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Title: Anatole France
Author: Brandes, Georg
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Anatole France" ***








[Illustration: ANATOLE FRANCE--Bust by Lavergne]

The true author is recognisable by the existence on every page of his
works of at least one sentence or one phrase which none but he could
have written.

Take the following sentence: "If we may believe this amiable shepherd
of souls, it is impossible for us to elude divine mercy, and we shall
all enter Paradise--unless, indeed, there be no Paradise, which is
exceedingly probable." It treats of Renan. It must be written by a
disciple of Renan's, whose humour perhaps allows itself a little more
licence than the master's. More we cannot say.

But take this: "She was the widow of four husbands, a dreadful woman,
suspected of everything except of having loved--consequently honoured
and respected." There is only one man who can have written this. It
jestingly indicates the fact that society forgives woman everything
except a passion, and communicates this observation to the reader, as
it were with a gentle nudge.

Or take the following: "We should not love nature, for she is not
lovable; but neither should we hate her, for she is not deserving of
hatred. She is everything. It is very difficult to be everything. It
results in terrible heavy-handedness and awkwardness."

There is only one man who would excuse Nature for her indifference to
us human beings in these words: "It is very difficult to be everything."

Read this passage: "It is a great infirmity to think. God preserve
you from it, my son, as He has preserved His greatest saints and the
souls whom He loves with especial tenderness and destines to eternal

It is an Abbé who speaks thus, and who speaks without a trace of irony.
One is conscious of the author's smile behind the Abbe's seriousness.

Few are so pithy in their irony as France. He says: "Cicero was in
politics a Moderate of the most violent description."

Few are so picturesque in their satire as he. Others have used the
phrase: Equality before the law--that means equality before the laws
which the well-to-do have made for the poor, and men for women. Others
have maintained that the ideal of justice would be an inequality before
the law adjusted to the differences between individuals. Others have
said: If there is inequality in law itself, where is equality to be

But there is only one man who can have written: "The law, in its
majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under
bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

This one man is Anatole France. Most noticeable in this style is its
irony; it stamps him as a spiritual descendant of Renan. But in spite
of the relationship, France's irony is of a very different description
from Renan's. Renan, as historian or critic, always speaks in his
own name, and we are directly conscious of himself in the fictitious
personages of his philosophic dramas, and even more so in those of his
philosophic dialogues. France's irony conceals itself beneath naïveté.
Renan disguises himself, France transforms himself. He writes from
standpoints which are directly the opposite of his own--primitive
Christian, or mediæval Catholic--and through what is said we apprehend
what he means. Other writers may be as witty, may be or appear as
delicately ironical--they still do not resemble him. If we enter the
dépôt of some famous china manufactory with a piece of china from some
other factory, as faultless and as beautiful in colour as those by
which we are surrounded, the saleswoman takes it into her hand, looks
at it, and says: "The paste is different."

In France's case we may search long for paste of the same quality as
that which he has succeeded in producing after thirty-six years of

Anatole France is no longer young, but his celebrity is of
comparatively recent date. On April 16, 1904, he completed his sixtieth
year, but only for the last eleven years has he really been famous.

He began as quite a young man to write literary and historical essays
and tasteful poems, but he was thirty-seven when he first attracted
attention by his simple tale, _Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard_, and it
was not until 1892-93 that he gave proof of his originality.

His remaining so long in the shade is attributable in the first place
to the tardy development of his complete individuality. He had not
the courage to be completely himself; encouragement from without was
necessary to him.

Another reason for it was the occupation of the foreground by great
novelists who have now disappeared, story-tellers like Maupassant,
Daudet, Zola; and yet another, that men of talent such as Bourget and
Huysmans had not yet gone over to clericalism, or Jules Lemaître to
nationalism, or Hervieu to the theatre. More-over--and this of prime
importance--the great artist in style whose heir he is, Ernest Renan,
was still with us.

Not until the acute sceptic and enthusiastically pious thinker in whose
footsteps he trod, and those luxuriantly fertile authors whose books
excited most attention had passed away, was the space round that tree
of knowledge which Anatole France had planted sufficiently cleared to
allow the sunlight to fall upon it and the tree to become visible from
every side.

Those other Frenchmen were all born in the provinces--Daudet and Zola
in Provence, Maupassant in Normandy, Renan in Brittany, Hervieu at
Neuilly, Bourget at Amiens; Huysmans is of Flemish descent. France, who
is cast in softer mould, and from the very beginning showed himself to
be less sturdy than the Provençals and Normans, is a Parisian born, and
bears the genuine Parisian stamp.

His master, Renan, did not become a Parisian until towards the close of
his life, until he had lost the Breton stamp, and ceased to be a pupil
of the Germans. France was a Parisian from the beginning.

The light and air of Paris were his native atmosphere, the Luxembourg
Gardens were to him French nature, and the street was his school. As
a child he watched the dairy-girls carrying milk and the coal-heavers
coals into all the houses of the Quartier Latin. He knows the Parisian
artisan and small shopkeeper well.

The windows of the stationers' shops riveted his attention with their
pictures, and his first instruction was received in turning over the
leaves of the books in the boxes of the poor salesmen on the Seine

He himself was the son of a poor bookseller, or rather bookseller's
assistant. He was born in a book-shop, and brought up amongst old, wise
books, mysterious reminders of a life which was no more. From them
he learned how ephemeral existence is, how little of the work of any
generation survives; and this has inspired him with a fund of sadness,
gentleness, and compassion.

It is extraordinary how many small book-shops he has described, in
Paris and elsewhere--their books, their frequenters, the conversations
held in them. Again and ever again does he occupy himself with these
worthy booksellers on the banks of the Seine (who now look upon him as
their guardian spirit), with their wretched life, as they stand there
in the cold and rain, seldom selling anything.

We, to whom not one of the Frenchmen of to-day seems so French
as Anatole France--for he embodies in himself the whole national
tradition, descending from the romance-writers of the Middle Ages
through Montaigne to Voltaire--we are not surprised that he should have
boldly assumed the name of his country in place of his own. France,
however, was also the Christian name of his unassuming father--he was
France Thibaut. But to the humble people of the street in which he
lives, the little Allée Villa Said, the author is not France; they
call him Monsieur Anatole.

The streets by the Seine are always in his mind. He says somewhere: "I
was brought up on this Quai, amongst books, by humble, simple people,
whom I alone remember. When I am no more it will be as if they had
never existed."

Elsewhere he calls these river-side streets the adopted country of all
men of intellect and taste.

And in a third place he writes: "I was brought up on the quays, where
the old books form part of the landscape. The Seine was my delight....
I admired the river, which by day mirrored the sky and bore boats on
its breast, by night decked itself with jewels and sparkling flowers."

A book-lover he was and is.

One of the first characteristics which strikes the reader of France's
works is this literary culture, unusual in a novelist and story-writer,
and also its nature. Amongst French authors as a class we are
accustomed to the unlearned, whose culture is restrictedly French,
to the pupils of the Normal School, whose culture is one-sidedly
classical, and to the learned, whose culture is European. But France's
is a wide, ample culture, gained in a Europe from which the Germanic
nations are excluded. He knows neither English nor German. This is
the chief difference between his culture and Renan's. But the want is
less felt in him than in others. Renan was the Oriental philologist.
The Semitic languages were his field; his intellect had been nourished
upon German science. What France is thoroughly at home in is Latin and
Greek antiquity; but he is also well versed in the Latin and Italian
literatures of the Middle Ages. Therefore he is, be it noted in
passing, a keen supporter of classical school education. "I have," he
says somewhere, "a desperate attachment to Latin studies. Without them
the beauty of the French genius would be gone. We are Latins. The milk
of the she-wolf is the best part of our blood."

He has made himself specially familiar with the age of ferment when
Christianity was struggling with paganism in the ancient mind, with the
Christian legends, which he retails with naïveté and well-concealed
irony, and with Italian and even more particularly French history, from
the days of Cæsar to the eighteenth century, the beginning of which
lives in his _Reine Pédauque_.

His art occupies itself very frequently with religious feelings and
situations. And here the contrast with Renan is strongest. For whereas
Renan's mind was always religiously disposed and his language often
unctuous, France, in treating of religious subjects, in spite of
apparent reverence, is as callous in his inmost soul as Voltaire.

To his pictures of the past have been added in the last stage of his
development pictures drawn from the France of to-day, and portraits of
personages who have as lately formed the subjects of conversation as
Verlaine and Esterhazy.

It is not modern life, however, which he favours as author or man.
One day, when a visitor to whom he was showing his books expressed
surprise that there were so few, and apparently no modern works among
them, France said: "I have no new books. I do not keep those which
are sent me; I send them on to a friend in the country." (The "friend
in the country" was very probably a French euphemism for one of those
booksellers on the Seine quays whom France knows so well.) "But do
you not care to make acquaintance with them?" "My contemporaries No!
What they can tell me I know quite as well myself. I learn more
from Petronius than from Mendès." It was, therefore, doubtless half
unwillingly that France for several years undertook to discourse
critically, in the feuilleton of the Temps, on the productions of his
contemporaries. The four volumes in which he has collected his articles
are, nevertheless, extremely interesting. In them, from beginning to
end, he maintains that such a thing as pure, impersonal criticism
is impossible, that the critic can never do anything but represent
himself--that, consequently, when he speaks of Horace or Shakespeare
it simply means that he is speaking, in connection with Horace or
Shakespeare, of himself.

France, then, spoke always of himself. "I hope that when I speak of
myself every one will think of himself." As critic he communicated
his personal impressions, and often related anecdotes, chiefly of
occurrences during his own childhood and early youth, which elucidated
and explained these impressions. A critic in the strict sense of the
word he was not, and when his books began to sell better he gave up
criticism. His utterances in the four volumes referred to are most
characteristic of his personality, revealing, as they do, its spirit,
its limitations, and its prejudices--prejudices which he has gradually

The friend to whom France replied, "I have no modern books in my
house," asked, smiling: "Not even your own?" "No," answered France;
"what a man has built himself--even supposing it to be a palace--he
knows so well that he cannot endure the sight of it. I could not bear
to have my own books in my hands. Why should I look at them?"

"To avoid repetition."

"I certainly do perpetually repeat myself."

This is unfortunately true--it is one of the besetting sins of the
author. Too often does the same thought recur in his pages, expressed
almost in the same words. At times he repeats in one book, page for
page, what he has written in another.

We can see what a faithful portrait of himself France has given us in
the person of the sculptor in _Le Lys Rouge_ by comparing the above
answer with the following passage.

Madame Martin-Bellême says: "I see none of your own works, not a single
statue or relief."

Dechartre replies: "Do you imagine that it would be a pleasure to me to
live among my own works? I know them far too well ... they bore me."

That Dechartre is only a mask for France is almost acknowledged in
what follows: "Even though I have modelled a few bad figures, I am no
sculptor--rather a bit of a poet and philosopher."

In France's literary life, after a preparatory stage which lasted
fifteen years, there are two periods, which differ so much from each
other that one might almost say: There are two Frances.

In the first of these periods he is the refined satirist, who, from
a station high above the human crowd, observes its endeavours and
struggles with a superior, compassionate smile. In the second he
appears as the combatant. He not only attaches himself to a party, but
affirms as he does so his belief in the very things at which he has
jested and scoffed--the sound instinct of the people, the significance
of the majority, the increasing reality of progress--in the doctrines
which as a thinker he had declined to accept, those of democracy and

When a friend once politely but plainly reproached him with this
attitude as not perfectly honourable, France answered in a manner which
avoided the real point by asking: "Do you know any other power capable
of opposing that of the Church and Nationalism in combination except
the Socialist Labour party?"

He turned the theoretical into a practical question.

When the friend remarked that he himself, under similar circumstances,
had plainly announced his practical adherence to a party, but at the
same time his dissent from its doctrine, France turned to some ladies
who were present, and said, laughing: "Is he not impossible? As honest
and obstinate as a donkey!"

For more than half of his life France undoubtedly agreed with his Abbé
Coignard, who had an affectionate contempt for mankind, and who would
not have signed the Declaration of the Rights of Man, not a line of
it, "because of the sharply defined and unjust distinction made in it
between man and the gorilla." He in those days inclined, like Coignard,
to the belief that men are mischievous animals who can be kept under
control only by force or cunning.

Even many years later, after he has proclaimed himself a democrat, he
makes his mouthpiece, Bergeret, say to his dog: "To-morrow you will
be in Paris. It is an illustrious and noble city. The nobility, to
tell the truth, is not common to all its inhabitants. It is, on the
contrary, to be found in only a very small number of the citizens. But
a whole town, a whole nation, exists in a few individuals who think
with more power and more justice than the rest." And later, in the
same book, when Biquet, with gaping jaws and flaming eyes, has flown
at the heels of the clever workman who has been setting up Bergeret's
book-shelves, his master explains to him that what exalts a nation
is not the foolish cry that resounds in the streets, but the silent
thought which is conceived in a garret, and one day changes the face
of the earth.

France does not share the reactionary's fear of the power of the
masses. But if he does not fear it, it is not because of their wisdom.
It is because of their caution. He knows that fear of the unknown
renders universal suffrage a perfectly safe institution. He has
made too good use of his eyes and his reasoning powers to have more
reverence for the sovereign people than for any of the other sovereigns
to whom men throughout the ages have offered homage and flattery. He
knows that knowledge is sovereign, not the people. He knows that a
foolish cry, though taken up by thirty-six millions of voices, does
not cease to be foolish, and that truth is irresistible and will make
itself ruler of the earth, though it may be perceived and proclaimed
only by a single man, and though millions may unite and shout in chorus
against his "individualism."

France is no optimist. He has seen too much declension and apostasy
around him in France and Europe generally, to believe in the fable
of uninterrupted progress. He has lived through times of universal
indifference and apathy, when no sting was sharp enough to stir men to
think, much less to act. When men's souls are hungering and thirsting
after unrighteousness, it is of little use offering them a refreshing
draught of culture. As is said of the "people" in Bergeret: "It is
not easy to make an ass which is not thirsty drink." France knows,
too, what popularity means. He has good reasons for making one of his
principal characters say: "If the crowd ever takes you lovingly into
its arms, you will soon discover the vastness of its impotence and of
its cowardice." And we have elsewhere his quiet, witty explanation
of the election of a Nationalist candidate for the Municipal Council
and the defeat of the Republican. The Nationalist candidate was
entirely ignorant of all the subjects connected with the office, and
this ignorance stood him in good stead; it rendered his oratory more
spontaneous and eloquent. The Republican, on the contrary, lost himself
in technical questions and details. Although he knew his public, he
harboured some illusions regarding the intelligence of the electors
who had nominated him. From a certain respect for them, he dared not
venture on too much humbug, and entered into explanations. Consequently
he seemed cold, obscure, tiresome--and all support was withdrawn.

But, on the other hand, France is no pessimist. He knows and says of
the France of to-day: "The weak are in the wrong. That is the sum
of our morality, my friend. Do you suppose that we are on the side
of Poland or Finland? No, no! That is not the way the wind blows at
present!" But he also knows that the earth will not finally belong
to armed barbarity. Alone, unarmed, naked, truth is stronger than
everything. Might and violence oppose it in vain. It strikes at
injustice and annihilates it. The word of man changes the world. The
alliance of strong reasons and noble thoughts is an indissoluble
alliance, and against its onslaught nothing can stand. Bergeret, the
tranquil philosopher, is absolutely certain of the final victory of
reason. "The visions of the philosopher have in all ages aroused men of
action, who have set to work to realise them. Our thoughts create the
future. Statesmen work after the plans which we leave behind us."

Certain it is that the future is hidden from us. But we must, as
France says, work at it as the weavers work who produce the Gobelin
tapestry without seeing the pictures which they are weaving. Nor is
it altogether true that the future is hidden. Or, granting it to be
so to us, "we can conceive of more developed beings to whom to-morrow
is realised as yesterday and to-day are. It makes it the easier to
imagine beings who perceive simultaneously phenomena which appear
to us separated by a long interval of time, when we remember that
our own eyes, looking up to the night sky, receive, mingled beams of
light which have left different stars at intervals of centuries, and
centuries of centuries."

A man holding such views as these may be claimed as an adherent by
both the Radical and the Conservative party, as Ibsen was for a time
in Scandinavia. France actually was incorporated in the Conservative
party. As late as 1897 he was the candidate for the Academy whom the
Conservative party, the Dukes, opposed to Ferdinand Fabre, an author
hostile to the power of the Church.

Highly valuing moderation and tact, he at that time detested his
future companion in arms, Zola--detested him, indeed, without
moderation--wrote: "I do not envy him his disgusting celebrity. Never
has a man so exerted himself to abase humanity and to deny everything
that is good and right. Never has any one so entirely misunderstood the
human ideal." There is more love of good taste here than appreciation
of genius. It must be remembered that France afterwards publicly
recanted this and many similar utterances. He did so in the beautiful
and heartfelt speech which he made at Emile Zola's grave; but he had
done it long before.

He overlooked the genius of the man who was to become his best comrade
in arms because of that man's bad taste and exaggerations, and himself
exaggeratedly praised the men with whom he was afterwards compelled
to engage in mortal combat, and of whose narrowness and weaknesses he
afterwards had ample experience.

He wrote in serious earnest: "I do not believe that more intelligent
men than Paul Bourget and Jules Lemaître can ever have existed."

He had no perception then of Bourget's fear of hell, or of Lemaitre's
want of moral equilibrium. Here is his testimonial to the latter, the
future Nationalist fanatic: "He is one of the men who bear ill-will to
none, but are long-suffering and benevolent. His is a fearless spirit,
a smiling soul; he is all tolerance."

When this was written Jules Lemaître was already malicious and
ungenerous, though perhaps not yet base. A few years later he was, as
Vice-President of the Patrie Française, leader of the band which kept
Dreyfus prisoner in the île du Diable and advocated the _coup d'état_
against Loubet. A few years later Paul Bourget had returned to the
bosom of the Roman Catholic Church, and was attacking with the utmost
violence every progressive movement, even the enlightenment of the
people and instruction for the working man. These were France's models
of intelligence.

Compared with the attitude of these men, France's own attitude during
the past six years may almost be termed exemplary.

It may be that as the popular orator--a career for which he was not
intended by nature--he has proclaimed himself rather more strongly
convinced than he is in his inmost soul; this does not prevent its
being the real man who has come to light during the last decade--the
man who was concealed behind the thinker's play of thought and the
poet's metamorphoses.

Suddenly he stripped himself of all his scepticism and stood forth,
with Voltaire's old blade gleaming in his hand--like Voltaire
irresistible by reason of his wit, like him the terrible enemy of the
power of the Church, like him the champion of innocence. But, taking a
step in advance of Voltaire, France proclaimed himself the friend of
the poor in the great political struggle.

That he did thus come forth was undoubtedly a consequence of the
circumstance that the whole civilisation of France and her old position
as protector of justice appeared to him to be endangered during a
crisis in public morality; but, in the absence of some instigation from
without, he might quite possibly have remained inactive. The person
who influenced him more than any other at this time was a lady in whose
house he has for years been the most welcome of daily visitors--whose
house is, indeed, his second home.

France did not hesitate to bring the whole weight of his influence
publicly to bear when it came in France to a trial of strength between
a few chosen spirits on the one side, and the army, the Church, those
in authority, and the misled masses on the other.

In his capacity as combatant France has written the last two volumes of
his _Histoire Contemporaine_, published his speeches in the _Cahier de
la Quinzaine_, spoken at the unveiling of Renan's statue and at Zola's
grave, and written the Introduction to Combe's collected speeches It
is one of the signs of the times that he should now be the man to whom
the Prime Minister of France applies to have his utterances placed
before the French reading public. It shows what a degree of influence
is ascribed to him, and how definitely he has espoused a cause.

France has at times introduced himself into his books. He takes
the retiring and wise element in his nature, and out of it creates
Monsieur Bergeret. He takes the serene sensualism, and of it constructs
Trublet, the doctor of the _Histoire Comique_. He takes his intensely
beauty-loving ego, and we have the sculptor Dechartre in _Le Lys
Rouge_. He introduces himself into this same novel in the person of
the author Paul Vence, almost with the mention of his name--this, of
course, to prevent its being observed that Anatole France is also the
principal character, the sculptor; just as Mary Robinson is named in
the book to conceal her identity with Miss Bell, the English authoress
in it, and Oppert is referred to to prevent its being said that he is
Schmoll, the antiquarian, as he undoubtedly is.

When Vence is introduced to us in the heroine's drawing-room we are
told: "She considered Paul Vence to be the one really clever man who
came to her house. She had appreciated him before his books had made
him famous. She admired his profound irony, his sensitive pride, his
talent, ripened in solitude."

And to such an extent is Paul Vence France himself that when, towards
the end of the book, he remarks: "He was a wise man who said, 'Let us
give to men for their witnesses and judges Irony and Compassion'"--an
utterance to be found in more than one of France's books--Madame
Martin-Bellême answers: "But, Monsieur Vence, it was yourself who wrote

Profound irony is, then, the first quality which he attributes to

We have seen how this irony, unlike Renan's, is indirect; we only catch
a glimpse of it through the naïveté of another person.

We are told, for instance, in Thaïs, of the heroine, a Grecian
courtesan: "This woman showed herself at the festival games, and did
not hesitate to dance publicly in such a manner that her excessively
agile and artful movements suggested the most dreadful passions and
excited to them." This is felt and spoken from the standpoint of a monk.

Pafnucius, in the same book, sees the devil torturing souls. The
narrator of the occurrence expresses no doubt or incredulity; it is
nowhere remarked that this was a vision, not reality. No! "Small green
devils pierced his lips and his throat with red-hot irons."

This naïveté is a rare quality in French literature, the literary art
of the French being (in spite of Lafontaine) as a rule not naïve, but
even in Molière, and throughout his whole century, as well as the next,
perfectly self-conscious. Yet naïveté is a powerful means of producing
artistic effects--the indirect process which requires the reader's own
co-operation being undoubtedly always more effective than the direct
communication, which does not impart the useful little impetus to the

France, in his historical tales, writes ingenuously, as a contemporary
would have spoken and thought. We are most conscious of this in
the series collected and published under the title of Clio. Simple
tales they are, yet this book, which bears the name of the goddess
of history, concerns itself with some of the greatest historical
personages--Homer, Cæsar, Dante, Joan of Arc, Napoleon. Of these only
Homer and Napoleon are directly presented to us.

When the tale, _The Singer of Kyme_, first appeared, its seemingly
arbitrary invention displeased many. Why take up this legend of the
blind or half-blind old man? Why give this insignificant figure, this
poor creature going from place to place earning his bread by his
songs, the awe-inspiring name of Homer? But upon maturer reflection we
acknowledge how correctly France has seen, and what wisdom there is in
his view of the matter. The singer of his tale is unmistakably akin to
the bards described in the Homeric poems; and it is only natural that
his house should have been cramped and low in comparison with that of
his neighbour, the wealthy soothsayer.

The secret of the art of France's historical style is, as already
said, that he thinks and speaks in the spirit of the age which he
is portraying, seems to share its views, to accept its beliefs and
superstitions, its prejudices and ideas, without a trace of irony or
of fatuity, but with an artistic skill which forcibly brings out the
contrast between the spirit of those ages or countries and ours.

Take, for instance, in the story just mentioned, the way in which he
communicates to the reader, by means of his description of the old
singer's methods, his own conception of the genesis of the Homeric
poems. When a king requests the old man to sing, but to let it be the
truth that he sings, he answers: "What I know of the heroes I have
from my father, who learned it from the Muses themselves; for of old
the Muses were wont to visit the divine singers in caves and woods. I
shall mingle no lies with the old histories." And the author adds: "He
spoke thus from prudence. For to the songs which he had learned in his
childhood he was in the habit of adding verses which he had taken from
other songs or found within himself. _But he did not confess this,
fearing Jest he should be blamed for it_. The chieftains almost always
asked for the old tales, which they believed to have been dictated
by a divinity, and mistrusted the new songs. Therefore he carefully
concealed the origin of those which he had composed himself. _And
as he was a very good poet, and carefully observed the established
customs, his verses were in no wise distinguishable from those of his
forefathers_; they resembled them in form and beauty, and from the
moment of their conception were worthy of immortal fame." The singer
is, we observe, praised, in the spirit of the age, for the quality
which, according to modern ideas, detracts from his worth.

In precisely the same manner is the dialogue entitled _Farinata degli
Uberti_ thrown into relief. With his unerring critical instinct
France has selected the most interesting of all the figures in
Dante's _Inferno_. And this figure has for us one element of interest
in addition to those which it possessed for Dante? namely, the
diametrical opposition between Farinata's views and ours. In our days
it is a very honourable thing to fight for one's countrymen against
foreign troops, and an abominable thing to stir up civil war. When
Farinata is justifying himself for having fought on the side of Siena
against his Florentine fellow countrymen, he says: "Undoubtedly it
would have been better for us Florentines to have fought out the
quarrel amongst ourselves. Civil war is such a fine and noble thing, a
thing of such delicacy, that the implication of foreigners in it ought,
if possible, to be avoided.... I do not maintain the same of wars
with other States. They are useful, at times necessary, enterprises,
undertaken to defend or to extend the frontiers of a country or to
further its commerce. But as a rule there is neither much advantage nor
much honour to be gained by fighting in these vulgar wars. For them a
sensible people prefers to employ mercenary troops, under experienced
leaders, who can do a great deal with a small force."

To appreciate the characteristic qualities of this dialogue the reader
should compare it with the corresponding versified dialogue by Robert
Browning, in which the old Italian passionateness finds expression.
Browning's language is more vehement than France's, more spasmodic and
more spontaneous.

France, as a rule, produces his effect entirely by the contrast
between the inner logic of men's feelings in these old days and in ours.

The most fully elaborated of the tales is that entitled _Commius, the
Atrebate_, which describes the career of a Gallic chieftain in the
time of Cæsar. Although the author appears to have drawn as freely on
his imagination here as in The _Singer of Kyme_, he has in this case
built upon a sound historical foundation. The reader with Cæsar's
_Commentaries_ fresh in his memory will remember what they tell about
the Atrebate chief, Commius. To France it has been a congenial task
to probe the mind of a barbarian of those days--to describe Commius's
care-free life as the chief of his tribe, to show how he is won over
by the Romans and feels flattered by being called Cæsar's friend, but
is gradually led to regard the loss of freedom as a disgrace, until
his feeling towards the Romans becomes the barbarian's fierce hatred.
Most readers will feel that not until they made acquaintance with this
story had they a thorough understanding of the difference between the
Roman methods of warfare and those of the barbarians, and in especial
of the skill in engineering which had been acquired by the little dark
soldiers who made war more with the pickaxe and the spade than with
the javelin and the sword. Very masterly is the description of the
barbarian king's astonishment and affright when, after an absence of
a few years, he returns to his poor capital, Nemetoeenna (the Arras
of to-day), and finds it transformed by the Romans into a magnificent
town, with temples and colonnades. He cannot but believe them possessed
of magic power. We follow him with keen interest as he wanders through
the town disguised as a beggar; we watch his surprise at the paintings
on the houses, of the subjects of which he understands nothing; we see
him murder a young Roman who is sitting in the amphitheatre composing
Latin verses in a Greek metre to his Phoebe. Here again France produces
his effect by the silent throwing into relief of the difference between
men's ideas in those days and in ours. He writes as follows, for
instance, of the prefect of the Roman horse, Caius Volucenus Quadratus,
who resolves to invite Commius to a friendly conference, and to have a
deadly blow dealt him from behind whilst he himself is taking him by
the hand.

"He was a good general, learned in mathematics and mechanics. In
times of peace, under the terebinth trees of his Campanian villa, he
conversed with other high officials upon the laws, manners, and customs
of different races. He lauded the virtues of olden days, extolled
liberty, read Greek history and philosophy. He was distinguished for
nobility and refinement of mind. And as Commius the Atrabate was a
barbarian, hostile to Rome and the Roman cause, he considered it right
and wise to have him assassinated."

Although it is only in faint silhouette that Cæsar is presented to us,
we are conscious here, as elsewhere, that Anatole France is deeply
interested in him. He admires him without any cordial sympathy. His
Abbé Coignard, who muses upon Cæsar, is repelled by his cruelty. The
cutting off of the Gauls' hands at Uxellodunum is, of course, not
forgotten. Yet Cæsar was more merciful than any other Roman general.
But France, following his usual custom, puts into one book all that
tells in favour of Cæsar, and into another what tells against him.

He has done the same with Napoleon. In _Le Lys Rouge_ the shallowness
of Napoleon's character is dwelt upon--nay, insisted upon to such
an extent that poor Napoleon III. is actually maintained to be a
more interesting figure. In the short story, _La Muiron_ (the ship
which conveyed Bonaparte from Egypt to France), we are, on the other
hand, told of the young commander's inclination to mysticism, of his
mysterious belief in his own future. And France puts into his mouth the
following profound words: "No man escapes his fate. Brutus, who was a
mediocrity, believed in the power of the human will. A greater man does
not harbour that illusion. He sees the necessity which limits him....
Children are rebellious. A great man is not. What is a human life? The
curve traced by a projectile." Bonaparte says this at the very moment
when, with implicit faith in his own luck, he is venturing out on the
Mediterranean among the English cruisers. The whole short story is
based, as it were, upon his premonition of coming greatness.

But here, as always, France, with the unerring taste of the really
great writer, avoids cheap effect. India-rubber in hand, he goes over
all the outlines, erasing, toning down.

It is characteristic, and in harmony with the naïveté of the style,
that naïveté should form a distinguishing quality of the most lifelike
characters which France has produced. Another of their qualities is
often strongly developed, sometimes very shameless sensuality, which is
not repugnant to him, and which it amuses him to delineate.

Take Abbé Coignard in _La Reine Pédauque_, a man with an astoundingly
able mind, a childlike soul, and a shameless body. Take Choulette in
_Le Lys Rouge_, a childlike, drunken, shameless genius. This portrait
of Verlaine we find again, with variations, in the Gestas of _L'Étui
de Nacre_. In all three there is a mixture of simplicity and cynic
voluptuousness--a half-childlike absence of shame.

Abbé Coignard undermines everything established with his doubts and
leads an exceedingly loose life, but remains faithful in the very
smallest particular to the Catholic religion. Even more childlike than
he himself is his disciple, Tourne-broche. Choulette is the old, ruined
Bohemian, eternally young as the poet, melting with drunken compassion
for the poor and the mean--as is said of Coignard, "half a St. Francis
of Assisi, half an Epicurean, a big, believing, shameless child."

It is in virtue of this combination--naïveté and shamelessness--that
Riquet the dog becomes one of France's best characters. No man is as
devoid of shame as a dog, and no child is more childlike.

Biquet has great difficulty in seeing things from Monsieur Bergeret's
point of view. He flies at the heels of the worthy carpenter, merely
because that workman wears a blouse and carries tools; he is steeped in
all the old prejudices of the feudal age.

But his "Thoughts" are a little masterpiece of canine innocence and
compressed irony. Let me give a few examples.

"Men, animals, and stones grow larger as they approach me, and become
enormous when they are quite close. It is not so with me. I remain the
same size wherever I am."

"The smell of a dog is a delicious smell."

"My master keeps me warm when I lie behind him in his arm-chair.
That is because he is a god. In front of the fire there is a warm
hearthstone. The hearthstone is divine."

"I speak when I choose. From my master's mouth, too, issue sounds which
have a kind of meaning. But their meaning is less plain than that
which I express with my voice. Everything uttered by my voice means
something. But from my master's mouth comes much senseless noise."

"There are carriages which horses draw in the streets. They are
terrible. There are carriages which move of themselves, puffing loudly.
These, too, are full of malice."

"People in rags deserve to be hated, and also those who carry baskets
on their heads or roll casks. Children who run about the streets,
chasing each other and screaming, are hateful too."

"I love my master because he is powerful and terrible."

"An action for which one is thrashed is a bad action. An action for
which one is caressed or given something to eat is a good action."

"_Prayer_.--O Bergeret, my master, god of carnage, I adore thee.
Praised be thou when thou art terrible, praised when thou art gracious!
I crawl to thy feet, I lick thy hands. Great art thou and beautiful
when, seated at thy spread table, thou devourest quantities of food.
Great art thou and beautiful when, bringing forth tire from a little
chip of wood, thou changest night into day. Keep me, I pray thee, in
thy house, and keep out every other dog!" This is a parody of human
religion, good-natured and yet trenchant.

When, in his turn, Monsieur Bergeret addresses the dog, he addresses in
him the whole undeveloped portion of the human race.

"You too, poor little black being, so feeble in spite of your sharp
teeth and your gaping jaws, you too adore outward appearances, and your
worship is the ancient worship of injustice. You too allow yourself to
be seduced by lies. You too have race hatreds.

"I know that there is an obscure goodness in you, the goodness of
Caliban. You are pious; you have your theology and your morality. And
you know no better. You guard the house, guard it even against those
who are its protection and ornament. That workman whom you tried to
drive away has, plain man though he be, most admirable ideas. You would
not listen to him.

"Your hairy ears hear, not him who speaks best, but him who shouts
loudest. And fear, that natural fear which was the counsellor of your
ancestors and mine when they were cave-dwellers, the fear which created
gods and crimes, makes you the enemy of the unfortunate and deprives
you of pity."

The irony gains in power by being veiled in the innocence of the dog.
The irony in France's writings is generally veiled in some such
manner. In Monsieur Bergeret à Paris, for instance, the standpoint of
the author's opponents is presented to us in two chapters which are
read aloud by Monsieur Bergeret from a supposed work of the year 1538,
in which France, with extraordinary skill, has imitated the language,
style, and reasoning of the Trublions, the Nationalists of that age.

Just as something in France's intellectual qualities generally,
reminds us of Voltaire as the narrator, so something in his principal
characters and in the spirit of his novels recalls _Candide_.
Candide, too, was naïve. France has read Voltaire again and again,
and assimilated much of him. How often, for instance, does the story
of Cosru's widow in _Zadig_ crop up in France's pages! A Voltairean
sentence such as: "The belief in the immortality of the soul is
spreading in Africa along with cotton goods," sounds as if it might
have been written by France. The naïveté of the modern writer is
certainly the more genuine, though in greatness as an author he, of
course, falls far short of his predecessor.

The four volumes of the _Histoire Contemporaine_, the last two of
which, with their witty tirades oil the Dreyfus affair, were of no
small assistance to the opponents of the Nationalists, are, though
of unequal value, a very remarkable product of ripe experience and
Olympian superiority. The principal character, the gentle and wise
Monsieur Bergeret, unfortunate as a husband, fortunate in that he was
able to obtain a divorce, is, as a type, in no respect inferior to the
personages in whom other great French authors have embodied themselves.
He is a worthy brother of Alceste, Figaro, and Mercadet.

More artistically perfect than this lengthy four-volume novel are the
short modern stories published under the title of _Crainquebille_. The
first of these, which gives its name to the book, is told placidly,
simply, cuttingly, bitterly. The plot is so simple that it can be
compressed into a few lines. A decent old man, a street vendor of
vegetables, has stopped with his barrow in front of a shop in a very
busy thoroughfare. He is waiting for payment for some leeks which he
has sold. A policeman orders him to move on, and, heedless of the old
man's muttered, "I'm waiting for my money," repeats the order twice
in the course of a few moments, and then, enraged by Crainquebille's
"resistance to authority," arrests him and accuses him before the
magistrate of having made use of the insulting expression in which the
common people give vent to their dislike of the police--a thing which
the old man has certainly not done. The magistrate, who places more
faith in the assertion of the policeman than in the denial of the poor
man, sentences the latter to a fortnight's imprisonment and a fine of
fifty francs.

When he comes out of prison Crainquebille finds that his customers
have deserted him for another hawker, and will have nothing more to
do with him because of his disgrace. He sinks deeper and deeper into
poverty and misery, until at last he feels that the only way left him
to provide himself with a shelter is to rush at a policeman shouting
the offensive expression which he had before been unjustly accused of
using. This policeman, however, leaning stoically against a lamp-post
in pouring rain, despises the insult, and takes not the slightest
notice of it, so that the poor man's last resort fails him.

Crainquebille is painfully touching; the next little story, _Putois_,
is both witty and pregnant with meaning.

"Lucien," says Zoé to her brother, Monsieur Bergeret, "you remember

"I should say so. Of all the familiar figures of our childhood, no
other is still so vividly before my eyes. He had a peculiarly high

"And low forehead," adds Mademoiselle Zoé.

And now brother and sister intone in turn, with perfect seriousness, as
if they were giving a description for legal purposes: "Low forehead,"
"Wall-eyed," "Unable to look one in the face," "Wrinkles at the corner
of the eyes," "Thin," "Rather round-shouldered," "Feeble in appearance,
but in reality extraordinarily strong--able to bend a five-franc piece
between his first finger and thumb," "Thumb enormous," and many other

Monsieur Bergeret's daughter Pauline asks: "What was Putois?" and is
told that he was a gardener, the son of respectable country people;
that he started a nursery at Saint-Omer, but, proving unsuccessful with
it, had to take work where he could find it; and that his character was
none of the best. When Monsieur Bergeret the elder missed anything from
his writing-table he always said: "I have a suspicion that Putois has
been here."

"Is that all?" asks Pauline.

"No, my child, that is not all. The remarkable thing about Putois was
that, well as we knew him, he nevertheless...."

"Did not exist," said Zoé.

"How can you say such a thing!" cried Monsieur Bergeret. "Are you
prepared to answer for your words, Zoé? Have you sufficiently reflected
upon the conditions of existence and all the modes of being?"

Then Monsieur Bergeret explains to his daughter that Putois was born as
a full-grown man in the days when he himself and his sister were boy
and girl. The Bergerets inhabited a small house in Saint-Omer, where
they led a quiet, retired life, until they were discovered by a rich
old grand-aunt of Madame's, Madame Cornouiller, the owner of a small
property in the neighbourhood, who took advantage of the relationship
to insist upon their dining with her every Sunday--a Sunday family
dinner being, according to her, imperative among people of their

As Monsieur Bergeret was bored to death by these entertainments, he in
time rebelled, refused to go, and left it to his wife to invent excuses
for declining the invitations. And thus it came about that the usually
truthful woman said one day: "We cannot come this week. I expect the
gardener on Sunday." Putois had received his first attribute.

Glancing at the scrap of ground belonging to the house, Madame
Cornouiller asked with astonishment if this were the garden in which
he was to work, and on being told that it was, very naturally remarked
that he might just as well do it on a weekday. This speech in its turn
necessitated the reply that the man could only come on Sunday, as he
was occupied all the week. Second qualification.

"What is your gardener's name, my dear?" "Putois" replied Madame
Bergeret without hesitation. From the moment in which he received a
name, Putois began to lead a kind of existence. When the old lady
inquired where he lived, he necessarily became a species of itinerant
workman--a vagrant, in fact. So now to existence had been added status.

When Madame Cornouiller decided that he should work for her too, he
immediately proved to be undiscoverable. She made inquiries about him
of all and sundry, to find that most of those she asked thought they
had seen him, and others knew him, but were not certain where he was
at the moment. The tax-collector was able to say with certainty that
Putois had chopped firewood for him between the 19th and 23rd of
October of the comet year.

The day came, however, when Madame Cornouiller was able to tell the
Bergerets that she herself had seen him--a man of fifty or thereabouts,
thin, round-shouldered, with a dirty blouse and the general appearance
of a tramp. She had called "Putois!" in a loud voice, and he had turned

From this day onward Putois became ever more and more of a reality.
Three melons were stolen from Madame Cornouiller. She suspected
Putois. The police, too, believed him to be the culprit, and searched
the neighbourhood for him. The _Journal de Saint-Omer_ published a
description of him, from which it appeared that he had the face of
a habitual criminal. Ere long there was another theft on Madame
Cornouiller's premises; three small silver spoons were stolen. She
recognised Putois's handiwork. Henceforward he was the terror of the

When Gudule, her cook, was discovered to be _enceinte_, Madame
Cornouiller jumped to the conclusion that she had been seduced by
Putois, and was confirmed in her belief by the fact of the woman's
weeping and refusing to answer her questions. As Gudule was ugly and
bearded, the story occasioned much amusement, and in popular fancy
Putois became a perfect satyr. Another servant in the town and a poor
hump-backed girl being brought to bed that same year with children
whose paternity was mysteriously concealed, Putois attained the
reputation of a veritable monster.

Children caught glimpses of him everywhere. They saw him passing the
door in the dusk, or climbing the garden wall; it was he who had
inked the faces of Zoé's dolls; he howled at nights with the dogs
and caterwauled with the cats; he stole into the bedroom; he became
something between a hobgoblin, a brownie, and the dustman who closes
little children's eyes. Monsieur Bergeret was interested in him as
typical of all human beliefs; and, since all Saint-Omer was firmly
convinced of Putois' existence, he, as a good citizen, would do nothing
to shake their belief.

As to Madame Bergeret, she reproached herself sometimes for the birth
of Putois; but, after all, she had done nothing worse than Shakespeare
when he created Caliban. Nevertheless she turned quite pale one day
when the maid came in and said that a man like a country labourer
wished to speak to madame. "Did he give his name?" "Yes--Putois."
"What?" "Putois, madame. He is waiting in the kitchen." "What does he
want?" "He will tell no one but yourself, madame." "Go and ask him
again." When the maid returned to the kitchen Putois was gone. But from
that day Madame Bergeret herself began to have a kind of belief in his

The story is both clever and of deep significance, it turns on the
question of what an imaginary existence is. Putois' generation is
the generation of a myth, and he exerts the influence which mythical
characters do. No one can deny the rule of mythical beings over the
minds of men, their influence on human souls. Gods and goddesses,
spirits and saints, have inspired enthusiasm and terror, have had
their altars, have counselled crimes, have, originated customs and
laws. Satyrs and Silenuses have occupied the human imagination, have
set chisels and brushes to work century after century. The Devil has
his history, extending back for thousands of years--has been terrible,
witty, foolish, cruel; has demanded human sacrifices; and has not only
been worshipped by magicians and witches, but has, up to our own days,
had his priests. France, however, has not the Devil alone in his mind;
his thoughts range higher.

And he not only throws light in a bantering way on the formation of
a myth, but also, and still more vividly, upon human verdicts. When
Madame Cornouiller suspects Madame Bergeret of wishing to keep the
vagrant gardener for herself, of not allowing other people to have any
share in Putois, the writer remarks, as it were with a smile, that many
historical conclusions which are accepted by every one are as well
founded as this conclusion of Madame Cornouillers. Here, as elsewhere,
France asserts that it is foolish to believe in the just judgment of

He has always thought it strange that Madame Roland should have
appealed to "impartial posterity," without reflecting that if her
contemporaries, who guillotined her, were cruel apes, there was every
probability of their descendants being the same.

The world's history is the world's verdict, wrote Schiller. He is a
naïve man who believes this. Posterity is just only to this extent,
that the questions are of indifference to it; and as it is with the
greatest difficulty that it can examine the dead, and as, moreover, it
is itself not an impersonal thing, but an aggregate of more or less
prejudiced human beings, the verdict takes shape accordingly. Historic
justice is a Putois.

Fame is a Putois, an imaginary, impalpable being, that is pursued by
thousands, and that melts into nothing just when it should display
itself in full vigour--namely, after their death.

Everywhere we have imaginary, artificial existence, proclaimed to be
real, and accepted as such. It is not at all necessary to confine
ourselves to religion, where it is only too easy to discover Putois,
whose huge shadow darkens theology in its entirety. Let us think of the
illusions in politics, of the part played by titles in social life. Or
let us remember the place occupied by imaginary existences in our own
emotional life. Suppose that we could transfer to canvas the image of
the beloved one which forms itself in the imagination of the lover at
the moment when he sees all her supposed perfections, and afterwards
place alongside of it the image of her which remains when love has
evaporated and he has stripped her, one by one, of all the qualities
which enchanted him--the description of the first picture would not
seem less unreal than the description of Putois.

The reader who muses over the little story will feel how many ideas
it sets in motion, and will, like the inhabitants of Saint-Omer, find
traces of Putois everywhere.

The fault in most historical descriptions is that the pictures of the
past are distorted in accordance with the significance which they
have acquired for a later age. Gobineau makes Michael Angelo talk
of Raphael as people did in the nineteenth century when they named
them together. Wilde makes John the Baptist speak as he does in the
Gospels, which were written, with an aim which led to distortion, long
after his death. Wherever in modern poetry or art the figure of Jesus
is treated, no matter in what spirit--let it be by Paul Heyse, by
Sadakichi Hartmann the Japanese, or Edward Söderberg the Dane--He is
the principal figure of His day, occupying the thoughts of all.

France, in his story, _Judæas Procurator_, has, in an extremely clever
manner, indicated the place occupied by Jesus in the consciousness
of a contemporary Roman. To any one who can read, the fact that the
life and death of Jesus interested only a little band of humble people
in Jerusalem, is sufficiently established by the circumstance that
Josephus, who knows everything that happens in the Palestine of his
day, does not so much as name Him. The man who argues that such an
event as the Crucifixion must have made some impression forgets what
a common and unheeded incident a crucifixion was in troublous times.
During the Jewish war of the year 70, in the course of which 13.000
Jews were killed at Skythopolis, 50.000 in Alexandria, 40,000 at
Jotapata--1,100,000 in all--Titus crucified on an average 500 Jews
every day. When, impelled by hunger, they crept under the walls of
Jerusalem, they were captured, tortured, and crucified. At last there
was no more wood for crosses left in Palestine.

As his principal character, France has taken the Titus Ælius Lamia to
whom the seventeenth ode of Horace's Third Book is addressed--a gay
young Roman who, according to France, is banished by Tiberius for a
flagrant love-affair with a consuls wife, goes to Palestine, and meets
with a friendly reception in the house of Pontius Pilate. Forty years
pass; Ælius Lamia has long been back in Italy; he is at Baiæ, taking
the baths, and is sitting one day by a path upon a height reading
Lucretius, when, in the occupant of a litter borne past by slaves, it
seems to him that he recognises his old host, Pilate.

And it really is Pilate, who has come, accompanied by his eldest
daughter, now a widow, to take the baths. They talk of old days--of
all the trouble Pontius had with those wretched Jews, who refused to
do homage to the image of the Emperor on the banners, and allowed
themselves to be flogged to death rather than worship it. They
continually came to him, too, demanding a sentence of death on some
unfortunate creature whose crime he was unable to discover, and who
appeared to him to be as mad as his accusers. Lamia declares that
Pontius lacked appreciation of the Jews' good qualities, but confesses
that his own predilection was in favour of the Jewesses. He recalls
an evening on which he saw one of them dancing with uplifted arms
to the clang of cymbals, on a ragged carpet in a miserably lighted,
wretched drinking-booth. The dance was barbaric, the voice hoarse,
but in the motion of the limbs there was sorcery, and the eyes were
Cleopatra's. She had heavy red hair, this girl, whose charms enticed
the young Roman to follow her everywhere. "But she ran away from me," he
continued, when the young lay preacher and miracle-worker came from
Galilee to Jerusalem. She became inseparable from him, and joined the
little band of men and women who were always with him. "You remember
him, of course?" "No," replies Pilate. "His name was Jesus, I think;
he was from Nazareth" "I do not remember him," reaffirms Pilate. "You
were obliged to have him crucified." "Jesus--" mutters Pilate, "from
Nazareth--I have no recollection of it."

Here we have a characteristic example of Frances manner of producing
his effects, and of his art in its profound truth.

So far is he from seeing Pilate's connection with Jesus in the light
of later times that he represents him as completely forgetting the
whole occurrence, which was an everyday one to him--whilst Lamia only
remembers it because of Magdalene.

France has drawn Magdalene again in the tale of _Læta Acilia_, one of
those composing the volume entitled _Balthasar_. Here he represents her
as driven from Judæa, and arriving by ship at Marseilles, where she
tries to convert her protectress, a Roman knight's wife. The Roman lady
desires a child. Magdalene promises to pray for her. The next time she
comes to the house _Læta Acilia_ is pregnant. And now Magdalene tells
her that she herself was a sinner when she first beheld the fairest of
men, the Son of Man; that He drove seven devils out of her; and that
she fell on her knees before Him in the house of one Simon and poured
precious ointment from an alabaster box over His sacred feet. She
repeats the words which the gentle Rabbi uttered in her defence when
His disciples, with coarse taunts, would have driven her away. Since
then she has lived in the shadow of the Master as in a new Paradise.
And to her it was that He appeared first after His resurrection.

It seems to the Roman lady that Magdalene is endeavouring to impart to
her a distaste for the pleasures of her placid life. Until now she has
had no idea of there being any other happiness in the world except that
which she knows.

"I have no desire to know your God. You have loved him too supremely.
To please him one is to fall at his feet with unloosened hair! That is
no posture for the wife of a Roman knight. Go, Jewess! Your God can
never be mine. I have not lived the life of a sinner, and I have not
been possessed with seven devils. I have not wandered in ways of error;
I am a woman deserving of respect. Go!"

What attracts France in these characters is the contrast between the
emotional life of the two women, between the religiously erotic
rapture of the Asiatic and the tradition-sanctioned conjugal love of
the Roman matron.

It is always as the creative writer that he touches history.

Among the many things in which France does not believe is history as
a science. History, he says, is a representation of the events of the
past. But what is an event? A remarkable fact. Who decides whether
a fact is remarkable or not? The historian decides it, arbitrarily,
according to his taste. A fact is, moreover, an exceedingly composite
thing. Does the historian represent it in all its compositeness? That
would be impossible. Hence he gives us it cropped and pruned. And yet
again, the historic fact is the final consequence of unhistoric or
unknown facts. How can the historian demonstrate their concatenation?

This line of argument appeals so forcibly to France that he sets it
forth no fewer than three times--in the preface to _La Vie Littéraire_,
in _Les Opinions de M. Jérôme Coignard_, and in _Le Jardin d'Épicure_.
As the creative writer he chills the ardour of the investigator by his
scepticism. It is, he says, impossible to know the past; no one is able
to read everything that would require to be read. Twice he relates the
same fable in illustration of his argument:

When young Prince Zemire succeeded his father on the throne of Persia,
he summoned a convocation of all the learned men of his kingdom, and
addressed them thus:

"My revered teacher has impressed upon me that kings would be less
liable to error if they were acquainted with the history of the past.
Write me a history of the world, and make certain that it is complete."

After the lapse of twenty years the learned men reappeared before the
king, followed by a caravan composed of twelve camels, each bearing 500

The secretary of the society made a short speech and presented the 6000

The king, whose time was fully occupied with the affairs of the State,
expressed his gratitude for the trouble taken, but added: "I am now
middle-aged, and even if I live to be old I shall not have time to
read such a long history. Abridge it!" After labouring twenty years
longer the learned men returned, followed by three camels bearing 1500
volumes, and said: "Here is our new work; we believe that nothing
essential is omitted."

"That may be; but I am an old man now. Abridge still further, and with
all possible speed!"

After the lapse of only ten years they reappeared, followed by a young
elephant, bearing only 500 volumes. "This time we have been exceedingly

"Not yet sufficiently so," replied the king. "My life is almost over.
Abridge again!"

Five years passed, and the secretary returned alone, walking with
crutches, and leading a small ass, whose load was one large book.

"Hurry!" called an officer. "The king is at the point of death."

"I die," said the king, "without knowing the history of mankind."

"Not so, sire," answered the aged man of learning; "I can compress it
for you into three words: They were born, suffered, and died."

We see how it is that France, in spite of his great gifts as an
investigator, has not become a historian, but a novelist and

He is not, however, so pessimistic as we might conclude from the
closing words of his fable. The human beings whom he describes have
pleasures as well as pains, and he invariably advocates pleasure as
superior to every kind of abnegation of nature, and combats the theory
that there is good in suffering.

But this scepticism with regard to history is typical of his sceptical
spirit generally.

The danger of extreme intellectual refinement is that it disposes to
doubt. The interest in humanity of the man who sees the many-sidedness
of everything is apt to be swallowed up in contempt for humanity. And
once this has happened he is quite likely, from sheer pessimistic
reasonableness, to become the supporter of high-handed tyranny.

France has run this danger. Ten years ago it seemed as if the course
of his development were quite as likely to lead him, practically, to
reaction as to Radicalism.

When Abel Herman's book, _Le Cavalier Miserey_, a military novel of
some ability which criticised the army, was forbidden to soldiers,
France wrote: "I know only a few lines of the famous order of the
day published by the colonel of the Twelfth Regiment of Chasseurs at
Rouen. They are as follows: 'Every copy of _Le Cavalier Miserey_ which
is confiscated shall be burned on the dunghill, and every soldier in
whose possession a copy is found shall be punished with imprisonment.'
It is not a particularly elegant sentence, and yet I would rather have
written it than the four hundred pages of the novel."

It was a crime in those days to utter a word against the army. Those
who know what France has written about it since, know what a change
has taken place in his views.

When the crisis came, it showed that in this man dwelt not merely,
as in certain others, intellect and ability, but a determined will,
and that in his inmost soul he was not such a doubter but that he had
preserved one belief and one enthusiasm--belief in the justification of
the great spiritual revolt of the eighteenth century, and enthusiasm
for it.

As author he owns two main elements of effectiveness. The first is the
ingenuousness which prevents his characters ever being--what Voltaire's
often are--marionettes; they move freely on their own legs, and lead a
life independent of their author and undisturbed by him. Their naïveté
makes them natural.

[Illustration: manuscript of a letter.]

The second element is art. France has what he himself calls the French
writer's three great qualities--in the first place, lucidity; in the
second, lucidity; in the third and last, lucidity. But this is only
one fundamental quality of his art. He has proved himself possessed
of moderation and tact, in which for him, as the true Frenchman (and
to use his own words), "all art consists." His detestation of Zola as
a novelist was due to that Italian's utter lack of moderation as an
artist. He himself as narrator is always subdued.

He lacks passion, and he is never wanton; his eroticism is only
Epicureanism. There is sensuality in his writing, and there is
intellectuality--a good deal of the former, an overpowering amount of
the latter.

He is, taken all in all, more the artistic and philosophic than the
creative author. Delacroix has said that art is exaggeration in the
right place. France's exaggeration lies in the wealth of ideas with
which he endows his characters, a wealth which the books can hardly
contain (_vide Thaïs_ and _Balthasar_), and for which place must be
made in whole additional volumes, such as _Les Opinions de M. Jérôme
Coignard, Le Jardin d'Épicure_, and a part of _Pierre Nozière_. He has
more ideas than feelings. He has ideas upon every subject, criticises
everything--not only human prejudices and institutions, but nature

He reproaches her, for instance, with giving us youth so early, and
letting us live the rest of our life without it; it ought to come last,
as the crown of life, like the butterfly stage, which in insects comes
after the larva and cocoon stage, and ought, as the last, highest phase
of development, to be directly followed by death.

France's own highest stage of development has come last. For in his
latest phase, as combatant, he is far from having lost any of his
satirical power, or of the artistic superiority which it confers.
Never has his irony been so effective as in his most distinctly
polemical work, _L'Anneau d'Améthyste_, where the most immoral actions,
one breach of the Seventh Commandment after the other, become links
in the cleverly woven chain of intrigues which, aiming at gratifying
an ambitious young _parvenu_ baron's desire to become member of an
ultra-Conservative aristocrat's hunt, result in procuring the episcopal
ring for a crafty, submissive priest. This priest has cringed to every
one, and by his humility has prevailed on men and women to act. Hardly
is he appointed before he reveals himself as the most warlike son of
the Church, the irreconcilable enemy of the State.

As an artist, France, even when he is most combative, is Olympian and

That he is not lacking in passion, behind his art and apart from it,
was revealed on the day when the serene sceptic suddenly faced round
and as polemist adopted a party, as popular orator proclaimed himself a
radical Socialist.

He was no born orator; according to French custom, he read his
speeches. But his greatness as a writer stood him in good stead. He
generally began by riveting the attention of the crowd by something
graphic and tangible--perhaps some old fairy-tale. One day he told
the story of the wonderful wrestler who could transform himself into
a fire-breathing dragon, and when the dragon was overcome, into an
inoffensive duck. "I could not help thinking of this wrestler the other
day," he said, "when I read the programme which the Nationalists have
affixed to the walls. We have seen them on our streets and boulevards
ejecting fire from their eyes, their mouths, and their nostrils. Like
the most frightful dragons, they flapped their wings and showed their
terror-inspiring claws. They were, nevertheless, overcome; and now they
have come to life again, to make a fresh trial of strength, with smooth
feathers, with an appearance of belonging to our household, with a
domestic animal's mild voice. What a remarkable transformation!"

The introduction was so amusing and popular that the audience, bursting
into prolonged laughter and merry acclamation, was won at once.

One November evening in Paris, in the year 1904, when the delegates of
the Scandinavian Parliaments were invited to an entertainment at the
residence of M. Delcassé, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, where an
opportunity was given them to see something of upper-class society,
including the Diplomatic Corps, with its elegant and beautifully
dressed ladies, I went, instead of accompanying them to this attractive
sight, to the Trocadéro, where on the same evening, at the invitation
of the Socialist party, three of the foremost men of France were to
address a large meeting.

The hall had long been filled; but a seat had been kindly reserved for
me, which, being on the platform beside the speakers, enabled me at
a glance to view the 6000 human beings who crowded the floor of the
enormous and beautiful building, and its galleries to the very roof.
The hall is built like a huge theatre with the stage on a level with
the dress circle. The audience, which had arrived early, sat in eager

The three speakers were Francis de Pressensé, Jean Jaurès, and Anatole
France--the most strictly upright politician, the most eloquent orator,
and the greatest writer of the France of to-day.

Francis de Pressensé's speech was distinguished by its simple, noble
power. It was Huguenot oratory. He holds himself straight and still,
speaks without a gesture, without an appeal to his audience, except
that of his assertions to their sense of right. He communicates fact
after fact and explains them. His command of language is so great
that he has never to search for words, however quickly he speaks, and
never mutilates a sentence, however hurriedly he flings it from him.
In contrast to the usual custom of French orators, he makes not the
slightest pause when he has said something particularly effective and
applause breaks forth. He allows no time for the applause, but speaks
on without a movement or a break, seemingly unconscious of it.

When the time came for Jaurès to speak, part of the platform was
cleared, because he required its full length. The eloquence of the
great Socialist is genuine Catholic eloquence. He recalls the most
remarkable of the preachers in the churches of Naples. He, like them,
is a Southern. And like them he requires a roomy stage, on which,
whilst speaking, he can walk up and down, halt, and turn in all

He has a voice like the trumpet of the Last Judgment. As soon as he
opened his mouth its metallic clang made the windows in the roof of
the hall ring. He does not use it with much skill, does not even
moderate it to begin with, employs no crescendo or diminuendo, but is
from the first to the last moment all ardour and passion. Hence even
in a hall which holds 6000 persons his voice seems too strong, and not
unfrequently produces a disturbing resonance. He would be heard better
if he spared himself more.

He has the instincts of the actor. He charges, like a fighting ram,
with bent head at an invisible enemy. Or he bends forwards with
outstretched arms, and then with a jerk is erect again. Or he makes
himself small, crouches down till he is almost sitting, and then
suddenly starts up. He talks himself into a heat; in the end is bathed
in perspiration. His style is emotional--the militant pathos of a man
who loves his fellow men.

In his improvisations he is unable to keep himself in check. He goes on
too long. Up and down, up and down in front of one marches the short,
broadshouldered, strongly-built figure, large-limbed, thick-necked,
with a round head and handsome bearded face. Beside him France and
Pressensé looked like stag and horse beside a bull.

France did not really speak, but read, as he always does--perhaps
because, as writer, he has too much tenderness for each sentence he has
composed to deliver it up to the chance of the moment. His style, which
does not permit of a word being omitted or transposed, is ironical;
but the irony every here and there gives way to earnestness, which is
the more effective from its rarity. And this style meets with approval;
in all its subduedness it provokes laughter and carries conviction. He
relates what has happened, interjects a point of interrogation--and
his hearers smile; a point of exclamation--and they are compelled to
reflect. He inserts a parenthesis, and between its curves one catches a
glimpse of all the stupidity and insolence standing outside of them.

France spoke first of the state of matters produced by Bonaparte's
Concordat, of the fact that the State pays the clergy of three creeds,
the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, but only of these three,
although during the course of the nineteenth century the country has
acquired far more Mohammedan subjects than it has Protestant or Jewish.

He said, with a playful allusion to the old story of the three rings,
told by Boccaccio and employed by Lessing in _Nathan der Wise_:

"With us the Minister of Public Worship, like the father in the old
Jewish parable, has three rings. He does not tell us which is the
true one, and in this he is wise. But if he is to have more than one,
why limit the number to three? Our Heavenly Father has given His sons
more than three rings, and they are not able to discern which is the
original, the true ring. Monsieur le Ministre, why have you not all
your Heavenly Father's rings? You pay the clergy of certain creeds
and not those of others. You surely do not make yourself the judge of
religious truth? You cannot maintain that the three religions are in
possession of the truth, seeing that each of them vigorously condemns
both the others?"

As every one is aware, the encroachments of the Roman Catholic Church
have led to the urgent demand by the Republican party for separation
of Church and State. France maintained that this separation must take
place at once. But what are to be its conditions? He scoffed at the
old cry: A free Church in a free State. This would be equivalent to
an armed Church in a disarmed State. "We undoubtedly owe the Church
liberty," he said; "only not an absolute, theoretical liberty, which
does not exist, but real liberty, a liberty which is bounded by all
other liberties. You may be perfectly certain, however, that the Church
will not be the least grateful to us for this. It will receive this
liberty as an insult and mockery."

France then proceeded to speak of the relations between Europe
and Eastern Asia, and in doing so said: "The European Powers have
accustomed themselves, whenever any breach of order occurs in the great
Empire of China, to send out troops--either one Power independently or
several in combination--which troops restore order by means of theft,
violence, plunder, slaughter, and incendiarism, and pacify the country
with guns and cannons.

"The unarmed Chinese do not defend themselves, or defend themselves
badly. They are slaughtered with agreeable facility. They are polite
and ceremonious, but we reproach them with a want of goodwill towards
Europeans. Our complaint against them is of the same nature as Monsieur
Duchaillu's complaint of the gorilla.

"That gentleman shot a female gorilla. She died clasping her young one
to her breast. He tore the young animal from its mother's arms, and
dragged it after him across Africa to sell it in Europe. But it gave
him just cause of complaint. It was unsociable. It preferred dying of
hunger to living in his society, and refused to take food. 'I was,' he
writes, 'unable to overcome its bad disposition.'

"We complain of the Chinese with as much right as M. Duchaillu
complained of his gorilla."

France went on to speak of the yellow danger for Europe, and
demonstrated that it was not to be compared with the white danger for
Asia. The yellow men have not sent Buddhist missionaries to Paris,
London, and St. Petersburg. Neither has any yellow military expedition
landed in France and demanded a strip of territory within which the
yellow men are not to be subject to the laws of the country, but to a
court composed of Mandarins have come to the conclusion that, things
being bad at the best, the existing state of matters was probably as
good as the untried--that this man should proclaim himself a son of
the Revolution, side with the working man, acknowledge his belief in
liberty, throw away his load and draw his sword--this is what moves
a popular audience, this is what plain people can understand and can

It has shown them that behind the author there dwelt a man--behind the
great author a brave man.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Anatole France" ***

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