrice all the charms of the sweetest friendship. And this made him think of the happiness of the same kind which he might have found with the Duchess herself.

If this is not "piercing to the accepted hells beneath" with a diamond-pointed plunger, I know not what is.

But much later, quite towards the end of the book, the author has to tell how Fabrice again and Clélia "forgot all but love" in one of their stolen meetings to arrange his escape.[Pg 140]

(He has, by the way, told a lie to make her think he is poisoned)

She was so beautiful—half-dressed and in a state of extreme passion as she was—that Fabrice could not resist an almost involuntary movement. No resistance was opposed.[132]

Now I am not (see Addenda and Corrigenda of the last volume) avid of expatiations of the Laclosian kind. But this is really a little too much of the "Spanish-fleet-taken-and-burnt-as-per-margin" order.

L'Abbesse de Castro, etc.

Much the same characteristics, but necessarily on a small scale, appear in the short stories usually found under the title of the first and longest of them, L'Abbesse de Castro. Two of these, Mina de Wangel and Le Philtre, are historiettes of the passion which is absent from La Chartreuse de Parme; but each is tainted with the macabre touch which Beyle affected or which (for that word is hardly fair) was natural to him. In one a German girl of high rank and great wealth falls in love with a married man, separates him from his wife by a gross deception, lives with him for a time; and when he leaves her on finding out the fraud, blows her brains out. In the other a Spanish lady, seduced and maltreated by a creole circus-rider of the worst character, declares to a more honourable lover her incurable passion for the scoundrel and takes the veil. The rest are stories of the Italian Renaissance, grimy and gory as usual. Vittoria Accoramboni herself figures, but there is no evidence that Beyle (although he had some knowledge of English literature[133]) knew at the time our glorious "White Devil," and his story dwells little on her faults and much on the punishment of her murderers. L'Abbesse de Castro itself, La Duchesse de Palliano, San Francesco à Ripa, Vanina Vanini are all of the same type and all full of the gloomier items seen by the Dreamer of Fair Women—

[Pg 141]

Scaffolds, still sheets of water, divers woes,
Ranges of glimmering vaults with iron grates,

and blood everywhere. And these unmerry tales are always recounted ab extra; in fact, many of them are real or pretended abstracts from chronicles of the very kind which furnished Browning with the matter of The Ring and the Book. It is, however, more apt and more curious to compare them with the scenes of Gerard's experiences with the princess in The Cloister and the Hearth, as instances of different handling of the same matter by two novelists of talent almost, if not quite, reaching genius.

Le Rouge et le Noir.

This singular aloofness, this separation of subject and spectator by a vast and impenetrable though translucent wall, as in a museum or a morgue, is characteristic of all Beyle's books more or less. In fact, he somewhere confesses—the confession having, as always in persons of anything like his stamp, the nature of a boast—that he cannot write otherwise than in récit, that the broken conversational or dramatic method is impossible to him. But an almost startling change—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say reinforcement—of this method appears in what seems to me by far the most remarkable and epoch-making of his books, Le Rouge et le Noir. That there is a strong autobiographic element in this, though vigorously and almost violently "transposed," must have been evident to any critical reader long ago. It became not merely evident but evidenced by the fresh matter published thirty years since.

Beyle's masterpiece, and why.

The book is a long one; it drags in parts; and, long as it is, there is stuff in it for a much longer—indeed preferably for two or three. It is not only a roman passionnel, as Beyle understood passion, not only a collection of Parisian and Provincial scenes, but a romance of secret diplomacy, and one of Seminarist life, with constant side-excursions of Voltairianism, in religion, of the revolutionary element in politics which Voltaire did not ostensibly favour, however much he may have been responsible for it, of private[Pg 142] cynicism, and above all and most consistently of all, of that psychological realism, which is perhaps a more different thing from psychological reality than our clever ones for two generations have been willing to admit, or, perhaps, able to perceive.

That—to adopt a division which foolish folk have sneered at directly and indirectly, but which is valuable and almost necessary in the case of second-class literature—it is rather an unpleasant than a pleasant book, must be pretty well apparent from what has been already said of its author and itself. That it is a powerful one follows almost in the same way. But what has to be said, for the first, if not also the last, time in reference to Beyle's fiction, is that it is interesting.

Julien Sorel and Mathilde de la Mole.

The interest depends almost entirely—I really do not think it would be rash to say entirely—upon the hero and one of the heroines. The other personages are dramatically and psychologically competent, but Beyle has—perhaps save in one or two cases intentionally—made them something of comparses or "supers." There may be two opinions about the other heroine, Madame de Rênal, Julien Sorel's first and last love, his victim in two senses and directly the cause of his death, though he was not directly the cause of hers. She seems to me merely what the French call a femmelette, feebly amorous, feebly fond of her children, feebly estranged from and unfaithful to her husband, feebly though fatally jealous of and a traitress to her lover—feebly everything. Shakespeare or Miss Austen[134] could have made such a character interesting, Beyle could not. Nor do the other "seconds"—Julien's brutal peasant father and brothers, the notables of Verrières, the husband, M. de Rênal (himself a gentillâtre, as well as a man of business, a bully, and a blockhead), and the hero's just failure of a father-in-law, the Marquis de la Mole—seem to me to come up to the mark. But, after all, they furnish forth the action, and are necessary in their various ways to set forth the[Pg 143] character of that hero and his second love, almost in the mediaeval sense his wife and his widow, Mathilde de la Mole, heiress, great lady, fille folle de son corps, and, in a kind of way, Queen Whims.

Julien Sorel, allowance being made for his date, is one of the most remarkable heroes of fiction. He is physically handsome, in fact beautiful,[135] intellectually very clever, and possessed, in especial, of a marvellous memory; also, though not well educated early, capable of learning anything in a very short time—but presented in these favourable lights without any exaggeration. A distinguished Lord Justice was said by his admirers, at the beginning of his manhood, to have obtained more marks in examinations than any youthful person in the United Kingdom: and Julien, with equal opportunities, would probably have done the same in France. Morally, in no limited sense of the word, he does not possess a single good quality, and does possess most bad ones, with the possible exceptions of gluttony and avarice. That, being in each case a family tutor or employé under trust, he seduces the wife of his first employer and the daughter of the second, cannot, in the peculiar circumstances, be said to count. This is, as it were, the starting-point, the necessary handicap, in the competition of this kind of novel. It is as he is, and in reference to what he does, after this is put aside, that he has to be considered. He is not a stage villain, though he has the peculiar, and in the circumstances important, if highly-to-be-deprecated habit of carrying pocket-pistols. He is not a Byronic hero with a terrible but misty past. He is not like Valmont of the Liaisons Dangereuses,[136] a professional and passionless lady-killer. He is not a swindler nor (though he sometimes comes near to this also) a conspirator like Count Fosco of The Woman in White. One might make a long list of such negatives if it were worth[Pg 144] while. He is only an utterly selfish, arrogant, envious, and generally bad-blooded[137] young man, whom circumstances partly, and his own misdeeds helping them, first corrupt and then destroy. You never sympathise with him for one moment, except in a peculiar fashion to be noted presently; but at the same time he neither quite bores you nor quite disgusts you. Homo est, and it is Beyle's having made him so that makes Beyle a sort of genius and much more than a sort of novelist.

But I am not certain that Mathilde is not even a greater creation, though again it is, except quite towards the end, equally impossible to like her. Femina est, though sometimes furens, oftener still furiosa (in a still wider sense than that in which Mr. Norris has[138] ingeniously "feminated" Orlando Furioso), and, in part of her conduct already alluded to, as destitute of any morality as Julien himself. Although there could hardly be (and no doubt had better not be) many like her, she is real and true, and there are not a few redeeming features in her artistically and even personally. She is, as has been said, both rich and noble, the famous lover of the third Valois Marguerite being an (I suppose collateral) ancestor of hers.[139] Her father is not merely a patrician but a Minister at the close of the French Restoration; she may marry any one she likes; and has, in fact, a train of admirers whom she alternately cajoles and snubs. Julien is taken into the household as half private secretary, half librarian; is especially favoured by her father, and treated by her brother (one of Beyle's few thoroughly good fellows) almost on equal terms. But his bad blood and his want of breeding make him stiff and mysterious, and Mathilde takes a perverse fancy to him, the growth of which is skilfully drawn. Although she is nothing so little as a[Pg 145] Lélia or an Indiana or a Valentine (vide next chapter), she is idiosyncratically romantic, and at last it is a case of ladders up to the window, "the irreparable," and various wild performances on her part and her lover's. But this is all comparatively banal. Beyle's touch of genius only reappears later. An extraordinary but (when one comes to think of it) not in the least unnatural series of "ups and downs" follows. Julien's bad blood and vulgar nature make him presume on the advantage he has obtained; Mathilde's morgue and hot-headedness make her feel degraded by what she has given. She neglects him and he becomes quite frantic about her; he takes sudden dudgeon and she becomes frantically desirous of him. This spiritual or emotional man-and-woman-in-the-weather-house business continues; but at last, with ambages and minor peripeteias impossible to abstract, it so comes about that the great and proud Marquis de La Mole, startlingly but not quite improbably, chooses to recognise this traitor and seducer as a possible by-blow of nobility, gets him a commission, endows him handsomely, and all but gives his consent to a marriage.

Then the final revolution comes. With again extraordinary but, as it is told, again not inconceivable audacity, Julien refers for character to his first mistress in both senses, Madame de Rênal, and she "gives him away." The marquis breaks off the treaties, and Julien, leaving his quarters, journeys down to Verrières and shoots Madame de Rênal (with the pocket-pistols) in church. She does not die, and is not even very seriously wounded; but he is tried, is (according, it would seem, to a state of French law, which contrasts most remarkably with one's recent knowledge of it) condemned, and after a time is executed for a murder which has not been committed. Mathilde (who is to bear him a child and always considers herself his wife) and Madame de Rênal both visit him in prison, the former making immense efforts to save him. But Julien, consistently with his character all through, is now rather bored by Mathilde and exceedingly fond of Madame de Rênal, who dies shortly after[Pg 146] him. What becomes of Mathilde we are not told, except that she devotes herself to her paulo-post-future infant. The mere summary may seem rather preposterous; the book is in a way so. But it is also, in no ordinary sense, once more real and true. It has sometimes been regarded as a childish, but I believe it to be a true, criterion of novels that the reader should feel as if he would like to have had personal dealings with the personages. I should very much like to have shot[140] Julien Sorel, though it would have been rather an honour for him. And I should very much like to have made Mathilde fall in love with me. As for Madame de Rênal, she was only good for suckling fools and telling tales out of school. But I do not find fault with Beyle for drawing her, and she, too, is very human.

In fact the book, pleasant or unpleasant, if we reflect on what the French novel was at the time, deserves a very high place. Compare it with others, and nowhere, except in Balzac, will you find anything like it for firm analysis of character, while I confess that it seems to me to be more strictly human of this world, and at the same time more original,[141] than a good deal of the Comédie.

The resuscitated work—Lamiel.

The question, "Would a novelist in altered circumstances have given us more or better novels?" is sometimes treated as ultra vires or nihil ad rem on the critic's part. I myself have been accused rather of limiting than of extending the province of the literary critic; yet I think this question is, sometimes at least, in place. If so, it can seldom be more in place than with Beyle, first because of the unusually mperfect character of his actual published work; and secondly, because of the still more unusual abundance of half-done work, or of fragments of self-criticism, which what has been called the "Beyle resurrection" of the close of the last century has furnished. Indeed the unfinished and scarcely more than half-drafted novel of[Pg 147] Lamiel almost by itself suggests the question and supplies the answer. That answer—except from favourers of the grime-novel which, oddly enough, whether by coincidence or common causation became so popular at about the time of this "resurrection"—can hardly be favourable. Lamiel is a very grubby little book. The eponymous heroine is adopted as a child by a parish beadle and his wife, who do not at all maltreat her, except by bringing her up in ways of extreme propriety, which she detests, taking delight in the histories of Mandrin, Cartouche and Co. At early maidenhood she is pitched upon as lectrice, and in a way favourite, by the great lady of the neighbourhood, the Duchess of Miossens; and in this position first attracts the attention of a peculiarly diabolical little dwarf doctor, who, bar the comic[142] element, reminds one rather of Quilp. His designs are, however, baulked in a most Beylian manner; for Lamiel (who, by a pleasing chance, was at first called "Amiel"—a delightfully other Amiel!) coolly bestows some money upon a peasant to "teach her what love is," and literally asks the Gebirian question about the ocean, "Is this all?" after receiving the lesson. Further, in the more and more unfinished parts of the book, she levants for a time with the young duke, quits him, becomes a professional hetaera in Paris, but never takes any fancy to the business of her avocation till she meets an all-conquering criminal, Valbayre.[143] The scenario tells us that, Valbayre having been caught by justice, she sets fire to the Palace thereof, and her own bones are discovered in the ashes.

This, though Beyle at least meant to season the misanthropy with irony (he might be compared with[Pg 148] Meredith for some slightly cryptic views of "the Comic Spirit"), is rather poor stuff, and certainly shows no improvement or likelihood of improvement on the earlier productions. It is even somewhat lamentable, not so much for the presence of grime as because of the absence of any other attraction. Le Rouge et le Noir is not exactly rose-pink, but it derives hardly any, if any, interest from its smirches of mud and blood and blackness. In Lamiel there is little else. Moreover, that unchallengeable "possibility of humanity" which redeems not merely Le Rouge et le Noir but the less exciting books, is wanting here. Sansfin, the doctor, is a mere monstrosity in mind as well as in body, and, except perhaps when she ejaculates (as more briefly reported above), "Comment! ce fameux amour, ce n'est que ça?" Lamiel herself is not made interesting.

The Nouvelles Inédites.

The Vie de Henri Brulard, of high importance for a History of Novelists, is in strictness outside the subject of a historian of the Novel, though it might be adduced to strengthen the remarks made on Rousseau's Confessions.[144] And the rest of the "resurrected" matter is also more autobiographical, or at best illustrative of Beyle's restless and "masterless" habit of pulling his work to pieces—of "never being able to be ready" (as a deservedly unpopular language has it)—than contributory to positive novel-achievement. But the first and by far the most substantive of the Nouvelles Inédites, which his amiable but not very strong-minded literary executor, Colomb, published soon after his death, needs a little notice.

Le Chasseur Vert.

Le Chasseur Vert[145] (which had three other titles, three successive prefaces, and in its finished, or rather unfinished, form is the salvage of five folio volumes of MS., the rest being at best sketched and at worst illegible) contains, in what we have of it,[Pg 149] the account of the tribulations of a young sub-lieutenant of Lancers (with a great deal of money, a cynical but rather agreeable banker-papa, an adoring mother, and the record of an expulsion from the Polytechnique for supposed Republicanism) suddenly pitchforked into garrison, soon after the Revolution of July, at Nancy. Here, in the early years of the July monarchy, the whole of decent society is Legitimist; a very small but not easily suppressible minority Republican; while officialdom, civil and military, forms a peculiar juste milieu, supporting itself by espionage and by what Their Majesties of the present moment, the Trade Unions, call "victimisation," but in a constant state of alarm for its position, and "looking over its shoulder" with a sort of threefold squint, at the white flag, the eagles—and the guillotine. Nothing really happens, but it takes 240 pages to bring us to an actual meeting between Lieutenant Lucien Leeuwen and his previously at distance adored widow, the Marquise de Chasteller.

The book is not a very good novel, even as a fragment, and probably nothing would ever have made it so as a whole. But there is good novel-stuff in it, and it is important to a student of the novel and almost indispensable to a student of this novelist. Of the cynical papa—who, when his son comes to him in a "high-falutin" mood, requests him to go to his (the papa's) opera-box, to replace his sire with some agreeable girl-officials of that same institution, and to spend at least 200 francs on a supper for them at the Rocher—one would gladly see more. Of the barrack (or rather not-barrack) society at Nancy, the sight given, though not agreeable, is interesting, and to any one who knew something of our old army, especially before the abolition of purchase, very curious. There is no mess-room and apparently no common life at all, except on duty and at the "pension" hotel-meals, to which,—rather, it would seem, at the arbitrary will of the colonel than by "regulation,"—you have to subscribe, though you may, and indeed must, live in lodgings exactly like a particulier.[Pg 150] Of the social-political life of the place we see rather too much, for Beyle, not content with making the politics which he does not like make themselves ridiculous—or perhaps not being able to do so—himself tells us frequently that they are ridiculous, which is not equally effective. So also, instead of putting severe or "spiritual" speeches in Lucien's mouth, he tells us that they were spiritual or severe, an assurance which, of course, we receive with due politeness, but which does not give us as much personal delectation as might be supplied by the other method. No doubt this and other things are almost direct results of that preference for récit over semi-dramatic evolution of the story by deed and word, which has been noticed. But they are damaging results all the same: and, after making the fairest allowance for its incomplete condition, the thing may be said to support, even more than Lamiel does, the conclusion already based upon the self-published stories (and most of all upon that best of them, Le Rouge et le Noir) that Beyle could never have given us a thoroughly hit-off novel.

Beyle's place in the story.

Still, there is always something unfair in making use of "Remains," and for my part I do not think that, unless they are of extraordinary merit, they should ever be published. "Death should clear all scores" in this way as in others. Yet no really critical person will think the worse of Beyle's published work because of these anecdota, though they may, as actually before us, be taken as throwing some light on what is not so good in the publicata. There can be no doubt that Beyle occupies a very important position in the history of the novel, and not of the French novel only, as the first, or almost the first, analyst of the ugly for fictitious purposes, and as showing singular power in his analysis. Unfortunately his synthetic gifts were not equally great. He had strange difficulty in making his stories march; he only now and then got them to run; and though the real life of his characters has been acknowledged, it is after all a sort of "Life-in-Death," a new manifestation of the evil power of that mysterious entity[Pg 151] whom Coleridge, if he did not discover, first named and produced in quasi-flesh, though he left us without any indication of more than one tiny and accidental part of her dread kingdom.

He has thus the position of père de famille, whether (to repeat the old joke) of a famille déplorable in the moral, not the sentimental, sense, must, I suppose, be left matter of opinion. The plentiful crop of monographs about him since M. Stryienski's Pompeian explorations and publications is in a manner—if only in a manner—justified by the numerous followers—not always or perhaps often conscious followers, and so even more important—in his footsteps. Nobody can say that the picaresque novelists, whether in their original country or when the fashion had spread, were given to berquinades or fairy-tales. Nobody can say that the tale-writers who preceded and followed them were apostles of virtue or painters of Golden-Age scenes. But, with some exceptions (chiefly Italian) among the latter, they did not, unless their aim were definitely tragical—an epithet which one could show, on irrefragable Aristotelian principles, to be rarely if ever applicable to Beyle and his school—they did not, as the common phrase goes, "take a gloomy view" only. There were cakes and ale; and the cakes did not always give internal pains, nor the ale a bad headache. As even Hazlitt (who has been selected, not without reason, as in many ways like Beyle) said of himself on his death-bed, rather to some folks' surprise though not to mine, most of the characters "had a happy life," though the happiness might be chequered: and some of them were "good." It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that in Beyle's books happiness does not exist, and virtue has hardly a place. There are some characters who may be said to be neutral or "on the line"; they may be not definitely unhappy or definitely bad. But this is about as far as he ever goes in that direction. And accordingly he and his followers have the fault of one-sidedness; they may (he did) see life steadily, but they do not see it whole. There is no need[Pg 152] to preach a sermon on the text: in this book there is full need to record the fact.[146]


Balzac—conditions of the present dealing.

In dealing with Beyle's greater companion here there are certain things—not exactly difficulties, but circumstances conditioning the treatment—which should be stated. That it is well to know something about your subject has been an accepted doctrine with all save very young persons, idle paradoxers, and (according to Sir Walter Scott) the Scottish Court of Session in former days.[147] That it is also well not to know too much about it has sometimes been maintained, without any idleness in either sense of the word; the excess being thought likely to cause weariness, "staleness," and absence of interest. If this were necessarily so, it might be better for the writer once more to leave this part of the chapter (since at least the heading of it could not possibly be omitted in the history) a blank or a constellation of asterisks in Sternian fashion. For it has fallen to his lot to translate one whole novel of Balzac's,[148] to edit a translation of the entire Comédie,[149] superintending some of the volumes in narrow detail, and studying each in short, but (intentionally at least) thorough Introductions, with a very elaborate preface-study of the whole; to read all Balzac's rather voluminous miscellanea from the early novel-attempts to posthumous things, including letters; and, finally, to discuss the subject once more, with the aid or burden of many previous commentaries, in a long Review article.[150] Nevertheless, he does not feel that any disgust forbids while a clear duty calls: and he hopes to show that it is not always necessary to weary of quails as in the Biblical,[Pg 153] partridges as in the old fabliau, and pigeons in the Dumas fils (v. inf.) version of the Parable of Satiety.

Limitations of Subject.

In no case, however, not even in that of Victor Hugo, is the easement given by the general plan of the book, in regard to biographical and other not strictly literary details, more welcome. We shall say nothing on the point whether the author of the Comédie Humaine should be called M. de Balzac or M. Balzac or M. Balssa; nothing about his family, his friends, his enemies, his strangely long-deferred, and, when it came, as strangely ill-fated marriage; little, though something necessarily, about his tastes, his commercial and other enterprises, and so forth; and not very much—something here also becoming obligatory—on his manner of producing the immense and wonderful work which he has left us. Those who are curious about such things will find ample satisfaction in the labours of M. Spoelberch de Lovenjoul, of MM. Christophe and Cerfbeer, and of others.[151] Here he is, for us, Honoré de Balzac, author of the Juvenilia (saved from, as it is understood, a larger bulk still) in ten volumes; of the mighty "Comedy" itself, and, more incidentally, of the considerable epistolary and miscellaneous production referred to above. The manner in which this enormous output was put out has perhaps too much to do with its actual character to be passed over in total silence. It represents thirty years' working time almost entirely spent upon it,[152] the alternatives being the above-mentioned commercial speculations (which were almost invariably unfortunate, and involved him, during the whole of his career, in complicated indebtedness) and a good deal of travel, very frequently connected with these speculations. Of the society which formed so large a part of the life of the time and of which he wrote so often, Balzac saw little. He worked at enormous stretches, and he rewrote his work, in MS., in[Pg 154] proof and in temporarily final print, with insatiable and indefatigable industry. To no writer could the commonplace extravagance about burning the candle at both ends be applied so truly as to Balzac. Only, his candle was shaped like a wheel with no felloes, and he burnt it at the end of every spoke and at the nave as well. How he managed to last, even to fifty, is one of the major curiosities of literary biography.

And of Balzac himself.

Of the three divisions of this vast but far from chaotic production, the miscellaneous, of course, concerns us least. It shows Balzac as a failure of a dramatist, a critic of very varying competence,[153] not a particularly effective writer merely as such, not possessed of much logical power, but having pretty wide interests and abundantly provided with what we may call the odd tools of the novelist's workshop. As a correspondent his writing has absolutely none of what may be called the "departmental" interest of great letter-writers—of Madame de Sévigné or Lady Mary, of Horace Walpole or Cowper; its attraction is not epistolary but wholly autobiographic. And it is only fair to say that, despite Balzac's immense and intense self-centredness, it leaves one on the whole with a much better opinion of him as a man than might be derived from his books or from the anecdotes about him. To adapt one of the best known of these, there was, in fact, nothing real to him but Honoré de Balzac, Honoré de Balzac's works and schemes, and, in rare cases (of which Madame Hanska was the chief), Honoré de Balzac's loves. These constituted his subject, his universe of thought and feeling, of action and passion. But at the same time he stands apart from all the other great egotists. He differs from those of whom Byron is the chief in that he does not introduce himself prominently in his fictitious creations. He does not, like those who may take their representative in Goethe, regard everything merely as it relates to his[Pg 155] personality. His chief peculiarity, his unique literary character, and, it may be added at once, his greatness and his weakness, all consist in the fact that he evolves a new world out of himself. Now and then he may have taken an actual human model—George Sand, Madame d'Agoult, Madame de Castries, Liszt, Latouche,[154] Rémusat—as many others as anybody likes. But always these had not merely to receive the Balzacian image and superscription, but to be transmuted into creatures of a Balzacium Sidus. And it is the humanity of this planet or system, much more than of our world, whereof his Comédie is the Comedy—a Comédie Balzacienne.

Balzac's "general ideas."

But, it has been said, and the saying has been attributed to no less a critic than M. Faguet, there are no "general ideas" in Balzac.[155] One can only reply, "Heavens! Why should there be?" The celebrated unreason of "going to a gin-palace for a leg of mutton" (already quoted, and perhaps to be quoted again) is sound and sensible as compared with asking general ideas from a novelist. They are not quite absolutely forbidden to him, though he will have to be very careful lest they get in his way. But they are most emphatically not his business, except as very rare and very doubtful means to a quite different end, means absolutely insufficient by themselves and exceedingly difficult to combine with the other means which—more or fewer of them—are not only sufficient but necessary. The "slice of human life," not necessarily, but preferably ordinary,[Pg 156] presenting probable and interesting characters, connected by sufficient plot, diversified and adorned by descriptive and other devices, and abundantly furnished with the conversation of men and women of this world, the whole forming such a whole as will amuse, thrill, affect, and in other ways, to use the all-important word once more, interest the reader,—that is what is wanted. And this definition is as rigid at least as the Aristotelian definition of tragedy and perhaps more exhaustive, as concerns the novel, including, with the necessary modifications, the romance—and the romance, including, with the necessary modifications, the novel. In it "general ideas," unless a very special and not at all usual meaning is attached to the term, can have no right of place. They may be brought in, as almost anything may be brought in if the writer is Samson enough to bring it. But they cannot be demanded of him as facts, images, emotions, style, and a very large number of other things can or may be, not, of course, all at once, but in larger or smaller selection. General ideas may and perhaps should be demanded from the philosopher, the historian, the political student. From the poet and the novelist they cannot be. And that they should be so demanded is one of the chief instances of what seems to the present writer to be the greatest mistake of French novel, as of other, criticism—its persistent relapse upon the rule-system and its refusal to judge by the result.[156]

It is all the more unreasonable to demand general ideas from Balzac himself, because he is so liberal of general imagery, and what is more, general prosopopœia. Be the Balzacian world real, as some would have it to be, or be it removed from our mundane reality by the subtle "other-planetary" influence which is apparent to others, its complexity, its fullness, its variety, its busy and by no means unsystematic life and motion, cannot be denied. Why on earth cannot people be content with asking Platonism from Plato and Balzacity from Balzac? At any rate, it is Balzacity which will be the subject of the[Pg 157] following pages, and if anybody wants anything else let him go elsewhere.

Abstinence from abstract.

There is hardly likely to be much grumbling at the absence of such detailed abstract or survey of individual books as has been given in cases of what may seem to be much less importance. To begin with, such a survey as is possible[157] exists already from these hands in the Introductions to the translated edition above referred to, and to paraphrase or refashion it here would probably occupy a hundred pages, if not more. Nor would the plan, elsewhere adopted, of analysing afresh one, or two, or more examples, as representative, be satisfactory. Although Balzac is in a sense one of the most intensely individual of all novelists, his individuality, as in a very few others of the greatest cases, cannot be elicited from particular works. Just as Hamlet will give you no idea of the probable treatment of As You Like It, so Eugénie Grandet contains no key to La Cousine Bette. Even the groups into which he himself rather empirically, if not quite arbitrarily, separated the Comédie, though they lend themselves a little more to specification, do not yield very much to the classifier. The Comédie, once more, is a world—a world open to the reader, "all before him." Chronological order may tell him a little about Balzac, but it will not tell him very much about Balzac's work that he cannot gain from the individual books, except in the very earliest stages. There is no doubt that the Œuvres de Jeunesse, if not very delightful to the reader (I have myself read them not without pleasure), are very instructive; the instruction increases, while the pleasure is actually multiplied, when you come to Les Chouans and the Peau de Chagrin. But it is, after a fashion, only beyond these that the true Balzac begins, and the beginning is, to a large extent, a reaction from previous work in consequence of a discovery that the genius, without[Pg 158] which he had acknowledged that it was all up with him,[158] did not lie that way, and that he had no hope of finding it there. Not that there is no genius in the two books mentioned; on the contrary, it is there first to be found, and in La Peau is of the first order. But their ways are not the ways in which he was to find it—and himself—more specially.

The Œuvres de Jeunesse.

As to Argow le Pirate[159] and Jane la Pâle (I have never ceased lamenting that he did not keep the earlier title, Wann-Chlore) and the rest, they have interest of various kinds. Some of it has been glanced at already—you cannot fully appreciate Balzac without them. But there is another kind of interest, perhaps not of very general appeal, but not to be neglected by the historian. They are almost the only accessible body, except Pigault-Lebrun's latest and Paul de Kock's earliest, of the popular fiction before 1830, of the stuff of which, as previously mentioned, Ducray-Duminil, the lesser Ducange, and many others are representatives, but representatives difficult to get at. This class of fiction, which arose in all parts of Europe during the last years of the eighteenth century and the earlier of the nineteenth, has very similar characteristics, though the examples differ very slightly in different countries. What are known with us as the Terror Novel, the Minerva Press, the Silver Fork school, etc. etc., all have their part in it, and even higher influences, such as Scott's, are not wanting. Han d'Islande and Bug-Jargal themselves belong to some extent to the class, and I am far from certain that the former is at all better than some of these juvenilia of Balzac's. But as a whole they are of course little more than curiosities.

Whether these curiosities are more widely known than they were some five-and-twenty, or thirty, years[Pg 159] ago, when Mr. Louis Stevenson was the only friend of mine who had read them, and when even special writers on Balzac sometimes unblushingly confessed that they had not, I cannot say. Although printed in the little fifty-five-volume[160] edition which for so many years represented Balzac, they were excluded, as noted above, from the statelier "Définitive," and so may have once more "gone into abscondence." I do not want to read them again, but I no more repent the time once spent on them than I did earlier. In fact I really do not think any one ought to talk about Balzac who has not at least gained some knowledge of them, for many of their defects remained with him when he got rid of the others. These defects are numerous enough and serious enough. The books are nothing if not uncritical, generally extravagant, and sometimes (especially in Jean Louis) appallingly dull. Scarf-pins, made of poisoned fish-bones (Argow le Pirate), extinction of virgins under copper bells (Le Centénaire), attempts at fairy-tales (La Dernière Fée) jostle each other. The weaker historical kind figures largely in L'Excommunié (one of the least bad), L'Israëlite, L'Héritière de Birague, Dom Gigadas. There is a Vicaire des Ardennes (remarkably different from him of Wakefield), which is a kind of introduction to Argow le Pirate, and which, again, is not the worst. When I formerly wrote about these curious productions, after reading them, I had not read Pigault-Lebrun, and therefore did not perceive, what I now see to be an undoubted fact, that Balzac was, sometimes at least, trying to follow in Pigault's popular footsteps. But he had not that writer's varied knowledge of actual life or his power of telling a story, and though he for the most part avoided Pigault's grossièreté, the chaotic plots, the slovenly writing, and other defects of his model abode with him.

Les Chouans.

There are not many more surprising things, especially in pari materia, to be found in literary history than[Pg 160] the sun-burst of Les Chouans after this darkness-that-can-be-felt of the early melodramas. Not that Les Chouans is by any means a perfect novel, or even a great one. Its narrative drags, in some cases, almost intolerably; the grasp of character, though visible, is inchoate; the plot is rather a polyptych of separate scenes than a connected action; you see at once that the author has changed his model to Sir Walter and think how much better Sir Walter would have done the thing. But there is a strange air of "coming alive" in some of the scenes, though they are too much separated, as in the case of the finale and of the execution of the rather hardly used traitor earlier. These possess a character of thrill which may be looked for in vain through all the ten volumes of the Œuvres de Jeunesse. Montauran is a hero in more than one sense, and Mlle. de Verneuil is still more a heroine. Had Balzac worked her out as he worked out others, who did not deserve it so well, later, she might have been one of the great characters in fiction. Even as it is, the "jour sans lendemain," which in one sense unites, and in another parts, her and her lover for ever, is one of the most really passionate things that the French novel, in its revival, had yet seen. Besides this, there is a sort of extrinsic appeal in the book, giving that curious atmosphere referred to already, and recalling the old prints of the earth yawning in patches and animals rearing themselves from it at the Creation. The names and personages of Hulot and Corentin were to be well known later to readers of the "fifty volumes," and even the ruffianly patriot[161] Marche-à-Terre had his future.

La Peau de Chagrin.

The second[162] blast of the horn with which Balzac challenged admission to the Inner Sanctuaries or strongholds of the novel, La Peau de Chagrin, had that character of[Pg 161] difference which one notices not seldom in the first worthy works of great men of letters—the absence of the mould and the rut. Les Chouans was a Waverley novel Gallicised and Balzacified; La Peau de Chagrin is a cross between the supernatural romance and the novel of psychology. It is one of the greatest of Balzac's books. The idea of the skin—a new "wishing" talisman, which shrinks with every exercise of the power it gives, and so threatens extinction at once of wishing and living—is of course not wholly novel, though refreshed in detail. But then nothing is wholly novel, and if anything could be it would probably be worthless. The endless changes of the eternal substance make the law, the curse, and the blessing of life. In the working out of his theme it may possibly be objected that Balzac has not interested the reader quite enough in his personages—that he seems in a way to be thinking more of the play than of the actors or the audience. His "orgie" is certainly not much of a success; few orgies in print are, except when they are burlesqued. But, on the other hand, the curiosity-shop is splendid. Yet it is not on the details of the book, important as these have been allowed to be throughout Balzac, that attention should be mainly concentrated. The point of it is the way in which the necessary atmosphere of bad dream is kept up throughout, yet with an appropriate contrast of comparatively ordinary life. A competent critic who read Les Chouans, knowing nothing about its author or his work, should have said, "Here is more than a promising craftsman"; reading La Peau de Chagrin in the same conditions he should have said, "Here is a great, though by no means a faultless, artist." One who read both ought to have had no doubt as to the coming of something and somebody extraordinary.

The short stories.

Thenceforward Balzac, though hardly ever faultless except in short stories, was almost always great, and showed what may be called a diffused greatness, to which there are few parallels in the history of the novel. Some of the tales are simply[Pg 162] wonderful. I cannot think of any one else, even Mérimée, who could have done La Grande Bretèche—the story of a lover who, rather than betray his mistress, allows himself to suffer, without a word, the fate of a nun who has broken her vows—as Balzac has done it. La Recherche de l'Absolu is one, and Le Chef-d'œuvre Inconnu is another, of the greatest known masterpieces in the world of their kind. La Fille aux Yeux d'Or and Une Passion dans le Désert have not the least need of their "indexable" qualities to validate them. In the most opposite styles Jésus Christ en Flandre and La Messe de l'Athée have their warmest admirers. In fact it is scarcely too much to say that, in the whole list of nearer two than one score—as they were published in the old collection from Le Bal de Sceaux to Maître Cornélius—scarcely any are bad or insignificant, few mediocre, and not a few equal, or hardly inferior, to those specially pointed out just now. As so often happens, the short story estopped Balzac from some of his usual delinquencies—over-detail, lingering treatment, etc.,—and encouraged his virtues—intensity, grandeur, and idiosyncratic tone.

The Contes Drolatiques.

Of his one considerable collection of such stories—the Contes Drolatiques—it is not possible to speak quite so favourably as a whole; yet the reduction of favour need not be much. Of its greatest thing, La Succube, there have hardly been two opinions among competent and unprejudiced judges. "Pity and terror" are there well justified of their manipulator. The sham Old French, if not absolutely "according to Cocker" (or such substitute for Cocker as may be made and provided by scholarly authority), is very much more effective than most such things. Not a few of the stories are good and amusing in themselves, though of course the votaries of prunes and prism should keep clear of them. The book has perhaps only one serious fault, that of the inevitable and no doubt invited suggestion of, and comparison with, Rabelais. In some points this will hold not so badly, for Balzac had narrative power of[Pg 163] the first order when he gave it scope; the deficiencies of mere style which sometimes affect his modern French do not appear so much in this pastiche, and he could make broad jokes well enough. But—and this "but" is rather a terrible one—the saving and crowning grace of Pantagruelist humour is not in him, except now and then in its grimmer and less catholic variety or manifestation. And this absence haunts one in these Contes Drolatiques, though it is to some extent compensated by the presence of a "sentiment" rare elsewhere in Balzac.

Notes on select larger books: Eugénie Grandet.

Turning to the longer books, the old double difficulty of selection and omission comes on one in full force. There are, I suppose, few Balzacians who have not special favourites, but probably Eugénie Grandet, Le Père Goriot, and the two divisions of Les Parents Pauvres would unite most suffrages. If I myself—who am not exactly a Balzacian, though few can admire him more, and not very many, I think, have had occasion for knowing his work better—put Eugénie Grandet at the head of all the "scenes" of ordinary life, it is most certainly not because of its inoffensiveness. It is perhaps partly because, in spite of that inoffensiveness, it fixes on one a grasp superior to anything of Beyle's and equal to anything of Flaubert's or Maupassant's. But the real cause of admiration is the nature of the grasp itself. Here, and perhaps here only—certainly here in transcendence—Balzac grapples with, and vanquishes, the bare, stern, unadorned, unbaited, ironic facts of life. It is not an intensely interesting book; it is certainly not a delightful one; you do not want to read it very often. Still, when you have read it you have come to one of the ultimate things: the flammantia mœnia of the world of fiction forbid any one to go further at this particular point. And when this has been said of a novel, all has been said of the quality of the novelist's genius, though not of its quantity or variety.

Le Père Goriot and Les Parents Pauvres.

The other three books selected have greater "interest" and, in the case of the Parents Pauvres at least, much greater variety; but they do not seem to me to[Pg 164] possess equal consummateness. Le Père Goriot is in its own way as pathetic as Eugénie Grandet, and Balzac has saved its pathos from being as irritating as that of the all but idiotic grandfather in The Old Curiosity Shop. But the situation still has a share of that fatal helpless ineffectiveness which Mr. Arnold so justly denounced. Of the remaining pair, La Cousine Bette is, I suppose, again the favourite; but I am not a backer. I have in other places expressed my opinion that if Valérie Marneffe is part-model[163] of Becky Sharp, which is not, I believe, absolutely certain, the copy far—indeed infinitely—exceeds the original, and not least in the facts that Becky is attractive while Valérie is not, and that there is any amount of possibility in her. I should not wonder if, some day, a novelist took it into his head to show Becky as she would have been if she had had those thousands a year for which, with their accompanying chances of respectability, she so pathetically sighed. Now Valérie is, and always must have been, a catin, and nothing else. Lisbeth, again, though I admit her possibility, is not, to me, made quite probable. Hulot, very possible and probable indeed, does not interest or amuse me, and the angelic Adeline is good but dull. In fact the book, by its very power, throws into disastrous eminence that absence of delightfulness which is Balzac's great want, uncompensated by the presence of the magnificence which is his great resource. La Peau de Chagrin and some of the smaller things have this relief; La Cousine Bette has not. And therefore I think that, on the whole, Le Cousin Pons is the better of the two, though it may seem to some weaker, further "below proof." Everything in it is possible and probable, and though the comedy is rather rueful, it is comedy. It is a play; its companion is rather too much of a sermon.

Others—the general "scenic" division.

The "Scènes de la Vie Privée" (to pass to a rapid general survey of the "Acts" of the Comedy) provide[Pg 165] an especially large number of short stories, almost the only ones of length being Modeste Mignon and Béatrix, a strongly contrasted couple. Modeste Mignon is perhaps one of the best of Balzac's second best. Béatrix, a book of more power, appeals chiefly to those who may be interested in the fact (which apparently is the fact) that the book contains, almost more than any other, figures taken from real people, such as George Sand—the "Camille" of the novel—and some of those about her. The "Scènes de la Vie de Province" are richer in "magnums." Eugénie Grandet is here, with a sort of companion, cheerfuller generally, in Ursule Mirouet. The shorter stories are grouped under the titles of Les Parisiens en Province (with the first appearance of Gaudissart) and Les Rivalités. Le Lys dans la Vallée (which one is sometimes anxiously begged to distinguish from "the lily of the valley," otherwise muguet) holds, for some, an almost entirely unique place in Balzac's work, or one shared only in part by Mémoires de Deux Jeunes Mariées. I have never, I think, cared much for either. But there is more strength in two pairs of volumes which contain some of the author's masterpieces—Les Célibataires with Pierrette, Le Curé de Tours, and the powerful, if not particularly pleasant, Un Ménage de Garçon;[164] and Illusions Perdues, running up well with Un Grand Homme de Province à Paris and the semi-idyllic Ève et David.

But I suppose the "Scenes of Parisian Life" seem to be the citadel to most people. Here are three of the four books specially selected above, Le Père Goriot and both the constituents of Les Parents Pauvres. Here are the Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes, which some rank among the very first; not a few short stories in the volumes taking their titles from La Dernière Incarnation de Vautrin and La Maison Nucingen; with César Birotteau (Balzac on Bankruptcy, as it has been profanely called) and the celebrated Histoire des Treize.[Pg 166]

This last, I confess frankly, has always bored me, even though the volume contains La Fille aux Yeux d'Or. The idea of a secret society in Society itself was not new; it was much more worthy of Sue or Soulié than of Balzac, and it does not seem to me to have been interestingly worked out. But perhaps this is due to my perverse and elsewhere confessed objection to crime and conspiracy novels generally.

Neither have I ever cared much for the group of "Scenes de la Vie Politique," ranging from Une Ténébreuse Affaire to Le Député d'Arcis, the last being not entirely Balzac's own. The single volume, "Scènes de la Vie Militaire," consisting merely of Les Chouans and Une Passion dans le Désert, is much better, and the "Scènes de la Vie de Campagne" reach a high level with Le Médecin de Campagne, Le Curé de Village, and the late, grim, but very noteworthy Les Paysans.

None, however, of these sometimes rather arbitrary groups of Balzac's contains such thoroughly satisfactory matter as that which he chose to call "Études Philosophiques." It includes only one full-volume novel, but that is the Peau de Chagrin itself.[165] And here are most of the short stories singled out at first, La Recherche de l'Absolu, Jésus Christ en Flandre, Le Chef-d'œuvre Inconnu, with Melmoth Réconcilié[166] in the same batch. The two volumes entitled L'Enfant Maudit and Les Marana contain all but a dozen remarkable tales. Here, too, is the curious treatise Sur Cathérine de Médicis, with another, to some people among the most interesting of all, the autobiographic Louis Lambert, and also the mystical, and in parts very beautiful, Séraphita.

The "Études Analytiques," which complete the original Comédie with the two notorious volumes of Physiologie du Marriage and Petites Misères de la Vie Conjugale, are not novels or tales, and so do not concern[Pg 167] us. They are not the only instance in literature showing that the sarcasm

The God you took from a printed book

extends to other things besides divinity. The old conventional satires on marriage are merely rehashed with some extra garlic. Balzac had no personal experience of the subject till just before his death, and his singular claustral habits of life could not give him much opportunity for observation.

"Balzacity": its constitution.

Experience, indeed, and observation (to speak with only apparent paradox), though they played an important, yet played only a subordinate part at any time in the great Balzacian achievement. Victor Hugo, in what was in effect a funeral oration, described that achievement as "un livre qui est l'Observation et qui est l'Imagination." But no one familiar with the Victorian rhetoric will mistake the clou, the dominating and decisive word of that sentence. It is the conjunction. Hugo meant to draw attention to the astonishing union of Imagination with Observation—two things which, except in the highest poetry, are apt to be rather strangers to each other—and by putting Imagination last he meant also doubtless that this was the dominating—the masculine—element in the marriage. In the immense volume of discussion of Balzac which the long lifetime succeeding his death has seen, and which thickened and multiplied towards the close of the last century and a little later—owing to the conclusion of the Édition Définitive with its additions and illustrative matter—this point has perhaps been too frequently lost sight of. The great critics who were his contemporaries and immediate survivors were rather too near. The greatest of the later batch, M. Brunetière, was a little too eager to use Balzac as a stick to beat the Romantics with for one thing, and to make him out a pioneer of all succeeding French fiction for another. But, quite early, Philarète Chasles hit the white by calling him a voyant (a word slightly varying in signification from our[Pg 168] "seer"), and recently a critic of less repute than Brunetière, but a good one—M. Le Breton—though perhaps sometimes not quite fair to Balzac, recognises his Romanticism, his frénésie, and so the Imagination of which the lunatic and the lover are—and of which the devotee of Romance in verse and prose should be—compact.

Nevertheless it would be of course highly improper, and in fact absurd, to deny the "observation"—at least in detail of all kinds. Although—as we have seen and may see again when we come to Naturalism and look back—M. Brunetière was quite wrong in thinking that Balzac introduced "interiors" to French, and still more wrong in thinking that he introduced them to European, novel-writing, they undoubtedly make a great show in his work—are, indeed, one of its chief characteristics. He actually overdoes them sometimes; the "dragging" of Les Chouans is at least partly due to this, and he never got complete mastery of his tendency that way. But undoubtedly this tendency was also a source of power.

Yet, while this observation of things is not to be denied, Balzac's observation of persons is a matter much more debatable. To listen to some of the more uncritical—especially among the older and now almost traditional—estimates of him, an unwary reader who did not correct these, judging for himself, might think that Balzac was as much of an "observational" realist in character as Fielding, as Scott when it served his turn, as Miss Austen, or as Thackeray. Longer study and further perspective seem recently to have put more people in the position which only a few held some years ago. The astonishing force, completeness, relative reality of his creations is more and more admitted, but it is seen (M. Le Breton, for instance, admits it in almost the very words) that the reality is often not positive. In fact the Comédie may remind some of the old nautical laudation of a ship which cannot only sail close to the wind, but even a point or two on the other side of it. If even Frenchmen now confess that Balzac's characters are[Pg 169] very often not des êtres réels, no Englishman need be ashamed of having always thought so.

The fact is that this giant in novel-writing did actually succeed in doing what some of his brethren in Hyperion would have liked to do—in setting up a new world for himself and getting out of the existing universe. His characters are never inhuman; they never fail to be human; they are of the same flesh and blood, the same soul and spirit, as ourselves. But they have, as it were, colonised the fresh planet—the Balzacium Sidus—and taken new colour and form from its idiosyncrasies.[167]

Its effect on successors.

It is for this reason that one hesitates to endorse the opinions quoted above as to the filiation of all or most subsequent French fiction upon Balzac. Of course he had a great influence on it; such a genius, in such circumstances, could not but have. The "interior" business was largely followed and elaborated; it might be argued—though the contention would have to be strictly limited and freely provisoed—that Naturalism in general—as the "Rougon-Macquart" scheme certainly was in particular—was a sort of bastard of the Comédie. Other points of relationship might be urged. But all this would leave the most characteristic Balzacities untouched. In the most obvious and superficial quality—pessimistic psychology—the other novelist dealt with in this chapter—Beyle—is far more of a real origin than Balzac is. If one takes the most brilliant of his successors outside the Naturalist school—Flaubert and Feuillet—very little that is really Balzacian will be found in either. At least Madame Bovary and M. de Camors—which, I suppose, most people would choose to represent the greatest genius and the most flexible talent of the Second Empire in novel-writing—seem to me to show hardly anything that is like Balzac. The Goncourts have something of degraded Balzacianism[Pg 170] on its lower side in them, and Zola approaches, at least in his "apocalyptic" period, something like a similar though less offensive degradation of the higher. But I can hardly conceive anything less like Balzac's work than Maupassant's.

And its own character.

For the fact is that the real Balzac lies—to and for me—almost entirely in that aura of other-worldliness of which I have spoken. It is in the revelation of this other world, so like ours and yet not the same; in the exploration of its continents; in the frequentation of its inhabitants; that the pleasure which he has to give consists. How he came himself to discover it is as undiscoverable as how his in some sort analogue Dickens, after pottering not unpleasantly with Bozeries, "thought of Mr. Pickwick," and so of the rest of his human (and extra-human) comedy. But the facts, in both cases fortunately, remain. And it may be possible to indicate at least some qualities and characteristics of the fashion in which he dealt with this world when he had discovered it. In Les Chouans he had found out not so much it, as the way to it; in the books between that and La Peau de Chagrin he was over the border, and with La Peau itself he had "crossed Jordan,"—it was all conquest and extension—as far as permitted—of territory afterwards.

The "occult" element.

There can, I should suppose, be very little doubt that the fancy for the occult, which played a great part, as far as bulk goes, in the Juvenilia, but produced nothing of value there, began to bear fruit at this time. The Supernatural (as was remarked of woman to the indignation of Mr. Snodgrass) is a "rum creetur." It is very difficult to deal with; to the last degree unsatisfactory when of bad quality and badly handled; but possessing almost infinite capabilities of exhibiting excellence, and conveying enjoyment. Of course, during the generation before Balzac's birth and also that between his birth and 1830, the Terror Novel—from the Castle of Otranto to Maturin—had circled through Europe, and "Illuminism" of various kinds[Pg 171] had taken particular hold of France just before the Revolution. But Balzac's "Occult," like Balzac's everything, was not the same as anybody else's. Whether you take it in La Peau de Chagrin itself, or in Séraphita, or anywhere, it consists, again, rather in atmosphere than in "figures." A weaker genius would have attached to the skin of that terrible wild ass—gloomier, but more formidable than even the beast in Job[168]—some attendant evil spirit, genie, or "person" of some sort. A bit of shagreen externally, shrinking—with age—perhaps? with weather?—what not?—a life shrinking in mysterious sympathy—that is what was wanted and what you have, without ekings, or explanations, or other trumpery.

Its action and reaction.

Nor is it only in the ostensibly "occult" or (as he was pleased to call them) "philosophic" studies and and stories that you get this atmosphere. It spreads practically everywhere—the very bankruptcies and the sordid details of town and country life are overshadowed and in a certain sense dis-realised by it. Indeed that verb which, like most new words, has been condemned by some precisians, but which was much wanted, applies to no prose writer quite so universally as to Balzac. He is a dis-realiser, not by style as some are, but in thought—at the very same time that he gives such impressions of realism. Sometimes, but not often, he comes quite close to real mundane reality, sometimes, as in the most "philosophical" of the so-called philosophical works, he hardly attempts a show of it. But as a rule when he is at his very best, as in La Peau de Chagrin, in La Recherche de l'Absolu, in Le Chef-d'œuvre Inconnu, he attains a kind of point of unity between disrealising and realising—he disrealises the common and renders the uncommon real in a fashion actually carrying out what he can never have known—the great Coleridgian definition or description of poetry. In fact, if prose-poetry were not a contradiction in terms,[Pg 172] Balzac would be, except in style,[169] the greatest prose-poet of them all.

Peculiarity of the conversation.

On[170] one remarkable characteristic of the Comédie very little has usually been said. It has been neglected wholly by most critics, though it is of the very first importance. And that is the astonishingly small use, in proportion, which Balzac makes of that great weapon of the novelist, dialogue, and the almost smaller effect which it accordingly has in producing his results (whatever they are) on his readers. With some novelists dialogue is almost all-powerful. Dumas, for instance (as is pointed out elsewhere), does almost everything by it. In his best books especially you may run the eye over dozens, scores, almost hundreds of pages without finding a single one printed "solid." The author seldom makes any reflections at all; and his descriptions, with, of course, some famous exceptions, are little more than longish stage directions. Nor is this by any means merely due to early practice in the drama itself; for something like it is to be found in writers who have had no such practice. In Balzac, after making every allowance for the fact that he often prints his actual conversations without typographical separation of the speeches, the case is just the other way. Moreover, and this is still more noteworthy, it is not by what his characters do say that we remember them. The situation perhaps most of all; the character itself very often; the story sometimes (but of that more presently)—these are the things for and by which we remember Balzac and the vast army of his creations; while sometimes it is not even for any of these things, but for "interiors," "business," and the like. When one thinks of single points in him, it is scarcely ever of such things as the "He has got his discharge, by——!"[Pg 173] of Dickens; as the "Adsum" of Thackeray; as the "Trop lourd!" of Porthos' last agony; as the longer but hardly less quintessenced malediction of Habakkuk Mucklewrath on Claverhouse. It is of Eugénie Grandet shrinking in automatic repulsion from the little bench as she reads her cousin's letter; of Henri de Marsay's cigar (his enjoyment of it, that is to say, for his words are quite commonplace) as he leaves "la Fille aux Yeux d'Or"; of the lover allowing himself to be built up in "La Grande Bretèche." Observe that there is not the slightest necessity to apportion the excellence implied in these different kinds of reminiscence; as a matter of fact, each way of fastening the interest and the appreciation of the reader is indifferently good.[171] But the distinction remains.

And of the "story" interest.

There is another point on which, though no good critic can miss it, some critics seem to dislike dwelling; and this is that, though Balzac's separate situations, as has just been said, are arresting in the highest degree, it is often distinctly difficult to read him "for the story." Even M. Brunetière lets slip an admission that "interest" of the ordinary kind is not exactly Balzac's forte; while another admirer of his grants freely that his affabulation is weak. Once more, we need not and must not make too much of this; but it is important that it should not be forgotten, and the extreme Balzacian is sometimes apt to forget it. That it comes sometimes from Balzac's mania for rehandling and reshaping—that he has actually, like the hero of what is to some his most unforgettable short story, daubed the masterpiece into a blur—is certain. But it probably comes more often, and is much more interesting as coming, from want of co-ordination between the observing and the imagining faculties which are (as Hugo meant) the yoked coursers of Balzac's car.[Pg 174]

The fact is that exceptis excipiendis, of which Eugénie Grandet is the chief solid example, it is not by the ordinary means, or in the ordinary ways, that Balzac makes any considerable part of his appeal. He is very much more der Einzige in novel-writing than Jean Paul was in novel-writing or anything else; for a good deal of Richter's uniqueness depended[172] upon eccentricities of style, etc., from which Balzac is entirely free. And the same may be said, with the proper mutations, of George Meredith. No one ever made less use—despite his "details" and "interiors"—of what may be called intellectual or artistic costume and properties than the author of the Comédie Humaine. The most egotistical of men in certain ways, he never thrusts his ego upon you. The most personal in his letters, he is almost as impersonal in most of his writings (Louis Lambert, etc., being avowedly exceptional) as Shakespeare. Now, though the personal interest may be not illegitimate and sometimes great, the impersonal is certainly greater. Thanks to industrious prying, not always deserving the adjective impertinent, we know a great deal about Balzac; and it is by no means difficult to apply some of the knowledge to aid the study of his creation. But in reading the creation itself you never need this knowledge; it never forces itself on you. The hundreds, and almost thousands, of persons who form the company of the Comédie—their frequently recurring parts adjusted with extraordinary, though by no means obtrusive or offensive, consistency to the enormous world of detail and scenery and general "surroundings" in which their parts are played—are never interfered with by the pointing-stick or the prompter. They are there; they can't help being there, and you have to make the best or the worst of them as you can. Considering the general complexion of this universe, its inevitableness and apparent αυταρκεια may seem, in some moods and to some persons,[Pg 175] a little oppressive; it is always, perhaps, as has been admitted, productive rather of admiration than of pleasure. Faults of various kinds may be found with it. But it is almost always wonderful; it is often great, and it is sometimes of the greatest.[173]

FOOTNOTES:

[124] Of course there are exceptions, Le Rouge et le Noir and La Peau de Chagrin being perhaps the chief among long novels; while some of Balzac's short stories possess the quality in almost the highest degree.

[125] He tried several pseudonyms, but settled on this. Unfortunately, he sometimes (not always) made it "De Stendhal," without anything before the "De," and more unfortunately still, in the days of his Napoleonic employment he, if he had not called himself, had allowed himself to be called "M. de Beyle"—an assumption which though dropped, was not forgotten in the days of his later anti-aristocratism.

[126] Beyle himself recognized the necessity of the reader's collaboration.

[127] This does not apply to poets as much as to prose writers: a fact for which reasons could perhaps be given. And it certainly does not apply to Balzac.

[128] He was now forty-four, and had published not a few volumes, mostly small, of other kinds—travel description (which he did uncommonly well), and miscellaneous writing, and criticism, including the famous Racine et Shakespeare, an avant-coureur of Romanticism which contained, besides matter on its title-subjects, some sound estimate of Scott as a writer and some very unsound abuse about him as a man. This last drew from Byron, who had met Beyle earlier at Milan, a letter of expostulation and vindication which did that noble poet infinite credit, but of which Beyle, by no means to his credit, took notice. He was only too like Hazlitt in more ways than one: though few books with practically the same title can be more different than De l'Amour and Liber Amoris.

[129] As for instance, those from Dekker and Massiger; Camoens and Ercilla are allowed their native tongues "neat."

[130] The actual "Chartreuse" of Parma only makes its appearance on the very last page of the book, when the hero, resigning his arch bishopric, retires to it.

[131] He is the younger son of a rich and noble family, but his father disowns and his older brother denounces him quite early. It is characteristic of Beyle that we hear very little of the father and are practically never even introduced to the brother.

[132] These four words somehow make me think of Samuel Newcome's comment on the unfortunate dinner where "Farintosh" did not appear: "Scarcely anything was drank."

[133] See note above.

[134] Both would have declined to meddle with her, I think, but for different reasons.

[135] Beyle, who had himself no good looks, is particularly lavish of them to his heroes.

[136] Perhaps one of the rare biographical details which, as has been explained, may "force the consigne" here, is that Beyle in his youth, and almost up to middle age, was acquainted with an old lady who had the very unenviable reputation of having actually "sat for" Madame de Merteuil.

[137] This bad bloodedness, or κακοηθεια, of Beyle's heroes is really curious. It would have qualified them later to be Temperance fanatics or Trade Union demagogues. The special difference of all three is an intense dislike of somebody else "having something."

[138] In that merry and wise book Clarissa Furiosa.

[139] She keeps the anniversary of his execution, and imitates Marguerite in procuring and treasuring, at the end of the story, Julien's severed head. (It may be well to note that Dumas had not yet written La Reine Margot.)

[140] In proper duel, of course; not as he shot his mistress.

[141] Its great defect is the utter absence of any poetical element. But, as Mérimée (than whom there could hardly be, in this case, a critic more competent or more friendly) said, poetry was, to Beyle, lettre close.

[142] It seems curiously enough, that Beyle did mean to make the book gai. It is a a very odd kind of gaiety!

[143] This attraction of the forçat is one of the most curious features in all French Romanticism. It was perhaps partly one of the general results of the Revolutionary insanity earlier, partly a symptom or sequel of Byronism. But the way it raged not only among folks like Eugène Sue, but among men and women of great talent and sometimes genius—George Sand, Balzac, Dumas, Victor Hugo—the last and greatest carrying it on for nearly two generations—is a real curiousity of literature. (The later and different crime-novel of Gaboriau & Co. will be dealt with in its place.)

[144] V. sup. vol. i. p. 39.

[145] A pseudonymous person has "reconstituted" the story under the title of Lucien Leeuwen (the hero's name). But some not inconsiderable experience of reconstitutions of this kind determined me to waste no further portion of my waning life on any one of them.

[146] It may be desirable to glance at Beyle's avowed or obvious "intentions" in most if not all his novels—in the Chartreuse to differentiate Italian from French character, in Le Rouge et le Noir to embody the Macchiavellian-Napoleonic principle which has been of late so tediously phrased (after the Germans) as "will to" something and the like. These intentions may interest some: for me, I must confess, they definitely get in the way of the interest. For essays, "good": for novels, "no."

[147] Vide Guy Mannering as to the "macers."

[148] Les Chouans.

[149] Forty vols. London: 1895-8.

[150] Quarterly Review for January 1907.

[151] I believe I may say, without fatuity, that the general Introduction and the Quarterly article, above referred to, contain most things that anybody but a special student will need.

[152] It is, however, important to remember that almost the whole of the first of these three decades was taken up with the tentatives, while the concluding lustrum was comparatively infertile. The Comédie was, in the main, the crop of fifteen years only.

[153] It ought always to be, but has not always been, put as a round sum to his credit in this part of the account that he heartily recognised the value of Scott as a novelist. A hasty thinker might be surprised at this; not so the wiser mind.

[154] This remarkable person deserves at least a note here "for one thing that he did"—the novel of Fragoletta (1829), which many should know of—though they may not know it—from Mr. Swinburne's poem, and some perhaps from Balzac's own review. It is one of the followings of La Religieuse, and is a disappointing book, not from being too immoral nor from being not immoral enough, but because it does not "come off." There is a certain promise, suggestion, "atmosphere," but the actual characterisation is vague and obscure, and the story is told with no grasp. This habit of "flashing in the pan" is said to have been characteristic of all Latouche's work, which was fairly voluminous and of many different kinds, from journalism to poetry; and it may have been partly due to, partly the cause of, a cross-grained disposition. He had, however, a high repute for spoken if not written criticism, had a great influence as a trainer or mentor on George Sand, and perhaps not a little on Balzac himself. During the later years of his fairly long life he lived in retirement and produced nothing.

[155] One of the friends who have read my proofs takes a more Alexandrian way with this objection and says "But there are." I do not know that I disagree with him: but as he does not disagree with what follows in itself, both answers shall stand.

[156] Cf. Maupassant's just protest against this, to which we shall come.

[157] An actual reduction of Balzac's books to smaller but still narrative scale is very seldom possible and would be still more rarely satisfactory. The best substitute for it is the already glanced at Répertoire of MM. Christophe and Cerfbeer, a curious but very satisfactory Biographical Dictionary of the Comedy's personae.

[158] "Sans génie je suis flambé," as he wrote early to his sister.

[159] This is about the best of the batch, and I agree with those who think that it would not have disfigured the Comédie. Indeed the exclusion of these juvenilia from the Édition Définitive was a critical blunder. Even if Balzac did once wish it, the "dead hand" is not to be too implicitly given way to, and he was so constantly changing his views that he probably would have altered this also had he lived.

[160] A certain kind of commentator would probably argue from Mr. Browning's well-known words "fifty volumes long" that he had, and another that he had not read the Œuvres de Jeunesse.

[161] He would not have liked the name "patriot" because of its corruption, but he was one.

[162] Not a few things, some of them very good, came between—the pleasant Maison du Chat-qui-Pelote, several of the wonderful short stories, and the beginning of the Contes Drolatiques. But none of them had the "importance"—in the artistic sense of combined merit and scale—of the Peau.

[163] I mean, of course, as far as books go. We have positive testimony that there was a live Becky, and I would I had known her!

[164] Originally and perhaps preferably called La Rabouilleuse from the early occupation of its heroine, Flore Brazier, one of Balzac's most notable figures.

[165] It is one of the strangest instances of the limitations of some of the best critics that M. Brunetière declined even to speak of this great book.

[166] The immense influence of Maturin in France, and especially on Balzac, is an old story now, though it was not always so.

[167] It is possible that some readers may miss a more extended survey, or at least sample, of these characters. But the plea made above as to abstract of the stories is valid here. There is simply not room to do justice to say, Lucien de Rubempré, who pervades a whole block of novels and stories, or to others from Rastignac to Corentin.

[168] It has sometimes occurred to me that perhaps the skin was that of Job's onager.

[169] He does try a sort of pseudo-poetical style sometimes; but it is seldom successful, and sometimes mere "fine-writing" of no very fine kind. The close of Peau de Chagrin and Séraphita contain about the best passages.

[170] The two next paragraphs are, by the kind permission of the Editor and Publisher of the Quarterly Review, reprinted, with some slight alterations, from the article above referred to.

[171] I have known this denied by persons of authority, who would exalt the gift of conversation even above the pure narrative faculty. I should admit the latter was commoner, but hardly that it was inferior.

[172] I believe I may speak without rashness thus, for a copy of the sixteen-volume (was it not?) edition was a cherished possession of mine for years, and I even translated a certain amount for my own amusement—especially Die unsichtbare Loge.

[173] I have said nothing here on a point of considerable interest to myself—the question whether Balzac can be said ever (or at least often) to have drawn a gentleman or a lady. It would require too much "justification" by analysis of particular characters. And this would pass into a more general enquiry whether these two species exist in the Balzacium Sidus itself. Which things open long vistas. (V. inf. on Charles de Bernard.)


[Pg 176]

CHAPTER V

GEORGE SAND

George Sand—generalities about her.

There is a Scotch proverb (not, I think, among those most generally known), "Never tell your foe when your foot sleeps"; and some have held that this applies specially to the revelation, by an author, of his own weak points. I do not agree with them, having always had a fancy for playing and seeing cards on table—except at cards themselves, where a dummy seems to me only to spoil the game. Therefore I admit, in coming to George Sand, that this famous novelist has not, as a novelist, ever been a favourite of mine—that I have generally experienced some, and occasionally great, difficulty in reading her. Even the "purged considerate mind" (without, I venture to hope, much dulling of the literary palate) which I have brought to the last readings necessary for this book, has but partially removed this difficulty. The causes of it, and their soundness or unsoundness as reasons, must be postponed for a little—till, as usual, sufficient survey and analysis of at least specimens (for here as elsewhere the immense bulk of the total work defies anything more than "sampling") have supplied due evidence. But it may be said at once that no kind of prejudice or dislike, arising from the pretty notorious history and character of Amantine (Amandine? Armandine?) Lucile Aurore Dupin or Dudevant, commonly called George Sand, has anything to do with my want of affection or admiration for her work. I do not recommend her conduct in her earlier days for imitation, and I am bound to say that I[Pg 177] do not think it was ever excused by what one may call real love. But she seems to have been an extremely good fellow in her age, and not by any means a very bad fellow in her youth. She was at one time pretty, or at least good-looking;[174] she was at all times clever; and if she did not quite deserve that almost superhuman eulogy awarded in the Devonshire epitaph to

Mary Sexton,
Who pleased many a man and never vexed one,[175]

she did fulfil the primal duty of her sex, and win its greatest triumph, by complying with the first half of the line, while, if she failed as to the second, it was perhaps not entirely her fault.[176] Finally, Balzac's supposed picture of her as Camille in Béatrix has the almost unique peculiarity, among its author's sketches of women, of being positively attractive—attractive, that is to say, not merely to the critic as a powerful study and work of art; not perhaps at all to the sentimentalist as a victim or an adorable piece of candeur; not to the lover of physical beauty or passion, but to the reader—"sensible" in the old sense as well as in the new—who feels that here is a woman he should like to have known, even if he feels likewise that his weather-eye would have had to be kept open during the knowledge.

[Pg 178]

Phases of her work.

It has been customary—and though these customary things are sometimes delusive and too often mechanical, there is also occasionally, and, I think, here, her work, something not negligible in them, if they be not applied too rigidly—to divide George Sand's long period (nearly half a century) of novel-production into four sub-periods, corresponding roughly with the four whole decades of the thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties.[177] The first, sometimes called, but, I think, misleadingly,[Pg 179] "Romantic," is the period of definite and mainly sexual revolt, illustrated by such novels as Indiana, Valentine, Lélia, and Jacques. The second is that of illuminé mysticism and semi-political theorising, to which Spiridion, Consuelo, La Comtesse de Rudolstadt, and others belong. The third, one of a certain apaisement, when the author had finally settled at her country-house of Nohant in Berry, turns to studies of rural life: La Petite Fadette, François le Champi, La Mare au Diable, etc. The last is represented by novels of no one particular, or at least single, scope or bent, Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Doré, Le Marquis de Villemer, Mademoiselle La Quintinie, etc., reaching to Flamarande and its sequel shortly before her death. The thing, as has been hinted already, is one of those first rough sketches of the ground which, if not too closely adhered to, are often useful. As a matter of fact, the divisions often—as one might be sure they would—run cross. There is a lot of occult or semi-occult stuff in Lélia, and the "period of appeasement" did not show much reconciliation and forgiveness of injury in Elle et Lui, whether we take this as by the injured or as by her who had done the wrong. But if we take the two first novels briefly and Lélia itself more fully for Period I.; Consuelo and its sequel (Spiridion has been "done and done thoroughly"[178] by Thackeray in the Paris Sketch-book) for II.; the three above-mentioned berquinades for the Third, with Lucrezia Floriani thrown between as an all-important outsider, and Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Doré for IV., giving each some detailed criticism, with a few remarks on others, it ought to suffice as a fairly solid groundwork for a general summing-up.

Indiana.

To understand the furore with which Indiana and Valentine were received, one must remember the time and the circumstance with even more care than is usually desirable. They were—if not quite so well written as they seemed even to Thackeray—written[Pg 180] very well; they expressed the full outburst of the French Sturm und Drang movement; there was nothing like them either in French or in any other literature, though Bulwer was beginning similar things with us. Essentially, and when taken sub specie aeternitatis, they are very nearly rubbish. The frail (extremely frail) and gentle Indiana, with her terrible husband, whose crimes against her and nature even reach the abominable pitch of declaring himself ready to shoot expected poachers and possible burglars; her creole maid and foster-sister "Noun," who disguises herself in Indiana's garments and occupies her room, receives there a lover who is afterwards her mistress's, but soon commits suicide; the lover himself, a most appalling "tiger," as his own time would have called him; and the enigmatic English cousin, indifferently designated as "Sir Rodolphe Brown," "Sir Ralph," "Sir Brown," and "M. Brown," with whom Indiana makes a third trial of hitherto "incomprised" and unattained happiness—are all inhabitants of a sort of toy doll's-house partaking of the lunatic-asylum. But the author's three prefaces, written at intervals of exactly ten years, passably inconsistent in detail, but all agreeing in contempt of critics and lofty anarchist sentiment, are great fun, and are almost a reward for reading the book.

Valentine.

Valentine has more of the really admirable description of her beloved Berry with which the author so often honeys her drugs; but the novel-part of it is largely composed of the same sort of violent bosh which almost monopolises Indiana. In fact, the peasant-bourgeois hero Benedict, whom every woman loves; who is a conceited and ill-mannered mixture of clown and prig; who is angry with his mistress Valentine (Madame de Lansac) for "not knowing how to prefer him to her honour," though one would have said she had given ample proofs of this preference; and who finally appeases the reader by tumbling on the points of a pitchfork placed in his way by an (as it happens) unduly jealous husband, is a more offensive creature than any[Pg 181] one in the earlier book.[179] One is, on the other hand, a little sorry for Valentine, while one is sorry for nobody in Indiana except perhaps for the husband, who has the sense to die early.

Lélia.

Lélia, some years younger than these and later than the Musset tragedy, is a good deal better, or at least less childish. It is beyond all question an extraordinary book, though it may be well to keep the hyphen in the adjective to prevent confusion of sense. It opens, and to a large extent continues, with a twist of the old epistolary style which, if nothing else, is ingeniously novel. George Sand was in truth a "well of ingenuity" as D'Artagnan was a puits de sagesse, and this accounts, to some extent, for her popularity. You have not only no dates and no places, but no indication who writes the letters or to whom they are written, though, unless you are very stupid, you soon find out. The personae are Lélia—a femme incomprise, if not incomprehensible; Sténio, a young poet, who is, in the profoundest and saddest sense of the adverb, hopelessly in love with her; and a mysterious personage—a sort of Solomon-Socrates-Senancour—who bears the Ossianesque name of Trenmor, with a later and less provincially poetical alias of "Valmarina."[180] The history of the preuves of Trenmor's novel-nobility are soon laid before the reader. They are not, in their earlier stages, engaging to the old-fashioned believer in "good form."

Trenmor is the sort of exaggeration of Childe Harold which a lively but rather vulgar mind might conceive. "He was born great; but they developed the animal in him." The greatness postponed its appearance, but[Pg 182] the animality did credit to the development. "He used to love to beat his dogs; before long he beat his prostitutes." This harmless diversion accentuated itself in details, for which, till the acme, the reader must be referred to the original. The climacteric moment came. He had a mistress called "La Mantovana," whom he rather preferred to the others, because she was beautiful and impudent. "In a night of noise and wine" he struck her, and she drew a dagger. This made him love her for a moment; but unfortunately she made an improper observation; thereupon he tore off her pearl necklace and trod it under his feet. She wept. This annoyed Trenmor very much. "She had wished revenge for a personal insult, and she cried for a toy!" Accordingly he had a "crispation of nerves," which obliged him to take a large cut-glass decanter and hit her on the head with it. According to the natural perversity on such occasions of such persons, she died. The brutal justice of mankind—so hateful to Godwin and George Sand and Victor Hugo—sent Trenmor, not, indeed, to the gallows, as it should have done, but to the galleys. Yet the incident made Lélia, who (she must have had a sweet set of friends) somehow knew him, very fond of Trenmor, though she certainly told him that he might as well repent of what he had done, which seems inconsistent.

They let him out after five years (why, Heaven or the other place knows!) and he became a reformed character—the Solomon-Socrates-Senancour above mentioned plus a sort of lay "director" to Lélia, with a carbonaro attitude of political revolutionary and free-thinking illuminé. Now corruptio pessimi is seldom optima.

The main interest, however, shifts (with apparitions of Trenmor-Valmarina) to the loves (if they may be called so) of the pitiable Sténio and the intolerable heroine. She is unable to love anybody, and knows it; she can talk—ye Demons, how she can talk!—but she can never behave like a woman of this world. She alternately[Pg 183] hugs Sténio, so that she nearly squeezes his breath out, and, when he draws natural conclusions from this process, pushes him away. But worse and more preposterous things happen. Lélia has a sister, Pulchérie, who is very like her (they are of course both impossibly beautiful) in body, and so far resembles her in mind and soul as to be unable to behave decently or sensibly. But her want of decency and sense takes the more commonplace line of becoming an actual courtesan of the "Imperia" kind in Italy. By a series of muddles for which Lélia is—as her plain-spoken sister points out after the catastrophe—herself really responsible, Sténio is induced, during the excitement of an al fresco fête at night in the grounds of a sort of fairy palace, to take the "coming" sister for the recalcitrant one, and avail himself of her complaisance, usque ad finem. Lélia reproaches him (which she has not the least right to do), and he devotes himself entirely to Pulchérie (La Zinzolina is her professional name) and her group of noble paramours. He gets, however, generally drunk and behaves with a brutal rudeness, which would, in the Italy of tradition, have finished things up very soon by a stiletto thrust, and in honest England by a kicking into the street. There are mysterious plots, cardinals, and anything else you like or don't like. Lélia becomes an abbess, Sténio a suicide, the above-mentioned priest, Magnus, being much concerned in this. She admits her unfortunate lover to burial, and is degraded and imprisoned for it—or for having saved Trenmor-Valmarina from the law. Everybody else now dies, and the nightmare comes to an end.

The moral of the group and its tragi-comedy.

The beauties of style which softened the savage breast of Thackeray himself in the notice above mentioned, and which, such as they are, appear even in George Sand's earliest work, will receive attention when that work comes to be discussed as a whole. Meanwhile, at the risk of any charge of Philistinism, I confess that this part of it seems to me, after fifty years and more of[Pg 184] "corrected impression," almost worthless au fond. It is, being in prose, and therefore destitute of the easements or at least masquerades which poetry provides for nonsense, the most conspicuous and considerable example—despite the undoubted talent of the writer—of the mischief which Byronism did on the Continent. With us, though it made a great stir, it really did little harm except to some "silly women" (as the apostle, in unkindly and uncourtly, but truly apostolic fashion, had called similar persons of the angelic sex ages before). Counter-jumpers like Thackeray's own Pogson worshipped "the noble poet"; boys of nobler stamp like Tennyson thought they worshipped him, but if they were going to become men of affairs forgot all about him; if they were to be poets took to Keats and Shelley as models, not to him. Critics hardly took him seriously, except for non-literary reasons. There was, as I think somebody (perhaps Thackeray himself) says upon something, "too much roast beef about" for us to fill our bellies with this worse than east wind of Sensibility gone rotten. But abroad, for reasons which would be easy but irrelevant to dwell upon, Byron hit the many-winged bird of popular favour on nearly all its pinions. He ran strikingly and delightfully contrary to the accepted Anglais, whether of the philosophical or the caricature type; he was noble, but revolutionary; he looked (he never was, except in non-essentials) Romantic; he was new, naughty, nice, all at once. And they went mad over him, and to a large extent and for a long time remained so; indeed, Continental criticism, whether Latin, Teutonic, Scandinavian, or Slav, has never reached "the centre" about Byron. Now George Sand was at no time exactly a silly woman, but she was for a long time a woman off her balance. Byronism was exactly the -ism with which she could execute the wildest feats of half-voluntary and half-involuntary acrobatics, saltimbanquery, and chucking of her bonnet over all conceivable and inconceivable mills. Childe Harold, Manfred, Conrad, Lara, Don Juan, Sardanapalus—the shades of these[Pg 185] caught her and waltzed with her and reversed and figured and gesticulated,

With their Sentimentalibus lacrimae rorum, and pathos and bathos delightful to see,

—or perhaps not so very delightful?

But let us pass to the next stage.

Consuelo.

Those persons (I think, without tempting Nemesis too much, I might say those fortunate persons) to whom the world of books is almost as real as the other two worlds of life and of dream, may or must have observed that the conditions and sensations of the individual in all three are very much the same. In particular, the change from a state of discomfort to one of comfort—or vice versa unluckily, but with that we have nothing immediately to do—applies to all. In actual life you are hot, tired, bored, headachy, "spited with fools," what not. A change of atmosphere, a bath, a draught of some not unfermented liquor, the sight of a face, what not again, nay, sometimes a mere shift of clothing, will make you cool, satisfied, at peace. In dreams you have generally to wake, to shake off the "fierce vexation," and to realise that it is a dream; but the relief comes sooner or later. If anybody wants to experience this change from discomfort to comfort in the book-world of a single author, I cannot commend anything better than the perusal, with a short interval—but there should be some—of Consuelo after Lélia. We may have some things to say against the later novel; but that does not matter.

Much better in parts.

It opens with no tricks or tours de force; in no atmosphere of darkened footlights and smell of sawdust; but in frank and free novel-fashion, with a Venetian church, a famous maestro (Porpora), a choir of mostly Italian girls, and the little Spanish gipsy Consuelo, the poorest, humblest, plainest (as most people think) of all the bevy, but the possessor of the rarest vocal faculties and the most happiness-producing-and-diffusing temper. There is nothing in the least milk-soppy[Pg 186] or prudish about Consuelo, though she is perfectly "pure"; nor is there anything tractified about her, though she is pious and generous. The contrast between her and her betrothed, the handsome but worthless Anzoleto, also a singer, is, at first, not overworked; and one scene—that in which, when Consuelo has got over the "scraggy" age and is developing actual beauty, she and Anzoleto debate, in the most natural manner, whether she is pretty or not—is quite capital, one of the things that stick in one's memory and stamp the writer's genius, or, at any rate, consummate talent.

The degeneration.

This happy state of affairs continues without much deterioration, though perhaps with some warnings to the experienced, for some two hundred pages. The situations and the other characters—the Professor Porpora himself; Count Zustiniani, dilettante, impresario and of course gallant; his prima donna and (in the story at least) first mistress, La Corilla; her extravagances and seduction of the handsome Anzoleto; his irresolution between his still existing affection for Consuelo, who passes through all these things (and Zustiniani's siege of her) "in maiden meditation, fancy-free"—all discharge themselves or play their parts quite as they ought to do. But this comparatively quiet, though by no means emotionless or unincidented, part of the story "ends in a blow-up," or rather in a sink-down, for Anzoleto, on a stolen gondola trip with Clorinda, third cantatrice and interim mistress of Zustiniani (beautiful, but stupid, and a bad singer), meets the Count in another gondola with Corilla herself, and in his fury rams his rival and the perfidious one. Consuelo, who has at last had her eyes opened, quits Venice and flees, with a testimonial from Porpora, to Germany. Even then one hopes for the best, and acknowledges that at any rate something not far from the best, something really good, has been given one for two hundred well-filled pages—more than the equivalent of the first deck of one of our old average "three-deckers."

But in the mind of experience such hopes are always[Pg 187] accompanied by fears, and alas! in this instance "the fears have it." There is on the border of Bohemia a "Castle of the Giants"; and oh! how one wishes that my Uncle Toby had allowed the sea to execute the ravages he deprecated and sweep that castle into nothingness! When we get there Byronism is back—nay, its papa and mamma, Lewisism and Radcliffism, are back also—with their cardboard turrets and precipices and grottos; their pine-woods reminding one of the little bristly green things, on round cinnamon-coloured bases, of one's youth; their floods and falls so obviously supplied at so much a thousand gallons by the nearest water company, and their mystery-men and dwarfs and catalepsies and all the rest of the weary old "tremblement." Count Christian of Rudolstadt is indeed a gentleman and an almost too affectionate father; his brother, Baron Frederick, a not disagreeable sportsman and bon vivant; their sister, the Canoness, a not too theatrical old maid; and Frederick's daughter, Amélie, though pert and not too good-natured, the most human creature of them all, albeit with the humanities of a soubrette rather than of a great lady. But what shall one say of Albert of Rudolstadt, the heir, the betrothed of Amélie (this fact excusing much in her), and, when Consuelo has joined the circle at Porpora's recommendation as music-mistress and companion in the higher kind to Amélie—her slave, conqueror, tormentor, and in the long-run husband? He is perhaps the most intolerable hero[181] ever designed as a gentleman by a novelist who has been classed as great, and who certainly has some qualities necessary to greatness. In reading about him vague compunctions even come over the mind at having spoken harshly of Sténio and Trenmor. Sténio was always a fool and latterly a cad; Trenmor first a brute and then a bore. Albert is none of these (except perhaps the last), but he is madder than the Mad Hatter and the March Hare put together, and as depressing as they are delightful. He has hallucinations[Pg 188] which obliterate the sense of time in him; he thinks himself one of his ancestors of the days of Ziska; he has second sight; he speaks Spanish to Consuelo and calls her by her name when he first sees her, though he has not the faintest sane idea who she is or whence she comes; and he reduces his family to abject misery by ensconcing himself for days in a grotto which can be isolated by means of a torrent turned on and off at pleasure by a dwarf gipsy called Zdenko, who is almost a greater nuisance than Albert himself. Consuelo discovers his retreat at the risk of being drowned; and various nightmarish scenes occur, resulting in the slight return to sanity on Albert's part involved in falling in love with her, and a very considerable advance towards insanity on hers by falling in love with him. But perhaps this give-and-take of lovers may seem attractive to some. And when after a time we get into mere hocus-pocus, and it seems to Consuelo that Albert's violin "speaks and utters words as through the mouth of Satan," the same persons may think it fine. For myself, I believe that without fatuity I may claim to be, if not a visionnaire (perhaps that also), at least a lover of visions, and of Isaiah and Ezekiel and the Revelation. Dante, Blake, Shelley, the best of Lamennais and the best of Hugo excite in me nothing but a passionate reverence. I can walk day-long and night-long by Ulai and Chebar and Lethe-Eunoe and have no thought of sneer or slumber, shrug or satiety. But when you ask me to be agitated at Count Albert of Rudolstadt's violin ventriloquising Satan I really must decline. I do even remember the poor creature Paul de Kock, and would fain turn to one of the things he was writing at this very time.

Recovery; but not maintained quite to the end.

Consuelo is a very long book—it fills three of the tightly printed volumes of the old Michel-Calmann-Lévy collection, with some three or four hundred pages in each; and we have not got, in the above survey, to more than the middle of the second. But in its afternoon and evening there is some light. The creature Anzoleto recurs; but his[Pg 189] immediate effect is good,[182] for it starts the heroine on a fresh elopement of an innocent kind, and we get back to reality. The better side of George Sand's Bohemianism revives in Bohemia itself; and she takes Consuelo to the road, where she adopts male dress (a fancy with her creatress likewise), and falls in with no less a person than the composer Haydn in his youth. They meet some Prussian crimps, and escape them by help of a coxcombical but not wholly objectionable Austrian Count Hoditz and the better (Prussian) Trenck. They get to Vienna (meeting La Corilla in an odd but not badly managed maternity-scene half-way) and rejoin old Porpora there. There are interviews with Kaunitz and Maria Theresa:[183] and a recrudescence of the Venetian musical jealousies. Consuelo endeavours to reopen communications with the Rudolstadts, but Porpora—chiefly out of his desire to retain her on the stage, but partly also from an honest and not wholly unsound belief that a union between a gipsy girl and a German noble would itself be madness—plays false with the letters. She accepts a professional invitation from Hoditz to his castle in Moravia, meets there no less a person than Frederic the Second incognito, and by his order (after she has saved his life from the vengeance of the re-crimped deserter rescued with her by Hoditz and Trenck) is invited to sing at Berlin. The carrying out of the invitation, which has its Fredericianities[184] (as one may perhaps be allowed to call them), is, however, interrupted. The mysterious Albert, who has mysteriously turned up in time to prevent an attempt of the other and worse (Austrian) Trenck on Consuelo, is taken with an apparently mortal illness at home, and Consuelo is implored to return there. She does so, and a marriage in articulo mortis follows, the supposed dead Zdenko (whom we did not at all want) turning up[Pg 190] alive after his master's death. Consuelo, fully if not cheerfully adopted by the family, is offered all the heirloom jewels and promised succession to the estates. She refuses, and the book ends—with fair warning that it is no ending.

La Comtesse de Rudolstadt.

When her history begins again under the title she has "reneged," the reader may for no short time think that the curse of the sequel—a curse only too common, but not universal—is going to be averted. She is in Berlin alone (see note above); is successful, but not at all happy—perhaps least of all happy because the king, partly out of gratitude for his safety, partly out of something like a more natural kind of affection than most authors have credited him with, pays her marked attentions. For a time things are not unlively; and even the very dangerous experiment of a supper—one of those at which Frederic's guests were supposed to have perfectly "free elbows" and availed themselves of the supposition at their peril—a supper with Voltaire, La Mettrie, Algarotti, D'Argens, Pöllnitz, and "Quintus Icilius" present—comes off not so badly. One of the reasons of this is that George Sand has the sense to make Voltaire ill and silent, and puts the bulk of the "business" on La Mettrie—a person much cleverer than most people who have only read book-notices of him may think, but not dangerously brilliant. Then Consuelo, or "La Porporina," as her stage name is, gets mixed up—owing to no fault of her own in the first place at any rate—with the intrigues of the Princess Amélie of Prussia and her lover, the less bad Trenck. This has two awkward results—for herself an imprisonment at Spandau, into which she is cast by Frederic's half jealous, half purely tyrannical wrath, and for us a revival of all the massacrant illuminism in which the Princess herself is dabbling. So we have on the scene not only (as the reader sees at once, though some rather clumsy efforts are made to hide it) the resuscitated Albert, who passes as a certain Trismegistus, not only the historical charlatan Saint-Germain, but another charlatan at this[Pg 191] time not at all historical (seeing that the whole story ends in 1760, and he never left Palermo till nine years later), Cagliostro. Even at Spandau Consuelo herself is not quite uninteresting; but the Illuminati determine to rescue her, and for the latter part of the first volume and the whole of the second the entire thing is, once more, Bosh. The most absurd "double-gangings" take place between an inconnu named Liverani, whom Consuelo cannot help loving, and Albert himself, who is Liverani, as everybody but herself sees at once, interspersed between endless tracts of the usual rubbish about underground tribunals, and judges in red cloaks, and skeletons, and museums of torture-implements, and all the Weishauptian trumpery of mixed occultism and revolutionary sentiment. The author has even the insufferable audacity to fling at us another resuscitation—that of the Countess Wanda, Albert's mother, who appears to have transmitted to him her abominable habit of catalepsy. So ends, unsatisfactorily enough—unless anybody is satisfied by the fact that two solid children result from the still mystifying married life of the pair—the story which had begun so well in the first volume of Consuelo, and which in the major part of Consuelo itself, though not throughout, maintains the satisfaction fairly.

The "making good" of Lucrezia Floriani.

If any reader, in two ways gentle, has been good enough to take some interest in the analysis of these books, but is also so soft-hearted as to feel slightly froissé by it, as showing a disqualifying inability to sympathise with the author, I hope I may put myself right by what I am going to say of another. Lucrezia Floriani is to me the most remarkable book that George Sand ever wrote; and the nearest to a great one, if it be not actually that. I have read it, with no diminution of interest and no abatement of esteem, at very different times of my life, and I think that it is on the whole not only the most perfect revelation of what at any rate the author would have liked to be her own temperament, but—a much greater thing—a presentment in possible and human form of a real temperament,[Pg 192] and almost of a real character. Further, it is much the most achieved example of that peculiar style of which more will be said in a general way presently, and it contains comparatively few blots. One always smiles, of course, at the picture of Lucrezia swinging in a hammock in the centre of a large room, the four corners of which are occupied by four bedsteads containing four children, in the production of whom not exactly four fathers, as they ought for perfect symmetry, but as a compromise three, have assisted. One always shudders at her notion of restoring a patient, suffering under a nervous ailment, by surrounding his couch with the cherubic countenances and the balmy breaths of these infants.[185] Prince Karol, the hero (such as there is), is a poor creature, though not such a cad as Sténio; but then, according to Madame Dudevant, men as a rule were poor creatures, unless they were convicts or conjurors, so the presentation is ex hypothesi or secundum hypothesin correct. And the whole is firmly drawn and well, but neither gaudily nor pitchily, coloured. It ought to be remembered that, with the possible exception of Jane Austen, who has no peer or second among lady novelists, these either confine themselves to representation of manners, external character, ton, as was said of Fanny Burney, or else, like the other "George" and Charlotte Brontë, endeavour to represent themselves as they are or as they would like to be on the canvas. They never create; if they "imitate" not in the degraded modern but the original classical sense, and do it well, punctum feruntsuum if not omne.

The story.

Lucrezia Floriani does this higher imitation well—almost, if not quite, greatly. Had George Sand been more of a blue-stocking and of an affected creature than she was, she might have called the book Anteros-Nemesis. The heroine, by her real name Antonietta Menapace, is the daughter of a fisherman on the Lago d'Iseo, and in her earliest girlhood the servant-maid of a rich neighbour's wife. As her father,[Pg 193] a close-fisted peasant, wants her to marry a well-to-do churl of her own rank, she elopes with her employer's son and has two children by him; but develops a magnificent voice, with no small acting and managing capacity. So she makes a fortune by the time she is thirty, acquiring the two other children by two other lovers, and having so many more who do not leave permanent memorials of their love and necessitate polygonal rooms, that, as she observes, "she cannot count them."[186] At the above-mentioned age, however, she becomes weary of this sort of life, retires to her native district, buys the very house in which she had been a servant, and with the heir of which (now dead) she had eloped, and settles down to be a model mother, a Lady Bountiful, and a sort of recluse. No more "love" for her. In fact, in one of the most remarkable passages of the book she gives a story of her chief attachments, showing that, with brief accesses of physical excitement, it has always been amour de tête and never amour de cœur.

Things being so, there arrive one evening, at the only inn on the lake, a young German Prince, Karol von Roswald, and his friend the Italian Count Salvator Albani. They are travelling for the Prince's health, he being a sort of spoilt child, pitiably nervous, imperfectly educated, and half paralysed by the recent death of his mother and the earlier one of a fiancée. The inn is good to eat in (or rather out of), but for nothing else; and Salvator, hearing of Lucrezia, whose friend, though not her lover, he has formerly been, determines to ask a hospitality which she very cheerfully gives them. Cetera quis nescit, as George Sand herself in other but often-repeated words admits.[187] Karol falls in love at first sight, though he is horrified at his hostess's past. He also falls ill, and she nurses him. Salvator leaves them for a time,[Pg 194] and though Lucrezia plays quite the reverse of the part of temptress, the inevitable does not fail to happen.

That they were not married and that they did not live happy ever after, everybody will of course be certain, though it is not Karol's fault that actual marriage does not take place. There is, however, an almost literal, if unsanctified and irregular honeymoon; but long before Salvator's[188] return, it has "reddened" more than ominously. Karol is insanely jealous, and it may be admitted that a more manly and less childishly selfish creature might be somewhat upset by the arrival of Lucrezia's last lover, the father of her youngest child, though it is quite evident that she has not a spark of love for this one left. But he is also jealous of Salvator; of an old artist named Beccaferri whom she assists; of a bagman who calls to sell to her eldest boy a gun; of the aged peasant whom she had refused to marry, but whose death-bed she visits; of the curé; of everybody. And his jealousy takes the form not merely of rage, which is bad enough for Lucrezia's desire of peace, but of cold insult, which revolts her never extinguished independence and pride. He has, as noted, begged her to marry him in the time of intoxication, but she has refused, and persists in the refusal. After one or two "scenes" she rows herself over to an olive wood on the other side of the lake, and makes it a kind of "place of sacrifice"—of the sacrifice, that is to say, of all hopes of happiness with him or any one thenceforward. But she neither dismisses nor leaves him; on the contrary, they live together, unmarried, but with no public scandal, for ten years, his own passion for her in its peculiar kind never ceasing, while hers gradually dies under the stress of the various torments he inflicts, unintentionally if not quite unconsciously, upon her. At last it is too much, and she dies of heart-failure at forty years of age.

[Pg 195]

Its balance of power.

One might make a few cavils at this. The exact reason of what has been called the "sacrifice" is not made clear, despite Lucrezia's soliloquy in the olive wood. If it were meant as an atonement for her ill-spent youth it would be intelligible. But there is no sign of this, and it would not be in George Sand's way. Lucrezia merely resolves that she will try to make everybody happy without trying or expecting to be happy herself. But she must know more and more that she is not making Karol happy, and that the cohabitation cannot, even in Italy, but be prejudicial to her children; though, to do him the very scanty justice he deserves, he does not behave ill to them, little as he likes them.

Again, this long self-martyrdom would need no explanation if she continued to love Karol. But it is very doubtful whether she had not ceased to do so (she was admittedly good at "ceasing to love") when she left the Wood of Olives, and the cessation admittedly took place long before the ten years' torture came to an end. One is therefore, from more than one point of view, left with a sort of Fakir self-mortification, undertaken and "dreed" neither to atone for anything, nor to propitiate any Power, nor really to benefit any man. After all, however, such a thing is quite humanly possible. And these aporiae hardly touch knots—only very small spots—in a reed of admirable strength and beauty. We know that George Sand did not sacrifice herself for her lovers—very much the reverse. But we know also that in her youth and early middle age she was very much of a Lucrezia Floriani, something of a genius, if not so great a one as she made her creature, something of a beauty, entirely negligent of ordinary sexual morality, but thoroughly, if somewhat heartlessly, good-natured, and (not merely at the times mentioned, but to the end of her life) an affectionate mother, a delightful hostess, and a very satisfactory friend. No imaginary Sténio or Karol, no actual Sandeau or Musset or Chopin could have caused her at any time of her life the misery which the Prince[Pg 196] caused Lucrezia, because she would simply have "sent him walking," as the vigorous French idiom has it. But it pleased her to graft upon her actual nature something else that it lacked, and a life-like and tragical story resulted.

It is not a bad "turn over of the leaf" from this, the strongest, and in the best sense most faultless, of George Sand's novels of analysis, to the "idyllic" group of her later middle and later period—the "prettiest" division, and in another grade of faultlessness the most free from faults, in ordinary estimation, of her entire production.

The "Idylls"—La Petite Fadette.

The most popular of these, the prettiest again, the most of a bergerie-berquinade-conte-de-fées, is no doubt La Petite Fadette, the history of two twin-boys and a little girl—this last, of course, the heroine. The boys are devoted to each other and as like as two peas in person, but very different in character, one being manly, and the other, if not exactly effeminate, something like it. As for Fadette, she, though never exactly like the other girl of the saying "horrid," but only (and with very considerable excuses) naughty and untidy and rude, becomes "so very, very good when she is good" as to awake slight recalcitrances in those who have acquired the questionable knowledge of good and evil in actual life. But one does not want to cavil. It is a pretty book, and when the not exactly wicked but somewhat ill-famed grandmother's stocking yields several thousand francs and facilitates the marriage of Landry, the manly brother, and Fadette, one can be very cheerfully cheerful, and anticipate a real ever-after happiness for both. No doubt, too, the army did knock the girlishness out of the other brother, Sylvinet, and we hope that one of the village gossips was wrong when she said that he would never love any girl but one. For it is hardly necessary to say that his agreement with his twin extends to love for Fadette—love which is quite honourable, and quite kindly extinguished by that agreeable materialisation of one of Titania's lower-class maids-of-honour.[Pg 197]

Only one slight piece of malice (in the mitigated French sense) may be permitted. We are told that Sylvinet, after the marriage, served for ten years "in the Emperor Napoleon's glorious campaigns." This will hardly admit of a later date for that marriage itself than the breach of the Peace of Amiens. And this, even if Landry was no more than eighteen or nineteen at that time (he could hardly be less), will throw the date of his and his brother's birth well before the Revolution. Now, to insist on chronological exactitude and draw inferences from its absence is—one admits most cheerfully, and more than admits—a mere curmudgeonly pedantry in most cases of great or good fiction, prose or verse. One knows what to think of people who make crimes of these things in Shakespeare or Scott, in Dumas or Thackeray. But when a writer makes a great point of Purpose and sets a high value on Questions, it is not unfair to expect him or her to mind their P's and Q's in other matters. George Sand is never tired, in other books, of insisting on the blessedness of the Revolution itself, on the immense and glorious emancipation from feudal tyranny, etc. But how does it come about that there is not the very slightest sign of that tyranny in the earlier part of the story, or of any general disturbance in the middle and later part? Glissons; n'appuyons pas on this point, but it may be permitted to put it.

La Mare au Diable.

In another book of this group—I think chronologically the earliest, also very popular, and quite "on the side of the angels"—the heroine, another divine little peasant-girl—who, if George Sand had been fond of series-titles, might have caused the book to be named La Petite Marie—omits any, however slightly, "horrid" stage altogether. She is, if not "the whole" good—which, as Empedocles said long ago, few can boast to find,—good, and nothing but good, except pretty, and other things which are parts or forms of goodness. The piece really is, in the proper sense which so few people know, or at least use, an idyll, a little picture of Arcadian life. Speaking precisely—that[Pg 198] is to say in précis—it is nothing but the story of a journey in which the travellers get benighted, and which ends in a marriage. Speaking analytically, it consists of a prologue—one of the best examples of George Sand's style and of her power of description, dealing with the ploughlands of Berry and the ways of their population; of the proposition to a young widower that he shall undertake re-marriage with a young widow, well-to-do, of another parish; of his going a-wooing with the rather incongruous adjuncts of a pretty young servant girl, who is going to a "place," and his own truant elder sonlet; of the benighting of them as above by the side of a mere or marsh of evil repute; of the insult offered to Marie on the arrival at her new place; of the discomfiture of Germain, the hero, at finding that the young widow keeps a sort of court of pretenders dangling about her; of his retirement and vengeance on Marie's insulter; and of the proper marriage-bells. There is also a rather unnecessary appendix, doubtless dear to the folklorist, of Berrichon wedding customs.

Once more, to cavil at this would be contemptibly easy. To quote La Terre against it would be uncritical, for, as may be seen later, whatever M. Zola's books are, they are not evidence that can negative anything. It would be as sensible to set against the night scene in the wood by the Devil's Pool the history of the amiable Dumollard, who, as far as fifty years' memory serves me, used, some years before George Sand's death, sometimes to escort and sometimes to lie in wait for servant-girls on the way to or from places, violate, murder, and rob them, in another country district of France. Nor would it be quite critical, though a little more so, to compare George Sand's own friend, contemporary, and in some sort counterpart, Balzac's peasant scenes against her. If, at this time, she viewed all such things en rose, Balzac viewed them, at this and almost all times, en noir. Perhaps everybody (except the wicked farmer, who insults Marie) is a little too good, and it seems rather surprising that somebody did not say something about Germain[Pg 199] and Marie arriving next morning instead of overnight. But never mind this. The scenery and the writing of the book have real charm. The long conversation by the watch-fire in the wood, where Germain tries to break off his suit to the widow already and transfer himself to Marie, with Marie's cool and (for she has loved him already) self-denying refusal on the most atrociously rational and business-like principles, is first-rate. It may rank, with the above-mentioned discussion about Consuelo's beauty between herself and her lover, as one of the best examples of George Sand's gift for the novel.

François le Champi.

The third in the order of mention of what is usually considered her trilogy of idylls, François le Champi, if not the prettiest, is the strongest, and the most varied in interest, of the three. The shadier side of human character lifts itself and says, Et in Arcadia ego,[189] much more decidedly than in the childish petulances of La Petite Fadette and the merely "Third Murderer" appearance of the unprincipled farmer in La Mare au Diable. Even the mostly blameless hero is allowed, towards the close, to exhibit the well-known rusé or madré characteristics of the French peasant to the extent of more than one not quite white lie; the husband of the heroine is unfaithful, tyrannical as far as he dare be, and a waster of his family's goods before his fortunately rather early death; his pretty young sister, Mariette, is a selfish and spiteful minx; and his paramour (sarcastically named "La Sevère") is unchaste, malignant, and dishonest all at once—a combination which may be said to exclude any possible goodness in woman.

The only thoroughly white sheep—though the "Champi" or foundling (his cradle being the genial fields and not the steps of stone) has but the grey patches noticed above, and those acquired with the best intentions—is Madeleine Blanchet, his protectress for many years, and finally, after difficulties and her widowhood, his wife. That she is some twelve years older than he is[Pg 200] is a detail which need not in itself be of much importance. It lends itself to that combination of maternal and sexual affection of which George Sand is so fond, and of which we may have to speak some harsh words elsewhere. But here it matters little. Arcady is a kind of Saturnian realm, and "mixtures" elsewhere "held a stain" may pass there.

Others—Mauprat.

We may make a further glissade (to return to some remarks made above), though of a different kind, over a few of the very large number of novels that we cannot discuss in detail. But Mauprat adds just a little support to the remarks there made. For this (which is a sort of crime-and-detection novel, and therefore appeals to some readers more than to the present historian) turns wholly on the atrocious deeds of a seignorial family of the most melodramatic kind. Yet it is questionable whether the wickedest of them ever did anything worse than the action of their last and renegade member, who actually, when he comes into the property, ruins his ancestral castle because naughty things have been done there. Now, when Milton said, "As well kill a man as kill a good book," though it was no doubt an intentional hyperbole, there was much sound sense in what he said. Still, except in the case of such a book as has been produced only a few times in the world's history, it may be urged that probably something as good might be written by somebody else among the numerous men that were not killed. But, on the same principle, one would be justified in saying, "Better kill a hundred men than ruin a castle with hundreds of years of memories, bad or good." You can never replace it, while the hundred men will, at the very moment they are killed, be replaced, just as good on the average, by the ordinary operations of nature. Besides, by partially ruining the castle, you give an opening to the sin of the restorer, for which there is, we know, no pardon, here or hereafter.[190]

[Pg 201]

La Daniella.

La Daniella is a rather long book and a rather dull one. There is a good deal of talkee-talkee of the Corinne kind in it: the heroine is an angelic Italian soubrette; the hero is one of the coxcombish heroes of French novels, who seem to have set themselves to confirm the most unjust ideas of their nation entertained in foreign climes; there is a "Miss Medora," who, as the hero informs us, "plays the coquette clumsily, as English girls generally do," etc. Passons outre, without inquiring how much George Sand knew about English girls.

Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Doré.

One of the best of her books to read, though it has neither the human interest of Lucrezia Floriani, nor the prettiness of the Idylls, nor the style-colour of some other books, is Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Doré. It is all the more agreeable that we may even "begin with a little aversion." It suggests itself as a sort of interloper in the great business of Dumas and Co.: it opens, indeed, only a few years before D'Artagnan rode up to the inn on the buttercup-coloured pony. And, in manner, it may look at first as if the writer were following another but much inferior example—our own G. P. R. James; for there are "two cavaliers," and one tells the other a tale fit to make him fall asleep and off his saddle. But it improves remarkably, and before you have read a hundred pages you are very fairly "enfisted." The figure of the old Marquis de Bois-Doré—an aged dandy with divers absurdities about him,[191] but a gentleman to his by no means yet stiffened or stooping backbone; a heart of gold, and a wrist with a good core of steel left in it—might easily have been a failure. It is a success. His first guest and then adversary, the wicked Spaniard, Sciarra d'Alvimar or de Villareal, whom the old marquis runs through the body in a moonlight duel for very sufficient reason,[192] may not be thought quite equally[Pg 202] successful. Scoundrel as he is, George Sand has unwisely thrown over him a touch of guignon—of shadowing and resistless fate—which creates a certain sympathy; and she neglects the good old rule that your villain should always be allowed a certain run for his money—a temporary exercise of his villainy. Alvimar, though he does not feel the marquis's rapier till nearly the end of the first half, as it were, of the book, is "marked down" from the start, and never kills anything within those limits except a poor little tame wolf-cub which is going (very sensibly) to fly at him. He is altogether too much in appearance and too little in effectuality of the stage Spaniard—black garments, black upturned moustache, hook-nose, navaja, and all the rest of it. But he does not spoil the thing, though he hardly does it much good; and if he is badly treated he has his revenge on the author.

For the book becomes very dull after his supposed death (he does die, but not at once), and only revives when, some way into the second volume, an elaborate attempt to revenge him is made by his servant, Sanche, âme damnée and also damnante (if one may coin this variant), who is, as it turns out, his irregular father. This again rather stagy character organises a formidable body of wandering reîtres, gipsies, and miscellaneous ruffians to attack and sack the marquis's house—a plan which, though ultimately foiled, brings about a very refreshing series of hurly-burlys and hullabaloos for some hundred and fifty pages. The narrative is full of improbable impossibilities, and contrasts singularly with the fashion in which Dumas, throughout all his great books (and not a few of his not so great ones), manages to escamoter the difficulty. The boy Mario,[193] orphan of the murdered brother, left unknown for many years, recognised by his uncle, avenger of his father on Sanche, as Bois-Doré himself had been on Alvimar, is altogether too clever and effective for his age; and the conduct of Bellinde, Bois-Doré's cashiered gouvernante, is almost[Pg 203] preposterous throughout. But it is what a schoolboy of the old days would have called a "jolly good scrimmage," and restores the interest of the book for most of the second volume. The end—scarcely, one would think, very interesting to any one—is quite spoilt for some by another example of George Sand's inveterate passion for "maternal" love-making and matches where the lady is nearly double the age of her husband. Others—or the same—may not be propitiated for this by the "horrors"[194] which the author has liberally thrown in. But the larger part of the book, like the larger part of Consuelo, is quite good stuff.

Le Marquis de Villemer.

It is, indeed, a really lively book. Two duller ones than the first two allotted, at the beginning of this notice, to her last period I have seldom read. They are both instances (and one at least contains an elaborate vindication) of the "novel of purpose," and they are by themselves almost enough to damn it. M. le Marquis de Villemer is an appalling prig—virtuous, in the Devil-and-his-grandmother style, to the nth—who devotes his energies to writing a History of the Patriciate since the Christian Era, the object being to reveal the sins of aristocracy. He has a rather nice half-brother spend-thrift, Duque d'Aleria (Madame de Villemer the elder has first married a Spaniard), whose debts he virtuously pays, and after a great deal of scandal he marries a poor but noble and noble-minded damsel, Caroline de Saint-Geneix, who has taken the position of companion to his mother in order to help her widowed and four-childed sister. For the virtue of George Sand's virtuous people is virtue and no mistake. The lively and amiable duke is fortunately fitted with a lively and amiable duchess, and they show a little light in the darkness of copy-book morality and republican principles.

Mlle. La Quintinie.

This kindly light is altogether wanting in Mademoiselle[Pg 204] La Quintinie, where the purpose passes from politics to religion. The book is rather famous, and was, at the time, much read, because it is not merely a novel of purpose, but an instance of the duello fought, not with sword or pistol, not with quarter-staves or sand-bags, but with feuilletons of fiction. It, and Octave Feuillet's Sibylle, to which it is the countercheck-quarrelsome, both appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes. It should be seen at a further stage of this volume that I do not think Sibylle a masterpiece, either of tale-telling or of argumentation, though it is more on my side than the reply is. But Feuillet, though not a genius, as some people would have George Sand to be, nor yet possessing anything like the talent which no sane criticism can deny her, was a much better craftsman in the art of novel-writing.

Flamarande.

For a final notice—dealing also with the last, or almost the last, of all her books—we may take Flamarande and its sequel, Les Deux Frères. They give the history of the unfounded jealousy of a husband in regard to his wife—a jealousy which is backed up by an equally unfounded suspicion (supported by the most outrageous proceedings of espionage and something like burglary) on the part of a confidential servant, who, as we are informed at last, has himself had a secret passion for his innocent mistress. It is more like a Feuillet book than a George Sand, and in this respect shows the curious faculty—possessed also by some lady novelists of our own—of adapting itself to the change of novel-fashion. But to me at least it appeals not.

So turn we from particulars (for individual notice of the hundred books is impossible) to generals.

Summary and judgment.
Style.

It may be difficult to sum up the characteristics of such a writer as George Sand shortly, but it has to be done. There is to be allowed her—of course and at once—an extraordinary fertility, and a hardly less extraordinary escape from absolute sinking into the trivial. She is preposterous early, somewhat facile and "journalistic" later, but she is never exactly[Pg 205] commonplace. She belongs to the school of immense and almost mechanical producers who are represented in English by Anthony Trollope as their "prior" and by Mrs. Oliphant[195] and Miss Braddon as commandresses of the order. (I think she runs a good deal below the Prior but a good deal above the Commandresses.[196]) But, if she does so belong, it is very mainly due, not to any pre-eminence of narrative faculty, but to that gift of style which has been for nearly a hundred years admitted. Now I have in this History more than once, and by no means with tongue in cheek, expressed a diffidence about giving opinions on this point. I have, it is true, read French for more than sixty years, and I have been accustomed to "read for style" in it, and in divers other languages, for at least fifty. But I see such extraordinary blunders made by foreigners in regard to this side of our own literature, that I can never be sure—being less conceited than the pious originator of the phrase—that even the Grace of God has prevented me from going the same way. Still, if I have any right to publish this book, I must have a little—I will not say "right," but venia or licence—to say what seems to me to be the fact of the matter. That fact—or that seeming of fact—is that George Sand's style is too facile to be first-rate. By this I do not mean that it is too plain. On the contrary, it is sometimes, especially in her early books, ornate to gorgeousness, and even to gaudiness. And it was a curious mistake of the late Mr. Pater, in a quite honorific reference to me, to imply that I preferred the plain style—a mistake all the more curious that he knew and acknowledged (and was almost unduly grateful for) my admiration of his own. I like both forms: but for style—putting meaning out of the question—I would rather read Browne than Swift, and Lamennais than Fénelon.

[Pg 206]

George Sand has both the plain and the ornate styles (and various shades of "middle" between them) at command. But it seems to me that she has them—to use a financial phrase recently familiar—too much "on tap." You see that the current of agreeable and, so to speak, faultless language is running, and might run volubly for any period of life that might be allotted to her. In fact it did so. Now no doubt there was something of Edmond de Goncourt's bad-blooded fatuity in his claim that his and his brother's epithets were "personal," while Flaubert's were not. Research for more personal "out-of-the-wayness" in style will rarely result in anything but jargon. But, on the other hand, Gautier's great injunction:

Sculpte, lime, cisèle!

is sound. You cannot reach the first class in any art by turning a tap and letting it run.

Conversation and description.

The one point of what we may call the "furniture" of novels, in which she seems to me to have, occasionally at least, touched supremacy, is conversation. It has been observed by those capable of making the induction that, close as drama and novel are in some ways, the distinction between dramatic and non-dramatic talk is, though narrow, deeper than the very deepest Alpine crevasse from Dauphiné to Carinthia. Such specimens as those already more than once dwelt on—Consuelo's and Anzoleto's debate about her looks, and that of Germain and Marie in the midnight wood by the Devil's Mere—are first-rate, and there is no more to say. Some of her descriptions, again, such as the opening of the book last quoted (the wide, treeless, communal plain with its various labouring teams), or as some of the Lake touches in Lucrezia Floriani, or as the relieving patches in the otherwise monotonous grumble of Un Hiver à Majorque, are unsurpassable. Nor is this gift limited to mere paysage. The famous account of Chopin's playing already mentioned for praise is only first among many. But[Pg 207] whether these things are supported by sufficient strength of character, plot, incident, "thought," and the rest; whether that strange narrative power, so hard to define and so impossible to mistake or to fail to distinguish from these other elements, is present—these are great questions and not easy to answer. I am, as will have been seen throughout, rather inclined to answer them in the unfavourable way.

In fact—impertinent, insolent, anything else as it may seem—I venture to ask the question, "Was George Sand a very great craftswoman in the novel?" and, what is more, to answer it in the negative. I understand that an ingenious critic of her own sex has recently described her method as "rolling through the book, locked in the embraces of her subject," as distinguished from the aloofness and elaboration of a more recent school. So far, perhaps, so good; but I could wish to find "the intricacies of Diego and Julia" more interesting to me than as a rule they are. And it must be remembered that she is constantly detaching herself from the forlorn "subject," leaving it unembraced and shivering, in order to sermonise it and her readers. I do not make the very facile and somewhat futile criticism that she would have written better if she had written half or a quarter as much as she did. She could not have written little; it is as natural and suitable for Tweed to "rin wi' speed" as for Till to "rin slaw," though perhaps the result—parallel to but more cheerful than that recorded in the old rhyme—may be that Till has the power not of drowning but of intoxicating two men, where Tweed can only manage one. But this engrained fecundity and facundity of hers inevitably make her work novel-journalism rather than novel-literature in all points but in that of style, which has been discussed already.[197]

FOOTNOTES:

[174] It is attested by the well-known story, more excusable in a man than creditable to a gentleman, of her earliest or earliest known lover, Jules Sandeau (v. inf.), seeing a photograph of her in later days, turning to a companion and saying, "Et je l'ai connue belle!"

[175] It is possible that some readers may not know the delightfully unexpected, and not improbably "more-expressive-than-volumes" third line—

"Not like the woman who lies under the next stone."

But tradition has, I believe, mercifully omitted to identify this neighbouring antipode.

[176] Details of personal scandal seldom claim notice here. But it may be urged with some show of reason that this scandal is too closely connected with the substance and the spirit of the novelist's whole work, from Indiana to Flamarande, to permit total ignoring of it. Lucrezia Floriani, though perhaps more suggestive of Chopin than of Musset, but with "tangency" on both, will be discussed in the text. That most self-accusing of excuses, Elle et Lui, with its counterblast Paul de Musset's Lui et Elle, and a few remarks on Un Hiver à Majorque (conjoined for a purpose, which will be indicated) may be despatched in a note of some length.

Note on Elle et Lui, etc.,

The rival novel-plaidoyers on the subject of the loves and strifes of George Sand and Alfred de Musset are sufficiently disgusting, and if they be considered as novels, the evil effect of purpose—and particularly of personal purpose—receives from them texts for a whole series of sermons. Reading them with the experience of a lifetime, not merely in literary criticism, but (for large parts of that lifetime) in study of evidence on historical, political, and even directly legal matters, I cannot help coming to the conclusion that, though there is no doubt a certain amount of suggestio falsi in both, the suppressio veri is infinitely greater in Elle et Lui. If the letters given in Paul de Musset's book were not written by George Sand they were written by Diabolus. And there is one retort made towards the finale by "Édouard de Falconey" (Musset) to "William Caze" (George Sand) which stigmatises like the lash of a whip, if not even like a hot iron, the whole face of the lady's novels.

"Ma chère," lui dit-il, "vous parlez si souvent de chasteté que cela devient indécent. Votre amitié n'est pas plus 'sainte' que celle des autres." [If he had added "maternité" the stigma would have been completer still.] And there is also a startling verisimilitude in the reply assigned to her:

"Mon cher, trouvez bon que je console mes amis selon ma méthode. Vous voyez qu'elle leur plaît assez, puisqu'ils y reviennent."

It was true: they did so, rather to their own discredit and wholly to their discomfort. But she and her "method" must have pleased them enough for them to do it. It is not so pleasing a method for an outsider to contemplate. He sees too much of the game, and has none of the pleasure of playing or the occasional winnings. Since I read Hélisenne de Crenne (v. sup. Vol. I, pp. 150-1) there has seemed to me to be some likeness between the earlier stage of her heroine (if not of herself) and that of George Sand in her "friendships." They both display a good deal of mere sensuality, and both seem to me to have been quite ignorant of passion. Hélisenne did not reach the stage of "maternal" affection, and perhaps it was well for her lover and not entirely bad for her readers. But the best face that can be put on the "method" will be seen in Lucrezia Floriani.

and on Un Hiver à Majorque.

The bluntness of taste and the intense concentration on self, which were shown most disagreeably in Elle et Lui, appear on a different side in another book which is not a novel at all—not even a novel as far as masque and domino are concerned,—though indirectly it touches another of George Sand's curious personal experiences—that with Chopin. Un Hiver à Majorque is perhaps the most ill-tempered book of travel, except Smollett's too famous production, ever written by a novelist of talent or genius. The Majorcans certainly did not ask George Sand to visit them. They did not advertise the advantages of Majorca, as is the fashion with "health resorts" nowadays. She went there of her own accord; she found magnificent scenery; she flouted the sentiments of what she herself describes as the most priest-ridden country in Europe by never going to church, though and while she actually lived in a disestablished and disendowed monastery. To punish them for which (the non sequitur is intentional) she does little but talk of dirt, discomfort, bad food, extortion, foul-smelling oil and garlic, varying the talk only to foul-smelling oil and garlic, extortion, bad food, discomfort, or dirt. The book no doubt yields some of her finest passages of descriptive prose, both as regards landscape, and in the famous record of Chopin's playing; but otherwise it is hardly worth reading.

[177] She survived into the next decade and worked till the last with no distinct declension, but she did not complete it, dying in 1876. Her famous direction about her grave, Laissez la verdure, is characteristic of her odd mixture if theatricality and true nature. But if any one wishes to come to her work with a comfortable preoccupation in favor of herself, he should begin with her Letters. Those of her old age especially are charming.

[178] Cf. Mr. Alfred Lammle on his unpoetical justice to Mr. Fledgeby in Our Mutual Friend.

[179] Valentine has an elder sister who has a son, irregularily existent, but is as much in love with Benedict as if she were a girl and he were a gentleman; and this son marries the much older Athenais, a lovely peasant girl who has been the unwilling fiancée and wife of the ingenious pitchforker. You have seldom to go far in George Sand for an unmarried lady with a child for chastity, and a widow who marries a boy for maternal affection.

[180] There is also an Irish priest called Magnus, who, like everybody else, is deeply and (in the proper sense of sans espoir) desperately in love with Lélia. He is, on the whole, quite the maddest—and perhaps the most despicable—of the lot.

[181] If any one says, "So, then, there are several 'most intolerables,'" let me point out that intolerableness is a more than "twy-peaked" hill or range. Julien Sorel and Marius were not designed to be gentlemen.

[182] It is bad for Amélie, who, in a not unnatural revulsion from her fiancé's neglects and eccentricities, lets herself be fooled by the handsome Italian.

[183] George Sand's treatment of the great Empress, Marie Antoinette's mother, is a curious mixture of half-reluctant admiration and Republican bad-bloodedness.

[184] Porpora is included, but the amiable monarch, who has heard that the old maestro speaks freely of him, gives private orders that he shall be stopped at the frontier.

[185] Cow's breath has, I believe, been prescribed in such cases by the faculty; hardly children's.

[186] She does not make the delicate distinction once drawn by another of her sex: "I can tell you how many people I have kissed, but I cannot tell you how many have kissed me."

[187] She is rather fond of taking her readers into confidence this way. I have no particular objection to it; but those who object to Thackeray's parabases ought to think this is a still more objectionable thing.

[188] The Count Albani plays his difficult part of thirdsman very well throughout, though just at first he would make an advance on "auld lang syne" if Lucrezia would let him. But later he is on strict honour, and quarrels with the Prince for his tyranny.

[189] It is very pleasing to see, as I have seen, this famous phrase quoted as if it had reference to the joys of Arcadia.

[190] If any among my congregation be offended by apparent flippancy in this notice of a book which, to my profound astonishment, some people have taken as the author's masterpiece, I apologise. But if I spoke more seriously I should also speak more severely.

[191] He is a frantic devotee of the Astrée, and George Sand brings in a good deal about the most agreeable book, without, however, showing very intimate or accurate knowledge of it.

[192] The Spaniard (rather his servant with his connivance) has murdered and robbed Bois-Doré's brother.

[193] He is also very handsome, and so makes up for the plurality of the title.

[194] Alvimar lies dying for hours with the infidel Bohemians and roistering Protestant reîtres not only disturbing his death-bed, but interfering with the "consolation of religion"; the worst of the said Bohemians is buried alive (or rather stifled after he has been half-buried alive) by the little gipsy girl, Pilar, whom he has tormented; and Pilar herself is burnt alive on the last page but one, after she has poisoned Bellinde.

[195] Taking her work on the whole. The earlier part of it ran even Trollope hard.

[196] Her points of likeness to her self-naming name-child, "George Eliot," are too obvious to need discussion. But it is a question whether the main points of unlikeness—the facility and extreme fecundity of the French George, as contrasted with the laborious book-bearing of the English—are not more important than the numerous but superficial and to a large extent non-literary resemblances.

[197] I have said little or nothing of the short stories. They are fairly numerous, but I do not think that her forte lay in them.


[Pg 208]

CHAPTER VI

THE NOVEL OF STYLE—GAUTIER, MÉRIMÉE, GÉRARD DE NERVAL, MUSSET, VIGNY

In arranging this volume I have thought it worth while to include, in a single chapter and nominatim in the title thereof, five writers of prose novels or tales; all belonging to "1830"; four of them at least ranking with all but the greatest of that great period; but no one exclusively or even essentially a novelist as Balzac and George Sand were in their different ways, and none of them attempting such imposing bulk-and-plan of novel-matter as that which makes up the prose fiction of Hugo. Gautier was an admirable, and Musset and Vigny at their best were each a consummate, poet; while the first-named was a "polygraph" of the polygraphs, in every kind of belles-lettres. Mérimée's novels or tales form a small part of his whole work. "Gérard" is perhaps only admissible here by courtesy, though more than one or two readers, I hope, would feel his absence as a dark gap in the book. Musset, again, not ill at short stories, is far better at short plays. One novel of Vigny's has indeed enjoyed great fame; but, as will be seen, I am unluckily unable to admire it very much, and I include him here—partly because I do not wish to herd so clear a name with the Sues and the Souliés, even with the Sandeaus and Bernards—partly because, though his style in prose is not so marked as that in verse, some of his minor work in fiction is extremely interesting. But though so much of their work, and in Musset's and Vigny's cases all their best work, lies outside our province, and though they[Pg 209] themselves, with the possible exception of Gérard and Gautier, who have strong affinities, are markedly different from one another, there is one point which they all have in common, and this point supplies the general title of this chapter. Style of the more separable and elaborate kind does not often make its appearance very early in literary departments; and there may be (v. inf.) some special reasons why it should not do so in prose fiction. With the exception of Marivaux, who had carried his attention to it over the boundary-line of mannerism, few earlier novelists, though some of them were great writers, had made a point of it, the chief exceptions being in the particular line of "wit," such as Hamilton, Crébillon fils, and Voltaire. Chateaubriand had been almost the first to attempt a novel-rhetoric; and it must be remembered that Chateaubriand was a sort of human magnus Apollo throughout the July monarchy. At any rate, it is a conspicuous feature in all these writers, and may serve as a link between them.


Gautier—his burden of "style."

Some readers may know (for I, and the others, which I shall probably quote again, have quoted it before now) a remark of Émile de Girardin when Théophile Gautier asked him how people liked a story which "Théo" had prevailed on that experienced editor to insert as a feuilleton in the Presse: "Mon ami, l'abonné ne s'amuse pas franchement. Il est gêné par le style." Girardin, though not exactly a genius, was an exceedingly clever man, and knew the foot of his public—perhaps of "the public"—to a hundredth of an inch. But he could hardly have anticipated the extent to which his criticism would reflect the attitude of persons who would have been, and would be, not a little offended at being classed with l'abonné. The reproach of "over-styling" has been cast at Gautier by critics of the most different types, and—more curiously at first sight than after a moment's reflection—by some who are themselves style-mad, but whose favourite vanities in that matter are different from his. I can hardly think[Pg 210] of any writer—Herrick as treated by Hazlitt is the chief exception that occurs to me at the moment—against whom this cheap and obvious, though, alas! not very frequently possible, charge of "bright far-shining emptiness," of glittering frigidity, of colour without flesh and blood, of art without matter, etc., etc., has been cast so violently—or so unjustly. In literature, as in law and war, the favourite method of offensive defence is to reserve your triarii, your "colophon" of arms or arguement, to the last; but there are cases in all three where it is best to carry an important point at once and hold it. I think that this is one of these cases; and I do not think that the operation can be conducted with better chance of success than by inserting here that outline,[198] with specimens, of La Morte Amoureuse which has been already promised—or threatened—in the Preface. For here the glamour—if it be only glamour—of the style will have disappeared; the matter will remain.

Abstract (with translations) of La Morte Amoureuse.

You ask me, my brother, if I have ever loved. I answer "Yes." But it is a wild and terrible story, a memory whose ashes, with all my sixty-six years, I hardly dare to disturb. To you I can refuse nothing, but I would not tell the tale to a less experienced soul. The facts are so strange that I myself cannot believe in their actual occurrence. For three years I was the victim of a diabolical delusion, and every night—God grant it was a dream—I, a poor country priest, led the life of the lost, the life of the worldling and the debauchee. A single chance of too great complacency went near to destroy my soul; but at last, with God's aid and my patron saint's, I exorcised the evil spirit which had gained possession of me. Till then my life was double, and the counterpart by night was utterly different from the life by day. By day I was a priest of the Lord, pure, and busied with holy things. By night, no sooner had I closed my eyes than I became a[Pg 211] youthful gallant, critical in women, dogs, and horses, prompt with dice and bottle, free of hand and tongue; and when waking-time came at dawn of day, it seemed to me as if I then fell asleep and was a priest only in dreams. From this sleep-life I have kept the memory of words and things, which recur to me against my will; and though I have never quitted the walls of my parsonage, those who hear me talk would rather think me a man of the world and of many experiences, who has entered the religious life hoping to finish in God's bosom the evening of his stormy day, than a humble seminarist, whose life has been spent in an obscure parish, buried deep in woods, and far removed from the course of the world.

Yes, I have loved—as no one else has loved, with a mad and wild passion so violent that I can hardly understand how it failed to break my heart.

After rapidly sketching the history of the early seminary days of the priest Romuald, his complete seclusion and ignorance almost of the very names of world and woman, the tale goes on to the day of his ordination. He is in the church, almost in a trance of religious fervour; the building itself, the gorgeously robed bishop, the stately ceremonies, seem to him a foretaste of heaven, when suddenly—

By chance I raised my head, which I had hitherto kept bowed, and saw before me, within arm's length as it seemed, but in reality at some distance and beyond the chancel rails, a woman of rare beauty and royally apparelled. At once, as it were, scales dropped from my eyes. I was in the case of a blind man whose sight is suddenly restored. The bishop, but now so dazzling to me, became dim, the tapers in their golden stands paled like the stars at morning, and darkness seemed to pervade the church. On this background of shade the lovely vision stood out like an angelic appearance, self-illumined, and giving rather than receiving light. I dropped my eyelids, firmly resolving not again to raise them, that so I might escape the distraction of outward things, for I felt the spell more and more, and I hardly knew what I did; but a minute afterwards I again looked up, for I perceived her beauty still shining across my dropped lashes as if with prismatic glory, and encircled by the crimson halo that, to the gazer, surrounds the sun. How beautiful she was! Painters, when in their chase of the ideal they have followed it to the skies and carried off therefrom the divine image of Our Lady, never drew near this fabulous reality.[Pg 212] Nor are the poet's words more adequate than the colours of the limner. She was tall and goddess-like in shape and port. Her soft fair hair rolled on either side of her temples in golden streams that crowned her as with a queen's diadem. Her forehead, white and transparent, tinged only by blue vein-stains, stretched in calm amplitude over two dark eyebrows—a contrast enhanced still further by the sea-green lustre of her glittering and unfathomable eyes. Ah, what eyes! One flash of them was enough to settle the fate of a man. Never had I seen in human eyes such life, such clearness, such ardour, such humid brilliancy; and there shot from them glances like arrows, which went straight to my heart. Whether the flame which lit them came from hell or heaven I know not, but from one or the other it came, most surely. No daughter of Eve she, but an angel or a fiend, perhaps—who knows?—something of both. The quarrelets of pearl flashed through her scarlet smile, and as her mouth moved the dimples sank and filled by turns in the blush-rose softness of her exquisite cheek. Over the even smoothness of her half-uncovered shoulders played a floating gloss as of agate, and a river of large pearls, not greatly different in hue from her neck, descended towards her breast. Now and then she raised her head with a peacock-like gesture, and sent a quiver through the ruff which enshrined her like a frame of silver filigree.

The strange vision causes on Romuald strange yet natural effects. His ardent aspiration for the priesthood changes to loathing. He even tries to renounce his vows, to answer "No" to the questions to which he should answer "Yes," and thus to comply with the apparent demand of the stranger's eyes. But he cannot. The awe of the ceremony is yet too strong on his soul, if not on his senses and imagination; and the fatal words are spoken, the fatal rites gone through, despite the promises of untold bliss which the eyes, evermore caressing and entreating, though sadder, as the completion of the sacrifice approaches, continue to make him.

At last it was over—I was a priest. Never did face of woman wear an expression of such anguish as hers. The girl whose lover drops lifeless at her side, the mother by her dead child's cradle, Eve at the gate of paradise, the miser who finds his buried treasure replaced by a stone, the poet whose greatest work has perished in the flames, have not a more desolate air. The blood left her countenance, and it became as of marble; her arms fell by her[Pg 213] side, as if their muscles had become flaccid; and she leant against a pillar, for her limbs refused to support her. As for me, with a livid face bathed as if in the dews of death, I bent my tottering steps towards the church door. The air seemed to stifle me, the vaulted roof settled on my shoulders, and on my head seemed to rest the whole crushing weight of the dome. As I was on the point of crossing the threshold a hand touched mine suddenly—a woman's hand—a touch how new to me! It was as cold as the skin of a serpent, yet the contact burnt like the brand of a hot iron. "Unhappy wretch! What have you done?" she said to me in a low voice, and then disappeared in the crowd.

On the way to the seminary, whither a comrade has to support him, for his emotion is evident to all, a page, unnoticed, slips into Romuald's hand a tablet with the simple words, "Clarimonde. At the Concini Palace." He passes some days in a state almost of delirium, now forming wild plans of escape, now shocked at his sinful desires, but always regretting the world he has renounced, and still more Clarimonde.

I do not know how long I remained in this condition, but, as in one of my furious writhings I turned on my bed, I saw the Father Serapion standing in the middle of the cell gazing steadily at me. Shame seized me, and I hid my face with my hands. "Romuald," said he, at the end of a few minutes, "something extraordinary has come on you. Your conduct is inexplicable. You, so pious, so gentle, you pace your cell like a caged beast. Take heed, my brother, of the suggestions of the Evil One, for he is wroth that you have given yourself to the Lord, and lurks round you like a ravening wolf, if haply a last effort may make you his."

Then, bidding him redouble his pious exercises, and telling him that he has been presented by the bishop to a country cure, and must be ready to start on the morrow, Serapion leaves him. Romuald is in despair at quitting the neighbourhood of Clarimonde. But his seminarist inexperience makes him feel, more than ever, the impossibility even of discovering her, and the hints of Serapion have in a manner reawakened his conscience. He departs on the morrow without protest. They quit the city, and begin to climb the hills which surround it.[Pg 214]

At the top I turned round once more to give a last look to the place where dwelt Clarimonde. The city lay wholly in the shadow of a cloud; its blue and red roofs were blended in one general half-tint, above which here and there white flakes of the smoke of morning fires hovered. By some optical accident a single edifice stood out gilded by a ray of light, and more lofty than the mass of surrounding buildings. Though more than a league off, it seemed close to us. The smallest details were visible—the turrets, the terraces, the windows, and even the swallow-tailed vanes. "What is that sunlit palace yonder?" I asked of Serapion. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and after looking he answered, "It is the palace which Prince Concini gave to the courtesan Clarimonde. Terrible things are done there." As he spoke, whether it were fact or fancy I know not, it seemed to me that I saw a slender white form glide out on the terrace, glitter there for a second, and then disappear. It was Clarimonde! Could she have known that at that moment, from the rugged heights of the hill which separated me from her, and which I was never more to descend, I was bending a restless and burning gaze on the palace of her abode, brought near me by a mocking play of light, as if to invite me to enter? Ah yes! she knew it doubtless, for her soul was bound to mine too nearly not to feel its least movements; and this it must have been which urged her to climb the terrace in the cold morning dews, wrapped only in her snowy nightgear.

But the die is cast, and the journey continues. They reach the modest parsonage where Romuald is to pass the rest of his days, and he is installed in his cure, Serapion returning to the city. Romuald attacks his work desperately, hoping to find peace there, but he very partially succeeds. The words of Clarimonde and the touch of her hand haunt him constantly, and sometimes even stranger things happen. He sees the flash of the sea-green eyes across his garden hedges; he seems to find the imprint of feet, which are assuredly not those of any inhabitant of the village, on the gravel walks. At last one night he is summoned late to the bedside of a dying person, by a messenger of gorgeous dress and outlandish aspect. The journey is made in the darkness on fiery steeds, through strange scenery, and in an unknown direction. A splendid palace is at length reached—too late, for the priest is met by the news that his penitent[Pg 215] has already expired. But he is entreated, and consents, at least to watch and pray by the body during the night. He is led into the chamber of death, and finds that the corpse is Clarimonde. At first he mechanically turns to prayer, but other thoughts inevitably occur. His eyes wander to the appearance and furniture of the boudoir suddenly put to so different use: the gorgeous hangings of crimson damask contrasting with the white shroud, the faded rose by the bedside, the scattered signs of revelry, distract and disturb him. Strange fancies come thick. The air seems other than that to which he is accustomed in such chambers of the dead. The corpse appears from time to time to make slight movements; even sighs seem to echo his own. At last he lifts the veil which covers her, and contemplates the exquisite features he had last seen at the fatal moment of his sacrifice. He cannot believe that she is dead. The faint blush-rose tints are hardly dulled, the hand is not colder than he recollects it.

The night was now far spent. I felt that the moment of eternal separation was at hand, and I could not refuse myself the last sad pleasure of giving one kiss to the dead lips of her, who, living, had had all my love. Oh, wonder! A faint breath mingled with mine, the eyes opened and became once more brilliant. She sighed, and uncrossing her arms she clasped them round my neck with an air of ineffable contentment. "Ah!" she said, with a voice as faint and as sweet as the last dying vibrations of a harp, "is it you, Romuald? I have waited for you so long that now I am dead. But we are betrothed to one another from this moment, and I can see you and visit you henceforward. Romuald, I loved you! Farewell; this is all I have to say; and thus I restore the life you gave me for a minute with your kiss. We shall soon meet again." Her head fell back, but she still held me encircled. A furious gust of wind forced in the window and swept into the room: the last leaflet of the white rose quivered for a minute on its stalk and then fell, and floated through the open casement, bearing with it the soul of Clarimonde. The lamp went out, and I sank in a swoon.

He wakes in his own room, and hears from his ancient gouvernante that the same strange escort which carried[Pg 216] him off has brought him back. Soon afterwards his friend Serapion comes to visit him, not altogether to his delight, for he, rightly suspects the father of some knowledge of his secret. Serapion announces to him, as a matter of general news, that the courtesan Clarimonde is dead, and mentions that strange rumours have been current respecting her—some declaring her to be a species of vampire, and her lovers to have all perished mysteriously. As he says this he watches Romuald, who cannot altogether conceal his thoughts. Thereat Serapion—

"My son," said he, "it is my duty to warn you that your feet are on the brink of an abyss; take heed of falling. Satan's hands reach far, and the grave is not always a faithful gaoler. Clarimonde's tombstone should be sealed with a triple seal, for it is not, say they, the first time she has died. May God watch over you." Saying this, Serapion slowly went out, and I saw him no more. I soon recovered completely, and returned to my usual occupations; and though I never forgot the memory of Clarimonde and the words of the father, nothing extraordinary for a time occurred to confirm in any way his ill-omened forebodings, so that I began to believe that his apprehensions and my own terror were unfounded. But one night I had a dream. Scarcely had I fallen asleep when I heard my bed-curtains drawn, the rings grating sharply on the rods. I raised myself abruptly on my elbow and saw before me the shadowy figure of a woman. At once I recognised Clarimonde. She carried in her hand a small lamp of the shape of those which are placed in tombs, and the light of it gave to her tapering fingers a rosy transparency which, with gradually fainter tints, prolonged itself till it was lost in the milky whiteness of her naked arm. The only garment she had on was the linen shroud which covered her on her death-bed, and she tried to hold up its folds on her breast as if shame-stricken at her scanty clothing. But her little hand was not equal to the task; and so white was she that the lamplight failed to make distinction between the colour of the drapery and the hue of the flesh. Wrapped in this fine tissue, she was more like an antique marble statue of a bather than a live woman. Dead or alive, woman or statue, shadow or body, her beauty was unchangeable, but the green flash of her eyes was somewhat dulled, and her mouth, so red of old, was now tinted only with a faint rose-tint like that of her cheeks. The blue flowerets in her hair were withered and had lost almost all their petals; yet she was still all charming—so charming that, despite the strangeness of the adventure and the[Pg 217] unexplained fashion of her entrance, no thought of fear occurred to me. She placed the lamp on the table and seated herself on the foot of my bed; then, bending towards me, she spoke in the soft and silvery voice that I have heard from none but her. "I have kept you waiting long, dear Romuald, and you must have thought that I had forgotten you. But I come from very far—from a place whence no traveller has yet returned. There is neither sun nor moon, nor aught but space and shadow; no road is there, nor pathway to guide the foot, nor air to uphold the wing; and yet here am I, for love is stronger than death, and is his master at the last. Ah! what sad faces, what sights of terror, I have met! With what pains has my soul, regaining this world by force of will, found again my body and reinstalled itself! With what effort have I lifted the heavy slab they laid upon me, even to the bruising of my poor feeble hands! Kiss them, dear love, and they will be cured." She placed one by one the cold palms of her little hands against my mouth, and I kissed them again and again, while she watched me with her smile of ineffable content. I at once forgot Serapion's advice, I forgot my sacred office; I succumbed without resistance at the first summons, I did not even attempt to repulse the tempter.

She tells him how she had dreamed of him long before she saw him; how she had striven to prevent his sacrifice; how she was jealous of God, whom he preferred to her; and how, though she had forced the gates of the tomb to come to him, though he had given life back to her with a kiss, though her recovery of it has no other end than to make him happy, she herself is still miserable because she has only half his heart. In his delirium he tells her, to console her, that he loves her "as much as God."

"Instantly the glitter as of chrysoprase flashed once more from her eyes. 'Is that true?—as much as God?' cried she, winding her arms round me. 'If 'tis so you can come with me; you can follow me whither I will.'" And fixing the next night for the rendezvous, she vanishes. He wakes, and, considering it merely a dream, resumes his pious exercises. But the next night Clarimonde, faithful to her word, reappears—no longer in ghostly attire, but radiant and splendidly dressed. She brings her lover the full costume of a cavalier, and when he has[Pg 218] donned it they sally forth, taking first the fiery steeds of his earlier nocturnal adventure, then a carriage, in which he and Clarimonde, heart to heart, head on shoulder, hand in hand, journey through the night.

Never had I been so happy. For the moment I had forgotten everything, and thought no more of my priesthood than of some previous state of life. From that night forward my existence was as it were doubled, and there were in me two men, strangers each to the other's existence. Sometimes I thought myself a priest who dreamt that he was a gallant, sometimes a gallant who dreamt that he was a priest.... I could not distinguish the reality from the illusion, and knew not which were my waking and which my sleeping moments. Two spirals, entangled without touching, form the nearest representation of this life. The young cavalier, the coxcomb, the debauchee, mocked the priest; the priest held the dissipations of the gallant in horror. Notwithstanding the strangeness of the situation, I do not think my reason was for a moment affected. The perceptions of my two existences were always firm and clear, and there was only one anomaly which I could not explain, and this was that the same unbroken sentiment of identity subsisted in two beings so different. Of this I could give myself no explanation, whether I thought myself to be really the vicar of a poor country village, or else Il Signor Romualdo, lover in possession of Clarimonde.

The place, real or apparent, of Il Signor Romualdo's sojourn with his beloved is Venice, where they inhabit a gorgeous palace, and where Romuald enters into all the follies and dissipations of the place. He is unalterably faithful to Clarimonde, and she to him; and the time passes in a perpetual delirium. But every night—as it now seems to him—he finds himself once more a poor country priest, horrified at the misdeeds of his other personality, and seeking to atone for them by prayer and fasting and good works. Even in his Venetian moments he sometimes thinks of Serapion's words, and at length he has especial reason to remember them.

For some time Clarimonde's health had not been very good; her complexion faded from day to day. The doctors who were called in could not discover the disease, and after useless prescriptions gave up the case. Day by day she grew paler and colder, till she was nearly as white and as corpse-like as on the famous night[Pg 219] at the mysterious castle. I was in despair at this wasting away, but she, though touched by my sorrow, only smiled at me sweetly and sadly with the fatal smile of those who feel their death approaching. One morning I was sitting by her. In slicing some fruit it happened that I cut my finger somewhat deeply. The blood flowed in crimson streamlets, and some of it spurted on Clarimonde. Her eyes brightened at once, and over her face there passed a look of fierce joy which I had never before seen in her. She sprang from the bed with catlike activity and pounced on the wound, which she began to suck with an air of indescribable delight, swallowing the blood in sips, slowly and carefully, as an epicure tastes a costly vintage. Her eyelids were half closed, and the pupils of her sea-green eyes flattened and became oblong instead of round.... From time to time she interrupted herself to kiss my hand; then she began again to squeeze the edges of the wound with her lips in order to draw from it a few more crimson drops. When she saw that the blood ran no longer, she rose with bright and humid eyes, rosier than a May morning, her cheeks full, her hands warm, yet no longer parched, fairer in short than ever, and in perfect health. "I shall not die! I shall not die!" she said, clasping my neck in a frenzy of joy. "I can live long and love you. My life is in yours, my very existence comes from you. A few drops of your generous blood, more precious and sovereign than all the elixirs of the world, have given me back to life."

This scene gave me matter for much reflection, and put into my head some strange thoughts as to Clarimonde. That very evening, when sleep had transported me to my parsonage, I found there Father Serapion, graver and more careworn than ever. He looked at me attentively and said, "Not content with destroying your soul, are you bent also on destroying your body? Unhappy youth, into what snares have you fallen!" The tone in which he said this struck me much at the time; but, lively as the impression was, other thoughts soon drove it from my mind. However, one evening, with the aid of a glass, on whose tell-tale position Clarimonde had not counted, I saw her pouring a powder into the cup of spiced wine which she was wont to prepare after supper. I took the cup, and, putting it to my lips, I set it down, as if intending to finish it at leisure. But in reality I availed myself of a minute when her back was turned to empty it away, and I soon after went to bed, determined to remain awake and see what would happen. I had not long to wait. Clarimonde entered as soon as she had convinced herself that I slept. She uncovered my arm and drew from her hair a little gold pin; then she murmured under her breath, "Only one drop, one little crimson drop, one ruby just to tip the bodkin! As you love me still I must not die. Ah, poor[Pg 220] love! I am going to drink his blood, his beautiful blood, so bright and so purple. Sleep, my only treasure; sleep, my darling, my deity; I will do you no harm; I will only take so much of your life as I need to save my own. Did I not love you so much I might resolve to have other lovers, whose veins I could drain; but since I have known you I hate all others. Ah, dear arm, how round it is, and how white! How shall I ever dare to pierce the sweet blue veins!" And while she spoke she wept, so that I felt her tears rain on the arm she held. At last she summoned courage; she pricked me slightly with the bodkin and began to suck out the blood. But she drank only a few drops, as if she feared to exhaust me, and then carefully bound up my arm after anointing it with an unguent which closed the wound at once. I could now doubt no longer: Serapion was right. Yet, in spite of this certainty, I could not help loving Clarimonde, and I would willingly have given her all the blood whereof she had need, to sustain her artificial life. Besides, I had not much to fear; the woman was my warrant against the vampire; and what I had heard and seen completely reassured me. I had then well-nourished veins, which were not to be soon drawn dry, nor had I reason to grudge and count their drops. I would have pierced my arm myself and bid her drink. I was careful to make not the slightest allusion to the narcotic she had given me, or to the scene that followed, and we lived in unbroken harmony. But my priestly scruples tormented me more than ever, and I knew not what new penance to invent to blunt my passion and mortify my flesh. Though my visions were wholly involuntary and my will had nothing to do with them, I shrank from touching the host with hands thus sullied and spirit defiled by debauchery, whether in act or in dream. To avoid falling into these harassing hallucinations, I tried to prevent myself sleeping; I held my eyelids open, and remained in a standing posture, striving with all my force against sleep. But soon the waves of slumber drowned my eyes, and seeing that the struggle was hopeless, I let my hands drop in weariness, and was once more carried to the shores of delusion.... Serapion exhorted me most fervently, and never ceased reproaching me with my weakness and my lack of zeal. One day, when I had been more agitated than usual, he said to me, "There is only one way to relieve you from this haunting plague, and, though it be extreme, we must try it. Great evils need heroic remedies. I know where Clarimonde was buried; we must disinter her, and you shall see the real state of your lady-love. You will hardly be tempted to risk your soul for a vile body, the prey of worms and ready to turn to dust. That, if anything, will restore you to yourself." For my part, I was so weary of this double life that I closed with his offer. I longed to know[Pg 221] once for all, which—priest or gallant—was the dupe of a delusion, and I was resolved to sacrifice one of my two lives for the good of the other—yea, if it were necessary, to sacrifice both, for such an existence as I was leading could not last.... Father Serapion procured a mattock, a crowbar, and a lantern, and at midnight we set out for the cemetery, whose plan and arrangements he knew well. After directing the rays of the dark lantern on the inscriptions of several graves, we came at last to a stone half buried under tall grass, and covered with moss and lichen, whereon we deciphered this epitaph, "Here lies Clarimonde, who in her lifetime was the fairest in the world." "'Tis here," said Serapion; and, placing his lantern on the ground, he slipped the crowbar into the chinks of the slab and essayed to lift it. The stone yielded, and he set to work with the spade. As for me, stiller and more gloomy than the night itself, I watched him at work, while he, bending over his ill-omened task, sweated and panted, his forced and heavy breath sounding like the gasps of the dying. The sight was strange, and lookers-on would rather have taken us for tomb-breakers and robbers of the dead than for God's priests. The zeal of Serapion was of so harsh and savage a cast, that it gave him a look more of the demon than of the apostle or the angel, and his face, with its severe features deeply marked by the glimmer of the lantern, was hardly reassuring. A cold sweat gathered on my limbs and my hair stood on end. In my heart I held Serapion's deed to be an abominable sacrilege, and I could have wished that a flash of lightning might issue from the womb of the heavy clouds, which rolled low above our heads, and burn him to ashes. The owls perched about the cypress trees, and, disturbed by the lantern, came and flapped its panes heavily with their dusty wings, the foxes barked in the distance, and a thousand sinister echoes troubled the silence. At length Serapion's spade struck the coffin with the terrible hollow sound that nothingness returns to those who intrude on it. He lifted the lid, and I saw Clarimonde, as pale as marble, and with her hands joined; there was no fold in her snow-white shroud from head to foot; at the corner of her blanched lips there shone one little rosy drop. At the sight Serapion broke into fury. "Ah! fiend, foul harlot, drinker of gold and blood, we have found you!" said he, and he scattered holy water over corpse and coffin, tracing the sign of the cross with his brush. No sooner had the blessed shower touched my Clarimonde than her fair body crumbled into dust, and became nought but a hideous mixture of ashes and half-burnt bones. "There, Signor Romuald," said the inexorable priest, pointing to the remains, "there is your mistress. Are you still tempted to escort her to the Lido or to Fusina?" I bowed my head; a mighty ruin had taken place within me. I returned to[Pg 222] my parsonage, and Il Signor Romualdo, the lover of Clarimonde, said farewell for ever to the poor priest whose strange companion he had been so long. Only the next night I again saw Clarimonde. She said to me, as at first in the church porch, "Poor wretch, what have you done? Why did you listen to that frantic priest? Were you not happy? And what harm had I done you that you should violate my grave, and shamefully expose the misery of my nothingness? Henceforward all communication between us, soul and body, is broken. Farewell, you will regret me." She vanished in the air like a vapour, and I saw her no more.

Alas! she spoke too truly. I have regretted her again and again. I regret her still. The repose of my soul has indeed been dearly bought, and the love of God itself has not been too much to replace the gap left by hers. This, my brother, is the history of my youth. Never look at woman, and let your eyes as you walk be fixed upon the ground; for, pure and calm as you may be, a single moment is sufficient to make you lose your eternal peace.

Criticism thereof.

Now, though to see a thing in translation be always to see it "as in a glass darkly"; and though in this case the glass may be unduly flawed and clouded, my own critical faculties must not only now be unusually[199] enfeebled by age, but must always have been crippled by some strange affection, if certain things are not visible here to any intelligent and impartial reader. The story, of course, is not pure invention; several versions of parts, if not the whole, of it will occur to any one who has some knowledge of literature; and I have recently read a variant of great beauty and "eeriness" from the Japanese.[200] But the merit of a story depends, not on its originality as matter, but on the manner in which it is told. It surely cannot be denied that this is told excellently. That the part of Serapion (though somebody or something of the kind is almost necessary) is open to some criticism, may be granted. He seems to know too much and yet not enough: and if he was to interfere at all, one does not see why he did not do it earlier. But this is the merest[Pg 223] hole-picking, and the biggest hole it can make will not catch the foot or the little finger of any worthy reader. As to the beauty of the phrasing, even in another language, and as rendered by no consummate artist, there can be little question about that. Indeed there we have consent about Gautier, though, as has been seen, the consent has not always been thoroughly complimentary to him. To go a step further, the way in which the diction and imagery are made to provide frame and shade and colour for the narrative leaves very little room for cavil. Without any undue or excessive "prose poetry," the descriptions are like those of the best imaginative-pictorial verse itself. The first appearance of Clarimonde; the scene at her death-bed and that of her dream-resurrection, have, I dare affirm it, never been surpassed in verse or prose for their special qualities: while the backward view of the city and the recital of what we may call Serapion's soul-murder of the enchantress come little behind them.

But, it may be said, "You are still kicking at open doors. The degree of your estimate is, we think, extravagant, but that it is deserved to some extent nobody denies. In mere point of expression, and even to some extent, again, in conception of beauty, Gautier's manner, though too much of one kind, and that too old-fashioned, is admitted; it is his matter which is questioned or denied."

A parallel from painting.

Here also, I think, the counter-attack can be completely barred or broken to the satisfaction of all but those who cannot or will not see. In the first place one must make a distinction, which ought not to be regarded as over-subtilising, but which certainly seems to be ignored by many people. There are in all arts, and more especially in the art of literature, two stages or sets of stages in the discharge of that duty of every artist—the creation of beauty. The one is satisfied by the achievement of the beautiful in the presentation itself; the other gives you, in your own interior collection or museum, the thing presented. This is not the common distinction between form and[Pg 224] matter, between style and substance, between subject and treatment; it is something more intimate and "metaphysical." To illustrate it, let me take a pair of instances, not from letters, but from painting as produced by two dead masters of our own, Rossetti and Albert Moore. I used to think the last-named painter disgracefully undervalued both by the public and by critics. One could look at those primrose-tinted ladies of his, with their gossamer films of raiment and their flowerage always suggestive of the asphodel mead, for hours: and if one's soul had had a substantial Palace of Art of her own, there would have been a corridor wholly Albert Moorish—a corridor, for his things never looked well with other people's and they could not, by themselves, have filled a hall.

But their beauty, as has been untruly said of Gautier's representation in the other art, was "their sole duty." You never wanted to kiss even the most beautiful of them, or to talk to her, or even to sit at her feet, except for purposes of looking at her, for which that position has its own special advantages. And although by no means mere pastiches or replicas of each other, they had little of the qualities which constitute personality. They were almost literally "dreams that waved before the half-shut eye," and dreams which you knew to be dreams at the time; less even than dreams—shadows, and less even than shadows, for shadows imply substance, and these did not. If you loved them you loved them always, and could not be divorced from them. But it was an entirely contemplative love; and if divorce was unthinkable it was because there was no thorus and no mensa at which they could possibly have figured.[201] They were the Eves of a Paradise of two dimensions only.

Now with Rossetti it was entirely different. His drawing may have been as faulty as people said it was, and he may have been as fond as they also said of bestowing[Pg 225] upon all his subjects exaggerated and almost ungainly features, which possibly belonged to the Blessed Damozel, but were not the most indisputable part of her blessedness. But they were, despite their similarity of type, all personal and individual, and all suggestive to the mind and the emotions of real women, and of the things which real women are and do and suffer. And they were all differently suggestive. Proserpine and Beata Beatrix; the devotional figures in their quietude or their ecstasy, and the forlorn leaguer-lasses of that little masterpiece of the novitiate, "Hesterna Rosa"; the Damozel herself and a Corsican lady whose portrait, unpublished and unexhibited, has been familiar to me for six-and-thirty years;—all these and all the others would behave to you, and you would behave to them, if they could be vivified, in ways different individually but real and live.

The reality.

Now it is beauty of reality as well as of presentation that I at least find in La Morte Amoureuse. Clarimonde alive is very much more than a "shadow on glass"; Clarimonde dead is more alive than many live women.

And the passion of it.

But the audacity of infatuation need not stop here. I should claim for La Morte Amoureuse, and for Gautier as the author of it, more than this. It appears to me to be one of the very few expressions in French prose of really passionate love. It is, with Manon Lescaut and Julie, the most consummate utterance that I at least know, in that division of literature, of the union of sensual with transcendental enamourment. Why this is so rare in French is a question fitter for treatment in a History of the French Temperament than in one of the French Novel. That it is so I believe to be a simple fact, and simple facts require little talking about. No prose literature has so much love-making in it as French, and none so much about different species of love: amour de tête and amour des sens especially, but also not unfrequently amour de cœur, and even amour d'âme. But of the combination that we call "passionate love"—that fills our own late sixteenth,[Pg 226] early seventeenth, and whole nineteenth century literature, and that requires love of the heart and the head, the soul and the senses, together—it has (outside poetry of course)[202] only the three books just mentioned and a few passages such as Atala's dying speech, Adolphe's, alas! too soon obliterated reflections on his first success with Ellénore, perhaps one or two more before La Morte Amoureuse, and even since its day not many. Maupassant (v. inf.) could manage the combination, but too often confined himself to exhibitions of the separate and imperfect divisions, whereof, no doubt, the number is endless.

That Gautier always or often maintained himself at this pitch, either of what we may call power of projecting live personages or of exhibition of great passions, it would be idle and uncritical to contend; that he did so here, and thereby put himself at once and for ever on the higher, nay, highest level of literature, I do, after fifty years' study of the thing and of endless other things, impenitently and impavidly affirm.

Other short stories.

What is more, in his shorter productions he was often not far below it, save in respect of intensity. If I do not admire Fortunio quite so much as some people do, it is not so much because of its comparative heartlessness—a thing rare in Gautier—as because for once, and I think once only in pieces of its scale, the malt of the description does get above the meal of the personal interest, though that personal interest exists. But Jettatura, with its combination of romantic and tragical appeal; Avatar, with its extraordinary mixture of romance, again, with humour, its "excitingness," and its delicacy of taste; the equally extraordinary felicity of the dealings with that too often unmanageable implement the "classical dictionary" in Arria Marcella, Une Nuit de Cléopâtre, and perhaps especially Le Roi Candaule; the tiny sketches—half-nouvelle and half-"middle" article—of Le Pied de la Momie, La Pipe d'Opium, and Le Club des Haschischins,—what marvellous[Pg 227] consummateness in the various specifications and conditions do these afford us!

Sometimes, however, I have thought that just as La Morte Amoureuse is almost or quite sufficient text for vindicating the greatness or greaterness of "Théo," so his earliest book of prose fiction, Les Jeune-France, will serve the same purpose for another side of him, lesser if anybody likes, but exceptionally "complementary." In particular it possesses a quality which up to his time was very rare in France, has not been extraordinarily common there even since, and is still, even in its ancestral home with ourselves, sometimes inconceivably blundered about—the quality of Humour.[203]

Gautier's humour—Les Jeune-France.

For wit, France can, of course, challenge the world; nay, she can do more, she can say to the world, "I have taught you this; and you are no match for your teacher." But in Humour the case is notoriously altered. None of the Latin nations, except Spain, the least purely Latin of them, has ever achieved it, as the original or unoriginal Latins themselves never did, with the exception of the lighter forms of it in Catullus, of the grimmer in Lucretius—those greatest and most un-Roman of Roman poets.[204] In all the wide and splendid literature of French before the nineteenth century only Rabelais and Molière[205] can lay claim to it. Romanticism brings humour in its train, as Classicism brings wit; but it is curious how slow was the Romanticisation of French in this respect, with one exception. There is no real humour in Hugo, Vigny, George Sand, Balzac, scarcely even in Musset.[Pg 228] Dumas, though showing decidedly good gifts of possibility in his novels, does not usually require it there; the absence of it in his dramas need hardly be dwelt on. Mérimée, one cannot but think, might have had it if he had chosen; but Mérimée did not choose to have so many things! If Gérard de Nerval's failure of a great genius had failed in the comic instead of the romantic-tragical direction, he would have had some too—in fact he had it in the embryonic and unachieved fashion in which the author of Gaspard de la Nuit, and Baudelaire, and Paul Verlaine have had it since in verse and prose. But Gautier has it plump and plain, and without any help from the strange counterfeiting fantasy of verse which sometimes confers it. He has it always; at all times of his life; in the hackwork which made abortion of so much greater literature, and in his actually great literature, poems, novels, travels—what not. But he never has it more strongly, vividly, and originally than in Les Jeune-France, a coming-of-age book almost as old as mil-huit-cent-trente, written in part no doubt in the immortal gilet rouge itself, if only as kept for study wear like Diderot's old dressing-gown.

There are two dangers lying in wait for the reader of the book. One is the ordinary and quite respectable putting-out-of-the-lip at its juvenile improprieties; the other, a little more subtle, is the notion that the things, improper or not (and some of them are quite not), are mere juvenilia—clever undergraduate work. The first requires no special counterblast; the old monition, "Don't like it for its impropriety, but also don't let its impropriety hide its merits from you if it has any," will suffice. The other is, as has been said, more insidious. I can only say that I have read much undergraduate or but slightly post-graduate literature of many generations—before the day of Les Jeune-France, about its date, between that day and my own season of passing through those "sweet hours and the fleetest of time," and since that season till the present moment. But many equals of this book I have not read.[Pg 229]

It is of course necessary to remember that it is expressly subtitled "Romans Goguenards," thereby preparing the reader for the reverse of seriousness. That reverse, especially in young hands, is a difficult thing to manage. "Guffaw" and "yawn" are two words which have actually two letters in common; y and g are notoriously interchangeable in some dialects and circumstances, while n and u are the despair of the copyist or the student of copies. There remain only "ff"—the lightest of literals. We need not cite nominatim (indeed it might be rash) the endless examples in French and English where the guffaw of the writer excites the yawn of the reader. But this is hardly ever the case, at least as I find it, with Gautier.

The Preface, in which the author presents himself in his unregenerate and un-"young-France" condition, is really a triumph; I wish I could give the whole of it here. And what is more, it is a sort of epitome by anticipation of the entire Gautier, though without, of course, the mastery of artistry he attained in years of laborious prose and verse. For that quality of humour which his younger friend Taine was to define happily, though by no means to his own comfort or approval, in the phrase devoted to one of our English masters of it, "Il se moque de ses émotions à l'instant même où il s'y livre," you must go to Fielding or to Thackeray to beat it.

He (the supposed author) was the most ordinary and insignificant creature in the world. He had never either killed a policeman nor committed suicide; he possessed neither pipe, nor dagger, ni quoi que ce soit qui ait du caractère. He did like cats (which taste fortunately remained with Gautier himself throughout his life), and his reflections on politics had arrived at a final result of zero (another abiding feature, by the way, with "Théo"). He never could learn to play at cards. He thought artists were merely mountebanks, etc., etc. But some kind friends took him in hand and made him an accomplished Jeune-France. He took to himself a very long nom de guerre, a very short moustache, a middle[Pg 230] parting to his hair (the history of the middle parting would be worth writing), and a "delirious" waistcoat. He learnt to smoke, and to get "Byronically" drunk. He bought an Italian stiletto (by great luck he had a sallow complexion naturally); a silk rope-ladder ("which is of the first importance"); several reams of paper for love-letters, and a supply of rose-coloured and avanturine wax.[206] He is going to be, if he is not as yet, "fatal," "vague," "fallen-angelical," "volcanic." There is only one desirable quality which unkind fate has put beyond his reach. He is not, and cannot make himself, an illegitimate child! Now, I am sorry for any one who, having read this, cannot lean back in his chair and follow it up for himself by a series of fancy pictures of Jeunes-something from 1830 to 1918.[207]

Of the actual stories "Daniel Jovard" takes up the cue of the Preface directly, and describes the genesis of a romantique à tous crins. "Onuphrius" honestly sub-titles itself "Les Vexations Fantastiques d'un admirateur d'Hoffmann," and has, I think, sometimes been dismissed as a Hoffmannesque pastiche. Far be it from me to hint the slightest denigration of the author of the Phantasiestücke and the Nachtstücke, of the Serapion's-Brüder and the Kater Murr—not the least pleasing features on the right side of the half-glorious, half-ghastly contrast between the Germany of a hundred years ago and the Germany of to-day. But "Onuphrius" is Hoffmann Gautierised, German "Franciolated," a Walpurgisnacht softened by Morgane la Fée. "Elias Wildmanstadius," one of the earliest, remains one of the[Pg 231] most agreeable, pictures of a fanatic of the mediaeval. The overture and the finale, both pieces in which the great motto "Trinq!" is perhaps a very little abused, nevertheless contain a considerable amount of wisdom, and the last not a little wit.[208] But the central story Celle-ci et Celle-là, which fills nearly half the book, is no doubt the article on which one must—as far as this essay-piece is concerned—judge Gautier's tale-telling gifts. It is "improper" in part; indeed, the thing, which is largely dialogic, may be thought to have been a young romantic's challenge to Crébillon. The points of the contest would require a very careful judge to reckon them out. Although Gautier was no democrat, and certainly no misogynist, his lady of quality, Madame de M., is terribly below the Crébillonesque Marquises and Célies in every respect, except the beauty, which we have to take on trust; while, if she is not quite such a fiend as Laclos's heroine, she is also unlike her in being stupid. The hero, Rodolphe, though by no means a cad and possessed of much more heart than M. de Clerval or Clitandre, has neither their manners nor their wit. But Mariette, the servante-maîtresse, though much less moral, is much more attractive than Pamela; the whole of the story is hit off with a pleasant mixture of humour, narrative faculty, bright phrase,[209] and good nature, of which the first is simply absent in Crébillon and the last rather dubiously present.

We may return very shortly to the later, longer, and, I suppose, more accomplished stories before relinquishing Gautier.

Return to Fortunio.

I have known very good people who liked Fortunio; I care for it less than for any other of its author's tales. The fabulously rich and entirely heartless hero has not merely the extravagance but (which is very rare with Gautier) the vulgarity of Byronism;[Pg 232] the opening orgie, by an oversight so strange that it may almost seem to be no oversight at all, reminds one only too forcibly of the ironic treatment accorded to that institution in Les Jeune-France, and suffers from the reminder; the blending of East and West and the Arabian Night harems in Paris, "unbeknown" to everybody,[210] almost attain that plusquam-Aristotelian state of reprobation, the impossible which is also improbable; and the courtesan heroines—at least two of them, Musidora and Arabelle—are even more faulty in this respect. No doubt

πολλαι μορφαι των ουρανιων,

and the forms of the Pandemic as well as of the Uranian Aphrodite are numerous likewise. But among them one finds no probability or possibility of Gautier's Musidora of eighteen, who might be a young duchess gone to the bad. Neither is the end of the girl, suicide, in consequence of the disappearance of her lover, though quite possible and even probable, at all suitable to Gautier's own fashion of thinking and writing. Mérimée could have done it perfectly well. Of almost no others of the delectable contents of the two volumes of Nouvelles and of Romans et Contes has one to speak in this fashion, while some of them come very nearly up to their companion La Morte Amoureuse itself.

How Gautier managed to keep all this comparatively serious, if not quite so, in treatment, is perhaps less difficult to make out than why he took the trouble to do so. But it is the entire absences of irony on the one side and on the other of the dream-quality—the pure imagination[Pg 233] which makes the impossibilities of La Morte and of Arria Marcella, and even of the trifle Omphale, so delightful—that deprives Fortunio of attraction in my eyes. Such faint glimmerings of it as there are are confined to two very minor characters:—one of the courtesans, Cinthia, a beautiful statuesque Roman, who has simplified the costume-problem by wearing nothing—literally nothing—except one of two dresses, one black velvet and the other white watered silk; and the "Count George" (we are never told his surname), who gives the overture-orgie. One might, as the lady said to Professor Wilson in regard to the Noctes, say to him, "I really think you eat too many oysters, and drink too much [not indeed in his case] whisky," and I can find no excuse for his deliberately upsetting an enormous bowl of flaming arrack punch on a floor swept by women's dresses. But he is quite human, and he makes the best speech and scene in the book when he remonstrates with Musidora for secluding herself because she cannot discover the elusive marquis-rajah tiger-keeper,—and, I fear I must add, "tiger" himself,—from whom the thing takes its title.[211]

And others.

It is, however, almost worth while to go through the freak-splendours and transformation-scene excitements of Fortunio to prepare the palate[212] to enjoy La Toison d'Or which follows. Here is once more the true Gautieresque humour, good humour, marvellous word-painting, and romance, agreeably—indeed charmingly—twisted together. There is no fairy-story transposed into a modern and probable key which surpasses this of the painter Tiburce; and the disorderly curios of his rooms; and his sudden and heroic determination to fall desperately in love with a blonde; and his setting off to Flanders to find one; and the fruitlessness of his search and his bewitchment with the Magdalen in the "Descent from the Cross"[Pg 234] at Antwerp (ah! what has become of it?); and his casual discovery and courtship of a girl like that celestial convertite; and her sorrow when she finds that she is only a substitute; and her victory by persuading her lover to paint her as the Magdalen and so work off the witchery.[213] Of course some one may shrug shoulders and murmur, "Always the berquinade?" But I do not think La Morte Amoureuse was a berquinade.

Longer books, Le Capitaine Fracasse and others.

Of Gautier's longer books it is not necessary to say much, because, with perhaps one exception, they are admittedly not his forte.[214] Of the longest, Le Capitaine Fracasse, I am myself very fond. Its opening and first published division, Le Château de la Misère, is one of the finest pieces of description in the whole range of the French novel; and there are many interesting scenes, especially the great duel of the hero Sigognac with the bravo Lampourde. But some make it a reproach, not, I think, of very damaging validity, that so much of the book is little more than a "study off" the Roman Comique;[215] and it is, though not exactly a reproach, a great misfortune that in time, kind, and almost everything else it enters into competition with Dumas, whose gifts as a manager of such things were as much above Gautier's as his powers as a writer were below Théo's. Le Roman de la Momie, though possessing the abiding talisman of style, suffers in the first place from being mere Egyptology novelised, and in the second from the same thing having been done, on a scale much better suited to the author, in Le Pied de la Momie. Nor are Spirite and Militona free from parallel charges: while La Belle Jenny—that single and unfortunate appeal to the abonné noted above—really may fail to amuse those who are not "irked by the style."

[Pg 235]

Mlle. de Maupin.

There remains the most notorious and the most abused of all Gautier's work, Mademoiselle de Maupin. Perhaps here also, as in the case of La Morte Amoureuse, I cannot do better than simply reprint, with very slight addition, what I said of the book nearly forty years ago. For the case is a peculiar one, and I have made no change in my own estimate, though I think the inclusion of the Preface—not because I agree with it any less—more dubious than I did then. In this Preface the doctrine of "art for art's sake" and of its consequent independence of any licet or non-licet from morality is put with great ability and no little cogency, but in a fashion essentially juvenile, from its want of measure and its evident wish to provoke as much as to prove.[216] Without it the book would probably have excited far less odium and opprobrium than it has actually done; it would, if separate, be an excellent critical essay on the general subject; while in its actual position it almost subjects the text to the curse of purpose, from which nothing which claims to be art ought (according to the doctrine of both preface and book) to be more free.

With the novel itself it is difficult to deal in the way of abstract and occasional excerpt, not merely because of its breaches of the proprieties, but on account of the plan on which it is written. A mixture of letters and narrative,[217] dealing almost entirely with emotions, and scarcely at all with incidents, it defies narrative analysis such as that which was given to its elder sister in naughtiness, La Religieuse. It would seem that Goethe, who in many ways influenced Gautier, is responsible to some extent for its form, and perhaps for the fact that As You Like It plays an even more important part in it than Hamlet plays in Wilhelm Meister. No one who has read it can fail thenceforward to associate a new charm with the image[Pg 236] of Rosalind, even though she be one of Shakespeare's most gracious creations; and this I know is a bold word. But, in truth, it is in more ways than one an unspeakable book. Those who like may point to a couple of pages of loose description at the end, a dialogue in the style of a polite Jacques le Fataliste in the middle, a dozen phrases of a hazardous character scattered here and there. Diderot himself—no strait-laced judge, indeed particeps ejusdem criminis—remarked long ago, and truly enough, that errors of this sort punish themselves by restricting the circulation, and diminishing the chance of life of the book, or other work, that contains them. But it is not these things that the admirers of Mademoiselle de Maupin admire. It is the wonderful and final expression, repeated, but subtly shaded and differenced, in the three characters of Albert, Rosette, and Madeleine herself, of the aspiration which, as I have said, colours Gautier's whole work. If he, as has been justly remarked, was the priest of beauty, Mademoiselle de Maupin is certainly one of the sacred books of the cult. The apostle to whom it was revealed was young, and perhaps he has mingled words of clay with words of gold. It would be difficult to find a Bowdler for this Madeleine, and impossible to adapt her to the use of families. But those who understand as they read, and can reject the evil and hold fast the good, who desire sometimes to retire from the meditation of the weary ways of ordinary life to the land of clear colours and stories, where there is none of this weariness, who are not to be scared by the poet's harmless puppets or tempted by his guileless baits—they at least will take her as she is and be thankful.[218]

Still, as has been said, the book might have been made still better by being cut down a little; not, indeed, to the dimensions of a very short story, but to something like those of Fortunio or of Jettatura. For undoubtedly,[Pg 237] while Gautier had an all but unsurpassed command of the short story proper, a really long one was apt to develop some things in him which, if they were not essentially faults, were not likely to improve a full-sized novel. He would too much abound in description; the want of evolution of character—his character is not bad in itself, but it is, to use modern slang, rather static than dynamic—naturally shows itself more; and readers who want an elaborate plot look for it longer and are more angry at not being fed. But for the short, shorter, and shortest kind—the story which may run from ten to a hundred pages with no meticulous limitations on either side—it seems to me that in the French nineteenth century there are only three other persons who can be in any way classed with him. One of these, his early contemporary, Charles de Bernard, and another, who only became known after his death, Guy de Maupassant, are to be treated in other chapters here. Moreover, Bernard was slighter, though not so slight as he has sometimes been thought; and Maupassant, though very far from slight, had a lésion (as his own school would say) which interfered with universality. The third competitor, not yet named, who was Gautier's almost exact contemporary, though he began a very little earlier and left off a little earlier too, carried metal infinitely heavier than the pleasant author of Le Paratonnerre, and though not free from partly disabling prejudices, had more balance[219] than Maupassant. He had more head and less heart, more prose logic and less poetical fancy, more actuality and less dream than "Théo." But I at least can find no critical abacus on which, by totting up the values of both, I can make one greatly outvalue the other. And to the understanding I must have already spoken the name of Prosper Mérimée.[220]


Mérimée.

All the world knows Carmen, though it may be feared that the knowledge has been conveyed to more people[Pg 238] by the mixed and inferior medium of the stage and music than by the pure literature of the original tale. Yet it may be generously granted that the lower introduction may have induced some to go on, or back, to the higher. Of the unfaulty faultlessness of that original there has never been any denial worth listening to; the gainsayers having been persons who succumbed either to non-literary prejudice[221] of one kind or another or to the peculiarly childish habit of going against established opinion. For combined interest of matter and perfection of form I should put it among the dozen best short stories of the world so far as I am acquainted with them. The appendix about the gipsies is indeed a superfluity, induced, it would seem, partly by Mérimée's wish to have a gibe at Borrow for being a missionary, and partly by a touch of inspectorial-professorial[222] habit in him which is frequently apparent and decidedly curious. But it is an appendix of the most appendicious, and can be cut away without the slightest Manx-cat effect. From the story itself not a word could be abstracted without loss nor one added to it without danger. The way in which the narrator—it is impossible to tell the number of the authors who have wrecked themselves over the narrator when he has to take part in the action—and the guide are put and kept in their places, as well as the whole part of José Navarro, are impayables. If the Hispanolatry of French Romanticism had nothing but Gastibelza and L'Andalouse in verse and José Navarro in prose to show, it would stand justified and crowned among all the literary manias in history.

Carmen.

About Carmen herself there has been more—and may justly be a little more—question. Is her diablúra slightly exaggerated? Or, to put the complaint in a more accurately critical form, has Mérimée attended a little too much to the task of throwing on the[Pg 239] canvas a typical Rommany chi or callee, and a little too little to that of bodying forth a probable and individual human girl? As an advocate I think I could take a brief on either side of the question without scandalising the, on this point, almost neurotic conscience of the late Mr. Anthony Trollope. But, as a juryman, my verdict on either indictment would be "Not guilty, and please do it again."

But I had much rather decline both functions and all litigious proceedings, and go from the courts of law to the cathedral of literature and thank the Lord thereof for this wonderful triumph of letters. And, in the same way, if any quarrelsome person says, "But only a few pages back you were in parallel ecstasies about La Morte Amoureuse," I decline the daggers. Each is supreme in its kind, though the kinds are different. Of each it may be said, "It cannot be better done," but there may be—in fact there is nearly sure to be—something in the individual taste of each reader which will make the appeal of one to his heart, if not to his head, more intimate and welcome. That has nothing to do with their general literary value, which in each case is consummate. And happy are those who can appreciate both.

Consummateness, in the various kinds, is, indeed, the mark of Mérimée's stories. The variety is greater than in those of Gautier, because, just as "Théo" had the advantage of Prosper in point of poetry, he had a certain disadvantage in point of range of intellect, or, to prevent mistake, let us say interest—which perhaps is only another tropos (as the Greeks would have said and as the chemists in a very limited sense do say after them) of the same thing. Beauty was Gautier's only idol; Mérimée had more of a pantheon.

Colomba.

As to Colomba compared with Carmen, there is, I believe, a sort of sectarianism among Prosperites. I hope I am, as always, catholic. I do not know that, in the terms of classical scholarship, it is "castigated" to the same extent as its rival in point of superfluities. Not that I wish anything away from it;[Pg 240] but I think a few things might be away without loss—which is not the case with Carmen. Yet, on the other hand, the danger of the type seems to me more completely avoided.[223] At any rate, my admiration for the book is not in any way bribed by that Rossetti portrait of a Corsican lady to which I have referred above. For though she certainly is Colomba, I never saw the face till years—almost decades—after I knew the story.

Its smaller companions—Mateo Falcone, etc.

But of the smaller tales which usually accompany her, who shall exaggerate the praise? Mateo Falcone, that modern Roman father (by the way, there is said to be more Roman blood in Corsica than in any part of the mainland of Italy, and the portrait above mentioned is almost pure Faustina), is another of those things which are à prendre ou à laisser. It could not, again, be better done; and if any one will compare it with the somewhat similar anecdote of lynch-law in Balzac's Les Chouans, he ought to recognise the fact—good as that also is. Les Âmes du Purgatoire is also "first choice." Of what may be called the satellites of the great Don Juan story—satellites with a nebula instead of a planet for their centre—it is quite the greatest. But of this group La Vénus d'Ille is my favourite, perhaps for a rather illegitimate reason. That reason is the possibility of comparing it with Mr. Morris's Ring given to Venus—a handling of the same subject in poetry instead of in prose, with a happy ending instead of an unhappy one, and pure Romantic in every respect instead of, as La Vénus d'Ille is, late classical, with a strong Romantic nisus.[224]

For, though it might be improper here to argue out the matter, these last words can be fitted to Mérimée's ethos from the days of "Clara Gazul" and "Hyacinthe Maglanovich" to those when he wrote Lokis and[Pg 241] La Chambre Bleue. A deserter from Romanticism he was never; a Romantic free-lance (after being an actual Romantic pioneer) with a strong Classical element in him he was always.

Those of Carmen; Arsène Guillot.

The almost unavoidable temptation of taking Colomba and Carmen together has drawn us away from the companions, as they are usually given, of the Spanish story among Mérimée's earlier works. More than two-thirds of the volume, as most people have seen it, consist of translations from the Russian of Poushkin and Gogol, which need no notice here. But Arsène Guillot and L'Abbé Aubain, the two pieces which immediately follow Carmen, can by no means be passed over. If (as one may fairly suppose, without being quite certain) the selection of these for juxtaposition was authentic and deliberate, it was certainly judicious. They might have been written as a trilogy, not of sequence, but of contrast—a demonstration of power in essentially different forms of subject. Arsène Guillot, like Carmen, is tragedy; but it is tragédie bourgeoise or sentimentale. There are no daggers or musquetoons, and though (since the heroine throws herself out of a window) there is some blood, she dies of consumption, not of her wounds. She is only a grisette who has lost her looks, the one lover she ever cared for, and her health; while the other characters of importance (Mérimée has taken from the stock-cupboard one of the cynical, rough-mannered, but really good-natured doctors common in French and not unknown in English literature) are the lover or gallant himself, Max de Saligny (quite a good fellow and perfectly willing, though he had tired of Arsène, to have succoured her had he known her distress), and the Lady Bountiful, Madame de Piennes. How a "triangle" is established nobody versed in novels needs to be told, though everybody, however well versed, should be glad to read. Arsène of course must die; what the others who lived did with their lives is left untold. The thing is quite unexciting, but is done with the author's miraculous skill; nor perhaps is there[Pg 242] any piece that better shows his faculty of writing like the "gentleman,"[225] which, according to a famous contrast, he was, on a subject almost equally liable to more or less vulgar Paul-de-Kockery, to sloppy sentimentalism, and to cheap cynical journalese.

And L'Abbé Aubain.

As for L'Abbé Aubain, it is slight but purely comic, of the very best comedy, telling how a great lady, obliged by pecuniary misfortunes to retire with her husband to a remote country house, takes a fancy to, and imagines she has possibly excited fatal passion in, the local priest; attributes to him a sentimental past; but half good-naturedly, half virtuously obtains for him a comfortable town-cure in order to remove him, and perhaps herself, from temptation. This moving tale of self-denial and of averted sorrow, sin, and perhaps tragedy, is told in letters to another lady. Then follows a single epistle from the Abbé himself to his old Professor of Theology, telling, with the utmost brevity and matter-of-factness, how glad he is to make the exchange, what a benevolent nuisance the patroness has been, and how he looks forward to meeting the Professor in his new parsonage, with a plump chicken and a bottle of old bordeaux between them. There is hardly anywhere a better bit of irony of the lighter kind. It is rather like Charles de Bernard, with the higher temper and brighter flash of Mérimée's style.

La Prise de la Redoute.

All the stories just noticed, except Carmen itself (which is of 1847), appeared originally in the decade 1830-40, as well as others of less note, and one wonderful little masterpiece, which deserves notice by itself. This is La Prise de la Redoute, a very short thing—little more than an anecdote—of one of the "furious five minutes," or hours, not unknown in all great wars, and seldom better known than in that of these recent years, despite the changes of armament and tactics. It is almost sufficient to say of it that no one who has the slightest critical[Pg 243] faculty can fail to see its consummateness, and that any one who does not see or will not acknowledge that consummateness may make up his mind to one thing—that he is not, and—but by some marvellous exertion of the grace of God—never will be, a critic. He may have in him the elements of a capital convict or a faithful father of a family; he may be a poet—poets, though sometimes very good, have sometimes been very bad critics—or a painter, or a philosopher, as distinguished as any of those whose names the Bertram girls learnt; or an elect candlestick-maker, fit to be an elder of any Little Bethel. But of criticism he can have no jot or tittle, no trace or germ. The question is, for once, not one of anything that can be called merely or mainly "taste." A man who is not a hopelessly bad critic, though he may not have in him the catholicon of critical goodness, may fail to appreciate La Morte Amoureuse because of its dreaminess and supernaturality and all-for-loveness; Carmen because Carmen shocks him; La Venus d'Ille because of its macabre tone; Les Jeune-France because of their goguenarderie or goguenardise. But the case of the Redoute is one of those rare instances where the intellect and the aesthetic sense approach closest—almost merge into each other,—as, indeed, they did in Mérimée himself. The principles as well as the practice of narrative are here at once reduced to their lowest and exalted to their highest terms. The thing is not merely fermented but distilled; not so much a fact as a formula, with a formula's precision but without its dryness. If we take the familiar trichotomy of body, soul, and spirit and apply it to subject, style, and narrative power in a story, we shall find them all perfectly achieved and perfectly wedded here.[226]

The Dernières Nouvelles; Il Viccolo di Madama Lucrezia.

About the same time as that at which Carmen was published (indeed a year earlier) Mérimée wrote a shorter, but not very short story, Il Viccolo di Madama Lucrezia,[Pg 244] which for some reason only appeared, at least in book form, long after, with the Dernières Nouvelles and posthumously. It is, I think, his one attempt in the explained[227] supernatural—a kind for which I have myself no very great affection. But it is extremely well done, and if there are some suggestions of impropriety in it, Hymen, to use Paul de Kock's phrase (it is really pleasant to think of Paul and Prosper—the farthest opposites of French contemporary novel-craft—together), covers up the more recent of them with his mantle.

But some at least of the other contents of the same volume are worthy of greater praise. One, Le Coup de Pistolet, is a translation from Poushkin; another, Federigo, an agreeable version of an Italian folk-tale—one of the numerous legends in which a 'cute' and not unkindly sinner escapes not only perdition, but Purgatory, and takes Paradise by storm of wit.[228] A third piece, Les Sorcières Espagnoles, is folklorish in a way likewise, but inferior.

Yet another trio remains, and its constituents, Lokis, La Chambre Bleue, and Djoumane, are among Mérimée's greatest triumphs. Djoumane is not dated; the other two date from the very last years of his life and of the Second Empire; and, unless I mistake, were written directly to amuse that Imperial Majesty who lives yet, and who, as all good men must hope, may live to see the revanche, if not of the dynasty, at any rate of the country, which she did so much to adorn.

Djoumane.

Of the three, Djoumane—the account of a riding dream during a campaign in Algeria—is the slightest, no doubt, and to a certain extent a "trick" story. But it has the usual Mériméan consummateness in its own way; and I can give it one testimonial which, like all testimonials, no doubt depends on the[Pg 245] importance of the giver, but which, to that extent, is solid. I have read dozens, scores, almost hundreds of dream-stories. I cannot remember a single one, except this, which "took me in" almost to the very awaking.

There is no trick in either of the others, though in one of them there is the supernatural—not explained. But they are examples—closely and no doubt intentionally juxtaposed—in two different kinds, both of them exceptionally difficult and dangerous: the story of more or less ordinary life, with only a few suggestions of anything else, which resolves itself into horrible tragedy; and the story, again of ordinary life, with a tragic suggestion in the middle, which unknits itself into pure comedy at the end.

Lokis.

Lokis is a story of lycanthropy, or rather arctanthropy. A Lithuanian Count's mother has been carried off, soon after her marriage, by a bear, and just rescued with a lucky shot at the monster. She goes, as is not very wonderful, quite mad, does not recover when her child is born, and is under restraint in her own house, as wife and widow, for the term of her life. Her son, however, shows no overt symptoms of anything wrong except fits of melancholy and seclusion, being in other respects a gentleman of most excellent "havings"—handsome, brave, sportsmanlike, familiar with the best European society, and even something of a scholar. He entertains a German minister and professor, whose special forte is Lithuanian, in order that the pundit may study some rare books and MSS. in his library; and his guest, being a great traveller, a good rider, and, though simple in his ways, not at all unlike a man of this world, makes a friend of him. It so happens, too, that they have a common acquaintance—a neighbour, and, as is soon seen, an idol of the Count's, Mademoiselle Julie Ivinska, very pretty, very merry, and, if not very wise, clever enough to take in the scholar, on his own ground, with a vernacular ("jmoude") version of one of Mickiewitz's poems. All goes well in a way, except for occasional apparitions of the poor mad Countess; but there is a rather threatening episode of a ride into a[Pg 246] great forest, which is popularly supposed to contain a "sanctuary of the beasts," impenetrable by any hunter, and in which they actually meet a local sorceress, with a basket of poisonous mushrooms and a tame snake in it. Another episode gives us odd comments, and a sort of nightmare afterwards, of the Count, when his guest happens to mention the blood-drinking habits of the South American gauchos, in which the professor himself has been forced to take part.

But these things and other "lights" of the catastrophe are very artistically kept down, and you are never nudged or winked at in the offensive "please note" manner. The guest goes away, but, not much to anybody's surprise, is very soon asked to return and celebrate the wedding of the Count and Mlle. Ivinska, who are both Lutherans. He goes, and finds a great semi-pagan feast of the local peasantry (which does not much please him) and one or two bad omens, including an appearance of the mad old Countess with evil words, which please him still less. But the feast ends at last and the newly married couple retire, there being, of course, no "going away." Early in the morning the pastor is waked by the sound of a heavy body (a sound which he had noticed before but never interpreted) clambering down a tree just outside his window. A little later, as the bridal pair do not appear, their door is broken open, and the new Countess is found alone, dead, drenched in blood, and her throat, not cut, but bitten through.

The whole story is told by the minister himself to an otherwise unidentified Theodore and Adelaide (who may be anybody, but who adroitly soften the conclusion), and with that consummate management of the difficult part of actor-narrator which has been noted. In every respect but the purely sentimental one it seems to me beyond reproach and almost beyond praise.[229]

[Pg 247]

La Chambre Bleue.

There could not, as has been said, be a greater contrast than La Chambre Bleue in everything but craftsmanship. Two lovers (being French they have to be unlawful lovers, but the story would be neither injured nor improved, as a story, if the relation were taken quite out of the reach of the Divorce and Admiralty division, as it could be by a very little ingenuity) meet, in slight disguise,[230] at a railway station to spend "a day and a night and a morrow" together at a country hotel—not a great way from Paris, but outside the widest banlieue. They meet and start all right; but Fortune begins, almost at once, to play them tricks. They are not, as of course they wish to be, alone in the carriage. A third traveller (one knows the wretch) gets in at the last moment, and when, not to waste too much time, they begin to make love in English, he very properly tells them that he is an Englishman, assuring them, however, that he is probably going to sleep, and in any case will not attend to anything they say. Then he takes a Greek book from his bag, and devotes himself first to it and then to slumber. When their journey comes to an end, so does his, and he goes to the same hotel, but not before he has had an angry interview on the platform with some one who calls him "uncle." However, at the moment this does not matter much. Still, the guignon is on them; their chambre bleue is between two other rooms, and—as is the common habit of French hotels and the not uncommon one of English—has doors to both, which, though they can be fastened, by no means exclude sound. One of the next rooms is the Englishman's; the other, unfortunately, is a large upper chamber, in which the officers of a departing regiment are entertaining their successors. They are very noisy, very late, and somewhat impertinent when asked not to disturb their neighbours; but they break up at last, and the lovers have, as the poet says, "moonlight [actually] and sleep [possibly] for repayment." But with the morning a worse thing happens. The[Pg 248] lover, waking, sees at the foot of the bed, flowing sluggishly from the crack under the Englishman's door, a dark brownish-red fluid. It is blood, certainly blood! and what on earth is to be done? Apparently the Englishman (they have heard a heavy bump in the night) has either committed suicide or been murdered, perhaps by the nephew; the matter will be enquired into; in the circumstances they themselves cannot escape examination, and the escapade will come out (blue spectacles and black veils being alike useless against Commissaries of Police and Judges of Instruction). The only hope is an early Paris train, if they can get their bill, obtain some sort of breakfast, and catch it. But, just as they have determined to do so, the facts next door are discovered. The Englishman, who has ordered two bottles of porto, has fallen asleep over the second, knocked it down while still half-full, followed it himself to the floor, and reclined there peacefully, while the fluid from the broken bottle trickled over the boards,[231] under the door, and into the agapemone beyond. Once more (but for one horrible[232] piece of libel), the thing could hardly be better.

The Chronique de Charles IX.

Mérimée's largest and most ambitious attempt at pure prose fiction—the Chronique de Charles IX—has been rather variously judged. That the present writer once translated the whole of it may, from different points of view, be regarded as a qualification and a disqualification for judging it afresh. For a mere amateur (and there are unfortunately[233] only too many amateur translators) it might be[Pg 249] one or the other, according as the executant had been pleased or bored by his occupation. But to a person used to the manner, something of an expert in literary criticism, and brought by the writing of many books to an even keel between engouement and disgust, it certainly should not be a disqualification. I do not think that the Chronique, as a romance of the Dumas kind, though written long before Dumas so fortunately deserted the drama for the kind itself, is entirely a success. It has excellent characters, if not in the actual hero, in his two Dalilahs—the camp-follower girl, who is a sort of earlier Carmen, and the great lady—and in his fear-neither-God-nor-Devil brother; good scenes in the massacre and in other passages also. But as a whole—as a modernised roman d'adventures—it does not exactly run: the reader does not devour the story as he should. He may be—I am—delighted with the way in which the teller tells; but the things which he tells are of much less interest. One cannot exactly say with that acute critic (if rather uncritical acceptor of the accomplished facts of life and death and matrimony), Queen Gertrude of Denmark, "More matter with less art," for there is plenty of matter as well as amply sufficient and yet not over-lavish art. But one is not made to take sufficient interest in the particular matter supplied.

The semi-dramatic stories. La Jacquerie.

The other considerable and early attempt in historical romance, La Jacquerie, is not in pure novel form, but it may fitly introduce some notice of its actual method, in which Mérimée frequently, Gautier more than once, and a third eminent man of letters to be noticed presently most of all, distinguished themselves. This was what, in Old French, would have been called the story par personnages—the manner in which the whole matter is conveyed, not by récit, not by the usual form of mixed narrative and conversation, but[Pg 250] by dramatic or semi-dramatic dialogue only, with action and stage direction, but no connecting language of the author to the reader. The early French mysteries and miracles—still more the farces—were not altogether unlike this; we saw that some of the curious intermediate work of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries took it, and that both of Crébillon's most felicitous, if not most edifying exercises are in dialogue form. The admiration of the French Romantics for the "accidented" and "matterful" English, Spanish, and German drama naturally encouraged experiment in this kind. Gautier has not very much of it, though there is some in Les Jeune-France, and his charming ballets might be counted in. But Mérimée was particularly addicted thereto. La Jacquerie is injured to some tastes by excessive indulgence in the grime and horror which the subject no doubt invited. We do not all rejoice in the notion of a Good Friday service, "extra-illustrated" by a real crucifixion alive of a generous Jacques who has surrendered himself; or in violence offered (it is true, with the object of securing marriage) to a French heiress by an English captain of Free Companions. Even some of those who may not dislike these touches of haut goût, may, from the coolest point of view of strict criticism, say that the composition is too décousu, and that, as in the Chronique, there is little actual interest of story. But the phantasmagoria of gloom and blood and fire is powerfully presented. The earlier Théâtre de Clara Gazul,[234] one of the boldest and most successful of all literary mystifications, belongs more or less to the same class, which Mérimée never entirely deserted.

Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement, etc.

The best of all these is, to my thinking, undoubtedly the Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement. It is also, I believe,[Pg 251] the only one that ever was tried on the actual stage—it is said without success—though surely this cannot have been the form that it took in La Périchole, not the least amusing of those levities of Offenbach's which did so disgust the Pharisees of academic music and so arride the guileless public. Le Carrosse itself is a charming thing—very, very merry and by no means unwise—without a drop of bad blood in it, and, if no better than, very nearly as good as it should be from the moral point of view. La Famille Carvajal has the same fault of gruesomeness as La Jacquerie, with less variety, and Une Femme est un Diable, a fresh handling of something like the theme of Le Diable Amoureux and The Monk, if better than Lewis, is not so good as Cazotte. But L'Occasion is almost great, and I think Le Ciel et l'Enfer absolutely deserves that too much lavished ticket. Indeed Doña Urraca in this, like La Périchole in Le Carrosse, seems to me to put Mérimée among the greatest masters of feminine character in the nineteenth century, and far above some others who have been held to have reached that perilous position.

At the same time, this hybrid form between nouvelle and drame has some illegitimate advantages. You can, some one has said, "insinuate character," whereas in a regular story you have to delineate it; and though in some modern instances critics have seemed disposed to put a higher price on the insinuation than on the delineation, not merely in this particular form, I cannot quite agree with them. All the same, Mérimée's accomplishments in this mixed kind are a great addition to his achievements in the story proper, and, as has been confessed before, I should be slow to deny him the place of the greatest "little master" in fiction all round, though I may like some little masterpieces of others better than any of his.


Musset: charm of his dramatised stories; his pure narration unsuccessful.

By an interesting but not at all inexplicable contrast the only writer of prose fiction (except those to whom separate chapters have been allotted and one other who[Pg 252] follows him here) to be in any way classed with Mérimée and Gautier as a man of letters generally—Alfred de Musset—displays the contrast of values in his work of narrative and dramatic form in exactly the opposite way to (at least) Mérimée's. Musset's Proverbes, though, I believe, not quite successful at first, have ever since been the delight of all but vulgar stage-goers: they have, from the very first, been the delight of all but vulgar readers for their pure story interest. Even some poems, not given as intended dramas at all, possess the most admirable narrative quality and story-turn.

As for the Comédies-Proverbes, it is impossible for the abandoned reader of plays who reads them either as poems or as stories, or as both, to go wrong there, whichever of the delightful bunch he takes up. To play upon some of their own titles—you are never so safe in swearing as when you swear that they are charming; when the door of the library that contains them is opened you may think yourself happy, and when it is shut upon you reading them you may know yourself to be happier. But in pure prose narratives this exquisite poet, delightful playwright, and unquestionable though too much wasted genius, never seems quite at home. For though they sometimes have a poignant appeal, it is almost always the illegitimate or at any rate extrinsic one of revelation of the author's personal feeling; or else that of formulation of the general effects of passion, not that of embodiment of its working.

Frédéric et Bernerette.

Thus, for instance, there are few more pathetic stories in substance, or in occasional expression of a half-aphoristic kind, than Frédéric et Bernerette. The grisette heroine has shed all the vulgarity of Paul de Kock's at his worst, and has in part acquired more poignancy than that of Murger at his best. Her final letter to her lover, just before her second and successful attempt at suicide, is almost consummate. But, somehow or other, it strikes one rather as a marvellous single study—a sort of modernised and transcended Spectator paper—a[Pg 253] "Farewell of a Deserted Damsel"—than as part, or even as dénouement, of a story. When the author says, "Je ne sais pas lequel est le plus cruel, de perdre tout à coup la femme qu'on aime par son inconstance, ou par sa mort," he says one of the final things finally. But it would be as final and as impressive if it were an isolated pensée. The whole story is not well told; Frédéric, though not at all a bad fellow, and an only too natural one, is a thing of shreds and patches, not gathered together and grasped as they should be in the hand of the tale-teller; the narrative "backs and fills" instead of sweeping straight onwards.

Les Deux Maîtresses, Le Fils du Titien, etc.

So, again, the first story,[235] Les Deux Maîtresses, with its inspiring challenge-overture, "Croyez-vous, madame, qu'il soit possible d'être amoureux de deux personnes à la fois?" is in parts interesting. But one reader at least cannot help being haunted as he reads by the notion how much better Mérimée would have told it. Le Fils du Titien—the story of the great master's lazy son, on whom even love and entire self-sacrifice—lifelong too—on the part of a great lady, cannot prevail to do more in his father's craft than one exquisite picture of herself, inscribed with a sonnet renouncing the pencil thenceforth—is the best told story in the book. But Gautier would certainly have done it even better. Margot, in the same fatal way and, I fear, in the same degree, suggests the country tales of Musset's own faithless love.

Emmeline.

But the most crucial example of the "something wrong" which pursues Musset in pure prose narrative is Emmeline. It is quite free from those unlucky, and possibly unfair, comparisons with contemporaries which have been affixed to its companions. A maniac of parallels might indeed call it something of a modernised Princesse de Clèves; but this would be quite idle. The resemblance is simply in situation; that is to say, in the publica materies which every artist has a right to make his own by private treatment. Emmeline[Pg 254] Duval is a girl of great wealth and rather eccentric character, who chooses to marry (he has saved her life, or at any rate saved her from possible death and certain damage) a person of rank but no means, M. de Marsan. There is real love between the two, and it continues on his side altogether unimpaired, on hers untroubled, for years. A conventional lady-killer tries her virtue, but is sent about his business. But then there turns up one Gilbert, to whom she yields—exactly how far is not clearly indicated. M. de Marsan finds it out and takes an unusual line. He will not make any scandal, and will not even call the lover out. He will simply separate and leave her whole fortune to his wife. She throws her marriage contract into the fire (one does not presume to enquire how far this would be effective), dismisses Gilbert through the medium of her sister, and—we don't know what happened afterwards.

Now the absence of finale may bribe critics of the present day; for my part, as I have ventured to say more than once before, it seems that if you accept this principle you had much better carry it through, have no middle or beginning, and even no title, but issue, in as many copies as you please, a nice quire or ream of blank paper with your name on it. The purchasers could cut the name out, and use it for original composition in a hundred forms, from washing bills to tragedies.

But I take what Musset has given me, and, having an intense admiration for the author of A Saint Blaise and L'Andalouse and the Chanson de Fortunio, a lively gratitude to the author of Il ne faut jurer de rien and Il faut qu'une porte soit ouverte ou fermée, call Emmeline a very badly told and uninteresting story. The almost over-elaborate description of the heroine at the beginning does not fit in with her subsequent conduct; Gilbert is a nonentity; the husband, though noble in conduct, is pale in character, and the sister had much better have been left out.[236] So the rest may be silence.

[Pg 255]

Gérard de Nerval—his peculiar position.

I have been accused (quite good-naturedly) of putting Rabelais in this history because I liked him, though he was not a novelist. My conscience is easy there; and I think I have refuted the peculiar charge beforehand. But I might have a little more difficulty (though I should still lose neither heart nor hope) in the case of the ill-fated but well-beloved writer whom gods and men call Gérard de Nerval, or simply Gérard, though librarians and bibliographers sometimes insist on his legal surname, Labrunie. It certainly would be difficult, from the same point of view of strict legality, to call anything of his exactly a novel. He was a poet, a dramatist, a voyage-and-travel writer, a bibliographer (strange trade, which associates the driest with the most "nectaweous" of men!) even sometimes a tale-teller by name, but even then hardly a novelist. Yet he managed to throw over the most unlikely material a novelish or at least a romantic character, which is sometimes—nay, very often—utterly wanting in professed and admitted masters of the business; and he combines with this faculty—or rather he exalts and transports it into—a strange and exquisite charm, which nobody else in French, except Nodier[237] (who very possibly taught Gérard something), possesses, and which, though it is rather commoner in English and in the best and now almost prehistoric German, is rare anywhere, and, in Gérard's peculiar brand of it, almost entirely unknown.

For this "Anodos"—the most unquestionably entitled to that title of all men in letters; this wayless wanderer on the earth and above the earth; this inhabitant[Pg 256] of mad-houses; this victim, finally, either of his own despair and sorrow or of some devilry on the part of others,[238] unites, in the strange spell which he casts over all fit readers, what, but for him, one might have called the idiosyncrasies in strangeness of authors quite different from each other and—except at the special points of contact—from him. He is like Borrow or De Quincey (though he goes even beyond both) in the singular knack of endowing or investing known places and commonplace actions with a weird second essence and second intention. He is like Charles Lamb in his power of dropping from quaintness and almost burlesque into the most touching sentiment and emotion. Mr. Lang, in his Introduction to Poe, has noticed how Gérard resembles America's one "poet of the first order" in fashioning lines "on the further side of the border between verse and music"—a remark which applies to his prose as well.[239] He has himself admitted a kind of sorites of indebtedness to Diderot, Sterne, Swift, Rabelais, Folengo, Lucian, and Petronius. But this is merely on the comic and purely intellectual side of him, while it is further confined, or nearly so, to the trick of deliberate "promiscuousness." On the emotional-romantic if not even tragic score he may write off all imputed indebtedness—save once more in some degree, to Nodier. And the consequence is that those who delight in him derive their delight from sources of the most extraordinarily various character, probably never represented by an exactly similar group in the case of any two individual lovers, but quite inexhaustible. To represent him to those who do not know him is not easy; to represent him to those who do is sure, for this very reason, to arouse mild or[Pg 257] not mild complaints of inadequacy. And it must be clear, from what has been already said, that some critic may very likely exclaim, in reference to any selected piece, "Why, this is neither a novel nor a romance, nor even in any legitimate sense a tale!" The inestimable rejoinder already quoted,[240]—episcopal, and dignifying even that order though it was made only by a bishop in partibus—is the only one here.

La Bohême Galante, Les Filles du Feu, and Le Rêve et la Vie.

The difficulty of discussing or illustrating, in short space and due proportion, the novel or roman element in such a writer must be sufficiently obvious. His longer travels in Germany and the East are steeped in this element; and the shorter compositions which bear names of novel-character are often "little travels" in his native province, the Isle of France, and that larger banlieue of Paris, towards Picardy and Flanders, which our Seventy Thousand saved, by dying, the other day. But it is impossible—and might even, if possible, be superfluous—to touch the first group. Of the second there are three subdivisions, which, however, are represented with not inconsiderable variation in different issues.[241] Their titles are La Bohême Galante, Les Filles du Feu, and Le Rêve et la Vie, the last of which contains only one section, Aurélia, never, if I do not mistake, revised by Gérard himself, and only published after his most tragic death. Its supra-title really describes the most characteristic part or feature of all the three and of Gérard's whole work.

Their general character.

To one who always lived, as Paul de Saint-Victor put it in one of the best of those curious exercises of his mastery over words, "in the fringes[242] of the actual world,"[Pg 258] this confusion of place and no place, this inextricable blending of fact and dream, imagination and reality, was natural enough; and no one but a Philistine will find fault with the sometimes apparently mechanical and Sternian transitions which form part of its expression. There was, indeed, an inevitable mixedness in that strange nature of his; and he will pass from almost "true Dickens" (he actually admits inspiration from him) in accounts of the Paris Halles, or of country towns, to De Quinceyish passages, free from that slight touch of apparatus which is undeniable now and then in the Opium Eater. Here are longish excursions of pure family history; there, patches of criticism in art or drama; once at least an elaborate and—for the time—very well informed as well as enthusiastic sketch of French seventeenth-century poetry. It may annoy the captious to find another kind of confusion, for which one is not sure that Gérard himself was responsible, though it is consistent enough with his peculiarities. Passages are redistributed among different books and pieces in a rather bewildering manner; and you occasionally rub your eyes at coming across—in a very different context, or simply shorn of its old one—something that you have met before. To others this, if not exactly an added charm, will at any rate be admitted to "grace of congruity." It would be less like Gérard if it were otherwise.

Particular examples.

In fact it is in these mixed pieces that Gérard's great attraction lies. His regular stories, professedly of a Hoffmannesque kind, such as La Main Enchantée and Le Monstre Vert, are good, but not extraordinarily good, and classable with many other things of many other people. I, at least, know nothing quite like Aurélia and Sylvie, though the dream-pieces of Landor and De Quincey have a certain likeness, and Nodier's La Fée aux Miettes a closer one.

Aurélia.

Aurélia (which, whether complete in itself or not, was pretty clearly intended to be followed by other things under the general title of Le Rêve et la Vie) has, as[Pg 259] might be expected, more dream than life in it. Or rather it is like one of those actual dreams which themselves mix up life—a dream in the composition. Aurélia is the book-name of a lady, loved (actually, it seems) and in some degree responsible for her lover's aberrations of mind. He thinks he loves another, but finds he does not. The two objects of his passion meet, and the second generously brings about a sort of reconciliation with the first. But he has to go to Paris on business, and there he becomes a mere John-a-Dreams, if not, in a mild way, a mere Tom of Bedlam. The chief drops into reality, indeed, are mentions of his actual visits to maisons de santé. But the thing is impossible to abstract or analyse, too long to translate as a whole, and too much woven in one piece to cut up. It must be read as it stands, and any person of tolerable intelligence will know in a page or two whether Gérard is the man for him or not. But when he was writing it he was already over even the fringe of ordinary sane life, and near the close of life itself. In Sylvie he had not drifted so far; and it is perhaps his best diploma-piece.[243]

And especially Sylvie.

For Sylvie, with its sub-title, "Souvenirs du Valois," surely exhibits Gérard, outside the pure travel-books, at his very best, as far as concerns that mixture of rêve and réalité—the far-off goal of Gautier's[244] Chimère—which has been spoken of. The author comes out of a theatre where he has only seen Her, having never, though a constant worshipper, troubled himself to ask, much less to seek out, what She might be off the stage. And here we may give an actual piece of him.

[Pg 260]

We were living then in a strange kind of time,[245] one of those which are wont to come after revolutions, or the decadences of great reigns. There was no longer any gallantry of the heroic kind, as in the time of the Fronde; no vice, elegant and in full dress, as in that of the Regency; no "Directory" scepticism and foolish orgies. It was a mixture of activity, hesitation, and idleness—of brilliant utopias; of religious or philosophical aspiration; of vague enthusiasms mingled with certain instincts of a sort of Renaissance. Men were weary of past discords; of uncertain hopes, much as in the time of Petronius or Peregrinus. The materialist part of us hungered for the bouquet of roses which in the hands of Isis was to regenerate it—the Goddess, eternally young and pure, appeared to us at night and made us ashamed of the hours we had lost in the day. We were not at the age of ambition, and the greedy hunt for place and honours kept us out of possible spheres of work. Only the poet's Ivory Tower remained for us, and we climbed it ever higher and higher to be clear of the mob. At the heights whither our masters guided us we breathed at last the pure air of solitude; we drank in the golden cup of legend; we were intoxicated with poetry and with love. But, alas! it was only love of vague forms; of tints roseal and azure; of metaphysical phantoms. The real woman, seen close, revolted our ingenuousness: we would have had her a queen or a goddess, and to draw near her was fatal.

But he went from the play to his club, and there somebody asked him for what person (in such cases one regrets laquelle) he went so constantly to the same house; and, on the actress being named, kindly pointed out to him a third member of this club as the lady's lover-in-title. The peculiar etiquette of the institution demanded, it seems, that the fortunate gallant should escort the beloved home, but then go to the cercle and play (they were wise enough to play whist then) for great part of the night before exercising the remainder of his rights and privileges. In the interval, apparently, other cats might be grey. And, as it happened, Gérard saw in a paper that some shares of his, long rubbish, had become of value. He would be better off; he might aspire to[Pg 261] a portion of the lady's spare hours. But this notion, it is not surprising to hear, did not appeal to our Gérard. He sees in the same paper that a fête is going to take place in his old country of the Valois; and when at last he goes home two "faces in the fire" rise for him, those of the little peasant girl Sylvie and of the châtelaine Adrienne—beautiful, triumphant, but destined to be a nun. Unable to sleep, he gets up at one in the morning, and manages to find himself at Loisy, the scene of the fête, in time.

One would fain go on, but duty forbids a larger allotment of space; and, after all, the thing itself may be read by any one in half an hour or so, and will not, at least ought not, to be forgotten for half a lifetime—or a whole one. The finding of Sylvie, no longer a little girl, but still a girl, still not married, though, as turns out, about to be so, is chequered with all sorts of things—sketches of landscape; touches of literature; black-and-white renderings of the Voyage à Cythère; verses to Adrienne; to the actress Aurélie (to become later the dream-Aurélia); and, lastly—in the earlier forms of the piece at any rate—snatches of folk-song, including that really noble ballad:

Quand Jean Renaud de la guerre revint,

which falls very little, if at all, short of the greatest specimens of English, German, Danish, or Spanish.

And over and through it all, and in other pieces as well, there is the faint, quaint, music—prose, when not verse—which reminds one[246] somehow of Browning's famous Toccata-piece. Only the "dear dead women" are dear dead fairies; and the whole might be sung at that "Fairy's Funeral" which Christopher North imagined so well, though he did not carry it out quite impeccably.


Alfred de Vigny: Cinq-Mars.

The felicity of being enabled to know the causes of things, a recognised and respectable form of happiness,[Pg 262] is also one which I have recently enjoyed in respect of Alfred de Vigny's Cinq-Mars. For Vigny as a poet my admiration has always been profound. He appears to me to have completed, with Agrippa d'Aubigné, Corneille, and Victor Hugo, the quatuor of French poets who have the secret of magnificence;[247] and, scanty as the amount of his poetical work is, Éloa, Dolorida, Le Cor, and the finest passages in Les Destinées have a definite variety of excellence and essence which it would not be easy to surpass in kind, though it might be in number, with the very greatest masters of poetry. But I have never been able, frankly and fully, to enjoy his novels, especially Cinq-Mars. In my last reading of the chief of them I came upon an edition which contains what I had never seen before—the somewhat triumphant and strongly defiant tract, Réflexions sur la Vérité dans l'Art, which the author prefixed to his book after its success. This tractate is indeed not quite consistent with itself, for it ends in confession that truth in art is truth in observation of human nature, not mere authenticity of fact, and that such authenticity is of merely secondary importance at best. But in the opening he had taken lines—or at any rate had said things—which, if not absolutely inconsistent with, certainly do not lead to, this sound conclusion. In writing historical novels (he tells us) he thought it better not to imitate the foreigners (it is clear that this is a polite way of indicating Scott), who in their pictures put the historical dominators of them in the background; he has himself made such persons principal actors. And though he admits that "a treatise on the decline and fall of feudalism in France; on the internal conditions and external relations of that country; on the question of military alliances with foreigners; on justice as administered by parliaments, and by secret commissions on charges of sorcery," might not have[Pg 263] been read while the novel was; the sentence suggests, with hardly a possibility of rebuttal, that a treatise of this kind was pretty constantly in his own mind while he was writing the novel itself. And the earlier sentence about putting the more important historical characters in the foreground remains "firm," without any necessity for argument or suggestion.

The faults in its general scheme.

Now I have more than once in this very book, and often elsewhere, contended, rightly or wrongly, that this "practice of the foreigners," in not making dominant historical characters their own dominant personages, is the secret of success in historical novel-writing, and the very feather (and something more) in the cap of Scott himself which shows his chieftainship. And, again rightly or wrongly, I have also contended that the hand of purpose deadens and mummifies story. Vigny's own remarks, despite subsequent—if not recantation—qualification of them, show that the lie of his land, the tendency of his exertion, was in these two, as I think, wrong directions. And I own that this explained to me what I had chiefly before noticed as merely a fact, without enquiring into it, that Cinq-Mars, admirably written as it is; possessing as it does, with a hero who might have been made interesting, a great person like Richelieu to make due and not undue use of; plenty of thrilling incident at hand, and some actually brought in; love interest ad libitum and fighting hardly less so; a tragic finish from history, and opportunity for plenty of lighter contrast from Tallemant and the Memoirs—that, I say, Cinq-Mars, with all this and the greatness of its author in other work, has always been to me not a live book, and hardly one which I can even praise as statuesque.[248]

It is no doubt a misfortune for the book with its later readers—the earlier for nearly twenty years were free from this—that it comes into closest comparison with[Pg 264] Dumas' best work. Its action, indeed, takes place in the very "Vingt Ans" during which we know (except from slight retrospect) nothing of what D'Artagnan and the Three were doing. But more than one or two of the same historical characters figure, and in the chapters dealing with the obscure émeute which preceded the actual conspiracy, as well as in the scenes touching Anne of Austria's private apartments, the parallel is very close indeed.

And in its details.

Now of course Dumas could not write like Vigny; and though, as is pointed out elsewhere, to regard him as a vulgar fellow is the grossest of blunders as well as a great injustice, Vigny, in thought and taste and dianoia generally, was as far above him as in style.[249] But that is not the question. I have said[250] that I do not quite know D'Artagnan, though I think I know Athos, as a man; but as a novel-hero the Gascon seems to me to "fill all numbers." Cinq-Mars may be a succession or chain of type-personages—generous but headlong youth, spoilt favourite, conspirator and something like traitor, finally victim; but these are the "flat" characters (if one may so speak) of the treatise, not the "round" ones of the novel. And I cannot unite them. His love-affair with Marie de Gonzague leaves me cold. His friend, the younger De Thou, is hardly more than "an excellent person." The persecution of Urbain Grandier and the sufferings of the Ursuline Abbess seem to me—to use the old schoolboy word—to be hopelessly "muffed"; and if any one will compare the accounts of the taking of the "Spanish bastion" at Perpignan with the exploit at that other bastion—Saint-Gervais at Rochelle—he will see what I mean as well as in any single instance. The second part, where we come to the actual conspiracy, is rather better than the first, if not much; and I think Vigny's presentment of Richelieu has been too much censured.[Pg 265] Armand Duplessis was a very great man; but unless you accept the older Machiavellian and the more modern German doctrines as to what a great man may do, he must also be pronounced a most unscrupulous one; while there is little doubt (unless you go back to Louis XI.) that Vigny was right in regarding him as the original begetter of the French Revolution. But he is not here made by any means wholly inhuman, and Vigny makes it justly clear that, if he had not killed Cinq-Mars, Cinq-Mars would have killed him. In such cases of course the person who begins may be regarded as the assassin; but it is doubtful whether this is distributive justice of the highest order. And I do not see much salvation for France in Henry d'Effiat.

This, however, is a digression from our proper subject, but one justifying itself after a fashion, inasmuch as it results from Vigny's own faulty handling of the subject itself and is appropriate to his line of argument in his Examen. He has written the novel not as he ought and as he ought not. The political and historical interests overshadow, confuse, and hamper the purely "fictional" (as people say now), and when he has got hold of a scene which is either purely "fictional," or historical with fictitious possibilities, he does not seem (to me) to know how to deal with it. There is one—of the extremest melodramatic character and opportunities—where, in a hut perched on the side of a Pyrenean gorge or cañon, Richelieu's villainous tool, the magistrate Laubardemont; his mad niece, the former Ursuline Abbess, who has helped to ruin Urbain Grandier; his outcast son Jacques, who has turned Spanish officer and general bravo; and a smuggler who has also figured in the Grandier business, forgather; where the mad Abbess dies in terror, and Jacques de Laubardemont by falling through the flimsy hut-boards into the gorge, his father taking from him, by a false pretence before his death, the treaty between the Cinq-Mars conspirators and Spain. All this is sufficiently "horrid," as the girls in Northanger Abbey would say, and divers French contemporaries[Pg 266] of Vigny's from Hugo to Soulié would have made good horrors of it. In his hands it seems (to me) to miss fire. So, again, he has a well-conceived interview, in which Richelieu, for almost the last time, shows "the power of a strong mind over a weak one," and brings the King to abject submission and the surrender of Cinq-Mars, by the simple process of leaving his Majesty to settle by himself the problems that drop in from France, England, and where or whence not, during the time of the Cardinal's absence. It is less of a failure than the other, being more in Vigny's own line; but it is impossible not to remember several scenes—not one only—in Quentin Durward, and think how much better Scott would have done it; several in the Musketeer-trilogy, if not also in the Margot-Chicot series, and make a parallel reflection. And as a final parry by anticipation to the objection that such comparison is "rascally," let it be said that nothing of the kind ever created any prejudice against the book in my case. I failed to get on with it long before I took the least trouble to discover critical reasons that might excuse that failure.

Stello less of a novel, but containing better novel-stuff.

But if any one be of taste sufficiently like mine to find disappointment of the unpleasant kind in Cinq-Mars, I think I can promise him an agreeable, if somewhat chequered, surprise when, remembering Cinq-Mars and basing his expectations upon it, he turns to Stello. It is true that the book is, as a whole, even less "precisely a novel" than Sainte-Beuve's Volupté. But for that very reason it escapes the display of the disabilities which Cinq-Mars, being, or incurring obligation to be, precisely a novel, suffers. It is true also that it exhibits that fancy for putting historical persons in the first "plan" which he had avowed, and over which heads have been shaken. The bulk of it, indeed, consists of romanticised histoires or historiettes (the narrator calls them "anecdotes") of the sad and famous fates of two French poets, Gilbert and André Chénier, and of our English Chatterton. But, then, no one of these can be called[Pg 267] "a dominant historical personage," and the known facts permit themselves to be, and are, "romanticised" effectively enough. So the flower is in each case plucked from the nettle. And there is another flower of more positive and less compensatory kind which blooms here, which is particularly welcome to some readers, and which, from Cinq-Mars alone, they could hardly have expected to find in any garden of Alfred de Vigny's. For this springs from a root of ironic wit which almost approaches humour, which, though never merry, is not seldom merciful, and is very seldom actually savage, though often sad. Now irony is, to those who love it, the saving grace of everything that possesses it, almost equal in charm, and still more nearly equal in power, to the sheer beauty, which can dispense with it, but which sometimes, and not so very rarely, is found in its company.

Its framework and "anecdotes."

The substance, or rather the framework, of Stello, ou Les Diables Bleus, requires very little amplification of its double title to explain it. Putting that title in charade form, one might say that its first is a young poet who suffers from its second—like many other young persons, poetical and unpoetical, of times Romantic and un-Romantic. Having an excessively bad fit of his complaint, he sends for a certain docteur noir to treat the case. This "Black Doctor" is not a trout-fly, nor the sort of person who might be expected in a story of diablerie. It is even suggested that he derived the name, by which he was known to society, from the not specially individual habit of wearing black clothes. But there must have been something not quite ordinarily human about him, inasmuch as, having been resident in London at the time of Chatterton's death in 1770, he was—apparently without any signs of Old Parr-like age—a fashionable doctor at Paris in the year 1832. His visit ends, as usual, in a prescription, but a prescription of a very unusual kind. The bulk of it consists of the "anecdotes"—again perhaps not a very uncommon feature of a doctor's visit, but told at such length on the three subjects above mentioned[Pg 268] that, with "links" and conclusion,[251] they run to nearly four hundred pages.

It is possible that some one may say "Connu!" both to the stories themselves and to the moral of real suffering, as opposed to mere megrim, which is so obviously deducible from them. But Stello was quite as clever as the objectors, and knew these things quite as well—perhaps, as far as the case of Gilbert is concerned, rather better than most Englishmen. It is in the manner of the Black Doctor's telling and handling that the charm lies.

The death of Gilbert.

Even for those gluttons of matter who do not care much for manner there is a good deal in the three stories. The first avails itself—as Vigny had unwisely not availed himself in Cinq-Mars, though he was well acquainted with Shakespeare and lesser English masters—of the mixture of comic and tragic. The suffering[252] of the unfortunate youth who was partly a French Chatterton and partly a French Clare, his strange visit to the benevolent but rather ineffectual Archbishop of Paris, and the scene at his death-bed, exhibit, at nearly its best, the tragic power which Vigny possessed in a very high, though not always well exercised, degree. And the passage of the poet's death is of such macabre power that one must risk a translation:

(The doctor has been summoned, has found the patient in his garret, bare of all furniture save a bed with tattered clothes and an old trunk.)

His face was very noble and very beautiful; he looked at me with fixed eyes, and between them and the nose, above the cheeks, he showed that nervous contraction which no ordinary convulsion can imitate, which no illness gives, but which says to the physician, "Go your ways!" and is, as it were, a standard which Death plants on his conquests. He clutched in one hand his pen, his poor last pen, inky and ragged, in the other a crust of his last piece of bread. His legs knocked together, so as to make the crazy bed crackle. I listened carefully to his hard breathing; I heard the[Pg 269] rattle with its hollow husk; and I recognised Death in the room as a practised sailor recognises the tempest in the whistle of the wind that precedes it.

"Always the same, to all thou comest," I said to Death, he himself speaking low enough for my lips to make, in dying ears, only an indistinct murmur. "I know thee always by thine own hollow voice, lent to youth and age alike. How well I know thee and thy terrors, which are no longer such to me![253] I feel the dust that thy wings scatter in the air as thou comest; I breathe the sickly odour of it; I see its pale ashes fly, invisible as they may be to other men's sight. O! thou Inevitable One, thou art here, verily thou comest to save this man from his misery. Take him in thine arms like a child; carry him off; save him; I give him to thee. Save him only from the devouring sorrow that accompanies us ever on the earth till we come to rest in thee, O Benefactor and Friend!"

I had not deceived myself, for Death it was. The sick man ceased to suffer, and began suddenly to enjoy the divine moment of repose which precedes the eternal immobility of the body. His eyes grew larger, and were charged with amazement; his mouth relaxed and smiled; his tongue twice passed over his lips as if to taste once more, from some unseen cup, a last drop of the balm of Life. And then he said with that hoarse voice of the dying which comes from the inwards and seems to come from the very feet:

At the banquet of life a guest ill-fated.[254]
The satiric episode—contrast.

But this death-bed, and the less final but hardly less tragic wanderings of the victim in his visit to the Archbishop (by whom also the doctor has been summoned), are contrasted and entangled, very skilfully indeed, with a scene—the most different possible—in which he still appears. The main personages in this, however, are his Majesty Louis XV. and the reigning favourite, Mademoiselle de Coulanges, a young lady who, from the account given of her, might[Pg 270] justify the description, assigned earlier to one of her official predecessors in a former reign, of being "belle comme un ange, et bête comme un panier."[255] At first the lovers (if we are to call them so) are lying, most beautifully dressed and quite decorously, on different sofas, both of them with books in their hands, but one asleep and the other yawning. Suddenly the lady springs up shrieking, and the polite and amiable monarch (apart from his Solomonic or Sultanic weaknesses, and the perhaps graver indifference with which he knowingly allowed France to go to the devil, Louis le Bien-Aimé was really le meilleur fils du monde) does his best to console his beloved and find out the reason of her woes. It appears at last that she thinks she has been bitten by a flea, and as the summer is very hot, and there has been much talk of mad dogs, she is convinced that the flea was a mad flea, and that she shall die of hydrophobia. (As it happens, the flea is not a flea at all, but a grain of snuff.) However, the Black Doctor is sent for, and finds the King as affable as usual, but Mlle. de Coulanges coiled up on a sofa—like something between a cat and a naughty child afraid of being scolded—and hiding her face. On being coaxed with the proper medical manner, she at last bursts out laughing, and finally they all laugh together, till his Majesty spills his coffee on his gold waistcoat, and then pulls the doctor down on a sofa to talk Paris gossip. And now the Black One clears himself from any connection with the serpent as far as wisdom is concerned, though he has plenty of a better kind. Fresh from Gilbert's appeal to the Archbishop, he tries to interest this so amiable Royalty in the subject. But the result is altogether unfortunate. The lady is merely contemptuous and bored. The King gets angry, and displays that indifference to anybody else's suffering which moralists (whether to an exaggerated extent or not, is another question) are wont to connect with excessive[Pg 271] attention to a man's own sensual enjoyments. After some by no means stupid but decidedly acid remarks on Voltaire, Rousseau, and others, he takes (quite good-naturedly in appearance) the doctor's arm, walks with him to the end of the long apartment, opens the door, quotes certain satiric verses on literary and scientific "gents," and—shuts it on his medical adviser and guest.

I know few things of the kind more neatly done, or better adjusted to heighten the tragic purpose.

The Chatteron part.

To an Englishman the next episode may be less satisfactory, though it was very popular in France under its original form, and still more so when Vigny dramatised it in his famous Chatterton. It is not that there is any (or at any rate much) of the usual caricature which was (let us be absolutely equitable and say) exchanged between the two countries for so long a time. Vigny married an English wife, knew something of England, and a good deal of English literature. But, regardless of his own historical penchants and of the moral of this very book—that Sentiment must be kept under the control of Reason—he was pleased to transmogrify Chatterton's compassionate Holborn landlady into a certain Kitty Bell—a pastry-shop keeper close to the Houses of Parliament, who is very beautiful except that she has the inevitable "large feet" (let us hope that M. le Comte de Vigny, who was a gentleman, took only the first signalement from Madame la Comtesse), extraordinarily sentimental, and desperately though (let us hope again, for she has a husband and two children) quite virtuously in love with the boy from Bristol. He entirely transforms Lord Mayor Beckford's part in the matter;[256] changes, for his own purposes, the arsenic into opium (a point of more importance than it may seem), and in one blunt word does[Pg 272] all he can to spoil the story. It is too common an experience when foreigners treat such things, and I say this with the fullest awareness of the danger of De te fabula.

The tragedy of André Chénier.

These two stories, however, fill scarcely more than a third of the book, and the other two-thirds, subtracting the moral at the end, deal with a matter which Vigny, once more, understood thoroughly. The fate of André Chénier is "fictionised" in nearly the best manner, though with the author's usual fault of inability to "round out" character. We do not sufficiently realise the poet himself. But his brother, Marie-Joseph, requiring slighter presentment, has it; and so, on a still smaller scale, has the well-meaning but fatuous father, who, hopelessly misunderstanding the signs of the times, actually precipitates his elder son's fate by applying, in spite of remonstrance, to the tiger-pole-cat Robespierre for mercy. The scene where this happens—and where the "sea-green incorruptible" himself, Saint-Just (prototype of so many Republican enthusiasts, ever since and to-day), Marie-Joseph, and the Black Doctor figure—is singularly good. Hardly less so are the pictures—often painted by others but seldom better—of the ghastly though in a way heroic merriment of the lost souls in Saint-Lazare, between their doom and its execution, and the finale. In this the doctor's soldier-servant Blaireau ("Badger"), still a gunner on active service (partly, one fancies, from former touches,[257] by concealed good intention, partly from mere whim and from disgust at the drunken hectorings of General Henriot), refuses to turn his guns on the Thermidorists, and thus saves France from at least the lowest depths of the Revolutionary Inferno.[258] Perhaps there is here, as with Vigny's fiction throughout, a certain amateurishness, and a very distinct inability to keep apart[Pg 273] things that had better not be mixed. But there is also evidence of power throughout, and there is actually some performance.

Servitude et Grandeur Militaires.

His third and last work, of anything like the kind, Servitude et Grandeur Militaires, is no more of a regular novel than Stello; but, though perhaps in an inferior degree, it shares the superiority of Stello itself over Cinq-Mars in power of telling a story. Like Stello, too, it is a frame of short tales, not a continuous narrative; and like that, and even to a greater degree, it exhibits the intense melancholy (almost unique in its particular shade, though I suppose it comes nearer to Leopardi's than to that of any other great man of letters) which characterises Alfred de Vigny. His own experience of soldiering had not been fortunate. He had begun, as a mere boy, by accompanying Louis XVIII. in his flight before the Hundred Days; he had seen, for another fourteen or fifteen years during the Restoration,

No wars where triumphs on the victors wait,

but only the dreary garrison life (see on Beyle, sup. p. 149) of French peace time, and, in the way of active service, only what all soldiers hate, the thankless and inglorious police-work which comes on them through civil disturbance. Whether he was exactly the kind of man to have enjoyed the livelier side of martialism may be the subject of considerable doubt. But at any rate he had no chance of it, and his framework here is little more than a tissue of transcendental "grousing."

The first story.

The first story illustrating "Servitude" is sufficiently horrible, and has a certain element of paradox in it. The author, actually on his very disagreeable introduction to a military career by flight, meets with an old officer who tells him his history. He has been at one time a merchant sailor; and then in the service of the Directory, by whom he was commissioned to carry convicts to Cayenne. The most noteworthy of these, a young man of letters, who had libelled one of[Pg 274] the tyrants, and his still younger wife, are very charming people; and the captain, who makes them his guests, becomes so fond of them that he even proposes to give up his profession and farm with them in the colony. He has, however, sealed orders, to be opened only in mid-Atlantic; and when he does open them, he finds, to his unspeakable horror, a simple command to shoot the poet at once. He obeys; and the "frightfulness" is doubled by the fact that a rather clumsy device of his to spare the wife the sight of the husband's death is defeated by the still greater clumsiness of a subordinate. She goes mad; and, as expiation, he takes charge of her, shifts from navy to army, and carries her with him on all his campaigns, being actually engaged in escorting her on a little mule-cart when Vigny meets him. They part; and ten years afterwards Vigny hears that the officer was killed at Waterloo—his victim-charge following him a few days later. The story is well told, and not, as actual things go, impossible. But there are some questions which it suggests. "Is it, as literature, a whole?" "Is it worth telling?" and "Why on earth did the captain obey such an order from a self-constituted authority of scoundrels to whom no 'sacrament' could ever be binding, if it could even exist?"[259]

The second

The second is also tragical, but less so; and is again very well told. It is concerned with the explosion of a powder-magazine—fortunately not the main one—at Vincennes, brought about by the over-zeal of a good old adjutant, the happiness of whose domestic interior just before his fate (with some other things) forms one of Vigny's favourite contrasts.

and third.

But, as in Stello, he has kept the best wine to the last. The single illustration of Grandeur must have, for some people, though it may not have for all, the very rare interest of a story which would rather gain than lose if it were true. It opens in the[Pg 275] thick of the July Revolution, when the veteran French army—half-hearted and gaining no new heart from the half-dead hands which ought to have guided it—was subjected, on a larger scale, to the same sort of treatment which the fresh-recruited Sherwood Foresters (fortunately not half-hearted) experienced in Dublin at Easter 1916. The author, having, luckily for himself, resigned his commission a year or two before, meets an old friend—a certain Captain Renaud—who, though a vieux de la vieille, has reached no higher position, but is adored by his men, and generally known as "Canne de Jonc," because he always carries that not very lethal weapon, and has been known to take it into action instead of a sword.

In the "sullen interval" of the crisis the two talk; and Renaud is led into telling the chief experiences of his life. He had known little of his father—a soldier before him—but had been taken by that father on Bonaparte's Egyptian expedition till, at Malta, he was stopped by Bonaparte himself, who would have no boy on it save Casabianca's (pity he did not stop him too!). But he only sends Renaud back to the Military Academy, and afterwards makes him his page. The father is blown up in the Orient, but saved, and, though made prisoner by us, is well treated, and, as being of great age and broken health, allowed, by Collingwood's interest, to go to Sicily. He dies on the way; but is able to send a letter to his son, which is one of the finest examples of Vigny's peculiar melancholy irony. In this he recants his worship of the (now) Emperor. It has, however, no immediate effect on the son. But before long, by an accident, he is an unwilling and at first unperceived witness of the famous historical or half-historical interview at Fontainebleau between Napoleon and the Pope, where the bullied Holy Father enrages, but vanquishes, the conqueror by successively ejaculating the two words Commediante! and Tragediante! (This scene is again admirable.) The page's absence from his ordinary duty excites suspicion, and the Emperor, more[Pg 276] suo, exiles him to the farce-tragedy of the Boulogne flotilla, where the clumsy flat-bottoms are sunk at pleasure as they exercise[260] by English frigates. The father's experience is repeated with the son, for he also is captured and also falls into the beneficent power of Collingwood, whom Vigny almost literally beatifies.[261] The Admiral keeps the young man on parole with him four years at sea, and when he has—"so as by water" if not fire—overcome the temptation of breaking his word, effects exchange for him. But, as is well known (the very words occur here, though I do not know whether for the first time or not), Napoleon's motto in such cases was: "Je n'aime pas les prisonniers. On se fait tuer." He goes back to his duty, but avoids recognition as much as possible, and receives no, or hardly any, promotion. Once, just after Montmirail, he and the Emperor meet, whether with full knowledge on the latter's part is skilfully veiled. But they touch hands. Still Captain Renaud's guignon pursues him in strange fashion; and during a night attack on a Russian post near Reims he kills, in a mere blind mellay, a boy officer of barely fourteen, and is haunted by remorse ever afterwards.

A few days after telling the story he is shot by a gamin whom older men have made half-drunk and furnished with a pistol with directions to do what he does. And all this is preserved from being merely sentimental ("Riccobonish," as I think Vigny himself—but it may be somebody else—has it) by the touch of true melancholy on the one hand and of all-saving irony on the other.

The moral of the three.

So also these two curious books save Vigny himself to some extent from the condemnation, or at any rate the exceedingly faint praise, which his principal novel may bring upon him as a novelist. But they do so to some extent only. It is clear even from[Pg 277] them, though not so clear as it is from their more famous companion, that he was not to the manner born. The riddles of the painful earth were far too much with him to permit him to be an unembarrassed master or creator of pastime—not necessarily horse-collar pastime by any means, but pastime pure and simple. His preoccupations with philosophy, politics, world-sorrow, and other things were constantly cropping up and getting in the way of his narrative faculty. I do not know that, even of the scenes that I have praised, any one except the expurgated Crébillonade of the King and the Lady and the Doctor goes off with complete "currency," and this is an episode rather than a whole tale, though it gives itself the half-title of Histoire d'une Puce Enragée. He could never, I think, have done anything but short stories; and even as a short-story teller he ranks with the other Alfred, Musset, rather than with Mérimée or Gautier. But, like Musset, he presents us, as neither of the other two did (for Mérimée was not a poet, and Gautier was hardly a dramatist), with a writer, of mark all but the greatest, in verse and prose and drama; while in prose and verse at least he shows that quality of melancholy magnificence which has been noted, as hardly any one else does in all three forms, except Hugo himself.


Note on Fromentin's Dominique

Note on Fromentin's Dominique: its altogether exceptional character.

I have found it rather difficult to determine the place most proper for noticing the Dominique of Eugène Fromentin—one of the most remarkable "single-speech" novels in any literature. It was not published till the Second Empire was more than half-way through, but it seems to have been written considerably earlier; and as it is equally remarkable for lexis and for dianoia, it may, on the double ground, be best attached to this chapter, though Fromentin was younger than any one else here dealt with, and belonged, in fact, to the generation of our later, though not latest, constituents. But, in fact, it is a book like no other, and it is for this reason, and by no means as confessing omission or after-thought, that I have made the notice of it a note. In an[Pg 278] outside way, indeed, it may be said to belong to the school of René, but the resemblance is very partial.

The author was a painter—perhaps the only painter-novelist of merit, though there are bright examples of painter-poets. His other literary work consists of a good book on his Netherlandish brethren in art, and of two still better ones, descriptive of Algeria. And Dominique itself has unsurpassed passages of description at length, as well as numerous tiny touches like actual remarques on the margin of the page. Only once does his painter's eye seem to have failed him as to situation. The hero, when he has thrown himself on his knees before his beloved, and she (who is married and "honest") has started back in terror, "drags himself after her." Now I believe it to be impossible for any one to execute this manœuvre without producing a ludicrous effect. For which reason the wise have laid it down that the kneeling posture should never be resorted to unless the object of worship is likely to remain fairly still. But this is, I think, the only slip in the book. It is exceedingly interesting to compare Fromentin's descriptions with those of Gautier on the one hand before him, and with those of Fabre and Theuriet on the other later. I should like to point out the differences, but it is probably better merely to suggest the comparison. His actual work in design and colour I never saw, but I think (from attacks on it that I have seen) I should like it.

But his descriptions, though they would always have given the book distinction, would not—or would not by themselves—have given it its special appeal. Neither does that appeal lie in such story as there is—which, in fact, is very little. A French squire (he is more nearly that than most French landlords have cared to be, or indeed have been able to be, since the Revolution and the Code Napoléon) is orphaned early, brought up at his remote country house by an aunt, privately tutored for a time, not by an abbé, but by a young schoolmaster and literary aspirant; then sent for three or four years to the nearest "collége," where he is bored but triumphant: and at last, about his vingt ans, let loose in Paris. But—except once, and with the result, usual for him, of finding the thing a failure—he does not make the stock use of liberty at that age and in that place. He has, at school, made friends with another youth of good family in the same province, who has an uncle and cousins living in the town where the college is. The eldest she-cousin of Olivier d'Orsel, Madeleine, is a year older than Dominique de Bray, and of course he falls in love with her. But though she, in a way, knows his passion, and, as one finds out afterwards, shares or might have been made to share it, the love is "never told," and she marries another. The destined victims[Pg 279] of the unsmooth course, however, meet in Paris, where Dominique and Olivier, though they do not share chambers, live in the same house and flat; and the story of just overcome temptation is broken off at last in a passionate scene like that of "Love and Duty"—which noble and strangely undervalued poem might serve as a long motto or verse-prelude to the book. It is rather questionable whether it would not be better without the thin frame of actual proem and conclusion, which does actually enclose the body of the novel as a sort of récit, provoked partly by the suicide, or attempted suicide, of Olivier after a life of fastidiousness and frivolity. The proem gives us Dominique as—after his passion-years, and his as yet unmentioned failure to achieve more than mediocrity in letters—a quiet if not cheerful married man with a charming wife, pretty children, a good estate, and some peasants not in the least like those of La Terre; while in the epilogue the tutor Augustin, who has made his way at last and has also married happily, drives up to the door, and the book ends abruptly. It is perhaps naughty, but one does not want the wife, or the children, or the good peasants, or the tutor Augustin, while the suicide of Olivier appears rather copy-booky. It is especially annoying thus to have what one does not want to know, and not what one, however childishly, does want to know—that is to say, the after-history of Madeleine.

Yet even in the preliminary forty or fifty pages few readers can fail to perceive that they have got hold of a most uncommon book. Its uncommonness, as was partly said above, does not consist merely in the excellence of its description; nor in the acuteness of the occasional mots; nor in the passion of the two main characters; nor in the representation of the mood of that "discouraged generation of 1850" of which it is, in prose and French, the other Testament corresponding to Matthew Arnold's in verse and English. Nor does it even consist in all these added together; but in the way in which they are fused; in which they permeate each other and make, not a group, but a whole. It might even, like Sainte-Beuve's Volupté (v. inf.). be called "not precisely a novel" at all, and even more than Fabre's Abbé Tigrane (v. inf. again), rather a study than a story. And it is partly from this point of view that one regrets the prologue and epilogue. No doubt—and the plea is a recurring one—in life these storms and stresses, these failures and disappointments, do often subside into something parallel to Dominique's second existence as squire, sportsman, husband, father, and farmer. No doubt they

Pulveris exigui jactu compacta quiescunt,

whether the dust is of the actual grave and its ashes, or the more[Pg 280] symbolical one of the end of love. But on the whole, for art's sake, this somewhat prosaic Versöhnung is better left behind the scenes. Yet this may be a private—it may be an erroneous—criticism. The positive part of what has been said in favour of Dominique is, I think, something more. There are few novels like it; none exactly like, and perhaps one does not want many or any more. But by itself it stands—and stands crowned.

FOOTNOTES:

[198] Some years after its original appearance Mr. Andrew Lang, in collaboration with another friend of mine, who adopted the nom de guerre of "Paul Sylvester," published a complete translation under the title of The Dead Leman; and I believe that the late Mr. Lafacido Hearn more recently executed another. But this last I have never seen. (The new pages which follow to 222, it may not be superfluous to repeat, appeared originally in the Fortnightly Review for 1878, and were reprinted in Essays on French Novelists, London, 1891. The Essay itself contains, of course, a wider criticism of Gautier's work than would be proper here.)

[199] For, as a rule, the critical faculty is like wine—it steadily improves with age. But of course anybody is at liberty to say, "Only, in both cases, when it is good to begin with."

[200] I suppose this was what attracted Mr. Hearn; but, as I have said, I do not know his book itself.

[201] I do not know how many of the users of the catchword "purely decorative," as applied to Moore, knew what they meant by it; but if they meant what I have just said, I have no quarrel with them.

[202] Yet even inside poetry not so very much before 1830.

[203] Of course I know what a dangerous word this is; how often people who have not a glimmering of it themselves deny it to others; and how it is sometimes seen in mere horseplay, often confounded with "wit" itself, and generally "taken in vain." But one must sometimes be content with φωνηεντα or φωναντα (the choice is open, but I prefer the latter) συνετοισι, and take the consequences of them with the ασυνετοι.

[204] Some would allow it to Plautus, but I doubt; and even Martial did not draw as much of it from Spanish soil as must have been latent there—unless the Goths absolutely imported it. Perhaps the nearest approach in him is the sudden turn when the obliging Phyllis, just as he is meditating with what choice and costly gifts he shall reward her varied kindnesses, anticipates him by modestly asking, with the sweetest preliminary blandishments, for a jar of wine (xii. 65).

[205] La Fontaine may be desiderated. His is certainly one of the most humouresque of wits; but whether he has pure humour I am not sure.

[206] This is an exception to the rule of tout passe, if not of tout casse. You can still buy avanturine wax; only, like all waxes, except red and black, it seals very badly, and makes "kisses" in a most untidy fashion. Avanturine should be left to the original stone—to peat-water running over pebbles with the sun on it—and to eyes.

[207] I once knew an incident which might have figured in these scenes, and which would, I think, have pleased Théo. But it happened just after his own death, in the dawn of the aesthetic movement. A man, whom we may call A, visited a friend, say B, who was doing his utmost to be in the mode. A had for some time been away from the centre; and B showed him, in hopes to impress, the blue china the Japanese mats and fans, the rush-bottomed chairs, the Morris paper and curtains, the peacock feathers, etc. But A looked coldly on them and said, "Where is your brass tray?" And B was saddened and could only plead, "It is coming directly; but you know too much."

[208] They are both connected with the "orgie"-mania, and the last is a deliberate burlesque of the originals of P. L. Jacob, Janin, Eugène Sue, and Balzac himself.

[209] It is here that the famous return of a kiss revu, corrigé et considérablement augmenté is recorded.

[210] He (it is some excuse for him that this suggested a better thing in certain New Arabian Nights) buys, furnishes, and subsequently deserts an empty house to give a ball in, and put his friends on no scent of his own abode; but he makes this "own abode" a sort of Crystal Palace in the centre of a whole ring-fence of streets, with the old fronts of the houses kept to avert suspicion of the Seraglio of Eastern beauties, the menagerie and beast fights, and the slaves whom (it is rather suggested than definitely stated) he occasionally murders. He performs circus-rider feats when he meets a lady (or at least a woman) in the Bois de Boulogne; he sets her house on fire when it occurs to him that she has received other lovers there; and we are given to understand that he blows up his own palace when he returns to the East. In fact, he is a pure anticipated cognition of a Ouidesque super-hero as parodied by Sir Francis Burnand (and independently by divers schoolboys and undergraduates) some fifty years ago.

[211] I have seen an admirable criticism of this "thing" in one word, "Cold!"

[212] On the cayenne-and-claret principle which Haydon (one hopes libellously, in point of degree) attributed to Keats. (It was probably a devilled-biscuit, and so quite allowable.)

[213] "Théo" has no repute as a psychologist; but I have known such repute attained by far less subtle touches than this.

[214] For more on them, with a pretty full abstract of Le Capitaine Fracasse, see the Essay more than once mentioned.

[215] V. sup. Vol. I. p. 279-286. Of course the duplication, as literature, is positively interesting and welcome.

[216] I—some fifty years since—knew a man who, with even greater juvenility, put pretty much the same doctrine in a Fellowship Essay. He did not obtain that Fellowship.

[217] It might possibly have been shortened with advantage in concentration of effect. But the story (pleasantly invented, if not true) of Gautier's mother locking him up in his room that he might not neglect his work (of the nature of which she was blissfully ignorant) nearly excuses him. A prisoner will naturally be copious rather than terse.

[218] It may amuse some readers to know that I saw the rather famous lithograph (of a lady and gentleman kissing each other at full speed on horseback), which owes its subject to the book, in no more romantic a place that a very small public-house in "Scarlet town," to which I had gone, not to quench my thirst or for any other licentious purpose, but to make an appointment with—a chimney-sweep.

[219] Some might even say he had too much.

[220] For reference to previous dealings of mine with Mérimée see Preface.

[221] It is sad, but necessary, to include M. Brunetière among the latter class.

[222] He was never a professor, but was an inspector; and, though I may be biassed, I think the inspector is usually the more "donnish" animal of the two.

[223] And perhaps in actual life, if not in literature, I should prefer a young woman who might possibly have me murdered if she discovered a blood-feud between my ancestors and hers, to one in whose company it would certainly be necessary to keep a very sharp look-out on my watch. The two risks are not equally "the game."

[224] Many a reader, I hope, has been reminded, by one or the other, or both, of the Anatomy of Melancholy, which also contains the story: and has gone to it with the usual consequence of reading nothing else for some time.

[225] "Mérimée était gentilhomme: Sainte-Beuve ne l'était pas." I forget who said this, but it was certainly said, and I think it was true.

[226] This is not merely a waste of explosives. I have actually seen the story dismissed as a "merely faithful record of the facts" or something of the sort. One was at least obliged to the man for reminding one of Partridge on Garrick.

[227] A very "gentle" reader may perceive something not quite explained, and I should be happy to allow it.

[228] And perhaps—though Mérimée does not allege this—by doing good to his neighbours likewise; for he rescues twelve companions of his own naughtiness from the infernal regions. The mixture of pagan and Christian eschatology, if not borrowed, is exceedingly well and suitably "found."

[229] He had at one time introduced a smirch of grime by which nothing was gained and a good deal lost—the abduction being not at once cut short, and the bear being suggested as the Count's actual sire (see Burton again). But he had the taste as well as the sense to cut this out. The management of the outsiders mentioned above contrasts remarkably in point of art with the similar things which, as noted (v. sup. pp. 93-4), do not improve Inès de las Sierras.

[230] He blue-spectacled, she black-veiled.

[231] Uncarpeted and polished, French fashion, of course.

[232] Mérimée represents his Englishman (and an Englishman who can read Greek, too!) as satisfied with, and ordering a second bottle of, an extemporised "port" made of ratafia, "quinze sous" ordinaire, and brandy! This could deceive few Englishmen; and (till very recent years) absolutely no Englishman who could read Greek at a fairly advanced period of life. From most of the French Novelists of the time it would not surprise us; but from Mérimée, who was constantly visiting England and had numerous English friends, it is a little odd. It may have been done lectoris gratia (but hardly lectricis), to suit what even the other novelists just mentioned occasionally speak of as the Anglais de vaudeville.

[233] I use this adverb from no trade-jealously: for I have made as many translations myself as I have ever wished to do, and have always been adequately paid for them. But there is no doubt that the competition of amateur translation too often, on the one hand, reduces fees to sweating point, and on the other affects the standard of competence rather disastrously. I once had to review a version of Das Kalte Herz, in which the wicked husband persecuted his wife with a "pitcher," Peitsche being so translated by the light of nature, or the darkness of no dictionary.

[234] Professed renderings of Spanish plays which never existed. La Guzla—a companion volume with an audacious anagrammatising of "Gazul," etc., etc.—is a collection of pure ballads similarly attributed to a non-existent Slav poet, Hyacinthe Maglanovich. Both, in their influence on the Romantic movement, were only second to the work of actual English, German, and Spanish predecessors, and may rank with that of Nodier.

[235] Of the collection definitely called Nouvelles.

[236] I have left the shortest story in the volume, Croisilles, to a note. It has, I believe, been rather a favourite with some, but it seems to me that almost anybody could have written it, as far as anything but the mere writing goes. Nor shall I criticise Mimi Pinson and other things at length. I cannot go so far as a late friend of mine, who maintained that you must always praise the work of a writer you like. But I think one has the option of silence—partial at any rate.

[237] If anybody pleads for Louis Bertrand of Gaspard de la Nuit as a thirdsman, I should accept him gladly, though he is even farther from the novel-norm than Gérard himself. I once had the pleasure of bringing him to the knowledge of the late Lord Houghton, who, the next time I met him, ejaculated, "I've got him, and covered him all over with moons and stars as he deserves." I hope Lord Crewe has the copy. (For Baudelaire's still less novelish following of Gaspard, see below. As far as style goes, both would enter this chapter "by acclamation.")

[238] This has been already referred to above. After one of the abscondences or disappearances brought about by his madness, he was found dead—hanging to a balcony, or outside stair, or lamp-post, or what not, in one of those purlieus of Old Paris which were afterwards swept away, but which Hugo and Méryon have preserved for us in different forms of "black and white." Suicide, as always in such cases, is the orthodox word in this, and may be correct. But some of his friends were inclined to think that he had been the victim of pure murderous sport on the part of the gangs of voyous, ancestors of the later "apaches," who infested the capital.

[239] The quality will not be sought in vain by those who read Mr. Lang's own poems—there are several—on and from Gérard.

[240] "Perhaps not, my dear; perhaps not."

[241] What, I suppose, is the "standard" edition—that of the so-called Œuvres Complètes—contains them all, but with some additions and more omissions to and from the earlier issues. And the individual pieces, especially Sylvie, which is to be more fully dealt with here than any other, are subjected to a good deal of rehandling.

[242] I may be taken to task for rendering lisière "fringes," but the actual English equivalent "list" is not only ambiguous, not only too homely in its specific connotation, but wrong in rhythm. And "selvage," escaping the first and last objections, may be thought to incur the middle one. Moreover, while both words signify a well-defined edge, lisière has a sense—special enough to be noted in dictionaries—of the looser-planted border of trees and shrubs which almost literally "fringes" a regular forest.

[243] Angélique, which used to head Les Filles du Feu, in front of Sylvie, but was afterwards cut away by the editors of the Œuvres Complètes for reasons given under the head of Les Faux Saulniers (vol. iv. of that edition), is a specially Sternian piece, mixing up the chase for a rare book, and some other matters, with the adventures of a seventeenth-century ancestress of this book's author, who eloped with a servant, zigzagged as much as possible. It is quite good reading, but a little mechanical. Perhaps it is not too officious to remark that Filles du Feu is to be interpreted here in the sense of our "Faces in the fire."

[244] Gérard was a slightly older man than Théo, but they were, as they could not but be, close friends.

[245] Even those who care little for mere beauty of style—or who cannot stand the loss of it in translation—may find here a vivid picture, by a hand of the most qualified, of the mental condition which produced the masterpieces of 1825-1850. And the contrast with the "discouraged generation" which immediately followed is as striking.

[246] Especially, it may be, if one has heard Galuppi's own music played by a friend who is himself now dead.

[247] Some would make it a quintet with Leconte de Lisle, but I think "the King should consider of it" as to this. He is grand sometimes: but so are Père Le Moyne and others. It is hit or miss with them; the Four can make sure of it.

[248] It does, of course, deserve, and in this place specially should receive, the credit of being the first French historical novel of the modern kind which possessed great literary merit.

[249] Alexander, though he actually wrote histories of a kind, was far below Alfred in political judgment.

[250] Vide infra on Dumas himself.

[251] About Plato and Homer, who are very welcome, and "Le Mensonge Social," which is, perhaps, a little less so.

[252] But see note 2 on next page.

[253] One wonders if the Black Doctor was so sure of this on his own death-bed?

[254] The first line of Gilbert's swan-song—the only song of his that is remembered. It sets Stello himself on the track which the "Black Doctor" has concealed up to the point. As the original rhythm could not be kept without altering the substance, I have substituted another—not so unconnected as it may seem.—By the way, Vigny has taken as much liberty with French dates in this story as with English facts in the Chatterton one. Gilbert died in 1780, and Louis XV. had passed from the arms of his last mistress, Scarlatina Maligna, six years before, to be actually made the subject of a funeral panegyric by the poet. In fact, the sufferings of the latter have been argued to be pure legend. But this of course affects literature hardly at all; and Vigny had a perfect right to use the accepted version.

[255] Why should a "basket" be specially silly? The answer is that the original comparison was to a "panier percé," a basket which won't hold anything. But the phrase got shortened.

[256] He not only, in the face of generally known and public history, makes the man who was positively insolent to George III. a flunky of royalty, but assigns, as the immediate cause of the poet's suicide, the offer to him of a lucrative but menial office in the Mansion House! Now, if not history, biography tells us that Beckford's own death, and the consequent loss of hope from him, were at least among the causes, if not the sole cause, of the subsequent catastrophe.

[257] He has contrived, with the help of the gaoler's daughter Rose, to suppress an earlier inclusion of Chénier's name in the tumbril-list; and thus might have saved him altogether, but for the father's insane reminder to Robespierre.

[258] But she had to go backwards through the circles between Thermidor and Brumaire, and can hardly be said to have "seen the stars" even then. Vigny has, as we shall see, touched on the less enormous and flagrant—but as individual things scarcely less atrocious—crimes of the Directory in the first story of his next book.

[259] There might of course have been spy-subordinates (cf. the case of D'Artagnan and Belleisle), with secret commissions to meet and render futile his disobedience; but nothing of the sort is even hinted.

[260] Vigny, with perfect probability, but whether with complete historical accuracy or not I do not know, represents this useless exposure as wanton bravado on Napoleon's part.

[261] There may perhaps have been some private reasons for his enthusiasm. At any rate it is pleasant to compare it with the offensive manner in which this "heroic sailor-soul" and admirably good man has sometimes been treated by the more pedantic kind of naval historian.


[Pg 281]

CHAPTER VII

THE MINORS OF 1830

There is always a risk (as any one who remembers a somewhat ludicrous outburst of indignation, twenty or thirty years ago, among certain English versemen will acknowledge) in using the term "minor." But it is too useful to be given up; and in this particular case, if the very greatest novelists are not of the company, there are those whose greatness in other ways, and whose more than mediocrity in this, should appease the admirers of their companions. We shall deal here with the novel work of Sainte-Beuve, the greatest critic of France; of Eugène Sue, whose mere popularity exceeded that of any other writer discussed in this half of the volume except Dumas; of men like Sandeau, Charles de Bernard, and Murger, whose actual work in prose fiction is not much less than consummate in its own particular key and subdivisions; of one of the best political satirists in French fiction, Louis Reybaud; and of others still, like Soulié, Méry, Achard, Féval, Ourliac, Roger de Beauvoir, Alphonse Karr, Émile Souvestre, who, to no small extent individually and to a very great extent when taken in battalion, helped to conquer that supreme reputation for amusingness, for pastime, which the French novel has so long enjoyed throughout Europe. And these will supply not a little material for the survey of the general accomplishment of that novel in the first half of the century, which will form the subject of a "halt" or Interchapter, when Dumas himself—the one "major" left, and left purposely—has been discussed.[Pg 282]

Sainte-Beuve.—Volupté.

When Sainte-Beuve, thirty years after the book first appeared, subjoined a most curious Appendix to his only novel, Volupté, he included a letter of his own, in which he confesses that it is "not in the precise sense a novel at all." It is certainly in some respects an outlier, even of the outlying group to which it belongs—the group of René and Adolphe and their followers.

Its "puff-book."

I do not remember anything, even in a wide sense, quite like this Appendix—at least in the work of an author majorum gentium. It consists of a series of extracts, connected by remarks of Sainte-Beuve's own, from the "puff"-letters which distinguished people had sent him, in recompense for the copies of the book which he had sent them. Most people who write have had such letters, and "every fellow likes a hand." The persons who enjoy being biographied expect them, I suppose, to be published after their deaths; and I have known, I think, some writers of "Reminiscences" who did it themselves in their lifetimes. But it certainly is funny to find the acknowledged "first critic" in the Europe or the world of his day paralleling from private sources the collections which are (quite excusably) added as advertisements from published criticisms to later editions of a book. Intrinsically the things, no doubt, have interest. Chateaubriand, whose René is effusively praised in the novel, opens with an equally effusive but rather brief letter of thanks, not destitute of the apparent artificiality which, for all his genius, distinguished that "noble Whycount," and perhaps, for all its "butter," partly responsible for the aigre-doux fashion in which the praisee subsequently treated the praiser. Michelet, Villemain, and Nisard are equally favourable, and perhaps a little more sincere, though Nisard (of course) is in trouble about Sainte-Beuve's divagations from the style of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Brizeux applauds in prose and verse. Madame de Castries (Balzac's "Duchesse de Langeais"), afterwards an intimate personal friend of[Pg 283] the critic's, acknowledges, in an anonymous letter, her "profound emotion." Lesser, but not least, people like Magnin join. Eugénie de Guérin bribes her future eulogist. Madame Desbordes-Valmore, the French poetess of the day, is enthusiastic as to the book: and George Sand herself writes a good half-dozen small-printed and exuberant pages, in which the only (but repeated) complaint is that Sainte-Beuve actually makes his hero find comfort in Christianity. Neither Lamartine (as we might have expected) nor Lamennais (whose disciple Sainte-Beuve had tried to be) liked it; but Lacordaire did not disapprove.

Itself.

Before saying anything more about it, let us give a brief argument of it—a thing which it requires more (for reasons to be given later) than most books, whether "precisely" novels or not. It is the autobiographic history of a certain "Amaury" (whose surname, I think, we never hear), addressed as a caution to a younger friend, no name of whom we ever hear at all. The friend is too much addicted to the pleasures of sense, and Amaury gives him his own experience of a similar tendency. Despite the subject and the title, there is nothing in the least "scabrous" in it. Lacordaire himself, it seems, gave it a "vu et approuvé" as being something that a seminarist or even a priest (which Amaury finishes, to the great annoyance of George Sand, as being) might have composed for edifying purposes. But the whole is written to show the truth of a quatrain of the Judicious Poet:

The wise have held that joys of sense,
The more their pleasure is intense,
More certainly demand again
Usurious interest of pain;

though the moral is enforced in rather a curious manner. Amaury is the only, and orphan, representative of a good Norman or Breton family, who has been brought up by an uncle, and arrives at adolescence just at the time of the Peace of Amiens or thereabouts. He has escaped the heathendom which reigned over France a decade[Pg 284] previously, and is also a good Royalist, but very much "left to himself" in other ways. Inevitably, he falls in love, though at first half-ignorant of what he is doing or what is being done to him. The first object is a girl, Amélie de Liniers, in every way desirable in herself, but unluckily not enough desired by him. He is insensibly divided from her by acquaintance with the chief royalist family of the district, the Marquis and Marquise de Couaën, with the latter of whom he falls again in much deeper love, though never to any guilty extent. She, who is represented as the real "Elle," is again superseded, at least partially, by a "Madame R.," who is a much less immaculate person, though the precise extent of the indulgence of their affections is left veiled. But, meanwhile, Amaury's tendency towards "Volupté" has, after his first visit to Paris, led him to indulge in the worship of Venus Pandemos, parallèlement with his more exalted passions. No individual object or incident is mentioned in any detail; and the passages relating to this side of the matter are so obscurely phrased that a very innocent person might—without stupidity quite equal to the innocence—be rather uncertain what is meant. But the twin ravages—of more or less pure passion unsatisfied and wholly impure satisfied appetite—ruin the patient's peace of mind. Alongside of this conflict there is a certain political interest. The Marquis de Couaën is a fervent Royalist, and so willing to be a conspirator that he actually gets arrested. But he is an ineffectual kind of person, though in no sense a coward or a fool. Amaury meets with a much greater example of "Thorough" in Georges Cadoudal, and only just escapes being entangled in the plot which resulted in the execution[262] of Cadoudal himself; the possible suicide but probable murder[*1*] of Pichegru, if not of others; the kidnapping and unquestionable murder[*1*] of the Duc[Pg 285] d'Enghien, and the collapse of the career of Moreau. Some other real persons are brought in, though in an indirect fashion. Finally, the conflict of flesh and spirit and the general tumult of feeling are too much for Amaury, and he takes refuge, through the seminary, in the priesthood. The last event of the book is the death and burial of Madame de Couaën, her husband and Amaury somewhat melodramatically—and perhaps with a slight suggestion both of awkward allegory and possible burlesque—hammering literal nails into her coffin, one on each side.

In addition to the element of passion (both "passionate" in the English and "passionnel" in the French sense) and that of politics, there is a good deal of more abstract theology and philosophy, chiefly of the mixed kind, as represented in various authors from Pascal—indeed from the Fathers—to Saint-Martin.[263]

Its character in various aspects.

Now the book (which is undoubtedly a very remarkable one, whether it does or does not deserve that other epithet which I have seen denied to it, of "interesting") may be regarded in two ways. The first—as a document in regard to its author—is one which we have seldom taken in this History, and which the present historian avoids taking as often as he can. Here, however, it may be contended (and discussion under the next head will strengthen the contention) that it is almost impossible to do the book justice, and not very easy even to understand it, without some consideration of the sort. When Sainte-Beuve published it, he had run up, or down, a rather curious gamut of creeds and crazes. He had been a fervent Romantic. He had (for whatever mixture of reasons need not be entered into here) exchanged this first faith, wholly or partially, for that singular unfaith of Saint-Simonianism, which, if we had not seen other things like it since and at the present day, would seem[Pg 286] incredible as even a hallucination of good wits. He had left this again to endeavour to be a disciple of Lamennais, and had, not surprisingly, failed. He was now to set himself to the strange Herculean task of his Port-Royal, which had effects upon him, perhaps stranger at first sight than on reflection. It left him, after these vicissitudes and pretty certainly some accompanying experiences adumbrated in Volupté itself, "L'oncle Beuve" of his later associates—a free-thinker, though not a violent one, in religion; a critic, never perhaps purely literary, but, as concerns literature and life combined, of extraordinary range, sanity, and insight; yet sometimes singularly stunted and limited in respect of the greatest things, and—one has to say it, though there is no need to stir the mud as it has been stirred[264] —something of a "porker of Epicurus."

Now, with such additional light as this sketch may furnish, let us return to the book itself. I have said that it has been pronounced "uninteresting," and it must be confessed that, in some ways, the author has done all he could to make it so. In the first place it is much too long; he has neglected the examples of René and Adolphe, and given nearly four hundred solid and closely packed pages to a story with very little incident, very little description, only one solidly presented character, and practically no conversation. There is hardly a novel known to me from which the disadvantages of some more or less mechanical fault of presentation—often noticed in this History—could be better illustrated than from Volupté. I have called the pages "solid," and they are so in more than the general, more even than the technical printer's sense. One might imagine that[Pg 287] the author had laid a wager that he would use the smallest number of paragraph-breaks possible. There are none at all till page 6 (the fourth of the actual book); blocks of the same kind occur constantly afterwards, and more than one, or at most two, "new pars" are very rare indeed on a page. Even such conversation as there is is not extracted from the matrix of narrative, and the whole is unbroken récit.

It may seem that there is, and has been elsewhere, too much stress laid upon this point. But if I, who am something of a helluo librorum, and very seldom find anything that resists my devouring faculty, feel this difficulty, how much more must persons who require to be tempted and baited on by mechanical and formal allurements?

Still, some strong-minded person may say: "These are 'shallows and miseries'—base mechanical considerations. Tell me why the book, as matter, has been found uninteresting." In this instance there will be no difficulty in complying with the request. Let me at once say that I do not consider it uninteresting myself; that, in fact (and stronger testimony is hardly possible), after reading great part of it without appetite and "against the grain," I began to take a very considerable interest in it. But this did not prevent my having a pretty clear notion of what seem to me faults of treatment, and even of conception, quite independent of those already mentioned.

The main one is somewhat "tickle of the sere" to handle. It has been said that, despite its alarming title, there is nothing in the book that even prudery, unless it were of the most irritable and morbid kind, could object to. There is no dwelling on what Defoe ingeniously calls "the vicious part" of the matter; there is no description of it closer than, if as close as, some passages of the Book of Proverbs (which are actually quoted), and, above all, there is no hint of any satisfaction whatever being derived from the sins by the sinner. His course in this respect might have been a succession of[Pg 288] fits of vertigo or epilepsy as far as pleasure goes. There is even a rather fine piece of real psychology as to his state of mind after his first succumbing to temptation. But all this abstinence and reticence, however laudable in a sense it may be, necessarily deprives the passages of anything but purely psychological interest, and leaves most of them not much of that. Luxury in vacuo may, no doubt, be perilous to the culprit; but it has, for others, nearly as much of the unreal and chimerical as Gluttony confined to "Second intentions."

Yet there is another objection to Volupté which is even more closely "psychological," and which has been indicated in the word "parallèlement," suggested by, though largely transposed from, Verlaine's use thereof in a title. There is no connection established—there is even, it may seem, a great gulf fixed between Amaury's actual "loves" for Amélie de Liniers, for Lucy de Couaën, and even for the more questionable Madame R., and those "sippings of the lower draught" which are so industriously veiled. If Amaury had "disdamaged" himself, for his inability to possess any of his real and superior loves, by lower indulgences, it would have been discreditable but human. But there is certainly no expression—there is, unless I mistake, hardly any suggestion—of anything of the kind. The currents of spiritual and animal passion seem to have run independently of each other, like canals at different heights on the slope of a hill. I do not know that this is less discreditable; but it seems to me infinitely less human. And, while carefully abstaining from any attempt to connect the peculiarity with the above-mentioned scandals about Sainte-Beuve's life and conversation in detail, one may suggest that it offers some explanation of the unquestioned facts about this; also (and this is of infinitely more importance) of that absence of ability to love literature in anything like a passionate way, which, with a certain other inability to love literature for itself, prevents him from attaining the absolutely highest level in criticism, though his command of ranges just below the[Pg 289] highest is wider and firmer than that of any other critic on record.


Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard.

We may next take, to some extent together, two writers of the novel who made their reputation in the July Monarchy, though one of them long outlived it; who, though this one inclined to a sort of domestic tragedy and the other to pure comedy, resembled each other not a little in clinging to ordinary life, and my estimate of whom is considerably higher than that recently (or, I think, at present) entertained by French critics or by those English critics who think it right to be guided by their French confrères. This estimate, however, has been given at length in another place,[265] and I quite admit that the subjects, though I have not in the least lowered my opinion of them, can hardly be said (like Gautier, Mérimée, Balzac, and Dumas, in the present part of this volume, or others later) to demand, in a general History, very large space in dealing with them. I shall therefore endeavour to summarise my corrected impressions more briefly than in those other cases. This shortening may, I think, be justified doubly: in the first place, because any one who is enough of a student to want more can go to the other handling; and, in the second, because the only excellent way, of reading the books themselves, may be adopted with very unusual absence of any danger of disappointment. I hardly know any work of either Jules Sandeau or of Charles de Bernard which is not worth reading by persons of fairly catholic tastes in novel pastime.

The first-named—the younger by some half-dozen years, but the first to publish by more than as many—concerns those who take a merely or mainly anecdotic interest in literature by his well-known liaison with George Sand—to whom he gave dimidium nominis, and perhaps for a time at least dimidium cordis, though he[Pg 290] probably did not get it back so much "in a worse estate"[266] as was the case with Musset and Chopin. Sandeau's collaboration with her in novel-writing was long afterwards succeeded by another in dramaturgy with Émile Augier, which resulted in at least one of the most famous French plays of the nineteenth century, Le Gendre de M. Poirier, based on Sandeau's Sacs et Parchemins. But we need busy ourselves only with the novels themselves.

Sandeau's work.

Sandeau was barely twenty when he wrote Rose et Blanche, during the time of, and with his partner in, that most dangerous of all possible liaisons. But he was nearly thirty when he produced his own first work of note, Marianna. In this, in Fernand, and in Valcreuse, all books above the average in merit, there is what may be called, from no mere Grundyite point of view, the drawback that they are all studies of "the triangle." They are quite decently, and in fact morally, though not goodily, handled. But it certainly may be objected that trigonometry[267] of this kind occupies an exorbitant place in French literature, and one may be a little sorry to see a neophyte of talent taking to it. However, though Sandeau in these books showed his ability, his way did not really lie in, though it might lie through, them. He had, indeed, as a novelist should have, good changes of strings to his bow, if not even more than one or two bows to shoot in.

No Frenchman has written a better boy's book than[Pg 291] La Roche aux Mouettes, deservedly well known to English readers in translation: and whether he did or did not enter into designed competition with his quondam companion on the theme of Pastoral berquinade, I do not myself think that Catherine is much below La Petite Fadette or La Mare au Diable. He was a very considerable master of the short story; you cannot have much better things of the kind than Le Jour sans Lendemain and Un Début dans la Magistrature. But his special gift lay in treating two situations which sometimes met, or crossed, or even substantially coincided. The one was the contrast of new and old, whether from the side of actual "money-bags and archives" or from others. The second and higher development of, or alternative to, this was the working out of the subdued tragical, in which, short of the very great masters, he had few superiors, while the quietness of his tones and values even, enhances to some tastes the poignancy of the general effect. Mlle. de La Seiglière is, I suppose, the best representative of the first class as a novel, for Sacs et Parchemins, as has been said, waited for dramatisation to bring out its merits. The pearls or pinks of the other are Mlle. de Kérouare and La Maison de Penarvan, the latter the general favourite, the former mine. Both have admirably managed peripeteias, the shorter story (Mlle. de Kérouare) having, in particular, a memorable setting of that inexorable irony of Fate against which not only is there no armour, but not even the chance and consolement of fighting armourless. When Marie de Kérouare accepts, at her father's wish, a suitor suitable in every way, but somewhat undemonstrative; when she falls in love (or thinks she does) with a handsome young cousin; when the other aspirant loses or risks all his fortune as a Royalist, and she will not accept what she might have, his retirement, thereby eliciting from her father a mot like the best of Corneille's;[268] when, having written to a cousin excusing herself, she gets[Pg 292] a mocking letter telling her that he is married already; when the remorseless turn of Fortune's wheel loses her the real lover whom she at last really does love—then it is not mere sentimental-Romantic twaddle; it is a slice of life, soaked in the wine of Romantic tragedy.[269]

Bernard's

In Charles de Bernard (or, if anybody is unable to read novels published under a pseudonym with sufficient comfort, Charles Bernard du Grail de la Villette[270]) one need not look for high passions and great actions of this kind. He does try tragedy sometimes,[271] but, as has been already admitted, it is not his trade. Occasionally, as in Gerfaut, he takes the "triangle" rather seriously à la George-Sand-and-the-rest-of-them. The satirists have said that, though not invariably (our present author contains cautions on that point) yet as a rule, if you take yourself with sufficient seriousness, mankind will follow suit. It is certainly very risky to appear to take yourself not seriously. Gerfaut, I believe, is generally held to be Bernard's masterpiece. I remember that even my friend Mr. Andrew Lang, who seldom differed with me on points of pure literature, almost gravely remonstrated with me for not thinking enough of it. There are admirable things in Gerfaut; but they are, as it seems to me, separately admirable, and so are more like grouped short stories than like a whole long novel. He wrote other books of substance, two of them, Un Beau-père and Le Gentilhomme Campagnard, each extending to a brace of well-filled volumes. But these, as well as the single-volume but still substantial Un Homme Sérieux and Les Ailes d'Icare, like Gerfaut itself, could all, I think, be split up into shorter stories without difficulty[Pg 293] and with advantage. It is of course very likely that the comparative slighting which the author has received from M. Brunetière and other French critics of the more theoretic kind is due to this. The strict rule-system no doubt disapproves of the mere concatenation of scenes—still more of the mere accumulation of them.

We, on the other hand, quibus est nihil negatum, or who at any rate deny nothing to our favourite authors so long as they amuse or interest us, ought to be—and some of the best as well as the not-best of us have been—very fond of Charles de Bernard. How frankly and freely Thackeray praised, translated, and adapted him ought to be known to everybody; and indeed there was a great similarity between the two. The Frenchman had nothing of Thackeray's strength—of his power of creating character; of his intensity when he cared to be intense; of his satiric sweep and "stoop"; of his spacious view and masterly grasp of life. But in some ways he was a kind of Thackeray several degrees underproof—a small-beer Thackeray that was a very excellent creature. In his grasp of a pure and simple comic situation; in his faculty of carrying this out decently to its appropriate end; and, above all, in the admirable quality of his conversation, he was really a not so very minor edition of his great English contemporary. Almost the only non-technical fault that can be found with him—and it has been found by French as well as English critics, so there is no room for dismissing the charge as due to a merely insular cult of "good form"—is the extreme unscrupulousness of some of his heroes, who appear to have no sense of honour at all. Yet, in other ways, no French novelist of the century has obtained or deserved more credit for drawing ladies and gentlemen. It has been hinted that the inability to do this has been brought as a charge against even the mighty Honoré,[272] and that, here at any rate, it has been found impossible to deny it absolutely. But if the company of the Human[Pg 294] Comedy falls short in this respect, it is not because some of its members do "shady" things. It is because the indefinable, but to those who can perceive it unmistakable, aura of "gentility"—in the true and not the debased sense—is, at best, questionably present. This is not the case with Bernard.

It is particularly difficult, in such a book as this, to deal with so large a collection of what may be most appropriately called "Scenes and Characters" as that which constitutes his most valuable if not all his valuable work. In the older handling referred to, I selected, for pretty full abstract and some translation, Un Homme Sérieux among longer books, and Le Gendre among the short stories; and I still think them the best, except Le Pied d'Argile, which, from Thackeray's incomparable adaptation[273] of it in The Bedford Row Conspiracy, remains as a standing possibility of acquaintance with Charles de Bernard's way for those who do not read French, or do not care to "research" for the original. Thackeray also gave a good deal of Les Ailes d'Icare in abstract and translation, and he borrowed something more from it in A Shabby Genteel Story. La Peau du Lion and La Chasse aux Amants have some slight resemblance to Le Gendre, in that the gist of all three is concerned with the defeat of unscrupulous lovers, and neither is much inferior to it. I never knew anybody who had read La Femme de Quarante Ans and its history of sentimental star-gazing à deux without huge enjoyment; and L'Arbre de la Science, as well as the shorter Un Acte de Vertu, deserve special mention.

But, in fact, take the volumes entitled L'Écueil, Le Nœud Gordien, Le Paravent, and Le Paratonnerre; open any of them where you like, and it will go hard but, in the comic stories at any rate, you will find yourself well off. The finest of the tragic ones is, I think, L'Anneau[Pg 295] d'Argent, which in utilising the sad inefficacy of the Legitimist endeavours to upset the July Monarchy, comes close to the already-mentioned things of Sandeau and Ourliac.

That a critic like M. Brunetière should dismiss Bernard as "commonplace" (I forget the exact French word, but the meaning was either this or "mediocre"), extending something the same condemnation, or damningly faint praise, to Sandeau, may seem strange at first sight, but explains itself pretty quickly to those who have the requisite knowledge. Neither could, by any reasonable person, be accused of that grossièreté which offended the censor so much, and to no small extent so rightly. Neither was extravagantly unacademic or in other ways unorthodox. But both might be called vulgaire from the same point of view which made Madame de Staël so call her greatest contemporary as a she-novelist—one, too, so much greater than herself.[274] That is to say, they did deal with strictly ordinary life, and neither attempted that close psychological analysis and ambitious schematism which (we have been told) is the pride of the French novel, and which, certainly, some French critics have supposed to be of its essence. These points of view I have left undiscussed for the most part, but have consistently in practice declined to take, in the first volume, while they are definitely opposed and combated in more than one passage of this.[275] I admit that Sandeau, save in the one situation where I think he comes near to the first class—that of subdued resignation to calamity—is not passionate; I admit that Bernard has a certain superficiality, and that, as has been confessed already, his "form" sometimes leaves to desire. But they both seem to me to have, in whatever measure and degree, what, with me, is the article of standing or falling in novels—humanity. And they seem—also to me, and[Pg 296] speaking under correction—to write, if not consummately, far more than moderately well, and to tell in a fashion for which consummate is not too strong a word. While for pure gaiety, unsmirched by coarseness and unspoilt by ill-nature, you will not find much better pastime anywhere than in the work of the author of L'Écueil and Le Paratonnerre.

Indeed these two—though the berquinade tendency, considerably masculated, prevails in one, and the esprit gaulois, decorously draped, in the other—seem to me to run together better than any two other novelists of our company. They do not attempt elaborate analysis; they do not grapple with thorny or grimy problems; they are not purveyors of the indecent, or dealers in the supernatural and fantastic, or poignant satirists of society at large or individuals in particular. But they can both, in their different ways, tell a plain tale uncommonly well, and season it with wit or pathos when either is suitable. Their men and women are real men and women, and the stages on which they move are not mere stages, but pieces of real earth.


Sue, Soulié, and the novel of melodrama—Le Juif Errant, etc.

As regards one formerly almost famous and still well-known novelist, Eugène Sue, I am afraid I shall be an unprofitable servant to such masters in the guise of readers as desire to hear about him. For he is one more of those—I do not think I have had or shall have to confess to many—whom I have found it almost impossible to read. I acknowledge, indeed, that though at the first reading (I do not know how many years ago) of his most famous work, Le Juif Errant, I found no merit in it at all, at a second, though I do not think that even then I quite got through it, I had to allow a certain grandiosity. The Mysteries of Paris has always defeated me, and I am now content to enjoy Thackeray's very admirable précis of part of it. Out of pure goodness and sheer equity I endeavoured, for the present volume, to make myself acquainted with one of his later books—the[Pg 297] immense Sept Péchés Capitaux, which is said to be a Fourierist novel, and explains how the vices may be induced, in a sort of Mandeville-made-amiable fashion, to promote the good of society. I found it what Mrs. Browning has made somebody pronounce Fourier himself in Aurora Leigh, "Naught!"[276] except that I left them at the end actually committing an Eighth deadly sin by drinking iced Constantia![277] Sue, who had been an army surgeon and had served during the Napoleonic war, both on land and at sea, wrote, before he took to his great melodramas, some rather extravagant naval novels, which are simply rubbish compared with Marryat, but in themselves not quite, I think, so difficult to read as his better known work. I remember one in particular, but I am not certain whether it was La Coucaratcha or La Vigie de Koatven. They are both very nice titles, and I am so much afraid of disillusionment that I have thought it better to look neither up for this occasion.[278]

Melodramatic fiction generally.

The fact is, as it seems to me, that the proper place for melodrama is not the study but the stage. I fear I have uttered some heresies about the theatre in this book, and I should not be sorry if I never passed through its doors again. If I must, I had rather the entertainment were melodrama than anything else. The better the play is as literature, the more I wish that I might be left to read it in comfort and see it acted with my mind's eye only. But I can rejoice in the valiant curate when (with the aid of an avalanche, if I remember rightly) he triumphs over the wicked baronet, who is treading on the fingers of the[Pg 298] heroine as she hangs over the precipice. I can laugh and applaud when the heroic mother slashes her daughter's surreptitious portrait in full Academy. The object of melodrama is to make men rejoice and laugh; but it seems to me to require the stage to do it on, or at any rate to receive an immense assistance from theatrical presentation. So given, it escapes the curse of segnius irritant, because it attacks both ear and eye; being entirely independent of style (which is in such cases actually gênant), it does not need the quiet and solitary devotion which enjoyment of style demands; and it is immensely improved by dresses and décor, scenery and music, and "spectacle" generally—all things which, again, interfere with pure literary enjoyment. I shall hope to have demonstrated, or at any rate done something to show, how Dumas, when at his best, and even not quite at his best, escapes the actual melodramatic. Perhaps this was because he had purged himself of the stagy element in his abundant theatric exercise earlier. Sue, of course, dramatised or got dramatised a considerable part of his many inventions; but I think one can see that they were not originally stage-stuff.

If, however, any one must have melodrama, but at the same time does not want it in stage form, I should myself recommend to him Frédéric Soulié in preference to Eugène Sue. Soulié is, indeed, a sort of blend of Dumas and Sue, but more melodramatic than the former, and less full of grime and purpose and other "non-naturals" of the novel than the latter. It is evident that he has taken what we may call his schedules pretty directly from Scott himself; but he has filled them up with more melodramatic material. It is very noteworthy, too, that Soulié, like Dumas, turned his stagy tastes and powers on to actual stage-work, and so kept the two currents duly separate. And it seems to be admitted that he had actual literary power, if he did not achieve much actual literary performance.

Le Château des Pyrénées.

For myself, I think that Le Château des Pyrénées is a thing, that in De Quincey's famous phrase, you can[Pg 299] recommend to a friend whose appetite in fiction is melodramatic. Here is, if not exactly "God's plenty," at any rate plenty of a kind—plenty whose horn is inexhaustible and the reverse of monotonous. You never, though you have read novels as the waves of the sea or the sands of the shore in number, know exactly what is going to happen, and when you think you know what is happening, it turns out to be something else. Persons who wear, as to the manner born, the jackets of lackeys turn out to be bishops; and bishops prove to be coiners. An important jeune premier or quasi-premier, having just got off what seems to be imminent danger, is stabbed in the throat, is left for dead, and then carries out a series of risky operations and conversations for several hours. A castle, more than Udolphian in site, size, incidents, and opportunities, is burnt at a moment's notice, as if it were a wigwam. Everybody's sons and daughters are somebody else's daughters and sons—a state of things not a little facilitated by the other fact that everybody's wife is somebody else's mistress. Everybody knows something mysterious and exceedingly damaging about everybody else; and the whole company would be cleared off the stage in the first few chapters if something did not always happen to make them drop the daggers in a continual stalemate. Dukes who are governors of provinces and peers of France are also heads (or think they are) of secret societies—the orthodox members of which chiefly do the coining, but are quite ignorant that a large number of other members are Huguenots (it is not long after the "Revocation") and are, in the same castle, storing arms for an insurrection. Spanish counts who are supposed to have been murdered fifteen years ago turn up quite uninjured, and ready for the story to go on sixteen years longer. When you have got an ivory casket supposed to be full of all sorts of compromising documents, somebody produces another, exactly like it, but containing documents more compromising still. There is a counsellor of the Parliament of Toulouse—supposed to be not[Pg 300] merely a severe magistrate, but a man of spotless virtue, and one who actually submits fearlessly to great danger in doing his duty, but who turns out to be an atrocious criminal. And in the centre of all the turmoil there is a wondrous figure, a sorcerer-shepherd, who is really an Italian prince, who pulls all the strings, makes all cups slip at all lips, sets up and upsets all the puppets, and is finally poniarded by the wicked counsellor, both of them having been caught at last, and the counsellor going mad after commission of his final crime.

Now, if anybody wants more than this—there is, in fact, a great deal more in the compass of two volumes,[279] containing between them less than six hundred pages—all I can say is that he is vexatious and unreasonable, and that I have no sympathy whatever with him. Of course the book is of its own kind, and not of another. Some people may like that kind less than others; some may not like it at all. But in that case nobody obliges them to have anything to do with it.

Soulié wrote nearly two score novels or works of fiction, ranging from Contes pour les Enfants to Mémoires du Diable. I do not pretend to have read all or even very many of them, for, as I have confessed, they are not my special kind. In novels of action there should be a great deal of fighting and a great deal of love-making, and it does not seem to me that either[280] was Soulié's forte. But as the Mémoires are sometimes quoted as his masterpiece, something should, I suppose, be said about them.

Les Mémoires du Diable.

One thing about the book is certain—that it is much more ambitiously planned than the Château; and I do not think it uncritical to say that the ambition is, to a certain extent, successful. One credit, at any rate, can hardly be denied it. Considering the immense variety in circumstances of the bargains with[Pg 301] the Devil which are made in actual life, it may seem strange that the literary treatment of the subject should be so comparatively monotonous as it is. Soulié, I think, has been at least as original as anybody else, though it was of course almost impossible for him to avoid suggestions, if not of Marlowe, of Lesage, Goethe, Maturin (whose wide popularity in France at this time must never be forgotten), and others. At the very beginning there is one touch which, if not absolutely invented, is newish in the connection. The Château of Ronquerolles, again in the Pyrenean district (besides the advantages of a mountainous country, Soulié himself was born at Foix), has a range of mysterious windows, each of which has for many generations emerged, with the room appertaining, from wall and corridor without anybody remembering it before.[281] As a matter of fact these chambers have been the scenes of successive bargains between the Lords of Ronquerolles and the Prince of Darkness; and a fresh one is opened whenever the last inheritor of an ancestral curse (details of which are explained later) has gone to close his account. The new Count de Luizzi knows what he has to do, which is to summon Satan by a certain little silver bell at the not most usual but sufficiently witching hour of two A.M., saying at the same time, "Come!" After a slightly trivial farce-overture of apparitions in various banal forms, Luizzi compels the fallen archangel to show himself in his proper shape; and the bargain is concluded after some chaffering. It again is not quite the usual form; there being, as in Melmoth's case, a redemption clause, though a different one. If the man can say and show, after ten years, that he has been happy he will escape. The "consideration" is also uncommon. Luizzi does not want wealth, which, indeed, he possesses; nor, directly, pleasure, etc., which he thinks he can procure[Pg 302] for himself. He wants (God help him!) to know all about other people, their past lives, their temptations, etc.—a thing which a person of sense and taste would do anything, short of selling himself to the Devil, not to know. There are, however, some apparently liberal, if discreditable, concessions—that Luizzi may reveal, print, and in any other way avail himself of the diabolic information. But, almost immediately, the metaphorical cloven foot and false dice appear. For it seems that in certain circumstances Luizzi can only rid himself of his ally when unwelcome, and perform other acts, at the price of forfeiting a month of his life—a thing likely to abridge and qualify the ten years very considerably, and the "happiness" more considerably still.[282] And this foul play, or at any rate sharp practice, continues, as might be expected, throughout. The evil actions which Luizzi commits are not, as usual, committed with impunity as to ordinary worldly consequences, while he is constantly enlarging the debt against his soul. He is also always getting into trouble by mixing up his supernatural knowledge with his ordinary life, and he even commits murder without intending or indeed knowing it. This is all rather cleverly managed; though the end—the usual sudden "foreclosure" by Diabolus, despite the effort of no less than three Gretchens who go upwards, and of a sort of inchoate repentance on Luizzi's own part before he goes downwards—might be better.

The bulk, however, of the book, which is a very long one—three volumes and nearly a thousand closely printed pages—consists of the histoires or "memoirs" (whence the title) of other people which the Devil tells Luizzi, sometimes by actual récit, sometimes otherwise. Naturally they are most of them grimy; though there is nothing of the Laclos or even of the Paul de Kock kind. I find them, however, a little tedious.

Later writers and writings of the class.

The fact, indeed, is that this kind of novel—as has been hinted sometimes, and sometimes frankly asserted—has[Pg 303] its own peculiar appeals; and that these appeals, as is always the case when they are peculiar, leave some ears deaf. There is no intention here to intimate any superfine scorn of it. It has another and a purely literary, or at least literary-scientific, interest as descending from the Terror Novel of the end of the eighteenth century. It shows no sign of ceasing to exist or to appeal to those to whom it is fitted to appeal, and who are fitted to be appealed to by it. Towards the close of the period at which I ceased to see French novels generally, I remember meeting with many examples of it. There was one which, with engaging candour, called itself L'Hôtellerie Sanglante, and in which persons, after drinking wine which was, as Rogue Riderhood says, "fur from a 'ealthy wine," retired to a rest which knew no or only a very brief and painful waking, under the guardianship of a young person, who, to any one in any other condition, would have seemed equally "fur" from an attractive young person. There was another, the title of which I forget, in which the intended victim of a plunge into a water-logged souterrain connected with the Seine made his way out and saw dreadful things in the house above. There is really no great interval or discrepancy (except in details of manners and morals) between these and the novels of detective, gentleman-thief, and other impolite life which delight many persons indubitably respectable and presumably intelligent in England to-day.[283] To sneer at these would be ridiculous.


Murger.

Henry Murger is not the least of the witnesses to the truth of a remark—which I owe to one of the critics of my earlier volume—that in England people (he was kind enough to except me) are too apt to accept the contemporary French estimates of French contemporary literature and the traditional French estimates of earlier authors. Murger had, I believe, a hardly earned and too brief popularity in his[Pg 304] own country; and though it was a little before my time, I can believe that this overflowed into England. But the posthumous and accepted judgments of him altered there to a sort of slighting patronage; and I remember that when, nearly twenty years after his death, I wrote on him in the Fortnightly Review,[284] some surprise at my loftier estimate was expressed here. The reasons for this depreciation are not hard to give, and as they form a base for, and indeed really a part of, my critical estimate they may be stated shortly. The "Bohemia"[285] of which Murger was the laureate, both in prose and verse, is a country whose charms have been admitted by some of the greatest, but which no wise person has ever regarded, much less recommended, as providing any city to dwell in; and which has certainly been the scene if not the occasion, not merely of much mischief, which does not particularly concern us, but of much foolishness and bad taste, which partly does. It was almost—not quite—the only theme of Murger's songs and words. And—last and perhaps most dangerous of all—there was the fact that, if not in definite Bohemianism, there was in other respects a good deal in him of a far minor Musset, and both in Bohemianism and other things still more of an inferior Gérard de Nerval. I believe the case against has been fairly stated here.

The Vie de Bohême.

The case for I have put in the essay referred to with the full, though, I think, not more than the fair emphasis allowed to even a critical advocate when he has to demolish charges. The historian passes from bar to bench; and neither ought to speak, nor in this instance is inclined to speak, quite so enthusiastically. I admitted there that I did not think Murger's comparatively early death lost us much; and I admit even more frankly here, that in what he has left there is no great variety of excellence, and that while there are[Pg 305] numerous good things in the work, there is little that can be called actually great. But after these admissions no small amount remains to his credit as a writer who can manage both comedy and pathos; who, if he has no wide range or variety of subject, can vary his treatment quite efficiently, and who has a certain freshness rarely surviving the first years of journalism of all work. His faintly but truly charming verse is outside our bounds, and even prose poetry like "The Loves of a Cricket and a Spark of Flame"[286] are on the line, though this particular thing is not far below Gérard himself. The longer novels, Adeline Protat and Le Sabot Rouge, are competent in execution and pleasant enough to read; yet they are not above good circulating-library strength. But the Vie de Bohême, in its various sections, and a great number of shorter tales and sketches, are thoroughly agreeable if not even delightful. Murger has completely shaken off the vulgarity which almost spoilt Pigault, and damaged Paul de Kock not a little. If any one who has not yet reached age, or has not let it make him "crabbed," cannot enjoy Schaunard and the tame lobster; the philosophic humours of Gustave (afterwards His Excellency Gustave) Colline; the great journal Le Castor,[287] which combined the service of the hat-trade with the promotion of high thinking and great writing; and the rest of the comedy of La Vie de Bohême proper, I am sorry for him. He must have been, somehow, born wrong.

Les Buveurs d'Eau and the Miscellanies.

The serious Bohemia of the Buveurs d'Eau (the devotees of High Art who carry their devotion to the point of contemning all "commission" work whatsoever) may require more effort, or more special predestination, to get into full sympathy with it. The thing is noble; but it is nobility party per a very thin pale with and from silliness; and the Devil's Advocate has no very hard task in suggesting[Pg 306] that it is not even nobility at all, but a compound of idleness and affectation.[288] With rare exceptions, the greatest men of art and letters have never disdained, though they might not love, what one of them called "honest journey-work in default of better"; and when those exceptions come to be examined—as in the leading English cases of Milton[289] and Wordsworth—you generally find that the persons concerned never really felt the pinch of necessity. However, Murger makes the best of his Lazare and the rest of them; and his power over pathos, which is certainly not small, assists him as much here as it does more than assist him—as it practically carries him through—in other stories such as Le Manchon de Francine and La Biographie d'un Inconnu. And, moreover, he can use all these means and more in handfuls of little things—some mere bleuettes (as the French call them)—Comment on Devient Coloriste, Le Victime du Bonheur, La Fleur Bretonne, Le Fauteuil Enchanté, Les Premières Amours du Jeune Bleuet.

With such high praise still allotted to an author, it may seem unfair not to give him more room; and I should certainly have done so if I had not had the other treatment to refer to. Since that existed, as in the similar cases of Sandeau, Bernard, and perhaps one or two more, it seemed to me that space, becoming more and more valuable, might be economised, especially as, in his case and theirs, there is nothing extraordinary to interest, nothing difficult to discuss. Tolle, lege is the suitable word for all three, and no fit person who obeys will regret his obedience.


Reybaud—Jérôme Paturot, and Thackeray on its earlier part.

Any one who attempts to rival Thackeray's abstract ("with translations, Sir!") of the first part of Louis Reybaud's Jérôme Paturot must have a better conceit of himself than that with which the present writer has been gifted, by the Divinity or any other power. The[Pg 307] essay[290] in which this appears contains some of the rather rash and random judgments to which its great author was too much addicted; he had not, for instance, come to his later and saner estimate of Dumas,[291] and still ranks him with Sue and Soulié. But the Paturot part itself is simply delightful, and must have sent many who were not fortunate enough to know (or fortunate enough not to know) it already to the book. This well deserved and deserves to be known. Jérôme's own earlier career as a romantic and unread poet is not so brilliantly done as similar things in Gautier's Les Jeune-France and other books; but the Saint-Simonian sequel, in which so many mil-huit-cent-trentiers besides Jérôme himself and (so surprisingly) Sainte-Beuve indulged, is most capitally hit off. The hero's further experiences in company-meddling (with not dissimilar results to those experienced by Thackeray's own Samuel Titmarsh, and probably or certainly by Thackeray himself); and as the editor of a journal enticing the abonné with a bonus, which may be either a pair of boots, a greatcoat, or a gigot at choice; the side-hits at law and medicine; the relapse into trade and National Guardism; the visit to the Tuileries; the sad bankruptcy and the subsequent retirement to a little place in the prefecture of a remote department—all these things are treated in the best Gallic fashion, and with a certain weight of metal not always achievable by "Gigadibs, the literary man," whether Gallic or Anglo-Saxon. Reybaud himself was a serious historian, a student of social philosophy, who has the melancholy honour of having popularised, if he did not invent, the word "Socialist" and the cheerfuller one of having faithfully dealt with the thing Socialism. And Jérôme is well set off by his still more "Jeune-France" friend Oscar, a painter, not exactly a bad fellow, but a poseur,[Pg 308] a dauber (he would have been a great Futurist or Cubist to-day), a very Bragadochio in words and flourish, and, alas! as he turns out presently, a Bragadochio also in deeds and courage.

The windfall of Malvina.

But the gem of the book perhaps, as far as good novel-matter is concerned (for Jérôme himself is not much more than a stalking-horse for satire), is Malvina, his first left-handed and then "regularised" spouse, and very much his better half. Malvina is Paul de Kock's grisette (like all good daughters, she is very fond of her literary father) raised to a higher power, dealt with in a satiric fashion unknown to her parent, but in perfectly kindly temper. She is, though just a little imperious, a thoroughly "good sort," and, with occasional blunders, really a guardian angel to her good-hearted, not uncourageous, but visionary and unpractical lover and husband. She has the sharpest of tongues; the most housewifely and motherly of attitudes; the flamingest of bonnets. It is she who suggests Saint-Simonianism (as a resource, not as a creed), and actually herself becomes a priestess of the first class—till the funds give out. She, being an untiring and unabashed canvasser, gets Jérôme his various places; she reconciles his nightcap-making uncle to him; she, when the pair go to the Palace and he is basely occupied with supper, carries him off in dudgeon because none of the princes (and in fact nobody at all) has asked her to dance. And when at last he subsides upon his shelf at the country prefecture, she becomes delightfully domesticated—and keeps canaries.

The book (at least its first two parts) appeared in 1843, when the July Monarchy was still in days of such palminess as it ever possessed, and Thackeray reviewed it soon after. At the close of his article he expressed a hope that M. Reybaud "had more of it, in brain or portfolio, for the benefit of the lazy, novel-reading, unscientific world." Whether, at that time, the hope was in course of gratification I do not know; but years later, when February had killed July, Thackeray's wish[Pg 309] was granted. It cannot be said that, as too often happens with wishes, the result was entirely disappointing; but it certainly justified the famous description of a still larger number of them, in that only half was granted and the rest "whistled down the wind."

The difference of the Second Part.

Jérôme Paturot à la recherche de la meilleure des Républiques almost dooms itself, by its title, to be a very much less merry book than Jérôme Paturot à la recherche d'une position sociale. The "sparkle" which Thackeray had justly seen in the first part is far rarer in the second; in fact, were it not for Oscar to some extent and Malvina to a much greater, there would hardly be any sparkle at all. The Republic has been proclaimed; a new "Commissary" ("Prefect" is an altogether unrepublican word) is appointed; he is shortly after stirred up to vigorous action (usually in the way of cashiering officials), and Jérôme is a victim of this mot d'ordre. He goes to Paris to solicit; after a certain interval (of course of failure) Malvina comes to look after him, and to exercise the charms of her chapeau grénat once more. But even she fails to find the birds which (such as they were) she had caught in the earlier years' nests, until after the bloodshed of the barricades, where Oscar unfortunately fails to show himself a hero, while Jérôme does useful work as a fighter on the side of comparative Order, and Malvina herself shines as a nurse. At last Paturot is appointed "Inspector-General of Arab Civilisation in North Africa," and the pair set out for this promised, if not promising, land. He, like Gigadibs, provides himself with "instruments of labour"; Malvina, agreeable to the last, provides herself with several new dress-patterns of the latest fashion, and a complete collection of the Journal des Modes.

This not very elaborate scenario, as worked out, fills nearly a thousand pages; but it is very much to be feared that the "lazy novel-reader" will get through but a few of them, and will readily return the book to his own or other library shelves. It is, in fact, a bitterly satiric but perfectly serious study—almost history—of[Pg 310] the actual events of the earlier part of the interregnum between Louis Philippe and Napoleon the Third, of the latter of whom Reybaud (writing, it would seem, before he was even President), gives a very unflattering, though unnamed, description. Certainly more than half, perhaps more than three-quarters, of the book can claim no novel character at all.[292]

Not much of a novel.

It would be possible to extract (if one had space and it were proportionately worth while) passages from the remaining portion of very fair novel interest—the visit of the "Super-Commissary" to the Commissary; the history of the way in which, under the régime of that atelier national which some wiseacres want now with us, a large body of citizens was detailed to carry trees of liberty from a nursery garden in the suburbs of Paris to the boulevards; how these were uprooted without any regard to their arboreal welfare; how the national working-men got mainly drunk and wholly skylarky on the way, and how the unfortunate vegetables were good for nothing but firewood by the time they reached their destination; the humours of the open-air feast of the Republic; the storming of the Assembly by the clubs; the oratory of Malvina (a very delectable morsel) in one of the said clubs devoted to the Rights of Women;[293] the scene where Oscar, coming by his own account from the barricades "with his hands and his feet and his raiment all red," manifests a decided disinclination to return thither—all these are admirable. But they would have to be dug out of a mass of history and philosophy which the "lazy novel-reader" would, it is to be feared, refuse with by no means lazy indignation and disgust.

But an invaluable document.

Yet one may venture, at the risk of the charge of[Pg 311] stepping out of one's proper sphere, to recommend the perusal of the book, very strongly, to all who care either to understand its "moment" or to prepare themselves for other moments which are at least announced as certain to come. The French revolutionary period of 1848 and the following years was perhaps the most perfect example in all history of a thing being allowed to show itself, in all its natural and therefore ineluctable developments, without disturbing influences of any kind. It was (if one may use patristic if not classical Latin in the first word of the phrase) Revolutio sibi permissa. There was, of course, a good deal of somewhat similar trouble elsewhere in Europe at the time; but there was no European war of much importance, and no other power threatened or was in a position to threaten interference with French affairs—for the excellent reason that all were too much occupied with their own. There was no internal tyranny or trouble such as had undoubtedly caused—and as has been held by some to justify—the outburst of sixty years earlier, nor was there even any serious, though perhaps there was some minor, maladministration. But there had been, for twenty years, a weak, amorphous, discreditable, and discredited government; and there was a great deal of revolutionary spirit, old and new, about. So France determined—in a word unacademic but tempting—to "revolute," and she "revoluted" at discretion, or indiscretion, to the top of her bent. This part of Jérôme Paturot gives a minute and (having had a good deal to do with the study both of history and of politics in my time), I think I may say boldly, a faithful account of how she did it. And I think, further, that, if at least some of the innocent folk who the other day hailed the dawn of the Russian revolution had been acquainted with the book, they might have been less jubilant; while acquaintance would have helped others to anticipate the actual consequences. And I wish that some one would, in some form or other, bring its contents before those who, without being actual[Pg 312] scoundrels, utter fanatics, or hopeless fools, want to bring revolution nearer home. Reybaud brings out, too verbosely and heavily perhaps, but with absolute truth and justice, the waste, the folly, the absolute illogicality of the popular cries, movements, everything. "Labour" was, happily, not then organised in France as it is in England to-day. But if any one would extract, and translate in a pamphlet form, the dying speech of the misguided tool Comtois in reference to his misleader, the typical "shop-steward" Percheron, he would do a mighty good deed.

Still, of course this is a parenthesis; and the parenthesis is a thing hateful, I am told, perhaps not to gods but to some men.


Students of literature, even in a single language, much more in wider range, are well acquainted with a class of writers, largely increased since the introduction of printing, and more largely still since that of "periodicals," who enjoy a considerable—sometimes almost a great—reputation in their own time, and then are not so much discredited or disapproved as simply forgotten. They disappear, and their habitation is hardly even the dust-bin; it is the oubliette; and their places are taken by others whose fates are not other. In fact, they are, in the famous phrase, "Priests who slay the slayer," etc.

Méry.

Of these, in French, I myself hardly know a more remarkable example than Joseph Méry, who, born two years before the end of the eighteenth century, lived for just two-thirds of the nineteenth, wrote, from a very early age till his death, in prose and in verse and in drama; epics, satires, criticisms, novels, travels, Heaven knows what; who had the reputation of being one of the most brilliant talkers of his day; who collaborated[294] with Gautier and Gérard de Nerval and Sandeau and Mme. de Girardin, and other people much greater than himself; from whose pen the beloved[Pg 313] old "Collection Michel Lévy" contained at least thirty volumes at the date of his death—the wreckage of perhaps a possible three hundred—and of whom, though I have several times in the half-century since dived into his work, I do not think I can find a single story of first, second, or even third-rate quality.[295]

Les Nuits Anglaises.

As it happens, one volume of his, Les Nuits Anglaises, contains examples of his various manners, some of which may be noticed. Not all of them are stories, but it is fair to throw in a non-story because it is so very much better than the others. This is a "physionomie" of Manchester, written, it would seem, just at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria; and it shows that Méry, as a writer of those middle articles or transformed Spectator essays, which have played so large a part in the literature of the last century and a quarter, was not quite a negligible person. Moreover, the sort of thing, though not essential to the novelist's art, is a valuable tool at his disposal.

The minor stories.

But here the author, who was a considerable traveller and not a bad judge of art, was to a large extent under the grip of fact: when he got into fiction he exhibited a sad want of discipline. One must allow something, no doubt, for the fact that the goguenard element is avowedly strong in him. The second English Night, with its Oxfordshire election (he has actually got the name of "Parker" right, though Woodstock wobbles from the proper form to "Woostock," "Wostoog," etc.) and its experiences of an Indian gentleman who is exposed at Ellora (near Madras) to the influence of the upas tree, by a wicked emissary of the Royal Society, Sir Wales, as a scientific experiment; and the last, where two Frenchmen, liberated from the hulks at the close of the Napoleonic War, make a fortune by threatening to blow up the city of Dublin; may sue out their writ of ease under the statute of Goguenarderie. A third half-Eastern, half-English story (Méry was[Pg 314] fond of the East), Anglais et Chinois, telling quite delicately the surprising adventures of a mate of H.M.S. Jamesina[296] in a sort of Chinese harem, has some positive merit, though it is too long. The longest and most ambitious tale, Histoire d'une Colline, if not "wholly serious" (as a famous phrase has it), seems to aim at a good deal of seriousness. Yet it is, as a matter of fact, rather more absurd than the pure extravaganzas.

Histoire d'une Colline.

Sir John Lively—who appears neither to have inherited the title (seeing that his sainted father, a victim of English tyranny, was named Arthur O'Tooley, perhaps one of the tailors of that ilk) nor to have paid M. Méry five or ten thousand pounds for it—is an Irishman of the purest virtue and the noblest sentiments, who possesses a cottage on a hill not far from the village and castle of Stafford. From this interesting height there are two views: one over the beautiful plains of Lancashire, another towards the brumous mountains of Oxfordshire. Lively always looks this latter way, because in coming from London he has seen, at the other village of Bucks, a divine creature who dispenses soda-water and some stronger liquors to the thirsty. She, like the ninepenny kettle of the song, "is Irish tu," and belongs to the well-known sept of the O'Killinghams. They are both fervent Roman Catholics (Méry is astoundingly severe on our "apostate" church, with its "insulted" Saint Paul's and Saint Martin's). She is also persecuted by an abominable English landlord, Mr. Igoghlein. The two meet at mass in "the Catholic Church of the City," to which, "as in the time of Diocletian" (slightly altered to 1830-40), "a few faithful ones furtively glide, and[Pg 315] seem to be in fear." To get money, Lively gambles, and (this is the sanest part of the book, for the reason that things went on in much the same way at Paris and at London) is cheated. But the cottage, and the hill with such commanding views, are discovered to be in the way of a new line and to conceal coal. He sells them to a Mr. Copperas; marries the beautiful O'Killingham; the bells of Dublin ring head over heels, "and Ireland hopes." Let it also be mentioned that in the course of the story we are more than once told of the double file of Mauresque, Spanish, Gothic, and Italian colonnades which line the marvellous High Street of Oxford; and that Mr. Copperas visited that seat of learning to consult an expert in railways[297] and see his three largest shareholders. (Oh, these bloated dons!) That three members of "the society of titotal abstinence" drank, at the beautiful O'Killingham's cottage, twenty pints of porter (White-bread), two flagons of whisky, and three of claret, may meet with less incredulity, though the assortment of liquor is barbarous and the quantity is certainly large. But let us turn from this nonsense to the remarkable Manchester article.

The "Manchester" article.

It was not for some thirty years later than Méry's visit that I myself knew, and for some time lived in, the new-made "city," as it became, to the horror of Mr. Bright, just before Méry saw it. But though there must have been many changes in those thirty years, they were nothing to those which have taken place in the fifty that have passed subsequently. And I can recognise the Manchester I knew in Méry's sketch. This may seem to be at first an exceedingly moderate compliment—in fact something close to an insult. But it is nothing of the kind. It is true that there is considerable naïveté in a sentence of his own: "En général les nationaux sont fort ignorants sur les phénomènes de leur pays; il faut s'adresser aux étrangers pour en obtenir la solution." And it is also true[Pg 316] that our "nationals," at that time and since, have been excessively ignorant of phenomena which the French tourists of Louis Philippe's reign discovered here, and surprised, not to say diverted, at the solutions thereof preferred by these obliging strangers. That Méry had something of the Michiels[298] in him, what has been said above should show. But in some strange way Manchester—foggiest and rainiest of all our industrial hells,[299] except Sheffield—seems to have made his brain clear and his sight dry, even in drawing a sort of half-Rembrandt, half-Callot picture. He takes, it is true, some time in freeing himself from that obsession by one of our not-prettiest institutions, "street-walking," which has always beset the French.[300] But he does get clear, and makes a striking picture of the great thoroughfares of Market Street and Piccadilly; of the view—a wonderful one certainly, and then not interfered with by railway viaducts—from and of the Cathedral; and of the extraordinary utilisation of the scanty "naval" capabilities of Irk and Irwell and Medlock. But, as has been said, such things are at best but accidents of the novel.

Karr.

If not much is found here about Alphonse Karr, it is certainly not because the present writer undervalues his general literary position. As a journalist and miscellanist, Karr had few superiors in a century of miscellaneous journalism; and as a maker of telling and at the same time solid phrase, he was Voltaire's equal in the first respect and his superior in the second. The immortal "Que MM. les assassins commencent," already referred to, is perhaps the best example in all literature of the terse argumentum joculare which is not more sparkling as a joke than it is crushing as an argument; "Plus ça change plus c'est la[Pg 317] même chose"[301] is nearly as good; and if one were writing a history, not of the novel, but of journalism or essay-writing of the lighter kind, Karr would have high place and large room. But as a novelist he does not seem to me to be of much importance, nor even as a tale-teller, except of the anecdotic kind. He can hardly be dull, and you seldom read him long without coming to something[302] refreshing in his own line; but his tales, as tales, are rarely first-rate, and I do not think that even Sous les Tilleuls, his best-known and perhaps best production, needs much delay over it.

Roger de Beauvoir—Le Cabaret des Morts.

Roger de Beauvoir (whose de was genuine, but who embellished "Bully," his actual surname, into the one by which he was generally known) also had, like Bernard and Reybaud, the honour of being noticed, translated, and to some extent commented on by Thackeray.[303] I have, in old times, read more of his novels than I distinctly remember; and they are not very easy to procure in England now. Moreover, though he was of the right third or fourth cru of mil-huit-cent-trente, there was something wanting in his execution. I have before me a volume of short stories, excellently entitled (from the first of them) Le Cabaret des Morts. One imagines at once what Poe or Gautier, what even Bulwer or Washington Irving, would have made of this. Roger (one may call him this without undue familiarity, because it is the true factor in both his names) has a good idea—the muster of defunct painters in an ancient Antwerp pot-house at ghost-time, and their story-telling. The contrast of them with the beautiful living barmaid might have been—but is not—made[Pg 318] extremely effective. In fact the fatal improbability—in the Aristotelian, not the Barbauldian sense—broods over the whole. And the Cabaret des Morts itself ceases, not in a suitable way, but because the Burgomaster shuts it up!!! All the other stories—one of Marie Antoinette's Trianon dairy; another of an anonymous pamphlet; yet another of an Italian noble and his use of malaria for vengeance; as well as the last, told by a Sister of Mercy while watching a patient—miss fire in one way or another, though all have good subjects and are all in a way well told. It is curious, and might be made rather instructive by an intelligent Professor of the Art of Story-telling, who should analyse the causes of failure. But it is somewhat out of the way of the mere historian.[304]

Ourliac—Contes du Bocage.

Édouard Ourliac, one of the minor and also one of the shorter-lived men of 1830, seems to have been pleasant in his life—at least all the personal references to him that I remember to have seen, in a long course of years, were amiable; and he is still pleasant in literature. He managed, though he only reached the middle of the road, to accumulate work enough for twelve volumes of collection, while probably more was uncollected. Of what I have read of his, the Contes and Nouveaux Contes du Bocage—tales of La Vendée, with a brief and almost brilliant, certainly vivid, sketch of the actual history of that glorious though ill-fated struggle—deserve most notice. Two of the Nouveaux Contes, Le Carton D. (a story of the rescue of her husband by a courageous woman, with the help of the more amiable weaknesses of the only amiable Jacobin leader, Danton) and Le Chemin de Keroulaz (one of treachery only half-defeated on the Breton coast), may rank with all but the very best of their kind. In another, Belle-Fontaine, people who cannot be content with a story unless it instructs their minds on points of history,[Pg 319] morality, cosmogony, organo-therapy, and everything quod exit in y, except jollity and sympathy, may find a section on the youth of 1830—really interesting to compare with the much less enthusiastic account by Gérard de Nerval, which is given above. And those who like to argue about cases of conscience may be glad to discuss whether Jean Reveillère, in the story which bears his name, ought to have spared, as he actually did, the accursed conventionnel, who, after receiving shelter and care from women of Jean's family, had caused them to be massacred by the bleus, and then again fell into the Vendéan's hands.


But, with one or two more notices, we must close this chapter.

Although Dumas, by an odd anticipatory reversal of what was to be his son's way, spent a great deal of time on more or less trashy[305] plays before he took to his true line of romance, and so gave opportunity to others to get a start of him in the following of Scott, it was inevitable that his own immense success should stir emulation in this kind afresh. In a way, even, Sue and Soulié may be said to belong to the class of his unequal competitors, and others may be noticed briefly in this place or that. But there is one author who, for one book at least, belonging to the successors rather than the avant-coureurs, but decidedly of the pre-Empire kind, must have a more detailed mention.

Achard.

Many years ago somebody was passing the small tavern which, dating for aught I know to the times of Henry Esmond, and still, or very lately, surviving, sustained the old fashion of a thoroughfare, fallen, but still fair, and fondly loved of some—Kensington High Street, just opposite the entrance to the Palace. The passer-by heard one loiterer in front of it say to his companion in a tone of emotion, and almost of awe:[Pg 320] "There was beef, and beer, and bread, and greens, and everything you can imagine." This pheme occurred to me when, after more than half a century, I read again Amédée Achard's Belle-Rose. I had taken it up with some qualms lest crabbed age should not confirm the judgment of ardent youth; and for a short space the extreme nobility of its sentiments did provoke the giggle of degeneracy. But forty of the little pages of its four original volumes had not been turned when it reassured me as to the presence of "beef, and beer, and bread, and greens, and everything you can imagine" in its particular style of romance. The hero, who begins as a falconer's son and ends as a rich enough colonel in the army and a Viscount by special grace of the Roi Soleil, is a sapeur, but far indeed from being one of those graceless comrades of his to whom nothing is sacred. At one time he does indeed succumb to the sorceries of a certain Geneviève de Châteaufort, a duchess aux narines frémissantes. But who could resist this combination? even if there were a marquise of the most beautiful and virtuous kind, only waiting to be a widow in order to be lawfully his. Besides, the Lady of the Quivering Nostrils becomes an abbess, her rather odd abbey somehow accommodating not merely her own irregularly arrived child (not Belle-Rose's), but Belle-Rose himself and his marchioness after their marriage; and she is poisoned at the end in the most admirably retributive fashion. There are actually two villains—a pomp and prodigality (for your villain is a more difficult person than your hero) very unusual—one of whom is despatched at the end of the second volume and the other at the actual curtain. There is the proper persecuting minister—Louvois in this case. There are valiant and comic non-commissioned officers. There is a brave, witty, and generous Count; a lover of the "fatal" and ill-fated kind; his bluff and soldierly brother; and more of the "affair of the poisons" than even that mentioned above. You have the Passage of the Rhine, fire-raisings, duels, battles, skirmishes, ambuscades, treachery, chivalry—in fact, what you will[Pg 321] comes in. And you must be a very ill-conditioned or feeble-minded person if you don't will. Every now and then one might, no doubt, "smoke" a little reminiscence; more frequently slight improbabilities; everywhere, of course, an absence of any fine character-drawing. But these things are the usual spots, and very pardonable ones, of the particular sun. I do not remember any French book of the type, outside the Alexandrian realm, that is as good as Belle-Rose;[306] and I am bound to say that it strikes me as better than anything of its kind with us, from James and Ainsworth to the excellent lady[307] who wrote Whitehall, and Whitefriars, and Owen Tudor.

Souvestre, Féval, etc.

It must, however, be evident that of this way in making books, and of speaking of them, there is no end.[308] Fain would I dwell a little on Émile Souvestre, in whom the "moral heresy," of which he was supposed to be a sectary, certainly did not corrupt the pure milk of the tale-telling gift in such charming things as Les Derniers Bretons, Le Foyer Breton, and the rather different Un Philosophe sous les Toits; also on the better work of Paul Féval, who as certainly did not invariably do suit and service to morality, but Sue'd and Soulié'd it in many books with promising titles;[309] and who, once at least, was inspired (again by the witchery of the country between the Baie des Trépassés and the Rock of Dol) to write La Fée des Grèves, a most agreeable thing of its kind. Auguste Maquet (or Augustus MacKeat) will come better in the next chapter, for reasons obvious to some readers no doubt already, but to be made so to others there. And so—for this division or subdivision—an end, with one word more on Pétrus Borel's Champavert.

[Pg 322]

Borel's Champavert.

Borel, whose real Christian name, it is almost unnecessary to say, was Pierre, and who was a sort of incarnation of a "Jeune-France" (beginning as a bousingot—not ill translated by the contemporary English "bang-up" for an extreme variety of the kind—and ending as a sous-préfet), wrote other things, including a longer and rather tedious novel, Madame Putiphar. But the tales of Champavert,[310] which had the doubly-"speaking" sub-title of Contes Immoraux, are capital examples of the more literary kind of "rotting." They are admirably written; they show considerable power. But though one would not be much surprised at reading any day in the newspaper a case in which a boatman, plying for hire, had taken a beautiful girl for "fare," violated her on the way, and thrown her into the river, the subject is not one for art.

FOOTNOTES:

[262] It will be observed that I use the words referred to in this note with more discrimination than is always the case with some excellent folk. I sympathise with Cadoudal most of the three, but I quite recognise that Bonaparte had a kind of right to try, and to execute him. So, if Pichegru had been tried, he might have been executed. The Enghien business was pure murder. In some more recent instances these distinctions have not, I think, been correctly observed by public speakers and writers.

[263] This philosophe inconnu (as his ticket-name goes in French) is, I fancy, even more unknown in England. I have not read much of him; but I think, if it had come in my way, I should have read more.

[264] Without doing this, it my be suggested that the contrast elsewhere quoted "Mérimée était gentilhomme; Sainte-Beuve ne l'était pas," was likely to make its unfavourable side specially felt in this connection. He seems to have disgusted even the Princess Mathilde, one of the staunchest of friends and certainly not the most squeamish or prudish of women. Nor, in another matter, can I approve his favourite mixture of rum and curaçao as a liqueur. I gave it a patient trial once, thinking it might be critically inspiring. But the rum muddles the curaçao, and the curaçao does not really improve the rum. It is a pity he did not know the excellent Cape liqueur called Vanderhum, which is not a mixture but a true hybrid of the two.

[265] In articles written for the Fortnightly Review during a large part of the year 1878, and reprinted in the volume of Essays on French Novelists frequently referred to.

[266] Vide the wonderful poem—one of Mr. Anon's pearls, but Donne's for more than a ducat—"Thou sent'st to me a heart was crowned," etc. However, the bitter remark quoted elsewhere (v. inf.) looks like a lasting wound.

[267] I can conceive a modernist rising up and saying, "And your mawkish ante-nuptial wooings? Haven't we had enough of them?" To which I should reply, "Impossible." The sages of old have rightly said that 'The way of a man with a maid' is a mystery always, and the proofs thereof are well seen in literature as in life. But the way of an extra-man with another person's wife can, as illustrated, if not demonstrated, by the myriads of treatises thereon in French and the thousands of imitations in other languages (reinforced, if not the Stoic scavenger-researcher so pleases, by the annals of the Divorce Court and its predecessors), be almost scientifically reduced to two classes. (1) Is the lady adulteraturient? In that case results can be attained anyhow. (2) Is she not? In that case results can be attained nohow. Which considerably minishes the interest of this situation. The interest of the other is the interest of "the world's going round" in quality, and almost infinitely various in detail. But when something has once happened the variety ceases, or is immensely reduced.

[268] "Bien! mon sang." I suppose "democratic" sentiment is quite insensible to this, which seems to be a pity.

[269] I think it should be added to Sandeau's credit that (as it appears to me at least) he had a strong influence on the reaction against Naturalism at the end of the century.

[270] Most of his contemporaries would have envied him this admirably moyen-âge and sonorous designation. But it is certainly cumbrous for a title-page, and its owner—a modest man with a sense of humour—may perhaps have thought that it might be rather more ridiculous than sublime there.

[271] As is usual and natural with men of his time, La Vendée mostly supplies it; but that glorious failure did not inspire him quite so well as it did Sandeau or even (v. inf.) Édouard Ourliac. However, he was a sound Royalist, for which peace be to his soul!

[272] Who, by the way, was a good friend and a good appreciator of Bernard.

[273] For any one who cares for the minor "arts and crafts" of literature this is the example of Adaptation itself. The story is not translated; it is not imitated; it is not parodied. It is simply transfused from one body of a national literature into another, and I defy the acutest and most experienced critic to find in the English, if he did not previously know the facts, any trace of a French original.

[274] Corinne made a great blunder: but admirers of Miss Austen have sometimes taken it as being greater than it was. "Vulgaire" and "vulgar" are by no means exact synonyms: in fact the French word is probably used much oftener in a more or less inoffensive sense than otherwise.

[275] Especially in the next chapter but one.

[276] Or was it Comte that was "naught" and Fourier that was "void"? I am sure the third person, namely, Cabet, was "puerile"; but I do not think I could read Aurora Leigh again, even to make sure of the distribution of the other epithets.

[277] The real old Constantia has, I believe, ceased to exist. It was a delicious vin de liqueur, but you might as well ice Madeira or a brown sherry.

[278] Thackeray pays Sue the very high compliment of having "tried almost always [to attain], and in Mathilde very nearly succeeded in attaining, a tone of bonne compagnie," I found the particular book difficult to get hold of. Apropos of French naval novels, will somebody tell me who wrote Le Roi des Gabiers, an immense feuilleton-romance, which I remember reading a vast number of years ago? I think he had (or took) a Breton name, and wrote others. But the navy, even with Jean Bart and Surcouf and the Bailli, has never attracted any of the great French novelists.

[279] I ought perhaps to say that the second volume does not seem to me to be quite equal to the first. The "sixteen years allowed for refreshment" do not justify themselves.

[280] In La Lionne (which is not to be confused with Le Lion Amoureux, a "psychological" diploma-piece praised by some) there are chapters and chapters of love-making "of a sort." But it is not the right sort.

[281] The famous or legendary chamber at Glamis—and perhaps another not so generally known story of a mansion farther north still, where you see from the courtyard a window the room belonging to which cannot be found from the inside—will occur. But Soulié, though he might have heard of the former, is very unlikely to have known the latter, which comes nearer to his arrangement.

[282] The contact here with the Peau de Chagrin need hardly be dwelt upon.

[283] A little more on this subject may be given later to Gaboriau and Ponson du Terrail.

[284] Reprinted in Essays on French Novelists.

[285] A somewhat fuller discussion of this heretical bona patria of literature may be found in the original Essay. I had at one time thought of reprinting it—in text or appendix—here. But perhaps it would be superfluous. I ought, however, to add that I have seen, in French writers, later again than those referred to in the text, some touches of revived interest in Murger.

[286] Translated at length in the Essay.

[287] I have always been a little curious to know whether that remarkable periodical, Cope's Tobacco Plant, which gave us not a little of James Thomson the Second's work, was really, as it might have been, conceived as a follower of Le Castor.

[288] Murger knows this and allows it.

[289] Who, moreover, did work, and that pretty hard, in his Secretaryship, and by no means disdained pay for it—purely "patriotic" as (in his view) it was.

[290] Jérôme Paturot, with Considerations on Novels in General, originally appeared in Fraser for September 1843. Not reprinted in the author's lifetime, or till the supplementary collection of 1885-86. May be found, with some remarks by the present writer, in the "Oxford" Thackeray, vol. vi. pp. 318-342.

[291] It is fair to say that some of the best Alexandriana were still to come.

[292] The retort courteous, if not even the countercheck quarrelsome, "Then why do you notice it?" is pretty obvious. Taking it as the former, it may be answered, "The political novel, if not the most strictly legitimate species of the kind, is numerous and not unimportant. It may therefore be allowed a specimen, and an examination of that specimen."

[293] Malvina, as one might expect, is by this time an "Anti-" of the most stalwart kind; though in the Saint-Simonian salad days, she had (as naturally) taken the other side.

[294] Probably more people know La Croix de Berny, which he wrote with Sandeau, Gautier, and Madame de Girardin, than anything exclusively his.

[295] Others may have been more fortunate. In any case, what follows, whatever its intrinsic merit, is typical of a great mass of similar French fiction, and therefore may claim attention here.

[296] It would be interesting to know where Méry got this hideous, cacophonous, hopelessly anti-analogical and anti-etymological but alas! actually existing name. I never heard of a ship called by it, but I once knew a poor lady on whom it had been inflicted at her baptism. Why any one with Jemima (not, of course, originally a feminine of "Jem," but adopted as such), which, though a little comic, is not intolerable, Jacqueline and Jaquetta (which are exceedingly pretty), and Jacobina (which, though with unfortunate historical associations, is not itself ugly) to choose from, should have invented this horrible solecism, I never could make out. It is, I believe, confined to Scotland, and the only comfort connected with it is the negative one that, in two considerable residences there, I never heard of a "Charlesina." I suppose "Caroline" and "Charlotte" sufficed; or perhaps, while Whigs disliked the name (at least before that curious purifier of it, Fox), Tories shrank from profanation thereof.

[297] Was it Mr. Augustus Dunshunner? It was just about the time of the Glenmutchkin Railway, and most of "Maga's" men were Oxonians.

[298] See in vol. v. of the Oxford edition of Thackeray (for the thing, though never acknowledged, is certainly his) an exemplary "justification" of this very impudent offender.

[299] I have no quarrel with Manchester—quite the reverse—in consequence of divers sojourns, longer and shorter, in the place, and of much kindness shown to me by the not at all barbarous people. But neither the climate nor the general "conditions" of the city can be called paradisaical.

[300] They were as much shocked at it as we were at their "Houses of Tolerance" and at the institution of the grisette.

[301] Not the worst perhaps of the myriad attempts to do something of the same kind in English was made recently: "If a man conscientiously objects to be shot for his country, he may be conscientiously shot by it."

[302] Here is one from "Un Diamant" (Contes et Nouvelles), which, though destitute of the charms of poetry, rivals and perhaps indeed suggested our own

And even an Eastern Counties' train
Comes in at last.

"Quelque loin qu'on aille, on finit par arriver; on arrive bien à Saint-Maur—trois lieues à faire—en coucou."

[303] In the same article in which he dealt with Charles de Bernard.

[304] I know that many people do not agree with me here; but Blake did: "Tell me the facts, O historian, and leave me to reason on them as I please; away with your reasoning and your rubbish.... Tell me the What: I do not want you to tell me the Why and the How. I can find that out for myself."

[305] If my friend Mr. Henley were alive (and I would he were) I should have to "look out for squalls." It was, as ought to be well known, his idea that Henri Trois et Sa Cour was much more the rallying trumpet of 1830 that Hernani, and I believe a large part of his dislike for Thackeray was due to the cruel fun which The Paris Sketch-book makes of Kean. But I speak as I think and find, after long re-thinking and researching.

[306] I have made some further excursions in the work of Achard, but they did not incline me to continue them, and I do not propose to say anything of the results here. I learn from the books that there were some other Achards, one of whom "improved the production of the beet-root sugar." I would much rather have written Belle-Rose.

[307] Emma Robinson. I used, I think, to prefer her to either of her more famous companions in the list. But I have never read her Caesar Borgia. It sounds appetising.

[308] Some may say, "There might have been an end much sooner with some of the foregoing." Perhaps so—once more. I do not claim to be hujus orbis Papa and infallible. But I sample to the best of my knowledge and judgment.

[309] Beau Démon, Cœur d'Acier, La Tache Rouge, etc. Féval began a little later than most of the others in this chapter, but he is of their class.

[310] Thackeray, when very young and wasting his time and money in editing the National Standard, wrote a short and very savage review of this which may be found in the Oxford Edition of his works (vol. i., as arranged by the present writer). It is virtuously indignant (and no wonder, seeing that the writer takes it quite seriously), but, as Thackeray was almost to the last when in that mood, quite bull-in-a-china-shoppy. You might take it seriously, and yet critically in another way, as a "degeneracy" of the Terror-Novel. But the "rotting" view is better.


[Pg 323]

CHAPTER VIII

DUMAS THE ELDER

The case of Dumas.

With Dumas[311] père the same difficulties (or nearly the same) of general and particular nature present themselves as those which occurred with Balzac. There is, again, the task—not so arduous and by no means so hopeless as some may think, but still not of the easiest—of writing pretty fully without repetition on subjects on which you have written fully already. There is the enormous bulk, far greater than in the other case, of the work: which makes any complete survey of its individual components impossible. And there is the wide if not universal knowledge of this or that—if not of this and that—part of it; which makes such survey unnecessary and probably unwelcome. But here, as there, in whatever contrast of degree and kind, there is the importance in relation to the general subject, which needs pretty abundant notice, and the particular character of that importance, which demands special examination.

There are probably not quite so many readers as there might have been a generation ago who would express indignation at the idea that the two novelists can be[Pg 324] held in any degree[312] comparable. Between the two periods a pretty strong and almost concerted effort was made by persons of no small literary position, such as Mr. Lang, Mr. Stevenson, and Mr. Henley, who are dead, and others, some of whom are alive, to follow the lead of Thackeray many years earlier still. They denounced, supporting the denunciation with all the literary skill and vigour of which they were capable, the notion, common in France as well as in England, that Dumas was a mere amuseur, whether they did or did not extend their battery to the other notion (common then in England, if not in France) that he was an amuser whose amusements were pernicious. These efforts were perhaps not entirely ineffectual: let us hope that actual reading, by not unintelligent or prejudiced readers, had more effect still.

Charge and discharge.

But let us also go back a little and, adding one, repeat what the charges against Dumas are. There is the moral charge just mentioned; there is the not yet mentioned charge of plagiarism and "devilling"; and there is the again already mentioned complaint that he is a mere "pastimer"; that he has no literary quality; that he deserves at best to take his chance with the novelists from Sue to Gaboriau who have been or will be dismissed with rather short shrift elsewhere. Let us, as best seems to suit history, treat these in order, though with very unequal degrees of attention.

Morality.

The moral part of the matter needs but a few lines. The objection here was one of the still fewer things that did to some extent justify and "sensify" the nonsense and injustice since talked about Victorian criticism. In fact this nonsense may (there[Pg 325] is always, or nearly always, some use to be made even of nonsense) be used against its earlier brother. It is customary to objurgate Thackeray as too moral. Thackeray never hints the slightest objection on this score against these novels, whatever he may do as to the plays. For myself, I do not pretend to have read everything that Dumas published. There may be among the crowd something indefensible, though it is rather odd that if there is, I should not merely never have read it but never have heard of it. If, on the other hand, any one brings forward Mrs. Grundy's opinion on the Ketty and Milady passages in the Mousquetaires; on the story of the origin of the Vicomte de Bragelonne; on the way in which the divine Margot was consoled for her almost tragic abandonment in a few hours by lover and husband—I must own that as Judge on the present occasion I shall not call on any counsel of Alexander's to reply. "Bah! it is bosh," as the greatest of Dumas' admirers remarks of another matter.

Plagiarism and devilling.

The plagiarism (or rather devilling + plagiarism) article of the indictment, tedious as it may be, requires a little longer notice. The facts, though perhaps never to be completely established, are sufficiently clear as far as history needs, on the face of them. Dumas' works, as published in complete edition, run to rather over three hundred volumes. (I have counted them often on the end-papers of the beloved tomes, and though they have rather a knack, like the windows of other enchanted houses, of "coming out" different, this is near enough.) Excluding theatre (twenty-five volumes), travels, memoirs, and so-called history, they must run to about two hundred and fifty. Most if not all of these volumes are of some three hundred pages each, very closely printed, even allowing for the abundantly "spaced" conversation. I should say, without pretending to an accurate "cast-off," that any three of these volumes would be longer even than the great "part"-published works of Dickens, Thackeray, or Trollope; that any two would exceed in length our own[Pg 326] old average "three-decker"; and that any one contains at least twice the contents of the average six-shilling masterpiece of the present day.

Now it stands to reason that a man who spent only the later part of his working life in novel-production, who travelled a great deal, and who, according to his enemies, devoted a great deal of time to relaxation,[313]
is not likely to have written all this enormous bulk himself, even
if it were physically possible for him to have done so. One may go farther, and say that pure internal evidence shows that the whole was not written by the same person.

The Collaborators?

As for the actual collaborators—the "young men," as Thackeray obligingly called them, who carried out the works in a less funereal sense than that in which the other "young men" carried out Ananias and Sapphira—that is a question on which I do not feel called upon to enter at any length. Anybody who cannot resist curiosity on the point may consult Alphonse Karr (who really might have found something fitter on which to expend his energies); Quérard, an ill-tempered bibliographer, for whom there is the excuse that, except ill-temper, idleness, with a particularly malevolent Satan to find work for its hands to do, or mere hunger, hardly anything would make a man a bibliographer of his sort; and the person whom the law called Jacquot, and he himself by the handsomer title of Eugène de Mirecourt. Whether Octave Feuillet exercised himself in this other kind before he took to his true line of novels of society; whether that ingenious journalist M. Fiorentino also played a part, are matters which who so lists may investigate. The most dangerous competitor seems to be Auguste Maquet—the "Augustus MacKeat" of the Romantic dawn—to whom some have[Pg 327] even assigned the Mousquetaires[314] bodily, as far as the novel adds to the Courtils de Sandras "memoirs." But even with him, and still more with the others, the good old battle-horse, which never fails one in this kind of chevauchée, will be found to be effective in carrying the banner of Alexander the Greatest safe through. How does it happen that in the independent work of none of these, nor of any others, do the special marks and merits of Dumas appear? How does it happen that these marks and merits appear constantly and brilliantly in all the best work assigned to Dumas, and more fitfully in almost all its vast extent? There may be a good deal of apple in some plum-jam and perhaps some vegetable-marrow. But plumminess is plumminess still, and it is the plumminess of "Dumasity" which we are here to talk of, and that only—the quality, not the man. And whether Dumas or Diabolus conceived and brought it about matters, in the view of the present historian, not a centime. By "Dumas" is here and elsewhere—throughout this chapter and throughout this book—meant Dumasity, which is something by itself, and different from all other "-nesses and -tudes and -ties."

The positive value as fiction and as literature of the books: the less worthy works.

We can therefore, if we choose, betake ourselves with a joyful and quiet mind to the real things—the actual characteristics of that Dumasity, Diabolicity, or Dieu-sait-quoi, which distinguishes (in measures and degrees varying, perhaps essentially, certainly according to the differing castes of readers) the great Mousquetaire trilogy; the hardly less great collection of La Reine Margot and its continuations; the long eighteenth-century set which, in a general way, may be said to be two-centred, having now Richelieu (the Duke, not the Cardinal) and now Cagliostro for pivot; and Monte Cristo—with power to add to their number. In what will be said, attention will chiefly be paid to the books just mentioned, and perhaps a few more, such as La[Pg 328] Tulipe Noire; nor is even this list so closed that anybody may not consider any special favourites of his own admissible as subjects for the almost wholly unmitigated appreciation which will follow. I do not think that Dumas was ever at his best before the late sixteenth century or after the not quite latest eighteenth. Isabel de Bavière and the Bâtard de Mauléon, with others, are indeed more readable than most minor historical novels; but their wheels drive somewhat heavily. As for the revolutionary set, after the Cagliostro interest is disposed of, some people, I believe, rate Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge higher than I do. It is certainly better than Les Blancs et les Bleus or Les Louves de Machecoul, in the latter of which Dumas has calmly "lifted" (or allowed a lazy "young man" to lift) the whole adventure of Rob Roy at the Fords of Frew, pretty nearly if not quite verbatim.[315] Of more avowed translations such as Ivanhoe and Jacques Ortis (the latter about as much out of his way as anything could be), it were obviously superfluous to take detailed notice. In others the very titles, such as, for instance, Les Mohicans de Paris, show at once that he is merely imitating popular styles. Yet others, such as Madame de Chamblay[316] (in which I cannot help thinking that the "young man" was Octave Feuillet not yet come to his prime), have something of the ordinary nineteenth-century novel—not of the best kind.

But in all these and many more it is simply a case of "Not here!" though in the historical examples, before Saint Bartholomew and after Sainte-Guillotine, the sentence may be mitigated to "Not here consummately." And it may be just, though only just, necessary to say that this examination of Dumas' qualities should itself, with very little application or moral, settle the question[Pg 329] whether he is a mere circulating-library caterer or a producer of real literature.

The worthier—treatment of them not so much individually as under heads.

To give brief specifications of books and passages in the novels mentioned above, in groups or individually, may seem open to the objections often made to a mere catalogue of likes and dislikes. But, after all, in the estimation of aesthetic matters, it is likes and dislikes that count. Nowhere, and perhaps in this case less than anywhere else, can the critic or the historian pretend to dispense his readers from actual perusal; it is sufficient, but it is at the same time necessary, that he should prepare those who have not read and remind those who have. For champion specimen-pieces, satisfying, not merely in parts but as wholes, the claim that Dumas shall be regarded as an absolute master in his own craft and in his own particular division of it, the present writer must still select, after fifty years' reading and re-reading, Vingt Ans Après and La Reine Margot. Parts of Les Trois Mousquetaires are unsurpassed and unsurpassable; but the Bonacieux love-affair is inadequate and intruded, and I have never thought Milady's seduction of Felton quite "brought off." In Le Vicomte de Bragelonne this inequality becomes much more manifest. Nothing, again, can surpass the single-handed achievement of D'Artagnan at the beginning in his kidnapping of General Monk, and few things his failure at the end to save Porthos, with the death of the latter—a thing which has hardly a superior throughout the whole range of the novel in whatever language (so far as I know) it has been written. But the "young men" were allowed their heads, by far too frequently and for too long periods, in the middle;[317] and these heads were by no means always equal to the occasion. There is no such declension in the immediate followers of La Reine Margot, La Dame de Monsoreau, and Les Quarante-Cinq.[Pg 330] Chicot is supreme, but the personal interest is less distributed than in the first book and in the Mousquetaire trilogy.

This lack of distribution, and the inequalities of the actual adventures, are, naturally enough, more noticeable still in the longer and later series dealing with the eighteenth century, while, almost of necessity, the purely "romantic" interest is at a lower strength. I can, however, find very little fault with Le Chevalier d'Harmental—an excellent blend of lightness and excitement. Olympe de Clèves has had very important partisans;[318] but though I like Olympe herself almost better than any other of Dumas' heroines, except Marguerite, she does not seem to me altogether well "backed up"; and there is here, as there had been in the Vicomte de Bragelonne, and was to be in others, too much insignificant court-intrigue. The Cagliostro cycle again appeals very strongly to some good critics, and I own that in reading it a second time I liked it better than I had done before. But I doubt whether the supernatural of any kind was a circle in which Dumas could walk with perfect freedom and complete command of his own magic. There remains, as among the novels selected as pieces, not of conviction, but of diploma, Monte Cristo, perhaps the most popular of all, certainly one of the most famous, and still holding its popularity with good wits. Here, again. I have to confess a certain "correction of impression." As to the Château d'If, which is practically an independent book, there can hardly be two opinions among competent and unprejudiced persons. But I used to find the rest—the voluminous rest—rather heavy reading. Recently I got on better with them; but I can hardly say that they even now stand, with me, that supreme test of a novel, "Do you want to read it again?" I once, as an experiment, read "Wandering Willie's[Pg 331] Tale" through, every night for a week, having read it I don't know how many times before; and I found it no more staled at the seventh enjoyment than I should have found the charm of Helen or of Cleopatra herself. I do not know how many times I have read Scott's longer novels (with one or two exceptions), or Dickens', or Thackeray's, or not a few others in French and English, including Dumas himself. And I hope to read them all once, twice, or as many times more as those other Times which are in Some One's hand will let me. But I do not want to read Monte Cristo again.

It will be clear from these remarks that, whether rightly or wrongly, I think Dumas happiest in his dealings with historical or quasi-historical matters, these dealings being subject to the general law, given more than once elsewhere, that the historical personages shall not, in their historically registered and detailed character, occupy the chief positions in the story. In other words, he seems to me to have preferred an historical canvas and a few prominent figures outlined thereon—in which respect he does not greatly differ from other historical novelists so far as they are historical novelists merely. But Dumas, as a novelist of French history, had at his disposal sources and resources, for filling up his pictures, which were lacking elsewhere, and which, in particular, English novelists possessed hardly at all, as regards anything earlier than the eighteenth century. I dare say it has often occurred to other people, as it has to me, how vastly different Peveril of the Peak—one of the least satisfactory of Scott's novels—would have been if Pepys's Diary had been published twenty years earlier instead of two years later. Evelyn was available, but far less suitable to the purpose, and was only published when Scott had begun to write rather than to read.[319] For almost every year, certainly for every decade and every notable person's life with which and with whom he wished to deal, Dumas had "Memoirs" on to which, if he did not care to take the trouble himself, he had only to turn one[Pg 332] of the "young men" to get facts, touches, ornaments, suggestions enough for twenty times his own huge production. Of course other people had these same stores open to them, and that other people did not make the same use thereof[320] is one of the chief glories of Alexander the Great in fiction. But in any real critical-historical estimate of him, the fact has to take its place, and its very great place.

But there is the other fact, or collection of facts, of greater importance still, implied in the question, "What did he do with these stores?" and "How did he, as it seems to Alexandrians at least, do so much better than those other people, to whom they were open quite as freely?"

It is, however, before answering these questions at large, perhaps once more necessary to touch on what may be called the historical-accuracy objection. If anybody says, "The man represents Charles I. as having been taken, after he had been sold by the Scotch, direct from Newcastle to London, tried at once, and executed in a day or two. This was not the way things happened"—you are bound to acknowledge his profound and recondite historical learning. But if he goes on to say that he cannot enjoy Vingt Ans Après as a novel because of this, you are equally bound to pity his still more profound aesthetic ignorance and impotence. The facts, in regard to the criticism of historical novels as such, illustrate the wisdom of Scott in keeping his historical characters for the most part in the background, and the unwisdom of Vigny in preferring the opposite course. But they do nothing more. If Dumas had chosen, he might have separated the dramatic meeting of the Four at Newcastle itself—and the intenser tale of their effort to save Charles, with its sequel of their own narrow escape from the Éclair felucca—by chapters, or a book, of adventures in France. But he did not choose; and the liberty of juxtaposition which he took is more apparently[Pg 333] than really different from that which Shakespeare takes, when he jumps ten years in Antony and Cleopatra. What Dumas really borrows from history—the tragic interest of the King's fate—is in each case historically true, though it is eked and adapted and manipulated to suit the fictitious interest of the Quadrilateral. You certainly could not, then or now, ride from Windsor to London in twenty minutes, though you could now motor the distance in the time, at the risk of considerable fines. And an Englishman, jealous of his country's honour, might urge that, while the "Vin de Porto" itself came in rather later, there were few places in the England of the seventeenth century where that "Vin d'Espagne," so dear to Athos, was not more common than it was in France, though one would not venture to deny that the shortly-to-become Baron de Bracieux had some genuine Xérès (as we are told) in his cellar. But these things are—no more and no less than the greater ones—utter trifles as far as the actual novel interest is concerned. They are, indeed, less than trifles: they can hardly be said to exist.

His attitude to Plot.

The "four wheels of the novel" have been sometimes, and perhaps rightly, said to be Plot, Character, Description, and Dialogue—Style[321] being a sort of fifth. Of the first there is some difficulty in speaking, because the word "plot" is by no means used, as the text-books say, "univocally," and its synonyms or quasi-synonyms, in the different usages, are themselves things "kittle" to deal with. "Action" is sometimes taken as one of these synonyms—certainly in some senses of action no novelist has ever had more; very few have had so much. But of concerted, planned, or strictly co-ordinated action, of more than episode character, he[Pg 334] can hardly be said to have been anything like a master. His best novels are chronicle-plays undramatised—large numbers of his scenes could be cut out with as little real loss as foolish "classical" critics used to think to be the case with Shakespeare; and his connections, when he takes the trouble to make any, are often his very weakest points. Take, for instance, the things that bring about D'Artagnan's great quest for the diamonds—one of the most excellent episodes in this department of fiction, and something more than an episode in itself. The author actually cannot think of any better way than to make Constance Bonacieux—who is represented as a rather unusually intelligent woman, well acquainted with her husband's character, and certainly not likely to overestimate him through any superabundance of wifely affection or admiration—propose that he, a middle-aged mercer of sedentary and bourgeois habits, shall undertake an expedition which, on the face of it, requires youth, strength, audacity, presence of mind, and other exceptional qualities in no ordinary measure, and which, if betrayed to an ever vigilant, extremely powerful, and quite unscrupulous enemy, is almost certain to be frustrated.

Still the "chronicle"-action dispenses a man, to a large extent, in the eyes of some readers at any rate, from even attempting exact and tight liaisons of scene in this fashion, though of course if he does attempt them he submits himself to the perils of his attempt just as his heroes submit themselves to theirs. But other readers—and perhaps all those predestined to be Alexandrians—do not care to exact the penalties for such a failure. They are quite content to find themselves launched on the next reach of the stream, without asking too narrowly whether they have been ushered decorously through a lock or have tumbled somehow over a lasher. Such troubles never drown or damage them. And indeed there are some of them sufficiently depraved by nature, and hardened by indulgence in sin, to disregard general action altogether, and to look mainly if not wholly to[Pg 335] the way in which the individual stories are told, not at that in which they come to have to be told. Of Dumas' power of telling a story there surely can be no two opinions. The very reproach of amuseur confesses it. Of the means—or some of them—by which he does and does not exercise this power, more may be said under the heads which follow. We are here chiefly concerned with the power as it has been achieved and stands—in, for instance, such a thing, already glanced at, as the "Vin de Porto" episode or division of Vingt Ans Après, which, though there are scores of others nearly as good, seems to me on the whole the very finest thing Dumas ever did in his own peculiar kind. There are just two dozen pages of it—pages very well filled—from the moment when Blaisois and Mousqueton express their ideas on the subject of the unsuitableness of beer, as a fortifier against sea-sickness, to that when the corpse of Mordaunt, after floating in the moonlight with the gold-hilted dagger flashing from its breast, sinks for the last time. The interest grows constantly; it is never, as it sometimes is elsewhere, watered out by too much talk, though there is enough of this to carry out the author's usual system (v. inf.). Nothing happens sufficiently extravagant or improbable to excite disgust or laughter, though what does happen is sufficiently "palpitating." If this is melodrama, it is melodrama free from most of the objections made elsewhere to the kind. And also if it is melodrama, it seems to me to be melodrama infinitely superior, not merely in degree, but in kind, to that of Sue and Soulié.

To Character.

It is in this "enfisting" power of narrative, constantly renewed if not always logically sustained and connected, that Dumas' excellence, if not his actual supremacy, lies; and the fact may dispense us from saying any more about his plots. As to Character, we must still keep the offensive-defensive line. Dumas' most formidable enemies—persons like the late M. Brunetière—would probably say that he has no character at all. Some of his champions would content[Pg 336] themselves with ejaculating the two names "D'Artagnan!" and "Chicot!" shrugging their shoulders, and abstaining from further argument as likely to be useless, there being no common ground to argue upon. In actual life this might not be the most irrational manner of proceeding; but it could hardly suffice here. As is usually, if not invariably, the case, the difference of estimate is traceable, in the long run, to the fact that the disputants or adversaries are not using words in the same sense—working in conjunction with the other fact that they do not like and want the same things. Almost all words are ambiguous, owing to the length of time during which they have been used and the variety of parts they have been made to play. But there are probably few which—without being absolutely equivocal like "box" and our other "foreigners' horrors"—require the use of the distinguo more than "character." As applied to novels, it may mean (1) a human personality more or less deeply analysed; (2) one vividly distinguished from others; (3) one which is made essentially alive and almost recognised as a real person; (4) a "personage" ticketed with some marks of distinction and furnished with a dramatic "part"; (5) an eccentric. The fourth and fifth may be neglected here. It is in relation to the other three that we have to consider Dumas as a character-monger.

In the competition for representation of character which depends upon analysis, "psychology," "problem-projection," Dumas is of course nowhere, though, to the disgust of some and the amusement of others, Jacques Ortis figures in the list of his works. René, Adolphe, the works of Madame de Staël (if they are to be admitted) and those of Beyle (which no doubt must be) found nothing corresponding in his nature; and there was not the slightest reason why they should. The cellar of the novel contains even more than the "thousand dozen of wine" enshrined by that of Crotchet Castle, but no intelligent possessor of it, any more than Mr. Crotchet himself, would dream of restricting it to one kind of[Pg 337] vintage. Nor, probably, would any really intelligent possessor arrange his largest bins for this kind, which at its best is a very exquisite vin de liqueur, but which few people wish to drink constantly; and which at its worst, or even in mediocre condition, is very poor tipple—"shilpit," as Peter Peebles most unjustly characterises sherry in Redgauntlet. Skipping (2) for the moment, I do not know that under head (3) one can make much fight for Alexander. D'Artagnan and Chicot are doubtless great, and many others fall not far short of them. I am always glad to meet these two in literature, and should be glad to meet them in real life, particularly if they were on my side, though their being on the other would add considerably to the excitement of one's existence—so long as it continued. But I am not sure that I know them as I know Marianne and Des Grieux, Tom Jones and My Uncle Toby, the Baron of Bradwardine and Elizabeth Bennet. Athos I know or should know if I met him, which I am sorry to say I have not yet done; and La Reine Margot, and possibly Olympe de Clèves; but there is more guess-work about the knowledge with her than in the other cases. Porthos (or somebody very like him) I did know, and he was most agreeable; but he died too soon to go into the army, as he ought to have done, after leaving Oxford. And though I never met a complete Aramis, I think I have met him in parts. There are not many more of this class. On the other hand, there is almost an entire absence in Dumas of those mere lay-figures which are so common in other novelists. There is great plenty of something more than toy-theatre characters cut out well and brightly painted, fit to push across the stage and justify their "words" and vanish; but that is a different thing.

And this leads us partly back and partly up to the second head, the provision of characters sufficiently distinguished from others, and so capable of playing their parts effectually and interestingly. It is in this that he is so good, and it is this which distinguishes himself from all his fellows but the very greatest.[Pg 338] D'Artagnan and Chicot are again the best; but how good, at least in the better books, are almost all the others! D'Artagnan would be a frightful loss, but suppose he were not there and you knew nothing about him, would you not think Planchet something of a prize? Without Chicot there would be a blank horrible to think of. But do we not still "share"? Have we not Dom Gorenflot?

It is in this provision of vivid and sufficiently, if not absolutely, vivified characters and personages—"company" for his narrative dramas—that Dumas is so admirable under this particular head. If they are rarely detachable or independent, they work out the business consummately. Lackeys and ladies' maids, inn-keepers and casual guests at inns, courtiers and lawyers, noblemen and "lower classes," they all do what they ought to do; they all "answer the ends of their being created,"—which is to carry out and on, through two or three or half a dozen volumes, a blissful suspension from the base realities of existence. And if anybody asks of them more than this, it is his own fault, and a very great fault too.[322]

To Description (and "style").

Of Description, as of the "fifth wheel" style, there is little to say about Dumas, though the littleness is in neither respect damaging. They are both adequate to the situation and the composition. Can you say much more of him or of anybody? If it were worth while to go into detail at all, this adequacy could be made out, I think, a good deal more than sufficiently. Take one of his greatest things, the "Bastion Saint-Gervais" in the Mousquetaires. If he has not made you see the heroic hopeless town, and the French leaguer and the shattered redoubt between, and the forlorn hope of the Four foolhardy yet forethoughtful and for ever delightful heroes, with their not so cheerful[Pg 339] followers, eating, drinking, firing, consulting, and flaunting the immortal napkin-pennant in the enemy's face—you would not be made to see it, though the authors of Inès de las Sierras or of Le Château de la Misère had given you a cast of their office. And, what is more, the method of Inès de las Sierras and of Le Château de la Misère would have been actually out of place. It would have got in the way of the business, the engrossing business, of the manual fight against the Rochellois, and the spiritual fight against Richelieu and Rochefort and Milady. So, again—so almost tautologically—with "style" in the more complicated and elaborate sense of the word. One may here once more thank Émile de Girardin for the phrase that he used of Gautier's own style in feuilleton attempts. It would be gênant pour l'abonné—even for an abonné who was not the first comer. It is not the beautiful phrase, over which you can linger, that is required, but the straightforward competent word-vehicle that carries you on through the business, that you want in such work. The essence of Dumas' quality is to find or make his readers thirsty, and to supply their thirst. You can't quench thirst with liqueurs; if you are not a Philistine you will not quench it with vintage port or claret, with Château Yquem, or even with fifteen-year-old Clicquot. A "long" whisky and potash, a bottle of sound Medoc, or, best of all, a pewter quart of not too small or too strong beer—these are the modest but sufficient quenchers that suit the case. And Dumas gives you just the equivalents of these.

To Conversation.

But it may seem that, for the last head or two, the defence has been a little "let down"—the pass, if not "sold," somewhat weakly held.[323] No such half-heartedness shall be chargeable on what is going to be said under the last category, which, in a way, allies itself to the first. It is, to a very large extent,[Pg 340] by his marvellous use of conversation that Dumas attains his actual mastery of story-telling; and so this characteristic of his is of double importance and requires a Benjamin's allowance of treatment. The name just used is indeed specially appropriate, because Conversation is actually the youngest of the novelist's family or staff of work-fellows. We have seen, throughout or nearly throughout the last volume, how very long it was before its powers and advantages were properly appreciated; how mere récit dominated fiction; and how, when the personages were allowed to speak, they were for the most part furnished only or mainly with harangues—like those with which the "unmixed" historian used to endow his characters. That conversation is not merely a grand set-off to a story, but that it is an actual means of telling the story itself, seems to have been unconscionably and almost unintelligibly slow in occurring to men's minds; though in the actual story-telling of ordinary life by word of mouth it is, and always must have been, frequent enough.[324] It is not impossible that the derivation of prose from verse fiction may have had something to do with this, for gossippy talk and epic or romance in verse do not go well together. Nor is it probable that the old, the respectable, but the too often mischievous disinclination to "mix kinds" may have had its way, telling men that talk was the dramatist's not the novelist's business. But whatever was the cause, there can be no dispute about the fact.

It was, it should be hardly necessary to say, Scott who first discovered the secret[325] to an effectual extent, though he was not always true to his own discovery. And it is not superfluous to note that it was a specially valuable and important discovery in regard to the novel of historical adventure. It had, of course, and almost necessarily, forced itself, in regard to the novel of ordinary life, upon our own great explorers in that line earlier.[Pg 341] Richardson has it abundantly. But when you are borrowing the subjects of the historian, what can be more natural than to succumb to the methods of the historian—the long continuous narrative and the intercalated harangue? It must be done sometimes; there is a danger of its being done too often. Before he had found out the true secret, Scott blunted the opening of Waverley with récit; after he had discovered it he relapsed in divers places, of which the opening of The Monastery may suffice for mention here. Dumas himself (and it will be at once evident that this is a main danger of "turning on your young man") has done it often—to take once more a single example, there is too much of it in the account of the great émeute, by which Gondy started the Fronde. But it is the facility which he has of dispensing with it—of making the story speak itself, with only barely necessary additions of the pointer and reciter at the side of the stage—which constitutes his power. Instances can hardly be required, for any one who knows him knows them, and every one who goes to him, not knowing, will find them. Just to touch the apices once more, the two scenes following the actual overtures of the Mousquetaires and of La Reine Margot—that where the impossible triple duel of D'Artagnan against the Three is turned into triumphant battle with the Cardinalists, blood-cementing the friendship of the Four; and that where Margot, after losing both husband and lover, is supplied with a substitute for both; adding the later passage where La Mole is saved from the noose at the door—may suffice.

Of course this device of conversation, like the other best things—the beauty of woman, the strength of wine, the sharpness of steel, and red ink—is "open to abuse."[326] It has been admitted that even the fervency of the present writer's Alexandrianism cools at the "wall-game" of Montalais and Malicorne. There may be some who are[Pg 342] not even prepared to like it in places where I do. They are like Porthos, in the great initial interchange of compliments, and "would still be doing." But surely they cannot complain of any lack of incident in this latest and not least Alexandreid?

It may seem that the length of this chapter is not proportionate to the magnitude of the claims advanced for Dumas. But, as in other cases, I think it may not be impertinent to put in a reference to what I have previously written elsewhere. Moreover, as, but much more than, in the cases of Sandeau, Bernard, and Murger, there is an argument, paradoxical in appearance merely, for the absence of prolixity.

His claim to greatness consists, perhaps primarily, in the simplicity, straightforwardness, and general human interest of his appeal. He wants no commentaries, no introductions, no keys, no dismal Transactions of Dumas Societies and the like. Every one that thirsteth may come to his fountain and drink, without mysteries of initiation, or formalities of licence, or concomitant nuisances of superintendence and regulation. In the Camp of Refuge of Charles Macfarlane (who has recently, in an odd way, been recalled to passing knowledge)—a full and gallant private in the corps of which Dumas himself was then colonel vice Sir Walter deceased—there is a sentence which applies admirably to Dumas himself. After a success over the other half of our ancestors, and during a supper on the conquered provant, one of the Anglo-Saxon-half observes, "Let us leave off talking, and be jolly." Nothing could please me better than that some reader should be instigated to leave off my book at this point, and take up Les Trois Mousquetaires or Les Quarante-Cinq, or if he prefers it, Olympe de Clèves—"and be jolly".[327]

FOOTNOTES:

[311] The postponement of him, to this last chapter of the first division of the book, was determined on chiefly because his novels were not begun at all till years after the other greater novelists, already dealt with, had made their reputation, while the greatest of them—the "Mousquetaire" and "Henri Trois" cycles—did not appear till the very last lustrum of the half-century. But another—it may seem to some a childish—consideration had some weight with me. I wished to range father and son on either side of the dividing summary; for though the elder wrote long after 1850 and the younger some time before it, in hardly any pair is the opposition of the earlier and later times more clearly exposed; and the identity of name emphasises the difference of nature.

[312] In using this phrase I remembered the very neat "score" made off the great Alexander himself by a French judge, in some case at Rouen where Dumas was a witness. Asked as usual his occupation, he replied somewhat grandiloquently: "Monsieur, si je n'étais pas dans la ville de Corneille, je dirais 'Auteur dramatique.'" "Mais, Monsieur," replied the official with the sweetest indulgence, "il y a des degrés." (This story is told, like most such, with variants; and sometimes, as in the particular case was sure to happen, not of Alexander the father, but of Alexander the son. But I tell it, as I read or heard it, long years ago.)

[313] You may possibly do as an English novelist of the privileged sex is said to have done, and write novels while people are calling on you and you are talking to them (though I should myself consider it bad manners, and the novels would certainly bear traces of the exploit). But you can hardly do it while, as a famous caricature represents the scene, persons of that same sex, in various dress or undress, are frolicking about your chair and bestowing on you their obliging caresses. Nor are corricolos and speronares, though they may be good things to write on in one sense, good in another to write in.

[314] As far as I know Maquet, his line seems to me to have been drama rather than fiction.

[315] I seem to remember somebody (I rather think it was Henley, and it was very likely to be) attempting a defence of this. But, except pour rire, such a thing is hopeless.

[316] I think (but it is a long time since I read the book) that it is the heroine of this who, supposed to be a dead, escapes from "that grewsome thing, premature interment" (as Sandy Mackay justly calls it), because of the remarkable odour of violettes de Parme which her unspotted flesh evolves from the actual grave.

[317] I do not mind Montalais, but I object to Malicozne both in himself and as her lover. Mlle. de la Vallière and the plots against her virtue give us "pious Selinda" at unconscionable length, and, but that it would have annoyed Athos, I rather wish M. le Vicomte de la Bragelonne himself had come to an end sooner.

[318] My friend Mr. Henley, I believe, ranked it very high, and so did a common friend of his and mine, the late universally regretted Mr. George Wyndham. It so happened that, by accident, I never read the book till a few years ago; and Mr. Wyndham saw it, fresh from the bookseller's and uncut (or technically, "unopened") in my study. I told him the circumstances, and he said, in his enthusiastic way, "I do envy you!"

[319] I do not need to be reminded of the conditions of health that also affected Peveril.

[320] I need not repeat, but merely refer to, what I have said of Cinq-Mars and of Notre-Dame de Paris.

[321] On the very day on which I was going over the rough draft of this passage I saw, in a newspaper of repute, some words which perhaps throw light on the objection to Dumas as having no literary merit. In them "incident, coherence, humour, and dramatic power" were all excluded from this merit, "style" alone remaining. Now I have been almost as often reproved for attaching too much value to style in others as for attending too little to it myself. But I certainly could not give it such a right to "reign alone." It will indeed "do" almost by itself; but other things can "do" almost without it.

[322] To be absolutely candid, Dumas himself did sometimes ask more of them than they could do; and then he failed. There can, I think, be little doubt that this is the secret of the inadequacy (as at least it seems to me) of the Felton episode. As a friend (whose thousand merits strive to cover his one crime of not admiring Dumas quite enough), not knowing that I had yet written a line of this chapter, but as it happened just as I had reached the present point, wrote to me: "Think what Sir Walter would have made of Felton!"

[323] I could myself be perfectly content to adapt George III. on a certain Apology, and substitute for all this a simple "I do not think Dumas needs any defence." But where there has been so much obloquy, there should, perhaps, be some refutation.

[324] "And then he says, says he...."

[325] In modern novels, of course. You have some good talk in Homer and also in the Sagas, but I am not thinking or speaking of them.

[326]

"Red ink for ornament and black for use—
The best of things are open to abuse."

(The Good Clerk as vouched for by Charles Lamb.)

[327] Yet, being nothing if not critical, I can hardly agree with those who talk of Dumas' "wild imagination"! As the great Mr. Wordsworth was more often made to mourn by the gratitude of men than by its opposite, so I, in my humbler sphere, am more cast down sometimes by inapposite praise than by ignorant blame.


[Pg 343]

CHAPTER IX

THE FRENCH NOVEL IN 1850

The peculiarity of the moment.

It was not found necessary, in the last volume, to suspend the current of narrative or survey for the purpose of drawing interim conclusions in special "Interchapters."[328] But the subjects of this present are so much more bulky and varied, in proportion to the space available and the time considered; while the fortunes of the novel itself altered so prodigiously during that time, that something of the kind seemed to be desirable, if not absolutely necessary. Moreover, the actual centre of the century in France, or rather what may be called its precinct, the political interregnum of 1848-1852, is more than a mere political and chronological date. To take it as an absolute apex or culmination would be absurd; and even to take it as a definite turning-point might be excessive. Not a few of the greatest novelists then living and working—Hugo, whose most popular and bulkiest work in novel was yet to come; George Sand, Mérimée, Gautier—were still to write for the best part of a quarter of a century, if not more; and the most definite fresh start of the second period, the rise of Naturalism, was not to take place till a little later. But already Chateaubriand, Beyle, Charles de Bernard, and, above all, Balzac, were dead or soon to die: and it cannot be said that any of the survivors developed new characters of work, for even Hugo's was[Pg 344] (v. sup.) only the earlier "writ large" and modernised in non-essentials. On the other hand, it was only after this time that Dumas fils, the earliest of what may be called the new school, produced his most remarkable work.

But the justification of such an "Interchapter" as this practically is depends, not on what is to come after, but on what has come before; and in this respect we shall find little difficulty in vindicating the position and arrangement assigned to the remarks which are to follow, though some of these may look forward as well as backward.[329]


A political nadir.

I should imagine that few Frenchmen—despite the almost infinite and sometimes very startling variety of selection which the laudator temporis acti exhibits—look back upon the reign of Louis Philippe as a golden age in any respect but one. Regarding it from the point of view of general politics, the ridiculous change[330] from "King of France" to "King of the French" stamped it at once, finally and hopelessly, as the worst kind of compromise—as a sort of spiritual imitation of the methods of the Triumvirate, where everybody gives up, not exactly his father or his uncle or his brother, but his dearest and most respectable convictions, together with the historical, logical, and sentimental supports of them. The king himself—though certainly no fool, and though hardly to be called an unmitigated knave—was one of those unfortunate persons whose merits do not in the least interest and whose defects do very strongly disgust. Domestically, the reign was a reign, in the other sense, of silly minor revolutions, which, till the end, came to nothing, and then came to something only less absurd than the Russian revolution of the other day, though fortunately less disastrous;[331] of bureaucracy[Pg 345] of the corrupt and shabby character which seemed to cling to the whole régime; and of remarkable vying between two distinguished men of letters, Guizot and Thiers, as to which should do most to confirm the saying of the wicked that men of letters had much better have nothing to do with politics.[332] Abroad (with the exception of the acquisition of Algeria, which had begun earlier, and which conferred no great honour, though some profit, and a little snatching up of a few loose trifles such as the Society Islands, which we had, according to our custom, carelessly or benevolently left to gleaners), French arms, despite a great deal of brag and swagger, obtained little glory, while French diplomacy let itself wallow in one of the foulest sloughs in history, the matter of the Spanish marriages.

And almost a literary zenith.

But this unsatisfactory state of things was made up—and more than made up—for posterity if not for contemporaries—by the extraordinary development of literature and the arts—especially literature and most especially of all the belles-lettres. If (which would be rather impossible) one were to evaluate the relative excellence of poetry and of prose fiction in the time itself, a great deal could be said on both sides. But if one took the larger historic view, it would certainly have to be admitted that, while the excellence of French poetry was a magnificent Renaissance after a long period of something like sterility, the excellence of the novel was something more—an achievement of things never yet achieved; an acquisition and settlement of territory which had never previously been even explored.

I venture to hope that no great injustice has been done to the previous accomplishments of France in this department as they were surveyed in the last volume. She had been, if not the inventress of Romance, the αιδοη ταμιη—the revered distributress—of it to all nations; she had made the short story her own to such an extent[Pg 346] that, in almost all its forms, she had reached and kept mastery of it; and in various isolated instances she had done very important, if not now universally acceptable, work in the practice of the "Heroic." With Rabelais, Lesage, almost Marivaux, certainly, in his one diploma-piece, Prévost, she had contributed persons and things of more or less consummateness to the novel-staff and the novel treasury. But she had never quite reached, as England for two full generations had reached before 1800, the consummate expression of the—pure novel—the story which, not neglecting incident, but as a rule confining itself to the incidents of ordinary life; advancing character to a position at least equal with plot; presenting the manners of its own day, but charging them with essence of humanity in all days; re-creates, for the delectation of readers, a new world of probable, indeed of actual, life through the medium of literature. And she had rarely—except in the fairy-tale and a very few masterpieces like Manon Lescaut again and La Nouvelle Héloïse[333]—achieved what may be called the Romantic or passionate novel; while, except in such very imperfect admixtures of the historic element as La Princesse de Clèves, she had never attempted, and even in these had never attained, the historical novel proper.

Now, in 1850, she had done all this, and more.

The performance of the time in novel.

As has been seen, the doing was, if not solely effected between 1830 and 1848, mainly and almost wholly carried out in the second quarter of the century. In the first, only three persons possessing anything like genius—Benjamin Constant, Madame de Staël, and Chateaubriand—had busied themselves with the novel, and they were all strongly charged with eighteenth-century spirit. Indeed, Constant, as we saw in the last volume, though he left pattern and stimulus for the nineteenth and the future generally, really represented the last dying words of that "Sensibility" school which was essentially of the past, though it was undoubtedly necessary to the future.[Pg 347] Likewise in Madame de Staël, and still more in Chateaubriand, there was model, stimulus, germ. But they also were, on the whole, of the eve rather than of the morrow. I have indeed sometimes wondered what would have happened if Chateaubriand had gone on writing novels, and had devoted to fiction the talent which he wasted on the mesquin[334] politics of the France of his later days and on the interesting but restricted and egotistic Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe. It is no doubt true that, though old men have often written great poetry and excellent serious prose, nobody, so far as I remember, has written a great novel after seventy. For Quatre-Vingt-Treize, if it be great, is a romance rather than a novel, and a romance which had much better have been poetry. But this is an excursion into the Forbidden Country of the Might-Have-Been. We are concerned with what was.

The accomplishment of these twenty or five-and-twenty years is so extraordinary—when bulk, variety, novelty, and greatness of achievement are considered together—that there is hardly anything like it elsewhere. The single work of Balzac would mark and make an epoch; and this is wholly the property of the period. And though there is still, and is likely always to be, controversy as to whether the Balzacian men and women are exactly men and women of this world, there can, as may have been shown, be no rational denial of the fact that they represent a world—not of pure romance, not of fairy-tale, not of convention or fashion or coterie, but a world human and synthetically possible in its kind.

The personnel.

But while the possession of Balzac alone would have sufficed, by itself, to give the time front rank among the periods of the novel, it is not in the least extravagant to add that if Balzac had been blotted out of its record it could still prove title-deeds enough, and more than enough, to such a place. Fault[Pg 348] has here been found—perhaps not a few readers may think to an excessive, certainly to a considerable extent—with the novel-work of Hugo and with that of George Sand. But the fault-finder has not dreamed of denying that, as literature in novel-form, Les Misérables and L'Homme Qui Rit and Quatre-Vingt-Treize are great, and that Les Travailleurs de la Mer is of the greatest.[335] And on the other hand, while strong exceptions have been taken from several sides to the work of George Sand, the fact remains—and no attempt has been made to obscure or to shake it—that George Sand gave novel delectation, in no vulgar fashion, and to no small extent in the form of the pure novel itself, probably to as large a number of readers as any novelist except Scott and Dumas; and perhaps Dickens, has ever given. Of the miraculous production of Dumas himself almost enough should have been said before, though a little more may come after; and whatever controversy there may be about its purely literary value, there can—with reasonable people who are prepared to give and take—be little anxiety to deny that each of these three, like Balzac, might have taken the burden of the period on his or her own shoulders, while as a matter of fact they have but to take each a corner. Nor, even when thus divided, is the burden left wholly to them. The utmost perfection, at least in the short story, is reached by Mérimée and Gautier, little less than such perfection by others. For suggestions of new kinds and new treatments, if for no single performance, few periods, if any, have a superior to Beyle.

But, once more, just as the time need not rely on any single champion of its greatest to maintain its position, so, if all the greater names just mentioned were struck out, it would still be able to "make good" by dint of the number, the talent, the variety, the novelty of its second- and third-rate representatives. Even those who[Pg 349] may think that I have taken Paul de Kock too seriously cannot deny—for it is a simple fact—the vigorous impulse that he gave to the popularity of the novel as a form of the printed book, if not of literature; while I can hardly imagine any one who takes the trouble to examine this fact refusing to admit that it is largely due to an advance in reality of a kind—though they may think this kind itself but a shady and sordid one. On the other hand, I think less of Eugène Sue than at one time "men of good" used to think; but I, in my turn, should not dream of denying his popularity, or the advance which he too effected in procuring for the novel its share, and a vast share, in the attention of the general reader. Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard, Soulié and Féval and Achard, and not a few others mentioned or not mentioned in the text, come up to support their priors, while, as I have endeavoured to point out, two others still, Charles Nodier and Gérard de Nerval, though it may seem absurd to claim primacy for them, contribute that idiosyncrasy without which, whether it be sufficient to establish primacy or not, nothing can ever claim to possess that quality.

The kinds—the historical novel.

But while it is not necessary to repeat the favourable estimates already given of individuals, it is almost superfluous to rest the claims of the period to importance in novel history upon them. Elsewhere[336] I have laid some emphatic and reiterated stress on the mischief which has sometimes arisen from too exclusive critical attention to "kinds," classes, and the like in literature—to the oblivion or obscuring of individual men and works of letters. But as there has been, and I hope will be, no ignoring of individuals here, and as this whole book endeavours to be a history of a kind, remarks on subdivisions of that kind as such can hardly be regarded as inopportune or inconsistent.

Appearance of new classes—the historical.

Now it is impossible that anybody who is at all inclined or accustomed to think about the characteristics of the pleasure he receives from literature, should not[Pg 350] have noticed in this period the fact—beside and outside of the other fact of a provision of delectable novelists—of a great splitting up and (as scientific slang would put it) fissiparous generation of the the classes of novel. It is, indeed, open to the advocates or generic or specific criticism—though I think they cannot possibly maintain their position as to poetry—to urge that a great deal of harm was done to the novel, or at least that its development was unnecessarily retarded, by the absence of this division earlier. And in particular they might lay stress on the fortunes and misfortunes of the historical element. That element had at least helped to start—and had largely provided the material of—the earlier verse-romances and stories generally; but the entire absence of criticism at the time had merged it, almost or altogether, in mere fiction. It had played, as we saw, a great part in the novels of the seventeenth century; but it had for the most part merely "got in the way" of its companion ingredients and in its own. I have admitted that there are diversities of opinion as to its value in the Astrée; but I hold strongly to my own that it would be much better away there. I can hardly think that any one, uninfluenced by the sillier, not the nobler, estimate of the classics, can think that the "heroic" novels gain anything, though they may possibly not lose very much, by the presence in them of Cyrus and Clélia, Arminius and Candace, Roxana and Scipio. But perhaps the most fruitful example for consideration is La Princesse de Clèves. Here, small as is the total space, there is a great deal of history and a crowd, if for the most part mute, of historical persons. But not one of these has the very slightest importance in the story; and the Prince and the Princess and the Duke—we may add the Vidame—who are the only figures that have importance, might be the Prince and Princess of Kennaquhair, the Duke of Chose, and the Vidame of Gonesse, in any time or no time since the creation of the world, while retaining their fullest power of situation and appeal.[Pg 351]

But this side of the matter is of far less consequence than another. This historical element of the historia mixta[337] was not merely rather a nuisance and quite a superfluity as regarded the whole of the stories in which it appeared; but its presence there and the tricks that had to be played with it prevented the development of the historical novel proper—that, as it has been ticketed, "bodiless childful of life," which waited two thousand years in the ante-natal gloom before it could get itself born. Here, indeed, one may claim—and I suppose no sensible Frenchmen would for a moment hesitate to admit it—that even more than in the case of Richardson's influence nearly a century earlier, help came to their Troy from a Greek city. To France as to England, and to all the world, Scott unlocked the hoard of this delightful variety of fictitious literature, though it was not quite at once that she took advantage of the treasury.

But when she did, the way in which she turned over the borrowed capital was certainly amazing, and for a long time she quite distanced the followers of Scott himself in England. James, Ainsworth, and even Bulwer cannot possibly challenge comparison with the author of Notre Dame de Paris as writers, or with Dumas as story-tellers; and it was not till the second half of the century was well advanced, and when Dumas' own best days were very nearly over, that England, with Thackeray's Esmond and Kingsley's Westward Ho! and Charles Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth, re-formed the kind afresh into something which France has never yet been able to rival.

In order, however, to obviate any possible charge of insular unfairness, it may be well to note that Chateaubriand, though he had never reached (or in all probability attempted to reach) anything of the true Scott kind, had made a great advance in something the same direction, and had indeed to some extent sketched a different variety of historical novel from Scott's own; while, before Scott's death, Victor Hugo imbued the Scott[Pg 352] romance itself with intenser doses of passion, of the subsidiary interests of art, etc., and of what may be in a way called "theory," than Scott had cared for. In fact, the Hugonic romance is a sort of blending of Scott and Byron, with a good deal of the author's country, and still more of himself, added. The connection again between Scott and Dumas is simpler and less blended with other influences; the chief differences should have been already pointed out. But the important thing to notice is that, with a few actual gaps, and several patches which have been more fully worked over and occupied than others, practically the whole of French history from the fourteenth century to, and including, the Revolution was "novelised" by the wand of this second magician.[338]

That the danger of the historical variety was entirely avoided by these its French practitioners cannot indeed be said. Even Scott had not wholly got the better of it in his less perfect pieces, such, for instance, as those already glanced-at parts of The Monastery, where historical récit now and then supplies the place of vigorous novel-action and talk. Dumas' co-operative habits (which are as little to be denied as they are to be exaggerated) lent themselves to it much more freely. But, notwithstanding this, the total accession of pleasure to the novel-reader was immense, and the further possibility of such accession practically unlimited. And accordingly the kind, though sometimes belittled by foolish criticism, and sometimes going out of favour by the vicissitudes of mere fashion, has constantly renewed itself, and is likely to do so. Its special advantages and its special warnings are of some interest to discuss briefly. Among the first may be ranked something which the foolish belittlers above mentioned entirely fail to appreciate, and indeed positively dislike. The danger of the novel of ordinary and contemporary life (which accompanied this and which is to be considered shortly as[Pg 353] such) is that there may be so much mere ordinariness and contemporariness that the result may be distasteful, if not sickening, to future ages. This has (to take one example out of many) happened with the novels of so clever a person as Theodore Hook in England, even with comparatively elect judges; with the vulgar it is said to have happened even with such consummate things as those of Miss Austen. With a large number of another sort of vulgar it is said to happen with "Victorian" novels generally, while even the elect sometimes find it difficult to prevent its happening with Edwardian and Fifth Georgian. Now the historical novelist has before him the entire range of the most interesting fashions, manners, incidents, characters, literary styles of recorded time. He has but to select from this inexhaustible store of general material, and to charge it with sufficient power of humanity of all time, and the thing is done.[339] Under no circumstances can the best historical novels ever lose their attraction with the best readers; and as for the others in each kind, who cares what happens to them?

There are, moreover, some interesting general rules about the historical novel which are well worth a moment's notice, even if this partake to some extent of the nature of repetition. The chief of them, which at least ought to be well known, is that it is never safe to make a prominent historical character, and seldom safe to make a prominent historical event, the central subject of your story. The reason is of course obvious. The generally known facts cramp and hamper the writer; he is constantly knocking against them, and finding them in the way of the natural development of his tale. No doubt there is, and has been, a good deal of otiose and even rather silly criticism of details in historical novels which do not satisfy the strict historian. The fuss which some people used to make about Scott's anachronisms in Ivanhoe and Kenilworth; the shakings of heads which ought to know better, over Thackeray's dealings with[Pg 354] the Old Chevalier and his scandals about Miss Oglethorpe in Esmond, can be laughed or wondered at merely. But then these are matters of no importance to the main story. It is Ivanhoe and Rebecca, Henry Esmond and Beatrix,[340] all of them persons absolutely unknown to history, in whom we are really interested; and in the other case mentioned, Amy Robsart is such a creature or "daughter," if not "of dreams" "of debate," that you may do almost what you like with her; and the book does not sin by presentation of a Leicester so very different from the historical.[341] But, on the other hand, the introduction of historical persons, skilfully used, seasons, enforces, and vivifies the interest of a book mightily; and the action of great historical scenes supports that of the general plot in a still more remarkable manner. On the whole, we may perhaps say that Dumas depends more on the latter, Scott on the former, and that the difference is perhaps connected with their respective bulk and position as dramatists. Dumas has made of no historical magnate anything like what Scott has made of Richard and of Mary and of Elizabeth; but Scott has not laid actual historical scenes under contribution to anything like the same extent as that by which Dumas has in a fashion achieved a running panorama-companion to the history of France from the fourteenth century to the Revolution and, more intensively, from the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew to the establishment of Louis XIV.'s autocracy.

In fact, the advantages, both to the novelist and to his readers, of the historical kind can hardly be exaggerated. The great danger of invented prose narrative—of all invented narrative, indeed, prose or verse—has always been, and has always from the first shown itself as being, that of running into moulds. In the old epics (the Classical, not the Chansons) this danger was accentuated[Pg 355] by the rise of rule-criticism; but the facts had induced, if they did not justify, that rule-system itself. The monotony of the mediaeval romance, whether Chanson or Roman, has been declared more than once in this book to be exaggerated, but it certainly exists. The "heroic" succumbs to a similar fate rather fatally, though the heroic element itself comes slightly to the rescue; and even the picaresque by no means escapes. To descend, or rather to look, into the gutter for a moment, the sameness of the deliberately obscene novel is a byword to those who, in pursuit of knowledge, have incurred the necessity of "washing themselves in water and being unclean until the evening"; and we saw that even such a light and lively talent as Crébillon's, keeping above the very lowest gutter-depths, could not escape the same danger wholly. In the upper air the fairy-tale flies too often in prescribed gyres; and the most modern kinds of all—the novel of analysis, the problem-novel, and all the rest of them—strive in vain to avoid the curse of—as Rabelais put something not dissimilar long ago—"fatras à la douzaine." "All the stories are told," saith the New, even as the Old, Preacher; all but the highest genius is apt to show ruts, brain-marks, common orientations of route and specifications of design. Only the novel of creative—not merely synthetised—character in the most expert hands escapes—for human character undoubtedly partakes of the Infinite; but few are they who can command the days and ways of creation.

Yet though history has its unaltering laws; though human nature in general is always the same; though that which hath been shall be, and the dreams of new worlds and new societies are the most fatuous of vain imaginations—the details of historical incident vary as much as those of individual character or feature, and the whole of recorded time offers them, more than half ready for use, in something like the same condition as those patterns of work which ladies buy, fill up, and regard as their own. To make an historical novel of the very highest class, such as the best of Scott and[Pg 356] Thackeray, requires of course very much more than this—to make one of all but the highest class, such as Les Trois Mousquetaires, requires much more. But that "tolerable pastime," which it is the business of the average novelist to supply at the demand of the average reader, can perhaps be attained more easily, more abundantly, and with better prospect of average satisfaction in the historical way than in any other.

Other kinds and classes.
The Novel of Romanticism generally.

It would, however, of course be an intolerable absurdity to rest the claims of the French novel of 1825 to 1850 wholly—it would be somewhat absurd to rest them mainly—on its performances in this single kind. It found out, continued, or improved many others; and perhaps most of its greatest achievements were in these others. In fact "others" is an incorrect or at least an inexact term; for the historic novel itself is only a subdivision or offshoot of the great literary revolution which we call Romanticism. Indeed the entire novel of the nineteenth century, misapprehend the fact as people may, is in fact Romantic, from the first novel of Chateaubriand to the last of Zola, though the Romanticism is chequered and to a certain extent warped by that invincible French determination towards "Rule" which has vindicated itself so often, and on which shortly we may have to make something almost like an excursus. But this very fact, if nothing else, would make a discussion of the Romantic novel as such out of place here; it will have to come, to some extent at any rate, in the Conclusion itself. Only for the present need it be said, without quite the same danger of meeting with scornful or indignant protest, that all the books hitherto discussed from René to Dominique, from Le Solitaire to Monte Cristo—even the work of Mérimée and Sainte-Beuve, those celebrated "apostates" as some would have them to be—is really Romantic. It may follow the more poetical romanticism of Nodier and Hugo, of Gautier and Gérard; the historical romanticism of Vigny and Mérimée; the individualism and analysis of Beyle and his disciples; the supernaturalism[Pg 357] of George Sand and Nodier again; the adventurous incident of Sue and Soulié and Dumas and the Dumasians generally; it may content itself with that modified form of the great Revolt which admits "low" or "middle" subjects and discards the classical theories that a hero ought to be dignified. But always there is something of the general Romantic colour about—something over which M. Nisard has shaken or would have shaken his respectable perruque.[342]

So turn we to the other larger group—the largest group of all that come under our survey—the New Ordinary Novel, that which concerns itself with the last shade of his colour just described.

The "ordinary."

We had seen, before the beginning of this volume, how Pigault-Lebrun, in vulgar ways and with restricted talent, had nevertheless made distinct advances in this direction; and we saw in the beginning of this how Paul de Kock—with something of the same limitations but with the advantage of a predecessor in Pigault and of further changes in society towards the normal—improved upon the earlier progression. But Pigault and Paul were thrown into the shade by those writers, younger contemporaries of both, who brought to their task greater genius, better taste, and if not knowledge of better society, at any rate better knowledge how to use their knowledge. Whether Balzac's books can be ticketed sans phrase, as "novels of ordinary life," has been, or should have been, duly discussed already. It is certain that, as a rule, they intend to be so. So it is with at least the majority of George Sand's; so with all those of her first lover and half name-father Sandeau; so with Charles de Bernard; so with some at least of Mérimée's best short stories and Musset's, if not exactly of Gautier's; so with others who have had places, and a good many more for whom no place could be found.[Pg 358] France, indeed, may be said to have caught up and passed England in this kind, between the time when Miss Austen died and that when Thackeray at last did justice to himself with Vanity Fair. And this novel of ordinary life has continued, and shows no signs of ceasing, to be the kind most in demand, according to the usual law of "Like to Like." We shall see further developments of it and shall have to exercise careful critical discretion in deciding whether the apparent improvement only means nearer approximation to our own standard of ordinariness, or to a more abstract one. But that it was in these twenty or five and twenty years that something like a norm of ordinariness was first reached, hardly admits of any question. Still, very much question may arise, and must be faced, on the point whether this novel of ordinary life has not redeveloped a non-ordinary subdivision, or many such, in the "problem" novel, the novel of analysis, of abnormal individualism, of theory, naturalist and other, etc. To this we must turn; for at least part of this new question is a very important one, though it may require something of a digression to deal with it properly.


Discussion on a point of general novel criticism.

I have in these volumes, rather sedulously—some readers no doubt may think too sedulously—avoided "fighting prizes" on general points of the criticism or novel-theory. Not that I have the slightest objection to fighting "for my own hand" or to seeing or reading about a good fight between others—very much the contrary. I never thought it the worst compliment paid to Englishmen—the Indian opinion of us, as reported by the late M. Darmesteter—that we cared for nothing but fighting, sport, and making love. But the question now to be discussed is so germane to our subject, both general and special; and the discussion of it once for all (with renvois thereto elsewhere) will save so much space, trouble, and inconvenience, that it may as well be handled at full length.[Pg 359]

There was hinted—in a review[343] of the first volume of this work otherwise so complimentary that it must have satisfied the Archbishop of Granada himself—a doubt whether I had given sufficient weight to something which I shall let the reviewer express in his own words;[344] and whether my admission of Rabelais (of which admission, except on principle, he was himself very glad); my relegation of Laclos to the Condemned Corps; and my comparative toleration of Pigault-Lebrun, did not indicate heresy. Now I feel pretty certain that such a well-wisher would hardly suspect me of doing any of these things by inadvertence; and as I must have gone, and shall still go, much further from what is the right line in his (and no doubt others') opinion, I may as well state my point of view here. It should supply a sort of justificatory comment not merely on the chapters and passages just referred to, and others in the last volume, but on a much larger number in this—in fact, after a fashion, to the whole of this. Any difference of it from the normal French view will even help to explain my attitude in those parts of this book (e.g. the remarks on Dumas père) to which it does not directly apply, as well as those (e.g. on Dumas fils) to which it does.

The whole question seems to me to turn on the curiously different estimates which different people make of what constitutes "humanity." To cite another dictum of my friend the enemy, he, while, as I have said, speaking with extraordinary kindness of my chapter on Rabelais in itself, disallows it in a History of the Novel because, among other reasons, Panurge is not, or is very slightly, human. I should have said that Panurge was as human as Hamlet, though certainly not so gentlehuman.[Pg 360][345] I never met either; but I might do so, and I am sure I should recognise both as men and brothers. Still, the comparison here is of course somewhat rhetorical. Let us take Panurge with Laclos' Valmont, whom, I think, my critic does consider human; whom I am sure I never have met and never shall meet, even if I should be so unfortunate as to go to the place which (but, of course, for the consolations of the Church) would have been his, if he had been human; and whom I never could in the most impossible event or milieu recognise as anything but a synthetised specification. One may perhaps dwell on this, for it is of immense importance to the general question. Panurge and Valmont, comparatively considered, have beyond doubt points in common. Both are extremely immoral, and both are—though the one only sometimes, the other always—ill-natured. Neither is a fool, though the one does, or is going to do, at least one very foolish thing with his eyes open; while nothing that the other does—even his provocation of Madame de Merteuil—can be said to be exactly "foolish." Both are attempts to do what Thackeray said he attempted to do in most of the characters of Vanity Fair—to draw people "living without God in the world." Yet I can tolerate Panurge, and recognise him as human even when he indirectly murders Dindenault, even when (which is worse) he behaves so atrociously to the Lady of Paris; and I cannot tolerate or validate Valmont even when he excogitates and puts in practice that very ingenious and picturesque idea of a writing-desk, or when he seeks the consolations and fortifications of the Church after Danceny has done on him the first part of the judgment of God. And I think I can give reasons, both for my intolerance and for my toleration, "rightly and in mine own division."

The reason why I think that Panurge is rightly and Valmont wrongly "copied or re-created" is that Panurge[Pg 361] is made at the hazard of the artist, Valmont according to prescription. There might be—there have been—fifty or a hundred Valmonts, the prescription being followed, and slightly—still remaining a prescription—altered. There is and can be only one Panurge. This difference reminds me of, and may be illustrated by, a fact which, in one form or another, must be familiar to many people. I was once talking to a lady who had just come over from China, and who wore a dress of soft figured silk of the most perfect love-in-a-mist colour-shade which I had ever seen, even in turning over the wonder-drawers at Liberty's. I asked her if (for she then intended to go back almost at once) she could get me any like it. "No," she said, "at least not exactly. They never make two pieces of just the same shade, and in fact they couldn't if they tried. They take handfuls of different dyes, measured and mixed, as it seems, at random." Now that is the way God and, in a lesser degree, the great artists work, and the result is living creatures, according to the limitations of artistic and the no-limitations of natural life. The others weigh out a dram of lust, a scruple of cleverness, an ounce of malice, half an ounce of superficial good manners, etc., and say, "Here is a character for you. Type No. 12345." And it is not a living creature at all. But, having been made by regular synthesis,[346] it can be regularly analysed, and people say, "Oh, how clever he is." The first product, having grown rather than been made, defies analysis, and they say, "How commonplace!"

One can perhaps lay out the ropes of the ring of combat most satisfactorily and fairly by using the distinction of the reviewer (if I do not misunderstand him), that I have neglected the interval between "to copy" and "to re-create." I accept this dependence, which[Pg 362] may perhaps be illustrated further from that (in itself) foolish and vulgar boast of Edmond de Goncourt's that his and his brother's epithets were "personal" while Flaubert's were only "admirably good specimens of the epithets of tout le monde."

To translate: Should the novelist aim, by mimesis—it is a misfortune which I have lamented over and over again in print that "Imitation" and "Copying" are such misleading versions of this—of actual characters, to evolve a personality which will be recognised by all competent observers as somebody whom he has actually met or might have met? Or should he, trusting to his own personal powers of putting together qualities and traits, but more or less neglecting the patterns which the Almighty has put before him in tout le monde—sometimes also regarding conventional types and "academies"—either (for this is important) to follow or violently not to follow them—produce something that owes its personality to himself only? The former has been the aim of the great English novelists since Fielding, if not since Richardson[347] or even Defoe. It was the aim of Lesage: he has told us so in so many words. It is by no means alien from that of Marivaux, though he did not pursue it with a single eye; and the same may be said even of Crébillon. Whether Prévost aimed at it or not, he hit the white in Manon as certainly and unmistakably as he lost his arrows elsewhere. Rousseau both did it and meant it in the first part of Julie. Pigault, in a clumsy, botcherly fashion, made "outers" not infrequently. But Laclos seems to me to have (as his in some sense follower Dumas fils has it in the passage noted above) "proceeded by synthesis"—to have said, "Let us make a mischievous Marquise and a vile Viscount. Let us deprive them of every amiable quality and of every one that can be called in any sense 'good,' except a certain kind of intellectual ability, and, in the Viscount's case, an ingenious fancy in the matter of extemporising writing-desks." And he[Pg 363] did it; and then the people who think that because (to adopt the language of George de Barnwell) "the True is not always the Beautiful" the Ugly must always be the True, hail him as a master.[348]

That this half-digression, half-dilemma, is prospective as well as retrospective will hardly form a subject of objection for any one but a mere fault-finder. From the top of a watershed you necessarily survey both slopes. The tendency which we have been discussing is certainly more prevalent in the second half of the century than in the first half. It is prominent in Dumas fils, with whom we shall be dealing shortly; it increases as time goes on; and it becomes almost paramount in the practice of and the discussions about the Naturalist School. In the time on which we look back it is certainly important in Beyle and Balzac. But I cannot admit that it is predominant elsewhere, and I am prepared to deny utterly that, until the time of the Sensibility and Philosophe novels, it is even a notable characteristic of French fiction. Many hard things have been said of criticism; but, acknowledging the badness of a bird who even admits any foulness in his own nest—far more in one who causes it—I am bound to say that I think the state of the department of literature now under discussion was happier before we meddled with it. Offence must come; it would even be sometimes rather a pity if it didn't come: but perhaps the old saying is true in the case of those by whom some kinds of it come. If criticism and creation could be kept as separate as some creators pridefully pretend, it would not matter. And the best critics never attempt to show how things should be done, but merely to point out how they have been done—well or badly. But when men begin to write according to criticism, they generally begin to write badly, just as when women begin to dress themselves according to fashion-mongers they usually begin (or would but for the grace of God) to look ugly. And there are some mistakes[Pg 364] which appear to be absolutely incorrigible. When I was a Professor of Literature I used to say every year in so many words, as I had previously written for more than as many years, when I was only a critic of it, "I do not wish to teach you how to write. I wish to teach you how to read, and to tell you what there is to read." The same is my wish in regard to the French Novel. What has been done in it—not what these, even the practitioners themselves, have said of it—is the burden of my possibly unmusical song.


The excuse, indeed, for this long digression may be, I think, made without impropriety or "forcing" to coincide with the natural sequel and correlation of this chapter. The development of the novel of ordinary life in the second half of the century was extraordinary; but it was to a very large extent marked by the peculiarities—some of them near to corruptions—which have been just discussed. With the possible exception of Beyle, there was little more theory, or attempt at synthesis in accordance therewith, in the "ordinary" than in the "historical" division of this earlier time. We have seen how the absence of "general ideas"—another way of putting it—has been actually brought as a charge against Balzac. George Sand had, especially at first, something of it; and this something seems, to me at least, by no means to have improved her work. In none or hardly any of the rest is there any evidence of "school," "system," "pattern," "problem," or the like. Yet they give us an immense amount of pastime, and I do not think their or their readers' state was any the less gracious for what they did not give us.

FOOTNOTES:

[328] I have not called this so, because the division into "Books," with which the raison d'être of "Interchapters" is almost inseparably connected, has not been adopted in this History.

[329] This fact, as well, perhaps, as others, should be taken into account by any one who may be at first sight surprised, and perhaps in the Biblical sense "offended," at finding two-thirds of the volume allotted to half of the time.

[330] To vary a good epigram of the Rolliad crew on Pitt:

"'The French' for 'France' can't please the Blanc,
The Bleu detests the 'King.'"

[331] V. sup. on Reybaud.

[332] This is of course quite a different thing from saying that politicians had better have nothing to do with letters, or that men of letters may not discuss politics. It is when they become Ministers that they too often disgust men and amuse angels.

[333] Adolphe actually belongs to the nineteenth century.

[334] As I write this I remember how my friend the late M. Beljame, who and whose "tribe" have come so nobly for English literature in France for forty years past, was shocked long ago at my writing "Mazarin Library," and refused to be consoled by my assurance that I should never dream of writing anything but "Bibliothèque Mazarine." But I had, and have, no doubt on the principle.

[335] I hope, but do not trust, that no descendant of the persons who told Charles Lamb that Burns could not at the time be present because he was dead, will say, "But all these were subsequent to 1850."

[336] In my History of Criticism, passim.

[337] V. sup. Vol. I., on the "heroic" romance.

[338] It seems unnecessary to repeat what has been said on Vigny and Mérimée; but it is important to keep constantly in mind that they came before Dumas. As for the still earlier Solitaire, I must repeat that M. d'Arlincourt's utter failure as an individual ought not completely to obscure his importance as a pioneer in kind.

[339] "Suppose you go and do it?" as Thackeray says of another matter, no doubt. But I am Crites, not Poietes.

[340] Pedantius may urge, "But 'James III.' is made to affect the fortunes of Esmond and Beatrix very powerfully." True; but he himself is by no means a very "prominent historical character," and the exact circumstances of the agony of Queen Anne, and the coup d'état of Shrewsbury and Argyle, have still enough of the unexplained in or about them to permit somewhat free dealing.

[341] If any one says "Leicester's Commonwealth?" I say "The Faërie Queene?"

[342] I intend nothing offensive in thus mentioning his attitude. In my History of Criticism I have aimed at justice both to his short stage of going with, or at least not definitely against, the Romantic vein, and his much longer one of reaction. He was always vigorous in argument and dignified in manner; but his nature, when he found it, was essentially neo-classic.

[343] In the Times Literary Supplement for Thursday, Nov. 1, 1917.

[344] "It is vain to ask, as is the modern custom, whether the leap from the word 'copy' to the word 'recreate' (v. sup. Vol. I. p. 471) does not cover a difference in kind.... One feels that Prof. S. is rather sympathetic to that which traditional French criticism regards as essential ... close psychological analysis of motive," etc. And so he even questions whether what I have given, much as he likes and praises it, is "A History of The French Novel." But did I ever undertake to give this from the French point of view, or to write a History of French Novel-Criticism? Or need I do so?

[345] It might, however, be a not uninteresting matter of debate whether Panurge's conduct to the Lady of Paris was really so very much worse than part of Hamlet's to Ophelia.

[346] By one of those odd coincidences which diversify and relieve literary work, I read, for the first time in my life, and a few hours after writing the above words, these in Dumas fils' Thérèse: "Il procède par synthése." They do not there apply to authorship, but to the motives and conduct of one of the writer's questionable quasi-heroes. But the whole context, and the usual methods of Dumas fils himself, are saturated with synthesis by rule. (Of course the other process is, as also according to the strict meaning of the word, "synthetic," but not "by rule.")

[347] I own I see a little less of it and a little more of the other in him; whence a certain lukewarmness with which I have sometimes been reproached.

[348] My very amiable reviewer thinks that eighteenth-century French society did behave à la Laclos. I don't, though I think it did à la Crébillon.


[Pg 365]

CHAPTER X

DUMAS THE YOUNGER

Division of future subjects.

No one who has not had some experience in writing literary history knows the difficulties—or perhaps I should say the "unsatisfactorinesses"—which attend the shepherding of examples into separate chronological folds. But every one who has had that experience knows that mere neglect to attempt this shepherding has serious drawbacks. In such cases there is nothing for it but a famous phrase, "We will do what we can." An endeavour has been made in the last chapter to show that, about the middle of the nineteenth century, a noteworthy change did pass over French novel-literature. In a similar retrospect, at the end of the volume and the History, we may be able, si Dieu nous prête vie, to show that this change was not actually succeeded by any other of equal importance as far as our own subject goes. But the stage had, like all such things, sub-stages; and there must be corresponding breaks, if only mechanical ones, in the narrative, to avoid the distasteful "blockiness" resulting from their absence. After several changes of plan I have thought it best to divide what remains of the subject into five chapters (to which a separate Conclusion may be added). The first of these will be allotted, for reasons to be given, to Alexandre Dumas fils; the second to Gustave Flaubert, greatest by far, if not most representative, of all dealt with in this latter part of the volume; the third to others specially of the Second Empire, but not specially of the Naturalist School; the fourth to[Pg 366] that School itself; and the fifth to those now defunct novelists of the Third Republic, up to the close of the century, who may not have been dealt with before.


There should not, I think, be much doubt that we ought to begin with Alexandre Dumas, the son, who—though he launched his most famous novel five years before Napoleon the Third made himself come to the throne, had been writing for about as many earlier still, and lived till long after the Terrible Year, and almost to the end of our own tether—is yet almost more essentially the novelist of the Second Empire than any one else, not merely because before its end he practically gave up Novel for Drama, but for other reasons which we may hope to set forth presently.

A confession.

Before sitting down comfortably to deal with him in my critical jacket, I have to put on, for ceremonial purposes, something of a white sheet, and to hold a candle of repentance in my hand. I have never said very much about the younger Dumas anywhere, and I am not conscious of any positive injustice in what I have said;[349] but I do suspect a certain imperfection of justice. This arose, as nearly all positive and comparative injustices do, from insufficient knowledge and study. What it was exactly in him that "put me off" of old I could not now say; but I think it was because I did come across some of his numerous and famous fisticuffs of Preface and Dissertation and controversy. I thought then, and I still think, that the artist has something better to do than to "fight prizes": he has to do things worthy of the prize. "They say. What say they? Let them say" should be his motto. And later, when I might have condoned this (in the proper sense of that appallingly misused word) in virtue of his positive achievements, he had left off novel-writing and had taken to drama, for which, in its modern forms, I have never cared. But I fear I must[Pg 367] make a further confession. The extravagant praise which was lavished on him by other critics, even though they were, in some cases at least, φιλοι ανδρες, once more proved a stumbling-block.[350] I have endeavoured to set matters right here by serious study of his novel work and some reference to the rest; so I hope that I may discard the sheet, and give the rest of the candle to the poor, now much requiring it.

His general character.

One thing about him is clear from his first famous, though not his first, book[351]—a book which, as has been said, actually preceded the Second Empire, but which has been thought to cast something of a prophetic shadow over that period of revel and rottenness—that is to say, from La Dame aux Camélias—that he was even then a very clever man.[352]

La Dame aux Camélias.

"The Lady with the Camellias" is not now the widely known book that once it was; and the causes of its loss of vogue might serve as a text for some "Meditations among the Tombs," though in respect of rather different cemeteries from those which Addison or Hervey frequented. As a mere audacity it has long faded before the flowers, themselves "over" now, of that Naturalism which it helped to bring about; and the[Pg 368] once world-popular composer who founded almost, if not quite, his most popular opera on it, has become for many years an abomination and a hissing to the very same kind of person who, sixty years since, would have gone out of his way to extol La Traviata, and have found in Il Trovatore something worth not merely all Rossini[353] and Bellini and Donizetti put together, but Don Giovanni, the Zauberflöte, and Fidelio thrown in; while if (as he might) he had known Tannhäuser and Lohengrin he would have lifted up his hoof against them. It is the nature of the fool of all times to overblame what the fools of other times have overpraised. But the fact that these changes have happened, and that other accidents of time have edulcorated that general ferocity which made even men of worth in England refuse to lament the death of the Prince Imperial in our service, should on the whole be rather favourable to a quiet consideration of this remarkable book. Indeed, I daresay some, if not many, of the "warm young men" to whom the very word "tune" is anathema might read the words, "Veux-tu que nous quittions Paris?" without having their pure and tender minds and ears sullied and lacerated by the remembrance of "Parigi, O cara, noi lasceremo"—simply because they never heard it.

A very remarkable book it is. Camellias have gone out of fashion, which is a great pity, for a more beautiful flower in itself does not exist: and those who have seen, in the Channel Islands, a camellia tree, as big as a good-sized summer-house, clothed with snow, and the red blossoms and green leaf-pairs unconcernedly slashing the white garment, have seen one of the prettiest sights in the world. But I should not dream of transferring the epithets "beautiful" or even "pretty" from the flower to the book. It is remarkable, and it is clever in no derogatory sense. For it has pathos without mere sentiment, and truth, throwing a light on humanity, which is not wholly or even mainly like that of

The blackguard boy
That runs his link full in your face.
[Pg 369]

The story of it is, briefly, as follows. Marguerite Gautier, its heroine, is one of the most beautiful and popular demi-mondaines of Paris, also a poitrinaire,[354] and as this, if not as the other, the pet and protégée, in a quasi-honourable fashion, of an old duke, whose daughter, closely resembling Marguerite, has actually died of consumption. But she does not give up her profession; and the duke in a manner, though not willingly, winks at it. One evening at the theatre a young man, Armand Duval, who, though by no means innocent, is shy and gauche, is introduced to her, and she laughs at him. But he falls frantically in love with her, and after some interval meets her again. The passion becomes mutual, and for some time she gives herself up wholly to him. But the duke cannot stand this open affiche, and withdraws his allowances. Duval is on the point of ruining himself (he is a man of small means, partly derived from his father) for her, while she intends to sell all she has, pay her debts, and, as we may say, plunge into mutual ruin with him. Then appears the father, who at last makes a direct and effective appeal to her. She returns to business, enraging her lover, who departs abroad. Before he comes back, her health, and with it her professional capacity, breaks down, and she dies in agony, leaving pathetic explanations of what has driven him away from her. A few points in this bare summary may be enlarged on presently. Even from it a certain resemblance, partly of a topsy-turvy kind, may be perceived by a reader of not less than ordinary acuteness to Manon Lescaut. The suggestion, such as it is, is quite frankly admitted, and an actual copy of Prévost's masterpiece figures not unimportantly in the tale.[355] Of the difference between the two, again presently.

The later editions of La Dame aux Camélias open with an "Introduction" by Jules Janin, dealing with a[Pg 370] certain Marie Duplessis—the recently living original, as we are told, of Marguerite Gautier. A good deal has been said, not by any means always approvingly, of this system of "introductions," especially to novels. In the present instance I should say that the proceeding was dangerous but effective—perhaps not entirely in the way in which it was intended to be so. "Honest Janin,"[356] as Thackeray (who had deservedly rapped his knuckles earlier for a certain mixture of ignorance and impudence) called him later, was in his degree almost as "clever" a man as young Dumas; but his kind was different, and it did involve the derogatory connotation of cleverness. It is enough to say of the present subject that it displays, in almost the highest strength, the insincerity and superficiality of matter and thought which accompanied Janin's bright and almost brilliant facility of expression and style. His Marie Duplessis is one of those remarkable young persons who, to alter Dr. Johnson very slightly, unite "the manners of a duchess with the morals of" the other object of the doctor's comparison unaltered; superadding to both the amiability of an angel, the beauty of Helen, and the taste in art of all the great collectors rolled into one. The thing is pleasantly written bosh; and, except to those readers who are concerned to know that they are going to read about "a real person," can be no commendation, and might even cause a little disgust, not at all from the moral but from the purely critical side.

A lover of paradox might almost suggest that "honest Janin" had been playing the ingenious but dangerous finesse of intentionally setting up a foil to his text. He has[Pg 371] certainly, to some tastes, done this. There is hardly any false prettiness, any sham Dresden china (a thing, by the way, that has become almost a proverbial phrase in French for demi-monde splendour), about La Dame aux Camélias itself. Nor, on the other hand, is there to be found in it—even in such anticipated "naturalisms" as the exhumation of Marguerite's two-months'-old corpse,[357] and one or two other somewhat more veiled but equally or more audacious touches of realism—anything resembling the exaggerated horrors of such efforts of 1830 itself as Janin's own Âne Mort and part of Borel's Champavert. In her splendour as in her misery, in her frivolity as in her devotion and self-sacrifice, repulsive as this contrast may conventionally be, Marguerite is never impossible or unnatural. Her chief companion of her own sex, Prudence Duvernoy, though, as might be expected, a good deal of a proxénète, and by no means disinterested in other ways, is also very well drawn, and assists the general effect more than may at first be seen.

The "problem" of the book, at least to English readers, lies in the person whom it is impossible to call the hero—Armand Duval. It would be very sanguine to say that he is unnatural; but the things that he does are rather appalling. That he listens at doors, opens letters not addressed to him, and so on, is sufficiently fatal; but a very generous extension of lovers' privileges may perhaps just be stretched over these things.[358] No such licence will run to other actions of his. In his early days of chequered possession he writes, anonymously, an insulting letter to his mistress, which she forgives; but he has at least the grace to repent of this almost immediately. His conduct, however, when he returns to Paris, after staying in the country with his family, and finds that she has returned to her old ways, is the real crime. A violent scene might, again, be[Pg 372] excusable, for he does not know what his father has done. But for weeks this young gentleman of France devotes all his ingenuity and energies to tormenting and insulting the object of his former adoration. He ostentatiously "keeps" a beautiful but worthless friend of hers in her own class, and takes every opportunity of flaunting the connection in Marguerite's face. He permits himself and this creature to insult her in every way, apparently descending once more to anonymous letters. And when her inexhaustible forgiveness has induc