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Full text of "Anatole France and his circle; being his table-talk"

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.^^•^^SSSS^" 



ANATOLE FRANCE 
AND HIS CIRCLE 




THE WORKS OF 

ANATOLE FRANCE 

IN ENGLISH 

EDITED BY THE LATE 

FREDERIC CHAPMAN 
JAMES LEWIS MAY 

AND 

BERNARD MIALL 
35 Volumes 

THE BODLEY HEAD 




ANATOLE KKANCE 



ANATOLE FRANCE 

AND HIS CIRCLE • being his 

TABLE-TALK COLLECTED & RECORDED 
BY PAUL GSELL • illustrated 
FROM PAINTINGS BY PIERRE CALMETTES 

AUTHORISED TRANSLATION BY 

liFREDERIC LEES 






JOHN LANE THE BODLEY HEAD LTD. 
LONDON :: :: MCMXXII 



Printed in Great Britain by R. Clay & Sons, Ltd., Bungay, Suffolk. 



»j.nx\i.n. jjrvi\,i->^i_iv.fx 



L 



TO THE READER 

HE familiar conversations of the Abbé 
Jérôme Coignard were preserved for 
us by his naive disciple, Jacques 
Tournebroche. 

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 
the mind. 

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 
friendship. 

He who, to many of his contemporaries, symbolizes 
Unbelief is, then, after his fashion, the most faithful 
of believers. 

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 
years. 

So many catastrophes have cast a gloom over 
him. 

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. 



CONTENTS 



PAGB 



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 



A NOTE 
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 
readers. 

xii 



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 . 



with 



2 

10 
22 
62 

78 
92 



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 
CIRCLE 




ANATOLE FRANCE AND 
HIS CIRCLE 

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 
Saïd. 

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, 
philosophers. 

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 
affliction. 

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 
his house. 

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. 



lu J/r-,0|i«w", 




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 
bosom. 

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 
the banisters. 

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 
was waiting. 

" 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 
there. 

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 
study. 

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 
irritation. 

" You always come into my room like a chariot 
armed with scythes. You are indeed a terrible 
man." 

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 
witnessed. 

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 
shades. 

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 
Novella. 

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 
sensibility. 

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 
passionate." 

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 
slightest imprudence.' 

" 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 
fabulous beasts. 

" 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 
wrong. 

"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 
centuries. 

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 
socialist committee. 

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 
mind. 

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 
hirelings. 

They asked France to preside over another 
meeting. 

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. 




ACADEMIC VISITS 

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 
the Clergy. 

Yet these ecclesiastics would have valid reasons 
for not compromising themselves with this pope of 
unbelievers. 

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 

15 



i6 ANATOLE FRANCE AND 

title of Eminence, aspired to a seat under the Dome, 
he came Hke the others to the hermitage of the 
Villa Saïd. 

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 
neglected dogma. 

" He loved the majesty of cathedrals and the 
splendour of ritualistic pomp. But I also love them, 
Monsignor." 

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 balance. 

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 
Cabrières." 



c 



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 
infinite wit. 

" 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 
offended archaeologist." 

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 
Paul met.' 

" 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." — 
Translator's note. 



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 
them." 

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 
triumphant." 

(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 
apartment." 

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 
century. 

" 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 
the Academy." 

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 
platonic suffrage." 

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 
knows them." 

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 
bell." 

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." 




ACADEMIC VISITS 

{continued) 

^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 

candidates. 

" 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 

elected. 

*' The Due de Broglie knew that Leconte de Lisle 

was a poet. How did he learn that ? I'm still 

trying to discover. 

26 



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 
example.' 

" 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 
wheat-field. 

" ' 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 
innumerable calculations. 

" ' 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 
house. 



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 
difficulty. 

" ' 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 
dictionary. 

" 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 
ring." ' 

" ' 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 
rings.' 

" ' 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 
ring.' 

" 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 
me. 

" ' Don't know,' replied I hypocritically. 

" Furious, the Due de Broglie broke up the 
sitting. 

" 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 
ape-baboon blush.' 

" 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 
things. 

" 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 
drawing-room. 

" ' 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 
this cupboard.' 

" 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 
Schnapps. 



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 
Lamartine's verses. 

" ' 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 
later." 



w 


•^ HuijiijAr^Pv' 


"JËoJF 



ACADEMIC VISITS 

{concluded) 

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 
him. 

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 
political." 

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 

37 



38 ANATOLE FRANCE AND 

or other, such as Œdipus at Colone, they said to 
us : 

" ' 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 
grammatical perfection. 

" 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 
Comedy.' 

" 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 
are mingled. 

"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 
marquesses ? 

"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 
argument ? 

"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 
lustrums. 

" 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 

literary apprentices. 

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 

the gum-brush. 

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. 

42 



ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 43 

On reading his first text his friends had said to 
him : 

" But this is charming ! This is exquisite. 
Don't touch it any more, or you will spoil every- 
thing." 

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 
readers. 

It was on that day we found him in a melancholy 
mood. 

He was conversing with Pierre Champion, the 
learned biographer of Charles of Orleans and 
François Villon. 

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 
d'Arc. 

" 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 
anew." 

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 
disappointed. 

" 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 
doubt. 

" 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 
judgment. 

" 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 
about immediately. 

" 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 
tower. 

" 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- 
cinations." 

Champion. " An excellent description ! " 

Loyson once more began to cross-question our 
host. 

" 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 
visionary. 

" 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 
monstrous. 

" 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 
them victory. 

" 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 
behinds. 

" 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 
occasion. 

" 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 
without diameter. 

" 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 
brilHant lustre. 

" 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 
term. 

" 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 
image." 

France (with sudden vivacity). " Sceptic ! 
Sceptic ! Yes, indeed, they will again call me a 
sceptic. And in their opinion that is the worst 
of insults. 

" 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 
quivering. 

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 
kiUs. 

"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 
to believe. 

" 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 
of it. 



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 
friendship. 

" 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 
and foolish. 

" Finally, Renan always remained a priest and 
merely purified religion. He believed in the 
divine, in knowledge ; he believed in the future 
of man. 

" 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 
saints." 

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 
St. Rabelais." 

Without replying to this quibble, France 
continued : 

" 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 
it is. 

" 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 
Hmitations. 

" 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 
sceptics." 

We listened in silence to this fervent profession 
of faith. 

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 
banteringly : 

" 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- 
ToUendal. 

" 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 
her. 

" 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 
Universelle : 

" 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- 
table. 

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 
variegated light. 

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 

58 



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 
hear them. 

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 
against love. 

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." 

" Snails." 

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 
interesting. 

" 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 
solid erudition. 

" 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 
consummate tactician. 

" 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 
youth. 

" Certain proper names he uses are those of persons 
he knew. 

" 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 
AustraHan. 

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 
literature." 

" 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 
Rabelais." 

" 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 
pedantic lot. 

" 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 
des Accords." 

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 
you. 

"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 

{contiiiued) 

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 
gaping mouth. 

Suddenly, he courageously plunged into the 
conversation : 

" 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 
courtesy. 

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 ' ? " 

68 



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 
more eagerly. 

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 
many inadvertencies. 

" 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 
improvisation. 



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 
genius." 

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 
six days. 

" 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 
Professeur ? 

" And to take a genius of your own country, cannot 
even your own Shakspeare be caught in the act of 
inattention ? 

" 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 
great Will. 

" 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 
mortal." 

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 
Molièrists ? 

" 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 
dialect. 

" 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 
Limousin. 

" Rabelais, on the contrary, gives us no explana- 
tion, and consequently in his case the adventure is 
less intelligible. 

" 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 
flabbergast Pantagruel. 

" 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 
origin. 

" Thus he marvellously symbolizes the pretentious 
incapacity of spurious scholars with the gift of the 
gab. 

" 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 
with disgrace. 

" 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 
good composition. 

" 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 
writing. 

" It is one of the fundamental truths our wise 
University teaches its nurslings as intangible dogmas. 

" Without a plan, no salvation ! — such is the 
doctrine. 

"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 
like that. 

" 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 
speaking. 

" 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 
there are. 

" 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 
in principle. 

" 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 
provoke. 

" Not at all. This fine novel captivates more and 
more until the very last page. It is akin to the 
miraculous." 

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 
newspaper. 

" 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 
my imagination. 

"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- 
fied adventures. 

" Thus, what nobility there is in Don Quixote ! 
What generous elation of heart ! What smiling 
bitterness ! What lofty poesy ! And what 
goodness 1 



82 ANATOLE FRANCE AND 

" In order to appreciate these rare merits still 
better, one has only to read Avellaneda's insipid 
imitation. 

" 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 
and profit. 

" 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 
goal. 

" 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 
ones. 

" 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 
convent. 

" 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 
Sydney." 

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 
great. 

" As is proved by this other story by Avellaneda : 

" A very brave knight dedicated admirable piety to 
the Rosary. 

" 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 
admirers. 

_, " ' 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 
revenge.' 

" ' 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 
laurels." 

Whereupon France, turning towards his secretary, 
exclaimed : 



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 

{concluded) 

ROFESSOR BROWN was not 

satisfied. 

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 



writers." 



Mr. Brown (emphatically). " Then will you 
tell me what qualities are indispensable ? " 



88 



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 
sea. 

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. 

" ' 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 
unexpected. 

" 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 
so kind." 

" 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 
quality. 

" 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- 
dicament. 

"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 
root 3. 

"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 
him. 

"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 
of Penicaud. 

" But I see you are dreaming, mon cher Gour- 
mont." 

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- 
cession : 

" Well, perhaps you are right. Monsieur le 
Professeur." 

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 
Anatole France. 

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 
re-comforting Hkehhood. 

" 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 
them. 



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 
existence. 

" 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 
scaffold. 

" As it is better to speak than to retain silence, 
wise men often act the fool in order to avoid being 
gagged. 

" 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 
stratagem. 

" 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. 
France." 

And he inflicted upon him a hand-shake that 
almost dislocated his shoulder. 




THE PRETTY DOLL AND THE 
REAL WOMAN 

"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 
vestry. 

On entering, you might have imagined yourself 
in a chapel. Through stained-glass windows, 
emblazoned with coats of arms, streamed a dim 
religious light. 

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 

religious objects. 

98 



ANATOLE FRANCE AND HIS CIRCLE 99 

There is no mortal on earth whose tastes are 
more ecclesiastical. 

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 
there. 

He is enveloped in a long clerical dressing- 
gown. True, it is delicate in colour and soft in 
texture. 

On his head, like Abbés in churches, is an eternal 
skull-cap, which — true again — is of a seditious 
red. 

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 
cap. 

This cap plays a great part in his conversation 
and manners. 

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 
this vizor. 

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 
phrases. 

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 
voice. 

And never did sacred orator display so much 
unction in recommending belief as France does in 
condemning superstition. 

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 
frolic. 

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 
intellectual formation. 

The Master submitted with good grace to the 
visitor's curiosity. 

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 
fashion. 

" 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 
insidious phrase. 

" ' 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 
it. 



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 
country." 

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 
cousin pleasure." 

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 
out. 

" 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 
the sign. 

" 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 
rhymes therein. 

" 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 
generous gaiety. 

" 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 
intelligence." 



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 
little group. 

" 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 
convulsions. 

" 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 
in anything." 

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. 



I 



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 
thousandths." 

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 
past. 

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 
dream ? 

^' 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 
centuries. 

" 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 
tongue. 

" 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 
the theatre. 

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- 
gated clouds. 

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 
performed. 

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 
performance. 

Anatole France is also named as the author of a 
farce entitled La Farce de celui qui épousa une femme 
muette. 

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 
Rabelaisians. 

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 
biUs. 

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 
revolutionary prints. 

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 

us. 

Naturally the dramatic art came under discussion. 

A young poet announced that he was completing 
a play. 

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 

voice : 

" ' 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 
him. 

" 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 
the stage." 

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 
bien."* 

" 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 
my brain." 

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 
once. 



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 
his shop-window. 

" 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- 
stock.' 

" 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 
meets. 

" 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 
of Heraclitus. 

"" 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 
gaiety ? 

" 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 
comedians. 

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 
question. ... 

" 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 
author. 

"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 
bulbs." 

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- 
torily." 

Whereupon the genius of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt 
was extolled. 

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 
her? 

" Why, yes ! A very long time ago, she asked me 
to come to her house to talk about a scenario she 
had conceived. 

" In the studio where she received me, Maurice 
Bernhardt, still a child, was frolicking with a Great 
Dane. 

" 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 
times. 

" 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 
missives." 

" 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 
advice. 

" My young friend, if you would have your plays 
performed, find a very poor actress for your chief 
part." 

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 
aloud : 

" 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 
minds. 

" 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 
his compliments. 

" 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 



W^^û^ 




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 
aristocratic hands. 

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 

141 



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 
honorary emblems. 

" 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 
honour. 

" 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 
a genius. 

" 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 
of ensembles. 

" 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 
for anecdotes. 

" 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 
him. 

" One morning, the sculptor led to his studio a 
number of journalists who wished to see the new 
work. 

" 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 
great men. 

" 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 
sculpture. 

" Rodin being absent, he was received by a 
praticien. 

" 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 
in rabbit. 

Consequently Rodin would never model M. 
Bergeret's bust. 

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 
for him. 

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 
again. 

Rodin would never tolerate any other servant 
near him. 

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 
tremulous voice. 

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 
bitter word. 

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 
above her. 

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 
incessantly. 

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 
silence." 

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 
all one. 

" 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 
modest altitude. 

" 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 
Grévin." ^ 

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 
interpretation. 

" One could compose a strange curiosity shop of 
all the attributes which make our official monuments 
heavy. 

" 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 
balloon." 

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 
breasts. 

" 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, 
he praised. 

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 
ugly." 

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- 
ments ? 

" 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 
are hideous." 

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 
ugHness." 

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 
killing imagination." 

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 
Kings. 

" 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 
be spoilt. 

M 



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 
and steeples. 

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. 




ON WARS 

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 ! 

164 



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 
heart. 

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 
enthusiasm. 

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 
against Baudelaire." 

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 
cry : 

" ' Hallo ! Seigneur Don Juan ! ' 
" Bermudez was beside himself with rage. 
" ' Ah ! ' he roared, ' I recognize that voice. It 
is Bodelairre's.' 

" 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 
character." 

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 
fellow. 

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 
there : 

" 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 
sneezing : 

" 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 
correct. 

" No nation ever loved war. No nation ever 
wanted to fight. 

" At bottom, the crowd always looks without joy 
upon fighting. 

" 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 
with consideration. 

" 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 
about osses." 

" ' 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 
regiment. 

" ' 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- 
ing nobility. 

" 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 
people. 

" 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 
sold.' 

" 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 
of civilization." 

The Old Poet. " You recognize then that the 
country ..." 

France. " I recognize that our country would 



178 ANATOLE FRANCE AND 

deserve to be desperately defended if it were 
threatened. 

" 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 
luck contracted. 

" 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 
the others. 



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 
and odious. 



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 

l8i 



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 
question." 

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 
ideas. 

" 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 
very backward. 

" 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 
heart-breaking conditions. 

" 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 
him. 

" 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 
Bretons. 

" 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- 
vation. 

" 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 
reasons." 

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 
acquired results. 

" 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 
him. 

When he visited Anatole France, nobody yet suspected him. 
However, as shown by the above dialogue, M. Bergeret was not 
his dupe. 



HIS CIRCLE 187 

that they shed their blood fighting against the 
Revolution. This was the case with the Vendée 
and Brittany. 

" 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- 
class régime. 

" 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 
awake." 

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 
this regimen. 

" 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 
for independence." 

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 
difiiculty. 

" 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 . . ." 

France. 

" ' 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 
blow up." 

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 
in France." 

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 
collectivism. 

" But they have only the instinct of their interests, 
and, as regards ideas, they remain frightfully 
indifferent. 

" 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 
revolutionaries. 

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 
grin. 

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 
Hervé. 

" 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. 
O 



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 
gold-rimmed spectacles. 

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 
distinction. 

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 
composition ! 

" 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 

cheers him. 

196 



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 
representative. 

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, 
ours." 

Thereupon the name of Jean Jaurès sprang to 
his lips. 

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 
the Syrians. 

" 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 
his friend. 

" 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,' 
he growled. 

" 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 
the public. 

" At a meeting, one day, he was near me on the 
platform. 



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 
upon him. 

"Thus were the rows the Government feared 
avoided. 

"PoHtical wisdom is to be recognized by these 
subtle artifices. 

" 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 
awaiting. 

" 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 
community ? 

" 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 
gratitude. 

"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 
melody. 

" 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." 



THE END 



ANATOLE FRANCE 

" 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 
Sunday Chronicle. 



* THE RED LILY 

A Translation by Winifrbd Stbphbns 

MOTHER OF PEARL 

A Translation by Fredekic Chapman 

THE GARDEN OF EPICURUS 

A Translation by Alfred Allinsom 

* THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD 

A Translation by Lafcadio Hbarm 

THE WELL OF ST. CLARE 

A Translation by Alfred Alunson 

BALTHASAR 

A Translation bt Mks. Johk Lanb 

* THAIS 

A Translatiok by Robert Bruce Douglas 

THE WHITE STONE 

A Translation by C. E. Rochb 

* PENGUIN ISLAND 

A Translatiom by A. W. Evans 

THE MERRIE TALES OF JACQUES TOURNE- 

BROCHE. A Translation by Alfred Allinson 

THE ELM TREE OF THE MALL 

A Translation by M. P. Willcocks 

THE WICKER-WORK WOMAN 

A Translation by M. P. Willcocks 

ON LIFE AND LETTERS. 2 Vols. First and 

Second Series. A Translation by A. VV. Evans 

AT THE SIGN OF THE REINE PEDAUQUE 

A Translation by Mrs Wilfrid Jackson 

THE ASPIRATIONS OF JEAN SERVIEN 

A Translation by Alfred Allinson 

JOCASTA AND THE FAMISHED CAT 

A Translation by Mks. Farley 

MY FRIEND'S BOOK 

A Translation by J. Lewis May 

* Also Cheap Edition, with Illustrated Coloured Wrapper, 3s. net each. 



JOHN LANE. THE BODLEY HEAD, VIGO ST., VV. 



THE GODS ARE ATHIRST 

A Translation by Alfred Ai.linson 

THE OPINIONS OF JEROME COIGNARD 

A Tkanslation dv Mrs. Wilfbid Jackson 

THE REVOLT OF THE ANGELS 

A Translation by Mrs Wilfrid Jackson 

CRAINQUEBILLE 

A Translation by Winifrbd Stephens 

PIERRE NOZIÈRE 

A Translation by J. Lewis May 

THE AMETHYST RING 

A Translation by Bbrengkke Drillien 

THE BRIDE OF CORINTH and other Plays 

A Translation by Emilib and Wilpkid Jackson 

THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD 

A Translation by D. B. Stewart 

Also uniform in size : 
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A Translation by Winifrkd Stephens. With eight illustrations 
Two vols. 255. net 

IJV PREP A RA TION 

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A Tr/nslation by J. Lewis May 

M. BERGSRET IN PARIS 

A Translation bc J. Lewis May 

CLIO and THE CHATEAU DE VAUX LE 

VICOMTE. A Teanslation bv Winifred Stethens 

A COMIC STORY 

A Translation by C. E. Rochb 

LE GÉNIE LATIN 

A Translation bï Wilfrid Jackson 

ON LIFE AND LETTERS 

Third Series. A Translai ion by D. B. Stewart 

ON LIFE AND LETTERS 

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JOHN LANE. THE BODLEY HEAD, VIGO ST., W. 



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