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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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All this, of course, has its absurd side; but it shows, by way of redemption, that Ducange, in one of the many agreeable phrases of his country, "did not go to it with a dead hand." He seems, indeed, to have been a thoroughly "live" person, if not a very wise one: and Ludovica begins with a rousing situation—a crowd and block in the streets of Paris, brought about by nobody quite knows what, but ending in a pistol-shot, a dead body, the flight of the assassin, the dispersal of the crowd by the gendarmes, and finally the discovery by a young painter, who has just returned from seeing his mother at Versailles, of a very youthful, very pretty, and very terrified girl, speaking an unknown tongue, and not understanding French, who has fled for refuge into a dark alley ending in a flight of cellar-steps. It is to the point that among the confused cries attending the disturbance have been some about a girl being carried off.

It must be admitted that this is not unpromising, and I really think Ludovica (with a caution as to the excessive prolixity of its kind and time) might be recommended to lovers of the detective novel, of which it is a rather early sample. I have confessed, in a later chapter, that this particular "wanity" is not my favourite; but I found myself getting through M. Victor Ducange's six volumes—burdened rather than ballasted as they are by political outbursts, rather "thorn-crackling" attempts at humour, and the like—with considerably less effort than has sometimes attended similar excursions. If they had been three instead of six I hardly think I should have felt the collar at all. The superiority to L'Artiste et le Soldat is remarkable. When honest Jules Janin attributed to Ducange "une erudition peu commune," he must either have been confusing Victor with Charles, or, which is more probable, exhibiting his own lack of the quality he refers to. Ducange does quote tags of Latin: but erudition which makes Proserpine the daughter of Cybele, though certainly peu commune in one sense, is not so in the other. The purposes and the jokes, as has been said, may bore; and though the style is better than Ducray's, it would not of itself "over-stimulate." But the man is really almost prodigal of incident, and does not manage it badly.

Here, you have Ludovica's father and mother (the former of whom has been crimped to perform a marriage under the impression that he is a priest, whereas he is really a colonel of dragoons) escaping through a hole at the back of a picture from a skylighted billiard-room. There, an enterprising young man, "sitting out" at a ball, to attend which he has disguised himself, kisses his partner,[72] and by that pleasing operation dislodges half his borrowed moustache. It falls, alas! on her hand, she takes it for a spider, screams, and so attracts an unwelcome public. Later in the same evening he finds himself shut up in the young lady's bedroom, and hears her and her mother talking secrets which very nearly concern him. The carrying off of Ludovica from Poland to Paris is very smartly managed (I am not sure that the great Alexander or one of his "young men" did not borrow some details from it for the arrest of D'Artagnan and Porthos after their return from England), and the way in which she and a double of hers, Trinette van Poupenheim, are mixed up is really clever. So is the general cross-purposing. Cabmen turn up just when they should; and though letters dropped out of pockets are as common as blackberries, I know few better excuses for such carelessness than the fact that you have pulled the letter out with a silk wrapper, which you proceed to fold tenderly round the beautiful neck of a damsel in a cab somewhere about midnight. A holograph will made on the eve of Waterloo and preserved for fifteen years by the faithful depositary; a good doctor, of course; many bad Jesuits, of course; another, and this time virtuous, though very impudent, carrying-off of the other young woman from the clutches of the hated congreganistes;[73] a boghei;[74] a jokei; a third enlevement of the real Ludovica, who escapes by a cellar-trap; and many other agreeable things, end in the complete defeat of the wicked and the marriage of the good to the tune of four couples, the thing being thus done to the last in Ducange's usual handsome manner.[75] I do not know whether Ludovica was melodramatised. Le Jesuite of the same year by Ducange and the great Pixerecourt looks rather like it; and so does Il y a Seize Ans of a year later, which he seems to have written alone. But if it was not it ought to have been. The half-moustache-spider-kissing-screaming scene, and the brilliant youth retreating through the laughing crowd with the other half of his decoration, might have reconciled even me to the theatre.

[Sidenote: Auguste Ricard—L'Ouvreuse de Loges.]

A short account of the last novel (except Le Solitaire) mentioned above must stand for sample, not merely of the dozen other works of its author, Auguste Ricard, but for many more advertised on the fly-leaves of this time, and long since made "alms for oblivion." Their titles, Le Portier, La Grisette, Le Marchand de Coco, by Ricard himself, on one side, L'Homme des Ruines, Bleack- (sic) Beard, La Chambre Rouge (by a certain Dinocourt) on the other, almost tell their whole story—the story of a range (to use English terms once more) between the cheap followers of Anne Radcliffe and G. W. M. Reynolds. L'Ouvreuse de Loges, through which I have conscientiously worked, inclines to the latter kind, being anti-monarchic, anti-clerical, anti-aristocratic (though it admits that these aristocrats are terrible fellows for behaving in a way which the roturier cannot imitate, however hard he tries), and anti-things-in-general. Its title-heroine is a bad old woman, who "keeps the door" in the Elizabethan sense as well as theatrically. Its real hero is a ci-devant duke; malversator under the Republic; supposed but not real victim of the Septembriseurs; atheist; winner and loser of several fortunes; and at last particulier of Paris under a feigned name, with an apartment full of bric-a-brac, a drawer full of little packets of money, after the expenditure of the last of which he proposes to blow his brains out; tall man of stature and of his hands, etc., etc. The book is in a way one of purpose, inculcating the danger of wooing opera-girls, and instancing it with three very weak young men, another duke, a rich young parvenu, and a musician. Of these the first and the last are, with their wives, rather arbitrarily saved from the clutches into which they have fallen, by the mysterious "M. Luc," while the other comes to a very bad end. The novel, which is in five volumes, is, like most of those mentioned in this section, not of the kind that one would read by preference. But it is a very fair specimen of the "below stairs" romance which sometimes prepares the way for others, fit to take their places above stairs. And so it has its place here.[76]

[Sidenote: The importance of these minors not inconsiderable.]

It has been pointed out more than once that though neglect of such books as these may be perfectly natural and probable in the average reader, such neglect—and still more any contempt of them—is, though it may not be unnatural, utterly unscholarly and uncritical from the point of view of history. Their authors themselves learnt something from their own mistaken experiments, and their successors learnt a good deal more. They found that "sculduddery" was not a necessary attraction. Ducray does not avail himself of it, and Ducange seems to have left it off. They did not give up, but they came less and less to depend upon, extravagant incident, violent peripeteias, cheap supernaturalities, etc. But the most important thing about them perhaps is the evidence they give of learning what has been called their "business." Already, to a great extent if not wholly, that earliest obsession and preoccupation of the novelist—the idle anxiety to answer the question, "How do you know all these things?"—has begun to disappear. This is rather less the case with another foolish fancy—the belief that it is necessary to account not merely for what we call the consequents, but for the antecedents of all the characters (at least those of any importance) that you introduce. There can be no doubt that this was one of the objects, as it was part of the original cause, of the mistaken Histoire system, which made you, when or soon after you introduced a personage, "tell us all about it," as the children say, in a separate inset tale. You did not now do this, but you made, as in the capital instance of Victor Ducange, huge diversions, retrospects, episodes, in the body of the story itself. This method, being much less skippable than the inset by those who did not want it, was not likely to continue, and so applied the cure to its own ill. And yet further, as novels multiplied, the supposed necessity of very great length tended to disappear. The seven or eight volumes of the eighteenth century, which had replaced the twelves and twenties of the seventeenth, shrank to six (Ludovica), five (L'Artiste et Le Soldat and l'Ouvreuse de Loges), four (Le Petit Carillonneur), and then three or two, though later the historical kind swelled again, and the almost invariable single volume did not establish itself till the middle of the century. As a consequence again of this, the enormous delay over single situations tended, though very slowly, to disappear. It is one of the merits of Pigault-Lebrun that he is not a great sinner in verbosity and prolixity: his contemporary minors of this volume are far more peccant in this kind.

[Sidenote: The Vicomte d'Arlincourt—Le Solitaire.]

Le Solitaire is a book which I have been "going to read" for some fifty years, but by some accident did not till the present occasion. I knew it generally as one of the vedettes of Romanticism, and as extremely popular in its own day: also as having been, with its author's other work in poem and play and prose fiction, the subject of some ridicule. But till I read it, and some things about it, I never knew how well it deserved that ridicule and yet how very popular it was, and how really important is its position in the history of the Romantic movement, and so of the French novel and French literature generally. It was published at the end of January 1821, and at the end of November a seventh edition appeared, with an elaborate Io Triumphe! from the publisher. Not only had there been those seven editions (which, it must be remembered in fairness, represent at least seventy at the other end of the century[77]), but it had been translated into four foreign languages; fourteen dramas had been based on it, some half of which had been at least conditionally accepted for performance; painters of distinction were at work on subjects from it; it had reached the stages of Madrid and of London (where one critic had called it "a very beautiful composition"), while French approval had been practically unanimous. Nay, a game had been founded thereon, and—crowning, but perhaps rather ominous honour—somebody had actually published a burlesque imitation.

I have seldom read greater rubbish than Le Solitaire. It is a historical-romantic story (the idolatrous preface refers both to Scott and to Byron), and bears also strong, if sometimes distinctly unfortunate, resemblances to Mrs. Radcliffe, the Germans, and Chateaubriand. The scene is that of Charles the Bold's defeat at Morat: and the "Solitary" is Charles himself—the identification of his body after the decisive overthrow at Nancy was a little doubtful—who has hidden there partly to expiate, by good deeds, his crime of massacring the monks of the adjoining Abbey of Underlach, and partly to avail himself of a local tradition as to a Fantome Sanglant, who haunts the neighbourhood, and can be conveniently played by the aid of a crimson mantle. The slaughter of the monks, however, is not the only event or circumstance which links Underlach to the crimes of Charles, for it is now inhabited by a Baron d'Herstall (whose daughter, seduced by the Duke, has died early) and his niece, Elodie de Saint-Maur, whose father, a former favourite of the Burgundian, that prince has killed in one of his fits of rage. Throw in a local priest, Anselm, and you have what may be called the chief characters; but a good Count Ecbert de Norindall, a wicked Prince of Palzo, and divers others figure. Everybody, including the mysterious Bleeding-Phantom-Solitary-Duke himself, falls in love with Elodie,[78] and she is literally "carried off" (that is to say, shouldered) several times, once by the alarming person in the crimson shroud, but always rescued, till it is time for her to die and be followed by him. There are endless "alarums and excursions"; some of the not explained supernatural; woods, caves, ruins, underground passages—entirely at discretion. Catherine Morland would have been perfectly happy with it.

It is not, however, because it contains these things that it has been called "rubbish." A book might contain them all—Mrs. Radcliffe's own do, with the aggravation of the explained wonders—and not be that. It is because of the extraordinary silliness of the style and sentiments. I should imagine that M. d'Arlincourt was trying to write like his brother viscount, the author of Les Martyrs, and a pretty mess he has made of it. "Le char de la nuit roulait silencieux sur les plaines du ciel" (p. 3). "L'entree du jour venait de s'elancer radieuse du palais de l'Aurore." "L'amante de l'Erebe et la mere des Songes[79] avait acheve la moitie de sa course tenebreuse," etc., etc. The historic present is constantly battling with the more ordinary tenses—the very same sentence sometimes contains both. And this half-blown bladder of a style conveys sentiments as feebly pompous as itself. The actual story, though no great thing, is, if you could strip it of its froth and fustian, not so very bad: as told it is deplorable.

At the same time its mere existence—much more the fury of acceptance which for the moment greeted it—shows what that moment wanted. It wanted Romance, and in default of better it took Le Solitaire.

* * * * *

An occasional contrast of an almost violent kind may be permitted in a work requiring something more than merely catalogue-composition. It can hardly be found more appropriately than by concluding this chapter, which began with the account of Paul de Kock, by one of Charles Nodier.

[Sidenote: Nodier.]

To the student and lover of literature there is scarcely a more interesting figure in French literary history, though there are many greater. Except a few scraps (which, by one of the odd ways of the book-world, actually do not appear in some editions of his Oeuvres Choisies), he did nothing which had the quality of positive greatness in it. But he was a considerable influence: and even more of a "sign." Younger than Chateaubriand and Madame de Stael, but far older than any of the men of 1830 proper, he may be said in a way to have, in his single person, played in France that part of schoolmaster to Romanticism, which had been distributed over two generations and many personalities in England; and which Germany, after a fashion, did without, at the cost of a few undisciplined and quickly overbloomed master-years. Although he was born in 1780, nine years before the Revolution itself, he underwent German and English influences early, "took" Wertherism, Terrorism,[80] and other maladies of that fin de siecle with the utmost facility, and produced divers ultra-Romantic things long before 1830 itself. But he had any number of literary and other avocations or distractions. He was a kind of entomologist and botanist, a kind of philologist (one is a little astonished to find that rather curious and very charlatanish person and parson Sir Herbert Croft, whose secretary Nodier was for a time, dignified in French books by the name of "philologue Anglais"), a good deal more than a kind of bibliographer (he spent the last twenty years of his life as Librarian of the Arsenal), and an enthusiastic and stimulating, though not exactly trustworthy, critic. But he concerns us here, of course, for his prose fiction, which, if not very bulky, is numerous in its individual examples, and is animated in the best of them by a spirit almost new in French and, though often not sufficiently caught and concentrated, present to almost the highest degrees in at least three examples—the last part of La Fee aux Miettes, La Legende de Soeur Beatrix, and, above all, Ines de las Sierras.

For those who delight in literary filiations and genealogies, the kind of story in which Nodier excelled (and in which, though some of his own were written after 1830, he may truly be considered as "schoolmaster" to Merimee and Gautier and Gerard de Nerval and all their fellows), may be, without violence or exaggeration, said to be a new form of the French fairy-tale, divested of common form, and readjusted with the help of the German Maerchen and fantasy-pieces. Le Diable Amoureux had, no doubt, set the fashion of this kind earlier; but that story, charming as it is, is still scarcely "Romantic." Nodier is so wholly; and it is fair to remember that Hoffmann himself was rather a contemporary of his, and subject to the same influences, than a predecessor.[81]

[Sidenote: His short stories.]

The best collection of Nodier's short tales contains nine pieces: Trilby, Le Songe d'Or, Baptiste Montauban, La Fee aux Miettes, La Combe de l'Homme mort, Ines de las Sierras, Smarra, La Neuvaine de la Chandeleur, and La Legende de Soeur Beatrix. Of these I believe Trilby, La Fee aux Miettes, and Smarra have been the greatest favourites, and were pretty certainly the most influential in France. My own special delights are Le Songe d'Or, Ines de las Sierras, and Soeur Beatrix, with part of the Fee. But none is without its attractions, and the Preface to the Fee aux Miettes, which is almost a separate piece, has something of the quintessential in that curious quality which Nodier possesses almost alone in French or with Gerard de Nerval and Louis Bertrand only. English readers may "perceive a good deal of [Charles] Lamb in it," with touches of Sterne and De Quincey and Poe.

[Sidenote: Trilby.]

It is much to be feared that more people in England nowadays associate the name of "Trilby" with the late Mr. Du Maurier than with Nodier, and that more still associate it with the notion of a hat than with either of the men of genius who used it in literature.

So mighty Byron, dead and turned to clay, Gave name to collars for full many a day; And Ramillies, grave of Gallic boasts so big, Found most perpetuation in a wig.[82]

The original story united divers attractions for its first readers in 1822, combining the older fashion of Ossian with the newer one of Scott, infusing the supernatural, which was one great bait of the coming Romanticism, and steeping the whole cake in the tears of the newer rather than the older "Sensibility." "Trilby, le Lutin d'Argail"[83] (Nodier himself explains that he alters the spelling here with pure phonetic intent, so as to keep the pronunciation for French eyes and ears[84]), is a spirit who haunts the cabin of the fisherman Dougal to make a sort of sylph-like love to his wife Jeannie. He means and does no harm, but he is naturally a nuisance to the husband, on whom he plays tricks to keep him away from home, and at length rather frightens the wife. They procure, from a neighbouring monastery, a famous exorcist monk, who, though he cannot directly punish Trilby, lays on him sentence of exclusion from the home of the pair, unless one of them invites him, under penalty of imprisonment for a thousand years. How the story turns to Jeannie's death and Trilby's duress can be easily imagined, and may be read with pleasure. I confess that to me it seems pretty, but just a little mawkish.[85] Perhaps I am a brute.

[Sidenote: Le Songe d'Or.]

Le Songe d'Or, on the other hand, though in a way tragic, and capable of being allegorised almost ad infinitum in its sense of some of the riddles of the painful earth, is not in the least sentimental, and is told, till just upon the end, with a certain tender irony. The author called it "Fable Levantine," and the venerable Lo[c]kman is introduced in it. But I have read it several times without caring (perhaps this was reprehensible) to ascertain whether it is in the recognised Lokman bunch or not. All I know is that here Nodier and not Lokman has told it, and that the result is delightful. First a beautiful "kardouon," the prettiest of lizards, all azure and ruby and gold, finds in the desert a heap of gold-pieces. He breaks his teeth on them, but is sure that such nice-looking things must be good to eat—probably slices of a root which some careless person has left too long in the sun—and that, if properly treated, they will make a famous winter provision. So he conveys them with much care and exertion, one by one, to a soft bed of fresh moss, just the thing to catch the dew, under the shadow of a fine old tree. And, being naturally tired, he goes to sleep beside them. And this is the history of the kardouon.

Now there was in that neighbourhood a poor woodcutter named Xailoun—deformed, and not much more than half-witted, but amiable—who had taken a great fancy to the kardouon as being a beautiful beast, and likely to make a charming friend. But the kardouon, after the manner of shy lizards, had by no means reciprocated this affection, and took shelter behind stones and tree-stumps when advances were made to him. So that the children, and even his own family, including his mother, used to jeer at Xailoun and tell him to go to his friend. On this particular occasion, the day after the kardouon's trouvaille, Xailoun actually found the usually wide-awake animal sleeping. And as the place, with the moss and the great tree-shadow and a running stream close by, was very attractive, Xailoun lay down by the lizard to wait till he should wake. But as he himself might go to sleep, and the animal, accustomed to the sun, might get a chill in the shade, Xailoun put his own coat over him. And he too slept, after thinking how nice the kardouon's friendship would be when they both woke. And this is the history of Xailoun.

Next day again there came a fakir named Abhoc, who was on a pretended pilgrimage, but really on the look-out for what he might get. He saw a windfall at once, was sure that neither of its sleeping guardians could keep it from him, and very piously thanked the Almighty for rewarding his past devotion and self-sacrifice by opening a merry and splendid life to him. But as, with such custodians, the treasure could be "lifted" without the slightest difficulty, he too lay down by it, and went to sleep, dreaming of Schiraz wine in golden cups and a harem peopled with mortal houris. And this is the history of the fakir Abhoc.

A day and a night passed, and the morrow came. Again there passed a wise doctor of laws, Abhac by name, who was editing a text to which a hundred and thirty-two different interpretations had been given by Eastern Cokes and Littletons. He had just hit upon the hundred and thirty-third—of course the true one—when the sight described already struck him and put the discovery quite out of his head, to be lost for ever. As became a jurist, he was rather a more practical person than the woodcutter or the fakir, if not than the lizard. His human predecessors were, evidently, thieves, and must be brought to justice, but it would be well to secure "pieces of conviction." So he began to wrap up the coins in his turban and carry them away. But there were so many, and it was so heavy, that he grew very weary. So he too laid him down and slept. And this is the history of the doctor Abhac.

But on the fifth day there appeared a much more formidable person than the others, and also a much more criminous. This was the "King of the Desert"—bandit and blackmailer of caravans. Being apparently a bandit of letters, he reflected that, though lizards, being, after all, miniature dragons, were immemorial guardians of treasure, they could not have any right in it, but were most inconveniently likely to wake if any noise were made. The others were three to one—too heavy odds by daylight. But if he sat down by them till night came he could stab them one by one while they were asleep, and perhaps breakfast on the kardouon—said to be quite good meat. And he went to sleep himself. And this is the history of the King of the Desert.

But next day again the venerable Lokman passed by, and he saw that the tree was a upas tree and the sleepers were dead. And he understood it all, and he passed his hand through his beard and fell on his face, and gave glory to God. And then he buried the three covetous ones in separate graves under the upas itself. But he put Xailoun in a safer place, that his friends might come and do right to him; and he buried the kardouon apart on a little slope facing the sun, such as lizards love, and near Xailoun. And, lastly, having stroked his beard again, he buried the treasure too. But he was very old: and he was very weary when he had finished this, and God took him.

And on the seventh day there came an angel and promised Xailoun Paradise, and made a mark on his tomb with a feather from his own wing. And he kissed the forehead of Lokman and made him rise from the dead, and took him to the seventh heaven itself. And this is the history of the angel. It all happened ages ago, and though the name of Lokman has lived always through them, so has the shadow of the upas tree.

And this is the history of the world.

Only a child's goody-goody tale? Possibly. But for my part I know no better philosophy and, at least as Nodier told it, not much better literature.

[Sidenote: Minors.]

Baptiste Montauban and La Combe de l'Homme mort are, though scarcely shorter than Le Songe d'Or, slighter. The first is a pathetic but not quite consummate story of "love and madness" in a much better sense than that in which Nodier's eccentric employer, Sir Herbert Croft, used the words as his title for the history of Parson Hackman and Miss Ray.[86] The second ("combe," the omission of which from the official French dictionaries Nodier characteristically denounces, is our own "combe"—a deep valley; from, I suppose, the Celtic Cwm; and pronounced by Devonshire folk in a manner which no other Englishman, born east of the line between the mouths of the Parret and the Axe, can master) is a good but not supreme diablerie of a not uncommon kind. La Neuvaine de la Chandeleur is longer, and from some points of view the most pathetic of all. A young man, hearing some girls talk of a much-elaborated ceremony like those of Hallowe'en in Scotland and of St. Agnes' Eve in Keats, by which (in this case) both sexes can see their fated lovers, tries it, and discerns, in dream or vision, his ideal as well as his fate. She turns out to be an actual girl whom he has never seen, but whom both his father and her father—old friends—earnestly desire that he should marry. He travels to her home, is enthusiastically greeted, and finds her even more bewitching than her wraith or whatever it is to be called. But she is evidently in bad health, and dies the same night of aneurism. Not guested in the house, but trysted in the morning, he goes there, and seeing preparations in the street for a funeral, asks of some one, being only half alarmed, "Qui est mort?" The answer is, "Mademoiselle Cecile Savernier."

Had these words terminated the story it would have been nearly perfect. Two more pages of the luckless lover's progress to resignation from despair and projected suicide seem to me to blunt the poignancy.

[Sidenote: La Fee aux Miettes.]

In fact, acknowledging most humbly that I could not write even the worst and shortest of Nodier's stories, I am bound to say that I think he was not to be trusted with a long one. La Fee aux Miettes is at once an awful and a delightful example. The story of the mad shipwright Michel, who fell in love with the old dwarf beggar—so unlike her of Bednal Green or King Cophetua's love—at the church door of Avranches; who followed her to Greenock and got inextricably mixed between her and the Queen of Sheba; who for some time passed his nights in making love to Belkis and his days in attending to the wisdom of the Fairy of the Crumbs (she always brought him his breakfast after the Sabaean Nights); who at last identified the two in one final rapture, after seeking for a Singing Mandrake; and who spent the rest (if not, indeed, the whole) of his days in the Glasgow Lunatic Asylum;—is at times so ineffably charming that one is almost afraid oneself to repeat the refrain—

C'est moi, c'est moi, c'est moi! Je suis la Mandragore! La fille des beaux jours qui s'eveille a l'aurore— Et qui chante pour toi!

though, after all, every one whose life has been worth living has listened for the song all that life—and has heard it sometimes.

To find any fault with the matrix of this opal is probably blasphemous. But I own that I could do without the Shandean prologue and epilogue of the narrator and his man-servant Daniel Cameron. And though, as a tomfool myself, I would fain not find any of the actions of my kind alien from me, I do find some of the tomfoolery with which Nodier has seasoned the story superfluous. Why call a damsel "Folly Girlfree"? What would a Frenchman say if an English story-teller christened some girl of Gaul "Sottise Librefille"? "Sir Jap Muzzleburn," the Bailiff of the Isle of Man, and his black poodle-equerry, Master Blatt, amuse me but little; and Master Finewood, the shipbuilder,—whose rejected six sons-in-law, lairds of high estate, run away with his thirty thousand guineas, and are checkmated by six sturdy shipwrights,—less. I have no doubt it is my fault, my very great fault, but I wish they would go, and leave me with Michel and La Fee, or rather allow me to be Michel with La Fee.

[Sidenote: Smarra and Soeur Beatrix.]

Smarra—which made a great impression on its contemporaries and had a strong influence on the Romantic movement generally—is a fantasia of nightmare based on the beginning of The Golden Ass, with, again, a sort of prologue and epilogue of modern love. It is undoubtedly a fine piece of work of its kind and beautifully written. But in itself it seems to me a little too much of a tour de force, and its kind a little rococo. Again, mea maxima culpa perhaps. On the other hand, Soeur Beatrix is a most charmingly told version of a very wide-spread story—that of Our Lady taking the place of an erring sister during her sojourn in the world, and restoring her to it without any scandal when she returns repentant and miserable after years of absence. It could not be better done.

[Sidenote: Ines de las Sierras.]

But the jewel of the book, and of Nodier's work, to me, is Ines de las Sierras—at least its first and larger part; for Nodier, in one of those exasperatingly uncritical whims of his which have been noticed, and which probably prevented him from ever writing a really good novel of length, has attached an otiose explanation a la Mrs. Radcliffe, which, if it may please the weakest kind of weak brethren, may almost disgust another, and as to which I myself exercise the critic's cadi-rights by simply ignoring and banishing what I think superfluous. As for what remains, once more, it could not be done better.

Three French officers, at the moment of disturbance of the French garrisons in the north of Spain, owing to Napoleon's Russian disasters (perhaps also to more local events, which it was not necessary for Nodier to mention), are sent on remount duty from Gerona to Barcelona, where there is a great horse-fair on. They are delayed by bad weather and other accidents, and are obliged to stop half-way after nightfall. But the halting-place is choke-full of other travellers on their way to the same fair, and neither at inn nor in private house is there any room whatever, though there is no lack of "provant." Everybody tells them that they can only put up at "the castle of Ghismondo." Taking this for a Spanish folkword, they get rather angry. But, finding that there is a place of the name close by in the hills—ruinous, haunted, but actual—they take plenty of food, wine, and torches, etc., and persuade, with no little difficulty, their arriero and even their companion and the real hirer of the vehicle (a theatrical manager, who has allowed them to accompany him, when they could get no other) to dare the night adventure. On the way the arriero tells them the legend, how, centuries before, Ghismondo de las Sierras, ruined by debauchery, established himself in this his last possession, with one squire, one page (both of the worst characters), his beautiful niece Ines, whom he has seduced, and a few desperate followers, who help him to live by brigandage. Every night the three chiefs drank themselves senseless, and were regularly dragged to bed by their men. But one Christmas Eve at midnight, Ines, struck with remorse, entered the hall of orgies, and implored them to repent, actually kneeling before Ghismondo, and placing her hand on his heart. To which the ruffian replied by stabbing her, and leaving her for the men-at-arms to find, a corpse, among the drunken but live bodies. For a whole twelvemonth the three see, in dreams, their victim come and lay a burning hand on their hearts; and at its end, on the same day and at the same hour, the dream comes true—the phantom appears, speaks once, "Here am I!" sits with them, eats and drinks, even sings and dances, but finally lays the flaming hand of the dream on each heart; and they die in torture—the men-at-arms entering as usual, only to find four corpses. (Now it is actually Christmas Eve—the Spanish Noche Buena—at "temp. of tale.")

So far the story, though admirably told, in a fashion which mere summary cannot convey, is, it may be said, not more than "as per usual." Not so what follows.

The four travellers—the unnamed captain who tells the story; his two lieutenants, Boutraix, a bluff Voltairian, with an immense capacity for food and drink, and Sergy, a young and romantic Celadon, plus the actor-manager Bascara, who is orthodox—with the arriero, arrive at last at the castle, which is Udolphish enough, and with some difficulty reach, over broken staircases and through ruined corridors, the great banqueting-hall.[87]

Here—for it is less ruinous that the rest of the building and actually contains furniture and mouldering pictures—they make themselves tolerably comfortable with their torches, a huge fire made up from broken stairs and panels, abundance of provisions, and two dozen of wine, less a supply for the arriero, who prudently remains in the stables, alleging that the demons that haunt those places are fairly familiar to him and not very mischievous. As the baggage has got very wet during the day, the dresses and properties of Bascara's company are taken out and put to air. Well filled with food and drink, the free-thinker Boutraix proposes that they shall equip themselves from these with costumes not unsuitable to the knight, squire, and page of the legend, and they do so, Bascara refusing to take part in the game, and protesting strongly against their irreverence. At last midnight comes, and they cry, "Where is Ines de las Sierras?" lifting their glasses to her health. Suddenly there sounds from the dark end of the great hall the fateful "Here am I!" and there comes forward a figure in a white shroud, which seats itself in the vacant place assigned by tradition to Ines herself. She is extraordinarily beautiful, and is, under the white covering, dressed in a fashion resembling the mouldering portrait which they have seen in the gallery. She speaks too, half rallying them, as if surprised at their surprise; she calls herself Ines de las Sierras; she throws on the table a bracelet with the family arms, which they have also seen dimly emblazoned or sculptured about the castle; she eats; and, as a final piece of conviction, she tears her dress open and shows the scar on her breast. Then she drinks response to the toast they had in mockery proposed; she accepts graciously the advances of the amorous Sergy; she sings divinely, and she dances more divinely still. The whole scene is described supremely well, but the description of the dance is one of the very earliest and very finest pieces of Romantic French prose. One may try, however rashly, to translate it:

(She has found a set of castanets in her girdle.)

She rose and made a beginning by grave and measured steps, displaying, with a mixture of grace and majesty, the perfection of her figure and the nobility of her attitudes. As she shifted her position and put herself in new aspects, our admiration turned to amazement, as though another and another beautiful woman had come within our view, so constantly did she surpass herself in the inexhaustible variety of her steps and her movements. First, in rapid transition, we saw her pass from a serious dignity to transports of pleasure, at first moderate, but growing more and more animated; then to soft and voluptuous languors; then to the delirium of joy, and then to some strange ecstasy more delirious still. Next, she disappeared in the far-off darkness of the huge hall, and the clash of the castanets grew feeble in proportion to the distance, and diminished ever till, as we ceased to see, so we ceased to hear her. But again it came back from the distance, increasing always by degrees, till it burst out full as she reappeared in a flood of light at the spot where we least expected her. And then she came so near that she touched us with her dress, clashing the castanets with a maddening volubility, till they weakened once more and twittered like cicalas, while now and then across their monotonous racket she uttered shrill yet tender cries which pierced to our own souls. Afterwards she retired once more, but plunged herself only half in the darkness, appearing and disappearing by turns, now flying from our gaze and now desiring to be seen,[88] while later still you neither saw nor heard her save for a far-off plaintive note like the sigh of a dying girl. And we remained aghast, throbbing with admiration and fear, longing for the moment when her veil, fluttering with the dance-movement, should be lighted up by the torches, when her voice should warn us of her return, with a joyful cry, to which we answered involuntarily, because it made us vibrate with a crowd of secret harmonies. Then she came back; she spun round like a flower stripped from its stalk by the wind; she sprang from the ground as if it rested only with her to quit earth for ever; she dropped again as if it was only her will which kept her from touching it at all; she did not bound from the floor—you would have thought that she shot from it—that some mysterious law of her destiny forbade her to touch it, save in order to fly from it. And her head, bent with an expression of caressing impatience, and her arms, gracefully opened, as though in appealing prayer, seemed to implore us to save her.

The captain himself is on the point of yielding to the temptation, but is anticipated by Sergy, whose embrace she returns, but sinks into a chair, and then, seeming to forget the presence of the others altogether, invites him to follow her through tortuous and ruined passages (which she describes) to a sepulchre, which she inhabits, with owls for her only live companions. Then she rises, picks up her shroud-like mantle, and vanishes in the darkness with a weird laugh and the famous words, "Qui m'aime me suive."

The other three have the utmost difficulty in preventing Sergy (by main force at first) from obeying. And the captain tries rationalism, suggesting first that the pretended Ines is a bait for some gang of assassins or at least brigands, then that the whole thing is a trick of Bascara's to "produce" a new cantatrice. But Boutraix, who has been entirely converted from his Voltairianism by the shock, sets aside the first idea like a soldier, and Bascara rebuts the second like a sensible man. Brigands certainly would give no such warning of their presence, and a wise manager does not expose his prima donna's throat to cohabitation in ruins with skeletons and owls. They finally agree on silence, and shortly afterwards the three officers leave Spain. Sergy is killed at Lutzen, murmuring the name of Ines. Boutraix, who has never relapsed, takes the cowl, and the captain retires after the war to his own small estate, where he means to stay. He ends by saying Voila tout.

Alas! it is not all, and it is not the end. Some rather idle talk with the auditors follows, and then there is the above-mentioned Radcliffian explanation, telling how Ines was a real Las Sierras of a Mexican branch, who had actually made her debut as an actress, had been, as was at first thought, murdered by a worthless lover, but recovered. Her wits, however, were gone, and having escaped from the kind restraint under which she was put, she had wandered to the castle of her ancestors, afterwards completely recovering her senses and returning to the profession in the company of Bascara himself.

Now I think that, if I took the trouble to do so, I could point out improbabilities in this second story sufficient to damn it on its own showing.[89] But, as has been said already, I prefer to leave it alone. I never admired George Vavasour in Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? But I own that I agree with him heartily in his opinion that "making a conjurer explain his tricks" is despicably poor fun.

Still, the story, which ends at "Voila tout" and which for me does so end "for good and all," is simply magnificent. I have put it elsewhere with Wandering Willie's Tale, which it more specially resembles in the way in which the ordinary turns into the extraordinary. It falls short of Scott in vividness, character, manners, and impressiveness, but surpasses him in beauty[90] of style and imagery. In particular, Nodier has here, in a manner which I hardly remember elsewhere, achieved the blending of two kinds of "terror"—the ordinary kind which, as it is trivially called, "frightens" one, and the other[91] terror which accompanies the intenser pleasures of sight and sound and feeling, and heightens them by force of contrast. The scene of Ines' actual appearance would have been the easiest thing in the world to spoil, and therefore was the most difficult thing in the world to do right. But it is absolutely right. In particular, the way in which her conduct in at once admitting Sergy's attentions, and finally inviting him to "follow," is guarded from the very slightest suggestion of the professional "comingness" of a common courtesan, and made the spontaneous action of a thing divine or diabolic, is really wonderful.

At the same time, the adverse criticism made here, with that on La Fee aux Miettes and a few other foregoing remarks, will probably prepare the reader for the repeated and final judgment that Nodier was very unlikely to produce a good long story. And, though I have not read quite all that he wrote, I certainly think that he never did.

[Sidenote: Nodier's special quality.]

In adding new and important masterpieces to the glittering chain of short cameo-like narratives which form the peculiar glory of French literature, he did greatly. And his performance and example were greater still in respect of the quality which he infused into those best pieces of his work which have been examined here. It is hardly too much to say that this quality had been almost dormant—a sleeping beauty among the lively bevies of that literature's graces—ever since the Middle Ages, with some touches of waking—hardly more than motions in a dream—at the Renaissance. The comic Phantasy had been wakeful and active enough; the graver and more serious tragic Imagination had been, though with some limitations, busy at times. But this third sister—Our Lady of Dreams, one might call her in imitation of a famous fancy—had not shown herself much in French merriment or in French sadness: the light of common day there had been too much for her. Yet in Charles Nodier she found the magician who could wake her from sleep: and she told him what she had thought while sleeping.[92]

FOOTNOTES:

[37] Vol. I. pp. 458, 472, notes.

[38] Vol. I. p. 161.

[39] When he published Le Cocu, it was set about that a pudibund lady had asked her book-seller for "Le Dernier de M. Paul de Kock." And this circumlocution became for a time popular, as a new name for the poor creature on the ornaments of whose head our Elizabethans joked so untiringly.

[40] A short essay, or at least a "middle" article, might be written on this way of regarding a prophet in his own country, coupling Beranger with Paul de Kock. Of course the former is by much a major prophet in verse than Paul is in prose. But the attitude of the superior French person to both is, in different degrees, the same. (Thackeray in the article referred to below, p. 62 note, while declaring Paul to be the French writer whose works are best known in England, says that his educated countrymen think him pitoyable.—Works, Oxford edition, vol. ii p. 533.)

[41] A gibe at the Vicomte d'Arlincourt's very popular novel, to be noticed below. I have not, I confess, identified the passage: but it may be in one of the plays.

[42] It would not be fair to compare the two as makers of literature. In that respect Theodore Hook is Paul's Plutarchian parallel, though he has more literature and less life.

[43] Charity, outrunning knowledge, may plead "Irony perhaps?" Unfortunately there is no chance of it.

[44] I really do not know who was (see a little below). Parny in his absurd Goddam! (1804) has something of it.

[45] And he knew something of it through Addison.

[46] The straight hair is particularly curious, for, as everybody who knows portraits of the early nineteenth century at all is aware, Englishmen of the time preferred brushed back and rather "tousled" locks. In Maclise's famous "Fraserians" there is hardly a straight-combed head among all the twenty or thirty. At the same time it is fair to say that our own book-illustrators and caricaturists, for some strange reason, did a good deal to authorise the libels. Cruikshank was no doubt a wonderful draughtsman, but I never saw (and I thank God for it) anything like many, if not most, of his faces. "Phiz" and Cattermole in (for example) their illustrations to The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge sometimes out-Cruikshank Cruikshank in this respect.

[47] Paul's ideas of money are still very modest. An income of 6000 francs (L240) represents ease if not affluence; with double the amount you can "aspire to a duchess," and even the dispendious Irish-French Viscount Edward de Sommerston in La Fille aux Trois Jupons (v. inf.) starts on his career with scarcely more than three thousand a year.

[48] Paul's scholarship was very rudimentary, as is shown in not a few scraps of ungrammatical Latin: he never, I think, ventures on Greek. But whether he was the first to estropier the not ugly form "Cleodora," I know not. Perhaps he muddled it with "Clotilde."

[49] This cult of the widow might form the subject of a not uninteresting excursus if we were not confining ourselves to the literary sides of our matter. It has been noticed before (Vol. I. p. 368), and forms one of the most curious differences between the two countries. For, putting Mr. Weller out of the question, I have known far from sentimental critics who thought Trollope's best book by no means improved by the previous experience of Eleanor Bold. Cherolatry in France, however, is not really old: it hardly appears before the eighteenth century. It may be partly due to a more or less conscious idea that perhaps the lady may have got over the obligatory adultery at the expense of her "dear first" and may not think it necessary to repeat. A sort of "measles over."

[50] He also improves his neglected education in a manner not unsuggestive of Prince Giglio. In fact, I fancy there is a good deal of half-latent parody of Paul in Thackeray.

[51] There might have been fifteen or fifty, for the book is more a sequence of scenes than a schematic composition: for which reason the above account of it may seem somewhat decousu.

[52] I think I have commented elsewhere on the difficulty of villains. It was agreeable to find confirmation, when this book was already in the printer's hands, given at an exemption tribunal by a theatrical manager. For six weeks, he said, he had advertised and done everything possible to supply the place of a good villain, with no success. And your bad stage villain may be comic: while your bad novel villain is only a bore.

[53] Frederique, Madame Dauberny (who has, without legal sanction, relieved herself of a loathsome creature whom she has married, and lives a free though not at all immoral life), was not very easy to do, and is very well done.

[54] This, which is short and thoroughly lively, is, I imagine, the latest of Paul's good books. It is indeed so late that instead of the jupons, striped and black and white, of which Georgette has made irreproachable but profitable use, she appears at the denouement in a crinoline!

[55] The most interesting thing in it is a longish account by Jacques of his association with a travelling quack and fortune-teller, which at once reminds one of Japhet in Search of a Father. The resemblances and the differences are almost equally characteristic.

[56] Of course I am not comparing him with Paul on any other point.

[57] Except in regard to the historical and other matters noticed above, hardly at all.

[58] For a picture of an actual grisette, drawn by perhaps the greatest master of artistic realism (adjective and substantive so seldom found in company!) who ever lived, see that Britannia article of Thackeray's before referred to—an article, for a long time, unreprinted, and therefore, till a comparatively short time ago, practically unknown. This and its companion articles from the Britannia and the Corsair, all of 1840-41, but summarising ten or twelve years' knowledge of Paris, form, with the same author's Paris Sketch Book (but as representing a more mature state of his genius), the best commentary on Paul de Kock. They may be found together in the third volume of the Oxford Thackeray edited by the present writer.

[59] Unless they start from the position that an English writer on the French novel is bound to follow—or at least to pay express attention to—French criticism of it. This position I respectfully but unalterably decline to accept. A critical tub that has no bottom of its own is the very worst Danaid's vessel in all the household gear of literature.

[60] The scene and society are German, but the author knows the name to have been originally English.

[61] Such, perhaps, as Gibbon himself may have used while he "sighed as a lover" and before he "obeyed as a son." It should perhaps be said that Mme. de Montolieu produced many other books, mostly translations—among the latter a French version of The Swiss Family Robinson.

[62] In dealing with "Sensibility" earlier, it was pointed out how extensively things were dealt with by letter. In such cases as these the fashion came in rather usefully.

[63] The treatment of the authors here mentioned, infra, will, I hope, show that the introduction of their names is not merely "promiscuous."

[64] I am quite prepared to be told that this was somebody else or nobody at all. "Moi, je dis Madame de Genlis."

[65] P. 436.

[66] The kind endeavours of the Librarian of the London Library to obtain some in Paris itself were fruitless, but the old saying about neglecting things at your own door came true. My friend Mr. Kipling urged me to try Mr. George Gregory of Bath, and Mr. Gregory procured me almost all the books I am noticing in this division.

[67] The British Museum (see Preface) being inaccessible to me.

[68] Readers will doubtless remember that the too wild career of this kind of vehicle, charioteered by wicked aristocrats, has been among the thousand-and-three causes assigned for the French Revolution.

[69] Of course the author of the glossaries himself was, by actual surname, Dufresne, Ducange being a seignory.

[70] It should be observed that a very large number of these minor novels, besides those specially mentioned as having undergone the process, from Ducray's downwards, were melodramatised.

[71] That is to say, in the text: the second title of the whole book, "ou Les Enfants de Maitre Jacques," does in some sort give a warning, though it is with Maitre Jacques rather than with his children that the fresh start is made.

[72] He has, though unknown and supposed to be an intruder, carried her off from an English adorer—a sort of Lovelace-Byron, whose name is Lord Gousberycharipay (an advance on Paul de Kock and even Parny in the nomenclature of the English peerage), and who inserts h's before French words!

[73] If novels do not exaggerate the unpopularity of these persons (strictly the lay members of the S.J., but often used for the whole body of religious orders and their lay partisans), the success of "July" needs little further explanation.

[74] That is to say, not a bogey, but a buggy.

[75] Here is another instance. Ludovica's father and a bad Russo-Prussian colonel have to be finished off at Waterloo. One might suppose that Waterloo itself would suffice. But no: they must engage in single combat, and even then not kill each other, the Russian's head being carried off by some kind of a cannon-ball and the Frenchman's breast pierced by half a dozen Prussian lances. This is really "good measure."

[76] Ousting others which deserved the place better? It may be so, but one may perhaps "find the whole" without particularising everything. Of short books especially, from Fievee's Dot de Suzette (1798), which charmed society in its day, to Eugenie Foa's Petit Robinson de Paris (1840), which amused me when I was about ten years old, there were no end if one talked.

[77] V. inf. on M. Ohnet's books.

[78] Many people have probably noticed the frequency of this name—not a very pretty one in itself, and with no particular historical or other attraction—in France and French of the earlier nineteenth century. It was certainly due to Le Solitaire.

[79] If any proper moral reader is disturbed at this conjunction of amante and mere, he will be glad to know that M. d'Arlincourt elsewhere regularises the situation and calls Night "l'epouse d'Erebe."

[80] In the Radcliffian-literary not the Robespierrean-political sense. For the Wertherism, v. sup. on Chateaubriand, p. 24 note.

[81] He was four years older than Nodier, but did not begin to write fiction nearly so early. The Phantasiestuecke are of 1814, while Nodier had been writing stories, under German influence, as early as 1803. It is, however, also fair to say that all those now to be noticed are later than 1814, and even than Hoffmann's later collections, the Elixiere des Teufels and Nachtstuecke.

[82] The prudent as well as judicious poet who wrote these lines provided a variant to suit those who, basing their position on "Ramillies cock," maintain that it was a hat, not a wig, that was named after Villeroy's defeat. For "grave—big" read "where Gallic hopes fell flat," and for "wig" "hat" simpliciter, and the thing is done. But Thackeray has "Ramillies wig" and Scott implies it.

[83] Nodier, who had been in Scotland and, as has been said, was a philologist of the better class, is scrupulously exact in spelling proper names as a rule. Perhaps Loch Fyne is not exactly "Le Lac Beau" (I have not the Gaelic). But from Pentland to Solway (literally) he makes no blunder, and he actually knows all about "Argyle's Bowling Green."

[84] If phonetics had never done anything worse than this they would not be as loathsome to literature as they sometimes are.

[85] On the other hand, compared with its slightly elder contemporary, Le Solitaire (v. sup.), it is a masterpiece.

[86] Two little passages towards the end are very precious. A certain bridegroom (I abridge a little) is "perfectly healthy, perfectly self-possessed, a great talker, a successful man of business, with some knowledge of physics, chemistry, jurisprudence, politics, statistics, and phrenology; enjoying all the requirements of a deputy; and for the rest, a liberal, an anti-romantic, a philanthropist, a very good fellow—and absolutely intolerable." This person later changes the humble home of tragedy into a "school of mutual instruction, where the children learn to hate and envy each other and to read and write, which was all they needed to become detestable creatures." These words "please the soul well."

[87] The description is worth comparing with that of Gautier's Chateau de la Misere—the difference between all but complete ruin and mere, though extreme, disrepair being admirably, and by the later master in all probability designedly, worked out.

[88] Et fugit ad salices et se cupit ante videri.

[89] Note, too, a hint at a never filled in romance of the captain's own.

[90] I must ask for special emphasis on "beauty." Nothing can be finer or fitter than the style of Steenie's ghostly experiences. And the famous Claverhouse passage is beautiful.

[91] As Rossetti saw it in "Sibylla Palmifera":

"Under the arch of Life, where Love and Death, Terror and Mystery guard her shrine, I saw Beauty enthroned."

[92] Perhaps there are few writers mentioned in this book to whose lovers exactly the same kind of apology is desirable as it is in the case of Nodier. "Where," I hear reproaching voices crying, "is Jean Sbogar? Where is Laure Ruthwen ou les Vampires in novel-plural or Le Vampire in melodrama-singular? Where are a score or a hundred other books, pieces, pages, paragraphs, passages from five to fifty words long?" They are not here, and I could not find room for them here. "But you found more room for Paul de Kock?" Yes: and I have tried to show why.



CHAPTER III

VICTOR HUGO

[Sidenote: Limitations.]

At the present day, and perhaps in all days hitherto, the greatest writer of the nineteenth century in France for length of practice, diversity of administration of genius, height of intention, and (for a long time at least) magnitude and altitude of fame, enjoys, and has enjoyed, more popular repute in England for his work in prose fiction than for any other part of it. With the comparative side of this estimate the present writer can indeed nowise agree; and the reasons of his disagreement should be made good in the present chapter. But this is the first opportunity he has had of considering, with fair room and verge, the justice of the latter part of Tennyson's compliment "Victor in Romance"; and it will pretty certainly be the last. As for a general judgment of the positive and relative value and qualities of the wonderful procession of work—certainly deserving that adjective whatever other or others may be added—which covers the space of a full half-century from Han d'Islande to Quatre-Vingt-Treize, it would, according to the notions of criticism here followed, be improper to attempt that till after the procession itself has been carefully surveyed.

Nor will it be necessary to preface, to follow, or, except very rarely and slightly, to accompany this survey with remarks on the non-literary characteristics of this French Titan of literature. The object often of frantic political and bitter personal abuse; for a long time of almost equally frantic and much sillier political and personal idolatry; himself the victim—in consequence partly of his own faults, partly of ignoble jealousy of greatness, but perhaps most of all of the inevitable reaction from this foolish cult—of the most unsparing rummage into those faults, and the weaknesses which accompany them, that any poet or prose writer, even Pope, has experienced—Victor Hugo still, though he has had many a vates in both senses of sacer, may almost be allowed carere critico sacro,[93] in the best sense, on the whole of his life and work. I have no pretensions to fill or bridge the whole of the gap here. It will be quite task enough for the present, leaving the life almost alone, to attempt the part of the work which contains prose fiction. Nothing said of this will in the least affect what I have often said elsewhere, and shall hold to as long as I hold anything, in regard to the poetry—that its author is the greatest poet of France, and one of the great poets of the world.

[Sidenote: Han d'Islande.]

To deal with Hugo's first published, though not first written, novel requires, in almost the highest degree, what Mr. Matthew Arnold called "a purged considerate mind." There are, I believe, some people (I myself know at least one of great excellence) who, having had the good luck to read Han d'Islande as schoolboys, and finding its vein congenial to theirs, have, as in such cases is not impossible, kept it unscathed in their liking. But this does not happen to every one. I do not think, though I am not quite certain, that when I first read it myself I was exactly what may be called a schoolboy pure and simple (that is to say, under fifteen). But if I did not read it in upper school-boyhood (that is to say, before eighteen), I certainly did, not much later. I own that at that time, whatever my exact age was, I found it so uninteresting that I do not believe I read it through. Nor, except in the last respect, have I improved with it—for it would be presumptuous to say, "has it improved with me"—since. The author apologised for it in two successive prefaces shortly after its appearance, and in yet another after that of Notre-Dame de Paris, ten years later. None of them, it is to be feared, "touches the spot." The first, indeed, is hardly an apology at all, but a sort of goguenard "showing off" of the kind not uncommon with youth; the second, a little more serious, contains rather interesting hits[94] of again youthful jealousy at the popularity of Pigault-Lebrun and Ducray-Duminil; the third and much later one is a very early instance of the Victorian philosophising. "There must be," we are told with the solemnity which for some sixty years excited such a curious mixture of amazement and amusement, "in every work of the mind—drama or novel—there must be many things felt, many things observed, and many things divined," and while in Han there is only one thing felt—a young man's love—and one observed—a girl's ditto—the rest is all divined, is "the fantastic imagination of an adolescent."

One impeticoses the gratility of the explanation, and refrains, as far as may be, from saying, "Words! words!" Unluckily, the book does very little indeed to supply deeds to match. The feeling and the observation furnish forth a most unstimulating love-story; at least the present critic, who has an unabashed fondness for love-stories, has never been able to feel the slightest interest either in Ordener Guldenlew or in Ethel Schumacker, except in so far as the lady is probably the first of the since innumerable and sometimes agreeable heroines of her name in fiction. As for the "divining," the "intention," and the "imagination," they have been exerted to sadly little purpose. The absurd nomenclature, definitely excused in one of the prefaces, may have a slight historic interest as the first attempt, almost a hopeless failure, at that science des noms with which Hugo was later credited, and which he certainly sometimes displayed. It is hardly necessary to say much about Spladgest and Oglypiglaf, Musdaemon and Orugix. They are pure schoolboyisms. But it is perhaps fair to relieve the author from the reproach, which has been thrown on him by some of his English translators, of having metamorphosed "Hans" into "Han." He himself explains distinctly that the name was a nickname, taken from the grunt or growl (the word is in France applied to the well-known noise made by a paviour lifting and bringing down his rammer) of the monster.

But that monster himself! A more impossible improbability and a more improbable impossibility never conceived itself in the brain of even an as yet failure of an artist. Han appears to have done all sorts of nasty things, such as eating the insides of babies when they were alive and drinking the blood of enemies when they were not dead, out of the skulls of his own offspring, which he had extracted from their dead bodies by a process like peeling a banana: also to have achieved some terrible ones, such as burning cathedrals and barracks, upsetting rocks on whole battalions, and so forth. But the only chances we have of seeing him at real business show him to us as overcoming, with some trouble, an infirm old man, and not overcoming at all, after a struggle of long duration, a not portentously powerful young one. His white bear, and not he, seems to have had the chief merit of despatching six surely rather incompetent hunters who followed the rash "Kennybol": and of his two final achievements, that of poniarding two men in a court of justice might have been brought about by anybody who was careless enough of his own life, and that of setting his gaol on fire by any one who, with the same carelessness, had a corrupt gaoler to supply him with the means.

It would be equally tedious and superfluous to go through the minor characters and incidents. The virtuous and imprisoned statesman Schumacker, Ethel's father, excites no sympathy: his malignant and finally defeated enemy, the Chancellor Ahlefeld, no interest. That enemy's most unvirtuous wife and her paramour Musdaemon—the villain of the piece as Han is the monster—as to whom one wonders whether he could ever have been as attractive as a lover as he is unattractive as a villain, are both puppets. Indeed, one would hardly pay any attention to the book at all if it did not hold a position in the work of a man of the highest genius partly similar to, and partly contrasted with, that of Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne. But St. Irvyne and Zastrozzi are much shorter than Han d'Islande, and Shelley, whether by accident, wisdom (nemo omnibus horis insanit), or the direct intervention of Apollo, never resumed the task for which his genius was so obviously unsuited.

Still, it must be said for Hugo that, even at this time, he could have—in a manner actually had—put in evidence of not absolute incompetence for the task.

[Sidenote: Bug-Jargal.]

Bug-Jargal was, as glanced at above, written, according to its author's own statement, two years before Han, when he was only sixteen; was partially printed (in the Constitutionnel) and (in fear of a piracy) rewritten in fifteen days and published, seven years after its composition, and almost as many before Notre-Dame de Paris appeared. Taking it as it stands, there is nothing of the sixteen years or of the fifteen days to be seen in it. It is altogether superior to Han, and though it has not the nightmare magnificence and the phantasmagoric variety of Notre-Dame, it is, not merely because it is much shorter, a far better told, more coherent, and more generally human story. The jester-obi Habibrah has indeed the caricature-grotesquery of Han himself, and of Quasimodo, and long afterwards of Gwynplaine, as well as the devilry of the first named and of Thenardier in Les Miserables; but we do not see too much of him, and nothing that he does is exactly absurd or utterly improbable. The heroine—so far as there is a heroine in Marie d'Auverney, wife of the part-hero-narrator, but separated from him on the very day of their marriage by the rebellion of San Domingo—is very slight; but then, according to the story, she is not wanted to be anything more. The cruelty, treachery, etc., of the half-caste Biassou are not overdone, nor is the tropical scenery, nor indeed anything else. Even the character of Bug-Jargal himself, a modernised Oroonoko (whom probably Hugo did not know) and a more direct descendant of persons and things in Rousseau, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and to some extent the "sensibility" novelists generally (whom he certainly did know), is kept within bounds. And, what is perhaps most extraordinary of all, the half-comic interludes in the narrative where Auverney's comrades talk while he makes breaks in his story, contain few of Hugo's usually disastrous attempts at humour. It is impossible to say that the book is of any great importance or of any enthralling interest. But it is the most workmanlike of all Hugo's work in prose fiction, and, except Les Travailleurs de La Mer and Quatre-Vingt-Treize, which have greater faults as well as greater beauties, the most readable, if not, like them, the most likely to be re-read.

[Sidenote: Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamne.]

Its merits are certainly not ill set off by the two shorter pieces, both of fairly early date, but the one a little before and the other a little after Notre-Dame de Paris, which usually accompany it in the collected editions. Of these Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamne is, with its tedious preface, almost two-thirds as long as Bug-Jargal itself; the other, Claude Gueux, contents itself with thirty pages. Both are pieces with a purpose—manifestos of one of Hugo's most consistent and most irrational crazes—the objection to capital punishment.[95] There is no need to argue against this, the immortal "Que MM. les assassins," etc., being, though in fact the weakest of a thousand refutations, sufficient, once for all, to explode it. But it is not irrelevant to point out that the two pieces themselves are very battering-rams against their own theory. We are not told—the objection to this omission was made at the time, of course, and Hugo's would-be lofty waving-off of this is one of the earliest of many such—what the condemned person's crime was. But the upshot of his lucubrations during these latest hours of his is this, that such hours are almost more uncomfortable than the minutes of the actual execution can possibly be. As this is exactly one of the points on which the advocates of the punishment, whether from the point of view of deterrence or from that of retribution, chiefly rely, it seems something of a blunder to bring it out with all the power of a poet and a rhetorician. We want "M. l'Assassin," in fact, to be made very uncomfortable—as uncomfortable as possible—and we want M. l'Assassin, in intention or deliberation, to be warned that he will be so made. "Serve him right" sums up the one view, "De te fabula" the other. In fact cheap copies of Le Dernier Jour, supplied to all about to commit murder, would be highly valuable. Putting aside its purpose, the mere literary power is of course considerable if not consummate; it hardly pretends to be a "furnished" story.

[Sidenote: Claude Gueux.]

The piece, however, is tragic enough: it could hardly fail to be so in the hands of such a master of tragedy, just as it could hardly fail to be illogical in the hands of such a paralogician. But Claude Gueux, though it ends with a murder and an attempt at suicide and an execution, is really, though far from intentionally, a farce. The hero, made (by the "fault of society," of course) a criminal, though not a serious one, thinks himself persecuted by the prison director, and murders that official. The reader who does not know the book will suppose that he has been treated as Charles Reade's wicked governor treated Josephs and Robinson and the other victims in It is Never too Late to Mend. Not at all. The redoubtable Claude had, like the great Victor himself and other quite respectable men, an equally redoubtable appetite, and the prison rations were not sufficient for him. As he was a sort of leader or prison shop-steward, and his fellow-convicts looked up to him, a young fellow who was not a great eater used to give Claude part of his allowance. The director, discovering this, removed the young man into another ward—an action possibly rather spiteful, possibly also only a slight excess, or no excess at all, of red-tapeism in discipline. Claude not merely asks reasons for this,—which, of course, even if respectfully done, was an act of clear insubordination on any but anarchist principles,—but repeats the enquiry. The director more than once puts the question by, but inflicts no penalty. Whereupon Claude makes a harangue to the shop (which appears, in some astounding fashion, to have been left without any supervision between the director's visits), repeats once more, on the director's entrance, his insubordinate enquiry, again has it put by, and thereupon splits the unfortunate official's skull with a hatchet, digging also a pair of scissors, which once belonged to his (left-handed) wife, into his own throat. And the wretches actually cure this hardly fallen angel, and then guillotine him, which he takes most sweetly, placing at the last moment in the hand of the attendant priest, with the words Pour les pauvres, a five-franc piece, which one of the Sisters of the prison hospital had given him! After this Hugo, not contented with the tragedy of the edacious murderer, gives us seven pages of his favourite rhetoric in saccade paragraphs on the general question.

As so often with him, one hardly knows which particular question to ask first, "Did ever such a genius make such a fool of himself?" or "Was ever such an artist given to such hopeless slips in the most rudimentary processes of art?"

[Sidenote: Notre-Dame de Paris.]

But it is, of course, not till we come to Notre-Dame de Paris that any serious discussion of Hugo's claims as a novelist is possible. Hitherto, while in novel at least he has very doubtfully been an enfant sublime, he has most unquestionably been an enfant. Whatever faults may be chargeable on his third novel or romance proper, they include no more childishness than he displayed throughout his life, and not nearly so much as he often did later.

The book, moreover, to adopt and adapt the language of another matter, whether disputably or indisputably great in itself, is unquestionably so "by position." It is one of the chief manifestos—there are some who have held, and perhaps would still hold, that it is the chief manifesto and example—of one of the most remarkable and momentous of literary movements—the great French Romantic revolt of mil-huit-cent-trente. It had for a time enormous popularity, extending to many who had not the slightest interest in it as such a manifesto; it affected not merely its own literature, but others, and other arts besides literature, both in its own and other countries. To whatever extent this popularity may have been affected—first by the transference of interest from the author's "letters" to his politics and sociology, and secondly, by the reaction in general esteem which followed his death—it is not very necessary to enquire. One certainly sees fewer, indeed, positively few, references to it and to its contents now. But it was so bright a planet when it first came into ken; it exercised its influence so long and so largely; that even if it now glows fainter it is worth exploring, and the analysis of the composition of its light is worth putting on record.

[Sidenote: The story easy to anticipate.]

In the case of a book which, whether it has or has not undergone some occultation as suggested, is still kept on sale not merely in the original, but in cheap translations into every European tongue, there is probably no need to include an actual "argument" in this analysis. As a novel or at least romance, Notre-Dame de Paris contains a story of the late fifteenth century, the chief characters of which are the Spanish gipsy[96] dancing-girl Esmeralda, with her goat Djali; Quasimodo, the hunchbacked dwarf and bell-ringer of the cathedral; one of its archdeacons, Claude Frollo, theologian, philosopher, expert in, but contemner of, physical and astrological science, and above all, alchemist, if not sorcerer; the handsome and gallant, but "not intelligent" and not very chivalrous soldier Phoebus de Chateaupers, with minors not a few, "supers" very many, and the dramatist Pierre Gringoire as a sort of half-chorus, half-actor throughout. The evolution of this story could not be very difficult to anticipate in any case; almost any one who had even a slight knowledge of its actual author's other work could make a guess at the scenario. The end must be tragic; the beau cavalier must be the rather unworthy object of Esmeralda's affection, and she herself that of the (one need hardly say very different) affections of Frollo and Quasimodo; a charge of sorcery, based on the tricks she has taught Djali, must be fatal to her; and poetic justice must overtake Frollo, who has instigated the persecution but has half exchanged it for, half-combined it with, later attempts of a different kind upon her. Although this scenario may not have been then quite so easy for any schoolboy to anticipate, as it has been later, the course of the romantic novel from Walpole to Scott in English, not to mention German and other things, had made it open enough to everybody to construct. The only thing to be done, and to do, now was, and is, to see, on the author's own famous critical principles,[97] how he availed himself of the publica materies.

[Sidenote: Importance of the actual title.]

Perhaps the first impression of any reader who is not merely not an expert in criticism, but who has not yet learnt its first, last, and hardest lesson, shirked by not a few who seem to be experts—to suspend judgment till the case is fully heard—may be unfavourable. It is true that the title Notre-Dame de Paris, so stupidly and unfairly disguised by the addition-substitution of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in English translations—quite honestly and quite legitimately warns any intelligent reader what to expect. It is the cathedral itself, its visible appearance and its invisible aura, atmosphere, history, spirit, inspiration which gives the author—and is taken by him as giving—his real subject. Esmeralda and Quasimodo, Frollo and Gringoire are almost as much minors and supers in comparison with It or Her as Phoebus de Chateaupers and the younger Frollo and the rest are in relation to the four protagonists themselves. The most ambitious piece of dianoia—of thought as contrasted with incident, character, or description—is that embodied in the famous chapter, Ceci tuera cela, where the fatal effect of literature (at least printed literature) on architecture is inculcated. The situation, precincts, construction, constitution of the church form the centre of such action as there is, and supply by far the larger part of its scene. Therefore nobody has a right to complain of a very large proportion of purely architectural detail.

[Sidenote: The working out of the one under the other.]

But the question is whether, in the actual employment, and still more in what we may call the administration, of this and other diluents or obstruents of story, the artist has or has not made blunders in his art; and it is very difficult not to answer this in the affirmative. There were many excuses for him. The "guide-book novel" had already, and not so very long before, been triumphantly introduced by Corinne. It had been enormously popularised by Scott. The close alliance and almost assimilation of art and history with literature was one of the supremest articles of faith of Romanticism, and "the Gothic" was a sort of symbol, shibboleth, and sacrament at once of Romanticism itself. But Victor Hugo, like Falstaff, has, in this and other respects, abused his power of pressing subjects into service almost, if not quite, damnably. Whether out of pure wilfulness, out of mistaken theory, or out of a mixture[98] of these and other influences, he has made the first volume almost as little of a story as it could possibly be, while remaining a story at all. Seventy mortal pages, pretty well packed in the standard two-volume edition, which in all contains less than six hundred, dawdle over the not particularly well-told business of Gringoire's interrupted mystery, the arrival of the Flemish ambassadors, and the election of the Pope of Unreason. The vision of Esmeralda lightens the darkness and quickens the movement, and this brightness and liveliness continue till she saves her unlucky dramatist from the murderous diversions of the Cour des Miracles. But the means by which she does this—the old privilege of matrimony—leads to nothing but a single scene, which might have been effective, but which Hugo only leaves flat, while it has no further importance in the story whatsoever. After it we hop or struggle full forty pages through the public street of architecture pure and simple.

[Sidenote: The story recovers itself latterly.]

At first sight "Coup d'oeil impartial sur l'Ancienne Magistrature" may seem to give even more promise of November than of May. But there is action here, and it really has something to do with the story. Also, the subsequent treatment of the recluse or anchoress of the severest type in the Place Notre-Dame itself (or practically so), though it is much too long and is lengthened by matters with which Hugo knows least of all how to deal, has still more claim to attention, for it leads directly on not merely to the parentage of Esmeralda, but to the tragedy of her fate. And almost the whole of the second volume is, whether the best novel-matter or not, at any rate genuine novel-matter. If almost the whole of the first had been boiled down (as Scott at his best would have boiled it) into a preliminary chapter or two, the position of the book as qualified to stand in its kind could not have been questioned. But its faults and merits in that kind would still have remained matters of very considerable question.

[Sidenote: But the characters?]

In respect of one fault, the side of the defence can surely be taken only by generous, but hardly judicious or judicial devotees. Hugo's singular affection for the monster—he had Stephano to justify him, but unfortunately did not possess either the humour of that drunken Neapolitan butler or the power of his and Caliban's creator—had made a mere grotesque of Han, but had been reduced within more artistic limits in Bug. In Le Dernier Jour and Claude Gueux it was excluded by the subjects and objects alike.[99] Here it is, if not an intellectus, at any rate sibi permissus; and, as it does not in the earlier cases, it takes the not extremely artistic form of violent contrast which was to be made more violent later in L'Homme Qui Rit. If any one will consider Caliban and Miranda as they are presented in The Tempest, with Quasimodo and Esmeralda as they are presented here, he will see at once the difference of great art and great failure of art.

Then, too, there emerges another of our author's persistent obsessions, the exaggeration of what we may call the individual combat. He had probably intended something of this kind in Han, but the mistake there in telling about it instead of telling it has been already pointed out. Neither Bug-Jargal nor Habibrah does anything glaringly and longwindedly impossible. But the one-man defence of Notre-Dame by Quasimodo against the truands is a tissue not so much of impossibilities—they, as it has been said of old, hardly matter—as of the foolish-incredible. Why did the numerous other denizens of the church and its cloisters do nothing during all this time? Why did the truands, who, though they were all scoundrels, were certainly not all fools, confine themselves to this frontal assault of so huge a building? Why did the little rascal Jean Frollo not take some one with him? These are not questions of mere dull common sense; it is only dull absence of common sense which will think them so. Scott, who, once more, was not too careful in stopping loose places, managed the attacks of Tillietudlem and Torquilstone without giving any scope for objections of this kind.

Hugo's strong point was never character, and it certainly is not so here. Esmeralda is beautiful, amiable, pathetic, and unfortunate; but the most uncharitable interpretation of Mr. Pope's famous libel never was more justified than in her case. Her salvage of Gringoire and its sequel give about the only situations in which she is a real person,[100] and they are purely episodic. Gringoire himself is as much out of place as any literary man who ever went into Parliament. Some may think better of Claude Frollo, who may be said to be the Miltonic-Byronic-Satanic hero. I own I do not. His mere specification—that of the ascetic scholar assailed by physical temptation—will pass muster well enough, the working out of it hardly.

His brother, the vaurien Jean, has, I believe, been a favourite with others or the same, and certainly a Villonesque student is not out of place in the fifteenth century. Nor is a turned-up nose, even if it be artificially and prematurely reddened, unpardonable. But at the same time it is not in itself a passport, and Jean Frollo does not appear to have left even the smallest Testament or so much as a single line (though some snatches of song are assigned to him) reminding us of the "Dames des Temps Jadis" or the "Belle Heaulmiere." Perhaps even Victor never presumed more unfortunately on victory than in bringing in Louis XI., especially in one scene, which directly challenges comparison with Quentin Durward. While, though Scott's jeunes premiers are not, as he himself well knew and frankly confessed, his greatest triumphs, he has never given us anything of the kind so personally impersonal as Phoebus de Chateaupers.

Per contra there are of course to be set passages which are actually fine prose and some of which might have made magnificent poetry; a real or at least—what is as good as or better than a real—a fantastic resurrection of Old Paris; and, above all, an atmosphere of "sunset and eclipse," of night and thunder and levin-flashes, which no one of catholic taste would willingly surrender. Only, ungrateful as it may seem, uncritical as some may deem it, it is impossible not to sigh, "Oh! why were not the best things of this treated in verse, and why were not the other things left alone altogether?"

[Sidenote: The thirty years' interval.]

For a very long stretch of time—one that could hardly be paralleled except in a literary life so unusually extended as his—it might have seemed that one of those voix interieures, which he was during its course to celebrate in undying verse, had whispered to Hugo some such warning as that conveyed in the words of the close of the last paragraph, and that he, usually the most indocile of men, had listened to it. For all but three decades he confined his production—at least in the sense of substantial publication[101]—to poetry almost invariably splendid, drama always grandiose and sometimes grand, and prose-writing of a chiefly political kind, which even sympathisers (one would suppose) can hardly regard as of much value now if they have any critical faculty. Even the tremendous shock of disappointment, discomfiture, and exile which resulted from the success of Napoleon the Third, though it started a new wave and gust of oceanic and cyclonic force, range, and volume in his soul, found little prose vent, except the wretched stuff of Napoleon le Petit, to chequer the fulgurant outburst of the Chatiments, the apocalyptic magnificence of the Contemplations, and the almost unmatched vigour, variety, and vividness of the Legende des Siecles.

At last, in 1862, a full decade after the cataclysm, his largest and probably his most popular work of fiction made its appearance in the return to romance-writing, entitled Les Miserables. I daresay biographies say when it was begun; it is at any rate clear that even Victor Hugo must have taken some years, especially in view of his other work, to produce such a mass of matter.[102] Probably not very many people now living, at least in England, remember very clearly the immense effect it produced even with us, who were then apt to regard Hugo as at best a very chequered genius and at worst an almost charlatanish rhetorician.

[Sidenote: Les Miserables.]

It was no doubt lucky for its popularity that it fell in with a general movement, in England as well as elsewhere, which had with us been, if not brought about, aided by influences in literature as different as those of Dickens and Carlyle, through Kingsley and others downwards,—the movement which has been called perhaps more truly than sympathetically, "the cult of the lower [not to say the criminal] classes." In France, if not in England, this cult had been oddly combined with a dash of rather adulterated Romanticism, and long before Hugo, Sues and Sands, as will be seen later, had in their different manner been priests and priestesses of it. In his own case the adoption of the subject "keyed on" in no small degree to the mood in which he wrote the Dernier Jour and Claude Gueux, while a good deal of the "Old Paris" mania (I use the word nowise contumeliously) of Notre-Dame survived, and even the "Cour des Miracles" found itself modernised.

Whether the popularity above mentioned has kept itself up or not, I cannot say. Of one comparatively recent edition, not so far as I know published at intervals, I have been told that the first volume is out of print, but none of the others, a thing rather voiceful to the understanding. I know that, to me, it is the hardest book to read through of any that I know by a great writer. Le Grand Cyrus and Clelie are certainly longer, Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison are probably so. Le Vicomte de Bragelonne is almost as long. There are finer things in it than in any of them, (except the deaths of Lovelace and Porthos and the kidnapping of General Monk) from the pure novel point of view, and not a few passages which ought to have been verse and, even prose as they are, soar far over anything that Mademoiselle de Scudery or Samuel Richardson or Alexandre Dumas could possibly have written in either harmony. The Scudery books are infinitely duller, and the Richardson ones much less varied.

But none of these others besets the path of the reader with things to which the obstacles interposed by Quilp in the way of Sampson Brass were down-pillows, as is the case with Les Miserables. It is as if Victor Hugo had said, "You shall read this at your peril," and had made good the threat by dint of every blunder in novel-writing which he could possibly commit. With his old and almost invariable fault (there is a little of it even in Les Travailleurs de la Mer, and only Quatre-Vingt-Treize avoids it entirely), he delays any real interest till the book, huge as it is, is almost half way through. Twenty pages on Bishop Myriel—that rather piebald angel who makes the way impossible for any successor by his fantastic and indecent "apostolicism" in living; who tells, not like St. Athanasius, an allowable equivocation to save his valuable self, but a downright lie to save a worthless rascal; and who admits defeat in argument by the stale sophisms of a moribund conventionnel—might have been tolerable. We have, in the compactest edition I know, about a hundred and fifty. The ruin and desertion of Fantine would have been worth twenty more. We have from fifty to a hundred to tell us the story of four rather impossibly beautiful grisettes, and as many, alas! too possible, but not interesting, rascals of students. It is difficult to say how much is wasted on the wildly improbable transformation of Jean Valjean, convict and pauper, into "M. Madeleine," maire and (nummis gallicis) millionaire, through making sham jet. All this, by any one who really knew his craft, would have been sketched rapidly in fluent preliminary, and subsequent piecemeal retrospect, so as to start with Valjean's escape from Thenardier and his adoption of Cosette.

The actual matter of this purely preliminary kind extends, as has been ascertained by rough but sufficient calculation of the sort previously employed, to at least three-quarters of an average novel of Sir Walter's: it would probably run to two or three times the length of a modern "six-shilling." But Hugo is not satisfied with it. A point, an important point, doubtless, but one that could have been despatched in a few lines, connects the novel proper with the Battle of Waterloo. To that battle itself, even the preliminary matter in its earliest part is some years posterior: the main action, of course, is still more so. But Victor must give us his account of this great engagement, and he gives it in about a hundred pages of the most succinct reproduction. For my part, I should be glad to have it "mixed with much wine," even if the wine were of that luscious and headachy south-of-France character which he himself is said to have preferred to Bordeaux or Champagne, Sauterne or even Burgundy. Nay, without this I like it well enough and quarrel with nothing in it, though it is in many respects (from the famous hollow way which nobody else ever heard of downwards) very much of a dream-battle. Victor does quite as much justice as any one could expect him to do—and, thank heaven, there are still some Englishmen who are perfectly indifferent whether justice is done to them or not in these matters, leaving it to poorer persons in such ways who may be glad of it—to English fighting; while if he represents Wellington as a mere calculator and Napoleon as a hero, we can murmur politely (like a Roman Catholic bishop, more real in many ways than His Greatness of Digue), "Perhaps so, my dear sir, perhaps so." But what has it all got to do here? Even when Montalais and her lover sat on the wall and talked for half a volume or so in the Vicomte de Bragelonne; even when His Majesty Louis XIV. and his (one regrets to use the good old English word) pimp, M. le Duc de Saint-Aignan, exhausted the resources of carpentry and the stores of printer's ink to gain access to the apartment of Mlle. de la Valliere, the superabundance, though trivial, was relevant: this is not. When Thenardier tried to rob and was no doubt quite ready to murder, but did, as a matter of fact, help to resuscitate, the gallant French Republican soldier, who was so glad to receive the title of baron from an emperor who had by abdication resigned any right to give it that he ever possessed, it might have been Malplaquet or Leipsic, Fontenoy or Vittoria, for any relevance the details of the battle possessed to the course of the story.

Now relevance (to make a short paragraph of the kind Hugo himself loved) is a mighty goddess in novelry.

And so it continues, though, to be absolutely just, the later parts are not exposed to quite the same objections as the earlier. These objections transform themselves, however, into other varieties, and are reinforced by fresh faults. The most inexcusable digressions, on subjects as remote from each other as convents and sewers, insist on poking themselves in. The central, or what ought to be the central, interest itself turns on the ridiculous emeute of Saint-Merry, a thing "without a purpose or an aim," a mere caricature of a revolution. The gamin Gavroche puts in a strong plea for mercy, and his sister Eponine, if Hugo had chosen to take more trouble with her, might have been a great, and is actually the most interesting, character. But Cosette—the cosseted Cosette—Hugo did not know our word or he would have seen the danger—is merely a pretty and rather selfish little doll, and her precious lover Marius is almost ineffable.

Novel-heroes who are failures throng my mind like ghosts on the other shore of the river whom Charon will not ferry over; but I can single out none of them who is, without positively evil qualities, so absolutely intolerable as Marius.[103] Others have more such qualities; but he has no good ones. His very bravery is a sort of moral and intellectual running amuck because he thinks he shall not get Cosette. Having, apparently, for many years thought and cared nothing about his father, he becomes frantically filial on discovering that he has inherited from him, as above, a very doubtful and certainly most un-"citizen"-like title of Baron. Thereupon (taking care, however, to have cards printed with the title on them) he becomes a violent republican.

He then proceeds to be extremely rude to his indulgent but royalist grandfather, retires to a mount of very peculiar sacredness, where he comes in contact with the Thenardier family, discovers a plot against Valjean, appeals to the civil arm to protect the victim, but, for reasons which seem good to him, turns tail, breaks his arranged part, and is very nearly accessory to a murder. At the other end of the story, carrying out his general character of prig-pedant, as selfish as self-righteous, he meets Valjean's rather foolish and fantastic self-sacrifice with illiberal suspicion, and practically kills the poor old creature by separating him from Cosette. When the eclaircissement comes, it appears to me—as Mr. Carlyle said of Loyola that he ought to have consented to be damned—that Marius ought to have consented at least to be kicked.

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