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Title: Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature - 5. The Romantic School in France
Author: Brandes, Georg
Language: English
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MAIN CURRENTS IN NINETEENTH CENTURY LITERATURE

BY

GEORG BRANDES


IN SIX VOLUMES


V.

THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL IN FRANCE


THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1904



    _Dis-nous mil huit cent trente._
    _Époque fulgurante,_
    _Ses luttes, ses ardeurs...._
                        --TH. DE BANVILLE

    _Nicht was lebendig, kraftvoll sich verkündigt_
    _Ist das gefährlich Furchtbare. Das ganz_
    _Gemeine ist's, das ewig Gestrige,_
    _Was immer war und immer wiederkehrt_
    _Und morgen gilt, weil's heute hat gegolten._
                                        --SCHILLER.


CONTENTS

         I. THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND
        II. THE GENERATION OF 1830
       III. ROMANTICISM
        IV. CHARLES NODIER
         V. RETROSPECT--FOREIGN INFLUENCES
        VI. RETROSPECT--INDIGENOUS SOURCES
       VII. DE VIGNY'S POETRY AND HUGO'S "ORIENTALES"
      VIII. HUGO AND DE MUSSET
        IX. DE MUSSET AND GEORGE SAND
         X. ALFRED DE MUSSET
        XI. GEORGE SAND
       XII. BALZAC
      XIII. BALZAC
       XIV. BALZAC
        XV. BALZAC
       XVI. BALZAC
      XVII. BALZAC
     XVIII. BEYLE
       XIX. BEYLE
        XX. BEYLE
       XXI. MÉRIMÉE
      XXII. BEYLE AND MÉRIMÉE
     XXIII. MÉRIMÉE
     XXXIV. MÉRIMÉE
       XXV. MÉRIMÉE
      XXVI. MÉRIMÉE AND GAUTIER
     XXVII. THÉOPHILE GAUTIER
    XXVIII. THÉOPHILE GAUTIER
      XXIX. SAINTE-BEUVE
       XXX. SAINTE-BEUVE
      XXXI. SAINTE-BEUVE AND MODERN CRITICISM
     XXXII. THE DRAMA: VITET, DUMAS, DE VIGNY, HUGO
    XXXIII. LITERATURE IN ITS RELATION TO THE SOCIAL
            AND POLITICAL MOVEMENTS OF THE DAY
     XXXIV. THE OVERLOOKED AND FORGOTTEN
      XXXV. CONCLUSION


    LIST OF PORTRAITS

    DE MUSSET
    GEORGE SAND
    BALZAC
    HENRY BEYLE (STENDHAL)
    MÉRIMÉE
    THÉOPHILE GAUTIER
    SAINTE-BEUVE



I


THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND


The literature produced in France between the years 1824 and 1828
is important and admirable. After the upheavals of the Revolution,
the wars of the Empire, and the lassitude of the reign of Louis
XVIII., there arose a young generation that applied itself with
eager enthusiasm to those highest intellectual pursuits which had so
long been neglected. During the Revolution and the wars of Napoleon
the youths of France had had other vocations than the reformation
of literature and art. The best energies of the nation had been
diverted into the channels of politics, military enterprise, and civil
administration. Now a great volume of intellectual force which had long
been confined was suddenly set free.

The period of the restored Bourbon kings and the Monarchy of July may
be defined as that of the decisive appearance of the bourgeoisie on
the historical stage. With the fall of Napoleon the industrial period
of history begins. Confining our attention to France, we observe that
the new division of the national property which had been made during
the Revolution, and which it had been Napoleon's economic mission to
vindicate to the rest of Europe, now began to produce its natural
consequences. All restrictions had been removed from industry and
commerce; monopolies and privileges had been abolished; the confiscated
lands of the Church and estates of the nobility, broken up and sold
to the highest bidder, were now in the hands of at least twenty times
as many owners as before. The result was that capital, free, floating
capital, now began to be the moving power of society and consequently
the object of the desires of the individual. After the Revolution of
July the power of wealth gradually supersedes the power of birth and
takes the power of royalty into its service. The rich man is received
into the ranks of the nobility, acquires the privileges of a peer, and,
by utilising the constitution, manages to draw ever-increasing profit
from the monarchical form of government. Thus the pursuit of money,
the struggle for money, the employment of money in great commercial
and industrial enterprises, becomes the leading social feature of the
period; and this prosaic engrossment, which contrasts so strongly with
the revolutionary and martial enthusiasm of the foregoing period,
helps, as background, to give the literature of the day its romantic,
idealistic stamp. One only of its eminent authors, one of the greatest,
Balzac, did not feel himself repelled by the period, but made the
newborn power of capital, the new ruler of souls, money, the hero of
his great epic; the other artists of the day, though it was often the
prospect of material gain which inspired their labours, kept in their
enthusiasms and their works at as great a distance as possible from the
new reality.

The decade 1825-35, the most remarkable and most fertile period from
the literary point of view, was from the political, colourless and
inglorious. Its focus is the Revolution of July, but this Revolution is
a solitary blood-spot amidst all the grey.

The first half of the decade, 1825-30, the reign of Charles X., is
the period of the religious reaction. The three ministries--Villèle,
Martignac, and Polignac--do not mark so much three stages of the
reaction as three different tempos: Allegro, Andante, and Allegro
furioso. During the Villèle ministry the Jesuits attained to almost
unlimited power. The monasteries were restored; laws of mediæval
severity regarding sacrilege were enforced (death, for example, being
the punishment for the robbery of a church); aid was refused to all
poor people who could not produce certificates of confession; and
in 1827 a law circumscribing the liberty of the press was proposed
which would have reduced the enemies of the Church to silence; but
this proposal the Government was obliged to retract, owing to the
opposition of the Chamber of Peers. The citizen troops were disbanded,
the censorship was restored; then the ministry was defeated by a
majority in the Chambers, and resigned in January 1828. The cabinet of
uncompromising churchmen was followed by one which pursued the policy
of concession; the Martignac ministry made a feeble endeavour to stem
the power of the Jesuits, but the only result of this was that the King
seized the opportunity of the first reverse the Government suffered in
the Chambers, to dismiss it and replace it by a ministry whose leader,
Polignac, previously ambassador to the court of England, was a man
after his own heart. Polignac believed in the monarchy as God's shadow
upon earth; believed (and was confirmed by visions in his belief) that
he had received from God the mission to restore it to its ancient
glory. But his Government was so unpopular that its one military
achievement, the conquest of Algiers, was coldly received by the
country and openly regretted by the strong Opposition. The dissolution
of the Chambers led, in spite of the pastoral letters of the bishops
and the personal interference of the King, to the re-election of
the Opposition, and on this followed the _coup d'état_. There were
three days of fighting, and the ministry was swept away by the wave
of popular feeling which carried with it the throne and the house of
Bourbon.

But although the first half of the decade was, politically speaking,
a period of reaction, it presents a very different aspect when
regarded from the social and intellectual point of view. In the first
place, the oppression itself produced the desire for freedom. The
bourgeoisie and the professional classes, who finally, with the aid
of the populace of the capital and the students, dethroned the house
of Bourbon, were during the whole period in a state of increasing
discontent and opposition. One of the consequences of this was that
literature, which at first was as fully inspired as politics with the
spirit of reaction against the doctrines and doings of the close of the
eighteenth century, and which started with any amount of enthusiasm
for Catholicism, monarchy, and the Middle Ages, completely changed
its tone. Chateaubriand's dismissal from the Villèle ministry gave
the signal (see _Main Currents_, iii. 293). In the second place, it
is to be observed that the intellectual life of those highest circles
of society which prescribed the tone and style of literature, was
only outwardly in sympathy with the political reaction. Regarded
from one point of view, the Restoration was an aftermath of the
eighteenth century in the nineteenth, of the age of humanity in the
age of industry. From the powdered court emanated courtly manners and
customs, from the salons of the old nobility emanated the free-thought
on moral and religious subjects in which the eighteenth century had
gloried. One of the strong points of that national tradition which
these highest circles defended and endeavoured to continue, was the
recognition of talent in every shape; they envisaged literature and art
with many-sided culture and wide sympathy. A tolerant, sceptical spirit
in religious matters, genial unrestraint and delicate forbearance in
the domain of morality, was, so to speak, the atmosphere inhaled and
exhaled by good society; and no atmosphere could be more favourable
and more fructifying for a literature in active process of growth. As
the oppression of the reaction begot liberalism in politics, so the
culture of the best society allowed unpolitical literature free play
both in the domain of feeling and that of thought, demanding nothing
but refinement and perfection of form. Hence literature was in a most
favourable position to give the reins, to give a start, to a new
intellectual movement.

The July dynasty was founded, the tri-coloured citizen-monarchy was
established, Louis Philippe was stealthily elevated to the throne of
France, holding the difficult position of king by the grace of the
Revolution.

The pregnant characteristics of his government revealed themselves
during the first five years of his reign. There was, in the first
place, that want of a decided, dignified foreign policy inevitable in
a monarchy that was supported exclusively by the prosperous middle
classes. The cautious, peace-loving King brought one humiliation after
another upon France. For the sake of the peace of nations, he refused
the throne offered by the Belgians to his second son, and with the same
motive he quietly allowed Austria to suppress the Italian revolutions,
which the French nation correctly regarded as the offspring of the
Revolution of July. He was incapable of preventing the suppression of
the Polish insurrection and the surrender of Warsaw, which occasioned
real national mourning in France. The country, as one of the great
powers, lost daily in prestige and influence. And in its internal
relations the Government displayed an equal want of dignity. The
constant demands for money which were made by the royal family and
almost invariably refused by the Chambers produced a most disagreeable
impression.

For a short time Louis Philippe was popular, popular as the soldier
of Valmy and Gemappes, as the citizen King, the former exile and
schoolmaster, whom Lafayette himself had called "the best republic."
But he had not the faculty of preserving popularity, though he made an
eager bid for it to begin with. He was a gifted and, essentially, a
prudent man. His family life was admirable; he was thoroughly domestic,
and regular in his habits; his sons attended the public schools; he
himself, in the attire of an ordinary citizen, carrying the historical
umbrella, walked unattended in the streets of Paris, always ready to
return a bow or a "Vive le Roi!" with a friendly word or a shake of the
hand. But the bourgeois virtues which he displayed are not those which
Frenchmen value in their rulers. The cry: "We want rulers who ride,"
shouted at gouty Louis XVIII., describes one of the feelings which led
to the dethronement of Louis Philippe.

For when Louis Philippe did ride, the spectacle was anything but
an inspiring one. In June 1832, after one of the innumerable small
insurrections in Paris, he declared the city to be in a state of siege,
and on this occasion held a review of 50,000 citizen troops and regular
soldiers, who were drawn up on each side of the boulevard. The King
did not ride along the middle of the street, but first along the right
side, where the citizen soldiers were stationed, leaning from his
saddle the whole time to shake hands with as many of them as possible,
and two hours later back in the same way along the line of the regular
troops. He looked as if his ribs must inevitably be broken. He kept on
smiling the whole time; his cocked hat slipped down over his forehead
and gave him an unhappy look; his eyes wore a beseeching expression,
as if he were entreating favour, and also forgiveness for having
declared them all to be in a state of siege. What a spectacle for an
impressionable, imaginative people, for a crowd of which the older
members had seen Napoleon Bonaparte ride past "with his statuesque,
Cæsar-like countenance, his fixed gaze, and his inapproachable ruler's
hands."[1]

In spite of the King's eager endeavour to win popularity, there was
a wider gulf between his court and the people than there had been
between the people and the paternal monarchy of the Restoration.
The old nobility kept away from the new court, and there was a more
distinct separation of class from class. With enmity and disgust the
landed proprietors saw the magnates of the stock-exchange usurping all
power. Legitimists and the superior bourgeois class, politicians and
artists, ceased to associate. One by one the salons of the old monarchy
were closed, and with them disappeared the gaiety and naturalness of
the refined _beau monde_. With the old form of government vanished
its accompaniments of magnificent elegance and graceful frivolity,
vanished the fine lady's lively wit and charming audacity. In the
circle of the wealthy bankers whom the King patronised and the Crown
Prince associated with before his marriage, the place of all this was
taken by English sport and club fashions, a vulgar addiction to the
pleasures of the table, and tasteless magnificence and luxury. The
King was originally a Voltairian, and in his family alliances he had
shown a leaning to Protestantism, but in his anxiety for the safety
of his throne he made a hasty change of front; he humbled himself (in
vain, as it proved) to win the favour of the clergy, and the tone
of the court became pious. The upper middle classes simultaneously
developed a half-anxious, half-affected piety, originating in fear
of the Fourth Estate. Hypocrisy, which the aristocratic reactionary
literature had fostered, now began to spread into the bourgeois class,
and free-thought was considered "bad form" in a woman. Morals became
outwardly stricter; a more English tone prevailed; but in reality men
were less moral; society was lenient to the fraud of the millionaire,
pharisaically severe to the woman whose heart had led her astray.
"The previous generation had not," as one of the historians of the
day observes, "placed under the ban of society either the priest who
forsook his church or the woman who forsook her husband, so long as
their motives were unselfish; now it was the sign of _mauvais ton_ to
desire the re-institution of divorce, not to mention the marriage of
priests." The Faubourg St. Honoré, the quarter of the financiers, set
the tone.

Little wonder that the umbrella soon became the symbol of this
monarchy, and the expression _Juste-milieu_--which the King had once
cleverly used in speaking of the policy that ought to be employed--the
nickname for everything weak and inefficient, for a power without
lustre and dignity.

If we take the decade 1825-35 as a whole, it is easy to understand how
hopeless it must have seemed from the aesthetic point of view.


[1] Expressions used by Heinrich Heine, who witnessed the scene and
instituted the parallel.



II


THE GENERATION OF 1830


It is against this grey background, this foil of Legitimist cowls and
Louis-Philippe umbrellas--in this society where the new-born power
of capital, strong as Hercules, has, even in its cradle, strangled
all the external romance of life--on this stage upon the grey walls
of which an invisible finger has written in grey letters the word
_Juste-milieu_--that a fiery, glowing, noisy literature, a literature
enamoured of scarlet and of passion, suddenly makes its appearance.
All the conditions were present in combination which were certain to
impel young, restless minds towards romantic enthusiasm, towards ardent
contempt for public opinion, towards worship of unbridled passion
and unrestrained genius. Hatred of the bourgeoisie (as in Germany a
generation earlier hatred of the Philistines) becomes the watchword
of the day. But whereas the word "Philistine" conjures up a picture
of the chimney-corner and the pipe, the word "bourgeois" at once
suggests the omnipotence of economic interests. Its essential antipathy
to utilitarianism and plutocracy turned the intellectual current of
the day, in the case of the men of talent already before the public,
and still more strongly in the case of the budding geniuses, in the
direction of antagonism to everything existing and accepted, at the
same time mightily increasing the force of the current. The religion of
art, and enthusiasm for liberty in art, suddenly took possession of all
hearts. Art was the highest, art was light, art was fire, art was all
in all; its beauty and audacity alone imparted value to life.

The young generation had heard in their childhood of the great events
of the Revolution, had known the Empire, and were the sons of heroes
or of victims. Their mothers had conceived them between two battles,
and the thunder of cannon had ushered them into the world. To the young
poets and artists of the day there were only two kinds of human beings,
the flaming and the grey. On the one side there was the art which meant
blood, scarlet, movement, audacity; on the other, a strictly regular,
timid, bourgeois, colourless art. Everything in the life of their day
seemed to them unpoetic, utilitarian, devoid of genius, grey; they
desired to show their contempt for such a day, their admiration of
genius, and their hatred of the bourgeois spirit. For now, since the
middle-class had become the influential one, this spirit had become a
power.

Seen from the point of view of our own day, the young men of those days
appear to have been younger than youth generally is--younger, fresher,
more richly gifted, more ardent and hot-blooded. And we see the youth
of France, who in the days of the Revolution had by their devotion
changed the political and social conditions of the country, and in
the days of the Empire had risked their lives on every battlefield in
France, Italy, Germany, Russia, and Egypt, now devoting themselves with
the same ardour to the culture of literature and the arts. Here, too,
there were revolutions to be made, victories to win, and countries
to conquer. During the Revolution they had worshipped liberty, under
Napoleon martial glory; now they worshipped art.

For the first time in France the word art came to be regularly applied
to literature. In the eighteenth century literature had aimed at
transforming itself into philosophy, and much was then included under
this denomination to which we no longer apply the word; now it aimed at
the name and dignity of art.

The explanation of the change is, that the analytical and reasoning
tendency which distinguishes both the imaginative and reflective
works of the classical period, had in the new century slowly made way
for interest in the actually existing, in what is perceivable by the
senses. And the deeper-lying reason of this new preference was that men
now placed nature, original, unconscious, rustic, uncultivated nature,
above all the culture of civilisation. Why? Because a historically
minded age had succeeded to a rationalising one. A man no longer
coveted the title of philosopher, for it was now considered a greater
distinction to be original than to be a self-conscious thinker.
The poetical literature of the eighteenth, nay, even that of the
seventeenth century was despised, because it was purely intellectual;
because, bloodless and elegant, it seemed to have been produced by
attention to conventions and rules, not to have been born and to have
grown. For whereas the eighteenth century had held thinking and acting
to be the highest forms of activity, the children of the new age
regarded origination, natural genesis, as the highest. It was a German
idea, Herder's and Goethe's, by which men's minds were unconsciously
occupied, and which produced in them an aversion for rules and academic
principles. For how could art as unconscious, natural production be
subjected to arbitrary external rules!

An intellectual movement had begun which recalled the Renaissance. It
was as if the air which men breathed intoxicated them. In the long
period during which France had been at an intellectual standstill
her great neighbours, Germany and England, had hastened past her,
had got a long start in the work of emancipation from old, hampering
traditions. She felt this, felt it as a humiliation, and the feeling
gave a sharp impulse to the new art enthusiasm. And now the works of
foreign authors, both the new and the hitherto unknown older books,
made their way into the country and revolutionised the minds of the
young; every one read translations of Sir Walter Scott's novels, of
Byron's _Corsair_ and _Lara_, and devoured Goethe's _Werther_ and
Hoffmann's fantastic tales. All at once the votaries of the different
arts felt that they were brothers. Musicians studied the literature
both of their own country and of other nations; poets (such as Hugo,
Gautier, Mérimée, Borel) drew and painted. Poems were read in painters'
and sculptors' studios; Delacroix's and Devéria's pupils hummed Hugo's
ballads as they stood at their easels. Certain of the great foreign
authors, such as Scott and Byron, influenced poets (Hugo, Lamartine,
Musset), musicians (Berlioz, Halévy, Félicien David), and painters
(Delacroix, Delaroche, Scheffer). Artists attempt to overstep the
limits of their own in order to embrace a kindred art. Berlioz writes
Childe Harold and Faust symphonies, Félicien David a Desert symphony;
music becomes descriptive. First Delacroix and then Ary Scheffer
choose subjects from Dante, Shakespeare, and Byron; the art of the
painter at times becomes illustration of poetry. But it was the art
of painting which was most powerful in influencing the sister arts,
especially poetry, and that distinctly for good. The lover no longer,
as in the days of Racine, prayed his mistress "to crown his flame."
The public demanded naturalness of the author, and refused to accept
representations of impossibilities.

In 1824 Delacroix exhibits his _Massacre of Scios_, a picture with
a Grecian subject and a reminiscence of Byron, in 1831 _The Bishop
of Liège_, which illustrates Scott's _Quentin Durward_, in May 1831
_Liberty at the Barricades_. In February 1829, Auber's opera, _La
Muette de Portici_, makes a great sensation; Meyerbeer's _Robert le
Diable_ follows in 1831. In February 1830 Victor Hugo's _Hernani_ is
played for the first time at the Théâtre Français; in 1831 Dumas'
_Antony_ is a grand success. The authors Dumas and Hugo, Delacroix the
painter, the sculptor David d'Angers, the musical composers Berlioz
and Auber, the critics Sainte-Beuve and Gautier, Frédéric Lemaître
and Marie Dorval the scenic artists, and, corresponding to them, the
two great dæmonic musical virtuosi Chopin and Liszt--all these make
their appearance simultaneously. One and all proclaim the gospel of
nature and of passion, and around them assemble groups of young men who
apprehend and cultivate literature and art in a spirit akin to theirs.

These men did not always realise that in the eyes of posterity they
would constitute a natural group. Some of the greatest of them felt as
if they stood alone, and believed that the spirit and tendency of their
work was different from that of their contemporaries', nay, actually
antagonistic to it. Nor were they entirely wrong, for there are very
essential points of difference between them. Yet common excellences,
common prejudices, common aims, and common faults unite them and make
of them a whole. And it happened much more frequently than is generally
the case, that those whom reflection inclines us to class together
actually did feel themselves drawn to each other; many of the best
among them early joined hands and formed a league.

Seeking the connecting links we find, as it were, a chain which binds
the group together.

When, after the lapse of many years, we dryly say or write the words,
"they formed a school," we seldom take the trouble to conjure up
any adequately vivid impression of what the formation of a school
of literature and art signifies. There is a mysterious magic about
the process. Some one remarkable man, after a long unconscious or
half-conscious struggle, finally with full consciousness, frees himself
from prejudices and attains to clearness of vision; then, everything
being ready, the lightning of genius illuminates what he beholds. Such
a man gives utterance (as did Hugo in a prose preface of some score of
pages) to some thoughts which have never been thought or expressed in
the same manner before. They may be only half true, they may be vague,
but they have this remarkable quality that, in spite of more or less
indefiniteness, they affront all traditional prejudices and wound the
vanity of the day where it is most vulnerable, whilst they ring in
the ears of the young generation like a call, like a new, audacious
watchword.

What happens? Scarcely are these words spoken than there comes with
the speed and precision of an echo a thousand-tongued answer from the
wounded vanities and injured interests, an answer like the furious
baying of a hundred packs of hounds. And what more? First one man, then
another, then a third, comes to the spokesman of the new tendency,
each with his own standpoint, each with his revolt, his ambition,
his need, his hope, his resolve. They show him that the words he has
spoken are incarnated in them. Some communicate directly with him,
some with each other in his spirit and his name. Men who but lately
were as unknown to each other as they still are to the public, who
have been spiritually languishing, each in his separate seclusion,
now meet and marvel to find that they understand each other, that
they speak the same language, a language unknown to the rest of their
contemporaries. They are young, yet all are already in possession of
what to them constitutes life; the one has his dearly-bought joys, the
other his bracing sufferings; and from these life-elements each has
extracted his own portion of enthusiasm. Their meeting is electric;
they exchange ideas with youthful haste, impart to each other their
various sympathies and antipathies, enthusiasms and detestations; and
all these well-springs of feeling flow together like the streams that
form a river.

But the most beautiful feature in this crystallisation of artistic
spirits into a school is the reverence, the awe which, in spite of the
unanimity of their opinions, and in spite of their good comradeship,
each feels for the other. Outsiders are apt to confuse this with what
is satirically called "mutual admiration." But nothing is in reality
more unlike the interested homage paid in periods of decadence than the
naïve admiration of each other's talents exhibited by the men who are
unconsciously forming a school. Their hearts are too young, too pure,
not to admire in real earnest. One young productive mind regards the
other as something marvellous, which holds surprises in store. To the
one the workshop of the other's mind is like a sealed book; he cannot
guess what will next appear from it, has no idea what pleasures his
comrade has in store for him. They honour in one another something
which they value higher than the personality, than the usually as yet
undeveloped character, namely, the talent by virtue of which they are
all related to the deity they worship--art.

Seldom, however, in the world's history has the mutual admiration
accompanying an artistic awakening been carried to such a pitch as
it was by the generation of 1830. It became positive idolatry. All
the literary productions of the period show that the youth of the
day were intoxicated with the feeling of friendship and brotherhood.
Hugo's poems to Lamartine, Louis Boulanger, Sainte-Beuve, and David
d'Angers; Gautier's to Hugo, Jehan du Seigneur, and Petrus Borel; De
Musset's to Lamartine, Sainte-Beuve, and Nodier; and, very specially,
Sainte-Beuve's to all the standard-bearers of the school; Madame de
Girardin's articles; Balzac's dedications; George Sand's _Lettres d'un
Voyageur_--all these testify to a sincere, ardent admiration, which
entirely precluded the proverbial jealousy of authors.

They did not only praise one another, they communicated ideas to each
other and helped each other. Now it is an inspiring influence, now an
artistic criticism, now some actual service rendered, which knits the
bond of friendship between two authors of this period. Émile Deschamps
inspires Victor Hugo to borrow themes from the old Spanish Romancero;
Gautier writes the beautiful tulip sonnet in Balzac's _Un grand Homme
de Province a Paris_, and helps him to dramatise certain of his plots;
Sainte-Beuve reads George Sand's manuscripts and aids her with his
criticism; George Sand and De Musset influence one another powerfully
at a certain stage of their career; Madame de Girardin, Méry, Sandeau,
and Gautier collaborate in a novel written in letters; Mérimée is the
bond of union between the realists Beyle and Vitet and the romanticists.

The short period during which all meet and combine is the blossoming
time of literature. Before many years pass Nodier is in his grave, Hugo
is living in exile in Jersey, Alexandre Dumas is turning literature
into a trade, Sainte-Beuve and Gautier are to be found in Princess
Mathilde's circle, Mérimée is presiding over the Empress Eugenie's
courts of love, De Musset sits solitary over his absinthe, and George
Sand has retired to Nohant.

One and all in their riper years made new connections, connections
which aided their development; but their boldest and freshest, if not
always their most refined and beautiful work was done at the time when
they were holding their first meetings in Charles Nodier's quarters
at the Arsenal, or in the apartments in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs
where Hugo and his pretty young wife kept house on their 2000 francs
a year, or in Petrus Borel's garret, where the host's Hernani cloak
decorated the wall in company with a sketch by Devéria and a copy of
a Giorgione, and where, owing to lack of chairs, at least half of the
company had to stand.

These young Romanticists felt like brothers, like fellow-conspirators;
they felt that they were the sharers in a sweet and invigorating
secret; and this gave to the works of the school a flavour, an aroma
like that of the noble wines of a year when the vintage has been more
than ordinarily good. Ah! that bouquet of 1830! There is no other in
the century that can be compared with it.

In all the arts a break with tradition was aimed at and demanded. The
inward fire was to glow through and dissolve the old musical forms,
to devour lines and contours and transform painting into colour
symphonies, to rejuvenate literature. In all the arts colour, passion,
and style were aimed at and demanded--colour with such urgency that the
most gifted painter of the period, Delacroix, neglected drawing for
it; passion with such ardour that both lyric poetry and the drama were
in danger of degenerating into hysteric foolishness; style with such
artistic enthusiasm that some of the younger men, such as those two
opposite poles, Mérimée and Gautier, neglected the human groundwork of
their art and became devotees of style pure and simple.

The original, the unconscious, the popular was sought after and
demanded. "We have been rhetoricians," men cried; "we have never
understood the simple and the illogical--the savage, the people, the
child, woman, the poet!"

Hitherto the people had only served as a background in literature--in
Victor Hugo's dramas the passionate plebeian, the avenger and requiter,
appeared on the scene as the hero. Hitherto the savage had talked like
a Frenchman of the eighteenth century (Montesquieu, Voltaire)--Mérimée
in _Colomba_ and _Carmen_ depicted savage emotions in all their
wildness and freshness. Racine's child (in _Athalie_) had spoken like
a miniature edition of a grown-up man--Nodier with a childlike heart
put simple, innocent words into his children's mouths. In the French
literature of an earlier period, woman had generally acted with full
consciousness, arriving at conclusions like a man; see the works of
Corneille, Racine, and Voltaire. Corneille paid homage to virtue,
Crébillon the younger to frivolity and vice, but both the virtue and
the vice were conscious and acquired. George Sand, on the contrary,
depicted the innate nobility and natural goodness of a noble woman's
heart. Madame de Staël in her _Corinne_ had represented the gifted
woman as a being of great and commanding talent--George Sand, in
_Lélia_, represented her as a great sibyl. In olden days the poet had
been a courtier, like Racine and Molière, or a man of the world, like
Voltaire and Beaumarchais, or simply an ordinary decent citizen, like
Lafontaine. Now he became the neglected step-child of society, the
high-priest of humanity, often poor and despised, but with the starry
brow and the tongue of fire. Hugo hymned him as the shepherd of the
people, Alfred de Vigny represented him in _Stello_ and _Chatterton_
as the sublime child who prefers dying of hunger to degrading his muse
by common work, and dies blessing his fellow-men, who acknowledge his
worth when it is too late.



III


ROMANTICISM


At first Romanticism was, in its essence, merely a spirited defence
of localisation in literature. The Romanticists admired and glorified
the Middle Ages, which the culture of the eighteenth century had
anathematised, and the poets of the sixteenth century--Ronsard, Du
Bellay, &c.--who had been supplanted by the classic authors of the
age of Louis XIV. They attacked pseudo-classicism, the tiresome and
monotonous Frenchifying and modernising of all ages and nationalities.
They took as their watchword "local colouring." By local colouring they
meant all the characteristics of foreign nations, of far-off days, of
unfamiliar climes, to which as yet justice had not been done in French
literature. They felt that their predecessors had been led astray by
the premise that every human being was simply a human being, and,
moreover, more or less of a Frenchman. In reality, there was not such
a thing as universal humanity; there were separate races, peoples,
tribes, and clans. Still less was the Frenchman the typical human
being. It was imperative, if they were to understand and represent
human life, that they should free themselves from themselves. This idea
gave the impulse to the art and criticism of nineteenth-century France.

Authors now made it their endeavour to train their readers to see
things from this new point of view. They no longer wrote to please
the public--and it is this fact which gives value to the books of the
period. Therefore a critic who, like myself, is engaged in tracing
the main currents of literature, must dwell upon many a seldom read
and still more rarely bought Romantic work, and do little more than
mention such a talented dramatist as Scribe, who for a whole generation
dominated the stage in every country in Europe.

For if an author does not penetrate to the essential in the human
soul, to its deepest depth; if he has not dared, or has not been
able to write his book regardless of consequences; if he has not
ventured to represent his ideas in statuesque nakedness, has not
imaged human nature as it showed itself to him, improving nothing and
modifying nothing, but has taken counsel with his public, been guided
by its prejudices, its ignorance, its untruthfulness, its vulgar
or sentimental taste--he may have been, probably has been, highly
distinguished by his contemporaries, he may have won laurels and wealth
by his talents; for me he does not exist, to what I call literature
his work is valueless. All the offspring of the author's _mariage de
convenance_ with that doubtful character, public opinion, all those
literary children which their author begets, giving a side-thought to
the taste and morality of his public, are defunct a generation later.
There was no real life and heat in them, nothing but timorous regard
for a public which is now dead; they were nothing but the supply of
a demand which has long ceased to exist. But every work in which an
independent writer has, without any side-thought, uttered what he felt
and described what he saw, is, and will continue to be, no matter how
few editions of it may be printed, a valuable document.

There is only a seeming contradiction between this condemnation of the
literary work produced to please the public, and the doctrine of the
sound natural influence of society on the author. It is certain that
the author cannot separate himself from his age. But the current of the
age is not an undivided current; there is an upper and an under one. To
let one's self drive with or be driven by the upper one is weakness,
and ends in destruction. In other words, every age has its dominant and
favourite ideas and forms, which are simply the results of the life of
former ages, that were arrived at long ago and have slowly petrified;
but besides these it owns another whole class of quite different ideas,
which have not yet taken shape, but are in the air, and are apprehended
by the greatest men of the age as the results which must now be arrived
at. These last are the ideas which form the unifying element of the new
endeavour.

In 1827 an English theatrical company visited Paris, and for the first
time Frenchmen saw Shakespeare's masterpieces, _King Lear, Macbeth,
Othello_, and _Hamlet_, admirably played. It was under the influence of
these performances that Victor Hugo wrote that preface to _Cromwell_
which is regarded as the programme of the new literature.

The literary war of liberation began with an assault upon French
classical tragedy, the weakest and most exposed point in literary
tradition. Hugo knew very little about the attacks upon its authority
which had been made in other countries; and to those who have read
the utterances delivered on the same subject many years previously
by Lessing, Wilhelm Schlegel, and the English Romantic writers,
his manifesto offers little that is new. But it was, of course, an
important step to carry the war into France itself. The vigorous
arguments expended in proving the unnaturalness of compressing the
action of every drama into twenty-four hours and a single pillared
hall, seem to the reader of to-day almost as uninteresting as the
absurdities attacked; but he must remember that Boileau's authority was
then still supreme, still unshaken in France.

Of interest as regards Hugo's own development are the passages in which
he expounds his private theory of poetry; although he is so much of the
poet and so little of the thinker that his arguments are, as a rule,
sadly inconclusive.

What he attacks is the idealistic, pseudo-classic tendency of tragedy.
This he does, oddly enough, in the name of Christianity, and by means
of a great historical survey, made on as false a system as any of those
of his contemporary, Cousin, of whom it reminds us. He distinguishes
three great periods--the primitive, when poetry is lyric; the period
of ancient civilisation, when it is epic; and the age of Christianity,
which is the period of the drama. The peculiar characteristic of the
poetry of the Christian, which he treats as synonymous with the modern,
period is that it (having learned from religion that man consists of
two elements, an animal and a spiritual, body and soul) makes place in
the same work for the two elements which in literature have hitherto
excluded each other, the sublime and the grotesque. It is no longer
imperative that tragedy should be solemn throughout; it may venture to
develop into drama.

If we pay less heed to what Hugo says than to what he really intends
to say, we find that the sum and substance of this tolerably foolish
argument is a naturalistic protest against pure beauty as the proper
or highest subject of art. His idea is: We will renounce convention;
we will not feel ourselves in duty bound to exclude everything from
serious poetry which directly reminds us of the material world. We
see this from the examples he gives. The judge is to be allowed to
say: "Sentenced to death. And now let us dine." Queen Elizabeth
is to be allowed to swear and speak Latin; Cromwell to say: "I
have the Parliament in my bag and the King in my pocket." Cæsar in
his triumphal car may be afraid of its upsetting. And Hugo calls
Napoleon's exclamation: "There is only one step from the sublime to the
ridiculous," the cry of anguish which is the summary of both drama and
life.

Exaggerated as Hugo's language may be, his meaning is plain. What he
asserts is the aesthetic value of the ugly. He maintains that the
beautiful only comprehends form as absolute symmetry, form in its
simplest relations and most intimate harmony with our being, whereas
the ugly is a detail in a much greater, harmonious whole which we are
unable fully to discern. He declares that the ugly has a thousand
types, whereas the beautiful is poor, and has but one; which last
theory we may be excused for calling one of the most absurd ever
advanced by a poet. It was parodied by his opponents in the axiom: _Le
Laid c'est le Beau_ ("Foul is fair," as the witches sing in _Macbeth_),
and combated with the objections which the Romanticists themselves
offered in the Seventies to extreme realism.

Was not this French Romanticism, then, after all simply a thinly-veiled
naturalism? What did Victor Hugo demand in the name of the young
generation but nature--faithful reproduction, local and historical
colour? Is not George Sand Rousseau's daughter? the preacher of a
gospel of nature? And Beyle and Mérimée, are they not half-brutal,
half-refined worshippers of nature? Is not Balzac nowadays actually
honoured as the founder of a naturalistic school?

The answer is simple. Hugo's watchword was, undoubtedly, nature and
truth, but it was at the same time, and first and foremost, contrast,
picturesque contrast, antithesis founded upon the medieval belief
in the confliction between body and soul; that is, a dualistic
Romanticism. "The salamander heightens the charm of the water-nymph,
the gnome lends beauty to the sylph," he says. He desired truth to
nature, but he believed it was to be arrived at by making nature's
extremes meet, by placing opposites in juxtaposition--Beauty and the
Beast, Esmeralda and Quasimodo, the courtesan's past and the purest
love in Marion Delorme, bloodthirstiness and maternal tenderness in
Lucrèce Borgia.

In his early youth nature was to Victor Hugo a great Ariel-Caliban,
the product of a superhuman ideality and an unnatural bestiality, the
result obtained by the combination of two supernatural ingredients.
But this conception of nature, which corresponded exactly with that
of Germanic Romanticism, at times made way in Hugo's case for the
magnificent pantheism which found typical expression in that profound
and beautiful poem, "Le Satyre," in _La Légende des Siècles_.

The combination of love of nature with predilection for the unnatural,
is to be traced far on into the new literature. All its authors chant
the praises of nature. But what they detest and shun under the name
of the prosaic and the commonplace is very often the simple nature
that lies nearest them. Romantic nature alone is dear to them. George
Sand escapes from the world of dreary, hard realities into that of
beautiful dreams, Théophile Gautier into the world of art. George Sand
in _Lelia_, Balzac in _Père Goriot_, make the ideal or the omnipotent
galley-slave the judge of society; Balzac actually writes fantastic
legends in Hoffmann's style. And they are even more inclined to shun
the plain and simple in their language than in their characters. They
soon evolved a pompous diction, which far outrivalled that of the
classic periods. These were the golden days of the glowing, dazzling
adjective. Picturesque, enthusiastic words, with which the narrative
was inlaid as with so many transparent jewels, opened up endless
vistas. In so far, therefore, it may be said that both the style and
the predilections of these young authors were purely romantic. But only
in so far.

In Victor Hugo, the founder of the school, the dual love of the natural
and the unnatural was the result of a personal peculiarity. His eye
naturally sought and found contrasts; his mind had an innate tendency
towards antithesis. In _Inez de Castro_, the melodrama of his earliest
youth, and later in _Marie Tudor_, we have the throne on one side of
the stage, the scaffold on the other, the monarch and the executioner
face to face. About the time when the preface to _Cromwell_ was
written, Hugo was, his wife tells us, in the habit of walking on the
Boulevard Montparnasse. "There, just opposite the Cemetery, tight-rope
dancers and jugglers had erected their booths. This contrast of shows
and funerals confirmed him in his idea of a drama in which extremes
meet; and it was there that the third act of _Marion Delorme_ occurred
to him, the act in which the tragic, fruitless attempt of the Marquis
de Nangis to save his brother from the scaffold forms the counterpart
to the antics of the jester." In the preface to _Cromwell_, when he is
asserting the necessity of representing an action in the place where
it actually happened, he writes: "Could the poet dare to have Rizzio
murdered anywhere but in Mary Stuart's chamber?... or to behead
Charles I. or Louis XVI. anywhere but on these sorrowful spots within
sight of Whitehall and the Tuileries, which seem as if they had been
chosen in order that the scaffold might contrast with the palace?" In
spite of all his asseverations this poet does not really see natural
environments with an understanding eye. He does not see them act as
formative influences upon the human soul; he employs them as great
symbols of the tremendous reverses of fate; he arranges them like the
stage scenery of a melodrama.

If we look deeper, what reveals itself to us in this? A characteristic
which is to a certain extent distinctive of many of the French
Romanticists, and which may be most briefly expressed thus: French
Romanticism, in spite of all the elements it has in common with general
European Romanticism, is in many ways a classic phenomenon, a product
of classic French rhetoric.

Words undergo strange vicissitudes in this world of ours. When the
word _romantic_ was introduced into Germany it signified almost the
same as Romanesque; it meant Romanesque flourishes and conceits,
sonnets and canzonets; the Romanticists were enthusiastic admirers of
the Roman Catholic Church and of the great Romanesque poet Calderon,
whose works they discovered and translated and lauded. When, a century
later, Romanticism reached France, the same word meant exactly the
opposite thing--it meant the German-English tendency as opposed to
the Greco-Latin Romanesque tendency; it meant Teutonic. The simple
explanation of this is, that whatever is strange and foreign produces
a romantic impression. The art and literature of a people of a
homogeneous civilisation and culture, like the ancient Greeks, are
classic; but when one civilised, cultured nation discovers another
civilisation and culture which seem to it strange and wonderful, it
is at once impressed by it as romantic, is affected by it as by a
landscape seen through coloured glass. The Romanticists of France
despised their own national excellences, the perspicuity and rational
transparency of their own literature, and extolled Shakespeare and
Goethe because these poets did not, like Racine and, to a certain
extent, Corneille, break up human life into its separate elements, did
not represent isolated emotions and passions which offered dramatic
contrasts, but, without any rhetorical recurrence to the fundamental
elements, flung real human life on the stage in all its complex
cohesion. The Frenchmen determined to follow this great example.

But what was the result? Under their treatment, in the hands of
Lamartine, Alfred de Vigny, George Sand, Sainte-Beuve, real life was
dissolved and disintegrated anew. In the hands of Victor Hugo and
Alexandre Dumas its extremes formed symmetrical contrasts, exactly
as in classic tragedy. Order, moderation, aristocratic refinement, a
transparent, severely simple style distinguished Nodier, Beyle, and
Mérimée, exactly as they had done the classic authors of the eighteenth
century. The light, free, airy fancy which intermingles all the most
varied imaginations of the poetic mind, which unites near and far,
to-day and hoary antiquity, the real and the impossible, in one and
the same work, which combines the divine and the human, popular legend
and profound allegory, making of them one great symbolic whole--this
real romantic gift was not theirs. They never saw the dance of the
elves, nor heard the thin, clear tones of their music floating across
the meadows. Although Celts by birth, these men were Latins; they felt
and wrote as Latins; and the word Latin is equivalent to classic. If
we understand by Romanticism what is generally understood, that is, an
overwhelming of the style by the subject-matter, contents uncontrolled
by any laws of form, such as we have in the writings of Jean Paul and
Tieck, and even in Shakespeare and Goethe (_A Midsummer Night's Dream_
and the second part of _Faust_), then all the French Romanticists
are classic writers--Mérimée, George Sand, Gautier, and even Victor
Hugo himself. Hugo's romantic drama is as disintegrative, regular in
construction, perspicuous, and eloquent as a tragedy of Corneille.

At the mention of this name my thoughts turn involuntarily and
naturally from the characteristics common to the periods to the common
characteristics of race. In Hugo, Corneille's apparent antagonist,
Corneille lives again.

There are many veins in the French character. There is a vein of
scepticism, jest, sarcasm--the line Montaigne, La Fontaine, Molière,
Mathurin Régnier, Pierre Bayle, &c.; there is the true, thoroughbred
Gallic vein--Rabelais, Diderot, Balzac; and amongst the rest there
is the heroic vein, the vein of enthusiasm. It is this last which
pulsates so strongly in Corneille; and in Victor Hugo the blood begins
to course in it again. If we compare Hugo in his stateliness with
other poets, we shall find that there is probably not one in the whole
world whom he resembles so much as he does old Corneille. There is
something Spanish about the French eloquence of both, and Spain had
certainly made its impression on them both; in Corneille's case a
literary impression, in Hugo's a personal, received in his childhood.
The drama to which Corneille owes his fame is the _Cid_, in which a
Spanish theme is treated in a Spanish spirit, in imitation of Spanish
models. The drama which makes Hugo famous is _Hernani_, Spanish in its
subject, and permeated by the spirit of Calderon's code of honour. But
in both these dramas it is heroism pure and simple which is inculcated
and exhibited. They are schools for heroes. It is not human nature in
its manysidedness, but heroic human nature which Corneille represents;
in Victor Hugo this same heroic human nature is merely symmetrically
complemented by wildly passionate human nature.

Let us glance at this _Hernani_, round which the great conflict between
the party of the future and the party of the past raged. The story of
the first performance has often been told. Adherents of the old school
listened at the doors during the rehearsals, and picked up single
lines, which they caricatured; and a parody of the play was acted
before the play itself. The author had a hard struggle with the censor;
he had to fight for his play almost line by line. There was a long
correspondence on the subject of the one line: "C'était d'un imprudent,
seigneur roi de Castille, et d'un lâche." And the actors and actresses
regarded the work with equal disfavour; only one of the company applied
himself with goodwill to the study of his part. Hugo was determined to
dispense with the paid claque, but he arranged to have three hundred
places at his disposal for the first three nights. The most faithful of
his followers, young men who, according to their own confession, spent
their nights in writing "Vive Victor Hugo!" all over the arcade of the
Rue de Rivoli, with no other aim than to annoy the respectable citizen,
now enlisted a corps of young painters, architects, poets, sculptors,
musicians, and printers, to whom Hugo gave the watchword _Hierro_, and
who were prepared to present an iron front to the foe. The moment the
curtain rose the storm burst, and every time the play was performed
there was such an uproar in the theatre that it was with the greatest
difficulty it could be acted to the end. A hundred evenings in
succession was _Hernani_ hissed, and a hundred evenings in succession
was it received with storms of applause by young enthusiasts, who for
their master's sake did not weary of listening to the same speeches
evening after evening and defending them line by line against the hate,
rage, envy, and superior power of his opponents. The fact may seem
unimportant, yet it is worthy of observation, that France is the only
country in which such _esprit de corps_, without the existence of any
tangible _corps_, such unselfish devotion to the cause and honour of
another, has ever been witnessed.

The enemy took boxes and left them unoccupied, in order that the
newspapers might report an empty house; they turned their backs to the
stage; they made disgusted grimaces, as if the play were more than
they could stand; they affected to be absorbed in the newspapers;
they slammed the box doors, or laughed loud and scornfully, or hooted
and hissed and whistled; so that a resolute defence was absolutely
necessary.

There is not an emotion in _Hernani_ which is not strained to its
extremest pitch. The hero is a noble-minded man of genius, the genius
and noble-mindedness being of the type which exists in the imagination
of a young man of twenty. His genius impels him to lead the life of a
brigand chieftain, and out of pure high-mindedness and contempt for
ordinary prudence he does the most foolish things--betrays himself,
lets his mortal enemy escape, gives himself up again and again. As
chieftain he exercises unbounded power over other men, but it seems to
be his courage alone which gives him this, for all his actions are as
unreasoning as a child's. Nevertheless there is life and reality in the
play.

This noble and disinterested highwayman, who lives at war with society
and is the leader of a band of faithful enthusiasts, reminds us of the
poet himself, the literary outlaw, who filled pit and gallery with a
band of young men quite as remarkable in appearance and attire as his
brigand troop. Madame Hugo describes the contingent of spectators who
appeared on the first evening in answer to her husband's invitation as
"a troop of wild, extraordinary creatures, with beards and long hair,
dressed in every fashion except that of the day--in woollen jerseys and
Spanish cloaks, Robespierre waistcoats and Henry III. caps--displaying
themselves in broad daylight at the doors of the theatre with the
clothing of all ages and countries on their backs." Their frantic
devotion to Hugo was as great as that of Hernani's band of robbers
for its captain. They knew that Hugo had received an anonymous letter
in which he was threatened with assassination "if he did not withdraw
his filthy play," and, improbable as it was that the threat would
be literally fulfilled, two of them accompanied him to and from the
theatre every evening, though he and they lived in the farthest apart
quarters of Paris.

Amongst Hugo's papers of this date there is a quaint note from the
painter Charlet, which expresses the feelings of these youths.

      "Four of my Janissaries offer me their strong arms. I send them
      to prostrate themselves at your feet, begging for four places
      for this evening, if it is not too late. I answer for my men;
      they are fellows who would gladly cut off heads for the sake of
      the wigs. I encourage them in this noble spirit, and do not let
      them go without my fatherly blessing. They kneel. I stretch out
      my hands and say: God protect you, young men! The cause is a
      good one; do your duty! They rise and I add: Now, my children,
      take good care of Victor Hugo. God is good, but He has so much
      to do that our friend must in the first instance rely upon us.
      Go, and do not put him you serve to shame.--Yours with life and
      soul,

                                                       "CHARLET."

Supported by such devoted enthusiasts as these in its struggle with
fanatic opposition, romantic art stormed the enemy's first redoubt and
won its first important victory.

What these young men heard from the stage was the expression of
their own defiance and thirst for independence, of their courage and
devotion, their ideal and erotic longings, only pitched in a still
higher key; and their hearts melted within them.

The time was February 1830, five months before the Revolution of July.
The dullest materialism made life colourless. France was as regularly
ordered as the avenues of the gardens of Versailles; it was ruled by
old men, who patronised only such young ones as had written Latin
verse to perfection at school, and had since qualified themselves for
office by absolute correctness of behaviour. There they sat, these
correct, faultlessly-attired youths, with their neckcloths and stiff
standing collars. Contrast with them the youths in the pit, one with
locks reaching to his waist and a scarlet satin doublet, another with a
Rubens hat and bare hands. These latter hated the powerful Philistine
bourgeoisie as Hernani hated the tyranny of Charles V. They gloried
in their position; they, too, were freebooters, poor, proud--one a
cherisher of Republican dreams, most of them worshippers of art. There
they stood, many of them geniuses--Balzac, Berlioz, Théophile Gautier,
Gérard de Nerval, Petrus Borel, Préault--taking the measure of their
opponents of the same generation. They felt that they themselves were
at least not place-seekers, not tuft-hunters, beggars, and parasites
like those others; they were the men who a few months later made the
Revolution of July, and who in the course of a few years gave France a
literature and art of the first rank.

We know how they regarded Hernani. What did they see in the second
great character, King Charles of Spain? He repels at first. We cannot
place much faith in this cold, cautious monarch's ardent love for Donna
Sol; and he, moreover, employs violent and dishonourable means to get
her into his power. But the poet soon raises him to a higher level, and
makes us feel the great ambition which fills his soul.

It was Charles's tremendous monologue at the tomb of Charlemagne which
decided the fate of the drama that evening. And this much criticised
and ridiculed monologue is in reality the work of a young master. It is
easy to perceive, even if we did not know, how untrue it is to history,
how impossible it is that Charles V. should have thought thus; but we
are fascinated by the faithfulness with which the political ideas and
dreams of 1830 are mirrored, and by the marvellous political insight
displayed. This is the historical insight which sometimes astonishes
us in poets; Schiller showed it at the age of 21, in _Fiesco_. Listen
to Don Carlos's description of Europe: A building with two human
beings on its pinnacles, two elected chiefs, to whom every hereditary
monarch must bow--the Emperor and the Pope. Almost all the states have
hereditary rulers, and are, in so far, in the power of chance; but the
people are at times able to elect their Pope or their Emperor; chance
corrects chance, and the balance is restored. The Electors in their
cloth of gold, the Cardinals in their scarlet, are the instruments by
means of whom God chooses.


    "Qu'une idée, au besoin des temps, un jour éclose;
    Elle grandît, va, court, se mêle à toute chose,
    Se fait homme, saisit les cœurs, creuse un sillon;
    Maint roi la foule aux pieds ou lui met un baîllon;
    Mais qu'elle entre un matin à la diète, au conclave,
    Et tous les rois soudain verront l'idée esclave
    Sur leurs têtes de rois que ses pieds courberont
    Surgir, le globe en main ou la tiare au front."

The poet was certainly not thinking of Charles V. when he wrote this,
but of an Emperor much nearer his own day, the Emperor of whom he had
just written in the _Ode à la Colonne de la Place Vendôme_, that his
spurs outweighed Charlemagne's sandals. It must not be forgotten that
men's enthusiasm for Napoleon in those days by no means implied that
they were Bonapartists; it only signified that they belonged to the
party of progress. The Napoleon they worshipped was not the tyrant of
France, but the humiliator of kings and of hereditary authority. The
Emperor, as compared with the King, was regarded as the personified
people; therefore the young generation was deeply moved when Charles
in his monologue exclaims: "Rois! regardez en bas!... Ah! le
peuple!--Océan! Vague qui broie un trône! Miroir où rarement un roi se
voit en beau!"

They are, thus, revolutionary and perfectly modern reminiscences
and comparisons which occur in rapid succession to Charles V. At
the grave of Charlemagne he matures into the popular Emperor who
has been so often dreamed of in modern times, and his passionate
ambition is purified by his intense desire to solve gigantic problems
and accomplish prodigious tasks. The man who was, to begin with, so
obnoxious to the youthful part of the audience, whose brutal desire
made him so inferior to his noble-minded rival Hernani and the proud
lady they both love, ends, when he is Emperor, by renouncing his claims
and showing mercy--and suddenly the two happy lovers seem small and
insignificant beside him.

With his hand on his heart he says softly to himself:

          "Éteins-toi, cœur jeune et plein de flamme!
    Laisse régner l'esprit que toujours tu troublas.
    Tes amours désormais, tes maîtresses, hélas!
    C'est l'Allemagne, c'est la Flandre, c'est l'Espagne!"

And with his eye on the imperial banner he adds:

    "L'empereur est pareil à l'aigle, sa compagne.
     A la place du cœur, il n'a qu'un ecusson!"

Such words as these produced a powerful effect on the ambitious young
men who were the real audience of the play. The drama, the tragedy, of
ambition moved them as deeply as the drama of independence. They knew
that great public aims are attained, great tasks accomplished only by
manly resolution nourished upon the intensest emotions, longings, and
joys of the heart, which have been offered as a burnt-offering on the
altar of the aim--therefore they understood Carlos.

Nevertheless the fifth act, with the duet between the lovers, is in its
purely lyric excellence the gem of the play. Here was love as those
young men felt it and desired to have it represented. This dialogue
on the threshold of the bridal chamber which the lovers are never to
enter; this blending of a happiness so great and intense that, as
Hernani says, it demands hearts of bronze on which to engrave itself,
with all the horrors of annihilation; this sensual feeling, which is
chaste and harmonious in her, pure and ardent in him, blissful in both;
Donna Sol's supra-mundane enthusiasm; Hernani's longing to forget the
past in the present and its peace--all this was Romanticism of the kind
the youth of the day demanded and greeted with thunders of applause.

As a drama _Hernani_ is extremely imperfect; it is a lyrical,
rhetorical work, containing much that is extravagant. But it has
the one, all-important merit, namely, that in it an independent and
remarkable human soul has expressed itself unrestrainedly. From such a
work it is possible to learn much of its author's mental idiosyncrasy.
He is there with his genius, his limitations, his character, his whole
past--with his conceptions of liberty and authority, of honour and
nobility, of love and of death.

And the work presents to us not only Victor Hugo and a bit of the Spain
of 1519, but the young generation of its own day and a piece of the
France of 1830. _Hernani_ is the essence of the spirit which inspired
the youth of France at the time of the Revolution of July; it is an
image of France which, seen in a romantic light, expands into an image
of the world.

But when, instead of confining our attention to a single work, we
proceed, as now, to study a whole literature, hosts of pictures of
moods and thoughts, of portraits, and of images of the world, pass
before us. We shall detain them to compare them with one another and
see in what they agree, by this means attaining to a certainty of
what the fundamental characteristic of the age is; then we shall let
them pass before us in historical succession, and try, by carefully
observing in what they differ from one another, to discover the law
which produces these differences; we shall watch, as it were, the
flight of the arrows which indicate the direction of the spiritual
currents.



IV


CHARLES NODIER


From the year 1824 onwards Hugo, Dumas, Lamartine, Sainte-Beuve, De
Musset, and De Vigny met almost every Sunday evening at the house of a
friend who that year took up his residence in the outskirts of Paris,
near the Arsenal, in a modest dwelling which went by the name of the
Little Tuileries. Their host was a man who in point of age belonged to
the previous generation (he was born in 1780), but who in his mental
attitude had anticipated the nascent literature, which he consequently
at once and without hesitation took under his protection. His name was
Charles Nodier.

Nodier's life had been one of strange vicissitudes; he had been an
_emigré_ in the Jura, a newspaper editor in Illyria, and now he was a
librarian in Paris.[1] His most remarkable characteristic as an author
is that he is always from ten to twenty years in advance of every
literary movement. His novel _Jean Sbogar_, the story of a species of
Illyrian Karl Moor, which he planned in Illyria in 1812 and published
in 1818, although improbable and uninteresting as a tale, is remarkable
from the fact that its author, long before the days of Proudhon and
modern communism, has put some of the most striking truths and untruths
of the communistic faith into the mouth of his hero. Jean Sbogar
writes:--

"The poor man's theft from the rich man would, if we were to go back to
the origin of social conditions, prove to be merely the just return of
a piece of silver or of bread from the hands of the thief to the hands
of the man from whom it was stolen."

"Show me a power which dares to assume the name of law, and I shall
show you theft assuming the name of property."

"What is that law which calls itself constitution and bears on its brow
the name and seal of equality? Is it the agrarian law? No, it is the
contract of sale, drawn up by intriguers and partisans who have desired
to enrich themselves, which delivers a people into the hands of the
rich."

"Liberty is not such a very rare treasure; it is to be found in the
hand of the strong and the purse of the rich. You are master over my
money. I am master of your life. Give me the money and you may keep
your life."

Jean Sbogar is, we observe, not a common but a philosophic highwayman.
The most natural thing about him is that he wears gold earrings, and
this realistic trait Madame Nodier had almost succeeded in eliminating.
Nodier allowed himself to be, as a rule, guided by his wife's taste
and wishes. But when he once in a way felt inclined to rebel, and, to
excuse himself, pled his submission on all other occasions, Madame
Nodier always said: "Don't forget that you refused to sacrifice Jean
Sbogar's earrings to me." This is declared to have been the one and
only literary disagreement which ever occurred between the couple.

Men had forgotten the existence of such a book as _Jean Sbogar_, when
Napoleon's memoirs came out and informed them that he had had it with
him at St. Helena, and had read it with interest. The little novel
belongs to Nodier's transition period. It was written before he had
developed his characteristic individuality. This he did about the
time of the formation of the Romantic School proper. He stood then,
so to speak, at the open door of literature, and bade that school
welcome. His review of Victor Hugo's boyish romance, _Han d'Islande_,
is a little masterpiece of criticism, sympathetic and acute. It was
the beginning of the warm friendship between the two authors. The
appreciation of Hugo is so marvellously correct that in reading it
to-day one can hardly believe that its writer was unacquainted with all
the master's later works. It required no small amount of cleverness to
foresee them in _Han d'Islande_.

The stories which Nodier now began to write possess a charm and
attraction unique in French literature. They are distinguished by
a mimosa-like delicacy of feeling. They treat chiefly of the first
stirring of passion in the hearts of youths and maidens; the fresh
dew of the morning of life is upon them; they remind us of the woods
in spring. It is a well-known fact that there is some difficulty in
finding French books of any literary value which are fit for young
girls' reading; but such tales as Nodier's _Thérèse Aubert_, or the
collection of stories entitled _Souvenirs de Jeunesse_, meet both
requirements. The only risk run would be the risk of imbuing the
young readers with fanciful platonic ideas; for these tales are as
sentimental as they are chaste; the love which they describe may be a
friendship with little of the sexual element in it, nevertheless it
completely engrosses the little human being. It owes its charm to the
fact that as yet no experience has made these minds suspicious and
that no false or true pride prevents these hearts from revealing their
emotions. As all the tales are founded on reality, on memories of their
author's youth, the terrors of the Revolution form the dark background
of them all, and they all end with a parting or the death of the loved
one.

A childlike delicacy of feeling is the fundamental characteristic of
Nodier's character. To the end of his days he remained a big, unworldly
child, with a girlish shrinking not only from the impure, but even from
the grown-up standpoint.

Above this groundwork of naïve freshness of feeling there rises, as
second story, a wildly exuberant imagination. Nodier possessed such a
gift of extravagant invention that one can hardly help believing that
he must have been subject to visions and hallucinations; he had the
dangerous quality peculiar to a certain type of poetic temperament,
that of scarcely being able to speak the truth. No one, not even
he himself, ever knew for a certainty whether what he was relating
was truth or fiction. Jest is the mean between the two. Nodier was
considered one of the most entertaining of Frenchmen, and he was not
the least offended when he was told by his friends that they did not
believe a word of what he was telling them.

On a tour which he and Hugo, accompanied by their wives, made together
in the south of France, they arrived at an inn in the little town
of Essonne, where they were to breakfast. It was in this inn that
Lesurques had been arrested, a man who was executed in 1796 for a
murder of which he was afterwards proved to have been innocent.
Nodier, who had known him, or at any rate said he had, spoke of him
with an emotion that brought tears into the eyes of the two ladies,
and disturbed the cheerfulness of the repast. Noticing Madame Hugo's
wet eyes, Nodier promptly began: "You know, Madame, that a man is not
invariably certain of being the father of his child, but have you ever
heard of a woman not knowing if she is her child's mother?" "Where did
you hear of such a thing?" asked Madame Hugo. "In the billiard-room
next door," was the reply. Pressed for an explanation, Nodier related
with much gusto how, two years previously, a coachful of wet-nurses,
coming from Paris with children who were to be reared in the country,
stopped at this very inn. That they might breakfast in peace, the
nurses deposited their charges for the time on the billiard-table. But
whilst the women were in the _salle-à-manger_ some carriers, coming
in to play a game of billiards, lifted the children off the table and
laid them at random on the bench. When the nurses returned they were
in despair. How was each to recognise her own nursling? The children
were all only a few days old, and indistinguishable one from the other.
At last, merely making sure of the sex, each took one from the row;
and now there were in France a score or so of mothers who discovered
a likeness to beloved husbands or to themselves in children with whom
they had no connection whatever.

"What a story!" said Madame Nodier. "Were the children's clothes not
marked?"

"If you begin to inquire into the probability of a thing, you will
never arrive at the truth," answered Nodier, nothing daunted, and quite
satisfied with the effect produced.

He himself never inquired into probabilities. The world of
probabilities was not his; he lived in the world of legend, of
fantastic fairy-tale and ghost story. If a fairy has ever stood by the
cradle of a mortal, that mortal was Charles Nodier. And in this fairy
he believed all his life; he loved her as she loved him, and she had
a part in all that he wrote. What though he was married by law and in
earthly fashion to Madame Nodier! The marriage had no more spiritual
significance than Dante's with Gemma Donati; his true bride and
Beatrice was the fairy Bellas, once the Queen of Sheba, whose praises
he and Gérard de Nerval so often sang.

The world in which he lives is the world in which Oberon and Titania
dance, in which strains from the _Thousand and One Nights_ blend with
the melodies of Ariel's celestial orchestra, in which Puck makes his
bed in a rosebud, whilst all the flowers perfume the summer night. It
is a world in which all the personages of real, wide-awake life appear,
but grotesquely magnified or grotesquely diminished, to suit the
comprehension of the child and the requirements of the fantast.

Here, as Nodier himself somewhere says, we have Odysseus the
far-travelled, but he has shrunk into Hop-o'-my-thumb, whose tremendous
voyage consists in swimming across the milk-pail; here is Othello, the
terrible wife-murderer, only his beard is not black but blue--he has
turned into the notorious Bluebeard; here is Figaro, the nimble lackey
who flatters the grandees so cleverly, only he is transformed into Puss
in Boots, a less entertaining personage, though almost as interesting
from the psychological point of view.

No author of the French Romantic period is more closely related to
the German and English Romanticists than Nodier. Any one who does not
know his works may form some idea of them by recalling Sir Walter
Scott's ghost stories and Hoffmann's audacious fantasies. But these,
of course, do not convey an idea of Nodier's artistic individuality.
His peculiarity is, that in his representation of Romantic subjects
he is not what we are in the habit of calling Romantic, but, on the
contrary, severely Attic, classically simple, sparing in the matter
of colour, and devoid of passion; there is none of the Scotch mist
we are conscious of in Sir Walter, or of the fumes of the Berlin
wine-vaults which we inhale in reading Hoffmann. His peculiarity as
a stylist is that, whilst the young Romanticists around him were
sensualising language and supplanting the idea by the picture, he
himself transcribed his wildest Romantic fancies into the clear and
simple language of Pascal and Bossuet. Enthusiastic champion as he
was of the new tendency in literature, in the matter of style he
remained old-fashioned, and expressed the fantastic imaginations of
the nineteenth century in the severe, perspicuous language of the
seventeenth. Audacious to the verge of insanity in his fantasies, he
is sober and clear in his style. As Prosper Mérimée has cleverly said,
a fanciful tale by Nodier is like "the dream of a Scythian, told by an
old Greek poet."

His _Inès de Las Sierras_ is a ghost-story the beauty of which renders
it infinitely superior to the ordinary ghost-story. The horror produced
by the unaccountable apparition is blent with the admiration aroused
by the supernatural visitant's gentle grace; these feelings do not
neutralise each other, but act in combination with a peculiar power;
and it is this combination which is the secret of Nodier's effects.
It is a pity that he has spoiled the beautiful story by a trivial
and improbable conclusion, which explains away the ghost in the most
commonplace manner. The apparition seen in the old castle at midnight
is not the ghost of the young dancing-girl, murdered 300 years before,
but a living Spanish maiden who happens to bear the same name, and
whom a fantastic and incredible concatenation of circumstances has led
to dance there, dressed in white. There is genuine Latin rationality
in this solution of the mystery, but it is offered to us, as it were,
ironically. A story like _Inès de Las Sierras_, however, is what most
exactly demonstrates the poetic progress made since the eighteenth
century, which was such an enemy of the supernatural, even in fiction,
that Voltaire regarded himself as an audacious reformer when (in his
_Semiramis_) he allowed the ridiculous ghost of Minus to howl some
alexandrines through a speaking-trumpet in broad daylight.

_La Fée aux Miettes_ seems to me the best of Nodier's fantastic tales.
There is undoubtedly too much of it; it is not without an effort
that one follows all the wild twists and turnings of a fantasy which
occupies 120 quarto pages, even though much of it is both interesting
and charming. A poor, harmless lunatic in the asylum of Glasgow tells
the story of his life. This is the setting of the tale, but we forget
it altogether in the marvellousness of the events related. All the
chords of human life are touched, jarringly and wildly. It is as if
life itself passed before one's eyes seen wrong side out, seen from
the perfectly permissible standpoint of the dreamer or the delirious
fever-patient.

In the little town of Granville in Normandy lives a worthy,
simple-minded young carpenter, Michel by name. In the same town lives
an old female dwarf, shrivelled and ugly, who, because she gathers
up the scraps of the school-children's breakfasts, is called "la fée
aux miettes." Four or five centuries ago she might have been seen in
Granville, living in the same way, and she has made her appearance at
intervals since. This being is assisted by the young carpenter with
small sums of money, and she in return assists him with all manner of
wise advice. She always speaks to him as if she were passionately in
love with him, and she begs him to promise to marry her, so that by
this means his money may in time return to him again. She gives him her
portrait, a picture which does not resemble her at all, but represents
the fairy Belkis, who in olden days was the Queen of Sheba beloved by
Solomon. The youth falls in love with this picture of a beautiful,
dazzling, bewitching woman. Wherever he goes her name meets him; when
he determines to try his fortune in a foreign country, the ship he
sails in is called the _Queen of Sheba_. He wanders about the world
dreaming of Belkis, as we wander, one and all of us, dreaming of our
castle in the air, our ideal, our fixed idea, which to our neighbours
is madness.

Falsely accused of a murder committed in the room in which he had slept
at an inn, poor Michel is sentenced to be hanged. He is carried through
a hooting crowd to the gallows. There proclamation is made that,
according to old custom, his life will be spared if any young woman
will have pity on him and take him for her husband. And behold, Folly
Girlfree, a merry, pretty girl who has always liked him, approaches
the scaffold, prepared to save him. But he asks time for reflection.
He likes Folly Girlfree, and she is both good and beautiful, but he
does not love her; he has only one love, his ardently, secretly adored
ideal, the Fairy Belkis. He looks tenderly and gratefully at Folly,
deliberates, and--requests to be hanged. This deliberation with the
rope round his neck, this conclusion that, as Shakespeare puts it,
"many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage," is described with
delightful humour, with a naïve philosophy which is unforgettable from
the fact that some such idea has occurred at one time or other to all
of us.

They are proceeding to hang Michel, when loud cries are heard, and
the Crumb Fairy, followed by all the street boys, arrives breathless,
bringing proofs of the prisoner's innocence. He marries her out
of gratitude, but hardly has the door on the wedding night been
hermetically closed between him and his aged wife, hardly has he shut
his eyes than Belkis in her bridal veil approaches his couch.

"Alas! Belkis, I am married, married to the Crumb Fairy."

"I am she."

"Nay, that is impossible; you are almost as tall as I."

"That is because I have stretched myself."

"But this beautiful, curly, golden hair falling over your shoulders,
Belkis? The Crumb Fairy has none of it."

"No, for I show it only to my husband."

"But the Fairy's two great teeth, Belkis; I do not see them between
your fresh, fragrant lips?"

"No, they are a superfluity only permissible to old age."

"And this almost deadly feeling of bliss which takes possession of me
in your embrace, Belkis? The Fairy never gave me this."

"No, naturally," is the laughing answer; "but 'at night all cats are
grey.'"

Henceforward Michel lives a divided life; his days are spent with the
wise old Fairy, his nights with the beautiful young Queen of Sheba,
until at last he finds the singing mandragora, and, having made his
escape from the madhouse, mounts to the Fairy's and Belkis's heaven on
the wings of the mandragora's song.

This is madness, no doubt, but it is marvellous madness--madness
instinct with soul. Who is this crumb-gathering fairy? Is she wisdom?
Is she renunciation and duty? Is she the inexhaustible patience which
suddenly reveals itself as genius? Is she fidelity turning into the
happiness that is the reward of fidelity? She is probably a little of
all of this; and therefore it is that she can transform herself into
youth and beauty and bliss. In some such fashion Nodier has thought
out, or dreamt his story.

At its maturity his imaginative faculty is more wanton and bold. No
longer contented with producing shapeless, unordered material, he
presents his material to us with a grotesque, loquacious, satirical
explanation. No Frenchman comes so near having what Englishmen and
Germans call humour as Nodier. At times he seems to be positively
possessed by whimsicality. Then he not only turns the everyday world
topsy-turvy in his stories, but plays with his own relation to
the story, satirises contemporaries, makes a thousand innuendoes,
philosophises over the illusions of life. He takes even the art of
the printer into his service to heighten his fantastic effects; or,
more correctly speaking, in order to prove the absolute power of his
personality over his material, he leaves not a single thing, not even
the purely mechanical means of communication, untouched by his mood. In
his famous tale, _Le Roi de Bohème et ses sept Châteaux_, he exhausted
the resources of the printing establishment. At his command the letters
become so long that they stretch from top to bottom of the page; he
commands again, and they dwindle into the tiniest of the tiny; he
screams, and they stand up on end in terror; he becomes melancholy, and
they hang their heads all along the lines; they are inseparably mixed
up with illustrations; Latin and Gothic groups alternate, according to
the mood of the moment; sometimes they stand on their heads, so that we
have to turn the book upside down to read them; sometimes they follow
the narrative so closely that a descent of the stairs is printed thus:

   Hereupon
          our
            hero
               went
                 dejectedly
                         down
                            the
                               stairs.

It is interesting to trace in the account of Nodier's life written
by his daughter, the foundations of fact upon which he built his
fantastic tales. It rarely happens that, as in _Inès de Las Sierras_,
something real (in this case an old castle which Nodier had visited in
the course of a tour he made with his family in Spain in 1827) forms
the groundwork. Sometimes, as for example in _Trilby_, the point of
departure is a legend; and it is significant that this particular
legend should have been told to Nodier by Pichot, the French translator
of Scott and Byron. The idea of _Smarra_ Nodier got from hearing the
old porter of his house in Paris, who was too ill to sleep anywhere
except sitting in his chair, relate his nightmares and dreams. The
model for the Fée aux Miettes was an old woman who served in his
father's house when he was a child, and who treated his father, a man
of sixty, as if he were a giddy youth. This old Denise maintained that
before entering the Nodiers' household she had been in the service of
a Monsieur d'Amboise, governor of Château-Thierry. When she held forth
on this subject, she mixed up with her own experiences reminiscences
of the most extraordinary events and most antiquated customs; and
the family, out of curiosity, caused inquiry to be made about this
remarkable governor. The archives of the town showed that only one of
the name had ever existed, and that he had died in 1557. One can see
how the story of the fairy evolved itself out of this curious incident.
The very slightest element of fact--a landscape, a legend, a dream, a
lie, a mere mote--was enough for Nodier.

The amiable, clever man, whose house was for a number of years the
rendezvous of the men of letters who made their _début_ about 1830,
the place where all the talented young beginners repaired to seek
encouragement and, if possible, permission to read a ballad or a
little piece of prose before the select company which assembled there
on Sunday afternoons, this man in his proper person represents the
extreme of Romantic fantasticality in the literature of the period. The
fantastic supernaturalism which was the main characteristic of German
Romanticism, is only one of the poles of French Romanticism; or, to
speak more correctly, it is merely one of its elements--in some of
the most notable men of the school a weak and subordinate, in others
an important element, but an element always present. In Victor Hugo's
case it announces itself at once, in his _Ronde du Sabbat_, and makes
itself forcibly felt in the great _Légende des Siècles_, though in
this latter the legend is only naïve history; we have a glimpse of it
even in the rationalistic Mérimée (half explained away in _La Vénus
d'Ille_, more distinct in _La Vision de Charles XI._ and _Les âmes du
purgatoire_); it reigns, half-seraphic, half-sanguinarily sensual, in
Lamartine's _La chute d'un ange_; it pervades Quinet's pantheistically
vague _Ahasvère_; it appears in George Sand's old age in the pretty
fairy-tales she writes for her grandchildren; it occupies even the
plastic Gautier in the many tales in which he allows himself to be
influenced by Hoffmann; and, as Swedenborgian spiritism, it actually,
in a romance like _Séraphitus-Séraphita_, completes Balzac's great
_Comédie Humaine_. But in no other author has it the naïve originality
and the poetic force which distinguish Nodier.


[1] Nodier's youth and first literary efforts are described in _The
Emigrant Literature_.



V


RETROSPECT--FOREIGN INFLUENCES


The new literary and artistic movement had both foreign and indigenous
sources. The foreign are the more clearly evident.

As has already been observed, the older foreign literature which had
hitherto been kept out of France, and the new, which was captivating
men's minds by its novelty, were simultaneously seized on and
assimilated by the young generation, with an eagerness exactly
proportioned to the vehemence with which the works in question
repudiated the rules adhered to in earlier French literature. Before
the eyes of the young school there was, as it were, a prism, which
refracted all rays in a certain uniform manner. The rays which passed
through changed their character in the process.

The name of _Shakespeare_ early became the great rallying cry of
the Romanticists. August Wilhelm Schlegel had prepared the way for
Shakespeare; in his famous Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature,
which were published in French as well as German, he had been the first
to extol and expound him. Mercier, the French "prophet of Romanticism,"
eagerly took up the cry; Villemain and Guizot followed suit; imitations
and translations, the latter more faithful than those of the previous
century, did what in them lay to popularise the name and art of the
great Englishman. At the beginning of the Twenties, the progress that
had been made was not sufficient to prevent a company of English actors
who tried to play Shakespeare in the Porte-St. Martin theatre, being
received with a shower of apples and eggs and cries of: "Speak French!
Down with Shakespeare! He was one of Wellington's adjutants!"[1] But we
have seen that their successors met with a most cordial reception only
a few years later. In the interval Beyle had made his determined effort
to procure Shakespeare due recognition; the _Globe_ (published first
three times a week, then daily) had made its appearance as the organ of
the younger generation, and its ablest contributors had conducted the
campaign of the new cause with remarkable skill.

Beyle who, in spite of his paradoxicalness, is one of the most
clear-headed and original writers of his day, expresses profound
admiration for Shakespeare without being guilty of any lack of piety
towards Racine, whom he represents as the Englishman's antipodes. He
shows that the moments of complete illusion which ought to occur during
the course of every theatrical performance, occur more frequently
during the representation of Shakespeare's than of Racine's plays, and
also that the peculiar pleasure imparted by a tragedy depends upon
these same seconds of illusion and the emotion which they leave in
the spectator's mind. Nothing hinders illusion more than admiration
of the beautiful verse of a tragedy. The question we have to answer
is: What is the task of the dramatic poet? Is it to present us with
a beautifully evolved plot in melodious verse, or is it to give a
truthful representation of emotions? In his own answer to this question
Beyle goes farther than Romantic tragedy, exemplified by Victor Hugo
and Alexandre Dumas, subsequently did; for he unconditionally rejects
verse as a vehicle for tragic drama. Granted, he says, that the aim
of tragedy is to give a faithful representation of emotions, then its
first requirement is distinct expression of thoughts and feelings. Such
distinctness is detracted from by verse. He quotes Macbeth's words,
spoken when he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his place: "The
table's full;" and maintains that rhyme and rhythm can add nothing
to the beauty of such a cry. It was obviously Vitet, not Hugo, who
subsequently came up to Beyle's dramaturgic ideal.

He warns against imitation of Shakespeare. The master should only be
followed in his understanding observation of the society in which he
lived, and his skill in giving his contemporaries exactly the kind
of tragedy which they needed; for to-day too, in 1820, the desire
for a certain kind of tragic drama exists, even though the public,
intimidated by the fame of Racine, does not venture to demand it of
the poet. It is only when an author studies and satisfies his age
that he is truly Romantic. For "Romanticism" is the art of providing
nations with the literary works which in the existing condition of
their ideas and customs are fitted to give them the greatest possible
amount of pleasure, whereas "Classicism" offers them the literature
which gave their greatgrandfathers the greatest possible amount of
pleasure. In his own day Racine was a Romanticist. Shakespeare is a
Romanticist, in the first place because he depicted for the Englishmen
of 1590 the bloody struggles and the results of their civil wars, and
in the second place because he has painted a series of masterly, subtly
shaded pictures of the impulses of the human mind and the passions of
the human heart. The teaching of Romanticism is, not that men should
imitate England or Germany, but that each nation should have its own
literature, modelled upon its own character, just as we all wear
clothes cut and sewn for ourselves alone.

To Beyle, we observe, Romanticism is almost the exact equivalent of
what we call modern art. Characteristic of that inveterate tendency of
the Latin race to classicism which has already been alluded to, are
his repeated assertions that the author should be "romantic" in all
that concerns his subject-matter, this being "the requirement of the
age," but that he should remain classic in his manner of presenting
it, in vocabulary and style. For language is an established convention
and therefore practically unchangeable. Men should try to write like
Pascal, Voltaire, and La Bruyère.[2]

With characteristic variations the most eminent contributors to the
_Globe_ formulate their definitions of Romanticism in very fair
harmony with each other and with Beyle. At the time when Hugo was
still royalist, Christian, and conservative, the _Globe_ was already
revolutionary, philosophic, and liberal. The first to publish the
programme of Romanticism in the _Globe_was Thiers. He proclaimed
its watchwords to be _nature_ and _truth_--those almost inevitable
war-cries in every artistic and literary revolution. He opposes himself
to the academic, the symmetrical in plastic art, and in dramatic poetry
demands _historic_ truth, which is the same as what was afterwards
called local colouring. Duvergier de Hauranne, in an article _On the
Romantic_, defines classicism as routine, Romanticism as liberty--that
is to say, liberty for the most varied talents (Hugo and Beyle, Manzoni
and Nodier) to develop in all their marked individuality. Ampère
defines classicism as imitation, Romanticism as originality. But an
anonymous writer (in all probability Sismondi) tries to give a more
exact definition; he remarks that the word Romanticism has not been
coined to designate the literary works in which any society whatever
has given itself expression, but only that literature which gives _a
faithful picture of modern civilization_. Since this civilisation is,
according to his conviction, spiritual in its essence, Romanticism is
to be defined as spirituality in literature. The future author of _Les
Barricades_, Vitet, at this time a youth of twenty, tries to settle the
matter with the impetuosity and audacity of his age. According to him
it simply means independence in artistic matters, individual liberty in
literary. "Romanticism is," he says, "Protestantism in literature and
art;" and in saying so he is obviously thinking merely of emancipation
from a kind of papal authority. He adds that it is neither a literary
doctrine nor a party cry, but the law of necessity, the law of change
and of progress. "Twenty years hence the whole nation will be Romantic;
I say the whole nation, for the Jesuits are not the nation."

The reader can see for himself that there is only the merest shade
of difference between these definitions and the conclusion arrived
at by Victor Hugo: "Romanticism is Liberalism in literature;" and it
will not surprise him to learn that the _Globe_ greeted the preface
to _Cromwell_ with the exclamation: "The movement has now reached M.
Hugo." Hugo's chief contribution to it was victory.[3]

Next to Shakespeare, _Sir Walter Scott_ was the English author who
exercised, if not the most profound, certainly the most plainly
traceable influence. He found his way across the French, as across
every other frontier. Before the days of his popularity in France the
great Scotchman had found in Germany, Italy, and Denmark admirers, who,
inspired by patriotic and moral aims, adopted the tone of his fiction.
The Waverley novels began to appear in 1814; in 1815 they were already
imitated by De la Motte Fouqué in the German "Junker" style; in 1825-26
Manzoni's _Promessi Sposi_ appeared; and in 1826 Ingemann began to
publish his romantic historical tales, which inculcate a childish kind
of patriotism and royalism, and are, as it were, haunted by a pale
ghost of Sir Walter Scott. The Waverley novels were translated into
French almost immediately after their appearance, and at once achieved
a great success. Scott became so popular that in the early Twenties the
managers of the theatres commissioned authors to dramatise his novels.
The unsuccessful play _Emilia_, written by Soumet, the poet of the
transition period, was an adaptation of Scott. Victor Hugo himself,
using the name of his young brother-in-law, Paul Fouchet, sent in an
adaptation of _Kenilworth_, which as a drama was also a failure.

The young Romantic generation, however, was not appealed to by
the qualities in the novels which were most highly appreciated
in Protestant countries, but by the talent of their picturesque
descriptions and their medieval flavour. It was by his wealth of
crossbows and buff jerkins, of picturesque costumes and romantic
old castles, that Scott found favour in the eyes of Frenchmen. They
ignored or disapproved of the common-sense, sober view of life and
the Protestant morality which had won him readers in Germany and
Scandinavia. Beyle was the first to criticise Scott severely. He
prophesies that in spite of his extraordinary popularity his fame
will be short-lived; for, according to Beyle, Scott's talent lay more
in the describing of men's clothes and the limning of their features
than in the representation of their emotional life and their passions.
Art, says Beyle, neither can nor ought to imitate nature exactly;
it is always a beautiful untruth; but Scott is too untruthful; his
passionate characters strike us as being ashamed of themselves; they
lack decision and boldness and naturalness. And it was not long before
his critics began to make the complaint, so often reiterated by Balzac,
that he could not describe woman and her passions, or at any rate
dared not describe these passions with their pleasures, pains, and
punishments, in a society which attached exaggerated importance to
literary modesty.[4] The novels with plots laid in modern days made no
impression; only _Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward, Kenilworth, The Fair Maid
of Perth_, and one or two others were popular.

The special merit of this foreign author in the eyes of Frenchmen was,
that he had substituted the novel of dramatic dialogue for the two
forms of the longer novel hitherto in vogue--the narrative, in which
the headings of the chapters were summaries of the contents and the
author played a prominent part, and the letter form, which squeezed all
the surprises and all the passion in between "Dear Friend" and "Yours
sincerely." The most talented of the young French writers are plainly
influenced by him. The one whose moral standard most closely approached
the English, Alfred de Vigny, wrote _Cinq-Mars_, a novel with a plot
laid in the days of Richelieu, an entertaining, but now old-fashioned
work, in which the contrast of good and evil overshadows all other
contrasts, and which betrays a remarkable want of appreciation of
Richelieu's greatness as a statesman. There is almost a total absence
of Scott's skill in characterisation; instead of it we have a lyric
element, the glorification of youthful, impetuous chivalry--the old
French _bravoure_. Prosper Mérimée fell under the great Scotchman's
influence at the same time as Alfred de Vigny, and wrote his _Chronique
du Règne de Charles IX._, a work the spirit of which is still less like
Scott's. Mérimée singles out the strong and violent passions in history
for their own sake, but also with the French Romanticist's subordinate
aim of rousing the wrath of the respectable bourgeois by his audacious
unreservedness; his delineation of character is, generally speaking,
clear and concise; he tells his tale coldly and with utter disregard of
all established moral convention.

Every one knows the characteristic manner in which, at a somewhat later
period, Alexandre Dumas employed Scott's wealth of colour and historic
style in the production of many light and most entertaining novels, of
which _The Three Musketeers_ may be named as an example. But it is not
so generally known that Balzac, the founder of the modern French novel,
was as strongly attracted as De Vigny and Mérimée by the foreign master
who made an epoch in the history of fiction. He desired to follow in
his path without being a mere imitator. He believed himself quite
capable of rivalling Scott in the delineative art which Romanticism had
restored to honour, and was confident of his power to impart much more
life to dialogue. In Scott's books there was only one type of woman; in
France the writer of historic novels could contrast the brilliant vices
and motley morals of Catholicism with the dark austerity of Calvinism
in the wildest period of French history. This ensured him against
monotony. Balzac, who was always projecting monumental works and whose
mind had an instinctive bias towards the systematically comprehensive,
finally conceived the plan of depicting each historic period since
that of Charlemagne in one or more novels, all of which should form a
connected chain--an idea which Freytag, in his work, _Die Ahnen_, has
since tried to carry out as regards Germany. The first novel which
Balzac published in his own name, _Les Chouans_, was intended to be a
link in this chain. It describes the war in La Vendée at the time of
the Revolution, and came out in 1829, the same year as _Cinq-Mars_ and
_Chronique du Règne de Charles IX_. Two books published much later,
_Sur Cathérine de Médicis_ and _Maître Cornélius_, are also fragments
of the projected great work. The latter is a novel in which Balzac
enters into direct competition with Sir Walter Scott; its hero is
Louis XI., whom he considered unfairly treated by Sir Walter. Although
these historical romances are good in their way and contain vivid and
careful studies of character, they prove that if Balzac had kept to his
intention of merely calling the past to life again, his place in the
literature of his century would have been an entirely subordinate one;
he would only have been known as one of Scott's disciples.

Victor Hugo also was fired by the famous Scotchman with the desire to
write a great historical novel. He determined to make it centre round
the cathedral church of Notre-Dame in Paris, the whitewashing of which
had horrified him; for he had an admiration and love for the grand old
historical building which remind us of Goethe's for Strasburg Cathedral
and Oehlenschläger's for the Cathedral of Roskilde. According to Hugo's
contract with the publisher, this famous novel was to be ready in April
1829; but he was not able to keep his engagement; he first obtained
five months' grace, and then a respite until the 1st of December 1830
upon condition of paying 1000 francs weekly after that date if the book
was not finished then. By the 27th of July his preparatory studies
were made, and that day he began to write the novel; the following day
ushered in the Revolution of July; Hugo's house was in danger from the
firing, and during the removal to another, all the notes and studies
for his book were lost. Under the circumstances the publisher granted
three months' grace; Hugo denied himself to every one, locked away
his black suit so that he might not be tempted to go out, sent for a
bottle of ink, put on his working-jacket, and worked without paying or
receiving a single visit until 14th January 1831, when the ink-bottle
was empty and the novel written. During all that time he had only
allowed himself one distraction, which was to go and see Charles X.'s
ministers sentenced. Not to break his resolution, he went dressed in
his civic guard's uniform.

In his earliest youth Hugo had been profoundly impressed by Scott.
In a review of _Quentin Durward_, which he wrote at the age of
twenty-one, he expresses the greatest admiration for Scott's historical
sense, moral earnestness, and dramatic style. But even in this early
appreciation we come upon a sentence in which he, as it were, indicates
the step he himself hopes to take in advance of Scott. He writes:
"After Walter Scott's picturesque but prosaic novel there remains to
be created another kind of novel, which in our opinion will be more
admirable and more perfect. It is the novel which is both drama and
epic, which is both picturesque and poetical, both realistic and
idealistic, both true and grand, which combines Walter Scott and
Homer." We must not let these last words, with which Hugo, true to
himself, spoils his effect by exaggeration, prevent our acknowledging
the young author's clear perception of what he himself was one day to
be capable of doing in the domain of fiction. He seems to have had the
premonition that his novels would be great prose poems, picturesque
chronicles rather than pictures of reality like Scott's.

_Notre-Dame de Paris_, which was intended to give a picture of the
life and manners of Paris in the fifteenth century, is the creation
of a great constructive imagination. This was a fit subject for Hugo,
with his leaning to the grand and colossal. He gives a soul to the
building, breathes into it the breath of his spirit until it becomes a
living being; and as the scientist reconstructs a whole animal from a
single vertebra, so Hugo's brain, with the cathedral as starting-point,
conjures up the whole of that long-vanished Paris. The faith and the
superstition, the manners and the arts, the laws and the human emotions
and passions of those old days, are drawn for us with a broad, strong
touch--with no great precision, but with a kind of convincing magic.
The characters in _Notre-Dame_ are the character sketches of a genius,
drawn in the epic style, in more than life-size. Scott's honest, plain,
human beings are superseded by the creatures of an artist intoxicated
with colour; his gentle spirit makes way for grandiloquent passion
pointing unresignedly to blind, iron necessity, that άνάγκη which is
written on the church wall, and which crushes us all--gipsy and priest,
beauty and beast, Phœbus and Quasimodo--century after century under its
iron heel.

Even more powerful than Scott's influence was _Byron's_. It was the
element of wild passion in his poems and its connection with the
wildness of his life--it was Childe Harold and still more Lara, the
being marked by the finger of fate, who, suffering from a mysterious
melancholy, carries his pride and his anguish with him from land to
land--it was this type in its Byronic forms, fantastically magnified
by the element of myth and legend enveloping the poet's life, which
enchanted the young men whom Hugo had awakened or gathered together.
Few were the critics who maintained as Beyle did in spite of his great
admiration for Byron, that "this author of deadly dull, conventional
tragedies" was certainly not the leader of the Romanticists.
Immediately after Byron's death the whole horde of French minor poets
seized upon the two themes, Greece and Lord Byron, which they continued
year after year to sing with so much ardour and so little comprehension
of the dead man's character, that Sainte-Beuve was obliged to protest
in the _Globe_ against the abuse of the words Byron, liberty, elegy,
&c. In 1824 both Hugo and Lamartine gave expression to their feelings
regarding Byron, the former in a newspaper article, the latter in a
poem. In treating of him as a poet, both authors at this period lay
most stress upon his spirit of doubt and his gloomy view of life;
neither of them seems to have been at all deeply impressed by the works
of his mature manhood; the bright and trenchant political and religious
satire of _Don Juan_ was, in 1824, missed or misunderstood by them as
by so many others. But whereas Hugo's chief endeavour is to show the
difference between Byron's poetry and that of the eighteenth century
("The difference between Byron's and Voltaire's laughter is this, that
Voltaire had not suffered"), to the sentimental and half orthodox
Lamartine the English poet is still the fallen angel. Lamartine's
_Fifth Canto of Childe Harold_, in which he endeavours to strike the
Byronic note, shows in what he believed himself to resemble the English
nobleman, namely, in his romantically heroic personality. Masking as
Byron he gives expression to the doubts and rebellious feelings of
which we only catch a rare glimpse in his _Meditations_, but to which
he was soon to give utterance in his own name. It was probably Byron
who lured both him and Hugo to the East; Hugo contented himself with
imaginary excursions, but Lamartine made princely preparations and
set off on a grand tour. And if Byron's last works made no profound
political impression on these two authors, his last actions and his
death did.

Byron's influence is, then, unmistakably traceable in the works of
most of the young poets of our period; but so marked and powerful was
the originality of this generation of authors, that his sentimental
despair, which was so infectious, and which led to so much imitation
and affectation in many literatures, glanced off them. There was only
one of them in whose ears this particular Byronic note rang like a
message from a kindred spirit, and he was, curiously enough, the most
elegant and aristocratic, the truest Parisian among them all--Alfred de
Musset.

Most of the literary notables in question were born in the
provinces--Victor Hugo and Nodier at Besançon, George Sand in Berry,
Gautier at Tarbes, Lamennais in Brittany, Sainte-Beuve at Boulogne--and
each of these brings with him his characteristic fund of provincialism
which does not allow itself to be interpenetrated by the Byronic
influence, although both George Sand and Gautier were, in curiously
different ways, affected by Byron. Mérimée, who was born in Paris,
cooled too quickly to feel the influence of Byron's poetic temperament;
it was Byron's spirit of negation which influenced him, and that at
second hand, through Beyle. But upon no one does Byron make the same
direct, deep impression as on that slender, pale son of Paris, who is
distinguished by all the weakness and all the exquisite charm which
are the heritage of the last representatives of a noble and ancient
race. In the earliest stages of his career, Byron, the true Englishman,
had been spiritually minded and melancholy; the senses play but a
small part in the poetry of his youth; not till he is the mature man
and has visited Italy and lived in Latin countries does his poetry,
like Goethe's in Venice, become sensual and audaciously outspoken.
De Musset, on the contrary, begins in his early youth with the bold
and fleshly realism which we find in some of Byron's later works, and
gradually becomes more and more spiritual. At his best he is a keener
observer than Byron, and his love-poetry is more delicate; it has a
Raphaelesque beauty which Byron's neither attains nor aims at. He is
the weaker, tenderer, more charming, French Byron, as Heine is the
smaller, more wanton, wittier, German Byron, and Paludan-Müller the
satirical, orthodox, royalist, Danish Byron. De Musset suffers like a
boy, complains like a woman; he is what Auguste Préault, the sculptor,
once called him: "Mademoiselle Byron."

Shelley, whose name did not find its way into France till much later,
was practically unknown to this generation. As for the so-called Lake
Poets, Sainte-Beuve, who acquired the English language in his youth,
and had more of the critical gift than any of his contemporaries, was
the only one of the Romanticists who appreciated that nature-loving,
realistic school at its true worth, assimilated some of its spirit, and
endeavoured by means of a few translations to bring it into favour.
Brizeux, the poet of Brittany, reminds us of the Lake Poets, though he
knew nothing about them.

The influence of Germany was less powerful than that of England,
and it is still easier in the case of this country to show the free
treatment to which the impressions received were subjected. Germany was
seen overshadowed by the old Teutonic oaks; its fountains and rivers
were haunted by elves and fairies, who trailed their shadowy white
garments across the dewy grass; among its mountains dwelt the gnomes,
and in the air above the mountain-peaks witches held their revelries.
Germany was a Walpurgis Night dreamland. Only one of Goethe's works
was really popular, namely, _Werther_, the high pressure passion of
which enchanted all readers. Werther seemed to them a René, because,
though he was much older than René, they had made acquaintance with
René first, and this circumstance deprived the German hero of his
freshness and approximated him to the Childe Harold type. Something of
the same kind happened with Faust. That imposing figure, which made
such an impression on the whole of Europe, was so completely foreign
to the French that they never truly comprehended it. French poetry
had never occupied itself with the struggles and sufferings of the
questioning spirit. And this German doctor, who is simple enough to
see the devil in a poodle dog, sentimental enough to cross Gretchen's
threshold with pious emotions in his breast, and yet unscrupulous
enough to desert the girl he has betrayed and kill her brother in a
dishonourable duel, was too un-French to be understood. We gather from
the apologies of the Romanticists the nature of the criticism to which
the men of the classic school subjected _Faust_. "How many," writes
Duvergier de Hauranne, "are rendered insensible to all the beauties
of this masterpiece by the fact that it treats of a compact with the
devil! They cannot understand any one allowing such an improbability to
pass unchallenged; and yet they themselves from their childhood have,
without raising the slightest objection, beheld Agamemnon murdering
his daughter in order to obtain a favourable wind." French readers
were accustomed to the superstitions of antiquity, but felt themselves
repelled by those of the Middle Ages. And there were, moreover, many
who, without reading them, denounced Goethe's works as barbaric
literature. As late as 1825 that narrow-minded assailant of the
Romanticists, Auger, the secretary of the French Academy, in making an
attack on "those lovers of the beauties of nature, who would willingly
exchange the Apollo Belvedere for a shapeless image of St. Christopher,
and with the greatest pleasure give _Phèdre_ and _Iphigénie_ for
_Faust_ and _Götz von Berlichingen_," drew smiles from the Academicians
by pronouncing these last titles in a burlesque manner, as if they
were barbaric names. The admiration of the Romanticists for _Faust_
was, however, as has already been observed, barren of result. Though
Gérard de Nerval translated the First Part to the entire satisfaction
of the aged Goethe, and though Delacroix's painting of Faust and
Mephistopheles riding through the air was also much admired by the old
poet and art connoisseur, the French literature of the period only
rarely (as in the case of Quinet) shows any trace of the influence of
the great drama.

One would have imagined that Schiller, with his association with
Rousseau and his flowery dramatic rhetoric, would have appealed more
forcibly to Frenchmen than Goethe; as a matter of fact he possessed
little attraction for the younger generation. Adaptations of all his
plays were indeed performed on the French stage, but this happened
just before the formation of the Romantic School proper, and the
semi-Romantic poets of the transition period, who cut and carved
these plays into conventional tragedies to suit the taste of the day,
destroyed them in place of teaching the public to appreciate them. Out
of the _Jungfrau von Orleans_ and _Don Carlos_, Soumet manufactured
a _Jeanne d'Arc_ and an _Élisabeth de France_; _Fiesco_ was adapted
and maltreated by Ancelot, _Wallenstein_ by Liadières; but neither
Classicists nor Romanticists derived any satisfaction from the results,
and the verdict of the austere Beyle (who read, or tried to read the
originals) is that Schiller paid too much homage to the old French
taste to be able to present his countrymen with the tragedy which
their manners and customs demanded. He has no appreciation whatever of
Schiller's real greatness; he evidently knew too little German to be
able to enjoy and understand _Wallenstein_; besides, like many of the
younger men, he allowed himself to be carried away to such an extent by
his desire to annoy the Classicists, that he actually extols Werner's
_Luther_ as the modern drama most nearly approaching Shakespeare, and
its author as a much greater poet than Schiller.

The only contemporary German author besides Goethe who made any deep
impression was E. Th. A. Hoffmann. Hoffmann, in fact, became to
Frenchmen the German _par excellence_. Tieck was too vague, Novalis too
mystical, to find the public in France which they did, for instance, in
Denmark; but Hoffmann united to that wildly capricious fantasticality,
which to Frenchmen was a perfectly new poetical element, the sharp
decision of outline which appeals to them, and which reminded them of
their compatriot Callot. His artistic courage, which dares to carry
out capricious conceits to their extremest consequences, won their
approbation. He dealt in strong colours and startling effects, and
his work, with all its wildness, is as full of clear minute detail as
a "Temptation of St. Anthony" by Breughel or Teniers; in contrast to
Novalis, he appealed to Frenchmen by his Berlin rationality, which
is so closely allied to French rationality; there was method in his
madness. Thus it came about that he alone of all the German authors had
followers, one may almost say disciples, in France. The influence of
his tales is, as has already been observed, strongly felt in Charles
Nodier's work; at a later period it is even more perceptible in Gérard
de Nerval's, and it is unmistakable in Gautier's short stories. Highly
original as this last-mentioned author is, and despite the fact that he
hardly knew a word of German, he nevertheless at various periods of his
life was under German influence. His youthful _Romans et Contes_ remind
us of Hoffmann, and much in his _Émaux et Camées_ recalls Heinrich
Heine. He had an intense admiration for Goethe's _West-Oestlicher
Diwan_. What attracted him in Goethe was the artistic infallibility
manifested by that great poet during the latter years of his life.


[1] Stendhal: _Racine et Shakespeare_, p. 215.

[2] _Racine et Shakespeare_, pp. 115, 117, 218 _note_.

[3] _Cf_. Th. Ziesing: _Le Globe de 1824 à 1830_.

[4] See Beyle: _Racine et Shakespeare_, 294; Balzac's own words in the
preface to _La Comédie Humaine_; and the utterances of his alter ego,
Daniel d'Arthez, in _Les Illusions perdues_.



VI


RETROSPECT--INDIGENOUS SOURCES


But the renascence of literature in France was not due chiefly to
foreign influences. It was upon the soil of their native country that
the new men built.

The work accomplished by a great literary school such as the Romantic
School in France may be compared to the building of a town, only
that the town of literature is invariably built upon land which is
protected merely by slight and leaky embankments from the waters of
forgetfulness. Water at the foundations is soon discovered; it rises
slowly but steadily; at last the lower buildings disappear, and only
the loftiest monuments remain towering, eternally visible, above the
level of the Lethean stream.

What gives these highest literary monuments their proud position is
partly the profundity of the thoughts which support them, partly the
exact conformity of the perfect artistic expression to the idea; but,
unless the author is really a creative thinker, what is of conclusive
importance is that his mind should, consciously or unconsciously, be
permeated by the most advanced ideas of his age; for it is the spirit
which "maketh alive" and preserves from destruction.

Romanticism in France displays three main tendencies:

1. The endeavour to reproduce faithfully either some real piece of past
history or some phase of modern life--the tendency towards the true.

2. The endeavour after perfection of form, whether apprehended as
plasticity and picturesqueness of expression, as severe metrical
harmony, or as a prose style imperishable from its concise
simplicity--the tendency towards the beautiful.

3. Enthusiasm for great religious or social reformatory ideas, an ethic
aim in art--the tendency towards the good.

These three main tendencies define the nature of this vigorous and
talented school as the three dimensions define space; and each of them
produced works of great and enduring value.

The last two, as resultant from French influences, occupy our attention
first.

Although there were to be found in the Romantic School authors who,
like Mérimée and Gautier, retained to the last a natural or artificial
indifference to the social and political aims of the age, it numbered
far more who were strongly appealed to and affected by the endeavours
made to organise the future of their country and of the whole human
race. Poetry, literature, has two main developments. It is either of
the nature of representation based upon psychological observation--in
which form it approaches science--or it bears the character of an
annunciation, an inspired appeal--in which form it approaches religion.
Many writers of the generation of 1830 show that they apprehended it
in the latter manner. The critics who have tried to depreciate these
men by calling their productions works with a purpose, or problem
literature, have done them wrong. For what such critics condemn is
nought else but the spirit of the age--its ideas; and these ideas are
the life-blood of all true literature. All that we have a right to
demand in the interest of art is, that the veins through which this
life-blood flows shall only show blue under the skin, not rise black
and swollen as they do in the case of a sick or angry man.

During the course of the Thirties reformatory ideas make their way
into French Romanticism from all sides. If we try to trace them back
to their source, it is not possible to stop before Saint-Simon. In
Count Claude Henri de Saint-Simon (born in 1760), the only descendant
of the famous Duke de Saint-Simon who wrote the private chronicles of
the court of Louis XIV., France, which showed so little interest in
the drama of _Faust_, herself produced a nineteenth-century Faust, a
genuine Faust in the matter of restless genius and irresistible craving
after both theoretical and practical knowledge of everything in the
universe. He is less acute and sagacious than the hero of Goethe's
famous poem, but his mental horizon is wider, his aim a grander one,
and his whole endeavour of a higher nature. He begins where Faust
ends. His plans for cutting a canal through the Isthmus of Panama, and
for the canalisation of Spain, remind us of the undertakings of the
latter years of Faust's life. Saint-Simon was in turn soldier, man of
fashion, engineer, company-projector, philosopher, scientist, political
economist, and founder of a religion; he was a man who possessed almost
every talent. In his youth he spent a large fortune, believing himself
to be heir to the dignities of peer of France and grandee of Spain and
a capital of 500,000 francs; but his father and the Duke de Saint-Simon
quarrelled, and he inherited nothing. He sank into abject poverty,
worked as a copyist nine hours a day for a thousand francs a year,
and in 1812 was reduced to living on bread and water. In despair, he
one day made an attempt at suicide; he shot out one of his eyes, but
recovered. The attempt at suicide, too, reminds us of Faust.

Disciples came to his assistance, supported him, were instructed by
him, and founded one periodical after another to propagate his ideas.

At the time of Saint-Simon's death, which happened five years before
the Revolution of July, these ideas were only known to and adopted
by a small circle, but during the reign of Louis Philippe they
spread rapidly, undergoing various alterations during the process. A
Saint-Simonist sect was founded, a sect with a high-priest and with
eminent men of all classes and professions amongst its numbers, such
men as Isaac Péreire, the financier, and Félicien David, the musical
composer. In the end the Saint-Simonist ideas penetrated the whole
of French society; through Michel Chevalier they became elements of
political economy; they inspired the most eminent historian of the day,
Augustin Thierry; they lay at the foundation of the philosophy of the
greatest French thinker of the century, Auguste Comte; with certain
modifications they won, in Pierre Leroux and Lamennais, influential
philosophic and religious apostles; and at the same time they made
their way into poetry. And there was nothing marvellous in all this,
for, in spite of his extravagances, Saint-Simon undoubtedly had
something of the prophetic instinct of the great poet.

He was in advance of his age; for his philosophy is one of the signs
of the great European reaction against the eighteenth century, which
he regarded as a purely critical, purely disintegrative period, whilst
he denominated the nineteenth an organic, directly productive period.
He disagreed as entirely with those who imagined that the happiness of
humanity can be produced by a mere change in the forms of government
as with those who, like the church party, exalted the past in order to
bring it back again. He was not the friend of the past, but the herald
of the future; the aims and endeavours of the reaction appeared to him
only in so far reasonable and right as they arose from a perception
of the truth that mankind cannot be civilised by mere reason, that
religion is indispensable to civilisation--the religion desiderated
by Saint-Simon being, however, one divested of the conventions and
externalities of all the existing religions. Possessed, as he was,
not with the spirit of doubt, but with the reformer's enthusiasm, the
liberty which consisted in emancipation from restraints seemed to him
of little value if it were not complemented and completed by true,
perfect liberty, that is to say, by an ever greater, wider capability.
The work of the last, the critical, centuries had been the destruction
of the medieval power of the priest and the warrior; now the time had
come to establish the reign of science and industry. In the new order
of society science was destined to take the place of faith, industry of
war.

The first thing to be done was to "organise" science and industry.

In Saint-Simon's _Lettres d'un habitant de Genève_, any who are
interested in his projects for the organisation of science may read
his scheme of starting a subscription at the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton
for the purpose of enabling all the greatest scientists and artists
to devote themselves to their professions, not only freed from all
pecuniary anxieties, but with the certainty of being well paid for
their work--a scheme which Alfred de Vigny, as author of _Chatterton_,
must have read with enthusiastic approbation, if he ever did read it.
But he would learn with perhaps more surprise than approbation that
these geniuses were in return to undertake the supervision of all
the spiritual interests of humanity, in accordance with a definite,
carefully detailed plan.

Saint-Simon's _Parable_ is the document which gives most information
about the proposed organisation of industry. As this parable, from the
fact that it is written in a laconic style and with glimpses of a wit
which the author displays on no other occasion, is probably the only
one of his writings which will continue to be read, I reproduce it in a
condensed form.

Suppose, says Saint-Simon, that France were to lose from the ranks of
its scientists, painters, poets, mechanicians, physicians, surgeons,
&c., the fifty best in each class--say its 3000 best scientific men,
artists, and mechanicians--what would be the result?

Since these men are the real productive power of the country, the
flower of the French nation, at least another whole generation would be
required to repair the misfortune. For the human beings whose life-work
is unmistakably of use are exceptions, and nature is not prodigal of
these exceptions.

Let us suppose another case. Let us suppose that France keeps all her
gifted scientists, artists, industrial and mechanical geniuses, but has
the misfortune to lose his Royal Highness the King's brother, their
Royal Highnesses the Dukes of Berry, Orléans, and Bourbon, the Duchess
of Angoulème, the Duchess of Bourbon, and the young Duchess of Condé.
She at the same time loses all the great officers of the crown, all
the ministers of state, chamberlains, masters of the hunt, marshals,
cardinals, archbishops, bishops, deans, and canons, all the prefects
and sub-prefects, all the judges, and into the bargain 10,000 of the
richest of those landed proprietors who live in great style.

The event would undoubtedly cause grief to the nation, because the
French are a good-hearted people, and not capable of regarding with
indifference the sudden disappearance of such a number of their
fellow-citizens. But this loss of not fewer than 30,000 of the persons
who are esteemed the first in the state could occasion sorrow only on
purely sentimental grounds; for no serious harm to the state as state
would arise from it. It would be very easy to fill the vacant places.
There are any number of Frenchmen who could occupy the position of His
Majesty the King's brother quite as well as that august prince, any
number who could fill the place of prince of the blood royal, &c., &c.
The anterooms of the court are crowded with aspirants ready and fit to
be invested with the rank of officers of the crown. The army possesses
any number of officers who are quite as good generals as our present
marshals; and how many commercial travellers are cleverer men than our
ministers of state, how many priests quite as devout and capable as our
cardinals, archbishops, deans, and canons! As regards the 10,000 landed
proprietors, their heirs would scarcely need any apprenticeship to make
quite as charming hosts.

The idea underlying this jest, for which, by the way, Saint-Simon had
to answer to the authorities, is, of course, that only the productive
class of citizens is in reality useful. Before the Revolution the
conflict was between the nobility and the bourgeoisie; now that a part
of the bourgeoisie is elevated to the same position as the nobility and
shares its privileges, the division is between the unproductive and the
productive class; the future belongs to industry, labour, the deeds of
peace and utility. But whereas contemporary French political economists
only went the length of granting the individual the greatest possible
amount of liberty to develop his powers, Saint-Simon demanded the
interference of the state. It was, according to him, the province of
the state to organise labour and production; it alone could ensure that
for the future man should utilise nature only, and not his fellow-man.
The state ought, while fully acknowledging the natural differences
between man and man, to do its utmost to abolish the artificial
differences--ought, therefore, to abolish all hereditary privileges,
and to annul or modify the law of succession.

In Saint-Simon's writings we find, then, in the first place, the
fundamental ideas of modern socialism--distrust of the consequences of
free competition and the demand that productive labour shall receive
the recompense and the honour which are its due--ideas which prompted
his famous dictum, that every member of society ought to hold the place
in it to which his abilities entitle him and receive the due reward
of his labour (_à chacun selon sa capacité!_). In the second place we
find, as a result of this demand, the inculcation, for the first time
in the writings of a French author, of the doctrine of the complete
equality of woman and man as members of society. And, lastly, we have,
in the matter of religion, rejection of all dogma, not with the aim of
destroying religion, but for the purpose of rescuing from the grave of
orthodoxy the one command: Love one another! This is the Christianity
which Saint-Simon expounded in his last important work, _Le nouveau
Christianisme_, a Christianity with only one doctrine, which may be
expressed as follows: The task of religion is to help society to
accomplish that great object, the speediest possible improvement of the
condition of the poorest and most numerous class.

There was something in Saint-Simon's personality which could not but
be congenial to the more simple-minded among the Romanticists. He had
the unbounded self-confidence which inspires others with confidence;
the philosopher's inclination to self-examination formed no part of
his nature; he was dogmatic; he was a prophet. He was, moreover,
possessed by the Romantic desire to experience everything, to feel
everything. The lines of conduct which he prescribed as indispensable
to progress in philosophy do not differ materially from those which
a young Romantic poet would have named as requisite for poetical
production. They are: (1) to lead during one's vigorous years as active
and independent a life as possible; (2) to make one's self thoroughly
acquainted with every variety of theory and every variety of practice;
(3) to study all classes of society and to insinuate one's self into
the most varied social positions; (4) to sum up one's observations and
draw a conclusion from them.

In Saint-Simon's philosophy there was one outstanding feature that,
as a rule, repelled the Romantic authors, namely, his enthusiasm for
industrial pursuits, which, as merely useful, were repugnant to most
of them. But the philosophy was by no means destitute of poetry. Its
revolutionary, its fantastic, and its Utopian elements were certain
to appeal to a Romanticist, as also its insistence upon natural
inequality, its idolisation of genius, and its leaning to religion. It
was poetical, too, in its solicitude for the welfare of woman and its
affectionate interest in the most unfortunate classes of society.

And it was not until after 1830 that Saint-Simonism began to be a
social power. Saint-Simon himself, like most founders of religions,
was both prophet and exemplar; he made of his disciples real apostles;
regarding him in sober earnest as the modern Messiah, they went out
into the world as his messengers. It was through these men and their
intellectual kin that society in general made acquaintance with the
doctrines of Saint-Simon during the reign of Louis Philippe, though
some of the intellectually vigilant had before this read the master's
own writings. There is a memorandum in Victor Hugo's diary for 1830
(_Littérature et Philosophie mêlées I_.) which shows that he, for one,
was already acquainted with Saint-Simon.

A year after Saint-Simon's death, his organ, _Le Producteur_, had to
be given up; but this very circumstance brought his disciples into
more personal and intimate relations with their adherents. And when
Enfantin, the St. Paul of the new faith, a man of imposing appearance,
a sacerdotal genius of the first rank, with something of a Brigham
Young's capacity for rule and leadership, became the real head of the
sect, it made proselytes of numbers of clever young men and cultivated,
high-spirited women. Large sums were voluntarily contributed towards
the support of the Saint-Simonist "family"; in 1831 alone they amounted
to 330,000 francs. A new weekly paper, _L'Organisateur_ was started,
and from 1830 onwards Paul Leroux edited the _Globe_. But the doctrines
propagated deviated ever more and more from Saint-Simon's original
system. In his scheme of organisation an important rôle was assigned
to the capitalists; one of the three Chambers proposed by him was to
consist exclusively of capitalists. But now capital was attacked.
Saint-Simon had distinctly reprobated every species of communism; now,
in the "family," community of goods was the order of the day, and state
communism was considered desirable. One particular conclusion deduced
from Saint-Simon's doctrines led to the downfall of the system and
the break-up of the sect. The master had taught that, since the old
Christianity had put enmity between the flesh and the spirit, it was
the task of the new to reconcile them. The old Christianity had made
self-denial and mortification of the flesh man's aim, the new ought to
make it well-being and universal happiness. Employing other words we
may express his thought thus:--The Christianity of renunciation has
been a sharp and violent remedy for that indulgence in the satisfaction
of every desire which was the order of the day under the empire of
Rome; but the remedy has shown itself to be quite as dangerous as the
disease. We have got rid of the disease, but what can free us from the
remedy without exposing us to a relapse? No power except that of the
new Christianity.

From this comparatively sensible idea Enfantin deduced doctrines the
practical application of which would have resulted in much such a state
of matters as prevailed amongst Jan van Leiden's Anabaptists. One of
the original doctrines of Saint-Simonism was that now, in the new era,
man, the individual, was superseded by the individual, _man-woman_,
whose constituent parts possessed equal rights and full liberty to
dissolve an unsatisfactory marriage, it being in the double, not the
single, being that true humanity is realised. From this doctrine
Enfantin drew the conclusion that there are two kinds of marriage, the
one the marriage of monogamists, the other the marriage of those who
in course of time become polygamists--that is to say, the enduring and
the ephemeral marriage; actual, simultaneous polygamy was to be the
prerogative only of the priests and priestesses. Although little could
be advanced, either in general discussion or in the court of justice,
against the Saint-Simonists' argument that the inauguration of this
order of things would have no other consequence than the confirming
and legalising of relations which at present existed illegally,
this particular practical conclusion sufficiently showed the entire
incapacity of the young enthusiasts to judge what was possible and
what impossible of realisation in the existing, state of society; it
proved them to be of the number of those who believe that society can
be reformed by a stroke of the pen. Their excuse is to be found in
the circumstance that, with the exception of Enfantin and Bazard, all
the Saint-Simonists of 1830 (as also all Lamennais' disciples) were
about twenty years of age. Ridicule cooled their ardour for the spread
of the faith. In the summer of 1832 the heads of the "family" were
sentenced, Enfantin to a year's imprisonment, Michel, Chevalier, and
Duveyrier to a trifling fine. The young enthusiasts of whom the little
sect was composed were scattered; but almost all of them distinguished
themselves in later life, either in the domain of science, of industry,
or of art. Their exaggerations of the theories of Saint-Simon had, like
the Utopian schemes of Fourier which belong to the same period, no
influence upon literature. It was influenced only by the original ideas.

The air of the day became impregnated with these ideas; minds were
infected by them; they seized upon some soft, impressionable character,
and this impressionable character influenced a strong one; they gained
possession of a woman through a man, or of a man through a woman, of a
poet through a priest, or of a young student through a poet. And after
the manner of ideas, they summoned up other ideas--socialistically
democratic ideas which had lain dormant since the end of the previous
century, like Louis Blanc's; philosophico-historic humanitarian ideas
like those of Pierre Leroux's maturer period, which recalled Schelling
and were inimical to plutocracy; ideas like Lamennais', which recalled
the thoughts and feelings with which, during the peasant revolts of the
Middle Ages, the priests who bore the crucifix in front of the rebel
armies inspired the proletariat, making them ready to risk their lives.

If the source of the Romantic School's reformatory desires and
endeavours (what we have called its tendency towards the good) is to
be found in the doctrines of Saint-Simon, its tendency towards the
beautiful is to be traced to the influence of another great Frenchman.

Nothing contributed more to the remarkable artistic advance noticeable
in French literature, and especially French lyric poetry, at this
period, than the discovery, the recovery, of a French genius of whose
existence no one had any idea. As, at the beginning of the modern era,
the impulse to Italian humanism was given by the excavation of the
first antique sculptures from the soil which had so long concealed
them, so now the impulse to a regular revolution in French poetry was
given by the discovery and publication, in 1819, of André Chénier's
works. Scales fell, as it were, from men's eyes when, twenty-six years
after their author's death, these soulful Ionic poems were brought to
the light of day; all the literary idols of the Empire, Delille and all
the didactic descriptive poets, fell and were broken to pieces. A fresh
spring breeze from ancient Hellas, the true, the real Greece, blew
over France and fertilised the ground. The Alexandrine, which in the
eighteenth century had been so flaccid and feeble, in the seventeenth
so stiff and symmetrical, revealed mysterious harmonies, a delicate,
flexible force, an audacious, sensuous charm, and (now that the cæsura
no longer came inevitably after the sixth foot and the clause no longer
ended with the line) a versatility hitherto undreamt of. The ideas
and emotions were modern, but the artistic spirit which dictated the
expression given them was antique. In this combination lay concealed
the motive power that produced a whole literary development of the same
species as that to which Ronsard, by adopting a similar standpoint,
gave the impulse in the sixteenth century. In this new literature the
ancient and the modern spirit met; and their meeting-place was at a
great distance from their rendezvous in the days of Louis XIV. The
clear radiance of the name of André Chénier extinguished the light of
all the names that had hitherto shone brightly. A poet with the light
of genius on his brow and the martyr's aureole round his head, had
risen from the grave to lead the young generation into the promised
land of the new literature.

André Marie Chénier, born in Constantinople (Galata) in 1762, was the
son of a beautiful, bright, and intellectual Greek woman, whose maiden
name was Santi l'Homaka.[1] His father was the French consul-general
for Turkey, an eminent savant. While still a little child, André was
taken to France, to a beautiful part of Languedoc. During the years
that he passed there he forgot his native language, but when he began
to learn it again at school in Paris, he picked it up so fast that at
the age of sixteen he had completely mastered it. He devoted himself
eagerly to the study of its literature, with which he was as well
acquainted as with that of France. At the age of twenty he entered the
army as a _cadet gentilhomme_, a kind of second lieutenant, and went
into garrison with his regiment at Strasburg. He spent all his spare
time in studying languages. But the garrison life, with its utter want
of intellectual interests, was very irksome to him; after six months
of it he returned to Paris; and as he at this time developed a malady
the only cure for which was a regular and quiet life, he threw up his
commission. But abstinence and inaction were little to the taste of a
young man in whose case the eager passions of youth were combined with
the restless artistic and scientific bent of the genius. In company
with friends he travelled for two years in Switzerland and Italy,
making a long stay in Rome. He fell ill in Naples and was unable to
reach Greece, the goal of the journey, the country he longed to see.
When he returned to Paris in the beginning of 1785, he mixed with the
best society of the day in his parents' house. He made acquaintance
with Le Brun, the poet, David, the painter, Lavoisier, the chemist, and
numbers of diplomatists and public officials whom the Revolution was to
make famous. Besides these he had his own private circle of friends,
most of whom were talented young noblemen. Dividing his time pretty
equally between study and pleasure, he was also much in the company
of the most frivolous and dissipated set of the day, which consisted
of fine gentlemen (the Duke of Montmorency, Prince Czartoryski, &c.),
ladies of rank (the Duchesse de Mailly, the Princesse de Chalais, &c.),
artists and authors (Beaumarchais, Mercier, &c), and beautiful young
courtesans (the Rose, Glycère, Amélie of Chénier's poems)--a mixed
company whose ways and doings Rétif de la Bretonne has described to us,
and the majority of whom fell victims to the guillotine. At this period
of his life Chénier made acquaintance with a man who, sharing to the
full his love of liberty and hatred of all terrorism, at once became
his friend; this was the Italian poet Alfieri, who had just arrived
in Paris accompanied by the Duchess of Albany. And almost at the same
time he became acquainted with the woman who is extolled and bitterly
accused in many of his poems under the name of Camille--Madame de
Bonneuil, the love of his youth, to whom he was long and passionately
attached. Often in her country home did young André kneel at this
lady's feet whilst she played the harp and sang one of the fashionable
romances recounting the pains and joys of love.

In 1787 he was appointed attaché to the embassy in London, where he
felt miserably lonely and dependent. Electrified by the news of the
outbreak of the Revolution, he returned, full of hope, to Paris. Ere
this he had become conscious of his poetic gifts; he now began to
plan and write poetic works, varying very much in character, but all
severely antique in style. Twice before had French literature returned
to the antique. The first time was in the days of Ronsard, when men
decked antiquity with the gaudy tinsel of the Italian Renaissance;
the second was in the days of Louis XIV., when they invested it with
court pomp and conventions. André Chénier, who had Greek blood in his
veins, who read and wrote his mother's tongue as easily as French, and
who perhaps alone among Frenchmen saw ancient Hellas neither through
Latin spectacles nor through the dust of seventeenth-century perruques,
André Chénier calmly and simply, like a young Apollo, put an end to the
existing conception of the antique, and, consequently, of the nature
of poetry. He realised that the poets of Greece had spoken and written
in the language of the people, and that their perfection of form, the
result of self-restraint, was something widely different from reverence
for arbitrary, conventional directions and prohibitions. He represents
a reaction against the eighteenth-century poetic style which resembles
Thorvaldsen's reaction against eighteenth-century sculpture; like
Thorvaldsen, he frequently imitated and made use of the antique; he
surpasses the Dane in ardour, sensuous warmth, and pathos.

Before 1789 André Chénier was the elegiac, idyllic, and erotic poet. He
developed marvellously both as poet and man after the French Revolution
broke out and filled the air with its thunders and lightnings. He had
been educated in the philosophic spirit with which Voltaire had imbued
the aristocracy of intellect; he had shared in the feelings which led
distinguished Frenchmen to support the cause of the free states of
North America; now he hailed with the purest enthusiasm the new era of
liberty which he had so long desired to see. His idea of liberty was
absolute freedom in the domains of thought and religion. Instructed
"by the eighteen centuries which theological follies have stained with
blood, devoid of respect for the priesthood of any creed whatsoever,"
because he is convinced that they have one and all "conspired against
the happiness and peace of humanity," he desires "to break the yoke of
despotism and priestcraft." He was so inexperienced and enthusiastic
as to believe it possible that this result could be attained without
overstepping the limits of the strictly lawful.

During the first year of the Revolution he still devoted most of his
time to poetry. He conceived a short-lived passion for a young and
beautiful lady, Madame Gouy d'Arcy, whose praises he has sung in a
famous poem. But politics soon drove all other occupations and passions
into the background. In 1792, with a prevision of the approaching Reign
of Terror, André made a violent attack on the Jacobins in a newspaper
article. When his younger brother, the famous revolutionary poet,
Marie-Joseph Chénier, who was an active member of the Jacobin Club,
felt obliged to defend his fellow-members, André proudly and recklessly
took up the gauntlet thrown down. Mutual friends of the brothers
managed to bring the painful controversy to a speedy close, but the
strained relations lasted for some time. Before this the brothers
had been warmly attached. But it was with André as with the ancient
Romans; the ties of blood had to give way to the political idea. In
the early days of the Revolution he had allowed his brother's tragedy,
_Brutus and Cassius_, to be dedicated to him, and in acknowledging this
dedication had, with the naïveté of the day, declared his conviction
that the great Brutus had expressed himself exactly as he was made to
do in the drama. He called the heroes of the play "noble murderers,
great tyrannicides, whom the phrase-makers of our day are incapable
of understanding"--in short, expressed his approval of regicide when
necessary. But the trial of Louis XVI. roused his unbounded wrath; he
solicited permission to assist in the King's defence; he wrote a series
of articles in his favour; and when the sentence of death had been
passed, it was André Chénier who composed the beautiful and dignified
letter in which the King demanded the permission of the National
Assembly to appeal to the nation. It is (as Becq de Fouquières has
remarked) significant that three of Europe's best poets, André Chénier,
Schiller, and Alfieri, who were all equally antagonistic to the old
autocratic government, and had all hailed the Revolution with joy,
should all in 1792 desire to defend King Louis.

Marie-Joseph Chénier was a less gifted and less seriously minded man
than his brother; he followed with the stream and rejoiced in the
popularity which a talent exactly suited to the requirements of the
time procured him. André had the courage which on occasion manifests
itself in proud defiance; he was of the stuff of which martyrs are
made. Obvious danger only made him bolder in his attacks upon the
men who, in his opinion, were disgracing France. He published in his
own name his extremely sarcastic ode on the occasion of the fête
given by the Jacobins to the amnestied soldiers of the Chateauvieux
regiment, who had with perfect justice been sentenced to the galleys
for ordinary, mean crimes. And after Marat's assassination, when 44,000
altars were erected to "the friend of the people," André Chénier
was the one French poet who felt constrained to sing the praises of
Charlotte Corday--a much more daring deed at that time than afterwards.
He exclaims:

    "La Grèce, ô fille illustre, admirant ton courage,
     Épuiserait Paros pour placer ton image
     Auprès d'Harmodius, auprès de son ami;
     Et des chœurs sur ta tombe, en une sainte ivresse,
     Chanterait Némésis, la tardive déesse,
     Qui frappe le méchant sur son trône endormi.

     Mais la France à la hache abandonne ta tête.
     C'est au monstre égorgé qu'on prépare une fête
     Parmi ses compagnons, tous dignes de son sort
     Oh! quel noble dédain fît sourire ta bouche,
     Quand un brigand, vengeur de ce brigand farouche,
     Crut te faire pâlir aux menaces de mort."

After the death of the King it was impossible for André to remain in
Paris. His brother found a refuge for him in a small house in a retired
part of Versailles. Here he lived for some time in quiet and solitude.
He worked at his long poem _Hermès_, of which he had as yet only
produced fragments, though it had occupied his thoughts more or less
for the last ten years, and wrote to Fanny (Madame Laurent Lecoulteux),
a lady who lived in the same neighbourhood, his last love poems, which
are distinguished by an emotion new in André Chénier's writings--the
melancholy of a purely spiritual love. The nobility and charm of a
peculiarly beautiful feminine character communicated themselves to
these sad, chaste verses.

But this peaceful life at Versailles was only the lull before the
storm. Andre's efforts to prevent an arrest (of a lady) for which
orders had been given by the Committee of Public Safety, led to his
own imprisonment. He spent his time in Saint-Lazare in revising his
manuscripts and writing some of his grandest and most beautiful poems,
among others the two famous ones to the Duchesse de Fleury, née Coigny
(_La jeune Captive_, and the lines incorrectly entitled _Mademoiselle
de Coigny_), and the beautiful fragment which begins "Comme un dernier
rayon." He was denounced before the tribunal of the Revolution as an
enemy of the people, and was condemned to death for having "written
against liberty and in defence of tyranny." The day before this
happened he had written the lines:

    "Comme un dernier rayon, comme un dernier zéphyre
        Anime la fin d'un beau jour,
     Au pied de l'échafaud j'essaye encor ma lyre.
        Peut-être est-ce bientôt mon tour.
     Peut-être avant que l'heure en cercle promenée
        Ait posé sur l'émail brillant,
     Dans les soixante pas où sa route est bornée.
        Son pied sonore et vigilant,
     Le sommeil du tombeau pressera ma paupière.
        Avant que de ses deux moitiés
     Ce vers que je commence ait atteint la dernière,
        Peut-être en ces murs effrayés
     Le messager de mort, noir recruteur des ombres
        Escorté d'infâmes soldats,
     Remplira de mon nom ces longs corridors sombres."

On the evening of the 7th Thermidor 1794, the eve of Robespierre's
fall, which, if it had happened a day earlier, would have saved him,
André Chénier mounted the scaffold. As they were being driven to the
place of execution, he said despondently to Roucher, the painter,
who was guillotined along with him: "Alas! I have done nothing for
posterity." Tradition tells that on the scaffold he struck his
forehead, exclaiming: "Yet I had something there!"

Although André Chénier's prose articles had aroused much attention,
even abroad--Wieland sent him greetings, the King of Poland sent him a
medal--he won no fame as a poet during his lifetime. He had published
only two of his poems, the Ode to David on the occasion of the scene in
the Tennis Court, and the ironic Ode to the Chateauvieux Regiment; and
from that July day in 1794 when his head was severed from his body, his
name was forgotten; the memory of him vanished.

Then one fine day in 1819 a firm of Paris publishers who were bringing
out a new edition of Marie-Joseph Chénier's (now perfectly antiquated)
dramatic works, were offered some poems by "an unknown brother of
Chénier's" to fill up the last volume with. They requested a well-known
writer of that day, Henri de Latouche, to look through these poems.
Struck by their beauty, this man began to make inquiry after the rest
of Andre's manuscripts. He brought one old packet, one little yellow
book after another to light, made a careful, tasteful selection, and by
its publication produced a revolution in the poetic doctrines of his
country. The name of André Chénier was soon known throughout the land,
and the youth of the provinces as well as the youth of Paris received
the new poetic revelation with enthusiasm. (See the description of this
enthusiasm in Balzac's _Les deux Poètes_, the introduction to _Les
Illusions perdues_.)

This poet, who had now been so long dead, not only made all the lyric
poetry that had been written in the last generation seem antiquated
and impossible, but actually threw Lamartine's first _Meditations
Poétiques_, which were published about this time, completely into
the shade. For the scene of Chénier's poetry is not the clouds or
the region above the clouds, but the earth; his is poetry that is
pure without being pious, soulful without being sentimental; it has
nothing to do with the infinite and the abstract, is not mystic and not
irreligious.

The pagan youth of André Chénier's earlier works, who believed in
Apollo and Artemis, but, above all, in Aphrodite, was brought face
to face with the founder of the Seraphic school; the Epicurean (in
the antique sense of the word) with the spiritualist. The first women
whose praises Chénier sang were not intellectual, consumptive Elviras
like Lamartine's, but warm-blooded, truly loving women, or young
and beautiful courtesans of the days of Louis XVI.--only that his
sensuousness never degenerated into the voluptuousness, still less into
the wantonness of that period. The wild orgy, when he described it
(see, for example, the 28th Elegy), produced the effect of a bas-relief
of the noblest Greek period. The young woman with the flowing locks is
described with a chasteness of style which makes of her a dancing Greek
mænad, and the sober serenity of its representation transforms the
drinking scene into an Athenian Bacchanalian feast, executed in Parian
marble. All this life bore the imprint of pure beauty and perfect
simplicity. The element of ugliness which Hugo was to introduce into
lyric poetry, and to the attraction of which Lamartine at a future
period succumbed, was as entirely absent as devoutness or mysticism.

But the man, too, who loomed through the works and fragments of André
Chénier's maturer years, formed a suggestive temperamental antithesis
to those lyric outpourings which aroused enthusiasm in 1819. The women
whom he celebrated in unforgettable poems were heroines or victims of
the Revolution. There was a manly pathos in his iambics which recalled
the old Greek iambic poets, and the fragments of his long poem,
_Hermès_, revealed a philosophy of life, the antique sincerity and
scientific sobriety of which formed the strongest possible contrast to
the romantic emotionalism of Lamartine. To André the stars are not the
flowers in the fields of heaven, but simply worlds revolving in floods
of ether; he writes of their weight, their shapes, their distances,
and their law of gravitation, which he feels influencing his own soul.
Providence does not send its voice down from them to men, prayers do
not ascend from men to them; the result of reflection is a profound
impression of the unity of nature and its subjection to law.

But André Chénier's poetry, which in so many ways anticipates that of
the nineteenth century--it is distinctly lyrical, and in France the
eighteenth century produced no other real lyric poet--is also marked by
the influence of the two leading spirits of his own age, Rousseau and
Voltaire. The idyllic element in it is due to Rousseau; the pastoral
scenes may owe much to Theocritus, but Chénier drew from this source
only because Rousseau had led the way back to natural conditions. To
Voltaire is due that passion for inquiry into what lies at the root
of everything, which led André to study and borrow from Newton and to
compete with Lucretius in a didactic poem on Nature.

It was, however, especially by his purely artistic, nay, in a manner
his purely technical, merits that André Chénier produced such an
emancipating, reviving effect upon the poetry of the second generation
after his own. The Alexandrine of his poetry is no longer Racine's;
by pruning or adding to this last at will he made it a far suppler,
freer, more varied measure; the result of the still more astonishing
new application of the cæsura in his dithyrambic poetry was a hitherto
unknown lyric passion and vigour. Most of these metrical reforms had
indeed been attempted by Lamartine, but, as it were, unconsciously, and
without that decision or precision which the young men admired so much
in Chénier. All who were capable of appreciating plasticity and vigour
in style swore by his name. They involuntarily divided the writers of
the day into two great groups, one descending from Madame de Staël,
the voluble, prolific improvisatrice, who poured forth a whirlwind
of words and ideas without troubling herself much about shaping them
into a whole, and the other the school now in process of formation,
which, taking André Chénier as its model, made the strictest artistic
conscientiousness its guiding principle.

Along with the metrical improvements in André Chénier's poetry we
have great progress in colouring. Until now poets had preferred the
idealistic, sentimental, transcendental expression to the realistically
descriptive word. They had written of "The heavens in their wrath;"
André wrote, "A black and cloudy sky;" they wrote of "delicate
fingers;" André Chénier preferred to say "long, white fingers." And
this realistic exactness in certain kinds of description does not
exclude another novelty, a sort of chiaroscuro of words and expressions
which by their mysterious or enigmatic or fantastic quality suddenly
open out wide, unexpected vistas.

When we regard this beautiful poetry more from the human than the
artistic standpoint, what we miss in it is the expression of personal
grief. In spite of its fire and its Frenchness it is too measured, too
Attic. The ugly is too systematically excluded; and among ugly and
unclean things, the poet has, in genuine Greek fashion, reckoned his
own melancholy, his private sufferings and calamities. It is only from
some prose memoranda and a few letters that we learn, for instance,
how much he suffered from his dependent position in London. He does
not give this suffering expression in his poetry. Occasionally at
an earlier period he alluded in a roundabout fashion to the irksome
restraints imposed on him by his poverty--in such a poem, for instance,
as _La Liberté_, an idyll in the style of Theocritus, in which the
shepherd breaks his flute and shuns the dance and song of the young
maidens, rejecting all consolation because he is a slave.[2]

As a fine specimen of André Chénier's writing take _Le Malade_, a poem
which, like most of his, is made out of almost nothing, yet which
produces an unextinguishable impression. In its composition it reminds
one of the third scene in the first act of Racine's _Phèdre_, which
seems to have been its far-away model. The mother prays:

    "Apollon, Dieu sauveur, dieux des savants mystères,
     Dieu de la vie, et dieu des plantes solitaires,
     Dieu vainqueur de Python, dieu jeune et triomphant,
     Prends pitié de mon fils, de mon unique enfant!
     Prends pitié de sa mère aux larmes condamnée,
     Qui ne vit que pour lui, qui meurt abandonnée,
     Qui n'a pas dû rester pour voir mourir son fils;
     Dieu jeune, viens aider sa jeunesse. Assoupis,
     Assoupis dans son sein cette fièvre brûlante
     Qui dévore la fleur de sa vie innocente.
     Apollon, si jamais, échappé du tombeau,
     Il retourne au Ménale avoir soin du troupeau,
     Ces mains, ces vieilles mains orneront ta statue
     De ma coupe d'onyx à tes pieds suspendue;
     Et, chaque été nouveau, d'un jeune taureau blanc
     La hache à ton autel fera couler le sang.

     Et bien, mon fils, es-tu toujours impitoyable?
     Ton funeste silence est-il inexorable?
     Enfant, tu veux mourir? Tu veux, dans ses vieux ans,
     Laisser ta mère seule avec ses cheveux blancs?
     Tu veux que ce soit moi qui ferme ta paupière?
     Que j'unisse ta cendre à celle de ton père?
     C'est toi qui me devais ces soins religieux,
     Et ma tombe attendait tes pleurs et tes adieux.
     Parle, parle, mon fils, quel chagrin te consume?
     Les maux qu'on dissimule en ont plus d'amertume.
     Ne lèveras-tu point ces yeux appesantis?

     ---Ma mère, adieu; je meurs, et tu n'as plus de fils.
     Non, tu n'as plus de fils, ma mère bien-aimée.
     Je te perds. Une plaie ardente, envenimée,
     Me ronge; avec effort je respire, et je crois
     Chaque fois respirer pour la dernière fois.
     Je ne parlerai pas. Adieu; ce lit me blesse;
     Ce tapis qui me couvre accable ma faiblesse,
     Tout me pèse et me lasse. Aide-moi, je me meurs,
     Tourne-moi sur le flanc. Ah! j'expire! ô douleurs!"

In vain she gives him a healing draught brewed with magic arts by a
Thessalian woman. But he speaks again:

    "----O coteaux d'Érymanthe! ô vallons! ô bocage!
     O vent sonore et frais qui troublais le feuillage,
     Et faisais frémir l'onde, et sur leur jeune sein
     Agitais les replis de leur robe de lin!
     De légères beautés troupe agile et dansante....
     Tu sais, tu sais, ma mère? aux bords de l'Érymanthe....
     Là, ni loups ravisseurs, ni serpents, ni poisons....
     O visage divin! ô fêtes! ô chansons!
     Des pas entrelacés, des fleurs, une onde pure,
     Aucun lieu n'est si beau dans toute la nature.
     Dieux! ces bras et ces flancs, ces cheveux, ces pieds nus,
     Si blancs, si délicats.... Je ne te verrai plus!"

When the mother learns that it is of hopeless love her son is dying,
she says:

    "Mais mon fils, mais dis-moi, quelle belle dansante,
     Quelle vierge as-tu vu au bord de l'Érymanthe?
     N'est-tu pas riche et beau? du moins quand la douleur
     N'avait point de ta joue éteint la jeune fleur?
     Parie. Est-ce cette Églé, fille du roi des ondes,
     Ou cette jeune Irène aux longues tresses blondes?
     Ou ne sera-ce point cette fière beauté
     Dont j'entends le beau nom chaque jour répété,
     Dont j'apprends que partout les belles sont jalouses?
     Qu'aux temples, aux festins, les mères, les épouses,
     Ne sauraient voir, dit-on, sans peine et sans effroi?
     Cette belle Daphné?...--Dieux! ma mère, tais-toi,
     Tais-toi. Dieux! Qu'as-tu dit? Elle est fière, inflexible;
     Comme les immortels elle est belle et terrible!
     Mille amants l'ont aimée; ils l'ont aimée en vain.
     Comme eux j'aurais trouvé quelque refus hautain.
     Non, garde que jamais elle soit informée ...
     Mais, ô mort! ô tourment! ô mère bien-aimée!
     Tu vois dans quels ennuis dépérissent mes jours.
     Ma mère bien-aimée, ah! viens à mon secours:
     Je meurs; va la trouver: que tes traits, que ton âge,
     De sa mère à ses yeux offrent la sainte image.
     Tiens, prends cette corbeille et nos fruits les plus beaux,
     Prends notre Amour d'ivoire, honneur de ces hameaux;
     Prends la coupe d'onyx à Corinthe ravie,
     Prends mes jeunes chevreaux, prends mon cœur, prends ma vie,
     Jette tout à ses pieds; apprends-lui qui je suis;
     Dis-lui que je me meurs, que tu n'as plus de fils.
     Tombe aux pieds du vieillard, gémis, implore, presse;
     Adjure cieux et mers, dieu, temple, autel, déesse;
     Pars, et si tu reviens sans les avoir fléchis
     Adieu, ma mère, adieu, tu n'auras plus de fils.
     --J'aurai toujours un fils; va, la belle espérance
     Me dit ... Elle s'incline, et, dans un doux silence,
     Elle couvre ce front, terni par les douleurs,
     De baisers maternels entremêlés de pleurs.
     Puis elle sort en hâte, inquiète et tremblante,
     Sa démarche est de crainte et d'âge chancelante.
     Elle arrive; et bientôt revenant sur ses pas,
     Haletante, de loin: 'Mon cher fils, tu vivras,
     Tu vivras.' Elle vient s'asseoir près de la couche:
     Le vieillard la suivait, le sourire à la bouche.
     La jeune belle aussi, rouge et le front baissé,
     Vient, jette sur le lit un coup d'œil. L'insensé
     Tremble; sous ses tapis il veut cacher la tête.
     'Ami, depuis trois jours tu n'es d'aucune fête,
     Dit-elle; que fais-tu? pourquoi veux-tu mourir?
     Tu souffres. On me dit que je peux te guérir.
     Vis, et formons ensemble une seule famille;
     Que mon père ait un fils, et ta mère un fille.'"

One cannot imagine more simplicity, less attempt at effect, in the
solution of such a situation.

It was a foundation of this kind which the new Romantic School found to
build upon--noble simplicity of language, correct drawing, a Grecian
rhythm in all the transitions, the beautiful lines of the bas-relief,
pure colour, and austere form.


[1] Thiers was the grandson of this lady's sister.

[2] Sainte-Beuve is evidently in error, when, in his comparison of
André Chénier with Mathurin Régnier (in his book on French poetry in
the sixteenth century), he attributes the poem _La Liberté_ to a period
subsequent to Chénier's residence in London. Becq de Fouquières has
proved the improbability of Andre's having been in London before 1790.



VII


DE VIGNY'S POETRY AND HUGO'S "ORIENTALES"


The first author to show the influence of Chénier was one of the
most artistically audacious of the school, one of its original
leaders--Alfred de Vigny--who as lyric poet was at times very faulty,
at times an immaculate master. Chaste, lucid, pure, and austere,
there is a quality in his best verse which has led all the critics
who have attempted to describe it to employ such figures as the sheen
of ivory, the whiteness of ermine, the sailing of the swan. It has
the artistic severity, the sober colouring, the conciseness and the
fastidiousness which also characterise Chénier's. And De Vigny was
evidently afraid that these qualities would be attributed to Chénier's
influence. For although no collection of his poetry was published
before 1819, he took the trouble in later editions to furnish a number
of the poems which seem to bear the clearest marks of this influence,
with earlier dates, going even as far back as 1815. But even leaving
out of consideration the fact that single poems of Chénier's had been
given to the public (in Chateaubriand's _Génie du Christianisme_ and
as a supplement to Millevoye's poetical works) still earlier than this,
it is hardly possible to avoid the conclusion that, in spite of the
absolute uprightness which as a rule distinguished him, Alfred de
Vigny has antedated his poems to give himself an undeserved appearance
of complete originality. For the single poems which he published
before the first collection in question are far inferior to those
contained in it which bear a much earlier date--so inferior that he
excluded them from the complete edition of his works. André Chénier's
influence upon De Vigny is thus indisputable. The latter assimilated
many of the characteristics of the rediscovered master, though he
emancipated himself from the old-fashioned Hellenism of style which
hampered Chénier's flight. The poem _La Dryade_, to which he gives
the additional title of "Idyll in the manner of Theocritus," is in
reality an idyll in the manner of André Chénier. What distinguishes De
Vigny most markedly from Chénier as a lyric poet is his cult of pure
intellect and his proud, stoic feeling of solitude. He has painted his
own ideal portrait in such poems as _Moïse, La colère de Samson_, and
_La mort du loup_. He is very present in Moses' sad cry:

    "O Seigneur, j'ai vécu puissant et solitaire,
     Laissez-moi m'endormir du sommeil de la terre!"

I seem to hear the plaint of his strong, sorely wounded self-esteem
in Samson's outburst of wrath over Delilah's treachery (his Delilah
being the great actress, Marie Dorval). Thrice already has he forgiven
her, but she has been more ashamed than surprised at finding herself
discovered and forgiven:

    "Car la bonté de l'Homme est forte et sa douceur
     Écrase, en l'absolvant, l'être faible et menteur."

And I feel his stoicism, and at the same time read an apology for his
unproductiveness, in those words in the poem on the wolf which dies
without uttering a sound:

    "À voir ce que l'on fut sur terre et ce que l'on laisse,
     Seul le silence est grand, tout le reste est faiblesse."

Granted that there is a little affected rigidity in this attitude of
his, still it is his pride, his spiritual nobility, his desire to
perpetuate in his poetry the purity and austerity of his spirit, which
impel him to assume it.

The poet who undertook the further development of Chénier's lyrical
style was a man of different intellectual stamp from both him and
De Vigny--a man intoxicated with self-confidence. Victor Hugo was
three-and-twenty, "the bright dawn illumining his spring." In one of
his poems ("À Mademoiselle J.," in _Chants du Crépuscule_) he has
himself described the certainty of victory with which he made his début
as a lyric poet:

    "Alors je disais aux étoiles:
     O mon astre, en vain tu te voiles.
     Je sais que tu brilles là-haut!
     Alors je disais à la rive:
     Vous êtes la gloire, et j'arrive.
     Chacun de mes jours est un flot!

     Je disais au bois: forêt sombre,
     J'ai comme toi des bruits sans nombre.
     À l'aigle: contemple mon front!
     Je disais aux coupes vidées:
     Je suis plein d'ardentes idées
     Dont les âmes s'enivreront!

     Alors, du fond de vingt calices,
     Rosée, amour, parfum, délices,
     Se répandaient sur mon sommeil;
     J'avais des fleurs plein mes corbeilles;
     Et comme un vif essaim d'abeilles
     Mes pensées volaient au soleil!

     La terre me disait: Poète!
     Le ciel me répétait: Prophète!
     Marche! parle! enseigne! bénis!
     Penche l'urne des chants sublimes!
     Verse aux vallons noirs comme aux cimes,
     Dans les aires et dans les nids!"

Victor Hugo took the verse which André Chénier had created, that
pellucid medium of pure beauty, and when he had breathed upon it, it
gleamed with all the colours of the rainbow. Strangely enough it was
again from Greece that the inspiration came; but this time from modern
Greece. Under the impression produced by the Greek War of Liberation
Hugo set to work to write his _Orientales_. But what a different use
of language! The words painted; the words shone, "gilded by a sunbeam"
like the beautiful Jewess of the poems; they sang, as if to a secret
accompaniment of Turkish music.

First had come Oehlenschläger's East. This was the East of the child,
of the fairy-tale book, of the _Thousand and One Nights_--half Persia,
half Copenhagen. It was dreams of genii in lamps and rings, of diamonds
and sapphires by the bushel, the illimitable splendours of imagination
all grouped round a few imperishable poetic types.

Then came Byron's East, a great decorative background for passion in
its recklessness and melancholy.

The third in order was Goethe's, the East of the _West-östlicher
Divan_, the refuge of the old man. He took the reposeful, the
contemplative element of Oriental philosophy and wove German Lieder
into it. Rückert, the great word-artist, followed in his steps.

But Hugo's East was different from all of these; it was the brightly
variegated, outward, barbaric East, the land of light and colour.
Sultans and muftis, dervishes and caliphs, hetmans, pirates,
Klephts--delicious sounds in his ears, delightful pictures before his
eyes. Time is a matter of indifference--far back antiquity, Middle
Ages, or to-day; race is a matter of indifference--Hebrew, Moor, or
Turk; place is a matter of indifference--Sodom and Gomorrah, Granada,
Navarino; creed is a matter of indifference. "No one," he tells us in
his preface, "has a right to ask the poet whether he believes in God or
in gods, in Pluto, in Satan, or in nothing." His province is to paint.
He is possessed by a genius which leaves him no peace until the East,
as he feels it, is before him upon paper.

A careful study of the _Orientales_ shows us how they came into being.
They were not written in the order in which they stand in the book. The
first poem in order of production is No. 23, "La ville prise," written
in 1824; next come poems written in 1826 and 1827 upon incidents in
the War of Liberation, and not until 1828 is the poet's imagination
thoroughly fired. The horizon widens; all the elements which tend, by
reason of a close or distant connection of ideas, to crystallise round
the Turkish war, group themselves round that nucleus.

If we examine the little poem, "La ville prise," which is an outcome
of the powerful emotion produced in the poet by the martyrdom of
Greece, we are struck by the identity of its standpoint with the
standpoint of the French Romantic school of painting. In 1824 Eugène
Delacroix exhibits his famous picture of the "Massacre of Scio," a
bold and masterly delineation, glowing with flaming colour and intense
feeling, of a horrible incident, destitute of the slightest element
of conventional poetic justice. Very soon after this Hugo writes his
little poem. It purports to be the intelligence brought by a humble
slave. Standing with his hands crossed on his breast, he says:

    "La flamme par ton ordre, ô Roi, luit et dévore.
     De ton peuple en grondant elle étouffe les cris;
     Et, rougissant les toits comme une sombre aurore,
     Semble en son vol joyeux danser sur leurs débris.

     Le meurtre aux mille bras comme un géant se lève;
     Les palais embrasés se changent en tombeaux;
     Pères, femmes, époux, tout tombe sous le glaive;
     Autour de la cité s'appellent les corbeaux.

     Les mères ont frémi! les vierges palpitantes,
     O calife! ont pleuré leurs jeunes ans flétris;
     Et les coursiers fougueux ont traîné hors des tentes
     Leurs corps vivans, de coups et de baisers meurtris!

     Les tout petits enfans, écrasés sous les dalles,
     Ont vécu: de leur sang le fer s'abreuve encor...--
     Ton peuple baise, ô Roi, la poudre des sandales
     Qu'à ton pied glorieux attache un cercle d'or!"

This is the first chord which Hugo strikes in these poems; it rings
sharp and shrill; but the poem is not quite good, because it is not
quite true. It was not thus the slave spoke; we are sensible of the
poet's own indignation in the narrative. The next poems, "Les têtes du
Sérail," "Enthousiasme," and "Navarin," bear additional evidence to the
modern Greek influence to which we originally owe _Les Orientales_. But
then the poet makes a great artistic advance; he transports himself to
the standpoint of the Turks, writes himself into their frame of mind.

"La douleur du Pacha" is the first, half-ironic attempt. Dervishes and
bombardiers, odalisques and slaves, one after the other, each from his
or her own point of view, try to imagine what can be the reason of the
Pacha's sitting musing in his tent with his eyes full of tears. But
none of the reasons that occur to them is the true one. It is not that
his favourite concubine has been unfaithful, nor yet that there has
been a head too few in the fellah's sack. No, he is grieving over the
death of his favourite Nubian tiger.

But this is still only an attempt. The poet has not yet entirely got
rid of himself, got outside of himself; we are conscious of him in one
weak spot, which disturbs and dissolves the mental picture. But now
comes the "Marche turque," and we are in the East.

Though the refrain of this masterly poem is a very barbarous one, its
general tone is not savage; it is serious, full of a piety which is
not the less heartfelt, and of ideas of honour which are not the less
sincere because they are different from ours:

    "Ma dague d'un sang noir à mon côté ruisselle,
     Et ma hache est pendue à l'arçon de ma selle.

     J'aime le vrai soldat, effroi de Bélial;
     Son turban évasé rend son front plus sévère;
     Il baise avec respect la barbe de son père,
     Il voue à son vieux sabre un amour filial,
     Et porte un doliman percé dans les mêlées
     De plus de coups que n'a de taches étoilées
         La peau du tigre impérial.

     Ma dague d'un sang noir à mon côté ruisselle,
     Et ma hache est pendue à l'arçon de ma selle.
        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

     Celui qui d'une femme aime les entretiens;
     Celui qui ne sait pas dire dans une orgie
     Quelle est d'un beau cheval la généalogie;
     Qui cherche ailleurs qu'en soi force, amis et soutiens,
     Sur de soyeux divans se couche avec mollesse,
     Craint le soleil, sait lire, et par scrupule laisse
         Tout le vin de Chypre aux chrétiens;

     Ma dague d'un sang noir à mon côté ruisselle,
     Et ma hache est pendue à l'arçon de ma selle.

     Celui-là, c'est un lâche, et non pas un guerrier.
     Ce n'est pas lui qu'on voit dans la bataille ardente
     Pousser un fier cheval, à la housse pendante,
     La sabre en main, debout sur le large étrier;
     Il n'est bon qu'à presser des talons une mule,
     En murmurant tout bas quelque vaine formule,
         Comme un prêtre qui va prier!

     Ma dague d'un sang noir à mon côté ruisselle,
     Et ma hache est pendue à l'arçon de ma selle."

There is nothing Greek in this, nor yet any European satire of Turkish
barbarity; the poet has become the dramatist within the Turkish
intellectual and emotional pale; in this local colouring there is the
genuine brutality which no northern poet has ever attained in handling
such themes. This is true masculine savagery.

These are not sentimental, but robust major chords; and the major key
predominates in all the poems, even where woman and love entwine their
rhythms among the harsh, masculine ones. There are cruel, heartless
women, like the Jewish sultana who demands the heads of her rivals;
and there are refined, musical daughters of Eve, like the captive who
longs for her own country and yet loves the sight of Smyrna's fairy
palaces, and rejoices in breathing the soft air of the East in winter
and in summer, by day and at night when the full moon shines upon the
sea. There is the charming woman depicted in "Les adieux de l'hôtesse
Arabe." The love which finds expression in this last-named poem is sad
in its feeling of unrequitedness, repressed and chaste; it is a mixture
of sisterly care, childlike superstition, and submissive worship, which
reveals itself with plastic grace in a noble, proud character.

From the moment when the poet deserts the Greek camp for that of the
enemy, his imagination allows itself free play. From pictures of
Turkish cruelty it passes to the delineation of Turkish superstition.
"Les Djinns" is a metrical marvel in which the approach of the wild
hunt to the house, its thundering over the heads of the terror-stricken
inmates, and its gradual dying away into the distance, are represented
by the gradual rise from two-syllabic to ten-syllabic lines and gradual
fall back to the two-syllabic. From the life of the Turkish seraglio
it wings its flight to the tents of the Bedouins in the desert; from
the desert as it is to-day to the desert as it was in the days when
Buonaberdi overshadowed it with the wings of his eagles.

Enormous stretches of sand and water, the ordering and manœuvres of
masses of troops, the architecture of towns, the sieges and storming
of these towns, are seen with the poet's eye; and at a certain moment
a natural association of ideas summons up the picture of great scenes
of destruction read of in Bible history. In these last Hugo found his
most gorgeous material. And it was also the material nearest akin to
his own personality. His imagination was always at its best in dealing
with the monstrous. The original Pegasus was, in the literal sense of
the word, a superb monster, and that is just what Hugo's Pegasus is, in
the figurative.

He writes "Le Feu du Ciel," the first poem in the book, the last in
chronological order. We see the awful black cloud sailing across the
sky. Whence has it come? Whither is it bound? No one knows. Hovering
above the sea, it asks the Lord if it shall dry up the waters with
its fires. No! answers the Lord, and onward it hurries, driven by His
breath. Over the beautiful bays of the Mediterranean, over the fair
corn lands of Egypt it passes, but the Lord still gives no signal
to stop. Over the desert it flies, over the ruins of ancient Babel.
It asks: Is it here? But still onward it must go. In the night time
it reaches the magnificent sister cities--Sodom and Gomorrah--whose
inhabitants have fallen asleep after their wild, voluptuous revels.
Now the Lord gives the signal. The cloud opens, and from its flaming
gorge pours a torrent of fire and sulphur and brimstone upon the doomed
cities, until agate and porphyry and idols and marble colossi melt like
wax, and the dazzling flames envelop and destroy everything living in
the houses and the streets. Towards morning the ruin of old Babel is
seen to lift its head above the mountain-ridge to see and enjoy the
end of the play. It knows all about it; it also in its day has had
experience of the love that chasteneth.

This is, as already remarked, not poetry in a minor key; some critics
actually accused it of coldness; but if ever there was an unwarrantable
accusation this was one. We feel as if the poet had actually seen it
all, and had painted it with a brush like that pine which Heine would
fain have torn from the Norwegian cliffs and dipped in the fire of
Etna, to write with it the name of his beloved across the expanse
of heaven. These _Orientales_ became the model for Romantic lyric
poetry. In them the poet dared to lay hold of the painful, the ugly,
the terrible (τὸ δεινόν as the Greeks said), and incorporate it in his
verse, assured of his power to penetrate it all with poetry, to impart
transparency to all these shadows and immerge all the blackness in a
poetic sea of light. What he once wrote of the earth may be applied
to his own lyric poetry. He describes the poor, stony, niggardly
soil, which unwillingly yields man his daily bread; burning deserts
here, polar ice there; cities from which mercy and hope have departed
wringing their hands. He paints death, an eyeless spectre which
generally seizes the best first; tells of seas where ships are wrecked
in the night, and of continents where howling war swings its torches
and races fall furiously one upon the other. And, he concludes, of all
this is composed a star in the firmament of heaven.



VIII


HUGO AND DE MUSSET


Scarcely had Victor Hugo completed _Les Orientales_ before he set
to work upon a series of poems of a completely different character.
_Feuilles d'Automne_ conquered a new territory for French lyric poetry,
a domain in which the personal element was as conspicuously present as
it had been absent in _Les Orientales_.

Hugo had married at the age of twenty on the strength of a trifling
pension granted him by Louis XVIII. The dowry of his beloved bride,
Adèle Foucher, was 2000 francs. The young couple lived for a number of
years in straitened circumstances; but after the _Hernani_ battle was
won, Hugo's writings began to bring him in thousands, which rose to
hundreds of thousands, and finally to millions. Still, the poor home
was a happy one, and when, at the age of twenty-five, Hugo appeared
before the public as a literary revolutionist, he was the father of a
family.

In _Feuilles d'Automne_ the poet presents his readers with pictures and
thoughts of his own home. They are memories of his childhood and his
beloved dead, remembrances of his mother's tenderness, of his father's
soldierly figure and mien, of Napoleon, whom, standing by his father's
side as a child, he had once seen. He unburdens his heart to intimate
friends, confesses to them the sadness and the doubts induced in him
by the hard battle of life. There are love poems too, matchless ones.
He finds his first love-letters and reads them with a heart full of
sadness and of longing for the vanished first freshness of youth. He
gives us the poetry of his home. This was a side of life which almost
all the great poets of the world had left untouched. Shakespeare had no
home, and his conjugal relations were not such as to deserve writing
about. Schiller and Goethe wrote few poems to their wives, and none
about their family life. What Byron had thought fit to communicate to
the world of such matters was the reverse of edifying. Oehlenschläger,
whose personal circumstances and literary position in many respects
resemble Hugo's, did not marry his Christiane till her youth was past.
When he writes of his wife his tone is more dutiful than chivalrous;
she is rather his Morgiana than his Gulnare; and in his poems about his
children there is a touch of parental vanity; he writes of them in the
style in which royal personages sometimes allude to theirs on public
occasions; we feel that he regards them as beings whose welfare must be
of importance to every one. Hugo avoided these pitfalls.

Not that Adèle Foucher remained the central female figure in Hugo's
life during all the years when he was singing of his home. _Feuilles
d'Automne_ is the last collection of his poems in which he could
truthfully write of the happiness he found there. In 1833, during the
rehearsals of his _Lucrèce Borgia_, he became intimate with the young
and beautiful, though talentless, actress, Juliette Drouet (her real
name was Julienne Gauvain), whom he had chosen to play the very small
part of the Princess Negroni. This lady's contemporaries write with
enthusiasm of her beauty, which is said to have combined the purity
of outline of the Greek statue with the poetic expression which we
attribute to Shakespeare's heroines. In Hugo's tragedy she had only two
words to say, merely walked across the stage; yet Théophile Gautier,
after describing her lovely dress, writes thus of her performance:
"She resembled a lizard that had erected itself on its tail, so wavy,
supple, and serpentlike was her carriage. And with all her charm, how
skilfully she managed to insinuate something poisonous into her words!
With what mocking and perturbing agility did she avoid the attentions
of the handsome Venetian noblemen!"

Juliette Drouet's profile was antique, and she had a profusion of
beautiful hair. Pradier, the sculptor, has immortalised her in the
statue of the city of Lille in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

When Hugo made her acquaintance he was thirty-one and she twenty-seven;
and their connection lasted until her death, that is, for nearly fifty
years. After 1833 she accompanied him on his travels, and both during
and after his exile "Madame Juliette Drouet" lived in his house.

His wife, between whom and Sainte-Beuve there was soon a liaison which
the latter's literary indiscretions made unnecessarily public, seems as
long as she lived to have borne patiently with Hugo's inconstancy; and
Hugo's letters show that he, in his turn, showed both dignity and great
delicacy of feeling in the way in which he received Sainte-Beuve's
intimation of his passion for Madame Hugo.

In his poetry, at least, Hugo remained united by the tenderest of ties
to his home.

It is in the _Chants du Crépuscule_ which were published in 1835,
consequently long after he and Juliette Drouet had become closely
connected, that (in the poem "Date lilia!") he writes of his wife as
the being to whom he says: _Toujours!_ and who answers: _Partout!_

And it is in this same poem that we have the perfectly charming picture
of the young mother followed by her four children, the youngest of whom
still walks with tottering steps:

    "Oh! si vous rencontrez quelque part sous les cieux
     Une femme au front pur, au pas grave, aux doux yeux,
     Que suivent quatre enfants dont le dernier chancelle,
     Les surveillant bien tous, et, s'il passe auprès d'elle
     Quelque aveugle indigent que l'âge appesantit,
     Mettant une humble aumône aux mains du plus petit;
     Si, quand la diatribe autour d'un nom s'élance,
     Vous voyez une femme écouter en silence,
     Et douter, puis vous dire: Attendons pour juger.
     Quel est celui de nous qu'on ne pourrait charger?
     On est prompt à ternir les choses les plus belles.
     La louange est sans pieds et le blâme a des ailes.
         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Si, loin des feux, des voix, des bruits et des splendeurs,
     Dans un repli perdu parmi les profondeurs,
     Sur quatre jeunes fronts groupés près du mur sombre,
     Vous voyez se pencher un regard voilé d'ombre
     Où se mêle, plus doux encor que solennel,
     Le rayon virginal au rayon maternel;

     Oh! qui que vous soyez, bénissez-la. C'est elle!
     La sœur, visible aux yeux, de mon âme immortelle!
     Mon orgueuil, mon espoir, mon abri, mon recours!
     Toit de mes jeunes ans qu'espèrent mes vieux jours!"

And through all these poems there is a twitter and a hum, a sound as
of the play of little children and their bird-like cries. The child
rushes into the room, and the darkest brow, nay, even the guilty
countenance, brightens; it interrupts the most serious converse with
its questions, and the talk ends in a smile; it opens its young soul to
every impression, and offers a kiss to strangers and to friends.

"Let the children stay! do not drive them from the poet's study; let
them laugh and sing and mingle their childish clamour with the chorus
of spirit voices whilst he writes and dreams at his desk. Their breath
will not disperse the gay bubbles of his dream. Do you think that I
fear, when these bright heads pass before my eyes in the midst of my
visions of blood and fire, that my verses will take flight like a
flock of birds startled by playing children? No, indeed! No image is
destroyed by them. The painted, chased flowers of the gay _Orientale_
expand more freely when they are near, the ballad grows more spirited,
the winged lines of the ode mount with more ardent aspiration towards
heaven."

A sad event which happened in 1843 carried the poet in riper years back
to these youthful days and that happy family circle. In February 1843
his eldest daughter married; in September she was accidentally drowned,
from a sailing-boat on the Seine. Her husband, Charles Vacquerie,
jumped into the water after her, and when his and all attempts to save
her proved fruitless, he drowned himself. The series of poems in _Les
Contemplations_ beginning with the verses, "Oh! je fus comme fou dans
le premier moment!" ought to be read along with _Feuilles d'Automne_.

In this series we come upon simple scenes exquisitely reproduced and
full of sincere feeling:

    "Elle avait pris ce pli dans son âge enfantin
     De venir dans ma chambre un peu chaque matin;
     Je l'attendais ainsi qu'un rayon qu'on espère;
     Elle entrait et disait: 'Bonjour, mon petit père;'
     Prenait ma plume, ouvrait mes livres, s'asseyait
     Sur mon lit, dérangeait mes papiers et riait,
     Puis soudain s'en allait comme un oiseau qui passe.
     Alors je reprenais, la tête un peu moins lasse,
     Mon œuvre interrompue, et, tout en écrivant,
     Parmi mes manuscrits je rencontrais souvent
     Quelque arabesque folle et qu'elle avait tracée,
     Et mainte page blanche entre ses mains froissée
     Où, je ne sais comment, venaient mes plus doux vers.
     Elle aimait Dieu, les fleurs, les astres, les prés verts,
     Et c'était un esprit avant d'être une femme.
     Son regard reflétait la clarté de son âme.
     Elle me consultait sur tout à tous moments.
     Oh! que de soirs d'hiver radieux et charmants
     Passés à raisonner langue, histoire et grammaire,
     Mes quatre enfants groupés sur mes genoux, leur mère
     Tout près, quelques amis causant au coin du feu!
     J'appelais cette vie être content de peu!"

Almost more beautiful is the following poem:--

    "O souvenirs! printemps! aurore!
     Doux rayon triste et réchauffant!
     --Lorsqu'elle était petite encore,
     Que sa sœur était tout enfant....--

     Connaissez-vous sur la colline
     Qui joint Montlignon à Saint-Leu
     Une terrasse qui s'incline
     Entre un bois sombre et le ciel bleu?

     C'est là que nous vivions.--Pénètre,
     Mon cœur, dans ce passé charmant!--
     Je l'entendais sous ma fenêtre
     Jouer le matin doucement.

     Elle courait dans la rosée,
     Sans bruit, de peur de m'éveiller;
     Moi, je n'ouvrais pas ma croisée,
     De peur de la faire envoler.

     Ses frères riaient ... Aube pure!
     Tout chantait sous ces frais berceaux,
     Ma famille avec la nature,
     Mes enfants avec les oiseaux!--

     Je toussais, on devenait brave;
     Elle montait à petits pas,
     Et me disait d'un air très-grave:
     'J'ai laissé les enfants en bas.'

     Nous jouions toute la journée.
     O jeux charmants! chers entretiens!
     Le soir, comme elle était l'aînée,
     Elle me disait: Père, viens!

     'Nous allons t'apporter ta chaise,
     Conte nous une histoire, dis!'--
     Et je voyais rayonner d'aise
     Tous ces regards de paradis.

     Alors, prodiguant les carnages,
     J'inventais un conte profond
     Dont je trouvais les personnages
     Parmi les ombres du plafond.

     Toujours, ces quatre douces têtes
     Riaient, comme à cet âge on rit,
     De voir d'affreux géants très bêtes
     Vaincus par des nains pleins d'esprit.

     J'étais l'Arioste et l'Homère
     D'un poëme éclos d'un seul jet;
     Pendant que je parlais, leur mère
     Les regardait rire, et songeait.

     Leur aïeul, qui lisait dans l'ombre,
     Sur eux parfois levait les yeux,
     Et moi, par la fenêtre sombre
     J'entrevoyais un coin des cieux!"

In the child's evening prayer, the famous "Prière pour tous," not only
for father and mother, but for the poor, the forsaken, the bad--the
idea of the family broadens into the idea of the whole great human
family. Humanity finds its expression in _Feuilles d'Automne_, as did
inhumanity in _Les Orientales_.

When the poet sits dreaming alone, he thinks first of those he loves;
he sees his friends one after the other; then his acquaintances,
intimate and slight; then all the multitude of those unknown to
him--the whole of humanity, living and dead; he gazes, until his vision
fails, upon the double ocean of time and space, the endless and the
bottomless, the endless that is eternally falling into the bottomless.
That sense of the infinite which Hugo's great forerunner, André
Chénier, despised, that religious feeling which was non-existent in the
child of the eighteenth century, reappears in Hugo, purified from the
superstition of the reactionary period.

From a height near the shore the poet hears two voices, one from the
sea and one from the land. Every wave has its murmur, every human being
his distinct utterance, his sigh, his shriek; and the wave voices and
the human voices form two great, pathetic choruses--the song of nature
and the cry of humanity.

The infinity of these poems is no longer the monstrous thing of which
we now and then catch a glimpse in _Les Orientales_; it is the ocean
in which it is natural and, to employ Leopardi's expression, sweet for
thought to suffer shipwreck.

In _Chants du Crépuscule_ Hugo quits the domain of private life. The
poems composing this volume are chiefly political. They constitute
a kind of diary of the events of the few years preceding their
publication. Hugo was a supporter of the constitutional monarchy; he
was even made a peer of France by Louis Philippe, and he accepted
the King's assistance when in 1845 it was proposed to eject him from
the Chamber of Peers because of a notorious love-affair (with Madame
Biard). He may be best described at this period as a royalist with a
tendency to opposition.

His poems celebrate the days of July and their martyrs, and express
indignation at the refusal of the Chamber of Deputies to allow the body
of Napoleon to be brought back to France, a project to which the royal
family offered no objection, and which was afterwards carried into
execution by the Prince de Joinville. The poem directed against Deutz,
who gave up the Duchess of Berry to Louis Philippe's government for
money ("A l'homme qui a livré une femme "), strikes indirectly not only
at Thiers, but at the King himself.

This is, however, an opposition based not upon political, but upon
social sympathies. The disappointment of the proletariat at the
insignificance of the result of the Revolution of July as far as they
were concerned, and the sullen hatred of the well-to-do which was
fermenting in the masses, find expression in such poems as "Sur le
bal de l'hôtel de ville," with its masterly picture of the women of
the people, who, gaudily decked out, beautiful and half-naked, like
the ladies who are driving to the ball, stand "with flowers in their
hair, dirt on their shoes, and hatred in their hearts," watching the
carriages arrive. Vague anxiety and restlessness, warnings to the
crowned heads of Europe to make for themselves friends betimes amongst
their people, show that the poet has his hand on the pulse of his age.

Nothing could be a better proof of the close relation between Victor
Hugo's writings and the spirit of the day than the circumstance that
Louis Philippe's government prohibited the performance of his dramas
quite as strictly as the Legitimist government had done. _Hernani_
had, indeed, been played in the preceding reign, Charles X. cleverly
replying to those who would have had him prohibit it, that, as far as
the theatre was concerned, his place was amongst the audience. But,
in spite of his personal partiality for Hugo, he had forbidden the
performance of _Marion Delorme_ because it was suggested to him that
its representation of Louis XIII.'s attitude towards Richelieu, would
be interpreted as satire of his own submissiveness to the clergy. This
prohibition had long since been repealed, but now the government of
Louis Philippe quite illegally forbade the representation of _Le Roi
s'amuse_. During the lawsuit which ensued, Hugo made the following
caustic remarks:

"Napoleon also was a despot, but his behaviour was very different.
He employed none of the precautionary measures by means of which our
liberties are now being juggled away, one after the other. He put out
his hand and took everything at once. The lion does not behave like
the fox. Things were done in the grand style then, gentlemen. Napoleon
said: 'On such and such a day I will make my entry into such and such
a capital,' and he made his entry on the day and at the very hour he
had named. A proclamation in the _Moniteur_ dethroned a dynasty. Kings
had to sit crowded together waiting in the anterooms. If a column was
desired, the Emperor of Austria was obliged to provide the bronze for
it. The affairs of the Théâtre Français were certainly regulated in a
somewhat arbitrary manner, but the regulations were dated from Moscow.
That was the day of great things, this is the day of small."

These words convey a good general idea of Hugo's poetico-political
attitude at the beginning of the Thirties.

Round about him his younger friends were working their way to fame.
Almost all the frequenters of his house in time revealed themselves
to be poets. Hugo would occasionally request Sainte-Beuve to recite,
and after much pressing the latter, begging little Léopoldine and
little Chariot to make plenty of noise the while, would repeat to the
assembled company one or two of his charming, mannered poems. Alfred de
Musset, a youth of seventeen, was brought to the house by Paul Foucher,
Hugo's brother-in-law. One morning De Musset went up to Sainte-Beuve's
garret, wakened him, and said with a shamefaced smile: "I too write
verses."

The verses he wrote have attained world-wide fame.

If, amongst French laymen, one were to ask a man of the people--say an
artisan, and amongst authors, either a Romanticist or a Parnassian:
Who is the greatest modern French poet? the answer would undoubtedly
be: Victor Hugo. But if the question were put to a member of the upper
middle class--a public official, a savant, a man of the world, or
amongst authors, to a member of the naturalistic school, or if one were
to appeal to the ladies, in all probability the answer would be: Alfred
de Musset. Whence this difference of opinion and what does it denote?

Alfred de Musset made his literary début in 1830, at the age of
nineteen, with _Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie_, a series of tales in
verse abounding in situations which it would be scarcely permissible
to describe. In the longer ones (_Don Paez, Portia_, &c.) treachery
runs riot; we have the wife who deceives her husband, the mistress who
deceives her lover, the countess who knows nothing about hers except
that he has killed her old husband; we have brutal pleasure, to obtain
which men hack and hew at each other, youthful sensuality which knows
neither ruth nor shame, senile depravity which employs love potions and
listens to the death-rattle with voluptuous pleasure; and, scattered
about amongst all this, songs, fiery sparks of passion, savagery, and
arrogance. Shakespeare's earliest works are not more wanton than these,
and these are, moreover, not naïvely, but refinedly wanton. There is
also a constant parade of unbelief, with odd interruptions in the shape
of unconscious confessions of weakness and spasmodic longings for the
comforts of religion.

Some were scandalised by the book, more praised it enthusiastically.
The young men of the literary circles were much struck by it. This was
Romanticism of an entirely new kind, much less doctrinaire than Victor
Hugo's. Here was a still more direct defiance of the classic rules
of metre and style; but this defiance was frolicsome and witty, not
martial like Hugo's. These attacks were enlivened by the presence of
an element entirely wanting in Hugo's books, and that an essentially
national element, what the French themselves call _esprit_. This
jesting, jeering Romanticism was refreshing after Hugo's pompous,
serious Romanticism. Here too the scenes were laid in Spain and Italy;
here too were medieval backgrounds, sword-thrusts, and serenades; but
it all gave twice as much pleasure with this addition of jollity,
of subtle satire, of doubt which scarcely believed what it said
itself. Take, for example, the notorious, offensively indecent ballad
of the moon, which aggravated the Classicists by its metre and the
Romanticists by its disrespectful attitude to its subject, their chief
favourite. It was a ballad which parodied its own style; its writer
seemed to be walking on his hands, kissing his toes to his readers.

Hugo's heroic bearing and giant's stride had compelled reverence;
his imposing rhetoric roused respectful admiration; but this
miraculous jaunty grace, this genius for shameless drollery, had both
an emancipatory and a fascinating effect. There was a diabolical
irresistibility about it, a quality which women as a rule are, and in
this case were, the first to appreciate. De Musset wrote of women,
always of women, and not, like Hugo, with precocious maturity, with
chivalrous tenderness, with romantic gallantry--no, with a passion, a
hatred, a bitterness, a fury, which showed that he despised and adored
them, that they could make him writhe and scream in agony, and that he
took his revenge in clamorous accusation and fiery scorn.

There is here no ripeness, wholesomeness, or moral beauty, but a
youthful, seething, incredible intensity of life, any description of
which would be no more successful than the description of scarlet given
to the blind man, which drew forth the remark: "Then it is like the
sound of a trumpet." And in this poetry there is, verily, a quality
which suggests scarlet and the flourish of trumpets. That beauty in
art is immortal is true; but there is something still more certainly
immortal, namely, life. These first poems of De Musset lived. They were
followed by his mature, beautiful works; and all men's eyes were opened
to his merits. In the poem "Après une lecture" he has himself described
his art:

     "Celui qui ne sait pas, quand la brise étouffée
      Soupire au fond des bois son tendre et long chagrin,
      Sortir seul au hazard, chantant quelque refrain,
      Plus fou qu'Ophélia de romarin coiffée,
      Plus étourdi qu'un page amoureux d'une fée
      Sur son chapeau cassé jouant du tambourin;
        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

      Celui qui n'a pas l'âme à tout jamais aimante,
      Qui n'a pas pour tout bien, pour unique bonheur,
      De venir lentement poser son front rêveur
      Sur un front jeune et frais, à la tresse odorante,
      Et de sentir ainsi d'une tête charmante
      La vie et la beauté descendre dans son cœur;

      Celui qui ne sait pas, durant les nuits brûlantes
      Qui font pâlir d'amour l'étoile de Vénus,
      Se lever en sursaut, sans raison, les pieds nus,
      Marcher, prier, pleurer des larmes ruisselantes,
      Et devant l'infini joindre des mains tremblantes,
      Le cœur plein de pitié pour les maux inconnus;

      Que celui-là rature et barbouille à son aise;
      Il peut, tant qu'il voudra, rimer à tour de bras,
      Ravauder l'oripeau qu'on appelle antithèse,
      Et s'en aller ainsi jusqu'au Père-Lachaise,
      Traînant à ses talons tous les sots d'ici-bas;
      Grand homme, si l'on veut; mais poëte, non pas."

In the allusion to those who trick themselves out with the tinsel
of antithesis we have a hit at Victor Hugo and his school, and the
almost unconscious expression of the genuine lyric poet's feeling of
superiority to the gifted rhetorician. The overpowering enthusiasm
for poetry and the poetic self-consciousness remind us of Goethe's
"Wanderers Sturmlied."

And as De Musset developed and approached the years of discretion, he
continued to reveal qualities which outshone Victor Hugo's. He won the
hearts of the reading public by his essential humanness. He confessed
his weakness and faults; Victor Hugo felt it incumbent on him to be
unerring. He was not the marvellous artificer of verse, could not,
like Hugo, hammer the metal of language into fashion and put word gems
into a setting of gold. He wrote carelessly, rhymed anyhow, even in
more slipshod fashion than Heine; but he was never the rhetorician,
always the human being. In his joy and his grief there seemed to be an
immortal truth. One of his poems flung upon a pile of poems by other
poets acted like aquafortis; everything else composing the pile burned
up or evaporated, as being mere paper and words; it alone remained, and
burned and rang in its piercing truth like a cry from a human breast.

How was it, then, that not he but Hugo became the leader of the young
Romantic School?

This question may be answered by reversing the position of the words in
the last line of the poem just quoted, and saying: "Poëte si l'on veut;
mais grand homme non pas."

In spite of the extraordinary variety of the standpoints adopted by
Hugo during the course of his long life, a certain unbroken line
of progression is plainly evident in his political and religious
development, and, what is almost of more importance, he acts with
unfailing dignity. Victor Hugo was a hard worker, Alfred de Musset
was exceedingly indolent; Hugo was an excellent economist, who made
the most of his great gifts, and did not squander his talents, but
carefully preserved both his physical and mental powers; De Musset
was reckless in the extreme, neglectful of his health, addicted to
narcotics even in his youth. Hugo had the faculty of making his
personality a centre, of collecting other men round him and binding
them to him, the faculty of the chief and leader; De Musset, the man
of the world, was an excellent companion, but De Musset, the artist,
was quite incapable of pulling in the traces with others. Hugo had the
unbounded belief in himself which made others believe in him.

De Musset begins with an affectation of superiority, with a display of
the extremist scepticism in religion and the extremest indifference in
politics. But beneath this scepticism and this indifference we soon
catch glimpses of an unmanly weakness, which in course of time reveals
itself plainly.

Read his masked self-revelation in _Confession d'un Enfant du Siècle_.
He tells how he was born at an unlucky moment. Everything was dead.
Napoleon's day was past, and, as if there could be no glory except the
glory of the Empire, we are told that the days of glory were at an end.
Faith was dead. There was no longer even such a thing as two little
pieces of black wood in the form of a cross before which one could
devoutly fold one's hands; and therefore, as if there could be neither
heart nor soul in those who are not attached to Catholic symbolism,
we are told that soul was dead. Some who comprehended that the day of
glory was past, proclaimed from the rostrum that liberty was a finer
thing even than glory, and at these words the hearts of the youthful
audience began to beat, as with a distant, terrible remembrance. "But
on their way home these youths met a procession carrying three baskets
to Clamart, and in the baskets they saw the corpses of three young men
who had been too loud in their praises of liberty;" and, as if callous
despair were the only mental attitude which the death of martyrs can
produce, we are told that their lips curled with a strange smile, and
that they forthwith plunged headlong into the maddest dissipation.

Such is the basis, the underlying idea, of a whole series of the
cleverest masculine characters drawn by De Musset, that remarkable
creation Lorenzaccio among the number. In his youth it produced Rolla,
the most famous of his typical characters.

In none of De Musset's works does the unstable, vacillating, feminine
quality in his philosophy display itself more markedly than in _Rolla_.

The introduction opens with the well-known wail of longing for the
Greece of old with its freshness and beauty, and for the Christendom of
old, with its pure aspiration and fervent faith, for the days when the
cathedrals of Cologne and Strasburg, of Notre-Dame and St. Peter, knelt
devoutly in their mantles of stone and the great organ of the nations
pealed forth the hosanna of the centuries.

Upon this follows the still more famous passage:

    "O Christ! je ne suis pas de ceux que la prière
     Dans tes temples muets amène à pas tremblants;
     Je ne suis pas de ceux qui vont à ton Calvaire,
     En se frappant le cœur, baiser tes pieds sanglants;
     Et je reste debout sous tes sacrés portiques,
     Quand ton peuple fidèle, autour des noirs arceaux,
     Se courbe en murmurant sous le vent des cantiques,
     Comme au souffle du nord un peuple de roseaux.
     Je ne crois pas, ô Christ! à ta parole sainte:
     Je suis venu trop tard dans un monde trop vieux.
     D'un siècle sans espoir naît un siècle sans crainte.
         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Les clous du Golgotha te soutiennent à peine;
     Sous ton divin tombeau le sol s'est dérobé:
     Ta gloire est morte, ô Christ! et sur nos croix d'ébène
     Ton cadavre céleste en poussière est tombée!
     Eh bien! qu'il soit permis d'en baiser la poussière
     Au moins crédule enfant de ce siècle sans foi,
     Et de pleurer, ô Christ! sur cette froide terre
     Qui vivait de ta mort, et qui mourra sans toi!'

Then comes the story.--Jacques Rolla is the most dissipated youth in
the dissipated city of Paris. He sneers at everything and every one.
"No son of Adam ever had a more supreme contempt for people and for
king." His means are small, but his love of luxury and voluptuousness
is great. Custom, which constitutes half the life of other men, is
utterly obnoxious to him. Therefore he divides the small fortune left
him by his father into three parts, three purses of money, each to last
a year. He spends them in the company of bad women upon all manner of
foolishness, making no secret of his intention to shoot himself at the
end of the third year.

And De Musset, aged 22, calls Rolla great, intrepid, honourable, and
proud. His love of liberty--and by liberty is understood freedom from
every kind of activity, from every calling, every duty--ennobles him in
the poet's eyes.

We have the description of the night of Rolla's suicide in the house of
ill-fame, of the preparations for the orgy, of the girl of sixteen who
is brought by her own mother; and then the poet begins his affecting
lament over the terrible depravity of society--the mother who sells
her child, the poverty which drives her to the trade of procuress, the
cheap chastity and hypocritical virtue of fortunately situated women.

And now comes the most famous passage of the poem, the apostrophe to
Voltaire:

    "Dors-tu content, Voltaire, et ton hideux sourire
     Voltige-t-il encore sur tes os décharnés?
     Ton siècle était, dit-on, trop jeune pour te lire;
     Le nôtre doit te plaire, et tes hommes sont nés.
     Il est tombé sur nous, cet édifice immense
     Que de tes larges mains tu sapais nuit et jour.
     La Mort devait t'attendre avec impatience.
     Pendant quatre-vingts ans que tu lui fis ta cour.
        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Vois-tu, vieil Arouet? cet homme plein de vie
     Qui de baisers ardents couvre ce sein si beau,
     Sera couché demain dans un étroit tombeau.
     Jetterais-tu sur lui quelques regards d'envie?
     Sois tranquille, il fa lu. Rien ne peut lui donner
     Ni consolation, ni lueur d'espérance."

What had Voltaire to do with the death of this contemptible
spendthrift. Is the great worker to be held responsible for the suicide
of the idle voluptuary? Is this world of fantastic fools and women
without wills, the world of which Voltaire dreamed? Voltaire, who was
reason incarnate, whose hands, if they were black, were blackened only
with gunpowder, whose life was a determined struggle for light? Is all
this misery his fault? And if so, why?

Because he had no dogmatic faith.

The want of dogmatic faith is Rolla's excuse for living like an animal
and dying like a boy. See what has become in the course of a few years
of the bold defiance with which the poet began his career. The defiance
has turned into faint-hearted doubt, the atheism into hopeless despair.

How healthy, how determined and calm is Hugo's attitude compared with
this! Is it not easy now to understand how, in spite of everything, he
continued to hold the central place in French literature?



IX


DE MUSSET AND GEORGE SAND


Ere the Thirties were half over, the literary revolution inaugurated
by Hugo and his friends was victorious. This assertion may be made
with truth, though the victory was as yet only a spiritual one. A very
small minority of the most cultivated men and most intelligent women
of France recognised that the battle was decided, that classic tragedy
was dead, that the Aristotelian rules were mistakes, that the men of
the transition period had had their day, that Casimir Delavigne's vein
was exhausted, and that the only literary aspirants who knew their own
minds were the generation of 1830. The fact that a movement of exactly
the same kind had begun in painting, sculpture, and music showed more
plainly than anything else how deep-seated and irresistible the change
was.

But those who apprehended this were, as already observed, a small
minority. The stiff, formal literature of the days of the Empire had on
its side custom, the fear of novelty, stupidity, envy; it was supported
by the whole official class, the press (with the solitary exception of
one daily newspaper, the _Journal des Débats_), and the government;
all government appointments and pensions were bestowed exclusively on
men of the old school, a fact which acted as a powerful temptation to
the rising generation. And there was, moreover, a certain amount of
weariness and discouragement in the new camp after the first great
intellectual effort. The combatants were young; they had fancied that
one mighty onslaught would be sufficient to capture the defences of
prejudice; and it was with a feeling of disappointment that they found
themselves after the attack still only at the foot of the redoubt,
with their numbers greatly reduced. They lost patience and ardour for
the fight. They had been quite prepared for an obstinate struggle,
entailing losses, wounds, and scars, but upon the condition of its
leading to a comparatively speedy victory, to a conspicuous triumph,
with applause and flourish of trumpets. But this seemingly endless
strife, the constant ridicule poured on them, the enemy's undisturbed
occupation of all influential positions in the domains of literature
and art, the continued indifference of the public to the new, and its
enthusiasm for the superannuated school--all this aroused misgivings
in the minds of the youthful forces. Some among them asked themselves
if they had not gone too far in their youthful ardour, if His Majesty
the public were not perhaps right, or at least partly right, after all;
and they began to make excuses for their talent, and to try to win the
forgiveness of the public for it by concessions and apostasy. Some
deserted their friends, in order to gain admission to this, that, or
the other distinguished circle of society. Others, with the Academy in
view, began to regulate their behaviour so as not to spoil their chance
of becoming members of it while still comparatively young men.

A nobler feeling too, the individual author's feeling of independence,
contributed to break up the group. The ties by which it was at first
attempted to hold it together were of too cramping a nature. The
leaders had not been contented with indicating a general direction,
announcing a guiding artistic principle; they had evolved a regular
code of doctrines. And these inventors of artistic dogmas were not
far-sighted, unbiassed thinkers, but poets, as one-sided as they were
gifted. Sociable as men of the Latin race undoubtedly are in comparison
with others, a literary association of this kind was nevertheless
an impossibility in France. Men of science may agree upon a common
line of action, but one of the requirements of art is the complete,
absolute independence of the individual; only when the creative artist
is completely himself, not when he gives up any part whatsoever of his
valuable individuality for the sake of combination, does he produce the
best which he is capable of giving to the world. Absolute individualism
is, of course, impossible in art; consciously or unconsciously,
voluntarily or involuntarily, groups are formed; and, certain as it is
that the individual must be permitted to express himself freely, it is
just as certain that only in artistic continuity, only with the support
and inspiration of artistic tradition, or of kindred spirits--great
predecessors or contemporaries, can he attain to the highest. Isolated,
overstrained geniuses droop and decay. But where a school has a single
acknowledged leader, that leader must have the capacity of imparting
freedom. He must make allowance for everything except want of character
and style. A man of Hugo's stamp could not impart freedom, and the more
fanatical among his adherents interpreted the doctrines of the school
in a much narrower fashion than he did. In the course of a few years
the characteristics of the most distinguished young members of the
school developed in a more marked manner than could have been foreseen
while they were still in the germ, and the revolt of these notable
personages was of advantage to the old Classic party.

Yet another circumstance aided the process of disintegration.
The Revolution of July transferred a number of the youthful
standard-bearers and champions of the literary camp to the political.
It is significant that in 1830 the _Globe_ ceased to be a literary
organ and passed into the hands of the Saint-Simonists. Its founders
and most important contributors, men like Guizot, Thiers, Villemain,
and Vitet, became members of Parliament, public officials, or ministers
of state. And since in our days the pursuit of politics leads much
more quickly to fame than that of literature, even poets were tempted
to mount the political platforms. Men like Hugo and Lamartine engaged
actively in politics during the reign of Louis Philippe. The authors
who continued to confine their attention to literature felt themselves
distanced by those who combined politics with it, and could not help
being at times irritated by the more noisy fame attained by these
latter, and by seeing literature, their own all in all, regarded as an
alternative good enough to have recourse to in time of need.

It was a severe blow to the Romantic School when Sainte-Beuve, its
valiant, enthusiastic herald, withdrew from his post as one of Hugo's
staff. He seems, with that curious mixture of humility and independence
which distinguished his character, to have been long annoyed with
himself for the attitude of submission to Hugo which he had assumed
in his poetry, and to have nevertheless gone on unwillingly swinging
his censer before the head of the school. The habit Hugo had got into
of expecting or demanding huge doses of incense was obnoxious to him,
and yet he was too weak to withhold his tribute. It was, however,
undoubtedly less admiration for Hugo than for Hugo's young wife which
kept Sainte-Beuve within the magic circle. The private rupture between
him and Hugo in 1836 was the signal for a complete change in his
literary attitude towards the poet of the _Orientales_. Sainte-Beuve's
temperament led him to regard schools, systems, associations, parties,
merely in the light of hotels in which he lodged for a time, never
completely unpacking his trunk; he was always inclined to depreciate
and satirise the one he had just left; hence he now began to write
severe and for the most part depreciatory criticism of Hugo's works.

Alfred de Musset had at a still earlier date entertained himself by
publishing abroad his defection. A man of such masterly and refined
intellect could not be blind to the narrowness and imperfections of
the doctrines of the school, still less to the childishness with which
they were pushed to extremes by certain Hotspurs among its adherents.
When he read aloud his poems for the first time in Hugo's house to
an assembly of young Romanticists, only two passages were applauded.
The one was the sentence in _Don Paez_: "Frères, cria de loin un
dragon jaune et bleu qui dormait dans du foin." The "yellow and blue"
enraptured them; it was what they called colour in style. The other
passage was in the description of the huntsmen in "Le lever": a Et sur
leur manches vertes les pieds noirs des faucons."

This elementary colour seemed of more value to the youthful audience
than all the emotion, passion, and wit of the poems. For it was
delineation such as this which distinguished them from the men of the
old school, to whom it was only of importance that their readers should
learn what happened, not what things were like. To these young men the
all-important matter was that for De Musset the visible world existed;
but it could not be the most important matter to De Musset himself,
whose forte lay in a perfectly different direction, and who felt no
desire to compete with Hugo or Théophile Gautier.

De Musset was, moreover, above everything else a young aristocrat, the
fashionable man of the world who amused himself with literature in
his leisure moments. He had no inclination for the companionship of
long-haired poets in Calabrian headgear.

His earliest relations with the public had been of a somewhat uncertain
description. He had tried to astonish and provoke it. Now it met him
in the most cordial manner, ready, if he would only adopt another
attitude towards it, to forgive him everything, even the ballad to the
moon. And De Musset, eager to prove his independence, indifferent to
parties, averse to dogma, in reality (as his spiritual kinship with
Mathurin Régnier and Marivaux shows) classically inclined, yielded
to a certain extent to the vague pressure. He captivated the reading
world by the air of whimsical superciliousness with which he now wrote
of his own and his late comrades' warlike deeds. In his poem, "Les
secrètes Pensées de Rafaël, Gentilhomme français," he declares himself
weary of the strife; he has, he says, fought on both sides; hundreds
of scars have given him a venerable appearance, and he now--at the age
of twenty-one--sits like a worn veteran upon his torn drum. Racine and
Shakespeare meet upon his table and fall asleep there beside Boileau,
who has forgiven them both. In another poem he writes:

    "Aujourd'hui l'art n'est plus--personne n'y veut croire.
     Notre littérature a cent mille raisons
     Pour parler de noyés, de morts, et de guenilles.
     Elle-même est un mort que nous galvanisons.
     Elle entend son affaire en nous peignant des filles,
         . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Elle-même en est une et la plus délabrée
     Qui de fard et d'onguents se soit jamais plâtrée."

This attack upon the fantastic immorality of the ultra-Romantic
literary productions was so youthfully, recklessly sweeping that it
seemed to be made upon the whole of contemporary literature. And it
was possibly not purely an accident that it was written the same year
in which _Marion Delorme_ was published, that drama which with all its
faults is most chaste and spiritual in conception, but which undeniably
has a courtesan for its heroine. De Musset at the same time showed
plainly that he was becoming ever more and more indifferent to youthful
ideals. Almost all the poets of the young school, headed by Hugo,
sided with struggling Greece; Alfred de Musset wrote admiringly of his
Mardoche that "he had a greater regard for the Porte and Sultan Mahmoud
than for the worthy Hellenic nation now staining the white marble of
Paros with its blood."

What was the cause of this indifference and supercilious
world-weariness?

Blood that was much too hot; a too passionate heart too early
disappointed. In his first youth De Musset's faith in his fellow-men
had been irreparably shaken, and distrust engendered bitterness and
scorn. It is useless to seek the origin of his dark view of life in any
single event, though he himself believed that it was to be accounted
for by the fact, to which he constantly alludes, that he was betrayed
in his early youth by a mistress and a friend. It was no doubt a
severe blow to a youth of his honourable, truthful character to find
himself thus deceived; but it is also certain that, whilst the wound
was still fresh, he examined it through the poetic magnifying glass
and made literary capital of it. It was the fashion to have love woes
and to succeed in consoling one's self. But De Musset suffered more
than many who read his wanton youthful effusions are apt to imagine.
To conceal his sensitiveness, to evade the satire of cynics, he for a
time affected extreme coldness and hardness. Such affected cynicism
makes as unpleasant an impression as any other affectation. Taine wrote
a famous essay on De Musset, the admiration in which is as blind as it
is touching; it culminates in the exclamation: This man at least never
lied! Unless we consider assumed superciliousness and cold-heartedness
truthful, we can scarcely endorse the assertion.

But a turning-point in the spoilt, arrogant young man's life was at
hand.

On the 15th of August 1833 _Rolla_ appeared in what was then a new
periodical, the _Revue des deux Mondes_. A few days afterwards its
editor, Buloz, a Swiss, invited his collaborators to a dinner at the
famous Palais-Royal restaurant, _Les trois frères provençaux_. The
guests were numerous; among them was one lady. The host, introducing
Alfred de Musset to Madame George Sand, requested him to take her in to
dinner.

They were a handsome couple. He was slender and refined-looking, fair,
with dark eyes, and a sharp, horse-like profile; she was dark, with
luxuriant, wavy, black hair, a beautifully smooth, olive skin, faintly
tinged with red in the cheeks, large, striking dark eyes, and perfectly
shaped arms and hands. One felt that there was a whole world behind
that forehead, and yet the lady was young and charming and as silent as
if she had no pretensions to intellect. Her dress was simple, though
somewhat fantastic; she wore a gold-embroidered Turkish jacket over her
bodice and a dagger at her waist.

In Paris in 1870 I heard one of the few surviving guests at this dinner
say that it was a piece of peasant cunning, a regular speculation on
the part of Buloz, this bringing together of De Musset and George Sand.
Buloz had said beforehand to one of his acquaintances: "He shall take
her in to dinner. All women fall in love with him; all men consider it
their duty to fall in love with her; they will certainly fall in love
with each other--what manuscripts I shall get then!" And he rubbed his
hands at the thought.

They were two extremely dissimilar beings who sat side by side at this
table. Probably the only point of resemblance between them was that
they were both authors.

Hers was a fertile, a maternal nature. Her mind was healthy, healthy
even in its revolutionary outbursts, richly endowed and well-balanced.
Her body was healthy too; she could stand the most fatiguing kind of
life, could work most of the night, and content herself with a long
morning sleep, which she commanded at will, and from which she awoke
refreshed. Every great passion, every revolutionary idea which had
moved the nineteenth century, had been housed by this woman in her
soul, and yet she had retained her freshness, her tranquillity of
mind, and her self-control. She could write calmly and carefully for
six hours at a stretch. She had a gift of mental concentration which
enabled her to take her pen and transfer her dreams to paper amidst
the talking and laughing of a large company as if she were sitting in
perfect solitude. And after doing it she would take part in what was
going on, smiling, rather taciturn, hearing everything, understanding
everything, absorbing everything that was said as a sponge absorbs
water.

And he! His was in a far higher degree the artistic temperament. His
work was a fever, his sleep was restless, his impulses and passions
were uncontrollable. When he conceived an idea he did not sit brooding
over it silent and sphinx-like as she did; he was overpowered and
trembled, "plus étourdi qu'un page amoureux d'une fée," to quote an
expression of his own. And when he seated himself at his desk to
work out his idea he was constantly tempted to throw away his pen in
despair. The process was so slow; the thoughts came crowding, demanding
instant expression; violent palpitation of the heart was the result;
and if the smallest temptation presented itself--an invitation to sup
with friends and beautiful women, or a proposal to make a country
excursion--he fled from his work as men flee from an enemy.

She "knitted" her novels; he wrote his works in a brief, burning,
blissful ecstasy which gave place on the following day to disgust
with what he had written. He thought it bad, and yet was incapable
of re-writing it, for he hated his pen as the galley-slave hates his
oar. In spite of all his youthful arrogance he writhed and moaned as
if in constant anguish, and the reason was that within his slender,
pliant frame dwelt a giant of an artist, who felt more deeply and
strongly and lived harder and faster than the man in whom he was
incorporate could bear, and who conceived greater ideas than the
brain which was his organ could bring into the world without the most
distressful birth-throes. When the poet flung himself into every kind
of dissipation, it was chiefly from the need of deadening the suffering
that his genius caused him.

He, the youth of two-and-twenty, the spoiled son of aristocratic
parents, living at home, protected by a brother's vigilant affection,
and with no real experience except of a few love affairs, had the
knowledge of life, the suspiciousness, the bitterness, the misanthropy
of a man of forty; and where his knowledge was insufficient, he eked it
out with assumed indifference and cynicism.

She, the woman of twenty-eight, with Bohemian and royal blood in her
veins (she was a great-granddaughter of Maurice of Saxony), with the
gravest experiences of life behind her, now without family, fortune,
home, or the support of any male relative, separated from her little
children, reduced to elective affinities, leading the life of the
literary Bohemian, bearing a man's name, wearing male attire, and
living like a man among men, was, nevertheless, in the depths of her
soul, naïve, passionless, enthusiastic, tender-hearted, and as eagerly
receptive of everything new as if she had had no experiences to speak
of, and had never been disillusioned.

He, so original in his art, so irregular in his life, was,
nevertheless, in many ways narrow-minded. We men easily become so,
especially those of us who, like De Musset, are born in a good position
and learn early to reverence custom and to dread ridicule.

She, in whose technique there is nothing revolutionary, who follows
the beaten track as far as the literary presentment of her theme is
concerned, was in her mental attitude almost a prodigy. There was not a
trace of narrow-mindedness in her. She had no prejudices. Women whose
fate has brought them into direct contact with the cancerous sores of
society, and who have faced the verdict of society without flinching,
sometimes become more open-minded than men, for the reason that they
have paid more for their openmindedness. George Sand examined things
for herself, weighed them well, and in most cases estimated them at
their proper value.

He was her superior in culture. With the artist's genius he combined
an incorruptible masculine critical faculty; keen and flexible as a
Damascene blade, it clove every hollow phrase it lighted on, transfixed
and burst every bubble of thought or language.

She often yielded to the inclination of her sex to let the heart speak
first and loudest. Any noble enthusiasm, any beautiful Utopian theory
carried her away; she had the woman's instinctive desire to serve; in
her youth she was always on the look-out for a banner borne by men with
great and valiant hearts, that she might fight under it. It was not her
ambition to charm the fashionable world as the famous concert-player;
her desire was to beat the drum as the daughter of the regiment. Her
want of cultivated reasoning power, however, led her to follow and
worship vague dreamers as the men of the future, chief amongst them
the foolish though sincere Pierre Leroux, a philosopher and socialist
to whom for many years she looked up as a daughter to a father. De
Musset's aristocratic intellect rejected the claims of these prophets
who could not write twenty readable pages of prose; George Sand allowed
herself to be infected with their tendency to emphatic and unctuous
diction.

To conclude, then, she was his inferior as an artist, though as a human
being she was greater and far stronger. She had not the masculine
direct artistic intuition, the faculty by virtue of which a man says,
giving no reason: "Thus it must be." When they looked at a painting
together, he, who made no pretension to be a connoisseur, at once
perceived the merits of the picture and the characteristic qualities
of the artist, and described them in a few words. She arrived in some
peculiar, slow, roundabout way at an understanding of the picture, and
the expression of her feeling on the subject was often either vague
or paradoxical. His intelligence was acute and nervous, hers diffuse,
universally sympathetic. When they listened to an opera together, what
affected him were the outbursts of heartfelt personal passion--the
individual element. She, on the contrary, was affected by the choruses,
the expression of the emotions of common humanity. It seemed as if a
concourse of minds were required to set hers in motion.

Her writings lacked conciseness. Whilst every sentence that came from
his pen was like a gold coin stamped on both sides and chiselled on
the edge, hers were wordy to prolixity. The first thing De Musset
involuntarily did when a copy of _Indiana_ came into his hands, was to
score out some twenty or thirty superfluous adjectives in the first few
pages. George Sand saw the book afterwards, and she was, it is said,
more annoyed than grateful.

Six months before they met, she had felt some uneasiness at the idea
of making De Musset's acquaintance. She first requested Sainte-Beuve
to bring him to see her, and then wrote in the postscript of a letter,
dated March 1833: "On further reflection I have decided that I do
not wish you to bring Alfred de Musset here; he is too much of the
dandy; we should not suit one another. It was more curiosity than
real interest which made me wish to see him. But it is not prudent to
satisfy every feeling of curiosity." One perceives a touch of anxiety
or foreboding in these words.

Alfred de Musset for his part had, like all authors, a certain dread
of authoresses. It was undoubtedly a male member of the profession who
nicknamed these ladies bluestockings. Nevertheless, there is no denying
the great attraction which a remarkable feminine mind possesses for
the masculine mind. The ecstatic feeling which accompanies a perfect
intellectual understanding was in this case intensified a hundredfold
by a suddenly conceived, violent mutual passion.

Looking at the liaison between these two remarkable people from the
historic point of view, we are struck by the strong impress it bears
of the spirit of the age, of that artistic intoxication recalling
the carnival mood of the Renaissance, which took possession of men's
minds while Romanticism prevailed in France. The born artist, whose
first duty it always is to break with traditional convention within
the domain of his art, feels himself in every age tempted to defy
the conventions of society also; but the generation of 1830 was more
youthfully naïve in its rebellion against conventionality than any
preceding generation had been in France for centuries, or than any
of its successors has been. In all artists there is something of the
Bohemian or of the child; the artists of that day allowed the Bohemian
and the child in them free play. It is characteristic that the first
fancy which seizes these two chosen spirits after they have found each
other, and the first breathless, burning ecstasy of bliss is past, is
to dress themselves up and play tricks upon their acquaintances. The
first time Paul de Musset is invited to spend an evening with the young
couple, he finds Alfred in the garb of an eighteenth-century marquis,
and George Sand in hoops and panniers. When George Sand gives her first
dinner-party after she and De Musset become friends, he waits at table,
unrecognised by the guests, in the dress of a young Norman servant
girl; and as a suitable _vis-à-vis_ for the guest of the evening,
Monsieur Lerminier, a well-known professor of philosophy, she has
invited Debureau, the famous Pierrot of the Funambules Theatre, whom no
one present has seen except on the stage, and whom she introduces as
an eminent member of the English House of Commons charged with secret
despatches to the Austrian government. To give both him and Lerminier
an opportunity to display their accomplishments, the conversation is
turned upon politics. But Sir Robert Peel, Lord Stanley, and other
such personages are mentioned in vain; the foreign diplomat either
maintains an obstinate silence or answers in monosyllables. At last
some one employs the expression, "the European balance of power." Then
the Englishman speaks. "Would you like to know," he says, "what my
idea of the European balance of power at this serious conjuncture in
English and continental politics is?--This!" And the diplomat throws
up his plate so that it spins round in the air, then cleverly catches
it on the point of his knife and balances it as it whirls there. The
astonishment of the other guests may be imagined. Does not a little
anecdote like this show us the connection between De Musset and George
Sand in a curious light of youthfulness and childishness? It is like a
reflected gleam from the days of the Renaissance; we know at once that
we are in the romantic France of the Thirties.

The connection has its commonplace, sordid side, of which enough
has been made, and on which I shall not dwell. Every one knows that
De Musset and George Sand travelled in Italy together, and that he
tormented her with his jealousy, she him with a surveillance of his
actions and habits to which he was totally unaccustomed; that their
life together was not happy; that he was very ill in Venice (with
_delirium tremens_, we are led to understand); and that during his
illness she had a love affair with the Italian doctor, Pagello by name,
who attended him, the consequence of which was that De Musset left her
and went home in a state of extreme depression.

But there is yet another and more attractive aspect of the
connection--namely, the psychological or aesthetic. The history of
literature tells of many such intimacies between remarkable men and
women; but in this one there is something unusual and new. A masculine
genius of the highest rank, one stage of whose artistic career is
already run, but who is still quite young--a feminine genius, great and
complete in herself, in appraising whom it may safely be affirmed that
no woman before her ever displayed such exuberant creative power--these
two influence each other during the exaltation of a passionate
attachment.

The science of psychology is still in such a backward condition that
the difference between a man's imagination and a woman's has scarcely
been determined; still less has it been clearly ascertained how they
act upon each other. Here for the first time in modern civilisation
the masculine literary creative mind and the feminine come into
contact--the highest, finest development of each. The experiment (which
was ere long to be repeated in England, on approximative lines, in the
case of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning) had never been made on
so grand a scale. These are the Adam and Eve of Art. They meet and
share the fruit of the tree of knowledge. The curse, that is to say the
quarrel, follows; he goes his way, she hers. But they are no longer the
same. The works they now produce are of a different stamp from those
which they produced before they met.

He leaves her, his feelings lacerated, disappointed, despairing, with a
new and heavy complaint against her sex, convinced that: Treachery! thy
name is woman!

She leaves him, her soul torn with conflicting emotions, first
half-consoled, then distracted with grief, but soon feeling the relief
of being past a crisis which was pain to her calm, productive nature;
she has a new feeling of woman's superiority to man, and is more
strongly convinced than before that: Weakness! thy name is man!

He leaves her with his aversion for all enthusiasms, Utopias, and
philanthropic projects strengthened, feeling more than ever convinced
that for the artist art is everything. Nevertheless, the contact
with the great feminine intellect has not been fruitless. The very
suffering makes him truthful. He throws off his affected egotism; we
no longer see him making a display of assumed hardness and coldness.
The influence of her open-mindedness and charitableness and of her
enthusiasm for ideals is plainly perceptible in the works which he now
writes--in Lorenzaccio's enthusiastic republicanism, in Andrea del
Sarto's whole character--possibly even in the vehement personal protest
against Thiers' press laws.

She leaves him, more convinced than ever that the male sex is by nature
narrow-minded and egotistical, more prone than ever to yield to the
fascination of general ideas. In _Horace_ she devotes her talent to the
service of Saint-Simonism; she writes _Le Compagnon du Tour de France_
in the interests of socialism; in 1848 she composes the bulletins
for the Provisional Government. Nevertheless, it was contact with De
Musset's virile, classic genius which finally moulded her pure and
classic style. She learned to love form, to seek the beautiful for its
own sake. Dumas, the younger, has said of a sentence of hers that "it
is drawn by Leonardo and sung by Mozart"; he should have added that her
hand was guided and her ear trained by Alfred de Musset.

After the separation, both artists are fully matured. Henceforward he
is the poet with the burning heart, she the sybil with the eloquently
prophetic tongue.

Into the gulf which opened between them she cast her immaturity, her
tirades, her faults of taste, her man's clothes, and thenceforward was
altogether feminine, altogether natural.

Into the same gulf he cast his Don Juan costume, his bravado, his
admiration for Rolla, his boyish insolence, and thenceforward was the
man, the emancipated intellectual force.



X


ALFRED DE MUSSET


Alfred de Musset lived to be forty-seven, but all his works, except
three charming little plays and a few poems, were written before he was
thirty.

The whole series of remarkable and admirable productions was given to
the world during the six years following on his rupture with George
Sand. Although she had deceived him, his inclination to dwell upon
deceit and treachery becomes ever slighter; and along with it he loses
his affectation of world-weariness. In his works, even in his choice of
subjects, we can trace the author's personal struggle to throw off his
mask of vice and to free himself from the attraction vice has for him.

The first important work De Musset produced after his return from
Italy was the drama _Lorenzaccio_, the idea of which he had conceived
in Florence. Lorenzo de Medici is cousin to Alexander de Medici, the
bestially cruel and sensual Duke of Florence. By nature Lorenzo is a
pure, high-strung, energetic character. He early determines, taking
Brutus as his model, to rid the world of a tyrant. To attain his
aim he plays the part of a heartless libertine, becomes Alexander's
follower, tool, counsellor, and pander. As Hamlet assumed madness,
Lorenzo assumes the mask of a weak, cowardly sensualism, in order to
allay suspicion and secure his victim. But the disguise under which
he conceals his real nature adheres to him like a Nessus garment; he
gradually becomes nearly everything that he only desired to appear;
against his will he inhales and absorbs the corruption with which he
himself has assisted to impregnate the atmosphere of the court and
capital; when he reflects on his life he loathes himself. And yet he is
misunderstood; for through all the wickedness and the feigned, sickly
cowardice, he is pursuing his plan of murdering Alexander at the right
moment and re-establishing the Republic.

He is consumed by misanthropical scorn. He despises the Duke as a
satyr and a bloodhound; the people, because they allow such a man to
reign over them, and because they permit him, Lorenzaccio, to walk
unassailed, unpunished along the streets of Florence; the Republicans,
because they have no energy and no comprehension of the political
situation. His dream is to purge himself of all the impurity of his
life by a single, great, decisive deed, the assassination of the
Duke; and the poet allows him thus to purify himself. Lorenzo throws
off his assumed character and judges and punishes like an avenging
angel. De Musset's political pessimism shows itself in what follows.
Lorenzaccio falls by the hands of an assassin, who is tempted by the
price set upon his head, and the Florentine republican leaders are too
indifferent and unpractical, the mass of the citizens too degenerate,
to profit by the death of the Duke; they sit still and allow themselves
to be surprised and overpowered by another tyrant. The imperfectly
concealed contempt of the author for the Republicans is undoubtedly
due to impressions received in 1830. De Musset had himself seen a
revolution which promised a Republic end in a Monarchy. In his play,
however, the Republicans are represented in a more unfavourable light
than they deserve. The evening before the assassination Lorenzaccio
undoubtedly informs them at what hour he will kill the Duke, yet we
can hardly blame them for not making their preparations. Is not the
man who shouts this startling intelligence into their houses from the
street, the Duke's inseparable comrade, his companion in guilt, his
court-fool? What wonder that they shrug their shoulders and do nothing!
In De Musset's injustice to them we are conscious of a personal feeling
which has no connection with his literary subject. Of chief importance
to him, however, has been the representation of Lorenzo's character,
with its nobility under a repulsive mask. In Lorenzo's soul there is
an ideal element, of which he is not ashamed; he aspires; he believes
in the expiating power of deeds. What purifies him in the hour of his
death is not an accident, like Rolla's pure kiss, but an action of
which he has dreamed ever since he grew up.

In _Le Chandelier_ we are still in very depraved company; but the
principal character, the young clerk, Fortunio, stands out against
the dark background, a figure of light, with his intense, boundless
devotion to Jacqueline. He is badly used by her and her lover, who
employ him as a screen, a blind, in their low intrigue. He finds them
out, but goes on loving as before, and is ready to encounter certain
death to hide the disgraceful amour of the woman he loves. This young
page has the determination and courage of a hero, and the power of his
pure devotion is so great that it moves and overcomes Jacqueline and
wins her from Clavaroche. He is an ideal youthful lover.

Octave in _Les Caprices de Marianne_ is a frivolous and in many ways
depraved young man, who neither will nor can love any woman seriously.
He declares that he disdains to spend more time on the conquest of a
woman than it takes him to break the seal on his bottle of Grecian
wine. But in one relation, that of friendship, he is as simple-hearted
and trusting as a boy. He loves his friend, young Cœlio, with such
ardour that he is ready to die for him or to revenge his death, with
such fidelity that he scornfully rejects the favour of the lady whom
Cœlio vainly worships. He is an ideal friend. A striking contrast
to him is Cœlio, a character in whom De Musset, who in this drama
divided his own personality, represented the other half of his nature.
Cœlio is the youthful lover, whose love is a longing adoration, a
passion so melancholy in its ardour that it will kill him if it remain
unsatisfied. A halo of Shakespearean romance surrounds his head, his
words are music, his hopes poetry. He describes himself in the words:
"Il me manque le repos, la douce insouciance qui fait de la vie un
miroir où tous les objets se peignent un instant et sur lequel tout
glisse. Une dette pour moi est un remords. L'amour, dont vous autres
vous faites un passe-temps, trouble ma vie entière."

We feel in these male characters how De Musset is maturing as an
author. His desire is no longer only to delineate the seething
instincts of youth, or the wild play of the passions with its
accompaniment of deceit, treachery, and violence; he dwells long and
with predilection on the innocent and deep feeling which is only made
guilty by outward circumstances, on the love which in reality is pure,
and which appears criminal only because it is an infraction of social
laws, on the friendship which in its essence is heroic devotion, even
when it assumes the degrading form of eloquent panderage--in short upon
friendship and love in their purity, on those forces in human life
which we are wont to call ideal.

Nor is it only De Musset's male characters who become purer and purer;
his women undergo the same gradual transformation. In his early works
they are either Delilahs or Eves. But his ever-increasing inclination
to represent the spiritually beautiful and morally pure, leads him
to idealise them also more and more. It is noteworthy that the first
female character which he creates after his final breach with George
Sand in 1835, namely, Madame Pierson in _La Confession d'un Enfant
du Siècle_, is to a great extent a highly idealised portrait of that
lady. His prose tales, of which at least three, _Emmeline, Frédéric et
Bernerette_, and _Le Fils du Titien_, are among the best love-stories
our century has produced, bear witness to their author's increasing
tendency to ennoble and glorify love and, consequently, his female
characters. He takes, for example, the outward semblance of some
little grisette or other he has known, some sweet-tempered, frivolous,
loose-living, gay young creature, and this figure he invests with a
virginal charm which it has long lost, and makes of it a Mimi Pinson;
or he paints for us a young girl as soulful, as naïve in all her
mistakes and false steps, as beautiful and delicate in her manner of
expressing herself, and as touchingly simple in the hour of her death
as that Bernerette, whose last letter few have read without tears. To
him, the love-poet, love is so autocratic a power that he subordinates
even art to it. To be the lover and the beloved seems to him at last
such a much greater thing than to be the artist, that his final
conception of ideal art is: art consecrated and exclusively devoted
to one person, the only beloved. In _Le Fils du Titien_ the hero, a
gifted young artist, is arrested in a dissolute career by a noble
woman's love. He shows his gratitude by determining to paint one single
picture, the portrait of his mistress. On it he concentrates all his
powers, and by it alone he is to be known to posterity. In its honour
he writes a sonnet, in which he praises the beauty and the pure soul
of his beloved, tells why it is he has determined that his brush shall
never be used in the service of another, and declares that, beautiful
as the picture may be, it is as nothing compared with a kiss from its
model.

But of all De Musset's stories, _Emmeline_ is certainly the most
charming. It was inspired by the author's own first worthy attachment
after his quarrel with George Sand--a short but happy one, which in its
main features resembled that of the story. A young man falls violently
in love with a young married lady, whose charms are painted in the most
delicate colours, but colours chosen with an accurately observing eye.
There is nothing in recent literature which can be compared with this
art except Turgenev's most delicate delineations of female character;
but Turgenev's women are more spiritual, less real, are beheld with the
lover's less critical eye and represented with less artistic boldness.
After long admiring the lady without any hope of awakening her interest
in him, the young man wins her love and she gives herself to him. Then
they abruptly part for ever, because she is too truthful to deceive her
husband, and her lover has too much delicacy of feeling to remain in
her neighbourhood under such circumstances.

A poem in this story, which the young lover asks his lady to read,
seems to me to be the most beautiful of the love poems of De Musset's
second period. It speaks the language of ideal feeling. It is the
well-known "Si je vous disais pourtant que je vous aime." One verse
runs:

    "J'aime, et je sais répondre avec indifférence;
     J'aime, et rien ne le dit; j'aime et seul je le sais;
     Et mon secret est cher, et chère ma souffrance;
     Et j'ai fait le serment d'aimer sans espérance,
     Mais non pas sans bonheur;--je vous vois, c'est assez."

Whilst he was bringing out these charming stories, which are as
delicate as if they had been written upon flower petals, De Musset also
wrote a few short plays, in which love appears as the terrible force
with which man cannot trifle, as the fire with which he cannot play,
as the electric flash which kills; and one or two others in which the
wit of the aristocratic man of the world sparkles in the tissue of the
soulful, highly emotional style.[1] Of these little plays, _Un Caprice_
is the most finished and has the most sparkling dialogue. Not without
reason is it included among the works the names of which are carved
upon De Musset's tombstone in Père-Lachaise. In this play the erotic
caprice, the momentary infatuation, is made to yield to the discipline
of marriage. The man in this case is frivolous and untrustworthy; the
women, who join forces, have their hearts in the right place, and one
of them has, besides, all the charm of high-bred cleverness. Madame de
Léry is a _Parisienne_. And no one drew the _Parisienne_ of that day
with such genius as De Musset. He stood on the same plane with her. She
is the genuine fine lady, but also the genuine woman. The beautiful
thing about this character is that in it we see unadulterated, genuine,
fresh nature piercing through the extremest refinement of fashionable
life--nature, in spite of all the sparkling and tinselly cleverness
and all the premature experience and the ennui resulting therefrom;
nature even in dissimulation, nature even in the little comedy which
Madame de Léry is woman and actress enough to play. "Oh! how true it
is," exclaims Goethe in one of his letters, "that nothing is wonderful
except the natural, nothing great except the natural, nothing beautiful
except the natural, nothing &c., &c.!" In the gay, supercilious,
society art of this creation of De Musset's, nature is preserved. The
idea underlying _Un Caprice_ is a moral idea. But whereas many writers
represent and conceive of love as something so firm and solid that it
can be taken hold of and deposited here or there as if it were a piece
of granite rock, to De Musset, even when he is most moral, it is always
only the most delicately powerful, and consequently most volatile
essence of life. At its full strength it can kill, but it can also
evaporate.

In his last plays De Musset exalted the feminine fidelity and purity in
which he believed, though it had not fallen to his lot to find them.
In _Barberine_ the idea of which he took from an old legend, he had
already depicted an ideally faithful wife of the type of Shakespeare's
_Imogen_. But the play was an uninteresting one. The heroines of
the last two he writes are wonderfully beautiful creations. In the
little masterpiece, _Bettine_, he has, apparently with the greatest
ease, accomplished one of the most difficult tasks for a delineator
of character. Bettine enters, and she has not spoken three or four
times before we feel that we are in the presence of a strong, brave,
tender-hearted, noble-minded woman; and we are conscious of more than
this, for we feel certain that she is a woman of parts, an artist,
accustomed to triumph, accustomed to feel herself intellectually
superior to her surroundings; and to pay little heed to petty
conventionalities. It is her wedding morning. She comes singing on to
the stage, where the notary is waiting, goes straight up to him, and
to his astonishment addresses him as _thou_: "Ah! te voilà, notaire, ô
cher notaire, mon cher ami! As-tu tes paperasses?" His official dignity
has so little existence for her that she has no hesitation in letting
him see her delight because it is her wedding-day. The kindly happiness
of her nature overflows on every occasion. She is not brilliant
like the aristocratic woman of the world, but frank, large-minded,
confident, like the true artist; and her healthy human nature affects
us the more pleasantly from being seen against the background of
that moral corruption which is represented by her cold and exacting
bridegroom.

The beautiful little drama, _Carmosine_ the idea of which is taken
from a tale of Boccaccio, is intended to show how a strong, ardent,
worshipful love, which outward circumstances separate from its object,
can be cured by magnanimous kindness and tenderness. Carmosine, a young
girl of the middle class, loves King Pedro of Arragon with a hopeless,
consuming passion; this feeling makes it impossible for her to give
her hand to her faithful and sorrowing adorer, Perillo. She determines
to suffer silently and die. But the playfellow of her childhood,
Minuccio the singer, is led by his compassion for her to tell the King
and Queen of her love. Far from being indignant, the Queen goes to
her in disguise and gradually alleviates her suffering with sisterly
and queenly words. She tells her that a love so deep and great is too
beautiful a thing to be torn out of the heart, and that the Queen
herself wishes her to be made one of her ladies-in-waiting, so that she
may see the King every day--because such a love, born of the soul's
aspiration after the highest, ennobles:

      "C'est moi, Carmosine, qui veut vous apprendre que l'on peut
      aimer sans souffrir, lorsque l'on aime sans rougir, qu'il n'y a
      que la honte ou le remords qui doivent donner de la tristesse,
      car elle est faite pour le coupable, et, à coup sûr, votre
      pensée ne l'est pas."

And the King comes, under pretext of wishing to see her father, and in
the Queen's presence says to her:

      "C'est donc vous, gentille demoiselle, qui êtes souffrante et
      en danger, dit-on? Vous n'avez pas le visage à cela.... Vous
      tremblez, je crois. Vous défiez-vous de moi?"

      "Non, Sire."

      "Eh bien, donc, donnez-moi la main. Que veut dire ceci, la
      belle fille? Vous qui êtes jeune et qui êtes faite pour réjouir
      le cœur des autres, vous vous laissez avoir du chagrin? Nous
      vous prions, pour l'amour de nous, qu'il vous plaise de prendre
      courage, et que vous soyez bientôt guérie."

      "Sire, c'est mon trop peu de force à supporter une trop grande
      peine qui est la cause de ma souffrance. Puisque vous avez pu
      m'en plaindre, j'espère que Dieu m'en délivrera."

      "Belle Carmosine, je parlerai en roi et en ami. Le grand amour
      que vous nous avez porté vous a, près de nous, mise en grand
      honneur; et celui qu'en retour nous voulons vous rendre, c'est
      de vous donner de notre main, en vous priant de l'accepter,
      l'époux que nous vous avons choisi. Après quoi nous voulons
      toujours nous appeler votre chevalier, et porter dans nos
      passes d'armes votre devise et vos couleurs, sans demander
      autre chose de vous, pour cette promesse, qu'un seul baiser."

      The Queen, to Carmosine: "Donne-le mon enfant, je ne suis pas
      jalouse."

      "Sire, la reine a répondu pour moi."

In what world does this happen? In what world do we breathe so pure an
air? Where does such equity flourish? where is love at one and the same
time so humble, so ardent, and so noble? and where are such chivalry,
such fidelity, such freedom from jealousy, and such benignity to be
found? Where such a king? Where such a queen?

The answer must undoubtedly be: In the land of the ideal; nowhere
else. It is upon its coast that the wanton, cynical De Musset, in
his capacity of author, lands at last. De Musset, the man, suffered
shipwreck on other shores. He fell a victim to the abuse of narcotics.
His undisciplined, ill-regulated character was his bane. In his
writings he became ever more spiritual, ever more moral; in his life
he sank ever deeper into mechanical sensual indulgence. He early lost
control over himself; for a time he rose by the aid of his art above
the ruin of his life; but in the end even the wings of art became
powerless.

He had hoped much from the Constitutional Monarchy. He had expected
from it, or under it, an art-loving court, a liberal policy, a revival
of national glory, and a blossoming time in literature. We can imagine
his disappointment. It is not impossible that a court with a keen
appreciation of literature and art might have exercised a saving
influence upon Alfred de Musset, have drawn him into its circle,
compelled him to preserve his self-respect, and made his pleasures,
and even his excesses, more refined. But Louis Philippe, that polished
and well-educated peace-lover, had no real love of literature and no
literary taste. He was even less capable of attaching Alfred de Musset
than Victor Hugo to himself. De Musset wrote a sonnet on the occasion
of Meunier's attempt to assassinate the King, in 1836. It was not
printed, but the Duke of Orleans, who had been a school-fellow of De
Musset's, saw it, thought it excellent, and read it to His Majesty.
The King never knew who had written it; as soon as he heard that the
author presumed to address him in the second person singular, he became
so indignant that he would hear no more. To make amends for this
slight, the Duke procured De Musset an invitation to the court balls.
When the poet was presented to Louis Philippe, he was astonished by
the reception he met with. The King came up to him with a smile of
pleasant surprise and said: "You have just come from Joinville; I am
very glad to see you." De Musset had too much _savoir-vivre_ to betray
any surprise. He made a low bow and tried to think what the King's
words could mean. At last he remembered that a distant relation of his
was inspector of forests on the crown property of Joinville. The King,
who did not burden his memory with the names of authors, had a perfect
acquaintance with all the names of the officials in charge of the crown
lands. Every winter for eleven years in succession he saw the face of
his supposed forest-inspector with the same pleasure, and favoured him
with such gracious nods and smiles that many a courtier turned pale
with envy. The honour was supposed to be shown to literature; but this
much is certain, that Louis Philippe never knew that there lived in
France during his reign a great poet who bore the same name as his
inspector of forests.

Such a lack-lustre rule as Louis Philippe's could not but be abhorrent
to De Musset. His haughty, wildly defiant answer to Becker's
_Rheinlied_, points to lyric possibilities in him which might have
developed under other political conditions. As things were, he felt
himself restricted to being the poet of youth and love; and when youth
was past he was incapable of reviving his powers. His virtues were
as fatal to him as his vices. Proud and distinguished, he had not a
trace of the ambition which leads a man to husband his intellectual
resources, not an atom of the desire of gain which compels to industry,
or of the egotism which makes the writer attribute supreme importance
to his own work. He lived his life with such greedy haste that at forty
he was as exhausted as a man of seventy, without having attained to
either composure or wisdom. His premature physical exhaustion brought
intellectual exhaustion in its train. He was destitute of that higher
instinct which compels the author to live altogether for his art, and
he had not a trace of the social or political instinct which bends the
productive mind to the yoke of duty to others. He was so incapable of
self-control that the slightest temptation proved irresistible. His
life became as absolutely aimless as his art was; there was no cause
he desired to advance, nothing that he was determined at any cost to
say; and his character was too uncontrollable, too little reflective,
for self-development, as Goethe understood it, to be the aim which
rendered all others superfluous. When Alfred de Musset died in 1857,
his creative capacity had been extinct for several years.


[1] His tour in Italy with George Sand lasted from December 1833 to
April 1834. In 1834 he wrote _On ne badine pas avec l'Amour_ and
_Lorenzaccio_; in 1835 _Barberine_ (his most insignificant play), _Le
Chandelier, Confession d'un Enfant du Siècle_, and _La Nuit de Mai_; in
1836 _Emmeline_ and _Il ne faut jurer de rien_; in 1837 _Un Caprice,
Les deux Maîtresses_, and _Frédéric et Bernerette_; in 1838 _Le Fils
du Titien. Il faut qu'une Porte soit ouverte ou fermée_ was written in
1845, _Bettine_ in 1851, _Carmosine_ in 1852.



XI


GEORGE SAND


"I believe," writes George Sand in the introduction to _La Mare au
Diable_, "that the mission of art is a mission of sentiment and love,
and that the novel of our day ought to supply the place of the parable
and fable of the childish days of old. The aim of the artist should
be to awaken love for the objects he represents; and I, for my part,
should not reproach him if he beautified them a little. Art is not an
examination of the given reality, but a pursuit of the ideal truth."
What the mature woman here proclaims as her aesthetic creed is what
she had felt all her life. She had never regarded the calling of the
author in any other light than that of an aspiration after the highest
of which humanity is capable; or, to put it more correctly, she had
considered it to be the author's calling to elevate the mind above
the imperfection of the existing conditions of society, with the aim
of giving it a wide horizon, and thereby imparting to it the power,
when it descended to earth again, to combat in its own fashion the
prejudices, the conventions, the coarseness of mind and hardness of
heart to which that imperfection was due.

In the introduction to _Le Compagnon du Tour de France_ she says:
"Since when has it been obligatory for the novel to be a transcription
of what is, of the hard and cold reality of contemporary men and
things? It may be this, I know; and Balzac, a master to whose talent
I have always done homage, has written the _Comédie humaine_. But,
although I was united by the ties of friendship to that illustrious
man, I saw human affairs under quite a different aspect. I remember
saying to him: 'You are writing the Human Comedy, The title is a
modest one. You might quite as well call it the Human Drama, the Human
Tragedy.' 'Yes,' said he, 'and you, you are writing the Human Epic.'
'The title in this case,' I replied, 'would be too imposing. What I
should like to write is the human pastoral, the human ballad, the human
romance. To put it plainly, you have the desire and the ability to
paint the human being as you see him. Good! I, on the other hand, feel
impelled to paint him as I wish him to be, as I believe he ought to
be.' And, as we were not competing with each other, we each recognised
that the other was right."

The passage is part of a protest made by George Sand against the charge
that it was her desire to flatter the lower classes by producing
idealised representations of them--this explains how she came to give
such pointed, dogmatic expression to the idealism of her nature.
Most undoubtedly she was the idealist, all her life long; but it was
not really the desire to delineate human beings as "they ought to
be" which inspired her to write, but the desire to show what they
could be if society did not hamper their spiritual growth, corrupt
them, and destroy their happiness; hence, in her delineations of the
representatives of "society" no leniency was shown. What George Sand
originally meant to give was a picture of life as it is, of reality as
she had experienced and observed it; what she gave was the feminine
enthusiast's view of reality. The section she saw was a patch of earth
with the brightness of heaven over it. Her clear-sightedness was the
clear-sightedness of the poet.

The period was the period of enormous productivity. Victor Hugo,
Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, wrote ceaselessly, piling work upon work.
Dumas at last regularly manufactured books; he published four or five
novels at a time, and with the help of numerous collaborators produced
a good-sized shelf of volumes in a year. George Sand's productivity was
almost as remarkable. Her works fill 110 closely printed volumes. I can
make no attempt here to criticise them all. It is only of consequence
that I should indicate the main features of the most important works,
the ideas which permeate them, the results which remain even when the
details of the books are forgotten.

The real life story lying behind the first group of George Sand's
novels is familiar to every one. She was born in 1804; lost her
father at an early age; had a foolish, passionate mother, and a wise,
distinguished grandmother; grew up on the family property of Nohant in
Berry, a regular country child, romping out of doors, loving nature and
freedom, and mixing on equal terms with the children of the peasantry.
Her tastes were the tastes of the people, but she was not the less
romantic for that. As Chateaubriand in his early youth evolved for
himself the image of an ideally charming woman, of whom he constantly
dreamed, so George Sand's young imagination created a hero, to whom
she built an altar of stone and moss in a corner of her garden, and
whom she credited with all the wonderful deeds suggested by her fertile
invention. At the age of thirteen she was sent to a convent school in
Paris. At first she sadly missed the free country life; then she became
for a time ardently religious; but even before she returned to Nohant
this enthusiasm had been superseded by a lively interest in the stage
and in political literature. In her country surroundings, the grown-up
girl reads Rousseau for the first time, and is fascinated, as we all
are, when our own nature is revealed to us. Henceforward, to her life's
end, she is Rousseau's faithful disciple. His understanding and worship
of nature, his faith in God, his belief in and love of equality, his
defiant attitude towards so-called civilised society, appealed to
all her instincts and, as it were, forestalled feelings that were
slumbering in her soul. Shakespeare, Byron, and Chateaubriand also
enrapture her; they cause her to feel solitary in her surroundings,
and communicate to her that first, vague melancholy which in young,
passionate, enthusiastic souls generally precedes the melancholy
of real disappointment. In 1822 this girl, who, with her powerful
intellect, her rich imagination, and her inability to live her life
independently, would never have been satisfied with the companionship
of one man, however noble his character and great his gifts, was
married to a Monsieur Dudevant, a perfectly ordinary country gentleman,
neither better nor worse than most of his kind. He was uncultivated and
passionate, and quite incapable of understanding his wife; but it is
evident that, even if he had been a much better husband, the ultimate
consequences of the marriage would have been the same. Only the first
three years were spent in peace and amity. By 1825, George Sand was
beginning to look down upon her husband, and, with her natural craving
for sympathetic understanding, to form friendships with other men, as
a relief from what to her were the insulting and cruelly degrading
conditions of her home life. Monsieur Dudevant, who was enough of the
husband to be exasperated by intellectual independence in his wife,
though he was far too insignificant a personage to be able to profit
by that want of intellectual self-sufficiency which impelled her to
seek a leader and guide, regarded even her most innocent interchange
of sympathies with other men as a transgression of duty. Incessant
conjugal friction and disputes at last put an end to all community of
feeling. Even the two children who were the fruit of the marriage could
not keep their parents together. In 1831 George Sand went to live in
Paris alone.

The documents connected with the ensuing separation suit, as also
George Sand's own letters, give us an adequate understanding of what
her married life was. I have read in the _Gazette des Tribunaux_ (30th
July and 1st and 19th August 1836, and 28th June and 12th July 1837)
the pleas advanced on both sides. They were horrible, disgraceful
accusations which this great woman was obliged to hear from the lips
of her husband's counsel. With her beautiful dark hair falling over a
black velvet jacket, or else dressed, in the fashion of the day, in
white, with a flowered shawl round her shoulders, George Sand sat and
listened without a trace of emotion. Her husband accused her of having
conceived and yielded to a criminal passion for another man within
three years of her marriage. "Monsieur Dudevant soon discovered that he
was being deceived by the woman he worshipped (!), but was magnanimous
enough to forgive." The lawyer read a long letter from Madame Dudevant
to her husband, in which she confessed, and reproached herself for,
various faults, and attributed the misunderstanding between them to
an incompatibility in their characters which by no means implied an
absence of generosity and amiability on his part. This letter, Monsieur
Dudevant's counsel most illogically argued, was equivalent to a
confession of unfaithfulness on the lady's part. He went on to show how
the couple had lived from 1825 to 1828 in voluntary separation, and how
Madame Dudevant, even after she left her husband in 1831 to lead "the
life of an artist," had carried on an amicable correspondence with him
and accepted 300 francs (!) a year. (He did not mention that she had
brought her husband a dowry of 500,000.) At the beginning of the year
1835 the couple had come to a private agreement each to take a child,
to divide the fortune, and to allow each other full liberty of action;
but before this agreement came into force George Sand had drawn back
and sued for a judicial separation. (In the course of a dispute about
their son, Monsieur Dudevant had tried to strike her, had even in the
presence of witnesses taken up his gun to fire at her.) In spite of
exaggerated accusations her application, the lawyer reminded the court,
had been refused. Now it was Monsieur Dudevant's turn to complain.
He denied all the charges brought against him, and brought others,
of the gravest character, against his wife; he maintained that any
woman who had written such immoral books as hers was unfit to educate
her children; he accused her of intimacy with the secrets of "all the
most shameful licentiousness." It was on account of these accusations,
accusations which he, Monsieur Dudevant's counsel, asserted to be fully
justified, that George Sand was once more suing for a separation.
His eloquence reached its climax in the outburst: "It is, then, your
opinion, Madame, that a woman has the right, if she chooses, to
squander the half of a fortune, to embitter her husband's life, and to
adopt, when she feels inclined to indulge still more freely in the most
unbridled excesses, the convenient and simple plan of bringing against
him in the court of justice a purely fictitious accusation of revolting
conduct!"

It must have been hard for the proud woman to sit, the observed of
all observers, listening to this besmirching of her name and fame.
It cannot have afforded her much consolation that her counsel and
friend, Michel de Bourges, immediately afterwards extolled her as
a genius, and produced a profound impression by reading remarkably
beautiful passages from her letters and recounting all the insulting
words and brutal actions of which her husband had been guilty towards
her. She was accustomed to see her novels reviled in the newspapers
as so many shameless defences of immorality, but to hear her private
life maligned in this style was a new experience. These public
proceedings which terminated her married life, give us, however, as it
were, a retrospective view of that life, and explain the indignation
which finds its first expression in _Indiana, Valentine, Lélia_, and
_Jacques_.

They are books, these, which possess little literary interest for the
reader of to-day: the characters are vague idealisations; the plots are
improbable, as in _Indiana_, or unreal, as in _Lélia_ and _Jacques_;
the harmonious sonority of her style does not save the author from the
reproach of frequent lapses into magniloquence; in the letters and
monologues she is often the poetical sermoniser. And yet there is a
fire in these works of George Sand's youth which gives light and warmth
to this day; they struck a note which will go on sounding for ages.
They emit both a wail and a war-cry, and where they penetrate they
carry with them germs of feelings and thoughts, the growth of which
this age has succeeded in checking, but which in the future will unfold
and spread with a luxuriant vigour of which we can only form a faint
conception.

Indiana is the young, full heart's first outburst of bitterness and
woe. The youthful heroine is the embodiment of refined intellectality
and noble-mindedness; her husband, Colonel Delmare, is a rather
better-tempered Monsieur Dudevant; Indiana's affectionate, enthusiastic
heart turns, wounded, from husband to lover. The originality of the
book lies in its delineation of the latter's character. For to him
even the husband is infinitely preferable. Raymon is the average
young Frenchman under the restored Legitimist monarchy; he is what
the society of the period has made him, emotional and calculating,
love-sick and egotistical, influenced by public opinion and the verdict
of society to such an extent that his hard-heartedness develops into
heartlessness, his unreliability into worthlessness; his thorough
mediocrity is at last plainly discernible through its glittering husk
of brilliant qualities and talents. In this first work George Sand at
once introduces us to several distinct types of male character. There
is the man with the coarse nature, whom the power which society puts
into his hands has made brutal, and the man with the weak nature, whom
congenital irresolution and acquired submissiveness to the dictation
of society have made unreliable and cowardly. Woman-like, she starts
with a spirited exposure of man's egotism. But in this her first
book she also at once presents us with her ideal man, in the person
of the reserve lover, the apparently phlegmatic but really ardent
Ralph, who, taciturn as George Sand herself, appears (like her) to the
superficial observer stiff and cold, but is in reality the embodiment
of self-sacrificing, noble, faithful love. This was a character she
rang changes on for years. We find him in _Lélia_ in the noble and
hardly tried Trenmor, the galley-slave who passes judgment on society
with stoic calm; in _Jacques_ he is the hero who with almost superhuman
magnanimity commits suicide, that he may not stand in the way of his
young wife's alliance with another; in _Léone Léoni_ he is the quiet,
manly Don Aleo, to the very last prepared to marry that unfortunate
Juliette whom an almost magic fascination binds to the incredibly
rascally Leone, a species of male Manon Lescaut. In _Le Secrétaire
Intime_ he is the modest German, Max, whose distinguishing qualities
are naïve kind-heartedness and poetical enthusiasm, and who is secretly
married to the princess whom every one worships; in _Elle et Lui_
he is Palmer, the Englishman, the foil to the gifted and dissipated
Parisian, Laurent; in _Le Dernier Amour_, he is called Sylvestre and is
a weaker Jacques. All these figures have a fault which is not uncommon
in ideals; they are bloodless. But the men of the Raymon type, the
men who represent the world, the selfishness, the vanity, and the
weaknesses of society, are much more successful creations. Raymon
himself is much more real than the other characters in _Indiana_; the
local colouring in his case is stronger, more definite. The authoress
(in chapter x.) attributes his unmanliness to "the conciliatory and
yielding tendency" of the age, which she calls the age "of mental
reservations"; she shows how Raymon, who is the advocate of political
moderation, imagines that because he is devoid of political passions
he is also devoid of political self-interest, and therefore stands on
a higher level than that of any party--the fact of the matter being,
that the existing condition of society is too advantageous to him for
him to wish it changed. He is "not so ungrateful to Providence as to
reproach it with the misfortunes of others." The numerous successors
of this character in George Sand's novels all bear witness to a
penetrating and delicate observation of human nature, from Sténio, the
poet in _Lélia_, and Octave, the lover in _Jacques_, slightly sketched,
weak characters, mere playthings of passion, to the carefully drawn,
distinctly characterised figures like the dissolute young Italian
singer, Anzoleto, in _Consuelo_, the ultra-refined, morbidly nervous
and self-centred Prince Karol (Chopin) in _Lucrezia Floriani_, and the
extravagantly capricious young painter, Laurent (Alfred de Musset), in
_Elle et Lui_.

In the end Indiana goes the length of discovering the ruthless egotism
of the male sex in all the outward developments of society, even in
the religion taught by men. They have made of God a man in their own
image. She writes to her hypocritical lover: "I do not serve the same
God as you, but I serve mine better and more purely. Yours is the man's
God, a man, a king, the founder and the patron of your race; mine is
the God of the universe, the creator, the preserver, and the hope of
every living being. Yours has made everything for you alone; mine has
made all his creatures for each other." Two things are noticeable in
these words--a naïve protest against that order of society which is
founded upon the subordination of woman to man, and the optimism of
an innocent, youthfully trustful faith in God. This attitude George
Sand did not long maintain. Only a few years later she brings _Lélia_
to a conclusion with an outburst of despairing pessimism. Shortly
before her death the heroine says: "Alas! despair reigns, and moans of
suffering emanate from every pore of the created world. The wave casts
itself writhing and moaning on the beach, the wind weeps and wails in
the forest. All those trees which bend and only rise to fall again
under the lash of the storm, suffer frightful torture. There exists
one miserable, cursed being, terrible, immense--the world which we
inhabit cannot contain him. This invisible being is in everything, and
his voice fills space with one eternal sob. Imprisoned in the universe
he writhes, strives, struggles, beats his head and his shoulders
against the confines of heaven and earth. He cannot pass beyond them;
everything crushes him, everything curses him, everything torments
him, everything hates him. What is this being and whence does he come?...
Some have called him Prometheus, others Satan; I call him desire;
I, the hopeless sibyl, the spirit of departed ages.... I, the broken
lyre, the dumb instrument whose sounds would not be understood by those
who inhabit the earth to-day, but in whose breast the eternal harmonies
lie murmuring; I, the priestess of death, who feel that I once was
Pythia, that I wept then, that I spoke then, but who cannot remember
the healing word!... O truth, truth! to find thee I descended into
abysses the very sight of which would make the bravest giddy with fear.
But truth! thou hast not revealed thyself; I have sought thee for ten
thousand years and have not found thee! For ten thousand years the only
answer to my cries, the only consolation of my agony, has been the
sound, audible throughout this whole accursed world, of that despairing
sob of impotent desire! For ten thousand years I have shouted into
infinity: Truth! Truth! For ten thousand years infinity has answered:
Desire! desire! O miserable Sibyl! O dumb Pythia! dash thy head against
the rocks of thy cave and mingle thy blood, which is foaming with rage,
with the foam of the sea!"

In such an outburst as this, the soulful melancholy of those youthful
years reaches its climax. Condensed as I have given it here--it is six
times as long in the original--it is a beautiful, poetical expression
of George Sand's fully developed youthful self-consciousness. At the
time she wrote _Indiana_, neither her feeling of her own superiority
nor her pessimism had reached this stage. That unpretending tale she
composed as the sympathising spokeswoman of the victims of existing
social conditions. In it she did not consciously attack any social
institution--not even marriage, as the opponent of which she was at
once stigmatised. She is evidently speaking the truth when (in the
preface of 1842) she declares that long after writing the original
preface to _Indiana_ under the influence of a remnant of respect for
existing social institutions, she continued her attempt to solve
the insoluble problem, to find a means of securing the happiness
and dignity of the individuals oppressed by society which should be
consonant with the existence of society. And she is also perfectly
truthful when, in a letter to Nisard (the last in _Lettres d'un
Voyageur_), she maintains that she has only attacked husbands, and
not marriage as a social institution. It was in the rôle of the
psychologist and story-teller, not in that of the reformer, that she at
first appeared before the public. In _Indiana_, as in _Valentine_, the
fervour, the poetical impulses, the enthusiastic passions and stormy
protests of youth, are the proper contents of the book; there is much
psychological and little personal history. Nevertheless there was in
the nature of the feelings described (feelings free from any trace of
viciousness, yet at variance with the decrees of society), and still
more in the reflections interspersed throughout the tale, something
which actually struck at the foundations of society. Therefore it was
not pure stupidity which found expression in the clumsy and violent
attacks made upon these books and their author by the partisans of the
existing order of things. Men had a foreboding that such feelings and
thoughts would sooner or later remould the laws governing society. They
have begun to do so, and their influence will increase day by day.

Their very idealism and enthusiasm makes these books essentially
revolutionary. For, as only the inner world exists for the authoress,
she allows it to develop freely without taking any thought of the
possibility of its development destroying the outer world; and,
depicting as she does, chiefly strong feelings, or rather only one,
infinitely varied feeling--love, she shows how its laws and the laws
of society perpetually come into conflict. Although she casts no doubt
upon the necessity and indispensability of marriage in our days, she
undermines the belief in its eternal continuance. She certainly at
first only attacks husbands, but an examination of her demand for an
ideal husband shows that it is a demand which cannot be satisfied under
existing conditions. In much the same manner, at a somewhat later
period, Kierkegaard undermines Christianity by making an extravagantly
ideal demand of the individual Christian.

The French Naturalistic School of forty years later, which has often
suffered from more or less groundless accusations of immorality, has,
in revenge, re-directed the accusation against these enthusiastic early
works of George Sand's. When Émile Zola made one of his periodical
protests against the idealistic novel, he never omitted to point out
the dangers for the family and for society which lie in this constant
aspiring beyond the bounds which restrain the individual, this
continual representation of a craving for greater intellectual and
emotional liberty. He prided himself on never representing unlawful
love in a beautiful or inviting light, but always bedraggled with
mire. He might have added that he and his successors in the school
of Balzac have never felt the need of a higher morality than that in
common vogue, and never hold out the prospect of social conditions
different from the present. They have imposed a crushing restriction
on themselves by limiting themselves to the representation of the
outward realities visible to their own eyes, and resolutely refusing
to draw any conclusions from their observations. Hence it is that
their boldness in representing social relations and situations which
literature hitherto had been chary of approaching, is equalled by
their weakness, nay insignificance, as thinkers and moralists. They
are constantly reduced to seek support from the indubitable harmony
of their morality with the universally accepted moral code; they
plume themselves on calling vice what other people call vice, and on
inspiring horror of that vice. They are not as that sinner George Sand.
But it is time to observe that it is just in this "morality" of theirs
that their literary weakness lies; and that the strength of George
Sand's works, with their far more idealistic and chaste delineations,
lies in their "immorality." In the apparently extremely audacious
works of the Realistic School, there is not an utterance to compare
in real audacity with that which George Sand has put into the mouth
of one of the chief characters in _Horace_, and which gives admirably
condensed expression to her ideas of morality in the matter of love:
"I believe that that love should be defined as a noble passion, which
elevates and strengthens us by beautiful feelings and thoughts, and
that love as an evil passion, which makes us selfish and cowardly and
gives us over to all the meannesses of blind instinct. Every passion,
therefore, is lawful or criminal according to its production of one
or the other of these results--it being a matter of no consequence
that official society, which is not the supreme court of justice of
humanity, sometimes legalises the evil, and condemns the beneficent
passion."[1]

In _Lélia_ and _Jacques_ (1833 and 1834) their authoress's Byronic
"Weltschmerz" and declamatory tendency reach high-water mark. In
_Lélia_ she represented her ideal great, unsensual, profoundly feeling
woman, and provided her with an opposite in her sister, Pulchérie, a
luxurious courtesan. Taking her own character and separating the two
sides of it, she formed Lélia after the Minerva-image, Pulchérie after
the Venus-image in her own soul; the result being, not unnaturally,
rather two symbolic personages than two human beings of flesh and
blood. In _Jacques_ she approached the problem of marriage from a
new side. In _Indiana_ she had portrayed a brutal, in _Valentine_
a refined, cold husband; but now she equipped the husband with the
qualities which in her eyes were the highest, and wrecked his happiness
upon the rock of his own elevated character, which his insignificant
young wife is not capable of understanding and continuing to love.
The authoress has endeavoured to impart additional force to her own
opinions by putting them into the mouth of the wronged husband. He
himself excuses his wife: "No human being can control love; and no
one is guilty because he loves or ceases to loves. What degrades the
woman is the lie; what constitutes the adultery is not the hour she
grants her lover, but the night she spends in her husband's arms
afterwards." Jacques feels it his duty to make way for his rival:
"Borel, in my place, would calmly have beaten his wife, and would
probably not have blushed to embrace that same night the woman degraded
alike by his blows and his kisses. There are men who, in the Oriental
fashion, calmly kill their faithless wives, because they regard them
as their lawful property. Others challenge their rival, kill him or
put him out of the way, and then beg the woman whom they declare they
love, for kisses and caresses, which she either refuses or gives in
despair. These are perfectly ordinary proceedings in conjugal love.
It seems to me that the love of swine is less vile and coarse than
such love." These truths, already regarded as elementary by people
of the highest culture, were in 1830 the most atrocious heresy. They
are the salt which has kept this youthful work from becoming stale
in spite of its antiquated plot and the diffuseness of the tedious
letter-style. The extravagance of Romanticism is most noticeable in the
final catastrophe. Jacques can think of no better means of liberating
Fernande than a suicide committed in a manner which to her will give
it the appearance of an accident. This transports us at once into the
region of unreality. But the unreality in this novel is, generally
speaking, more apparent than actual. It is easy for modern criticism
to point out the absence of any indications of locality, of real
occupations, &c, &c.; the personages in George Sand's early novels have
no occupation and no aim but to love. The reality of these books is a
spiritual reality, the reality of feeling. Even this, however, has been
disputed in our day. It is the fashion to regard emotions such as those
here described--this wild despair caused by social conditions, this
passionate, erotic tenderness, this pure, ardent friendship between man
and woman--as unnatural and unreal.[2] But we must remember that George
Sand's characters are not supposed to be average men and women. She
describes unusually gifted beings. Indeed, in these early works she has
done little else than delineate and explain her own emotional life. She
places her own character in every variety of outward circumstance, and
then, with a marvellous power of self-observation and unerring skill,
draws the natural psychological conclusions. It is interesting to
observe how the constant craving to find a masculine mind which is the
equal of her own, leads her to a kind of self-duplication in two sexes.
Ardently as she exalts love, strongly as she allows it to influence
the life of the great woman and of the great man, nevertheless both
of these, Jacques as well as Lélia, are inspired by a still stronger,
still more ideal feeling, that of friendship for a noble member of
the opposite sex, by whom they are understood. In comparison with
this profound mutual understanding, Lélia's love for Sténio, Jacques'
for Fernande, seem merely the weaknesses of these two great souls.
Lélia has an understanding friend and equal in Trenmor, Jacques in
Sylvia. Jacques would love Sylvia if she were not his half-sister, or
rather if he were not compelled to suspect that she is; but there is
a beauty in their mutual relationship, such as it is, to which merely
erotic relations could hardly attain. I remember distinctly what a
powerful impression this friendship between Jacques and Sylvia made
upon me when I read the book (probably in 1867) for the first time.
I saw plainly enough that Jacques is to a certain extent an unreal
character--and Sylvia also; for she is nothing more than Jacques'
understanding confidante; but the ideal current between them is real,
and it electrified me. Sylvia has her origin in the distressful cry
of the genius for its equal and mate; she is undoubtedly nothing more
than the expression of the urgent craving and demand of the great,
lonely heart--but what is poetry else than this? Imperfect as the novel
otherwise may be, the friendship between Jacques and Sylvia lends it an
atmosphere of real poetry; we feel, while reading of it, as if, above
the low-lying world of the passions, we caught a glimpse of a higher
one, where purer, yet still quite earthly beings, love and understand
each other.

Characters such as these illustrate the strong instinct of friendship
which George Sand possessed, and which was quite in the spirit of the
youthful Romanticism of the period. Her _Lettres d'un Voyageur_, which
follow the first group of novels, and begin immediately after the
separation from Alfred de Musset in Venice, give us an insight into her
friendships. These letters belong to the works in which she has most
directly revealed her own personal feelings, although they are written
with a reserve concerning actual events which makes them obscure to
the uninitiated. In them we follow her from the days of her life with
the handsome, stupid Italian, Dr. Pagello, for whom she gave up De
Musset, to the period of her devotion to Everard (Michel de Bourges),
her counsel in the divorce suit, who inspired her with the idea of the
pretty tale, _Simon_. Between these two extremes lie all the good,
cordial friendships, with François Rollinat, Jules Néraud, &c.--frank,
clever men, with whom she felt a constant desire to exchange ideas and
letters, with whom she studied, from whom she learned much, and whom,
in the Romantic spirit of good fellowship, she addressed with the
familiar "thou"; as also all the genuine artistic comradeships with
Franz Liszt, the Comtesse d'Agoult, Meyerbeer, and many others--the men
and women of genius of the day.

In no other of her works is she so eloquent, in none of the later ones
do her periods flow in such long, lyrically rhetorical waves. Nowhere
better than here can we study her personal style, as distinguished
from the dialogue of her novels. Sonority is its most marked feature.
It rolls onward in long, full rhythms, regular in its fall and rise,
melodious in joy, harmonious even in despair. The perfect balance
of George Sand's nature is mirrored in the perfect balance of her
sentences--never a shriek, a start, or a jar; a sweeping, broad-winged
flight--never a leap, nor a blow, nor a fall. The style is deficient
in melody, but abounds in rich harmonies; it lacks colour, but has all
the beauty that play of line can impart. She never produces her effect
by an unusual and audacious combination of words, seldom or never by
a fantastic simile. And there is just as little strong or glaring
colour in her pictures as there is jarring sound in her language.
She is romantic in her enthusiasms, in the way in which she yields
unresistingly to feelings which defy rules and regulations; but she is
severely classical in the regularity of her periods, in the inherent
beauty of her form, and the sobriety of her colouring.[3]

The letters from Venice, and still more those written after her return
to France, tell the understanding reader how humiliated George Sand
felt by the loss of De Musset's friendship, how sadly she missed it,
and what a fictitious account of the whole episode it was which she
gave to the public some twenty years later in _Elle et Lui_. There is
little doubt that there were times when she felt utterly overwhelmed
with longing, shame, and grief. In a letter to Rollinat written in
January 1835, there is a significant and, as far as I know, hitherto
unnoticed passage, which, beautiful in itself, also contains a
confession:

"Listen to a tale and weep! There was once an excellent artist, by name
Watelet, who etched better than any other man of his day. He loved
Marguerite Le Conte, and taught her to etch as well as himself. She
left her husband, her home, and everything she possessed, to live with
Watelet. The world condemned them, but, as they were poor and modest,
it forgot them. Forty years later an idle wanderer in the neighbourhood
of Paris found, in a little house called Moulin-Joli, an old man
who etched and an old woman whom he called his 'meunière,' and who
etched too, seated at the same table. The idler who made the wonderful
discovery told others, and the fashionable world flocked to see this
marvellous phenomenon--a love which had lasted for forty years; an
occupation which had been pursued all that time with the same industry
and the same devotion; two admirable twin talents. The thing made a
great sensation. Fortunately the couple died of old age a few days
later; the prying crowd would have spoilt everything. The last thing
they etched was a drawing of Moulin-Joli, Marguerite's house.... It
hangs in my room, above the portrait of a person whom no one here has
ever seen. For a whole year he who left me this portrait sat working
with me every night at a little table.... At daybreak each examined
the other's work and criticised it, and we supped at the same little
table, talking of art, of thoughts and feelings, and of the future.
The future has broken its promise to us. Pray for me, O Marguerite Le
Conte!"

This is perhaps the only occasion on which George Sand writes as if
she owed anything to Alfred de Musset in her capacity as authoress.[4]
I have already indicated the nature of his influence upon her. It
was purely critical; it sharpened her aesthetic sense. His artistic
method was powerless to affect her. To any direct influence upon her
style George Sand was completely unreceptive. Madame Girardin's witty
hit at her: "It is especially when the works of women authors are in
question that we may say with Buffon, 'Le style, c'est l'homme,'" is as
incorrect as it is amusing. For though it is, almost without exception,
the case that each of George Sand's most important novels bears marks
of the influence of a different man, yet the influence never extends
to the style. Again and again she makes herself the organ of another's
ideas, but never does she imitate another's style. Her talent was too
independent for this, and she was moreover too little of the artist.
She who was so silent, and, when she did speak, so laconic, was the
improvisatrice when she wrote. She let her pen run over the paper
without making preparatory studies, without thought of models, without
conscious artistic aim; she never treated a given theme, or elaborated
and completed a stylistic suggestion thrown out by another;--in short,
she submitted to none of the conditions upon which purely technical
progress in any art depends. In this she forms a marked contrast to
De Musset. He was, at first, inspired by a spirit of revolt against
conventions and rules in art, which was always incomprehensible to her.
He intentionally spoiled the rhymes in his first poems, to make sure of
annoying the Classicists. (In the first sketch of _L'Andalouse_, the
Marchioness was called Amaémoni, which in French rhymes correctly with
"bruni," but in the final version she received the name of Amaégui,
which hardly rhymes.) When his creative capacity was on the wane, he
calmly employed seven pages of Carmontelle's Proverbe, _Le Distrait_,
in the manufacture of his weak little comedy, _On ne saurait penser
à tout_. In his best period he was a master of the art of delicate
plagiarism. I may mention, as an example, that I have found in the
Prince de Ligne's works his stylistic model for the beautiful poem,
"Après une lecture," quoted in a previous chapter.[5] A similar
discovery in connection with George Sand would be an impossibility. She
is incapable of polishing the rough diamonds of others into brilliants
for the adornment of her own muse; she presents us that muse clad in
simple white, with a wild flower in her hair.

Nowhere is the peculiar beauty of George Sand's style more fascinating
than in the above quoted letter to Rollinat. The profound understanding
of nature acquired in her youth by this revolutionary woman of genius,
blends in marvellous unison with her restless, endless longing; and
through both the longing for nature and the longing for happiness runs
the undertone of a loving heart's lamentation over the disappointments
it has caused and the disappointments it has suffered. And in this
letter and the following one to Everard, we see how George Sand's
political, republican, faith springs from the ruins of her youthful,
erotic, castles-in-the-air. At first she is weak in the faith, too much
engrossed with herself. The poor poetess undoubtedly "feels ill at ease
under the umbrella of the monarchy," but all the same her thoughts are
more occupied with the forms of violet and jasmine petals than with the
institutions of society or forms of government. Yet one sees the spark
of enthusiasm gradually beginning to glow in her breast. She envies her
men friends their faith and the energy it begets, she, "who is only
a poet, only _une femmelette!_" They, in the event of a revolution,
would go forth to fight with the steadfast hope of winning liberty for
their fellow-men; she could do nothing but let herself be killed in
the hope of being useful for once, were it only by raising a barricade
the height of her dead body. But she concludes thus: "Can any of you
find a use for my present and future life? So long as I am employed in
the service of an idea, and not of a passion, I consent to be bound by
your laws. But, alas! I warn you that all I am fit for is to execute
an order bravely and faithfully. I can act, but not plan; for I know
nothing and am sure of nothing. I can only obey when I shut my eyes
and stop my ears so as to see nothing and hear nothing which may make
me doubtful; I can march with my friends like the dog who, seeing his
master sailing away, jumps into the water and swims after the ship
until he dies of fatigue. The ocean is wide, my friends, and I am weak.
I am fit for nothing but to be a soldier--and I am not five feet high!

"But what of that! Dwarf as I am, I am yours. I am yours because I love
you and esteem you. Truth dwells not among men; the kingdom of God is
not of this world. But as much as man can steal from divinity of the
ray of light which illumines the world, you, ye sons of Prometheus, ye
lovers of naked truth and inflexible justice, have stolen. Forward,
then! no matter what the shade of your banner, so long as your troops
are marching in the direction of the republican future! Forward,
in the name of Jesus, who has only one true apostle left on earth
(Lamennais); in the name of Washington and of Franklin, who were unable
to accomplish enough, and have left us their task to finish; in the
name of Saint-Simon, whose sons--God be with them!--are attempting to
solve the great and terrible social problem! Forward, so long as good
is done, and those who believe prove that they do so! I am only a poor
daughter of the regiment--take me with you!"

There are few such pure and heartfelt feminine outbursts of enthusiasm
in literature. German literature presents something in the nature of a
counterpart to it in Bettina's Goethes _Correspondence with a Child_
(published the same year), which is the outcome of an equally exuberant
enthusiasm; but in Bettina's case we do not receive the same impression
of sincerity, and the feeling expressed is in itself narrower--it is
purely aesthetic, the cult of one great genius. Bettina is a clever
woman; her style is brilliant, with polished, and here and there
pointed facets; but even in the feminine weakness of George Sand's
enthusiasm there is greatness.

It was some years before the feelings, the birth of which we have
witnessed, display themselves in her works. To these later works we
shall come presently. We must first consider for a moment the more
tranquil, purely poetic tales of the second period of her literary
career.

Regarding these from the artistic standpoint, the little tale entitled
_La Marquise_ is, in my estimation, undoubtedly the best; indeed,
taking nothing but art into consideration, it is possibly her most
perfect work. I fancy it must have been inspired by the memory of her
kind-hearted, dignified grandmother. It fascinates by its combination
of the spirit and customs of the eighteenth century with the timid,
more spiritually enthusiastic amatory passion of the nineteenth. It
is a simple story of a high-born lady of the _ancien régime_, who has
married as they married in those days, and has accepted a lover as they
accepted lovers then, but whose lover bores her to death because he was
not the choice of her heart, but simply the man whom the whole of good
society conspired to force upon her. Young, inexperienced, beautiful,
and innocent in so far that she does not know what love is, she falls
in love with a poor, half-starving, dissipated actor, who on the stage
appears to her an incarnation of manliness and poetry. She sees him,
when he is not aware of her presence, off the stage, and is dismayed by
the difference in his appearance. He has become aware of her interest
in him, and now plays to her alone, and dreams of her alone. They hold
their first and last rendezvous late one evening after the play. The
Marquise, having been cupped in the morning, is fatigued. The actor has
not had time to take off the costume of his part; the ideality of the
stage still clings to him, and he is inspired, beautified, ennobled
by his love, which raises him high above the ordinary conditions of
his life. She is modest, he reverential; she is in love, enraptured
by a poetical illusion; he loves her as she is, loves her longingly,
passionately, but chivalrously; and, after a tempest of passionate
words, they part, without any caress but the kiss she imprints on his
brow as he kneels at her feet.

The old Marquise, who tells the story, is silent for a moment after
concluding it, and then says: "Well, will you believe now in the virtue
of the eighteenth century?" "Madame," replies the person addressed, "I
have not the slightest desire to doubt it; nevertheless, if I were not
so touched by your story, I might allow myself to observe that it was
very wise of you to have yourself cupped that day." "You wretched men!"
said the Marquise, "you are quite incapable of understanding the story
of the heart."

George Sand has written nothing more graceful. The sly sarcasm in this
conclusion, a quality which also distinguishes the equally charming
and equally suggestive little tale, _Teverino_, but which is not
frequently met with in her writings, is quite in the spirit of the
eighteenth century; and the style has that conciseness which is, as a
rule, an indispensable quality in a work destined to descend to future
generations. _La Marquise_ has a rightful claim to a place in every
anthology of French masterpieces.

Amongst the works which George Sand now proceeds to write is a whole
series in which she represents her conception of woman's nature when it
is uncorrupted. The women she draws are chaste and proud and energetic,
susceptible to the passion of love, but remaining on the plane above
it, or retaining their purity even when they yield to it. She inclines
to attribute to woman a moral superiority over man. But the natures of
her heroes, too, are essentially fine, though in the ruling classes
tainted by the inherited tendency to tyrannise over woman and the lower
classes. Rousseau's conviction of the original goodness of nature and
of the depravity of society lies at the foundation of all these works.
Women like Fiamma in _Simon_, Edmée in _Mauprat_, Consuelo in the novel
of the same name (of whom Madame Viardot was to a certain extent the
original), are fine specimens of George Sand's typical young girl.
Her rôle is to inspire, to heal, or to discipline the man. She knows
not vacillation; resolution is the essence of her character; she is
the priestess of patriotism, of liberty, of art, or of civilisation.
Of the novels named, _Consuelo_ is the longest and most famous; it
begins in masterly fashion, but, like many of Balzac's, not to speak of
Dumas', longer works, degenerates into romantic fantasticalness. The
artistic theories of the day led in the direction of exaggeration and
extravagance. It was not Victor Hugo alone who was apt to relapse into
the formless.

Side by side with the books which have the high-minded young girl as
heroine, we find one or two in which the mature woman is the central
figure--in which George Sand has given a more direct representation of
her own character. Such are _Le Secrétaire intime_, a comparatively
weak story, and _Lucrezia Floriani_, one of the most remarkable
productions of her pen. Of this latter book, it may with truth be
said that it is not food for every one (_Non hic piscis omnium_). To
most readers it will seem a forbidding or revolting literary paradox;
for it aims at proving the modesty, nay, the chastity of an unmarried
woman (an Italian actress and play-writer) who has four children by
three fathers. But it is a book in which the authoress has successfully
performed the difficult task she set herself, that of giving us an
understanding of a woman's nature which is so rich and so healthy that
it must always love, so noble that it cannot be degraded, so much that
of the artist that it cannot rest content with a single feeling, and
has the power to recover from repeated disappointments.

George Sand was successful because she simply presented her readers
with the key to her own nature. Many who have heard of the authoress's
irregular life, of her liaisons with Jules Sandeau, Alfred de Musset,
Michel de Bourges, Chopin, Manceau, and half-a-dozen others, must have
asked themselves how books that, with all their passion, are so pure
and noble as hers, could be the outcome of such a disorderly and,
according to accepted ideas, degraded life. And many have felt that the
inherent curiosity of the artist nature (which she defined by saying
that when the conversation turned upon cannibalism her first thought
was: "I wonder what human flesh tastes like;") was not a sufficient
explanation of her conduct. In _Lucrezia Floriani_ she has given us an
exhaustive study of her own character at the age of thirty. I shall
endeavour to make the character intelligible with the help of passages
culled from different parts of the book.

"Lucrezia Floriani by nature was--who would have believed it?--as
chaste as is the soul of a little child. It certainly seems strange
to hear this of a woman who had loved so much and so many.... It is
probable that the sensual part of her organisation was especially
powerfully developed; although to men who did not please her she seemed
frigid.... In the rare intervals when her heart had been tranquil,
her brain had been at rest; and if she could have been prevented from
ever seeing the other sex, she would have made an excellent nun,
calm and vigorous. This is as much as to say that nothing could be
purer than her thoughts when she was alone, and that when she loved,
all that was not her lover was to her, as far as the senses were
concerned, solitude, emptiness, nonentity." Lucrezia says of love: "I
know that it is said to be a sensual impulse; but this is not true
in the case of clever women. With them it follows a regular course;
it takes possession of the brain first, knocking at the door of the
imagination. Without the golden key to that door it cannot enter.
When it has established its mastery there, it descends into the lower
regions; it insinuates itself into all our faculties; and then we love
the man who rules us, as god, brother, husband, everything that a woman
can love." The authoress explains how it was possible for Lucrezia's
soul to be continually possessed afresh by the erotic illusion, and
in particular how her last, ardently passionate attachment for Prince
Karol (Chopin) came into being. "To these rich, strong natures the last
love seems always the first; and certain it is, that if affection is
to be measured by enthusiasm, Lucrezia had never loved so much. The
enthusiasm she had felt for other men had been of short duration. They
had been incapable of maintaining it or renewing it. Love had survived
disillusionment for a certain time; then came the stage of generosity,
solicitude, compassion, devotion, of the motherly feeling, to put it
in a word. It was a marvel that passions so foolishly conceived should
have lasted so long; although the world, judging only by appearances,
was astonished and scandalised to see her breaking the ties so soon
and so completely. In all these attachments she had been hardly a week
happy and blind--and was not the absolute devotion of one, sometimes
two, years, which followed on a love that she recognised to have been
foolish and ill-bestowed, a supreme effort of heroism, greater than the
sacrifice of a whole life for a being felt to be worthy of it?"

We can understand how it was that weak men had an attraction for
Lucrezia. Her independent character in combination with her motherly
instincts drew her to the weak. The idea of being protected was
intolerable to her; and on occasions when she had felt the desire to
lean upon those who were stronger than herself, she had too often been
repelled by their coldness. She was therefore inclined to believe that
love and energy were to be found in combination only in hearts which
had suffered as much as her own.

Finally, we see how her relation to her children--and Lucrezia, like
George Sand, is the tenderest, most affectionate of mothers--influenced
her erotic life. "She had wished to be a mother to her lovers without
ceasing to be the mother of her children, and the conflict between
the two feelings had always ended in the extinction of the less
obstinate passion. The children triumphed, and the lovers, who, to
speak metaphorically, had been taken from the Foundling Hospital of
civilisation, were obliged, sooner or later, to return there."

Lucrezia speaks of her attitude to the verdict of the world on her
character and life in terms which are directly applicable to George
Sand. "I have never sought notoriety. I may have caused scandal, but
never knowingly or willingly. I have never loved two men at the same
time. I have never, even in thought, belonged to more than one during
any given time, that is, as long as my passion lasted. When I no longer
loved a man, I did not deceive him. I broke off with him entirely. I
had vowed, it is true, in my enthusiasm, to love him always; and I made
the vow in absolute good faith. Every time I loved, it was so ardently
and perfectly that I believed it was for the first and last time in my
life. You cannot call me a respectable woman. But I myself am certain
that I am one; I even lay claim to be a virtuous woman, though I know
that, according to your ideas and public opinion, this is blasphemy. I
submit my life to the verdict of the world without rebelling, without
disputing the justice of its general laws, but not acknowledging that
it is right in my case."[6]

The contrast between _Lucrezia Floriani_ and the short series of
simple, beautiful peasant stories which follow it after a short
interval and bring us up to 1848, seems at first sight a very marked
one. In reality, however, the gulf separating _Lucrezia_ from _La
Mare au Diable, François le Champi_, and _La petite Fadette_ is not
so wide as it appears. What attracted George Sand to the peasants
of Berry, to the rustic idylls of her native province, was the very
same Rousseau-like enthusiasm for nature that had lent impetus and
weight to her protests against the laws of society. Her secretary and
intimate friend, Müller-Strübing, a German, is said to have drawn her
attention to Auerbachs earliest village stories, and thereby to have
instigated her to the production of the works which, thanks to their
simplicity and calm purity, no less than to their wealth of feeling,
have gained her the widest circle of readers. Auerbach was consecrated
peasant-annalist by Spinoza, the apostle of natural piety, George Sand
by Rousseau, the worshipper of nature. Her French peasants are very
certainly not "real" in the same sense as Balzac's in _Les Paysans_;
they are not merely represented with a sympathy which is as strong
as his antipathy, but are made out to be amiable, tender-hearted,
and sensitively delicate in their feelings; they are to real French
peasants what the shepherds of Theocritus were to the real shepherds
of Greece. Nevertheless, these tales have one merit which they owe
entirely to their subject-matter and which George Sand's other novels
lack--they possess the charm, always rare, but doubly rare in French
literature, of naïveté. All that there was of the peasant girl, of the
country child, in George Sand; everything in her which was akin to
the plants that grow, to the breeze that blows, knowing not whence it
cometh nor whither it goeth; all that which, unconscious and dumb, was
so legible in her countenance and behaviour, but was so often nullified
in her works by sentimentality and phrase-mongering, revealed itself
here in its childlike simplicity.

_La Mare au Diable_, written in 1841, is the gem of these village
tales. In it idealism in French fiction reaches its highest level. In
it George Sand gave to the world what she declared to Balzac it was her
desire to write--the pastoral of the eighteenth century.


[1] Compare the passages from _Jacques_ quoted in _The Romantic School
in Germany_, pp. 104, 105. Émile Zola latterly adopted a different tone.

[2] Emile Zola writes of the characters in _Jacques_ (_Documents
littéraires_, 222): "I cannot describe the impression produced upon me
by such characters; they confuse me, they astonish me, as people would
who had made a wager to walk upon their hands. Their bitterness and
everlasting complaints are quite incomprehensible to me. What is it
they complain of? What is it they want? They take life from the wrong
side; hence it is only natural that they should be unhappy. Life is
fortunately a much more complaisant damsel than they make her out to
be. One can always get on with her if one is good-natured enough to put
up with the unpleasant hours," In caricaturing George Sand, Zola draws
his own portrait, or rather his own caricature, for he is certainly not
so narrow-mindedly matter-of-fact as this.

[3] Even that determined antagonist of Romanticism and George Sand,
Émile Zola, is obliged to write of George Sand: "The Romantic spirit
animated her creations, but her style remained classic." _Documents
littéraires_. 217.

[4] The writer of an article in _Le Figaro_ (Supplément littéraire) for
June 3, 1893, maintains that it is Jules Sandeau who is referred to in
this passage; but he is mistaken. See _Cosmopolis_ of May 1896, p. 440.

[5] The Prince de Ligne is writing of the qualities of the true
soldier, as De Musset writes of those of the true poet. He says: "Si
vous ne rêvez pas militaire, si vous ne dévorez pas les livres et les
plans de guerre, si vous ne baisez pas les pas des vieux soldats, si
vous ne pleurez pas au récit de leurs combats, si vous ne mourez pas
du désir d'en voir et de honte de n'en avoir pas vu, quoique ce ne
soit pas votre faute, quittez vite un habit que vous déshonorez. Si
l'exercice même d'une seule bataille ne vous transporte pas, si vous ne
sentez pas la volonté de vous trouver partout, si vous êtes distrait,
si vous ne tremblez pas que la pluie n'empêche votre régiment de
manœuvrer; donnez-y votre place à un jeune homme tel que je le veux,"
&c, &c. The manner in which the prose style is reproduced in verse
by De Musset shows his artistic genius even more plainly than the
invention of a new style would have done. A hint from Émile Montégut
put me on the track of this passage.

[6] _Lucrezia Floriani_, 169, 67, 130, 127, 38.



XII


BALZAC


Side by side with George Sand and her work we come upon the man whose
art she herself characterised as the antipodes of her own. Whilst
she, in this particular a genuine Romanticist, turned with repugnance
from the social conditions of her day, more disposed to revile and
escape from them than to examine and depict them, he, if he did not
feel contented, at least felt quite at home in his surroundings, and
almost from the beginning of his career regarded the society of his
own day and the immediately preceding period as his artistic property,
his inexhaustible mine. George Sand was a great character limner, but
she was almost more essentially a great landscape painter; and she
represented human beings as the landscape painter represents plants;
what she showed was the part of humanity which seeks and bathes in the
light. Balzac's point of view was the opposite: the part of the human
plant which he understood and loved to paint was the root. What Victor
Hugo, in _La Légende des Siècles_, says of the satyr, is applicable to
Balzac:

    "Il peignit l'arbre vu du côté des racines,
     Le combat meurtrier des plantes assassines."

In the exuberantly fertile province of Touraine, "the garden of
France," the native province of Rabelais, Honoré de Balzac was born on
a spring day in 1799--a man of an exuberantly fertile, full-blooded,
warm-blooded nature, with plenty of heart and plenty of brain. Clumsy
and tender, coarse and sensitive, the presentient dreamer, the minute
observer, this man of curiously complex character combined sentiment,
genuine and somewhat ponderous, with a marvellous keenness of vision,
combined the seriousness of the scientific investigator with the light
humour of the storyteller, the discoverer's perseverance and absorption
in his idea with the artist's impulse to present to the eyes of all,
in unabashed nakedness, what he had observed, felt, discovered or
invented. He was as if created to divine and betray the secrets of
society and humanity.

[Illustration: BALZAC]

Balzac was a powerfully built, broad-shouldered man of middle height,
corpulent in later life; the feminine whiteness of his strong, thick
neck was his pride; his hair was black and as coarse as horse-hair, and
his eyes shone like two black diamonds; they were lion-tamer's eyes,
eyes that saw through the wall of a house what was happening inside,
that saw through human beings and read their hearts like an open book.
His whole appearance indicated a Sisyphus of labour.

He came as a youth to Paris, poor and solitary, drawn thither by his
irresistible author's vocation and by the hope of winning fame. His
father, like most fathers, was extremely unwilling that his son, whom
no one credited with being a genius, should give up the profession
of law for literature, and therefore left him entirely to his own
resources. So there he sat in his garret, unwaited on, shivering with
cold, his plaid wrapped round his legs, the coffee-pot on the table
on one side of him, the ink-bottle on the other, staring out now and
again over the roofs of the great city whose spiritual conqueror and
delineator fate had destined him to be. The view was neither extensive
nor beautiful--moss-grown tiles, shining in the sun or washed by the
rain, roof-gutters, chimneys, and chimney-smoke. His room was neither
comfortable nor elegant; the cold wind whistled through the chinks
of its window and door. To sweep the floor, to brush his clothes,
and to purchase the barest necessaries with the utmost economy, were
the daily morning tasks of the young poet who was planning a great
tragedy, to be called _Cromwell_. His recreation was a walk in the
neighbouring cemetery of Père Lachaise, which overlooks Paris. From
this vantage-ground young Balzac (like his hero, Rastignac) measured
the great metropolis with his eye, and made a defiant wager with it
that he would compel it to recognise and honour his unknown name.

The tragedy was soon given up; Balzac's genius was too modern, too
vigorous, to put up with the rules and abstract characters of French
tragedy. And, besides, it was imperative that the young hermit, who
had only obtained conditional leave of absence from home, should make
himself independent as quickly as possible.

He took to hurried novel-writing. As yet he had not the experience of
life requisite to give his productions any lasting value; but he had a
vivid, inexhaustibly productive imagination, and had read enough to be
able to write stories in a certain passable style, the style of most of
the light literature of the day. In 1822 he published, under different
pseudonyms, no fewer than five such novels; and during the following
three years he wrote others which he himself, with all his self-esteem,
could not regard as anything but pot-boilers. In 1822 he writes to his
sister: "I did not send you _Birague_, because it is perfect trash.
... In _Jean Louis_ there is some character-drawing, but the plot is
wretched. The one merit of these books, dear, is that they bring me in
a thousand francs; but I have received the sum in bills which have a
long time to run--will it ever be paid?" Those who have toiled through
one or more of these early works of Balzac's, will not consider his
verdict too harsh. They are distinguished by a certain vivacity--what
the French call _verve_--that is all the good that can be said of them.
That they possessed the merit which their author himself described as
their only one is doubtful, not only because Balzac in his later novels
(see _Un grand Homme de Province à Paris_) gives most unflattering
descriptions of the publishers who pay with promissory notes, but also
because in 1825 he suddenly, in despair, gave up authorship for the
time being, in the hope of making a living as a bookseller and printer.

His brain, which was constantly conceiving plans of every description,
had conceived that of bringing out one-volume editions of the classic
authors. No such editions as yet existed, and he felt convinced that
they would be a good business speculation. And he was right; but the
profits of this, as of all Balzac's later speculations, were reaped by
others; the projector invariably lost by them. In 1837, for example,
when he was in Genoa, the idea occurred to him that the ancient Romans
had probably not exhausted their silver mines in Sardinia. He spoke of
his idea to a Genoese acquaintance, and determined to follow it up.
Next year he spent valuable time in taking a fatiguing journey to the
island, to examine the slag of the mines. The state of matters answered
exactly to his expectations; but when he applied to the authorities
at Turin for permission to work the mines, he found that his Genoese
friend had been beforehand with him, had acquired the exclusive
right to do so, and was already well on the way to become a rich
man. Undoubtedly many of the practical speculations which suggested
themselves to Balzac's busy brain were mere chimeræ; nevertheless, his
genius reveals itself in them. Just as Goethe's was a nature so at
one with nature that his poet's eye, falling accidentally on a palm,
discovered the secret of the metamorphosis of plants (one and the
same original form in every part of the plant), and that his casual
examination of a split sheep's skull laid the foundation of philosophic
anatomy, so Balzac's was to such a degree the nature of the inventor
and discoverer, on the small as well as on the great scale, that he
seemed, like the legendary characters possessed of second sight, to
know instinctively where riches lay hidden, seemed, as it were, to
carry a divining rod which bent of itself towards gold, the nameless,
sexless hero of his works. He certainly was not successful in his
attempts to secure the treasure; he was a magician, not a business man.

This first idea of his was as felicitous as it was daring; he was to be
type-founder, printer, bookseller, and author in one; for he himself,
full of enthusiasm for his grand projects, wrote the prefaces for his
editions of the classics. But, after he had persuaded his parents to
put the greater part of their capital into the undertaking, after he
had set agoing a type-foundry and printing establishment, and printed
good, illustrated, one-volume editions of Molière and La Fontaine, the
French booksellers to a man combined against their would-be colleague,
flatly refused to circulate his editions, and quietly awaited his
commercial ruin, to take up his idea and profit by it themselves.
At the end of three years Balzac was compelled to sell his books as
waste-paper, and dispose of his printing machinery at a great loss. He
himself underwent all the misfortunes of the poor inventive printer in
_Ève et David_. He was left not only poor, but so overburdened with
debt that he had to work all the rest of his life simply to pay his
creditors, regain his independence, and restore his mother's fortune.
And this debt, to demolish which he had no weapon but his pen, was not
a passive enemy; it grew, and attacked him from new quarters; as for
long his only means of meeting one engagement was to incur another.
It was in the course of these transactions that he became acquainted
with all the various types of Parisian money-lenders, of whom he has
given such striking portraits in Gobseck and kindred characters; and
the words: "My debts! my creditors!" are constantly in his thoughts
and of constant recurrence in those letters to his intimate friends in
which the warm heart of the heavily burdened man allows itself free
expression. "Remorse," he writes in one of his novels, "is not so bad
as debt, for it cannot clap us into prison." He actually had a short
experience of life in a debtor's prison, and to avoid a repetition of
it had often to hide, to change his place of residence, or have his
letters sent to misleading addresses. The genuine poet, he lived with
his debts as with an inexhaustible source of emotion; his imagination
received, as it were, a daily spur to industry when the thought of his
debts awoke him and he seemed, as soon as he opened his eyes, to see
his promissory notes appearing out of every corner and jumping like
grasshoppers all over the room.

He set to work with herculean energy, and worked, one may say without
a pause, through all the years of his youth and manhood, until, at the
age of fifty, he collapsed from over-exertion--fell as suddenly as the
bull that has received its death-thrust on a Spanish arena. The reason
of production being so little of a pleasure, so entirely a labour to
him, is to be sought in the fact that, though his great and active
imaginative power was unceasingly impelling him to write, it was not
supported by any innate or early acquired stylistic skill. In mastery
of form Balzac was not the equal of many of his contemporaries. He
never succeeded in writing a pleasing poem (those which are to be found
in his novels are the work of others--Madame de Girardin, Théophile
Gautier, Charles de Bernard, Lasailly), and he and none other was the
author of the much derided, halting line with which his Louis Lambert
begins the epic of the Incas:

    "O Inca! ô roi infortuné et malheureux!"

Novel after novel did he write under a pseudonym and repudiate before
he attained to a style; his struggle to obtain the mastery of French
prose was a desperate one; and it was one of his greatest griefs that
the young Romanticists who followed in the steps of Victor Hugo long
refused to acknowledge him as a real artist. The delicately sympathetic
Gautier, ever ready to admire, was the only author to greet him with
prompt recognition. But Balzac's astonishment was boundless when he saw
young Gautier, without preparation or any great exertion, and without
needing to make any corrections, fling off, at a desk in the printer's
office, an article irreproachable in both style and matter. It was long
before he could be persuaded that Gautier had not had his _feuilleton_
ready in his head. At last he grasped the fact that there is such a
thing as innate faculty of style, a faculty which had been denied him.
How he toiled to acquire it! How ardently he admired Gautier when he
really comprehended the quality of his plastic talent! We come upon
a curious proof of this so late as the year 1839, when Balzac, in
describing the principal female characters in his novel _Beatrix_,
employs almost word for word descriptions from articles written by
Gautier two years previously on Jenny Colon and Mademoiselle Georges,
the actresses.[1] We feel, in comparing the passages, how eagerness
when we see how commonplace and feeble the additions from his own
vocabulary are.

Balzac was bound to fail in his attempt to rival Gautier in the
latter's special province, for this reason, that he sees and feels in
a perfectly different way. Gautier the stylist is an artist of the
first rank, but Gautier the author, in spite of his poetic qualities,
is cold and at times arid. His talent may be defined as the talent
of the plastic artist who has won a place for himself in literature.
Balzac, on the other hand, is an inferior stylist, but an author of
the highest rank. He cannot place his characters before us with a few
telling words, because he does not himself see them in one single
plastic situation. When, conjured up by his imagination, they present
themselves to the eye of his mind, he sees them, not gradually, but at
once, in different stages of their lives and in different costumes;
he overlooks their whole career; he observes all the multitude of
their peculiar movements and gestures, and hears the sound of their
voices in utterances so characteristic that they bring the speaker
bodily before us. It is not, as in the case of the stylist, a single
picture, the result of a single, perhaps subtle, but somewhat dry
association of ideas, which reveals the character to us; no, Balzac's
character is composed of a hundred thousand associations of ideas which
unconsciously blend and form a unit, complicatedly rich as nature
itself, as that real human unit, which consists of a strange mixture of
innumerable physical and spiritual elements. It would require a whole
book to give a sufficient number of examples of Balzac's incomparable
power of bringing personalities vividly before us by means of their
manner of expressing themselves, or even simply by some peculiarity
in their dress, their household arrangements, and the like.[2]
His difficulty lay in the proper disposal of the wealth of material
which his memory and his inspirations thrust upon him. At one time
he would compress too many ideas, the association between which was
intelligible to himself alone, into a few words (as when he says of an
innocent, unoffending lady that "her ears were the ears of the slave
and the mother"); at another, he would write down, one after the other,
all the observations and fancies which his prolific brain suggested
every time he invented a fictitious personage, and lose himself in a
diffuse, descriptive, argumentative flow of words, which conveyed no
distinct impression to the reader--the reason being that the electric
communication between the organs of poetic vision and poetic eloquence
in the author's brain was faulty, and at times altogether broken off.
Tenfold labour had to supply the bitterly felt deficiency.

When we remember that, in those days of collaboration, Balzac never had
a collaborator, never even a copyist, we can understand what patience
and what stupendous exertion were required to produce, in the course
of twenty years, the novels, tales, and plays, more than a hundred in
number, which proceeded from his pen.

Whilst Hugo writes as the artists of the Renaissance painted,
surrounded by a company of youthful admirers and pupils, Balzac
sits alone in his study. He allows himself little sleep. He goes to
bed between seven and eight, gets up again at midnight and works
in his white, Dominican monk's, habit, with a gold chain round his
waist, until daybreak, when, feeling the want of exercise, he rushes
off himself to the printer's to deliver his manuscript and correct
proofs. His is no ordinary proof-correcting. He demands eight or ten
impressions of each sheet. This is partly because he is not certain of
having found the final, correct expressions, but also because it is
his habit to complete the general outline of his story first, and fill
in the details by degrees. Half, sometimes more than half, the payment
he receives, goes into the pocket of the printer; but not even extreme
need will induce him to allow his work to appear before it seems to him
as perfect as he can make it. He is the despair of the type-setter,
but his proof-reading is also his own most painful task. The first
impression is set with wide spaces between the paragraphs, and gigantic
margins; and both of these are by degrees filled to overflowing. When
he has done with it, the page, with its dots and dashes, strokes and
stars, looks like a picture of a firework. Then the heavily built,
untidily dressed man with the crushed felt hat and the sparkling
eyes, hurries home along the crowded street, every here and there
respectfully made way for by some one who knows or guesses him to be a
genius. More hours of work follow. Before dinner he seeks recreation
in a call on a lady, or a raid on the old curiosity shops in search of
a rare piece of furniture or an old painting. Not till evening comes
again does this indefatigable worker think of rest.

"Sometimes," writes Gautier, "he would come to my house in the morning,
groaning, exhausted, dizzy with the fresh air, like a Vulcan escaped
from his forge, and fling himself down on the sofa. His long night's
work had made him ravenously hungry, and he would pound sardines and
butter into a kind of paste which reminded him of a dish he had been
accustomed to at home, and which he ate spread upon bread. This was
his favourite food. As soon as he had eaten he would fall asleep,
begging me, before he closed his eyes, to wake him in an hour. Paying
no attention to this request, I took care that no noise in the house
should disturb this well-earned slumber. When he awoke at last and saw
the evening twilight spreading its grey shadows over the sky, he would
jump up and overwhelm me with abuse, call me traitor, robber, murderer.
I had been the means of his losing 10,000 francs, for he would have
earned as much as that with the novel which he would have planned if
he had been awake, even leaving possible second and third editions out
of the question; I was causing the most terrible catastrophes and most
inconceivable complications; I had made him miss appointments with
financiers, publishers, duchesses; he would not be in a position to
meet his engagements; this fatal sleep would cost him millions....
I was consoled by seeing the fresh Touraine colour returning to his
cheeks."

When, taking Charles de Lovenjoul's bibliographical work as a guide,
we follow Balzac's labours week by week; when we see from his own
letters how, never allowing himself to be distracted by those Parisian
gaieties in which he nevertheless often took part, nor to be scared by
the literary cannonades of his frequently envious critics, he steadily,
stone by stone, raised the pyramid of his life's work, determined to
make it as broad and as high as possible, we are inspired by a feeling
of respect for the man and his courage. The good-natured, stout, noisy
Balzac was no Titan; indeed, in that generation of heaven-storming
Titans and Titanesses he appears a peculiarly earth-bound creature.
But he is of the race of the Cyclopes; he was a mighty master-builder
who worked with a giant's strength; and the uncouth, brick-laying,
carpentering Cyclops raised his building as high as the two great lyric
geniuses of the day, Victor Hugo and George Sand, mounted on their
wings.

He had never any doubt of his own ability. A self-confidence which
corresponded to his talent, and which sometimes displayed itself in
naïve boastfulness, but never in petty vanity, carried him bravely
through all the trials and struggles of the first years; and in the
moments of depression which occurred in his, as they do in every
artist's life, he was, as we understand from his letters, comforted
and strengthened by faithful, secret love. A woman whose name he never
mentioned to his friends, whom he only alludes to with reverence as "an
angel," "a moral sun," and who to him was "more than a mother, more
than a friend, more than one human being can be to another," supported
him with her self-sacrificing devotion, with word and deed, in the many
troubles which beset his youth. We know that he was acquainted with her
in 1822, and for twelve years (she died in 1837) she managed from time
to time "to steal away from duty, family, society, all the hampering
ties of Parisian life," and spend two hours with him.[3]
Balzac, always ardent in his praise, naturally employs the strongest
expressions where he loves; what is really worthy of notice is the
delicacy of feeling displayed by this man, who is so invariably decried
for his cynical sensuality--the admiration and gratitude in which his
love takes shape.


[1] Compare the following sentences:--

GAUTIER. Les cheveux ... _scintillent_ et se contournent aux faux jours
en manière de _filigranes d'or bruni_....

BALZAC.

Cette chevelure, au lieu d'avoir une couleur indécise, _scintillait_ au
jour comme des _filigranes d'or bruni_....

GAUTIER. Le nez, fin et _mince_, d'un _contour assez aquiline_ et
presque _royal_....

BALZAC. Ce nez d'un contour _aquilin, mince_, avec je ne sais quoi de
_royal_....

GAUTIER. Elle ressemble à s'y méprendre à une ... _Isis des bas-reliefs
éginétiques_....

BALZAC. Ce visage, plus rond qu'oval, ressemble à celui de quelque
belle _Isis des bas-reliefs éginétiques_.

GAUTIER. Une singularité remarquable du col de Mademoiselle Georges,
c'est qu'au lieu de s'arrondir intérieurement du côté de la nuque, il
_forme un contour renflé_ et soutenu, _qui lie les épaules au fond de
sa tête sans aucune sinuosité_, diagnostic de tempérament _athlétique,
développé_ au plus haut point chez l'hercule Farnése. _L'attache des
bras_ a quelque chose de formidable.... Mais ils sont très-blancs,
très-purs, _terminés par un poignet dune délicatesse_ enfantine et des
_mains mignonnes frappées de fossettes_.

BALZAC. Au lieu de se creuser à la _nuque_, le col de Camille _forme
un contour renflé qui lie les épaules à la tête sans sinuosité_, le
caractère le plus évident de la force. Ce col présente par moments
des plis d'une magnificence _athlétique. L'attache des bras_, d'un
superbe contour, semble appartenir à une femme colossale. Les bras sont
vigoureusement modelés, _terminés par un poignet d'une délicatesse_
anglaise et _des mains mignonnes et pleines de fossettes_.

[2] Merely to show exactly what I mean, I give a single example. The
courtesan Josépha asks the old, worn-out roué, Baron Hulot, one of
Napoleon's generals, if it is true that he has caused the death of his
brother and his uncle, brought misery and disgrace upon his family, and
defrauded the government, all to gratify his mistress's whims.

"Le baron inclina tristement la tête.--Eh bien! j'aime cela! s'écria
Josépha, qui se leva pleine d'enthousiasme. C'est un _brûlage
générale_! c'est Sardanapale! c'est grand! c'est complet! On est une
canaille, mais on a du cœur. Eh bien! moi j'aime mieux un mange-tout
passionné comme toi pour les femmes que ces froids banquiers sans âme
qu'on dit vertueux et qui ruinent des milliers de familles avec leurs
rails.... Ça n'est pas comme toi, mon vieux; tu es un homme à passions;
on te ferait vendre ta patrie! Aussi, vois-tu, je suis prête à tout
faire pour toi! Tu es mon père, tu m'as lancée! c'est sacré. Que te
faut-il? Veux-tu cent mille francs? On s'exterminera le tempérament
pour te les gagner."

Do not these words give life to the woman who speaks and the man she
addresses?

[3] (The lady's name was Madame de Bemy. Letters to Louise, Nos. I.
and XXII., the letter to his mother, dated Jan. I, 1836, and that of
October 1836 to Madame Hanska, taken in combination, show this plainly.



XIII


BALZAC


Balzac's earliest literary model was, as already mentioned, Sir Walter
Scott, an author of whom he can never have reminded any one, and with
whom, when his genius reaches its maturity, he has hardly anything
in common. The writer of the _Comédie Humaine_ was a man of far too
modern a spirit to be able to remain faithful to historic fiction.
He felt no home-sickness for any past century; he had amassed a vast
wealth of observation, and involuntarily chose themes in which he
could turn this to the best account. He was dimly conscious that the
writer of historical novels, unless he be content simply to thrust the
characters which he has before him as models into antiquated costumes,
must take his modern, personal, psychological observations, and, as
it were, force them back into a more primitive age--a difficult task,
the attempt at which seldom resulted in more than a thinly disguised
reproduction of the manners and customs of the writer's contemporaries,
or at any rate of their ideas. It was not in Balzac's nature to collect
information laboriously from old chronicles; he studied the living men
and women of his own day.

_La Physiologie du Mariage_, the first of his works to arouse
attention, supplemented Brillat-Savarin's harmless _Physiologie du
Goût_ with a half-jocose, half-scientific, wholly coarse analysis
of that institution of society which French literature from time
immemorial has treated as a butt for witticisms, an object of ironical
homage, and a matter for unsparing investigation. Balzac regards it in
the light of a tragi-comic social necessity, defends it, and assists
it with good advice in its struggle with those destructive elements,
masculine and feminine caprices and passions. Marriage has a special
attraction for Balzac as being the battle-ground of two egoisms; he
rushes with the ruthlessness of a wild boar through its boundless
domain of attractions and repulsions, snuffing and poking his nose into
everything. In France marriage has always been a tolerably external,
public matter; it need not surprise us that Balzac has little reverence
for its mysteries. He writes of them with Molière's outspokenness, but
less healthily--more pessimistically and more grossly. The book is
full of clever, coarse conceits and laughable anecdotes, and is often
extremely amusing from the contrast between the frivolous, licentious
matter and the professorial or father-confessor style in which it is
expounded by the youthful lecturer on the science of marriage. It is,
nevertheless, an immature production of a writer who has been early
robbed of all beautiful illusions; and it must certainly be a repulsive
book to most readers of the female sex, though we are told that a
considerable proportion of its contents was communicated to the author
by two women, neither of them young--Madame Hamelin and Madame Sophie
Gay. _La Physiologie du Mariage_ reveals none of Balzac's nobility of
thought and delicacy of feeling--nothing but his gift of ruthless,
searching analysis.

It would seem as if the opening of his authorial vein in this book
had freed him for a long time from bad blood. His conception of life
is henceforward a more elevated one, or rather, it divides itself
into two conceptions, a serious and a sportive. The serious and the
sensually cynic philosophy of human life, which in _La Physiologie
du Mariage_ blent into one repulsive whole, now separate, displaying
themselves in the form of tragedy and satyric comedy. In 1831 he both
writes his first philosophic novel, _La Peau de Chagrin_ (which laid
the foundation of his fame as an author) and begins, with _La belle
Impéria_, the long series of the _Contes drôlatiques_, a collection of
tales in the freest Renaissance style, reminiscent of Queen Marguerite
and Brantôme in matter and of Rabelais in language. Told in the
language of our own day, they would be both disgusting and dull; but
the grand, simple, old-fashioned prose style, which lends more nobility
to the subject than even the severest metrical forms, metamorphoses
these deifications of the flesh into genuine works of art, burlesque as
the tales told by one of those worldly-minded, handy, jovial monks who
swarm in the legendary lore of every country.

In one of the masterly prologues to this collection of tales the author
tells how, having lost his patrimony in his youth, and being reduced
to the direst poverty, he cried to heaven, like the woodcutter in the
fable who had lost his axe, in hopes that the gods might take pity
on him and give him another axe. What Mercury threw down to him was
an ink-horn, on which were engraved the three letters AVE. He stood
turning the heavenly gift round and round in his hands until he caught
sight of the letters backwards, EVA. What was Eva? What but all women
in one? A heavenly voice had called to him: "Think of woman; she will
heal thy woes and fill thy pockets; she is thy fortune, thy property.
Ave, I salute thee! Eva, O woman!" Which, being interpreted, meant that
what he was now to attempt was to win a smile from the unprejudiced
reader by mad and merry love stories. And he succeeded. In none of
his other writings did his style attain such brilliance and vigour;
Rubens's colouring is not bolder nor richer, and Rubens hardly equals
this herculean wantonness with his fauns and drunken bacchantes. But it
is difficult to find ten successive lines that are fit for quotation or
reading aloud.

_La Peau de Chagrin_ is Balzac's first literary tussle with the reality
of his age; it is a spirited, many-sided work, rich in germs and
shoots; and with its fine, simple symbols it anticipates that almost
comprehensive picture of modern society which its author was to give to
the world in his complete works. The externalities of modern life, such
as the theatre and the fashionable lady's boudoir; the dissatisfied
and hopeless poverty of the talented young author thrown into relief
by the orgies of wealthy journalists and women of the demi-monde; the
contrast, in the two principal female characters, between the worldly
and the loving heart--all this is shown us in a strange, fantastic
light. The book consists of a few connected gaudy spectacular scenes;
there is more reflection and symbolic art than plastic talent in
it. The youthful hero, who is on the point of committing suicide in
despair over his hopeless poverty, receives from an aged dealer in
curiosities a piece of wild ass's skin, on which neither steel nor fire
produces the smallest effect, and which secures to its possessor the
fulfilment of his every wish, but which shrinks a line or two with the
gratification of each; simultaneously with the final disappearance of
the ass's skin the life of its owner comes to an end. The persuasive
powers of a marvellous imagination have succeeded in imparting
credibility to the supernatural part of this profound allegory. Balzac
has given the fantastic element in it a form which permits of its
blending with the modern realistic elements, Aladdin's lamp, when it
was rubbed, instantly worked a direct miracle; even in Oehlenschläger's
_Aladdin_ it supersedes the law of cause and effect. Not so the ass's
skin; it does nothing directly; it only ensures the fortunate issue of
events, steadily shrinking the while. It seems to be made of the fabric
of which our lives are composed. The gradual annihilation of the human
being is brought about, we are told, by two instinctive actions, which
exhaust its sources of life. "Deux verbes expriment toutes les formes
que prennent ces deux causes de mort: vouloir et pouvoir. _Vouloir_
nous brûle et _pouvoir_ nous détruit." That is to say, we die at last
because we go on killing ourselves every day.

The ass's skin is, like ourselves, at last annihilated by "vouloir
et pouvoir." With real profundity Balzac shows in this powerful
representation of the chief impulse of the younger generation of
his day--to drink the cup of life greedily to the very dregs--what
emptiness there is in satiety, how certain it is that death lies
cowering in the satisfaction of desire. Youthful, fertile, suggestive,
and vaguely melancholy, like all books produced by genius before the
acquirement of personal experience, _La Peau de Chagrin_ made its
mark abroad as well as in France. Goethe read it during the last year
of his life. Riemer (who attributes the authorship of the book to
Victor Hugo) reports Goethe to have said on October 11, 1831: "I have
been reading more of _La Peau de Chagrin_. It is an excellent work in
the newest style, distinguished by the vigour and cleverness of its
back-and-forward movement between the impossible and the painful, and
by the logical manner in which the marvellous is employed in producing
the most extraordinary chains of thought and events, of which, taken in
detail, much that is favourable might be said." In a letter of the 17th
November of the same year he writes of the same work: "This book, the
production of an intellect of very high order, points to a deep-seated,
incurable corruption in the French nation, which will spread steadily
unless the provinces, which can neither read nor write, restore it to
health again, as far as that is possible." (_Goethe-Jahrbuch_, 1880,
pp. 287, 289.)

The novel contains not a little autobiography. Balzac knew from his
own experience the feelings of the impecunious youth, who, descending
from his garret, picks his way in his solitary pair of white silk
stockings and dancing-shoes across the muddy street, in deadly fear
of being splashed by a passing carriage, and consequently deprived of
the sight of his beloved. But what interests us more, is the sum of
inward experience which is contained in the book, and which amounts
to this: Society detests misfortune and suffering, avoids them like
infectious diseases, never hesitates in choosing between a misfortune
and a crime. Let a misfortune be never so sublime, society will manage
to belittle it, to make it ridiculous by some witty sally; it has no
sympathy to spare for the fallen gladiator. To Balzac, in short, even
now in his youth, society appears devoid of every higher religious or
moral feeling; it shrinks from the old, the sick, and the poor; it does
homage to luck, to strength, and, above all, to wealth; it tolerates no
misfortune out of which it cannot by some means or other coin money.

Before Balzac's day the novel had occupied itself almost exclusively
with one theme--love; but the god of Balzac's contemporaries was
money; therefore in his books money, or rather the lack of money, the
desire of money, is the pivot on which society turns. The idea was
audacious and novel. To enter in a work of fiction, a romance, into
accurate details regarding the incomes and expenditure of the principal
characters, in short, to treat money as of prime importance, was a
perfectly new departure; and many denounced it as prosaic, nay, coarse;
for it is always considered coarse to say what every one thinks, and
what consequently all have tacitly agreed to conceal or to prevaricate
about--and especially coarse to proclaim it in an art which is often
regarded as the art of beautiful lying.



XIV


BALZAC


But Balzac was young yet; his poet's soul, though winter fell early in
it, had its spring; he, too, felt constrained to make love and woman
the central interest of a whole series of novels; and he treated the
old theme with an originality which made it seem quite new. The stories
in which he most successfully varied it form a distinct group among his
works.

It was not beauty, at least not plastic beauty, which Balzac
worshipped in woman. And one thing that distinguished him from many
of his contemporaries was, that beauty did not impress him most when
seen through the medium of art. A great proportion of the Romantic
literature of France, as well as of Germany and Scandinavia, was art
literature. Such an art-loving author as, for instance, Gautier (who
soon became the head of a whole school), was actually prevented by
his love of art from appreciating reality. He himself has told how
disappointed he was the first time he went to paint a female figure
from the life in Rioult's studio, and this in spite of the unquestioned
beauty of the model and the classical grace of her outlines. "I have
always," he confesses, "preferred the statue to the woman, marble to
flesh." Significant words! Picture Gautier and Balzac together in the
museum of antiquities in the Louvre, in that holy of holies, where
the Venus of Milo shines in solitary majesty. The plastic poet hears,
resounding from the marble, the loveliest of all the hymns of Greek
art to the perfection of the human form. Gazing at Venus, he forgets
his surroundings. Not so Balzac! His attention is promptly diverted
from the goddess by the first Parisian lady who stops in front of her,
wearing, in the fashion of the day, a long shawl in which there is not
a fold from neck to heel, a coquettish hat, and tightly fitting gloves.
He takes in at a glance all the little artifices of the fashionable
toilette, the secrets of which are no secrets to him.[1]

Here, then, we have the first characteristic feature in Balzac's work.
No artistic tradition stands between him and the woman of the period.
He studied no statue, worshipped no goddess, did no homage to ideal
beauty; he saw and understood woman exactly as she was then, with her
gowns, shawls, gloves, and hats, her caprices, virtues, temptations,
and faults, her nerves and passions, with all their traces of
unnaturalness, morbidness, and ennui. He loves her as she is. And he
is not satisfied with studying her in the street, in the boudoir, or
even in the bedchamber; he is not satisfied with analysing her soul; he
inquires into the physiological causes of the psychological phenomena,
into the sufferings and the diseases of women. He does more than merely
indicate all that the weak and suffering sex silently endures.

The second characteristic feature is, that it is not the young girl,
nor even the young married woman, whom Balzac represents as the object
of love; his chief female type, which has taken its name from the title
of one of his stories, is _la femme de trente ans_. He discovered and
proclaimed the simple truth that in such a climate as that of the
north of France, a woman is not at her best, either physically or
spiritually, at the age of eighteen. He described the woman who has
left her first youth behind her, who feels more profoundly, thinks more
maturely, has already suffered disappointments, but is still capable
of intense, unalloyed feeling. Life has already set its mark upon
her--here a line of suffering, and there a wrinkle--but she is still in
full possession of all the attractions of her sex. She is melancholy;
she has tasted happiness and has tasted suffering, is misunderstood
or lonely; she has often been deceived, but is still waiting, capable
of inspiring the strong, ardent passions which draw their nourishment
from compassion. And, curiously enough, she is not seen and described
from the point of view of the man of her own age, but from that of a
younger man, with little experience of life. The vernal emotion, the
ardent desire, the naïve enthusiasm, the unconscious idealisation of
youthful passion, surround this no longer perfectly youthful figure
with a glorifying halo, embellish, rejuvenate, deify the woman whose
real attractions are her refinement, her feminine seriousness, and the
grace born of genuine passion. The delineation is never idealistic
in the sense that George Sand's delineations are; for nothing is
suppressed of what women, when they talk or write of their own sex, are
accustomed to ignore--of what even George Sand passes over in silence
when she is describing women for whom she desires to awaken sympathy
and admiration. To George Sand woman is above all a soul; to Balzac she
is a natural phenomenon, and therefore not flawless, either physically
or spiritually. His idealisation is either purely external (the
transfiguring power of certain lights, of the erotic situation, &c),
or else it consists in passion for a certain limited time invalidating
everything else, everything previous, and ennobling with its glow.
Maternal love, wifely love, the bashful tenderness of the young girl,
are painted by Balzac during this period with as masterly a touch as
the unbridled erotic passion of the courtesan.[2]

He shows us the Frenchwoman of four different historical periods.

First, the Frenchwoman of the days of the Revolution. In that
little masterpiece, _Le Réquisitionnaire_, one of his few perfectly
proportioned stories, he represents, with the Reign of Terror as a
background, a mother's love for her son. The little out-of-the-way
town and Madame de Dey's curious house are drawn with a few strokes.
Apprehension of the possible fate of a son who has been condemned to
death; the expectation of his arrival in the disguise of a soldier who
is to be quartered on her; the terrible anxiety, increasing from hour
to hour till late at night; the apparently mysterious arrival of the
young soldier who, unseen by the mistress of the house, is at once
conducted to the bedchamber comfortably prepared for him; the mother's
torturing restlessness and almost uncontrollable joy when she hears his
steps in the room above, but feels obliged, in order not to betray his
arrival, to continue her conversation in the drawing-room; her hurried
entrance into his room, and the frightful discovery that the person who
has arrived is not her son, but a real recruit--all this, compressed
into a few pages, is described with extraordinary power and truth to
nature.

Next Balzac paints the women of the Napoleonic period, upon a
background of military pomp and splendour, in all the glow and warmth
of their admiration for the successful warriors. His picture bears the
impress of the restless, pleasure-seeking haste with which life was
lived at a time when it was possible for the young woman "to become
fiancée, wife, mother, and widow between a first and a fifth bulletin
from the Grande Armée," and when the near prospect of widowhood or
honours or an immortal name, made the women more reckless and the
officers more seductive. A period and a distinct female type are
represented in the description of the review in the Tuileries Gardens,
and of the evening party at the time of the battle of Wagram (in _La
Femme de trente Ans_ and _La Paix du Ménage_).

But it is not until the plots of his stories are laid in the days of
the restored Legitimist monarchy that Balzac finds his true province,
and produces his most acutely observed, skilfully drawn female types
and his most wonderful psychological analyses. Eminently fitted as he
was, with his unshrinking eye and his hard hand, to paint the dullness
and the dishonesty of the reign of the Citizen King, he was poet enough
to look back regretfully from the prosaic days of the plutocracy to the
refined elegance and freer, gayer tone of the days of the Legitimist
Monarchy. That had still been an aristocratic period; and Balzac,
who, without any proper claim to the title, regarded himself as an
aristocrat, had no small respect for the aristocracy; the high-born,
well-bred, beautiful woman was in his eyes the flower of humanity.
He was of the generation that worshipped Napoleon; Napoleon's name
appears on every tenth page of his novels, and (like Victor Hugo) he
dreamed of rivalling, in his own domain of literature, the Emperor's
world-wide dominion; in his study stood a statuette of Napoleon, and
on the scabbard of the sword he had written: "What he has conquered
with the sword I will conquer with the pen." But, granted all this,
he nevertheless, with his dreams, his weaknesses, his vanities and
his refinements, belonged to the Legitimist Monarchy, for which,
moreover, the fact that his youth had been spent under it gave him a
warmer feeling. In the days of gilded state-coaches and old French
ceremonial, under the shelter of ecclesiasticism and frivolity, it had
been possible for liberal ideas and humane morals to thrive in the
higher classes of society; they disappeared when money ascended the
throne. The social life of Paris lost that refined charm for which it
had been so famous. It is not surprising, then, that Balzac painted
the fair sinners of the Faubourg St. Germain with a lenient hand and
flattering colours. One of the most eminent women of the day, the
charming Delphine de Girardin, whose salon was a fashionable resort,
was a true friend to Balzac as well as to Hugo and Gautier; but as far
as his works are concerned, he undoubtedly learned more from the two
duchesses who personified to him the greatness of Imperial France and
the gay refinement of the _ancien régime_, and with whom he became
intimate almost at the beginning of his literary career. These were
Madame Junot, the Duchess of Abrantés, whom he assisted in her literary
pursuits, and the Duchesse de Castries, who began their acquaintance by
writing anonymously to him of her interest in his works, and to whom a
probably unrequited passion on his side and violent jealousy on hers
long bound him. She appears in his _Histoire des Treize_ under the name
of the Duchesse de Langeais.

At the beginning of the Thirties, Balzac has, of course, not yet begun
to write of society under the Constitutional Monarchy, its women and
their passions. This happens later. And when it does happen, what we
observe is, that he as a rule envisages this new material much more
gloomily and austerely. The feeling of spring has vanished. Woman
and love still form the centre of interest in many of the books. But
affection has become passion and passion has become depravity. We
read little of unselfish feeling and innocent sympathies, much of
self-interested calculation, on the part of women as well as of men,
nay, especially on the part of women; even in love, and still more when
it is only a substitute for love which is described. In many of these
novels the courtesan thrusts the fine lady into the background, and
occasionally the former is represented as more disinterested than the
latter. Abysses of selfishness and vice open before the reader's eyes.


[1] _Cf_. Th. Gautier, _Portraits contemporains_, p. 108.

[2] See _Le Message, La Grenadière, La Femme abandonnée, La grande
Brétèche, Madame Firmiani, Une Fille d'Eve_, and _La Femme de trente
Ans_, which last work is a collection of stories not originally written
in connection with each other.



XV


BALZAC


Of the books published by Balzac in 1833 and 1834, two are especially
deserving of notice--the delicately wrought, classic tale,
_Eugénie Grandet_, and the powerful, fateful _Père Goriot_. In the
first-mentioned work Balzac competes with Molière (_l'Avare_) in the
second with no less a writer than Shakespeare (_King Lear_).

_Eugénie Grandet_ does not represent the full measure of Balzac's
talent, though he long went by the name of its author as a kind of
title of honour. The book interested because of its careful and
accurate descriptions of provincial life with its virtues and vices;
it could be recommended for family reading, because the heroine was a
chaste and noble-minded young girl; but its chief distinction lay in
the wonderful manner in which Balzac's genius makes of covetousness
and avarice, qualities of which hitherto only the comical side had
been displayed, imposing vices. He shows how the instinct of amassing
money, which it is the custom to regard as a laughable weakness, by
degrees stifles every human feeling, and, raising its terrible Medusa
head, tyrannises over the miser's surroundings; and he at the same
time makes the miser himself a more human figure. To Balzac he is not
the stereotyped comedy bourgeois, but a power-loving monomaniac, a
petrified enthusiast, a poet, who at the sight of his gold revels in
satisfied desire, but also in wild dreams. The miser is simply a man
who is more thoroughly impressed than other men with the truth that
money represents all human powers and pleasures. In the representation
of such a character, Balzac displays his peculiar gift, which is that
of producing a powerful effect with small means, with what others have
overlooked or despised. From the symbolic standpoint the horizon of
_Eugénie Grandet_ is not narrow; but it was narrow in comparison with
Balzac's characteristic and usual one.

In _Père Goriot_ it widens. Here it is not an out-of-the-way
provincial nook, but the great city of Paris which is studied, and
which is unrolled, like a panorama, before our eyes. And there is no
generalising and symbolising, as in _La Peau de Chagrin_; each class
of society and each character in each class is provided with its own
characteristic features. I have spoken of _King Lear_; but the story
of the two cold-hearted daughters and their father, full of deep
meaning and feeling as it is, is only in an external sense the theme of
the book. The real theme is the comparatively uncorrupted provincial
youth's introduction to the world of Paris, his gradual discovery of
the real nature of that world, his horror at the discovery, his refusal
to do what others do, his temptations, and his gradual, yet rapidly
completed, education for the life that is being lived around him.
Nothing more profound than this study of the development of Rastignac's
character has been produced by Balzac, or indeed by any modern
novelist. He shows with marvellous art how on every side, except where
men's words are dictated by hypocrisy or extreme naïveté, the young
man meets with the same conception of society and receives the same
advice. His relative and protectress, the charming and distinguished
Madame de Beauséant, says to him: "The more coldly you calculate, the
higher you will rise. Think of men and women simply as post-horses to
be left behind you, broken-winded, at each stage of your journey....
If you have any real feeling, hide it; never let it be suspected, or
you are lost.... If you can manage to make women think you clever, men
will soon believe that you are, unless you destroy their illusion too
rudely.... You will find out what society is--a company of dupes and
rogues. Be neither the one nor the other." And the escaped galley-slave
Vautrin says to him: "One must either force a way for one's self into
the heart of that crowd as a cannon-ball does, or sneak in like the
plague. Honesty is of no use. Men bend and submit to the power of
genius; they hate it, they try to calumniate it, because it takes
without sharing; but they yield if it persists; they adore it on their
bended knees if they have not succeeded in burying it in the mud....
I defy you to take two steps in Paris without stumbling on infernal
machinations. Hence the honest man is the common enemy. But who do you
suppose is the honest man? In Paris he is the man who keeps silence and
refuses to share."

Rastignac is the typical young Frenchman of that period. He is
talented, but not in any uncommon degree, and has no idealism beyond
that which is begotten by the inexperience of youth. Profoundly
impressed by all that he sees and experiences, he begins to aspire
with steadily diminishing conscientiousness, steadily growing desire,
after fortune's favours. How indignantly he repudiates the idea when
Vautrin first puts the old hypothetical question to him--whether, if
a mere act of will could do it, he would kill an unknown mandarin in
China to obtain the millions he desires! Yet how short a time elapses
before "the mandarin" is lying in his death-throes! Rastignac says to
himself at first, as all men do in their youth, that to resolve to
become great or wealthy at any cost is the same as to resolve to lie,
cheat, and cringe to and flatter those who have lied, cheated, cringed,
and flattered. Presently he dismisses the thought, determining not to
think at all, but to follow the instincts of his heart. There comes
a time when he is still too young to make definite calculations, but
old enough to be haunted by vague ideas and hazy visions, which, if
they could be chemically condensed, would leave no very pure deposit.
His liaison with the fashionable lady, Delphine de Nucingen, Goriot's
daughter, completes his education. And whilst he has been acquiring
a full and perfect understanding of that sum of small and great
meannesses which constitutes fashionable life, he has been influenced
by Vautrin's satirical cynicism. "One or two more such political
reflections, and you will see the world as it is. If he will but act
an occasional little virtuous scene, the man of superior powers may
satisfy all his fancies and receive loud applause from the fools in the
pit.... I give you leave to despise me to-day, being certain that ere
long you will love me. You will find in me those yawning abysses, those
great concentrated feelings, which the foolish call vices; but you will
never find me either cowardly or ungrateful."

Rastignac's eyes are opened; he sees all the shams by which he is
surrounded, sees that morals and laws are simply screens behind
which impudent vice acts unrestrainedly. Everywhere, everywhere,
sham respectability, sham friendship, sham love, sham kindness, sham
sacredness, sham marriages! With masterly skill Balzac has seized
and immortalised that moment in the young man's life when, as I have
already put it, his heart swells and becomes strangely heavy, and he
feels, when he looks about him, as if a fountain of scorn were surging
in his breast. "His reflections whilst he was dressing were of the
saddest and most depressing. Society appeared to him like an ocean of
mud, in which the man who dipped his foot at once sank up to the neck.
'In society men commit only mean crimes,' he said to himself; 'Vautrin
is greater.'" In the end, after he has taken all the measurements of
this hell, he settles down comfortably in it, and prepares to scale the
heights of society, to rise to the elevated official position which we
find him occupying when we meet him again in later novels.

Almost all Balzac's characteristic qualities stood him in good stead
in the evolution of this broadly planned work. His almost animal
liveliness, his inexhaustible flow of cutting epithet, lent themselves
naturally to the reproduction of the conversation of the mixed, shabby,
wanton, impudently clever company who sat at the table of the Pension
Vauquer. There are hardly any noble characters in the book, and the
author has consequently no opportunity of indulging in tasteless
pathos; but the reader has countless opportunities of rejoicing in the
unerring eye and the precision with which Balzac dissects the soul
of a criminal, a coquette, a millionaire, an envious old maid. The
neglected, disowned old father, from whom the book takes its title, is
by no means an entirely successful character. Père Goriot is a victim,
and Balzac always waxes sentimental over victims. With extremely bad
taste he calls the old man "the Christ of paternal love"; and to the
paternal love he imparts such a sensually hysterical character that he
almost disgusts us with it.[1] Nevertheless the fact that the
whole plot centres round this forsaken old man, upon whose heart his
own daughters trample, gives to the composition a satisfactory unity
and solidity. The whole Juvenal-like satire of society is concentrated,
is compressed, as it were, into an epigram, in the passage which
describes how Delphine does not visit her dying father because it is
imperative, if she desires to mount a step higher on the social ladder,
that she should avail herself of the long-coveted invitation to Madame
Beauséant's ball--a ball to which "the whole of Paris" is crowding
merely to spy with cruel curiosity for traces in the hostess's face of
the pain caused her by the engagement of her lover, the news of which
had only reached her that morning.

We follow Delphine as she drives, with Rastignac by her side, in her
own carriage to the ball. The young man, who is well aware that she
would drive over her father's corpse to show herself at this ball,
but who is neither able to give her up nor brave enough to incur her
displeasure by reproaching her, cannot refrain from saying a few
words about the old man's pitiable condition. The tears come into her
eyes. "I shall look ugly if I cry," she thinks; and they dry at once.
"To-morrow morning I shall go to my father," she says, "and nurse him,
and never leave his pillow." And she means what she says. She is not
a radically bad woman, but she is a living picture of the discords of
society; she belongs to the lower classes by birth, to the upper by
marriage; she is rich, but the humiliating conditions of her marriage
deprive her of the control of her fortune; she is pleasure-loving,
empty-minded, and ambitious. Balzac's creative power was not equal to
the production of a simple, pure, Shakespearean Cordelia; his region is
not the region of the noble; but he has created a Regan and a Goneril
who are more human and true to life than the great Englishman's.


[1] "Mon Dieu! pleurer, elle a pleuré?"--"La tête sur mon gilet," dit
Eugène.--"Oh! donnez-le-moi, ce gilet," dit le père Goriot.



XVI


BALZAC


One day in 1836 Balzac appeared in his sister's room in the wildest of
spirits. Imitating the gestures of a drum-major with his thick cane
(on the cornelian handle of which was engraved in Turkish a sultan's
motto: "I am the destroyer of obstacles"), he shouted to her during
the pauses of an accompaniment of martial music made with his tongue:
"Congratulate me, little one, for I am on the point of becoming a
genius." He had conceived the idea of combining all his novels, those
already published and those yet to be written, into one great work--_La
Comédie Humaine_.

The plan was stupendous and perfectly original; nothing of the kind
existed in any known literature; it was a product of the same genius
for systématisation which at the beginning of his career had inspired
him with the idea of writing a series of historical romances embracing
a succession of centuries. But this was a far more interesting and
fertile idea. For, if the work were successful, it would possess the
same force of illusion as if it dealt with historic facts, and it
would, moreover, not merely be a little fragment of life symbolically
and artistically enlarged into an image of the whole, but might justly
lay claim to be, in the scientific sense of the word, a whole. In the
_Divina Commedia_ Dante had, as it were, focussed all the philosophy
and experience of life of the Middle Ages; his ambitious rival purposed
giving to the world by means of two to three thousand characters, which
each represented hundreds of others, a complete psychology of all the
different classes of French society, and thus, indirectly, of his age.

It is undeniable that the result was something unique.

Balzac's country has, like the real country, its ministers, its judges,
its generals, its financiers, manufacturers, merchants, and peasants.
It has its priests, its town and country doctors, its men of fashion,
its painters, sculptors, and designers, its poets, prose authors, and
journalists, its old and its newly created aristocracy, its vain and
unfaithful, and its lovable, victimised wives, its authoresses of
genius and its provincial blue-stockings, its old maids, its actresses,
and its host of courtesans. And the illusion is astonishing and
complete.

The personages reappear in one after another of the numerous novels; we
make acquaintance with them in all the different stages of their lives;
they are constantly being alluded to by other characters when they do
not appear themselves; the descriptions of their appearance, dress,
homes, habits, and daily life are as minute and exact as if they had
been given by a dressmaker, a doctor, a tradesman, or a lawyer, and at
the same time so vivid that we feel as if we must certainly find the
person described either in the street and house indicated as his home,
or else paying a call upon the distinguished lady whose salon is the
rendezvous of all the people of fashion in the novels. It seems almost
impossible that these beings, one and all, should be mere figments of
the brain; we involuntarily think of the France of that day as peopled
by them.

And it is the whole of France. For Balzac described in their turn towns
and districts in every part of the country.[1] Far from despising
the provinces, he took a pride in displaying his intimate knowledge
of all the peculiarities of their stagnant life, of their virtues,
all culminating in resignation, and their vices, the offspring of
narrow-mindedness. But Paris in a very special manner lives in his
pages. And Balzac's Paris is not the old city of _Notre-Dame de Paris_,
the picturesque, medieval capital with its marked social contrasts,
its animated street life, and its superstitious ecclesiasticism; still
less is it Victor Hugo's ideal Paris, that impossible New Jerusalem of
intellect and enlightenment; it is the real modern city with its joy,
its sorrow, and its shame--the entrancing wonder of our own age, which
throws the seven of antiquity into the shade--the gigantic polypus with
the hundred thousand tentacles which drag everything, near and far,
into its clutches--the great cancer eating into France. The Paris of
the author's own day lives in his books, with its narrow streets, of
which he gives Rembrandt-like etchings, with its rattle and shrieks,
its street cries in the early morning and its mighty evening chorus of
voices--a sea of sound which he reproduces for us with an orchestral
effect, reminding us of the men initiated into the mysteries of old,
who seemed to have eaten drums and drunk cymbals.[2] Balzac knows about
everything in Paris--the architecture of the houses, the furniture of
the rooms, the pedigrees of the fortunes, the successive owners of the
valuable objects of art, the ladies' toilettes, the dandies tailors'
bills, the lawsuits which divide families, the state of health, means
of subsistence, needs, and desires of all the different classes of the
population. He had absorbed the town through every pore. Contemporary
novelists sought refuge from the mist-veiled sun of Paris and the
commonplace modern Parisian, in Spain, or Africa, or the East; but to
Balzac no sun was fairer than that which shone on Paris. Those about
him endeavoured to conjure forth the shades of a distant or departed
beauty: but to him ugliness was no more repulsive than the nettle is
to the botanist, the snake to the zoologist, or disease to the doctor.
He would never, in Faust's place, have called Helen from the grave; he
would have been much more likely to send for his friend Vidocq, the
Prefect of Police and quondam criminal, and get him to tell tales of
what he had gone through and seen and heard.

By dint of observation he amasses an enormous collection of separate
traits, and the cataloguing of these traits frequently makes the
introductory part of his novel tiresome and confusing; at the end of
an interminable description of a house, a figure, a face, a nose,
the reader sees nothing, is simply bored. But then comes a moment
when the author's glowing imagination melts and fuses together all
these commonplace elements presented to it by his faithful memory,
as Benvenuto Cellini melted down plates and spoons and from them
cast his Perseus. Goethe says (in his diary of February 26, 1780):
"The collecting and putting together of details does not help me to
understand. But after I have long occupied myself in dragging together
sticks and straws, and have attempted to warm myself in vain, although
there is fire at the heart of the heap and smoke everywhere, suddenly
the flame springs up and the whole is in a blaze." In Balzac's novels
the descriptive parts are often smothered in smoke, but the flame never
fails to burst forth.

For Balzac was not merely an observer; he was a seer. If he happened to
meet a workman and his wife going home from the theatre between eleven
and twelve at night, he as likely as not followed them the whole way
to their little house beyond the outer boulevards. He heard them talk
(the mother dragging their child after her by the hand) first of the
play, then of their own affairs. They talked of the money that was to
be paid them next day, spending it in imagination in twenty different
ways, quarrelling during the process and revealing their characters in
the squabble. And Balzac listened so intently to their complaints of
the length of the winter, the dearness of potatoes, the rise in the
price of turf, that he at last lived their life, and, as we are told in
his _Facino Cane_, "felt their rags upon his back and walked with his
feet in their soleless shoes." Their dreams, their necessities, entered
into his soul, and he went about in a kind of waking dream. Whilst this
mental intoxication lasted he gave up all his usual habits and became
something different from himself, became the age. He did not only write
his stories, he lived them; his fictitious characters were so vividly
present to him that he spoke of them to his acquaintances as if they
actually existed. When he undertook a journey to a place he wished to
describe, he would say: "I am going to Alençon, where Mademoiselle
Carmon lives; to Grenoble, where Dr. Bénassis lives." He used to give
his sister the news of his imaginary world. "Do you know who it is
Félix de Vandenesse is marrying? A Mademoiselle de Grandville. It is
a good match, in spite of all Mademoiselle de Bellefeuille has cost
the family." One day when Jules Sandeau was speaking of his sister,
who was ill, Balzac, who had been listening absently for some time,
suddenly said: "This is all very well, my friend; but now to return
to _realities_--let us talk of Eugénie Grandet." It was necessary
that the illusion in his own case should be as strong as this, if
he was to communicate it to others with approximate strength. His
imagination had the commanding power which allows no doubt to arise. It
exercised this quality in practical matters too. Amongst the hundreds
of projects which occurred to him as possible means of freeing himself
from debt, was that of covering the bare fields surrounding the little
country-house of Les Jardies (which he had bought that he might have
a security to give his mother) with enormous forcing-houses, which,
because of the entire absence of shelter from the sun's rays, would
require very little artificial heat. In these forcing-houses a hundred
thousand pine-apples were to be grown, which, sold at five francs each,
instead of at the ordinary price of twenty, would yield the fortunate
grower a yearly income of 400,000 francs "without his requiring to
produce a scrap of manuscript." With such convincing eloquence did
the originator of this plan demonstrate the absolute certainty of its
success, that his friends actually looked out for a shop on one of the
boulevards for the retail of the pine-apples, and consulted him as to
the form and colour of the signboard. At another time he was firmly
persuaded, I know not upon what grounds, that he had discovered the
place in the outskirts of Paris where Toussaint Louverture had buried
his treasure; and so successful was he in communicating his belief
to his friends Sandeau and Gautier, neither of them particularly
simple-minded persons, that these two gentlemen armed themselves with
spades and stole like criminals out of Paris at five o'clock in the
morning to dig at the spot indicated--naturally to find nothing. The
expression, "the _power_ of imagination," is peculiarly applicable in
Balzac's case.

And this imagination which prevailed over others was his own tyrant.
It gave him no peace. Not satisfied with the conception of plans, with
the sweet, but barren joy of artistic dreams, it compelled him to be
continually carrying out his plans, to keep himself in that habit of
producing, without which inspiration so soon vanishes.

When, writing in _La Cousine Bette_ of the gifted sculptor, Wenceslas
Steinbockes idleness, he quotes these words of "a great writer": "I
sit down to my work with despair and rise from it with sorrow," he is
obviously in a half-modest way quoting himself. And he adds: "If the
artist does not fling himself, without reflecting, into his work, as
Curtius flung himself into the yawning gulf, as the soldier flings
himself into the enemy's trenches, and if, once in this crater, he does
not work like a miner on whom the walls of his gallery have fallen
in; if he contemplates difficulties instead of overcoming them one by
one ... he is simply looking on at the suicide of his own talent."
The method of production which he describes is his own; but it is not
the only, not even the highest method. More tranquil, less modern
spirits have kept their heads clear and their eyes undimmed above the
seething crater of their work; and by doing so have preserved a sound
critical sense which has prevented them from ever becoming as tediously
entangled in their material as the author of _Le Curé de Village_ and
_Le Medicin de Campagne_. But, on the other hand, a certain dull glow,
a thrilling, enthralling something which has become a necessity to
modern nerves, is too often lacking in their works.

In the long preface to the _Comédie Humaine_ Balzac sets forth his
intentions and his aim. He begins by expressing his contempt for
the usual method of writing history. "In reading those dry and most
unattractive registers of events which go by the name of history, we
observe," he writes, "that the historians of all countries and ages
have forgotten to give us the history of morals." This deficiency
he intends, as far as it lies in his power, to supply. He purposes
producing a record of the passions, virtues, and vices of society by
condensing kindred characters into types--thus, with patience and
perseverance, writing the book which Rome, Athens, Tyre, Memphis, and
Persia "have unfortunately neglected to bequeath to us." We see what a
low opinion Balzac has of history. His extremely slight acquaintance
with it made it easier for him to be contemptuous. Nor was he himself
really the historian of his age; he was, to use his own striking and
correct expression, its naturalist. He followed the lead of Geoffroy
St. Hilaire, who demonstrated the unity of structure of all the
different species. Among scientists he felt himself a scientist, a
professor of sociology. "Society produces from man, according to
environment, as many different men as there are species in zoology.
The difference between soldier, labourer, official, lawyer, idler,
scientist, statesman, merchant, sailor, poet, priest, is, though more
difficult to grasp, quite as great as the difference between wolf,
lion, horse, raven, shark, seal, and cow." The analogy is not complete,
partly because, as Balzac himself immediately admits, the wife and
husband of society do not always correspond to each other as do the
male and female of the zoologist, partly because it is in the power of
the social individual to pass from one class or calling to another,
whereas in nature transition from one species to another is impossible
during the lifetime of an individual.

What Balzac really means, and what is perfectly true, is that the
standpoint from which he views society corresponds exactly, as a rule,
to the standpoint from which the scientist investigates nature. He
never moralises and condemns; he never, in this unlike most of his
fellows, allows himself to be led by disgust or enthusiasm to describe
otherwise than truthfully; to him, as to the naturalist, nothing is too
small, nothing too great to be examined and explained. Seen through
the microscope, the spider is larger and more complicatedly organised
than the hugest elephant; regarded from the scientific standpoint, the
majestic lion is only a pair of jaws upon four legs. The kind of food
determines the shape of tooth, jaw, shoulder-blade, muscle, and claw,
and explains the majesty. And in exactly the same manner, that which
under certain circumstances seems a foul, despicable crime, reveals
itself, regarded from another standpoint, to be a miniature edition of
one of the grand, brilliant vices of which history tells--and this is
Balzac's standpoint.

Even in as early a work as _Eugénie Grandet_ we come upon expressions
which prove it. The time is approaching when Eugénie will be forced to
confess to the miser who is her father that she no longer possesses
her ducats, that she has actually given them away. "Three days later,"
writes Balzac, "a terrible drama was to be enacted--a bourgeois
tragedy without poison, dagger, or bloodshed, yet more cruel than any
of those which happened in the famous family of the Atrides." This
is as much as to say: My middle-class novel is more tragic than your
classic tragedy. In _Père Goriot_, when the mistress of the famous
boarding-house is loudly and despairingly bewailing the departure of
her boarders, Balzac remarks: "The lamentations which Lord Byron has
put into the mouth of Tasso are beautiful, but they lack the profound
truth of Madame Vauquer's." Which means: The pettiness and vulgarity
which I describe, is, vigorously apprehended, more interesting than
all your noble generalities. In _César Birotteau_ Balzac not only
makes jesting reference in his titles to Montesquieu's famous book
on the Roman Empire, but, with the audacity of genius, compares
his elaborate, lengthy description of a clever Parisian perfumer's
successes and misfortunes with the story of the Trojan wars and the
changeful fortunes of Napoleon. "Troy and Napoleon are only heroic
epics. May this tale be an epic of middle-class life, of destinies to
which no poet has turned his attention, so destitute of all greatness
do they appear. Its subject is not a single man, but a whole host
of sufferings." Which is as much as to say: In literature nothing
is in itself little or great; in a poor hairdresser's struggle for
existence I can read a heroic poem; I show how the events of a humble
private life, if we connect them with their causes and trace these
back to their source, are as important, as interesting and engrossing
as the great revolutions in the lives of nations. And when, in that
masterpiece, _Un Ménage de Garçon_, the cunning, handsome bravo, Max
Gilet, is killed in a duel, the author observes: "Thus died one of
those men who are capable of great things when their environment is
favourable; a man whom nature had treated like a spoiled child, for she
had given him the courage, the coolness, and the political sagacity of
a Cæsar Borgia." So effective is the last of these reflections, that
the reader feels as if he had not understood Max's character until now,
when he sees it in the light of this name.

And virtue is in Balzac's eyes just as much of a result as vice.
Although he is at times weakly sentimental and bombastic in his
descriptions of dutifulness and benevolence, to which he moreover
imparts a strong Roman Catholic colouring, he never fails to direct
attention to the sources of the virtues he describes, which are to be
found, now in a natural frigidity of the senses, now in pride, now in
unconscious calculation, now in inherited nobility of sentiment, now
in feminine remorse, masculine simple-mindedness, or the pious hope of
reward in a future life.

_Un Ménage de Garçon, Cousine Bette_, and _Les Illusions perdues_ are
works which ought to be read by any one who is desirous of appreciating
the growth of their author's literary powers during the last stage of
his career.

The first, which is one of Balzac's least known and read novels, is an
admirable psychological analysis of the life of a small country-town
and of a family with branches there and in Paris. The chief character
is a decayed officer of Napoleon's Guards, originally a strong,
energetic character, now the personification of brutal, passionate
egoism. He is the _miles gloriosus_ of antiquity, except that in place
of being cowardly he is vicious. The second novel mentioned, _La
Cousine Bette_, a well-known and much read one, gives an incomparable
realistic representation of the ruinous power of the erotic passion.
Even Shakespeare (in _Antony and Cleopatra_) does not treat the theme
in a more masterly and convincing manner. _Les Illusions perdues_ is
devoted to demonstrating the degrading results of the abuse of the
press.

The title of this last novel is characteristic of Balzac. It might,
in a manner, be the title of his complete works. But no other single
book of his gives such a good general idea of his attitude to modern
civilisation. The pernicious side of the influence of the newspaper
press is treated as the dark side of public life generally.

Like most great authors who have not lived to be old, Balzac had
little reason to rejoice over the criticism meted out to him by the
press. He was not understood. Even the best critics, men of the type
of Sainte-Beuve, were too unlike him and too near to him in time
to understand his greatness. He lived a solitary life; contrary to
Parisian custom he took no steps to get his books praised; and, as
usually happens, such success as he earned procured him as much envy
as fame. In _Les Illusions perdues_ he gave a picture of the press
which the insulted journalists never forgave him. The most eminent of
them was Jules Janin. His portrait was, not exactly ill-naturedly, but
far from flatteringly painted in the novel under the name of Etienne
Lousteau. This made and still makes his criticism of the book very
amusing. It appeared in the _Revue de Paris_, a periodical to which
Balzac had been a regular contributor until he brought and gained a
lawsuit against it, after which it naturally treated him as an outlaw.
It is a malicious, trivial, witty piece of writing, which has not
survived the book it was intended to ruin.

A young, poor provincial poet, beautiful as a god, but of weak
character and mediocre talent, is brought to Paris by the Muse of the
Department, an elegant, aristocratic bluestocking. They are in love
with each other, and it has been the lady's intention to allow him to
play the part of her accepted lover in the capital; but when she is
received with open arms by the fashionable world, she suddenly sees
herself and her knight in a new light. Coldness and neglect on her part
ensue; Lucien is thrown into the shade by a more than middle-aged man
of the world. And now we are called on to observe the stages of another
of the many processes by which provincials are educated into Parisians.
Lucien hopes to make his way as an author; he has written a novel in
Sir Walter Scott's style and a volume of poems; he is received into a
little circle of poor, proud young authors, artists, and scientific
men, chosen spirits, to whom the future of France belongs. But the
months of poverty, self-denial, laborious study, and ideal hope are too
long for him; he pines for immediate pleasure and fame, for revenge
upon all who humiliated him when he was the ignorant country prophet.
The so-called "minor press" offers him the chance of completely
satisfying his desire; his head is turned, and he plunges, without
cause to advocate or principle to uphold, into daily journalism.

Lousteau takes him to the shop of a rich Palais-Royal bookseller and
newspaper proprietor. "Each time the bookseller opened his lips he grew
in Lucien's eyes; the young man seemed to see politics and literature
converging towards this shop as their true centre. To find an eminent
poet prostituting his muse to a journalist ... was a terrible lesson
to the great man from the country.... Money! in that word lies the
solution of every problem. He is lonely, unknown, has only a doubtful
friendship to look to for happiness. He blames his true and sorrowing
friends of the literary brotherhood for having painted the world to him
in false colours and having hindered him from rushing, pen in hand,
into the great mêlée." From the bookshop Lousteau and Lucien make their
way to the theatre. Lousteau, as a journalist, is welcome everywhere.
The manager tells them how a conspiracy against the play has been
defeated by means of a free use of the purses of his two prettiest
actresses' wealthy admirers. "During these last two hours Lucien had
heard of nothing but money. Everything had resolved itself into money.
At the theatre and in the bookshop, with publisher and with editor,
there had been no question of art or real merit. He felt as if the huge
stamping-machine of the mint were imprinting its mark with dull, heavy
blows on his head and heart." His literary conscience evaporates, and
he becomes the literary and dramatic critic of an impudent, stupid
newspaper. Loved and supported by an actress, he sinks ever deeper in
the life led by the man who has sold his pen. He goes over from the
Liberals to the Conservatives. The depth of his degradation is most
strongly borne in upon us in the scene where, having been compelled by
his editor to write a malicious attack on an admirable book written
by the best and noblest of his own friends (Balzac's ideal author),
he is found knocking at this friend's door, on the evening before
the article appears, to beg his forgiveness. Outward is soon added
to inward misery. His mistress dies, and he is in such straits that
he has to write obscene songs sitting by her death-bed, to raise the
money for her funeral expenses. He ends by accepting from her maid a
louis which the woman has just earned in a shameful manner, and with it
paying his journey home to his native village. And all this bears the
stamp of truth--horrible truth. In this one book Balzac renounces the
impartiality of the scientific observer. Everywhere else he preserves
his equanimity; here he chastises with scorpions.


[1] Issoudun in _Un Ménage de Garçon_, Douai in _Le Recherche de
l'Absolu_, Alençon in _La vieille Fille_, Besançon in _Albert Savarus_,
Saumur in _Eugénie Grandet_, Angoulême in _Les deux Poètes_, Tours in
_Le Curé de Tours_, Limoges in _Le Curé de Village_, Sancerre in _La
Muse du Département_. &c.

[2] See the introduction to the indecent story, _La Fille aux Yeux
d'Or_, in which the hurry, the crowdedness, the whole spirit of
Parisian life, is represented with an incomparable skill in the art of
word-painting.



XVII


BALZAC


In his history of France Michelet dates a new epoch in the intellectual
life of that country from the period when coffee came into general use
as a beverage. This is pushing an idea to the extreme; but there would
be no exaggeration in asserting that in Voltaire's style we can trace
an inspiration of coffee, just as we can trace an inspiration of wine
in the style of earlier authors. Balzac's method of working obliged him
to refresh himself during his long, fatiguing nights of labour with
an injurious quantity of coffee. It has been aptly said: "He lived on
50,000 cups of coffee and died of 50,000 cups of coffee."

One is conscious in his works of his ceaseless toil and of his nervous
excitement, but it is probable that if he had worked more calmly he
would not have communicated the same life to them. While we are reading
his pages we feel the confused tumult of the great capital, its furious
competition, its fever of work and pleasure, the sleepless whirr of the
great loom. All these hearths and lamps and furnaces have lent some
of their fire to his books. He was in his native element when he had
work before him and behind him and round him--when, like a sailor in
mid-ocean who sees nothing but sea, he saw nothing but work as far as
his sight could reach.

During the last seventeen years of his life his labours were
interrupted and enlivened by intellectual intercourse with a lady who
lived at a great distance from Paris, to whom he wrote almost every
day. We have an account of this friendship, only slightly disguised, in
_Albert Savarus_.

In February 1832 a young Polish Countess, Madame Evelina Hanska, then
aged twenty-six or twenty-eight, wrote an anonymous letter to Balzac,
in which she thanked him for his writings and tried to persuade him
to look on things from a more spiritual point of view. This led to a
correspondence between them. Madame Hanska, a gifted, highly educated
woman, belonged by birth to the famous Rzewuski family; the eminent
Polish author, Henri Rzewuski, was her brother. Her husband was a rich
old man, an invalid, with a peculiar temper. They lived a very lonely
life on their estate in Little Russia, and literature and Balzac were
her only interests.

Balzac and she had first met at Neuchatel in Switzerland early in 1833,
but on this occasion they were only for a few minutes alone together;
in December of the same year, however, they spent six weeks together
at Geneva, and, before they parted, agreed that they would marry
whenever Countess Hanska became a widow. Henceforward they met almost
every year, in Switzerland or Austria; and they carried on a constant
correspondence. There is not the slightest doubt that Balzac was
devotedly attached to Countess Hanska, although his devotion to her did
not prevent his having numerous liaisons with other women. She was his
guiding star, and he felt impelled to communicate all his thoughts and
all the events of his life to her.

She undoubtedly loved him in return, with a love which was partly real
passion, partly satisfied vanity; but Balzac's letters to her show that
she never ceased tormenting him with her passionate jealousy. He had
begun to cool when a meeting in Vienna in 1835, arranged by Countess
Hanska, fanned the sinking fire of his passion into a blaze again.
After this a number of years passed without their seeing each other. In
1841 Madame Hanska in her turn manifested a certain coldness, born of
suspicion; and after Count Hanska's death, which happened in November
of that year, she does not seem to have shown much inclination to marry
Balzac. But the agreement remained in force, and Balzac's one wish was
to marry the woman he loved. She held back. They did not meet till 1843
(in St. Petersburg). In 1845 they met in Paris, in 1847 at her home
at Vierzchovnia; and there Balzac spent part of 1848 and the whole of
1849. But it was not till 1850, when his health was already undermined,
that Madame Hanska consented to marry him. A fatal affection of the
heart, the consequence of years of over-exertion, had declared itself
before the wedding took place at Berditsjev in March 1850. Three months
from that date Balzac was dead. He had furnished a beautiful house in
Paris for himself. His friends were reminded of the Turkish proverb:
"When the house is ready, Death enters."

Short as was the married life of the couple, it was long enough for
Balzac to discover how mistaken had been his estimate of the woman he
had worshipped and treated as a higher being for years. She seems to
have been in reality a very heartless creature, with an ill-regulated
mind; and her youthful passion for the great author had entirely
evaporated. In Victor Hugo's book, _Choses Vues_, he tells how in June
1850, hearing disquieting reports of Balzac's condition, he went to
inquire after him. The door was opened by a maid-servant, who said:
"Monsieur is dying. Madame has gone to her own room." Hugo went up to
Balzac's bedroom, and found an old woman, a nurse, and a man-servant
standing by the bed. The old woman was Balzac's mother. His wife was
not with him in his last moments.

It is difficult to define her influence upon him as a writer; but it
was inconsiderable. To it we owe the fanciful Swedenborgian romance,
_Séraphita_, and the delicately finished, clever story, _Modeste
Mignon_.

Death came when Balzac's intellectual powers were in their zenith. He
never wrote better than in the last year of his life. Hence his fame,
too, was at its height. It had grown slowly. The first score of his
novels gained him no widespread reputation among the general public;
but they attracted the attention of the men of talent of the younger
generation, who gathered round him and watched the progress of his
literary career with the deepest interest. To those of them who wished
to succeed in literature he recommended three things--diligence,
a solitary life, and (this half in jest) the vow of chastity. He
sanctioned correspondence with the object of their affections, because
"letter-writing forms one's style." The young men were astonished to
receive such advice from a man whose books were invariably greeted by
the press with angry shrieks of offended morality; they had yet to
learn that the charge of immorality is the invariable insult hurled by
literary impotence at everything in literature that is vigorous and
virile. In spite of all the attacks upon it, his name was held in ever
more honourable repute, and at the time of his death his contemporaries
had almost grasped the fact that in Balzac they possessed one of
the really great authors who imbue a whole school of art with their
spirit. Not only had he laid the foundation of the modern style of
novel-writing, but--true son of a century during which science has
penetrated ever farther into the domain of art--he had introduced a
method of observation which could be followed by others. His name in
itself was a great name, but the name of the founder of a school is
Legion.

The fact that he did not obtain full recognition in his lifetime is
explained by two deficiencies in his works.

His style was uncertain. It was at times vulgarly trivial, at times
bombastic. And deficiency in the matter of style is a serious
deficiency; because what distinguishes art from that which is not
art, is just that determined exclusion of what is almost, but not
quite right, to which we give the name of style. It is, moreover,
a particularly objectionable deficiency in the eyes of Frenchmen,
with their keen rhetorical sense. But after Balzac's death his works
began to be much read abroad as well as in France, and foreigners
made very light of this shortcoming of his. The man who understands
a language well enough to read it, but has not sufficient knowledge
to appreciate all its refinements, easily forgives sins of style when
they are compensated for by rare and attractive qualities. And this
was the position of the great novel-reading European public. Educated
Italians, Austrians, Poles, Russians, &c, read Balzac with unalloyed
pleasure, paying small heed to the inequality of his style. The fault
will, however, undoubtedly affect the duration of his work. Nothing
formless or only half-formed endures. The great _Comédie Humaine_ (like
the 10,000 stadia long painting which Aristotle maintained would not be
a work of art at all) will not be regarded by posterity in the light
of a single work, and the length of time during which its separate
fragments retain their place in the literature of the world will be
exactly proportioned to the degree of artistic perfection possessed
by each. After the lapse of a few centuries they are not likely to be
read simply because of the material they provide for the student of the
history of civilisation.

To deficiency in the matter of form Balzac adds a much greater
deficiency in the matter of abstract ideas. It was impossible that
the man who was great only as a writer of fiction should receive full
recognition in his lifetime. Men had become accustomed to see in the
author the spiritual guide, and Balzac was certainly not that. His
great powers as an analyst of the human soul were obscured by his total
want of understanding of the emancipatory religious and social ideas of
his age, ideas which so early aroused George Sand's enthusiasm, and had
such a powerful influence on Victor Hugo, Lamartine, and others. His
political and religious doctrines, which were a species of homage to
absolutism and Catholic orthodoxy, were obnoxious to many. At first men
smiled when the sensuous writer with the reformatory ideas quoted the
dogmatists of the white banner, Joseph de Maistre and Bonald; but by
degrees they comprehended the confusion that reigned in his mind.

The sensuousness of his temperament and the unbridled strength of his
imagination inclined Balzac to mysticism in both science and religion.
Animal magnetism, which from about 1820 onwards plays such a prominent
part in literature, was a power in the influence of which over men's
minds he had a strong belief. In _La Peau de Chagrin, Séraphita_, and
_Louis Lambert_, will is defined as a force resembling steam, as "a
fluid which according to its density can alter everything, even natural
laws." In spite of the modernity of his intellect Balzac was enough
of the Romanticist to believe in clairvoyance, and to have a leaning
generally to the occult sciences. Nevertheless, in spite of the bias
given to his mind by his age, the age of Romanticism, he belonged, as
Victor Hugo said at his grave, "whether he knew it and desired it or
not, to the mighty race of revolutionary authors."

His nature and education prepared him to understand life in all its
fulness, and, by virtue of this understanding, to enjoy it; but, early
initiated into the corruption of society, his horrified, order-loving
mind sought for a bit and bridle for erring humanity, and could find
it in nothing but the restored Church. Hence the painful contradiction
between sensual and aesthetic tendencies which we so often find in
Balzac's writings, especially when he is treating of the relations
between the sexes. It is this contradiction which gives an unpleasant,
impure tone to _Le Lys dans la Vallée_ (which Balzac himself considered
his masterpiece) and _Les Mémoires de deux jeunes Mariés_. And it also
explains how his philosophic principles and his ecclesiastical leanings
so often contradict each other. In the preface to the complete edition
of his works he first asserts that man is originally neither good nor
bad, and that society invariably makes him better, thus unconsciously
declaring himself directly opposed to the Church's fundamental doctrine
of the corruption of man by sin; a few lines farther on he extols
Catholicism as the "only perfect system for the suppression of the
corrupt tendencies of humanity," and demands that the education of
the nation shall be entrusted to the clergy. His conviction of the
existence of those "corrupt tendencies" led him almost always to
regard and represent the lower classes, servants and peasants, as the
enemies of the propertied class (see his comic pathos on the subject
of servants in _Cousine Bette_ and his peasants in _Les Paysans_);
and he enjoyed making sallies against the populace and democracy, the
Liberals, the two Chambers, and parliamentary government, from the
vantage ground of clericalism and absolutism.

With all his great and brilliant qualities there was something wanting
in Balzac, the something which goes by the name of culture. He lacked
its calm, or, to be more exact, his restless, perpetually producing
imaginative mind never enjoyed the calm which is a condition of culture.

But he possessed what is more important in an author--profoundly
penetrating, truth-loving genius. Those who seek merely the beautiful,
describe only the stem and flower of the human plant; Balzac drew
it with its roots; to him it was of most moment to trace all the
ramifications and workings of that underground life of the plant which
conditions its visible life. The flaws in his artistic and intellectual
culture will not prevent posterity from recognising his genius.



XVIII


BEYLE


From the standpoint of our own day we see side by side with Balzac
another French author whom it would never have occurred to any one
in their day to couple with him, and whose literary existence was as
quiet and unremarked as Balzac's was noisy and obtrusive. Curiously
enough, Balzac was the only one of Henri Beyle's contemporaries who
accorded him full, unqualified recognition. In the eyes of the younger
generation of the France of to-day, Beyle and Balzac complement each
other as unmistakably as do Lamartine and Victor Hugo. It may seem in
so far inappropriate to couple the names of the two authors, that the
one wrote close on a hundred novels, the other only two of any length;
but the quality of Beyle's two is so remarkable that they entitle their
author to rank with the father of the modern novel; and certain of his
other works (he wrote, reckoning everything--novels, tales, critical
and theoretical essays, biographies, and descriptions of travel--a
score of volumes) have exercised as great a literary influence as have
his novels.

Beyle's relation to Balzac is that of the reflective to the observant
mind, of the thinker in art to the seer. We see into the hearts of
Balzac's characters, into the "dark red mill of passion," which is the
motive force of their actions; Beyle's characters receive their impulse
from the head, "the open light-and-sound chamber";[1] the reason being
that Beyle was a logician and Balzac a man of an effusively rich animal
nature. Beyle stands to Victor Hugo in much the same position as
Leonardo da Vinci to Michael Angelo. Hugo's plastic imagination creates
a supernaturally colossal and muscular humanity, fixed in an eternal
attitude of struggle and suffering; Beyle's mysterious, complicated,
refined intellect produces a small series of male and female portraits
which exercise an almost magic fascination on us with their far-away,
enigmatic expressions and their sweet, seductive, wicked smiles. Of
course, Michael Angelo towers as high above Victor Hugo as Leonardo
does above Beyle; but just as there is a resemblance in Hugo's style
to the style of Michael Angelo's Moses, so there is a kinship between
Beyle's Duchess of Sanseverina and Leonardo's Mona Lisa; and, in spite
of the immense superiority of the great Italians, the resemblance
in the relative positions of the two artists and the two authors is
striking. Beyle is the metaphysician among the French authors of his
day, as Leonardo was the metaphysician among the great painters of the
Renaissance.

We have already encountered Beyle as one of the leaders in the
advanced-guard attacks upon the conventional French tragedy style
and the patriotism of the Classicists, which ignored ail foreign
literature simply as being foreign. In those engagements he was one of
the first to break the enemy's ranks; no one dealt more crushing blows
to the Imperialist men of letters than this writer, who in a manner
was himself distinctly a Frenchman of the Empire. Indeed, the very
circumstance that he was the only one of the great authors of 1830 who
had really known the Empire, gives him a prominently peculiar position
in the Romantic group. This man alone among them all had been present
at the battle of Marengo and the entry into Milan, the battle of Jena
and the entry into Berlin, had seen the burning of Moscow and shared
in the horrors of the retreat through Russia. He alone among them all
had spoken to Napoleon and had known Byron. He was only a year younger
than Nodier; but Nodier as forerunner was not much more than a herald
whose trumpet-blast announced and awakened, whereas Beyle as forerunner
was a doughty trooper with lance and pennon, one of those Uhlans who
capture a town single-handed. In Nodier's intellectual life the French
Revolution was the great event which dominated everything--he never
wearied of describing its heroes and its victims, its prison scenes,
its conspiracies, secret societies, &c; in Beyle's, Napoleon's career
and fall were the facts of vital importance.

[Illustration: STENDHAL]

Marie Henri Beyle was born at Grenoble on the 23rd of January 1783.
His family belonged to the upper middle class, the aristocracy of the
law. When only eight years old he lost his mother, a loss which he felt
deeply and to which his thoughts perpetually recurred. His father was a
reserved man, who took little notice of his children, and treated them
with extreme severity. He entrusted the education of his son to needy
abbés, whom the boy hated, regarding them as tyrants and hypocrites.
Between him and his father there was early kindled a feeling of real
animosity, which was never extinguished. Everything good that fell to
Henri's lot in childhood came to him through his maternal grandfather,
a clever and cultured doctor; but so strictly were his father's
cruelly severe educational principles adhered to, that at the age of
fourteen he was not acquainted with more than two or three children
of his own age. This boy, in whose nature there lay germs of profound
originality, in whose character determined independence was a main
feature, whose energetic temperament begot a keen desire to do unusual
deeds, and in whom the life of the senses stirred early and strongly,
was subjected in the process of education to such severe, unrelieved,
oppressive control, that passionate inward revolt was the inevitable
consequence. Because the abbés, who lived in terror of the Revolution,
educated him as a royalist and Catholic, he naturally developed into a
revolutionist, a Bonapartist, and a freethinker in the extreme sense
of the word. But the constant strife between his father's will and his
own desires engendered, besides, a want of confidence, a distrust of
humanity so deeply rooted that it was never eradicated. And ere long
there was added to the fear of being deceived or exploited by others,
the fear of deceiving himself, which bred in him the habit of being
constantly on his guard, of constant self-examination and self-control.

A certain something in his character is traceable to the influence of
the province in which he was born and in which his family had been
settled for at least two centuries. The natives of Dauphiné are a keen,
obstinate, argumentative race, as different from their neighbours of
Provence as they are from the Parisians. The Provençal gives noisy or
eloquent expression to his feelings; he rails and curses when he is
angry or hurt; the Parisian is polite, witty, brilliantly superficial;
the character of the native of Dauphiné is distinguished by a peculiar
obstinacy; there is both depth and refinement in it; he remembers
an insult and avenges it, but his anger never finds vent in abusive
language. Beyle's mother, who read Dante and Ariosto in the original, a
very uncommon accomplishment for a provincial lady in those days, was
understood to be of Italian descent. This may in part explain Beyle's
strong leaning to everything Italian; but it is also to be remembered
that until 1349 Dauphiné did not form part of France, and was in its
politics a semi-Italian state. It was one of Beyle's fancies that Louis
XI, who, as Dauphin, governed the little country for several years, had
imparted to its inhabitants something of his own distinguishing quality
of prudence, of distrust of first inspirations. Improbable as this is,
the surmise is in itself characteristic.

Circumstances early intensified the tendency to distrust with which
Henri's home life had imbued him. When he at last attained to the
liberty after which he had so long aspired, that is to say, when he
was sent to school, a bitter disappointment awaited him. The little
strong, thick-set, heavily built boy with the bright, speaking face
(nicknamed "the walking tower" on account of his determined step,
herculean limbs, and round Hercules head) was, in spite of the ironic
expression of his mouth, an enthusiast. And in his schoolfellows he did
not find the gay, amiable, noble-minded comrades he had pictured to
himself, but a troop of selfish young whelps. When telling his friend
Colomb this, he added: "It was a disappointment which has gone on
repeating itself throughout my whole life." "Nor was I any luckier,"
he continued, "in the impression I made on my schoolfellows; I can see
now that I displayed a ridiculous mixture of haughtiness and desire to
amuse myself. To the other boys' coarse selfishness I responded with
my Spanish hidalgo ideas of honour; and I was overwhelmed with despair
when they went off to play together and simply ignored me." Compare
this utterance with the bitter disappointment of young Fabrice (in
_La Chartreuse de Parme_, published in 1839), when, during the battle
of Waterloo, he begs some soldiers whom he meets for a piece of bread
and is answered with a coarse jest: "These cruel words and the general
laugh which followed were too much for Fabrice. War was not, then, it
appeared, that noble, mutual impulse of souls who loved glory above
everything, which Napoleon's proclamations had led him to understand it
to be." We can easily imagine what memories of wild outbursts of animal
selfishness Beyle brought back with him from his campaign; of these the
tale of Fabrice's experiences is probably composed. He had formed too
high an estimate of the comradeship existing among soldiers, just as he
had over-estimated the comradeship of schoolboys.

About the year 1798 he began to devote himself with great ardour to the
study of mathematics, for the characteristic reason, as he told his
friends, that there was hypocrisy in every other science, but none, so
far as he could discover, in the science of mathematics. But no doubt
his ardour was stimulated by the growing fame of the young French
general in Italy whom mathematics, practically applied in the science
of artillery, had led from one great victory to another.

His studies at an end, Beyle arrived in Paris on the 10th of November
1799, the day following the 18th Brumaire. He had a letter of
introduction to the Daru family, who were relatives, and when, after
the _coup d'état_, Pierre Daru was made Secretary of War and Inspector
of Reviews, he gave young Beyle a place in his office. I fancy I can
trace reminiscences of this appointment in the episode of Julien's
appointment as secretary to the Comte de la Mole in (_Rouge et Noir_).
Colomb tells that on one of the first days after Beyle entered on his
duties, when he was writing a letter to Daru's dictation, he absently
spelled _cela_ with two l's, and thereby brought on himself a playful,
but none the less humiliating, reproof. A precisely similar incident
occurs in the novel. But Daru was evidently a very much kinder and
more considerate patron than the Comte de la Mole; he proved himself
Beyle's faithful friend and benefactor. Besides his talent for military
organisation, Daru had undoubted literary talent; his translations of
Horace and his historical prose are excellent examples of the literary
style of the Empire, and all the authors of that period looked up to
him. It was a strange freak of fortune which determined that throughout
most of his campaigns he should have in immediate attendance on him one
of the literary pioneers of the following period--not that he had any
suspicion of his protege's gifts, gifts of which the young man himself
was scarcely conscious as yet.

When Daru and his younger brother, acting under Carnot, then Minister
of War, had organised the memorable Italian campaign of 1800, and had
themselves been ordered to Italy, they sent for Beyle to come to them
there, though they had for the moment no definite appointment to offer
him. The youth of seventeen, who was by nature as energetic as he was
imaginative, and whose dreams were all of daring deeds and the First
Consul, did not wait to be called twice. He packed a dozen standard
works in his knapsack and started for Geneva; there, though he had
never learned to ride, he mounted a horse which Daru had left behind
ill, but which had recovered, and, encountering many difficulties, rode
over the Saint Bernard on the 22nd of May, two days after Napoleon. On
the 1st or 2nd of June he reached Milan, the city where he was to have
his first experience of the joy of life, and which was always to loom
largely on his mental horizon. He witnessed the outburst of rapturous
joy with which the abolition of the hated supremacy of Austria was
hailed, and on the 4th of July was present at the battle of Marengo.
After holding an appointment in the commissariat for some months,
he entered the seventh regiment of dragoons as sergeant (as we are
reminded in a curious note to the fifth chapter of _Rouge et Noir_)
was promoted to a lieutenancy at Romanego, and was shortly afterwards
made adjutant to General Michaud. He distinguished himself in all the
subsequent engagements, and especially at Castel-Franco, not only by
courage; but by the ardour, accuracy, and intelligence with which he
executed all the tasks entrusted to him. We have, evidently, a very
exact account of young Beyle's feelings as a spectator of the battle
of Marengo, in the description of Fabrice del Dongo's youthfully
enthusiastic and heroic emotions as spectator of the battle of
Waterloo, a description which undoubtedly owes much of its masterliness
to its being a faithful reproduction of personal experiences. The
period which begins with the youth's ride across the Alps and ends with
his farewell to the army after the Peace of Amiens, was the period of
his life to which Beyle looked back as that of perfect happiness; it
was rich in every variety of romantic experience; during it he did
daring deeds, fought a comical duel, had various youthful love affairs,
and enjoyed the poetry of a soldier's life in a beautiful country,
where the foreign conquerors were greeted as saviours and heroes by a
careless, naïvely passionate people, who were prevented by no scruples
from indulging their thirst for pleasure.

When Henri returned to Grenoble from this his first flight into the
wide world, he found everything as he had left it. His family still
revered what he despised, and detested all that he enthusiastically
admired. After some violent altercations, the young Hotspur obtained
permission to take up his abode in Paris. There he studied Montaigne,
Montesquieu, and the eighteenth-century philosophers, more particularly
Cabanis and De Tracy, with the latter of whom he was at a subsequent
period to become intimately acquainted. (For De Tracy's _Ideology_
Beyle had a profound admiration from his earliest youth.) He also took
lessons in English.

In this quiet life of study, which lasted for a few years, there was
an odd interlude. In 1805, during a visit to his native town, Henri
fell in love with a beautiful young actress who was playing there.
His love was returned, and, unable to endure the idea of separation
from his beloved, he followed her to Marseilles, where she had
obtained an engagement, and took a place as clerk in a large grocery
business--the only possible means of earning a living which presented
itself. He was quite happy on his office stool during the year his
passion lasted; but, when the actress suddenly determined to marry a
Russian, he returned to Paris and resumed his studies. Before long
he received an invitation which he was incapable of refusing, to
accompany Marshal Daru to the army. He fought in the battle of Jena,
took part in Napoleon's triumphal entry into Berlin, and was appointed
superintendent of the Imperial demesnes in Brunswick. This appointment
he held for two years, during which he gained some knowledge of the
German language and literature, and distinguished himself by his zeal
in the Emperor's service. Receiving orders to levy a war tax of five
millions, he levied seven. This was what they in those days called
"being possessed of the sacred fire." When the Emperor was told, he
said, "Well done!" and noted the assessor's name. But Beyle also won
honour for himself in ways which appeal more to our sympathies. In
1809 he was left in a little German town, in charge of stores and of
the wounded soldiers who were not fit to be removed. No sooner had the
garrison departed than the citizens were summoned by the alarm-bell to
attack the military hospital and seize the stores. The other officers
lost their heads; but Beyle armed all the convalescents, every man who
was able to be out of bed, posted the weakest at the windows (which he
transformed into loopholes), and, placing himself at the head of the
others, made a sortie and scattered the attacking mob.

He followed the army to Vienna, was employed in the negotiations which
preceded Napoleon's marriage with Marie Louise, and afterwards received
the appointment of inspector of the buildings and movable property
belonging to the crown. In this capacity he appeared at court, and was
introduced to the Empress.

After a stay in Milan he received permission, in 1812, to take part
in the Russian campaign. His love of adventure had been more than
satisfied by his previous campaigns; he had been sickened and pained by
the sight of corpses, and whilst his carriage wheels passed over and
mutilated them, he had tried to divert his mind by poetic fancies. But
war always attracted him anew. We see the man whose books, written at a
later period in his career, contain such store of delicate and profound
insight into national psychology, studying, during the passage of the
Niemen, the appearance and temperament of the soldiers of all lands who
composed the Grand Army. But by the time Smolensk was reached he had
had enough. From that town he writes:--

"How man changes! My old longing for novelty is quite gone. Since I
have seen Milan and Italy, everything else repels me by its coarseness.
Would you believe it? without any personal reason I am sometimes on
the point of shedding tears. In this ocean of barbarism there is not
a sound which finds its echo in my soul. Everything is coarse, foul,
stinking, both literally and metaphorically. My one pleasure has been
hearing a fellow, who is about as musical as I am pious, play a little
on a piano which is terribly out of tune. Ambition has no longer
any power over me; the most gorgeous order would be no compensation
for what I am enduring. I represent to myself the summits on which
my spirit dwells (planning books, listening to Cimarosa and loving
Angela in a perfect climate) as beautiful heights; far below them on
the plain lie the fetid marshes in which I am now sunk.... You will
hardly believe it, but what really gives me pleasure is to attend to
any Italian official business there is to transact. There has been
some lately, and even though it is over, it continues to occupy my
imagination like a romance."

In the diary he kept at Moscow we find traces of the same duality in
his nature--the craving to occupy his imagination, and the desire to
act and to be in the midst of action. During the great fire he writes:
"The fire soon reached the house we had left. Our carriages stood for
five or six hours on the boulevard. Tired of this inaction, I went to
look at the fire, and spent an hour or two with Joinville ... we drank
a bottle of wine, which restored us to life. I read a few lines of
an English translation of _Paul et Virginie_ which restored me to a
feeling of intellectual life in the midst of the universal barbarism."

During the terrible retreat through Russia, Beyle was superintendent
of the depots at Minsk, Vitebsk, and Mohilof; he did good service by
supplying the army as it passed Orcha with provisions for three days,
the only provisions served out to it between Moscow and Beresina.
The coolness and determination which had characterised him from his
childhood did not desert him now. It has been often told how, on one
of the most calamitous days of the campaign, he made his appearance in
Daru's quarters cleanly shaved and carefully dressed, and was greeted
by his chief with the words: "You are a brave man, Monsieur Beyle; you
have shaved to-day."

During the retreat he lost everything--horses, carriages, clothes,
and money--even the sum with which he was provided for emergencies.
Before he left, his sister had replaced all the buttons on one of
his overcoats with pieces of twenty and forty francs, carefully
covered with cloth. On his return she asked him if they had been
useful to him. After much reflection, he remembered that somewhere
in the neighbourhood of Wilna he had presented his coat to a waiter,
considering it worn out. The incident is a characteristic one; for
Beyle, who was quite as eager to excel in diplomacy as in literature,
was extremely prudent, but at the same time extremely forgetful.

He re-entered on his official duties in Paris; in 1813, he was, as a
member of the Emperor's staff, at Mainz, Erfurt, Lützen, and Dresden;
and for a time he held the appointment of Commissary-General in
Silesia. His health giving way, he went to recruit it by the Lake
of Como, in the region to which he always returned as to an earthly
Paradise, and where, as usual, he passed in blissful idleness such
leisure as the pursuit of a happy love affair left him. He was once
more actively employed under Napoleon in 1814; but the Emperor's
fall blasted all his hopes of a successful official career. He lost
everything--his appointment, his income, his position in society; and
he bore the loss not merely without complaint, but with cheerfulness,
resigning himself with philosophic equanimity to being henceforward
simply the cosmopolitan, dilettante, and author.

From 1814 till 1821, except for a short absence in 1817, Beyle was
an inhabitant of his beloved Milan. He did not leave it even during
the Hundred Days, being convinced that Napoleon's fortunes were
irretrievable. A passionate lover of Italian music and singing, he
spent happy evenings at the La Scala Theatre. He was received into
the best society of the town; in Count Porro's house, or in Lodovico
de Brême's box at the theatre, he made acquaintance with the Italian
authors and patriots--Silvio Pellico, Manzoni, &c.; and also with such
famous travellers as Byron, Madame de Staël, Wilhelm Schlegel, and a
whole host of other English and German notabilities. An attachment
which lasted for several years made him, what he was capable of being,
perfectly happy; but this happiness was rudely disturbed in the summer
of 1821 by his summary banishment from Milan. The Austrian police
suspected him, quite groundlessly, of intrigues with the Carbonari.

He returned once more to Paris in a state of the deepest dejection;
and it was during the height of his grief at being separated from the
woman he loved, that he wrote his famous book, _De l'Amour_. Hitherto
he had written, or at least published, nothing but biographies of Haydn
and Mozart, which were only adaptations of Italian and German works,
and the _Histoire de la Peinture en Italie_, with its proudly humble
dedication to the captive of St. Helena. None of these books had made
any sensation; but the last-mentioned had won him the goodwill and
friendship of De Tracy, the philosopher. Beyle at first felt himself
completely isolated in Paris. Many of his old associates under the
Empire were banished; others had forfeited his regard by cringing to
the new Government. At De Tracy's house, however, he met the best of
the good society of the day--Lafayette, the Comte de Ségur, Benjamin
Constant, &c, &c.; and at such houses as Giuditta Pasta, the famous
opera-singer's, he met the young authors, men like Mérimée and
Jaquemont. Beyle remained in Paris, except for short visits to England
and Italy, until 1830. From 1830 until his death in 1842, he was
again in government employment, holding posts which were practically
sinecures. The first year he was Consul at Trieste, a place which
he disliked, and the rest of the time at Civita Vecchia, which was
almost equivalent to being in Rome. Here he lived under the sky he had
always loved and among the people he preferred to all others, but his
solitude and idleness were unutterably wearisome to him. To such of
his countrymen as sought him out and suited him, he was an amiable and
most efficient cicerone; but he longed to be back in Paris, although
the old martial spirit of the Empire forbade him to acknowledge himself
a Frenchman after Louis Philippe's Government yielded (in 1840) to the
verdict of Europe on the Eastern question without striking a blow.
During the last years of his life his health was bad. He died suddenly
of apoplexy while on leave in Paris.[2]


[1] Expressions of Gottfried Keller's.

[2] The inscription on his tombstone in the cemetery of Montmartre,
directions for which were contained in his will, shows what a hold
Milan had on him to the last. It runs:

                             ARRIGO BEYLE
                               MILANESE
                                SCRISSE
                                  AMO
                                 VISSE
                            ANN. LIX M. II
                          MORI IL XXIII MARZO
                             M.D.CCC.XLII.



XIX


BEYLE


Henri Beyle's is, without doubt, one of the most complex minds of
the rich period to which he belongs. What chiefly distinguishes him
from his brethren of the Romantic School is his direct intellectual
descent from the severely rational sensationalistic philosophers of the
eighteenth century. Not even in any short youthful or transition period
is there a trace to be found in his soul of the Romantic reverence
for religious tradition so prevalent in his day. All his life long he
was the unfaltering philosophic antagonist of everything in the great
Romantic movement which was of the nature of a reaction against the
spirit of the eighteenth century. He was absolutely uninfluenced by
Chateaubriand and Madame de Staël--was neither a colourist like the
former nor eloquent like the latter; and absolutely uninfluenced by
André Chénier, Hugo, and Lamartine--for he was wanting in the sense of
metre, and was neither lyric nor pathetic. His models as a Romantic
writer were not French; and his allegiance to Condillac and Helvetius,
philosphers despised by the Romanticists of every country, never for a
moment wavered, even at the time when the prejudice against them was
universal.

He was a passionate atheist; that is to say, there was in his
conviction that the world is not governed by any God the Father, as it
were an element of enmity towards the being in whom he did not believe,
an indignation at the horrors of life, which found expression in the
sad and witty saying: "What excuses God is that he does not exist."
Beyle never let slip an opportunity of displaying his dislike of
so-called revealed religion. If he had occasion to write "the one true
religion," he did not forget to add in parenthesis "(the reader's);"
and when he touched on the subject of Christian morality, he was fond
of remarking that it might be reduced to the calculation: "It is
advisable not to eat truffles; they give you a stomach-ache."

As moral philosopher (and private individual) he was a pronounced
epicurean. He acknowledged no mainspring of action but self-interest,
that is to say, the desire of pleasure and the fear of pain; and, in
his opinion, no other was necessary to explain even so-called heroic
actions, since fear of self-contempt--_i.e._ fear of something that is
painful--is quite enough to make a man, let us say, jump into the water
to save another.[1] By virtuous actions, he understands actions which
are attended with inconvenience or suffering to the actor, but are
beneficial to others.

Psychological phenomena engrossed his attention to the exclusion
of everything else; as the observant traveller, as the student of
old chronicles, as the author of novels and stories, he was the
psychologist, and that alone. His one constant study was the human
soul, and he is one of the first modern thinkers who regard history as
being in its essence psychology. But to Beyle, with his utilitarian
philosophy, the science of the human soul and the science of happiness
are one and the same thing. All his thoughts turn on happiness. By
a man's character he understood the particular manner of seeking
happiness which had become habitual to him; and the reason of his
pronounced partiality to the Italians as a people was, that Italian men
and women seemed to him to have found the most certain and direct way
to happiness.

A man of an independent, original, ardent nature, he regarded it as the
first condition of happiness to be one's self. Everywhere throughout
his works we find, endlessly varied, the same warning: Be distrustful!
Believe only what you have seen; admire nothing that does not appeal
to you personally; always take it for granted that your neighbour
has been paid to lie! The charge which he never wearies of bringing
against the French is that they are too vain to know what happiness
is, or rather, that they are unsusceptible to any higher happiness
than that of gratified vanity, which he, personally, values very
cheaply. According to Beyle, the Frenchman is perpetually asking his
neighbour if he, the questioner, is feeling pleasure, is happy, &c.;
he dare not decide the question for himself. The fear of not being
like others, or of what others will say, is, in Beyle's opinion, the
Frenchman's dominant feeling. He himself, on the contrary, not content
with his natural originality, cherished a dislike of resembling others
which led him into oddity and affectation. The man who was constantly
ridiculing others for thinking of the opinion of their neighbours, who
loved and exalted frankness, self-forgetfulness, straightforwardness,
and simple-mindedness, was constantly keeping guard over himself,
observing himself, prescribing to himself such duties as defiance of
this neighbour, revenge upon that--and not neglecting to fulfil them.
The thought of what his neighbour might say or do plagued him quite as
much as it plagued the veriest philistine, merely with this difference,
that the philistine was haunted by the thought of his neighbour because
he desired to imitate him, Beyle because he wished to defy or avoid
him. This eternal antagonism to the philistine is a genuinely Romantic
trait. And it is also characteristically Romantic, that the man who
was perpetually preaching and lauding naturalness and unconstraint
should all his life have had a passion for concealment, disguise, and
mystification, for hiding his personal experiences and thoughts under
layer upon layer of wrappings and drapery.

Beyle's early years had been passed in profound spiritual solitude. An
overflowing fount of feeling had been turned inwards. The child who had
lost his mother, and who hated and was hated by his father, learned
early to look upon himself as different from others--no doubt also as
superior to others, though he defined his superiority as unlikeness.[2]
He was conscious that this unlikeness would exclude him from
any general sympathy and prevent his being generally understood.
Hence his desire that it were possible for him to write his books in
a language which should only be understood by a chosen few--a sacred
language. Hence also his wish to find "un lecteur unique, unique dans
tous les sens," and his dedication of _La Chartreuse de Parme_: "To the
happy few."

This, too, was the real source of the inclination to concealment. Not
only did Beyle publish all his books under a pseudonym (all, with one
exception, under the name of _De Stendhal_, presumably derived from
Stendal in Prussia, the birthplace of Winckelmann), but in many of
them, _De l'Amour_ among the rest, the pseudonymous author assumes any
number of second pseudonyms. Any sentiment which he does not care to
acknowledge as his own, any anecdote which might shed light upon his
private life, is laid to the account of an Albéric, or a Lisio, or the
amiable Colonel So and So. And he has given himself as many occupations
as names; now he is a cavalry officer, now an ironmonger, now a customs
officer, now a commercial traveller; here he figures as a man, there as
a woman; at one time he is of noble, at another of plebeian birth; at
one time English, at another Italian. He would have liked to write in a
cipher language for the initiated. This delight in leading his readers
on the wrong track is in part to be ascribed to the secretiveness of
the diplomatist; but in his private correspondence it was also due to
a suspicion of the police which almost amounted to a mania. In his
youth Beyle had made acquaintance with both Napoleon's and the Austrian
police, and he always retained a fear of his letters being seized and
opened. Therefore he hardly ever signed a private letter with his name.
I have counted in his correspondence more than seventy pseudonymous
signatures, varying from the strangest to the most ordinary
names--Conickphile, Arnolphe II, C. de Seyssel, Chopin d'Ornonville,
Toricelli, François Durand, &c, &c. He sometimes subscribes himself
captain, sometimes marquis, sometimes engineer; sometimes gives his
age, or the name of his street and number of his house. Grenoble he
calls Culars, Civita Vecchia, Abeille. It amuses him at times to append
a misleading indication of locality to his fictitious signature:
for example, Théodore Bernard (du Rhône); he actually signs such a
document as a public petition to Louis Philippe's Government for a new
coat-of-arms for France:

                               Olagnier,
                          De Voiron (Isère).

Such satisfaction did it give him to make himself unrecognisable and
hold himself aloof, that the words, _Odi profanum vulgus et arceo_,
may be employed to express what to him was certainly one condition of
happiness.

What did he himself regard as its conditions?--In his early days,
evidently daring action and passionate love. The thrill with which a
man, in his unbounded devotion to a cause or another man, risks his
life; and the tremor communicated to the soul by happy love--these to
him were the supreme moments of human existence. Writing of Milan in
the introduction to _La Chartreuse_, he observes characteristically:
"The departure of the last Austrian regiment marked the downfall of
the old ideas. It became the fashion for men to hazard their lives.
They saw that in order to be happy after centuries of hypocrisy and
vapidity, they must love something with real passion, and be capable,
on occasion, of risking their lives."

These two passions, love of war and love of woman, were in Beyle's case
only two expressions of one fundamental passion, namely, love for what
he was wont to call _le divin imprévu_--the passion which makes a poet
of him. How war, especially war as conducted by Napoleon, satisfied his
craving, requires no explanation. How women, and especially Italian
women, satisfied it, Beyle tells us himself. In a letter from Milan,
dated 4th September 1820, he writes: "As I have spent fifteen years in
Paris, nothing on earth leaves me so completely indifferent as a pretty
Frenchwoman. And my dislike of the commonplace and the affected often
carries me beyond mere indifférence. When I meet a young Frenchwoman
who has had the misfortune to have been well brought up, I am at once
reminded of my own home and my sisters' upbringing; I foresee not
only all her movements, but the most fugitive shades of her thoughts.
That is why I am partial to bad company; it offers far more of the
unforeseen. If I know myself at all, this is the chord in my soul which
people and things in Italy set vibrating--the women first and foremost.
Imagine my delight when I found out, what no writer of travels had
deprived me of the pleasure of discovering, namely, that in that
country it is in good society that there is most of the unforeseen.
Nothing deters these remarkable geniuses except want of money or pure
impossibility; if prejudices still exist, it is only in the lower
classes."

In other words, what Beyle loves best is reckless energy, both
in action and emotion--energy, whether revealing itself as the
irresistibleness of the military genius or the boundless tenderness
of the loving woman. Therefore he, the cold, dry cynic, positively
worshipped Napoleon.[3] Therefore he loved the women of Milan.
Therefore he understood and depicted the life of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries in Italy much better even than modern Italian
life. A work which he long purposed writing was a _History of Energy
in Italy_; and it is not too much to say that his Italian Chronicles,
copied, adapted, or imitated from old manuscripts, are equivalent to a
psychological analysis of Italian energy.

One utterance will suffice to show that the same love of the unforeseen
which had irresistibly attracted him to the war, made of him, when
the war was over, a traveller, an emigrant, a cosmopolitan. In a
letter in which he tells that he has been transferred to another post
and is going unwillingly because of the tender ties which bind him
to the place where he is living, he expressly mentions the pleasure
which he nevertheless involuntarily feels, "the moment there is any
talk of travelling and seeing new life." And it is equally evident
that the same love of the unforeseen, the same strong personality,
the same recklessness, or, taking it in a profounder sense, genius,
which attracted him to woman and made him love more passionately and
tenderly than others, reveals itself in the devotion to music and
plastic art which made of him the enthusiastic dilettante, cicerone,
and biographer. His love for Cimarosa and Correggio, Ariosto and Byron,
was a passion. Take his attitude to Byron. His published criticism of
the great English poet was severe and cold; he was haughty in personal
intercourse with him, disputed with him on the subject of Napoleon,
&c.; he actually left unanswered a most charming letter which Byron
wrote him seven years after their meeting, because he fancied there
was a trace of hypocrisy in the English poet's defence of Sir Walter
Scott. But observe the way in which, when he is writing unreservedly,
he describes his feelings on the occasion of his first meeting with
Byron: "I was at the time wildly enthusiastic on the subject of _Lara_.
My second look no longer showed me Lord Byron as he really was, but the
author of _Lara_ as I thought he ought to be. When the conversation
in the box flagged, Monsieur de Brême tried to get me to speak; but I
simply could not; I was too full of awe and tenderness. If I had dared,
I should have kissed Lord Byron's hand and burst into tears.... My
tenderness made me urge him to take a carriage."[4]

Many other men in every age and country have loved war and travel,
women and art; but what is peculiarly characteristic and distinctly
modern in Beyle is his tendency and his ability to examine himself in
the moment of action or of passion. He is constantly observing himself,
has, so to speak, constantly his hand on his pulse; and with unfailing
coolness he renders account to himself of his condition under all
different circumstances, and draws a whole chain of general inferences
from it. Let us follow him into a battle. During the cannonade at
Bautzen he writes in his journal:

"Between twelve and three we see remarkably well all that can be seen
of a battle, that is to say, nothing. The entertainment consists in
one's being slightly [the "slightly" is very characteristic] excited by
the certainty that something dreadful is happening before one's eyes.
The majestic roar of the cannons contributes greatly to this effect; if
they made a whistling sound I do not believe that the same degree of
emotion would be produced. The whistle might be as terrible, but could
not be so grand."

Or let us listen to him when he is in love. He writes:--

OF THE BIRTH OF LOVE.

What takes place in the soul is:

1. Admiration.

2. One says to one's self: "What happiness it would be to kiss her, to
be kissed by her, &c."

3. Hope.

One studies the perfections of the object of one's admiration ... the
eyes of even the most reserved women flush in the moment of hope; the
passion is so vehement, the pleasure so ardent, that it betrays itself
by unmistakable signs.

4. Love is born.

To love is to have pleasure in seeing, touching, perceiving by all the
senses, in as close contact as possible, a lovable person who loves us.

5. The first crystallisation begins.

One takes pleasure in adorning with a thousand perfections the woman
of whose love one is sure; one rehearses all the details of one's
happiness with infinite satisfaction.

Allow the brain of a lover to work for twenty-four hours, and the
result will resemble what happens at Salzburg when a leafless branch
is let down into the deserted depths of the salt mines. When it is
drawn up again two or three months later, it is covered with sparkling
crystals; the smallest twigs, those that are not thicker than a
titmouse's claw, are decked with myriads of dazzling, twinkling
diamonds; the original branch is unrecognisable. What I denominate
crystallisation is the operation of the mind which, from everything
that presents itself, draws the discovery of fresh perfections in the
beloved object. A traveller speaks of the coolness of the orange groves
near Genoa during the scorching summer heat--what a pleasure it would
be to enjoy their coolness with her!... This phenomenon which I take
the liberty of naming crystallisation, is a product of the nature
which ordains that we shall feel pleasure and that the blood shall
rush to our heads, of the feeling that our pleasure increases with the
perfections of the beloved object, and of the idea: she is mine. The
savage has not time to proceed further than the first step. He feels
pleasure, but the energy of his brain is employed in the chase of the
deer which is to provide him with food.... The man who is passionately
in love sees every perfection in the woman he loves; nevertheless his
attention may still be distracted, for the mind tires of everything
that is monotonous, even of perfect happiness. But then comes what
rivets attention:

6. Doubt is born.

After ten or twelve looks or any other series of actions have inspired
the lover with hope and strengthened his hope ... he demands more
positive proofs of his happiness. Coldness, indifference, or even anger
is displayed if he shows too much assurance.... He begins to doubt his
certainty of the happiness he had promised himself. He determines to
solace himself with the other pleasures of life, but finds that they no
longer exist for him. Fear of a dreadful misfortune attacks him, and
his attention is concentrated.

7. Second crystallisation.

Its diamonds are confirmations of the idea: She loves me. Every quarter
of an hour during the night which follows the birth of doubt, the
lover, after a moment of terrible suffering, says to himself: Yes, she
loves me; and he discovers new charms. Then doubt attacks him again;
he sits up, forgets to breathe, asks himself: But does she really love
me? And in the midst of these distressing and delightful reflections
the poor lover feels with ever greater certainty: She would give me
pleasures which she alone in all the world is capable of giving me."

Few such acute and delicate analyses of a passion exist. Not without
reason have Beyle's descriptions of what happens in the human soul when
it is under the influence of a passion, reminded his best critics,
Taine and Bourget, of the third part of Spinoza's Ethics, the masterly
_De Affectibus. In this soldier, administrator, diplomatist, and lover
there was a good deal of the philosopher. He endeavoured to resolve
every phenomenon of emotional life into its elements, and, on the other
hand, he showed the connection between the ideas and emotions, which,
united into a system, constitute the disposition and character of the
individual. He paid as much attention to the comparative strength of
the emotions as to the variety of their connections and concatenations;
he traced peculiarities of character to the deepest lying national
and climatic causes; he sketched a psychology of race; and, though
he did not adhere to strictly scientific methods, there was a strong
scientific tendency in his psychological studies. He loved to define
by the aid of numbers, measure, weight. Writing of a king's visit to
a little town, he describes the procession, the Te Deum and clouds
of incense within the church, the salvoes of artillery outside, and
concludes: "The peasants were beside themselves with joy and piety;
_one such day undoes the work of a hundred issues of the Jacobin
newspapers_." In one of his books, an exiled revolutionist is telling
how the revolt he headed failed because he would not consent to the
execution of three men, and would not divide among his followers seven
or eight millions of francs contained in a box of which he had the
key. "Who wills the end must will the means," says Beyle's hero; "if,
instead of being an atom, I were a power, _I would hang three men to
save four_,"[5]--a stupid and indefensible theory, by the way, based on
the childish premise that any four men are of more value than any three.

It is plain enough that in Beyle's case the final condition of
happiness was understanding. The real aim and object of all his
endeavour was a clear understanding of the state of his own mind,
and insight into the mechanism of the human soul generally. He was
of opinion that prosperity, happiness in love, happiness generally,
clears the understanding and sharpens the critical faculty, but was
equally convinced that nothing contributes so much to make a man
unhappy as want of clear-sightedness. In a letter to a friend, dated
Moscow, 1812, he writes characteristically: "The happiness you now
enjoy ought to lead you back naturally to the principles of pure
_Beylism_. I read Rousseau's _Confessions_ last week. It was simply
for want of two or three _Beylean_ principles that he was so unhappy.
_The mania of seeing duties and virtues everywhere_ made his style
pedantic, his life miserable. After three weeks of friendly intercourse
with a man--crash! the duties of friendship, &c." Two years afterwards
the man in question has forgotten him; Rousseau seeks and finds some
pessimistic explanation. _Beylism_ would have told him: "Two bodies
approach each other; warmth and a fermentation result; but every such
state is transitory. It is a flower to be voluptuously enjoyed." These
words contain a fragment of excellent practical philosophy, and would
testify to an unusually well-balanced mind if the practice of their
writer's life had corresponded to his theory. But although Beyle was
by nature a robust sensualist, and had accustomed himself to a cynical
boldness of expression (he shocked George Sand by his cynicism when she
and De Musset met him on their way to Italy), and although as a thinker
he was what he required a philosopher to be, namely, clear-headed,
unimpressionable, and free from illusions (he used to say that to have
been a banker was to have gone through the best preparatory school
for philosophy), there lay behind the robust temperament and the
dryness of the logician an artistic receptivity to every impression,
an irritability and feminine sensitiveness which did not fall far
short of Rousseau's. And this sensitiveness Beyle retained to the
end of his life. In the autobiography (_Vie de Henri Brulard_) which
was found amongst his papers, we come upon the following confession:
"My sensitiveness is excessive; what only grazes another man's skin
draws blood from me. Such was I in 1799; such am I in 1840. But I
have learned to hide it all under an irony which the vulgar do not
understand."

Seldom has a character combined so great a love of spontaneity and
straightforwardness with so much calculation and subterfuge; seldom
has a mind been so truthful and at the same time so addicted to
dissimulation, so ardent in its hatred of hypocrisy and yet so lacking
in openness and straightforwardness.


[1] See Beyle's dissertation on the subject in a most interesting
letter, dated 28th December 1829.

[2] In a letter of July 16, 1813, he writes: "If the so-called
superiority is only a superiority of some few degrees, it makes its
possessor amiable and attractive to others--see Fontenelle. If it is
more, it destroys every relation between him and other men. This is
the unfortunate position in which the superior man, or, to speak more
correctly, the man who is different from others, finds himself. Those
who surround him can contribute nothing to his happiness. The praise of
all these people would very soon disgust me, and their criticism would
gall me."

And in the fourth chapter of _La Chartreuse de Parme_ we read: "His
comrades found out that Fabrice was very _unlike_ themselves, at which
they took umbrage; he, on the contrary, began to have a very friendly
feeling towards them."

[3] In the letter which he wrote, but did not send, to Byron, he writes
of Napoleon as "le héros que j'ai adoré." And a letter of 10th July
1818 contains the following lyrical outburst--probably the only one in
his twenty volumes: "O Sainte-Hélène! roc désormais si célèbre, tu es
l'écueil de la gloire anglaise." We are reminded of Hugo and Heine.

[4] For references to Lord Byron in Beyle's works, see the essay "Lord
Byron en Italie" in the volume entitled _Racine et Shakespeare_, 261;
and _Lettres à ses Amis_, i. 273, &c.: ii. 71, &c.

[5] _Rouge et Noir_, i. 105; ii. 45.



XX


BEYLE


Prior to 1830 Beyle published no imaginative work of any importance
except a novel entitled _Armance_, an unsuccessful book, the hero of
which, a gifted young man, makes the woman he loves unhappy, because
he suffers from a half-physical, half-mental ailment, the nature of
which is not precisely defined, but which appears to resemble that
which played a part in the lives of Swift and Kierkegaard. The year
1830, epoch-making in history, is also epoch-making in Beyle's literary
career. It is the year in which he writes or plans both his great
novels--_Le Rouge et le Noir_, published in 1831, and _La Chartreuse
de Parme_, which was not completed till 1839, when it was published
simultaneously with the most important of his Italian Chronicles,
_L'Abbesse de Castro_.

Both of the novels deal with the period immediately succeeding
Napoleon's fall, and both deal with it in the same spirit. The motto
of both might be the passage from De Musset's _Confession d'un Enfant
du Siècle_ quoted in _The Reaction in France_: "And when the young
men talked of glory they were answered: Become priests! and when they
talked of honour: Become priests! and when they talked of hope, of
love, of power, of life, it was always the same: Become priests!" The
scene of _Rouge et Noir_ is laid in France, that of _La Chartreuse_
in Italy, but in both books the principal character is a young man
with a secret enthusiasm for Napoleon, who would have been happy if
he could have fought and distinguished himself under his hero in the
bright sunlight of life, but who, now that that hero has fallen, has
no chance of making a career except by playing the hypocrite. In this
art the two young men gradually develop a remarkable degree of skill.
Julien and Fabrice are cut out for cavalry officers; nevertheless both
become ecclesiastics; the one passes through a Catholic seminary, the
other rises to be a bishop. Not without reason have Beyle's novels been
called handbooks of hypocrisy. The fundamental idea inspiring them is
the profound disgust and indignation which the spectacle of triumphant
hypocrisy aroused in their author. Desiring to work off this feeling
he gave vent to it by simply, without any display of indignation,
representing hypocrisy as the ruling power of the day, to which every
one who desired to rise was compelled to do homage. And he tries to
play the modern Macchiavelli by frequently applauding his heroes when
their attempts at impenetrable hypocrisy succeed, and expressing
disapproval when they allow themselves to be surprised or carried away,
and unguardedly show themselves as they are. A certain unpleasant
forcedness is inseparable from this ironic style of narration.[1]

As Beyle's was essentially a reasoning mind, with a gift of purely
philosophic observation, externalities did not impress him strongly,
and he had little skill in depicting them. His one interest is in
emotional and intellectual processes, and, himself an adept in the
observation of these processes, he endows almost all his characters
with the same skill. They as a rule have an understanding of what
is happening in their own souls which far surpasses that derived
by ordinary mortals from experience. This conditions the peculiar
construction of Beyle's novels, which consist in great part of
connected monologues that are at times several pages long. He reveals
all the silent working of his characters' minds, and lends words to
their inmost thoughts. His monologues are never the lyric, dithyrambic
outbursts which George Sand's often are; they are the questions and
answers--short and concise, though entering into minute details--by
which silent reflection progresses.

The fundamental characteristic of Beyle's principal personages, who,
measured by the current standards of morality, have no conscience and
no morals, is, that they have evolved a moral standard for themselves.
This is what every human being ought to be capable of doing, but what
only the most highly developed attain to; and it is this capacity of
theirs which gives Beyle's characters their remarkable superiority
over other characters whom we have met with in books or in real life.
They keep an ideal, which they have created for themselves, constantly
before their eyes, endeavour to follow it, and have no peace until they
have won self-respect. Hence Julien, who is executed for an atrocious
attempt to murder a defenceless woman, is able to comfort himself in
the hour of his death with the thought that his life has not been a
lonely life; the idea of "duty" has been constantly present with him.

It is evident that Beyle found this feature which he has bestowed on
his heroes in his own character. In a letter written in 1820, after
remarking that he detests large hotels because of the incivility shown
in them to travellers, he adds: "A day in the course of which I have
been in a passion is a lost day for me; and yet when I am insolently
treated I imagine that I shall be despised if I do not get angry."
This is precisely the manner in which Julien and Fabrice reason. With
some such thought in his mind Julien compels himself to lay his hand
caressingly on Madame de Rênal's, Fabrice compels himself defiantly
to repeat the true but contemptuous words he had used in speaking of
the flight of the French soldiers at Waterloo. Julien is French, and
acts with full consciousness of what he is about; Fabrice is Italian
and naïve, but they both possess the quality to which we may give the
name of moral productivity. Julien says to himself in prison: "The duty
which I, rightly or wrongly, prescribed to myself, has been like the
trunk of a strong tree against which I have leaned during the storm";
the light-hearted Fabrice, reproaching himself with a momentary feeling
of fear, says to himself: "My aunt tells me that what I need most is to
learn to forgive myself. I am always comparing myself with a perfect
model, a being who cannot possibly exist." Mademoiselle de la Mole in
_Rouge et Noir_ and Mosca in _La Chartreuse de Parme_ are distinguished
by the same superiority and self-reliance. Mosca, a character in whom
Beyle's contemporaries naïvely saw a portrait of Metternich, is, in
spite of his position as prime minister of a small legitimist state,
quite as free from prejudice in his views of the system he serves as
Beyle's young heroes are. The object of his private hero-worship is
Napoleon, in whose army he held a commission in his youth. He jests as
he puts on the broad yellow ribbon of his order. "It is not for us to
destroy the prestige of power; the French newspapers are doing that
quite fast enough; _the reverence mania_ will scarcely last out our
time."

But whether the personages described be eminently or only ordinarily
gifted human beings, the manner in which their inner life is revealed
is unique. We not only see into their souls, but we perceive (as in the
writings of no other author) the psychological laws which oblige them
to act or feel as they do. No other novelist offers his readers so much
of the pleasure which is produced by perfect understanding.

Madame de Renal loves Julien, her children's tutor. We are told that
"she discovered with shame and alarm that she loved her children more
than ever _because they were so devoted to Julien_." Mathilde de la
Mole tortures Julien by confiding to him her feelings for her former
lovers. "If molten lead had been injected into his veins he would not
have suffered so much. How was the poor fellow to guess that it was
_because she was talking to him_ that it gave Mademoiselle de la Mole
so much pleasure to recall her flirtations with Monsieur de Caylus and
Monsieur de Luz?" Both these passages elucidate a psychological law.

Julien has entered the Church from ambitious motives, and secretly
detests the profession he has embraced. On the occasion of some
festival he sees a young bishop kneeling in the village church,
surrounded by charming young girls who are lost in admiration of his
beautiful lace, his distinguished manners, and his refined, gentle
face. "At this sight the last remnant of our hero's reason vanished.
_At that moment he would, in all good faith, have fought in the cause
of the Inquisition_." The addition "in all good faith" is especially
admirable. A parallel passage is to be found in _La Chartreuse_. After
the death of a Prince whom he has always despised and who has actually
been poisoned by his (Mosca's) mistress, Mosca has been obliged to
put himself at the head of the troops and quell a revolt against the
young Prince, whose character is as despicable as his predecessor's.
In the letter in which he communicates the occurrence to his mistress,
he writes: "But the comical part of the matter is that I, at my age,
actually had a moment of enthusiasm whilst I was making my speech to
the guard and tearing the epaulettes from the shoulders of that coward,
General P. _At that moment I would, without hesitation, have given my
life for the Prince_. I confess now that it would have been a very
foolish way of ending it." In both these passages we are shown with
remarkable sagacity how an artificial enthusiasm dazzles and is, as it
were, caught by infection.

No other novelist approaches Beyle in the gift of unveiling the secret
struggles of ideas and of the emotions which the ideas produce. He
shows us, as if through a microscope, or in an anatomical preparation
where the minutest veins are made visible by the injection of colouring
matter, the fluctuations of the feelings of happiness and unhappiness
in acting, suffering human beings, and also their relative strength.
Mosca has received an anonymous letter which tells him that his
mistress loves another. This information, which he has several reasons
for believing to be correct, at first utterly unmans him. Then, as a
sensible man and a diplomatist, he involuntarily begins to take the
letter itself into consideration and to speculate as to its probable
writer. He determines that it has been composed by the Prince. "This
problem solved, _the little feeling of pleasure produced by the
obviously correct guess_ was soon effaced by the return in full force
of the painful mental apparition of his rival's fresh, youthful grace."
Beyle has not neglected to note the momentary interruption of the
pangs of jealousy by the satisfaction of discovery.--In the course
of a few days Julien is to be executed. Meanwhile he is receiving
constant visits from the woman he loves, but from whom he has been
separated for years, and is absorbed by love to the exclusion of all
thought of his imminent fate." One strange effect of this strong and
perfectly unfeigned passion was _that Madame de Renal almost shared
his carelessness and gentle gaiety_. This last bold touch speaks to me
of extraordinarily profound observation. Beyle has correctly felt and
expressed the power of a happy, absorbing passion to banish all gloomy
thoughts (even the thought of certain death) as soon as they attempt to
intrude themselves; he knows that passion wrestling with the idea of
approaching calamity renders it powerless, when it does not succeed in
dismissing it as utterly incredible. It is such passages as these which
make other novelists seem shallow in comparison with Beyle.

His characters are never simple, straightforward beings; yet he manages
to impart to them, to the women as well as the men, a peculiar imprint
of nobility. They possess a certain genuine, though distorted heroism,
a certain strength of aspiration which elevates all their emotions;
and in the hour of trial they show that they have finer feelings and
stouter hearts than the generality of human beings. Observe some of
the little characteristics with which he stamps his women. Of Madame
de Rénal in _Rouge et Noir_ we are told: "Hers was one of those noble
and enthusiastic souls which feel almost as keen remorse for not
having performed a magnanimous action of which they have perceived the
possibility, as for having committed a crime." Mathilde de la Mole
says: "I feel myself on a plane with everything that is audacious and
great.... What great action has not seemed foolishness at the moment
when it was being ventured on? It is not till it is accomplished
that it seems possible to the ordinary mortal." In these two short
quotations, two uncommon female characters of opposite types, the
self-sacrificing and the foolhardy, are outlined with the hand of a
master. We feel that Beyle was absolutely correct when, in his letter
to Balzac, he defines his artistic method as follows: "I take some
person or other whom I know well; I allow him or her to retain the
fundamental traits of his or her character--_ensuite je lui donne plus
d'esprit_."

Of the two novels, _Le Rouge et le Noir_, the scene of which is laid
in France, is unmistakably the better; in _La Chartreuse de Parme_
we only occasionally feel that we are treading the firm ground of
reality. Beyle constructed his own Italy upon the foundation of the
fantastically interpreted experiences of his youth, and upon us moderns
this Italy produces an impression of untrustworthiness. Both in his
novel and in his essays he shows that the Italian mind, by reason of
its quality of vivid imagination, is much more plagued by suspicions
and delusions than the French, but that in compensation its pleasures
are more intense and more lasting, and that it possesses a keener
sense of beauty and less vanity. We are every now and then surprised
by observations in the domain of racial psychology, which, provided
they are correct (which I believe them to be), are extraordinarily
acute. We are told, for instance, of the Duchess of Sanseverina, that,
although she herself had employed poison to make away with an enemy,
she was almost beside herself with horror when she heard that the man
she loved was in danger of being poisoned. "The moral reflection did
not occur to her which would at once have suggested itself to a woman
educated in one of those religions of the North which permit personal
examination: 'I employed poison and am therefore punished by poison.'
In Italy this species of reflection in a moment of tragic passion would
seem as foolishly out of place as a pun would in Paris in similar
circumstances." What evidently attracted Beyle most profoundly in
the Italian character was its purely pagan basis, which none of the
ancient or medieval religions had really affected. But, in spite of the
excellence of its racial psychology, _La Chartreuse de Parme_ is less
to the taste of the modern reader than _Le Rouge et le Noir_ from the
fact of its containing more of the purely extrinsic Romanticism of its
day in the shape of disguises, poisonings and assassinations, prison
and flight scenes, &c. A deeper-seated, intrinsic Romanticism is common
to both books.

In many ways Beyle is extremely modern; his constant prophecy, "I shall
be read about 1880," has been accurately fulfilled; nevertheless,
both in his emotional life and in his delineation of character, he
is distinctly a Romanticist. It is to be observed, however, that
his Romanticism is the Romanticism of a powerful and of a critical
mind; it is the element of enthusiasm to the verge of madness and of
tenderness to the pitch of self-sacrifice, that is sometimes found in
characters the distinguishing features of which are sense and firmness.
In Beyle's essentially self-conscious characters this Romanticism
acts like a powerful explosive. It is enclosed in a hard, firm body,
but there it retains its power. A blow, and the dynamite shatters its
casing and spreads death and destruction around--_vide_ Julien, the
Duchess of Sanseverina, &c. At times these characters appear rather to
belong to that sixteenth century which Beyle studied so devoutly than
to the nineteenth. Beyle himself remarks of Fabrice that his first
inspiration was quite in the spirit of the sixteenth century; and
Mathilde is represented as living her whole life in that spirit. But
with this Romanticism of energy and daring deeds Beyle combines the
form of Romantic enthusiasm peculiar to the France of 1830. His Julien,
the gifted plebeian who is kept from rising by the spirit of the
Restoration period, who feels himself eclipsed by the all-prevailing
gilded mediocrity, is consumed by hunger and thirst for adventures and
impressions, and employs, when he is reduced to impotent hatred, every
possible means to raise himself above his original social position,
but remains, even when he is for the moment successful, at war with
his surroundings and unsatisfied. As the melancholic rebel, as the
vengeance-breathing plebeian, as _l'homme malheureux en guerre avec
la société_ (Beyle's own name for him), he is a brother, about the
same age but more prudent, of the step-children of society whom Hugo
paints--Didier, Gilbert, Ruy Blas; of the hero of Alexandre Dumas'
youth, Antony the bastard; of De Musset's Frank, George Sand's Lélia,
and Balzac's Rastignac.

As a stylist, Beyle is directly descended from the prose writers of
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He formed his style upon
Montesquieu's; he occasionally reminds us of Chamfort; he is an admirer
of Paul Louis Courier, who, like himself, exchanged a military for a
literary career, and whose perspicuous, classic simplicity of style
strongly commended itself to him. But when Courier made it his chief
aim to attain to perfect harmony and pellucidness of style, when,
praising an ancient author, he said of him that he would have let
Pompey win the battle of Pharsalus if he could thereby have rounded
his own period better, he adopted the standpoint farthest removed from
Beyle's. Beyle the stylist has no sense for either colour or form. He
neither could nor would write for the eye; the picture was nothing to
him in comparison with the thought; he never made even the slightest
attempt to write in the manner of Chateaubriand or Hugo. And just
as little did he appeal to the ear; poetic prose was an abomination
to him; he detested the style of Madame de Staël's _Corinne_, and
scoffed at that of George Sand's novels. It was in his scorn of poetic
eloquence that he penned the well-known sentence in his letter to
Balzac: "When I was writing _La Chartreuse_ I used to read two or three
pages of the _Code civile_ every morning, to help me to catch the
proper tone and to be perfectly natural; I do not wish to fascinate
the reader's mind by artificial means." An author could hardly express
greater or more unreasonable contempt for the artistic. Nevertheless,
Beyle has artistic qualities. Though the construction of his books is
wretched--the drawing of them, so to speak, bad--many of the details
are painted with a masterly touch. Though his style is not in the least
musical--which is curious in the case of such a worshipper of Italian
music--unforgettable sentences abound in his pages. He was not master
of the art of writing a page, but he had the genius which sets its
stamp on a word or a descriptive phrase. In this respect he is the
antipodes of George Sand; her page is always much superior to her word;
Beyle's word is far better than his page. He had a genuine admiration
for Balzac, but a horror of his style. In _Mémoires d'un Touriste_ he
expresses the opinion that Balzac first wrote his novels in sensible
language, and then decked them out in the ornamental Romantic style
with such phrases as "The snow is falling in my heart," &c. Beyle's
own style has the merits and the defects which are the inevitable
results of his philosophic and abruptly intermittent mode of thought.
It is rich in ideas and guiltless of ornamentation, but it is slipshod
and jerky.[2] A horror of emptiness and vagueness is its
distinguishing and truly great virtue; writing so full of well-digested
matter as his is rare.

Beyle often said that only pedants and priests talk about death; he
was not afraid of it, but he looked upon it as a sad and ugly thing of
which it becomes us best to speak as little as possible. When in 1842
he died suddenly, as he had hoped he might, his name was almost unknown
to the public. Only three people attended his funeral, at which not a
word was spoken. Such notices of him as appeared in the newspapers,
though well-intentioned, only proved how little understood he was by
those who appreciated him most. But since then his fame has steadily
increased. At first he was regarded as a more or less affectedly
eccentric original; and at a later period, when his great gifts were
acknowledged, he was still looked upon as an isolated figure, as a
paradoxical, unfruitful genius. I, for my part, see in him not only one
of the chief representatives of the generation of 1830, but a necessary
link in the great intellectual movement of the century; for as a
psychologist his successor and the continuer of his work was no less a
man than Taine, and as an author his successor and disciple was Prosper
Mérimée.[3]


[1] For example: "Julien's answers to these objections were very
satisfactory as far as the actual words were concerned, but the tone
in which he spoke and the ill-concealed fire which gleamed in his eyes
made Monsieur Chélan uneasy. Yet we must not augur too unfavourably
of Julien. He had found the very expressions which a crafty hypocrite
would have used. This, at his age, was not bad. As to tone and
gestures, it is to be remembered that he had lived among peasants and
had had no opportunity of studying the great masters. Hardly had he
had the privilege of seeing these said gentlemen than he became as
admirable in the matter of gesture as in that of language." On another
occasion Julien is dining with a brutally cruel governor of a prison.
He feels ashamed of the company he is in; he says to himself that he
too may some day attain to such a position, but only by committing the
same base actions to which his companions have accustomed themselves.
"O Napoleon!" he ejaculates, "how glorious was thy day, when men rose
to fortune by the dangers of the battle-field! But think of doing it
by basely adding to the sufferings of the unfortunate!" Beyle adds: "I
confess that the weakness which Julien betrays in this monologue gives
me a poor opinion of him. He would be a fit colleague of those gloved
conspirators who aim at completely changing the destinies of a great
country, but are determined not to have even the smallest scratch to
reproach themselves with."

[2] The following consecutive sentences will show at a glance how
well and how badly Beyle could write: "Ce raisonnement, si juste
en apparence, acheva de jeter Mathilde hors d'elle-même. Cette âme
altière, mais saturée de toute cette prudence sèche, _qui passe dans le
grand monde pour peindre fidèlement le cœur humain_, n'était pas faite
pour comprendre si vite le bonheur de se moquer de toute prudence qui
peut être si vif pour une âme ardente." One has an idea what the writer
means, although the sentence, apart from its clumsy construction, is
not even logically correct. But immediately upon it follows one which
astonishes us equally by its profundity and its wit: "Dans les hautes
classes de la société de Paris, où Mathilde avait vécu, la passion
ne peut que bien rarement se dépouiller de la prudence, et c'est du
cinquième étage qu'on se jette par la fenêtre."

[3] The best appreciations of Beyle are Balzac's criticism of _La
Chartreuse_; Taine's of _Rouge et Noir_; Mérimée's notice in the
introduction to Beyle's _Correspondance inédite_, somewhat amplified in
_Portraits historiques_; Colomb's biographical essay; Sainte-Beuve's
two articles in the _Causeries du Lundi_, T. 9; Bussiere's article in
_Revue des deux Mondes_ of Jan. 15,1843; Zola's in _Les Romanciers
naturalists_; and Paul Bourget's in _Revue Nouvelle_, August 15, 1882.
Alfred de Bougy's _Stendhal_ is mere plagiarism and self-assertion.



XXI


MÉRIMÉE


Readers of the present generation--familiar with Victor Hugo's
contemptuous allusion to Mérimée in _L'histoire d'une Crime_, and apt
to see in Hugo only the rhetorically poetic republican, in Mérimée
the polished, sarcastic secretary of the Courts of Love of the Second
Empire--find it difficult to realise that these two men, whom literary
and political antipathies in course of time separated so widely,
belonged in their youth to the same camp, and associated not merely on
peaceful but on friendly terms. On one of the bright spring days of
Romanticism, the all-seeing sun beheld the studiously correct author of
_Mateo Falcone_ in shirt-sleeves and apron in Victor Hugo's kitchen,
where, surrounded by the whole family, he gave the cook a successful
demonstration in the art of preparing _macaroni à l'italienne_. And
we know that on a certain festive evening Hugo, possibly roused to
enthusiasm by that same excellent macaroni, made the applicable and
flattering anagram, "M. Première Prose," out of the name Prosper
Mérimée.[1]

Victor Hugo himself, at a later period, would have utterly denied the
applicability of the anagram (when Mérimée's sober style happened to
be praised in his hearing, he ejaculated, "The sobriety of a weak
stomach!"), but it may safely be maintained that it exactly expresses
the opinion of the oldest living generation of Frenchmen. In the
estimation of the elderly cultured man of the world, no style surpasses
Prosper Mérimée's.

[Illustration: MÉRIMÉE]

Note that I say man of the world; for precision, simple naturalness,
and brevity, though they may be admired by the sensuous and picturesque
prose authors of a later day and their public, are not the qualities
most highly valued by them. The ordinary well-educated Frenchman,
on the other hand, likes a story and dislikes description; he is,
unconsciously, a firm adherent of the principles propounded in
Lessing's _Laokoon_, a genuine worshipper of common-sense, who sneers
at the Romantic and naturalistic mania for description, and has always
infinitely preferred Voltaire's style to Diderot's. The writer who,
without confusing his general impression, presents as many facts as
possible in the narrowest possible space, approaches the artistic ideal
of the average educated man, nay, attains it when, as in Mérimée's
case, he combines with this compactness absolute self-control in the
matter of tone and style. The older generation in France, to whom
the word "Romanticism" has gradually become almost the equivalent of
bombastic rhodomontade, can hardly understand how Mérimée was ever
reckoned among the Romanticists; they acknowledge that he took part
in the first Romantic campaign, but insist that this happened partly
by mistake. Jules Sandeau, in welcoming Louis de Loménie, Mérimée's
successor in the Académie Française, related, in order to show the kind
of Romanticist Mérimée had been, the old anecdote of the gentleman
who, during the Revolution of July, impatiently seized the gun of one
of the insurrectionists who could not shoot, aimed at a Swiss soldier
posted at one of the windows of the Tuileries, shot him dead, and then
politely replied to the entreaties of the insurgent that he should
keep the weapon which he used so skilfully: "Many thanks, but, to
tell the truth, I am a royalist." Mérimée was, Sandeau thus implied,
always a Classicist; if, in the first stage of his career, he almost
outdid the Romanticists, it was only because he could not withstand the
temptation to show them how to shoot. The idea underlying this amusing
exaggeration is, however, anything but correct. It is easy to prove
that Mérimée, in spite of the classic severity of his style, is in many
respects a typical representative of the French Romantic tendency. The
more we study his character the more convinced of this do we become.

Prosper Mérimée (born 28th September 1803) came of a family of
artists. His father, a man of varied culture, was a good painter,
who wrote a book on the technique of his art; his mother was also a
painter, well known for her portraits of children; she had a talent
for storytelling, and was accustomed to keep her little sitters quiet
while she was painting them by telling them interesting tales. The
portrait which she painted of her only son in his fifth year gives an
equally favourable impression of her talent and of her child's looks.
The face possesses a style of beauty very uncommon in such a young
boy; for there is something of the pride and intellectual superiority
of the distinguished man in this infantine countenance framed in fair,
soft curls. The eyes are innocent and frank, but there is mischief in
the curve of the sagacious, firmly closed lips. The bearing is that
of a little prince.[2] One can quite well understand how
this child one day, seeing his parents, who had pretended to be angry
with him, laugh behind his back at his tears of repentance, determined
"never to ask forgiveness," a determination which he adhered to as a
man. His mother, with whom he lived until her death in 1852, was a
woman of remarkable strength of character, in whose mind the philosophy
of the eighteenth century had engendered such an aversion for every
form of religious belief that she would not even allow her son to be
baptized--a circumstance which he, in later life, used to mention with
a certain satirical satisfaction. To a pious and amiable lady who
was using all her eloquence to induce him to undergo the ceremony,
he replied: "I will, upon one condition, and that is, that you stand
godmother, and carry me, dressed in a long white frock, in your arms."

The outward events of Mérimée's life may be simply and shortly
narrated. At the age of twenty-two, after completing the legal studies
which form part of the education of most well-to-do young Frenchmen,
he made a brilliant _début_ as an author. During the following six
years he led an independent life in the social circles belonging to
the Liberal Opposition, dividing his time between literature and
the pursuit of pleasure. In 1831, when his political friends came
into power, he was appointed Inspector of Historical Monuments, as
successor to Vitet, in whose footsteps he had already followed as an
author. He fulfilled the duties of his office zealously and capably.
Repeated tours in Spain and England, one in the East, and two in
Greece, completed his peculiar training and enriched him with stores
of impressions of foreign characters and customs. His extraordinary
proficiency as a linguist enabled him to reap every advantage from
his travels; he moved about in foreign countries like a native. It is
especially unusual for a Frenchman to know as many languages as Mérimée
did. He spoke English, Spanish (in all its dialects, including the
gipsy language), Italian, modern Greek, and Russian, and had thoroughly
studied the literatures of these languages, besides mastering those
of ancient Greece and Rome. In his official capacity he published
accounts of his travels in France, full of erudite detail; these and
some studies on episodes in Roman history procured his election to the
Académie des Inscriptions in 1841. In 1844 he was made a member of the
Académie Française. Under the Second Empire, as an old friend of the
Countess Montijo, he was on intimate terms with the Imperial family;
and he and Octave Feuillet were long the only literary ornaments of the
new court. In 1853 he was made a Senator. The appointment was beneath
his dignity, and his acceptance of it injured his reputation, in spite
of the fact that he almost never took part in the deliberations of
the Chamber. During his last illness Mérimée heard of the fall of the
Empire. He died at Cannes on the 23rd of September 1870.

The inner life of this man, as revealed by his books, is by no means
so simple. The character of the youth who went out into the world at
eighteen was composed of many conflicting elements. He was exceedingly
proud; bold and bashful at the same time. He had an audacious
intellect and a shy, reserved disposition. To conceal the shyness,
which wounded his pride, he assumed either a stiff, cold manner, or
an appearance of frivolity tinged with cynicism. This cynicism became
a kind of mannerism with him in conversation with men. As a youth
he was certainly not so suspicious and reserved as he afterwards
became, but it is a mistake to attribute his general scepticism to
any one particular disappointment. He met, like the rest of us, with
many disappointments, and was often roughly disillusioned; he was
deceived by friends, sacrificed by the woman he loved (d'Haussonville
gives particulars in the _Revue des deux Mondes_, 15th August
1877); he learned to know the world, learned that life is warfare,
and that a man has not only to protect himself against false and
untrustworthy friends, secret and open enemies, but also against
those who, as he himself puts it, "do evil for evil's sake." But if
the germs of suspicion had not been in him from the first, a dozen
consecutive bitter experiences would not have cured him of faith in
his fellow-men; for the man of a trustful nature has always had at
least an equal number of contrary experiences which outweigh the
others. But Mérimée's nature was as critical as it was productive, and
men of his character are apt to make the rule by which we judge the
professional critic--that he only deserves trust in proportion as he
shows distrust--the rule of their lives. We can imagine the suffering
which his own poetic impressionability entailed on a man with Mérimée's
highly developed critical sense.

The critical temperament is above everything truthful; and Mérimée was
remarkably so. His natural audacity, moreover, impelled him to say
exactly what he thought, regardless of conventionalities. One sees
from his letters how frank he was by nature, how inclined to speak the
undisguised truth, and how impatient of conventional falsehoods and
even of alleviating or embellishing circumlocutions. This is especially
noticeable in the first volume of _Lettres à une inconnue_. Even in
these love-letters Mérimée is almost rude when it seems to him that
the object of his affections has expressed some merely conventional
opinion. Though his fear of ridicule and his ever-increasing scepticism
did not dispose him to knight-errantry or lead him to court martyrdom,
he nevertheless, in his fiftieth year, committed a chivalrous folly
of which most men of the world would only be capable in their extreme
youth. When his friend, the notorious Libri, was found guilty of having
abused his position as public librarian to the extent of appropriating
and selling a number of valuable books belonging to the nation,
Mérimée, unable to believe Libri capable of such an action, undertook
his rehabilitation with an ardour worthy of a better cause, and
attacked the committee of investigation and the judges in an article
in the _Revue des deux Mondes_ (April 15, 1852), the sparkling wit of
which recalls Paul Louis Courier's pamphlets. A professed Don Quixote
could not have acted more foolishly; nor is the case much altered
if what the initiated maintain is true, namely, that his ardour was
inspired rather by Madame Libri than by her husband.

Under the Empire, and even as a courtier, Mérimée preserved his freedom
of speech. I am not referring to the fact that he, as a rule, spoke
disparagingly of Napoleon III., which is not particularly to his
credit, seeing that he accepted office under that prince's government;
but even in conversation with members of the Imperial family he
combined frankness with courtesy. Writing in July 1859, he tells that
the Empress had asked him in Spanish what he thought of the speech made
by the Emperor on his return from Italy. "In order," he writes, "to be
both straightforward and courtier-like, I answered, '_Muy necesario!_'
(Very necessary)."

Mérimée's natural tendency to outspokenness was, however, held in check
by his pride and shyness. He early learned that the man who makes a
naïve public display of his feelings not only lays himself open to
ridicule, but invites the sympathy and familiarity of the vulgar crowd;
and, as a youth, he resolved that he would never wear his heart upon
his sleeve. Nor did it need all his mistrust to discover that the great
majority of those around him who made a frank and childlike display
of their feelings knew very well what they were about. The men who
published their noble-mindedness, their earnestness, their love of
morality and religion, their patriotism, &c., in the great market-place
of publicity, always seemed to him either to be angling for applause or
to be actuated by some business motive. He could not fail to see how
well it pays, as a rule, to give expression to noble sentiments and
warm feeling, and he found it difficult to suppose others ignorant of
the fact. In any case, he could not bring himself to do as they did; he
was one of those who cannot bear to proclaim the fact that they love
virtue and hate vice, and to be always singing the praises of "the
Good, the True, and the Beautiful."

To avoid all comradeship with the calculating "men of feeling," and to
protect his emotional life from the gaze of the profane, Mérimée had
recourse to the expedient of concealing his quivering sensibility under
steely irony, as under a coat of mail. He determined rather to appear
worse than he was, than to run the risk of being taken for one of these
models of all the virtues. With this aim in view he dealt so hardly
with himself that he lost his first fresh, simple naturalness, and
acquired instead a manner which, though still natural and simple, was,
nevertheless, distinctly a cultivated manner. In _Le Vase étrusque_,
the one of his tales which gives most insight into his own intellectual
and emotional life, we read of the hero, Saint-Clair: "He was born
with a tender and loving heart; but, at an age when one is liable to
receive impressions which last for the rest of one's life, too frank
a display of his tender-heartedness drew down upon him the ridicule
of his companions. He was proud and ambitious, and valued the good
opinion of others, as all children do. Thenceforward he made it his
study to conceal all the outward manifestations of what he regarded
as a dishonourable weakness. He attained his aim, but his victory
cost him dear. He succeeded in hiding the emotions of his feeling
heart from others, but, by shutting them up in his own breast, he
made them a thousand times more painful. In society he acquired the
lamentable reputation of being unfeeling and careless, and in solitude
his restless imagination created torments for him which were the more
unbearable because he would confide them to no one." It is impossible
to ignore the direct self-portraiture in this character sketch, though
the colouring is too sombre.


[1] _Victor Hugo raconté par un témoin de sa vie_, ii 159. Eugène de
Mirécourt: _Mérimée_, 25.

[2] A reproduction of the portrait is to be found in Maurice Tourneux's
_Prosper Mérimée: ses portraits, ses dessins, sa bibliothèque_.



XXII


BEYLE AND MÉRIMÉE


Thus prepared, Mérimée, at the age of eighteen, made the acquaintance
of Henri Beyle, who was twenty years his senior. They met at the house
of the famous singer, Madame Pasta, who had left Milan and taken up
her residence in Paris. It was inevitable that Beyle should exercise
considerable influence over a kindred spirit so much his junior. Direct
proof of this influence can hardly be given, for, before he met Beyle,
Mérimée had written nothing; but, if we compare the works of the
two authors, the resemblance between some of their peculiarities is
striking; and the comparison is further instructive because it serves
to throw Mérimée's own special characteristics into strong relief.
I consider it impossible that Mérimée can have influenced Beyle,
unless, indeed, we reckon as influence the communication of general
information; for Beyle is undoubtedly indebted to Mérimée for many of
the observations on the subject of art in his _Mémoires d'un Touriste_.
Of the two minds Beyle's was obviously the first matured; therefore,
when the younger of the two friends begins his biographical notice
of the elder with the assertion that, in spite of their friendship,
they had hardly had two ideas in common in the course of their lives,
this obvious exaggeration may reasonably be attributed to the writer's
anxiety to prevent his readers from applying certain of his remarks on
Beyle to himself.

Beyle and Mérimée resemble each other, in the first instance, in their
love of fact. All Mérimée's readers know that what he presents them
with is the bare, accurately demonstrable fact, the exactly drawn
detail. All that he cares for in history, as he himself confesses
in his _Chronique du Règne de Charles IX._, are the anecdotes; and
of these he prefers the kind which illustrate the manners and types
of character of the period. Exactly the same can be said of Beyle.
Anecdote is positively the natural form of his thought; he thinks
in anecdotes. He paints the individual in anecdotes, the period
in biographies. His aversion for the vague leads him to write the
kind of history which seems to him most full of life, in other
words, to communicate fact in the form of a novel, or of a short,
realistic drama. And the pithy, short anecdotes which he relates are
never commonplace, but invariably the striking expression of some
essential fact. In so far the resemblance to Mérimée is marked. When
a modern admirer of Beyle (Paul Heyse) praises his short Italian
tales, "in which strong, reckless passions assert themselves without
any self-deception, and take their course with a fiery, or cold,
heedlessness of consequences, prepared in the last resort to have
recourse to the knife," we feel that these expressions might, without
the alteration of a word, be applied to Mérimée's stories.

Nevertheless, a story as communicated by Mérimée conveys such a
different meaning from a story as communicated by Beyle, that it is
easy to determine the limits of the elder man's influence upon the
younger. Beyle's salient characteristic is the tendency to generalise.
The trait of character which is exhibited in any given action, is to
him only an instance; it illustrates a psychological law, or is the
evidence of certain social conditions or racial peculiarities, which
it is of great consequence to him to elucidate. When, for example,
he fills his book _De l'Amour_ to repletion with anecdotes, he does
it merely for the purpose of showing, in a practical and impressive
manner, what he means by the different names which he gives to the
different varieties of the passion and their different stages of
development. To obtain the reader's assent to the conclusions he draws,
he presents his material, his arguments, in the form of anecdotes. In
his novels this tendency to generalise has almost a distracting effect.
He too frequently explains to his reader: "She acted in such and such
a manner because she was an Italian; a Parisian would of course have
acted very differently."

No traces of anything similar are to be found in Mérimée's writings; no
reflections or divagations--strictly accurate, bold representation of
his fact, and nothing more. When he has chosen his subject, which is
most frequently some survival of ancient savagery that has attracted
his attention as an old coin among modern ones attracts the eye of
the connoisseur, or an old building in a modern town the eye of the
traveller, his whole aim is to make the curious phenomenon stand out
in as strong relief as possible from the insipid dead-level of his own
day; he removes everything which might prevent the strange survival
of the past from producing its full effect; but such a proceeding as
tracing its connection with the general condition of the society or
country of which it bears the impress, never occurs to him. To see
things in their whole bearing is not his affair: the bird's-eye view
he leaves to others. He seeks and finds a curious phenomenon in the
world of reality, delineates it, and in the process of reproduction
imparts to it some of his own life; but he never regards it as anything
but the curious phenomenon. And he is as strictly matter-of-fact in
interpretation as in delineation. Note, for example, how he protests
(in his _Portraits historiques et littéraires_) against any symbolic
interpretation of _Don Quixote_, in which work he refuses to see
anything but a masterly parody of the romances of chivalry. "Let us
leave to solemn German professors," he exclaims, "the honour of the
discovery that the Knight of La Mancha symbolises poetry and his
squire prose. The interpreter will always discover in the works of a
man of genius a thousand poetical intentions of which their author was
entirely ignorant." Contrast with this kind of criticism the following
fine passage from Sainte-Beuve. "This book, originally a purely topical
work, has become part of the literature of the world. It has conquered
the imagination of humanity. Every reader has worked his will with it,
has shaped it to his taste.... Cervantes did not think of this, but we
do. Each one of us is a Don Quixote to-day, a Sancho Panza to-morrow.
In every one of us there is more or less of this discordant union of a
high-flying ideal with the plain common-sense which keeps close to the
ground. With many it is actually only a question of age; a man falls
asleep Don Quixote and awakes Sancho Panza." Beyle would have endorsed
these sentiments; Mérimée was kept from doing so by his antipathy to
generalisation.

Their love of the fact in its simplicity produced in both Beyle and
Mérimée a strong aversion for French classic rhetoric; and both are
distinguished from all contemporary French Romanticists by the fact
that they do not substitute lyric poetry for that rhetoric. Beyle
never wrote a line of poetry; he had no ear whatever for rhythm. In
spite of the enthusiastic admiration which he imagined he felt for the
Italian poets, he regarded metre as merely an assistance to memory, and
could see no reason for it in a composition not intended to be learned
by rote. Mérimée is characterised by a similar dislike of verse. He
had such a repugnance to the effeminate, languishing music of rhyme,
that the numerous poems cited in his writings are, without exception,
rendered in prose; he preferred letting them lose all their character
to translating them in verse. The explanation naturally suggests itself
that he did not feel capable of writing poetry. But I am rather of
opinion that it was his pride which would not allow him to submit his
poetry to the criticism of the public. His _Lettres à une inconnue_
show that he could write English verse, so the question can hardly have
been one of inability. But such talent as he had, he did not cultivate;
an aversion to display of feeling, a shy reservedness, produced the
same practical result as Beyle's want of ear.

In this matter, however, as in various others, Mérimée outdoes his
master. In the depths of Beyle's soul there was a lyric tendency; it
finds its way to the surface in his persistent enthusiasm for Napoleon,
for Italy, for the sixteenth century, for Cimarosa and Rossini,
Correggio and Canova, and in all the superlatives which flow almost as
abundantly from his pen as from Balzac's. Mérimée, on the other hand,
not content with banishing the lyric form from his works, entirely
abjures the spirit; he walls himself in; no prose is less lyrical than
his.

In order to obtain an adequate impression of his literary
matter-of-factness, let us for a moment compare his tales, not with
Beyle's, but with George Sand's first novels, which were written about
the same time. What George Sand offers us in hers is, principally,
such a masterly revelation of the inner life of a young woman, with
its modesty and its enthusiasm, its impulse to self-devotion and its
susceptibility to passion, as no woman had ever given to the world
before; but in the deepest recesses of her soul there is a purpose;
she has a wrong to avenge, wrath to satisfy; she does not see the
sufferings of the female sex from the standpoint of an outsider; she
does not try to conceal that her heart has bled. Mérimée, on the other
hand, has no cause, no theory, no political or social bias whatever. He
has no enthusiasms and believes in nothing, neither in a philosophic
system, nor in a school of art, nor in a religious truth; scarcely even
in the general progress of humanity. The sceptical man-of-the-world,
he hardens his heart against all reformers, missionaries, improvers of
the world, and saviours of humanity; he does not answer the question
whether or not he agrees with them; he turns a deaf ear to it. George
Sand shows what marriage is in France, and asks her public with a
quivering voice: "What do you say to this? Is it to be endured?"
Mérimée writes _La double Méprise_ and ends his tale without moving a
muscle of his face.

As a rest from overpowering emotion George Sand goes back to primitive
human nature, and with simple, beautiful touches delineates (as in
Mauprat) the power and the happiness of faithful love, or produces
(as in the peasant stories and _Jean de la Roche_) simple, touching,
ideal representations of the innate nobility of the human soul. Mérimée
does not believe in the ideal, and has no talent for the idyll. There
is a sombre, dusky tone over everything he paints; the impulse of the
soul towards a purity which it loves, or a heroism which it admires,
is foreign to his art. In her inmost heart George Sand is the lyric
poet. Whether she makes the passion of love the centre of her book,
concedes it every right and gives it her whole sympathy even when it
inspires an unworthy character (as in that remarkable and profoundly
suggestive tale, _Valvèdre_), or whether she is carried away by her
admiration for the courage and strength of character of the best of her
own sex, she always shares the emotions and passions of her characters,
rejoices, weeps, sighs, and smiles with them. Mérimée, on the contrary,
resembles Beyle in giving an impersonal, dramatic expression to his
ideas and feelings, and surpasses him in the artistic skill with which
he does it. He has been at great trouble to shut up his feelings in
his own breast, has imposed silence upon them, the absolute silence
of the prison cell, and never, never once, does he give expression
to them in his own name. He gives voice to them only through fully
responsible characters, and that but sparingly. The characters thus
evolved stand out before us with unusual vividness, and their language
is peculiarly laconic and vigorous. The more intense and tender
Mérimée's emotion originally was, the prouder is its outward bearing.
There is nothing feminine in him. Even in his female characters it is
not their femininity which he brings out. Beyle, a marked contrast
to him in this respect, makes, in writing to him, the true and apt
observation, that his novels are wanting in "delicate tenderness."[1]
His women are masculine and logical in their passions; almost all of
them are powerful individualities; even the most frivolous and immoral
meet death with quiet fortitude (Arsène Guillot, Julie de Chaverney,
Carmen). None of them have the melting Correggio-like quality which
Beyle imparted to his female characters.

Beyle's more lyric style and profounder understanding of true
womanliness are principally due to the fact that he was at heart an
imaginative enthusiast. His matter-of-factness is only skin deep.
Hence enthusiasm itself was a favourite theme of his, whereas it was
one which Mérimée avoided. Compare them, for instance, as delineators
of battle scenes; compare the two best prose descriptions of battles
in existence at that time, Mérimée's famous _L'Enlèvement de la
Redoute_ and Beyle's equally famous account of the battle of Waterloo.
They present a striking contrast. In Beyle's pages we have a youth's
enthusiasm for Napoleon and thirst for military glory depicted with a
touch of irony, but also with genuine sympathy; in Mérimée's we have
only the dark side of war--the half-mechanical assault on a redoubt,
and the tumult of battle, which he paints with as masterly a hand
as Gérôme's, without thought of patriotism, enthusiasm, or any more
elevated sentiment than soldier-like stoicism and hope of promotion.

Beyle and Mérimée resemble each other in their attitude to religion,
which was a peculiar one for Romanticists. The French Romanticists
were originally as little inimical to Roman Catholicism as the German.
Several of them began life as good Catholics, and the attitude of the
rest was, generally speaking, one either of respect or indifference.
But both Mérimée and Beyle were from the very first thoroughly pagan in
thought and feeling. And Mérimée's free-thought, as well as Beyle's,
was of the ardent type. He was not naïve enough to cherish a species
of enmity towards a personal God, but he shared Beyle's detestation
of the representatives of religion. His dislike of Christianity
is, however, far more indirectly expressed than Beyle's, which is
incessantly forcing itself on our notice. He does not, like Beyle,
hate Catholicism; he only smiles at it. He never puts out more than
a finger tip from under his black domino. It amuses him to describe
insinuating Catholic priests; and when his characters have occasion
to speak of baptism, confession, or any other religious ceremony, he
is apt to make them do it "in a sanctimonious, nasal tone." But when
the words are his own, we never have more than such cautious, subtle
irony as is contained in the following passage. "It was a religious
book which Madame de Pienne had brought with her; and I do not intend
to tell you its title, in the first place because I do not wish to
injure its author, in the second, because you would probably accuse me
of desiring to draw some opprobrious inference regarding such books in
general. Suffice it to say that the work in question was written by
a young man of nineteen, with the special aim of restoring hardened
sinners of the female sex to the bosom of the Church, that Arsène was
terribly exhausted, and that she had not closed her eyes the whole of
the previous night. Whilst the third page was being read, that happened
which would have happened whatever the book had been--Mademoiselle
Guillot closed her eyes and fell asleep."

Here again the difference between Beyle and Mérimée is mainly
conditioned by the fact that the former was far less sceptical than the
latter. Beyle was a materialist of the school of the Encyclopedists,
and as such had firm beliefs. He had his philosophy--Epicureanism,
to which he adhered faithfully; his method--psychological analysis;
his religion--the worship of beauty in life, in music, in the plastic
arts, and in literature. Mérimée has no philosophy; one cannot imagine
anything less dogmatic than his half-stoical, half-sensual turn of
mind; and he has no religion; he worships nothing. He avoids enthusiasm
as carefully as if it were a disease. We are impressed by this fact in
reading his remarks on Leonidas and the battle of Thermopylæ in the
famous essay on Grote's _History of Greece_. He tells how he himself
some years before had spent three days at Thermopylæ, and confesses
that, "prosaic as he is," it was not without emotion that he climbed
the little height where the last of the Three Hundred fell. But he
did not allow himself to be overcome by his emotion. He examined the
Persian arrow-heads, and found that they were of flint--these Asiatics,
therefore, were but poor savages in comparison with the Europeans; if
we have cause to marvel at anything, it is that they made their way
through the Pass at all. He proceeds to criticise Leonidas severely for
having occupied this impregnable position himself, leaving the other
pass, which was much more difficult to defend, in charge of a coward.
The death of Leonidas was undoubtedly the death of a hero; but let us
picture to ourselves, if we can, his return to Sparta after having
surrendered the key of Hellas to the Barbarians. Mérimée comes to the
conclusion that Herodotus has written history as a poet, and moreover
as a Greek poet, whose chief aim it is to throw the beautiful into
strong relief; and he ends with the question: Can it be said that in
this case the fiction is of more value than the truth? Ninety-nine men
out of a hundred would unhesitatingly answer: Yes. Mérimée does not.
He is writing in 1849, and with recent historical tragedies in his
mind he answers: "Possibly. But it was by misrepresenting Thermopylæ,
misrepresenting the ease with which three hundred free men could
resist three million slaves, that the orators of Italy persuaded the
Piedmontese to pit themselves alone against the Austrians." Compare
with this sceptic spirit of Mérimée's the enthusiastic and simple faith
with which Beyle retails the untrustworthy legend of Beatrice Cenci.

The period of 1830 was a time when the most eminent authors of France
were very much on their guard against any excess in the matter of
patriotism. The newly aroused appreciation of the merits of foreign
literatures led, by a natural reaction, to contempt for their own and
its classic authors, and even at times for the French spirit generally.
The first, tolerably foolish, attack made by the Romantic School on
Racine is a well-known episode. French classic literature was declared
to be a literature only suitable for the schoolroom. Victor Hugo, who
was by no means generally lacking in national pride, exclaimed, in
the preface to _Les Orientales_: "Other nations say, Homer, Dante,
Shakespeare. We say, Boileau." Hugo's youth had been spent in Spain,
and he treated Spanish themes in his first dramas (_Inez de Castro,
Hernani_), retaining the Spanish division of the play into days
instead of acts. Spain and Italy were the Promised Land of the budding
Romanticists. Alfred de Musset wrote _Contes d'Espagne et d'Italie_;
Théophile Gautier never wearied of showering maledictions on the
cold climate and colourless customs of France, called Spain his true
fatherland, &c., &c.

Beyle and Mérimée both exemplify in a very marked degree this protest
against national vanity. In Beyle's mouth the word "French" was almost
a term of contumely; his satirical appellation for Frenchmen was _les
vainvifs_; his books teem with such ejaculations as: "Could anything
be more comical than to ascribe depth of character to a Parisian?"
He calls his country, "le plus vilain pays du monde, que les nigauds
appellent la belle France." We have seen that he eventually renounced
his nationality. Mérimée, who was almost as much in love with Spanish
as Beyle with Italian customs, had the essentially Romantic leaning to
the foreign, the exotic; and he too, like his older friend, considered
one of the leading traits of French national character to be that
constant attention to the opinion of others (_le qu'en dira-t-on_)
which destroys all originality, makes a joyless thing of life, and
forms the best foundation for the hypocrisies of society. His general
opinion of his countrymen was a tolerably low one, and he took no
pains to conceal the fact from them. But, unlike Beyle, he in the
end proclaimed his allegiance to the old gospel, the old creed, of
patriotism. The step was not an easy one for a man who hated patriotic
phrase-mongering like the plague; it took nothing less than the
downfall of France to draw any expression of love for his country from
his lips. But in a letter dated September 13, 1870, he writes: "All
my life long I have endeavoured to keep free from prejudices, and to
be a cosmopolitan rather than a Frenchman; but all these philosophic
draperies are of no avail. I bleed to-day from these stupid Frenchmen's
wounds, I weep for their humiliations, and, ungrateful and foolish as
they are, I love them in spite of everything."

In his estimate of Beyle's character, Mérimée (in this agreeing with
Sainte-Beuve) decides that one of its most marked traits was his
fear of being duped. "Thence arose," he writes, "that artificial
hardness, that overdone analysis of the low motives of all generous
actions, and that resistance to the first impulses of the heart, all
of which, in my opinion, was more assumed than real. The aversion and
contempt with which sentimentality inspired him often led him into
the contrary exaggeration, to the great scandal of those who, not
knowing him intimately, took all that he said of himself literally."
This fear of being duped, with all its consequences as here described,
was quite as characteristic of Mérimée himself as of Beyle; only that
Mérimée, being of a more refined nature, had to do more violence to
himself in the process of acquiring that cynical tone which in the end
became as natural to him in intercourse with men as was insinuating
gallantry in intercourse with women. He too, as a young man, enjoyed
being considered a monster of immorality; and it was only when some
comic incident, such as that of the country lady's refusing to travel
alone with him in the diligence,[2] showed him what his reputation
really was, that he felt a few days' remorse for his folly. Horror of
hypocrisy actually made Mérimée a hypocrite, inducing him to feign vice
and hard-heartedness; and his fear of being deceived not only led him
to deceive others, but to cheat himself out of many pure and simple
pleasures. It is not only on the stage, as Gorgias says, that the dupe
is often wiser than the man who is never duped. He who does not live
in constant fear of treachery has more courage, is more productive,
realises more of the possibilities which lie latent in his soul.

In Mérimée's case the constant fear of exposing himself had two bad
consequences which it had not in Beyle's. In the first place, it
produced in him in course of time a kind of official stiffness. As a
member of the Academy and of the Senate, and as the trusted favourite
of the Imperial family, he had to appear in public and make speeches
on occasions when he could not but inwardly laugh at the figure he cut
and at his own words. Beyle never placed himself in a position which
obliged him to speak with respect of things he scorned, or to pay
compliments to blockheads. It was a sincere feeling which he expressed
in the words: "When I see a man strutting about a drawing-room with
any number of orders on his coat, I involuntarily think of all the
meannesses and the contemptible, nay, often treacherous actions which
he must have committed to have amassed so many proofs of them."

In the second place, the fear in question made Mérimée so severely
critical of himself as an author that he became unproductive. Beyle's
motto was: "No day without its line." Mérimée never wrote much, and
at last stopped altogether. His demands of himself in the matter of
plasticity and technical perfection were so excessive that he preferred
withdrawing from the contest with his own ideal to risking defeat. It
seemed to him that it was better to rest contented with what he had
done than to stake his reputation as an artist on any new work. And
it made it the easier for him to refrain, that he was by nature of a
reserved, retiring disposition, and not impelled by any uncontrollable
impulse to constant production.

It was in vain that Beyle reproached him for "laziness." Amongst the
causes of that laziness there was one which Beyle did not understand,
and which constituted the main difference between the two men. Beyle
was a psychologist and a poet, but not an artist; Mérimée was an
artist to his finger-tips. It is as the artist and as the artist alone
that he is great; and his superiority to Beyle lies in his artistic
skill. It was he who gave imperishable artistic form to that wealth of
intellectual material which Beyle brought to light. And the laziness
was anything but absolute idleness. It found expression in essays,
descriptions of historical monuments, translations from the Russian,
and modest but careful historical research and historical writings.
Mérimée was a philologist and an archaeologist, a scholar and a
scientist. His art may be likened to an oasis lying in the midst of
his arid technical studies; it borders on science on every side, and
the passage from it to historical writing is an easy one; for there
comes a moment when the love of fact and the passion for accuracy
and precision can no longer find satisfaction in merely imaginary
portraiture. In this particular the history of Mérimée's personal
career as an author resembles the history of the Romantic School; he
reflects a great movement on a small scale. For in France as well as in
Germany, scientific criticism and historical research followed in the
path which the literary criticism of the Romanticists had opened up for
imaginative literature. When the poets had done with the foreign and
medieval material, the scientists began to deal with it in the spirit
which poetry had evoked.

As Mérimée's fiction was always in a manner the offspring of his
researches, as many of his stories, such as _Carmen, La Vénus d'Ille_,
and _Lokis_, are even sportively set in a framework of archæological
or philological investigation, it was natural enough that science
should gradually make its way from the outside to the heart of
his work. In his position as a scientific man lies the last great
difference between him and Beyle. Mérimée is not a scientist of the
first rank; he has the second-class qualities of thoroughness and
trustworthiness, but lacks the spark of inspiration which he possesses
as an author. He has, however, the distinctive sign of the true man
of science; he never speaks of what he does not understand; he never
indulges in random conjectures or ingenious paradoxes; he progresses
step by step. At times he may be dry and wooden, but he never makes a
mistake.

If Mérimée is the sober, uninspired man of science, Beyle is the
inspired scientific dilettante, with all the signs of genius, but also
all the signs of dilettantism. His books teem with daring assertions,
indemonstrable conjectures, theories regarding nations with whose
languages he was unfamiliar, amateurish paradoxes like that which
places Werner's _Luther_ in the forefront of German drama. His essays
are as entertaining and suggestive as Mérimée's are tiresome and dry;
but Mérimée's conclusions are founded upon rock, Beyle's too often
built upon sand.

Thus, both as the scientist and the author, Mérimée marks an advance
upon Beyle. He is a man of a narrower and less fertile mind; but the
contents of his mind are infinitely better ordered, and he is master of
a highly perfected artistic style.


[1] "Souvent vous ne me semblez pas assez _délicatement tender_; or il
faut cela dans un roman pour me toucher."

[2] _Lettres à une inconnue_, i. 72.



XXIII


MÉRIMÉE


Mérimée's earliest attitude as the dramatist and novelist is an
attitude of literary aggressiveness. Although by nature an observer,
he does not, like Balzac, set himself the task of representing, in all
its breadth, the world he sees around him; neither is it his ambition
that posterity shall study in his works the customs and ideas of his
period; he desires to challenge a prevailing taste; and with the
object of irritating and rousing his fellow-countrymen, he generally
chooses themes which have as little connection as possible with modern
civilised society.

It was natural that his hostility should first vent itself upon
literary sentimentality. The shy, proud youth was penetrated with the
idea that it is the duty of the author to communicate his ideas to
the public, but that his dignity as a man requires him to keep his
feelings to himself. But in this opinion he received no support from
the French literary men of the day. Ever since Rousseau's novels,
not to mention his _Confessions_, had prepared the way for orgies of
half-real, half-fictitious emotion and a communicativeness which kept
back nothing, a series of authors, from Chateaubriand to Lamartine and
Sainte-Beuve, had dissected themselves for the entertainment of the
public, initiated their readers into the secrets of their hearts, in
short, unreservedly satisfied the low curiosity of the vulgar herd.
And with what aim? To win its sympathy. Mérimée was far too proud to
desire it. "For Heaven's sake no confessions!" he says to himself the
first time he puts pen to paper. And to avoid all risk of becoming
sentimental or morbid, he conceals himself completely behind the
characters he describes, allows them and their destinies free play,
and never expresses his opinion of their conduct. Beyle, who had
quite as strong an aversion for sentimentality, was unable to refrain
from putting in his word; Mérimée makes himself invisible, inaudible,
untraceable. But his temperament makes it impossible for him to do this
in any other way than by confining himself to the representation of
intense, determined characters, who follow their impulses without much
deliberation or talk, are carried away by their passions, and suddenly,
unexpectedly, proceed to action. "To me," says Mérimée's South American
sea-captain in _La Famille Carvajal_, "all these tragedy heroes are
phlegmatic, passionless philosophers. If one of them kills his rival
in a duel or any other manner, remorse overpowers him immediately and
makes him as soft as a woollen mitten. I have seen twenty-seven years'
service, I have killed forty-one Spaniards, and I don't know what such
a feeling is.... Characters, emotions, actions--everything seems
unnatural to us when we read these plays aloud in the mess-room. They
are all princes, who vow that they are madly in love, and dare not so
much as touch the tips of their mistresses' fingers, but keep these
ladies a boat's hook length off. We sailors go to work more boldly in
such matters."

Mérimée does not write for the "bourgeois," into whose eyes the
slightest emotion brings tears; he addresses himself to people of
stronger nerves, who require more violent shocks to move them.
Therefore away with the regulation lengthy introductions, and all
the preparations and omens of tragedy! Human beings with blood in
their veins do not deliberate so long; and nervous weakness is not an
interesting spectacle to any but the neurotic. If a woman loves, what
can be more natural than that she should say so, and, regardless of
every other consideration, make the intervals between the first avowal,
the first kiss, and the first embrace as short as possible? If a man
hates with a manly hatred, what more natural than that he should put an
end to his torment and his enemy's life with a stab or a shot? It is,
undoubtedly, natural, when the race which the author chooses to depict
is not an effete, but a vigorous one; and this is the explanation of
Mérimée's tendency to give to every feeling the character of a fierce
passion, to dwell upon what is cruel and hard, to make death--not
tragedy death, but real death, in all its cold, hard pitilessness--the
dénouement of every tale which he sends out from his artist's workshop.
It explains what may be summed up in a word as _l'atroce_ in his
writings.

He is familiar with death. If the old designations were applicable in
his case, we should call him a great tragic author; but Mérimée does
not believe in what dogmatic upholders of Aristotelian principles call
tragic expiation. Concerning the representation of death in the works
of other authors he seems to say with Schiller:

    "Aber der Tod, Ihr Herrn, ist so ästhetisch doch nicht."

Deepest down in his soul lies the love of strength. But he does not,
like Balzac, love strength in the shape of strong desire, strong
passions; he loves it in the form of original force of character and of
stirring, decisive event; and therefore he naturally begins by feeling
and reproducing the poetry of decisive event, long before he is mature
enough to represent that of simple, strong character. Of all events,
death is the most decisive; and hence it is that he falls in love
with death--not, be it observed, with death as it is conceived of by
spiritualists and believers, not with death as a purifying passage to
another existence, but as a violent, sudden, bloody termination. Like
Sièyes, he is for _la mort sans phrase_.

The idea not unnaturally suggests itself that a certain want of
feeling, a certain tendency to cruelty, in Mérimée the man, probably
lay at the root of this literary hard-heartedness. It can, however,
almost be proved from direct assertions of his own, that the most
extravagant manifestations of the quality were originally called
forth by his strong aversion to sentimentality in literature. In his
essay on the friend of his youth, Victor Jacquemont, we come upon the
following passage: "I have never known a more truly feeling heart than
Jacquemon's. His was a loving, tender nature; but he took as much pains
to conceal his sensibility as others do to dissimulate their evil
inclinations. In our youth we had been repelled by the false sentiment
of Rousseau and his imitators, and the result in our case was the usual
one--an exaggerated reaction. We wished to be strong, and therefore we
jeered at sentimentality."

It is, nevertheless, self-evident that this hatred of the pathetic,
which contrasts so strongly with the extreme sentimentality of most
of Mérimée's youthful contemporaries, and this predilection for the
violent and the savage, were not purely and simply products of a spirit
of contradiction. To gauge the strength of the predilection we have
but to glance at the history of Mérimée's development: in another man
we should expect to see such a feeling checked in its first outbreaks
by the lighter, brighter mood of youth, and tempered in age by waning
vigour. But such was not the case with Mérimée. His love of violent
solutions is of the same age as his love of pen and ink, and the
horrors and terrors with which in the works of his mature manhood his
genius produces a tragic effect, become in those of his old age merely
gloomy and repulsive.

In the _Théâtre de Clara Gazul_, Mérimée's first book, published when
he was only twenty-two, it is amusing to observe the conflict of youth
with the inveterate natural bias towards gloom and violence. Read
superficially, the book produces the effect of a tolerably serious
work. Professing to be written in the Spanish style, it nevertheless
differs in many essential particulars from Spanish dramatic literature.
The plays of which it is composed have no mutual resemblance; they do
not, like the mantle-and-dagger tragedies, monotonously repeat the same
types of character and the same situations, produced by jealousy and a
touchy sense of honour; nor do they accept the extremely conventional
ideas of morality current in the tragedies in question. Mérimée's
characters have distinctly defined individualities; and instead of
exhibiting superhuman self-control and resignation, they are carried
blindly away by their passions and desires. Still less resemblance
is there between these plays of Mérimée's and the great series of
romantic and fantastic dramas (some of them breathing the spirit of
Catholicism, others lacking it) in which Calderon reaches the zenith of
his productive power and displays all his wealth of colour. It is only
with certain heavy Spanish dramas, such as Calderon's _El alcalde de
Zalamea, Las tres justicias in una, El medico de su honra, El pintor
de su deshonra_, or Moreto's _El valiente justiciero_, that certain of
Mérimée's, for example _Inès Mendo_, harmonise in their general tone.
Taken as a whole, instead of being what it pretends to be, namely
serious, the book is arrogantly wanton and audacious; genuine French
frivolity and satire peep out beneath the costume of the Spanish
actress. Personages are introduced upon the stage whom, as we are told
in the preface to _Une Femme est un Diable_, our nurses taught us to
regard with reverence. But the author hopes that "the emancipated
Spaniards" will not take this amiss.

_Clara Gazul_ is, then, a merry book; the good lady who wrote it
is no prude. But what a strange kind of mirth it is! Amongst its
manifestations is the free use of the knife. If we try to find a
parallel to it, nothing suggests itself but the sportive springs of a
young tiger. Mérimée finds it almost impossible to end without killing
all his principal characters, and one sword-thrust succeeds the other
almost automatically. But he amuses himself by destroying the illusion
directly after the catastrophe; the actors rise, and one of them thanks
the audience for their kind attention; the whole thing is turned into a
jest.

      _Doña Maria._

      Help! She is poisoned, poisoned by me. I will see to my own
      punishment; the convent well is not far off. (_Exit hurriedly._)

      _Fray Eugenio_ (_to the audience_).

      Do not take it too much amiss that I have caused the death of
      these two charming young ladies; and graciously excuse the
      shortcomings of the author.

Thus ends the wild play _L'Occasion_. The wittiest criticism passed on
these dramas, and the style in general, is contained in a sentence in
Alfred de Musset's _Lettres de Dupuis et Cotonet_: "Souvient l'Espagne,
avec ses Castillans, qui se coupent la gorge comme on boit un verre
d'eau, ses Andalouses qui font plus vite encore un petit métier moins
dépeuplant, ses taureaux, ses toréadors, matadors, &c."

It was not in Mérimée's works alone that the Spain of the young
Romantic School (to which De Musset himself contributed the pale-faced,
brown-necked Andalusian beauty) was so passionate and hasty. But no one
took such delight in it all as he. And the themes he chose in his old
age are in complete accordance with this taste of his youth.

His last tale, _Lokis_, is the story of a young Lithuanian count of
mysterious descent, who from time to time is possessed by, or at least
feels that he possesses, the instincts of a wild animal. He goes mad on
his wedding-night and kills his bride by biting her throat. The count's
character is drawn with delicate skill; the progress of his mental
derangement is indicated by a few slight but graphic touches; and
Mérimée has evidently enjoyed contrasting this wild young Lithuanian
nobleman with a peculiarly worthy and dull German professor (the German
of French fiction prior to 1870), a guest in the count's house, who
writes every evening to his _fiancée_, Fräulein Weber, and communicates
the horrible catastrophe to the reader in one of his letters. But
the impression left by this vampire tale is one of disgust mingled
with horror. The masterly treatment, the perfect style, the refined
manner in which the loathsome subject is dealt with, remind us of the
white kid gloves of the headsman. The story is only of interest to us
as a proof of the strength retained by one of its author's original
tendencies.

Personally characteristic of Mérimée as this tendency undoubtedly was,
it is plainly of near kin to a tendency of the whole of that school
to which Southey gave the name of the "Satanic." The influence of
Byron is unmistakable. By 1830 Frenchmen were thoroughly weary (as
Englishmen had been for some time) of the "Immanuelistic" literature
of the Reaction. The sceptre of literature had passed from the hands
of Lamartine into the hands of Victor Hugo, whose _Orientales_ contain
most sanguinary pictures of war and destruction. Lamartine himself,
the Seraphic poet in chief, had struck a Satanic note in _La Chute
d'un Ange_. And a young poet of Victor Hugo's school was treating
gruesome themes in short, artistically finished stories at the same
time as Mérimée, and entirely uninfluenced by him. I allude to Petrus
Borel, who died poor and unknown. His _Dina, la belle Juive_, will bear
comparison with any of Mérimée's tales of horror. Poor Borel was an
enthusiast, an ardent moralist, who, concealing his fervour beneath his
realism, desired to inspire indignation with the deeds of violence he
described. The refined, polished Mérimée is often only pretending to be
bloodthirsty because it amuses him to frighten his readers, especially
those of the female sex. But in both cases we have also the genuine
Romantic defiance of the "bourgeois."

Mérimée has not escaped unpunished for thus yielding up his talent to
the service of literary bloodthirstiness. Though he avoided his Nemesis
during his lifetime, she overtook him after death. When De Loménie
pronounced the customary panegyric in the Académie Française, he
concluded by expressing the opinion that what was wanting in Mérimée's
life was the peace and joy of the domestic hearth--that he would have
been happier as the father of a family, "with four or five children to
bring up." And when his friend, Countess Lise Przezdzieska, published,
under the title of _Lettres à une autre inconnue_, a series of his
letters to her which were certainly never intended for publication, she
devoted the proceeds of her book to the payment of masses for the soul
of her anti-Catholic friend.



XXIV


MÉRIMÉE


At the time when Mérimée made his literary début in the disguise of a
Spaniard, the Classic drama had reached the stage when the personages
of a play had all, like the pieces on a chessboard, their prescribed
duties and moves. There were the stereotyped king, tyrant, princess,
conspirators, &c. It mattered not whether the queen who had killed her
husband was called Semiramis, Clytemnestra, Johanna of Naples, or Mary
Stuart, whether the lawgiver's name was Minos or Peter the Great or
Cromwell--their words and actions, thoughts and feelings, were always
the same. A young poet of the Classic School, who had treated a subject
from Spanish history in a manner which was objected to by the censor,
got out of the difficulty by transferring the action of his play with
a stroke of the pen from Barcelona to Babylon, and from the sixteenth
century to the days before the Flood. "Babylone" had the same number of
syllables and rhymed with the same words as "Barcelone," and scarcely
any other alteration was necessary.[1] The Spain which Mérimée, in the
guise of Clara Gazul, shows to his readers, is not the country in which
this Barcelona was situated. Nor does he rest content with masquerading
as a Spanish lady. The genuine Romanticist, he regards it as the main
task of the author to represent the manners and morals of different
ages and countries without a touch of varnish or whitewash, bringing
out distinctly and strongly what in those days was called "local
colour." He therefore transforms himself into an inhabitant of the most
dissimilar countries, in all different stages of civilisation. He is in
imagination a Moor, a negro, a South American, an Illyrian, a gipsy,
a Cossack. But all things remote and foreign do not possess an equal
degree of attraction for him. Indeed he is actually repelled by culture
and polish. As Théophile Gautier preferred to visit each country at
the season of year when its climate is most characteristic--Africa in
summer, Russia in winter--so Mérimée preferred imaginary excursions to
the regions whose inhabitants have the least regard for human life, the
strongest passions, the wildest and most determined characters, and the
most violent original prejudices. He does not confine himself to the
present. He is keenly interested in the barbarities of the peasant wars
of the Middle Ages; he conjures up the age of Charles IX., and writes a
masterly account of the massacre of St. Bartholomew. He is as familiar
with fourteenth-century Spain and seventeenth-century Russia as with
ancient France and ancient Rome. As the archaeologist and historian
he has examined inscriptions and monuments, buildings, ornaments, and
weapons, and has studied documents and manuscripts in many languages
of which the ordinary literary man knows nothing. This gives his
descriptions a truthfulness which was uncommon in his day.

It is his passion for strength in its primitive nakedness which endows
him with the historical sense. Hence the heroes of his historical works
are always the wildest and most daring characters--Sulla, Catilina,
Don Pedro the Cruel of Castile, the first pseudo-Demetrius, &c, &c.
His conscientious accuracy and his distrust of the part played by
imagination in science rob his historical works proper of life (he is
most successful in _Don Pedro I._ and _Épisode de l'Histoire de la
Russie_); but he at once imparts life to any period which he treats as
the imaginative artist. After Vitet had shown, in his masterly _Scènes
historiques_, how real history can be presented in a free dramatic
rendering, Mérimée gave France, in _La Jaquerie_, the picture of a much
earlier and more savage age than that which his forerunner and teacher
had subjected to poetic treatment. He aptly indicates the spirit of his
work in the ironically applied speech of Molière's Mascarille, which he
affixes to it as motto: "C'est mon talent particulier, et je travaille
à mettre en madrigaux toute l'histoire romaine." He has entered with
wonderful understanding into the customs and follies, views and
prejudices, which constituted the spirit of that far-off age. Let us
take one character as an instance--Isabella, daughter of the Baron
d'Apremont, a typical high-minded, amiable young girl of the feudal
period. Her heart is pure, her morals are of the strictest, she is
merciful to the suffering and the vanquished. To the brave and faithful
man-at-arms who goes through fire and water for her sake she is very
gracious; she begs her father to give her this serf, and in gratitude
to him for having saved her life she makes him her equerry; she even
embroiders him a purse. But he dares to love her; and then everything
is at an end. She overwhelms him with contemptuous reproaches, repulses
him with scorn, and considers herself degraded by his having dared
to lift up his eyes to her. Compare this lady with one of Ingemann's
noble maidens; imagine how the latter, scorning all the prejudices of
her day, would have valued the noble heart which beat under the simple
jerkin; and note the difference between an idealistic and a bold,
historically accurate representation of a coarse and vigorous age.
One more example--the scene which takes place at night in front of a
lonely hut in the forest, to which the brutal English freebooter-chief,
Siward, has conveyed Isabella, whom he has carried off after the
assault in which her father has been killed. The whole is nothing but
the conversation of two troopers who are holding the saddled horses at
the door, and pass the time in talking of the act of violence which is
being committed within. But the impression produced is so vivid that it
stamps on our minds a picture of the whole age. It is, however, a fault
in this work, that the author, in his aversion for sentimentality,
has crowded together so many cruel and horrible actions, that in the
general savagery the differences which undoubtedly existed then, as
now, between society as a whole and single individuals, are overlooked.

The separate personages in his _Chronique du Règne de Charles IX._
stand out much more clearly from the background. They have strongly
marked characteristics without on that account being modern (except
perhaps George Mergy); indeed Mérimée has bestowed such attention on
details that each chapter in its graphic coherence forms a little
whole, and the work in its entirety produces the effect of a mosaic
design of character portraits and pictures of society. In the last of
his semi-historical works, _Les Débuts d'un Aventurier_, we observe
that what attracts him in the false Demetrius is the primitive
cunning, the rough, vigorous Cossack character, and not those mental
conflicts, ensuing on the fraud, which fascinated Schiller. Mérimée may
be said to leave off where Schiller begins. The manners and customs
of a definite group of human beings at a definite period are of far
more interest to him than what these human beings have in common
with universal humanity; hence here as elsewhere in his historical
fiction, it is not the intellectual or emotional side of life which he
shows us, but its character side--the results of strong, concentrated
will-power. When he writes of modern times, he describes gipsy or
brigand life, as in _Carmen_, a vendetta, as in _Colomba_, a horrible
murder on the wedding-night, as in _La Vénus d'Ille_ and _Lokis_.
Or if he lays his plot within the pale of modern society proper, he
either describes peculiarities of those classes which labour under
social disadvantages--the bold language and irregular ideas of young
ballet-dancers and actresses, the erotic temptations of Catholic
priests; or contents himself with anything in the life of the upper
classes that means character--a passionate love-affair terminated by
a duel, a case of adultery which leads to the suicide of one of the
parties concerned, any thoroughly scandalous story which it delights
him to cast in the teeth of the effete, hypocritical society of the
day. He feels himself in his element amidst merciless strokes of fate,
terrible vicissitudes, violent passions which, when they are fortunate,
override the conventions of society, and when unfortunate, are called
crimes. Hence it was that modern Russian literature was so sympathetic
to him. The works of Pushkin which he translated, _La dame de Pique_
and _Les Bohémiens_, have themes closely akin to those which he treated
himself.

Two characteristic feelings lie at the root of Mérimée's disinclination
to apprehend and treat the trenchant catastrophes in human life as
tragic catastrophes; the one is a kind of fear that the trenchancy
which he loves will lose its edge by the introduction of a reconciling
element; the other is his disbelief in a greater, comprehensive whole,
of which the single incident forms a part. When he produces, as he at
times does, a genuinely tragic effect, it happens almost against his
will, and is the result of a more mature and profound understanding of
the human soul, and of a sympathy, growing with his growing experience
of life, for cases in which there is a necessary connection between
character and destiny. In his romance of the days of Charles IX.,
when he makes the one brother fall by the hand of the other, he, the
scorner of the symbolic, as a matter of fact represents all the folly
and horror of the religious and civil war in one melodramatically
tragic, symbolical picture. And when, in the little tale _La Partie
de Trictrac_, the unfortunate officer who has cheated on one solitary
occasion becomes so miserable in the consciousness of his shame that
he is driven to commit suicide, the story imperceptibly assumes the
character of a tragedy of honour.

In another little work of art, _La double Méprise_, Mérimée endeavours
to represent the web of chance events, of conflicting and wrongly
comprehended instincts, which make life so meaningless, and even what
is saddest as foolish as it is sad and hideous; but as he unfolds the
inner history of the painful incident, and as we by degrees learn that
that which seemed foolish was inevitable, it ceases to be foolish. The
gist of the story is that a young married woman, Julie de Chaverny,
whose dissatisfaction with her married life is developing into actual
unhappiness, is led by a chain of ideas and emotions, slight in
themselves, but welded together like links of iron, to give herself to
a man whom she in reality does not love, and then to take her own life.
Mérimée's art displays itself in this case in the calm assurance with
which he takes his reader's hand and leads him through the labyrinth
of all these ideas and emotions to a climax which is as inevitable as
it is illogical. Two inimitable passages are the conversation in which
Darcy arouses Julie's enthusiastic admiration by the modesty and humour
with which he unwillingly recounts his own gallant deeds, and the
conversation in the carriage, during which every utterance of Julie's,
her resistance even more than her confessions, brings her nearer to her
fall. The situation is summed up in the following classic sentence,
prepared for by everything that has gone before: "The unfortunate woman
believed at this moment in all sincerity that she had always loved
Darcy; that she had felt the same ardent attachment to him during all
the six years of his absence as she did at that instant." Mérimée
understood what a power, what a tragic motive force in human life,
inevitable illusion or self-deception is. It is the source to which not
only half of human happiness, but a considerable proportion of human
misery may be traced.

But Mérimée approaches nearer than this to tragedy proper, where the
fateful element sinks deep into the character, mingling with it as
a poison mingles with the blood. Think of _Carmen_. From the day of
José's first meeting with Carmen, the gipsy girl, the course of his
life is changed; and he, the honest, good-hearted man, becomes of
inevitable necessity, for her sake, a robber and a murderer. Nay, the
author, whose aim as a young Romanticist was to hold as far aloof as
possible from the poets who wrote tragedy in the ancient Greek style,
approaches, in _Colomba_, with his modern Corsican heroine, nearer to
Greek tragedy than any of his fellow-countrymen who hymned the fate of
one or other of "Agamemnon's imperishable race." Not without reason
has Colomba been compared to Elektra. Like Elektra, she broods, to the
exclusion of every other thought, on the unavenged death of her father;
like Elektra, she incites her brother to take a bloody revenge; and
she is even less of the stereotyped tragedy heroine than Sophocles'
young girl, for, clad though she is in the steel panoply of appalling
prejudices, she bears herself simply and lovably. She is at once
bloodthirsty and childlike, hard-hearted and girlish; a fierce grace
is her characteristic trait. It is easy for us now to see how much
more nearly akin this fresh, vigorous daughter of a little southern
island race is to the old Greek female characters than are all those
princesses who walked the French stage in buskins, and borrowed the
names of Elektra, Antigone, or Iphigenia. But she is perhaps still
more nearly related to the heathen daughters of a far-away northern
isle, the women of the Icelandic sagas, who brood with such passionate
obstinacy over their family feuds, and force the unwilling men to take
blood for blood.

In this same _Colomba_, which is Mérimée's most famous work, Romantic
"local colouring" celebrates its most signal triumph. The story is
pervaded by the genuine aroma of Bonaparte's native isle, and breathes
the genuine Corsican spirit. As a proof of the fidelity with which
Corsican customs are reproduced, as well as of the popularity of the
book, it may be mentioned that when Mérimée was waiting in court to
hear the verdict in the Libri case, a Corsican ex-bandit came forward
from among the audience and quietly offered, in case of the verdict
being given against him, to revenge him by assassinating the president
of the court. Better evidence of the correctness of Mérimée's colouring
could hardly be required. But Mérimée would not have been Mérimée if
he had not (at the very time when he was publishing _Colomba_) saved
his reputation as the enemy of all theories by making merry over this
same much-talked-of "local colouring." In the preface, written in 1840,
to the second edition of _La Guzla_, his collection of fictitious
Illyrian popular songs and ballads, he tells that, "in the year of
grace 1827," he was a Romanticist with an enthusiasm for local colour,
nay, the firm belief that without it there was no salvation. By local
colouring he and his comrades meant what in the seventeenth century
went by the name of "manners" (_mœurs_); but they were very proud of
their word, and imagined themselves to be the inventors of the thing as
well as the word. His devotion to local colouring inspired him with the
desire to visit Illyria; want of money was the chief obstacle to his
carrying out his wish; the idea occurred to him to write a description
of his travels in anticipation and pay for the tour with the profits
of his book; but he gave up this bold plan, and instead manufactured,
with the assistance of a guide-book and the knowledge "of five or
six Slavonic words," a collection of "ballads translated from the
Illyrian." Everyone was deceived.[2] A German savant of the name
of Gerhardt actually translated _Guzla_ (along with two other volumes
of Slavonic poetry) into German, and this, moreover, in the original
metre, which he had been able to trace in the French translator's
prose. After Mérimée had thus discovered how easily "local colouring"
may be obtained, he forgave Racine and the Classicists their lack of it.

We are conscious, under all this witty pleasantry, of the distinguished
author's vexation with himself for having borne a banner, belonged to
a party, even though it was only in literature and as a youth. And
the preface, moreover, does not tell the exact truth; for Mérimée's
Illyrian prose ballads, though by no means remarkably good in other
respects, are distinctly the product of intelligent and careful study,
and accurately reproduce the style of Slavonic popular poetry. But
Mérimée could never write of himself without self-depreciation. His
prefaces, when he on a rare occasion condescends to enter into direct
relations with the public by means of a preface, are distinguished by
a nonchalant, apathetic humility, a manner which isolates the man who
assumes it more completely than the most exaggerated self-assertion.


[1] Guizot: _Shakespeare et son temps_, 294.

[2] Goethe alone publicly proclaimed Mérimée to be the author of
the Illyrian poems. In one of his letters Mérimée makes some not
unreasonably caustic remarks on the explanation given by the great poet
of his divination of the personality concealed under the pseudonym
_Hyacinth Maglanovitch_: "It occurred to us that the word Guzla lay
concealed in the word Gazul." The fact was that Mérimée, who, like all
the other young Romanticists, courted Goethe's favour, had sent him the
book along with a letter confiding the secret of its authorship.



XXV


MÉRIMÉE



The stern or satirical reserve of Mérimée's style is most noticeable
in the works which he wrote in his official capacity, in his brief
descriptions of French historical monuments, crowded with technical
expressions (_Notes sur le Midi de la France_, &c.) Not a word about
himself, not a single personal impression of travel, not one remark
addressed to the uninitiated! What a satisfaction there lay in
disappointing all the critics who were lying in wait to detect the
dilettante and novel-writer in the inspector of historical monuments!

Reserve is also apparent in the love of mystification displayed by the
author of _Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul_ and the Illyrian ballads. We are
reminded of Beyle here, though the tendency took a somewhat different
form in his case. Mérimée's pseudonymity was of short duration, but
whilst it lasted it was impenetrable. Nothing gave him greater pleasure
than to send his readers on a wild-goose chase. He neglected nothing
that could give an appearance of authenticity to his pseudonyms. He
supplied his works not only with biographies, but with portraits of
their supposed authors. To complete the jest, he prefixed to the first
edition of _Clara Gazul_ an engraved portrait of himself dressed as a
Spanish lady, in a low-necked dress, with a lace mantilla thrown over
his head.

He who misleads by keeping silence is obliged sooner or later to
speak, and the mystifier of the public is in the end compelled to
admit it into his confidence and bear its criticism. But there is a
more impenetrable kind of armour than either silence or mystification,
namely irony, and in it Mérimée, like Beyle, clad himself.

There was a satirical vein in his writing from the first; for his
ardent admiration for primitive strength of character naturally
involved contempt for phrasemongers. Such a play as _Les Mécontents_,
for instance, contains as bitter a satire as ever was penned upon
drawing-room revolutionists. A set of Royalist provincial noblemen,
old imbeciles whose one passion is to hear themselves speak, concoct
a conspiracy against the First Empire; they determine to distribute
inflammatory pamphlets, they arrange secret signals, draw up plans
of procedure, and quarrel for the presidency at their meetings, but
disperse incontinently at the mere sight of a gendarme. A play of much
later date, _Les deux Héritages ou Don Quichotte_ (which probably
served Émile Augier as a model for some of his dramas), contains an
analogous satire upon social and religious hypocrisy, political humbug,
the cold, calculating, unchivalrous spirit of a youthful generation,
comparing himself with which Mérimée must have been tempted to call
himself an idealist and enthusiast.

But in these dramatic works, the faulty construction of which is
apparent even to the reader, the irony peculiarly characteristic of
Mérimée is absent. In them he lays on the colour too thickly; it is as
the novelist that he really excels. Far more delicate than the irony of
his dramas is, for instance, that of the charming little story _L'abbé
Aubain_, a work which proves the versatility of Mérimée's talent,
for in it he writes almost like Edmond About, only with much greater
elegance. _L'abbé Aubain_ is a short series of letters, some of them
written by a lady who supposes herself to be beloved by a young abbé,
the rest by the abbé, who jests constrainedly on the subject of the
lady's attachment to him. We make the acquaintance of two weak, refined
characters, who lie to each other, to themselves, and to the world, and
whose little dainty, easy-going passions and counterfeit self-control
are the subject of the silent satire of the author.

In a story of this kind there is no narrator; therefore we are no more
conscious than in the plays that the author is suppressing himself.
The form of irony peculiarly characteristic of Mérimée is most plainly
observable where we have a narrator, but know nothing of him except
that he has no share in the emotions he describes. Mérimée's method,
which is determined by his natural reserve, is to increase the effect
of the story he is telling by an irony betraying itself in minute
traits; he either with a little curl of the lip allows the touching
incidents to speak for themselves, or he exhibits the painful,
the revolting, or the passionate, in a frame of cold, indifferent
surroundings.

In that little masterpiece, _Le Vase étrusque_, the only one of his
stories in which he treats a quite modern theme sympathetically, he
tells the story of two young beings who love each other secretly. We
hear the young man, who has just returned from a night rendezvous,
talking to himself:

"How happy I am!" he keeps on saying to himself. "At last I have found
the heart which understands mine! Yes, it is my ideal that I have
found--friend and mistress in one.... What character! What passion!
... No, she has never loved before!" And as vanity intrudes itself into
every earthly concern, his next thought is: "She is the most beautiful
woman in Paris;" and in imagination he retraces all her charms.

The narrative continues in this strain for some time before Mérimée
interrupts himself with the remark that a happy lover is almost as
tedious as an unhappy one. Then, when the relation between the two
lovers has reached its most perfect stage, when Saint-Clair's momentary
but fatal fit of jealousy of his beloved's past has resolved itself
into a mere nothing, a mere misunderstanding, and we have witnessed
a love scene which the most subtly tender of writers could hardly
surpass, a scene in which tears of repentance mingle with smiles and
kisses, how do we learn, six lines farther on in the story, that
everything is at an end, that Saint-Clair was killed the following
morning in a duel? We hear of it as we hear of such things in real life:

"Well," said Roquantin to Colonel Beaujeu when he met him at Tartoni's
in the evening; "is this news true?"

"Only too true," answered the Colonel, looking very sad.

"Tell me how it happened."

"Simply enough. Saint-Clair told me that he was wrong, but that he
would rather be shot by Thémines than make an apology to him. I could
not but approve. Thémines wanted to draw lots for the first shot, but
Saint-Clair insisted upon his firing first. Thémines fired. I saw
Saint-Clair wheel round and then fall, dead. I have more than once seen
a soldier, after he had been mortally wounded, turn round in the same
curious way before he fell."

"How extraordinary!" said Roquantin. "And Thémines, what did he do?"

"Oh! what every one does on such occasions. He threw his pistol on the
ground with an exclamation of regret. He flung it with such force that
the trigger broke. _It is an English pistol, a Manton. I don't believe
he will find a gunsmith in the whole of Paris who can make him as good
a one._"

By describing the sympathy of friends, not in the manner of sentimental
authors, but as it expresses itself in real life, Mérimée brings
out the passionate sentiment of the relation between the lovers in
full force; the neutral tint of the frame enhances the effect of the
picture. If the art of icing champagne had not been known before
Mérimée's day, he would have invented it.

Let me give one or two more examples of Mérimée's gift of keeping
entirely aloof from the emotion which he portrays, and which he excites
in the reader. Take the passage in _L'Enlèvement de la Redoute_ which
describes the main attack. "We were soon at the foot of the redoubt.
The palisades had been shattered and the earth torn up by our balls.
The soldiers rushed at these ruins with shouts of: 'Vive l'Empereur!'
_which were louder than one would have expected from men who had been
shouting so long_." The narrator in this case is not Mérimée himself,
but an officer who is relating his first experience of a fight; this
officer is, however, near of kin to his creator; he does not share the
ardour of the fighting soldiers. Instead of praising their enthusiasm
for Napoleon as patriotic or courage-inspiring, he coolly comments upon
the strength of their lungs.

It is not at all surprising that this style, this tone, which adds so
remarkably to the impression of the reality of the thing described,
should have been again and again taken as a sign of the author's want
of feeling. As a matter of fact it is no more so than his choice of
horrible subjects is a proof of his cruelty. On the contrary, the irony
of the style is often only the transparent veil covering compassion
and indignation. Study this irony in the little tale _Tamango_, where
to the superficial reader the mere choice of subject would be apt to
suggest the author's love of the revolting--for what is more horrible
than the slave trade and the ill-usage of slaves, or than shipwreck,
starvation, and murder? And all this, moreover, told with an ironic
smile!

But we feel what the irony signifies when we come upon such a passage
as the following:

"The captain, to ratify the bargain, shook hands with the more than
half-intoxicated negro chief; and the slaves were immediately delivered
to the French sailors, who quickly exchanged the long wooden forks
with which the negroes had fettered them, for collars and handcuffs of
iron--_a proof of the superiority of European civilization_."

And its real quality is still more distinctly perceptible in the lines
which tell of the captain's attempt to make the pretty negress obedient
by flogging her:

"With these words the captain went below, sent for Aycha, and tried to
console her; but neither caresses nor blows (_for a man loses patience
at last_) made the beautiful negress amenable."

The cold composure with which the fact is recognised that such is human
nature, and that such things happen, actually heightens the impression
of indignation produced by the deed of violence. We do not lay the
book aside unmoved. We perceive that what at first seemed coldness,
is but the petrified eruption of the inward fire of the artist's
soul. We comprehend that an emotion underlies the sober, severe style
of these tales, and that it is this emotion which gives them their
impressiveness.

Of all Mérimée's stories, _Arsène Guillot_ is the one in which the
ironical style of the narrative and a strength of feeling which has
freed itself from the bonds of prejudice, are most perfectly fused
together. The conventional virtue of the pious fashionable lady is
contrasted with the absolute ignorance of the doctrines of Christianity
and morality displayed by the poor girl whose own mother has sold
her. In a moment of despair Arsène jumps out of the window and breaks
her leg and several of her ribs. The action of the story passes in
her sick-room. The usual irony in the relation of the events prevents
compassion and emotion from overstepping the bounds of artistic
moderation. Towards the close, however, in the description of Arsène's
death, the heart is permitted to speak unrestrainedly, and its simple
language communicates a charm to the dying grisette hardly inferior to
that which transfigures De Musset's dying Bernerette. At the very end
artistic irony again asserts itself. For the line: "Pauvre Arsène, elle
prie _pour nous!_" traced in pencil in a woman's delicate handwriting
on Arsène's gravestone, informs us in all its brevity that the austere
lady has yielded to the same temptation as the ignorant child, that
after Arsène died like a heroine, her patroness inherited her lover.
Irony is in this case almost too coarse a word. Expressions are lacking
to describe these delicate shades. That faintly ironical pencilled line
contains in its six words a Mériméan, that is to say, a laconic, sermon
on tolerance.

D'Haussonville has preserved for us some remarks made by Mérimée to
Émile Augier on the subject of a little story, _La Chambre bleue_,
which the former wrote specially for the Empress, in 1869. They
show how this peculiar style of narration, which was originally an
unconscious expression of the author's character, in time became a
conscious mannerism. Mérimée said: "The story has one great fault,
which is due to the fact that in the course of writing it I altered
the originally planned ending. As it was my first intention to make
the tale end tragically, I _naturally_ began it in a gay tone; then I
changed my mind and brought about a cheerful dénouement. I ought to
have re-written the first part in a tragic tone, but it was too much
trouble; I left it as it was." The method which was originally the
stylistic expression of a deeply emotional and very proud soul, became
towards the end of the author's life a calculated, excessive use of
contrast as a means of producing artistic effect.



XXVI


MÉRIMÉE AND GAUTIER


In a letter, dated 22nd November 1821, Mérimée the painter writes: "I
have a big son of eighteen, of whom I should like to make a lawyer.
He has such a gift for drawing that, though he has never copied
anything, he sketches like a young student." Like many of the other
notable French Romanticists, Prosper Mérimée never entirely gave up
pictorial art. He painted in water-colours; but it was especially as
the draughtsman that he was both indefatigable and gifted. His talent
for drawing seems to have been near akin to his gift of literary style.

Prosper Mérimée and Théophile Gautier are the two authors of the
generation of 1830 who supplement each other in the matter of style.
Mérimée's strength lies in purity of line, Gautier's in glowing colour.
Gautier seems to write with a brush rather than with a pen; he loves
draperies and effects of light. His exuberant style is Venetian; it
is velvet and brocade, which he bestrews with tinsel and spangles.
Mérimée's simple, but extremely elegant presentment is in low-toned
monochrome; it resembles an etching. His style, however, possesses a
quality which no brilliancy of language can surpass--it is transparent;
through it we see his vigorous, wild figures and characters as if
they were alive. His defiant sharpness of outline reminds us of a
painting or etching by Jacques Callot, an artist with whom he has
much in common. One of Callot's youths, stepping out briskly with
his long leather-sheathed sword dangling by his side, his plumed hat
set jauntily on the side of his head, his buff coat fitting closely
to his figure, his wide top-boots showing off his strong leg, his
shining spurs clanking as he hastens to look on, with proud, defiant
mien, at some deed of violence--such a figure would make an admirable
frontispiece for a work like the _Chronique du Règne de Charles IX._

The final evidence of Mérimée's discreet reserve is to be found in the
classically elegant severity of his style. It is smooth and bright
as polished steel--not an ornament, not a flower, not a fanciful
decoration of any kind; every figure is of beaten metal, accurately
proportioned, and as correctly attired as it is life-like. No
contemporary French author displayed such aristocratic conservatism in
the matter of new words and expressions as Mérimée, not even Charles
Nodier. Mérimée used the language which he found ready to his hand,
and set his mark upon every sentence he wrote, without employing a
single out-of-the-way word, or a single ordinary word in an unusual
manner. But he shunned conventional expressions, phrases which throw
a veil over the thought, beneath which it looks larger and more
important. What especially distinguishes him is his sure touch, his
gift of producing with some simple, almost worn-out, word exactly the
impression which he desires. Hugo's style is graphic and pathetic,
Gautier's (and that of his followers) is sensuous and loaded with
imagery--both tried to produce an effect by word-architecture. The
masters were justified in the attempt; but the attempts of their
imitators and pupils too often recall those magnificent aqueducts which
the Romans built with a prodigious expenditure of money and labour to
connect one height with another, because they did not know that the
force of the water itself was sufficient to raise it from the valley.
We admire these mighty erections, but our admiration would have been
greater if instead of them we had found simple pipes carried along the
ground. The artificial, high-flown expression is like the aqueduct,
the simple word that goes straight to the point, like the humble pipe.
Mérimée's style, like the pipe, keeps close to the ground, has no
useless ornament and no unnecessary loftiness; there is no strength
wasted. It is not on this account a style destitute of charm, but it
has no other except that of exactly adequate strength. There is not a
word too much, and every sentence is in the service of the whole. The
old motto, _Ne quid nimis_, might have been the author's device.

Mérimée's aim in evolving such a style evidently was to make his
small works of art, by the renunciation of everything superfluous, as
invulnerable as possible to the tooth of time. His endeavour reminds
us of what is told of Donatello. The characteristic position of that
artist's incomparable St. George--arms and hands close to the body--is
said to have been chosen after a careful investigation of the condition
of the famous statues of antiquity with the view of ascertaining which
parts of them had suffered most, and why. In much the same way, Mérimée
has tried to insure his works against the change in taste which time
brings about, by keeping them free from every ornamental projection,
everything in the nature of a digression.

Yet it was not his style which prevailed and became that of the
next generation of writers. It was not Mérimée but Gautier, who, as
a stylist, was the founder of a school. And I am not of the number
of those who regret that a more luxuriant and sensuous style was
victorious, and that later French authors have aimed, not merely at
making their periods distinct and faultlessly correct, but also at
imparting to them, when possible, melody, colour, fragrance. The
treatment of language introduced by Gautier, continued by Flaubert and
the Goncourt brothers, and transmitted by them to Zola and Daudet, has
undoubtedly its weak side; and this the most prominent recent master of
the descriptive style has not been slow to recognise and acknowledge.
Zola himself writes:

"The worst of it is, that I have arrived at the conviction that
the jargon of our period, that part of our style which is merely
fashionable and must become antiquated, will be known as one of the
most atrocious jargons of the French language. It is possible to
predict this with almost mathematical certainty. What is most liable
to become antiquated is imagery. As long as it is new, the metaphor
or simile charms. When it has been employed by one or two generations
it becomes a commonplace, a disgrace to the author who employs it.
Look at Voltaire, with his dry style, his vigorous period, destitute
of adjectives, which relates and does not paint; he remains eternally
young. Look at Rousseau, who is our father--look at his imagery,
his passionate rhetoric; he has written pages which are perfectly
intolerable.... A cheerful fate awaits us who have outbidden Rousseau,
us, who on the top of literature pile all the other arts--paint and
sing our periods, chisel them as if they were blocks of marble,
and require of words to reproduce the perfume of things. All this
titillates our nerves: we think it exquisite, perfect. But what will
our great-grandchildren say to it? Their ideas will undoubtedly be
different, and I am convinced that certain of our works will fill them
with astonishment; almost everything in them will be antiquated."

The writer of this melancholy, self-condemnatory criticism obviously
goes too far. It is highly probable that our descendants will not
think much of our books; but it is not the style in which they are
written that will be most to blame for that. Zola's utterance is,
however, remarkable as the evidence of a literary colourist in favour
of the sober, unimaginative style of which Mérimée is undoubtedly one
of the greatest masters in our own century. The best of his works are
masterpieces of literature. Seldom, indeed, have short prose pieces
been written in such a style. It is the thing itself that stands
before us, in clear sunlight, un-obscured by even the faintest mist of
sentimentality. It would be unreasonable to regard it as a fault in
the author of picturesque prose that his imagery loses by repetition,
that he does not stand the ordeal of repeated re-reading; one might
just as well blame a composer because his melodies become intolerable
by being played on all the street organs. One thing, however, is
undeniable--that a severe, unadorned style like Mérimée's survives
the works written in the florid style, as surely as the bronze statue
survives the blossoming tree.

Curiously enough, Mérimée's contemporaries at first set him down as
a naturalist. In some lines in which he naïvely classes him with
Calderon, the young Alfred de Musset gives us an excellent idea of
the original impression made by his writings. It appeared to his
contemporaries that he simply produced casts:

    "L'un comme Calderon et comme Mérimée,
     Incruste un plomb brûlant sur la réalité,
     Découpe à son flambeau la silhouette humaine,
     En emporte le moule, et jette sur la scène
     Le plâtre de la vie avec sa nudité.
     Pas un coup de ciseau sur la sombre effigie,
     Rien qu'un masque d'airain, tel que Dieu l'a fondu."

"Not a stroke of the chisel" is comical, as applied to the work of the
most energetic stylist of the period; but so much is clear--Alfred de
Musset regarded Mérimée as above everything an imitator of nature.
This conception was due to a fact which has already been alluded to,
namely, that in Romanticism in its earliest stage there was an element
of naturalism. The young Romanticists did not at once perceive the gulf
between the two. The poetry of the plumed hat and the Toledo blade
was undoubtedly more to their taste than the real life which they
saw around them; but reality, too, might be represented poetically
when there was colour and character in it, and passion and fire and
exotic fragrance; and all this it had in Mérimée's books. The germs
of naturalism are to be found in Mérimée as they are in the other
Romanticists; but in them all the love of art was stronger than
the inclination to imitate nature. Mérimée, nevertheless, with his
partiality for brutal subjects and his artificial coldness, distinctly
prognosticates the tendency of the succeeding literary generation. In
Taine's _Vie et Opinions de M. Graindorge_ (1867) we find a remark
on the social life of the day, which applies equally to literature:
"Depuis dix ans une nuance de brutalité complète l'élégance." We are
conscious of it in almost all the most famous writers of the Second
Empire--in the younger Dumas, in Flaubert, whom one might call the
Mérimée of the next generation, and in Taine himself, who is delighted,
like Mérimée, when he has "a fine murder" to describe, and who makes
his Graindorge give the reader exact instructions in the most practical
method of cutting the throat with a razor.[1]

To-day Mérimée passes for a Classicist. His perspicuous, transparent
style, his determined avoidance of lyrical digressions, of metaphor
and rhetoric, seem to insure him a place outside the Romantic School.
But we have seen how, in a certain sense, all the French Romanticists
are at the same time Classicists; and the fact that this is peculiarly
observable in Mérimée's case does not give him a position altogether
apart from theirs.

When we remember, moreover, that he, as well as Hugo and De Vigny, was
influenced by Scott; that there is a distinct trace of Byronism, of the
"Satanic," in some of his work; that, sober sceptic as he was, he wrote
works (such as _La Vision de Charles XI._) in Hoffmann's style; that he
was Beyle's pupil; and that he almost always, in true Romantic fashion,
chose foreign, unmodern subjects, we cannot but recognise in the author
possessing so many features in common with the French Romanticists, a
true child of the age.

Even if we deny him absolute artistic originality, his figure stands
out sufficiently from among the gifted literary group of 1830. The
others gallop into the lists clad in gaudily-decorated coats of mail,
with gilded helmets and waving pennons. He is the Black Knight in the
great Romantic tourney.


[1] "Quand Cromwell passe en Irlande, il marque le nombre et la qualité
des gens massacrés, et puis c'est tout. Et cependant quels beaux
massacres! Quelle occasion pour pénétrer le lecteur de la froide fureur
qui poussait les épées des fanatiques!"--Taine: _Essay on Guizot_.



XXVII


THÉOPHILE GAUTIER


On a certain day in the beginning of January 1830, three young men
might have been seen making their way along a newly paved road in
the neighbourhood of the Champs Élysées in Paris, towards a solitary
house, the first of a future street. One of them, a fair-haired youth
of nineteen, with a slight stoop and a quick, bird-like walk, and with
manuscripts sticking out of all his pockets, was the amiable, refined
fantast, Gérard de Nerval, a poet whose chief occupation it was to run
himself off his legs in the service of his friends. By his side walked,
with stately bearing and Castilian gravity of countenance, the pale,
black-bearded Petrus Borel, who as the eldest (already twenty-two)
was the central figure of a group of young art enthusiasts. A little
behind followed, with lagging steps and much inward perturbation,
an olive-complexioned, regular-featured, handsome young fellow of
eighteen, whom his two friends had promised to introduce to the master
of the lonely house, Victor Hugo, in whose home they themselves were
welcome guests, a piece of good fortune envied them by many.

Twice did young Gautier mount the steps behind De Nerval and Borel as
if his shoes were weighted with lead. He was hardly able to breathe;
the cold sweat stood on his brow, and he could hear the beating of
his heart. Each time they reached the door and one of the others was
about to ring the bell, he turned and rushed down again, pursued by
his shouting, laughing companions. The third attempt was successful,
as in the fairy tales. The young man, feeling as if his legs would
hardly bear him, had just sat down for an instant on the top step to
recover himself, when the door opened, and in a stream of light like
that which forms the halo round Phœbus Apollo, Victor Hugo himself in
all his honour and glory stood revealed to their gaze against the dark
background of the stair, attired in a very ordinary black coat and grey
trousers, and as carefully shaved as any common philistine. He smiled
at the sight of the agitated youth, but did not seem much surprised;
for he was accustomed to seeing young poets and painters blush, and
turn pale, and stammer on his threshold. He was evidently about to
walk out into the street like an ordinary mortal, which was a greater
surprise to Gautier than it would have been to see him drive through
the town on a triumphal car drawn by five white horses, with a goddess
of victory holding a golden crown over his head. But he turned back to
his study with the young men, and Théophile Gautier listened in silence
to the conversation which followed; he was too embarrassed to take part
in it, but it marked an epoch in his existence; from that hour till the
day of his death he was Hugo's sworn adherent, ardent admirer, grateful
pupil, and unwearied panegyrist. Never, not even momentarily, not even
during separation lasting for years and the intellectual separation
due to the difference in their political views, did he forget to be
absolutely loyal to the man whom at this first meeting he in his heart
called lord and master.

The young men's call was made in connection with the first performance
of _Hernani_ at the Théâtre Français. They came to fetch some packets
of the little square red tickets, with "Hierro" printed on them.
Gautier, who had read _Les Orientales_, was enthusiastic on the subject
of the play, without having read it.

In the part of Paris where he lodged he had long been noted for his
eccentricities. In every possible way he bade scornful defiance to the
ordinary bourgeois, that personage detested above all others by the
young Romanticists. He usually wore a black velvet jacket and yellow
shoes, and went about bareheaded, with a parasol or an umbrella, his
long, dark brown hair, which suited his olive complexion admirably,
hanging down almost to his waist. Cigar in mouth, erect and youthfully
dignified, he strolled along, utterly regardless of the contemptuous
glances of the scandalised citizens or the jeers of the street boys.

[Illustration: THÉOPHILE GAUTIER]

But on the occasion of the first performance of _Hernani_, he felt
it incumbent on him to prepare something more striking. He ordered
"the red waistcoat," that waistcoat which was to become a historic
garment. Its red was not the red which the revolutionists chose as
their symbol, and which politicians think of when the colour is named;
no, it was the flaming red which emblematised the hatred of the young
artists of the period for grey. The colour tones of a particular piece
of scarlet satin had fascinated the young painter and poet. He looked
at it in the way we can imagine Veronese looking at a piece of silken
stuff. When he had obtained possession of the treasure, he sent for
his tailor and explained to him that of this material a waistcoat was
to be made--yes, a waistcoat. It was to be shaped like a cuirass,
to be full across the chest, and fasten at the back. "If," writes
Gautier, "you were to pick out from a set of school drawing copies,
representing the different expressions of the human countenance, one
of those labelled _Amazement_, you would have an idea of the look
upon the horror-stricken tailor's face." "But such a waistcoat is not
fashionable, sir." "It will be--as soon as I have worn it." "But it is
a style I know nothing about; it is more like a part of a theatrical
costume than of a gentleman's ordinary dress; I am afraid of spoiling
the stuff." "I shall give you a linen pattern, designed, cut out, and
tacked together by myself." The waistcoat was made; and on that famous
and stormy evening at the theatre, Gautier displayed perfect dignity
and indifference when the philistines pointed him out to each other,
and made him the target of all their opera-glasses. His name became
inextricably connected with the legend of the red waistcoat, although
he only wore it that one evening. For long little was known about him
beyond the fact that he had worn it (I, myself, when in Paris in 1867,
met people who believed that he wore it still); and it shines to this
day in the history of French literature, a naïve symbol of the love of
brightness and colour in life which distinguished that enthusiastic
group of youths.

But the essentially luminous and flamboyant was art, pure art;
and seldom has the boundless love of art as art taken such entire
possession of a heart as it did of Gautier's. He was animated by it all
his life, but in his youth he felt it with all the pleasures it brings,
all the admiration it arouses, all the courage it imparts, and all the
hatred it inspires.

It was this love which made the man who was himself a master, a
sincerely, nobly modest admirer of other artists. He was Hugo's
servant, Balzac's self-sacrificing friend. He was a poet, but
admiration made him a critic; and to no one did a well-constructed
line, a luminous word, a picturesque expression, or a bold flight of
imagination give more pleasure. He was a painter before he became
an author; and no one meted out such ample recognition as he to the
powerful, if somewhat blundering, originality which produced that
glory of colour in Delacroix's pictures, which blinds one to their
deficiencies in the matter of drawing. With what passionate disapproval
he fell upon Scribe's platitudes and Delavigne's cautious improvements,
upon stupid vaudevilles and passionless tragedies--this man who
worshipped style, and who infinitely preferred a performance at the
circus to a bourgeois comedy at the Gymnase Theatre! At the circus,
where they only shouted Hop! and Hé! they could not possibly commit all
Scribe's sins against syntax and metre. With what fury he fell upon
Delaroche when the latter (whose real talent developed late) charmed
the half-educated with his laboured, highly finished representations
of mediæval subjects, and taught them to prefer his Middle Ages to
the Middle Ages of Hugo and Delacroix! To rank cautious talent above
reckless, alarming genius was true sacrilege in Gautier's eyes; and the
favour which these men of mere talent found in the eyes of the public
roused in him a perfectly tiger-like fury. He confessed at a later
period that he could have eaten Delaroche raw with the greatest of
pleasure.

Art for art's sake! Art as its own end and aim! _L'art pour l'art!_
This was Gautier's motto. And that he loved art for its own sake means
(as it would mean in the case of anything else) that he loved it
without any regard to its so-called morality or immorality, patriotic
or unpatriotic tendency, utility or inutility.

Gautier's worship of art indicates an onward step in the development of
Romanticism. In its first stage the literary renaissance was devotion
to Catholicism and the old monarchy. When the movement, with Hugo
at its head, made its second great advance, it undoubtedly entered
upon the stage of enthusiasm for art as art; but in the case of the
majority the step was an unconscious one; their enthusiasm for art
concealed itself under enthusiasm for the Middle Ages, or for the
sixteenth century, or for strength of passion, or for local colouring.
Gautier alone was fully conscious of the principle which underlay all
these manifestations; hence his name is synonymous with that phase of
the Romantic movement during which poetry asserts its rights. If we
were to judge by certain of Victor Hugo's prefaces (the preface to
_Les Orientales_, for instance), it might seem as if Hugo's poetry,
neglecting every other ideal, had no aim but the attainment of perfect
liberty for itself; but Hugo was far too much of the agitator by nature
to regard this struggle, this endeavour, as more than a preliminary
step. It was reserved for the disciple whom the master loved best,
to regard this stage as the final one. To Gautier, as to the German
Romanticists, the combat of Romanticism with utilitarianism was
equivalent to a proclamation of the absolute independence of art.

Théophile Gautier was born at Tarbes, in the south of France, on
the 30th of August 1811. He came of a family of good standing and
pronounced Royalist principles. Like Hugo and Dumas, he was descended
from a brave officer. Hugo's father, as major in Napoleon's army in
Italy, fought with Fra Diavolo, and as general and governor of a
Spanish province under Joseph, with the brave Spanish rebels. Dumas'
father was an athlete, who, according to tradition (strictly speaking,
according to the younger Dumas), could crush a horse to death between
his legs and bite through a helmet, and who held the bridge of Brixen
alone against an advanced guard of twenty men. Gautier's grandfather
won renown by being the first in the attack on Bergen-op-Zoom. He was
a man of colossal strength and gigantic proportions, who lived in the
open air, hunted every day, and was never seen without his gun, which
he would fire into the air again and again if anything put him into
specially good spirits. He lived to be a hundred. Théophile's father,
who also lived to a great age, displayed his inherited vigour chiefly
in intellectual matters. He was a well-educated man of many and varied
acquirements. It speaks well for his literary taste and his freedom
from prejudice, that he greatly admired the preface to _Cromwell_,
and that he approved of his son's poetic tendencies; indeed, he was
so delighted with the latter's audacious novel, _Mademoiselle de
Maupin_, that, whilst the book was being written, he often locked the
young man into his room with the words: "You don't come out until you
have written some pages of _Maupin_." Théophile's mother, a stately
beauty, who is said to have had Bourbon blood in her veins, united
with his father in spoiling and worshipping the son whom nature had
so bountifully endowed. He was one of those beings who are created
to be admired and beloved, not only by their relatives and friends,
but by every one--one of those on whom a pet-name is bestowed by a
whole generation; for he was a great artist and a great child. How
significant is the abbreviation, Théo, by which he is alluded to
hundreds of times in contemporary literature! It was the familiarity of
admiration which thus shortened his name.

To the particulars of his pedigree which seem to explain his character,
another must be added, namely, that there was undoubtedly some Eastern
blood in the family. This is interesting because, like the negro strain
which accounts for much of the violence and force in the writings of
Dumas the elder and of Pushkin, it is a physiological explanation of
the Oriental impress which became observable in Gautier's personality
and works as years went on. He was intended by nature to wear a fez or
a turban, and to move slowly and with dignity, and it was natural that
he should end by displaying as little emotion as possible in his works.

Théophile Gautier left the south of France and came to live in Paris as
quite a child. It is a sign of the early development of his character,
that at school he preferred the authors who wrote before or after the
so-called Golden Age of their literatures to the classic and correct
writers. In French literature his favourite authors were Villon and
Rabelais; Corneille and Racine made little impression on him. In Latin
literature he read with eager enjoyment only the poets and prose
authors of the decadence--Claudian, Martial, Petronius, and Apuleius;
these he imitated in his Latin verses in every possible metre; upon
Cicero and Quintilian he looked down with perfect indifference.
This attitude was due in the first place to the artist's love of a
picturesque, exuberant style, and in the second place to the youth's
aversion for all the imposing general truths and fine sentiments
inevitably met with in the writings of every author whom we call
classic. A Frenchman who was as wild and mad as Villon, or as exuberant
and rich in colour as Rabelais, had in Gautier's eyes the inestimable
advantage of being unaffected by the general polish of the great
century; a Roman who had African blood in his veins, like Apuleius,
or was of Egyptian origin, like Claudius, was necessarily more to his
liking than the more tasteful orators and poets of the Augustan age;
for he loved the peculiar, the piquant, the disconcerting, and was not
repelled by artificiality and mannerism if any charm accompanied them;
he liked his literature, so to speak, a little "high." The mature man
retained the love of the boy for the authors of the Silver Age. To it
we owe the excellent collection of criticisms which he published under
the title of _Les Grotesques_, the aim of which was the rehabilitation
of the whole group of minor poets whom Boileau had disgraced and
dismissed in his _L'Art poétique_ in order to make more room for the
great authors who had observed the rules of Aristotle and the laws of
taste. The poor fellows lay unread in the charnel-house of literature
with a line of Boileau's upon their foreheads. Gautier, as the sworn
enemy of everything regular and commonplace, undertook their defence.
His love of the plastic and picturesque found no satisfaction in the
study of the dignified authors who had sat writing with periwigs on
their heads and lace ruffles at their wrists; but it gave him real
pleasure to seek out all those forgotten, curious poets with the
strange countenances and grimaces, in whose pages, for the most part
sadly remarkable for their bad taste, there are nevertheless to be
found many an amusing oddity, many a gleam of originality, many a witty
or picturesque line, nay, whole poems as full of life as are the best
of François Villon's and Théophile de Viau's. Though their muse was no
beauty, there might nevertheless be said of her what Gautier wrote of
an attractive woman:

    "Elle a dans sa laideur piquante
     Un grain de sel de cette mer
     D'où jaillit nue et provocante
     L'âcre Vénus du gouffre amer."

And one of these poor poets of the fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth
century, who had lain drunk in the gutter, or hewn his way through
the world with his rapier, or ended his life on the gallows, offered,
with his mad humour and his verse, just such a silhouette, just such a
characteristic, vivid profile as Gautier loved to sketch.

By his own wish young Théophile was taken from school and placed as a
pupil in the studio of Rioult the painter. The youth himself, as well
as his relatives, overestimated the talent he showed for drawing and
painting, which was in reality merely the subordinate supplement to
his absolutely unrivalled gift of picturesque writing. It was Victor
Hugo who decided his career. When Hugo blew the horn of Hernani,
Gautier answered to the call and forsook painting for literature. But
he never lost the habit he had acquired of looking at things from the
painter's point of view; and his conversation, and those parts of
his writings (such as the preface to _Mademoiselle de Maupin_) where
he expressed himself with the same freedom as in conversation, were
always plentifully larded with that artistic slang for which the French
studios are famous.

It was as a lyric poet that he made his first appearance. Five months
after the famous first performance of _Hernani_, and unfortunately on
the very day on which the Revolution of July broke out, he published
his first book of poems. They were swept away and lost to sight in the
stream of events; but even at a less troubled time they would hardly
have attracted much attention. As a lyric poet Gautier is unpopular;
his style is vigorous and faultless, but his is not the true lyric
temperament; his attention is too much distracted by externals; he
lacks intensity and soul. In his youthful poetry he is best when
he is giving expression to his antique pagan, essentially Roman,
epicureanism--when he tells of the three things that give happiness,
"sunshine, a woman, a horse"; when (as in "La Débauche") he sings of
the joy of life, and praises colour, song, and verse; or when (as in
"Le premier rayon de mai") he reproduces the simple, almost sensual,
at any rate perfectly incomplex, feeling of happiness produced by
the close vicinity of the beloved one. Very fine, and quite typical
of Gautier, is the little poem "Fatuité," the mocking title of which
subtly wards off any attack upon its sentiments. It gives expression
to the gay arrogance of youthful strength. The first two verses are as
follows:

    "Je suis jeune; la pourpre en mes veines abonde.
     Mes cheveux sont de jais et mes regards de feu.
     Et, sans gravier ni toux, ma poitrine profonde
     Aspire à pleins poumons l'air du ciel, l'air de Dieu.

     Aux vents capricieux qui soufflent de Bohême,
     Sans les compter, je jette et mes nuits et mes jours,
     Et, parmi les flacons, souvent l'aube au teint blême
     M'a surpris dénouant un masque de velours.

It was not until much later in life that Théophile Gautier made his
mark as a lyric poet. In _Émaux et Camées_, a collection of poems
in short, eight-syllabled lines, which in their forms are sometimes
faintly reminiscent of Goethe's _West-Oestlicher Divan_ and Heine's
_Buch der Lieder_, we have the most characteristic exemplification of
his personal style. The various subjects are treated entirely in the
spirit of plastic art. The author's aim was, by means of vividness and
careful blending of colour, perfection and delicacy of form, severe
purity and general harmony of rhyme, in short by means of a skill which
neglected nothing, not even the minutest trifle, to produce poetic
equivalents of the miniature masterpieces in agate or onyx bequeathed
to us by the ancients, or of the Italian or French enamel painting on
gold of the days of the Renaissance. In these poems, along with which
should be named "Musée secret," a most admirable poem, suppressed as
indecent (to be found in Bergerat's _Théophile Gautier_), he attained
to a beauty of language which may justly be called ideal. The only
thing at all comparable to it is the plasticity of some of Leconte de
Lisle's later poems. The poem "L'Art," the last in the book and, as
regards language, a truly monumental work of art, contains his view
of art carved, as it were, in stone. He so loved that art which he
understood so well, that he placed it above everything else in this
world, and saw in it the one thing that would endure through all the
changes of time. He was, doubtless, too much inclined to estimate the
value of a work of art by the difficulties overcome in producing it,
but only because he believed that it was the struggle with difficulties
which gave the finished work its strength, and made it proof against
moth and rust. Hear his own words:

    "Tout passe.--L'art robuste
     Seul a l'éternité.
          Le buste
     Survit à la cité.

     Et la médaille austère
     Que trouve un laboureur
         Sous terre
     Révèle un empereur.

     Les dieux eux-mêmes meurent,
     Mais les vers souverains
         Demeurent
     Plus forts que les airains."

--a saying, this last, which holds good of such verse as Gautier wrote.



XXVIII


THÉOPHILE GAUTIER


For a vivid, spirited picture of the young Bohemian Romanticist group
which rallied round Hugo, a picture distinguished by its wanton
self-caricature, we have only to turn to Théophile Gautier's _Les
Jeunes-France_. The author intended his work to satirise Romanticism
in much the same manner as _Les Précieuses Ridicules_ had satirised
the literary fantasticality of an earlier period; but unfortunately
_Les Jeunes-France_ is only the frolicsome effusion of a talented
boy, whilst _Les Précieuses_ is a mature work of enduring value. _Les
Jeunes-France_ was written almost immediately after Gautier's admission
into the Romantic camp, and it, like the poetry of Petrus Borel and
Philothée O'Neddy, gives us a good idea of the Bohemian camaraderie of
the talented young men of the day. Gautier was the very man to write
such a book; for not only then, but to the end of his life, he was the
real artist--Bohemian; always more or less at variance with society and
its notions of respectability; living in his youth, as painter, poet,
journalist, and traveller, a Bohemian life in the general acceptation
of the word, and in his later years settling down to live with his
sisters and his children without a thought of marriage. Of his many
liaisons, that with Ernesta Grisi, the mother of his daughters Judith
and Estella, lasted longest. He was also for a long time passionately
attached to her sister Carlotta. It was for Carlotta that he wrote
his ballets. Though he was inconstant as a lover, he was an extremely
affectionate brother and father. He gave his daughters a model
education. One of his excellent ideas was to have them taught such
languages as Japanese and Chinese, proficiency in which was so rare
that it provided a woman who required to earn her living with the means
of doing so. His daughter Judith reaped the benefit of his foresight.

But the book which gives us the best, completest impression of young
Gautier's inner life is not _Les Jeunes-France_, but _Mademoiselle de
Maupin_, the novel which he wrote immediately after that work (1836).
In _Mademoiselle de Maupin_ the champagne-froth of his youth seethes.
It is a perfectly pagan and at times a perfectly indecent book--as
indecent as a dialogue of Crébillon _fils_--but there is power in
it; and though Swinburne exaggerates considerably when he calls it
"the golden book of beauty," there is no doubt that it displays an
extraordinary sense of beauty. It was an outlet for the young man's
redundant vigour.

Théophile Gautier was originally very slightly built, and swimming
was the only physical exercise in which he excelled; but he was bent
on becoming an athlete, athletes and prize-fighters being above all
other mortals the objects of his admiration. For several years he took
fencing and boxing, riding and rowing lessons, until his physical
condition was entirely changed, and he had the unutterable satisfaction
on the day the Château Rouge was opened, of giving a perfectly new
"Turk's head" a blow of 532 pounds weight, which has become historical.
"This," he says with amiable vanity in his autobiographical sketch, "is
the deed of my life of which I am proudest." And he is evidently quite
sincere in his assertion; for even when he was an old man he used,
when his friends were disputing his paradoxes and all contradicting
him together, to command silence by shouting with his hoarse voice:
"Moi, je suis fort; j'amène 530 sur une tête de Turc et je fais des
métaphores qui se suivent. Tout est là." In _Mademoiselle de Maupin_ we
are conscious at one and the same time of the young dandy who can give
the tremendous blow and the artist whose "metaphors hang together,"
that is to say, whose sentences shape themselves into pictures before
our eyes. But what we are still more sensible of is the genuinely
antique, plastic nature which distinguishes Gautier from all the other
men of that gifted generation. He has painted himself in a passage in
which he makes the hero describe his own character:

"I am a man of the Homeric age; the world in which I live is not my
world, and I do not understand the society by which I am surrounded.
Christ has not lived for me; I am as pagan as Alcibiades or Phidias.
I have never gathered passion-flowers on Mount Golgotha, and the deep
stream which flows from the side of the crucified one and encircles the
world with a girdle of red has not laved me in its waves. My rebellious
body refuses to recognise the supremacy of the soul; my flesh refuses
to be mortified. To me this earth is as beautiful as heaven; and in
my eyes perfection of form is virtue. Spirituality is not to my mind;
I prefer a statue to a phantom, midday to twilight. Three things give
me pleasure--gold, marble, and scarlet; brilliancy, solidity, colour.
These are the things I dream of, and all my castles in the air are
built of them.... I never imagine mist or vapour, or anything floating
and uncertain. My sky has no clouds, or if it happen to have any, they
are solid, chiselled out of the fragments of marble fallen from the
statue of Jupiter ... for I love to be able to touch with my finger
what I have seen, and to trace the contours into their most elusive
folds.... This has always been my character. I look on women with the
eyes of a sculptor and not of a lover. All my life the shape of the
flask has interested me, not the quality of its contents. I believe
that, if I had had Pandora's casket in my hands, I should not have
opened it."

Théophile Gautier is one of the few French Romanticists who present
a distinct parallel to the German. His story _Fortunio_, with its
glorification of pleasure and idleness, is the French counterpart of
Friedrich Schlegel's _Lucinde_; and he recalls the German Romanticists
by his contempt for the distinctively poetic in poetry. He once said to
Taine, who was comparing De Musset with Victor Hugo to the disadvantage
of the latter: "Taine, I verily believe you are degenerating into
bourgeois imbecility. Sentiment in poetry ... that is not the main
thing. Radiant, resplendent words, rhythm, and melody--these are
poetry. Poetry proves nothing and tells nothing. Take the beginning
of Hugo's _Ratbert_, for instance; there is no poetry in the world
like that; it is the very summit of the Himalayas. All Italy with its
medieval heraldry is there--and nothing but words." Gautier resembles
Tieck in his love of the poetry of pure form, guiltless of ideas;
but there is this marked difference between them, that whereas Tieck
aimed at volatilising words into tones, at diluting poetry into simple
mood, into music, Gautier, the good Latin, aimed at making words
produce light and colour, at condensing poetry into word-painting,
word-sculpture.

He harmonised completely with the German Romanticists in his hatred of
utilitarianism. His watchword, _L'art pour l'art_, was the outcome of
this aversion. And, regarded from a certain standpoint, this principle
of his, so eloquently propounded in the preface to _Mademoiselle de
Maupin_, is absolutely incontestable.

It is incontestable when taken in the sense that art is not subject
to the same laws of propriety as those which justly rule life, much
less to those which rule it unjustly. It is, for instance, perfectly
proper that a statue should stand naked in a crowd, though it offends
our sense of the proper that a man or woman should do so--life and art
stand in entirely different relations to morality. It was Gautier's
constant endeavour to free art from subjection to moralising criticism.
In the youthfully violent preface to _Mademoiselle de Maupin_ he
bursts out, addressing the utilitarian critics: "Non, imbéciles, non,
crétins et goîtreux que vous êtes, un livre ne fait pas de la soupe à
la gélatine;--un roman n'est pas une paire de bottes sans couture;
un sonnet une seringue à jet continu; un drame n'est pas un chemin de
fer, toutes choses essentiellement civilisantes." Of the perpetually
scandalised critics, he says: "If there is nudity anywhere in a book
or a picture, they make as straight for it as a sow for the mire," ...
and with an allusion to _Tartuffe_, he continues: "Dorine, the pretty
waiting-woman, is at perfect liberty to display her charms as far as I
am concerned; I shall certainly not take my handkerchief from my pocket
to cover that bosom which ought not to be seen. I look at it as I look
at her face, and if it is white and shapely it gives me pleasure."
And, defending himself against his critics' reiterated accusations of
immorality, he writes: "An extremely curious variety of the so-called
moral journalist is the journalist with female relations.... To set
up as a journalist of this species a man must provide himself with a
certain number of necessary utensils, such as two or three legitimate
wives, some mothers, as many sisters as possible, a complete assortment
of daughters, and innumerable cousins. The next requisites are a play
or novel, a pen, ink, paper, and a printer.... Then he writes: It
is impossible to take one's wife to see this play; or: It is a book
which a man could not possibly put into the hands of a woman whom he
respects.... The wife hides her blushes behind her fan, the sister,
the cousin, &c. (The titles of relationship may be varied; all that is
necessary is that the relatives should be female.)" Though Gautier's
practice is not always defensible, he was right in theory. Poetry
has its own morality, the morality which springs from that love of
beauty and of truth, which, however indistinctly and indirectly it may
be expressed, is its very nature; but it refuses to be bound by the
conventions of society. Poetry is in itself a moral power, exactly as
science is--such a science, for example, as physiology, which certainly
does not confine itself to subjects that are considered fit topics of
conversation in polite society. There are immoral poets as there are
immoral surgeons, but their immorality has no connection with that
regardlessness of convention which the aim of both art and science
entails, and which is inherent in the nature of both.

A man of a plastic and artistic temperament like Gautier, who could
not have satisfied the demands made of poetry in the name of morality
without sacrificing his special talent, was peculiarly fitted to
enforce this truth. His special gift is the reproducing of sensuous
impressions in words. He was the first to show in the grand style that
the doctrine propounded in Lessing's _Laokoon_ is not the whole truth,
for he has described much that Lessing regarded as indescribable.
There was nothing for which Gautier lacked words--the beauty of a
woman, the appearance of a town, nay, the taste of a dish, or the
sound of a voice--he was equal to them all. "Since we have him," said
Sainte-Beuve once, "the word _inexpressible_ no longer exists in the
French language." He had the usual Romantic-Classic aversion for new
words, but he enriched modern French with a store of fifteenth and
sixteenth century words which had undeservedly fallen into disuse, and
with a host of accurately suggestive technical expressions. French
dictionaries were his favourite reading. Undoubtedly his was a mind
entirely concentrated upon externals; but great intensity and much
artistic fervour go to the making of such externality as Gautier's. It
was certainly not the aim of his art to touch feeling hearts; but even
Goethe had moods in which he wrote:

"Ach, die zärtlichen Herzen! Ein Pfuscher vermag sie zu rühren;
 Sei es mein einziges Glück, dich zu berühren, Natur!"

_Le Capitaine Fracasse_, a novel which Gautier planned in his youth,
but did not write until well on in life, gives the best idea of his
prose. We see its personages as we see people in real life--their
figures, their dress, their movements, their background of buildings or
landscape.

The book begins with a chapter entitled _Le Château de la Misère_,
which contains a description of the evening meal of a company of
strolling players, which they are taking in one of the rooms of an
impecunious young baron's dilapidated castle, a building of Louis
XIII's time, by the light of two huge wooden stage candelabra, pasted
over with gilt paper. It is a description which reminds us of the
famous Rembrandt in Dresden known as "The Wedding of Esther." We see
the light modelling the faces, and the shadows creeping up the walls.
There is not a single emotional word in it, but such a subtle feeling
of melancholy pervades the whole that we quite understand how Gautier
said to Feydeau, who found him writing it: "It is an exact description
of my state of mind."

Another chapter, entitled _Effet de Neige_, describes the players'
waggon driving off at night through the deep snow. After a time the
company miss one of their number, the Matamore (the bragging soldier),
who had been following the waggon on foot. They search for him in vain,
in vain shout his name at the top of their voices across the great snow
plain. No answer. One of them carries a lantern, the red light of which
moves along the snow; and we see the long, shapeless shadows following
the men upon the white ground. The black dog belonging to the company
follows them, howling. Suddenly the howls stop, and we are conscious
of the death-like stillness which prevails when falling snow stifles
every sound. At last the actor who has the sharpest eyes thinks he sees
a curious figure lying beneath a tree, strangely, ominously still. It
is he, the luckless Matamore. He is lying with his back against the
tree, and his long, outstretched legs are half covered with the driving
snow. His gigantic rapier, without which he was never seen, stands at
such an odd angle to his breast that under any other circumstances one
would have laughed. The lantern-bearer holds the lantern to his poor
comrade's face, and gets such a shock that he almost drops it. The
face is of a waxy whiteness; the ridge of the nose, which is pinched
at the nostrils by the bony fingers of death, shines like a piece of
cuttle-bone; the skin is tightened across the temples; snow-flakes lie
on the eyebrows and lashes; the dilated eyes have a glassy stare. At
each end of the heavy, pointed moustache gleams a little icicle, the
weight of which drags down the hair. The seal of eternal silence has
closed the lips which have delighted so many an audience with their
merry brag; and a death's-head shows beneath the pale, thin face, on
which the habit of making grimaces has carved furrows, now terrible
in their comicality. "Alas!" says one of his comrades, "our poor
Matamore is dead. Exhausted and stupefied by the driving snow, he must
have sought shelter for a moment under this tree, and as he has not
two ounces of flesh upon his bones, he has been frozen to the marrow
in no time. When we were in Paris he reduced his rations every day
in order to produce more effect, and he had made himself leaner than
a greyhound in the coursing season. Poor Matamore! you are safe now
from all the kicks and slaps and drubbings which your part obliged you
to submit to! You are as stiff now as if you had swallowed your own
dagger." The pathos of the situation is here brought out indirectly by
a conscientious plastic treatment of the subject.

It was natural that such a degree of feeling as this seldom revealed
itself in an art like Gautier's, and that in time he became entirely
addicted to a species of descriptive writing which, perfect as it was
in its kind, was ever more soulless. He had a passion for travelling;
he visited Spain in 1840, Africa (in the company of the Duc d'Aumale)
in 1845, Italy in 1850, Constantinople in 1852, Russia (penetrating
as far as Novgorod) in the following year; and all these journeys he
described, thanks to his fabulous memory for the appearance of things,
with incomparable accuracy, though the descriptions were often written
long after his return. One disappointment awaits the reader, namely,
that everything in the different countries is described except their
inhabitants. We are told that when Madame de Girardin had read his _Tra
los montes_, she said to him: "But, Théo, are there no Spaniards in
Spain?"--a criticism which is applicable to all his books of this kind.
The inner man gradually ceased to exist for him, and even the outer man
was at last lost to sight in his clothes. In Gautier's conversations
with Bergerat, his son-in-law, we come upon the following comical and
characteristic speech: "A royal tiger is a more beautiful creature
than a man; but if out of the tiger's skin the man cuts himself a
magnificent costume, he becomes more beautiful than the tiger, and
I begin to admire him. In the same way, a town interests me only by
virtue of its public buildings. Why? Because they are the collective
result of the genius of its population. Let the inhabitants be utterly
vile and the town a habitation of crime, what does it signify to me so
long as I am not assassinated whilst I am inspecting the buildings?"
This is the worship of beauty and art carried to a characteristic
extreme. The human, the emotional, the modern, life itself, at last
lost all interest for Gautier the artist and art-lover. In dramatic
art he became indifferent to everything but the style, the costumes,
and the scenery. He often maintained that it ought to be possible for
a dramatist to produce all his effects by employing four Pierrots in
different situations--for all that was wanted was "an impression of
life, not life itself." "Life itself is too ugly," he used to add.

Thus he finally, as it were, criticised himself, showing distinctly to
all except his blind admirers where his limitations lay. He exhibited
in himself the weak side of his axiom, _L'art pour l'art_; proved that
an art which does nothing but revolve round the axis of art itself,
inevitably becomes barren and empty. Art enthusiasm creates a Galatea
out of marble, but the personal stream of thought is the divine breath
which breathes life into the statue.

Nevertheless Gautier did a great and a good work by labouring with
unexampled energy to free art from unwarrantable claims, and by
developing it in as characteristic a manner as it lay in his power
to do. Though this was not enough for art, it was enough for one man
to have done. It cannot, however, be said that Gautier's talent was
appreciated as it deserved during his lifetime; the artistic circles
formed his public; merely literary people, not to speak of the reading
world at large, did not understand him. How often have I myself
heard from the lips of French scientific men the foolish assertion
that Gautier wrote his books out of dictionaries, without caring for
anything but the sound of his words and their singularity.

This want of understanding is to a certain degree explained by the fact
that, in the mind of the general public, Gautier the journalist had
gradually supplanted Gautier the poet. As early as 1836 the man who had
told the journalists such bitter truths had joined their ranks to earn
his daily bread; and his connection with the press lasted until his
death--thirty-six years. His facility in writing was of great advantage
to him, and the tasks he accomplished as art and dramatic critic were
herculean. According to his own and Bergerat's calculations, which
must, however, be exaggerated, his works, if all his articles were
collected, would fill three hundred volumes. He wrote for Girardin's
paper, _La Presse_, for nineteen years, and afterwards, under the
Empire, chiefly in the _Moniteur officiel_. His dramatic criticism,
which he undertook unwillingly, is only valuable for its fine style. As
an art critic he confined himself more and more, as time went on, to
describing pictures, an art in which he was unapproachable. Weariness
of his profession, disinclination to make enemies, compassion for
beginners and the untalented, good-nature and indifference in equally
large proportions, made him more and more indulgent. At last he praised
everything and everyone with the same serene impassibility and in the
same distinguished, ornate style. The general public knew him only as
an art and literary critic.

But upon authors, both of poetry and prose, his influence was great.
Paul de Saint-Victor, with his excellent prose, Leconte de Lisle, the
most unemotional of modern poets, Baudelaire, the "Satanic" lyric
poet, and the whole group of young poets who during the Second Empire
formed themselves into a school under the name of "Les Parnassiens,"
are direct descendants of Théophile Gautier. Saint-Victor inherited his
sense of form and colour, his devotion to plastic art, Leconte de Lisle
his perfect comprehension of foreign civilisations and his Oriental
serenity, Baudelaire his partiality for abnormal feelings and passions,
and the Parnassians his faultless metre and rhyme.

But although Gautier's influence has thus extended far beyond the
1830 period, and beyond the term of his own life, his is one of the
names most inseparably connected with the early, the fighting, days of
Romanticism. It is significant and touching that the last, uncompleted
article he wrote was a description of the audience on the night of the
first performance of Victor Hugo's _Hernani_.



XXIX


SAINTE-BEUVE


Gautier's critical writings, though they form such an enormous
proportion of his total production, are already almost forgotten; he
survives as the novelist and poet. But one of his contemporaries,
who like him was both a poet and a critic, and whose name during
their lifetime was frequently coupled with his, has had a different
fate. The rank which Sainte-Beuve won for himself as a critic is so
elevated as completely to overshadow his position as a poet, and
as a historian in the usual sense of the word. As a poet he showed
himself to be possessed of delicate and original talent; but he was
an epoch-making critic, one of the men who inaugurate a system and
found a new branch of art. In a certain sense it may be said that he
was a greater innovator in his province than the other authors of the
period in theirs; for there was modern lyric poetry before Victor
Hugo, but modern criticism in the strict acceptation of the word did
not exist before Sainte-Beuve. At any rate he remodelled criticism as
completely as Balzac did fiction. During the last years of his life
his authority was undisputed; nevertheless, it was not until some ten
years after his death that the literary public beyond the frontiers of
France awoke to a full sense of his preeminence. An excellent foreign
critic of French literature, the German historian, Karl Hillebrand,
has pronounced Sainte-Beuve's to be the master-mind of the period, an
assertion which, though it may be an exaggeration, can only be called
absurd if criticism be regarded as in itself a lower branch of art than
the drama or lyric poetry. This, however, is surely now an antiquated
standpoint. To the author that branch of art is the highest in which
his nature finds fullest expression; and though there may be an order
of precedence among intellects, it is extremely doubtful if there is an
order of precedence among arts, and most doubtful of all when an art or
branch of art has been remoulded by a productive intellect into its own
special, almost personal, organ. So much is certain, that in reasoning
power (not only in critical acumen) Sainte-Beuve holds the first place
in the generation of 1830.

The peculiar quality of his mind was its capacity of understanding and
interpreting an extraordinary number of other minds. If superiority
to the other prominent individuals of the group cannot be claimed
for him, the reason lies in the limitations of his gift. Amongst
the minds he understood were not numbered the minds of fertile,
unrefined geniuses like Balzac, and great but eccentric geniuses like
Beyle. And, far-reaching as was his vision, he was seldom able to
take a comprehensive view; few historians and thinkers have had such
unsystematic minds. This defect had its good side; his freedom from
all inclination to systematise kept him fresh to the last, enabled him
perpetually, as it were, to slough his skin; so that the man who in
1827 attracted Goethe's attention by his first articles in the _Globe_,
in 1869 was not only in complete, understanding sympathy with the group
of young scientists and artists who at the moment gave France her claim
to the consideration of Europe, but was in a manner their leader. To
the very last year of his life he was regarded by all the best men as
the natural general, under whose eye the "young guard" was specially
anxious to distinguish itself. But his lack of system, his inability
to grasp his subject as a whole, not only prevented Sainte-Beuve from
distinguishing his name by any single great work, but even from ever
attaining in his writings to grandeur of proportion, to the grand
style. His eye was formed to see details, characteristic, important
details, but no whole. He saw these details in constant, perpetually
varying movement, the movement which is life, and by imitating all this
movement in his brain and with his pen he gave his pictures a more
exact resemblance to life than had ever been seen before. But he had
not sufficient mastery over his details; he did not possess the gift of
tracing apparent to deeper-lying causes, and these to a first cause.

[Illustration: SAINTE-BEUVE]

As a critic he was only capable of describing the isolated individual,
and even of the individual he only very occasionally gave a complete,
final idea (Talleyrand, Proudhon); he showed him now from this side,
now from that, now at one, now at another age, now in one, now in
another relation to society. Even his short articles display a lack
of the power of concentration; he hid his best ideas in subordinate
clauses, his most suggestive thoughts in notes. He broke his bread of
life into crumbs. He hid his gold, as peasants used to do, in dark
corners, in holes in the floors and walls, at the bottom of chests and
in stockings; he was incapable of moulding it into figures.

The freedom from system which was his strong point had this great
advantage, that it preserved his writings from artificial symmetry. He
never sacrificed for the sake of the inward equilibrium of his work a
syllable of what he thought ought to be said; and much less would he
have done so to make his description and his style graphic. He had no
aversion for the complicate, the intricate, the unfinished. But the
result of his lack of that philosophic spirit which largely consists
in a tendency to summarise and the love of a whole as whole, is that
one never receives powerful, simple impressions from his works. The
important and the less important too often occupy the same plane.
Regarded as an artist, he reminds us of those Japanese painters,
the great artistic value of whose work began to be acknowledged in
Europe about the year 1880. One reason why the pictures of these
artists surprise and delight is, that there is not a trace of academic
symmetry in them; they never completely satisfy us because they despise
perspective, but they bring living things before us as if they were
alive.

Charles Augustin de Sainte-Beuve was born at Boulogne-sur-Mer on the
23rd of December 1804. His father, a clever government official and
cultured gentleman, was fifty-two before he made up his mind to marry;
and his mother at the time of her marriage was nearly forty. Monsieur
Sainte-Beuve died before they had been married a year, two months
before the birth of his son, whose critically reflective turn of mind
was plainly an inheritance from the father he never saw. Sainte-Beuve
the elder was interested in all kinds of literature, but especially in
poetry; he left his books with their margins crowded with annotations
and remarks, the spirit of which curiously anticipates the tendency
of his son's writings.[1] Madame Sainte-Beuve, whose mother was an
Englishwoman, taught her son English at an early age, and to her is
doubtless due his taste (a very uncommon taste in France in those days)
for English lyric poetry, for Bowles, Crabbe, Cowper, and especially
for Wordsworth and those other poets of the Lake School whom he so
often translated and quoted. Something melancholy and prematurely old
in his temperament is in all probability attributable partly to the
advanced age of both his parents, and partly to the effect produced on
his mother's mind, before he was born, by the illness and death of her
husband.

Sainte-Beuve was a timid, melancholy child. At the age of twelve, home
influence had developed in him an almost alarming degree of childish
piety; he served as an acolyte at the mass with extraordinary fervour.
The fever of Catholicism was short, but it left its traces, which
at one time in later life showed very plainly; and during all the
earlier years of his youth the lad not only retained his reverence
for Christianity, but dwelt much on religious doubts and theological
questions. This lasted until, as a student, he felt himself at once
drawn to the philosophers of the eighteenth century and to the living
representatives of the sensationalistic philosophy, Tracy, Daunou, and
Lamarck, with whose assistance he soon freed himself from the grasp of
theology. His intellectual position on entering manhood was that of
the pure empiricist; at a later period religious moods and tendencies
reasserted themselves; but these again gave way to empiricism,
which proved to be the final attitude of his mind. At school he had
distinguished himself in history and languages; but, in spite of his
strong literary tendencies, he determined, partly for the sake of his
future, partly to counteract a too purely literary training, to study
medicine. From 1823 to 1827, whilst by no means neglecting literature,
he pursued the usual physiological and anatomical studies with ardour
and interest. He was poor, but never in want; for he was frugal and
extremely industrious.

The young medical student was anything but good-looking. His big round
head, covered with fine and yet rough reddish hair, was almost too
large for his body; and his figure was bad. But in the bright blue
eyes, which seemed now large, now small, and which sometimes dilated
strangely, there shone a thousand questions, smiled a mischievous
wit, and dreamed a curiously ingratiating, half-poetic, half-sensual
longing. As the poor, plain-looking student, his acquaintance with
the fair sex was almost entirely limited to the frail sinners of
the Quartier Latin. He had an ardently sensual, gross temperament,
which demanded the immediate gratification of its desires; but with
the gratification invariably came remorse and a strong feeling of
humiliation. Quite as markedly developed as the sensuality was a
dreamy, poetic imaginativeness, which, tinged as it was with a gentle
melancholy, naturally took the direction of romanticism and mysticism.
He had, perhaps, a little of the ugly man's involuntary jealous dislike
of the men whose good looks capture feminine hearts at once, and yet he
himself had something of their dangerously insinuating quality.

Early in 1827 Sainte-Beuve published in the _Globe_ two articles on
Victor Hugo's _Odes et Ballades_, which procured him admission to
the Romanticist circle. Hugo came to thank him, but did not find
him at home. A few days later Sainte-Beuve returned the call. He
found Hugo and his wife at breakfast, and thus made at the same
moment the acquaintance of the two persons who were to have most
influence over his life for many years to come. He soon became the
accredited critic of the Romantic School. His first important task
was to prove the connection of the new school with the older French
literature, to provide it, so to speak, with Gallic ancestors. This
task he accomplished in his excellent critical work, _Tableau de la
Poésie française au XVIe Siècle_ (1827-28), the aim of which is to
show plainly the thread which stretches across the classical age and
connects the generation of 1830 with Ronsard, Du Bellay, Philippe des
Portes, and those other authors of the Renaissance who had been so
long and so unjustly despised. This book occupies the same position
among Sainte-Beuve's works that _Les Grotesques_ does among Théophile
Gautier's. It was written before _Les Grotesques_, and is as thorough
and critically discriminating as Gautier's work is plastic and
eccentric.

In 1829 followed Sainte-Beuve's first lyric essay, _Poésies de Joseph
Delorme_, a collection of curious, elaborate poems which made no small
sensation. They purported to be written by a young medical student who
had died of consumption; but in the preface, under the transparent
pseudonym, Sainte-Beuve described himself and his own life. Joseph
Delorme is of the race of Obermann--poor, gifted, full of compassion
for the woes of humanity, a lustreless genius like the founder of the
race, but of even a more complex character than he; for Joseph is a
philosopher who is unhappy because of his scepticism, an idealist who
with all his idealism is addicted to low dissipation. The hero is the
usual despairing youth of the 1830 period, but there is more of the
bourgeois in him than in the heroes of Saint-Beuve's contemporaries;
his despair is less magnificent and more true to nature. As regards
form, the poems are remarkable for their return to the charming old
French metres of Ronsard and Charles d'Orléans, and also for the
frequency with which the sonnet (beloved of Sainte-Beuve as of Wilhelm
Schlegel) recurs. But they interest us chiefly because of the tendency
to realism which their author already begins to display, a realism
which, though it can sometimes be traced to the influence of the
English poets of the Lake School, is yet as a rule, with its daring
choice of subjects (in the poem "Rose" for example), original and
essentially French. The ideal element is represented by the author's
ecstatic effusions on the subject of the _Cénacle_, the little
fraternal circle of poets and painters into which he had lately been
admitted, and the members of which he panegyrises, now collectively,
now singly. His admiration of his friends knows no bounds. Some of
the poems at the time of their appearance were ridiculed for their
affectation ("Les rayons jaunes" undoubtedly verges on the ridiculous)
others were considered vulgar. Guizot characterised Joseph Delorme as
"un Werther jacobin et carabin" (Werther as the Jacobin and "medical").
On the whole, however, the book may be said to have had the decided
success which it deserved.

Sainte-Beuve's next collection of poems, _Les Consolations_ (published
in March 1830), his novel _Volupté_ (published in 1834), and the first
two volumes of _Port-Royal_, mark the emotional and somewhat pious
period in the life of their author. _Les Consolations_ is dedicated to
Victor Hugo in terms of hysterical admiration coupled with expressions
of Christian contrition, and Hugo's name occurs frequently in the book;
but it was in reality quite as much an offering to Madame Hugo, who
was the love of Sainte-Beuve's youth, and to whom the first poem and
several others are addressed. Of his relations with her he wrote too
openly in _Le Livre d'Amour_, a collection of poems which obviously
treat of realities, and which, though printed, was never published.[2]
And in the novel _Volupté_, too, we have no difficulty in recognising
its author's relations with Victor Hugo and his household in Amaury's
relations with the eminent politician, Monsieur de Couaën, and his wife.

Sainte-Beuve himself and many of his biographers have hinted that
the works which he wrote during the period of his enthusiasm for
Madame Hugo, all of which have a faint Catholic tinge or varnish,
were directly inspired by that lady, who was a devout Catholic in her
youth, though an ardent freethinker in later life, in the days when she
wrote her husband's life to his dictation. It has been asserted that
Sainte-Beuve, in his lover's ardour, went the length of accustoming
himself to speak in her language and even to share her feelings.
This explanation, however, I refuse to accept, as I feel convinced
that Sainte-Beuve in his old age deceived both himself and others
by speaking as he did of his youthful works. In a letter dated July
1863, he writes to Hortense Allart de Méritens, the authoress (Madame
Saman): "I tried a little Christian mythology in my youth; but it
has evaporated. It was for me the swan of Leda, a means of obtaining
access to the fair and producing tenderness in them. Youth has time
and employs every means." I object to this, to say the least of it,
frivolous manner of explaining away a phenomenon which is plainly
attributable to the natural attraction possessed by Catholicism for
a youthfully pliant and dependent character, an attraction in this
case strengthened by the general tendency of the period, which,
as usually happens, was becoming a fashionable tendency before
disappearing altogether. The period was the period of the revival of
philosophic spiritualism. In 1828 Sainte-Beuve attended the lectures
which Jouffroy, after his dismissal, gave in his own house; and he was
also, like almost all the young men of his day, strongly influenced by
Cousin. The fashionable philosophers converted him temporarily from
sensationalism. Romanticism was still regarded by many of the younger
men in the light in which it was originally regarded by Hugo, namely,
as a reaction against the pagan art and literature of the Classicists;
and one branch of the Romantic School was, from its eager desire for
the poetic revival of medievalism, so closely associated with the young
Catholic party which rallied round Lamennais and founded the newspaper
_L'Avenir_ (to which Sainte-Beuve contributed articles), that it was
not at all surprising that a few drops from the aspergill of the
Neo-Catholics lighted upon the young Romantic writers, and found their
way into their works. The part of _Volupté_ which describes conventual
life, was actually written by Lacordaire. The piety which prevails
throughout _Les Consolations_--and which annoyed many, amongst others
Beyle, a sincere admirer of Sainte-Beuve--and the incense fumes which
permeate the second part of _Volupté_, vividly recall corresponding
phenomena in German Romanticism.

In spite of its diffuseness and heaviness, _Volupté_ is a delicately
profound psychological study. It consists of confessions of the nature
of Rousseau's, but recorded in a style which is richer in imagery, more
saturated with colour, and more delicately shaded than Rousseau's; the
emotionally lyric tone reminds us of Lamartine's _Jocelyn_, a work
which treats the same kind of theme more chastely. Sainte-Beuve's book
presents us with the life-story of a pleasure-seeking, dissipated
youth, interspersed with many a profound, sagacious reflection. It
represents the sensual and the tender impulses of the soul as equally
destructive of the vigour and energy of youth. It treats mainly of
those enervating friendships with young women, especially with young
married women, in cultivating which clever young men often squander so
much time. The word "squander" seems to me to convey Sainte-Beuve's
meaning better than the word "lose"; for he himself reproaches a gifted
writer whose vigorous style is lacking in shades, with having worked
too hard and lived too lonely a life, with having injured himself by
too seldom seeking the society "which is the best of all, and leads one
to lose most time in the pleasantest way, the society of women."

Amaury, the hero of the book, is on intimate terms with three women.
One, who is the wife of his teacher and chief, he loves more than he
ventures to let her understand; the second, to whom he is betrothed,
he gives up for the sake of the first; and yet at the very same time
he allows himself to drift into an intimate friendship with the third,
whom he alternately adores passionately, and pains by his cruel
indifference--a friendship which neither satisfies him, nor saves
him from indulging in the lowest debauchery. Intelligent, ambitious,
and obstinately industrious as Amaury is, his intellectual vigour is
gradually paralysed by all these entanglements, and he at last feels
that there is no hope for him except in submission to the severest
discipline of the Roman Catholic Church. His account of his life as a
young man is given in the form of the confession of an ecclesiastic,
and the unction of parts of it is insufferable; the outbursts of
remorse, the moral and religious admonitions, the prayers and homilies,
which interrupt the flow of the tale, are tiresome; but the reader is
sufficiently compensated for them.

Two things make the book a remarkable one--in the first place, the
perfect understanding which it displays of the development process and
the diseases of the soul, an understanding which speaks of persistent
self-examination, and foreshadows the coming critic; in the second
place, the insight into feminine character, which reveals the feminine
element in Sainte-Beuve's own nature, and prognosticates his unique
success in the critical interpretation of the personalities of notable
women. I append a few specimens of his keen observation and impressive
reflections:--"How ungrateful youth is by nature! It throws away
with a contemptuous gesture everything that has not been given to it
by itself. It will only be bound by ties which it has formed itself,
demands friends of its own choice, for itself alone, being certain
that in its soul are treasures sufficient to buy hearts with, and life
sufficient to fructify them. Hence we see it bestow itself for life on
friends whom it did not know yesterday, and swear eternal devotion to
women who are almost strangers." "How contemptible human friendships
are! How they exclude one another! How they follow one another and
drive one another away like waves! Alas! this house to which you repair
every morning and every evening, which seems like your home and better
than your home, and for which you neglect everything that hitherto has
been sweet to you, this house, you may be quite certain, will some day
lose favour in your eyes; you will avoid it as a fatal place, and if by
chance your business leads you into its neighbourhood, you will take
a long round to avoid seeing it. The cleverer you are, the stronger
will be the feeling." Every one of a truthful disposition who has been
under the painful necessity of concealing his or her real feeling, will
understand the following sentence, and admire its brevity:--"I tried
to express what I really felt, while apparently expressing what I did
not feel--to be honest to myself and to mislead her." Here, again, is a
mournful little picture of life:--"A brigade is marching slowly along
a road. The enemy's troops, in ambush on both sides, make terrible
havoc with their rifles, and in the end there is an open fight. The
brigade succeeds in putting the enemy to flight, and when the general
arrives in the evening at the nearest town with the lucky survivors
of his force and the torn remnants of his flag, this is called a
triumph. When some one part of our plans, our ambition, our love, has
suffered less than the rest, we call this glory or success." And the
following is an apt little simile. It is of jealous love Sainte-Beuve
is writing;--"At this stage, when it desires absolute possession, when
it is irritated and embittered by the slightest opposition, nay, even
by the beloved object's affection for others, I can only compare it
with those Asiatic despots who, in order to clear the way to the throne
for themselves, assassinate all their nearest relations, even their own
brothers."

With _Les Pensées d'Août_ Sainte-Beuve closed his career as a poet. It
is the only one of his poetical ventures which was quite unsuccessful,
and the poems which the volume contains are certainly his coldest; yet
it seems to me, though my opinion is unsupported by any other critic,
that it is in this work he first displays marked originality. It is
realistic to an extent which is quite unique in the lyric poetry of
the Romantic School; no poet had yet ventured to make such free use of
the language and the surroundings of daily life. In the North, where a
poet even to-day would hardly have the courage to give an omnibus or a
railway platform a place in a lyric poem, such a work as _Les Pensées
d'Août_ would still almost be regarded in the light of a specimen of
the poetry of the future.

In it, as in _Les Poésies de Joseph Delorme_, we find several of the
characteristics of the English Lake School transplanted to French soil.
Sainte-Beuve, like the Englishmen, presents us with simple, sober
pictures of real life, and his style, like theirs, is founded upon
the conviction that there ought not to be any essential difference
between the language of prose and of metrical compositions. But in
Sainte-Beuve's poems we have, instead of the strange want of crispness
and point of the English poems, a genuinely French dramatic tension.
Each of them is a little drama developed within the limits of a short
lyric narrative.

Take, as a good specimen, the poem entitled _À Madame la Comtesse
de T_. The Countess to whom it is dedicated relates the story. She
is travelling by steamer from Cologne to Mainz. To see the scenery
better, she has seated herself in her carriage, which is in the
fore part of the ship, and she is consequently beside the steerage
passengers--servants, workmen and their wives, poor people of all
descriptions. One of her children exclaims: "Mother, there is Count
Paul!" She looks round and recognises the acquaintance named, a Polish
political refugee (the year is 1831). His features are refined and
his hands are white, but he is dressed in the old, shabby clothes
of a working-man. He is in the company of a family of plain English
workpeople. The husband is a coarse-looking man, who is always eating
or smoking; his wife is, at the first glance, insignificant; they have
a daughter with them, a pretty girl of about fourteen. The Countess's
first idea is that the young Pole has been attracted by the girl; then
she sees that it is the mother, whose eyes follow him wherever he goes.
And this mother is no longer a young woman, though she must, not so
long ago, have been very pretty; her figure, in spite of the poverty of
her dress, is elegant, and her hair is beautiful. With a solicitude,
which is not that of love, but of tenderness towards the being by
whom one is beloved, the young man puts her cloak round her and holds
the umbrella over her when it rains. He buys expensive grapes for her
little boys. The Countess divines that in the distant town where he
sought refuge he has found friends in this poor family. But he, like
herself, is to go on shore at Mainz, and his friends are to continue
their journey in the steamer.

    "Montant sur le bateau, je suivis la détresse,
     Le départ jusqu'au bout! Il baise avec tendresse
     Les deux petits garçons, embrasse le mari,
     Prend la main à la fille (et l'enfant a souri,
     Maligne, curieuse, Ève déjà dans l'âme);
     Il prend, il serre aussi les deux mains à la femme,
     Évitant son regard.--C'est le dernier signal
     De la cloche! Il s'élance! O le moment final!
     Quand on ôte le pont et pendant qu'on démarre,
     Quand le cable encor crie, ô minute barbare!
     Au rivage mouvant, alors il fallait voir,
     De ce groupe vers lui, gestes, coups de mouchoir;
     Et les petits enfants, chez qui tout devient joie,
     Couraient le long du bord d'où leur cri se renvoie.
     Mais la femme, oh! la femme, immobile en son lieu,
     Le bras levé, tenant un mouchoir rouge-bleu
     Qu'elle n'agitait pas, je la vois là sans vie,
     Digne que, par pitié, le Ciel la pétrifie!
        . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
     Je pensai: Pauvre cœur, veuf d'insensés amours,
     Que sera-ce demain, et ce soir, et toujours?
     Mari commun, grossier, enfants sales, rebelles;
     La misère; une fille aux couleurs déjà belles,
     Et qui le sait tout bas, et dont l'œil peu clément
     A, dans tout ce voyage, épié ton tourment:
     Quel destin!--Lui pourtant, sur qui mon regard plonge,
     Et qu'embarrasse aussi l'adieu qui se prolonge,
     Descendit.--Nous voguions. En passant près de lui,
     Une heure après: 'Monsieur, vous êtes aujourd'hui
     Bien seul,' dis-je.--'Oui,' fit-il en paroles froissées,
     'Depuis Londres, voilà six semaines passées,
     J'ai voyagé toujours avec _ces braves gens_.'
     L'accent hautain notait les mots plus indulgents.
     --'Et les reverrez-vous bientôt?' osai-je dire.
     --'Jamais!' répliqua-t-il d'un singulier sourire;
     'Je ne les reverrai certainement jamais;
     Je vais en Suisse; après, plus loin encor, je vais!'"

I would also call attention to a little poem which is a real work of
genius, _Monsieur Jean, Maître d'école_. It is the story of a poor
country schoolmaster, who, brought up in a foundling hospital, has
known nothing of his parents until he one day suddenly finds out who
his father is--no less a man than the famous Jean Jacques Rousseau,
who, as his readers know, deposited the children of his wife Theresa
(of whom he had no absolute certainty of being the father) in the Paris
foundling hospital. The schoolmaster has not read Rousseau, but he
begins now, and studies _Émile, La nouvelle Héloïse_, and all the other
works with the deepest interest. He is more intensely conscious than
other readers both of their fertile geniality and of the very slight
feeling of personal responsibility displayed by their author. At last
he can no longer resist the desire to make the acquaintance of his
parents.

    "Il part donc, il accourt au Paris embrumé;
     Il cherche au plein milieu, dans sa rue enfermé,
     Celui qu'il veut ravir; il a trouvé l'allée,
     Il monte;... à chaque pas son audace troublée
     L'abandonnait--Faut-il redescendre?--Il entend,
     Près d'une porte ouverte, et d'un cri mécontent,
     Une voix qui gourmande et dont l'accent lésine:
     C'était là! Le projet que son âme dessine
     Se déconcerte; il entre, il essaie un propos.
     Le vieillard écoutait sans tourner le dos,
     Penché sur une table et tout à sa musique.
     Le fils balbutiait; mais, avant qu'il s'explique,
     D'un regard soupçonneux, sans nulle question,
     Et comme saisissant sur le fait l'espion:
     'Jeune homme, ce métier ne sied pas à ton âge;
     Epargne un solitaire en son pauvre ménage;
     Retourne d'où tu viens! ta rougeur te dément!
     'Le jeune homme, muet, dans l'étourdissement,
     S'enfuit, comme perdu sous ces mots de mystère,
     Et se sentant deux fois répudié d'un père.
     Et c'était là celui qu'il voudrait à genoux
     Racheter devant Dieu, confesser devant tous!
     C'était celle.... O douleur! impossible espérance!"

And he hastens back to the country to practise in life as a poor
schoolmaster some of the great precepts which are to be found in his
father's works, but are set at naught by his practice. The good seed
in Rousseau's _Émile_ germinates in the education which the children
entrusted to this schoolmaster receive.

_Les Pensées d'Août_ was published in 1837. Thenceforward Sainte-Beuve
was exclusively the critic.


[1] Some of the father's aphorisms are given as an appendix to Morand's
edition of Sainte-Beuve's letters to the Abbé Barbe.

[2] The most important poems of this collection are printed in Pons's
low-minded book, _Sainte-Beuve et ses inconnues_.



XXX


Sainte-Beuve


It was to follow his own peculiar, undoubted vocation that Sainte-Beuve
gave up the practice of the art of poetry. It was only the art he
forsook; for poetry, like an underground spring, communicated life and
freshness to his critical investigations of even the driest and most
serious subjects.

It is interesting to observe all the steps of the somewhat intricate
process by which the first great modern critic was prepared for the
exercise of his vocation. At the time when the Romantic circle was
broken up by the Revolution of July, Sainte-Beuve stood on such good
terms with the Legitimist leaders that Polignac was on the point
of offering him the post of secretary to Lamartine, who was then
about to proceed as ambassador to Greece. It was a post which the
young poet would have had no objection to accept from them; hence he
involuntarily cherished a certain feeling of resentment against the
new government, under which almost all his literary friends received
political preferment. The democratic element which lay latent in his
character (he gave up the _de_ which he was entitled to prefix to his
name), proclaimed itself; he became a species of interpreter of the
naïvely ardent socialistic philosopher, Pierre Leroux, and continued
to write in the _Globe_ even after it had passed from the hands of
the Romantic dogmatists into those of the Saint-Simonists, and was
appearing as their organ, with the motto: _À chacun selon sa vocation à
chaque vocation selon ses œuvres_. Like Heine, he had an enthusiastic
admiration for Père Enfantin; and in an article written in 1831 he
ranks the religious writings of Saint-Simon high above Lessing's
_Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts_.

Hardly had he separated from the Saint-Simonists, after the break-up
of their "family" in 1832, than he entered into relations with
Armand Carrel, the literary chief of Republican France. Although
Sainte-Beuve, in the article he wrote on Carrel in 1852, ignores his
own close connection with him, it is quite certain that he wrote in
Carrel's paper, the _National_, for three years, and on political as
well as literary subjects. He enrolled himself among the Republicans,
and made acquaintance with them, as he had previously done with the
Saint-Simonists, the Romanticists, and the Legitimists. And it was
about this same time that his friend, Ampère, procured him admission to
the circle of the Abbaye des Bois, where the venerable Madame Récamier
reigned and Chateaubriand was worshipped. After a quarrel with Carrel
on the subject of an article on Ballanche, which Carrel considered too
favourable to Legitimacy, Sainte-Beuve allied himself with Lamennais,
who had made overtures of friendship. What attracted him to Lamennais,
whose confidant and adviser he soon became, was partly that great
churchman's sincere and ardent devotion to the people, partly sympathy
with his main theory, that it was necessary, in order to keep the
steadily rising stream of democracy within its banks, to oppose to its
powerful, and to a certain extent irrefutable, principle one still more
powerful, namely, the religious principle, which addressed itself with
authority to the people, and with no less authority to their kings.
So strongly did Lamennais' attitude before his defection from the
Church of Rome appeal to Sainte-Beuve, that he in one of his articles
addressed a public, though qualified, reproach to his friend on the
subject of this defection, maintaining that a man who had so lately
striven to submit other men's minds to the authority of the church had
no right to figure as an anti-papal demagogue.

The years 1834-37 were the most painful of Sainte-Beuve's life.
In 1837 the sudden termination of his relations with Madame Hugo
simultaneously severed his connection with the Romantic circle and
obliterated his religious tendencies. He retired to Lausanne, where,
in 1837-38, he began the course of lectures which formed the basis of
his great work, _Port-Royal_. They had been planned and partly written
before; the fact that they were delivered to an audience which, though
Protestant, was orthodox, to a certain extent determined their tone.
It was also influenced by Sainte-Beuve's intimacy with the eminent
Swiss pastor, Vinet, one of the few men whom he all his life continued
to revere. Vinet's character and intellect were equally interesting
to Sainte-Beuve; he was a strictly and sincerely religious man, and
an exceedingly acute and subtle critic of French literature. His
representation and vindication of Christianity as _spirituality_ made
an impression on Sainte-Beuve's mind, for which theological problems
had a natural attraction! Vinet, seeing his friend such an attentive
listener, thought that he had converted him, but Sainte-Beuve left
Lausanne an unbeliever. After a tour in Italy he returned to Paris,
where he resumed his occupation of critic, writing better than he
had ever done before, and with this difference, that his criticism,
instead of being as heretofore polemical, was now interpretative and
instructive.

He became the highly esteemed literary critic of the _Revue des
deux Mondes_, an influential man of the world, a welcome guest in
aristocratic houses. He was regarded as a somewhat independent, but
refined and dignified author; his politics were, generally speaking,
those of the Right Centre. A lady, with whom he stood on terms of the
closest friendship, ensured his position in the social world. This was
Madame d'Arbouville, the authoress of some sad but pleasing stories;
she was the widow of a General, and niece of Comte Molé, the Prime
Minister. In winter Sainte-Beuve spent his leisure hours in her house
or the houses of her friends, and in summer he paid visits to her
relations in the country. He became Count Molé's friend and literary
adviser, taking the part of this cultured nobleman and adherent of the
Classic School against his own old Romantic allies, when these latter
showed themselves wanting in taste and tact.[1] Supported by all the
Monarchists and Classicists, he was elected a member of the French
Academy in 1844, without having to submit to any preliminary defeat.
(In one of the letters of Madame de Girardin, his clever enemy, a
bitter attack is made on him apropos of this election.)[2] Particular
piquancy was lent to the reception of the ex-Romanticist by the fact
that it fell to the lot of Victor Hugo, who had been rejected three
times before he was elected, to make the installation speech.

Sainte-Beuve, however, felt himself no more bound by his new social
ties than by any previous ones. The circle was broken up by the
Revolution of 1848; and as the victorious Republicans offended him
mortally by publishing a perfectly imbecile charge against him, he
felt more isolated than ever before.[3] He left France for the second
time, and, settling in Liège, gave there the course of lectures out of
which his book, _Chateaubriand et son Groupe littéraire_, was evolved,
lectures the tone of which must have been very offensive to the
Monarchical and Church party, and which point to the loss of cherished
illusions.

Madame d'Arbouville died in 1830, and with her death the private ties
which connected him with the old parties were severed. The democratic
and socialistic instincts which had drawn him to Armand Carrel and the
Saint-Simonists now drew him to the Second Empire. Like all the other
men of 1830, with the solitary exception of Auguste Barbier, a poet of
high principles but mediocre talent, Sainte-Beuve shared to a certain
extent the popular enthusiasm for Napoleon; to him the Empire was an
imperialism which had its support in the people and was inimical to the
domination of the bourgeoisie; and now, in his famous and much abused
article, _Les Regrets_, he not merely proclaimed his allegiance to
Napoleon III., but wrote of Orleanists and Legitimists with a strangely
oblivious scorn. He was a regular contributor to the _Constitutionnel_,
then for a time wrote in the _Moniteur officiel_, afterwards resuming
his connection with the _Constitutionnel_. During the last years of
his life he wrote for the Opposition newspaper, the _Temps_. He was
evidently perfectly honest; it was not for the sake of any advantage
to himself that he changed his opinions; he simply now, as always,
involuntarily allowed himself to be influenced--with the result of a
clear gain of insight and understanding for his future criticism. He
came very little into personal contact with the Emperor; in politics he
was an adherent of the "Left"; Princess Mathilde and Prince Napoleon
treated him as an honoured friend, and he turned the Princess's
friendship to account in the most disinterested manner, namely, in the
furtherance of unobtrusive, genuinely benevolent schemes.

It was not till the last stage of his career that Sainte-Beuve's talent
attained to its full development. The chances are that an uncritical
author will deteriorate as he grows older, but that a critic will
improve; Sainte-Beuve improved year by year, to the very end of his
life. The absolute truthfulness, which was naturally as marked a
feature of his character as his industry, but which had often been held
in check by one consideration or another, allowed itself ever freer
play; and the capacity for work remained as great as in his youth.
Sainte-Beuve's writings fill fifty volumes, and in all these volumes
there is not a careless line, and inaccuracies are of the rarest
occurrence. But it was not until the last stage of his career that he
was courageous enough to give perfectly free expression to his real
opinions on religious and philosophical subjects. He now eased his
mind of everything that he had repressed since the youthful days when
he studied the philosophers of the eighteenth century. His want of
appreciation of Balzac and Beyle, the one a man of a much coarser, the
other of a much more eccentric nature than his own, must not render us
oblivious of the courage and determination with which he championed the
rising generation of French authors, even such writers as Flaubert and
the Goncourt brothers, whom he did not altogether understand. Nor ought
it to be forgotten that he refused to write an article on Napoleon's
_Vie de César_, and that in the Senate he distinguished himself as the
solitary but determined opponent of clericalism.

In March 1867 he defended Renan and his _Vie de Jésus_. In June of
the same year, when it was proposed (apropos of a complaint from the
magnates of the town of Saint-Etienne) to exclude from the public
libraries accessible to the people all literature objectionable to
the clergy, including the works of Voltaire, Rabelais, &c, he was
the solitary member of the servile, priest-ridden Senate who boldly
championed intellectual liberty and warmly defended the honour of
French literature. The students, who in 1855 had hissed him as an
Imperialist, now honoured him with a deputation and a banquet. The
lying rumours spread by the clerical press on the subject of a small
dinner-party which he inadvertently happened to give on Good Friday,
1868, represented him in the light of an antichrist, of a reincarnated
Voltaire; and when in May 1869 he made a last effort, and with a weak
voice but stout heart spoke in the Senate in defence of liberty of
the press and against the Catholic Universities Bill, his name became
a war-cry, became the symbol of free thought. In January 1869 he
renounced his allegiance to Imperialism. In October of the same year
he died, after five years of illness and a long period of terrible
suffering, borne with stoic fortitude.

Sainte-Beuve, with his exceptionally impressionable nature, underwent
a whole series of religious, literary, and political transformations.
These constituted the school he had to pass through to become the
founder of modern criticism. Despite all his changes of opinion, we
are safe in asserting that he was honest. Private interest can have
had little power in great things over a man with a nature as truthful
as that which reveals itself in his writings. Truth and honesty are,
as Franklin says, like fire and flame; they have a certain natural
brightness which cannot be counterfeited.


[1] See Sainte-Beuve's article on Alfred de Vigny's reception into the
Academy, and also the letter, published by himself, which was written
to him by a lady (Madame Hugo) on the occasion of the same event.

[2] _Lettres parisiennes_, i v. 170.

[3] He was accused of having accepted bribes from the secret fund of
Louis Philippe's government. What lay at the foundation of the charge
proved to have been a grant of a sum of--one hundred francs--for the
repairing of a stove in the Mazarin Library, of which Sainte-Beuve was
librarian.



XXXI


SAINTE-BEUVE AND MODERN CRITICISM


_Port-Royal_ (1840-59), Sainte-Beuve's longest piece of connected
writing, is a unique work of its kind. Disinclination to tread the
beaten track, and the Romanticist's sympathy with religious enthusiasm,
two characteristics which early distinguished him, influenced him in
choosing the history of Jansenism in France as his subject. Jansenism
was an enthusiastic, intelligent, intense form of piety, which, though
evolved and retained within the pale of Catholicism, was nevertheless
distinguished by a personal, that is to say, heretical, passion for
truth, which appeals to our understanding by its independence and to
our sympathies by its heroically courageous defiance of persecution and
coercion. Like its history, _Port-Royal_, it reaches its highest level
in Pascal, whose frail, emaciated figure as its embodiment presents a
curious contrast to that of the plethoric, more healthy-minded German
who, in a neighbouring country a century earlier, had carried on a
very similar, though more successful struggle against ecclesiastical
attempts at compromise.

Sainte-Beuve possessed all the qualifications required of the historian
of Jansenism. He was not a believer, but he had been, or believed
that he had been one. A man is seldom capable of criticising the
views he holds himself, and as seldom of understanding those which
he has never held; what we all understand best are the views we once
shared, but share no longer. If any one doubts Sainte-Beuve's ability
to understand these medieval emotions, that impulse to forsake the
world, that strife of the awakened soul with nature, and its repentant,
anxious recourse to grace; if any one doubts his comprehension of the
real spirit inspiring these sermons and theological pamphlets, of the
hearts beating under these nuns' habits, of the devotion, the hopes,
and the longings, the mystical ecstasies and the sacred enthusiasm,
which flourished on that little spot of holy ground, let that doubter
read the first two volumes of _Port-Royal_, as far as the chapter on
Pascal, who was easier of comprehension because he was a figure of more
magnitude and was already better known. Let him study the masterly
portraits of St. François de Sales and St. Cyran, and observe how with
the help of letters, reported conversations, and a few pamphlets and
sermons, Sainte-Beuve succeeds in placing before us two figures which
are so true to nature, so human, that we seem to be living with them.
We are frequently reminded of the fact that Sainte-Beuve was originally
a novelist. The scenes among the innocent dwellers in that dovecote,
the convent, for instance, have all the vividness of well-written
fiction. And Sainte-Beuve employs his imagination only in describing;
he never invents or misrepresents.

It is a defect in the book that its first parts, though they are much
the best reading, are not conceived in the historical style. We are too
vividly reminded that the _feuilleton_ has hitherto been their author's
vehicle of expression. In these earlier volumes Sainte-Beuve simply
takes Port-Royal as his starting-point. The old monastery is not much
more than his citadel, from which he makes one sortie after another;
he hunts out parallels, discovers analogies, now in literature,
now in real life--interesting, but often far-fetched, and leading
to disquisitions not only upon such writers as Corneille, Racine,
Molière, Voltaire, and Vauvenargues, but upon modern authors, such as
Lamartine and George Sand. The later volumes, on the other hand, the
style of which is more soberly historical, lack the attraction of these
interpolations; and the subject is too much of a special subject to
interest long, in spite of the loving care which has been bestowed on
it.

Though _Port-Royal_ is supposed to be his chief work, Sainte-Beuve
reaches a far higher level in the long series of volumes known as
_Causeries du Lundi_ and _Nouveaux Lundis_, which contain the shorter
articles written during his most perfect period. It will be long before
these articles are forgotten. At the time of their author's death,
Ulbach wrote: "I cannot tell how much of the literature of which we
are now so proud will be preserved by time. Some of Lamartine's and
Victor Hugo's verses? some of Balzac's novels? One thing, however, is
certain--that it will be impossible to write history without having
recourse to Sainte-Beuve and reading him from beginning to end."

Sainte-Beuve has two styles, the youthful and the mature. At the time
of his study of sixteenth century literature (from the vocabulary
of which he, like the other young Romanticists, adopted various
expressions) he got into the habit of picking and choosing his words
and polishing and refining his periods to such an extent that he drew
down upon himself some justifiably severe criticism--though he hardly
deserved the violent reproaches showered on him by Balzac, whom he had
annoyed by some sarcastic articles. But when he took to journalism
this ultra-refinement of style disappeared. As Littré remarked, "After
he had bound himself to send in a _feuilleton_ every week, he had no
time to spoil his articles." A style like Sainte-Beuve's second--keen
and flexible as a sword-blade--is not easy to characterise. In the
first place, it is by no means a striking style. The reader who is
not particularly well versed in French literature will not be aware
of anything that can be called style. The periods succeed one another
unrhythmically; they are not grouped, but proceed carelessly, as
Zouaves march; we never come upon a pompous and seldom on a passionate
one; occasionally there is an interjection--"Ô poet!" or the like. The
language flows like gently rippling water. But the observant reader is
charmed by its noble Atticism. The tone is not assertive, but calmly
and quietly sceptic. I give a few examples, taken from different works.
"Is there stability or instability at the basis of his character? You
think instability. But under that instability is there not something
more stable? You believe that there is. But under this again is there
not something less stable than ever?" How often in their study of
character must psychologists query thus, but how few of them could put
the question with such delicate precision! What has been called the
eccentricity of Sainte-Beuve's style is often only something surprising
in his imagery; yet the metaphor itself is always surprisingly
correct. In describing a great, austere sixteenth-century preacher
of repentance, he tells that this ecclesiastic's contemporaries
compared him, because of his dry severity, to a thorn-bush. Later,
after giving an account of a vigorous outburst of noble indignation on
the part of this man, he adds: "Si j'ai pu dire de M. de Saint-Cyran
qu'il était parfois un buisson et un buisson sans jamais de rieurs,
il faut ajouter qu'il est souvent aussi un buisson ardent." Observe
how the pliant style lends itself to irony and satire. Sainte-Beuve
is criticising the style of a literary rival, Nisard; amongst much
bitter-sweet praise he insinuates the little remark: "Un académicien
lui a trouvé du nerf; les savants lui trouvent de la grâce." Of Cousin
he says: "He is a hare with the eye of an eagle." For an example of
the power of characterisation latent in the style, take the following
sentence from a criticism of De Musset: "Ce n'était pas des couleurs
combinées, surajoutées par un procédé successif, mais bien le réel
se dorant ça et là comme un atôme à un rayon du matin, et s'envolant
tout d'un coup au regard dans une transfiguration divinisée." And for
an example of its capacity, equable as it is, to express indignation,
take the following passage, which also throws light on the character
of the man. He is writing on the subject of a work to which the
Academy in full conclave had refused to give the prize adjudged it by
a committee of experts, because the "atheistical" principles on which
the work was based were at variance with the eclectic philosophy then
officially recognised. "There really does exist a small class of sober,
unassuming philosophers, who live upon very little, do not intrigue,
and are entirely occupied in conscientiously seeking after truth
and cultivating their intellects. They refrain from the indulgence
of every other passion, and fix their whole attention upon the laws
which govern the universe, listening and investigating wherever in
the realm of nature the world-soul, the world-thought reveals itself
to them. These are men who at heart are stoics, who try to do good
and to think as accurately and rightly as they can, even without the
hope of any personal reward in the future, content to feel at harmony
with themselves and in accord with the harmony of the universe. Is
it fitting, I ask, to stamp these men with an odious name on this
account, to ostracise them, or at best only to tolerate them with such
tolerance as we show to the erring and guilty? Have they not even yet
won for themselves in our country a place on which the sunlight falls?
Have they not, O ye noble Eclectics, with whom it gives me pleasure
to compare them, ye whose invariable and absolute disinterestedness
and whose unalterable high-mindedness are known to God and man, have
they not the right to be placed at least on an equal footing with you,
in virtue of the purity of their doctrine, the uprightness of their
motives, and the innocence of their lives? This last great progressive
step, worthy of the nineteenth century, I would fain see taken before
I die." Sainte-Beuve made various reforms in the art of criticism. In
the first place, he put solid ground beneath its feet, gave it the
firm foothold of history and science. The old, so-called philosophic
criticism treated the literary document as if it had fallen from the
clouds, judged it without taking its author into account at all, and
placed it under some particular heading in a historical or aesthetic
chart. Sainte-Beuve found the author in his work; behind the paper he
discovered the man. He taught his own generation and the generations
to come, that no book, no document of the past, can be understood
before we have gained an understanding of the psychical conditions
which produced it, and formed an idea of the personality of the man
who wrote it. Not until then does the document live. Not until then
does a soul animate history. Not until then does the work of art become
transparently intelligible.

Sainte-Beuve's most marked characteristic was an insatiable thirst
for knowledge, a quality which he possessed in the form that may be
called scientific inquisitiveness. This directed his life even before
it expressed itself in his criticism. At first it is only faintly
perceptible in his works, because he began with unlimited praise of
his contemporaries, Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Alfred de
Vigny, and others, a good deal of which he was obliged subsequently
to retract--thus progressing in the opposite direction from Théophile
Gautier, who began with severity and gradually declined into a
nerveless leniency. But it is possible to trace even Sainte-Beuve's
first uncritical praise to his critical instincts. Its exaggeratedness
was due to the fact that he stood, as a young man, too near to the
personages he criticised; but this circumstance was itself attributable
to his curiosity. Before he knew, he dimly divined the difference
between books and life, and was less apt than others to accept the
author's own account of himself, the image of himself which he desired,
by means of his book, to imprint on his readers' minds; and it was
the unconscious instinct of investigation, the keen interest of the
born psychologist, the longing to see for himself and close at hand,
the inclination to pass by all that was official and conventional and
make straight for the truth that is concealed, the small facts which
explain--that led him to seek personal acquaintance; though he himself
believed that it was his enthusiasm for ideas which attracted him
irresistibly to their originators.

And here the critic is confronted by one of his greatest
difficulties--he knows the truth only about the living, but may
speak it only of the dead. And there is no doubt that it makes a
disagreeable impression when the death of an author entirely changes
the tone of criticism, as Sainte-Beuve's criticism of Chateaubriand,
for example, was altered by the latter's death. His earliest article
on Chateaubriand was incense pure and simple. We are conscious of the
social pressure under which it was written, of the awe and veneration,
the personal sympathies and relations, the fear of angry glances from
lovely eyes, the impossibility of hurting the feelings of so charming
a lady as Madame Récamier by criticising her domestic idol, in short,
of all the influences which combined to make the first sketch of
Chateaubriand simply an adulatory narrative. The long work and the
later articles are, on the contrary, inspired by a perfect rage for
saying "No," for tearing off masks.

But when he is at his best, Sainte-Beuve succeeds in finding the golden
mean. He does not admire everything and attribute everything to noble
motives, but neither does he search for base ones. He neither praises
nor depreciates human nature. He understands it. And intercourse with
men and women of every description, constant critical observation,
French delicacy of perception, and a Parisian training, have given him
an extraordinary power of discernment. At his best, the many-sidedness
of his mind actually reminds us of Goethe. We are at times tempted to
call him "wise"; and few indeed are the critics who tempt us to apply
this adjective to them. He very seldom allows himself to be confused or
influenced by the popular sentiment connected with a name, no matter
whether it is lofty, or pathetic, or depreciatory. He inquires into
the pedigree of his author, his constitution and health, his economic
position; he snaps up some involuntary confession he has made, and
shows that it is supported by other utterances, and that it throws
light on, and explains the actions of the man. He describes him in his
bright and noble moments; he surprises him in déshabille; with his
marvellous capacity for "finding a needle in a haystack," he discovers
what the dead man concealed in the inmost recesses of his heart. With
the judicial calm of the scientific investigator, he enumerates his
tendencies towards good and his tendencies towards evil, and weighs
them in the balance. And by such means he produces a trustworthy
portrait--or rather, a series of portraits, each one of which is
trustworthy, though some of them contradict each other. For, notable
critic as Sainte-Beuve is, he invariably shirks one of the greatest
difficulties with which the critic has to contend. A conscientious
critic has, as a rule, read the work which he undertakes to interpret
and criticise, many times and at various stages of his development;
each time he has been struck by something different; and in the end
he has seen the work from so many different points of view that it is
impossible for him, without doing a sort of inward violence to himself,
to maintain one single standpoint, one attitude of feeling. And if
he happens to be dealing, not with a single work, but with a highly
productive author who has passed through many stages of development,
or possibly even with a whole school of literature, the difficulty of
making one comprehensive picture out of the many different impressions
received under totally different psychical conditions, becomes
proportionately greater. A building which we have seen only once, half
of it in sunlight, half in the shadow of a heavy cloud, stands out
distinctly in our memory in a certain light against a particular sky;
but a building we have seen at every hour of day, in the dusk and in
moonlight, from all sides, from various elevations, and as often from
the inside as the outside, a building in which we have lived, and the
size of which has dwindled in our eyes as we grew--of such a building
we find it difficult to give a single, fully descriptive picture.
This difficulty Sainte-Beuve avoids by constantly producing fresh
descriptions and fresh criticisms of the same men and their works,
leaving it to the reader to draw his own conclusions. It was with good
reason that he chose as the motto for a series of his works the saying
of Sénac de Meilhan: "Nous sommes mobiles et nous jugeons des êtres
mobiles."

The latter of these propositions, namely, that every human being whom
we judge has altered, has developed steadily, Sainte-Beuve understood
better than it had ever been understood before. He not only changes his
tone every time he changes his theme, but changes it every time there
is a change in the man or woman who is his theme for the time being;
his agile talent imitates all the movements of the individual human
soul during its development process.[1] Hence his manner is as
changeable as his subject; he is now the biographer, now the critic;
he packs as many limiting and defining parentheses into his periods as
possible; connects sentences which modify one another; uses technical
words which introduce a whole train of ideas and memories; and vague
expressions which may mean much more than they say. For though he moves
through the dim depths of a man's life with the certainty of the diver
who sees the submarine growths through the water, he nevertheless, for
many reasons, prefers to write with a certain amount of vagueness of
what he has seen. When he is writing of the living it is, of course,
only permissible to make vague allusions to their private life; and the
dead have, as a rule, descendants or relatives who keep jealous guard
over their reputation. Sainte-Beuve, therefore, generally contents
himself with showing that he divines or knows much on which he does not
choose to dwell.

With the course of years he became bolder and more scientific in his
psychological analysis. In the following passage he defends his right
to be so. It is taken from a letter written on the 9th of May 1863 to
a critic who had blamed him for certain disparaging remarks in one
of his articles: "Art--and especially a purely intellectual art like
that of criticism--is an instrument which is difficult to handle,
and its worth is dependent upon the worth of the artist. Granted
this, is it not absolutely necessary to have done with that foolish
conventionality, that cant, which compels us to judge an author not
only by his intentions, but also by his pretensions? Am I, for example,
to be obliged to see in Fontanes only the great master, polished,
noble, elegant, religious, and not the hasty, brusque, sensual man
that he really was?... Or to come to our own day.... I have had the
opportunity for thirty years and more of observing Villemain, a man of
distinguished intellect and talent, who is actually brimming over with
generous, liberal, philanthropic, Christian, civilising sentiment, but
who is, nevertheless, the most sordid, malicious ape in existence. What
is to be done in such a case? Are we to go on to all eternity praising
his noble, elevated sentiments, as those by whom he is surrounded
do? Are we to dupe ourselves and dupe others? Are men of letters,
historians, and moralists merely actors, whom we have no right to study
except in the rôles which they have chosen and defined for themselves?
Are we only permitted to see them on the stage? Or is it allowable,
when our knowledge is sufficient, boldly and yet gently to insert the
scalpel and show the weak points of the armour, the faulty joints
between the talent and the soul? allowable to praise the talent whilst
indicating the defects in the soul which actually affect the talent and
any permanent influence it may exercise. Will literature lose by such a
proceeding? It is possible that it may; but the science of psychology
will gain."

This, then, is the first advance--firm ground beneath our feet; no
deceptive idealisation! The next is, that criticism, which had hitherto
been a disintegrating, separating process, becomes in Saint-Beuve's
hands, and with the limitations entailed by his character, an
organising, constructive process. His criticism produces an organism,
a life, as poetry does. It does not break up the given material into
road-metal and gravel, but erects a building with it. It does not
break up the human soul into its component parts, so that we only gain
an understanding of it as a piece of dead mechanism, without having
any idea what it is like when it is in movement. No, he shows us the
machine at work; we see the fire that drives it and hear the noise it
makes, whilst we are learning the secrets of its construction.

Thanks to these reforms of Sainte-Beuve's, the history of literature,
which used to be a kind of secondary, inferior branch of the science of
history, has become the guide of history proper, its most interesting
and most living part; for the literature of nations is the most
attractive and most instructive material with which history has to deal.

We began by asserting that Sainte-Beuve's critical activity did not
lead him to forsake poetry. We are now in a position to prove that
the art of the critic, as practised by him in the last years of his
life, in the highest stage of his development, had entered into the
closest relationship with modern poetry. For poetry became synthetic
simultaneously with criticism; and the cause of the movement was the
same in both cases, namely, the gradual conquest by science of the
whole domain of modern intellectual life. At the beginning of the
century imagination was considered the essential quality in poetry;
it was his capacity of invention which made the poet a poet; he was
not tied down to nature and reality, but was as much at home in
the supernatural as in the actual world. In the generation of 1830
such authors as Nodier and Alexandre Dumas express this view of the
matter, each in his own way. But as Romanticism by degrees developed
into realism, creative literature by degrees gave up its fantastic
excursions into space. It exerted itself even more to understand than
to invent; and this produced a close connection with criticism. Fiction
became psychological. The point of departure of the novelist and of the
critic in their respective descriptions is now the same, namely, the
spiritual atmosphere of a period. In it the real or invented characters
appear to us; the novelist's aim is to represent and interpret the
actions of a human being, the critic's, to represent and interpret a
work, in such a manner that the reader may see both the actions and the
work to be results produced with real or apparent inevitability, when
certain inward qualities or tendencies are acted upon by suggestions
from without. The only fundamental difference is that the creative
author makes the speech and the actions of his characters, who,
fictitious though they are, are generally drawn from life, the probable
consequences of given circumstances; whereas the critic's imagination,
fettered by facts, necessarily restricts itself to the representation
of the psychical condition which led to or influenced the utterances
and actions he describes. The novelist deduces a man's probable actions
from what he has observed of his character. The critic deduces a man's
character from his works.

Criticism, understood as the capacity of overcoming one's natural
narrow-mindedness by the wideness and many-sidedness of one's
sympathies, has been a distinguishing faculty of all the greatest
authors of this century. It was from this point of view that Émile
Montégut regarded it when he called it the youngest genius, the
Cinderella among the intelligences. "Criticism," he wrote, "is the
tenth Muse. It was she who was Goethe's mystic bride; it was she who
made twenty poets of him. What but criticism is the basis of German
literature? What are the English poets of our own day? Inspired
critics. What was Italy's noble Leopardi? A fiery critic. Amongst all
the modern poets only two, Byron and Lamartine, have not been critics;
and for this reason these two have lacked many-sidedness and variety
and have become as monotonous as they are." When criticism is taken in
a wider sense, in the full meaning of the word, this last limitation
falls away. For in its signification of the power of passing judgment
on the existing state of things, it was an inspiring force in all the
great Romantic lyric writers of the period, Byron as well as Hugo,
Lamartine as well as George Sand. From the moment when their poetry
ceases to exclude all important contemporary life and thought, from
the moment when the Romantic lyric poets transform themselves into
the organs of great ideas, criticism becomes an inspiring principle
in their works also. It inspired Hugo's _Les Châtiments_; it inspired
Byron's _Don Juan_. It is a finger-post on the path of the human mind.
It plants hedges and lights torches along that path. It cuts and clears
new tracks. For it is criticism which removes mountains--the mountains
of belief in authority, of prejudice, of idealess power and dead
tradition.


[1] The two following sentences from _Port-Royal_ exemplify my meaning.
In the first we have him calmly and frankly giving up the attempt
to produce resemblance between his character portraits of the same
person; in the second we see him determined to include every side of
the character: "C'est le M. Saint-Cyran tout-à-fait définitif et mûr
que j'envisage désormais; c'est de lui qu'est vrai ce qui va suivre;
si quelque chose dans ce qui précède ne cadre plus, qu'on le rejette,
comme en avançant il l'a rejeté lui-même."--"Certes on peut tailler
dans M. de Saint-Cyran un calviniste, mais c'est à condition d'en
retrancher mainte parte vitale."



XXXII


THE DRAMA: VITET, DUMAS, DE VIGNY, HUGO


The success of the Romantic School in lyric poetry, fiction, and
criticism was indisputable; but there was one branch of literature in
which it failed to realise the bold expectations with which it started
on its career; and this was the branch which, according to the old
principles of æsthetics, was (and curiously enough, as a rule, still
is) regarded as the highest, namely, the drama. As the art stood in
such high estimation, the comparative slightness of their success in it
was painfully felt by the Romanticists. Their plays never found real
favour with the public, never became part of the permanent repertory of
any theatre. Victor Hugo's were only popular as librettos for Italian
operas; Mérimée's were never played at all; George Sand's and Balzac's
had generally only a _succès d'estime_; and it was long before a few
of Alfred de Musset's short pieces found their way on to the stage;
whereas Scribe and his collaborators drew full houses, not only in
France but abroad.

And yet the school did much admirable work in the domain of drama.
The first essay was made by Vitet, who between 1826 and 1829 wrote
a succession of _Scènes dramatiques_, subsequently published in a
collected form under the title of _La Ligue_. The original idea had
suggested itself to him of dramatising episodes in French history
without adding anything fictitious whatever; his imagination was
allowed to do nothing but vitalise history, and it succeeded most
admirably in doing so. The atmosphere of Vitet's works is the
atmosphere of long-past days, and the talk of his sixteenth-century
characters conveys such an impression of authenticity that we feel when
we are reading his dramas as if we were living history, hour by hour.

Ludovic Vitet was born in Paris in 1802, received his education at the
Ecole Normale, took part as a Liberal in the political movements of
the day, was a member of the society _Aide toi--le ciel t'aidera_, and
wrote (as already mentioned) in the _Globe_ as an ardent champion of
Romanticism. His poetico-historical works were all produced in this
youthful period, with the exception of a series of dramatic scenes,
distinctly inferior to the rest, which he published in 1849 under the
title of _Les Étais d'Orléans_.

His career was uneventful. As a young man he was an inseparable friend
of Count Duchâtel. When the Revolution of July placed his friends in
power and Duchâtel became a member of the Guizot ministry, Vitet was
made Inspector of Historical Monuments, a post which Guizot devised
specially for him. Henceforth he was a politician; in 1834 he became a
member of the Chamber of Deputies, in 1836 a member of the Council of
State, in 1846 a Member of the Academy.

He was a consistent Monarchist and Conservative. From 1851 to 1871 he
held aloof from public affairs altogether. After the war he again took
a prominent position, under Thiers. He died in 1873.

Vitet furnishes a good example of the power of the first impetus of a
strong artistic movement to inspire even minds which are not productive
and artistic by nature. After 1830 he was eminent only as a learned
historian of art. He wrote a biography of Count Duchâtel. His literary
and historical essays are as dry and tedious as Mérimée's.

To his youthful works we always return with pleasure--to _Les
Barricades, Les États de Blois_, and _La Mort de Henri III_. The
principal characters in them, Henri II, Henri III., and the Dukes of
Guise of several successive generations, are portrayed in such masterly
style as to bear comparison with the heroes of Shakespeare's great
historical plays (Henry IV. and Richard III. certainly excepted). The
manners and ideas of the age are so clearly placed before us that
we feel as if they cannot have been better known or understood by
contemporaries. _Les États de Blois_ is unmistakably the finest of
these works. Let any one who wishes to make acquaintance with Vitet
at his best, read the scenes which describe the murder of the Duke of
Guise. Seldom has an author ventured to set aside poetic convention to
such an extent in a historical play. The event is much more vividly
and realistically brought before us than even in Delaroche's fine
painting, which shows us Henri III. cautiously opening the door and
peeping at the body of his great enemy lying on the floor. Vitet first
shows us the King in his room at four o'clock in the morning, dipping
Spanish poniards into holy water and tremblingly handing them to his
minions without even daring to utter his enemy's name. Then comes the
scene in the Duke's room, in which his mother and his mistress in vain
beseech him not to imperil his life, but to keep away from the Council
to be held next morning. We next see him in the Council-chamber; an
uncomfortable feeling comes over him; his nose begins to bleed; he has
forgotten his handkerchief, and sends a messenger to fetch it. The
Scottish guards stupidly bar this messenger's way; but they quickly
perceive their mistake, and the Duke gets the handkerchief. But he is
uneasy, this great soldier who has faced drawn blades so often without
turning pale, and he begins to feel faint. It is because he is still
fasting; the feeling will pass off if he eats something; he opens the
little _bonbonnière_ which hangs at his belt; it is empty. Some one
is despatched to fetch him sweetmeats or fruit. At this moment Révol
comes out of the King's apartment and says: "The King wishes to speak
with you, Monseigneur!" The other lords of the Council stop their
conversation and exchange glances. The Duke rises; he takes a little
time to fasten his mantle, which slips first off one shoulder, then
off the other; he is unconsciously trying to delay his departure--too
proud not to be ready to go, even if it be to death, and yet human
enough to hesitate a moment on the fatal threshold. He must have
another handkerchief, as the first is stained with blood; again one
of the conspirators goes, leaving the others in anxious suspense. It
is a masterly representation, this of Vitet's, of the restlessness,
impatience, and foolish feeling of shame which at times overcome us and
impel us to rush blindly into the most hazardous situations, merely
to escape from painfully ridiculous ones. The messenger sent for the
handkerchief again delays. Then the proud Guise loses patience. With
the words, "I cannot keep the King waiting longer," he goes out at
the door; as it closes behind him, a dozen officers thrust their long
poniards into his body.

We observe that Vitet enters into details which would be unsuitable
for the stage. His _Scènes dramatiques_ are only intended to be read.
Therefore they are not genuine dramas. And the explanation of this is,
that Vitet, with all his historical insight, lacked both poetic passion
and the artistic gift of organisation. Because he is never capable of
developing pathos, of rising to a climax, from the height of which all
the rest would be felt to be preparation and result, he never attains
to really artistic construction. He was evidently haunted by a species
of artistic anxiety, a fear of making the slightest alteration in the
historical facts, a fear of obtruding his own personality. He had not
a strong enough individuality to dare to issue an artistic coinage
stamped with his own image. His productivity ceased as early as it did,
because the imagination which inspired his works, though vigorous,
was not free, not independent, either in its observation or in its
reproduction; it was hampered and weighted by scholarship, by the dust
of the record office. This beautiful and fiery Pegasus stood tethered
in a library.

It would be a shame to employ the same metaphor in writing of the
Romantic author who, following in Vitet's steps, set himself to
dramatise historical episodes, and who in February 1829, a year before
Victor Hugo, achieved popularity with a historical drama, _Henri III.
et sa Cour_. This writer was Alexandre Dumas (born in 1803), a man of
brilliant, spontaneous talent and Titanic constitution, who displayed
the same aptitude for Herculean tasks in literature as his father had
done in war. For forty years he continued without a pause to produce
tragedies, comedies, novels, short stories, books of travel, and
memoirs. It would be foolish to write contemptuously of such prodigious
inventiveness, such incredible productivity. We can trace in these
works the French-African blood; there is something in them of the
easy-going Creole disposition, something of the ardent sensuality of
the negro race. Assisted by numerous collaborators, all much inferior
to himself, Dumas peopled the stages, crowded the booksellers' shelves,
filled the _feuilleton_ columns of the newspapers with the creations of
his brain; the printing-presses creaked and groaned in their efforts
to keep pace with his incessant production. What one cannot but regret
is the easy-going worldliness which prevented any real process of
development taking place. Dumas was an artist only in his first period.
Beginning in a romantic age, he began romantically; continuing in a
commercial age, he continued commercially.

In _Henri III et sa Cour_ he did what Vitet had not succeeded in doing
with the same historical material, namely, produced a spirited and
playable drama; but it was a drama in which the defiance of classic
theatrical convention was of the most superficial kind. He ventured
to reproduce in externals the court customs of the period. On the
boards where for a couple of centuries the hero and his confidant
had conversed either with both arms hanging by their sides or with
their left hands on their sword-hilts, a whole troop of King Henry's
courtiers appeared with cups and balls (the game of cup-and-ball was an
invention of that day); and in the pauses these same gentlemen amused
themselves by blowing small darts out of blow-pipes. Nevertheless they
felt and spoke like the young men of 1828.

The psychology of the other historical plays of Dumas' youth (_Napoléon
Bonaparte, Charles VII chez ses grands Vassaux_, &c.) is equally
superficial. It was not until he lit upon an age the spirit of which
he understood and could master, that he succeeded in giving such
excellent representations of past days as we have in the interesting
and effective dramas, _Un Mariage sous Louis XV_ and _Gabrielle de
Belle-Isle_, both of which (and especially the latter, with its
slightly idealised picture of the manners and customs of the Regency)
possess real literary value. But before this, in 1831, it had fallen
to Dumas' lot to present the young Romantic generation with one of the
typical figures which it recognised as representative of itself. He
wrote _Antony_.

With all its faults, there is something in this play which makes it
better than even the best of Dumas' other works. There is warmer blood,
more human nature in it than in the others. And the reason why, with
all its naïveté, it makes a really powerful impression on us is, that
in it Dumas has flung his own ego, himself, with his wild passion, his
youthful enthusiasm, and chivalrous instincts, on to the stage. Antony
is an 1830 hero, of the same type as all of Hugo's--broad-shouldered,
lion-maned, enthusiastic and despairing, capable of living without food
or sleep, ready at any moment to blow out his own or any one else's
brains. But the sensation produced by _Antony_ was due to the fact that
Dumas had done what Hugo never would or could do, namely, laid the
action of his play in 1830, and put his hero on the stage dressed in
the fashion of the day, in the very same black coat as the male members
of the audience wore. Hitherto Romanticism had voluntarily restricted
itself on the stage to the Middle Ages. Now it revealed itself in
undisguised modernity.

We come upon a vindication of this step in the play itself. A
conversation on the subject of the literary disputes of the day is
introduced into the fourth act. During the course of it a poet, who is
defending the Romanticists' practice of going back to the Middle Ages
for their themes, says:

"The drama of passion must necessarily be historical drama. History
bequeaths to us the passionate deeds which were really done. If in
the midst of our modern society we were to attempt to lay bare the
heart which beats under our ugly short black coats, the resemblance
between the hero and the public would be too great; the spectator who
was following the development of a passion would desire to have it
arrested exactly where it would have stopped in his own case. He would
cry: 'Stop! that is wrong; that is not how I feel. When the woman whom
I love deceives me I suffer, certainly, but I neither kill her nor
myself.' And the outcry against exaggeration and melodrama would drown
the applause of the few who feel that the passions of the nineteenth
century are the same as those of the sixteenth, and that the blood can
course as hotly beneath a cloth coat as beneath a steel corselet."

We can imagine the applause which followed this speech. All wished to
show that they belonged to these few. Passion was the order of the day,
and they proved themselves to be passionate by applauding. And _Antony_
truly is a symphony of raging passions, the like of which it would be
difficult to find. After several years of travel the hero returns to
Paris and finds that the woman he loves is married. He saves her life
at the risk of his own by stopping her runaway horses; the shaft of the
carriage has pierced his breast; he is carried into her house. Antony
is an illegitimate child and a foundling; hence as a lover he is a
rebel against the laws of society. "Other men," he says to the woman
he loves, "have a father, a mother, a brother--arms which open for
them when they are in trouble; I have not so much as a tombstone upon
which I can read my name and weep. Other men have a country; I have
none, for I belong to no family. One name meant to me everything that I
possessed, and that name, your name, I am forbidden to pronounce." The
lady reminds him of social obligations: "Call them duties or call them
prejudices; such as they are, they exist." "Why," he replies, "should
I submit to these laws? Not one among those by whom they were made has
spared me a suffering or done me a service. I have received nothing but
injustice, and I owe nothing but hatred. My unfortunate mother's shame
has been branded on my forehead."

Adèle loves Antony, but avoids him. In the course of a journey she
takes, she has to spend a night at an inn; he surprises her there and
takes possession of her with violence. In spite of this dastardly act
she continues to love him. We meet the couple again in Paris. Their
story is known. We hear hypocritical women, who manage to combine
secret leanings to the forbidden with irreproachable outward behaviour,
destroying Adèle's reputation. Their attacks on her evoke outbursts of
indignation from the really worthy, indignation against society and its
hypocrisies. But the drama is drawing to a close. The husband, Colonel
d'Hervey, returns from a journey; Antony tries in vain to persuade
Adèle to escape with him; the step of the injured husband is heard in
the anteroom; the lover draws his Romantic dagger and plunges it into
Adèle's breast; to save her honour he meets d'Hervey with the cry:
"Elle me résistait; je l'ai assassinée!"

What chiefly strikes us now on reading the play is its preposterous
absurdity. We feel that if we were to see it acted, as a new play, we
should not be able to refrain from smiling at the parts intended to
touch us. We can hardly understand to-day how it happened that on the
night of its first performance in 1831 a select audience were excited
by it to the wildest enthusiasm. They applauded, shed tears, sobbed,
shouted Bravo! The effect of the play was heightened by the splendid
acting of Bocage and Marie Dorval. Dumas tells that a handsome green
coat he was wearing was positively torn off his back and into scraps,
which were preserved as relics by the enthusiastic youths who formed
a large proportion of the audience; and even if we do not take this
anecdote quite literally, there is no doubt of the unboundedness of
the enthusiasm. The explanation is, that men never laugh at a work
which gives expression to their own moods and feelings. Antony was
not merely the impersonation of passion verging on savagery, in
combination with a tenderness so great that it would rather take upon
itself the responsibility of a murder than expose the beloved one to
insult and scorn; he was also the Byronic, mysterious young hero,
who is predestined to struggle against the injustice of fate, and is
greater than his fate. But even in those days there were not wanting
critics who saw the weaknesses of the play. Bocage, who acted Antony,
considered the closing speech so foolish, that he would have omitted it
if he could. He did omit it one evening, and the curtain fell without
it, but only with the result that the audience began to shout and
scream as if possessed. They would not be defrauded of their speech.
Bocage had gone; but Madame Dorval, who was still lying dead upon the
stage, had the presence of mind to order the curtain to be raised
again, upon which, holding up her head, she said with a smile and a
transposition of the pronouns, "Je lui résistais, il m'a assassinée!"[1]
One sharply satirical voice was raised within the precincts
of the Romantic camp. Let any one interested turn up the long and
excellent criticism of _Antony_ in Jules Janin's _Histoire de la
littérature dramatique_, undoubtedly the best piece of criticism its
author ever wrote, and he will have the pleasure of beholding delirious
Romanticism overwhelmed with ridicule.

Whilst _Antony_ may be described as the Romantic fit of hysterics,
_Chatterton_, the one play of Alfred de Vigny's which was a success on
the stage, may be designated the Romantic dirge. These two favourite
dramas of the generation of 1830 complement each other; the one
represents the cult of genius, the other the cult of passion; the one
sympathy with the suffering, the other admiration for energetic action;
or, to go deeper, the one the Teutonic, the other the Latin side of
Romanticism.

Alfred de Vigny (born 1799) had failed to win the approbation of
the theatre-going public by his excellent historical drama, _La
Maréchale d'Ancre_, which was put on the stage in 1834. The reason
probably was, that in everything essential its characters belonged
to those types with which the public had already become familiar in
other Romantic historical tragedies. Borgia, the lover, for instance,
is of exactly the same species as Victor Hugo's lovers, and is not
even very different from the lover of Dumas' plays, in spite of the
widely different characters of the two authors. This shows us the
power of a school to set its stamp upon writers of the most varied
individualities.[2]

_Chatterton_, on the other hand, is a work peculiarly characteristic
of De Vigny. This play, which was performed in 1835, is based on
an idea to which its author had already given expression, in three
different forms, in a volume of tales entitled _Stello_, published two
years previously--the idea of the true poet's unhappy and neglected
position in modern society. De Vigny, to begin with, regarded the
poet from the Romantic standpoint, regarded him, that is to say, as
a superior being, nay, as the noblest of all beings (the idea with
which the German Romanticists, too, were so thoroughly impregnated);
and a feeling of strong compassion had been aroused in him by the
poet's fate, especially the fate of the young poet who, when he stands
most in need of help and appreciation, so seldom finds hearts that
understand him and patrons who prevent his life being a struggle for
existence. What lent a certain charm to De Vigny's constant appeal to
the public on behalf of the poet, was the fact that he was not pleading
his own cause; for he was a man of good family, who had always been in
comfortable circumstances. According to his idea, the poet is a poor
unfortunate who is entirely in the power of his own imagination. He is
"incapable of everything except fulfilling his divine mission," and
especially incapable of earning money; it is possible for him, indeed,
to make a living by writing, but if he does so it is probably at the
cost of his noblest gifts; he develops his critical faculty at the
expense of his imagination; and the divine spark which burns in him is
extinguished. Therefore this heavenly messenger ought not to be allowed
to degrade himself by common work; his brain is a volcano, from which
the "harmonious lava" (_laves harmonieuses_) can only issue when he is
in a position to be idle as long as he pleases.[3]

There is, as the modern reader sees at once, some truth in this idea,
but more exaggeration. The play which was based on it, and which
produced floods of tears, appeals so exclusively to the instinct
of compassion, that it has no properly tragic effect; and it has
too strong a lyric bias in favour of its hero to possess the inward
equilibrium without which a drama lacks stability. Chatterton and the
young Quakeress whom he loves have appropriated every single noble
quality of mind and soul; around them there is nothing but coarseness,
cold-heartedness, prose, and stupidity. What we are shown is the cruel
treatment of the intellectual genius by the coarse, earth-bound world
around him. The view of life is not unlike what we find in Germany in
the writings of Novalis, in Denmark in those of Andersen and Ingemann;
for authors such as these Goethe has written his _Tasso_ in vain. We in
our day are tired of the dramas with artist heroes which were ushered
in by Oehlenschläger's _Correggio_, and are represented in Germany by
Holtei's _Lorbeerbaum und Bettelstab_, &c. We no longer indignantly
sympathise with Chatterton, "the man who has been created to descry
in the stars the way pointed out by the finger of the Lord," when he
chooses rather to poison himself than accept an unpoetical appointment
which would bring him in a hundred a year. In this case also, what
touched every heart in an audience of the year 1835, now only elicits a
smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

Romanticism was too essentially lyric to produce dramatic works of
enduring value. This fact is perhaps most strongly borne in upon us
when we consider the plays of the greatest of the Romantic lyric
poets. Victor Hugo's dramas have many points of resemblance with
Oehlenschläger's tragedies. We frequently observe that both authors
have been influenced by their reading. In Hugo's _Marie Tudor_ we trace
the influence of Dumas' _Christine à Fontainebleau_, and the last scene
of _Lucrèce Borgia_ owes something to Webster's _Duchess of Malfi_. The
characters in the plays of both authors are merely outlined; in neither
are they real, complete human beings; and yet the power of genuine
enthusiasm and lyric pathos inspires them with life. Hugo's characters
certainly approach nearer to real life, and for this reason, that
events such as those represented in his plays had occurred in France in
much more recent times than in Denmark. Hernani reminds us of the rebel
leaders who defied the Government in La Vendée; Gilbert, who goes to
the scaffold of his own free will to avenge the woman he loves, does no
more than many a noble victim of the guillotine had done; and Ruy Blas'
elevation from the position of a footman to that of a minister of state
is not much more remarkable than Rousseau's rise from the same position
to that of one of the world's most famous authors. This, however,
practically makes little difference; for the author's love of the
unusual, nay, of the monstrous, represses everything which might remind
us of the reality with which we are familiar, and gives prominence
to unnatural phenomena which, though sublime in his eyes, are merely
absurd in the eyes of readers of a later day.

The conception of human nature which reveals itself in Hugo's plays
is purely lyric; it reminds us in all essentials of the psychology
of his rival, Lamartine, an author who was such a contrast to him in
other respects. The only difference is that, whilst Lamartine, with his
harmonious nature, loves to represent a pure and beautiful character
which yields to some sudden temptation and then expiates the one weak
moment with years of repentance and penance (Jocelyn, Cèdar in _La
Chute d'un Ange_), Hugo, in his dramas, loves to represent a human
soul debased by bad passions, by all kinds of misery and humiliations,
by vice, by slavery, by infirmity, yet so constituted that, under
given circumstances, it is irresistibly attracted by the good and
beautiful, in alliance with which it fights against the horrible past
which it has forsworn. This soul aspires; it understands even the most
delicate refinements of the good and beautiful; but it feels unworthy
of the noble emotions which it experiences; it cannot mount into these
unfamiliar regions, and so it falls back, exhausted and defeated, into
its former degraded condition.

Let me illustrate my meaning by a few examples. Triboulet (_Le Roi
s'amuse_) has been corrupted by his position as the unscrupulous
mouthpiece and butt of mockery, yet he loves his daughter with the
purest tenderness. She is stolen from him, and he gives himself up
entirely to hatred and projects of revenge.--Marion (_Marion Delorme_)
has sold herself hundreds of times; but she falls in love with a
young, brave man, and this passion completely purifies her. Didier
is condemned to death, and in the dread hour of trial she becomes
Marion again. She gives herself to the judge in order to save the man
she loves, not understanding that Didier would far rather die than
be saved thus.--Lucrèce Borgia was begotten in crime and has lived a
life of crime. But this licentious woman, this poisoner, has a son
whom she loves, and for his sake she is prepared to renounce the life
she has hitherto led. But a mortal insult is offered her, and in her
fury she has recourse to her old weapons; she invites her enemies to a
repast, gives them poison, and unwittingly murders her son along with
the others.--Ruy Blas, compelled by poverty, has become a nobleman's
lackey. The love of a queen makes of this lackey a minister of state.
He is fit for the position; he evolves and carries out great and noble
plans; he is on the point of becoming the saviour of his country, when
his past rises up against him. The disappointment of all his hopes is
too much for him; he revenges himself like the man he was; he will not
fight a duel with his master, but gets possession of his sword and
kills the defenceless man with it.[4]

The conception of the tragic is, we observe, always the same. But of
chief significance in all these dramas, as far as Hugo is concerned,
is the fountain of lyric pathos which wells forth when the degraded
human soul is raised by noble passion from the mire. The real kernel of
the drama is in every case the hymn of strong emotion with which the
guilt-stained soul sings itself pure.

One of Hugo's most famous poems (_Les Chants du Crépuscule_, xxxii.)
contains an allegory of which we are reminded when considering his
dramas. High in a church tower--so he writes--hangs an old bell. Long
ago its metal was clean and bright. The only inscription it bore
was the word God, with a crown below it. But the tower has had many
visitors, and each of them, one with his blunt knife, another with
a rusty nail, has scratched his own mean name, or a foul word, or a
silly witticism, or a platitude on the bell. It is covered with dust
and cobwebs; rust has found its way into the scratches, marring and
corroding it.

    "Mais qu'importe à la cloche et qu'importe à mon âme!
     Qu'à son heure, à son jour, l'esprit saint les réclame,
     Les touche, l'une et l'autre, et leur dise: chantez!
     Soudain, par toute voie et de tous les côtés,
     De leur sein ébranlé, rempli d'ombres obscures,
     À travers leur surface, à travers leurs souillures,
     Et la cendre et la rouille, amas injurieux,
     Quelque chose de grand s'épandra dans les cieux."

The poet was only attempting to describe the condition of his own soul
when he sang thus, but he did more; for the allegory strikingly depicts
the outbursts of lyric pathos which escape from the lips of the unhappy
and guilt-stained characters who give his dramas their interest.

But pathos and lyric sonority, in however ample measure, are not
materials out of which alone a dramatic edifice can be constructed. A
strong foundation of accurate reasoning is demanded, or, failing this,
at least of sound common-sense and correct taste.

Such foundations Hugo could not supply. And his failings as a dramatist
increased with time. There happened in his case what happens with so
many artists: his style degenerated into mannerism. He became, as
it were, his own best pupil; as a dramatist he ended by parodying
himself--the most cruelly effective kind of parody.

He had always been wanting in a sense of the comic, and had always been
inclined to confuse the sublime with the colossal. To this inclination
he yielded more unrestrainedly than ever before in writing _Les
Burgraves_. The very list of characters evokes a smile: Job, Burgrave
of Heppenheff, aged 100; Magnus, son of Job, aged 80; Hatto, son of
Magnus, aged 60; Gorlois, son of Hatto, aged 30. A Parisian caricature
of the Burgraves, of about the same date as the play, represents them
standing in a row, decreasing in height and quantity of beard according
to age.

The centenarian is the most energetic of them all; he represents the
good old days. He calls his son of eighty: "Young man!" but Hugo does
not smile. All these old gentlemen vie in declamation with a beggar
of ninety, who turns out to be no less a personage than Frederick
Barbarossa, who has lived in concealment for twenty years, but has
come to execute vengeance upon the eldest of the Burgraves, who as a
youth had plotted against his life. The play teems with improbabilities
and Romantic absurdities. For instance, in order to bring about a
recognition scene, Hugo makes a soldier fight with a piece of red-hot
iron, with which he sets a mark upon an opponent whom he wishes to be
able to recognise again, and whom he cannot see rightly because it is
dark.

When this monstrous production of an overstrained imagination was put
upon the stage, in 1843, it proved a complete failure. On the first
night, in the middle of the play, hissing began. One of Hugo's faithful
henchmen rushed to tell him. Hugo who, like Napoleon, relied upon his
guard, answered as usual: "Get hold of some young men!" It is said that
the messenger answered despondently, with downcast eyes: "There are
no more young men." The generation to which Romanticism had appealed
thirteen years before was no longer young, and, what was worse, it had
grown weary; more than one of its poets had made too heavy demands upon
it.

A reaction was inevitable, and it set in that very year. It found its
author and its histrionic genius.

A young man as yet unknown to fame had left the provincial town in
which he had been brought up, and come to Paris with a manuscript in
his pocket. He was a thoroughly high-principled young man, with no
great gift of imagination, but with much refinement and taste, and of
a nobly serious turn of mind. His name was François Ponsard, and the
title of the manuscript was _Lucrèce_. It was a tragedy on an antique
theme--the rape and death of the chaste Lucretia. The style was sober
and severe; it recalled Racine's. The public was tired of the Romantic
style. For long the quiet citizen had shaken his head over such phrases
of Hugo's as "the tones purled from the organ like water from a
sponge," or "the table-linen was white as pale grief's winding-sheet,"
or "the old woman walked with bent, slow back." But until now there
had been no one capable of competing with Hugo. Here at last seemed to
be a possible rival. At the first glance Ponsard's play appeared to be
exactly on the lines of the old classical tragedy. In their eagerness
its welcomers did not notice in what a modern manner the antique theme
was treated, how much Ponsard had learned from the Romanticists, how
much of its warm colouring his drama owed to Victor Hugo, and how small
an amount of originality the new-comer really possessed.

All the public saw was that this drama was sane and simple. They saw
that its heroine was Lucretia--not Hugo's horrible Lucrèce, that
monster of bloodthirstiness and sensuality, but Rome's Lucretia, the
emblem of chastity, another name for feminine purity. She represented
marriage, the family, the poetry of home, as Antony and his kin had
represented the morality of the foundling, and lawlessness. All
Catholic and Classic France, all orthodox Switzerland, hymned the
praises of the new dramatist and his play. At last Hugo had found his
superior, Racine his equal. Even the critical Vinet joined in the great
Hallelujah. He went into ecstasies over Ponsard's style: "This author
spins gold as his Lucretia does wool &c."

_Les Burgraves_ was hissed on the 7th of March 1843. On the 22nd of
April of the same year _Lucrèce_ was received on its first night with
thunders of applause. So closely as this did the short-lived triumph
of what went by the name of _l'école du bon sens_ follow on the defeat
of Romantic dramaticism. If the worthy Ponsard relied upon the verdict
of his critics, Janin and the others (Théophile Gautier and Théophile
Dondey alone protested), he must have believed that his fame was
established for all time.

The Classic reaction had found its actress as well as its dramatist. In
1838 a young Jewess had made her début in the Theatre Français. She was
then eighteen, an ignorant child who had played the harp and sung in
the cafés and in the streets; but time proved _Rachel_ to be a genius,
the greatest actress France had ever known. And this great actress,
as it happened, had a thorough distaste for the rôles with which the
Romantic drama provided her, whilst she studied and played those of
the old Classic repertory with such zeal and passion that she actually
succeeded in doing what no one had believed possible namely, restoring
their power of attraction to the tragedies which the Romantic School
had disdainfully driven from the stage. Of what avail was it that
Gautier wrung his hands! Iphigénie, Mérope, Émilia, Chimène, Phèdre,
again trod the boards. And so nobly and naturally were they personated
that an impressionable public was at times actually roused to a kind
of fury with the authors and critics who had dared to throw contempt
on these sacred national treasures. A nation is naturally rejoiced to
learn that it has not been mistaken in the eminence of the men and
works it has reverenced for centuries.

Although the title-rôle of _Lucrèce_ had been written for her, Rachel
at first refused to play it; but after the success of the drama at
the Odéon she consented. The mood of the audience the first time she
appeared in it has been described to me by an eye-witness. "We sat
waiting in breathless expectation for the curtain to rise. It rose,
and we saw Rachel as Lucretia sitting at her spinning-wheel among her
maidens. The silence had been complete enough before; but when she
raised her head and opened her lips to say the first words (to one of
the slaves): _Lève-toi, Laodice!_ there was such utter stillness that
the fruit-sellers were heard crying their oranges in the market-place."

In their enthusiasm for Rachel the public did not realise that the
Classic style in art was not really alive because a single genius
for a time breathed life into the great works of a bygone age; and
in their rejoicing over Ponsard they failed to understand how short
his triumph must inevitably be. The Common-sense School, as its name
prognosticates, never developed any vigorous originality. Ponsard
himself was a writer of only second-rate talent. The youthful dramas
of his gifted follower, Émile Augier (who dedicated his poems to him),
imitate his sober spirit and style; but Augier's style changed as time
went on.[5] Though the school, most praiseworthy in its intentions, by
no means deserved the contemptuous attacks made on it by some of the
irreconcilable younger Romanticists, including Vacquerie and Théodore
de Banville, yet its historical significance is no more than this--it
indicates the period when Romantic drama had outlived itself.

[1] Told me by an eye-witness of the scene, Philarète Chasles.

[2] In the list of personages we find the following directions to the
actor for the rendering of the part of Borgia. Observe how all the
qualities beloved of Romanticism are enumerated as if in a catalogue,
and how in all essentials the directions might serve for Victor
Hugo's young heroes, or indeed for Antony: "Montagnard brusque et
bon. Vindicatif et animé par la vendetta comme par une seconde âme:
conduit par elle _comme par la destinée_. Caractère vigoureux, triste
et profondément sensible. Haïssant et aimant avec violence. Sauvage par
nature, et civilisé comme malgré lui par la cour et la politesse de son
temps."

[3] See the characteristic introduction to _Chatterton_, "Dernière nuit
de travail, du 29 au 30 Juin 1834."

[4] _Cf_. Madame de Girardin: _Lettres parisiennes_, ii 31.

[5] Augier's _Gabrielle_ is perhaps the prettiest play which the
Common-sense School produced. His dramas, _La Jeunesse_ and _La
Pierre de Touche_, were evidently inspired by Ponsard's _L'Honneur et
l'Argent_.



XXXIII


LITERATURE IN ITS RELATION TO THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL MOVEMENTS OF THE DAY


Meanwhile Saint-Simonism had been thoroughly leavening literature.

Lamartine, the most gifted of the authors who, after the restoration of
the hereditary monarchy, lent their support to the Conservative party,
began to waver early in the Thirties. In his versified novel, _Jocelyn_
(1836), mild and pious though its tone is, we are conscious of his new
sympathies and of new developments in his convictions. In the preface
he evades the question of his religious belief, merely remarking that,
let it be what it may, he has not forgotten his youthful reverence for
the Church. The most careless reader, however, cannot fail to observe
that the story itself is a protest against the celibacy of the clergy,
one of the fundamental principles of the Church. And in Jocelyn's
diary we find the following significant passage, in the entry for 21st
September 1800:--

    "La caravane humaine un jour était campée
     Dans les forêts bordant une rive escarpée,
     Et ne pouvant pousser sa route plus avant.
     Les chênes l'abritaient du soleil et du vent,
     Les tentes, aux rameaux enlaçant leurs cordages,
     Formaient autour des troncs des cités, des villages,
     Et les hommes épars sur des gazons épais
     Mangeaient leur pain à l'ombre et conversaient en paix.
     Tout à coup comme atteints d'une rage insensée
     Ces hommes se levant à la même pensée,
     Portant la hache aux troncs, font crouler à leur piés
     Ces dômes où les nids s'étaient multipliés;
     Et les brutes des bois sortant de leurs repaires
     Et les oiseaux fuyant les cimes séculaires
     Contemplaient la ruine avec un œil d'horreur,
     Ne comprenaient pas l'œuvre et maudissaient du cœur
     Cette race stupide acharnée à sa perte,
     Qui détruit jusqu'au ciel l'ombre qui l'a couverte!
         Or, pendant qu'en leur nuit les brutes des forêts
     Avaient pitié de l'homme et séchaient de regrets,
     L'homme continuant son ravage sublime
     Avait jeté les troncs en arche sur l'abîme;
     Sur l'arbre de ses bords gisant et renversé
     La fleuve était partout couvert et traversé,
     Et poursuivant en paix son éternel voyage
     La caravane avait conquis l'autre rivage."

But this was only the beginning. _La Chute d'un Ange_ showed, in
spite of all its faults, that Lamartine had discarded his earlier,
"seraphic" style; and his first parliamentary speeches showed that
Saint-Simonistic ideas had gradually supplanted his orthodox beliefs.
The born aristocrat proclaimed himself a _démocrate conservateur_,
desirous of the realisation, under a constitutional monarchy, of all
the modern liberal and progressive ideas. And he did not stop even
here. His famous _Histoire des Girondins_, published in 1846 (a work
valueless as history, but written in a most poetical, persuasively
eloquent style), was the book which more than any other attuned men's
minds to revolution and prepared for the coming upheaval. And in 1848
we find the man who had been the court poet of the Restoration period,
standing--the real chief of the Republic--on the balcony of the Hôtel
de Ville, displaying the proud indifference of the aristocrat to the
muskets levelled at his breast while addressing the crowd with the
authoritative eloquence of the tribune. That was a great, an immortal
moment in his life, when he saved the lives of his colleagues and
averted civil war with a few unhesitating words, as beautiful as they
were manly.

It was Pierre Leroux who initiated George Sand into the new, fermenting
social ideas which with feminine impulsiveness she at once adopted. In
his capacity of social reformer, Pierre Leroux, a metaphysician with a
noble heart and a confused brain, who thought in triads in the manner
of Schelling, championed equality and progress. To him progress meant
approach towards equality. He was instigated to his attempts at reform
by his indignation with the existing condition of society, with the
equality as regarded the law, which permitted the rich man to escape
the hardship of military service and the punishment due to his crime,
with the liberty which consisted in the right of free competition, that
is to say, the legal right of the rich to oppress the poor. Society as
reorganised by Leroux was to be based on the triple nature of man. Man
is constituted of perception, intuition, and cognition. To these three
elements were to correspond three classes, the artisan or industrial,
the artist, and the scientist class; but these three classes were
not, as in Saint-Simon's imaginary society, to be castes, but were to
act in unison. Three individuals or units, one from each class, were
to constitute a society individual or unit; and these same three,
working together, would constitute an "atelier." The "ateliers" also
were to be divided into three classes, according to the activity which
predominated in them, &c.

When we think of all these Utopias, we cannot but admire the sane
and wise attitude maintained towards them by the authors who allowed
themselves to be carried away by some of the ideas inspiring the
different systems. They held aloof from everything, or almost
everything, that was artificial, fantastic, or absurd. They contented
themselves with kindling their poetic torches at the altar fire kept
alight by the pure-hearted enthusiasts; they drew inspiration from
the philanthropy of these men, from their ardent championship of the
poor and the oppressed, from their fervent faith in the people and in
progress.

It is quite evident, whatever may be said to the contrary, that
Saint-Simonism was a beneficent influence in George Sand's life. It
produced tranquillity after the fit of despair which dictated _Lelia_;
it gave her a faith which was never afterwards disturbed, and a cause
to work and fight for. She had an observant eye for all that was going
on around her; and towards the close of the Thirties it was evident
that the French working classes were in a state of violent ferment.
At that period the slow transformation of France from an almost
exclusively agricultural country to one of the chief manufacturing
countries was already an accomplished fact. It was now no longer only
the poverty of the peasants which called for a remedy, but also, and
even more urgently, the poverty and discontent of the ever-increasing
proletariat population of the great manufacturing and commercial towns.
Like almost all the other French democratic writers, George Sand
turned her attention to the working people of the towns, their hard
struggle for existence, their remarkable intelligence, their social
and political ideas. Saint-Simonism had originally appealed to her and
aroused her enthusiasm by its condemnation of the relations between
the sexes upheld by the conventions of existing society; it denned
as truths to be proclaimed and championed the ideas which were most
precious to her--that there is no beauty or value in marriage except
when it is a voluntary union; and that mayor, witnesses, and priest
cannot invest it with greater sacredness than do love and conscience.
Now Saint-Simonism gave a more thoughtful and more definite character
to her love of the people. Among the men of the working classes she
discovered more unselfishness and manliness than among those of the
middle classes; it began to seem to her as if the vices of the male sex
which she had condemned with such severity in her first novels were in
reality more the vices of a class than of the whole sex; and her love
of the working class in conjunction with the innate idealism of her
nature led her to see and represent the working man from an ideal point
of view. She produced a series of novels in which the old contrast
between two men of the same class, one unselfish and the other a
hardened egotist, was superseded by the contrast between the idealised
representative of the working classes and a more or less egotistical
and slavishly conventional representative of the upper or middle
classes.

The most interesting books of this series are the two written about
1840--_Horace_, the refusal to accept which produced a temporary
disagreement between George Sand and the _Revue des deux Mondes_, and
_Le Compagnon du Tour de France_, a genuine labour-question novel,
which in its innocence and simple purity presents a striking contrast
to the glaringly coloured stories of a socialistic and democratic
tendency published a few years later by Eugène Sue.

In my opinion _Horace_ is one of George Sand's best books. In its hero
she represents with more shrewdness and profundity than ever before
or after the young bourgeois of the reign of Louis Philippe. The
acuteness and insight she in this case displays are in no way inferior
to Balzac's. She is inspired by a strong antipathy, which, however,
does not preclude a good-humouredly tolerant treatment. With Horace
is contrasted the noble proletarian, Arsène. This man, originally a
painter, has been compelled by poverty to take a place as waiter in a
_café_; but the dependent position has not degraded him. The simple
goodness and beauty of his character make him most attractive. We
believe in him.

Arsène has friends among the _Bousingots_, the circle of young students
who in the Thirties transferred the style and deportment of the
Romantic School to the domain of politics. They figure in many of the
lithographs of the period with their Robespierre waistcoats, thick
sticks, and glazed hats or red velvet caps. In outward appearance they
somewhat resembled German _corps_ students; and they took part in all
riots which were demonstrations of discontent with the _Juste-milieu_
government. George Sand defends them warmly. "None of the men," she
says, "who at that time caused a slight disturbance of public order
need blush now at the thought of having displayed a little youthful
ardour. If the only use which youth can make of such nobility and
courage as it possesses, is to attack society with it, the condition
of society must be very bad." Arsène fights like a hero and is badly
wounded in the working-men's revolt of the 5th of June 1832, which
is sympathetically described; and in the course of a few years he
becomes an experienced, able politician. The story of his political
education is peculiarly interesting to us, because, in telling it, the
authoress gives unambiguous expression to her own feelings. Arsène's
hero is Godefroy Cavaignac; George Sand describes him and his friends,
the society _Les amis du people_. "Their ideas," she writes, "at any
rate indicated a great advance upon the liberalism of the Restoration
period. The other Republicans were a little too much taken up with the
idea of overthrowing monarchy, and did not give sufficient thought to
the laying of the foundations of the republic; Godefroy Cavaignac's
thoughts were of the emancipation of the people, of free education,
of universal suffrage, of the gradual modification of the rights
of property, &c." Horace's cold-heartedness and narrow-mindedness
display themselves in his contemptuously sweeping condemnation of
Saint-Simonism, which to him is pure charlatanism. He is incapable of
appreciating its conception of the mutual relations of the sexes, and
is obliged to submit to being reproved with the calmness of conscious
superiority by a young dressmaker who lives with her friend, a clever
young doctor, and regards this life of theirs as "the truly religious
marriage."[1] The authoress undoubtedly attacks in this novel more
problems than she is capable of solving, but the very fact of its
dealing largely with the ideas and aims of the day gives it a vivid and
attractive historical colouring. Besides, it was not her business, as a
novelist, to solve social problems, but to show how they moved hearts
and set brains to work, even the hearts and brains of enamoured young
women and self-satisfied young men.

What I specially admire in _Le Compagnon du Tour de France_, a book
which, as a novel, is inferior to _Horace_, is the impulsive strength
of the feeling which inspired it. To feel the heart swell and burn with
compassion for the unfortunates of society, to feel burdened by the
favours which Fortune has bestowed on us and not on all, are sensations
with which many a youth and maiden are familiar. But it is a rare thing
indeed for the man or woman of forty still to hunger and thirst after
justice for others, to be unable to sit still and see the yoke weighing
down the innocent neck, unable to refrain from planning and striving
after a different order of things, a different morality from that which
seems to satisfy society in general, nay, to be actually ashamed to
sleep or to take pleasure or to be happy for a few moments, as long as
things are as they are. And these were the feelings which compelled
George Sand to write this book. What a love for "the people" lies at
the foundation of it! And it is a love for the people as they are--for
the drinking, brawling people, as well as for the working, aspiring
people--a love so great that the authoress cannot bear to describe
or dwell upon the vices she sees and names. See the conversations in
chapter xxv. The best definition of the idea which dominates the book
is to be found in the book itself. A nobleman asserts that he holds the
old opinion that everything possible ought to be done for the people,
but that they ought not to be consulted, because that would make them
both appealing party and judge. His daughter answers: "And is not that
just what we are?"

Soon after writing this work George Sand began to take a vigorous
share in the practical politics of the day. After her quarrel with
the _Revue des deux Mondes_ she had, in collaboration with Pierre
Leroux, Viardot, Lamennais, and the Polish author Mickiewiez, started
the _Revue Indépendante_; now (in 1843) she and some friends started
a republican provincial newspaper in her own part of the country.
In this paper, _L'Éclaireur de l'Indre_, to which Lamartine also
contributed, she defended the cause, now of the town artisan, now of
the peasant (article on the Paris journeymen bakers, letters from
a Black Forest peasant). In 1844, in her long essay, _Questions
politiques et sociales_, she distinctly declared herself a socialist.
When the Revolution broke out in 1848 she was ripe to take part in it.
For a short time she published a weekly paper, _La Cause du Peuple_;
she wrote _A Word to the Middle Classes_, and the famous _Letters to
the People_, and composed the bulletins of the Provisional Government.
Towards the close of the year, in face of threatening danger, her
republican socialism assumed an almost fanatical form. The article _La
Majorité et l'Unanimité_, in which, immediately before the elections
for the Constituent National Assembly, she exhorts the electors to
show their liberal principles by their votes, ends with the threat,
expressed with much circumlocution, but yet plain enough, that if the
assembly presently to be elected by universal suffrage does not prove
to be such an assembly as popular interests demand, mere still remains
the appeal to arms.[2] It is curious to see the champion of the
sovereignty of the people having recourse to a threat of despotically
violent measures; it shows what a vigorous, ardent, manly spirit dwelt
in the bosom of this gifted woman. The same indomitable energy which
produced hundreds of novels displayed itself in her alliance with
Ledru-Rollin and Louis Blanc, men who were content with thinking what
she gave expression to in words.

It was chiefly through Lamennais that the current of democratic
ideas reached Victor Hugo. In Lamennais' principal work, _Essai sur
l'Indifférence_, there were already signs indicating the possibility of
a rejection of that principle of authority which he had championed so
ardently in his youth. In August 1832 his theories were condemned by
the Pope. The intimate relations between Lamennais and Hugo began in
the latter's youth; Lamennais congratulated Hugo on the occasion of his
marriage, and Hugo's first odes were dedicated to Lamennais. In 1822,
persuaded by the Abbé de Rohan, Hugo determined to unburden his mind
to a father confessor. The first he went to was Frayssinous, once the
intrepid, self-sacrificing curé, now the fashionable Paris clergyman, a
bishop, and head of the University. Hugo was repelled by Frayssinous'
worldly ideas and counsels, and the Abbé then sent him to the little,
frail, slender man with the yellow face, hooked nose, and beautiful,
restless eyes, who walked the streets of Paris in a shabby cassock,
blue woollen stockings, and hobnailed shoes--the famous Lamennais, whom
he already knew so well.

The ideas of both confessor and penitent underwent a change in the
course of the years preceding the Revolution of July, and the one was
not long after the other in going over to the Liberal and anti-clerical
party. One evening in September 1830 Lamennais, entering Hugo's
room, found him writing. "I am disturbing you," said Lamennais. "No.
But you will not approve of what I am writing." "Never mind; let me
hear it." And Hugo read the following lines from his _Journal d'un
Révolutionnaire de 1830_:

"The republic, which is not yet ripe, but which in a century will
embrace the whole of Europe, signifies that society is its own
sovereign. It protects itself by means of its citizen-soldiers; judges
itself, by trial by jury; administers its own affairs, by local
government; rules itself, by popular representation. The four limbs
of monarchy--the standing army, the courts, the bureaucracy, the
peerage--are for the republic only four troublesome excrescences which
are withering up and will soon die."

"You have one clause too many," said Lamennais; "that which asserts
that the republic is not ripe. You speak of it in the future tense, I
in the present."

A few years later, Lamennais' connection with the Roman Catholic Church
was at an end. It was in order to show that his defection was not the
result of unbelief but of a new conviction, that he entitled his famous
manifesto _Paroles d'un Croyant_ (1833).

It has been averred that no book since the invention of printing
had created such a stir as this did. In the course of a few years
a hundred editions of it were printed; it was published in foreign
countries and translated into many languages. It is an imitation of
a work which appeared not long before it, Mickiewiez's _Book of the
Polish Pilgrim_. Half in Old Testament, half in Christian style, it
denounces monarchy in Europe, the Pope and the priesthood, those to
whom the fall of Poland and the serfdom of Italy were due, and the
self-interested bourgeois government of France. The eloquence is of
the genuine sacerdotal type; the book is strong in pathos, but weak in
psychology; it only condemns and praises, knows no shade between black
and white--the blackness of hell, the whiteness of heaven; nevertheless
its author's warm-heartedness, purity of motive, and beauty of soul
have imparted to it a rare charm.

In 1837 followed _Livre du Peuple_, a work written in the same spirit.
The bold Abbé was imprisoned, but from his prison he sent book after
book out into the world. _Une Voix du Prison, Du Passé et de l'Avenir
du Peuple, De l'Esclavage modern_, were all written in Sainte-Pélagie.

Lamennais died three years before the Revolution of February, at a time
of violent political and social agitation.

I give a few fragments from _Paroles d'un Croyant_ as specimens of his
style:

      "Ne vous laissez pas tromper par de vaines paroles. Plusieurs
      chercheront à vous persuader que vous êtes vraiment libres,
      parce qu'ils auront écrit sur une feuille de papier le mot de
      liberté, et l'auront affiché à tous les carrefours.

      La liberté n'est pas un placard qu'on lit au coin de la rue.
      Elle est une puissance vivante qu'on sent en soi et autour de
      soi, le génie protecteur du foyer domestique, la garantie des
      droits sociaux, et le premier de ces droits.

      L'oppresseur qui se couvre de son nom est le pire des
      oppresseurs. Il joint le mensonge à la tyrannie, et à
      l'injustice la profanation; car le nom de la liberté est saint.

      Gardez-vous de ceux qui disent: Liberté, Liberté, et qui la
      détruisent par leurs œuvres."

      "Le laboureur porte le poids du jour, s'expose à la pluie, au
      soleil, aux vents, pour préparer par son travail la moisson qui
      remplira ses greniers à l'automne.

      La justice est la moisson des peuples.

      L'artisan se lève avant l'aube, allume sa petite lampe,
      et fatigue sans relâche pour gagner un peu de pain qui le
      nourrisse, lui et ses enfants.

      La justice est le pain des peuples.

      Le marchand ne refuse aucun labeur, ne se plaint d'aucunes
      peines; il use son corps et oublie le sommeil, afin d'amasser
      des richesses.

      La liberté est la richesse des peuples.

      Le matelot traverse les mers, se livre aux flots et aux
      tempêtes, se hasarde entre les écueils, souffre le froid et le
      chaud, afin de s'assurer quelque repos dans ses vieux ans.

      La liberté est le repos des peuples.

      Le soldat se soumet aux plus dures privations, il veille et
      combat, et donne son sang, pour ce qu'il appelle la gloire.

      La liberté est la gloire des peuples.

      S'il est un peuple qui estime moins la justice et la liberté
      que le laboureur sa moisson, l'artisan un peu de pain, le
      marchand les richesses, le matelot le repos et le soldat la
      gloire; élevez autour de ce peuple une haute muraille, afin que
      son haleine n'infecte pas le reste de la terre."

      "Jeune soldat, où vas-tu?

      Je vais combattre pour la justice, pour la sainte cause des
      peuples, pour les droits sacrés du genre humain.

      Que tes armes soient bénies, jeune soldat!

      Jeune soldat, où vas-tu?

      Je vais combattre contre les hommes iniques pour ceux qu'ils
      renversent et foulent aux pieds, contre les maîtres pour les
      esclaves, contre les tyrans pour la liberté.

      Que tes armes soient bénies, jeune soldat!

      Jeune soldat, où vas-tu?

      Je vais combattre pour renverser les barrières qui séparent les
      peuples, et les empêchent de s'embrasser comme les fils du même
      père, destinés à vivre unis dans un même amour.

      Que tes armes soient bénies, jeune soldat!

      Jeune soldat, où vas-tu!

      Je vais combattre pour affranchir de la tyrannie de l'homme la
      pensée, la parole, la conscience.

      Que tes armes soient bénies, sept fois bénies, jeune soldat!"


Idealistic and monotonous as these utterances and refrains are, they
possess the kind of eloquence which makes a powerful impression upon
the common people.

Lamennais' outbursts of revolutionary sentiment come very near to being
pure poetry. Hugo's are pure poetry. In reading his verses written
in the Forties we feel how his poet's ear hears the dull underground
rumbling of the approaching Revolution, and how he foresees that
its crater will open in Paris. As far back as in the preface to the
_Feuilles d'Automne_ he reproaches England with having turned Ireland
into a graveyard, the sovereigns of Europe with having made Italy
a prison for galley-slaves, the Czar with having populated Siberia
with Poles. In it, too, he already writes of the old religions which
are sloughing their skins, and (alluding to Saint-Simonism) of the
new, which are stammeringly enunciating their half-reasonable,
half-false principles. And from this time onward he is in all his
works the champion of the liberty of the people, of their right to
self-government, and of the religion of humanity. As a dramatist he
began by rebelling merely against the accepted laws of style; but ere
long he was, like Voltaire a century earlier, making the drama the
organ of his ideas. One of his plays (_Le Roi s'amuse_) is an attack
upon absolute monarchy as represented by Francis I, the most brutal
of the royal debauchees of France. Another (_Angelo_), the preface
to which is an affirmation of genuine Saint-Simonistic principles,
contrasts woman within the pale of society with her sister beyond
it, endows the strolling actress with virtues which the great lady
lacks, and gives each of them her own ideality. A third (_Ruy Blas_)
symbolises the elevation of the lowest class to supreme power. In
Molière's _Les Précieuses_ the lackey was treated like some animal
which, however clever it might be, was liable to be thrashed, even when
it had only carried out its master's orders; shortly before the great
Revolution Scapin is transformed into Figaro, who, though still in
livery, openly manages his masters; in _Ruy Blas_ the servant, that is
to say, the born plebeian, throws off his livery, assumes authority,
and rules. While fully conscious of the great improbabilities and
weaknesses of these dramas, we are also sensible of the atmosphere of
new ideas which pervades them.

Hugo's was so dogmatic a mind that each new world of ideas which he
entered in the course of his life crystallised itself, for him, into
a code of doctrines. From the moment he became a democrat he was the
opponent of capital punishment. He protested against it as an author in
_Le dernier Jour d'un Condamné_, and also in _Claude Gueux_, where a
very unpleasant real incident is turned topsy-turvy, and an execrable
bandit is transformed into a hero and victim; he protested against it
as a private individual; he made personal appeals for the remittance
of sentences of death, both to French kings and foreign juries. Though
opinion is still, and with good reason, divided as to the advisability
of abolishing capital punishment for murder, Hugo's endeavours to
save the lives of political offenders have a claim to our undivided
sympathy. In 1839 he interceded in behalf of the noble revolutionary,
Armand Barbès; Louis Philippe had, however, in this case remitted the
sentence of death before Hugo's verses reached him.

But the most beautiful and the only perfectly accurate expression of
the mental attitude of France's greatest lyric poet is, naturally, to
be found in his poetry. The dramas of his first period, the novels of
his second (which do not fall within the scope of this volume), are
of small significance in comparison with the poems of the Thirties
and Forties, which are contained in the two volumes entitled _Les
Contemplations_. In these his faith in progress, his political
convictions, his social hopes, his religious feelings, are expressed in
the only artistic form which suits them. It is a form which cannot be
dissolved, a style which cannot be paraphrased; it must be enjoyed in
the original.

Hugo had every right to exclaim, as he did in one of the poems of this
collection:

"J'ai, dans le livre, avec le drame, en prose, en vers.
 Plaidé pour les petits et les misérables;
 Suppliant les heureux et les inexorables;
 J'ai réhabilité le bouffon, l'histrion,
 Tous les damnés humains, Triboulet, Marion,
 Le laquais, le forçat et la prostituée;
     . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
 J'ai réclamé des droits pour la femme et l'enfant;
 J'ai tâché d'éclairer l'homme en le réchauffant;
 J'allais criant: Science! Écriture! Parole!
 Je voulais résorber le bagne par l'école."

But, he complains:

"Le passé ne veut pas s'en aller. Il revient
 Sans cesse sur ses pas, reveut, reprend, retient.
     . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
 L'immense renégat d'Hier, marquis, se nomme
 Demain; mai tourne bride et plante là l'hiver;
 Use à tout ressaisir ses ongles noirs; fait rage;
 Il gonfle son vieux flot, souffle son vieil orage,
 Vomit sa vieille nuit, crie: À bas! crie: À mort!
 Pleure, tonne, tempête, éclate, hurle, mord."

But the onward movement would not be checked. The cleansing
thunderstorm of 1848 broke over Europe. It came, that year of
earthquakes, that year of emancipation, of heroic struggles, and, alas!
of romantic childishness--when the helm of France was in the hands,
not of statesmen, but of poets and enthusiasts; when Saint-Simonistic,
neo-Christian, and poetical, instead of practical political ideas
prevailed in the councils of the State. How eloquent is such a little
fact as this, that one of the first proceedings of the Provisional
Government was (at Lamartine's suggestion) to declare negro-slavery
abolished! The ideas of Romantic France find their realisation in the
Revolution of 1848.


[1] See chapters vi., x., xiv., xx.

[2] The femininely naïve hypocrisy of the following passage is amusing:
"Elle se sent, elle se connaît maintenant, la voix unanime du peuple.
_Elle vous réáuira tous au silence_, elle passera sur vos têtes comme
le souffle de Dieu; elle ira entourer votre représentation nationale,
et voici ce qu'elle lui dira: 'Jusqu'ici tu n'étais pas inviolable,
mais nous voici avec des armes _parées de fleurs_ et nous te déclarons
inviolable. Travaille, fonctionne, nous t'entourons de 400 mille
baïonnettes, d'un million de volontés. Aucun parti, aucune intrigue
arrivera jusqu'à toi. Recueille-toi et agis!'"



XXXIV


THE OVERLOOKED AND FORGOTTEN


If we take a survey of any literature some ten or twelve years after
the beginning of a great new movement in it, at the moment when the
army of the new era has proved successful in the conflict, we feel as
if we were inspecting a battlefield. Through the victors' shouts of
triumph we hear subdued sounds of lamentation. I do not mean the cries
of woe that proceed from the vanquished, retreating forces; these have
deserved their defeat, and their sufferings inspire no compassion in
me; the men I have in my mind are the wounded and the forgotten of the
victorious army. For literary warfare, too, has its lists of "killed
and missing." It is interesting to walk over the battlefield and cast
a glance at the writers of the generation of 1830 who were cut off in
their youth and strength, or were so severely wounded that, maimed and
dumb, they thenceforth only dragged out a disabled existence.

The conditions of the literary career are such that, out of hundreds
who enter for the race, only two or three reach the goal. The rest
are left lying exhausted along the course. The first to give in are
the unfortunates whose powers are undoubtedly inadequate, the men of
fragmentary talent who have been enticed by the hope of fortune and
fame, and who run on in an atmosphere of dazzling illusion until they
sink exhausted and fainting, to awake in the hospital. Next fall those
who, though really highly gifted, lack the peculiar combination of
qualities indispensable to success in the society in which they live,
those who have not the power of adapting themselves to circumstances,
much less of moulding society to suit their requirements, and who are
outrun by the more or less nimble mediocrities in whom the great public
recognises its own flesh and blood.

The very character of the work is fatal to many. It is work that knows
nothing of days of rest, that exhausts the nervous system, that cannot
be done leisurely, because only that which the author produces at white
heat has the power of affecting the reader with any of the emotion
felt by the writer. It is work which is, as a rule, very badly paid.
It is work which, being entirely intellectual, refines the senses of
the workman and heightens his susceptibilities to a degree incompatible
with his position and surroundings, yet which at the same time ties him
to, incorporates him with, these surroundings, in which he must observe
the same rules and conventions as his neighbours. Hence, in the case
of many, a thirst for life, for variety, for beauty, for experience,
which, remaining unslaked, preys upon the vitals, and is called by the
world decline, or consumption, or madness.

Others, again, succumb to the difficulties inseparable from the
author's position. The equilibrium of society depends at any given
moment upon a tacit agreement that the whole truth shall not be openly
proclaimed. Yet in every society there exist exceptional individuals
whose only task, whose mission, is to speak the whole truth. These are
its poets, its authors. Unless these speak the truth they degenerate
into mere sycophantic formalists. Hence the author is perpetually on
the horns of a dilemma. He must choose between ignoring what he ought
to proclaim--a proceeding which dulls his intellect and renders him
useless--and the dangerous step of speaking out plainly, which makes
him the object of such hostility as is only possible in literature.
It is a hostility which has at its disposal a thousand tongues if it
desires to speak, but also a thousand gags if it desires to impose
silence concerning an author and his works; and in the case of a man
whose very life depends upon publicity this is the greatest of all
dangers, that he may be quietly and treacherously slain with the
air-gun of silence.

All the fatigues, dangers, and difficulties of the author's life were
necessarily doubly great in such a period as that of 1830, when, as if
at the stroke of an enchanter's wand, a whole group of talented writers
appeared on the scene at the same moment; when every youth with any
gift of intellect or imagination felt himself drawn to the profession
of literature or art; when the renown to be won in these professions
seemed as glorious as did military fame in the days of Napoleon; when
it was more difficult than ever before to come to the front; and when,
moreover, enmity to all conventionality and to the quiet regularity of
middle-class life was supposed to be an essential condition of success
in art, and the ideal of the literary aspirant was to love and be
beloved with a consuming passion, to produce a masterpiece, to scorn or
save mankind, and die.

When we let our eyes wander over the battlefield where the unrenowned
fell, we see them lying in serried rows. There are men of richly
gifted, well-developed minds, like Eusèbe de Salles (born in Marseilles
in 1801), count, doctor, traveller in the East, professor of Arabic,
whose _Sakontala à Paris_ (1833) is one of the most talented and
original psychological novels of the day, but none of whose books
reached a second edition, much less brought him fame, and this though
he could remember a Sunday evening at Nodier's in his youth when he
and Hugo, on equal footing, were the heroes of the day.--There is
Régnier-Destourbet, whose novel, _Louise_, which is dedicated to Janin
and perhaps owes something to him, treats a painful subject with
discrimination and good taste.--There is Charles Dovalle, killed in
a duel at the age of twenty, whose collection of poems, _Le Sylphe_,
showed talent to which Victor Hugo paid a warm tribute after the
author's death.--There is the melancholy Eugène Hugo, Victor's elder
brother and faithful comrade and friend, who, equipped with a similar
though inferior lyric talent to Victor's, fought at his side in the
first Romantic campaign, but died insane in 1837.--There is a man of
as remarkable and noble gifts as Fontaney, another of Hugo's faithful
adherents. Fontaney was for a time secretary of legation at Madrid.
A proud, refined, reserved man, he has told in his novel, _Adieu_
(_Revue des deux Mondes_, 1832), the story of one of the romantically
sad adventures of his own life. In the life of George Sand there is
an allusion to the unfortunate love affair which was the cause of his
death in 1837.--There are men with a refined, delicate poetic talent,
like Félix Arvers, whose name now only recalls a single beautiful
sonnet, or Labenski, who is remembered by a single ode, or Ernest
Fouinet, who wrote the sonnet _A deux heureux_ on the margin of a
leaf of the edition of Ronsard which was presented at Sainte-Beuve's
suggestion to Victor Hugo by all the authors of the Romantic School,
each contributing something to its poetic equipment. Though Fouinet
himself is forgotten, one line of his at least:

   "Pour que l'encens parfume il faut que l'encens brûle,"

should be safe from oblivion, for it conveys in a single metaphor, a
single phrase, the whole Romantic theory of poetry.--There are luckless
Saint-Simonist poets like Poyat; there are satirists like Théophile
Ferrière, who ridiculed the extravagances of the young Romanticists in
works in the style of Gautier's _Les Jeunes-France_, and whose _Lord
Chatterton_ is a farcical sequel to De Vigny's drama; and, lastly,
there are men like Ulric Guttinger, who is remembered only because of a
poem full of enthusiastic admiration addressed to him by the youthful
De Musset.

To give a somewhat more life-like impression of these stepchildren of
fortune, I shall dwell a little longer on the personality and career
of one or two of them, thereby also throwing additional light on the
character of the age; for the character of a period often sets its most
distinct stamp on the individuals whose peculiarity or extravagance
prevents their attaining lasting fame.

I take Ymbert Galloix first, not because he is greater than the rest,
but because he is a typical figure. The son of a Geneva schoolmaster,
Ymbert displayed remarkable gifts and received an excellent education.
He left his native town for Paris without money enough to keep him
even for a month, irresistibly attracted by the accounts of the
victories of Romanticism, determined to see the men whom he admired so
enthusiastically, and if possible to take his place among them as their
equal.

He soon found his way to the houses of Charles Nodier, the patriarch,
Hugo, the chief, and Sainte-Beuve, the standard-bearer of the new
school. Hugo has given a description of his first visit, which I shall
condense:

"It was on a cold October morning in 1827 that a tall young man entered
my room. He had on a white, comparatively new overcoat, and carried an
old hat in his hand. He talked to me of poetry. He had a roll of paper
under his arm. I noticed that he kept his feet carefully concealed
under his chair. He coughed a little. Next day it rained in torrents,
but the young man came back again. He stayed three hours, talking
eagerly about the English poets, of whose works he knew more than I
did; he specially admired the Lake School. He coughed a great deal, and
again I noticed that he always kept his feet under the chair. At last
I saw that his boots were in holes, and that his feet were soaking.
I could not venture to say anything about it. He left without having
spoken of anything but the English poets."

Galloix thus, as we see, went straight to the most famous authors of
the day. His words, his verses showed that there was something in him;
he was well received, he was even assisted, and his letters to Geneva
betray a naïvely vain satisfaction in being able to tell what men have
received him as their equal and what famous friends he has made. Yet
at the same time he was a prey to melancholy. His lot had been cast by
destiny in uncongenial surroundings. The great grief of his life was
the seemingly fantastic, and yet real one, that he had not been born an
Englishman. His mind dwelt on this till it became a kind of mania. He
felt that English literature, not French, was his natural element; he
read English from morning to night, and his one aim was to make enough
money to be able to live in London and become a writer in the English
language. When, a year after his arrival in Paris, he was found lying
dead on the bed in his miserable room, dead of despair and want, there
was an English grammar in his hand.

Listen to the tone of his letters. "Oh, my only friend I how unhappy
are they who are born unhappy I ... I had an attack of fever last
night.... Since I came here my unhappiness has taken five or six
different forms, but the root of all my misery is that I was not born
in England. Do not laugh at me, I beg of you; I am so unhappy. I am
on terms of friendship with the most famous authors, and have had
in their society, when my verses have met with approval, occasional
moments of superficial pleasure; but though I can be intoxicated with
these little triumphs of an evening, of a moment, my inner life is
not only pure wretchedness, it is a cancer. Molten lead flows in my
veins. If men could see into my soul they would pity me. England has
everything--fifty authors, at least, who have led a life of adventure
and whose books are full of imagination; in France there are not three.
There I should have had a country whose very prejudices I could have
loved, for there is so much poetry in the old English customs.... An
English lady who is giving me lessons says that in two years I shall be
able to write perfectly well in English."

It is a touching illusion. The poor youth who was not yet completely
master of his own language, whose odes were often broken-winded,
whose verses, artistically polished as they were, lacked life--dreamt
of being able in a couple of years to write a foreign language
brilliantly. He soon lost confidence in his powers and judged his own
poetry much more harshly than it was judged by others, and much more
harshly than it deserved. He withdrew into himself; would see no one,
and take no interest in what was going on in the outside world. He had
come from Geneva interested in everything and every one, and full of
enthusiastic self-confidence. In Paris he squandered his talent in talk
and argument (always a dangerous thing to do) until there was not a
virgin, not an untampered-with, idea left in his head. Then he became
a publisher's hack, and wrote notices of books and biographies until
he was completely nauseated. By the time he died, which he did at the
age of twenty-two, he had long been utterly indifferent to all general
interests and devoid of belief in his own ability. He simply allowed
himself to die.[1]

I pass on to men of more remarkable and sterling talent, and of them I
choose three--Louis Bertrand, Petrus Borel, and Théophile Dondey. These
are names which, while their owners were alive, were almost unknown,
but which are now familiar to many a lover of literature in France and
beyond its borders. In their lifetime the poor young authors, in the
course of a very few years, found it impossible to get their works
published; now (especially since the revival of interest in them due to
Charles Asselineau) they are published in _éditions de luxe_; and even
the frontispieces and title-pages of their first books are carefully
imitated, and the books themselves are marked in sale catalogues,
"valuable and rare."

Louis Bertrand, born in 1807 in that town of Dijon the praises of
which he has so charmingly sung, is better known by his pseudonym
of Gaspard de la Nuit. He represents more perfectly than any other
Romanticist one of the main aims of the Romantic endeavour--namely, the
renovation of prose style. Whilst his contemporaries were trying to
take the world by storm and passionate violence, he was developing in
his native town the sculptor's and the goldsmith's artistic qualities
in his treatment of language. No one had such an antipathy as he to
the conventional phrase, the trite expression. Before he wrote he, as
it were, passed the language through a sieve, which cleansed it of all
the dull, faded, worn-out words, leaving to be employed in the service
of his art only those possessed of picturesque and musical value. In a
poem there must always be some words which are really only there for
the sake of the rhyme or rhythm; the essence of Bertrand's art is that
every parasitic word, every scrap of padding, is rigidly excluded. His
work belongs to a branch of literature which he himself originated and
which others (Baudelaire, for example) cultivated afterwards; he wrote
short descriptions, never occupying more than a page or two, now in
Rembrandt's, now in Callot's, now in Velvet-Breughel's, now in Gerard
Dow's, now in Salvator Rosa's manner; the best of them are as perfect
as pictures by these masters.

In 1828, during the first, entirely unpolitical period of the Romantic
movement, Bertrand assisted in founding a literary organ of its ideas
in his native town. His contributions to _Le Provincial_ attracted
the attention of the famous Parisians, Chateaubriand, Nodier, and
Victor Hugo; and ere long the capital had such an attraction for the
young author that he was constantly finding his way there. He made his
début in its literary society one Sunday evening at Charles Nodier's,
where he was permitted to read a ballad aloud. In Nodier's house he
made acquaintance with the whole circle. He threw himself specially
on the protection of Sainte-Beuve, who became his mentor, showed him
hospitality during his short stays in Paris, and was entrusted with his
manuscripts. Bertrand had all the awkwardness of the provincial and
the extravagances of the dilettante; but to see the fire of the small,
shyly restless, black eyes was to divine the poet.

Immediately after the Revolution of July he threw himself ardently into
politics, attaching himself to the extreme Opposition party. The true
son of an old soldier of the Republic and the Empire, he gave vent
to the warlike instinct which had hitherto slumbered in his breast
in attacks upon the citizen rulers. He was only twenty-three, and a
newspaper of the opposite party had treated him with peculiar contempt
because of his youth. He compelled the editor of the paper to insert
a reply to the offensive article, in which he writes: "I prefer your
disdain to your praise. And your approbation would in any case be of
little consequence after that with which Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve,
Ferdinand Denis, and others have encouraged my literary talent. Your
insults oblige me to quote the encomiums with which genius itself has
deigned to honour me. Monsieur Victor Hugo writes to me: 'I read your
verses aloud to my friends as I read André Chénier's, Lamartine's, or
Alfred de Vigny's; it is impossible to be possessed in a higher degree
than you are of the secrets of form, &c., &c.' This is how Victor
Hugo writes to the man you call a clerk. It is true that I have not
the honour of being descended from any noble toad-eater, and that I
cannot present myself as a candidate at the elections (_i.e._ am not
on the list of the most heavily assessed citizens). My father was only
a captain of gendarmerie, only a patriot of 1789, a soldier of fortune
who at the age of eighteen hastened to the Rhine to shed his blood
there, and at the age of fifty could count thirty years of service,
nine campaigns, and six wounds. It is true that he left me nothing but
honour and his sword, which you, sir, would shrink from seeing drawn."

This is French journalistic style of 1832--not modest, certainly, but
also not spiritless. Bertrand was one of the company of young men
sympathetically alluded to by George Sand in _Horace_, who looked on
Godfrey Cavaignac as their political leader, and went by the name
of _les bousingots_ (sailor-hats). In Bertrand himself, republican
bluntness was curiously combined with the artistic ultra-refinement of
the Romanticist. He never won fame. He put too much ardour into his
first efforts, did not husband his strength. He overworked himself
to support his mother and sister, and died in poverty in 1841 in a
Paris hospital. David d'Angers, the great Romantic sculptor, who had
faithfully watched by the bedside of the dying man, sent to Bertrand's
home for a fine white sheet to wrap the body in, and was the solitary
mourner who followed him to his grave. (See David d'Angers' touching
letter on the subject of Bertrand's death in Charles Asselineau's
_Mélanges tirés d'une petite bibliothèque romantique_, p. 181, &c.
-Author's footnote.) He erected a monument to him; and Sainte-Beuve and
Victor Pavie published his _Gaspard de la Nuit_. In 1842 twenty copies
of this book were sold with difficulty, but in 1868 the Romanticist
bibliophile, Charles Asselineau, brought out an _édition de luxe_.

As an example of Bertrand's manner I give in the original the
sketch entitled _Madame de Montbazon_, with its motto, taken from
Saint-Simon's Memoirs:

Madame de Montbazon était une fort belle
créature qui mourut d'amour, cela pris à la
lettre, l'autre siècle, pour le chevalier de la
Rue qui ne l'aimait point.
          --_Mémoires de Saint-Simon_.

La suivante rangea sur la table de laque un vase de fleurs et
les flambeaux de cire, dont les reflets moiraient de rouge
et de jaune les rideaux de soie bleue au chevet du lit de la
malade.

"Crois-tu, Mariette, qu'il viendra?--Oh! dormez, dormez un
peu, madame!--Oui, je dormirai bientôt, pour rêver à lui toute
l'éternité!"

"On entendit quelqu'un monter l'escalier: "Ah! si c'était lui!"
murmura la mourante, en souriant, le papillon du tombeau déjà
sur les lèvres.

C'était un petit page qui apportait de la part de la reine,
à madame la duchesse, des confitures, des biscuits et des
elixirs, sur un plateau d'argent.

"Ah! il ne vient pas," dit-elle d'une voix défaillante; "il ne
viendra pas! Mariette, donne-moi une de ces fleurs, que je la
respire et la baise pour l'amour de lui!"

Alors Madame de Montbazon, fermant les yeux, demeura immobile.
Elle était morte d'amour, rendant son âme dans le parfum d'une
jacinthe.


It often seems as if the place of those who disappear too early from
the field of literature were, a little sooner or a little later,
filled by others. But, strictly speaking, no individual ever exactly
fills another's place. The pen which fell from Louis Bertrand's hand
was, undoubtedly, seized by Théophile Gautier; and Gautier's far
more comprehensive talent caused Bertrand's to be forgotten; but no
connoisseur can fail to see that in Bertrand's writing there is an
exquisite, a marvellously touching quality, to the possession of which
Gautier with his colder plastic gift never attained.

Frequent mention has already been made of Petrus Borel, whose simple
home was long the headquarters of Victor Hugo's young friends. Borel
was both artist and author; he painted in Dévéria's studio and wrote
defiant poems under the _nom de plume_ of "Le Lycanthrope." He inspired
the others with great respect. In appearance he resembled a Spaniard
or Arab of the fifteenth century; and when his comrades returned from
the theatre after seeing Firmin (an actor accustomed to the rôles in
Delavigne's and Scribe's plays) play Hernani, they always lamented that
the part of that ideal bandit could not be given to Petrus. He would
have swooped down on the stage like a falcon; and how magnificent he
would have looked in the red head-covering and the leather jerkin with
the green sleeves. Naturally he would, for he and such as he were the
spiritual prototypes of Hernani.

_Rapsodies_, Borel's volume of poems, is a very youthful and immature
work; it contains some really fine poetry mixed up with childish
protests and imprecations. One thing it proves, that no prouder heart
than its author's beat in the whole Romantic group. His verses breathe
the despair engendered by poverty, the loneliness, the ardent love of
liberty and consuming thirst for justice, which fill the poet's heart.
Read such a verse as the following, taken from the poem "Désespoir":

 "Comme une louve ayant fait chasse vaine,
 Grinçant les dents, s'en va par le chemin;
 Je vais, hagard, tout chargé de ma peine,
 Seul avec moi, nulle main dans ma main;
 Pas une voix qui me dise: À demain."

and you have the reality of the emotional life which Dumas put on
the stage in _Antony_. Even the get-up of the book is significant.
The frontispiece represents Borel himself sitting at his table with
bared neck and arms, a Phrygian cap on his head, and in his hands
a broad-bladed dagger, at which he is gazing, deep in thought. The
preface gives us a vivid impression of the tone prevailing in the
republican group of young Romanticists in 1832. In it Borel writes:

"I answer the question before it is asked, and say frankly: Yes, I am
a Republican! Ask the Duke of Orleans (the King) if he remembers the
voice that pursued him on the 9th of August, when he was on his way to
take the oath to the ex-Chamber, shouting into his face: Liberté et
Republique! while the deceived populace was cheering loudly?... But if
I speak of Republic it is only because this word represents to me the
greatest possible degree of independence which society and civilisation
permit. I am a Republican because I cannot be a Caribbean. I require
an immense amount of liberty ... and a man with a lot like mine, a
man irritated by numberless evils, would deserve only approbation if
he dreamed of absolute equality, if he demanded an agrarian law....
To those who say that there is something offensively vulgar about the
book I reply that its author is certainly not the King's bedmaker. Is
he not, nevertheless, on the level of an age in which the country is
governed by stupid bankers and by a monarch whose motto is: 'Dieu soit
loué et mes boutiques aussi?'"

It is hardly necessary to mention that rapid promotion did not come
the way of a young man who wrote in this style. Borel lived in great
poverty; he knew what starvation meant, and more than once, without a
roof to cover his head, was driven to seek shelter for the night in
some half-finished building. His youthful hatred of wrong was also
detrimental to him as an author. In his two-volume novel, _Madame
Putiphar_, the character of the heroine, Madame Pompadour, is distorted
by the writer's republican indignation and aversion. The dissolute,
art-loving Muse of the rococo period, who had a frivolous little
leaning to free thought, who patronised the Encyclopedists, and took
lessons in etching from Boucher, is transformed into a Megæra, who
throws herself at the head of a strange man, and when he refuses to
have anything to do with her, punishes him for his indifference with
imprisonment in an underground cell of the Bastille. Towards the end
the book improves. The storming of the Bastille, a subject which suited
Borel's pen, is described in a vivid, fiery style which reeks of
gunpowder.

His third book, _Champavert, Contes immoraux_, was published in 1833.
It attracted no attention, and he made nothing by it--an injustice of
fate which is not altogether incomprehensible, seeing that several
of the stories are written in their author's earliest, unpleasantly
ferocious style. But in the best of them the indignation is mastered,
is treated artistically, as lava is treated by the cameo-cutter. All
the tales deal with horrors, with deeds which, precisely because they
are so frightful and unmentionable, are possible, since no criminal
escapes punishment so easily as he who has committed a crime in which
no one will believe. And they are such horrors as fiction seldom deals
with, since one of the author's main aims generally is to produce a
saleable book, if possible one suited for reading aloud in the family
circle.

The scene of the tale entitled _Dina, la belle Juive_, is laid in
Lyons, in 1661. A manly, unprejudiced young nobleman has fallen in love
with a beautiful young Jewess, and goes off to his country home to try
and obtain his father's consent to their marriage. The father curses
his son, and, in his fury, actually tries to shoot him, but misses him.
One day, during Aymar's absence, Dina takes a walk by the banks of the
Saône. Seized with a desire to go on the river, she hails a boat, steps
on board, and lies down to dream under the awning as the boat glides
down the stream. The boatman robs the beautiful Jewess of her rings and
other ornaments, ties her arms, gags her, violates her, throws her into
the river, and after the gag slips out of her mouth plunges his spear
into her body every time it comes to the surface. Then he fishes up the
corpse, and takes it to the _hôtel de ville_ to claim the two ducats
which are given as a reward to any one who recovers a body from the
river. The magistrate asks:

      "--Le cadavre a-t-il été reconnu?

      --Oui, messire, c'est une jeune fille, nommée Dina, enfant d'un
      nommé Israël Judas, un lapidaire.

      --Une juive?

      --Oui, messire, une hérétique, une huguenotte ... une juive....

      --Une juive!... Tu vas pêcher des juifs, marsoufle! et tu as le
      front, après cela, de venir demander récompense? Holà! valet!
      Holà! Martin! holà! Lefabre! mettez-moi ce butor à la porte! ce
      paltoquet!"

The scenes in the Jewish quarter and the scene in the boat are
unsurpassable in their cruel realism. Borel's picture of Jewish life in
the Middle Ages is equal to anything Heine has given us.

In 1846 Théophile Gautier, with the assistance of that influential
lady, Madame de Girardin, brought about a temporary improvement in
Borel's circumstances. They procured him the post of Colonial Inspector
in the interior of Algiers, near Mostaganem. Though it was a wretched
little appointment, it exactly suited a man like Borel, with his
were-wolfish shrinking from contact with human beings; but he was
soon dismissed from it, his strong sense of justice having led him,
unfortunately for himself, to accuse a superior official of defrauding
the government. He never saw France again; he died in Africa, of
sunstroke, some say; according to others, of starvation.

Mérimée, as we have already observed, took up Borel's special
department of literature, and in his admirable short stories treated
revolting subjects with a surer hand. But in Mérimée's writing the
irony of the man of the world and the elegance of the courtier stifled
the passion which was Petrus Borel's strong point. In Mérimée's works
we find some of the challenges which Borel flung in the face of society
paraphrased in language which made them fit to lie on a drawing-room
table. There was no inheritor of the fire which burned in the inmost
sanctuary of Petrus Borel's soul.[2]

The last of these early paralysed authors whom I shall name is
Théophile Dondey, better known as Philothée O'Neddy.

O'Neddy, born in 1811, made his literary début in 1833 with a volume
of poems entitled _Feu et Flamme_, which the public, revelling at the
moment in a superabundance of excellent poetry, would have nothing to
say to. The author, who was extremely poor, and was obliged, for the
sake of supporting his mother, to attend to the duties of a small Civil
Service appointment, lost courage, and never published another poem. Of
his book, which he had brought out at his own expense, hardly a copy
was sold. He withdrew like some wounded animal into its lair. When
Gautier met him, a grey-haired man, thirty years later, and greeted him
with the question: "When is the next collection of poems to appear?"
Old O'Neddy answered, with a sigh: "Oh! quand il n'y aura pas de
bourgeois!" It might have been supposed that his powers of production
were exhausted. After his death, however, whole reams of beautiful
lyric poetry were found among his papers. The market value of his first
book is now 300 francs, which is certainly more than its author earned
by all that he wrote.

Théophile Dondey's early poems are quite as immature and as defiant
as Borel's. In the preface to _Feu et Flamme_ he begs his greater
comrades-in-arms to receive him into their fellowship; for, he writes,
"like you I despise with all my soul the social order and the political
order which is its excrement (!); like you I scoff at the priority of
age in literature and in the Academy; like you I am left incredulous
and cold by the magniloquence and the tinsel of the religions of the
world; like you I am kindled to pious emotion only by poetry, the twin
sister of God." He is restless, excited, overstrained; sometimes he
is ill, sometimes haunted by the thought of suicide; and everything
is expressed in verses chiselled by the hand of a master. One of the
outbursts in the suicidal strain is very original. By upholding the
doctrine of the Trinity (in which he does not believe) the poet makes
of Christ's sacrificial death the model suicide:

   "Va, que la mort soit ton refuge!
    À l'exemple du Rédempteur,
    Ose à la fois être le juge,
    La victime et l'exécuteur."[3]

Those of O'Neddy's poems which do not deal with his own personality are
all devoted to the cause of free thought and the coming republic. But
by far the greater number are profoundly personal, about seven-eighths
being love poems. A distinguished lady honoured him, the nameless, poor
plebeian, with her love, and the poems overflow with melancholy rapture
and idolisation of the beloved; but, feeling, and knowing himself
to be, ill, O'Neddy is certain that happiness is not for him, and
involuntarily couples the thought of love with the thought of death.

The poetic form which as a youth he sought and found, was one which
satisfied himself, because it was an exactly suitable vehicle for his
feelings and thoughts; but he did not, like more fortunate poets,
succeed in imparting transparency and attractiveness to this form.
Therefore the reading public turned its back on him. He felt himself
ever more and more forgotten by life, doomed to die with unused powers;
again and again in his posthumous poems he calls himself a living
corpse. Here, for example, is one of his sonnets:

   "Un montagnard avait une excellente épée
    Qu'il laissait se rouiller dans un coin obscur.
    Un jour elle lui dit:--Que ce repos m'est dur!
    Guerrier, si tu voulais!... Ma lame est bien trempée.

    Dans tes rudes combats, sur la côte escarpée
    Elle vaudrait, au bout de ton bras ferme et sûr,
    Les autres espadons qui brillent sous ce mur.
    Pourquoi seule entre tous est-elle inoccupée?--

    Je suis comme ce glaive et je dis au destin:
    Pourquoi seul de mon type ai-je un sort clandestin?
    Ignores-tu quelle est la trempe de mon âme?

    Elle pourrait jeter de glorieux reflets,
    Si ta droite au soleil faisait jouer sa lame!
    Elle est d'un noble acier!... Destin, si tu voulais!..."

But destiny, according to its custom and nature, was inexorable.
Like the shipwrecked man clinging to his rock, waiting for a ship to
appear on the horizon and come to his rescue, O'Neddy waited--waited
for years; but the ship of destiny sailed past and left him standing
alone on his rock. When the lady who had loved him deserted him he
gave up all hope. His poetry meanwhile had been gradually assuming
a more serious and philosophic cast. In one poem, reversing the
Cartesian axiom, he declares: "I suffer, therefore I am." And many
other beautiful poems are pessimistic in a degree which is uncommon in
Romantic lyric verse. Read, for instance, the following lines:

   "Or, qu'est-ce que le Vrai? Le Vrai, c'est le malheur;
    Il souffle, et l'heur vaincu s'éteint, vaine apparence:
    Ses pourvoyeurs constants, le désir, l'espérance,
    Sous leur flamme nous font mûrir pour la douleur.

    Le Vrai, c'est l'incertain; le Vrai, c'est l'ignorance;
    C'est le tâtonnement dans l'ombre et dans l'erreur;
    C'est un concert de fête avec un fond d'horreur;
    C'est le neutre, l'oubli, le froid, l'indifférence."

O'Neddy tried criticism, but at an unpropitious moment. He began
to praise Hugo as a dramatist just when, in the Forties, the great
man's popularity was on the wane. Its freshness of feeling lends
beauty to his passionately enthusiastic defence of _Les Burgraves_.
In his animadversions on the attitude of Hugo's critics to Ponsard's
_Lucrèce_, O'Neddy was not unjust to Ponsard, and showed a spirit of
noble reverence. But the next time he wrote in defence of Hugo the
editorship of the _Patrie_ was in other hands, and his article was
returned to him. He took this rebuff to heart and gave up journalism,
never again writing a newspaper article. He withdrew into his own inner
world, feeling like Don Quixote after his return home, or Molière's
Misanthrope when he wearily seeks solitude. Yet he writes in his last
poem that, unbeliever in immortality though he may be, if ever his
heroes should ride victoriously over his forgotten grave, his heart
will beat again, in time with their horses' gallop:

   "Et qui tendra l'oreille ouïra mon fier cœur
    Bondir à l'unison du fier galop vainqueur."

The "heroes" for whom he had the profoundest admiration were, amongst
the men of action, Garibaldi, amongst the poets, Victor Hugo, and
amongst prose authors, Michelet and Quinet, and, at a later period,
Renan.

O'Neddy's later life was sad. After losing his lady-love he lost his
mother. He was long ill, and in the end paralysed. Only one pleasure
was reserved for his old age, that of seeing himself warmly appreciated
by Théophile Gautier in an article which now forms part of the latter's
_Histoire du Romantisme_. He did not die till 1875, when he had been
silent as a poet for forty-two years.

Whilst we are occupied in seeking out these victims of the literary
battle and victory, we seem all the time to hear a funeral march
played on muffled drums. And when we have seen how numerous they are,
we involuntarily regard such a book as De Vigny's _Stello_ and such a
drama as his _Chatterton_ in a more favourable light. The idea of the
suffering poet or artist was an ever-present one at that period; and
yet many were allowed to perish who deserved a better fate. It would
seem that at all times, in every age, there is a difficulty in finding
out the deserving, suffering men of talent.

The historian whose aim is, not to touch his readers, but to throw
light upon his subject, gives these background figures a momentary
prominence because the characteristics of the age are no less
legibly and markedly displayed in their works than in those of its
geniuses. The geniuses show us Romanticism in its health and strength;
its pathology is to be studied in the works and lives of these
unfortunates, who are so enthusiastically devoted to a foreign language
that they neglect the cultivation of their own, or who blaze up in a
sudden, ephemeral literary activity, or who make a desperate assault on
fame only to be discouraged for ever by their first repulse, or who are
mortally wounded by the indifference of the public, or who convulsively
strain their powers until they suddenly give way. These men are as
legitimate offspring of the Romanticism of 1830 as any of the others.
They are its genuine _enfants perdus_.


[1] Ymbert Galloix's _Poésies Posthumes_ were published in
Geneva in 1834. By some mistake--for plagiarism is out of the
question--Sainte-Beuve's poem "Suicide" is included in the collection.

[2] See Borel: _Champavert_ (1833); _Rapsodies_ (Bruxelles, 1838);
_Madame Putiphar_ (Paris, 1878). Jules Claretie: _Petrus Borel, le
Lycanthrope_ (1865).

[3] We feel how genuinely Romantic, how profoundly characteristic of
the period, such a little inspiration as this is, when we come upon
the very same thought in one of George Sand's _Lettres d'un Voyageur_
(January, 1835): "Jésus, en souffrant le martyre, a donné un grand
exemple de suicide." It is curious that the idea never occurred to
Novalis.



XXXV


CONCLUSION


Such was this school, such were its victors and its vanquished, such
its artistic and its social enthusiasts. Thus it arose; thus, with
all this wealth of genius and talent, it grew to be great; thus it
dissolved as a school to continue its life in the intellectual life of
widely different individuals who, even when in appearance farthest from
their starting-point, nevertheless retained the essential qualities of
the school--for we all keep long upon our shoulders the mark of the
first banner we bore. The Romantic School was broken up and scattered;
but before its extinction, Romanticism had revitalised style in almost
every branch of literature, had brought hitherto undreamt of subjects
within the range of art, had allowed itself to be fertilised by all the
social and religious ideas of the day, had re-created lyric poetry, the
drama, fiction, and criticism, had insinuated itself as a fertilising
power into the science of history, as an inspiring power into politics.

To have attempted to write a complete history of the School would
have been, in my case, to have attempted an impossibility. Here,
as elsewhere in this work, I have traced only the main currents. I
have dwelt long and in detail on the principal personages instead
of introducing numerous secondary personages who, in spite of their
real importance and interest, would have stood in the way of the
condensation which has been my aim; and I have even followed the
careers of one or two of these principal personages beyond the limit of
the period, seeing that it was not until after 1848 that they displayed
their originality in its entirety.

Many remarkable personalities I have merely sketched--such as Alexandre
Dumas, who may well be called the Ariosto of French Romanticism, and De
Vigny, who has described himself in the saying: "Honour is the poetry
of duty." Others I have only been able to name--such as Jules Janin,
"the prince of feuilletonists," whose novel, _L'Âne mort et la Femme
guillotine_, is such a remarkable forerunner of the naturalism of a
later period; and Nodier's successor, Gérard de Nerval, the Euphorion
of Romanticism, whose female characters are ethereally delicate,
whose preternatural fantasies have an oriental marvellousness, and
whose sonnets, written when he was insane, are amongst the cleverest
and most beautiful which the period has produced. Many men of talent
of the second and third rank I have been obliged to leave altogether
unnoticed--such as Antony Deschamps, who occupies much the same
place in literature as Leopold Robert does in art; and Victor Hugo's
worshipper, Auguste Vacquérie, who is interesting because of his blind
belief in Romanticism and his aplomb, and whose drama _Tragabaldas_
is one of the boldest exploits of French Romantic volatility. I have
only been able, and have only desired, as a rule, to present the great
typical figures in relief. The great woman of the period, George Sand,
must stand alone, as a representative of its women, interesting though
it would have been to describe several of the others--clever Madame de
Girardin, melancholy Madame Desbordes-Valmore, or the two emancipated
authoresses, the Comtesse d'Agoult and Madame Allart. Sainte-Beuve is
the solitary representative of criticism; both Philarète Chasles and
Jules Janin I have been obliged to ignore; and Balzac alone represents
realism in fiction, no mention being made of less gifted and profound
observers of life, like Alphonse Karr or Charles de Bernard. The
authors of the generation of 1830 naturally divide themselves into two
groups, a small group which wrote for the whole world, and a larger,
which wrote for France alone; it is only the former which I have
endeavoured to place distinctly before my readers.

We have seen how the character of the two Restoration monarchies,
the Legitimist and the popular, formed the historic background from
which Romanticism projected itself, and without which it cannot be
understood; and we have also observed that the movement had numerous
foreign forerunners and a not inconsiderable period of preparation in
France itself. The Restoration starts Romanticism; the _Juste-milieu_
government goads it on; the study of Scott and Byron, Goethe and
Hoffmann, enriches it; at the hands of André Chénier it receives its
lyrical consecration; the controversies in the _Globe_ develop its
critical powers. The writings of Charles Nodier, which are romantic
in the general, European, sense of the word, prepare the way for the
great French Romanticists. Then Victor Hugo assumes the leadership of
the movement, proves himself capable of the task he has undertaken, and
hastens from victory to victory. Presently he and De Vigny are named
in the same breath with Lamartine as lyric poets; then Hugo outshines
all the rest. Both Sainte-Beuve and Théophile Gautier possess a lyrical
vein, but as a lyric poet, Alfred de Musset supplants all the other
younger men in the favour of the reading public, in time supplants even
Hugo himself, and is long the idol of youth.

Romanticism had at first a historical tendency; De Vigny, Victor Hugo,
Balzac, Mérimée, endeavoured to give France the historical novel of
which England was so proud; Vitet, Mérimée, Alexandre Dumas, De Vigny,
Hugo, tried to create a historical drama which should take the place
of tragedy. But the historical novel soon made way for the modern
novel in its various forms, as written by George Sand, Beyle, and
Balzac; and the historical drama also soon lost favour; for it was,
generally speaking, either uninterestingly dry, as in the case of
Vitet's and Mérimée's plays, or exaggeratedly lyrical, as in Hugo's.
The dramatic authors had, as a rule, most success on the stage after
the first passion of their youth had raged itself out. There came a
time in the Forties when there existed, not only an _école de bon
sens_ outside of the Romantic School, but a phase of _bon sens_ in
the lives of the authors within the Romantic circle. It was during
this period that Alfred de Musset wrote his short plays and George
Sand her peaceful novels and peasant stories. Whilst Hugo was steadily
increasing in power as a lyric poet, Gautier was leading Romanticism
in the direction of plastic art. Balzac developed it in the direction
of physiology; Beyle, in the direction of national, or comparative,
psychology; Mérimée, in the historical direction; Sainte-Beuve, in that
of naturalistic criticism. In every one of these domains the generation
of 1830 has produced imperishable works.

The French Romantic School may therefore, without exaggeration, be
called the greatest literary school of the nineteenth century.


THE END





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