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Transcribed from the 1891 Henry and Co. edition by David Price, email
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ESSAYS IN LITTLE.


by
ANDREW LANG.

_WITH PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR_.

LONDON:
HENRY AND CO., BOUVERIE STREET, E.C.
1891.

_Printed by Hazell_, _Watson_, _& Vincy_, _Ld._, _London and Aylesbury_.

CONTENTS.

Preface
Alexandre Dumas
Mr. Stevenson's works
Thomas Haynes Bayly
Theodore de Banville
Homer and the Study of Greek
The Last Fashionable Novel
Thackeray
Dickens
Adventures of Buccaneers
The Sagas
Charles Kingsley
Charles Lever: His books, adventures and misfortunes
The poems of Sir Walter Scott
John Bunyan
To a Young Journalist
Mr. Kipling's stories

{Portrait of Andrew Lang: p0.jpg}




PREFACE


Of the following essays, five are new, and were written for this volume.
They are the paper on Mr. R. L. Stevenson, the "Letter to a Young
Journalist," the study of Mr. Kipling, the note on Homer, and "The Last
Fashionable Novel." The article on the author of "Oh, no! we never
mention Her," appeared in the New York _Sun_, and was suggested by Mr.
Dana, the editor of that journal. The papers on Thackeray and Dickens
were published in _Good Words_, that on Dumas appeared in _Scribner's
Magazine_, that on M. Theodore de Banville in _The New Quarterly Review_.
The other essays were originally written for a newspaper "Syndicate."
They have been re-cast, augmented, and, to a great extent, re-written.

A. L.




ALEXANDRE DUMAS


Alexandre Dumas is a writer, and his life is a topic, of which his
devotees never weary. Indeed, one lifetime is not long enough wherein to
tire of them. The long days and years of Hilpa and Shalum, in
Addison - the antediluvian age, when a picnic lasted for half a century
and a courtship for two hundred years, might have sufficed for an
exhaustive study of Dumas. No such study have I to offer, in the brief
seasons of our perishable days. I own that I have not read, and do not,
in the circumstances, expect to read, all of Dumas, nor even the greater
part of his thousand volumes. We only dip a cup in that sparkling
spring, and drink, and go on, - we cannot hope to exhaust the fountain,
nor to carry away with us the well itself. It is but a word of gratitude
and delight that we can say to the heroic and indomitable master, only an
_ave_ of friendship that we can call across the bourne to the shade of
the Porthos of fiction. That his works (his best works) should be even
still more widely circulated than they are; that the young should read
them, and learn frankness, kindness, generosity - should esteem the tender
heart, and the gay, invincible wit; that the old should read them again,
and find forgetfulness of trouble, and taste the anodyne of dreams, that
is what we desire.

Dumas said of himself ("Memoires," v. 13) that when he was young he tried
several times to read forbidden books - books that are sold _sous le
manteau_. But he never got farther than the tenth page, in the

"scrofulous French novel
On gray paper with blunt type;"

he never made his way so far as

"the woful sixteenth print."

"I had, thank God, a natural sentiment of delicacy; and thus, out of my
six hundred volumes (in 1852) there are not four which the most
scrupulous mother may not give to her daughter." Much later, in 1864,
when the _Censure_ threatened one of his plays, he wrote to the Emperor:
"Of my twelve hundred volumes there is not one which a girl in our most
modest quarter, the Faubourg Saint-Germain, may not be allowed to read."
The mothers of the Faubourg, and mothers in general, may not take Dumas
exactly at his word. There is a passage, for example, in the story of
Miladi ("Les Trois Mousquetaires") which a parent or guardian may well
think undesirable reading for youth. But compare it with the original
passage in the "Memoires" of D'Artagnan! It has passed through a medium,
as Dumas himself declared, of natural delicacy and good taste. His
enormous popularity, the widest in the world of letters, owes absolutely
nothing to prurience or curiosity. The air which he breathes is a
healthy air, is the open air; and that by his own choice, for he had
every temptation to seek another kind of vogue, and every opportunity.

Two anecdotes are told of Dumas' books, one by M. Edmond About, the other
by his own son, which show, in brief space, why this novelist is so
beloved, and why he deserves our affection and esteem. M. Villaud, a
railway engineer who had lived much in Italy, Russia, and Spain, was the
person whose enthusiasm finally secured a statue for Dumas. He felt so
much gratitude to the unknown friend of lonely nights in long exiles,
that he could not be happy till his gratitude found a permanent
expression. On returning to France he went to consult M. Victor Borie,
who told him this tale about George Sand. M. Borie chanced to visit the
famous novelist just before her death, and found Dumas' novel, "Les
Quarante Cinq" (one of the cycle about the Valois kings) lying on her
table. He expressed his wonder that she was reading it for the first
time.

"For the first time! - why, this is the fifth or sixth time I have read
'Les Quarante Cinq,' and the others. When I am ill, anxious, melancholy,
tired, discouraged, nothing helps me against moral or physical troubles
like a book of Dumas." Again, M. About says that M. Sarcey was in the
same class at school with a little Spanish boy. The child was homesick;
he could not eat, he could not sleep; he was almost in a decline.

"You want to see your mother?" said young Sarcey.

"No: she is dead."

"Your father, then?"

"No: he used to beat me."

"Your brothers and sisters?"

"I have none."

"Then why are you so eager to be back in Spain?"

"To finish a book I began in the holidays."

"And what was its name?"

"'Los Tres Mosqueteros'!"

He was homesick for "The Three Musketeers," and they cured him easily.

That is what Dumas does. He gives courage and life to old age, he charms
away the half-conscious _nostalgie_, the _Heimweh_, of childhood. We are
all homesick, in the dark days and black towns, for the land of blue
skies and brave adventures in forests, and in lonely inns, on the battle-
field, in the prison, on the desert isle. And then Dumas comes, and,
like Argive Helen, in Homer, he casts a drug into the wine, the drug
nepenthe, "that puts all evil out of mind." Does any one suppose that
when George Sand was old and tired, and near her death, she would have
found this anodyne, and this stimulant, in the novels of M. Tolstoi, M.
Dostoiefsky, M. Zola, or any of the "scientific" observers whom we are
actually requested to hail as the masters of a new art, the art of the
future? Would they make her laugh, as Chicot does? make her forget, as
Porthos, Athos, and Aramis do? take her away from the heavy, familiar
time, as the enchanter Dumas takes us? No; let it be enough for these
new authors to be industrious, keen, accurate, _precieux_, pitiful,
charitable, veracious; but give us high spirits now and then, a light
heart, a sharp sword, a fair wench, a good horse, or even that old Gascon
rouncy of D'Artagnan's. Like the good Lord James Douglas, we had liefer
hear the lark sing over moor and down, with Chicot, than listen to the
starved-mouse squeak in the _bouge_ of Therese Raquin, with M. Zola. Not
that there is not a place and an hour for him, and others like him; but
they are not, if you please, to have the whole world to themselves, and
all the time, and all the praise; they are not to turn the world into a
dissecting-room, time into tedium, and the laurels of Scott and Dumas
into crowns of nettles.

There is no complete life of Alexandre Dumas. The age has not produced
the intellectual athlete who can gird himself up for that labour. One of
the worst books that ever was written, if it can be said to be written,
is, I think, the English attempt at a biography of Dumas. Style,
grammar, taste, feeling, are all bad. The author does not so much write
a life as draw up an indictment. The spirit of his work is grudging,
sneering, contemptuous, and pitifully peddling. The great charge is that
Dumas was a humbug, that he was not the author of his own books, that his
books were written by "collaborators" - above all, by M. Maquet. There is
no doubt that Dumas had a regular system of collaboration, which he never
concealed. But whereas Dumas could turn out books that _live_, whoever
his assistants were, could any of his assistants write books that live,
without Dumas? One might as well call any barrister in good practice a
thief and an impostor because he has juniors to "devil" for him, as make
charges of this kind against Dumas. He once asked his son to help him;
the younger Alexandre declined. "It is worth a thousand a year, and you
have only to make objections," the sire urged; but the son was not to be
tempted. Some excellent novelists of to-day would be much better if they
employed a friend to make objections. But, as a rule, the collaborator
did much more. Dumas' method, apparently, was first to talk the subject
over with his _aide-de-camp_. This is an excellent practice, as ideas
are knocked out, like sparks (an elderly illustration!), by the contact
of minds. Then the young man probably made researches, put a rough
sketch on paper, and supplied Dumas, as it were, with his "brief." Then
Dumas took the "brief" and wrote the novel. He gave it life, he gave it
the spark (_l'etincelle_); and the story lived and moved.

It is true that he "took his own where he found it," like Molere and that
he took a good deal. In the gallery of an old country-house, on a wet
day, I came once on the "Memoires" of D'Artagnan, where they had lain
since the family bought them in Queen Anne's time. There were our old
friends the Musketeers, and there were many of their adventures, told at
great length and breadth. But how much more vivacious they are in Dumas!
M. About repeats a story of Dumas and his ways of work. He met the great
man at Marseilles, where, indeed, Alexandre chanced to be "on with the
new love" before being completely "off with the old." Dumas picked up M.
About, literally lifted him in his embrace, and carried him off to see a
play which he had written in three days. The play was a success; the
supper was prolonged till three in the morning; M. About was almost
asleep as he walked home, but Dumas was as fresh as if he had just got
out of bed. "Go to sleep, old man," he said: "I, who am only fifty-five,
have three _feuilletons_ to write, which must be posted to-morrow. If I
have time I shall knock up a little piece for Montigny - the idea is
running in my head." So next morning M. About saw the three
_feuilletons_ made up for the post, and another packet addressed to M.
Montigny: it was the play _L'Invitation a la Valse_, a chef-d'oeuvre!
Well, the material had been prepared for Dumas. M. About saw one of his
novels at Marseilles in the chrysalis. It was a stout copy-book full of
paper, composed by a practised hand, on the master's design. Dumas
copied out each little leaf on a big leaf of paper, _en y semant l'esprit
a pleines mains_. This was his method. As a rule, in collaboration, one
man does the work while the other looks on. Is it likely that Dumas
looked on? That was not the manner of Dumas. "Mirecourt and others," M.
About says, "have wept crocodile tears for the collaborators, the victims
of his glory and his talent. But it is difficult to lament over the
survivors (1884). The master neither took their money - for they are
rich, nor their fame - for they are celebrated, nor their merit - for they
had and still have plenty. And they never bewailed their fate: the
reverse! The proudest congratulate themselves on having been at so good
a school; and M. Auguste Maquet, the chief of them, speaks with real
reverence and affection of his great friend." And M. About writes "as
one who had taken the master red-handed, and in the act of
collaboration." Dumas has a curious note on collaboration in his
"Souvenirs Dramatiques." Of the two men at work together, "one is always
the dupe, and _he_ is the man of talent."

There is no biography of Dumas, but the small change of a biography
exists in abundance. There are the many volumes of his "Memoires," there
are all the tomes he wrote on his travels and adventures in Africa,
Spain, Italy, Russia; the book he wrote on his beasts; the romance of
_Ange Pitou_, partly autobiographical; and there are plenty of little
studies by people who knew him. As to his "Memoires," as to all he wrote
about himself, of course his imagination entered into the narrative. Like
Scott, when he had a good story he liked to dress it up with a cocked hat
and a sword. Did he perform all those astonishing and innumerable feats
of strength, skill, courage, address, in revolutions, in voyages, in
love, in war, in cookery? The narrative need not be taken "at the foot
of the letter"; great as was his force and his courage, his fancy was
greater still. There is no room for a biography of him here. His
descent was noble on one side, with or without the bend sinister, which
he said he would never have disclaimed, had it been his, but which he did
not happen to inherit. On the other side he _may_ have descended from
kings; but, as in the case of "The Fair Cuban," he must have added,
"African, unfortunately." Did his father perform these mythical feats of
strength? did he lift up a horse between his legs while clutching a
rafter with his hands? did he throw his regiment before him over a wall,
as Guy Heavistone threw the mare which refused the leap ("Memoires," i.
122)? No doubt Dumas believed what he heard about this ancestor - in
whom, perhaps, one may see a hint of the giant Porthos. In the
Revolution and in the wars his father won the name of Monsieur de
l'Humanite, because he made a bonfire of a guillotine; and of Horatius
Cocles, because he held a pass as bravely as the Roman "in the brave days
of old."

This was a father to be proud of; and pluck, tenderness, generosity,
strength, remained the favourite virtues of Dumas. These he preached and
practised. They say he was generous before he was just; it is to be
feared this was true, but he gave even more freely than he received. A
regiment of seedy people sponged on him always; he could not listen to a
tale of misery but he gave what he had, and sometimes left himself short
of a dinner. He could not even turn a dog out of doors. At his
Abbotsford, "Monte Cristo," the gates were open to everybody but
bailiffs. His dog asked other dogs to come and stay: twelve came, making
thirteen in all. The old butler wanted to turn them adrift, and Dumas
consented, and repented.

"Michel," he said, "there are some expenses which a man's social position
and the character which he has had the ill-luck to receive from heaven
force upon him. I don't believe these dogs ruin me. Let them bide! But,
in the interests of their own good luck, see they are not thirteen, an
unfortunate number!"

"Monsieur, I'll drive one of them away."

"No, no, Michel; let a fourteenth come. These dogs cost me some three
pounds a month," said Dumas. "A dinner to five or six friends would cost
thrice as much, and, when they went home, they would say my wine was
good, but certainly that my books were bad." In this fashion Dumas fared
royally "to the dogs," and his Abbotsford ruined him as certainly as that
other unhappy palace ruined Sir Walter. He, too, had his miscellaneous
kennel; he, too, gave while he had anything to give, and, when he had
nothing else, gave the work of his pen. Dumas tells how his big dog,
Mouton once flew at him and bit one of his hands, while the other held
the throat of the brute. "Luckily my hand, though small, is powerful;
what it once holds it holds long - money excepted." He could not "haud a
guid grip o' the gear." Neither Scott nor Dumas could shut his ears to a
prayer or his pockets to a beggar, or his doors on whoever knocked at
them.

"I might at least have asked him to dinner," Scott was heard murmuring,
when some insufferable bore at last left Abbotsford, after wasting his
time and nearly wearing out his patience. Neither man _preached_
socialism; both practised it on the Aristotelian principle: the goods of
friends are common, and men are our friends.

* * * * *

The death of Dumas' father, while the son was a child, left Madame Dumas
in great poverty at Villers Cotterets. Dumas' education was sadly to
seek. Like most children destined to be bookish, he taught himself to
read very young: in Buffon, the Bible, and books of mythology. He knew
all about Jupiter - like David Copperfield's Tom Jones, "a child's
Jupiter, an innocent creature" - all about every god, goddess, fawn,
dryad, nymph - and he never forgot this useful information. Dear
Lempriere, thou art superseded; but how much more delightful thou art
than the fastidious Smith or the learned Preller! Dumas had one volume
of the "Arabian Nights," with Aladdin's lamp therein, the sacred lamp
which he was to keep burning with a flame so brilliant and so steady. It
is pleasant to know that, in his boyhood, this great romancer loved
Virgil. "Little as is my Latin, I have ever adored Virgil: his
tenderness for exiles, his melancholy vision of death, his foreboding of
an unknown God, have always moved me; the melody of his verses charmed me
most, and they lull me still between asleep and awake." School days did
not last long: Madame Dumas got a little post - a licence to sell
tobacco - and at fifteen Dumas entered a notary's office, like his great
Scotch forerunner. He was ignorant of his vocation for the stage - Racine
and Corneille fatigued him prodigiously - till he saw _Hamlet_: _Hamlet_
diluted by Ducis. He had never heard of Shakespeare, but here was
something he could appreciate. Here was "a profound impression, full of
inexplicable emotion, vague desires, fleeting lights, that, so far, lit
up only a chaos."

Oddly enough, his earliest literary essay was the translation of Burger's
"Lenore." Here, again, he encounters Scott; but Scott translated the
ballad, and Dumas failed. _Les mortes vont vite_! the same refrain woke
poetry in both the Frenchman and the Scotchman.

"Ha! ha! the Dead can ride with speed:
Dost fear to ride with me?"

So Dumas' literary career began with a defeat, but it was always a
beginning. He had just failed with "Lenore," when Leuven asked him to
collaborate in a play. He was utterly ignorant, he says; he had not
succeeded in gallant efforts to read through "Gil Blas" and "Don
Quixote." "To my shame," he writes, "the man has not been more fortunate
with those masterpieces than the boy." He had not yet heard of Scott,
Cooper, Goethe; he had heard of Shakespeare only as a barbarian. Other
plays the boy wrote - failures, of course - and then Dumas poached his way
to Paris, shooting partridges on the road, and paying the hotel expenses
by his success in the chase. He was introduced to the great Talma: what
a moment for Talma, had he known it! He saw the theatres. He went home,
but returned to Paris, drew a small prize in a lottery, and sat next a
gentleman at the play, a gentleman who read the rarest of Elzevirs, "Le
Pastissier Francais," and gave him a little lecture on Elzevirs in
general. Soon this gentleman began to hiss the piece, and was turned
out. He was Charles Nodier, and one of the anonymous authors of the play
he was hissing! I own that this amusing chapter lacks verisimilitude. It
reads as if Dumas had chanced to "get up" the subject of Elzevirs, and
had fashioned his new knowledge into a little story. He could make a
story out of anything - he "turned all to favour and to prettiness." Could
I translate the whole passage, and print it here, it would be longer than
this article; but, ah, how much more entertaining! For whatever Dumas
did he did with such life, spirit, wit, he told it with such vivacity,
that his whole career is one long romance of the highest quality.
Lassagne told him he must read - must read Goethe, Scott, Cooper,
Froissart, Joinville, Brantome. He read them to some purpose. He
entered the service of the Duc d'Orleans as a clerk, for he wrote a clear
hand, and, happily, wrote at astonishing speed. He is said to have
written a short play in a cottage where he went to rest for an hour or
two after shooting all the morning. The practice in a notary's office
stood him, as it stood Scott, in good stead. When a dog bit his hand he
managed to write a volume without using his thumb. I have tried it, but
forbear - in mercy to the printers. He performed wild feats of rapid
caligraphy when a clerk under the Duc d'Orleans, and he wrote his plays
in one "hand," his novels in another. The "hand" used in his dramas he
acquired when, in days of poverty, he used to write in bed. To this
habit he also attributed the _brutalite_ of his earlier pieces, but there
seems to be no good reason why a man should write like a brute because it
is in bed that he writes.

In those days of small things he fought his first duel, and made a study
of Fear and Courage. His earliest impulse was to rush at danger; if he
had to wait, he felt his courage oozing out at the tips of his fingers,
like Bob Acres, but in the moment of peril he was himself again. In
dreams he was a coward, because, as he argues, the natural man _is_ a
poltroon, and conscience, honour, all the spiritual and commanding part
of our nature, goes to sleep in dreams. The animal terror asserts itself
unchecked. It is a theory not without exceptions. In dreams one has
plenty of conscience (at least that is my experience), though it usually
takes the form of remorse. And in dreams one often affronts dangers
which, in waking hours, one might probably avoid if one could.

* * * * *

Dumas' first play, an unimportant vaudeville, was acted in 1825. His
first novels were also published then; he took part of the risk, and only
four copies were sold. He afterward used the ideas in more mature works,
as Mr. Sheridan Le Fanu employed three or four times (with perfect
candour and fairness) the most curious incident in "Uncle Silas." Like
Mr. Arthur Pendennis, Dumas at this time wrote poetry "up to" pictures
and illustrations. It is easy, but seldom lucrative work. He translated
a play of Schiller's into French verse, chiefly to gain command of that
vehicle, for his heart was fixed on dramatic success. Then came the
visit of Kean and other English actors to Paris. He saw the true
_Hamlet_, and, for the first time on any stage, "the play of real
passions." Emulation woke in him: a casual work of art led him to the
story of Christina of Sweden, he wrote his play _Christine_ (afterward
reconstructed); he read it to Baron Taylor, who applauded; the Comedie
Francaise accepted it, but a series of intrigues disappointed him, after
all. His energy at this moment was extraordinary, for he was very poor,
his mother had a stroke of paralysis, his bureau was always bullying and
interfering with him. But nothing could snub this "force of nature," and
he immediately produced his _Henri Trois_, the first romantic drama of
France. This had an instant and noisy success, and the first night of
the play he spent at the theatre, and at the bedside of his unconscious
mother. The poor lady could not even understand whence the flowers came
that he laid on her couch, the flowers thrown to the young man - yesterday
unknown, and to-day the most famous of contemporary names. All this tale
of triumph, checkered by enmities and diversified by duels, Dumas tells
with the vigour and wit of his novels. He is his own hero, and loses
nothing in the process; but the other characters - Taylor, Nodier, the Duc
d'Orleans, the spiteful press-men, the crabbed old officials - all live
like the best of the persons in his tales. They call Dumas vain: he had
reason to be vain, and no candid or generous reader will be shocked by
his pleasant, frank, and artless enjoyment of himself and of his
adventures. Oddly enough, they are small-minded and small-hearted people
who are most shocked by what they call "vanity" in the great. Dumas'
delight in himself and his doings is only the flower of his vigorous
existence, and in his "Memoires," at least, it is as happy and
encouraging as his laugh, or the laugh of Porthos; it is a kind of
radiance, in which others, too, may bask and enjoy themselves. And yet
it is resented by tiny scribblers, frozen in their own chill
self-conceit.


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