AND HIS CIRCLE
THE WORKS OF
EDITED BY THE LATE
JAMES LEWIS MAY
THE BODLEY HEAD
AND HIS CIRCLE • being his
TABLE-TALK COLLECTED & RECORDED
BY PAUL GSELL • illustrated
FROM PAINTINGS BY PIERRE CALMETTES
AUTHORISED TRANSLATION BY
JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD LTD.
LONDON :: :: MCMXXII
Printed in Great Britain by R. Clay & Sons, Ltd., Bungay, Suffolk.
TO THE READER
HE familiar conversations of the Abbé
Jérôme Coignard were preserved for
us by his naive disciple, Jacques
Our good Master, Anatole France,
is not without a certain intellectual relationship
with the Abbé Jérôme Coignard. He converses
with every bit as much charm. It would be a
great pity if his learned and substantial remarks
were for ever lost.
Another Tournebroche, it was our good fortune
of yore to listen to them, at those morning
gatherings at the Villa Saïd which were, before
the War, the most brilliant entertainments of
Scholars, artists, politicians, Spanish anarchists and
Russian nihilists were received at that residence.
The host, in his keen desire to know the most varied
specimens of humanity, welcomed them all with
affectionate courtesy. The attraction he exercised
vi TO THE READER
exempted him from hunting his game. The models
he desired to depict came to his house to sit
unconstrainedly under his very eyes.
He paid them the signal honour of trying upon
them some of those ingenious apophthegms which
he afterwards set down in writing.
It was this preparatory work in the studio of a
great painter which we were permitted to follow
during several years.
When speaking of Anatole France, people are in
the habit of saying : " He is a charmer indeed, but
what a distressing sceptic ! "
We who listened to him sedulously are able to
rectify a far too widespread error.
If by sceptic one means a philosopher who doubts
what he does not know and what he has no reason
to believe, who laughs at baleful prejudices, quizzes
inflated glory, scourges stupid and sanguinary
ambitions, assuredly Anatole France is the prince of
sceptics. But that he is indifferent to everything is
precisely the opposite of the truth.
In his slightest repartees we had no difficulty in
discovering most strong convictions.
He is, perhaps, the last literary craftsman who
has retained a fine superstition for a flowing and
pellucid style, a noble prepossession for succulent
words and harmonious phrases.
He loves gentle France so piously that, in order
TO THE READER vii
to be merged in his country, he has adopted this
tender name as a pseudonym.
Like the most generous intellects of his native
land, he professes the religion of sincerity, the cult
of tolerance and the devotion of pity. Experience
was hardly indulgent to his hopes. Nevertheless,
amidst the worst grievances of his day, he has
retained his faith in the slow and certain progress
of justice and goodness.
When opportunity offered, this nonchalant
dreamer has not spared his labours, has not hesitated
to descend to the street to defend an Idea.
Certainly it requires a great effort to persuade
him to remove his crimson skull-cap, to take off his
wadded dressing-gown, to discard his slippers and
leave his fireside. Yet with firm step has he many
times left his ivory tower to carry the good word to
his rough brothers of the faubourgs.
Finally and above all, he is the idolater of
He who, to many of his contemporaries, symbolizes
Unbelief is, then, after his fashion, the most faithful
Such is the testimony of his own words in the
pages you are about to read.
You will find therein not only the first sketch of
maxims with which he has adorned his books, but
also many excellent and unpublished narratives.
viii TO THE READER
Doubtless these are only the scraps and crumbs of a
royal feast. But one does not always find proof of
the superiority of great men in their most elaborate
works. Rather is it to be recognized in what springs
from their brain spontaneously and without effort.
That which they do not think of recording, which
they utter instinctively and by fits and starts, the
long-matured thoughts which, unobserved by their
authors, are detached of themselves — there is often
the fine flower of their genius.
M. France is, as we know, the most exquisite of
conversationalists. In the main his novels are but
philosophic dialogues connected by languid plots.
Perhaps his most engaging work is the delightful
Jardin (T Epicure, in which he idly strips the leaves
of his fancy. These conversations at his morning
gatherings at the Villa Sa'id are, as it were, an
annex of that little garden. To a certainty it
will give less pleasure, because it is not the
enchanter himself who holds the pen. However,
we have attempted to preserve even the turn
of his language.
Already, some time before the War, bitter
vexations inclined Anatole France to solitude. The
appalling cyclone drove him from Versailles, where,
in the nostalgic radiance of the past, he had sought
repose. He removed his household gods to the
Béchellerie, a small estate he had purchased near
TO THE READER ix
Tours, and where he meditated during the frightful
So many catastrophes have cast a gloom over
The trial of the interminable butchery was a
cruel one to a heart overflowing with human com-
passion. There is no likelihood that our good
Master will ever resume the friendly gatherings at
which his satirical fancy formerly sparkled. Conse-
quently, do not let us further delay to set down
our many-hued recollections of them.^
^ Most of these conversations were published in fragmentary
form in the Cri de Paris, to which we have had the honour to
contribute for nearly twenty years. Some of them also appeared
in the Grande Revue.
The Sage's Cottage i
Academic Visits . . . . . . .15
Academic Visits [continued) ..... 26
Academic Visits [concluded) ..... 37
The Creed of an Unbeliever .... 42
Professor Brown in Search of the Secret of
Genius ........ 58
Professor Brown in Search of the Secret of
Genius [continued) ...... 68
Professor Brown in Search of the Secret of
Genius [concluded) . . . . . .88
The Pretty Doll and the Real Woman. . 98
Monsieur Bergeret collaborates with the
Divine Sarah 120
Anatole France at Rodin's, or the Luncheon
AT Meudon . . . . . . .141
On Wars 164
The Russian Revolution at the Villa Said . 181
The Omnipotence of the Ideal. . . .196
ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS
The illustrations in this book are reproductions
of paintings by M. Pierre Calmettes, a Parisian
artist and writer who was given exceptional facilities
for depicting Anatole France's home at No. 5 Villa
Saïd. A godson of the great writer, he undertook,
about 1907, to show that unique meeting-place of
literary Paris from almost every point of view, the
result being a collection of pictures which, exhibited
at the time, attracted considerable attention, since
it revealed to the general public the intense love
felt by M. Bergeret for ancient art — a characteristic
until then not fully appreciated. In brief, M.
Calmettes did in pigment for the Villa Saïd what
M. Paul Gsell has accomplished in words ; and for
that reason the conjunction of these pictures (a
small selection from a collection long since dispersed)
and the following text is singularly appropriate.
It is by courtesy of the Paris and London Studio,
the owners of the copyright, that these illustrations
are now for the first time placed before English
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Anatole France .... Frontispiece
To face page
Entrance to No. 5 Villa Saïd, Avenue du Bois
DE Boulogne ....
Vestibule and Staircase, Villa Saïd
Greek Torso and View of the Museum
Anatole France's Desk and Study .
A Corner of a Little Salon crowded
Works of Ancient Art .
A Quiet Corner in the Art Gallery
A Renaissance Chimney-piece at the Villa Said 102
Mantelpiece in the Dining-Room, Villa Saïd 126
A Corner of the Dining-Room in the Villa Saïd 166
A Bedroom in the Villa Saïd . . . 200
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS
ANATOLE FRANCE AND
THE SAGE'S COTTAGE
LONG the Avenue du Bois de
Boulogne, brisk horsewomen and
supple horsemen, descending from
the Arc de Triomphe towards
the Porte Dauphine, caracole in
the silvery morning.
On one side of this dignified road opens a tranquil
blind alley, planted with sycamores, which a dihgent
pruner has trimmed à la fraîiçaise. It is the Villa
The residences that border it are of modest height
and, although within the boundary of Paris, have
already the appearance of country-houses.
Behind their railings festooned with ivy, they
are smart and trim. They shelter peaceful folk,
people of independent means, artists, writers,
Anatole France's house is No. 5.
2 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
During the War it was long silent ; the Master
had deserted it. It appeared bereft and melancholy.
Bricks and plaster vilely blinded the door and the
ground-floor windows. It was the very picture of
Since then the bays of this morose façade have,
like eyes, opened and it is lit up with a fresh smile.
And sometimes Anatole France, when he is not
sojourning on the banks of the Loire at Saint-
Cyr-les-Tours, or else wdth friends in the shade of
Saint-Cloud, returns to his hermitage.
But we want to describe this little house — this
cottage of the Sage — as it was in the happy days
when a host of visitors frequented it.
The green-painted door was a museum in itself.
The bell-handle was of bronze ; a little Florentine
head whose grace held forth a friendly welcome to
the hand caressing it. The letter-box was held in
place by ancient medals.
One day the Master himself did the honours of
We had been received by the old servant
Joséphine, the worthy stewardess of M. Bergeret.
Her face always expressed a little mistrust. She
opened the door barely an inch, regarded the new-
comer defiantly, prudently kept him outside during
this minute inspection, and allowed him to step
inside only when thoroughly satisfied.
ENTRANCE TO NO. 5, VILLA SAID, AVENUE DU BOIS DE BOULOGNE
HIS CIRCLE 3
Daily, on the visiting-cards handed to her, she
read the names of dukes, marquesses, generals.
Academicians, bankers and Ministers. Joséphine was
satiated by human greatness. She had estimated
the full extent of its vanity.
" Is the Master at home ? " she would be asked.
" The Master ? The Master ? " she would repeat
in a muttering tone. " Why do you call him the
Master ? He's master only of his soup, when he
eats it, and even then only when it's in his mouth."
These piquant remarks she would mumble be-
tween her gold-stopped teeth.
It was not unpleasant to hear a philosophic servant
utter opinions so quintessential.
The vestibule was crammed with treasures :
Persian faiences with blue, green and red flowers,
Rhodian pottery with reddish-brown reflections,
archaic statuettes on stands and consoles. A fat
monk hurriedly told his beads near a German Virgin
with prominent forehead and long frizzy hair. A
delicate Italian Lucretia eternally pierced her
The staircase was iridescent with ancient stained
glass, spangled with gold.
From the very threshold, one recognized the taste
of one of the most learned and subtle of collectors.
This ante-room, decorated so magnificently, recalls
an anecdote which was related to us.
4 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
The most earnest desire of a young Russian student
who had arrived in Paris was to see Anatole France.
Through the writer's books and fame, she worshipped
this friend of the poor and suffering.
Furnished with a warm letter of introduction,
she hastened to the Villa Saïd.
She handed her letter to Joséphine, who ascended
a floor to inform her master. He consented to
receive the visitor.
" Come up ! " vigorously shouted the servant over
But there was no reply. She searched in the
dining-room, then in the drawing-room. Not a
soul was there !
" Well, Joséphine ? " questioned the Master, who
" Well, Monsieur, I don't know where the deuce
the young lady has gone."
" What ? "
" She has disappeared."
" What's that tale you are telling me ? "
" Monsieur, I don't understand in the least. I've
searched everywhere. I can't find her at all. She's
gone ! "
" There's a crazy creature indeed ! "
Later, the enigma was explained. No sooner had
the Russian crossed the threshold than she was filled
with astonishment at the sight of the display of
HIS CIRCLE S
luxury which surpassed the opulence of the most
magnificent of Croesuses. Not thus had she pictured
an apostle's refuge. This simple soul, this candid
child of Scythia, could not admit that a passion for
the beautiful is compatible with tenderness of heart.
A sort of anguish had seized her. And, suddenly
turning round, she had slipped out of the house,
quietly closing the door and fleeing much quicker
than she had come. Never again was she seen
We took good care not to imitate the Russian
student. As soon as Joséphine had called to
us, we hastened to ascend to the philosopher's
Anatole France was about to entrust his head to
a barber and, with a good grace which was much
appreciated, he made apology for proceeding with
his toilette in our presence.
Figaro, who advanced with open razor and soap
bowl, let a little lather fall on the table and disturbed
a few sheets of manuscript.
France stared at him with a look of comic
" You always come into my room like a chariot
armed with scythes. You are indeed a terrible
Doubtless accustomed to these lyrical objurga-
tions, the " terrible man " uttered not a word and
6 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
set to work to operate. It was no easy task, for,
whilst M. Bergeret was being shaved, he moved
and talked incessantly.
Grimm, in one of his tales, tells of a barber who
was so skilful that he could shave a running hare.
This was child's play compared to the miracle we
The bedroom was charming.
Above the Renaissance bed, brown twisted columns
supported an Italian tester the green silk of which
was made joyful by branches and flowers in tender
Among the objects which pleased him most,
France drew our attention to a piece of ancient
sculpture on the mantelpiece. It was a female head
a little thrown back, the half-closed eyes of which
were full of amorous languor.
" I discovered it," he said, " near Naples, on the
seashore, in a fisherman's hut, built almost entirely
with fragments of masterpieces.
" I had a fairly long way to get back to the hotel.
So I added a lire to the price agreed upon, to
have this very heavy marble bust carried for mc.
At first I did not pay heed to the person who
undertook to do the work. But, suddenly, I noticed
it was a poor woman far gone with child.
" Hastening to relieve her of the burden, I
entrusted it to a young fellow, to whom I gave,
HIS CIRCLE 7
there and then, another small piece of silver. Now,
observe how kind feehngs are unappreciated. That
honest fisherwoman was so vexed at having been
paid for a service of which I relieved her that she
interpreted my compassion as an insult. She did
not return me the lire, which I should certainly not
have taken back, but she followed me the whole
length of the route, heaping coarse abuse upon me.
" Thus I learnt that honesty is deeply rooted in
the heart of man — and even in that of woman.
" This is not the only recollection which this
voluptuous head awakens in me.
" I left Naples by sea.
" The Italians, you know, take precautions against
travellers carrying away works of art in their luggage.
A very wise regulation — the Pacca decree — forbids
the removal of the artistic marvels on which the
peninsula prides itself.
" I was anxious to have this head and resolved on
not declaring it. I had carefully packed it in a
white wooden box. And to the inspector who asked
me what the package contained, I replied with an
innocent air : ' Niente ! Niente ! '
" He accepted this evasive reply and sought to
place the box among the objects already examined.
But, alas ! the bottom gave way, and when the box
was raised this head, suddenly appearing with its
eyes full of love, seemed to deride the world.
8 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" I was covered with shame.
" The inspector examined the piece of sculpture
with the air of a connoisseur, placed himself sideways
to be able to see it better, and, with an ineffable
smile in my direction, said jeeringly : ' Niente !
Niente ! '
*' The wretch put me to torture. But with
superior condescension he exclaimed : ' Take it
away ! We have too many fine things in Italy.'
" You would have said that this Customs officer
had sculptured with his own hands all the antique
Venuses in Italy and that he was capable of fashioning
them by the dozen."
When shaved, France rose and put on his crimson
skull-cap, exactly similar to those of the Florentines
of the Quattrocento in the frescoes vdth which
Ghirlandajo has adorned the church of Santa-Maria
We passed into his study.
On the table an adorable winged Tanagra Cupid
raised itself on tiptoe ready to take flight.
" I believe it is authentic," said our host. " And,
what is still better, it is delightful."
With reverent hand he took up the little Cupid
and, bringing it to his eyes, almost to his hps,
caressed it tenderly.
A dialogue without words between a very modern
thinker and the naive sculptor who, in the distant
HIS CIRCLE 9
ages, had, without knowing it, perfumed that clay
with all the melancholy grace of his day.
M. Bergeret is most eclectic and the purchases he
has made prove the diversity of his choice.
Truth to tell, his preferences have changed from
year to year and his interior has been modified
according to the books he has been writing. Each
period of his life brought rich alluvia to his house.
To Thaïs corresponds the Hellenic mementoes : the
heads, torsos, statuettes and amber-coloured marble
stelae ; to Le Lys Rouge, the Italian faiences ; to
Jeanne (TArc, the fifteenth-century tapestries ; to
the novel Les Dieux ont soif, the furniture and
prints which date from Louis XVI and the Revolu-
tion. The style of the end of the eighteenth century
has ended by dominating, because it harmonizes
with the last avatar of an infinitely capricious
The decoration of this abode seems to be the
reflection of his soul. It sets that soul in a bezel
as a graceful casket enshrines a marvellous jewel.
" I am not wealthy," said France to us, " and yet
my collection is pretty creditable. With collectors
as v^dth lovers, passion makes up for riches.
" Beautiful women are sometimes more impressed
by the fervent and earnest entreaties of poor suitors
than by the splendid liberalities of financiers with
pockets full of money.
lo ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" In the boxes of second-hand booksellers, in half-
open portfolios at the back of dark shops, unique
documents, which sometimes escape the notice of
millionaires, sometimes cast engaging glances at
searchers whose purses are ill-garnished but who
covet them, pursue them, track them down, implore
them with frenzied cupidity.
" However, to gain the victory over woman and
masterpieces, it is better to be both rich and
M. Bergeret showed us his old books.
" I love them tenderly," he said, " because they
procure to those who consult them forgetfulness of
the present and a little inoffensive madness. This
particle of folly affects even those who handle
without reading them. Listen. I know no more
cheerful person than the excellent Sims, the book-
seller of the Rue de Seine, who sold me most of my
folios. He has two equally laudable passions : good
old authors and the generous wines of France.
When he tells me, in confidence, that he has just
made an extraordinary discovery, I never know
whether he is speaking of dusty old bottles or an
exceedingly rare incunabulum.
" Often he goes about garbed in strange fashion ;
but that is due to a principle deliberately applied.
He. professes that the order in which we put on our
clothes is purely conventional.
VESTIBULE AM) STAIRCASE, VILLA SAID
HIS CIRCLE II
" On rising in the morning he takes his clothes
from a stool haphazard. And thus it happens that
he first puts on his coat, then his shirt, then his
waistcoat, and finally, on the top of everything, his
flannel garment. ' What matter,' says he, ' provided
they are all there ? Am I not just as warm ? '
" Although this is a specious theory, I do not
seek to combat it, for I should have too great a
diflftculty in setting him right.
" The other day I found him with a terrible cold
in his head. He was sneezing, coughing, blowing
his nose, sniffing, snorting, and his nose and eyes
were converted into fountains. ' Hallo ! my good
Sims, where did you catch that dreadful pituite ? '
* I don't know. For I've not been guilty of the
" Whereupon he informed me that the day before
he had bought a host of old books.
" But his shop was chock-full, so he had had to
carry them up to his room, which was already very
encumbered. He had even been obliged to pile
many of them on the end of his bed. The incon-
venience of this proceeding was apparent to him
when he retired to rest. Fortunately the head of
the bed was near the window and the window
looked on to the roof. So he could contrive nothing
better than to open the casement and drag the
mattress just a little towards the spout. And having
12 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
done this, good old Sims, with his body in the
room and his head outside, slept like a child.
" Alas, in the middle of the night a furious storm
broke and all the cataracts of heaven descended on
his head ! ' Ah ! so that is how you caught a cold ? '
I said. ' Do you think so ? ' he exclaimed.
" I love Sims because he accepts the most con-
vincing reasons only with extreme circumspection."
With reverent hand, France took from a shelf a
very line book bound in parchment the colour of
old ivory and embossed with a whole mythology of
" This Vasari," he said, " is as precious to me as
the apple of my eye."
He turned the pages and came across the portrait
of Paolo Uccello.
" This was the painter," he said, " whose wife
gently reproached him with working too slowly.
' I must have time,' replied the painter, ' to establish
the perspective of my pictures.' ' Yes, Paolo,' pro-
tested the poor woman, ' but the perspective you
are tracing for us is that of poverty and the
tomb.' She was right, but he also was not in the
"The eternal conflict between artistic care and
hard reality ! "
Thus did M. Bergeret, far from contemporary
cares, daily vexations and threats on the horizon,
HIS CIRCLE 13
busy himself in the soothing enchantment of past
Through sculpture, pictures and books he held
communion with the dead. By means of written
signs, painted or fashioned forms he strove to pene-
trate the souls of former days. Eager for knowledge,
he annexed from his living hours innumerable
completed days. In slippers and dressing-gown,
in accordance with his habit, he accomplished an
immense periplus through Time, bringing back for
us from that voyage substantial instruction.
Joséphine came to announce two delegates of a
One was a fat, ruddy man, plainly dressed, but
without a tie and in a soft shirt, for his powerful
neck would tolerate no other. He was a black-
smith. He apologized for not giving his right hand,
which, having been injured during some workshop
manœuvre, was bound up. His companion, a puny,
sickly man with eager eyes and ruffled hair, was a
teacher. One by his stout shoulders, the other by
his feverish debility, incarnated the people, given
up to the arduous drudgery of the body and the
They congratulated France on his intervention at
a recent meeting.
His speech had called forth storms of applause.
But it had been continually interspersed with cries
14 ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE
of " Long live Anarchy ! " These compromising
words had been uttered in chorus by a group of
pohce spies, easily recognizable by their big mous-
taches, mean-looking faces and hob-nailed boots.
The two delegates condemned the methods of
They asked France to preside over another
He glanced at his slippers, stroked his Vasari, cast
a furtive glance at the little Tanagra Eros.
Then his black eyes lingered for a moment on
the blacksmith's bandaged wrist and on the school-
master's sunken cheeks.
" I will go," he said.
N the approach of each academic
election, candidates pay M. Bergeret
their customary visit. They are quite
aware that for a long time past he has
not been to the Quai des Malaquais
and has not taken part in any ballot at the French
Academy. Nevertheless, out of deference for his
renown, they solicit his vote. It is a touching
custom which no one shirks — not even members of
Yet these ecclesiastics would have valid reasons
for not compromising themselves with this pope of
But perhaps his conversation has the attraction
of forbidden fruit ? Perhaps they hope, by means
of a few eloquent words, to sow in his soul the
seeds of a signal conversion ?
Thus did the severe Paphnuce undertake, in days
of yore, to win the frolicsome Thaïs to God.
When Cardinal de Cabrières, who was then only
Monsignor, but who soon afterwards attained the
i6 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
title of Eminence, aspired to a seat under the Dome,
he came Hke the others to the hermitage of the
Ancient Joséphine with the golden teeth intro-
duced him with great respect.
" Monsieur," said the Bishop, in a supercilious
tone, " I must admit quite plainly that I have not
read your novels."
" Monsignor," replied France, with sacerdotal
unction, " I must confess to you quite frankly that
I have not read your charges."
Thus begun, the conversation was cordial. Pater-
nally, the prelate observed to France that a number
of great writers had sung the praise of the Most
High. He cited Chateaubriand.
France replied that the harmonious Viscount had
indeed splendidly celebrated the decorative side of
Catholicism, but that he had above all dusted the
furniture and polished up the gold and silver articles
used in the ceremonies, like a charwoman or a beadle,
and that, on the other hand, he had somewhat
" He loved the majesty of cathedrals and the
splendour of ritualistic pomp. But I also love them,
And with a sanctimonious gesture he pointed out
the shining stoles, the coruscating chasubles, the
bright silver vessels which glittered in his cabinets.
HIS CIRCLE 17
" Chateaubriand venerated sacred authors. But
I also, Monsignor, dehght in them."
And on his hbrary shelves, in the place of honour,
he pointed out the Eagle of Meaux and the Swan
of Cambrai reconciled.
Most demure did he look.
Mgr. de Cabrières withdrew, persuaded that, in
certain respects, the most sincere believers would lose
nothing in receiving lessons from Anatole France.
On the following Wednesday — for it was on that
day of the week that M. Bergeret received his
intimate friends — the conversation turned on Mgr.
Duchesne, who was putting up for election to the
Academy against Mgr. de Cabrières. The rivalry
of the two prelates amused the gallery. Bets were
made. Two to one were laid on Mgr. Duchesne.
The sympathies of the Academic Left for the one
and those of the Right for the other were placed in
The abominable trick played by the author of
the Origines de la France Chrétienne on Mgr. de
Cabrières, who is a splendid orator but who has
written hardly anything, was related.
Mgr. Duchesne had entered various bookshops in
the neighbourhood of the Palais Mazarin and, in
his sincerest manner, had said :
" Give me the complete works of Mgr. de
1 8 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Astonishment on the part of the employés.
" The complete works of Mgr. de Cabrières ?
We don't keep them."
" Why yes ! See if you can't find them."
They searched awhile and then announced :
" Monsignor, we cannot find anything."
" But Mgr. de Cabrières is a candidate for the
Academy. He has certainly then written something.
And I am most anxious to read his works. Will
you kindly look again ? "
A great commotion ensued. Employers and
employés searched on all sides, removed piles of
volumes and climbed ladders to reach topmost
bookshelves. But still nothing could be found.
" We are most sorry, Monsignor."
'' I also ! I also ! "
And leaving the shop he raised his arms and
called the heavens to witness :
" But where, oh, where shall I find the complete
works of Mgr. de Cabrières ?"
The story of this practical joke, retailed by the
booksellers, filled Academicians with delight.
M. Bergeret, to whom some one had related it
piping hot that very morning, licked his lips over it.
" Mgr. Duchesne," he said, " has always displayed
" Before he had received the amethyst ring
he lived on the third floor on the Quai Voltaire.
HIS CIRCLE 19
One of his archaeological confrères called upon him
and, in transports of joy, announced that, whilst
deciphering some old cartularies, he had discovered
a new saint.
" ' Pooh-pooh ! ' exclaimed the Abbé frankly.
' Your saint is legendary, like many another. He
has never existed, my dear sir.'
" And with great learning he set forth the proofs
of his opinion.
" But these only exasperated his guest.
" ' Monsieur l'Abbé,' he exclaimed in a fury, ' your
discourtesy reveals your Breton origin. You remind
me of your ancestors, those fierce Armorican pirates
who infested the sea-shores. Let us leave off there !
I will only beg of you to indicate to me the nearest
landing-stage for the steam-boats.'
" ' Monsieur,' replied the Abbé proudly, ' it would
be an insult to the dignity of my ancestors to
occupy myself over inland navigation.'
" Admit there was keenness in this repartee of an
One of us recalled certain jokes attributed to
Mgr. Duchesne. This, for instance, on the naive
poHcy of Pope Pius X :
" He is a Venetian gondolier in St. Peter's boat.
He directs it with a boat-hook." ^
^ " II la conduit à la gaffe." A play upon the word gaffe, which
means both " boat-hook " and " mistake." One may therefore also
20 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
And again this other one :
" Have you read the last bull : Digitus in
oado P "
" It is not altogether certain," continued Anatole
France, " that these witticisms are his. But one
lends only to the rich.
" Mgr. Duchesne has certainly an excess of wit for
a priest, and such sallies, perhaps, do him harm. But
that is the least of his cares.
" One day, when walking in Rome with the famous
archaeologist Rossi, they came to a halt before a fine
marble plaque, newly affixed, and on which was
engraved in Latin : ' Here the apostles Peter and
" The historical improbability of the event made
them shake their heads.
" Above the inscription was to be read, in Italian :
* No rubbish to be shot here.'
" ' A very wise regulation,' remarked Rossi.
" ' But very ill observed,' added the Abbé, pointing
to the hagiographie inscription with his stick.
"And our two cronies passed on."
Anatole France continued :
" The physical resemblance between Mgr.
Duchesne and Voltaire is striking. I conclude —
that Voltaire was a holy man."
interpret the words as meaning : " He directs it towards disaster." —
HIS CIRCLE 21
" But how," asked some one, " can Mgr. Duchesne
conciHate faith and erudition ? "
France. " He does not conciliate them. He is
at one and the same time very learned and a firm
believer. His archaeology and his Catholicism are
side by side in his mind without knowing each other.
A water-tight bulkhead separates them. And do
not think his case is a rare one. In the cranium of
every one of us dwell a host of contradictory ideas
to which we are equally attached and which agree
together quite well because we never confront
At this moment M. Edmond Haraucourt, the
truculent poet of the Légende des Sexes and curator
of the Cluny Museum, entered the room.
He began with compliments.
" Mon cher Maître," he said, " I am delighted to
find you looking so youthful."
France. " Alas, I'm getting old all the same ! "
" O Master," gracefully exclaimed a very young
man who had not yet opened his mouth, " if
you are growing old, one can hardly perceive it
from your last books."
France (roguishly). " Egad ! from my books !
. . . The only things still not lacking ! ... It is
by other signs, alas ! that I feel the approach of
that enemy, old age. You will recognize them
22 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
later, much later, young man whose mornings are
(Addressing M. Haraucourt.)
" Well, my dear curator, what about your
Museum ? "
Haraucourt. " I am sifting it, clearing it of
caterpillars . . ."
France. " How so ? "
Haraucourt. " It is swarming with forgeries."
France. " Indeed ! I suspected so."
Haraucourt. " Thanks to a severe control, I
am separating the tares from the wheat. Everything
which appears to be doubtful I am withdrawing
from the collections to put it in my curatorial
France. " An excellent idea ! "
Haraucourt. " Thus, the furniture I am getting
together for my own use is numerous and hideous.
My apartment has become the sanctuary of spurious
antiques, the Pantheon of all that is false. But I
shah have to moderate the rigour of my criticism,
for my drawing-room, dining-room, bedroom and
even the buen retiro are now crammed with BouUe
cupboards, Louis XIII clocks, and Henri II side-
boards which are all most authentic nineteenth-
century work." ^
^ This anomalous furniture has since been re-distributed in the
Museum, for M. Haraucourt no longer lives there.
(;rkek torso and view of the museum
HIS CIRCLE 23
We held our sides.
" Recently I experienced the greatest and most
tiresome surprise. You know well our celebrated
fourteenth-century coffer, so much praised in all
the art manuals ? "
France. " Certainly."
Haraucourt. " It's a forgery."
France. " Really ! "
Haraucourt. " This is how I discovered it. I
had an idea of extolling this coffer in a poem, for it
had inspired me. On the wood panels are sculptured
subjects which seemed to me to represent the Joys
OF Marriage. Married couples are squabbling and
abusing each other. Dames are adorning the heads
of their husbands with luxuriant antlers. I had
tuned my lute and was about to begin when I
noticed, on two of the sides, heroic scenes which
have nothing in common with the others. They
represent knights, lance in hand, setting out for the
wars. I am well aware that soldiers may gallantly
intervene in civilian households. But really these
knight-errants were too numerous.
"They set me thinking. I discovered that my
coffer was a cunning combination of various pieces.
Only a third of the lid dates from the fourteenth
" You may imagine how quickly I put down my
lute. But, for Heaven's sake. Messieurs, be discreet.
24 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
For this coffer is the glory of our museum. It is so
celebrated that I could not make up my mind to
deprive the public of it."
France laughed heartily.
" One would hardly surmise," continued Harau-
court, " that I am visiting you as a candidate for
France. " Are you not aware that I never set
foot in the Palais Mazarin ? " ^
Haraucourt. " Come now, mon cher Maître,
cannot you . . ."
France. " Listen, mon cher ami, the ushers
would not even recognize me. Indeed, here is an
ingenious plan. . . . My Russian friend Semenoff,
to whom I introduce you . . ."
Semenoff (a giant with a big black beard, bows
to M. Haraucourt). " Monsieur . . ."
Haraucourt (likewise bowing). " Monsieur."
France. " My friend Semenoff will go in my
stead to the Academy and say he is Anatole France.
. . . No, seriously, it would be bad grace on my
part to go there merely to vote."
Haraucourt. " Well, I thank you for your
France. " Pauvre ami ! . . . You certainly have
more efficacious ones. Let us see, on whom can
^ During the War, in order to do homage to the "sacred
union," M. Anatole France appeared at the Academy. But he
soon again forgot his way there.
HIS CIRCLE 25
you count ? Let us go through the names of
Academicians. The misfortune is that one hardly
Haraucourt. " I know them all."
France. " Impossible ! "
Haraucourt. " On my word ! On the occasion
of every vacancy there are half a dozen poor
devils in Paris who learn the complete list of the
Immortals and go from house to house pulling the
France. " In order to console you, shall I remind
you of the adorable pages on which Vigny, in the
Journal d'un Poète, has recorded his visit to Royer-
CoUard ? "
Haraucourt. " I know them by heart. What
a delightful piece of drollery ! Old Royer-Collard,
enveloped in Geronte's dressing-gown and with a
black wig on his head, half-opens the door to
Vigny and says : * I'm not visible, Monsieur ; I've
just taken a black draught.' And he adds :
* Between ourselves, you've not a ghost of a chance.
. . . Moreover, I'm not acquainted with your works,
for I've read nothing for the past thirty years. . . .
At my age. Monsieur, one reads no more, one reads
over again.' "
France. " Well, mon cher ami, you see to what
mortification the noble Vigny's candidature exposed
his pride. May his example assist you in patiently
supporting your own tribulations."
^T is certain," continued Haraucourt,
" that nothing has changed since
Vigny's day. He complains that
Royer-CoUard had not read his works,
and I perceive, in the course of my
visits, that very few Immortals are acquainted with
my literary baggage. It is distressing ! "
France. " What are you thinking of ? Never,
never have Academicians opened the books of
" Listen. Leconte de Lisle, the blasphemer who
wrote Poèmes Barbares, was elected as a Christian
poet. I assure you. I tell you this with complete
knowledge of the fact. I assisted at his election,
minute by minute. I was secretary of the Senate
library, of which he was curator.
" It was thanks to the Due de Broglie that he was
*' The Due de Broglie knew that Leconte de Lisle
was a poet. How did he learn that ? I'm still
trying to discover.
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 27
" ' A poet has been mentioned to me,' he confided
to his colleagues."
Here France spoke in a low, harsh, tremulous
voice, in imitation of the Due de Broglie.
" ' This poet is certainly a spirituaHst ; for all
poets are. Spiritualism and Christianity are one
and the same thing. My Leconte de Lisle is,
therefore, a Christian, a good Christian, an excellent
Christian. I am voting for him. Follow my
" I must explain to you that the Due de Broglie
was a Christian even to the point of crime. He
had been of a fiery disposition. One day his doctor
advised him to find a mistress in order to spare his
wife, who was in a very precarious state of health.
" The Duke reflected and suddenly replied :
" ' Ma foi, doctor, I would much rather lose my
wife than my soul.'
" Leconte de Lisle's election was, moreover, facili-
tated by a happy confusion. Most of the Immortals
who voted in his favour attributed to him, so I am
told, Sully-Prudhomme's Le Vase brisé.''''
M. Haraucourt's face expressed stupefaction.
France. " But, mon cher ami, you know as well
as I do that, in the majority of cases, the elections
are purely political."
Haraucourt. " However, mon cher Maître,
yours was not ! "
28 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
France. " On the contrary, more than any other.
But that is worthy of being related in detail.
" Ludovic Halévy, who had a brotherly friendship
for me, repeated to me incessantly : ' Why shrink
from the Academy ? You must belong to it. It
looks well on the cover of books. Offer yourself.
Do it for my sake. I am ashamed to be an Immortal
when you are not.'
" So much so that I drew up my candidature. I
went to read it to him.
" ' Fie ! ' he exclaimed. ' Your letter is not accord-
ing to the usual form. Hand it to me, so that I
can make it all right.'
" And of set purpose he stuck in two or three big
mistakes in French which shone like poppies in a
" ' There,' he said, ' that's the right style. But
this is not all. The question is, who will you have
in your favour ? '
"He drew up a list and proceeded to make
" ' Hum ! hum ! ' he exclaimed. ' It will be hard.
These confounded dukes will not swallow you
without a grimace.'
" I began my visits. Halévy directed the opera-
tions. Every morning I received a letter telling
me to go to this person's, or return to that person's
HIS CIRCLE 29
" Nevertheless, he was devoured by anxiety.
" At last, one day, I beheld him radiant.
" ' All goes well ! ' he said, rubbing his hands.
' We've got them ! '
" ' Whom do you mean ? '
" ' The dukes. Listen ! There are two chairs
vacant. You are the candidate of the Extreme
Left of the Academy for one of them. In the
case of the other, the dukes are supporting a
worthy nobleman who is of the old stock but quite
ilhterate. They will not impose him without
" ' What we said to them was this :
" ' " Would you like the Extreme Left to vote for
your nobleman ? Well then, vote for the anarchist
Anatole France. Hand us the cassia and we will
pass you the senna."
" ' Done ! They have agreed. I am jubilant.
Pay your visits to the dukes : they are apprised.
But above all talk neither politics nor religion. The
devil ! Remark : " The sun is shining " ; or else
" It is blowing ! It is raining ! It drizzles ! " Ask
the mistress of the house for news of her dog and
her brats. The same recommendations have been
given to the nobleman.'
" Everything proceeded as he had foreseen. The
anarchist and the noble were elected on the same
day and by the same vote. It was quite shameless."
30 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Haraucourt. " No matter ! The Academy did
itself great honour in electing you."
France (taking his hand). " Thank you, cher
ami. I continue, for there is a sequel.
" Among the votes which had been promised me
one was missing — that of Henri de Bornier. As
this little act of treason had been divulged, he
wished to apologize to me.
" ' Cher Monsieur France,' he began, ' I did not
vote for you.'
" ' I beg your pardon. Monsieur de Bornier, you
did vote for me.'
" ' No, no,' he exclaimed, nonplussed.
" ' Yes, yes ; are you not a nobleman. Monsieur de
Bornier ? '
" ' Certainly, but . . .'
" ' Are you not the poet of honour ? '
" ' Undoubtedly, but . . .'
" ' It is therefore impossible that you have broken
your engagement. You did vote for me, Monsieur
de Bornier ; you did vote for me.'
" He left me with an air of dejection. But I had
not been sufficiently revenged and only waited for
an opportunity of satisfying my rancour.
" It came at a meeting devoted to work on the
" My dear Haraucourt, you will certainly take part
in the meetings given up to the dictionary. For
HIS CIRCLE 31
you will be elected to the Academy. One always
obtains what one greatly desires."
Haraucourt. " Verily ! "
France. " Doubt me not. And I wish you a
right merry time at those famous meetings.
" We were still at the letter A ; for they work
short hours under the Dome. They were defining
the word anneau — ring.
" It was the Due de Broglie who presided.
" By a majority of votes the following definition
was adopted :
" ' Ring, a piece of metal circular in form.'
" * Smoke ring,' I whispered insidiously.
"These words caused some confusion. But a
grammarian broke in with assurance :
" ' Well, we will put : " by catachresis : smoke
" ' Catachresis ' appeared sublime.
" As an example some one cited ' Saturn's ring.'
" * Astronomers have discovered several,' I pointed
out. ' One ought, therefore, to write : Saturn's
" ' No,' was the reply, '' it is customary to say :
Saturn's ring ; and our part is but to ratify usage.
So much the worse for your astronomers.'
*' I was vexed.
" Then an infernal idea came to me.
" My neighbour happened to be good little Père
32 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Bornier, snoring in his academic chair Hke an organ
pipe. Nudging him with my elbow, I said :
" ' They are forgetting Hans Carvel's ring.'
" * What's that ! ' he exclaimed, rubbing his eyes."
Here France made a parenthesis.
" All of you, my dear friends, know that most
immodest story. You have read it in the third
book of Pantagruel. The worthy Hans Carvel,
having, late in life, married a brisk lass, was tortured
by jealousy. One night, when sleeping at his wife's
side, the devil, in a dream, offered him a fine ring,
saying : ' Put this ring on your finger. As long as
it is there your companion will be faithful to you.'
" In his joy, the worthy man woke up, whereupon
he heard his wife say : ' Enough ! Enough ! I
entreat you ! '
" Henri de Bornier, accustomed to unsheath
Durandal, to blow the Olifant, to bestride Pegasus
and caracole on the clouds, had never read Rabelais.
" I repeated to him :
" ' They are forgetting Hans Carvel's ring. They
must be told.'
"And immediately the worthy little old man
innocently cried out :
" ' Messieurs, you are forgetting Hans Carvel's
" Laughter arose here and there.
" The Due de Broglie, who knew his Rabelais very
HIS CIRCLE 33
well indeed but who possessed soberness of character,
immediately repressed this ill-placed hilarity :
" ' Let us continue, Messieurs,' he said peevishly.
" A moment afterwards I leant towards Bornier
and said to him :
" ' They didn't hear you.'
" ' Messieurs, Messieurs,' he repeated, bestirring
himself, ' you are forgetting Hans Carvel's ring.'
" This time there was a veritable storm of gaiety.
" ' What's the matter with them ? ' Bornier asked
" ' Don't know,' replied I hypocritically.
" Furious, the Due de Broglie broke up the
" As he went out he passed near me and remarked :
" ' A queer fellow that Bornier. Fine name, good
lineage, ancient Perigord family ; but he drinks like
a fish. And, forsooth, when he's had a drop too
much he relates obscenities such as would make an
" That, my dear Haraucourt, is the very veracious
narrative of my election to the French Academy
and of the curious episode connected with it."
France continued :
" The Immortals read nothing. They consecrate
their new confrères without having ever opened
their books. They bestow prizes for literature
34 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
according to the same method, for it appears to
them to be a good one. Sometimes, however, it
lays them open to strange blunders.
" Do you know, my dear Haraucourt, the story of
the poetry prize awarded to Louise Collet ? "
" No," he repHed.
Had he known it he would have said " No " all
the same, for he is courteous.
France. " Louise Collet was, under the Second
Empire, a very beautiful and majestic woman,
somewhat of a virago, with the voice of a major-
domo and eyes which she took no pains to hide.
" She was married to a very wretched little shrimp,
a violinist at the Conservatoire.
" The great philosopher Victor Cousin, who saw
her, discovered in her the True, the Beautiful and
the Good. So he put the little viohnist's nose out
of jointj. That was quite in the natural order of
" Louise Collet wrote verse. So she asked her
metaphysician to obtain for her prizes, awarded by
the French Academy for poetry.
" How could Cousin have refused so modest a
recompense for divine hours ?
" So every year Louise Collet received her crown.
It was as regular as clockwork.
" Once, however, the good lady started on her
competition poem somewhat late. Indeed, on the
HIS CIRCLE 35
very eve of the last day for sending in she had not
yet written a single line.
" She was greatly embarrassed. That evening a
number of writers and artists were at her table, and
by chance Flaubert and Bouilhet were among them.
They were friendly with her because she was a
good sort and placed every one at his ease.
" After dinner she got them in a corner of her
" ' Darlings,' she said, ' you must save my life.'
" And revealing her anxiety :
" ' You are going to be very nice. Follow me into
my study. . . . This way. . . . Make yourselves
comfortable in these two good armchairs, and
before midnight dash me off two hundred lines on
Immortality. That's the subject of the competi-
tion. Here's paper and ink. . . . Ah ! I was for-
getting. You'll find my tobacco and Schnapps in
" She was, indeed, in the habit of smoking and
drinking like a trooper.
" She then returned to her other guests.
" The two friends smoked, drank and chatted.
About eleven o'clock Bouilhet exclaimed :
" ' I say ! What about Immortality ? '
" ' Zut ! ' repHed Flaubert.
" And they settled themselves down again to drink
36 ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE
" At a quarter to twelve Bouilhet begged Flaubert
to think at last of the poem on Immortality.
" Flaubert was still reluctant to make a start, until
suddenly he seized a volume of poems by Lamartine
from a shelf and opened it haphazard.
" ' Now write ! ' he ordered tyrannically.
" And with well-oiled tongue he dictated two
hundred lines from Les Harmonies.
" When this was done he said :
" ' Now add the title : Immortality ! . . . Per-
fect ! '
" He was putting Les Harmonies back in its place
when Louise Collet reappeared.
" ' Is it finished, my treasures ? '
" ' Yes, yes,' they replied, bubbling over with joy.
" She glanced over the sheets without recognizing
" ' You've not killed yourselves,' she said. * How-
ever, it will pass all the same. You are angels.'
" And she kissed them.
" She presented the poem and gained her usual
prize amidst many congratulations.
" Lamartine's verses were printed under the name
of Louise Collet. Nobody was dazzled thereby, for
nobody read them.
" Flaubert did not reveal his hoax until very much
E it so as regards academic prizes,"
said M. Haraucourt. " It is a matter
of no consequence. And I quite
agree with the Immortals in not
, reading the elucubrations of com-
petitors. But as regards the choice of Academicians,
that is quite another matter."
The intervention of poHtics especially rufHed
He returned to the subject to deplore it.
France. " Your regrets surprise me. For, after
all, what happens under the Dome is by no means
new. And the success of writers was almost always
Haraucourt. " Yet you will agree with me that
the grace or force of their style counts for something
in their reputation ? "
France. " It may be, my dear friend, that, on
that point, we have retained academic ideas.
" When our good old spectacled schoolmasters
made us, at college, translate some Greek tragedy
38 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
or other, such as Œdipus at Colone, they said to
" ' Note, Messieurs, the elegance of that second
aorist. Observe the conciseness of that absolute
genitive. Admire the majesty of that optative.'
"They repeated over and over again a hundred
similar remarks. And wq ended by believing that
Sophocles had delighted his contemporaries by his
" But our pedagogues forgot one thing. That is,
that in celebrating Œdipus, the Theban hero who
had been mobbed by his compatriots and generously
wrelcomed by the Athenians, Sophocles wished to
glorify his city at the expense of Thebes, which,
during the Peloponnesian War, had been the
implacable enemy of Athens.
" Thanks to this information, we can immediately
imagine what the first performance of Œdipus at
Colojte, shortly after the old poet's death, must have
been : all the spectators on their feet, interrupting
every verse with acclamations, heaping scorn on the
Thebans, punctuating the praise of their city with
wild transports of joy. And we then discover the
deep reasons, the political reasons for that frenzy.
" When our venerable pedagogues commented on
the Knights of Aristophanes they curiously analysed
the parabasis, distinguished the comation and the
anapests. And they informed us that this play
HIS CIRCLE 39
was a finished model of the class called ' Old
" But you may well imagine that it offered other
attractions to the sailors of the Piraeus. What
delighted them was to see Aristophanes catch
comrade Cleon by the seat of his breeches. The
performance was interspersed with laughter, shouts
and thumps, for I suspect there was some hard
hitting there. In short, it was pohtics.
" You must make up your mind, my dear Harau-
court. More often than not, pohtics and literature
"Did not gentle Virgil, at Rome, undertake
propaganda for Augustus ?
" And with us did not the author of the Cid
become, in spite of himself, Richeheu's adversary ?
Is not his censorious Emilie a flattering likeness
of the Duchesse de Chevreuse ? Was not Molière
the champion of the young king and the laborious
middle-classes against the restless and discontented
"People praise Voltaire's irony, Diderot's sensi-
bility, Montesquieu's penetration and Rousseau's
harshness. Their style is excellent. But would
they have received so much praise if their works
had not been inexhaustible arsenals of political
"And has Victor Hugo's amazing juggling, his
40 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
tintinnabulous jewellery of rhymes, his bold
opposition of black and white done as much for his
glory as his invectives against Napoleon the little ?
Come now, mon cher ami, confess that, in literary
reputations, literature hardly counts."
Haraucourt. " Well, but is it not absurd ? "
France. " Why, no ; it is not so absurd after all.
" Do you believe, then, that it is an act of
superiority on the part of those who sling ink to
isolate themselves in a little corner to scratch
syllables, patch up epithets and polish periods,
without ever concerning themselves with humanity
surrounding them ?
" That is rather, I think, an infirmity."
Whilst he was speaking we were thinking of the
part he had taken in the then recent famous Dreyfus
Affair, of his Etudes d'Histoire Contemporaine^ and
of the vehement speeches which he was incessantly
delivering at democratic meetings.
" It is good," he continued, " that a writer should
feel a thrill of common anguish and should sometimes
take part in the strife of the public square.
" Not that I advise him to palaver with a party
and lose his way amid electioneering.
" I demand that he retain the independence of
his soul, that he always dares to speak the truth,
and that he denounce even injustices committed by
his friends of yesterday. I wish him to soar. I
HIS CIRCLE 41
hope that his opinions, severe towards egoistic
interests, may usually be called chimerical and
have no chance of being adopted before several
" Courage, far from injuring his style, will make
it more virile and nobler.
" That is why, my dear Haraucourt, I do not
regard the French Academy as so guilty for taking
part in politics."
" Pardon me. Master," said one of us, " it does
wrong to connect itself with bad politics."
France pushed his crimson skull-cap on to the
corner of one ear.
" Will you tell me," he asked, " the exact dis-
tinction between good and bad politics ? As a
matter of fact, I know . . . good politics is that
of our friends, bad, that of the others."
THE CREED OF AN UNBELIEVER
NATOLE FRANCE was about to
publish his 'Jeanne à'' Arc.
It had cost him twenty years' work
. . . Every page had been corrected,
remodelled, cut up with scissors.
Such is the Master's method.
On looking at his manuscripts, one is amazed to
see what labour has been expended on that apparent
ease and unconstrained grace. It is a fine lesson for
He multiplied the corrections, interpolated
phrases, arranged fresh transitions, cut up his
sheets until they resembled a puzzle, put at the
beginning what was at the end, at the top what was
at the bottom, and fixed the whole together with
Certain parts, already set up by the printer, had
been rewritten, then recomposed eight to ten
times in proof.
France suppressed a number of pretty passages.
He aspired to and attained the most ample simplicity.
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 43
On reading his first text his friends had said to
" But this is charming ! This is exquisite.
Don't touch it any more, or you will spoil every-
However, proof after proof, they had been
obliged to recognize that there was continual
progress towards perfection.
Yet France could not make up his mind to let
this "Jeanne à'' Arc take flight.
He suspected that the work, written without
leaning towards one point of view or another, with
sole respect for the truth, would satisfy but few
It was on that day we found him in a melancholy
He was conversing with Pierre Champion, the
learned biographer of Charles of Orleans and
He has transferred to this young scholar the deep
friendship he showed his recently deceased father.
The worthy publisher Honoré Champion,
established on the Quai Malaquais, had, indeed,
known Anatole France's father, the bookseller
Thibault, who, quite near, on the Quai Voltaire,
had also kept a book-shop, Mdth the sign " Aux
armes de France."
Pierre Champion is at one and the same time
44 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
smiling and disillusioned. He has a caressing and
distant voice. A ceaseless dreamer, he lives not
with his contemporaries, but with the shades of
former times. Almost invariably he is enveloped
in a big muffler, doubtless through fear of catching
cold amidst the damp shadows of History.
As the fifteenth century is his canton, all the roads,
paths and lanes of which he has explored, he assisted
Anatole France to reread the proofs of Jeanne
" Well," he asked, " when is it going to appear ? "
France. " I should like it to be soon. But, as
you know, my dear friend, hepatic attacks have
greatly retarded me lately and I fear being stopped
Whereupon Jean Jacques Brousson, the Master's
secretary, enquired in a filial tone :
" Do you still suffer ? "
France. " Suffer, no ; but I am anxious. You
are aware how much this evil impedes work ; for
you yourself have experienced it. That is the reason,
moreover, why you pity me : for we commiserate
ourselves through others."
Brousson. " Why, no, mon cher Maître, I do
not pity you. If Dame Nature, who has lavished
the treasures of the mind on you, martyrizes your
body just a little, that is only justice."
France. " Really ? "
HIS CIRCLE 45
Brousson. " Had I your genius I would joyfully
support the most cruel infirmities."
France. " This child knows not what he says."
Champion. " There is something in his remarks.
But to return to the question of your Jeanne
d'Arc, I long to applaud its triumph."
France. " Your friendship leads you into error.
They will not like my book . . . No, I assure you,
they will not like my book. They will not find in
it what they are looking for. Oh ! I know quite
well what they expect of me : a narration chock-full
of sanctimonious blackguardisms. They will be
" I might, for instance, have insisted on my
heroine's virginity, on the tests to which they
submitted her, on the examination by the matrons
whom her judges entrusted with that duty.
" But I did not wish to do so.
" And yet the temptation was a strong one.
" Among the documents of the rehabilitation suit
there are some savoury depositions regarding the
chastity of the Maid.
" The captains who were her comrades in arms and
who slept side by side with her on the straw in the
camps call Heaven to witness that no evil desire
stirred them. They candidly express astonishment
at this. These men, who made it a point of honour
to be always gallant towards the opposite sex,
46 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
were amazed at their reserve towards the holy girl.
In her presence, as they say, ' leur aiguillette était
nouée.' To them, that was the most astonishing of
miracles and a manifest sign of divine intervention."
Hyacinthe Loyson.^ " So, Master, it appears
to you to be certain that she retained her purity ? "
France. " Really, there is not the shadow of a
" The dames of Poitiers make peremptory affirma-
tion in her favour, although on that score Solomon,
in his prudence, advises the wise never to pronounce
" Remember, moreover, that to her contempor-
aries virtue preserved in the midst of the most
worthless vagabonds was a great subject for astonish-
ment. The least lapse would have been talked
" Finally, when Joan was in the hands of the
English she fell ill. And the doctors who attended
her certainly did not omit to verify that which so
much interested the judges.
" Had this control turned to her confusion her
accusers could legitimately, according to the ideas
of the period, have declared her to be a sorceress
and possessed by Satan. Beelzebub's strategy was,
indeed, simple and infallible. When he wanted to
1 Hyacinthe Loyson, who has just died, was the son of the
celebrated dissenting priest.
HIS CIRCLE 47
dominate a woman, he began by depriving her of
her most essential thing. It appears that after this
first sacrifice she could not refuse him anything.
She became his most devoted slave.
" And in this superstition there was indeed a
grain of truth. For women blindly obey those
who circumvent their senses."
LoYsoN. " But, in brief, mon cher Maître,
what is your opinion of Joan ? "
France. " That she was a valiant girl, most
devoted to her king. I am full of enthusiasm for
her bravery, of horror for the abominable barbarity
of the theologians who sent her to the stake."
Dreyfous.^ " Do you, then, entirely share
Michelet's opinion ? "
France. " Why not ? "
Dreyfous. " At any rate you are not in love
with Joan ? Michelet dreamt of her. He saw
and heard her. He was not surprised at her visions.
She appeared to himself.
" Listen. Here is a fact of which I was a witness.
" One day, when passing through Rouen, I saw
the aged Michelet sitting on a post at the base of
the big tower in which Joan had been a captive.
"On drawing near to greet him, I saw that his
eyes were filled with tears.
" ' What is the matter ? ' I asked him, much moved.
^ Dreyfous, since dead, was an authority on ancient documents.
48 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" ' She is in there,' he repHed, pointing to the
" Then, suddenly, as though awakening, he
exclaimed : ' Oh, pardon me, mon ami, my head
was wandering.' "
France. " I like that anecdote, for it depicts
our good Michelet completely. When writing
history he deliberately guided himself by hallu-
Champion. " An excellent description ! "
Loyson once more began to cross-question our
" Frankly," he asked, " is not your admiration
for Joan diminished by her Voices ? "
France. " Not at all."
LoYSON. " What ! her visions do not seem to
you to be unreasonable ? "
France. " But, my friend, we all have them."
LoYsoN (nonplussed). " How do you make that
out ? "
France. " Would you like contemporary in-
stances ? Remember the Dreyfus Affair. Our
friend Francis de Pressensé was then continually
invoking Justice and Truth. He spoke of them as
of living creatures. I am sure that he saw them.
" And did not Zola proclaim that Truth was on
the move ? He also regarded it as a living person.
" I believe that she appeared to him with the
HIS CIRCLE 49
lineaments of a beautiful dark woman with serious
face. Perhaps she resembled Madame Segond-
Weber. She was dressed in a white peplum, like
the actresses of the Théâtre-Français when they
represent ancient goddesses, and she raised a shining
mirror on high.
" No, I am mistaken. Zola's Truth must have
been more naturalistic. Perhaps she recalled
Mouquette showing . . . you know what !
" In any case, he saw her as I see you.
" Well, now, mon ami, let me ask you if Justice
and Truth exist ? "
LoYSON. " Evidently not in flesh and blood,
but they do exist."
France. " Listen ! you also are becoming a
" Justice and Truth, my dear Loyson, exist only
inasmuch as men desire them. And they are but
lukewarm in their desire.
" But if Pressense and Zola allowed themselves
to be guided by imaginary divinities, ought we to
laugh at Joan of Arc on account of her Saints and
the whole of her celestial host ? "
Loyson was about to make another objection
when France immediately added :
" You wiU tell me that she beheld ten million
angels around her and that that is a great many.
Certainly that is more than either Pressense or
50 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Zola ever saw. But, after all, why quibble about
the number ? "
We all began to laugh.
France resumed :
" In the fifteenth century all minds were haunted
by chimeras. If little Joan ' saw her voices,' as
she naively said, her judges, who wanted to convict
her of sorcery, had a most firm belief in demons.
" But whereas little Joan's reveries were radiant
and impelled her towards the noblest undertakings,
those of her tormentors were obscene, infamous and
" But rest assured, my dear Loyson. If I make
apology for, if I admire the visions of the poor
little shepherdess, it does not follow that, when
writing her history, I myself placed faith in miracles.
" On the contrary, I have incessantly borne in
mind that the duty of a savant is to explain all facts
by natural causes.
" And I have striven to make perfectly clear that
which made Joan's mission logically possible.
" First and above all, there was the general
credulity of the epoch. It was strengthened among
the Armagnacs by the prophecies of Merlin and the
Venerable Bede concerning a Maid who was to
deliver the kingdom.
"Joan, to the troops of the Dauphin and the
armies, was a mascot whose very presence aroused
HIS CIRCLE 51
their fanaticism, made them forget danger and gave
" On the other hand, her reputation for being
an enchantress inspired terrible fear in the EngHsh,
who until then had been so much feared by the
people of France, and w^ho were commonly called
' les Coués,' that is to say, devils with tails. They
believed, indeed, that they had little tails at their
" Joan's whole power, which doubtless was very
great, arose from the ascendancy she assumed,
without realizing it, over the mental weakness of
her contemporaries. Add to this the example of
heroism which the very brave girl showed on every
" When we minutely analyse her marvellous
adventure, it provokes the same surprise as a very
brilliant star seen through astronomical telescopes
of increasing power : whatever the magnification
may be, the star is never anything more than a point
" Joan, in herself, was only a little thing, but the
legend which was immediately created around her
was splendid and has not ceased to shine with
" One must also say that her mission was perhaps
easier than we think ; for the English were fatigued
and not very numerous.
52 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" Do not let us forget, also, the great ability
of Charles VII and his advisers. For everything
leads one to think that Charles VII, if he was in
no respect a warrior, was at least a very cautious
negotiator, gaining more with the burgesses of the
towns by gentleness than by compulsion, counting
more on diplomacy than on arms — in short, one of
those good sovereigns who, by their prudence,
their acuteness and their tenacity in council, made
the grandeur of ancient France."
Champion (in a very soft voice). " Do not
doubt, mon cher Maître, that you will be blamed
for having explained this pious story humanly, and
for having rid it of charisms — to use a theological
" I can hear your usual adversaries at this very
moment. They will say that the hands of such a
sceptic as yourself had no right to touch this sacred
France (with sudden vivacity). " Sceptic !
Sceptic ! Yes, indeed, they will again call me a
sceptic. And in their opinion that is the worst
" But to me it is the highest praise.
" Sceptic ! Why, all the masters of French
thought have been sceptics. Rabelais, Montaigne,
Molière, Voltaire, Renan . . . All the finest
intellects of our race have been sceptics, all those
HIS CIRCLE 53
whom I venerate, tremblingly, and whose most
humble scholar I am."
At this moment France's voice lost its customary
indolence ; it suddenly became vibrant, and his
features, ordinarily so roguish, were now tense and
He continued :
" Scepticism ! They make this word a synonym
of negation and impotence.
" But our great sceptics were sometimes the most
affirmative and often the most courageous of men.
" It was only negations they denied. They
attacked everything which put the inteUigence
and the will in bondage. They struggled against
ignorance which stupefies, against error which
oppresses, against intolerance which tyrannizes,
against cruelty which tortures, against hatred which
"They are accused of having been unbeHevcrs.
It is necessary to know, first of all, whether creduHty
is a virtue and whether true firmness does not
consist in doubting what we have no reason whatever
" But it would not be difficult to prove that the
Frenchmen of genius called sceptics professed the
most magnificent Credo.
"Each of them expressed some clause or other
54 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" Rabelais, a merry-andrew full of gravity, pro-
claimed the majesty of tolerance.
" Like him, the Pyrrhonic Montaigne devoutly
bowed down before ancient wisdom. Forgetting
the wavering of his ' What do I know ? ' he appealed
to pity against the ferocity of the wars of religion
and against the barbarity of judicial tortures.
Above all, he rendered homage to the holiness of
" Molière was ablaze against those passions and
eccentricities which make human beings odious, and
he preached the gospel of sociability.
" Amidst his wildest pirouettes, the unbeHever
Voltaire never lost sight of his ideal of reason,
science, goodness . . . yes, goodness. For this
great satirist was unkind only towards the malicious
" Finally, Renan always remained a priest and
merely purified religion. He believed in the
divine, in knowledge ; he believed in the future
" Thus, all our sceptics were full of fervour, all
strove to deliver their fellow-creatures from the
chains which bound them. In their way, they were
Some one said :
" St. Renan : that is the title of one of the
chapters of Souvenirs (V enfance et de jeunesse. But
HIS CIRCLE 55
nobody has yet spoken either of St. Voltaire or of
Without replying to this quibble, France
" These giants are blamed for having presumed
too much on human reason.
" For my part, I do not place excessive confi-
dence in reason. I know how weak and unsteady
" But I remember Diderot's witty defence :
* All I have,' he said, ' to guide me at night in a
dense forest is a flickering little light. A theologian
comes and blows it out for me ! '
" Let us first of all follow reason, the surest guide.
Itself, it warns us of its weakness and tells us its
" Moreover, far from being incompatible with
feeling, it guides us, on the contrary, to it.
" When the most sceptical of thinkers have long
meditated face to face with the uselessness of
the eternal flux of the Universe, face to face with the
little thing sad humanity is, face to face vidth the
absurd sufferings men inflict on each other during
the brief dream of their existence, they are filled
with deep commiseration for their fellow-creatures.
" From this compassion to brotherly love, it is
but a step — quickly taken. Pity becomes active,
and he who thought he was for ever detached from
56 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
everything, passionately throws himself into the
fight to aid his unfortunate brothers.
*' Yes, my friends, these are the feelings of the
We listened in silence to this fervent profession
Almost excusing himself, France continued :
" I allow myself to be carried away, eh ?.. .
But the poor sceptics are really too unappreciated.
" In brief, they are the most idealistic of mortals.
Only they are disappointed idealists.
" As they dream of a very beautiful humanity,
they grieve to see men so different from what they
ought to be. And their habitual irony is but the
expression of their discouragement. They laugh,
but their gaiety always masks terrible bitterness.
They laugh so as not to weep."
Whereupon Pierre Champion said somewhat
" If Joan of Arc had been a sceptic of the good
school, who knows ? — perhaps she would have
accomplished, through love of humanity, the
magnanimous actions which faith inspired in her."
" No, without a doubt," replied France, smiling,
" for visionaries alone accomplish very great things.
" But, O roguish Pierre Champion, note that
the most irreligious of men, Voltaire, could also be
very brave by prosecuting, against the whole of the
HIS CIRCLE 57
ecclesiastical and judicial powers, the rehabilitation
of Calas, Sirven, the ChevaHer de la Barre and Lally-
" Note that if he committed the sin of writing
La Pucdle, this miscreant was the first to demand
altars for Joan of Arc.^
" Also note that if Joan of Arc's judges, instead
of being fanatical devotees, had been sceptical
philosophers, they would certainly not have burnt
" Draw the conclusion, my dear friend, that
scepticism suggests the most humane feelings and
that in any case it forbids crimes.
" I have said my Credo. Amen ! "
1 Anatole France alludes to the following passage in the Histoire
" Finally, accused of having on one occasion resumed male
attire, which had been left with the express intention of tempting
her, these judges, who had certainly no right to judge her, since
she was a prisoner of war, declared her to be a heretic, a back-
slider, and did to death by slow fire the one who, having saved
her king, would have had altars dedicated to her had she lived
in those heroic days when men raised them to their Hberators."
PROFESSOR BROWN IN SEARCH
OF THE SECRET OF GENIUS
RAPPED in his beige dressing-gown
with brown stripes, and with his
eternal little flaming skull-cap on his
head, France was seated at his work-
He was turning the pages of a very old book,
bound in pigskin.
Through the window, ornamented with those
bottoms of bottles which — enframed by strips of
lead — are called by French gentlemen glass-makers
sives, there streamed on to the writer a soft and
It was like a scene by Rembrandt : a philosopher
meditating in a garret, or, better still, a Doctor
Faust consulting a tome of occult lore.
Our host rose to welcome us.
" You ask," he said, " for the name of this
venerable book ? It is the Chro?iologie collé. I am
looking for a portrait of Rabelais."
He turned over a few pages.
" Ah ! here it is. It was engraved by Léonard
Gaultier, some fifty years after the death of the
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 59
great satirist. We do not possess a portrait drawn
in his lifetime, and this httle picture is the oldest
which represents his features.
" In all probability, moreover, it resembles him.^
" What do you think ? "
Rémy de Gourmont,^ who was with us, looked
at the vignette and replied :
^ As a matter of fact, L'Estoile, who bought the Chronologie
collé at the time it appeared in l6oi, wrote above Rabelais' head
the criticism : " Which depicts him in no wise." He thus testifies
against the resemblance of this engraving. — Cf. H. Clouzot, Les
Portraits de Rabelais, " Gazette des Beaux-Arts," 191 1.
But perhaps the legend which had already formed around
Maître Alcofribas had substituted in L'Estoile's mind the con-
ventional type of a genial jester for the recollection of the
grave personage he had known long before.
2 Rémy de Gourmont was fond of visiting Anatole France.
These two rare and charming minds, on coming into contact,
emitted sparks like flint and steel, and it was a divine pleasure to
Rémy de Gourmont was paradox in human form, but his
paradoxes were often more judicious than vulgar common sense.
He was sensibility itself, but a hideous leprosy eating away his
face isolated him, amidst the torture of unexpressed tenderness.
Out of spite, he often indulged in irony, and sometimes even
On this particular morning, we had met him in the Avenue
du Bois de Boulogne, before his arrival at Anatole France's.
With us, he had gazed for a few moments on some iridescent
doves billing each other on a lawn. And suddenly he spoke :
" The ancients made presents of doves to Venus, because they
are very voluptuous. They were wrong, however, for there are
creatures still more gallant."
" Which ? " we asked, all attention.
6o ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" What a surly-looking face ! A veritable Père
Fouettard ! His forehead is lined with deep
wrinkles and rolls as thick as cables. A melancholy-
ardour shines in those sunken eyes.
" Certainly one imagined more joviality in the
Curé of Meudon, for Ronsard says :
" ' Jamais. . . .
... le soleil ne l'a veu,
Tant fust-il matin, qu'il n'eust beu.
Et jamais, au soir, la nuit noire,
Tant fust tard, ne l'a veu sans boire.
Il se couchait tout plat â bas
Sur la jonchée, entre les taces ;
Et parmi les escuelles grasses.
Sans nulle honte se souillant.
Allait dans le vin barbouillant
Comme une grenouille en la fange. . . .'
" But this Bacchic epitaph must be mendacious".
For Gargantua and Pantagruel are not comic. And
Léonard Gaultier is right."
We gave a start of disgust and incredulity.
" Yes, snails," he continued. " Zoologists tell us, indeed, that
Dame Nature, fuU of generosity for these small animals, has loaded
them with happiness. To each she has given, at one and the
same time, the attributes of male and female. And thus, in a
couple of slugs, each little creature experiences a double pleasure :
it is both a lover and a sweetheart.
" It is a pity these animals walk so slowly, for they are more worthy
of drawing the chariot of Cypris than doves."
With such droll remarks as this did he entertain us until we
reached M. Bergeret's door.
HIS CIRCLE 6i
France. " I think as you do. Rabelais is not
the joyous companion he has been represented to
be. His expressions and phrases are sharp and
sprightly, but his inventions are thoughtful. He
preaches austere sermons.
" In brief, his gaiety is only apparent. His
laughter is but a poor mask for profound gravity."
" His surly air cannot surprise us," said some one,
" since he was a savant."
France. '' I beg your pardon. Rabelais was
not what we call a savant, for he never wearies us.
" He is not cheerful, but he does not fatigue.
" It happened that he produced an edition of
the Aphorisms of Hippocrates. Well, he neglected
to preserve the commentaries of the manuscript.
Why .? Doubtless because he did not find them
" Now, what is a savant ? A tiresome being who
studies and publishes out of principle everything
which is radically lacking in interest.
*' Rabelais is not therefore a savant.
" One must admit, however, that he had a fairly
" And in the case of a man whose science was his
least merit, his was already respectable.
" Do not some of his fanatical admirers attribute
universal competence to him ?
" For instance, apropos of the military operations
62 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
o£ Gargantua against Pichrochole, they affirm that
Rabelais was a great strategist.
" But that is absurd.
" At that rate any writer could be shown to be a
" Thus, I'll wager that I'll write, when you like, a
pamphlet of a hundred and fifty pages on Paul
de Kock : Tactician.
" I should find my text in Le Cocu. In this novel
there is an old soldier who trains a cockatoo to shout
through its nose : ' Carry arms ! . . . Present
arms ! . . . Shoulder arms ! . . .' etc.
" My comments would be based thereon :
" ' Behold ! what a marvellous warrior this Paul
de Kock was. He was thoroughly acquainted with
the military art. " Carry arms ! " is, in fact, the
order given to a soldier when he must raise his rifle.'
" I should continue as follows :
" ' On this matter we have collated a military
manual of 1830; and on page 25, paragraph 3, we
find the command : " Carry arms ! " This move-
ment consists in raising the weapon with the right
hand to the height of the shoulder, seizing it with
the left hand, etc. . . .'
" Thus I should exploit the whole psittacism of
the learned bird.
" Conclusion : in tactics, Paul de Kock could trace
his origin to Napoleon I.
ANATOLE FRANXe'S DESK AND STUDY
HIS CIRCLE 6t,
" And there you are, the trick would be played.
"Truth to tell, Maître Alcofribas was no more
versed in the military art than Paul de Kock.
" Have not allusions to the wars of Francis I and
Charles V also been discovered in Gargantua P
" Pure imagination !
" The processes of Rabelais' imagination have been
reconstituted. It was not at all great contemporary-
events which inspired him but, on the contrary,
very minor ones he had remembered from his
" Certain proper names he uses are those of persons
" I won't guarantee, however, that reality
furnished him with those of Humevesne and
Baisecul. But the episode of these two litigants
was suggested by a lawsuit in which he was involved.
"The disagreements between Grandgousier and
Pichrochole likewise reproduce quarrels which
brought the peasants of Touraine into conflict, and
the burlesque echoes of which had amused him.
" Doubtless he wished to make it clear to us
that, at bottom, the wars of the proudest sovereigns
recall, in an astonishing degree, the affrays of rustics.
A truth exquisite in its irony !
" No, friends, Rabelais was not a great strategist.
He contented himself with being a great writer."
64 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Joséphine announced Mr. Brown, Professor of
Philology at the University of Sydney.
He was a stout robust man of florid complexion
with close-shaven lips and chin. The vigour of his
muscles proved that he had assiduously cultivated
golf and polo. He wore gold-rimmed spectacles.
His red hair, brushed to the front, was as stiff as
the bristles of a wild boar.
We were struck by his Anglo-Saxon elegance.
Near to, his suit was a mass of thick threads with
all the colours of the rainbow ; but at a certain
distance he assumed the greenish and indefinite
colour of pea-soup.
Around his soft collar, cut low on a bull-like
neck, was a narrow red tie which somewhat paraded
a conquering disposition.
Yellow shoes, as long and as broad as steamboats,
completed the get-up of this learned and solid
France. " What do you desire of me, Monsieur
le Professeur ? "
As Mr. Brown expressed himself in French with
great difficulty and was, moreover, embarrassed in the
presence of an illustrious man, he could only stammer:
" Je ... VÔ ... Je voulais voir vô."
France. " You do me too great an honour,
Monsieur le Professeur, and the pleasure is mutual.
Pray be seated and satisfy your desire."
HIS CIRCLE 65
When Mr. Brown had sat down, he continued,
uttering his words piecemeal :
"I am searching ... I want to know the
mystery . . . the secret of Hterary genius . . ."
France. " If I understand you correctly, you
are preparing a thesis on the subject of genius in
" Yes," shouted Professor Brown, beaming with
delight at being understood. " Yes, yes."
France. " Well, when you entered, our con-
versation, by a happy chance, turned on one of the
greatest geniuses of France and of the world — on
" Yes, Rabelais ! Yes ! "
Mr. Brown's eyes sparkled with joy.
France. " What is the secret of his genius ?
That is a thorny question you are asking me.
" By what qualities does he surpass other writers ? "
" Has it not been said that he wrote badly ? "
some one objected.
France. " All great writers write badly. That
is well known.
" At least pedants say so.
" Great writers are impetuous. The vigour of
their vocabulary, the intensity of their colouring,
the boldness of their expressions disconcert the
" In the opinion of purists, to write well is
ee ANATOLE FRANCE AND
apparently to write according to rule. But born
writers make their own rules, or rather they have
none. They are constantly changing their manner,
under the dictation of inspiration — now harmoni-
ous, now abrupt, now indolent, now impetuous.
"They are unable, then, according to common
opinion, to write well.
" And why not admit it ? Rabelais is not free from
faults. His strings of substantives, his series of
epithets, his lists of verbs assuredly bear witness
to inexhaustible animation, but his style is made
heavy thereby. His phrases often lack suppleness,
rhythm and balance.
" It would not be difficult to find among ancient
authors more regularity, limpidity and harmony.
" Le Ménagier, for instance, which was composed
long before Gargantua, contains adorable passages on
the subject of bread, wine and bees. No doubt the
old language deceives one ; for remoteness lends an
exquisite variety of colour to things of the past,
and we discover charm in that which hardly offered
any to the men of former times.
"However, I do not believe I am mistaken, Le
Ménagier is delightfully written. It would be
good Rabelais, if it was Rabelais . . . that is to
say, if it was not lacking in genius.
" And in the same way, the Contes of Seigneur des
Accords are full of charm. His style is flowing and
HIS CIRCLE ej
rings well. It is better than Rabelais'. Never-
theless, Rabelais is the great writer and not Seigneur
One of us suggested :
" Molière also wrote badly."
France. " Well, yes, MoHère also wrote badly.
And Saint-Simon and Balzac, and all of them, I tell
"In MoHère's day, certain writers far less
illustrious, such as Saint-Evremond and Furetière,
used a more chastened syntax. They were purer'
Only MoHère is MoHère-that is to say, not a good
but a great writer."
PROFESSOR BROWN IN SEARCH
OF THE SECRET OF GENIUS
ROFESSOR BROWN lost not a
word of the conversation.
He listened, to be sure, with
both ears, but also with eyes very
wide open and especially with
Suddenly, he courageously plunged into the
" I thought that great writers were always those
who worked the most."
We followed his halting and incorrectly pro-
nounced French — " Je . . . avais . . . cru . . .
toujours que les grands écrivains étaient celles . . .
ceux qui travaillaient le plous " — with anxious
In the politest manner in the world, France
asked him :
" You are perhaps thinking. Monsieur le
Professeur, of Buffon's famous adage : ' Genius is
infinite patience ' ? "
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 69
" Oh ! " eagerly exclaimed the Australian, with
a look of boundless gratitude.
France. " Well, I have a strong suspicion that
that sentence is untrue."
An expression of sadness spread over Mr. Brown's
features ; but he stretched forth his mouth still
France. " Yes, that is a false maxim. Geniuses
are not the most scrupulous of mortals. Or rather
there is no rigorous law.
" Some men of genius are, I admit, very sedulous.
"Our Flaubert was one of them.^ He experi-
mented with a hundred sentences in order to write
one of them. Dumas jî/j said of him with justice :
* He was a cabinet-maker who cut down an entire
forest in order to make a cupboard.*
" But other geniuses are neglectful beyond
measure. And this category is perhaps the least rare.
"To return to Rabelais, in his case we discover
" He himself has told us that he devoted to his
work ' no other time than that fixed for attending to
his bodily needs : knowledge is drinking and eating.'
" He didn't write. He dictated. His imagination
rode with a loose rein.
1 Anatole France also belongs to this category of writers, and he
has all the more merit for recognizing in others the beauties of
70 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" Consequently, the proportions of his giants vary-
incessantly. Sometimes they are bigger than the
towers of Notre Dame ; sometimes they barely
exceed the height of man.
" At the end of his second book he announces that
Panurge will marry and be made a cuckold within
a month, that Pantagruel will discover the Philo-
sopher's Stone and will marry the daughter of Priest
John, King of India. But nothing of all this
happens in the following books. Rabelais had
completely forgotten his fine programme.
" In short, he was the most careless of men of
RÉMY DE GouRMONT. " Oh, but the finest
Spanish writer was perhaps still less careful. He
displays his thoughtlessness everywhere.
"The day after Don Quixote left home, his
housekeeper tells the Curé that he has been gone
" Sancho weeps over the loss of his ass, stolen by
the thief Gines del Passamont, and a few pages
further on he is again astride his beast, which has
returned one knows neither whence nor how.
" Sancho's wife is called first Joan and then Teresa.
" But, stranger still, the Knight of La Mancha's
stout squire does not appear immediately as he is
depicted in the course of the novel ; it is only after
several chapters that the author attributes to him.
HIS CIRCLE 71
for instance, the very amusing mania of discharging
torrents of proverbs.
"These are, then, signs of hasty work in many
parts of Saavedra's masterpiece."
France. " What was I teUing you, Monsieur le
" And to take a genius of your own country, cannot
even your own Shakspeare be caught in the act of
" Listen. He says and repeats that the witches
made three prophecies to Macbeth.
" It is true they hail him under three titles : Thane
of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and King.
" But as Macbeth was already Thane of Glamis
when they appeared before him, there are but two
predictions and not three, with all respect to the
" I will pass over the port in Bohemia, the striking
of the hour by a clock in ancient Rome, and many
other pretty little things you will remember.
" Ignorance or inattention ?
" In any case, you see with what ease men of genius
botch their sublime works.
" Whatever may be said, patience is the least of
their virtues. They don't take trouble. They are
great in the same way as beautiful women are
beautiful : without effort.
"This thought, I admit, somewhat clashes with
72 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
current moral philosophy. People want glory to
be attained at the cost of a certain amount of
labour. On holding up to young people the lives
of men of genius as models, it is customary to say
to them : * Work hard ! Hammer away ! You will
become like them.'
" And, indeed, it would be more just.
" But nature laughs at justice. Men of mediocre
talent labour hard to produce trifles. Men of
genius scatter marvels whilst they are playing.
" In brief, it is much easier to produce a master-
piece than a rhapsody.
" For everything is easy ... to the predestined
Mr. Brown looked thunderstruck.
Nevertheless he persisted in his inquiry.
" Don't you think, then, Mr. France, that the
principal quality of great writers is the beauty of
their imagination ? "
France. " The wealth of their imagination ? "
Mr. Brown. " Oh ! "
France. " Perhaps."
Rémy de Gourmont. " Upon my word !
Nothing is less certain. On the contrary, almost
all celebrated writers have cut their finest coats out
of cloth which others have woven. As Molière puts
it, they have taken their treasure wherever they could
HIS CIRCLE 73
find it. The more one rereads Rabelais, Molière
and La Fontaine — to mention only those — the
smaller one sees their share of invention."
France. " Quite true, mon cher ami. Rarely
does the raw material belong to them. They
borrow it and merely throw it into a new form.
" Moreover, nowadays it is the rage to pick men
of genius to pieces. The fashionable game !
" Search is made for the sources of their works.
Detractors denounce their plagiarisms. Enthusiastic
admirers do the same ; but they are at great pains
to say that, when the peacock steals from the jay
a few blue feathers to mingle them with the eyes
in his tail, the jay has no reason to complain, because
the peacock does him great honour.
" And when the enemies and the devotees of a cult
have quarrelled for some twenty years over an idol,
only dust remains, it appears.
" What remains of Rabelais after the researches
of the Rabelaisians ? and of Cervantes after those
of his admirers ? and of Molière after those of the
" In truth, I believe they remain what they always
were — namely, very great men.
" But modern criticism, by pointing out to us
where they picked up every little stone of their
mosaic, may end in persuading us that their reputa-
tion is usurped.
74 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" In the case of Rabelais, for instance, there is
nothing left of him. We are told : ' This page
belongs to Tory, this one to Lucian, this to Thomas
More, this to Colonna.'
" And that is correct.
" In addition to this, Rabelais seems to be even less
intelligent than the authors who inspired him —
yes, less intelligent.
" Compare the episode of the Limousin Scholar in
Tory's writings with that in Pantagruel.
" I will briefly recall it.
"Pantagruel, the good giant, meets a young
rascal who boasts of having studied in Paris and
whose French is strangely sprinkled with Latin.
" To express that he is in the habit of crossing the
Seine morning and evening, he says : * Nous trans-
frétons la Sequane au dilucule et au crépuscule.'
" And being in a mood to make lively disclosures
he relates that the Parisian students delighted to
' inculquer leurs vérètres es pudendes de mérétricules
amicabilissimes, etc., etc.'
"Pantagruel listens to him for some time in
astonishment. Then, suddenly losing patience, he
seizes him by the throat and shakes him like a plum-
tree. Then the student, in his fright, dirties himself
and begins to beg for pardon in the Limousin
" That is the story.
HIS CIRCLE 75
"Well, Tory begins by explaining why his
character first of all spoke Latin. The reason was
that this provincial youth did not know French.
The only living language he knew was his native
dialect. And if he had recourse to Latin, it was by
no means through affectation, but because Latin was
the universal idiom — the Esperanto of the period.
"Then, suddenly, when in the giant's grasp, he
returns to his natural tongue, which was that of
" Rabelais, on the contrary, gives us no explana-
tion, and consequently in his case the adventure is
" But, as he does not limit our conjectures, we
suppose that if the scholar spoke a pedantic jargon
into which far less French than Latin entered, it
was because he was conceited and wanted to
" And we laugh with all our heart when, under
the influence of fear, this pedant by his provincial
gibberish suddenly reveals the commonness of his
" Thus he marvellously symbolizes the pretentious
incapacity of spurious scholars with the gift of the
" The story whose motive is least explained
acquires thereby much greater strength.
" Similarly, compare Lucian's Icaromenippus and
^6 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
the episode of the woodman in the Prologue to the
Fifth Book of Pantagruel.
"You will see that Rabelais appears to be less
intelligent than Lucian.
" In Icaronicnippus, Jupiter, having contrived a
little trap-door at the foot of his throne, leans
forward to listen attentively to the wishes of mortals.
" Full of equity, the father of the gods and of men
carefully places the reasonable demands in reserve,
in order to grant them, and blows furiously on the
swarm of unjust prayers to divert them from him.
" Rabelais' Jupiter, on the contrary, follows no
method. As the terrible hubbub of supplications,
rising from the entire universe, puts his brain in a
whirl, he entirely loses his head and mixes every-
thing up. And it is quite by chance whether he
heaps blessings on humans or overwhelms them
" Now, note that, in this extravagant form,
drollery reaches the sublime.
" With Lucian it was an amplification of rhetoric.
But in the case of our Rabelais it is a profound satire
on blind Destiny.
" That is how great men cannot go wrong. What-
ever they do they are always right, because their
invention, instead of being coldly calculated, is a
powerful natural instinct.
"They create just as mothers give birth to
HIS CIRCLE Tj
children. All the statues they form breathe without
them knowing why. Even distorted and bandy-
legged, they palpitate with life. They are born
viable, whilst images more regularly modelled by
other sculptors remain dead."
Mr. Brown was more and more discouraged
because he could not succeed in grasping why men
of genius surpassed ordinary mortals.
Every time he thought he had discovered a
superiority in them, it vanished on examination.
With the energy of despair he declared :
" If great writers ... do not themselves imagine
things . . . they compose better, perhaps . . ."
France. " They possess, you say, the merit of
" Frankly, Monsieur le Professeur, I believe that
here again you are mistaken.
" I am well aware that composition is usually
considered to be a prime necessity of the art of
" It is one of the fundamental truths our wise
University teaches its nurslings as intangible dogmas.
" Without a plan, no salvation ! — such is the
"They consider a literary work as a sort of big
theorem, the propositions of which are at command,
are linked together and hasten towards the Q.E.D.
78 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" But with many men of genius we see nothing
" Rabelais, Cervantes and Swift took very little
care to * compose ' their novels.
" It is too evident that Maître Alcofribas was in
absolute ignorance whither he was going.
" When he began Pantagruel, he probably did not
know exactly what he was going to cram into it.
The episodes follow each other without any order,
and all are exquisite. What more do you require ?
It is a capricious and divine excursion.
" Panurge desires a wife, but is very much afraid of
being a cuckold.
"On that subject he questions the wise and the
foolish. Then he embarks to consult the oracle of
the Divine Bottle. And off we go with him on the
cerulean waves. We zigzag from shore to shore.
Fresh adventures which have not the slightest
connection with Panurge's poignant ambition are
unceasingly related to us.
" Where can plan be found in all that ?
" The finest masterpieces consist of a number of
drawers into which anything you like has been
slipped. They enlarge, swell out, distend in pro-
portion as they are written.
"Encouraged by the success of a first book, the
author continues . . .
" Thus it happened with Pantagruel and also with
A CORNER OF A LITTLE SALON: CROWDED WITH WORKS OF ANCIENT ART
HIS CIRCLE 79
Don Quixote^ of which Gourmont was just now
" Like Rabelais, Cervantes follows but his fancy.
He walks, returns on his footsteps, runs, stops, rests
in a meadow, plunges into the woods. He frequents
the society now of shepherds, now of noblemen,
now of robbers. He is without a goal.
" He showed so much indifference in his Don
Quixote that any other writer assuredly would have
lost the game. But he won it. Such natural gifts
" Theoretically, the interest in his narrative ought
to have decreased.
" The first order of the comic spirit exploited by
Cervantes is indeed much more lively, at any rate
" At the beginning of the book, it is the mere folly
of the hero which provokes laughter. He is his
own victim. He is the dupe of his own insane
imagination, which leads him to mistake windmills
for giants and sheep for an army.
" In what follows, on the contrary, he has almost
recovered his common sense. It is no longer his
own fault that misfortunes are heaped upon him.
Idle lords play him a thousand abominable tricks.
They frighten him out of his wits by all sorts of
fireworks. They perch him, blindfold, on a wooden
horse, which they then shake about, persuading him
8o ANATOLE FRANCE AND
that he is travelling through the air. Into his room
they hurl furious tom-cats, which scratch his face.
In short, there is not a mischievous prank they do
not contrive against him.
" One might fear that the drollery of these jokes
would be compromised by the reprobation they
" Not at all. This fine novel captivates more and
more until the very last page. It is akin to the
Rémy de Gourmont. " But do not good authors
show supreme skill in indolently following their
caprice, which guides them so well ? "
France. " Mon cher ami, everything is charm-
ing in the case of writers we love. Our complaisance
towards them is unbounded. We praise them for
what we blame in others.
" Since we foresee they are excellent, they appear
to us to be always so.
" Listen. One day a rather amusing adventure
happened to myself.
" I had handed the manuscript of a novel to a
" As I was going on a journey, I had divided it up
into sections, each of which represented a feuilleton.
" These sections had been distributed in a set of
pigeon-holes, consisting of several rows.
Unfortunately the printer made a mistake. He
HIS CIRCLE 8 1
took the instalments from the pigeon-holes from top
to bottom instead of from left to right, as he ought
to have done.
" My novel had neither head nor tail. But
nobody noticed it. And even a few clever folk
complimented me on the delightful meandering of
"Their warmth of devotion pleased me immensely.
" Assuredly, my dear Gourmont, your reasons for
admiring the disorder of Rabelais and Cervantes
are infinitely more legitimate.
" What does it matter to us, indeed, to know
whither they lead us ? Are we not only too glad
to tarry with them in the thousand flowery halting-
places scattered along their path ?
" Moreover, as we must admit, one recognizes in
their work a unity otherwise robust than that of an
adroitly combined plot.
" That is the cohesion of their mind.
" The episodes are scattered ; but the thought
playing around them is ever honest and strong.
" It is a splendid interior refulgence which
illumines, vivifies and harmonizes the most diversi-
" Thus, what nobility there is in Don Quixote !
What generous elation of heart ! What smiling
bitterness ! What lofty poesy ! And what
82 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" In order to appreciate these rare merits still
better, one has only to read Avellaneda's insipid
" This Spanish contemporary of Cervantes, you
know, had the effrontery to write a continuation of
Don Quixote, to rob the author of part of his glory
" Cervantes flew into a passion. And he was in
the right. For this plagiarism, published during
his lifetime, must have been prejudicial to him.
" But I should greatly desire to see, to-day, the
lifeless elucubration of the imitator published in
the same edition as the masterpiece : the caricature
would serve as a set-off to the radiant model.
" And precisely, whilst Cervantes displays his
genius by giving rein to his wholly spontaneous
fancy, the other adopts a plan, proposes to attain a
" Avellaneda took pen in hand merely to show the
excellence of the faith.
" All his stories tend towards that.
" What stories too ! You shall judge for yourselves.
" Sancho, for instance, meets a beautiful Moresque,
and, in his enthusiasm, cries :
" ' Heaven grant that all the fleas in my bed were
similar to that young Mohammedan ! '
" ' What's that ! ' murmured Don Quixote at once.
* Is that you who speaks so lightly, you, the husband
HIS CIRCLE 83
of Teresa ? Certainly your wife is terribly ugly.
But she is a good Christian, Sancho. And our
Holy Mother the Church enjoins you to find her
more seductive than the finest-made Musulmans.'
"■ But what Avellaneda specially recommends is
devotion to the rosary.
" He is inexhaustible on the subject of the favours
reserved to devotees who assiduously tell their
beads. Among the edifying and preposterous
homilies with which he embellishes his narrative
is one fairly well known, because Nodier has made a
story out of it. How this story-teller succeeded in
giving any charm whatsoever to so poor an affabula-
tion is a mystery to me.
" The subject is as follows :
" A nun, a young attendant of the turning-box
whom an elegant gentleman had noticed when
passing the half-open door of a convent, corresponded
vidth the charmer and decided to join him.
" Notwithstanding her guilty passion, she never
ceased to give evidence of the most fervent piety
towards the Holy Virgin. At the moment of
fleeing from the convent, her heart impelled her
to bend her steps to Mary's Chapel. And
there, on the steps of the altar, she laid her
religious clothes, which she had replaced by laical
" At her lover's side, she experienced, as you may
84 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
imagine, nothing but disappointment, suffering and
torment. That was only to be foreseen.
" After the lapse of several years, full of bitterness
and with remorseful soul, she passes before her old
" She enters, and directs her footsteps towards the
Chapel of the Virgin.
" What a miracle ! Her dress is on the steps of the
altar, at the very spot she had laid it down. She
puts it on again.
" A moment later she meets a young Sister who,
without being in the least astonished at her return,
speaks to the stray sheep as though she had never
abandoned the fold :
" ' Ma Sœur, the Mother Superior asks for the
bunch of keys she entrusted to you this morning.'
" And the repentant transgressor finds, indeed, the
keys asked for, hanging from her girdle.
" Her mind is suddenly flooded with light.
" During the whole of her long and lamentable
adventure, the good Virgin, touched by her fervour
and full of mercy for her weaknesses, had assumed
her resemblance, worn her clothes, and carried out
her duties at the convent.
" Oh, great is the virtue of the Rosary ! "
France then addressed Mr. Brown point blank :
" Listen, Monsieur le Professeur. If the Rosary
inspired you with devotion — very great devotion —
HIS CIRCLE 85
well, the Virgin, at this very hour, would be deliver-
ing your lecture on philology at the University of
Mr. Brown began to roll his globular and be-
wildered eyes behind his gold-rimmed spectacles.
" However, mon cher Maître," objected Jean
Jacques Brousson, France's secretary, " the Virgin
would undoubtedly have some difficulty in replacing
a person of another sex than her own."
France. " You are quite mistaken. Nothing
is difficult for her. It suffices that the devotion be
" As is proved by this other story by Avellaneda :
" A very brave knight dedicated admirable piety to
" At dawn, on a feast day, he entered a church of
the Virgin to take part in the mass.
" He took such pleasure in it that he wished to hear
a second, then a third.
" Afterwards, he long remained buried in prayer.
" About mid-day a sense of reality returned to
him. Suddenly, he recollected that that very
morning he ought to have been at a solemn tourna-
ment to measure himself with his peers.
" He had issued many challenges. What had they
thought of his absence ? Undoubtedly they had
concluded he had backed out of it. What would
become of him ? His honour was lost !
86 ANATOLE FRANeE AND
" He walked out of the church.
" Hardly had he stepped outside when frantic
cheering greeted him.
" He thought they were jeering at him. He
reddened with shame. He struggled against his
_, " ' Leave me alone ! Leave me alone ! ' he said.
* I do not merit your raillery.'
" ' Raillery ! But never was ovation more sincere ! '
" ' Stop ! I tell you. Soon I will have my
" ' What do you mean by speaking of revenge —
you, the conqueror of conquerors ? '
" At that moment a sturdy fellow with broken
armour advances and says to him :
" * Allow me to shake you by the hand. One can
bear no ill-will against so courageous a rival ! '
" Then the pious knight had no further doubt. A
great prodigy had been accomplished in his favour !
" Whilst he had been praying with so much
earnestness, it was the Virgin, the Virgin herself,
who had taken his appearance, mounted on horseback,
broken lances, overthrown half a score of Hectors
head-over-heels in the sand of the lists, and gained
for her faithful follower a magnificent harvest of
Whereupon France, turning towards his secretary,
HIS CIRCLE 87
" For shame, little unbeliever ! "
Then, to the Professor of Sydney, he said :
" You see, dear Mr. Brown, it would be child's
play for the Holy Virgin to replace you— that is,
if we are to believe Avellaneda."
Mr. Brown. " But my religion does not
authorize devotion to the Holy Virgin."
France. " Well, Monsieur le Professeur, that is
indeed a great pity for you."
PROFESSOR BROWN IN SEARCH
OF THE SECRET OF GENIUS
ROFESSOR BROWN was not
His eyes were directed to the floor
with a look of dejection.
" Monsieur le Professeur," said
Anatole France, " tell me, I beg of you, wherefore
the concern depicted on your face ? "
Mr. Brown (in imperfect French). " Oh, Mr.
France, I'm less advanced now than when I
arrived. For, if I understand you rightly, great
writers possess no merit, neither style, nor ability
to do good work, nor imagination, nor the faculty
of arranging their stories."
France. " Let us clearly understand. Some
writers possess these qualities. But many others
do not, and yet are men of genius. That proves
that these qualities are not indispensable to great
Mr. Brown (emphatically). " Then will you
tell me what qualities are indispensable ? "
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 89
His distress was comical. He had the air of a
shipwrecked man seeking a life-belt in a stormy
France. " Dear Mr. Brown, what is a good
quality and what is a defect ? That is the first
thing we have got to discover."
For a moment he remained pensive ; then,
addressing us all :
" But it is true. These terms are quite relative.
What is good in the opinion of one judge is bad in
that of another. And, above all, that which is a
good quality to one generation of men becomes a
defect to the next.
" Listen. Brossette makes a very curious obser-
vation. He quotes an opinion of Despréaux on
" ' Malherbe,' declared the author of UArt
Poétique, ' was not exempt from those defects with
which he reproached his predecessors. Thus, we
sometimes find him using unexpected rhymes.'
" Such was the theory current in the Great
Century. In order to be good, a rhyme had to be
foreseen by the reader or listener.
" An example :
" ' Puisque Vénus le veut, de ce sang déplorable
Je péris la dernière et la plus misérable.^
" In these two verses by Racine, the rhyme was
excellent in the opinion of his contemporaries
90 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
because it was foreseen : * déplorable ' naturally
called for ' misérable.'
" Now, this rhyme seems to us to be bad exactly
for the same reason.
" Note well that in Racine certain rhymes appear
to us to be excellent. This one, for instance :
" ' Ah ! qu'ils s'aiment, Phénix, j'y consens. Qu'elle farte !
Que charmés l'un de l'autre, ils retournent à Sparte ! '
" But it was precisely these rhymes which his
contemporaries considered bad, because they were
" In the eyes of we Parnassians, on the contrary,
a rhyme had to be rare and surprising.
" We were ready to die with joy when the charm-
ing Théodore de Banville put such comicalities as
this side by side :
*. . . des escaliers
Qu'un Titan, de sa main gigznUsque, a liés.''
"• I beg your pardon, Monsieur le Professeur.
These remarks on French versification are doubtless
too subtle to interest you.
*' But I am going to choose more striking examples,
in order to show you that the qualities of yesterday
are often the defects of to-day.
" Let us return to your Shakespeare, if you will be
" Oh ! " exclaimed Mr. Brown.
HIS CIRCLE 91
France. " Juliet says to Romeo :
" ' If they do see thee, they will murder thee.'
" To which Romeo replies :
" ' Alack ! there lies more peril in thy eye.
Than twenty of their swords. . . .'
" We call that affectation and to us it is a defect.
" Another example :
" In Hamlet^ Laertes, weeping for the death of
his sister Ophelia, who has just drowned herself,
cried out sorrowfully :
" ' Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears. . , .'
" Now, does not that, instead of moving us,
compel laughter ?
" These conceits, as you know, abound in the
works of the great Will. We criticize them. In
our opinion they are errors in taste : blemishes
which sadly tarnish Shakespeare's splendour.
" But one must point out that all the authors of
the Court of EHzabeth wrote in the same manner.
Bombast was rife in poetry. It was the triumph of
euphuism. Rhymers expressed themselves only in
lively turns of thought. Love, hatred, hope,
affliction, all the passions were put into the form
of rebuses and charades.
" On the subject of Alexander the Great, who had
fallen in love, Lyly, Shakespeare's most celebrated
92 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
contemporary, made the following remark, which he
thought smart :
" ' A mind whose greatness the entire orb of the
world cannot contain is now imprisoned in the narrow
orbit of a seductive eye.'
" Well, reflect a little.
" If mannerism was then a defect of all writers,
it was not one. On the contrary, it was a good
" The more a poet was entangled, confused, over-
refined, the more was he applauded.
" Shakespeare's principal merit in the eyes of the
English of his day was precisely what we regard as
his greatest defect.
" All illustrious writers are in the same pre-
"That which their contemporaries admired in
their writings is exactly what displeases us.
"Dante sometimes fatigues us by a sort of abra-
cadabra, which is very common with him. He
attributes virtues to numbers. He explains the
mysterious influence of the number 9 and its
"He develops a whole abstruse symbolism, in
which a forest represents passions, a panther lust,
a lion pride, a she-wolf avarice, and Beatrice Porti-
nari triumphant theology.
" These affected obscurities disconcert us. They
A OUIET CORNER IN THE ART GALLERY
HIS CIRCLE 93
would spoil Dante for us, if anything could spoil
"Why, the scholastic thirteenth century was
passionately fond of these enigmas. And it was
by the abuse of conundrums that Dante attained
almost all his glory.
" Similarly, when Rabelais crams himself with
Greek and Latin, when he heaps up references and
quotations, he wearies us. Yet in the sixteenth
century it was this pedantic equipment which above
all dehghted the reader. This ancient sauce then
seemed to be as necessary in writings as the Roman
profiles in the monuments of Philibert de L'Orme,
the pagan ruins in the stained-glass windows of
Jean Cousin, and the dancing satyrs in the enamels
" But I see you are dreaming, mon cher Gour-
Remy de Gourmont. " I am thinking that, if
the reasons for appreciating great writers change in
this way, the traditional admiration we have for
them is, in truth, very mysterious."
France. " Indeed, very mysterious. After all,
if we continue to love them, it is perhaps only
because we have got into the habit."
This time Mr. Brown was scandalized and, with
a start, exclaimed :
" Oh, Mr. France ! Don't say that ! Don't
94 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
say that ! I'm sure that good authors possess good
quaHties which are always good quahties. Yes,
always ! always ! "
Anatole France stared at his interlocutor
ironically and then said slowly, in a tone of con-
" Well, perhaps you are right. Monsieur le
Looking at Rémy de Gourmont he added :
" Oui, sans doute, n'est-ce pas ? Tout de
même ! . . ."
This is a customary string of expressions with
When, in a discussion, he has carefully weighed
the pros and cons, when he has long wavered and
seems at last to suspend his judgment, then he often
grasps at some probability of common sense, some
" Oui, sans doute, n'est-ce pas ? Tout de
même ! . . ."
That means that the thing is not absolutely
certain, but that it may be true, and that in any
case it is good to consider it so.
" Yes, doubtless, eh ? All the same . . . great
writers do possess eternal good qualities."
Here Mr. Brown's curiosity redoubled and he
opened his mouth wider than ever.
HIS CIRCLE 95
France. " If the slightest splashes of their pen
delight us, it is because a sound head and a sensitive
heart always guide their hand.
" It is quite a matter of indifference if their
syntax stumbles somewhat, since its very errors bear
witness to the flights of the mind which maltreat
it. Theirs is the syntax of passion.
" It is quite a matter of indifference if they pilfer
right and left, and sometimes entangle the skein
of their stories. For what signifies most with them
is not the story, however prettily it may be told, but
the sentiments and ideas with which they envelop it.
" Like nurses lulling their charges, they spin for
us haphazard, adorable narratives which come from
days too remote to be remembered.
" We stretch forth our lips for the bait. And with
these honeyed fables they offer us wisdom.
"Thus, in the succession of centuries, the same
anecdotes serve to express the undulating thought
of the most clear-sighted of mortals.
" The first virtue of all really great men is that they
are sincere. They eradicate hypocrisy from their
hearts ; they bravely unveil their weaknesses, their
doubts, their defects. They dissect themselves.
They lay bare their soul, so that all their contem-
poraries may recognize themselves in this image
and cast from their lives the lies which corrupt
96 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" They are courageous. They boldly ride a-tilt
against prejudices. No civil, moral or immoral
power overawes them.
" But sometimes, it is true, frankness is so danger-
ous that it costs them their liberty, or even their
" Under régimes whose label is the most liberal,
as under the most tyrannical, it suffices to declare
that which will be recognized as just and good fifty
or a hundred years after, to incur prison or the
" As it is better to speak than to retain silence,
wise men often act the fool in order to avoid being
" They skip about, wave their three-cornered
caps, and shake their baubles, whilst shouting the
most reasonable extravagances.
" They are left to dance because they are taken
for fools. One must not bear them malice for this
" Concerning opinions which were dear to him,
Rabelais said banteringly : ' I shall uphold them up
to the stake . . . exclusive of that.'
" Was he wrong ? And if he had mounted the
stake, would it be allowable for us to-day to enjoy
his pantagruelism ?
" Great writers do not possess meanness of soul.
That, Mr. Brown, is the whole of their secret.
HIS CIRCLE 97
" They love their fellow-men profoundly. They
are generous. They allow their heart to expand.
They have compassion for all forms of suffering.
They strive to assuage them. They pity the poor
actors who play the comic tragedy or the tragic
comedy of Destiny.
" Pity, Monsieur le Professeur, is the very founda-
tion-stone of genius."
" Oh ! " exclaimed Mr. Brown, whose eyes
now sparkled with joy behind his gold-rimmed
spectacles. " Let me shake you by the hand, Mr.
And he inflicted upon him a hand-shake that
almost dislocated his shoulder.
THE PRETTY DOLL AND THE
"N that particular morning, Joséphine
informed us that her master was
receiving in his Hbrary.
So we mounted to the second floor,
that is to say, to the top of the Httle
house. For M. Bergeret had installed his biblio-
thèque — his " library," as Montaigne would have
said — in the garret of his residence.
You pushed open an old padded, leather-
covered door — an ancient door from some church
On entering, you might have imagined yourself
in a chapel. Through stained-glass windows,
emblazoned with coats of arms, streamed a dim
This attenuated light poured languidly on to a
low ceiling, covered with embossed and gilded
leather. Its rays glinted on pyxes, chalices, mon-
strances, patens and censers, with which many a
cabinet was filled to overflowing.
Anatole France is an enthusiastic collector of
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 99
There is no mortal on earth whose tastes are
Primarily, like a pious anchorite, he inhabits
the outskirts of a forest. It is true it is a pretty
little forest — the Bois de Boulogne. More female
fauns and she-devils than wild beasts are to be seen
He is enveloped in a long clerical dressing-
gown. True, it is delicate in colour and soft in
On his head, like Abbés in churches, is an eternal
skull-cap, which — true again — is of a seditious
Sometimes, also, he wears a white cap figured
with roses and resembling an Indian turban. He
borrowed this head-dress from the Bordeaux
district, where he often sojourns. The servants
of those parts wear handkerchiefs thus twisted around
their heads, acquiring an Eastern grace thereby.
But M. Bergeret much prefers his crimson velvet
This cap plays a great part in his conversation
Unconsciously he makes it reflect his thoughts.
When he is joyful, his cap has a provocative air.
It is like a caricature of a tiara or of a Venetian
cor no ducale.
At times, when he raises the tone of his voice
100 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
ironically, it affects the majesty of the pschent, on
which the Pharaohs so much prided themselves.
When listening to an interlocutor, he pushes
it back on to his neck, as though to allow the ideas
greater ease of penetration to his brain ; whilst
reflecting, he pulls it back again, almost on to his
nose, as though to concentrate his thoughts under
His profile, with its high forehead and aquiline
nose, is very long, and his small beard elongates it
still more. The outlines of his face are more
delicate than vigorous. They give the impression of
an ample and paternal gentleness ; but the black
eyes — terribly black and prodigiously sharp, watching
and searching on all sides — give the lie to this
serenity of countenance.
This roguish look in an almost impassive face
is France completely. It is the keenness of his
mind breaking through the fine cadence of melodious
The dull ivory-like skin, the silvery hair, mous-
tache and beard, the red velvet cap form a harmony
which would inspire any colourist with an ardent
desire to seize his palette and brushes.
The Master is tall and thin. His natural
nonchalance, which increases his charm, gives him
the appearance of being very slightly round-
shouldered. Sylvestre Bonnard, member of the
HIS CIRCLE loi
Institute, had a dos bon, to use the words of the
Princess Trepof . Anatole France has a dos affable et
ironique — an affable and ironical back — ^like Voltaire
in Houdon's statue.
To the young writers and old friends who come
to enjoy his conversation, he preaches his indulgent
philosophy in a somewhat slow and nasal tone of
And never did sacred orator display so much
unction in recommending belief as France does in
His sallies are so much the more deadly as his
voice is more indifferent. When he seems to be
talking to himself, when he hazards some remark
or other in a wholly inoffensive tone, looking the
while at the tips of his fur-topped, bishop's purple
list-slippers, he is then most redoubtable ; and
suddenly his black eyes dart like two sword-points.
Discoursing, he loves to be enframed in a huge
renaissance chimney-piece, in which a man can
easily stand upright.
The chimney funnel of this fireplace is orna-
mented with Italian pictures : saints around a
Virgin nursing a child. Also to be seen are two
little angels in painted wood who fly and
Let us complete our description of the decoration
of this library.
102 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Indeed, have we not omitted the principal
thing — books ?
These fill a large number of shelves, reaching
from floor to ceihng.
The majority of them are very ancient books
bound in leather, the colour of the rind of smoked
ham, or else covered with yellowish-white pig-skin,
or, again, enveloped in antiphonary parchment
figured with illuminated letters and red and black
notes of music. The last-named kind of binding
was conceived by Anatole France, and almost all
his friends have copied this charming invention.
A fastidious critic was interviewing the father
of Thaïs. He wished to publish, in a very serious
review, a most detailed article on the writer's
The Master submitted with good grace to the
Over his college years they passed rapidly.
Anatole France was educated at Stanislas.
Nothing to be said on that score, unless it is that
he has retained in his outward sanctimoniousness
something of the religious education.
Not altogether bad, after all, since it fashioned
Voltaire, Diderot, Renan and M. Bergeret.
" Note, Monsieur," said our host banteringly,
" that I was ploughed in the examination for the
HIS CIRCLE 103
bachelor's degree. That is an important point.
Yes, Monsieur, I got a zero in geography.
" This is how it happened.
" It was Père Hase who was examining me. This
honest German, a very learned Hellenist, had
been appointed professor at the Collège de France
by the Empire, which was internationalist after its
" He was occasionally entrusted with the pre-
liminary examination of undergraduates, and this
drudgery horrified him.
" ' Mein young friend,' he said to me with wholly
Germanic good-nature, * you are highly recom-
mended to me.'
" And he continued — sparing you his pronuncia-
tion and accent — as follows :
" ' Let me see ... I will ask you a few easy
questions. The Seine flows into the Channel, does
it not ? '
" * Yes, sir,' I replied with a charming smile.
" ' Good ! That is very good ! . . . And the
Loire flows into the Atlantic Ocean, does it not ? '
" ' Yes, sir.'
" ' Excellent ! . . . The Gironde also flows into
the Atlantic, does it not ? '
" ' Certainly, sir.'
" ' You reply admirably Î . . . The Rhône flows
into Lake Michigan, does it not ? '
104 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" Full of confidence, I had not even listened to the
" ' Yes, sir,' I exclaimed, still smiling.
'"Ah! Ah! The Rhône flows into Lake
Michigan,' growled Père Hase. ' My friend, you
know nothing. You are an ass. I shall put you
down a zero ! ' "
We began to laugh.
But this anecdote did not at all please the critic,
who desired more serious information.
" I should much like," he said, " to know your
sources. In many of your works, and especially
in Le Jardin d'Epicure, you show deep scientific
knowledge. For instance, you are very familiar
with astronomy. Can you tell me in what text-
books you learnt it ? "
" Certainly. That is quite easy. I consulted a
book by Camille Flammarion called, I believe.
Astronomy Explained to Little Children. No, I am
mistaken : the exact title was Popular Astronomy.''^
The critic almost fell off his chair.
France. " I also borrow my most solid erudition
from the Dictionnaire Larousse. Yes, sir, the
Dictionnaire Larousse is a very useful publication."
The critic was amazed.
Our host, assuredly, was diverting himself over
the visitor's stupefaction and intentionally provoking
HIS CIRCLE 105
" Cher Monsieur," he said, " the important thing
is not, perhaps, my scientific baggage, which is
light, but rather the reaction of modern discoveries
upon a sensibihty formed by long commerce with
the gentle, subtle and human authors of our
He pointed to the old books loading the shelves
of his library.
" There are my sources. You will find there
nothing save great or charming writers who spoke
good French — that is to say, who thought clearly.
For one cannot exist without the other.
" I have striven to say as well as possible, on what
I have seen and learnt in my time, what these fine
minds of yore would have said had they seen and
learnt the same things."
Joséphine handed her master a visiting-card. He
put on big horn spectacles, for he has some enormous
pairs, like those we see in certain portraits painted
by Greco or Velasquez.
" Introduced by my friend B ? Show him
in ! "
A very young man — fair, pink and beardless —
made his appearance.
" What may you desire ? " asked France.
The Young Man (bowing, with his immaculate
io6 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
top hat pressed to his stomach). — " Oh ! Ah ! Oh !
. . . M. France . . . Maître . . . you . . . I . . ."
France (very paternally). " Come ! Pray be
seated, my friend."
The Young Man (crimson). " I've come in
order . . . The fact is my little cousin collects
autographs. . . . Do . . . you . . . I . . . she ..."
France. " She sent you to ask me for one ? "
The Young Man (radiant). " Yes, yes, Maître.
It will give me such pleasure to be able to give my
France (touched). " A praiseworthy object,
mon enfant. But where the deuce has my pen
gone to ? "
The Young Man. "Oh! Maître! I don't
want to trouble you at present."
France. " Very well. I will send you what you
desire. I have your address. . . . What does your
charming cousin prefer, verse or prose ? "
The Young Man (in the seventh heaven). " Oh !
verse ! . . ."
France. " Good ! Understood then : I will
send you some verses."
Whereupon the blushing youth bowed himself
" Autograph three and four times blessed," said
some one, " since it will gain for this amiable young
man the favour of his fair cousin."
HIS CIRCLE 107
France. " In asking me for verse, he flattered
me ; for I am not a poet."
Exclamations were heard, and some of us men-
tioned Poèmes dorés and the Noces Corinthiennes.
" I have written verse," he said. " Yet I am
not a poet. I do not think in verse but in prose,
and I convert my prose into verse.
" True poets think directly into verse. That is
" I knew one who sometimes even spoke in verse :
Antony Deschamps. He was not without merit,
and in my opinion deserved a greater reputation.
" I am haunted by my recollection of him, because
I saw him amid striking surroundings.
" He had been insane. After being cured, he no
longer wished to leave the asylum, because he had
fallen in love with the manager's wife.
" We went to hear him recite his poems in the
courtyard of the hospital.
" At every hemistich some lunatic or other would
come and stare him in the face, snigger and make
off. Others were squatting in front of him, putting
out their tongues, walking on all fours, or moving
rapidly around us. The poet gently warded them
off with his hand and continued to declaim.
" It was for all the world like Torquato Tasso with
the insane, or Dante with the damned.
" This fantastic vision still pursues me.
io8 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" Victor Hugo also sometimes spoke in verse."
Suddenly our host said in the most innocent way
in the world :
" What is poetry, in brief ? Child's play . . .
The jeu du corbillon,^ neither more nor less :
" ' Que met-on dans mon corbillon ?
Un melon, des oignons, des citrons, des cornichons.' "
He corrected himself :
" It is wrong of me to jest.
" No, rhyme is not an amusement. In our lan-
guage, in which the difference between long and
short syllables is so very slight, it is the only natural
means of strongly marking the cadence.
" The repetition of the same sounds divides the
phrases into series with a determined number of
syllables and thus makes the rhythm more apparent.
" Rhyme, moreover, is not a difficulty to true
poets. As they think in metaphors, they have at
their disposal a much more extensive vocabulary
than prose-writers and can easily find all their
" What is a metaphor ? A comparison. Now,
one can compare everything to anything : the
moon to a cheese and a bruised heart to a cracked
pot. The metaphors therefore furnish an almost
unlimited provision of words and rhymes.
^ Crambo : a game in which the question " Que met-on dans
mon corbillon ? " — " What do you put in my basket ? " — is
answered by a word rhyming with on. — Translator's note.
HIS CIRCLE 109
" Better still, the rhyme draws attention to the
metaphor as though by the tinkling of a bell.
" Add that each poet has his own metaphors, his
own variegated epithets and, consequently, an
immense reserve of rhymes which is the peculiar
quality of his genius.
" Corneille rhymes by means of heroic words :
front, affront, outrage, rage. . . .
" Racine rhymes by means of tender and sorrowful
adjectives : déplorable, misérable. . . .
" La Fontaine's rhymes are satirical. Those of
Molière jovial, etc.
" In fact, every great poet discovers a new region.
In the case of one it is the land of heroism ; in that
of another, of burning passion ; in that of a third,
of jeering and banter ; in that of a fourth, of
" Rhymes full of imagery are, as it were, the flowers
of those mysterious shores. They abound under
the steps of the explorer. He has but to stoop to
choose those whose colours blend.
" The bouquet of rhymes is the perfume, the
adornment of the shores on which each dreamer
has landed. It is the shade of his imagination.
" And, truth to tell, with excellent poets, imagina-
tion and sensibility make up for everything, even
no ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" According to Renan," one of us remarked,
*' Victor Hugo was as stupid as the Himalaya."
France. " Yes, certainly. Agreed, he was
stupid. But he was the most vibratory of men,
and, willing or unwilling, we still thrill in response
to his music. We have been accused — we Par-
nassians — of wishing to upset his apple-cart. That
is incorrect. We had great respect for him.
" We even thought of him as a patron for our
" That was at the time we were founding le Par-
nasse. We had met many times — Coppee, Leconte
de Lisle, Catulle Mendès and myself — at the
Librairie Lemerre, and the first number of our
review was about to appear.
" We sought a means of drawing the attention of
the universe to our new-born child.
" One of us — I forget who it was — suggested we
should ask Victor Hugo (then in exile at Guernsey)
for a preface in the form of a letter.
" The idea was received with enthusiasm ; and we
immediately wrote to the illustrious proscript.
" A few days afterwards we received an extra-
ordinary epistle :
" ' Young men, I am the Past ; you are the Future.
I am but a leaf ; you are the Forest. I am but a
candle ; you are the rays of the Sun. I am but an
ox ; you are the wise men of the East. I am but
HIS CIRCLE III
a brook ; you are the Ocean. I am but a mole-
hill ; you are the Alps. I am but. . . .'
" And so on to the extent of four big pages, signed
Victor Hugo. Together, we read this perturbing
missive. At the second line we burst into laughter ;
at the fourth we were holding our sides, and by
the time we had reached the tenth we were in
" Catulle Mendès exclaimed that we were the
victims of an odious hoax. This funambulatory
reply could not possibly have come from the great
man. Imperial police spies had undoubtedly inter-
cepted our request and wanted to play us a trick.
But we were not going to be taken in.
" We consulted as to what we had better do. The
result of our conference was that we entered into
correspondence with Juliette Drouet, who was then
living at Guernsey, near her god. We confided
our misadventure to her and our impatience to
obtain a letter which was really from Victor Hugo.
" Six days later, we received Juliette Drouet's
reply. The poor woman was most distressed.
The letter was indeed from Victor Hugo : his
faithful friend assured us of that. She was quite
astonished at our doubt, for, she said, his genius in
those four pages stared one in the face.
" However, we did not publish the sublime
poet's epistle. We thought, piously, that it would
112 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
dishonour him. How naive we were ! Nothing
dishonours the gods."
Anatole France continued :
" That which, above all, is his, are those intimate
impressions which had never before been so pro-
foundly analysed : those of lovers, those of a father
at his daughter's tomb, those of a mother by the
cradle of her child :
" ' Sa pauvre mère, hélas ! de son sort ignorante,
Avoir mis tant d'amour sur ce frêle roseau,
Et si longtemps veillé son enfance souffrante.
Et passé tant de nuits à l'endormir pleurante,
Toute petite en son berceau ! '
" That is what belongs to him. And by insisting
on the price which each of us attaches to the secrets
of his heart, he has modified our soul. He has
contributed to the renewal of our sentimental life.
" Oh, I know that many others have reaped in
the same field ; but he it was who bound the
sheaves. He was the vigorous binder.
*' When you vibrate with so much intensity as
that, you have no need to be intelHgent. You
have more influence than the most skilful reasoners.
" Moreover, reasoners perhaps do no more than
put into well-balanced syllogisms the flights of the
prophets who pass for being devoid of intelligence."
" I am very glad," said the critic, " to hear you
praise Victor Hugo's formidable originality."
HIS CIRCLE 113
France. " Original he was indeed. . . . How-
ever, take care. . . . There must be no exaggeration
Suddenly, after celebrating the personality of the
Colossus with so much fervour, M. Bergeret, in the
customary backward and forward way of his changing
dialectic, began to point out what the author of
the Légende des Siècles owed to tradition.
" Truth to tell, that which the finest poets, the
greatest writers bring back from their voyage in
the realms of fancy is small in comparison with
the treasures accumulated before them.
" Victor Hugo is reputed to be a marvellous
innovator. But reflect. He borrowed from others
ninety-nine hundredths of his genius.
" However personal his metre may be judged, it
is traditional. It is the Alexandrine. Liberty as
regards division and encroaching on the next verse
to complete a phrase, I admit. But Alexandrine
all the same.
" And did he invent his language ?
" Let us delve still deeper. The alphabet he
uses. . . ."
EscHOLiER.^ " Oh ! Oh ! if you are going to
speak of language and alphabet ! "
^ Raymond Escholier, who, by this interruption, defended
Victor Hugo's originality, has since become the official priest of
the demi-god. He is curator of the Victor Hugo Museum of the
Place des Vosges.
114 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
France. " Why then ! We must indeed do so.
" What would our thoughts be without words ?
What would words be without the letters which
enable us to represent them easily ?
" We do not think enough, my dear friends, on
the subject of the men of genius who imagined the
representation of sounds by signs. They it was,
however, who made the dizzy cerebral gymnastics
of Europeans possible.
*' And what about those who, by degrees, invented
languages ? Have they not supplied the very
fabric of our reasoning ?
" Grammatical constructions command the habits
of the mind. Thus, we cannot escape from the
imprint of those who, before us, spoke French,
modelled it, illustrated it. With their words,
syntax and rhymes we inherited their thought and
we hardly enrich it at all.
" I was wrong in saying that Victor Hugo owed
others ninety- nine hundredths of his genius. I
ought to have said ninety-nine hundred
At this moment Captain X entered.
He is a lean Israelite with a knife-blade face,
curved nose, hollow feverish eyes, smoke-dried and
as though burnt complexion, — a man with the
physique of a locust-eater.
HIS CIRCLE 115
A proselyte of humanitarianism, he is the modern
guardian of that fiame which most nobly animated
the ancient nabobs against reigning institutions.
Like them, he is incessantly marching towards a
Promised Land where nothing recalls the abominable
Having shaken hands with Anatole France, he said :
" You are acquainted with several of my hobbies,
including Pacifism and Negrophily. Well, I've got
a new one : Esperanto.
" Yes, I'm one of those who are working to establish
between all men a common language and thus
reconcile the workers of the Tower of Babel."
Whereupon the Captain began his propaganda
work in the form of a little speech :
" For merchants, Esperanto is the best means of
communication. After a week's practice, Esperan-
tists are able to correspond."
France. " Then Messieurs les Commerçants
will do well to learn this language."
The Captain. " But it has higher ends in view.
We have translated a selection of the masterpieces
of all countries. Your Crainquebille is among them.
And I have come to ask for your authorization to
publish another of your works in Esperanto."
France. " I don't like to discourage a friend,
but I should have preferred not to have had such a
request from him."
ii6 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
The Captain. " With what then do you
reproach Esperanto, mon cher Maître ? "
France. " Mon Dieu, nothing ! On the con-
trary, I highly approve of your zeal in facilitating
commercial relations. I should be delighted if it
were possible for all mortals to understand each
other without it costing them long study. And I
am certain that a universal language would disperse
their cruel misunderstandings.
" But then ! is your Esperanto, which undoubtedly
would render great practical service, capable of
interpreting the most fugitive aspects of thought ? "
The Captain. " I assure you that "
France. " Ah ! no. For it is not born of
suffering or joy. It has not been wailed or sung
by human souls. It is a mechanism constructed
by a scholar. It is not life.
" Come now, my dear Captain, I will suppose you
are presented with an admirable doll. Its very
large and very sweet eyes are shaded by long and
divinely curved eyelashes. Its mouth is delightfully
pink and similar to the pulp of cherries. Its hair
resembles the rays of the sun, finely spun. It is
able to laugh at you. It can speak to you. It can
call you * Dearie ! '
" Would you love it ?
" Let us suppose that you had long been face to
face with her on a desert island, and that suddenly
HIS CIRCLE 117
there appeared to you a real woman, even rather
ugly, but after all a real woman, would you address
your madrigals to the doll ?
" Your Esperanto is the doll.
" The French language is the real woman.
" And this woman is so beautiful, so proud, so
modest, so bold, so touching, so voluptuous, so
chaste, so noble, so familiar, so frolicsome, so wise,
that we love her with all our soul and are never
tempted to be unfaithful to her."
We burst into a peal of laughter. The Captain
appeared just a little nettled.
Brousson remarked to him roguishly :
" Pygmalion brought his statue to life. Perhaps
passion would work a similar marvel in favour of
your doll ? "
" Young man," exclaimed the Captain, with a
spice of ill-temper, " you are doubtless witty, but
hadn't you better put a little water in your
champagne ? "
" And you, Captain," replied Brousson, " a
little champagne in your water ? "
Anatole France turned the matter off by saying :
" My dear Captain, I propose to you a test."
The Captain. " Any you like."
France. " Here are two verses by Racine. I
choose the most harmonious, so I warn you. They
are celestial music.
ii8 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" ' Ariane, ma sœur, de quelle amour blessée,
Vous mourûtes aux bords où vous fûtes laissée ! '
" Corne now, translate that for me into
Esperanto ! "
Boldly, as though he had drawn his sword to
charge at the head of his company, the Captain
uttered, in a loud voice, a few words of the language
he extolled with so much ardour.
" Come now ! Come now ! " said France to
him, very softly, whilst tapping him on the arm.
" The suit is heard, my dear friend. ^
" Once more, how can the work of a grammarian,
however learned it may be, rival a living language,
to which millions upon millions of men have con-
tributed their sighs and their groans — a language in
which we perceive at the same time the great
guttural cry of the people and the chirping of the
pretty linnets who twitter in drawing-rooms, — a
language in which we hear the humming of every
craft, the roar of every revolution, the sound of
every form of despair and the murmur of every
^' How beautiful are words which, through the
recollection of their long usage, are crowned with
a halo of glory !
1 M. Anatole France has, however, desisted from this rigorous
point of view^. Philosophically, he has ended by authorizing the
translation into Esperanto of several of his admirable short stories,
in addition to Crainquebille.
HIS CIRCLE 119
"This one has sounded clear in a verse by Corneille.
That has languished in a hemistich by Racine.
This other is perfumed with wild thyme in a fable
by La Fontaine. All are iridescent with the
infinite shades they have assumed along the
" Think now, my dear friend. The words rire
and pleurer have not the same meaning in French as
in other languages, because no man elsewhere has
laughed as Molière, Regnard or Beaumarchais
laughed ; no woman has wept as such or such a
great French amoureuse has wept : Mile, de
Lespinasse, for example.
" Well, I want my ideas to rest on those words
in which the feelings of all our dead palpitate."
The Captain. " But in that case you condemn
all translations ? "
France. " Not at all. Are you forgetting the
apologue of the doll ? Other living languages are
real women. And I am not over-repugnant in
confiding my thought* to them.
" However, I love my sweetheart better. I love
my dearest better. I prefer my dear French
" Happy, too happy am I, if, having received it
most limpid, most luminous, most bounteous and
most human, I have been able to make a few new
reflections shine upon it ! "
MONSIEUR BERGERET COLLABOR-
ATES WITH THE DIVINE SARAH
BERGERET loves and does not love
He loves it because comedians
arouse his curiosity.
Actors amuse him by reason of
their brain and their peacock-like vanity.
Actresses charm him by their grace, their manners
modelled on those of princesses, their superb in-
capacity or malignant cunning; because, too, of
the court of followers, fops and political puppets
who flutter around them.
He does not love the theatre — because he does
not love it.
Theatrical art seems somewhat inflated to this
subtle logician, to this shepherd of light and varie-
He has written very little for the stage.
When he composed Les Noces Corinthiennes he
certainly did not think that one day they would be
Yet they were. First at the Odeon, before the
war ; then at the house of Molière, in 191 8, And it
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 121
will perhaps be recollected that, on the night of the
first performance at the Comédie-Française, Gothas
came and laid their eggs of terror on Paris. The
uproar of the sirens, bombs and guns accompanied
the harmonious verses heroically. This anachron-
ism in an antique subject, far from militating against
success, on the contrary increased it. The vener-
able M. Silvain announced that the performance
would continue. And the spectators, dehghted at
their own courage, vehemently applauded the actors
and the author, who, derogatory to his contempt
for these vain solemnities, was present at the
Anatole France is also named as the author of a
farce entitled La Farce de celui qui épousa une femme
It is the reconstitution of a pretty fabliau
mentioned in the third book of Pantagruel.
He published it in U Illustration, but would not
allow it to be performed, except at a meeting of
However, out of affection for Lucien Guitry, he
based on Crainquehille an exquisite little play, in
which the great artist triumphed.
Besides, industrious adapters have often displayed
the glorious name of Anatole France on theatre
Le Lys Rouge had a long run at the Vaudeville.
122 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard was performed at
the Theatre Antoine with Gémier (excellent as
usual) in the title rôle.
It is also Gémier who will shortly produce Les
Dieux ont soif. Amidst the yelling of the Ça ira
and the Carmagnole^ there will be a whirl of blazing
Musicians have sometimes tuned their fiddles in
accord with M. Bergeret's fancy.
Massenet devoutly offered his quavers and
arpeggios to the courtesan Thais.
And recently, in the comic opera La Reine
Pédauque, the good Abbé Jerome Coignard astonished
us by his agreeable trills and fluent roulades.
When spoken to on the subject of the libretto
of Thaïs, M. Bergeret smiled roguishly.
" Gallet told me in confidence," he said, " that
he could not retain my hero's name, Paphnuce,
because it was difficult for him to find noble words
to rhyme with it. He could, indeed, think of
puce and prépuce. But that did not satisfy him.
" Therefore he chose another name — Athanaël,
which rhymes with ciel, autel, irréel, miel, all fine
words received in society.
" * Athanaël let it be then,' I said to him."
M. Bergeret added mezza voce :
" Between ourselves, I prefer Paphnuce."
HIS CIRCLE 123
At the Villa Saïd, one morning, one of the prin-
cesses of the footlights, Mme. M , was among
Naturally the dramatic art came under discussion.
A young poet announced that he was completing
France. " I congratulate you, my friend, on
working for comedians.
" Since they gabble lamentably, — with a few
exceptions, such as our dear M , who recites
verse as divinely as the Muses themselves — since
none can hear nothing of what they are saying, you
are free to display your genius."
The Young Poet. — " I fail to see. Maître, what
advantage I shall derive from their jabbering."
France. — " What advantage ? Ungrateful one !
. . . Just think, you need have no fear of shocking
the public, which will not catch a single word of
your text. You are not bound by any concession
whatsoever. You can say anything. You are free
to express in the most original language the newest
and the boldest ideas. Is that not the height of
felicity for a writer ? "
The young poet made a grimace.
France resumed :
" At the theatre, one must admit, every shade is
lost. Only what is pompous has any chance of
reaching the ears of the public.
124 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" Corneille knew this well. His lapidary cues are
models of scenic style. But I do not praise him so
much for having hit upon those sublime words
which arouse applause as for having employed them
with a certain circumspection.
" For, after all, in that kind of exercise, the most
difficult thing is to stop.
— " ' Que vouliez-vous qu'il fît contre trois ?
— Qu'il mourût ! '
" It is very fine and might continue indefinitely.
" Valère objects :
" ' Mais c'était votre fils.'
" To which the aged Horace replies in a loud
" ' Mon fils, il ne l'est plus ! '
" Imagine a long jingle of such abrupt cues and the
dehght there is among the audience.
" The method is easy and one must confess that the
great Corneille indeed employed it with discretion."
France continued :
" The language of the theatre is not that of books.
" Is it inferior ? Impossible for me to say. Listen !
It is often said that Molière wrote badly. The fact
is that he wrote, not to be read but to be heard —
that is to say, to triumph over the inattention of the
spectators, their lassitude, and the bad elocution
of mediocre actors.
HIS CIRCLE 125
*' He often repeats the same thing three or four
times, in order to be sure they have understood
" Out of six or eight verses, there are sometimes
only two that count. The others are but a purring,
which enables the auditor to rest his mind and come
in a few moments to essential words.
" Hear what Alceste says ;
" ' Non, non, il n'est point d'âme un peu bien située,
Qui veuille d'une estime ainsi prostituée.'
" The meaning is complete and sufficiently rich to
cause one to reflect.
" Then we have the continuation :
*' ' Et la plus glorieuse a des régals peu chers
Dès qu'on voit qu'on nous mêle avec tout l'univers.'
" That is pure jargon. . . . But it appertains to
Mme. m . " How hard you are on our poor
stage ! "
France. " Not at all. Let me explain myself.
" It is certain thatthese last two verses are detest-
able. What is the meaning of : ' les régals peu
chers de la plus glorieuse estime ' ?
" What is the meaning of : ' Dès qu'on voit qu'on
nous mêle avec tout l'univers ' ?
" These repetitions of ' que ' are terrible. The
meaning we can vaguely discern is exactly that of
126 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
the two preceding verses. Why, then, we ask
ourselves, this redundancy ?
" Well, it is useful for the very reason that it is
useless, that is to say, because these empty words,
which are not heard, give the spectators time to
meditate on the two very fine verses preceding.
" In that admirable distich, however, a purist
might point out a weakness : the expression * un peu
" But what matter ! Neither is this expression
heard. The words that tell are those which, placed
at the caesura, or at the end of the lines, are brought
into prominence by the rhythm : ' Anie, bien
située, estime, prostituée.''
" These notes ring so clearly that one is forced to
hear them and they satisfy the mind.
" Through the instinct of genius, Molière always
wrote his best verses in that way. Their cadence
gives a swing to the principal terms, which are
where the caesura or the rhyme comes. For in-
stance, Dorine says to Tartuffe :
" ' Et je vous verrais nu, du haut jusques en bas,
Que toute votre peau ne me tenterait pas.^
" Notice the vigour given to the words nu, jusques
en bas, peau and tenterait pas.
" On the other hand, Molière has often stuck
weak words into the interstices solely in order that
the measure should be there.
MANTELPIECE IX THE DIMN'G-ROOM, VILLA SAID
HIS CIRCLE 127
" I prefer his prose, which is no less substantial, and
which does not oblige him to resort to this padding.
" But perhaps I am wrong, because in a theatre
poetical rhythm, attained even at the cost of a few
blemishes, launches the words with more vigour."
Some one marvelled at the fact that France, when
quoting, was served by an infallible memory.
" The reason for that," explained our jovial
Master, " is that I was a very bad scholar. The
impositions I wrote have engraved many verses on
A moment afterwards :
" It is incontestable : Molière forces us to hear
him, and he forces us to laugh ; because it is stupid
to say he is sad.
" It was the writers of the Romantic school who
attributed to him their own melancholy. They
turned him into a fine gloomy fellow — a Manfred,
a Lara, an Obermann. They misrepresented him.
" He wished to be comic and truly he is.
" Even his Alceste is cheerful. Yes, indeed, cheer-
ful. He is pleasant in a superior degree. Only
we understand him badly nowadays.
" My friend Pelletan, the publisher, one day asked
me for a preface for the Misanthrope.
" I promised to let him have it.
" A promise of which he reminded me more than
128 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" ' My preface ! ' he begged whenever I visited
him in his shop.
" Wearied, I had to tell him that, positively, I
would not write it.
" Such a look of despair then appeared on his face
that I thought he was on the verge of suicide, so I
corrected myself by saying :
" ' I will not write a preface but a dialogue.'
" The fact is that I had just read the word dialogue
on the cover of a translation of Lucian exposed in
" He jumped with joy. His tuft of hair, like a
flame from a punch-bowl, touched the ceiling and
his eyes sparkled as he said :
" * A dialogue ! Famous ! Three colours for the
title-page. The characters in thick face, the text
in italics. A masterpiece ! It will be a master-
piece ! '
" He meant to say a masterpiece of typography ;
for he is convinced that the whole talent of writers
depends on typography.
" So I imagined a conversation between Alceste
and a critic.
" * You are sad, Alceste,' says the commentator.
" * No, indeed,' he replies, ' I am a laughing-
" And he explains that he is not more than twenty-
three to twenty-five years old. He is in love.
HIS CIRCLE 129
He wants to find a wife. Now, in the seventeenth
century, it was at the age of twenty-five, at the
latest, that noblemen married. Beyond that hmit
they departed from the recognized custom.
" At forty years of age one was a greybeard, and
to wish at that age to Hght the torch of Hymen was
to brave ridicule.
" Arnolphe is forty and his pretension to marry
Agnès is considered unreasonable.
" With Molière, an old man of forty is destined
to be cuckolded. An invariable rule.
" Alceste, is, therefore, a greenhorn, and the
drollery consists in this young prig, who ought to
be entirely absorbed in the heedlessness of youth,
undertaking to utter moral tags to every one he
" It is the contrast of his blond wig and morose
air which is the very basis of the comedy.
" Moreover, note well that, if he grumbles, it is
only when personally wounded : when he hears the
sonnet which Oronte intends for Célimène, when
he is about to lose a lawsuit, or when rivals forestall
him in paying court to his beloved.
" Misanthropy is but a form of egoism : such is
the profound and laughable moral of the play.
" But modern actors distort the character by
making him forty or fifty years of age.
" Instead of a beau and grumbler in one, which is
130 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
comical, they present us with an ill-licked old bear
who fails to excite laughter.
" Behold how an error in detail makes the whole
masterpiece unintelligible and gives Molière the air
"" It is also the custom to represent Moliere's
cuckoldom in sombre colours, thereby staining his
work. He is the tragic cuckold.
" But how can his cuckoldom be sad when all the
matrimonial misfortunes he puts on the stage excite
" Sometimes, certainly, he has celebrated sensual
desire with almost dolorous austerity.
" Recollect Tartufe's declaration of love. What
a mysterious tremor !
" ' Et je n'ai pu vous voir, parfaite créature,
Sans admirer en vous l'auteur de la Nature.'
" That is Baudelaire before his day.
" But Baudelaire is tortured, whereas Molière
quizzes the torture of Tartufe."
After this little excursion in Moliere's garden,
Anatole France returned to the subject of
France. " In their desire to shine, they sacrifice
everything, and their art is more often than not but
dust in the eyes."
HIS CIRCLE 131
Mme. m . " Hum ! Hum ! "
France. " I beg your pardon, chère amie.
But you — a star without a blemish — are not in
" Provided that the actor is starred on the bills
and is under the limelight on the stage, he cares not
a rap about the play! And doubtless he is right.
For the public comes to applaud him, and not the
"Also, what conceit! Sardou justly caught his
interpreters at that game. The cunning blade ! I
can see him at work at rehearsals.
" In order to mortify the stars and keep them in
hand, he sometimes pretended to forget their names.
" To the most famous actor he would say :
" ' You, M., what do you call yourself ? ... In
short, you who play Napoleon. . . . You are
execrable ! '
" And to a wretched player of the twenty-fifth
rank, acting the part of a fifer or a drummer :
" ' Good ! Very good, M. Evariste Dupont ! I
am delighted ! '
" This nominal praise of a mediocre actor cut the
gentlemen of the boards to the quick and made
them as supple as a pair of gloves."
Mention was made of the liberties which great
actors and actresses take with their texts.
France. " Once more, what matter, since one
132 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
cannot hear them ? It suffices if they have the air
of saying something.
" Have I not been assured that an illustrious
actress of tragedy sometimes interlarded her part
with observations to the stage-machinists ?
" In her golden voice, she droned :
" * Dieux, que ne suis-je assise à l'ombre des forêts ! '
" And suddenly, in the same clear tone :
" ' Trois lampes sont éteintes à la deuxième frise
L'électricien sera mis â l'amende.' ^
" Then, without interruption :
" ' Quand pourrai-je, au travers d'une noble poussiée,
Suivre de l'œil un char fuyant dans la carrière ! '
" The public failed to perceive anything abnormal
and the electrician saw to the lighting of his
We burst out laughing at this anecdote.
France. " One day, I am told, the supers fol-
lowed the example coming to them from on high,
and themselves began to talk on the stage.
" It was at a performance of UAiglofi.
" At the brilliant ball given in the Imperial palace
at Vienna, a number of hangers-on of the Central
Markets, bedecked with gold and silver lace, tin
^ " Three lamps are out on the second frieze
The electrician will be fined."
HIS CIRCLE 133
decorations and paste jewellery, personified mar-
quesses, archdukes and princes.
" Unfortunately, as they were somewhat lacking
in Court manners, the illusion was not complete.
" Consequently the great actress did not neglect,
in the interval, to reprimand them sharply :
" ' Vous avez défilé comme des cochons,' she
shouted at them. ' Comme des cochons, comme des
cochons ! ' — ' You walked like pigs ! like pigs ! like
pigs ! '
" The next scene was the battlefield of Wagram.
" The market men, who had stripped off their fine
gala costumes, now impersonated the dead and the
dying with which the plain was scattered. They
had been ordered to utter groans, the mournful
concert of which was to reach the skies.
" The curtains had hardly risen before they were
modulating their moans.
" First of all there was a confused sound. But soon
certain sonorous syllables could be distinguished :
' . . . ons, . . . é, . . . omme, . . . ons. . . .'
" Then the dying concluded by scanning, lament-
ably, a phrase which they pronounced and repeated
in perfect unison :
" ' Nous avons . . . figuré . . . comme des co-
chons . . . comme des cochons . . . comme des
cochons. . . .'
" The great actress, listening behind the scenes,
134 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
feared that a phrase scanned in so loud a voice would
reach beyond the footlights.
" ' Curtain ! Curtain ! ' she ordered peremp-
Whereupon the genius of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt
France. " She was often sublime. Without
betraying Racine, she was an entirely new Phèdre.
In the case of great authors, each generation admires
beauties hitherto unknown. Sarah was our Phèdre.
" Are you aware that formerly I collaborated with
" Why, yes ! A very long time ago, she asked me
to come to her house to talk about a scenario she
" In the studio where she received me, Maurice
Bernhardt, still a child, was frolicking with a Great
" The divine actress was speaking. Maurice,
seeing the dog's eye shine, stretched out his little fist
to seize that brilliant object. Naturally the good
animal did not find this game quite to its taste, so
turned away, and in so doing, but without any ill
intention, sent Maurice rolling on the carpet.
Maurice set up a howl. His mother stopped to
pick him up and console him.
" Having done this, she recommenced her narra-
tive, in order to be quite sure she was understood.
HIS CIRCLE 135
" Maurice again sought to catch the dog's eye.
And again the Great Dane rolled him over. Once
more Mme. Sarah Bernhardt wiped away her off-
spring's tears and recommenced her recital.
" Maurice fell four times and his mother narrated
the opening of her scenario an equal number of
" A few days later she was leaving for America.
" ' Good-bye to our fine collaboration,' I told her.
" ' Not at all ! ' she rephed. ' We will continue
our play by correspondence.'
" ' By letter ? ' I asked.
" ' By telegram.'
" ' But you are crossing the ocean.'
" ' Telegrams will be cablegrams, that's the only
difference ! '
" ' But you are travelling in America,' I once
more objected. ' I am assured that you intend to go
even to the Far West.'
" ' You are correctly informed. But that won't
prevent us continuing our collaboration. Amidst
the soHtudes of the Far West, I shall despatch to
you Redskins, who, astride their wild steeds, bare
back, will ride full gallop to the nearest city, carry-
ing the text of my cablegrams. . . .'
" ' But . . .' I ventured.
" ' You're letting a mere nothing trouble you,'
she cried, laughing.
136 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" I took leave of her.
" Despite her willingness and mine, we did not
succeed in establishing correspondence so easily
as she had said. Our collaboration ceased.
" I regretted it very much. I suspect those darned
Redskins of having lost Mme. Sarah Bernhardt's
" Maître," said Mme. M , " you are delight-
ful ! But your irony will certainly make this young
author, who has confided his hopes to you, disgusted
with the stage."
France. " That is not my intention. Nay, to
prove to him my sympathy, I will give him precious
" My young friend, if you would have your plays
performed, find a very poor actress for your chief
The Young Author. " Indeed ! . . ."
France. " Certainly. An author's whole diffi-
culty is to find a very poor actress of celebrity.
" Understand me. In order to make up for want
of talent, she must be very beautiful. If she is very
beautiful Heaven will send her magnificent pro-
tectors. If she has magnificent protectors she can
act in all the plays to which she takes a fancy.
Look out, then, for a very poor actress."
Whilst saying this, M. Bergeret was toying with
a book he had just received.
HIS CIRCLE 137
It was La Pisanelle, by Gabriele d'Annunzio.
His eyes fell on the dedication, which he read
" A Anatole France, à qui tous les visages de la
Vérité et de l'Erreur sourient pareillement.
" Gabriele d'Annunzio." ^
" It's a back stroke," he exclaimed, " but very
prettily given, upon my faith !
" Since he scratches me, here, in revenge, is an
anecdote I was told yesterday.
" At the time La Pisanelle was being rehearsed at
the Châtelet, a reporter came to interview the author,
who willingly consented to answer his questions.
" The journalist chanced to notice an ancient
cameo on one of the poet's fingers.
" ' What an admirable stone ! ' he exclaimed.
" ' You like it ? ' replied Gabriele d'Annunzio.
* It is yours.'
" And immediately removing the ring, he royally
slipped it on to the visitor's finger, despite the man's
refusal to accept so generous a gift.
" Our reporter counted on keeping this rare jewel
in memory of the great writer.
" But he was longing to know its value. So he
1 " To Anatole France, to whom all the faces of Truth and
Error smile in like manner.
" Gabriele d'Annunzio."
138 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
entered the first good lapidary's and showed him
the engraved stone.
" The jeweller did not even take the trouble to
take up his magnifying glass.
" ' That thing ? ' he said. ' It's a piece of glass.
Worth about twopence.'
" From which I conclude that Gabriele d'An-
nunzio is an excellent dramatic author."
Mme. m . " Agreed, Master. The Theatre
is the kingdom of false and often coarse appearances.
There is nothing save deception there for delicate
" But is life so different from the stage ?
" My profession brings me into contact with the
mightiest ones of the earth. I must tell you of
my interviews with them.
" At Berlin, at the close of an evening performance
at which I had played before the Kaiser, I was
presented to him.
" You know that he is acquainted with strategy,
painting, politics, architecture, diplomacy, music,
theology, dancing, dressmaking and cooking.
" He is also a good judge of French literature.
" ' Ach I ' he exclaimed. ' I have a great affection
for France.' — Undoubtedly, but his love was that
of the wolf for the lamb. — ' Ach ! I am passion-
ately fond, above all, of your literature. Passion-
ately fond ! Passionately fond ! You are playing
HIS CIRCLE 139
just now the work of a great genius. I read his
works a great deal. I'm passionately fond of them.
Passionately fond of them. We have not the equiva-
lent in Germany.'
" ' To whom does Your Majesty refer ? '
" ' To Georges Ohnet. Ach ! Georges Ohnet !
Nothing more kolossal than Le Maître de Forges has
ever been written.'
" You see what a good judge of French literature
the Kaiser is.
" In brief, this monarch, who makes the world
tremble by turning up the points of his moustache,
is but a perfect imbecile."
Mme. M continued :
" At the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg I
was conducted to the Czar's box.
'' He desired, it appeared, to congratulate me.
" At the very moment they introduced me into his
presence, he was seized, I know not for what reason,
by an attack of indigestion. A metal basin was being
held for him. Nevertheless he received me, turned
his colourless eyes in my direction, and Nature,
which is no more clement towards potentates than
it is towards beggars, made this sorry marionette
execute the most unedifying of pantomimes.
" I assure you that I made off without waiting for
" Behold under what aspect the most powerful
140 ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE
sovereigns of the world, at the height of their
grandeur, appeared to me.^ Distance lends enchant-
ment to the view !
" Well, now, tell me, after that, whether the stage
is more deceptive than reality."
SmiHng, M. Bergeret took Mme. M 's hand
and lightly touched it with his lips.
" Thank you for the lesson, dear friend. It was
wrong of me to slander the stage. It is much less
untrue than I maintained, and it assuredly resembles
life, since life so much resembles the stage."
1 At the time Mme. M was speaking of these two crowned
puppets she took them to be comic personages. She little thought
that soon they would belong to tragedy. But whether comedy
or tragedy, is it not still theatrical ?
ANATOLE FRANCE AT RODIN'S,
OR THE LUNCHEON AT MEUDON
NE day, Anatole France visited Au-
guste Rodin at Meudon. He was
taken there by Mme. de N .
She is a PoHsh noblewoman, of
middle age, short in stature, dumpy
and smiling. Her French is voluble, but spoken
with a lisp and a pronounced accent.
She adores men of genius ; loves them platonic-
ally, but passionately. Their most humble servant
does she become. To Rodin and M. Bergeret, at
one and the same time, had she given her soul.
She was to be seen at all the gatherings at the
Villa Saïd. Roses for our host appeared with her,
and, bowing, almost kneeling before him, she
rained a shower of little greedy kisses on his
She did the same in the case of Rodin on going
to see him in the Rue de l'Université, in the Rue
de Varenne, or at Meudon.
This idolatry of great men is more frequent than
people think, and they sometimes have great
142 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
difficulty in preserving themselves from it. They
are besieged v^^ith love-letters.
Certain v^^omen make overt advances to notoriety,
just as men offer homage to beauty.
Accompanied by Mme. de N , France, then,
came to the celebrated sculptor's rustic studio.
When M. Bergeret takes a walk he v^^ears on his
head a rather low grey felt hat, which, on account
of its broad brim, resembles a galette — a thick flat
cake. His overcoat flaps a little around his lanki-
ness. Tall, round-shouldered and with an air of
good-natured simplicity, one would think he was
an amiable member of the middle-classes on his
way to his country house.
He never wears his decoration.
He is — as you may knoW' — an Officer of the
Legion of Honour. Not a very high rank for a
man of his reputation. But he himself has taken
care, on many occasions, to say that he places no
value on decorations.
The rosette disappeared from his buttonhole at
the time of the Dreyfus affair, as a protest against
Emile Zola being struck off the rolls of the Order.
Sometimes, among friends, it happens that he
will discourse on his compatriots' fondness for
" Where do they catch this mania ? " he asks.
" Yes, I know that a man with a decoration can
wear soft hats without incurring the mortifying
HIS CIRCLE 143
disdain of janitors. That's indeed something. A
man has no longer any need to be so careful in his
get-up ; people no longer notice the stains on his
waistcoat. In short, the red ribbon acts as benzine.
" This decoration may also be useful in the case
of one caught in the very act of breaking the moral
code. How could a police officer hook a gentleman
who had the red ribbon at his buttonhole ?
" But this hypothesis is unwarranted, is it not ?
For never does a decorated gentleman fail in
" So I cannot see why Frenchmen are so eager to
obtain the Cross.
" Are they vainer than other mortals ?
" No, I don't think so. Man is the same every-
where. Only, the manifestations of his vanity
differ from nation to nation.
" Italians are proud of high-sounding titles, such
as Cavalière, Commendatore.
" Germans are fond of pedagogic distinctions :
Herr Doktor, Herr Professor.
" Yankees admire the figures of a man's fortune :
Mr. Such a one is worth so much ; Mr. So-and-so
is worth double.
" In short, our appetite for ribbons, crosses, orders
and such-like trinkets is perhaps the most inoffensive
and the least troublesome."
Rodin certainly considered himself very flattered
by M. Bergeret's visit.
144 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Yet these two great men did not profess un-
reserved admiration for each other.
In conversations with intimate friends, Anatole
France was accustomed to speak his mind concerning
the illustrious artist's inspiration.
" He is a man of genius. I am convinced he is
" I have seen works of his which are the most
lifelike of nudes. But he is not one of those great
decorators such as France has known, especially in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
" He seems to me to be ignorant of the science
" And, above all, let us confess it, he collaborates
too much with catastrophe."
M. Bergeret explained what he meant by these
somewhat sibylline words.
" He abuses the right of destroying whatever,
in a work, comes out badly.
" One day, when good President Fallieres was
paying an official visit to the Salon, he stopped
before a statue which had neither head nor arms
nor legs, and said simply :
" ' M. Rodin is certainly a great man ; but his
carriers are very clumsy.' "
Whereupon Al. Bergeret gave rein to his fondness
" Do you know," he asked, " how that semi-
HIS CIRCLE 145
reclining Victor Hugo in marble, which is in the
Palais Royal garden, came to be imagined ?
" The story runs that Rodin had just completed,
in clay, an imposing statue of the poet. Victor
Hugo was standing upright at the end of a rock.
All kinds of Muses and sea-nymphs frolicked beneath
" One morning, the sculptor led to his studio a
number of journalists who wished to see the new
" Unfortunately, the night before, he had left a
top window open, and, a heavy storm coming on,
a torrent of water had reduced the huge group to
a shapeless mass. The rock had given way on to
the dancing divinities. As to Victor Hugo, he had
slid down into an ocean of mud.
" Rodin closed the door and passed his guests
before him ; and then, suddenly, he beheld the
disaster. He nearly pulled all the hairs of his
beard out in despair.
" But already a chorus of praise was heard :
" ' Wonderful! — Prodigious! — Formidable ! — Vic-
tor Hugo emerging from a lake of mud, what a
symbol ! — Master, this is a stroke of genius ! —
Your idea is to represent the ignominy of a period
in which the inspiration of the sublime bard alone
remained pure and noble. How beautiful it is ! '
" ' You think so ? ' asked Rodin timidly.
146 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" ' Why, certainly ! It is a masterpiece of master-
pieces. Oh, Master, don't do anything more
to it ! '"
A piquant story, undoubtedly . , . Si non e
vero. . . .
" In his drawings," continued M. Bergeret,
" Rodin depicts hardly anything else but women
displaying their. . . . And his monotonous audacity
is somewhat wearisome.
" The other day, I met him at a friend's house
and he confided to me, with ecstatic delight, that he
was making a series of water-colour drawings of a
delightful little model.
" ' This young woman,' he said, ' is Psyche herself.
. . . But, indeed, you who are a scholar, can you
tell me what Psyche was like ? '
" As I always endeavour to please people, I tried
to answer his question.
" ' Psyche,' I said, ' was a little woman who readily
displayed her . . .'
" ' Ma foi ! ' exclaimed Rodin, ' that's exactly as
I see her. You make me most happy.'
" But I cannot reproach him for his eroticism,"
added M. Bergeret, " because I am well aware that
sensuality forms three-quarters of the genius of
" Less willingly do I overlook his too easy habit
of appropriating the work of others.
HIS CIRCLE 147
" I was told, recently, that a photographer went
to Meudon to make some pictures of the Master's
" Rodin being absent, he was received by a
" The photographer caught sight of a huge and
barely shaped block of marble, whence appeared only
a finely sculptured knee. He went into ecstasies.
" ' Admirable ! ' he exclaimed. ' Tell me, please,
the name of this masterpiece ? '
" ' Thought,'' replied the assistant.
" Delighted, the photographer pointed his camera
and was about to operate when the praticien said :
" ' But this is not Rodin's work ; it is that of
Despiau, his collaborator.'
" The photographer turned towards another
massive block whence a nude back emerged.
" ' Splendid ! ' he exclaimed. ' What is this
called ? '
" ' Still Thought. But that is not Rodin's either.
It is by Desbois, his collaborator.'
" Disappointed, the photographer spied a third
block with a foot emerging.
" ' Marvellous ! ' he declared. ' And what may
this represent ? '
'* ' Once more Thought, as is fairly apparent,
moreover. But this is not by Rodin. It is the
work of Bourdelle, his collaborator.'
148 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" The photographer, in despair, then loaded his
apparatus on to his back and made off as fast as his
legs would carry him."
On the other hand, Rodin sometimes uttered
remarks on the subject of M. Bergeret which were
wanting in indulgence.
Certainly he was loud in his praise of Anatole
France's wit and graceful style. But he had little
appreciation for the variable shades of his thought,
which he considered specious and lacking in firmness.
" He has the sauce," he boldly declared, " but
not the rabbit."
It must be explained that rabbit was a special
treat for him ; a recollection of the days when, as
a praticien — a mere assistant to another sculptor —
he frequented common eating-houses. Rabbit was
to him a food for the gods. Evidently, Anatole
France was greatly deficient, since he was lacking
Consequently Rodin would never model M.
He received an order for it from good Dujardin-
Beaumetz, superintendent of Fine Arts. But he
never set to work upon it. Perhaps the extra-
ordinary mobility of such a face discouraged him ?
Rodin pointed out for M. Bergeret's admiration
the pieces of sculpture on which he was working
HIS CIRCLE 149
and showed him his collection of antiques. Then
they passed into the dining-room.
Rose, the sculptor's old helpmate, wanted to
make good her escape. She felt ill at ease in the
presence of an illustrious visitor. Rodin seized her
by the arm.
" Rose, sit down there ! " he told her imperiously.
" But, Monsieur Rodin. . . ."
" I tell you to sit down there ! "
It was Rose's custom to call her companion
" Monsieur Rodin," in order to mark her respect
She still murmured :
" How funny men are ! They think one can be
at table and at the stove at one and the same time ! "
However, she sat down with us to eat the soup.
During the meal she rose many times, carried
away the dirty things, and trotted off to the kitchen
to fetch clean plates. Then, quickly, she sat down
Rodin would never tolerate any other servant
Rose was the sweetest of creatures.
The life of this timid, discreet and humble woman,
spent in the shadow of the despotic Colossus,
crowned with glory, merits narration by a Balzac.
Formerly she had been a girl of fascinating beauty.
Sometimes Rodin would point out in his studio
ISO ANATOLE FRANCE AND
an admirable bust of Bellona, her eyes full of anger.
And, addressing Rose, he would say :
" You sat for this Bellona. Do you remember ? "
" Yes, Monsieur Rodin," she would reply, in a
The contrast between this good little old woman
and the terrible helmeted goddess who formerly
had been modelled in her likeness was striking.
She idolized her great man. With him she had
shared all the rude trials of a career full of obstacles.
He often tormented her. For he was the most
whimsical and inconstant of men. She saw beauti-
ful women — her victorious rivals — enter her own
home, and had to support their presence without a
The slightest attention showed to her by him
filled her with joy.
She was passionately fond of growing flowers in
her garden at Meudon. One day, we saw Rodin
pluck a blossom and offer it to her, saying :
" Here, Rose, this is for you."
A gift that cost him hardly anything.
" Oh, thank you, Monsieur Rodin," she ex-
claimed, filled with heavenly delight.
May we be allowed to complete, by a few more
pencil strokes, so touching a silhouette, and to recall
what the last moments of this humble life were ?
When Rose's health declined, Rodin married her.
HIS CIRCLE 151
And it was as though Paradise had suddenly opened
But her malady consumed her. They used to
place her in a wicker arm-chair on the perron^ so
that the sun's rays would warm her. Her sockets
were hollow, her eyes abnormally bright, her
cheeks suffused with a hectic flush. She coughed
Rodin suddenly realized that he was going to lose
his Rose. He was very old himself. By her side,
in a similar arm-chair, he sat, looking at her but
speaking not a word. His big paw-like hand was
resting on the poor woman's thin bloodless fingers
as though to keep her with him by force.
Rose died, and but a short time afterwards the
giant followed her into the grave.
The dining-room where we were assembled was
idyllic. The windows looked on to the bluish
slopes of Meudon and the valley of the Seine,
lazily winding under a silvery sky.
Rose placed before us a big dish of rabbit and
Rodin himself picked out the bits of bacon to put
them on Anatole France's plate, out of courtesy
to the guest he desired to honour.
At a given moment, the sculptor, wishing to
dilute his wine, stretched out his hand towards a
cubical decanter, the crystal stopper of which was
152 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
curiously ornamented with coloured spirals, like
those glass marbles schoolboys delight in so much.
And immediately he exclaimed :
" Rose, I've already told you I do not wish to
see any more on my table. . . ."
Hurriedly snatching the abhorred object from
the table, Rose carried it off. She was back in a
trice with another decanter, and explained to us
that " Monsieur Rodin would have thrown to the
ground the one which displeased him so much."
" We are surrounded by ugliness," growled the
sculptor. " Everything we have around us in
daily use offends the taste. Our glasses, plates
and chairs are horrible. They are made by
machinery. And machinery kills the mind.
" Formerly, the smallest domestic utensils were
beautiful, because they reflected the intention of
the artisan who made them.
" The human soul adorned them with its dreams.
" I have read in Anderson, the adorable Danish
writer, that, on night coming on, the furniture and
other household objects began to converse.
" The candlesticks talked to the clock, the fire-
dogs chatted with the tongs.
" Truth to tell, all the relics of the past talk thus,
even in full daylight. They murmur to us a
hundred touching confidences concerning the honest
men who fashioned them.
HIS CIRCLE 153
" But the furniture of to-day is silent. What could
it tell us ? The wood of an arm-chair might reveal
to us that it was cut up wholesale in a saw-mill in
the North ; the leather that it came from a big
leather-dressing factory in the Midi ; the brass
ornaments that they were moulded by thousands in
some manufactory in the East or the West. And
if all these things began to talk together, what a
terrible cacophony there would be !
" It is sad, indeed, to live at a time when all the
little familiar gods of our homes retain death-like
M. Bergeret admitted that our decorative art
was at a low level.
Rodin. " If it was only our decorative art !
But it is art — art in its entirety — which has
descended to nothing. There is no distinction to
be made between decorative art and art : to make
a very beautiful table or model a female torso is
" Art always consists in translating dreams into
forms. People no longer dream. They no longer
know that every line, to be harmonious, must
interpret joy or human sorrow.
" And in the case of what is called great art —
sculpture, for instance — as well as in the making of
common things, it is above all mechanism which
pursues and kills imagination."
154 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
This prophetic sally somewhat disconcerted M.
Bergeret, who is not accustomed to fly at so dizzy
a height. He brought the conversation to a more
" How can mechanism," he asked, " have an
influence on sculpture ? "
" How ? " exclaimed Rodin, still growling.
" Why, because moulding has replaced talent." ^
France. '' Moulding ? "
Rodin. " Yes, this mechanical process is now
daily employed by our sculptors. They are content
to make mere casts of living models.
" The public is still unaware of this. But it is an
open secret in our profession. Modern statues are
but casts placed on pedestals. The sculptor has
nothing to do but cross his arms. It's the plasterer
who does the whole job."
France. " Allow me to ask one question. I
can quite understand what you say when the figures
of a monument are exactly life-size. But how do
^ At the beginning of Auguste Rodin's career he was accused by
academic sculptors of having recourse to this very process he here
condemns so vigorously.
The State, which proposed to purchase his Jge d^Arain, even
appointed a committee to make sure that this work was not a
simple cast from life.
It is piquant to hear the man of genius, who always spiritualized
Nature, here return the ball to his adversaries, whose lifeless
technique certainly deserved his stern reprimand.
HIS CIRCLE 155
our artists manage when they execute figures which
are larger or smaller than life ? "
Rodin. " That is not difficult. There are in-
struments for enlarging or diminishing casts."
France. " And in ancient times, you say,
sculptors abstained from moulding from life ? "
Rodin. " They used casts merely as documents.
In all studios in former days, moulded arms, legs
and torsos, perfect in contour, were to be seen
suspended on the walls.
" Artists consulted them as a means of control
when inserting muscles in their works ; but they
took very great care not to copy them, and in-
variably strove to animate these references, to
transform them, to make their inspiration palpitate
therein. It was the Italian Canova who, at the
end of the eighteenth century, began to incorporate
moulded parts into his statues. The great number
of works with which he was commissioned obliged
him to adopt this expeditious method. Since then
his example has been universally followed.
" Sculptors have ceased to set the seal of thought
on their works — thought which transfigures things,
illuminates them with inner truth. They have
sought for nothing more than a vulgar and deceptive
representation of still life. And, not content with
moulding the nude, they have, by a fatal propensity,
reproduced actual clothing with exactitude. In
156 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
feminine dress, they have imitated ribbons, lace and
passementerie ; in mascuHne wear, frock-coats,
breeches, cuffs, collars — the whole department of
things in the latest style.
" Thus, our streets and the façades of our national
monuments have become branches of the Musée
France. " That is only too true, mon cher
Maître. And there is further evidence of this
base realism in modern sculpture in the quantity
of accessories of everyday life : furniture v^^hich
looks as though it had just come from the cabinet-
maker's, scientific apparatus, all sorts of objects
which are a dead weight for Art, since, because of
their precise stiffness, they escape the fancy of
" One could compose a strange curiosity shop of
all the attributes which make our official monuments
" Bernard Palissy's oven would be side by side with
Pelletier and Caventou's phial, Lavoisier's balance,
Claude Bernard's dissecting table and his dead dog,
Diderot's arm-chair, Camille Desmoulin's chair,
Renaudot's press. Dr. Tarnier's hospital bed,
Gérôme's revolving stand, etc.
" But, side by side with this lumber-room, you
would have to open a big branch to house such
1 The Madame Tussaud's of Paris. — Translator's note.
HIS CIRCLE 157
huge objects as Chappe's telegraph and the siege
Rodin. " The artists of to-day do not know
that the rôle of art is to interpret the human soul,
that one does not represent science by machines
but by a pensive forehead and meditative eyes ;
that one does not depict courage by means of
cannon and aerostats, but by virile faces and bold
" The accessory is their supreme resource, because
they no longer know how to make mind irradiate."
M. Bergeret, who is most civil, considered that
it was good to say that our modern sculpture
possessed, however, some splendour.
Whereupon Rodin, as though this praise was not
addressed to him, magnanimously mentioned Dalou,
whose République Triomphante^ drawn on a chariot
by lions and followed by Justice and Abundance,
France. " Certain critics have disapproved of
this mythology ; but I do not share their preju-
dices. Allegory — so badly in repute — appears to
me to be alone capable of interpreting general ideas.
Is that not your opinion ? "
Rodin. " Yes, indeed ! It is merely a matter
of rejuvenating old images. Thus, Dalou's
Marianne, wearing the Phrygian cap, reproduces
158 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
the conventional type of liberty ; but her gesture,
impressed with familiarity, and her face, at once
serious and modest, are those of an honest work-
woman of to-day."
France. " It's the same in literary matters.
Consider the allegory of Victory. It is extremely
ancient and apparently well worn. But read
Napoleon's Proclamation on his return from the
Isle of Elba.
" ' La Victoire, marchera au pas de charge.'
" Tell me, is that the ancient Nike ? No. It's
Napoleon's own Victory which he leads with drums
beating. ' Au pas de charge ! ' — ' Double quick
step ! ' She no longer has wings, but she treads
the roads and fields furiously. She is dusty,
dishevelled, plebeian. . . ."
Therefore it was agreed that allegory, like every
artistic or literary resource, only became of value
through the genius of those employing it. And
by chance the name of M. Puech was mentioned.
France. " Oh, that gentleman makes me ter-
ribly frightened. Sometimes, I am obliged to
cross the Luxembourg Garden. It bristles with
funeral monuments, dedicated to writers, and
produces upon me the not very diverting impression
of a cemetery of the Muses.
" But especially does Leconte de Lisle, caressed
by a big woman with wings, in lard, seem to me
HIS CIRCLE 159
to inspire pity. When I see it, I hurry away as
fast as I can, thinking that, some day perhaps,
M. Puech will represent a Dreyfus Ajjair in tallow
voraciously kissing my bust in margarine."
Rodin burst into Homeric laughter.
The two great men naturally came to speak of
the changes made in Paris.
Both were born there, and M. Bergeret, who
was brought up in a shop opposite the Louvre, on
the banks of the sluggish Seine, tenderly cherished
the smiling perspective of pleasing buildings and
trembling foliage which enchanted his childish eyes.
" They will end," he said, " by making our Paris
Rodin. " Yes, indeed. Everywhere they are
destroying the ancient buildings which are the
noblest ornament of the city.
" Modern politicians, engineers, architects and
financiers have hatched an abominable conspiracy
against the grace bequeathed to us by the past.
They are rapidly demolishing the most radiant
remains of the seventeenth and eighteenth cen-
turies. Have they not recently sacked the dehghtful
lie Saint Louis, where reverie, hunted out from
everywhere, seemed to have taken refuge ?
" Virgil has related a dramatic legend. To feed
a sacrificial fire, ^neas breaks the branches of a
i6o ANATOLE FRANCE AND
myrtle. Suddenly blood flows from the broken
branches and words are moaned :
" * Stop, wretched man, you are wounding, you
are tearing me ! '
" The tree was a man metamorphosed by the
will of the gods.
" The poet's fable often returns to my mind
when I see Vandals destroying the stately mansions
of former times.
" It seems to me, then, that the walls bleed, for,
like Virgil's myrtle, they are living and human.
" Do not the French of former days speak to us
through the harmonious rhythm of their monu-
" To shatter a sixteenth-century mask, a seven-
teenth-century portico, or a delicate frieze of the
eighteenth century is to criminally gash our
ancestors' faces and. lacerate their eloquent lips.
What a heinous crime to stifle their voices !
" If, at least, the residences erected in the place of
those destroyed were beautiful ! But the majority
France. " They are all too high. The moderate
height of dwelling-houses was the chief attraction
of old Paris. They did not hide from sight the
pleasant sky of the île de France. Land being
cheap, they developed in breadth. That was the
secret of their charm. Land has become very dear
HIS CIRCLE i6i
and the houses of to-day rise simply because they
cannot spread out. That is the reason for their
Rodin. " They present neither good propor-
tions nor style, nor pleasing details. People have
forgotten that architecture, like painting, sculpture,
poetry and music, is a language of the soul. Taste
is declining. And taste is the mind of a race
expressed in its daily life, it is its character made
sensible in its costumes, homes, gardens and public
squares. Modern society detests mind. It is
He continued :
" Is there not a question of replacing the light
foot-bridge, the Pont des Arts, opposite the Louvre,
by an enormous iron bridge ?
" It is enough to make one howl with rage ! Only
stone is permissible in front of the Palace of the
" This mass of iron with which we are threatened
would, it appears, span the river quite near the
foreland of the Vert-Galant.
" Thus, the magnificent landscape formed by the
two banks of the river, the Louvre, the Palais
Mazarin, the Monnaie, the verdant prow of the
lie de la Cité and the Pont-Neuf, as majestic as a
tragedy by Corneille or a canvas by Poussin, would
1 62 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" The reason why this ensemble is perfect is that
generation after generation of Parisians have be-
queathed the duty of embelHshing it. Just as the
strains of Amphion's lyre raised the docile stones
which of their own accord formed divine monu-
ments, a secret melody has grouped in irreproachable
order such radiant buildings around the Seine, in
which their reflections tremble.
" And suddenly people want to destroy this great
masterpiece ! "
France. " Practical utility, they say. But is
there anything more useful to a nation than the
charm of a city in which is visibly interpreted its
social spirit — bold, well-balanced, clear and joyful ?
That, I think, is a lesson which, in the life of a
nation and for its future, is worth more than all
the iron bridges ! "
After our coffee we went into the garden and
walked to the edge of a slope whence the eye could
take in the whole of Paris. As far as the most
distant horizon stretched a sea of domes, towers
Through light clouds the golden and opalescent
rays of the sun streamed on this stony swell.
But often clouds of smoke from humming fac-
tories in the valley spread a gigantic dark veil over
this fairy scene.
HIS CIRCLE 163
" Was it so difficult," said France, " to keep
these loathsome factories at a distance from the
city ? Is it not an absurdity to allow the air of
Paris to be continually poisoned by the tall chimneys
which encircle it ? Is this not an odious sacrilege
against so beautiful a city ? "
Rodin. " Our epoch, in which money reigns,
tolerates the worst outrages on the right of all to
health and also to beauty. It infects and defiles
everything. It kills Imagination ! It kills
Imagination ! "
France. " But Imagination is always reanimated.
And perhaps it will have its revenge ? Perhaps,
soon, it will form another society less basely utili-
tarian and less disdainful of the mind."
Such were the sorrowful observations these two
prophets exchanged on the hill of Meudon.
BERGERET has always detested
war. In several of his books — Le
Lys Rouge, VOrme du Mail and Le
Mannequin d'' Osier, for instance — he
. has expressed his hatred of it by an
irony infinitely more effective than anger.
Before the Great War broke out, he used to say
that he could not believe such a thing possible,
because formidable armaments made it too horrible ;
and, again, European Governments, all more or less
tinged with democracy, would shrink before the
hazards of war. At other times, on the contrary,
he was, like every one of us, seized with anguish.
" It would be foolish to pretend," he wrote in
the preface to 'Jeanne d'Arc, " that we are certain
of a peace which nothing will disturb. On the
contrary, the terrible industrial and commercial
rivalries which are increasing around us foreshadow
future conflicts, and there is nothing to assure us
that France will not some day be enveloped in a
European or world-wide conflagration."
A tragic prophecy which, alas, was shortly to
be fulfilled !
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 165
During those dreadful years of the War, when
the country he loves so fiHally was threatened
with destruction, he experienced terrible anguish of
Then, when occasion arose, he let one see in his
conversations the fears caused him by the revival
of the spirit of conquest among the Allies in propor-
tion as their triumph became less doubtful.
Immediately after the Armistice, when attending
a ceremony in memory of Jean Jaurès, he made, in
the midst of the hot-brained crowd, one of those
noble gestures which the democracy has no difHculty
in interpreting and which invariably arouses
Taking a Croix de Guerre from a maimed soldier,
he pinned it under the bust of the man who had
preached brotherhood and had given his life for it.
He thus attested that the people of France had
piously offered their blood in the name of Peace
and henceforth would stoutly protect her against
every bellicose frenzy.
Since, he has never missed an opportunity of
again launching an anathema against war and
expressing an earnest desire for a social order from
which it will for ever be delivered.
The following conversation was held at the Villa
Saïd a few years before the inexpiable horror.
1 66 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
We were slightly at variance with our awkward
Eastern neighbours over Morocco. The storm had
already begun to rumble in the distance.
That day, M. Bergeret spoke first of all on the
subject of the English Press, which supported us
against the Germans a little too loudly.
" Great Britain disquiets me," he murmured.
" She is martial beyond measure.
" Certainly she is brave. And perhaps she does not
fear war on her own account. But I am certain she
fears it still less on France's."
There was laughter.
France. " Oh, that witticism is not my own.
At least, it is but a variant of a farcical threat uttered
a long time ago by a certain Bermudez de Castro
We begged France to tell us the story of Ber-
mudez, and he was not reluctant to do so.
" Bermudez was a Spanish nobleman," he said.
" He had been persecuted in his native country for
translating Les Mystères de Paris, for the clericals
there were so suspicious that our puerile Eugène
Sue appeared to them to be infernal.
" So the translator withdrew to France, where
literary society gave him a good welcome. Théo-
phile Gautier, Baudelaire and Flaubert received him
at their gatherings, for his originality amused
them. He was extravagantly proud in his quality
A CORNER OF THE HIMMl-Rnn.M IN THE VILLA SAID
HIS CIRCLE 167
of hidalgo ; also extraordinarily dirty. To become
acquainted with the bill of fare at his last meal, one
had but to glance at his broad black beard. In
addition, a greater fop than Narcissus.
" One day, when dining with his friends, he found
a deliciously scented letter under his napkin. It had
been slipped there by Baudelaire.
" Bermudez sniffed at the envelope, concluded that
a piece of good fortune had come his way, and
furtively put the letter in his pocket. Then, as
soon as they had risen from table, he went into a
corner to read it, which he did with flashing eyes,
dilating nostrils, and sighs of hope. Baudelaire and
his friends were looking at him out of the corners
of their eyes and thoroughly enjoying the varying
expressions on his face.
" The bogus letter ran somewhat as follows :
" ' Noble Spaniard : you are tall and I am supple ;
you are dark and I am fair ; you are strong and I
am beautiful. I love you. Be on the Place Saint
Sulpice, near the fountain, to-day, at midnight.'
" At midnight, the practical jokers, who had pre-
tended that they were all going to their respective
homes, hid themselves not far from the appointed
meeting-place. It was winter and bitterly cold.
The hidalgo was already there. More slender-
waisted than ever, with his arms akimbo and his
moustaches upturned, he walked round and round
1 68 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
the fountain. A bitter wind swept the deserted
square and scattered the water which, freezing on
the muzzles of the stone lions, furnished them with
fantastic white beards.
" Bermudez continued to walk round and round.
" The quarter, then the half-hour struck. Phleg-
matic and superb, he ever went round and round.
" Suddenly, from one of the corners of the square,
a [roar of laughter came, followed by a jeering
" ' Hallo ! Seigneur Don Juan ! '
" Bermudez was beside himself with rage.
" ' Ah ! ' he roared, ' I recognize that voice. It
" He rolled his r's terribly.
" ' I will kill him ! I will kill him, even if I myself
perish. I care little for my own skin, but I care
still less for that of Bodelairre ! '
" He then made off majestically. The next day
he had forgotten his threats."
Charles Saunier, the art critic, drew a note-book
from his pocket and set down this anecdote.
*' I belong," he said, " to the Historical Society
of the sixth ward in which Visconti's fountain is
situated. The smallest incidents which have
occurred on that small space interest us deeply.
The greatest events which happen in the rest of the
universe we wouldn't give a pin's head for. But it
HIS CIRCLE 169
seems to me," he continued, " that you have related
a similar scene in Jocaste et le Chat maigre P
" Well, yes," said France. " It is precisely
Bermudez's adventure which I attributed to another
An old gentleman present cut short these remarks,
which he considered frivolous.
" We were talking of a coming war," he growled.
" Well, if it breaks out, all the better ! "
The author of this peremptory declaration was
an obscure poet who has since died. Judging by
his speech, ever overflowing with chauvinism, his
Muse must have been very heroic. But no one
had ever read his verses.
He was so crippled with gout that he could not
wear boots. He dragged his feet about in old shoes
laced over thick canvas bandages. And it was in
this peculiar footwear that he paid his visits.
He was a coughing, tearful and spluttering old
He often came to see Anatole France, whom he
had known a long time. The Master, who tolerated
him, sometimes used to say when he was not
" Some old friends make me have doubts about
friendship — that celestial boon. They pride them-
selves on being most attached to one, and so they
170 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
are — like the mussels on the keel of a ship. You
are aware that these are often poisoned."
Nobody replied to the gouty bard's trenchant
remark. So, striking the arms of his arm-chair
with his flabby hands, he resumed, between fits of
" We have remained, thank the Lord, a nation of
soldiers ! Atchum ! We are fond of war. Atchum !
We ask for nothing better than to fight.
Atchum ! We'll go and get back the clocks the
Prussians prigged from us in 1870. Atchum I
Atchum I "
France, after looking at him for a moment in
silence, said to him gently :
" I admire such fine enthusiasm in a veteran.
And I am sure that, if the country is in danger, our
courageous young men will not spare their blood.
But to contend that Frenchmen love warfare is not
" No nation ever loved war. No nation ever
wanted to fight.
" At bottom, the crowd always looks without joy
" It was Titus Livy's rhetoric which, above all, dis-
torted the ideas of historians. But I do not believe
that this Paduan was sincere. He knew quite well
that nobody is glad to run the risk of death. But
he said to himself, that it was necessary to revive
HIS CIRCLE 171
the courage of the Romans, who were becoming
enervated, and so he inflated his sonorous periods.
" The bravery he celebrated we generally attribute
to victorious armies. We think that they deserve
their success because of their contempt of danger,
and that, on the other hand, conquered armies are
lacking in courage. Gratuitous suppositions ! It
is chance which, the more often, decides battles.
As to armies, I suspect that they are all mediocre
and that not a single one faces suffering and death
with a light heart.
" Our revolutionary troops have been lyrically
extolled. On that topic, I came by chance on a very
instructive pamphlet by a person named Rozière,
entitled La Révolution à Meulan. I've no longer
got this little work. I lent it to some one and it
was not returned — a proof of its interest.
" When the country was in danger, men were
levied at Meulan, as all over France. This was done
with great show. The Mayor summoned the
population to assemble in the church. There was
a beating of drums, the young men swore they would
conquer or die, the Champ du Départ was sung and
they set off towards the army. . . . But, a week
later, the majority of them were found in the neigh-
bouring country and even at Meulan itself. When
circumstances again became very critical, the Mayor
decided that it was necessary to make a fresh appeal
172 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
to his fellow-citizens. He assembled them once
more. The same conscripts were enrolled . . , and
returned after a few days' absence.
" This ceremony, without any change in the stage
or actors, took place several times.
" Finally, a single citizen of Meulan remained with
the army — only one ! We are assured that he became
a general, and well he merited it.
" I imagine that, in the case of many other * Pont-
Neuf ' enlistments, the same thing occurred. For,
indeed, you ought to know that, when a man offers
his devotion to France on the Pont-Neuf, it is
principally in order to show himself off. Once he
had displayed himself, it suffices. He is free."
The Old Poet (sounding the horn to call the
dogs of war). — " Come now ! Come now ! my
dear France ... I cannot understand your irony.
Military virtue, fortunately . . . atchum ! is not
rare — atchum ! — and you will admit that — atchum !
atchum ! . . ."
France. " I grant you, certainly, that there are
heroes. Still, they are not always so. The real
hero confesses that, sometimes, he lacks courage.
I grant you that certain troops, at certain times
of enthusiasm, face terrible risks with intrepidity.
But from all we know we are obliged to conclude
that the majority of the soldiers composing an army
cling eagerly to life and would not expose it unless
they were forced to do so.
HIS CIRCLE 173
"That is why the httle book I have just mentioned,
although it certainly does not indicate the mentality
of all Frenchmen during the Revolution, seemed to
me to be worthy of credence. And my own
experience corroborates it."
The Old Poet. " Your own ex — atchum ! —
perience ? "
France. " Yes. . . . Listen. I will relate to
you, very faithfully, a few of my impressions as a
national guard during the siege of Paris.
" The commander of our battalion was a big grocer
of our quarter. He was lacking in authority, one
must admit, because he sought to treat his customers
" One day, we received an order to take part in a
sortie. We were sent to the banks of the Marne.
Our commander, in his spick-and-span, brand-new
uniform, was splendid. He was mounted on a
charming little Arabian horse, which he had
obtained I know not where, and of which he was
exceedingly proud — a little horse entirely white,
adorably graceful and lively. Too lively, for it
resulted in the poor grocer's death. Whilst engaged
in making his mount execute a series of caracols, it
reared to its full height, fell on its back, and killed
our commander on the spot by breaking his back.
" We felt little regret at the loss of our leader.
We made up our minds to stop, to fall out of rank
and stretch ourselves on the grassy bank of the river.
174 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
We remained there the whole morning, and the
whole of the afternoon. In the distance there was
the booming of artillery. . . . But we took good
care not to march to the guns.
" Towards evening, we saw a number of sailors
running along the road which overlooked the river
bank. Many of them were black with powder.
Wounded men wore bloody bandages. These brave
fellows had fought well, but had been forced to give
way to bad fortune.
" What idea came into our heads ? We began to
shout : ' Long live the fleet ! '
" This exclamation, which the sailors thought was
ironical, had the effect of making them angry.
Some of them went for us with their bayonets ! A
dangerous game, in our opinion. So we precipi-
tately left those grassy slopes and made away.
And as we were well rested, whereas the pursuers
were almost dropping with fatigue, we were able to
escape from them without difficulty.
" We returned to Paris. But long inaction weighed
on us and we were very hungry. Consequently
we had no scruples over pillaging a bakery we found
en route. Fortunately the owners had had time
to get away, so we were not guilty of homicide.
" Such was our conduct. Oh, I am not boasting
of it ; oh, no, I am not boasting of it. But truth
is dear to me and I pay it homage."
HIS CIRCLE 175
The Old Poet. " Those are certainly exceptional
events — atchum — and I am sure that . . ."
France. " My dear friend, I am not trying to
shatter your faith. Above all, refrain from thinking
that I am seeking to disparage my companions-
in-arms. Our enemies differed in no way from
ourselves. Few among them were heroes. Many
witnesses saw German soldiers, who had been sent
to dangerous districts, weeping. Why jeer at their
tears ? Undoubtedly they were shed at the thought
of the young women who would never see again
their husbands, the little children who would never
again kiss their fathers.
" But let me tell you another anecdote.
" A short time after the war of 1870, I happened
to be at X . Entering an inn, I heard roars
of laughter, and found the occupants of the place
surrounding a sturdy-looking fellow.
" He was explaining to them how he had succeeded
in avoiding every battle.
" ' Fust of all,' he said, ' I left 'ome two weeks
late. When I comes afore the sergeant, says I to
meself : Now, 'e's going to give me what for. So
I — not so much of a fool as ye think — pretends to
be a hidiot. To every darned thing he says to me,
I replies : Moo ! Moo ! — just like a coo.
" ' " What a brute ! What a brute ! " says 'e.
" Moo ! Moo ! — that's all I can get out of 'im."
176 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" ' In th' end, a horficer, says 'e to me : " Eh 1
simpleton. Since yer a farm 'and, ye knows all
" ' I says yes with me 'ead.
" ' " Well, take these 'ere two nags to Colonel
Bouchard of the 28th Regiment, Third Army Corps.
'Ere's yer route and the wherewith'l to feed all
three o' yer — two nags and yerself."
" ' I says yes again and off I goes.
" ' But — naturally — I taks the wrong road and
brings me two nags to another colonel of another
" ' This colonel, as soon as 'e'd squinted at me
papers, 'e shouts at me : " Bless me soul, what a fool
the man is to be sure ! " — and he put me on the right
road wi' money to spend on th' way.
" ' You bet, I goes wrong agin.
" ' And like that I goes from colonel to colonel all
the time there was 'ot fightin'. But, once peace
comes, I brings me two nags to the right colonel,
and there I was ! '
" Well now, the cynical confession of this cunning
fellow provoked sympathetic hilarity.
" Oh, I don't say that the same auditors would
have been insensible to the narration of an act of
great devotion. If the most hide-bound of men
admire cunningness, they are also capable of venerat-
" But the gallery did not reprove this sham Nicaise.
HIS CIRCLE 177
In the heart of the people there is always a feeling
of great indulgence for a Panurge who tucks himself
away in the midst of the fight, for a Socia who,
under a tent, far from the fray, stuffs himself with
ham and wine.
" Really, it appears to me quite impossible that
the chauvinism with which our middle-classes are
attacked from time to time ever reaches the real
" On the contrary, I notice that anti-militarism is
bolder than it was. In days of yore, deserters
and insubordinates made no excuse for their con-
duct. ' We are betrayed,' they cried. ' We are
" That was their only justification.
" Now they have a theory and reasoned motives.
They have replaced the Chant du Départ by a hymn
in praise of Not setting off. To refuse, in music,
to march ! That becomes glorious."
The Old Poet. " And so you approve of them
in this ? "
France. " Do not make me say what has not
entered my mind. No, I do not approve of them.
For, in the present situation of Europe, they are
running the risk of favouring the worst enemies
The Old Poet. " You recognize then that the
France. " I recognize that our country would
178 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
deserve to be desperately defended if it were
" Even then we must see clearly in what respect
it has a right to our love.
" The nation, if by this word we mean the
sum-total of the great ideas and deep sentiments
which differ from one country to another, and which
form French wit, English common sense, or German
dialectic, this certainly is a treasure which ought to
be dear to every nation. It is a flag of light planted
on each territory. The most brilliant men of genius
of each race have carried it higher and higher. They
have afterwards, and little by little, given a magnifi-
cent spiritual meaning to groupings which fortuitous
historical circumstances had originally by good
" But, if these touching national doctrines differ,
they do not, at least, diverge. The most eminent
thinkers stretch their hands across the frontiers.
They have neither the same inclinations nor the
same brain. Yet they draw near to each other
through their humanity and through their compas-
sion towards all their fellow-men.
" Therefore, it is a guilty error to try to set national
consciences in opposition. On the contrary, in their
most serene expression, they complete each other.
One can adore one's native land whilst revering
HIS CIRCLE 179
" But, unfortunately, the nation is not merely
an ensemble of radiant ideas. Connected with it
is a host of financial enterprises, of which many
are not over-recommendable.
" Above all, it is the antagonism of sometimes
most illegitimate capitalist appetites which urge
nations to come into conflict and thus cause modern
wars. Nothing is sadder.
" From the bottom of my soul, I hope that my
country will abstain from every covetousness which
may bring her the slightest responsibility in a conflict.
*' But, if ever she was invaded by a greedy neigh-
bour, the duty of all her sons would be to fly to her aid.
" It would, indeed, be the most dire catastrophe
for Humanity if France were diminished. For,
all the same, does not our native land symbolize
generous aspirations sufficiently ? "
The Old Poet. " Ah ! ah ! you see quite well —
atchum ! — that there is some good in chauvinism."
France (vigorously). " Not in the least ! It
is criminal madness. When chauvinists say that
war is sublime, that it is the school of all the virtues,
that it invigorates and strengthens men, that
Providence enables the worthiest to triumph, and
that the greatness of a nation is to be measured by
its victories, that is to say, by massacres in which
its children perish with its enemies, they are absurd
i8o ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE
The Old Poet. " But how would you persuade
the people to sacrifice themselves for their native
land ? "
France. " By making that native land ever
better, ever more just, ever more maternal towards
the people, — more loyal, more fraternal towards
other nations, — by incessantly repeating that war is
abominable, by carefully keeping ourselves out
of all those tortuous intrigues which may provoke
it, — by proving, through the striking frankness
of our conduct, that we do not wish to take up
arms and that we shall only use them in defence
of our liberty.
" Then the people will love this land, which blends
in its heart with the most splendid future of the
human race, and if, perchance, it is assaulted,
the people will not allow it to succumb." ^
^ Such, at that time, were Anatole France's opinions. Since
then, by his adhesion to Communism, he has shown that only
the international organization of the working-classes seems to
him capable of preventing the return of wars.
TPTE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AT
THE VILLA SAID
T was during the cold season. When
Joséphine opened the door to us,
we found the vestibule full of over-
coats, mufflers and furs.
The garments of M. Bergeret's
friends were piled on chairs and on consoles. Hats
were hung on beautiful rococo candlesticks. Great-
coats were suspended at the bottom of the ancient
carved oak Gothic banisters.
" Are there many visitors ? " we asked Joséphine.
" Far too many ! " she replied crustily. " Heaps
of Russians ! "
Joséphine had little sympathy for the Slav race.
" It's a mystery to me," she continued, " why
Monsieur receives such people. Dirty and no
mistake. Swarming with fleas. Just look at these
old rags 1 "
Between thumb and finger, she took hold of a
poor threadbare cloak.
She continued to mumble :
'• These Russians do nothing but dirty the whole
house. And of a certainty they have bombs on
1 82 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
them. If Monsieur would only listen to me, he
would make a better choice of his acquaintances.
Celebrated as he is, he ought only to frequent the
beau monde. ''^
We left her to her ill humour.
With the Master, in his library, we found, indeed,
several Russian revolutionaries. Among others was
the famous sociologist, K , a giant with long
white curly hair, face enframed by a downy beard,
large blue, astonished-looking and tender eyes,
and a smiling, infantile and devout air — the perfect
type of the learned anarchist whose ideas, sincerely
expressed, turn society topsy-turvy.
We were in the days when Nicholas II was begin-
ning to struggle against the agitation of his people,
tired of the knout and the nagaika.
S , a correspondent of newspapers in St.
Petersburg, who had just returned from a lecturing
tour in the French provinces, where he had spoken
against Czarism, was giving an account of a speech
he had delivered at Valenciennes.
" A very sympathetic public," he said, " and one
that appeared to be well acquainted with the
France. " On the whole, the provinces, nowa-
days, are on the same intellectual level as Paris."
S . " With the exception of a few districts,
such as Brittany."
HIS CIRCLE 183
France. " It is true the Bretons are backward.
That is partly due to their ignorance of our language.
If they understood it, they would, perhaps, be more
favourable than others towards certain of our social
" Thus, I believe that they would easily accept
collectivism. They are prepared for it by the
custom of parish properties, which, as in all poor
districts, are numerous with them. For, at present,
it is only the poor land and wretched pasturage
which can remain common property, whereas,
on the contrary, the smallest patch of fertile ground
is immediately snapped up. Unfortunately, we
have no speakers who know their dialect.
" Alcoholism, also, is fatal to them.
" There is no doubt about it, that during my last
sojourn at Quiberon they appeared to me to be
" They use none of the new methods of fishing.
They go out to find fish haphazard. They never
think of telegraphing to each other information
concerning the progress of the shoals.
" As to selling their catch, this takes place under
" A fish-woman — a stout well-to-do female —
awaits them on the shore, feverishly on the look-out
for their return. As soon as they have landed, she
takes them to the wine-shop, where she serves them
1 84 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
with liquor, and when they are drunk she arranges
for the price of their catch.
" Note that this fish-wife is a middlewoman they
could very well do without. For, often, the dealer
who sends the fish to Paris is also waiting, not far
away from her, on the shore. But it never occurs
to the fishermen to enter into direct relations with
" What confirmed my unfavourable judgment
regarding their intelligence was a conversation 1
overheard between two Breton women. As women
are generally sharper than men, and these were
hardly that, at least so it seemed to me, I drew
severe conclusions concerning the mentality of the
" By listening to these two Breton women, I com-
mitted, I would have you know, no indiscretion.
They were, in fact, half a kilometre from each other,
and it was at that distance they addressed each other,
at the top of their voices, like Homer's heroes.
" One of them shouted — take careful note of this.
Monsieur," said France to the old sociologist — " she
bellowed, ' You're nothing but a dirty good-for-
nothing for going with my man.' Whereupon the
other replied, in the same tone : ' If your man goes
with me it's because my ... is finer than yours.'
" Well, sir, I don't know whether you are of my
opinion, but this reply seemed to me to denote
HIS CIRCLE 185
the most complete absence of psychological obser-
" It is certain, indeed, that if we love one woman
more than another, it is not at all because her . . .
appears to us to be finer than another, but for a host
of very different and, moreover, very complex
The old sociologist sought to form an opinion
but without succeeding.
A moment later, France said to him :
" Pope Gapon must be pleased. The Russian
revolution has come to a standstill."
Addressing other persons, he continued :
" Our friend S made me known to this Pope,
about whom so much has been said. He even
brought him here. He is a sturdy, dark, sunburnt
young man. I must timidly confess that he did
not produce an excellent impression on me. He is
verbose and pompous. As he does not know a word
of French, S translated his words to me and
took care to curtail them. Gapon perceived this
and got quite angry.
" ' He is scolding me,' explained S , * because
I curtailed his last sentence, in which he compared
Nicholas II to a tiger. He did, indeed, add that
he is a tiger thirsty for human bloodj'
" Well, really, this dispute on the subject of a
metaphor appeared to me to be bad taste. For
i86 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
are not all royal or imperial tigers thirsty for human
blood ? 1
" Gapon, who directed the first processions of
strikers at St. Petersburg, considers that the people
must be allowed a little rest before they are asked
to make fresh efforts.
"I do not know whether he is right. But the
danger is that the halt may become a long stop.
" Perhaps the Russians are still too enslaved and
too wretched to desire liberty passionately. For
that that can be so is a fact. Almost all revolutions
which triumph durably are confined to sanctioning
" Look at the revolution of '89. It was the
centres already delivered from feudalism which re-
volted to demand the abolition of the old régime.
Asto the provinces on which the traditional yoke
still weighed, they were so little inclined to assist
1 It will, perhaps, be remembered that thie man Gapon was
an agent provocateur in the pay of the Czarist police. He led a
big labour demonstration at St. Petersburg and slipped away at
the very moment machine-guns were mowing down the people.
He came to France shortly afterwards, and it was then he visited
the Villa Sai'd. He then went to the Côte d'Azur to lead a gay
life with the money he had received for his act of treachery.
He met a well-merited end. The revolutionaries, having
obtained proof of his infamy, led him into a trap and executed
When he visited Anatole France, nobody yet suspected him.
However, as shown by the above dialogue, M. Bergeret was not
HIS CIRCLE 187
that they shed their blood fighting against the
Revolution. This was the case with the Vendée
" It is the same with sociaHsm. It counts its most
staunch supporters in big corporations, such as
that of the miners, who, precisely, thanks to their
discipline, have already obtained a good part of
the advantages promised by socialism. Whilst
the most bitter adversaries of this doctrine are the
peasants, who suffer the most under the middle-
" In reality, social changes only take place when
they are ripe.
" That is why I wonder whether the Russians are
not still too deprived of the fruits the Revolution
would bring them to wish to win them."
K protested that his fellow-countrymen
were more enlightened than people thought.
France. " But is not their devotion to the Czar
an obstacle to their emancipation ? "
K . " Russia's religious respect for her
sovereign has quickly disappeared. Our people
are mystical, but perspicacious. Having experienced
the Czar's bad faith, Russia has broken away from
him. Her piety remains intact, but jumps over a
step and appeals direct to God."
" More intelligent than the Breton fishermen,"
some one remarked, " the intermediary is suppressed."
1 88 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
K . " Moreover, it would be wrong to
imagine the Russians as blindly submissive to their
priests. On the contrary, although they are devout,
they have no great love for the clergy. And when,
for example, they kiss a Pope's hand, their intention
is to pay homage, not to the man of the Church,
but to the God he represents."
France. " You do not astonish me. For con-
tempt of the priest is quite reconcilable with piety.
In general, the people revile the cassock. Why ?
Merely, in all probability, because it is lugubrious
and evokes the idea of the last sacrament.
" But tell me, is not Russian mysticism wilfully
contemplative and hostile to acts ? Does not your
prophet Tolstoi, for instance, preach to the moujiks
resignation and what he calls ' non-resistance to
evil ' ? "
K . " Between ourselves, he is not heard.
Our workmen and peasants are stout dogs, and it is
difficult to put them to sleep again, once they are
France. " Yes, I understand : sheep become
wolves more easily than wolves sheep. And listen,
that is a truth which was recently experienced by
your compatriot, Prince Trubetskoi, in Paris, where
he lives. Just as Tolstoi invites men to bleat,
this prince undertook to tame wolves. He captured
two very young specimens, brought them up, and
HIS CIRCLE 189
took them about in leash Hke dogs. To break them
of their instincts, he fed them principally on
vegetables, and the surprising thing is that, for
some time, they seemed to be quite satisfied with
" But, suddenly, the other day, one of them fixed
its fangs in the arm of the fruiterer from whom the
prince did not disdain to purchase, in person, his
animals' food, and they had great difficulty in making
that naughty wolf leave go.
" However, this is not meant as an apologue."
K (laughing). " Nevertheless, one is able
to draw sociological conclusions from it."
France. " If you like . . ."
K . " The best way, it seems to me, of
assisting in the progress of liberalism in our country,
at the present time, is to advise other races, and the
French in particular, not to subscribe to any Russian
loan before the Czarist Government has brought in
a liberal constitution."
France. " I wish success to those tactics with
all my heart. For they will save thousands of
human lives. It is, unfortunately, certain that,
if the Russian Government saw it was supported
by our money, it would not hesitate to launch out
into the most atrocious reaction."
K . " It is preparing for it."
France. " It might even happen that it would
I90 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
succeed in stifling for a long time every inclination
K . " No. For, in response to reaction,
there would soon be terrorist reprisals. But it is
important to facilitate the task of the liberals, and,
as you say, spare human lives."
France. " Alas ! each step in human progress
devours but too many !
" ' C'est un ordre des dieux, qui jamais ne se rompt
De nous vendre bien cher les bienfaits qu'ils nous font.
L'exil des Tarquins même ensanglanta nos terres
Et nos premiers consuls nous ont coûté des guerres ! ' "
A very dark young Slav, with long hair plastered
down with grease, a Mongolian complexion, a
prognathous face and the drooping moustaches
of a Kalmuk, suddenly broke the silence he had
retained until then. He spoke French with extreme
" For success of Revolution much better that . . ."
France. " Do you not admire the mightiness
of our great Corneille ? "
The Young Slav. " Yes, — admirable. But
better that . . ."
" ' L'exil des Tarquins même ensanglanta nos terres
Et nos premiers consuls nous ont coûtée des guerres ! '
" It is more than poetry, more than eloquence . . ."
The Young Slav. " The Revolution . . ."
HIS CIRCLE 191
France. " It is rock ! . . ."
The Young Slav (obstinately). " Yes, yes ! . . .
You are wrong in thinking Czarism will abdicate. . . .
No confidence. . . . Much better submit to
atrocious persecutions. Much better have many-
martyrs, much blood, much blood, and then govern-
ment swept away by furious people."
France (addressing his guests). " This young
man, as you see, is one of the uncorrupt. If need
be, he would throw bombs ! . . ."
The dynamiter began to smile.
From his waistcoat pockets he drew two steel
tubes. Then, triumphantly, he said :
" Bomb in two pieces. Separated, nothing to be
feared. If two parts screwed together, whole house
France (courteously). " Screw them not
together, I beg of you. And believe me, my friend,
so long as other means present themselves, we must
have recourse to them. Remember this : a mur-
derous Justice, even exercised by a nation which is
liberating itself, is never more than a sad Justice.
It is not good to regale the thirsty gods with blood."
He resumed :
" The cause of the Russian revolutionaries con-
cerns us much more than people think.
" If they were conquered, the Liberal spirit would
192 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
pass through a crisis in every country in Europe.
On the other hand, their victory will give great
impetus to socialism in other nations and especially
The conversation now branched off to the subject
of the French revolutionary party.
France. " I believe that the people of our
country are very favourably disposed towards
" But they have only the instinct of their interests,
and, as regards ideas, they remain frightfully
" At Bordeaux, recently, I had the opportunity
to question two coopers, who, the night before,
had been present at a lecture by Jules Guesde.
' Did he speak well ? ' I asked. ' Sûremintgne ! ' — ■
' Did you understand all he said ? ' — ' Naturelle-
mintgne I It was fairly clear. He desires the
happiness of coopers ! '
" That was all they had retained.
" Another anecdote. A few days ago, I was at the
Bourse du Travail, in the office of the redoubtable
Pataud, secretary of the Electricians' Syndicate, —
the man, you know, who has but to make a sign to
plunge the whole of Paris into darkness.
" Around him, on the ground, were scattered a
large number of pamphlets.
" ' Good ! ' I said to him. ' I see that you are
HIS CIRCLE 193
thinking of instructing our comrades. For here,
I suppose, are doctrinal works for their use ? '
" ' Those writings,' he repHed, * are copies of the
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Our syndicalists
cannot bear any other form of literature.' "
France concluded by saying :
" If our party were better led, if it were not
cut up into thirty-six sections, it would organize a
more assiduous and more methodical propaganda,
and our principles would meet with a more thought-
ful welcome among the working classes." ^
1 Anatole France has shown continued interest in the Russian
One day, Gustave Hervé brought to him a man of thirty to
thirty-five years of age, a pale-faced man with hair cut short like
a convict's, and on his emaciated face a perpetual and enigmatic
The Editor of La Guerre Sociale introduced him :
" Boris Savinkof, assassin."
" Delighted to meet you," said M. Bergeret, stretching out
his hand to this unknown visitor.
" I shall ask my friend Hervé to get me a hundred visiting
cards bearing the title he has given me," said Savinkof, joking.
' And whom did he assassinate ? " asked France,
" The Minister de Plevhe and the Grand-Duke Serge," replied
" Big game," observed M. Bergeret.
Since then, Savinkof became Minister of War under the Karensky
Government, He tried in vain to oppose Bolshevism. He was
obliged to leave Russia, Throughout Europe he is incessantly
striving to stir up adversaries against Lenin and Trotsky.
This former Terrorist is henceforth labelled a reactionary, —
not the least paradoxical change in his career.
194 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
Addressing a young engraver. " Look at these
plates hy Hans Burgmair. You will tell me what
you think of them ! This seigneur and this dame,
Another Russian, M, Rappoport, who has become French,
and who has manifested a deep and faithful sympathy towards
the Bolshevists, maintains a close friendship with Anatole France.
Van Dongen's truculent portrait of him is well known. A
face like a tobacco-jar furnished with a reddish beard, which
eats away the entire features. In the midst of this beard, shining
He is a Diogenes, or a Menippus, let loose in modern society.
He speaks French with a very pronounced accent, and lets fly
a continual stream of witty yet ferocious remarks, which hit
the mark among socialists and middle-class citizens without
During the War, he went many times to La Béchellerie, in
Touraine, to which France had retired.
He turned his host's library topsy-turvy, stulïed his pockets
with venerable sixteenth-century volumes, and, stretched flat on
his stomach under the willows in the meadow, took his fill of
their delightful contents.
After his departure, M. Bergeret asked his secretary to gather
in the tall grass the books that might be missing.
One day, they found a precious Ronsard hanging on the wire
used for drying clothes.
During the bombardment of Paris by Gothas, an untoward
adventure happened to M. Rappoport. Denounced for having
uttered alarmist remarks in a cellar — remarks which over-zealous
patriots declared they had heard — he was put in prison.
Anatole France did not fail to send him a letter which, read
before the magistrates, saved the accused. In this letter M.
Bergeret said that M. Rappoport's ideas were known to him, that
they were sound, and that the imprisonment of so excellent a
man was a scandal.
It is certainly M. Rappoport's influence which, quite recently,
has inclined Anatole France more and more towards Communism.
HIS CIRCLE 195
caressing each other — how touching they are !
Do you notice the lady's big stomach ? ... It is
not because she is enceinte. ... It was then the
fashion for ladies to have big stomachs, just as it is
the mode to-day that they shall have none.
" What decision of line and what a well-balanced
" One must, from time to time, enjoy that which
is the whole consolation of life."
THE OMNIPOTENCE OF THE IDEAL
HE election of a deputy for Paris was
about to take place.
A delegation of the Socialist party
waited on M. Bergeret and proposed
that he become a candidate.
That showed little knowledge of him.
For he possesses none of the characteristics of
a political speaker. He often speaks in public,
but does so very much against the grain. " Comrade
Anatole " — as he is sometimes called at meetings —
is little versed in the art of oration.
A piquant contrast. He is a sublime conver-
sationalist. In his own home, he is a magician of
speech. Sometimes tender, sometimes satirical,
he talks like a book — the most exquisite of books.
At a public meeting, he has a difficulty in finding
his words. He reads his speeches. He drones
them out in a nasal tone which is not without
a certain solemnity. If he has to improvise, he
stammers, gets confused ; and his very emotion
is the most refined homage to the crowd, which,
proud of intimidating a man of genius, wildly
ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 197
But, in Parliament, his enemies would not, perhaps,
be so considerate.
Another drawback. He never replies to letters.
Nay, he does not even open them. Formerly, they
used to accumulate on a tray until old Joséphine
burnt them. That was one of the ritualistic duties
of that faithful servant.
Also note, that M. Bergeret forgets appointments,
unless he turns up a day too soon, or a day too
late. Electors would quickly grow tired of such a
Verily, the tricolour scarf would suit this philo-
sopher about as well as a ring would befit a cat.
On that day, therefore, he declined the dangerous
honour they offered him. The delegates insisted.
He persisted in his refusal.
" I am flattered and touched by your proposal,"
he said, " but, really, I'm not made of the stuff
for a representative of the people.
" Don't accuse me of looking down on politics.
On the contrary, I admire those intrepid men who
devote themselves to it, and who, you clearly under-
stand me, uphold sound opinions — that is to say,
Thereupon the name of Jean Jaurès sprang to
Anatole France professed the deepest affection
for him. He liked him for the quickness of his
198 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
intelligence, the astonishing extent of his knowledge,
and especially for his greatness of character.
" What noble conscientiousness ! " he said. " He
is sometimes unskilful because of his very uprightness.
He does not fear to run counter to the passions
of the crowd. It happens, at times, that he irritates
his own partisans by his resistance to their excesses
and by his loyalty towards his opponents.
" He has chosen the most thankless of parts. He
strives to be a mediator between the workers and
the middle-classes, and to avoid violence.
" A splendid but hard task.
" Sometimes, on the occasion of a strike, when the
Riot Act has been read to the workers, who are
brandishing paving-stones, a heroic man, intent on
preventing slaughter, will advance to the dangerous
space separating the opposing forces. In so doing,
he runs the risk of receiving both the bullets of Law
and order and the stones of Rebellion.
" Such an image well represents the courageous
mission my friend Jaurès has set himself and the
threats he faces."
When, later, the illustrious orator met his tragic
end, we remembered these words, which seemed
to us prophetic.
A moment later France was praising the dis-
interestedness of Jules Guesde.
" What strength this man draws from his poverty ! "
HIS CIRCLE 199
he said. " He always wears the most common
clothes. But his very bearing is indigent, and would
still be so under less faded garments.
" His part, one must confess, is not so difficult as
Jaurès'. For he has less scruple about obstinately
refusing to collaborate with the middle-classes
than in seeking to reform them.
" The hostility reigning between these two socialist
leaders alarms fretful minds. The profound dis-
cords in our party are often interpreted as signs
of weakness. But, in my opinion, they are rather
a proof of vitality."
As astonishment was expressed, he resumed :
" Why, yes ! Let us reflect. Never will there
be, between the principal revolutionaries of to-day,
such bitter dissensions as those which arose between
the early Christians, between St. Peter and St.
Paul, for example.
" In the first century, there were certainly pagans
nearer to Paul than to Peter, and among others
" Yet Christianity has not miscarried, as far as I
know. Really, it has not succeeded so badly.
And it's on the same day, together, that Peter and
Paul are feted. Everything, therefore, leads me to
believe that the socialists of the future will celebrate
Jean Jaurès and Jules Guesde on the same day."
There was laughter.
200 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
M. Bergeret next spoke of Briand, who was long
" It's a long time ago," he said, " since he thought
of giving us the slip.
" He grew impatient of the ambitious young men
who, in congresses, sought to overthrow him.
" ' I'm tired of being used as doormat by them,'
" Don't you find that a pretty metaphor ? It
describes fairly well the tactics of those new-comers
who, in order to gain the confidence of gatherings,
begin by wiping their feet on well-known orators.
" Briand could with difficulty tolerate the refusal
of the congresses to allow socialists to participate
in middle-class Governments.
" ' It's a great pity,' he confided to me. ' A great
pity. For, after all, there are four or five of us
who would cut very good figures as Ministers.'
" I'm sure that among those four or five he counted
himself as five or six.
" He has attained the power he hoped for so
ardently and he exercises it skilfully ; for he possesses
the art of governing men.
" I recollect that, at the time he spoke at public
meetings, he knew marvellously well how to animate
" At a meeting, one day, he was near me on the
202 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
" Recently, again, Briand gave a great proof of
his industrious mind. It was on the day old
Cardinal Richard left the house of M. Denys
Cochin,^ whose guest he had been, for his new
residence in the Rue Barbet-de-Jouy.
" Briand, then in power, feared there might be
demonstrations on the Archbishop's route.
" And this is what he contrived.
" He sent a number of policemen in plain clothes
to stand outside M. Denys Cochin's house.
" When the prelate's carriage appeared, they began
to shout at the top of their voices : * Long live the
Archbishop ! Long live the Archbishop ! ' Then,
unharnessing the horse, they placed themselves
between the shafts, as though to give proof of their
enthusiastic devotion to the cardinal.
" Pulhng, pushing and still shouting, they dragged
the vehicle along as fast as they could.
" On meeting young and fervent Catholics who
cheered the venerable old man, they hustled them
out of the way and continued at full speed.
"They covered the distance in the twinkling of
1 " A great gentleman known far beyond the limits of France,"
as a writer in ^he Times aptly describes him, and who died in
March 1922. His house was in the Rue de Babylone, where he
gave a hearty welcome to many British officers serving in France.
" He was the soul of kind and generous hospitality. . . . Many
will recall his genial presence and his open house. To hear him
recite passages from Dante and also from his own writings on
Fra Angelico was a rare treat." — Translator's note.
HIS CIRCLE 203
an eye, disappeared with the Archbishop into the
courtyard of his residence, and closed the big gates
"Thus were the rows the Government feared
"PoHtical wisdom is to be recognized by these
" It is a quality which I praise in others, and which
seems to me to be almost miraculous, for I feel
that I am sadly deficient in it. That is why I
should make but a sorry deputy. Yes, yes, I assure
you it is so.
" Moreover, I prefer my calling as a philosopher.
My foolish vanity urges me to believe that it is
also of some use."
M. Bergeret then set forth the parallel we were
" I am well aware that a dreamer is an insignificant
personage, compared to a politician.
" A politician is the idol of the crowd. He is its
master and slave. He drags after him an entire
host of beggars. He is influential, celebrated,
glorious. He holds the destinies of the people
in his hands. He leads them to prosperity or ruin.
He makes laws. And that, above all, seems to show
his power. To frame laws, institute regulations
which the herd must observe, set up bounds beyond
which no citizen has the right to go — is that not
an almost celestial sovereignty ?
204 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
"There is but one little reservation — namely,
that laws never regulate anything. When leaders
have formulated a law, it has long since passed into
use. All it does is to give validity to manners.
If it runs counter to them, it remains a dead letter.
" Above the legislator, therefore, there are reigning
manners. Now, by whom are these established ?
By everybody, but especially by dreamers. Is
it not their mission to reflect on behalf of the
" In order to meditate, one must receive a training,
just as much as if one had to plough, trade, navigate,
or build houses. And I cannot say whether the
mortals who cut and polish ideas are more meri-
torious than other men. Nevertheless, when they
have played their part well they are worthy of some
"They improve the lives of all in several ways.
"The frail spectacled scientist in his laboratory,
at the bottom of a sleepy courtyard, once more
moulds the world.
" Cannot we see, under our very eyes, the develop-
ment of the revolution brought about by modern
machinery, and especially by the steam-engine ?
The echo of this invention is far from having ceased
to travel. Distances are being shortened. Europe,
diminished by the extreme rapidity of communica-
tions, certainly no longer exceeds the extent of
HIS CIRCLE 205
France under the First Empire. The entire world
is hardly larger at the present time than little Europe
was a hundred years ago.
" What imminent transformations in the history
of the globe does this truth not presage ?
" And does not the prodigious output of books,
pamphlets and newspapers, which spread the most
daring thoughts broadcast, also accelerate the
approaching changes ?
" It is not only by means of inventions that
dreamers change the existence of their fellow-men,
it is by means of the most speculative and apparently
most useless ideas.
" Copernic proves that the earth is not a fixed
point. He pushed it outside that central point
where the proud thing strutted. It is nothing more
than a puny vagabond amidst infinity. Consider
the protracted repercussions of this shock. Since
men no longer inhabit the immobile centre of the
world, since they wander about on a little drop
of mud swimming in immensity, they are no longer
the kings of the universe. They lose their theo-
logical assurance. Doubt, criticism and fruitful
modern disquietude in its entirety penetrate their
skulls. Poor beings — most uncertain and most
pitiful — they feel, a little better each day, the holi-
ness of tolerance and mutual compassion.
" Darwin teaches the law of Evolution. Consider
2o6 ANATOLE FRANCE AND
the unbounded effect it will henceforth exercise
on minds. Incessantly, they will come to realize,
more and more, the profound original sympathy
which brings everything that lives and suffers
closer together. Incessantly, they will better under-
stand that everything is insensibly in transformation,
and that it is idle to try to stop the course of inevit-
able changes, or to seek to hasten them.
" Thus, the majority of great discoveries end by
acting on our daily existence.
" And have not other dreamers — writers and artists
— as much power as savants ?
" They are the ones, in truth, who, from on high
and in advance, direct the people, since they form
the mind of each nation.
" How could the moral unity of a country come
into being without the intervention of poets ? How
could a common idea spring from the diversity
of races, the extraordinary medley of provinces
assembled haphazard through conquests or treaties,
if thinkers did not elaborate it, together and in
turn, for the benefit of all their compatriots ?
" First of all, a few dreamers express the feelings
of men surrounding them : they give expression to
the aspirations of those who toil and make merry
around them. Then, if their language is clear,
if their natal province, by its wisdom or strength,
imposes its law on neighbouring territories, these
HIS CIRCLE 207
first poetic accents are transmitted, like echoes,
to other singers, who take them up and spread them !
" Little hy little, throughout the whole extent
of a country, an accord is established, a symphony is
composed, all the dissonances melt into a unique
" And undoubtedly many dreamers, many poets,
many artists take part in this concert. Yet from
century to century orchestral leaders are rare.
" Men such as Villon, Rabelais, Montaigne,
Molière and Voltaire are few and far between.
" To make use of another image, these great men
are the master-workmen who build a nation. In
response to their genius, hundreds and thousands
of task-workers gather together. Thus, the char-
acter of States is consolidated. Thus, our spiritual
France was raised, — an edifice of independence
and sincerity, of ironical spirit and avenging raillery,
— an edifice of reason, sociability and pity, — an
edifice of human fraternity.
" Well now, my friends, we must courageously
continue this beautiful construction, and this is
not the time to fold our arms. We must enlarge it,
in order that all men may dwell therein. That is
the work in which dreamers, both great and small,
ought to be employed.
" In order to see the walls rise up, the stately
colonnades and huge pediments stand out in profile
2o8 ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE
against the sky, the humblest journeyman is glad
to climb the ladders, carrying a hod of mortar to
the more skilful workmen, who are laying stones
at the top of the scaffolding.
" Allow me then, my dear friends, allow me to mix
the mortar for the Ideal City. It is my destiny,
it pleases me and I ask for no other."
" I do not believe that Thorfîn Karisefne was more
astonished and delighted when he discovered America than
I wa^ when, in my sixtieth year, this great literary luminary
sailed into my ken. ... I have three good reasons for
writing about Anatole France. I want to help the British
people to en)oy his work ; I want them to accord to the
great Frenchman the full justice which I feel he has not yet
received in this country ; and I want to ease my soul by
some expression of my own gratitude and admiration. . . .
Of all the famous or popular men alive upon this planet
Anatole France is to me the greatest. There is no writer
to compare to him, and he has few peers amongst the great-
est geniuses of past ages and all climes. . . . • Penguin
Island' is a masterpiece and a classic. It is, in my opinion,
a greater work than * Gargantua ' or * Don Quixote ' or
* Sartor Resartus ' or * Tristram Shandy.' . . . The laughing,
mocking, learned and dissolute Abbé Coignard is one of the
greatest creations of human genius. If it will not sound too
audacious I will venture to claim that there is no character in
Rabelais, Cervantes, Dickens, or Sterne to equal the Abbé
Coignard, and, with the exception of the miraculous Hamlet,
there is nothing greater in Shakespeare. These be ' brave
words.' I am writing of one of the world's greatest artists
and humorists : of Anatole France, the Master. . . . Then
there is the great scene of the banquet in the house of
Monsieur de la Gcritande, which I have read fifty times, and
hope to read a hundred times again. The whole chapter is
one of the most artistic, humorous, human, and exhilarating
achievements in literature. It is alive ; it is real ; it goes
like a song. There is nothing finer or stronger in the best
comedy work of Shakespeare. . . . Anatole France is a
great man, and there is no living celebrity for whom I have
so much reverence and regard." — Robert Blatchford in the
* THE RED LILY
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MOTHER OF PEARL
A Translation by Fredekic Chapman
THE GARDEN OF EPICURUS
A Translation by Alfred Allinsom
* THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD
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JOCASTA AND THE FAMISHED CAT
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