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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
AT LOS ANGELES




COLLECTED ESSAYS

OF
EDMUND GOSSE



VOL. IV

FRENCH PROFILES



OTHER WORKS BY

MR. EDMUND GOSSE

Northern Studies. 1879.

Life of Gray. 1 882.

Sci'enteeiith-Century Studies. 1883.

Life of Conp-eve. 1888.

A History of Ei^'ktemtk-Century Literature. 1889.

Life of Philip Henry Gossc, F.K.S. 1 890.

Gossip in a Library. 1891.

The Secret of Narcisse : a Romance. 1892.

Questions at Issue. 1893.

Critical Kit- Kats. 1896.

A Short History of Modern English Literature.

1897-
Life and Letters if John Donne. 1899.

Hypolympia. 1 901.

Life of Jeremy Taylor. 1 904.

Life of Sir Thomas Browne. 1905.

Father and Son. 1907.

Life of Ibsen. 1908.

Two I 'isits to Denmark. 1 9 1 1 .

Collected Poems. 1911.

Portraits and Sketches, 1 9 1 2.



FRENCH PROFILES



BY



EDMUND GOSSE, C.B.




LONDON
WILLIAM HEINEMANN



First published, Nov. 1904
Neiv Edition, March 1913



. . . ' .* « . •



. •', . • • ,
• • • • t



All rights reserved












TO
MY FRIEND

SIR ALFRED BATEMAN, K.C.M.G.

r^ IN MEMORY OF

JJ THE TALKS OF MANY YEARS

'^ I AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBE

<^Vv THESE STUDIES



^



189327



PREFACE

It is characteristic of native criticism that it con-
templates, or should contemplate, the products of
native literature from the front; that it looks at them,
in other words, from a direct and complete point of
view. Foreign criticism must not pretend to do this;
unless it is satisfied to be a mere echo or repetition, its
point of view must be incomplete and indirect, must be
that of one who paints a face in profile. In preparing
the following sideviews of some curious figures in modern
French literature, I have attempted to keep two aims
prominently before me. I have tried to preserve that
attitude of sympathy, of general comprehension, for
the lack of which some English criticism of foreign
authors has been valueless, because proceeding from a
point so far out of focus as to make its whole presenta-
tion false; and yet I have remembered that it is a
foreigner who takes the portrait, and that he takes it
for a foreign audience, and not for a native one.

What I have sought in every case to do is to give an
impression of the figure before me which shall be in
general harmony with the tradition of French criticism,
but at the same time to preserve that independence
which is the right of a foreign observer, and to illustrate
the peculiarities of my subject by references to Enghsh
poetry and prose.

It should not be difficult to carry out this scheme
of portraiture in the case of authors whose work is



vn



viii Preface

finished. But the study of contemporary writers, also,
is of great interest, and must not be neglected, although
its results are incomplete. Several of the authors who
are treated here are still alive, and some are younger
than myself. It is highly probable that all of these
will, in the development of their genius, make some new
advance which may render obsolete what the most care-
ful criticism has said about them up to the present time.
In these living cases, therefore, it seems more helpful
to consider certain books — to take snapshots, as it
were, at the authors in the course of their progress —
than to attempt a summing-up of what is still fortunately
undefined. Of the art with which this can be done,
and the permanent value of that art, the French criticism
of our generation has given admirable proof.

The last chapter in this book is not in any sense a
profile, but the writer trusts that he will be forgiven
for introducing it here. Last winter he had the honour
of being invited to Paris to deliver an address before
the Societe des Conferences. The Committee of that
Society, consisting of MM. Ferdinand Bruneti^re,
fidouard Rod and Gaston Deschamps, in proposing the
subject of the address, asked that it should be delivered
in English. In an admirable French translation, made
by my accomplished friend, M. Henry D. Da\Tay, it
was afterwards published in the Mercnre de France and
then as a separate brochure, but the English text is
now printed for the first time.

Mr. James Fitzmaurice-Kelly has been so kind as
to read the proofs of this volume, and I am indebted
to his rare acquaintance with Continental literature for
many valuable corrections and suggestions. My thanks
are due to the proprietors of the Fortnightly Review, the
Contemporary Review, the International Quarterly Review,



Preface ix

the Saturday Review and the Daily Chronicle, for per-
mission to reprint what originally appeared in their
pages. I regret that in one other case, that of the
useful and unique European review, Cosmopolis, there
is no one left who can receive this acknowledgment.

E. G.

Argeles-Gazost,

Sepiemher igo.f.



PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION

Called upon after eight years to revise a new impression

of this volume, I feel, with regard to parts of it, the

inconvenience of studying the characteristics of a living

organism. Leighton, I remember, once told me of the

heartbreaking anxiety which pursued him while making

a very elaborate pencil-study of a lemon-tree. Every

morning some shoot had pushed in front of another,

some bud had swelled or had burst in blossom, growths

in every portion of the tree conspired to defeat the

designer. In literature those who have published

studies of the living — greater men than I, such as

M. Anatole France and M. Jules Lemaitre — have

bewailed the same phenomenon. I have, therefore, not

attempted to follow the later growth or to record the

unexpected blossomings of those of my themes who are

still happily alive and active. I have confined myself

to a careful revision of matters of fact and to a few

necessary interpolations. But I have added a chapter,

on the same scale, about M. Maurice Barres, and I have

greatly enlarged, or practically re-written, the sketch

of Stephane Mallarme.

E.G.

Afay igis.



XI



CONTENTS



PAGK



PREFACE vii

ALFRED DE VIGNY i

MADEMOISELLE AISSE ss

A NUN'S LOVE LETTERS 63

BARBEY D'AUREVILLV 87

ALPHONSE DAUDET 103

THE SHORT STORIES OF ZOLA 125

FERDINAND FABRE 149

A FIRST SIGHT OF VERLAINE 177

THE IRONY OF M. ANATOLE FRANCE 185

PIERRE LOTI 199

SOME RECENT BOOKS OF M. PAUL

BOURGET 233

M. RENE BAZIN 259

M. MAURICE BARRES 285

M. HENRI DE RfiGNIER 297

xiii



xiv Contents



PAGE



FOUR POKTS:—

STHPHANE MALLARME 313

M. EMILE VERHAEREN 324

ALBERT SAMAIN 329

M. PAUL FORT 334

THE INFLUENCE OF FRANCE UPON

ENGLISH POETRY 339

APPENDIX: MALLARME AND SYMBOLISM 371

INDEX 375



ALFRED DE VIGNY



/

p



ALFRED DE VIGNY

The reputation of Alfred de Vigny has endured extra-
ordinary vicissitudes in France. After having taken
his place as the precursor of French romantic poetry
and as one of the most admired of its proficients, he
withdrew from among his noisier and more copious
contemporaries into that " ivory tower " of reverie
which is the one commonplace of criticism regarding
him. He died in as deep a retirement as if his body
had lain in the shepherd's hut on wheels upon the open
moorland, which he took as the symbol of his isolation.
He had long been neglected, he was almost forgotten,
when the publication of his posthumous poems — a
handful of unflawed amethysts and sapphires — revived
his fame among the enlightened. But the Second
Empire was a period deeply unfavourable to such
contemplation as the writings of Vigny demand. He
sank a second time into semi-oblivion ; he became a
curiosity of criticism, a hunting-ground for anthology-
makers. Within the last ten years, however, a marked
revolution of taste has occurred in France. The supre-
macy of Victor Hugo has been, if not questioned, since
it is above serious attack, at least mitigated. Other
poets have recovered from their obscurity ; Lamartine,
who had been quenched, shines like a lamp relighted;
and, above all, the pure and brilliant and profoundly
original genius of Alfred de Vigny now takes, for the
first time, its proper place as one of the main illuminating

3



4 French Profiles

forces of the nineteenth century. It was not until
about ninety years after this poet's birth that it became
clearly recognised that he is one of the most important
of all the great poets of France.

The revival of admiration for Vigny has not yet
spread to England, where he is perhaps less known
than any other French writer of the hrst class. This
is the more to be regretted because he did not, in the
brief day of his early glory, contrive to attract many
hearers outside his own country. It is not merely
regrettable, moreover, it is curiously unjust, because
Vigny is of all the great French poets the one who has
assimilated most of the English spirit, and has been
mtiuenced most by Enghsh poetry. Andre Chenier
read Pope and Thomson and the Fa'trie Queen, but he
detested the Anglo-Saxon spirit. Alfred de Vigny, on
the other hand, delighted in it ; he was a convinced
Anglophil, and the writers whom he resembles, in his
sublime isolation from the tradition of his own country,
are Wordsworth and Shelley, Matthew Arnold and
Leopardi. He has much of the spirit of Dante and of
the attitude of Milton. Wholly independent as he is,
one of the most unattached of writers, it is impossible
not to feel in him a certain Anglo-Italian gravit}' and
intensity, a certain reserve and resignation in the face
of human suffering, which distinguish hiin from all other
French writers of eminence. It is not from any of
Alfred de Vigny's great contemporaries that life would
have extracted that last cry in the desert : —

" Seul le silence est grand : tout le reste est faiblesse,"

nor should we look to them for the ambiguous device
" Parfaite illusion — Realite parfaite." The other poets
of France have been picturesque, abundant, gregarious.



Alfred de Vigny



vehement ; Alfred do Vigny was not of their class, but
we can easily conceive him among those who, in the
Cumberland of a hundred years ago, were murmuring
by the running brooks a music sweeter than their
own.

One word of warning may not be out of place. If
Alfred de Vigny was known to English readers of a
past generation it was mainly through a brilliant study
by Sainte-Beuve in his Nouveaux Lundis. This was
composed very shortly after the death of Vigny, and,
in spite of its excessive critical cleverness, it deserves
very httle commendation. Sainte-Beuve, who had been
more or less intimate with Vigny forty years before,
had formed a strange jealousy of him, and in this essay
his perfidy runs riot. It is Sainte-Beuve who calls the
poet of Les Dcstinccs a " beautiful angel who had been
drinking vinegar," and the modern reader needs a
strong caution against the malice and raillery of the
quondam friend who was so patient and who forgot
nothing.

I

An image of the youthful Alfred de Vigny is preserved
for us in the charming portrait of the Carnavalet Museum.
Here he smiles at us out of gentle blue eyes, and under
copious yellow curls, candid, dreamy, almost childlike
in his magnificent scarlet and gold uniform of the King's
Musketeers. This portrait was painted in 1815, when
the subject of it was just eighteen, yet had already
served in the army for a year. Alfred de Vigny was
born at Loches, on March 27, 1797. Aristocrats and of
families wholly military, his father and mother had been
thrown into prison during the Terror, had escaped with



French Profiles



their lives, and had concealed themselves after Thermidor,
in the romantic little town of the Touraine. The child-
hood of the poet was not particularly interesting; what
is known about it is recorded in M. Seche's recent
volume ^ and elsewhere. But there effervesced in his
young soul a burning ambition for arms, and before he
was seventeen, he contrived to leave school and enter
a squadron of the Gendarmes Rouges. He was full of
military pride in his early life, and until his illusions
overcame him he hardly knew whether to be more \'ain
of the laurel or of the sword. He says : —

" J'ai mis sur le cimier dore du gentilhomme
Une plume de fer qui n'est pas sans beaute ;
J'ai fait illustrc un nom qu'on m'a transmis sans gloire,"

for he knew that the deeds of that " petite noblesse "
from which he sprang were excellent, but not magnificent.
No one seems to have discovered under what auspices
he began to write verses. There appear in his works
two idyls, La Dryadc and Symctha, which are marked
as " written in 1815." Sainte-Beuve, with curious
coarseness, after Vigny's death, accused him in so many
terms of having antedated these pieces by live years in
order to escape the reproach of having imitated Andre
Chenier, whose poems were first collected posthumously
in 1819. Such a charge is contrary to everything we
know of the upright and chivalrous character of Vigny.
That the influence of Chenier is strong on these verses
is unquestionable. But Sainte-Beuve should not have
forgotten that the eclogues of Chenier were quoted b}-
Chateaubriand in a note to the Genie du Christianisme
in 1802, and that this was quite enough to start the

^ Leon Sechc, Alfred de Vigny et son Temps, Paris, Felix Juvcn,
1902.



Alfred de Vigny 7



youthful talent of Vigny. From this time forth, no
attack can be made on the originality of the poet, so
far as all French influences arc concerned. The next
piece of his which we possess, La Dame Komaine, is
dated 1817 ; this and Le Bal, of 1818, show the attraction
which Byron had for him. In these verses the romantic
school of French poetry made its earliest appeal to the
public, and in 1819 Alfred de Vigny 's friendship with
the youthful Victor Hugo began.

It was in 1822 that a little volume of the highest
historical importance was issued, without the name of
its author, and under the modest title of Poemes. It
was divided into three parts, Antiques, Judaiques, and
Modernes, and the second of these sections contained
one poem which can still be read with undiluted pleasure.
This is the exquisite lyrical narrative entitled La Fille
de Jephtc, which had been composed in 1820. To
realise what were the merits of Alfred de Vigny as a
precursor, we have but to compare this faultless Biblical
elegy with anything of the kind written up to that
date by a French poet, even though his name was
Hugo.

Meanwhile the hfe of Vigny was a picturesque and
melancholy one. A certain impression of its features
may be gathered, incidentally, from the pages of the
Grandetir et Servitude Militaircs, although that was
written long afterwards. He was a soldier from his
seventeenth to his thirtieth year, and many of his best
poems were written by lamplight, in the corner of a
tent, as the young lieutenant lay on his elbow, waiting
for the tuck of drum. He was long in garrison with
the Royal Foot Guards at Vincennes, and thence he
could slip in to Paris, meet the other budding poets at
the rooms of Nodier, and recite verses with Emile



8 French Profiles



Deschamps and Victor Hugo. But in 1823 he was
definitely torn from Paris. The Spanish War took his
regiment to the Pyrenean frontier and it was while in
camp, close to Roncevaux and Fuentarrabia, that he
seems to have heard, one knows not how, of the newly
discovered wonders of the Chanson de Roland, which was
still unknown save to a few English scholars ; the result
was that he wrote that enchanting poem, Le Cor. If
the student is challenged, as he sometimes is, to name
a lyric in the French language which has the irresistible
magic and melody of the best pieces of Coleridge or
Keats, that fairy music which is the peculiar birthright
of England, he cannot do better than to quote, almost
at random, from Le Cor : —

" Sur le plus haut des monts s'arretent les chevaux ;
L'ecume le blanchit ; sous leurs pieds, Roncevaux
Des feux mourants du jour a peine se colore.
A I'horizon lointain fuit I'etendard du More.

' Turpin, n'as-tu rien vu dans le fond du torrent ? '
' J'y '^'ois deux chevaliers; I'un mort, I'autre expirant.
Tons deux sont ecrases sous une roche noire ;
Le plus fort, dans sa main, eleve un Cor d'ivoire,
Son ame en s'exhalant nous appela deux fois.'

Dieu ! que le son du Cor est triste au fond des bois."

Begun at Roncevaux in 1823, Le Cor was finished at
Pau in 1825. At the former date, Alfred de Vigny
was slightly in love with the fascinating Delphine Gay,
and some verses, recently given to the world, lead to
the belief that he failed to propose to her because she
" laughed too loudly." Already the melancholy and
distinguished sobriety of manner which was to be the
mark of Alfred de Vigny had begun to settle upon him.
Already he shrank from noise, from levity, from hollow
and reverberating enthusiasm. His regiment was sent



Alfred de Vigny



to Strasburg and he became a captain. Returning to
the Pyrenees, he wrote Le Deluge and Dolorida ; in the
Vosges he composed the first draft of iloa, which he
called Satan. In the second edition of his Poemes,
there were included a number of pieces vastly superior
to those previously published, and Alfred de Vigny
boldly claimed for himself that distinction as a pre-
cursor, which was long denied to him, and which is
now again universally conceded. He wrote that " the
only merit of these poems," — it was not their only or
their greatest merit, but it was a distinction, — " c'est
d'avoir devance en France toutes celles de ce genre."
That was absolutely true.

When we reflect that the earliest poems of Victor
Hugo which display his characteristic talent, such as
Le Sylphe and La Grand' mere, belong to 1823, the
originality of Mo'ise, which was written in 1822, is
extraordinary. In spite of all that has been pubUshed
since, this poem may still be read with complete plea-
sure ; there are few narratives in the French language
more distinguished, more uplifted. Moses stands at
sunset on the brow of Nebo ; the land of Canaan lies
spread at his feet. He gazes at it with longing and
despair, and then he turns to chmb the mountain.
Amid the hymns of Israel he ascends into the clouds,
and in the luminous obscurity he speaks with God.
In a majestic soliloquy he expatiates on the illusions
of his solitary greatness, and on the disappointment of
his finding his own life more isolated and more arid
the vaster his destinies become. The angels, themselves,
envy his position : —

" Vos anges sont jaloux et m'admirent entre eux,
Et cependant, Seigneur, je ne suis pas heureux ;
Vous m'avez fait vieillir puissant et solitaire,
Laissez-moi m'endormir du sommeil de la terrc."



10 French Profiles

Here we have at length the master accent of Alfred de
Vigny, that which was to be the central note of his
poetry, a conception of the sublimity of man, who,
having tasted of the water of life, sinks back " dizzy,
lost, yet unbewailing." Nothing could be more poignant
than the melodious reverie of Moses : —

" J'ai vu ramour s'etcindre ct ramitie tarir ;
Les vierges se voilaient et craignaient de mourir.
M'enveloppant alors de la colonne noire,
J'ai marche devant tous, triste et seul dans ma gloirc,
Et j'ai dit dans mon coeur : ' Que vouloir a present ?
Pour dormir sur un sein mon front est trop pesant.
Ma main laisse I'etfroi sur la main qu'ellc touche,
L'orage est dans ma voix, I'eclair est sur ma bouche;
Aussi, loin de m 'aimer, voila qu'ils tremblent tous,
Et, quand j'ouvre les bras, on tombe a mes genoux.
O Seigneur ! j'ai vecu puissant ct solitaire,
Laissez-moi m'endormir du sommeil dc la terre !

On the morning when these enchanting verses were
composed, poetry was full-grown again in France,
reborn after the long burial of the eighteenth century.

The processes of the poet's mind are still better
observed in Le Deluge, a less perfect poem. All was
serene and splendid in the primeval world,

" Et la beaute du Monde attestait son enfance,"

but there was one blot on the terrestrial paradise, for
" I'Homme etait mechant." In consequence of a secret
warning, Noah builds the ark, and enters it with his
family. One of his descendants, however, the young
Sara, refuses to take shelter in it, because she has an
appointment to meet Emmanuel, her angel lover, on
Mount Arar. The deluge arrives; Sara calls in vain
on her supernatural protector, and, climbing far up the
peak, is the last of mortals to be submerged. The
violence of the flood is rather grotesquely described i



Alfred de Vigny 1 1

the succeeding calm is, on the other hand, of the purest
Vigny :—

" La vague ctait paisible, ct mollc ct cadcncce,
En berccaux dc ciistal nioUetncnt halancce;
Les vents, sans resistance, rt aicnt silencieux ;
La foudre, sans echos, expirait dans Ics cicux ;
Les cicux dcvenaicnt purs, ct, reflechis dans I'onde,
Teignaicnt d'un azur clair Timmcnsitc profonde."

Written in the Pyrenees in 1823, Le Deluge exempUfies
the close attention which Alfred de Vigny paid to
English literature, and particularly to Byron. In
Mnisc the sole influences discoverable are those of the
Bible and Milton ; Le Deluge shows that the French poet
had just been reading Heaven and Earth. This drama
was not published until January 1S23, a week after
]\Ioore's Loves of the Angels, which also was already
exercising a fascination over the mind of Vign}^ The
promptitude with which he transferred these elements
into his own language is very remarkable, and has never,
I think, been noted.

Still more observable are these English influences in
Eloa, which was written in the spring of 1824. This
is the romance of pity, tenderness, and sacrifice, of
vain self-sacrifice and of pity without hands to help.
It was received by the young writers of its own country
with a frenzy of admiration. In La Muse Francaise
Victor Hugo reviewed it in terms of redundant eulogy.
A little later, and when so much more of a brilliant
character had been published, Gauticr styled l^loa " the
most beautiful and perhaps the most perfect poem in
the French language." As a specimen of idealistic
religious romanticism it will always be a classic and will
always be read with pleasure ; but time has somewhat
tarnished its sentimental beauty. It is another variant



12 French Profiles

of The Loves of the Angels, but treated in a far purer
and more ethereal spirit than that of Moore or Byron.

It would be difficult to point to a more delicate
example of the school of sensibility than Eloa. To
submit one's self without reserve to its pellucid charm
is like gazing into the depths of an amethyst. The
subject is sentimental in the highest degree ; Eloa is an
angel, who, in her blissful state, hears of the agony of
Satan, and is drawn by curiosity and pity to descend
into his sphere. Her compassion and her imprudence
are rewarded by her falling passionatel}' in love with the
stricken archangel, and resigning herself to his baneful
force. Brought face to face with his crimes, she resists
him, but the wily fiend melts into hypocritical tears,
and ^loa sinks into his arms. Wrapped in a flowing
cloud they pass together down to Hell, and a chorus
of faithful seraphim, winging their way back to Paradise,
overhear this latest and fatal dialogue : —

" ' Oil me conduisez-vous, bel angc ? ' ' Viens toujours.*
— ' Que votre voix est triste, et quel sombre discours !
N'est-ce pas Eloa qui souleve ta chaine ?
J'ai cru t'avoir sauve.' ' Non ! c'est moi qui t'cntraine.'
— ' Si nous sommes unis, peu m'importe en quel lieu !
Nomme-moi done encore ou ta sceur ou ton dieu !
— ' J'enleve mon esclave et je tiens ma victime.'
— ' Tu paraissais si bon ! Oh ! qu'ai-jc fait ? ' ' Un crime.'
— ' Seras-tva plus heureux ? du moins, es-tu content ?
— ' Plus triste que jamais.' — ' Qui done est-tu ? ' ' Satan.'"

Taste changes, and t^loa has too much the appearance,
to our eyes, of a wax-work. But nothing can prevent
our appreciation of the magnificent verses in which it
is written. The design and scheme of colour may be
those of Ary Scheffer, the execution is worthy of
Raphael.

Before we cease to examine these early writings,
however, we must spare a moment — though only a



Alfred de Vigny i 3

rnoment — to the consideration of a work which gave
Vigny the popular celebrity which served to introduce
his verses to a wider public. Early in 1826 he was
presented to Sir Walter Scott in Paris, and, fired with
Anglomaniac ambition, he immediately sat down to
write a French W'averley novel. The result was Cinq-
Mars, long the most successful of all his writings,
although not the best. It is a story of the time of



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