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Espinouze : that is his infatuation for all kinds of birds.
He is like St. Bonaventure, who loved all flying things
that drink the light, rorem bibentes atque lumen ; but he
goes farther, for he loves them to the neglect of his
duties.



Ferdinand Fabre 167



Complaints are made of Coupiac's intense devotion
to his aviary, and he is rudely moved to a still more
distant parish ; but even here a flight of what seem to
be Pallas's sand-grouse is his ruin. He is summoned
before the bishop at Montpelher, and thither goes the
little trembling man, a mere wren of humanity, to
excuse himself for his quaint and innocent vice. Happily,
the bishop is a man of the world, less narrow than his
subalterns, and in a most charming scene he comforts
the little ornithological penitent, and even brings him
down from his terrible exile among the rocks to a small
and poor but genial parish in the chestnut woodlands
among his own folk, where he can be happy. For a
while the Abbe Coupiac is very careful to avoid all Vogel-
weiden or places where birds do congregate, and when
he meets a goldfinch or a wryneck is most particular to
look in the opposite direction ; but in process of time he
succumbs, and his manse becomes an aviary, like its
predecessors. A terrible lesson cures the poor little
man at last. An eagle is caught alive in his parish, and
he cannot resist undertaking to cure its broken wing.
He does so, and with such success that he loses his
heart to this enormous pet. Alas ! the affection is not
reciprocated, and one morning, without any warning,
the eagle picks out one of the abbe's eyes. With some
difhculty Coupiac is safely nursed to health again, but
his love of birds is gone.

However, it is his nature, shrinking from rough human
faces, to find consolation in his dumb parishioners; he
is conscious to pain of that " voisinage et cousinage entre
I'homme et les autres animaux " of which Charron, the
friend of Montaigne, speaks. So he extends a fatherly,
clerical protection over the flocks and herds of Cabre-
rolles, and he revives a quaint and obsolescent custom



1 68 French Profiles



by which, on Christmas night, the Cevenol cattle are
brought to the door of their parish church to hsten to
the service, and afterwards are blessed by the priest.
The book ends with a sort of canticle of yule-tide, in
which the patient kine, with faint tramplings and
lowings, take modestly their appointed part ; and these
rites at the midnight mass are described as Mr. Thomas
Hardy might have described them if Dorchester had
been Bedarieux. In the whole of this beautiful little
novel Ferdinand Fabre is combating what he paints as
a besetting sin of his beloved Cevenols — their indifference
and even cruelty to animals and birds, from which the
very clergy seem to be not always exempt.

To yet another of his exclusively clerical novels but
brief reference must here be made, although it has been
a general favourite. In Mon Oncle Cclestin (1881) we
have a study of the entirely single and tender-hearted
country priest— a Tertullian in the pulpit, an infant out
of it, a creature all compact of spiritual and puerile
quahties. His innocent benevolence leads him bhnd-
fold to a deplorable scandal, his inexperience to a terrible
quarrel with a rival archai^ologist, who drives Celestin
almost to desperation. His enemies at length push him
so far that they determine the bishop to suspend him
so that he becomes revoque ; but his health had long
been undermined, and he is fortunate in dying just
before this terrible news can be broken to him. This
tragic story is laid in scenes of extraordinary physical
beauty; in no book of his has Fabre contrived to paint
the sublime and varied landscape of the Cevennes in
more delicious colours. In Celestin, who has the
charge of a youthful and enthusiastically devoted
nephew, Fabre has unquestionably had recourse to his
recollections of the life at Camplong when he was a



Ferdinand Fabrc 169



child, in the company of his sainted uncle, the Abbe
Fulcran.

In the whole company of Ferdinand Fabre's priests
the reader will not find the type which he will perhaps
most confidently await — that, namely, of the cleric who
is untrue to his vows of chastity. There is here no
Abbe Mouret caught in the mesh of physical pleasures,
and atoning for his jautc in a pinchbeck Garden of
Eden. The impure priest, according to Fabre, is a
dream of the Voltairean imagination. His churchmen
are sternly celibate; their first and most inevitable
duty has been to conquer the flesh at the price of their
blood ; as he conceives them, there is no place in their
thoughts at all for the movements of a vain concupi-
scence. The sohtary shadow of the Abbe Vignerte, sus-
pended for sins of this class, does indeed flit across the
background of Lucifer, but only as a horror and a
portent. In some of these priests, as they grow middle-
aged, there comes that terror of women which M. Anatole
France notes so amusingly in Le Mannequin d'Osier.
The austre Abbe Jourfier trembles in all his limbs when
a woman, even an old peasant- wife, calls him to the
confessional. He obeys the call, but he would rather
be told to climb the snowy peak of the highest Cevennes
and stay there.

To make such characters attractive and entertaining
is, manifestly, extremely difficult. Fabre succeeds in
doing it by means of his tact, his exhaustive knowledge
of varieties of the clerical species, and, most of all per-
haps, by the intensity of his own curiosity and interest.
His attitude towards his creations becomes, at critical
moments, very amusing. " The reader will hardly
credit what was his horrible repl}'," Fabre will say, or
" How can we explain such an extreme violence in our



170 French Profiles

principal personage ? " He forgets that these people
are imaginary, and he calls upon us, with eager com-
placency, to observe what strange things they are saying
and doing. His vivacious sincerity permits him to put
forth with success novel after novel, from which the
female element is entirely excluded. In his principal
books love is not mentioned, and women take no part
at all. Mon Oncle Celestin is hardly an exception, be-
cause the female figures introduced are those of a spiteful
virago and a girl of clouded intelligence, who are merely
machines to lift into higher prominence the sufferings
and the lustrous virtues of the Abbe Celestin. Through
the dramatic excitement, the nerve-storm, of L'Abbe
Tigrane there never is visible so much as the flutter of
a petticoat; in Lttcifer, the interesting and pathetic
chapter on the text Domine, ad adjuvancium me festina
dismisses the subject in a manner which gives no en-
couragement to levity. Those who wish to laugh \vith
Ariosto or to snigger with Aretine must not come to
Ferdinand Fabre. He has not faith, he pretends to no
vocation ; but that religious life upon which he looks
back in a sort of ceaseless nostalgia confronts him in its
purest and most loyal aspect.



IV

The priest is not absolutely the only subject which
preoccupies Ferdinand Fabre ; he is interested in the
truant also. Wild nature is, in his ej'es, the great and
most dangerous rival of the Seminary, and has its notable
victories. One of the prettiest books of his later years,
Monsieur Jean (1886), tells how a precocious boy,
brought up in the manse of Camplong — at last Fabre
inextricably confounded autobiography with fiction —



Ferdinand Fabre 171



is tempted to go off on an innocent excursion with a
fiery-blooded gipsy girl called Mariette. The whole
novel is occupied by a recital of what they saw and what
they did during their two days' escapade, and offers the
author one of those opportunities which he loves for
dealing almost in an excess of naivete with the incidents
of a pastoral life. Less pretty, and less complete, but
treated with greater force and conviction, is the tale of
Toussaint Galahni (1887), which tells how a good little
boy of twelve years old fell into the grievous sin of going
a-poaching on Sunday morning with two desperate
characters who were more than old enough to know
better. The story itself is nothing. What is delicious
is the reflection of the boy's candid and timid but ad-
venturous soul, and the passage before his eyes of the
innumerable creatures of the woodland. At every step
there is a stir in the oleanders or a flutter among the
chestnut-leaves, and ever and anon, through a break
in the copses, there peep forth against the rich blue
sky the white peaks of the mountains. Toussaint
Galahru is the only book known to me in the French
language which might really have been written by
Richard Jefferies, with some revision, perhaps, by Mr.
Thomas Hardy.

One curious book by Ferdinand Fabre demands
mention in a general survey of his work. It stands
quite apart, in one sense, from his customary labours;
in another sense it offers the quintessence of them.
The only story which he has published in which every-
thing is sacrificed to beauty of form is Le Chevrier (1867),
which deserves a term commonly misused, and always
dubious; it may be called a "prose-poem." In his
other books the style is sturdy, rustic and plain, with
frequent use of patois and a certain thickness or heaviness



172 French Profiles



of expression. His phrases are abrupt, not always quite
lucid ; there can be no question, although he protested
\-iolently against the attribution, that Fabre studied the
manner of Balzac, not always to his advantage. But in
Le Chevrier — which is a sort of discouraged Daphnis and
Chloe of the Cevennes — he deliberately composed a
work in modulated and elaborate numbers. It might
be the translation of a poem in Provencal or Spanish;
we seem in reading it to divine the vanished form of
verse.

It is, moreover, written in a highly artificial language,
partly in Cevenol patois, partly in French of the sixteenth
century, imitated, it is evident, from the style of Amyot
and Montaigne. Le Chevrier begins, in ordinary French,
by describing how the author goes up into the Larzac,
a bleak little plateau that smells of rosemary and wild
thyme in the gorges of the High Cevennes, for the pur-
pose of shooting hares, and how he takes with him an
elderly goatherd, Eran Erembert, famous for his skill
in sport. But one day the snow shuts them up in the
farmhouse, and Eran is cajoled into telling his life's
history. This he does in the aforesaid mixture of patois
and Renaissance French, fairly but not invariably sus-
tained. It is a story of passionate love, ill requited.
Eran has loved a pretty foundhng, called Felice, but she
prefers his master's son, a handsome ne'er-do-weel,
called Fredery, whom she marries. Eran turns from her
to Fran^on, a still more beautiful but w^orthless girl, and
wastes his life with her. Fredery dies at last, and Eran
constrains Fehce to marry him; but her heart is else-
w^here, and she drowns herself. It is a sad, impassioned
tale, embroidered on every page with love of the High
Cevenol country and knowledge of its pastoral rites and
customs.



Ferdinand Fabre 173



The scene is curious, because of its various elements.
The snow, congeaHng around a neiglibouring peak in
the Larzac, falls upon the branches of a date-palm in
the courtyard of the farmhouse at Mirande, and on the
peacocks, humped up and ruffled in its branches. But
through all the picture, with its incongruities of a southern
mountain country, moves the cahradc, the docile flock
of goats, with Sacripant, a noble pedigree billy, at their
head, and these animals, closely attending upon Eran
their herd, seem to form a chorus in the classico-rustic
tragedy. And all the country, bare as it is, is eminently
giboyeux ; it stirs and rustles with the incessant move-
ment of those living creatures which Ferdinand Fabre
loves to describe. And here, for once, he gives himself
up to the primitive powers of love; the priest is kept
out of sight, or scarcely mars the rich fermentation of
life with ghmpses of his soutane and his crucifix.

Le Chevrier has never enjoyed any success in France,
where its archaic pastoralism was misapprehended from
the first. But it was much admired by Walter Pater,
who once went so far as to talk about translating it.
The novelist of the Cevennes had an early and an ardent
reader in Pater, to whom I owe my own introduction to
Ferdinand Fabre. Unfortunately, the only indication
of this interest which survives, so far as I know, is an
article in the privately printed Essays from the Guardian,
where Pater reviews one of Fabre's weakest works, the
novel called Norine (1889). He says some delicate
things about this idyllic tale, which he ingeniously call
" a symphony in cherries and goldfinches." But what
one would have welcomed would have been a serious
examination of one of the great celibate novels, L'Abbe
Tigrane or Lucifer. The former of these, I know,
attracted Pater almost more than an}' other recent



174 French Profiles

French work in fiction. He found, as Taine did, a solid
psychological value in these studies of the strictly
ecclesiastical passions — the jealousies, the ambitions,
the violent and masterful movements of tj'pes that
were exclusively clerical. And the struggle which is the
incident of hfe really important to Fabre, the tension
caused by the divine " vocation " on the one hand and
the cry of physical nature on the other, this w^ of the
highest interest to Pater also. He was delighted, more-
over, with the upland freshness, the shrewd and cleanly
brightness of Fabre's country stories, so infinitely re-
moved from what we indolently conceive that we shall
find in " a French novel."

An English writer, of higher rank than Fabre, was
revealing the Cevennes to English readers just when the
Frenchman was publishing his mountain stories. H
we have been reading Le Chevrier, it will be found amus-
ing to take up again the Through the Cevennes with a
Donkey of Robert Louis Stevenson. The route which
the Scotchman took was from Le Monastier to Alais,
across the north-eastern portion of the mountain-range,
while Fabre almost exclusively haunts the south-western
slopes in the Herault. Stevenson brings before us a
bleak and stubborn landscape, far less genial than the
wooded uplands of Bedarieux. But in both pictures
much is alike. The bare moors on the tops of the
Cevennes are the same in each case, and when we read
Stevenson's rhapsody on the view from the high ridge
of the Mimerte, it might well be a page translated from
one of the novels of Ferdinand Fabre. But the closest
parallel with the Frenchman is always Mr. Thomas Hardy,
whom in his rustic chapters he closely resembles even in
style. Yet here again we have the national advantage,
since Fabre has no humour, or exceedingly little.



I'Vldin.llul I'.ihir



'75



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liir»l(>ty ol I'iciuli Iilti.iliMc lie IS llic utiKclir .iiid
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UrliViMN niiMiidniuui'.



A FIRST SIGHT OF VERLAINE



N




A FIRST SIGHT OF VERLAINE

In 1893 the thoughts of a certain pilgrim were a good
deal occupied by the theories and experiments which a
section of the younger French poets were engaged upon.
In this country, the Symbohsts and Decadents of Paris
had been laughed at and parodied, but, witli the exception
of Mr. Arthur Symons, no English critic had given
their tentatives any serious attention. I became much
interested — not wholly converted, certainly, but con-
siderably impressed — as I studied, not what was said
about them by their enemies, but what they wrote them-
selves. Among them all, there was but one, Mallarme,
whom I knew personally; him I had met, more than
twenty years before, carrying the vast folio of his
Manet-Poe through the length and breadth of London,
disappointed but not discouraged. I learned that there
were certain haunts where these later Decadents might
be observed in large numbers, drawn together by the
gregarious attraction of verse. I determined to haunt
that neighbourhood with a butterfly-net, and see what
delicate creatures with powdery wings I could catch.
And, above all, was it not understood that that
vaster lepidopter, that giant hawk-moth, Paul Verlaine,
uncoiled his proboscis in the same absinthe-corollas ?

Timidity, doubtless, would have brought the scheme
to nought, if, unfolding it to Henry Harland, who
knows his Paris like the palm of his hand, he had
not, with enthusiastic kindness, offered to become my

179



i8o French Profiles

cicerone. He was far from sharing my interest in the
Symbolo-decadent movement, and the ideas of the
" poetes abscons comme la lune " left him a little cold
yet he entered at once into the sport of the idea. To
race up and down the Boulevard St. IMichel, catching
live poets in shoals, what a charming game ! So, with
a beating heart and under this gallant guidance, I
started on a beautiful April morning to try my luck as
an entomologist. This is not the occasion to speak of
the butterflies which we successfully captured during
this and the following days and nights; the expedition
was a great success. But, all the time, the hope of
capturing that really substantial moth, Verlaine, was
uppermost, and this is how it was realised.

As every one knows, the broad Boulevard St. Michel
runs almost due south from the Palais de Justice to the
Gardens of the Luxembourg. Through the greater
part of its course, it is principally (so it strikes one)
composed of restaurants and brasseries, rather dull in
the daytime, excessively blazing and gay at night. To
the critical entomologist the eastern side of this street
is known as the chief, indeed almost the only habitat
of poeta symbolans, which, however, occurs here in vast
numbers. Each of the leaders of a school has liis
particular cafe, where he is to be found at an hour and in a
chair known to the habitues of the place. So Dryden sat
at Win's and Addison at Button's, when chocolate and
ratafia, I suppose, took the place of absinthe. M. Jean
Moreas sits in great circumstance at the Restaurant
d'Harcourt — or he did three years ago — and there I
enjoyed much surprising and stimulating conversation.
But Verlaine — where was he ? At his cafe, the Fran-
9ois-Premier, we were told that he had not been seen for
four days. " There is a letter for him — he must be ill,"



A First Sight of Verlainc i8i

said IMadame ; and wc felt what the tigcr-lmnter feels
when the tiger has gone to visit a friend in another
valley. But to persist is to succeed.

The last of three days devoted to this fascinating
sport had arrived. I had seen Symbolists and Deca-
dents to my heart's content. I had learned that Victor
Hugo was not a poet at all, and that M. Gustave Kahn
was a splendid bard ; I had heard that neither Victor
Hugo nor M. Gustave Kahn had a spark of talent, but that
M. Charles Morice was the real Simon Pure. I had heard
a great many conflicting opinions stated without hesita-
tion and with a delightful violence ; I had heard a great
many verses recited which I did not understand because
I was a foreigner, and could not have understood if I
had been a Frenchman. I had quaffed a number of
highly indigestible drinks, and had enjoyed myself very
much. But I had not seen Verlaine, and poor Henry
Harland was in despair. We invited some of the poets
to dine with us that night (this is the etiquette of the
" Bou' Mich' ") at the Restaurant d'Harcourt, and a
very entertaining meal we had. M. Moreas was in the
chair, and a poetess with a charming name decorated
us all with sprays of the narcissus poeiicus. I suppose
that the company was what is called " a little mixed,"
but I am sure it was very lyrical. I had the honour
of giving my arm to a most amiable lady, the Queen
of Golconda, whose precise rank among the crowned
heads of Europe is, I am afraid, but vaguely deter-
mined. The dinner was simple, but distinctly good;
the chairman was in magnificent form, im vrai chef
d'ecole, and between each of the courses somebody
intoned his own verses at the top of his voice. The
windows were wide open on to the Boulevard, but there
w^as no public expression of surprise.



1 82 French Profiles



It was all excessively amusing, but deep down in my
consciousness, tolling like a little bell, there continued
to sound the words, " We haven't seen Verlaine." I
confessed as much at last to the sovereign of Golconda,
and she was graciously pleased to say that she would
make a great effort. She was kind enough, I believe,
to send out a sort of search-party. Meanwhile, we
adjourned to another cafe, to drink other things, and our
company grew like a rolling snowball. I was losing all
hope, and we were descending the Boulevard, our faces
set for home ; the Queen of Golconda was hanging heavily
on my arm, and having formed a flattering miscon-
ception as to my age, was warning me against the
temptations of Paris, when two more poets, a male
and a female, most amiably hurried to meet us with the
intoxicating news that Verlaine had been seen to dart
into a little place called the Cafe Soleil d'Or. Thither
we accordingly hied, buoyed up by hope, and our party,
now comprising a dozen persons (all poets) , rushed into
an almost empty drinking-shop. But no Verlaine was
to be seen. Moreas then collected us round a table,
and fresh grenadines were ordered.

Where I sat, by the elbow of Moreas, I was opposite
an open door, absolutely dark, leading down, by oblique
stairs, to a cellar. As I idly watched this square of black-
ness I suddenly saw some ghostly shape fluttering at the
bottom of it. It took the form of a strange bald head,
bobbing close to the ground. Although it was so dim
and vague, an idea crossed my mind. Not daringTto
speak, I touched IMoreas, and so drew his attention
to it. " Pas un mot, pas un geste. Monsieur ! " he
whispered, and then, instructed in the guile of his race,
insidias Danaum, the eminent author of Les Cantilenes
rose, making a vague detour towards the street, and then



A First Sight of Verlaine 183

plunged at the cellar door. There was a prolonged scuffle
and a rolling downstairs; then Moreas reappeared
triumphant; behind him something flopped up out of
the darkness like an owl, — a timid shambling figure in
a soft black hat, with jerking hands, and it peeped with
intention to disappear again. But there were cries of
" Venez done, Maitre," and by-and-by Verlaine was
persuaded to emerge definitely and to sit by me.

I had been prepared for strange eccentricities of garb,
but he was very decently dressed ; he referred at once to
the fact, and explained that this was the suit which had
been bought for him to lecture in, in Belgium. He was
particularly proud of a real white shirt ; " C'est ma


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