A HISTORY OF THE FRENCH NOVEL
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A HISTORY OF THE FRENCH NOVEL
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M.A. AND HON. D.LITT. OXON.; HON. L.L.D. ABERD.; HON. D.LITT. DURH.; FELLOW OF THE BRITISH ACADEMY; HON. FELLOW OF MERTON COLLEGE, OXFORD; LATE PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC AND ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
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Solo a veces, con un dejo de zozobra y de ansiedad, timido tiembla en sus labios un viejo y triste cantar, copla que vibre en el aire como un toque funeral: La Noche Buena se viene, la Noche Buena se va! Y nosotros nos iremos y no volveremos mas.
CARLOS FERNANDEZ SHAW, La Balada de los Viejos.
"The second chantry" (for it would be absurd to keep "temple") of this work "is not like the first"; in one respect especially, which seems to deserve notice in its Preface or porch—if a chantry may be permitted a porch. In Volume I.—though many of its subjects (not quite all) had been handled by me before in more or less summary fashion, or in reviews of individual books, or in other connections than that of the novel—only Hamilton, Lesage, Marivaux, and the minor "Sensibility" men and women had formed the subjects of separate and somewhat detailed studies, wholly or mainly as novelists. The case is altered in respect of the present volume. The Essays on French Novelists, to which I there referred, contain a larger number of such studies appertaining to the present division—studies busied with Charles de Bernard, Gautier, Murger, Flaubert, Dumas, Sandeau, Cherbuliez, Feuillet. On Balzac I have previously written two papers of some length, one as an Introduction to Messrs. Dent's almost complete translation of the Comedie, with shorter sequels for each book, the other an article in the Quarterly Review for 1907. Some dozen or more years ago I contributed to an American edition of translations of Merimee by various hands, a long "Introduction" to that most remarkable writer, and I had, somewhat earlier, written on Maupassant for the Fortnightly Review. One or two additional dealings of some substance with the subject might be mentioned, such as another Introduction to Corinne, but not to Delphine. These, however, and passages in more general Histories, hardly need specification.
On the other hand, I have never dealt, substantively and in detail, with Chateaubriand, Paul de Kock, Victor Hugo, Beyle, George Sand, or Zola as novelists, nor with any of the very large number of minors not already mentioned, including some, such as Nodier and Gerard de Nerval, whom, for one thing or another, I should myself very decidedly put above minority. And, further, my former dealings with the authors in the first list given above having been undertaken without any view to a general history of the French novel, it became not merely proper but easy for me to "triangulate" them anew. So that though there may be more previous work of mine in print on the subjects of the present volume than on those of the last, there will, I hope, be found here actually less, and very considerably less, rechauffe—hardly any, in fact (save a few translations and some passages on Gautier and Maupassant)—of the amount and character which seemed excusable, and more than excusable, in the case of the "Sensibility" chapter there. The book, if not actually a "Pisgah-sight reversed," taken from Lebanon instead of Pisgah after more than forty years' journey, not in the wilderness, but in the Promised Land itself, attempts to be so; and uses no more than fairly "reminiscential" (as Sir Thomas Browne would say) notes, taken on that journey itself.
It was very naturally, and by persons of weight, put to me whether I could not extend this history to, or nearer to, the present day. I put my negative to this briefly in the earlier preface: it may be perhaps courteous to others, who may be disposed to regret the refusal, to give it somewhat more fully here. One reason—perhaps sufficient in itself—can be very frankly stated. I do not know enough of the French novel of the last twenty years or so. During the whole of that time I have had no reasons, of duty or profit, to oblige such knowledge. I have had a great many other things to do, and I have found greater recreation in re-reading old books than in experimenting on new ones. I might, no doubt, in the last year or two have made up the deficiency to some extent, but I was indisposed to do so for two, yea, three reasons, which seemed to me sufficient.
In the first place, I have found, both by some actual experiment of my own, and, as it seems to me, by a considerable examination of the experiments of other people, that to co-ordinate satisfactorily accounts of contemporary or very recent work with accounts of older is so difficult as to be nearly impossible. The foci are too different to be easily adjusted, and the result is almost always out of composition, if not of drawing.
Secondly, though I know I am here kicking against certain pricks, it does not appear to me, either from what I have read or from criticisms on what I have not, that any definitely new and decisively illustrated school of novels has arisen since the death of M. Zola.
Thirdly, it would be impossible to deal with the subject, save in an absurdly incomplete fashion, without discussing living persons. To doing this, in a book, I have an unfashionable but unalterable objection. The productions of such persons, as they appear, are, by now established custom, proper subjects for "reviewing" in accordance with the decencies of literature, and such reviews may sometimes, with the same proviso, be extended to studies of their work up to date. But even these latter should, I think, be reserved for very exceptional cases.
A slight difference of method may be observed in the treatment of authors in Chapter X. and onwards, this treatment being not only somewhat less judicial and more "impressionist," but also more general and less buckrammed out with abstracts of particular works. There appeared to me to be more than one reason for this, all such reasons being independent of, though by no means ignoring, the mechanical pressure of ever-lessening space. In the first place, a very much larger number of readers may be presumed to be more or less familiar with the subjects of discussion, thus not only making elaborate "statement of case" and production of supporting evidence unnecessary, but exposing the purely judicial attitude to the charge of "no jurisdiction." Moreover, there is behind all this, as it seems to me, a really important principle, which is not a mere repetition, but a noteworthy extension, of that recently laid down. I rather doubt whether the absolute historico-critical verdict and sentence can ever be pronounced on work that is, even in the widest sense, contemporary. The "firm perspective of the past" can in very few instances be acquired: and those few, who by good luck have acquired something of it, should not presume too much on this gift of fortune. General opinion of a man is during his lifetime often wrong, for some time after his death almost always so: and the absolute balance is very seldom reached till a full generation—something more than the conventional thirty years—has passed. Meanwhile, though all readers who have anything critical in them will be constantly revising their impressions, it is well not to put one's own out as more than impressions. It is only a very few years since I myself came to what I may call a provisionally final estimate of Zola, and I find that there is some slight alteration even in that which, from the first, I formed of Maupassant. I can hardly hope that readers of this part of the work will not be brought into collision with expressions of mine, more frequently than was the case in the first volume or even the first part of this. But I can at least assure them that I have no intention of playing Sir Oracle, or of trailing my coat.
The actual arrangement of this volume has been the subject of a good deal of "pondering and deliberation," almost as much as Sir Thomas Bertram gave to a matter no doubt of more importance. There was a considerable temptation to recur to the system on which I have written some other literary histories—that of "Books" and "Interchapters." This I had abandoned, in the first volume, because it was not so much difficult of application as hardly relevant. Here the relevance is much greater. The single century divides itself, without the slightest violence offered, into four parts, which, if I had that capacity or partiality for flowery writing, the absence of which in me some critics have deplored, I might almost call Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. There is the season, of little positive crop but important seed-sowing,—the season in which the greater writers, Chateaubriand and Mme. de Stael, perform their office. Here, too, quite humble folk—Pigault-Lebrun completing what has been already dealt with, Ducray-Duminil and others doing work to be dealt with here, and Paul de Kock most of all, get the novel of ordinary life ready in various ways: while others still, Nodier, Hugo, Vigny, Merimee, and, with however different literary value, Arlincourt, implant the New Romance. There is the sudden, magnificent, and long-continued outburst of all the kinds in and after 1830. There is the autumn of the Second Empire, continuing and adding to the fruits and flowers of summer: and there is the gradual decadence of the last quarter of the century, with some late blossoming and second-crop fruitage—the medlars of the novel—and the dying off of the great producers of the past. But the breach of uniformity in formal arrangement of the divisions would perhaps be too great to the eye without being absolutely necessary to the sense, and I have endeavoured to make the necessary recapitulation with a single "halt" of chapter-length at the exact middle. It will readily be understood that the loss of my own library has been even more severely felt in this volume than in the earlier one, while circumstances, public and private, have made access to larger collections more difficult. But I have endeavoured to "make good" as much as possible, and grumbling or complaining supplies worse than no armour against Fate.
I have sometimes, perhaps rashly, during the writing of this book wondered "What next"? By luck for myself—whether also for my readers it would be ill even to wonder—I have been permitted to execute all the literary schemes I ever formed, save two. The first of these (omitting a work on "Transubstantiation" which I planned at the age of thirteen but did not carry far) was a History of the English Scholastics, which I thought of some ten years later, which was not unfavoured by good authority, and which I should certainly have attempted, if other people at Oxford in my time had not been so much cleverer than myself that I could not get a fellowship. It has, strangely enough, never been done yet by anybody; it would be a useful corrective to the exoteric chatter which has sometimes recently gone by the name of philosophy; and perhaps it might shake Signor Benedetto Croce (whom it is hardly necessary to say I do not include among the "chatterers") in his opinion that though, as he once too kindly said, I am a valente letterato, I am sadly digiuno di filosofia. But it is "too late a week" for this. And I have lost my library.
Then there was a History of Wine, which was actually commissioned, planned, and begun just before I was appointed to my Chair at Edinburgh, and which I gave up, not from any personal pusillanimity or loss of interest in the subject, but partly because I had too much else to do, and because I thought it unfair to expose that respectable institution to the venom of the most unscrupulous of all fanatics—those of teetotalism. I could take this up with pleasure: but I have lost my cellar.
What I should really like to do would be to translate in extenso Dr. Sommer's re-edition of the Vulgate Arthuriad. But I should probably die before I had done half of it; no publisher would undertake the risk of it; and if any did, "Dora," reluctant to die, would no doubt put us both in 'prison for using so much paper. Therefore I had better be content with the divine suggestion, and not spoil it by my human failure to execute.
And so I may say, for good, Valete to the public, abandoning the rest of the leave-taking to their discretion.
1 ROYAL CRESCENT, BATH, Christmas, 1918.
 It is perhaps worth while to observe that I did not "edit" this, and that I had nothing whatever to do with any part of it except the Introduction and my earlier translation of the Chronique de Charles IX, which was, I believe, reprinted in it.
 In very great strictness an exception should perhaps be made for notice of him, and of some others, in The Later Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh and London, 1907).
 There will, for pretty obvious reasons, be fewer of these than in the former volume. The texts are much more accessible; there is no difficulty about the language, such as people, however unnecessarily, sometimes feel about French up to the sixteenth century; and the space is wanted for other things. If I have kept one or two of my old ones it is because they have won approval from persons whose approval is worth having, and are now out of print: while I have added one or two others—to please myself. Translations—in some cases more than one or two—already exist, for those who read English only, of nearly the whole of Balzac, of all Victor Hugo's novels, of a great many of Dumas's, and of others almost innumerable.
 The chief exceptions are Dumas fils, the earliest, and Maupassant, the greatest except Flaubert and far more voluminous than Flaubert himself.
 The most unexpected chorus of approval with which Volume I. was received by reviewers, and which makes me think, in regard to this, of that unpleasant song of the Koreish "After Bedr, Ohod," leaves little necessity for defending points attacked. I have made a few addenda and corrigenda to Volume I. to cover exceptions, and the "Interchapter" or its equivalent should contain something on one larger matter—the small account taken here of French criticism of the novel.
 I wonder whether he was right, or whether the late Edward Caird was when he said, "I don't think I ever had a pupil [and he was among the first inter-collegiate-lecturers] with more of the philosophical ethos than you have. But you're too fond of getting into logical coaches and letting yourself be carried away in them." I think this was provoked by a very undergraduate essay arguing that Truth, as actually realised, was uninteresting, while the possible forms of Falsehood, as conceivably realisable in other circumstances, were of the highest interest.
 I have to give, not only my usual thanks to Professors Elton, Ker, and Gregory Smith for reading my proofs, and making most valuable suggestions, but a special acknowledgment to Professor Ker, at whose request Miss Elsie Hitchcock most kindly looked up for me, at the British Museum, the exact title of that striking novel of M. H. Cochin (v. inf. p. 554 note). I have, in the proper places, already thanked the authorities of the Reviews above mentioned; but I should like also to recognise here the liberality of Messrs. Rivington in putting the contents of my Essays on French Novelists entirely at my disposal. And I am under another special obligation to Dr. Hagbert Wright for giving me, of his own motion, knowledge and reading of the fresh batch of seventeenth-century novels noticed below (pp. xiv-xvi).
ADDENDA AND CORRIGENDA FOR VOL. I
P. 13.—"The drawback of explanations is that they almost always require to be explained." Somebody, or several somebodies, must have said this; and many more people than have ever said it—at least in print—must have felt it. The dictum applies to my note on this page. An entirely well-willing reviewer thought me "piqued" at the American remark, and proceeded to intimate a doubt whether I knew M. Bedier's work, partly on lines (as to the Cantilenae) which I had myself anticipated, and partly on the question of the composition of the chansons by this or that person or class, in this or that place, at that or the other time. But I had felt no "pique" whatever in the matter, and these latter points fall entirely outside my own conception of the chansons. I look at them simply as pieces of accomplished literature, no matter how, where, in what circumstances, or even exactly when, they became so. And I could therefore by no possibility feel anything but pleasure at praise bestowed on this most admirable work in a different part of the field.
P. 38, l. 27.—A protest was made, not inexcusably, at the characterisation of Launfal as "libellous." The fault was only one of phrasing, or rather of incompleteness. That beautiful story of a knight and his fairy love is one which I should be the last man in the world to abuse as such. But it contains a libel on Guinevere which is unnecessary and offensive, besides being absolutely unjustified by any other legend, and inconsistent with her whole character. It is of this only that I spoke the evil which it deserves. If I had not, by mere oversight, omitted notice of Marie de France (for which I can offer no excuse except the usual one of hesitation in which place to put it and so putting it nowhere), I should certainly have left no doubt as to my opinion of Thomas Chester likewise. Anybody who wants this may find it in my Short History of English Literature, p. 194.
P. 55, l. 3.—Delete comma at "French."
P. 60, l. 6.—Insert "and" between "half" and "illegitimate."
P. 72, l. 4.—I have been warned of the "change-over" in "Saracen" and "Christian"—a slip of the pen which I am afraid I have been guilty of before now, though I have known the story for full forty years. But Floire, though a "paynim," was not exactly a "Saracen."
P. 75, l. 2 from bottom.—For "his" read "their."
Pp. 158-163.—When the first proofs of the present volume had already begun to come in, Dr. Hagbert Wright informed me that the London Library had just secured at Sotheby's (I believe partly from the sale of Lord Ellesmere's books) a considerable parcel of early seventeenth-century French novels. He also very kindly allowed me perusal of such of these as I had not already noticed (from reading at the B. M.) in Vol. I. Of some, if not all of them, on the principle stated in the Preface of that vol., I may say something here. There is the Histoire des Amours de Lysandre et de Caliste; avec figures, in an Amsterdam edition of 1679, but of necessity some sixty years older, since its author, the Sieur d'Audiguier, was killed in 1624. He says he wrote it in six months, during three and a half of which he was laid up with eight sword-wounds—things of which it is itself full, with the appurtenant combats on sea and land and in private houses, and all sorts of other divertisements (he uses the word himself of himself) including a very agreeable ghost-host—a ghost quite free from the tautology and grandiloquence which ghosts too often affect, though not so poetical as Fletcher's. "They told me you were dead," says his guest and interlocutor, consciously or unconsciously quoting the Anthology. "So I am," quoth the ghost sturdily. But he wants, as they so often do, to be buried. This is done, and he comes back to return thanks, which is not equally the game, and in fact rather bores his guest, who, to stop this jack-in-the-box proceeding, begins to ask favours, such as that the ghost will give him three days' warning of his own death. "I will, if I can," says the Appearance pointedly. The fault of the book, as of most of the novels of the period, is the almost complete absence of character. But there is plenty of adventure, in England as well as in France, and it must be one of the latest stories in which the actual tourney figures, for Audiguier writes as of things contemporary and dedicates his book to Marie de Medicis.
Cleon ou le Parfait Confidant (Paris, 1665), and Hattige ou Les Amours au Roy de Tamaran (Cologne, 1676), the first anonymous, the second written by a certain G. de Brimond, and dedicated to an Englishman of whom we are not specially proud—Harry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans—are two very little books, of intrinsic importance and interest not disproportioned to their size. They have, however, a little of both for the student, in reference to the extension of the novel kind. For Cleon is rather like a "fictionising" of an inferior play of Moliere's time; and Hattige, with its privateering Chevalier de Malte for a hero and its Turkish heroine who coolly remarks "L'infidelite a des charmes," might have been better if the author had known how to make it so. Both these books have, as has been said, the merit of shortness. Puget de la Serre's La Clytie de la Cour (2 vols., Paris, 1635) cannot plead even this; for it fills two fat volumes of some 1500 pages. I have sometimes been accused, both in France and in England, of unfairness to Boileau, but I should certainly never quarrel with him for including La Serre (not, however, in respect of this book, I think) among his herd of dunces. Like most of the novels of its time, though it has not much actual bergerie about it, it suggests the Astree, but the contrast is glaring. Even among the group, I have seldom read, or attempted to read, anything duller. Le Melante du Sieur Vidal (Paris, 1624), though also somewhat wordy (it has 1000 pages), is much more Astreean, and therefore, perhaps, better. Things do happen in it: among other incidents a lover is introduced into a garden in a barrow of clothes, though he has not Sir John Falstaff's fate. There are fresh laws of love, and discussions of them; a new debate on the old Blonde v. Brunette theme, which might be worse, etc. etc. The same year brought forth Les Chastes Amours d'Armonde by a certain Damiron, which, as its title may show, belongs rather to the pre-Astreean group (v. sup. Vol. I. p. 157 note), and contains a great deal of verse and (by licence of its title) a good deal of kissing; but is flatly told, despite not a little Phebus. It is a sort of combat of Spiritual and Fleshly Love; and Armonde ends as a kind of irregular anchorite, having previously "spent several days in deliberating the cut of his vestments."
Les Caprices Heroiques (Paris, 1644) is a translation, by Chateaunieres de Grenaille, from the Italian of Loredano. It consists of variations on classical stories, treated rather in the declamation manner, and ranging in subject from Achilles to "Frine." How many readers (at least among those who read with their eyes only) will affirm on their honour that they identified "Frine" at first reading? In Italian there would, of course, be less hesitation. The book is not precisely a novel, but it has merits as a collection of rhetorical exercises. Of a somewhat similar kind, though even further from the strict novel standard, is the Diverses Affections de Minerve (Paris, 1625) of the above-mentioned Audiguier, where the heroine is not the goddess, and all sorts of places and personages, mythological, classical, historic, and modern, compose a miraculous macedoine, Brasidas jostling Gracchus, and Chabrias living in the Faubourg Saint-Martin. This is a sort of story, but the greatest part of the volume as it lies before me is composed of Lettres Espagnoles, Epitres Francaises, Libres Discours, etc.
We can apparently return to the stricter romance, such as it is, with the Histoire Asiatique of the Sieur de Gerzan (Paris, 1633), but it is noteworthy that the title-page of this ballasts itself by an "Avec un Traite du Tresor de la Vie Humaine et La Philosophie des Dames." I confess that, as in the case of most of the books here mentioned, I have not read it with the care I bestowed on the Cyrus. But I perceive in it ladies who love corsairs, universal medicines, poodles who are sacrificed to save their owners, and other things which may tempt some. And I can, by at least sampling, rather recommend Les Travaux du Prince Inconnu (Paris, 1633) by the Sieur de Logeas. It calls itself, and its 700 pages, the completion of two earlier performances, the Roman Historique and the Histoire des Trois Freres Princes de Constantinople, which have not come in my way. There is, however, probably no cause to regret this, for the author assures us that his new work is "as far above the two former in beauty as the sun is above the stars." If any light-minded person be disposed to scoff at him for this, let it be added that he has the grace to abstract the whole in the Avis au Lecteur which contains the boast, and to give full chapter-headings, things too often wanting in the group. The hero is named Rosidor, the heroine Floralinde; and they are married with "la rejouissance generale de toute la Chretiente." What can mortals ask for more?
Polemire ou l'Illustre Polonais (Paris, 1647), is dedicated to no less a person than Madame de Montbazon, and contains much piety, a good deal of fighting, and some verse. L'Amour Aventureux (Paris, 1623), by the not unknown Du Verdier, is a book with Histoires, and I am not sure that the volume I have seen contains the whole of it. L'Empire de l'Inconstance (Paris, 1635), by the Sieur de Ville, and published "at the entry of the little gallery of Prisoners under the sign of the Vermilion Roses," has a most admirable title to start with, and a table of over thirty Histoires, a dozen letters, and two "amorous judgments" at the end. Les Fortunes Diverses de Chrysomire et de Kalinde (Paris, 1635), by a certain Humbert, blazons "love and war" on its very title-page, while Celandre (Paris, 1671), a much later book than most of these, has the rather uncommon feature of a single name for title. Thirty or forty years ago I should have taken some pleasure in "cooking" this batch of mostly early romances into a twenty-page article which, unless it had been unlucky, would have found its way into some magazine or review. Somebody might do so now. But I think it sufficient, and not superfluous, to add this brief sketch here to the notices of similar things in the last volume, in order to show how abundant the crop of French romance—of which even these are only further samples—was at the time.
P. 231, l. 9 from bottom.—Add 's (Herman sla lerman's).
P. 237, note 2, l. 1.—For "revision" read "revisal."
P. 241, 2nd par., last line but two.—For "But" read "Still."
P. 278, l. 7 from bottom.—Delete comma at "Thackeray's."
P. 286, l. 18.—It occurred to me (among the usual discoveries which one makes in reading one's book after it has passed the irremeable press) that I ought to have said "Planchet's" horse, not "D'Artagnan's." True, as a kindly fellow-Alexandrian (who had not noticed the slip) consoled my remorse by saying, the horse was D'Artagnan's property; but the phrase usually implies riding at the moment. And Aramis, brave as he was, would have been sure to reflect that to play a feat of possibly hostile acrobatism on the Gascon, without notice, might be a little dangerous.
P. 304, ll. 4 and 7.—Shift "with his wife and mistress" to l. 4, reading "the relations with his wife and mistress of that Henri II.," etc.
P. 314, l. 12 from bottom.—For "usual" read "common" (common norm.)
P. 338, l. 21.—Delete "in" before "among."
P. 381.—One or two reviewers and some private correspondents have expressed surprise at my not knowing, or at any rate not mentioning, the late Professor Morley's publication of Rasselas and a translation of Candide together. I cannot say positively whether I knew of it or not, though I must have done so, having often gone over the lists of that editor's numerous "libraries" to secure for my students texts not overlaid with commentary. But I can say very truthfully that no slight whatever was intended, in regard to a scholar who did more than almost any other single man to "vulgarise" (in the wholly laudable sense of that too often degraded word) the body of English literature. Only, such a book would not have been what I was thinking of. To bring out the full contrast-complement of these two strangely coincident masterpieces, both must be read in the originals. Paradoxically, one might even say that a French translation of Johnson, with the original of Voltaire, would show it better than the converse presentment. Candide is so intensely French—it is even to such an extent an embodiment of one side of Frenchness—that you cannot receive its virtues except through the original tongue. I am personally fond of translating; I have had some practice in it; and some good wits have not disapproved some of my efforts. But, unless I knew that in case of refusal I should be ranked as a Conscientious Objector, I would not attempt Candide. The French would ring in my ears too reproachfully.
P. 396, last line.—Shift comma from after to before "even."
P. 399, l. 10.—For "Rousseau" read "his author."
P. 424, note, first line.—Delete quotes before "The."
P. 453, l. 15.—For "Courray" read "Couvray."
P. 468, l. 17.—For "France has" read "France had."
P. 477.—In the original preface I apologised—not in the idle hope of conciliating one kind of critic, but out of respect for a very different class—for slips due to the loss of my own library, and to the difficulty (a difficulty which has now increased owing to circumstances of no public interest, in respect of the present volume) of consulting others in regard to small matters of fact. I have very gratefully to acknowledge that I found the latter class very much larger than the former. Such a note as that at Vol. I. p. xiii, will show that I have not spared trouble to ensure accuracy. The charge of inaccuracy can always be made by anybody who cares to take "the other authority." This has been done in reference to the dates of Prevost's books. But I may perhaps say, without outrecuidance, that there is an Art de negliger les dates as well as one de les verifier. For the purposes of such a history as this it is very rarely of the slightest importance, whether a book was published in the year one or the year three: though the importance of course increases when units pass into decades, and becomes grave where decades pass into half-centuries. Unless you can collate actual first editions in every case (and sometimes even then) dates of books as given are always second-hand. In reference to the same subject I have also been rebuked for not taking account of M. Harrisse's correction of the legend of Prevost's death. As a matter of fact I knew but had forgotten it, and it has not the slightest importance in connection with Prevost's work. Besides, somebody will probably, sooner or later, correct M. Harrisse. These things pass: Manon Lescaut remains.
ADDENDA AND CORRIGENDA FOR VOL. II
P. 65.—A reviewer of my first volume, who objected to my omission there of Madame de Charrieres, may possibly think that omission made more sinful by the admission of Madame de Montolieu. But there seems to me to be a sufficient distinction between the two cases. Isabella Agnes Elizabeth Van Tuyll (or, as she liked to call herself, Belle de Zuylen), subsequently Madame de Saint-Hyacinthe de Charrieres (how mellifluously these names pass over one's tongue!), was a very interesting person, and highly characteristic of the later eighteenth century. I first met with her long ago (see Vol. I. p. 443) in my "Sensibility" researches, as having, in her maturer years, played that curious, but at the time not uncommon, part of "Governess in erotics" to Benjamin Constant, who was then quite young, and with whose uncle, Constant d'Hermenches, she had, years earlier and before her own marriage, carried on a long and very intimate but platonic correspondence. This is largely occupied with oddly business-like discussions of marriage schemes for herself, one of the pretendants being no less a person than our own precious Bozzy, who met her on the Continental tour for which Johnson started him at Harwich. But—and let this always be a warning to literary lovers—the two fell out over a translation of the Corsica book which she began. Boswell was not the wisest of men, especially where women were concerned. But even he might have known that, if you trust the bluest-eyed of gazelles to do such things for you, she will probably marry a market-gardener. (He seems also to have been a little afraid of her superiority of talent, v. his letters to Temple and his Johnson, pp. 192-3, Globe Ed.)
Besides these, and other genuine letters, she wrote not a few novels, concocted often, if not always, in epistolary form. Their French was so good that it attracted Sainte-Beuve's attention and praise, while quite recently she has had a devoted panegyrist and editor in Switzerland, where, after her marriage, she was domiciled. But (and here come the reasons for the former exclusion) she learnt her French as a foreign language. She was French neither by birth nor by extraction, nor, if I do not mistake, by even temporary residence, though she did stay in England for a considerable time. Some of these points distinguish her from Hamilton as others do from Madame de Montolieu. If I put her in, I do not quite see how I could leave Beckford out.
P. 400, ll. 2, 3.—For "1859 ... 1858" read "1857—a year, with its successors 1858 and 1859,"
MADAME DE STAEL AND CHATEAUBRIAND 1
Reasons for beginning with Mme. de Stael—Delphine—The tone—The story—Corinne—Its improved conditions—An illustrated edition of it—The story—The character of Nelvil—And the book's absurdities—Compensations: Corinne herself—Nelvil again—Its aesthetics—The author's position in the History of the Novel—Chateaubriand: his peculiar position as a novelist—And the remarkable interconnection of his works in fiction—Atala—Rene—Difference between its importance and its merit—Les Natchez—Les Martyrs—The story—Its "panoramic" quality—And its remarkable advance in style—Chateaubriand's Janus-position in this—Illustrated.
PAUL DE KOCK, OTHER MINORS OF 1800-1830, AND NODIER 39
The fate of popular minor novelists—Examples of them—Paul de Kock—L'Enfant de ma Femme—Petits Tableaux de Moeurs—Gustave—The caricatured Anglais—Edmond et sa Cousine—Andre le Savoyard—Jean—La Femme, le Mari et l'Amant—Mon Voisin Raymond—Le Barbier de Paris—The Pauline grisette—Others—The minors before 1830—Mme. de Montolieu: Caroline de Lichtfield—Its advance on "Sensibility"—Madame de Genlis iterum—The minor popular novel—Ducray-Duminil: Le Petit Carillonneur—V. Ducange—L'Artiste et le Soldat—Ludovica—Auguste Ricard: L'Ouvreuse de Loges—The importance of these minors not inconsiderable—The Vicomte d'Arlincourt: Le Solitaire—Nodier—His short stories—Trilby—Le Songe d'Or—The minors—La Fee aux Miettes—Smarra and Soeur Beatrix—Ines de las Sierras—Nodier's special quality.
VICTOR HUGO 96
Limitations—Han d'Islande—Bug-Jargal—Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamne—Claude Gueux—Notre-Dame de Paris—The story easy to anticipate—Importance of the actual title—The working out of the one under the other—The story recovers itself latterly—But the characters?—The thirty years' interval—Les Miserables—Les Travailleurs de la Mer—The genius loci—Guernsey at the time—L'Homme Qui Rit—Quatre-Vingt-Treize—Final remarks.
BEYLE AND BALZAC 133
Beyle: his peculiarity—Armance—La Chartreuse de Parme—The Waterloo episode—The subject and general colour—L'Abbesse de Castro, etc.—Le Rouge et le Noir—Beyle's masterpiece, and why—Julien Sorel and Mathilde de la Mole—The resuscitated work: Lamiel—The Nouvelles Inedites—Le Chasseur Vert—Beyle's place in the story—Balzac: conditions of the present dealing—Limitations of subject—And of Balzac himself—Balzac's "general ideas"—Abstinence from abstract—The Oeuvres de Jeunesse—Les Chouans—La Peau de Chagrin—The short stories—The Contes Drolatiques—Notes on select larger books: Eugenie Grandet—Le Pere Goriot and Les Parents Pauvres—Others: the general "scenic" division—"Balzacity": its constitution—Its effect on successors—And its own character—The "occult" element—Its action and reaction—Peculiarity of the conversation—And of the "story" interest.
GEORGE SAND 176
George Sand: generalities about her—Note on Elle et Lui, etc., and on Un Hiver a Majorque—Phases of her work—Indiana—Valentine—Lelia—The moral of the group and its tragi-comedy—Consuelo—Much better in parts—The degeneration—Recovery; but not maintained quite to the end—La Comtesse de Rudolstadt—The "making good" of Lucrezia Floriani—The story—Its balance of power—The "Idylls": La Petite Fadette—La Mare au Diable—Francois le Champi—Others: Mauprat—La Daniella—Les Beaux Messieurs de Bois-Dore—Le Marquis de Villemer—Mlle. La Quintinie—Flamarande—Summary and judgment—Style—Conversation and description.
THE NOVEL OF STYLE—GAUTIER, MERIMEE, GERARD DE NERVAL, MUSSET, VIGNY 208
Gautier: his burden of "style"—Abstract (with translations) of La Morte Amoureuse—Criticism thereof—A parallel from painting—The reality—And the passion of it—Other short stories—Gautier's humour: Les Jeune-France—Return to Fortunio—And others—Longer books: Le Capitaine Fracasse and others—Mlle. De Maupin—Merimee—Carmen—Colomba—Its smaller companions: Mateo Falcone, etc.—Those of Carmen; Arsene Guillot—And L'Abbe Aubain—La Prise de la Redoute—The Dernieres Nouvelles; Il Viccolo di Madama Lucrezia—Djoumane—Lokis—La Chambre Bleue—The Chronique de Charles IX—The semi-dramatic stories: La Jacquerie—Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement, etc.—Musset: charm of his dramatised stories; his pure narration unsuccessful—Frederic et Bernerette—Les Deux Maitresses, Le Fils du Titien, etc.—Emmeline—Gerard de Nerval: his peculiar position—La Boheme Galante, Les Filles du Feu, and Le Reve et la Vie—Their general character—Particular examples—Aurelia—And especially Sylvie—Alfred de Vigny: Cinq-Mars—The faults in its general scheme—And in its details—Stello less of a novel, but containing better novel-stuff—Its framework and "anecdotes"—The death of Gilbert—The satiric episode: contrast—The Chatterton part—The tragedy of Andre Chenier—Servitude et Grandeur Militaires—The first story—The second—and third—The moral of the three—Note on Fromentin's Dominique: its altogether exceptional character.
THE MINORS OF 1830 281
Sainte-Beuve: Volupte—Its "puff-book"—Itself—Its character in various aspects—Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard—Sandeau's work—Bernard's—Sue, Soulie, and the novel of melodrama: Le Juif Errant, etc.—Melodramatic fiction generally—Le Chateau des Pyrenees—Les Memoires du Diable—Later writers and writings of the class—Murger—The Vie de Boheme—Les Buveurs d'Eau and the Miscellanies—Reybaud: Jerome Paturot, and Thackeray on its earlier part—The windfall of Malvina—The difference of the Second Part—Not much of a novel—But an invaluable document—Mery—Les Nuits Anglaises—The minor stories—Histoire d'une Colline—The "Manchester" article—Karr—Roger de Beauvoir: Les Cabaret des Morts—Ourliac: Contes du Bocage—Achard—Souvestre, Feval, etc.—Borel's Champavert.
DUMAS THE ELDER 323
The case of Dumas—Charge and discharge—Morality—Plagiarism and devilling—The collaborators?—The positive value as fiction and as literature of the books: the less worthy works—The worthier: treatment of them not so much individually as under heads—His attitude to plot—To character—To description (and "style")—To conversation.
THE FRENCH NOVEL IN 1850 343
The peculiarity of the moment—A political nadir—And almost a literary zenith—The performance of the time in novel—The personnel—The kinds: the historical novel—Appearance of new classes: the historical—Other kinds and classes—The Novel of Romanticism generally—The "ordinary"—Discussion on a point of general novel criticism.
DUMAS THE YOUNGER 365
Division of future subjects—A confession—His general character—La Dame aux Camelias—Tristan le Roux—Antonine—La Vie a Vingt Ans—Aventures de Quatre Femmes—Trois Hommes Forts—Diane de Lys—Shorter stories: Une Loge a Camille—Le Docteur Servans—Le Roman d'une Femme—The habit of quickening up at the end—Contes et Nouvelles—Ilka—Revenants—Sophie Printemps—Affaire Clemenceau—Story of it—Criticism of it and of its author's work generally—Note on Dumas fils' drama, etc.—Reflections.
GUSTAVE FLAUBERT 397
The contrast of Flaubert and Dumas fils—Some former dealings with him—His style—The books: Madame Bovary—Salammbo—L'Education Sentimentale—La Tentation de Saint-Antoine—Trois Contes—Bouvard et Pecuchet—General considerations.
THE OTHER "NON-NATURALS" OF THE SECOND EMPIRE 414
Feuillet—His novels generally—Brief notes on some: Le Roman d'un jeune homme pauvre—M. de Camors—Other books—La Petite Comtesse—Julia de Trecoeur—Honneur d'Artiste—La Morte—Misters the assassins—Alphonse Daudet and his curious position—His "personality"—His books from this point of view and others—His "plagiarisms"—His merits—About: Le Roi des Montagnes—Tolla—Germaine—Madelon—Maitre Pierre, etc.—Summing up—Ponson du Terrail and Gaboriau—The first: his general character—The second—L'Affaire Lerouge—Feydeau: Sylvie—Fanny—Others: Daniel—Droz—Mr., Mme. et Bebe and Entre Nous—Cherbuliez—His general characteristics—Short survey of his books—Three eccentrics—Leon Cladel: Les Va-nu-pieds, etc.—Barbey d'Aurevilly: his criticism of novels—His novels themselves: Les Diaboliques and others—His merits—And defects—Especially as shown in L'Ensorcelee—Champfleury—Les Excentriques.
NATURALISM—THE GONCOURTS, ZOLA, AND MAUPASSANT 459
The beginnings—"Les deux Goncourts"—Their work—The novels—Germinie Lacerteux and Cherie taken as specimens—The impression produced by them—The rottenness of their theory—And the unattractiveness of their style—Emile Zola to be treated differently—Some points in his personality: literary and other—The Pillars of Naturalism—"Document" and "detail" before Naturalism—General stages traced—Some individual pioneers; especially Hugo—Survey of books: the short stories—"Les Rougon-Macquart"—"Les Trois Villes"—"Les Quatre Evangiles"—General considerations—Especially in regard to character—[Maupassant]—Bel-Ami—Une Vie—Fort comme la Mort—Pierre et Jean—Notre Coeur—Les Dimanches, etc.—Yvette—Short stories: the various collections—Classes: stories of 1870-71—Norman stories—Algerian and Sporting—Purely comic—Tragic—Tales of Life's Irony—Oddments—General considerations—Huysmans—Belot and others.
OTHER NOVELISTS OF 1870-1900 518
The last stage—Ferdinand Fabre—L'Abbe Tigrane—Norine, etc.—Le Marquis de Pierrerue—Mon Oncle Celestin—Lucifer—Sylviane and Taillevent—Toussaint Galabru—Andre Theuriet—Sauvageonne—Le Fils Maugars—Le Don Juan de Vireloup and Raymonde—General characteristics—Georges Ohnet—Serge Panine—Le Maitre de Forges—Le Docteur Rameau—La Grande Marniere—Reflections—Edouard Rod—La Vie Privee de Michel Teissier—La Sacrifiee—Note on La Seconde Vie de M. T.—Le Silence—La-Haut—La Course a la Mort—Le Menage du Pasteur Naudie—Mademoiselle Annette—L'Eau Courante—Scenes de la Vie Cosmopolite—Catulle Mendes.
MADAME DE STAEL AND CHATEAUBRIAND
[Sidenote: Reasons for beginning with Mme. de Stael.]
It has often been thought, and sometimes said, that the period of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic wars—extending as it does strictly to more than a quarter of a century, while four decades were more than completed before a distinct turn of tide—is, for France, the least individual and least satisfactorily productive time in all her great literature. And it is, to a large extent, true. But the loss of individuality implies the presence of indiscernibility; and not to go out of our own department, there are at least three writers who, if but partially, cancel this entry to discredit. Of one of them—the lowest in general literature, if not quite in our division of it—Pigault-Lebrun—we have spoken in the last volume. The other two—much less craftsmanlike novelists merely as such, but immeasurably greater as man and woman of letters—remain for discussion in the first chapter of this. In pure chronological order Chateaubriand should come first, as well as in other "ranks" of various kinds. But History, though it may never neglect, may sometimes overrule Chronology by help of a larger and higher point of view: sex and birth hardly count here, and the departmental primes the intrinsic literary importance. Chateaubriand, too, was a little younger than Madame de Stael in years, though his actual publication, in anything like our kind, came before hers. And he reached much farther than she did, though curiously enough some of his worst faults were more of the eighteenth century than hers. She helped to finish "Sensibility"; she transformed "Philosophism" into something more modern; she borrowed a good deal (especially in the region of aesthetics) that was to be importantly germinal from Germany. But she had practically nothing of that sense of the past and of the strange which was to rejuvenate all literature, and which he had; while she died before the great French Romantic outburst began. So let us begin with her.
"This dismal trash, which has nearly dislocated the jaws of every critic who has read it," was the extremely rude judgment pronounced by Sydney Smith on Madame de Stael's Delphine. Sydney was a good-natured person and a gentleman, nor had he, merely as a Whig, any reason to quarrel with the lady's general attitude to politics—a circumstance which, one regrets to say, did in those days, on both sides, rather improperly qualify the attitude of gentlemen to literary ladies as well as to each other. It is true that the author of Corinne and of Delphine itself had been rather a thorn in the side of the English Whigs by dint of some of her opinions, by much of her conduct, and, above all, by certain peculiarities which may be noticed presently. But Sydney, though a Whig, was not "a vile Whig," for which reason the Upper Powers, in his later years, made him something rather indistinguishable from a Tory. And that blunt common sense, which in his case cohabited with the finest uncommon wit, must have found itself, in this instance, by no means at variance with its housemate in respect of Anne Germaine Necker.
There are many worse books than Delphine. It is excellently written; there is no bad blood in it; there is no intentional licentiousness; on the contrary, there are the most desperate attempts to live up to a New Morality by no means entirely of the Wiggins kind. But there is an absence of humour which is perfectly devastating: and there is a presence of the most disastrous atmosphere of sham sentiment, sham morality, sham almost everything, that can be imagined. It was hinted in the last volume that Madame de Stael's lover, Benjamin Constant, shows in one way the Nemesis of Sensibility; so does she herself in another. But the difference! In Adolphe a coal from the altar of true passion has touched lips in themselves polluted enough, and the result is what it always is in such, alas! rare cases, whether the lips were polluted or not. In Delphine there is a desperate pother to strike some sort of light and get some sort of heat; but the steel is naught, the flint is clay, the tinder is mouldy, and the wood is damp and rotten. No glow of brand or charcoal follows, and the lips, untouched by it, utter nothing but rhetoric and fustian and, as the Sydneian sentence speaks it, "trash."
[Sidenote: The tone.]
In fact, to get any appropriate metaphorical description of it one has to change the terminology altogether. In a very great line Mr. Kipling has spoken of a metaphorical ship—
With a drogue of dead convictions to keep her head to gale.
Madame de Stael has cast off not only that drogue, but even the other and perhaps commoner floating ballast and steadier of dead conventions, and is trying to beat up against the gale by help of all sorts of jury-masts and extemporised try-sails of other new conventions that are mostly blowing out of the bolt-ropes. We said that Crebillon's world was an artificial one, and one of not very respectable artifice. But it worked after a fashion; it was founded on some real, however unrespectable, facts of humanity; and it was at least amusing to the naughty players on its stage to begin with, and long afterwards to the guiltless spectators of the commonty. In Delphine there is not a glimmer of amusement from first to last, and the whole story is compact (if that word were not totally inapplicable) of windbags of sentiment, copy-book headings, and the strangest husks of neo-classic type-worship, stock character, and hollow generalisation. An Italian is necessarily a person of volcanic passions; an Englishman or an American (at this time the identification was particularly unlucky) has, of equal necessity, a grave and reserved physiognomy. Orthodox religion is a mistake, but a kind of moral-philosophical Deism (something of the Wolmar type) is highly extolled. You must be technically "virtuous" yourself, even if you bring a whole second volume of tedious tortures on you by being so; but you may play Lady Pandara to a friend who is a devout adulteress, may force yourself into her husband's carriage when he is carrying her off from one assignation, and may bring about his death by contriving another in your own house. In fact, the whole thing is topsy-turvy, without the slightest touch of that animation and interested curiosity which topsy-turviness sometimes contributes. But perhaps one should give a more regular account of it.
[Sidenote: The story.]
Delphine d'Albemar is a young, beautiful, rich, clever, generous, and, in the special and fashionable sense, extravagantly "sensible" widow, who opens the story (it is in the troublesome epistolary form) by handing over about a third of her fortune to render possible the marriage of a cousin of her deceased husband. This cousin, Matilde de Vernon, is also beautiful and accomplished, but a devote, altogether well-regulated and well-conducted, and (though it turns out that she has strong and permanent affections) the reverse of "sensible"—in fact rather hard and disagreeable—in manner. She has a scheming mother, who has run herself deeply, though privately, into debt, and the intended husband and son-in-law, Leonce de Mandeville, also has a mother, who is half Spanish by blood and residence, and wholly so (according to the type-theory above glanced at) in family pride, personal morgue, and so forth. A good deal of this has descended to her son, with whom, in spite or because of it, Delphine (she has not seen him before her rash generosity) proceeds to fall frantically in love, as he does with her. The marriage, however, partly by trickery on Madame de Vernon's part, and partly owing to Delphine's more than indiscreet furthering of her friend Madame d'Ervin's intrigue with the Italian M. de Serbellane, does take place, and Mme. de Stael's idea of a nice heroine makes her station Delphine in a white veil, behind a pillar of the church, muttering reproaches at the bridegroom. No open family rupture, however, is caused; on the contrary, a remarkable and inevitably disastrous "triple arrangement" follows (as mentioned above), for an entire volume, in which the widow and the bridegroom make despairing love to each other, refraining, however, from any impropriety, and the wife, though suffering (for she, in her apparently frigid way, really loves her husband), tolerates the proceeding after a fashion. This impossible and preposterous situation is at last broken up by the passion and violence of another admirer of Delphine—a certain M. de Valorbe. These bring about duels, wounds, and Delphine's flight to Switzerland, where she puts up in a convent with a most superfluous and in every way unrefreshing new personage, a widowed sister of Madame de Mandeville. Valorbe follows, and, to get hold of Delphine, machinates one of the most absurd scenes in the whole realm of fiction. He lures her into Austrian territory and a chamber with himself alone, locks the door and throws the key out of the window, storms, rants, threatens, but proceeds to no voie de fait, and merely gets himself and the object of his desires arrested by the Austrians! He thus succeeds, while procuring no gratification for himself, in entirely demolishing the last shred of reputation which, virtuous as she is in her own way, Delphine's various eccentricities and escapades have left her; and she takes the veil. In the first form the authoress crowned this mass of absurdities with the suicide of the heroine and the judicial shooting of the hero. Somebody remonstrated, and she made Delphine throw off her vows, engage herself to Leonce (whose unhappy wife has died from too much carrying out of the duty of a mother to her child), and go with him to his estates in La Vendee, where he is to take up arms for the king. Unfortunately, the Vendeans by no means "see" their seigneur marrying an apostate nun, and strong language is used. So Delphine dies, not actually by her own hand, and Leonce gets shot, more honourably than he deserves, on the patriot-royalist side.
Among the minor characters not yet referred to are an old-maid sister-in-law of Delphine's, who, though tolerably sensible in the better sense, plays the part of confidante to her brother's mijauree of a widow much too indulgently; a M. Barton, Leonce's mentor, who, despite his English-looking name, is not (one is glad to find) English, but is, to one's sorrow, one of the detestable "parsons-in-tie-wigs" whom French Anglomania at this time foisted on us as characteristic of England; a sort of double of his, M. de Lerensei, a Protestant free-thinker, who, with his divorcee wife, puts up grass altars in their garden with inscriptions recording the happiness of their queer union; an ill-natured Mme. du Marset and her old cicisbeo, M. de Fierville, who suggest, in the dismallest way, the weakest wine of Marmontel gone stale and filtered through the dullest, though not the dirtiest, part of Laclos.
Yet the thing, "dismal trash" as Sydney almost justly called it, is perhaps worth reading once (nothing but the sternest voice of duty could have made me read it twice) because of the existence of Corinne, and because also of the undoubted fact that, here as there, though much more surprisingly, a woman of unusual ability was drawing a picture of what she would have liked to be—if not of what she actually thought herself. The borrowed beauty goes for nothing—it were indeed hard if one did not, in the case of a woman of letters, "let her make her dream All that she would," like Tennyson's Prince, but in this other respect. The generosity, less actually exaggerated, might also pass. That Delphine makes a frantic fool of herself for a lover whose attractions can only make male readers shrug their shoulders—for though we are told that Leonce is clever, brave, charming, and what not, we see nothing of it in speech or action—may be matter of taste; but that her heroine's part should seem to any woman one worth playing is indeed wonderful. Delphine behaves throughout like a child, and by no means always like a very well-brought-up child; she never seems to have the very slightest idea that "things are as they are and that their consequences will be what they will be"; and though, once more, we are told of passion carrying all before it, we are never shown it. It is all "words, words." To speak of her love in the same breath with Julie's is to break off the speech in laughter; to consider her woes and remember Clarissa's is to be ready to read another seven or eight volumes of Richardson in lieu of these three of Madame de Stael's.
And yet this lady could do something in the novel way, and, when the time came, she did it.
Between Delphine and Corinne Madame de Stael had, in the fullest sense of a banal phrase, "seen a great of the world." She had lost the illusions which the Duessa Revolution usually spreads among clever but not wise persons at her first appearance, and had not left her bones, as too many such persons do, in the pieuvre-caves which the monster keeps ready. She had seen England, being "coached" by Crabb-Robinson and others, so as to give some substance to the vague philosophe-Anglomane flimsiness of her earlier fancy. She had seen Republicanism turn to actual Tyranny, and had made exceedingly unsuccessful attempts to captivate the tyrant. She had seen Germany, and had got something of its then not by any means poisonous, if somewhat windy, "culture"; a little romance of a kind, though she was never a real Romantic; some aesthetics; some very exoteric philosophy, etc. She had done a great deal of not very happy love-making; had been a woman of letters, a patroness of men of letters, and—most important of all—had never dismounted from her old hobby "Sensibility," though she had learnt how to put it through new paces.
A critical reader of Corinne must remember all this, and he must remember something else, though the reminder has been thought to savour of brutality. It is perfectly clear to me, and always has been so from reading (in and between the lines) of her own works, of Lady Blennerhassett's monumental book on her, of M. Sorel's excellent monograph, and of scores of longer and shorter studies on and references to her English and German and Swiss and French—from her own time downwards, that the central secret, mainspring, or whatever any one may choose to call it, of Madame de Stael's life was a frantic desire for the physical beauty which she did not possess, and a persistent attempt, occasionally successful, to delude herself into believing that she had achieved a sufficient substitute by literary, philosophical, political, and other exertion.
[Sidenote: Its improved conditions.]
This partly pathetic, partly, alas! ridiculous, but on the whole (with a little charity) quite commiserable endeavour, attained some success, though probably with not a little extraneous help, in De l'Allemagne, and the posthumous Considerations on the Revolution; but these books do not concern us, and illustrate only part of the writer's character, temperament, and talent, if not genius. Corinne gives us the rest, and nearly, if not quite, the whole. The author had no doubt tried to do this in Delphine, but had then had neither art nor equipment for the task, and she had failed utterly. She was now well, if not perfectly, equipped, and had learnt not a little of the art to use her acquisitions. Delphine had been dull, absurd, preposterous; Corinne, if it has dull patches, saves them from being intolerable. If its sentiment is extravagant, it is never exactly preposterous or exactly absurd; for the truth and reality of passion which are absent from the other book are actually present here, though sometimes in unintentional masquerade.
In fact, Corinne, though the sisterhood of the two books is obvious enough, has almost, though not quite, all the faults of Delphine removed and some merits added, of which in the earlier novel there is not the slightest trace. The history of my own acquaintance with it is, I hope, not quite irrelevant. I read it—a very rare thing for me with a French novel (in fact I can hardly recollect another instance, except, a quaint contrast, Paul de Kock's Andre le Savoyard)—first in English, and at a very early period of life, and I then thought it nearly as great "rot" as I have always thought its predecessor. But though I had, I hope, sense enough to see its faults, I had neither age nor experience nor literature enough to appreciate its merits. I read it a good deal later in French, and, being then better qualified, did perceive these merits, though it still did not greatly "arride" me. Later still—in fact, only some twenty years ago—I was asked to re-edit and "introduce" the English translation. It is a popular mistake to think that an editor, like an advocate, is entitled, if not actually bound, to make the best case for his client, quite apart from his actual opinions; but in this instance my opinion of the book mounted considerably. And it has certainly not declined since, though this History has necessitated a fourth study of the original, and though I shall neither repeat what I said in the Introduction referred to, nor give the impression there recorded in merely altered words. Indeed, the very purpose of the present notice, forming part, as it should, of a connected history of the whole department to which the book belongs, requires different treatment, and an application of what may be called critical "triangulation" from different stand-points.
[Sidenote: An illustrated edition of it.]
By an odd chance and counter-chance, the edition which served for this last perusal, after threatening to disserve its text, had an exactly contrary result. It was the handsome two-volume issue of 1841 copiously adorned with all sorts of ingenious initial-devices, culs-de-lampe, etc., and with numerous illustrative "cuts" beautifully engraved (for the most part by English engravers, such as Orrin Smith, the Williamses, etc.), excellently drawn and composed by French artists from Gros downwards, but costumed in what is now perhaps the least tolerable style of dress even to the most catholic taste—that of the Empire in France and the Regency in England—and most comically "thought." At first sight this might seem to be a disadvantage, as calling attention to, and aggravating, certain defects of the text itself. I found it just the reverse. One was slightly distracted from, and half inclined to make allowances for, Nelvil's performances in the novel when one saw him—in a Tom-and-Jerry early chimneypot hat, a large coachman's coat flung off his shoulders and hanging down to his heels, a swallow-tail, tight pantaloons, and Hessian boots—extracting from his bosom his father's portrait and expressing filial sentiments to it. One was less likely to accuse Corinne of peevishness when one beheld the delineation of family worship in the Edgermond household from which she fled. And the faithful eyes remonstrated with the petulant brain for scoffing at excessive sentiment, when they saw how everybody was always at somebody else's feet, or supporting somebody else in a fainting condition, or resting his or her burning brow on a hand, the elbow of which rested, in its turn, on a pedestal like that of Mr. Poseidon Hicks in Mrs. Perkins's Ball. The plates gave a safety-valve to the letterpress in a curiously anodyne fashion which I hardly ever remember to have experienced before. Or rather, one transferred to them part, if not the whole, of the somewhat contemptuous amusement which the manners had excited, and had one's more appreciative faculties clear for the book itself.
[Sidenote: The story.]
The story of Corinne, though not extraordinarily "accidented" and, as will be seen, adulterated, or at least mixed, with a good many things that are not story at all, is fairly solid, much more so than that of Delphine. It turns—though the reader is not definitely informed of this till the book is half over—on the fact of an English nobleman, Lord Edgermond (dead at temp. of tale), having had two wives, the first an Italian. By her he had one daughter, whose actual Christian name (unless I forget) we are never told, and he lived with them in Italy till his wife's death. Then he went home and married a second wife, an English or Scotch woman (for her name seems to have been Maclinson—a well-known clan) of very prudish disposition. By her he had another daughter, Lucile—younger by a good many years than her sister. To that sister Lady Edgermond the second does not behave exactly in the traditionally novercal fashion, but she is scandalised by the girl's Italian ways, artistic and literary temperament, desire for society, etc. After Lord Edgermond's death the discord of the two becomes intolerable, and the elder Miss Edgermond, coming of age and into an independent fortune, breaks loose and returns to Italy, her stepmother stipulating that she shall drop her family name altogether and allow herself to be given out as dead. She consents (unwisely, but perhaps not unnaturally), appears in Italy under the name of "Corinne," and establishes herself without difficulty in the best Roman society as a lady of means, great beauty, irreproachable character, but given to private displays of her talents as singer, improvisatrice, actress, and what not.
But before she has thus thrown a still respectable bonnet over a not too disreputable mill, something has happened which has, in the long run, fatal consequences. Lord Edgermond has a friend, Lord Nelvil, who has a son rather younger than Corinne. Both fathers think that a marriage would be a good thing, and the elder Nelvil comes to stay with the Edgermonds to propose it. Corinne (or whatever her name was then) lays herself out in a perfectly innocent but, as he thinks, forward manner to please him, and he, being apparently (we never see him in person) not a little of an old fool, cries off this project, but tells Edgermond that he should like his son to marry Lucile when she grows up.
Without an intolerable dose of "argument," it is only possible to say here that Nelvil, after his father's death, journeys to the Continent (where he has been already engaged in a questionable liaison), meets Corinne, and, not at first knowing in the least who she is, falls, or thinks he falls, frantically in love with her, while she really does fall more frantically in love with him. After a sojourn, of which a little more presently, circumstances make him (or he thinks they make him) return home, and he falls, or thinks he falls, out of love with Corinne and into it (after a fashion) with Lucile. Corinne undertakes an incognito journey to England to find out what is happening, but (this, though not impossible in itself, is, as told, the weakest part of the story) never makes herself known till too late, and Nelvil, partly out of respect for his father's wishes, and partly, one fears, because Lucile is very pretty and Corinne seems to be very far off, marries the younger sister.
It would have greatly improved the book if, with or even without a "curtain," it had ended here. But Madame de Stael goes on to tell us how Nelvil, who is a soldier by profession, leaves his wife and a little daughter, Juliette, and goes to "Les Iles" on active service for four years; how Lucile, not unnaturally, suspects hankering after the sister she has not seen since her childhood; how, Nelvil being invalided home, they all go to Italy, and find Corinne in a dying condition; how Lucile at first refuses to see her, but, communications being opened by the child Juliette, reconciliations follow; and how Corinne dies with Nelvil and Lucile duly kneeling at her bedside.
The minor personages of any importance are not numerous. Besides Lady Edgermond, they consist of the Comte d'Erfeuil, a French travelling companion of Nelvil's; the Prince of Castel-Forte, an Italian of the highest rank; a Mr. Edgermond, who does not make much appearance, but is more like a real Englishman in his ways and manners than Nelvil; an old Scotch nincompoop named Dickson, who, unintentionally, makes mischief wherever he goes as surely as the personage in the song made music. Lady Edgermond, though she is neither bad nor exactly ill-natured, is the evil genius of the story. Castel-Forte, a most honourable and excellent gentleman, has so little of typical Italianism in him that, finding Corinne will not have him, he actually serves as common friend, confidant, and almost as honourable go-between, to her and Nelvil.
On the other hand, French critics have justly complained, and critics not French may endorse the complaint, that the Comte d'Erfeuil is a mere caricature of the "frivolous" French type too commonly accepted out of France. He is well-mannered, not ill-natured, and even not, personally, very conceited, but utterly shallow, incapable of a serious interest in art, letters, or anything else, blandly convinced that everything French is superlative and that nothing not French is worthy of attention. Although he appears rather frequently, he plays no real part in the story, and, unless there was some personal grudge to pay off (which is not unlikely), it is difficult to imagine why Madame de Stael should have introduced a character which certainly does her skill as a character-drawer very little credit.
[Sidenote: The character of Nelvil.]
It is, however, quite possible that she was led astray by a will-o'-the-wisp, which has often misled artists not of the very first class—the chance of an easy contrast. The light-hearted, light-minded Erfeuil was to set off the tense and serious Nelvil—a type again, as he was evidently intended to be, but a somewhat new type of Englishman. She was a devotee of Rousseau, and she undoubtedly had the egregious Bomston before her. But, though her sojourn in England had not taught her very much about actual Englishman, she had probably read Mackenzie, and knew that the "Man of Feeling" touch had to some extent affected us. She tried to combine the two, with divers hints of hearsay and a good deal of pure fancy, and the result was Oswald, Lord Nelvil. As with that other curious contemporary of hers with whom we deal in this chapter, the result was startlingly powerful in literature. There is no doubt that the Byronic hero, whose importance of a kind is unmistakable and undeniable, is Schedoni, Rene, and Nelvil sliced up, pounded in a mortar, and made into a rissole with Byron's own sauce of style in rhetoric or (if anybody will have it so) poetry, but with very little more substantial ingredients. As for the worthy peer of Scotland or England, more recent estimates have seldom been favourable, and never ought to have been so. M. Sorel calls him a "snob"; but that is only one of the numerous and, according to amiable judgments, creditable instances of the inability of the French to discern exactly what "snobbishness" is. My Lord Nelvil has many faults and very few merits, but among the former I do not perceive any snobbishness. He is not in the least attracted by Corinne's popularity, either with the great vulgar or the small, and his hesitations about marrying her do not arise from any doubt (while he is still ignorant on the subject) of her social worthiness to be his wife. He is a prig doubtless, but he is a prig of a very peculiar character—a sort of passionate prig, or, to put it in another way, one of Baudelaire's "Enfants de la lune," who, not content with always pining after the place where he is not and the love that he has not, is constantly making not merely himself, but the place where he is and the love whom he has, uncomfortable and miserable. There can, I think, be little doubt that Madame de Stael, who frequently insists on his "irresolution" (remember that she had been in Germany and heard the Weimar people talk), meant him for a sort of modern Hamlet in very different circumstances as well as times. But it takes your Shakespeare to manage your Hamlet, and Madame de Stael was not Shakespeare, even in petticoats.
[Sidenote: And the book's absurdities.]
The absurdities of the book are sufficiently numerous. Lord Nelvil, who has not apparently had any special experience of the sea, "advises" the sailors, and takes the helm during a storm on his passage from Harwich to Emden; while these English mariners, unworthy professional descendants of that admirable man, the boatswain of the opening scenes of The Tempest, are actually grateful to him, and when he goes 'ashore "press themselves round him" to take leave of him (that is to say, they do this in the book; what in all probability they actually said would not be fit for these pages). He is always saving people—imprisoned Jews and lunatics at a fire in Ancona; aged lazzaroni who get caught in a sudden storm-wave at Naples; and this in spite of the convenient-inconvenient blood-vessels which break when it is necessary, but still make it quite easy for him to perform these Herculean feats and resume his rather interim military duties when he pleases. As for Corinne, her exploits with her "schall" (a vestment of which Madame de Stael also was fond), and her crowning in the Capitol, where the crown tumbles off—an incident which in real life would be slightly comical, but which here only gives Nelvil an opportunity of picking it up—form a similar prelude to a long series of extravagances. The culmination of them is that altogether possible-improbable visit to England, which might have put everything right and does put everything wrong, and the incurable staginess which makes her, as above related, refuse to see Oswald and Lucile together till she is actually in articulo mortis.
And yet—"for all this and all this and twice as much as all this"—I should be sorry for any one who regards Corinne as merely a tedious and not at all brief subject for laughter. One solid claim which it possesses has been, and is still for a moment, definitely postponed; but in another point there is, if not exactly a defence, an immense counterpoise to the faults and follies just mentioned. Corinne to far too great an extent, and Oswald to an extent nearly but not quite fatal, are loaded (affubles, to use the word we borrowed formerly) with a mass of corporal and spiritual wiglomeration (as Mr. Carlyle used expressively and succinctly to call it) in costume and fashion and sentiment and action and speech. But when we have stripped this off, manet res—reality of truth and fact and nature.
[Sidenote: Compensations—Corinne herself.]
There should be no doubt of this in Corinne's own case. It has been said from the very first that she is, as Delphine had been, if not what her creatress was, what she would have liked to be. The ideal in the former case was more than questionable, and the execution was very bad. Here the ideal is far from flawless, but it is greatly improved, and the execution is improved far more than in proportion. Corinne is not "a reasonable woman"; but reason, though very heartily to be welcomed on its rare occurrences in that division of humanity, when it does not exclude other things more to be welcomed still, is very decidedly not to be preferred to the other things themselves. Corinne has these—or most of them. She is beautiful; she is amiable; she is unselfish; without the slightest touch of prudery she has the true as well as the technical chastity; and she is really the victim of inauspicious stars, and of the misconduct of other people—the questionable wisdom of her own father; the folly of Nelvil's; the wilfulness in the bad sense, and the weakness of will in the good, of her lover; the sour virtue and borne temperament of Lady Edgermond. Almost all her faults and not a few of her misfortunes are due to the "sensibility" of her time, or the time a little before her; for, as has been more than hinted already, Corinne, though a book of far less genius, strength, and concentration than Adolphe, is, like it, though from the other side, and on a far larger scale, the history of the Nemesis of Sensibility.
[Sidenote: Nelvil again.]
But Nelvil? He is, it has been said, a deplorable kind of creature—a kind of creature (to vary Dr. Johnson's doom on the unlucky mutton) ill-bred, ill-educated, ill- (though not quite in the ordinary sense) natured, ill-fated to an extent which he could partly, but only partly, have helped; and ill-conducted to an extent which he might have helped almost altogether. But is he unnatural? I fear—I trow—not. He is, I think, rather more natural than Edgar of Ravenswood, who is something of the same class, and who may perhaps owe a very little to him. At any rate, though he has more to do with the theatre, he is less purely theatrical than that black-plumed Master. And it seems to me that he is more differentiated from the Sensibility heroes than even Corinne herself is from the Sensibility heroines, though one sympathises with her much more than with him. Homo est, though scarcely vir. Now it is humanity which we have been always seeking, but not always finding, in the long and often brilliant list of French novels before his day. And we have found it here once more.
[Sidenote: Its aesthetics.]
But we find also something more; and this something more gives it not merely an additional but even to some extent a fresh hold upon the history of the novel itself. To say that it is in great part a "guide-book novel," as indeed its second title honestly declares, may seem nowadays a doubtful testimonial. It is not really so. For it was, with certain exceptions in German, the first "guide-book" novel: and though some of those exceptions may have shown greater 'literary genius than Madame de Stael's, the Germans, though they have, in certain lines, had no superiors as producers of tales, have never produced a good novel yet. Moreover, the guide-book element is a great set-off to the novel. It is not—or at any rate it is not necessarily—liable to the objections to "purpose," for it is ornamental and not structural. It takes a new and important and almost illimitably fresh province of nature and of art, which is a part of nature, to be its appanage. It would be out of place here to trace the development of this system of reinforcing the novel beyond France, in Scott more particularly. It is not out of place to remind the reader that even Rousseau (to whom Madame de Stael owed so much) to some extent, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and Chateaubriand to more, as far as what we may call scenery-guide-booking goes, had preceded her. But for the "art," the aesthetic addition, she was indebted only to the Germans; and almost all her French successors were indebted to her.
[Sidenote: The author's position in the History of the Novel.]
Although, therefore, it is hardly possible to call Madame de Stael a good novelist, she occupies a very important position in the history of the novel. She sees, or helps to see, the "sensibility" novel out, with forcible demonstration of the inconveniences of its theory. She helps to see the aesthetic novel—or the novel highly seasoned and even sandwiched with aesthetics—in. She manages to create at least one character to whom the epithets of "noble" and "pathetic" can hardly be refused; and at least one other to which that of "only too natural," if with an exceptional and faulty kind of nature, must be accorded. At a time when the most popular, prolific, and in a way craftsmanlike practitioner of the kind, Pigault-Lebrun, was dragging it through vulgarity, she keeps it at any rate clear of that. Her description is adequate: and her society-and-manners painting (not least in the recit giving Corinne's trials in Northumberland) is a good deal more than adequate. Moreover, she preserves the tradition of the great philosophe group by showing that the writer of novels can also be the author of serious and valuable literature of another kind. These are no small things to have done: and when one thinks of them one is almost able to wipe off the slate of memory that awful picture of a turbaned or "schalled" Blowsalind, with arms like a "daughter of the plough," which a cruel tradition has perpetuated as frontispiece to some cheap editions of her works.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Chateaubriand—his peculiar position as a novelist.]
There is perhaps no more difficult person to appraise in all French literature—there are not many in the literature of the world—than Francois Rene, Vicomte de Chateaubriand. It is almost more difficult than in the case of his two great disciples, Byron and Hugo, to keep his personality out of the record: and it is a not wholly agreeable personality. Old experience may perhaps attain to this, and leave to ghouls and large or small coffin-worms the business of investigating and possibly fattening on the thing. But even the oldest experience dealing with his novels (which were practically all early) may find itself considerably tabuste, as Rabelais has it, that is to say, "bothered" with faults which are mitigated in the Genie du Christianisme, comparatively (not quite) unimportant in the Voyages, and almost entirely whelmed in the Memoires d'Outre-Tombe. These faults are of such a complicated and various kind that the whole armour of criticism is necessary to deal with them, on the defensive in the sense of not being too much influenced by them, and on the offensive in the sense of being severe but not too severe on them.
[Sidenote: And the remarkable interconnection of his works in fiction.]
The mere reader of Chateaubriand's novels generally begins with Atala and Rene, and not uncommonly stops there. In a certain sense this reader is wise in his generation. But he will never understand his author as a novelist if he does so; and his appreciation of the books or booklets themselves will be very incomplete. They are both not unfrequently spoken of as detached episodes of the Genie du Christianisme; and so they are, in the illustrative sense. They are actually, and in the purely constitutive way, episodes of another book, Les Natchez, while this book itself is also a novel "after a sort." The author's work in the kind is completed by the later Les Martyrs, which has nothing to do, in persons or time, with the others, being occupied with the end of the third century, while they deal (throwing back a little in Atala) with the beginning of the eighteenth. But this also is an illustrative companion or reinforcement of the Genie. With that book the whole body of Chateaubriand's fiction is thus directly connected; and the entire collection, not a little supported by the Voyages, constitutes a deliberate "literary offensive," intended to counter-work the proceedings of the philosophes, though with aid drawn from one of them—Rousseau,—and only secondarily designed to provide pure novel-interest. If this is forgotten, the student will find himself at sea without a rudder; and the mere reader will be in danger of exaggerating very greatly, because he does not in the least understand, the faults just referred to, and of failing altogether to appreciate the real success and merit of the work as judged on that only criterion, "Has the author done what he meant to do, and done it well, on the lines he chose?" Of course, if our reader says, "I don't care about all this, I merely want to be amused and interested," one cannot prevent him. He had, in fact, as was hinted just now, better read nothing but Atala and Rene, if not, indeed, Atala only, immense as is the literary importance of its companion. But in a history of the novel one is entitled to hope, at any rate to wish, for a somewhat better kind of customer or client.
According to Chateaubriand's own account, when he quitted England after his not altogether cheerful experiences there as an almost penniless emigre, he left behind him, in the charge of his landlady, exactly 2383 folio pages of MSS. enclosed in a trunk, and (by a combination of merit on the custodian's part and luck on his own) recovered them fifteen years afterwards, Atala, Rene, and a few other fragments having alone accompanied him. These were published independently, the Genie following. Les Martyrs was a later composition altogether, while Les Natchez, the matrix of both the shorter stories, and included, as one supposes, in the 2383 waifs, was partly rewritten and wholly published later still. A body of fiction of such a singular character is, as has been said, not altogether easy to treat; but, without much change in the method usually pursued in this History, we may perhaps do best by first giving a brief argument of the various contents and then taking up the censure, in no evil sense, of the whole.
Atala is short and almost entirely to the point. The heroine is a half-breed girl with a Spanish father and for mother an Indian of some rank in her tribe, who has subsequently married a benevolent chief. She is regarded as a native princess, and succeeds in rescuing from the usual torture and death, and fleeing with, a captive chief of another "nation." This is Chactas, important in Rene and also in the Natchez framework. They direct their flight northwards to the French settlements (it is late seventeenth or early eighteenth century throughout), and of course fall in love with each other. But Atala's mother, a Christian, has, in the tumult of her early misfortunes, vowed her daughter's virginity or death; and when, just before the crucial moment, a missionary opportunely or inopportunely occurs, Atala has already taken poison, with the object, it would appear, not so much of preventing as of avenging, of her own free will, a breach of the vow. The rest of the story is supplied by the vain attempts of the good father to save her, his evangelising efforts towards the pair, and the sorrows of Chactas after his beloved's death. The piece, of course, shows that exaggerated and somewhat morbid pathos of circumstance which is the common form of the early romantic efforts, whether in England, Germany, or France. But the pathos is pathos; the unfamiliar scenery, unlike that of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (to whom, of course, Chateaubriand is much indebted, though he had actually seen what he describes), is not overdone, and suits the action and characters very well indeed. Chactas here is the best of all the "noble savages," and (what hardly any other of them is) positively good. Atala is really tragic and really gracious. The missionary stands to other fictitious, and perhaps some real, missionaries very much as Chactas does to other savages of story, if not of life. The proportion of the whole is good, and in the humble opinion of the present critic it is by far Chateaubriand's best thing in all perhaps but mere writing.
And even in this it is bad to beat, in him or out of him. The small space forbids mere surplusage of description, and the plot—as all plots should do, but, alas! as few succeed in doing—acts as a bellows to kindle the flame and intensify the heat of something far better than description itself—passionate character. There are many fine things—mixed, no doubt, with others not so fine—in the tempestuous scene of the death of Atala, which should have been the conclusion of the story. But this, in its own way, seems to me little short of magnificent:
"I implored you to fly; and yet I knew I should die if you were not with me. I longed for the shadow of the forest; and yet I feared to be with you in a desert place. Ah! if the cost had only been that of quitting parents, friends, country! if—terrible as it is to say it—there had been nothing at stake but the loss of my own soul. But, O my mother! thy shade was always there—thy shade reproaching me with the torments it would suffer. I heard thy complaints; I saw the flames of Hell ready to consume thee. My nights were dry places full of ghosts; my days were desolate; the dew of the evening dried up as it touched my burning skin. I opened my lips to the breeze; and the breeze, instead of cooling me, was itself set aglow by the fire of my breath. What torment, Chactas! to see you always near me, far from all other humankind in the deepest solitude, and yet to feel that between us there was an insuperable barrier! To pass my life at your feet, to serve you as a slave, to bring you food and lay your couch in some secret corner of the universe, would have been for me supremest happiness; and this happiness was within my touch, yet I could not enjoy it. Of what plans did I not dream? What vision did not arise from this sad heart? Sometimes, as I gazed on you, I went so far as to form desires as mad as they were guilty: sometimes I could have wished that there were no living creatures on earth but you and me; sometimes, feeling that there was a divinity mocking my wicked transports, I could have wished that divinity annihilated, if only, locked in your arms, I might have sunk from abyss to abyss with the ruins of God and of the world. Even now—shall I say it?—even now, when eternity waits to engulf me, when I am about to appear before the inexorable Judge—at the very moment when my mother may be rejoicing to see my virginity devour my life—even now, by a terrible contradiction, I carry with me the regret that I have not been yours!"
At this let who will laugh or sneer, yawn or cavil. But as literature it looks back to Sappho and Catullus and the rest, and forward to all great love-poetry since, while as something that is even greater than literature—life—it carries us up to the highest Heaven and down to the nethermost Hell.
Rene has greater fame and no doubt exercised far more influence; indeed in this respect Atala could not do much, for it is not the eternal, but the temporal, which "influences." But, in the same humble opinion, it is extremely inferior. The French Werther (for the attempt to rival Goethe on his own lines is hardly, if at all, veiled) is a younger son of a gentle family in France, whose father dies. He lives for a time with an elder brother, who seems to be "more kin than kind," and a sister Amelie, to whom he is fondly, but fraternally, attached. Rene has begun the trick of disappointment early, and, after a time, determines to travel, fancying when he leaves home that his sister is actually glad to get rid of him. Of course it is a case of coelum non animum. When he returns he is half-surprised but (for him) wholly glad to be at first warmly welcomed by Amelie; but after a little while she leaves him, takes the veil, and lets him know at the last moment that it is because her affection for him is more than sisterly, that this was the reason of her apparent joy when he left her, and that association with him is too much for her passion. She makes an exemplary nun in a sea-side convent, and dies early of disease caught while nursing others. He, his wretchedness and hatred of life reaching their acme, exiles himself to Louisiana, and gets himself adopted by the tribe of the Natchez, where Chactas is a (though not the) chief.
[Sidenote: Difference between its importance and its merit.]
Now, of course, if we are content to take a bill and write down Byron and Lamartine, Senancour and Jacopo Ortis (otherwise Ugo Foscolo), Musset, Matthew Arnold, and tutti quanti, as debtors to Rene, we give the tale or episode a historical value which cannot be denied; while its positive aesthetic quality, though it may vary very much in different estimates, cannot be regarded as merely worthless. Also, once more, there is real pathos, especially as far as Amelie is concerned, though the entire unexpectedness of the revelation of her fatal passion, and the absolute lack of any details as to its origin, rise, and circumstances, injure sympathy to some extent. But that sympathy, as far as the present writer is concerned, fails altogether with regard to Rene himself. If his melancholy were traceable to mutual passion of the forbidden kind, or if it had arisen from the stunning effect of the revelation thereof on his sister's side, there would be no difficulty. But, though these circumstances may to some extent accentuate, they have nothing to do with causing the weltschmerz or selbst-schmerz, or whatever it is to be called, of this not very heroic hero. Nor has Chateaubriand taken the trouble—which Goethe, with his more critical sense of art, did take—to make Rene go through the whole course of the Preacher, or great part of it, before discovering that all was vanity. He is merely, from the beginning, a young gentleman affected with mental jaundice, who cannot or will not discover or take psychological calomel enough to cure him. It does not seem in the least likely that if Amelie had been content to live with him as merely "in all good, all honour" a loving and comforting sister, he would have really been able to say, like Geraldine in Coleridge's original draft of Christabel, "I'm better now."
He is, in fact, what Werther is not—though his own followers to a large extent are—mainly if not merely a Sulky Young Man: and one cannot help imagining that if, in pretty early days, some one had been good enough to apply to him that Herb Pantagruelion, in form not exactly of a halter but of a rope's end, with which O'Brien cured Peter Simple's mal de mer, his mal du siecle would have been cured likewise.
Of course it is possible for any one to say, "You are a Philistine and a Vulgarian. You wish to regard life through a horse-collar," etc., etc. But these reproaches would leave my withers quite ungalled. I think Ecclesiastes one of the very greatest books in the world's literature, and Hamlet the greatest play, with the possible exception of the Agamemnon. It is the abysmal sadness quite as much as the furor arduus of Lucretius that makes me think him the mightiest of Latin poets. I would not give the mystical melancholy of certain poems of Donne's for half a hundred of the liveliest love-songs of the time, and could extend the list page-long and more if it would not savour of ostentation in more ways than one. But mere temperamental [Greek: heolokrasia] or [Greek: kraipale] (next-day nausea), without even the exaltation of a previous orgy to ransom it,—mere spleen and sulks and naughty-childishness,—seem to me not great things at all. You may not be able to help your spleen, but you can "cook" it; you may have qualm and headache, but in work of some sort, warlike or peaceful, there is always small beer, or brandy and soda (with even, if necessary, capsicum or bromide), for the ailment. The Renes who can do nothing but sulk, except when they blunder themselves and make other people uncomfortable in attempting to do something, who "never do a [manly] thing and never say a [kind] one," are, I confess, not to my taste.
[Sidenote: Les Natchez.]
Both these stories, as will have been seen, have a distinctly religious element; in fact, a distinctly religious purpose. The larger novel-romance of which they form episodes, as well as its later and greater successor, Les Martyrs, increase the element in both cases, the purpose in the latter; but one of the means by which this increase is effected has certainly lost—whether it may or may not ever recover—its attraction, except to a student of literary history who is well out of his novitiate. Such a person should see at once that Chateaubriand's elaborate adoption, from Tasso and Milton, of the system of interspersed scenes of Divine and diabolic conclaves and interferences with the story, is an important, if not a wholly happy, instance of that general Romantic reversion to earlier literary devices, and even atmospheres, of which the still rather enigmatic personage who rests enisled off Saint-Malo was so great an apostle. And it was probably effectual for its time. Classicists could not quarrel with it, for it had its precedents, indeed its origin, in Homer and Virgil; Romanticists (of that less exclusive class who admitted the Renaissance as well as the Dark and Middle Ages) could not but welcome it for its great modern defenders and examples. I cannot say that I enjoy it: but I can tolerate it, and there is no doubt at all, odd as it may seem to the merely twentieth-century reader, that it did something to revive the half-extinct religiosity which had been starved and poisoned in the later days of the ancien regime, forcibly suppressed under the Republic, and only officially licensed by the Napoleonic system. In Les Martyrs it has even a certain "grace of congruity," but in regard to Les Natchez, with which we are for the moment concerned, almost enough (with an example or two to come presently) has been said about it.
The book, as a whole, suffers, unquestionably and considerably, from the results of two defects in its author. He was not born, as Scott was a little later, to get the historical novel at last into full life and activity; and it would not be unfair to question whether he was a born novelist at all, though he had not a few of the qualifications necessary to the kind, and exercised, coming as and when he did, an immense influence upon it. The subject is too obscure. Its only original vates, Charlevoix, though always a respectable name to persons of some acquaintance with literature and history, has never been much more, either in France or in England. The French, unluckily for themselves, never took much interest in their transatlantic possessions while they had them; and their dealings with the Indians then, and ours afterwards, and those of the Americans since, have never been exactly of the kind that give on both sides a subject such as may be found in all mediaeval and most Renaissance matters; in the Fronde; in the English Civil War; in the great struggles of France and England from 1688 to 1815; in the Jacobite risings; in La Vendee; and in other historical periods and provinces too many to mention. On the other hand, the abstract "noble savage" is a faded object of exhausted engouement, than which there are few things less exhilarating. The Indian ingenu (a very different one from Voltaire's) Outougamiz and his ingenue Mila are rather nice; but Celuta (the ill-fated girl who loves Rene and whom he marries, because in a sort of way he cannot help it) is an eminent example of that helpless kind of quiet misfortune the unprofitableness of which Mr. Arnold has confessed and registered in a famous passage. Chactas maintains a respectable amount of interest, and his visit to the court of Louis XIV. takes very fair rank among a well-known group of things of which it is not Philistine to speak as old-fashioned, because they never possessed much attraction, except as being new- or regular-fashioned. But the villain Ondoure has almost as little of the fire of Hell as of that of Heaven, and his paramour and accomplice Akansie carries very little "conviction" with her. In short, the merit of the book, besides the faint one of having been the original framework of Atala and Rene, is almost limited to its atmosphere, and the alterative qualities thereof—things now in a way ancient history—requiring even a considerable dose of the not-universally-possessed historic sense to discern and appreciate them.