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chemise de conference," he said, and shot out the cuffs
of it with pardonable pride. He was full of his experi-
ences of Belgium, and in particular he said some very
pretty things about Bruges and its heguinagcs, and how
much he should like to spend the rest of his Ufe there.
Yet it seemed less the mediaeval buildings which had
attracted him than a museum of old lace. He spoke
with a veiled utterance, difficult for me to follow. Not
for an instant would he take off his hat, so that I could
not see the Socratic dome of forehead which figures in all
the caricatures. I thought his countenance very Chinese,
and I may perhaps say here that when he was in London
in 1894 I called him a Chinese philosopher. He replied :
" Chinois— comme vous voulez, mais philosophe— non

pas !

On this first occasion (April 2, 1893). recitations were
called for, and Verlaine repeated his Clair de Lime :—

" Votre ame est un paysage choisi

Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi ^^

Tristes sous leurs deguisements fantasques.



1 84



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and presently, with a strange indifference to all incon-
gruities of scene and company, part of his wonderful
Mon Dieu ma dit : —

" J'ai repondu : ' Seigneur, vous avez dit mon ame.
C'est vrai que je vous cherche et ne vous trouve pas.
Mais vous aimer ! Voyez comma je suis en bas,
Vous dont I'amour toujours monte comme la flamme;

' Vous, la source de paix que toute soif reclame,
Helas ! Voyez un peu tous mes tristes combats !
Oserai-je adorer la trace de vos pas,
Sur ces genoux saignants d'un rampement infame ?

He recited in a low voice, without gesticulation, very
delicately. Then Moreas, in exactl}' the opposite manner,
with roarings of a bull and with modulated sawings
of the air with his hand, intoned an eclogue addressed
by himself to Verlaine as " TitjTe." And so the exciting
evening closed, the passionate shepherd in question
presently disappearing again down those mysterious
stairs. And we, out into the soft April night and the
budding smell of the trees.

1896.



THE IRONY OF M. ANATOLE

FRANCE



THE IRONY OF M. ANATOLE

FRANCE

If we are asked, What is the most entertaining intelli-
gence at this moment working in the world of letters ?
I do not see that we can escape from replying, That of
M. Anatole France. Nor is it merely that he is sprightly
and amusing in himself; he is much more than that.
He indicates a direction of European feeling ; he ex-
presses a mood of European thought. Excessively weary
of all the moral effort that was applied to literature in
the eighties, all the searchings into theories and pro-
claimings of gospels, all the fuss and strain of Ibsen and
Tolstoi and Zola, that the better kind of reader should
make a volte-face was inevitable. This general conse-
quence might have been foreseen, but hardly that
M. Anatole France, in his quiet beginnings, was preparing
to take the position of a leader in letters. He, obviously,
has dreamed of no such thing; he has merely gone on
developing and emancipating his individuality. He has
taken advantage of his growing popularity to be more
and more courageously himself; and doubtless he is
surprised, as we are, to find that he has noiselessly
expanded into one of the leading intellectual forces of
our day.

After a period of enthusiasm, we expect a great sus-
picion of enthusiasts to set in. M. Anatole France is
what they used to call a Pyrrhonist in the seventeenth
century — a sceptic, one who doubts whether it is worth

187



1 88 French Profiles

while to struggle insanely against the trend of things.
The man who continues to cross the road leisurely,
although the cychsts' bells are ringing, is a PjTrhonist
— and in a very special sense, for the ancient philosopher
w^ho gives his name to the class made himself conspic-
uous by refusing to get out of the way of careering
chariots. After a burst of moral excitement, a storm
of fads and fanaticism, there is bound to set in calm
weather and the reign of indifferentism. The ever-
subtle Pascal noticed this, and remarked on the impor-
tance to scepticism of working on a basis of ethical
sensitiveness. " Rien fortifie plus le pjTrhonisme," he
saj's, " que ce qu'il y en a qui ne sont pas pyrrhoniens."
The talent of M. Anatole France is like a beautiful pallid
flower that has grown out of a root fed on rich juices of
moral strenuousness. He would not be so delicately
balanced, so sportive, so elegantly and wilfully unattached
to any moral system, if he had not been preceded by
masters of such a gloomy earnestness.

Le Mannequin D'Osier

After many efforts, more or less imperfectly successful,
M. France seems at last to have discovered a medium
absolutely favourable to his genius. He has pursued
his ideal of graceful scepticism from period to period.
He has sought to discover it in the life of late antiquity
(Thais), in the ironic na/vcieoi the ]\Iiddle Ages [Balthasar
and Le Puits de Sainte Claire), in the humours of eigh-
teenth-century deism [La Rotisserie de la Reine Pedauque
and M. Jerome Coignard), in the criticism of contem-
porary books {La Vie Litter aire), in pure philosophical
paradox {Le Jar din d' Epicure). Only once, in my
opinion, has he ceased to be loyal to that sagesse et elegance
which are his instinctive aim ; only once — in that crude



M. Anatole France 189

Le Lys Rouge, which is so unworthy of his genius in
everything but style. With this exception, through
fifteen deUghtful volumes he has been conscientiously
searching for his appropriate medium, and, surely, he
has found it at last. He has found it in that unnamed
town of the north of France, where he listens to the
echoes and reverberations of the life of to-day, and
repeats them naively and maliciously to us out of his
mocking, resonant lips.

Tlie two books which M. Anatole France published
in 1897 belong to the new category. Perliaps it was
not every reader of L'Orme du Mail who noticed the
words " Histoire Contemporaine " at tlie top of the
title-page. But they are repeated on that of Le Manne-
quin d'Osier, and they evidently have a significance.
Is this M. Anatole France's mode of indicating to us
that he is starting on some such colossal enterprise as a
Comedie Humaine, or a series like Les Rotigon Macquart ?
Nothing quite so alarming as this, probably, but doubt-
less a series of some sort is intended ; and, already, it is
well to warn the impetuous reader not to open Le
Mannequin d'Osier till he has mastered L'Orme du Mail,
at the risk of failing to comprehend the situation. The
one of these books is a direct continuation of the other.

There was no plot in L'Orme du Mail. We were
introduced, or rather invisibly suspended within, a
provincial city of France of to-day, where, under all
species of decorous exteriors, intrigues were being
pushed forward, domestic dramas conducted, the
hollowness of intellectual pretensions concealed and
even— for M. Anatole France knows the value of the
savage note in his exquisite concert— brutal cnmes
committed. With a skill all his own. he interested us
in the typical individualities in this anthill of a town,



190 French Profiles

and he knows how to produce his effects with so hght
and yet so firm a hand, that he never for a moment
wearied us, or allowed us to forget his purpose. He has
become no less persuaded than was Montaigne himself
of the fact that man is in his essence " ondoyant et
divers," and he will teach us to see these incongruities,
no longer in some fabulous Jerome Coignard, but in
the very forms of humanity which elbow us daily in
the street. He will do this with the expenditure of that
humour which alone makes the Pyrrhonist attitude
tolerable, and he will scatter the perfume of his gaiety
in gusts so delicate and pure that it shall pervade his
books from end to end, yet never for a moment betrays
the author into farce or caricature. He will, moreover,
lift his dialogue on to a plane of culture much higher
than is customary even in French novels, where the
standard of allusion and topic in conversation has
always been more instructed than in Enghsh stories of a
similar class. He will examine, with all his array of wit
and tolerance and paradoxical scepticism, how the minds
of average men and women are affected by the current
questions of the hour.

Readers of L'Orme du Mail were prepared for the
entertainment which was bound to follow. They were
familiar with the battle royal for the vacant mitre which
was silently raging between M. I'Abbe Lantaigne and M.
r Abbe Guitrel ; they sympathised with the difficulties of
the prefet, M. Worms-Clavehn, so little anxious to make
himself disagreeable, and so good-natured and clever
underneath his irradicable vulgarity; they had listened
with eagerness to the afternoon conversations in the
bookshop of M. Paillot; they had hung over the back
of the seat in the shadow of the great elm-tree on the
Mall, to overhear the endless amiable wranghngs of



M. Anatole France 191

M. Lantaigne and the Latin professor, M. Bergeret, the
only persons in the whole town who " s'interessaient
aux idees generales." They had thrilled over the
murder of Madame Houssieu, and laughed at the
sophistications of M. de Terremondre, the antiquary.
L'Orme dit Mail ended like a volume of Tristram Shandy,
nowhere in particular. We laid it down with the
sentence, " Noemi est de force a faire un eveque;"
saying to ourselves, " Will she do it ? " And now that
we have read Le Mannequin d'Osier, we know as little
as ever what she can do.

But we know many other things, and we are not
quite happy. Le Mannequin d'Osier is not so gay a
book as its predecessor, and the Pyrrhonism of M.
Anatole France seems to have deepened upon him. The
air of insouciance which hung over the sun-lighted Mall
has faded away. M. Bergeret sits there no longer, or
but very seldom, arguing with M. I'Abbe Lantaigne ; the
clouds are closing down on the fierce Abbe himself, and
he will never be Bishop of Tourcoing. In the new book,
M. Bergeret, who took a secondary place in L'Ormc du
Mail, comes into predominance. His sorrows and
squalor, the misfortunes of his domestic life, liis con-
sciousness of his own triviahty of character and medio-
crity of brain— those are subjected to cruel analysis.
The difference between L'Orme du Mail and Le Manne-
quin d'Osier is that between the tone of Sterne and of
Swift. The comparison of Madame Bergeret, by her
husband, to an obsolete and inaccurate Latin lexicon
is extremely in the manner of A Tale of a Tub, and the
horribly cynical and entertaining discussion as to the
criminal responsibility of the young butcher Lecoeur—
who has murdered an old woman in circumstances of
the least attenuated hideousness, but who gains the



192 French Profiles

sympathy of the prison chaplain — is exactly in the
temper of the " Examination of Certain Abuses." It is
curious to find this Swift-like tone proceeding out of the
Shandean spirit which has of late marked the humour
of M. Anatole France, He is so little occupied with
English ideas that he is certainly unconscious of the
remarkable resemblance between his reflections as to
the nationalisation of certain forms of private property
at the Revolution — " en quelque sorte un retour a
I'ancien regime," and a famous page of Carlyle.

Around that dressmaker's dummy of Madame Bergeret,
which gives its name to the book, there gather innumera-
ble ideas, whimsical, melancholy, contradictory, ingeni-
ous, profound. The peculiar obscurity and helplessness
of poor M. Bergeret, compiling a Virgilius Nauticus with
his desk cramped by an enormous plaster cylinder in
front of it, and the terrible dummy behind it, exacer-
bated by his indigence and his mediocrity, by the
infidelities of Madame Bergeret and the instability of
his favourite pupils, his abject passivity, like that of a
delicate, sentient thing, possessing neither tongue, nor
hands, nor feet — all this forms in the end a sinister
picture. Is M. Anatole France mocking his own kith
and kin ? Is the most brilliant man of letters that the
modern system of education in France has produced
holding that very system up to ridicule ? We might
warn him to take care that the fate of Orpheus does not
overtake him, were not his tact and rapidity equal to
his penetration. We are quite sure that, like M. Bergeret
when M. Roux recited his incomprehensible poem in
vers litres, M. Anatole France will always know the right
moment to be silent " for fear of affronting the Unknown
Beauty."



M. Anatole France 193



HiSTOIRE COMIQUE

The intelligent part of the English public has been
successfully dragooned into the idea that M. Anatole
France is the most ingenious of the younger writers of
Europe. It is extraordinary, but very fortunate, that
the firm expression of an opinion on the part of a few
expert persons whose views are founded on principle
and reason still exercises a very great authority on the
better class of readers. When it ceases to do so the reign
of chaos will have set in. However, it is for the present
admitted in this country that M. Anatole France, not
merely is not as the Georges Ohnets are, but that he is
a great master of imagination and style. Yet, one can
but wonder how many of his dutiful Enghsh admirers
really enjoy his books — how many, that is to say, go
deeper down than the epigrams and the picturesqueness ;
how many perceive, in colloquial phrase, what it is he
is " driving at," and, having perceived, still admire and
enjoy. It is not so difficult to understand that there
are English people who appreciate the writings of Ibsen
and of Tolstoi, and even, to sink fathoms below these,
of D'Annunzio, because although all these are exotic
in their relation to our national habits of mind, they
are direct. But Anatole France — do his English
admirers realise what a heinous crime he commits ? —
for all his lucidity and gentleness and charm, Anatole
France is primarily, he is almost exclusively, an ironist.

In the literary decalogue of the English reader the
severest prohibition is " Thou shalt not commit irony ! "
This is the unpardonable offence. Whatever sentiments
a writer wishes to enforce, he has a chance of toleration
in this country, if he takes care to make his language
exactly tally with his intention. But once let him
o



194



French Profiles



adopt a contrary method, and endeavour to inculcate
his meaning in words of a different sense, and his auditors
fly from him. No one who has endeavoured for the last
hundred years to use irony in England as an imaginative
medium has escaped failure. However popular he has
been until that moment, his admirers then slip away from
him, silently, as Tennyson's did when he wrote the later
sections of Maud, and still more strikingly as Matthew
Arnold's did when he published Friendship's Garland.
The result of the employment of irony in this country
is that people steal noiselessly away from the ironist as
if he had been guilty in their presence of a social incon-
gruity. Is it because the great example of irony in our
language is the cruel dissimulation of Swift ? Is it that
our nation was wounded so deeply by that sarcastic pen
that it has suspected ever since, in every ironic humorist,
" the smiler with the knife " ?

But the irony of M. Anatole France, like that of
Renan, and to a much higher degree, is, on the contrary,
beneficent. It is a tender and consolatory raillery,
based upon compassion. His greatest delight is found
in observing the inconsistencies, the illusions of human
Hfe, but never for the purpose of wounding us in them,
or with them. His genius is essentially benevolent and
pitiful. This must not, however, bhnd us to the fact
that he is an ironist, and perhaps the most original in his
own sphere who has ever existed. Unless we see this
plainly, we are not prepared to comprehend him at all,
and if our temperaments are so Anglo-Saxon as to be
impervious to this form of approach, we shall do best
to cease to pretend that we appreciate M. Anatole France.
To come to a case in point, the very title of the Histoire
Comique is a dissimulation. The idea of calling this
tale of anguish and disillusion a " funny story " would



M. Anatole France 195

certainly baffle us, if we did not, quite by chance, in
the course of a conversation, come upon the explanation.
Constantin Marc, discussing the suicide of the actor
Chevalier, " le trouvait comique, c'est-a-dire appartenant
aux comediens." And this gives the keynote to the
title and to the tale ; it is a story about men and women
who deal with the phenomenal sides of things, and who
act life instead of experiencing it. It is a book in which
the personages, with the greatest calmness, do and say
the most terrible things, and the irony consists in the
mingled gravity and levity with which they do and say
them.

The design of the author, as always — as most of all
in that most exquisite of his books, Le Jardin d'^piaire
— is to warn mankind against being too knowing and
too elaborate. Be simple, he says, and be content to be
deceived, or you cannot be happy. Doctor Trublet, in
the Histoire Comique, the wise physician who attends
the theatre, and whom the actresses call Socrates,
exclaims, " Je tiens boutique de mensonages. Je
soulage, je console. Peut-on consoler et soulager sans
mentir ? " This is a characteristic Anatolian paradox,
and no one who has followed the author's teaching will
find any difficulty in comprehending it. Over and over
again he has preached that intelligence is vanity, that
the more we know about life the less we can endure
the anguish of its impact. He says somewhere — is it
not in Le Lys Rouge ? — that the soul of man feeds on
chimeras. Take this fabulous nourishment from us,
and you spread the banquet of science before us in vain.
We starve on the insufficiency of a diet which has been
deprived of all our absurd traditional errors, " nos idees
betes, augustes et salutaires." It is strange that all the
subtlety of this marvellous brain should have found its



196 French Profiles

way back to the axiom, Unless ye become as little children,
ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.

These reflections may bewilder those who take up the
Histoire Comique as a work of mere entertainment.
They may even be scandalised by the story ; and indeed
to find it edifying at all, it is needful to be prepared for
edification. Novelists are Hke the three doctors whom,
at a critical moment, Mme. Douce recommends to be
called in. They were all clever doctors, but Mme.
Douce could not find the address of the first, the second
had a bad character, and the third was dead. M.
Anatole France belongs to the first category, but we
must take care that we know his address. In the
Histoire Comique he has quitted his series called Histoire
Contemporaine, and, we regret, M. Bergerat. Nor has
he returned, as we admit we hoped he had done, to the
Rotisserie de la Reine Pedatique, and the enchanting
humours of his eighteenth century. He has written a novel
of to-day, of the same class as Le Lys Rouge. He has
taken the coulisses of a great theatre as the scene of the
very simple intrigue of his story, which is, as always
with M. Anatole France, more of a chronicle than a
novel, and extremely simple in construction.

He has chosen the theatre for his scene, one may
conjecture, because of the advantage it offers to a narra-
tor who wishes to distinguish sharply between emotions
and acts. It troubles M. Anatole France that people
are never natural. They scarcely ever say a thing
because they think it. They say it because it seems
the proper thing to say, and it is extremely rare to find
any one who is perfectly natural. In this book Felicie
Nanteuil congratulates herself that her lover, Robert
de Ligny, is natural ; but that is her illusion ; he is not.
This contrast between what people feel and think and



M. Anatole France 197



what they say is projected in the highest relief upon the
theatre. A violent symbol of this is shown in the great
scene where the actress, fresh from the funeral of the
man whose jealousy has destroyed her happiness for
ever, is obliged, at a rehearsal, to repeat over and over
the phrase, " Mon cousin, je suis eveillee toute joyeuse
ce matin."

It would perhaps be difficult to point to a single book
which M. Anatole France has published in which his
theory that only two things, beauty and goodness, are
of any importance in hfe, seems at first sight to be less
prominent than in his Histoire Coniiquc. But it prevails
here, too, we shall find, if we are not hasty in judgment.
And if we do not care to examine the philosophy of the
story, and to reconcile its paradoxes with ethical truth,
we can at least enjoy the sobriety, the precision, the
elasticity of its faultless style. If the reader prefers to
do so, he may take Histoire Comiqiie simply as a
melancholy and somewhat sensuous illustration of the
unreasonable madness of love, and of the insufficiency
of art, with all its discipline, to regulate the turbulent
spirit of youth.

1903.



PIERRE LOTI



/



PIERRE LOTI

It is one of the advantages of foreign criticism that it
can stand a little aloof from the movement of a litera-
ture, and be unaffected by the passing fluctuations of
fashion. It is not obliged to take into consideration the
political or social accidents which may affect the reputa-
tion of an author at home. The sensitive and dreamy
traveller whose name stands at the head of this page
was, for ten years after his first appearance with that
delicious fantasia which he called Raharu, but which the
public insisted on knowing as Le Manage de Loti, the
spoiled favourite of the Parisian press. His writings of
this first period have been frequently examined in
England, by no one, however, so delicately and ex-
haustively as by Mr. Henry James. In 1891 " Pierre
Loti " (whose real name, of course, is Captain Louis
Marie Julien Viaud) was elected a member of the French
Academy. His candidature began in mischief, as we
read in the Journal of Goncourt, and in jest it ended.
His discours de reception may have been a very diverting
document, but it could not be considered a wise one.
The merry sailor had his joke, and lost his public — that
is to say, not to exaggerate, he alienated the graver
part of it. Since that time there has been a marked
disposition in French criticism to reduce Pierre Loti's
pretensions, to insist upon " showing him his place."
If the attention paid him before was excessive, so has
been the neglect which has since been his portion.
Neither the one nor the other has been perfectly sane;

201



202 French Profiles

neither one nor the other should prevent a foreign critic
from endeavouring, from the vantage-ground of dis-
tance, to discover the place in contemporary literature
held by an artist whose range is limited, but who
possesses exquisite sensibilities and a rare faculty of
notation. In the following pages I have successively
examined the main publications of Pierre Loti since the
crisis in his literary fortunes.

Le Desert

This is the first work of importance which Pierre Loti
has published since he was made an Academician, for
Fantome d'Orient exceeded the permission given to its
author to be sentimental and languishing, while Matelot,
in spite of certain tender pages, was distinctly below
his mark. The disturbance caused by his surprising
entry into the Mazarin Palace must now have passed
away, for, in his new book he is eminently himself
again. This, at all events, is du meilleur Loti, and the
patient readers of fifteen previous volumes know what
that means. There is no more curious phenomenon in
the existing world of letters than the fascination of Loti.
Here is a man and a writer of a thousand faults, and we
forgive them all. He is a gallant sailor, and he recounts
to us his timidities and his ellemmacies; we do not care.
He is absolutely without what we call " taste " ; he
exploits the weakness of his mother and the death-bed
of his aunt; it makes no difference to us. Irritated
travellers of the precise cast say that he is inaccurrate ;
no matter. Moralists throw up their hands and their
eyes at Aziyade and Chrysantheme and Suleima; well,
for the moment, we are tired of being moral. The fact
is, that for those who have passed under the spell of
Loti, he is irresistible. He wields the authority of the



Pierre Lun 203



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