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Full text of "The symbolist movement in literature"

THE 

BYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 
IN LITERATURE 



BY 

ARTHUR SYMONS 

AUTHOR or 

'Cities of Italy," "Plays, Acting and Music" "The Romantic 

Movement in English Literature," "Studies in Seven 

Arts," "Colour Studies in Paris" etc. 



REVISED AND ENLARGED EDITION 




NEW YORK 

E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY 
681 FIFTH AVENUE 



COPTBIGHT, 1919 

BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY 

Att Rights Reend 




THE 

SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 
IN LITERATURE 



WORKS BY ARTHUR SYMONS 

Cities (Illustrated) 
Cities of Italy 

Introduction to the Study of Browning 
(New Edition) 

Plays, Acting and Music 

The Romantic Movement in English 
Poetry 

Spiritual Adventures 

Studies in Prose and Verse 

Studies in Seven Arts 

William Blake 

Figures of Several Centuries 

Colour Studies in Paris (Illustrated) 

The Symbolist Movement in Literature 

(Revised and Enlarged Edition) 

E. P. BUTTON & COMPANY 
NEW YORK 






CONTENTS 



INTRODUCTION . , 1 

BALZAC 10 

PROSPER MRIME 43 

-GERARD DE NERVAL 69 

TH^OPHILE GAUTIER 96 

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 103 

-CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 113 

EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT . . .119 

VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM 134 

LEON CLADEL 156 

A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD .... 162 

STEPHANE MALLARME 180 

PAUL VERLAINE . ; 204 

JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 230 

ARTHUR RIMBAUD 280 

JULES LAFORGUE ........ 296 \ 

MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 307 

CONCLUSION 324 ~ 

BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 331 

TRANSLATIONS . 367 

v 



THE 

SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 
IN LITERATURE 



THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



INTRODUCTION 

"It is in and through Symbols that man, consciously or 
unconsciously, lives, works, and has his being: those ages, 
moreover, are accounted the noblest which can the best 
recognise symbolical worth, and prize it highest." 

CARLTLE 

WITHOUT jsymbplism there can be no lit- 
erature; indeed, not even language. What 
are words themselves but symbols, almost as 
arbitrary as the letters which compose them, 
mere sounds of the voice to which we have 
agreed to give certain significations, as we have 
agreed to translate these sounds by those com- 
binations of letters ? Symbolism began with 
the first words uttered by the first man, as he 
named every living thing; or before them, in 
heaven, when God named the world into being. 
And we see, in these beginnings, precisely what 
Symbolism in literature really is: ji formjof 



2 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

expression, at the best but approximate, essen- 
tially but arbitrary, until it has obtained the 
force of a convention, for an unseen reality ap- 
1 prehended by the consciousness. It is some- 
times permitted to us to hope that our conven- 
tion is indeed the reflection rather than merely 
the sign of that unseen reality. We have done 
much if we have found a recognisable sign. 

"A symbol," says Comte Goblet d'Alviella, 
in his book on The Migration of Symbols, 
"might be defined asja representation which 
does not aim at being a reproductionTj Orig- 
inally, as he points out, used by the Greeks to 
denote "the two halves of the tablet they 
divided between themselves as a pledge of 
hospitality," it came to be used of every sign, 
formula, or rite by which those initiated in 
any mystery made themselves secretly known 
to one another. Gradually the word ex- 
tended its meaning, until it came to denote 
I every conventional representation of idea by 
form, of the unseen by the visible. "In a 
Symbol," says Carlyle, "(there is concealment 
I and yet revelation-) hence, therefore, by Silence 
j and by Speech acting together, comes a double 
I significance." And, in that fine chapter of 



INTRODUCTION () 

Sartor Resartus, he goes further, vindicating 
for the word its full value: '[in the Symbol 
proper, what we can call a Symbol, there is 
ever, more or less distinctly and directly, some 
embodiment and revelation of the Infinite; 
the Infinite is made to blend itself with the 
Finite, to stand visible, and as it were, attain- 
able there?^ 

It is in such a sense as this that the word 
Symbolism has been used to describe a move- 
ment which, during the last generation, has 
profoundly influenced the course of French 
literature. All such words, used of anything 
so living, variable, and irresponsible as litera- 
ture, are, as symbols themselves must so often 
be, mere compromises, mere indications. Sym- 
bolism, as seen in the writers of our day, would 
have no value if it were not seen also, under 
one disguise or another, in every great imagi- 
native writer. LWhat distinguishes the Symbol- i 
ism of our day from the Symbolism of the past j 
is that it has now become conscious of itself, in / 
a sense hi which it was unconscious J even hi 
Gerard de Nerval, to whom I trace the particu- 
lar origin of the literature which I call Sym- 
bolist. The forces which mould the thought of 



4 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

men change, or men's resistance to them slack- 
ens; with the change of men's thought comes 
a change of literature, alike in its inmost 
essence and in its outward form: rafter the 
world has starved its soul long enough in the 
contemplation and the re-arrangement of ma- 
terial things, comes the turn of the soul; and 
with it comes the literature of which I write in 
;*this volume, & literature injwhich the visible 

\ ? world is no longer a reality, and the unseen 

\ world no longer a dreamT^ 

\ The great epoch in French literature which 

I preceded this epoch was that of the offshoot 
of Romanticism which produced Baudelaire, 

It 

| Flaubert, the Goncourts, Taine, Zola, Lecorite 
de Lisle. Tame was the philosopher both 
of what had gone before him and of what 
came immediately after; so that he seems to 
explain at once Flaubert and Zola. \J& was 
the age of Science, the age of material things; 
and words, with that facile elasticity which 
there is in them, did miracles hi the^exact 
representation of everything that visibly ex- 
isted, exactly as it existed.] Even Baudelaire, 
in whom the spirit is always an uneasy guest 
at the orgie of life, had a certain theory of 



INTRODUCTION 5 

tortures many of his poems into 
strange, metallic shapes, and fills them with 
imitative odours, and disturbs them with a too 
deliberate rhetoric of the fleshTJ Flaubert, the 
one impeccable novelist who has ever lived, 
was resolute to be the novelist of a world hi 
which art, formal art, was the j3nlv_esgape 
from the burden oFreality, and in which the 
soul was of use malnly~as the agent of fine 
literature. The Goncourts caught at Impres- 
sionisDa to render the fugitive aspects of a 
world which existed only as a thing of flat 
spaces, and angles, and coloured movement, 
in which sun and shadow were the artists; 
as moods, no less flitting, were the artists of 
the merely receptive consciousnesses of men 
and women. Zola has tried to build in brick 
and mortar inside the covers of a book; he is 
quite sure that the soul is a nervous fluid, 
which he is quite sure some man of science is 
about to catch for us, as a man of science has 
bottled the ah-, a pretty, blue liquidTJ Leconte 
de Lisle turned the world to stone, but saw, 
beyond the world, only a pause from misery 
in a Nirvana never subtilised to the Eastern 
ecstasy. And, with Vail these writers, form 



6 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

aimed__ahoye all things at being precise, jit 
saying rather :Jbhan suggesting, at^aymg what 
they had to say so completely that nothing 
remained over, which it might be the business 
of the reader to divine. And so they have 
expressed, finally, a certain aspect of the 
world; and some of them have carried style 
to a point beyond which the style that says, 
rather than suggests, cannot go. The whole of 
that movement comes to a splendid funeral 
in M. de Heredia's sonnets, in which the liter- 
ature of form says its last word, and dies. 

Meanwhile, something which is vaguely 
called Decadence had come into being. That 
name, rarely used with any precise meaning, 
was usually either hurled as a reproach or 
hurled back as a defiance. It pleased some 
young men in various countries to call them- 
selves Decadents, with all the thrill of unsatis- 
fied virtue masquerading as uncomprehended 
vice. As a matter of fact, the term is in its 
place only when applied to style; to that in- 
genious deformation of the language, in Mal- 
larme* for instance, which can be compared 
with what we are accustomed to call the Greek 
and Lathi of the Decadence. No doubt j>ejr- 



INTRODUCTION 7 

Yereit^of^onn_andjperyQrsity_<)Ljnatter are 
often found together, and, among the lesser 
men especially, experiment was carried far, 
not only in the direction of style. But a move- 
ment which in this sense might be called De- 
cadent could but have been a straying aside 
from the main road of literature. ^Nothing, not 
even conventional virtue, is_sp_^rovi^ial_as 
cpnyentional_vicej and the desire to "bewilder 
the middle-classes" is itself middle-class. The 
interlude, half a mock-interlude, of Decadence, 
diverted the attention of the critics while 
something more serious was in preparation. 
That something more serious has crystallised, 
for the time, under the form .of Symbolism, 
(n which art returns to the one pathway, 
leading through beautiful things to the eternal 
beauty^ 

In most of the writers whom I have dealt 
with as summing up in themselves all that is 
best in Symbolism, it will be noticed that the 
form is very carefully elaborated, and seems 
to count for at least as much as in those 
writers of whose over-possession by form I 
have complained. Here, however, all this 
elaboration comes from a very different motive 






THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

and leads to other ends. There is such a 

thing as perfecting form that^ form may be 

, annihilated. All the art of Verlaine is in 

bringing verse to a bird's song, the art of 

\MaUarm4 in bringing verse to the song of an 

orchestra. In Villiers de PIsle-Adam drama 

becomes an embodiment of spiritual forces, 

in Maeterlinck not even their embodiment, 

but the remote sound of their voices. It 

f is all aj^ttejnjjt^^ to 

evade the old bondage of rhetoric, the old 

i bondage of exteriority. (^Description is ban- 

isjied that beautiful things may be evoked, 

, magically; the regular beat of verse is broken 

in order that words may fly, upon subtler 

wingsfO Mystery is no longer feared, as the 

great mystery in whose midst we are islanded 

was feared by those to whom that unknown 

sea was only a great void. *TWe are coming 

'closer to nature, as we seem to shrink from it 

.with something of horror, disdaining to cata- 

logue the trees of the forest?/ And as we brush 

aside the accidents of daily life, in which 

men and women imagine that they are 

alone touching reality, we come closer to 

humanity, to everything hi humanity that 



INTRODUCTION 9 

may have begun before the world and may 
outlast it. 

Ilere, then, in thisjrevolt against exteriority, 
against rhetoric, against a materialistic tra- 
dition; in this endeavour to disengage the ulti- 
mate essence, the soul, of whatever^ exists and 
^;an be realized by the consciousness; in this 
dutifuTwaiting upon every sy mboy by which 
the^^oi^tl^gs^can be made visibleK liter- 
ature, bowed down by so many burdens, may ; /;' 
at last attain jiberty, and its _authentic_speech. 
fin attaining this liberty, it accepts a heavier ^ 
tmrden; for in speaking to us so intimately, so \ 
solemnly, as only religion had hitherto spoken i \ 
to us, it bec^^ltself ^a Hnd^ rjHgion, with \ 
all the duties and responsibiiities.of the sacred \ : 
ritualTl 



BALZAC 



THE first man who has completely under- 
stood Balzac is Rodin, and it has taken Rodin 
ten years to realise his own conception. France 
has refused the statue hi which a novelist is 
represented as a dreamer, to whom Paris is 
not so much Paris as Patmos: "the most 
Parisian of our novelists," Frenchmen assure 
you. It is more than a hundred years since 
Balzac was born: a hundred years is a long 
time in which to be misunderstood with admir- 
ation. 

In choosing the name of the Human Comedy 
for a series of novels in which, as he says, there 
is at once "the history and the criticism of 
society, the analysis of its evils, and the dis- 
cussion of its principles," Balzac proposed to 
do for the modern world what Dante, in his 
Divine Comedy, had done for the world of the 
Middle Ages. Condemned to write in prose, 

10 



BALZAC 11 

and finding his opportunity in that restriction, 
he created for himself a form which is perhaps 
the nearest equivalent for the epic or the poetic 
drama., and the only form in which, at all 
events, the epic is now possible. The world 
of Dante was materially simple compared with 
the world of the nineteenth century; the " vis- 
ible world" had not yet begun to " exist," in 
its tyrannical modern sense; the complications 
of the soul interested only the Schoolmen, 
pud were a part of theology; poetry could still 
represent an age and yet be poetry. But 
to-day poetry can no longer represent more 
than vhe soul of things; it had taken refuge 
from the terrible improvements of civilisation 
in a divine seclusion, where it sings, disre- 
garding the many voices of the street. Prose 
comes offering its infinite capacity for detail; 
and it is by the infinity of its detail that the 
novel, as Balzac created it, has become the 
modern epic. 

There had been great novels, indeed, before 
Balzac, but no great novelist; and the novels 
themselves are scarcely what we should to-day 
call by that name. The interminable Astree 
and its companions form a link between the 



12 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

fabliaux and the novel, and from them devel- 
oped the characteristic eighteenth-century 
conte, in narrative, letters, or dialogue, as we 
see it in Marivaux, Laclos, Crebillon fils. 
Crebillon's longer works, including Le Sopha, 
with their conventional paraphernalia of East- 
ern fable, are extremely tedious; but in two 
short pieces, La Nuit et le Moment and Le 
Hasard du Coin du Feu, he created a model of 
witty, naughty, deplorably natural comedy, 
which to this day is one of the most character- 
istic French forms of fiction. Properly, how- 
ever, it is a form of the drama rather than of 
the novel. Laclos, in Les Liaisons Danger- 
ernes, a masterpiece which scandalised the 
society that adored Crebillon, because its 
naked human truth left no room for senti- 
mental excuses, comes much nearer to prefigur- 
ing the novel (as Stendhal, for instance, is 
afterward to conceive it), but still preserves 
the awkward traditional form of letters. Mair- 
vaux had indeed already seemed to suggest the 
novel of analysis, but in a style which has 
christened a whole manner of writing that pre- 
cisely which is least suited to the writing of 
fiction. Voltaire's contes, La Religieuse of 



BALZAC 13 

Diderot, are tracts or satires in which the story 
is only an excuse for the purpose. Rousseau, 
too, has his purpose, even in La Nouvelle 
Heloise, but it is a humanising purpose; and 
with that book the novel of passion comes into 
existence, and along with it the descriptive 
novel. Yet with Rousseau this result is an 
accident of genius; we cannot call him a 
novelist; and we find him abandoning the 
form he has found, for another, more closely 
personal, which suits him better. Restif de 
la Bretonne, who followed Rousseau at a dis- 
tance, not altogether wisely, developed the 
form of half -imaginary autobiography in Mon- 
sieur Nicolas, a book of which the most signifi- 
cant part may be compared with Hazlitt's 
Liber Amoris. Morbid and even mawkish as 
it is, it has a certain uneasy, unwholesome 
humanity in its confessions, which may seem 
to have set a fashion only too scrupulously fol- 
lowed by modern French novelists. Mean- 
while, the Abbe* Pre vest's one great story, 
Manon Lescaut, had brought for once a purely 
objective study, of an incomparable simplicity, 
into the midst of these analyses of difficult 
souls; and then we return to the confession, 



14 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

in the works of others not novelists: Benjamin 
Constant, Mme. de Stael, Chateaubriand, in 
Adolphe, Corinne, Rene. At once we are in 
the Romantic movement, a movement which 
begins lyrically among poets, and at first with 
a curious disregard of the more human part of 
humanity. 

Balzac worked_^ntem^raneously with the 
, but he worked outside it, 



and its influence upon him is felt_gnly in an 
occasional pseudo-romanticism, like the episode 
of" the pirate in La Femme de T rente Ans. His 
vision of humanity was essentially a poetic 
vision, but he was a poet whose dreams were 
facts. Knowing that, as Mme. Necker has 
said, "the novel should be the better world," 
he knew also that "the novel would be nothing 
if, in that august lie, it were not true in de- 
tails." And in the Human Comedy he pro- 
posed to himself to do for society more than 
Buffon had done for the animal world. 

"There is but one animal," he declares, in 
his Avant-Propos, with a confidence which 
Darwin has not yet come to justify. But 
"there exists, there will always exist, social 
species, as there are zoological species." 



BALZAC 15 

"Thus the work to be done will have a triple 
form: men, women, and things; that is to 
say, human beings and the material represen- 
tation which they give to their thought; in 
short, man and life." And, studying after 
nature, " French society will be the historian, 
I shall need to be no more than the secretary." 
Thus will be written "the history forgotten by 
so many historians, the history of manners." 
But that is not all, for "passion is the whole of 
humanity." "In realizing clearly the drift 
of the composition, it will be seen that I assign 
to facts, constant, daily, open, or secret, to 
the acts of individual life, to their causes and 
principles, as much importance as historians 
had formerly attached to the events of the 
public life of nations." "Facts gathered to- 
gether and painted as they are, with passion 
for element," is one of his definitions of the 
task he has undertaken. And in a letter to 
Mme. de Hanska, he summarises every detail 
of his scheme. 

"The Etudes des Mceurs will represent 
social effects, without a single situation of 
life, or a physiognomy, or a character of man 
or woman, or a manner of life, or a profession, 



16 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

or a social zone, or a district of France, or 
anything pertaining to childhood, old age, or 
maturity, politics, justice, or war, having 
been forgotten. 

"That laid down, the history of the human 
heart traced link by link, the history of society 
made in all its details, we have the base. . . . 

"Then, the second stage is the Etudes phi- 
losophiques, for after the effects come the causes. 
In the Etudes des Moeurs I shall have painted 
the sentiments and their action, life and the 
fashion of life. In the Etudes philosophiques 
I shall say why the sentiments, on what the 
life. ... 

"Then, after the effects and the causes, 
come the Etudes- analytiques, to which the 
Physiologie du manage belongs, for, after the 
effects and the causes, one should seek the 
principles. . . . 

"After having done the poetry, the demon- 
stration, of a whole system, I shall do the 
science in the Essai sur les forces humaines. 
And, on the bases of this palace I shall have 
traced the immense arabesque of the Cent 
Contes drolatiques! " 

Quite all that, as we know, was not carried 



BALZAC 17 

out; but there, in its intention, is the plan; 
and after twenty years' work the main part 
of it, certainly, was carried out. Stated with 
this precise detail, it has something of a scien- 
tific air, as of a too deliberate attempt upon 
the sources of life by one of those systematic 
French minds which are so much more logical 
than facts. But there is one little phrase to 
be noted: "La passion est toute rhumaniteV 
All Balzac is in that phrase. 

Another French novelist, following, as he 
thought, the example of the Human Com- 
edy, has endeavoured to build up a history 
of his own time with even greater minute- 
ness. But Les Rougon-Macquart is no more 
than system; Zola has never understood that 
detail without life is the wardrobe without 
the man. Trying to outdo Balzac on his 
own ground, he has made the fatal mistake 
of taking him only on his systematic side, 
which in Balzac is subordinate to a great crea- 
tive intellect, an incessant, burning thought 
about men and women, a passionate human 
curiosity for which even his own system has 
no limits. "The misfortune? of the Birotteaus, 
the priest and the perfumer," he says, in his 



18 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Avant-PropoSj taking an example at random, 
"are, for me, those of humanity." To Balzac 
manners are but the vestment of life; it is 
life that he seeks; and life, to him (it is his 
own word) is but the vestment of thought. 
Thought is at the root of all his work, a 
whole system of thought, in which philosophy 
is but another form of poetry; and it is from 
this root of idea that the Human Comedy 
springs. 



The two books into which Balzac has put 
his deepest thought, the two books which he 
himself cared for the most, are Seraphita 
and Louis Lambert. Of Louis Lambert he 
said: "I write it for myself and a few 
others"; of Seraphita: "My life is in it." 
"One could write Goriot any day," he adds; 
" Seraphita only once in a lifetime." I have 
never been able to feel that Seraphita is 
altogether a success. It lacks the breadth 
of life; it is glacial. True, he aimed at pro- 
ducing very much such an effect; and it is, 
indeed, full of a strange, glittering beauty, 



BALZAC 19 

the beauty of its own snows. But I find in 
it at the same time something a little facti- 
tious, a sort of romanesque, not altogether 
unlike the sentimental romanesque of Novalis; 
it has not done the impossible, in humanis- 
ing abstract speculation, in fusing mysticism 
and the novel. But for the student of Balzac 
it has extraordinary interest; for it is at once 
the base and the summit of the Human Com- 
edy. In a letter to Mme. de Hanska, written 
in 1837, four years after Seraphita had been 
begun, he writes: "I am not orthodox, and I 
do not believe in the Roman Church. Swe- 
denborgianism, which is but a repetition, in 
the Christian sense, of ancient ideas, is my 
religion, with this addition: that I believe in 
the incomprehensibility of God." Sera- 
phita is a prose poem in which the most 
abstract part of that mystical system, which 
Swedenborg perhaps materialised too crudely, 
is presented in a white light, under a single, 
superhuman image. In Louis Lambert the 
same fundamental conceptions are worked 
out in the study of a perfectly human intel- 
lect, "an intelligent gulf," as he truly calls 
it; a sober and concise history of ideas in their 



20 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

devouring action upon a feeble physical nature. 
In these two books we see directly, and not 
through the coloured veil of human life, the 
mind in the abstract of a thinker whose power 
over humanity was the power of abstract 
thought. They show this novelist, who has 
invented the description of society, by whom 
the visible world has been more powerfully 
felt than by any other novelist, striving to 
penetrate the correspondences which exist 
between the human and the celestial exist- 
ence. He would pursue the soul to its last 
resting-place before it takes flight from the 
body; further, on its disembodied flight; he 
would find out God, as he comes nearer and 
nearer to finding out the secret of life. And 
realising, as he does so profoundly, that there 
is but one substance, but one ever-changing 
principle of life, "one vegetable, one animal, 
but a continual intercourse/' the world is 
alive with meaning for him, a more intimate 
meaning than it has for others. "The least 
flower is a thought, a life which corresponds 
to some lineaments of the great whole, of which 
he has the constant intuition." And so, in 
his concerns with the world, he will find spirit 



BALZAC 21 

everywhere; nothing for him will be inert 
matter, everything will have its particle 
of the universal life. One of those divine 
spies, for whom the world has no secrets, he 
will be neither pessimist nor optimist; he will 
accept the world as a man accepts the woman 
whom he loves, as much for her defects as for 
her virtues. Loving the world for its own 
sake, he will find it always beautiful, equally 
beautiful in all its parts. Now let us look at 
the programme which he traced for the 
Human Comedy, let us realise it in the light 
of this philosophy, and we are at the begin- 
ning of a conception of what the Human 
Comedy really is. 



This visionary, then, who had apprehended 
for himself an idea of God, set himself to 
interpret human life more elaborately than 
any one else. He has been praised for his 
patient observation; people have thought 
they praised him in calling him a realist; 
it has been discussed how far his imitation of 
life was the literal truth of the photograph. 



22 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

^\ But to Balzac the word realism was an insult. 
Wrling"nis novels' at ^Ee7afe~bTeigHe5rnours 
a day, in a feverish solitude, he never had the 
time to observe patiently. It is humanity 
seen in a mirror, the humanity which comes 
to the great dreamers, the great poets, human- 
ity as Shakespeare saw it. And so in him, 
as in all the great artists, there is something 
more than nature, a divine excess. This 
something more than nature should be the aim 
of the artist, not merely the accident which 
happens to him against his will. We require 
of him a world like our own, but a world 
infinitely more vigorous, interesting, profound; 
more beautiful with that kind of beauty 
which nature finds of itself for art. It is the 
quality of great creative art to give us so 
much life that we are almost overpowered by 
it, as by an air almost too vigorous to breathe : 
the exuberance of creation which makes the 
Sibyl of Michelangelo something more than 
human, which makes Lear something more 
than human, in one kind or another of divinity. 
are full of strange problems 
Heturned aside from 



^ 
presented itseirSTnature; and 



BALZAC 23 

his mind was always turbulent with the mag- 
nificent contrasts and caprices of fate. A de- 
vouring passion of thought burned on all 
the situations by which humanity expresses 
itself, in its flight from the horror of immo- 
bility. To say that the situations which he 
chose are often romantic is but to say that he 
followed the soul and the senses faithfully on 
their strangest errands. Our probable novelists 
of to-day are afraid of whatever emotion might 
be misinterpreted in a gentleman. Believing, 
as we do now, in nerves and a fatalistic hered- 
ity, we have left but little room for the dignity 
and disturbance of violent emotion. To Bal- 
zac, humanity had not changed since the days 
when (Edipus was blind and Philoctetes cried 
in the cave; and equally great miseries were 
still possible to mortals, though they were 
French and of the nineteenth century. 

And thus he creates, like the poets, a human- 
ity more logical than average life; more typical, 
more sub-divided among the passions, and 
having in its veins an energy almost more than 
human. He realised, as the Greeks did, that 
huma^ life is made up of elemental passions 
and necessity; but he was the first to realise 



24 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

that in the modern world the pseudonym of 
necessity is money. Money and the passions 
rule the world of his Human Comedy. 

And, at the root of the passions, determining 
their action, he saw " those nervous fluids, or 
that unknown substance which, in default of 
another term, we must call the will.' 7 No 
word returns oftener to his pen. For him 
the problem is invariable. Man has a given 
quantity of energy; each man a different quan- 
tity: how will he spend it? A novel is the 
determination in action of that problem. And 
he is equally interested in every form of energy, 
in every egoism, so long as it is fiercely itself. 
This pre-occupation with the force, rather 
than with any of its manifestations, gives him 
his singular impartiality, his absolute lack of 
prejudice; for it gives him the advantage of 
an abstract point of view, the unchanging ful- 
crum for a lever which turns in every direction ; 
and as nothing once set vividly in motion by 
any form of human activity is without interest 
for him, he makes every point of his vast chron- 
icle of human affairs equally interesting to his 
readers. 

Baudelaire has observed profoundly that 






BALZAC 25 

every character in the Human Comedy has 
something of Balzac, has genius. To him- 
self, his own genius was entirely expressed in 
that word "will." It recurs constantly in his 
letters. "Men of will are rare!" he cries. 
And, at a time when he had turned night into 
day for his labour: "I rise every night with a 
keener will than that of yesterday." "Noth- 
ing wearies me," he says, "neither waiting nor 
happiness." He exhausts the printers, whose 
fingers can hardly keep pace with his brain; 
they call him, he reports proudly, "a man- 
slayer." And he tries to express himself: "I 
have always had in me something, I know not 
what, which made me do differently from 
others; and, with me, fidelity is perhaps no 
more than pride. Having only myself to rely 
upon, I have had to strengthen, to build up 
that self." There is a scene in La Cousine 
Bette which gives precisely Balzac's own sen- 
timent of the supreme value of energy. The 
Baron Hulot, ruined on every side, and by 
his own fault, goes to Josepha, a mistress who 
had cast him off in the time of his prosperity, and 
asks her to lodge him for a few days in a garret. 
She laughs, pities, and then questions him. 



26 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

"'Est-ce vrai, vieux/ reprit-elle, 'que tu as 
tue* ton frere et ton oncle, ruin6 ta famille, 
surhypotheque" la maison de tes enfants et 
mange la grenouille du gouvernement en 
Afrique avec la princesse?' 

"Le Baron inclina tristement la tete. 

"'Eh bien, j'aime cela!' s'ecria JosSpha, qui 
se leva pleine d'enthousiasme. ' C'est un bru- 
lage general! c'est sardanapale! c'est grand! 
c'est complet! On est une canaille, mais on a 
du cceur.'" 

The cry is Balzac's, and it is a characteristic 
part of his genius to have given it that ironical 
force by uttering it through the mouth of a 
Jose*pha. The joy of the human organism at 
its highest point of activity: that is what 
interests him supremely. How passionate, 
how moving he becomes whenever he has to 
speak of a real passion, a mania, whether of a 
lover for his mistress, of a philosopher for his 
idea, of a miser for his gold, of a Jew dealer 
for masterpieces! His style clarifies, his words 
become flesh and blood; he is the lyric poet. 
And for him every idealism is equal : the gour- 
mandise of Pons is not less serious, nor less 
sympathetic, not less perfectly realised, than 



BALZAC 27 

the search of Claes after the Absolute. "The 
great and terrible clamour of egoism" is the 
voice to which he is always attentive; " those 
eloquent faces, proclaiming a soul abandoned 
to an idea as to a remorse," are the faces with 
whose history he concerns himself. He drags 
to light the hidden joys of the amateur, and 
with especial delight those that are hidden 
deepest, under the most deceptive coverings. 
He deifies them for their energy, he fashions 
the world of his Human Comedy in their 
service, as the real world exists, all but 
passive, to be the pasture of these supreme 
egoists. 



In all that he writes of life, Balzac seeks the 
soul, but it is the soul as nervous fluid, the 
executive soul, not the contemplative soul, 
that, with rare exceptions, he seeks. He would 
surprise the motive force of life: that is his 
recherche de V Absolu; he figures it to himself 
as almost a substance, and he is the alchemist 
on its track. "Can man by thinking find out 
God?" Or life, he would have added; and 



28 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

he would have answered the question with at 
least a Perhaps. 

And of this visionary, this abstract thinker, 
it must be said that his thought translates 
itself always into terms of life. Pose before 
him a purely mental problem, and he will 
resolve it by a scene in which the problem 
literally works itself out. It is the quality 
proper to the novelist, but no novelist ever 
employed this quality with such persistent 
activity, and at the same time subordinated 
faction so constantly to the idea. With him 
I action has always a mental basis, is never suf- 
fered to intrude for its own sake. He prefers 
( that an episode should seem in itself tedious 
I rather than it should have an illogical interest. 
It may be, for he is a Frenchman, that his 
episodes are sometimes too logical. There are 
moments when he becomes unreal because he 
wishes to be too systematic, that is, to be real 
by measure. He would never have under- 
stood the method of Tolstoi, a very stealthy 
method of surprising life. To Tolstoi life is 
always the cunning enemy whom one must lull 
asleep, or noose by an unexpected lasso. He 
brings in little detail after little detail, seeming 



BALZAC 29 

to insist on the insignificance of each, in order 
that it may pass almost unobserved, and 
be realised only after it has passed. It is his 
way of disarming the suspiciousness of life. 

But Balzac will make no circuit, aims at an 
open and an unconditional triumph over 
nature. Thus, when he triumphs, he triumphs 
signally; and action, in his books, is perpet- 
ually crystallising into some phrase, like the 
single lines of Dante, or some brief scene, in 
which a whole entanglement comes sharply 
and suddenly to a luminous point. I will give 
no instance, for I should have to quote from 
every volume. I wish rather to remind myself 
that there are times when the last fine shade of 
a situation seems to have escaped. Even 
then, the failure is often more apparent than 
real, a slight bungling in the machinery of 
illusion. Look through the phrase, and you 
will find the truth there, perfectly explicit on 
the other side of it. 

For it cannot be denied, Balzac's style, as 
style, is imperfect. It has life, and it has an 
idea, and it has variety; there are moments 
when it attains a rare and perfectly individ- 
ual beauty; as when, in Le Cousin Pons, we 



30 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

read of "cette predisposition aux recherches 
qui fait faire a un savant germanique cent 
lieues dans ses guetres pour trouver une 
ve*rit6 qui le regard en riant, assise a la marge 
du puits, sous le jasmin de la cour." But I 
am far less sure that a student of Balzac would 
recognise him in this sentence than that he 
would recognise the writer of this other: "Des 
larmes de pudeur, qui roulerent entre les beaux 
cils de Madame Hulot, arreterent net le garde 
national." It is in such passages that the 
failure in style is equivalent to a failure in 
psychology. That his style should lack sym- 
metry, subordination, the formal virtues of 
form, is, in my eyes, a less serious fault. I 
have often considered whether, in the novel, 
perfect form is a good, or even a possible thing, 
I if the novel is to be what Balzac made it, his- 
Uory added to poetry. A novelist with style 
will not look at life with an entirely naked 
vision. He sees through coloured glasses. 
Human life and human manners are too various, 
too moving, to be brought into the fixity of a 
quite formal order. There will corne a mo- 
ment, constantly, when style must suffer, or 
the closeness and clearness of narration must 



BALZAC 31 

be sacrificed, some minute exception of action 
or psychology must lose its natural place, or its 
full emphasis. Balzac, with his rapid and 
accumulating mind, without the patience of 
selection, and without the desire to select 
where selection means leaving out something 
good in itself, if not good in its place, never 
hesitates, and his parenthesis comes in. And , 
often it is into these parentheses that he puts j 
the profoundest part of his thought. 

Yet, ready as Balzac is to neglect the story 
for the philosophy, whenever it seems to him 
necessary to do so, he would never have ad- 
mitted that a form of the novel is possible in 
which the story shall be no more than an ex- 
cuse for the philosophy. That was because 
he was a great creator, and not -merely a 
philosophical thinker; because he dealt in f 
flesh and blood, and knew that the passions 
in action can teach more to the philosopher, 
and can justify the artist more fully, than 
all the unacting intellect in the world. He 
knew that though life without thought was 
no more than the portion of a dog, yet thought- - } 
ful life was more than lifeless thought, and the j 
dramatist more than the commentator. And/ 



32 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

I cannot help feeling assured that the latest 
novelists without a story, whatever other 
merits they certainly have, are lacking in the 
power to create characters, to express a philos- 
ophy in action; and that the form which they 
have found, however valuable it may be, is 
the result of this failure, and not either a 
great refusal or a new vision. 



The novel as Balzac conceived it has created 
the modern novel, but no modern novelist 
has followed, for none has been able to follow, 
Balzac on his own lines. Even those who have 
tried to follow him most closely have, sooner 
or later, branched off in one direction or 
another, most in the direction indicated by 
Stendhal. Stendhal has written one book 
which is a masterpiece, unique in its kind, 
Le Rouge et le Noir; a second, which is 
full of admirable things, Le Chartreuse de 
Parme; a book of profound criticism, Racine 
et Shakspeare; and a cold and penetrating 
study of the physiology of love, De V Amour, 
by the side of which Balzac's Physiologie du 



BALZAC 33 

Mariage is a mere jeu d' esprit. He discov- 
ered for himself, and for others after him, 
a method of unemotional, minute, slightly 
ironical analysis, which has fascinated modern 
minds, partly because it has seemed to dis- 
pense with those difficulties of creation, of 
creation in the block, which the triumphs of 
Balzac have only accentuated. Goriot, Va- 
16rie Marneffe, Pons, Grandet, Madame de 
Mortsauf even, are called up before us after 
the same manner as Othello or Don Quixote; 
their actions express them so significantly that 
they seem to be independent of their creator; 
Balzac stakes all upon each creation, and 
leaves us no choice but to accept or reject each 
as a whole, precisely as we should a human 
being. We do not know all the secrets of 
their consciousness, any more than we know 
all the secrets of the consciousness of our 
friends. But we have only so say " Valerie!" 
and the woman is before us. Stendhal, on f 
the contrary, undresses Julien's soul in public 
with a deliberate and fascinating effrontery. 
There is not a vein of which he does not trace 
the course, not a wrinkle to which he does not 
point, not a nerve which he does not touch to 



34 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

the quick. We know everything that passed 

through his mind, to result probably in some 

significant inaction. And at the end of the 

book we know as much about that particular 

intelligence as the anatomist knows about 

I the body which he has dissected. But mean- 

/ while the life has gone out of the body; and 

f have we, after all, captured a living 

' soul? 

I should be the last to say that Julien Sorel 
is not a creation, but he is not a creation after 
the order of Balzac; it is a difference of kind; 
and if we look carefully at Frederic Moreau, 
and Madame Gervaisais, and the Abbe Mouret, 
we shall see that these also, profoundly differ- 
ent as Flaubert and Goncourt and Zola are 
from Stendhal,- are yet more profoundly, more 
radically, different from the creations of Bal- 
i zac. Balzac takes a primary passion, puts 
* it into a human body, and sets it to work 
itself out in visible action. But since Stendhal, 
novelists have persuaded themselves that the 
primary passions are a little common, or noisy, 
or a little heavy to handle, and they have 
concerned themselves with passions tempered 
iby reflection, and the sensations of elaborate 



BALZAC 35 

brains. It was Stendhal who substituted 
the brain for the heart, as the battle-place of 
the novel; not the brain as Balzac conceived 
it, a motive-force of action, the mainspring 
of passion, the force by which a nature directs 
its accumulated energy; but a sterile sort 
of brain, set at a great distance from the heart, 
whose rhythm is too faint to disturb it. We 
have been intellectualising upon Stendhal 
ever since, until the persons of the modern 
novel have come to resemble those diaphanous 
jelly-fish, with balloon-like heads and the 
merest tufts of bodies, which float up and down 
in the Aquarium at Naples. 

Thus, coming closer, as it seems, to what is 
called reality, in this banishment of great 
emotions, and this attention upon the sensa- 
tions, modern analytic novelists are really 
getting further and further from that life 
which is the one certain thing in the world. \ 
Balzac employs all his detail to call up a 
tangible world about his men and women, 
not, perhaps, understanding the full power of 
detail as psychology, as Flaubert is to under- 
stand it; but, after all, his detail is only the j 
background of the picture; and there, step- ! 



36 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

ping out of the canvas, as the sombre people 
of Velazquez step out of their canvases at the 
Prado, is the living figure, looking into your 
eyes with eyes that respond to you like a 
mirror. 

The novels of Balzac are full of electric fluid. 
To take up one of them is to feel the shock 
of life, as one feels it on touching certain mag- 
netic hands. To turn over volume after vol- 
ume is like wandering through the streets of a 
great city, at that hour of the night when 
human activity is at its full. There is a par- 
ticular kind of excitement inherent in the very 
aspect of a modern city, of London or Paris; 
in the mere sensation of being in its midst, 
in the sight of all those active and fatigued 
faces which pass so rapidly; of those long and 
endless streets, full of houses, each of which is 
like the body of a multiform soul, looking out 
through the eyes of many windows. There 
is something intoxicating in the lights, the 
movement of shadows under the lights, the 
vast and billowy sound of that shadowy 
movement. And there is something more than 
this mere unconscious action upon the nerves. 
Every step in a great city is a step into an 



BALZAC 37 

unknown world. A new future is possible 
at every street corner. I never know, when 
I go out into one of those crowded streets, 
but that the whole course of my life may be 
changed before I return to the house I have 
quitted. 

I am writing these lines in Madrid, to which 
I have come suddenly, after a long quiet in 
Andalusia; and I feel already a new pulse in 
my blood, a keener consciousness of life, and a 
sharper human curiosity. Even in Seville I 
knew that I should see to-morrow, in the 
same streets, hardly changed since the Middle 
Ages, the same people that I had seen to-day. 
But here there are new possibilities, all the 
exciting accidents of the modern world, of a 
population always changing, of a city into 
which civilisation has brought all its unrest. 
And as I walk in these broad, windy streets 
and see these people, whom I hardly recog- 
nise for Spaniards, so awake and so hybrid 
are they, I have felt the sense of Balzac com- 
ing back into my veins. At Cordova he was 
unthinkable; at Cadiz I could realise only 
his large, universal outlines, vague as the 
murmur of the sea; here I feel him, he speaks 



38 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

the language I am talking, he sums up the life 
in whose midst I find myself. 

For Balzac is the equivalent of great cities. 
He is bad reading for solitude, for he fills the 
mind with the nostalgia of cities. When a 
man speaks to me familiarly of Balzac I know 
already something of the man with whom I 
have to do. "The physiognomy of women 
does not begin before the age of thirty," he 
has said; and perhaps before that age no one 
can really understand Balzac. Few young 
people care for him, for there is nothing in 
him that appeals to the senses except through 
the intellect. Not many women care for him 
supremely, for it is part of his method to 
/express sentiments through facts, and not 
facts through sentiments. But it is natural 
that he should be the favourite reading of 
men of the world, of those men of the world 
who have the distinction of their kind; for 
he supplies the key of the enigma which they 
are studying. 



BALZAC 39 

6 

The life of Balzac was one long labour, in 
which time, money, and circumstances were all 
against him. In 1835 he writes : " I have lately 
spent twenty-six days in my study without 
leaving it. I took the air only at that window 
which dominates Paris, which I mean to domi- 
nate." And he exults in the labour: "If 
there is any glory in that, I alone could accom- 
plish such a feat." He symbolises the course 
of his life in comparing it to the sea beating 
against a rock: " To-day one flood, to-morrow 
another, bears me along with it. I am dashed 
against a rock, I recover myself and go on 
to another reef." "Sometimes it seems to me 
that my brain is on fire. I shall die in the 
trenches of the intellect." 

Balzac, like Scott, died under the weight of 
his debts; and it would seem, if one took 
him at his word, that the whole of the Human 
Comedy was written for money. In the 
modern world, as he himself realised more 
clearly than any one, money is more often a 
symbol than an entity, and it can be the symbol 
of every desire. For Balzac money was the 



40 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

key of his earthly paradise. It meant leisure 
to visit the woman whom he loved, and at the 
end it meant the possibility of marrying her. 
There were only two women in Balzac's life : 
one, a woman much older than himself, of 
whom he wrote, on her death, to the other: 
"She was a mother, a friend, a family, a com- 
panion, a counsel, she made the writer, she 
consoled the young man, she formed his taste, 
she wept like a sister, she laughed, she came 
every day, like a healing slumber, to put sorrow 
to sleep." The other was Mme. de Hanska, 
whom he married in 1850, three months before 
his death. He had loved her for twenty years; 
she was married, and lived in Poland; it was 
only at rare intervals that he was able to see 
her, and then very briefly; but his letters to 
her, published since his death, are a simple, 
perfectly individual, daily record of a great 
passion. For twenty years he existed on a 
divine certainty without a future, and * jnost 
without a present. But we see the fo A ce of 
that sentiment passing into his work; Sera- 
phita is its ecstasy, everywhere is its human 
shadow; it refines his strength, it gives hiitf 
surprising intuitions, it gives him all that was 



BALZAC 41 

wanting to his genius. Mme. de Hanska is 
the heroine of the Human Comedy, as 
Beatrice is the heroine of the Divine Com- 
edy. 

A great lover, to whom love, as well as 
every other passion and the whole visible 
world, was an idea, a flaming spiritual percep- 
tion, Balzac enjoyed the vast happiness of the 
idealist. Contentedly, joyously, he sacrificed 
every petty enjoyment to the idea of love, the 
idea of fame, and to that need of the organism 
to exercise its forces, which is the only defini- 
tion of genius. I do not know, among the 
lives of men of letters, a life better filled, or 
more appropriate. A young man who, for a 
short time, was his secretary, declared: "I 
would not live your life for the fame of Napo- 
leon and of Byron combined!" The Comte 
de Gramont did not realise, as the world in 
general does not realise, that, to the man of 
creative energy, creation is at once a necessity 
and a joy, and to the lover, hope in absence is 
the elixir of life. Balzac tasted more than all 
earthly pleasures as he sat there in his attic, 
creating the world over again, that he might 
lay it at the feet of a woman. Certainly to 



42 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

him there was no tedium in life, for there was 
no hour without its vivid employment, and no 
moment in which to perceive the most desolate 
of all certainties, that hope is in the past. His 
death was as fortunate as his life; he died at 
the height of his powers, at the height of his 
fame, at the moment of the fulfilment of his 
happiness, and perhaps of the too sudden relief 
of that delicate burden. 

1899. 



PROSPER MERIMEE 



STENDHAL has left us a picture of Me*rime*e 
as "a young man in a grey frock-coat, very 
ugly, and with a turned-up nose. . . . This 
young man had something insolent and ex- 
tremely unpleasant about him. His eyes, 
small and without expression, had always the 
same look, and this look was ill-natured. . . . 
Such was my first impression of the best of my 
present friends. I am not too sure of his heart, 
but I am sure of his talents. It is M. le Comte 
Gazul, now so well known; a letter from him, 
which came to me last week, made me happy 
for two days. His mother has a good deal of 
French wit and a superior intelligence. Like 
her son, it seems to me that she might give 
way to emotion once a year." There, painted 
by a clear-sighted and disinterested friend, is a 
picture of Me*rime*e almost from his own point 

43 



44 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

of view, or at least as he would himself have 
painted the picture. How far is it, in its in- 
sistence on the attendrissement une fois par an, 
on the subordination of natural feelings to a 
somewhat disdainful aloofness, the real Me*ri- 
me*e? 

Early in life, M6rime*e adopted his theory, 
fixed his attitude, and to the end of his life 
he seemed, to those about him, to have walked 
along the path he had chosen, almost without 
a deviation. He went to England at the age 
of twenty-three, to Spain four years later, and 
might seem to have been drawn naturally to 
those two countries, to which he was to return 
so often, by natural affinities of temper and 
manner. It was the English manner that he 
liked, that came naturally to him; the correct, 
unmoved exterior, which is a kind of positive 
strength, not to be broken by any onslaught 
of events or emotions; and in Spain he found 
an equally positive animal acceptance of things 
as they are, which satisfied his profound, re- 
strained, really Pagan senusality, Pagan in the 
hard, eighteenth-century sense. From the 
beginning he was a student, of art, of history, 
of human nature, and we find him enjoying, in 




PROSPER MfiRIMfiE 45 

his deliberate, keen way, the studied diversions 
of the student; body and soul each kept exactly 
in its place, each provided for without par- 
tiality. He entered upon literature by a mys- 
tification, Le Theatre de Clara Gazul, a book 
of plays supposed to be translated from a 
living Spanish dramatist; and he followed it by 
La Guzla, another mystification, a book of 
prose ballads supposed to be translated from 
the Illyrian. And these mystifications, like the 
forgeries of Chatterton, contain perhaps the 
most sincere, the most undisguised emotion 
which he ever permitted himself to express; 
so secure did he feel of the heart behind the 
pearl necklace of the d&colletee Spanish actress, 
who travesties his own face in the frontispiece 
to the one, and so remote from himself did he 
feel the bearded gentleman to be, who sits 
cross-legged on the ground, holding his lyre or 
guzla, in the frontispiece to the other. Then 
came a historical novel, the Chronique du 
Regne de Charles IX., before he discovered, 
as if by accident, precisely what it was he was 
meant to do : the short story. Then he drifted 
into history, became Inspector of Ancient 
Monuments, and helped to save Vezelay, 



46 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

among other good deeds toward art, done in 
his cold, systematic, after all satisfactory man- 
ner. He travelled at almost regular intervals, 
not only in Spain and England, but in Corsica, 
in Greece and Asia Minor, in Italy, in Hun- 
gary, in Bohemia, usually with a definite, 
scholarly object, and always with an alert 
attention to everything that came in his way, 
to the manners of people, their national char- 
acters, their differences from one another. 
An intimate friend of the Countess de Montijo, 
the mother of the Empress Eugenie, he was a 
friend, not a courtier, at the court of the Third 
Empire. He was elected to the Academy, 
mainly for his fitudes sur I'Histoire Ro- 
maine, a piece of dry history, and immediately 
scandalised his supporters by publishing a 
* story, Arsene Guillot, which was taken for a 
I veiled attack on religion and on morals. Soon 
after, his imagination seemed to flag; he 
abandoned himself, perhaps a little wearily, 
more and more to facts, to the facts of history 
and learning; learned Russian, and trans- 
lated Poushkin and Tourguenieff; and died in 
1870, at Cannes, perhaps less satisfied with 
himself than most men who have done, in their 




PROSPER MERIMEE 47 

lives, far less exactly what they have intended 
to do. 

"I have theories about the very smallest 
things gloves, boots, and the like," says 
Me'rime'e in one of his letters; des idees trh- 
arretees, as he adds with emphasis in another. 
Precise opinions lead easily to prejudices, and 
Me'rime'e, who prided himself on the really 
very logical quality of his mind, put himself 
somewhat deliberately into the hands of his 
prejudices. Thus he hated religion, distrusted 
priests, would not let himself be carried away 
by any instinct of admiration, would not let 
himself do the things which he had the power 
to do, because his other, critical self came 
mockingly behind him, suggesting that very 
few things were altogether worth doing. 
"There is nothing that I despise and even 
detest so much as humanity in general/' he 
confesses in a letter; and it is with a certain 
self-complacency that he defines the only kind 
of society in which he found himself at home: 
" (1) With unpretentious people whom I have 
known a long time; (2) in a Spanish venta, 
with muleteers and peasant women of Anda- 
lusia." One day, as he finds himself in a pen- 



48 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

sive mood, dreaming of a woman, he trans- 
lates for her some lines of Sophocles, into verse, 
"English verse, you understand, for I abhor 
French verse." The carefulness with which 
he avoids received opinions shows a certain 
consciousness of those opinions, which in a 
more imaginatively independent mind would 
scarcely have found a place. It is not only 
for an effect, but more and more genuinely, 
that he sets his acquirements as a scholar 
above his accomplishments as an artist. Clear- 
ing away, as it seemed to him, every illusion 
from before his eyes, he forgot the last illusion 
of positive people: the possibility that one's 
eyes may be short-sighted. 

Merimee realises a type which we are accus- 
tomed to associate almost exclusively with the 
eighteenth century, but of which our own time 
can offer us many obscure examples. It is 
the type of the esprit fort: the learned man, 
the choice, narrow artist, who is at the same 
time the cultivated sensualist. To such a 
man the pursuit of women is part of his con- 
stant pursuit of human experience, and of the 
document, which is the summing up of human 
experience. To Merimee history itself was a 




PROSPER MfiRIMfiE 49 

matter of detail. "In history, I care only for 
anecdotes/ ' he says in the preface to the 
Chronique du Regne de Charles IX. And 
he adds: "It is not a very noble taste; but I 
confess to my shame, I would willingly give 
Thucydides for the authentic memoirs of 
Aspasia or of a slave of Pericles; for only 
memoirs, which are the familiar talk of an 
author with his reader, afford those portraits 
of man which amuse and interest me." This 
curiosity of mankind above all things, and of 
mankind at home, or in private actions, not 
necessarily of any import to the general course 
of the world, leads the curious searcher natur- 
ally to the more privately interesting and the 
less publicly important half of mankind. 
Not scrupulous in arriving at any end by the 
most adaptable means, not disturbed by any 
illusions as to the physical facts of the uni- 
verse, a sincere and grateful lover of variety, 
doubtless an amusing companion with those 
who amused him, Merime*e found much of 
his entertainments and instruction, at all 
events in his younger years, in that "half 
world" which he tells us he frequented "very 
much out of curiosity, living in it always as 



50 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

in a foreign country." Here, as elsewhere, 
Merimee played the part of the amateur. He 
liked anecdotes, not great events, in his his- 
tory; and he was careful to avoid any too 
serious passions in his search for sensations. 
There, no doubt, for the sensualist, is happi- 
ness, if he can resign himself to it. It is only 
serious passions which make anybody unhappy; 
and Me*rimee was carefully on the lookout 
against a possible unhappiness. I can imagine 
him ending every day with satisfaction, and 
beginning every fresh day with just enough 
expectancy to be agreeable, at that period of 
his life when he was writing the finest of his 
stories, and dividing the rest of his leisure 
between the drawing-rooms and the pursuit 
of uneventful adventures. 

Only, though we are automates autant qu'- 
esprit, as Pascal tells us, it is useless to expect 
that what is automatic in us should remain 
invariable and unconditioned. If life could 
be lived on a plan, and for such men on such 
a plan, if first impulses and profound passions 
could be kept entirely out of one's own experi- 
ence, and studied only at a safe distance, then, 
no doubt, one could go on being happy, in a 



PROSPER MERIMEE 51 

not too heroic way. But, with M6rime*e as 
with all the rest of the world, the scheme 
breaks down one day, just when a reasonable 
solution to things seems to have been arrived 
at. Me*rime*e had already entered on a peace- 
able enough liaison when the first letter came 
to him from the Inconnue to whom he was to 
write so many letters, for nine years without 
seeing her, and then for thirty years more after 
he had met her, the last letter being written 
but two hours before his death. These letters, 
which we can now read in two volumes, have a 
delicately ^sincere sincerity which makes 
every letter a work of art, not because he tried 
to make it so, but because he could not help 
seeing the form simultaneously with the feel- 
ing, and writing genuine love-letters with an 
excellence almost as impersonal as that of his 
stories. He begins with curiosity, which passes 
with singular rapidity into a kind of self- 
willed passion; already in the eighth letter, 
long before he has seen her, he is speculating 
which of the two will know best how to torture 
the other: that is, as he views it, love best. 
"We shall never love one another really," 
he tells her, as he begins to hope for the con- 



52 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

trary. Then he discovers, for the first time, 
and without practical result, "that it is better 
to have illusions than to have none at all." 
He confesses himself to her, sometimes re- 
minding her: "You will never know either all 
the good or all the evil that I have in me. 
I have spent my life in being praised for 
qualities which I do not possess, and calumni- 
ated for defects which are not mine." And, 
with a strange, weary humility, which is the 
other side of his contempt for most things 
and people, he admits: "To you I am like 
an old opera, which you are obliged to forget, 
in order to see it again with any pleasure." 
He, who has always distrusted first impulses, 
finds himself telling her (was she really so like 
him, or was he arguing with himself?): "You 
always fear first impulses; do not you see 
that they are the only ones which are worth 
anything and which always succeed?" Does 
he realise, unable to change the temperament 
which he has partly made for himself, that 
just there has been his own failure? 

Perhaps of all love-letters, these of Merime'e 
show us love triumphing over the most care- 
fully guarded personality. Here the obstacle 



PROSPER MfiRIMfiE 53 

is not duty, nor circumstance, nor a rival; 
but (on her side as on his, it would seem) a 
carefully trained natural coldness, in which 
action, and even for the most part feeling, are 
relinquished to the control of second thoughts. 
A habit of repressive irony goes deep : Merime'e 
might well have thought himself secure against 
the outbreak of an unconditional passion. 
Yet here we find passion betraying itself, 
often only by bitterness, together with a shy, 
surprising tenderness, in this curious lovers' 
itinerary, marked out with all the customary 
sign-posts, and leading, for all its wilful 
deviations, along the inevitable road. 

It is commonly supposed that the artist, 
by the habit of his profession, has made for 
himself a sort of cuirass of phrases against 
the direct attack of emotion, and so will suffer 
less than most people if he should fall into love, 
and things should not go altogether well with 
him. Rather, he is the more laid open to 
attack, the more helplessly entangled when 
once the net has been cast over him. He 
lives through every passionate trouble, not 
merely with the daily emotions of the crowd, ' 
but with the whole of his imagination. Pain is 



54 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

multiplied to him by the force of that faculty 
by which he conceives delight. What is most 
torturing in every not quite fortunate love is 
I memory, and the artist becomes an artist by 
J his intensification of memory. M&rimee has 
himself defined art as exaggeration a propos. 
Well, to the artist his own life is. an exaggera- 
tion not a propos, and every hour dramatises 
for him its own pain and pleasure, in a tragic 
comedy of which he is the author and actor 
and spectator. The practice of art is a sharp- 
ening of the sensations, and, the knife once 
sharpened, does it cut into one's hand less 
deeply because one is in the act of using it to 
carve wood? 

And so we find Merime'e, the most imper- 
sonal of artists, and one of those most critical 
of the caprices and violences of fate, giving 
in to an almost obvious temptation, an anon- 
ymous correspondence, a mysterious unknown 
woman, and passing from stage to stage of 
a finally very genuine love-affair, which kept 
him in a fluttering agitation for more than 
thirty years. It is curious to note that the 
little which we know of this Inconnue seems 
to mark her out as the realisation of a type 




PROSPER MfiRIMfiE 55 

which had always been Me*rimeVs type of 
woman. She has the " wicked eyes" of all 
his heroines, from the Mariquita of his first 
attempt in literature, who haunts the Inquisitor 
with "her great black eyes, like the eyes of a 
young cat, soft and wicked at once." He finds 
her at the end of his life, in a novel of Tourgue- 
nieff, "one of those diabolical creatures whose 
coquetry is the more dangerous because it is 
capable of passion." Like so many artists, 
he has invented his ideal before he meets it, 
and must have seemed almost to have fallen 
in love with his own creation. It is one of the 
privileges of art to create nature, as, according 
to a certain mystical doctrine, you can actual- 
ise, by sheer fixity of contemplation, your 
mental image of a thing into the thing itself. 
The Inconnue was one of a series, the rest 
imaginary; and her power over Me'rime'e, we 
can hardly doubt, came not only from her queer 
likeness of temperament to his, but from the 
singular, flattering pleasure which it must 
have given him to find that he had invented 
with so much truth to nature. 



56 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



M6rime*e as a writer belongs to the race of 
Laclos and of Stendhal, a race essentially 
French; and we find him representing, a little 
coldly, as it seemed, the claims of mere un- 
impassioned intellect, at work on passionate 
problems, among those people of the Romantic 
period to whom emotion, evident emotion, 
was everything. In his subjects he is as 
" Romantic" as Victor Hugo or Gautier; he 
adds, even, a peculiar flavour of cruelty to 
the Romantic ingredients. But he distin- 
guishes sharply, as French writers before him 
had so well known how to do, between the 
passion one is recounting and the moved or 
unmoved way in which one chooses to tell it. 
To Merime*e art was a very formal thing, 
almost a part of learning; it was a thing to 
be done with a clear head, reflectively, with a 
calm mastery of even the most vivid material. 
While others, at that time, were intoxicating 
themselves with strange sensations, hoping 
that " nature would take the pen out of their 
hands and write," just at the moment when 
their own thoughts became least coherent, 



PROSPER MfiRIMfiE 57 

M6rim6e went quietly to work over something 
a little abnormal which he had found in 
nature, with as disinterested, as scholarly, as 
mentally reserved an interest as if it were 
one of those Gothic monuments which he 
inspected to such good purpose, and, as it 
has seemed to his biographer, with so little 
sympathy. His own emotion, so far as it is 
roused, seems to him an extraneous thing, a 
thing to be concealed, if not a little ashamed of. 
It is the thing itself he wishes to give you, not 
his feelings about it; and his theory is that 
if the thing itself can only be made to stand 
and speak before the reader, the reader will 
supply for himself all the feeling that is needed, 
all the feeling that would be called out in 
nature by a perfectly clear sight of just such 
passions in action. It seems to him bad art 
to paint the picture, and to write a description 
of the picture as well. 

And his method serves him wonderfully 
up to a certain point, and then leaves him, 
without his being well aware of it, at the 
moment even when he has convinced himself 
that he has realised the utmost of his aim. 
At a time when he had come to consider 



58 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

scholarly dexterity as the most important 
part of art, Me*rimee tells us that La Venus 
d'llle seemed to him the best story he had 
ever written. He has often been taken at 
his word, but to take him at his word is to 
do him an injustice. La Venus d'llle is a 
modern setting of the old story of the Ring 
given to Venus, and Me*rime*e has been 
praised for the ingenuity with which he has 
obtained an effect of supernatural terror, 
while leaving the way open for a material 
explanation of the supernatural. What he 
has really done is to materialise a myth, by 
accepting in it precisely what might be a mere 
superstition, the form of the thing, and leaving 
out the spiritual meaning of which that form 
was no more than a temporary expression. 
The ring which the bridegroom sets on the 
finger of Venus, and which the statue's finger 
closes upon, accepting it, symbolises the pact 
between love and sensuality, the lover's abdi- 
cation of all but the physical part of love; and 
the statue taking its place between husband 
and wife on the marriage-night, and crushing 
life out of him in an inexorable embrace, 
symbolises the merely natural destruction 






PROSPER MfiRIMfiE 59 

which that granted prayer brings with it, as a 
merely human Messalina takes her lover on 
his own terms, in his abandonment of all to 
Venus. Merimee sees a cruel and fantastic 
superstition, which he is afraid of seeming 
to take too seriously, which he prefers to leave 
as a story of ghosts or bogies, a thing at which 
we are to shiver as at a mere twitch on the 
nerves, while our mental confidence in the 
impossibility of what we cannot explain is 
preserved for us by a hint at a muleteer 's 
vengeance. "Have I frightened you?" says 
the man of the world, with a reassuring smile. 
"Think about it no more; I really meant 
nothing." 

And yet, does he after all mean nothing? 
The devil, the old pagan gods, the spirits of 
evil incarnated under every form, fascinated 
him; it gave him a malign pleasure to set 
them at their evil work among men, while, 
all the time, he mocks them and the men who 
believed in them. He is a materialist, and 
yet he believes in at least a something evil, 
outside the world, or in the heart of it, which 
sets humanity at its strange games, relent- 
lessly. Even then he will not surrender his 



60 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

doubts, his ironies, his negations. Is he, 
perhaps, at times, the athiest who fears that, 
after all, God may exist, or at least who realises 
how much he would fear him if he did exist? 
Me'rimee had always delighted in mystifica- 
tions; he was always on his guard against being 
mystified himself, either by nature or by his 
fellow-creatures. In the early " Romantic" 
days he had had a genuine passion for various 
things: " local colour," for instance. But 
even then he had invented it by a kind of trick, 
and, later on, he explains what a poor thing 
" local colour" is, since it can so easily be 
invented without leaving one's study. He 
is full of curiosity, and will go far to satisfy 
it, regretting "the decadence," in our times, 
"of energetic passions, in favour of tranquillity 
and perhaps of happiness." These energetic 
passions he will find, indeed, in our own 
times, in Corsica, in Spain, in Lithuania, 
really in the midst of a very genuine and pro- 
foundly studied "local colour," and also, 
under many disguises, in Parisian drawing- 
rooms. Me'rime'e prized happiness, material 
comfort, the satisfaction of one's immediate 
desires, very highly, and it was his keen sense 



PROSPER MfiRIMEE 61 

of life, of the pleasures of living, that gave 
him some of his keenness in the realisation of 
violent death, physical pain, whatever dis- 
turbs the equilibrium of things with unusual 
emphasis. Himself really selfish, he can dis- 
tinguish the unhappiness of others with a 
kind of intuition which is not sympathy, but 
which selfish people often have: a dramatic 
consciousness of how painful pain must be, 
whoever feels it. It is not pity, though it 
communicates itself to us, often enough, 
as pity. It is the clear-sighted sensitiveness 
of a man who watches human things closely, 
bringing them home to himself with the 
deliberate, essaying art of an actor who has 
to represent a particular passion in movement. 
And always in Me*rime*e there is this union 
of curiosity with indifference: the curiosity 
of the student, the indifference of the man of 
the world. Indifference, in him, as in the man 
of the world, is partly an attitude, adopted 
for its form, and influencing the temperament 
just so much as gesture always influences 
emotion. The man who forces himself to 
appear calm under excitement teaches his 
nerves to follow instinctively the way he has 



62 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

shown them. In time he will not merely 
seem calm but will be calm, at the moment 
when he learns that a great disaster has be- 
fallen him. But, in M6rimee, was the indif- 
ference even as external as it must always be 
when there is restraint, when, therefore, 
there is something to restrain? Was there 
not in him a certain drying up of the sources 
of emotion, as the man of the world came to 
accept almost the point of view of society, 
reading his stories to a little circle of court 
ladies, when, once in a while, he permitted 
himself to write a story? And was not this 
increase of well-bred indifference, now more 
than ever characteristic, almost the man 
himself, the chief reason why he abandoned 
art so early, writing only two or three short 
stories during the last twenty-five years of 
his life, and writing these with a labour which 
by no means conceals itself? 

Merime*e had an abstract interest in, almost 
an enthusiasm for, facts; facts for their mean- 
ing, the light they throw on psychology. He 
declines to consider psychology except through 
its expression in facts, with an impersonality 
far more real than that of Flaubert. The 



PROSPER MERIMEE 63 

document, historical or social, must translate 
itself into sharp action before he can use it; 
not that he does not see, and appreciate 
better than most others, all there is of signi- 
ficance in the document itself; but his theory 
of art is inexorable. He never allowed him- 
self to write as he pleased, but he wrote always 
as he considered the artist should write. Thus 
he made for himself a kind of formula, confin- 
ing himself, as some thought, within too narrow 
limits, but, to himself, doing exactly what he 
set himself to do, with all the satisfaction of 
one who is convinced of the justice of his aim 
and confident of his power to attain it. 

Look, for instance, at his longest, far from 
his best work, La Chronique du Regne de 
Charles IX. Like so much of his work, it 
has something of the air of a tour de force, 
not taken up entirely for its own sake. Meri- 
me*e drops into a fashion, half deprecatingly, 
as if he sees through it, and yet, as with 
merely mundane elegance, with a resolve to 
be more scrupuously exact than its devotees. 
"Belief," says some one in this book, as if 
speaking for Merime'e, "is a precious gift 
which has been denied me." Well, he will 



64 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

do better, without belief, than those who be- 
lieve. Written under a title which suggests 
a work of actual history, it is more than possible 
that the first suggestion of this book really 
came, as he tells us in the preface, from the 
reading of "a large number of memoirs and 
pamphlets relating to the end of the sixteenth 
century." "I wished to make an epitome of 
my reading," he tells us, "and here is the 
epitome." The historical problem attracted 
him, that never quite explicable Massacre 
of St. Bartholomew, in which there was pre- 
cisely the violence of action and uncertainty 
of motive which he liked to set before him at 
the beginning of a task in literature. Probable, 
clearly defined people, in the dress of the 
period, grew up naturally about this central 
motive; humour and irony have their part; 
there are adventures, told with a sword's 
point of sharpness, and in the fewest possible 
words; there is one of his cruel and loving 
women, in whom every sentiment becomes 
action, by some twisted feminine logic of their 
own. It is the most artistic, the most clean- 
cut, of historical novels; and yet this perfect 
neatness of method suggests a certain indif- 



PROSPER MERIMfiE 65 

ference on the part of the writer, as if he were 
more interested in doing the thing well than in 
doing it. 

And that, in all but the very best of his 
stories (even, perhaps, in Arsene Guillot only 
not in such perfect things as Carmen, as 
Mateo Falcone), is what Merimee just lets us 
see, underneath an almost faultless skill of 
narrative. An incident told by Me'rime'e at 
his best gathers about it something of the 
gravity of history, the composed way in which 
it is told helping to give it the equivalent of 
remoteness, allowing it not merely to be, but, 
what is more difficult, to seem classic in its 
own time. " Magnificent things, things after 
my own heart that is to say, Greek in their 
truth and simplicity," he writes in a letter, 
referring to the tales of Poushkin. The phrase 
is scarcely too strong to apply to what is best 
in his own work. Made out of elemental 
passions, hard, cruel, detached as it were from 
their own sentiments, the stories that he tells 
might in other hands become melodramas: 
Carmen, taken thoughtlessly out of his hands, 
has supplied the libretto to the most popu- 
lar of modern light operas. And yet, in his 



66 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

severe method of telling, mere outlines, it 
seems, told with an even stricter watch over 
what is significantly left out than over what is 
briefly allowed to be said in words, these stories 
sum up little separate pieces of the world, 
each a little world in itself. And each is a 
little world which he has made his own, with a 
labor at last its own reward, and taking life 
partly because he has put into it more of him- 
self than the mere intention of doing it well. 
Me*rime*e loved Spain, and Carmen, which, by 
some caprice of popularity, is the symbol of 
Spain to people in general, is really, to those 
who know Spain well, the most Spanish thing 
that has been written since Gil Bias. All the 
little parade of local colour and philology, 
the appendix on the Calo of the gipsies, done 
to heighten the illusion, has more significance 
than people sometimes think. In this story 
all the qualities of Me*rimee come into agree- 
ment; the student of human passions, the 
traveller, the observer, the learned man, meet 
in harmony; and, in addition, there is the 
aficionado, the true amateur, in love with Spain 
and the Spaniards. 

It is significant that at the reception of 




PROSPER MfiRIMfiE 67 

M6rim6e at the Academic Frangaise in 1845, 
M. Etienne thought it already needful to say: 
11 Do not pause in the midst of your career; 
rest is not permitted to your talent." Already 
M6rimee was giving way to facts, to facts in 
themselves, as they come into history, into 
records of scholarship. We find him writing, a 
little dryly, on Catiline, on Csesar, on Don 
Pedro the Cruel, learning Russian, and trans- 
lating from it (yet, while studying the Russians 
before all the world, never discovering the 
mystical Russian soul), writing learned articles, 
writing reports. He looked around on con- 
temporary literature, and found nothing that 
he could care for. Stendhal was gone, and 
who else was there to admire? ' Flaubert, it 
seemed to him, was " wasting his talent under 
the pretence of realism. " Victor Hugo was 
"a fellow with the most beautiful figures of 
speech at his disposal," who did not take the 
trouble to think, but intoxicated himself with 
his own words. Baudelaire made him furious, 
Ren an filled him with pitying scorn. In the 
midst of his contempt, he may perhaps have 
imagined that he was being left behind. For 
whatever reason, weakness or strength, he 



68 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

could not persuade himself that it was worth 
while to strive for anything any more. He 
died probably at the moment when he was no 
longer a fashion, and had not yet become a 
classic. 
1901. 




GERARD DE NERVAL 



THIS is tliB problem of one who lost the 
whole world and gained his own soul. 

"I like to arrange my life as if it were a 
novel," wrote Gerard de Nerval, and, indeed, 
it is somewhat difficult to disentangle the pre- 
cise facts of an existence which was never 
quite conscious where began and where ended 
that " overflowing of dreams into real life," of 
which he speaks. "I do not ask of God," 
he said, "that he should change anything in 
events themselves, but that he should change 
me in regard to things, so that I might have the 
power to create my own universe about me, 
to govern my dreams, instead of enduring 
them." The prayer was not granted, in its 
entirety; and the tragedy of his life lay in 
the vain endeavour to hold back the irresistible 
empire of the unseen, which it was the joy of 
his life to summon about him. Briefly, we 



70 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

know that Gerard Labrunie (the name de 
Nerval was taken from a little piece of prop- 
erty, worth some 1500 francs, which he liked 
to imagine had always been in the possession 
of his family) was born at Paris, May 22, 1808. 
His father was surgeon-major; his mother 
died before he was old enough to remember 
her, following the Grande Armee on the Rus- 
sian campaign; and Gerard was brought up, 
largely under the care of a studious and erratic 
uncle, in a little village called Montagny, near 
Ermenonville. He was a precocious schoolboy, 
and by the age of eighteen had published six 
little collections of verses. It was during one 
of his holidays that he saw, for the first and 
last time, the young girl whom he calls Adri- 
enne, and whom, under many names, he loved 
to the end of his life. One evening she had 
come from the chateau to dance with the 
young peasant girls on the grass. She had 
danced with Gerard, he had kissed her cheek, 
he had crowned her hair with laurels, he had 
heard her sing an old song telling of the sorrows 
of a princess whom her father had shut in a 
tower because she had loved. To Gerard it 
seemed that already he remembered her, and 



GERARD DE NERVAL 71 

certainly he was never to forget her. After- 
wards, he heard that Adrienne had taken the 
veil; then, that she was dead. To one who 
had realised that it is "we, the living, who walk 
in a world of phantoms," death could not ex- 
clude hope; and when, many years later, he 
fell seriously and fantastically in love with a 
little actress called Jenny Colon, it was because 
he seemed to have found, in that blonde and 
very human person, the re-incarnation of the 
blonde Adrienne. 

Meanwhile Gerard was living in Paris, 
among his friends the Romantics, writing and 
living in an equally desultory fashion. Le 
bon Gerard was the best loved, and, in his time, 
not the least famous, of the company. He 
led, by choice, now in Paris, now across Eu- 
rope, the life of a vagabond, and more per- 
sistently than others of his friends who were 
driven to it by need. At that time, when it 
was the aim of every one to be as eccentric as 
possible, the eccentricities of Gerard's life and 
thought seemed, on the whole, less noticeable 
than those of many really quite normal per- 
sons. But with Gerard there was no pose; 
and when, one day, he was found in the Palais- 



72 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Royal, leading a lobster at the end of a blue 
ribbon (because, he said, it does not bark, and 
knows the secrets of the sea), the visionary had 
simply lost control of his visions, and had to be 
sent to Dr. Blanche's asylum at Montmartre. 
He entered March 21, 1841, and came out, 
apparently well again, on the 21st of November. 
It would seem that this first access of madness 
was, to some extent, the consequence of the 
final rupture with Jenny Colon; on June 5, 
1842, she died and it was partly in order to put 
as many leagues of the earth as possible be- 
tween him and that memory that Gerard set 
out, at the end of 1842, for the East. It was 
also in order to prove to the world, by his con- 
sciousness of external things, that he had 
recovered his reason. While he was in Syria, 
he once more fell in love with a new incarna- 
tion of Adrienne, a young Druse, Salema, the 
daughter of a Sheikh of Lebanon; and it seems 
to have been almost by accident^ that he did 
not marry her. He returned to Paris at the 
end of 1843 or the beginning of 1844, and for 
the next few years he lived mostly in Paris, 
writing charming, graceful, remarkably sane 
articles and books and wandering about the 




GERARD DE NERVAL 73 

streets, by day and night, in a perpetual dream 
from which, now and again, he was somewhat 
rudely awakened. When, in the spring of 
1853, he went to see Heine, for whom he was 
doing an admirable prose translation of his 
poems, and told him he had come to return the 
money he had received in advance, because 
the times were accomplished, and the end of 
the world, announced by the Apocalypse, was 
at hand, Heine sent for a cab, and Gerard 
found himself at Dr. Dubois' asylum, where 
he remained two months. It was on coming 
out of the asylum that he wrote Sylvie, a 
delightful idyl, chiefly autobiographical, one 
of his three actual achievements. On August 
27, 1853, he had to be taken to Dr. Blanche's 
asylum at Passy, where he remained till May 
27, 1854. Thither, after a month or two spent 
in Germany, he returned on August 8, and on 
October 19 he came out for the last time, man- 
ifestly uncured. He was now engaged on the 
narrative oi his own madness, and the first 
part of Le Reve et la Vie appeared in the Revue 
de Paris of January 1, 1855. On the 20th he 
came into the office of the review, and showed 
Gautier and Maxime du Camp an apron- 



74 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

string which he was carrying in his pocket. 
"It is the girdle/' he said, "that Madame de 
Maintenon wore when she had Esther per- 
formed at Saint-Cyr." On the 24th he wrote 
to a friend: "Come and prove my identity at 
the police-station of the Chatelet." The night 
before he had been working at his manuscript 
in a pot-house of Les Halles, and had been 
arrested as a vagabond. He was used to such 
little misadventures, but he complained of the 
difficulty of writing. "I set off after an idea," 
he said, "and lose myself; I am hours in find- 
ing my way back. Do you know I can scarcely 
write twenty lines a day, the darkness comes 
about me so close!" He took out the apron- 
string. "It is the garter of the Queen of 
Sheba," he said. The snow was freezing on 
the ground, and on the night of the 25th, at 
three in the morning, the landlord of a "penny 
doss" in the Rue de la Vieille-Lanterne, a 
filthy alley lying between the quays and the 
Rue de Rivoli, heard some one knocking at 
the door, but did not open, on account of the 
cold. At dawn, the body of Gerard de Nerval 
was found hanging by the apron-string to a 
bar of the window. 



GERARD DE NERVAL 75 

It is not necessary to exaggerate the im- 
portance of the half-dozen volumes which 
make up the works of Gerard de Nerval. He 
was not a great writer; he had moments of 
greatness; and it is the particular quality of 
these moments which is of interest for us. 
There is the entertaining, but not more than 
entertaining, Voyage en Orient; there is the 
estimable translation of Faust, and the ad- 
mirable versions from Heine; there are the 
volumes of short stories and sketches, of 
which even Les Illumines, in spite of the 
promise of its title, is little more than an 
agreeable compilation. But there remain 
three compositions: the sonnets, Le Reve et 
la Vie, and Sylvie; of which Sylvie is the 
most objectively achieved, a wandering idyl, 
full of pastoral delight, and containing some 
folk-songs of Valois, two of which have been 
translated by Rossetti; Le Reve et la Vie 
being the most intensely personal, a narrative 
of madness, unique as madness itself; and 
the sonnets, a kind of miracle, which may 
be held to have created something at least of 
the method of the later Symbolist. These 
three compositions, in which alone Ge*rard is 



76 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

his finest self, all belong to the periods when 
he was, in the eyes of the world, actually 
mad. The sonnets belong to two of these 
periods, Le Reve et la Vie to the last; Sylvie 
was written in the short interval between the 
two attacks in the early part of 1853. We 
have thus the case of a writer, graceful and 
elegant when he is sane, but only inspired, 
only really wise, passionate, collected, only 
really master of himself, when he is insane. 
It may be worth looking at a few of the 
points which so suggestive a problem presents 
to us. 



Gerard de Nerval lived the transfigured 
inner life of the dreamer. "I was very 
tired of life!" he says. And like so many 
dreamers, who have all the luminous darkness 
of the universe in their brains, he found his 
most precious and uninterrupted solitude in 
the crowded and more sordid streets of great 
cities. He who had loved the Queen of 
Sheba, and seen the seven Elohims dividing 
the world, could find nothing more tolerable 






GERARD DE NERVAL 77 

in mortal conditions, when he was truly aware 
of them, than the company of the meanest of 
mankind, in whom poverty and vice, and the 
hard pressure of civilisation, still leave some 
of the original vivacity of the human comedy. 
The real world seeming to be always so far 
from him, and a sort of terror of the gulfs 
holding him, in spite of himself, to its fly- 
ing skirts, he found something at all events 
realisable, concrete, in these drinkers of Les 
Halles, these vagabonds of the Place du 
Carrousel, among whom he so often sought 
refuge. It was literally, in part, a refuge. 
During the day he could sleep, but night 
wakened him, and that restlessness, which 
the night draws out in those who are really 
under lunar influences, set his feet wandering, 
if only in order that his mind might wander 
the less. The sun, as he mentions, never 
appears in dreams; but, with the approach of 
night, is not every one a little readier to be- 
lieve in the mystery lurking behind the world? 

Grains, dans le mur aveugle, un regard qui t'6pie! 

he writes in one of his great sonnets; and 
that fear of the invisible watchfulness of 



78 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

nature was never absent from him. It is 
one of the terrors of human existence that 
we may be led at once to seek and so shun 
solitude; unable to bear the mortal pressure 
if its embrace, unable to endure the nos- 
talgia of its absence. "I think man's hap- 
piest when he forgets himself/' says an 
Elizabethan dramatist; and, with Gerard, 
there was Adrienne to forget, and Jenny 
Colon the actress, and the Queen of Sheba. 
But to have drunk of the cup of dreams 
is to have drunk of the cup of eternal 
memory. The past, and, as it seemed to 
him, the future were continually with him; 
only the present fled continually from under 
his feet. It was only by the effort of this 
contact with people who lived so sincerely 
in the day, the minute, that he could find 
even a temporary foothold. With them, at 
least, he could hold back all the stars, and 
the darkness beyond them, and the inter- 
minable approach and disappearance of all 
the ages, if only for the space between tavern 
and tavern, where he could open his eyes 
on so frank an abandonment to the common 
drunkenness of most people in this world, 



GERARD DE NERVAL 79 

here for once really living the symbolic in- 
toxication of their ignorance. 

Like so many dreamers of illimitable 
dreams, it was the fate of Ge*rard to incarnate 
his ideal in the person of an actress. The 
fatal transfiguration of the footlights, in which 
reality and the artificial change places with 
so fantastic a regularity, has drawn many 
moths into its flame, and will draw more, 
as long as men persist in demanding illu-. 
sion of what is real, and reality in what is ] 
illusion. The Jenny Colons of the world 
are very simple, very real, if one will but 
refrain from assuming them to be a mystery. 
But it is the penalty of all imaginative lovers 
to create for themselves the veil which hides 
from them the features of the beloved. It 
is their privilage, for it is incomparably more 
entrancing to fancy oneself in love with Isis 
than to know that one is in love with Manon 
Lescaut. The picture of Ge*rard, after many 
hesitations, revealing to the astonished Jenny 
that she is the incarnation of another, the 
shadow of a dream, that she has been 
Adrienne and is about to be the Queen of 
Sheba; her very human little cry of pure 



80 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

incomprehension, Mais vous ne m'aimez pas! 
and her prompt refuge in the arms of the 
jeune premier ride, if it were not of the 
acutest pathos, would certainly be of the 
most quintessential comedy. For Ge*rard, so 
sharp an awakening was but like the passage 
from one state to another, across that little 
bridge of one step which lies between heaven 
and hell, to which he was so used in his 
dreams. It gave permanency to the trivial, 
crystallising it, in another than Stendhal's 
sense; and when death came, changing mere 
human memory into the terms of eternity, 
the darkness of the spiritual world was lit 
with a new star, which was henceforth the 
wandering, desolate guide of so many visions. 
The tragic figure of Aurelia, which comes and 
goes through all the labyrinths of dream, is 
now seen always "as if lit up by a lightning- 
flash, pale and dying, hurried away by dark 
horsemen." 

The dream or doctrine of the re-incarna- 
tion of souls, which has given so much con- 
solation to so many questioners of eternity, 
was for Gerard (need we doubt?) a dream 
rather than a doctrine, but one of those 






GfiRARD DE NERVAL 81 

dreams which are nearer to a man than his 
breath. "This vague and hopeless love," 
he writes in Sylvie, " inspired by an actress, 
which night by night took hold of me at the 
hour of the performance, leaving me only at 
the hour of sleep, had its germ in the recol- 
lection of Adrienne, flower of the night, un- 
folding under the pale rays of the moon, rosy 
and blonde phantom, gliding over the green 
grass, half bathed in white mist. ... To love 
a nun under the form of an actress! . . . 
and if it were the very same! It is enough 
to drive one mad!" Yes, il y a de quoi 
devenir fou, as Gerard had found; but there 
was also, in this intimate sense of the unity, 
perpetuity, and harmoniously recurring 
rhythm of nature, not a little of the inner 
substance of wisdom. It was a dream, per- 
haps refracted from some broken, illumi- 
nating angle by which madness catches un- 
seen light, that revealed to him the meaning 
of his own superstition, fatality, malady: 
" During my sleep, I had a marvelous vision. 
It seemed to me that the goddess appeared 
before me, saying to me: 'I am the same 
as Mary, the same as thy mother, the same 



82 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

also whom, under all forms, thou hast always 
loved. At each of thine ordeals I have dropt 
yet one more of the masks with which I veil 
my countenance, and soon thou shalt see 
me as I am!" And in perhaps his finest 
sonnet, the mysterious Artemis, we have, 
under other symbols, and with the deliberate 
inconsequence of these sonnets, the comfort 
and despair of the same faith. 

La Triezieme revient . . . C'est encor la premiere; 
Et c'est toujours la seule, ou c'est le seul moment: 
Car es-tu reine, 6 toi! la premiere ou derniere? 
Es-tu roi, toi le seul ou le dernier amant? . . . 

Aimez qui vous aima du berceau dans la biere; 
Celle que j'aimai seul m'aime encor tendrement; 
C'est la mort ou la morte . . . 6 delice! 6 tourment! 
La Rose qu'elle tient, c'est la Rose tremiere. 

Sainte napolitaine aux mains pleines de feux, 
Rose au coeur violet, fleur de sainte Gudule; 
As-tu trouve" ta croix dans le desert cieux? 

Roses blanches, tombez! vous insultez nos dieux: 
Tombez, fantomes blancs, de votre ciel qui brule: 
La Sainte de 1'abime est plus sainte a mes yeux! 

Who has not often meditated, above all 
what artist, on the slightness, after all, of the 
link which holds our faculties together in 
that sober health of the brain which we call 



GERARD DE NERVAL 83 

reason? Are there not moments when that 
link seems to be worn down to so fine a 
tenuity that the wing of a passing dream 
might suffice to snap it? The consciousness 
seems, as it were, to expand and contract at 
once, into something too wide for the uni- 
verse, and too narrow for the thought of 
self to find room within it. Is it that the 
sense of identity is about to evaporate, an- 
nihilating all, or is it that a more profound 
identity, the identity of the whole sentient 
universe, has been at last realised? Leaving 
the concrete world on these brief voyages, 
the fear is that we may not have strength to 
return, or that we may lose the way back. 
Every artist lives a double life, in which he 
is for the most part conscious of the illusions 
of the imagination. He is conscious also of 
the illusions of the nerves, which he shares 
with every man of imaginative mind. Nights 
of insomnia, days of anxious waiting, the 
sudden shock of an event, and one of these 
common disturbances may be enough to 
jangle the tuneless bells of one's nerves. 
The artist can distinguish these causes of 
certain of his moods from those other causes 



84 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

which come to him because he is an artist, 
and are properly concerned with that inven- 
tion which is his own function. Yet is there 
not some danger that he may come to confuse 
one with the other, that he may "lose the 
thread" which conducts him through the in- 
tricacies of the inner world? 

The supreme artist, certainly, is the furthest 
of all men from this danger; for he is the 
supreme intelligence. Like Dante, he can 
pass through hell unsinged. With him, imag- 
ination is vision; when he looks into the dark- 
ness, he sees. The vague dreamer, the inse- 
cure artist and the uncertain mystic at once, 
sees only shadows, not recognising their out- 
lines. He is mastered by the images which 
have come at his call; he has not the power 
which chains them for his slaves. "The king- 
dom of Heaven suffers violence/ ' and the 
dreamer who has gone tremblingly into the 
darkness is in peril at the hands of those very 
real phantoms who are the reflection of his 
fear. 

The madness of Gerard de Nerval, what- 
ever physiological reasons may be rightly 
given for its outbreak, subsidence, and return, 



GERARD DE NERVAL 85 

I take to have been essentially due to the 
weakness and not the excess of his visionary 
quality, to the insufficiency of his imaginative 
energy, and to his lack of spiritual discipline. 
He was ah unsystematic mystic; his " Tower 
of Babel in two hundred volumes," that med- 
ley of books of religion, science, astrology, his- 
tory, travel, which he thought would have 
rejoiced the heart of Pico della Mirandola, of 
Meursius, or of Nicholas of Cusa, was truly, 
as he says, " enough to drive a wise man mad." 
"Why not also," he adds, "enough to make a 
madman wise?" But precisely because it was 
this amas bizarre, this jumble of the perilous 
secrets in which wisdom is so often folly, and 
folly so often wisdom. He speaks vaguely of 
the Cabbala; the Cabbala would have been 
safety to him, as the Catholic Church would 
have been, or any other reasoned scheme of 
things. Wavering among intuitions, ignor- 
ances, half-truths, shadows of falsehood, now 
audacious, now hesitating, he was blown 
hither and thither by conflicting winds, a 
prey to the indefinite. 

Le Reve et la Vie, the last fragments of 
which were found in his pockets after his 



86 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

suicide, scrawled on scraps of paper, inter-, 
rupted with Cabbalistic signs and "a demon- 
stration of the Immaculate Conception by 
geometry," is a narrative of a madman's 
visions by the madman himself, yet showing, 
as Gautier says, "cold reason seated by the 
bedside of hot fever, hallucination analysing 
it sen 7 by a supreme philosophic effort." What 
is curious, yet after all natural, is that part 
of the narrative seems to be contemporaneous 
with what it describes, and part subsequent 
to it; so that it is not as when De Quincey 
says to us, such or such was the opium-dream 
that I had on such a night; but as if the 
opium-dreamer had begun to write down his 
dream while he was yet within its coils. 
"The descent into hell," he calls it twice; 
yet does he not also write: "At times I 
imagined that my force and my activity were 
doubled; it seemed to me that I knew every- 
thing, understood everything; and imagina- 
tion brought me infinite pleasures. Now that 
I have recovered what men call reason, must 
I not regret having lost them?" But he had 
not lost them; he was still in that state of 
double consciousness which he describes in 



GERARD DE NERVAL 87 

one of his visions, when, seeing people dressed 
in white, "I was astonished," he says, "to 
see them all dressed in white; yet it seemed to 
me that this was an optical illusion." His 
cosmical visions are at times so magnificent 
that he seems to be creating myths; and it is 
with a worthy ingenuity that he plays the part 
he imagines to be assigned to him in his astral 
influences. 

"First of all I imagined that the persons 
collected in the garden (of the madhouse) all 
had some influence on the stars, and that the 
one who always walked round and round hi a 
circle regulated the course of the sun. An old 
man, who was brought there at certain hours of 
the day, and who made knots as he consulted 
his watch, seemed to me to be charged with 
the notation of the course of the hours. I 
attributed to myself an influence over the 
course of the moon, and I believed that this 
star had been struck by the thunderbolt of the 
Most High, which had traced on its face the 
imprint of the mask which -I had observed. 

"I attributed a mystical signification to the 
conversations of the warders and of my com- 
panions. It seemed to me that they were 



88 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

the representatives of all the races of the 
earth, and that we had undertaken between 
us to re-arrange the course of the stars, and 
to give a wider development to the system. 
An error, in my opinion, had crept into the 
general combination of numbers, and thence 
came all the ills of humanity. I believed 
also that the celestial spirits had taken human 
forms, and assisted at this general congress, 
seeming though they did to be concerned with 
but ordinary occupations. My own part 
seemed to me to be the re-establishment of 
universal harmony by Cabbalistic art, and I 
had to seek a solution by evoking the occult 
forces of various religions." 

So far we have, no doubt, the confusions of 
madness, in which what may indeed be the 
symbol is taken for the thing itself. But 
now observe what follows: 

"I seemed to myself a hero living under the 
very eyes of the gods; everything in nature 
assumed new aspects, and secret voices came 
to me from the plants, the trees, animals, the 
meanest insects, to warn and to encourage me. 
The words of my companions had mysterious 
messages, the sense of which I alone under- 



GERARD DE NERVAL 89 

stood; things without form and without life 
lent themselves to the designs of my mind; 
out of combinations of stones, the figures of 
angles, crevices, or openings, the shape of 
leaves, out of colours, odours, and sounds, I 
saw unknown harmonies come forth. 'How 
is it/ I said to myself, 'that I can possibly 
have lived so long outside Nature, without 
identifying myself with her! All things live, 
all things are in motion, all things correspond; 
the magnetic rays emanating from myself or 
others traverse without obstacle the infinite 
chain of created things: a transparent net- 
work covers the world, whose loose threads 
communicate more and more closely with the 
planets and the stars. Now a captive upon 
the earth, I hold converse with the starry 
choir, which is feelingly a part of my joys and 



sorrows. ' ' 



To have thus realised that central secret of 
the mystics, from Pythagoras onwards, the 
secret which the Smaragdine Tablet of Hermes 
betrays in its "As things are below, so are 
they above"; which Boehme has classed in 
his teaching of "signatures," and Sweden- 
borg has systematised in his doctrine of 



90 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

" correspondences"; does it matter very much 
that he arrived at it by way of the obscure 
and fatal initiation of madness? Truth, and 
especially that soul of truth which is poetry, 
may be reached by many roads; and a road 
is not necessarily misleading because it is 
dangerous or forbidden. Here is one who 
has gazed at light till it has blinded him; 
and for us all that is important is that he 
has seen something, not that his eyesight has 
been too weak to endure the pressure of light 
overflowing the world from beyond the world. 

3 

And here we arrive at the fundamental 
principle which is at once the substance and 
the aesthetics of the sonnets " composed," as 
he explains, "in that state of meditation 
which the Germans would call 'supernatural- 
istic." In one, which I will quote, he is 
explicit, and seems to state a doctrine. 

VERS DORES 

Homme, libre penseur! te crois-tu seul pensant 
Dans ce monde ou la vie delate en toute chose? 
Des forces que tu tiens ta liberte" dispose, 
Mais de tous tes conseils 1'univers est absent. 



GERARD DE NERVAL 91 

Respecte dans la b6te un esprit agissant: 

Chaque fleur est une ame a la Nature e" close; 

Un mystere d'amour dans le metal repose; 

"Tout est sensible!" Et tout sur ton 6tre est puissant. 

Grains, dans le mur aveugle, un regard qui t'e*pie! 
A la matiere meme un verbe est attache* . . . 
Ne la fais pas servir a quelque usage impie! 

Sou vent dans 1'etre obscur habite un Dieu cache"; 
Et comme un ceil naissant couvert par ses paupiSres, 
Un pur esprit s'accroit sous l'e*corce des pierres! 

But in the other sonnets, in Artemis, which 
I have quoted, in El Desdichado, Myrtho, 
and the rest, he would seem to be deliberately 
obscure; or at least, his obscurity results, to 
some extent, from the state of mind which he 
describes in Le Reve et la Vie: "I then saw, 
vaguely drifting into form, plastic images of 
antiquity, which outlined themselves, became 
definite, and seemed to represent symbols, of 
which I only seized the idea with difficulty." 
Nothing could more precisely represent the 
impression made by these sonnets, in which, 
for the first time in French, words are used as 
the ingredients of an evocation, as themselves 
not merely colour and sound, but symbol. 
Here are words which create an atmosphere 
by the actual suggestive quality of their 



92 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

syllables, as, according to the theory of 
Mallarme*, they should do; as, in the recent 
attempts of the Symbolists, writer after writer 
has endeavoured to lure them into doing. 
Persuaded, as Ge*rard was, of the sensitive 
unity of all nature, he was able to trace 
resemblances where others saw only diver- 
gences; and the setting together of unfamiliar 
and apparently alien things, which comes so 
strangely upon us in his verse, was perhaps 
an actual sight of what it is our misfortune 
not to see. His genius, to which madness 
had come as the liberating, the precipitating, 
spirit, disengaging its finer essence, consisted 
in a power of materialising vision, whatever 
is most volatile and unseizable in vision 
and without losing the sense of mystery, or 
that quality which gives its charm to the 
intangible. Madness, then, in him, had lit 
up, as if by lightning-flashes, the hidden 
links of distant and divergent things; perhaps 
in somewhat the same manner as that in 
which a similarly new, startling, perhaps over- 
true sight of things is gained by the artificial 
stimulation of haschisch, opium, and those 
other drugs by which vision is produced de- 






GERARD DE NERVAL 93 

liberately, and the soul, sitting safe within 
the perilous circle of its own magic, looks 
out on the panorama which either rises out 
of the darkness before it, or drifts from itself 
into the darkness. The very imagery of these 
sonnets is the imagery which is known to all 
dreamers of bought dreams. Rose au cceur 
violet, fleur de sainte Gudule; le Temple au 
peristyle immense; la grotte ou nage la syrene: 
the dreamer of bought dreams has seen 
them all. But no one before Gerard real- 
ised that such things as these might be the 
basis of almost a new aesthetics. Did he 
himself realise all that he had done, or was 
it left for Mallarme' to theorise upon what 
Ge*rard had but divined? 

That he made the discovery, there is no 
doubt; and we owe to the fortunate accident 
of madness one of the foundations of what 
may be called the practical aesthetics of 
Symbolism. Look again at that sonnet Arte- 
mis, and you will see in it not only the 
method of Mallarme, but much of the most 
intimate manner of Verlaine. The first four 
lines, with their fluid rhythm, their repeti- 
tions and echoes, their delicate evasions, 



94 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

might have been written by Verlaine; in the 
later part the firmness of the rhythms and 
the jewelled significance of the words are like 
Mallarme* at his finest, so that in a single 
sonnet we may fairly claim to see a fore- 
shadowing of the styles of Mallarme* and 
Verlaine at once. With Verlaine the re- 
semblance goes, perhaps, no further; with 
Mallarme* it goes to the very roots, the whole 
man being, certainly, his style. 

Gerard de Nerval, then, had divined, before 
all the world, that poetry should be a miracle; 
not a hymn to beauty, nor the description of 
beauty, nor beauty's mirror; but beauty itself, 
the /colour, fragrance, and form of the imag- 
ined flower, as it blossoms again out of the 
page. Vision, the over-powering vision, had 
come to him beyond, if not against, his 
will; and he knew that vision is the root out 
of which the flower must grow. Vision had 
taught him symbol, and he knew that it is 
by symbol alone that the flower can take 
visible form. He knew that the whole mys- 
tery of beauty can never be comprehended 
by the crowd, and that while clearness is a 
virtue of style, perfect explicitness is not a 



GERARD DE NERVAL 95 

necessary virtue. So it was with disdain, as 
well as with confidence, that he allowed these 
sonnets to be overheard. It was enough for 
him to say: 

J'ai r6v6 dans la grotte oil nage la syrne; 

and to speak, it might be, the siren's lan- 
guage, remembering her. "It will be my 
last madness/ ' he wrote, "to believe myself 
a poet: let criticism cure me of it." Criti- 
cism, in his own day, even Gautier's criticism, 
could but be disconcerted by a novelty so 
unexampled. It is only now that the best 
critics in France are beginning to realise 
how great in themselves, and how great in 
their influence, are these sonnets, which, 
forgotten by the world for nearly fifty years, 
have all the while been secretly bringing 
new aesthetics into French poetry. 



THEOPHILE GAUTIER 



GAUTIER has spoken for himself in a famous 
passage of Mademoiselle de Maupin: "I am 
a man of the Homeric age; the world in 
which I live is not my world, and I understand 
nothing of the society which surrounds me. 
For me Christ did not come; I am as much a 
pagan as Alcibiades or Phidias. I have never 
plucked on Golgotha the flowers of the Pas- 
sion, and the deep stream that flows from the 
side of the Crucified and sets a crimson girdle 
about the world, has never washed me in its 
flood; my rebellious body will not acknowledge 
the supremacy of the soul, and my flesh will 
not endure to be mortified. I find the earth 
as beautiful as the sky, and I think that per- 
fectiqn of form is virtue. I have no gift for 
spirituality; I prefer a statue to a ghost, full 
noon to twilight. Three things delight me: 
gold, marble, and purple; brilliance, solidity, 

96 




THEOPHILE GAUTIER 97 

colour. ... I have looked on love in the light 
of antiquity, and as a piece of sculpture more 
or less perfect. ... All my life I have been 
concerned with the form of the flagon, never 
with the quality of its contents." That is 
part of a confession of faith, and it is spoken 
with absolute sincerity. Gautier knew him- 
self, and could tell the truth about himself as 
simply, as impartially, as if he had been de- 
scribing a work of art. Or is he not, indeed, 
describing a work of art? Was not that very 
state of mind, that finished and limited tem- 
perament, a thing which he had collaborated 
with nature in making, with an effective height- 
ening of what was most natural to him, in the 
spirit of art? 

Gautier saw the world as mineral, as metal, 
as pigment, as rock, tree, water, as architec- 
ture, costume, under sunlight, gas, in all the 
colours that light can bring out of built or 
growing things; he saw it as contour, move- 
ment; he saw all that a painter sees, when the 
painter sets himself to copy, not to create. 
He was the finest copyist who ever used paint 
with a pen. Nothing that can be expressed 
in technical terms escaped him; there were no 



98 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

technical terms which he could not reduce to 
an orderly beauty. But he absorbed all this 
visible world with the hardly discriminating 
impartiality of the retina; he had no moods, 
was not to be distracted by a sentiment, heard 
no voices, saw nothing but darkness, the nega- 
tion of day, in night. He was tirelessly atten- 
tive, he had no secrets of his own and could keep 
none of nature's. He could describe every 
ray of the nine thousand precious stones in 
the throne of Ivan the Terrible, in the Treasury 
of the Kremlin; but he could tell you nothing 
of one of Maeterlinck's bees. 

The five senses made Gautier for themselves, 
that they might become articulate. He speaks 
for them all with a dreadful unconcern. All 
his words are in love with matter, and they 
enjoy their lust and have no recollection. If 
the body did not dwindle and expand to some 
ignoble physical conclusion; if wrinkles did 
not creep yellowing up women's necks, and the 
fire in a man's blood did not lose its heat; he 
would always be content. Everything that 
he cared for in the world was to be had, except, 
perhaps, rest from striving after it; only, 
everything would one day come to an end, 




THEOPHILE GAUTIER 99 

after a slow spoiling. Decrepit, colourless, 
uneager things shocked him, and it was with 
an acute, almost disinterested pity that he 
watched himself die. 

All his life Gautier adored life, and all the 
processes and forms of life. A pagan, a young 
Roman, hard and delicate, with something of 
cruelty in his sympathy with things that could 
be seen and handled, he would have hated the 
soul, if he had ever really apprehended it, for 
its qualifying and disturbing power upon the 
body. No other modern writer, no writer 
perhaps, has described nakedness with so ab- 
stract a heat of rapture : like d'Albert when he 
sees Mile, de Maupin for the first and last time, 
he is the artist before he is the lover, and he is 
the lover while he is the artist. It was above 
all things the human body whose contours 
and colours he wished to fix for eternity, in the 
"robust art" of "verse, marble, onyx, enamel." 
And it was not the body as a frail, perishable 
thing, and a thing to be pitied, that he wanted 
to perpetuate; it was the beauty of life itself, 
imperishable at least in its recurrence. 

He loved imperishable things: the body, as 
generation after generation refashions it, the 



100 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

world, as it is restored and rebuilt, and then 
gems, and hewn stone, and carved ivory, and 
woven tapestry. He loved verse for its solid, 
strictly limited, resistant form, which, while 
prose melts and drifts about it, remains unal- 
terable, indestructible. Words, he knew, can 
build as strongly as stones, and not merely 
rise to music, like the walls of Troy, but be 
themselves music as well as structure. Yet, 
as in visible things he cared only for hard out- 
line and rich colour, so in words too he had no 
love of half-tints, and was content to do with- 
out that softening of atmosphere which was 
to be prized by those who came after him as 
the thing most worth seeking. Even his verse 
is without mystery; if he meditates, his medi- 
tation has all the fixity of a kind of sharp, pre- 
cise criticism. 

What Gautier saw he saw with unparalleled 
exactitude; he allows himself no poetic license 
or room for fine phrases; has his eye always on 
the object, and really uses the words which 
best describe it, whatever they may be. So 
his books of travel are guide-books, in addition 
to being other things; and not by any means 
" states of soul" or states of nerves. He is 



THfiOPHILE GAUTIER 101 

willing to give you information, and able to 
give it to you without deranging his periods. 
The little essay on Leonardo is an admirable 
piece of artistic divination, and it is also a 
clear, simple, sufficient account of the man, 
his temperament, and his way of work. The 
study of Baudelaire, reprinted in the edition 
definitive of the "Fleurs du Mai," remains the 
one satisfactory summing up, it is not a solu- 
tion, of the enigma which Baudelaire personi- 
fied; and it is almost the most coloured and 
perfumed thing in words which he ever wrote. 
He wrote equally well about cities, poets, 
novelists, painters, or sculptors; he did not 
understand one better than the other, or feel 
less sympathy for one than for another. He, 
the "parfait magicien es lettres franchises," 
to whom faultless words came in faultlessly 
beautiful order, could realise, against Balzac 
himself, that Balzac had a style: "he pos- 
sesses, though he did not think so, a style, and 
a very beautiful style, the necessary, inevitable, 
mathematical style of his ideas." He appre- 
ciated Ingres as justly as he appreciated EI 
Greco; he went through the Louvre, room 
by room, saying the right thing about each 



102 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

painter in turn. He did not say the final 
thing; he said nothing which we have to pause 
and think over before we see the whole of its 
truth or apprehend the whole of its beauty. 
Truth, in him, comes to us almost literally 
through the eyesight, and with the same beau- 
tiful clearness as if it were one of those visible 
things which delighted him most: gold, mar- 
ble, and purple; brilliance, solidity, colour. 

1902. 




GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 

Salammbo is an attempt, as Flaubert, him- 
self his best critic, has told" us, to "perpetuate 
a mirage by applying to antiquity the methods 
of the modern novel." By the modern novel 
he means the novel as he had reconstructed 
it; he means Madame Bovary. That perfect 
book is perfect because Flaubert had, for 
once, found exactly the subject suited to his 
method, had made his method and his sub- 
ject one. On his scientific side Flaubert 
is a realist, but there is another, perhaps 
a more intimately personal side, on which he 
is lyrical, lyrical in a large, sweeping way. 
The lyric poet in him made La Tentation 
de Saint- Antoine, the analyst made L' Educa- 
tion Sentimentale; but in Madame Bovary 
we find the analyst and the lyric poet in equi- 
librium. It is the history of a woman, as 
carefully observed as any story that has ever 
been written, and observed in surroundings 
of the most ordinary kind. But Flaubert 

103 



104 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

finds the romantic material which he loved, 
the materials of beauty, in precisely that 
temperament which he studies so patiently 
and so cruelly. Madame Bovary is a little 
woman, half vulgar and half hysterical, in- 
capable of a fine passion; but her trivial 
desires, her futile aspirations after second- 
rate pleasures and second-hand ideals, give 
to Flaubert all that he wants: the opportu- 
nity to create beauty out of reality. What 
is common in the imagination of Madame 
Bovary becomes exquisite in Flaubert's ren- 
dering of it, and by that counterpoise of a 
commonness in the subject he is saved from 
any vague ascents of rhetoric in his rendering 
of it. 

In writing Salammbo Flaubert set himself 
to renew the historical novel, as he had 
renewed the novel of manners. He would 
have admitted, doubtless, that perfect suc- 
cess in the historical novel is impossible, by 
the nature of the case. We are at best only 
half conscious of the reality of the things 
about us, only able to translate them approxi- 
mately into any form of art. How much is 
left over, in the closest transcription of a 



GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 105 

mere line of houses in a street, of a passing 
steamer, of one's next-door neighbour, of the 
point of view of a foreigner looking along 
Piccadilly, of one's own state of mind, mo- 
ment by moment, as one walks from Oxford 
Circus to the Marble Arch? Think, then, 
of the attempts to reconstruct no matter what 
period of the past, to distinguish the differ- 
ence in the aspect of a world perhaps bossed 
with castles and ridged with ramparts, to 
two individualities encased within chain- 
armour! Flaubert chose his antiquity wisely: 
a period of which we know too little to con- 
fuse us, a city of which no stone is left on 
another, the minds of Barbarians who have 
left us no psychological documents. "Be sure 
I have made no fantastic Carthage," he 
says proudly, pointing to his documents: 
Ammianus Marcellinus, who has furnished 
him with "the exact form of a door"; the 
Bible and Theophrastus, from which he ob- 
tains his perfumes and his precious stones; 
Gesenius, from whom he gets his Punic 
names; the Memoir es de VAcademie des In- 
scriptions. "As for the temple of Tanit, 
I am sure of having reconstructed it as it 



106 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

was, with the treatise of the Syrian Goddess, 
with the medals of the Due de Luynes, with 
what is known of the temple at Jerusalem, 
with a passage of St. Jerome, quoted by 
Seldon (De Diis Syriis), with the plan of the 
temple of Gozzo, which is quite Carthaginian, 
and best of all, with the ruins of the temple 
of Thugga, which I have seen myself, with 
my own eyes, and of which no traveller or 
antiquarian, so far as I know, has ever 
spoken." But that, after all, as he admits 
(when, that is, he has proved point by point 
his minute accuracy to all that is known 
of ancient Carthage, his faithfulness to every 
indication which can serve for his guidance, 
his patience in grouping rather than his 
daring in the invention of action and details), 
that is not the question. "I care little enough 
for archaeology! If the colour is not uni- 
form, if the details are out of keeping, if the 
manners do not springJrom the religion and the 
actions from the passions, if the characters 
are not consistent, if the costumes are not 
appropriate to the habits and the architec- 
ture to the climate, if, in a word, there is not 
harmony, I am in error. If not, no." 




GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 107 

And there, precisely, is the definition of 
the one merit which can give a historical 
novel the right to exist, and at the same 
time a definition of the merit which sets 
Salammbo above all other historical novels. 
Everything in the book is strange, some of it 
might easily be bewildering, some revolting; 
but all is in harmony. The harmony is like 
that of Eastern music, not immediately con- 
veying its charm, or even the secret of its 
measure, to Western ears; but a monotony 
coiling perpetually upon itself, after a severe 
law of its own. Or rather, it is like a fresco, 
painted gravely in hard, definite colours, 
firmly detached from a background of burn- 
ing sky; a procession of Barbarians, each in 
the costume of his country, passes across the 
wall; there are battles, in which elephants 
fight with men; an army besieges a great 
city, or rots to death in a defile between 
mountains; the ground is paved with dead 
men; crosses, each bearing its living burden, 
stand against the sky; a few figures of men 
and women appear again and again, ex- 
pressing by their gestures the soul of the 
story. 



108 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Flaubert himself has pointed, with his 
unerring self-criticism, to the main defect of 
his book: "The pedestal is too large for the 
statue." There should have been, as he says, 
a hundred pages more about Salammbo. 
He declares: " There is not in my book an 
isolated or gratuitous description; all are 
useful to my characters, and have an influ- 
ence, near or remote, on the action." This is 
true, and yet, all the same, the pedestal is 
too large for the statue. Salammbo, " always 
surrounded with grave and exquisite things," 
has something of the somnambulism which 
enters into the heroism of Judith; she has a 
hieratic beauty, and a consciousness as pale 
and vague as the moon whom she worships. 
She passes before us, "her body saturated with 
perfumes," encrusted with jewels like an idol, 
her head turreted with violet hair, the gold 
chain tinkling between her ankles; and is 
hardly more than an attitude, a fixed gesture, 
like the Eastern women whom one sees passing, 
with oblique eyes and mouths painted into 
smiles, their faces curiously traced into a work 
of art, in the languid movements of a panto- 
mimic dance. The soul behind those eyes? 






GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 109 

the temperament under that at times almost 
terrifying mask? Salammbo is as inarticulate 
for us as the serpent, to whose drowsy beauty, 
capable of such sudden awakenings, hers seems 
half akin; they move before us in a kind of 
hieratic pantomime, a coloured, expressive 
thing, signifying nothing. Matho, maddened 
with love, "in an invincible stupor, like those 
who have drunk some draught of which they 
are to die," has the same somnambulistic life; 
the prey of Venus, he has an almost literal 
insanity, which, as Flaubert reminds us, is 
true to the ancient view of that passion. He 
is the only quite vivid person in the book, and 
he lives with the intensity of a wild beast ; a 
life "blinded alike" from every inner and outer 
interruption to one or two fixed ideas. The 
others have their places in the picture, fall into 
their attitudes naturally, remain so many col- 
oured outlines for us. The illusion is perfect; 
these people may not be the real people of 
history, but at least they have no self-con- 
sciousness, no Christian tinge in their minds. 

"The metaphors are few, the epithets defi- 
nite," Flaubert tells us, of his style in this book, 
where, as he says, he has sacrificed less "to 



110 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

the amplitude of the phrase and to the period," 
than in Madame Bovary. The movement 
here is in briefer steps, with a more earnest 
gravity, without any of the engaging weak- 
ness of adjectives. The style is never archaic, 
it is absolutely simple, the precise word being 
put always for the precise thing; but it ob- 
tains a dignity, a historical remoteness, by the 
large seriousness of its manner, the absence of 
modern ways of thought, which, in Madame 
Bovary, bring with them an instinctively 
modern cadence. 

Salammbo is written with the severity of 
history, but Flaubert notes every detail vis- 
ually, as a painter notes the details of natural 
things. A slave is being flogged under a tree: 
Flaubert notes the movement of the thong as 
it flies, and tells us: "The thongs, as they 
whistled through the air, sent the bark of the 
plane trees flying. " Before the battle of the 
Macar, the Barbarians are awaiting the ap- 
proach of the Carthaginian army. First "the 
Barbarians were surprised to see the ground 
undulate in the distance. " Clouds of dust 
rise and whirl over the desert, through which 
are seen glimpses of horns, and, as it seems, 
wings. Are they bulls or birds, or a mirage of 




GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 111 

the desert? The Barbarians watch intently. 
" At last they made out several transverse bars, 
bristling with uniform points. The bars be- 
came denser, larger; dark mounds swayed 
from side to side; suddenly square bushes 
came into view; they were elephants and 
lances. A single shout, 'The Carthaginians ! ' 
arose." Observe how all that is seen, as if the 
eyes, unaided by the intelligence, had found out 
everything for themselves, taking in one indi- 
cation after another, instinctively. Flaubert 
puts himself in the place of his characters, not 
so much to think for them as to see for them. 
Compare the style of Flaubert in each of 
his books, and you will find that each book 
has its own rhythm, perfectly appropriate 
to its subject-matter. The style, which has 
almost every merit and hardly a fault, becomes 
what it is by a process very different from 
that of most writers careful of form. Read 
Chateaubriand, Gautier, even Baudelaire, and 
you will find that the aim of these writers has 
been to construct a style which shall be adapt- 
able to every occasion, but without structural 
change; the cadence is always the same. The 
most exquisite word-painting of Gautier can 
be translated rhythm for rhythm into English, 



112 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

without difficulty; once you have mastered 
the tune, you have merely to go on; every 
verse will be the same. But Flaubert is so dif- 
ficult to translate because he has no fixed 
rhythm; his prose keeps step with no regular 
march-music. He invents the rhythm of every 
sentence, he changes his cadence with every 
mood or for the convenience of every fact. 
He has no theory of beauty in form apart 
from what it expresses. For him form is a 
living thing, the physical body of thought, 
which it clothes and interprets. "If I call 
stones blue, it is because blue is the precise 
word, believe me," he replies to Sainte-Beuve's 
criticism. Beauty comes into his words from 
the precision with which they express definite 
things, definite ideas, definite sensations. And 
in his book, where the material is so hard, 
apparently so unmalleable, it is a beauty of 
sheer exactitude which fills it from end to end, 
a beauty of measure and order, seen equally in 
the departure of the doves of Carthage at 
the time of their flight into Sicily, and in the 
lions feasting on the corpses of the Barbarians, 
in the defile between the mountains. 

1901. 

N 



> 



CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 

BAUDELAIRE is little known and much mis- 
understood in England. Only one English 
writer has ever done him justice, or said any- 
thing adequate about him. As long ago as 
1862 Swinburne introduced Baudelaire to Eng- 
lish readers: in the columns of the Spectator, it 
is amusing to remember. In 1868 he added a 
few more words of just and subtle praise in his 
book on Blake, and in the same year wrote the 
magnificent elegy on his death, Ave atque Vale. 
There have been occasional outbreaks of irrele- 
vant abuse or contempt, and the name of 
Baudelaire (generally misspelled) is the journal- 
ist's handiest brickbat for hurling at random 
in the name of respectability. Does all this 
mean that we are waking up, over here, to 
the consciousness of one of the great literary 
forces of the age, a force which has been felt 
in every other country but ours? 

It would be a useful influence for us. Bau- 
delaire desired perfection, and we have never 

113 



114 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

realised that perfection is a thing to aim at. 
He only did what he could do supremely well, 
and he was in poverty all his life, not because 
he would not work, but because he would work 
only at certain things, the things which he 
could hope to do to his own satisfaction. Of 
the men of letters of our age he was the most 
scrupulous. He spent his whole life in writing 
one book of verse (out of which all French 
poetry has come since his time), one book of 
prose in which prose becomes a fine art, some 
criticism which is the sanest, subtlest, and 
surest which his generation produced, and a 
translation which is better than a marvellous 
original. What would French poetry be to- 
day if Baudelaire had never existed? As 
different a thing from what it is as English 
poetry would be without Rossetti. Neither 
of them is quite among the greatest poets, 
but they are more fascinating than the greatest, 
they influence more minds. And Baudelaire 
was an equally great critic. He discovered 
Poe, Wagner, and Manet. Where even Sainte- 
Beuve, with his vast materials, his vast gen- 
eral talent for criticism, went wrong in con- 
temporary judgments, Baudelaire was infal- 




CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 115 

libly right. He wrote neither verse nor prose 
with ease, but he would not permit himself to 
write either without inspiration. His work 
is without abundance, but it is without waste. 
It is made out of his whole intellect and all his 
nerves. Every poem is a train of thought and 
every essay is the record of sensation. This 
romantic" had something classic in his mod- 
eration, a moderation which becomes at times 
as terrifying as Poe's logic. To " cultivate 
one's hysteria " so calmly, and to affront the 
reader (Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon 
frere) as a judge rather than as a penitent; 
to be a casuist in confession; to be so much a 
moralist, with so keen a sense of the ecstasy 
of evil: that has always bewildered the world, 
even in his own country, where the artist is 
allowed to live as experimentally as he writes. 
Baudelaire lived and died solitary, secret, a 
confessor of sins who has never told the whole 
truth, le mauvais moine of his own sonnet, 
an ascetic of passion, a hermit of the brothel. 
To understand, not Baudelaire, but what 
we can of him, we must read, not only the 
four volumes of his collected works, but every 
document in Crepet's (Euvres Posthumes, and 



116 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

above all, the letters, and these have only now 
been collected into a volume, under the care 
of an editor who has done more for Baudelaire 
than any one since Cre*pet. Baudelaire put 
into his letters only what he cared to reveal of 
himself at a given moment: he has a different 
angle to distract the sight of every observer; 
and let no one think that he knows Baudelaire 
when he has read the letters to Poulet-Malassis, 
the friend and publisher, to whom he showed 
his business side, or the letters to la Pre*sidente, 
the touchstone of his spleen et ideal, his chief 
experiment in the higher sentiments, Some 
of his carefully hidden virtues peep out at 
moments, it is true, but nothing that every- 
body has not long been aware of. We hear 
of his ill-luck with money, with proof-sheets, 
with his own health. The tragedy of the 
life which he chose, as he chose all things 
(poetry, Jeanne Duval, the "artificial para- 
dises") deliberately, is made a little clearer 
to us; we can moralise over it if we like. 
But the man remains baffling, and will prob- 
ably never be discovered. 

As it is, much of the value of the book 
consists in those glimpses into his mind and 



CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 117 

intentions which he allowed people now and 
then to see. Writing to Sainte-Beuve, to 
Flaubert, to Soulary, he sometimes lets out, 
through mere sensitiveness to an intelligence 
capable of understanding him, some little 
interesting secret. Thus it is to Sainte- 
Beuve that he defines and explains the origin 
and real meaning of the Petits Poemes en 
Prose: Faire cent bagatelles laborieuses qui 
exigent une bonne humeur constante (bonne 
humeitr necessaire, meme pour trailer des 
sujets tristes), une excitation bizarre qui a 
besoin de spectacles, de foules, de musiques, 
de reverberes meme, voild ce que fai voulu 
faire! And, writing to some obscure person, 
he will take the trouble to be even more 
explicit, as in this symbol of the sonnet: 
Avez-vous observe qu'un morceau de del apergu 
par un soupirail, ou entre deux cheminees, 
deux rockers, ou par une arcade, donnait 
une idee plus profonde de Vinfini que le grand 
panorama vu du haul a" une montagnef It 
is to another casual person that he speaks 
out still more intimately (and the occasion 
of his writing is some thrill of gratitude 
towards one who had at last done "a little 



118 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

justice," not to himself, but to Manet): Eh 
Hen! on m'accuse, moi, d'imiter Edgar Poe! 
Savez-vous pourquoi j'ai si patiemment traduit 
Poe? Parce qu'il me resemblait. La pre- 
miere fois que j'ai ouvert un livre de lui, j'ai 
vu avec epouvante et ravissement, non seule- 
ment des sujets reves par moi, mais des phrases, 
pensees par moi, et ecrites par lui, vingt ans 
auparavant. It is in such glimpses as these 
that we see something of Baudelaire in his 
letters. 

1906. 



EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT 

MY first visit to Edmond de Goncourt 
was in May, 1892. I remember my immense 
curiosity about that " House Beautiful/ ' at 
Auteuil, of which I had heard so much, and 
my excitement as I rang the bell, and was 
shown at once into the garden, where Gon- 
court was just saying good-bye to some 
friends. He was carelessly dressed, without 
a collar, and with the usual loosely knotted 
large white scarf rolled round his neck. . He 
was wearing a straw hat, and it was only 
afterwards that I could see the fine sweep of 
the white hair, falling across the forehead. I 
thought him the most distinguished-looking 
man of letters I had ever seen; for he had 
at once the distinction of race, of fine breed- 
ing, and of that delicate artistic genius 
which, with him, was so intimately a part of 
things beautiful and distinguished. He had 
the eyes of an old eagle; a general air of 
dignified collectedness; a rare, and a rarely 

119 



120 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

charming, smile, which came out, like a ray 
of sunshine, in the instinctive pleasure of 
having said a witty or graceful thing to 
which one's response had been immediate. 
When he took me indoors, into that house 
which was a museum, I noticed the delicacy 
of his hands, and the tenderness with which 
he handled his treasures, touching them as 
if he loved them, with little, unconscious 
murmurs: Quel gout! quel gout! These rose- 
coloured rooms, with their embroidered ceil- 
ings, were filled with cabinets of beautiful 
things, Japanese carvings, and prints (the 
miraculous "Plongeuses"!), always in perfect 
condition (Je cherche le beau)', albums had 
been made for him in Japan, and in these he 
inserted prints, mounting others upon silver 
and gold paper, which formed a sort of 
frame. He showed me his eighteenth- 
century designs, among which I remember 
his pointing out one (a Chardin, I think) as 
the first he had ever bought; he had been 
sixteen at the time, and he bought it for 
twelve francs. 

When we came to the study, the room in 
which he worked, he showed me all of his own 



EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT 121 

first editions, carefully bound, and first edi- 
tions of Flaubert, Baudelaire, Gautier, with 
those, less interesting to me, of the men of 
later generations. He spoke of himself and 
his brother with a serene pride, which seemed 
to me perfectly dignified and appropriate; 
and I remember his speaking (with a paren- 
thetic disdain of the brouillard scandinave, 
in which it seemed to him that France was 
trying to envelop herself; at the best it 
would be but un mauvais 'brouillard) of the 
endeavour which he and his brother had 
made to represent the only thing worth rep- 
resenting, le vie vecue, la vraie verite. As 
in painting, he said, all depends on the way 
of seeing, Voptique: out of twenty-four men 
who will describe what they have all seen, 
it is only the twenty-fourth who will find 
the right way of expressing it. "There is a 
true thing I have said in my journal," he went 
on. "The thing is, to find a lorgnette" (and 
he put up his hands to his eyes, adjusting them 
carefully) "through which to see things. My 
brother and I invented a lorgnette, and the 
young men have taken it from us." 

How true that is, and how significantly it 



122 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

states just what is most essential in the 
work of the Goncourts! It is a new way of 
seeing, literally a new way of seeing, which 
they have invented; and it is in the inven- 
tion of this that they have invented that 
"new language " of which purists have so 
long, so vainly, and so thanklessly complained. 
You remember that saying of Masson, the 
mask of Gautier, in Charles Demailly: "I 
am a man for whom the visible world exists." 
Well, that is true, also, of the Goncourts; 
but in a different way. 

"The delicacies of fine literature," that 
phrase of Pater always comes into my mind 
when I think of the Goncourts; and indeed 
Pater seems to me the only English writer 
who has ever handled language at all in 
their manner or spirit. I frequently heard 
Pater refer to certain of their books, to 
Madame Gervaisais, to L'Art du XVIII 6 
Siecle, to Cherie; with a passing objection 
to what he called the "immodesty" of this 
last book, and a strong emphasis in the 
assertion that "that was how it seemed to 
him a book should be written." I repeated 
this once to Goncourt, trying to give him 



EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT 123 

some idea of what Pater's work was like; 
and he lamented that his ignorance of Eng- 
lish prevented him from what he instinc- 
tively realised would be so intimate an en- 
joyment. Pater was of course far more 
scrupulous, more limited, in his choice of 
epithet, less feverish in his variations of 
cadence; and naturally so, for he dealt with 
another subject-matter and was careful of 
another kind of truth. But with both there 
was that passionately intent preoccupation 
with "the delicacies of fine literature"; both 
achieved a style of the most personal sin- 
cerity: tout grand ecrivain de tons les temps, 
said Goncourt, ne se reconnait absolument 
qu'a cela, c'est qu'il a une langue personnelle, 
une langue dont chaque page, chaque ligne, est 
signee, pour le lecteur lettre, comme si son nom 
ttait au bas de cette page, de cette ligne: and 
this style, in both, was accused, by the " lit- 
erary " criticism of its generation, of being 
insincere, artificial, and therefore reprehensible. 
It is difficult, in speaking of Edmond de 
Goncourt, to avoid attributing to him the 
whole credit of the work which has so long 
borne his name alone. That is an error 



124 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

which he himself would never have pardoned. 
Mon frere et moi was the phrase constantly 
on his lips, and in his journal, his prefaces, 
he has done full justice to the vivid and 
admirable qualities of that talent which, 
all the same, would seem to have been the 
lesser, the more subservient, of the two. 
Jules, I think, had a more active sense of 
life, a more generally human curiosity; for 
the novels of Edmond, written since his 
brother's death, have, in even that exces- 
sively specialised world of their common 
observation, a yet more specialised choice 
and direction. But Edmond, there is no 
doubt, was in the strictest sense the writer; 
and it is above all for the qualities of its 
writing that the work of the Goncourts will 
live. It has been largely concerned with 
truth truth to the minute details of human 
character, sensation, and circumstance, and 
also of the document, the exact words, of 
the past; but this devotion to fact, to the 
curiosities of fact, has been united with an 
even more persistent devotion to the curi- 
osities of expression. They have invented a 
new language: that was the old reproach 



EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT 125 

against them; let it be their distinction. 
Like all writers of an elaborate carefulness, 
they have been accused of sacrificing both 
truth and beauty to deliberate eccentricity. 
Deliberate their style certainly was; ec- 
centric it may, perhaps, sometimes have 
been; but deliberately eccentric, no. It was 
their belief that a writer should have a per- 
sonal style, a style as peculiar to himself 
as his handwriting; and indeed I seem to 
see in the handwriting of Edmond de Gon- 
court just the characteristics of his style. 
Every letter is formed carefully, separately, 
with a certain elegant stiffness; it is beauti- 
ful, formal, too regular in the "continual 
slight novelty" of its form to be quite clear 
at a glance: very personal, very distinguished 
writing. 

It may be asserted that the Goncourts are 
not merely men of genius, but are perhaps 
the typical men of letters of the close of our 
century. They have all the curiosities and 
the acquirements, the new weaknesses and 
the new powers, that belong to our age; 
and they sum up in themselves certain theories, 
aspirations, ways of looking at things, notions 



126 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

of literary duty and artistic conscience, which 
have only lately become at all actual, and 
some of which owe to them their very origin. 
To be not merely novelists (inventing a new 
kind of novel), but historians; not merely 
historians, but the historians of a particular 
century, and of what was intimate and what 
is unknown in it; to be also discriminating, 
indeed innovating critics of art, but of a cer- 
tain section of art, the eighteenth century, in 
France and in Japan; to collect pictures and 
bibelotSj beautiful things, always of the French 
and Japanese eighteenth century: these ex- 
cursions in so many directions, with their 
audacities and their careful limitations, their 
bold novelty and their scrupulous exactitude 
in detail, are characteristic of what is the 
finest in the modern conception of culture and 
the modern ideal in art. Look, for instance, 
at the Goncourts' view of history. Quand les 
civilisations commencent, quand les peuples 
se forment, Vhistoire est drame ou geste. . . . 
Les siecles qui out precede noire siecle ne de- 
mandaient a Vhistorien que le personnage de 
Vhomme, et le portrait de son genie. . . . Le 
XIX e siecle demande I'homme qui etait cet homme 



EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT 127 

d'Etat, cet homme de guerre, ce poete, ce peintre, 
ce grand homme de science ou de metier. L'dme 
qui etait en cet acteur, le coeur qui a vecu derriere 
cet esprit, il les exige et les reclame; et s'il ne 
pent recueillir tout cet etre moral, toute la vie 
interieure, il commande du moins qu'on lui en 
apporte une trace, un jour, un lambeau, une 
relique. From this theory, this conviction, 
came that marvellous series of studies in the 
eighteenth century in France (La Femme au 
XVIIP Siecle, Portraits intimes du XVIIP 
Siecle, La du Barry, and the others), made 
entirely out of documents, autograph letters, 
scraps of costume, engravings, songs, the un- 
conscious self-revelations of the time, forming, 
as they justly say, I'histoire intime; c'est ce 
roman vrai que la posterite appellera peut- 
etre un jour I'histoire humaine. To be the 
bookworm and the magician; to give the actual 
documents, but not to set barren fact by barren 
fact; to find a soul and a voice in documents, 
to make them more living and more charming 
than the charm of life itself: that is what 
the Goncourts have done. And it is through 
this conception of history that they have 
found their way to that new conception of 



128 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

the novel which has revolutionised the entire 
art of fiction. 

Aujourd'hui, they wrote, in 1864, in the 
preface to Germinie Lacerteux, que le Roman 
s'elargit et gr audit, qu'il commence a etre la 
grande forme serieuse, passionnee, vivante, de 
Vetude litteraire et de Venquete sociaie, qu'il 
devientj par V analyse et par la recherche psycho- 
logique, I'Histoire morale contemporaine, au- 
jourd'hui que le Roman s'est impose les devoirs 
de la science, il pent en revendiquer les libertes 
et les franchises. 1/e public aime les romans 
faux, is another brave declaration in the same 
preface; ce roman est un roman vrai. But 
what, precisely, is it that the Goncourts under- 
stood by un roman vrai? The old notion of 
the novel was that it should be an entertaining 
record of incidents or adventures told for then* 
own sake; a plain, straightforward narrative of 
facts, the aim being to produce as nearly as 
possible an effect of continuity, of nothing 
having been omitted, the statement, so to 
speak, of a witness on oath; in a word, it is 
the same as the old notion of history, drame 
ou geste. That is not how the Goncourts ap- 
prehend life, or how they conceive it should be 



EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT 129 

rendered. As in the study of history they seek 
mainly the inedit, caring only to record that, 
so it is the inedit of life that they conceive to 
be the main concern, the real "inner history." 
And for them the inedit of life consists in the 
noting of the sensations; it is of the sensations 
that they have resolved to be the historians; 
not of action, nor of emotion, properly speak- 
ing, nor of moral conceptions, but of an inner 
life which is all made up of the perceptions of 
the senses. It is scarcely too paradoxical to 
say that they are psychologists for whom the 
soul does not exist. One thing, they know, 
exists : the sensation flashed through the brain, 
the image on the mental retina. Having 
found that, they bodily omit all the rest as of 
no importance, trusting to their instinct of 
selection, of retaining all that really matters. 
It is the painter's method, a selection made 
almost visually; the method of the painter 
who accumulates detail on detail, in his patient, 
many-sided observation of his subject, and 
then omits everything which is not an essential 
part of the ensemble which he sees. Thus the 
new conception of what the real truth of things 
consist in has brought with it, inevitably, an 



130 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

entirely new form, a breaking up of the plain, 
straightforward narrative into chapters, which 
are generally quite disconnected, and some- 
times of less than a page in length. A very 
apt image of this new, curious manner of nar- 
rative has been found, somewhat maliciously, 
by M. Lemaitre. Un homme qui marche a 
Vinterieur d'une maison, si nous regardons du 
dehors, apparatt successivement a chaque fenetre, 
et dans les inter valles nous echappe. Ces fenetres, 
ce sont les chapitres de MM. de Goncourt. 
Encore, he adds, y a-t-il plusieurs de ces fenetres 
ou V homme que nous attendions ne passe point. 
That, certainly, is the danger of the method. 
No doubt the Goncourts, in their passion for 
the inedit, leave out certain things because they 
are obvious, even if they are obviously true 
and obviously important; that is the defect of 
then: quality. To represent life by a series 
of moments, and to choose these moments for 
a certain subtlety and rarity in them, is to 
challenge grave perils. Nor are these the 
only perils which the Goncourts have con- 
stantly before them. There are others, essen- 
tial to their natures, to their preferences. 
And, first of all, as we may see on every page 




EDMOND AND JULES DE CONCOURT 131 

of that miraculous Journal, which will remain, 
doubtless, the truest, deepest, most poignant 
piece of human history that they have ever 
written, they are sick men, seeing life through 
the medium of diseased nerves. Notre ceuvre 
entier, writes Edmond de Goncourt, repose 
sur la maladie nerveuse; les peintures de la 
maladie, nous les avons tiroes de nous-memes, 
et, a force de nous dissequer, nous sommes 
arrives a une sensitivite supra-aigue que bkssaient 
les infiniment petits de la vie. This unhealthy 
sensitiveness explains much, the singular merits 
as well as certain shortcomings or deviations, 
in their work. The Goncourts' vision of 
reality might almost be called an exaggerated 
sense of the truth of things; such a sense as 
diseased nerves inflict upon one, sharpening 
the acuteness of every sensation; or somewhat 
such a sense as one derives from haschisch, 
which simply intensifies, yet in a veiled and 
fragrant way, the charm or the disagreeable- 
ness of outward things, the notion of time, the 
notion of space. What the Goncourts paint 
is the subtler poetry of reality, its unusual 
aspects, and they evoke it, fleetingly, like 
Whistler; they do not render it in hard outline, 



132 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

like Flaubert, like Manet. As in the world of 
Whistler, so in the world of the Goncourts, 
we see cities in which there are always fire- 
works at Cremorne, and fair women reflected 
beautifully and curiously in mirrors. It is 
a world which is extraordinarily real; but 
there is choice, there is curiosity, in the aspect 
of reality which it presents. 

Compare the descriptions, which form so 
large a part of the work of the Goncourts, 
with those of Th6ophile Gautier, who may 
reasonably be said to have introduced the 
practice of eloquent writing about places, and 
also the exact description of them. Gautier 
describes miraculously, but it is, after all, the 
ordinary observation carried to perfection, or, 
rather, the ordinary pictorial observation. 
The Goncourts only tell you the things that 
Gautier leaves out; they find new, fantastic 
points of view, discover secrets in things, curi- 
osities of beauty, often acute, distressing, in the 
aspects of quite ordinary places. They see 
things as an artist, an ultra-subtle artist of the 
impressionist kind, might see them; seeing 
them indeed always very consciously with a 
deliberate attempt upon them, in just that 



EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT 133 

partial, selecting, creative way in which an 
artist looks at things for the purpose of 
painting a picture. In order to arrive at 
their effects, they shrink from no sacrifice, 
from no excess; slang, neologism, forced 
construction, archaism, barbarous epithet, 
nothing comes amiss to them, so long as it 
tends to render a sensation. Their unique 
care is that the phrase should live, should 
palpitate, should be alert, exactly expressive, 
super-subtle in expression; and they prefer 
indeed a certain perversity in their relations 
with language, which they would have not 
merely a passionate and sensuous thing, but 
complex with all the curiosities of a delicately 
depraved instinct. It is the accusation of the 
severer sort of French critics that the Gon- 
courts have invented a new language; that 
the language which they use is no longer the 
calm and faultless French of the past. It is 
true; it is their distinction; it is the most 
wonderful of all their inventions: in order to 
render new sensations, a new vision of things, 
they have invented a new language. 

1894, 1896. 



VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM 

A chacun son infini 



COUNT PHILIPPE AUGUSTE MATHIAS DE 
VILLIERS DE L/ISLE-ADAM was born at St. 
Brieuc, in Brittany, November 28, 1838; he 
died at Paris, under the care of the Freres 
Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, August 19, 1889. Even 
before his death, his life had become a 
legend, and the legend is even now not to 
be disentangled from the actual occurrences 
of an existence so heroically visionary. The 
Don Quixote of idealism, it was not only 
in philosophical terms that life, to him, 
was the dream, and the spiritual world the 
reality; he lived his faith, enduring what 
others called reality with contempt, when- 
ever, for a moment, he becomes conscious 
of it. The basis of the character of Villiers 
was pride, and it was pride which covered 

134 






VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM 135 



more than the universe. And this pride, first 
of all, was the pride of race. 

Descendant of the original Rodolphe le 
Bel, Seigneur de Villiers (1067), through 
Jean de Villiers and Maria de PIsle and 
then* son Pierre the first Villiers de 1' Isle- 
Adam, a Villiers de 1' Isle- Adam, born in 
1384, had been Marshal of France under 
Jean-sans-Peur, Duke of Burgundy; he took 
Paris during the civil war, and after being 
imprisoned in the Bastille, reconquered Pon- 
toise from the English, and helped to recon- 
quer Paris. Another Villiers de 1' Isle-Adam, 
born in 1464, Grand Master of the Order of 
St. John of Jerusalem, defended Rhodes 
against 200,000 Turks for a whole year, in 
one of the most famous sieges in history; 
it was he who obtained from Charles V. 
the concession of the isle of Malta for his 
Order, henceforth the Order of the Knights 
of Malta. 

For Villiers, to whom time, after all, was 
but a metaphysical abstraction, the age of 
the Crusaders had not passed. From a de- 
scendant of the Grand Master of the Knights 
of St. John of Jerusalem, the nineteenth 



136 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

century demanded precisely the virtues which 
the sixteenth century had demanded of that 
ancestor. And these virtues were all summed 
up in one word, which, in its double sig- 
nificance, single to him, covered the whole 
attitude of life: the word "nobility." No 
word returns oftener to the lips in speak- 
ing of what is most characteristic in his 
work, and to Villiers moral and spiritual 
nobility seemed but the inevitable conse- 
quence of that other kind of nobility by 
which he seemed to himself still a Knight 
of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. It 
was his birthright. 

To the aristocratic conception of things, 
nobility of soul is indeed a birthright, and 
the pride with which this gift of nature is 
accepted is a pride of exactly the opposite 
kind to that democratic pride to which 
nobility of soul is a conquest, valuable in 
proportion to its difficulty. This duality, 
always essentially aristocratic and democratic, 
typically Eastern and Western also, finds its 
place in every theory of religion, philosophy, 
and the ideal life. The pride of being, the 
pride of becoming: these are the two ulti- 



VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM 137 

mate contradictions set before every idealist. 
Villiers' choice, inevitable indeed, was sig- 
nificant. In this measure, it must always be 
the choice of the artist, to whom, in his 
contemplation of life, the means is often so 
much more important than the end. That 
nobility of soul which comes without effort, 
which comes only with an unrelaxed dili- 
gence over oneself, that I should be I: there 
can at least be no comparison of its beauty 
with the stained and dusty onslaught on a 
never quite conquered fort of the enemy, 
in a divided self. And, if it be permitted 
to choose among degrees of sanctity, that, 
surely, is the highest in which a natural 
genius for such things accepts its own attain- 
ment with the simplicity of a birthright. 

And the Catholicism of Villiers was also 
a part of his inheritance. His ancestors had 
fought for the Church, and Catholicism was 
still a pompous flag, under which it was 
possible to fight on behalf of the spirit, 
against that materialism which is always, in 
one way or another, atheist. Thus he dedi- 
cates one of his stories to the Pope, chooses 
ecclesiastical splendours by preference among 



138 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

the many splendours of the world which go 
to make up his stage-pictures, and is learned 
in the subtleties of the Fathers. The Church 
is his favourite symbol of austere intellectual 
beauty; one way, certainly, by which the 
temptations of external matter may be van- 
quished, and a way, also, by which the desire 
of worship may be satisfied. 

But there was also, in his attitude towards 
the mysteries of the spiritual world, that 
"forbidden " curiosity which had troubled 
the obedience of the Templars, and which 
came to him, too, as a kind of knightly qual- 
ity. Whether or not he was actually a 
Cabbalist, questions of magic began, at an 
early age, to preoccupy him, and, from the 
first wild experiment of Isis to the deliberate 
summing up of Axel, the " occult" world 
finds its way into most of his pages. 

Fundamentally, the belief of Villiers is 
the belief common to all Eastern mystics. 1 
"Know, once for all, that there is for thee 
no other universe than that conception thereof 

1 "I am far from sure," wrote Verlaine, "that the phil- 
osophy of Villiers will not one day become the formula of 
our century." 






VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM 139 

which is reflected at the bottom of thy 
thoughts. " "What is knowledge but a rec- 
ognition?" Therefore, "forgetting for ever 
that which was the illusion of thyself," hasten 
to become "an intelligence freed from the 
bonds and the desires of the present moment." 
"Become the flower of thyself! Thou art 
but what thou thinkest: therefore think thy- 
self eternal." "Man, if thou cease to limit 
in thyself a thing, that is, to desire it, if, so 
doing, thou withdraw thyself from it, it will 
follow thee, woman-like, as the water fills 
the place that is offered to it in the 
hollow of the hand. For thou possessest 
the real being of all things, in thy pure 
will, and thou art the God that thou art 
able to become." 

To have accepted the doctrine which thus 
finds expression in Axel, is to have accepted 
this among others of its consequences: 
"Science states, but does not explain: she 
is the oldest offspring of the chimeras; all 
the chimeras, then, on the same terms as 
the world (the oldest of them!), are some- 
thing more than nothing!" And in Elen 
there is a fragment of conversation between 



140 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

two young students, which has its signifi- 
cance also: 

"Goetze. There's my philosopher in full flight 
to the regions of the sublime! Happily 
we have Science, which is a torch, dear 
mystic; we will analyse your sun, if the 
planet does not burst into pieces sooner 
than it has any right to! 

Samuel. Science will not suffice. Sooner or 
later you will end by coming to your 
knees. 

Goetze. Before what? 

Samuel. Before the darkness!" 

Such avowals of ignorance are possible only 
from the height of a great intellectual pride. 
Villiers' revolt against Science, so far as 
Science is materialistic, and his passionate 
curiosity in that chimera's flight towards the 
invisible, are one and the same impulse of 
a mind to which only mind is interesting. 
Toute cette vieille Exteriorite, maligne, com- 
pliquee, inflexible, that illusion which Science 
accepts for the one reality: it must be the 
whole effort of one's consciousness to escape 



VILLIERS DE LISLE-ADAM 141 

from its entanglements, to dominate it, or to 
ignore it, and one's art must be the building 
of an ideal world beyond its access, from 
which one may indeed sally out, now and 
again, in a desperate enough attack upon 
the illusions in the midst of which men live. 
And just that, we find, makes up the work 
of Villiers, work which divides itself roughly 
into two divisions: one, the ideal world, or 
the ideal in the world (Axel, Elen, Morgane, 
Isis, some of the contes, and, intermediary, 
La Revolte); the other, satire, the mockery 
of reality (UEve Future, the Contes Cruets, 
Tribulat Bonhomet). It is part of the origi- 
nality of Villiers that the two divisions con- 
stantly flow into one another; the idealist 
being never more the idealist than in his 
buffooneries. 



Axel is the Symbolist drama, in all its 
uncompromising conflict with the " modesty" 
of Nature and the limitations of the stage. 
It is the drama of the soul, and at the same 
time it is the most pictorial of dramas; I 



142 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

should define its manner as a kind of spiritual 
romanticism. The earlier dramas, Elen, Mor- 
gane, are fixed at somewhat the same point 
in space; La Revolte, which seems to antici- 
pate The Doll's House, shows us an artiso- 
cratic Ibsen, touching reality with a certain 
disdain, certainly with far less skill, certainly 
with far more beauty. But Axel, meditated 
over during a lifetime, shows us Villiers 7 
ideal of his own idealism. 

The action takes place, it is true, in this 
century, but it takes place in corners of the 
world into which the modern spirit has not 
yet passed; this Monastere de Religieuses- 
trinitaires, le cloitre de Sainte Appolodora, 
situe" sur les confins du littoral de Vancienne 
Flandre frangaise, and the tres vieux chateau 
fort, le burg des margraves d'Auersperg, isole au 
milieu du Schwartzwald. The characters, Axel 
d'Auersperg, Eve Sara Emmanuele de Maupers, 
Maitre Janus, the Archidiacre, the Comman- 
deur Kaspar d'Auersperg, are at once more 
and less than human beings: they are the 
types of different ideals, and they are clothed 
with just enough humanity to give form to 
what would otherwise remain disembodied 



VILLIERS DE LISLE-ADAM 143 

spirit. The religious ideal, the occult ideal, 
the worldly ideal, the passionate ideal, are all 
presented, one after the other, in these daz- 
zling and profound pages; Axel is the dis- 
dainful choice from among them, the dis- 
dainful rejection of life itself, of the whole 
illusion of life, " since infinity alone is not a 
deception." And Sara? Sara is a superb part 
of that life which is rejected, which she herself 
comes, not without reluctance, to reject. In 
that motionless figure, during the whole of the 
first act silent but for a single "No," and leap- 
ing into a moment's violent action as the act 
closes, she is the haughtiest woman in litera- 
ture. But she is a woman, and she desires life, 
finding it in Axel. Pride, and the woman's 
devotion to the man, aid her to take the last 
cold step with Axel, in the transcendental 
giving up of life at the moment when life be- 
comes ideal. 

And the play is written, throughout, with 
a curious solemnity, a particular kind of 
eloquence, which makes no attempt to imitate 
the level of the speech of every day, but which 
is a sort of ideal language in which beauty is 
aimed at as exclusively as if it were written in 



144 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

verse. The modern drama, under the demo- 
cratic influence of Ibsen, the positive influence 
of Dumas fils, has limited itself to the expres- 
sion of temperaments in the one case, of theo- 
retic intelligences in the other, in as nearly 
as possible the words which the average man 
would use for the statement of his emotions 
and ideas. The form, that is, is degraded 
below the level of the characters whom it at- 
tempts to express; for it is evident that the 
average man can articulate only a small enough 
part of what he obscurely feels or thinks; and 
the theory of Realism is that his emotions and 
ideas are to be given only in so far as the words 
at his own command can give them. Villiers, 
choosing to concern himself only with excep- 
tional characters, and with them only in the 
absolute, invents for them a more elaborate 
and a more magnificent speech than they 
would naturally employ, the speech of their 
thoughts, of their dreams. 

And it is a world thought or dreamt in 
some more fortunate atmosphere than that 
in which we live, that Villiers has created for 
the final achievement of his abstract ideas. 
I do not doubt that he himself always lived 



VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM 145 

in it, through all the poverty of the precipitous 
Rue des Martyrs. But it is in Axel, and 
in Axel only, that he has made us also inhab- 
itants of that world. Even in Elen we are 
spectators, watching a tragical fairy play (as 
if Fantasia became suddenly in deadly earnest), 
watching some one else's dreams. Axel en- 
velops us in its own atmosphere; it is as if we 
found ourselves on a mountain top on the 
other side of the clouds, and without surprise 
at finding ourselves there. 

The ideal, to Villiers, being the real, spiritual 
beauty being the essential beauty, and mate- 
rial beauty its reflection, or its revelation, it is 
with a sort of fury that he attacks the material- 
ising forces of the world: science, progress, 
the worldly emphasis on " facts," on what is 
" positive," " serious," " respectable." Satire, 
with him, is the revenge of beauty upon ugli- 
ness, the persecution of the ugly; it is not 
merely social satire, it is a satire on the mate- 
rial universe by one who believes in a spiritual 
universe. Thus it is the only laughter of our 
time which is fundamental, as fundamental as 
that of Swift or Rabelais. And this lacerating 
laughter of the idealist is never surer in its aim 



146 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

than when it turns the arms of science against 
itself, as in the vast buffoonery of UEve Future. 
A Parisian wit, sharpened to a fineness of irony 
such as only wit which is also philosophy 
can attain, brings in another method of attack; 
humour, which is almost English, another; 
while again satire becomes tragic, fantastic, 
macabre. In those enigmatic " tales of the 
grotesque and arabesque," in which Villiers 
rivals Poe on his own ground, there is, for the 
most part, a multiplicity of meaning which is, 
as it is meant to be, disconcerting. I should 
not like to say how far Villiers does not, some- 
times, believe in his own magic. 

It is characteristic of him, at all events, 
that he employs what we call the supernatural 
alike in his works of pure idealism and in 
his works of sheer satire. The moment the 
world ceased to be the stable object, solidly 
encrusted with houses in brick and stone, 
which it is to most of its so temporary in- 
habitants, Villiers was at home. When he 
sought the absolute beauty, it was beyond 
the world that he found it; when he sought 
horror, it was a breath blowing from an 
invisible darkness which brought it to his 



VTLLIERS DE LISLE-ADAM 147 

nerves; when he desired to mock the pre- 
tensions of knowledge of or ignorance, it 
was always with the unseen that his tragic 
buffoonery made familiar. 

There is, in everything which Villiers wrote, 
a strangeness, certainly both instinctive and 
deliberate, which seems to me to be the natural 
consequence of that intellectual pride which, 
as I have pointed out, was at the basis of his 
character. He hated every kind of medi- 
ocrity: therefore he chose to analyse excep- 
tional souls, to construct exceptional stories, 
to invent splendid names, and to evoke singu- 
lar landscapes. It was part of his curiosity 
in souls to prefer the complex to the simple, 
the perverse to the straightforward, the am- 
biguous to either. His heroes are incar- 
nations of spiritual pride, and their tragedies 
are the shock of spirit against matter, the 
invasion of spirit by matter, the temptation 
of spirit by spiritual evil. They seek the 
absolute, and find death; they seek wisdom, 
find love, and fall into spiritual decay; they 
seek reality, and find crime; they seek phan- 
toms, and find themselves. They are on 
the borders of a wisdom too great for their 



148 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

capacity; they are haunted by dark powers, 
instincts of ambiguous passions; they are too 
lucid to be quite sane in their extravagances; 
they have not quite systematically transposed 
their dreams into action. And his heroines, 
when they are not, like UEve Future, the 
vitalised mechanism of an Edison, have the 
solemnity of dead people, and a hieratic 
speech. Songe, des cceurs condamnes a ce 
supplice, de ne pas m'aimer! says Sara, in 
Axel. Je ne Vaime pas, ce jeune homme. 
Qu'ai-je done fait a Dieuf says Ele'n. And 
their voice is always like the voice of Ele'n: 
"I listened attentively to the sound of her 
voice; it was tactiturn, subdued, like the 
murmur of the river Lethe, flowing through 
the region of shadows." They have the im- 
mortal weariness of beauty, they are enigmas 
to themselves, they desire, and know not 
why they refrain, they do good and evil with 
the lifting of an eyelid, and are innocent 
and guilty of all the sins of the earth. 

And these strange inhabitants move in 
as strange a world. They are the princes 
and chatelaines of ancient castles lost in 
the depths of the Black Forest; they are 



VILLIERS DE LISLE-ADAM 149 

the last descendants of a great race about 
to come to an end; students of magic, who 
have the sharp and swift swords of the sol- 
dier; enigmatic courtesans, at the table of 
strange feasts; they find incalculable treas- 
ures, tonnantes et sonnantes cataractes d'or 
liquide, only to disdain them. All the pomp 
of the world approaches them, that they may 
the better abnegate it, or that it may ruin 
them to a deeper degree of their material 
hell. And we see them always at the moment 
of a crisis, before the two ways of a decision, 
hesitating in the entanglements of a great 
temptation. And this casuist of souls will 
drag forth some horribly stunted or horribly 
overgrown soul from under its obscure cov- 
ering, setting it to dance naked before our 
eyes. He has no mercy on those who have 
no mercy on themselves. 

In the sense in which that word is ordi- 
narily used, Villiers has no pathos. This is 
enough to explain why he can never, in the 
phrase he would have disliked so greatly, 
" touch the popular heart." His mind is too 
abstract to contain pity, and it is in his lack 
of pity that he seems to put himself outside 



150 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

humanity. A chacun son infini, he has said, 
and in the avidity of his search for the infinite 
he has no mercy for the blind weakness which 
goes stumbling over the earth, without so 
much as knowing that the sun and stars are 
overhead. He sees only the gross multitude, 
the multitude which has the contentment of 
the slave. He cannot pardon stupidity, for 
it is incomprehensible to him. He sees, 
rightly, that stupidity is more criminal than 
vice; if only because vice is curable, stupidity 
incurable. But he does not realise, as the 
great novelists have realised, that stupidity 
can be pathetic, and that there is not a 
peasant, nor even a self-satisfied bourgeois, 
in whom the soul has not its part, in whose 
existence it is not possible to be interested. 

Contempt, noble as it may be, anger, 
righteous though it may be, cannot be in- 
dulged in without a certain lack of sympathy; 
and lack of sympathy comes from a lack of 
patient understanding. It is certain that the 
destiny of the greater part of the human race 
is either infinitely pathetic or infinitely ridic- 
ulous. Under which aspect, then, shall that 
destiny, and those obscure fractions of human- 






VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM 151 

ity, be considered? Villiers was too sincere 
an idealist, too absolute in his idealism, 
to hesitate. "As for living, " he cries, in 
that splendid phrase of Axel, "our servants 
will do that for us!" And, in the Contes 
Cruels, there is this not less characteristic 
expression of what was always his mental 
attitude: "As at the play, in a central stall, 
one sits out, so as not to disturb one's neigh- 
bours out of courtesy, in a word some play 
written in a wearisome style and of which 
one does not like the subject, so I lived, out 
of politeness": je vivais par politesse. In 
this haughtiness towards life, in this disdain 
of ordinary human motives and ordinary 
human beings, there is at once the distinction 
and the weakness of Villiers. And he has 
himself pointed the moral against himself 
in these words of the story which forms the 
epilogue to the Contes Cruels: "When the 
forehead alone contains the existence of a 
man, that man is enlightened only from 
above his head; then his jealous shadow, 
prostrate under him, draws him by the feet, 
that it may drag him down into the invisible." 



152 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



All his life Villiers was a poor man; though, 
all his life, he was awaiting that fortune 
which he refused to anticipate by any mean 
employment. During most of his life, he 
was practically an unknown man. Greatly 
loved, ardently admired, by that inner circle 
of the men who have made modern French 
literature, from Verlaine to Maeterlinck, he 
was looked upon by most people as an amus- 
ing kind of madman, a little dangerous, 
whose ideas, as they floated freely over the 
cafe-table, it was at times highly profitable to 
steal. For Villiers talked his works before 
writing them, and sometimes he talked them 
instead of writing them, in his too royally 
spendthrift way. To those who knew him 
he seemed genius itself, and would have 
seemed so if he had never written a line; 
for he had the dangerous gift of a person- 
ality which seems to have already achieved 
all that it so energetically contemplates. 
But personality tells only within hands' 
reach; and Villiers failed even to startle, 
failed even to exasperate, the general reader. 



VILLIERS DE L'ISLE-ADAM 153 

That his Premieres Po6sies, published at 
the age of nineteen, should have brought him 
fame was hardly to be expected, remark- 
able, especially in its ideas, as that book is. 
Nor was it to be expected of the enigmatic 
fragment of a romance, I sis (1862), antici- 
pating, as it does, by so long a period, the 
esoteric and spiritualistic romances which were 
to have their vogue. But Elen (1864) and 
Morgane (1865), those two poetic dramas in 
prose, so full of distinction, of spiritual rarity; 
but two years later, Claire Lenoir (afterwards 
incorporated in one of his really great books, 
Tribulat Bonhomet), with its macabre horror; 
but La Revolte (1870), for Villiers so "actual," 
and which had its moments of success when 
it was revived in 1896 at the Ode"on; but Le 
Nouveau Monde (1880), a drama which, by 
some extraordinary caprice, won a prize; 
but Les Contes Cruets (1880), that collection 
of masterpieces, in which the essentially 
French conte is outdone on its own ground! 
It was not till 1886 that Villiers ceased to be 
an unknown writer, with the publication of 
that phosphorescent buffoonery of science, 
that vast parody of humanity, UEve Future. 



154 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Tribulat Bonhomet (which he himself defined 
as bouffonnerie enorme et sombre, couleur du 
siecle) was to come, in its final form, and 
the superb poem in prose Akedysseril; and 
then, more and more indifferent collections 
of stories, in which Villiers, already dying, is 
but the shadow of himself: L' Amour Supreme 
(1886), Histoires Insolites (1888), Nouveaux 
Contes Cruels (1888). He was correcting the 
proofs of Axel when he died; the volume was 
published in 1890, followed by Propos d'au- 
deld, and a series of articles, Chez les Passants. 
Once dead, the fame which had avoided him 
all his life began to follow him; he had une 
belle presse at his funeral. 

Meanwhile, he had been preparing the spir- 
itual atmosphere of the new generation. Living 
among believers in the material world, he 
had been declaring, not in vain, his belief in 
the world of the spirit; living among Realists 
and Parnassians, he had been creating a 
new form of art, the art of the Symbolist 
drama, and of Symbolism in fiction. He had 
been lonely all his life, for he had been living 
in his own lifetime, the life of the next genera- 
tion. There was but one man among his con- 



VILLIERS DE LISLE-ADAM 155 

temporaries to whom he could give, and from 
whom he could receive, perfect sympathy. 
That man was Wagner. Gradually the younger 
men came about him; at the end he was not 
lacking in disciples. 

And after all, the last word of Villiers is 
faith; faith against the evidence of the senses, 
against the negations of materialistic science, 
against the monstrous paradox of progress, 
against his own pessimism in the face of these 
formidable enemies. He affirms; he " believes 
in soul, is very sure of God"; requires no wit- 
ness to the spiritual world of which he is 
always the inhabitant; and is content to lose 
his way in the material world, brushing off its 
mud from time to time with a disdainful ges- 
ture, as he goes on his way (to apply a signifi- 
cant word of Pater) "like one on a secret 
errand." 



LEON CLADEL 

I HOPE that the life of Leon Cladel by his 
daughter Judith, which Lemerre has brought 
out in a pleasant volume, will do something 
for the fame of one of the most original writers 
of our time. Cladel had the good fortune to 
be recognised in his lifetime by those whose 
approval mattered most, beginning with Bau- 
delaire, who discovered him before he had 
printed his first book, and helped to teach him 
the craft of letters. But so exceptional an 
artist could never be popular, though he worked 
in living stuff and put the whole savour of his 
countryside into his tragic and passionate 
stories. A peasant, who writes about peasants 
and poor people, with a curiosity of style which 
not only packs his vocabulary with difficult 
words, old or local, and with unheard of 
rhythms, chosen to give voice to some never 
yet articulated emotion, but which drives 
him into oddities of printing, of punctuation, 
of the very shape of his accents! A page 

156 



LfiON CLADEL 157 

of Cladel has a certain visible uncouthness, 
and at first this seems in keeping with his 
matter; but the uncouthness, when you look 
into it, turns out to be itself a refinement, 
and what has seemed a confused whirl, an 
improvisation, to be the result really of reit- 
erated labour, whose whole aim has been to 
bring the spontaneity of the first impulse 
back into the laboriously finished work. 

In this just, sensitive, and admirable book, 
written by one who has inherited a not less 
passionate curiosity about life, but with more 
patience in waiting upon it, watching it, noting 
its surprises, we have a simple and sufficient 
commentary upon the books and upon the man. 
The narrative has warmth and reserve, and is 
at once tender and clear-sighted. J'entrevois 
nettement, she says with truth, combien seront 
precieux pour les futurs historiens de la Ut- 
terature du xix^ siecle, les memoires traces au 
contact immediat de V artiste, exposes de ses faits 
et gestes particuliers, de ses origines, de la 
germination de ses croyances et de son talent; 
ses critiques a venir y trouveront de solides ma- 
tfriaux, ses admirateurs un aliment a leurpiete 
et les philosophes un des aspects de VAme fran- 



158 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

gaise. The man is shown to us, les elans de 
cette dme toujours grondante et fulgurante comme 
une forge, et les nuances de ce fievreux visage 
d'apdtre, brun, fin et sinueux, and we see the 
inevitable growth, out of the hard soil of 
Quercy and out of the fertilising contact of 
Paris and Baudelaire, of this whole literature, 
these books no less astonishing than their 
titles: Ompdrailles-le-Tombeau-des-Lutteurs, 
Celui de la Croix-aux-Bceufs, La Fete Votive 
de Saint-Bartholomee-Porte-Glaive. The very 
titles are an excitement. I can remember how 
mysterious and alluring they used to seem to 
me when I first saw them on the cover of what 
was perhaps his best book, Les Va-Nu-Pieds. 

It is by one of the stories, and the shortest, 
in Les Va-Nu-Pieds, that I remember Cladel. 
I read it when I was a boy, and I cannot think 
of it now without a shiver. It is called L'Her- 
cule, and it is about a Sandow of the streets, a 
professional strong man, who kills himself by 
an overstrain; it is not a story at all, it is the 
record of an incident, and there is only the 
strong man in it and his friend the zany, 
who makes the jokes while the strong man 
juggles with bars and cannon-balls. It is all 



LEON CLADEL 159 

told in a breath, without a pause, as if some- 
one who had just seen it poured it out in a 
flood of hot words. Such vehemence, such 
pity, such a sense of the cruelty of the spectacle 
of a man driven to death like a beast, for a few 
pence and the pleasure of a few children; such 
an evocation of the sun and the streets and this 
sordid tragic thing happening to the sound of 
drum and cymbals; such a vision in sunlight 
of a barbarous and ridiculous and horrible 
accident, lifted by the telling of it into a new 
and unforgettable beauty, I have never felt 
or seen hi any other story of a like grotesque 
tragedy. It realises an ideal, it does for once 
what many artists have tried and failed to do; 
it wrings the last drop of agony out of that 
subject which it is so easy to make pathetic 
and effective. Dickens could not have done 
it, Bret Harte could not have done it, Kipling 
could not do it: Cladel did it only once, with 
this perfection. 

Something like it he did over and over again, 
with unflagging vehemence, with splendid vari- 
ations, in stories of peasants and wrestlers and 
thieves and prostitutes. They are all, as his 
daughter says, epic; she calls them Homeric, 



160 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

but there is none of the Homeric simplicity in 
this tumult of coloured and clotted speech, in 
which the language is tortured to make it 
speak. The comparison with Rabelais is nearer. 
La recherche du terme vivant, sa mise en valeur 
et en saveur, la surabondance des vocables pulses 
a toutes sources . . . la condensation de V action 
autour de ces quelques motifs eternels de V epopee: 
combat, ripaille, palabre et luxure, there, as 
she sees justly, are links with Rabelais. Gon- 
court, himself always aiming at an impossible 
closeness of written to spoken speech, noted 
with admiration la vraie photographic de la 
parole avec ses tours, ses abbreviations ses ellipses, 
son essoufflement presque. Speech out of breath, 
that is what CladePs is always; his words, 
never the likely ones, do not so much speak as 
cry, gesticulate, overtake one another. Lame 
de Leon Cladel, says his daughter, etait dans un 
constant et flamboyant automne. Something of 
the colour and fever of autumn is in all he 
wrote. Another writer since Cladel, who has 
probably never heard of him, has made heroes 
of peasants and vagabonds. But Maxim Gorki 
makes heroes of them, consciously, with a 
mental self-assertion, giving them ideas which 



LEON CLADEL 161 

he has found in Nietzsche. Cladel put into 
all his people some of his own passionate way 
of seeing "scarlet," to use Barbey d'Aurevilly's 
epithet: un rural ecarlate. Vehement and 
voluminous, he overflowed: his whole aim as 
an artist, as a pupil of Baudelaire, was to con- 
centrate, to hold himself back; and the effort 
added impetus to the checked overflow. To 
the realists he seemed merely extravagant; he 
saw certainly what they could not see; and 
his romance was always a fruit of the soil. 
The artist in him, seeming to be in conflict 
with the peasant, fortified, clarified the peasant, 
extracted from that hard soil a rare fruit. 
You see in his face an extraordinary mingling 
of the peasant, the visionary, and the dandy: 
the long hair and beard, the sensitive mouth 
and nose, the fierce brooding eyes, in which 
wildness and delicacy, strength and a kind of 
stealthiness, seem to be grafted on an inflexible 
peasant stock. 

1906. 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 

THE art of Zola is based on certain theories, 
on a view of humanity which he has adopted 
as his formula. As a deduction from his 
formula, he takes many things in human 
nature for granted, he is content to observe at 
second-hand; and it is only when he comes 
to the filling-up of his outlines, the mise-en- 
scene, that his observation becomes personal, 
minute, and persistent. He has thus suc- 
ceeded in being at once unreal where reality is 
most essential, and tediously real where a 
point-by-point reality is sometimes unimpor- 
tant. The contradiction is an ingenious one, 
which it may be interesting to examine in a 
little detail, and from several points of view. 

And, first of all, take UAssommoir, no 
doubt the most characteristic of Zola's novels, 
and probably the best; and, leaving out for 
the present the broader question of his general 
conception of humanity, let us look at Zola's 
manner of dealing with his material, noting 

162 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 163 

by the way certain differences between his 
manner and that of Goncourt, of Flaubert, 
with both of whom he has so often been com- 
pared, and with whom he wishes to challenge 
comparison. Contrast UAssommoir with 
Germinie LacerteuXj which, it must be re- 
membered, was written thirteen years earlier. 
Goncourt, as he incessantly reminds us, was 
the first novelist in France to deliberately 
study the life of the people, after precise doc- 
uments; and Germinie Lacerteux has this dis- 
tinction, among others, that it was a new 
thing. And it is done with admirable skill; 
as a piece of writing, as a work of art, it is far 
superior to Zola. But, certainly, Zola's work 
has a mass and bulk, a fougue, a portee, which 
Goncourt's lacks; and it has a savour of ple- 
beian flesh which all the delicate art of Gon- 
court could not evoke. Zola sickens you with 
it; but there it is. As in all his books, but 
more than in most, there is something greasy, 
a smear of eating and drinking; the pages, to 
use his own phrase, grasses des lichades du 
lundi. In Germinie Lacerteux you never for- 
get that Goncourt is an aristocrat; in 
UAssommoir you never forget that Zola 



164 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

is a bourgeois. Whatever Goncourt touches 
becomes, by the mere magic of his touch, 
charming, a picture; Zola is totally destitute 
of charm. But how, in L'Assommoir, he 
drives home to you the horrid realities of these 
narrow, uncomfortable lives! Zola has made 
up his mind that he will say everything, with- 
out omitting a single item, whatever he has to 
say; thus, in L'Assommoir, there is a great 
feast which lasts for fifty pages, beginning with 
the picking of the goose, the day before, and 
going on to the picking of the goose's bones, 
by a stray marauding cat, the night after. 
And, in a sense, he does say everything; and 
there, certainly, is his novelty, his invention. 
He observes with immense persistence, but his 
observation, after all, is only that of the man 
in the street; it is simply carried into detail, 
deliberately. And, while Goncourt wanders 
away sometimes into arabesques, indulges in 
flourishes, so finely artistic is his sense of 
words and of the things they represent, so 
perfectly can he match a sensation or an im- 
pression by its figure in speech, Zola, on the 
contrary, never finds just the right word, and 
it is his persistent fumbling for it which pro- 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 165 

duces these miles of description; four pages 
describing how two people went upstairs, from 
the ground floor to the sixth story, and then 
two pages afterwards to describe how they 
came downstairs again. Sometimes, by his 
prodigious diligence and minuteness, he suc- 
ceeds in giving you the impression; often, 
indeed; but at the cost of what ennui to writer 
and reader alike! And so much of it all is 
purely unnecessary, has no interest in itself 
and no connection with the story: the precise 
details of Lorilleux's chain-making, bristling 
with technical terms: it was la colonne that he 
made, and only that particular kind of chain; 
Gou jet's forge, and the machinery in the shed 
next door; and just how you cut out zinc with 
a large pair of scissors. When Goncourt gives 
you a long description of anything, even if you 
do not feel that it helps on the story very much, 
it is such a beautiful thing in itself, his mere way 
of writing it is so enchanting, that you find 
yourself wishing it longer, at its longest. But 
with Zola, there is no literary interest in the 
writing, apart from its clear and coherent 
expression of a given thing; and these inter- 
minable descriptions have no extraneous, or, 



166 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

if you will, implicit interest, to save them from 
the charge of irrelevancy; they sink by their 
own weight. Just as Zola's vision is the vision 
of the average man, so his vocabulary, with 
all its technicology, remains mediocre, incapa- 
ble of expressing subtleties, incapable of a 
really artistic effect. To find out in a slang 
dictionary that a filthy idea can be expressed 
by an ingeniously filthy phrase in argot, and to 
use that phrase, is not a great feat, or, on 
purely artistic grounds, altogether desirable. 
To go to a chainmaker and learn the trade 
name of the various kinds of chain which he 
manufactures, and of the instruments with 
which he manufactures them, is not an elab- 
orate process, or one which can be said to pay 
you for the little trouble which it no doubt 
takes. And it is not well to be too certain 
after all that Zola is always perfectly accurate 
in his use of all this manifold knowledge. The 
slang, for example; he went to books for it, in 
books he found it, and no one will ever find 
some of it but in books. However, my 
main contention is that Zola's general use of 
words is, to be quite frank, somewhat inef- 
fectual. He tries to do what Flaubert did, 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 167 

without Flaubert's tools, and without the 
craftsman's hand at the back of the tools. 
His fingers are too thick; they leave a blurred 
line. If you want merely weight, a certain 
kind of force, you get it; but no more. 

Where a large part of Zola's merit lies, in 
his persistent attention to detail, one finds 
also one of his chief defects. He cannot leave 
well alone; he cannot omit; he will not take 
the most obvious fact for granted. II marcha 
le premier, elle le suivit, well, of course, she 
followed him, if he walked first: why men- 
tion the fact? That beginning of a sentence is 
absolutely typical; it is impossible for him to 
refer, for the twentieth time, to some unim- 
portant character, without giving name and 
profession, not one or the other, but both, in- 
variably both. He tells us particularly that a 
room is composed of four walls, that a table 
stands on its four legs. And he does not appear 
to see the difference between doing that and 
doing as Flaubert does, namely, selecting pre- 
cisely the detail out of all others which renders 
or consorts with the scene in hand, and giving 
that detail with an ingenious exactness. Here, 
for instance, in Madame Bovary, is a charac- 



168 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

teristic detail in the manner of Flaubert: 
Huit jours apres, comme die etendait du linge 
dans sa cour, elle jut prise d'un crachement 
de sang, et le lendemain, tandis que Charles 
avail le dos tourne pour fermer le rideau de la 
fenetre, elle dit: "Ah! mon Dieu!" poussa un 
soupir et s'evanouit. Elle etait morte. Now 
that detail, brought in without the slight- 
est emphasis, of the husband turning his 
back at the very instant that his wife dies, is 
a detail of immense psychological value; it 
indicates to us, at the very opening of the book, 
just the character of the man about whom we 
are to read so much. Zola would have taken 
at least two pages to say that, and, after all, 
he would not have said it. He would have told 
you the position of the chest of drawers in the 
room, what wood the chest of drawers was 
made of, and if it had a little varnish knocked 
off at the corner of the lower cornice, just 
where it would naturally be in the way of 
people's feet as they entered the door. He 
would have told you how Charles leant against 
the other corner of the chest of drawers, and 
that the edge of the upper cornice left a slight 
dent in his black frock-coat, which remained 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 169 

visible half an hour afterwards. But that one 
little detail, which Flaubert selects from among 
a thousand, that, no, he would never have 
given us that ! 

And the language in which all this is written, 
apart from the consideration of language as a 
medium, is really not literature at all, in any 
strict sense. I am not, for the moment, com- 
plaining of the colloquialism and the slang. 
Zola has told us that he has, in L'Assommoir, 
used the language of the people in order to 
render the people with a closer truth. Whether 
he has done that or not is not the question. 
The question is, that he does not give one the 
sense of reading good literature, whether he 
speaks in Delvau's langue verte, or according 
to the Academy's latest edition of classical 
French. His sentences have no rhythm; they 
give no pleasure to the ear; they carry no 
sensation to the eye. You hear a sentence of 
Flaubert, arid you see a sentence of Goncourt, 
like living things, with forms and voices. But 
a page of Zola lies dull and silent before you; 
it draws you by no charm, it has no meaning 
until you have read the page that goes before 
and the page that comes after. It is like 



170 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

cabinet-makers' work, solid, well fitted to- 
gether, and essentially made to be used. 

Yes, there is no doubt that Zola writes very 
badly, worse than any other French writer 
of eminence. It is true that Balzac, certainly 
one of the greatest, does, in a sense, write 
badly; but his way of writing badly is very 
different from Zola's, and leaves you with 
the sense of quite a different result. Balzac 
is too impatient with words; he cannot stay 
to get them all into proper order, to pick and 
choose among them. Night, the coffee, the 
wet towel, and the end of six hours' labour 
are often too much for him; and his manner 
of writing his novels on the proof-sheets, 
altering and expanding as fresh ideas came 
to him on each re-reading, was not a way of 
doing things which can possibly result in 
perfect writing. But Balzac sins from ex- 
cess, from a feverish haste, the very extrav- 
agance of power; and, at all events, he 
"sins strongly." Zola sins meanly, he is 
penuriously careful, he does the best he possibly 
can; and he is not aware that his best does not 
answer all requirements. So long as writing 
is clear and not ungrammatical, it seems to 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 171 

him sufficient. He has not realised that with- 
out charm there can be no fine literature, as 
there can be no perfect flower without fra- 
grance. 

And it is here that I would complain, not 
as a matter of morals, but as a matter of art, 
of Zola's obsession by what is grossly, unin- 
terestingly filthy. There is a certain simile 
in L'Assommoir, used in the most innocent 
connection, in connection with a bonnet, 
which seems to me the most abjectly dirty 
phrase which I have ever read. It is one thing 
to use dirty words to describe dirty things: 
that may be necessary, and thus unexcep- 
tionable. It is another thing again, and this, 
too, may well be defended on artistic grounds, 
to be ingeniously and wittily indecent. But I 
do not think a real man of letters could pos- 
sibly have used such an expression as the one 
I am alluding to. or could so meanly succumb 
to certain kinds of prurience which we find in 
Zola's work. Such a scene as the one in which 
Gervaise comes home with Lantier, and finds 
her husband lying drunk asleep in his own 
vomit, might certainly be explained and even 
excused, though few more disagreeable things 



172 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

were ever written, on the ground of the psy- 
chological importance which it undoubtedly 
has, and the overwhelming way in which it 
drives home the point which it is the writer's 
business to make. But the worrying way in 
which le derriere and le venire are constantly 
kept in view, without the slightest necessity, 
is quite another thing. I should not like to 
say how often the phrase "sa nuditS de jolie 
fille" occurs in Zola. Zola's nudities always 
remind me of those which you can see in the 
Foire au pain d'epice at Vincennes, by pay- 
ing a penny and looking through a peep- 
hole. In the laundry scenes, for instance in 
UAssommoir, he is always reminding you that 
the laundresses have turned up their sleeves, 
/or undone a button or two of their bodices. 
His eyes seem eternally fixed on the inch or 
two of bare flesh that can be seen; and he 
nudges your elbow at every moment, to make 
sure that you are looking too. Nothing may 
be more charming than a frankly sensuous 
description of things which appeal to the 
senses; but can one imagine anything less 
charming, less like art, than this prying eye 
glued to the peep-hole in the Gingerbread Fair? 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 173 

Yet, whatever view may be taken of Zola's 
work in literature, there is no doubt that the 
life of Zola is a model lesson, and might prof- 
itably be told in one of Dr. Smiles's edifying 
biographies. It may even be brought as a 
reproach against the writer of these novels, 
in which there are so many offences against 
the respectable virtues, that he is too good 
a bourgeois, too much the incarnation of the 
respectable virtues, to be a man of genius. 
If the finest art comes of the intensest living, 
then Zola has never had even a chance of 
doing the greatest kind of work. It is his merit 
and his misfortune to have lived entirely in 
and for his books, with a heroic devotion to his 
ideal of literary duty which would merit every 
praise if we had to consider simply the moral 
side of the question. So many pages of copy 
a day, so many hours of study given to mys- 
ticism, or Les Halles; Zola has always had his 
day's work marked out before him, and he 
has never swerved from it. A recent life of 
Zola tells us something about his way of get- 
ting up a subject. " Immense preparation 
had been necessary for the Faute de I'Abbd 
Mouret. Mountains of note-books were 



174 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

heaped up on his table, and for months Zola 
was plunged in the study of religious works. 
All the mystical part of the book, and notably 
the passages having reference to the cultus 
of Mary, was taken from the works of the 
Spanish Jesuits. The Imitation of Jesus 
Christ was largely drawn upon, many passages 
being copied almost word for word into the 
novel much as in Clarissa Harlowe, that 
other great realist, Richardson, copied whole 
passages from the Psalms. The description 
of life in a grand seminary was given him by 
a priest who had been dismissed from ecclesi- 
astical service. The little church of Saint e 
Marie des Batignolles was regularly visited." 
How commendable all that is, but, surely, 
how futile! Can one conceive of a more hope- 
less, a more ridiculous task, than that of 
setting to work on a novel of ecclesiastical 
life as if one were cramming for an examina- 
tion in religious knowledge? Zola apparently 
imagines that he can master mysticism in a 
fortnight, as he masters the police regulations 
of Les Halles. It must be admitted that he 
does wonders with his second-hand informa- 
tion, alike in regard to mysticism and Les 









A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 175 

Halles. But he succeeds only to a certain 
point, and that point lies on the nearer side 
of what is really meant by success. Is not 
Zola himself, at his moments, aware of this? 
A letter written in 1881, and printed in Mr. 
Sherard's life of Zola, from which I have just 
quoted, seems to me very significant. 

"I continue to work in a good state of mental 
equilibrium. My novel (Pot-Bouille) is cer- 
tainly only a task requiring precision and 
clearness. No bravoura, not the least lyrical 
treat. It does not give me any warm satis- 
faction, but it amuses me like a piece of 
mechanism with a thousand wheels, of which 
it is my duty to regulate the movements with 
the most minute care. I ask myself the 
question: Is it good policy, when one feels 
that one has passion in one, to check it, or 
even to bridle it? If one of my books is 
destined to become immortal, it will, I am 
sure, be the most passionate one." 

Est-elle en marbre ou non, la Venus de 
Milo ? said the Parnassians, priding them- 
selves on their muse with her peplum bien 
sculpte. Zola will describe to you the exact 
shape and the exact smell of the rags of his 



176 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

naturalistic muse; but has she, under the 
tatters, really a human heart? In the whole 
of Zola's works, amid all his exact and impres- 
sive descriptions of misery, all his endless 
annals of the poor, I know only one episode 
which brings tears to the eyes, the episode 
of the child-martyr Lalie in L'Assommoir. 
"A piece of mechanism with a thousand 
wheels," that is indeed the image of this 
immense and wonderful study of human 
life, evolved out of the brain of a solitary 
student who knows life only by the report of 
his documents, his friends, and, above all, his 
formula. 

Zola has defined art, very aptly, as nature 
seen through a temperament. The art of 
Zola is nature seen through a formula. This 
professed realist is a man of theories who 
studies life with a conviction that he will 
find there such and such things which he has 
read about in scientific books. He observes, 
indeed, with astonishing minuteness, but he 
observes in support of preconceived ideas. 
And so powerful is his imagination that he 
has created a whole world which has no 
existence anywhere but in his own brain, and 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 177 

he has placed there imaginary beings, so much 
more logical than life, in the midst of sur- 
roundings which are themselves so real as to 
lend almost a semblance of reality to the 
embodied formulas who inhabit them. 

It is the boast of Zola that he has taken 
up art at the point where Flaubert left it, 
and that he has developed that art in its 
logical sequence. But the art of Flaubert, 
itself a development from Balzac, had carried 
realism, if not in Madame Bovary, at all 
events in UEducation Sentimentale, as far 
as realism can well go without ceasing to 
be art. In the grey and somewhat sordid 
history of Frederic Moreau there is not a touch 
of romanticism, not so much as a concession 
to style, a momentary escape of the imprisoned 
lyrical tendency. Everything is observed, 
everything is taken straight from life: realism 
sincere, direct, implacable, reigns from end to 
end of the book. But with what consummate 
art all this mass of observation is disintegrated, 
arranged, composed! with what infinite deli- 
cacy it is manipulated in the service of an 
unerring sense of construction! And Flau- 
bert has no theory, has no prejudices, has 



178 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

only a certain impatience with human imbecil- 
ity. Zola, too, gathers his documents, heaps 
up his mass of observation, and then, in this 
unhappy " development " of the principles of 
art which produced L'Education Senti- 
mentale, flings everything pell-mell into one 
overflowing pot-au-feu. The probabilities of 
nature and the delicacies of art are alike 
drowned beneath a flood of turbid observa- 
tion, and in the end one does not even feel 
convinced that Zola really knows his subject. 
I remember once hearing M. Huysmans, with 
his look and tone of subtle, ironical malice, 
describe how Zola, when he was writing La 
Terre, took a drive into the country in a 
victoria, to see the peasants. The English 
papers once reported an interview in which 
the author of Nana, indiscreetly questioned 
as to the amount of personal observation he 
had put into the book, replied that he had 
lunched with an actress of the Varie*tes. The 
reply was generally taken for a joke, but the 
lunch was a reality, and it was assuredly a 
rare experience in the life of solitary diligence 
to which we owe so many impersonal studies 
in life. Nor did Zola, as he sat silent by the 



A NOTE ON ZOLA'S METHOD 179 

side of Mile. X., seem to be making much use 
of the opportunity. The language of the 
miners in Germinal, how much of local 
colour is there in that? The interminable 
additions and divisions, the extracts from a 
financial gazette, in L 'Argent, how much 
of the real temper and idiosyncrasy of the 
financier do they give us? In his description 
of places, in his mise-en-scene, Zola puts down 
what he sees with his own eyes, and, though 
it is often done at utterly disproportionate 
length, it is at all events done with exactitude. 
But in the far more important observation of 
men and women, he is content with second- 
hand knowledge, the knowledge of a man 
who sees the world through a formula. Zola 
sees in humanity la bete humaine. He sees 
the beast in all its transformations, but he sees 
only the beast. He has never looked at life 
impartially, he has never seen it as it is. His 
realism is a distorted idealism, and the man 
who considers himself the first to paint 
humanity as it really is will be remembered 
in the future as the most idealistic writer of 
his time. 

1893. 



STEPHANE MALLARME 



STEPHANE MALLARME was one of those who 
love literature too much to write it except by 
fragments; -in whom the desire of perfection 
brings its own defeat. -With either more or 
less ambition he would have done more to 
achieve himself; he was always divided be- 
tween an absolute aim at the absolute, that 
is, the unattainable, and a too logical disdain 
for the compromise by which, after all, liter- 
ature is literature. Carry the theories of 
Mallarme to a practical conclusion, multiply 
his powers in a direct ratio, and you have 
Wagner. It is his failure not to be Wagner. 
And, Wagner having existed, it was for him 
to be something more, to complete Wagner. 
Well, not being able to be that, it was a mat- 
ter of sincere indifference to him whether he 
left one or two little, limited masterpieces of 

180 



STfiPHANE MALLARME 181 

formal verse and prose, the more or the less. 
It was "the work" that he dreamed of, the 
new art, more than a new religion, whose 
precise form in the world he was never quite 
able to settle. 

Un auteur difficile, in the phrase of M. 
Catulle Mendes, it has always been to what 
he himself calls "a labyrinth illuminated by 
flowers " that Mallarme* has felt it due to their 
own dignity to invite his readers. To their own 
dignity, and also to his. Mallarme* was ob- 
scure, not so much because he wrote differently, 
as because he thought differently, from other 
people. His mind was elliptical, and, relying 
with undue confidence on the intelligence of 
his readers, he emphasised the effect of what 
was unlike other people in his mind by reso- 
lutely ignoring even the links of connection 
that existed between them. Never having 
aimed at popularity, he never needed, as most 
writers need, to make the first advances. He 
made neither intrusion upon nor concession to 
those who, after all, were not obliged to read 
him. And wlien he spoke, he considered it 
neither needful nor seemly to listen in order 
to hear whether he was heard. To the charge 



182 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

of obscurity he replied, with sufficient disdain, 
that there are many who do not know how to 
read except the newspaper, he adds, in one 
of those disconcerting, oddly-printed paren- 
theses, which make his work, to those who 
rightly apprehend it, so full of wise limitations, 
so safe from hasty or seemingly final conclu- 
sions. No one in our time has more sig- 
nificantly vindicated the supreme right of the 
artist in the aristocracy of letters; wilfully, 
perhaps, not always wisely, but nobly, logically. 
Has not every artist shrunk from that making 
of himself "a motley to the view," that hand- 
ing over of his naked soul to the laughter of 
the multitude? But who, in our time, has 
wrought so subtle a veil, shining on this side, 
where the few are, a thick cloud on the other, 
where are the many? The oracles have always 
had the wisdom to hide their secrets in the 
obscurity of many meanings, or of what has 
seemed meaningless; and might it not, after 
all, be the finest epitaph for a self-respecting 
man of letters to be able to say, even after the 
writing of many books: I have kept my 
secret, I have not betrayed myself to the 
multitude? 



STEPHENE MALLARME 183 

But to Mallarme*, certainly, there might 
be applied the significant warning of Rossetti: 

Yet woe to thee if once thou yield 
Unto the act of doing nought! 

After a life of persistent devotion to literature, 
he has left enough poems to make a single 
small volume (less, certainly, than a hundred 
poems in all), a single volume of prose, a 
few pamphlets, and a prose translation of the 
poems of Poe. It is because among these 
there are masterpieces, poems which are among 
the most beautiful poems written in our time, 
prose which has all the subtlest qualities of 
prose, that, quitting the abstract point of view, 
we are forced to regret the fatal enchantments, 
fatal for him, of theories which are so greatly 
needed by others, so valuable for our instruc- 
tion, if we are only a little careful in putting 
them into practice. 

In estimating the significance of Ste*phane 
Mallarme*, it is necessary to take into account 
not only his verse and prose, but, almost 
more than these, the Tuesdays of the Rue de 
Rome, in which he gave himself freely to 
more than one generatior No one who has 
ever climbed those fou/ flights of stairs will 



184 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

have forgotten the narrow, homely interior, 
elegant with a sort of scrupulous Dutch com- 
fort; the heavy, carved furniture, the tall 
clock, the portraits, Manet's, Whistler's, on 
the walls; the table on which the china bowl, 
odorous with tobacco, was pushed from hand 
to hand; above all, the rocking-chair, Mal- 
Iarm6's, from which he would rise quietly, 
to stand leaning his elbow on the mantel- 
piece, while one hand, the hand which did not 
hold the cigarette, would sketch out one of 
those familiar gestures: un pen de pretre, 
un pen de danseuse (in M. Rodenbach's admir- 
able phrase), avec lesquels il avail Vair chaque 
fois d'entrer dans la conversation, comme on 
entre en scene. One of the best talkers of our 
time, he was, unlike most other fine talkers, 
harmonious with his own theories in giving no 
monologues, in allowing every liberty to his 
guests, to the conversation; in his perfect 
readiness to follow the slightest indication, to 
embroider upon any frame, with any material 
presented to him. There would have been 
something almost of the challenge of the im- 
provisatore in this easily moved alertness of 
mental attitude, hau it not been for the sin- 



STfiPHANE MALLARME 185 

gular gentleness with which Mallarme's intel- 
ligence moved, in these considerable feats, with 
the half-apologetic negligence of the perfect 
acrobat. He seemed to be no more than 
brushing the dust off your own ideas, settling, 
arranging them a little, before he gave them 
back to you, surprisingly luminous. It was 
only afterwards that you realised how small 
had been your own part in the matter, as well 
as what it meant to have enlightened without 
dazzling you. But there was always the feel- 
ing of comradeship, the comradeship of a 
master, whom, while you were there at least, 
you did not question; and that very feeling 
lifted you, in your own estimation, nearer to 
art. 

Invaluable, it seems to me, those Tuesdays 
must have been to the young men of two 
generations who have been making French 
literature; they were unique, certainly, in 
the experience of the young Englishman who 
was always so cordially received there, with 
so flattering a cordiality. Here was a house 
in which art, literature, was the very atmos- 
phere, a religious atmosphere; and the master 
of the house, in his just a little solemn sim- 



186 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

<* 

plicity, a priest. I never heard the price of a 
book mentioned, or the number of thousand 
francs which a popular author had been paid 
for his last volume; here, in this one literary 
house, literature was unknown as a trade. 
And, above all, the questions that were dis- 
cussed were never, at least, in Mallarme*'s 
treatment, in his guidance of them, other than 
essential questions, considerations of art in 
the abstract, of literature before it coagulates 
into a book, of life as its amusing and various 
web spins the stuff of art. When, indeed, the 
conversation, by some untimely hazard, drifted 
too near to one, became for a moment, perhaps 
inconveniently, practical, it was Mallarm6's 
solicitous politeness to wait, a little constrained, 
almost uneasy, rolling his cigarette in silence, 
until the disturbing moment had passed. 

There were other disturbing moments, some- 
times. I remember one night, rather late, the 
sudden irruption of M. de Heredia, coming on 
after a dinner-party, and seating himself in his 
well-filled evening dress, precisely in Mal- 
larme*'s favourite chair. He was intensely 
amusing, voluble, floridly vehement; Mal- 
larme', I am sure, was delighted to see him; 



STfiPHANE MALLARMfi 187 

but the loud voice was a little trying to his 
nerves, and then he did not know what to do 
without his chair. He was like a cat that has 
been turned out of its favourite corner, as he 
roamed uneasily about the room, resting an 
unaccustomed elbow on the sideboard, visibly 
at a disadvantage. 

For the attitude of those young men, some 
of them no longer exactly young, who fre- 
quented the Tuesdays, was certainly the atti- 
tude of the disciple. Mallarme* never exacted 
it, he seemed never to notice it; yet it meant 
to him, all the same, a good deal; as it meant, 
and in the best sense, a good deal to them. 
He loved art with a supreme disinterestedness, 
and it was for the sake of art that he wished to 
be really a master. For he knew that he had 
something to teach, that he had found out 
some secrets worth knowing, that he had dis- 
covered a point of view which he could to some 
degree perpetuate in those young men who lis- 
tened to him. And to them this free kind of 
apprenticeship was, beyond all that it gave in 
direct counsels, in the pattern of work, a 
noble influence. Mallarme's quiet, laborious 
life was for some of them the only counterpoise 



188 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

to the Bohemian example of the d'Harcourt 
or the Taverne, where art is loved, but with 
something of haste, in a very changing devo- 
tion. It was impossible to come away from 
Mallarme's without some tranquillising influ- 
ence from that quiet place, some impersonal 
ambition towards excellence, the resolve, at 
least, to write a sonnet, a page of prose, that 
should be in its own way as perfect as one 
could make it, worthy of Mallarme. 



" Poetry," said Mallarme, "is the language 
of a state of crisis "; and all his poems are 
the evocation of a passing ecstasy, arrested 
in mid-flight. This ecstasy is never the mere 
instinctive cry of the heart, the simple human 
joy or sorrow, which, like the Parnassians, 
but for not quite the same reason, he did not 
admit in poetry. It is a mental transposition 
of emotion or sensation, veiled with atmos- 
phere, and becoming, as it becomes a poem, 
pure beauty. Here, for instance, in a poem, 
which I have translated line for line, and almost 
word for word, a delicate emotion, a figure 



STEPHANE MALLARME 189 

vaguely divined, a landscape magically evoked, 
blend in a single effect. 

SIGH 

My soul, calm sister, towards thy brow, whereon scarce 

grieves 

An autumn strewn already with its russet leaves, 
And towards the wandering sky of thine angelic eyet , 
Mounts, as in melancholy gardens may arise 
Some faithful fountain sighing whitely towards the blue! 
Towards the blue pale and pure that sad October knew, 
When, in those depths, it mirrored languors infinite, 
And agonising leaves upon the waters white, 
Windily drifting, traced a furrow cold and dun, 
Where, in one long last ray, lingered the yellow sun. 

Another poem comes a little closer to 
nature, but with what exquisite precautions, 
and with what surprising novelty in its un- 
hesitating touch on actual things! 

SEA-WIND 

The flesh is sad, alas! and all the books are read. 
Flight, only flight! I feel that birds are wild to tread 
The floor of unknown foam, and to attain the skies! 
Nought, neither ancient gardens mirrored in the eyes, 
Shall hold this heart that bathes in waters its delight, 

nights! nor yet my waking lamp, whose lonely light 
Shadows the vacant paper, whiteness profits best, 
Nor the young wife who rocks her baby on her breast. 

1 will depart. O steamer, swaying rope and spar, 
Lift anchor for exotic lands that lie afar! 



190 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

A weariness, outworn by cruel hopes, still clings 
To the last farewell handkerchief's last beckonings! 
And are not these, the masts inviting storms, not these 
That an awakening wind bends over wrecking seas, 
Lost, not a sail, a sail, a flowering isle, ere long? 
But, O my heart, hear thou, hear thou the sailors' song! 

These (need I say?) belong to the earlier 
period, in which Mallarme* had not yet with- 
drawn his light into the cloud; and to the 
same period belong the prose-poems, one of 
which, perhaps the most exquisite, I will 
translate here. 

AUTUMN LAMENT 

"Ever since Maria left me, for another 
star which? Orion, Altair, or thou, green 
Venus? I have always cherished solitude. 
How many long days I have passed, alone 
with my cat! By alone, I mean without 
a material being, and my cat is a mystical 
companion, a spirit. I may say, then, that 
I have passed long days alone with my cat, 
and alone, with one of the last writers of 
the Roman decadence; for since the white 
creature is no more, strangely and singularly, 
I have loved all that may be summed up 
in the word: fall. Thus, in the year, my 




STfiPHANE MALLARMfi 191 

favourite season is during those last languid 
summer days which come just before the 
autumn; and, in the day, the hour when I 
take my walk is the hour when the sun lin- 
gers before fading, with rays of copper- 
yellow on the grey walls, and of copper-red 
on the window-panes. And, just so, the 
literature from which my soul demands de- 
light must be the poetry dying out of the 
last moments of Rome, provided, neverthe- 
less, that it breathes nothing of the rejuvenat- 
ing approach of the Barbarians, and does 
not stammer the infantile Latin of the first 
Christian prose. 

"I read, then, one of those beloved poems 
(whose streaks of rouge have more charm 
for me than the fresh cheek of youth), and 
buried my hand in the fur of the pure ani- 
mal, when a barrel-organ began to sing, 
languishingly and melancholy, under my win- 
dow. It played in the long alley of poplars, 
whose leaves seem mournful to me even 
in spring, since Maria passed that way with 
the tapers, for the last time. Yes, sad 
people's instrument, truly: the piano glitters, 
the violin brings one's torn fibres to the 



192 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

light, but the barrel-organ, in the twilight of 
memory, has set me despairingly dreaming. 
While it murmured a gaily vulgar air, such 
as puts mirth into the heart of the suburbs, 
an old-fashioned, an empty air, how came it 
that its refrain went to my very soul, and 
made me weep like a romantic ballad? I 
drank it in, and I did not throw a penny 
out of the window, for fear of disturbing my 
own impression, and of perceiving that the 
instrument was not singing by itself." 

Between these characteristic, clear, and 
beautiful poems, in verse and in prose, and 
the opaque darkness of the later writings, 
come one or two poems, perhaps the finest 
of all, in which already clearness is "a sec- 
ondary grace/' but in which a subtle rapture 
finds incomparable expression. L'Apres-midi 
d'un Faune and Herodiade have already been 
introduced, in different ways, to English 
readers: the former by Mr. Gosse, in a 
detailed analysis; the latter by a transla- 
tion into verse. And Debussy, in his new 
music, has taken L* Apres-midi d'un Faune 
almost for his new point of departure, in- 
terpreting it, at all events, faultlessly. In 



T 

STfiPHANE MALLARMfi 193 

these two poems I find Mallarme at the 
moment when his own desire achieves itself; 
when he attains Wagner's ideal, that "the 
most complete work of the poet should be 
that which, in its final achievement, be- 
comes a perfect music ": every word is a 
jewel, scattering and recapturing sudden fire, 
every image is a symbol, and the whole poem 
is visible music. After this point began 
that fatal "last period" which comes to 
most artists who have thought too curiously, 
or dreamed too remote dreams, or followed 
a too wandering beauty. Mallarme* had long 
been too conscious that all publication is 
"almost a speculation, on one's modesty, for 
one's silence"; that "to unclench the fists, 
breaking one's sedentary dream, for a ruffling 
face to face with the idea," was after all 
unnecessary to his own conception of him- 
self, a mere way of convincing the public 
that one exists; and having achieved, as he 
thought, "the right to abstain from doing 
anything exceptional," he devoted himself, 
doubly, to silence. Seldom condescending to 
write, he wrote now only for himself, and 
in a manner which certainly saved him from 



194 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

intrusion. Some of Meredith's poems, and 
occasional passages of his prose, can alone 
give in English some faint idea of the later 
prose and verse of MaHamae". The verse 
could not, I think, be translated; of the 
prose, in which an extreme lucidity of thought 
comes to us but glimmeringly through the 
entanglements of a construction, part Latin, 
part English, I shall endeavour to translate 
some fragments, in speaking of the theo- 
retic writings, contained in the two volumes 
of Vers et Prose and Divagations. 



( It is the distinction of Mallarme* to have 
aspired after an impossible liberation of the 
soul of literature from what is fretting and 
constraining in "the body of that death," 
which is the mere literature of words. Words, 
he has realised, are of value only as a nota- 
tion of the free breath of the spirit; words, 
therefore, must be employed with an extreme 
care, in their choice and adjustment, in set- 
ting them to reflect and chime upon ono 
another; yet least of all for their own sake, 



STEPHANE MALLARMfi 195 

for Vhat they can never, except by suggestion, 
express. "Every soul is a melody," he has 
said, "which needs to be readjusted; and for 
that are the flute or viol of each." The word, ./ 
treated indeed with a kind of "adoration/' 
as he says, is so regarded in a magnificent, 
sense, In which it is apprehended as a living 
thing, itself the vision rather than the reality; 
at least the philtre of the evocation. The 
word, chosen as he chooses it, is for him a 
liberating principle, by which the spirit is 
extracted from matter; takes form, perhaps 
assumes immortality. Thus an artificiality, 
even, in the use of words, that seeming arti- 
ficiality which comes from using words as if 
they had never been used before, that chi- 
merical search after the virginity of language, 
is but the paradoxical outward sign of an 
extreme discontent with even the best of their 
service. Writers who use words fluently, 
seeming to disregard their importance, do so 
from an unconscious confidence in their ex- 
pressiveness, which the scrupulous thinker, 
the precise dreamer, can never place in the 
most carefully chosen among them. To evoke, 
by some elaborate, instantaneous magic of 



196 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

language, without the formality of an arter 
all impossible description; to be, rather than 
to express: that is what MallarmS has con- 
sistently, and from the first, sought in verse 
and prose. And he has sought this waader- 
ing, illusive, beckoning butterfly, the soul 
of dreams, over more and more entangled 
ground; and it has led him into the depths 
of many forests, far from the sunlight. To 
say that he has found what he sought is 
impossible; but (is it possible to avoid say- 
ing?) how heroic a search, and what marvel- 
lens discoveries by the way! 

I think I understand, though I cannot 
claim his own authority for my supposition, 
the way in which Mallarme wrote verse, and 
the reason why it became more and more 
abstruse, more and more unintelligible. Re- 
' member his principle: that to name is to 
destroy, to suggest is to create. Note, fur- 
ther, that he condemns the inclusion in verse 
of anything but, "for example, the horror 
of the forest, or the silent thunder afloat 
in the leaves; not the intrinsic, dense wood 
of the trees." He has received, then, a men- 
tal sensation: let it be the horror of the 




STfiPHANE MALLARME 197 

forest. This sensation begins to form in 
his brain, at first probably no more than a 
rhythm, absolutely without words. Gradu- 
ally thought begins to concentrate itself (but 
with an extreme care, lest it should break 
the tension on which all depends) upon the 
sensation, already struggling to find its own 
consciousness. Delicately, stealthily, with in- 
finitely timid precaution, words present them- 
selves, at first in silence. Every word seems 
like a desecration, seems, the clearer it is, 
to throw back the original sensation farther 
and farther into the darkness. But, guided 
always by the rhythm, which is the execu- 
tive soul (as, in Aristotle's definition, 
soul is the form of the body), words come 
slowly, one by one, shaping the message. 
Imagine the poem already written down, at 
least composed. In its very imperfection, it- 
is clear, it shows the links by which it has 
been riveted together; the whole process of 
its construction can be studied. Now most 
writers would be content; but with Mallarm6 
the work has only begun. In the final result 
there must be no sign of the making, there 
must be only the thing made. He works 



J 



198 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

over it, word by word, changing a word here, 
for its colour, which is not precisely the 
colour required, a word there, for the break 
it makes in the music. A new image occurs 
to him, rarer, subtler, than the one he has 
used; the image is transferred. By the time 
the poem has reached, as it seems to him, 
a flawless unity, the steps of the progress 
have been only too effectually effaced; and 
while the poet, who has seen the thing from 
the beginning, still sees the relation of point 
to point, the reader, who comes to it only 
in its final stage, finds himself in a not un- 
natural bewilderment. Pursue this manner 
of writing to its ultimate development; start 
with aj^enigma^^aiid^then withdraw the key 
ofliie^enigma;; and you arrive, easily, at the 
frozen impenetrability of those latest sonnets, 
in which the absence of all punctuation is 
scarcely a recognisable hindrance. 

That, I fancy to myself, was his actual way 
of writing; here, in what I prefer to give as a 
corollary, is the theory. " Symbolist, Deca- 
dent, or Mystic, the schools thus called by 
themselves, or thus hastily labelled by our 
information-press, adopt, for meeting-place, 



STEPHANE MALLARME 199 

the point of an Idealism which (similarly as 
in fugues, in sonatas) rejects the 'natural' 
materials, and, as brutal, a direct thought 
ordering them; to retain no more than sug- 
gestion. To be instituted, a relation between 
images, exact; and that therefrom should 
detach itself a third aspect, fusible and clear, 
offered to the divination. 



tension, aesthetically an error., despite its 
dominion over almost all the masterpieces, 
to enclose within the subtle paper other than, 
for example, the horror of the forest, or the 
silent thunder afloat in the leaves; not the 
intrinsic, dense wood of the trees. Some few 
bursts of personal pride, veridically trumpe^d, 
awaken the architecture of the palace, alone 
habitable; not of stone, on which the pages 
would close but ill." For example (it is his 
own): "I say: a flower ! and out of the oblivion 
to which my voice consigns every contour, so 
far as anything save the known calyx, music- 
ally arises, idea, and exquisite, the one flower 
absent from all bouquets. " ll The pure work/ 7 
then, " implies the elocutionary disappearance 
of the poet, who yields place to the words, V 
immobilised by the shock of their inequality; 



200 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

they take light from mutual reflection, like 
an actual trail of fire over precious stones, 
replacing the old lyric afflatus or the enthu- 
siastic personal direction of the phrase." 
"The verse which out of many vocables 
remakes an entire word, new, unknown to 
the language, and as if magical, attains this 
isolation of speech." Whence, it being "music 
which rejoins verse, to form, since Wagner, 
Poetry," the final conclusion: "That we are 
now precisely at the moment of seeking, be- 
fore that breaking up of the large rhythms of 
literature, and their scattering in articulate, 
almost instrumental, nervous waves, an art 
which shall complete the transposition, into 
the Book, of the symphony or simply recapture 
our own: for, it is not in elementary sonorities 
of brass, strings, wood, unquestionably, but 
in the intellectual word at its utmost, that, 
fully and evidently, we should find, drawing 
to itself all the correspondences of the uni- 
verse, the supreme Music." 

Here, literally translated, in exactly the 
arrangement of the original, are some pas- 
sages out of the theoretic writings, which I 
have brought together, to indicate what seem 






STEPHANE MALLARMfi 201 

to me the main lines of Mallarme^s doctrine. 
It is the doctrine which, as I have already 
said, had been divined by Gerard de Nerval; 
but what, in Gerard, was pure vision, be- ! 
comes in Mallarme a logical sequence of J 
meditation. MaHamae" was not a mystic, to 
whom anything came unconsciously; he was 
a thinker, in whom an extraordinary subtlety 
of mind was exercised on always explicit, 
though by no means the common, problems. 
"A seeker after something in the world, that 
is there in no satisfying measure, or not at 
all," he pursued his search with unwearying 
persistence with a sharp mental division of 
dream and idea, certainly very lucid to him- 
self, however he may have failed to render 
his expression clear to others. And I, for one, 
cannot doubt that he was, for the most part, 
entirely right in his statement and analysis of 
the new conditions under which we are now 
privileged or condemned to write. His ob- 
scurity was partly his failure to carry out the 
spirit of his own directions; but, apart from 
obscurity, which we may all be fortunate 
enough to escape, is it possible for a writer, 
at the present day, to be quite simple, with the 



202 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

old, objective simplicity, in either thought or 
expression? To be naif, to be archaic, is not 
to be either natural or simple; I affirm that 
it is not natural to be what is called " natural" 
any longer. We have no longer the mental 
attitude of those to whom a story was but a 
story, and all stories good; we have realised 
since it was proved to us by Poe, not merely 
that the age of epics is past, but that no long 
poem was ever written; the finest long poem 
in the world being but a series of short poems 
linked together by prose. And, naturally, we 
can no longer write what we can no longer 
accept. \ Symbolism, implicit in all literature 
from the beginning, as it is implicit in the very 
words we use, comes to us now, at last quite 
conscious of itself, offering us the only escape 
from our many imprisonments.^ We find a 
new, an older, sense in the so worn-out forms 
of things; the world, which we can no longer 
believe in as the satisfying material object it 
was to our grandparents, becomes transfigured 
with a new light; words, which long usage 
had darkened almost out of recognition, take 
fresh lustre, f And it is on the lines of that 
^spiritualising of the word, that perfecting of 






STEPHANE MALLARMfi 203 

form in its capacity for allusion and sugges- 
tion, that confidence in the eternal corre- 
spondences between the visible and the invis- 
ible universe, which Mallarme* taught, and too 
intermittently practised, that literature must 
now move, if it is in any sense to move forward. \ 



PAUL VERLAINE 



"BlEN affectueusement . . . yours, P. Ver- 
laine." So, in its gay and friendly mingling of 
French and English, ended the last letter I 
had from Verlaine. A few days afterwards 
came the telegram from Paris telling me of his 
death, in the Rue Descartes, on that 8th Jan- 
uary, 1896. 

"Condemned to death," as he was, in Vic- 
tor Hugo's phrase of men in general, "with a 
sort of indefinite reprieve," and gravely ill as 
I had for some time known him to be, it was still 
with a shock, not only of sorrow, but of sur- 
prise, that I heard the news of his death. He 
had suffered and survived so much, and I 
found it so hard to (associate the idea of death 
with one who had always been so passionately 
in love with life, more passionately in love 
with life than any man I ever knew. Rest 
was one of the delicate privileges of life which 

204 



PAUL VERLAINE 205 

he never loved: he did but endure it with 
grumbling gaiety when a hospital-bed claimed 
him. And whenever he spoke to me of the 
long rest which has now sealed his eyelids, it 
was with a shuddering revolt from the thought 
of ever going away into the cold, out of the 
sunshine which had been so warm to him. 
With all his pains, misfortunes, and the calam- 
ities which followed him step by step all his 
life, I think few men ever got so much out of 
their lives, or lived so fully, so intensely, with 
such a genius for living. That, indeed, is why 
he was a great poet. Verlaine was a man who 
gave its full value to every moment, who got 
out of every moment all that that moment 
had to give him. It was not always, not often, 
perhaps, pleasure. But it was energy, the 
vital force of a nature which was always receiv- 
ing and giving out, never at rest, never passive, 
or indifferent, or hesitating. It is impossible 
for me to convey to those who did not know 
him any notion of how sincere he was. The 
word "sincerity" seems hardly to have em- 
phasis enough to say, in regard to this one man, 
what it says, adequately enough, of others. 
He sinned, and it was with all his humanity; 



206 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

he repented, and it was with all his soul. And 
to every occurrence of the day, to every mood 
of the mind, to every impulse of the creative 
instinct, he brought the same unparalleled 
sharpness of sensation. When, in 1894, he 
was my guest in London, I was amazed by the 
exactitude of his memory of the mere turnings 
of the streets, the shapes and colours of the 
buildings, which he had not seen for twenty 
years. He saw, he felt, he remembered, every- 
thing, with an unconscious mental selection of 
the fine shades, the essential part of things, or 
precisely those aspects which most other people 
would pass by. 

Few poets of our time have been more often 
drawn, few have been easier to draw, few have 
better repaid drawing, than Paul Verlaine. 
A face without a beautiful line, a face all char- 
acter, full of somnolence and sudden fire, in 
which every irregularity was a kind of aid to 
the hand, could not but tempt the artist desir- 
ing at once to render a significant likeness and 
to have his own part in the creation of a pic- 
ture. Verlaine, like all men of genius, had 
something of the air of the somnambulist: 
that profound slumber of the face, as it was in 



PAUL VERLAINE 207 

him, with its startling awakenings. It was a 
face devoured by dreams, feverish and som- 
nolent; it had earthly passion, intellectual 
pride, spiritual humility; the air of one who 
remembers, not without an effort, who is lis- 
tening, half distractedly to something which 
other people do not hear; coming back so 
suddenly, and from so far, with the relief of 
one who steps out of that obscure shadow into 
the noisier forgetfulness of life. The eyes, 
often half closed, were like the eyes of a cat 
between sleeping and waking; eyes in which 
contemplation was " itself an act." A remark- 
able lithograph by Mr. Rothenstein (the face 
lit by oblique eyes, the folded hands thrust 
into the cheek) gives with singular truth the 
sensation of that restless watch on things which 
this prisoner of so many chains kept without 
slackening. To Verlaine every corner of the 
world was alive with tempting and consoling 
and terrifying beauty. I have never known 
any one to whom the sight of the eyes was so 
intense and imaginative a thing. To him, 
physical sight and spiritual vision, by some 
strange alchemical operation of the brain, 
were one. And in the disquietude of his face, 



208 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

which seemed to take such close heed of things, 
precisely because it was sufficiently apart from 
them to be always a spectator, there was a 
realisable process of vision continually going 
on, in which all the loose ends of the visible 
world were being caught up into a new mental 
fabric. 

And along with this fierce subjectivity, 
into which the egoism of the artist entered 
so unconsciously, and in which it counted for 
so much, there was more than the usual 
amount of childishness, always in some meas- 
ure present in men of genius. There was 
a real, almost blithe, childishness in the 
way in which he would put on his " Satanic" 
expression, of which it was part of the joke 
that every one should not be quite in the 
secret. It was a whim of this kind which 
made him put at the beginning of Romances 
sans Paroles that very criminal image of a 
head which had so little resemblance with 
even the shape, indeed curious enough, of 
his actual head. "Born under the sign of 
Saturn," as he no doubt was, with that "old 
prisoner's head" of which he tells us, it was 
by his amazing faculty for a simple kind of 






PAUL VERLAINE 209 

happiness . that he always impressed me. I 
have never seen so cheerful an invalid as he 
used to be at that hospital, the Hopital Saint- 
Louis, where at one time I, used to go and 
see him every week. His whole face seemed 
to chuckle as he would tell me, in his em- 
phatic, confiding way, everything that entered 
into his head; the droll stories cut short by 
a groan, a lamentation, a sudden fury of 
reminiscence, at which his face would cloud 
or convulse, the wild eyebrows slanting up 
and down; and then, suddenly, the good 
laugh would be back, clearing the ah*. No 
one was ever so responsive to his own moods 
as Verlaine, and with him every mood had 
the vehemence of a passion. Is not his 
whole art a delicate waiting upon moods, 
with that perfect confidence in them as they 
are, which it is a large part of ordinary edu- 
cation to discourage in us, and a large part 
of experience to repress? But to Verlaine, 
happily, experience taught nothing; or 
rather, it taught him only to cling the more 
closely to those moods in whose succession 
lies the more intimate part of our spiritual 
life. 



210 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

It is no doubt well for society that man 
should learn by experience; for the artist 
the benefit is doubtful. The artist, it cannot 
be too clearly understood, has no more part 
in society than a monk in domestic life: he 
cannot be judged by its rules, he can be 
neither praised not blamed for his acceptance 
or rejection of its conventions. Social rules 
are made by normal people for normal peo- 
ple, and the man of genius is fundamentally 
abnormal. It is the poet against society, 
society against the poet, a direct antagonism; 
the shock of which, however, it is often 
possible to avoid by a compromise. So much 
licence is allowed on the one side, so much 
liberty foregone on the other. The conse- 
quences are not always of the best, art being 
generally the loser. But there are certain 
natures to which compromise is impossible; 
and the nature of Verlaine was one of these 
natures. 

"The soul of an immortal child/' says 
one who has understood him better than 
others, Charles Morice, "that is the soul 
of Verlaine, with all the privileges and all 
the perils of so being; with the sudden 






PAUL VERLAINE 211 

despair so easily distracted, the vivid gaieties 
without a cause, the excessive suspicions 
and the excessive confidences, the whims so 
easily outwearied, the deaf and blind infatua- 
tions, with, especially, the unceasing renewal 
of impressions in the incorruptible integrity 
of personal vision and sensation. Years, in- 
fluences, teachings, may pass over a tem- 
perament such as this, may irritate it, may 
fatigue it; transform it, never never so 
much as to alter that particular unity which 
consists in a dualism, in the division of forces 
between the longing after what is evil and 
the adoration of what is good; or rather, 
in the antagonism of spirit and flesh. Other 
men ' arrange' then- lives, take sides, follow 
one direction; Verlaine hesitates before a 
choice, which seems to him monstrous, for, 
with the integral naivete of irrefutable human 
truth, he cannot resign himself, however 
strong may be the doctrine, however enticing 
may be the passion, to the necessity of sac- 
rificing one to the other, and from one to the 
other he oscillates without a moment's re- 
pose." 

It is in such a sense as this that Verlaine 



212 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

may be said to have learnt nothing from 
experience, in the sense that he learnt every- 
thing direct from life, and without com- 
paring day with day. That the exquisite 
artist of the Fetes Galantes should become 
the great poet of Sagesse, it was needful that 
things should have happened as disastrously 
as they did: the marriage with the girl- 
wife, that brief idyl, the passion for drink, 
those other forbidden passions, vagabondage, 
an attempted crime, the eighteen months of 
prison, conversion; followed, as it had to be, 
by relapse, bodily sickness, poverty, beggary 
almost, a lower and lower descent into mean 
distresses. It was needful that all this should 
happen, in order that the spiritual vision 
should eclipse the material vision; but it 
was needful that all this should happen in 
vain, so far as the conduct of life was con- 
cerned. Reflection, in Verlaine, is pure waste; 
it is the speech of the soul and the speech of 
the eyes, that we must listen to in his verse, 
never the speech of the reason. And I call 
him fortunate because, going through life with 
a great unconsciousness of what most men 
spend their lives in considering, he was able 



PAUL VERLAINE 213 

to abandon himself entirely to himself, to his 
unimpeded vision, to his unchecked emotion, 
to the passionate sincerity which in him was 
genius. 



French poetry, before Verlaine, was an 
admirable vehicle for a really fine, a really 
poetical, kind of rhetoric. With Victor Hugo, 
for the first time since Ronsard (the~two or 
three masterpieces of Ronsard and his com- 
panions) it had learnt to sing; with Baudelaire 
it had invented a new vocabulary for the 
expression of subtle, often perverse, essen- 
tially modern emotion and sensation. But 
with Victor Hugo, with Baudelaire, we are 
still under the dominion of rhetoric. "Take 
eloquence, and wring its. neck!" said Verlaine 
in his Art Poetique; and he showed, by writ- 
ing it, that French verse could be written 
without rhetoric. It was partly from his 
study of English models that he learnt the 
secret of liberty in verse, but it was much 
more a secret found by the way, in the mere 
endeavour to be absolutely sincere, to express 
exactly what he saw, to give voice to his own 



214 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

temperament, in which intensity of feeling 
seemed to find its own expression, as if by 
accident. L'art, mes enfants, c'est d'etre ab- 
solument soi-meme, he tells us in one of his 
later poems; and, with such a personality as 
Verlaine's to express, what more has art to 
do, if it would truly, and in any interesting 
manner, hold the mirror up to nature? 

For, consider the natural qualities which 
this man had for the task of creating a new 
poetry. "Sincerity, and the impression of 
the moment followed to the letter": that 
is how he defined his theory of style, in an 
article written about himself. 

Car nous voulons la nuance encor, 
Pas la couleur, rien que la nuance! 

as he cries, in his famous Art Poetique. Take, 
then, his susceptibility of the senses, an emo- 
tional susceptibility not less delicate; a life 
sufficiently troubled to draw out every emotion 
of which he was capable, and, with it, that 
absorption in the moment, that inability to 
look before or after; the need to love and 
the need to confess, each a passion; an art 
of painting the fine shades of landscape, of 
evoking atmosphere, which can be compared 



PAUL VERLAINE 



215 



only with the art of Whistler; a simplicity of 
language which is the direct outcome of a 
simplicity of temperament, with just enough 
consciousness of itself for a final elegance; 
and, at the very depth of his being, an almost 
fierce humility, by which the passion of love, 
after searching furiously through all his crea- 
tures, finds God by the way, and kneels in 
the dust before him. Verlaine was never a 
theorist: he left theories to Mallarme'. He 
had only his divination; and he divined that 
poetry, always desiring that miracles should 
happen, had never waited patiently enough 
upon the miracle. It was by that proud and 
humble mysticism of his temperament that he 
came to realise how much could be done by, 
in a sense, trying to do nothing. 

And then: De la musique avant toute chose; 
De la musique encore et toujours! There are 
poems of Verlaine which go as far as verse can 
go to become pure music, the voice of a bird 
with a human soul. It is part of his simplicity, 
his divine childishness, that he abandons him- 
self, at times, to the song which words begin 
to sing in the air, with the same wise confi- 
dence with which he abandons himself to the 



216 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

other miracles about him. He knows that 
words are living things, which we have not 
created, and which go their way without de- 
manding of us the right to live. He knows 
that words are suspicious, not without their 
malice, and that they resist mere for^e with 
the impalpable resistance of fire or water. 
They are to be caught only with guile or with 
trust. Verlaine has both, and words become 
Ariel to him. TLey bring him not only that 
submission of the slave which they bring to 
others, but all the soul, and in a happy bond- 
age. They transform themselves for him into 
music, colour, and shadow; a disembodied 
music, diaphanous colours, luminous shadow. 
They serve him with so absolute a self -negation 
that he can write romances sans paroles, songs 
almost without words, in which scarcely a 
sense of the interference of human speech 
remains. The ideal of lyric poetry, certainly, 
is to be this passive, flawless medium for the 
deeper consciousness of things, the mysterious 
voice of that mystery which lies about us, out 
of which we have come, and into which we 
shall return. It is not without reason that we 
cannot analyse a perfect lyric. 






PAUL VERLAINE 217 

With Verlaine the sense of hearing and the 
sense of sight are almost interchangeable: 
he paints with sound, and his line and atmos- 
phere become music. It was with the most 
precise accuracy that Whistler applied the 
terms of music to his painting, for painting, 
when it aims at being the vision of reality, 
pas la couleur, rien que la nuance, passes 
almost into the condition of music. Verlaine's 
landscape painting is always an evocation, in 
which outline is lost in atmosphere. 

C'est des beaux yeux derriere des voiles, 
C'est le grand jour tremblant de midi, 
C'est, par un ciel d'automne atti6di, 

Le bleu fouillis des claires e"toiles! 

He was a man, certainly, "for whom the 
visible world existed," but for whom it existed 
always as a vision. He absorbed it through 
all his senses, as the true mystic absorbs the 
divine beauty. And so he created in verse a 
new voice for nature, full of the humble ecstasy 
with which he saw, listened, accepted. 

Cette ame qui se lamente 
En cette plaine dormante 

C'est la notre, n'est-ce pas? 
La mienne, dis, et la tienne, 
Dont s'exhale Thumble antienne 

Par ce tiede soir, tout bas? 



218 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

And with the same attentive simplicity 
with which he found words for the sensations 
of hearing and the sensations of sight, he 
found words for the sensations of the soul, 
for the fine shades of feeling. From the 
moment when his inner life may be said to 
have begun, he was occupied with the task of 
an unceasing confession, in which one seems 
to overhear him talking to himself, in that 
vague, preoccupied way which he often had. 
Here again are words which startle one by 
their delicate resemblance to thoughts, by 
their winged flight from so far, by their alight- 
ing so close. The verse murmurs, with such 
an ingenuous confidence, such intimate secrets. 
That " setting free" of verse, which is one of 
the achievements of Verlaine, was itself mainly 
an attempt to be more and more sincere, a 
way of turning poetic artifice to new account, 
by getting back to nature itself, hidden away 
under the eloquent rhetoric of Hugo, Bau- 
delaire, and the Parnassians. In the devo- 
tion of rhetoric to either beauty or truth, there 
is a, certain consciousness of an audience, of 
an external judgment: rhetoric would con- 
vince, be admired. It is the very essence of 






PAUL VERLAINE 219 

poetry to be unconscious of anything between 
its own moment of flight and the supreme 
beauty which it will never attain. Verlaine 
taught French poetry that wise and subtle un- 
consciousness. It was in so doing that he 
''fused his personality, " in the words of Ver- 
haeren, "so profoundly with beauty, that he 
left upon it the imprint of a new and hence- 
forth eternal attitude." 



J'ai la fureur d'aimer, says Verlaine, in a 
passage of very personal significance. 

J'ai la fureur d'aimer. Mon coeur si faible est fou. 

N'importe quand, n'importe quel et n'importe ou, 

Qu'un Eclair de beaut6, de vertu, de vaillance, 

Luise, il s'y prcipite, il y vole, il y lance, 

Et, le temps d'une 6treinte, il embrasse cent fois 

L'etre ou 1'objet qu'il a poursuivi de son choix; 

Puis, quand 1' illusion a replie son aile, 

II revient triste et seul bien souvent, mais fidele, 

Et laissant aux ingrats quelque chose de lui, 

Sang ou chair .... 

J'ai la fureur d'aimer. Qu'y faire? Ah, laissez faire! 

And certainly this admirable, and supremely 
dangerous, quality was at the root of Verlaine' s 
nature. Instinctive, unreasoning as he was, 



220 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

entirely at the mercy of the emotion or im- 
pression which, for the moment, had seized 
upon him, it was inevitable that he should be 
completely at the mercy of the most imperious 
of instincts, of passions, and of intoxications. 
And he had the simple and ardent nature, in 
this again consistently childlike, to which love, 
some kind of affection, given or returned, is 
not the luxury, the exception, which it is to 
many natures, but a daily necessity. To such 
a temperament there may or may not be the 
one great passion; there will certainly be many 
passions. And in Verlaine I find that single, 
childlike necessity of loving and being loved, 
all through his life and on every page of his 
works; I find it, unchanged in essence, but 
constantly changing form, in his chaste and 
unchaste devotions to women, in his passionate 
friendships with men, in his supreme mystical 
adoration of God. 

To turn from La Bonne Chanson, written 
for a wedding present to a young wife, to 
Chansons pour Elle, written more than twenty 
years later, in dubious honour of a middle- 
aged mistress, is to travel a long road, the hard, 
long road which Verlaine had travelled during 



PAUL VERLAINE 221 

those years. His life was ruinous, a disaster, 
more sordid perhaps than the life of any other 
poet; and he could write of it, from a hospital- 
bed, with this quite sufficient sense of its 
deprivations. "But all the same, it is hard," 
he laments, in Mes Hopitaux, "after a life of 
work, set off, I admit, with accidents in which 
I have had a large share, catastrophes perhaps 
vaguely premeditated it is hard, I say, at 
forty-seven years of age, in full possession of 
all the reputation (of the success, to use the 
frightful current phrase) to which my highest 
ambitions could aspire hard, hard, hard in- 
deed, worse than hard, to find myself good 
God! to find myself on the streets, and to have 
nowhere to lay my head and support an ageing 
body save the pillows and the menus of a public 
charity, even now uncertain, and which might 
at any moment be withdrawn God forbid! 
without, apparently, the fault of any one, oh! 
not even, and above all, not mine." Yet, 
after all, these sordid miseries, this poor man's 
vagabondage, all the misfortunes of one cer- 
tainly "irreclaimable," on which so much 
stress has been laid, alike by friends and by 
foes, are externalities; they are not the man; 



222 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

the man, the eternal lover, passionate and 
humble, remains unchanged, while only his 
shadow wanders, from morning to night of the 
long day. 

The poems to Rimbaud, to Lucien L6tinois, 
to others, the whole volume of D6dicaces, 
cover perhaps as wide a range of sentiment 
as La Bonne Chanson and Chansons pour Elle. 
The poetry of friendship has never been sung 
with such plaintive sincerity, such simple 
human feeling, as in some of these poems, 
which can only be compared, in modern poetry, 
with a poem for which Verlaine had a great 
admiration, Tennyson's In Memoriam. Only 
with Verlaine, the thing itself, the affection or 
the regret, is everything; there is no room for 
meditation over destiny, or search for a prob- 
lematical consolation. Other poems speak a 
more difficult language, in which, doubtless, 
V ennui di vivre avec les gens et dans les chases 
counts for much, and la fureur d'aimer for 
more. 

In spite of the general impression to the 
contrary, an impression which by no means 
displeased him himself, I must contend that 
the sensuality of Verlaine, brutal as it could 






PAUL VERLAINE 223 

sometimes be, was after all simple rather than 
complicated, instinctive rather than perverse. 
In the poetry of Baudelaire, with which the 
poetry of Verlaine is so often compared, there 
is a deliberate science of sensual perversity 
which has something almost monachal in its 
accentuation of vice with horror, in its pas- 
sionate devotion to passions. Baudelaire brings 
every complication of taste, the exasperation of 
perfumes, the irritant of cruelty, the very 
odours and colours of corruption, to the cre- 
ation and adornment of a sort of religion, in 
which an eternal mass is served before a veiled 
altar. There is no confession, no absolution, 
not a prayer is permitted which is not set down 
in the ritual. With Verlaine, however often 
love may pass into sensuality, to whatever 
length sensuality may be hurried, sensuality 
is never more than the malady of love. It 
is love desiring the absolute, seeking in vain, 
seeking always, and, finally, out of the depths, 
finding God. 

Verlaine's conversion took place while he 
was in prison, during those solitary eighteen 
months in company with his thoughts, that 
enforced physical inactivity, which could but 



224 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

concentrate his whole energy on the only 
kind of sensation then within his capacity, the 
sensations of the soul and of the conscience. 
With that promptitude of abandonment which 
was his genius, he grasped feverishly at the 
succour of God and the Church, he abased 
himself before the immaculate purity of the 
Virgin. He had not, like others who have 
risen from the same depths to the same height 
of humiliation, to despoil his nature of its pride, 
to conquer his intellect, before he could become 
I'enfant vetu de laine et d'innocence. All that 
was simple, humble, childlike in him accepted 
that humiliation with the loving child's joy in 
penitence; all that was ardent, impulsive, in- 
domitable in him burst at once into a flame of 
adoration. 

He realised the great secret of the Christian 
mystics: that it is possible to love God with 
an extravagance of the whole being, to which 
the love of the creature cannot attain. All 
love is an attempt to break through the 
loneliness of individuality, to fuse oneself 
with something not oneself, to give and to 
receive, in all the warmth of natural desire, 
that inmost element which remains, so cold 



PAUL VERLAINE 225 

and so invincible, in the midst of the soul. 
It is a desire of the infinite in humanity, and, 
as humanity has its limits, it can but return 
sadly upon itself when that limit is reached. 
Thus human love is not only an ecstasy but 
a despair, and the more profound a despair 
the more ardently it is returned. 

But the love of God, considered only from 
its human aspect, contains at least the illusion 
of infinity. To love God is to love the ab- 
solute, so far as the mind of man can con- 
ceive the absolute, and thus, in a sense, to 
love God is to possess the absolute, for love 
has already possessed that which it appre- 
hends. What the earthly lover realises to 
himself as the image of his beloved is, after 
all, his own vision of love, not her. God must 
remain deus absconditus, even to love; but the 
lover, incapable of possessing infinity, will have 
possessed all of infinity of which he is capable. 
And his ecstasy will be flawless. The human 
mind, meditating on infinity, can but discover 
perfection beyond perfection; for it is im- 
possible to conceive of limitation in any 
aspect of that which has once been conceived 
as infinite. In place of that deception which 



226 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

comes from the shock of a boundary-line 
beyond which humanity cannot conceive of 
humanity, there is only a divine rage against 
the limits of human perception, which by 
their own failure seem at last to limit for us 
the infinite itself. For once, love finds itself 
bounded only by its own capacity; so far 
does the love of God exceed the love of the 
creature, and so far would it exceed that love 
if God did not exist. 

But if He does exist! if, outside humanity, 
a conscient, eternal perfection, who has made 
the world in his image, loves the humanity 
He has made, and demands love in return! 
If the spirit of his love is as a breath over 
the world, suggesting, strengthening, the love 
which it desires, seeking man that man may 
seek God, itself the impulse which it humbles 
itself to accept at man's hands; if indeed, 

Mon Dieu m'a dit: mon fils, il faut m'aimer; 

how much more is this love of God, in its 
inconceivable acceptance and exchange, the 
most divine, the only unending intoxication, 
in the world! Well, it is this realised sense 
of communion, point by point realised, and 



PAUL VERLAINE 227 

put into words, more simple, more human, 
more instinctive than any poet since the 
mediaeval mystics has found for the delights 
of this intercourse, that we find in Sagesse, 
and in the other religious poems of Ver- 
laine. 

But, with Verlaine, the love of God is not 
merely a rapture, it is a thanksgiving for 
forgiveness. Lying in wait behind all the 
fair appearances of the world, he remembers 
the old enemy, the flesh; and the sense of 
sin (that strange paradox of the reason) is 
childishly strong in him. He laments his 
offence, he sees not only the love but the 
justice of God, and it seems to him, as in 
a picture, that the little hands of the Virgin 
are clasped in petition for him. Verlaine's 
religion is the religion of the Middle Ages. 
Je suis catholique, he said to me, mais . . . 
catholique du moyen-dge ! He might have 
written the ballad which Villon made for his 
mother, and with the same visual sense of 
heaven and hell. Like a child, he tells his 
sins over, promises that he has put them 
behind him, and finds such naive, human 
words to express his gratitude. The Virgin 



228 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

is really, to him, mother and friend; he 
delights in the simple, peasant humanity, 
still visible in her who is also the Mys- 
tical Rose, the Tower of Ivory, the Gate of 
Heaven, and who now extends her hands, 
in the gesture of pardon, from a throne only 
just lower than the throne of God. 



Experience, I have said, taught Verlaine 
nothing; religion had no more stable influence 
upon his conduct then experience. In that 
apology for himself which he wrote under 
the anagram of " Pauvre Lelian," he has 
stated the case with his usual sincerity. "I 
believe," he says, "and I sin in thought as 
in action; I believe, and I repent in thought, 
if no more. Or again, I believe, and I am 
a good Christian at this moment; I believe, 
and I am a bad Christian the instant after. 
The remembrance, the hope, the invocation of 
a sin delights me, with or without remorse, 
sometimes under the very form of sin, and 
hedged with all its natural consequences; 
more often so strong, so natural and animal, 



PAUL VERLAINE 229 

are flesh and blood just in the same manner 
as the remembrances, hopes, invocations of 
any carnal freethinker. This delight, I, you, 
some one else, writers, it pleases us to put to 
paper and publish more or less well expressed: 
we consign it, in short, into literary form, 
forgetting all religious ideas, or not letting 
one of them escape us. Can any one in good 
faith condemn us as poet? A hundred times 
no." And, indeed, I would echo, a hundred 
times no! It is just this apparent complica- 
tion of what is really a great simplicity which 
gives its singular value to the poetry of 
Verlaine, permitting it to sum up in itself 
the whole paradox of humanity, and especi- 
ally the weak, passionate, uncertain, troubled 
century to which we belong, in which so 
many doubts, negations, and distresses seem, 
now more than ever, to be struggling towards 
at least an ideal of spiritual consolation. 
Verlaine is the poet of these weaknesses 
and of that ideal. 

[See also account given in "Bibliography and Notes," page 
351.] 



I. JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 

THE novels of Huysmans, however we may 
regard them as novels, are, at all events, the 
sincere and complete expression of a very 
remarkable personality. From Marthe to Ld- 
Bas every story, every volume, disengages 
the same atmosphere the atmosphere of a 
London November, when mere existence is a 
sufficient burden, and the little miseries of life 
loom up through the fog into a vague and 
formidable grotesqueness. Here, for once, is 
a pessimist whose philosophy is mere sensa- 
tion and sensation, after all, is the one cer- 
tainty in a world which may be well or ill 
arranged, for ultimate purposes, but which is 
certainly, for each of us, what each of us feels 
it to be. To Huysmans the world appears 
to be a profoundly uncomfortable, unpleas- 
ant, ridiculous place, with a certain solace in 
various forms of art, and certain possibilities 
of at least temporary escape. Part of his 
work presents to us a picture of ordinary life 

230 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 231 

as he conceives it, in its uniform trivial 
wretchedness; in another part he has made 
experiment in directions which have seemed 
to promise escape, relief; in yet other por- 
tions he has allowed himself the delight of 
his sole enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of art. 
He himself would be the first to acknowl- 
edge indeed, practically, he has acknowledged 
that the particular way in which he sees 
life is a matter of personal temperament 
and constitution, a matter of nerves. The 
Goncourts have never tired of insisting on 
the fact of their nevrose, of pointing out its 
importance in connection with the form and 
structure of their work, their touch on style, 
even. To them the maladie fin de siecle has 
come delicately, as to the chlorotic fine 
ladies of the Faubourg Saint-Germain: it 
has sharpened their senses to a point of morbid 
acuteness, it has given then* work a certain 
feverish beauty. To Huysmans it has given 
the exaggerated horror of whatever is ugly 
and unpleasant, with the fatal instinct of 
discovering, the fatal necessity of contemplat- 
ing, every flaw and every discomfort that a 
somewhat imperfect world can offer for in- 



232 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

spection. It is the transposition of the ideal. 
Relative values are lost, for it is the sense of the 
disagreeable only that is heightened; and 
the world, in this strange disorder of vision, 
assumes an aspect which can only be com- 
pared with that of a drop of impure v;ater 
under the microscope. " Nature seen through 
a temperament" is Zola's definition of all 
art. Nothing, certainly, could be more exact 
and expressive as a definition of the art of 
Huysmans. 

To realise how faithfully and how com- 
pletely Huysmans has revealed himself in all 
he has written, it is necessary to know the 
man. "He gave me the impression of a 
cat," some interviewer once wrote of him; 
"courteous, perfectly polite, almost amiable, 
but all nerves, ready to shoot out his claws 
at the least word." And indeed, there is 
something of his favourite animal about 
him. The face is grey, wearily alert, with 
a look of benevolent malice. At first sight 
it is commonplace, the features are ordinary, 
one seems to have seen it at the Bourse or 
the Stock Exchange. But gradually that 
strange, unvarying expression, that look of 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 233 

benevolent malice, grows upon you as the 
influence of the man makes itself felt. I 
have seen Huysmans in his office he is an 
employe* in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 
and a model employe; I have seen him in a 
cafe*, in various houses; but I always see 
him in memory as I used to see him at the 
house of the bizarre Madame X. He leans 
back on the sofa, rolling a cigarette between 
his thin, expressive fingers, looking at no 
one and at nothing, while Madame X moves 
about with solid vivacity in the midst of 
her extraordinary menagerie of bric-a-brac. 
The spoils of all the world are there, in that 
incredibly tiny salon; they lie underfoot, 
they climb up walls, they cling to screens, 
brackets, and tables; one of your elbows 
menaces a Japanese toy, the other a Dresden 
china shepherdess; all the colours of the 
rainbow clash in a barbaric discord of notes. 
And in a corner of this fantastic room, 
Huysmans lies back indifferently on the 
sofa, with the air of one perfectly resigned J 
to the boredom of life. Something is said 
by my learned friend who is to write for the 
new periodical, or perhaps it is the young 



234 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

editor of the new periodical who speaks, or 
(if that were not impossible) the taciturn 
Englishman who accompanies me; and Huys- 
mans, without looking up, and without tak- 
ing the trouble to speak very distinctly, 
picks up the phrase, transforms it, more 
likely transpierces it, in a perfectly turned 
sentence, a phrase of impromptu elabora- 
tion. Perhaps it is only a stupid book that 
some one has mentioned, or a stupid woman; 
as he speaks, the book looms up before one, 
becomes monstrous in its dulness, a master- 
piece and miracle of imbecility; the unim- 
portant little woman grows into a slow horror 
before your eyes. It is always the unpleasant 
aspect of things that he seizes, but the inten- 
sity of his revolt from that unpleasantness 
brings a touch of the sublime into the very 
expression of his disgust. Every sentence is 
an epigram, and every epigram slaughters a 
reputation or an idea. He speaks with an 
accent as of pained surprise, an amused look 
of contempt, so profound that it becomes 
almost pity, for human inbecility. 

Yes, that is the true Huysmans, the Huys- 
mans of A Rebours, and it is just such sur- 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 235 

roundings that seem to bring out his peculiar 
quality. With this contempt for humanity, 
this hatred of mediocrity, this passion for a 
somewhat exotic kind of modernity, an artist 
who is so exclusively an artist was sure, one 
day or another, to produce a work which, 
being produced to please himself, and being 
entirely typical of himself, would be, in a 
way, the quintessence of contemporary De- 
cadence. And it is precisely such a book that 
Huysmans has written, in the extravagant, 
astonishing A Eebours. All his other books 
are a sort of unconscious preparation for this 
one book, a sort of inevitable and scarcely 
necessary sequel to it. They range them- 
selves along the line of a somewhat erratic 
development, from Baudelaire, through Gon- 
court, by way of Zola, to the surprising 
originality of so disconcerting an exception to 
any and every order of things. . 

The descendant of a long line of Dutch 
painters one of whom, Cornelius Huysmans, 
has a certain fame among the lesser land- 
scape men of the great period Joris-Karl 
Huysmans was born at Paris, February 5, 
1848. His first book, Le Drageoir a Epices, 



THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

published at the age of twenty-six, is a 
pasticcio of prose poems, done after Baude- 
laire, of little sketches, done after Dutch 
artists, together with a few studies of 
Parisian landscape, done after nature. It 
shows us the careful, laboured work of a 
really artistic temperament; it betrays here 
and there, the spirit of acrimonious observa- 
tion which is to count for so much with 
Huysmans in the crude malice of L'Extase, 
for example, in the notation of the " rich- 
ness of tone," the "superb colouring," of an 
old drunkard. And one sees already some- 
thing of the novelty and the precision of his 
description, the novelty and the unpleasant- 
ness of the subjects which he chooses to 
describe, in this vividly exact picture of the 
carcass of a cow hung up outside a butcher's 
shop: "As in a hothouse, a marvellous vege- 
tation flourished in the carcass. Veins shot 
out on every side like trails of bind-weed; 
dishevelled branch-work extended itself along 
the body, an efflorescence of entrails unfurled 
their violet-tinted corollas, and big clusters 
of fat stood out, a sharp white, against the 
red medley of quivering flesh." 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 237 

In Marthe: histoire d'une fille, which fol- 
owed in 1876, two years later, Huysmans is 
almost as far from actual achievement as 
in Le Drageoir a Epices, but the book, in its 
crude attempt to deal realistically, and some- 
what after the manner of Goncourt, with the 
ife of a prostitute of the lowest depths, marks 
a considerable advance upon the somewhat 
casual experiments of his earlier manner. It is 
mportant to remember that Marthe preceded 
La Fille Elisa and Nana. "I write what I see, 
what I feel, and what I have experienced," 
says the brief and defiant preface, "and I 
write it as well as I can: that is all. This ex- 
planation is not an excuse, it is simply the 
statement of the aim that I pursue in art." 
Explanation or excuse notwithstanding, the 
3ook was forbidden to be sold in France. It is 
Naturalism in its earliest and most pitiless 
stage Naturalism which commits the error 
of evoking no sort of interest in this unhappy 
creature who rises a little from her native gut- 
ter, only to fall back more woefully into the 
gutter again. Goncourt's Elisa at least in- 
terests us; Zola's Nana at all events appeals 
to our senses. But Marthe is a mere docu- 



238 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

ment, like her story. Notes have been taken 
no doubt sur le vif they have been strung to- 
gether, and here they are with only an interest- 
ing brutality, a curious sordidness to note, in 
these descriptions that do duty for psychology 
and incident alike, in the general flatness of 
character, the general dislocation of episode. 

Les Soeurs Vatard, published in 1879, and 
the short story Sac au Dos, which appeared 
in 1880 in the famous Zolaist manifesto, Les 
Soirees de Medan, show the influence of Les 
Rougon-Macquart rather than of Germinie 
Lacerteux. For the time the "formula" of 
Zola has been accepted: the result is, a re- 
markable piece of work, but a story without a 
story, a frame without a picture. With Zola, 
there is at all events a beginning and an end, 
a chain of events, a play of character upon 
incident. But in Les SMUTS Vatard there is 
no reason for the narrative ever beginning or 
ending; there are miracles of description the 
workroom, the rue de Sevres, the locomotives, 
the Foire du pain d'epice which lead to noth- 
ing; there are interiors, there are interviews, 
there are the two work-girls, Celine and De- 
sire*e, and their lovers; there is what Zola him- 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 239 

self described as tout ce milieu ouvrier, ce coin 
de misere et d'ignorance, de tranquille ordure et 
d'air naturellement empeste. And with it all 
there is a heavy sense of stagnancy, a dreary 
lifelessness. All that is good in the book reap- 
pears, in vastly better company, in En Manage 
(1881), a novel which is, perhaps, more in the 
direct line of heritage from L' Education Senti- 
mentale the starting-point of the Naturalistic 
novel than any other novel of the Naturalists. 
En Menage is the story of "Monsieur Tout- 
le-monde, an insignificant personality, one of 
those poor creatures who have not even the 
supreme consolation of being able to complain 
of any injustice in their fate, for an injustice 
supposes at all events a misunderstood merit, 
a force." Andre* is the reduction to the bour- 
geois formula of the invariable hero of Huys- 
mans. He is just enough removed from the 
commonplace to suffer from it with acuteness. 
He cannot get on either with or without a 
woman in his establishment. Betrayed by his 
wife, he consoles himself with a mistress, and 
finally goes back to the wife. And the moral 
of it all is: "Let us be stupidly comfortable, if 
we can, in any way we can: but it is almost 



240 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

certain that we cannot." In A Vau-VEau, a 
less interesting story which followed En Me- 
nage, the daily misery of the respectable M. 
Folantin, the government employe", consists 
in the impossible search for a decent restau- 
rant, a satisfactory dinner: for M. Folantin, 
too, there is only the same counsel of a desper- 
ate, an inevitable resignation. Never has the 
intolerable monotony of small inconveniences 
been so scrupulously, so unsparingly chron- 
icled, as in these two studies in the heroic 
degree of the commonplace. It happens to 
Andre, at a certain epoch in his life, to take 
back an old servant who had left him many 
years before. He finds that she has exactly 
the same defects as before, and "to find them 
there again/' comments the author, "did not 
displease him. He had been expecting them 
all the time, he saluted them as old acquaint- 
ances, yet with a certain surprise, notwith- 
standing, to see them neither grown nor dimin- 
ished. He noted for himself with satisfaction 
that the stupidity of his servant had remained 
stationary/' On another page, referring to 
the inventor of cards, Huysmans defines him 
as one who "did something towards suppressing 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 241 

the free exchange of human imbecility. " Hav- 
ing to say in passing that a girl has returned 
from a ball, "she was at home again/' he ob- 
serves, " after the half -dried sweat of the 
waltzes." In this invariably sarcastic turn of 
the phrase, this absoluteness of contempt, this 
insistence on the disagreeable, we find the note 
of Huysmans, particularly at this point in his 
career, when, like Flaubert, he forced himself 
to contemplate and to analyse the more medi- 
ocre manifestations of la betise humaine. 

There is a certain perversity in this furious 
contemplation of stupidity, this fanatical in- 
sistence on the exasperating attraction of the 
sordid and the disagreeable; and it is by such 
stages that we come to A Rebours. But on the 
way we have to note a volume of Croquis 
Parisiens (1880), in which the virtuoso who is 
a part of the artist in Huysmans has executed 
some of his most astonishing feats; and a 
volume on UArt Moderne (1883), in which the 
most modern of artists in literature has ap- 
plied himself to the criticism the revelation, 
rather of modernity in art. In the latter, 
Huysmans was the first to declare the suprem- 
acy of Degas "the greatest artist that we 



242 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

possess to-day in France " while announcing 
with no less fervour the remote, reactionary, 
and intricate genius of Gustave Moreau. He 
was the first to discover Raffaelli, "the painter 
of poor people and the open sky a sort of 
Parisian Millet, " as he called him; the first to 
discover Forain, "le veritable peintre de la 
fille"', the first to discover Odilon Redon, to 
do justice to Pissaro and Paul Gauguin. No 
literary artist since Baudelaire has made so 
valuable a contribution to art criticism, and 
the Curiosites Esthetiques are, after all, less 
exact in their actual study, less revolutionary, 
and less really significant in their critical judg- 
ments, than UArt Moderne. The Croquis 
Parisiens, which, in its first edition, was illus- 
trated by etchings of Forain and Raffaelli, is 
simply the attempt to do in words what those 
artists have done in aquafortis or in pastel. 
There are the same Parisian types the omni- 
bus-conductor, the washerwoman, the man who 
sells hot chestnuts the same impressions of a 
sick and sorry landscape, La Bievre, for prefer- 
ence, in all its desolate and lamentable attrac- 
tion; there is a marvellously minute series of 
studies of that typically Parisian music-hall, 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 243 

the Folies-Bergere. Huysmans' faculty of de- 
scription is here seen at its fullest stretch of 
agility; precise, suggestive, with all the outline 
and colour of actual brush-work, it might even 
be compared with the art of Degas, only there 
is just that last touch wanting, that breath of 
palpitating life, which is what we always get 
in Degas, what we never get in Huysmans. j 
In VArt Moderne, speaking of the water- 
colours of Forain, Huysmans attributes to 
them "a specious and cherche art, demanding, 
for its appreciation, a certain initiation, a 
certain special sense. " To realise the full value, 
the real charm, of A Rebours y some such initia- 
tion might be deemed necessary. In its fan- 
tastic unreality, its exquisite artificiality, it is 
the natural sequel of En Menage and A Vau- 
VEau, which are so much more acutely sordid 
than the most sordid kind of real life; it is the 
logical outcome of that hatred and horror of 
human mediocrity, of the mediocrity of daily 
existence, which we have seen to be the special 
form of Huysmans 7 nevrose. The motto, taken 
from a thirteenth-century mystic, Rusbroeck 
the Admirable, is a cry for escape, for the 
" something in the world that is there in no 



244 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

satisfying measure, or not at all": II faut que 
je me rejouisse au-dessus du temps . . . quoique 
le monde ait horreur de ma joie et que sa grossi- 
erete ne sache pas ce que je veux dire. And the 
book is the history of a Thebaide raffinee a 
voluntary exile from the world in a new kind 
of "Palace of Art." Des Esseintes, the vague 
but typical hero, is one of those half-patho- 
logical cases which help us to understand the 
full meaning of the word decadence, which they 
partly represent. The last descendant of an 
ancient family, his impoverished blood tainted 
by all sorts of excesses, Des Esseintes finds 
himself at thirty sur le chemin, degrise, seul, 
abominablement lasse. He has already realised 
that "the world is divided, in great part, into 
swaggerers and simpletons." His one desire 
is to "hide himself away, far from thejvorld, 
in some retreat, where he might deaden the 
sound of the loud rumbling of inflexible life, as 
one covers the street with straw, for sick 
people." This retreat he discovers, just far 
enough from Paris to be safe from disturbance, 
just near enough to be saved from the nostalgia 
of the unattainable. He succeeds in making 
his house a paradise of the artificial, choosing 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 245 

the tones of colour that go best with candle- 
light, for it need scarcely be said that Des 
Esseintes has effected a simple transposition 
of night and day. His disappearance from the 
world has been complete; it seems to him that 
the " comfortable desert " of his exile need never 
cease to be just such a luxurious solitude; it 
seems to him that he has attained his desire, 
that he has attained to happiness. 

Disturbing physical symptoms harass him 
from time to time, but they pass. It is an 
effect of nerves that now and again he is 
haunted by remembrance; the recurrence of 
a perfume, the reading of a book, brings 
back a period of life when his deliberate per- 
versity was exercised actively in matters of 
the senses. There are his fantastic banquets, 
his fantastic amours: the repas de deuil, Miss 
Urania the acrobat, the episode of the ven- 
triloquist-woman and the reincarnation of the 
Sphinx and the Chimsera of Flaubert, the epi- 
sode of the boy chez Madame Laure. A casual 
recollection brings up the schooldays of his 
childhood with the Jesuits, and with that the 
beliefs of childhood, the fantasies of the Church, 
the Catholic abnegation of the Imitatio joining 



246 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

so strangely with the final philosophy of 
Schopenhauer. At times his brain is haunted 
by social theories his dull hatred of the 
ordinary in life taking form in the region of 
ideas. But in the main he feeds himself, with 
something of the satisfaction of success, on the 
strange food for the sensations with which he 
has so laboriously furnished himself. There 
are his books, and among these a special library 
of the Latin writers of the Decadence. Exas- 
perated by Virgil, profoundly contemptuous of 
Horace, he tolerates Lucan (which is surpris- 
ing), adores Petronius (as well he might), and 
delights in the neologisms and the exotic nov- 
elty of Apuleius. His curiosity extends to the 
later Christian poets from the coloured verse 
of Claudian down to the verse which is scarcely 
verse of the incoherent ninth century. He is, 
of course, an amateur of exquisite printing, of 
beautiful bindings, and possesses an incom- 
parable Baudelaire (edition tiree d un exem- 
plaire) , a unique Mallarme. Catholicism being 
the adopted religion of the Decadence for its 
venerable age, valuable in such matters as 
the age of an old wine, its vague excitation of 
the senses, its mystical picturesqueness Des 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 247 

Esseintes has a curious collection of the later 
Catholic literature, where Lacordaire and the 
Comte de Falloux, Veuillot and Ozanam, find 
their place side by side with the half -prophetic, 
half-ingenious Hello, the amalgam of a mon- 
strous mysticism and a casuistical sensuality, 
Barbey d'Aurevilly. His collection of " pro- 
fane " writers is small, but it is selected for the 
qualities of exotic charm that have come to 
be his only care in art for the somewhat dis- 
eased, or the somewhat artificial beauty that 
alone can strike a responsive thrill from his 
exacting nerves. " Considering within himself, 
he realised that a work of art, in order to 
attract him, must come to him with that qual- 
ity of strangeness demanded by Edgar Poe; 
but he fared yet further along this route, and 
sought for all the Byzantine flora of the brain, 
for complicated deliquescences of style; he 
required a troubling indecision over which he 
could muse, fashioning it after his will to more 
of vagueness or of solid form, according to the 
state of his mind at the moment. He de- 
lighted in a work of art both for what it was in 
itself and for what it could lend him; he would 
fain go along with it, thanks to it, as though 



248 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

sustained by an adjuvant, as though borne in 
a vehicle, into a sphere where his sublimated 
sensations would wake in him an unaccus- 
tomed stir, the cause of which he would long 
and vainly seek to determine. " So he comes 
to care supremely for Baudelaire, "who, more 
than any other, possessed the marvellous 
power of rendering, with a strange sanity of 
expression, the most fleeting, the most waver- 
ing morbid states of exhausted minds, of des- 
olate souls." In Flaubert he prefers La Ten- 
tation de Saint- Antoine; in Goncourt, La 
Faustin; in Zola, La Faute de VAbbe Mouret 
the exceptional, the most remote and recherche 
outcome of each temperament. And of the 
three it is the novel of Goncourt that appeals 
to him with special intimacy that novel 
which, more than any other, seems to express, 
in its exquisitely perverse charm, all that 
decadent civilisation of which Des Esseintes 
is the type and symbol. In poetry he has 
discovered the fine perfume, the evanescent 
charm, of Paul Verlaine, and near that great 
poet (forgetting, strangely, Arthur Rimbaud) 
he places two poets who are curious the dis- 
concerting, tumultuous Tristan Corbiere, and 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 249 

the painted and bejewelled Theodore Hannon. 
With Edgar Poe he has the instinctive sym- 
pathy which drew Baudelaire to the enig- 
matically perverse Decadent of America; he 
delights, sooner than all the world, in the 
astonishing, unbalanced, unachieved genius of 
Villiers de I'lsle-Adam. Finally, it is in St6- 
phane Mallarm6 that he finds the incarnation 
of "the decadence of a literature, irreparably 
affected in its organism, weakened in its 
ideas by age, exhausted by the excesses of 
syntax, sensitive only to the curiosity which 
fevers sick people, and yet hastening to say 
everything, now at the end, torn by the wish 
to atone for all its omissions of enjoyment, 
to bequeath its subtlest memories of sorrow 
on its death-bed." 

But it is not on books alone that Des 
Esseintes nurses his sick and craving fancy. 
He pushes his delight in the artificial to the 
last limits, and diverts himself with a bou- 
quet of jewels, a concert of flowers, an or- 
chestra of liqueurs, an orchestra of perfumes. 
In flowers he prefers the real flowers that 
imitate artificial ones. It is the monstrosities 
of nature, the offspring of unnatural adulteries, 



250 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

that he cherishes in the barbarically coloured 
flowers, the plants with barbaric names, the 
carnivorous plants of the Antilles morbid 
horrors of vegetation, chosen, not for their 
beauty, but for their strangeness. And his 
imagination plays harmonies on the sense of 
taste, like combinations of music, from the 
flute-like sweetness of anisette, the trumpet- 
note of kirsch, the eager yet velvety sharp- 
ness of curagao, the clarionet. He combines 
scents, weaving them into odorous melodies, 
with effects like those of the refrains of certain 
poems, employing, for example, the method of 
Baudelaire in L 'Irreparable and Le Balcon, 
where the last line of the stanza is the echo of 
the first, in the languorous progression of the 
melody. And above all he has his few, care- 
fully chosen pictures, with their diverse notes 
of strange beauty and strange terror the two 
Salomes of Gustave Moreau, the " Religious 
Persecutions" of Jan Luyken, the opium- 
dreams of Odilon Redon. His favourite artist 
is Gustave Moreau, and it is on this superb and 
disquieting picture that he cares chiefly to dwell. 

A throne, like the high altar of a cathedral, rose be- 
neath innumerable arches springing from columns, thick- 






JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 251 



set as Roman pillars, enamelled with vari-coloured bricks, 
set with mosaics, incrusted with lapis lazuli and sardonyx, 
in a palace like the basilica of an architecture at once 
Mussulman and Byzantine. In the centre of the taber- 
nacle surmounting the altar, fronted with rows of cir- 
cular steps, sat the Tetrarch Herod, the tiara on his head, 
his legs pressed together, his hands on his knees. His 
face was yellow, parchment-like, annulated with wrinkles, 
withered with age; his long beard floated like a white cloud 
on the jewelled stars that constellated the robe of netted 
gold across his breast. Around this statue, motionless, 
frozen in the sacred pose of a Hindu god, perfumes burned, 
throwing out clouds of vapour, pierced, as by the phos- 
phorescent eyes of animals, by the fire of precious stones 
set in the sides of the throne; then the vapour mounted, 
unrolling itself beneath arches where the blue smoke 
mingled with the powdered gold of great sunrays, fallen 
from the domes. 

In the perverse odour of perfumes, in the overheated 
atmosphere of this church, Salome*, her left arm extended 
in a gesture of command, her bent right arm holding at 
the level of the face a great lotus, advances slowly to the 
sound of a guitar, thrummed by a woman who crouches 
on the floor. 

With collected, solemn, almost august countenance, 
she begins the lascivious dance that should waken the 
sleeping senses of the aged Herod; her breasts undulate, 
"become rigid at the contact of the whirling necklets; 
diamonds sparkle on the dead whiteness of her skin, her 
bracelets, girdles, rings, shoot sparks; on her triumphal 
robe, sewn with pearls, flowered with silver, sheeted with 
gold, the jewelled breastplate, whose every stitch is a 
precious stone, bursts into flame, scatters in snakes of 



252 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

fire, swarms on the ivory-toned, tea-rose flesh, like splendid 
insects with dazzling wings, marbled with carmine, dotted 
with morning gold, diapered with steel-blue, streaked with 
peacock-green. 

In the work of Gustave Moreau, conceived on no 
Scriptural data, Des Esseintes saw at last the realisa- 
tion of the strange, superhuman SalomS that he had 
dreamed. She was no more the mere dancing-girl who, 
with the corrupt torsion of her limbs, tears a cry of 
desire from an old man; who, with her eddying breasts, 
her palpitating body, her quivering thighs, breaks the 
energy, melts the will, of a king; she has become the 
symbolic deity of indestructible Lust, the goddess of 
immortal Hysteria, the accursed Beauty, chosen among 
many by the catalepsy that has stiffened her limbs, that 
has hardened her muscles; the monstrous, indifferent, 
irresponsible, insensible Beast, poisoning, like Helen of 
old, all that go near to her, all that look upon her, all that 
she touches. 

It is in such a " Palace of Art" that Des 
Esseintes would recreate his already over- 
wrought body and brain, and the monotony 
of its seclusion is only once broken by a 
single excursion into the world without. This 
one episode of action, this one touch of realism 
in a book given over to the artificial, confined 
to a record of sensation, is a projected voyage 
to London, a voyage that never occurs. Des 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 253 

Esseintes has been reading Dickens, idly, to 
quiet his nerves, and the violent colours of 
those ultra-British scenes and characters have 
imposed themselves upon his imagination. 
Days of rain and fog complete the picture of 
that pays de brume et de boue, and suddenly, 
stung by the unwonted desire for change, he 
takes the train to Paris, resolved to distract 
himself by a visit to London. Arrived in 
Paris before his time, he takes a cab to the 
office of Galignani's Messenger, fancying him- 
self, as the rain-drops rattle on the roof and 
the mud splashes against the windows, already 
in the midst of the immense city, its smoke 
and dirt. He reaches Galignani's Messenger, 
and there, turning over Baedekers and Mur- 
rays, loses himself in dreams of an imagined 
London. He buys a Baedeker, and, to pass 
the time, enters the " Bode*ga " at the corner 
of the Rue de Rivoli and the Rue Castiglione. 
The wine-cellar is crowded with Englishmen: 
he sees, as he drinks his port, and listens to the 
unfamiliar accents, all the characters of Dickens 
a whole England of caricature; as he drinks 
his Amontillado, the recollection of Poe puts a 
new horror into the good-humoured faces 



254 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

about him. Leaving the " Bodega/ ' he steps 
out again into the rain-swept street, regains 
his cab, and drives to the English tavern of 
the Rue d' Amsterdam. He has just time for 
dinner, and he finds a place beside the insu- 
laires, with " their porcelain eyes, their crimson 
cheeks/' and orders a heavy English dinner, 
which he washes down with ale and porter, 
seasoning his coffee, as he imagines we do in 
England, with gin. As time passes, and the 
hour of the train draws near, he begins to re- 
flect vaguely on his project; he recalls the dis- 
illusion of the visit he had once paid to Hol- 
land. Does not a similar disillusion await him 
in London? " Why travel, when one can travel 
so splendidly in a chair? Was he not at Lon- 
don already, since its odours, its atmosphere, 
its inhabitants, its food, its utensils, were all 
about him? " The train is due, but he does not 
stir. "I have felt and seen/' he says to him- 
self, "what I wanted to feel and see. I have 
been saturated with English life all this time; 
it would be madness to lose, by a clumsy 
change of place, these imperishable sensa- 
tions. 7 ' So he gathers together his luggage, 
and goes home again, resolving never to aban- 






JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 255 

don the "docile phantasmagoria of the brain " 
for the mere realities of the actual world. But 
his nervous malady, one of whose symptoms 
had driven him forth and brought him back 
so spasmodically, is on the increase. He is 
seized by hallucinations, haunted by sounds: 
the hysteria of Schumann, the morbid exalta- 
tion of Berlioz, communicate themselves to 
him in the music that besieges his brain. 
Obliged at last to send for a doctor, we find him, 
at the end of the book, ordered back to Paris, 
to the normal life, the normal conditions, with 
just that chance of escape from death or mad- 
ness. So suggestively, so instructively, closes 
the record of a strange, attractive folly in 
itself partly a serious ideal (which indeed is 
Huysmans' own), partly the caricature of 
that ideal. Des Esseintes, though studied 
from a real man, who is known to those who 
know a certain kind of society in Paris, is a 
type rather than a man: he is the offspring 
of the Decadent art that he adores, and this 
book a sort of breviary for its worshippers. 
It has a place of its own in the literature of 
the day, for it sums up, not only a talent, but a 
spiritual epoch. 



256 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

A Rebours is a book that can only be 
written once, and since that date Huysmans 
has published a short story, Un Dilemme 
(1887), which is merely a somewhat lengthy 
anecdote; two novels, En Rade (1887) and 
La-Bas (1891), both of which are interesting 
experiments, but neither of them an entire 
success; and a volume of art criticism, Cer- 
tains (1890), notable for a single splendid 
essay, that on Felicien Rops, the etcher of 
the fantastically erotic. En Rade is a sort 
of deliberately exaggerated record vision 
rather then record of the disillusions of a 
country sojourn, as they affect the disordered 
nerves of a town nevrose. The narrative 
is punctuated by nightmares, marvellously 
woven out of nothing, and with no psycho- 
logical value the human part of the book 
being a sort of picturesque pathology at 
best, the representation of a series of states 
of nerves, sharpened by the tragic ennui of 
the country. There is a cat which becomes 
interesting in its agonies; but the long bore- 
dom of the man and woman is only too 
faithfully shared with the reader. La-Bas 
is a more artistic creation, on a more solid 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 257 

foundation. It is a study of Satanism, a 
dexterous interweaving of the history of Gilles 
de Retz (the traditional Bluebeard) with the 
contemporary manifestations of the Black 
Art. "The execration of impotence, the hate 
of the mediocre that is perhaps one of the 
most indulgent definitions of Diabolism/' 
says Huysmans, somewhere in the book, 
and it is on this side that one finds the link 
of connection with the others of that series 
of pessimist studies in life. Un naturalisme 
spiritualiste, he defines his own art at this 
point in its development; and it is in some- 
what the " documentary" manner that he 
applies himself to the study of these strange 
problems, half of hysteria, half of a real mys- 
tical corruption that does actually exist in 
our midst. I do not know whether the 
monstrous tableau of the Black Mass so 
marvellously, so revoltingly described in the 
central episode of the book is still enacted 
in our days, but I do know that all but the 
most horrible practices of the sacrilegious 
magic of the Middle Ages are yet performed, 
from time to time, in a secrecy which is all 
but absolute. The character of Madame 



258 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Chantelouve is an attempt, probably the 
first in literature, to diagnose a case of Sadism 
in a woman. To say that it is successful 
would be to assume that the thing is possible, 
which one hesitates to do. The book is even 
more disquieting, to the normal mind, than 
A Rebours. But it is not, like that, the study 
of an exception which has become a type. 
It is the study of an exception which does not 
profess to be anything but a disease. 

Huysmans' place in contemporary litera- 
ture is not quite easy to estimate. There is 
a danger of being too much attracted, or too 
much repelled, by those qualities of deliberate 
singularity which make his work, sincere 
expression as it is of his own personality, so 
artificial and recherche in itself. With his 
pronounced, exceptional characteristics, it 
would have been impossible for him to write 
fiction impersonally, or to range himself, for 
long, in any school, under any master. 
Interrogated one day as to his opinion of 
Naturalism, he had but to say in reply: 
A u fond, il y a des ecrivains qui out du talent 
et d'autres qui n'en out pas, qu'ils soient natu- 
ralistes, romantiques, decadents, tout ce que 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 259 

vous voudrez, ga m'est egal! il s'agit pour moi 
d'avoir du talent, et voild tout! But, as we 
have seen, he has undergone various influences, 
he has had his periods. From the first he 
has had a style of singular pungency, novelty, 
and colour; and, even in Le Drageoir a Epices, 
we find such daring combinations as this 
(Camaieu Rouge) Cette fanfare de rouge 
m'etourdissait; cotte gamme d'une intensity 
furieuse, d'une violence inome, m'aveuglait. 
Working upon the foundation of Flaubert 
and of Goncourt, the two great modern 
stylists, he has developed an intensely per- 
sonal style of his own, in which the sense of 
rhythm is entirely dominated by the sense 
of colour. He manipulates the Franch lan- 
guage with a freedom sometimes barbarous, 
" dragging his images by the heels or the 
hair" (in the admirable phrase of L6on Bloy) 
"up and down the worm-eaten staircase of 
terrified syntax, " gaining, certainly, the effects 
at which he aims. He possesses, in the 
highest degree, that style tachete et faisande 
high-flavoured and spotted with corrup- 
tion that he attributes to Goncourt and 
Verlaine. And with this audacious and bar- 



260 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

baric profusion of words chosen always for 
their colour and their vividly expressive 
quality he is able to describe the essentially 
modern aspects of things as no one had ever 
described them before. No one before him 
had ever so realised the perverse charm of 
the sordid, the perverse charm of the arti- 
ficial. Exceptional always, it is for such 
qualities as these, rather than for the ordi- 
nary qualities of the novelist, that he is 
remarkable. His stories are without inci- 
dent, they are constructed to go on until 
they stop, they are almost without charac- 
ters. His psychology is a matter of the 
sensations, and chiefly the visual sensations. 
The moral nature is ignored, the emotions 
resolve themselves for the most part into a 
sordid ennui, rising at times into a rr.ge at 
existence. The protagonist of every book 
is not so much a character as a bundle of im- 
pressions and sensations the vague outline 
of a single consciousness, his own. But it is 
that single consciousness in this morbidly 
personal writer with which we are con- 
cerned. For Huysmans' novels, with all 
their strangeness, their charm, their repul- 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 



261 



sion, typical too, as they are, of much beside 
himself, are certainly the expression of a 
personality as remarkable as that of any 
contemporary writer. 

1892. 



II. THE LATER HUYSMANS 

IN the preface to his first novel, Marthe: 
histoire d'une fille, thirty years ago, Huys- 
mans defined his theory of art in this defiant 
phrase: "I write what I see, what I feel, 
and what I have experienced, and I write it 
as well as I can: that is all." Ten or twelve 
years ago, he could still say, in answer to 
an interviewer who asked him his opinion of 
Naturalism: "At bottom, there are writers 
who have talent and others who have not; 
let them be ^.Naturalists, Romantics, Deca- 
dents, what you will, it is all the same to 
me: I only want to know if they have talent." 
Such theoretical liberality, in a writer of 
original talent, is a little disconcerting: it 
means that he is without a theory of his 
own, that he is not yet conscious of having 
chosen his own way. And, indeed, it is only 
with En Route that Huysmans can be said 
to have discovered the direction in which he 
had really been travelling from the beginning. 

262 






THE LATER HUYSMANS 263 

In a preface written not long since for 
a limited edition of A Rebours, Huysmans 
confessed that he had never been conscious 
of the direction in which he was travelling. 
"My life and my literature," he affirmed, 
"have undoubtedly a certain amount of pas- 
sivity, of the incalculable, of a direction not 
mine. I have simply obeyed; I have been 
led by what are called 'mysterious ways." 
He is speaking of the conversion which took 
him to La Trappe in 1892, but the words 
apply to the whole course of his career as a 
man of letters. In La-Bas, which is a sort of 
false start, he had, indeed, realised, though 
for himself at that time ineffectually, that 
"it is essential to preserve the veracity of 
the document, the precision of detail, the 
fibrous and nervous language of Realism, 
but it is equally essential to become the 
well-digger of the soul, and not to attempt 
to explain what is mysterious by mental 
maladies. ... It is essential, in a word, 
to follow the great road so deeply dug out 
by Zola, but it is necessary also to trace a 
parallel pathway in the ah", and to grapple 
with the within and the after, to create, in 



264 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

a word, a spiritual Naturalism. " This is 
almost a definition of the art of En Route, 
where this spiritual realism is applied to the 
history of a soul, a consciousness; in La 
Cathedrale the method has still further de- 
veloped, and Huysmans becomes, in his own 
way, a Symbolist. 

To the student of psychology few more in- 
teresting cases could be presented than the 
development of Huysmans. From the first 
he has been a man "for whom the visible 
world existed," indeed, but as the scene of 
a slow martyrdom. The world has always 
appeared to him to be a profoundly un- 
comfortable, unpleasant, and ridiculous place; 
and it has been a necessity of his tempera- 
ment to examine it minutely, with all the 
patience of disgust, and a necessity of his 
method to record it with an almost ecstatic 
hatred. In his first book, Le Drageoir a 
Epices, published at the age of twenty-six, 
we find him seeking his colour by prefer- 
ence in a drunkard's cheek or a carcase out- 
side a butcher's shop. Marthe, published at 
Brussels in 1876, anticipates La Fille Elisa 
and Nana, but it has a crude brutality of 






THE LATER HUYSMANS 265 

observation in which there is hardly a touch 
of pity. Les Sceurs Vatard is a frame with- 
out a picture, but in En Menage the dreary 
tedium of existence is chronicled in all its 
insignificance with a kind of weary and 
aching hate. "We, too," is its conclusion, 
"by leave of the everlasting stupidity of 
things, may, like our fellow-citizens, live 
stupid and respected." The fantastic unre- 
ality, the exquisite artificiality of A Rebours, 
the breviary of the decadence, is the first 
sign of that possible escape which Huysmans 
has always foreseen in the direction of art, 
but which he is still unable to make into 
more than an artificial paradise, in which 
beauty turns to a cruel hallucination and 
imprisons the soul still more fatally. The 
end is a cry of hopeless hope, in which Huys- 
mans did not understand the meaning till 
later: "Lord, have pity of the Christian 
who doubts, of the sceptic who would fain 
believe, of the convict of life who sets sail 
alone by night, under a firmament lighted 
only by the consoling watch-lights of the old 
hope." 
In La-Bos we are in yet another stage of 



266 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

this strange pilgrim's progress. The disgust 
which once manifested itself in the merely 
external revolt against the ugliness of streets, 
the imbecility of faces, has become more and 
more internalised, and the attraction of what 
is perverse in the unusual beauty of art has 
led, by some obscure route, to the perilous 
halfway house of a corrupt mysticism. The 
book, with its monstrous pictures of the 
Black Mass and of the spiritual abomina- 
tions of Satanism, is one step further in the 
direction of the supernatural; and this, too, 
has its desperate, unlooked-for conclusion: 
" Christian glory is a laughing-stock to our 
age; it contaminates the supernatural and 
casts out the world to come." In Ld-Bas 
we go down into the deepest gulf; En Route 
sets us one stage along a new way, and at 
this turning-point begins the later Huysmans. 
The old conception of the novel as an 
amusing tale of adventures, though it has 
still its apologists in England, has long since 
ceased in France to mean anything more 
I actual than powdered wigs and lace ruffles. 
Like children who cry to their elders for "a 
story, a story," the English public still wants 






THE LATER HUYSMANS 267 

its plot, its heroine, its villain. That the 
novel should be psychological was a discovery 
as early as Benjamin Constant, whose Adolphe 
anticipates Le Rouge et le Noir, that rare/ 
revealing, yet somewhat arid masterpiece of 
Stendahl. But that psychology could be 
carried so far into the darkness of the soul, 
that the flaming walls of the world them- 
selves faded to a glimmer, was a discovery 
which had been made by no novelist before 
Huysmans wrote En Route. At once the 
novel showed itself capable of competing, on 
their own ground, with poetry, with the great 
"confessions," with philosophy. En Route 
is perhaps the first novel which does not 
set out with the aim of amusing its readers. 
It offers you no more entertainment than 
Paradise Lost or the Confessions of St. Au- 
gustine, and it is possible to consider it 
on the same level. The novel, which, after 
having chronicled the adventures of the Van- 
ity Fairs of this world, has set itself with 
admirable success to analyse the amorous and 
ambitious and money-making intelligence of 
the conscious and practical self, sets itself at 
last to the final achievement: the revelation 



268 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

of the sub-conscious self, no longer the in- 
telligence, but the soul. Here, then, purged 
of the distraction of incident, liberated from 
the bondage of a too realistic conversation, 
in which the aim had been to convey the 
very gesture of breathing life, internalised to 
a complete liberty, in which, just because it 
is so absolutely free, art is able to accept, 
without limiting itself, the expressive medium 
of a convention, we have in the novel a new 
form, which may be at once a confession and 
a decoration, the soul and a pattern. 

This story of a conversion is a new thing 
in modern French; it is a confession, a self- 
auscultation of the soul; a kind of thinking 
aloud. It fixes, in precise words, all the 
uncertainties, the contradictions, the absurd 
unreasonableness and not less absurd logic, 
which distract man's brain in the passing 
over him of sensation and circumstance. And 
all this thinking is concentrated on one 
end, is concerned with the working out, in 
his own singular way, of one man's salva- 
tion. There is a certain dry hard casuistry, 
a subtlety and closeness almost ecclesiastical, 
in the investigation of an obscure and yet 



THE LATER HUYSMANS 269 

definite region, whose intellectual passions 
are as varied and as tumultuous as those of 
the heart. Every stop is taken deliberately, 
is weighed, approved, condemned, viewed 
from this side and from that, and at the same 
time one feels behind all this reasoning an 
impulsion urging a soul onward against its 
will. In this astonishing passage, through 
Satanism to faith, in which the cry, "I am 
so weary of myself, so sick of my miserable 
existence," echoes through page after page, 
until despair dies into conviction, the convic- 
tion of "the uselessness of concerning one- 
self about anything but mysticism and the 
liturgy, of thinking about anything but about 
God," it is impossible not to see the sin- 
cerity of an actual, unique experience. The 
force of mere curiosity can go far, can pene- 
trate to a certain depth; yet there is a point 
at which mere curiosity, even that of genius, 
comes to an end; and we are left to the 
individual soul's apprehension of what seems 
to it the reality of spiritual things. Such 
a personal apprehension comes to us out of 
this book, and at the same time, just as in 
the days when he forced language to express, 



270 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

in a more coloured and pictorial way than 
it had ever expressed before, tjie last esca- 
ping details of material things, so, in this 
analysis of the aberrations and warfares, the 
confessions and trials of the soul in penitence, 
Huysmans has found words for even the most 
subtle and illusive aspects of that inner life 
which he has come, at the last, to apprehend. 

In La Cathedrals we are still occupied with 
this sensitive, lethargic, persevering soul, but 
with that soul in one of its longest halts by 
the way, as it undergoes the slow, permeating 
influence of "la Cathedrale mystique par ex- 
cellence," the .cathedral of Chartres. And 
the greater part of the book is taken up with 
a study of this cathedral, of that elaborate 
and profound symbolism by which "the soul 
of sanctuaries" slowly reveals itself (quel 
laconisme hermetique!) with a sort of parallel 
interpretation of the symbolism which the 
Church of the Middle Ages concealed or 
revealed in colours, precious stones, plants, 
animals, numbers, odours, and in the Bible 
itself, in the setting together of the Old and 
New Testaments. 

No doubt, to some extent this book is less 






THE LATER HUYSMANS 271 

interesting than En Route, in the exact 
proportion in which everything in the world 
is less interesting than the human soul. 
There are times when Durtal is almost for- 
gotten, and, unjustly enough, it may seem 
as if we are given this archaeology, these 
bestiaries, for their own sake. To fall into 
this error is to mistake the whole purpose 
of the book, the whole extent of the discovery 
in art which Huysmans has been one of the 
first to make. 

For in La Cathedrale Huysmans does but 
carry further the principle which he had 
perceived in En Route, showing, as he does, 
how inert matter, the art of stones, the 
growth of plants, the unconscious life of 
beasts, may be brought under the same law 
of the soul, may obtain, through symbol, a 
spiritual existence. He is thus but extending 
the domain of the soul while he may seem to 
be limiting or ignoring it; and Durtal may 
well stand aside for a moment, in at least the 
energy of contemplation, while he sees, with 
a new understanding, the very sight of his 
eyes, the very staff of his thoughts, taking 
life before him, a life of the same substance 



272 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

as his own. What is Symbolism if not an 
establishing of the links which hold the world 
together, the affirmation of an eternal, minute, 
intricate, almost invisible life, which runs 
through the whole universe? Every age has 
its own symbols; but a symbol once perfectly 
expressed, that symbol remains, as Gothic 
architecture remains the very soul of the 
Middle Ages. To get at that truth which 
is all but the deepest meaning of beauty, to 
find that symbol which is its most adequate 
expression, is in itself a kind of creation; 
and that is what Huysmans does for us in 
La Cathedrale. More and more he has put 
aside all the profane and accessible and 
outward pomp of writing for an inner and 
more severe beauty of perfect truth. He has 
come to realise that truth can be reached and 
revealed only by symbol. Hence, all that 
description, that heaping up of detail, that 
passionately patient elaboration: all means 
to an end, not, as you may hastily incline to 
think, ends in themselves. 

It is curious to observe how often an artist 
perfects a particular means of expression long 
before he has any notion of what to do with 



THE LATER HUYSMANS 273 

it. Huysmans began by acquiring so aston- 
ishing a mastery of description that he could 
describe the inside of a cow hanging in a 
butcher's shop as beautifully as if it were 
a casket of jewels. The little work-girls of 
his early novels were taken for long walks, 
in which they would have seen nothing but 
the arm on which they leant and the milliners' 
shops which they passed; and what they did 
not see was described, marvellously, in twenty 
pages. 

Huysmans is a brain all eye, a brain which 
sees even ideas as if they had a superficies. 
His style is always the same, whether he 
writes of a butcher's shop or of a stained- 
glass window; it is the immediate expres- 
sion of a way of seeing, so minute and so 
intense that it becomes too emphatic for ele- 
gance and too coloured for atmosphere or 
composition, always ready to sacrifice eu- 
phony to either fact or colour. He cares only 
to give you the thing seen, exactly as he sees it, 
with all his love or hate, and with all the 
exaggeration which that feeling brings into 
it. And he loves beauty as a bulldog loves its 
mistress: by growling at all her enemies. He 



274 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

honours wisdom by annihilating stupidity. 
His art of painting in words resembles Monet's 
art of painting with his brush: there is the 
same power of rendering a vivid effect, almost 
deceptively, with a crude and yet sensitive 
realism. "C'est pour la gourmandise de Vo&il 
un gala de teintes," he says of the provision 
cellars at Hamburg; and this greed of the eye 
has eaten up in him almost every other sense. 
Even of music he writes as a deaf man with an 
eye for colour might write, to whom a musician 
had explained certain technical means of ex- 
pression in music. No one has ever invented 
such barbarous and exact metaphors for the 
rendering of visual sensations. Properly, there 
is no metaphor; the words say exactly what 
they mean; they become figurative, as we 
call it, in their insistence on being themselves 
fact. 

Huysmans knows that the motive force of 
the sentence lies in the verbs, and his verbs 
are the most singular, precise, and expressive 
in any language. But in subordinating, as 
he does, every quality to that of sharp, telling 
truth, the truth of extremes, his style loses 
charm; yet it can be dazzling; it has the 



THE LATER HUYSMANS 275 

S 

solidity of those walls encrusted with gems 
which are to be seen in a certain chapel in 
Prague; it blazes with colour, and arabesques 
into a thousand fantastic patterns. 

And now all that laboriously acquired mas- 
tery finds at last its use, lending itself to the 
new spirit with a wonderful docility. At last 
the idea which is beyond reality has been found, 
not where Des Esseintes sought it, and a new 
meaning comes into what had once been 
scarcely more than patient and wrathful ob- 
servation. The idea is there, visible, in his 
cathedral, like the sun which flashes into unity, 
into meaning, into intelligible beauty the be- 
wildering lozenges of colour, the inextricable 
trails of lead, which go to make up the picture 
in one of its painted windows. What, for 
instance, could be more precise in its transla- 
tion of the different aspects under which the 
cathedral of Chartres can be seen, merely as 
colour, than this one sentence: "Seen as a 
whole, under a clear sky, its grey silvers, and, 
if the sun shines upon it, turns pale yellow and 
then golden; seen close, its skin is like that of 
a nibbled biscuit, with its silicious limestone 
eaten into holes; sometimes, when the sun is 



276 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

setting, it turns crimson, and rises up like a 
monstrous and delicate shrine, rose and green; 
and, at twilight, turns blue, then seems to 
evaporate as it fades into violet." Or, again, 
in a passage which comes nearer to the con- 
ventional idea of eloquence, how absolute an 
avoidance of a conventional phrase, a word 
used for its merely oratorical value: "High 
up, in space, like salamanders, human beings, 
with burning faces and flaming robes, lived in a 
firmament of fire; but these conflagrations 
were circumscribed, limited by an incombus- 
tible frame of darker glass, which beat back 
the clear young joy of the flames; by that kind 
of melancholy, that more serious and more 
aged aspect, which is taken by the duller col- 
ours. The hue and cry of reds, the limpid 
security of whites, the reiterated halleluias 
of yellows, the virginal glory of blues, all the 
quivering hearth-glow of painted glass, dies 
away as it came near this border coloured with 
the rust of iron, with the russet of sauce, with 
the harsh violet of sandstone, with bottle- 
green, with the brown of touchwood, with 
sooty black, with ashen grey." 

This, in its excess of exactitude (how me- 



THE LATER HUYSMANS 277 

diseval a quality!) becomes, on one page, 
a comparison of the tower without a spire to 
an unsharpened pencil which cannot write 
the prayers of earth upon the sky. But for 
the most part it is a consistent humanising 
of too objectively visible things a disengaging 
of the sentiment which exists in them, which 
is one of the secrets of their appeal to us, but 
which for the most part we overlook as we 
set ourselves to add up the shapes and colours 
which have enchanted us. To Huysmans this 
artistic discovery has come, perhaps in the 
most effectual way, but certainly in the way 
least probable in these days, through faith, a 
definite religious faith; so that, beginning 
tentatively, he has come, at last, to believe in 
the Catholic Church as a monk of the Middle 
Ages believed in it. And there is no doubt 
that to Huysmans this abandonment to religion 
has brought, among other gifts, a certain 
human charity in which he was notably lacking, 
removing at once one of his artistic limitations. 
It has softened his contempt of humanity; it 
has broadened his outlook on the world. And 
the sense, diffused through the whole of this 
book, of the living and beneficent reality of the 



278 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Virgin, of her real presence in the cathedral 
built in her honour and after her own image, 
brings a strange and touching kind of poetry 
into these closely and soberly woven pages. 

From this time forward, until his death, 
Huysmans is seen purging himself of his 
realism, coming closer and closer to that 
spiritual Naturalism which he had invented, 
an art made out of an apprehension of the 
inner meaning of those things which he still 
saw with the old tenacity of vision. Nothing 
is changed in him and yet all is changed. 
The disgust of the world deepens through 
L'Oblat, which is the last stage but one in 
the pilgrimage which begins with En Route. 
It seeks an escape in poring, with a dreadful 
diligence, over a saint's recorded miracles, in 
the life of Sainte Lydwine de Schiedam, which 
is mediaeval in its precise acceptance of every 
horrible detail of the story. Les Foules de 
Lourdes has the same minute attentiveness to 
horror, but with a new pity in it, and a way of 
giving thanks to the Virgin, which is in Huys- 
mans yet another escape from his disgust of 
the world. But it is in the great chapter on 
Satan as the creator of ugliness that his work 






THE LATER HUYSMANS 279 

seems to end where it had begun, in the ser- 
vice of art, now come from a great way off to 
join itself with the service of God, And the 
whole soul of Huysmans characterises itself in 
the turn of a single phrase there: that "art is 
the only clean thing on earth, except holiness." 



ARTHUR RIMBAUD 

THAT story of the Arabian Nights, which is 
at the same time a true story, the life of 
Rimbaud, has been told, for the first time, 
in the extravagant but valuable book of an 
anarchist of letters, who writes under the 
name of Paterne Berrichon, and who has since 
married Rimbaud's sister. La Vie de Jean- 
Arthur Rimbaud is full of curiosity for those 
who harve been mystified by I know not what 
legends, invented to give wonder to a career, 
itself more wonderful than any of the inven- 
tions. The man who died at Marseilles, at 
the Hospital of the Conception, on March 10, 
1891, at the age of thirty-seven, negotiant, as 
the register of his death describes him, was a 
writer of genius, an innovator in verse and 
prose, who had written all his poetry by the 
age of nineteen, and all his prose by a year or 
two later. He had given up literature to 
travel hither and thither, first in Europe, then 
in Africa; he had been an engineer, a leader of 

280 



ARTHUR RIMBAUD 281 

caravans, a merchant of precious merchandise. 
And this man, who had never written down a 
line after those astonishing early experiments, 
was heard, in his last delirium, talking of pre- 
cisely such visions as those which had haunted 
his youth, and using, says his sister, " expres- 
sions of a singular and penetrating charm" to 
render these sensations of visionary countries. 
Here certainly is one of the most curious prob- 
lems of literature : is it a problem of which we 
can discover the secret? 

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud was born at 
Charleville, in the Ardennes, October 28, 1854. 
His father, of whom he saw little, was a cap- 
tain in the army; his mother, of peasant origin, 
was severe, rigid and unsympathetic. At 
school he was an unwilling but brilliant scholar, 
and by his fifteenth year was well acquainted 
with Latin literature and intimately with 
French literature. It was in that year that he 
began to write poems from the first curiously 
original: eleven poems dating from that year 
are to be found in his collected works. When 
he was sixteen he decided that he had had 
enough of school, and enough of home. Only 
Paris existed: he must go to Paris. The 



282 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

first time he went without a ticket; he spent, 
indeed, fifteen days in Paris, but he spent them 
in Mazas, from which he was released and 
restored to his home by his schoolmaster. 
The second time, a few days later, he sold his 
watch, which paid for his railway ticket. 
This time he threw himself on the hospitality 
of Andre Gill, a painter and verse-writer, of 
some little notoriety then, whose address he 
had happened to come across. The unin- 
vited guest was not welcomed, and after some 
penniless days in Paris he tramped back to 
Charleville. The third time (he had waited 
five months, writing poems, and discontented 
to be only writing poems) he made his way 
to Paris on foot, in a heat of revolutionary 
sympathy, to offer himself to the insurgents 
of the Commune. Again he had to return 
on foot. Finally, having learnt with diffi- 
culty that a man is not taken at his own 
valuation until he has proved his right to be so 
accepted, he sent up the manuscript of his 
poems to Verlaine. The manuscript con- 
tained Le Bateau Ivre, Les Premieres Com- 
munions, Ma Boheme, Roman, Les Effares, and, 
indeed, all but a few of the poems he ever 






ARTHUR RIMBAUD 283 

wrote. Verlaine was overwhelmed with de- 
light, and invited him to Paris. A local ad- 
mirer lent him the money to get there, and 
from October, 1871, to July, 1872, he was Ver- 
laine's guest. 

The boy of seventeen, already a perfectly 
original poet, and beginning to be an equally 
original prose-writer, astonished the whole 
Parnasse, Banville, Hugo himself. On Ver- 
laine his influence was more profound. The 
meeting brought about one of those lament- 
able and admirable disasters which make and 
unmake careers. Verlaine has told us in his 
Confessions that, "in the beginning, there was 
no question of any sort of affection or sym- 
pathy between two natures so different as 
that of the poet of the Assis and mine, but 
simply of an extreme admiration and astonish- 
ment before this boy of sixteen, who had 
already written things, as Fe*neon has excel- 
lently said, ' perhaps outside literature." This 
admiration and astonishment passed gradu- 
ally into a more personal feeling, and it was 
under the influence of Rimbaud that the 
long vagabondage of Verlaine's life began. 
The two poets wandered together through 



284 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Belgium, England, and again Belgium, from 
July, 1872, to August, 1873, when there oc- 
curred that tragic parting at Brussels which 
left Verlaine a prisoner for eighteen months, 
and sent Rimbaud back to his family. He 
had already written all the poetry and prose 
that he was ever to write, and in 1873 he 
printed at Brussels Une Saison en Enfer. 
It was the only book he himself ever gave to 
the press, and no sooner was it printed than he 
destroyed the whole edition, with the excep- 
tion of a few copies, of which only Verlaine's 
copy, I believe, still exists. Soon began new 
wanderings, with their invariable return to 
the starting-point of Charleville : a few days in 
Paris, a year in England, four months in Stutt- 
gart (where he was visited by Verlaine), Italy, 
France again, Vienna, Java, Holland, Sweden, 
Egypt, Cyprus, Abyssinia, and then nothing 
but Africa, until the final return to France. 
He had been a teacher of French in England, a 
seller of key-rings in the streets of Paris, had 
unloaded vessels in the ports, and helped to 
gather in the harvest in the country; he had 
been a volunteer in the Dutch army, a military 
engineer, a trader; and now physical sciences 






ARTHUR RIMBAUD 285 

had begun to attract his insatiable curiosity, 
and dreams of the fabulous East began to 
resolve themselves into dreams of a romantic 
commerce with the real East. He became a 
merchant of coffee, perfumes, ivory, and gold, 
in the interior of Africa; then an explorer, a 
predecessor, and in his own regions, of Mar- 
chand. After twelve years' wandering and ex- 
posure in Africa he was attacked by a malady 
of the knee, which rapidly became worse. 
He was transported first to Aden, then to 
Marseilles, where, in May, 1891, his leg was 
amputated. Further complications set in. He 
insisted, first, on being removed to his home, 
then on being taken back to Marseilles. His 
sufferings were an intolerable torment, and 
more cruel to him was the torment of his desire 
to live. He died inch by inch, fighting every 
inch; and his sister's quiet narrative of those 
last months is agonising. He died at Mar- 
seilles in November, " prophesying," says his 
sister, and repeating, " Allah Kerim! Allah 
Kerim!" 

The secret of Rimbaud, I think, and the 
reason why he was able to do the unique 
thing in literature which he did, and then 



286 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

to disappear quietly and become a legend in 
the East, is that his mind was not the mind 
of the artist but of the man of action. He 
was a dreamer, but all his dreams were dis- 
coveries. To him it was an identical act of 
his temperament to write the sonnet of the 
Vowels and to trade in ivory and frankin- 
cense with the Arabs. He lived with all his 
faculties at every instant of his life, aban- 
doning himself to himself with a confidence 
which was at once his strength and (looking 
at things less absolutely) his weakness. To 
the student of success, and what is relative 
in achievement, he illustrates the danger of 
one's over-possession by one's own genius, 
just as aptly as the saint in the cloister does, 
or the mystic too full of God to speak intel- 
ligibly to the world, or the spilt wisdom of 
the drunkard. The artist who is above all 
things an artist cultivates a little choice corner 
of himself with elaborate care; he brings 
miraculous flowers to growth there, but the 
rest of the garden is but mown grass or tan- 
gled bushes. That is why many excellent 
writers, very many painters, and most musi- 
cians are so tedious on any subject but their 






ARTHUR RIMBAUD 287 

own. Is it not tempting, does it not seem a 
devotion rather than a superstition, to wor- 
ship the golden chalice in which the wine has 
been made God, as if the chalice were the 
reality, and the JReal Presence the symbol? 
The artist, who is only an artist, circumscribes 
his intelligence into almost such a fiction, as 
he reverences the work of his own hands. But 
there are certain natures (great or small, 
Shakespeare or Rimbaud, it makes no differ- 
ence) to whom the work is nothing; the act 
of working, everything. Rimbaud was a small, 
narrow, hard, precipitate nature, which had 
the will to live, and nothing but the will to'live; 
and his verses, and his follies, and his wander- 
ings, and his traffickings were but the breath- 
ing of different hours in his day. 

That is why he is so swift, definite, and 
quickly exhausted in vision; why he had his 
few things to say, each an action with con- 
sequences. He invents new ways of saying 
things, not because he is a learned artist, but 
because he is burning to say them, and he 
has none of the hesitations of knowledge. 
He leaps right over or through the conven- 
tions that had been standing in everybody's 



288 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

way; he has no time to go round, and no 
respect for trespass-boards, and so he becomes 
the enfant terrible of literature, playing pranks 
(as in that sonnet of the Vowels), knocking 
down barriers for the mere amusement of the 
thing, getting all the possible advantage of 
his barbarisms in mind and conduct. And 
so, in life, he is first of all conspicuous as a dis- 
orderly liver, a revolter against morals as 
against prosody, though we may imagine that, 
in his heart, morals meant as little to him, one 
way or the other, as prosody. Later on, his 
revolt seems to be against civilisation itself, as 
he disappears into the deserts of Africa. And 
it is, if you like, a revolt against civilisation, 
but the revolt is instinctive, a need of the 
organism; it is not doctrinal, cynical, a con- 
viction, a sentiment. 

Always, as he says revant univers fantas- 
tiques, he is conscious of the danger as well as 
the ecstasy of that divine imitation; for he 
says: "My life will always be too vast to be 
given up wholly to force and beauty." J' attends 
Dieu avec gourmandise, he cries, in a fine rap- 
ture; and then, sadly enough: "I have cre- 
ated all the feasts, all the triumphs, all the 



ARTHUR RIMBAUD 289 

dramas of the world. I have set myself to 
invent new flowers, a new flesh, a new lan- 
guage. I have fancied that I have attained 
supernatural power. Well, I have now only to 
put my imagination and my memories in the 
grave. What a fine artist's and story-teller's 
fame thrown away!" See how completely he 
is conscious, and how completely he is at the 
mercy, of that hallucinatory rage of vision, 
vision to him being always force, power, cre- 
ation, which, on some of his pages, seems to 
become sheer madness, and on others a kind 
of wild but absolute insight. He will be silent, 
he tells us, as to all that he contains within his 
mind, " greedy as the sea," for otherwise poets 
and visionaries would envy him his fantastic 
wealth. And, in that Nuit d'Enfer, which does 
not bear that title in vain, he exalts himself as 
a kind of saviour; he is in the circle of pride in 
Dante's hell, and he has lost all sense of limit, 
really believes himself to be "no one and 
^ome one." Then, in the Alchimie du Verbe, 
he becomes the analyst of his own hallucina- 
tions. "I believe in all the enchantments," 
-he tells us; "I invented the colour of the 
vowels; A, black; E, white; I, red; 0, blue; 



290 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

U, green. I regulated the form and the move- 
ment of every consonant, and, with instinctive 
rhythms, I flattered myself that I had in- 
vented a poetic language accessible, one day or 
another, to every shade of meaning. I re- 
served to myself the right of translation 1 

1 Here is the famous sonnet, which must be taken, as it 
was meant, without undue seriousness, and yet as something 
more than a mere joke. 

VOYELLES 

A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, bleu, voyelles, 
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes. 
A, noir corset velu des mouches eclatantes 

Qui bombillent autour des puanteurs cruelles, 

Golfe d'ombre; E, candeur des vapeurs et des tentes, 
Lance des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d'ombelles; 
I, pourpres, sang cradie", rire des levres belles 

Dans la colere ou les ivresses p&iitentes; 

U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides, 
Paix des patis semes d'animaux, paix des rides 
Que 1' alchemic imprime aux grands fronts studieux; 

O, supreme clairon plein de strideurs etranges, 
Silences traverse's des mondes et des Anges; 
O T0m4ga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux! 

Coincidence or origin, it has lately been pointed out that 
Rimbaud may formerly have seen an old ABC book in which 
the vowels are coloured for the most part as his are (A, black; 
E, white; I, red; O, blue; U, green). In the little illus- 
trative pictures around them some are oddly in keeping 
with the image of Rimbaud. 



ARTHUR RIMBAUD 291 

... I accustomed myself to simple hallucina- 
tion: I saw, quite frankly, a mosque in place 
of a factory, a school of drums kept by the 
angels, post-chaises on the roads of heaven, 
a drawing-room at the bottom of a lake; 
monsters, mysteries; the title of a vaudeville 
raised up horrors before me. Then I ex- 
plained my magical sophisms by the hallucina- 
tion of words! I ended by finding something 
sacred in the disorder of my mind." Then 
he makes the great discovery. Action, one 
sees, this fraudulent and insistent will to live, 
has been at the root of all these mental and 
verbal orgies, in which he has been wasting 
the very substance of his thought. Well, 
"action," he discovers, "is not life, but a 
way of spoiling something." Even this is a 
form of enervation, and must be rejected from 
the absolute. Mon devoir m'est remis. II ne 
faut plus songer a cela. Je suis rteUement 
d'outre-tombe, et pas de commissions. 

It is for the absolute that he seeks, always; 
the absolute which the great artist, with his 
careful wisdom, has renounced seeking. And, 
he is content with nothing less; hence his own 
contempt for what he has done, after all, 



292 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

so easily; for what has come to him, perhaps 
through his impatience, but imperfectly. He 
is a dreamer in whom dream is swift, hard in 
outline, coming suddenly and going suddenly, 
a real thing, but seen only in passing. Visions 
rush past him, he cannot arrest them; they 
rush forth from him, he cannot restrain their 
haste to be gone, as he creates them in the 
mere indiscriminate idleness of energy. And 
so this seeker after the absolute leaves but 
a broken medley of fragments, into each of 
which he has put a little of his personality, 
which he is forever dramatising, by multi- 
plying one facet, so to speak, after another. 
Very genuinely, he is now a beaten and wan- 
dering ship, flying in a sort of intoxication 
before the wind, over undiscovered seas; now 
a starving child outside a baker's window, in 
the very ecstasy of hunger; now la victime et la 
petite epouse of the first communion; now: 

Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien; 
Mais I'amour infini me montera dans Tame, 
Et j'irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohe"mien, 
Par la Nature, heureux comme avec une femme! 

He catches at verse, at prose, invents a 
sort of vers libre before any one else, not 



ARTHUR RIMBAUD 293 

quite knowing what to do with it, invents 
a quite new way of writing prose, which 
Laforgue will turn to account later on; and 
having suggested, with some impatience, half 
the things that his own and the next genera- 
tion are to busy themselves with developing, 
he gives up writing, as an inadequate form, 
to which he is also inadequate. 

What, then, is the actual value of Rim- 
baud's work, in verse and prose, apart from 
its relative values of so many kinds? I 
think, considerable; though it will probably 
come to rest on two or three pieces of verse, 
and a still vaguer accomplishment in prose. 
He brought into French verse something of 
that " gipsy way of going with nature, as 
with a woman"; a very young, very crude, 
very defiant and sometimes very masterly 
sense of just these real things which are too 
close to us to be seen by most people with 
any clearness. He could render physical sen- 
sation, of the subtlest kind, without making 
any compromise with language, forcing lan- 
guage to speak straight, taming it as one would 
tame a dangerous animal. And he kneaded 
prose as he kneadeo! verse, making it a dis- 



294 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

articulated, abstract, mathematically lyrical 
thing. In verse, he pointed the way to cer- 
tain new splendours, as to certain new nai- 
vetes', there is the Bateau I we, without which 
we might never have had Verlaine's Crimen 
Amoris. And, intertangled with what is in- 
genuous, and with what is splendid, there is a 
certain irony, which comes into that youth- 
ful work as if youth were already reminiscent 
of itself, so conscious is it that youth is youth, 
and that youth is passing. 

In all these ways, Rimbaud had his in- 
fluence upon Verlaine, and his influence upon 
Verlaine was above all the influence of the 
man of action upon the man of sensation; 
the influence of what is simple, narrow, 
emphatic, upon what is subtle, complex, 
growing. Verlaine's rich, sensitive nature was 
just then trying to realise itself. Just because 
it had such delicate possibilities, because 
there were so many directions in which it 
could grow, it was not at first quite sure of 
its way. Rimbaud came into the life and 
art of Verlaine, troubling both, with that 
trouble which reveals a man to himself. 
Having helped to make Verlaine a great 






ARTHUR RIMBAUD 295 

poet, he could go. Note that he himself 
could never have developed: writing had 
been one of his discoveries; he could but 
make other discoveries, personal ones. Even 
in literature he had his future; but his future 
was Verlaine. 



JULES LAFORGUE 

JULES LAFORGUE was born at Montevideo, 
of Breton parents, August 20, 1860. He died 
in Paris in 1887, two days before his twenty- 
seventh birthday. From 1880 to 1886 he 
had been reader to the Empress Augusta at 
Berlin. He married only a few months be- 
fore his death. D' allures? says M. Gustave 
Kahn, fort correctes, de hauls gibus, des era- 
vates sobres, des veslons anglais, des pardessus 
clergymans, et de par les necessites, un para- 
pluie immuablemenl place sous le bras. His 
portraits sjiow us a clean-shaved, reticent 
face, betraying little. With such a person- 
ality anecdotes have but small chance of 
appropriating those details by which ex- 
pansive natures express themselves to the 
world. We know nothing about Laforgue 
which his work is not better able to tell us, 
even now that we have all his notes, un- 
finished fragments, and the letters of an 
almost virginal naivete which he wrote to 

296 






JULES LAFORGUE 297 

the woman whom he was going to marry. 
His entire work, apart from these additions, 
is contained in two small volumes, one of 
prose, the Moralites Legendaires, the other 
of verse, Les Complaintes, Limitation de 
Notre-Dame la Lune, and a few other pieces, 
all published during the last three years of 
his life. 

The prose and verse of Laforgue, scrupu- 
lously correct, but with a new manner of 
correctness, owe more than any one has real- 
ised to the half-unconscious prose and verse 
of Rimbaud. Verse and prose are alike a 
kind of travesty, making subtle use of collo- 
quialism, slang, neologism, technical terms, 
for their allusive, their factitious, then* re- 
flected meanings, with which one can play, 
very seriously. The verse is alert, troubled, 
swaying, deliberately uncertain, hating rhet- 
oric so piously that it prefers, and finds its 
piquancy in, the ridiculously obvious. It is 
really vers libre, but at the same time correct 
verse, before vers libre had been invented. 
And it carries, as far as that theory has 
ever been carried, the theory which demands 
an instantaneous notation (Whistler, let us 



298 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

say) of the figure or landscape which one, 
has been accustomed to define with such 
rigorous exactitude. Verse, always elegant, is 
broken up into a kind of mockery of prose. 

Encore un de mes pierrots mort; 

Mort d'un chronique orphelinisme; 

C'6tait un cceur plein de dandysme 
Lunaire, en un drole de corps; 

he will say to us, with a familiarity of man- 
ner, as of one talking languidly, in a low 
voice, the lips always teased into a slightly 
bitter smile; and he will pass suddenly into 
the ironical lilt of 

Hotel garni 
De 1'infini, 

Sphinx et Joconde 
Des defunts mondes; 

and from that into this solemn and smil- 
ing end of one of his last poems, his own 
epitaph, if you will: 

II prit froid Tautre automne, 

S'6tant attardi vers les peines des cors, 

Sur la fin d'un beau jour. 

Oh! ce fut pour vos cors, et ce fut pour Tautomne, 

Qu'il nous montra qu' "on meurt d'amour!" 

On ne le verra plus aux fetes nationales, 

S'enfermer dans 1'Histoire et tirer les verrous, 

II vint trop tard, il est reparti sans scandale; 

O vous qui m'ecoutez, rentrez chacun chez vous. 






JULES LAFORGUE 299 

The old cadences, the old eloquence, the 
ingenuous seriousness of poetry, are all ban- 
ished, on a theory as self-denying as that 
which permitted Degas to dispense with 
recognisable beauty in his figures. Here, if 
ever, is modern verse, verse which dispenses 
with so many of the privileges of poetry, for 
an ideal quite of its own. It is, after all, 
a very self-conscious ideal, becoming arti- 
ficial through its extreme naturalness; for 
in poetry it is not "natural" to say things 
quite so much in the manner of the moment, 
with however ironical an intention. 

The prose of the Moralites Legendaires is 
perhaps even more of a discovery. Finding 
its origin, as I have pointed out, in the ex- 
perimental prose of Rimbaud, it carries that 
manner to a singular perfection. Disartic- 
ulated, abstract, mathematically lyrical, it 
gives expression, in its icy ecstasy, to a 
very subtle criticism of the universe, with 
a surprising irony of cosmical vision. We 
learn from books of mediaeval magic that 
the embraces of the devil are of a coldness 
so intense that it may be called, by an allow- 
able figure of speech, fiery. Everything may 



300 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

be as strongly its opposite as itself, and that 
is why this balanced, chill, colloquial style 
of Laforgue has, in the paradox of its in- 
tensity, the essential heat of the most ob- 
viously emotional prose. The prose is more 
patient than the verse, with its more com- 
passionate laughter at universal experience. 
It can laugh as seriously, as profoundly, 
as in that graveyard monologue of Hamlet, 
Laforgue' s Hamlet, who, Maeterlinck ven- 
tures to say, "is at moments more Hamlet 
than the Hamlet of Shakespeare." Let me 
translate a few sentences from it. 

"Perhaps I have still twenty or thirty 
years to live, and I shall pass that way like 
the others. Like the others? Totality, 
the misery of being there no longer! Ah! 
I would like to set out to-morrow, and search 
all through the world for the most adaman- 
tine processes of embalming. They, too, were, 
the little people of History, learning to read, 
trimming their nails, lighting the dirty lamp 
every evening, in love, gluttonous, vain, fond 
of compliments, handshakes, and kisses, living 
on bell-tower gossip, saying, 'What sort of 
weather shall we have to-morrow? Winter 



JULES LAFORGUE 301 

has really come. . . . We have had no plums 
this year.' Ah! everything is good, if it would 
not come to an end. And thou, Silence, 
pardon the Earth; the little madcap hardly 
knows what she is doing; on the day of the 
great summing-up of consciousness before the 
Ideal, she will be labelled with a pitiful idem 
in the column of the miniature evolutions 
of the Unique Evolution, in the column 
of negligeable quantities. ... To die! Evi- 
dently, one dies without knowing it, as, 
every night, one enters upon sleep. One 
has no consciousness of the passing of the 
last lucid thought into sleep, into swooning, 
into death. Evidently. But to be no more, 
to be here no more, to be ours no more! 
Not even to be able, any more, to press 
against one's human heart, some idle after- 
noon, the ancient sadness contained in one 
little chord on the piano!" 

In these always " lunar" parodies, Salome", 
Lohengrin, Fils de Parsifal, Per see et An- 
dromede, each a kind of metaphysical myth, 
he realises that la creature va hardiment a 
$tre cerebrale, anti-naturelle, and he has in- 
vented these fantastic puppets with an al- 



302 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

most Japanese art of spiritual dislocation. 
They are, in part, a way of taking one's 
revenge upon science, by an ironical borrow- 
ing of its very terms, which dance in his 
prose and verse, derisively, at the end of a 
string. 

In his acceptance of the fragility of things 
as actually a principle of art, Laforgue is a 
sort of transformed Watteau, showing his 
disdain for the world which fascinates him, 
in quite a different way. He has constructed 
his own world, lunar and actual, speaking 
slang and astronomy, with a constant dis- 
engaging of the visionary aspect, under which 
frivolity becomes an escape from the arro- 
gance of a still more temporary mode of 
being, the world as it appears to the sober 
majority. He is terribly conscious of daily 
life, cannot omit, mentally, a single hour of 
the day; and his flight to the moon is in sheer 
desperation. He sees what he calls Vlncon- 
scient in every gesture, but he cannot see it 
without these gestures. And he sees, not only 
as an imposition, but as a conquest, the pos- 
sibilities for art which come from the sickly 
modern being, with his clothes, his nerves: 



JULES LAFORGUE 303 

the mere fact that he flowers from the soil of 
his epoch. 

It is an art of the nerves, this art of La- 
forgue, and it is what all art would tend 
towards if we followed our nerves on all 
their journeys. There is in it all the rest- 
lessness of modern life, the haste to escape 
from whatever weighs too heavily on the 
liberty of the moment, that capricious liberty 
which demands only room enough to hurry 
itself weary. It is distressingly conscious of 
the unhappiness of mortality, but it plays, 
somewhat uneasily, at a disdainful indiffer- 
ence. And it is out of these elements of 
caprice, fear, contempt, linked together by 
an embracing laughter, that it makes its 
existence. 

II n'y a pas de type, il y a la vie, Laforgue 
replies to those who come to him with classi- 
cal ideals. Votre ideal est bien vite magni- 
fiquement submerge, in life itself, which should 
form its own art, an art deliberately ephem- 
eral, with the attaching pathos of passing 
things. There is a great pity at the root 
of this art of Laforgue: self-pity, which 
extends, with the artistic sympathy, through 



304 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

mere clearness of vision, across the world. 
His laughter, which Maeterlinck has defined 
so admirably as "the laughter of the soul," 
is the laughter of Pierrot, more than half a 
sob, and shaken out of him with a deplorable 
gesture of the thin arms, thrown wide. He is 
a metaphysical Pierrot, Pierrot lunaire, and 
it is of abstract notions, the whole science of 
the unconscious, that he makes his showman's 
patter. As it is part of his manner not to 
distinguish between irony and pity, or even 
belief, we need not attempt to do so. Heine 
should teach us to understand at least so 
much of a poet who could not otherwise 
resemble him less. In Laforgue, sentiment 
is squeezed out of the world before one begins 
to play at ball with it. 

And so, of the two, he is the more hope- 
less. He has invented a new manner of 
being Rene* or Werther: an inflexible polite- 
ness towards man, woman, and destiny. He 
composes love-poems hat in hand, and smiles 
with an exasperating tolerance before all 
the transformations of the eternal feminine. 
He is very conscious of death, but his Hague 
of death is, above all things, gentlemanly. 






JULES LAFORGUE 305 

He will not permit himself, at any moment, 
the luxury of dropping the mask: not at 
any moment. 

Read this Autre Complainte de Lord Pierrot, 
with the singular pity of its cruelty, before 
such an imagined dropping of the mask: 

Cclle qui doit me mettre au courant de la Femme! 

Nous lui dirons d'abord, de mon air le moins froid: 
"La somme des angles d'un triangle, chere ame, 
Est 6gale a deux droits." 

Et si ce cri lui part: "Dieu de Dieu que je t'aime!" 

"Dieu reconnaftra les siens." Ou pique"e au vif: 
" Mes claviers ont du coeur, tu sera mon seul theme." 
Moi- "Tout estrelatif." 

De tous ses yeux, alors! se sentant trop banale: 

"Ah! tu ne m'aime pas; tant d'autres sont jaloux!" 
Et moi, d'un osil qui vers 1'Inconscient s'emballe: 
"Merci, pas mal; et vous? 

"Jouons au plus fidele!" A quoi bon, 6 Nature! 

"Autant a qui perd gagne." Alors, autre couplet 
"Ah! tu te lasseras le premier, j'en suis sure." 
"Apres vous, s'il vous plait." 

Enfins, si, par un soir, elle meurt dans mes livres, 

Douce; feignant de n'en pas croire encor mes yeux, 
J'aurai un: "Ah ga, mais, nous avions De Quoi vivre! 
C'6tait done se"rieux?" 

And yet one realises, if one but reads him 
attentively enough, how much suffering and 



306 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

despair, and resignation to what is, after all, 
the inevitable, are hidden away under this 
disguise, and also why this disguise is possible. 
Laforgue died at twenty-seven: he had been 
a dying man all his life, and his work has the 
fatal evasiveness of those who shrink from 
remembering the one thing which they are 
unable to forget. Coming as he does after 
Rimbaud, turning the divination of the other 
into theories, into achieved results, he is the 
eternally grown up, mature to the point of 
self-negation, as the other is the eternal 
enfant terrible. He thinks intensely about 
life, seeing what is automatic, pathetically 
ludicrous in it, almost as one might who has 
no part in the comedy. He has the double 
advantage, for his art, of being condemned 
to death, and of being, in the admirable phrase 
of Villiers, "one of those who come into the 
world with a ray of moonlight in their brains." 






MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 

THE secret of things which is just beyond 
the most subtle words, the secret of the ex- 
pressive silences, has always been clearer to 
Maeterlinck than to most people; and, in 
his plays, he has elaborated an art of sensi- 
tive, tactiturn, and at the same time highly 
ornamental simplicity, which has come nearer 
than any other art to being the voice of 
silence. To Maeterlinck the theatre has been, 
for the most part, no more than one of the 
disguises by which he can express himself, 
and with his book of meditations on the 
inner life, Le Tresor des Humbles, he may 
seem to have dropped his disguise. 

All art hates the vague; not the mysteri- 
ous, but the vague; two opposites very 
commonly confused, as the secret with the 
obscure, the infinite with the indefinite. And 
the artist who is also a mystic hates the 
vague with a more profound hatred than 
any other artist. Thus Maeterlinck, endea- 
307 



308 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

vouring to clothe mystical conceptions in 
concrete form, has invented a drama so 
precise, so curt, so arbitrary in its limits, 
that it can safely be confided to the masks 
and feigned voices of marionettes. His 
theatre of artificial beings, who are at once 
more ghostly and more mechanical than the 
living actors whom we are accustomed to see, 
in so curious a parody of life, moving with 
a certain freedom of action across the stage, 
may be taken as itself a symbol of the aspect 
under which what we fantastically term "real 
life" presents itself to the mystic. Are we 
not all puppets, in a theatre of marionettes, 
in which the parts we play, the dresses we 
wear, the very emotion whose dominance 
gives its express form to our faces, have all 
been chosen for us; in which I, it may be, 
with curled hair and a Spanish cloak, play 
the romantic lover, sorely against my will, 
while you, a "fair penitent" for no repented 
sin, pass quietly under a nun's habit? And 
as our parts have been chosen for Us, our 
motions controlled from behind the curtain, 
so the words we seem to speak are but spoken 
through us, and we do but utter fragments 



MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 309 

of some elaborate invention, planned for larger 
ends than our personal display or convenience, 
but to which, all the same, we are in a humble 
degree necessary. This symbolical theatre, 
its very existence being a symbol, has per- 
plexed many minds, to some of whom it has 
seemed puerile, a child's mystification of small 
words and repetitions, a thing of attitudes 
and omissions; while others, yet more un- 
wisely, have compared it with the violent, 
rhetorical, most human drama of the Eliza- 
bethans, with Shakespeare himself, to whom 
all the world was a stage, and the stage all 
this world, certainly. A sentence, already 
famous, of the Tresor des Humbles, will tell 
you what it signifies to Maeterlinck himself. 

"I have, come to believe," he writes, in 
Le Tragique Quotidien, a that an old man 
seated in his armchair, waiting quietly under 
the lamplight, listening without knowing it 
to all the eternal laws which reign about his 
house, interpreting without understanding it 
all that there is in the silence of doors and 
windows, and in the little voice of light, en- 
during the presence of his soul and of his 
destiny, bowing his head a little, without 



310 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

suspecting that all the powers of the earth 
intervene and stand on guard in the room like 
attentive servants, not knowing that the sun 
itself suspends above the abyss the little table 
on which he rests his elbow, and that there is 
not a star in the sky nor a force in the soul 
which is indifferent to the motion of a fall- 
ing eyelid or a rising thought I have come 
to believe that this motionless old man 
lived really a more profound, human, and 
universal life than the lover who strangles 
his mistress, the captain who gains a victory, 
or the husband who ' avenges his honour. " 

That, it seems to me, says all there is 
to be said of the intention of this drama 
which Maeterlinck has evoked; and, of its 
style, this other sentence, which I take from 
the same essay: "It is only the words that 
at first sight seem useless which really count 
in a work." 

This drama, then, is a drama founded on 

^philosophical ideas, apprehended emotionally; 

I on the sense of the mystery of the universe, 

of the weakness of humanity, that sense which 

Pascal expressed when he said: Ce qui m'etonne 

le plus est de voir que tout le monde n'est pas 






MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 311 

etonne de sa faiblesse; with an acute feeling 
of the pathetic ignorance in which the souls 
nearest to one another look out upon their 
neighbours. It is a drama in which the inter- 
est is concentrated on vague people, who are 
little parts of the universal consciousness, 
their strange names being but the pseudonyms 
of obscure passions, intimate emotions. They 
have the fascination which we find in the eyes 
of certain pictures, so much more real and 
disquieting, so much more permanent with 
us, than living people. And they have the 
touching simplicity of children; they are 
always children in their ignorance of them- 
selves, of one another, and of fate. And, 
because they are so disembodied of the 
more trivial accidents of life, they give them- 
selves without limitation to whatever pas- 
.sionate instinct possesses them. I do not 
know a more passionate love-scene than 
that scene in the wood beside the fountain, 
where Pelle'as and Melisande confess the 
strange burden which has come upon them. 
When the soul gives itself absolutely to love, 
all the barriers of the world are burnt away, 
and all its wisdom and subtlety are as in- 



312 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

cense poured on a flame. Morality, too, 
is burnt away, no longer exists, any more 
than it does for children or for God. 

Maeterlinck has realised, better than any 
one else, the significance, in life and art, of 
mystery. He has realised how unsearchable 
is the darkness out of which we have but 
just stepped, and the darkness into which 
we are about to pass. And he has realised 
how the thought and sense of that twofold 
darkness invade the little space of light in 
which, for a moment, we move; the depth to 
which they shadow our steps, even in that 
moment's partial escape. But in some of his 
plays he would seem to have apprehended 
this mystery as a thing merely or mainly ter- 
rifying; the actual physical darkness sur- 
rounding blind men, the actual physical ap- 
proach of death as the intruder; he has shown 
us people huddled at a window, out of which 
they are almost afraid to look, or beating at a 
door, the opening of which they dread. Fear 
shivers through these plays, creeping across 
our nerves like a damp mist coiling up out of a 
valley. And there is beauty, certainly, in 
this "vague spiritual fear"; but a less obvious 






MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 313 

kind of beauty than that which gives its pro- 
found pathos to Aglavaine et Selysettej the one 
play written since the writing of the essays. 
Here is mystery, which is also pure beauty, in 
these delicate approaches of intellectual pathos, 
in which suffering and death and error become 
transformed into something almost happy, so 
full is it of strange light. 

And the aim of Maeterlinck, in his plays/ 
is not only to render the soul and the soul's 
atmosphere, but to reveal this strangeness, 
pity, and beauty through beautiful pictures. 
No dramatist has ever been so careful that 
his scenes should be in themselves beautiful, 
or has made the actual space of forest, tower, 
or seashore so emotionally significant. He has 
realised, after Wagner, that the art of the stage 
is the art of pictorial beauty, of the corre- 
spondence in rhythm between the speakers, 
their words, and their surroundings. He has 
seen how, in this way, and in this way alone, 
the emotion, which it is but a part of the 
poetic drama to express, can be at once inters 
sified and purified. 

It is only after hinting at many of the 
things which he had to say in these plays, 



- 



314 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

which have, after all, been a kind of subter- 
fuge, that Maeterlinck has cared, or been able, 
to speak with the direct utterance of the 
essays. And what may seem curious is that 
this prose of the essays, which is the prose of 
a doctrine, is incomparably more beautiful 
than the prose of the plays, which was the 
prose of an art. Holding on this point a 
different opinion from one who was, in many 
senses, his master, Villiers de PIsle-Adam, he 
did not admit that beauty of words, or even 
any expressed beauty of thoughts, had its 
place in spoken dialogue, even though it was 
not two living actors speaking to one another 
on the stage, but _a..sQul speaking^ to a, soul, 
and imagined speaking through the mouths of 
marionettes. But that beauty of phrase which 
makes the profound and sometimes obscure 
pages of Axel shine as with the crossing fire 
of jewels, rejoices us, though with a softer, a 
more equable, radiance, in the pages of these 
essays, in which every sentence has the in- 
dwelling beauty of an intellectual emotion, 
\ preserved at the same height of tranquil 
ecstasy from first page to last. There is a 
sort of religious calm in these deliberate sen- 




MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 315 

tences, into which the writer has known how 
to introduce that 4ivmejgaqnotQny which is 
one of the accomplishments of great style. 
Never has simplicity been more ornate or a 
fine beauty more visible through its self- 
concealment. 

But, after all, the claim upon us of this 
book is not the claim of a work of art, but 
of a doctrine, and more than that, of a sys- 
tem. Belonging, as he does, to the eternal 
hierarchy, the unbroken succession, of the 
mystics, Maeterlinck has apprehended what 
is essential in the mystical doctrine with a 
more profound comprehension, and thus more 
systematically, than any mystic of recent 
times. He has many points of resemblance 
with Emerson, on whom he has written an 
essay which is properly an exposition of his 
own personal ideas; but Emerson, who pro- 
claimed the supreme guidance of the inner , 
light, the supreme necessity of trusting in-! 
stinct, of honouring emotion, did but proclaim 1 
all this, not without a certain anti-mysticalj 
vagueness: Maeterlinck has systematised it. 
A more profound mystic than Emerson, he 
has greater command of that which comes to 



316 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

him unawares, is less at the mercy of visiting 
angels. 

Also, it may be said that he surrenders 
himself to them more absolutely, with less 
reserve and discretion; and, as he has infinite 
leisure, his contemplation being subject to no 
limits of time, he is ready to follow them on 
unknown rounds, to any distance, in any direc- 
tion, ready also to rest in any wayside inn, 
without fearing that he will have lost the 
road on the morrow. 

This old gospel, of which Maeterlinck is 
the new voice, has been quietly waiting until 
certain bankruptcies, the bankruptcy of Sci- 
ence, of the Positive Philosophies, should allow 
it full credit. Considering the length even of 
time, it has not had an unreasonable space of 
waiting; and remember that it takes time but 
little into account. We have seen many little 
gospels demanding of every emotion, of every 
instinct, "its certificate at the hand of some 
respectable authority." Without confidence in 
themselves or in things, and led by Science, 
which is as if one were led by one's note-book, 
they demand a reasonable explanation of 
every mystery. Not finding that explana- 






MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 317 

tion, they reject the mystery; which is as if 
the fly on the wheel rejected the wheel because 
it was hidden from his eyes by the dust of its 
own raising. x 

The mystic is at once the proudest and the 
humblest of men. He is as a child who resigns 
himself to the guidance of an unseen hand, 
the hand of one walking by his side; he resigns 
himself with the child's humility. And he 
has the pride of the humble, a pride manifesting 
itself in the calm rejection of every accepted 
map of the roads, of every offer of assistance, of 
every painted signpost pointing out the smooth- 
est ways on which to travel. He demands no 
authority for the unseen hand whose fingers 
he feels upon his wrist. He conceives of life, 
not, indeed, so much as a road on which one 
walks, very much at one's own discretion, but 
as a blown and wandering ship, surrounded by 
a sea from which there is no glimpse of land; 
and he conceives that to the currents of that 
sea he may safely trust himself. Let his hand, 
indeed, be on the rudder, there will be no 
miracle worked for him; it is enough miracle 
that the sea should be there, and the ship, 
and he himself. He will never know why 



318 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

his hand should turn the rudder this way 
rather than that. 

f Jacob Boehme has said, very subtly, "that 
man does not perceive the truth but God 
perceives the truth in man"; that is, that 
whatever we perceive or do is not perceived 
or done consciously by us, but unconsciously 
through us. Our business, then, is to tend 
fthat "inoer^Jigkt" by which most mystics 
/ have symbolised that which at once guides us 
(JLQ, time and attaches us to eternity. This 
inner light is no miraculous descent of the 
Holy Spirit, but the pejrfe^y^natural, though 
it may finally be overcoming, ascent of the 
spirit within us. The spirit, in all men, being 
but a ray of the universal light, it can, by 
careful tending, by the removal of all obstruc- 
tion, the cleansing of the vessel, the trimming 
of the wick, as it were, be increased, made to 
burn with a steadier, a brighter flame. In 
the last rapture it may become dazzling, may 
blind the watcher with excess of light, shutting 
him in within the circle of transfiguration, 
whose extreme radiance will leave all the 
rest of the world henceforth one darkness. 
All mystics being concerned with what is 






MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 319 

divine in life, with the laws which apply 
equally to time and eternity, it may happen 
to one to concern himself chiefly with time 
seen under the aspect of eternity, to another 
to concern himself rather with eternity seen 
under the aspect of time. Thus many mystics 
have occupied themselves, very profitably, 
with showing how natural, how explicable on 
their own terms, are the mysteries of life; the-i 
whole aim of Maeterlinck is to show how 
mysterious all life is, "what an astonishing I 
thing it is, merely to live." What he haci 
pointed out to us, with certain solemn ges- 
tures, in his plays, he sets himself now to 
affirm, slowly, fully, with that "confidence 
in mystery " of which he speaks. Because 
"there is not an hour without its familiar 
miracles and its ineffable suggestions, " he 
sets himself to show us these miracles and 
these meanings where others have not always 
sought or found them, in women, in children, 
in the theatre. He seems to touch, at one 
moment or another, whether he is discussing 
La Beaute Interieure or Le Tragique Quotidien, 
on all of these hours, and there is no hour so 
dark that his touch does not illuminate it. 



320 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

And it is characteristic of him, of his " con- 
fidence in mystery ," that he speaks always 
without raising his voice, without surprise or 
triumph, or the air of having said anything 
more than the simplest observation. He 
speaks, not as if he knew more than others, or 
had sought out more elaborate secrets, but as 
if he had listened more attentively. 

Loving most those writers "whose works 
are nearest to silence," he begins his book, 
significantly, with an essay on Silence, an 
essay which, like all these essays, has the 
reserve, the expressive reticence, of those 
"active silences" of which he succeeds in 
revealing a few of the secrets. 
f2" Souls," he tells us, "are weighed in silence, 
as gold and silver are weighed in pure water, 
and the words which we pronounce have no 
meaning except through the silence in which 
they are bathed. We seek to know that we 
may learn not to know"; knowledge, that 
which can be known by the pure reason, meta- 
physics, "indispensable" on this side of the 
"frontiers," being after all precisely what is 
least essential to us, since least essentially 
ourselves. "We possess a self more profound 






MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 321 

and more boundless than the self of the pas- 
sions or of pure reason. . . . There comes a 
moment when the phenomena of our cus- 
tomary consciousness, what we may call the 
consciousness of the passions or of our normal 
relationships, no longer mean anything to us, 
no longer touch our real life. I admit that 
this consciousness is often interesting in its 
way, and that it is often necessary to know it 
thoroughly. But it is a surface plant, and 
its roots fear the great central fire of our being. 
I may commit a crime without the least breath 
stirring the tiniest flame of this fire; and, on 
the other hand, the crossing of a single glance, 
a thought which never comes into being, a 
minute which passes without the utterance 
of a word, may rouse it into terrible agitations 
in the depths of its retreat, and cause it to 
overflow upon my life. Our soul does. ..not 
judge as we judge ;^ it is a capricious anj) 
hidden thing. It can be reached by a breath 
and unconscious of a tempest. Let us find out 
what reaches it; everything is there, for it is 
there that we ourselves are." 

And it is towards this point that all the 
words of this book tend. Maeterlinck, unlike 



322 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

most men (''What is man but a God who is 
afraid?")) is not "miserly of immortal things/' 
He utters the most divine secrets without 
fear, betraying certain hiding-places of the 
soul in those most nearly inaccessible retreats 
which lie nearest to us. All that he says we 
know already; we may deny it, but we know 
it. It is what we are not often at leisure 
enough with ourselves, sincere enough with 
ourselves, to realise; what we often dare not 
realise; but, when he says it, we know that 
it is true, and our knowledge of it is his 
warrant for saying it. He is what he is 
precisely because he tells us nothing which 
we do not already know, or it may be, what 
we have known and forgotten. 

mystic, let it be remembered, has 
othing in common with the moralist. He 
speaks only to those who are already prepared 
to listen to him, and he is indifferent to the 
" practical 5 ' effect which these or others may 
draw from his words. A young and profound 
mystic of our day has figured the influence of 
wise words upon the foolish and headstrong 
as "torches thrown into a burning city." 
The mystic knows well that it is not always 






MAETERLINCK AS A MYSTIC 323 

the soul of the drunkard or the blasphemer 
which is farthest from the eternal beauty. He 
is concerned only with that soul of the soul, 
that life of life, with which the day's doings 
have so little to do; itself a mystery, and at 
home only among those supreme mysteries 
which surround it like an atmosphere. It is 
not always that he cares that his message, or 
his vision, may be as clear to others as it is to 
himself. But, because he is an artist, and 
not only a philosopher, Maeterlinck has taken 
especial pains that not a word of his may go 
astray, and there is not a word of this book 
which needs to be read twice, in order that it 
may be understood, by the least trained of 
attentive readers. It is, indeed, as he calls 
it, "The Treasure of the Lowly." 



(V 



CONCLUSION 

^ 

OUR only chance, in this world, of a complete 
happiness, lies in the measure of our success 
in shutting the eyes of the mind, and dead- 
ening its sense of hearing, and dulling the 
keenness of its apprehension of the unknown. 

""Knowing so much less than nothing, for we 
are entrapped in smiling and many-coloured 
appearances, our life may seem to be but a 
little space of leisure, in which it will be the 
necessary business of each of us to speculate 
on what is so rapidly becoming the past and 
so rapidly becoming the future, that scarcely 
existing present which is after all our only 

possession. Yet, as the present passes from 

us, hardly to be enjoyed except as memory 
or as hope, and only with an at best partial 
recognition of the uncertainty or inutility of 
both, it is with a kind of terror that we wake 
up, every now and then, to the whole knowl- 
edge of our ignorance, and to some per- 
ception of where it is leading us. To live 

324 



CONCLUSION 



325 



through a single day with that overpowering 
consciousness of our real position, which, in 
the moments in which alone it mercifully 
comes, is like blinding light or the thrust 
of a flaming sword, would drive any man 
out of his senses. It is our hesitations, the 
excuses of our hearts, the compromises of 
our intelligence, which save us. We can 
forget so much, we can bear suspense with 
so fortunate an evasion of its real issues; 
we are so admirably finite. 

And so there is a great, silent conspiracy 
between us to forget death; all our lives are 
spent in busily forgetting death. That is 
why we are active about so many things 
which we know to be unimportant; why we 
are so afraid of solitude, and so thankful for 
the company of our fellow-creatures. Allow- 
ing ourselves, for the most part, to be but 
vaguely conscious of that great suspense in 
which we live, we find our escape from its 
sterile, annihilating reality in many dreams, 
in religion, passion, art; each a forgetfulness, 
each a s^mboLaL_creation; religion being the 
creation of a new heaven, passion the creation 
of a new earth, and art, in its mingling of 



326 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

heaven and earth, the creation of heaven out 
of earth. Each is a kind of sublime sel- 
fishness, the saint, the lover, and the artist 
having each an incommunicable ecstasy which 
\ he esteems as his ultimate attainment, how- 
ever, in his lower moments, he may serve 
God in action, or do the will of his mistress, 
or minister to men by showing them a little 
beauty. But it is, before all things, an escape* 
and the prophets who have redeemed the 
world, and the artists who have made the 
world beautiful, and the lovers who have 
quickened the pulses of the world, have really, 
whether they knew it or not, been fleeing 
from the certainty of one thought: that we 
have, all of us, only our one day; and from 
the dread of that other thought : that the day, 
I however used, must after all be wasted. 

The fear of death is not cowardice; it is, 
rather, an intellectual dissatisfaction with an 
enigma which has been presented to us, and 
which can be solved only when its solution 
is of no further use. All we have to ask 
of death is the meaning of life, and we are 
waiting all through life to ask that question. 
That life should be happy or unhappy, as 



CONCLUSION 327 

those words are used, means so very little; 
and the heightening or lessening of the gen- 
eral felicity of the world means so little to 
any individual. There is something almost 
vulgar in happiness which does not become 
joy, and joy is an ecstasy which can rarely 
be maintained in the soul for more than the 
moment during which we recognize that it 
is not sorrow. Only very young people want 
to be happy. What we all want is to be 
quite sure that there is something which 
makes it worth while to go on living, in 
what seems to us our best way, at our finest 
intensity; something beyond the mere fact 
that we are satisfying a sort of inner logic 
(which may be quite faulty) and that we get 
our best makeshift for happiness on that so 
hazardous assumption. 

Well, the doctrine of Mysticism, with which 
all this symbolical literature has so much 
to do, of which it is all so much the expres- 
sion, presents us, not with a guide for con- 
duct, not with a plan for our happiness, 
not with an explanation of any mystery, but 
with a theory of life which makes us familiar 
with mystery, and which seems to harmonise 



328 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

those instincts which make for religion, pas- 
sion, and art, freeing us at once of a great 
bondage. The final uncertainty remains, but 
we seem to knock less helplessly at closed 
doors, coming so much closer to the once 
terrifying eternity of things about us, as we 
come to look upon these things as shadows, 
through which we have our shadowy passage. 
"^"For in the particular acts of human life," 
Plotinus tells us, "it is not the interior soul 
and the true man, but the exterior shadow 
of the man alone, which laments and weeps, 
performing his part on the earth as in a 
more ample and extended scene, in which 
many shadows of souls and phantom scenes 
appear." And as we realise the identity of 
a poem, a prayer, or a kiss, in that spiritual 
universe which we are weaving for ourselves, 
each out of a thread of the great fabric; as 
we realise the infinite insignificance of action, 
its immense distance from the current of life; 
as we realise the delight of feeling ourselves 
carried onward by forces which it is our 
wisdom to obey; it is at least with a certain 
relief that we turn to an ancient doctrine, 
so much the more likely to be true because 



CONCLUSION 329 

it has so much the air of a dream. On this 

I theory alone does all life become worth living, 

! all art worth making, all worship worth 

offering. And because it might slay as well 

as save, because the freedom of its sweet 

captivity might so easily become deadly to 

the fool, because that is the hardest path to 

walk in where you are told only, walk well; 

it is perhaps the only counsel of perfection 

/ which can ever really mean much to the 

artist. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 

THE essays contained in this book are not intended to 
give information. They are concerned with ideas rather 
than with facts; each is a study of a problem, only in part 
a literary one, in which I have endeavoured to consider 
writers as personalities under the action of spiritual forces, 
or as themselves so many forces. But it has seemed to 
me that readers have a right to demand information in 
regard to writers who are so often likely to be unfamiliar 
to them. I have, therefore, given a bibliography of the 
works of each writer with whom I have dealt, and I have 
added a number of notes, giving various particulars which 
I think are likely to be useful in fixing more definitely 
the personal characteristics of these writers. 



HONORE DE BALZAC 

(1799-1850) 

LA COMEDIE HUMAINB 

Scenes de la Vie Privee 

Preface. La Maison du Chat-qui-pelote, 1829; Le Bal de 
Sceaux, 1829; Memoires de deux jeunes Mariees, 1841; 
La Bourse, 1832; Modeste Mignon, 1844; Un Debut dans 
la vie, 1842; Albert Savarus, 1842; La Vendetta, 1830; 
La Paix du menage, 1829; Madame Firmiani, 1832; 
Etude de femme, 1830; La Fausse maitresse, 1842; Une 
FiUe d'bve, 1838; Le Message, 1832; La Grenadine, 1832; 
La Femme abandonnee, 1832; Honorine, 1843; Beatrix, 
1838; Gobseck, 1830; La Femme de trente ans, 1834; La 
Pere Goriot, 1834; Le Colonel Chabert, 1832; La Messe de 
VAthee, 1836; L' Interdiction, 1836; Le Contrat de manage, 
1835; Awto etude de femme, 1839; La Grande Breteche, 
1832. 

ce*nes delaviede Province 

Ursuk Mirouet, 1841; Eugenie Grandet, 1833; Le Lys 
dans la vallee, 1835; Pierrette, 1839; Le Cwe* de TWs, 1832; 
La Menage d'un gar ^on, 1842; Uillustre Gaudissart, 1833; 
La Muse du departement, 1843; Le Fi'ei7Ze fille, 1836; 
Le Cabinet des Antiques, 1837; Les Illusions Perdues, 1836. 
335 



336 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Scenes de la Vie Parisienne 

Ferragus, 1833; La Duchesse de Langeais, 1834; La 
Fille aux yeux d'or, 1834; La Grandeur et la Decadence de 
Cesar Birotteau, 1837; La Maison Nucingen, 1837; Splen- 
deurs et miser es des courtisanes, 1838; Les Secrets de la 
Princesse de Cadignan, 1839; Facino Cane, 1836; Sar- 
rasine, 1830; Pierre Grassou, 1839; La Cousine Bette, 1846; 
Le Cousin Pons, 1847; Un Prince de la Boheme, 1839; 
Gaudissart II, 1844; Les Employes, 1836; Les Comediens 
sans le savoir, 1845; Les Petits Bourgeois, 1845; 

Scenes de la Vie Militarie 
Les Chouans, 1827; Une Passion dans le desert, 1830. 

Scenes de la Vie Politique 

Un Episode sous la Terreur, 1831; Une Tenebreuse Af- 
faire, 1841; Z. Marcas, 1840; L'Envers de I'Histoire con- 
temporaine, 1847; Le Depute d'Arcis. 

Scenes de la Vie de Campagne 

Le Medecin de campagne, 1832; Le Cure de village, 1837; 
Les Paysans, 1845. 

tftudes Philosophiques 

La Peau de Chagrin, 1830; Jesus-Christ en Flandres, 
1831; Melmoth reconcilie, 1835; Le Chef-d'ceuvre inconnu, 
1832; Gambara, 1837; Massimilla Doni, 1839; La Rech- 
erche de VAbsolu, 1834; L'Enfant Maudit, 1831; Les 
Maranas, 1832; Adieu, 1830; Le Requisitionnaire, 1831; 






BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 337 

El Verdugo, 1829; Un Drame au bord de la mer, 1834; 
L'Auberge rouge, 1831; U Elixir de longite vie, 1830; 
Maitre Cornelius, 1831; Catherine de Medicis, 1836; 
Les Presents, 1831; Louis Lambert, 1832; Seraphita, 1833. 

Etudes Analytiques 

La Physiologic du manage, 1829; P elites miser es de la 
vie conjugale. 

Theatre 

Vautrin, Drame 5 Actes, 1840; Les Ressources de Quinola, 
Comedie 5 Actes, 1842; Pamela Giraud, Drame 5 Actes, 
1843; La Mardtre, Drame 5 Actes, 1848; La Faiseur 
(Mercadet), Comedie 5 Actes, 1851; Les Contes Drolatiques t 
1832, 1833, 1839. 






338 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



PROSPER MERIMEE 

(1803-1870) 

La Guzla, 1827; La Jacquerie, 1828; Le Chronique du 
Temps de Charles IX, 1829; La Vase Etrusque, 1829; 
Venus d'llk, 1837; Colomba, 1846; Carmen, 1845; Lolas, 
1869; Mateo Falcone, 1876; Melanges Historiques et Litte- 
raires, 1855; Les Cosaques d'Autre-fois, 1865; Etude sur 
les Arts au Moyen-Age, 1875; Les Faux Demetrius, 1853; 
fitude sur I'Histoire Romaine, 1844; Histoire de Dom 
Pedro, 1848; Lettres a une Inconnue, 1874. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 339 



GERARD DE NERVAL 

(1808-1855) 

NapoUon et la France Guerriire, eUgies nationaks, 
1826; La mort de Talma, 1826; UAcademie, ou ks Mem- 
bres Introuvabks, comedie satirique en vers, 1826; NapoUon 
et Talma, Elegies nationaks nouvettes, 1826; M . Dentsct/urt, 
ou k Cuisinier Grand Homme, 1826; EUgies Nationaks et 
Satires Politiques, 1827; Faust, tragedie de Goethe, 1828 
(suivi du second Faust, 1840); Couronne Poetique de 
Beranger, 1828; Le Peupk, ode, 1830; Potsies Alkmandes, 
Morgeaux cho sis et traduits, 1830; Choix de Poesies de 
Ronsard et de Regnier, 1830; Nos Adieux a la Chambre 
de Dtputis de Van 1830, 1831; Lenore, traduite de Burger, 
1835; Piquilo, opera comique (with Dumas), 1837; L'AIr 
chimiste, drame en vers (with Dumas), 1839; Leo Burck- 
hardt, drame en prose (with Dumas), 1839; Scenes de la 
Vie Orientak, 2 vols., 1848-1850; Les Montenegrins, op^ra 
comique (with Alboize), 1849; Le Chariot d' Enfant, drame 
en vers (with Me*ry), 1850; Les Nuits du Ramazan, 1850; 
Voyage en Orient, 1851; L'Imagier de Harkm, legende 
en prose et en vers (with Me*ry and Bernard Lopez), 
1852; Contes et Faceties, 1852; Lorely, souvenirs d'Alk- 
magne, 1852; Les Illumines, 1852; Petits Chateaux de 
Boheme, 1853; Les Filks du Feu, 1854; Misanthropie et 
Repentir, drame de Kotzebue, 1855; La Boheme galank, 
1855; Le R6ve et la Vie; Aurtlia, 1855; Le Marquis de 



340 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Fayotte (with E. Gorges), 1856; (Euvres Completes, 6 vols. 
(1, Les Deux Faust de Goethe; 2, 3, Voyage en Orient; 4, 
Les Illumines, Les Faux Saulniers; 5, Le Reve et la Vie, Les 
Filles du Feu, La Boheme galante; 6, Poesies Completes), 
1867. 

The sonnets, written at different periods and published 
for the first time hi the collection of 1854, "Les Filles du 
Feu," which also contains "Sylvie," were reprinted in the 
volume of Poesies Completes, where they are imbedded in 
the midst of deplorable juvenilia. All, or almost all, of the 
verse worth preserving was collected, in 1897, by that 
delicate amateur of the curiosities of beauty, M. Remy 
de Gourmont, in a tiny volume called Les Chimeres, 
which contains the six sonnets of " Les Chimeres," the 
sonnet called "Vers Bore's," the five sonnets of "Le Christ 
aux Oliviers," and, in facsimile of the autograph, the 
lyric called "Les Cydalises." The true facts of the life 
of Gerard have been told for the first time, from original 
documents, by Mme. Arvede Barine, in two excellent 
articles in the Revue des Deux Mondes, October 15 and 
November 1, 1897, since reprinted in Les Nevroses, 1898. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 341 



THEOPHILE GAUTIER 

(1811-1872) 

Les Poesies, 1830; Albertus, ou I'emet k Peche, 1833; 
Les Jeunes-France, 1833; Mademoiselk de Maupin, 1835; 
Fortunio, 1838. 

La Comidie de la Mort, 1838; Tras ks Monies, 1839; 
Une Larme du Diabk, 1839; Gisek, battet, 1841; Une 
Voyage en Espagne, 1843; Le Peri, battet, 1843; Les Gro- 
tesques, 1844. 

Une Nuit de CUopdtre, 1845; Premieres Poesies, 1845; 
Zigzags, 1845; Le Tricorne Enchant^, 1845; La Turquie, 
1846. 

La Juive de Constantine, drama, 1846; Jean et Jean- 
nette, 1846; Le Roi Candauk, 1847. 

Les Roues innocents, 1847; Histoire des Peintres, 1847; 
Regardez, mais n'y louche pas, 1847; Les F6tes de Madrid, 
1847; Partie carree, 1851; Italia, 1852; Les J&wawx e* 
Camees, 1852; L'Art Modeme, 1859; I/es eauz Arfe en 
Europe, 1852; Caprices et Zigzags, 1852; Aria Marcella, 
1852; Les Beaux-arts en Europe, 1855; Constantinople, 
1854; Thedtre de poche, 1855; Le floman de to Momie, 
1856; Jettatura, 1857; Avator, 1857; Sakountala, Ballet, 
1858; tfonore* de Bakac, 1859; Les Fosses, 1860; Tresors 
d'Art de to fiwssie, 1860-1863; Histoire de Vart thedtrak en 
France depuis vingt-cinq ans, 1860; Le Capitaine Fracasse, 
1863; Les Dieux et ks Demi-Dieux de la peintre, 1863; 



342 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Poesies nouvelks, 1863; Loin de Paris, 1864; La Belle 
Jenny, 1864; Voyage en Russie, 1865; Spirite, 1866; Le 
Palais pompeien de V Avenue Montaigne, 1866; Rapport 
sur k progres des Lettres, 1868; Menagere intime, 1869; 
La Nature chez Elle, 1870; Tabkaux de Siege, 1871; 
Theatre, 1872; Portraits Contemporaines, 1874; Histoire 
du Romantisme, 1874; Portraits et Souvenirs litteraires, 
1875; Potsies completes, 1876: 2 vols.; L'Orient, 1877; 
FMSWS e eaux-Fortes, 1880; Tabkaux a la Plume, 1880; 
Mademoiselle Daphne, 1881 ; (rwde de Z'Amofew aw Muses 
du Louvre. 1882; Souvenirs de Theatre d'Art et de critique, 
1883. 






BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 343 



GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 

(1821-1880) 

Madame Bovary, 1857; Salammbd, 1863; La Tentation de 
Saint Antoine, 1874; L' Education Sentimentale, 1870; 
Trots Contes, 1877; Bouvard et Pechuche, 1881; Le Can- 
didat, 1874; Sur ks Champs et par ks Greves, 1886; Let- 
tres a George Sand, 1884; Correspondences, 1887-1893. 



344 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



CHARLES BAUDELAIRE 

(1821-1867) 

Salon de 1845, 1845; Salon de 1846, 1846; Histoires 
Extraordinaires, traduit de Poe, 1856; Nouvelle Histoires 
Extraordinaires, 1857; Les Fkurs du Mai, 1857; A ven- 
tures d" Arthur Gordon Pym (Poe), 1858; Theophik Gau- 
tier, 1859; Les Paradis Artificiels: Opium et Haschisch, 
1860; Richard Wagner et Tannhauser d Paris, 1861; 
Eureka: Poe, 1864; Histoires Grotesques: Poe, 1865; 
Les fipaves de Charks Baudelaire, 1866. 






BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 343 
EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT 

(1822-1896; 1830-1870) 

En 18, 1851; Salon de 1852, 1852; La Loretk, 1853; 
Mysteres des Theatres, 1853; La revolution dans Us Mceurs, 
1854; Histoire de la Societt Frangaise pendent la Revo- 
lution, 1854; Histoire de la Societe Frangaise pendent la 
Directoire, 1855; Le Peinture a V Exposition de Paris de 
1855, 1855; Une Voiture des Masques, 1856; Les Actrices, 
1856; Sophie Arnauld, 1857; Portraits intimes du XVIII 
Sieck, 1857-1858; Histoire de Marie Antoinette, 1858; 
UArt du XVIII Sieck, 1859-1875; Les Hommes de 
Lettres, 1860; Les Mattresses de Louis VI, 1860; Soeur 
Philomtne, 1861; Les Femmes au XVIII Sieck, 1864; 
Renee Mauperin, 1864; Germinie Lacerteux, 1864; I dees 
et Sensations, 1860; Manette Salomon, 1867; Madame 
Gervaisais, 1869; Gavarni, 1873; La Patrie en Danger, 
1879; L 'Amour au XVIII Sieck, 1873; La du Barry, 
1875; Madame de Pompadour, 1878; La Duchesse de la 
Chdteauroux, 1879; Pages retrouvees, 1886; Journal des 
Goncourts, 1887-1896, 9 Vols.; Prefaces et manifesks 
litteraires, 1888; L' Italic d'hier, 1894; Edmond de Gon- 
court: Catalogue raisonee de I'ceuvre peinte, dessine et grave 
d'Antoine Watteau, 1873; Catalogue de I'ceuvre de P. 
Proudhun, 1876; La Fitte Elisa, 1879; Les Freres Zam- 
ganno, 1879; La Maison d'un Artiste, 1881; La Faustin, 
1882; La Saint-Hubert, 1882; Cherie, 1884; Germinie 
Lacerteux, piece, 1888; MademoiseUe Clairon, 1890; Outa- 
moro, k peintre des maisons verks, 1891; La Gumiard, 
1893; A bas k progres, 1893; Hokousei, 1896. 



346 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



VILLIERS DE LISLE-ADAM 

(1838-1889) 

Premises Poesies, 1859; Isis, 1862; Elen, 1864; Mor- 
gane, 1865; Claire Lenoir (in the Revue des Lettres et des 
Arts), 1867; L'Evasion, 1870; La Revolte, 1870; Azrael, 
1878; Le Nouveau Monde, 1880; Contes Cruels, 1880; 
L'Eve Future, 1886; Akedysseril, 1886; U Amour Supreme, 
1886; Tribulat Bonhomet, 1887; Histoires Insolites, 1888; 
Nouveaux Contes Cruels, 1889; AzeZ, 1890; CTiez Zes Pas- 
sant, 1890; Proposd'Au-dela, 1893; Histoires Souveraines, 
1899 (a selection). 

Among works announced, but never published, it may 
be interesting to mention: Seid, William de Strally, Faust, 
Poesies Nouvelks (Intermedes; Gog; Ave, Mater Victa; 
Poesies diver'ses), La Tentation sur la Montague, Le Vieux 
de la Montague, V 'Adoration des Mages, Meditations Lit- 
ttraires, Melanges, Theatre (2 vols.), Documents sur les 
Regnes de Charles VI. et de Charles VII., L'lllusionisme, 
De la Connaissance de V Utile, L'Exegese Divine. 

A sympathetic, but slightly vague, Life of Villiers was 
written by his cousin, Vicomte Robert du Pontavice de 
Heussey: Villiers de I'lsk-Adam, 1893; it was translated 
into English by Lady Mary Lloyd, 1894. See Verlaine's 
Poetes Maudits, 1884, and his biography of Villiers in Les 
Hommes d'Aujourd'hui, the series of penny biographies, 
with caricature portraits, published by Vanier; also Mai- 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 347 

laim's Vittiers de I'Isk-Adam, the reprint of a lecture 
given at Brussels a few months after Villiers' death. La 
Revolte was translated by Mrs. Theresa Barclay in the 
Fortnightly Review, December, 1897, and acted in London 
by the New Stage Club in 1906. I have translated a little 
poem, A veu, from the interlude of verse in the Contes 
Cruels called Chant d? Amour, in Days and Nights, 1889. 
An article of mine, the first, I believe, to be written on 
Villiers in English, appeared in the Woman's World in 
1889; another in the Illustrated London News in 1891. 



348 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



LEON CLADEL 

(1835-1892) 

Les Martyrs "Ridicules. Preface par Charles Baudelaire, 
1862; Pierre Patient, 1862; U Amour Romantique, 1882; 
Le Deuxieme Mystere de V Incarnation, 1883; Le Bous- 
cassie, 1889; La Fete-Votive de Saint Bartholomee Porte- 
Glaive, 1872; LesVas-nu-Pieds, 1874; Celui de la Croix 
aux Bceufs, 1878; Bonshommes, 1879; Ompdrailles 
Le Tombeau des Lutteurs, 1879; N'a q'un Oeil, 1885; 
Tity Foyssac IV, 1886; Petits Chiens de Leon Cladel, 
1879; Par Devant Notaire, 1880; Crete-Rouge, 1880; 
Six Morceaux de la Litter ature, 1880; Kerkades Garde- 
Barriere, 1884; Urbains et Ruraux, 1884; Leon Cladel et 
ses Kyrielle des Chiens, 1885; Heros et Pantins, 1885; 
Quelques Sires, 1885; Mi-Diabk, 1886; Gueux de Marque, 
1887; Effigies d'Inconnus, 1888; Raca, 1888; Seize 
Morceaux de Litterature, 1889; Uancien, 1889; 
Errante, 1897. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 349 



EMILE ZOLA 

(1840-1902) 

Les Rougon-Maequart, 1871-1893; La Fortune des 
Rougons, 1871; La Curee, 1872; Le Venire de Paris, 
1873; La Conquete de Pluisans, 1874; La Faute de I'abbe 
Mouret, 1875; Son Excellence Eugene Rougon, 1876-; 
L'Assommoir, 1876; Une Page d'Amour, 1878; Nana, 
1880; Pot.-Bouille, 1882; An Bonheur des Dames, 1883; 
La Joie de Vivre, 1884; Madeleine Ferat, 1885; La Con- 
fession de Claude, 1886; Contes a Ninon, 1891; Nou- 
veaux Contes a Ninon, 1874; Le Capitaine Burle, 1883; 
Lajoie de vivre, 1884; Les Mysteres de Marseilles, 1885; 
Mes Haines, 1866; Le Roman Experimental, 1881; Nos 
Auteurs dramatiques, 1881; Documents litteraires, 1881; 
Une Compagne, 1882. Theatre: Therese Raquin, Les 
Heritiers Rabourdin, La Bouton de Rose, 1890; U Argent, 
1891; L'Attaquedu Moulin, 1890; La Bete H umaine, 1890; 
La Debacle, 1892; Le Doctor Pascal, 1893; Germinie, 1885; 
Mon Safcm, 1886; Le naturalisme au Theatre, 1889; 
L'CEuvre, 1886; Le #et;e, 1892; Pans, 1898; Rome, 1896; 
Lourdes, 1894; Fecondite, 1899; JYawnZ, 1901; 
1903. 



350 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



STEPHANE MALLARME 

(1842-1898) 

Le Corbeau (traduit de Poe), 1875; La Derniere Mode, 
1875; L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune, 1876; Le Vathek de 
Beckford, 1876; Petite Philologie d V Usage des Classes et 
du Monde: Les Mots Anglais, 1877; Poesies Completes 
(photograve*es sur le manuscrit), 1887; Les Poems de 
Poe, 1888; Le Ten o'Clock de M. Whistler, 1888; Pages, 
1891; Les Miens: Villiers de risk-Adam, 1892; Vers 
et Prose, 1892; La Musique et les Lettres (Oxford, Cam- 
bridge), 1894; Divagations, 1897; Poesies, 1899. 

See, on this difficult subject, Edmund Gosse, Questions 
at Issue, 1893, in which will be found the first study of 
Mallarme* that appeared in English; and Vittorio Pica, 
Letteratura d'Eccezione, 1899, which contains a carefully- 
documented study of more than a hundred pages. There 
is a translation of the poem called " Fleurs " in Mr. 
John Gray's Silverpoints, 1893, and translations of " H6- 
rodiade " and three shorter poems will be found in the 
first volume of my collected poems. Several of the 
poems in prose have been translated into English; my 
translation of the " Plainte d'Automne," contained in 
this volume, was made in momentary forgetfulness that 
the same poem in prose had already been translated by 
Mr. George Moore in Confessions of a Young Man. Mr. 
Moore also translated " Le Ph&iomene Futur ". in the 
Savoy, July, 1896. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 351 



PAUL VERLAINE 

(1844-1896) 



Poemes Saturniens, 1866; Fetes Galantes, 1869; La 
Bonne Chanson, 1870; Romances sans Paroles, 1874; 
Sagesse, 1881; Les Poetes Maudits, 1884; Jadis et Na- 
guere, 1884; Les Memoires d'un Veuf, 1886; Louise 
Leckrcq (suivi de Le Poteau, Pierre Duchatekt, Madame 
Aubin), 1887; Amour, 1888; Parallelement, 1889; Dtdi- 
caces, 1890; Bonheur, 1891; M es Hdpitaux, 1891; Chan- 
sons pour Elle, 1891; Liturgies Intimes, 1892; Afes 
Prisons, 1893; Odes en son Honneur, 1893; #Ze>es, 1893; 
Quinze Jours en Hollande, 1894; Dans les Limbes, 1894; 
Epigrammes, 1894; Confessions, 1895; Cftair, 1896; 
Invectives, 1896; Voyage en France d'un Frangais (pos- 
thumous), 1907. 

The complete works of Verlaine are now published 
in six volumes at the Librairie Le"on Vanier (now Mee- 
sein); the text is very incorrectly printed, and it is 
still necessary to refer to the earlier editions in separate 
volumes. A Choix de Poesies, 1891, with a preface by 
Francois Coppee, and a reproduction of Carriere's admir- 
able portrait, is published in one volume by Charpentier; 
the series of Hommes d'Aujourd'hui contains twenty- 
seven biographical notices by Verlaine; and a con- 
siderable number of poems and prose articles exists, 
scattered in various magazines, some of them English, 



352 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

such as the Senate; in some cases the articles them- 
selves are translated into English, such as "My Visit to 
London," in the Savoy for April, 1896, and " Notes on 
England: Myself as a French Master," and " Shake- 
speare and Racine," in the Fortnightly Review for July, 
1894, and September, 1894. The first English trans- 
lation in verse from Verlaine is Arthur O'Shaughnessy's 
rendering of " Clair de Lune " in Fetes Galantes, under 
the title " Pastel," in Songs of a Worker, 1881. A volume 
of translations in verse, Poems of Verlaine, by Gertrude 
Hall, was published in America in 1895. In Mr. John 
Gray's Silverpoints, 1893, there are translations of " Par- 
sifal," " A Crucifix," " Le Chevalier Malheur," " Spleen," 
" Clair de Lune," " Mon Dieu m'a dit," and " Green." 
As I have mentioned, there have been many por- 
traits of Verlaine. The three portraits drawn on litho- 
graphic paper by Mr. Rothenstein, and published in 
1898, are but the latest, if also among the best, of a long 
series, of which Mr. Rothenstein himself has done two 
or three others, one of which was reproduced in the 
Pall Mall Gazette in 1894, when Verlaine was in London. 
M. F. A. Cazals, a young artist who was one of Verlaine's 
most intimate friends, has done I should not like to 
say how many portraits, some of which he has gathered 
together in a little book, Paul Verlaine: ses Portraits, 
1898. There are portraits in nine of Verlaine's own books, 
several of them by M. Cazals (roughly jotted, expressive 
notes of moments), one by M. Anquetin (a strong piece 
of thinking flesh and blood), and in the Choix de Poesies 
there is a reproduction of the cloudy, inspired poet of 
M. Eugene Carri&re's painting. Another portrait, which 
I have not seen, but which Verlaine himself calls, in 
the Dedicates, un portrait enfin repose, was done by 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 353 

M. Aman-Jeaii. M. Niederhausern has done a bust 
in bronze, Mr. Rothenstein a portrait medallion. A 
new edition of the Confessions, 1899, contains a number 
of sketches; Verlaine Dessinateur, 1896, many more; 
and there are yet others in the extremely objectionable 
book of M. Charles Donos, Verlaine Intime, 1898. The 
Hommes d'Aujourd'hui contains a caricature-portrait, 
many other portraits have appeared in French and 
English and German and Italian magazines, and there 
is yet another portrait in the admirable little book of 
Charles Morice, Paul Verlaine, 1888, which contains by 
far the best study that has ever been made of Verlaine as 
a poet. I believe Mr. George Moore's article, " A Great 
Poet," reprinted hi Impressions and Opinions, 1891, was 
the first that was written on Verlaine in England; my 
own article in the National Review in 1892 was, I believe, 
the first detailed study of the whole of his work up to 
that date. At last, in the Vie de Paul Verlaine, of Ed- 
mund Lepelletier, there has come the authentic record. 

An honest and instructed life of Verlaine has long been 
wanted, if only as an antidote to the defamatory pro- 
duction called Verlaine Intime, made up out of materials 
collected by the publisher L4on Vanier in his own defense, 
in order that a hard taskmaster might be presented to 
the world in the colours of a benefactor. A " legend " 
which may well have seemed plausible to those who 
knew Verlaine only at the end of his life, has obtained 
currency; and a comparison of Verlaine with Villon, 
not only as a poet (which is to his honour), but also 
as a man, has been made, and believed. Lepelletier 's 
book is an exact chronicle of a friendship which lasted, 
without a break, for thirty-six years that is, from the 
tune when Verlaine was sixteen to the time of his death; 



354 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

and a more sane, loyal and impartial chronicle of any 
man's life we have never read. It is written with full 
knowledge of every part of the career which it traces; 
and it is written by a man who puts down whatever he 
knows exactly as he believes it to have been. His con" 
elusion is that " on peut fouiller sa vie au microscope: 
on y reconnaltra des fautes, des folies, des faiblesses, 
bien des souffrances aussi, avec de la fatalite*au fond, pas 
de honte veritable, pas une vile et indigne action. Les 
vrais amis du po&te peuvent done revendiquer pour lui 
l'e*pithete d'honne'te homme, sans doute tr&s vulgaire, 
mais qui, aux yeux de certains, a encore du prix." 

In 1886 Verlaine dedicated Les Memoires d'un Veuf 
to Lepelletier, affirming the resolve, on his part, to 
" garder intacte la vielle amitie si forte et si belle." 
The compact has been kept nobly by the survivor. 

It may, indeed, be questioned whether Lepelletier does 
not insist a little too much on the bourgeois element 
which he finds in Verlaine. When a man has suffered 
under unjust accusations, it is natural for his friends to 
defend him under whatever aspect seems to them most 
generally convincing. So it is interesting to know that 
for seven years Verlaine was in a municipal office, the 
Bureau des Budgets et Comptes, and that later, in 1882, 
he made an application, which was refused, for leave to 
return to his former post. Lepelletier reproaches the 
authorities for an action which he takes to have pre- 
cipitated Verlaine into the final misery of his vagabondage. 
He would have lived quietly, he says, and written in 
security. Both assumptions may be doubted. What 
was bourgeois, and contented with quiet, was a small 
part of the nature of one who was too strong as well as 
too weak to remain within limits. The terrible force of 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 355 

Verlaine's weakness would always, in the process of making 
him a poet, have carried him far from that " tranquilitS 
d'une sinecure bureaucratique " which Lepelletier strangely 
regrets for him. It is hardly permitted, in looking back 
over a disastrous life which has expressed itself in notable 
poetry, to regret that the end should have been attained, 
by no matter what means. 

On moral questions Lepelletier speaks with the au- 
thority of an intimate friendship, and from a point of 
view which seems wholly without prejudice. He defends 
Verlaine with evident conviction against the most serious 
charges brought against him, and he shows at least, on 
documentary evidence, that nothing of the darker part 
of his " legend " was ever proved against him in any 
of his arrests and imprisonments. Drink, and mad 
rages let loose by drink, account, ignobly enough, -for 
all of them. In the famous quarrel with Rimbaud, which 
brought him into prison for eighteen months, the accusa- 
tion reads: 

" Pour avoir, a Bruxeiies, le 10 juillet, 1873, volontaire- 
ment portes des coups et fait des blessures ayant entrafne* 
une incapacity de travail personnel a Arthur Rimbaud." 

The whole account of this episode is given by M. 
Lepelletier in great detail, and from this we learn that 
it was by the merest change of mind on the part of Rim- 
baud, or by sudden treachery, that the matter came 
into the courts at all. Lepelletier supplies an unfavour- 
able account of Rimbaud, whom he looks upon as the 
evil counsellor of Verlaine probably with justice. There 
is little doubt that Rimbaud, apart from his genuine 
touch of precocious power, which had its influence on 
the genius of Verlaine, was a " mauvais sujet " of a 
selfish and mischievous kind. He was destructive and 



356 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

pitiless; and having done his worst, he went off care- 
lessly into Africa. 

It will surprise some readers to learn that Verlaine 
took his degree of " bachelier-s-lettres," and that on 
leaving the Lyce*e Bonaparte he received a certificate 
placing him " au nombre des sujets distingue*s que compte 
l'e*tablissement." He was well grounded in Latin, and 
fairly well in English, and at several intervals in his 
life attempted to master Spanish, with the vague desire 
of translating Calderon. At an early period he read 
French literature, classical and modern, with avidity; 
translations of English, German and Eastern classics; 
books of criticism and philosophy. 

" II admirait beaucoup Joseph de Maistre. Le Rouge 
et le Noir de Stendhal avait produce* sur lui une forte 
impression. II avait deniche*, on ne sait ou, une Vie 
de sainte Therse, qu'il lisait avec ravissement." 

He was absorbed in Baudelaire, Gautier, Leconte 
de Lisle, Banville; he read Pe*trus Borel and Aloysius 
Bertrand. The only poem that remains of this early 
period is the " Nocturne Parisien " of the Po&mes Satur- 
niens, which dates from about his twentieth year. Jules 
de Goncourt defined it as " un beau po&me sinistre melant 
comme une Morgue a Notre-Dame." Baudelaire, as 
Sainte-Beuve, in a charming letter of real appreciation, 
pointed out, is here the evident " point de depart, pour 
aller au dela." 

The chapter in which Lepelletier tells the story of the 
origin of the most famous literary movement since that 
of 1830, the " Parnasse," is one of the most entertaining 
in the book, and gives, in its narrative of the receptions 
" chez Nina " (a salon which Lepelletier describes as 
the ancestor of the " Chat Noir ")> a vivid picture of 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 357 

the days when Villiers de lisle-Adam and Francois 
Coppe*e were beginners together. Nina de Villars was 
one of the oddest people of her time: she made a kind of 
private Bohemia for poets, musicians, all kinds of artists 
and eccentric people, herself the most eccentric of them 
all. It was at her house that the members of the " Par- 
nasse " gathered, while they selected as their more formal 
meeting-place the salon of Madame Ricard. It is not 
generally known that Verlaine's Poemes Saturniens was 
the third volume to be issued by the house of Lemerre, 
afterwards to become a famous " publisher of poets," 
and it was in this volume that the new laws of the Par- 
nasse were first formulated that impassivity, that 
" marble egoism," which Verlaine was so soon to reject 
for a more living impulse, but which neither Leconte de 
Lisle nor He*redia was ever to abandon. When one 
thinks of the later Verlaine, it is curious to turn to that 
first formula: 

Est-elle en marvre ou non, le Ve*nus de Milo? 

Verlaine's verse suddenly becomes human with La 
Bonne Chanson, though the humanity in it is not yet 
salted as with fire. It is the record of the event which, 
as Lepelletier says, dominated his whole life ; the marriage 
with Mathilde Maute, the young girl with whom he 
had fallen in love at first sight, and whose desertion of 
him, however explicable, he never forgot nor forgave. 
Nothing could be more just or delicate than Lepelletier J s 
treatment of the whole situation and there is no doubt 
that he is right in saying that the young wife " eut une 
grande responsabilite" dans les desordres de l^xistence 
desorbitSe du poete." Verlaine, as he says, " e*tait bon, 
aimant, et c'e"tait comme un souffrant qu'il fallait le 



358 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

trailer." " Vous n'avez rien cornpris a ma simplicity" 
he wrote long afterwards, addressing the woman of whom 
Lepelletier says, " II Fauna toujours, il n'aima qu'elle." 

With his marriage Verlaine's disasters begin. Rim- 
baud enters his life and turns the current of it; the 
vagabondage begins, in France and England, and the 
letters written from London are among the most vivid 
documents in the book: thumbnail sketches full of keen 
observation. Then comes his imprisonment and con- 
version to Catholicism. Here Lepelletier, while he 
gives us an infinity of details which he alone could give, 
adopts an attitude which we cannot think to be jus- 
tified, and which, as a matter of fact, Verlaine protested 
against during his lifetime. " Cette conversion fut-elle 
profonde et ve*ridique?" he asks; and he answers, "Je 
ne le crois pas." That his conversion had much influence 
on Verlaine's conduct cannot be contended, but conduct 
and belief are two different things. Sincerity of the 
moment was his fundamental characteristic, but the 
moments made and remade his moods in their passing. 
The religion of Sagesse is not the less genuine because 
that grave and sacred book was followed by the revolt 
of ParaUement. Verlaine tried to explain in the poems 
themselves, in prefaces, and in conversation with friends 
how natural it was to sin and to repent, and to use the 
same childlike words in the immediate rendering of sin 
and of repentance. This naivete, which made any regular 
existence an impossibility, was a part of him which gave 
a quality to his work unlike that of any other poet of 
our time. At the end of his life hardly anything but 
the mawete was left, and the poems became mere out- 
cries and gestures. Lepelletier is justly indignant at 
the action of Vanier in publishing after Verlaine's death 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 359 

the collection called Invectives, made up of scraps and 
impromptus which the poet certainly never intended to 
publish. Here we see part of the weakness of a great 
man, who becomes petty when he puts off his true character 
and tries to be angry. " J'ai la fureur d'aimer," he says 
somewhere, and there is no essential part of his work 
which is not the expression of some form of love, gro- 
tesque or heroic, human or divine. 

Of all this later, more and more miserable part of the 
life of Verlaine, Lepelletier has less to tell us. It has 
been sufficiently commented on, not always by friendly 
or understanding witnesses. What we get in this book, 
for the first time, is a view of the life as a whole, with all 
that is beautiful, tragic, and desperate in it. It is not 
an apology: it is a statement. It not only does honor 
to a great and unhappy man of genius; it does him justice. 



360 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS 

(1848-1907) 

Le Drageoir a fipices, 1874; Marthe: Histoire d'une 
Filk, 1876; Les Soeurs Vatard, 1879; Croquis Parisiens, 
1880; En Menage, 1881; A Vau-l'Eau, 1882; L'Art Mo- 
derne, 1883; A Rebours, 1884; Un Dilemme, 1887; En 
Rode, 1887; Certains, 1889; La Bievre, 1890; Ld-Bas, 
1891; En Route, 1895; La Cathedrak, 1898; La Biewe 
eZ Saintr-Severin, 1898; Pa0es Catholiques, 1900; Sawfe 
Lydwine de Schiedam, 1901; Z)e Tottf, 1902; L'O&fcrf, 1903; 
TVois Primitifs, 1905; Les FowZes de Lourdes, 1906; See 
also the short story, Sac au Dos, in the Soirees de Medan, 
1880, and the pantomime, Pierrot Sceptique, 1881, in col- 
laboration with Le*on Hennique. En Route was trans- 
lated into English by Mr. Kegan Paul, in 1896; and La 
Cathedrak by Miss Clara Bell, in 1898. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 361 



ARTHUR RIMBAUD 

(1854-1891) 

Une Saison en Enfer, 1873; Les Illuminations, 1886; 
Reliquaire, 1891 (containing several poems falsely attri- 
buted to Rimbaud); Les Illuminations: Une Saison en 
Enfer, 1892; Poesies Completes, 1895; (Euvres, 1898. 

See also Paterne Berrichon, La Vie de Jean-Arthur 
Rimbaud, 1898, and Lettres de Jean-Arthur Rimbaud, 1899; 
Paul Verlaine, Les Poetes Maudits, 1884, and the biog- 
raphy by Verlaine in Les Hommes d'Aujourd'hui. Mr. 
George Moore was the first to write about Rimbaud in 
England, in " Two Unknown Poets " (Rimbaud and 
Laforgue) in Impressions and Opinions, 1891. In Mr. 
John Gray's Silverpoints, 1893, there are translations of 
" Charleville " and " Sensation." The latter, and " Les 
Chercheuses de Poux," are translated by Mr. T. Sturge 
Moore in The Vinedresser, and other Poems, 1899, 



362 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



JULES LAFORGUE 

(1860-1887) 

Les Complaintes, 1885; V Imitation de Notre-Dame la 
Lune, 1886; Le Concile Feerique, 1886; Moralites Legen- 
daires, 1887; Derniers Vers, 1890 (a privately printed 
volume, containing Des Fleurs de Bonne Volontt, Le Con- 
cile Feerique, and Derniers Vers); Poesies Completes, 1894; 
(Euvres Completes, Poesies, Moralites Legendaires, Melanges 
Posthumes (3 vols.), 1902, 1903. 

An edition of the Moralites Legendaires was published 
in 1897, under the care of M. Lucien Pissarro, at the Sign 
of the Dial; it is printed in Mr. Ricketts' admirable type, 
and makes one of the most beautiful volumes issued in 
French during this century. In 1896 M. Camille Mau- 
clair, with his supple instinct for contemporary values, 
wrote a study, or rather an eulogy, of Laforgue, to which 
M. Maeterlinck contributed a few searching and delicate 
words by way of preface. 



BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 363 



MAURICE MAETERLINCK 

(1862) 

Serres Chaudes, 1889; La Princesse Maleine, 1890; 
Les Aveugles (L'Intruse, Les Aveugles), 1890; L'Ornement 
des Noces Spirituelles, de Ruysbroeck V Admirable, 1891; 
Les Sept Princesses, 1891; Pelleas et Melisande, 1892; 
Alladine et Palomides, Interieur, La Mart de Tintagiles, 
1894; Annabella, de John Ford, 1895; Les Disciples a 
Sais et les Fragments de Novalis, 1895; Le Tresor des 
Humbles, 1896; Douze Chansons, 1896; Aglavaine et 
Selysette, 1896; La Sagesse et la Destinee, 1898; Theatre, 
1901 (3 vols.); La Vie des Abeilks, 1901; Monna Vanna, 
1902; Le Tempk Enseveli, 1902; Joyzelle, 1903; LeDoubk 
Jardin, 1904; L' Intelligence des Fleurs, 1907. 

M. Maeterlinck has had the good or bad fortune to 
be more promptly, and more violently, praised at the 
beginning of his career than at all events any other writer 
of whom I have spoken in this volume. His fame in 
France was made by a flaming article of M. Octave 
Mirbeau in the Figaro of August 24, 1890. M. Mirbeau 
greeted him as the " Belgian Shakepeare," and expressed 
his opinion of La Princesse Maleine by saying " M. Maeter- 
linck has given us the greatest work of genius that has 
been produced in our time, and the most extraordinary 
and the most naive too, comparable (dare I say?) superior 
in beauty to what is most beautiful in Shakespeare . . . 



364 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

more tragic than Macbeth, more extraordinary in thought 
than Hamkt." Mr. William Archer introduced M. 
Maeterlinck to England in an article called " A Pessimist 
Playwright " in the Fortnightly Review, September, 1891. 
Less enthusiastic than M. Mirbeau, he defined the author 
of La Princesse Makine as " a Webster who had read 
Alfred de Musset." A freely adapted version of L'Intruse 
was given by Mr. Tree at the Haymarket Theatre, Jan- 
uary 27, 1892, and since that time many of M. Maeter- 
linck's plays have been acted, without cuts, or with but 
few cuts, at various London theatres. Several of his 
books have also been translated into English: The Prin- 
cesse Makine (by Gerard Harry) and The Intruder (by 
William Wilson), 1892; Pelkas and Melisande and The 
Sightkss (by Laurence Alma-Tadema), 1892; Ruysbroeck 
and the Mystics (by J. T. Stoddart), 1894; The Treasure of 
the Humbk (by A. Sutro), 1897; Aglavaim and Selysette 
(by A. Sutro), 1897; Wisdom and Destiny (by A. Sutro), 
1898; Alladine and Palomides (by A. Sutro), Interior (by 
William Archer), and The Death of Tintagiks (by A. Sutro), 
1899. 

I have spoken, in this volume, chiefly of Maeterlinck's 
essays, and but little of his plays, and I have said all that 
I had to say without special reference to the second vol- 
ume of essays, La Sagesse et la Destinfa. Like Le Tresor 
des Humbks, that book is a message, a doctrine, even more 
than it is a piece of literature. It is a treatise on wisdom 
and happiness, on the search for happiness because it is 
wisdom, not for wisdom because it is happiness. It is a 
book of patient and resigned philosophy, a very Flemish 
philosophy, more resigned than even Le Trtsor des Hum- 
bks. In a sense it seems to aim less high. An ecstatic 
mysticism has given way to a kind of prudence. Is this 






BIBLIOGRAPHY AND NOTES 365 

coming nearer to the earth really an intellectual ascent 
or descent? At least it is a divergence, and it probably 
indicates a divergence in art as well as in meditation. 
Yet, while it is quite possible to at least indicate Maeter- 
linck's position as a philosopher, it seems to me prema- 
ture to attempt to define his position as a dramatist. 
Interesting as his dramatic work has always been, there 
is, in the later dramas, so singular an advance in all the 
qualities that go to make great art, that I find it impossible 
at this stage of his development, to treat his dramatic 
work as in any sense the final expression of a personality. 
What the next stage of his development may be it is 
impossible to say. He will not write more beautiful 
dramas than he has written in Aglavaine et Selysette and 
in Peleas et Melisande. But he may, and he probably 
will, write something which will move the general world 
more profoundly, touching it more closely, in the manner 
of the great writers, in whom beauty has not been more 
beautiful than in writers less great, but has come to men 
with a more splendid energy. 



TRANSLATIONS 



From Stephane Mallarm6 

I. HfiRODIADE 

HERODIADE. 

To mine own self I am a wilderness. 

You know it, amethyst gardens numberless 

Enfolded in the flaming, subtle deep, 

Strange gold, that through the red earth's 

heavy sleep 

Has cherished ancient brightness like a dream, 
Stones whence mine eyes, pure jewels, have 

their gleam 

Of icy and melodious radiance, you, 
Metals, which into my young tresses drew 
A fatal splendour and their manifold grace! 
Thou, woman, born into these evil days 
Disastrous to the cavern sibylline, 
Who speakest, prophesying not of one divine, 
But of a mortal, if from that close sheath, 
My robes, rustle the wild enchanted breath 
In the white quiver of my nakedness, 
In the warm air of summer, prophetess, 

369 



370 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

(And woman's body obeys that ancient claim) 

Behold me in my shivering starry shame, 

I die! 

The horror of my virginity 

Delights me, and I would envelop me 

In the terror of my tresses, that, by night, 

Inviolate reptile, I might feel the white 

And glimmering radiance of thy frozen fire, 

Thou that art chaste and diest of desire, 

White night of ice and of the cruel snow! 

Eternal sister, my lone sister, lo 

My dreams uplifted before thee! now, apart, 

So rare a crystal is my dreaming heart, 

I live in a monotonous land alone, 

And all about me lives but in mine own 

Image, the idolatrous mirror of my pride, 

Mirroring this Herodiade diamond-eyed. 

I am indeed alone, charm and curse! 

NURSE. 

lady, would you die then? 

HERODIADE. 

No, poor nurse; 

Be calm, and leave me; prithee, pardon me, 

But, ere thou go, close to the casement; see 



TRANSLATIONS 371 

How the seraphical blue in the dim glass smiles, 

But I abhor the blue of the sky! 

Yet miles 

On miles of rocking waves! Know'st not a 

land 

Where, in the pestilent sky, men see the hand 
Of Venus, and her shadow in dark leaves? 
Thither I go. 

Light thou the wax that grieves 
In the swift flame, and sheds an alien tear 
Over the vain gold; wilt not say in mere 
Childishness? 

NURSE. 
Now? 

RERODIADE. 

Farewell. You lie, flower 

Of these chill lips! 

I wait the unknown hour, 

Or, deaf to your crying and that hour supreme, 

Utter the lamentation of the dream 

Of childhood seeing fall apart in sighs 

The icy chaplet of its reveries. 



372 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



II. SIGH 

My soul, calm sister, towards thy brow, 

whereon scarce grieves 
An autumn strewn already with its russet 

leaves, 
And towards the wandering sky of thine angelic 

eyes, 

Mounts, as in melancholy gardens may arise 
Some faithful fountain sighing whitely towards 

the blue! 
Towards the blue pale and pure that sad 

October knew, 
When, in those depths, -it mirrored languors 

infinite, 

And agonising leaves upon the waters white, 
Windily drifting, traced a furrow cold and dun, 
Where, in one long last ray, lingered the yellow 

sun. 



TRANSLATIONS 373 



III. SEA-WIND 

The flesh is sad, alas! and all the books are 

read. 
Flight, only flight! I feel that birds are wild 

to tread 
The floor of unknown foam, and to attain the 

skies! 
Nought, neither ancient gardens mirrored 

in the eyes, 
Shall hold this heart that bathes in waters its 

delight, 

nights! nor yet my waking lamp, whose 

lonely light * 
Shadows the vacant paper, whiteness profits 

best, 
Nor the young wife who rocks her baby on her 

breast. 

1 will depart! steamer, swaying rope and 

spar, 

Lift anchor for exotic lands that lie afar! 
A weariness, outworn by cruel hopes, still 

clings 
To the last farewell handkerchief's last beckon- 

ings! 



374 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

And are not these, the masts inviting storms, 

not these 
That an awakening wind bends over wrecking 

seas, 

Lost, not a sail, a sail, a flowering isle, ere long? 
But, my heart, hear thou, hear thou the 

sailors 7 song! 



TRANSLATIONS 375 



IV. ANGUISH 

To-night I do not come to conquer thee, 

Beast that dost the sins of the whole world 

bear, 

Nor with my kisses' weary misery 
Wake a sad tempest in thy wanton hair; 
It is that heavy and that dreamless sleep 

1 ask of the close curtains of thy bed, 
Which, after all thy treacheries, folds thee 

deep, 

Who knowest oblivion better than the dead. 
For Vice, that gnaws with keener tooth than 

Time, 

Brands me as thee, of barren conquest proud; 
But while thou guardest in thy breast of stone 
A heart that fears no fang of any crime, 
I wander palely, haunted by my shroud, 
Fearing to die if I but sleep alone. 



376 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



From Paul Verlaine: F&tes Galantes 

I. CLAIR DE LUNE 

Your soul is a sealed garden, and there go 
With masque and bergamasque fair companies 
Playing on lutes and dancing and as though 
Sad under their fantastic fripperies. 

Though they in minor keys go carolling 
Of love the conqueror and of life the boon 
They seem to doubt the happiness they sing 
And the song melts into the light of the moon, 

The sad light of the moon, so lovely fair 
That all the birds dream in the leafy shade 
And the slim fountains sob into the air 
Among the marble statues in the glade. 



TRANSLATIONS 377 



II. PANTOMIME 

Pierrot, no sentimental swain, 

Washes a pate* down again 

With furtive flagons, white and red. 

Cassandre, with demure content, 
Greets with a tear of sentiment 
His nephew disinherited. 

That blackguard of a Harlequin 

Pirouettes, and plots to win 

His Columbine that flits and flies. 

Columbine dreams, and starts to find 
A sad heart sighing in the wind, 
And in her heart a voice that sighs. 



378 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



III. SUR L'HERBE 

The Abb6 wanders. Marquis, now 
Set jStraight your periwig, and speak! 
This Cyprus wine is heavenly, how 
Much less, Camargo, than your cheek! 

My goddess . . . Do, mi, sol, la, si. 
Abbe*, such treason who'll forgive you? 
May I die, ladies, if there be 
A star in heaven I will not give you! 

I'd be my lady's lapdog; then . . . 
Shepherdess, kiss your shepherd soon, 
Shepherd, come kiss . . . Well, gentlemen? 
Do, mi, so. Hey, good-night, good moon! 



TRANSLATIONS 379 



IV. L'ALLEE 



As in the age of shepherd king and queen, 
Painted and frail amid her nodding bows, 
Under the sombre branches and between 
The green and mossy garden-ways she goes, 
With little mincing airs one keeps to pet 
A darling and provoking perroquet. 
Her long-trained robe is blue, the fan she holds 
With fluent fingers girt with heavy rings, 
So vaguely hints of vague erotic things 
That her eye smiles, musing among its folds. 
Blonde too, a tiny nose, a rosy mouth, 
Artful as that sly patch that makes more sly, 
In her divine unconscious pride of youth, 
The slightly simpering sparkle of the eye. 



380 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



V. A LA PROMENADE 

The sky so pale, and the trees, such frail things, 
Seem as if smiling on our bright array 
That flits so light and gay upon the way 
With indolent airs and fluttering as of wings. 

The fountain wrinkles under a faint wind, 
And all the sifted sunlight falling through 
The lime-trees of the shadowy avenue 
Comes to us blue and shadowy-pale and 
thinned. 

Faultlessly fickle, and yet fond enough, 
With fonds hearts not too tender to be free, 
We wander whispering deliciously, 
And every lover leads a lady-love, 

Whose imperceptible and roguish hand 
Darts now and then a dainty tap, the lip 
Revenges on an extreme finger-tip, 
The tip of the left little finger, and, 

The deed being so excessive and uncouth, 
A duly freezing look deals punishment, 
That in the instant of the act is blent 
With a shy pity pouting in the mouth. 



TRANSLATIONS 381 



VI. DANS LA GROTTE 

Stay, let me die, since I am true, 

For my distress will not delay, 

And the Hyrcanian tigress ravening for prey 

Is as a little lamb to you. 

Yes, here within, cruel Clymne, 
This steel which in how many wars 
How many a Cyrus slew, or Scipio, now pre- 
pares 
To end my life and end my pain. 

But nay, what need of steel have I 

To haste my passage to the shades? 

Did not Love pierce my heart, beyond all 

mortal aids, 
With the first arrow of your eye? 



382 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



VII. LES INGENUS 

High heels and long skirts intercepting them, 
So that, according to the wind or way, 
An ankle peeped and vanished as in play; 
And well we loved the malice of the game. 

Sometimes an insect with its jealous sting 
Some fair one's whiter neck disquieted, 
From which the gleams of sudden whiteness 

shed 
Met in our eyes a frolic welcoming. 

The stealthy autumn evening faded out, 
And the fair creatures dreaming by our side 
Words of such subtle savour to us sighed 
That since that time our souls tremble and 
doubt. 



TRANSLATIONS 383 



VIII. CORTEGE 

A silver- vested monkey trips 
And pirouettes before the face 
Of one who twists a kerchief's lace 
Between her well-gloved finger-tips. 

A little negro, a red elf, 
Carries her dropping train, and holds 
At arm's length all the heavy folds, 
Watching each fold displace itself. 

The monkey never lets his eyes 
Wander from the fair woman's breast, 
White wonder that to be possessed 
Would call a god out of the skies. 

Sometimes the little negro seems 
To lift his sumptuous burden up 
Higher than need be, in the hope 
Of seeing what all night he dreams. 

She goes by corridor and stair, 
Still to the insolent appeals 
Of her familiar animals 
Indifferent or unaware. 



384 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



IX. LES COQUILLAGES 

Each shell incrusted in the grot 
Where we two loved each other well 
An aspect of its own has got. 

The purple of a purple shell 

Is our souls' colour when they make 

Our burning heart's blood visible. 

This pallid shell affects to take 

Thy languors, when thy love-tired eyes 

Rebuke me for my mockery's sake. 

This counterfeits the harmonies 
Of thy pink ear, and this might be 
Thy plump short nape with rosy dyes. 

But one, among these, troubled me. 



TRANSLATIONS 385 



X. EN PATINANT 

We were the victims, you and I, 
Madame, of mutual self deceits; 
And that which set our brains awry 
May well have been the summer heats. 

And the spring too, if I recall, 
Contributed to spoil our play, 
And yet its share, I think, was small 
In leading you and me astray. 

For air in springtime is so fresh 
That rose-buds Love has surely meant 
To match the roses of the flesh 
Have odours almost innocent; 

And even the lilies that outpour 
Their biting odours where the sun 
Is new in heaven, do but the more 
Enliven and enlighten one, 

So stealthily the zephyr blows 
A mocking breath that renders back 
The heart's rest and the soul's repose 
And the flower's aphrodisiac, 



386 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

And the five senses, peeping out, 
Take up their station at the feast, 
But, being by themselves, without 
Troubling the reason in the least. 

That was the time of azure skies, 
(Madame, do you remember it?) 
And sonnets to my lady's eyes, 
And cautious kisses not too sweet. 

Free from all passion's idle pother, 
Full of mere kindliness, how long, 
How well we liked not loved each other, 
Without one rapture or one wrong! 

Ah, happy hours! But summer came: 
Farewell, fresh breezes of the spring! 
A wind of pleasure like a flame 
Leapt on our senses wondering. 

Strange flowers, fair crimson-hearted flowers 
Poured their ripe odours over us, 
And evil voices of the hours 
Whispered above us in the bougns. 

We yielded to it all, ah me! 
What vertigo of fools held fast 
Our senses in its ecstasy 
Until the heat of summer passed? 



TRANSLATIONS 387 

There were vain tears and vainer laughter, 
And hands indefinitely pressed, 
Moist sadnesses, and swoonings after, 
And what vague void within the breast? 

But autumn came to our relief, 
Its light grown cold, its gusts grown rough, 
Came to remind us, sharp and brief, 
That we had wantoned long enough, 

And led us quickly to recover 
The elegance demanded of 
Every quite irreproachable lover 
And every seemly lady-love. 

Now it is winter, and, alas, 

Our backers tremble for their stake; 

Already other sledges pass 

And leave us toiling in their wake. 

Put both your hands into your muff, 
Sit back, now, steady! off we go. 
Fanchon will tell us soon enough 
Whatever news there is to know. 



388 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



XI. FANTOCHES 

Scaramouche waves a threatening hand 

To Pulcinella, and they stand, 

Two shadows, black against the moon. 

The old doctor of Bologna pries 
For simples with impassive eyes, 
And mutters o'er a magic rune. 

The while his daughter, scarce half-dressed, 
Glides slyly 'neath the trees, in quest 
Of her bold pirate lover's sail; 

Her pirate from the Spanish main, 
Whose passion thrills her in the pain 
Of the loud languorous nightingale. 



TRANSLATIONS 389 



XII. CYTHERE 

By favourable breezes fanned, 
A trellised harbour is at hand 
To shield us from the summer airs; 

The scent of roses, fainting sweet, 

Afloat upon the summer heat, 

Blends with the perfume that she wears. 

True to the promise her eyes gave, 
She ventures all, and her mouth rains 
A dainty fever through my veins; 

And, Love fulfilling all things, save 
Hunger, we 'scape, with sweets and ices, 
The folly of Love's sacrifices. 



390 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



XIII. EN BATEAU 

The shepherd's star with trembling glint 
Drops in black water; at the hint 
The pilot fumbles for his flint. 

Now is the time or never, sirs. 
No hand that wanders wisely errs: 
I touch a hand, and is it hers? 

The knightly Atys strikes the strings, 
And to the faithless Chloris flings 
A look that speaks of many things. 

The abbe* has absolved again 
Egl6, the viscount all in vain 
Has given his hasty heart the rein. 

Meanwhile the moon is up and streams 
Upon the skiff that flies and seems 
To float upon a tide of dreams. 



TRANSLATIONS 391 



XIV. LE FAUNE 

An aged faun of old red clay 
Laughs from the grassy bowling-green, 
Foretelling doubtless some decay 
Of mortal moments so serene 

That lead us lightly on our way 
(Love's piteous pilgrims have we been!) 
To this last hour that runs away 
Dancing to the tambourine. 



392 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



XV. MANDOLINE 

The singers of serenades 
Whisper their faded vows 
Unto fair listening maids 
Under the singing boughs. 

Tircis, Aminte, are there, 
Clitandre has waited long, 
And Damis for many a fair 
Tyrant makes many a song. 

Their short vests, silken and bright, 
Their long pale silken trains, 
Their elegance of delight, 
Twine soft blue silken chains. 

And the mandolines and they, 
Faintlier breathing, swoon 
Into the rose and grey 
Ecstasy of the moon. 



TRANSLATIONS 393 



XVI. A CLYMENE 

Mystical strains unheard, 
A song without a word, 
Dearest, because thine eyes, 
Pale as the skies, 

Because thy voice, remote 
As the far clouds that float 
Veiling for me the whole 
Heaven of the soul, 

Because the stately scent 
Of thy swan's whiteness, blent 
With the white lily's bloom 
Of thy perfume, 

Ah! because thy dear love, 
The music breathed above 
By angels halo-crowned, 
Odour and sound, 

Hath, in my subtle heart, 
With some mysterious art 
Transposed thy harmony, 
So let it be! 



394 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



XVII. LETTRE 

Far from your sight removed by thankless cares 

(The gods are witness when a lover swears) 

I languish and I die, Madame, as still 

My use is, which I punctually fulfil, 

And go, through heavy-hearted woes conveyed, 

Attended ever by your lovely shade, 

By day in thought, by night in dreams of hell, 

And day and night, Madame, adorable! 

So that at length my dwindling body lost 

In very soul, I too become a ghost, 

I too, and in the lamentable stress 

Of vain desires remembering happiness, 

Remembered kisses, now, alas, unfelt, 

My shadow shall into your shadow melt. 

Meanwhile, dearest, your most obedient slave. 

How does the sweet society behave, 

Thy cat, thy dog, thy parrot? and is she 

Still, as of old, the black-eyed Silvanie 

(I had loved black eyes if thine had not been 

blue) 
Who ogled me at moments, palsambleu! 



TRANSLATIONS 395 

Thy tender friend and thy sweet confidant? 
One dream there is, Madame, long wont to 

haunt 

This too impatient heart: to pour the earth 
And all its treasures (of how little worth!) 
Before your feet as tokens of a love 
Equal to the most famous flames that move 
The hearts of men to conquer all but death. 
Cleopatra was less loved, yes, on my faith, 
By Antony or Caesar than you are, 
Madame, by me, who truly would by far 
Out-do the deeds of Caesar for a smile, 
O Cleopatra, queen of word and wile, 
Or, for a kiss, take flight with Antony 

With this, farewell, dear, and no more from me; 
How can the time it takes to read it, quite 
Be worth the trouble that it took to write? 



396 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



XVIII. LES INDOLENTS 

Bah! spite of Fate, that says us nay, 
Suppose we die together, eh? 
A rare conclusion you discover 

What's rare is good. Let us die so, 

Like lovers in Boccaccio. 

Ha! ha! ha! you fantastic lover! 

Nay, not fantastic. If you will, 
Fond, surely irreproachable. 
Suppose, then, that we die together? 

Good sir, your jests are fitlier told 
Than when you speak of love or gold. 
Why speak at all, in this glad weather? 

Whereat, behold them once again, 

Tircis beside his Dorimene, 

Not far from two blithe rustic rovers, 

For some caprice of idle breath 

Deferring a delicious death. 

Ha! ha! ha! what fantastic lovers! 



TRANSLATIONS 397 



XIX. COLOMBINE 

The foolish Leander, 
Cape-covered Cassander, 
And which 
Is Pierrot? 'tis he 
With the hop of a flea 
Leaps the ditch; 

And Harlequin who 

Rehearses anew 

His sly task, 

With his dress that's a wonder, 

And eyes shining under 

His mask; 

Mi, sol, mi, fa, do! 

How gaily they go, 

And they sing 

And they laugh and they twirl 

Round the feet of a girl 

Like the Spring, 



398 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

Whose eyes are as green 
As a cat's are, and keen 
As its claws, 

And her eyes without frown 
Bid all new-comers' Down 
With your paws! 

On they go with the force 
Of the stars in their course, 
And the speed: 
tell me toward what 
Disaster unthought, 
Without heed 

The implacable fair, 

A rose in her hair, 

Holding up 

Her skirts as she runs 

Leads this dance of the dunce 

And the dupe? 



TRANSLATIONS 399 



XX. L' AMOUR PAR TERRE 

The other night a sudden wind laid low 
The Love, shooting an arrow at a mark, 
In the mysterious corner of the park, 
Whose smile disquieted us long ago. 

The wind has overthrown him, and above 
His scattered dust, how sad it is to spell 
The artist's name still faintly visible 
Upon the pedestal without its Love, 

How sad it is to see the pedestal 
Still standing! as in dream I seem to hear 
Prophetic voices whisper in my ear 
The lonely and despairing end of all. 

How sad it is! Why, even you have found 
A tear for it, although your frivolous eye 
Laughs at the gold and purple butterfly 
Poised on the piteous litter on the ground. 



400 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



XXI. EN SOURDINE 

Calm where twilight leaves have stilled 
With their shadow light and sound, 
Let our silent love be filled 
With a silence as profound. 

Let our ravished senses blend 
Heart and spirit, thine and mine, 
With vague languors that descend 
From the branches of the pine. 

Close thine eyes against the day, 
Fold thine arms across thy breast, 
And for ever turn away 
All desire of all but rest. 

Let the lulling breaths that pass 
In soft wrinkles at thy feet, 
Tossing all the tawny grass, 
This and only this repeat. 

And when solemn evening 
Dims the forest's dusky air, 
Then the nightingale shall sing 
The delight of our despair. 



TRANSLATIONS 401 

XXII. COLLOQUE SENTIMENTAL 

In the old park, solitary and vast, 

Over the frozen ground two forms once passed. 

Their lips were languid and their eyes were 

dead, 
And hardly could be heard the words they said. 

In the old park, solitary and vast, 

Two ghosts once met to summon up the past. 

Do you remember our old ecstasy? 

Why would you bring it back again to me? 

Do you still dream as you dreamed long ago? 
Does your heart beat to my heart's beating? 
No. 

Ah, those old days, what joys have those 

days seen 
When your lips met my lips! It may have 

been. 

How blue the sky was, and our hope how 

light! 
Hope has flown helpless back into the night. 

They walked through weeds withered and 

grasses dead, 
And only the night heard the words they said. 



402 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



From Poemes Saturniens 

I. SOLEILS COUCHANTS 

Pale dawn delicately 
Over earth has spun 
The sad melancholy 
Of the setting sun. 
Sad melancholy 
Brings oblivion 
In sad songs to me 
With the setting sun. 
And the strangest dreams, 
Dreams like suns that set 
On the banks of the streams, 
Ghost and glory met, 
To my sense it seems, 
Pass, and without let, 
Like great suns that set 
On the banks of streams. 



TRANSLATIONS 403 



II. CHANSON D'AUTOMNE 

When a sighing begins 

In the violins 

Of the autumn-song, * . 

My heart is drowned 

In the slow sound 

Languorous and long. 

Pale as with pain, 
Breath fails me when 
The hour tolls deep. 
My thoughts recover 
The days that are over, 
And I weep. 

And I go 

Where the winds know, 

Broken and brief, 

To and fro, 

As the winds blow 

A dead leaf. 




404 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



III. FEMME ET CHATTE 

They were at play, she and her cat, 
And it was marvellous to mark 
The white paw and the white hand pat 
Each other in the deepening dark. 

The stealthy little lady hid 
Under her mittens' silken sheath 
Her deadly agate nails that thrid 
The silk-like dagger-points of death. 

The cat purred primly and drew in 
Her claws that were of steel filed thin: 
The devil was in it all the same. 

And in the boudoir, while a shout 

Of laughter in the air rang out, 

Four sparks of phosphor shone like flame. 



TRANSLATIONS 405 



From La Bonne Chanson 



The white moon sits 
And seems to brood 
Where a swift voice flits 
From each branch in the wood 
That the tree-tops cover. . . . 

lover, my lover! 

The pool in the meadows 
Like a looking-glass 
Casts back the shadows 
That over it pass 
Of the willow-bower. . . . 

Let us dream: 'tis the hour. . , 

A tender and vast 

Lull of content 

Like a cloud is cast 

From the firmament 

Where one planet is bright. . . 

'Tis the hour of delight. 



406 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



II 



The fireside, the lamp's little narrow light; 
The dream with head on hand, and the delight 
Of eyes that lose themselves in loving looks; 
The hour of steaming tea and of shut books; 
The solace to know evening almost gone; 
The dainty weariness of waiting on 
The nuptial shadow and night's softest bliss; 
Ah, it is this that without respite, this 
That without stay, my tender fancy seeks, 
Mad with the months and furious with the 
weeks. 



TRANSLATIONS 407 



From Romances sans Paroles 



Tis the ecstasy of repose, 
'Tis love when tired lids close, 
'Tis the wood's long shuddering 
In the embrace of the wind, 
Tis, where grey boughs are thinned, 
Little voices that sing. 

O fresh and frail is the sound 
That twitters above, around, 
Like the sweet tiny sigh 
That lies in the shaken grass; 
Or the sound when waters pass 
And the pebbles shrink and cry. 

What soul is this that complains 

Over the sleeping plains, 

And what is it that it saith? 

Is it mine, is it thine, 

This lowly hymn I divine 

In the warm night, low as a breath? 



408 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



II 



I divine, through the veil of a murmuring, 
The subtle contour of voices gone, 
And I see, in the glimmering lights that sing, 
The promise, pale love, of a future dawn. 

And my soul and my heart in trouble 
What are they but an eye that sees, 
As through a mist an eye sees double, 
Airs forgotten of songs like these? 

O to die of no other dying, 
Love, than this that computes the showers 
Of old hours and of new hours flying: 
O to die of the swing of the hours 1 



TRANSLATIONS 409 



III 

Tears in my heart that weeps, 
Like the rain upon the town. 
What drowsy languor steeps 
In tears my heart that weeps? 

O sweet sound of the rain 
On earth and on the roofs! 
For a heart's weary pain 
O the song of the rain! 

Vain tears, vain tears, my heart! 
What, none hath done thee wrong? 
Tears without reason start 
From my disheartened heart. 

This is the weariest woe, 
O heart, of love and hate 
Too weary, not to know 
Why thou hast all this woe. 



410 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



IV 



A frail hand in the rose-grey evening 
Kisses the shining keys that hardly stir, 
While, with the light, small flutter of a wing, 
And old song, like an old tired wanderer, 
Goes very softly, as if trembling, 
About the room long redolent of Her. 

What lullaby is this that comes again 
To dandle my poor being with its breath? 
What wouldst thou have of me, gay laughing 

strain? 

What hadst thou, desultory faint refrain 
That now into the garden to thy death 
Floatest through the half -opened window-pane? 



TRANSLATIONS 411 



sad, sad was my soul, alas! 

For a woman, a woman's sake it was. 

1 have had no comfort since that day, 
Although my heart went its way, 

Although my heart and my soul went 
From the woman into banishment. 

I have had no comfort since that day, 
Although my heart went its way. 

And my heart, being sore in me, 
Said to my soul : How can this be, 

How can this be or have been thus, 
This proud, sad banishment of us? 

My soul said to my heart: Do I 
Know what snare we are tangled by, 

Seeing that, banished, we know not whether 
We are divided or together? 



412 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

VI 

Wearily the plain's 
Endless length expands; 
The snow shines like grains 
Of the shifting sands. 

Light of day is none, 
Brazen is the sky; 
Overhead the moon 
Seems to live and die. 

Where the woods are seen, 
Grey the oak-trees lift 
Through the vaporous screen 
Like the clouds that drift. 

Light of day is none, 
Brazen is the sky; 
Overhead the moon 
Seems to live and die. 

Broken-winded crow, 
And you, lean wolves, when 
The sharp north-winds blow, 
What do you do then? 

Wearily the plain's 
Endless length expands; 
The snow shines like grains 
Of the shifting sands. 



TRANSLATIONS 413 



VII 

There's a flight of green and red 
In the hurry of hills and rails, 
Through the shadowy twilight shed 
By the lamps as daylight pales. 

Dim gold light flushes to blood tjj^ 
In humble hollows far down; 
Birds sing low from a wood 
Of barren trees without crown. 

Scarcely more to be felt 
Than that autumn is gone; 
Languors, lulled in me, melt 
In the still air's monotone. 



414 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



VIII. SPLEEN 

The roses were all red, 
The ivy was all black: 
Dear, if you turn your head, 
All my despairs come back. 

The sky was too blue, too kind, 
The sea too green, and the air 
Too calm: and I know in my mind 
I shall wake and not find you there. 

I am tired of the box-tree's shine 
And the holly's, that never will pass, 
And the plain's unending line, 
And of all but you, alas! 



TRANSLATIONS 415 

IX. STREETS 
Dance the jig! 

I loved best her pretty eyes 
Clearer than stars in any skies, 
I loved her eyes for their dear lies. 

Dance the jig! 

And ah! the ways, the ways she had 

Of driving a poor lover mad: 

It made a man's heart sad and glad. 

Dance the jig! 

But "now I find the old kisses shed 
From her flower-mouth a rarer red 
Now that her heart to mine is dead. 

Dance the jig! 

And I recall, now I recall 

Old days and hours, and ever shall, 

And that is best, and best of all. 

Dance the jig! 



416 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



From Jadis et Nagu&re 
' 

I. ART POETIQUE 

Music first and foremost of all! 
Choose your measure of odd not even, 
Let it melt in the air of heaven, 
Pose not, poise not, but rise and fall. 

Choose your words, but think not whether 
Each to other of old belong: 
What so dear as the dim grey song 
Where clear and vague are joined together? 

Tis veils of beauty for beautiful eyes, 
'Tis the trembling light of the naked noon, 
'Tis a medley of blue and gold, the moon 
And stars in the cool of autumn skies. 

Let every shape of its shade be born; 
Colour, away! come to me, shade! 
Only of shade can the marriage be made 
Of dream with dream and of flute with horn, 



TRANSLATIONS 417 

Shun the Point, lest death with it come, 
Unholy laughter and cruel wit 
(For the eyes of the angels weep at it) 
And all the garbage of scullery-scum. 

Take Eloquence, and wring the neck of him! 
You had better, by force, from time to tune, 
Put a little sense in the head of Rhyme: 
If you watch him not, you will be at the beck 
of him. 

O, who shall tell us the wrongs of Rhyme? 
What witless savage or what deaf boy 
Has made for us this twopenny toy 
Whose bells ring hollow and out of time? 

Music always and music still! 

Let your verse be the wandering thing 

That flutters in flight from a soul on the wing 

Towards other skies at a new whim's will. 

Let your verse be the luck of the lure 

Afloat on the winds that at morning hint 

Of the odours of thyme and the savour of 

mint . . . 
And all the rest is literature. 



418 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



II. MEZZETIN CHANTANT 

Go, and with never a care 
But the care to keep happiness! 
Crumple a silken dress 
And snatch a song in the air. 

Hear the moral of all the wise 
In a world where happy folly 
Is wiser than melancholy: 
Forget the hour as it flies! 

The one thing needful on earth, it 
Is not to be whimpering. 
Is life after all a thing 
Real enough to be worth it? 



TRANSLATIONS 419 

+i 

From Sagesse 



The little hands that once were mine, 
The hands I loved, the lovely hands, 
After the roadways and the strands, 
And realms and kingdoms once divine, 

And mortal loss of all that seems 
Lost with the old sad pagan things, 
Royal as in the days of kings 
The dear hands open to me dreams. 

Hands of dream, hands of holy flame 
Upon my soul in blessing laid, 
What is it that these hands have said 
That my soul hears and swoons to them? 

Is it a phantom, this pure sight 
Of mother's love made tenderer, 
Of spirit with spirit linked to share 
The mutual kinship of delight? 

Good sorrow, dear remorse, and ye, 
Blest dreams, O hands ordained of heaven 
To tell me if I am forgiven, 
Make but the sign that pardons me! 



420 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



II 



my God, thou hast wounded me with love, 
Behold the wound, that is still vibrating, 
O my God, thou hast wounded me with love. 

O my God, thy fear hath fallen upon me, 
Behold the burn is there, and it throbs aloud, 
my God, thy fear hath fallen upon me. 

my God, I have known that all is vile 
And that thy glory hath stationed itself in me, 
O my God, I have known that all is vile. 

Drown my soul in floods, floods of thy wine, 
Mingle my life with the body of thy bread, 
Drown my soul in floods, floods of thy wine. 

Take my blood, that I have not poured out, 
Take my flesh, unworthy of suffering, 
Take my blood, that I have not poured out. 

Take my brow, that has only learned to blush, 
To be the footstool of thine adorable feet, 
Take my brow, that has only learned to blush. 



TRANSLATIONS 421 

Take my hands, because they have laboured 

not 

For coals of fire and for rare frankincense, 
Take my hands, because they have laboured 

not. 

Take my heart, that has beaten for vain things, 

To throb under the thorns of Calvary, 

Take my heart that has beaten for vain things. 

Take my feet, frivolous travellers, 

That they may run to the crying of thy grace, 

Take my feet, frivolous travellers. 

Take my voice, a harsh and a lying noise, 
For the reproaches of thy Penitence, 
Take my voice, a harsh and a lying noise 

Take mine eyes, luminaries of deceit, 

That they may be extinguished in the tears of 

prayer, 
Take mine eyes, luminaries of deceit. 

Alas, thou, God of pardon and promises, 
What is the pit of mine ingratitude, 
Alas, thou, God of pardon and promises. 



422 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 

God of terror and God of holiness, 
Alas, my sinfulness is a black abyss, 
God of terror and God of holiness. 

Thou, God of peace, of joy and delight, 
All my tears, all my ignorances, 
Thou, God of pea6e, of joy and delight. 

Thou, God, knowest all this, all this, 
How poor I am, poorer than any man, 
Thou, God, knowest all this, all this. 

And what I have, my God, I give to thee. 



TRANSLATIONS 423 



III 

Slumber dark and deep 
Falls across my life; 
I will put to sleep 
Hope, desire, and strife. 

All things pass away, 
Good and evil seem 
To my soul to-day 
Nothing but a dream; 

I a cradle laid 

In a hollow cave, 

By a great hand swayed; 

Silence, like the grave. 



424 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



IV 



The body's sadness and the languor thereof 
Melt and bow me with pity till I could weep, 
Ah! when the dark hours break it down in sleep 
And the bedclothes score the skin and the hot 

hands move; 

Alert for a little with the fever of day, 
Damp still with the heavy sweat of the night 

that has thinned, 

Like a bird that trembles on a roof in the wind: 
And the feet that are sorrowful because of the 

way, 

And the breast that a hand has scarred with a 

double blow, 

And the mouth that as an open wound is red, 
And the flesh that shivers and is a painted 

show, 
And the eyes, poor eyes so lovely with tears 

unshed 

For the sorrow of seeing this also over and done : 
Sad body, how weak and how punished under 

the sun! 



TRANSLATIONS 425 

V 

Fairer is the sea 
Than the minster high, 
Faithful nurse is she, 
And last lullaby, 
And the Virgin prays 
Over the sea's ways. 

Gifts of grief and guerdons 
From her bounty come, 
And I hear her pardons 
Chide her angers home; 
Nothing in her is 
Unforgivingness. 

She is piteous, 
She the perilous! 
Friendly things to us 
The wave sings to us: 
You whose hope is past, 
Here is peace at last. 

And beneath the skies, 
Brighter-hued than they, 
She has azure dyes, 
Rose and green and grey. 
Better is the sea 
Than all fair things or we. 



426 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



From ParalUlement: 

IMPRESSION FAUSSE 

Little lady mouse, 

Black upon the grey of light; 

Little lady mouse, 

Grey upon the night. 

Now they ring the bell, 
All good prisoners slumber deep; 
Now they ring the bell, 
Nothing now but sleep. 

Only pleasant dreams, 
Love's enough for thinking of; 
Only pleasant dreams, 
Long live love! 

Moonlight over all, 
Someone snoring heavily; 
Moonlight over all 
In reality. 



TRANSLATIONS 427 

Now there comes a cloud, 
It is dark as midnight here; 
Now there comes a cloud, 
Dawn begins to peer. 

Little lady mouse, 
Rosy in a ray of blue, 
Little lady mouse: 
Up now, all of you! 



428 THE SYMBOLIST MOVEMENT 



From Chansons pour Elle 

You believe that there may be 
Luck in strangers in the tea: 
I believe only in your eyes. 

You believe in fairy-tales, 

Days one wins and days one fails: 

I believe only in your lies. 

You believe in heavenly powers, 
In some saint to whom one prays 
Or in some Ave that one says. 

I believe only in the hours, 

Coloured with the rosy lights 

You rain for me on sleepless nights. 

And so firmly I receive 
These for truth, that I believe 
That only for your sake I live. 



TRANSLATIONS 429 



From Epigrammes 

When we go together, if I may see her again, 
Into the dark wood and the rain; 

When we are drunken with air and the sun's 

delight 
At the brink of the river of light; 

When we are homeless at last, for a moment's 

space 
Without city or abiding-place; 

And if the slow good-will of the world still seem 
To cradle us in a dream; 

Then, let us sleep the last sleep with no leave- 
taking, 
And God will see to the waking.