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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2 - To the Close of the 19th Century
by George Saintsbury
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So turn we to the other larger group—the largest group of all that come under our survey—the New Ordinary Novel, that which concerns itself with the last shade of his colour just described.

[Sidenote: The "ordinary."]

We had seen, before the beginning of this volume, how Pigault-Lebrun, in vulgar ways and with restricted talent, had nevertheless made distinct advances in this direction; and we saw in the beginning of this how Paul de Kock—with something of the same limitations but with the advantage of a predecessor in Pigault and of further changes in society towards the normal—improved upon the earlier progression. But Pigault and Paul were thrown into the shade by those writers, younger contemporaries of both, who brought to their task greater genius, better taste, and if not knowledge of better society, at any rate better knowledge how to use their knowledge. Whether Balzac's books can be ticketed sans phrase, as "novels of ordinary life," has been, or should have been, duly discussed already. It is certain that, as a rule, they intend to be so. So it is with at least the majority of George Sand's; so with all those of her first lover and half name-father Sandeau; so with Charles de Bernard; so with some at least of Merimee's best short stories and Musset's, if not exactly of Gautier's; so with others who have had places, and a good many more for whom no place could be found. France, indeed, may be said to have caught up and passed England in this kind, between the time when Miss Austen died and that when Thackeray at last did justice to himself with Vanity Fair. And this novel of ordinary life has continued, and shows no signs of ceasing, to be the kind most in demand, according to the usual law of "Like to Like." We shall see further developments of it and shall have to exercise careful critical discretion in deciding whether the apparent improvement only means nearer approximation to our own standard of ordinariness, or to a more abstract one. But that it was in these twenty or five and twenty years that something like a norm of ordinariness was first reached, hardly admits of any question. Still, very much question may arise, and must be faced, on the point whether this novel of ordinary life has not redeveloped a non-ordinary subdivision, or many such, in the "problem" novel, the novel of analysis, of abnormal individualism, of theory, naturalist and other, etc. To this we must turn; for at least part of this new question is a very important one, though it may require something of a digression to deal with it properly.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Discussion on a point of general novel criticism.]

I have in these volumes, rather sedulously—some readers no doubt may think too sedulously—avoided "fighting prizes" on general points of the criticism or novel-theory. Not that I have the slightest objection to fighting "for my own hand" or to seeing or reading about a good fight between others—very much the contrary. I never thought it the worst compliment paid to Englishmen—the Indian opinion of us, as reported by the late M. Darmesteter—that we cared for nothing but fighting, sport, and making love. But the question now to be discussed is so germane to our subject, both general and special; and the discussion of it once for all (with renvois thereto elsewhere) will save so much space, trouble, and inconvenience, that it may as well be handled at full length.

There was hinted—in a review[343] of the first volume of this work otherwise so complimentary that it must have satisfied the Archbishop of Granada himself—a doubt whether I had given sufficient weight to something which I shall let the reviewer express in his own words;[344] and whether my admission of Rabelais (of which admission, except on principle, he was himself very glad); my relegation of Laclos to the Condemned Corps; and my comparative toleration of Pigault-Lebrun, did not indicate heresy. Now I feel pretty certain that such a well-wisher would hardly suspect me of doing any of these things by inadvertence; and as I must have gone, and shall still go, much further from what is the right line in his (and no doubt others') opinion, I may as well state my point of view here. It should supply a sort of justificatory comment not merely on the chapters and passages just referred to, and others in the last volume, but on a much larger number in this—in fact, after a fashion, to the whole of this. Any difference of it from the normal French view will even help to explain my attitude in those parts of this book (e.g. the remarks on Dumas pere) to which it does not directly apply, as well as those (e.g. on Dumas fils) to which it does.

The whole question seems to me to turn on the curiously different estimates which different people make of what constitutes "humanity." To cite another dictum of my friend the enemy, he, while, as I have said, speaking with extraordinary kindness of my chapter on Rabelais in itself, disallows it in a History of the Novel because, among other reasons, Panurge is not, or is very slightly, human. I should have said that Panurge was as human as Hamlet, though certainly not so gentlehuman.[345] I never met either; but I might do so, and I am sure I should recognise both as men and brothers. Still, the comparison here is of course somewhat rhetorical. Let us take Panurge with Laclos' Valmont, whom, I think, my critic does consider human; whom I am sure I never have met and never shall meet, even if I should be so unfortunate as to go to the place which (but, of course, for the consolations of the Church) would have been his, if he had been human; and whom I never could in the most impossible event or milieu recognise as anything but a synthetised specification. One may perhaps dwell on this, for it is of immense importance to the general question. Panurge and Valmont, comparatively considered, have beyond doubt points in common. Both are extremely immoral, and both are—though the one only sometimes, the other always—ill-natured. Neither is a fool, though the one does, or is going to do, at least one very foolish thing with his eyes open; while nothing that the other does—even his provocation of Madame de Merteuil—can be said to be exactly "foolish." Both are attempts to do what Thackeray said he attempted to do in most of the characters of Vanity Fair—to draw people "living without God in the world." Yet I can tolerate Panurge, and recognise him as human even when he indirectly murders Dindenault, even when (which is worse) he behaves so atrociously to the Lady of Paris; and I cannot tolerate or validate Valmont even when he excogitates and puts in practice that very ingenious and picturesque idea of a writing-desk, or when he seeks the consolations and fortifications of the Church after Danceny has done on him the first part of the judgment of God. And I think I can give reasons, both for my intolerance and for my toleration, "rightly and in mine own division."

The reason why I think that Panurge is rightly and Valmont wrongly "copied or re-created" is that Panurge is made at the hazard of the artist, Valmont according to prescription. There might be—there have been—fifty or a hundred Valmonts, the prescription being followed, and slightly—still remaining a prescription—altered. There is and can be only one Panurge. This difference reminds me of, and may be illustrated by, a fact which, in one form or another, must be familiar to many people. I was once talking to a lady who had just come over from China, and who wore a dress of soft figured silk of the most perfect love-in-a-mist colour-shade which I had ever seen, even in turning over the wonder-drawers at Liberty's. I asked her if (for she then intended to go back almost at once) she could get me any like it. "No," she said, "at least not exactly. They never make two pieces of just the same shade, and in fact they couldn't if they tried. They take handfuls of different dyes, measured and mixed, as it seems, at random." Now that is the way God and, in a lesser degree, the great artists work, and the result is living creatures, according to the limitations of artistic and the no-limitations of natural life. The others weigh out a dram of lust, a scruple of cleverness, an ounce of malice, half an ounce of superficial good manners, etc., and say, "Here is a character for you. Type No. 12345." And it is not a living creature at all. But, having been made by regular synthesis,[346] it can be regularly analysed, and people say, "Oh, how clever he is." The first product, having grown rather than been made, defies analysis, and they say, "How commonplace!"

One can perhaps lay out the ropes of the ring of combat most satisfactorily and fairly by using the distinction of the reviewer (if I do not misunderstand him), that I have neglected the interval between "to copy" and "to re-create." I accept this dependence, which may perhaps be illustrated further from that (in itself) foolish and vulgar boast of Edmond de Goncourt's that his and his brother's epithets were "personal" while Flaubert's were only "admirably good specimens of the epithets of tout le monde."

To translate: Should the novelist aim, by mimesis—it is a misfortune which I have lamented over and over again in print that "Imitation" and "Copying" are such misleading versions of this—of actual characters, to evolve a personality which will be recognised by all competent observers as somebody whom he has actually met or might have met? Or should he, trusting to his own personal powers of putting together qualities and traits, but more or less neglecting the patterns which the Almighty has put before him in tout le monde—sometimes also regarding conventional types and "academies"—either (for this is important) to follow or violently not to follow them—produce something that owes its personality to himself only? The former has been the aim of the great English novelists since Fielding, if not since Richardson[347] or even Defoe. It was the aim of Lesage: he has told us so in so many words. It is by no means alien from that of Marivaux, though he did not pursue it with a single eye; and the same may be said even of Crebillon. Whether Prevost aimed at it or not, he hit the white in Manon as certainly and unmistakably as he lost his arrows elsewhere. Rousseau both did it and meant it in the first part of Julie. Pigault, in a clumsy, botcherly fashion, made "outers" not infrequently. But Laclos seems to me to have (as his in some sense follower Dumas fils has it in the passage noted above) "proceeded by synthesis"—to have said, "Let us make a mischievous Marquise and a vile Viscount. Let us deprive them of every amiable quality and of every one that can be called in any sense 'good,' except a certain kind of intellectual ability, and, in the Viscount's case, an ingenious fancy in the matter of extemporising writing-desks." And he did it; and then the people who think that because (to adopt the language of George de Barnwell) "the True is not always the Beautiful" the Ugly must always be the True, hail him as a master.[348]

That this half-digression, half-dilemma, is prospective as well as retrospective will hardly form a subject of objection for any one but a mere fault-finder. From the top of a watershed you necessarily survey both slopes. The tendency which we have been discussing is certainly more prevalent in the second half of the century than in the first half. It is prominent in Dumas fils, with whom we shall be dealing shortly; it increases as time goes on; and it becomes almost paramount in the practice of and the discussions about the Naturalist School. In the time on which we look back it is certainly important in Beyle and Balzac. But I cannot admit that it is predominant elsewhere, and I am prepared to deny utterly that, until the time of the Sensibility and Philosophe novels, it is even a notable characteristic of French fiction. Many hard things have been said of criticism; but, acknowledging the badness of a bird who even admits any foulness in his own nest—far more in one who causes it—I am bound to say that I think the state of the department of literature now under discussion was happier before we meddled with it. Offence must come; it would even be sometimes rather a pity if it didn't come: but perhaps the old saying is true in the case of those by whom some kinds of it come. If criticism and creation could be kept as separate as some creators pridefully pretend, it would not matter. And the best critics never attempt to show how things should be done, but merely to point out how they have been done—well or badly. But when men begin to write according to criticism, they generally begin to write badly, just as when women begin to dress themselves according to fashion-mongers they usually begin (or would but for the grace of God) to look ugly. And there are some mistakes which appear to be absolutely incorrigible. When I was a Professor of Literature I used to say every year in so many words, as I had previously written for more than as many years, when I was only a critic of it, "I do not wish to teach you how to write. I wish to teach you how to read, and to tell you what there is to read." The same is my wish in regard to the French Novel. What has been done in it—not what these, even the practitioners themselves, have said of it—is the burden of my possibly unmusical song.

* * * * *

The excuse, indeed, for this long digression may be, I think, made without impropriety or "forcing" to coincide with the natural sequel and correlation of this chapter. The development of the novel of ordinary life in the second half of the century was extraordinary; but it was to a very large extent marked by the peculiarities—some of them near to corruptions—which have been just discussed. With the possible exception of Beyle, there was little more theory, or attempt at synthesis in accordance therewith, in the "ordinary" than in the "historical" division of this earlier time. We have seen how the absence of "general ideas"—another way of putting it—has been actually brought as a charge against Balzac. George Sand had, especially at first, something of it; and this something seems, to me at least, by no means to have improved her work. In none or hardly any of the rest is there any evidence of "school," "system," "pattern," "problem," or the like. Yet they give us an immense amount of pastime, and I do not think their or their readers' state was any the less gracious for what they did not give us.

FOOTNOTES:

[328] I have not called this so, because the division into "Books," with which the raison d'etre of "Interchapters" is almost inseparably connected, has not been adopted in this History.

[329] This fact, as well, perhaps, as others, should be taken into account by any one who may be at first sight surprised, and perhaps in the Biblical sense "offended," at finding two-thirds of the volume allotted to half of the time.

[330] To vary a good epigram of the Rolliad crew on Pitt:

"'The French' for 'France' can't please the Blanc, The Bleu detests the 'King.'"

[331] V. sup. on Reybaud.

[332] This is of course quite a different thing from saying that politicians had better have nothing to do with letters, or that men of letters may not discuss politics. It is when they become Ministers that they too often disgust men and amuse angels.

[333] Adolphe actually belongs to the nineteenth century.

[334] As I write this I remember how my friend the late M. Beljame, who and whose "tribe" have come so nobly for English literature in France for forty years past, was shocked long ago at my writing "Mazarin Library," and refused to be consoled by my assurance that I should never dream of writing anything but "Bibliotheque Mazarine." But I had, and have, no doubt on the principle.

[335] I hope, but do not trust, that no descendant of the persons who told Charles Lamb that Burns could not at the time be present because he was dead, will say, "But all these were subsequent to 1850."

[336] In my History of Criticism, passim.

[337] V. sup. Vol. I., on the "heroic" romance.

[338] It seems unnecessary to repeat what has been said on Vigny and Merimee; but it is important to keep constantly in mind that they came before Dumas. As for the still earlier Solitaire, I must repeat that M. d'Arlincourt's utter failure as an individual ought not completely to obscure his importance as a pioneer in kind.

[339] "Suppose you go and do it?" as Thackeray says of another matter, no doubt. But I am Crites, not Poietes.

[340] Pedantius may urge, "But 'James III.' is made to affect the fortunes of Esmond and Beatrix very powerfully." True; but he himself is by no means a very "prominent historical character," and the exact circumstances of the agony of Queen Anne, and the coup d'etat of Shrewsbury and Argyle, have still enough of the unexplained in or about them to permit somewhat free dealing.

[341] If any one says "Leicester's Commonwealth?" I say "The Faerie Queene?"

[342] I intend nothing offensive in thus mentioning his attitude. In my History of Criticism I have aimed at justice both to his short stage of going with, or at least not definitely against, the Romantic vein, and his much longer one of reaction. He was always vigorous in argument and dignified in manner; but his nature, when he found it, was essentially neo-classic.

[343] In the Times Literary Supplement for Thursday, Nov. 1, 1917.

[344] "It is vain to ask, as is the modern custom, whether the leap from the word 'copy' to the word 'recreate' (v. sup. Vol. I. p. 471) does not cover a difference in kind.... One feels that Prof. S. is rather sympathetic to that which traditional French criticism regards as essential ... close psychological analysis of motive," etc. And so he even questions whether what I have given, much as he likes and praises it, is "A History of The French Novel." But did I ever undertake to give this from the French point of view, or to write a History of French Novel-Criticism? Or need I do so?

[345] It might, however, be a not uninteresting matter of debate whether Panurge's conduct to the Lady of Paris was really so very much worse than part of Hamlet's to Ophelia.

[346] By one of those odd coincidences which diversify and relieve literary work, I read, for the first time in my life, and a few hours after writing the above words, these in Dumas fils' Therese: "Il procede par synthese." They do not there apply to authorship, but to the motives and conduct of one of the writer's questionable quasi-heroes. But the whole context, and the usual methods of Dumas fils himself, are saturated with synthesis by rule. (Of course the other process is, as also according to the strict meaning of the word, "synthetic," but not "by rule.")

[347] I own I see a little less of it and a little more of the other in him; whence a certain lukewarmness with which I have sometimes been reproached.

[348] My very amiable reviewer thinks that eighteenth-century French society did behave a la Laclos. I don't, though I think it did a la Crebillon.



CHAPTER X

DUMAS THE YOUNGER

[Sidenote: Division of future subjects.]

No one who has not had some experience in writing literary history knows the difficulties—or perhaps I should say the "unsatisfactorinesses"—which attend the shepherding of examples into separate chronological folds. But every one who has had that experience knows that mere neglect to attempt this shepherding has serious drawbacks. In such cases there is nothing for it but a famous phrase, "We will do what we can." An endeavour has been made in the last chapter to show that, about the middle of the nineteenth century, a noteworthy change did pass over French novel-literature. In a similar retrospect, at the end of the volume and the History, we may be able, si Dieu nous prete vie, to show that this change was not actually succeeded by any other of equal importance as far as our own subject goes. But the stage had, like all such things, sub-stages; and there must be corresponding breaks, if only mechanical ones, in the narrative, to avoid the distasteful "blockiness" resulting from their absence. After several changes of plan I have thought it best to divide what remains of the subject into five chapters (to which a separate Conclusion may be added). The first of these will be allotted, for reasons to be given, to Alexandre Dumas fils; the second to Gustave Flaubert, greatest by far, if not most representative, of all dealt with in this latter part of the volume; the third to others specially of the Second Empire, but not specially of the Naturalist School; the fourth to that School itself; and the fifth to those now defunct novelists of the Third Republic, up to the close of the century, who may not have been dealt with before.

* * * * *

There should not, I think, be much doubt that we ought to begin with Alexandre Dumas, the son, who—though he launched his most famous novel five years before Napoleon the Third made himself come to the throne, had been writing for about as many earlier still, and lived till long after the Terrible Year, and almost to the end of our own tether—is yet almost more essentially the novelist of the Second Empire than any one else, not merely because before its end he practically gave up Novel for Drama, but for other reasons which we may hope to set forth presently.

[Sidenote: A confession.]

Before sitting down comfortably to deal with him in my critical jacket, I have to put on, for ceremonial purposes, something of a white sheet, and to hold a candle of repentance in my hand. I have never said very much about the younger Dumas anywhere, and I am not conscious of any positive injustice in what I have said;[349] but I do suspect a certain imperfection of justice. This arose, as nearly all positive and comparative injustices do, from insufficient knowledge and study. What it was exactly in him that "put me off" of old I could not now say; but I think it was because I did come across some of his numerous and famous fisticuffs of Preface and Dissertation and controversy. I thought then, and I still think, that the artist has something better to do than to "fight prizes": he has to do things worthy of the prize. "They say. What say they? Let them say" should be his motto. And later, when I might have condoned this (in the proper sense of that appallingly misused word) in virtue of his positive achievements, he had left off novel-writing and had taken to drama, for which, in its modern forms, I have never cared. But I fear I must make a further confession. The extravagant praise which was lavished on him by other critics, even though they were, in some cases at least, [Greek: philoi andres], once more proved a stumbling-block.[350] I have endeavoured to set matters right here by serious study of his novel work and some reference to the rest; so I hope that I may discard the sheet, and give the rest of the candle to the poor, now much requiring it.

[Sidenote: His general character.]

One thing about him is clear from his first famous, though not his first, book[351]—a book which, as has been said, actually preceded the Second Empire, but which has been thought to cast something of a prophetic shadow over that period of revel and rottenness—that is to say, from La Dame aux Camelias—that he was even then a very clever man.[352]

[Sidenote: La Dame aux Camelias.]

"The Lady with the Camellias" is not now the widely known book that once it was; and the causes of its loss of vogue might serve as a text for some "Meditations among the Tombs," though in respect of rather different cemeteries from those which Addison or Hervey frequented. As a mere audacity it has long faded before the flowers, themselves "over" now, of that Naturalism which it helped to bring about; and the once world-popular composer who founded almost, if not quite, his most popular opera on it, has become for many years an abomination and a hissing to the very same kind of person who, sixty years since, would have gone out of his way to extol La Traviata, and have found in Il Trovatore something worth not merely all Rossini[353] and Bellini and Donizetti put together, but Don Giovanni, the Zauberfloete, and Fidelio thrown in; while if (as he might) he had known Tannhaeuser and Lohengrin he would have lifted up his hoof against them. It is the nature of the fool of all times to overblame what the fools of other times have overpraised. But the fact that these changes have happened, and that other accidents of time have edulcorated that general ferocity which made even men of worth in England refuse to lament the death of the Prince Imperial in our service, should on the whole be rather favourable to a quiet consideration of this remarkable book. Indeed, I daresay some, if not many, of the "warm young men" to whom the very word "tune" is anathema might read the words, "Veux-tu que nous quittions Paris?" without having their pure and tender minds and ears sullied and lacerated by the remembrance of "Parigi, O cara, noi lasceremo"—simply because they never heard it.

A very remarkable book it is. Camellias have gone out of fashion, which is a great pity, for a more beautiful flower in itself does not exist: and those who have seen, in the Channel Islands, a camellia tree, as big as a good-sized summer-house, clothed with snow, and the red blossoms and green leaf-pairs unconcernedly slashing the white garment, have seen one of the prettiest sights in the world. But I should not dream of transferring the epithets "beautiful" or even "pretty" from the flower to the book. It is remarkable, and it is clever in no derogatory sense. For it has pathos without mere sentiment, and truth, throwing a light on humanity, which is not wholly or even mainly like that of

The blackguard boy That runs his link full in your face.

The story of it is, briefly, as follows. Marguerite Gautier, its heroine, is one of the most beautiful and popular demi-mondaines of Paris, also a poitrinaire,[354] and as this, if not as the other, the pet and protegee, in a quasi-honourable fashion, of an old duke, whose daughter, closely resembling Marguerite, has actually died of consumption. But she does not give up her profession; and the duke in a manner, though not willingly, winks at it. One evening at the theatre a young man, Armand Duval, who, though by no means innocent, is shy and gauche, is introduced to her, and she laughs at him. But he falls frantically in love with her, and after some interval meets her again. The passion becomes mutual, and for some time she gives herself up wholly to him. But the duke cannot stand this open affiche, and withdraws his allowances. Duval is on the point of ruining himself (he is a man of small means, partly derived from his father) for her, while she intends to sell all she has, pay her debts, and, as we may say, plunge into mutual ruin with him. Then appears the father, who at last makes a direct and effective appeal to her. She returns to business, enraging her lover, who departs abroad. Before he comes back, her health, and with it her professional capacity, breaks down, and she dies in agony, leaving pathetic explanations of what has driven him away from her. A few points in this bare summary may be enlarged on presently. Even from it a certain resemblance, partly of a topsy-turvy kind, may be perceived by a reader of not less than ordinary acuteness to Manon Lescaut. The suggestion, such as it is, is quite frankly admitted, and an actual copy of Prevost's masterpiece figures not unimportantly in the tale.[355] Of the difference between the two, again presently.

The later editions of La Dame aux Camelias open with an "Introduction" by Jules Janin, dealing with a certain Marie Duplessis—the recently living original, as we are told, of Marguerite Gautier. A good deal has been said, not by any means always approvingly, of this system of "introductions," especially to novels. In the present instance I should say that the proceeding was dangerous but effective—perhaps not entirely in the way in which it was intended to be so. "Honest Janin,"[356] as Thackeray (who had deservedly rapped his knuckles earlier for a certain mixture of ignorance and impudence) called him later, was in his degree almost as "clever" a man as young Dumas; but his kind was different, and it did involve the derogatory connotation of cleverness. It is enough to say of the present subject that it displays, in almost the highest strength, the insincerity and superficiality of matter and thought which accompanied Janin's bright and almost brilliant facility of expression and style. His Marie Duplessis is one of those remarkable young persons who, to alter Dr. Johnson very slightly, unite "the manners of a duchess with the morals of" the other object of the doctor's comparison unaltered; superadding to both the amiability of an angel, the beauty of Helen, and the taste in art of all the great collectors rolled into one. The thing is pleasantly written bosh; and, except to those readers who are concerned to know that they are going to read about "a real person," can be no commendation, and might even cause a little disgust, not at all from the moral but from the purely critical side.

A lover of paradox might almost suggest that "honest Janin" had been playing the ingenious but dangerous finesse of intentionally setting up a foil to his text. He has certainly, to some tastes, done this. There is hardly any false prettiness, any sham Dresden china (a thing, by the way, that has become almost a proverbial phrase in French for demi-monde splendour), about La Dame aux Camelias itself. Nor, on the other hand, is there to be found in it—even in such anticipated "naturalisms" as the exhumation of Marguerite's two-months'-old corpse,[357] and one or two other somewhat more veiled but equally or more audacious touches of realism—anything resembling the exaggerated horrors of such efforts of 1830 itself as Janin's own Ane Mort and part of Borel's Champavert. In her splendour as in her misery, in her frivolity as in her devotion and self-sacrifice, repulsive as this contrast may conventionally be, Marguerite is never impossible or unnatural. Her chief companion of her own sex, Prudence Duvernoy, though, as might be expected, a good deal of a proxenete, and by no means disinterested in other ways, is also very well drawn, and assists the general effect more than may at first be seen.

The "problem" of the book, at least to English readers, lies in the person whom it is impossible to call the hero—Armand Duval. It would be very sanguine to say that he is unnatural; but the things that he does are rather appalling. That he listens at doors, opens letters not addressed to him, and so on, is sufficiently fatal; but a very generous extension of lovers' privileges may perhaps just be stretched over these things.[358] No such licence will run to other actions of his. In his early days of chequered possession he writes, anonymously, an insulting letter to his mistress, which she forgives; but he has at least the grace to repent of this almost immediately. His conduct, however, when he returns to Paris, after staying in the country with his family, and finds that she has returned to her old ways, is the real crime. A violent scene might, again, be excusable, for he does not know what his father has done. But for weeks this young gentleman of France devotes all his ingenuity and energies to tormenting and insulting the object of his former adoration. He ostentatiously "keeps" a beautiful but worthless friend of hers in her own class, and takes every opportunity of flaunting the connection in Marguerite's face. He permits himself and this creature to insult her in every way, apparently descending once more to anonymous letters. And when her inexhaustible forgiveness has induced a temporary but passionate reconciliation, he takes fresh umbrage, and sends money to her for her complaisance with another letter of more abominable insult than ever. Now it is bad to insult any one of whom you have been fond; worse to insult any woman; but to insult a prostitute, faugh![359]

However, I may be reading too much English taste into French ways here,[360] and it is impossible to deny that a man, whether French or English, might behave in this ineffable manner. In other words, the irresistible humanum est clears this as it clears Marguerite's own good behaviour, so conventionally inconsistent with her bad. The book, of course, cannot possibly be put on a level with its pattern and inspiration, Manon Lescaut: it is on a much lower level of literature, life, thought, passion—everything. But it has literature; it has life and thought and passion; and so it shall have no black mark here.

[Sidenote: Tristan le Roux.]

Few things could be more different from each other than Tristan le Roux—another early book of Dumas fils—is from La Dame aux Camelias. Indeed it is a good, if not an absolutely certain, sign that so young a man should have tried styles in novel-writing so far apart from each other. Tristan is a fifteenth-century story of the later part of the Hundred Years' War, and of Gilles de Retz, and of Joan of Arc, and of diablerie, and so forth. I first heard approval of it from a person whose name may be unexpected by some readers—the late Professor Robertson Smith. But the sometime editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was exceptionally well qualified for the literary side of his office, and could talk about French quite as knowledgeably as he could about Arabic and Hebrew.[361] He was rather enthusiastic about the book, an enthusiasm which, when I myself came to read it, for a considerable time puzzled me a little. It opens pretty well, but already with a good deal of the "possible-improbable" about it; for when some twenty wolves have once pulled a horse down and a man off it, his chance of escaping (especially without revolvers) seems small, even though two rescuers come up, one of whom has a knack of shooting these creatures[362] and the other of throttling them. It is on these rescuers that the central interest of the story turns. Olivier de Karnak and Tristan le Roux are, though they do not at the time know it, brothers by the same mother, the guiltless Countess of Karnak having been drugged, violated, and made a mother by Gilles de Retz's father. They are also rivals for the love of their cousin Alix, and as she prefers Olivier, this sends Tristan literally "to the Devil." The compact is effected by means of a Breton sorceress, who has been concerned in the earlier crime, and is an accomplice of Gilles himself. That eminent patriot performs,[363] for Tristan's benefit or ruin, one of his black masses, with a murdered child's blood for wine. Further diablerie opens a great tomb near Poitiers, where, seven hundred years earlier, in Charles Martel's victory, an ancestor of the Karnaks has been buried alive, with the Saracen Emir he had just slain, by the latter's followers; and where the two have beguiled the time by continuous ghostly fighting. The Saracen, when the tomb is opened, evades, seen by no one but Tristan, and becomes the apostate's by no means guardian devil. Then we have the introduction of the Maid (whom Tristan is specially set by his master to catch), the siege of Orleans and the rest of it, to the tragedy of Rouen.

Up to this point—that is to say, for some seven-eighths of the book—I confess that I did not, and do not, think much of it. I am very fond of fighting in novels; and of diablerie even "more than reason"; and of the Middle Ages; and of many other things connected with the work. But it does not seem to me well managed or well told. One never can make out whether the "Sarrazin" is, as he is actually sometimes called, Satan himself, or not. If he is not, why call him so? If he is, why was there so little evidence of his being constantly employed in fighting with M. de Karnak between the Battle of Poitiers (not ours, but the other) and the Siege of Orleans? I love my Dark and Middle Ages; but I should say that there was considerable diabolic activity in them, outside tombs. Or was the Princedom of the Air "in commission" all that time? Minor improbabilities constantly jar, and there are numerous small blunders of fact[364] of the unintentional kind, which irritate more than intentional ones of some importance.

But at the end the book improves quite astonishingly. Tristan, as has been said, has been specially commissioned by the fiend to effect the ruin of Joan. He has induced his half-brother, Gilles de Retz—not, indeed, to take the English side, for patriotism, as is well known, was the one redeeming point of that extremely loathsome person, but—to join the seigneurs who were malcontent with her, and if possible drug her and violate her, a process, as we have seen, quite congenial, hereditarily as well as otherwise, to M. de Laval. He is foiled, of course, and pardoned. But Tristan himself openly takes the English side, inflicts great damage on his countrymen, and after our defeat at the bastilles or bastides round Orleans, resumes his machinations against Joan, helps to effect her capture, and does his utmost to torment and insult her, and if possible resume Gilles's attempt, in her imprisonment; while, on the contrary, his brother Olivier (they are both disguised as monks) works on her side, nearly saves her,[365] and attends her on the scaffold. It is somewhat earlier than this that the author, as has been said, "wakes up" and wakes us up. When Tristan, admitted to Joan's cell, designs the same outrage to which he had counselled his brother, it is the Maid's assumption of her armour to protect herself from him that (in this point for once historically) seals her fate. But at the very last his hatred is changed, not at all impossibly or improbably, to violent love as she smiles on him from the fire; and he sees the legendary dove mount to heaven, after he himself has flung to her, at her dying cry, an improvised crucifix, or at least cross. And then a choice miracle happens, told with almost all the vigour of the "Vin de Porto" itself. Tristan seeks absolution, but is, though not harshly, refused, before penitence and penance. He begs his brother Olivier's pardon, and is again refused—this time with vituperation—but bears it calmly. He takes, meekly, more insult from the very executioner. At last he makes the sign of the compact and summons the "Saracen" fiend. And then, after a very good conversation, in which the Devil uses all his powers of sarcasm to show his victim that, as usual, he has sold his soul for naught, Tristan draws his sword, calls on the Trinity, Our Lady, and Joan, and one of the strangest though not of the worst fights in fiction begins.

The Red Bastard is himself almost a giant; but the Saracen is a fiend, and though it seems that in this case the Devil can be dead, he can, it seems also, only be killed at Poitiers in his original tomb. So

They wrestle up, they wrestle down, They wrestle still and sore,

for two whole years, the Demon constantly giving ground and misleading his enemy as much as he can. But Tristan, in the strength of repentance and with Joan's unseen help, lives, fights, and forces the fiend back over half France and half the world. By a good touch, after long combat, the Devil tries to tempt his adversary on the side of chivalry, asking to be allowed to drink at a stream on a burning day, to warm himself at a fire they pass in a snow-storm, to rest a moment. But Tristan has the single word "Non!" for any further pact with or concession to the Evil One; the two years' battle wears away his sin; and at last he finds himself pressing his fainting foe towards the very tomb in the fields of Poitou. It opens, and the combatants entering, find themselves by the actual graves. They drop their swords and now literally wrestle. Tristan wins, throws the Saracen into his own tomb, and runs him through the body, once more inflicting on him such death as he may undergo.[366]

There is a grandiose extravagance about it which is really Oriental;[367] and perhaps it was this which conciliated Robertson Smith, as it certainly reconciled me.

[Sidenote: Antonine.]

A third "book of the beginning," Antonine, is far inferior to these. It is, in fact, little more than a decentish Paul-de-Kockery, with a would-be philosophical conclusion. Two young men, Gustave Daunont and Edmond de Pereux, saunter after breakfast looking for young ladies' ankles, and Edmond sees a pair so beautiful that he follows the possessor and her unobservant father home. Having then ascertained that the father is a doctor, he adopts the surprisingly brilliant expedient of going to consult him, and so engineering an entry. He thinks there is nothing the matter with him; but the doctor (it was apparently "at temp. of tale"—1834, while the port was getting ready,—the practice of French physicians, to receive their patients in dressing-gowns) discovers that he is in an advanced stage of Dumas fils' favourite poitrine. He says, however, nothing about it (which seems odd) to his patient, merely prescribing roast-meat and Bordeaux; but (which seems odder) he does mention it to his daughter Antonine, the Lady with the Ankles. For the moment nothing happens. But Gustave the friend has for mistress an adorable grisette—amiability, in the widest sense, nez retrousse, garret, and millinery all complete—whom Madame de Pereux, Edmond's mother—a sainte, but without prejudices—tolerates, and in fact patronises. It is arranged that Nichette shall call on Antonine to ask, as a milliner, for her custom. Quite unexpected explanations follow in a not uningenious manner, and the explosion is completed by Edmond's opening (not at all treacherously) a letter addressed to Gustave and containing the news of his own danger. The rest of the story need not be told at length. A miraculous cure effected by M. Devaux, Antonine's father; marriage of the pair; pensioning off of Nichette, and marriage of Gustave to another adorable girl (ankles not here specified); establishment of Nichette at Tours in partnership with a respectable friend, etc., etc., can easily be supplied by any novel-reader.

But here the young author's nascent seriousness, and his still existing Buskbody superstition, combine to spoil the book, not merely, as in the Tristan case, to top-hamper it. Having given us eight pages of rather cheap sermonising about the poetry of youth not lasting; having requested us to imagine Manon and Des Grieux "decrepit and catarrhous," Paul and Virginie shrivelled and toothless, Werther and Charlotte united but wrinkled,[368] he proceeds to tell us how, though Gustave and his Laurence are as happy as they can be, though Nichette has forgotten her woes but kept her income and is married to a book-seller, things are not well with the other pair. Antonine loves her husband frantically, but he has become quite indifferent to her—says, indeed, that he really does not know whether he ever did love her. Later still we take leave of him, his "poetry" having ended in a prefecture, and his passion in a liaison, commonplace to the nth, with a provincial lawyer's wife. La moralite de cette comedie (to quote, probably not for the first time, or I hope the last, words of Musset which I particularly like) would appear to be—first, that to secure lasting happiness in matrimony it is desirable, if not necessary, to have lived for eighteen months antenuptially with a charming grisette—amiability, nez retrousse, garret, and millinery all complete—or to have yourself been this grisette; while, on the other hand, it is an extremely dangerous thing to recover a man of his consumption. Which last result the folklorists would doubtless assimilate to the well-known superstition of the shore as to the rescue of the drowning.

[Sidenote: La Vie a Vingt Ans.]

Two other early books of this author promise the Pauline influence in their titles and do not belie it in their contents, though in varying way and degree. Indeed, the first story of La Vie a Vingt Ans—that of a schoolboy who breaks his bounds and "sells his dictionaries" to go to the Bal de l'Opera; receives, half in joy, half in terror, an assignation from a masked debardeur, and discovers her to be an aged married woman with a drunken husband (the pair knowing from his card that his uncle is a Deputy, and having determined to get a debit de tabac out of him)—made me laugh as heartily as the great Paul himself can ever have made Major Pendennis. The rest—they are all stories of the various amatory experiences of a certain Emmanuel de Trois Etoiles, and have a virtuous epilogue extolling pure affection and honest matrimony—are inferior, the least so being that of the caprice-love of a certain Augustine, Emmanuel's neighbour on his staircase, who admits only one other lover and finally marries him, but conceives a frantic though passing affection for her voisin. Unluckily there is in this book a sort of duplicate but, I think, earlier sketch of the atrocious conduct of Duval to the Dame aux Camelias; and there are some of the author's curious "holes where you can put your hand" (as a Jacobean poet says of the prosodic licences in nomenclature and construction of his fellows).

[Sidenote: Aventures de Quatre Femmes.]

The other, much longer, and much more ambitious and elaborate book, Aventures de Quatre Femmes et d'un Perroquet, seems to me on the whole worse than any just mentioned, though it at least attempts to fly higher than Antonine. It begins by one of those goguenardises which 1830 itself had loved, but it is not a good specimen. Two men who have determined on suicide—one by shooting, one by hanging—meet at the same tree in the Bois de Boulogne and wrangle about possession of the spot, till the aspirant to suspension per coll. recounts his history from the branch on which he is perched. After which an unlucky thirdsman, interfering, gets shot, and buried as one of the others—"which is witty, let us 'ope," as the poetical historian of the quarrel between Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Buchanan observes of something else.[369] As the book begins with two attempted and disappointed suicides, so it ends with two accomplished ones. A great part, and not the least readable, is occupied by a certain English Countess of Lindsay (for Dumas the younger, like Crebillon the younger, commits these scandala magnatum with actual titles). The hero is rather a fool, and not much less of a knave than he should be. His somewhat better wife is an innocent bigamist, thinking him dead; and one of the end-suicides is that of her second husband, who, finding himself de trop, benevolently makes way. As for the parrot, he nearly spoils the story at the beginning by "singing" (which I never heard a parrot do), and atones at the end by getting poisoned without deserving it. I am afraid I must call it a rather silly book.

It does not, however, lack the cleverness with which silliness, especially in the young and the old, is often associated, and so does not break the assignment of that quality to its author. All these five books were produced (with others) in a very few years, by a man who was scarcely over twenty when he began and was not thirty when he wrote the last of them. Now people sometimes write wonderful poetry when they are very young, because, after all, a poet is not much more than a mouthpiece of the Divine, whose spirit bloweth where it listeth. But it is not often that they write thoroughly good novels till, like other personages who have to wait for their "overseership" up to thirty, they have had time and opportunity roughly to scan and sample life. There is, in this work of Alexander the younger, plenty of imitation, of convention, of that would-be knowingness which is the most amusing form of ignorance, etc., etc. But there is a good deal more: and especially there is plenty of the famous diable au corps, of verve, of "go," of refusal to be content with one rut and one model. And all this came once, even at this period, in La Dame aux Camelias, to something which I shall not call a masterpiece, but which certainly is a powerful thesis for the attainment of the master's degree.

[Sidenote: Trois Hommes Forts.]

Perhaps there is no better example of the curious mixture of verve, variety, and vigorous hitting-off which characterised the youth of Dumas fils than Trois Hommes Forts—a book of the exact middle of the century, which begins with an idyll, passing into a tragedy; continues with a lively ship-and-yellow-fever scene; plunges into a villainous conspiracy against virtue and innocence diversified with a bull-throwing; and winds up with another killing, which, this time, is no murder; a trial, after which and an acquittal the accused and the Crown Prosecutor embrace before (and amidst the chalorous applause of) the whole Court; not forgetting a final panache of happy marriage between innocence, a very little damaged, and the bull-thrower-avenger-ouvrier, Robert. It is of course pure melodrama—Minnigrey and the Porte-Saint-Martin pleasantly accommodated. But it is not too long; it never drags; and it knocks about in the cheerfullest "pit-box-and-gallery" fashion from first to last. When the wicked "Joseph le Mendiant," alias M. Valery, alias Frederic Comte de La Marche[370]—who has stabbed a priest with one hand and throttled an old woman with the other; then made a fortune in Madagascar; then nearly died of yellow-fever on board ship, but recovered (something after the fashion of one of Marryat's heroes) by drinking a bottle of Madeira; then gone home and bought an estate and given himself the above title; then seduced the innocent sister of the person who heard his confession; then tried to marry a high-born maiden;[371] then threatened to betray the sister's shame if her brother "tells"—when this villain has his skull broken by Robert, all right-minded persons will clap their hands sore. But remembrance of one passage at the beginning may "leave a savour of sorrow." Could you, even in Meridional France, to-day procure a breakfast consisting of truffled pigs' feet, truffled thrush, tomato omelette (I should bar the tomatoes), and strawberries in summer, or "quatre-mendiants" (figs, nuts, and almonds and raisins) in winter, with a bottle of sound Roussillon or something like it, for three francs? Alas! one fears not.

[Sidenote: Diane de Lys.]

Diane de Lys, a little later than most of the books just mentioned, and one, I think, of the first to be dramatised, so announcing the author's change of "kind," acquired a certain fame by being made (in which form I am not certain, but probably as a play) the subject of one of those odd "condemnations" by which the Second Empire occasionally endeavoured to show itself the defender of morality and the prop of family and social life. I do not think that Flaubert and Baudelaire had much reason to pride themselves on their predecessor in this particular pillory. Alexander the younger is not here even a coppersmith; his metal is, to me, not attractive at all. The Marquise de Lys is one of those beauties, half Greek, half Madonnish, and wholly regular-scholastic, to whom it has been the habit of modern novelists and poets to assign what our Elizabethan ancestors would have called "cold hearts and hot livers." Dumas fils' theory—for he must, Heaven help him! always have one[372]—is that it all depends on ennui. I know not. At any rate, Diane is not a heroine that I should recommend, for personal acquaintance, to myself or my friends. With one of those rather silly excuses which chequer his cleverness equally, whether they are made honestly or with tongue in cheek, our author says: "On va sans doute nous dire que nous presentons un caractere impossible, que nous faisons de l'immoralite" (which the compositors of the stereotyped edition pleasantly misprint "immortalite"), etc. Far be it from me to say that any woman is impossible. I would only observe that when Diane, neglected by and neglecting her husband for some two years, determines to take a lover, being vexed at the idea of reaching the age of thirty without having one; when she takes him without any particular preference, as one might call a cab from a longish rank, and then has a fancy to make a scientific comparison of forgotten joys with her husband, deciding finally that there is nothing like alternation—when, I say, she does this, I think she is not quite nice.[373] Nor does her school-friend Marceline Delaunay—who, being herself a married woman irreproachably faithful to her own husband, makes herself a go-between, at least of letters, for Diane—seem very nice either. It is fair to say that Mme. Delaunay gets punished in the latter part of the story, which any one may read who likes. It is, if not white, a sort of—what shall we say?—French grey, compared with the opening.

[Sidenote: Shorter stories—Une Loge a Camille.]

That standard edition of Diane de Lys which has enabled us to pick up such a pleasant coquille d'imprimerie contains three shorter stories (Diane itself is not very long). Two or them are not worth much: Ce qu'on ne sait pas is a pathetic grisetterie, something of the class of Musset's Frederic et Bernerette; Grangette deals with the very true but very common admonition that in being "on with" two loves at once there is always danger, particularly when, as M. le Baron Francis de Maucroix does here, you write them letters (to save time) in exactly the same phraseology. Neither love, Adeline the countess or the Gris-Grang-ette, is disagreeable; indeed Francis himself is a not detestable idiot, and there is a comfortable conversation as he sits at Adeline's feet in proper morning-call costume, with his hat and stick on a chair. (Even kneeling would surely be less dangerous, from the point of view of recovering a more usual attitude when another caller comes.) But the whole thing is slight. The third and last, however, Une Loge a Camille, is the only thing in the whole volume that is thoroughly recommendable. It begins with an obviously "felt" and "lived" complaint of the woes which dramatic authors perhaps most of all, but others more or less, experience from that extraordinary inconsecutiveness (to put it mildly) of their acquaintances which makes people—who, to do them justice, would hardly ask for five, ten, or fifty shillings except as a loan, with at least pretence of repayment—demand almost, or quite, as a right, a box at the theatre or a copy of a book. This finished, an example is given in which the hapless playwright, having rashly obliged a friend, becomes (very much in the same way in which Mr. Nicodemus Easy killed several persons on the coast of Sicily) responsible for the breach, not merely of a left-handed yet comparatively harmless liaison, but of a formal marriage, the knitting of a costly and disreputable amour, a duel, an imprisonment for debt, and—for himself—the abiding reputation of having corrupted, half ruined, and driven into enlistment for Africa a guileless scientific student. It is good and clean fun throughout.[374]

[Sidenote: Le Docteur Servans.]

[Sidenote: Le Roman d'une Femme.]

Some others must have shorter shrift. One volume of the standard edition contains two stories, Le Docteur Servans and Un Cas de Rupture. The latter is short and not very happy, beginning with a rather feeble following of Xavier de Maistre,[375] continuing with stock liaison-matter, and ending rather vulgarly. Let us, however, give thanks to Alexander the younger in that he nobly defends the sacred persons of our English ladies against the venerable Gallic calumny of large feet, though he unhappily shows imperfect knowledge of the idioms of our language by using "Lady" as if it were like "Milady": "Reprit Lady," "Lady vit," etc. Le Docteur Servans is more substantial, though itself not very long. It is a rather well-engineered story (illustrative of a fact to be noticed presently in regard to much of its author's work) about a benevolent doctor who, at first as a method of kindness and then as a method of testing character, "makes believe," and makes others believe, that he has the secret of Resurrection.[376] On the other hand, I have only read Le Roman d'une Femme in the beloved little old Belgian edition which gave one one's first knowledge of so many pleasant things, and the light-weighting and large print of which are specially suitable to fiction. Putting one thing aside, it is not one of its author's greatest triumphs. It begins with a good deal of that rather nauseous gush about the adorable candour of young persons which, in a French novel, too often means that the "blanche colombe" will become a very dingy dunghill hen before long—as duly happens here. There is, however, a chance for the novel reader of comparing the departure of two of these white doves[377] from their school-dovecot with that of Becky and Amelia from Miss Pinkerton's. And I must admit that, after a middle of commonplace grime, the author works up an end of complicated and by no means unreal tragedy.

[Sidenote: The habit of quickening up at the end.]

The point referred to about the two principal books just noticed, and indeed about Alexander the Younger's books generally, is the remarkable faculty—and not merely faculty but actual habit—which he displays, of turning an uninteresting beginning into an interesting end. I cannot remember any other novelist, in any of the literatures with which I am acquainted, who possesses, or at least uses, this odd gift to anything like the same degree. On the contrary, some of the greatest—far greater than he is—give results exactly contrary. Lady Louisa Stuart's reproach to Scott for "huddling up" his conclusions is well known and by no means ill-justified, while Sir Walter is far from being a solitary sinner. I must leave it to those who have given more study than I have to drama, especially modern drama, to decide whether this had anything to do with the fact that Dumas turned to the other kind. The main fact itself admits, as far as my experience and opinion go, of absolutely no dispute. Again and again, not merely in Le Docteur Servans and Le Roman d'une Femme, but in La Dame aux Camelias itself, in Tristan le Roux, in Les Aventures de Quatre Femmes, and in others still, I have been, at first reading, on the point of dropping the book. But, owing to the mere "triarian" habit of never giving up an appointed post, I have been able to turn my defeat (and his, as it seemed to me) into a victory, which no doubt I owe to him, but which has something of my own in it too. His heroes very frequently disgust and his heroines do not often delight me; I have "seen many others" than his baits of voluptuousness; he does not amuse me like Crebillon; nor thrill me like Prevost in the unique moment; nor interest me like his closest successor, Feuillet. I cannot place his work, despite the excellence of his mere writing, high as great literature. He is altogether on a lower level than Flaubert or Maupassant; and one could not think of evening him with Hugo in one way, with Balzac in another, with his own father in a third, with Gautier or Merimee in a fourth. But he does, somehow or other, manage that, in the evening time, there shall be such light as he can give; and I am bound to acknowledge this as a triumph of craft, if not of actual art. That while a gift and a remarkable one, it is rather a dangerous gift for a novelist to rely on, needs little argument.

[Sidenote: Contes et Nouvelles.]

The formally titled Contes et Nouvelles do not contain very much of the first interest. In the opening one there is a lady who, not perhaps in the context quite tastefully, remarks that "Nous avons toutes notre calvaire," her own Golgotha consisting of the duty of adjusting "the extremist devotion" to her husband with "remembrance" (there was a good deal to remember) of her lover "to her last heart-beat." To help her to perform this self-immolation, she bids the lover leave her, refuses him, and that repeatedly, permission to return, till, believing himself utterly cast off, he makes up his mind to love a very nice girl whom his parents want him to marry. Then the self-Calvarised lady promptly discovers that she wants him again; and as he, acknowledging her claim, does not disguise his actual state of feeling, she, though going off in a huff, tells him that she had never meant him either to leave her at first or to accept her command not to return. All this, no doubt, is not unfeminine in the abstract; but the concrete telling of it required more interesting personages. Le Prix de Pigeons is a good-humoured absurdity about an English scientific society, which offers a prize of L2000 to anybody who can eat a pigeon every day for a month; Le Pendu de la Piroche, a fifteenth-century anecdote, which may be a sort of brouillon for Tristan; Cesarine, a fortune-telling tale. But La Boite d'Argent, the story of a man who got rid of his heart and found himself none the better for getting it back again (the circumstances in each case being quite different from those of Das kalte Herz), and Ce que l'on voit tous les jours, a sketch of "scenes" between keeper and mistress, but of much wider application, go far above the rest of the book. The first (which is of considerable length and very cleverly managed in the change from ordinary to extraordinary) only wants "that" to be first-rate. The second shows in the novelist the command of dialogue-situation and of dialogue itself which was afterwards to stand the playwright in such good stead.

[Sidenote: Ilka.]

Some forty years afterwards—indeed I think posthumously—another collection appeared, with, for main title, that of its first story, Ilka. Subject to the caution, several times already given, of the inadequacy of a foreigner's judgment, I should say that it shows a great improvement in mere style, but somewhat of a falling off in originality and verve. The most interesting thing, perhaps, is an anecdote of the author's youth, when, having in the midst of a revolution extracted the mighty sum of two hundred francs in one bank-note from a publisher for a bad novel (he does not tell us which), he gives it to a porter to change, and the messenger being delayed, entertains the direst suspicions (which turn out to be quite unjust) of the poor fellow's honesty. The sketch of mood is capitally done, and is set off by a most pleasant introduction of Dumas pere. More ambitious but less successful, except as mere descriptive ecphrases,[378] are the title-story of a beautiful model posing, and Le Songe d'une Nuit d'Ete, with a companion picture of two lovers bathing at night; Pile ou Face (a girl who is so divided between two lovers that a friend advises her to toss up, with the pessimist-satiric addition that no doubt, between tossing and marriage, she will be sorry she did not take the other, but afterwards will forget all about him) is slighter; and Au Docteur J. P. looks like a kind of study for a longer novel or at least a more elaborate novel-hero.[379]

[Sidenote: Affaire Clemenceau.]

And so, at last, we may come to the book which curiously carries out, with a slight deflection, but an almost equivalent intensification, of meaning, what has been observed before of others—the singular habit which Dumas fils has of quickening up for the run-in. This book was, I believe, in all important respects actually his run-in for the novel-prize; and what he had hitherto shown in the conduct of individual books he now showed in regard to his whole novel-list, betaking himself thenceforward, though he had nearly a third of a century to live, to the theatre, to pamphlets, etc. Against Affaire Clemenceau[380] there are some things to be said, and in criticism, not necessarily hostile, a great many about it. But nobody who knows strength when he sees it can deny that this is a strong book from start to finish. I can very well remember the hubbub it caused when it first appeared, and the debates about "Tue-la!" but I did not then read it, having, as I have confessed, a sort of prejudice—not then or at any time common with me—against the author—a prejudice strengthened rather than weakened by reviews of the book. What did I care (I am bound to say that I might add, "What do I care?") about discussions whether if somebody breaks the Seventh Commandment to your discomfort you may break the Sixth to theirs? Did I want diatribes on the non-moral character of women, or anything of that sort? I wanted an interesting story; an attractive (no matter in what fashion) heroine; a hero who is a gentleman, if possible, a man anyhow; and I did not think I should find them here. Now, I can "dichotomise" to some extent; and I can get an interesting story, striking moments, if not exactly an attractive heroine or hero, at any rate such as take their part in the interest, though I may have crows to pluck with them. It is, once more, a strong book: it is nearly—though I do not think quite—a great book. And to all sportsmanlike lovers of letters it is, despite its discomfortable matter, a comfortable book, because it shows us a considerable man of letters who has never yet, save perhaps in La Dame aux Camelias, quite "come off," coming off beyond all fair doubt or reasonable question.

[Sidenote: Story of it.]

Probably a good many people know the story of it, but certainly some do not. It can be told pretty shortly. Pierre Clemenceau, the fils naturel (for this vulnus is eternum) of a linen-draperess, is made, partly on account of his birth, unhappy at school, being especially tormented by an American-Italian boy, Andre Minati, whom, however, he thrashes, and who dies—but not of the thrashing. The father of another and not hostile school-fellow, Constantin Ritz, is a sculptor, and accident helps him to discover the same vocation in young Clemenceau, who is taken into his protector's household as well as his studio, and makes great progress in his art—the one thing he cares for. He goes, however, a very little into society, and one evening meets a remarkable Russian-Polish Countess, whose train (for it is a kind of fancy ball) is borne by her thirteen-year-old daughter Iza, dressed as a page. The girl is extraordinarily beautiful, and Clemenceau, whose heart is practically virgin, falls in love with her, child as she is; improving the acquaintance by making a drawing of her when asleep, as well as later a bust from actual sittings, gratis. After a time, however, the Countess, who has some actual and more sham "claims" in Poland and Russia, returns thither. Years pass, during which, however, Pierre hears now and then from Iza in a mixed strain of love and friendship, till at last he is stung doubly, by news that she is to marry a young Russian noble named Serge, and by a commission for the trousseau to be supplied by his mother,[381] who has retired from business. The correspondence changes to sharp reproach on his part and apparently surprised resentment on hers. But before long she appears in person (the Serge marriage having fallen through), and, to speak vernacularly, throws herself straight at Pierre's head, even offering to be his mistress if she cannot be his wife.[382] They are married, however, and spend not merely a honeymoon, but nearly a honey-year in what is, in Hereward the Wake, graciously called "sweet madness," the madness, however, being purely physical, though so far genuine, on her side, spiritual as well as physical on his. The central scene of the book (very well done) gives a picture of Iza insisting on bathing in a stream running through the park (private, but practically open to the public) of the house lent to them. When her husband has brought her warm milk in a chased-silver cup of their host's, she casts it, empty, on the ground, and on the husband's exclamation, "Take care!" replies coolly, "What does it matter? It isn't mine."

This may be said to be the third warning-bell; but though it shocks even the "ensorceressed" Pierre for the moment, his infatuation continues. At last he begins to have an idea that people look askance at him; trains of suspicion are laid; after one or two clever evasions of Iza's, the usual "epistolary communication" forces the matter, and Constantin Ritz at last tells the unhappy husband that not merely has "Serge" reappeared, but there are nearly half-a-dozen "others," and that doubts have even been suggested as to connivance on Pierre's part—doubts strengthened by Iza's treacherous complaints as to her husband having employed her as a model. A violent scene follows, Iza brazening it out, and calmly demanding separation. Clemenceau goes to Rome after forcing a duel on Serge and wounding him; but the blow has weakened, if not destroyed, his powers in art. Fresh scandals follow, and the irresistible Iza seduces Constantin himself, characteristically communicating the fact in an anonymous letter to her miserable husband. He returns (for the second time), takes no vengeance on his friend, but sees his wife. The interview provides an audaciously devised but finely executed curtain. She calmly proposes—how shall we say it?—to "put herself in commission." She loves nobody but him, she says, and knows he has loved, loves, and will love nobody but her. He ought, originally, to have taken her offer of being his mistress, and then no harm would have happened. She would really like to go back with him to Saint-Assise (the honeymoon place). Suppose they do? As for living with him and being "faithful" to him—that is impossible. But she will come to him, at his whistle, whenever he likes, and be absolutely his for a day and a night and a morrow. In fact he may begin at once if he likes: and she puts her arms round his neck and her mouth to his. He takes her at her word; but when the night is half passed and she is asleep, he gently rises, goes into the next room, fetches a stiletto paper-knife with which he has seen her playing, half wakes her, asks her if she loves him, to which, still barely conscious, she answers "Yes!" with a half-formed kiss on her lips. Then he stabs her dead with a single blow, leaving the house quietly, and giving himself up to the police at dawn.

[Sidenote: Criticism of it and of its author's work generally.]

If anybody asks me, "Is this well done?" expecting me to enter on the discussion of the lex non scripta, I shall reply that this is not my trade. But if the question refers to the merits of the handling, I can reply as confidently as the dying Charmian, "It is well done, and fitting for a novelist." In no book, as it seems to me, has the author obtained such a complete command of his subject or reeled out his story with such steady confidence and fluency. No doubt he sometimes preaches too much.[383] The elder Ritz's advice against suicide, for instance, if sound is superfluous. But this is not a very serious evil, and the steady crescendo of interest which prevails throughout the story carries it off. There are also numerous separate passages of real distinction, the fateful bathing-scene being, as it should be, the best, except the finale; but others, such as the history of Pierre's first modelling from the life, being excellent. The satire on the literary coteries of the Restoration is about the best thing of the kind that the author has done; and many of the "interiors"—always a strong point with him—are admirable. It is on the point of character that the chief questions may arise; but here also there seems to me to be only one of these—it is true it is the most important of all—on which there should be much debate. The succumbing of Constantin seems perhaps a little more justifiable by its importance to the story than by its intrinsic probability.[384] Clemenceau seems to me "constant to himself," or in the "good childlikeness" of his character, throughout; and to ask whether it was necessary to make him smash the bust that he finds in Serge's possession seems to be equivalent to asking whether it was necessary to put the Vice-Consul of Tetuan in petticoats.[385] It is only about Iza herself that there can be much dispute. Has that process synthetic which is spoken of elsewhere been carried too far with her? Have doses of childlikeness, beauty, charm, ill-nature, sensual appetite, etc., been taken too "boldly" (in technical doctors' sense) and mixed too crudely to measure? A word or two may be permissible on this.

I do not think that Iza is an impossible personage; nor do I think that she is even an improbable one to such an extent as to bar her out, possible or impossible. But I am not sure that she is not rather arbitrarily synthetised instead of being re-created, or that she, though possible and not quite improbable, is not singly abnormal[386] to the verge of monstrosity. It must be evident to any reader of tolerable acuteness that the obsession of Manon Lescaut has not left Dumas fils. Although the total effect of Manon and of Iza is very different, and although they are differently "staged," their resemblances in detail are very great; and, to speak paradoxically, the differences are almost more resembling still. Iza offers herself as mistress if there are any difficulties in the way of her being a wife; would, in fact, as she admits long afterwards, have preferred the less honourable, but also less fettering, estate. On the other hand, be it remembered, it was something of an accident that Manon and Des Grieux were not actually married. The two women are alike in their absolute insistence on luxury and pleasure before anything else; but they differ in that Iza does—as we said Manon did not, or did not specially—want "what Messalina wanted." On the other hand, Iza is ill-natured and Manon is not. In these respects we may say that the Manon-formula has passed through that of Madame de Merteuil, and bears unpleasant signs of the passage. Manon repents, which Iza never could do. But they agree in the courtesan essence—the readiness to exchange for other things that commodity of theirs which should be given only for love. I never wish to supply my readers with problem-tabloids; but I think that in this paragraph I have supplied them with materials for working out the double question, "Is Iza less human than Manon? and if so, why?" for themselves, as well as, if by any chance they should care to do so, of guessing my own answers to it.[387]

[Sidenote: Reflections.]

It is more germane to custom and purpose here to add a few general remarks on the story, and more, but still few, on its author's general position. Affaire Clemenceau is certainly, as has been said before, his strongest book, and, especially if taken together with La Dame aux Camelias (which, if less free from faults, contains some different merits), it constitutes a strong thesis or diploma-piece for all but the highest degree as a novelist. Taking in the others which have been surveyed, we must also acknowledge in the author an unusually wide range and a great display of faculty—even of faculties—almost all over that range, though perhaps in no other case than the two selected has he thoroughly mastered and firmly held the ground which he has attempted to win. If he has not—if Tristan le Roux is, on the whole, only a second- or third-rate historical romance; Trois Hommes Forts a fair and competent, but not thrilling melodrama, and so on, and so on—it is no doubt partly, to speak with the sometimes useful as well as engaging irrationality of childhood, "because he couldn't." But I think it is also because of something that can be explained. It was because he was far too prone to theorise about men and women and to make his books attempted demonstrations, or at least illustrations, of his theories. Now, to theorise about men is seldom very satisfactory; but to theorise about women is to weigh gossamer and measure moonbeams. The very wisest thing ever said about them is said in the old English couplet:

Some be lewd, and some be shrewd, But all they be not so,

and I think that our fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century vates showed his wisdom most in sticking to the strict negative in his exculpatory second line, here italicised.

Now if Alexander the Younger does not absolutely insist that "all they be so," he goes very near to it, excepting only characters of insignificant domesticity. When he does give you an "honnete femme" who is not merely this, such as the Clementine of the Roman d'une Femme or the Marceline of Diane de Lys, he gives them some queer touches. His "shady Magdalenes" (with apologies to one of the best of parodies for spoiling its double rhyme) and his even more shady, because more inexcusable, marquises; his adorable innocents, who let their innocence vanish "in the heat of the moment" (as the late Mr. Samuel Morley said when he forgot that Mr. Bradlaugh was an atheist), because the husbands pay too much attention to politics; and his affectionate wives, like the Lady in Therese,[388] who supply their missing husbands' place just for once, and forget all about it—these might be individually creatures of fact, but as a class they are creatures of theory. And theory never made a good novel yet: it is lucky if it has sometimes, but too rarely, failed to make a good into a bad one. But it has been urged—and with some truth as regards at least the later forms of the French novel—that it is almost founded on theory, and certainly Dumas fils can be cited in support—perhaps, indeed, he is the first important and thoroughgoing supporter. And this of itself justifies the place and the kind of treatment allotted to him here, the justification being strengthened by the fact that he, after Beyle, and when Beyle's influence was still little felt, was a leader of a new class of novelist, that he is the first novelist definitely of the Second Empire.

FOOTNOTES:

[349] As, for instance, in A Short History of French Literature (Oxford, 7th ed., 1917), pp. 550-552.

[350] At the same time, and admitting (see below) that it is wrong to meet overpraise with overblame, I think that it may be met with silence, for the time at any rate.

[351] I have, for reasons unnecessary to particularise, not observed strict chronological order in noticing his work or that of some others; but a sufficient "control" will, I hope, be supplied by the Appendix of dated books under their authors' names as treated in this volume.

[352] I observe with amusement (which may or may not be shared by "the friends of Mr. Peter Magnus") that I have repeated in the case of Dumas fils what I said on Crebillon fils. The contrast-parallel is indeed rather striking. Partly it is a case of reversal, for Crebillon pere was a most respectable man, most serious, and an academician; the son, though not personally disreputable, was the very reverse of serious, and academic neither by nature nor by status. In Dumas' case the father was extremely lively, and the Academy shuddered or sneered at him; the son was very serious indeed, and duly academised. Some surprise was, I remember, occasioned at the time by this promotion. There are several explanations of it; mine is Alexander the son's fondness for the correct subjunctive. George Sand, in a note to one of her books (I forget which), rebelliously says that the speaker in the text ought to have said, "aimasse," not "aimais," but that he didn't, and she will not make him do it. On the other hand, I find "aimasse," "haisse," and "revisse" in just three lines of La Dame aux Camelias. And everybody ought to know the story of the Immortal who, upon finding a man "where nae mon should be," and upon that "mon" showing the baseness derived from Adam by turning on his accomplice and saying, "Quand je vous disais qu'il etait temps que je m'en aille!" neglected crim. con. for crim. gram. and cried in horror, "Que je m'en allasse, Monsieur!" But this preciseness did not extend to the younger Alexander's choice of subjects.

[353]

To whose "music" also our young friends, As they tell us, have "lost the key."

[354] Dumas, like other mid-nineteenth century novelists in France and England both, is perhaps too fond of this complaint. But, after all, it does "stage" more prettily than appendicitis or typhoid.

[355] Nor is this the only place where Manon figures in the work of Alexander the younger. Especially in the early books direct references, more or less obvious, are frequent; and, as will be seen, the inspiration reappears in his best and almost last novel.

[356] It may perhaps seem to some readers that Janin's own novel-work should have been noticed earlier. I had at one time thought of doing this. But his most famous book of the sort, L'Ane Mort et la Femme Guillotinee, is a foolish fatrasie of extravagant, undigested, unaffecting horrors, from the devouring by dogs of the live donkey, at the beginning, to the "resurrectioning" of the guillotined woman, at the end. Sterne has played tricks with many clumsy imitators, but with none to more destructive effect than in this case. I read it first in the flush of my early enthusiasm for 1830, and was miserably disappointed; I tried to read it again the other day, and simply broke down. Barnave is interesting only as referred to by Gautier; and so on. The fact is that "J. J." was "J. J. J."—a journalist merely—with a not unpleasant frothy ginger-beery style, but with nothing whatever within it or beyond it.

[357]

And, with dim-fretted foreheads all, On corpses three months old at noon she came.

(The Palace of Art.)

[358] If anybody cannot tolerate the stretching he had better abstain from Alexander the younger's work, for "they all do it" there. The fact may have conciliated some of our own contemners of "good form."

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