HotFreeBooks.com
Figures of Several Centuries
by Arthur Symons
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Hedda Gabler is closer to life; and Ibsen said about it in a letter:

It was not really my desire to deal in this play with so-called problems. What I principally wanted to do was to depict human beings, human emotions, and human destinies, upon a groundwork of certain of the social conditions and principles of the present day.'

The play might be taken for a study in that particular kind of 'decadence' which has come to its perfection in uncivilised and overcivilised Russia; and the woman whom Ibsen studied as his model was actually half-Russian. Eleonora Duse has created Hedda over again, as a poet would have created her, and has made a wonderful creature whom Ibsen never conceived, or at least never rendered. Ibsen has tried to add his poetry by way of ornament, and gives us a trivial and inarticulate poet about whom float certain catchwords. Here the chief catchword is 'vine-leaves in the hair'; in The Master-builder it is 'harps in the air'; in Little Eyolf it takes human form and becomes the Rat-wife; in John Gabriel Borkman it drops to the tag of 'a dead man and two shadows'; in When we Dead Awaken there is nothing but icy allegory. All that queer excitement of The Master-builder, that 'ideal' awake again, is it not really a desire to open one's door to the younger generation? But is it the younger generation that finds itself at home there? is it not rather Peer Gynt back again, and the ride through the air on the back of the reindeer?

In his earlier plays Ibsen had studied the diseases of society, and he had considered the individual only in his relation to society. Now he turns to study the diseases of the individual conscience. Only life interests him now, and only life feverishly alive; and the judicial irony has gone out of his scheme of things. The fantastic, experimental artist returns, now no longer external, but become morbidly curious. The man of science, groping after something outside science, reaches back, though with a certain uneasiness, to the nursery legend of the Rat-wife in Little Eyolf; and the Rat-wife is neither reality nor imagination, neither Mother Bombie nor Macbeth's witches, but the offspring of a supernaturalism that does not believe in itself. In John Gabriel Borkman, which is the culmination of Ibsen's skill in construction, a play in four acts with only the pause of a minute between each, he is no longer content to concern himself with the old material, lies or misunderstandings, the irony of things happening as they do; but will have fierce hatreds, and a kind of incipient madness in things. In When we Dead Awaken all the people are quite consciously insane, and act a kind of charade with perfectly solemn faces and a visible effort to look their parts.

In these last plays, with their many splendid qualities, not bound together and concentrated as in Ghosts, we see the revenge of the imagination upon the realist, who has come to be no longer interested in the action of society upon the individual, but in the individual as a soul to be lost or saved. The man of science has discovered the soul, and does not altogether know what to do with it. He has settled its limits, set it to work in space and time, laid bare some of its secrets, shown its 'physical basis.' And now certain eccentricities in it begin to beckon to him; he would follow the soul into the darkness, but it is dark to him; he can but strain after it as it flutters. In the preface to the collected edition of his plays, published in 1901, Maeterlinck has pointed out, as one still standing at the cross-roads might point out to those who have followed him so far on his way, the great uncertainty in which the poet, the dramatist of to-day, finds himself, as what seems to be known or conjectured of 'the laws of nature' is forced upon him, making the old, magnificently dramatic opportunities of the ideas of fate, of eternal justice, no longer possible for him to use.

Le poete dramatique est oblige de faire descendre dans la vie reelle, dans la vie de tous les jours, l'idee qu'il se fait de l'inconnu. Il faut qu'il nous montre de quelle facon, sous quelle forme, dans quelles conditions, d'apres quelles lois, a quelle fin, agissent sur nos destinees les puissances superieures, les influences inintelligibles, les principes infinis, dont, en tant que poete, il est persuade que l'univers est plein. Et comme il est arrive a une heure ou loyalement il lui est a peu pres impossible d'admettre les anciennes, et ou celles qui les doivent remplacer ne sont pas encore determinees, n'ont pas encore de nom, il hesite, tatonne, et s'il veut rester absolument sincere, il n'ose plus se risquer hors de la realite immediate. Il se borne a etudier les sentiments humains dans leurs effets materiels et psychologiques.

So long as Ibsen does this, he achieves great and solid things; and in Ghosts a scientific dogma, the law or theory of heredity, has for once taken the place of fate, and almost persuaded us that science, if it takes poetry from us, can restore to us a kind of poetry. But, as Maeterlinck has seen, as it is impossible not to see,

quand Ibsen, dans d'autres drames, essaie de relier a d'autres mysteres les gestes de ses hommes en mal de conscience exceptionelle ou de ses femmes hallucinees, il faut convenir que, si l'atmosphere qu'il parvient a creer est etrange et troublante, elle est rarement saine et respirable, parce qu'elle est rarement raisonnable et reele.

From the time when, in A Doll's House, Ibsen's puppets came to life, they have refused ever since to be put back into their boxes. The manager may play what tricks with them he pleases, but he cannot get them back into their boxes. They are alive, and they live with a weird, spectacular, but irrevocable life. But, after the last play of all, the dramatic epilogue, When we Dead Awaken, the puppets have gone back into their boxes. Now they have come to obey the manager, and to make mysterious gestures which they do not understand, and to speak in images and take them for literal truths. Even their spectral life has gone out of them; they are rigid now, and only the strings set them dancing. The puppets had come to life, they had lived the actual life of the earth; and then a desire of the impossible, the desire of a life rarefied beyond human limits, took their human life from them, and they were puppets again. The epilogue to the plays is the apostasy of the man of science, and, as with all apostates, his new faith is not a vital thing; the poet was not really there to reawaken.

Before Ibsen the drama was a part of poetry; Ibsen has made it prose. All drama up to Ibsen had been romantic; Ibsen made it science. Until Ibsen no playwright had ever tried to imitate life on the stage, or even, as Ibsen does, to interpret it critically. The desire of every dramatist had been to create over again a more abundant life, and to create it through poetry or through humour; through some form, that is, of the imagination. There was a time when Ibsen too would have made poetry of the drama; there was a time when verse seemed to him the only adequate form in which drama could be written. But his power to work in poetry was not equal to his desire to be a poet; and, when he revolted against verse and deliberately adopted as his material 'the common order of things,' when he set himself, for the first time in the history of the drama, to produce an illusion of reality rather than a translation or transfiguration of reality, he discovered his own strength, the special gift which he had brought into the world; but at the same time he set, for himself and for his age, his own limits to drama.

It is quite possible to write poetic drama in prose, though to use prose rather than verse is to write with the left hand rather than with the right. Before Ibsen, prose had been but a serving-maid to verse; and no great dramatist had ever put forward the prose conception of the drama. Shakespeare and the Elizabethans had used prose as an escape or a side-issue, for variety, or for the heightening of verse. Moliere had used prose as the best makeshift for verse, because he was not himself a good craftsman in the art. And, along with the verse, and necessarily dependent upon it, there was the poetic, the romantic quality in drama. Think of those dramatists who seem to have least kinship with poetry; think, I will not say of Moliere, but of Congreve. What is more romantic than The Way of the World? But Ibsen extracts the romantic quality from drama as if it were a poison; and, in deciding to write realistically in prose, he gives up every aim but that which he defines, so early as 1874, as the wish 'to produce the impression on the reader that what he was reading was something that had really happened.' He is not even speaking of the effect in a theatre; he is defining his aim inside the covers of a book, his whole conception of drama.

The art of imitation has never been carried further than it has been carried by Ibsen in his central plays; and with him, at his best, it is no mere imitation but a critical interpretation of life. How greatly this can be done, how greatly Ibsen has done it, there is Ghosts to show us. Yet at what point this supreme criticism may stop, what remains beyond it in the treatment of the vilest contemporary material, we shall see if we turn to a play which seems at first sight more grossly realistic than the most realistic play of Ibsen—Tolstoi's Powers of Darkness. Though, as one reads and sees it, the pity and fear seem to weigh almost intolerably upon one, the impression left upon the mind when the reading or the performance is over, is that left by the hearing of noble and tragic music. How, out of such human discords, such a divine harmony can be woven I do not know; that is the secret of Tolstoi's genius, as it is the secret of the musician's. Here, achieved in terms of naked horror, we find some of the things which Maeterlinck has aimed at and never quite rendered through an atmosphere and through forms of vague beauty. And we find also another kind of achievement, by the side of which Ibsen's cunning adjustments of reality seem a little trivial or a little unreal. Here, for once, human life is islanded on the stage, a pin-point of light in an immense darkness; and the sense of that surrounding darkness is conveyed to us, as in no other modern play, by an awful sincerity and an unparalleled simplicity. Whether Tolstoi has learned by instinct some stagecraft which playwrights have been toiling after in vain, or by what conscious and deliberate art he has supplemented instinct, I do not know. But, out of horror and humour, out of some creative abundance which has taken the dregs of human life up into itself and transfigured them by that pity which is understanding, by that faith which is creation, Tolstoi has in this play done what Ibsen has never done—given us an interpretation of life which owes nothing to science, nothing to the prose conception of life, but which, in spite of its form, is essential poetry.

Ibsen's concern is with character; and no playwright has created a more probable gallery of characters with whom we can become so easily and so completely familiar. They live before us, and with apparently so unconscious a self-revelation that we speculate about them as we would about real people, and sometimes take sides with them against their creator. Nora would, would not, have left her children! We know all their tricks of mind, their little differences from other people, their habits, the things that a novelist spends so much of his time in bringing laboriously before us. Ibsen, in a single stage direction, gives you more than you would find in a chapter of a novel. His characters, when they are most themselves, are modern, of the day or moment; they are average, and represent nothing which we have not met with, nothing which astonishes us because it is of a nobility, a heroism, a wildness beyond our acquaintance. It is for this that he has been most praised; and there is something marvellous in the precision of his measurements of just so much and no more of the soul.

Yet there are no great characters in Ibsen; and do not great characters still exist? Ibsen's exceptional people never authenticate themselves as being greatly exceptional; their genius is vouched for on a report which they are themselves unable to confirm, as in the inarticulate poet Loevborg, or on their own assertion, as with John Gabriel Borkman, of whom even Dr. Brandes admits, 'His own words do not convince me, for one, that he has ever possessed true genius.' When he is most himself, when he has the firmest hold on his material, Ibsen limits himself to that part of the soul which he and science know. By taking the average man as his hero, by having no hero, no villain, only probable levels, by limiting human nature to the bounds within which he can clinically examine it, he shirks, for the most part, the greatest crisis of the soul. Can the greatest drama be concerned with less than the ultimate issues of nature, the ultimate types of energy? with Lear and with Oedipus? The world of Shakespeare and of the Greeks is the world; it is universal, whether Falstaff blubbers in the tavern or Philoctetes cries in the cave. But the world which Ibsen really knows is that little segment of the world which we call society; its laws are not those of nature, its requirements are not the requirements of God or of man; it is a business association for the capture and division of profits; it is, in short, a fit subject for scientific study, but no longer a part of the material of poetry. The characteristic plays of Ibsen are rightly known as 'social dramas.' Their problem, for the main part, is no longer man in the world, but man in society. That is why they have no atmosphere, no background, but are carefully localised.

The rhythm of prose is physiological; the rhythm of poetry is musical. There is in every play of Ibsen a rhythm perfect of its kind, but it is the physiological rhythm of prose. The rhythm of a play of Shakespeare speaks to the blood like wine or music; it is with exultation, with intoxication, that we see or read Antony and Cleopatra, or even Richard II. But the rhythm of a play of Ibsen is like that of a diagram in Euclid; it is the rhythm of logic, and it produces in us the purely mental exaltation of a problem solved. These people who are seen so clearly, moving about in a well-realised world, using probable words and doing necessary things, may owe some of their manner at least to the modern French stage, and to the pamphleteer's prose world of Dumas fils; yet, though they may illustrate problems, they no longer recite them. They are seen, not as the poet sees his people, naked against a great darkness, but clothed and contemporary, from the level of an ironical observer who sits in a corner of the same room. It is the doctor who sits there, watching his patients, and smiling ambiguously as he infers from his knowledge of their bodies what pranks their souls are likely to play.

If Ibsen gets no other kind of beauty, does he not get beauty of emotion? Or can there be beauty in an intensity of emotion which can be at least approached, in the power of thrilling, by an Adelphi melodrama? Is the speech of his people, when it is most nearly a revelation of the obscure forces outside us or within us, more than a stammering of those to whom unconsciousness does not lend distinction but intensifies idiosyncrasy? Drama, in its essence, requires no speech; it can be played by marionettes, or in dumb show, and be enthralling. But, speech once admitted, must not that speech, if it is to collaborate in supreme drama, be filled with imagination, be itself a beautiful thing? To Ibsen beauty has always been of the nature of an ornament, not an end. He would concentrate it into a catchword, repeated until it has lost all emotional significance. For the rest, his speech is the language of the newspaper, recorded with the fidelity of the phonograph. Its whole aim is at economy, as if economy were an end rather than a means.

Has not Ibsen, in the social dramas, tried to make poems without words? There is to be beauty of motive and beauty of emotion; but the words are to be the plainest of all the plain words which we use in talking with one another, and nothing in them is to speak greatly when great occasions arise. Men's speech in great drama is as much higher than the words they would use in real life as their thoughts are higher than those words. It says the unuttered part of our speech. Ibsen would suppress all this heightening as he has suppressed the soliloquy and the aside. But here what he suppresses is not a convention but a means of interpretation. It is suppressing the essence for the sake of the accident.

Ibsen's genius for the invention of a situation has never been surpassed. More living characters than the characters of Ibsen have never moved on the stage. His women are at work now in the world, interpreting women to themselves, helping to make the women of the future. He has peopled a new world. But the inhabitants of this new world, before they begin to transgress its laws and so lose their own citizenship there, are so faithfully copied from the people about us that they share their dumbness, that dumbness to which it is the power and privilege of poetry to give speech. Given the character and the situation, what Ibsen asks at the moment of crisis is: What would this man be most likely to say? not, What would be the finest, the most deeply revealing thing that he could say? In that difference lies all the difference between prose and poetry.

1906.



JORIS-KARL HUYSMANS

The novels of Huysmans, however we may regard them as novels, are, at all events, the sincere and complete expression of a very remarkable personality. From Marthe to La-Bas every story, every volume, disengages the same atmosphere—the atmosphere of a London November, when mere existence is a sufficient burden, and the little miseries of life loom up through the fog into a vague and formidable grotesqueness. Here, for once, is a pessimist whose philosophy is mere sensation—and sensation, after all, is the one certainty in a world which may be well or ill arranged, for ultimate purposes, but which is certainly, for each of us, what each of us feels it to be. To Huysmans the world appears to be a profoundly uncomfortable, unpleasant, ridiculous place, with a certain solace in various forms of art, and certain possibilities of at least temporary escape. Part of his work presents to us a picture of ordinary life as he conceives it, in its uniform trivial wretchedness; in another part he has made experiment in directions which have seemed to promise escape, relief; in yet other portions he has allowed himself the delight of his sole enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of art. He himself would be the first to acknowledge—indeed, practically, he has acknowledged—that the particular way in which he sees life is a matter of personal temperament and constitution, a matter of nerves. The Goncourts have never tired of insisting on the fact of their nevrose, of pointing out its importance in connection with the form and structure of their work, their touch on style, even. To them the maladie fin de siecle has come delicately, as to the chlorotic fine ladies of the Faubourg Saint-Germain: it has sharpened their senses to a point of morbid acuteness, it has given their work a certain feverish beauty. To Huysmans it has given the exaggerated horror of whatever is ugly and unpleasant, with the fatal instinct of discovering, the fatal necessity of contemplating, every flaw and every discomfort that a somewhat imperfect world can offer for inspection. It is the transposition of the ideal. Relative values are lost, for it is the sense of the disagreeable only that is heightened; and the world, in this strange disorder of vision, assumes an aspect which can only be compared with that of a drop of impure water under the microscope. 'Nature seen through a temperament' is Zola's definition of all art. Nothing, certainly, could be more exact and expressive as a definition of the art of Huysmans.

To realise how faithfully and how completely Huysmans has revealed himself in all he has written, it is necessary to know the man. 'He gave me the impression of a cat,' some interviewer once wrote of him; 'courteous, perfectly polite, almost amiable, but all nerves, ready to shoot out his claws at the least word.' And, indeed, there is something of his favourite animal about him. The face is grey, wearily alert, with a look of benevolent malice. At first sight it is commonplace, the features are ordinary, one seems to have seen it at the Bourse or the Stock Exchange. But gradually that strange, unvarying expression, that look of benevolent malice, grows upon you as the influence of the man makes itself felt. I have seen Huysmans in his office—he is an employe in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a model employe; I have seen him in a cafe, in various houses; but I always see him in memory as I used to see him at the house of the bizarre Madame X. He leans back on the sofa, rolling a cigarette between his thin, expressive fingers, looking at no one and at nothing, while Madame X. moves about with solid vivacity in the midst of her extraordinary menagerie of bric-a-brac. The spoils of all the world are there, in that incredibly tiny salon; they lie underfoot, they climb up walls, they cling to screens, brackets, and tables; one of your elbows menaces a Japanese toy, the other a Dresden china shepherdess; all the colours of the rainbow clash in a barbaric discord of notes. And in a corner of this fantastic room, Huysmans lies back indifferently on the sofa, with the air of one perfectly resigned to the boredom of life. Something is said by my learned friend who is to write for the new periodical, or perhaps it is the young editor of the new periodical who speaks, or (if that were not impossible) the taciturn Englishman who accompanies me; and Huysmans, without looking up, and without taking the trouble to speak very distinctly, picks up the phrase, transforms it, more likely transpierces it, in a perfectly turned sentence, a phrase of impromptu elaboration. Perhaps it is only a stupid book that some one has mentioned, or a stupid woman; as he speaks, the book looms up before one, becomes monstrous in its dulness, a masterpiece and miracle of imbecility; the unimportant little woman grows into a slow horror before your eyes. It is always the unpleasant aspect of things that he seizes, but the intensity of his revolt from that unpleasantness brings a touch of the sublime into the very expression of his disgust. Every sentence is an epigram, and every epigram slaughters a reputation or an idea. He speaks with an accent as of pained surprise, an amused look of contempt, so profound that it becomes almost pity, for human imbecility.

Yes, that is the true Huysmans, the Huysmans of A Rebours, and it is just such surroundings that seem to bring out his peculiar quality. With this contempt for humanity, this hatred of mediocrity, this passion for a somewhat exotic kind of modernity, an artist who is so exclusively an artist was sure, one day or another, to produce a work which, being produced to please himself, and being entirely typical of himself, would be, in a way, the quintessence of contemporary Decadence. And it is precisely such a book that Huysmans has written, in the extravagant, astonishing A Rebours. All his other books are a sort of unconscious preparation for this one book, a sort of inevitable and scarcely necessary sequel to it. They range themselves along the line of a somewhat erratic development, from Baudelaire, through Goncourt, by way of Zola, to the surprising originality of so disconcerting an exception to any and every order of things.

The descendant of a long line of Dutch painters—one of whom, Cornelius Huysmans, has a certain fame among the lesser landscape men of the great period—Joris-Karl Huysmans was born at Paris, February 5, 1848. His first book, Le Drageoir a Epices, published at the age of twenty-six, is a pasticcio of prose poems, done after Baudelaire, of little sketches, done after Dutch artists, together with a few studies of Parisian landscape, done after nature. It shows us the careful, laboured work of a really artistic temperament; it betrays, here and there, the spirit of acrimonious observation which is to count for so much with Huysmans—in the crude malice of 'L'Extase,' for example, in the notation of the 'richness of tone,' the 'superb colouring,' of an old drunkard. And one sees already something of the novelty and the precision of his description, the novelty and the unpleasantness of the subjects which he chooses to describe, in this vividly exact picture of the carcass of a cow hung up outside a butcher's shop: 'As in a hothouse, a marvellous vegetation flourished in the carcass. Veins shot out on every side like trails of bind-weed; dishevelled branch-work extended itself along the body, an efflorescence of entrails unfurled their violet-tinted corollas, and big clusters of fat stood out, a sharp white, against the red medley of quivering flesh.'

In Marthe: histoire d'une fille, which followed in 1876, two years later, Huysmans is almost as far from actual achievement as in Le Drageoir a Epices, but the book, in its crude attempt to deal realistically, and somewhat after the manner of Goncourt, with the life of a prostitute of the lowest depths, marks a considerable advance upon the somewhat casual experiments of his earlier manner. It is important to remember that Marthe preceded La Fille Elisa and Nana. 'I write what I see, what I feel, and what I have experienced,' says the brief and defiant preface, 'and I write it as well as I can: that is all. This explanation is not an excuse, it is simply the statement of the aim that I pursue in art.' Explanation or excuse notwithstanding, the book was forbidden to be sold in France. It is Naturalism in its earliest and most pitiless stage—Naturalism which commits the error of evoking no sort of interest in this unhappy creature who rises a little from her native gutter, only to fall back more woefully into the gutter again. Goncourt's Elisa at least interests us; Zola's Nana at all events appeals to our senses. But Marthe is a mere document, like her story. Notes have been taken—no doubt sur le vif—they have been strung together, and here they are, with only an interesting brutality, a curious sordidness to note, in these descriptions that do duty for psychology and incident alike, in the general flatness of character, the general dislocation of episode.

Les Soeurs Vatard, published in 1879, and the short story Sac au Dos, which appeared in 1880 in the famous Zolaist manifesto, Les Soirees de Medan, show the influence of Les Rougon-Macquart rather than of Germinie Lacerteux. For the time the 'formula' of Zola has been accepted: the result is, a remarkable piece of work, but a story without a story, a frame without a picture. With Zola, there is at all events a beginning and an end, a chain of events, a play of character upon incident. But in Les Soeurs Vatard there is no reason for the narrative ever beginning or ending; there are miracles of description—the workroom, the rue de Sevres, the locomotives, the Foire du pain d'epice—which lead to nothing; there are interiors, there are interviews, there are the two work-girls, Celine and Desiree, and their lovers; there is what Zola himself described as tout ce milieu ouvrier, ce coin de misere et d'ignorance, de tranquille ordure et d'air naturellement empeste. And with it all there is a heavy sense of stagnancy, a dreary lifelessness. All that is good in the book reappears, in vastly better company, in En Menage (1881), a novel which is, perhaps, more in the direct line of heritage from L'Education Sentimentale—the starting-point of the Naturalistic novel—than any other novel of the Naturalists.

En Menage is the story of 'Monsieur Tout-le-monde, an insignificant personality, one of those poor creatures who have not even the supreme consolation of being able to complain of any injustice in their fate, for an injustice supposes at all events a misunderstood merit, a force.' Andre is the reduction to the bourgeois formula of the invariable hero of Huysmans. He is just enough removed from the commonplace to suffer from it with acuteness. He cannot get on either with or without a woman in his establishment. Betrayed by his wife, he consoles himself with a mistress, and finally goes back to the wife. And the moral of it all is: 'Let us be stupidly comfortable, if we can, in any way we can: but it is almost certain that we cannot.' In A Vau-l'Eau, a less interesting story which followed En Menage, the daily misery of the respectable M. Folantin, the government employe, consists in the impossible search for a decent restaurant, a satisfactory dinner: for M. Folantin, too, there is only the same counsel of a desperate, an inevitable resignation. Never has the intolerable monotony of small inconveniences been so scrupulously, so unsparingly chronicled, as in these two studies in the heroic degree of the commonplace. It happens to Andre, at a certain epoch in his life, to take back an old servant who had left him many years before. He finds that she has exactly the same defects as before, and 'to find them there again,' comments the author, 'did not displease him. He had been expecting them all the time, he saluted them as old acquaintances, yet with a certain surprise, notwithstanding, to see them neither grown nor diminished. He noted for himself with satisfaction that the stupidity of his servant had remained stationary.' On another page, referring to the inventor of cards, Huysmans defines him as one who 'did something towards suppressing the free exchange of human imbecility.' Having to say in passing that a girl has returned from a ball, 'she was at home again,' he observes, 'after the half-dried sweat of the waltzes.' In this invariably sarcastic turn of the phrase, this absoluteness of contempt, this insistence on the disagreeable, we find the note of Huysmans, particularly at this point in his career, when, like Flaubert, he forced himself to contemplate and to analyse the more mediocre manifestations of la betise humaine.

There is a certain perversity in this furious contemplation of stupidity, this fanatical insistence on the exasperating attraction of the sordid and the disagreeable; and it is by such stages that we come to A Rebours. But on the way we have to note a volume of Croquis Parisiens (1880), in which the virtuoso who is a part of the artist in Huysmans has executed some of his most astonishing feats; and a volume on L'Art Moderne (1883), in which the most modern of artists in literature has applied himself to the criticism—the revelation, rather—of modernity in art. In the latter, Huysmans was the first to declare the supremacy of Degas—'the greatest artist that we possess to-day in France'—while announcing with no less fervour the remote, reactionary, and intricate genius of Gustave Moreau. He was the first to discover Raffaelli, 'the painter of poor people and the open sky—a sort of Parisian Millet,' as he called him; the first to discover Forain, 'le veritable peintre de la fille'; the first to discover Odilon Redon, to do justice to Pissaro and Paul Gauguin. No literary artist since Baudelaire has made so valuable a contribution to art criticism, and the Curiosites Esthetiques are, after all, less exact in their actual study, less revolutionary, and less really significant in their critical judgments, than L'Art Moderne. The Croquis Parisiens, which, in its first edition, was illustrated by etchings of Forain and Raffaelli, is simply the attempt to do in words what those artists have done in aquafortis or in pastel. There are the same Parisian types—the omnibus-conductor, the washerwoman, the man who sells hot chestnuts—the same impressions of a sick and sorry landscape, La Bievre, for preference, in all its desolate and lamentable attraction; there is a marvellously minute series of studies of that typically Parisian music-hall, the Folies-Bergere. Huysmans' faculty of description is here seen at its fullest stretch of agility; precise, suggestive, with all the outline and colour of actual brush-work, it might even be compared with the art of Degas, only there is just that last touch wanting, that breath of palpitating life, which is what we always get in Degas, what we never get in Huysmans.

In L'Art Moderne, speaking of the water-colours of Forain, Huysmans attributes to them 'a specious and cherche art, demanding, for its appreciation, a certain initiation, a certain special sense.' To realise the full value, the real charm, of A Rebours, some such initiation might be deemed necessary. In its fantastic unreality, its exquisite artificiality, it is the natural sequel of En Menage and A Vau-l'Eau, which are so much more acutely sordid than the most sordid kind of real life; it is the logical outcome of that hatred and horror of human mediocrity, of the mediocrity of daily existence, which we have seen to be the special form of Huysmans' nevrose. The motto, taken from a thirteenth-century mystic, Rusbroeck the Admirable, is a cry for escape, for the 'something in the world that is there in no satisfying measure, or not at all': Il faut que je me rejouisse au-dessus du temps ... quoique le monde ait horreur de ma joie et que sa grossierete ne sache pas ce que je veux dire. And the book is the history of a Thebaide raffinee—a voluntary exile from the world in a new kind of 'Palace of Art.' Des Esseintes, the vague but typical hero, is one of those half-pathological cases which help us to understand the full meaning of the word decadence, which they partly represent. The last descendant of an ancient family, his impoverished blood tainted by all sorts of excesses, Des Esseintes finds himself at thirty sur le chemin, degrise, seul, abominablement lasse. He has already realised that 'the world is divided, in great part, into swaggerers and simpletons.' His one desire is to 'hide himself away, far from the world, in some retreat, where he might deaden the sound of the loud rumbling of inflexible life, as one covers the street with straw, for sick people.' This retreat he discovers, just far enough from Paris to be safe from disturbance, just near enough to be saved from the nostalgia of the unattainable. He succeeds in making his house a paradise of the artificial, choosing the tones of colour that go best with candle-light, for it need scarcely be said that Des Esseintes has effected a simple transposition of night and day. His disappearance from the world has been complete; it seems to him that the 'comfortable desert' of his exile need never cease to be just such a luxurious solitude; it seems to him that he has attained his desire, that he has attained to happiness.

Disturbing physical symptoms harass him from time to time, but they pass. It is an effect of nerves that now and again he is haunted by remembrance; the recurrence of a perfume, the reading of a book, brings back a period of life when his deliberate perversity was exercised actively in matters of the senses. There are his fantastic banquets, his fantastic amours: the repas de deuil, Miss Urania the acrobat, the episode of the ventriloquist-woman and the reincarnation of the Sphinx and the Chimaera of Flaubert, the episode of the boy chez Madame Laure. A casual recollection brings up the schooldays of his childhood with the Jesuits, and with that the beliefs of childhood, the fantasies of the Church, the Catholic abnegation of the Imitatio joining so strangely with the final philosophy of Schopenhauer. At times his brain is haunted by social theories—his dull hatred of the ordinary in life taking form in the region of ideas. But in the main he feeds himself, with something of the satisfaction of success, on the strange food for the sensations with which he has so laboriously furnished himself. There are his books, and among these a special library of the Latin writers of the Decadence. Exasperated by Virgil, profoundly contemptuous of Horace, he tolerates Lucan (which is surprising), adores Petronius (as well he might), and delights in the neologisms and the exotic novelty of Apuleius. His curiosity extends to the later Christian poets—from the coloured verse of Claudian down to the verse which is scarcely verse of the incoherent ninth century. He is, of course, an amateur of exquisite printing, of beautiful bindings, and possesses an incomparable Baudelaire (edition tiree a un exemplaire), a unique Mallarme. Catholicism being the adopted religion of the Decadence—for its venerable age, valuable in such matters as the age of an old wine, its vague excitation of the senses, its mystical picturesqueness—Des Esseintes has a curious collection of the later Catholic literature, where Lacordaire and the Comte de Falloux, Veuillot and Ozanam, find their place side by side with the half-prophetic, half-ingenious Hello, the amalgam of a monstrous mysticism and a casuistical sensuality, Barbey d'Aurevilly. His collection of 'profane' writers is small, but it is selected for the qualities of exotic charm that have come to be his only care in art—for the somewhat diseased, or the somewhat artificial beauty that alone can strike a responsive thrill from his exacting nerves. 'Considering within himself, he realised that a work of art, in order to attract him, must come to him with that quality of strangeness demanded by Edgar Poe; but he fared yet further along this route, and sought for all the Byzantine flora of the brain, for complicated deliquescences of style; he required a troubling indecision over which he could muse, fashioning it after his will to more of vagueness or of solid form, according to the state of his mind at the moment. He delighted in a work of art, both for what it was in itself and for what it could lend him; he would fain go along with it, thanks to it, as though sustained by an adjuvant, as though borne in a vehicle, into a sphere where his sublimated sensations would wake in him an unaccustomed stir, the cause of which he would long and vainly seek to determine.' So he comes to care supremely for Baudelaire, 'who, more than any other, possessed the marvellous power of rendering, with a strange sanity of expression, the most fleeting, the most wavering morbid states of exhausted minds, of desolate souls.' In Flaubert he prefers La Tentation de Saint-Antoine; in Goncourt, La Faustin; in Zola, La Faute de l'Abbe Mouret—the exceptional, the most remote and recherche outcome of each temperament. And of the three it is the novel of Goncourt that appeals to him with special intimacy—that novel which, more than any other, seems to express, in its exquisitely perverse charm, all that decadent civilisation of which Des Esseintes is the type and symbol. In poetry he has discovered the fine perfume, the evanescent charm, of Paul Verlaine, and near that great poet (forgetting, strangely, Arthur Rimbaud) he places two poets who are curious—the disconcerting, tumultuous Tristan Corbiere, and the painted and bejewelled Theodore Hannon. With Edgar Poe he has the instinctive sympathy which drew Baudelaire to the enigmatically perverse Decadent of America; he delights, sooner than all the world, in the astonishing, unbalanced, unachieved genius of Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. Finally, it is in Stephane Mallarme that he finds the incarnation of 'the decadence of a literature, irreparably affected in its organism, weakened in its ideas by age, exhausted by the excesses of syntax, sensitive only to the curiosity which fevers sick people, and yet hastening to say everything, now at the end, torn by the wish to atone for all its omissions of enjoyment, to bequeath its subtlest memories of sorrow on its death-bed.'

But it is not on books alone that Des Esseintes nurses his sick and craving fancy. He pushes his delight in the artificial to the last limits, and diverts himself with a bouquet of jewels, a concert of flowers, an orchestra of liqueurs, an orchestra of perfumes. In flowers he prefers the real flowers that imitate artificial ones. It is the monstrosities of nature, the offspring of unnatural adulteries, that he cherishes in the barbarically coloured flowers, the plants with barbaric names, the carnivorous plants of the Antilles—morbid horrors of vegetation, chosen, not for their beauty, but for their strangeness. And his imagination plays harmonies on the sense of taste, like combinations of music, from the flute-like sweetness of anisette, the trumpet-note of kirsch, the eager yet velvety sharpness of curacao, the clarionet. He combines scents, weaving them into odorous melodies, with effects like those of the refrains of certain poems, employing, for example, the method of Baudelaire in L'Irreparable and Le Balcon, where the last line of the stanza is the echo of the first, in the languorous progression of the melody. And above all he has his few, carefully chosen pictures, with their diverse notes of strange beauty and strange terror—the two Salomes of Gustave Moreau, the 'Religious Persecutions' of Jan Luyken, the opium-dreams of Odilon Redon. His favourite artist is Gustave Moreau, and it is on this superb and disquieting picture that he cares chiefly to dwell.

A throne, like the high altar of a cathedral, rose beneath innumerable arches springing from columns, thick-set as Roman pillars, enamelled with vari-coloured bricks, set with mosaics, incrusted with lapis lazuli and sardonyx, in a palace like the basilica of an architecture at once Mussulman and Byzantine. In the centre of the tabernacle surmounting the altar, fronted with rows of circular steps, sat the Tetrarch Herod, the tiara on his head, his legs pressed together, his hands on his knees. His face was yellow, parchment-like, annulated with wrinkles, withered with age; his long beard floated like a white cloud on the jewelled stars that constellated the robe of netted gold across his breast. Around this statue, motionless, frozen in the sacred pose of a Hindu god, perfumes burned, throwing out clouds of vapour, pierced, as by the phosphorescent eyes of animals, by the fire of precious stones set in the sides of the throne; then the vapour mounted, unrolling itself beneath arches where the blue smoke mingled with the powdered gold of great sunrays, fallen from the domes.

In the perverse odour of perfumes, in the overheated atmosphere of this church, Salome, her left arm extended in a gesture of command, her bent right arm holding at the level of the face a great lotus, advances slowly to the sound of a guitar, thrummed by a woman who crouches on the floor.

With collected, solemn, almost august countenance, she begins the lascivious dance that should waken the sleeping senses of the aged Herod; her breasts undulate, become rigid at the contact of the whirling necklets; diamonds sparkle on the dead whiteness of her skin, her bracelets, girdles, rings, shoot sparks; on her triumphal robe, sewn with pearls, flowered with silver, sheeted with gold, the jewelled breast-plate, whose every stitch is a precious stone, bursts into flame, scatters in snakes of fire, swarms on the ivory-toned, tea-rose flesh, like splendid insects with dazzling wings, marbled with carmine, dotted with morning gold, diapered with steel-blue, streaked with peacock-green.

* * * * *

In the work of Gustave Moreau, conceived on no Scriptural data, Des Esseintes saw at last the realisation of the strange, superhuman Salome that he had dreamed. She was no more the mere dancing-girl who, with the corrupt torsion of her limbs, tears a cry of desire from an old man; who, with her eddying breasts, her palpitating body, her quivering thighs, breaks the energy, melts the will, of a king; she has become the symbolic deity of indestructible Lust, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the accursed Beauty, chosen among many by the catalepsy that has stiffened her limbs, that has hardened her muscles; the monstrous, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible Beast, poisoning, like Helen of old, all that go near to her, all that look upon her, all that she touches.

It is in such a 'Palace of Art' that Des Esseintes would recreate his already over-wrought body and brain, and the monotony of its seclusion is only once broken by a single excursion into the world without. This one episode of action, this one touch of realism, in a book given over to the artificial, confined to a record of sensation, is a projected voyage to London, a voyage that never occurs. Des Esseintes has been reading Dickens, idly, to quiet his nerves, and the violent colours of those ultra-British scenes and characters have imposed themselves upon his imagination. Days of rain and fog complete the picture of that pays de brume et de boue, and suddenly, stung by the unwonted desire for change, he takes the train to Paris, resolved to distract himself by a visit to London. Arrived in Paris before his time, he takes a cab to the office of Galignani's Messenger, fancying himself, as the rain-drops rattle on the roof and the mud splashes against the windows, already in the midst of the immense city, its smoke and dirt. He reaches Galignani's Messenger, and there, turning over Baedekers and Murrays, loses himself in dreams of an imagined London. He buys a Baedeker, and, to pass the time, enters the 'Bodega' at the corner of the Rue de Rivoli and the Rue Castiglione. The wine-cellar is crowded with Englishmen: he sees, as he drinks his port, and listens to the unfamiliar accents, all the characters of Dickens—a whole England of caricature; as he drinks his Amontillado, the recollection of Poe puts a new horror into the good-humoured faces about him. Leaving the 'Bodega,' he steps out again into the rain-swept street, regains his cab, and drives to the English tavern of the Rue d'Amsterdam. He has just time for dinner, and he finds a place beside the insulaires, with 'their porcelain eyes, their crimson cheeks,' and orders a heavy English dinner, which he washes down with ale and porter, seasoning his coffee, as he imagines we do in England, with gin. As time passes, and the hour of the train draws near, he begins to reflect vaguely on his project; he recalls the disillusion of the visit he had once paid to Holland. Does not a similar disillusion await him in London? 'Why travel, when one can travel so splendidly in a chair? Was he not at London already, since its odours, its atmosphere, its inhabitants, its food, its utensils, were all about him?' The train is due, but he does not stir. 'I have felt and seen,' he says to himself, 'what I wanted to feel and see. I have been saturated with English life all this time; it would be madness to lose, by a clumsy change of place, these imperishable sensations.' So he gathers together his luggage, and goes home again, resolving never to abandon the 'docile phantasmagoria of the brain' for the mere realities of the actual world. But his nervous malady, one of whose symptoms had driven him forth and brought him back so spasmodically, is on the increase. He is seized by hallucinations, haunted by sounds: the hysteria of Schumann, the morbid exaltation of Berlioz, communicate themselves to him in the music that besieges his brain. Obliged at last to send for a doctor, we find him, at the end of the book, ordered back to Paris, to the normal life, the normal conditions, with just that chance of escape from death or madness. So suggestively, so instructively, closes the record of a strange, attractive folly—in itself partly a serious ideal (which indeed is Huysmans' own), partly the caricature of that ideal. Des Esseintes, though studied from a real man, who is known to those who know a certain kind of society in Paris, is a type rather than a man: he is the offspring of the Decadent art that he adores, and this book a sort of breviary for its worshippers. It has a place of its own in the literature of the day, for it sums up, not only a talent, but a spiritual epoch.

A Rebours is a book that can only be written once, and since that date Huysmans has published a short story, Un Dilemme (1887), which is merely a somewhat lengthy anecdote; two novels, En Rade (1887) and La-Bas (1891), both of which are interesting experiments, but neither of them an entire success; and a volume of art criticism, Certains (1890), notable for a single splendid essay, that on Felicien Rops, the etcher of the fantastically erotic. En Rade is a sort of deliberately exaggerated record—vision rather than record—of the disillusions of a country sojourn, as they affect the disordered nerves of a town nevrose. The narrative is punctuated by nightmares, marvellously woven out of nothing, and with no psychological value—the human part of the book being a sort of picturesque pathology at best, the representation of a series of states of nerves, sharpened by the tragic ennui of the country. There is a cat which becomes interesting in its agonies; but the long boredom of the man and woman is only too faithfully shared with the reader. La-Bas is a more artistic creation, on a more solid foundation. It is a study of Satanism, a dexterous interweaving of the history of Gilles de Retz (the traditional Bluebeard) with the contemporary manifestations of the Black Art. 'The execration of impotence, the hate of the mediocre—that is perhaps one of the most indulgent definitions of Diabolism,' says Huysmans, somewhere in the book, and it is on this side that one finds the link of connection with the others of that series of pessimist studies in life. Un naturalisme spiritualiste, he defines his own art at this point in its development; and it is in somewhat the 'documentary' manner that he applies himself to the study of these strange problems, half of hysteria, half of a real mystical corruption that does actually exist in our midst. I do not know whether the monstrous tableau of the Black Mass—so marvellously, so revoltingly described in the central episode of the book—is still enacted in our days, but I do know that all but the most horrible practices of the sacrilegious magic of the Middle Ages are yet performed, from time to time, in a secrecy which is all but absolute. The character of Madame Chantelouve is an attempt, probably the first in literature, to diagnose a case of Sadism in a woman. To say that it is successful would be to assume that the thing is possible, which one hesitates to do. The book is even more disquieting, to the normal mind, than A Rebours. But it is not, like that, the study of an exception which has become a type. It is the study of an exception which does not profess to be anything but a disease.

Huysmans' place in contemporary literature is not quite easy to estimate. There is a danger of being too much attracted, or too much repelled, by those qualities of deliberate singularity which make his work, sincere expression as it is of his own personality, so artificial and recherche in itself. With his pronounced, exceptional characteristics, it would have been impossible for him to write fiction impersonally, or to range himself, for long, in any school, under any master. Interrogated one day as to his opinion of Naturalism, he had but to say in reply: Au fond, il y a des ecrivains qui ont du talent et d'autres qui n'en ont pas, qu'ils soient naturalistes, romantiques, decadents, tout ce que vous voudrez, ca m'est egal! il s'agit pour moi d'avoir du talent, et voila tout! But, as we have seen, he has undergone various influences, he has had his periods. From the first he has had a style of singular pungency, novelty, and colour; and, even in Le Drageoir a Epices, we find such daring combinations as this (Camaieu Rouge)—Cette fanfare de rouge m'etourdissait; cette gamme d'une intensite furieuse, d'une violence inouie, m'aveuglait. Working upon the foundation of Flaubert and of Goncourt, the two great modern stylists, he has developed an intensely personal style of his own, in which the sense of rhythm is entirely dominated by the sense of colour. He manipulates the French language with a freedom sometimes barbarous, 'dragging his images by the heels or the hair' (in the admirable phrase of Leon Bloy) 'up and down the worm-eaten staircase of terrified syntax,' gaining, certainly, the effects at which he aims. He possesses, in the highest degree, that style tachete et faisande—high-flavoured and spotted with corruption—that he attributes to Goncourt and Verlaine. And with this audacious and barbaric profusion of words—chosen always for their colour and their vividly expressive quality—he is able to describe the essentially modern aspects of things as no one had ever described them before. No one before him had ever so realised the perverse charm of the sordid, the perverse charm of the artificial. Exceptional always, it is for such qualities as these, rather than for the ordinary qualities of the novelist, that he is remarkable. His stories are without incident, they are constructed to go on until they stop, they are almost without characters. His psychology is a matter of the sensations, and chiefly the visual sensations. The moral nature is ignored, the emotions resolve themselves for the most part into a sordid ennui, rising at times into a rage at existence. The protagonist of every book is not so much a character as a bundle of impressions and sensations—the vague outline of a single consciousness, his own. But it is that single consciousness—in this morbidly personal writer—with which we are concerned. For Huysmans' novels, with all their strangeness, their charm, their repulsion, typical too, as they are, of much beside himself, are certainly the expression of a personality as remarkable as that of any contemporary writer.

1892.



TWO SYMBOLISTS

Un livre comme je ne les aime pas, says Mallarme characteristically (ceux epars et prives d'architecture) of this long expected first volume of collected prose, Divagations, in which we find the prose poems of early date; medallion or full-length portraits of Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Poe, Whistler, and others; the marvellous, the unique, studies in the symbolism of the ballet and the theatrical spectacle, comparatively early in date; Richard Wagner: reverie d'un Poete francais, Le Mystere dans les Lettres; and, under various titles, the surprising Variations sur un Sujet. The hesitation of a lifetime having been, it would seem, overcome, we are at last able to read Mallarme's 'doctrine,' if not altogether as he would have us read it. And we are at last able, without too much injustice, to judge him as a writer of prose.

In saying that this volume is the most beautiful and the most valuable which has found its way into my hands for I know not how long, I shall not pretend to have read it with ease, or to have understood every word of it. D'exhiber les choses a un imperturbable premier plan, en camelots, actives par la pression de l'instant, d'accord—ecrire, dans le cas pourquoi, indument, sauf pour etaler la banalite; plutot que tendre le nuage, precieux, flottant sur l'intime gouffre de chaque pensee, vu que vulgaire l'est ce a quoi on decerne, pas plus, un caractere immediat. No, it has always been to that labyrinthe illumine par des fleurs that Mallarme has felt it due to their own dignity to invite his readers. To their own dignity, and also to his. Mallarme is obscure, not so much because he writes differently as because he thinks differently from other people. His mind is elliptical, and (relying on the intelligence of his readers) he emphasises the effect of what is unlike other people in his mind by resolutely ignoring even the links of connection that exist between them. Never having aimed at popularity, he has never needed, as most writers need, to make the first advances. He has made neither intrusion upon nor concession to those who after all need not read him. And when he has spoken he has not considered it needful or seemly to listen in order that he might hear whether he was heard. To the charge of obscurity he replies, with sufficient disdain, that there are many who do not know how to read—except the newspapers, he adds, in one of those disconcerting, oddly printed parentheses, which make his work, to those who can rightly apprehend it, so full of wise limitations, so safe from hasty or seemingly final conclusions. No one in our time has more significantly vindicated the supreme right of the artist in the aristocracy of letters; wilfully, perhaps, not always wisely, but nobly, logically. Has not every artist shrunk from that making of himself 'a motley to the view,' that handing over of his naked soul to the laughter of the multitude? but who in our time has wrought so subtle a veil, shining on this side, where the few are, a thick cloud on the other, where are the many? The oracles have always had the wisdom to hide their secret in the obscurity of double meanings or of what has seemed meaningless; and might it not after all be the finest epitaph for a self-respecting man of letters to be able to say, even after the writing of many books: I have kept my secret, I have not betrayed myself to the crowd?

It has been the distinction of Mallarme that he has always aspired after an impossible liberation of the soul of literature from what is fretting and constraining in 'the body of that death,' which is the mere literature of words. Words, he has realised, are of value only as notations of the free breath of the spirit; words, therefore, must be employed with an extreme care in their choice and adjustment, in setting them to reflect and chime upon one another; yet least of all things for their own sake, for the sake of what they can never, except by suggestion, express. Thus an artificiality, even, in the use of words—that seeming artificiality which comes from using words as if they had never been used before, that chimerical search after the virginity of language—is but the paradoxical outward sign of an extreme discontent with even the best of their service. Writers who use words fluently, seeming to disregard their importance, do so from an unconscious confidence in their expressiveness, which the scrupulous thinker, the precise dreamer, can never place in the most carefully chosen among them. To evoke, by some elaborate, instantaneous magic of language, without the formality of an after all impossible description; to be, in fact, rather than to express; that is what Mallarme has consistently, and from the first, sought in verse and prose. And he has sought this wandering, illusive, beckoning butterfly, the soul of dreams, over more and more entangled ground; and it has led him into the depths of many forests, far from the sunlight. He would be the last to permit me to say that he has found what he sought; but (is it possible to avoid saying?) how heroic a search, and what marvellous discoveries, by the way!

Yes, all these, he admits perhaps proudly, are divagations, and the secret, eternal, and only beauty is not yet found. Is it, perhaps, in a mood, a momentary mood, really of discouragement, that he has consented to the publication—the 'showing off,' within covers, as of goods in a shop-window: it is his own image—of these fragmentary suggestions towards a complete AEsthetic? Beautiful and invaluable I find them; here and there final; and always, in form, hieratic.

Certain writers, in whom the artist's contempt for common things has been carried to its utmost limit, should only be read in books of beautiful and slightly unusual form. Perhaps of all modern writers Villiers and Mallarme have most carefully sought the most remote ideal, and seem most to require some elaborate presentation to the reader. Mallarme, indeed, delighted in heaping up obstacles in the reader's way, not only in the concealment of his meaning by style, but in a furtive, fragmentary, and only too luxurious method of publication, which made it difficult for most people to get his books at all, even for unlimited money. Villiers, on the contrary, after publishing his first book, the Premieres Poesies of 1859, in the delicate type of Perrin of Lyons, on ribbed paper, with old gold covers, became careless as to how his books appeared, and has to be read in a disorderly crowd of volumes, some of them as hideous as the original edition of L'Eve Future, with its red stars and streaks, its Apollo and Cupid and grey city landscape. It is therefore with singular pleasure that one finds the two beautiful books which have lately been published by M. Deman, the well-known publisher of Rops: one, the fullest collection of Mallarme's poems which has ever been published, the other a selection of twenty stories by Villiers. The Mallarme is white and red, the poems printed in italics, a frontispiece by Rops; the Villiers is a large square volume in shimmering dark green and gold, with headpieces and tailpieces, in two tints, by Th. van Rysselberghe. These scrolls and titles are done with a sort of reverent self-suppression, as if, for once, decoration existed for a book and not the book for the decoration, which is hardly the quality for which modern decorators are most conspicuous.

In the Poesies we have, no doubt, Mallarme's final selection from his own poems. Some of it is even new. The magnificent and mysterious fragment of Herodiade, his masterpiece, perhaps, is, though not indeed completed, more than doubled in length by the addition of a long passage on which he was at work almost to the time of his death. It is curious to note that the new passage is written in exactly the style of the older passage, though in the interval between the writing of the one and the writing of the other Mallarme had completely changed his style. By an effort of will he had thought himself back into an earlier style, and the two fragments join without an apparent seam. There were, it appears, still a hymn or lyric spoken by St. John and a concluding monologue, to be added to the poem; but we have at least the whole of the dialogue between Herodiade and the Nurse, certainly a poem sufficiently complete in itself. The other new pieces are in the latest manner, mainly without punctuation; they would scarcely be alluring, one imagines, even if punctuated. In the course of a few centuries, I am convinced, every line of Mallarme will have become perfectly clear, as a corrupt Greek text becomes clear in time. Even now a learned commentator could probably do much to explain them, at the cost of a life-long labour; but scholars only give up their lives to the difficult authors of a remote past. Mallarme can afford to wait; he will not be forgotten; and for us of the present there are the clear and lovely early poems, so delightfully brought together in the white and red book.

L'insensibilite de l'azur et des pierres: a serene and gem-like quality, entirely his own, is in all these poems, in which a particular kind of French verse realises its ideal. Mallarme is the poet of a few, a limited poet, perfect within his limits as the Chinese artist of his own symbol. In a beautiful poem he compares himself to the painter of tea-cups who spends his life in painting a strange flower

Sur ses tasses de neige a la lune ravie,

a flower which has perfumed his whole existence, since, as a child, he had felt it graft itself upon the 'blue filigree of his soul.'

A very different image must be sought if we wish to sum up the characteristics of Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. An uncertain artist, he was a man of passionate and lofty genius, and he has left us a great mass of imperfect work, out of which we have to form for ourselves whatever notion we can of a man greater than his work. My first impression, on looking at the twenty stories which make up the present selection, was that the selection had been badly made. Where is Les Demoiselles de Bienfilatre? I asked myself, remembering that little ironical masterpiece; where is Le Convive des Dernieres Fetes, with its subtlety of horror; Sentimentalisme, with its tragic and tender modernity; La Reine Ysabeau, with its sombre and taciturn intensity? Story after story came into my mind, finer, it seemed to me, in the artistic qualities of the story than many of those selected. Second thoughts inclined me to think that the selection could scarcely have been better. For it is a selection made after a plan, and it shows us, not indeed always Villiers at his best as a story-teller, but, throughout, Villiers at his highest point of elevation; the man whom we are always trying to see through his work, and the man as he would have seen himself. There is not a collection of stories in French of greater nobility than these Histoires Souveraines in which a regal pomp of speech drapes a more than regal sovereignty of soul. The Villiers who mocked mean things and attacked base things is no longer there; the idealist is at home in his own world, among his ideals.

1897, 1899.



CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

Baudelaire is little known and much misunderstood in England. Only one English writer has ever done him justice, or said anything adequate about him. As long ago as 1862 Swinburne introduced Baudelaire to English readers: in the columns of the Spectator, it is amusing to remember. In 1868 he added a few more words of just and subtle praise in his book on Blake, and in the same year wrote the magnificent elegy on his death, Ave atque Vale. There have been occasional outbreaks of irrelevant abuse or contempt, and the name of Baudelaire (generally mis-spelled) is the journalist's handiest brickbat for hurling at random in the name of respectability. Does all this mean that we are waking up, over here, to the consciousness of one of the great literary forces of the age, a force which has been felt in every other country but ours?

It would be a useful influence for us. Baudelaire desired perfection, and we have never realised that perfection is a thing to aim at. He only did what he could do supremely well, and he was in poverty all his life, not because he would not work, but because he would work only at certain things, the things which he could hope to do to his own satisfaction. Of the men of letters of our age he was the most scrupulous. He spent his whole life in writing one book of verse (out of which all French poetry has come since his time), one book of prose in which prose becomes a fine art, some criticism which is the sanest, subtlest, and surest which his generation produced, and a translation which is better than a marvellous original. What would French poetry be to-day if Baudelaire had never existed? As different a thing from what it is as English poetry would be without Rossetti. Neither of them is quite among the greatest poets, but they are more fascinating than the greatest, they influence more minds. And Baudelaire was an equally great critic. He discovered Poe, Wagner, and Manet. Where even Sainte-Beuve, with his vast materials, his vast general talent for criticism, went wrong in contemporary judgments, Baudelaire was infallibly right. He wrote neither verse nor prose with ease, but he would not permit himself to write either without inspiration. His work is without abundance, but it is without waste. It is made out of his whole intellect and all his nerves. Every poem is a train of thought and every essay is the record of sensation. This 'romantic' had something classic in his moderation, a moderation which becomes at times as terrifying as Poe's logic. To 'cultivate one's hysteria' so calmly, and to affront the reader (Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere) as a judge rather than as a penitent; to be a casuist in confession; to be so much a moralist, with so keen a sense of the ecstasy of evil: that has always bewildered the world, even in his own country, where the artist is allowed to live as experimentally as he writes. Baudelaire lived and died solitary, secret, a confessor of sins who has never told the whole truth, le mauvais moine of his own sonnet, an ascetic of passion, a hermit of the brothel.

To understand, not Baudelaire, but what we can of him, we must read, not only the four volumes of his collected works, but every document in Crepet's Oeuvres Posthumes, and, above all, the letters, and these have only now been collected into a volume, under the care of an editor who has done more for Baudelaire than any one since Crepet. Baudelaire put into his letters only what he cared to reveal of himself at a given moment: he has a different angle to distract the sight of every observer; and let no one think that he knows Baudelaire when he has read the letters to Poulet-Malassis, the friend and publisher, to whom he showed his business side, or the letters to la Presidente, the touchstone of his spleen et ideal, his chief experiment in the higher sentiments. Some of his carefully hidden virtues peep out at moments, it is true, but nothing that everybody has not long been aware of. We hear of his ill-luck with money, with proof-sheets, with his own health. The tragedy of the life which he chose, as he chose all things (poetry, Jeanne Duval, the 'artificial paradises') deliberately, is made a little clearer to us; we can moralise over it if we like. But the man remains baffling, and will probably never be discovered.

As it is, much of the value of the book consists in those glimpses into his mind and intentions which he allowed people now and then to see. Writing to Sainte-Beuve, to Flaubert, to Soulary, he sometimes lets out, through mere sensitiveness to an intelligence capable of understanding him, some little interesting secret. Thus it is to Sainte-Beuve that he defines and explains the origin and real meaning of the Petits Poemes en Prose: Faire cent bagatelles laborieuses qui exigent une bonne humeur constante (bonne humeur necessaire, meme pour traiter des sujets tristes), une excitation bizarre qui a besoin de spectacles, de foules, de musiques, de reverberes meme, voila ce que j'ai voulu faire! And, writing to some obscure person, he will take the trouble to be even more explicit, as in this symbol of the sonnet: Avez-vous observe qu'un morceau de ciel apercu par un soupirail, ou entre deux cheminees, deux rochers, ou par une arcade, donnait une idee plus profonde de l'infini que le grand panorama vu du haul d'une montagne? It is to another casual person that he speaks out still more intimately (and the occasion of his writing is some thrill of gratitude towards one who had at last done 'a little justice,' not to himself, but to Manet): Eh bien! on m'accuse, moi, d'imiter Edgar Poe! Savez-vous pourquoi j'ai si patiemment traduit Poe? Parce qu'il me ressemblait. La premiere fois que j'ai ouvert un livre de lui, j'ai vu avec epouvante et ravissement, non seulement des sujets reves par moi, mais des phrases, pensees par moi, et ecrites par lui, vingt ans auparavant. It is in such glimpses as these that we see something of Baudelaire in his letters.

1906.



WALTER PATER

Writing about Botticelli, in that essay which first interpreted Botticelli to the modern world, Pater said, after naming the supreme artists, Michelangelo or Leonardo:

But, besides these great men, there is a certain number of artists who have a distinct faculty of their own by which they convey to us a peculiar quality of pleasure which we cannot get elsewhere; and these, too, have their place in general culture, and must be interpreted to it by those who have felt their charm strongly, and are often the objects of a special diligence and a consideration wholly affectionate, just because there is not about them the stress of a great name and authority.

It is among these rare artists, so much more interesting, to many, than the very greatest, that Pater belongs; and he can only be properly understood, loved, or even measured by those to whom it is 'the delicacies of fine literature' that chiefly appeal. There have been greater prose-writers in our language, even in our time; but he was, as Mallarme called him, 'le prosateur ouvrage par excellence de ce temps.' For strangeness and subtlety of temperament, for rarity and delicacy of form, for something incredibly attractive to those who felt his attraction, he was as unique in our age as Botticelli in the great age of Raphael. And he, too, above all to those who knew him, can scarcely fail to become, not only 'the object of a special diligence,' but also of 'a consideration wholly affectionate,' not lessened by the slowly increasing 'stress of authority' which is coming to be laid, almost by the world in general, on his name.

In the work of Pater, thought moves to music, and does all its hard work as if in play. And Pater seems to listen for his thought, and to overhear it, as the poet overhears his song in the air. It is like music, and has something of the character of poetry, yet, above all, it is precise, individual, thought filtered through a temperament; and it comes to us as it does because the style which clothes and fits it is a style in which, to use some of his own words, 'the writer succeeds in saying what he wills.'

The style of Pater has been praised and blamed for its particular qualities of colour, harmony, weaving; but it has not always, or often, been realised that what is most wonderful in the style is precisely its adaptability to every shade of meaning or intention, its extraordinary closeness in following the turns of thought, the waves of sensation, in the man himself. Everything in Pater was in harmony, when you got accustomed to its particular forms of expression: the heavy frame, so slow and deliberate in movement, so settled in repose; the timid and yet scrutinising eyes; the mannered, yet so personal, voice; the precise, pausing speech, with its urbanity, its almost painful conscientiousness of utterance; the whole outer mask, in short, worn for protection and out of courtesy, yet moulded upon the inner truth of nature like a mask moulded upon the features which it covers. And the books are the man, literally the man in many accents, turns of phrase; and, far more than that, the man himself, whom one felt through his few, friendly, intimate, serious words: the inner life of his soul coming close to us, in a slow and gradual revelation.

He has said, in the first essay of his which we have:

The artist and he who has treated life in the spirit of art desires only to be shown to the world as he really is; as he comes nearer and nearer to perfection, the veil of an outer life, not simply expressive of the inward, becomes thinner and thinner.

And Pater seemed to draw up into himself every form of earthly beauty, or of the beauty made by men, and many forms of knowledge and wisdom, and a sense of human things which was neither that of the lover nor of the priest, but partly of both; and his work was the giving out of all this again, with a certain labour to give it wholly. It is all, the criticism, and the stories, and the writing about pictures and places, a confession, the vraie verite (as he was fond of saying) about the world in which he lived. That world he thought was open to all; he was sure that it was the real blue and green earth, and that he caught the tangible moments as they passed. It was a world into which we can only look, not enter, for none of us have his secret. But part of his secret was in the gift and cultivation of a passionate temperance, an unrelaxing attentiveness to whatever was rarest and most delightful in passing things.

In Pater logic is of the nature of ecstasy, and ecstasy never soars wholly beyond the reach of logic. Pater is keen in pointing out the liberal and spendthrift weakness of Coleridge in his thirst for the absolute, his 'hunger for eternity,' and for his part he is content to set all his happiness, and all his mental energies, on a relative basis, on a valuation of the things of eternity under the form of time. He asks for no 'larger flowers' than the best growth of the earth; but he would choose them flower by flower, and for himself. He finds life worth just living, a thing satisfying in itself, if you are careful to extract its essence, moment by moment, not in any calculated 'hedonism,' even of the mind, but in a quiet, discriminating acceptance of whatever is beautiful, active, or illuminating in every moment. As he grew older he added something more like a Stoic sense of 'duty' to the old, properly and severely Epicurean doctrine of 'pleasure.' Pleasure was never, for Pater, less than the essence of all knowledge, all experience, and not merely all that is rarest in sensation; it was religious from the first, and had always to be served with a strict ritual. 'Only be sure it is passion,' he said of that spirit of divine motion to which he appealed for the quickening of our sense of life, our sense of ourselves; be sure, he said, 'that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness.' What he cared most for at all times was that which could give 'the highest quality to our moments as they pass'; he differed only, to a certain extent, in his estimation of what that was. 'The herb, the wine, the gem' of the preface to the Renaissance tended more and more to become, under less outward symbols of perfection, 'the discovery, the new faculty, the privileged apprehension' by which 'the imaginative regeneration of the world' should be brought about, or even, at times, a brooding over 'what the soul passes, and must pass, through, aux abois with nothingness, or with those offended mysterious powers that may really occupy it.'

When I first met Pater he was nearly fifty. I did not meet him for about two years after he had been writing to me, and his first letter reached me when I was just over twenty-one. I had been writing verse all my life, and what Browning was to me in verse Pater, from about the age of seventeen, had been to me in prose. Meredith made the third; but his form of art was not, I knew never could be, mine. Verse, I suppose, requires no teaching, but it was from reading Pater's Studies in the History of the Renaissance, in its first edition on ribbed paper (I have the feel of it still in my fingers), that I realised that prose also could be a fine art. That book opened a new world to me, or, rather, gave me the key or secret of the world in which I was living. It taught me that there was a beauty besides the beauty of what one calls inspiration, and comes and goes, and cannot be caught or followed; that life (which had seemed to me of so little moment) could be itself a work of art; from that book I realised for the first time that there was anything interesting or vital in the world besides poetry and music. I caught from it an unlimited curiosity, or, at least, the direction of curiosity into definite channels.

The knowledge that there was such a person as Pater in the world, an occasional letter from him, an occasional meeting, and, gradually, the definite encouragement of my work in which, for some years, he was unfailingly generous and attentive, meant more to me, at that time, than I can well indicate, or even realise, now. It was through him that my first volume of verse was published; and it was through his influence and counsels that I trained myself to be infinitely careful in all matters of literature. Influence and counsel were always in the direction of sanity, restraint, precision.

I remember a beautiful phrase which he once made up, in his delaying way, with 'wells' and 'no doubts' in it, to describe, and to describe supremely, a person whom I had seemed to him to be disparaging. 'He does,' he said meditatively, 'remind me of, well, of a steam-engine stuck in the mud. But he is so enthusiastic!' Pater liked people to be enthusiastic, but, with him, enthusiasm was an ardent quietude, guarded by the wary humour that protects the sensitive. He looked upon undue earnestness, even in outward manner, in a world through which the artist is bound to go on a wholly 'secret errand,' as bad form, which shocked him as much in persons as bad style did in books. He hated every form of extravagance, noise, mental or physical, with a temperamental hatred: he suffered from it, in his nerves and in his mind. And he had no less dislike of whatever seemed to him either morbid or sordid, two words which he often used to express his distaste for things and people. He never would have appreciated writers like Verlaine, because of what seemed to him perhaps unnecessarily 'sordid' in their lives. It pained him, as it pains some people, perhaps only because they are more acutely sensitive than others, to walk through mean streets, where people are poor, miserable, and hopeless.

And since I have mentioned Verlaine, I may say that what Pater most liked in poetry was the very opposite of such work as that of Verlaine, which he might have been supposed likely to like. I do not think it was actually one of Verlaine's poems, but something done after his manner in English, that some reviewer once quoted, saying: 'That, to our mind, would be Mr. Pater's ideal of poetry.' Pater said to me, with a sad wonder, 'I simply don't know what he meant.' What he liked in poetry was something even more definite than can be got in prose; and he valued poets like Dante and like Rossetti for their 'delight in concrete definition,' not even quite seeing the ultimate magic of such things as Kubla Khan, which he omitted in a brief selection from the poetry of Coleridge. In the most interesting letter which I ever had from him, the only letter which went to six pages, he says:

12 EARL'S TERRACE, KENSINGTON, W., Jan. 8, 1888.

MY DEAR MR. SYMONS,—I feel much flattered at your choosing me as an arbiter in the matter of your literary work, and thank you for the pleasure I have had in reading carefully the two poems you have sent me. I don't use the word 'arbiter' loosely for 'critic'; but suppose a real controversy, on the question whether you shall spend your best energies in writing verse, between your poetic aspirations on the one side, and prudence (calculating results) on the other. Well! judging by these two pieces, I should say that you have a poetic talent remarkable, especially at the present day, for precise and intellectual grasp on the matter it deals with. Rossetti, I believe, said that the value of every artistic product was in direct proportion to the amount of purely intellectual force that went to the initial conception of it: and it is just this intellectual conception which seems to me to be so conspicuously wanting in what, in some ways, is the most characteristic verse of our time, especially that of our secondary poets. In your own pieces, particularly in your MS. 'A Revenge,' I find Rossetti's requirement fulfilled, and should anticipate great things from one who has the talent of conceiving his motive with so much firmness and tangibility—with that close logic, if I may say so, which is an element in any genuinely imaginative process. It is clear to me that you aim at this, and it is what gives your verses, to my mind, great interest. Otherwise, I think the two pieces of unequal excellence, greatly preferring 'A Revenge' to 'Bell in Camp.' Reserving some doubt whether the watch, as the lover's gift, is not a little bourgeois, I think this piece worthy of any poet. It has that aim of concentration and organic unity which I value greatly both in prose and verse. 'Bell in Camp' pleases me less, for the same reason which makes me put Rossetti's 'Jenny,' and some of Browning's pathetic-satiric pieces, below the rank which many assign them. In no one of the poems I am thinking of, is the inherent sordidness of everything in the persons supposed, except the one poetic trait then under treatment, quite forgotten. Otherwise, I feel the pathos, the humour, of the piece (in the full sense of the word humour) and the skill with which you have worked out your motive therein. I think the present age an unfavourable one to poets, at least in England. The young poet comes into a generation which has produced a large amount of first-rate poetry, and an enormous amount of good secondary poetry. You know I give a high place to the literature of prose as a fine art, and therefore hope you won't think me brutal in saying that the admirable qualities of your verse are those also of imaginative prose; as I think is the case also with much of Browning's finest verse. I should say, make prose your principal metier, as a man of letters, and publish your verse as a more intimate gift for those who already value you for your pedestrian work in literature. I should think you ought to find no difficulty in finding a publisher for poems such as those you have sent to me.

I am more than ever anxious to meet you. Letters are such poor means of communication. Don't come to London without making an appointment to come and see me here.—Very sincerely yours,

WALTER PATER.

'Browning, one of my best-loved writers,' is a phrase I find in his first letter to me, in December 1886, thanking me for a little book on Browning which I had just published. There is, I think, no mention of any other writer except Shakespeare (besides the reference to Rossetti which I have just quoted) in any of the fifty or sixty letters which I have from him. Everything that is said about books is a direct matter of business: work which he was doing, of which he tells me, or which I was doing, about which he advises and encourages me.

In practical things Pater was wholly vague, troubled by their persistence when they pressed upon him. To wrap up a book to send by post was an almost intolerable effort, and he had another reason for hesitating. 'I take your copy of Shakespeare's sonnets with me,' he writes in June 1889, 'hoping to be able to restore it to you there lest it should get bruised by transit through the post.' He wrote letters with distaste, never really well, and almost always with excuses or regrets in them: 'Am so over-burdened (my time, I mean) just now with pupils, lectures, and the making thereof'; or, with hopes for a meeting: 'Letters are such poor means of communication: when are we to meet?' or, as a sort of hasty makeshift: 'I send this prompt answer, for I know by experience that when I delay my delays are apt to be lengthy.' A review took him sometimes a year to get through; and remained in the end, like his letters, a little cramped, never finished to the point of ease, like his published writings. To lecture was a great trial to him. Two of the three lectures which I have heard in my life were given by Pater, one on Merimee, at the London Institution, in November 1890, and the other on Raphael, at Toynbee Hall, in 1892. I never saw a man suffer a severer humiliation. The act of reading his written lecture was an agony which communicated itself to the main part of the audience. Before going into the hall at Whitechapel he had gone into a church to compose his mind a little, between the discomfort of the underground railway and the distress of the lecture-hall.

In a room, if he was not among very intimate friends, Pater was rarely quite at his ease, but he liked being among people, and he made the greater satisfaction overcome the lesser reluctance. He was particularly fond of cats, and I remember one evening, when I had been dining with him in London, the quaint, solemn, and perfectly natural way in which he took up the great black Persian, kissed it, and set it down carefully again on his way upstairs. Once at Oxford he told me that M. Bourget had sent him the first volume of his Essais de Psychologie Contemporaine, and that the cat had got hold of the book and torn up the part containing the essay on Baudelaire, 'and as Baudelaire was such a lover of cats I thought she might have spared him!'

We were talking once about fairs, and I had been saying how fond I was of them. He said: 'I am fond of them, too. I always go to fairs. I am getting to find they are very similar.' Then he began to tell me about the fairs in France, and I remember, as if it were an unpublished fragment in one of his stories, the minute, coloured impression of the booths, the little white horses of the 'roundabouts,' and the little wild beast shows, in which what had most struck him was the interest of the French peasant in the wolf, a creature he might have seen in his own woods. 'An English clown would not have looked at a wolf if he could have seen a tiger.'

I once asked Pater if his family was really connected with that of the painter, Jean-Baptiste Pater. He said: 'I think so, I believe so, I always say so.' The relationship has never been verified, but one would like to believe it; to find something lineally Dutch in the English writer. It was, no doubt, through this kind of family interest that he came to work upon Goncourt's essay and the contemporary Life of Watteau by the Count de Caylus, printed in the first series of L'Art du XVIII^e Siecle, out of which he has made certainly the most living of his Imaginary Portraits, that Prince of Court Painters which is supposed to be the journal of a sister of Jean-Baptiste Pater, whom we see in one of Watteau's portraits in the Louvre. As far back as 1889[4] Pater was working towards a second volume of Imaginary Portraits, of which Hippolytus Veiled was to have been one. He had another subject in Moroni's Portrait of a Tailor in the National Gallery, whom he was going to make a Burgomaster; and another was to have been a study of life in the time of the Albigensian persecution. There was also to be a modern study: could this have been Emerald Uthwart? No doubt Apollo in Picardy, published in 1893, would have gone into the volume. The Child in the House, which was printed as an Imaginary Portrait, in Macmillans Magazine in 1878, was really meant to be the first chapter of a romance which was to show 'the poetry of modern life,' something, he said, as Aurora Leigh does. There is much personal detail in it, the red hawthorn, for instance, and he used to talk to me of the old house at Tunbridge, where his great-aunt lived, and where he spent much of his time when a child. He remembered the gipsies there, and their caravans, when they came down for the hop-picking; and the old lady in her large cap going out on the lawn to do battle with the surveyors who had come to mark out a railway across it; and his terror of the train, and of 'the red flag, which meant blood.' It was because he always dreamed of going on with it that he did not reprint this imaginary portrait in the book of Imaginary Portraits; but he did not go on with it because, having begun the long labour of Marius, it was out of his mind for many years, and when, in 1889, he still spoke of finishing it, he was conscious that he could never continue it in the same style, and that it would not be satisfactory to rewrite it in his severer, later manner. It remains, perhaps fortunately, a fragment, to which no continuation could ever add a more essential completeness.

Style, in Pater, varied more than is generally supposed, in the course of his development, and, though never thought of as a thing apart from what it expresses, was with him a constant preoccupation. Let writers, he said, 'make time to write English more as a learned language.' It has been said that Ruskin, De Quincey, and Flaubert were among the chief 'origins' of Pater's style; it is curiously significant that matter, in Pater, was developed before style, and that in the bare and angular outlines of the earliest fragment, Diaphaneite, there is already the substance which is to be clothed upon by beautiful and appropriate flesh in the Studies in the Renaissance. Ruskin, I never heard him mention, but I do not doubt that there, to the young man beginning to concern himself with beauty in art and literature, was at least a quickening influence. Of De Quincey he spoke with an admiration which I had difficulty in sharing, and I remember his showing me with pride a set of his works bound in half-parchment, with pale gold lettering on the white backs, and with the cinnamon edges which he was so fond of. Of Flaubert we rarely met without speaking. He thought Julien l'Hospitalier as perfect as anything he had done. L'Education Sentimentale was one of the books which he advised me to read; that, and Le Rouge et le Noir of Stendhal; and he spoke with particular admiration of two episodes in the former, the sickness and the death of the child. Of the Goncourts he spoke with admiration tempered by dislike. Their books often repelled him, yet their way of doing things seemed to him just the way things should be done; and done before almost any one else. He often read Madame Gervaisais, and he spoke of Cherie (for all its 'immodesty') as an admirable thing, and a model for all such studies.

Once, as we were walking in Oxford, he pointed to a window and said, with a slow smile: 'That is where I get my Zolas.' He was always a little on his guard in respect of books; and, just as he read Flaubert and Goncourt because they were intellectual neighbours, so he could read Zola for mere pastime, knowing that there would be nothing there to distract him. I remember telling him about The Story of an African Farm, and of the wonderful human quality in it. He said, repeating his favourite formula: 'No doubt you are quite right; but I do not suppose I shall ever read it.' And he explained to me that he was always writing something, and that while he was writing he did not allow himself to read anything which might possibly affect him too strongly, by bringing a new current of emotion to bear upon him. He was quite content that his mind should 'keep as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world'; it was that prisoner's dream of a world that it was his whole business as a writer to remember, to perpetuate.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse