[Sidenote: La Mare au Diable.]
In another book of this group—I think chronologically the earliest, also very popular, and quite "on the side of the angels"—the heroine, another divine little peasant-girl—who, if George Sand had been fond of series-titles, might have caused the book to be named La Petite Marie—omits any, however slightly, "horrid" stage altogether. She is, if not "the whole" good—which, as Empedocles said long ago, few can boast to find,—good, and nothing but good, except pretty, and other things which are parts or forms of goodness. The piece really is, in the proper sense which so few people know, or at least use, an idyll, a little picture of Arcadian life. Speaking precisely—that is to say in precis—it is nothing but the story of a journey in which the travellers get benighted, and which ends in a marriage. Speaking analytically, it consists of a prologue—one of the best examples of George Sand's style and of her power of description, dealing with the ploughlands of Berry and the ways of their population; of the proposition to a young widower that he shall undertake re-marriage with a young widow, well-to-do, of another parish; of his going a-wooing with the rather incongruous adjuncts of a pretty young servant girl, who is going to a "place," and his own truant elder sonlet; of the benighting of them as above by the side of a mere or marsh of evil repute; of the insult offered to Marie on the arrival at her new place; of the discomfiture of Germain, the hero, at finding that the young widow keeps a sort of court of pretenders dangling about her; of his retirement and vengeance on Marie's insulter; and of the proper marriage-bells. There is also a rather unnecessary appendix, doubtless dear to the folklorist, of Berrichon wedding customs.
Once more, to cavil at this would be contemptibly easy. To quote La Terre against it would be uncritical, for, as may be seen later, whatever M. Zola's books are, they are not evidence that can negative anything. It would be as sensible to set against the night scene in the wood by the Devil's Pool the history of the amiable Dumollard, who, as far as fifty years' memory serves me, used, some years before George Sand's death, sometimes to escort and sometimes to lie in wait for servant-girls on the way to or from places, violate, murder, and rob them, in another country district of France. Nor would it be quite critical, though a little more so, to compare George Sand's own friend, contemporary, and in some sort counterpart, Balzac's peasant scenes against her. If, at this time, she viewed all such things en rose, Balzac viewed them, at this and almost all times, en noir. Perhaps everybody (except the wicked farmer, who insults Marie) is a little too good, and it seems rather surprising that somebody did not say something about Germain and Marie arriving next morning instead of overnight. But never mind this. The scenery and the writing of the book have real charm. The long conversation by the watch-fire in the wood, where Germain tries to break off his suit to the widow already and transfer himself to Marie, with Marie's cool and (for she has loved him already) self-denying refusal on the most atrociously rational and business-like principles, is first-rate. It may rank, with the above-mentioned discussion about Consuelo's beauty between herself and her lover, as one of the best examples of George Sand's gift for the novel.
[Sidenote: Francois le Champi.]
The third in the order of mention of what is usually considered her trilogy of idylls, Francois le Champi, if not the prettiest, is the strongest, and the most varied in interest, of the three. The shadier side of human character lifts itself and says, Et in Arcadia ego, much more decidedly than in the childish petulances of La Petite Fadette and the merely "Third Murderer" appearance of the unprincipled farmer in La Mare au Diable. Even the mostly blameless hero is allowed, towards the close, to exhibit the well-known ruse or madre characteristics of the French peasant to the extent of more than one not quite white lie; the husband of the heroine is unfaithful, tyrannical as far as he dare be, and a waster of his family's goods before his fortunately rather early death; his pretty young sister, Mariette, is a selfish and spiteful minx; and his paramour (sarcastically named "La Severe") is unchaste, malignant, and dishonest all at once—a combination which may be said to exclude any possible goodness in woman.
The only thoroughly white sheep—though the "Champi" or foundling (his cradle being the genial fields and not the steps of stone) has but the grey patches noticed above, and those acquired with the best intentions—is Madeleine Blanchet, his protectress for many years, and finally, after difficulties and her widowhood, his wife. That she is some twelve years older than he is is a detail which need not in itself be of much importance. It lends itself to that combination of maternal and sexual affection of which George Sand is so fond, and of which we may have to speak some harsh words elsewhere. But here it matters little. Arcady is a kind of Saturnian realm, and "mixtures" elsewhere "held a stain" may pass there.
We may make a further glissade (to return to some remarks made above), though of a different kind, over a few of the very large number of novels that we cannot discuss in detail. But Mauprat adds just a little support to the remarks there made. For this (which is a sort of crime-and-detection novel, and therefore appeals to some readers more than to the present historian) turns wholly on the atrocious deeds of a seignorial family of the most melodramatic kind. Yet it is questionable whether the wickedest of them ever did anything worse than the action of their last and renegade member, who actually, when he comes into the property, ruins his ancestral castle because naughty things have been done there. Now, when Milton said, "As well kill a man as kill a good book," though it was no doubt an intentional hyperbole, there was much sound sense in what he said. Still, except in the case of such a book as has been produced only a few times in the world's history, it may be urged that probably something as good might be written by somebody else among the numerous men that were not killed. But, on the same principle, one would be justified in saying, "Better kill a hundred men than ruin a castle with hundreds of years of memories, bad or good." You can never replace it, while the hundred men will, at the very moment they are killed, be replaced, just as good on the average, by the ordinary operations of nature. Besides, by partially ruining the castle, you give an opening to the sin of the restorer, for which there is, we know, no pardon, here or hereafter.
[Sidenote: La Daniella.]
La Daniella is a rather long book and a rather dull one. There is a good deal of talkee-talkee of the Corinne kind in it: the heroine is an angelic Italian soubrette; the hero is one of the coxcombish heroes of French novels, who seem to have set themselves to confirm the most unjust ideas of their nation entertained in foreign climes; there is a "Miss Medora," who, as the hero informs us, "plays the coquette clumsily, as English girls generally do," etc. Passons outre, without inquiring how much George Sand knew about English girls.
[Sidenote: Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore.]
One of the best of her books to read, though it has neither the human interest of Lucrezia Floriani, nor the prettiness of the Idylls, nor the style-colour of some other books, is Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore. It is all the more agreeable that we may even "begin with a little aversion." It suggests itself as a sort of interloper in the great business of Dumas and Co.: it opens, indeed, only a few years before D'Artagnan rode up to the inn on the buttercup-coloured pony. And, in manner, it may look at first as if the writer were following another but much inferior example—our own G. P. R. James; for there are "two cavaliers," and one tells the other a tale fit to make him fall asleep and off his saddle. But it improves remarkably, and before you have read a hundred pages you are very fairly "enfisted." The figure of the old Marquis de Bois-Dore—an aged dandy with divers absurdities about him, but a gentleman to his by no means yet stiffened or stooping backbone; a heart of gold, and a wrist with a good core of steel left in it—might easily have been a failure. It is a success. His first guest and then adversary, the wicked Spaniard, Sciarra d'Alvimar or de Villareal, whom the old marquis runs through the body in a moonlight duel for very sufficient reason, may not be thought quite equally successful. Scoundrel as he is, George Sand has unwisely thrown over him a touch of guignon—of shadowing and resistless fate—which creates a certain sympathy; and she neglects the good old rule that your villain should always be allowed a certain run for his money—a temporary exercise of his villainy. Alvimar, though he does not feel the marquis's rapier till nearly the end of the first half, as it were, of the book, is "marked down" from the start, and never kills anything within those limits except a poor little tame wolf-cub which is going (very sensibly) to fly at him. He is altogether too much in appearance and too little in effectuality of the stage Spaniard—black garments, black upturned moustache, hook-nose, navaja, and all the rest of it. But he does not spoil the thing, though he hardly does it much good; and if he is badly treated he has his revenge on the author.
For the book becomes very dull after his supposed death (he does die, but not at once), and only revives when, some way into the second volume, an elaborate attempt to revenge him is made by his servant, Sanche, ame damnee and also damnante (if one may coin this variant), who is, as it turns out, his irregular father. This again rather stagy character organises a formidable body of wandering reitres, gipsies, and miscellaneous ruffians to attack and sack the marquis's house—a plan which, though ultimately foiled, brings about a very refreshing series of hurly-burlys and hullabaloos for some hundred and fifty pages. The narrative is full of improbable impossibilities, and contrasts singularly with the fashion in which Dumas, throughout all his great books (and not a few of his not so great ones), manages to escamoter the difficulty. The boy Mario, orphan of the murdered brother, left unknown for many years, recognised by his uncle, avenger of his father on Sanche, as Bois-Dore himself had been on Alvimar, is altogether too clever and effective for his age; and the conduct of Bellinde, Bois-Dore's cashiered gouvernante, is almost preposterous throughout. But it is what a schoolboy of the old days would have called a "jolly good scrimmage," and restores the interest of the book for most of the second volume. The end—scarcely, one would think, very interesting to any one—is quite spoilt for some by another example of George Sand's inveterate passion for "maternal" love-making and matches where the lady is nearly double the age of her husband. Others—or the same—may not be propitiated for this by the "horrors" which the author has liberally thrown in. But the larger part of the book, like the larger part of Consuelo, is quite good stuff.
[Sidenote: Le Marquis de Villemer.]
It is, indeed, a really lively book. Two duller ones than the first two allotted, at the beginning of this notice, to her last period I have seldom read. They are both instances (and one at least contains an elaborate vindication) of the "novel of purpose," and they are by themselves almost enough to damn it. M. le Marquis de Villemer is an appalling prig—virtuous, in the Devil-and-his-grandmother style, to the nth—who devotes his energies to writing a History of the Patriciate since the Christian Era, the object being to reveal the sins of aristocracy. He has a rather nice half-brother spend-thrift, Duque d'Aleria (Madame de Villemer the elder has first married a Spaniard), whose debts he virtuously pays, and after a great deal of scandal he marries a poor but noble and noble-minded damsel, Caroline de Saint-Geneix, who has taken the position of companion to his mother in order to help her widowed and four-childed sister. For the virtue of George Sand's virtuous people is virtue and no mistake. The lively and amiable duke is fortunately fitted with a lively and amiable duchess, and they show a little light in the darkness of copy-book morality and republican principles.
[Sidenote: Mlle. La Quintinie.]
This kindly light is altogether wanting in Mademoiselle La Quintinie, where the purpose passes from politics to religion. The book is rather famous, and was, at the time, much read, because it is not merely a novel of purpose, but an instance of the duello fought, not with sword or pistol, not with quarter-staves or sand-bags, but with feuilletons of fiction. It, and Octave Feuillet's Sibylle, to which it is the countercheck-quarrelsome, both appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes. It should be seen at a further stage of this volume that I do not think Sibylle a masterpiece, either of tale-telling or of argumentation, though it is more on my side than the reply is. But Feuillet, though not a genius, as some people would have George Sand to be, nor yet possessing anything like the talent which no sane criticism can deny her, was a much better craftsman in the art of novel-writing.
For a final notice—dealing also with the last, or almost the last, of all her books—we may take Flamarande and its sequel, Les Deux Freres. They give the history of the unfounded jealousy of a husband in regard to his wife—a jealousy which is backed up by an equally unfounded suspicion (supported by the most outrageous proceedings of espionage and something like burglary) on the part of a confidential servant, who, as we are informed at last, has himself had a secret passion for his innocent mistress. It is more like a Feuillet book than a George Sand, and in this respect shows the curious faculty—possessed also by some lady novelists of our own—of adapting itself to the change of novel-fashion. But to me at least it appeals not.
So turn we from particulars (for individual notice of the hundred books is impossible) to generals.
[Sidenote: Summary and judgment.]
It may be difficult to sum up the characteristics of such a writer as George Sand shortly, but it has to be done. There is to be allowed her—of course and at once—an extraordinary fertility, and a hardly less extraordinary escape from absolute sinking into the trivial. She is preposterous early, somewhat facile and "journalistic" later, but she is never exactly commonplace. She belongs to the school of immense and almost mechanical producers who are represented in English by Anthony Trollope as their "prior" and by Mrs. Oliphant and Miss Braddon as commandresses of the order. (I think she runs a good deal below the Prior but a good deal above the Commandresses.) But, if she does so belong, it is very mainly due, not to any pre-eminence of narrative faculty, but to that gift of style which has been for nearly a hundred years admitted. Now I have in this History more than once, and by no means with tongue in cheek, expressed a diffidence about giving opinions on this point. I have, it is true, read French for more than sixty years, and I have been accustomed to "read for style" in it, and in divers other languages, for at least fifty. But I see such extraordinary blunders made by foreigners in regard to this side of our own literature, that I can never be sure—being less conceited than the pious originator of the phrase—that even the Grace of God has prevented me from going the same way. Still, if I have any right to publish this book, I must have a little—I will not say "right," but venia or licence—to say what seems to me to be the fact of the matter. That fact—or that seeming of fact—is that George Sand's style is too facile to be first-rate. By this I do not mean that it is too plain. On the contrary, it is sometimes, especially in her early books, ornate to gorgeousness, and even to gaudiness. And it was a curious mistake of the late Mr. Pater, in a quite honorific reference to me, to imply that I preferred the plain style—a mistake all the more curious that he knew and acknowledged (and was almost unduly grateful for) my admiration of his own. I like both forms: but for style—putting meaning out of the question—I would rather read Browne than Swift, and Lamennais than Fenelon.
George Sand has both the plain and the ornate styles (and various shades of "middle" between them) at command. But it seems to me that she has them—to use a financial phrase recently familiar—too much "on tap." You see that the current of agreeable and, so to speak, faultless language is running, and might run volubly for any period of life that might be allotted to her. In fact it did so. Now no doubt there was something of Edmond de Goncourt's bad-blooded fatuity in his claim that his and his brother's epithets were "personal," while Flaubert's were not. Research for more personal "out-of-the-wayness" in style will rarely result in anything but jargon. But, on the other hand, Gautier's great injunction:
Sculpte, lime, cisele!
is sound. You cannot reach the first class in any art by turning a tap and letting it run.
[Sidenote: Conversation and description.]
The one point of what we may call the "furniture" of novels, in which she seems to me to have, occasionally at least, touched supremacy, is conversation. It has been observed by those capable of making the induction that, close as drama and novel are in some ways, the distinction between dramatic and non-dramatic talk is, though narrow, deeper than the very deepest Alpine crevasse from Dauphine to Carinthia. Such specimens as those already more than once dwelt on—Consuelo's and Anzoleto's debate about her looks, and that of Germain and Marie in the midnight wood by the Devil's Mere—are first-rate, and there is no more to say. Some of her descriptions, again, such as the opening of the book last quoted (the wide, treeless, communal plain with its various labouring teams), or as some of the Lake touches in Lucrezia Floriani, or as the relieving patches in the otherwise monotonous grumble of Un Hiver a Majorque, are unsurpassable. Nor is this gift limited to mere paysage. The famous account of Chopin's playing already mentioned for praise is only first among many. But whether these things are supported by sufficient strength of character, plot, incident, "thought," and the rest; whether that strange narrative power, so hard to define and so impossible to mistake or to fail to distinguish from these other elements, is present—these are great questions and not easy to answer. I am, as will have been seen throughout, rather inclined to answer them in the unfavourable way.
In fact—impertinent, insolent, anything else as it may seem—I venture to ask the question, "Was George Sand a very great craftswoman in the novel?" and, what is more, to answer it in the negative. I understand that an ingenious critic of her own sex has recently described her method as "rolling through the book, locked in the embraces of her subject," as distinguished from the aloofness and elaboration of a more recent school. So far, perhaps, so good; but I could wish to find "the intricacies of Diego and Julia" more interesting to me than as a rule they are. And it must be remembered that she is constantly detaching herself from the forlorn "subject," leaving it unembraced and shivering, in order to sermonise it and her readers. I do not make the very facile and somewhat futile criticism that she would have written better if she had written half or a quarter as much as she did. She could not have written little; it is as natural and suitable for Tweed to "rin wi' speed" as for Till to "rin slaw," though perhaps the result—parallel to but more cheerful than that recorded in the old rhyme—may be that Till has the power not of drowning but of intoxicating two men, where Tweed can only manage one. But this engrained fecundity and facundity of hers inevitably make her work novel-journalism rather than novel-literature in all points but in that of style, which has been discussed already.
 It is attested by the well-known story, more excusable in a man than creditable to a gentleman, of her earliest or earliest known lover, Jules Sandeau (v. inf.), seeing a photograph of her in later days, turning to a companion and saying, "Et je l'ai connue belle!"
 It is possible that some readers may not know the delightfully unexpected, and not improbably "more-expressive-than-volumes" third line—
"Not like the woman who lies under the next stone."
But tradition has, I believe, mercifully omitted to identify this neighbouring antipode.
 Details of personal scandal seldom claim notice here. But it may be urged with some show of reason that this scandal is too closely connected with the substance and the spirit of the novelist's whole work, from Indiana to Flamarande, to permit total ignoring of it. Lucrezia Floriani, though perhaps more suggestive of Chopin than of Musset, but with "tangency" on both, will be discussed in the text. That most self-accusing of excuses, Elle et Lui, with its counterblast Paul de Musset's Lui et Elle, and a few remarks on Un Hiver a Majorque (conjoined for a purpose, which will be indicated) may be despatched in a note of some length.
[Sidenote: Note on Elle et Lui, etc.,]
The rival novel-plaidoyers on the subject of the loves and strifes of George Sand and Alfred de Musset are sufficiently disgusting, and if they be considered as novels, the evil effect of purpose—and particularly of personal purpose—receives from them texts for a whole series of sermons. Reading them with the experience of a lifetime, not merely in literary criticism, but (for large parts of that lifetime) in study of evidence on historical, political, and even directly legal matters, I cannot help coming to the conclusion that, though there is no doubt a certain amount of suggestio falsi in both, the suppressio veri is infinitely greater in Elle et Lui. If the letters given in Paul de Musset's book were not written by George Sand they were written by Diabolus. And there is one retort made towards the finale by "Edouard de Falconey" (Musset) to "William Caze" (George Sand) which stigmatises like the lash of a whip, if not even like a hot iron, the whole face of the lady's novels.
"Ma chere," lui dit-il, "vous parlez si souvent de chastete que cela devient indecent. Votre amitie n'est pas plus 'sainte' que celle des autres." [If he had added "maternite" the stigma would have been completer still.] And there is also a startling verisimilitude in the reply assigned to her:
"Mon cher, trouvez bon que je console mes amis selon ma methode. Vous voyez qu'elle leur plait assez, puisqu'ils y reviennent."
It was true: they did so, rather to their own discredit and wholly to their discomfort. But she and her "method" must have pleased them enough for them to do it. It is not so pleasing a method for an outsider to contemplate. He sees too much of the game, and has none of the pleasure of playing or the occasional winnings. Since I read Helisenne de Crenne (v. sup. Vol. I, pp. 150-1) there has seemed to me to be some likeness between the earlier stage of her heroine (if not of herself) and that of George Sand in her "friendships." They both display a good deal of mere sensuality, and both seem to me to have been quite ignorant of passion. Helisenne did not reach the stage of "maternal" affection, and perhaps it was well for her lover and not entirely bad for her readers. But the best face that can be put on the "method" will be seen in Lucrezia Floriani.
[Sidenote: and on Un Hiver a Majorque.]
The bluntness of taste and the intense concentration on self, which were shown most disagreeably in Elle et Lui, appear on a different side in another book which is not a novel at all—not even a novel as far as masque and domino are concerned,—though indirectly it touches another of George Sand's curious personal experiences—that with Chopin. Un Hiver a Majorque is perhaps the most ill-tempered book of travel, except Smollett's too famous production, ever written by a novelist of talent or genius. The Majorcans certainly did not ask George Sand to visit them. They did not advertise the advantages of Majorca, as is the fashion with "health resorts" nowadays. She went there of her own accord; she found magnificent scenery; she flouted the sentiments of what she herself describes as the most priest-ridden country in Europe by never going to church, though and while she actually lived in a disestablished and disendowed monastery. To punish them for which (the non sequitur is intentional) she does little but talk of dirt, discomfort, bad food, extortion, foul-smelling oil and garlic, varying the talk only to foul-smelling oil and garlic, extortion, bad food, discomfort, or dirt. The book no doubt yields some of her finest passages of descriptive prose, both as regards landscape, and in the famous record of Chopin's playing; but otherwise it is hardly worth reading.
 She survived into the next decade and worked till the last with no distinct declension, but she did not complete it, dying in 1876. Her famous direction about her grave, Laissez la verdure, is characteristic of her odd mixture if theatricality and true nature. But if any one wishes to come to her work with a comfortable preoccupation in favor of herself, he should begin with her Letters. Those of her old age especially are charming.
 Cf. Mr. Alfred Lammle on his unpoetical justice to Mr. Fledgeby in Our Mutual Friend.
 Valentine has an elder sister who has a son, irregularily existent, but is as much in love with Benedict as if she were a girl and he were a gentleman; and this son marries the much older Athenais, a lovely peasant girl who has been the unwilling fiancee and wife of the ingenious pitchforker. You have seldom to go far in George Sand for an unmarried lady with a child for chastity, and a widow who marries a boy for maternal affection.
 There is also an Irish priest called Magnus, who, like everybody else, is deeply and (in the proper sense of sans espoir) desperately in love with Lelia. He is, on the whole, quite the maddest—and perhaps the most despicable—of the lot.
 If any one says, "So, then, there are several 'most intolerables,'" let me point out that intolerableness is a more than "twy-peaked" hill or range. Julien Sorel and Marius were not designed to be gentlemen.
 It is bad for Amelie, who, in a not unnatural revulsion from her fiance's neglects and eccentricities, lets herself be fooled by the handsome Italian.
 George Sand's treatment of the great Empress, Marie Antoinette's mother, is a curious mixture of half-reluctant admiration and Republican bad-bloodedness.
 Porpora is included, but the amiable monarch, who has heard that the old maestro speaks freely of him, gives private orders that he shall be stopped at the frontier.
 Cow's breath has, I believe, been prescribed in such cases by the faculty; hardly children's.
 She does not make the delicate distinction once drawn by another of her sex: "I can tell you how many people I have kissed, but I cannot tell you how many have kissed me."
 She is rather fond of taking her readers into confidence this way. I have no particular objection to it; but those who object to Thackeray's parabases ought to think this is a still more objectionable thing.
 The Count Albani plays his difficult part of thirdsman very well throughout, though just at first he would make an advance on "auld lang syne" if Lucrezia would let him. But later he is on strict honour, and quarrels with the Prince for his tyranny.
 It is very pleasing to see, as I have seen, this famous phrase quoted as if it had reference to the joys of Arcadia.
 If any among my congregation be offended by apparent flippancy in this notice of a book which, to my profound astonishment, some people have taken as the author's masterpiece, I apologise. But if I spoke more seriously I should also speak more severely.
 He is a frantic devotee of the Astree, and George Sand brings in a good deal about the most agreeable book, without, however, showing very intimate or accurate knowledge of it.
 The Spaniard (rather his servant with his connivance) has murdered and robbed Bois-Dore's brother.
 He is also very handsome, and so makes up for the plurality of the title.
 Alvimar lies dying for hours with the infidel Bohemians and roistering Protestant reitres not only disturbing his death-bed, but interfering with the "consolation of religion"; the worst of the said Bohemians is buried alive (or rather stifled after he has been half-buried alive) by the little gipsy girl, Pilar, whom he has tormented; and Pilar herself is burnt alive on the last page but one, after she has poisoned Bellinde.
 Taking her work on the whole. The earlier part of it ran even Trollope hard.
 Her points of likeness to her self-naming name-child, "George Eliot," are too obvious to need discussion. But it is a question whether the main points of unlikeness—the facility and extreme fecundity of the French George, as contrasted with the laborious book-bearing of the English—are not more important than the numerous but superficial and to a large extent non-literary resemblances.
 I have said little or nothing of the short stories. They are fairly numerous, but I do not think that her forte lay in them.
THE NOVEL OF STYLE—GAUTIER, MERIMEE, GERARD DE NERVAL, MUSSET, VIGNY
In arranging this volume I have thought it worth while to include, in a single chapter and nominatim in the title thereof, five writers of prose novels or tales; all belonging to "1830"; four of them at least ranking with all but the greatest of that great period; but no one exclusively or even essentially a novelist as Balzac and George Sand were in their different ways, and none of them attempting such imposing bulk-and-plan of novel-matter as that which makes up the prose fiction of Hugo. Gautier was an admirable, and Musset and Vigny at their best were each a consummate, poet; while the first-named was a "polygraph" of the polygraphs, in every kind of belles-lettres. Merimee's novels or tales form a small part of his whole work. "Gerard" is perhaps only admissible here by courtesy, though more than one or two readers, I hope, would feel his absence as a dark gap in the book. Musset, again, not ill at short stories, is far better at short plays. One novel of Vigny's has indeed enjoyed great fame; but, as will be seen, I am unluckily unable to admire it very much, and I include him here—partly because I do not wish to herd so clear a name with the Sues and the Soulies, even with the Sandeaus and Bernards—partly because, though his style in prose is not so marked as that in verse, some of his minor work in fiction is extremely interesting. But though so much of their work, and in Musset's and Vigny's cases all their best work, lies outside our province, and though they themselves, with the possible exception of Gerard and Gautier, who have strong affinities, are markedly different from one another, there is one point which they all have in common, and this point supplies the general title of this chapter. Style of the more separable and elaborate kind does not often make its appearance very early in literary departments; and there may be (v. inf.) some special reasons why it should not do so in prose fiction. With the exception of Marivaux, who had carried his attention to it over the boundary-line of mannerism, few earlier novelists, though some of them were great writers, had made a point of it, the chief exceptions being in the particular line of "wit," such as Hamilton, Crebillon fils, and Voltaire. Chateaubriand had been almost the first to attempt a novel-rhetoric; and it must be remembered that Chateaubriand was a sort of human magnus Apollo throughout the July monarchy. At any rate, it is a conspicuous feature in all these writers, and may serve as a link between them.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Gautier—his burden of "style."]
Some readers may know (for I, and the others, which I shall probably quote again, have quoted it before now) a remark of Emile de Girardin when Theophile Gautier asked him how people liked a story which "Theo" had prevailed on that experienced editor to insert as a feuilleton in the Presse: "Mon ami, l'abonne ne s'amuse pas franchement. Il est gene par le style." Girardin, though not exactly a genius, was an exceedingly clever man, and knew the foot of his public—perhaps of "the public"—to a hundredth of an inch. But he could hardly have anticipated the extent to which his criticism would reflect the attitude of persons who would have been, and would be, not a little offended at being classed with l'abonne. The reproach of "over-styling" has been cast at Gautier by critics of the most different types, and—more curiously at first sight than after a moment's reflection—by some who are themselves style-mad, but whose favourite vanities in that matter are different from his. I can hardly think of any writer—Herrick as treated by Hazlitt is the chief exception that occurs to me at the moment—against whom this cheap and obvious, though, alas! not very frequently possible, charge of "bright far-shining emptiness," of glittering frigidity, of colour without flesh and blood, of art without matter, etc., etc., has been cast so violently—or so unjustly. In literature, as in law and war, the favourite method of offensive defence is to reserve your triarii, your "colophon" of arms or arguement, to the last; but there are cases in all three where it is best to carry an important point at once and hold it. I think that this is one of these cases; and I do not think that the operation can be conducted with better chance of success than by inserting here that outline, with specimens, of La Morte Amoureuse which has been already promised—or threatened—in the Preface. For here the glamour—if it be only glamour—of the style will have disappeared; the matter will remain.
[Sidenote: Abstract (with translations) of La Morte Amoureuse.]
You ask me, my brother, if I have ever loved. I answer "Yes." But it is a wild and terrible story, a memory whose ashes, with all my sixty-six years, I hardly dare to disturb. To you I can refuse nothing, but I would not tell the tale to a less experienced soul. The facts are so strange that I myself cannot believe in their actual occurrence. For three years I was the victim of a diabolical delusion, and every night—God grant it was a dream—I, a poor country priest, led the life of the lost, the life of the worldling and the debauchee. A single chance of too great complacency went near to destroy my soul; but at last, with God's aid and my patron saint's, I exorcised the evil spirit which had gained possession of me. Till then my life was double, and the counterpart by night was utterly different from the life by day. By day I was a priest of the Lord, pure, and busied with holy things. By night, no sooner had I closed my eyes than I became a youthful gallant, critical in women, dogs, and horses, prompt with dice and bottle, free of hand and tongue; and when waking-time came at dawn of day, it seemed to me as if I then fell asleep and was a priest only in dreams. From this sleep-life I have kept the memory of words and things, which recur to me against my will; and though I have never quitted the walls of my parsonage, those who hear me talk would rather think me a man of the world and of many experiences, who has entered the religious life hoping to finish in God's bosom the evening of his stormy day, than a humble seminarist, whose life has been spent in an obscure parish, buried deep in woods, and far removed from the course of the world.
Yes, I have loved—as no one else has loved, with a mad and wild passion so violent that I can hardly understand how it failed to break my heart.
After rapidly sketching the history of the early seminary days of the priest Romuald, his complete seclusion and ignorance almost of the very names of world and woman, the tale goes on to the day of his ordination. He is in the church, almost in a trance of religious fervour; the building itself, the gorgeously robed bishop, the stately ceremonies, seem to him a foretaste of heaven, when suddenly—
By chance I raised my head, which I had hitherto kept bowed, and saw before me, within arm's length as it seemed, but in reality at some distance and beyond the chancel rails, a woman of rare beauty and royally apparelled. At once, as it were, scales dropped from my eyes. I was in the case of a blind man whose sight is suddenly restored. The bishop, but now so dazzling to me, became dim, the tapers in their golden stands paled like the stars at morning, and darkness seemed to pervade the church. On this background of shade the lovely vision stood out like an angelic appearance, self-illumined, and giving rather than receiving light. I dropped my eyelids, firmly resolving not again to raise them, that so I might escape the distraction of outward things, for I felt the spell more and more, and I hardly knew what I did; but a minute afterwards I again looked up, for I perceived her beauty still shining across my dropped lashes as if with prismatic glory, and encircled by the crimson halo that, to the gazer, surrounds the sun. How beautiful she was! Painters, when in their chase of the ideal they have followed it to the skies and carried off therefrom the divine image of Our Lady, never drew near this fabulous reality. Nor are the poet's words more adequate than the colours of the limner. She was tall and goddess-like in shape and port. Her soft fair hair rolled on either side of her temples in golden streams that crowned her as with a queen's diadem. Her forehead, white and transparent, tinged only by blue vein-stains, stretched in calm amplitude over two dark eyebrows—a contrast enhanced still further by the sea-green lustre of her glittering and unfathomable eyes. Ah, what eyes! One flash of them was enough to settle the fate of a man. Never had I seen in human eyes such life, such clearness, such ardour, such humid brilliancy; and there shot from them glances like arrows, which went straight to my heart. Whether the flame which lit them came from hell or heaven I know not, but from one or the other it came, most surely. No daughter of Eve she, but an angel or a fiend, perhaps—who knows?—something of both. The quarrelets of pearl flashed through her scarlet smile, and as her mouth moved the dimples sank and filled by turns in the blush-rose softness of her exquisite cheek. Over the even smoothness of her half-uncovered shoulders played a floating gloss as of agate, and a river of large pearls, not greatly different in hue from her neck, descended towards her breast. Now and then she raised her head with a peacock-like gesture, and sent a quiver through the ruff which enshrined her like a frame of silver filigree.
The strange vision causes on Romuald strange yet natural effects. His ardent aspiration for the priesthood changes to loathing. He even tries to renounce his vows, to answer "No" to the questions to which he should answer "Yes," and thus to comply with the apparent demand of the stranger's eyes. But he cannot. The awe of the ceremony is yet too strong on his soul, if not on his senses and imagination; and the fatal words are spoken, the fatal rites gone through, despite the promises of untold bliss which the eyes, evermore caressing and entreating, though sadder, as the completion of the sacrifice approaches, continue to make him.
At last it was over—I was a priest. Never did face of woman wear an expression of such anguish as hers. The girl whose lover drops lifeless at her side, the mother by her dead child's cradle, Eve at the gate of paradise, the miser who finds his buried treasure replaced by a stone, the poet whose greatest work has perished in the flames, have not a more desolate air. The blood left her countenance, and it became as of marble; her arms fell by her side, as if their muscles had become flaccid; and she leant against a pillar, for her limbs refused to support her. As for me, with a livid face bathed as if in the dews of death, I bent my tottering steps towards the church door. The air seemed to stifle me, the vaulted roof settled on my shoulders, and on my head seemed to rest the whole crushing weight of the dome. As I was on the point of crossing the threshold a hand touched mine suddenly—a woman's hand—a touch how new to me! It was as cold as the skin of a serpent, yet the contact burnt like the brand of a hot iron. "Unhappy wretch! What have you done?" she said to me in a low voice, and then disappeared in the crowd.
On the way to the seminary, whither a comrade has to support him, for his emotion is evident to all, a page, unnoticed, slips into Romuald's hand a tablet with the simple words, "Clarimonde. At the Concini Palace." He passes some days in a state almost of delirium, now forming wild plans of escape, now shocked at his sinful desires, but always regretting the world he has renounced, and still more Clarimonde.
I do not know how long I remained in this condition, but, as in one of my furious writhings I turned on my bed, I saw the Father Serapion standing in the middle of the cell gazing steadily at me. Shame seized me, and I hid my face with my hands. "Romuald," said he, at the end of a few minutes, "something extraordinary has come on you. Your conduct is inexplicable. You, so pious, so gentle, you pace your cell like a caged beast. Take heed, my brother, of the suggestions of the Evil One, for he is wroth that you have given yourself to the Lord, and lurks round you like a ravening wolf, if haply a last effort may make you his."
Then, bidding him redouble his pious exercises, and telling him that he has been presented by the bishop to a country cure, and must be ready to start on the morrow, Serapion leaves him. Romuald is in despair at quitting the neighbourhood of Clarimonde. But his seminarist inexperience makes him feel, more than ever, the impossibility even of discovering her, and the hints of Serapion have in a manner reawakened his conscience. He departs on the morrow without protest. They quit the city, and begin to climb the hills which surround it.
At the top I turned round once more to give a last look to the place where dwelt Clarimonde. The city lay wholly in the shadow of a cloud; its blue and red roofs were blended in one general half-tint, above which here and there white flakes of the smoke of morning fires hovered. By some optical accident a single edifice stood out gilded by a ray of light, and more lofty than the mass of surrounding buildings. Though more than a league off, it seemed close to us. The smallest details were visible—the turrets, the terraces, the windows, and even the swallow-tailed vanes. "What is that sunlit palace yonder?" I asked of Serapion. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and after looking he answered, "It is the palace which Prince Concini gave to the courtesan Clarimonde. Terrible things are done there." As he spoke, whether it were fact or fancy I know not, it seemed to me that I saw a slender white form glide out on the terrace, glitter there for a second, and then disappear. It was Clarimonde! Could she have known that at that moment, from the rugged heights of the hill which separated me from her, and which I was never more to descend, I was bending a restless and burning gaze on the palace of her abode, brought near me by a mocking play of light, as if to invite me to enter? Ah yes! she knew it doubtless, for her soul was bound to mine too nearly not to feel its least movements; and this it must have been which urged her to climb the terrace in the cold morning dews, wrapped only in her snowy nightgear.
But the die is cast, and the journey continues. They reach the modest parsonage where Romuald is to pass the rest of his days, and he is installed in his cure, Serapion returning to the city. Romuald attacks his work desperately, hoping to find peace there, but he very partially succeeds. The words of Clarimonde and the touch of her hand haunt him constantly, and sometimes even stranger things happen. He sees the flash of the sea-green eyes across his garden hedges; he seems to find the imprint of feet, which are assuredly not those of any inhabitant of the village, on the gravel walks. At last one night he is summoned late to the bedside of a dying person, by a messenger of gorgeous dress and outlandish aspect. The journey is made in the darkness on fiery steeds, through strange scenery, and in an unknown direction. A splendid palace is at length reached—too late, for the priest is met by the news that his penitent has already expired. But he is entreated, and consents, at least to watch and pray by the body during the night. He is led into the chamber of death, and finds that the corpse is Clarimonde. At first he mechanically turns to prayer, but other thoughts inevitably occur. His eyes wander to the appearance and furniture of the boudoir suddenly put to so different use: the gorgeous hangings of crimson damask contrasting with the white shroud, the faded rose by the bedside, the scattered signs of revelry, distract and disturb him. Strange fancies come thick. The air seems other than that to which he is accustomed in such chambers of the dead. The corpse appears from time to time to make slight movements; even sighs seem to echo his own. At last he lifts the veil which covers her, and contemplates the exquisite features he had last seen at the fatal moment of his sacrifice. He cannot believe that she is dead. The faint blush-rose tints are hardly dulled, the hand is not colder than he recollects it.
The night was now far spent. I felt that the moment of eternal separation was at hand, and I could not refuse myself the last sad pleasure of giving one kiss to the dead lips of her, who, living, had had all my love. Oh, wonder! A faint breath mingled with mine, the eyes opened and became once more brilliant. She sighed, and uncrossing her arms she clasped them round my neck with an air of ineffable contentment. "Ah!" she said, with a voice as faint and as sweet as the last dying vibrations of a harp, "is it you, Romuald? I have waited for you so long that now I am dead. But we are betrothed to one another from this moment, and I can see you and visit you henceforward. Romuald, I loved you! Farewell; this is all I have to say; and thus I restore the life you gave me for a minute with your kiss. We shall soon meet again." Her head fell back, but she still held me encircled. A furious gust of wind forced in the window and swept into the room: the last leaflet of the white rose quivered for a minute on its stalk and then fell, and floated through the open casement, bearing with it the soul of Clarimonde. The lamp went out, and I sank in a swoon.
He wakes in his own room, and hears from his ancient gouvernante that the same strange escort which carried him off has brought him back. Soon afterwards his friend Serapion comes to visit him, not altogether to his delight, for he, rightly suspects the father of some knowledge of his secret. Serapion announces to him, as a matter of general news, that the courtesan Clarimonde is dead, and mentions that strange rumours have been current respecting her—some declaring her to be a species of vampire, and her lovers to have all perished mysteriously. As he says this he watches Romuald, who cannot altogether conceal his thoughts. Thereat Serapion—
"My son," said he, "it is my duty to warn you that your feet are on the brink of an abyss; take heed of falling. Satan's hands reach far, and the grave is not always a faithful gaoler. Clarimonde's tombstone should be sealed with a triple seal, for it is not, say they, the first time she has died. May God watch over you." Saying this, Serapion slowly went out, and I saw him no more. I soon recovered completely, and returned to my usual occupations; and though I never forgot the memory of Clarimonde and the words of the father, nothing extraordinary for a time occurred to confirm in any way his ill-omened forebodings, so that I began to believe that his apprehensions and my own terror were unfounded. But one night I had a dream. Scarcely had I fallen asleep when I heard my bed-curtains drawn, the rings grating sharply on the rods. I raised myself abruptly on my elbow and saw before me the shadowy figure of a woman. At once I recognised Clarimonde. She carried in her hand a small lamp of the shape of those which are placed in tombs, and the light of it gave to her tapering fingers a rosy transparency which, with gradually fainter tints, prolonged itself till it was lost in the milky whiteness of her naked arm. The only garment she had on was the linen shroud which covered her on her death-bed, and she tried to hold up its folds on her breast as if shame-stricken at her scanty clothing. But her little hand was not equal to the task; and so white was she that the lamplight failed to make distinction between the colour of the drapery and the hue of the flesh. Wrapped in this fine tissue, she was more like an antique marble statue of a bather than a live woman. Dead or alive, woman or statue, shadow or body, her beauty was unchangeable, but the green flash of her eyes was somewhat dulled, and her mouth, so red of old, was now tinted only with a faint rose-tint like that of her cheeks. The blue flowerets in her hair were withered and had lost almost all their petals; yet she was still all charming—so charming that, despite the strangeness of the adventure and the unexplained fashion of her entrance, no thought of fear occurred to me. She placed the lamp on the table and seated herself on the foot of my bed; then, bending towards me, she spoke in the soft and silvery voice that I have heard from none but her. "I have kept you waiting long, dear Romuald, and you must have thought that I had forgotten you. But I come from very far—from a place whence no traveller has yet returned. There is neither sun nor moon, nor aught but space and shadow; no road is there, nor pathway to guide the foot, nor air to uphold the wing; and yet here am I, for love is stronger than death, and is his master at the last. Ah! what sad faces, what sights of terror, I have met! With what pains has my soul, regaining this world by force of will, found again my body and reinstalled itself! With what effort have I lifted the heavy slab they laid upon me, even to the bruising of my poor feeble hands! Kiss them, dear love, and they will be cured." She placed one by one the cold palms of her little hands against my mouth, and I kissed them again and again, while she watched me with her smile of ineffable content. I at once forgot Serapion's advice, I forgot my sacred office; I succumbed without resistance at the first summons, I did not even attempt to repulse the tempter.
She tells him how she had dreamed of him long before she saw him; how she had striven to prevent his sacrifice; how she was jealous of God, whom he preferred to her; and how, though she had forced the gates of the tomb to come to him, though he had given life back to her with a kiss, though her recovery of it has no other end than to make him happy, she herself is still miserable because she has only half his heart. In his delirium he tells her, to console her, that he loves her "as much as God."
"Instantly the glitter as of chrysoprase flashed once more from her eyes. 'Is that true?—as much as God?' cried she, winding her arms round me. 'If 'tis so you can come with me; you can follow me whither I will.'" And fixing the next night for the rendezvous, she vanishes. He wakes, and, considering it merely a dream, resumes his pious exercises. But the next night Clarimonde, faithful to her word, reappears—no longer in ghostly attire, but radiant and splendidly dressed. She brings her lover the full costume of a cavalier, and when he has donned it they sally forth, taking first the fiery steeds of his earlier nocturnal adventure, then a carriage, in which he and Clarimonde, heart to heart, head on shoulder, hand in hand, journey through the night.
Never had I been so happy. For the moment I had forgotten everything, and thought no more of my priesthood than of some previous state of life. From that night forward my existence was as it were doubled, and there were in me two men, strangers each to the other's existence. Sometimes I thought myself a priest who dreamt that he was a gallant, sometimes a gallant who dreamt that he was a priest.... I could not distinguish the reality from the illusion, and knew not which were my waking and which my sleeping moments. Two spirals, entangled without touching, form the nearest representation of this life. The young cavalier, the coxcomb, the debauchee, mocked the priest; the priest held the dissipations of the gallant in horror. Notwithstanding the strangeness of the situation, I do not think my reason was for a moment affected. The perceptions of my two existences were always firm and clear, and there was only one anomaly which I could not explain, and this was that the same unbroken sentiment of identity subsisted in two beings so different. Of this I could give myself no explanation, whether I thought myself to be really the vicar of a poor country village, or else Il Signor Romualdo, lover in possession of Clarimonde.
The place, real or apparent, of Il Signor Romualdo's sojourn with his beloved is Venice, where they inhabit a gorgeous palace, and where Romuald enters into all the follies and dissipations of the place. He is unalterably faithful to Clarimonde, and she to him; and the time passes in a perpetual delirium. But every night—as it now seems to him—he finds himself once more a poor country priest, horrified at the misdeeds of his other personality, and seeking to atone for them by prayer and fasting and good works. Even in his Venetian moments he sometimes thinks of Serapion's words, and at length he has especial reason to remember them.
For some time Clarimonde's health had not been very good; her complexion faded from day to day. The doctors who were called in could not discover the disease, and after useless prescriptions gave up the case. Day by day she grew paler and colder, till she was nearly as white and as corpse-like as on the famous night at the mysterious castle. I was in despair at this wasting away, but she, though touched by my sorrow, only smiled at me sweetly and sadly with the fatal smile of those who feel their death approaching. One morning I was sitting by her. In slicing some fruit it happened that I cut my finger somewhat deeply. The blood flowed in crimson streamlets, and some of it spurted on Clarimonde. Her eyes brightened at once, and over her face there passed a look of fierce joy which I had never before seen in her. She sprang from the bed with catlike activity and pounced on the wound, which she began to suck with an air of indescribable delight, swallowing the blood in sips, slowly and carefully, as an epicure tastes a costly vintage. Her eyelids were half closed, and the pupils of her sea-green eyes flattened and became oblong instead of round.... From time to time she interrupted herself to kiss my hand; then she began again to squeeze the edges of the wound with her lips in order to draw from it a few more crimson drops. When she saw that the blood ran no longer, she rose with bright and humid eyes, rosier than a May morning, her cheeks full, her hands warm, yet no longer parched, fairer in short than ever, and in perfect health. "I shall not die! I shall not die!" she said, clasping my neck in a frenzy of joy. "I can live long and love you. My life is in yours, my very existence comes from you. A few drops of your generous blood, more precious and sovereign than all the elixirs of the world, have given me back to life."
This scene gave me matter for much reflection, and put into my head some strange thoughts as to Clarimonde. That very evening, when sleep had transported me to my parsonage, I found there Father Serapion, graver and more careworn than ever. He looked at me attentively and said, "Not content with destroying your soul, are you bent also on destroying your body? Unhappy youth, into what snares have you fallen!" The tone in which he said this struck me much at the time; but, lively as the impression was, other thoughts soon drove it from my mind. However, one evening, with the aid of a glass, on whose tell-tale position Clarimonde had not counted, I saw her pouring a powder into the cup of spiced wine which she was wont to prepare after supper. I took the cup, and, putting it to my lips, I set it down, as if intending to finish it at leisure. But in reality I availed myself of a minute when her back was turned to empty it away, and I soon after went to bed, determined to remain awake and see what would happen. I had not long to wait. Clarimonde entered as soon as she had convinced herself that I slept. She uncovered my arm and drew from her hair a little gold pin; then she murmured under her breath, "Only one drop, one little crimson drop, one ruby just to tip the bodkin! As you love me still I must not die. Ah, poor love! I am going to drink his blood, his beautiful blood, so bright and so purple. Sleep, my only treasure; sleep, my darling, my deity; I will do you no harm; I will only take so much of your life as I need to save my own. Did I not love you so much I might resolve to have other lovers, whose veins I could drain; but since I have known you I hate all others. Ah, dear arm, how round it is, and how white! How shall I ever dare to pierce the sweet blue veins!" And while she spoke she wept, so that I felt her tears rain on the arm she held. At last she summoned courage; she pricked me slightly with the bodkin and began to suck out the blood. But she drank only a few drops, as if she feared to exhaust me, and then carefully bound up my arm after anointing it with an unguent which closed the wound at once. I could now doubt no longer: Serapion was right. Yet, in spite of this certainty, I could not help loving Clarimonde, and I would willingly have given her all the blood whereof she had need, to sustain her artificial life. Besides, I had not much to fear; the woman was my warrant against the vampire; and what I had heard and seen completely reassured me. I had then well-nourished veins, which were not to be soon drawn dry, nor had I reason to grudge and count their drops. I would have pierced my arm myself and bid her drink. I was careful to make not the slightest allusion to the narcotic she had given me, or to the scene that followed, and we lived in unbroken harmony. But my priestly scruples tormented me more than ever, and I knew not what new penance to invent to blunt my passion and mortify my flesh. Though my visions were wholly involuntary and my will had nothing to do with them, I shrank from touching the host with hands thus sullied and spirit defiled by debauchery, whether in act or in dream. To avoid falling into these harassing hallucinations, I tried to prevent myself sleeping; I held my eyelids open, and remained in a standing posture, striving with all my force against sleep. But soon the waves of slumber drowned my eyes, and seeing that the struggle was hopeless, I let my hands drop in weariness, and was once more carried to the shores of delusion.... Serapion exhorted me most fervently, and never ceased reproaching me with my weakness and my lack of zeal. One day, when I had been more agitated than usual, he said to me, "There is only one way to relieve you from this haunting plague, and, though it be extreme, we must try it. Great evils need heroic remedies. I know where Clarimonde was buried; we must disinter her, and you shall see the real state of your lady-love. You will hardly be tempted to risk your soul for a vile body, the prey of worms and ready to turn to dust. That, if anything, will restore you to yourself." For my part, I was so weary of this double life that I closed with his offer. I longed to know once for all, which—priest or gallant—was the dupe of a delusion, and I was resolved to sacrifice one of my two lives for the good of the other—yea, if it were necessary, to sacrifice both, for such an existence as I was leading could not last.... Father Serapion procured a mattock, a crowbar, and a lantern, and at midnight we set out for the cemetery, whose plan and arrangements he knew well. After directing the rays of the dark lantern on the inscriptions of several graves, we came at last to a stone half buried under tall grass, and covered with moss and lichen, whereon we deciphered this epitaph, "Here lies Clarimonde, who in her lifetime was the fairest in the world." "'Tis here," said Serapion; and, placing his lantern on the ground, he slipped the crowbar into the chinks of the slab and essayed to lift it. The stone yielded, and he set to work with the spade. As for me, stiller and more gloomy than the night itself, I watched him at work, while he, bending over his ill-omened task, sweated and panted, his forced and heavy breath sounding like the gasps of the dying. The sight was strange, and lookers-on would rather have taken us for tomb-breakers and robbers of the dead than for God's priests. The zeal of Serapion was of so harsh and savage a cast, that it gave him a look more of the demon than of the apostle or the angel, and his face, with its severe features deeply marked by the glimmer of the lantern, was hardly reassuring. A cold sweat gathered on my limbs and my hair stood on end. In my heart I held Serapion's deed to be an abominable sacrilege, and I could have wished that a flash of lightning might issue from the womb of the heavy clouds, which rolled low above our heads, and burn him to ashes. The owls perched about the cypress trees, and, disturbed by the lantern, came and flapped its panes heavily with their dusty wings, the foxes barked in the distance, and a thousand sinister echoes troubled the silence. At length Serapion's spade struck the coffin with the terrible hollow sound that nothingness returns to those who intrude on it. He lifted the lid, and I saw Clarimonde, as pale as marble, and with her hands joined; there was no fold in her snow-white shroud from head to foot; at the corner of her blanched lips there shone one little rosy drop. At the sight Serapion broke into fury. "Ah! fiend, foul harlot, drinker of gold and blood, we have found you!" said he, and he scattered holy water over corpse and coffin, tracing the sign of the cross with his brush. No sooner had the blessed shower touched my Clarimonde than her fair body crumbled into dust, and became nought but a hideous mixture of ashes and half-burnt bones. "There, Signor Romuald," said the inexorable priest, pointing to the remains, "there is your mistress. Are you still tempted to escort her to the Lido or to Fusina?" I bowed my head; a mighty ruin had taken place within me. I returned to my parsonage, and Il Signor Romualdo, the lover of Clarimonde, said farewell for ever to the poor priest whose strange companion he had been so long. Only the next night I again saw Clarimonde. She said to me, as at first in the church porch, "Poor wretch, what have you done? Why did you listen to that frantic priest? Were you not happy? And what harm had I done you that you should violate my grave, and shamefully expose the misery of my nothingness? Henceforward all communication between us, soul and body, is broken. Farewell, you will regret me." She vanished in the air like a vapour, and I saw her no more.
Alas! she spoke too truly. I have regretted her again and again. I regret her still. The repose of my soul has indeed been dearly bought, and the love of God itself has not been too much to replace the gap left by hers. This, my brother, is the history of my youth. Never look at woman, and let your eyes as you walk be fixed upon the ground; for, pure and calm as you may be, a single moment is sufficient to make you lose your eternal peace.
[Sidenote: Criticism thereof.]
Now, though to see a thing in translation be always to see it "as in a glass darkly"; and though in this case the glass may be unduly flawed and clouded, my own critical faculties must not only now be unusually enfeebled by age, but must always have been crippled by some strange affection, if certain things are not visible here to any intelligent and impartial reader. The story, of course, is not pure invention; several versions of parts, if not the whole, of it will occur to any one who has some knowledge of literature; and I have recently read a variant of great beauty and "eeriness" from the Japanese. But the merit of a story depends, not on its originality as matter, but on the manner in which it is told. It surely cannot be denied that this is told excellently. That the part of Serapion (though somebody or something of the kind is almost necessary) is open to some criticism, may be granted. He seems to know too much and yet not enough: and if he was to interfere at all, one does not see why he did not do it earlier. But this is the merest hole-picking, and the biggest hole it can make will not catch the foot or the little finger of any worthy reader. As to the beauty of the phrasing, even in another language, and as rendered by no consummate artist, there can be little question about that. Indeed there we have consent about Gautier, though, as has been seen, the consent has not always been thoroughly complimentary to him. To go a step further, the way in which the diction and imagery are made to provide frame and shade and colour for the narrative leaves very little room for cavil. Without any undue or excessive "prose poetry," the descriptions are like those of the best imaginative-pictorial verse itself. The first appearance of Clarimonde; the scene at her death-bed and that of her dream-resurrection, have, I dare affirm it, never been surpassed in verse or prose for their special qualities: while the backward view of the city and the recital of what we may call Serapion's soul-murder of the enchantress come little behind them.
But, it may be said, "You are still kicking at open doors. The degree of your estimate is, we think, extravagant, but that it is deserved to some extent nobody denies. In mere point of expression, and even to some extent, again, in conception of beauty, Gautier's manner, though too much of one kind, and that too old-fashioned, is admitted; it is his matter which is questioned or denied."
[Sidenote: A parallel from painting.]
Here also, I think, the counter-attack can be completely barred or broken to the satisfaction of all but those who cannot or will not see. In the first place one must make a distinction, which ought not to be regarded as over-subtilising, but which certainly seems to be ignored by many people. There are in all arts, and more especially in the art of literature, two stages or sets of stages in the discharge of that duty of every artist—the creation of beauty. The one is satisfied by the achievement of the beautiful in the presentation itself; the other gives you, in your own interior collection or museum, the thing presented. This is not the common distinction between form and matter, between style and substance, between subject and treatment; it is something more intimate and "metaphysical." To illustrate it, let me take a pair of instances, not from letters, but from painting as produced by two dead masters of our own, Rossetti and Albert Moore. I used to think the last-named painter disgracefully undervalued both by the public and by critics. One could look at those primrose-tinted ladies of his, with their gossamer films of raiment and their flowerage always suggestive of the asphodel mead, for hours: and if one's soul had had a substantial Palace of Art of her own, there would have been a corridor wholly Albert Moorish—a corridor, for his things never looked well with other people's and they could not, by themselves, have filled a hall.
But their beauty, as has been untruly said of Gautier's representation in the other art, was "their sole duty." You never wanted to kiss even the most beautiful of them, or to talk to her, or even to sit at her feet, except for purposes of looking at her, for which that position has its own special advantages. And although by no means mere pastiches or replicas of each other, they had little of the qualities which constitute personality. They were almost literally "dreams that waved before the half-shut eye," and dreams which you knew to be dreams at the time; less even than dreams—shadows, and less even than shadows, for shadows imply substance, and these did not. If you loved them you loved them always, and could not be divorced from them. But it was an entirely contemplative love; and if divorce was unthinkable it was because there was no thorus and no mensa at which they could possibly have figured. They were the Eves of a Paradise of two dimensions only.
Now with Rossetti it was entirely different. His drawing may have been as faulty as people said it was, and he may have been as fond as they also said of bestowing upon all his subjects exaggerated and almost ungainly features, which possibly belonged to the Blessed Damozel, but were not the most indisputable part of her blessedness. But they were, despite their similarity of type, all personal and individual, and all suggestive to the mind and the emotions of real women, and of the things which real women are and do and suffer. And they were all differently suggestive. Proserpine and Beata Beatrix; the devotional figures in their quietude or their ecstasy, and the forlorn leaguer-lasses of that little masterpiece of the novitiate, "Hesterna Rosa"; the Damozel herself and a Corsican lady whose portrait, unpublished and unexhibited, has been familiar to me for six-and-thirty years;—all these and all the others would behave to you, and you would behave to them, if they could be vivified, in ways different individually but real and live.
[Sidenote: The reality.]
Now it is beauty of reality as well as of presentation that I at least find in La Morte Amoureuse. Clarimonde alive is very much more than a "shadow on glass"; Clarimonde dead is more alive than many live women.
[Sidenote: And the passion of it.]
But the audacity of infatuation need not stop here. I should claim for La Morte Amoureuse, and for Gautier as the author of it, more than this. It appears to me to be one of the very few expressions in French prose of really passionate love. It is, with Manon Lescaut and Julie, the most consummate utterance that I at least know, in that division of literature, of the union of sensual with transcendental enamourment. Why this is so rare in French is a question fitter for treatment in a History of the French Temperament than in one of the French Novel. That it is so I believe to be a simple fact, and simple facts require little talking about. No prose literature has so much love-making in it as French, and none so much about different species of love: amour de tete and amour des sens especially, but also not unfrequently amour de coeur, and even amour d'ame. But of the combination that we call "passionate love"—that fills our own late sixteenth, early seventeenth, and whole nineteenth century literature, and that requires love of the heart and the head, the soul and the senses, together—it has (outside poetry of course) only the three books just mentioned and a few passages such as Atala's dying speech, Adolphe's, alas! too soon obliterated reflections on his first success with Ellenore, perhaps one or two more before La Morte Amoureuse, and even since its day not many. Maupassant (v. inf.) could manage the combination, but too often confined himself to exhibitions of the separate and imperfect divisions, whereof, no doubt, the number is endless.
That Gautier always or often maintained himself at this pitch, either of what we may call power of projecting live personages or of exhibition of great passions, it would be idle and uncritical to contend; that he did so here, and thereby put himself at once and for ever on the higher, nay, highest level of literature, I do, after fifty years' study of the thing and of endless other things, impenitently and impavidly affirm.
[Sidenote: Other short stories.]
What is more, in his shorter productions he was often not far below it, save in respect of intensity. If I do not admire Fortunio quite so much as some people do, it is not so much because of its comparative heartlessness—a thing rare in Gautier—as because for once, and I think once only in pieces of its scale, the malt of the description does get above the meal of the personal interest, though that personal interest exists. But Jettatura, with its combination of romantic and tragical appeal; Avatar, with its extraordinary mixture of romance, again, with humour, its "excitingness," and its delicacy of taste; the equally extraordinary felicity of the dealings with that too often unmanageable implement the "classical dictionary" in Arria Marcella, Une Nuit de Cleopatre, and perhaps especially Le Roi Candaule; the tiny sketches—half-nouvelle and half-"middle" article—of Le Pied de la Momie, La Pipe d'Opium, and Le Club des Haschischins,—what marvellous consummateness in the various specifications and conditions do these afford us!
Sometimes, however, I have thought that just as La Morte Amoureuse is almost or quite sufficient text for vindicating the greatness or greaterness of "Theo," so his earliest book of prose fiction, Les Jeune-France, will serve the same purpose for another side of him, lesser if anybody likes, but exceptionally "complementary." In particular it possesses a quality which up to his time was very rare in France, has not been extraordinarily common there even since, and is still, even in its ancestral home with ourselves, sometimes inconceivably blundered about—the quality of Humour.
[Sidenote: Gautier's humour—Les Jeune-France.]
For wit, France can, of course, challenge the world; nay, she can do more, she can say to the world, "I have taught you this; and you are no match for your teacher." But in Humour the case is notoriously altered. None of the Latin nations, except Spain, the least purely Latin of them, has ever achieved it, as the original or unoriginal Latins themselves never did, with the exception of the lighter forms of it in Catullus, of the grimmer in Lucretius—those greatest and most un-Roman of Roman poets. In all the wide and splendid literature of French before the nineteenth century only Rabelais and Moliere can lay claim to it. Romanticism brings humour in its train, as Classicism brings wit; but it is curious how slow was the Romanticisation of French in this respect, with one exception. There is no real humour in Hugo, Vigny, George Sand, Balzac, scarcely even in Musset. Dumas, though showing decidedly good gifts of possibility in his novels, does not usually require it there; the absence of it in his dramas need hardly be dwelt on. Merimee, one cannot but think, might have had it if he had chosen; but Merimee did not choose to have so many things! If Gerard de Nerval's failure of a great genius had failed in the comic instead of the romantic-tragical direction, he would have had some too—in fact he had it in the embryonic and unachieved fashion in which the author of Gaspard de la Nuit, and Baudelaire, and Paul Verlaine have had it since in verse and prose. But Gautier has it plump and plain, and without any help from the strange counterfeiting fantasy of verse which sometimes confers it. He has it always; at all times of his life; in the hackwork which made abortion of so much greater literature, and in his actually great literature, poems, novels, travels—what not. But he never has it more strongly, vividly, and originally than in Les Jeune-France, a coming-of-age book almost as old as mil-huit-cent-trente, written in part no doubt in the immortal gilet rouge itself, if only as kept for study wear like Diderot's old dressing-gown.
There are two dangers lying in wait for the reader of the book. One is the ordinary and quite respectable putting-out-of-the-lip at its juvenile improprieties; the other, a little more subtle, is the notion that the things, improper or not (and some of them are quite not), are mere juvenilia—clever undergraduate work. The first requires no special counterblast; the old monition, "Don't like it for its impropriety, but also don't let its impropriety hide its merits from you if it has any," will suffice. The other is, as has been said, more insidious. I can only say that I have read much undergraduate or but slightly post-graduate literature of many generations—before the day of Les Jeune-France, about its date, between that day and my own season of passing through those "sweet hours and the fleetest of time," and since that season till the present moment. But many equals of this book I have not read.
It is of course necessary to remember that it is expressly subtitled "Romans Goguenards," thereby preparing the reader for the reverse of seriousness. That reverse, especially in young hands, is a difficult thing to manage. "Guffaw" and "yawn" are two words which have actually two letters in common; y and g are notoriously interchangeable in some dialects and circumstances, while n and u are the despair of the copyist or the student of copies. There remain only "ff"—the lightest of literals. We need not cite nominatim (indeed it might be rash) the endless examples in French and English where the guffaw of the writer excites the yawn of the reader. But this is hardly ever the case, at least as I find it, with Gautier.
The Preface, in which the author presents himself in his unregenerate and un-"young-France" condition, is really a triumph; I wish I could give the whole of it here. And what is more, it is a sort of epitome by anticipation of the entire Gautier, though without, of course, the mastery of artistry he attained in years of laborious prose and verse. For that quality of humour which his younger friend Taine was to define happily, though by no means to his own comfort or approval, in the phrase devoted to one of our English masters of it, "Il se moque de ses emotions a l'instant meme ou il s'y livre," you must go to Fielding or to Thackeray to beat it.
He (the supposed author) was the most ordinary and insignificant creature in the world. He had never either killed a policeman nor committed suicide; he possessed neither pipe, nor dagger, ni quoi que ce soit qui ait du caractere. He did like cats (which taste fortunately remained with Gautier himself throughout his life), and his reflections on politics had arrived at a final result of zero (another abiding feature, by the way, with "Theo"). He never could learn to play at cards. He thought artists were merely mountebanks, etc., etc. But some kind friends took him in hand and made him an accomplished Jeune-France. He took to himself a very long nom de guerre, a very short moustache, a middle parting to his hair (the history of the middle parting would be worth writing), and a "delirious" waistcoat. He learnt to smoke, and to get "Byronically" drunk. He bought an Italian stiletto (by great luck he had a sallow complexion naturally); a silk rope-ladder ("which is of the first importance"); several reams of paper for love-letters, and a supply of rose-coloured and avanturine wax. He is going to be, if he is not as yet, "fatal," "vague," "fallen-angelical," "volcanic." There is only one desirable quality which unkind fate has put beyond his reach. He is not, and cannot make himself, an illegitimate child! Now, I am sorry for any one who, having read this, cannot lean back in his chair and follow it up for himself by a series of fancy pictures of Jeunes-something from 1830 to 1918.
Of the actual stories "Daniel Jovard" takes up the cue of the Preface directly, and describes the genesis of a romantique a tous crins. "Onuphrius" honestly sub-titles itself "Les Vexations Fantastiques d'un admirateur d'Hoffmann," and has, I think, sometimes been dismissed as a Hoffmannesque pastiche. Far be it from me to hint the slightest denigration of the author of the Phantasiestuecke and the Nachtstuecke, of the Serapion's-Brueder and the Kater Murr—not the least pleasing features on the right side of the half-glorious, half-ghastly contrast between the Germany of a hundred years ago and the Germany of to-day. But "Onuphrius" is Hoffmann Gautierised, German "Franciolated," a Walpurgisnacht softened by Morgane la Fee. "Elias Wildmanstadius," one of the earliest, remains one of the most agreeable, pictures of a fanatic of the mediaeval. The overture and the finale, both pieces in which the great motto "Trinq!" is perhaps a very little abused, nevertheless contain a considerable amount of wisdom, and the last not a little wit. But the central story Celle-ci et Celle-la, which fills nearly half the book, is no doubt the article on which one must—as far as this essay-piece is concerned—judge Gautier's tale-telling gifts. It is "improper" in part; indeed, the thing, which is largely dialogic, may be thought to have been a young romantic's challenge to Crebillon. The points of the contest would require a very careful judge to reckon them out. Although Gautier was no democrat, and certainly no misogynist, his lady of quality, Madame de M., is terribly below the Crebillonesque Marquises and Celies in every respect, except the beauty, which we have to take on trust; while, if she is not quite such a fiend as Laclos's heroine, she is also unlike her in being stupid. The hero, Rodolphe, though by no means a cad and possessed of much more heart than M. de Clerval or Clitandre, has neither their manners nor their wit. But Mariette, the servante-maitresse, though much less moral, is much more attractive than Pamela; the whole of the story is hit off with a pleasant mixture of humour, narrative faculty, bright phrase, and good nature, of which the first is simply absent in Crebillon and the last rather dubiously present.
We may return very shortly to the later, longer, and, I suppose, more accomplished stories before relinquishing Gautier.
[Sidenote: Return to Fortunio.]
I have known very good people who liked Fortunio; I care for it less than for any other of its author's tales. The fabulously rich and entirely heartless hero has not merely the extravagance but (which is very rare with Gautier) the vulgarity of Byronism; the opening orgie, by an oversight so strange that it may almost seem to be no oversight at all, reminds one only too forcibly of the ironic treatment accorded to that institution in Les Jeune-France, and suffers from the reminder; the blending of East and West and the Arabian Night harems in Paris, "unbeknown" to everybody, almost attain that plusquam-Aristotelian state of reprobation, the impossible which is also improbable; and the courtesan heroines—at least two of them, Musidora and Arabelle—are even more faulty in this respect. No doubt
[Greek: pollai morphai ton ouranion],
and the forms of the Pandemic as well as of the Uranian Aphrodite are numerous likewise. But among them one finds no probability or possibility of Gautier's Musidora of eighteen, who might be a young duchess gone to the bad. Neither is the end of the girl, suicide, in consequence of the disappearance of her lover, though quite possible and even probable, at all suitable to Gautier's own fashion of thinking and writing. Merimee could have done it perfectly well. Of almost no others of the delectable contents of the two volumes of Nouvelles and of Romans et Contes has one to speak in this fashion, while some of them come very nearly up to their companion La Morte Amoureuse itself.
How Gautier managed to keep all this comparatively serious, if not quite so, in treatment, is perhaps less difficult to make out than why he took the trouble to do so. But it is the entire absences of irony on the one side and on the other of the dream-quality—the pure imagination which makes the impossibilities of La Morte and of Arria Marcella, and even of the trifle Omphale, so delightful—that deprives Fortunio of attraction in my eyes. Such faint glimmerings of it as there are are confined to two very minor characters:—one of the courtesans, Cinthia, a beautiful statuesque Roman, who has simplified the costume-problem by wearing nothing—literally nothing—except one of two dresses, one black velvet and the other white watered silk; and the "Count George" (we are never told his surname), who gives the overture-orgie. One might, as the lady said to Professor Wilson in regard to the Noctes, say to him, "I really think you eat too many oysters, and drink too much [not indeed in his case] whisky," and I can find no excuse for his deliberately upsetting an enormous bowl of flaming arrack punch on a floor swept by women's dresses. But he is quite human, and he makes the best speech and scene in the book when he remonstrates with Musidora for secluding herself because she cannot discover the elusive marquis-rajah tiger-keeper,—and, I fear I must add, "tiger" himself,—from whom the thing takes its title.
[Sidenote: And others.]
It is, however, almost worth while to go through the freak-splendours and transformation-scene excitements of Fortunio to prepare the palate to enjoy La Toison d'Or which follows. Here is once more the true Gautieresque humour, good humour, marvellous word-painting, and romance, agreeably—indeed charmingly—twisted together. There is no fairy-story transposed into a modern and probable key which surpasses this of the painter Tiburce; and the disorderly curios of his rooms; and his sudden and heroic determination to fall desperately in love with a blonde; and his setting off to Flanders to find one; and the fruitlessness of his search and his bewitchment with the Magdalen in the "Descent from the Cross" at Antwerp (ah! what has become of it?); and his casual discovery and courtship of a girl like that celestial convertite; and her sorrow when she finds that she is only a substitute; and her victory by persuading her lover to paint her as the Magdalen and so work off the witchery. Of course some one may shrug shoulders and murmur, "Always the berquinade?" But I do not think La Morte Amoureuse was a berquinade.
[Sidenote: Longer books, Le Capitaine Fracasse and others.]
Of Gautier's longer books it is not necessary to say much, because, with perhaps one exception, they are admittedly not his forte. Of the longest, Le Capitaine Fracasse, I am myself very fond. Its opening and first published division, Le Chateau de la Misere, is one of the finest pieces of description in the whole range of the French novel; and there are many interesting scenes, especially the great duel of the hero Sigognac with the bravo Lampourde. But some make it a reproach, not, I think, of very damaging validity, that so much of the book is little more than a "study off" the Roman Comique; and it is, though not exactly a reproach, a great misfortune that in time, kind, and almost everything else it enters into competition with Dumas, whose gifts as a manager of such things were as much above Gautier's as his powers as a writer were below Theo's. Le Roman de la Momie, though possessing the abiding talisman of style, suffers in the first place from being mere Egyptology novelised, and in the second from the same thing having been done, on a scale much better suited to the author, in Le Pied de la Momie. Nor are Spirite and Militona free from parallel charges: while La Belle Jenny—that single and unfortunate appeal to the abonne noted above—really may fail to amuse those who are not "irked by the style."
[Sidenote: Mlle. de Maupin.]
There remains the most notorious and the most abused of all Gautier's work, Mademoiselle de Maupin. Perhaps here also, as in the case of La Morte Amoureuse, I cannot do better than simply reprint, with very slight addition, what I said of the book nearly forty years ago. For the case is a peculiar one, and I have made no change in my own estimate, though I think the inclusion of the Preface—not because I agree with it any less—more dubious than I did then. In this Preface the doctrine of "art for art's sake" and of its consequent independence of any licet or non-licet from morality is put with great ability and no little cogency, but in a fashion essentially juvenile, from its want of measure and its evident wish to provoke as much as to prove. Without it the book would probably have excited far less odium and opprobrium than it has actually done; it would, if separate, be an excellent critical essay on the general subject; while in its actual position it almost subjects the text to the curse of purpose, from which nothing which claims to be art ought (according to the doctrine of both preface and book) to be more free.
With the novel itself it is difficult to deal in the way of abstract and occasional excerpt, not merely because of its breaches of the proprieties, but on account of the plan on which it is written. A mixture of letters and narrative, dealing almost entirely with emotions, and scarcely at all with incidents, it defies narrative analysis such as that which was given to its elder sister in naughtiness, La Religieuse. It would seem that Goethe, who in many ways influenced Gautier, is responsible to some extent for its form, and perhaps for the fact that As You Like It plays an even more important part in it than Hamlet plays in Wilhelm Meister. No one who has read it can fail thenceforward to associate a new charm with the image of Rosalind, even though she be one of Shakespeare's most gracious creations; and this I know is a bold word. But, in truth, it is in more ways than one an unspeakable book. Those who like may point to a couple of pages of loose description at the end, a dialogue in the style of a polite Jacques le Fataliste in the middle, a dozen phrases of a hazardous character scattered here and there. Diderot himself—no strait-laced judge, indeed particeps ejusdem criminis—remarked long ago, and truly enough, that errors of this sort punish themselves by restricting the circulation, and diminishing the chance of life of the book, or other work, that contains them. But it is not these things that the admirers of Mademoiselle de Maupin admire. It is the wonderful and final expression, repeated, but subtly shaded and differenced, in the three characters of Albert, Rosette, and Madeleine herself, of the aspiration which, as I have said, colours Gautier's whole work. If he, as has been justly remarked, was the priest of beauty, Mademoiselle de Maupin is certainly one of the sacred books of the cult. The apostle to whom it was revealed was young, and perhaps he has mingled words of clay with words of gold. It would be difficult to find a Bowdler for this Madeleine, and impossible to adapt her to the use of families. But those who understand as they read, and can reject the evil and hold fast the good, who desire sometimes to retire from the meditation of the weary ways of ordinary life to the land of clear colours and stories, where there is none of this weariness, who are not to be scared by the poet's harmless puppets or tempted by his guileless baits—they at least will take her as she is and be thankful.