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Full text of "French profiles"

UBRAKt 

ONlVERS.Tt Of 
CAUFORNtA 

SAN DIEGO 



FRENCH PROFILES 



Other Works by Mr. Edmund Gosse 



On Viol and FluU 
Flrdausi in Exile 
King Erik 
In Rusiet and Silver 



Hypolympia 

IN PROSE 
Northern Studies 

Life of Gray 

Seventeenth Century Studies 

Life of Congreve 

A History of Eighteenth Century Literature 

A Short History of Modern English Literature 

Life of Philip Henry Gosse, F.R.S. 

Gossip in a Library 

The Secret of Narcisse 

Questions at Issue 

Critical Kit-Kats 



Life and Letters of John Donne 
Life of Jeremy "Taylor 



FRENCH PROFILES 



BY 

EDMUND GOSSE 



NEW YORK 

DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 

MCMV 



Printed in Great Britain 



All rights reserved 



To 

My Friend 

SIR ALFRED BATEMAN, K.C.M.G. 

In Memory of 

The Talks of Many Tears 

I Affectionately Inscribe 

these Studies 



Digitized by the Internet Arciiive 

in 2007 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 



http://www.archive.org/details/frenchprofilesOOgossiala 



PREFACE 

It is characteristic of native criticism that it con- 
templates, or should contemplate, the products of 
native literature from the front ; that it looks at 
them, in other words, from a direct and complete 
point of view. Foreign criticism must not pretend 
to do this ; unless it is satisfied to be a mere echo 
or repetition, its point of view must be incomplete 
and indirect, must be that of one who paints a 
face in profile. In preparing the following side- 
views of some curious figures in modern French 
literature, I have attempted to keep two aims 
prominently before me. I have tried to preserve 
that attitude of sympathy, of general comprehen- 
sion, for the lack of which some English criticism 
of foreign authors has been valueless, because 
proceeding from a point so far out of focus as to 
make its whole presentation false ; and yet I have 
remembered that it is a foreigner who takes the 
portrait, and that he takes it for a foreign audience, 
and not for a native one. 

What I have sought in every case to do is to 
give an impression of the figure before me which 



vHI PREFACE 

shall be in general harmony with the tradition of 
French criticism, but at the same time to preserve 
that independence which is the right of a foreign 
observer, and to illustrate the peculiarities of my 
subject by references to English poetry and prose. 

It should not be difficult to carry out this 
scheme of portraiture in the case of authors whose 
work is finished. But the study of contemporary 
writers, also, is of great interest, and must not 
be neglected, although its results are incomplete. 
Several of the authors who are treated here are 
still alive, and some are younger than myself. It 
is highly probable that all of these will, in the 
development of their genius, make some new 
advance which may render obsolete what the 
most careful criticism has said about them up to 
the present time. In these living cases, there- 
fore, it seems more helpful to consider certain 
books — to take snapshots, as it were, at the 
authors in the course of their progress — than to 
attempt a summing-up of what is still fortunately 
undefined. Of the art with which this can be 
done, and the permanent value of that art, the 
French criticism of our generation has given 
admirable proof. 

The last chapter in this book is not in any 
sense a profile, but the writer trusts that he will 
be forgiven for introducing it here. Last winter 
he had the honour of being invited to Paris to 



PREFACE ix 

deliver an address before the Societe des Con- 
ferences. The Committee of that Society, consist- 
ing of MM. Ferdinand Bruneti^re, Edouard Rod 
and Gaston Deschamps, in proposing the subject 
of the address, asked that it should be delivered in 
English. In an admirable French translation, 
made by my accomplished friend, M. Henry D. 
Davray, it was afterwards published in the Mercure 
de France and then as a separate brochure, but the 
English text is now printed for the first time. 

Mr. James Fitzmaurice-Kelly has been so kind 
as to read the proofs of this volume, and I am 
indebted to his rare acquaintance with Continental 
literature for many valuable corrections and 
suggestions. My thanks are due to the pro- 
prietors of the Fortnightly Review, the Contemporary 
Review, the International Quarterly Review, the 
Saturday Review and the Daily Chronicle, for per- 
mission to reprint what originally appeared in 
their pages. I regret that in one other case, 
that of the useful and unique European review, 
Cosmopolis, there is no one left who can receive 
this acknowledgment. 

ARGELks-GAZOST, 
September 1904. 



CONTENTS 





Page 


Preface 


vii 


Alfred de Vigny .... 


I 


Mademoiselle A'tsse .... 


35 


A Nun's Love-Letters 


68 


Barbey W Aurevilly .... 


92 


Alphonse Daudet .... 


108 


The Short Stories of Zola . 


129 


Ferdinand Fabre .... 


153 


The Irony of M. Anatole France 


189 


Pierre Loti ..... 


202 


Some Recent Books of M. Paul Bourget 


239 


M. Rene Ba%in .... 


266 


M. Henri de Regnier . . 


292 


Four Poets : — 




Stephane Mallarme 


305 


M. Emile Verhaeren . 


312 


Albert Samain .... 


318 


M. Paul Fort .... 


324 


The Influence of France upon English Poetry 


330 


Index ...... 


365 



FRENCH PROFILES 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 

The reputation of Alfred de Vigny has endured 
extraordinary vicissitudes in France. After having 
taken his place as the precursor of French ro- 
mantic poetry and as one of the most admired of 
its proficients, he withdrew from among his noisier 
and more copious contemporaries into that " ivory 
tower " of reverie which is the one commonplace 
of criticism regarding him. He died in as deep a 
retirement as if his body had lain in the shepherd's 
hut on wheels upon the open moorland, which he 
took as the symbol of his isolation. He had long 
been neglected, he was almost forgotten, when the 
publication of his posthumous poems — a handful 
of unflawed amethysts and sapphires — revived his 
fame among the enlightened. But the Second 
Empire was a period deeply unfavourable to such 
contemplation as the writings of Vigny demand. 
He sank a second time into semi-oblivion ; he 
became a curiosity of criticism, a hunting-ground 
for anthology-makers. Within the last ten years, 
however, a marked revolution of taste has occurred 
in France. The supremacy of Victor Hugo has 

A 



2 FRENCH PROFILES 

been, if not questioned, since it is above serious 
attack, at least mitigated. Other poets have re- 
covered from their obscurity ; Lamartine, who had 
been quenched, shines like a lamp relighted ; and, 
above all, the pure and brilliant and profoundly 
original genius of Alfred de Vigny now takes, for 
the first time, its proper place as one of the main 
illuminating forces of the nineteenth century. It 
was not until about ninety years after this poet's 
birth that it became clearly recognised that he is 
one of the most important of all the great poets of 
France. 

The revival of admiration for Vigny has not yet 
spread to England, where he is perhaps less known 
than any other French writer of the first class. 
This is the more to be regretted because he did 
not, in the brief day of his early glory, contrive to 
attract many hearers outside his own country. It 
is not merely regrettable, moreover, it is curiously 
unjust, because Vigny is of all the great French 
poets the one who has assimilated most of the 
English spirit, and has been influenced most by 
English poetry. Andr6 Ch^nier read Pope and 
Thomson and the Faerie Queen but he detested 
the Anglo-Saxon spirit. Alfred de Vigny, on the 
other hand, delighted in it ; he was a convinced 
Anglophil, and the writers whom he resembles, in 
his sublime isolation from the tradition of his own 
country, are Wordsworth and Shelley, Matthew 
Arnold and Leopardi. He has much of the spirit 
of Dante and of the attitude of Milton. Wholly 
independent as he is, one of the most unattached 
of writers, it is impossible not to feel in him a 



t 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 3 

certain Anglo-Italian gravity and intensity, a cer- 
tain reserve and resignation in the face of human 
suffering, which distinguish him from all other 
French writers of eminence. It is not from any 
of Alfred de Vigny's great contemporaries that life 
would have extracted that last cry in the desert : — 

" Seul le silence est grand : tout le teste est faiblesse," 

nor should we look to them for the ambiguous 
device *' Parfaite illusion — R6alit6 parfaite." The 
other poets of France have been picturesque, 
abundant, gregarious, vehement ; Alfred de Vigny 
was not of their class, but we can easily conceive 
him among those who, in the Cumberland of 
a hundred years ago, were murmuring by the 
running brooks a music sweeter than their own. 

One word of warning may not be out of place. 
If Alfred de Vigny was known to English readers 
of a past generation it was mainly through a 
brilliant study by Sainte-Beuve in his Nouveaux 
Lundis. This was composed very shortly after 
the death of Vigny, and, in spite of its excessive 
critical cleverness, it deserves very little commen- 
dation. Sainte-Beuve, who had been more or less 
intimate with Vigny forty years before, had formed 
a strange jealousy of him, and in this essay his 
perfidy runs riot. It is Sainte-Beuve who calls 
the poet of Les Desitnees a " beautiful angel 
who had been drinking vinegar," and the modern 
reader needs a strong caution against the malice 
and raillery of the quondam friend who was so 
patient and who forgot nothing. 



4 FRENCH PROFILES 

I 

An image of the youthful Alfred de Vigny is 
preserved for us in the charming portrait of the 
Carnavalet Museum. Here he smiles at us out of 
gentle blue eyes, and under copious yellow curls, 
candid, dreamy, almost childlike in his magnificent 
scarlet and gold uniform of the King's Musketeers, 
This portrait was painted in 1815, when the sub- 
ject of it was just eighteen, yet had already served 
in the army for a year. Alfred de Vigny was born 
at Leches, on March 27, 1797. Aristocrats and 
of families wholly military, his father and mother 
had been thrown into prison during the Terror, 
had escaped with their lives, and had concealed 
themselves after Thermidor, in the romantic little 
town of the Touraine. The childhood of the poet 
was not particularly interesting ; what is known 
about it is recorded in M. S^che's recent volume 1 
and elsewhere. But there effervesced in his young 
soul a burning ambition for arms, and before he 
was seventeen, he contrived to leave school and 
enter a squadron of the Gendarmes Rouges. He 
was full of military pride in his early life, and until 
his illusions overcame him he hardly knew whether 
to be more vain of the laurel or of the sword. He 
says : — 

" J'ai mis sur le cimier dore du gentilhomme 
Une plume de fer qui n'est pas sans beautd ; 
J'ai fait illustre un nom qu'on m'a transmis sans gloire," 

for he knew that the deeds of that " petite nob- 

^ L6on Sech^, Alfred de Vigny et son Temps, Paris, Felix Juven, 1902. 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 5 

lebse" from which he sprang were excellent, but 
not magnificent. 

No one seems to have discovered under what 
auspices he began to write verses. There appear 
in his works two idyls, La Dryade and Syme'tha, 
which are marked as " written in 1815." 
Sainte-Beuve, with curious coarseness, after 
Vigny's death, accused him in so many terms 
of having antedated these pieces by five years in 
order to escape the reproach of having imitated 
Andre Chenier, whose poems were first collected 
posthumously in 18 19. Such a charge is contrary 
to everything we know of the upright and chival- 
rous character of Vigny. That the influence of 
Chenier is strong on these verses is unquestionable. 
But Sainte-Beuve should not have forgotten that 
the eclogues of Chenier were quoted by Chateau- 
briand in a note to the G^nie du Christianisme in 
1802, and that this was quite enough to start the 
youthful talent of Vigny. From this time forth, 
no attack can be made on the originality of the 
poet, so far as all French influences are concerned. 
The next piece of his which we possess, La Dame 
Romainef is dated 1817 ; this and Le Baly of 
18 18, show the attraction which Byron had for 
him. In these verses the romantic school of 
French poetry made its earliest appeal to the 
public, and in 1819 Alfred de Vigny's friendship 
with the youthful Victor Hugo began. 

It was in 1822 that a little volume of the highest 
historical importance was issued, without the 
name of its author, and under the modest title 
of Poemes. It was divided into three parts, 



6 FRENCH PROFILES 

Antiques, Judaiques, and Modernes, and the second 
of these sections contained one poem which 
can still be read with undiluted pleasure. This 
is the exquisite lyrical narrative entitled La Fille 
de Jephte, which had been composed in 1820. 
To realise what were the merits of Alfred de 
Vigny as a precursor, we have but to compare 
this faultless Biblical elegy with anything of the 
kind written up to that date by a French poet, 
even though his name was Hugo. 

Meanwhile the life of Vigny was a picturesque 
and melancholy one. A certain impression of its 
features may be gathered, incidentally, from the 
pages of the Grandeur et Servitude Militaires, al- 
though that was written long afterwards. He was 
a soldier from his seventeenth to his thirtieth year, 
and many of his best poems were written by 
lamplight, in the corner of a tent, as the young 
lieutenant lay on his elbow, waiting for the tuck 
of drum. He was long in garrison with the Royal 
Foot Guards at Vincennfes, and thence he could 
slip in to Paris, meet the other budding poets at 
the rooms of Nodier, and recite verses with Emile 
Deschamps and Victor Hugo. But in 1823 he 
was definitely torn from Paris. The Spanish War 
took his regiment to the Pyrenean frontier and it 
was while in camp, close to Roncevaux and Fuent- 
arrabia, that he seems to have heard, one knows 
not how, of the newly discovered wonders of the 
Chanson de Roland, which was still unknown save 
to a few English scholars ; the result was that 
he wrote that enchanting poem, Le Cor. If the 
student is challenged, as he sometimes is, to name 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 7 

a lyric in the French language which has the 
irresistible magic and melody of the best pieces of 
Coleridge or Keats, that fairy music which is the 
peculiar birthright of England, he cannot do 
better than to quote, almost at random, from Le 
Cor : — 

" Sur le plus haut des monts s'arretent les chevaux ; 
L'^cume les blanchit ; sous leurs pieds, Roncevaux 
Des feux mourants du jour k peine se colore. 
A I'horizon lointain fuit I'etendard du More. 

* Turpin, n'as-tu rien vu dans le fond du torrent ?' 
' J'y vols deux chevaliers ; I'un mort, I'autre expirant. 
Tous deux sont ecrases sous une roche noire : 
Le plus fort, dans sa main, dleve un Cor d'ivoire, 
Son ime en s'exhalant nous appela deux fois.' 

Dieu I que le son du Cor est triste au fond des bois." 

Begun at Roncevaux in 1823, Le Cor was 
finished at Pau in 1825. At the former date, 
Alfred de Vigny was slightly in love with the 
fascinating Delphine Gay, and some verses, re- 
cently given to the world, lead to the belief that 
he failed to propose to her because she ^Haughed too 
loudly." Already the melancholy and distinguished 
sobriety of manner which was to be the mark of 
Alfred de Vigny had begun to settle upon him. 
Already he shrank from noise, from levity, from 
hollow and reverberating enthusiasm. His regi- 
ment was sent to Strasburg and he became a 
captain. Returning to the Pyrenees, he wrote 
Le Deluge and Dolorida ; in the Vosges he 
composed the first draft of £lloa, which he 
called Satan. In the second edition of his 
PoemeSf there were included a number of pieces 



8 FRENCH PROFILES 

vastly superior to those previously published, and 
Alfred de Vigny boldly claimed for himself that 
distinction as a precursor, which was long denied 
to him, and which is now again universally con- 
ceded. He wrote that "the only merit of these 
poems," — it was not their only or their greatest 
merit, but it was a distinction, — " c'est d'avoir 
devance en France toutes celles de ce genre." 
That was absolutely true. 

When we reflect that the earliest poems of 
Victor Hugo which display his characteristic 
talent, such as Le Sylphe and La Grand'mere, 
belong to 1823, the originality of Mo'tse, which 
was written in 1822, is extraordinary. In spite 
of all that has been published since, this poem 
may still be read with complete pleasure ; there 
are few narratives in the French language more 
distinguished, more uplifted. Moses stands at 
sunset on the brow of Nebo ; the land of Canaan 
lies spread at his feet. He gazes at it with long- 
ing and despair, and then he turns to climb the 
mountain. Amid the hymns of Israel he ascends 
into the clouds, and in the luminous obscurity he 
speaks with God. In a majestic soliloquy he ex- 
patiates on the illusions of his solitary greatness, 
and on the disappointment of his finding his own 
life more isolated and more arid the vaster his 
destinies become. The angels, themselves, envy 
his position : — 

" Vos anges sont jaloux et m'admirent entre eux, 
Et cependant, Seigneur, je ne suis pas heureux ; 
Vous m'avez fait vieillir puissant et solitaire, 
Laissez-moi m'endormir du sommeil de la terre." 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 9 

Here we have at length the master accent of 
Alfred de Vigny, that which was to be the central 
note of his poetry, a conception of the sublimity 
of man, who, having tasted of the water of 
life, sinks back " dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing." 
Nothing could be more poignant than the 
melodious reverie of Moses : — 

" J'ai vu I'amour s'eteindre et I'amitie tarir ; 
Les vierges se voilaient et craignaient de mourir. 
M'enveloppant alors de la colonne noire, 
J'ai marche devant tous, triste et seul dans ma gloire, 
Et j'ai dit dans mon coeur : ' Que vouloir a present ?' 
Pour dormir sur un sein mon front est trop pesant, 
Ma main laisse I'effroi sur la main qu'elle touche, 
L'orage est dans ma voix, I'dclair est sur ma bouche ; 
Aussi, loin de m'aimer, voili qu'ils tremblent tous, 
Et, quand j'ouvre les bras, on tombe k mes genoux. 
O Seigneur ! j'ai vdcu puissant et solitaire, 
Laissez-moi m'endormir du sommeil de la terre ! " 

On the morning when these enchanting verses 
were composed, poetry was full-grown again in 
France, reborn after the long burial of the eigh- 
teenth century. 

The processes of the poet's mind are still better 
observed in Le Deluge, a. less perfect poem. All 
was serene and splendid in the primeval world, 

" Et la beaute du Monde attestait son enfance," 

but there was one blot on the terrestrial paradise, 
for " I'Homme etait m^chant." In consequence of 
a secret warning, Noah builds the ark, and enters 
it with his family. One of his descendants, 
however, the young Sara, refuses to take shelter 
in it, because she has an appointment to meet 



lo FRENCH PROFILES 

Emmanuel, her angel lover, on Mount Arar. 
The deluge arrives ; Sara calls in vain on her 
supernatural protector, and, climbing far up the 
peak, is the last of mortals to be submerged. The 
violence of the flood is rather grotesquely described ; 
the succeeding calm is, on the other hand, of the 
purest Vigny : — 

" La vague ^tait paisible, et moUe et cadencde, 
En berceaux de cristal moUement balancee ; 
Les vents, sans resistance, dtaient silencieux ; 
La foudre, sans echos, expirait dans les cieux ; 
Les cieux devenaient purs, et, reflechis dans I'onde, 
Teignaient d'un azur clair Timmensite profonde." 

Written in the Pyrenees in 1823, Le Deluge exempli- 
fies the close attention which Alfred de Vigny paid 
to English literature, and particularly to Byron. 
In Moise the sole influences discoverable are those 
of the Bible and Milton ; Le Deluge shows that 
the French poet had just been reading Heaven 
and Earth. This drama was not published until 
January 1823, a week after Moore's Loves of 
the Angels, which also was already exercising a 
fascination over the mind of Vigny. The prompti- 
tude with which he transferred these elements into 
his own language is very remarkable, and has never, 
I think, been noted. 

Still more observable are these English influences 
in &loa, which was written in the spring of 1824. 
This is the romance of pity, tenderness, and sacri- 
fice, of vain self-sacrifice and of pity without hands 
to help. It was received by the young writers of its 
own country with a frenzy of admiration. In La 
Muse Fran^aise Victor Hugo reviewed it in terms 



ALFRED DE VIGNY ii 

of redundant eulogy. A little later, and when so 
much more of a brilliant character had been 
published, Gautier styled £loa " the most beautiful 
and perhaps the most perfect poem in the French 
language." As a specimen of idealistic religious 
romanticism it will always be a classic and will 
always be read with pleasure ; but time has 
somewhat tarnished its sentimental beauty. It 
is another variant of The Loves of the Angels f 
but treated in a far purer and more ethereal spirit 
than that of Moore or Byron. 

It would be difficult to point to a more delicate 
example of the school of sensibility than Eloa. To 
submit one's self without reserve to its pellucid 
charm is like gazing into the depths of an ame- 
thyst. The subject is sentimental in the highest 
degree ; Eloa is an angel, who, in her blissful 
state, hears of the agony of Satan, and is drawn 
by curiosity and pity to descend into his sphere. 
Her compassion and her imprudence are rewarded 
by her falling passionately in love with the stricken 
archangel, and resigning herself to his baneful 
force. Brought face to face with his crimes, she 
resists him, but the wily fiend melts into hypo- 
critical tears, and Eloa sinks into his arms. 
Wrapped in a flowing cloud they pass together 
down to Hell, and a chorus of faithful seraphim, 
winging their way back to Paradise, overhear this 
latest and fatal dialogue: — 

" ' Oil me conduisez-vous, bel ange ? ' ' Viens toujours.' 
— * Que votre voix est triste, et quel sombre discours ! 
N'est-ce pas ifcloa qui soul^ve ta chaine ? 
J'ai cru t'avoir sauve.' ' Non ! c'est moi qui t'entraine.' 



12 FRENCH PROFILES 

— * Si nous sommes unis, peu m'importe en quel lieu ! 

Nomme-moi done encore ou ta soeur ou ton dieu ! ' 

— ' J'enl^ve mon esclave et je tiens ma victime.' 

— 'Tu paraissais si bon ! Oh ! qu'ai-je fait ? ' ' Un crime. 

— ' Seras-tu plus heureux ? du moins, es-tu content ? ' 

— ' Plus triste que jamais.' — ' Qui done est-tu ? ' ' Satan.' " 

Taste changes, and ^loa has too much the 
appearance, to our eyes, of a wax-work. But 
nothing can prevent our appreciation of the 
magnificent verses in which it is written. The 
design and scheme of colour may be those of Ary 
Scheffer, the execution is worthy of Raphael. 

Before we cease to examine these early writings, 
however, we must spare a moment — though only 
a moment — to the consideration of a work which 
gave Vigny the popular celebrity which served to 
introduce his verses to a wider public. Early in 
1826 he was presented to Sir Walter Scott in 
Paris, and, fired with Anglomaniac ambition, he 
immediately sat down to write a French Waverley 
novel. The result was Cinq-Mars, long the most 
successful of all his writings, although not the 
best. It is a story of the time of Louis XIII. and 
of Cardinal Richelieu ; it deals with all the court 
intrigues which led up to the horrible assassina- 
tion of De Thou and of Henri d'Effiat, Marquis 
de Cinq- Mars. Anne of Austria is a foremost 
figure on the scene of it. Cinq-Mars, a very care- 
ful study in the manner of Walter Scott, was 
afterwards enriched by notes and historical 
apparatus, and by an essay " On Truth in Art," 
written in 1827. It has passed through countless 
editions, but it is overfull of details, the plot drags. 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 13 

and the reader must be simple to find it an excit- 
ing romance. It is interesting to notice in it the 
Anglophil tendencies of its author betrayed in 
quotations from Shakespeare, Milton, and Byron, 
and the restricted circle of his friends by frequent 
introduction of the names of Delphine Gay, 
Soumet, Nodier, Lammenais. Cinq -Mars will 
always be remembered as the earliest French 
romantic novel of the historical order. 

The marriage of Alfred de Vigny, the facts and 
even the date of which have been persistently 
misreported by his biographers — even by M. 
Pal^ologue — took place, as M. S6ch6 has proved, 
at Pau, on February 3, 1825. He married Miss 
Lydia Bunbury, the daughter of Sir Edward 
Bunbury, a soldier and politician not without 
eminence in his day. She was twenty-six years 
of age, of a " majestic beauty " which soon dis- 
appeared under the attacks of ill-health, and 
everything about her gratified the excessive Anglo- 
mania of the poet. She could not talk French 
with ease, and curiously enough when she had 
for many years been the Comtesse Alfred de 
Vigny, it was observed that she still spoke broken 
French with a strong English accent. It appears 
that this was positively agreeable to the poet, who 
had a little while before written that his only 
penates were his Bible and " a few English engrav- 
ings," and whose conversation ran incessantly on 
Byron, Southey, Moore, and Scott. It is certain 
that some French critics have found it hard to 
forgive the intensity of Vigny's early love of all 
things English. 



14 FRENCH PROFILES 

French writers have laboured to prove that the 
marriage of Alfred de Vigny was an unhappy one. 
It was certainly both anomalous and unfortunate, 
but there is no need to exaggerate its misfortunes. 
Lydia Bunbury appears to have been limited in 
intelligence and sympathy, and bad health gradually 
made her fretful. Yet there exists no evidence 
that she ever lost her liking for her husband or 
ceased to be soothed by his presence. He, for 
his part, had never loved when he proposed to 
Lydia Bunbury, and their relations continued to 
be as phlegmatic on the one side as on the other. 
For four or five years they lived together in sober 
friendship, Lydia sinking deeper and deeper into 
the condition of a chronic invalid. She was then 
nursed and tended by her husband with the 
tenderest assiduity and patience, and in later 
years he was a constant visitor at her sofa. She 
had exchanged a husband for a nurse, and doubt- 
less renunciation would have been the greater 
part for Vigny also to play. But over his calm 
existence love now, for the first and only time, 
swept like a whirlwind of fire. In the tumult of 
this passion it is to his credit that he never forgot 
to be patient with and solicitous about the helpless 
invalid at home. If morality is offended, let this 
at least be recollected, that Lydia de Vigny knew 
all, and expressed no murmur which has been 
recorded. 

The first period of Alfred de Vigny's life closed 
in 1827, when he left the army, on the pretext of 
health. He travelled in England with his wife, 
and it was at Dieppe, on a return journey in 1828, 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 15 

that he wrote the most splendid of his few lyrical 
poems, La Fre'gate ' La Serieuse.' This ode is too 
long for its interest, but contains stanzas that 
have never been surpassed for brilliance, as for 
example : — 

" Comme un dauphin elle saute, 

Elle plonge comme lui 
Dans la mer profonde et haute 

Ou le feu Saint-Elme a lui. 
Le feu serpente avec grace ; 
Du gouvernail qu'il embrasse 
II marque longtemps la trace, 

Et Ton dirait un Eclair 
Qui, n'ayant pu nous atteindre, 
Dans les vagues va s'eteindre, 
Mais ne cesse de les teindre 

Du prisme enflammd de I'air." 

II 

It is remarkable to notice how many English 
influences the nature of Alfred de Vigny obeyed. 
In May, 1828, the performances of Edmund Kean 
in Paris stirred his imagination to its depths. He 
immediately plunged himself into a fresh study of 
Shakespeare, and still further exercised his fancy 
by repeated experiences of the magic of Mrs. 
Siddons during a long visit he paid to London. 
The result was soon apparent in his attempts to 
render Shakespeare vocal to the French, who had 
welcomed Kean's " Othello " with " un vulgaire le 
plus profane que jamais I'ignorance parisienne ait 
d6chain6 dans une salle de spectacle" (May 17, 
1828). Vigny translated The Merchant of Venice, 
Romeo and Juliet, and, above all, Othello, which 



i6 FRENCH PROFILES 

was acted in October, 1829, amid the plaudits 
of the whole romantic camp of Paris. That 
night Vigny, already extremely admired within 
a limited circle, became universally famous, and 
a dangerous rival to Victor Hugo, with whose 
Hemani and Marion de Lorme, moreover, com- 
parison soon grew inevitable. 

But Alfred de Vigny cared little for the jealousies 
of the Cenacle. He was now absorbed by a very 
different passion. It appears to have been on May 
30, 1829,^ that, after a performance of Casimir 
Delavigne's romantic tragedy of Marino Faliero, 
Vigny was presented to the actress, Marie Dorval. 
This remarkable woman of genius had been born 
in 1798, had shown from the age of four years a 
prodigious talent for the stage, had made her 
debut in Paris in 1818, and had been a universal 
favourite since 1822. She was, therefore, neither 
very young nor very new when she passed across 
the path of Alfred de Vigny with such fiery results. 
She was highly practised in the arts of love, and 
he a timid and fastidious novice. It may even be 
said, without too great a paradox, that the romance 
of £lloa was now enacted in real life, with the parts 
reversed, for the poet was the candid angel, drawn 
to his fall by pity, curiosity, and tenderness, while 
Madame Dorval was the formidable and fatal demon 
who dragged him down. " Demon," however, is 
far too harsh a word to employ, even in jest, for 
this tremulous and expansive woman, all emotion 
and undisciplined ardour. M. S6ch6 has put the 
position very well before us : " When, at the age 

^ See M. L^on S&he's monograph, pp. 53-56. 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 17 

of thirty-two, she saw kneeling at her feet this 
gentleman of ancient lineage, his charming face 
framed in his blond and curly hair and delicately 
lighted up by the tender azure of his eyes, she 
experienced a sentiment she had never felt before, 
as though a cup of cold well-water had been lifted 
to her burning lips." 

Reserved, irreproachable, by temperament ob- 
scure and chilly, it was long before Alfred de 
Vigny succumbed to the tumult of the senses. 
For a long time the animated and extravagant 
actress was dazzled by the mystical adoration, the 
respectful and solemn worship of her new admirer. 
She was accustomed to the rough way of the world, 
but she had never been loved like this before. She 
became hypnotised at last by the gaze of Alfred de 
Vigny fixed upon her in what Sainte-Beuve has 
called "a perpetual seraphic hallucination." A 
transformation appeared to come over herself. 
She fell in love with Vigny as completely as the 
poet had with her, and she became, in virtue of 
the transcendent ductility of her temperament as 
an actress, a temporary copy of himself. She 
was all reverie, all abstract devotion, and the 
strange pair floated through the stormy life of 
Paris, a marvel to all beholders, in a discreet and 
delicate rapture, as a poet with his muse, as a 
nun with her brother. This ecstatic relation 
continued until 183 1, and during these years 
Alfred de Vigny scarcely wrote anything in prose 
or verse, entirely supported by the exquisite senti- 
ment of his attachment. He fulfilled the dream 
of Pascal, "Tant plus le chemin est long dans 

B 



i8 FRENCH PROFILES 

I'amour, tant plus un esprit d61icat sent de 
plaisir." 

The circumstances under which this seraphic 
and mystical relation came to an end have but 
recently beeen made public. The wonder is that 
Madame Dorval, so romantic, violent, and suscep- 
tible, should have been willing so long to preserve 
such an idyllic or even angelic reserve. George 
Sand, who saw her at this time, selects other adjec- 
tives for her, " Oh ! naive et passionn^e, et jeune et 
suave, et tremblante et terrible." But she deter- 
mined at last to play the comedy of renunciation 
no longer, and Vigny's subtlety and platonism 
were burned up like grass in the flame of her 
seduction. He was Eloa, as I have said ; she was 
the tenebrous and sinister archangel, and he sank 
in the ecstatic crisis of her will. For the next few 
years, Mme. Dorval possessed the life of the poet, 
swayed his instincts, inspired his intellect. His 
genius enjoyed a new birth in her ; she brought 
about a palingenesis of his talent, and during this 
period he produced some of the most powerful 
and the most solid of his works. 

Under the influence of these novel and violent 
emotions, Vigny began at the close of 1831 to 
write Stello; he composed it in great heat, and it 
was finished in January, 1832, and immediately 
sent to press. Stello is a book which has been 
curiously neglected by modern students of the 
poet ; it is highly characteristic of the author at 
this stage of his career, and deserves a closer 
examination than it usually receives. It is a triad 
of episodes set in a sort of Shandean framework 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 19 

of fantastic prose ; the influence of Sterne is 
clearly visible in the form of it. It occupies a 
single night, and presents but two characters. 
Stello, a very happy and successful poet, wealthy 
and applauded, nevertheless suffers from the 
" spleen." In a fit of the blue devils, he is 
stretched on his sofa, the victim of a headache, 
which is described in miraculous and Brobdig- 
nagian terms. A mystic personage, the Black 
Doctor, a physician of souls, attends the sufferer, 
and engages him in conversation. This conver- 
sation is the book called Stello. 

The Black Doctor will distract the patient by 
three typical anecdotes of poets, who, in Words- 
worth's famous phrase, 

" began in gladness, 
But thereof came, in the end, despondency and madness." 

He tells a story of a mad flea, which develops 
into the relation of the sad end of the poet 
Gilbert. To this follow the history of Chatter- 
ton, and an exceedingly full and close chronicle 
of the last days of Andr6 Ch^nier. The friends 
converse on the melancholy topic of the rooted 
antipathy which exists between the Man of 
Action and the Man of Art. Poets are the 
eternal helots of society ; modern life results 
in the perpetual ostracism of genius. Stello, in 
whom Alfred de Vigny obviously speaks, is 
roused to indignation at the charge of inutility 
constantly brought against the fine arts, and 
charges Plato with having given the original 
impetus to this heresy by his exclusion of the 



20 FRENCH PROFILES 

poets from his republic. But the Black Doctor 
is inclined to accept Plato's view, and to hold that 
the great mistake is made by the men of reverie 
themselves in attempting to act as social forces. 
The friends agree that the propaganda of the 
future must be to separate the Life Poetic from 
the Life Politic as with a chasm. 

Then in eloquent and romantic pages the law 
of conduct is laid down. The poet must not 
mix with the world, but in solitude and liberty 
must withdraw that he may accomplish his mis- 
sion. He must firmly repudiate the too facile 
ambitions and enterprises of active life. He 
must keep firmly before him the image of those 
martyrs of the mind, Gilbert, Chatterton, and 
Ch^nier. He must say to his fellow men, what 
the swallows say as they gather under our eaves, 
" Protect us, but touch us not." Such is the 
teaching of Stelloy a book extraordinary in its 
own day, and vibrating still ; a book in which 
for the first time was preached, without the least 
reserve, the doctrines of the aristocracy of ima- 
gination and of the illusiveness of any theory of 
equality between the artist and the common pro- 
letariat of mankind. Alfred de Vigny wrote Stel/o 
in a passion of sincerity, and it is in its pages that 
we first see him retiring into his famous "ivory 
tower." It is the credo of a poet for whom the 
charges of arrogance and narrowness do not exist; 
who doubted as little about the supremacy of 
genius as an anointed emperor does about Right 
Divine. 

The stage now attracted Vigny. In the summer 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 21 

of 1 83 1 he wrote, and in 1834 brought out on the 
stage of the Second Theatre Frangais, La Marechale 
d AncrCy a melodrama in prose, of the beginning 
of the seventeenth century, a poison and dagger 
piece, thick with the intrigues of Concini and 
Borgia. In May 1833 he produced Quitte pour la 
Peur, a trifle in one act. These unimportant 
works lead us up to what is perhaps the most 
famous of all Vigny's writings, the epoch-making 
tragedy of Chatterton. This drama, which is in 
very simple prose, was the work of seventeen 
nights in June 1834, when the poet was at the 
summit of his infatuation for Madame Dorval. The 
subject of Chatterton had been already sketched in 
Stelloy and the play is really nothing more than 
one of the episodes in that romance, expanded 
and dramatised. Vigny published Chatterton with 
a preface which should be carefully read if we are 
to appreciate the point of view from which the 
poet desired his play to be observed. 

The subject of Chatterton is the perpetual 
and inevitable martyrdom of the Poet, against 
whom all the rest of the successful world nourishes 
an involuntary resentment, because he will take no 
part in the game of action. Vigny tells the story 
of the young English writer, with certain neces- 
sary modifications. He represents him as a lodger 
at the inn of John and Kitty Bell, where at the end 
he tears up his manuscripts and commits suicide. 
The English reader must try to forgive and forget 
the lapses against local colour. Chatterton has been 
a spendthrift at Oxford, and has friends who hunt 
the wild boar on Primrose Hill ; Vigny keeps to 



22 FRENCH PROFILES 

history only when it suits him to do so. These 
eccentricities did not interfere with the frenetic 
joy with which the play was received by the 
young writers and artists of Paris, and they ought 
not to disturb us now. Chatterton drinks opium 
in the last scene, because a newspaper has said 
that he is not the author of the " Rowley Poems," 
and because he has been offered the situation of 
first flunkey to the Lord Mayor of London. But 
these things are a symbol. 

Much of the plot of Chatterton may strike 
the modern reader as mere extravagance. The 
logic of the piece is, nevertheless, complete and 
highly effective. It was the more strikingly effec- 
tive when it was produced because no drama of 
pure thought was known to the audience which 
witnessed it. Classics and romantics alike filled 
their stage with violent action ; this was a play of 
poignant interest, but that interest was entirely in- 
tellectual. The mystical passion of Chatterton and 
Kitty Bell is subtle, silent, expressed in thoughts; 
here were brought before the footlights " infinite 
passion and the pain of finite hearts that yearn " 
without a sigh. It is a marvellous tribute to genius 
that such a play could succeed, yet it was precisely 
in the huge psychological soliloquy in the third 
act — where the danger seemed greatest — that suc- 
cess was most eminent. When the audience lis- 
tened to Chatterton murmuring in his garret, with 
the thick fog at the window, all the cold and 
hunger supported by pride alone, and when they 
listened to the tremendous words in which the 
pagan soul of Alfred de Vigny speaks through the 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 23 

stoic boy, their emotion was so poignant as to be 
insupportable. 

The Poet as the imaginative pariah — that is the 
theme of Chatterton ; the man of ideaUsm crushed 
by a materiaUstic society. It is a case of romantic 
neurosis, faced without shrinking. Chatterton, the 
dramatist admits, is suffering from a malady of 
the mind. But why, on that account, should he 
be crushed out of existence ? Why should there 
be no pity for the infirmities of inspiration ? Has 
the poet really no place in the state ? Is not the 
fact that he "reads in the stars the pathway that 
the finger of God is pointing out " reason enough 
for granting him the trifle that he craves, just 
leisure and a little bread ? Why does the man 
of action grudge the inspired dreamer his reverie 
and the necessary food ? Everybody in the world 
is right, it appears, except the poets. I do not 
know that it has ever been suggested that, in his 
picture of Chatterton, Vigny was thinking of the 
poet, H6g6sippe Moreau, who, in 1833, was in 
hospital, and who eminently " n'etait pas de ceux 
qui se laissent prot^ger ais^ment." 

Chatterton is Alfred de Vigny's one dramatic 
success. Its form is extremely original ; it expresses 
with great fulness one side of the temperament of 
the author, and it suits the taste of the young artist 
not only in that but in every age. It is written 
with simplicity, although adorned here and there, 
as by a jewel, with an occasional startling image, 
as where the Quaker (a chorus needed because the 
passion of Chatterton and Kitty is voiceless) says 
that "the peace that reigns around you has been 



24 FRENCH PROFILES 

as dangerous for the spirit of this dreamer as sleep 
would be beneath the white tuberose." What- 
ever is forgotten, Chatterton must be remembered, 
and in each generation fresh young pulses will 
beat to its generous and hopeless fervour. Vigny 
was writing little verse at this time, but the curious 
piece called " Paris : Elevation " belongs to the 
year 1834, and is interesting as a link between 
the otherwise unrelated poetry of his youth and 
the chain of philosophical apologues in which his 
career as a poet was finally to culminate. But his 
main interest at this time was in prose. 

Tenacity of vision was one of the most remark- 
able of Vigny's characteristics. When an experi- 
ence had once made its impression upon him, this 
became deeper and more vivid as the years went 
on. He concealed it, he brooded on it, and sud- 
denly the seed shot up and broke in the perfect 
blossom of imaginative writing. Hence we need 
not be surprised that the military adventures of 
his earliest years, when the yellow curls fell round 
the candid blue eyes of the boy as he rode in his 
magnificent scarlet uniform, although long put aside, 
were not forgotten. In the summer of 1835, with 
that curious activity in creation which always fol- 
lowed his motionless months of reverie, Alfred de 
Vigny suddenly set about and rapidly carried 
through the composition of the finest of his prose 
works, the admirable classic known as Grandeur et 
Servitude Militaires. The subject of this book is 
the illusion of mihtary glory as exemplified in 
three episodes of the great war. The form of the 
volume is very notable ; its stories rest in an auto- 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 25 

biographical setting, and it was long supposed that 
this also was fiction. But a letter has recently 
been discovered, written to a friend while the 
Grandeur et Servitude was being composed, in which 
the author says, categorically, " wherever I have 
written 'I,' what I relate is the truth. I was at 
Vincennes when the poor adjutant died. I saw 
on the road to Belgium a cart driven by an old 
commander of a battalion. It was I who galloped 
along smgxngjoconde." This testimony adds great 
value to the delightful setting of the three stories, 
Laurette, La Veillee de Vincennes, and La Canne de 
Jonc. It is the confession of a sensitive spirit, 
striking the note of the disappointment of the 
age. 

Laurette is an experience of 181 5, in which a 
tale of 1797 is told; the poet makes a poignant 
appeal to the feelings by relating a savage crime 
of the Directory. A blunt sea captain is ordered 
to take a very young man and his child-wife to 
the tropics, and on a certain day to open a sealed 
letter. He becomes exceedingly attached to the 
charming pair of lovers, but when at last the letter 
is opened, he finds that he is instructed to shoot 
the husband for a supposed political offence. This 
he does, being under the " servitude " of duty, and 
the little wife goes mad. Nothing can exceed the 
exquisite simplicity of the scenes on shipboard, and 
the whole narrative is conducted with a masterly 
and almost sculptural reserve. The moral of Lau- 
rette is the illusion of pushing the sentiment of duty 
to its last and most inhuman consequences. 

Somewhat later experiences in Vigny's life inspire 



26 FRENCH PROFILES 

La Veillee de VincenneSy a story of 1819. This epi- 
sode opens with a delicious picture of a summer 
evening in the fortress before the review, the soldiers 
lounging about in groups, the white hen of the regi- 
ment strutting across the courtyard in her scarlet 
aigrette and her silver collar. It is full of those 
marvellous sudden images in which Vigny delights, 
phrases that take possession of the fancy ; such as, 
" Je sentais quelque chose dans ma pens^e, comme 
une tache dans une emeraude." 

As a story La Veillee de Vincennes is not so in- 
teresting as its companions, but as an illustration 
of the poet's reflection upon life, it has an extreme 
value. The theme is the illusion of military excite- 
ment ; the soldier only escapes ennui by the mag- 
nificent disquietude of danger, and in periods of 
peace he lacks this tonic. The curious and quite 
disconnected narrative of the accidental blowing 
up of the powder magazine, towards the close of 
this tale, is doubtless drawn directly from the ex- 
perience of Vigny, who narrates it in a manner 
which is almost a prediction of that of Tolstoi. 

In La Canne de J one we have the illusion of 
active glory. In the military life, when it is not 
stagnant, there is too much violence of action, not 
space enough for reflection. The moral of this 
story of disappointment in the person of Napoleon 
is that we should devote ourselves to principles 
and not to men. There are two magnificent scenes 
in La Canne de Jonc, the one in which the Pope con- 
fronts Napoleon with the cry of " Commediante ! " 
the other in which the author pays a noble tribute 
to Collingwood, and paints that great enemy of 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 27 

France as a hero of devotion to public duty. The 
whole of this book is worthy of close attention. It 
is one of the most distinguished in modern litera- 
ture. Nothing could have been more novel than 
this exposure to the French of the pitiful fallacies 
of their military glory, of the hollowness of vows 
of poverty and obedience blindly made to power, 
whose only design was to surround itself by a body- 
guard of gladiators. Of the reserve and sobriety 
of emotion in Grandeur et Servitude Militaires, and of 
the limpid, delicate elegance of its style, there can- 
not be any question. It will be a joy to readers 
of refinement as long as the French language 
endures. 

At the close of 1835 Alfred de Vigny made the 
distressing discovery — he was the only member of 
the circle who had remained oblivious of the fact 
— that Madame Dorval was flagrantly unfaithful to 
him. He became aware that she was in intrigue with 
no less a personage than the boisterous Alexandre 
Dumas. Recent investigations have thrown an 
ugly light on this humiliating and painful incident. 
Wounded mortally in his pride and in his passion, 
he felt, as he says, "the earth give way under his 
feet." He was from this time forth dead to the 
world, and, in the fine phrase of M. Pal^ologue, 
he withdrew into his own intellect as into " an 
impenetrable Thebaid where he could be alone in 
the presence of his own thoughts." Alfred de 
Vigny survived this blow for more than a quarter 
of a century, but as a hermit and a stranger among 
the people. 



28 FRENCH PROFILES 



III 

When Alfred de Vigny perceived the treason of 
Madame Dorval in December, 1835, his active life 
ceased. Something snapped in him — the chords of 
illusion, of artistic ambition, of the hope of happiness. 
He never attempted to forgive the deceiver, and 
he never forgave woman in her person. His pes- 
simism grew upon him ; he lost all interest in the 
public and in his friends ; after a brief political effort 
he sank into a soundless isolation. He possessed a 
country house, called Le Maine-Giraud, in the west 
of France, and thither he withdrew, absorbed in the 
care of his invalid wife, and in the cultivation of his 
thoughts. His voice was scarcely heard any more 
in French literature, and gradually he grew to be 
forgotten. The louder and more active talents of 
his contemporaries filled up the void ; Alfred de 
Vigny glided into silence, and was not missed. 
During the last twenty-eight years of his existence, 
on certain rare occasions, Vigny's intensity of 
dream, of impassioned reverie, found poetical re- 
lief. When he died, ten poems of various length 
were discovered among his papers, and these were 
published in 1864, as a very slender volume called 
Les Destinies, by his executor, Louis Ratisbonne. 

Several of these posthumous pieces are dated, 
and the earliest of them seems to be La Colere de 
Samson, written in April 1839, when the Vignys 
were staying with the Earl of Kilmorey at Shav- 
ington Park in Shropshire. It is a curious proof 
of the intensity with which Alfred de Vigny con- 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 29 

centrated himself on his vision that this terrible 
poem, one of the most powerful in the French 
language, should have been written in England 
during a country visit. It would seem that for 
more than three years the wounded poet had been 
brooding on his wrongs. Suddenly, without warn- 
ing, the storm breaks in this tremendous picture 
of the deceit of woman and the helpless strength 
of man, in verses the melody and majesty of which 
are only equalled by their poignant agony : — 

" Toujours voir serpenter la vip^re dorde 
Qui se traine en sa fange et s'y croit ignoree ; 
Toujours ce compagnon dont le coeur n'est pas sur, 
La Femme, enfant malade et douze fois impur ! 
Toujours mettre sa force k garder sa colore 
Dans son coeur offense, comme en un sanctuaire, 
D'ou le feu s'echappant irait tout d^vorer ; 
Interdire k ses yeux de voir ou de pleurer, 
C'est trop ! Dieu, s'il le veut, peut balayer ma cendre, 
J'ai donne mon secret, Dalila va le vendre." 

He buried the memory of Madame Dorval under 
La Colere de Samson, as a volcano buries a guilty 
city beneath a shower of burning ashes, and he 
turned to the contemplation of the world as he 
saw it under the soft light of the gentle despair 
which now more and more completely invaded 
his spirit. 

The genius of Alfred de Vigny as the philo- 
sophical exponent of this melancholy composure 
is displayed in the noble and sculptural elegy, 
named Les Desiine'es, composed in ierza ritna in 
1849; but in a still more natural and personal way 
in a poem which is among the most fascinating 
that he has left behind him, La Maison du Berger. 



30 FRENCH PROFILES 

Here he adopted a stanzaic form closely analogous 
to rime royal, and this adds to the curiously English 
impression, as of some son of Wordsworth or 
brother of Matthew Arnold, which this poem pro- 
duces ; it may make a third in our memories with 
" Laodamia " and " The Scholar-Gipsy." Vigny 
describes in it the mode in which the soul goes 
burdened by the weight of life, like a wounded 
eagle in captivity, dragging at its chain. The poet 
must escape from this obsession of the world ; he 
finds a refuge in the shepherd's cabin on wheels, 
far from all mankind, on a vast, undulating surface 
of moorland. Here he meditates on man's futility 
and fever, on the decline of the dignity of conduct, 
on the public disdain of immortal things. It is 
remarkable that at this lofty station, no modern 
institution is too prosaic for his touch ; his treat- 
ment of the objects and methods of the day is 
magnificently simple, and he speaks of railways as 
an ancient Athenian might if restored to breath and 
vision. A certain mystical Eva is evoked, and a 
delicate analysis of woman follows. From the 
solitude of the shepherd's wheeled house the 
exile looks out on life and sees the face of nature. 
But here he parts with Wordsworth and the pan- 
theists ; for in nature, also, he finds illusion and 
the reed that runs into the hand : — 

" Vivez, froide Nature, et revivez sans cesse 
Sur nos pieds, sur nos fronts, puisque c'est votre loi ; 
Vivez, et dedaignez, si vous etes ddesse, 
L'homme, humble passager, qui dut vous ^tre un roi ; 
Plus que tout votre r^gne et que ses splendeurs vaines, 
J'aime la majesty des souffrances humaines ; 
Vous ne recevrez pas un cri d'amour de moi." 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 31 

Finally, it is in pity, in the tender patience of 
human sympathy, in the love which is " taciturne 
et toujours menace," that the melancholy poet 
finds the sole solace of a broken and uncertain 
existence. 

It is in the same connection that we must read 
La Sauvage and La Mort du Loup, poems which 
belong to the year 1843. The close of the second 
of these presents us with the pessimistic philosophy 
of Vigny in its most concise and penetrating form. 
The poet has described in his admirable way the 
scene of a wolf hunt in the woods of a chateau 
where he has been staying, and the death of the 
wolf, while defending his mate and her cubs. He 
closes his picture with these reflections : — 

" Comment on doit quitter la vie et tous ses maux, — 
C'est vous que le savez, sublimes animaux ! 
A voir ce que I'on fut sur terre et ce qu'on laisse, 
Seul le silence est grand : tout le reste est faiblesse ; 
Ah ! je t'ai bien compris, sauvage voyageur, 
Et ton dernier regard m'est alle jusqu'au cceur ! 
II disait : ' Si tu peux, fais que ton ime arrive 
A force de rester studieuse et pensive, 
Jusqu' k ce haut degre de stoique fiertd 
Oil, naissant dans les bois, j'ai tout d'abord montd 
G^mir, pleurer, prier, est ^galement liche. 
Fais energiquement ta longue et lourde t^che 
Dans la voie oti le sort a voulu t'appeler — 
Puis, apr^s, comme moi, souffre et meurs sans parler.' " ' 

It was in nourishing such lofty thoughts as these 
that Alfred de Vigny lived the life of a country 
gentleman at Maine-Giraud, reading, dreaming, 
cultivating his vines, sitting for hours by the bed- 
side of his helpless Lydia. 

^ We have here, doubtless, a reminiscence of Byron and Childe 
Harold, — " And the wolf dies in silence." 



32 FRENCH PROFILES 

" Silence is Poetry itself for me," Alfred de 
Vigny says in one of his private letters, and as 
time went on he had scarcely energy enough 'to 
write down his thoughts. When he braced him- 
self to the effort of doing so, as when in 1858 he 
contrived to compose La Bouteille a la Mer, his 
accent was found to be as clear and his music as 
vivid and resonant as ever. The reason was that 
although he was so solitary and silent, the labour 
of the brain was unceasing ; under the ashes the 
fire burned hot and red. He has a very curious 
phrase about the action of his mind ; he says, 
" Mon cerveau, toujours mobile, travaille et tour- 
billonne sous mon front immobile avec une vitesse 
effrayante ; des mondes passent devant mes yeux 
entre un mot qu'on me dit et le mot que je re- 
ponds." Dumas, who was peculiarly predisposed 
to miscomprehend Vigny, could not reconcile him- 
self, in younger days, to his " immateriality," to 
what another observer called his " perpetual 
seraphic hallucination"; after 1835, this discon- 
certing remoteness and abstraction grew upon the 
poet so markedly as to cut him off from easy 
contact with other men. But his isolation, even 
his pessimism, failed to harden him ; on the con- 
trary, by a divine indulgence, they increased his 
sensibility, the enthusiasm of his pity, his passion 
for the welfare of others. 

Death found him at last, and in one of its most 
cruel forms. Soon after he had passed his sixtieth 
year, he began to be subjected to vague pains, 
which became intenser, and which presently proved 
to be the symptoms of cancer. He bore this 



ALFRED DE VIGNY 33 

final trial with heroic fortitude, and as the 
physical suffering grew more extreme, the intel- 
lectual serenity prevailed above the anguish. In 
the very last year of his life, the poetical faculty 
awakened in him again, and he wrote Les Oracles, 
the incomparably solemn and bold apologue of 
Le Mont des Oliviers, and the mystical ode entitled 
LEsprit Pur. This last poem closed with the 
ominous words, " et pour moi c'est assez." On 
September 17, 1863, his soul was released at 
length from the tortured and exhausted body, 
and the weary Stello was at peace. 

It is not to be pretended that the poetry of 
Alfred de Vigny is to every one's taste. He was 
too indifferent to the public, too austere and 
arrogant in his address, to attract the masses, 
and to them he will remain perpetually unknown. 
But he is a writer, in his best prose as well as in 
the greater part of his scanty verse, who has 
only to become familiar to a reader susceptible 
to beauty, to grow more and more beloved. The 
other poets of his age were fluent and tumultuous ; 
Alfred de Vigny was taciturn, stoical, one who had 
lost faith in glory, in life, perhaps even in himself. 
While the flute and the trumpet sounded, his 
hunter's horn, blown far away in the melancholy 
woodland, could scarcely raise an echo in the heart 
of a warrior or banqueter. But those who visit 
Vigny in the forest will be in no hurry to return. 
He shall entertain them there with such high 
thoughts and such proud music that they will follow 
him wherever his dream may take him. They may 
admit that he is sometimes hard, often obscure, 

C 



34 FRENCH PROFILES 

always in a certain facile sense unsympathetic, but 
they will find their taste for more redundant 
melodies than his a good deal marred for the 
future. And some among them, if they are sin- 
cere, will admit that, so far as they are con- 
cerned, he is the most majestic poet whom France 
produced in the rich course of the nineteenth 
century. 



1903. 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 

Literature presents us with no more pathetic 
figure of a waif or stray than that of the poor 
little Circassian slave whom her friends called 
Mademoiselle Aiss6. But interesting and touching 
as is the romance of her history, it is surpassed by 
the rare distinction of her character and the delicacy 
of her mind. Placed in the centre of the most de- 
praved society of modern Europe, protected from 
ruin by none of those common bulwarks which 
proved too frail to sustain the high-born virtues of 
the Tencins and the Parabdres, exposed by her 
wit and beauty to all the treachery of fashionable 
Paris unabashed, this little Oriental orphan pre- 
served an exquisite refinement of nature, a con- 
science as sensitive as a nerve. If she had been 
devote, if she had retired to a nunnery, the lesson 
of her life would have been less wholesome than 
it is ; we may go further and admit that it would 
be less poignant than it is but for the single frailty 
of her conduct. She sinned once, and expiated 
her sin with tears ; but in an age when love was 
reduced to a caprice and intrigue governed by 
cynical maxims, Aiss^'s fault, her solitary abandon- 
ment to a sincere passion, almost takes the 
proportions of a virtue. Mr. Ruskin has some- 
where recommended Swiss travellers who find 
themselves physically exhausted by the pomp of 

35 



36 FRENCH PROFILES 

Alpine landscape, to sink on their knees and 
concentrate their attention on the petals of a 
rock-rose. In comparison with the vast expanse 
of French literature the pretensions of Aisse are 
little more than those of a flower, but she has no 
small share of a flower's perfume and beauty. 

In her lifetime Mademoiselle Aiss6 associated 
with some of the great writers of her time. Yet 
if any one had told her that she would live in 
literature with such friends as Montesquieu and 
Destouches her modesty would have been over- 
whelmed with confusion. She made no preten- 
sions to being a blue-stocking ; she would have 
told us that she did not know how to write a page. 
An exact coeval of hers was the sarcastic and 
brilliant young man who called himself Voltaire ; 
he was strangely gentle to Aisse, but she would 
have been amazed to learn that he would long 
survive her, and would annotate her works in his 
old age. Her works ! Her only works, she 
would have told us, were the coloured embroideries 
with which, in some tradition of a Turkish taste, 
she adorned her own rooms in the Hotel Ferriol. 
Notwithstanding all this, no history of French 
literature would have any pretensions to complete- 
ness if it omitted Aiss^'s name. Among all the 
memoir-writers, letter-writers, and pamphleteers 
of the early eighteenth century she stands in some 
respects pre-eminent. As a correspondent pure 
and simple there is a significance in the fact that 
her life exactly fills the space between the death 
of S6vign6, which occurred when Aiss6 was about 
two years old, and the birth of L'Espinasse, which 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 37 

happened a few months before Aiss^'s death. 
During this period of nearly forty years no 
woman in France wrote letters which could be 
placed beside theirs except our Circassian. They 
form a singularly interesting trio ; and if Aiss6 
can no more pretend to possess the breadth of 
vision and rich imagination of Madame de S6vign6 
than to command the incomparable accent of 
passion which cries through the correspondence 
of Mademoiselle de L'Espinasse, she has qualities 
which are not unworthy to be named with these 
— an exquisite sincerity, an observation of men and 
things which could hardly be more picturesque, 
a note of pensive and thrilling tenderness, and a 
candour which melts the very soul to pity. 

In the winter of 1697 or spring of 1698, a 
dissipated and eccentric old bachelor, Charles de 
Ferriol, Baron d'Argental, who was French Envoy 
at the court of the Grand Vizier, bought a little 
Circassian child of about four years old in one of 
the bazaars of Constantinople. He had often 
bought slaves in the Turkish market before, and 
not to the honour of his memory. But this time 
he was actuated by a genuine kindly impulse. 
He was fifty-one years of age ; he did not intend 
to marry, and he seems to have thought that he 
would supply himself with a beautiful daughter 
for the care of his old age. Sainte-Beuve, with his 
unfailing intuition, insisted on this interpretation, 
and since his essay was written, in 1 846, various 
documents have turned up, proving beyond a 
doubt that the intentions of the Envoy were 
parental. The little girl said that her name was 



38 FRENCH PROFILES 

Haidee. She preserved in later life an impression 
of a large house, and many servants running 
hither and thither. Her friends agreed to con- 
sider her as the daughter of a Circassian prince, 
and the very large price (1500 livres) which M. de 
Ferriol paid for her, as well as the singular dis- 
tinction of her beauty, to some extent supports 
the legend. In August 1698, M. de Ferriol, who 
had held temporary missions in Turkey for seven 
years, was recalled to France, to be sent out again 
as French ambassador to the Porte in 1699. He 
brought his little Circassian orphan with him, and 
placed her in the charge of his sister-in-law, 
Madame de Ferriol, in Paris. She was immedi- 
ately christened as Charlotte Haidee, but she 
preserved neither of these names in ordinary life ; 
Charlotte was dropped at once, and Haidee on 
the lips of her new French relations became the 
softer Aisse. 

Aisse's adopted aunt, as we may call her, 
Madame de Ferriol, was a very fair average 
specimen of the fashionable lady of the Regency. 
She belonged to the notorious family of Tencin, 
whose mark on the early part of the eighteenth 
century is so ineffaceable. Of Madame de Ferriol 
it may be said by her defenders that she was not 
so openly scandalous as her sister the Canoness, 
who appears in a very curious light in the letters 
of Aiss6. Born in 1674, Madame de Ferriol was 
still quite a young woman, and her sons, the 
Marquis de Pont-de-Veyle and Comte d'Argental, 
were little children, fit to become the playmates of 
Aiss6. Indeed these two boys were regarded 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 39 

almost as the Circassian's brothers, and the family 
documents speak of all three as " nos enfants." 
She was put to school — it is believed, from a 
phrase of her own, " Je viens de me ressouvenir " 
-^with the Nouvelles Catholiques, a community 
of nuns, whose house was a few doors away from 
the Hotel Ferriol, and there for a few years we 
may suppose her to have passed the happy life of 
a child. From this life she herself, in one of the 
most charming of her letters, draws aside the 
curtain for a moment. In 1731 some gossip 
accused her of a passion for the Due de Gesvres, 
and her jealous mentor in Geneva wrote to know 
if there was any truth in the report. Aisse, then 
about thirty-seven years of age, wrote back as 
follows : — 

" I admit, Madame, notwithstanding your anger 
and the respect which I owe you, that I have had 
a violent fancy for M. le Due de Gesvres, and 
that I even carried this great sin to confession. 
It is true that my confessor did not think it 
necessary to impose any penance on me. I was 
eight years old when this passion began, and at 
twelve I laughed at the whole affair, not that I 
did not still like M. de Gesvres, but that I saw 
how ludicrous it had been of me to be so anxious 
to be talking and playing in the garden with him 
and his brothers. He was two or three years older 
than I, and we thought ourselves a great deal 
more grown up than the rest. We liked to be 
conversing while the others were playing at hide- 
and-seek. We set up for reasonable people ; we 
met regularly every day : we never talked about 



40 FRENCH PROFILES 

love, for the fact was that neither of us knew 
what that meant. The window of the Httle 
drawing-room opened upon a balcony, where he 
often came ; we made signs to each other ; he 
took us out to see the fireworks, and often to 
Saint Ouen. As we were always together, the 
people in charge of us began to joke about us and 
it came to the ears of my aga (the Ambassador), 
who, as you can imagine, made a fine romance 
out of all this. I found it out ; it distressed me ; 
I thought that, as a discreet person, I ought to 
watch my own behaviour, and the result was that 
I persuaded myself that I must really be in love 
with M. de Gesvres. I was devote, and went to 
confession ; I first mentioned all my little sins, 
and then I had to mention this big sin ; I could 
scarcely make up my mind to do so, but as a girl 
that had been well brought up, I determined to 
hide nothing. I confessed that I was in love with 
a young man. My director seemed astonished ; 
he asked me how old he was, I told him he was 
eleven. He laughed, and told me that there was 
no penance for that sin ; that I had only to keep 
on being a good girl, and that he had nothing 
more to say to me for the time being." 

It is like a page of Hans Andersen ; there is the 
same innocence, the same suspicion that all the 
world may not be so innocent. 

The incidents of the early womanhood of Aisse 
are known to us only through an anonymous 
sketch of her life, printed in 1787, when her 
Letters first appeared. This short life, which has 
been attributed to Mademoiselle Rieu, the grand- 



MADEMOISELLE AiSSE 41 

daughter of the lady to whom the letters were 
addressed, informs us that Aiss6 was carefully 
educated, so far as the head went, but more than 
neglected in the lessons of the heart. " From the 
moment when Mademoiselle Aiss6 began to lisp," 
says this rather pedantic memoir, " she heard 
none but dangerous maxims. Surrounded by 
voluptuous and intriguing women, she was con- 
stantly being reminded that the only occupation 
of a woman without a fortune ought to be to 
secure one." But she found protectors. The 
two sons of Madame de Ferriol, though them- 
selves no better than their neighbours, guarded 
her as though she had really been their sister ; 
and in her own soul there were no germs of the 
fashionable depravity. When she was seventeen, 
her " aga " came back from his long exile in 
Constantinople, broken in health, even, it is said, 
more than a little disturbed in intellect. To the 
annoyance of his relatives he nourished the design 
of being made a cardinal ; he was lodged, for 
safety's sake, close to the family of his brother. 
From Ferriol's return in 1 7 1 1 to his death in 
1722, we have considerable difficulty in realising 
what Aiss^'s existence was. 

There is some reason to suppose that it was 
Lord Bolingbroke who first perceived the excep- 
tional charm of Aissdi's mind. When the illus- 
trious EngHsh exile came to France in 1 715, he 
was almost immediately drawn into the society of 
the Hotel Ferriol. One of A'lsse's kindest friends 
was that wise and charming woman, the Marquise 
de Villette, whom Bolingbroke somewhat tardily 



42 FRENCH PROFILES 

married about 1720, and it was doubtless through 
her introduction that he became intimate with 
Madame de Ferriol. As early as 17 19 Boling- 
broke writes of Aisse as of an intimate friend, and 
speaks of her as threatened by a " disadvantageous 
metamorphosis," by which he probably refers to 
an attack of the small-pox. It appears to have 
been during a visit to the chateau of Lord and 
Lady Bolingbroke that Aisse first met Voltaire ; 
and later on we shall see that these persons played 
a singular but very important part in the drama 
of her life. There seems no doubt that, however 
little Madame de Villette and Lord Bolingbroke 
could claim the white flower of a spotless life, 
they were judicious and useful friends at this 
perilous moment of her career. Aisse's beauty, 
which was extraordinary, and her dubious social 
station, made the young Circassian peculiarly liable 
to attack from the men of fashion who passed from 
alcove to alcove in search of the indulgence of 
some ephemeral caprice. The poets turned their 
rhymes in her honour, and one of their effusions, 
that of the Swiss Vernet, was so far esteemed that 
it was engraved fifty years afterwards underneath 
her portrait. It may thus be paraphrased : — 

" Aissd's beauty is all Greek ; 

Yet was she wise in youth to borrow 
From France the charming tongue we speak, 
And wit, and airs that banish sorrow : 

A theme like this deserves a verse 
As warm and clear as mine is cold, 

For has there been a heart like hers 
Since our Astrean age of gold ? " 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 43 

Aiss6 received all this homage unmoved. The 
Duke of Orleans one day met her in the salon of 
Madame de Parabere, was enchanted with her 
beauty, and declared his passion to Madame de 
Ferriol. To the lasting shame of this woman, she 
agreed to support his claim, and the Regent 
imagined that the little Greek would fall an easy 
prey. To his amazement, and to the indignation 
of Madame de Ferriol, he was indignantly re- 
pulsed ; and when further pressure was brought to 
bear upon her, Aisse threatened to retire at once 
to a convent if the proposition was so much as 
repeated. She was one of the principal attrac- 
tions of Madame de Ferriol's salon, and, says the 
memoir, " as Aiss6 was useful to her, fearing to 
lose her, she consented, though most unwillingly, 
to say no more to her " about the Duke. This 
was but one, though certainly the most alarming, 
of the traps set for her feet in the brilliant and 
depraved society of her guardians. The habitual 
life of the Tencins and Paraberes of 1720 was 
something to us quite incredible. Such a " moral 
dialogue " as Le Hasard au Coin du Feu would be 
rejected as the dream of a licentious satirist, if the 
memoirs and correspondence of the Cidalises and 
the Clitandres of the age did not fully convince us 
that the novelists merely repeated what they saw 
around them. We must bear in mind what an 
extraordinary condition of roseate semi-nudity 
this politest of generations lived in, to understand 
the excellence as well as the frailty of Ai'ss^. We 
must also bear in mind, when our Puritan indig- 
nation is ready to carry us away in profuse 



44 FRENCH PROFILES 

condemnation of this whole society, that extremely 
shrewd remark of Duclos : " Le peuple fran^ais 
est le seul peuple qui puisse perdre ses moeurs sans 
se corrompre." 

In 1720 the old ex-ambassador fell ill. Aisse 
immediately took up her abode with him, and 
nursed him assiduously until he died. That he 
was not an easy invalid to cherish we gather from 
a phrase in one of her own letters, as well as from 
hints in those of Bolingbroke. In October, 1722, 
he died, leaving to Aisse a considerable fortune in 
the form of an annuity, as well as a sum of money 
in a bill on the estate. The sister-in-law, Madame 
de Ferriol, to whose guardianship Aisse had been 
consigned, thought her own sons injured by the 
ambassador's generosity, and had the extreme bad 
taste to upbraid Aisse. The note had not yet been 
cashed, and at the first word from Madame de 
Ferriol, Aiss6 fetched it and threw it into the fire. 
This little anecdote speaks worlds for the sensitive 
and independent character of the Circassian ; one 
almost blushes to complete it by adding that 
Madame de Ferriol took advantage of her ward's 
hasty act of injured pride. Aisse, however, had 
other things to think of ; " the birthday of her life 
was come, her love was come to her." As early 
as 1 72 1, we find Lord Bolingbroke saying, in a 
letter to Madame de Ferriol, " I fully expect you 
to come ; I even flatter myself that we shall see 
Madame du Deffand ; but as for Mademoiselle 
Aisse, I do not expect her. The Turk will be her 
excuse, and a certain Christian of my acquaintance 
her reason." This seems to mean that Aiss6 



MADEMOISELLE AlSSE 45 

would give as her excuse for not coining to stay 
with the BoHngbrokes that she was needed at the 
Ambassador's pillow ; but that her real reason 
would be that she wished to stay in Paris to be 
near " a certain Christian." That which had been 
vainly attempted by so many august aad eminent 
personages, namely, the capture of Aiss^'s heart, 
was now being pursued with alarming success by 
a very modest candidate for her affections. 

The Chevalier Blaise Marie d'Aydie, the hope 
of an impoverished P^rigord family who claimed 
descent, with a blot bn their escutcheon, from the 
noble house of Foix, was, in 172 1, about thirty 
years of age. He had lived a passably dissipated 
life, after the fashion of the Clitandres of the age, 
and if Mademoiselle Rieu is to be believed, 
Madame la Duchesse de Berry herself had passed 
through the fires on his behalf. He was poor ; 
he was brave and handsome and rather stupid ; he 
was expected one of these days to break his vows 
as a Knight of Malta and redeem the family 
fortunes by a good marriage. We have a portrait 
of him by Madame du Deffand, written in her 
delicate, persisent way, touch upon touch, with a 
result that reminds one of Mr. Henry James's 
pictures of character. Voltaire, more rapidly and 
more enthusiastically, called him the " chevalier 
sans peur et sans reproche," and drew him as the 
hero of his tragedy of Adelaide du Guesclin. He 
had the superficial vices of his time ; but his 
tenderness, loyalty, and goodness of heart were 
infinite, and if we judge him by the morals of his 
own age and not of ours, he was a very fine fellow. 



46 FRENCH PROFILES 

His principal fault seems to have been that he was 
rather dull. As Madame du Deffand puts it, 
" They say of Fontenelle that instead of a heart he 
has a second brain ; one might believe that the 
head of the Chevalier contained another heart." 
All evidence goes to prove that from the moment 
when he first met Aisse no other woman existed 
for him, and if their union was blameworthy, let it 
be at least admitted that it lasted, with impassioned 
fidelity on both sides, for twelve years and until 
Aisse's death. 

It would appear that until the Ambassador 
passed away, and the irksome life at the Hotel 
Ferriol began again, Aiss6 contrived to keep her 
ardent admirer within bounds. To us it seems 
amazingly perverse that the lovers did not marry ; 
but Aiss6 herself was the first to insist that a 
Chevalier d'Aydie could not and should not offend 
his relations by a mesalliance with a Circassian 
slave. At last she yielded ; but, as Mademoiselle 
Rieu tells us, " he loved her so delicately that he 
was jealous of her reputation ; he adored her, and 
would have sacrificed everything for her ; while she, 
on her part, loving the Chevalier, found his fame, 
his fortune, his honour, dearer to her than her 
own." In 1724 she found it absolutely necessary 
to disappear from her circle of acquaintance. She 
did not dare to confide her secret to the un- 
scrupulous Madame de Ferriol, and in her despair 
she examined the circle of her friends for the most 
sympathetic face. She decided to trust Lady 
Bolingbroke, and she could not have made a wiser 
choice. That tender-hearted and deeply-experi- 



MADEMOISELLE AlSSE 47 

enced lady was equal to the delicate emergency. 
She announced her intention of spending a few 
months in England, and she begged Madame de 
Ferriol to allow Aisse to accompany her. They 
started as if for Calais, but only to double upon 
their steps. Aisse, in company with her maid, 
Sophie, and a confidential English man-servant, 
was installed in a remote suburb of Paris, under 
the care of the Chevalier d'Aydie, while Lady 
Bolingbroke hastened on to England, and amused 
herself with inventing anecdotes and messages from 
A'iss6. In the fulness of time Lady Bolingbroke 
returned and took care to " collect " Aisse before 
she presented herself at the Hotel Ferriol. Mean- 
while a daughter had been born, who was chris- 
tened Cel^nie Leblond, and who was placed in 
a convent at Sens, under the name of Miss Black, 
as a niece of Lord Bolingbroke. The abbess of 
this convent was a Mademoiselle de Villette, 
the daughter of Lady Bolingbroke. No novelist 
would dare to describe so improbable a stratagem ; 
let us make the story complete by adding that it 
succeeded to perfection, and that Madame de 
Ferriol herself never seems to have suspected the 
truth. This daughter, whom we shall presently 
meet again, grew up to be a charming woman, 
and adorned society in the next generation as the 
Vicomtesse de Nanthia. If the story of Aisse 
ended here it would not appeal to a Richardson, or 
even to an Abb6 Pr6vost d'Exiles, as a moral tale. 

Between 1723 and 1726 Aisse's life passed 
quietly enough. The Chevalier d'Aydie was con- 
stantly at the Hotel Ferriol, but the two lovers 



48 FRENCH PROFILES 

were not any longer in their first youth. A Httle 
prudence went a long way in a society adorned by 
Madame de Parabere and Madame de Tencin. 
No breath of scandal seems to have troubled Aisse, 
and when her cares came, they all began from 
within. We do not possess the letters of Aisse to 
her lover. I hope I am not a Philistine if I admit 
that I sincerely hope they will never be discovered. 
We possess the love letters of Mademoiselle de 
L'Espinasse ; this should be enough of that kind 
of literature for one century at least — it would be 
a terrible thing to come down one morning to see 
announced a collection of the letters of Aiss6 to 
her Chevalier, edited by M.Edmondde Goncourt ! 
In the summer of 1726 there arrived from Geneva 
a lady about twenty years older than Aiss^, the 
wife of a M. Calandrini ; she was a step-aunt, if 
such a relationship be recognised, of Lord Boling- 
broke, and so was intimately connected with the 
Ferriol circle. Research, which really is far too 
busy in our days, has found out that Madame de 
Calandrini herself had not been all that could be 
desired ; but in 1726 she was devote, yet not to 
such an extent as to throw any barrier between 
herself and the confidences of a younger woman. 
Aiss6 received her warmly, gave her heart to her 
without reserve, and when the lady went back to 
Geneva Aiss6 discovered that she was the first and 
best friend that she had ever possessed. Madame 
Calandrini carried home with her the inmost and 
most dangerous secrets of Aiss^'s history, and it is 
evident that she immediately planned her young 
friend's conversion. 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 49 

The Letters of Aiss6 are exclusively composed 
of her correspondence with this Madame Calandrini 
from the autumn of 1726 to her own fatal illness 
in January, 1733. They remained in Geneva 
until, in 1758, they were lent to Voltaire, who 
enriched them with very interesting and important 
notes. Nearly thirty years more passed, and at 
length, in 1787, they saw the light. Next year 
they were reprinted, with a very delightful portrait 
of Aiss6. In this she appears as a decided beauty, 
with very fair hair, an elegant and spirited head 
lightly poised on delicate shoulders, and nothing 
Oriental in her appearance except the large, oval, 
dark eyes, languishing with incredible length of 
eyelash. The text was confused and difficult in 
these early editions, and in successive reprints has 
occupied various biographers — M. de Barante, M. 
Ravenel, M. Piedagnal. I suppose, however, that I 
do no injustice to those writers if I claim for M. 
Eugene Asse the credit of having done more than 
any other man, by patient annotation and collection 
of explicatory documents, to render the reading of 
Aiss^'s letters interesting and agreeable. 

The letters of Aiss6 to Madame Calandrini are 
the history of an awakening conscience. It is this 
fact, and the slow development of the inevitable 
moral plot, which give them their singular psycho- 
logical value. As the letters approach their close, 
our attention is entirely riveted by the spectacle of 
this tender and passionate spirit tortured by re- 
morse and yearning for expiation. But at the 
outset there is no moral passion expressed, and we 
think less of Aiss6 herself than of the society to 

D 



50 FRENCH PROFILES 

which she belonged by her age and education. 
As it seems impossible, from other sources of 
information, to believe that Madame Calandrini 
was what is commonly thought to be an amiable 
woman, we take from Aisse's praise of her some- 
thing of the same impression that we obtain from 
Madame de Sevigne's affectionate addresses to 
Madame de Grignan. Indeed, the opening letter 
of Aisse's series, with its indescribable tone of the 
seventeenth century, reads so much like one of the 
Sevigne's letters to her daughter that one wonders 
whether the semblance can be wholly accidental. 
There is a childish archness in the way in which 
Aisse jests about all her own adorers — the suscep- 
tible abb^s, and the councillors whose neglected 
passion has comfortably subsided into friendship. 
There are little picturesque touches — the black 
spaniel yelping in his lady's lap, and upsetting the 
coffee-pot in his eagerness to greet a new-comer. 
There are charming bits of self-portraiture : " I 
used to flatter myself that I was a little philosopher, 
but I never shall be one in matters of sentiment." 
It is all so youthful, so girlish, that we have to 
remind ourselves that the author of such a passage 
as the following was in her thirty-third year : — 

" I spend my days in shooting little birds ; this 
does me a great deal of good. Exercise and dis- 
traction are excellent remedies for the vapours. 
The ardour of the chase makes me walk, although 
my feet are bruised ; the perspiration that this 
exercise causes is good for me. I am as sun- 
burned as a crow ; you would be frightened if you 
saw me, but I scarcely mind it. How happy should 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 51 

I be if I were still with you ! I would willingly 
give a pint of my blood if we could be together at 
this moment." 

Here Aisse anticipates by a year or two Matthew 
Green's famous " Fling but a stone, the giant dies." 
She has told Madame Calandrini everything. The 
Chevalier is away in Perigord, which adds to her 
vapours ; but his letters breathe the sweetest con- 
stancy. She would like to send them to Geneva, 
but she dares not ; they are too full of her own 
praises. She has been to see the first performance 
of a new comedy, Pyrame et Thisbe, and giggles 
over its disastrous fate. This gives us firm ground 
in dating this first letter, for this comedy, or rather 
opera, was played on the 17th of October, 1726. 
Nothing could be more gay or sparkling than 
Aiss^'s tone. 

But soon there comes a change. We find that 
she is not happy in the Hotel Ferriol. Her friend 
and foster-brother, Comte d'Argental, who lived on 
until 1788 to be the last survivor of her circle, is 
away "with his sweetheart in the Enchanted 
Island," and she has his room while hers is being 
refurnished. But it will cost her one hundred 
pistoles, for Madame de Ferriol makes her pay for 
everything. The subjects which she writes about 
in all light-heartedness are extraordinary. She 
cannot resist, from sheer ebullience of mirth, copy- 
ing out a letter of amazing impudence written by 
a certain officer of dragoons to the bishop of his 
diocese. Can she or can she not continue to 
know the beautiful brazen Madame de Parabere, 
whose behaviour is of a lightness, but oh 1 of such 



52 FRENCH PROFILES 

a lightness. Yet " her carriage is always at my 
service, and don't you think it would be ridiculous 
not to visit her at all ?" If one desires a marvel- 
lous tale of the ways and the manners of the great 
world under Louis XV., there is the astounding 
story of Madame la Princesse de Bournonville, 
and how she was publicly engaged to marry the 
Due de Ruffec fifteen minutes after her first hus- 
band's death ; it is told, with perfect calmness, in 
Aiss6's best manner. The Prince was one of 
Aiss^'s numerous rejected adorers ; she rejoices 
that he has left her no compromising legacy. 
There is a certain affair, on the loth of January, 
1727, "which would make your hair stand on 
end ; but it really is too infamous to be written 
down." A wonderful world, so elegant and so 
debased, so enthusiastic and so cynical, so full of 
beauty and so full of corruption, that we find no 
name but Louis Quinze to qualify its paradoxes. 

In her earlier letters A'iss6 reveals herself as a 
patron of the stage, and a dramatic critic of marked 
views. Her foster-brothers, Pont-de-Veyle and 
Argental, were deeply stage-stricken ; the " En- 
chanted Island " of the latter seems to have been 
situated somewhere in that ocean, the Theatre de 
rOp6ra. Aiss6 threw herself with heart and soul into 
the famous rivalry between the two operatic stars 
of Paris ; she was all for the enchanting Lemaure, 
and when that public favourite wilfully retired to 
private life Aiss6 found that the Pellissier " fait 
horriblement mal." She tells with infinite zest a 
rather scurrilous story of how a certain famous 
Jansenist canon, seventy years of age, fearing to 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 53 

die without having ever seen a dramatic perfor- 
mance, dressed himself up in his deceased grand- 
mother's garments and made his appearance in the 
pit, creating, by his incredible oddity of garb and 
feature, such a sensation that the actor Armand 
stopped playing, and desired him, amid the 
shrieks of laughter of the audience, to decamp as 
fast as possible. Voltaire vouches for the absolute 
truth of this anecdote. But before Aiss6 begins 
to lose the gaiety of her spirits it may be well to 
let her give in her own language, or as near as I 
can reach it, a sample of her powers as an artist 
in anecdote. 

" A little while ago there happened a little 
adventure which has made a good deal of noise. 
I will tell you about it. Six weeks ago Isez, the 
surgeon [one of the most eminent practitioners of 
his time] received a note, begging him, at six 
o'clock on the afternoon of the next day, to be in 
the Rue du Pot-de-Fer, close to the Luxembourg. 
He did not fail to be there ; he found waiting for 
him a man, who conducted him for a few steps, 
and then made him enter a house, shutting the 
door on the surgeon, so as, himself, to remain in 
the street. Isez was surprised that this man did 
not at once take him where he was wanted. But 
the portier of the house appeared, and told him 
that he was expected on the first floor, and asked 
him to step up, which he did. He opened an 
ante-chamber all hung with white ; a lackey, made to 
be put in a picture, dressed in white, nicely curled, 
nicely powdered, and with a pouch of white hair 
and two dusters in his hand, came to meet him, and 



54 FRENCH PROFILES 

told him that he must have his shoes wiped. After 
this ceremony, he was conducted into a room also 
hung with white. Another lackey, dressed like the 
first, went through the same ceremony with the 
shoes ; he was then taken into a room where every- 
thing was white, bed, carpet, tapestry, fauteuils, 
chairs, tables and floor. A tall figure in a night-cap 
and a perfectly white dressing-gown, and a white 
mask, was seated near the fire. When this kind of 
phantom perceived Isez, he said to him, * I have the 
devil in my body,' and spoke no more ; for three- 
quarters of an hour he did nothing but put on and 
pull off six pairs of white gloves which he had on 
a table by his side. Isez was frightened, but he 
grew more so when, glancing round the room, he 
saw several fire-arms ; he was taken with such a 
trembling that he was obliged to sit down for fear 
of falling. At last, to break the silence, he asked 
the figure in white what was wanted of him, 
because he had an engagement, and his time be- 
longed to the public. The white figure dryly 
replied, ' What does it matter to you, if you are 
paid well ? ' and said nothing more. Another 
quarter of an hour passed in silence ; at last the 
phantom pulled the bell-rope. The two white 
lackeys reappeared ; the phantom asked for ban- 
dages, and told Isez to draw five pounds of blood." 
We must spoil the story by finishing it abruptly. 
Isez bleeds the phantom not in the arm, on 
account of the monstrous quantity of blood, but in 
the foot, a very beautiful woman's foot, apparently, 
when he gets to the last of six pairs of white silk 
stockings. He is presently, after various other 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 55 

adventures, turned out of the mysterious house, 
and nobody, not even the King himself, can tell 
what it all means. 

But very soon the picture of A'iss^'s life begins 
to be clouded over. In the spring of 1727, she is 
in a peck of troubles. The periodical reduction 
of the State annuities, which had been carried out 
once more during the preceding winter by the new 
Minister of Finance, had brought misery to many 
gentlefolks of France. In Aiss6's early letters, she 
and her acquaintances appear much as Irish land- 
lords do now ; in her latest letters they remind 
us of what these landlords would be if the National 
party realised its dream. The Chevalier does not 
seem to have been a sufferer personally ; he had 
not much to lose, but we find him sympathising 
with Aisse, and drawing up an appealing letter for 
her to send to the Cardinal de Fleury. Aiss6 
begins to feel the shadows falling across her future. 
If ever she marries, she says, she will put into the 
contract a clause by which she retains the right to 
go to Geneva whenever she likes, for she longs to 
tell her troubles to Madame Calandrini. And thus 
is first sounded the mournful key to which we soon 
become accustomed : — 

" Every day I see that there is nothing but virtue 
that is any good for this world and the next. As 
for myself, who have not been lucky enough to 
behave properly, but who respect and admire 
virtuous people, the simple wish to belong to the 
number attracts to me all sorts of flattering things ; 
the pity which every one shows me [for her money 
losses, doubtless], almost prevents me from being 



S6 FRENCH PROFILES 

miserable. I have just 2000 francs of income at 
most left. My jewels and my diamonds are sold." 

The result of her sudden poverty appears to 
have been that the Chevalier d'Aydie, sorely against 
his inclination, but actuated by a generous impulse, 
offered to marry her. She was not less generous 
than he, and almost Quixotically rejected what 
would have been her greatest satisfaction. To 
Madame Calandrini, who was plainly one of those 
who urged her to accept this act of restitution, the 
orphan-mother answers thus : — 

"Think, Madame, of what the world would say 
if he married a nobody, and one who depended 
entirely on the charity of the Ferriol family. 
No ; I love his fame too much, and I have myself 
at the same time too much pride, to allow him to 
commit such an act of folly. He would be sure 
to repent of having followed the bent of his absurd 
passion, and I could not survive the pain of having 
made him wretched, and of being myself no longer 
loved." 

The Chevalier, unable to live in Paris without 
being at her side, fled for a five months' exile to 
the parental chateau in Perigord. Aiss6 had 
expressed a mild surprise that he could not con- 
trive to be more calm, but their discussions had 
always ended in a joke. Yet it is plain that all 
these circumstances made her regard life more 
seriously than she had ever done before. In her 
next letter (August, 1727) we learn how miserable 
a home the Hotel Ferriol had now become for 
her. " The mistress of this house," she says, " is 
much more difficult to live with than the poor 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 57 

Ambassador was." As for the Chevalier, he had 
scarcely reached Perigueux, when he forgot all 
about the months he wished to spend in the 
country, and hastened back to Paris to be near 
Aiss^. The latter writes, in her prim way, " I 
admit I was very agreeably surprised to see him 
enter my room yesterday. How happy I should 
be if I could only love him without having to 
reproach myself for it ! " It is plain, in spite of 
the always modest, and now timid way in which 
she writes, that her moral worth and delicate 
judgment were estimated at their true value even 
by the frivolous women who surrounded her. 
The Duchess of Fitz-James asks her advice as to 
whether she shall or shall not accept the hand of 
the Due d'Aumont. The dissolute Madame de 
Tencin cannot forgive or forget Aisse's tacit dis- 
approval of her conduct. The gentler, but not 
less naughty Madame de Parabere purrs around 
her like a cat, exquisitely assiduous not entirely 
to lose the esteem of one whose position in the 
world can have offered nothing to such a person- 
age, but by whose intelligence and sympathetic 
goodness she could not help being fascinated. 
In recording all this, without in the least being 
aware of it, Aiss6 gives us an impression of her 
own simple sweetness as of a touchstone by 
which radically evil natures were distinguished 
from those whose voluntary abasement was not 
the sign of a complete corruption of spirit. 

We are made to feel in Aisse's letters, that, with- 
out being in any degree a blue-stocking, she was 
eager to form her own impression on the various 



58 FRENCH PROFILES 

intellectual questions of the hour. Gullivers 
Travels had only been published in England in 
the autumn of 1726 ; in the spring of 1727 Aisse 
had read it, in Desfontaine's translation, knew 
that it was the work of Swift, and praised it in the 
very same terms that the world has since agreed 
to bestow upon it. Destouches seems to have 
been a friend of hers, but when in the same year 
she went to see his new comedy Le Philosophe 
Marie, she was not blinded by friendship. "It is 
a very charming comedy," she wrote, " full of 
sentiment, full of delicacy ; but it does not possess 
the genius of Moliere." Nor is she less judicious 
in what she says about the masterpiece of another 
friend, the Abb6 Prevost d'Exiles. She writes in 
October, 1728, "We have a new book here 
entitled Me'moires d'un Homme de Qualite retire du 
Monde, it is not worth much, except one hundred 
and ninety pages which make one burst out 
crying." These one hundred and ninety pages 
were that immortal supplement to a dull book 
which we call Manon Lescaut, over which as many 
tears are shed nowadays as were dropped a 
century and a half ago. It is said by those who 
have read Provost's forgotten romance, Histoire 
dune Grecque Moderne, published long afterwards 
in 1 74 1; that it contains a full-length portrait of 
the author's old friend Aiss6. It might be amusing 
to compare this with Voltaire's portrait of her 
chevalier in Addatde du Guesclin. 

She was evidently a centre of light and activity. 
The young woman with whom, at all events during 
certain periods, Bolingbroke corresponded by every 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 59 

post, could be no commonplace person. Voltaire 
vouches for her exact and independent knowledge 
of events. When Madame Calandrini is anxious 
to know how a certain incident at court will turn 
out, Aisse says, " You shall know before the 
people who make the Gazette do," and her letters 
differ from the poet Gray's, which otherwise they 
often curiously resemble, that she seems to know 
at first hand the class of news that Gray only 
repeats. She sometimes shows her first-hand 
knowledge by her very inaccuracy. She gives, 
for instance, a long account, which we follow 
with breathless interest, of the death of Adrienne 
Lecouvreur, the event, probably, which moved 
Paris more vehemently than any other during the 
year 1730. A'iss6 directly charges the young 
Duchesse de Bouillon with the murder of the 
actress, and supports her charge with an amaz- 
ing array of horrible details. The affair was 
mysterious, and Aisse was evidently minutely 
informed ; yet Voltaire, in whose arms Adrienne 
Lecouvreur died, declares that her account is not 
the true one. On one point her knowledge of 
her contemporaries is very useful to us. The 
priceless correspondence of Madame du Deffand 
makes the latter, as an old woman, an exceedingly 
life-like figure, but we know little of her early life ; 
Ai'sse's sketches of her, therefore, and to say the 
truth, cruelly penetrating analysis of her character 
at the age of thirty, are most valuable. The 
Madame du Deffand we know seems a wiser 
woman than Aiss^'s friend ; but the fact is that 
many of these witty Frenchwomen only became 



6o FRENCH PROFILES 

tolerable, like remarkable vintages, when they were 
growing a little crusted. 

Among the brightest sections of Aiss^'s corres- 
pondence are those in which she speaks of her 
high-spirited and somewhat dissolute foster- 
brothers, Pont-de-Veyle and D'Argental. These 
two men were sowing their wild oats very hard, 
in the fashion of the day, and although they were 
passing the solemn age of thirty, the sacks seemed 
inexhaustible. But so far as regarded Aisse, their 
conduct was all that was chivalrous, all that was 
honourably fraternal. Pont-de-Veyle she calls an 
angel, but it was D'Argental whom she loved the 
most, and nothing is more touching than an 
account she gives, with the naivete of a child, of 
a quarrel she had with him. This quarrel lasted 
eight days, and Aiss6 kept her letter open until 
she could add, in a postscript, the desired infor- 
mation that, she having drunk his health at dinner 
and afterwards kissed him, they have made it up 
without any formal explanation. " Since then," 
she adds in that tone of hers which makes the 
eyes of a middle-aged citizen of perfidious Albion 
quite dim after a hundred and fifty years, " Since 
then we have been a great deal together." 

In 1728 she had need of all the kindness she 
could get. The Chevalier was so ill in June that 
she was obliged to face the prospect of his death. 
" Duty, love, inquietude, and friendship, are for 
ever troubling my thoughts and my body ; I am 
in a cruel agitation ; my body is giving way, for 
I am overwhelmed with vapours and with grief ; 
and, if any misfortune should happen to that man, 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 6i 

I feel I should not be able to endure the horrible 
sorrow of it. He is more attached to me than 
ever ; he encourages me to perform my duties. 
Sometimes I cannot help telling him, that if he 
gets any worse it will be impossible for me to 
leave him ; and then he scolds me." The dread- 
ful condition of genteel poverty in which the 
Ferriol family were now living, did not tend to 
make Aiss6's home a bed of roses. In the winter 
of 1728 these famous people of quaHty were 
"dying of hunger." There was not, that is to 
say, as much food upon their table as their 
appetites required, and Aiss6 expected to share 
the fate of the horse whose master gave him one 
grain less of oats each day until he died from 
starvation. In this there was of course a little 
playful exaggeration, but her poverty weighed 
heavily on Aiss6. She had scarcely enough money 
for her daily wants, and envied the Chevalier, 
who was saving that he might form a dowry for 
the little daughter at Sens, the '^ pauvre petite " in 
the convent, after whom Aiss6's heart yearned, 
and whom she might but very rarely visit as a 
stranger. 

She spent the autumn of 1729 at Pont-de- 
Veyle, the country seat of the Ferriol family, a 
chateau between Macon and Bourg. She took 
advantage of this neighbourhood to Switzerland, 
and paid the long-promised visit to Madame 
Calandrini in Geneva. The incident was a moment- 
ous one in the history of her soul. She came 
back more uneasy, more irresolute than ever, and 
in deep depression of spirits. Her first instinct. 



62 FRENCH PROFILES 

on being left to her own thoughts again, was to 
enter a convent, but Madame Calandrini did not 
encourage this idea, and A'isse soon relinquished 
it. She saw, herself, that duty called her to stay 
with Madame de Ferriol, who was now growing 
an invalid. Before leaving Geneva Madame 
Calandrini had made a solemn attempt to per- 
suade her to conclude her dubious relations with 
the Chevalier. She tried to extract a promise 
from Aiss6 that she would either marry D'Aydie 
or cease to see him. But it is easy for comfort- 
able matrons in their own boudoirs to urge a line 
of conduct ; it is less simple for the unfortunate 
to carry out these maxims in the hard light of 
day. Aiss6 wrote : " All that I can promise you 
is that nothing shall be spared to bring about one 
or other of these things. But, Madame, it may 
cost me my life." Such words are lightly said ; 
but in Aiss^'s case they came from the heart. 
She made the sacrifice, and it did cost her her 
life. She attempted to melt the severe censor at 
Geneva by extracts from the Chevalier's letters, 
and finally she made an appeal which goes straight 
to our sympathy. " How can I cut to the quick 
a violent passion, and the tenderest and firmest 
friendship ? Add to all this, gratitude : it is 
frightful ! Death would not be worse ! How- 
ever, since you wish me to make an effort, I will 
do so." Conscience and the Calandrini were 
inexorable. 

In the dull house at Pont-de-Veyle Aiss6 was 
thrown upon her own consciousness more than in 
Paris. She gives us a picture of her dreary 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 63 

existence. The Archbishop of Lyons, who was 
Madame de Ferriol's brother, was the only intelli- 
gent companion she had, and he was locked up 
all day with Jesuit priests. The young Ferriols 
were in Paris ; their mother, jealous, pietistic, and 
peevish, wore Aiss6 out with ennui. It was in this 
tension of the nervous system, this irritation and 
depression of spirits, that on her way back to 
Paris in November she paid a stolen visit to Sens 
to see her little daughter. The letter in which 
she describes the interview is simply heartrending. 
The little delicate child, with an exquisite instinct, 
clung to this unknown friend, and when at last 
Aiss6 had to say farewell, her daughter — whom 
she must not call her daughter — wrung the 
mother's heart with mingled anguish and delight 
by throwing her arms round her neck and crying 
out, " I have no father or mother ; please, you be 
my mother, for I love you as much as if you 
really were ! " Aiss6 could not tear herself away ; 
she remained a fortnight at the convent, more 
unhappy than happy, and so afflicted in spirits 
that she positively had to take to her bed. The 
little " Miss Black " waited upon her with a child's 
enthusiasm, refusing to play with her companions, 
and lavishing her caresses upon her. At last the 
poor mother forced herself to depart, fearing lest 
she should expose her secret by her emotion. 
She made her way to Paris, where she found the 
Chevalier waiting for her, and all her good resolu- 
tions were shattered by the passionate joy of his 
welcome. She did not know what to do nor 
where to turn. 



64 FRENCH PROFILES 

In the beginning of 1730 the Chevalier had 
another dangerous illness, and A'iss^ was obliged 
to postpone the crisis. He got well and she was 
so happy that she could not but postpone it 
a little longer. Slowly, as she herself perceived, 
her bodily strength began to waste away under 
the agitations of her conscience. We may pass 
over the slow progress of the spiritual com- 
plaint, which took more than three years to 
destroy her healthy constitution. We must push 
on to the end. In 1732 her health gave serious 
alarm to all those who surrounded her. That 
few of her friends suspected the real state of the 
case, nor the hidden griefs that were destroying 
her, is proved among other things by a little 
copy of verses which has been preserved in the 
works of a great man. Voltaire, who made a 
joke of his own supposed passion for A'iss^, sent 
her in 1732 a packet of ratafia, to relieve a 
painful symptom of her complaint, and he accom- 
panied it by a flippant versicle, which may thus 
be rendered : — 

" Hence ! Through her veins like subtle anguish fleet ! 
Change to desires the snows that thro' them roll ! 
So may she feel the heat 
That burns within my soul." 

But the women about her knew that she was 
dying. The Parab^re to whom we may forgive 
much, because she loved Aiss6 so well, fluttered 
around her with pathetic tenderness ; and we find 
her forcing upon her friend the most beautiful of 
her personal possessions, a splendid box of crimson 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 6s 

jasper. Even Madame de Tencin, whom she had 
always kept at arm's length, and who had rewarded 
her with aversion, startled her now with expres- 
sions and proofs of affection. Madame de Ferriol 
herself, with her sharp temper and her ugly 
speeches, urged upon her the attentions of a Jan- 
senist confessor. The Chevalier, understanding at 
last that he was about to lose her, was distracted 
with anxiety, and hung around the room until the 
ladies were put to their wits' end to get rid of him. 
In her next letter, written about Christmas of 
1732, Aiss6 expresses herself thus : — 

" I have to be very careful how I deal with you 
know whom. He has been talking to me about a 
certain matter as reasonably and affectionately as 
possible. All his goodness, his delicate way of 
thinking, loving me for my own self, the interest 
of the poor little one, to whom one could not give 
a position, all these things force me to be very 
careful how I deal with him. For a long time 
I have been tortured with remorse ; the carrying 
out of this would sustain me. If the Chevalier 
does not keep to what he has promised, I will see 
him no more. You see, Madame, what my resolu- 
tions are ; I will keep to them. But they will 
probably shorten my life." 

The explanation of this passage seems to be that 
the Chevalier, having put off marriage so long, 
was anxious not to break his vows for a merely 
sentimental union, that could last but a few weeks. 
She had extracted, it would seem, a sort of pro- 
mise from him, but he did not keep it, and Aiss6 
died unmarried. 

E 



66 FRENCH PROFILES 

In her last hours Aisse became completely 
devote, but not to such an extent as to be unable 
to see the humour of sending such light ladies as 
Madame de Parabere and Madame du Deffand 
through the length and breadth of Paris to search 
for a director to undertake her conversion. At 
last these inexperienced emissaries discovered a 
Pere Boursault, who was perhaps of their world, 
for he was the son of the dramatist, the enemy of 
Moliere ; from him Aisse received the consolations 
of religion. A few days before she died she wrote 
once more to Madame Calandrini, and these are 
the last words which we possess from the pen of 
Ai'ss^ : — 

" I say nothing to you about the Chevalier. 
He is in despair at seeing me so ill. You 
never witnessed a passion so violent, more delicacy, 
more sentiment, more greatness and generosity. I 
am not anxious about the poor little one ; she has 
a friend and protector who loves her tenderly. 
Good-bye, dear Madame ; I am too weak to write 
any more. It is still infinitely sweet to me to think 
of you ; but I cannot yield to this happiness without 
tears, my dear friend. The life I have led has been 
very wretched. Have I ever had a moment's 
enjoyment ? I could not be happy alone ; I was 
afraid to think ; my remorse has never once left 
me since the instant when I began to have my 
eyes open to my misconduct. Why should I 
be alarmed at my soul being separated, since I am 
persuaded that God is all good, and that the 
moment when I begin to enjoy happiness will be 
that in which I leave this miserable body ? " 



MADEMOISELLE AISSE 67 

On the 14th of March, 1733, Charlotte Elizabeth 
Aiss6, spinster, aged about forty years, was buried 
in the chapel of the Ferriol family, in the Church 
of St. Roch, in Paris. 

1887. 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 

Brief and unobtrusive as was the volume of Letlres 
Portugaises published in Paris in 1669, it exercised 
an influence on the sentimental literature of Europe 
which was very extraordinary, and to which we 
have not yet ceased to be subject. Since the 
revival of learning there had been no collection of 
documents dealing with the experiences of emotion 
in which an element of Renaissance feeling had 
not shown itself in some touch of rhetoric, in some 
flower of ornament, in some trick of language that 
concealed what it desired to expose. The Portu- 
guese Letters, slight as they were, pleased in- 
stantly and universally because they were entirely 
modern. The seventeenth century, especially in 
France, had cultivated epistolary literature with 
care, even with too much care. There had been 
letter-writers by profession, and the value of their 
correspondence has been weighed and found want- 
ing. Even in England, where the French were 
held up as models of letter-writing, there were not 
wanting critics. Howell wrote in 1625 : — 

" Others there are among our next transmarine 
neighbours eastward, who write in their own lan- 
guage, but their style is so soft and easy that their 
letters may be said to be like bodies of loose flesh 
without sinews ; they have neither joints of art 
nor arteries in them. They have a kind of simper- 

68 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 69 

ing and lank hectic expression, made up of a 
bombast of words and finical affected compliments 
only. I cannot well away with such fieasy stuff, 
with such cobweb compositions, where there is no 
strength of matter — nothing for the reader to carry 
away with him that may enlarge the notions of 
his soul." 

We may be quite sure that Howell had Balzac 
in his eye when he wrote this passage, and to 
Balzac presently succeeded Voiture. To the quali- 
ties of Voiture's famous correspondence, to its 
emptiness, flatness, and rhetorical elegance, signi- 
fying nothing and telling us nothing, M. Gaston 
Boissier has lately dedicated a very amusing page 
of criticism. Even in the middle of the seven- 
teenth century the French were conscious of their 
deficiency as letter-writers, and were anxious to 
remove it. Mademoiselle de Scudery, who was as 
awkward as the best of them, saw that girls ought to 
know how to express their feelings briefly, plainly, 
and sincerely. In the depths of the wilderness of 
Clelie may still be found rules for letter-writing. 
But the time was not quite ripe, and it is notice- 
able that it was just before the publication of 
the Portuguese Letters that Mademoiselle, in the 
agonies of her grotesque passion, turned over the 
pages of Corneille for phrases which might express 
the complex emotions of her heart. If she had 
waited a few months a manual of the tender 
passion would have lain at her hand. At all 
events, the power to analyse the feelings in simple 
language, to chronicle the minute symptoms of 
emotion without rhetoric, closely succeeds the 



70 FRENCH PROFILES 

great success of these letters ; nor is it unworthy 
of notice that they appear to have exercised an 
instant influence on no less a personage than 
Madame de Sevigne, who alludes to them certainly 
twice, if not oftener, and whose great epoch of 
letter - writing, following upon the marriage of 
Madame de Grignan, begins with this very year, 
1669. In England the influence of the Porht- 
guese Letters, as we shall presently see, was 
scarcely less sudden than decisive. That we in 
England needed such an influence on our letter- 
writers is not to be questioned, although the faults 
of English correspondence were not those of the 
admirers of Voiture and Balzac. The French 
needed to throw off a rhetorical insipidity ; the 
English were still in the toils of the ornamental 
allusiveness of the Renaissance. We find such a 
sentence as the following, written by Mrs. Penrud- 
dock, in 1655, on the night before her husband's 
execution, in a letter which has been preserved just 
because it seemed direct, tender, and sincere ; — 

"Those dear embraces which I yet feel and 
shall never lose, being the faithful testimonies of 
a loving husband, have charmed my soul to such 
a reverence of your remembrance, that, were it 
possible, I would, with my own blood, cement 
your dead limbs to live again, and (with re- 
verence) think it no sin to rob Heaven a little 
longer of a martyr." 

Such persons as Mrs. Penruddock never again 
on such occasions as this wrote in this particular 
manner, when Europe had once read the Portu- 
guese Letters. The secret of saying what was in 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 71 

the heart in a straightforward way was discovered, 
and was at once adopted by men and women a 
hundred times more accompHshed and adroit than 
the Canoness of Beja. 

A romantic and mysterious story had quite as 
much to do with the success of the Portuguese 
Letters as any directness in their style. In 
January 1669 a Httle duodecimo of 182 pages, 
entitled simply Lettres Portugaises, was issued by 
Barbin, the leading Paris publisher. The Letters 
were five in number ; they were neither signed nor 
addressed, and there was no indication of date or 
place. A prefatory note stated that they were a 
translation of certain Portuguese letters written to 
a gentleman of quality who had been serving in 
Portugal, and that the publisher did not know the 
name of the writer. He abstained from saying 
that he knew to whom they were addressed. In- 
ternal evidence showed that the writer was a nun 
in a Portuguese convent, and that she had been 
forsaken, after an impassioned episode, by a 
French cavalry officer who had loved and had 
ridden away. He had passed, at the head of 
his regiment, through the narrow streets of the 
town where she lived, like the hero of a Border 
ballad, not a bowshot from her bower-eaves, and 
she had leaned over her balcony, for a fatal 
instant, and all was lost and won. The little 
book was read and continued to be read ; edition 
after edition was called for, and in 1678 the letters 
were stated to be written by " le Chevalier de 
C. . . ." Saint Simon and Duclos each informed 
the world that the male personage was the Marquis 



72 FRENCH PROFILES 

of Chamilly, long afterwards Marshal of France, 
and a mighty warrior before the Roi-Soleil. But 
no indiscretion of memoir-writers gave the slightest 
information regarding the lady. All that appeared 
was that her name was Mariana and that her 
chamber-window looked across to the only place 
mentioned in the letters — Mertola, a little town 
on the right bank of the Guadiana. But in 1810 
Boissonade, in a copy of the first edition, found a 
note in a contemporary hand, stating in French 
that the letters were written by Mariana Alca- 
forada, a nun in a convent at Beja, in the pro- 
vince of Alem-Tejo. 

Beja, the theatre of the Portuguese Letters^ is 
a small mediaeval city, perched on a hill in the 
midst of the vast fertile plain of central Portugal, 
and boasting to this day a ring of walls and a 
lofty citadel, which make it a beacon from all parts 
of the surrounding province. What the Marquis 
of Chamilly was doing at Beja may now be ex- 
plained, especially as, owing to the recent re- 
searches of M. Beauvois, we can for the first time 
follow him with some exactness. The French 
were holding a very equivocal position with regard 
to Portugal. The Queen of Portugal was a French 
princess, and the court of Lisbon was full of 
Frenchmen, but Louis XIV. did not find it con- 
venient to give Don Alfonso his open support. 
The fact was that Mazarin, anxious to meet the 
Spaniards half-way, had sacrificed Portugal in the 
negotiations of the He des Faisans. He had no 
intention, however, of really leaving his old allies 
to the tender mercies of Madrid, and he secretly 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 73 

encouraged the Portuguese to fight for their inde- 
pendence. The Spaniards had no sooner seen 
France sign the Treaty of the Pyrenees, late in 
1659, than they threw themselves on the frontier 
of Portugal, and a guerilla war began that lasted 
for nine years. All France could openly do was 
to permit her own recently disbanded foreign 
auxiliaries to take up service with the King of 
Portugal ; and as a general for these somewhat 
dubiously constituted troops, the Count of Schom- 
berg offered peculiar advantages, as a Huguenot 
and a citizen of Heidelberg. Schomberg arrived 
late in 1660, and from this time forward success 
leaned to the side of Portugal. M. Beauvois has 
discovered that it was not until 1663 that a young 
cavalry officer of great promise accompanied the 
non- official envoy of France, Ablancourt, to the 
court of Lisbon. This young soldier was Noel 
Bouton, then known under the title of Count of 
St. L6ger-sur-Dheune, who had already, although 
only twenty-six years of age, seen a great deal of 
service in the field. He was the eleventh child of 
a fine old Burgundy noble, who had trained him 
to arms. In 1656 he had been taken prisoner at 
the siege of Valenciennes, and had attracted the 
notice of the king by a succession of gallant ex- 
ploits. He is the hero, though in a most unheroic 
light, of the Portuguese Letters. 

His first mission to Portugal seems to have 
been diplomatic ; but on the 30th of April 1664, 
being at Estremoz, on the Spanish frontier, and 
in the heart of the fighting, he received from 
Schomberg the command of a regiment of cavalry, 



74 FRENCH PROFILES 

and at once took his place in the forefront of the 
work in hand. His name is henceforth connected 
with the httle victories of this obscure and pro- 
vincial war, the results of which, none the less, 
were highly important to Portugal. The theatre 
of the campaign was the hilly district lying between 
the Douro and that part of the Guadiana which 
flows westward before its course changes at Jura- 
menha. Chamilly is first mentioned with glory 
for his part in the ten days' siege of Valenga-de- 
Alcantara, in Spain, in June 1664. A month 
later he helped to defeat the Spaniards under the 
walls of Castello Rodrigo, a mountain fastness in 
the valley of the Douro. By this victory the in- 
dependence of Northern Portugal was secured. 
All through 1665 Chamilly and his dragoons 
hovered around Badajos, winning laurels in June 
at the great battle of Villa Vi90sa ; and in October, 
in the flight on Badajos, after the victory of Rio 
Xevora. The war now sank to a series of marches 
and countermarches, diversified by a few skirmishes 
between the Tagus and Badajos. But in September 
1667, after the Count of St. L6ger, who is now 
Marquis of Chamilly, has been more than three 
years in Portugal, we find him for the first time 
distinguishing himself in the plains of southern 
Alam-Tejo by an attack on the Castle of Ferreira, 
a few miles from Beja. It is scarcely too much 
to conjecture that it was either while advancing 
on, or more probably while returning from 
Ferreira, that he passed under the balcony of the 
Franciscan convent of the Conception, and won 
the heart of the susceptible canoness. So long 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 75 

as the war was being prosecuted with ardour 
Chamilly could have had no time for such a 
liaison, but all the troubles of the Portuguese were 
practically over when Ferreira fell. Six months 
later, on the 13th of February, 1668, peace was 
proclaimed, and Spain accepted the independence 
of Portugal.^ 

A glance at the map will show the importance 
of these dates and names in judging the authen- 
ticity of the letters of Mariana. Without them 
the critics of those letters have been left with no 
basis for conjecturing when or how, between 1661 
and 1668, the Portuguese nun and the French 
officer met and parted. We now see that for the 
first arduous years of the campaign the young 
Frenchman was not near Beja, but that he may 
well have spent the last six months of his cam- 
paigning in peace within or beside its walls. One 
or two otherwise meaningless phrases in the 
letters are now easily explicable ; and the pro- 
bability that the story, as tradition has sketched it 
for us, is mainly correct, becomes vastly greater. 
Before considering what these expressions are, 

^ The important sequence of facts here given with regard to the 
military record of Chamilly in Portugal has never been used before 
in any critical examination of the Portuguese Letters. That I am 
able to give it is owing to the kindness of my friend, M. Jusserand, 
who has pointed out to me a very learned memoir on the Chamilly 
family, full of fresh facts, buried by a Burgundian historian, M. E. 
Beauvois, in the transactions for 1884 of a local society, the " Soci^t^ 
d'Histoire " of Beaune. I think I never saw so valuable a contribution 
to history concealed with so successful a modesty. I am the more 
anxious to express my debt to M. Beauvois for his facts, in that I 
wholly disagree with his conclusions when he comes to deal with the 
Porttigtuse Letters, 



76 FRENCH PROFILES 

however, it may be best to take the Letters them- 
selves into our hands. 

It is with some trepidation that I confess that, 
in my judgment, the central fact on which the 
chronicle of the Portuguese Letters hangs has 
hitherto been overlooked by all their editors and 
critics. As the Letters were published without 
dates, without indications of place or address, 
they took a sequence which has ever since been 
religiously adhered to. But reading them through 
very carefully — as Mark Pattison used to say all 
books should be read, pencil in hand — I had 
come to the conclusion that this order was not 
merely incorrect, but fatal, if persevered in, to 
any historic credence in the Letters as a whole. 
The fourth has all the appearance of being the 
earliest in date, and M. Beauvois' discoveries 
make this almost certain. We must understand 
that all the five letters are the successive appeals 
of a forsaken woman, who repeats her expressions' 
of love and lamentation without much indication of 
scene or season. But some such indication may, 
by reading the text with great care, be discovered. 
The fourth letter, which I believe to be the first, 
opens thus abruptly : — 

" Your lieutenant tells me that a storm forced 
you to put into port in the kingdom of Algarve. 
I am afraid that you must have greatly suffered on 
the sea, and this fear has so occupied me that I 
have thought no more about all my own troubles. 
Are you quite sure that your lieutenant takes 
more interest than I do in all that happens to 
you ? Why then do you keep him better in- 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 77 

formed ? And, finally, why have you not written 
to me ? I am very unfortunate if you found no 
opportunity of writing to me before you started, 
and I am still more so if you did find one without 
using it to write to me. Your injustice and your 
ingratitude are extreme, yet I should be in despair 
if they brought you misfortune." 

The tone of this is angry and indignant, but it 
is not the tone of a woman who considers herself 
abandoned. She has evidently parted with her 
lover unwillingly, and with suspicion, but she 
does not resign the right to scold him. More- 
over, it is noticeable that he has but just started, 
and that he had hardly put to sea before he was 
driven into a port in Algarve. Not a critic of the 
Portuguese Letters has known what to make of 
this latter point, for Algarve is the strip running 
along the extreme south coast of Portugal, and no 
ship leaving Lisbon for France could possibly be 
driven into ports that look right across into Africa. 
But as we now see Chamilly slowly descending 
the frontier from the Douro to Beja, and as we 
presently find Mariana overwhelmed with emotion 
at the sight of the road to Mertola, we have but 
to look again at the map to observe that Mertola 
would be naturally the first stage in a journey 
continued south to the mouth of the Guadiana, 
which is navigable from that town onwards. On 
reaching the sea Chamilly would take ship, and 
would most naturally be driven by the first storm 
into some port of Algarve, from which the news 
would promptly be brought back to Beja. When 
we find the Portuguese nun speaking of some 



78 FRENCH PROFILES 

early confidences as made " five or six months 
ago," and when we recollect that the capture of 
Ferreira took place five months before the peace 
with Spain, we can hardly doubt that the events 
upon which the Letters are founded took place 
between September 1667 and February 1668, 
soon after which latter date Chamilly doubtless 
made an excuse for setting forth for France. 
Thus a series of minute expressions in this so-called 
fourth letter — expressions hitherto meaningless or 
misleading — are shown to be of vital importance 
in testifying to the genuineness of the corre- 
spondence. 

Another fragment from this same letter will help 
to complete the picture of Chamilly's desertion : — 

" You have taken advantage of the excuses 
which you had for going back to France. A ship 
was starting. Why did you not let her start ? 
Your family had written to you. Do you not 
know what persecutions I have endured from 
mine ? Your honour compelled you to forsake 
me. Have I been so solicitous about my honour ? 
You were forced to go to serve your king. If all 
that is said of him be true, he has no need of your 
help, and he would have excused you. I should 
have been only too happy had we passed our lives 
together ; but since a cruel absence had to divide 
us, it seems to me that I ought to be satisfied in 
knowing that I am not faithless to you. Indeed, 
for all the world contains would I not commit so 
base an action. What ! have you known the 
depths of my heart and my affection, and have 
yet been able to persuade yourself to abandon me 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 79 

for ever, and to expose me to the terror of believ- 
ing that you will for the future only think of me to 
sacrifice the memory of me to some new passion ! " 

The freedom with which this cloistered lady 
and her foreign lover met has been objected to as 
improbable. But the manners of Portugal in the 
seventeenth century gave to women of the religious 
orders a social freedom denied to ordinary wives 
and daughters. In the Me'moires of Ablancourt, 
whom Chamilly attended on his first mission to 
Lisbon, we read of royal parties of pleasure at the 
Convent of Santa Speranza, where the nuns and 
courtiers mingled in theatrical representations 
before the king and queen. Another con- 
temporary account admits that the French and 
English were so much beloved in Portugal that 
some liberty was allowed to them beyond what a 
Portuguese gentleman might indulge in. It is 
easy to see that if convents might without scandal 
be opened to men in social intercourse, it is not 
probable that they would be closed to a brilliant 
foreign ally fresh from Villa Vigosa or Ferreira. 
But we must again allow Mariana Alcaforada to 
tell her own tale : — 

" Every one has noticed the entire change in 
my mood, my manners, and my person. My 
mother has spoken to me about it, with bitterness 
at first, and then with a certain kindliness. I do 
not know what I said to her in reply ; I fancy 
I must have confessed everything to her. The 
strictest of the nuns here are sorry to see what a 
condition I am in ; they even treat me on account 
of it with some consideration and some tender- 



8o FRENCH PROFILES 

ness. Everybody is touched at my love, and 
you alone remain perfectly indifferent, writing 
me only cold letters, full of repetitions ; half the 
paper is not filled, and you are rude enough to 
let me see that you are dying with impatience to 
be done writing. Dofia Brites has been persecut- 
ing me these last days to get me to leave my 
room ; and fancying that it would amuse me, she 
took me for a turn on the balcony from which 
one has a view of Mertola ; 1 went with her, and 
at once a cruel memory came back to me, a 
memory which kept me weeping all the remainder 
of the day. She brought me back, and I threw 
myself on my bed, where I could but reflect a 
thousand times over how little chance there was 
of my ever being cured. Whatever is done to 
solace me augments my suffering, and in the 
remedies themselves I find intimate reasons why 
I should be wretched. I have often seen you 
pass that spot with an air that charmed me, and 
I was on that balcony on that fatal day when I 
first began to feel the symptoms of my ill-starred 
passion. I fancied that you wished to please me, 
although you did not know me. I persuaded 
myself that you had noticed me among all the 
ladies that were with me. 1 imagined that when 
you drew rein, you were well pleased that 1 should 
have a better sight of you, and that I should 
admire your skill and how graceful you looked on 
horseback. I was surprised to notice that I was 
frightened when you took your horse through a 
difficult place ; the fact is that 1 was taking a 
secret interest in all your actions." 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 8i 

We see that he wrote to her at first, although 
not from that port of Algarve, in which he had 
thought of nothing but business. It does not 
appear that after this he ever wrote again, nor as 
her memory loses its sharpness does she ever, after 
this first letter, regain the same clearness of re- 
miniscence. We may quote once more from this, 
the most interesting of the famous five. It is 
thus that Mariana closes her pathetic appeal : — 

" I want to have the portraits of your brother 
and of your sister-in-law. Whatever is anything to 
you is very dear to me, and I am wholly devoted 
to what concerns you. I have no will of my own 
left. There are moments in which it seems to me 
that I should be humble enough to serve her 
whom you love. . . . An officer has been wait- 
ing for this letter for a long time ; I had made up 
my mind to write it in such a way that you may 
not be disgusted when you receive it, but I see 
I have made it too extravagant. I must close it. 
Alas ! it is out of my power to do so. I seem to 
be talking to you when I write to you, and you 
become a little more present to me then. . . . 
The officer who is to take this letter reminds me 
for the fourth time that he wishes to start. What 
a hurry he is in ! He, no doubt, is forsaking 
some unhappy lady in this country. Farewell ! 
it is harder for me to finish my letter than it was 
for you to abandon me, perhaps for ever." 

The remaining letters give fewer indications of 
date and sequence than the fourth, nor are they 
so picturesque. But the reader will not seek the 
Portuguese Letters, as he seeks the Me'moires of 

F 



82 FRENCH PROFILES 

Madame de Motteville, or even the correspond- 
ence of Madame de Sevign^, mainly for sparkling 
incident and the pretty details of contemporary 
life. The value of these epistles rests in their 
sincerity as a revelation of the heart. Poor 
Mariana had no inclination to describe the daily 
life of her fellow-nuns or the intrigues of society 
in Beja. She has been deceived, the man she 
loves is absent, and as she weeps without cessa- 
tion, she cannot help confessing to herself that 
she does not expect to see him back again. 

" I resigned my life to you," she says in the 
so-called first letter, " as soon as I saw you, and I 
feel some pleasure now in sacrificing to you what 
you will not accept. A thousand times a day I 
send my sighs out after you ; they search for you 
everywhere, and for all reward of so much dis- 
quietude what do they bring me back but too 
sincere a warning from my evil fortune, which is 
too cruel to suffer me to deceive myself, and 
which says to me every moment. Cease, cease, 
unfortunate Mariana ! vainly thou dost consume 
thyself, vainly dost seek a lover whom thou shalt 
never see again, who has crost the ocean to 
escape from thee, who is now in France in the 
midst of pleasures, who gives no single moment to 
the thought of thy sufferings, and who can well 
dispense with all these thy needless transports." 

She will not, however, yet admit that she is 
wholly deserted. She has received a letter from 
him, and though its tone was so far from respond- 
ing to her own that it threw her beside herself for 
three hours, it has re-awakened her hopes. 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 83 

"Can you ever be contented by a passion less 
ardent than mine ? You will, perhaps, find else- 
where more beauty (although you used to tell me 
that I was beautiful enough) but you will never 
find so much love again, and all the rest is 
nothing. Do not fill out your letters with need- 
less matter, and you may save yourself the trouble 
of reminding me to remember you. I cannot 
forget you, and I cannot forget, too, that you 
made me hope that you would come back to me 
for awhile. Ah ! why will you not spend all your 
life here ? Were it possible for me to quit this 
wretched cloister, I would not stay in Portugal to 
see whether you performed your promises. I 
would not count the cost, but would fly to seek 
you, to follow you, to love you. I dare not 
persuade myself that this will be ; I will not 
nourish such a hope (though there might be 
pleasure in delusion), for since I am doomed to 
be unhappy, I will have no feelings inconsistent 
with my lot." 

The violent and wretched tone of the " Letters " 
culminates in the third, which is unsurpassed as a 
revelation of the ingenious self-torture of a sensi- 
tive mind brooding upon its own despair. The 
women of Paris were astonished to read such 
pages as the following, where complex emotions 
which they had often experienced or imagined, 
but had never been able to formulate, suddenly 
found perfectly direct and limpid expression : — 

" I cannot persuade myself to wish that you 
may no longer be thinking about me ; and, indeed, 
to speak sincerely, I am furiously jealous of what- 



84 FRENCH PROFILES 

ever may give you happiness, and of all that may 
touch your heart and your tastes in France. I do 
not know why I write to you. I see well enough 
that you will only pity me, and I do not wish for 
your pity. I am very angry with myself when I 
reflect upon all that I have sacrificed for you. I 
have exposed myself to the rage of my relatives, 
to the severity of the laws of this country against 
nuns, and to your ingratitude, which appears to 
me the greatest of all misfortunes. Yet, all the 
while, I am conscious that my remorse is not 
sincere, and that for the love of you I would with 
all my heart run into far greater dangers than any 
of these." 

The extraordinary and at that time the unique 
merit of the Portuguese nun, as a letter-writer, lies 
in the fact that, in the full tempest and turmoil of 
her passion, she never yields to the temptation of 
giving herself up to rhetoric, or rather that whenever 
she does make a momentary concession to this habit 
of her age, she doubles on herself immediately, and 
is the first to deprecate such false flowers of speech. 
She knows that her letters are too long, although 
she cannot keep them within bounds. It is part 
of the torture of her spirit that she recognises 
better than any monitor from without could teach 
her, that her lamentations, reproaches, and 
entreaties are as little calculated as a material 
flood of tears would be to revive the fire upon a 
hearth of sunken embers. As she clamours at 
the door of memory, and makes the air resound 
with her importunity, she is sane enough to be 
aware all the while that these are no seductions 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 85 

by which a weary heart may be refreshed and 
re-awakened ; yet is she absolutely powerless to 
moderate her own emotion. The result is poignant 
to the last degree ; and from the absence of all, or 
almost all, surrounding local colour of incident or 
tradition, the spectacle of this distress moves and 
excites the reader in somewhat the same fashion 
as the loud crying of an unseen figure out-of-doors 
in the darkness of the night may move the helpless 
sympathy of one who listens from a window. 

Nothing more is known of this shadowy 
Mariana Alcaforada, but the author of her mis- 
fortunes figures long and gloriously in French 
history. His fatuity, if not his heartlessness, in 
allowing her letters to be immediately printed, is 
a blot upon his humanity in our eyes, but seems 
to have abated his magnificence not a whit among 
his contemporaries. It would be idle to inquire 
by what means the letters came into the hands of 
a publisher. In 1690, upon the death of the 
translator, it was admitted that they had been 
turned out of Portuguese into excellent French 
by Pierre Girardin de Guilleragues, a "Gascon 
gourmand," as Saint-Simon calls him, immortalised 
moreover by Boileau, in a graceful couplet, as 
being — 

" Born master of all arts a court can teach, 
And skilled alike in silence and in speech." 

It was Guilleragues who said of Pelisson that 
" he abused the permission that men have to be 
ugly." He was patronised by Madame de Main- 
tenon and died French ambassador to the Porte 



86 FRENCH PROFILES 

in 1689. To Guiileragues is attributed the com- 
position of the Portuguese Letters by those who 
seek to deny that Mariana Alcaforada ever existed. 
But in their own day no one doubted that 
the actors in this Httle drama were real persons. 
Chamilly is described by Saint-Simon as a tall, 
heavy man, extremely good-natured and gallant 
in fight, although to listen to and to look at, 
giving little suggestion that he could ever have 
inspired so romantic a passion as that revealed 
by the Portuguese Letters. To this there is an 
obvious reply, that Saint-Simon only knew Cha- 
milly in his mature years, and that there is no 
reason why a heavy dragoon should not have 
been very attractive to a Portuguese maiden at 
twenty-six and yet seem most unattractive at forty- 
six to the wittiest of memoir-writers. To the 
Portuguese nun he undoubtedly behaved disgrace- 
fully ill, and not at all like a Christian gentleman ; 
but we must remember that his own age judged 
such bad deeds as peccadillos in the free cam- 
paign of love and war. Chamilly's subsequent 
career was unquestionably glorious. He fought 
the Turks in Candia, he commanded the troops of 
the Electors of Cologne and of Munster, he won 
deathless laurels at the famous siege of Grave ; 
and, finally, after twenty-five campaigns, he ended 
as Marshal of France, and married a wife who 
was, as we may smile maliciously to read in our 
Saint-Simon, " singularly ugly." 

The success of the Portuguese Letters was 
attested not merely by the multitude of successive 
editions of the text, but by the imitations and 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 87 

continuations which were foisted upon a credulous 
public. Only seven months after the original 
publication there appeared a second part contain- 
ing seven letters, with the same date, 1669, on the 
title-page. These did not, however, pretend to be 
written by Mariana, but by a Portuguese lady of 
quality. The style was very different, as the 
publisher admitted, and the letters bear every 
stamp of artifice and fiction. They were, how- 
ever, greedily accepted as genuine, and the " Dame 
Portugaise" took her place beside the "Religieuse." 
The temptation to prolong the romance was irre- 
sistible, and there was immediately published a 
pamphlet of " Replies," five in number, supposed 
to be sent by the French officer to the Portuguese 
nun in answer to each of her letters. This came 
from a Parisian press ; but the idea of publishing 
the officer's letters had occurred simultaneously to 
a provincial bookseller, and still in the same year, 
1669, there appeared at Grenoble a volume of 
New Repliesy six in number, the first being not 
properly a reply, but an introductory letter. This 
last publication openly professes to be fiction. 
The editor states in the preface that being " neither 
a girl, nor a nun, nor even perhaps in love," he 
cannot pretend to express the sentiments of the 
heart with the genuine vigour of the original 
letters ; but that, as Aulus Sabinus ventured to 
reply to certain of the heroic epistles of Ovid, 
though with so little success as merely to heighten 
the lustre of those originals, so he hopes by these 
inventions, and a va&XQJeu d esprit^ to increase the 
admiration of readers for Mariana's genuine 



88 FRENCH PROFILES 

correspondence. All this is very honest and very 
legitimate, but so eager were the ladies of the 
seventeenth century to be deluded that this 
preface of the guileless editor was taken to 
be a mere mystification, and the Grenoble New 
Replies were swallowed like the rest. Some idea 
of the popularity of the Portuguese Letters may be 
gained, not merely from the vogue of these 
successive imitations, but from the fact that 
M. Eugene Asse, the latest and best of Mariana's 
editors, has described no fewer than sixteen 
editions of the Letters themselves, issued before 
the close of the seventeenth century, a list which 
would seem to be very far indeed from being 
complete. 

Rousseau was the first to start the idea that the 
Portuguese Letters were written by a man. He 
went upon no external evidence, but on subtle 
and in truth very fanciful arguments regarding 
the point of view taken by the writer. No one 
else has seriously questioned their authenticity, 
until quite recently, when M. Beauvois, a Bur- 
gundian antiquary, has endeavoured to destroy 
our faith in the existence of the Portuguese Nun. 
This gentleman is an impassioned admirer of the 
exploits of the Marquis of Chamilly, and it is not 
difficult to perceive that his wish to discredit the 
" Letters " is due to his desire to whitewash the 
character of his hero, blackened for the present, 
at all events to modern eyes, by the cruel abandon- 
ment of this poor religious lady in the Beja con- 
vent. This critic goes to the opposite extreme, 
and allows himself to speak of Mariana's letters 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 89 

as " the obsessions of a Maenad." Many of M. 
Beauvois's acute objections are met by the re- 
arrangement of the letters which I have suggested 
above, and particularly by the fact that the fourth 
of them should certainly stand the first. After a 
careful examination of his criticism, and particu- 
larly in the light of the important historical dates, 
with regard to Chamilly's record in the Portuguese 
war, which M. Beauvois has himself brought for- 
ward, I for one am more persuaded than ever 
that the outline of the story as we know it is true, 
and that the letters, or something Portuguese 
which was very like them, were actually sent 
after the rascally belldtre when he made his way 
back to France in 1668. Bare as the letters are, 
there are nevertheless little touches of detail here 
and there, little inexplicable allusions, such as a 
real correspondence would possess, and such as 
no forger would introduce. It would be tedious 
in this place to dwell jminutely on this sort of 
evidence, but a single example may be given. In 
one passage the nun writes, " Ah ! how I envy 
the happiness of Emmanuel and of Francisque. 
Why am not I always with you, as they are ! " 
Nothing more is said of these beings. We are 
left to conjecture whether they were fellow- 
officers, or servants, or dogs, or even perhaps 
parrots. A forger would scarcely leave two 
meaningless names in the body of his text with- 
out some indication of his idea. The sincerity, 
moreover, of the style and sentiments is extra- 
ordinary, and is observed to great advantage by 
comparing the various continuations and replies 



90 FRENCH PROFILES 

with the five original letters. To suppose the first 
little volume of 1669 to be a deliberate fiction 
would be to land us in the more serious difficulty 
of discovering in its inventor a great imaginative 
creator of emotional romance. The hero-worship 
of M. Beauvois has not convinced me that 
Mariana never gazed across the olives and oranges 
to Mertola, nor watched the cavalcade of her false 
dragoon file down into the gorge of the Guadiana. 
The French critics have not taken any interest 
in the influence of the Portuguese Letters in Eng- 
land. Yet translations and imitations of these 
letters became very numerous in this country 
before the close of the seventeenth century. The 
earliest version which I have been able to trace 
is that of Sir Roger L'Estrange, published as a 
very tiny little book of Five Love Letters from a 
Nun to a Cavalier, in 1678 (December 28, 1677). 
In a short preface to the reader, the translator 
says, " These five letters are here at your service. 
You will find in them the lively image of an 
extravagant and an unfortunate passion, and that 
a woman may be flesh and blood in a cloister 
as well as in a palace." This translation of 
L'Estrange's went on being reprinted for fifty 
years, and was attended on its successful course 
from one toilet to another by a variety of imita- 
tions, the liveliest of which is attributed to the 
pen of the vivacious Major Richardson Pack. 
From the first the Portuguese Letters were not 
presented to the women of England as literature, 
but as models of sincere letter-writing, and hence 
they escaped mention in our solemn handbooks of 



A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 91 

bibliography and literary history. But their in- 
fluence was extraordinary, and by the time that 
the Spectator had come into existence, and Richard 
Steele was sitting over his wine, " the slave of 
beauty," writing out of his heart to Mary Scurlock, 
the men and women of England had learned the 
lesson which the nun of Beja was betrayed to 
teach them, and they could say in plain, straight- 
forward sentences exactly what it was in their 
souls to express to one another, without any sort 
of trope or rhetorical ornament. 



1888. 



JULES BARBEY D'AUREVILLY 

Those who can endure an excursion into the 
backwaters of Hterature may contemplate, neither 
too seriously nor too lengthily, the career and 
writings of Barbey d'Aurevilly. Very obscure in 
his youth, he lived so long, and preserved his force 
so consistently, that in his old age he became, if 
not quite a celebrity, most certainly a notoriety. 
At the close of his life — he reached his eighty-first 
year — he was still to be seen walking the streets or 
haunting the churches of Paris, his long, sparse 
hair flying in the wind, his fierce eyes flashing 
about him, his hat poised on the side of his head, 
his famous lace frills turned back over the cuff of 
his coat, his attitude always erect, defiant, and for- 
midable. Down to the winter of 1 888 he preserved 
the dandy dress of 1840, and never appeared but 
as M. de Pontmartin has described him, in black 
satin trousers, which fitted his old legs like a glove, 
in a flapping, brigand wideawake, in a velvet waist- 
coat, which revealed diamond studs and a lace 
cravat, and in a wonderful shirt that covered the 
most artful pair of stays. In every action, in every 
glance, he seemed to be defying the natural decay 
of years, and to be forcing old age to forget him 
by dint of spirited and ceaseless self-assertion. He 
was himself the prototype of all the Brassards and 



BARBEY D'AUREVILLY 93 

Misnilgrands of his stories, the dandy of dandies, 
the mummied and immortal beau. 

His intellectual condition was not unlike his 
physical one. He was a survival — of the most 
persistent. The last, by far the last, of the Roman- 
tiques of 1835, Barbey d'Aurevilly lived on into 
an age wholly given over to other aims and ambi- 
tions, without changing his own ideals by an iota. 
He was to the great men who began the revival, 
to figures like Alfred de Vigny, as Shirley was to 
the early Elizabethans. He continued the old tra- 
dition, without resigning a single habit or prejudice, 
until his mind was not a whit less old-fashioned 
than his garments. Victor Hugo, who hated him, 
is said to have dedicated an unpublished verse to 
his portrait : — 

" Barbey d'Aurevilly, formidable imbecile," 

But imbecile was not at all the right word. He 
was absurd ; he was outrageous ; he had, per- 
haps, by dint of resisting the decrepitude of his 
natural powers, become a little crazy. But im- 
becility is the very last word to use of this mutin- 
ous, dogged, implacable old pirate of letters. 

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly was born near Valognes 

(the " V "which figures in several of his stories) 

on the 2nd of November 1808. He liked to re- 
present himself as a scion of the bluest nobility of 
Normandy, and he communicated to the makers 
of dictionaries the fact that the name of his direct 
ancestor is engraved on the tomb of William the 
Conqueror. But some have said that the names 
of his father and mother were never known, and 



94 FRENCH PROFILES 

others (poor d'Aurevilly !) have set him down as 
the son of a butcher in the village of Saint-Sauveur- 
le-Vicomte. He was at college with Maurice de 
Gu^rin, and quite early, about 1830 apparently, 
he became personally acquainted with Chateau- 
briand. His youth seems to be wrapped up in 
mystery ; according to one of the best informed 
of his biographers, he vanished in 1831, and was 
not heard of again until 1851. To these twenty 
years of alleged disappearance, one or two remark- 
able books of his are, however, ascribed. It appears 
that what is perhaps the most characteristic of all 
his writings, Du Dandyisme et de Georges Brummell, 
was written as early as 1842 ; and in 1845 a very 
small edition of it was printed by an admirer of 
the name of Trebutien, to whose affection d'Aure- 
villy seems to have owed his very existence. It is 
strange that so little is distinctly known about a 
man who, late in life, attracted much curiosity and 
attention. He was a consummate romancer, and 
he liked to hint that he was engaged during early 
life in intrigues of a corsair description. The truth 
seems to be that he lived, in great obscurity, in the 
neighbourhood of Caen, probably by the aid of 
journalism. As early as 1825 he began to publish ; 
but of all the productions of his youth, the only 
one which can now be met with is the prose 
poem of Amatde'e, written, I suppose, about 1835 ; 
this was published by M. Paul Bourget as a curi- 
osity immediately after Barbey d'Aurevilly's death. 
Judged as a story, Amatde'e is puerile ; it describes 
how to a certain poet, called Somegod, who dwelt 
on a lonely cliff, there came a young man alto- 



BARBEY D'AUREVILLY 95 

gether wise and stately named Altai, and a frail 
daughter of passion, who gives her name to the 
book. These three personages converse in magni- 
ficent language, and, the visitors presently depart- 
ing, the volume closes. But an interest attaches 
to the fact that in Somegod {Quelque Dieu /) the 
author was painting a portrait of Maurice de 
Gu^rin, while the majestic Altai is himself. 
The conception of this book is Ossianic ; but the 
style is often singularly beautiful, with a mar- 
moreal splendour founded on a study of Chateau- 
briand, and, perhaps, of Goethe, and not without 
relation to that of Gu^rin himself. 

The earliest surviving production of d'Aurevilly, 
if we except Amai'dee, is L Amour Impossible, a 
novel published with the object of correcting the 
effects of the poisonous Le'lia of George Sand. 
Already, in this crude book, we see something of 
the Barbey d'Aurevilly of the future, the Dandy- 
Paladin, the Catholic Sensualist or Diavolist, the 
author of the few poor thoughts and the sonorous, 
paroxysmal, abundant style. I forget whether it 
is here or in a slightly later novel that, in hastily 
turning the pages, I detect the sentiment, " Our 
forefathers were wise to cut the throats of the 
Huguenots, and very stupid not to burn Luther." 
The late Master of Balliol is said to have asked a 
reactionary undergraduate, "What, Sir ! would you 
burn, would you burn ? " If he had put the question 
to Barbey d'Aureyilly, the scented hand would have 
been laid on the cambric bosom, and the answer 
would have been, "Certainly I should." In the 
midst of the infidel society and literature of the 



96 FRENCH PROFILES 

Second Empire, d'Aurevilly persisted in the most 
noisy profession of his entire loyalty to Rome, 
but his methods of proclaiming his attachment 
were so violent and outrageous that the Church 
showed no gratitude to her volunteer defender. 
This was a source of much bitterness and recrimi- 
nation, but it is difficult to see how the author of 
Le Pretre Marie and Une Histoire sans Nom could 
expect pious Catholics to smile on his very peculiar 
treatment of ecclesiastical life. 

Barbey d'Aurevilly undertook to continue the 
work of Chateaubriand, and he gave his full 
attention to a development of the monarchical 
neo-catholicism which that great inaugurator had 
sketched out. He was impressed by the beauty 
of the Roman ceremonial, and he determined to 
express with poetic emotion the mystical majesty 
of the symbol. It must be admitted that, although 
his work never suggests any knowledge of or sym- 
pathy with the spiritual part of religion, he has a 
genuine appreciation of its externals. It would be 
difficult to point to a more delicate and full im- 
pression of the solemnity which attends the crepus- 
cular light of a church at vespers than is given in 
the opening pages of A un Diner dAihees. In 
L Ensorceleey too, we find the author piously follow- 
ing a chanting procession round a church, and ejacu- 
lating, " Rien n'est beau comme cet instant solennel 
des c^r^monies catholiques." Almost every one of 
his novels deals by preference with ecclesiastical 
subjects, or introduces some powerful figure of a 
priest. But it is very difficult to believe that his 
interest in it all is other than histrionic or pheno- 



BARBEY D'AUREVILLY 97 

menal. He likes the business of a priest, he Hkes 
the furniture of a church, but there, in spite of his 
vehement protestations, his piety seems to a candid 
reader to have begun and ended. 

For a humble and reverent child of the Catholic 
Church, it must be confessed that Barbey d'Aure- 
villy takes strange liberties. The mother would 
seem to have had little control over the caprices of 
her extremely unruly son. There is scarcely one 
of these ultra-catholic novels of his which it is 
conceivable that a pious family would like to see 
lying upon its parlour table. The Devil takes a 
prominent part in many of them, for d'Aurevilly's 
whim is to see Satanism everywhere, and to con- 
sider it matter of mirth ; he is like a naughty boy, 
giggling when a rude man breaks his mother's 
crockery. He loves to play with dangerous and 
forbidden notions. In I^ Pretre Marie (which, to 
his lofty indignation, was forbidden to be sold in 
Catholic shops) the hero is a renegade and inces- 
tuous priest, who loves his own daughter, and 
makes a hypocritical confession of error in order 
that, by that act of perjury, he may save her life, 
as she is dying of the agony of knowing him to 
be an atheist. This man, the Abb6 Sombreval, is 
bewitched, is possessed of the Devil, and so is 
Ryno de Marigny in Une Vieille Maitresse, and Las- 
th^nie de Ferjol in Une Histoire sans Norn. This is 
one of Barbey d'Aurevilly's favourite tricks, to 
paint an extraordinary, an abnormal condition of 
spirit, and to avoid the psychological difficulty by 
simply attributing it to sorcery. But he is all 
the time rather amused by the wickedness than 

G 



98 FRENCH PROFILES 

shocked at it. In Le Bonheur dans le Crime — the 
moral of which is that people of a certain grandeur 
of temperament can be absolutely wicked with 
impunity — he frankly confesses his partiality for 
" la plaisanterie 16gerement sacrilege," and all the 
philosophy of d'Aurevilly is revealed in that rash 
phrase. It is not a matter of a wounded con- 
science expressing itself with a brutal fervour, but 
the gusto of conscious wickedness. His mind is 
intimately akin with that of the Neapolitan lady, 
whose story he was perhaps the first to tell, who 
wished that it only were a sin to drink iced 
sherbet. Barbey d'Aurevilly is a devil who may 
or may not believe, but who always makes a point 
of trembhng. 

The most interesting feature of Barbey d'Aure- 
villy's temperament, as revealed in his imaginative 
work, is, however, his pre-occupation with his own 
physical life. In his youth, Byron and Alfieri were 
the objects of his deepest idolatry ; he envied their 
disdainful splendour of passion ; and he fashioned 
his dream in poverty and obscurity so as to make 
himself believe that he was of their race. He was 
a Disraeli — with whom, indeed, he has certain re- 
lations of style — but with none of Disraeli's social 
advantages, and with a more inconsequent and 
violent habit of imagination. Unable, from want 
of wealth and position, to carry his dreams into 
effect, they became exasperated and intensified, 
and at an age when the real dandy is settling 
down into a man of the world, Barbey d'Aurevilly 
was spreading the wings of his fancy into the 
infinite azure of imaginary experience. He had 



BARBEY D'AUREVILLY 99 

convinced himself that he was a Lovelace, a Lauzun, 
a Brummell, and the philosophy of dandyism filled 
his thoughts far more than if he had really been 
able to spend a stormy youth among marchionesses 
who carried, set in diamonds in a bracelet, the 
ends of the moustaches of viscounts. In the 
novels of his maturity and his old age, therefore, 
Barbey d'Aurevilly loved to introduce magnificent 
aged dandies, whose fatuity he dwelt upon with 
ecstasy, and in whom there is no question that he 
saw reflections of his imaginary self. No better 
type of this can be found than that Vicomte de 
Brassard, an elaborate, almost enamoured, portrait 
of whom fills the earlier pages of what is else a 
rather dull story, Le Rideau Cramoisi. The very 
clever, very immoral tale called Le Plus Bel Amour 
de Don Juan — which relates how a superannuated 
but still incredibly vigorous old beau gives a 
supper to the beautiful women of quality whom 
he has known, and recounts to them the most 
piquant adventure of his life — is redolent of this 
intense delight in the prolongation of enjoyment 
by sheer refusal to admit the ravages of age. Al- 
though my space forbids quotation, I cannot resist 
repeating a passage which illustrates this horrible 
fear of the loss of youth and the struggle against 
it, more especially as it is a good example of 
d'Aurevilly's surcharged and intepid style : — 

" II n'y avait pas la de ces jeunesses vert tendre, 
de ces petites demoiselles qu'execrait Byron, qui 
sentent la tartelette et qui, par la tournure, ne 
sont encore que des 6pluchettes, mais tons 6t6s 
splendides et savoureux, plantureux automnes, 



loo FRENCH PROFILES 

6panouissements et plenitudes, seins eblouissants 
battant leur plein majestueux au bord decouvert 
des corsages, et, sous les camees de I'^paule nue, 
des bras de tout galbe, mais surtout des bras 
puissants, de ces biceps de Sabines qui ont lutt6 
avec les Romains, et qui seraient capables de 
s'entrelacer, pour I'arreter, dans les rayons de la 
roue du char de la vie." 

This obsession of vanishing youth, this intense 
determination to preserve the semblance and colour 
of vitality, in spite of the passage of years, is, 
however, seen to greatest advantage in a very 
curious book of Barbey d'Aurevilly's, in some 
aspects, indeed, the most curious which he has left 
behind him, Du Dandyisme et de Georges Brummell. 
This is really a work of his early maturity, for it 
was printed in a small private edition so long ago 
as 1845. It was not published, however, until 
1 86 1, when it may be said to have introduced its 
author to the world of France. Later on he wrote 
a curious study of the fascination exercised over 
La Grande Mademoiselle by Lauzun, Un Dandy 
d'avant les Dandys, and these two are now published 
in one volume, which forms that section of the 
immense work of d'Aurevilly which best rewards 
the curious reader. 

Many writers in England, from Thomas Carlyle 
in Sartor Resartus to our ingenious young forger 
of paradoxes, Mr. Max Beerbohm, have dealt 
upon that semi-feminine passion in fatuity, that 
sublime attention to costume and deportment, 
which marks the dandy. The type has been, as 
d'Aurevilly does not fail to observe, mainly an 



BARBEY D'AUREVILLY loi 

English one. We point to Beau Nash, to Byron, 
to Lord Yarmouth, to Sheridan, and, above all, 
" k ce Dandy royal, S. M. Georges IV. ;" but the 
star of each of these must pale before that of 
Brummell. These others, as was said in a different 
matter, had " other preoccupations," but Brummell 
was entirely absorbed, as by a solemn mission, by 
the conduct of his person and his clothes. So far, 
in the portraiture of such a figure, there is nothing 
very singular in what the French novelist has skil- 
fully and nimbly done, but it is his own attitude 
which is so original. All other writers on the 
dandies have had their tongues in their cheeks. 
If they have commended, it is because to be pre- 
posterous is to be amusing. When we read that 
"dandyism is the least selfish of all the arts," we 
smile, for we know that the author's design is 
to be entertaining. But Barbey d'Aurevilly is 
doggedly in earnest. He loves the great dandies 
of the past as other men contemplate with ardour 
dead poets and dead musicians. He is seriously 
enamoured of their mode of life. He sees nothing 
ridiculous, nothing even limited, in their self-con- 
centration. It reminds him of the tiger and of the 
condor ; it recalls to his imagination the vast, 
solitary forces of Nature ; and when he contem- 
plates Beau Brummell, his eyes fill with tears of 
nostalgia. So would he have desired to live ; 
thus, and not otherwise, would he fain have 
strutted and trampled through that eighteenth 
century to which he is for ever gazing back with 
a fond regret. "To dress one's self," he says, 
" should be the main business of life," and with 



IC2 FRENCH PROFILES 

great ingenuity he dwells upon the latent but 
positive influence which dress has had on men 
of a nature apparently furthest removed from its 
trivialities ; upon Pascal, for instance, upon Buffon, 
upon Wagner. 

It was natural that a writer who delighted in 
this patrician ideal of conquering man should have 
a limited conception of life. Women to Barbey 
d'Aurevilly were of two varieties — either nuns or 
amorous tigresses ; they were sometimes both in 
one. He had no idea of soft gradations in society: 
there were the tempestuous marchioness and her 
intriguing maid on one side ; on the other, 
emptiness, the sordid hovels of the bourgeoisie. 
This absence of observation or recognition of life 
d'Aurevilly shared with the other Romantiques, 
but in his sinister and contemptuous aristocracy 
he passed beyond them all. Had he lived to be- 
come acquainted with the writings of Nietzsche, 
he would have hailed a brother-spirit, one who 
loathed democracy and the humanitarian temper 
as much as he did himself. But there is no 
philosophy in Barbey d'Aurevilly, nothing but a 
prejudice fostered and a sentiment indulged. 

In referring to Nicholas Nickleby, a novel which 
he vainly endeavoured; to get through, d'Aurevilly 
remarks : " I wish to write an essay on Dickens, 
and at present I have only read one hundred 
pages of his writings. But I consider that if 
one hundred pages do not give the talent of a man, 
they give his spirit, and the spirit of Dickens is 
odious to me." "The vulgar Dickens," he calmly 
remarks in Journalistes et Pole'mistes, and we laugh 



BARBEY D'AUREVILLY 103 

at the idea of sweeping away such a record of 
genius on the strength of a chapter or two misread 
in Nicholas Nickleby. But Barbey d'Aurevilly was 
not Dickens, and it really is not necessary to 
study closely the vast body of his writings. The 
same characteristics recur in them all, and the 
impression may easily be weakened by vain repeti- 
tion. In particular, a great part of the later life 
of d'Aurevilly was occupied in writing critical 
notices and studies for newspapers and reviews. 
He made this, I suppose, his principal source of 
income ; and from the moment when, in 1851, he 
became literary critic to Le Pays to that of his 
death, nearly forty years later, he was incessantly 
dogmatising about literature and art. He never 
became a critical force, he was too violent and, 
indeed, too empty for that ; but a pen so brilliant 
as his is always welcome with editors whose design 
is not to be true, but to be noticeable, and to 
escape '• the obvious." The most cruel of Barbey 
d'Aurevilly's enemies could not charge his criticism 
with being obvious. It is intensely contentious 
and contradictory. It treats all writers and artists 
on the accepted nursery principle of " Go and see 
what baby's doing, and tell him not to." This is 
entertaining for a moment ; and if the shower of 
abuse is spread broadly enough, some of it must 
come down on shoulders that deserve it. But the 
" slashing " review of yester-year is dismal reading, 
and it cannot be said that the library of reprinted 
criticism to which d'Aurevilly gave the general 
title of Les (Euvres et les Hommes is very enticing. 
He had a great contempt for Goethe and for 



I04 FRENCH PROFILES 

Sainte-Beuve, in whom he saw false priests con- 
stantly leading the public away from the true 
principle of literary expression, " le couronnement, 
la gloire et la force de toute critique, que je 
cherche en vain." A very ingenious writer, M. 
Ernest Tissot, has paid Barbey d'Aurevilly the 
compliment of taking him seriously in this matter, 
and has written an elaborate study on what his 
criterium was. But this is, perhaps, to inquire too 
kindly. I doubt whether he sought with any very 
sincere expectation of finding ; like the Persian 
sage, "he swore, but was he sober when he 
swore ? " Was he not rather intoxicated with his 
self-encouraged romantic exasperation, and de- 
termined to be fierce, independent, and uncom- 
promising at all hazards ? Such are, at all events, 
the doubts awakened by his indignant diatribes, 
which once amused Paris so much, and now 
influence no living creature. Some of his dicta, 
in their showy way, are forcible. " La critique a 
pour blason la croix, la balance et la glaive ; " 
that is a capital phrase on the lips of a reviewer, 
who makes himself the appointed Catholic censor 
of worldly letters, and is willing to assume at once 
the cross, the scales, and the sword. More of the 
hoof peeps out in this : " La critique, c'est une 
intrepidity de I'esprit et du caract^re." To a 
nature like that of d'Aurevilly, the distinction 
between intrepidity and arrogance is never clearly 
defined. 

It is, after all, in his novels that Barbey 
d'Aurevilly displays his talent in its most interest- 
ing form. His powers developed late ; and per- 



BA.RBEY D'AUREVILLY 105 

haps the best constructed of all his tales is Une 
Histoire sans Nom, which dates from 1882, when he 
was quite an old man. In this, as in all the rest, 
a surprising narrative is well, although extremely 
leisurely, told, but without a trace of psychology. 
It was impossible for d'Aurevilly to close his stories 
effectively ; in almost every case, the futility and 
extravagance of the last few pages destroys the 
effect of the rest. Like the Fat Boy, he wanted to 
make your flesh creep, to leave you cataleptic 
with horror at the end, but he had none of 
Poe's skill in producing an effect of terror. 
In Le Rideau Cramoisi (which is considered, I 
cannot tell why, one of his successes) the heroine 
dies at an embarrassing moment, without any dis- 
ease or cause of death being suggested — she 
simply dies. But he is generally much more 
violent than this ; at the close of A un Diner 
cCAthe'es, which up to a certain point is an 
extremely fine piece of writing, the angry parents 
pelt one another with the mummied heart of their 
only child ; in Lc Dessous des Cartes, the key of all 
the intrigue is discovered at last in the skeleton of 
an infant buried in a box of mignonette. If it is 
not by a monstrous fact, it is by an audacious feat 
of anti-morality, that Barbey d'Aurevilly seeks to 
harrow and terrify our imaginations. In Le Bon- 
heur dans le Crime, Hauteclaire Stassin, the woman- 
fencer, and the Count of Savigny, pursue their 
wild intrigue and murder the Countess slowly, and 
then marry each other, and live, with youth far 
prolonged (d'Aurevilly's special idea of divine 
blessing), without a pang of remorse, without a 



io6 FRENCH PROFILES 

crumpled rose-leaf in their felicity, like two 
magnificent plants spreading in the violent 
moisture of a tropical forest. 

On the whole, it is as a writer, pure and simple, 
that Barbey d'Aurevilly claims most attention. 
His style, which Paul de Saint-Victor (quite in his 
own spirit) described as a mixture of tiger's blood 
and honey, is full of extravagant beauty. He has 
a strange intensity, a sensual and fantastic force, 
in his torrent of intertwined sentences and pre- 
posterous exclamations. The volume called Les 
DiaholiqueSj which contains a group of his most 
characteristic stories, published in 1874, may be 
recommended to those who wish, in a single 
example, compendiously to test the quality of 
Barbey d'Aurevilly. He has a curious love of 
punning, not for purposes of humour, but to 
intensify his style : " Quel oubli et quelle oubliette " 
{Le Dessous des Cartes), " boudoir fleur de pecher 
ou de peche " [Le Plus bel Amour), " renoncer a 
I'amour malpropre, mais jamais a I'amour propre" 
i^A un Diner d'Athe'es). He has audacious phrases 
which linger in the memory : " Le Profil, c'est 
r^cueil de la beaut6 " [Le Bonheur dans le Crime) ; 
" Les verres a champagne de France, un lotus qui 
faisait [les Anglais] oublier les sombres et reli- 
gieuses habitudes de la patrie ; " " Elle avait I'air 
de monter vers Dieu, les mains toutes pleines de 
bonnes oeuvres " {Memoranda). 

That Barbey d'Aurevilly will take any prominent 
place in the history of literature is improbable. 
He was a curiosity, a droll, obstinate survival. 
We like to think of him in his incredible dress. 



BARBEY D'AUREVILLY 107 

strolling through the streets of Paris, with his 
clouded cane like a sceptre in one hand, and in 
the other that small mirror by which every few 
minutes he adjusted the poise of his cravat, or the 
studious tempest of his hair. He was a wonderful 
old fop or beau of the forties handed down to the 
eighties in perfect preservation. As a writer he 
was fervid, sumptuous, magnificently puerile; I 
have been told that he was a superb talker, that 
his conversation was like his books, a flood of 
paradoxical, flamboyant rhetoric. He made a 
gallant stand against old age, he defied it long 
with success, and when it conquered him at last, 
he retired to his hole like a rat, and died with 
stoic fortitude, alone, without a friend to close his 
eyelids. It was in a wretched lodging high up in 
a house in the Rue Rousselet, all his finery cast 
aside, and three melancholy cats the sole mourners 
by his body, that they found, on an April morn- 
ing of 1889, the ruins of what had once been 
Barbey d'Aurevilly. 



1897. 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 

After spending the summer, as usual, in his 
country place at Champrosay, Alphonse Daudet 
came back no more to winter in those historic 
rooms in the Rue de Belchasse where all the world 
had laid at his feet the tribute of its homage and 
curiosity. His growing infirmities had made the 
mounting of five flights of stairs finally intolerable 
to him. He took an apartment on the first floor. 
No. 41, Rue de I'Universite, which was far better 
suited to his condition, and here, in excellent spirits, 
charmed with the change, and eager for the spring 
to blossom in the surrounding gardens, he was 
proposing to receive his friends at Christmas. But 
another guest long since due, but not at that 
moment expected, knocked first at the door of the 
still unfinished house. On the evening of Decem- 
ber 16, 1897, while he was chatting gaily at the 
dinner-table in company with his wife and children, 
Alphonse Daudet uttered a cry and fell back in his 
chair. His sons flew for a doctor, but in vain ; 
the end had come — the terrible spectre so long 
waited, so mysteriously dreaded for its attendant 
horrors of pain and intolerable decay, had appeared 
alone, and in the guise of a beneficent angel. The 
last page of Ma Douleur, when it comes into our 
hands, will be the record, by another voice than 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 109 

Daudet's, of a death as peaceful and as benign in 
all its circumstances as death can be. 



I 

It is not possible to discuss the character of 
Alphonse Daudet without some consideration of 
his personal conditions. In every page of his 
brilliant, variegated, emotional books, ever trem- 
bling into tears or flashing into laughter, the writer 
is present to the mind of the instructed reader. 
Few men have been born with a keener appetite 
for life or an aptitude for more intense enjoyment. 
Daudet was of the tribe of those who, as Keats 
says, " burst joy's grape against their palate fine." 
It is highly possible that, with this temperament 
and a southern habit of life, advancing years might 
have tended to exaggerate in him the tumult of the 
senses ; he might have become a little gross, a 
little noisy. But fortune willed it otherwise, and 
this exquisite hedonist, so amorous of life and 
youth, was refined and etherialised by a mysterious 
and wasting anguish. It was about the close of 
1 88 1 that, while engaged in writing Sapho, 
Daudet became conscious of sudden thrills of 
agonising pain in his limbs, which attacked him 
unexpectedly, and lacerated every part of his frame 
in turn. From this time forth, he was never free 
from the terror of the pang, and he once used 
a phrase regarding it, which awakens a vision of 
Prometheus stretched on Caucasus. " La souf- 
france, chez moi," he said, " c'est un oiseau qui se 
pose partout, tantot ici, tantot la." 



no FRENCH PROFILES 

It will be remembered that when Daudet pub- 
lished L' ^vange'liste in 1883, he dedicated it to 
Charcot. It was that great master of diagnosis 
who detected in what the family physician had 
supposed to be neuralgia the first symptoms of 
that malady of the spinal cord to which the 
novelist now slowly succumbed. The ravages of 
this terrible disease, while they gradually affected 
more and more completely his powers of loco- 
motion, spared all the functions of the head. Since 
the completion of Sapho, it is true, there has 
been apparent a flagging in Daudet's constructive 
power ; but this need not be attributed to disease. 
In agility of conversation, in refinement of style, 
in alertness and lucidity of mind, Daudet showed 
to the last hour no observable decline. His cour- 
age, on the other hand, his heroic resignation and 
patience were qualities that raised him to a sort of 
moral sublimity. They would have done credit to 
the most placid of northerners, but as the orna- 
ment of a Provencal in early middle life, the blood 
in whose veins was quicksilver, they were exquisite 
and astonishing. There are not many finer pictures 
in the cabinet of modern literary history than that 
of Alphonse Daudet waiting to be racked with 
anguish from moment to moment, a shawl wrapped 
round his poor knees, lifting the ivory lines of his 
face with rapture to the beauty of a flower, or 
pouring from his delicate lips a flood of wit and 
tenderness and enthusiasm. It carries the thought 
back to Scarron, who " souffrit mille fois la mort 
avant que de perdre la vie ; " and the modern 
instance, while no less brave, is of a rarer beauty. 



ALPHONSE DAUDET iii 

These physical considerations are so important, 
they form so essential a part of our conception of 
Daudet and of Daudet's conception of literature, 
that they cannot be passed over, even in a brief 
outline of his place in the world of writers. He 
was not one of those who shrink from being contem- 
plated. His work was not objective as regarded 
his own person, it was intensely — one had almost 
said it was exclusively — subjective. Large portions 
of his fiction are nothing more nor less than 
selected autobiography, and he had no scruple in 
letting this be perceived. He took in later life to 
writing prefaces to his old novels, explaining the 
conditions in which they were composed. He 
published Trente Ans de Paris in 1882 ; what 
it was not quite convenient that he should nar- 
rate himself was confessed by M. Ernest Daudet, 
in Mon Frere et Mot. The early writings of 
Alphonse Daudet, up to Fromont Jeune et Risler 
Aine at least, resolve themselves, it is plain, into 
autobiography. His only long romance of the 
early period, Le Petit Chosej begins with the 
sentence "Je suis n^ le 13 Mai 18 — , dans une 
ville du Languedoc." So speaks the hero, and 
presently, we calculate from facts recorded, that 
18 — stands for 1840. Well, Alphonse Daudet 
was born at Nimes on May 31, 1840. This 
changing of 31 into 13 is very characteristic; an 
analogous alteration is often the only one which 
the author makes in turning reality into a novel. 

The drawback of such a practice is that in 
reading the charming works of Alphonse Daudet's 
first thirty-five years, we are divided in allegiance 



112 FRENCH PROFILES 

between the artist and the man. This is the 
danger of the autobiographical method when 
carried to so great an extreme, and confessed so 
openly. The poor little hero of Petit Chose flying 
from his tormentors, comes up to Paris in a pair of 
india-rubber goloshes, having no shoes, and the 
author makes very happy and pathetic use of this 
little incident. I remember, however, being much 
annoyed (I hardly know why) by discovering, as 
I read Mon Frere et Mot, that Alphonse really 
did come up to Paris thus, in goloshes, but with- 
out shoes. By some perversity of temper, I felt 
vexed that a real person should have plagiarised 
from the invented history of Petit Chose, and 
to this day I think it would have been better if this 
piece of personal history had not been unveiled by 
M. Ernest Daudet. But as a family the Daudets 
are unsurpassed in the active way in which they 
take their musical-box to pieces, the result being 
that we scarcely know, at last, whether the music 
was the primary object, or was merely secondary 
to the mechanical ingenuity. This is a doubt 
which never enhances our pleasure in the fine 
arts. 

The self-consciousness which coloured all the 
manifestations of the mind of Alphonse Daudet 
had much to do with his pathos, his really very 
remarkable command over our tears. There is no 
recent French writer with whom we weep so easily, 
and the reason, without doubt, is to be found in 
his own aptitude for weeping. If his nature were 
harder, if he were not so sorry for himself, we 
should not be so sorry for his creations. The 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 113 

intense and sincere sensibility of Daudet disarms 
the nerves ; there is no resisting his pathos. When 
he chooses to melt his audience he can scarcely 
be heard for their sobbing. I am bound to say 
that I think he sometimes carries this sensibility to 
an illegitimate extreme ; it makes, for instance, a 
great part of Jack too painful for endurance. 
In this otherwise admirable book the author 
becomes like the too emotional attorney, Baines 
Carew, in the Bab Ballads ; he seems to " lie 
flat upon the floor, convulsed with sympathetic 
sob," until the reader, bent on pleasure, " toddles 
off next door," and gives the case to M. de 
Maupassant or M. Bourget. 

Yet this pathetic sensibility, if occasionally pushed 
to excess, has been one of the most vivid of the 
qualities which have endeared Alphonse Daudet 
to thousands of readers. He has a sense of the 
hysterical sadness of life, the melancholy which 
arises in the breast without cause at some common- 
place conjunction of incidents, the terror of vague 
future ill, the groundless depressions and faint fore- 
bodings which strike men and women like the 
vision of a spectre at noon-day. Of these neurotic 
fallacies Daudet is a master ; he knows how to 
make us shudder with the pictures of them, as, 
consummately, in Avec Trots Milk Cent Francs. 
Pure melodious pathos, produced by the careful 
balance of elements common to all human frailty, 
and harmonised by a beautiful balance of style, 
we discover frequently in the Contes du Lundi, 
in the Alsatian stories, and everywhere in Jack. 
To the last, a novel in Alphonse Daudet's hands 

H 



114 FRENCH PROFILES 

was apt to be, what he calls one of his great 
books, " un livre de piti6, de colere et d'ironie," 
and the irony and anger were commonly founded 
upon the pity. In particular, Le Petit Chose is 
all pity : the arrival of the telegram that the boy 
is afraid to deliver, the extreme lachrymosity of 
Jacques, the agony of the pion in sound of the keys 
of M. Viot (a species of educational Mr. Carker), 
the fate of Mme. Eyssette taking refuge among her 
stingy provincial relations — almost every incident 
in this very pretty book is founded upon the 
exercise of slightly exaggerated sensibility. The 
author's voice trembles as he tells the tale ; when 
he laughs, as every now and then he does so 
gaily, we give a sigh of relief, for we were 
beginning to fear that he would break down 
altogether. 

II 

From this dangerous facility in telling a tale of 
tears about himself Alphonse Daudet was delivered 
by developing a really marvellous talent for ex- 
patiating on the external and decorative side of 
life. Out of the wreckage of his experimental 
writings he has saved for us the Letires de mon 
Moulin and the Contes Choisis which contain, 
with Le Petit Chose, all that needs trouble the 
general reader, although the amateur of litera- 
ture examines with interest (and finds entirely 
Daudesque) those early volumes of verse, Les 
Amoureuses, of 1857, and La Double Con- 
version of 1 86 1. But Lettres de mon Moulin 
is the one youthful book of A. Daudet which the 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 115 

most hurried student of modern French Hterature 
cannot afford to overlook. In its own way, and 
at its best, there is simply nothing that surpasses 
it. A short story of mediaeval court life better 
than La Mule du Pape has not been told. It 
is not possible to point to an idyll of pastoral 
adventure of the meditative class more classic in 
its graceful purity than Lcs £toiles. As a 
masterpiece of picturesque and ironic study of the 
life of elderly persons in a village, Les Vieux 
stands where " Cranford " stands, since sheer per- 
fection knows neither first nor last. There are 
Corsican and Algerian sketches in this incompar- 
able volume ; but those which rise to the memory 
first, and are most thoroughly characteristic, are 
surely those which deal with country life and legend 
in the dreamy heart of Provence. " Dance and 
Provencal song and sunburnt mirth" — that is 
what we recall when we think of the Lettres de 
mon Moulin. 

From his ruined mill at Fortvielle, " situated in 
the valley of the Rhone, in the very heart of 
Provence, on a hillside clothed with pine-trees and 
green oaks, the said mill, deserted for more 
than twenty years and incapable of grinding, as 
appeareth from the wild vines, mosses, rosemaries, 
and other parasitic growths which climb to the 
ends of its sails," from this mill, honourably leased 
at Pamp^rigouste, in presence of two witnesses, 
Francet Mamai, fife-player, and Louiset, called Le 
Quique, cross-bearer to the White Penitents, 
Alphonse Daudet writes to his friends, or records 
a story, as the whim takes him. He recounts 



ii6 FRENCH PROFILES 

legends that illustrate the habits and prejudices of 
the folks around. He visits the poet Mistral, he 
accompanies local sportsmen on their walks, he 
spends his nights with the customs officers. Some- 
times, to gain intenser nawete, to get closer still to 
the heart of things, he borrows the voice of a goat, 
of a partridge, of a butterfly. And the main object 
of it all is to render the external impression of this 
Proven9al life more delicately, more radiantly, 
more intimately than has ever been done before. 

It is very difficult to analyse the skill with 
which Daudet contrives to produce this sense 
of real things seen intensely through the bright- 
coloured atmosphere of his talent. His economy 
of words in the best examples of this branch of his 
work is notable. The curious reader of his little 
story, "The Beacon of the Bloody Isles," may 
ask himself how it would be possible to enhance 
the mysterious dazzlement caused by the emerging 
of the writer from the dark winding stairs up into 
the blaze of light exhibited above : — 

" En entrant j'6tais 6bloui. Ces cuivres, ces 
stains, ces r^flecteurs de m^tal blanc, ces murs de 
cristal bomb6 qui tournaient avec des grands cercles 
bleuatres, tout ce miroitement, tout ce cliquetis 
de lumi^res, me donnait un moment de vertige." 

What could be more masterly than that ? It is 
said in the fewest possible words, yet so that an 
impression, in a high degree bewildering and com- 
plex, is accurately presented to us. Scarcely less 
marvellous is the interior, in Les Vt'eux, where, 
under the miraculous influence of the Life of 
St. Irenaeus, read aloud by a little pensioner in 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 117 

a blue blouse, not the old gentleman and lady 
only, but the canaries in their cage, the flies on 
the pane, and all the other elements of still life 
are plunged in deepest sleep at noon. And of 
the fantasia about Valencia oranges in the winter 
streets of Paris, and of the scene in "The Two 
Inns," which every one has praised, and of the 
description of the phantom visitors who come un- 
invited to supper with M. Majesty, and of the series 
of idyllic vignettes " en Camargue," what shall be 
said ? — the enumeration of Alphonse Daudet's suc- 
cesses in this direction becomes a mere catalogue. 
It is particularly to be observed that with his in- 
cessant verbal invention, we are conscious of no 
strain after effect. Daudet is never pretentious, 
and it requires some concentration of mind, some 
going backward over the steps of his sentences, to 
perceive what a magic of continual buoyancy it is 
that has carried us along with so swift a precision. 
When Alphonse Daudet began to write in Paris, 
a new set of critical ideas and creative aspirations 
were setting the young men in motion. In poetry, 
the example of Baudelaire in noting impressions, 
and in widening the artistic repertory, was having 
an electrical influence, while Daudet and Zola, 
in conjunction with those elder brethren of theirs, 
Flaubert and the Goncourts, were endeavouring 
to make of the practice of novel-writing some- 
thing more solid, brilliant, and exact than had 
been attempted before. This is no place to touch 
on what will eventually occupy the historian of 
literature, Alphonse Daudet's place in the ranks of 
the naturalists. But it is important to note that he 



ii8 FRENCH PROFILES 

possessed one quality denied to his distinguished 
friends, denied even to Flaubert, namely, his grace- 
ful rapidity. As M. Jules Claretie said of him the 
other day, he was " un realiste ail6," and he was 
preserved from the dulness and pedestrian jog-trot 
of prosy naturalism by this winged lightness of his, 
this agility in sensation, and illuminating prompti- 
tude in expression. His hand was always light, 
among the tribe of those who never knew when 
to stop. Daudet could not fall into the error of 
Zola in his "symphonies of odours," nor destroy 
the vitality of a study like Cheriey as Edmond de 
Goncourt did, by the pedantic superfetation of 
documentary evidence. He was a creature of the 
sun and wind, like the cicala that the Greek poets 
sung of, intoxicated with a dew-drop, and flinging 
itself impetuously into the air, while it struck 
melody from its wings with its own flying feet. 

HI 

Thus palpitating with observation, thus, as he 
himself said, " hypnotise par la realite," filled to the 
brim of his quivering nature by the twin sources 
of pictorial and of moral sensitiveness, seeing and 
feeling with almost abnormal intensity, his sails 
puffed out with the pride of life and the glory 
of visual sensation, Daudet prepared himself by 
a myriad experiments for the true business of his 
career. After a somewhat lengthy and arduous 
apprenticeship as an observer of nature and of 
himself, armed with those little green books of 
notes, those cahiers of which we have heard 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 119 

so much, he set out to be a great historian 
of French manners in the second half of the 
nineteenth century. In 1874 he made a notable 
sensation with Fromont Jeune et Risler Aim, and, 
almost simultaneously with Jack. But these were 
immediately excelled by Le Nahab (1877), a tren- 
chant satire of the Second Empire and the Third 
Republic. Then followed, in a very different key, 
that extremely delicate study of the dynastic idea 
in bankruptcy, which he called Les Rot's en Exil 
(1879). Daudet had built up an edifice of fiction 
about his old patron, the Due de Morny, in Le 
Nabab; he returned to politics in Numa Roumesian 
(1881), and crystallised his invention round the 
legend of Gambetta. This book, in my judgment, 
marked the apogee of Alphonse Daudet's genius; 
never again, so it seems to me, did he write a 
novel quite so large, quite so masterly in all its 
parts, as Numa Roumestan. But L' Evangeliste 
(1883), a satiric picture of fanatical Protestantism, 
had brilliant parts, and a great simplicity of action ; 
while in Sapho (1884), which M. Jules Lemaitre 
has called " simplement la * Manon Lescaut ' de 
ce si^cle," Daudet produced an elaborate study of 
that obsession of the feminine, which is so dear to 
our Gallic neighbours. The consensus of French 
criticism, I think, puts Sapho, where I venture to 
put Numa Roumestan, at the head of Daudet's 
novels. After this came L'Immoriel (1888), Rose 
et Ninette (1892), even later stories, never quite 
without charm, but steadily declining in imagina- 
tion and vitality, so that the books on which 
Daudet bases his claim to be regarded as a great 



I20 FRENCH PROFILES 

novelist are seven, and they range from Jack to 
Sapho, culminating as I most obstinately hold, in 
Numa Roumestan. 

In looking over these seven extraordinary books, 
which we read in succession at their first appear- 
ance with an enthusiasm that may have carried 
the critical faculty away, we are conscious of the 
brilliant and solid effect which they still produce. 
They stand midway between the rigidly naturalistic 
and the consciously psychological sets of novels 
which France has seen flourish during the last 
twenty-five years, and on the whole, perhaps, they 
are standing the test of time better than either. 
The moment we were fairly launched, so long 
ago, upon the narrative of Fromont Jeune et Risler 
Aim, as soon as we became acquainted with " the 
blooming and sonorous Delobelle," as Mr. Henry 
James so happily calls him, when, again, a very 
little later, we were introduced to all the flatulent 
humbugs of the Maison Moronval in Jack, we 
acknowledged that here was come at last a great 
French novelist, with whom the Anglo-Saxon reader 
could commune with unspeakable delight. This 
meridional, who cared so little for England, who 
could never read an English sentence, seemed from 
a certain limited point of view to run in the very 
channel of British fiction. He has been called 
(alas ! poor man, it was a thorn in his flesh !) the 
French Dickens, but he has aspects in which he 
seems Mrs. Gaskell and Anthony Trollope as well, 
even Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling. 
A whole repertory of such parallelisms might be 
drawn out, if we examined Daudet not wisely but 
too well. 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 121 

The truth seems to be that, with all his violent 
southern colour and temperament, his pathos, his 
humour, his preference for the extravagant and 
superficial parts of character and conduct had a 
greater resemblance to the English than to the 
French tradition of invented narrative. This is 
true of works written before Alphonse Daudet 
could possibly have touched an English story. 
We talk of his affinity to Dickens, but that relation 
is much more strongly marked in Le Petit Chose 
than in any of Daudet's mature works. In the 
very beginning of that story, the formidable rage 
of M. Eyssette, and the episode of Annou who 
marries in desperation because she has lost her 
" place," are more like pure Dickens than any- 
thing in Fromont Jeune. It is quite certain, from 
what he has protested over and over again (and 
did he not fight poor M. Albert Delpit that he 
might seal his protest in blood ?), that Daudet's 
knowledge of all English literature, the works of 
Dickens included, was extremely exiguous. You 
could probably have drawn it through the eye of a 
needle without crushing it. It remains true, none 
the less, that in his idea of how to entertain by a 
novel, how to write a thrilling story of pity, anger, 
and irony, he came much nearer than any other 
Frenchman to the English standpoint. When we 
add to this the really extraordinary chastity and 
delicacy of his language, the tact with which, even 
in a book like Sapho, he avoids all occasion of 
offence, and has therefore been a well of pure and 
safe delight to thousands of young Englishwomen, 
it is not to be wondered at that the non-critical 



122 FRENCH PROFILES 

class of British readers look upon Alphonse 
Daudet as the most sympathetic of Continental 
novelists. He is certainly the one who offers 
them the smallest chance of springes and pitfalls 
along their innocent pathway. 

In his great novels, the art of Daudet is seen in 
his arrangement and adaptation of things that he 
has experienced, not in his invention. He was 
never happy when he detached himself from the 
thing absolutely observed and noted. For most 
readers, I suppose, the later chapters of L^ Petit 
Chose are ruined by the absurd episode of Irma 
Borel, the Creole, a figure laboriously invented a la 
Paul de Kock, with no faint knowledge of any 
actual prototype. It is interesting to compare 
this failure with the solid success of the portrait 
of Sapho fifteen years later, when Daudet had 
made himself acquainted with this type of woman, 
and had noted her characteristics with his mature 
clairvoyance. Even in his more purely fantastic 
creations, surely, the difference between what 
Daudet has seen and has not seen is instantly felt. 
What a distinction there is between Tartarin in 
Tarascon, in Algeria, on the Righi — where Daudet 
had accompanied him — and Tartarin in the South 
Seas, where his creator had to trust to books and 
fancy ! I am inclined to push this so far as even 
to question the value of Wood's Town, a story 
which many admirers of Daudet have signalled for 
special eulogy. This is a tale of a peninsula 
somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, where a tropic 
city is built, at first with success, but only to be 
presently overwhelmed by the onset of the virgin 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 123 

forest, which defies all the exertions of the inhabi- 
tants ; lianas are flung from roof to roof, the 
municipal buildings are roped to one another by 
chains of prickly-pear, yuccas pierce the floors 
with their spines, and fig-trees rend the walls 
apart ; at last the population has to take flight in 
ships, the masts of which are already like forest- 
trees, so laden are they with parasitic vegetation. 
The whole forms a fine piece of melodramatic 
extravagance, but one feels what an infinitely 
truer, and, therefore, infinitely more vivid picture 
of such a scene Mr. Cable could have written in 
the days when he was still interested in The 
Grandissimes and Mme. Delphine. 

IV 

In all the creations of Daudet, as we have said, 
the fountain of tears lies very close to the surface. 
There is, however, one eminent exception, and it is 
possible that this, in its sunny gaiety, its unruffled 
high spirits, may eventually outlast the remainder. 
All his life through, Daudet was fascinated by the 
mirthful side of southern exaggeration. He set 
himself to invent a figure which should unite all 
the qualities of the meridional, a being in whom 
the hallucination of adventurous experiences should 
be carried to its drollest excess. The result was 
pure frolic : the Prodigious Feats of Tartarin de 
Tarascon (1872). Tartarin the boaster, the 
mighty hunter before the Lord, " le roi des 
chasseurs de casquettes," has bragged so long 
and so loudly that even Tarascon demands con- 



124 FRENCH PROFILES 

firmation. And so he sets forth, and at Algiers he 
shoots a lion — an old, tame, blind lion that has 
been taught to hold a platter in its mouth and 
beg at the doors of mosques. He returns to 
Tarascon, still boasting, and bringing with him a 
mangy camel, "which has seen me shoot all my 
lions." He reposes again on the confidence of 
Tarascon. Then in 1885, Tartar in sets forth 
anew, this time to climb the Alps, being President 
of the Tarascon Alpine Club, and once more forced 
to prove his prowess. Glorious are his incred- 
ible ascents and accidental adventures. After 
a thousand farcical drolleries, gulled and gulling, 
back he comes to Tarascon, with its blinding dust 
and its blinding sunlight, to the country where it 
is too bright and too hot to attempt to tell the 
truth. Still later, Daudet made an effort to carry 
a colony from Tarascon to the shores of the Pacific 
Ocean ; but this time he was less vivacious and 
more cynical. For sheer fun and merriment, the 
two earlier books about Tartarin remain, however, 
unexcelled. There is nothing else like them in 
recent French literature, and those who object to 
Daudet's other stories here confess themselves 
disarmed. Tarascon itself, the little dry town on 
the Rhone, meanwhile accentuates the joke and 
adds to it by an increasing exasperation against 
the great man of letters who has made its tragi- 
comical exaltations so ridiculous and famous. I 
have but recently made the personal observation 
that it is impossible to purchase the works of 
Daudet in the book-shops of the still-indignant 
Tarascon. 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 125 



Two years before his death M. Alphonse Daudet 
paid his first and only visit to London, accom- 
panied by his entire family — by his whole sniala, 
as he said, like an Arab sheikh. Those who were 
privileged to meet him then for the first time 
were astonished at the inconsistences of his 
physical condition. To see Daudet struggling 
with infinite distress up a low flight of stairs was 
to witness what seemed the last caducity of a 
worn-out frame. But his lower limbs only were 
paralysed ; and once seated at table, and a little 
rested after the tortures of locomotion, a sort of 
youth reblossomed in him. Under the wild locks 
of hair, still thick though striped with grey, the 
eyes preserved their vivacity — large and liquid 
eyes, intermittently concentrated in the effort to 
see distinctly, now floating in a dream, now 
focussed (as it were) in an act of curiosity. The 
entire physical and phenomenal aspect of Alphonse 
Daudet in these late years presented these contra- 
dictions. He would sit silent and almost motion- 
less ; suddenly his head, arms, and chest would 
be vibrated with electrical movements, the long 
white fingers would twitch in his beard, and then 
from the lips a tide of speech would pour — a 
flood of coloured words. On the occasion when 
I met him at dinner, I recollect that at dessert, 
after a long silence, he was suddenly moved to 
describe, quite briefly, the melon-harvest at Nimes 
when he was a boy. It was an instance, no doubt, 
of the habitual magic of his style, sensuous and 



126 FRENCH PROFILES 

pictorial at its best ; in a moment we saw before 
us the masses of golden-yellow and crimson and 
sea-green fruit in the little white market-place, 
with the incomparable light of a Provenfal morn- 
ing bathing it all in crystal. Every word seemed 
the freshest and the most inevitable that a man 
could possibly use in painting such a scene, and 
there was not a superfluous epithet. 

This little apologue about the melons took us 
back to the Daudet with whom we first made ac- 
quaintance, the magician of the Lettres de mon Moulin. 
That aged figure, trembling with the inroads of 
paralysis, became in a flash our charming friend. 
Petit Chose, sobbing under the boughs of the 
pomegranate for a blood-red flower to remind 
him of his childish joys. Those loose wisps of 
hair had been dark clusters of firm curls around 
the brows of the poet of Les Amoureuses. It was 
pleasant for one fated \o see this beloved writer 
only in the period of his decay to feel thus that 
the emblems of youth were still about him. The 
spirit had not surrendered to the sad physical 
decline, and so, for all its distressing obviousness, 
the latter did not produce an overpowering 
sensation of melancholy. It emphasised the 
impression one had formed in reading his books : 
with Daudet all the ideas were concrete and 
positive. He had no thought, properly speaking, 
but only a ceaseless flow of violent and pictorial 
observations, as intense as they were volatile. 
These had to be noted down in haste as they 
arrived, or else a fresh sensation would come and 
banish them for ever. He was an impressionist 



ALPHONSE DAUDET 127 

painter, the colours on whose palette were words of 
an indescribable abundance, variety, and exactitude. 

For some years, it is hardly to be questioned 
that Alphonse Daudet was the leading novelist of 
the world. From 1877, when he published Le 
Nabab, to 1881, when he reached the apex of his 
glory in Numa Roumestan, he had no rival. That 
was a position which it was impossible that he 
should retain. 

It is too early to attempt to fix the position 
which Alphonse Daudet will hold in French 
literature. In spite of the extraordinary pro- 
fessional manifestation produced immediately after 
his death in Paris, it was easy to see that he no 
longer stood in the affections of unprejudiced 
readers quite where he did. In 1888 it would 
have required considerable courage to suggest 
that Daudet was not in the very first rank of 
novel-writers ; in 1898, even the special pleading 
of friendship scarcely urged so much as this. It 
is inevitable, if we subject Daudet to the only test 
which suits his very splendid and honourable 
career, that we should hesitate in placing him 
with the great creative minds. His beautiful talent 
is dwarfed when we compare it with Balzac, with 
Tourgenieff, with Flaubert, even with Maupassant. 
He is vivacious, brilliant, pathetic, exuberant, but 
he is not subtle ; his gifts are on the surface. He 
observes rather than imagines ; he belongs to the 
fascinating, but too often ephemeral class of 
writers who manufacture types, and develop what 
the Elizabethans used to call "humours." And 
this he does, not by an exercise of fancy, not by a 



128 FRENCH PROFILES 

penetrating flash of intuition, but as a " realist," 
as one who depends on Httle green books of notes, 
and docketed bundles of pieces justificatives. 

But we need not be ungracious and dwell on 
these shortcomings in a genius so charming, so 
intimately designed to please. Whether his figures 
were invented or noted, they live brilliantly in our 
memories. Who will lose the impression, so 
amazingly vivid, left by the " Cabecilla " in the 
Contes Choisis, or by Les Femmes d' Artistes, '' ce livre 
si beau, si cruel," as Guy de Maupassant called it ? 
Who will forget the cunning, timid Jansoulet as he 
came out of Tunis to seek his fortune in Paris ? 
Who the turbulent Numa Roumestan, or that 
barber's block, the handsome Valmajour, with his 
languishing airs and his tambourine ? Who Queen 
Fr6d6rique when she discovers that the diamonds 
of lUyria are paste ? and who Mme. Ebsen in 
her final interview with Eline ? The love of life, 
of light, of the surface of all beautiful things, the 
ornament of all human creations, illuminates the 
books of Alphonse Daudet. The only thing he hated 
was the horrible little octopus-woman, the Fanny 
Legrand or Sidonie Chebe, who has no other object 
or function than to wreck the lives of weak young 
men. To her, perhaps, he is cruel ; she was hardly 
worth his steel. But everything else he loves to 
contemplate ; even when he laughs at Tarascon 
he loves it ; and in an age when the cynical and 
the sinister take so wide a possession of literature, 
our thanks are eternally due to a man who built 
up for us a world of hope and light and benignity. 



THE SHORT STORIES OF ZOLA 

It is by his huge novels, and principally by those 
of the Rougon-Macquart series, that Zola is known 
to the public and to the critics. Nevertheless, he 
found time during the forty years of his busy 
literary career to publish about as many small 
stories, now comprised in four separate volumes. 
It is natural that his novels should present so very 
much wider and more attractive a subject for 
analysis that, so far as I can discover, even in 
France no critic has hitherto taken the shorter 
productions separately, and discussed Zola as a 
maker of conies. Yet there is a very distinct 
interest in seeing how such a thunderer or 
bellower on the trumpet can breathe through 
silver ; and, as a matter of fact, the short stories 
reveal a Zola considerably dissimilar to the author 
of Nana and of La Terre — a much more optimistic, 
romantic, and gentle writer. If, moreover, he 
had nowhere assailed the decencies more severely 
than he does in these thirty or forty short stories, 
he would never have been named among the 
enemies of Mrs. Grundy, and the gates of the 
Palais Mazarin would long ago have been opened 
to receive him. It is, indeed, to a lion with his 
mane en papilloies that I here desire to attract the 
attention of English readers ; to a man-eating 

X29 J 



I30 FRENCH PROFILES 

monster, indeed, but to one who is on his best 
behaviour and blinking in the warm sunshine of 
Provence. 

I 

The first pubHc appearance of Zola in any form 
was made as a writer of a short story. A southern 
journal. La Provence, published at Aix, brought 
out in 1859 a little conte entitled La Fee Amoureuse. 
When this was written, in 1858, the future novelist 
was a student of eighteen, attending the rhetoric 
classes at the Lyc^e St. Louis ; when it was 
printed, life in Paris, far from his delicious South, 
was beginning to open before him, harsh, vague, 
with a threat of poverty and failure. La Fee 
Amoureuse may still be read by the curious in the 
Contes a Ninon. It is a fantastic little piece, in the 
taste of the eighteenth-century trifles of Cr^billon 
or Boufflers, written with considerable care in an 
over-luscious vein — a fairy tale about an enchanted 
bud of sweet marjoram, which expands and 
reveals the amorous fay, guardian of the loves of 
Prince Lois and the fair Odette. This is a moon- 
light-coloured piece of unrecognisable Zola, indeed, 
belonging to the period of his lost essay on " The 
Blind Milton dictating to his Elder Daughter, 
while the Younger accompanies him upon the 
Harp," a piece which many have sighed in vain 
to see. 

He was twenty when, in i860, during the course 
of blackening reams of paper with poems a la 
Mussetf he turned, in the aerial garret, or lantern 
above the garret of 35 Rue St. Victor, to the 



ZOLA 131 

composition of a second story — Le Carnet de Danse. 
This is addressed to Ninon, the ideal lady of all 
Zola's early writings — the fleet and jocund virgin 
of the South, in whom he romantically personifies 
the Provence after which his whole soul was 
thirsting in the desert of Paris. This is an 
exquisite piece of writing — a little too studied, per- 
haps, too full of opulent and voluptuous adjectives ; 
written, as we may plainly see, under the influence 
of Th^ophile Gautier. The story, such as it is, is 
a conversation between Georgette and the pro- 
gramme-card of her last night's ball. What 
interest Le Carnet de Danse possesses it owes to the 
style, especially that of the opening pages, in 
which the joyous Provengal life is elegantly de- 
scribed. The young man, still stumbling in the 
wrong path, had at least become a writer. 

For the next two years Zola was starving, and 
vainly striving to be a poet. Another " belvedere," 
as Paul A16xis calls it, another glazed garret above 
the garret, received him in the Rue Neuve St. 
Etienne du Mont. Here the squalor of Paris was 
around him ; the young idealist from the forests 
and lagoons of Provence found himself lost in a 
loud and horrid world of quarrels, oaths, and dirt, 
of popping beer-bottles and yelling women. A 
year, at the age of two-and-twenty, spent in this 
atmosphere of sordid and noisy vice, left its mark 
for ever on the spirit of the young observer. He 
lived on bread and coffee, with two sous' worth of 
apples upon gala days. He had, on one occasion, 
even to make an Arab of himself, sitting with 
the bed-wraps draped about him, because he had 



132 FRENCH PROFILES 

pawned his clothes. All the time, serene and 
ardent, he was writing modern imitations of 
Dante's Divina Commedia, epics on the genesis of 
the world, didactic hymns to Religion, and love- 
songs by the gross. Towards the close of 1861 
this happy misery, this wise folly, came to an 
end ; he obtained a clerkship in the famous 
publishing house of M. Hachette. 

But after these two years of poverty and hard- 
ship he began to write a few things which were 
not in verse. Early in 1862 he again addressed 
to the visionary Ninon a short story called Le 
Sang. He confesses himself weary, as Ninon 
also must be, of the coquettings of the rose and 
the infidelities of the butterfly. He will tell her 
a terrible tale of real life. But, in fact, he is 
absolutely in the clouds of the worst romanticism. 
Four soldiers, round a camp-fire, suffer agonies of 
ghostly adventure, in the manner of Hofmann or 
of Petrus Borel. We seem to have returned to 
the age of 1830, with its vampires and its ghouls. 
Simpltce, which comes next in point of date, is 
far more characteristic, and here, indeed, we find 
one talent of the future novelist already developed. 
Simplice is the son of a worldly king, who despises 
him for his innocence ; the prince slips away into 
the primeval forest and lives with dragon-flies and 
water-lilies. In the personal life given to the forest 
itself, as well as to its inhabitants, we have some- 
thing very like the future idealisations in L'Abbe 
Mouret, although the touch is yet timid and the 
flashes of romantic insight fugitive. Simplice is 
an exceedingly pretty fairy story, curiously like 



ZOLA 133 

what Mrs. Alfred Gatty used to write for senti- 
mental English girls and boys : it was probably 
inspired to some extent by George Sand. 

On a somewhat larger scale is Les Voleurs el 
I'Ane, which belongs to the same period of com- 
position. It is delightful to find Zola describing 
his garret as " full of flowers and of light, and so 
high up that sometimes one hears the angels talk- 
ing on the roof." His story describes a summer 
day's adventure on the Seine, an improvised picnic 
of strangers on a grassy island of elms, a siesta 
disturbed by the somewhat stagey trick of a fan- 
tastic coquette. According to his faithful bio- 
grapher, Paul Alexis, the author, towards the 
close of 1862, chose another lodging, again a 
romantic chamber, overlooking this time the whole 
extent of the cemetery of Montparnasse. In this 
elegiacal retreat he composed two short stories, 
Sceur des Pauvres and Celle qui m'aime. Of 
these, the former was written as a commission 
for the young Zola's employer, M. Hachette, who 
wanted a tale appropriate for a children's news- 
paper which his firm was publishing. After read- 
ing what his clerk submitted to him, the publisher 
is said to have remarked, " Vous etes un r6volt6," 
and to have returned him the manuscript as 
" too revolutionary." Sasur des Pauvres is a tire- 
some fable, and it is difficult to understand why 
Zola has continued to preserve it among his 
writings. It belongs to the class of semi-realistic 
stories which Tolstoi has since then composed 
with such admirable skill. But Zola is not happy 
among saintly visitants to little holy girls, nor 



134 FRENCH PROFILES 

among pieces of gold that turn into bats and rats 
in the hands of selfish peasants. Why this ano- 
dyne little religious fable should ever have been 
considered revolutionary, it is impossible to con- 
ceive. 

Of a very different order is Celle qui niaime, 
a story of real power. Outside a tent, in the 
suburbs of Paris, a man in a magician's dress 
stands beating a drum and inviting the passers-by 
to enter and gaze on the realisation of their 
dreams, the face of her who loves you. The 
author is persuaded to go in, and he finds himself 
in the midst of an assemblage of men and boys, 
women and girls, who pass up in turn to look 
through a glass trap in a box. In the description 
of the various types, as they file by, of the aspect 
of the interior of the tent, there is the touch of a 
new hand. The vividness of the study is not 
maintained ; it passes off into romanesque ex- 
travagance, but for a few moments the attentive 
listener, who goes back to these early stories, is 
conscious that he has heard the genuine accent of 
the master of Naturalism. 

Months passed, and the young Proven9al seemed 
to be making but little progress in the world. His 
poems definitely failed to find a publisher, and for 
a while he seems to have flagged even in the pro- 
duction of prose. Towards the beginning of 1864, 
however, he put together the seven stories which I 
have already mentioned, added to them a short 
novel entitled Aventures du Grand Sidoine, pre- 
fixed a fanciful and very prettily turned address 
A Ninon, and carried o£f the collection to a new 



ZOLA 135 

publisher, M. Hetzel. It was accepted, and issued 
in October of the same year. Zola's first book 
appeared under the title of Contes a Ninon. This 
volume was very well received by the reviewers, 
but ten years passed before the growing fame of 
its author carried it beyond its first edition of one 
thousand copies. 

There is no critical impropriety in consider- 
ing these early stories, since Zola never allowed 
them, as he allowed several of his subsequent 
novels, to pass out of print. Nor, from the point 
of view of style, is there anything to be ashamed 
of in them. They are written with an uncertain 
and an imitative, but always with a careful hand, 
and some passages of natural description, if a little 
too precious, are excellently modulated. What is 
really very curious in the first Contes a Ninon is the 
optimistic tone, the sentimentality, the luscious 
idealism. The young man takes a cobweb for his 
canvas, and paints upon it in rainbow-dew with a 
peacock's feather. Except, for a brief moment, 
in Celle qui maimer there is not a phrase that 
suggests the naturalism of the Rougon-Macquart 
novels, and it is an amusing circumstance that, 
while Zola has not only been practising, but very 
sternly and vivaciously preaching, the gospel of 
Realism, this innocent volume of fairy stories 
should all the time have been figuring among his 
works. The humble student who should turn from 
the master's criticism to find an example in his 
writings, and who should fall by chance on the 
Contes a Ninon, would be liable to no small distress 
of bewilderment. 



136 FRENCH PROFILES 

II 

Ten years later, in 1874, Zola published a second 
volume of short stories, entitled Nouveaux Contes a 
Ninon. His position, his literary character, had in 
the meantime undergone a profound modification. 
In 1874 he was no longer unknown to the public 
or to himself. He had already published four of 
the Rougon - Macquart novels, embodying the 
natural and social history of a French family 
during the Second Empire. He was scandalous 
and famous, and already bore a great turbulent 
name in literature and criticism. The Nouveaux 
Conies a Ninon, composed at intervals during that 
period of stormy evolution, have the extraordinary 
interest which attends the incidental work thrown 
off by a great author during the early and noisy 
manhood of his talent. After 1864 Zola had 
written one unsuccessful novel after another, until 
at last, in Therese Raquin, with its magnificent study 
of crime chastised by its own hideous after-gust, 
he produced a really remarkable performance. 
The scene in which the paralytic mother tries to 
denounce the domestic murderers was in itself 
enough to prove that France possessed one 
novelist the more. 

This was late in 1867, when M. Zola was in his 
twenty-eighth year. A phrase of Louis Ulbach's, 
in reviewing Therese Raquin, which he called '• lit- 
t^rature putride," is regarded as having started the 
question of Naturalism, and M. Zola who had not, 
up to that time, had any notion of founding a 
school, or even of moving in any definite direc- 



ZOLA 137 

tion, was led to adopt the theories which we 
identify with his name during the angry dispute 
with Ulbach. In 1865 he had begun to be drawn 
towards Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, and to 
feel, as he puts it, that in the salons of the Parnas- 
sians he was growing more and more out of his 
element " among so many impenitent romantiques." 
Meanwhile he was for ever feeding the furnaces of 
journalism, scorched and desiccated by the blaze 
of public life, by the daily struggle for bread. 
He was roughly affronting the taste of those who 
differed from him, with rude hands he was thrust- 
ing out of his path the timid, the dull, the old- 
fashioned. The spectacle of these years of Zola's 
life is not altogether a pleasant one, but it leaves 
on us the impression of a colossal purpose pursued 
with force and courage. In 1871 the first of the 
Rougon-Macquart novels appeared, and the author 
was fairly launched on his career. He was writ- 
ing books of large size, in which he was endea- 
vouring to tell the truth about modern life with 
absolute veracity, no matter how squalid, or ugly, 
or venomous that truth might be. 

But during the whole of this tempestuous decade 
Zola, in his hot battlefield of Paris, heard the 
voice of Ninon calling to him from the leafy 
hollows, from behind the hawthorn hedges, of 
his own dewy Provence — the cool Provence of 
earliest flowery spring. When he caught these 
accents whistling to his memory from the past, 
and could no longer resist answering them, he 
was accustomed to write a little contey light and 
innocent, and brief enough to be the note of a 



138 FRENCH PROFILES 

caged bird from indoors answering its mate in the 
trees of the garden. This is the real secret of 
the utterly incongruous tone of the Nouveaux Contes 
when we compare them with the Cure'e and Made- 
leine Fe'rat of the same period. It would be utterly 
to misunderstand the nature of Zola to complain, 
as Pierre Loti did the other day, that the coarse- 
ness and cynicism of the naturalistic novel, the 
tone of a ball at Belleville, could not sincerely 
co-exist with a love of beauty, or with a nostalgia 
for youth and country pleasures. In the short 
stories of the period of which we are speaking, 
that poet who dies in most middle-aged men 
lived on for Zola, artificially, in a crystal box 
carefully addressed " a Ninon la-bas," a box into 
which, at intervals, the master of the Realists 
slipped a document of the most refined ideality. 

Of these tiny stories — there are twelve of them 
within one hundred pages — not all are quite 
worthy of his genius. He grimaces a little too 
much in Les Epaules de la Marquise, and M. 
Bourget has since analysed the little self-indulgent 
devote of quality more successfully than Zola did 
in Le Jeilne. But most of them are very 
charming. Here is Le Grand Michu, a study 
of gallant, stupid boyhood ; here Les Paradis 
des Chats, one of the author's rare escapes into 
humour. In Le Forgeron, with its story of the 
jaded and cynical town-man, who finds health and 
happiness by retiring to a lodging within the very 
thunders of a village blacksmith, we have a pro- 
found criticism of life. Le Petit Village is in- 
teresting to us here, because, with its pathetic 



ZOLA 139 

picture of Woerth in Alsace, it is the earliest of 
Zola's studies of war. In other of these stories 
the spirit of Watteau seems to inspire the sooty 
Vulcan of Naturalism. He prattles of moss-grown 
fountains, of alleys of wild strawberries, of ren- 
dezvous under the wings of the larks, of moonlight 
strolls in the bosquets of a chateau. In every 
one, without exception, is absent that tone of 
brutality which we associate with the notion of 
Zola's genius. All is gentle irony and pastoral 
sweetness, or else downright pathetic sentiment. 

The volume of Nouveaux Contes a Ninon closes 
with a story which is much longer and consider- 
ably more important than the rest. Les Quatre 
Joiirnees de Jean Gourdon deserves to rank 
among the very best things to which Zola has 
signed his name. It is a study of four typical 
days in the life of a Proven9al peasant of the 
better sort, told by the man himself. In the first 
of these it is spring : Jean Gourdon is eighteen 
years of age, and he steals away from the house of 
his uncle Lazare, a country priest, that he may 
meet his coy sweetheart Babet by the waters of 
the broad Durance, His uncle follows and cap- 
tures him, but the threatened sermon turns into a 
benediction, the priestly malediction into an im- 
passioned song to the blossoming springtide. Babet 
and Jean receive the old man's blessing on their 
betrothal. 

Next follows a day in summer, five years later ; 
Jean, as a soldier in the Italian war, goes through 
the horrors of a battle and is wounded, but not 
dangerously, in the shoulder. Just as he marches 



I40 FRENCH PROFILES 

into action he receives a letter from Uncle Lazare 
and Babet, full of tender fears and tremors ; he 
reads it when he recovers consciousness after the 
battle. Presently he creeps off to help his ex- 
cellent colonel, and they support one another till 
both are carried off to hospital. This episode, 
which has something in common with the Sevas- 
topol of Tolstoi, is exceedingly ingenious in its 
observation of the sentiments of a common man 
under fire. 

The third part of the story occurs fifteen years 
later. Jean and Babet have now long been mar- 
ried, and Uncle Lazare, in extreme old age, has 
given up his cure, and lives with them in their 
farm by the river. All things have prospered 
with them save one. They are rich, healthy, 
devoted to one another, respected by all their 
neighbours ; but there is a single happiness lack- 
ing — they have no child. And now, in the high 
autumn splendour — when the corn and the grapes 
are ripe, and the lovely Durance winds like a 
riband of white satin through the gold and purple 
of the landscape — this gift also is to be theirs. 
A little son is born to them in the midst of the 
vintage weather, and the old uncle, to whom life 
has now no further good thing to offer, drops 
painlessly from life, shaken down like a blown leaf 
by his excess of joy, on the evening of the birthday 
of the child. 

The optimistic tone has hitherto been so con- 
sistently preserved, that we must almost resent the 
tragedy of the fourth day. This is eighteen years 
later, and Jean is now an elderly man. His son 



ZOLA 141 

Jacques is in early manhood. In the midst of 
their felicity, on a winter's night, the Durance 
rises in spate, and all are swept away. It is 
impossible, in a brief sketch, to give an impression 
of the charm and romantic sweetness of this little 
masterpiece, a veritable hymn to the Ninon of 
Provence ; but it raises many curious reflections 
to consider that this exquisitely pathetic pastoral, 
with all its gracious and tender personages, should 
have been written by the master of Naturalism, 
the author of Germinal and of Pot-Bouille. 



Ill 

In 1878, Zola, who had long been wishing for 
a place whither to escape from the roar of Paris, 
bought a little property on the right bank of the 
Seine, between Poissy and Meulan, where he built 
himself the house which he inhabited to the last, 
and which he made so famous. Medan, the village 
in which this property is placed, is a very quiet 
hamlet of less than two hundred inhabitants, abso- 
lutely unillustrious, save that, according to tradition, 
Charles the Bold was baptized in the font of its 
parish church. The river lies before it, with its 
rich meadows, its poplars, its willow groves ; a 
delicious and somnolent air of peace hangs over 
it, though so close to Paris. Thither the master's 
particular friends and disciples soon began to 
gather : that enthusiastic Boswell, Paul Alexis ; 
Guy de Maupassant, a stalwart oarsman, in his 
skiff, from Rouen ; others, whose names were 
soon to come prominently forward in connection 



142 FRENCH PROFILES 

with that naturalistic school of which Zola was the 
leader. 

It was in 1880 that the little hamlet on the 
Poissy Road awoke to find itself made famous by 
the publication of a volume which marks an epoch 
in French literature, and still more in the history of 
the short story. Les Soirees de Me'dan was a mani- 
festo by the naturalists, the most definite and the 
most defiant which had up to that time been made. 
It consisted of six short stories, several of which 
were of remarkable excellence, and all of which 
awakened an amount of discussion almost unpre- 
cedented. Zola came first with L Attaque du 
Moulin, which is rather a short novel than a 
genuine conie. The next story was Boule de Suif, 
a veritable masterpiece in a new vein, by an 
entirely new novelist, a certain M. Guy de Mau- 
passant, thirty years of age, who had been pre- 
sented to Zola, with warm recommendations, by 
Gustave Flaubert. The other contributors were 
M. Henri Ceard, who also had as yet published 
nothing, a man who seems to have greatly im- 
pressed all his associates, but who has done little 
or nothing to justify their hopes ; M. Joris Karel 
Huysmans, older than the rest, and already some- 
what distinguished for picturesque, malodorous 
novels ; M. Leon Hennique, a youth from Guade- 
loupe, who had attracted attention by a very odd 
and powerful novel. La De'voue'e, the story of an 
inventor who murders his daughter that he may 
employ her fortune on perfecting his machine ; 
and finally, the faithful Paul Alexis, a native, like 
Zola himself, of Aix in Provence, and full of the 



ZOLA 143 

perfervid extravagance of the South. The thread 
on which the whole book is hung is the supposition 
that these stories are brought to M6dan to be read 
of an evening to Zola, and that he leads off by 
telling a tale of his own. 

Nothing need be said here, however, of the 
works of those disciples who placed themselves 
under the flag of M6dan, and little of that story in 
which, with his accustomed bonhomie of a good 
giant, Zola accepted their comradeship and con- 
sented to march with them. 77!^ Attack on the 
Mill is very well known to English readers, who, 
even when they have not met with it in the origi- 
nal, have been empowered to estimate its force 
and truth as a narrative. Whenever Zola writes 
of war, he writes seriously and well. Like the 
Julien of his late reminiscences, he has never loved 
war for its own sake. He has little of the mad 
and pompous chivalry of the typical Frenchman 
in his nature. He sees war as the disturber, the 
annihilator; he recognises in it mainly a destructive, 
stupid, unintelligible force, set in motion by those 
in power for the discomfort of ordinary beings, of 
workers like himself. But in the course of three 
European wars — those of his childhood, of his 
youth, of his maturity — he has come to see 
beneath the surface, and in La Debacle he almost 
agrees with our young Jacobin poets of one hun- 
dred years ago, that Slaughter is God's daughter. 

In this connection, and as a commentary on 
The Attack on the Mill, I would commend to 
the earnest attention of readers the three short 
papers entitled Trois Guerres. Nothing on the 



144 FRENCH PROFILES 

subject has been written more picturesque, nor, in 
its simple way, more poignant, than this triple chain 
of reminiscences. Whether Louis and Julien ex- 
isted under those forms, or whether the episodes 
which they illustrate are fictitious, matters little or 
nothing. The brothers are natural enough, de- 
lightful enough, to belong to the world of fiction, 
and if their story is, in the historical sense, true, it 
is one of those rare instances in which fact is better 
than fancy. The crisis under which the timid 
Julien, having learned the death of his spirited 
martial brother, is not broken down, but merely 
frozen into a cold soldierly passion, and spends 
the remainder of the campaign — he, the poet, the 
nestler by the fireside, the timid club-man — in 
watching behind hedges for Prussians to shoot or 
stab, is one of the most extraordinary and most 
interesting that a novelist has ever tried to describe. 
And the light that it throws on war as a disturber 
of the moral nature, as a dynamitic force explod- 
ing in the midst of an elaborately co-related 
society, is unsurpassed, even by the studies which 
Count Lyof Tolstoi has made in a similar direction. 
It is unsurpassed, because it is essentially without 
prejudice. It admits the discomfort, the horrible 
vexation and shame of war, and it tears aside the 
conventional purple and tinsel of it ; but at the 
same time it admits, not without a sigh, that even 
this clumsy artifice may be the only one available 
for the cleansing of the people. 



ZOLA 145 

IV 

In 1883, Zola published a third volume of short 
stories, under the title of the opening one, Le 
Capitaine Burle. This collection contains the 
delicate series of brief semi-autobiographical essays 
called Aux Champs, little studies of past impression, 
touched with a charm which is almost kindred to 
that of Robert Louis Stevenson's memories. With 
this exception, the volume consists of four short 
stories, and of a set of little death-bed anecdotes, 
called Comment on Meiirt. This latter is hardly in 
the writer's best style, and suffers by suggesting the 
immeasurably finer and deeper studies of the same 
kind which the genius of Tolstoi has elaborated. 
Of these little sketches of death, one alone, that 
of Madame Rousseau, the stationer's wife, is quite 
of the best class. This is an excellent episode 
from the sort of Parisian life which Zola under- 
stands best, the lower middle class, the small and 
active shopkeeper, who just contrives to be re- 
spectable and no more. The others seem to be 
invented rather than observed. 

The four stories which make up the bulk of this 
book are almost typical examples of Zola's mature 
style. They are worked out with extreme care, 
they display in every turn the skill of the practised 
narrator, they are solid and yet buoyant in style, 
and the construction of each may be said to be 
faultless. It is faultless to a fault ; in other words, 
the error of the author is to be mechanically 
and inevitably correct. It is difficult to define 
wherein the over-elaboration shows itself, but in 

K 



146 FRENCH PROFILES 

every case the close of the story leaves us sceptical 
and cold. The denouement is too brilliant and con- 
clusive, the threads are drawn together with too 
much evidence of preoccupation. The impression 
is not so much of a true tale told as of an extra- 
ordinary situation frigidly written up to and 
accounted for. In each case a certain social 
condition is described at the beginning, and a 
totally opposite condition is discovered at the end 
of the story. We are tempted to believe that the 
author determined to do this, to turn the whole 
box of bricks absolutely topsy-turvy. This dis- 
regard of the soft and supple contours of nature, 
this rugged air of molten metal, takes away from 
the pleasure we should otherwise legitimately 
receive from the exhibition of so much fancy, 
so much knowledge, so many proofs of obser- 
vation. 

The story which gives its name to the book, 
Le Capiiaine Burle, is perhaps the best, because 
it has least of this air of artifice. In a military 
county town, a captain, who lives with his anxious 
mother and his little pallid, motherless son, sinks 
into vicious excesses, and pilfers from the regiment 
to pay for his vices. It is a great object with the 
excellent major, who discovers this condition, to 
save his friend the captain in some way which 
will prevent an open scandal, and leave the child 
free for ultimate success in the army. After try- 
ing every method, and discovering that the moral 
nature of the captain is altogether too soft and too 
far sunken to be redeemed, as the inevitable hour 
of publicity approaches, the major insults his friend 



ZOLA 147 

in a caf6, so as to give him an opportunity of fight- 
ing a duel and dying honourably. This is done, 
and the scandal is evaded, without, however, any 
good being thereby secured to the family, for the 
little boy dies of weakness and his grandmother 
starves. Still, the name of Burle has not been 
dragged through the mud. 

Zola has rarely displayed the quality of humour, 
but it is present in the story called La FUe a 
Coqueville. Coqueville is the name given to a 
very remote Norman fishing-village, set in a gorge 
of rocks, and almost inaccessible except from the 
sea. Here a sturdy population of some hundred 
and eighty souls, all sprung from one or other of 
two rival families, live in the condition of a tiny 
Verona, torn between contending interests. A 
ship laden with liqueurs is wrecked on the rocks 
outside, and one precious cask after another comes 
riding into Coqueville over the breakers. The 
villagers, to whom brandy itself has hitherto been 
the rarest of luxuries, spend a glorious week of per- 
fumed inebriety, sucking splinters that drip with 
b^n^dictine, catching noyau in iron cups, and 
supping up curagao from the bottom of a boat. 
Upon this happy shore chartreuse flows like cider, 
and trappistine is drunk out of a mug. The rarest 
drinks of the world — Chios mastic and Servian 
sliwowitz, Jamaica rum and arrack, ere me de 
moka and raki drip among the mackerel nets 
and deluge the seaweed. In the presence of this 
extraordinary and fantastic bacchanal all the dis- 
putes of the rival families are forgotten, class 
prejudices are drowned, and the mayor's rich 



148 FRENCH PROFILES 

daughter marries the poorest of the fisher-sons 
of the enemy's camp. It is very amusingly and 
very picturesquely told, but spoiled a little by 
Zola's pet sin — the overcrowding of details, the 
theatrical completeness and orchestral big-drum 
of the final scene. Too many barrels of liqueur 
come in, the village becomes too universally 
drunk, the scene at last becomes too Lydian for 
credence. 

In the two remaining stories of this collection 
-—Pour une Nuit d' Amour and L'Inondation — 
the fault of mechanical construction is still 
more plainly obvious. Each of these narratives 
begins with a carefully accentuated picture of a 
serene life : in the first instance, that of a timid 
lad sequestered in a country town ; in the second, 
that of a prosperous farmer, surrounded by his 
family and enjoying all the delights of material 
and moral success. In each case this serenity is 
but the prelude to events of the most appalling 
tragedy — a tragedy which does not merely strike 
or wound, but positively annihilates. The story 
called L' Inondatiofif which describes the results 
of a bore on the Garonne, would be as pathetic 
as it is enthralling, exciting, and effective, if the 
destruction were not so absolutely complete, if the 
persons so carefully enumerated at the opening of 
the piece were not all of them sacrificed, and, as 
in the once popular song called "An 'Orrible Tale," 
each by some different death of peculiar ingenuity. 
As to Pour une Nuit d'Amour, it is not needful 
to do more than say that it is one of the most 
repulsive productions ever published by its author, 



ZOLA 149 

and a vivid exception to the general innocuous 
character of his short stories. 

No little interest, to the practical student of 
literature, attaches to the fact that in L'lnonda- 
tion Zola is really re-writing, in a more elaborate 
form, the fourth section of his Jean Gourdon. 
Here, as there, a farmer who has lived in the 
greatest prosperity, close to a great river, is 
stripped of everything — of his house, his wealth, 
and his family — by a sudden rising of the waters. 
It is unusual for an author thus to re-edit a work, 
or tell the same tale a second time at fuller length, 
but the sequences of incidents will be found to be 
closely identical, although the later is by far the 
larger and the more populous story. It is not 
uninteresting to the technical student to compare 
the two pieces, the composition of which was 
separated by about ten years. 



Finally, in 1884, Zola published a fourth col- 
lection, named, after the first of the series, Nats 
Micoulin. This volume contained in all six stories, 
each of considerable extent. I do not propose 
to dwell at any length on the contents of this 
book, partly because they belong to the finished 
period of naturalism, and seem more like castaway 
fragments of the Rougon-Macquart epos than like 
independent creations,, but also because they clash 
with the picture I have sought to draw of an 
optimistic and romantic Zola returning from time 
to time to the short story as a shelter from his 



I50 FRENCH PROFILES 

theories. Of these tales, one or two are trifling 
and passably insipid ; the Parisian sketches called 
Nantas and Madame Neigon have little to be said 
in favour of their existence. Here Zola seems 
desirous to prove to us that he could write as 
good Octave Feuillet, if he chose, as the author of 
Monsieur de Cantors himself. In Les Coquillages de 
M. Chabre, which I confess I read when it first 
appeared, and have now re-read with amusement, 
we see the heavy Zola endeavouring to sport as 
gracefully as M. de Maupassant, and in the same 
style. The impression of buoyant Atlantic seas 
and hollow caverns is well rendered in this most 
unedifying story. Na'is Micoulin, which gives its 
name to the book, is a disagreeable tale of seduc- 
tion and revenge in Provence, narrated with the 
usual ponderous conscientiousness. In each of 
the last mentioned the background of landscape 
is so vivid that we half forgive the faults of the 
narrative. 

The two remaining stories in the book are 
more remarkable, and one of them, at least, is of 
positive value. It is curious that in La Mori 
d' Olivier Be'cailles and Jacques Damour Zola should 
in the same volume present versions of the Enoch 
Arden story, the now familiar episode of the man 
who is supposed to be dead, and comes back to 
find his wife re-married. Olivier B^caille is a 
poor clerk, lately arrived in Paris with his wife ; 
he is in wretched health, . and has always been 
subject to cataleptic seizures. In one of these he 
falls into a state of syncope so prolonged that 
they believe him to be dead, and bury him. He 



ZOLA 151 

manages to break out of his coffin in the cemetery, 
and is picked up fainting by a philanthropic 
doctor. He has a long illness, at the end of 
which he cannot discover what has become of his 
wife. After a long search, he finds that she has 
married a very excellent young fellow, a neigh- 
bour ; and in the face of her happiness, Olivier 
B6caille has not the courage to disturb her. Like 
Tennyson's "strong, heroic soul," he passes out 
into the silence and the darkness. 

The exceedingly powerful story called Jacques 
Damour treats the same idea, but with far greater 
mastery, and in a less conventional manner. 
Jacques Damour is a Parisian artisan, who be- 
comes demoralised during the siege, and joins the 
Commune. He is captured by the Versailles 
army, and sentenced to penal servitude in New 
Caledonia, leaving a wife and a little girl behind 
him in Paris. After some years, in company with 
two or three other convicts, he makes an attempt 
to escape. He, in fact, succeeds in escaping, 
with one companion, the rest being drowned 
before they get out of the colony. One of the 
dead men being mistaken for him, Jacques 
Damour is reported home deceased. When, after 
credible adventures, and at the declaration of the 
amnesty, he returns to Paris, his wife and daughter 
have disappeared. At length he finds the former 
married to a prosperous butcher in the Batignolles, 
and he summons up courage, egged on by a 
rascally friend, to go to the shop in midday and 
claim his lawful wife. The successive scenes in 
the shop, and the final one, in which the ruddy 



152 FRENCH PROFILES 

butcher, sure of his advantage over this squalid 
and prematurely wasted ex-convict, bids F^licie 
take her choice, are superb. Zola has done 
nothing more forcible or life-like. The poor old 
Damour retires, but he still has a daughter to 
discover. The finale of the tale is excessively 
unfitted for the young person, and no serious 
critic could do otherwise than blame it. But, at 
the same time, I am hardened enough to admit 
that I think it very true to life and not a little 
humorous, which, I hope, is not equivalent to a 
moral commendation. We may, if we like, wish 
that Zola had never written Jacques Damour, but 
nothing can prevent it from being a superbly 
constructed and supported piece of narrative, 
marred by unusually few of the mechanical faults 
of his later work. 

The consideration of the optimistic and some- 
times even sentimental short stories of Zola helps 
to reveal to a candid reader the undercurrent of 
pity which exists even in the most " naturalistic " 
of his romances. It cannot be too often insisted 
upon that, although he tried to write books as 
scientific as anything by Pasteur or Claude Bernard, 
he simply could not do it. His innate romanticism 
would break through, and, for all his efforts, it 
made itself apparent even when he strove with the 
greatest violence to conceal it. In his contes he 
does not try to fight against his native idealism, 
and they are, in consequence, perhaps the most 
genuinely characteristic productions of his pen 
which exist. 

1892. 



FERDINAND FABRE 

On the nth of February 1898, carried off by 
a brief attack of pneumonia, one of the most 
original of the contemporary writers of France 
passed away almost unobserved. All his life 
through, the actions of Ferdinand Fabre were 
inopportune, and certainly so ambitious an author 
should not have died in the very central heat of 
the Zola trial. He was just going to be elected, 
moreover, into the French Academy. After 
several misunderstandings and two rebuffs, he 
was safe at last. He was standing for the chair 
of Meilhac, and " sur de son affaire." For a very 
long while the Academy had looked askance at 
Fabre, in spite of his genius and the purity of his 
books. His attitude seemed too much like that 
of an unfrocked priest ; he dealt with the world 
of religion too intimately for one who stood quite 
outside. Years ago. Cardinal Perraud is reported 
to have said, " I may go as far as Loti — but as 
far as Fabre, never ! " Yet every one gave way 
at last to the gentle charm of the C^venol novelist. 
Taine and Renan had been his supporters ; a 
later generation, MM. Hal6vy, Claretie, and Jules 
Lemaitre in particular, were now his ardent 
friends. The Cardinals were appeased, and the 
author of L'Abbe Tigrane was to be an Immortal 
at last. Ferdinand Fabre would not have been 



154 FRENCH PROFILES 

himself if he had not chosen that moment for the 
date of his decease. All his life through he was 
isolated, a little awkward, not in the central 
stream ; but for all that his was a talent so 
marked and so individual that it came scarcely 
short of genius. Taine said long ago that one 
man, and one man only, had in these recent years 
understood the soul of the average French priest, 
and that one man was Ferdinand Fabre. He 
cared little for humanity unless it wore a cassock, 
but, if it did, his study of its peculiarities was 
absolutely untiring. His books are galleries of 
the portraits of priests, and he is to French fiction 
what Zurbaran is to Spanish painting. 

I 

Ferdinand Fabre was born in 1830 at B^darieux, 
in the H^rault, that department which lies between 
the southern masses of the C^vennes Mountains 
and the lagoons of the Mediterranean. This is 
one of the most exquisite districts in France ; just 
above Bddarieux, the great moors or garrigues 
begin to rise, and brilliant little rivers, the Orb and 
its tributaries, wind and dash between woodland 
and meadow, hurrying to the hot plains and the 
fiery Gulf of Lyons. But, up there in the Espin- 
ouze, all is crystal-fresh and dewy-cool, a mild 
mountain-country positively starred with churches, 
since if this is one of the poorest it is certainly one 
of the most pious parts of France. This zone of 
broken moorland along the north-western edge of 
the H^rault is Fabre's province ; it belongs to him 



FERDINAND FABRE 155 

as the Berry belongs to George Sand or Dorset- 
shire to Mr. Hardy. He is its discoverer, its 
panegyrist, its satirist. It was as little known to 
Frenchmen, when he began to write, as Pata- 
gonia ; and in volume after volume he has made 
them familiar with its scenery and its population. 
For most French readers to-day, the Lower 
C^vennes are what Ferdinand Fabre has chosen to 
represent them. 

When the boy was born, his father was a suc- 
cessful local architect, who had taken advantage 
of a tide of prosperity which, on the revival of the 
cloth-trade, was sweeping into B^darieux, to half- 
rebuild the town. But the elder Fabre was 
tempted by his success to enter into speculations 
which were unlucky ; and, in particular, a certain 
too ambitious high-road (often to be mentioned in 
his son's novels), between Agde on the sea and 
Castres on the farther side of the mountains, 
completed his ruin. In 1842, when the boy was 
twelve, the family were on the brink of bankruptcy. 
His uncle, the Abb6 Fulcran Fabre, priest of the 
neighbouring parish of Camplong, offered to take 
Ferdinand to himself for awhile. In Ma Vocation 
the novelist has given an enchanting picture of 
how his uncle fetched him on foot, and led him, 
without a word, through almond plantations 
thronged with thrushes and over brawling water- 
courses, till they reached an open little wood in 
sight of the moors, where Ferdinand was allowed 
to feast upon mulberries, while Uncle Fulcran 
touched, for the first time, on the delicate question 
whether his little garrulous nephew had or had not 



156 FRENCH PROFILES 

a call to the priesthood. Uncle Fulcran Fabre is 
a type which recurs in every novel that Ferdinand 
afterwards wrote. Sometimes, as in Mon Oncle 
Ce'lestin, he has practically the whole book to him- 
self ; more often he is a secondary character. 
But he was a perpetual model to his nephew, and 
whenever a naif, devoted country priest or an 
eccentric and holy professor of ecclesiastical his- 
tory was needed for foreground or background, the 
memory of Uncle Fulcran was always ready. 

The " vocation " takes a great place in all the 
psychological struggles of Ferdinand Fabre's 
heroes. It offers, indeed, the difficulty which 
must inevitably rise in the breast of every generous 
and religious youth who feels drawn to adopt the 
service of the Catholic Church. How is he to 
know whether this enthusiasm which rises in his 
soul, this rapture, this devotion, is the veritable 
and enduring fragrance of Lebanon, the all-needful 
odor suavitatis ? This doubt long harassed the 
breast of Ferdinand Fabre himself. In that poor 
country of the C^vennes, to have the care of a 
parish, to be sheltered by a presbytere — by a par- 
sonage or manse, as we should say — is to have 
settled very comfortably the problem of subsist- 
ence. The manse will shelter a mother, at need a 
sister or an aged father ; it reconstructs a home 
for such a shattered family as the Fabres were 
now. Great, though unconscious, pressure was 
therefore put upon the lad to make inevitable his 
" vocation." He was sent to the Little Seminary 
at St. Pons de Thomi^res, where he was educated 
under M. I'Abb^ Dubreuil, a man whose ambitions 



FERDINAND FABRE 157 

were at once lettered and ecclesiastical, and who, 
although Director of the famous Academic des 
Jeux Floraux, eventually rose to be Archbishop of 
Avignon. 

During this time, at the urgent request of his 
uncle at Camplong, Ferdinand Fabre kept a daily 
journal. It was started in the hope that cultivat- 
ing the expression of pious sentiments might make 
their ebullition spontaneous, but the boy soon 
began to jot down, instead of pious ejaculations, 
all the external things he noticed : the birds in the 
copses, the talk of the neighbours, even at last the 
oddities and the disputes of the excellent clergy- 
men his schoolmasters. When the Abb6 Fulcran 
died in 1871, his papers were burned and most of 
Ferdinand's journals with them ; but the latest and 
therefore most valuable cahier survived, and is the 
source from which he extracted that absorbingly 
interesting fragment of autobiography. Ma Vocation. 
This shows us why, in spite of all the pressure of 
his people, and in spite of the entreaties of his 
amiable professors at the Great Seminary of Mont- 
pellier, the natural man was too strong in 
Ferdinand Fabre to permit him to take the final 
vows. In his nineteenth year, on the night of the 
23rd of June 1848, after an agony of prayer, he 
had a vision in his cell. A great light filled the 
room ; he saw heaven opened, and the Son of 
God at the right hand of the Father. He ap- 
proached in worship, but a wind howled him out 
of heaven, and a sovereign voice cried, " It is not 
the will of God that thou shouldst be a priest." 
He rose up, calm though broken-hearted ; as soon 



158 FRENCH PROFILES 

as morning broke, without hesitation he wrote his 
decision to his family, and of the " vocation " of 
Ferdinand Fabre there was an end. 

There could be no question of the sincerity of 
a Hfe so begun, although from the very first there 
may be traced in it an element of incompatibility, 
of gaucherte. Whatever may be said of the clerical 
novels of Fabre, they are at least built out of a 
loving experience. And, in 1889, replying to 
some accuser, he employed words which must be 
quoted here, for they are essential to a comprehen- 
sion of the man and his work. They were 
addressed to his wife, diledce uxori, and they take a 
double pathos from this circumstance. They are 
the words of the man who had laid his hand to 
the plough, and had turned away because life was 
too sweet : — 

" Je ne suis pas alle a I'Eglise de propos d61ib6r6 
pour la peindre et pour la juger, encore moins 
pour faire d'elle metier et marchandise ; I'Eglise 
est venue a moi, s'est impos6e a moi par la force 
d'une longue fr^quentation, par les Amotions 
poignantes de ma jeunesse, par un gout tenace de 
mon esprit, ouvert de bonne heure a elle, a elle 
seule, et j'ai 6crit tout de long de I'aune, naive- 
ment. . . . Je demeurais confine dans mon coin 
6troit, dans mon 'diocese,' comme aurait dit 
Sainte-Beuve. . . . De la une s6rie de livres sur 
les desservants, les cur^s, les chanoines, les 
6v^ques." 

But if the Church was to be his theme and his 
obsession, there was something else in the blood 
of Ferdinand Fabre. There was the balsam- laden 



FERDINAND FABRE 159 

atmosphere of the great moorlands of the 
Cevennes. At first it seemed as though he were 
to be torn away from this natural perfume no less 
than from the odour of incense. He was sent, 
after attemping the study of medicine at Mont- 
pellier, to Paris, where he was articled as clerk to 
a lawyer. The oppression of an office was intoler- 
able to him, and he broke away, trying, as so 
many thousands do, to make a living by journalism, 
by the untrained and unaccomplished pen. In 
1853 he published the inevitable volume of verses, 
Les Feuilles de Lierre. It seemed at first as if these 
neglected ivy-leaves would cover the poor lad's 
coffin, for, under poverty and privation, his health 
completely broke down. He managed to creep back 
to B^darieux, and in the air of the moors he soon 
recovered. But how he occupied himself during 
the next eight or ten years does not seem to have 
been recorded. His life was probably a very idle 
one ; with a loaf of bread and a cup of wine 
beneath the bough, youth passes merrily and 
cheaply in that delicious country of the Herault. 

In the sixties he reappeared in Paris, and at 
the age of thirty-two, in 1862, he brought out his 
first novel, Les Courbezon : Scenes de la Vie Cle'ri- 
cale. George Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life had 
appeared a few years earlier ; the new French 
novelist resembled her less than he did Anthony 
Trollope, to whom, with considerable clairvoy- 
ance, M. Am^d^e Pichot immediately compared 
him. In spite of the limited interests involved 
and the rural crudity of the scene — the book was 
all about the life of country priests in the 



i6o FRENCH PROFILES 

C^vennes — Les Courbezon achieved an instant suc- 
cess. It was crowned by the French Academy, 
it was praised by George Sand, it was carefully 
reviewed by Sainte-Beuve, who called the author 
" the strongest of the disciples of Balzac." 
Ferdinand Fabre had begun his career, and was 
from this time forth a steady and sturdy con- 
structor of prose fiction. About twenty volumes 
bear his name on their title-pages. In 1883 he 
succeeded Jules Sandeau as curator of the Mazarin 
Library, and in that capacity inhabited a pleasant 
suite of rooms in the Institute, where he died. 
There are no other mile-stones in the placid road- 
way of his life except the dates of the most im- 
portant of his books: Le Chevrier, 1867; L Abbe 
Tigrane, 1873 ; Barnabe, 1875 ; Mon Oncle Celestin, 
1881 ; Lucifer, 1884 ; and UAbbe Roitelety 1890. 
At the time of his death, I understand, he was at 
work on a novel called Le Bercail, of which only a 
fragment was completed. Few visitors to Paris 
saw him ; he loved solitude and was shy. But he 
is described as very genial and smiling, eager to 
please, with a certain prelatical unction of manner 
recalling the Seminary after half a century of 
separation. 

II 

The novels of Ferdinand Fabre have one signal 
merit : they are entirely unlike those of any other 
writer ; but they have one equally signal defect — 
they are terribly like one another. Those who 
read a book of his for the first time are usually 



FERDINAND FABRE i6i 

highly delighted, but they make a mistake if they 
immediately read another. Criticism, dealing 
broadly with Ferdinand Fabre, and anxious to 
insist on the recognition of his great merits, is wise 
if it concedes at once the fact of his monotony. Cer- 
tain things and people — most of them to be found 
within five miles of his native town — interested 
him, and he produced fresh combinations of these. 
Without ever entirely repeating himself, he pro- 
duced, especially in his later writings, an unfor- 
tunate impression of having told us all that before. 
Nor was he merely monotonous ; he was unequal. 
Some of his stories were much better constructed 
and even better than others. It is therefore need- 
less, and would be wearisome, to go through the 
list of his twenty books here. I shall merely 
endeavour to present to English readers, who are 
certainly not duly cognisant of a very charming 
and sympathetic novelist, those books of Fabre's 
which, I believe, will most thoroughly reward 
attention. 

By universal consent the best of all Fabre's 
novels is L! Abbe Tigrane, Candidal a la Papaute. 
It is, in all the more solid and durable qualities 
of composition, unquestionably among the best 
European novels of the last thirty years. It is as 
interesting to-day as it was when it first appeared. 
I read it then with rapture, I have just laid it down 
again with undiminished admiration. It is so 
excellently balanced and moulded that it positively 
does its author an injury, for the reader cannot 
resist asking why, since L Abbe Tigrane is so 
brilliantly constructed, are the other novels of 

L 



i62 FRENCH PROFILES 

Fabre, with all their agreeable qualities, so mani- 
festly inferior to it ? And to this question there 
is no reply, except to say that on one solitary 
occasion the author of very pleasant, characteristic 
and notable books, which were not quite master- 
pieces, shot up in the air and became a writer 
almost of the first class. I hardly know whether 
it is worth while to observe that the scene of 
L'Abbe Tigrane, although analogous to that which 
Fabre elsewhere portrayed, was not identical with 
it, and perhaps this slight detachment from his 
beloved C^vennes gave the novelist a seeming 
touch of freedom. 

The historical conditions which give poignancy 
of interest to the ecclesiastical novels of Ferdinand 
Fabre are the re-assertion in France of the 
monastic orders proscribed by the Revolution, and 
the opposition offered to them by the parochial 
clergy. The battle which rages in these stormy 
books is that between Roman and Galilean ambi- 
tion. The names of Lacordaire and Lamennais 
are scarcely mentioned in the pages of Fabre,^ 
but the study of their Uves forms an excellent pre- 
paration for the enjoyment of stories like L'Abbe 
Tigrane and Lucifer. The events which thrilled 
the Church of France about the year 1840, the 
subjection of the prelates to Roman authority, 
the hostility of the Government, the resistance 
here and there of an ambitious and headstrong 
Gallican — all this must in some measure be recol- 

^ I should except the curious anecdote of the asceticism of Lamennais 
which is told by the arch-priest Rupert in the sixteenth chapter of 
Lucifer. 



FERDINAND FABRE 163 

lected to make the intrinsic purpose of Fabre's 
novels, which Taine had qualified as indispensable 
to the historian of modern France, intelligible. 
If we recollect Archbishop de Qu61en and his pro- 
tection of the Peregrine Brethren ; if we think 
of Lacordaire (on the 12th of February 1841) 
mounting the pulpit of Notre-Dame in the for- 
bidden white habit of St. Dominic ; if we recall 
the turmoil which preceded the arrival of Mon- 
seigneur Affre at Paris, we shall find ourselves 
prepared by historic experience for the curious 
ambitions and excitements which animate the 
clerical novels of Fabre. 

The devout little city of Lormieres, where the 
scene of L'Abbe Tigrane is laid, is a sort of clerical 
ante-chamber to Paradise. It stands in a wild 
defile of the Eastern Pyrenees, somewhere be- 
tween Toulouse and Perpignan ; it is not the 
capital of a department, but a little stronghold of 
ancient religion, left untouched in its poverty and 
its devotion, overlooked in the general redistribu- 
tion of dioceses. The Abb6 Rufin Capdepont, 
about the year 1866, finds himself Vicar-General 
of its Cathedral Church of St. Iren^e ; he is a 
fierce, domineering man, some fifty years of age, 
devoured by ambition and eating his heart out in 
this forgotten corner of Christendom. He is by 
conviction, but still more by temper, a Gallican of 
the Galileans, and his misery is to see the prin- 
ciples of the Concordat gradually being swept 
away by the tide of the Orders setting in from 
Rome. The present bishop of Lormieres, M. de 
Roquebrun, is a charming and courtly person, 



i64 FRENCH PROFILES 

but he is under the thumb of the Regulars, and 
gives all the offices which fall vacant to Domini- 
cans or Lazarists. He is twenty years older than 
Rufin Capdepont, who has determined to succeed 
him, but whom every year of delay embitters and 
disheartens. 

Rufin Capdepont is built in the mould of the 
unscrupulous conquerors of life. The son of a 
peasant of the Pyrenees and of a Basque-Spanish 
mother, he is a creature like a tiger, all sinuosity 
and sleekness when things go well, but ready in a 
moment to show claws and fangs on the slightest 
opposition, and to stir with a roar that cows the 
forest. His rude violence, his Gallicanism, the 
hatred he inspires, the absence of spiritual unction 
— all these make his chances of promotion rarer ; 
on the other side are ranked his magnificent in- 
tellect, his swift judgment, his absolutely imperial 
confidence in himself, and his vigilant activity. 
When they remind him of his mean origin, he 
remembers that Pope John XXII. was humbly 
born hard by at Cahors, and that Urban IV. was 
the son of a cobbler at Troyes. 

What the episcopate means to an ambitious 
priest is constantly impressed on his readers by 
Ferdinand Fabre. Yesterday, a private soldier in 
an army of one hundred thousand men, the 
bishop is to-day a general, grandee of the Holy 
Roman Church, received ad limina apostolorum as 
a sovereign, and by the Pope as " Venerable 
Brother." As this ineffable prize seems slipping 
from the grasp of Rufin Capdepont, his violence 
becomes insupportable. At school his tyranny 



FERDINAND FABRE 165 

had gained him the nickname of Tigranes, from 
his likeness to the Armenian tyrant king of kings ; 
now to all the chapter and diocese of Lormieres 
he is I'Abb^ Tigrane, a name to frighten children 
with. At last, after a wild encounter, his in- 
solence brings on an attack of apoplexy in the 
bishop, and the hour of success or final failure 
seems approaching. But the bishop recovers, 
and in a scene absolutely admirable in execution 
contrives to turn a public ceremony, carefully 
prepared by Capdepont to humiliate him, into a 
splendid triumph. The bishop, still illuminated 
with the prestige of this coup, departs for Rome in 
the company of his beloved secretary, the Abbe 
Ternisien, who he designs shall succeed him in 
the diocese. Capdepont is left behind, wounded, 
sulky, hardly approachable, a feline monster who 
has missed his spring. 

But from Paris comes a telegram announcing 
the sudden death of Monsieur de Roquebrun, and 
Capdepont, as Vicar-General, is in provisional 
command of the diocese. The body of the 
bishop is brought back to Lormieres, but Capde- 
pont, frenzied with hatred and passion, refuses to 
admit it to the cathedral. The Abbe Ternisien, 
however, and the other friends of the last regime, 
contrive to open the cathedral at dead of night, 
and a furtive but magnificent ceremony is per- 
formed, under the roar of a terrific thunderstorm, 
in defiance of the wishes of Capdepont. The 
report spreads that not he, but Ternisien, is to be 
bishop, and the clergy do not conceal their joy. 
But the tale is not true ; Rome supports the strong 



i66 FRENCH PROFILES 

man, the priest with the iron hand, in spite of his 
scandalous ferocity and his Gallican tendencies. 
In the hour of his sickening suspense, Capdepont 
has acted Hke a brute and a maniac, but with the 
dawning of success his tact returns. He excuses 
his violent acts as the result of illness ; he humbles 
himself to the beaten party, he purrs to his clergy, 
he rubs himself like a great cat against the com- 
fortable knees of Rome. He soon rises to be 
Archbishop, and we leave him walking at night in 
the garden of his palace and thinking of the Tiara. 
" Who knows ? " with a delirious glitter in his eyes, 
" who knows ? " 

With VAbbe Tigrane must be read Lucifer, 
which is the converse of the picture. In Rufin 
Capdepont we see the culmination of personal 
ambition in an ecclesiastic who is yet devoted 
through the inmost fibres of his being to the 
interests of the Church. In the story of Bernard 
Jourfier we follow the career of a priest who is 
without individual ambition, but inspired by in- 
tense convictions which are not in their essence 
clerical. Hence Jourfier, with all his virtues, 
fails, while Capdepont, with all his faults, succeeds, 
because the latter possesses, while the former 
does not possess, the " vocation." Jourfier, who 
resembles Capdepont in several, perhaps in 
too many, traits of character, is led by his in- 
domitable obstinacy to oppose the full tide of 
the monastic orders covering France with their 
swarms. We are made to feel the incumbrance 
of the Congregations, their elaborate systems of 
espionage, and the insult of their direct appeal to 



FERDINAND FABRE 167 

Rome over the heads of the bishops. We reaUse 
how intolerable the bondage of the Jesuits must 
have been to an independent and somewhat 
savage Gallican cleric of 1845, and what oppor- 
tunities were to be found for annoying and de- 
pressing him if he showed any resistance. 

The young Abb6 Bernard Jourfier is the grand- 
son and the son of men who took a prominent 
part in the foundation and maintenance of the 
First Republic. Although he himself has gone 
into the Church, he retains an extreme pride in 
the memory of the Spartans of his family. To 
resist the pretensions of the Regulars becomes 
with him a passion and a duty, and for expressing 
these views, and for repulsing the advances of 
Jesuits, who see in him the making of a magni- 
ficent preacher, Jourfier is humiliated and hurt by 
being hurried from one miserable succursale in 
the mountains to another, where his manse is a 
cottage in some rocky combe (like the Devonshire 
" coomb "). At last his chance comes to him ; he 
is given a parish in the lowest and poorest part of 
the episcopal city of Mireval. Here his splendid 
gifts as an orator and his zeal for the poor soon 
make him prominent, though not with the other 
clergy popular. His appearance — his forehead 
broad like that of a young bull, his great brown 
flashing eyes, his square chin, thick neck and in- 
comparable voice — would be eminently attractive 
if the temper of the man were not so hard and 
repellent, so calculated to bruise such softer 
natures as come in his way. 

The reputation of Jourfier grows so steadily. 



i68 FRENCH PROFILES 

that the Chapter is unable to refuse him a canon's 
stall in the Cathedral of St. Optat. But he is 
haunted by his mundane devil, the voice which 
whispers that, with all his austerity, chastity, and 
elevation of heart, he is not truly called of God 
to the priesthood. So he flings himself into 
ecclesiastical history, and publishes in successive 
volumes a great chronicle of the Church, inter- 
penetrated by Gallican ideas, and breathing from 
every page a spirit of sturdy independence which, 
though orthodox, is far from gratifying Rome. 
This history is rapidly accepted as a masterpiece 
throughout France, and makes him universally 
known. Still he wraps himself in his isolation, 
when the fall of the Empire suddenly calls him 
from his study, and he has to prevent the citizens 
of Mireval from wrecking their cathedral and 
insulting their craven bishop. Gambetta, who 
knew his father, and values Jourfier himself, 
procures that he shall be appointed Bishop of 
Sylvanes. The mitre, so passionately desired by 
Capdepont, is only a matter of terror and dis- 
traction to Jourfier. He is on the point of refus- 
ing it, when it is pointed out to him that his 
episcopal authority will enable him to make a 
successful stand against the Orders. 

This decides him, and he goes to Sylvanes to 
be consecrated. But he has not yet been pre- 
conised by the Pope, and he makes the fatal 
mistake of lingering in his diocese, harassing the 
Congregations, who all denounce him to the 
Pope. At length, in deep melancholy and failing 
health, he sets out for Rome, and is subjected to 



FERDINAND FABRE 169 

all the delays, inconveniences, and petty humilia- 
tions which Rome knows how to inflict on those 
who annoy her. The Pope sees him, but without 
geniality ; he has to endure an interview with the 
Prefect of the Congregations, Cardinal Finella, in 
which the pride of Lucifer is crushed like a pebble 
under a hammer. He is preconised, but in the 
most scornful way, on sufferance, because Rome 
does not find it convenient to embroil herself with 
the French Republic, and he returns, a broken 
man, to Sylvan^s. Even his dearest friends, the 
amiable and charming trio of Galilean canons, 
who have followed him from Mireval, and to 
find offices for whom he has roughly displaced 
Jesuit fathers, find the bishop's temper intolerable. 
His palace is built, like a fortress, on a rocky 
eminence over the city, and one wild Christmas 
night the body of the tormented bishop is dis- 
covered, crushed, at the foot of the cliff, whether 
in suicide cast over, or flung by a false delirious 
step as he wandered in the rain. This endless 
combat with the Church of which he was a 
member, had ended, as it was bound to end, in 
madness and despair. 

As a psychological study Lucifer is more in- 
teresting, perhaps, than L'Abbe Tigrane, because 
more complex, but it is far from being so admir- 
ably executed. As the story proceeds, Jourfier's 
state of soul somewhat evades the reader. His 
want of tact in dealing with his diocese and with 
the Pope are so excessive that they deprive him 
of our sympathy, and internal evidence is not 
wanting to show that Fabre, having brought his 



lyo FRENCH PROFILES 

Gallican professor of history to the prelacy, did 
not quite know what to do with him then. To 
make him mad and tumble him over a parapet 
seems inadequate to the patient reader, who has 
been absorbed in the intellectual and spiritual 
problems presented. But the early portions of 
the book are excellent indeed. Some of the epi- 
sodes which soften and humanise the severity of 
the central interest are charming; the career of 
Jourfier's beloved nephew, the Abbe Jean Mon- 
tagnol, who is irresistibly drawn towards the Jesuits, 
and at last is positively kidnapped by them from 
the clutches of his terrible uncle; the gentle old 
archpriest Rupert, always in a flutter of timidity, 
yet with the loyalty of steel ; the Canon Coulazou, 
who watches Jourfier with the devotion of a dog 
through his long misanthropic trances ; these turn 
Luctfer into an enchanting gallery of serious clerical 
portraits. 

Ill 

But there are other faces in the priestly portrait- 
gallery which Ferdinand Fabre has painted, and 
some of them more lovable than those of Tigrane 
and Lucifer. To any one who desires an easy 
introduction to the novelist, no book can be more 
warmly recommended than that which bears the 
title of LAbbe Roitelet, or, as we might put it, 
"The Rev. Mr. Wren" (1890). Here we find 
ourselves in a variety of those poverty-stricken 
mountain parishes, starving under the granite peaks 
of the C6vennes, which Fabre was the first writer 
of the imagination to explore; groups of squalid 



FERDINAND FABRE 171 

huts, sprinkled and tumbled about rocky slopes, 
hanging perilously over ravines split by tumul- 
tuous rivulets that race in uproar down to the 
valleys of the Orb or the Tarn. Here we discover, 
assiduously but wearily devoted to the service 
of these parched communities, the Abb6 Cyprien 
Coupiac, called Roitelet, or the Wren, because he 
is the smallest priest in any diocese of France. 
This tiny little man, a peasant in his simplicity and 
his shyness, has one ungovernable passion, which 
got him into trouble in his student-days at Mont- 
pellier, and does his reputation wrong even among 
the rocks of the black Espinouze : that is his in- 
fatuation for all kinds of birds. He is like St. 
Bonaventure, who loved all flying things that drink 
the light, rorem bibentes atque lumen; but he goes 
farther, for he loves them to the neglect of his 
duties. 

Complaints are made of Coupiac's intense devo- 
tion to his aviary, and he is rudely moved to a still 
more distant parish ; but even here a flight of what 
seem to be Pallas's sand-grouse is his ruin. He is 
summoned before the bishop at Montpellier, and 
thither goes the little trembling man, a mere wren 
of humanity, to excuse himself for his quaint and 
innocent vice. Happily, the bishop is a man of 
the world, less narrow than his subalterns, and 
in a most charming scene he comforts the little 
ornithological penitent, and even brings him down 
from his terrible exile among the rocks to a small 
and poor but genial parish in the chestnut wood- 
lands among his own folk, where he can be happy. 
For a while the Abb6 Coupiac is very careful to 



172 FRENCH PROFILES 

avoid all Vogelweiden or places where birds do con- 
gregate, and when he meets a goldfinch or a 
wryneck is most particular to look in the opposite 
direction; but in process of time he succumbs, 
and his manse becomes an aviary, like its prede- 
cessors. A terrible lesson cures the poor little man 
at last. An eagle is caught alive in his parish, 
and he cannot resist undertaking to cure its broken 
wing. He does so, and with such success that he 
loses his heart to this enormous pet. Alas ! the 
affection is not reciprocated, and one morning, 
without any warning, the eagle picks out one of 
the abbe's eyes. With some difficulty Coupiac is 
safely nursed to health again, but his love of birds 
is gone. 

However, it is his nature, shrinking from rough 
human faces, to find consolation in his dumb 
parishioners ; he is conscious to pain of that 
"voisinage et cousinage entre I'homme et les 
autres animaux" of which Charron, the friend of 
Montaigne, speaks. So he extends a fatherly, 
clerical protection over the flocks and herds of 
Cabrerolles, and he revives a quaint and obso- 
lescent custom by which, on Christmas night, the 
C6venol cattle are brought to the door of their 
parish church to listen to the service, and after- 
wards are blessed by the priest. The book ends 
with a sort of canticle of yule-tide, in which the 
patient kine, with faint tramplings and lowings, 
take modestly their appointed part ; and these rites 
at the midnight mass are described as Mr. Thomas 
Hardy might have described them if Dorchester had 
been B^darieux. In the whole of this beautiful 



FERDINAND FABRE 173 

little novel Ferdinand Fabre is combating what he 
paints as a besetting sin of his beloved C6venols — 
their indifference and even cruelty to animals and 
birds, from which the very clergy seem to be not 
always exempt. 

To yet another of his exclusively clerical novels 
but brief reference must here be made, although 
it has been a general favourite. In Mon Oncle 
Ce'lestin (1881) we have a study of the entirely 
single and tender-hearted country priest — a Ter- 
tuUian in the pulpit, an infant out of it, a creature 
all compact of spiritual and puerile qualities. His 
innocent benevolence leads him blindfold to a de- 
plorable scandal, his inexperience to a terrible 
quarrel with a rival archaeologist, who drives 
C^lestin almost to desperation. His enemies at 
length push him so far that they determine the 
bishop to suspend him so that he becomes revoque ; 
but his health had long been undermined, and he 
is fortunate in dying just before this terrible news 
can be broken to him. This tragic story is laid 
in scenes of extraordinary physical beauty; in no 
book of his has Fabre contrived to paint the sublime 
and varied landscape of the C^vennes in more de- 
Hcious colours. In C^lestin, who has the charge 
of a youthful and enthusiastically devoted nephew, 
Fabre has unquestionably had recourse to his 
recollections of the life at Camplong when he was 
a child, in the company of his sainted uncle, the 
Abb6 Fulcran. 

In the whole company of Ferdinand Fabre's 
priests the reader will not find the type which 
he will perhaps most confidently await — that, 



174 FRENCH PROFILES 

namely, of the cleric who is untrue to his vows 
of chastity. There is here no Abbe Mouret caught 
in the mesh of physical pleasures, and atoning for 
his faute in a pinchbeck Garden of Eden. The 
impure priest, according to Fabre, is a dream of 
the Voltairean imagination. His churchmen are 
sternly celibate ; their first and most inevitable 
duty has been to conquer the flesh at the price 
of their blood; as he conceives them, there is no 
place in their thoughts at all for the movements 
of a vain concupiscence. The solitary shadow of 
the Abbe Vignerte, suspended for sins of this class, 
does indeed flit across the background of Lucifer, 
but only as a horror and a portent. In some 
of these priests, as they grow middle-aged, there 
comes that terror of women which M. Anatole 
France notes so amusingly in Le Mannequin d'Osier. 
The austere Abbe Jourfier trembles in all his limbs 
when a woman, even an old peasant-wife, calls him 
to the confessional. He obeys the call, but he 
would rather be told to climb the snowy peak of 
the highest C^vennes and stay there. 

To make such characters attractive and enter- 
taining is, manifestly, extremely difficult. Fabre 
succeeds in doing it by means of his tact, his 
exhaustive knowledge of varieties of the clerical 
species, and, most of all perhaps, by the intensity 
of his own curiosity and interest. His attitude 
towards his creations becomes, at critical moments, 
very amusing. " The reader will hardly credit what 
was his horrible reply," Fabre will say, or " How 
can we explain such an extreme violence in our 
principal personage ?" He forgets that these people 



FERDINAND FABRE 175 

are imaginary, and he calls upon us, with eager 
complacency, to observe what strange things they 
are saying and doing. His vivacious sincerity per- 
mits him to put forth with success novel after novel, 
from which the female element is entirely excluded. 
In his principal books love is not mentioned, and 
women take no part at all. Mon Oncle Celestin is 
hardly an exception, because the female figures in- 
troduced are those of a spiteful virago and a girl 
of clouded intelligence, who are merely machines 
to lift into higher prominence the sufferings and 
the lustrous virtues of the Abb6 Cdestin. Through 
the dramatic excitement, the nerve-storm, of L'Abbe 
Ttgrane there never is visible so much as the flutter 
of a petticoat ; in Lucifer, the interesting and pathetic 
chapter on the text Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina 
dismisses the subject in a manner which gives no 
encouragement to levity. Those who wish to 
laugh with Ariosto or to snigger with Aretine 
must not come to Ferdinand Fabre. He has not 
faith, he pretends to no vocation ; but that reli- 
gious life upon which he looks back in a sort 
of ceaseless nostalgia confronts him in its purest 
and most loyal aspect. 

IV 

The priest is not absolutely the only subject 
which preoccupies Ferdinand Fabre ; he is inter- 
ested in the truant also. Wild nature is, in his 
eyes, the great and most dangerous rival of the 
Seminary, and has its notable victories. One of 
the prettiest books of his later years. Monsieur Jean 



176 FRENCH PROFILES 

(1886), tells how a precocious boy, brought up in 
the manse of Camplong — at last Fabre inextricably 
confounded autobiography with fiction — is tempted 
to go off on an innocent excursion with a fiery- 
blooded gipsy girl called Mariette. The whole 
novel is occupied by a recital of what they saw 
and what they did during their two days' esca- 
pade, and offers the author one of those oppor- 
tunities which he loves for dealing almost in an 
excess of naivete with the incidents of a pastoral 
life. Less pretty, and less complete, but treated 
with greater force and conviction, is the tale of 
Toussaint Galabru (1887), which tells how a good 
little boy of twelve years old fell into the grievous 
sin of going a-poaching on Sunday morning with 
two desperate characters who were more than old 
enough to know better. The story itself is nothing. 
What is delicious is the reflection of the boy's can- 
did and timid but adventurous soul, and the pas- 
sage before his eyes of the innumerable creatures 
of the woodland. At every step there is a stir 
in the oleanders or a flutter among the chestnut- 
leaves, and ever and anon, through a break in the 
copses, there peep forth against the rich blue 
sky the white peaks of the mountains. Toussaint 
Galabru is the only book known to me in the 
French language which might really have been 
written by Richard Jefferies, with some revision, 
perhaps, by Mr. Thomas Hardy. 

One curious book by Ferdinand Fabre demands 
mention in a general survey of his work. It 
stands quite apart, in one sense, from his custom- 
ary labours ; in another sense it offers the quintes- 



FERDINAND FABRE 177 

sence of them. The only story which he has 
published in which everything is sacrificed to 
beauty of form is Le Chevner (1867), which 
deserves a term commonly misused, and always 
dubious ; it may be called a " prose-poem." In 
his other books the style is sturdy, rustic and 
plain, with frequent use of patois and a certain 
thickness or heaviness of expression. His phrases 
are abrupt, not always quite lucid ; there can be no 
question, although he protested violently against 
the attribution, that Fabre studied the manner of 
Balzac, not always to his advantage. But in Le 
Chevrier — which is a sort of discouraged Daphnis 
and Chloe of the C^vennes — he deliberately com- 
posed a work in modulated and elaborate num- 
bers. It might be the translation of a poem in 
Provencal or Spanish; we seem in reading it to 
divine the vanished form of verse. 

It is, moreover, written in a highly artificial lan- 
guage, partly in C^venol patois, partly in French of 
the sixteenth century, imitated, it is evident, from 
the style of Amyot and Montaigne. Le Chevrier 
begins, in ordinary French, by describing how the 
author goes up into the Larzac, a bleak little 
plateau that smells of rosemary and wild thyme in 
the gorges of the High C^vennes, for the purpose 
of shooting hares, and how he takes with him an 
elderly goatherd, Eran Erembert, famous for his 
skill in sport. But one day the snow shuts them 
up in the farmhouse, and Eran is cajoled into 
telling his life's history. This he does in the afore- 
said mixture of patois and Renaissance French, 
fairly but not invariably sustained. It is a story 

M 



178 FRENCH PROFILES 

of passionate love, ill requited. Eran has loved a 
pretty foundling, called Felice, but she prefers his 
master's son, a handsome ne'er-do-weel, called 
Fr6d6ry, whom she marries. Eran turns from her 
to Fran9on, a still more beautiful but worthless 
girl, and wastes his life with her. Fred^ry dies at 
last, and Eran constrains Felice to marry him ; but 
her heart is elsewhere, and she drowns herself. It 
is a sad, impassioned tale, embroidered on every 
page with love of the High C^venol country and 
knowledge of its pastoral rites and customs. 

The scene is curious, because of its various 
elements. The snow, congealing around a neigh- 
bouring peak in the Larzac, falls upon the branches 
of a date-palm in the courtyard of the farmhouse 
at Mirande, and on the peacocks, humped up and 
ruffled in its branches. But through all the picture, 
with its incongruities of a southern mountain 
country, moves the cahrade, the docile flock of 
goats, with Sacripant, a noble pedigree billy, at 
their head, and these animals, closely attending 
upon Eran their herd, seem to form a chorus in 
the classico-rustic tragedy. And all the country, 
bare as it is, is eminently giboyeiix; it stirs and 
rustles with the incessant movement of those living 
creatures which Ferdinand Fabre loves to describe. 
And here, for once, he gives himself up to the 
primitive powers of love ; the priest is kept out of 
sight, or scarcely mars the rich fermentation of life 
with glimpses of his soutane and his crucifix. 

Le Chevrier has never enjoyed any success in 
France, where its archaic pastoralism was mis- 
apprehended from the first. But it was much 



FERDINAND FABRE 179 

admired by Walter Pater, who once went so far as 
to talk about translating it. The novelist of the 
C6vennes had an early and an ardent reader in 
Pater, to whom I owe my own introduction to 
Ferdinand Fabre. Unfortunately, the only indica- 
tion of this interest which survives, so far as I 
know, is an article in the privately printed Essays 
from the Guardian, where Pater reviews one of 
Fabre's weakest works, the novel called Norine 
(1889). He says some delicate things about this 
idyllic tale, which he ingeniously calls " a sym- 
phony in cherries and goldfinches." But what 
one would have welcomed would have been a 
serious examination of one of the great celibate 
novels, L'Abbe Tigrane or Lucifer. The former of 
these, I know, attracted Pater almost more than any 
other recent French work in fiction. He found, 
as Taine did, a solid psychological value in these 
studies of the strictly ecclesiastical passions — the 
jealousies, the ambitions, the violent and masterful 
movements of types that were exclusively clerical. 
And the struggle which is the incident of life really 
important to Fabre, the tension caused by the 
divine " vocation " on the one hand and the cry 
of physical nature on the other, this was of the 
highest interest to Pater also. He was delighted, 
moreover, with the upland freshness, the shrewd 
and cleanly brightness of Fabre's country stories, 
so infinitely removed from what we indolently 
conceive that we shall find in " a French novel." 

An English writer, of higher rank than Fabre, 
was revealing the C^vennes to English readers just 
when the Frenchman was publishing his mountain 



i8o FRENCH PROFILES 

stories. If we have been reading Le Chevrier^ 
it will be found amusing to take up again the 
Through the Cevennes with a Donkey of Robert Louis 
Stevenson. The route which the Scotchman took 
was from Le Monastier to Alais, across the north- 
eastern portion of the mountain-range, while Fabre 
almost exclusively haunts the south-western slopes 
in the H^rault. Stevenson brings before us a bleak 
and stubborn landscape, far less genial than the 
wooded uplands of BMarieux. But in both 
pictures much is alike. The bare moors on the 
tops of the Cevennes are the same in each case, 
and when we read Stevenson's rhapsody on the 
view from the high ridge of the Mimerte, it might 
well be a page translated from one of the novels 
of Ferdinand Fabre. But the closest parallel with 
the Frenchman is always Mr. Thomas Hardy, 
whom in his rustic chapters he closely resembles 
even in style. Yet here again we have the national 
advantage, since Fabre has no humour, or exceed- 
ingly little. 

Fabre is a solitary, stationary figure in the 
current history of French literature. He is the 
gauche and somewhat suspicious country bumpkin 
in the urban congregation of the wits. He has 
not a word to say about " schools " and " ten- 
dencies " ; he is not an adept in nevrosite d' artiste. 
It is odd to think of this rugged C^venol as a con- 
temporary of Daudet and Goncourt, Sardou and 
Bourget ; he has nothing whatever in common 
with them. You must be interested in his affairs, 
for he pretends to no interest in yours. Like 
Mr. Rudyard Kipling's " Native- Born," Ferdinand 



FERDINAND FABRE i8i 

Fabre seems to say, " Let a fellow sing of the little 
things he cares about " ; and what these are we 
have seen. They are found among the winding 
paths that lead up through the oleander-marshes, 
through the vineyards, through the chestnuts, to 
the moorlands and the windy peaks ; they are 
walking beside the patient flocks of goats, when 
Sacripant is marching at their head ; they are the 
poachers and the reapers, the begging friars and 
the sportsmen, all the quiet, rude population of 
those shrouded hamlets of the H^rault. Most of 
all they are those abbes and canons, those humble, 
tremulous parish priests and benevolently arrogant 
prelates, whom he understands more intimately 
than any other author has done who has ever 
written. Persuade him to speak to you of these, 
and you will be enchanted ; yet never forget that 
his themes are limited and his mode of delivery 
monotonous. 

1898. 



A FIRST SIGHT OF VERLAINE 

In 1893 the thoughts of a certain pilgrim were a 
good deal occupied by the theories and experi- 
ments which a section of the younger French 
poets were engaged upon. In this country, the 
Symbolists and Decadents of Paris had been 
laughed at and parodied, but, with the exception 
of Mr. Arthur Symons, no English critic had given 
their fentatives any serious attention. I became 
much interested — not wholly converted, certainly, 
but considerably impressed — as I studied, not what 
was said about them by their enemies, but what 
they wrote themselves. Among them all, there 
was but one, M. Mallarme, whom I knew person- 
ally ; him I had met, more than twenty years 
before, carrying the vast folio of his Manet-Poe 
through the length and breadth of London, dis- 
appointed but not discouraged. I learned that 
there were certain haunts where these later De- 
cadents might be observed in large numbers, drawn 
together by the gregarious attraction of verse. I 
determined to haunt that neighbourhood with a 
butterfly-net, and see what delicate creatures with 
powdery wings I could catch. And, above all, 
was it not understood that that vaster lepidopter, 
that giant hawk-moth, Paul Verlaine, uncoiled his 
proboscis in the same absinthe-corollas ? 

Timidity, doubtless, would have brought the 



VERLAINE 183 

scheme to nought, if, unfolding it to Mr. Henry 
Harland, who knows his Paris Hke the palm of his 
hand, he had not, with enthusiastic kindness, offered 
to become my cicerone. He was far from sharing 
my interest in the Symbolo-decadent movement, 
and the ideas of the " poetes abscons comme la 
lune " left him a little cold, yet he entered at once 
into the sport of the idea. To race up and down 
the Boulevard St. Michel, catching live poets in 
shoals, what a charming game 1 So, with a beating 
heart and under this gallant guidance, I started on 
a beautiful April morning to try my luck as an 
entomologist. This is not the occasion to speak 
of the butterflies which we successfully captured 
during this and the following days and nights ; the 
expedition was a great success. But, all the time, 
the hope of capturing that really substantial moth, 
Verlaine, was uppermost, and this is how it was 
realised. 

As every one knows, the broad Boulevard St, 
Michel runs almost due south from the Palais 
de Justice to the Gardens of the Luxembourg. 
Through the greater part of its course, it is 
principally (so it strikes one) composed of restau- 
rants and brasseries, rather dull in the daytime, 
excessively blazing and gay at night. To the 
critical entomologist the eastern side of this street 
is known as the chief, indeed almost the only 
habitat of poeta symbolans, which, however, occurs 
here in vast numbers. Each of the leaders of a 
school has his particular cafe, where he is to be 
found at an hour and in a chair known to the 
habitues of the place. So Dryden sat at Will's and 



i84 FRENCH PROFILES 

Addison at Button's, when chocolate and ratafia, I 
suppose, took the place of absinthe. M. Jean 
Mor^as sits in great circumstance at the Restau- 
rant d'Harcourt — or he did three years ago — and 
there I enjoyed much surprising and stimulating 
conversation. But Verlaine — where was he ? 
At his caf6, the Fran9ois- Premier, we were told 
that he had not been seen for four days. " There 
is a letter for him — he must be ill," said Madame; 
and we felt what the tiger-hunter feels when the 
tiger has gone to visit a friend in another valley. 
But to persist is to succeed. 

The last of three days devoted to this fascinat- 
ing sport had arrived. I had seen Symbolists and 
Decadents to my heart's content. I had learned 
that Victor Hugo was not a poet at all, and that 
M. Vi616-Grififin was a splendid bard ; I had heard 
that neither Victor Hugo nor M. Viel6-Griffin had 
a spark of talent, but that M. Charles Morice was 
the real Simon Pure. I had heard a great many 
conflicting opinions stated without hesitation and 
with a delightful violence ; I had heard a great 
many verses recited which I did not understand 
because I was a foreigner, and could not have 
understood if I had been a Frenchman. I had 
quaffed a number of highly indigestible drinks, 
and had enjoyed myself very much. But I had 
not seen Verlaine, and poor Mr. Harland was in 
despair. We invited some of the poets to dine 
with us that night (this is the etiquette of the 
"Bou' Mich'") at the Restaurant d'Harcourt, and 
a very entertaining meal we had. M. Mor^as was 
in the chair, and a poetess with a charming name 



VERLAINE 185 

decorated us all with sprays of the narcissus poeticus. 
I suppose that the company was what is called 
" a little mixed," but I am sure it was very lyrical. 
I had the honour of giving my arm to a most 
amiable lady, the Queen of Golconda, whose 
precise rank among the crowned heads of Europe 
is, I am afraid, but vaguely determined. The 
dinner was simple, but distinctly good ; the chair- 
man was in magnificent form, un vrai chef d'ecole, 
and between each of the courses somebody in- 
toned his own verses at the top of his voice. 
The windows were wide open on to the Boule- 
vard, but there was no public expression of 
surprise. 

It was all excessively amusing, but deep down 
in my consciousness, tolling like a little bell, there 
continued to sound the words, " We haven't seen 
Verlaine." I confessed as much at last to the 
sovereign of Golconda, and she was graciously 
pleased to say that she would make a great effort. 
She was kind enough, I believe, to send out a sort 
of search-party. Meanwhile, we adjourned to an- 
other caf6, to drink other things, and our company 
grew like a rolling snowball. I was losing all 
hope, and we were descending the Boulevard, our 
faces set for home ; the Queen of Golconda was 
hanging heavily on my arm, and having formed 
a flattering misconception as to my age, was warn- 
ing me against the temptations of Paris, when two 
more poets, a male and a female, most amiably 
hurried to meet us with the intoxicating news that 
Verlaine had been seen to dart into a little 'place 
called the Caf6 Soleil d'Or. Thither we accord- 



i86 FRENCH PROFILES 

ingly hied, buoyed up by hope, and our party, 
now containing a dozen persons (all poets), rushed 
into an almost empty drinking-shop. But no 
Verlaine was to be seen. M. Mor^as then col- 
lected us round a table, and fresh grenadines were 
ordered. 

Where I sat, by the elbow of M. Moreas, I was 
opposite an open door, absolutely dark, leading 
down, by oblique stairs, to a cellar. As I idly 
watched this square of blackness I suddenly saw 
some ghostly shape fluttering at the bottom of it. 
It took the form of a strange bald head, bobbing 
close to the ground. Although it was so dim and 
vague, an idea crossed my mind. Not daring to 
speak, I touched M. Mor6as, and so drew his 
attention to it. " Pas un mot, pas un geste, 
Monsieur ! " he whispered, and then, instructed 
in the guile of his race, insidias Danaiim, the 
eminent author of Les Cantilenes rose, making a 
vague detour towards the street, and then plunged 
at the cellar door. There was a prolonged scuffle 
and a rolling downstairs ; then M. Moreas re- 
appeared, triumphant ; behind him something 
flopped up out of the darkness like an owl, — 
a timid shambling figure in a soft black hat, with 
jerking hands, and it peeped with intention to 
disappear again. But there were cries of " Venez 
done, Maitre," and by-and-by Verlaine was per- 
suaded to emerge definitely and to sit by me. 

I had been prepared for strange eccentricities of 
garb, but he was very decently dressed ; he re- 
ferred at once to the fact, and explained that this 
was the suit which had been bought for him to 



VERLAINE 187 

lecture in, in Belgium. He was particularly proud 
of a real white shirt ; " C'est ma chemise de con- 
ference," he said, and shot out the cuffs of it with 
pardonable pride. He was full of his experiences 
of Belgium, and in particular he said some very 
pretty things about Bruges and its beguinages, and 
how much he should like to spend the rest of his 
life there. Yet it seemed less the mediaeval build- 
ings -^vhich had attracted him than a museum of 
old lace. He spoke with a veiled utterance, diffi- 
cult for me to follow. Not for an instant would 
he take off his hat, so that I could not see the 
Socratic dome of forehead which figures in all 
the caricatures. I thought his countenance very 
Chinese, and I may perhaps say here that when 
he was in London in 1894 I called him a Chinese 
philosopher. He replied : " Chinois — comme vous 
voulez, mais philosophe — non pas !" 

On this first occasion (April 2, 1893), recita- 
tions were called for, and Verlaine repeated his 
Clair de Lune : — 

" Votre S.me est un paysage choisi 

Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques 
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi 
Tristes sous leurs deguisements fantasques," 

and presently, with a strange indifference to all 
incongruities of scene and company, part of his 
wonderful Mon Dieu m'a dit: — 



" J'ai r^pondu : * Seigneur, vous avez dit mon ime. 
C'est vrai que je vous cherche et ne vous trouve pas. 
Mais vous aimer ! Voyez comme je suis en bas, 
Vous dont I'amour toujours monte comme la flamme 



i88 FRENCH PROFILES 

' Vous, la source de paix que toute soif reclame, 
Helas ! Voyez un peu tous mes tristes combats ! 
Oserai-je adorer la trace de vos pas, 
Sur ces genoux saignants d'un rampement infame ? ' " 

He recited in a low voice, without gesticulation, 
very delicately. Then M. Mordas, in exactly the 
opposite manner, with roarings of a bull and with 
modulated sawings of the air with his hand, in- 
toned an eclogue addressed by himself to Verlaine 
as "Tityre." And so the exciting evening closed, 
the passionate shepherd in question presently dis- 
appearing again down those mysterious stairs. 
And we, out into the soft April night and the 
budding smell of the trees. 

1896. 



THE IRONY OF M. ANATOLE FRANCE 

If we are asked, What is the most entertaining 
intelligence at this moment working in the world 
of letters ? I do not see that we can escape from 
replying, That of M. Anatole France. Nor is it 
merely that he is sprightly and amusing in him- 
self ; he is much more than that. He indicates 
a direction of European feeling ; he expresses a 
mood of European thought. Excessively weary 
of all the moral effort that was applied to literature 
in the eighties, all the searchings into theories and 
proclaimings of gospels, all the fuss and strain of 
Ibsen and Tolstoi and Zola, that the better kind 
of reader should make a volte-face was inevitable. 
This general consequence might have been fore- 
seen, but hardly that M. Anatole France, in his 
quiet beginnings, was preparing to take the position 
of a leader in letters. He, obviously, has dreamed 
of no such thing ; he has merely gone on develop- 
ing and emancipating his individuality. He has 
taken advantage of his growing popularity to be 
more and more courageously himself ; and doubt- 
less he is surprised, as we are, to find that he has 
noiselessly expanded into one of the leading 
intellectual forces of our day. 

After a period of enthusiasm, we expect a great 

suspicion of enthusiasts to set in. M. Anatole 

189 



I90 FRENCH PROFILES 

France is what they used to call a Pyrrhonist in 
the seventeenth century — a sceptic, one who 
doubts whether it is worth while to struggle 
insanely against the trend of things. The man 
who continues to cross the road leisurely, although 
the cyclists' bells are ringing, is a Pyrrhonist — and 
in a very special sense, for the ancient philosopher 
who gives his name to the class made himself 
conspicuous by refusing to get out of the way of 
careering chariots. After a burst of moral excite- 
ment, a storm of fads and fanaticism, there is 
bound to set in calm weather and the reign of 
indifferentism. The ever-subtle Pascal noticed 
this, and remarked on the importance to scepticism 
of working on a basis of ethical sensitiveness. 
" Rien fortifie plus le pyrrhonisme," he says, " que 
ce qu'il y en a qui ne sont pas pyrrhoniens." The 
talent of M. Anatole France is like a beautiful 
pallid flower that has grown out of a root fed on 
rich juices of moral strenuousness. He would 
not be so delicately balanced, so sportive, so 
elegantly and wilfully unattached to any moral 
system, if he had not been preceded by masters 
of such a gloomy earnestness. 

Le Mannequin D'Osier 

After many efforts, more or less imperfectly 
successful, M. France seems at last to have dis- 
covered a medium absolutely favourable to his 
genius. He has pursued his ideal of graceful 
scepticism from period to period. He has sought 
to discover it in the life of late antiquity {Thais), in 



M. ANATOLE FRANCE 191 

the ironic naivete of the Middle Ages {Balthasar 
and Le Putts de Sainte Claire^, in the humours of 
eighteenth-century deism {La Roiisserie de la Reine 
Pedauque and M. Jerome Coignard), in the criticism 
of contemporary books (Z,a Vie Litteraire\ in pure 
philosophical paradox {Le Jardin d Epicure). Only 
once, in my opinion, has he ceased to be loyal to 
that sagesse et elegance which are his instinctive 
aim ; only once — in that crude Le Lys Rouge^ 
which is so unworthy of his genius in everything 
but style. With this exception, through fifteen 
delightful volumes he has been conscientiously 
searching for his appropriate medium, and, surely, 
he has found it at last. He has found it in that 
unnamed town of the north of France, where he 
listens to the echoes and reverberations of the life 
of to-day, and repeats them naively and maliciously 
to us out of his mocking, resonant lips. 

The two books which M. Anatole France 
published in 1897 belong to the new cate- 
gory. Perhaps it was not every reader of 
L'Orme du Mail who noticed the words ^^Histoire 
Contentporaine" at the top of the title-page. But 
they are repeated on that of Le Mannequin 
d'Osier, and they evidently have a significance. 
Is this M. Anatole France's mode of indicating 
to us that he is starting on some such colossal 
enterprise as a Come'die Humaine, or a series like 
Les Rougon Macquart? Nothing quite so alarming 
as this, probably, but doubtless a series of some 
sort is intended ; and, already, it is well to warn 
the impetuous reader not to open Le Mannequin 
dOsier till he has mastered LOrme du Mail, at the 



192 FRENCH PROFILES 

risk of failing to comprehend the situation. The 
one of these books is a direct continuation of 
the other. 

There was no plot in LOrme du Mail. We were 
introduced, or rather invisibly suspended within, 
a provincial city of France of to-day, where, under 
all species of decorous exteriors, intrigues were 
being pushed forward, domestic dramas conducted, 
the hollowness of intellectual pretensions con- 
cealed, and even — for M. Anatole France knows 
the value of the savage note in his exquisite 
concert — brutal crimes committed. With a skill 
all his own, he interested us in the typical indi- 
vidualities in this anthill of a town, and he knows 
how to produce his effects with so light and yet so 
firm a hand, that he never for a moment wearied 
us, or allowed us to forget his purpose. He has 
become no less persuaded than was Montaigne 
himself of the fact that man is in his essence 
" ondoyant et divers," and he will teach us to see 
these incongruities, no longer in some fabulous 
Jerome Coignard, but in the very forms of 
humanity which elbow us daily in the street. He 
will do this with the expenditure of that humour 
which alone makes the Pyrrhonist attitude toler- 
able, and he will scatter the perfume of his gaiety 
in gusts so delicate and pure that it shall pervade 
his books from end to end, yet never for a 
moment betrays the author into farce or caricature. 
He will, moreover, lift his dialogue on to a plane 
of culture much higher than is customary even in 
French novels, where the standard of allusion and 
topic in conversation has always been more 



M. ANATOLE FRANCE 193 

instructed than in English stories of a similar 
class. He will examine, with all his array of wit 
and tolerance and paradoxical scepticism, how the 
minds of average men and women are affected by 
the current questions of the hour. 

Readers of L'Orme du Mail were prepared for 
the entertainment which was bound to follow. 
They were familiar with the battle royal for the 
vacant mitre which was silently raging between 
M. rAbb6 Lantaigne and M. I'Abb^ Guitrel ; they 
sympathised with the difficulties of the pr^fet, M. 
Worms-Clavelin, so little anxious to make himself 
disagreeable, and so good-natured and clever 
underneath his irradicable vulgarity ; they had 
listened with eagerness to the afternoon conver- 
sations in the bookshop of M. Paillot ; they had 
hung over the back of the seat in the shadow of 
the great elm-tree on the Mall, to overhear the 
endless amiable wranglings of M. Lantaigne and 
the Latin professor, M. Bergeret, the only persons 
in the whole town who "s'interessaient aux id^es 
g^n^rales." They had thrilled over the murder of 
Madame Houssieu, and laughed at the sophisti- 
cations of M. de Terremondre, the antiquary. 
LOrme du Mail ended like a volume of Tristram 
Shandy, nowhere in particular. We laid it down 
with the sentence, " No^mi est de force a faire 
un 6veque ; " saying to ourselves, " Will she do 
it ? " And now that we have read Le Mannequin 
d^ Osier, we know as little as ever what she 
can do. 

But we know many other things, and we are 
not quite happy. Le Mannequin d Osier is not so 

N 



194 FRENCH PROFILES 

gay a book as its predecessor, and the Pyrrhonism 
of M. Anatole France seems to have deepened 
upon him. The air of insouciance which hung 
over the sun-Hghted Mall has faded away. M. 
Bergeret sits there no longer, or but very seldom, 
arguing with M. I'Abb^ Lantaigne ; the clouds are 
closing down on the fierce Abb6 himself, and he 
will never be Bishop of Tourcoing. In the new 
book, M. Bergeret, who took a secondary place in 
L'Orme du Mail, comes into predominance. His 
sorrows and squalor, the misfortunes of his 
domestic life, his consciousness of his own tri- 
viality of character and mediocrity of brain — 
those are subjected to cruel analysis. The differ- 
ence between L'Orme du Mail and Le Mannequin 
d Osier is that between the tone of Sterne and of 
Swift. The comparison of Madame Bergeret, by 
her husband, to an obsolete and inaccurate Latin 
lexicon is extremely in the manner of A Tale of 
a Tub, and the horribly cynical and entertaining 
discussion as to the criminal responsibility of the 
young butcher Lecceur — who has murdered an 
old woman in circumstances of the least attenuated 
hideousness, but who gains the sympathy of the 
prison chaplain — is exactly in the temper of the 
" Examination of Certain Abuses," It is curious 
to find this Swift-like tone proceeding out of the 
Shandean spirit which has of late marked the 
humour of M. Anatole France. He is so little 
occupied with English ideas that he is certainly 
unconscious of the remarkable resemblance be- 
tween his reflections as to the nationalisation of 
certain forms of private property at the Revolution 



M. ANATOLE FRANCE 195 

— " en quelque sorte un retour a I'ancien regime," 
and a famous page of Carlyle. 

Around that dressmaker's dummy of Madame 
Bergeret, which gives its name to the book, there 
gather innumerable ideas, whimsical, melancholy, 
contradictory, ingenious, profound. The peculiar 
obscurity and helplessness of poor M. Bergeret, 
compiling a Virgilhis Nauticus with his desk cramped 
by an enormous plaster cylinder in front of it, and 
the terrible dummy behind it, exacerbated by his 
indigence and his mediocrity, by the infidelities 
of Madame Bergeret and the instabihty of his 
favourite pupils, his abject passivity, like that of a 
delicate, sentient thing, possessing neither tongue, 
nor hands, nor feet — all this forms in the end a 
sinister picture. Is M. Anatole France mocking 
his own kith and kin ? Is the most brilliant 
man of letters that the modern system of education 
in France has produced holding that very system 
up to ridicule ? We might warn him to take care 
that the fate of Orpheus does not overtake him, 
were not his tact and rapidity equal to his pene- 
tration. We are quite sure that, like M. Bergeret, 
when M. Roux recited his incomprehensible poem 
in vers litres, M. Anatole France will always know 
the right moment to be silent " for fear of affront- 
ing the Unknown Beauty." 

HiSTOIRE COMIQUE 

The intelligent part of the English public has 
been successfully dragooned into the idea that M. 
Anatole France is the most ingenious of the 



196 FRENCH PROFILES 

younger writers of Europe. It is extraordinary, 
but very fortunate, that the firm expression of an 
opinion on the part of a few expert persons whose 
views are founded on principle and reason still 
exercises a very great authority on the better class 
of readers. When it ceases to do so the reign of 
chaos will have set in. However, it is for the 
present admitted in this country that M. Anatole 
France, not merely is not as the Georges Ohnets 
are, but that he is a great master of imagination 
and style. Yet, one can but wonder how many 
of his dutiful English admirers really enjoy his 
books — how many, that is to say, go deeper down 
than the epigrams and the picturesqueness ; how 
many perceive, in colloquial phrase, what it is he 
is " driving at," and, having perceived, still admire 
and enjoy. It is not so difficult to understand 
that there are English people who appreciate the 
writings of Ibsen and of Tolstoi, and even, to sink 
fathoms below these, of D'Annunzio, because 
although all these are exotic in their relation to 
our national habits of mind, they are direct. But 
Anatole France — do his English admirers realise 
what a heinous crime he commits ? — for all his 
lucidity and gentleness and charm, Anatole France 
is primarily, he is almost exclusively, an ironist. 

In the literary decalogue of the English reader 
the severest prohibition is " Thou shalt not commit 
irony ! " This is the unpardonable offence. What- 
ever sentiments a writer wishes to enforce, he has 
a chance of toleration in this country, if he takes 
care to make his language exactly tally with his 
intention. But once let him adopt a contrary 



M. ANATOLE FRANCE 197 

method, and endeavour to inculcate his meaning 
in words of a different sense, and his auditors fly 
from him. No one who has endeavoured for the 
last hundred years to use irony in England as an 
imaginative medium has escaped failure. How- 
ever popular he has been until that moment, his 
admirers then slip away from hinl, silently, as 
Tennyson's did when he wrote the later sections 
of Maud, and still more strikingly as Matthew 
Arnold's did when he published Friendship's 
Garland. The result of the employment of irony 
in this country is that people steal noiselessly 
away from the ironist as if he had been guilty in 
their presence of a social incongruity. Is it 
because the great example of irony in our lan- 
guage is the cruel dissimulation of Swift ? Is it 
that our nation was wounded so deeply by that 
sarcastic pen that it has suspected ever since, 
in every ironic humorist, "the smiler with the 
knife " ? 

But the irony of M. Anatole France, like that 
of Renan, and to a much higher degree, is, on the 
contrary, beneficent. It is a tender and consola- 
tory raillery, based upon compassion. His greatest 
delight is found in observing the inconsistencies, 
the illusions of human life, but never for the pur- 
pose of wounding us in them, or with them. His 
genius is essentially benevolent and pitiful. This 
must not, however, blind us to the fact that he is 
an ironist, and perhaps the most original in his 
own sphere who has ever existed. Unless we 
see this plainly, we are not prepared to compre- 
hend him at all, and if our temperaments are so 



198 FRENCH PROFILES 

Anglo-Saxon as to be impervious to this form of 
approach, we shall do best to cease to pretend 
that we appreciate M. Anatole France. To come 
to a case in point, the very title of the Histoire 
Comique is a dissimulation. The idea of calling 
this tale of anguish and disillusion a " funny story" 
would certainly baffle us, if we did not, quite by 
chance, in the course of a conversation, come 
upon the explanation. Constantin Marc, discuss- 
ing the suicide of the actor Chevalier, " le trouvait 
comique, c'est-a-dire appartenant aux com^diens." 
And this gives the keynote to the title and to the 
tale ; it is a story about men and women who 
deal with the phenomenal sides of things, and 
who act life instead of experiencing it. It is a 
book in which the personages, with the greatest 
calmness, do and say the most terrible things, and 
the irony consists in the mingled gravity and levity 
with which they do and say them. 

The design of the author, as always — as most 
of all in that most exquisite of his books, Le Jardin 
d Epicure — is to warn mankind against being too 
knowing and too elaborate. Be simple, he says, 
and be content to be deceived, or you cannot be 
happy. Doctor Trublet, in the Histoire Comique, 
the wise physician who attends the theatre, and 
whom the actresses call Socrates, exclaims, " Je 
tiens boutique de mensonages. Je soulage, je con- 
sole. Peut-on consoler et soulager sans mentir ? " 
This is a characteristic Anatolian paradox, and no 
one who has followed the author's teaching will 
find any difficulty in comprehending it. Over and 
over again he has preached that intelligence is 



M. ANATOLE FRANCE 199 

vanity, that the more we know about Hfe the less 
we can endure the anguish of its impact. He says 
somewhere — is it not in Le Lys Rouge? — that the 
soul of man feeds on chimeras. Take this fabulous 
nourishment from us, and you spread the banquet 
of science before us in vain. We starve on the 
insufficiency of a diet which has been deprived of 
all our absurd traditional errors, " nos idees betes, 
augustes et salutaires." It is strange that all the 
subtlety of this marvellous brain should have found 
its way back to the axiom, Unless ye become as 
little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom 
of heaven. 

These reflections may bewilder those who take 
up the Histoire Comique as a work of mere enter- 
tainment. They may even be scandalised by the 
story; and indeed to find it edifying at all, it is 
needful to be prepared for edification. Novelists 
are like the three doctors whom, at a critical 
moment, Mme. Douce recommends to be called 
in. They were all clever doctors, but Mme. Douce 
could not find the address of the first, the second 
had a bad character, and the third was dead. M. 
Anatole France belongs to the first category, but 
we must take care that we know his address. In 
the Histoire Comique he has quitted his series called 
Histoire Contemporaine, and, we regret, M. Bergerat. 
Nor has he returned, as we admit we hoped he 
had done, to the Rotisserie de la Reine Pe'dauque, 
and the enchanting humours of his eighteenth cen- 
tury. He has written a novel of to-day, of the 
same class as Le Lys Rouge. He has taken the 
coulisses of a great theatre as the scene of the very 



200 FRENCH PROFILES 

simple intrigue of his story, which is, as always 
with M. Anatole France, more of a chronicle than 
a novel, and extremely simple in construction. 

He has chosen the theatre for his scene, one 
may conjecture, because of the advantage it offers 
to a narrator who wishes to distinguish sharply 
between emotions and acts. It troubles M. Anatole 
France that people are never natural. They 
scarcely ever say a thing because they think it. 
They say it because it seems the proper thing to 
say, and it is extremely rare to find any one who is 
perfectly natural. In this book F^licie Nanteuil 
congratulates herself that her lover, Robert de 
Ligny, is natural ; but that is her illusion ; he is 
not. This contrast between what people feel and 
think and what they say is projected in the highest 
relief upon the theatre. A violent symbol of this is 
shown in the great scene where the actress, fresh 
from the funeral of the man whose jealousy has 
destroyed her happiness for ever, is obliged, at a 
rehearsal, to repeat over and over the phrase, 
" Mon cousin, je suis 6veill6e toute joyeuse ce 
matin." 

It would perhaps be difficult to point to a single 
book which M. Anatole France has published in 
which his theory that only two things, beauty and 
goodness, are of any importance in life, seems at 
first sight to be less prominent than in his Histoire 
Comique. But it prevails here, too, we shall find, 
if we are not hasty in judgment. And if we do 
not care to examine the philosophy of the story, 
and to reconcile its paradoxes with ethical truth, 
we can at least enjoy the sobriety, the precision, 



M. ANATOLE FRANCE 201 

the elasticity of its faultless style. If the reader 
prefers to do so, he may take Histoire Comique 
simply as a melancholy and somewhat sensuous 
illustration of the unreasonable madness of love, 
and of the insufficiency of art, with all its discipline, 
to regulate the turbulent spirit of youth. 

1903. 



PIERRE LOTI 

It is one of the advantages of foreign criticism 
that it can stand a little aloof from the movement 
of a literature, and be unaffected by the passing 
fluctuations of fashion. It is not obliged to take 
into consideration the political or social accidents 
which may affect the reputation of an author at 
home. The sensitive and dreamy traveller whose 
name stands at the head of this page was, for ten 
years after his first appearance with that delicious 
fantasia which he called Raharu, but which the 
public insisted on knowing as Le Manage de Loti, 
the spoiled favourite of the Parisian press. His 
writings of this first period have been frequently 
examined in England, by no one, however, so 
delicately and exhaustively as by Mr. Henry 
James. In 1891 " Pierre Loti" (whose real name, 
of course, is Captain Louis Marie Julien Viaud) 
was elected a member of the French Academy. 
His candidature began in mischief, as we read in 
the Journal of Goncourt, and in jest it ended. His 
discours de reception may have been a very diverting 
document, but it could not be considered a wise 
one. The merry sailor had his joke, and lost his 
public — that is to say, not to exaggerate, he alien- 
ated the graver part of it. Since that time there 
has been a marked disposition in French criticism 



PIERRE LOTI 203 

to reduce Pierre Loti's pretentions, to insist upon 
"showing him his place." If the attention paid 
him before was excessive, so has been the neglect 
which has since been his portion. Neither the 
one nor the other has been perfectly sane ; neither 
one nor the other should prevent a foreign critic 
from endeavouring, from the vantage-ground of 
distance, to discover the place in contemporary 
literature held by an artist whose range is limited, 
but who possesses exquisite sensibilities and a rare 
faculty of notation. In the following pages I have 
successively examined the main publications of 
Pierre Loti since the crisis in his literary fortunes. 

Le Desert 

This is the first work of importance which 
Pierre Loti has published since he was made an 
Academician, for Fantome d' Orient exceeded the 
permission given to its author to be sentimental 
and languishing, while Maielot, in spite of certain 
tender pages, was distinctly below his mark. The 
disturbance caused by his surprising entry into the 
Mazarin Palace must now have passed away, for 
in his new book he is eminently himself again. 
This, at all events, is du meilleur Loti, and the 
patient readers of fifteen previous volumes know 
what that means. There is no more curious pheno- 
menon in the existing world of letters than the 
fascination of Loti. Here is a man and a writer 
of a thousand faults, and we forgive them all. He 
is a gallant sailor, and he recounts to us his 
timidities and his effeminacies ; we do not care. 



204 FRENCH PROFILES 

He is absolutely without what we call " taste " ; 
he exploits the weakness of his mother and the 
death-bed of his aunt ; it makes no difference to 
us. Irritated travellers of the precise cast say that 
he is inaccurate ; no matter. Moralists throw up 
their hands and their eyes at Aziyade and Chrysan- 
theme and Suleima ; well, for the moment, we are 
tired of being moral. The fact is, that for those 
who have passed under the spell of Loti, he is irre- 
sistible. He wields the authority of the charmer, 
of the magician, and he leads us whither he 
chooses. The critical spirit is powerless against 
a pen so delicately sensitive, so capable of play- 
ing with masterly effect on all the finer stops of 
our emotions. 

Even the sempiternal youth of Loti, however, is 
waning away, and we are sensible in Le Desert 
that the vitality of the writer is not what it was 
when he made his first escapades in Senegambia, 
in Montenegro, in Tahiti. Doubtless, the austerity 
of the theme excludes indiscretion ; there is little 
room for scandal in the monastery of Mount Sinai 
or in the desert of Tih. But the secret of the 
sovereign charm of Loti has always been the 
exactitude with which his writing has transcribed 
his finest and most fleeting emotions. He has 
held up his pages like wax tablets and has pressed 
them to his heart. This deep sincerity, not really 
obscured to any degree by his transparent affecta- 
tions, has given his successive books their poig- 
nancy. And he has always known how to combine 
this sincerity with tact, no living writer under- 
standing more artfully how to arrange and to 



PIERRE LOTI 205 

suggest, to heighten mystery or to arrest an 
indolent attention. Hence it would not be like 
him to conceal the advances of middle age, or to 
attempt to deceive us. We find in Le Desert a 
Loti who is as faithful to his forty-five years as 
the author of Le Roman dun Spahi was to his five- 
and-twenty. The curiosity in mankind, and in 
particular in himself, seems to have grown less 
acute ; the outlook on the world is clearer and 
firmer, less agitated and less hysterical. The 
central charm, the exquisite manner of expressing 
perfectly lucid impressions, remains absolutely 
unmodified. 

The book is the record of an expedition which 
occupied just four weeks. Armed with a safe- 
conduct from the powerful Seid, Omar El 
Senoussi El Hosni, at the end of February of 
last year, and in company of a noble friend 
whose name does not occur in his pages, although 
it constantly occupied the newspapers of Paris, 
Pierre Loti started from Cairo on his way to 
Palestine. His great design was to pass through 
the heart of Idumaea, by the route of Petra, it 
having been ten years since any European had 
crossed that portion of the desert. The sheik of 
Petra, it appears, is in revolt against both Turkey 
and Egypt, and has closed a route which in 
Stanley's day was open and comparatively easy. 
Loti was unable, as will be seen, to achieve his 
purpose, but a unique fortune befell him. In the 
meanwhile, he started by Suez, landing on the 
other side of the gulf, ascended Sinai, descended 
again eastward, reached the sea, and marched 



2o6 FRENCH PROFILES 

beside it up to the head of the bay, halting in 
that strange little town of Akabah, which repre- 
sents the Eziongaber of Scripture and the -^lama 
of the Crusaders. From this point he should 
have started for Petra ; but as that proved quite 
impossible, the expedition held a little to the west 
and proceeded north through the singular and 
rarely visited desert of Tih, the land of the 
Midianites and the Amalekites. On Good Friday 
they crossed the frontier of Palestine, and three 
days later dismounted in one of the most ancient 
and most mysterious cities in the world, Gaza of 
the Philistines, a land of ruins and of dust, a 
cluster of aged minarets and domes girdled by 
palm-trees. The book closes with the words, 
"To-morrow, at break of day, we shall start for 
Jerusalem." 

The sentiment of the desert has never been so 
finely rendered before. Without emphasis, in his 
calm, progressive manner, Loti contrives to plunge 
us gradually in the colour and silence and desola- 
tion of the wilderness. His talent for bringing up 
before the eye delicate and complicated schemes 
of aerial colour was never more admirably exer- 
cised. He makes us realise that we have left 
behind us the littleness and squalor of humanity, 
lost in the hushed immensity of the landscape. 
There are no crises in his narrative ; it proceeds 
slowly onward, and, by a strange natural magic 
in the narrator, we sweep onward with him. The 
absence of salient features concentrates our atten- 
tion on the vast outlines of the scene. As they 
left the shores of the Gulf of Suez, the travellers 



PIERRE LOTI 207 

quitted their European dress, and with it they 
seemed to have left the western world behind. 
Every night, as they camped in darkness, the 
granite peaks still incandescent about them, the 
air full of warm aromatic perfumes, they descended 
into a life without a future and without a past, 
into a dim land somewhere behind the sun and 
the moon. 

This is the class of impression which Pierre 
Loti is particularly fortunate in rendering. We 
turn from his pages to those of a traveller who 
was, in his own class, an admirable writer, a quick 
and just observer. Forty years before Loti set 
forth, Canon (afterwards Dean) Stanley attempted 
almost exactly the same adventure, and his " Sinai 
and Palestine " is still a classic. It is very instruc- 
tive to see how the same scenes struck two such 
distinct minds, both so intelligent and subtle, 
but the one a philosopher, the other an artist. 
One of the most singular spots on the earth's 
surface must be the desolate shore of the still 
more desolate Gulf of Akabah. This is how 
Stanley regarded it : — 

" What a sea ! what a shore ! From the dim 
silvery mountains on the further Arabian coast, 
over the blue waters of the sea, melting into 
colourless clearness as they roll up the shelly 
beach — that beach red with the red sand, or red 
granite gravel, that pours down from the cliffs 
above — those cliffs sometimes deep red, some- 
times yellow and purple, and above them all the 
blue cloudless sky of Arabia. Of the red sand 
and rocks I have spoken ; but, besides these, 



2o8 FRENCH PROFILES 

fragments of red coral are for ever being thrown 
up from the shores below, and it is these coralline 
forests which form the true ' weeds ' of this fan- 
tastic sea. But, above all, never did I see such 
shells. Far as your eye can reach you can see 
the beach whitening with them, like bleaching 
bones." 

This is eloquent, and Stanley is seldom so much 
moved. But how much broader is the palette on 
Loti's thumb, and how much more vivid is his 
fragment of the same landscape : — 

" L'ensemble des choses est rose, mais il est 
comme barr6 en son milieu par une longue bande 
infinie, presque noire a force d'etre intens^ment 
bleue, et qu'il faudrait peindre avec du bleu de 
Prusse pur legerement z6br6 de vert ^meraude. 
Cette bande, c'est la mer, I'invraisemblable mer 
d'Akabah ; elle coupe le desert en deux, nette- 
ment, crument ; elle en fait deux parts, deux 
zones d'une couleur d'hortensia, d'un rose exquis 
de nuage de soir, ou, par opposition avec ces 
eaux aux couleurs trop violentes et aux contours 
trop durs, tout semble vaporeux, indecis a force 
de miroiter et d'eblouir, ou tout 6tincelle de nacre, 
de granit et de mica, oii tout tremble de chaleur 
et de mirage." 

The analysis of such a passage as this, and it is 
not exceptionally remarkable, tends to show the 
reader what a singular, perhaps what an un- 
precedented gift Loti has for recording, with 
absolute precision, the shades and details of a 
visual effect. His travels in the desert, where 
there is scarcely anything but elementary forms 



PIERRE LOTI 209 

of light and colour to be seen, have given him an 
unparalleled opportunity for the exercise of a 
talent which is less frequent than we are apt to 
suppose, and which no recent French writer has 
possessed in equal measure. There are pages of 
Z^ Desert with which there is nothing in European 
literature, of their limited class, to compare, except 
certain of the atmospheric pictures in Fromentin's 
two books and in Modern Painters. How bad this 
sort of thing can be in clumsy hands, the gaudy 
sunsets of William Black remind us. We turn ia 
horror from the thought, and re-read the descrip- 
tions in Le Desert of morning and evening from 
the ramparts of the monastery on Mount Sinai, of 
the enchanted oasis of Oued-el-Ain, of the ceme- 
tery of Akabah at midnight. These, and a score 
more pictures, seem to pass in the very reality of 
vision before our eyes, as the author quietly rolls 
them out of the magic lantern of his journal. 

The lover of adventure will find nothing to 
excite him in Loti's panorama. The Bedouins 
were amiable and exacting, the expedition never 
lost its way, such dangers as threatened it proved 
merely to be mirages. If the travellers met a 
panther in a cave, it merely opened half a yellow 
eye ; if robbers hovered in the distance, they 
never came within rifle shot. Mr. Rider Haggard 
would make our flesh creep in a single paragraph 
more than the amiable French pilgrim does in his 
whole volume. In the deep and sonorous desert 
Loti went to seek, not a sword, but peace. One 
central impression remains with the reader, of a 
great empty red land, a silent Edom, red as when 

O 



2IO FRENCH PROFILES 

Diodorus Siculus described it two thousand years 
ago, unchanging in its dry and resonant sterility. 
Loti's book is simply the record of a peaceful 
promenade, on the backs of swaying dromedaries, 
across a broad corner of this vague and rose- 
coloured infinity. 

1895. 

Jerusalem 

In the midst of that persistent and maddening 
search for novelty which is the malady, and at the 
same time the absurdity, of our feverish age, there is 
present in most of us an instinct of a diametrically 
opposite nature. If no quarter of a century has 
ever flung itself against the brazen door of the 
future with so crazy a determination to break into 
its secrets, to know, at all hazards, what to-morrow 
is to be like, it is equally certain that no previous 
epoch has observed with so deep an attention the 
relics of the extreme past, nor listened with an ear 
bent so low for a whisper from the childhood of 
the world. The bustle of modern life cannot 
destroy our primal sense of the impressiveness of 
mystery, and nothing within our range of ideas is 
so mysterious as the life which those led who im- 
printed on the face of our earth indelible marks of 
their force two or even three thousand years ago. 
Of all the human forces which interest and perplex, 
those of the founders of religion overpower the 
imagination most. If we can discover on this 
earth a city which has been the cradle, not of one 
mode of faith, but of many modes, we may be 
sure that around the crumbling and defaced walls 



PIERRE LOTI 211 

of that city a peculiar enchantment must depend. 
There is but one such place in the world, and no 
processes of civilisation, no removal of barriers, no 
telegraphs or railways, can part the idea of Jeru- 
salem from its extraordinary charm of sacrosanct 
remoteness. The peculiar sentiment of Zion is 
well expressed for us in the volume which Pierre 
Loti has dedicated to it, a book which none 
of those who propose to visit the Holy Land 
should fail to pack away in their trunks. M. 
Loti is the charmer par excellence among living 
writers. To him in higher degree than to any one 
else is given the power of making us see the object 
he describes, and of flooding the vision in the true, 
or at all events the effective, emotional atmosphere. 
He has no humour, or at least he does not allow 
it to intrude into his work. To take up a book on 
the Holy Land, and to find it jocose — what an 
appalling thing that would be ! We fancy that 
Jerusalem is one of the few cities which Mark 
Twain has never described. May he long be 
prevented from visiting it ! A sense of humour is 
an excellent thing in its place ; but the ancient 
and mysterious cradles of religion are not its 
proper fields of exercise. Mr. Jerome's Three 
Men do very well in a Boat ; but it would require 
the temper of an archimandrite to sojourn with 
them in Jerusalem. M. Loti is never funny ; but 
he is pre-eminently sensitive, acute, and sym- 
pathetic. 

With most of us theidea of Jerusalem was founded 
in childhood. We retain the impression of a 
clean, brilliantly white city, with flat roofs and a few 



212 FRENCH PROFILES 

scattered domes, perched on the crag of a mountain, 
while precipices yawn below it and a broken desert 
spreads around. To enhance the whiteness of the 
shining town, the sky had usually been surcharged 
with tempest by the artist. We formed the notion 
that if we could climb to its neatly-fashioned gates 
and escape the terrors of the dark gulfs below, 
something very exquisite — above all, very fresh, 
trim, and lustrous — would reward us inside those 
strange ramparts. It is thus that Jerusalem appears 
to-day to hundreds of thousands of spiritual pil- 
grims. The hymns we sing and the sermons we 
listen to support this illusion. They confound the 
New Jerusalem with the old, and they suggest the 
serenity and beauty of broad white streets and 
saintly calm. Nothing could be falser to fact. 
The real Jerusalem is what Lord Chesterfield calls, 
in another sense, "a heterogeneous jumble of 
caducity." It is a city that has turned reddish 
with the concentrated dust of centuries. Under 
this coating of dust there lurk fragments of all the 
civilisations which have swept over it, one after the 
other, one in the steps of the other. 

This is the solemnising (even the terrifying) 
aspect of Jerusalem. Its composite monuments, 
in their melancholy abandonment, speak of the 
horrors of its historic past. Nowhere can this 
past be heard to speak more plainly than in the 
wonderful kiosk, covered with turquoise-coloured 
faience, which stands close to the Mosque of Omar 
in the Haram-esh-Cherif. M. Loti describes its 
double row of marble columns as a museum of 
all the debris of the ages. Here are Greek and 



PIERRE LOTI 213 

Roman capitals, fragments of Byzantine and of 
Hebrew architecture ; and among these compara- 
tively historic specimens there are others of a 
wild and unknown style, at the sight of which the 
imagination goes back to some forgotten art of the 
primitive Jebusites, the very nature of which is 
lost in the obscurity of remote time. It is the 
peculiarity of Jerusalem that, whilst nothing has 
been completely preserved, nothing has been 
wholly lost. Jealous religions have fought with 
one another for the possession of this rocky 
sanctuary which they all have claimed. None 
has entirely succeeded, and gradually all have 
settled down to an uneasy toleration, each scrap- 
ing away the dust and fashioning an altar for itself 
among cyclopean stones which were ancient in the 
days of Solomon, inside fortifications which Herod 
may have built over the place of martyrdom of 
some primitive and fabulous saint. 

At the very foot of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, 
where the path has crossed the Kedron and is just 
about to mount again towards Gethsemane, there 
is an extraordinary example of this sordid and 
multifarious sanctity. A melancholy mausoleum 
is seen, in the midst of which an ancient iron door 
admits to the Tomb of the Virgin, a church of the 
fourth century, which, for more than a thousand 
years, has been the theatre of incessant ecclesiastical 
battle. At the present moment the Western 
Churches are excluded from this singular con- 
venticle ; but the Greeks, the Armenians, the 
Syrians, the Abyssinians, the Copts, and even the 
Mahometans, make themselves at home in it. 



214 FRENCH PROFILERS 

The visitor enters, and is met by darkness and a 
smell of damp and mildew. A staircase, dimly 
perceived before him, leads down into the bowels 
of the earth, and presently introduces him to a 
church, which is more like a grotto than a human 
construction, and continues to sink lower as he 
proceeds. This strange cavern is dimly lighted by 
hundreds of gold and silver lamps, of extreme 
antiquity, hung from the low roof in wreaths and 
garlands. Within this agitating place, which is full 
of dark corners and ends of breakneck stairs that 
climb to nothing, five or six religions, each hating 
the rest, carry on simultaneously their ancient 
rituals, and everywhere there ascend discord of 
incoherent prayer and distracted singing, with 
candles waving and incense burning, processions 
in mediaeval brocades that disturb kneeling pilgrims 
in the green turban of Mecca ; a chaos of con- 
flicting religions humming and hurrying in the 
darkness of this damp and barbarous cavern. 
Nothing could give a stronger impression of the 
bewildered genius of Jerusalem. 

It was the privilege of M. Loti to be admitted to 
the arcane treasuries of the Armenian Church in 
Jerusalem, a privilege which, we understand him 
to say, no previous traveller has enjoyed. Under 
the special patronage of His Beatitude the 
Patriarch, and after a strange diplomatic enter- 
tainment of coffee, cigarettes, and a conserve of 
rose-leaves, the French writer was permitted to 
visit one of the oldest and most curious churches 
in Jerusalem. Its walls and all its massive pillars 
are covered with the lovely azure porcelain which 



PIERRE LOTI 215 

is the triumph of ancient Arabic art. The thrones 
of the Patriarchs are wrought in mosaics of 
mother-of-pearl of an almost prehistoric work- 
manship. From the roof hang golden lamps and 
ostrich- eggs mounted in silver, while the marble 
floors are concealed from view under thick Turkey 
carpets of extreme antiquity, faded into exquisite 
harmonies of yellow, blue, and rose-colour. It 
was in front of the high altar, in the midst of all 
this profusion of superb, archaic decoration, that 
pale priests, with clear-cut profiles and black silky 
beards, brought out to M. Loti one by one the 
pieces of their incomparable and unknown Treasure, 
— a missal presented nearly seven hundred years 
ago by a Queen of Cilicia, mitres heavy with 
emeralds and pearls, tiaras of gold and rubies, 
fairy-like textures of pale crimson, embroidered 
with lavish foliage of pearl-work, in which the 
flowers are emeralds and each fruit is a topaz. 
Then, by little doors of mother-of-pearl, under 
ancient hangings of velvet, through sacristies lined 
with delicate porcelain, the visitor was hurried from 
chapel to chapel, each stranger and more archaic 
than the last, while his conductor, as though 
speaking of the latest historical event which had 
come to his knowledge, loudly lamented the cruel- 
ties of that sacrilegious king Khosroes II. and the 
ravages he had committed in Jerusalem. 

This is an excellent specimen of the surprises that 
the sacred city reserves for pious visitors. It is a 
mass of decrepit fragments, a dust-heap of the reli- 
gions of centuries upon centuries, preserving here 
and there, under the mask of its affliction and its 



2i6 FRENCH PROFILES 

humiliation, folded away in its mysterious sanctu- 
aries, remnants of the beauty of the past so com- 
plete, so isolated, and so poignant, that the imagin- 
ation finds it almost painful to contemplate them. 
" Jerusalem, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least 
in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy 
peace ! But now they are hid from thine eyes." 

1895. 

La Galilee 

The trilogy of travel is now concluded with 
La Galilee. The completed work certainly forms 
the most picturesque description of the Holy Land 
and its surroundings which has yet been given to 
the world. We close this third volume with a 
sense of having really seen the places which had 
been a sort of sacred mystery to us from earliest 
childhood, Loti is a master of enchantment, and 
so cunningly combines the arts of harmony and 
colour in writing that he carries us, like St. 
Thomas, whither we would not. In other words, 
by the strange and scarcely analyzable charm of 
his style, he bewitches us beyond our better 
judgment. But a reaction comes, and we are 
obliged to admit that in the case of La Galilee 
it has come somewhat soon. 

It was only while reading this third volume 
that we became conscious that Pierre Loti was 
doing rather a mechanical thing. In Le Desert 
we were ready to believe that nothing but the 
fascination of wild places took him across the 
wilderness and up into that grotesque shrine of 



PIERRE LOTI 217 

Christianity that lurks among the fierce pin- 
nacles of Mount Sinai. In Jerusaletny led away 
by the pathos of the scene and the poignant 
grace of the pilgrim's reflections, we still per- 
suaded ourselves to see in him one who withdrew 
from the turmoil of the West that he might wor- 
ship among the dead upon Mount Moriah. But 
in La Galilee the illusion disappears. Loti crosses 
Palestine, embarks upon the Sea of Gennesaret, 
ascends Mount Hermon, winds down into the 
rose-oasis of Damascus, no longer as the insou- 
ciant and aristocratic wanderer, " le Byron de ncs 
jours," but as a tourist like ourselves, wrapped in 
a burnous, it is true, and not personally con- 
ducted by Messrs. Cook & Sons, yet not the 
less surely an alien, manufacturing copy for the 
press. He is revealed as the " special corres- 
pondent," bound, every night, however weary he 
may be, to " pan out " sufficient description to fill 
a certain space on the third page of the " Figaro." 
There is nothing dishonourable in being a 
special correspondent, nor is there a journalist 
living who might not envy Pierre Loti the sup- 
pleness and fluid felicity of his paragraphs. But 
this is not the light in which we have learned 
to know him. He has very carefully taught us 
to regard him as one to whom literature is 
indifferent, who never looks at a newspaper, 
whose impressions of men and manners are 
formed in lands whither his duties as a sailor 
have casually brought him, who writes of them 
out of the fullness of his heart, in easy exquisite 
numbers cast forth as the bird casts its song. We 



2i8 FRENCH PROFILES 

have had an idea that Loti never looks at a 
proof, that some comrade picks up the loose 
leaves as they flutter in the forecastle, and 
sends them surreptitiously to kind M. Calmann 
L6vy. When he is elected to the French 
Academy, he is the last to know it, and wonders, 
as he is rowed back from some Algerian har- 
bour, what his men are shouting about on 
board his ship. All this is the legend of Loti, 
and we have nourished and cherished it, but it 
will not bear the fierce light that beats upon La 
Galilee. We cannot pretend any longer; we 
cannot force ourselves to think of a romantic 
pilgrim of the sea, flung ashore at Aleppo and 
wandering vaguely up into the spurs of Carmel. 
Certainly not ! This is a Monsieur Loti who is 
travelling in the pay of an enterprising Parisian 
newspaper, does his work very conscientiously, but 
is sometimes not a little bored with it. 

The reader, who finds out. that he has been 
played with, grows captious and unjust. The 
result of discovering that Pierre Loti, notwith- 
standing the burnous and the Arab carpets, is 
nothing better than a glorified commis voyageur, 
has made us crusty. We are displeased that he 
should travel so fast, and be willing to scamper 
through the whole of " ce pays sacr6 de Galil " in 
six weeks. It is really no matter of ours whether 
he lingers or not, and yet we resent that he should 
push on as monotonously as any of the Cookites 
do, about whom he is so sarcastic. Our disgust 
invades us even when we read the famous descrip- 
tions ; we feel, not that they impressed themselves 



PIERRE LOTI 219 

irresistibly upon him, but that he went out for the 
purpose of making them, and made them as fast 
as he could. He becomes, to our affronted fancy, 
a sort of huge and infinitely elaborate photographic 
machine, making exquisite kodaks as his guides 
hurry him along. All this, we admit, is very 
unfair, but it exemplifies the danger of admitting 
the public too much into the works of the musical 
box. We find ourselves glancing back at our old 
favourites with horrid new suspicions. Was he 
paid so much a line to make love to his plaintive 
bride in Tahiti ? Did some newspaper engage 
him to pursue Aziyad^ so madly through the length 
and breadth of Stamboul ? Was the Press kept 
waiting while Tante Claire was dying ? These are 
hideous questions, and we thrust them from us, 
but Pierre Loti should really be made to realise 
that the romantic attachment which his readers 
bear him is a tender plant. He holds them 
because he is so wayworn and desolate, but if he 
read his Shelley he would learn that " desolation 
is a delicate thing." 

We would not be supposed to deny that La 
Galilee is full of pages which Loti only could write, 
pictures which he alone could paint. Here is a 
marvellous vignette of that sombre and sepulchral 
city of Nablous, so rarely visited by Christians, so 
isolated in its notorious bigotry, which an outrage 
on a small Protestant mission has just brought 
prominently before us. Here is Nazareth in 
twilight, with the moon flooding the boundless gulf 
of grasses that stretch from its rocky feet. Very 
impressive is the picture of the dead city of 



220 FRENCH PROFILES 

Tiberias, along whose solemn and deserted quays, 
once thronged with shipping, no vessel has been 
moored for centuries, looking down at the reflection 
of its crenelated walls in the tideless waters of 
Gennesaret. Beautiful, too, and " du meilleur Loti " 
is the description of the descent from the grey 
terraces of Hermon, to that miraculous oasis in 
the Idumean desert where Damascus lifts its rose- 
coloured minarets and domes out of pale-green 
orchards of poplars and pomegranates, beneath 
whose boughs the rivulets run sparkling over a 
carpet of iris and anemone. It is in forming 
impressions such as these, where no detail escapes 
the narrator's eye, and not a word is said too 
little or too much, that Pierre Loti asserts that 
supremacy as a master of description which no 
carelessness and no inconsistency can deprive him 
of. He has little pretension to being an intellectual 
force in literature, but as a proficient in this 
species of sensuous legerdemain he has had no 
rival, and is not likely soon to be surpassed. 

1896. 



Figures et Choses qui passaient 

It has long been the custom of Pierre Loti to 
gather together at intervals those short pieces of 
his prose which have not found their place in any 
consecutive fiction or record of travel. In the 
case of most authors, even of the better class, 
such chips from the workshop would excite but a 
very languid interest, or might be judged wholly 



PIERRE LOTI 221 

impertinent. All that Loti does, however, on 
whatever scale, is done with so much care and is 
so characteristic of him, that his admirers find 
some of their richest feasts in these his baskets of 
broken meat. The genuine Lotist is a fanatic, 
who can give no other reason for the faith that 
is in him than this, that the mere voice of this 
particular writer is an irresistible enchantment. 
It is not the story, or the chain of valuable 
thoughts, or the important information supplied 
by Pierre Loti that enthrals his admirers. It is 
the music of the voice, the incomparable magic of 
the mode in which the mournful, sensuous, exquisite 
observations are delivered. He is a Pied Piper, 
and as for his admirers, poor rats, as he pipes, 
they follow, follow. He who writes these lines is 
always among the bewitched. 

The convinced Lotist, then, will not be dis- 
couraged to hear that Figures et Choses qui passaientj 
which is the twentieth tune (or volume) which this 
piper has played to us, is made up entirely of bits 
and airs that seem to have lost their way from 
other works. On the contrary, it will amuse and 
stimulate him to notice that Passage cPEnfant 
suggests a lost chapter of Le Livre de la Pitie et de 
la Mott ; that Instant de Recueillement reads like a 
rejected preface to the novel called Ramuntcho ; 
that Passage de Sultan is a sort of appendix to 
Fantome d' Orient ; and that Passage de Carmencita 
forms a quite unexpected prelude to Le Mariage de 
Loti. But this at least may be said, that this beau 
gahier of literature, the fantastic and wayward 
sailor so signally unlike the kind of mariner 



222 FRENCH PROFILES 

(with a pigtail, and hitching up white ducks), 
who still continues to be our haunting mari- 
time convention — this complicated and morbid 
Alcade de la Mer who walks so uncompromis- 
ingly the quarter-deck of the French Academy, 
has never published a book which more tyranni- 
cally presupposes an acquaintance with all his 
previous works. But he knows our frailty ; and 
I will make a confession which may go to the 
heart of other Lotists. There is one piece in 
Figures et Choses which certainly ought never to 
have been written. I hope to screw up my 
courage, presently, to reprove it by name ; it is 
horrible, unseemly. But I have read every word 
of it, slowly, with gusto, as we read our Loti, 
balancing the sentences, drawing the phrases over 
the palate. It is a vice, this Lotism ; and I am not 
sure that there ought not to be a society to put 
it down. Yet if I were persuaded to sign a pledge 
never to read another page of Loti, I know that 
I should immediately break it. 

Yet Loti does everything which, according to 
the rules, he should not do. Passage d'Enfanty 
with which this volume opens, is a study such as 
no Englishman can conceive himself proposing to 
write. The author is in Paris, about some official 
business. He receives a letter and a telegram to 
say that a little boy of two years old, the child of 
a pair of his domestic servants at Rochefort, has 
suddenly died of croup. The resulting emotion 
is so capricious, so intimate, so poignant, that one 
would hardly be able to tell it, were it one's own 
experience, to one's most familiar friend. Pierre 



PIERRE LOTI 223 

Loti tells it to the world in full detail, without 
concealment of names or places or conditions, and 
with an absolute perfection of narrative. He 
weaves it into a sort of diatribe against " the stupid 
cruelty of death." He flies back to his home, he 
visits the little newly-made grave, he mingles his 
tears with those of the child's father, he recalls a 
score of pretty tricks and babblings. There seems 
to us English people a certain lack here of decent 
proportion or self-command. Yet these are local 
matters, and the standard of taste varies so much 
at different times in different countries that one 
hesitates to dogmatise. And besides, the whole 
thing is steeped in that distinguished melancholy 
beauty which redeems and explains everything. 

A large section of this new volume deals with 
the customs and landscape of that extreme corner 
of south-western France which the author has 
made his own during the years in which he has 
been stationed at the mouth of the Bidassoa. All 
these studies of the " Euskal-Erria," the primitive 
Basque Country, are instinct with the most grace- 
ful qualities of Pierre Loti's spirit. He has an 
exquisite instinct for the preservation of whatever 
is antique and beautiful, a superstitious conser- 
vatism pushed almost to an affectation. As he 
grows older, this characteristic increases with him. 
He has become an impassioned admirer of cathe- 
drals ; he is moved, almost to an act of worship, 
by sumptuous and complicated churches ; he bows 
a dubiously adoring knee at Loyola and at Burgos. 
He is very eager to take part in processions, he is 
active among crowds of penitents, he omits no 



224 FRENCH PROFILES 

item in the sensual parts of ritual, and is swayed 
almost to intoxication on the ebb and flood of 
mysterious and archaic incantations. The reader 
of his Jerusalem will recall how earnestly and 
how vainly Pierre Loti sought for a religious idea, 
or a genuine inspiration of any spiritual kind, 
among the shrines and waters of Palestine. Once 
more this unction is denied him. Doomed for 
ever to deal with the external side of things, the 
exquisite envelope of life, Loti, as time goes by, 
seems knocking with a more and more hope- 
less agitation at the door of the mystical world. 
But that which is revealed to children will never 
be exposed to him. It ought to be enough for 
Loti that he surpasses all the rest of his fellow- 
men in the perfection of his tactile apparatus. 
That which is neither to be seen, nor touched, 
nor smelled, nor heard, lies outside his province. 

But, within his province, what a magician he 
is ! Vacances de Pdques, apparently a cancelled 
chapter from Le Roman d'un Enfant, tells us how 
a certain Easter holiday was spent in Loti's child- 
hood, and how the days flew one after another, 
in the same cold rain, under the same black sky. 
The subject, mainly dealing with a neglected 
imposition and the dilatory labours of an idle 
schoolboy, seems as unpromising as possible, but 
the author's skill redeems it, and this little essay 
contains one page on the excessive colour of 
bright flowers under a grey or broken sky which 
ranks among the best that he has written. Pierre 
Loti is always excellent on this subject ; one re- 
collects the tiny blossoms that enamelled the floor 



PIERRE LOTI 225 

of his tent in Au Maroc. In the present volume, 
while he is waiting on the hill-side to join the 
procession winding far up the Pyrenees to Ron- 
cevaux, he notes the long rosy spindles of the 
foxgloves, lashed with rain, the laden campanulas, 
the astonishing and almost grotesque saxifrages 
torn and ravaged by the hail. And here and 
there a monotonous flush of red flowers — rosy 
moss-campions, rosy geraniums, rosy mallows — 
and from the broken stalks the petals flung in pink 
ribands across the delicate deep green mosses. 

An example of the peculiar subtlety of Loti's 
symbolism is afforded by the curious little study 
here called Papillon de Mite. In that corner of 
his house in Rochefort of which he has often told 
us, where all the treasures are stored up that he 
has brought home from his travels, the author 
watches a clothes-moth disengage itself from a 
splendid Chinese robe of red velvet, and dance in 
a sunbeam. Rapidly, rapidly, in the delirium of 
existence, this atom waves its wings of silken dust, 
describing its little gay, fantastic curves of flight. 
Loti strikes it carelessly to the ground, and then 
begins to wonder what it is that it reminds him 
of. Where had he once seen before in his life 
something " papillonnement gris pareil " which 
had caused him a like but a less transient melan- 
choly ? And he recollects — it was long ago, at 
Constantinople, on the wooden bridge that con- 
nects Stamboul and Pera. A woman who had 
lost both her legs was begging, while a little, grey, 
impassive child, with shrivelled hands, lay at her 
side. Presently the mother called the child to 

P 



226 FRENCH PROFILES 

come and have its small garment put on, when all 
at once it leaped from her hands and escaped, 
dancing about in the cold wind, and flapping the 
sleeves of its burnous-like wings. And it was of 
this poor child, soon exhausted, soon grey and 
immobile again, but for an instant intoxicated with 
the simple ecstasy of existence and motion, that 
Loti was reminded by the curves and flutterings 
of the clothes-moth. This is a wonderfully 
characteristic example of the methods of the 
author, of his refined sensibility, vivid memory 
for details, and fondness for poignant and subtle 
impressions of association. 

In Profanation — the study which I have dared 
to speak of with reprobation — I feel sure that 
he carries too far his theory that we may say any- 
thing if only we say it exquisitely enough and in 
the interests of pity. Loti's ideas of " taste," of 
reticence, are not ours ; he does not address an 
Anglo-Saxon audience. But the cases in which 
he offends against even our conventions are very 
few in Figures et Choses. I have left myself no 
space to speak of the vivid pictures of sports 
among the primeval Basque population — studies, 
one might conjecture them to be, for the book 
that afterwards became Ramuntcho. I can but 
refer, with strong commendation, to the amazing 
description of the sacred dance of the Souletins. 
The last one hundred pages of this enchanting 
volume are occupied by Trois Journees de Guerre, 
an exceedingly minute and picturesque report of 
the storming of the city of Hu6 in the Annam 
War of 1883. Unless I am mistaken, these notes 



PIERRE LOTI 227 

were originally sent home to some Parisian news- 
paper, where their publication gave great offence 
at the French Admiralty or War Office. Why it 
should do so, it is not easy after fifteen years of 
suppression to conceive. These Trots Joumees de 
Guerre en Atinam form one of the most admirably 
solid of all Pierre Loti's minor writings. They 
ought to be read in conjunction with the book 
called Propos d'ExiL 

1897. 

Ramuntcho 

In Ramuntcho Pierre Loti returns to the class 
of work which originally made him famous. It is 
eleven years since he published Pecheur d'Islande, 
the latest of his genuine novels, for we refuse to 
include among these the distressing sketch called 
Matelot. During this decade he has written much, 
and some of it, such as Fantome d' Orient, has taken 
a form half-way between fact and fiction ; the rest 
has been purely descriptive, culminating, or rather 
going to seed, in the rather empty volume called 
La Galilee. It is probable that Loti — who for 
a person who never reads anything (as he told the 
French Academy) is remarkably shrewd in feeling 
the pulse of literature — has become conscious that 
he must recover some lost steps of his position. 
After a considerable pause, then, he comes forward 
with a book which is not only one of the most 
attractive that he has ever written, but belongs to 
the class which the public particularly enjoys. In 
Ramuntcho the tribe of the Lotists recover the Loti 



228 FRENCH PROFILES 

that they like best, the Loti of Pecheur d'hlande 
and Le Roman d'un Spahi. Such a book as this, 
very carefully written in his best style by the 
most sensitive writer now living, is an event, and 
one on which to congratulate ourselves. 

The scene of Ramuntcho is the extreme south- 
western corner of France, between the Bay of 
Biscay and the Pyrenees, where the remnants 
of an ancient race speak their mysterious and 
unrelated Basque language, and live a life apart 
from the interests and habits of their fellow- 
countrymen. We are reminded of the Breton 
scenes in Mon Frere Yves, with their flashes of 
sunshine breaking through long spells of rain and 
mist ; and Ramuntcho, the hero of the book, is, 
indeed, a sort of Yves — less intelligent, less 
developed, carried less far into manhood, but with 
the same dumb self-reliance, the same unadulter- 
ated physical force, the same pathetic resignation 
as the scion of a wasting, isolated race. The 
landscape of the Basque country interpenetrates 
the whole fabric of the story ; we never escape 
from it for a moment. We move among grey 
hamlets, infinitely old, which are perched among 
great chestnuts, high up upon the terraces of 
mountain sides. On one hand the Bay of Biscay, 
with its troubled waters, never ceases to moan ; 
on the other, the tumultuous labyrinth of the 
Pyrenees, with its sinuous paths and winding 
streams, stretches interminably, obscure and threat- 
ening. In each of the sparse mountain villages 
two monuments of great antiquity hold the local 
life together ; one is the massive and archaic 



PIERRE LOTI 229 

church, often as soHd as a fortress ; the other is 
the fives-court, in which for generations past all 
the young men of the parish have tempered their 
muscles of steel, and become adepts in this national 
game of la pelote. 

Those who are familiar with the way in which 
the imagination of M. Loti works will have no 
difficulty in guessing the line he takes with such a 
landscape as this. Its inaccessibility to modern 
innovations, its secular decay, the gravity and 
dignity of its inhabitants, their poverty and in- 
dependence, their respect for physical beauty, their 
hardy activity — all these are qualities naturally 
fascinating to M. Loti, and he adds to a com- 
bination of these the peculiar melancholy, the 
sense of the inexorable " fallings from us, vanish- 
ings," of which he is so singular a master. Never 
has he been more pathetic, more deeply plunged 
in the consciousness that, as the Persian poet 
puts it, 

" The Stars are setting, and the Caravan 
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing." 

Never has he expended a greater wealth of melody 
and colour, never fused his effects into tones of 
rarer delicacy, than in this tale of smuggling, 
/>^/o/^-playing and courtship in a mountain village 
of the Basques. 

No injustice is done to the author of such a 
novel as this by giving an outline of his plot, for 
the mere story is primitive and simple ; it is in 
the telling that the art consists. The hamlet of 
Etchezar is the home of Franchita, a lonely 



230 FRENCH PROFILES 

woman, who, with one little son, Raymond or 
(in Basque) Ramuntcho, stole back thither some 
fifteen years before the tale opens, having been 
deserted by the man, an unnamed person of 
quality from Paris, whose mistress she had been 
in Biarritz. Ramuntcho grows up with a mixed 
temperament ; partly he is a Basque, stolid, im- 
penetrable, intensely local, but partly also he is 
conscious of cosmopolitan instincts, faint blasts of 
longing, like those which come to Arne in Bjorn- 
son's beautiful story, for the world outside, the 
au-dela, or, as Ramuntcho vaguely puts it, " les 
choses d'ailleursy In the village of Etch^zar, 
which mainly supports itself by smuggling, the 
widow Dolores is a prominent personage, with 
her intensely respectable past, her store of money, 
and the two beautiful children, her son Arrochkoa 
and her daughter Gracieuse. But she hates and 
despises the unfortunate Franchita, and scorns 
Ramuntcho. The latter youth, arriving at the 
maturity of seventeen years, and in close amity 
with Arrochkoa, is admitted into the secret fellow- 
ship of a most desperate and successful band of 
smugglers, who, under the guidance of Itchoua, a 
much older man, harry the frontier of Spain. 

The excursions of the smugglers give M. Loti 
opportunities for his matchless power in visual 
writing. The great scene in which, under the 
intoxication of the magical south wind, the band 
of desperados cross the shining estuary of the 
Bidassoa at sunrise, is superb. But still more 
striking are the pictures of home life in the village, 
the ceremonies and entertainments on All Saints 



PIERRE LOTI 231 

Day, scenes the theatres of which are the church 
and the pehfe-couri. In the national game — the 
Basque fives in excelsis — Ramuntcho becomes, as 
he approaches the age of eighteen, extremely 
skilful ; he and Arrochkoa, indeed, are the two 
champion players of the whole district, and are 
thus drawn into closer mutual friendship. And 
under the smile with which Gracieuse rewards his 
prowess at the game, an old affection for the sister 
of his friend is blown into a passion, which is 
returned, and would be avowed, but for the 
jealousy of old Dolores. The lovers are driven to 
innocent clandestine meetings on the stone bench 
under Dolores' house, or, upon moonlight nights, 
within the dense shadow of the chestnut trees. If 
there is any theme in which M. Loti delights, and 
to the delineation of which he brings his most 
delicate and sympathetic gifts, it is the progress of 
the passion of love in adolescence. Ramuntcho 
comes to Gracieuse from his perilous skirmishings 
with the Spanish Custom-house officers, and from 
long vigils which have brought him close to the 
very pulse of nature. I cannot refrain from 
quoting, in this connexion, one passage intimately 
characteristic of its author : — 

"Voici venir les longs cr^puscules pales de 
juin. . . . Pour Ramuntcho, c'est I'^poque ou la 
contrebande devient un metier presque sans peine, 
avec des heures charmantes : marcher vers les 
sommets, a travers les nuages printaniers ; franchir 
les ravins, errer dans des regions de sources et de 
figuiers sauvages ; dormir, pour attendre I'heure 
convenue avec les carabiniers complices, sur des 



232 FRENCH PROFILES 

tapis de menthes et d'oeillets. La bonne senteur 
des plantes impr^gnait ses habits, sa veste jamais 
mise qui ne lui servait que d'oreiller ou de 
couverture ; et Gracieuse quelquefois lui disait le 
soir : ' Je sais la contrebande que vous avez faite 
la nuit derni^re, car tu sens les menthes de la 
montagne au-dessus de Mendiazpi,' ou bien : ' Tu 
sens les absinthes du marais de Subernoa.' " 

This happy condition of things is brought to an 
end by the necessity in which Ramuntcho finds 
himself of opting for Spanish or French citizen- 
ship. If he chooses the latter, he must prepare 
for three years' absence on military duty before he 
can marry Gracieuse. He determines, however, 
that to accept his fate is the manly thing to do ; 
but hardly has he so decided, when an unexpected 
letter comes from an uncle Ignacio, in Uruguay, 
offering to adopt him if he will go out to America. 
The proposal comes too late, and he starts for his 
military service. Then the tragedy begins. He 
returns after his three years' absence to find his 
mother dying, and his Gracieuse vanished. The 
bitter old Dolores, after vainly thrusting a rich 
suitor upon her daughter, has driven her to take 
the veil, and she is now a nun in a little remote 
mountain-convent close to the Spanish frontier. 
Ramuntcho takes up the old wild life as a smuggler, 
but he cannot get the idea of Gracieuse out of 
his mind ; and at last, encouraged by Arrochkoa, 
he determines to make a raid on the convent, 
snatch Gracieuse from her devotions, and fly with 
her to Argentina. The two young men make 
an elaborate plan for a nocturnal rape of their 



PIERRE LOTI 233 

Iberian Sabine. But when they arrive at the 
peaceful, noiseless nunnery, and are hospitably 
received by the holy women, their ardour dies 
away. Gracieuse gives no sign of any wish to fly ; 
she merely says, when she hears that Ramuntcho 
is leaving the country, that they will all pray the 
Virgin that he may have a happy voyage. Intimi- 
dated by the sanctity of the life which it seemed 
so easy to break into as they talked about it late 
at nights over their chacoli, but which now seems 
impregnable, the lads go peaceably away, Arroch- 
koa sullenly to his nocturnal foray on the frontier, 
Ramuntcho with a broken heart to Bordeaux and 
Buenos Ayres. And so, with that tribute to the 
mutability of fortune which Loti loves, and 
with a touch of positive pietism which we meet 
with in his work almost for the first time — there 
was a hint of it m Jerusalem — this beautiful and 
melancholy book closes. We feel as we put down 
the volume more convinced than ever of the 
unique character of its author's talent, so evasive 
and limited, and yet within its own boundaries of 
so exquisite a perfection. It is a talent in which 
intellect has no part, but in which melody and 
perfume and colour combine with extraordinary 
vivacity to produce an impression of extreme and 
perhaps not quite healthy sensibility. 

1897. 



234 FRENCH PROFILES 

Les Derniers Jours de Pekin. 

It was a fortunate chance which sent to China, 
in the late autumn of 1900, the man in whom, 
perhaps more dehcately than in any other Hving 
person, are combined the gifts of the seeing eye 
and the expressive pen. The result is a book 
which, so far as mere visual presentment goes, 
may safely be said to outweigh the whole bulk of 
what else was sent home from the extreme East, 
in letters and articles to every part of the world, 
during that terrible period of storm and stress. 
Pierre Loti arrived when the fighting was over, 
when the Imperial family had tied, and when the 
mysteries of the hitherto inviolable capital of China 
had just first been opened to the Powers. He 
reaped the earliest harvest of strange and magni- 
ficent impressions, and he saw, with that incom- 
parably clear vision of his, what no European had 
seen till then, and much that no human being will 
ever see again. Moreover, after a long rest, the 
great artist, who had seemed in Jerusalem^ and still 
more in La Galilee, to have tired his pen a little, 
and to have lost something of his firm clairvoyance, 
has enjoyed a rest of several years. His style 
proclaims the advantage of this reserve. Loti is 
entirely himself again ; never before, not even in 
the matchless Fleurs d'Exil, has he presented his 
talent in a form more evenly brilliant, more splen- 
didly characteristic in its rich simplicity, than in 
Les Derniers Jours de Pekin. 

Pierre Loti arrived at Ning-Hai, on the Yellow 
Sea, in a French man-of-war, on October 3, and a 



PIERRE LOTI 235 

week later he started on a mission to Peking. His 
journey thither was marked by no very striking 
events, except his passage through the vast and 
deserted city of Tong-Tcheou, full of silence and 
corpses, and paved with broken porcelain. The 
horrors of this place might fill a niche in some 
eastern Inferno ; and they offer Loti his first oppor- 
tunity to exercise in China his marvellous gift for 
the reproduction of phenomena. We pass with 
him under the black and gigantic ramparts of 
Tong-Tcheou, and thread its dreadful streets under 
the harsh and penetrating light of Chinese autumn. 
The coldness, the dark colour, the awful silence, 
the importunate and crushing odour of death, these 
he renders as only a master can. The little party 
pursues its course, and on October 18, quite sud- 
denly, in a grim solitude, where nothing had been 
visible a few seconds before, a huge crenelated 
rampart hangs high above their heads, the discon- 
certing and grimacing outer wall of the Tartar city 
of Peking. 

We cannot follow the author through his intel- 
lectual adventures, on a scene the most mysterious 
and the most tragic in the modern world, where, 
it is true, the agony of movement had ceased, but 
where, in the suspense and hush, the mental ex- 
citement was perhaps even greater than it had been 
during the siege. Everywhere was brooding the 
evidence of massacre, everywhere the horror of 
catastrophe, in what had so lately been the most 
magnificent city in the world, and what was now 
merely the most decrepit. The author, by virtue 
of his errand and his fame, had the extreme good 



236 FRENCH PROFILES 

fortune to be passed from the ruined French Em- 
bassy, in and in, through the Yellow City and the 
Pink City, to the very Holy of Holies, the ultimate 
and mysterious shrine, never before exhibited or 
even described to a Western eye, where, above the 
fabulous Lake of Lotus, the Empress and the Em- 
peror had their group of secluded palaces. He 
was lodged in a gallery, walled entirely with glass 
and rice-paper, where marvellous ebony sculptures 
dropped in lacework from the ceiling, and where 
Imperial golden-yellow carpets, incredibly soft and 
sumptuous, rolled their dragons along the floor. 
Here the Empress, until a month or two before, 
had played the goddess among her great ladies in 
an indolent magnificence of flowers and satins and 
music. 

But, perhaps, more incalculable still was the 
little dark chamber, furnished with a deep austerity 
of taste, and faintly pervaded with an odour of tea, 
of withered roses and of old silks, where, on a low 
bed, the dark blue coverlid thrown hastily aside, 
no change had been made since the pale and timid 
Emperor, whose innermost lair this was, had risen, 
in a paroxysm of terror, to fly for his life into the 
darkness, into the unknown spaces, guided only 
by that fierce and wonderful woman, of whose per- 
sonal greatness everything that reaches us through 
the dimness of report merely seems to intensify 
our perception. 

It is impossible here to do more than indicate 
the fullness of the descriptive passages which 
throng this volume. All the scenes, by day and 
night, in the Pink City, with its ramparts the 



PIERRE LOTI 237 

colour of dried blood ; all the pictures of temples 
and pagodas, half-lost in groves of immemorial 
cedars, and stained, in their exquisite and precious 
beauty, by dust, and corruption, and neglect ; all 
the visits to sinister mandarins ; all the chiaroscuro 
of night, scented and twinkling, falling upon this 
foul and fairylike nightmare — all must be read in 
the author's own language. How concise that is, 
how unaffected, how competent to transfer to us 
the image strongly imprinted upon Loti's own 
delicately ductile vision, one extract must suffice 
to exemplify. It is the conclusion of the account 
he gives of his visit to the triple Temple of the 
Lamas, where all had been in contrast, in its colour 
of ochre and rust, with the rose-colour and golden 
yellow of purely Chinese state ornament : — 

" Ce dernier temple — le plus caduc peut-etre, le 
plus dejete, et le plus vermoulu — ne presente que 
la r6p6tition obs^dante des deux autres — sauf 
pourtant I'idole du centre qui, au lieu d'etre assise 
et de taille humaine, surgit debout, geante, im- 
pr^vue et presque effroyable. Les plafonds d'or, 
coup6s pour la laisser passer, lui arrivent a mi- 
jambe, et elle monte toute droite sous une espece 
de clocher dore, qui la tient par trop ^troitement 
emboit^e. Pour voir sa visage, il faut s'approcher 
tout contre les autels, et lever la tete au milieu des 
brule-parfums et des rigides fleurs ; on dirait alors 
une momie de Titan erig^e dans sa gaine, et son 
regard baiss^, au premier abord, cause quelque 
crainte. Mais, en la fixant, on subit d'elle un 
mal^fice plutot charmeur ; on se sent hypnotist 
et retenu la par son sourire, qui tombe d'en haul 



238 FRENCH PROFILES 

si d^tache et si tranquille, sur tout son entourage 
de splendeur expirante, d'or, et de poussiere, de 
froid, de crepuscule, de mines, et de silence." 

Pierre Loti's brief visit was paid just when the 
tide was turning. Even while he stayed in his 
fairy palace he noted the rapid recovery of Peking. 
The corpses were being buried out of sight, the 
ruins repaired, the raw edges of useless and 
barbarous destruction healed over. And now, 
after so short an absence, the mysterious Empress 
and her flock of mandarins are back once more, 
to restore as best they may their sparkling ter- 
races of alabaster and their walls of sanguine lac. 
Once more the secrets of the Pink City will fold 
their soft curtains around them, and that inscrut- 
able existence of ceremonious luxury resume its 
ancient course. Will any living Western man see 
again what Loti and his comrades saw in the 
winter of 1900? In one sense it is impossible 
that he should, since the adorable palace of the 
Empress, occupied by Field-Marshal von Walder- 
see, was burned down by accident in April 1901. 
But even what survives is only too likely to be 
hidden again for ever from European eyes, unless, 
indeed, another massacre of Christians throws it 
open to our righteous Vandalism. 

1902. 



SOME RECENT BOOKS OF 
M. PAUL BOURGET 

VOY AG BUSES 

The talent of M. Paul Bourget has but rarely 
consented to submit itself to that precision of 
form and rapidity of narrative which are necessary 
for the conduct of a short story. His novels, 
indeed, have been becoming longer and longer, 
and the latest, Un Crime d' Amour, had, we are 
bound to confess, such an abundance of reflec- 
tions and so little plot that it seemed to take us 
back to the days of Marivaux and Richardson. 
It was, therefore, a pleasant surprise to open 
M. Bourget's new volume, and discover that it is 
a collection of six independent stories, not one of 
them lengthy. The title, Voyageuses, is explained 
by a brief preface. These are tales of female 
travellers, whom the author has met (or feigns to 
have met) in the course of those restless perambu- 
lations of the world which he describes to us, 
every now and then, in his graceful "sensations." 
M. Bourget appears to us in Voyageuses in his very 
happiest vein, with least of his mannerism and 
most of his lucid gift of penetrating through action 
to motive. 

The first of these stories is also the most subtle 
and pleasing. " Antigone " is the name the 



240 FRENCH PROFILES 

author gives to a Frenchwoman whom he meets 
in Corfu. She is the sister of a deputy who has 
been attainted in the Panama scandal, and who 
still tries to be dignified in exile. This ignoble 
person affects complete innocence, and has de- 
ceived a noble Ionian burgher. Napoleon Zaffoni, 
into a belief in him, so that Zaffoni entrusts to 
him the MS. of a book, the work of his lifetime, 
on the history and constitution of the Ionian 
Islands. From this the deputy grossly plagiarises, 
and would be cast forth even from Corfu were he 
not protected by the fervent good faith of his 
sister, who, in spite of all his rogueries, persists 
in believing in him. His character is presently 
whitewashed in Paris, and he returns to the 
Chamber of Deputies triumphant, owing all to 
the long-suffering old maid whom he probably 
robs and upon whom he certainly tramples. 

We pass over to America in the somewhat fan- 
tastic tale called " Deux Manages." The author has 
been told in Paris that he must make the acquain- 
tance of Mrs. Tennyson R. Harris, who is " such " 
a bright, cultured woman with a " lovely " home 
at Newport. Unfortunately there is a husband, 
a common millionaire, without any conversation ; 
but one need take no notice of him. M. Bourget 
visits Mrs. Tennyson R. Harris, but finds her 
pretentious, scandalous and empty, and her lovely 
home a crazy shop of knick-knacks. But, on the 
other hand, he becomes deeply interested in the 
husband, a silent, down-trodden man, horribly 
overworked and beginning to suffer from " nerve- 
trouble." He is ordered south for rest, and in- 



M. PAUL BOURGET 241 

vites the author to come with him. At Thomas- 
ville, a fashionable watering-place in Georgia, they 
have a curious experience, which M. Bourget must 
be permitted to tell in his own words. 

We are next in Ireland, in the exquisite story 
called " Neptunevale." Two young Parisians of 
fashion, the one as empty-headed as the other, 
but, beneath their frivolity, deeply and mutually 
enamoured, receive soon after their marriage a 
singular legacy. It is nothing less than a small 
property on the west coast of Ireland, where an 
uncle of the hero's, having persisted against the 
wish of his family in marrying a governess, retired 
half a century ago in dogged determination of 
exile. The young people do not know what to do 
with this little white Irish elephant, except to sell 
it for as much cash as it would fetch. But they 
have a curiosity to see it first, and, utterly ignorant, 
they persuade M. Bourget, who " knows the 
language," to come over with them. Neptunevale 
— for that is the name of their uncle's home — 
lies on the coast of county Galway ; they have to 
get out at Oranmore station and drive to it. The 
arrival at the strange house, the reception of the 
French visitors by the old Irish servants, the way 
that the Celtic sentiment invades and engulfs the 
newcomers, so that at last they are afraid to sell 
the place at all, but find it exercising a curious 
fascination over them, an attraction half of terror 
and half of love — all this is described with extreme 
skill and delicacy. Nor can we fail to remark, 
with some degree of surprise as well as of admira- 
tion, how exactly M. Bourget, who can have but 

Q 



242 FRENCH PROFILES 

a slight and superficial knowledge of Ireland, has 
caught the note of Irish mysticism. There is a 
scene in which an old mad woman and a little 
boy sacrifice a cock, with horrid rites, to some 
dim Celtic deity, which is calculated to give Mr. 
Yeats himself a shiver. 

Much more conventional is "Charity de Femme," 
a story which I should be inclined to describe as 
insignificant, were it not that it contains an in- 
cident, very naturally and unexpectedly introduced, 
which illuminates it, as with a flash of lightning. 
The scene of this tale, moreover, is laid in the 
islands off the coast of Provence, a territory 
which seemed to belong till lately to Guy de 
Maupassant, and has since been annexed by M. 
Melchior de Vogu6. There is a vague sense in 
which we conceive that certain districts are the 
property of particular novelists, and resent the 
intrusion of others, unless the newcomers bring 
with them some very marked freshness of the 
point of view. This is wanting in " Charity de 
Femme." More striking is " Odile," which is com- 
posed, in point of fact, of two distinct episodes. 
In a Parisian drawing-room the author meets a 
strange Marquise d'Estinac, very distinguished, 
shy and mysterious, who invites him to take a 
drive with her in her carriage, for the purpose, 
as he afterwards divines, of enabling her to con- 
quer an otherwise irresistible tendency to suicide. 
He learns that she is extremely fond of her 
husband, who neglects her for a belle mondaine, 
Madame Justel. While the author is still bewil- 
dered at a circumstance which is unparalleled in his 



M. PAUL BOURGET 243 

career — for the companion of his drive refused to 
speak to him or look at him — he abruptly hears 
of the sudden and mysterious death of Madame 
d'Estinac. A couple of years afterwards, being 
at Maloja, he meets in the hotel there the Marquis, 
who has in the meantime married Madame Justel. 
A third person is of the party, Mademoiselle Odile 
d'Estinac, a girl of fourteen, the exact counterpart 
of her unfortunate mother. M. Bourget soon 
perceives that between this proud, reserved child 
and her new stepmother the relations are more 
than strained. He is witness to the insulting 
tyranny of the one, the isolation and despair of 
the other ; and the body of Odile is presently 
discovered in the tarn below the hotel. 

The longest and the most elaborated of these 
stories is the last, and it does not properly belong 
to them, for " La Pia " is no voyageuse, but a dweller, 
against her will, in the tents of Shem. This 
beautiful and extraordinary tale of a masterpiece 
stolen from the remote basilica of San Spirito in 
Val d'Elsa is one of the most effective examples 
we have met with of M. Bourget's method. It 
would be unfair to describe it fully, for while the 
five previous stories, of which we have given the 
brief outlines, depend exclusively for their effect 
on their execution, here the surprises of the plot 
have their adventitious value. The English 
readers of this volume will be inclined to see in 
it a curious tribute to an artist of our own race. 
It is hardly possible to believe that M. Bourget, 
who has always shown himself sensitive, as 
perhaps no other French writer of equal value, 



244 FRENCH PROFILES 

to exotic influences, has been an inattentive reader 
of Mr. Henry James's latest volumes, and, in par- 
ticular, of Embarrassments and Terminations. He 
remains, of course, essentially himself; but, as 
Guy de Maupassant in Notre Cceur was evidently 
trying his hand at an essay in the Bourget manner, 
so in "Antigone" and "La Pia" M. Bourget is dis- 
covered, so it seems at least to us, no less in- 
dubitably trying what he can produce with the 
pencils and two-inch square of ivory that are the 
property of Mr. Henry James. 
1897. 

La Duchesse Bleue 

The violence of public movements in France in 
1897 was so great as to produce an unusual 
scarcity in literary productions. In such a barren 
season, therefore, the fecundity of M. Paul Bour- 
get is remarkable. La Duchesse Bleue is the third 
volume which he has published this year, and it 
is one of the most solid and elaborate of his 
novels. But it is not quite new, although it is 
now given to the public for the first time in book 
form. Five years ago, if I remember right, the 
" Journal " applied to M. Bourget in great haste 
for a new novel, and he wrote, somewhat in a 
hurry and for that special purpose, a story called 
Trois Ames d Artistes. He was dissatisfied with it, 
and left it there in the lost columns of a daily 
newspaper, from which he has now redeemed it, 
taking the opportunity to revise, adapt and indeed 
rewrite it as La Duchesse Bleue. We are not sure 
that this is ever a very fortunate method of pro- 



M. PAUL BOURGET 245 

ducing a book, and, although the novel before us 
bears trace of extraordinary care and fastidious 
correction, it lacks that spontaneity which comes 
with work which has been run on right lines from 
its very inception. La Duchesse Bleue, let me 
admit at once, is not M. Bourget's masterpiece. 
But it possesses a dedication, which is some- 
thing of a literary event. The dedications of M. 
Bourget have always been a curious feature of his 
work. They are often, as in the present case, 
essays of some length and seriousness ; they 
frequently develop a theory or a philosophy of 
the ingenious writer's. On principle, we are 
adverse to such prefatory disquisitions. If an 
author, long after the date of original publication, 
likes to gossip to us about the mode in which the 
plot and place commended themselves to him, we 
are well pleased to listen. But to open a new 
novel, and to find that a critical or metaphysical 
essay divides us from the tale, is not, to our mind, 
a happy discovery. It tends to destroy the 
illusion ; it is, in its distinguished way, of the same 
order of obstacle as " this is a fact " of the very 
clumsy narrator. We begin by passing under a 
cold shower of scepticism ; the effort to believe 
in the story is vastly increased. The dedicatory 
prefaces of M. Bourget are peculiarly disillusion- 
ing. He talks in them so much about the crafts- 
man and the artist, so much about methods and 
forms ; in short, he takes the music-box to pieces 
before us so resolutely, that we start with a sense 
of artificiality. Even in these complex days, we 
like to pretend that we are sitting in a ring around 



246 FRENCH PROFILES 

the story-teller, under the hawthorn-tree, and that 
when he says, "There was, once upon a time," 
once upon a time there was. 

In the case before us we are, as usual, of 
opinion that the " dedication " is no help to the 
reader in giving him faith in the incidents about 
to be related to him, but it forms in itself an 
agreeable and suggestive piece of literature. It is 
addressed to Madame Matilde Serao, the Neapolitan 
novelist, whose astonishing II paese di Cuccagna, by 
the way, has been excellently translated out of the 
Italian by Madame Paul Bourget. M. Bourget 
has been reading this brilliant book, and he has 
felt, once more, what a chasm divides the crowded 
and animated scenes of Madame Serao from his 
own limited studies of psychological problems. 
Accordingly he writes a long letter to explain this 
to Madame Serao, and to remind her that in the 
house of the novel there are many chambers. 
The great central hall, no doubt, is that occupied 
by herself and Balzac, Zola and Tolstoi — and, we 
may add, by Fielding and Dickens — where an 
eager creative energy sets on their feet, and spurs 
to concerted action personages of every kind, in 
hundreds at a time. This prodigious power to 
crowd the canvas with figures belongs to Madame 
Serao alone among the living novelists of Italy. 
One has only to recollect how entirely it is want- 
ing to Gabriele d'Annunzio. It is a gift not to be 
despised ; it suggests a virility of intellect and a 
breadth of sympathy which are rewarded by a 
direct influence over a wide circle of readers. 
The success of such novels, in the hands of a great 



M. PAUL BOURGET 247 

artist, is not problematical, because they possess, 
obviously and beyond contradiction, what M. 
Bourget calls " le coloris de la vie en mouvement." 
If, however, this kind of scene-painting were 
the only species of fiction permitted, there are 
many novelists who could never earn their daily 
bread, and M. Bourget is one of them. Accord- 
ingly his flattering address to Madame Serao is 
merely the prelude to an ingenious apology for 
the painting of sentiments and emotions in the 
novel which analyses minute and fugitive im- 
pressions. This demands a closeness of texture 
and a strenuous uniformity of technical effort 
which are in themselves advantages, but which 
are with difficulty exercised in the huge world- 
romance. In the course of his essay M. Bourget 
pauses to express his warm admiration of Mr. 
Henry James, whom he takes as the first living 
exponent of this peculiarly intense and vivid 
manner of contemplating, as through a micro- 
scope, the movement of intellectual life. We 
cannot but record this fact with complaisance, 
since, in reviewing Voyageuses last year, we re- 
marked that, if it were possible to imagine that 
a prominent French writer could undergo the 
influence of an Anglo-Saxon contemporary, the 
transition which the style and attitude of M. 
Bourget are now undergoing would point to a 
deliberate study of Mr. James's manner. M. 
Bourget, in the dedication to La Duchesse Bleue, 
practically confesses that we were correct in 
what seemed our almost daring conjecture. He 
names Mr. James's volume called Terminations as 



248 FRENCH PROFILES 

the model which he has placed before himself in his 
recent treatment of problems of artistic psychology. 

The original name of the story before us was 
Trots Ames d' Artistes, as we have already said. M. 
Bourget explains that, on reflection, he thought 
this too ambitious a title. It was at least descrip- 
tive, whereas La Duchesse Bleue suggests nothing ; 
it proves upon examination to be the nickname of 
a part in a play in which the heroine made a 
success. M. Bourget has portrayed in this 
book three artistic temperaments set side by side. 
These are respectively those of a novelist and 
dramatist, an actress and a painter, and he has 
shown these three persons to us in a mutual crisis 
of tragical passion. Jacques Moran, the dramatist, 
has a play being acted, for the principal role in 
which a charming little actress, with a Botticelli 
face, Camille Favier, makes a great success ; the 
painter is Vincent la Croix, who tells the story. 
Moran is adored by Camille, but deserts her for a 
woman of fashion, Madame de Bonnivet, while 
Vincent, worked upon by his generous indignation 
at this treatment, fails to perceive through three 
hundred pages that he himself loves Camille, and 
might be loved in return. The plot is no more 
complicated than this, and we confess that it 
requires some respect for M. Bourget and some 
enthusiasm for the processes of the psychological 
novel to carry us through so long a book attached 
to so slender a thread of plot. 

Moran and Camille are entirely successful in 
life, Vincent la Croix is a failure in everything he 
touches, and the object of La Duchesse Bleue seems 



M. PAUL BOURGET 249 

to be to distinguish between the one race of artists 
which translates marvellously without itself experi- 
encing, and the other race which experiences with- 
out being able to translate. For a phrase to say on 
the boards, for a sentence to write in a book, the 
former class would sell their father or their mother. 
The moral of La Duchesse Bleue, in a nutshell, 
is that if we wish to keep our hearts tender and 
fresh, we must be content to be ourselves mediocre 
and obscure. The thesis is a not unfamiliar one. 
It occurred to the fiery spirit of Elizabeth Browning 
while she watched the great god Pan, down by 
the reeds in the river, " draw out the pith like the 
heart of a man." In the hypothesis of the French 
novelist, a love, a hatred, a joy, a sorrow, is to 
the really successful artist nothing more than so 
much manured earth out of which he can force 
the flower of his talent, that blossom of delicacy 
and passion, to perfect which he will not hesitate 
for a moment to kill in himself every true delicacy 
and every living emotion. It is not a pleasant 
theory, and the ugliness of it may help us who form 
the vast majority of men and women to bear with 
fortitude the mortifying fact thatwewere not born to 
be geniuses. But we think that M. Bourget makes 
a mistake in attributing this peculiarly inhuman 
hardness of heart exclusively to the artist of the 
highest class. We are afraid that our experience 
has led us to observe the vanity — which is really 
at the root of this moral deformity — in those who 
have nothing of genius in their nature except its 
fretfulness and its ferocity. 



250 FRENCH PROFILES 

Complications Sentimentales 

In reading M. Bourget's collection of short 
stories called Vqyageuses, we observed that he had 
quitted for a moment that perfumed atmosphere 
of the salon and the boudoir which he loves, and 
that he had consented to take us with him out 
into the fresh air. It was but an episode ; in Com- 
plications Sentimentales we find ourselves once more 
in the scented world of Parisian elegance, among 
those well-bred people of wealth, without occupa- 
tion, whose intrigues and passions M. Bourget has 
taught himself to analyse with such extraordinary 
precision. His new book consists of three tales, 
or short novels, one of which at least, " L'Ecran," 
might easily be expanded into the form of a com- 
plete work. These three stories deal with three 
critical conditions of the mind and temper of a 
woman. The first and second end in a moral 
tragedy : the third ends well, after excursions and 
alarms, and may be called a tragi-comedy of the 
soul. All three analyse symptoms of that disease 
which M. Bourget believes to be so widely dis- 
seminated in the feminine society of the day, " la 
trahison de la femme," deception under the guise 
of a bland and maiden candour. The heroines of 
the three stories are all liars : but while two of 
them are minxes, the third is a dupe. Admirers 
of that clever novel, MensongeSy will find themselves 
quite in their element when they read Complications 
Sentimentales. 

One of these three stories, " L'Ecran," is in its 
way a masterpiece. M. Bourget has never written 



M. PAUL BOURGET 251 

anything which better exempHfies his pecuHar 
quaUties, the insinuating and persistent force of his 
style, his preoccupation with delicate subtleties and 
undulations of feeling, the skill with which he 
renders the most fleeting shades of mental sensation. 
In " L'Ecran," moreover, he avoids to a remarkable 
degree that defect of movement which has seriously 
damaged several of his most elaborate books : 
which, for instance, makes Utie Idylle Tragique 
scarcely readable. His danger, like that of Mr. 
Henry James, whom he resembles on more sides 
than one, is to delay in interminable psychological 
reflections until our attention has betrayed us, and 
we have lost the thread of the story. This error, 
or defect, would seem to have presented itself as a 
peril to the mind of M. Bourget : for in his latest 
stories he is manifestly on his guard against it, and 
" L'Ecran," in particular, is a really excellent 
example of a tale told to excite and amuse even 
those who are quite indifferent to the lesson it 
conveys, and to the exquisite art of its delivery. 

In the month of June the Lautrecs and the Sar- 
lifeves, two aristocratic menages of Paris, come over 
to England to enjoy the London season, into the 
whirlpool of which they descend. But at almost 
the same moment arrives the Vicomte Bertrand 
d'Aydie, who is understood to nurse an absolutely 
hopeless and respectful passion for the sainted 
Marquise Alyette de Lautrec. This devotion is 
much " chaffed " in clubs and smilingly alluded 
to in drawing-rooms as pure waste of time, since 
the purity and dignity of Madame de Lautrec are 
above the possibility of suspicion. But Madame 



252 FRENCH PROFILES 

de Lautrec's dearest friend happens to be the 
Vicomtesse Emmeline de Sarlieve — a gay and 
amiable butterfly, of whom no one thinks seriously 
at all. Bertrand and Emmeline have, however, for 
some time past, carried on with complete immunity 
a liaison, under the shadow of their friendship for 
Alyette, fe'cran, the screen. Bertrand encourages 
the idea that he is throwing away a desperate 
passion on the icy heart of Alyette, when he is 
really planning with Emmeline rendezvous, which 
owe their facility to the presence of Alyette. The 
reader does not know M. Bourget if he is not by 
this time conscious that here are united all the 
elements for one of his most ingenious ethical 
problems. The visit of the quintette to London 
precipitates the inevitable catastrophe. M. Bour- 
get's sketch of our society is wonderfully skilful 
and entertaining, and Londoners will recognise 
some familiar faces, scarcely disguised under the 
travesty of false names. 
1899. 

Outre-Mer 

The author of Outre-Mer takes himself, as the 
phrase goes, rather seriously. He passes in New 
York and in Paris as a kind of new De Tocque- 
ville. We mean no detraction of his gifts, nor of 
the charm of his amusing volumes, when we say 
that they are not quite so important to an English 
as to a French or to an American audience. They 
are important in France, because M. Bourget 
is a highly accomplished public favourite, whose 
methods attract attention whatever subject he may 



M. PAUL BOURGET 253 

deal with, and whose mind has here been given to 
the study of a kind of life not familiar to Frenchmen. 
They are important in America, because America 
is greatly moved by European opinion, and must 
be flattered at so close an examination of her in- 
stitutions by an eminent French writer. But in 
England our contact with the United States is 
closer and more habitual than that between those 
States and France, while our vanity is not more 
stimulated by M. Bourget's study of America than 
by M. Loti's pictures of Jerusalem. To put it 
boldly, we know more and care less than the 
two main classes who will form the audience of 
Outre-Mer. 

Taking, then, this calmer standpoint, the feats 
of M. Bourget's sympathetic appreciation, and the 
deficiencies in his equipment, leave us, on the 
whole, rather indifferent. No book of this author 
has been so much talked of beforehand, or so 
ardently expected, as Outre-Mer, and we do not 
suppose that its two main bodies of readers will 
be at all disappointed. But no philosophical Eng- 
lishman will consider it the best of M. Bourget's 
books. He will, for example, be infinitely less 
pleased with it than he was with Sensations d'ltalte, 
a much less popular work. The fact is that in 
reading what the elegant psychologist has to say 
about America, " on y regrette," as he himself 
would say, " la douce et lente Europe." The 
reason of this is, that in dealing with certain super- 
ficial features of a vast and crude new civilisation, 
M. Bourget is a razor cutting a hone. The razor 
is amazingly sharp and bright, but it is not doing 



254 FRENCH PROFILES 

its proper business. M. Bourget is a subtle and 
minute analyst, whose gift it is to distinguish be- 
tween delicate orders of thought which are yet 
closely allied, to determine between new elements 
and old ones in survival, to provoke, with pro- 
fundity and penetration, long developments of 
reverie. He is at home in old societies and 
waning cities ; he is a master in the evocation 
of new lights on outworn themes. He is full of 
the nostalgia of the past, and he dreams about 
the dead while he moves among the living. It is 
obvious that such a writer is out of place in the 
study of a country that has no past, no history, 
no basis of death, a country where a man looks 
upon his grandfather as a historical character, and 
upon a house a hundred years old as a historical 
monument. What M. Bourget has done is extra- 
ordinarily clever and brilliant, but he was not the 
man to be set to do it. 

The conditions under which the work progressed 
were, though specious, not less unfavourable to 
its perfection. These notes, by a famous French- 
man, on the social life of America to-day, were 
prepared to appear first of all in an enterprising 
New York journal. That M. Bourget should ac- 
cept such a test proclaims his courage, and that 
he should, in the main, have endured the ordeal, 
his accuracy and care. It is none the less a shock 
to find the book dedicated, in a very clever pre- 
fatory epistle, to Mr. James Gordon Bennett, and 
to realise that before its impressions could be given 
to the world they had to pass through the mill of 
the New York Herald* The result is a book which 



M. PAUL BOURGET 255 

is beautifully written, and which, above all, gives 
the impression of being sincerely written — a book 
which contains many brilliant flashes of intuition, 
many just and liberal opinions, and some pictures 
of high merit, but which, somehow, fails to be 
philosophical, and is apt to slip between the stools 
of vain conjecture and mere reporter's work. A 
great deal which will be read with most entertain- 
ment in Outre-Mer — the description of Chicago, 
for instance, and the visit to the night-side of New 
York — is really fitted to appear in a daily news- 
paper, and then to be forgotten. It is very full 
and conscientious, but it is the production of a 
sublimated reporter, and there is precious little De 
Tocqueville about it. 

This, however, may be considered hypercritical. 
M. Bourget spent eight or nine months in the 
United States, with no other occupation than the 
collection of the notes from which these volumes 
are selected. He had all possible facilities given 
to him, and he worked in a fair and generous 
spirit. He was genuinely interested in America, 
interested more intelligently, no doubt, than any 
other recent Frenchman has been. It would have 
been strange if he had not written a book which 
repaid perusal. The faults of M. Bourget's style 
have always been over-elaboration and excess of 
detail. Here he has been tempted to indulge 
these frailties, and we cannot say that he is not 
occasionally tedious when he lingers upon facts 
and conditions obvious to all Englishmen who 
visit America. Hence, we like his book best where 
it gives us the results of the application of his 



256 FRENCH PROFILES 

subtle intellect to less familiar matters. All he has 
to say about the vitality of the Catholic Church 
in the United States is worthy of close attention. 
His interviews with Cardinal Gibbon and Arch- 
bishop Ireland are of material interest, and his 
notes on the socialistic tendencies of American 
Catholicism singularly valuable. No pages here 
are more graphic than those which record a visit 
to a Roman church in New York, and the sermon 
which the author listened to there. He was struck, 
as all visitors to America must be, with the absence 
of reverie, of the spiritual and experimental spirit, 
in the teaching and tendency of the Church of 
Rome in America, and with its practical energy, 
its businesslike activity and vehemence. In a few 
words M. Bourget renders with admirable skill 
that air of antiquity and Catholic piety which 
make Baltimore more like a city of Southern 
Europe than any other in the United States. In 
observation of this kind M. Bourget can always 
be trusted. 

As befits the inquiry of a Latin psychologist, 
the question of woman takes a very prominent 
part in the investigation of M. Bourget. On this 
subject what he has to say and what he has to 
admit ignorance of are equally interesting. He 
has to confess himself baffled by that extraordinary 
outcome of Western civilisation, the American 
girl, but he revenges himself by the notation of 
innumerable instances of her peculiarities and 
idiosyncrasies. On the whole, though she puzzles 
him, he is greatly delighted with her. We re- 
member hearing of the visit paid to Newport by 



M. PAUL BOURGET 257 

a young French poet of the Symbolists, who was 
well acquainted with the American language, but 
whose manners were all adjusted to the model 
of the Boulevard St. Michel. He made a dozen 
serious blunders, all of which were benignly for- 
given, before he settled down to some due recog- 
nition of the cold, free, stimulating and sphinx-like 
creature that woman is on the shores of America. 
M. Bourget is too much a man of the world, and 
has been too carefully trained, to err in this way, 
but his wonder is no less pronounced. He comes 
to the curious " r^sultat que le d^sir de la femme 
est demeur^ au second rang dans les preoccupa- 
tions de ces hommes." He considers, as other 
observers have done, that this condition of things 
can be but transitory, and that the strange apo- 
theosis of the American girl, with all that it pre- 
supposes in the way of reticence of manners, is 
but a transitory phase. He falls into an eloquent 
description of the American idol, the sexless 
woman of the United States, and closes it with a 
passage which is one of the most remarkable in 
his volumes : — 

" Cette femme peut ne pas Itre aim^e. Elle 
n'a pas besoin d'etre aimee. Ce n'est ni la volupt6 
ni la tendresse qu'elle symbolise. Elle est comme 
un objet d'art vivant, une savante et derni^re com- 
position humaine qui atteste que le Yankee, ce 
d^sesp^r^ d'hier, ce vaincu du vieux monde, a su 
tirer de ce sauvage univers 011 il fut jet6 par le 
sort toute une civilisation nouvelle, incarn^e dans 
cette femme-la, son luxe et son orgueil. Tout 
s'^claire de cette civilisation au regard de ces yeux 

R 



258 FRENCH PROFILES 

profonds, . . . tout ce qui est I'ld^alisme de ce 
pays sans Id^al, ce qui sera sa perte peut-etre, 
mais qui jusqu'ici demeure sa grandeur : la foi 
absolue, unique, systematique et indomptable dans 
la Volonte." 

With the West the author does not seem to 
have any personal acquaintance. In his chapter 
on " Cowboys " he tells some marvellous stories. 
We know not what to think of the vivacious anec- 
dote of the men who, weary to see some eminent 
emanation of the East, planned the kidnapping 
of Madame Sarah Bernhardt as she passed Green 
River on her way to the Pacific. The great actress 
had taken an earlier express, and was saved from 
her embarrassing captors. M. Bourget occupies 
nearly fifty pages with a " Confession of a Cow- 
boy," the source of which is very vaguely stated. 
All this, we must acknowledge, seems rather poor 
to us, and must have been collected at worse than 
second-hand. Those chapters, on the contrary, 
which deal with the South, are particularly fresh 
and charming. There is no sort of connection be- 
tween the close of the second volume, which deals 
with an excursion through Georgia and Florida, 
and the rest of the book, yet no one will wish this 
species of appendix omitted. The author gives an 
exceedingly picturesque and humorous picture of 
life in a Georgian watering-place, which he calls 
Phillipeville, where somebody or other is lynched 
every year. M. Bourget, as in duty bound, tells a 
spirited story of a " lynchage." He describes, too, 
in his very best style, the execution of a rebellious 
but repentant mulatto. 



M. PAUL BOURGET 259 

When our author proceeded still further South, 
he had not the good fortune to see such strik- 
ing sights, or to meet with so singular a popula- 
tion. But at Jacksonville, Florida, he was able, as 
nowhere else, to study the negro at home, and at 
St. Augustine he discovered to his delight a sort 
of Cannes or Monte Carlo of America, with its 
gardens of oranges and jasmine, its green oaks and 
its oleanders. He rejoiced, after his long inland 
wanderings, to see the ocean breaking on the reefs 
of Anastasia. Upon the whole, whether in the 
North or the South, M. Bourget has been pleased 
with the United States. He has recognised the 
two great defects of that country : its incoherence, 
and its brutality. He has recognised a factitious 
element in its cultivation, corruption in its politics, 
and a general excess in its activity. He delights 
in three typical American words, and discovers 
"puff," "boom," and "bluff" at every turn. He 
comes back to Europe at last with that emotion 
of gratitude which every European feels, however 
warmly he has been welcomed in America, and 
in however favourable a light American life has 
been shown to him. Yet he is conscious of its 
high virtues, its noble possibilities, and on the 
whole his picture of the great Republic, so care- 
fully and modestly prepared, so conscientiously 
composed, is in a high degree a flattering and 
attractive one. 

1895. 



26o FRENCH PROFILES 



L'Etape 

We are so little accustomed in England to the 
polemical novel, or, indeed, to the novel of ideas 
in any form, that it is difficult for us to realise the 
condition of mind which has led M. Bourget to 
fling himself into the arena of French politics with 
a romance which must give extreme offence to the 
majority of its possible readers, and which runs 
violently counter to the traditional complacency of 
French democratic life. It is probable that M. 
Bourget no longer cares very much whether he 
offends or pleases, and, doubtless, the more he 
scourges the many, the more he endears himself to 
the comparatively few. Here, in England, we are 
called upon — if only English people would com- 
prehend the fact — to contemplate and not to criti- 
cise the intellectual and moral idiosyncrasies of our 
neighbours. If we could but learn the lesson that 
a curious attention, an inquisitive observation into 
foreign modes of thought becomes us very well, 
but that we are not asked for our opinion, it would 
vastly facilitate our relations. In calling attention 
to M. Bourget's extremely interesting and powerful 
novel, I expressly deprecate the impertinence of 
our " taking a side " in the matter of its aim. We 
have our own national failings to attend to ; let 
us, for goodness' sake, avoid the folly of hauling 
our neighbours up to a tribunal of Anglo-Saxon 
political virtue. It should be enough for us that 
the phenomena which in France produce a Mon- 
neron on the one side and a Ferrand on the other 



M. PAUL BOURGET 261 

are very interesting. Let us observe them as closely 
as we can, but not hazard a decision. 

The title of M. Bourget's book would offer me 
a great difficulty if I were called upon to translate 
it, and I am not sure that a Frenchman will im- 
mediately understand what is symbolised by it. 
An etape is a stage, a station ; on briile I'e'tape by 
rushing through, without, as it were, stopping to 
change horses. Is, then, the theme of this book 
the stage, the day's march, as it were, which its 
over-educated peasant takes in passing over to 
Conservatism ? Does the Monnerons' fault consist 
in their having " burned " their etape in their too 
great hurry to cut a figure in society ? It is not 
until the final page 516 that we meet with the 
word and the image, even as we have to reach the 
last paragraph of Stendhal's masterpiece before we 
hear of the Chartreuse de Parme. Enough, then, 
that the subject of this £tape is the story of a family 
of peasants from the Ardeche, one of whom has 
received an education in excess of his fitness for 
it ; has become, in other words, a functionary and 
a bourgeois without the necessary preparation. It 
might be rash to suppose that so practised an 
author as M. Bourget would condescend to be 
influenced by a much younger writer, or else I 
should say that throughout this book I am con- 
strained to perceive the spirit of M. Maurice 
Barrds. The attitude of the writer of L'^tape has, 
at all events, become astonishingly identical with 
that of the author of Les De'racines, and to have 
read that extraordinary work will prepare a reader 
in many ways for the study of the novel before us. 



262 FRENCH PROFILES 

In both the one and the other it would, perhaps, 
be more critical to say that we see fructifying and 
spreading the pessimist influence of Taine. 

The uncomfortable and paradoxical condition of 
modern society in France is attributed by these 
writers of the school of Taine to the obstinate 
cultivation of political chimeras which have out- 
lived the excitement of the Revolution. The key- 
note to the attitude of modern democracy is 
conceived by M. Bourget to be hostility to the 
origins and history of the country. The good 
hero of the story, M. Ferrand (who is inclined, 
like all good heroes, to be a little oracular), re- 
minds the young socialist of a passage in Plato's 
Timceus where we are told that a most ancient 
priest of the temple of Sais warned Solon that the 
weakness of the Greeks was their possessmg no 
ancient doctrine transmitted by their ancestors, 
no education passed down from age to age by 
venerable teachers. It is this lack of authoritative 
continuity which M. Bourget deplores ; his view 
of 1789 is that it snapped the thread that bound 
society to the past, that it vulgarised, uprooted, 
shattered, and destroyed things which were essen- 
tial to national prosperity and to individual happi- 
ness. He thinks that one of these links still exists 
and can be strengthened indefinitely — namely, the 
Catholic religion. Therefore, according to M. 
Bourget, the first thing a Frenchman has to do 
is to abandon his ideology and his collectivism, 
which lead only to anarchical and incoherent 
forms of misery, and to humble himself before 
the Church, by the aid of which alone a whole- 



M. PAUL BOURGET 263 

some society can be rebuilt on the ruins of a 
hundred years of revolutionary madness. 

One is bound, however, to point out that if 
Taine's teaching can be interpreted in a re- 
actionary sense, there is nothing in his writings 
which seems to justify its being distorted for 
political and clerical purposes. I have endeavoured 
to summarise as fairly as possible what seem to 
be M. Bourget's views about "the lack of authori- 
tative continuity." But Taine is careful, in L'Ancien 
R^gimey precisely to insist that all the Revolution 
did was to transfer the exercise of absolute power 
from the King to a central body of men in Paris. 
Here was no breach of continuity ; it was merely 
a new form of precisely the same thing. M. 
Bourget, and those who act with him, seem to 
overlook completely the kernel of Taine's argu- 
ment, namely, that the Revolution was not a 
spontaneous growth, but the outcome of three 
centuries of antecedent events. The latest re- 
actionaries, I must confess, appear to me to intro- 
duce an element of wilful obscurity into a position 
which Taine left admirably clear and plain. 

Considered purely as a story, L'Etape is told 
with all M. Bourget's accustomed solidity and 
refinement. It has, moreover, a vigorous evolu- 
tion which captivates the attention, and prevents 
the elaboration of the author's analysis from ever 
becoming dull. The action passes in university 
society, and practically within the families of two 
classical professors at the Sorbonne. M. Ferrand, 
the Catholic, who is all serenity and joy, has a 
gentle, lovely daughter, Brigitte. She is courted 



264 FRENCH PROFILES 

by Jean, the eldest son of M. Monneron, who has 
the misfortune to be a Republican and a Drey- 
fusard, and everything, in fact, which is sinister 
and fatal in the eyes of M. Bourget. Brigitte will 
not marry Jean Monneron unless he consents to 
become a Catholic, and the intrigue of the novel 
proceeds, with alarming abruptness, during the 
days in which Jean is making up his mind to take 
the leap. Terrible things happen to the agitated 
members of the Monneron family — things which 
lead them to forgery and attempted murder — and 
all on account of their deplorable political opinions, 
while the happy and virtuous Ferrands sit up aloft, 
in the purity of their reaction, and, ultimately, as 
it happens, take care of the life of poor Jean. Told 
baldly thus, or rather not told at all, but sum- 
marised, the plot seems preposterous ; and it 
cannot, I think, be denied that it is in some 
degree mechanical. Is not this a fault to which 
those novelists in France who throw in their lot 
with the disciples of Balzac are peculiarly liable ? 

Plot, however, in our trivial sense, is the least 
matter about which M. Bourget troubles himself. 
He is occupied with two things : the presentation 
of his thesis — we may almost say his propaganda 
— and the conduct of his personages when face to 
face in moments of exalted spiritual excitement. 
In the past, he has sometimes shirked the clash 
of these crises, as if shrinking a little from the 
mere physical disturbance of them. But he does 
not do so in VEtape, which will be found " awfully 
thrilling," even by the Hildas of the circulating 
libraries. In the study of the " Union Tolstoi," 



M. PAUL BOURGET 265 

which is a sort of Toynbee Hall, founded in the 
heart of Paris by Cremieu-Dax (a curious re- 
miniscence, whether conscious or not, of our own 
Leonard Montefiore), M. Bourget is led away by 
the blindness of his exclusive fanaticism. A lighter 
touch, a little of the playfulness of humour, would 
have rendered more probable and human this 
humanitarian club of Jews and Protestants and 
Anarchists and faddists, united in nothing but in 
their enmity to the ancient government and faith 
of France. And the ruin of the " Union Tolstoi " 
is shown to be so inevitable, that we are left to 
wonder how it could ever have seemed to flourish. 

The portraits in the book, however, are neither 
mechanical nor hard. The old Monneron, gentle, 
learned, and humane, but bound hand and foot by 
his network of political prejudices ; the impudent 
Antoine ; Julie, the type of the girl emancipated 
on Anglo-American lines, and doomed to violent 
catastrophe ; the enthusiastic and yet patient, fana- 
tical and yet tender millionaire socialist, Solomon 
Cr^mieu-Dax ; in a lesser degree the unfortunate 
Abb6 Chanut, who believes that the democracy 
can be reconciled to the Church — all these are 
admirable specimens of M. Bourget's art of por- 
traiture. The novel is profoundly interesting, 
although hardly addressed to those who run 
while they read ; but it must not be taken as 
a text-book of the state of France without a 
good deal of counteracting Republican literature. 
Yet it is a document of remarkable value and a 
charming work of art. 

1902. 



M. RENE BAZIN 

When I was young I had the pleasure of knowing 
a prominent Plymouth Brother, an intelligent and 
fanatical old gentleman, into whose house there 
strayed an attractive volume, which he forbade his 
grown-up son and daughter to peruse. A day or 
two later, his children, suddenly entering his library, 
found him deep in the study of the said dangerous 
book, and gently upbraided him with doing what 
he had expressly told them not to do. He replied, 
with calm good-humour, " Ah ! but you see I have 
a much stronger spiritual digestion than you have!" 
This question of the " spiritual digestion " is one 
which must always trouble those who are asked to 
recommend one or another species of reading to 
an order of undefined readers. Who shall decide 
what books are and what books are not proper to 
be read ? There are some people who can pasture 
unpoisoned upon the memoirs of Casanova, and 
others who are disturbed by The Idyls of the King. 
They tell me that in Minneapolis Othello is con- 
sidered objectionable ; our own great-aunts thought 
Jane Eyre no book for girls. In the vast compli- 
cated garden of literature it is always difficult to 
say where the toxicologist comes in, and what dis- 
tinguishes him from the purveyor of a salutary 
moral tonic. In recent French romance, every- 

366 



M. RENE BAZIN 267 

body must acknowledge, it is practically impossible 
to lay down a hard and fast rule. 

The object of this chapter, however, is not to 
decide how far the daring apologist can go in the 
recommendation of new French novel-writers, but 
to offer to the notice of shy English readers a par- 
ticularly " nice " one. But, before attempting to 
introduce M. Ren6 Bazin, I would reflect a moment 
on the very curious condition of the French novel 
in general at the present time. No one who ob- 
serves the entire field of current French literature 
without prejudice will deny that the novel is pass- 
ing through a period which must prove highly 
perilous to its future, a period at once of transition 
and of experiment. The school of realism or 
naturalism, which was founded upon the prac- 
tice of Balzac in direct opposition to the prac- 
tices of George Sand and of DumB.s pere, achieved, 
about twenty years ago, one of those violent vic- 
tories which are more dangerous to a cause than 
defeat itself. It was in 1880 that M. Zola pub- 
lished that volume of polemical criticism which 
had so far-reaching an effect in France and else- 
where, and which was strangely ignored in England 
— Le Roman Experimental. This was just the point 
of time at which the Rougon-Macquart series of 
socio-pathological romances was receiving its maxi- 
mum of hostile attention. M. Zola's book of criti- 
cism was a plausible, audacious, magnificently 
casuistical plea, not merely for the acceptance of 
the realistic method, but for the exclusion of every 
other method from the processes of fiction. It 
had its tremendous effect ; during the space of 



268 FRENCH PROFILES 

some five years the " romanciers naturalistes," with 
M. Zola at their head, had it all their own way. 
Then came, in 1885, La Terre, an object-lesson in 
the abuse of the naturalistic formula, and people 
began to open their eyes to its drawbacks. And 
then we all dissolved in laughter over the protest 
of the " cinq purs," and the defection of a whole 
group of disciples. M. Zola, like the weary Titan 
that he was, went on, but the prestige of naturalism 
was undermined. 

But, meanwhile, the old forms of procedure in 
romance had been dishonoured. It was not enough 
that the weak places in the realistic armour should 
be pierced by the arrows of a humaner criticism ; 
the older warriors whom Goliath had overthrown 
had to be set on their legs again. And it is not 
to be denied that some of them were found to be 
dreadfully the worse for wear. No one who had 
read Flaubert and the Goncourts, no one who had 
been introduced to Tolstoi and Dostoieffsky, could 
any longer endure the trick of Cherbuliez. It was 
like going back to William Black after Stevenson 
and Mr. Barrie. Even Ferdinand Fabre, the 
Thomas Hardy of the Cevennes, seemed to have 
lost his savour. The novels of Octave Feuillet 
were classics, but no one yearned for fresh imita- 
tions of Monsieur de Camors. Pierre Loti turned 
more and more exclusively to adventures of the 
ego in tropical scenery. Alphonse Daudet, after 
a melancholy eclipse of his fresh early genius, 
passed away. Even before the death of Edmond, 
the influence of the Goncourts, although still 
potent, spread into other fields of intellectual effort, 



M. RENE BAZIN 269 

and became negligible so far as the novel, pure 
and simple, was concerned. What was most note- 
worthy in the French belles-lettres of ten years ago 
was the brilliant galaxy of critics that swam into 
our ken. In men like MM. Lemaitre, Anatole 
France, Brunetiere and Gaston Paris, the intel- 
ligent reader found purveyors of entertainment 
which was as charming as fiction, and much more 
solid and stimulating. Why read dull novels when 
one could be so much better amused by a new 
volume of La Vie Litteraire ? 

In pure criticism there is now again a certain 
depression in French literature. The most brilliant 
of the group I have just mentioned has turned 
from the adventures of books to the analysis of 
life. But the author of L'Anneau cCAmethyste is 
hardly to be counted among the novelists. His 
philosophical satires, sparkling with wit and malice, 
incomparable in their beauty of expression, are 
doubtless the most exquisite productions proceed- 
ing to-day from the pen of a Frenchman, but 
L'Orme du Mail is no more a novel than Friend- 
ship's Garland is. Among the talents which were 
directly challenged by the theories of the natural- 
istic school, the one which seems to have escaped 
least battered from the fray is that of M. Paul 
Bourget. He stands apart, like Mr. Henry James 
— the European writer with whom he is in closest 
relation. But even over this delicious writer a 
certain change is passing. He becomes less and 
less a novelist, and more and more a writer of 
nouvelles or short stories. La Duchesse Bleue was 
not a roman, it was a nouvelle writ large, and in the 



270 FRENCH PROFILES 

volume of consummate studies of applied psy- 
chology {Un Homme d' Affaires), which reaches me 
as I write these lines, I find a M. Paul Bourget 
more than ever removed from the battle-field of 
common fiction, more than ever isolated in his 
exquisite attenuation of the enigmas of the human 
heart. On the broader field, M. Marcel Provost 
and M. Paul Hervieu support the Balzac tradition 
after their strenuous and intelligent fashion. It is 
these two writers who continue for us the manu- 
facture of the " French novel " pure and simple. 
Do they console us for Flaubert and Maupassant 
and Goncourt ? Me, I am afraid, they do as yet 
but faintly console. 

Elsewhere, in the French fiction with which the 
century is closing, we see little but experiment, 
and that experiment largely takes the form of 
pastiche. One thing has certainly been learned by 
the brief tyranny of realism, namely, that the mere 
exterior phenomena of experience, briefly observed, 
do not exhaust the significance of life. It is not 
to be denied that a worthy intellectual effort, a 
desire to make thought take its place again in 
aesthetic literature, marks the tentatives, often very 
unsatisfactory in themselves and unrelated to one 
another, which are produced by the younger nove- 
lists in France. These books address, it must never 
be forgotten, an audience far more cultivated, far 
less hide-bound in its prejudices, than does the 
output of the popular English novelist. It is diffi- 
cult to conceive of a British Huysmans translating, 
with the utmost disregard for plot, the voluptuous 
languors of religion ; it is even more difficult to 



M. RENE BAZIN 271 

conceive of a British Maurice Barres engaged, in 
the form of fiction, in the glorification of a theory 
of individuaUsm. It is proper that we should do 
honour to the man who writes and to the public 
that reads, with zeal and curiosity, these attempts 
to deal with spiritual problems in the form of 
fiction. But it is surely not unfair to ask whether 
the experiment so courageously attempted is per- 
fectly successful ? It is not improper to suggest 
that neither La Cathedrak nor Les De'racine's is exactly 
to be styled an ideal novel. 

More completely fulfilling the classic purpose of 
the romance, the narrative, are some of the experi- 
mental works in fiction which I have indicated as 
belonging to the section of pastiche. In this class 
I will name but three, the Aphrodite of M. Pierre 
Louys, La Nichina of M. Hugues Rebell, and La 
Route d'J^meraude of M. Eugene Demolder. These, 
no doubt, have been the most successful, and the 
most deservedly successful, of a sort of novel in 
these last years in France, books in which the life 
of past ages has been resuscitated with a full sense 
of the danger which lurks in pedantry and in a 
didactic dryness. With these may be included the 
extraordinary pre-historic novels of the brothers 
Rosny. This kind of story suffers from two dan- 
gers. Firstly, nothing so soon loses its pleasur- 
able surprise, and becomes a tiresome trick, as 
pastiche. Already, in the case of more than one 
of the young writers just mentioned, fatigue of 
fancy has obviously set in. The other peril is a 
heritage from the Naturalists, and makes the dis- 
cussion of recent French fiction extremely difficult 



272 FRENCH PROFILES 

in England, namely, the determination to gain a 
sharp, vivid effect by treating, with surgical cool- 
ness, the maladies of society. Hence — to skate as 
lightly as possible over this thin ice — the difficulty 
of daring to recommend to English readers a single 
book in recent French fiction. We have spoken 
of a strong spiritual digestion ; but most of the 
romances of the latest school require the digestion 
of a Commissioner in Lunacy or of the matron in a 
Lock hospital. 

Therefore — and not to be always pointing to the 
Quaker-coloured stories of M. Edouard Rod — the 
joy and surprise of being able to recommend, 
without the possibility of a blush, the latest of all 
the novelists of France. It has been necessary, in 
the briefest language, to sketch the existing situa- 
tion in French fiction, in order to make appreciable 
the purity, the freshness, the simplicity of M. Ren6 
Bazin. It is only within the last season or two 
that he has come prominently to the front, although 
he has been writing quietly for about fifteen years. 
It would be absurd to exaggerate. M. Bazin is 
not, and will not be here presented as being, a 
great force in literature. If it were the part of 
criticism to deal in negatives, it would be easy to 
mention a great many things which M. Bazin is 
not. Among others, he is not a profound psy- 
chologist ; people who like the novels of M. 
El^mir Bourges, and are able to understand them, 
will, unquestionably, pronounce Les Noellet and La 
Sarcelle Bleue very insipid. But it is possible that 
the French novelists of these last five years have 
been trying to be a great deal too clever, that they 



M. RENE BAZIN 273 

have starved the large reading public with the 
extravagant intellectuality of their stories. Whether 
that be so or not, it is at least pleasant to have 
one man writing, in excellent French, refined, 
cheerful, and sentimental novels of the most ultra- 
modest kind, books that every girl may read, that 
every guardian of youth may safely leave about in 
any room of the house. I do not say — I am a 
thousand miles from thinking — that this is every- 
thing ; but I protest — even in face of the indignant 
Bar of Bruges— that this is much. 

Little seems to have been told about the very 
quiet career of M. Ren6 Bazin, who is evidently 
an enemy to self-advertisement. He was born at 
Angers in 1853, and was educated at the little 
seminary of Montgazon. Of his purely literary 
career all that is known appears to be that in 1886 
he published a romance. Ma Tante Giron, to which 
I shall presently return, which fell almost un- 
noticed from the press. It found its way, how- 
ever, to one highly appropriate reader, M. Ludovic 
Hal^vy, to whom its author was entirely unknown, 
M. Hal^vy was so much struck with the cleanliness 
and the freshness of this new writer that he recom- 
mended the editor of the " Journal des D^bats " to 
secure him as a contributor. To the amazement 
of M. Bazin, he was invited, by a total stranger, to 
join the staff of the " Debats." He did so, and for 
that newspaper he has written almost exclusively 
ever since, and there his successive novels and 
books of travel have first appeared. It is said that 
M. Hal^vy tried, without success, to induce the 
French Academy to give one of its prizes to Ma 

S 



274 FRENCH PROFILES 

Tante Giron. That attempt failed, but no doubt it 
was to the same admirer that was due the crowning 
of M. Ren6 Bazin's second story, Une Tache d'Encre. 
One can hardly doubt that the time is not far 
distant when M. Bazin will himself be in a posi- 
tion to secure the prizes of the Academy for still 
younger aspirants. This account of M. Bazin is 
meagre ; but although it is all that I know of his 
blameless career, I feel sure that it is, as Froude 
once said on a parallel occasion, " nothing to what 
the angels know." 

When we turn to M. Bazin's earliest novel. Ma 
Tante Giron, it is not difficult to divine what it was 
that attracted to this stranger the amiable author of 
L Abbe Constantin and Monsieur et Madame Cardinal. 
It is a sprightly story of provincial life, a dish, as 
was wickedly said of one of M. Hal^vy's own 
books, consisting of nothing but angels served up 
with a white sauce of virtue. The action is laid 
in a remote corner of Western France, the Craonais, 
half in Vendue, half in Brittany. There are fine 
old sporting characters, who bring down hares at 
fabulous distances to the reproach of younger 
shots ; there are excellent cur^s, the souls of 
generosity and unworldliness, with a touch of 
eccentricity to keep them human. There is an 
admirable young man, the Baron Jacques, who 
falls desperately in love with the beautiful and 
modest Mademoiselle de Seigny, and has just 
worked himself up to the point of proposing, 
when he unfortunately hears that she has become 
the greatest heiress in the country-side. Then, 
of course, his honourable scruples overweigh his 



M. RENE BAZIN 275 

passion, and he takes to a capricious flight. Made- 
moiselle de Seigny, who loves him, will marry no 
one else, and both are horribly unhappy, until 
Aunt Giron, who is the comic providence of the 
tale, rides over to the Baron's retreat, and brings 
him back, a blushing captive, to the feet of the 
young lady. All comes well, of course, and the 
curtain falls to the sound of wedding bells, while 
Aunt Giron, brushing away a tear, exclaims, " La 
joie des autres, comme cela fait du bien ! " 

But Ma Tante Giron is really the least bit too 
ingenuous for the best of good little girls. Hence 
we are not surprised to find M. Bazin's next novel 
at the same time less provincial and less artless. 
It is very rare for a second book to show so 
remarkable an advance upon a first as Une Tache 
dEncre does upon its predecessor. This is a story 
which may be recommended to any reader, of 
whatever age or sex, who wishes for a gay, good- 
humoured and well-constructed tale, in which the 
whole tone and temper shall be blameless, and in 
which no great strain shall be put upon the intel- 
lectual attention. It is excellently carpentered ; it 
is as neatly turned-out a piece of fiction-furniture 
as any one could wish to see. It has, moreover, 
beyond its sentimental plot, a definite subject. In 
Une Tache dEncre the perennial hostility between 
Paris and the country-town, particularly between 
Paris and the professional countryman, is used, 
with excellent effect, to hang an innocent and 
recurrent humour upon. Fabian Mouillard, an 
orphan, has been educated by an uncle, who is a 
family lawyer at Bourges. He has been brought 



276 FRENCH PROFILES 

up in the veneration of the office, with the fixed 
idea that he must eventually carry on the profes- 
sion, in the same place, among the same clients ; 
he is a sort of Dauphin of the basoche, and it has 
never been suggested to him that he can escape 
from being his uncle's successor. But Fabian 
comes up to Paris, that dangerous city, hatred and 
fear of which have been most carefully instilled 
into him. He still continues, however, to be as 
good as gold, when a blot of ink changes the 
whole current of his life. He is engaged in com- 
posing a thesis on the Junian Latins, a kind of 
slaves whose status in ancient Rome offers curious 
difficulties to the student of jurisprudence. To 
inform himself of history in this matter he attends 
the National Library, and there, one afternoon, he 
is so unlucky (or so lucky) as to flip a drop of ink 
by accident on to a folio which is in act of being 
consulted by M. Flamaran, of the Academy of 
Moral and Political Sciences. M. Flamaran is a 
very peppery old pedant, and he is so angry that 
Fabian feels obliged to call upon him, at his 
private house, with a further apology. The fond 
reader will be prepared to learn that M. Flamaran, 
who is a widower, lives with a very charming 
daughter, and that she keeps house for him. 

The course of true love then runs tolerably 
smoothly. The virtuous youth without a profes- 
sion timidly woos the modest maiden without a 
mamma, and all would go well were it not for the 
fierce old solicitor at Bourges. M. Flamaran will 
give his daughter if Fabian will live in Paris ; but 
the uncle will accept no niece unless the young 



M. RENE BAZIN 277 

couple will settle in the country. The eccentric 
violence of M. Mouillard gives the author occasion 
for a plentiful exercise of that conventional wit 
about lawyers which never fails to amuse French 
people, which animates the farces of the Renaissance, 
and which finds its locus classicus in the one great 
comedy of Racine. There follows a visit to Italy, 
very gracefully described ; then a visit to Bourges, 
very pathetical and proper ; and, of course, the 
end of it all is that the uncle capitulates in snuff 
and tears, and comes up to Paris to end his days 
with Fabian and his admirable wife. A final con- 
versation lifts the veil of the future, and we learn 
that the tact and household virtues of the bride 
are to make the whole of Fabian's career a honey- 
moon. 

The same smoothness of execution, the same 
grace and adroitness of narrative, which render 
Une Tache d^Encre as pleasant reading as any one 
of Mr. W. E. Norris's best society stories, are dis- 
covered in La Sarcelle Bleue, in which, moreover, 
the element of humour is not absent. As a typical 
interpreter of decent French sentiment, at points 
where it is markedly in contrast with English 
habits of thought, this is an interesting and even 
an instructive novel. We are introduced, in a 
country-house of Anjou, to an old officer, M. 
Guillaume Maldonne, and his wife, and their young 
daughter, Th^rdse. With these excellent people 
lives Robert de K^r^dol, an old bachelor, also a 
retired officer, the lifelong friend of Maldonne. 
The latter is an enthusiastic ornithologist, and 
keeper of the museum of natural history in the 



278 FRENCH PROFILES 

adjoining country-town. His ambition is to pos- 
sess a complete collection of the birds of the 
district, and the arrival of Robert de Keredol is 
due to a letter inviting him to come to Anjou and 
bring his gun. He has just been wounded in 
Africa, and the invitation is opportune. He arrives, 
and so prolongs his visit that he becomes a member 
of the household : — 

'< Robert recovered, and was soon in a fit state 
to go out with his friend. And then there began 
for both of them the most astonishing and the 
most fascinating of Odysseys. Each felt some- 
thing of the old life return to him ; adventure, the 
emotion of the chase, the need to be on the alert, 
shots that hit or missed, distant excursions, nights 
beneath the stars. All private estates, princely 
domains, closed parks, opened their gates to these 
hunters of a new type. What mattered it to the 
proprietor most jealous of his rights if a rare 
woodpecker or butcher-bird was slaughtered ? 
Welcomed everywhere, feted everywhere, they 
ran from one end of the department to the other, 
through the copses, the meadows, the vineyards, 
the marshlands. Robert did not shoot, but he 
had an extraordinary gift for divining that a bird 
had passed, for discovering its traces or its nest, 
for saying casually, ' Guillaume, I feel that there 
are woodcock in the thickets under that clump of 
birches ; the mist is violet, there is an odour of 
dead leaves about it.' Or, when the silver Spring, 
along the edges of the Loire, wakens all the little 
world of clustered buds, he was wonderful in per- 
ceiving, motionless on a point of the shore, a ruff 



M. RENE BAZIN 279 

with bristling plumage, or even, posed between 
two alder catkins, the almost imperceptible blue 
Hnnet." 

It follows that this novel is the romance of 
ornithology, and in its pleasantest pages we follow 
the fugitive "humeur d'oiseau." To the local 
collection at last but one treasure is lacking. The 
Blue Teal (perhaps a relative of the Blue Linnet) 
is known to be claimed among the avifauna of 
Anjou, but Maldonne and K^r^dol can never come 
within earshot of a specimen. Such is the state of 
affairs when the book opens. Without perceiving 
the fact, the exquisite child Th^rese Maldonne has 
become a woman, and Robert de K^redol, who 
thinks that his affection for her is still that of an 
adopted uncle, wakens to the perception that he 
desires her for his wife. Docile in her inexperi- 
ence and in her maidenly reserve, Th^rese 
accustoms her mind to this idea, but at the death- 
bed of a village child, her prot6g6, she meets an 
ardent and virtuous young gentleman of her own 
age, Claude Revel, and there is love almost at first 
sight between them. 

In France, however, and especially in the pro- 
vinces, the advances of Cupid must be made with 
extreme decorum. Revel is not acquainted with 
M. Maldonne, and how is he to be introduced ? 
He is no zoologist, but he hears of the old col- 
lector's passion for rare birds, and shooting a 
squirrel, he presents himself with its corpse at the 
Museum. He is admitted, indeed, but with some 
scorn ; and is instructed, in a high tone, that a 
squirrel is not a bird, nor even a rarity. He 



28o FRENCH PROFILES 

receives this information with a touching lowHness 
of heart, and expresses a thirst to know more. 
The zoologist pronounces him marvellously igno- 
rant, indeed, but ripe for knowledge, and deigns 
to take an interest in him. By degrees, as a rising 
young ornithologist, he is introduced into the 
family circle, where Ker^dol instantly conceives a 
blind and rude jealousy of him. Th^rese, on the 
contrary, is charmed, but he gets no closer to her 
parents. It is explained to him at last by Th^rese 
that his only chance is to present himself as a 
suitor, with a specimen of the Blue Teal in his 
hands. Then we follow him on cold mornings, 
before daybreak, in a punt on the reedy reaches of 
the Loire ; and the gods are good to him, he pots 
a teal of the most cerulean blueness. Even as he 
brings it in, K^redol, an incautious lago, snatches 
it from him, and spoils it. But now the scales fall 
from everybody's eyes ; Ker^dol writes a long 
letter of farewell, and disappears, while Th^rese, 
after some coy raptures, is ceremoniously betrothed 
to the enchanted Claude Revel. It is not suggested 
that he goes out any longer, searching for blue 
teal, of a cold and misty morning. La Sarcelle 
Bleue is a very charming story, only spoiled a little, 
as it seems to me, by the unsportsmanlike violence 
of Robert de K^redol's jealousy, which is hardly 
in keeping with his reputation as a soldier and a 
gentleman. 

As he has advanced in experience, M. Rene 
Bazin has shown an increasing ambition to deal 
with larger problems than are involved in such 
innocent love intrigues as those which we have 



M. RENfi BAZIN 281 

just briefly analysed. But in doing so he has, 
with remarkable persistency, refrained from any 
realisation of what are called the seamy sides of 
life. In De Toute son Ame he attempted to deal 
with the aspects of class-feeling in a large pro- 
vincial town, and in doing so was as cautious as 
Mrs, Gaskell or as Anthony Trollope. This story, 
indeed, has a very curious resemblance in its plan 
to a class of novel familiar to English readers 
of half a century ago, and hardly known outside 
England. One has a difficulty in persuading 
oneself that it has not been written in direct 
rivalry with such books as Mary Barton and John 
Halifax, Gentleman. It is a deliberate effort to pre- 
sent the struggle of industrial life, and the contrasts 
of capital and labour, in a light purely pathetic and 
sentimental. To readers who remember how this 
class of theme is usually treated in France — with 
so much more force and colour, perhaps, but with 
a complete disregard of the illusions of the heart — 
the mere effort is interesting. In the case of De 
Toute son Ante the motive is superior to the execu- 
tion. M. Bazin, greatly daring, does not wholly 
succeed. The Latin temper is too strong for him, 
the absence - of tradition betrays him ; in this 
novel, ably constructed as it is, there is a certain 
insipid tone of sentimentality such as is common 
enough in English novels of the same class, but 
such as the best masters amongst us have avoided. 
True to his strenuous provinciality, M, Bazin 
does not take Paris as his scene, but Nantes. 
That city and the lucid stretches of the vast Loire, 
now approaching the sea, offer subjects for a series 



282 FRENCH PROFILES 

of accurate and picturesque drop-scenes. The 
plot of the book itself centres in a great factory, 
in the ateliers and the usines of the rich firm of 
Lemarie, one of the most wealthy and prosperous 
industrials of Nantes. Here one of the artisans is 
Uncle Eloi, a simple and honest labourer of the 
better class, who has made himself the guardian 
of his orphan nephew and niece, Antoine and 
Henriette Madiot. These two young people are 
two types — the former of the idle, sly, and vicious 
ne'er-do-well, the latter of all that is most indus- 
trious, high-minded and decently ambitious. But 
Henriette is really the illegitimate daughter of the 
proprietor of the works, M. Lemari6, and his son 
Victor is attracted, he knows not why, by a 
fraternal instinct, to the admirable Henriette. 
She is loved by a countryman, the tall and hand- 
some Etienne, reserved and silent. The works in 
Nantes are burned down, by the spite of Antoine, 
who has turned anarchist. Lemarie, the selfish 
capitalist, is killed by a stroke of apoplexy on 
hearing the news. His widow, a woman of deep 
religion, gives the rest of her life to good works, 
and is aided in her distributions by Henriette, who 
finds so much to do for others, in the accumula- 
tion of her labours for their welfare, that her own 
happiness can find no place, and the silent Etienne 
goes back to his country home in his barge. De 
Toute son Ame is a well-constructed book, full of 
noble thoughts ; and the sale of some twenty large 
editions proves that it has appealed with success 
to a wide public in France. But we are accus- 
tomed in England, the home of sensibility, to 



M. RENE BAZIN 283 

guard, with humour and with a fear of the absurd, 
against being swept away on the full tide of senti- 
ment, and perhaps this sort of subject is better 
treated by a Teutonic than by a Latin mind. At 
all events, De Toute son Ante, the most English of 
M. Bazin's novels, is likely to be the one least 
appreciated in England. 

A very characteristic specimen of M. Bazin's 
deliberate rejection of all the conventional spices 
with which the French love to heighten the flavour 
of their fiction, is found in the novel called Madame 
Corenttne, a sort of hymn to the glory of devoted 
and unruffled matrimony. This tale opens in the 
island of Jersey, where Madame Corentine L'H^r^ec 
is discovered keeping a bric-a-brac shop in St. 
Heliers, in company with her thirteen-year-old 
daughter, Simone. Madame L'H^r^ec is living 
separated from her husband, but M. Bazin would 
not be true to his parti pris if he even suggested 
that there had been any impropriety of moral con- 
duct on either side. On the contrary, husband 
and wife are excellent alike, only, unhappily, there 
has been a fatal incompatibility of temper, exacer- 
bated by the husband's vixen mother. Corentine 
was a charming girl of Perros in Brittany ; M. 
L'H^r^ec, a citizen of the neighbouring town of 
Lannion. Now he remains in Lannion, and she 
has taken refuge in Jersey ; no communication 
passes between them. But the child Simone longs 
to see her father, and she sends him a written 
word by a Breton sailor. Old Capt. Guen, 
Corentine's widowed father, writes to beg her to 
come to Perros, where her younger sister, Marie 



284 FRENCH PROFILES 

Anne, has married the skipper of a fishing-vessel. 
Pressed by Simone, the mother consents to go, 
although dreading the approach to her husband. 
She arrives to find her sister's husband, SulHan, 
drowned at sea, and the father mourns over two 
daughters, one of whom is a widow and the other 
separated from her man. But Sullian comes back 
to life, and through the instrumentality of little 
Simone, the L'Hereecs are brought together, even 
the wicked old mother-in-law getting her fangs 
successively drawn. The curtain falls on a scene 
of perfect happiness, a general " Bless ye, my 
children " of melodrama. 

There is a great deal of charming description in 
this book, both the Jersey and the Lannion and 
Perros scenes being painted in delightful colours. 
A great part of the novel is occupied with the 
pathos of the harvest of the sea, the agony of 
Breton women who lose their husbands, brothers 
and sons in the fisheries. Here M. Bazin comes 
into direct competition with a greater magician, 
with Pierre Loti in his exquisite and famous 
Pecheur d'Islande. This is a comparison which is 
inevitably made, and it is one which the younger 
novelist, with all his merits, is not strong enough 
to sustain. On the other hand, the central subject 
of the novel, the development of character in the 
frivolous and tactless but essentially good-hearted 
Corentine, is very good, and Simone is one of the 
best of M. Bazin's favourite "girlish shapes that 
slip the bud in lines of unspoiled symmetry." It 
is not possible for me to dwell here on Les Noellet, 
a. long novel about provincial society in the 



M. RENE BAZIN 285 

Angevin district of the Vendue, nor on Humble 
Amour, a series of six short stories, all (except 
Les Trots Peines d'un Rossigno/, a fantastic dream 
of Naples) dealing with Breton life, because I 
must push on to a consideration of a much more 
important work. 

The most successful, and I think the best, of M. 
Ren6 Bazin's books, is the latest. When La Terre 
qui Meurt was published in 1899, there were not a 
few critics who said that here at last was a really 
great novel. There is no doubt, at all events, that 
the novelist has found a subject worthy of the 
highest talent. That subject briefly is the draining 
of the village by the city. He takes, in La Terre 
qui Meurt, the agricultural class, and shows how 
the towns, with their offices, caf6s, railway stations 
and shops, are tempting it away from the farms, 
and how, under the pressure of imported produce, 
the land itself, the ancient, free prerogative of 
France, the inalienable and faithful soil, is dying 
of a slow disease. To illustrate this heroic and 
melancholy theme, M. Bazin takes the history of a 
farm in that flat district occupying the north-west 
of the department of the Vendue, between the 
sandy shore of the Atlantic and the low hills of the 
Bocage, which is called Le Marais. This is a 
curious fragment of France, traversed by canals, a 
little Holland in its endless horizons, broken up by 
marshes and pools, burned hard in summer, floated 
over by icy fogs in winter, a country which, from 
time immemorial, has been proud of its great 
farms, and where the traditions of the soil have 
been more conservative than anywhere else. Of 



286 FRENCH PROFILES 

this tract of land, the famous Marais Vend^en, 
with its occasional hill-town looking out from a 
chalky island over a wild sea of corn and vines and 
dwarf orchards to the veritable ocean far away in 
the west, M. Bazin gives an enchanting picture. It 
may be amusing to note that his landscape is as 
exact as a guide-book, and that Sallertaine, Challans, 
St. Gilles, and the rest are all real places. If the 
reader should ever take the sea-baths at Sables 
d'Olonne, he may drive northward and visit for him- 
self "la terre qui meurt" in all its melancholy beauty. 
The scene of the novel is an ancient farm, 
called La Fromenti^re (even this, by the way, is 
almost a real name, since it is the channel of 
Fromentine which divides all this rich rnarsh-Iand 
from the populous island of Noirmoutiers). This 
farmstead and the fields around it have belonged 
from time immemorial to the family of Lumineau. 
Close by there is a chateau, which has always been 
in the possession of one noble family, that of the 
Marquis de la Fromenti^re. The aristocrats at the 
castle have preserved a sort of feudal relation to 
the farmers, as they to the labourers, the demo- 
cratisation of society in France having but faintly 
extended to these outlying provinces. But hard 
times have come. All these people live on the 
land, and the land can no longer support them. 
The land cannot adapt itself to new methods, new 
traditions ; it is the most unaltering thing in the 
world, and when pressure comes from without and 
from within, demanding new ideas, exciting new 
ambitions, the land can neither resist nor change, 
it can only die. 



M. RENE BAZIN 287 

Consequently, when La Terre qui Meurt opens, 
the Marquis and his family have long ceased to 
inhabit their chateau. They have passed away to 
Paris, out of sight of the peasants who respected 
and loved them, leaving the park untended and the 
house empty. Toussaint Lumineau, the farmer, 
who owns La Fromentiere, is a splendid specimen 
of the old, heroic type of French farmer, a man 
patriarchal in appearance, having in his blood, 
scarcely altered by the passage of time, the pre- 
judices, the faiths, and the persistencies of his 
ancient race. No one of his progenitors has ever 
dreamed of leaving the land. The sons have 
cultivated it by the side of the fathers ; the 
daughters have married into the families of neigh- 
bouring farms, and have borne sons and daughters 
for the eternal service of the soil. The land was 
strong enough and rich enough ; it could support 
them all. But now the virtue has passed out of 
the land. It is being killed by trains from Russia 
and by ships from America ; the phylloxera has 
smitten its vineyards, the shifting of markets has 
disturbed the easy distribution of its products. 
And the land never adapts itself to circumstances, 
never takes a new lease of life, never " turns over 
a new life." If you trifle with its ancient, immut- 
able conditions, there is but one thing that the land 
can do — it can die. 

The whole of La Terre qui Meurt shows how, 
without violence or agony, this sad condition pro- 
ceeds at La Fromentiere. Within the memory of 
Toussaint Lumineau the farm has been prosperous 
and wealthy. With a wife of the old, capable 



288 FRENCH PROFILES 

class, with three strong sons and two wholesome 
daughters, all went well in the household. But, 
gradually, one by one, the props are removed, and 
the roof of his house rests more and more heavily 
on the old man's own obstinate persistence. What 
will happen when that, too, is removed ? For the 
eldest son, a Hercules, has been lamed for life by 
a waggon which passed over his legs ; the second 
son and the elder daughter, bored to extinction by 
the farm life, steal away, the one to a wretched 
post at a railway station, the other to be servant 
in a small restaurant, both infinitely preferring the 
mean life in a country town to the splendid solitude 
of the ancestral homestead. Toussaint is left with 
his third son, Andre, a first-rate farmer, and with 
his younger daughter, Rousille. In each of these 
the genuine love of the soil survives. 

But Andr6 has been a soldier in Africa, and has 
tasted of the sweetness of the world. He pines for 
society and a richer earth, more sunlight and a 
wider chance ; and, at length, with a breaking 
heart, not daring to confide in his proud old 
father, he, too, steals away, not to abandon the 
tillage of the earth, but to practise it on a far 
broader scale in the fertile plains of the Argentine. 
The eldest son, the cripple, dies, and the old 
Toussaint is left, abandoned by all save his younger 
daughter, in whom the heroic virtue of the soil 
revives, and who becomes mistress of the farm and 
the hope of the future. And happiness comes to 
her, for Jean Nesmy, the labourer from the Bocage, 
whom her father has despised, but whom she has 
always loved, contrives to marry Rousille at the 



M. RENfi BAZIN 289 

end of the story. But the Marquis is by this time 
completely ruined, and the estates are presently to 
be sold. The farms, which have been in his family 
for centuries, will pass into other hands. What 
will be the result of this upon the life at La 
Fromentiere ? That remains to be seen ; that 
will be experienced, with all else that an economic 
revolution brings in its wake, by the children of 
Rousille. 

A field in which M. Ren6 Bazin has been fer- 
tile almost from the first has been the publication 
in the " D6bats," and afterwards in book-form, of 
short, picturesque studies of foreign landscape, 
manners and accomplishment. He began with A 
fAventure, a volume of sketches of modern Italian 
life, which he expanded a few years later in Les 
Italiens dAujourd'hui. Perhaps the best of all these 
volumes is that called Sicile, a record of a tour 
along the shores of the Mediterranean, to Malta, 
through the length and breadth of Sicily, north- 
ward along Calabria and so to Naples. In no book 
of M. Bazin's are his lucid, cheerful philosophy and 
his power of eager observation more eminently 
illustrated than in Sicile. A tour which he made 
in Spain during the months of September and 
October, 1894, was recorded in a volume entitled 
Terre cCEspagne. Of late he has expended the same 
qualities of sight and style on the country parts of 
France, the western portion of which he knows 
with the closest intimacy. He has collected these 
impressions — sketches, short tales, imaginary con- 
versations — in two volumes. En Province, 1896, 
and Croquis de France, 1899. In 1898 he accom- 

T 



290 FRENCH PROFILES 

panied, or rather pursued, the Emperor of Germany 
on his famous journey to Jerusalem, and we have 
the result in Croquis d'Orient. In short, M. Bazin, 
who has undertaken all these excursions in the 
interests of the great newspaper with which he is 
identified, is at the present moment one of the 
most active literary travellers in France, and his 
records have exactly the same discreet, safe and 
conciliatory qualities which mark his novels. 
Wherever M. Bazin is, and whatever he writes, 
he is always eminently sage. 

We return to the point from which we started. 
Whatever honours the future may have in store 
for the author of La Terre qui Meurty it is not to be 
believed that he will ever develop into an author 
dangerous to morals. His stories and sketches 
might have been read, had chronology permitted, 
by Mrs. Barbauld to Miss Hannah More. Mrs. 
Chapone, so difficult to satisfy, would have rejoiced 
to see them in the hands of those cloistered virgins, 
her long-suffering daughters. And there is not, to 
my knowledge, one other contemporary French 
author of the imagination who could endure that 
stringent test. M. Bazin's novels appeal to persons 
of a distinctly valetudinarian moral digestion. 
With all this, they are not dull, or tiresome, or 
priggish. They preach no sermon, except a broad 
and wholesome amiability ; they are possessed by 
no provoking propaganda of virtue. Simply, M. 
Bazin sees the beauty of domestic life in France, 
is fascinated by the charm of the national gaiety 
and courtesy, and does not attempt to look below 
the surface. 



M. RENfi BAZIN 291 

We may find something to praise, as well as 
perhaps something to smile at, in this chaste and sur- 
prising optimism. In a very old-fashioned book, 
that nobody reads now, Alfred de Musset's Confes- 
sion dun Enfant du Steele, there is a phrase which 
curiously prefigures the ordinary French novelist 
of to-day. " Voyez," says the hero of that work, 
" voyez comme ils parlent de tout : toujours les 
termes les plus crus, les plus grossiers, les plus 
abjects ; ceux-la seulement leur paraissent vrais ; 
tout le reste n'est que parade, convention et pr6- 
jug6s. Qu'ils racontent une anecdote, qu'ils ren- 
dent compte de ce qu'ils ont 6prouv6, — toujours 
le mot sale et physique, toujours la lettre, tou- 
jours la mort." What an exact prediction ; and 
it is to the honour of M. Bazin that all the faults 
of judgment and proportion which are here so 
vigorously stigmatised are avoided by his pure and 
comfortable talent. 



1901. 



M. HENRI DE REGNIER 

Les Jeux Rustiques et Divins 

The determination of the younger French writers 
to enlarge and develop the resources of their 
national poetry is a feature of to-day, far too 
persistent and general to be ignored. Until a 
dozen years ago, the severely artificial prosody 
accepted in France seemed to be one of the 
literary phenomena of Europe the most securely 
protected from possible change. The earliest 
proposals and experiments in fresh directions 
were laughed at, and often not undeservedly. 
No one outside the fray can seriously admit that 
any one of the early francs-tireurs of symbolism 
made a perfectly successful fight. But the num- 
ber of these volunteers, and their eagerness, and 
their intense determination to try all possible 
doors of egress from their too severe palace of 
traditional verse, do at last impress the observer 
with a sense of the importance of the instinct 
which drives them to these eccentric manifesta- 
tions. Renan said of the early Decadents that 
they were a set of babies, sucking their thumbs. 
But these people are getting bald, and have grey 
beards, and still they suck their thumbs. There 
must be something more in the whole thing 
than met the eye of the philosopher. When the 



M. HENRI DE R^GNIER 293 

entire poetic youth of a country such as France 
is observed raking the dust-heaps, it is probable 
that pearls are to be discovered. 

It cannot but be admitted that M. Henri de 
R^gnier has discovered a large one, if it seems 
to be a little clouded, and perhaps a little flawed. 
Indeed, of the multitude of experiment-makers and 
theorists, he comes nearest (it seems to me) to 
presenting a definitely evolved talent, lifted out 
of the merely tentative order. He stands, at this 
juncture, half-way between the Parnassians and 
those of the symbolists who are least violent in 
their excesses. If we approach M. de R^gnier 
from the old-fashioned camp, his work may seem 
bewildering enough, but if we reach it from the 
other side — say, from M. Rene Ghil or from 
M. Yvanho6 Rambosson — it appears to be quite 
organic and intelligible. Here at least is a writer 
with something audible to communicate, with a 
coherent manner of saying it, and with a definite 
style. A year or two ago, the publication of his 
Poemes Anciens et Romanesques raised M. de R^g- 
nier, to my mind, a head and shoulders above 
his fellows. That impression is certainly streng- 
thened by Les Jetix Rustiques et Divins, a. volume full 
of graceful and beautiful verses. Alone, among 
the multitude of young experimenters, M. de 
R^gnier seems to possess the classical spirit ; he 
is a genuine artist, of pure and strenuous vision. 
For years and years, my eloquent and mysterious 
friend, M. St6phane Mallarm^, has been talking 
about verse to the youth of Paris. The main 
result of all those abstruse discourses has been 



294 FRENCH PROFILES 

(so it seems to me) the production of M. Henri 
de R^gnier. He is the soHtary swallow that 
makes the summer for which M. Mallarm6 has 
been so passionately imploring the gods. 

M. Henri de R^gnier was born at Honfleur in 
1864, and about 1885 became dimly perceptible 
to the enthusiastic by his contributions to those 
little revues, self-sacrificing tributes to the Muses, 
which have formed such a pathetic and yet such 
an encouraging feature of recent French literature. 
He collected these scattered verses in tiny and 
semi-private pamphlets of poetry, but it was not 
until 1894 that he began to attract general atten- 
tion and that opposition which is the compliment 
time pays to strength. It was in that year that 
M. de R^gnier published Ardthuse, in which were 
discovered such poems as Peroratson : — 

" O lac pur, j'ai jete mes flutes dans tes eaux, 

Que quelque autre, h son tour, les retrouve, roseaux, 
Sur le bord pastoral oil leurs tiges sont ndes 
Et vertes dans I'Avril d'une plus belle Annee ! 
Que toute la foret referme son automne 
Mysterieux sur le lac pale ou j'abandonne 
Mes flfites de jadis mortes au fond des eaux. 
Le vent passe avec des feuilles et des oiseaux 
Au-dessus du bois jaune et s'en va vers la Mer ; 
Et je veux que ton icre ecume, 6 flot amer, 
Argente mes cheveux et fleurisse ma joue ; 
Et je veux, debout dans I'aurore, sur la proue, 
Saisir le vent qui vibre aux cordes de la lyre, 
Et voir, aupr^s des Sir^nes qui les attirent 
A I'dcueil ou sans lui nous naufragerions, 
Le Dauphin serviable aux calmes Arions." 

But the vogue of his melancholy and metaphysical 
poetry, with its alabastrine purity, its sumptuous 



M. HENRI DE RfiGNIER 295 

richness, began when the poet finally addressed the 
world at large in two collections of lyrical verse, 
entitled Poentes Anciens et Romanesques (1896) and 
Les Jeux Rustiques et Divins (1897), when it was 
admitted, even by those who are the most jealous 
guardians of the tradition in France, that M. Henri 
de R^gnier represented a power which must be 
taken for the future into serious consideration. 

It is scarcely necessary to remind ourselves, in 
reading Les Jeux Rustiques et Divins^ of the Mallar- 
mean principle that poetry should suggest and not 
express, that a series of harmonious hints should 
produce the effect of direct clear statement. In 
the opposite class, no better example can be 
suggested than the sonnets of M. de Heredia, 
which are as transparent as sapphires or topazes, 
and as hard. But if M. de Regnier treats the 
same class of subject as M. de Heredia (and he 
often does) the result is totally different. He pro- 
duces an opal, something clouded, soft in tone, and 
complex, made of conflicting shades and fugitive 
lights. In the volume before us we have a long 
poem on the subject of Arethusa, the nymph who 
haunted that Ortygian well where, when the flutes 
of the shepherds were silent, the sirens came to 
quench their thirst. We have been so long 
habituated, in England by the manner of Keats 
and Tennyson, in France by the tradition 6i the 
Parnassians, to more or less definite and ex- 
haustive portraiture, that at first we read this 
poetry of M. de Regnier without receiving any 
impression. All the rhythms are melodious, all 
the diction dignified and pure, all the images 



296 FRENCH PROFILES 

appropriate, but, until it has been carefully re-read, 
the poem seems to say nothing. It leaves at first 
no imprint on the mind ; it merely bewilders and 
taunts the attention. 

It is difficult to find a complete piece short 
enough for quotation which shall yet do no in- 
justice to the methods of M. de R6gnier ; but In- 
vocation Memoriale may serve our purpose : — 

" La main en vous touchant se crispe et se contracte 
Aux veines de I'onyx et aux nceuds de I'agate, 
Vases nus que I'amour en cendre a faits des umes ! 
O coupes tristes que je soup^se, une k une, 
Sans sourire aux beautes des socles et des anses ! 
O passe longuement ou je goute en silence 
Des poisons, des memoires acres ou le philtre 
Qu'avec le souvenir encor I'espoir infiltre 
Goutte k goutte puise k d'ameres fontaines ; 
Et, ne voyant que lui et elles dans moi-meme, 
Je regarde, la-bas, par les fenetres hautes, 
L'ombre d'un cypres noir s'allonger sur les roses." 

The studied eccentricity of the rhymes may be 
passed over ; if fontaines and meme, hautes and 
roses, satisfy a French ear, it is no business of an 
English critic to comment on it. But the dimness 
of the sense of this poem is a feature which we 
may discuss. At first reading, perhaps, we shall 
find that the words have left no mark behind 
them whatever. Read them again and yet again, 
and a certain harmonious impression of liquid 
poetic beauty will disengage itself, something 
more in keeping with the effect on the mind of 
the Ode to a Grecian Urn, or the close of the 
Scholar Gypsy, than of the purely Franco-Hel- 
lenic poetry of Andr6 Ch^nier or of Leconte 



M. HENRI DE RfiGNIER 297 

de Lisle. Throughout this volume what is pre- 
sented is a faint tapestry rather than a picture 
— dim choirs of brown fauns or cream-white 
nymphs dancing in faint, mysterious forests, 
autumnal foliage sighing over intangible stretches 
of winding, flashing river ; Pan listening, the pale 
Sirens singing, Autumn stumbling on under the 
burden of the Hours, thyrsus and caduceus flung 
by unseen deities on the velvet of the shaven 
lawn — everywhere the shadow of poetry, not its 
substance, the suggestion of the imaginative act in 
a state of suspended intelligence. Nor can beauty 
be denied to the strange product, nor to the poet 
his proud boast of the sanction of Pegasus : — 

" J'ai vu le cheval rose ouvrir ses ailes d'or 
Et, flairant le laurier que je tenais encor, 
Verdoyant k jamais hier comme aujourd'hui, 
Se cabrer vers le Jour et ruer vers la Nuit." 
1896. 

La Cite des Eaux 

It may be conceded that the publication of a 
new volume by M. Henri de R^gnier is, for the 
moment, the event most looked forward to in the 
poetical world of France. The great poets of an 
elder generation, though three or four of them 
survive, very rarely present anything novel to 
their admirers, and of the active and numerous 
body of younger writers there is no one, certainly 
among those who are purely French by birth, 
whose work offers so little to the doubter and the 
detractor as that of M. de R^gnier. He has been 
before the public for sixteen or seventeen years ; 



298 FRENCH PROFILES 

his verse is learned, copious, varied and always 
distinguished. Like all the younger poets of 
France, he has posed as a revolutionary, and 
has adopted a new system of aesthetics, and in 
particular an emancipated prosody. But he has 
carried his reforms to no absurd excess ; he has 
kept in touch with the tradition, and he has never 
demanded more liberty than he required to give 
ease to the movements of his genius. By the 
side of the fanatics of the new schools he has often 
seemed conservative and sometimes almost re- 
actionary. He has always had too much to say 
and too great a joy in saying it to be forever 
fidgeting about his apparatus. 

M. Henri de Regnier is much nearer in genius 
to the Parnassians than any other of his immediate 
contemporaries. If he had been born a quarter 
of a century earlier, doubtless he would be a 
Parnassian. In his earliest verses he showed him- 
self a disciple of M. Sully-Prudhomme. But that 
was a purely imitative strain, it would seem, since 
in the developed writing of M. de Regnier there is 
none of the intimate analysis of feeling and the 
close philosophic observation which characterise 
the exquisite author of Les Vatnes Tendresses. On 
the other hand, in M. de Heredia we have a Par- 
nassian whose objective genius is closely allied, on 
several sides, to that of the younger poet. The 
difference is largely one of texture ; the effects of 
M. de Heredia are metallic, those of M. de Regnier 
supple and silken. A certain hardness of outline, 
which impairs for some readers the brilliant 
enamel or bronze of Les Trophees is exchanged 
in Les Jeux Rustiques et Divins and Les Medailles 



M. HENRI DE R^GNIER 299 

d'Argile for a softer line, drowned in a more 
delicate atmosphere. This does not prevent M. 
de Heredia and M. de R^gnier from being the 
poets in whom the old and the new school take 
hands, and in whom the historical transition may 
be most advantageously studied. 

La Cite des Eaux emphasises the conservative 
rather than the revolutionary tendencies of the 
writer. In two closely related directions, indeed, 
it shows a reaction against previous movements 
made by M. de R^gnier somewhat to the discom- 
fort of his readers. In the poetry he was writing 
five or six years ago, he seemed to be com- 
pletely subdued by two enchanting but extremely 
dangerous sirens of style, allegory and symbol. 
Some of the numbers in Les Jeux Rustiques ei Divins 
were highly melodious, indeed, and full of colour, 
but so allusive and remote, so determined always 
to indicate and never to express, so unintelligible, 
in short, and so vaporous, that the pleasure of the 
reader was very seriously interfered with. The 
fascinating and perilous precepts of Mallarm^ 
were here seen extravagantly at work. If M. de 
R^gnier had persisted in pushing further and 
further along this nebulous path, we will not 
venture to say that he would soon have lost him- 
self, but he would most assuredly have begun to 
lose his admirers. We are heartily glad that in 
La Cite des Eaux he has seen fit to return to a 
country where the air is more lucid, and where 
men are no longer seen through the vitreous 
gloom as trees walking. 

M. de R6gnier builds his rhyme with deep and 
glowing colour. In this he is more like Keats 



300 FRENCH PROFILES 

than any other recent poet. Whether in the 
mysterious eclogues of antiquity which it used to 
please him to compose, or in the simpler and 
clearer pieces of to-day, he is always a follower 
of dreams. If the French poets were distinguished 
by flowers, as their Greek predecessors were, the 
brows of M. Henri de Regnier might be bound 
with newly-opened blossoms of the pomegranate, 
like those of Menecrates in the garland of Meleager. 
His classical pictures used to be extraordinarily 
gorgeous, like those in Keats's Endymion, purpureal 
and over-ripe, hanging in glutinous succession 
from the sugared stalk of the rhyme. They are 
now more strictly chastened, but they have not 
lost their dreamy splendour. 

The desolation of the most beautiful of Royal 
gardens has attracted more and more frequently 
of late the curiosity of men of imagination. It in- 
spired this year the fantastic and elegant romance 
of M. Marcel Batilliat, Versailles-aux-Fantomes. 
But it has found no more exquisite rendering 
than the cycle of sonnets which gives its name to 
the volume before us. M. de Regnier wanders 
through the pavilions and across the terraces of 
Versailles, and everywhere he studies the effect 
of its mossed and melancholy waters. He be- 
comes hypnotised at last, and the very enclosures 
of turf take the form of pools to his eyes : — 

" Le gazon toujours vert ressemble au bassin glauque. 
C'est le meme carre de verdure equivoque, 
Dont le marbre ou le buis encadrent I'herbe ou I'eau : 
Et dans I'eau smaragdine et I'herbe d'emeraude, 
Regarde, tour k tour, errer en ors rivaux 
La jaune feuille morte et la cyprin qui rode." 



M. HENRI DE RfiGNIER 301 

The vast and monumental garden stretches itself 
before us in these sonnets, with its invariable 
alleys of cypress and box, its porcelain dolphins, 
its roses floating across the wasted marble of its 
statues, the strange autumnal odour of its bos- 
cages and its labyrinths, and, above all, still 
regnant, the majestic and monotonous fafade of 
its incomparable palace. 

For English readers the matchless choruses of 
Empedocles said the final word in poetry about 
Marsyas, exactly fifty years ago. M. de R^gnier, 
who has probably never read Matthew Arnold, 
has taken a singularly parallel view of the story in 
Le Sang de Marsyas, where the similarity is increased 
by the fact that the French poet adopts a form of 
free verse very closely analogous to that used by 
Arnold in The Strayed Reveller and elsewhere. 
The spirited odes, called La Course and Pan, have 
the same form and something of the same Arnoldian 
dignity. The section entitled Inscriptions lues au 
Soir Tomhant — especially those lines which are 
dedicated to " Le Centaure Bless6 " — might have 
been signed, in his moments of most Hellenic 
expansion, by Landor. It is not an accident that 
we are so frequently reminded, in reading M. de 
R^gnier's poems, of the English masters, since he 
is a prominent example of that slender strain 
which runs through French verse from Ronsard 
to Andr6 Ch^nier, and on through Alfred de 
Vigny, where the Greek spirit takes forms of 
expression which are really much more English 
than Latin in their character. Of the purely 
lyrical section of this charming volume it is 



302 FRENCH PROFILES 

difficult to give an impression witliout extensive 
quotation. We must confine ourselves to a single 
specimen, entitled La Lune Jaune : — 

" Ce long jour a fini par une lune jaune 

Qui monte mollement entre les peupliers, 
Tandis que se repand parmi I'air qu'elle embaume 
L'odeur de I'eau qui dort entre les joncs mouilles. 

Savions-nous, quand, tous deux^ sous le soleil torride, 
Foulions la terre rouge et le chaume blessant, 

Savions-nous, quand nos pieds sur les sables arides 
Laissaient leurs pas empreints comme des pas de sang, 

Savions-nous, quand I'amour brulait sa haute flamme 
En nos coeurs d^chirds d'un tourment sans espoir, 

Savions-nous, quand mourait le feu dont nous brulames. 
Que sa cendre serait si douce k notre soir, 

Et que cet dpre jour qui s'acheve et qu'embaume 
Une odeur d'eau qui songe entre les joncs mouilles 

Finirait mollement par cette lune jaune 

Qui monte et s'arrondit entre les peupliers ? " 

1903. 

Les Vacances d'un Jeune Homme Sage 

M. Henri de R6gnier is one of the most dis- 
tinguished living poets of France. But in writing 
Les Vacances dun Jeune Homme Sage he has attacked 
a new province of literature, and has taken it by 
storm. M. de R^gnier has written several novels, — 
La Double Maitresse and Le Bon Plaisir in particular 
— which have aimed at reconstructing past eras of 
society. These books have been remarkable for 
their ethical insouciance, their rough and cynical 
disregard of prejudice. One has formed the im- 
pression that M. Henri de R^gnier's ambition was 
to be a poet like Keats grafted upon a novelist 



M. HENRI DE RfiGNIER 303 

like Smollett. And the novels, with all their 
vigour, were not quite what we sympathise with 
in this country. Curiously enough, without giv- 
ing us the least warning, M. de Regnier has written, 
in a mood of pure laughter, a refined little picture 
of real life in a provincial town of to-day. He is 
deliciously sympathetic at last. 

A boy (I beg his pardon — a young man) of 
sixteen, Georges Dolonne, has the misfortune to 
be plucked for his bachelor's degree at the Sor- 
bonne. This is due partly to his shyness, and 
partly to his pre-occupations, for he is very far 
indeed from being stupid. It is rather a serious 
check, however, but his mother in her clemency 
carries him away to the country for the holidays, 
to stay with his great-uncle and aunt at the little 
town of Rivray-sur-Vince. The story is simply a 
plain account of how Georges spent this vacation, 
but in the course of it every delightful eccentricity 
of the population of Rivray is laid bare. I can 
imagine no pleasanter figures to spend a few hours 
with than M. de la Boulerie, a decayed old noble- 
man with a mania for heraldry ; or comfortable 
obese Madame de la Boulerie, whose rich Avignon 
accent comes out in moments of excitement ; or 
Mademoiselle Duplan, the drawing-mistress, who 
wears a huge hat with feathers in the depths of her 
own home and dashes out every few moments to 
drive the boys from her espaliers ; or M. de la 
Vigneraie, coarse and subtle, with his loud voice and 
his pinchbeck nobility and his domestic subterfuges. 

Every one will laugh with these inhabitants of 
Rivray-sur-Vince, but English readers must be a 



304 FRENCH PROFILES 

little philosophical in order to appreciate young 
Master Georges. It is not a mere display of 
Podsnappery to find him curiously exotic to our 
ideas of decorous youth. But we ought to take 
a pleasure in him as a psychological specimen, 
although so very unlike those which flourish in 
our own collections. There is no cricket, of 
course, at Rivray-sur-Vince, and no base-ball ; 
Georges neither rides, nor shoots, nor even fishes. 
He smokes quantities of little cigarettes, and he 
takes walks, not too far nor too fast, and always 
on the shady side. In fact, the notion of physical 
exercise does not enter into his head. Notwith- 
standing this, Georges Dolonne is not a milksop 
or a muff ; he is simply a young French gentle- 
man in an immature condition. Mentally he is 
much more alert, much more adroit and astute, 
than an English boy in his seventeenth year would 
be, and the extremely amusing part of the book — 
that part, indeed, where it rises to a remarkable 
originality — is where the contrast is silently drawn 
between what his relations and friends believe 
Georges to be and insist upon his being, and the 
very wide-awake young person that he really is. 
The prominent place which the appearance and 
company of women take in the interests of a 
young Frenchman at an age when the English 
youth has scarcely awakened to the existence of 
an ornamental side to sex is exemplified very 
acutely, but with a charming reserve, in Les 
Vacances d'unjeune Homme sage. 

1904. 



FOUR POETS 

STEPHANE MALLARME 

In the midst of the violent incidents which 
occupied public attention during the month of 
September 1898 the passing of a curious figure 
in the literary life of France was almost un- 
observed. St^phane Mallarm^ died on the 9th at 
his cottage of Bichenic, near Vulaine-sur-Seine, 
after a short illness. He was still in the fulness 
of life, having been born i8th March, 1842, but he 
had long seemed fragile. Five or six years ago, 
and at a quieter time, the death of Mallarm6 
would have been a newspaper " event," for in the 
early nineties his disciples managed to awaken 
around his name and his very contemplative 
person an astonishing amount of curiosity. This 
culminated in and was partly assuaged by the 
publication in 1893 of his Vers et Prose, with a 
dreamy portrait, a lithograph of great beauty, by 
Mr. Whistler. Then Mallarm6 had to take his 
place among things seen and known ; his works 
were no longer arcane ; people had read He'rodiade, 
and their reason had survived the test. In France, 
where sensations pass so quickly, Mallarm^ has 
already long been taken for granted. 

It was part of his resolute oddity to call himself 
by the sonorous name of St^phane, but I have 

305 U 



3o6 FRENCH PROFILES 

been assured that his god-parents gave him the 
humbler one of Etienne. He was descended 
from a series, uninterrupted both on the father's 
and on the mother's side, of officials connected 
with the parochial and communal registers, and 
Mallarm6 was the quite-unexpected flower of this 
sober vegetation. He was to have been a clerk 
himself, but he escaped to England about 1862, 
and returned to Paris only to become what he 
remained, professionally, for the remainder of his 
life — a teacher of the English language. While 
he was with us he learned to cultivate a passion 
for boating ; and in the very quiet, unambitious 
life of his later years to steal away to his yole 
d'acajou and lose himself, in dreaming, on one of 
the tributaries of the Seine was his favourite, 
almost his only, escapade. In 1874 or 1875 he 
was in London, and then my acquaintance with 
him began. I have a vision of him now, the little, 
brown, gentle person, trotting about in Blooms- 
bury with an elephant folio under his arm, trying 
to find Mr. Swinburne by the unassisted light of 
instinct. 

This famous folio contained Edgar Poe's Raven, 
translated by Mallarm6 and illustrated in the most 
intimidating style by Manet, who was then still an 
acquired taste. We should to-day admire these 
illustrations, no doubt, very much ; I am afraid 
that in 1875, in perfidious Albion, they awakened 
among the few who saw them undying mirth. 
Mallarm^'s main design in those days was to 
translate the poems of Poe, urged to it, I think, 
by a dictum of Baudelaire's, that such a translation 



STfiPHANE MALLARME 307 

" peut etre un reve caressant, mais ne peut etre 
qu'un r^ve." Mallarm^ reduced it to reality, and no 
one has ever denied that his version of Poe's poems 
(1888) is as admirably successful as it must have 
been difficult of performance. In 1875 the Par- 
nasse Contemporain rejected Mallarm^'s first impor- 
tant poem, L! Apres-Midi (fun Faune^ and his revolt 
against the Parnassian theories began. In 1876 
he suddenly braved opinion by two " couriers of 
the Decadence," one the Faune, in quarto, the 
other a reprint of Beckford's Vaihek, with a pre- 
face, an octavo in vellum. Fortunate the biblio- 
phil of to-day who possesses these treasures, which 
were received in Paris with nothing but ridicule 
and are now sought after like rubies. 

Extraordinary persistence in an idea, and extra- 
ordinary patience under external discouragement, 
these were eminent characteristics of Mallarm6. 
He was not understood. Well, he would wait a 
little longer. He waited, in fact, some seventeen 
years before he admitted an ungrateful public again 
to an examination of his specimens. Meanwhile, 
in several highly eccentric forms, the initiated had 
been allowed to buy Pages from his works in 
prose and verse, at high prices, in most limited 
issues. Then, in 1893, there was a burst of 
celebrity and perhaps of disenchantment. When 
the tom-toms and the conchs are silent, and the 
Veiled Prophet is revealed at last, there is always 
some frivolous person who is disappointed at the 
revelation. Perhaps Mallarm6 was not quite so 
thrilling when his poems could be read by every- 
body as when they could only be gazed at through 



3o8 FRENCH PROFILES 

the glass bookcase doors of wealthy amateurs. 
But still, if everybody could now read them, not 
everybody could understand them. In 1894 the 
amiable poet came over here, and delivered at 
Oxford and at Cambridge, cites savanies, an ad- 
dress of the densest Cimmerian darkness on Music 
and Letters. In 1897 appeared a collection of 
essays in prose, called Divagations. The diction- 
aries will tell the rest of the story. 

It seems quite impossible to conjecture what 
posterity will think of the poetry of St^phane 
Mallarm6. It is not of the class which rebuffs 
contemporary sympathy by its sentiments or its 
subjects ; the difficulty of Mallarme consists 
entirely in his use of language. He was allied 
with, or was taken as a master by, the young men 
who have broken up and tried to remodel the 
prosody of France. In popular estimation he 
came to be identified with them, but in error ; 
there are no vers libres in Mallarme. He was 
resolutely misapprehended, and perhaps, in his 
quiet way, he courted misapprehension. But if 
we examine very carefully in what his eccentricity 
(or his originality) consisted, we shall find it all 
resolving itself into a question of language. He 
thought that the vaunted precision and lucidity of 
French style, whether in prose or verse, was 
degrading the national literature ; that poetry mus- 
preserve, or must conquer, an embroidered gart 
ment to distinguish her from the daily newspaper. 
He thought the best ways of doing this were, 
firstly, to divert the mind of the reader from the 
obvious and beaten paths of thought, and secondly 



STfiPHANE MALLARMfi 309 

to arrange in a decorative or melodic scheme 
words chosen or reverted to for their peculiar 
dignity and beauty. 

It was strange that Mallarm6 never saw, or 
never chose to recognise, that he was attempting 
the impossible. He went on giving us intima- 
tions of what he meant, never the thing itself. 
His published verses are mere fallings from him, 
vanishings, blank misgivings of a creature moving 
about in worlds not realised. They are fragments 
of a very singular and complicated system which 
the author never carried into existence. Mallarm6 
has left no " works," and, although he was always 
hinting of the Work, it was never written. Even 
his Virgilian Faune, even his Ovidian He'rodiade, are 
merely suggestions of the solid Latin splendour 
with which he might have carried out a design 
he did no more than indicate. He was a 
wonderful dreamer, exquisite in his intuitions 
and aspirations, but with as little creative power 
as has ever been linked with such shining con- 
victions. 

What effect will the life and death of Mallarm6 
have upon poetry in France ? Must it not be 
hoped that his influence may prove rather tem- 
porary and transitional than lasting ? He did 
excellent peripatetic service. His conversation and 
example preserved alight, through a rather prosy 
time, the lamp of poetic enthusiasm ; he was a 
glowing ember. But, on the other hand, who 
can deny that his theories and practice, ill- 
comprehended as they were, provoked a great 
display of affectation and insincerity ? Prose pour 



3IO FRENCH PROFILES 

les Esseintes is a very curious and interesting com- 
position ; but it is not a good model for the young. 
Mallarmd himself, so lucid a spirit if so obscure a 
writer, was well aware of this. People, he found, 
were cocksure of what his poems meant when the 
interpretation was only dawning upon himself after 
a generation of study. A youthful admirer once 
told him, it is said, that he entirely understood the 
meaning of one of his most cryptic publications. 
" What a genius you have ! " replied Mallarm6, 
with his gentle smile ; " at the age of twenty you 
have discovered in a week what has baffled me for 
thirty years." 

Some of the eulogies on this poor, charming 
Mallarm^, with his intense and frustrated aspira- 
tion after the perfect manner, have been a cruel 
satire on his prestige. From one of these mystifi- 
cations I learn that " with the accustomed Parian 
(flesh of death), Mallarm6 associated grafts of life 
unforeseen, eyes of emerald or of sapphire, hair 
of gold or silver, smiles of ivory," and that these 
statues " failed to fidget on their glued-down feet, 
because to the brutal chisel had succeeded a proud 
and delicate shiver glimmering through the infinite, 
perceptible to the initiated alone, like the august 
nibbling-away of Beauty by a white mouse ! " So 
far as Mallarm^ and his theories are responsible 
for writing such as this — and for the last fifteen 
years his name has been made the centre for a 
prodigious amount of the like clotted nonsense — 
even those who loved and respected the man most 
cannot sincerely wish that his influence should 
continue. 



STfiPHANE MALLARMfi 311 

Mallarm^ has been employed as a synonym for 
darkness, but he did not choose this as a distinc- 
tion. He was not like Donne, who, when Edward 
Herbert had been extremely crabbed in an elegy 
on Prince Henry, wrote one himself to " match," 
as Ben Jonson tells us, Herbert "in obscureness." 
In a letter to myself, some years ago, Mallarm^ 
protested with evident sincerity against the charge 
of being Lycophrontic : " excepte par maladresse 
ou gaucherie je ne suis pas obscur." Yet where 
is obscurity to be found if not in Don du Poeme? 
What is dense if the light flows freely through 
Prose pour des Esseintes ? Some of his alterations of 
his own text betray the fact that he treated words 
as musical notation, that he was far more inti- 
mately affected by their euphonic interrelation 
than by their meaning in logical sequence. In 
my own copy of Les Fenfires, he has altered in 
MS. the line 

^' Que dore la main chaste de I'lnfini " 

to 

" Que dore le matin chaste de I'lnfini." 

Whether the Infinite had a Hand or a Morning 
was purely a question of euphony. So, what had 
long appeared as " mon exotique soin " became 
" mon unique soin." In short, Mallarm^ used 
words, not as descriptive, but as suggestive means 
of communication between the writer and the 
reader, and the object of a poem of his was 
not to define what the poet was thinking about, 
but to force the listener to think about it by 



312 FRENCH PROFILES 

blocking up all routes of impression save that 
which led to the desired and indicated bourne. 

He was a very delightful man, whom his friends 
deeply regret. He was a particularly lively talker, 
and in his conversation, which was marked by good 
sense no less than by a singular delicacy of percep- 
tion, there was no trace of the wilful perversity of 
his written style. He had a strong sense of hum- 
our, and no one will ever know, perhaps, how far 
a waggish love of mystification entered into his 
theories and his experiments. He was very much 
amused when Verlaine said of him that he "con- 
sid^ra la clart6 comme une grace secondaire." It 
certainly was not the grace he sought for first. 
We may, perhaps, be permitted to think that he 
had no such profoundly novel view of nature or 
of man as justified procedures so violent as those 
which he introduced. But, when we were able 
to comprehend him, we perceived an exquisite 
fancy, great refinement of feeling and an attitude 
towards life which was uniformly and sensitively 
poetical. Is it not to be supposed that when he 
could no longer be understood, when we lost 
him in the blaze of language, he was really more 
delightful than ever, if only our gross senses could 
have followed him ? 



M. EMILE VERHAEREN 

Among those poets who have employed the 
French tongue with most success in recent years, 
it is curious that the two whose claims to distinc- 



M. EMILE VERHAEREN 313 

tion are least open to discussion should be, not 
Frenchmen at all, but Flemings of pure race. The 
work of M. Verhaeren has not the amusing quality 
which has given a universal significance to the 
dramas and treatises of M. Maeterlinck, and he 
has remained obstinately faithful to the less popular 
medium of verse. In our English sense of the 
term, M. Maeterlinck is a poet only upon occasion, 
while M. Verhaeren never appears without his 
singing-robes about him. By dint of a remark- 
able persistency in presenting his talent character- 
istically to his readers, M. Verhaeren has risen 
slowly but steadily to a very high eminence. He 
has out-lived the impression, which prevailed at 
first, of ugliness, of squalor, of a preoccupation 
with themes and aspects radically antipoetical. 
He has conquered us deliberately, book by book. 
He has proved that genius is its own best judge 
of what is a good "subject," and imperceptibly 
we have learned to appreciate and respect him. 
He is true to himself, quite indefatigable, and we 
are beginning to realise at last that he is one of 
the very small group of really great poets born 
in Europe since 1850. 

He has a local, besides his universal, claim on 
our respect, since he is the pioneer and captain 
of the brilliant neo-Belgian school which is now 
so active and so prominent. His first book of 
verses, Les Flamandes, of 1883, is curious to look 
back upon. It was thrust upon a perfectly hostile 
world of Brussels, a world with its eyes loyally 
fixed on Paris. It had just the same harsh, 
austere aspect which M. Verhaeren's poetry has 



314 FRENCH PROFILES 

preserved ever since. It was utterly unlike what 
came from Paris then, dear little amber-scented 
books of polished sonnets, bound in vellum, with 
Lemerre's familiar piocheur on the cover. It 
was the first shoot of a new thing, of Franco- 
Flemish imaginative literature. M. Verhaeren 
cared nothing for the neglect of the critics ; he 
went on putting forth successive little volumes, 
no less thorny, no less smelling of the dykes and 
dunes — Les Moines in 1886, Les Soirs in 1887, 
Les Debacles in 1888. It was not until 1889 that 
M. Maeterlinck came to his support with a first 
book, the Serres Chaudes. Meanwhile, the genius 
of M. Verhaeren, the product of an individuality 
of extraordinary strength, pressed steadily forward. 
He has gained in suppleness and skill since then, 
but all that distinguishes him from other writers, 
all that is himself, is to be found in these earliest 
pamphlets of gaunt, realistic poetry. 

The following dismal impression of London is 
highly characteristic of the early Verhaeren of 
Les Soirs : — 

" Et ce Londres de fonte et de bronze, mon 4me, 
Oil des plaques de fer claquent sous les hangars, 

Ou des voiles s'en vont, sans Notre Dame 
Pour etoile, s'en vont, Ik-bas, vers les hasards. 

Gares de suies et de fumee, ou du gaz pleure 

Ses spleens d'argent lointain vers des chemins d'dclair, 

Oil des b^tes d'ennui baillent k I'heure, 
Dolente immensdment, qui tinte k Westminster. 

Et ces quais infinis de lanternes fatales, 

Parques dont les fuseaux plongent aux profondeurs, 

Et ces marins noyes, sous des p^tales 
De fleurs de boue oil la flamme met des lueurs. 



M. EMILE VERHAEREN 315 

Et ces chales et ces gestes de femmes soules, 
Et ces alcools en lettres d'or jusques au toit, 

Et tout k coup la mort parmi ces foules — 
O men ime du soir, ce Londres noir qui trone en toi ! " 



A hundred years ago we possessed in English 
literature a writer very curiously parallel to M. 
Verhaeren, who probably never heard of him. I 
do not know whether any one has pointed out the 
similarity between Crabbe and the Belgian poet of 
our day. It is, however, very striking when we 
once come to think of it, and it embraces subject- 
matter, attitude to life and art, and even such 
closer matters as diction and versification. The 
situation of Crabbe, in relation to the old school 
of the eighteenth century on the one hand and to 
the romantic school on the other,^is closely repeated 
by that of M. Verhaeren to his elders and his 
juniors. If Byron were now alive, he might call 
M. Verhaeren a Victor Hugo in worsted stockings. 
There is the same sardonic delineation of a bleak 
and sandy sea-coast country, Suffolk or Zeeland 
as the case may be, the same determination to 
find poetic material in the perfectly truthful study 
of a raw peasantry, of narrow provincial towns, of 
rough and cheerless seafaring existences. In each 
of these poets — and scarcely in any other Euro- 
pean writers of verse — we find the same saline 
flavour, the same odour of iodine, the same 
tenacious attachment to the strength and violence 
and formidable simplicity of nature. 

In Les Forces Tumultueuses we discover the same 
qualities which we have found before in M. Ver- 



3i6 FRENCH PROFILES 

haeren's volumes. He employs mainly two forms 
of verse, the one a free species of Alexandrines, 
the other a wandering measure, loosely rhymed, 
of the sort which used among ourselves to be 
called " Pindarique." He gives us studies of modern 
figures, the Captain, the Tribune, the Monk, the 
Banker, the Tyrant. He gives us studies of towns, 
curiously hard, although less violent than those in 
his earlier, and perhaps most extraordinary, book, 
LesVilles Tentaculaires. His interest in towns and 
hamlets is inexhaustible — and did not Crabbe 
write "The Village" and "The Borough"? 
Even railway junctions do not dismay the muse 
of M. Verhaeren : — 

" Oh ! ces villes, par I'or putride envenimees ! 
Clameurs de pierre et vols et gestes de fumees, 
Domes et tours d'orgueil et colonnes debout 
Dans I'espace qui vibre et le travail qui bout, 
En aimas-tu I'effroi et les affres profondes 
O toi, le voyageur 
Qui t'en allais triste et songeur, 
Par les gares de feu qui ceinturent le monde ? 

Cahots et bonds de trains par au-dessus des monts ! 

L'intime et sourd tocsin qui enfi^vrait ton ame 

Battait aussi dans ces villes, le soir ; leur flamme 

Rouge et myriadaire illuminait ton front, 

Leur aboi noir, le cri, le ban de ton coeur meme ; 

Ton ^tre entier dtait tordu en leur blaspheme, 

Ta volontd jetee en proie k leur torrent 

Et vous vous maudissiez tout en vous adorant." 

The superficially prosaic has no terrors for M. 
Verhaeren. He gives us, too, of course, studies 



M. EMILE VERHAEREN 317 

of the sea-coast, of that dreary district (it can 
never have dreamed that it would nourish a poet) 
which stretches from Antwerp westward along the 
Scheldt to the North Sea, that infinite roll of 
dunes, hung between the convulsive surf and the 
heavy sky, over which a bitter wind goes whistling 
through the wild thin grass towards a vague inland 
flatness, vast, monotonous and dull beyond all 
power of language to describe. This is a land 
which arrives at relevancy only when darkness 
falls on it, and its great revolving lights give 
relation to its measureless masses. 

The habitual gloom and mournfulness of M. 
Verhaeren's pictures are only relieved once in this 
powerful volume. The poem called Sur la Mer 
strikes a different note, and resembles one of 
those rare sunshiny days when the creeks of 
Northern Flanders are in gala. We watch the 
brilliantly-coloured ship stirring her cordage and 
fluttering her pennons, like some gay little Dutch 
garden putting merrily out to sea. All is a bustle 
of scarlet and orange and blue ; but it would not 
be a picture of M. Verhaeren's if it did not offer a 
reverse side : — 

" Le vaisseau clair revint, un soir de bruit 
Et de f^te, vers le rivage, 
D'ou son dlan ^tait parti ; 
Certes, les mats dardaient toujours leur dme, 
Certes, le foe portait encore des oriflammes, 
Mais les marins etaient d^couronnds 
De confiance, et les haubans et les cordages 
Ne vibraient plus comme des lyres sauvages. 



3i8 FRENCH PROFILES 

Le navire rentra comme un jardin fand, 

Drapeaux eteints, espoirs minds, 

Avec I'efifroi de n'oser dire k ceux du port 

Qu'il avait entendu, Ik-bas, de plage en plage, 

Les flots crier sur les rivages 

Que Pan et que Jesus, tous deux, dtaient des morts." 

For those who seek from poetry its superficial 
consolations, the canticles of M. Verhaeren offer 
little attraction. But for readers who can endure 
a sterner music, and a resolute avoidance of the 
mere affectations of the intellect, he is now one 
of the most interesting figures in contemporary 
literature. And to deny that he is a poet would 
be like denying that the great crimson willow- 
herb is a flower because it grows in desolate 
places. 

1902. 



ALBERT SAMAIN 

The influence of Baudelaire, which so gravely 
alarmed the critical sanhedrim of forty years ago, 
has proved more durable than was expected, but 
at the same time singularly inoffensive. There 
seemed to be something in the imagination of 
Baudelaire which fermented unpleasantly, and an 
outbreak of pestilence in his neighbourhood was 
seriously apprehended. He was treated as a sort 
of plague-centre. It would be difficult to make 
the young generation in London realise what 
palpitations, what tremors, what alarms the terrible 
Fleurs du Mai caused in poetic bosoms about i860. 



ALBERT SAMAIN 319 

But the Satanic dandyism, as it was called, of the 
poet's most daring verses was not, in reality, a 
very perdurable element. Most of it was absurd, 
and some of it was vulgar ; all of it, with the 
decease of poor Maurice Rollinat, seems now to 
have evaporated. What was really powerful in 
Baudelaire, and what his horrors at first con- 
cealed, was the extreme intensity of his sense of 
beauty, or, to be more precise, his noble gift of 
subduing to the service of poetry the voluptuous 
visions awakened by perfume and music and light. 

It is this side of his genius which has attracted 
so closely the leaders of the poetic revival in 
France. A lofty, if somewhat vaporous dignity ; 
a rich, if somewhat indefinable severity of taste ; 
these are among the prominent qualities of the 
new French poetry, which is as far removed in 
spirit from the detestable " mam'e d' e'tonner " of 
Les Fleurs du Mai as it is possible to be. Yet in 
recounting the precursors to whom the homage 
of the new school is due, every careful critic must 
enumerate, not only Lamartine and Alfred de 
Vigny, but unquestionably Baudelaire. 

In the unfortunate Albert Samain, for instance, 
whose death has deprived France prematurely of 
a nature evidently predestined, as few can be said 
to be, to the splendours of poetic fame, this 
innocuous and wholesome influence of Baudelaire 
may be very clearly traced. It does not interfere 
with Samain's claim to be treated as an original 
writer of high gifts, but it is impossible to over- 
look its significance. The crawling corruption of 
Baudelaire has, in fact, in the course of time, not 



320 FRENCH PROFILES 

merely become deodorised, but takes its place, as 
a pinch of "scentless and delicate dust," in the 
inevitable composition of any new French poet. 

In the course of the winter of 1893, a good 
many persons, of whom the present writer was 
one, received a small quarto volume, bound in 
deep sage-green, from an unknown source in 
Paris. The book, which was privately printed 
in a very small issue, was called Au Jardin de 
r Infante, and it transpired that this was the first 
production of a clerk in the Prefecture de la 
Seine, named Albert Samain. Born at Lille in 
1859, Samain was no longer very young, but he 
had no relations with the world of letters, and a 
shy dissatisfaction with what he had written gave 
him a dislike to publication. The sage-green 
volume, already so rare, was, as it now appears, 
printed and sent out by a friend, in spite of the 
poet's deprecations. A copy of it came into the 
hands of M. Frangois Copp6e, who, to his great 
honour, instantly perceived its merits, and in the 
second series of Mon Franc-Parler attracted atten- 
tion to it. In 1897 an edition of Au Jardin de 
Hnfante placed the poems of Samain within the 
range of the ordinary reader, and in 1898 he 
published another volume, Aux Flancs du Vase. 
His health, however, had failed, and he had by 
this time retired to the country village of Magny- 
les-Hameaux, where he died on the 1 8th of August, 
1900. Since his death there have appeared a 
third volume of poems, Le Chariot d'Or (1901), 
and a lyrical drama, Polypheme (1902). 

The existence of Albert Samain left scarcely a 



ALBERT SAMAIN 321 

ripple on the stream of French literary life. He 
stood apart from all the coteries, and his shyness 
and indigence prevented him from presenting him- 
self where he might readily have been lionised. 
Of the very few persons who ever saw Samain 
I have interrogated one or two as to his appear- 
ance and manners. They tell me that he was 
pale and slight, with hollow cheeks and pre- 
ponderating forehead, and of a great economy 
of speech. Excessively near-sighted, he seemed 
to have no cognisance of the world about him, 
and the regularity of his life as a clerk emphasised 
his dreamy habits. He is described to me as 
grave, and, when he spoke, somewhat grandi- 
loquent ; his half-shut eyes gave an impression 
of languor, which was partly physical fatigue. I 
think it possible that future times may feel a 
curiosity about the person of Albert Samain, and 
that there will be practically nothing to divulge, 
since his dreams died with him. This small city 
clerk, with his poor economies and stricken health, 
habitually escaped from the oppression of a life 
that was as dull and void as it could be, into 
the buoyant -liberty of gorgeous and persistent 
vision. 

He expresses this himself in every page oi Au 
Jardin de l* Infante. He says : — 

" Les roses du couchant s'effeuillent sur la fleuve ; 
Et dans I'^motion pile du soir tombant, 
S'evoque un pare d'automne ou reve sur un banc 
Ma jeunesse d^jk grave comme une veuve ; " 

and in a braver tone : — 



322 FRENCH PROFILES 

" Mon ime est une Infante en robe de parade, 
Dont Texil se reflate, dternel et royal, 
Aux grands miroirs deserts d'un vieil Escurial, 
Ainsi qu'une galore oublide en la rade." 

Everywhere the evidences of a sumptuous and 
enchanted past, everywhere the purity of silence 
and the radiance of royal waters at sunset, every- 
where the incense of roses that were planted for 
the pleasure of queens long dead and gone, and 
Albert Samain pursuing his solitary way along 
those deserted paths and up the marble of those 
crumbling staircases. Such is the illusion which 
animates the Garden of the Infanta. Some- 
times the poet is not alone there ; other forms 
approach him, and other faces smile ; but they 
are the faces and the forms of phantoms : — 

" L'ime d'une flfite soupire 

Au fond du pare melodieux ; 
Limpide est I'ombre ou Ton respire 
Ton po^me silencieux, 

Nuit de langueur, nuit de mensonge, 
Qui poses d'un geste ondoyant 

Dans ta chevelure de songe 
La lune, bijou d'Orient. 

Sylva, Sylvie et Sylvanire, 
Belles au regard bleu changeant, 

L'etoile aux fontaines se mire, 
AUez par les sentiers d'argent. 

Allez vite — I'heure est si br^ve ! 

Cueillir au jardin des aveux 
Les ccEurs qui se meurent du reve 

De mourir parmi vos cheveux." 



ALBERT SAMAIN 323 

His aim was to express a melancholy and chaste 
sensuousness in terms of the most tender and im- 
passioned symbolism. No one has succeeded more 
frequently than Samain in giving artistic form to 
those vague and faint emotions which pass over 
the soul like a breeze. He desired to write verses 
when, as he said, " I'ame sent, exquise, une caresse 
a peine," or even — 

" De vers silencieux, et sans rythme et sans trame, 
Ou la rime sans bruit glisse comme une rame, — 
De vers d'une ancienne 6toffe extenuee, 
Impalpable comme le son et la nuee." 

In this mood his poetry occasionally approaches 
that of Mr. Robert Bridges on the one side and 
of Mr. Yeats on the other. It has at other times 
a certain marmoreal severity which reminds us of 
neither. I desire the reader's close attention to 
the following sonnet, called Cleopatre, in which the 
genius of Albert Samain seems to be all revealed. 
Here, it may at first be thought, he comes near to 
the old Parnassians ; but his methods will be 
found to be diametrically opposed to theirs, 
although not even M. de Heredia would have 
clothed the subject with a nobler beauty : — 

" Accoud^e en silence aux crdneaux de la tour, 

La Reine aux cheveux bleus, serr^s de bandelettes, 
Sous I'incantation trouble des cassolettes, 
Sent monter dans son coeur ta mer, immense Amour. 

Immobile, sous ses paupi^res violettes, 
EUe reve, pamde aux fuites des coussins ; 
Et les lourds colliers d'or souleves par ses seins 

Racontent sa langueur et ses fi^vres muettes. 



324 FRENCH PROFILES 

Un adieu rose flotte au front des monuments. 
Le soir, veloute d'ombre, est plein d'enchantements ; 
Et cependant qu' au loin pleurent les crocodiles, 

La Reine aux doigts crispes, sanglotante d'aveux, 
Frissonne de sentir, lascives et subtiles, 
Des mains qui dans le vent epuisent ses cheveux." 

There is much in the history and in the art of 
Albert Samain which reminds me of an English 
poet whom I knew well when we both were 
young, and who still awaits the fulness of re- 
cognition — Arthur O'Shaughnessy. Each of them 
was fascinated by the stronger genius of two poets 
of an older generation — Baudelaire and Edgar 
Allan Poe. But each had a quality that was 
entirely his own, a quality which the passage of 
time will certainly emphasise and isolate. 

1904. 

M. PAUL FORT 

The instinct which impels every energetic talent 
to emancipate itself as far as possible from the bond- 
age of tradition is a natural one, and it is even not 
so dangerous as we suppose. For, if there is a 
centrifugal force ever driving the ambition of youth 
away from the conventional idea of beauty, this is 
easily reversed by the inherent attraction of purity 
and nobility in form. The artist makes a bold 
flight and wheels away into the distance, but he 
returns ; he is true, like Wordsworth's skylark, to 
the kindred points of heaven and home. In a 
writer, therefore, who starts in open rebellion to 



M. PAUL FORT 325 

the tradition of style, we have but to wait and see 
whether the talent itself is durable. It is only 
presumptuous Icarus, whose waxen wings melt in 
the sun, and who topples into the sea. It is only 
the writer who makes eccentricity the mantle to 
hide his poverty of imagination and absence of 
thought who disappears. To the young man of 
violent idiosyncrasies and genuine talent two things 
always happen — he impresses his charm upon our 
unwilling senses, and he is himself drawn back, 
unconsciously and imperceptibly, into the main 
current of the stream of style. 

While M. Paul Fort was merely an eccentric 
experimentalist, it did not seem worth while to 
present him to an English audience. The earliest 
of his published volumes, the Ballades Fran^aises of 
1897, "^^s ^ pure mystification to most readers. 
It was printed, and apparently written, as prose. 
It asserted the superiority of rhythm over the arti- 
fice of prosody, which is precisely what Walt Whit- 
man did. The French conceive poetry, however, 
very rigidly in its essential distinction from prose. 
There are rules for writing French verse which are 
categorical, and these must be taken en bloc. It is 
far more difficult in French to imagine a thing 
which could represent, at the same moment, poetry 
and prose, than it would be in English. But M. 
Paul Fort determined to create this entirely new 
thing, and when one read his effusions first it is 
only fair to admit that one was bewildered. Here, 
for instance, is, in its entirety, one of the Ballades 
Frangaises : — 

" Etre n6 page et brave vielleur d'amour, en la 



326 FRENCH PROFILES 

gentille cour d'un prince de jadis, chanter une 
princesse follement aim^e, au nom si doux que 
bruit de roses essaim^es, a qui offrir, un jour, en 
lui offrant la main pour la marche a descendre 
avant le lac d'hymen, I'odorant coffret d'or sous 
ses chaines de lys, plein de bleus hyalins es anneaux 
de soleil et d'oiselets de Chypre ardents pour em- 
baumer, a qui donner aux sons des fifres et des 
vielles, pour notre travers^e en la barque d'hymen, 
le frele rosier d'or a tenir en sa main ! " 

The only way to make anything of this is to 
read it aloud, and it may be said in parenthesis 
that M. Fort is a writer who appeals entirely to 
the ear, not to the eye. Spoken, or murmured in 
accordance with Mr. Yeats's new method, the piece 
of overladen prose disengages itself, floats out into 
filaments of silken verse, like a bunch of dry sea- 
weed restored to its element. In this so-called 
ballad the alexandrine dominates, but with elisions, 
assonances, irregularities of every description. It 
is therefore best to allow the author himself to 
define his method. He says in the preface to a 
later poem, Le Roman de Louis XI. : — 

" J'ai cherch6 un style pouvant passer, au gr6 de 
r^motion, de la prose au vers et du vers a la prose: 
la prose rythmic fournit la transition. Le vers 
suit les Elisions naturelles du langage. II se pr6- 
sente comme prose, toute gene d'61ision disparais- 
sant sous cette forme." 

In short, we have heard much about " free 
verse " in France, but here at last we have an 
author who has had the daring to consider prose 
and verse as parts of one graduated instrument; 



M. PAUL FORT 327 

and to take the current pronunciation of the 
French language as the only law of a general and 
normal rhythm. It is a curious experiment, and 
we shall have to see what he will ultimately make 
of it. 

But one is bound to admit that he has made a 
good deal of it already. He has become an author 
whom we cannot affect or afford to ignore. Born 
so lately as 1872, M. Paul Fort is in some respects 
the most notable, as he is certainly the most abun- 
dant, imaginative author of his age in France. 
The book which lies before us, a romance of 
Parisian life of to-day in verse, is the sixth of the 
volumes which M. Fort has brought out in less 
than six years, all curiously consistent in manner, 
all independent of external literary influences, and 
all full of exuberant, fresh and vivid impressions 
of nature. The eccentricities of his form lay him 
open, of course, to theoretical objections which 
I should never think unreasonable, and which I 
am conservative enough to share. But these do 
not affect his ardour in the contemplation of nature, 
his high gust of being. I scarcely know where to 
point in any recent literature to an author so full 
of the joy of life. He does not philosophise or 
analyse, he affects no airs of priest or prophet ; his 
attitude is extraordinarily simple, but is charged 
with the ecstasy of appreciation. In two of his 
collections of lyrics in rhythm, in particular, we 
find this ardour, this enchantment, predominating ; 
these 2ire Moniagne, 1898, a.nd L' Amour Marin, 1900, 
in which he sings, or chants, the forest and the sea. 

In Paris Sentimental M. Paul Fort has written a 



328 FRENCH PROFILES 

novel in his peculiar and favourite form. We 
have had many examples of the dangers and diffi- 
culties which attend the specious adventure of 
writing modern fiction in metrical shape. Neither 
Aurora Leigh nor Lucile nor The Inn Album 
is entirely encouraging as more than the ex- 
periment of a capricious though splendidly ac- 
complished artist. Yet Paris Sentimental is more 
nearly related to these than to any French poem 
that I happen to recollect. There is, indeed, as it 
seems to me, something English in M. Fort's habit 
of mind. His novel, however, is much less elaborate 
than either of the English poems I have mentioned, 
and certainly much less strenuous than the first 
and third. It is a chain of lyrical rhapsodies in 
which a very plain tale of love and disappointment 
in the Paris of to-day is made the excuse for a 
poetical assimilation of all the charming things 
which Paris contains, and which have hitherto 
evaded the skill of the poets, such as the turf in 
the Square Monge, and the colour of an autumn 
shower on the Boulevard S^bastopol, and the 
Tziganes singing by moonlight at the Exposition. 
Here is an example of how it is done : — 

" Le couchant violet tremble au fond du jour 
rouge. Le Luxembourg exhale une odeur d'oranger, 
et Manon s'arrete a mon bras ; plus rien ne bouge, 
les arbres, les passants, ce nuage 61oign6. . . . 

" Et le jet d'eau s'est tu : c'est la ros6e qui 
chante, la-bas, dans les gazons, oii r^vent les 
statues, et pour rendre, 6 sens-tu ? la nuit plus 
d^faillante, les Grangers en fleurs ont enivr6 la 
nue." 



M. PAUL FORT 329 

It would be an easy exercise to search for the 
metre here, as we used to hunt for blank verse in 
the Leaves of Grass. But M. Paul Fort is less re- 
volutionary than Whitman, and more of an artist. 
Although he clings to his theories, in each of his 
volumes he seems to be less negligent of form, less 
provocative, than he was in the last. The force 
of his talent is wheeling him back into the inevit- 
able tradition ; he is being forced by the music in 
his veins to content himself with cadences that 
were good enough for Racine and Hugo and 
Baudelaire. And, therefore, in the last quotation 
which I offer from Paris Sentimental, I take the 
liberty of disregarding the typographical whims of 
the author, and print his lines as verse : — 

" Par les nuits d'ete bleues oii chantent les cigales, 
Dieu verse sur la France une coupe d'etoiles. 
Le vent porte k ma 16vre un gout du ciel 6!6x6 ! 
Je veux boire k I'espace fraichement argentd 

L'air du soir est pour moi le bord de la coupe froide 
Oii, les yeux mi-fermds et la bouche goulue, 

Je bois, comme le jus presse d'une grenade, 
La firaicheur etoil^e qui se rdpand des nues. 

Couch^ sur un gazon dont I'herbe est encore chaude 
De s'etre prelassde sous I'haleine du jour, 
Oh ! que je viderais, ce soir, avec amour. 

La coupe immense bleue ou le firmament rode 1 " 

1902. 



THE INFLUENCE OF FRANCE UPON 
ENGLISH POETRY 

Address delivered, February 9, 1904, before the Sociiid des 
Conferences, in Paris. 

Before I begin to discuss with you the particular 
subject of my discourse this afternoon, I cannot 
refrain from expressing my emotion at finding 
myself, in consequence of your gracious invitation, 
occupying this platform. It has been said that, 
for a man of letters, consideration in a country 
not his own is a foretaste of the verdict of pos- 
terity. If there be any truth in this, then surely, in 
the particular case where that country happens to 
be France, it should be more — it should be some- 
thing very like a dangerous mirage of immortality. 
When the invitation of your committee first reached 
me, it seemed for a moment impossible that I 
could accept it. In no perfunctory or compli- 
mentary sense, I shrank, with an apprehension of 
my own twilight, from presenting myself in the 
midst of your blaze of intelligence. How could I 
be sure that any of my reflections, of my observa- 
tions, could prove worthy of acceptance by an 
audience accustomed to the teachings of the most 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 331 

brilliant and the most learned critics of the world ? 
If there be an obvious lack of sufficiency in my 
words this afternoon, then, on yourselves must be 
the blame, and on your own generosity, since in 
venturing to stand before you, it is your com- 
mands which I obey in all simplicity. I obey 
them as some barbarous Northern minstrel might, 
who, finding himself at the court of Philippe de 
Valois, should be desired, in the presence of the 
prince and of his ladies, to exhibit a specimen of 
his rough native art. 

The subject of our inquiry to-day is not the 
nature of the change which occurs when a new 
literature rises out of the imitation of an older 
one, as occurred with such splendid results when 
Latin poetry was deliberately based on Greek 
poetry, in the second century before Christ, or 
when, in the early Middle Ages, the vernacular 
literatures of modern Europe sprang out of the 
decay of Latin. In such cases as these the matter is 
simple ; out of the old stock there springs a new 
bud, affiliated to it, imitative and only gradually 
independent. It is not difficult to see Ennius, 
in the dawn of Rome, sitting with the Greek hexa- 
meter before him, and deliberately fashioning a 
similar thing out of the stubbornness of his own 
rough tongue. It is not difficult to see some 
student-minstrel of the eleventh century debating 
within himself whether he shall put down his 
thoughts in faded Latin or in the delicate lingua 
Tusca, communis et intelligibilis. Influences of this 
kind are a part of the direct and natural evolution 
of literature, and their phenomena are almost of a 



332 FRENCH PROFILES 

physical kind. Wiien a new language breaks 
away from an old language into the forms of a 
creative literature, its earliest manifestations must 
be imitative. It is original in the very fact that it 
copies into a new medium instead of continuing 
in an old one. 

But the problem is much more subtle and the 
phenomena more delicate and elusive when we 
have to deal with the influences mutually exercised 
on one another by contemporary literatures of 
independent character and long-settled traditions. 
In the case before us, we have one great people 
building up for the expression of their joys and 
passions a language out of Anglo-Saxon materials, 
and another great people forging out of low Latin 
a vehicle for their complicated thoughts. The 
literatures so created have enjoyed a vivid and 
variegated vitality for century after century, never 
tending the one towards the other, neither at any 
time seriously taking a place subordinate to the 
other, nor even closely related. The image that 
may help to suggest to us what it is that we 
must look for in observing the mutual influences 
of French and English literature upon one another 
is that of two metallic objects, of different colour, 
pursuing a long parallel flight through space. We 
are not to count upon their touching one another, 
or their affecting the direction or speed of either, 
but we may expect, on occasion, to observe along 
the burnished side of the one a dash of colour 
reflected from the illuminated surface of the other. 

It would take us too far from our proper theme 
this afternoon — a theme which at best we can but 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 333 

very hurriedly investigate — were I to dwell on the 
essential differences which distinguish the poetry 
of England from that of France. But it may be 
pointed out that these differences make them- 
selves most clearly felt exactly wherever the 
national idiosyncrasy is most searchingly defined. 
The extraordinary perfection of the verse of 
Coleridge in its concentrated sweetness and har- 
mony of vision, has never appealed to any French 
student of our literature. Perhaps no French ear 
could be trained to understand what the sover- 
eign music of Coleridge means to us. In like 
manner it is probable that, with all our efforts, 
English criticism has never understood, and never 
will understand, what the effect of the astonishing 
genius of Racine is upon the nerves and intelligence 
of a Frenchman. On the other hand, it is easy to 
see that Mr. Swinburne approaches thought and 
style from a point of view eminently, appreciable 
by the French, while France contains one great 
poet, Charles Baudelaire, whose oddity of mental 
attitude and whose peculiar treatment of verse- 
music and of imagery are perhaps more easily 
comprehended by an English reader than by an 
academic Frenchman. 

A matter which might be pursued, in connec- 
tion with this, but which time forbids me to do 
more than indicate, is that, while in France poetry 
has been accustomed to reflect the general tongue 
of the people, the great poets of England have 
almost always had to struggle against a complete 
dissonance between their own aims and interests 
and those of the nation. The result has been that 



334 FRENCH PROFILES 

England, the most inartistic of modern races, has 
produced the largest number of exquisite literary 
artists. 

The expression of personal sensation has always 
been dear to the English poets, and we meet with it 
in some of the earliest babblings of our tongue. 
From Anglo-Saxon times onward, the British bard 
never felt called upon to express the aesthetic 
emotions of a society around him, as the Provencal 
troubadour or Carlovingian jongleur did. He was 
driven to find inspiration in nature and in himself. 
The mediaeval conquest of England by the French 
language did not modify this state of things in any 
degree. When the French wave ebbed away from 
us in the fourteenth century, it left our poets of pure 
English as individual, as salient, as unrepresentative 
as ever. What every poet of delicate genius, 
whether he be Chaucer or Milton, Gray or Keats, 
has felt in the existing world of England, has been 
the pressure of a lack of the aesthetic sense. Our 
people are not naturally sensitive to harmony, to 
proportion, to the due relation of parts in a work 
of imaginative artifice. But what is very curious 
is that our poets have been peculiarly sensitive to 
these very qualities, and that no finer or subtler 
artists in language have risen in any country than 
precisely the poetic representatives of the densely 
unpoetic England. 

The result of this fantastic and almost incessant 
discord between our poets and our people — a 
discord dissolved into harmony only at one 
moment around the genius of Shakespeare — the 
result of this has been to make our poets, at 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 335 

critical epochs, sensitive to catch the colour of 
literatures alien from their own. In the healthier 
moments of our poetry we have gained brightness 
by reflections from other literatures, from those of 
Greece and Rome, from those of Italy and Spain 
and France. In moments when our poetry was 
unhealthy it has borrowed to its immediate and 
certain disadvantage from these neighbours. But 
it will, I think, be found that in the latter case the 
borrowing has invariably been of a coarser and 
more material kind, and has consisted in a more or 
less vulgar imitation. The evil effect of this will, 
I believe, be found to be as definite as the effect of 
the higher and more illusive borrowing is bene- 
ficial. For purposes of convenience I propose in 
the following remarks to distinguish these forms 
of influence as consisting in colour and in sub- 
stance. 

A few words may serve to define what I under- 
stand here by " substance " and by " colour." 
By the first of these I wish to indicate those cases 
in which influence has taken a gross and slavish 
form, in which there has been a more or less com- 
plete resignation of the individuality of the literature 
influenced. An instance of this is the absolute 
bondage of Spanish drama to French in the 
eighteenth century, when a play had no chance 
on the stage of Madrid unless it were directly 
modelled on Racine or Voltaire. We shall pre- 
sently have to point to something similar in the 
drama of our own Restoration. These are cases 
where an exhausted literature, in extreme decay, 
is kept alive by borrowing its very body and essence 



23^ FRENCH PROFILES 

from a foreign source, the result being that such 
Hfe as it presents is not really its own, but provided 
for it, ready-made, by the genius of another 
country. This species of influence I hold to be 
invariably the sign of a diseased and weakly con- 
dition. 

On the other hand, it is precisely when the 
poets of a country desire to clothe in new forms 
the personal sensations which are driving them to 
creative expression, that they are very likely to 
turn to a neighbouring literature, which happens 
to be at a stage of aesthetic development different 
from their own, for superficial suggestions. The 
ornaments of form which they bring back with 
them, when they are in this healthy and lively 
condition, are what I describe as " colour." In 
the early history of European poetry, none of the 
great poetic powers disdained to import from 
Italy the radiance and tincture of her executive 
skill. The introduction of the sonnet to England 
and to France, that of blank verse to England, 
that of prose comedy to France, these were in- 
stances of the absorption by living and vigoi-ous 
literatures of elements in the literary art of Italy 
which were instinctively felt by them to be 
strengthening and refining, but not subjugating. 
In these cases influence does nothing to lessen the 
importance of that delicate distinction of individual 
style which is the very charm of poetry, but 
rather gives that distinction a more powerful 
apparatus for making its presence felt. 

We have a very instructive example of this 
wholesome reflex action of one literature upon 
another, in the history of the fourteenth century. 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 337 

No one will pretend that France possessed at that 
epoch, or indeed had ever yet possessed, a poet of 
very high rank, with the exception of the anony- 
mous artist who bequeathed to us the Chanson 
de Roland. But, in the thirteenth century, she had 
produced that amazing work, Le Roman de la Rose, 
half of it amatory, the other half of it satirical, 
and the whole of it extraordinarily vivid and 
civilising. It would be too much to call the 
Roman de la Rose a great poem, or even two great 
poems fused into one. But it certainly was one 
of the most influential works which ever proceeded 
from the pen of man. Its influence, if we look at 
it broadly, was in the direction of warmth and 
colour. It glowed like a fire, it flashed like a 
sunrise. Guillaume de Lorris deserves our eternal 
thanks for being the first in modern Europe to 
write " pour esgaier les cceurs." He introduced 
into poetry amenity, the pulse of life, the power of 
Earthly Love. 

It is useful for us to compare the Roman de la 
Rose with what the best English poets were 
writing at the same time. What do we find ? 
We find a few dismal fragments of Scriptural 
morality and one or two sermons in verse. We 
may speculate in what a spirit a dulled English 
minstrel of the end of the thirteenth century would 
read the bold and brilliant couplets of Jean de 
Meung. He would certainly be dazzled, and 
perhaps be scandalised. He would creep back to 
his own clammy Ayenbite of Inwyt and his stony 
Cursor Mundi to escape from so much dangerous 
warmth and colour. It seems as though for 

Y 



338 FRENCH PROFILES 

nearly a hundred years England steadily refused 
to enter that fair orchard where Beauty and Love 
were dancing hand in hand around the thorny hedge 
that guarded the Rosebud of the World. But the 
revelation came at last, and it is not too much to 
say that English poetry, as it has since become, 
in the hands of Shakespeare and Keats and Tenny- 
son, sprang into life when the English poets first 
became acquainted with the gallant, courteous, 
and amatory allegory of the Worship of the Rose. 

It is very interesting to see that, apparently, it 
was no less a person than Chaucer who led 
English readers first to the grassy edge of the 
fountain of love. The evidence is curiously 
obscure, and has greatly exercised Chaucerian 
scholars. But the truth seems to be that Chaucer 
translated Le Roman de la Rose, as he tells us 
himself in the The Legend of Good IVomen, but 
that of this translation only a fragment now 
survives. The other two fragments, always 
printed together with Chaucer's, are now con- 
sidered to be not his, and indeed to come from 
two different hands. Into this vexed question we 
must not go, but it is worth noticing that although 
the three fragments which make up the fourteenth- 
century Romaunt of the Rose only cover, together, 
one-third of the French text, Chaucer constantly 
quotes from and refers to passages from other 
parts of the poem, showing that he was familiar 
with it all. 

English poetry, we may observe, had more to 
learn from Guillaume de Lorris than from Jean de 
Meung, great and more vigorous writer though 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 339 

the latter might be. What modern EngHsh 
poetry, in fact, in its restless adolescence, was 
leaning to France for was not so much vigour as 
grace. It had satiric vigour of its own in its 
apocalyptical Langland. But what beamed and 
glowed upon Chaucer from the Roman de la Rose 
was its human sweetness, its perfume as of a bush 
of eglantine in April sunshine. It was the first 
delicate and civilised poem of modern Europe, 
and its refinement and elegance, its decorated 
beauty and its close observation of the human 
heart were the qualities which attracted to it 
Chaucer, as he came starved from the chill 
allegories and moralities of his formless native 
literature. 

It was in the autumn of 1359 that Chaucer, as 
a page in the retinue of Prince Lionel, paid what 
is supposed to have been his earliest visit to 
France. He took his part in the luckless in- 
vasion of Champagne, and he was captured by 
the French, perhaps at R^thel. Until March 1360, 
when King Edward III. ransomed him for the 
sum of £i(i, he was a prisoner in France. During 
these five or six months we have to think of 
Chaucer as a joyous youth of nineteen, little cast 
down by the fortunes of war, but full of sentiment, 
poetry, and passion. Up to that time, doubtless, 
he had read few or none but French books. We 
cannot question that he was familiar with the 
Roman de la Rose, and it is just possible that it 
was at this time that he came in contact with 
the lyrical writers whose personal poetry affected 
him so much later on. I am inclined, however, 



340 FRENCH PROFILES 

to think this unlikely, because Eustache Deschamps 
was a youth of about Chaucer's own age, and 
although Guillaume de Machault was consider- 
ably older, there had been little public distribution 
of his verses so early as 1360. 

We must put the date of Chaucer's coming 
under the influence of the French writers of chants 
royaux and lais and ballades a httle later. In the 
summer of 1369 he was once more in France, 
and this time, it would appear, on some pacific 
embassage. Perhaps he escaped from the plague 
which decimated England in that year, and carried 
off even Queen Philippa herself. Perhaps he was 
engaged on a diplomatic mission. We have to 
walk carefully in the darkness of these mediaeval 
dates, which offer difficulties even to the erudition 
of M. Marcel Schwob. At all events, Chaucer was 
certainly then " in partibus Franciae," and it can 
hardly but have been now that he fell under the 
influence of Machault, whom he admired so much, 
and of Eustache Deschamps, in whom he awakened 
so enthusiastic a friendship.^ There was an entente 
cordiale indeed when Deschamps and Froissart com- 
plimented Chaucer, and Chaucer imitated Machault 
and Oton de Granson. We find the English poet 
passing through France again in 1373, and again 
in 1377. We have vague and accidental record 
of at least seven of these diplomatic journeys, 
although after 1378 the French interest seems 

^ Mr. Fitzmaurice-Kelly reminds me that, in his celebrated letter to 
the Constable of Portugal, the Spanish poet Santillana goes into 
raptures about four of the writers whom Chaucer admired — Guillaume 
de Lorris, Jean de Meung, Machault, and Granson. 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 341 

entirely swallowed up in the far more vivid fasci- 
nation which Italy exercised over him. 

To a poet who was privileged to come beneath 
the intellectual sway of Petrarch and Boccaccio at 
the glorious close of their careers, it might well be 
that such suns would seem entirely to eclipse the 
tapers of those who composed ballades and virelais 
in the rich provinces north of the Loire. Himself 
a man of far greater genius than any French 
writer of the fourteenth century, we might be 
prepared to find Chaucer disdaining the gentle 
balladists of France. He had, to a far greater 
degree than any of them, vigour, originality, fulness 
of invention. Eustache Deschamps is sometimes 
a very forcible poet, but he sinks into insignifi- 
cance when we set him side by side with the giant 
who wrote the Canterbury Tales. Yet if Chaucer 
brought vigour to English poetry, he found in 
France, and among these rhetorical lyrists, pre- 
cisely the qualities which were lacking at home. 
What it was essential for England to receive at 
that most critical moment of her intellectual 
history was an external, almost a superficial, 
matter. She did not require the body and bones 
of genius, but the garments with which talent 
covers them. These robes are what we name 
grace, elegance, melody and workmanship, and 
these delicate textiles were issuing in profusion 
from the looms of France. 

This is the secret of the strong influence exer- 
cised on a very great poet like Chaucer, and 
through him upon the poetry of England, by a 
writer so essentially mediocre as Guiliaume de 



342 FRENCH PROFILES 

Machault. It was the accomplished tradition, the 
picturesque and artistic skill of the lesser poet, 
which so strongly attracted the greater. From 
Machault English poetry took that heroic couplet 
which had hitherto been unknown to it, and 
which was to become one of its most abundant 
and characteristic forms. In a variety of ways 
the prosody of Great Britain was affected by that 
of France between 1350 and 1370. The loose 
and languid forms in which British poets had 
hitherto composed were abandoned in delight at 
the close metre of the French, and about 1350 
John Gower produced his Cinquante Balades not 
merely in the form but in the very language of 
Eustache Deschamps. His Mirour de I'Omme, a 
long and important poem first printed by Mr. 
Macaulay in 1899, is an instance of pure Gallicisa- 
tion. Chaucer did not imitate the French thus 
grossly. Indeed, he went to France for nothing 
interior or essential, but, sensitively conscious that 
his own country lacked most of all the aesthetic 
graces, he borrowed from writers like Machault 
and Granson the external colour and the technical 
forms. But the substantial forces which awakened 
the splendid bourgeois genius of Chaucer were the 
aristocratic influences of Dante, Petrarch, and 
Boccaccio. 

Two hundred years later, at the next great crisis 
of English literature, a very similar condition is 
apparent, though exposed with less intensity. 
The mediccval forms of poetry, allegorical, didactic, 
diffuse, had now worn themselves out. There 
was a total abandonment of " gardens " of rhe- 
toric, of plaisances of morality. These efforts of 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 343 

exhausted fancy continued to please English 
readers longer than they did French ones, and it 
is to be noted that their decay was sudden with us, 
not gradual as with you. Not only, for instance, 
did the transitional rhetoricians of the beginning 
of the sixteenth century exercise no influence on 
English thought, but there is no evidence that a 
single person in England read a line of Jean 
Le Maire des Beiges. But a little later all is 
different, A recent critic has said that the 
writings of Wyatt and Surrey, though not epoch- 
making, were " epoch - marking." They were 
not men of genius, but they were of eminently 
modern taste. They perceived that everybody 
was tired of long-winded allegory and rhetoric, 
and they set themselves to write verse " in short 
parcels," that is to say, in brief lyrics. So they 
looked to France, where Wyatt passed, probably, 
in 1532. What did he find? Doubtless he 
found Clement Marot in the act of putting forth 
L Adolescence Clementine. It is probable that Marot, 
with his " elegant badinage," was too gay for these 
stiff English nobles, so solemn and rigid. His 
want of intellectual ambition would strike them, 
and they passed on to Italy. But something of 
the perfume of France was left upon their fingers, 
and they seem to have borrowed, perhaps from 
Melin de Saint-Gelais, but more probably from 
Marot, the sonnet - form, hitherto unknown in 
England. It cannot be pretended that in the great 
awakening of English lyrical poetry in the middle 
of the sixteenth century France had any great share, 
but what there was tended in the aesthetic direc- 



344 FRENCH PROFILES 

tion. The ugly hardness of the last mediaeval poets 
was exchanged for a daintiness of expression, a 
graceful lucidity, in the merit of which Clement 
Marot's rondeaux and epigrams had a distinct 
share. 

We have now considered two instances — the 
one important, the other slight — in which English 
poetry received, at critical moments, a distinct 
colour from the neighbouring art of France. In 
each case the influence was exercised at a time 
when the poetic ambition of our country greatly 
exceeded the technical skill of its proficients, and 
when the verse-writers were glad to go to school 
to masters more habituated to art and grace than 
themselves. But we have now another and a 
very curious phenomenon to note. Fifty years 
later than the revival of Wyatt and Surrey, when 
Elizabethan literature was beginning to rise into pro- 
minence, several very strenuous efforts were made 
to take advantage of contemporary French ac- 
complishment, and with one accord these attempts 
conspicuously failed. We find in 1580 that the 
French were " highly regarded " by the school of 
versifiers at Cambridge, and before this Edmund 
Spenser had translated the Visions of Joachim Du 
Bellay. It might be supposed that this would be 
the beginning of a consistent imitation of the 
Pleiade by the English poets — just, for instance, 
as modern Swedish poetry was at this moment 
started by Rosenhane's imitations of Ronsard. 
But on the vast wave of Elizabethan literature, now 
sweeping up with irresistible force and volume, 
we find scarcely a trace of the Pleiade. The one 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 345 

important writer who borrowed from the French 
was Samuel Daniel, whose famous Delia of 1592 
obviously owes both its title and its form to 
Maurice Sceve's De'lie of 1544. Daniel also 
imitates Baif and Pontus de Thyard, and had a 
vast admiration for his more immediate contem- 
porary, Philippe Desportes.^ 

The experiments of Jodelle and Garnier in 
Senecan drama were examined by the English 
dramatists of the end of the sixteenth century — 
by Kyd and Daniel in particular — and were 
deliberately rejected. The pathway taken by 
classical French tragedy was even touched for a 
moment, in Titus Andronicus, by Shakespeare him- 
self, but it was instantly quitted for the utterly 
divergent road which led to Othello and King 
Lear. The sententious and rhetorical character 
of French drama was rejected by all the great 
Elizabethans, and the only contemporary influence 
accepted from France by our poetry at this time 
was that of Du Bartas, whose violent and grotesque 
style gratified a growing taste for exaggeration 
among the courtiers. Du Bartas pointed the way 
to that decadence which fell only too swiftly for 
English poetry, like a plague of insects upon some 
glorious summer garden. But it is interesting to 
observe that from 1580 to 1620, that is to say 
during the years in which the aesthetic sense was 
most widely and most brilliantly developed in 
English poetry, French influences of the best kind 

^ Since this was written, however, Mr. Sidney Lee, in a valuable 
essay on " The Elizabethan Sonnet-Literature " (printed in June 1904), 
has drawn attention to Lodge's indebtedness to Ronsard. 



346 FRENCH PROFILES 

knocked at its door in vain. In its superfluous 
richness, it needed no further gifts. It had colour 
enough and substance enough to spare for all the 
world. 

Very different was the condition of things fifty 
years later. English poetry in the Jacobean age 
was like a plant in a hothouse, that runs violently 
to redundant blossom, and bears the germs of 
swift decay in the very splendour of its buds. 
Already, before the death of James I., the fresh- 
ness was all gone, and the tendency to decline 
was obvious. Under Charles I. the development 
of literature was considerably warped, and at 
length completely arrested, by the pressure of 
political events. Then the Civil War broke out, 
and the English Court, with its artistic hangers-on, 
was dispersed in foreign countries. 

As early as 1624, on the occasion of the 
Marriage Treaty, the attention of the English 
poets may probably have been directed to 
Paris, but there had followed grave estrange- 
ments between the Courts of France and Eng- 
land, and in 1627 a disastrous rupture. The 
earliest verses of Edmund Waller celebrate in- 
cidents in Buckingham's expedition, and seem to 
prove that Waller had even then been made aware 
of the reforms in French prosody instituted by 
Malherbe. The Civil War broke out in 1642, 
and the raising of the king's standard at Notting- 
ham was the signal to the Muses to snatch up 
their lyres and quit this inhospitable island. The 
vast majority of our living poets were Royalists, 
and when Charles I. was defeated they either 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 347 

withdrew into obscurity or left the country. 
Suckling was already in Paris ; he was followed 
there by Cowley, Waller, Davenant, Denham and 
Roscommon, that is to say, by the men who were 
to form poetic taste in England in the succeeding 
generation. From 1645 to 1660 the English 
Court was in Continental exile, and it carried 
about it a troop of poets, who were sent, like so 
many carrier - pigeons, upon wild diplomatic 
errands. 

It was a great misfortune for English poetry that 
it was flung into the arms of France at this precise 
moment. What the poets found in Paris was 
not the best that could be given to them, and what 
there was of the best they did not appreciate. 
Their own taste in its rapid decadence had 
become fantastical and disordered. We have but 
to look at the early Odes of Abraham Cowley to 
see into what peril English style had sunken. It 
had grown diffuse and yet rugged ; it had surren- 
dered itself to a wild abuse of metaphor, and, con- 
scious of its failing charm, it was trying to produce 
an impression by violent extravagance of imagery. 
Its syntax had all gone wrong ; it had become the 
prey of tortured grammatical inversions. 

It is strange that in coming to France the English 
poets of 1645 d'^i ^^^ see the misfortune of all this. 
They should have found, if they had but had eyes 
to perceive it, that French poetry was on the high 
road to escape the very faults we have just men- 
tioned. The fault of poetry such as that of Waller 
and Davenant is that it is complicated and yet 
not dignified. Well, the English Royalists who 
waited upon Queen Henrietta in Paris might have 



348 FRENCH PROFILES 

observed in the verses of Malherbe and Racan 
poetry which was majestic and yet simple, an 
expression of true and beautiful sentiments in 
language of pure sobriety. But these were the 
new classics of France, and the English exiles had 
been educated in a taste which was utterly anti- 
classic. They could not comprehend Malherbe, 
who was too stately for them, but unfortunately 
there were other influences which exactly suited 
their habits of mind. There can be no doubt 
that they were pleased with the posthumous writ- 
ings of Th^ophile de Viau, whose nature-painting 
has left its mark on Cowley, and unquestionably, 
like the rest of the world, they were enchanted 
with the fantastic, almost burlesque talent of Saint- 
Amant, who ruled the salons of Paris during the 
whole of the English Exile, and who seemed to his 
admirers of 1650 a very great poet whom it was a 
distinction to imitate. 

The English ear for rhythm is not constituted 
like the French ear. We have a prosodical instinct 
which is entirely unlike yours. This was ill com- 
prehended, or rather not comprehended at all, by 
the English Exiles. They were confronted by 
the severity of Malherbe and the uniformity of 
Maynard, and they were unable to appreciate 
either the one or the other. The English sub- 
limity, as exemplified at that very hour by the 
majesty of Milton, is obtained by quite other 
means. The sympathy of the English poets was 
with what is irregular, and they never were genuine 
classics, like the French, but merely, in ceasing to 
be romantic, became pseudo-classical. The very 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 349 

type of a pseudo-classic in revolt against romance 
is Denham, in his extravagantly-praised Cooper's 
Hill. To compare this with the exquisite Retraite 
of Racan, with which it is almost exactly con- 
temporaneous, is to realise what the difference 
is between a falsely and a genuinely classical 
poem. Racan's lines seem to be breathed out 
without effort from a pure Latin mind ; the 
couplets of Denham are like the shout of a 
barbarian, who has possessed himself of a toga, 
indeed, but has no idea of how it ought to be 
worn. 

It is noticeable that foreigners are seldom 
influenced in their style by their immediate con- 
temporaries in another country. The prestige of 
public acceptance is required before an alien 
dares to imitate. Hence we search almost in 
vain for traces of direct relation between the 
Parisian Precieux and their British brethren. 
There is little evidence that Voiture or Bense- 
rade had admirers among the Exiles, although 
they returned to England with ideas about pas- 
toral, which I think they must have owed to 
the ^glogues of Segrais. But it is certain that 
they were infatuated by the burlesque writers of 
France, and that Scarron, in particular, was 
instantly imitated. The Virgile Travesti was ex- 
travagantly admired and promptly paraphrased 
in England, and in Cotton we had a poet who 
deliberately and with great popular success set 
out to be the English Scarron. Trivial in French, 
these burlesque exercises became in English 
intolerably heavy and vulgarly obscene. The 



350 FRENCH PROFILES 

taste for rhymed burlesque was a poor gift for 
the Exiles to bring back with them from the 
country which already possessed the Adonis of 
La Fontaine. 

In offering to their countrymen the forms of 
French poetry, without giving them any of its 
enchanting dignity and harmony, the English 
poets of the Restoration were doing the exact 
opposite of what Chaucer had done in the four- 
teenth century. They imported the substance 
without the colour ; they neglected precisely the 
gift which our neighbour has always had to 
bestow, namely, the charm of aesthetic propor- 
tion. They were partly unfortunate, no doubt, in 
the moment of their return to London. It was in 
the very year 1660 that the great revival of poetic 
taste began in Paris, and, by coming back to their 
exciting duties and pleasures at that moment, the 
English exiles excluded themselves from participa- 
tion in Boileau, Moliere, and Racine. But would 
they have learned to appreciate these great masters 
if the restoration of the House of Stuart had been 
delayed for twenty years ? It is permissible to 
believe that they would not. 

The invasion of the British stage by French 
drama between 1665 and 1690, is the most 
striking example of the influence of French taste 
which the history of English poetry has to offer. 
The theatres had been closed by an ordinance of 
the Puritan government, and all performance of 
plays forbidden throughout England in 1642. So 
savage was the enactment that the theatres were 
dismantled, in order to make acting impossible, 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 351 

while all actors in plays, even in private, were 
liable to be publicly whipped, and the audiences 
individually fined. The result of this savage law 
was that the very tradition of histrionics died out 
in England, which had been the most theatrical 
country in Europe. It was not one of the least 
satisfactions to the banished Royalists in Paris that 
they could enjoy their beloved entertainment there, 
as it was no longer possible to do in London. 
They could not sit through performances of 
Fletcher and Massinger and Ford, but they could 
delight their eyes and their ears with the tragedies 
of Scud^ry and Tristan I'Hermite and La Cal- 
pren^de. You will remind me that they could do 
better than this by attending the dramas of Rotrou 
and ten times better by studying those of Corneille 
But the curious thing is that while there are de- 
finite traces of La Calprenede and Scud^ry on our 
English drama, there is not, so far as I know, a 
vestige of Rotrou, and the English attitude to 
Corneille is very extraordinary. A poetaster, 
named Joseph Rutter, translated Le Cid as early 
as 1637, that is to say, in the midst of Corneille's 
original triumph ; it is interesting to note that 
Rutter's version was made at the command of the 
English king and queen. This bad translation, which 
enjoyed no success, sufficed for English curiosity. 
On the other hand, Les Horaces was a great 
favourite in England, and was carefully translated 
into verse by three or four poets. Some couplets 
by Sir John Denham, accompanying the version 
made about 1660 by the matchless Orinda, have 
a particular interest for us. Denham (who was, 



352 FRENCH PROFILES 

we must remember, the Racan of the classical 
movement in England) says of Les Horaces : — 

" This martial story, which through France did come, 
And there was wrought on great Corneille's loom, 
Orinda's matchless muse to Britain brought, 
And foreign verse our English accents taught." 

The total ignoring of the Cidy while Les Horaces 
received boundless admiration, is a curious fact, 
which can only, I think, become intelligible when 
we obs^ve that to an English audience in 1665 
the chivalry and panache of the former play were 
unintelligible, while the showy patriotism and 
high-strung amorosity of the other were exactly 
to the English taste. Wherever Corneille's psy- 
chological study of the human heart became 
subtle, he rose above the range of the Royalist 
exiles. In the English tragedies of the Restora- 
tion we see the predominant part which violent 
passion took in the interest of the age. This, 
together with the laborious and unflagging em- 
phasis which becomes to us so tedious in these 
dramatic writers, the English poets borrowed, not 
from Corneille, whom they venerated but hardly 
comprehended, but from the lesser heroic drama- 
tists of the same age. 

A little later in the seventeenth century, when 
the great men had made their appearance in 
France, the English dramatists could no longer 
overlook Moliere and Racine ; but the luminous 
wit of the one and the harmonious and passionate 
tenderness of the other were beyond their reach. 
There is evidence of the favour which Quinault, 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 353 

especially for his Roman tragedies, enjoyed in 
London, and there was something in his colour- 
less, melodious, and graceful style which attracted 
and did not terrify the contemporary English 
translator. The want of interest shown by the 
London adapters in the successive masterpieces of 
Racine is quite extraordinary. A solitary attempt 
was made in 1675 by John Crowne, or under his 
auspices, to bring Andromaque on the English 
stage, but shorn of all its tender beauty. This, 
amazing as it sounds, is practically the only 
evidence remaining to show that our Gallicised 
playwrights were conscious of the existence of 
Racine. The fact is, no doubt, that he soared 
above their reach in his celestial emotion, his 
delicate passion and his penetration into the 
human heart. English versification in 1675 was 
capable of rough and vigorous effects, music of 
the drum and the fife ; but it had no instrument 
at its command at that time which could repro- 
duce the notes of Racine upon the violin. Here 
was an instance of colour which was evanescent 
and could not be transferred. The substance of 
Moli^re, on the other hand, offered no technical 
difficulties. It is extraordinary how many of 
Moli^re's plays were imitated or adapted on the 
English stage during his life-time or very shortly 
after the close of it. Our great Dryden mingled 
L'^tourdi with the Amant Indiscret of Quinault, and 
as the result produced Sir Martin Mar-all in 1667. 
He used the De'pit Amoureux and Les Precieuses 
Ridicules in adapting Thomas Corneille's arrange- 
ment of El Astrologp fingido of Calderon, in 1668. 

z 



354 FRENCH PROFILES 

The English playwrights, however, had no real ap- 
preciation of Moliere, though they stole from him 
so freely. The poetess, Mrs. Aphra Behn, being 
accused in 1678 of borrowing scenes from the 
** Malad Imagenere" (as she called it), admitted 
frankly that she had done so, but " infinitely to 
Moleer's advantage." 

The poetry of France in the third quarter of 
the seventeenth century is pre-eminently char- 
acteristic of a grave and polished system of 
society. The age of Racine was, and could not 
but be, an age of extreme refinement. It was 
useless for the crude contemporary dramatists of 
London to take the substance of the Parisian 
masterpieces, since their spirit absolutely evaded 
them. English society under Charles II. had 
elements of force and intellectual curiosity, but 
it lacked exactly what Paris possessed — the orna- 
ment of polished, simple, and pure taste. In 
the jargon of the time Racine and Moliere were 
" correct," while even English poets of genius, such 
as Dryden and Otway, hardly knew that " correct- 
ness " existed. Hence Boileau, in whom " correct- 
ness " took the form of a doctrinal system, made 
no impression at all upon the English poetry of 
his own time. He could not act upon English 
social thought until England ceased to be bar- 
barous, and it is, therefore, not until the age of 
Queen Anne that the powerful influence of 
Boileau, like a penetrating odour, is perceived 
in English poetry, and above all in the verse 
of Pope. In the First Epistle of the Second Book, 
published in 1737, that great poet reviews the 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 355 

literature of the last seventy years in lines of 
extraordinary strength and conciseness : — 

" We conquered France, but felt our captive's charms ; 
Her arts victorious triumph'd o'er our arms : 
Britain to soft refinements less a foe, 
Wit grew polite, and numbers learned to flow. 
Waller was smooth ; but Dryden taught to join 
The varying verse, the full-resounding line. 
The long majestic march and energy divine. 
Though still some traces of our rustic vein 
And splay-foot verse remained, and will remain. 
Late, very late, correctness grew our care, 
When the tired nation breath'd from civil war. 
Exact Racine and Corneille's noble fire 
Showed us that France had something to admire. 
Not but the tragic spirit was our own. 
And fiiU in Shakespeare, fair in Otway shone. 
But Otway failed to polish or refine. 
And fluent Shakespeare scarce effaced a line." 

When Pope wrote these vigorous verses, he had 
reached the meridian of his art. He was the 
greatest living poet not only of England, but of 
the world. He had to look back over a literary 
career of nearly forty years, which had been a per- 
petual triumph, yet in the course of which he had 
been steadily conducted by the genius of Boileau, 
who had died in body exactly at the moment 
when Pope was giving new lustre to his spirit. 
No critic of authority will question that Pope was 
a greater writer than Boileau, excellent as the latter 
is. In the innumerable instances where direct 
comparison between them is invited, the richness 
of Pope's language, the picturesque fulness of his 
line, transcends the art of Boileau. But there is 
always due a peculiar honour to the artist who is 



356 FRENCH PROFILES 

a forerunner, and this belongs to the author of 
Le Lutrin. 

The qualities which entered the English poetry of 
the eighteenth century came through Pope, but they 
had their source in Boileau. From him, enemy 
as he was to affectation, pedantry and spurious 
emphasis, we learned that a verse, whether good 
or bad, should at least say something. Boileau's 
attitude of " honest zeal " commended itself, theo- 
retically if not always practically, to the mind of 
Pope, who is never tired of praising the French- 
man, " that most candid satirist." Both imitated 
Horace, but even Pope's vanity could not conceal 
the fact that he studied the great Roman master 
mainly in the l^pttres of Boileau. We have here 
an excellent example of the kind of influence of 
which we found an example so many centuries 
back in Chaucer. Here it is not a dull transference 
of material, ill-comprehended, ill-digested, from 
one literature to another. It is the capture of the 
transient charm, the colour and odour of a living 
art. Few exercises in criticism would be more 
instructive than an analysis of French influences 
on the splendid poetry of Pope. They mainly re- 
solve themselves into the results of a patient and 
intelligent study of Boileau. If we compare the 
Essay on Criticism with the Art Poe'tique we see 
the young Pope at the feet of the ancient tyrant 
of letters ; if we place Le Lutrin by the side 
of The Rape of the Lock we see the knack of 
mock-heroic caught, and developed, and raised to 
a pinnacle of technical beauty. The Epistle to 
Dr. Arbuthnot is vastly superior to the poem A son 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 357 

Esprit, but Pope would never have traversed the 
road if Boileau had not pointed out the way. 
Pope captured the very touch of Boileau, but he 
heightened it, and he made it English. How 
English he made it can be seen from the fact that 
the manner spread, as Pope's and as English, to 
the literatures of Italy, Sweden, and even of 
Russia. 

It spread, moreover, to the whole of the fashion 
of poetry to be written in Pope's own England 
through the remainder of the eighteenth century. 
Even where that fashion turned to forms more un- 
classical or even languidly romantic, a faint varnish 
of Pope's precision continued to characterise it. 
But during the eighteenth century (that epoch so 
curious in the history of poetry, where everything 
seemed to combine to hold the imagination in a 
static if not in a semi-paralysed condition) there 
was no more display of influence from France on 
England. What influence there was was exercised 
all in the reverse direction. The moral disquisition 
in exquisitely-serried couplets gave way in some 
degree to descriptive poetry as Thomson devised 
it, to lyrical poetry as it was conceived by Gray. 
But these writers, eminent enough in their place 
and their degree, not only owed nothing to France, 
but they exerted an immediate influence on the 
poets of that country. The Abb6 Delille, with his 
olives and his vines, his corn-fields and his gardens 
and his bees, was inspired in the second degree, 
no doubt, by Virgil, but in the first degree, unques- 
tionably, by the natural descriptions of the English 
poets of the preceding generation. 



358 FRENCH PROFILES 

When we come to the dawn of a new age, when 
we examine for exotic impressions the writings of 
the pioneers of the romantic revival, we find that 
the prestige is still all on the side of Great Britain. 
On Cowper and Burns and Blake we discover no 
trace of any consciousness of foreign influence, 
other than is indicated by an occasional and 
usually hostile acknowledgment of the existence 
of Voltairfe and Rousseau on the prosaic confines 
of the art. Quite different is the case in France, 
when we approach a writer in some respects more 
modern than either Cowper or Burns, namely, 
Andre Ch^nier, the more conventional parts of 
whose works display, to an English reader, a far 
greater pre-occupation with English poetry than, 
I believe, any French critic has noted. In the 
latter part of the eighteenth century the deplorable 
didacticism of verse, with the tedium of its topo- 
graphical and descriptive pieces, of its odes to 
Inoculation and to The Genius of the Thames, of 
its epics on the cultivation of the sugar-cane, 
and the breeding of sheep and the navigation of 
sailing-vessels, although it took its start from a 
misconception of the teaching of Boileau, had long 
ceased to be definitely French, and had become 
technically British in character. But the group 
of Parisian poets, so solemn and so deadly dull, 
who formed the court of Delille after the French 
Revolution, were the disciples of the verse of 
Thomson, in fact, as much as in theory they were 
the pupils of the prose of BufTon. 

The reaction against dryness and flatness in 
imaginative literature was complete and systematic 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 359 

in England long before it had been accepted by 
the intelligent classes in France. The authority of 
Chateaubriand, although most of his important work 
was published already, was not in any wide degree 
accepted until after 18 10, even if this be not too 
early a date to suggest for it, while the formular 
tendency of the whole work of the author of Alala 
and Rene was rather to the revival of a vivid, 
picturesque, and imaginative prose than to the 
study of verse. But in England, before 1 8 1 o, the 
revolution was complete in the essential art of 
poetry itself. Wordsworth and Coleridge had 
completed their reform, and it was of a nature 
absolutely radical. In 1798 they had determined 
that " the passions of men should be incorporated 
with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature," 
and they had, working on those lines, added to 
the poetry of the world some of its most perfect 
and its most durable ornaments. Crabbe, Camp- 
bell, even Sir Walter Scott, had completely re- 
vealed the nature of their genius before France 
was awakened to the full lesson of Chateaubriand. 
When the second romantic epoch was revealed in 
France, the great era in England was over. The 
year 1822, which saw Alfred de Vigny, Victor 
Hugo, and Lamartine ascend the Parisian horizon 
as a new constellation of unequalled effulgence, 
saw the burial of Shelley in that Roman garden of 
death where Keats had shortly before been laid, 
and saw the retirement of Byron to Genoa, his 
latest Italian home. 

It was physically impossible, therefore, that the 
belated Romantiques in France, at the beginning of 



360 FRENCH PROFILES 

the nineteenth century, could exercise any influence 
over their British brethren, who had been roused 
from slumber one watch earlier than they had. 
Far north, in the valleys of Somerset, by the Isis 
at Oxford, long before there was any motion of 
life by the Seine or by the Rhone, the spirit of 
living poetry had arisen, singing, from the ground, 
and the boyish Lamartine and Vigny, had they 
been aware of the fact, might have whispered of 
their English predecessors in 1810 : — 

" By rose-hung river and light-foot rill 

There are who rest not, who think long 

Till they discern as from a hill 

At the sun's hour of morning song, 

Known of souls only, and those souls free, 

The sacred spaces of the sea." 

The English Romantics of the beginning of the 
nineteenth century earnestly and pointedly repu- 
diated the influence which French poetry had 
exercised in England a hundred years earlier. 
This deliberate revolt finds a very interesting 
expression in the Sleep and Poetry of Keats, a 
poem of much importance in the history of 
criticism. Sleep and Poetry was written in 181 6, 
six years before the first C6nacle was formed 
in Paris, and four years before the publication of 
Lamartine's Meditations Poe'tiques. In the course of 
it, Keats describes the practice of the Anglo-Gallic 
writers of verse in picturesque and stringent lan- 
guage, culminating in an attack on the impeccable 
Boileau himself. He says : — 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 361 

*'A schism 
Nurtured by foppery and barbarism 
Made great Apollo blush for this his land. 
Men were thought wise who could not understand 
His glories : with a puling infant's force 
They swayed about upon a rocking-horse 
And thought it Pegasus. . . . Ill-fated race ! 
That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face 
And did not know it, — no, they went about, 
Holding a poor, decrepit standard out, 
Mark'd with most flimsy mottoes, and in large 
The name of one BoiLF.AU ! " 

During the ninety years which separate us from 
the early enthusiasms of Keats and Shelley, it 
cannot be said that this influence of France has 
to any marked degree asserted itself on the poetry 
of England. It would be in the highest degree 
fantastic to pretend that it can be traced on the 
texture of Tennyson or of the Brownings. It is 
a remarkable fact that the genius of Victor Hugo, 
although of such overwhelming force among the 
Latin nations, failed to awaken the least echo in the 
poets of the North. The allusions to Hugo in the 
writings of his greatest immediate contemporaries 
in England are ludicrously perfunctory and un- 
appreciative. Tennyson addressed to him a well- 
intentioned sonnet which is a monument of tact- 
lessness, in which Victor Hugo is addressed as 
" Weird Titan " and in which the summit of 
the French poet's performance appears to have 
been reached in his having been polite to one of 
Tennyson's sons. " Victor in drama, victor in 
romance," the English poet sings in artless 
wit, and shows no appreciation whatever of the 
unmatched victories in the splendour and per- 



362 FRENCH PROFILES 

fection of lyrical melody. It was Mr. Swin- 
burne who, about 1866, earliest insisted on the 
supremacy of Victor Hugo : — 

" Thou art chief of us, and lord; 

Thy song is as a sword 
Keen-edged and scented in the blade from flowers ; 

Thou art lord and king ; but we 

Lift younger eyes, and see 
Less of high hope, less light on wandering hours." 

In spite, however, of Mr. Swinburne's reiterated 
praise of that " imperial soul," and of the respect- 
ful study which has been given to the poet in 
England for the last forty years, Victor Hugo has 
asserted little or no influence on English poetry. 
Much lesser talents than his, however, have offered 
in the later years of the century a colour to a 
certain school of our poets, and it is in Th^ophile 
Gautier and Theodore de Banville that our English 
Parnassians found something of the same aesthetic 
stimulus that their predecessors of the fourteenth 
century found in Guillaume de Machault and 
Eustache Deschamps. 

But our hour is over, and this brief and imper- 
fect discourse must come to an end. We have 
very lightly touched on the events of six hundred 
years. Are we to speculate, imperfect prophets 
that we are, on the future relations of the two great 
countries of the west, which, far beyond all others, 
have always been in the vanguard of liberty and 
light ? That is a feat of daring beyond my limited 
imagination. But I cannot help nourishing a 
confident belief that in the future, as well as in 



FRENCH INFLUENCE 363 

the past, the magnificent literatures of France and 
of England will interact upon one another, that 
each will at the right psychological moments flash 
colour and radiance which will find reflection on 
the polished surface of the other. To facilitate 
this, in ever so small and so humble a degree, must 
be the desire of every lover of England and of 
France. And in order to adopt from each what 
shall be serviceable to the other, what is most 
needful must be a condition of mutual intelligence. 
That entente cordiale which we value so deeply, and 
which some of us have so long laboured to pro- 
mote, — it must not be confined to the merchants 
and to the politicians. The poets also must insist 
upon their share of it. 



INDEX 



Abbi Constantin, M, Ludovic 

Hal^vy, 274 
Abbi Mouret, Zola's, 132 
Abbd RoideUt, Fabre, F., 160 
Abbi Tigrane, Fabre's, 153, i6o, 

161, 162, 163, 166, 179 
Addison, Joseph, 184 
Adelaide du Guesclin, Voltaire, 

45.58 
Aiss6, Mademoiselle, 35-67 
Alcaforada, Mariana, 72. See Mari- 
ana 
Alexis, Paul, 131, 133, 141 
Alfieri, 98 

Amaidie, d'Aurevilly's, 94-95 
Amant Indiscret, Quinault's, 353 
Amour Impossible, d'Aurevilly, 95 
Amour Marin, M. Paul Fort's, 

327 
Amoureuses, Les, Daudet, 114, 126 
Andromaque, Racine's, 353 
Anneau d Amithyste, 269 
Annunzio, G. de, 196, 246 
Aphrodite, M. Pierre Louys, 271 
Apres-Midi d'un Faune, Mallarm^'s, 

307. 309 
Arithuse, M. de R6gnier, 294, 

295 
Argental, Comte d', 38, 51, 52, 

60 
Armand, the actor, 53 
Arnold, Matthew, 2, 30, 197, 301 
Art Poitique, Boileau, 356 
Asse, M. Eugfene, 49, 88 
Atala, Chateaubriand, 359 
Athies, A un Dinerd', d'Aurevilly, 

96, 105, 106 



Au Maroc, P. Loti, 225 
Aumont, Due d', 57 
Aurevilly, Jules Barbey d', 93-107 
Avec Trois Mille Cent Francs, 

Daudet, 113 
Aventures du Grand Sidoine, Zola, 

134 
d'Aydie, Chevalier Blaise Marie, 

45-48, 51, 55, 56, 57, 60-61. 62, 

63, 64, 65 
Aziyadi, P. Loti, 204, 219 

BaTf, 345 

Ballades Franfaises, M. Paul Fort's, 

325 
Balthasar, A. France, 191 
Balzac, Honors de, 127, 160, 246, 

267, 270 

(John Louis Guez), 69, 70 

Banville, Theodore de, 362 
Barante, M. de, 49 
Barbauld, Mrs., 290 
Barbin, Paris publisher, 71 
Bamabi, Fabre F., 160 
Barr^s, M. Maurice, 261, 271 
Barrie, Mr., 268 
Batilliat, M. Marcel, 300 
Baudelaire, C, 318, 319, 324, 329, 

333 
Bazin, M. Ren6, 273-290 
Beauvois, M. , 72, 73, 75, 76, 88, 

89, 90 
B^darieux, 154, 155, 159, 172, 

180 
Beerbohm, Mr. Max, 100 
Behn, Mrs. Aphra, 354 
Beja, 72, 75, 77, 88, 91 



36s 



366 



INDEX 



Benserade, 349 

Bercail, Fabre, F. , Le, 160 

Bernard, Claude, 152 

Berry, Mde. la Duchesse de, 45 

Blake. William, 358 

Boccaccio, 341, 342 

Boileau, 85, 350, 354, 3SS-357. 3S8. 

361 
Boissier, M. Gaston, 69 
Boissonade, M. , 72 
Bolingbroke, Lady. See Villette 

Lord, 41, 42, 44, 45, 48, 58 

Bonheur dans le Crime, Le, d'Aure- 

villy, 98, 105, 106 
Bon Plaisir, M. de R6gnier's Le, 

302 
Boufflers, 130 
Bouillon, Duchesse de, 59 
Boule de Suif, M. Maupassant, 

142 
Bourges, M. itl^mir, 272 
Bourget, M. Paul, 94, 113, 138, 

180, 269, 239-270 
Bournonville, Mme. la Princesse 

de, 52 
Bouton, Noel, Count of St. L^ger- 

sur-Dheune, 73. See Chamilly 
Bridges, Mr. Robert, 323 
Browning, Elizabeth, 249, 361 
Brutnmell, Du Dandyisme et de 

Georges, 94, 100, 101 
Brunetifere, M. , 269 
Buffon, 358 
Bunbury , Miss Lydia, later Comtesse 

de Vigny, 13, 14 

Sir Edward, 13 

Burle, Zola's Le Capitaine, 145, 

146 
Burns, Robert, 358 
Byron, Lord, 5, 10, 11, 13, 31, 98, 

99. loi, 315, 359 

Calandrini, Madame, 48, 49, 55, 

56, 59, 61, 62, 66 
Calpren^de, Gautier La, 351 
Campbell, Thomas, 359 
Canterbury Tales, Chaucer, 341 
Cantilines, Les, Moreas', 186 



Carlyle, Thomas, 100, 195 
Carnet de Danse , Zola's, 131 
C^ard, M. Henri, 142 
Celle qui m'aime, Zola, 133, 134, 

13s 
Chamilly, Marquis of, 71, 72, 74, 

75. n< 78, 86, 88 
Chanson de Roland, 6, 337 
Chapone, Mrs., 290 
Charcot, the physician, no 
Chariot d^ Or, A. Samain's, 320 
Chateaubriand, F. de, 5, 94, 95, 

359 
Chats, Les Paradis des, Zola, 

138 
Chatterton, Thomas, 19, 20; 

Vigny's tragedy, 21 
Chaucer, Geoffrey, 334, 338-342, 

356 
Ch^nier, Andr^, 2, 5, 19, 296, 301, 

358 
Cherbuliez, V., 268 
Chesterfield, Lord, 212 
Chevrier, Fabre, F. , 160, 177, 

180 
Christianisme, Ginie du, Chateau- 
briand, 5 
Chrys ant heme, Loti's Madame, 204 
Cid, Corneille's, 351 
Cinq-Mars, Vigny, 12 
CM des Eaux, M. Henri de R6g- 

nier's, 297-302 
Claretie, M. Jules, 118, 153 
Cmie, Mile. Scud6ry, 69 
Coignard, M. Jirdme, A. France, 

191 
Coleridge, S. T., 7, 333, 359 
Complications Sentimentales , Paul 

Bourget, 250-252 
Contes d Ninon , Zola, 135 
Contes d Ninon, Zola's Nouveaux , 

136-139 
Contes Choisis, Daudet, 114, 128 
Contes de Lundi, Daudet, 113 
Copp6e, M. Fran9ois, 320 
Corneille, P. , 69 

Thomas, 353 

Cotton, Charles, 349 



INDEX 



367 



Cowley, Abraham, 347 

Cowper, William, 358 

Crabbe, George, 315, 359 

Cr6billon, 130 

Critne (f Amour, Un, Bourget, 

236 
Criticism, Pojie's Essay on, 356 
Crowne, John, 353 

Dame Romaine, La, Vigny, 5 
Dandy davant les Dandy s, Un, 

d'Aurevilly, 100 
Daniel, Samuel, Delia, 345 
Dante, 2, 132, 342 
Daudet, Alphonse, 108-128, 268 
M. Ernest, Mon Frtre et Moi, 

III, 112 
Davenant, Sir William, 347 
D3dcles, M. Verhaeren, Les, 314 
Deffand, Madame du, 44, 45, 46, 

59, 66 
Delavigne, Casimir, 16 
Delille. The Abb6, 357, 358 
Delpit, M. Albert, 121 
Deluge, Le, Vigny, 9 
Denham, Sir John, 347, 349, 351 ; 

Cooper s Hill, 349 
Ddpit Amoureux, Moli^res, 353 
Diracines, M. Harris' Les, 261, 

271 
Deschamps, Emile, 6 

Eustache, 340, 341, 342, 362; 

Disert, Le, P. Loti's, 203, 204, 205- 

207, 208, 209, 210, 216 
Desportes, Philippe, 345 
Dessous des Cartes, Le, d'Aurevilly, 

105, 106 
Destinies, Les, Vigny, 3 
Destouches, N., 36, 58 
De Toute son Ame, M. Ren6 Bazin, 

281-283 
Diaboliques, Les, d'Aurevilly, 106 
Dickens, Charles, 102, 103, 121, 

246 
Don Juan, Le Plus Bel Amour de, 

d'Aurevilly, 99, 106 
Donne, John, 311 
Dorval, Marie, 16-17, 18, 21 



Double Conversion, La, Daudet, 114 
Double Maitresse, La, M. Henri de 

R^gnier, 302 
Dryade, La, Vigny, 5 
Dryden, John, 183, 353, 354, 355 
Du Bartas, 345 

Du Bellay, Joachim, Visions, 344 
Dubreuil, M. I'Abb^, 156, 157 
Duchesse Bleue, La, M. Bourget 's 

244-249, 269 
Dumas, Alexandre, 27, 32, 267 

i&loa, Vigny, 7, 10, 11-12, 16 
Embarrassments, Mr. Henry 

James's, 244 
Empedocles, Matthew Arnold, 301 
Endymion, Keats's, 300 
English poetry, the influence of 

France upon, 330-363 
EnsorceUe, L\ d'Aurevilly, 96 
d! Epicure, Le Jardin, A. France, 

191, 198 
Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, Pope's. 

356 
Espinasse, Mademoiselle de L', 36, 

37.48 
]&tape, L', Bourget, 260-265 
itoiles, Les, Daudet, 115 
Jitourdi, Molifere's, 353 
Avangeliste, Daudet, no, 119 

Fabre, Abb^ Fulcran, 155, 156 

Ferdinand, 153-181, 268 

Fantome d Orient, P. Loti, 203, 

221, 227 
Fie Amoureuse, La, TaAsl, 130 
Ferriol, Baron d'Argental, Charles 

de, 37. 38, 41, 44, 56 
Madame de, 38, 43, 44, 46, 47, 

51, 56, 62, 6s 
Feuillet, O. 150, 268 
Fielding, H., 246 
Figures et Choises qui passaient, P. 

Loti, 220-227 
Fitzjames, Duchess of, 57 
Fitzmaurice-Kelly, Mr. James, ix, 

340 
Flaubert, G., 118, 127, 142, 270 



368 



INDEX 



Fleurs du Mai, Baudelaire, 318 

319 
Fleury, Cardinal de, 55 
Forces Tumultueuses, Les, M. Ver- 

haeren, 315 
Forgeron, Le, Zola's, 138 
Fort, M. Paul, 324-329 
France, M. Anatole, 174, 189-201, 

269 
Friendship's Garland, Matthew 

Arnold, 269 
Froissart, 340 
Fromont Jeune et Risler Ahii, 

Daudet, III, 119, 120, 121 

GaliUe, P. Loti's La, 216, 217, 

218, 219-220, 227, 234 
Gamier, Th^ophile, 11, 131, 362 
Gay, Delphine, 7, 13 
Gesvres, Due de, 39, 40 
Ghil, M. Ren6, 293 
Gilbert, poet, 19, 20 
Goethe, 95, 103 
Goncourt, Edmond de, 117, 118, 

137, 180, 268 
Gower, John, Cinquante Balades, 

342 
Grandeur et Servitude Militaires, 

Vigny, 6, 24-25 
Granson, Oton de, 340. 342 
Gray, Thomas, 59, 334, 357 
Grignan, Madame de, 50, 70 
Gu6rin, Maurice de, 94, 95 
Guerres, Zola's Trois, 143-144 
Guilleragues, Pierre Girardin de, 

85,86 

Hal^vy, M, Ludovic, 273 
Hardy, Mr. T., 155, 172, 176, 180, 

268 
Harland, Mr. Henry, 183, 184 
Hennique, M. L6on, La Devouie, 

142 
Herbert, Edward, 311 
Heredia, M. de, 295, 323 
Hirodiade, Mallarm<5, 305, 309 
Hervieu, M. Paul, 270 



Histoire Comigue, A. France, i 

200, 201 
Histoire d^une Grecque Modeme 

Pr^vot, 58 
Histoire san Nom, Une, d'Aurevilly 

97 
Homme d' Affaires, Un, Bourget 

270 
Hommes, Les CEuvres et les, d'Aute 

villy, 103 
Horace, 356 
Horaces, Les, 351, 352 
Howel, James, 68, 69 
Hugo, Victor, i, 5, 6, 8, 10, 16, 93, 

184. 315. 329, 359. 361, 362 
Humble Amour, M. Ren6 Bazin, 

285 
Huysmans, M. Joris Karel, 142, 

271 

Ibsen, H., 189, 196 

Idylle Tragique, Une, Bourget, 251 

Immortel, L\ Daudet, 119 

Isez, the surgeon, 53 

Italie, Bourget's Sensations d\ 

253 
Italiens d'Aujourd'hui, Les, M. 
Bazin, 289 

Jack, Daudet, 113, 119, 120 
James, Mr. Henry, 45, 120, 202, 

244, 247, 251, 269 
Jardin de t Infante, Au, A. Sa- 

main's, 320, 321-323 
Jean Gourdon, Zola's Les Quatre 

Journies de, 139-141 
Jean Le Maire des Beiges, 343 
Jephtd, La Fille de, Vigny, 6 
Jeux Rustiques et Divins, Les. M. 

H. de R^gnier's, 295 
Jonson, Ben, 311 
Jusserand, M., 75 

Kean, Edmund, 15 

Keats, 7, 109, 295, 299, 300, 302, 

334. 338. 359, 360 
Kyd, Thomas, 345 



INDEX 



369 



Lacordaire, 162, 163 

La Fontaine, Jean de, Adonis, 350 

Lamartine, A. de, 2, 319, 359, 360 

Lammenais, F. de, 13 

Langland, William, 339 

La Terre, Zola's, 129 

Lauzun, 99, 100 

Leblond, C^Mnie, 47, 63 

Lecouvreur, Adrienne, 59 

Lee, Mr. Sidney, 345 

Ulia, George Sand, 95 

Le Lutrin, Boileau, 356 

Lemaltre, M. Jules, 119, 153, 269 

Le Petit Chose, Uaudet, in, 112, 

1T4, 121, 122, 126 
Les Precieuses Ridicules, Moli^re's, 

353 
L' Estrange, Sir Roger, Five Love 

Letters from a Nun to a Cavalier, 

90 
Lettres de mon Moulin, Daudet, 

114, 115, 126 
Lettres Portugaises, 68, 71 
Littiraire, A. France's La Vie, 191, 

269 
Lodge, Thomas, 345 
Lorris, Guillaume de, 337, 338 
Loti, Pierre, 138, 202-238, 268, 284 
Loves of the Angels, Moore's, 10, n 
Lucifer, Fabre, F., 160, 162, 166, 

179 
Lys Rouge, Le, A. France's, 191, 195 

Macaulay, Mr. G. C, 342 
Machault, Guillaume de, 340, 342, 

362 
Madame Corentine, M. Ren6 Bazin, 

283-284 
Maeterlinck, M., 313, 314 
Maintenon, Madame de, 85 
Malherbe, F., 346 
Mallarm6, St^phane, 182, 293, 294, 

305-312 
Mannequin S Osier, Le, A. France, 

191. 193 
Manon Lescaut, 58, 119 
Mariage de Loti, Le, P. Loti, 202, 

221 



Mariana Alcaforada, the Portuguese 

Nun, 72-89 
Marot, Clement, 344 ; L' Adolescence 

Climentine, 343 
Ma Tante Giron, M. Ren6 Bazin, 

273. 274, 27s 
Matelot, P. Loti, 203, 227 
Maupassant, M. Guy de, 113, 127, 

141, 142, 150, 242, 244, 270 
Ma Vocation, Fabre, 155 
Medailles dArgile, M. R^gnier, 

299 
Miditations Poitiques, Lamartine, 

360 
Meung, Jean de, 337, 338, 340 
Milton, John, 2, 13, 334, 348 
Mirour de COmme, 342 
Moines, Les, M. Verhaeren, 314 
Mo'ise, Vigny, 8 
Moli&e, 58, 350, 352, 353-354 
Mon Frire Yves, P. Loti, 228 
Montagne, M. Paul Fort's, 327 
Montaigne, M., 192 
Montesquieu, 36 
Moore, T., 10, 11, 13; The Loves 

of the Angels, 10, 11 
Mor6as, M. Jean, 184, i86, 187-188 
Moreau, H6g6sippe, 23 
Morice, M. Charles, 184 
Motteville, Madame de, Memoirs, 

82 
Moulin, Zola's L'Attaque du, 142, 

143 
Musset, Alfred de. Confession dun 
Enfant du Siicle, 291 

Nabab, Le, Daudet, 119, 127 

Nana, Zola's, 129 

Nichina, La, M. Hughes Rebell, 

271 
Nodier, C, 6, 13 
Noellet, Les, M. Bazin, 284 
Notre Caeur, Maupassant, 244 
Nouveaux Lundis, Sainte-Beuve, 3 
Numa Roumestan, Daudet, 119, 

120, 127 
Nun's Love Letters. See Portuguese 

Letters ; see Mariana Alcaforada 
2 A 



37° 



INDEX 



Oncle Cilestin, Mon, Fabre, 156, 

160 
Orme du Mail, L', A. France, 191, 

192, 193, 194 
O'Shaughnessy, Arthur, 324 
Othello, Shakespeare's, 266, 345 
Otway, Thomas, 354, 355 
Outre-. Mer, M. Bourget, 252, 259 

PALtoLOGUE, M., 13, 27 

Parabere, Madame de, 43, 48, 51, 

57, 64, 66 
Paris, Gaston, 269 
Paris Sentimental, M. Paul Fort's, 

327, 328-329 
Parnasse Contemporain, 307 
Parnassians, 295, 298, 307, 323 
Pascal, 190 
Pater, Walter, 179 
Picheur (Tlslande, P. Loti, 227, 

228, 284 
Pekin, P. Loti's, 234-238 
Pellissier, operatic star, 52 
Penruddock, Mrs., 70 
Perraud, Cardinal, 153 
Petrarch, 341, 342 
Philips, Katherine, " Orinda," 351, 

352 
Philosophe Marii, Li, Destouche, 

S8 
Pichot, M. Am^d^e, 159 
Pliiade, the, 344 
Poe, Edgar Allan, The Raven, 

translated by S. Mallarm^, 306 ; 

also Poems, 307, 324 
Poimes, Anciens et Romanesques, 

M. R^gnier, 295 
Poimes, Vigny, S, 6, 7 
Polyphime, A. Saraain, 320 
Pont-de-Veyle, Marquis de, 38, 52, 

60 
Pontmartin, M. de, 92 
Pope, Alexander, 2, 354-355. 356- 

357 
Portuguese Letters, 68-90 
Pritre Marii, Le, d'Aurevilly, 96, 

97 
Provost, M. Marcel, 270 



Provost d'Exiles, Abb^, 47, 58 
Propos d^Exil, P. Loti, 227 
Province, M. Bazin's En, 289 
Prudhomme, M. Sully, 298 

Qu^LEN, Archbishop de, 163 
Quinault, 352 

Racan, 348, 349 

Racine, 329, 333, 335, 350, 352, 353, 

354. 355 
Ramuntcho, P. Loti, 221, 226, 227- 

233 
Rape of the Lock, The, Pope, 356 
Raphael, 12 
Ravenel, M., 49 
R^gnier, M. Henri de, 293-304 
Renan, E., 153, 197, 292 
Reni, Chateaubriand, 359 
Rideau Cramoisi, Le, d'Aurevilly, 

99. 105 
Rieu, Mademoiselle, 40, 45, 46 
Rod, M. Edouard, 272 
Rois en Exit, Les, Daudet, 119 
Rollinat, Maurice, 319 
Roman de Louis XL, M. Paul 

Fort's, 326 
Roman de la Rose, Lorris, 337, 338, 

339 
Roman dun Enfant, P. Loti, 224 
Roman (Tun Spahi, Loti's, 205, 

228 
Roman Experimental, Zola's, 267 
Ronsard, P., 344, 345 
Roscommon , Earl of, 347 
Rose et Ninette, Daudet, 119 
Rosny, 271 
Rdtisserie de la Reine Pidauque, A. 

France, 191 
Rotrou, 351 
Rougon - Macquart series of Zola, 

129, 13s, 136, 137, 149, 267 
Rousseau, J. J., 88, 358 
Route d'Emeraude, M. Eugene 

Demoldei", 271 
Ruffec, Due de, 52 
Ruskin, John, 35 
Rutter, Joseph, 351 



INDEX 



371 



Saint-Amant, 348 

Sainte-Beuve, C. A., 3, 17, 37, 

160 
Sainte Claire, Le Putts de, A. 

France, 191 
Saint-Gelais, Melin de, 343 
Saint-Simon, L. de Rouvroi, Ducdc, 

71. 85, 86 
Saint- Victor, Paul de, 106 
Samain, Albert, 318-324 
Sand, George, 18, 133, 155, 160, 

267 
Sandeau, Jules, 160 
Santillana, Spanish poet, 340 
Sapho, Daudet's, 109, no, 119, 120, 

121, 122 
Sarcelle Bleue, La, M. Ren6 Bazin, 

277-280 
Scarron, Paul, no, 349 
Serve's, Maurice, Dilie, 345 
Schomberg, Count of, 73 
Scott, Sir Walter, 12, 13, 359 
Scud^ry, 351 

Mademoiselle de, 69 

S^ch^, M. L^on, 4, 13 
Segrais's Eglogues, 349 
Serao, Madame Matilde, II paese di 

Cuccagna, 247 
S^vign6, Madame de, 36, 37, 50, 70, 

82 
Shakespeare, 13, 15, 334, 338, 345, 

3SS 
Shelley, P. B., 2, 219, 359 
Sir Martin Mar-all, Dryden's, 

353 
Sleep and Poetry, Keats, 360 
Smollett, T., 303 
Soumet, A., 13 
Southey, Robert, 13 
Spectator, The, 91 
Spenser, Edmund, 344 
Stanley, Dean, Sinai and Palestine, 

207 
Stello, Vigny, 18 

Stevenson, Robert Louis, 180, 268 
Suckling, Sir John, 347 
Surrey, Henry Howard, Earl of, 343, 

344 



Swift, Dean, 194, 197 

Swinburne, Mr. A. C, 306, 333, 

362 
Symons, Mr. Arthur, 182 

Taine, H., 153, 154, 163, 179, 262, 

263 
Tarascon, 124, 128 
Tencin family, 35, 38, 43, 48, 57 
Tennyson, 197, 295, 338, 361 
Terminations, Mr. Henry James, 

224, 247 
Terre qui Meurt, La, M. Bazin, 

285-289, 290 
Thais, A. France, 190 
Thirise Raquin. Zola's, 136 
Thyard, Pontus de, 345 
Tissot, M. Ernest, 104 
Tocqueville, A. de, 252, 255 
Toussaint Galabru, Fabre, 176 
Trebutien, M., 94 
Trois A mes iA rtistes. See Duchesse 

Bleue 
Trollope, Anthony, 120, 159 

Ulbach, Louis, 136, 137 

Vacances dun Jeune Homme Sage, 

Les, M. de R^gnier, 302-304 
Vaines Tendresses, Les, M. Sully 

Prudhomme, 298 
Vathek, Beckford, with preface by 

Mallarm6, 307 
Verhaeren, M. Emile, 313-318 
Verlaine, Paul, a first sight of, 182- 

188 
Versailles-aux-Fantimes, M. Marcel 

Batilliat, 300 
Viau, Thtophile de, 348 
Vieille Maitresse, Une, d'Aurevilly, 

97 
Vigny, Alfred de, 1-34, 301, 319, 

359. 360 
Villes Tentaculaires, M. Verhaeren, 

316 
Villette, Marquise de, 41, 42, 

46-47 
VogU6, M. Melchior de, 242 



372 



INDEX 



Voiture, Vincent, 69, 70, 349 
Voltaire, 36, 42, 45, 49, 53, 58, 59, 

64. 335. 358 
Voyageuses, M. Paul Bourget, 239- 
244, 247, 250 

Waller, Edmund, 346, 347, 355 
Whitman, Walt, 325, 329 



Wordsworth, William, 2, 19, 30, 

325. 359 
Wyatt, Sir Thomas, 343, 344 

Yeats, Mr. W. B. , 323, 326 

Zola, Emile, 117, 118, 129-152, 
189, 246 



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