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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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[Sidenote: Borel's Champavert.]

Borel, whose real Christian name, it is almost unnecessary to say, was Pierre, and who was a sort of incarnation of a "Jeune-France" (beginning as a bousingot—not ill translated by the contemporary English "bang-up" for an extreme variety of the kind—and ending as a sous-prefet), wrote other things, including a longer and rather tedious novel, Madame Putiphar. But the tales of Champavert,[310] which had the doubly-"speaking" sub-title of Contes Immoraux, are capital examples of the more literary kind of "rotting." They are admirably written; they show considerable power. But though one would not be much surprised at reading any day in the newspaper a case in which a boatman, plying for hire, had taken a beautiful girl for "fare," violated her on the way, and thrown her into the river, the subject is not one for art.

FOOTNOTES:

[262] It will be observed that I use the words referred to in this note with more discrimination than is always the case with some excellent folk. I sympathise with Cadoudal most of the three, but I quite recognise that Bonaparte had a kind of right to try, and to execute him. So, if Pichegru had been tried, he might have been executed. The Enghien business was pure murder. In some more recent instances these distinctions have not, I think, been correctly observed by public speakers and writers.

[263] This philosophe inconnu (as his ticket-name goes in French) is, I fancy, even more unknown in England. I have not read much of him; but I think, if it had come in my way, I should have read more.

[264] Without doing this, it my be suggested that the contrast elsewhere quoted "Merimee etait gentilhomme; Sainte-Beuve ne l'etait pas," was likely to make its unfavourable side specially felt in this connection. He seems to have disgusted even the Princess Mathilde, one of the staunchest of friends and certainly not the most squeamish or prudish of women. Nor, in another matter, can I approve his favourite mixture of rum and curacao as a liqueur. I gave it a patient trial once, thinking it might be critically inspiring. But the rum muddles the curacao, and the curacao does not really improve the rum. It is a pity he did not know the excellent Cape liqueur called Vanderhum, which is not a mixture but a true hybrid of the two.

[265] In articles written for the Fortnightly Review during a large part of the year 1878, and reprinted in the volume of Essays on French Novelists frequently referred to.

[266] Vide the wonderful poem—one of Mr. Anon's pearls, but Donne's for more than a ducat—"Thou sent'st to me a heart was crowned," etc. However, the bitter remark quoted elsewhere (v. inf.) looks like a lasting wound.

[267] I can conceive a modernist rising up and saying, "And your mawkish ante-nuptial wooings? Haven't we had enough of them?" To which I should reply, "Impossible." The sages of old have rightly said that 'The way of a man with a maid' is a mystery always, and the proofs thereof are well seen in literature as in life. But the way of an extra-man with another person's wife can, as illustrated, if not demonstrated, by the myriads of treatises thereon in French and the thousands of imitations in other languages (reinforced, if not the Stoic scavenger-researcher so pleases, by the annals of the Divorce Court and its predecessors), be almost scientifically reduced to two classes. (1) Is the lady adulteraturient? In that case results can be attained anyhow. (2) Is she not? In that case results can be attained nohow. Which considerably minishes the interest of this situation. The interest of the other is the interest of "the world's going round" in quality, and almost infinitely various in detail. But when something has once happened the variety ceases, or is immensely reduced.

[268] "Bien! mon sang." I suppose "democratic" sentiment is quite insensible to this, which seems to be a pity.

[269] I think it should be added to Sandeau's credit that (as it appears to me at least) he had a strong influence on the reaction against Naturalism at the end of the century.

[270] Most of his contemporaries would have envied him this admirably moyen-age and sonorous designation. But it is certainly cumbrous for a title-page, and its owner—a modest man with a sense of humour—may perhaps have thought that it might be rather more ridiculous than sublime there.

[271] As is usual and natural with men of his time, La Vendee mostly supplies it; but that glorious failure did not inspire him quite so well as it did Sandeau or even (v. inf.) Edouard Ourliac. However, he was a sound Royalist, for which peace be to his soul!

[272] Who, by the way, was a good friend and a good appreciator of Bernard.

[273] For any one who cares for the minor "arts and crafts" of literature this is the example of Adaptation itself. The story is not translated; it is not imitated; it is not parodied. It is simply transfused from one body of a national literature into another, and I defy the acutest and most experienced critic to find in the English, if he did not previously know the facts, any trace of a French original.

[274] Corinne made a great blunder: but admirers of Miss Austen have sometimes taken it as being greater than it was. "Vulgaire" and "vulgar" are by no means exact synonyms: in fact the French word is probably used much oftener in a more or less inoffensive sense than otherwise.

[275] Especially in the next chapter but one.

[276] Or was it Comte that was "naught" and Fourier that was "void"? I am sure the third person, namely, Cabet, was "puerile"; but I do not think I could read Aurora Leigh again, even to make sure of the distribution of the other epithets.

[277] The real old Constantia has, I believe, ceased to exist. It was a delicious vin de liqueur, but you might as well ice Madeira or a brown sherry.

[278] Thackeray pays Sue the very high compliment of having "tried almost always [to attain], and in Mathilde very nearly succeeded in attaining, a tone of bonne compagnie," I found the particular book difficult to get hold of. Apropos of French naval novels, will somebody tell me who wrote Le Roi des Gabiers, an immense feuilleton-romance, which I remember reading a vast number of years ago? I think he had (or took) a Breton name, and wrote others. But the navy, even with Jean Bart and Surcouf and the Bailli, has never attracted any of the great French novelists.

[279] I ought perhaps to say that the second volume does not seem to me to be quite equal to the first. The "sixteen years allowed for refreshment" do not justify themselves.

[280] In La Lionne (which is not to be confused with Le Lion Amoureux, a "psychological" diploma-piece praised by some) there are chapters and chapters of love-making "of a sort." But it is not the right sort.

[281] The famous or legendary chamber at Glamis—and perhaps another not so generally known story of a mansion farther north still, where you see from the courtyard a window the room belonging to which cannot be found from the inside—will occur. But Soulie, though he might have heard of the former, is very unlikely to have known the latter, which comes nearer to his arrangement.

[282] The contact here with the Peau de Chagrin need hardly be dwelt upon.

[283] A little more on this subject may be given later to Gaboriau and Ponson du Terrail.

[284] Reprinted in Essays on French Novelists.

[285] A somewhat fuller discussion of this heretical bona patria of literature may be found in the original Essay. I had at one time thought of reprinting it—in text or appendix—here. But perhaps it would be superfluous. I ought, however, to add that I have seen, in French writers, later again than those referred to in the text, some touches of revived interest in Murger.

[286] Translated at length in the Essay.

[287] I have always been a little curious to know whether that remarkable periodical, Cope's Tobacco Plant, which gave us not a little of James Thomson the Second's work, was really, as it might have been, conceived as a follower of Le Castor.

[288] Murger knows this and allows it.

[289] Who, moreover, did work, and that pretty hard, in his Secretaryship, and by no means disdained pay for it—purely "patriotic" as (in his view) it was.

[290] Jerome Paturot, with Considerations on Novels in General, originally appeared in Fraser for September 1843. Not reprinted in the author's lifetime, or till the supplementary collection of 1885-86. May be found, with some remarks by the present writer, in the "Oxford" Thackeray, vol. vi. pp. 318-342.

[291] It is fair to say that some of the best Alexandriana were still to come.

[292] The retort courteous, if not even the countercheck quarrelsome, "Then why do you notice it?" is pretty obvious. Taking it as the former, it may be answered, "The political novel, if not the most strictly legitimate species of the kind, is numerous and not unimportant. It may therefore be allowed a specimen, and an examination of that specimen."

[293] Malvina, as one might expect, is by this time an "Anti-" of the most stalwart kind; though in the Saint-Simonian salad days, she had (as naturally) taken the other side.

[294] Probably more people know La Croix de Berny, which he wrote with Sandeau, Gautier, and Madame de Girardin, than anything exclusively his.

[295] Others may have been more fortunate. In any case, what follows, whatever its intrinsic merit, is typical of a great mass of similar French fiction, and therefore may claim attention here.

[296] It would be interesting to know where Mery got this hideous, cacophonous, hopelessly anti-analogical and anti-etymological but alas! actually existing name. I never heard of a ship called by it, but I once knew a poor lady on whom it had been inflicted at her baptism. Why any one with Jemima (not, of course, originally a feminine of "Jem," but adopted as such), which, though a little comic, is not intolerable, Jacqueline and Jaquetta (which are exceedingly pretty), and Jacobina (which, though with unfortunate historical associations, is not itself ugly) to choose from, should have invented this horrible solecism, I never could make out. It is, I believe, confined to Scotland, and the only comfort connected with it is the negative one that, in two considerable residences there, I never heard of a "Charlesina." I suppose "Caroline" and "Charlotte" sufficed; or perhaps, while Whigs disliked the name (at least before that curious purifier of it, Fox), Tories shrank from profanation thereof.

[297] Was it Mr. Augustus Dunshunner? It was just about the time of the Glenmutchkin Railway, and most of "Maga's" men were Oxonians.

[298] See in vol. v. of the Oxford edition of Thackeray (for the thing, though never acknowledged, is certainly his) an exemplary "justification" of this very impudent offender.

[299] I have no quarrel with Manchester—quite the reverse—in consequence of divers sojourns, longer and shorter, in the place, and of much kindness shown to me by the not at all barbarous people. But neither the climate nor the general "conditions" of the city can be called paradisaical.

[300] They were as much shocked at it as we were at their "Houses of Tolerance" and at the institution of the grisette.

[301] Not the worst perhaps of the myriad attempts to do something of the same kind in English was made recently: "If a man conscientiously objects to be shot for his country, he may be conscientiously shot by it."

[302] Here is one from "Un Diamant" (Contes et Nouvelles), which, though destitute of the charms of poetry, rivals and perhaps indeed suggested our own

And even an Eastern Counties' train Comes in at last.

"Quelque loin qu'on aille, on finit par arriver; on arrive bien a Saint-Maur—trois lieues a faire—en coucou."

[303] In the same article in which he dealt with Charles de Bernard.

[304] I know that many people do not agree with me here; but Blake did: "Tell me the facts, O historian, and leave me to reason on them as I please; away with your reasoning and your rubbish.... Tell me the What: I do not want you to tell me the Why and the How. I can find that out for myself."

[305] If my friend Mr. Henley were alive (and I would he were) I should have to "look out for squalls." It was, as ought to be well known, his idea that Henri Trois et Sa Cour was much more the rallying trumpet of 1830 that Hernani, and I believe a large part of his dislike for Thackeray was due to the cruel fun which The Paris Sketch-book makes of Kean. But I speak as I think and find, after long re-thinking and researching.

[306] I have made some further excursions in the work of Achard, but they did not incline me to continue them, and I do not propose to say anything of the results here. I learn from the books that there were some other Achards, one of whom "improved the production of the beet-root sugar." I would much rather have written Belle-Rose.

[307] Emma Robinson. I used, I think, to prefer her to either of her more famous companions in the list. But I have never read her Caesar Borgia. It sounds appetising.

[308] Some may say, "There might have been an end much sooner with some of the foregoing." Perhaps so—once more. I do not claim to be hujus orbis Papa and infallible. But I sample to the best of my knowledge and judgment.

[309] Beau Demon, Coeur d'Acier, La Tache Rouge, etc. Feval began a little later than most of the others in this chapter, but he is of their class.

[310] Thackeray, when very young and wasting his time and money in editing the National Standard, wrote a short and very savage review of this which may be found in the Oxford Edition of his works (vol. i., as arranged by the present writer). It is virtuously indignant (and no wonder, seeing that the writer takes it quite seriously), but, as Thackeray was almost to the last when in that mood, quite bull-in-a-china-shoppy. You might take it seriously, and yet critically in another way, as a "degeneracy" of the Terror-Novel. But the "rotting" view is better.



CHAPTER VIII

DUMAS THE ELDER

[Sidenote: The case of Dumas.]

With Dumas[311] pere the same difficulties (or nearly the same) of general and particular nature present themselves as those which occurred with Balzac. There is, again, the task—not so arduous and by no means so hopeless as some may think, but still not of the easiest—of writing pretty fully without repetition on subjects on which you have written fully already. There is the enormous bulk, far greater than in the other case, of the work: which makes any complete survey of its individual components impossible. And there is the wide if not universal knowledge of this or that—if not of this and that—part of it; which makes such survey unnecessary and probably unwelcome. But here, as there, in whatever contrast of degree and kind, there is the importance in relation to the general subject, which needs pretty abundant notice, and the particular character of that importance, which demands special examination.

There are probably not quite so many readers as there might have been a generation ago who would express indignation at the idea that the two novelists can be held in any degree[312] comparable. Between the two periods a pretty strong and almost concerted effort was made by persons of no small literary position, such as Mr. Lang, Mr. Stevenson, and Mr. Henley, who are dead, and others, some of whom are alive, to follow the lead of Thackeray many years earlier still. They denounced, supporting the denunciation with all the literary skill and vigour of which they were capable, the notion, common in France as well as in England, that Dumas was a mere amuseur, whether they did or did not extend their battery to the other notion (common then in England, if not in France) that he was an amuser whose amusements were pernicious. These efforts were perhaps not entirely ineffectual: let us hope that actual reading, by not unintelligent or prejudiced readers, had more effect still.

[Sidenote: Charge and discharge.]

But let us also go back a little and, adding one, repeat what the charges against Dumas are. There is the moral charge just mentioned; there is the not yet mentioned charge of plagiarism and "devilling"; and there is the again already mentioned complaint that he is a mere "pastimer"; that he has no literary quality; that he deserves at best to take his chance with the novelists from Sue to Gaboriau who have been or will be dismissed with rather short shrift elsewhere. Let us, as best seems to suit history, treat these in order, though with very unequal degrees of attention.

[Sidenote: Morality.]

The moral part of the matter needs but a few lines. The objection here was one of the still fewer things that did to some extent justify and "sensify" the nonsense and injustice since talked about Victorian criticism. In fact this nonsense may (there is always, or nearly always, some use to be made even of nonsense) be used against its earlier brother. It is customary to objurgate Thackeray as too moral. Thackeray never hints the slightest objection on this score against these novels, whatever he may do as to the plays. For myself, I do not pretend to have read everything that Dumas published. There may be among the crowd something indefensible, though it is rather odd that if there is, I should not merely never have read it but never have heard of it. If, on the other hand, any one brings forward Mrs. Grundy's opinion on the Ketty and Milady passages in the Mousquetaires; on the story of the origin of the Vicomte de Bragelonne; on the way in which the divine Margot was consoled for her almost tragic abandonment in a few hours by lover and husband—I must own that as Judge on the present occasion I shall not call on any counsel of Alexander's to reply. "Bah! it is bosh," as the greatest of Dumas' admirers remarks of another matter.

[Sidenote: Plagiarism and devilling.]

The plagiarism (or rather devilling + plagiarism) article of the indictment, tedious as it may be, requires a little longer notice. The facts, though perhaps never to be completely established, are sufficiently clear as far as history needs, on the face of them. Dumas' works, as published in complete edition, run to rather over three hundred volumes. (I have counted them often on the end-papers of the beloved tomes, and though they have rather a knack, like the windows of other enchanted houses, of "coming out" different, this is near enough.) Excluding theatre (twenty-five volumes), travels, memoirs, and so-called history, they must run to about two hundred and fifty. Most if not all of these volumes are of some three hundred pages each, very closely printed, even allowing for the abundantly "spaced" conversation. I should say, without pretending to an accurate "cast-off," that any three of these volumes would be longer even than the great "part"-published works of Dickens, Thackeray, or Trollope; that any two would exceed in length our own old average "three-decker"; and that any one contains at least twice the contents of the average six-shilling masterpiece of the present day.

Now it stands to reason that a man who spent only the later part of his working life in novel-production, who travelled a great deal, and who, according to his enemies, devoted a great deal of time to relaxation,[313] is not likely to have written all this enormous bulk himself, even if it were physically possible for him to have done so. One may go farther, and say that pure internal evidence shows that the whole was not written by the same person.

[Sidenote: The Collaborators?]

As for the actual collaborators—the "young men," as Thackeray obligingly called them, who carried out the works in a less funereal sense than that in which the other "young men" carried out Ananias and Sapphira—that is a question on which I do not feel called upon to enter at any length. Anybody who cannot resist curiosity on the point may consult Alphonse Karr (who really might have found something fitter on which to expend his energies); Querard, an ill-tempered bibliographer, for whom there is the excuse that, except ill-temper, idleness, with a particularly malevolent Satan to find work for its hands to do, or mere hunger, hardly anything would make a man a bibliographer of his sort; and the person whom the law called Jacquot, and he himself by the handsomer title of Eugene de Mirecourt. Whether Octave Feuillet exercised himself in this other kind before he took to his true line of novels of society; whether that ingenious journalist M. Fiorentino also played a part, are matters which who so lists may investigate. The most dangerous competitor seems to be Auguste Maquet—the "Augustus MacKeat" of the Romantic dawn—to whom some have even assigned the Mousquetaires[314] bodily, as far as the novel adds to the Courtils de Sandras "memoirs." But even with him, and still more with the others, the good old battle-horse, which never fails one in this kind of chevauchee, will be found to be effective in carrying the banner of Alexander the Greatest safe through. How does it happen that in the independent work of none of these, nor of any others, do the special marks and merits of Dumas appear? How does it happen that these marks and merits appear constantly and brilliantly in all the best work assigned to Dumas, and more fitfully in almost all its vast extent? There may be a good deal of apple in some plum-jam and perhaps some vegetable-marrow. But plumminess is plumminess still, and it is the plumminess of "Dumasity" which we are here to talk of, and that only—the quality, not the man. And whether Dumas or Diabolus conceived and brought it about matters, in the view of the present historian, not a centime. By "Dumas" is here and elsewhere—throughout this chapter and throughout this book—meant Dumasity, which is something by itself, and different from all other "-nesses and -tudes and -ties."

[Sidenote: The positive value as fiction and as literature of the books: the less worthy works.]

We can therefore, if we choose, betake ourselves with a joyful and quiet mind to the real things—the actual characteristics of that Dumasity, Diabolicity, or Dieu-sait-quoi, which distinguishes (in measures and degrees varying, perhaps essentially, certainly according to the differing castes of readers) the great Mousquetaire trilogy; the hardly less great collection of La Reine Margot and its continuations; the long eighteenth-century set which, in a general way, may be said to be two-centred, having now Richelieu (the Duke, not the Cardinal) and now Cagliostro for pivot; and Monte Cristo—with power to add to their number. In what will be said, attention will chiefly be paid to the books just mentioned, and perhaps a few more, such as La Tulipe Noire; nor is even this list so closed that anybody may not consider any special favourites of his own admissible as subjects for the almost wholly unmitigated appreciation which will follow. I do not think that Dumas was ever at his best before the late sixteenth century or after the not quite latest eighteenth. Isabel de Baviere and the Batard de Mauleon, with others, are indeed more readable than most minor historical novels; but their wheels drive somewhat heavily. As for the revolutionary set, after the Cagliostro interest is disposed of, some people, I believe, rate Le Chevalier de Maison Rouge higher than I do. It is certainly better than Les Blancs et les Bleus or Les Louves de Machecoul, in the latter of which Dumas has calmly "lifted" (or allowed a lazy "young man" to lift) the whole adventure of Rob Roy at the Fords of Frew, pretty nearly if not quite verbatim.[315] Of more avowed translations such as Ivanhoe and Jacques Ortis (the latter about as much out of his way as anything could be), it were obviously superfluous to take detailed notice. In others the very titles, such as, for instance, Les Mohicans de Paris, show at once that he is merely imitating popular styles. Yet others, such as Madame de Chamblay[316] (in which I cannot help thinking that the "young man" was Octave Feuillet not yet come to his prime), have something of the ordinary nineteenth-century novel—not of the best kind.

But in all these and many more it is simply a case of "Not here!" though in the historical examples, before Saint Bartholomew and after Sainte-Guillotine, the sentence may be mitigated to "Not here consummately." And it may be just, though only just, necessary to say that this examination of Dumas' qualities should itself, with very little application or moral, settle the question whether he is a mere circulating-library caterer or a producer of real literature.

[Sidenote: The worthier—treatment of them not so much individually as under heads.]

To give brief specifications of books and passages in the novels mentioned above, in groups or individually, may seem open to the objections often made to a mere catalogue of likes and dislikes. But, after all, in the estimation of aesthetic matters, it is likes and dislikes that count. Nowhere, and perhaps in this case less than anywhere else, can the critic or the historian pretend to dispense his readers from actual perusal; it is sufficient, but it is at the same time necessary, that he should prepare those who have not read and remind those who have. For champion specimen-pieces, satisfying, not merely in parts but as wholes, the claim that Dumas shall be regarded as an absolute master in his own craft and in his own particular division of it, the present writer must still select, after fifty years' reading and re-reading, Vingt Ans Apres and La Reine Margot. Parts of Les Trois Mousquetaires are unsurpassed and unsurpassable; but the Bonacieux love-affair is inadequate and intruded, and I have never thought Milady's seduction of Felton quite "brought off." In Le Vicomte de Bragelonne this inequality becomes much more manifest. Nothing, again, can surpass the single-handed achievement of D'Artagnan at the beginning in his kidnapping of General Monk, and few things his failure at the end to save Porthos, with the death of the latter—a thing which has hardly a superior throughout the whole range of the novel in whatever language (so far as I know) it has been written. But the "young men" were allowed their heads, by far too frequently and for too long periods, in the middle;[317] and these heads were by no means always equal to the occasion. There is no such declension in the immediate followers of La Reine Margot, La Dame de Monsoreau, and Les Quarante-Cinq. Chicot is supreme, but the personal interest is less distributed than in the first book and in the Mousquetaire trilogy.

This lack of distribution, and the inequalities of the actual adventures, are, naturally enough, more noticeable still in the longer and later series dealing with the eighteenth century, while, almost of necessity, the purely "romantic" interest is at a lower strength. I can, however, find very little fault with Le Chevalier d'Harmental—an excellent blend of lightness and excitement. Olympe de Cleves has had very important partisans;[318] but though I like Olympe herself almost better than any other of Dumas' heroines, except Marguerite, she does not seem to me altogether well "backed up"; and there is here, as there had been in the Vicomte de Bragelonne, and was to be in others, too much insignificant court-intrigue. The Cagliostro cycle again appeals very strongly to some good critics, and I own that in reading it a second time I liked it better than I had done before. But I doubt whether the supernatural of any kind was a circle in which Dumas could walk with perfect freedom and complete command of his own magic. There remains, as among the novels selected as pieces, not of conviction, but of diploma, Monte Cristo, perhaps the most popular of all, certainly one of the most famous, and still holding its popularity with good wits. Here, again. I have to confess a certain "correction of impression." As to the Chateau d'If, which is practically an independent book, there can hardly be two opinions among competent and unprejudiced persons. But I used to find the rest—the voluminous rest—rather heavy reading. Recently I got on better with them; but I can hardly say that they even now stand, with me, that supreme test of a novel, "Do you want to read it again?" I once, as an experiment, read "Wandering Willie's Tale" through, every night for a week, having read it I don't know how many times before; and I found it no more staled at the seventh enjoyment than I should have found the charm of Helen or of Cleopatra herself. I do not know how many times I have read Scott's longer novels (with one or two exceptions), or Dickens', or Thackeray's, or not a few others in French and English, including Dumas himself. And I hope to read them all once, twice, or as many times more as those other Times which are in Some One's hand will let me. But I do not want to read Monte Cristo again.

It will be clear from these remarks that, whether rightly or wrongly, I think Dumas happiest in his dealings with historical or quasi-historical matters, these dealings being subject to the general law, given more than once elsewhere, that the historical personages shall not, in their historically registered and detailed character, occupy the chief positions in the story. In other words, he seems to me to have preferred an historical canvas and a few prominent figures outlined thereon—in which respect he does not greatly differ from other historical novelists so far as they are historical novelists merely. But Dumas, as a novelist of French history, had at his disposal sources and resources, for filling up his pictures, which were lacking elsewhere, and which, in particular, English novelists possessed hardly at all, as regards anything earlier than the eighteenth century. I dare say it has often occurred to other people, as it has to me, how vastly different Peveril of the Peak—one of the least satisfactory of Scott's novels—would have been if Pepys's Diary had been published twenty years earlier instead of two years later. Evelyn was available, but far less suitable to the purpose, and was only published when Scott had begun to write rather than to read.[319] For almost every year, certainly for every decade and every notable person's life with which and with whom he wished to deal, Dumas had "Memoirs" on to which, if he did not care to take the trouble himself, he had only to turn one of the "young men" to get facts, touches, ornaments, suggestions enough for twenty times his own huge production. Of course other people had these same stores open to them, and that other people did not make the same use thereof[320] is one of the chief glories of Alexander the Great in fiction. But in any real critical-historical estimate of him, the fact has to take its place, and its very great place.

But there is the other fact, or collection of facts, of greater importance still, implied in the question, "What did he do with these stores?" and "How did he, as it seems to Alexandrians at least, do so much better than those other people, to whom they were open quite as freely?"

It is, however, before answering these questions at large, perhaps once more necessary to touch on what may be called the historical-accuracy objection. If anybody says, "The man represents Charles I. as having been taken, after he had been sold by the Scotch, direct from Newcastle to London, tried at once, and executed in a day or two. This was not the way things happened"—you are bound to acknowledge his profound and recondite historical learning. But if he goes on to say that he cannot enjoy Vingt Ans Apres as a novel because of this, you are equally bound to pity his still more profound aesthetic ignorance and impotence. The facts, in regard to the criticism of historical novels as such, illustrate the wisdom of Scott in keeping his historical characters for the most part in the background, and the unwisdom of Vigny in preferring the opposite course. But they do nothing more. If Dumas had chosen, he might have separated the dramatic meeting of the Four at Newcastle itself—and the intenser tale of their effort to save Charles, with its sequel of their own narrow escape from the Eclair felucca—by chapters, or a book, of adventures in France. But he did not choose; and the liberty of juxtaposition which he took is more apparently than really different from that which Shakespeare takes, when he jumps ten years in Antony and Cleopatra. What Dumas really borrows from history—the tragic interest of the King's fate—is in each case historically true, though it is eked and adapted and manipulated to suit the fictitious interest of the Quadrilateral. You certainly could not, then or now, ride from Windsor to London in twenty minutes, though you could now motor the distance in the time, at the risk of considerable fines. And an Englishman, jealous of his country's honour, might urge that, while the "Vin de Porto" itself came in rather later, there were few places in the England of the seventeenth century where that "Vin d'Espagne," so dear to Athos, was not more common than it was in France, though one would not venture to deny that the shortly-to-become Baron de Bracieux had some genuine Xeres (as we are told) in his cellar. But these things are—no more and no less than the greater ones—utter trifles as far as the actual novel interest is concerned. They are, indeed, less than trifles: they can hardly be said to exist.

[Sidenote: His attitude to Plot.]

The "four wheels of the novel" have been sometimes, and perhaps rightly, said to be Plot, Character, Description, and Dialogue—Style[321] being a sort of fifth. Of the first there is some difficulty in speaking, because the word "plot" is by no means used, as the text-books say, "univocally," and its synonyms or quasi-synonyms, in the different usages, are themselves things "kittle" to deal with. "Action" is sometimes taken as one of these synonyms—certainly in some senses of action no novelist has ever had more; very few have had so much. But of concerted, planned, or strictly co-ordinated action, of more than episode character, he can hardly be said to have been anything like a master. His best novels are chronicle-plays undramatised—large numbers of his scenes could be cut out with as little real loss as foolish "classical" critics used to think to be the case with Shakespeare; and his connections, when he takes the trouble to make any, are often his very weakest points. Take, for instance, the things that bring about D'Artagnan's great quest for the diamonds—one of the most excellent episodes in this department of fiction, and something more than an episode in itself. The author actually cannot think of any better way than to make Constance Bonacieux—who is represented as a rather unusually intelligent woman, well acquainted with her husband's character, and certainly not likely to overestimate him through any superabundance of wifely affection or admiration—propose that he, a middle-aged mercer of sedentary and bourgeois habits, shall undertake an expedition which, on the face of it, requires youth, strength, audacity, presence of mind, and other exceptional qualities in no ordinary measure, and which, if betrayed to an ever vigilant, extremely powerful, and quite unscrupulous enemy, is almost certain to be frustrated.

Still the "chronicle"-action dispenses a man, to a large extent, in the eyes of some readers at any rate, from even attempting exact and tight liaisons of scene in this fashion, though of course if he does attempt them he submits himself to the perils of his attempt just as his heroes submit themselves to theirs. But other readers—and perhaps all those predestined to be Alexandrians—do not care to exact the penalties for such a failure. They are quite content to find themselves launched on the next reach of the stream, without asking too narrowly whether they have been ushered decorously through a lock or have tumbled somehow over a lasher. Such troubles never drown or damage them. And indeed there are some of them sufficiently depraved by nature, and hardened by indulgence in sin, to disregard general action altogether, and to look mainly if not wholly to the way in which the individual stories are told, not at that in which they come to have to be told. Of Dumas' power of telling a story there surely can be no two opinions. The very reproach of amuseur confesses it. Of the means—or some of them—by which he does and does not exercise this power, more may be said under the heads which follow. We are here chiefly concerned with the power as it has been achieved and stands—in, for instance, such a thing, already glanced at, as the "Vin de Porto" episode or division of Vingt Ans Apres, which, though there are scores of others nearly as good, seems to me on the whole the very finest thing Dumas ever did in his own peculiar kind. There are just two dozen pages of it—pages very well filled—from the moment when Blaisois and Mousqueton express their ideas on the subject of the unsuitableness of beer, as a fortifier against sea-sickness, to that when the corpse of Mordaunt, after floating in the moonlight with the gold-hilted dagger flashing from its breast, sinks for the last time. The interest grows constantly; it is never, as it sometimes is elsewhere, watered out by too much talk, though there is enough of this to carry out the author's usual system (v. inf.). Nothing happens sufficiently extravagant or improbable to excite disgust or laughter, though what does happen is sufficiently "palpitating." If this is melodrama, it is melodrama free from most of the objections made elsewhere to the kind. And also if it is melodrama, it seems to me to be melodrama infinitely superior, not merely in degree, but in kind, to that of Sue and Soulie.

[Sidenote: To Character.]

It is in this "enfisting" power of narrative, constantly renewed if not always logically sustained and connected, that Dumas' excellence, if not his actual supremacy, lies; and the fact may dispense us from saying any more about his plots. As to Character, we must still keep the offensive-defensive line. Dumas' most formidable enemies—persons like the late M. Brunetiere—would probably say that he has no character at all. Some of his champions would content themselves with ejaculating the two names "D'Artagnan!" and "Chicot!" shrugging their shoulders, and abstaining from further argument as likely to be useless, there being no common ground to argue upon. In actual life this might not be the most irrational manner of proceeding; but it could hardly suffice here. As is usually, if not invariably, the case, the difference of estimate is traceable, in the long run, to the fact that the disputants or adversaries are not using words in the same sense—working in conjunction with the other fact that they do not like and want the same things. Almost all words are ambiguous, owing to the length of time during which they have been used and the variety of parts they have been made to play. But there are probably few which—without being absolutely equivocal like "box" and our other "foreigners' horrors"—require the use of the distinguo more than "character." As applied to novels, it may mean (1) a human personality more or less deeply analysed; (2) one vividly distinguished from others; (3) one which is made essentially alive and almost recognised as a real person; (4) a "personage" ticketed with some marks of distinction and furnished with a dramatic "part"; (5) an eccentric. The fourth and fifth may be neglected here. It is in relation to the other three that we have to consider Dumas as a character-monger.

In the competition for representation of character which depends upon analysis, "psychology," "problem-projection," Dumas is of course nowhere, though, to the disgust of some and the amusement of others, Jacques Ortis figures in the list of his works. Rene, Adolphe, the works of Madame de Stael (if they are to be admitted) and those of Beyle (which no doubt must be) found nothing corresponding in his nature; and there was not the slightest reason why they should. The cellar of the novel contains even more than the "thousand dozen of wine" enshrined by that of Crotchet Castle, but no intelligent possessor of it, any more than Mr. Crotchet himself, would dream of restricting it to one kind of vintage. Nor, probably, would any really intelligent possessor arrange his largest bins for this kind, which at its best is a very exquisite vin de liqueur, but which few people wish to drink constantly; and which at its worst, or even in mediocre condition, is very poor tipple—"shilpit," as Peter Peebles most unjustly characterises sherry in Redgauntlet. Skipping (2) for the moment, I do not know that under head (3) one can make much fight for Alexander. D'Artagnan and Chicot are doubtless great, and many others fall not far short of them. I am always glad to meet these two in literature, and should be glad to meet them in real life, particularly if they were on my side, though their being on the other would add considerably to the excitement of one's existence—so long as it continued. But I am not sure that I know them as I know Marianne and Des Grieux, Tom Jones and My Uncle Toby, the Baron of Bradwardine and Elizabeth Bennet. Athos I know or should know if I met him, which I am sorry to say I have not yet done; and La Reine Margot, and possibly Olympe de Cleves; but there is more guess-work about the knowledge with her than in the other cases. Porthos (or somebody very like him) I did know, and he was most agreeable; but he died too soon to go into the army, as he ought to have done, after leaving Oxford. And though I never met a complete Aramis, I think I have met him in parts. There are not many more of this class. On the other hand, there is almost an entire absence in Dumas of those mere lay-figures which are so common in other novelists. There is great plenty of something more than toy-theatre characters cut out well and brightly painted, fit to push across the stage and justify their "words" and vanish; but that is a different thing.

And this leads us partly back and partly up to the second head, the provision of characters sufficiently distinguished from others, and so capable of playing their parts effectually and interestingly. It is in this that he is so good, and it is this which distinguishes himself from all his fellows but the very greatest. D'Artagnan and Chicot are again the best; but how good, at least in the better books, are almost all the others! D'Artagnan would be a frightful loss, but suppose he were not there and you knew nothing about him, would you not think Planchet something of a prize? Without Chicot there would be a blank horrible to think of. But do we not still "share"? Have we not Dom Gorenflot?

It is in this provision of vivid and sufficiently, if not absolutely, vivified characters and personages—"company" for his narrative dramas—that Dumas is so admirable under this particular head. If they are rarely detachable or independent, they work out the business consummately. Lackeys and ladies' maids, inn-keepers and casual guests at inns, courtiers and lawyers, noblemen and "lower classes," they all do what they ought to do; they all "answer the ends of their being created,"—which is to carry out and on, through two or three or half a dozen volumes, a blissful suspension from the base realities of existence. And if anybody asks of them more than this, it is his own fault, and a very great fault too.[322]

[Sidenote: To Description (and "style").]

Of Description, as of the "fifth wheel" style, there is little to say about Dumas, though the littleness is in neither respect damaging. They are both adequate to the situation and the composition. Can you say much more of him or of anybody? If it were worth while to go into detail at all, this adequacy could be made out, I think, a good deal more than sufficiently. Take one of his greatest things, the "Bastion Saint-Gervais" in the Mousquetaires. If he has not made you see the heroic hopeless town, and the French leaguer and the shattered redoubt between, and the forlorn hope of the Four foolhardy yet forethoughtful and for ever delightful heroes, with their not so cheerful followers, eating, drinking, firing, consulting, and flaunting the immortal napkin-pennant in the enemy's face—you would not be made to see it, though the authors of Ines de las Sierras or of Le Chateau de la Misere had given you a cast of their office. And, what is more, the method of Ines de las Sierras and of Le Chateau de la Misere would have been actually out of place. It would have got in the way of the business, the engrossing business, of the manual fight against the Rochellois, and the spiritual fight against Richelieu and Rochefort and Milady. So, again—so almost tautologically—with "style" in the more complicated and elaborate sense of the word. One may here once more thank Emile de Girardin for the phrase that he used of Gautier's own style in feuilleton attempts. It would be genant pour l'abonne—even for an abonne who was not the first comer. It is not the beautiful phrase, over which you can linger, that is required, but the straightforward competent word-vehicle that carries you on through the business, that you want in such work. The essence of Dumas' quality is to find or make his readers thirsty, and to supply their thirst. You can't quench thirst with liqueurs; if you are not a Philistine you will not quench it with vintage port or claret, with Chateau Yquem, or even with fifteen-year-old Clicquot. A "long" whisky and potash, a bottle of sound Medoc, or, best of all, a pewter quart of not too small or too strong beer—these are the modest but sufficient quenchers that suit the case. And Dumas gives you just the equivalents of these.

[Sidenote: To Conversation.]

But it may seem that, for the last head or two, the defence has been a little "let down"—the pass, if not "sold," somewhat weakly held.[323] No such half-heartedness shall be chargeable on what is going to be said under the last category, which, in a way, allies itself to the first. It is, to a very large extent, by his marvellous use of conversation that Dumas attains his actual mastery of story-telling; and so this characteristic of his is of double importance and requires a Benjamin's allowance of treatment. The name just used is indeed specially appropriate, because Conversation is actually the youngest of the novelist's family or staff of work-fellows. We have seen, throughout or nearly throughout the last volume, how very long it was before its powers and advantages were properly appreciated; how mere recit dominated fiction; and how, when the personages were allowed to speak, they were for the most part furnished only or mainly with harangues—like those with which the "unmixed" historian used to endow his characters. That conversation is not merely a grand set-off to a story, but that it is an actual means of telling the story itself, seems to have been unconscionably and almost unintelligibly slow in occurring to men's minds; though in the actual story-telling of ordinary life by word of mouth it is, and always must have been, frequent enough.[324] It is not impossible that the derivation of prose from verse fiction may have had something to do with this, for gossippy talk and epic or romance in verse do not go well together. Nor is it probable that the old, the respectable, but the too often mischievous disinclination to "mix kinds" may have had its way, telling men that talk was the dramatist's not the novelist's business. But whatever was the cause, there can be no dispute about the fact.

It was, it should be hardly necessary to say, Scott who first discovered the secret[325] to an effectual extent, though he was not always true to his own discovery. And it is not superfluous to note that it was a specially valuable and important discovery in regard to the novel of historical adventure. It had, of course, and almost necessarily, forced itself, in regard to the novel of ordinary life, upon our own great explorers in that line earlier. Richardson has it abundantly. But when you are borrowing the subjects of the historian, what can be more natural than to succumb to the methods of the historian—the long continuous narrative and the intercalated harangue? It must be done sometimes; there is a danger of its being done too often. Before he had found out the true secret, Scott blunted the opening of Waverley with recit; after he had discovered it he relapsed in divers places, of which the opening of The Monastery may suffice for mention here. Dumas himself (and it will be at once evident that this is a main danger of "turning on your young man") has done it often—to take once more a single example, there is too much of it in the account of the great emeute, by which Gondy started the Fronde. But it is the facility which he has of dispensing with it—of making the story speak itself, with only barely necessary additions of the pointer and reciter at the side of the stage—which constitutes his power. Instances can hardly be required, for any one who knows him knows them, and every one who goes to him, not knowing, will find them. Just to touch the apices once more, the two scenes following the actual overtures of the Mousquetaires and of La Reine Margot—that where the impossible triple duel of D'Artagnan against the Three is turned into triumphant battle with the Cardinalists, blood-cementing the friendship of the Four; and that where Margot, after losing both husband and lover, is supplied with a substitute for both; adding the later passage where La Mole is saved from the noose at the door—may suffice.

Of course this device of conversation, like the other best things—the beauty of woman, the strength of wine, the sharpness of steel, and red ink—is "open to abuse."[326] It has been admitted that even the fervency of the present writer's Alexandrianism cools at the "wall-game" of Montalais and Malicorne. There may be some who are not even prepared to like it in places where I do. They are like Porthos, in the great initial interchange of compliments, and "would still be doing." But surely they cannot complain of any lack of incident in this latest and not least Alexandreid?

It may seem that the length of this chapter is not proportionate to the magnitude of the claims advanced for Dumas. But, as in other cases, I think it may not be impertinent to put in a reference to what I have previously written elsewhere. Moreover, as, but much more than, in the cases of Sandeau, Bernard, and Murger, there is an argument, paradoxical in appearance merely, for the absence of prolixity.

His claim to greatness consists, perhaps primarily, in the simplicity, straightforwardness, and general human interest of his appeal. He wants no commentaries, no introductions, no keys, no dismal Transactions of Dumas Societies and the like. Every one that thirsteth may come to his fountain and drink, without mysteries of initiation, or formalities of licence, or concomitant nuisances of superintendence and regulation. In the Camp of Refuge of Charles Macfarlane (who has recently, in an odd way, been recalled to passing knowledge)—a full and gallant private in the corps of which Dumas himself was then colonel vice Sir Walter deceased—there is a sentence which applies admirably to Dumas himself. After a success over the other half of our ancestors, and during a supper on the conquered provant, one of the Anglo-Saxon-half observes, "Let us leave off talking, and be jolly." Nothing could please me better than that some reader should be instigated to leave off my book at this point, and take up Les Trois Mousquetaires or Les Quarante-Cinq, or if he prefers it, Olympe de Cleves—"and be jolly".[327]

FOOTNOTES:

[311] The postponement of him, to this last chapter of the first division of the book, was determined on chiefly because his novels were not begun at all till years after the other greater novelists, already dealt with, had made their reputation, while the greatest of them—the "Mousquetaire" and "Henri Trois" cycles—did not appear till the very last lustrum of the half-century. But another—it may seem to some a childish—consideration had some weight with me. I wished to range father and son on either side of the dividing summary; for though the elder wrote long after 1850 and the younger some time before it, in hardly any pair is the opposition of the earlier and later times more clearly exposed; and the identity of name emphasises the difference of nature.

[312] In using this phrase I remembered the very neat "score" made off the great Alexander himself by a French judge, in some case at Rouen where Dumas was a witness. Asked as usual his occupation, he replied somewhat grandiloquently: "Monsieur, si je n'etais pas dans la ville de Corneille, je dirais 'Auteur dramatique.'" "Mais, Monsieur," replied the official with the sweetest indulgence, "il y a des degres." (This story is told, like most such, with variants; and sometimes, as in the particular case was sure to happen, not of Alexander the father, but of Alexander the son. But I tell it, as I read or heard it, long years ago.)

[313] You may possibly do as an English novelist of the privileged sex is said to have done, and write novels while people are calling on you and you are talking to them (though I should myself consider it bad manners, and the novels would certainly bear traces of the exploit). But you can hardly do it while, as a famous caricature represents the scene, persons of that same sex, in various dress or undress, are frolicking about your chair and bestowing on you their obliging caresses. Nor are corricolos and speronares, though they may be good things to write on in one sense, good in another to write in.

[314] As far as I know Maquet, his line seems to me to have been drama rather than fiction.

[315] I seem to remember somebody (I rather think it was Henley, and it was very likely to be) attempting a defence of this. But, except pour rire, such a thing is hopeless.

[316] I think (but it is a long time since I read the book) that it is the heroine of this who, supposed to be a dead, escapes from "that grewsome thing, premature interment" (as Sandy Mackay justly calls it), because of the remarkable odour of violettes de Parme which her unspotted flesh evolves from the actual grave.

[317] I do not mind Montalais, but I object to Malicozne both in himself and as her lover. Mlle. de la Valliere and the plots against her virtue give us "pious Selinda" at unconscionable length, and, but that it would have annoyed Athos, I rather wish M. le Vicomte de la Bragelonne himself had come to an end sooner.

[318] My friend Mr. Henley, I believe, ranked it very high, and so did a common friend of his and mine, the late universally regretted Mr. George Wyndham. It so happened that, by accident, I never read the book till a few years ago; and Mr. Wyndham saw it, fresh from the bookseller's and uncut (or technically, "unopened") in my study. I told him the circumstances, and he said, in his enthusiastic way, "I do envy you!"

[319] I do not need to be reminded of the conditions of health that also affected Peveril.

[320] I need not repeat, but merely refer to, what I have said of Cinq-Mars and of Notre-Dame de Paris.

[321] On the very day on which I was going over the rough draft of this passage I saw, in a newspaper of repute, some words which perhaps throw light on the objection to Dumas as having no literary merit. In them "incident, coherence, humour, and dramatic power" were all excluded from this merit, "style" alone remaining. Now I have been almost as often reproved for attaching too much value to style in others as for attending too little to it myself. But I certainly could not give it such a right to "reign alone." It will indeed "do" almost by itself; but other things can "do" almost without it.

[322] To be absolutely candid, Dumas himself did sometimes ask more of them than they could do; and then he failed. There can, I think, be little doubt that this is the secret of the inadequacy (as at least it seems to me) of the Felton episode. As a friend (whose thousand merits strive to cover his one crime of not admiring Dumas quite enough), not knowing that I had yet written a line of this chapter, but as it happened just as I had reached the present point, wrote to me: "Think what Sir Walter would have made of Felton!"

[323] I could myself be perfectly content to adapt George III. on a certain Apology, and substitute for all this a simple "I do not think Dumas needs any defence." But where there has been so much obloquy, there should, perhaps, be some refutation.

[324] "And then he says, says he...."

[325] In modern novels, of course. You have some good talk in Homer and also in the Sagas, but I am not thinking or speaking of them.

[326]

"Red ink for ornament and black for use— The best of things are open to abuse."

(The Good Clerk as vouched for by Charles Lamb.)

[327] Yet, being nothing if not critical, I can hardly agree with those who talk of Dumas' "wild imagination"! As the great Mr. Wordsworth was more often made to mourn by the gratitude of men than by its opposite, so I, in my humbler sphere, am more cast down sometimes by inapposite praise than by ignorant blame.



CHAPTER IX

THE FRENCH NOVEL IN 1850

[Sidenote: The peculiarity of the moment.]

It was not found necessary, in the last volume, to suspend the current of narrative or survey for the purpose of drawing interim conclusions in special "Interchapters."[328] But the subjects of this present are so much more bulky and varied, in proportion to the space available and the time considered; while the fortunes of the novel itself altered so prodigiously during that time, that something of the kind seemed to be desirable, if not absolutely necessary. Moreover, the actual centre of the century in France, or rather what may be called its precinct, the political interregnum of 1848-1852, is more than a mere political and chronological date. To take it as an absolute apex or culmination would be absurd; and even to take it as a definite turning-point might be excessive. Not a few of the greatest novelists then living and working—Hugo, whose most popular and bulkiest work in novel was yet to come; George Sand, Merimee, Gautier—were still to write for the best part of a quarter of a century, if not more; and the most definite fresh start of the second period, the rise of Naturalism, was not to take place till a little later. But already Chateaubriand, Beyle, Charles de Bernard, and, above all, Balzac, were dead or soon to die: and it cannot be said that any of the survivors developed new characters of work, for even Hugo's was (v. sup.) only the earlier "writ large" and modernised in non-essentials. On the other hand, it was only after this time that Dumas fils, the earliest of what may be called the new school, produced his most remarkable work.

But the justification of such an "Interchapter" as this practically is depends, not on what is to come after, but on what has come before; and in this respect we shall find little difficulty in vindicating the position and arrangement assigned to the remarks which are to follow, though some of these may look forward as well as backward.[329]

* * * * *

[Sidenote: A political nadir.]

I should imagine that few Frenchmen—despite the almost infinite and sometimes very startling variety of selection which the laudator temporis acti exhibits—look back upon the reign of Louis Philippe as a golden age in any respect but one. Regarding it from the point of view of general politics, the ridiculous change[330] from "King of France" to "King of the French" stamped it at once, finally and hopelessly, as the worst kind of compromise—as a sort of spiritual imitation of the methods of the Triumvirate, where everybody gives up, not exactly his father or his uncle or his brother, but his dearest and most respectable convictions, together with the historical, logical, and sentimental supports of them. The king himself—though certainly no fool, and though hardly to be called an unmitigated knave—was one of those unfortunate persons whose merits do not in the least interest and whose defects do very strongly disgust. Domestically, the reign was a reign, in the other sense, of silly minor revolutions, which, till the end, came to nothing, and then came to something only less absurd than the Russian revolution of the other day, though fortunately less disastrous;[331] of bureaucracy of the corrupt and shabby character which seemed to cling to the whole regime; and of remarkable vying between two distinguished men of letters, Guizot and Thiers, as to which should do most to confirm the saying of the wicked that men of letters had much better have nothing to do with politics.[332] Abroad (with the exception of the acquisition of Algeria, which had begun earlier, and which conferred no great honour, though some profit, and a little snatching up of a few loose trifles such as the Society Islands, which we had, according to our custom, carelessly or benevolently left to gleaners), French arms, despite a great deal of brag and swagger, obtained little glory, while French diplomacy let itself wallow in one of the foulest sloughs in history, the matter of the Spanish marriages.

[Sidenote: And almost a literary zenith.]

But this unsatisfactory state of things was made up—and more than made up—for posterity if not for contemporaries—by the extraordinary development of literature and the arts—especially literature and most especially of all the belles-lettres. If (which would be rather impossible) one were to evaluate the relative excellence of poetry and of prose fiction in the time itself, a great deal could be said on both sides. But if one took the larger historic view, it would certainly have to be admitted that, while the excellence of French poetry was a magnificent Renaissance after a long period of something like sterility, the excellence of the novel was something more—an achievement of things never yet achieved; an acquisition and settlement of territory which had never previously been even explored.

I venture to hope that no great injustice has been done to the previous accomplishments of France in this department as they were surveyed in the last volume. She had been, if not the inventress of Romance, the [Greek: aidoie tamie]—the revered distributress—of it to all nations; she had made the short story her own to such an extent that, in almost all its forms, she had reached and kept mastery of it; and in various isolated instances she had done very important, if not now universally acceptable, work in the practice of the "Heroic." With Rabelais, Lesage, almost Marivaux, certainly, in his one diploma-piece, Prevost, she had contributed persons and things of more or less consummateness to the novel-staff and the novel treasury. But she had never quite reached, as England for two full generations had reached before 1800, the consummate expression of the—pure novel—the story which, not neglecting incident, but as a rule confining itself to the incidents of ordinary life; advancing character to a position at least equal with plot; presenting the manners of its own day, but charging them with essence of humanity in all days; re-creates, for the delectation of readers, a new world of probable, indeed of actual, life through the medium of literature. And she had rarely—except in the fairy-tale and a very few masterpieces like Manon Lescaut again and La Nouvelle Heloise[333]—achieved what may be called the Romantic or passionate novel; while, except in such very imperfect admixtures of the historic element as La Princesse de Cleves, she had never attempted, and even in these had never attained, the historical novel proper.

Now, in 1850, she had done all this, and more.

[Sidenote: The performance of the time in novel.]

As has been seen, the doing was, if not solely effected between 1830 and 1848, mainly and almost wholly carried out in the second quarter of the century. In the first, only three persons possessing anything like genius—Benjamin Constant, Madame de Stael, and Chateaubriand—had busied themselves with the novel, and they were all strongly charged with eighteenth-century spirit. Indeed, Constant, as we saw in the last volume, though he left pattern and stimulus for the nineteenth and the future generally, really represented the last dying words of that "Sensibility" school which was essentially of the past, though it was undoubtedly necessary to the future. Likewise in Madame de Stael, and still more in Chateaubriand, there was model, stimulus, germ. But they also were, on the whole, of the eve rather than of the morrow. I have indeed sometimes wondered what would have happened if Chateaubriand had gone on writing novels, and had devoted to fiction the talent which he wasted on the mesquin[334] politics of the France of his later days and on the interesting but restricted and egotistic Memoires d'Outre-Tombe. It is no doubt true that, though old men have often written great poetry and excellent serious prose, nobody, so far as I remember, has written a great novel after seventy. For Quatre-Vingt-Treize, if it be great, is a romance rather than a novel, and a romance which had much better have been poetry. But this is an excursion into the Forbidden Country of the Might-Have-Been. We are concerned with what was.

The accomplishment of these twenty or five-and-twenty years is so extraordinary—when bulk, variety, novelty, and greatness of achievement are considered together—that there is hardly anything like it elsewhere. The single work of Balzac would mark and make an epoch; and this is wholly the property of the period. And though there is still, and is likely always to be, controversy as to whether the Balzacian men and women are exactly men and women of this world, there can, as may have been shown, be no rational denial of the fact that they represent a world—not of pure romance, not of fairy-tale, not of convention or fashion or coterie, but a world human and synthetically possible in its kind.

[Sidenote: The personnel.]

But while the possession of Balzac alone would have sufficed, by itself, to give the time front rank among the periods of the novel, it is not in the least extravagant to add that if Balzac had been blotted out of its record it could still prove title-deeds enough, and more than enough, to such a place. Fault has here been found—perhaps not a few readers may think to an excessive, certainly to a considerable extent—with the novel-work of Hugo and with that of George Sand. But the fault-finder has not dreamed of denying that, as literature in novel-form, Les Miserables and L'Homme Qui Rit and Quatre-Vingt-Treize are great, and that Les Travailleurs de la Mer is of the greatest.[335] And on the other hand, while strong exceptions have been taken from several sides to the work of George Sand, the fact remains—and no attempt has been made to obscure or to shake it—that George Sand gave novel delectation, in no vulgar fashion, and to no small extent in the form of the pure novel itself, probably to as large a number of readers as any novelist except Scott and Dumas; and perhaps Dickens, has ever given. Of the miraculous production of Dumas himself almost enough should have been said before, though a little more may come after; and whatever controversy there may be about its purely literary value, there can—with reasonable people who are prepared to give and take—be little anxiety to deny that each of these three, like Balzac, might have taken the burden of the period on his or her own shoulders, while as a matter of fact they have but to take each a corner. Nor, even when thus divided, is the burden left wholly to them. The utmost perfection, at least in the short story, is reached by Merimee and Gautier, little less than such perfection by others. For suggestions of new kinds and new treatments, if for no single performance, few periods, if any, have a superior to Beyle.

But, once more, just as the time need not rely on any single champion of its greatest to maintain its position, so, if all the greater names just mentioned were struck out, it would still be able to "make good" by dint of the number, the talent, the variety, the novelty of its second- and third-rate representatives. Even those who may think that I have taken Paul de Kock too seriously cannot deny—for it is a simple fact—the vigorous impulse that he gave to the popularity of the novel as a form of the printed book, if not of literature; while I can hardly imagine any one who takes the trouble to examine this fact refusing to admit that it is largely due to an advance in reality of a kind—though they may think this kind itself but a shady and sordid one. On the other hand, I think less of Eugene Sue than at one time "men of good" used to think; but I, in my turn, should not dream of denying his popularity, or the advance which he too effected in procuring for the novel its share, and a vast share, in the attention of the general reader. Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard, Soulie and Feval and Achard, and not a few others mentioned or not mentioned in the text, come up to support their priors, while, as I have endeavoured to point out, two others still, Charles Nodier and Gerard de Nerval, though it may seem absurd to claim primacy for them, contribute that idiosyncrasy without which, whether it be sufficient to establish primacy or not, nothing can ever claim to possess that quality.

[Sidenote: The kinds—the historical novel.]

But while it is not necessary to repeat the favourable estimates already given of individuals, it is almost superfluous to rest the claims of the period to importance in novel history upon them. Elsewhere[336] I have laid some emphatic and reiterated stress on the mischief which has sometimes arisen from too exclusive critical attention to "kinds," classes, and the like in literature—to the oblivion or obscuring of individual men and works of letters. But as there has been, and I hope will be, no ignoring of individuals here, and as this whole book endeavours to be a history of a kind, remarks on subdivisions of that kind as such can hardly be regarded as inopportune or inconsistent.

[Sidenote: Appearance of new classes—the historical.]

Now it is impossible that anybody who is at all inclined or accustomed to think about the characteristics of the pleasure he receives from literature, should not have noticed in this period the fact—beside and outside of the other fact of a provision of delectable novelists—of a great splitting up and (as scientific slang would put it) fissiparous generation of the the classes of novel. It is, indeed, open to the advocates or generic or specific criticism—though I think they cannot possibly maintain their position as to poetry—to urge that a great deal of harm was done to the novel, or at least that its development was unnecessarily retarded, by the absence of this division earlier. And in particular they might lay stress on the fortunes and misfortunes of the historical element. That element had at least helped to start—and had largely provided the material of—the earlier verse-romances and stories generally; but the entire absence of criticism at the time had merged it, almost or altogether, in mere fiction. It had played, as we saw, a great part in the novels of the seventeenth century; but it had for the most part merely "got in the way" of its companion ingredients and in its own. I have admitted that there are diversities of opinion as to its value in the Astree; but I hold strongly to my own that it would be much better away there. I can hardly think that any one, uninfluenced by the sillier, not the nobler, estimate of the classics, can think that the "heroic" novels gain anything, though they may possibly not lose very much, by the presence in them of Cyrus and Clelia, Arminius and Candace, Roxana and Scipio. But perhaps the most fruitful example for consideration is La Princesse de Cleves. Here, small as is the total space, there is a great deal of history and a crowd, if for the most part mute, of historical persons. But not one of these has the very slightest importance in the story; and the Prince and the Princess and the Duke—we may add the Vidame—who are the only figures that have importance, might be the Prince and Princess of Kennaquhair, the Duke of Chose, and the Vidame of Gonesse, in any time or no time since the creation of the world, while retaining their fullest power of situation and appeal.

But this side of the matter is of far less consequence than another. This historical element of the historia mixta[337] was not merely rather a nuisance and quite a superfluity as regarded the whole of the stories in which it appeared; but its presence there and the tricks that had to be played with it prevented the development of the historical novel proper—that, as it has been ticketed, "bodiless childful of life," which waited two thousand years in the ante-natal gloom before it could get itself born. Here, indeed, one may claim—and I suppose no sensible Frenchmen would for a moment hesitate to admit it—that even more than in the case of Richardson's influence nearly a century earlier, help came to their Troy from a Greek city. To France as to England, and to all the world, Scott unlocked the hoard of this delightful variety of fictitious literature, though it was not quite at once that she took advantage of the treasury.

But when she did, the way in which she turned over the borrowed capital was certainly amazing, and for a long time she quite distanced the followers of Scott himself in England. James, Ainsworth, and even Bulwer cannot possibly challenge comparison with the author of Notre Dame de Paris as writers, or with Dumas as story-tellers; and it was not till the second half of the century was well advanced, and when Dumas' own best days were very nearly over, that England, with Thackeray's Esmond and Kingsley's Westward Ho! and Charles Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth, re-formed the kind afresh into something which France has never yet been able to rival.

In order, however, to obviate any possible charge of insular unfairness, it may be well to note that Chateaubriand, though he had never reached (or in all probability attempted to reach) anything of the true Scott kind, had made a great advance in something the same direction, and had indeed to some extent sketched a different variety of historical novel from Scott's own; while, before Scott's death, Victor Hugo imbued the Scott romance itself with intenser doses of passion, of the subsidiary interests of art, etc., and of what may be in a way called "theory," than Scott had cared for. In fact, the Hugonic romance is a sort of blending of Scott and Byron, with a good deal of the author's country, and still more of himself, added. The connection again between Scott and Dumas is simpler and less blended with other influences; the chief differences should have been already pointed out. But the important thing to notice is that, with a few actual gaps, and several patches which have been more fully worked over and occupied than others, practically the whole of French history from the fourteenth century to, and including, the Revolution was "novelised" by the wand of this second magician.[338]

That the danger of the historical variety was entirely avoided by these its French practitioners cannot indeed be said. Even Scott had not wholly got the better of it in his less perfect pieces, such, for instance, as those already glanced-at parts of The Monastery, where historical recit now and then supplies the place of vigorous novel-action and talk. Dumas' co-operative habits (which are as little to be denied as they are to be exaggerated) lent themselves to it much more freely. But, notwithstanding this, the total accession of pleasure to the novel-reader was immense, and the further possibility of such accession practically unlimited. And accordingly the kind, though sometimes belittled by foolish criticism, and sometimes going out of favour by the vicissitudes of mere fashion, has constantly renewed itself, and is likely to do so. Its special advantages and its special warnings are of some interest to discuss briefly. Among the first may be ranked something which the foolish belittlers above mentioned entirely fail to appreciate, and indeed positively dislike. The danger of the novel of ordinary and contemporary life (which accompanied this and which is to be considered shortly as such) is that there may be so much mere ordinariness and contemporariness that the result may be distasteful, if not sickening, to future ages. This has (to take one example out of many) happened with the novels of so clever a person as Theodore Hook in England, even with comparatively elect judges; with the vulgar it is said to have happened even with such consummate things as those of Miss Austen. With a large number of another sort of vulgar it is said to happen with "Victorian" novels generally, while even the elect sometimes find it difficult to prevent its happening with Edwardian and Fifth Georgian. Now the historical novelist has before him the entire range of the most interesting fashions, manners, incidents, characters, literary styles of recorded time. He has but to select from this inexhaustible store of general material, and to charge it with sufficient power of humanity of all time, and the thing is done.[339] Under no circumstances can the best historical novels ever lose their attraction with the best readers; and as for the others in each kind, who cares what happens to them?

There are, moreover, some interesting general rules about the historical novel which are well worth a moment's notice, even if this partake to some extent of the nature of repetition. The chief of them, which at least ought to be well known, is that it is never safe to make a prominent historical character, and seldom safe to make a prominent historical event, the central subject of your story. The reason is of course obvious. The generally known facts cramp and hamper the writer; he is constantly knocking against them, and finding them in the way of the natural development of his tale. No doubt there is, and has been, a good deal of otiose and even rather silly criticism of details in historical novels which do not satisfy the strict historian. The fuss which some people used to make about Scott's anachronisms in Ivanhoe and Kenilworth; the shakings of heads which ought to know better, over Thackeray's dealings with the Old Chevalier and his scandals about Miss Oglethorpe in Esmond, can be laughed or wondered at merely. But then these are matters of no importance to the main story. It is Ivanhoe and Rebecca, Henry Esmond and Beatrix,[340] all of them persons absolutely unknown to history, in whom we are really interested; and in the other case mentioned, Amy Robsart is such a creature or "daughter," if not "of dreams" "of debate," that you may do almost what you like with her; and the book does not sin by presentation of a Leicester so very different from the historical.[341] But, on the other hand, the introduction of historical persons, skilfully used, seasons, enforces, and vivifies the interest of a book mightily; and the action of great historical scenes supports that of the general plot in a still more remarkable manner. On the whole, we may perhaps say that Dumas depends more on the latter, Scott on the former, and that the difference is perhaps connected with their respective bulk and position as dramatists. Dumas has made of no historical magnate anything like what Scott has made of Richard and of Mary and of Elizabeth; but Scott has not laid actual historical scenes under contribution to anything like the same extent as that by which Dumas has in a fashion achieved a running panorama-companion to the history of France from the fourteenth century to the Revolution and, more intensively, from the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew to the establishment of Louis XIV.'s autocracy.

In fact, the advantages, both to the novelist and to his readers, of the historical kind can hardly be exaggerated. The great danger of invented prose narrative—of all invented narrative, indeed, prose or verse—has always been, and has always from the first shown itself as being, that of running into moulds. In the old epics (the Classical, not the Chansons) this danger was accentuated by the rise of rule-criticism; but the facts had induced, if they did not justify, that rule-system itself. The monotony of the mediaeval romance, whether Chanson or Roman, has been declared more than once in this book to be exaggerated, but it certainly exists. The "heroic" succumbs to a similar fate rather fatally, though the heroic element itself comes slightly to the rescue; and even the picaresque by no means escapes. To descend, or rather to look, into the gutter for a moment, the sameness of the deliberately obscene novel is a byword to those who, in pursuit of knowledge, have incurred the necessity of "washing themselves in water and being unclean until the evening"; and we saw that even such a light and lively talent as Crebillon's, keeping above the very lowest gutter-depths, could not escape the same danger wholly. In the upper air the fairy-tale flies too often in prescribed gyres; and the most modern kinds of all—the novel of analysis, the problem-novel, and all the rest of them—strive in vain to avoid the curse of—as Rabelais put something not dissimilar long ago—"fatras a la douzaine." "All the stories are told," saith the New, even as the Old, Preacher; all but the highest genius is apt to show ruts, brain-marks, common orientations of route and specifications of design. Only the novel of creative—not merely synthetised—character in the most expert hands escapes—for human character undoubtedly partakes of the Infinite; but few are they who can command the days and ways of creation.

Yet though history has its unaltering laws; though human nature in general is always the same; though that which hath been shall be, and the dreams of new worlds and new societies are the most fatuous of vain imaginations—the details of historical incident vary as much as those of individual character or feature, and the whole of recorded time offers them, more than half ready for use, in something like the same condition as those patterns of work which ladies buy, fill up, and regard as their own. To make an historical novel of the very highest class, such as the best of Scott and Thackeray, requires of course very much more than this—to make one of all but the highest class, such as Les Trois Mousquetaires, requires much more. But that "tolerable pastime," which it is the business of the average novelist to supply at the demand of the average reader, can perhaps be attained more easily, more abundantly, and with better prospect of average satisfaction in the historical way than in any other.

[Sidenote: Other kinds and classes.]

[Sidenote: The Novel of Romanticism generally.]

It would, however, of course be an intolerable absurdity to rest the claims of the French novel of 1825 to 1850 wholly—it would be somewhat absurd to rest them mainly—on its performances in this single kind. It found out, continued, or improved many others; and perhaps most of its greatest achievements were in these others. In fact "others" is an incorrect or at least an inexact term; for the historic novel itself is only a subdivision or offshoot of the great literary revolution which we call Romanticism. Indeed the entire novel of the nineteenth century, misapprehend the fact as people may, is in fact Romantic, from the first novel of Chateaubriand to the last of Zola, though the Romanticism is chequered and to a certain extent warped by that invincible French determination towards "Rule" which has vindicated itself so often, and on which shortly we may have to make something almost like an excursus. But this very fact, if nothing else, would make a discussion of the Romantic novel as such out of place here; it will have to come, to some extent at any rate, in the Conclusion itself. Only for the present need it be said, without quite the same danger of meeting with scornful or indignant protest, that all the books hitherto discussed from Rene to Dominique, from Le Solitaire to Monte Cristo—even the work of Merimee and Sainte-Beuve, those celebrated "apostates" as some would have them to be—is really Romantic. It may follow the more poetical romanticism of Nodier and Hugo, of Gautier and Gerard; the historical romanticism of Vigny and Merimee; the individualism and analysis of Beyle and his disciples; the supernaturalism of George Sand and Nodier again; the adventurous incident of Sue and Soulie and Dumas and the Dumasians generally; it may content itself with that modified form of the great Revolt which admits "low" or "middle" subjects and discards the classical theories that a hero ought to be dignified. But always there is something of the general Romantic colour about—something over which M. Nisard has shaken or would have shaken his respectable perruque.[342]

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