It is not the least remarkable thing about this remarkable book, and not the least characteristic of its most remarkable author, that its very survival has something extraordinary about it. Grimm, who was more likely than any one else to know, apparently thought it was destroyed or lost; it never appeared at all during Diderot's life, nor for a dozen years after his death, nor till seven after the outbreak of the Revolution, and six after the suppression of the religious orders in France. That it might have brought its author into difficulties is more than probable; but the undisguised editor of the Encyclopedie, the author, earlier, of the actually disgraceful Bijoux Indiscrets, and the much more than suspected principal begetter of the Systeme de la Nature, could not have been much influenced by this. The true cause of its abscondence, as in so much else of his work, was undoubtedly that ultra-Bohemian quality of indifference which distinguished Diderot—the first in a way, probably for ever the greatest, and, above all, the most altruistic of literary Bohemians. Ask him to do something definite, especially for somebody else's profit, to be done off-hand, and it was done. Ask him to bear the brunt of a dangerous, laborious, by no means lucrative, but rather exciting adventure, and he would, one cannot quite say consecrate, but devote (which has two senses) his life to it. But set him to elaborate artistic creation, confine him to it, and expect him to finish it, and you were certain to be disappointed. At another time, even at this time, if his surroundings and his society, his education and his breeding had been less unfortunate, he might, as it seems to me, have become a very great novelist indeed. As it is, he is a great possibility of novel and of much other writing, with occasional outbursts of actuality. The Encyclopedie itself, for aught I care, might have gone in all its copies, and with all possibility of recovering or remembering it on earth, to the place where so many people at the time would have liked to send it. But in the rest of him, and even in some of his own Encyclopaedia articles, there is much of quite different stuff. And among the various gifts, critical and creative, which this stuff shows, not the least, I think, was the half-used and mostly ill-used gift of novel-writing.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: The successors—Marmontel.]
What has been called the second generation of the philosophes, who were naturally the pupils of the first, "were not like [that] first," that is to say, they did not reproduce the special talents of their immediate masters in this department of ours, save in two instances. Diderot's genius did not propagate itself in the novel way at all: indeed, as has been said, his best novel was not known till this second generation itself was waning. The most brilliant of his direct hearers, Joubert, took to another department; or rather, in his famous Pensees, isolated and perfected the utterances scattered through the master's immense and disorderly work. Naigeon, the most devoted, who might have taken for his motto a slight alteration of the Mahometan confession of faith, "There is no God; but there is only one Diderot, and I am his prophet," was a dull fellow, and also, to adopt a Carlylian epithet, a "dull-snuffling" one, who could not have told a neck-tale if the Hairibee of the guillotine had caught him and given him a merciful chance. Voltaire in Marmontel, and Rousseau in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, were more fortunate, though both the juniors considerably transformed their masters' fashions; and Marmontel was always more or less, and latterly altogether, an apostate from the principle that the first and last duty of man is summed up in ecrasons l'infame.
This latter writer has had vicissitudes both in English and French appreciation. We translated him early, and he had an immense influence on the general Edgeworthian school, and on Miss Edgeworth herself. Much later Mr. Ruskin "took him up." But neither his good nor his bad points have, for a long time, been such as greatly to commend themselves, either to the major part of the nineteenth century, or to what has yet passed of the twentieth, on either side of the channel.
He was, no doubt, only a second-class man of letters, and though he ranks really high in this class, he was unfortunately much influenced by more or less passing fashions, fads, and fancies of his time—sensibilite (see next chapter) philosophism, politico-philanthropic economy, and what not. He was also much of a "polygraph," and naturally a good deal of his polygraphy does not concern us, though parts of his Memoirs, especially the rather well-known accounts of his sufferings as a new-comer in the atrocious Bastille, show capital tale-telling faculty. His unequal criticism, sometimes very acute, hardly concerns us at all; his Essai sur les Romans being very disappointing. But he wrote not a little which must, in different ways and "strengths," be classed as actual fiction, and this concerns us pretty nearly, both as evidencing that general set towards the novel which is so important, and also in detail.
[Sidenote: His "Telemachic" imitations worth little.]
It divides itself quite obviously into two classes, the almost didactic matter of Belisaire and Les Incas, and the still partly didactic, but much more "fictionised" Contes Moraux. The first part (which is evidently of the family of Telemaque) may be rapidly dismissed. Except for its good French and good intentions, it has long had, and is likely always to have, very little to say for itself. We have seen that Prevost attempted a sort of quasi-historical novel. Of actual history there is little in Belisaire, rather more in Les Incas. But historical fact and story-telling art are entirely subordinated in both to moral purpose, endless talk about virtue and the affections and justice and all the rest of it—the sort of thing, in short, which provoked the immortal outburst, "In the name of the Devil and his grandmother, be virtuous and have done with it!" There is, as has just been said, a great deal of this in the Contes also; but fortunately there is something else.
[Sidenote: The best of his Contes Moraux worth a good deal.]
The something else is not to be found in the "Sensibility" parts, and could not be expected to be. They do, indeed, contain perhaps the most absolutely ludicrous instance of the absurdest side of that remarkable thing, except Mackenzie's great trouvaille of the press-gang who unanimously melted into tears at the plea of an affectionate father. Marmontel's masterpiece is not so very far removed in subject from this. It represents a good young man, who stirs up the timorous captain and crew of a ship against an Algerine pirate, and in the ensuing engagement, sabre in hand, makes a terrible carnage: "As soon as he sees an African coming on board, he runs to him and cuts him in half, crying, 'My poor mother!'" The filial hero varies this a little, when "disembowelling" the Algerine commander, by requesting the Deity to "have pity on" his parent—a proceeding faintly suggestive of a survival in his mind of the human-sacrifice period.
Fortunately, as has been said, it is not always thus: and some of the tales are amusing in almost the highest degree, being nearly as witty as Voltaire's, and entirely free from ill-nature and sculduddery. Not that Marmontel—though a great advocate for marriage, and even (for a Frenchman of his time) wonderfully favourable to falling in love before marriage—pretends to be altogether superior to the customs of his own day. We still sometimes have the "Prendre-Avoir-Quitter" series of Crebillon, though with fewer details; and Mrs. Newcome would have been almost more horrified than she was at Joseph Andrews by the perusal of one of Marmontel's most well-intentioned things, Annette et Lubin. But he never lays himself out for attractions of a doubtful kind, and none of his best stories, even when they may sometimes involve bowing in the house of Ashtoreth as well as that of Rimmon, derive their bait from this kind. Indeed they rather "assume and pass it by" as a fashion of the time.
[Sidenote: Alcibiade ou le Moi.]
We may take three or four of them as examples. One is the very first of the collection, Alcibiade ou le Moi. Hardly anybody need be told that the Alcibiades of the tale, though nominally, is not in the least really the Alcibiades of history, or that his Athens is altogether Paris; while his Socrates is a kind of philosophe, the good points of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot being combined with the faults of none of them, and his ladies are persons who—with one exception—simply could not have existed in Greece. This Alcibiades wishes to be loved "for himself," and is (not without reason) very doubtful whether he ever has been, though he is the most popular and "successful" man in Athens. His avoir, for the moment, is concerned with a "Prude." (Were there prudes in Greece? I think Diogenes would have gladly lent his lantern for the search.) He is desperately afraid that she only loves him for herself. He determines to try her; takes her, not at her deeds, but at her words, which are, of course, such as would have made the Greeks laugh as inextinguishably as their gods once did. She expresses gratitude for his unselfishness, but is anything but pleased. Divers experiments are tried by her, and when at last he hopes she will not tempt him any more, exclaiming that he is really "l'amant le plus fidele, le plus tendre et le plus respectueux" ... "et le plus sot," adds she, sharply, concluding the conversation and shutting her, let us say, doors on him.
He is furious, and tries "Glicerie" (the form might be more Greek), an ingenue of fifteen, who was "like a rose," who had attracted already the vows of the most gallant youths, etc. The most brilliant of these youths instantly retire before the invincible Alcibiades. But in the first place she wishes that before "explanations" take place, a marriage shall be arranged; while he, oddly enough, wishes that the explanations should precede the hymen. Also she is particular about the consent of her parents: and, finally, when he asks her whether she will swear constancy against every trial, to be his, and his only, whatever happens, she replies, with equal firmness and point, "Never!" So he is furious again. But there is a widow, and, as we have seen in former cases, there was not, in the French eighteenth century, the illiberal prejudice against widows expressed by Mr. Weller. She is, of course, inconsolable for her dear first, but admits, after a time, the possibility of a dear second. Only it must be kept secret as yet. For a time Alcibiades behaves nobly, but somehow or other he finds that everybody knows the fact; he is treated by his lady-love with obvious superiority; and breaks with her. An interlude with a "magistrate's" wife, on less proper and more Crebillonish lines, is not more successful. So one day meeting by the seashore a beautiful courtesan, Erigone, he determines, in the not contemptible language of that single-speech poetess, Maria del Occidente, to "descend and sip a lower draught." He is happy after a fashion with her for two whole months: but at the end of that time he is beaten in a chariot race, and, going to Erigone for consolation, finds the winner's vehicle at her door. Socrates, on being consulted, recommends Glicerie as, after all, the best of them, in a rather sensible discourse. But the concluding words of the sage and the story are, as indeed might be expected from Xanthippe's husband, not entirely optimist: "If your wife is well conducted and amiable, you will be a happy man; if she is ill-tempered and a coquette, you will become a philosopher—so you must gain in any case." An "obvious," perhaps, but a neat and uncommonly well-told story.
[Sidenote: Soliman the Second.]
Soliman the Second is probably the best known of Marmontel's tales, and it certainly has great merits. It is hardly inferior in wit to Voltaire, and is entirely free from the smears of uncomeliness and the sniggers of bad taste which he would have been sure to put in. The subject is, of course, partly historical, though the reader of Knollys (and one knows more unhappy persons) will look in vain there, not, indeed, for Roxelana, but for the nez retrousse, which is the important point of the story. The great Sultan tires of his Asiatic harem, complaisant but uninteresting, and orders European damsels to be caught or bought for him. The most noteworthy of the catch or batch are Elmire, Delia, and Roxelane. Elmire comes first to Soliman's notice, charms him by her sentimental ways, and reigns for a time, but loses her piquancy, and (by no means wholly to her satisfaction) is able to avail herself of the conditional enfranchisement, and return to her country, which his magnanimity has granted her. Her immediate supplanter, Delia, is an admirable singer, and possessed of many of the qualifications of an accomplished hetaera. But for that very reason the Sultan tires of her likewise; and for the same, she is not inconsolable or restive: indeed she acts as a sort of Lady Pandara, if not to introduce, at any rate to tame, the third, Roxelane, a French girl of no very regular beauty, but with infinite attractions, and in particular possessed of what Mr. Dobson elegantly calls "a madding ineffable nose" of the retrousse type.
The first thing the Sultan hears of this damsel is that the Master of the Eunuchs cannot in the least manage her; for she merely laughs at all he says. The Sultan, out of curiosity, orders her to be brought to him, and she immediately cries: "Thank Heaven! here is a face like a man's. Of course you are the sublime Sultan whose slave I have the honour to be? Please cashier this disgusting old rascal." To which extremely irreverent address Soliman makes a dignified reply of the proper kind, including due reference to "obedience" and his "will." This brings down a small pageful of raillery from the young person, who asks "whether this is Turkish gallantry?" suggests that the restrictions of the seraglio involve a fear that "the skies should rain men," and more than hints that she should be very glad if they did. For the moment Soliman, though much taken with her, finds no way of saving his dignity except by a retreat. The next time he sends for her, or rather announces his own arrival, she tells the messenger to pack himself off: and when the Commander of the Faithful does visit her and gives a little good advice, she is still incorrigible. She will, once more, have nothing to do with the words dois and devoir. When asked if she knows what he is and what she is, she answers with perfect aplomb, "What we are? You are powerful, and I am pretty; so we are quite on an equality." In the most painfully confidential and at the same time quite decent manner, she asks him what he can possibly do with five hundred wives? and, still more intolerably, tells him that she likes his looks, and has already loved people who were not worth him. The horror with which this Turkish soldan, himself so full of sin, ejaculates, "Vous avez aime?" may be easily imagined, and again she simply puts him to flight. When he gets over it a little, he sends Delia to negotiate. But Roxelane tells the go-between to stay to supper, declaring that she herself does not feel inclined for a tete-a-tete yet, and finally sends him off with this obliging predecessor and substitute, presenting her with the legendary handkerchief, which she has actually borrowed from the guileless Padishah. There is some, but not too much more of it; there can but be one end; and as he takes her to the Mosque to make her legitimate Sultana, quite contrary to proper Mussulman usage, he says to himself, "Is it really possible that a little retrousse nose should upset the laws of an empire?" Probably, though Marmontel does not say so, he looked down at the said nose, as he communed with himself, and decided that cause and effect were not unworthy of each other. There is hardly a righter and better hit-off tale of the kind, even in French.
[Sidenote: The Four Flasks.]
"The Four Flasks" or "The Adventures of Alcidonis of Megara," a sort of outside fairy tale, is good, but not quite so good as either of the former. Alcidonis has a fairy protectress, if not exactly godmother, who gives him the flasks in question to use in amatory adventures. One, with purple liquor in it, sets the drinker in full tide of passion; the second (rose-coloured) causes a sort of flirtation; the third (blue) leads to sentimental and moderate affection; and the last (pure white) recovers the experimenter from the effects of any of the others. He tries all, and all but the last are unsatisfactory, though, much as in the case of Alcibiades and Glicerie, the blue has a second chance, the results of which are not revealed. This is the least important of the group, but is well told.
There is also much good in Heureusement, the nearest to a "Crebillonnade" of all, though the Crebillonesque situations are ingeniously broken off short. It is told by an old marquise to an almost equally old abbe, her crony, who only at the last discovers that, long ago, he himself was very nearly the shepherd of the proverbial hour. And Le Mari Sylphe, which is still more directly connected with one of Crebillon's actual pieces, and with some of the weaker stories (v. sup.) of the Cabinet des Fees, would be good if it were not much too long. Others might be mentioned, but my own favourite, though it has nothing quite so magnetic in it as the nez de Roxelane, is Le Philosophe Soi-disant, a sort of apology for his own clan, in a satire on its less worthy members, which may seem to hit rather unfairly at Rousseau, but which is exceedingly amusing.
[Sidenote: Le Philosophe Soi-disant.]
Clarice—one of those so useful young widows of whom the novelists of this time might have pleaded that they took their ideas of them from the Apostle St. Paul—has for some time been anxious to know a philosophe, though she has been warned that there are philosophes and philosophes, and that the right kind is neither common nor very fond of society. She expresses surprise, and says that she has always heard a philosophe defined as an odd creature who makes it his business to be like nobody else. "Oh," she is told, "there is no difficulty about that kind," and one, by name Ariste, is shortly added to her country-house party. She politely asks him whether he is not a philosophe, and whether philosophy is not a very beautiful thing? He replies (his special line being sententiousness) that it is simply the knowledge of good and evil, or, if she prefers it, Wisdom. "Only that?" says wicked Doris; but Clarice helps him from replying to the scoffer by going on to ask whether the fruit of Wisdom is not happiness? "And, Madame, the making others happy." "Dear me," says naive Lucinde, half under her breath, "I must be a philosophe, for I have been told a hundred times that it only depended on myself to be happy by making others happy." There is more wickedness from Doris; but Ariste, with a contemptuous smile, explains that the word "happiness" has more than one meaning, and that the philosophe kind is different from that at the disposal and dispensation of a pretty woman. Clarice, admitting this, asks what his kind of happiness is? The company then proceeds, in the most reprehensible fashion, to "draw" the sage: and they get from him, among other things, an admission that he despises everybody, and an unmistakable touch of disgust when somebody speaks of "his semblables."
Clarice, however, still plays the amiable and polite hostess, lets him take her to dinner, and says playfully that she means to reconcile him to humanity. He altogether declines. Man is a vicious beast, who persecutes and devours others, he says, making all the time a particularly good dinner while denouncing the slaughter of animals, and eulogising the "sparkling brook" while getting slightly drunk. He declaims against the folly and crime of the modern world in not making philosophers kings, and announces his intention of seeking complete solitude. But Clarice, still polite, decides that he must stay with them a little while, in order to enlighten and improve the company.
After this, Ariste, in an alley alone, to digest his dinner and walk off his wine, persuades himself that Clarice has fallen in love with him, and that, to secure her face and her fortune, he has only got to go on playing the misanthrope and give her a chance of "taming the bear." The company, perfectly well knowing his thoughts, determine to play up to them—not for his greater glory; and Clarice, not quite willingly, agrees to take the principal part. In a long tete-a-tete he makes his clumsy court, airs his cheap philosophy, and lets by no means the mere suggestion of a cloven foot appear, on the subject of virtue and vice. However, she stands it, though rather disgusted, and confesses to him that people are suggesting a certain Cleon, a member of the party, as her second husband; whereon he decries marriage, but proposes himself as a lover. She reports progress, and is applauded; but the Presidente de Ponval, another widow, fat, fifty, fond of good fare, possessed of a fine fortune, but very far from foolish, vows that she will make the greatest fool of Ariste. Cleon, however, accepts his part; and appears to be much disturbed at Clarice's attentions to Ariste, who, being shown to his room, declaims against its luxuries, but avails himself of them very cheerfully. In the morning he, though rather doubtfully, accepts a bath; but on his appearance in company Clarice makes remonstrances on his dress, etc., and actually prevails on him to let a valet curl his hair. This is an improvement; but she does not like his brown coat. He must write to Paris and order a suit of gris-de-lin clair, and after some wrangling he consents. But now the Presidente takes up the running. After expressing the extremest admiration for his coiffure, she makes a dead set at him, tells him she wants a second husband whom she can love for himself, and goes off with a passionate glance, the company letting him casually know that she has ten thousand crowns a year. He affects to despise this, which is duly reported to her next morning. She vows vengeance; but he dreams of her (and the crowns) meanwhile, and with that morning the new suit arrives. He is admiring himself in it when Cleon comes in, and throws himself on his mercy. He adores Clarice; Ariste is evidently gaining fatally on her affections; will he not be generous and abstain from using his advantages? But if he is really in love Cleon will give her up.
The hook is, of course, more than singly baited and barbed. Ariste can at once play the magnanimous man, and be rewarded by the Presidente's ten thousand a year. He will be off with Clarice and on with Mme. de Ponval, whom he visits in his new splendour. She admires it hugely, but is alarmed at seeing him in Clarice's favourite colour. An admirable conversation follows, in which she constantly draws her ill-bred, ill-blooded, and self-besotted suitor into addressing her with insults, under the guise of compliments, and affects to enjoy them. He next visits Clarice, with whom he finds Cleon, in the depths of despair. She begins to admire the coat, and to pride herself on her choice, when he interrupts her, and solemnly resigns her to Cleon. Doris and Lucinde come in, and everybody is astounded at Ariste's generosity as he takes Clarice's hand and places it in that of his rival. Then he goes to the Presidente, and tells her what he has done. She expresses her delight, and he falls at her feet. Thereupon she throws round his neck a rose-coloured ribbon (her colours), calls him "her Charming man," and insists on showing him to the public as her conquest and captive. He has no time to refuse, for the door opens and they all appear. "Le voila," says she, "cet homme si fier qui soupire a mes genoux pour les beaux yeux de ma cassette! Je vous le livre. Mon role est joue." So Ariste, tearing his curled hair, and the gris-de-lin clair coat, and, doubtless, the Presidente's "red rose chain," cursing also terribly, goes off to write a book against the age, and to prove that nobody is wise but himself.
I can hardly imagine more than one cavil being made against this by the most carping of critics and the most wedded to the crotchet of "kinds"—that it is too dramatic for a story, and that we ought to have had it as a drama. If this were further twisted into an accusation of plagiarism from the actual theatre, I think it could be rebutted at once. The situations separately might be found in many dramas; the characters in more; but I at least am not aware of any one in which they had been similarly put together. Of course most if not all of us have seen actresses who would make Clarice charming, Madame de Ponval amusing, and Doris and Lucinde very delectable adjuncts; as well as actors by whom the parts of Cleon and Ariste would be very effectively worked out. But why we should be troubled to dress, journey, waste time and money, and get a headache, by going to the theatre, when we can enjoy all this "in some close corner of [our] brain," I cannot see. As I read the story in some twenty minutes, I can see my Clarice, my Madame de Ponval, my Doris and Lucinde and Cleon and Ariste and Jasmin—the silent but doubtless highly appreciative valet,—and I rather doubt whether the best company in the world could give me quite that.
[Sidenote: A real advance in these.]
But, even in saying this, full justice has not yet been done to Marmontel. He has, from our special point of view, made a real further progress towards the ideal of the ordinary novel—the presentation of ordinary life. He has borrowed no supernatural aid; he has laid under contribution no "fie-fie" seasonings; he has sacrificed nothing, or next to nothing, in these best pieces, whatever he may have done elsewhere, to purpose and crotchet. He has discarded stuffing, digression, episode, and other things which weighed on and hampered his predecessors. In fact there are times when it seems almost unjust, in this part of his work, to "second" him in the way we have done; though it must be admitted that if you take his production as a whole he relapses into the second order.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.]
The actual books, in anything that can be called fiction, of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre are of far less merit than Marmontel's; but most people who have even the slightest knowledge of French literature know why he cannot be excluded here. Personally, he seems to have been an ineffectual sort of creature, and in a large part of his rather voluminous work he is (when he ceases to produce a sort of languid amusement) a distinctly boring one. He appears to have been unlucky, but to have helped his own bad luck with the only signs of effectualness that he ever showed. It is annoying, no doubt, to get remonstrances from headquarters as to your not sending any work (plans, reports, etc.) as an engineer, and to find, or think you find, that your immediate C.O. has suppressed them. But when you charge him with his disgraceful proceeding, and he, as any French officer in his position at his time was likely to do, puts his hand on his sword, it is undiplomatic to rush on another officer who happens to be present, grab at and draw his weapon (you are apparently not entitled to one), and attack your chief. Nor when, after some more unsuccessful experiences at home and abroad, you are on half or no pay, and want employment, would it seem to be exactly the wisdom of Solomon to give a minister the choice of employing you on (1) the civilisation of Corsica, (2) the exploration of the unknown parts of the Western Continent, (3) the discovery of the sources of the Nile, and (4) a pedestrian tour throughout India. But, except in the first instance (for the "Citizen of Geneva" did not meddle much with cold steel), it was all very like a pupil, and (in the Citizen's later years) a friend, of Rousseau, carrying out his master's ideas with a stronger dose of Christianity, but with quite as little common sense. I have not seen (or remembered) any more exact account of Saint-Pierre's relations with Napoleon than that given by the excellent Aime-Martin, an academic euphemiser of the French kind. But, even reading between his lines, they must have been very funny.
Paul et Virginie, however, is one of those books which, having attained and long kept a European reputation, cannot be neglected, and it may be added that it does deserve, though for one thing only, never to be entirely forgotten. It is chock-full of sensibilite, the characters have no real character, and all healthy-minded persons have long ago agreed that the concomitant facts, if not causes, of Virginie's fate are more nasty than the nastiest thing in Diderot or Rabelais. But the descriptions of the scenery of Mauritius, as sets-off to a novel, are something new, and something immensely important. La Chaumiere Indienne, though less of a story in size and general texture, is much better from the point of view of taste. It has touches of real irony, and almost of humour, though its hero, the good pariah, is a creature nearly as uninteresting as he is impossible. Yet his "black and polished" baby is a vivid property, and the descriptions are again famous. The shorter pieces, Le Cafe de Surate, etc., require little notice.
* * * * *
It will, however, have been seen by anybody who can "seize points," that this philosophe novel, as such, is a really important agent in bringing on the novel itself to its state of full age. That men like the three chiefs should take up the form is a great thing; that men who are not quite chiefs, like Marmontel and Saint-Pierre, should carry it on, is not a small one. They all do something to get it out of the rough; to discard—if sometimes also they add—irrelevances; to modernise this one kind which is perhaps the predestined and acceptable literary product of modernity. Voltaire originates little, but puts his immense power and diable au corps into the body of fiction. Rousseau enchains passion in its service, as Madame de la Fayette, as even Prevost, had not been able to do before. Diderot indicates, in whatever questionable material, the vast possibilities of psychological analysis. Marmontel—doing, like other second-rate talents, almost more useful work than his betters—rescues the conte from the "demi-rep" condition into which it had fallen, and, owing to the multifariousness of his examples, does not entirely subjugate it even to honest purpose; while Bernardin de Saint-Pierre carries the suggestions of Rousseau still further in the invaluable department of description. No one, except on the small scale, is great in plot; no one produces a really individual character; and it can hardly be said that any one provides thoroughly achieved novel dialogue. But they have inspired and enlivened the whole thing as a whole; and if, against this, is to be set the crime of purpose, that is one not difficult to discard.
 His verse tales, even if stories in verse had not by this time fallen out of our proper range, require little notice. The faculty of "telling" did not remain with him here, perhaps because it was prejudicially affected by the "dryness" and unpoetical quality of his poetry, and of the French poetry of the time generally, perhaps for other reasons. At any rate, as compared with La Fontaine or Prior, he hardly counts. Le Mondain, Le Pauvre Diable, etc., are skits or squibs in verse, not tales. The opening one of the usual collection, Ce qui plait aux Dames,—in itself a flat rehandling of Chaucer and Dryden,—is saved by its charming last line—
Ah! croyez-moi, l'erreur a son merite,
a rede which he himself might well have recked.
 In justice to Voltaire it ought to be remembered that no less great, virtuous, and religious a person than Milton ranked as one of the two objects to which "all mortals most aspire," "to offend your enemies."
 It has been noted above (see p. 266, note), how some have directly traced Zadig to the work of a person so much inferior to Hamilton as Gueulette.
 Micromegas and one or two other things avowed—in fact, Voltaire, if not "great," was "big" enough to make as a rule little secret of his levies on others; and he had, if not adequate, a considerable, respect for the English Titan.
 Cacambo was not a savage, but he had savage or, at least, non-European blood in him.
 Not in the Grandisonian sense, thank heaven! But as has been hinted, he is a little of a prig.
 He has been allowed a great deal of credit for the Calas and some other similar businesses. It is unlucky that the injustices he combated were somehow always clerical, in this or that fashion.
 It was said of them at their appearance "[cet] ouvrage est sans gout, sans finesse, sans invention, un rabachage de toutes les vieilles polissonneries que l'auteur a debitees sur Moise, et Jesus-Christ, les prophetes et les apotres, l'Eglise, les papes, les cardinaux, les pretres et les moines; nul interet, nulle chaleur, nulle vraisemblance, force ordures, une grosse gaiete.... Je n'aime pas la religion: mais je ne la hais pas assez pour trouver cela bon." The authorship, added to the justice of it, makes this one of the most crushing censures ever committed to paper; for the writer was Diderot (Oeuvres, Ed. Assezat, vi. 36).
 It is a singular coincidence that this was exactly the sum which Johnson mentioned to Boswell as capable of affording decent subsistence in London during the early middle eighteenth century.
 Songe de Platon, Bababec et les Fakirs, Aventure de la Memoire, Les Aveugles Juges des Conteurs, Aventure Indienne, and Voyage de la Raison.
 It is only fair to mention in this place, and in justice to a much abused institution, that this Babylonian story is said to be the only thing of its kind and its author that escaped the Roman censorship. If this is true, the unfeathered perroquets were not so spiteful as the feathered ones too often are. Or perhaps each chuckled at the satire on his brethren.
 As with other controverted points, not strictly relevant, it is permissible for us to neglect protests about la legende des philosophes and the like. Of course Rousseau was not only, at one time or another, the personal enemy of Voltaire and Diderot—he was, at one time or another, the personal enemy of everybody, including (not at any one but at all times) himself—but held principles very different from theirs. Yet their names will always be found together: and for our object the junction is real.
 Not the Abbe, who had been dead for some years, but a Genevese professor who saw a good deal of Jean-Jacques in his later days.
 "For short" La Nouvelle Heloise has been usually adopted. I prefer Julie as actually the first title, and for other reasons with which it is unnecessary to trouble the reader.
 She dies after slipping into the lake in a successful attempt to rescue one of her children; but neither is drowned, and she does not succumb rapidly enough for "shock" to account for it, or slowly enough for any other intelligible malady to hold its course.
 There is another curious anticipation of Dickens here: for Julie, as Dora does with Agnes, entreats Claire to "fill her vacant place"—though, by the way, not with her husband. And a third parallel, between Saint-Preux and Bradley Headstone, need not be quite farcical.
 You may tear out Introductions, if you do it neatly; and this I say, having written many.
 Also Rousseau, without meaning it, has made him by no means a fool. When, on learning from his wife and daughter that Saint-Preux had been officiating as "coach," he asked if this genius was a gentleman, and on hearing that he was not, replied, "What have you paid him, then?" it was not, as the novelist and his hero took it, in their vanity, to be, mere insolence of caste. M. d'Etange knew perfectly well that though he could not trust a French gentleman with his wife, there was not nearly so much danger with his daughter—while a roturier was not only entitled to be paid, and might accept pay without derogation, but was not unlikely, as the old North Country saying goes, to take it in malt if he did not receive it in meal.
 I observe that I have not yet fulfilled the promise of saying something of Wolmar, but the less said of him the better. He belongs wholly to that latter portion which has been wished away; he is a respectable Deist—than which it is essentially impossible, one would suppose, for orthodoxy and unorthodoxy alike to imagine anything more uninteresting; and his behaviour to Saint-Preux appears to me to be simply nauseous. He cannot, like Rowena, "forgive as a Christian," because he is not one, and any other form of forgiveness or even of tolerance is, in the circumstances, disgusting. But it was Rousseau's way to be disgusting sometimes.
 We have spoken of his attempt at the fairy tale; qui Gomersal non odit in English verse, amet Le Levite d'Ephraim in French prose, etc. etc.
 He did not even, as Rousseau did with his human offspring, habitually take them to the Foundling Hospital—that is to say, in the case of literature, the anonymous press. He left them in MS., gave them away, and in some cases behaved to them in such an incomprehensible fashion that one wonders how they ever came to light.
 Carlyle's Essay and Lord Morley of Blackburn's book are excepted. But Carlyle had not the whole before him, and Lord Morley was principally dealing with the Encyclopedie.
 Especially as Genin, like Carlyle, did not know all. There is, I believe, a later selection, but I have not seen it.
 Even the long, odd, and sometimes tedious Reve de D'Alembert, which Carlyle thought "we could have done without," but which others have extolled, has vivid narrative touches, though one is not much surprised at Mlle. de Lespinasse having been by no means grateful for the part assigned to her.
 The cleansing effect of war is an old cliche. It has been curiously illustrated in this case: for the first proof of the present passage reached me on the very same day with the news of the expulsion of the Germans from the village of Puisieux. So the name got "red-washed" from its old reproach.
 There really are touches of resemblance in it to Browning, especially in things like Mr. Sludge the Medium.
 The corporal's wound in the knee.
 Of course, there are exceptions, and with one of the chief of them, Xavier de Maistre, we may have, before long, to deal.
 His longest, most avowed, and most famous, the Paradoxe sur le Comedien, has been worthily Englished by Mr. Walter H. Pollock.
 Its heroine, Suzanne Simonin, was, as far as the attempt to relieve herself of her vows went, a real person; and a benevolent nobleman, the Marquis de Croixmare, actually interested himself in this attempt—which failed. But Diderot and his evil angel Grimm got up sham letters between themselves and her patron, which are usually printed with the book.
 Mon pere, je suis damnee ... the opening words, and the only ones given, of the confession of the half-mad abbess.
 Evangelical Protestantism has more than once adopted the principle that the Devil should not be allowed to have all the best tunes: and I remember in my youth an English religious novel of ultra-anti-Roman purpose, which, though, of course, dropping the "scabrousness," had, as I long afterwards recognised when I came to read La Religieuse, almost certainly borrowed a good deal from our most unsaintly Denis of Langres.
 She seems to have been, in many ways, far too good for her society, and altogether a lady.—The opinions of the late M. Brunetiere and mine on French literature were often very different—though he was good enough not to disapprove of some of my work on it. But with the terms of his expression of mere opinion one had seldom to quarrel. I must, however, take exception to his attribution of grossierete to La Religieuse. Diderot, as has been fully admitted, was too often grossier: sometimes when it was almost irrelevant to the subject. But here, "scabrous" as the subject might be, the treatment is scrupulously not coarse. Nor do I think, after intimate and long familiarity with the whole of his work, that he was ever a faux bonhomme.
 They have hardly had a fair opportunity of comparison with Voltaire's Dictionnaire Philosophique; but they can stand it.
 Unless Dulaurens' not quite stupid, but formless and discreditable, Compere Mathieu be excepted.
 In consequence of which Mr. Ruskin's favourite publisher, the late Mr. George Allen, asked the present writer, some twenty years ago, to revise and "introduce" the old translation of his Contes Moraux. The volume had, at least, the advantage of very charming illustrations by Miss Chris. Hammond.
 They were even worse than Leigh Hunt's in the strictly English counterpart torture-house for the victims of tyranny—consisting, for instance, in the supply of so good a dinner, at His Most Christian Majesty's expense, for the prisoner's servant, that the prisoner ate it himself, and had afterwards, on the principles of rigid virtue and distributive justice, to resign, to the minion who accompanied him, his own still better one which came later, also supplied by the tyrant.
 One expects something of value from the part-contemporary, part-successor of the novelists from Lesage to Rousseau. But where it is not mere blether about virtue and vice, and le coeur humain and so on, it has some of the worst faults of eighteenth-century criticism. He thinks it would have been more "moral" if Mme. de Cleves had actually succumbed as a punishment for her self-reliance (certainly one of the most remarkable topsyturvifications of morality ever crotcheted); is, of course, infinitely shocked at being asked and induced to "interest himself in a prostitute and a card-sharper" by Manon Lescaut; and, equally of course, extols Richardson, though it is fair to say that he speaks well of Tom Jones.
 See next chapter.
 I wonder whether any one else has noticed that Thackeray, in the very agreeable illustration to one of not quite his greatest "letterpress" things, A New Naval Drama (Oxford Ed. vol. viii. p. 421), makes the press-gang weep ostentatiously in the picture, though not in the text, where they only wave their cutlasses. It may be merely a coincidence: but it may not.
 There are reasons for thinking that Marmontel was deliberately "antidoting the fanfreluches" of the older tale-teller.
 In the original, suiting the rest of the setting, it is rideaux.
 "Explanations" is quite admirable, and, I think, neither borrowed from, nor, which is more surprising, by others.
 She declares that she has never actually "stooped to folly"; but admits that on more than one occasion it was only an accidental interruption which "luckily" (heureusement) saved her.
 It is necessary to retain the French here: for our "likes" is ambiguous.
 Cf. the stories, contradictory of each other, as to our brown-coated philosopher's appearance in France. (Boswell, p. 322, Globe ed.)
 Cf. again the bestowal of this title by Horace Walpole, in his later days, on Edward Jerningham, playwright, poetaster, and petit maitre, who, unluckily for himself, lived into the more roughly satirical times of the Revolutionary War.
 "The sylphishness of Le Mari Sylphe is only an ingenious and defensible fraud; and the philtre-flasks of Alcidonis are little more than "properties.""
 Here is a specimen of his largest and most ambitious production, the Etudes de la Nature. "La femelle du tigre, exhalant l'odeur du carnage, fait retentir les solitudes de l'Afrique de ses miaulements affreux, et parait remplie d'attraits a ses cruels amants." By an odd chance, I once saw a real scene contrasting remarkably with Saint-Pierre's sentimental melodrama. It was in the Clifton Zoological Gardens, which, as possibly some readers may know, were at one time regarded as particularly home-like by the larger carnivora. It was a very fine day, and an equally fine young tigress was endeavouring to attract the attention of her cruel lover. She rolled delicately about, like a very large, very pretty, and exceptionally graceful cat; she made fantastic gestures with her paws and tail; and she purred literally "as gently as any sucking dove"—roucoulement was the only word for it. But her "lover," though he certainly looked "cruel" and as if he would very much like to eat me, appeared totally indifferent to her attractions.
 So, also, when one is told that he called his son Paul and his daughter Virginie, it is cheerful to remember, with a pleasant sense of contrast, Scott's good-humoured contempt for the tourists who wanted to know whether Abbotsford was to be called Tullyveolan or Tillietudlem.
 As the story is not now, I believe, the universal school-book it once was, something more than mere allusion may be desirable. The ship in which Virginie is returning to the Isle of France gets into shallows during a hurricane, and is being beaten to pieces close to land. One stalwart sailor, stripped to swim for his life, approaches Virginie, imploring her to strip likewise and let him try to pilot her through the surf. But she (like the lady in the coach, at an early part of Joseph Andrews) won't so much as look at a naked man, clasps her arms round her own garments, and is very deservedly drowned. The sailor, to one's great relief, is not.
 Julie herself is an intense type rather than individual.
 I have not thought it necessary, except in regard to those of them who have been touched in treating of the Cabinet des Fees, to speak at any length of the minor tale-tellers of the century. They are sometimes not bad reading; but as a whole minor in almost all senses.
"SENSIBILITY." MINOR AND LATER NOVELISTS.
THE FRENCH NOVEL, C. 1800
Frequent reference has been made, in the last two chapters, to the curious phenomenon called in French sensibilite (with a derivative of contempt, sensiblerie), the exact English form of which supplies part of the title, and the meaning an even greater part of the subject, of one of Miss Austen's novels. The thing itself appears first definitely in Madame de la Fayette, largely, though not unmixedly, in Marivaux, and to some extent in Prevost and Marmontel, while it is, as it were, sublimed in Rousseau, and present very strongly in Saint-Pierre. There are, however, some minor writers and books displaying it in some cases even more extensively and intensively; and in this final chapter of the present volume they may appropriately find a place, not merely because some of them are late, but because Sensibility is not confined to any part of the century, but, beginning before its birth, continued till after its end. We may thus have to encroach on the nineteenth a little, but more in appearance than in reality. In quintessence, and as a reigning fashion, Sensibility was the property of the eighteenth century.
[Sidenote: A glance at Miss Austen.]
To recur for a moment to Miss Austen and Sense and Sensibility, everybody has laughed, let us hope not unkindly, over Marianne Dashwood's woes. But she herself was only an example, exaggerated in the genial fashion of her creatress, of the proper and recognised standard of feminine feeling in and long before her time. The "man of feeling" was admitted as something out of the way—on which side of the way opinions might differ. But the woman of feeling was emphatically the accepted type—a type which lasted far into the next century, though it was obsolete at least by the Mid-Victorian period, of which some do so vainly talk. The extraordinary development of emotion which was expected from women need not be illustrated merely from love-stories. The wonderful transports of Miss Ferrier's heroines at sight of their long-lost mothers; even those of sober Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, at the recovery of her estimable but not particularly interesting brother William, give the keynote much better than any more questionable ecstasies. "Sensibility, so charming," was the pet affectation of the period—an affectation carried on till it became quite natural, and was only cured by the half-caricature, half-reaction of Byronism.
[Sidenote: The thing essentially French.]
The thing, however, was not English in origin, and never was thoroughly English at all. The main current of the Sensibility novelists, who impressed their curious morals or manners on all men and women in civilised Europe, was French in unbroken succession, from the day when Madame de la Fayette first broke ground against the ponderous romances of Madeleine de Scudery, to the day when Benjamin Constant forged, in Adolphe, the link between eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century romance, between the novel of sentiment and the novel of analysis.
[Sidenote: Its history.]
Of the relations to it of the greater novelists of the main century we have already spoken: and as for the two greatest of the extreme close, Chateaubriand and Madame de Stael, they mix too many secondary purposes with their philandering, and moreover do not form part of the plan of the present volume. For the true Sensibility, the odd quintessence of conventional feeling, played at steadily till it is half real, if not wholly so, which ends in the peculiarities of two such wholesome young Britonesses as Marianne Dashwood and Fanny Price, we must look elsewhere. After Madame de la Fayette, and excluding with her other names already treated, we come to Madame de Fontaines, Madame de Tencin (most heartless and therefore naturally not least sentimental of women), Madame Riccoboni, the group of lady-novelists of whom Mesdames de Souza and de Duras are the chief, and, finally, the two really remarkable names of Xavier de Maistre and Benjamin Constant. These are our "documents." Even the minor subjects of this inquiry are pleasant pieces of literary bric-a-brac; perhaps they are something a little more than that. For Sensibility was actually once a great power in the world. Transformed a little, it did wonderful things in the hands of Rousseau and Goethe and Chateaubriand and Byron. It lingers in odd nooks and corners even at the present day, when it is usually and irreverently called "gush," and Heaven only knows whether it may not be resuscitated in full force before some of us are dead. For it has exactly the peculiarities which characterise all recurrent fashions—the appeal to something which is genuine connected with the suggestion of a great deal that is not.
[Sidenote: Mme. de Tencin and Le Comte de Comminge.]
In the followers of Madame de la Fayette we find that a good many years have passed by. The jargon appropriated to the subject has grown still more official; and instead of using it to express genuine sentiments, which in another language might deserve expression well enough, the characters are constantly suspected by the callous modern reader or elaborately, though perhaps unconsciously, feigning the sentiments which the jargon seems to imply that they ought to have. This is somewhat less noticeable in the work of Madame de Tencin than elsewhere, because d'Alembert's mother was so very much cleverer a person than the generality of the novel-writers of her day that she could hardly fail to hide defects more cunningly. But it is evident enough in the Comte de Comminge and in the Malheurs de l'Amour. Having as questionable morals as any lady of the time (the time of the Regency), Madame de Tencin of course always had a moral purpose in her writings, and this again gives her books a certain difference. But, like the former, this difference only exposes, all the more clearly, the defects of the style, and the drawbacks from which it was almost impossible that those who practised it should escape.
Madame de Tencin tried to escape by several gates. Besides her moral purposes and her esprit, she indulged in a good deal of rather complicated and sometimes extravagant incident. M. de Comminge, which is very short, contains, not to mention other things, the rather startling detail of a son who, out of chivalrous affection for his lady-love, burns certain of his father's title-deeds which he has been charged to recover, and the still more startling incident of the heroine living for some years in disguise as a monk. The following epistle, however, from the heroine to the hero, will show better than anything else the topsy-turvy condition which sensibility had already reached. All that need be said in explanation of it is that the father (who is furious with his son, and not unreasonably so) has shut him up in a dungeon, in order to force him to give up his beloved Adelaide.
Your father's fury has told me all I owe you: I know what your generosity had concealed from me. I know, too, the terrible situation in which you are, and I have no means of extracting you therefrom save one. This will perhaps make you more unhappy still. But I shall be as unhappy as yourself, and this gives me the courage to do what I am required to do. They would have me, by engaging myself to another, give a pledge never to be yours: 'tis at this price that M. de Comminge sets your liberty. It will cost me perhaps my life, certainly my peace. But I am resolved. I shall in a few days be married to the Marquis de Benavides. What I know of his character forewarns me of what I shall have to suffer; but I owe you at least so much constancy as to make only misery for myself in the engagement I am contracting.
The extremity of calculated absurdity indicated by the italicised passages was reached, let it be remembered, by one of the cleverest women of the century: and the chief excuse for it is that the restrictions of the La Fayette novel, confined as it was to the upper classes and to a limited number of elaborately distressing situations, were very embarrassing.
[Sidenote: Mme. Riccoboni and Le Marquis de Cressy.]
Madame Riccoboni, mentioned earlier as continuing Marianne, shows the completed product very fairly. Her Histoire du Marquis de Cressy is a capital example of the kind. The Marquis is beloved by a charming girl of sixteen and by a charming widow of six-and-twenty. An envious rival betrays his attentions to Adelaide de Bugei, and her father makes her write an epistle which pretty clearly gives him the option of a declaration in form or a rupture. For a Sensible man, it must be confessed, the Marquis does not get out of the difficulty too well. She has slipped into her father's formal note the highly Sensible postscript, "Vous dire de m'oublier? Ah! Jamais. On m'a force de l'ecrire; rien ne peut m'obliger a le penser ni le desirer." Apparently it was not leap-year, for the Marquis replied in a letter nearly as bad as Willoughby's celebrated epistle in Sense and Sensibility.
MADEMOISELLE,—Nothing can console me for having been the innocent cause of fault being found with the conduct of a person so worthy of respect as you. I shall approve whatever you may think proper to do, without considering myself entitled to ask the reason of your behaviour. How happy should I be, mademoiselle, if my fortune, and the arrangements which it forces me to make, did not deprive me of the sweet hope of an honour of which my respect and my sentiments would perhaps make me worthy, but which my present circumstances permit me not to seek.
Sensibility does not seem to have seen anything very unhandsome in this broad refusal to throw the handkerchief; but though not unhandsome, it could not be considered satisfactory to the heart. So M. de Cressy despatches this private note to Adelaide by "Machiavel the waiting-maid"—
Is it permitted to a wretch who has deprived himself of the greatest of blessings, to dare to ask your pardon and your pity? Never did love kindle a flame purer and more ardent than that with which my heart burns for the amiable Adelaide. Why have I not been able to give her those proofs of it which she had the right to expect? Ah! mademoiselle, how could I bind you to the lot of a wretch all whose wishes even you perhaps would not fulfil? who, when he possessed you, though master of so dear, so precious a blessing, might regret others less estimable, but which have been the object of his hope and desire, etc. etc.
This means that M. de Cressy is ambitious, and wants a wife who will assist his views. The compliment is doubtful, and Adelaide receives it in approved fashion. She opens it "with a violent emotion," and her "trouble was so great in reading it through, that she had to begin it again many times before she understood it." The exceedingly dubious nature of the compliment, however, strikes her, and "tears of regret and indignation rise to her eyes"—tears which indeed are excusable even from a different point of view than that of Sensibility. She is far, however, from blaming that sacred emotion. "Ce n'est pas," she says; "de notre sensibilite, mais de l'objet qui l'a fait naitre, que nous devons nous plaindre." This point seems arguable if it were proper to argue with a lady.
The next letter to be cited is from Adelaide's unconscious rival, whose conduct is—translated into the language of Sensibility, and adjusted to the manners of the time and class—a ludicrous anticipation of the Pickwickian widow. She buys a handsome scarf, and sends it anonymously to the victorious Marquis just before a Court ball, with this letter—
A sentiment, tender, timid, and shy of making itself known, gives me an interest in penetrating the secrets of your heart. You are thought indifferent; you seem to me insensible. Perhaps you are happy, and discreet in your happiness. Deign to tell me the secret of your soul, and be sure that I am not unworthy of your confidence. If you have no love for any one, wear this scarf at the ball. Your compliance may lead you to a fate which others envy. She who feels inclined to prefer you is worthy of your attentions, and the step she takes to let you know it is the first weakness which she has to confess.
The modesty of this perhaps leaves something to desire, but its Sensibility is irreproachable. There is no need to analyse the story of the Marquis de Cressy, which is a very little book and not extremely edifying. But it supplies us with another locus classicus on sentimental manners. M. de Cressy has behaved very badly to Adelaide, and has married the widow with the scarf. He receives a letter from Adelaide on the day on which she takes the black veil—
'Tis from the depths of an asylum, where I fear no more the perfidy of your sex, that I bid you an eternal adieu. Birth, wealth, honours, all vanish from my sight. My youth withered by grief, my power of enjoyment destroyed, love past, memory present, and regret still too deeply felt, all combine to bury me in this retreat.
And so forth, all of which, if a little high-flown, is not specially unnatural; but the oddity of the passage is to come. Most men would be a little embarrassed at receiving such a letter as this in presence of their wives (it is to be observed that the unhappy Adelaide is profuse of pardons to Madame as well as to Monsieur de Cressy), and most wives would not be pleased when they read it. But Madame de Cressy has the finest Sensibility of the amiable kind. She reads it, and then—
The Marquise, having finished this letter, cast herself into the arms of her husband, and clasping him with an inexpressible tenderness, "Weep, sir, weep," she cried, bathing him with her own tears; "you cannot show too much sensibility for a heart so noble, so constant in its love. Amiable and dear Adelaide! 'Tis done, then, and we have lost you for ever. Ah! why must I reproach myself with having deprived you of the only possession which excited your desires? Can I not enjoy this sweet boon without telling myself that my happiness has destroyed yours?"
[Sidenote: Her other work—Milady Catesby.]
All Madame Riccoboni's work is, with a little good-will, more or less interesting. Much of it is full of italics, which never were used so freely in France as in England, but which seem to suit the queer, exaggerated, topsy-turvyfied sentiments and expressions very well. The Histoire d'Ernestine in particular is a charming little novelette. But if it were possible to give an abstract of any of her work here, Milady Catesby, which does us the honour to take its scene and personages from England, would be the one to choose. Milady Catesby is well worth comparing with Evelina, which is some twenty years its junior, and the sentimental parts of which are quite in the same tone with it. Lord Ossery is indeed even more "sensible" than Lord Orville, but then he is described in French. Lady Catesby herself is, however, a model of the style, as when she writes—
Oh! my dear Henrietta! What agitation in my senses! what trouble in my soul!... I have seen him.... He has spoken to me.... Himself.... He was at the ball.... Yes! he. Lord Ossery.... Ah! tell me not again to see him.... Bid me not hear him once more.
That will do for Lady Catesby, who really had no particular occasion or excuse for all this excitement except Sensibility. But Sensibility was getting more and more exacting. The hero of a novel must always be in the heroics, the heroine in a continual state of palpitation. We are already a long way from Madame de la Fayette's stately passions, from Marianne's whimsical minauderies. All the resources of typography—exclamations, points, dashes—have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things. Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous. I myself have not the least desire to laugh when I read such a book as La Nouvelle Heloise, and I venture to think that any one who does laugh must have something of the fool and something of the brute in his composition. But then Rousseau is Rousseau, and there are not many like him. At the Madame Riccobonis of this world, however clever they may be, it is difficult not to laugh, when they have to dance on such extraordinary tight ropes as those which Sensibility prescribed.
[Sidenote: Mme. de Beaumont—Lettres du Marquis de Roselle.]
The writers who were contemporary with Madame Riccoboni's later days, and who followed her, pushed the thing, if it were possible, even farther. In Madame de Genlis's tiny novelette of Mademoiselle de Clermont, the amount of tears shed, the way in which the knees of the characters knock together, their palenesses, blushes, tears, sighs, and other performances of the same kind, are surprising. In the Lettres du Marquis de Roselle of Madame Elie de Beaumont (wife of the young advocate who defended the Calas family), a long scene between a brother and sister, in which the sister seeks to deter the brother from what she regards as a misalliance, ends (or at least almost ends, for the usual flood of tears is the actual conclusion) in this remarkable passage.
"And I," cried he suddenly with a kind of fury, "I suppose that a sister who loves her brother, pities and does not insult him; that the Marquis de Roselle knows better what can make him happy than the Countess of St. Sever; and that he is free, independent, able to dispose of himself, in spite of all opposition." With these words he turned to leave the room brusquely. I run to him, I stop him, he resists. "My brother!" "I have no sister." He makes a movement to free himself: he was about to escape me. "Oh, my father!" I cried. "Oh, my mother! come to my help." At these sacred names he started, stopped, and allowed himself to be conducted to a sofa.
[Sidenote: Mme. de Souza.]
This unlucky termination might be paralleled from many other places, even from the agreeable writings of Madame de Souza. This writer, by the way, when the father of one of her heroes refuses to consent to his son's marriage, makes the stern parent yield to a representation that by not doing so he will "authorise by anticipation a want of filial attachment and respect" in the grandchildren who do not as yet exist. These excursions into the preposterous in search of something new in the way of noble sentiment or affecting emotion—these whippings and spurrings of the feelings and the fancy—characterise all the later work of the school.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Xavier de Maistre.]
Two names of great literary value and interest close the list of the novelists of Sensibility in France, and show at once its Nemesis and its caricature. They were almost contemporaries, and by a curious coincidence neither was a Frenchman by birth. It would be impossible to imagine a greater contrast than existed personally between Xavier de Maistre and Henri Benjamin de Constant-Rebecque, commonly called Benjamin Constant. But their personalities, interesting as both are, are not the matter of principal concern here. The Voyage autour de ma Chambre, its sequel the Expedition Nocturne, and the Lepreux de la Cite d'Aoste, exhibit one branch of the river of Sensibility (if one may be permitted to draw up a new Carte de Tendre), losing itself in agreeable trifling with the surface of life, and in generous, but fleeting, and slightly, though not consciously, insincere indulgence of the emotions. In Adolphe the river rushes violently down a steep place, and in nigras lethargi mergitur undas. It is to be hoped that most people who will read these pages know Xavier de Maistre's charming little books; it is probable that at least some of them do not know Adolphe. Constant is the more strictly original of the two authors, for Xavier de Maistre owes a heavy debt to Sterne, though he employs the borrowed capital so well that he makes it his own, while Adolphe can only be said to come after Werther and Rene in time, not in the least to follow them in nature.
The Voyage autour de ma Chambre (readers may be informed or reminded) is a whimsical description of the author's meditations and experiences when confined to barracks for some military peccadillo. After a fashion which has found endless imitators since, the prisoner contemplates the various objects in his room, spins little romances to himself about them and about his beloved Madame de Hautcastel, moralises on the faithfulness of his servant Joannetti, and so forth. The Expedition Nocturne, a less popular sequel, is not very different in plan. The Lepreux de la Cite d'Aoste is a very short story, telling how the narrator finds a sufferer from the most terrible of all diseases lodged in a garden-house, and of their dialogue. The chief merit of these works, as of the less mannerised and more direct Prisonnier du Caucase and Jeune Siberienne, resides in their dainty style, in their singular narrative power (Sainte-Beuve says justly enough that the Prisonnier du Caucase has been equalled by no other writer except Merimee), and in the remarkable charm of the personality of the author, which escapes at every moment from the work. The pleasant picture of the Chevalier de B—— in the Soirees de St. Petersbourg, which Joseph de Maistre is said to have drawn from his less formidable brother, often suggests itself as one follows the whimsicalities of the Voyage and the Expedition. The affectation is so natural, the mannerism so simple, that it is some time before one realises how great in degree both are.
[Sidenote: His illustrations on the lighter side of Sensibility.]
Looked at from a certain point of view, Xavier de Maistre illustrates the effect of the Sensibility theory on a thoroughly good-natured, cultivated, and well-bred man of no particular force or character or strength of emotion. He has not the least intention of taking Sensibility seriously, but it is the proper thing to take it somehow or other. So he sets himself to work to be a man of feeling and a humorist at the same time. His encounter with the leper is so freshly and simply told, there is such an air of genuineness about it, that it seems at first sight not merely harsh, but unappreciative, to compare it to Sterne's account of his proceedings with his monks and donkeys, his imaginary prisoners, and his fictitious ensigns. Yet there is a real contact between them. Both have the chief note of Sensibility, the taking an emotion as a thing to be savoured and degusted deliberately—to be dealt with on scientific principles and strictly according to the rules of the game. One result of this proceeding, when pursued for a considerable time, is unavoidably a certain amount of frivolity, especially in dealing with emotions directly affecting the player. Sympathy such as that displayed with the leper may be strong and genuine, because there is no danger about it; there is the suave mari magno preservative from the risk of a too deep emotion. But in matters which directly affect the interest of the individual it does not do to be too serious. The tear of Sensibility must not be dropped in a manner giving real pain to the dropper. Hence the humoristic attitude. When Xavier de Maistre informs us that "le grand art de l'homme de genie est de savoir bien elever sa bete," he means a great deal more than he supposes himself to mean. The great art of an easy-going person, who believes it to be his duty to be "sensible," is to arrange for a series of emotions which can be taken gently.
The author of the Voyage takes his without any extravagance. He takes good care not to burn his fingers metaphorically in this matter, though he tells us that in a fit of absence he did so literally. His affection for Madame de Hautcastel is certainly not a very passionate kind of affection, for all his elaborately counted and described heartbeats as he is dusting her portrait. Indeed, with his usual candour, he leaves us in no doubt about the matter. "La froide raison," he says, "reprit bientot son empire." Of course it did; the intelligent, and in the other sense sensible, person who wishes to preserve his repose must take care of that. We do not even believe that he really dropped a tear of repentance on his left shoe when he had unreasonably rated his servant; it is out of keeping with his own part. He borrowed that tear, either ironically or by oversight, from Sterne, just as he did "Ma chere Jenny." He is much more in his element when he proves that a lover is to his mistress, when she is about to go to a ball, only a "decimal of a lover," a kind of amatory tailor or ninth part of man; or when, in the Expedition, he meditates on a lady's slipper in the balcony fathoms below his garret.
[Sidenote: A sign of decadence.]
All this illustrates what may be called the attempt to get rid of Sensibility by the humorist gate of escape. Supposing no such attempt consciously to exist, it is, at any rate, the sign of an approaching downfall of Sensibility, of a feeling, on the part of those who have to do with it, that it is an edged tool, and an awkward one to handle. In comparing Xavier de Maistre with his master Sterne, it is very noticeable that while the one in disposition is thoroughly insincere, and the other thoroughly sincere, yet the insincere man is a true believer in Sensibility, and the sincere one evidently a semi-heretic. How far Sterne consciously simulated his droppings of warm tears, and how far he really meant them, may be a matter of dispute. But he was quite sincere in believing that they were very creditable things, and very admirable ones. Xavier de Maistre does not seem by any means so well convinced of this. He is, at times, not merely evidently pretending and making believe, but laughing at himself for pretending and making believe. He still thinks Sensibility a gratissimus error, a very pretty game for persons of refinement to play at, and he plays at it with a great deal of industry and with a most exquisite skill. But the spirit of Voltaire, who himself did his sensibilite (in real life, if not in literature) as sincerely as Sterne, has affected Xavier de Maistre "with a difference." The Savoyard gentleman is entirely and unexceptionably orthodox in religion; it may be doubted whether a severe inquisition in matters of Sensibility would let him off scatheless. It is not merely that he jests—as, for instance, that when he is imagining the scene at the Rape of the Sabines, he suddenly fancies that he hears a cry of despair from one of the visitors. "Dieux immortels! Pourquoi n'ai-je amene ma femme a la fete?" That is quite proper and allowable. It is the general tone of levity in the most sentimental moments, the undercurrent of mockery at his own feelings in this man of feeling, which is so shocking to Sensibility, and yet it was precisely this that was inevitable.
Sensibility, to carry it out properly, required, like other elaborate games, a very peculiar and elaborate arrangement of conditions. The parties must be in earnest so far as not to have the slightest suspicion that they were making themselves ridiculous, and yet not in earnest enough to make themselves really miserable. They must have plenty of time to spare, and not be distracted by business, serious study, political excitement, or other disturbing causes. On the other hand, to get too much absorbed, and arrive at Werther's end, was destructive not only to the individual player, but to the spirit of the game. As the century grew older, and this danger of absorption grew stronger, that game became more and more difficult to play seriously enough, and yet not too seriously. When the players did not blow their brains out, they often fell into the mere libertinism from which Sensibility, properly so called, is separated by a clear enough line. Two such examples in real life as Rousseau and Mademoiselle de Lespinasse, one such demonstration of the same moral in fiction as Werther, were enough to discourage the man of feeling. Therefore, when he still exists, he takes to motley, the only wear for the human race in troublesome circumstances which beset it with unpleasant recurrence. When you cannot exactly believe anything in religion, in politics, in literature, in art, and yet neither wish nor know how to do without it, the safe way is to make a not too grotesque joke of it. This is a text on which a long sermon might be hung were it worth while. But as it is, it is sufficient to point out that Xavier de Maistre is an extremely remarkable illustration of the fact in the particular region of sentimental fiction.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Benjamin Constant—Adolphe.]
Benjamin Constant's masterpiece, which (the sequel to it never having appeared, though it was in existence in manuscript less than a century ago) is also his only purely literary work, is a very small book, but it calls here for something more than a very small mention. The books which make an end are almost fewer in literature than those which make a beginning, and this is one of them. Like most such books, it made a beginning also, showing the way to Beyle, and through Beyle to all the analytic school of the nineteenth century. Space would not here suffice to discuss the singular character of its author, to whom Sainte-Beuve certainly did some injustice, as the letters to Madame Recamier show, but whose political and personal experiences as certainly call for a large allowance of charity. The theory of Adolphe's best editor, M. de Lescure (which also was the accepted theory long before M. de Lescure's time), that the heroine of the novel was Madame de Stael, will not, I think, hold water. In every characteristic, personal and mental, Ellenore and Madame de Stael are at opposite poles. Ellenore was beautiful, Madame de Stael was very nearly hideous; Ellenore was careless of her social position, Corinne was as great a slave to society as any one who ever lived; Ellenore was somewhat uncultivated, had little esprit, was indifferent to flattery, took not much upon herself in any way except in exacting affection where no affection existed; the good Corinne was one of the cleverest women of her time, and thought herself one of the cleverest of all times, could not endure that any one in company should be of a different opinion on this point, and insisted on general admiration and homage.
However, this is a very minor matter, and anybody is at liberty to regard the differences as deliberate attempts to disguise the truth. What is important is that Madame de Stael was almost the last genuine devotee of Sensibility, and that Adolphe was certainly written by a lover of Madame de Stael, who had, from his youth up, been a Man of Feeling of a singularly unfeeling kind. When Constant wrote the book he had run through the whole gamut of Sensibility. He had been instructed as a youth by ancient women of letters; he had married and got rid of his wife a la mode Germanorum; he had frequently taken a hint from Werther, and threatened suicide with the best possible results; he had given, perhaps, the most atrocious example of the atrocious want of taste which accompanied the decadence of Sensibility, by marrying Charlotte von Hardenburg out of pique, because Madame de Stael would not marry him, then going to live with his bride near Coppet, and finally deserting her, newly married as she was, for her very uncomely but intellectually interesting rival. In short, according to the theory of a certain ethical school, that the philosopher who discusses virtue should be thoroughly conversant with vice, Benjamin Constant was a past master in Sensibility. It was at a late period in his career, and when he had only one trial to go through (the trial of, as it seems to me, a sincere and hopeless affection for Madame Recamier), that he wrote Adolphe. But the book has nothing whatever to do with 1815, the date which it bears. It is, as has been said, the history of the Nemesis of Sensibility, the prose commentary by anticipation on Mr. Swinburne's admirable "Stage Love"—
Time was chorus, gave them cues to laugh and cry, They would kill, befool, amuse him, let him die; Set him webs to weave to-day and break to-morrow, Till he died for good in play and rose in sorrow.
That is a history, in one stanza, of Sensibility, and no better account than Adolphe exists of the rising in sorrow.
The story of the book opens in full eighteenth century. A young man, fresh from the University of Goettingen, goes to finish his education at the residenz of D——. Here he finds much society, courtly and other. His chief resort is the house of a certain Count de P——, who lives, unmarried, with a Polish lady named Ellenore. In the easy-going days of Sensibility the menage holds a certain place in society, though it is looked upon a little askance. But Ellenore is, on her own theory, thoroughly respectable, and the Count de P——, though in danger of his fortune, is a man of position and rank. As for Adolphe, he is the result of the struggle between Sensibility, an unquiet and ironic nature, and the teaching of a father who, though not unquiet, is more ironically given than himself. His main character is all that a young man's should be from the point of view of Sensibility. "Je ne demandais alors qu'a me livrer a ces impressions primitives et fougueuses," etc. But his father snubs the primitive and fiery impressions, and the son, feeling that they are a mistake, is only more determined to experience them. Alternately expanding himself as Sensibility demands, and making ironic jests as his own nature and his father's teaching suggest, he acquires the character of "un homme immoral, un homme peu sur," the last of which expressions may be paralleled from the British repertory by "an ill-regulated young man," or "a young man on whom you can never depend."
All this time Adolphe is not in love, and as the dominant teaching of Sensibility lays it down that he ought to be, he feels that he is wrong. "'Je veux etre aime,' me dis-je, et je regardai autour de moi. Je ne voyais personne qui m'inspirait de l'amour; personne qui me parut susceptible d'en prendre." In parallel case the ordinary man would resign himself as easily as if he were in face of the two conditions of having no appetite and no dinner ready. But this will not do for the pupil of Sensibility. He must make what he does not find, and so Adolphe pitches on the luckless Ellenore, who "me parut une conquete digne de moi." To do Sensibility justice, it would not, at an earlier time, have used language so crude as this, but it had come to it now. Here is the portrait of the victim, drawn by her ten years younger lover.
Ellenore's wits were not above the ordinary, but her thoughts were just, and her expression, simple as it was, was sometimes striking by reason of the nobility and elevation of the thought. She was full of prejudices, but she was always prejudiced against her own interest. There was nothing she set more value on than regularity of conduct, precisely because her own conduct was conventionally irregular. She was very religious, because religion rigidly condemned her mode of life. In conversation she frowned on pleasantries which would have seemed quite innocent to other women, because she feared that her circumstances might encourage the use of such as were not innocent. She would have liked to admit to her society none but men of the highest rank and most irreproachable reputation, because those women with whom she shuddered at the thought of being classed usually tolerate mixed society, and, giving up the hope of respect, seek only amusement. In short, Ellenore and her destiny were at daggers drawn; every word, every action of hers was a kind of protest against her social position. And as she felt that facts were too strong for her, and that the situation could be changed by no efforts of hers, she was exceedingly miserable.... The struggle between her feelings and her circumstances had affected her temper. She was often silent and dreamy: sometimes, however, she spoke with impetuosity. Beset as she was by a constant preoccupation, she was never quite calm in the midst of the most miscellaneous conversation, and for this very reason her manner had an unrest and an air of surprise about it which made her more piquant than she was by nature. Her strange position, in short, took the place of new and original ideas in her.
The difference of note from the earlier eighteenth century will strike everybody here. If we are still some way from Emma Bovary, it is only in point of language: we are poles asunder from Marianne. But the hero is still, in his own belief, acting under the influence of Sensibility. He is not in the least impassioned, he is not a mere libertine, but he has a "besoin d'amour." He wants a "conquete." He is still actuated by the odd mixture of vanity, convention, sensuality, which goes by the name of our subject. But his love is a "dessin de lui plaire"; he has taken an "engagement envers son amour propre." In other words, he is playing the game from the lower point of view—the mere point of view of winning. It does not take him very long to win. Ellenore at first behaves unexceptionably, refuses to receive him after his first declaration, and retires to the country. But she returns, and the exemplary Adolphe has recourse to the threat which, if his creator's biographers may be believed, Constant himself was very fond of employing in similar cases, and which the great popularity of Werther made terrible to the compassionate and foolish feminine mind. He will kill himself. She hesitates, and very soon she does not hesitate any longer. The reader feels that Adolphe is quite worthless, that nothing but the fact of his having been brought up in a time when Sensibility was dominant saves him. But the following passage, from the point of view alike of nature and of expression, again pacifies the critic:
I passed several hours at her feet, declaring myself the happiest of men, lavishing on her assurances of eternal affection, devotion, and respect. She told me what she had suffered in trying to keep me at a distance, how often she had hoped that I should detect her notwithstanding her efforts, how at every sound that fell on her ears she had hoped for my arrival; what trouble, joy, and fear she had felt on seeing me again; how she had distrusted herself, and how, to unite prudence and inclination, she had sought once more the distractions of society and the crowds which she formerly avoided. I made her repeat the smallest details, and this history of a few weeks seemed to us the history of a whole life. Love makes up, as it were by magic, for the absence of far-reaching memory. All other affections have need of the past: love, as by enchantment, makes its own past and throws it round us. It gives us the feeling of having lived for years with one who yesterday was all but a stranger. Itself a mere point of light, it dominates and illuminates all time. A little while and it was not: a little while and it will be no more: but, as long as it exists, its light is reflected alike on the past and on the future.
This calm, he goes on to say, lasted but a short time; and, indeed, no one who has read the book so far is likely to suppose that it did. Adolphe has entered into the liaison to play the game, Ellenore (unluckily for herself) to be loved. The difference soon brings discord. In the earlier Sensibility days men and women were nearly on equal terms. It was only in the most strictly metaphorical way that the unhappy lover was bound to expire, and his beloved rarely took the method of wringing his bosom recommended by Goldsmith, when anybody else of proper Sensibility was there to console her. But the game had become unequal between the Charlottes and the Werthers, the Adolphes and the Ellenores. The Count de P—— naturally perceives the state of affairs before long, and as naturally does not like it. Adolphe, having played his game and won it, does not care to go on playing for love merely. "Ellenore etait sans doute un vif plaisir dans mon existence, mais elle n'etait pas plus un but—elle etait devenue un lien." But Ellenore does not see this accurate distinction. After many vicissitudes and a few scenes ("Nous vecumes ainsi quatre mois dans des rapports forces, quelque fois doux, jamais completement libres, y rencontrant encore du plaisir mais n'y trouvant plus de charme") a crisis comes. The Count forbids Ellenore to receive Adolphe any more: and she thereupon breaks the ten years old union, and leaves her children and home.
Her young lover receives this riveting of his chains with consternation, but he does his best. He defends her in public, he fights with a man who speaks lightly of her, but this is not what she wants.
Of course I ought to have consoled her. I ought to have pressed her to my heart and said, "Let us live for each other; let us forget the misjudgments of men; let us be happy in our mutual regard and our mutual love." I tried to do so, but what can a resolution made out of duty do to revive a sentiment that is extinct? Ellenore and I each concealed something from the other. She dared not tell me her troubles, arising from a sacrifice which she knew I had not asked of her. I had accepted that sacrifice; I dared not complain of ills which I had foreseen, and which I had not had courage enough to forestall. We were therefore silent on the very subject which occupied us both incessantly. We were prodigal of caresses, we babbled of love, but when we spoke of it we spoke for fear of speaking of something else.
Here is the full Nemesis of the sentiment that, to use Constant's own words, is "neither passion nor duty," and has the strength of neither, when it finds itself in presence of a stronger than itself. There were none of these unpleasant meetings in Sensibility proper. There sentiment met sentiment, and "exchanged itself," in Chamfort's famous phrase. When the rate of exchange became unsatisfactory it sought some other customer—a facile and agreeable process, which was quite consistent in practice with all the sighs and flames. Adolphe is not to be quit so easily of his conquest. He is recalled by his father, and his correspondence with Ellenore is described in one of the astonishingly true passages which make the book so remarkable.
During my absence I wrote regularly to Ellenore. I was divided between the desire of not hurting her feelings and the desire of truthfully representing my own. I should have liked her to guess what I felt, but to guess it without being hurt by it. I felt a certain satisfaction when I had substituted the words "affection," "friendship," "devotion," for the word "love." Then suddenly I saw poor Ellenore sitting sad and solitary, with nothing but my letters for consolation: and at the end of two cold and artificial pages I added in a hurry a few phrases of ardour or of tenderness suited to deceive her afresh. In this way, never saying enough to satisfy her, I always said enough to mislead her, a species of double-dealing the very success of which was against my wishes and prolonged my misery.
This situation, however, does not last. Unable to bear his absence, and half puzzled, half pained by his letters, Ellenore follows him, and his father for the first time expresses displeasure at this compromising step. Ellenore being threatened with police measures, Adolphe is once more perforce thrown on her side, and elopes with her to neutral territory. Then events march quickly. Her father's Polish property, long confiscated, is restored to him and left to her. She takes Adolphe (still struggling between his obligations to her and his desire to be free) to Warsaw, rejects an offer of semi-reconciliation from the Count de P——, grows fonder and more exacting the more weary of her yoke her lover becomes; and at last, discovering his real sentiments from a correspondence of his with an artful old diplomatic friend of his father's, falls desperately ill and dies in his arms. A prologue and epilogue, which hint that Adolphe, far from taking his place in the world (from which he had thought his liaison debarred him), wandered about in aimless remorse, might perhaps be cut away with advantage, though they are defensible, not merely on the old theory of political justice, but on sound critical grounds.
[Sidenote: Mme. de Duras's "postscript."]
[Sidenote: Sensibilite and engouement.]
This was the end of sensibility in more senses than one. It is true that, five years later than Adolphe, appeared Madame de Duras's agreeable novelettes of Ourika and Edouard, in which something of the old tone revives. But they were written late in their author's life, and avowedly as a reminiscence of a past state of sentiment and of society. "Le ton de cette societe," says Madame de Duras herself, "etait l'engouement." As happy a sentence, perhaps, as can be anywhere found to describe what has been much written about, and, perhaps it may be said without presumption, much miswritten about. Engouement itself is a nearly untranslatable word. It may be clumsily but not inaccurately defined as a state of fanciful interest in persons and things which is rather more serious than mere caprice, and a good deal less serious than genuine enthusiasm. The word expresses exactly the attitude of French polite society in the eighteenth century to a vast number of subjects, and, what is more, it helps to explain the sensibilite which dominated that society. The two terms mutually involve each other, and sensibilite stands to mere flirtation on the one hand, and genuine passion on the other, exactly as engouement does to caprice and enthusiasm. People flirted admirably in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the art was, I fancy, recovered in the nineteenth with some success, but I do not think they flirted, properly speaking, in the eighteenth. Sensibility (and its companion "sensuality") prevented that. Yet, on the other hand, they did not, till the society itself and its sentiments with it were breaking up, indulge in anything that can be called real passion. Sensibility prevented that also. The kind of love-making which was popular may be compared without much fancifulness to the favourite card-game of the period, quadrille. You changed partners pretty often, and the stakes were not very serious; but the rules of the game were elaborate and precise, and it did not admit of being treated with levity.