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Nazareth in twilight, with the moon flooding the bound-
less gulf of grasses that stretches from its rocky feet.
Very impressive is the picture of the dead city of Tiberias,
along whose soleuiii and ileserted quays, once thronged
with shipping, no vessel has been moored for centuries,
lookmg down at the rellection of its crenelated walls in
the tideless waters of (iennesaret. Beautiful, too, and
" du meilleur Loti " is the description of the descent
from the grey terraces of liermon, to that miraculous
oasis \\\ the Idumean desert where Damascus lifts its
rose-coloured minarets .uul domes out of pale-green
orchards of poplars and pomegranates, beneath whose
boughs the rivulets run sjiarkling over a carpet of iris
and anemone. It is in forming imjnessions such as
these. \\heit> no detail escapes the narrator's eye, and
not a \\o\\{ IS said too little or too nuich, that Pierre
Loti asserts that supremacy as a master of description
of whicli no carelessness and no inconsistency can deprive



Pierre Loti 217



him. He has httlo pretension to being an intellertu.il
force in literature, but as a proficient in this species of
sensuous legerdenuiin he has had no rival, and is not
Hkely soon (o be surpassed.

i8()<>.

Figures et Choses qui passaient

It has long been the custom of Pierre Loti to gather
together al intervals those short pieces of his prose
wliich have not found their phice in any consecutive
fiction or record of travel. In the case of most authors,
even of the better class, such chips from the workshop
would excite but a very languid interest, or might be
judged wholly impertinent. All that I.oti does, however,
on whatever scale, is done with so much care and is so
characteristic of him, that his atlmia^rs iind some of their
richest feasts in these his baskets of broken nuat. The
genuine Lotist is a fanatic, who can give no other reason
for the faith that is in him than this, that the mere voice
of this particular writer is an irresistible encliantment.
It is not the story, or the chain of valuable thoughts, or
the important information supplied by Pierre Loti that
enthrals his admirers. It is tiie music of the voice, iho.
incomparable magic of the mode in which the mouniful,
sensuous, exquisite observations are delivered. He is
a Pied Piper, and as for his admirers, poor rats, as he
pipes, they follow, follow. He who writes these lines is
always among tlm l>ewitched.

The convinced Lotist, then, will not be discouraged
to hear that Figures et Choses qui passaient, wliich is the
twentieth tune (or volume) which this piper has played
to us, is made up entirely of bits and airs tliat seem to
have lost their way from other works. On the contrary.



21 8 French Profiles

it will amuse and stimulate him to notice that Passage
d' Enfant suggests a lost chapter of Le Livre de la Pitie
et de la Mort ; that Instant de Recueillement reads like a
rejected preface to the novel called Ramuntcho ; that
Passage de Sultan is a sort of appendix to Fantome
d' Orient ; and that Passage de Carmencita forms a quite
unexpected prelude to Le Manage de Loti. But this
at least may be said, that this beau gabier of literature,
the fantastic and wayward sailor so signally unlike the
kind of mariner (with a pigtail, and hitching up white
ducks), who still continues to be our haunting maritime
convention — this complicated and morbid Alcade de la
Mer who walks so uncompromisingly the quarter-deck
of the French Academy, has never published a book
which more tyrannically presupposes an acquaintance
with all his previous works. But he knows our frailty ;
and I will make a confession w^hich may go to the heart
of other Lotists. There is one piece in Figures et Choses
which certainly ought never to have been written. I
hope to screw up my courage, presently, to reprove it
by name; it is horrible, unseemly. But I have read
every word of it, slowly, with gusto, as we read our
Loti, balancing the sentences, drawing the phrases over
the palate. It is a vice, this Lotism ; and I am not sure
that there ought not to be a society to put it down.
Yet if I were persuaded to sign a pledge never to read
another page of Loti, I know that I should immediately
break it.

Yet Loti does everything which, according to the
rules, he should not do. Passage d'Enfant, with which
this volume opens, is a study such as no Englishman
can conceive himself proposing to write. The author
is in Paris, about some official business. He receives
a letter and a telegram to say that a little boy of two



Pierre Loti 219



years old, the child of a pair of his domestic servants
at Rochefort, has suddenly died of croup. The resulting
emotion is so capricious, so intimate, so poignant, that
one would hardly be able to tell it, were it one's own
experience, to one's most familiar friend. Pierre Loti
tells it to the world in full detail, without concealment
of names or places or conditions, and with an absolute
perfection of narrative. He weaves it into a sort of
diatribe against " the stupid cruelty of death." He
flies back to his home, he visits the httle newly-made
grave, he mingles his tears with those of the child's
father, he recalls a score of pretty tricks and babbhngs.
There seems to us English people a certain lack here
of decent proportion or self-command. Yet these are
local matters, and the standard of taste varies so much
at different times in different countries that one hesitates
to dogmatise. And besides, the whole thing is steeped
in that distinguished melancholy beauty which redeems
and explains everything.

A large section of this new volume deals with the
customs and landscape of that extreme corner of south-
western France which the author has made his own
during the years in which he has been stationed at the
mouth of the Bidassoa. All these studies of the ' ' Euskal-
Erria," the primitive Basque Country, are instinct with
the most graceful qualities of Pierre Loti's spirit. He
has an exquisite instinct for the preservation of whatever
is antique and beautiful, a superstitious conservatism
pushed almost to an affectation. As he grows older,
this characteristic increases with him. He has become
an impassioned admirer of cathedrals ; he is moved,
almost to an act of worship, by sumptuous and compli-
cated churches ; he bows a dubiously adoring knee at
Loyola and at Burgos. He is very eager to take part



220 French Profiles

in processions, he is active among crowds of penitents,
he omits no item in the sensual parts of ritual, and is
swayed almost to intoxication on the ebb and flood of
mysterious and archaic incantations. The reader of his
Jerusalem will recall how earnestly and how vainly
Pierre Loti sought for a religious idea, or a genuine
inspiration of any spiritual kind, among the shrines
and waters of Palestine. Once more this unction is
denied him. Doomed for ever to deal with the external
side of things, the exquisite envelope of life, Loti, as
time goes by, seems knocking with a more and more
hopeless agitation at the door of the mystical world.
But that which is revealed to children will never be
exposed to him. It ought to be enough for Loti that
he surpasses all the rest of his fellow-men in the perfection
of his tactile apparatus. That which is neither to be
seen, nor touched, nor smelled, nor heard, hes outside
his province.

But, within his province, what a magician he is !
Vacances de Pdques, apparently a cancelled chapter from
Le Roman d'un Enjant, tells us how a certain Easter
holiday was spent in Loti's childhood, and how the
days flew one after another, in the same cold rain,
under the same black sky. The subject, mainly deaUng
with a neglected imposition and the dilatory labours of
an idle schoolboy, seems as unpromising as possible,
but the author's skill redeems it, and this little essay
contains one page on the excessive colour of bright
flowers under a grey or broken sky which ranks among
the best that he has written. Pierre Loti is always
excellent on this subject ; one recollects the tiny blossoms
that enamelled the floor of his tent in Au Maroc. In
the present volume, while he is waiting on the hill-side
to join the procession winding far up the Pyrenees to



Pierre Loti 221



Roncevaux, he notes the long rosy spindles of the
foxgloves, lashed with rain, the laden campanulas, the
astonishing and almost grotesque saxifrages torn and
ravaged by the hail. And here and there a monotonous
flush of red flowers— rosy moss-campions, rosy gera-
niums, rosy mallows — and from the broken stalks the
petals flung in pink ribands across the delicate deep
green mosses.

An example of the peculiar subtlety of Loti's symbol-
ism is afforded by the curious little study here called
Papillon de Mite. In that corner of his house in Roche-
fort of which he has often told us, where all the treasures
are stored up that he has brought home from his travels,
the author watches a clothes-moth disengage itself from
a splendid Chinese robe of red velvet, and dance in a
sunbeam. Rapidly, rapidly, in the delirium of exist-
ence, this atom waves its wings of silken dust, describing
its little gay, fantastic curves of flight. Loti strikes it
carelessly to the ground, and then begins to wonder
what it is that it reminds him of. Where had he once
seen before in his life something " papillonnement gris
pareil " which had caused him a hke but a less transient
melancholy ? And he recollects— it was long ago, at
Constantinople, on the wooden bridge that connects
Stamboul and Pera. A woman who had lost both her
legs was begging, while a little, grey, impassive child,
with shrivelled hands, lay at her side. Presently the
mother called the child to come and have its small
garment put on, when all at once it leaped from her
hands and escaped, dancing about in the cold wind, and
flapping the sleeves of its burnous-hke wings. And it
was of this poor child, soon exhausted, soon grey and
immobile again, but for an instant intoxicated with the
simple ecstasy of existence and motion, that Loti was



222 French Profiles

reminded by the cun-es and flutterings of the clothes-
moth. This is a wonderfully characteristic example of
the methods of the author, of his refined sensibility,
vivid memory- for details, and fondness for poignant
and subtle impressions of association.

In Profanation — the study which I have dared to
speak of with reprobation — I feel sure that he carries
too far his theory that we may say anything if only
we say it exquisitely enough and in the interests of pity.
Loti's ideas of " taste," of reticence, are not ours; he
does not address an Anglo-Saxon audience. But the
cases in which he offends against even our conventions
are ver}' few in Figures et Chases. I have left myself no
space to speak of the vivid pictures of sports among the
primeval Basque population — studies, one might con-
jecture them to be, for the book that afterwards became
Ramuntcho. I can but refer, with strong commendation,
to the amazing description of the sacred dance of the
Souletins. The last one hundred pages of this enchant-
ing volume are occupied by Trois Journees de Guerre, an
exceedingly minute and picturesque report of the storm-
ing of the city of Hue in the Annam War of 1883. Unless
I am mistaken, these notes were originally sent home
to some Parisian newspaper, where their pubHcation
gave great offence at the French Admiralty or War
Of&ce. Why it should do so, it is not easy after fifteen
years of suppression to conceive. These Trois Journees
de Guerre en Annam form one of the most admirabl}'
sohd of all Pierre Loti's minor writings. They ought to
be read in conjunction with the book called Propos
d'Exil.

1897.



Pierre Loti 223



Ramuntcho

In Raniuntcho Pierre Loti returns to the class of work
which originally made him famous. It is eleven years
since he published Pecheur d'Islande, the latest of his
genuine novels, for we refuse to include among these
the distressing sketch called Mateht. During this
decade he has written much, and some of it, such as
Fantome d'Orient, has taken a form half-way between
fact and fiction ; the rest has been purely descriptive,
culminating, or rather going to seed, in the rather
empty volume called La Galilee. It is probable that
Loti — who for a person who never reads anything (as
he told the French Academy) is remarkably shrewd in
feeling the pulse of hterature — has become conscious
that he must recover some lost steps of his position.
After a considerable pause, then, he comes forward with
a book which is not only one of the most attractive that
he has ever \mtten, but belongs to the class which the
pubhc particularly enjoys. In RamuntcJio the tribe of
the Lotists recover the Loti that they hke best, the Loti
of Pecheur d'Islande and Le Roman d'un Spahi. Such
a book as this, very carefully written in his best style
by the most sensitive wTitter now li\ing, is an event,
and one on which to congratulate ourselves.

The scene of Ramuntcho is the extreme south-western
comer of France, between the Bay of Biscay and the
P\Tenees, where the remanants of an ancient race speak
their m3*3terious and unrelated Basque language, and
hve a hfe apart from the interests and habits of their
fellow-countr\Tnen. We are reminded of the Breton
scenes in Mon Frere Yves, with their flashes of sunshine
breaking through long spells of rain and mist; and
Ramuntcho, the hero of the book, is, indeed, a sort of



224 French Profiles

Yves — less intelligent, less developed, carried less far
into manhood, but with the same dumb self-reliance,
the same unadulterated physical force, the same pathetic
resignation as the scion of a wasting, isolated race. The
landscape of the Basque country interpenetrates the
whole fabric of the story ; we never escape from it for a
moment. We move among grey hamlets, infinitely old,
which are perched among great chestnuts, high up upon
the terraces of mountain sides. On one hand the Bay
of Biscay, with its troubled waters, never ceases to
moan ; on the other, the tumultuous labyrinth of the
Pyrenees, with its sinuous paths and winding streams,
stretches interminably, obscure and threatening. In each
of the sparse mountain villages two monuments of great
antiquity hold the local hfe together ; one is the massive
and archaic church, often as solid as a fortress ; the other
is the fives-court, in which for generations past all the
young men of the parish have tempered their muscles of
steel, and become adepts in this national game of la pelote.
Those who are familiar with the way in which the
imagination of M. Loti works will have no dil^culty in
guessing the line he takes with such a landscape as this.
Its inaccessibility to modern innovations, its secular
decay, the gravity and dignity of its inhabitants, their
poverty and independence, their respect for physical
beauty, their hardy activity — all these are qualities
naturally fascinating to M. Loti, and he adds to a com-
bination of these the peculiar melancholy, the sense of
the inexorable " fallings from us, vanishings," of which
he is so singular a master. Never has he been more
pathetic, more deeply plunged in the consciousness that,
as the Persian poet puts it,

" The Stars are setting, and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing."



Pierre Loti 225

Never has he expended a greater wealth of melody and
colour, never fused his effects into tones of rarer delicacy,
than in this tale of smuggling, pelote-pliLying and court-
ship in a mountain village of the Basques.

No injustice is done to the author of such a novel as
this by giving an outline of his plot, for the mere story
is primitive and simple ; it is in the telling that the art
consists. The hamlet of Etchezar is the home of
Franchita, a lonely woman, who, with one little son,
Raymond or (in Basque) Ramuntcho, stole back thither
some fifteen years before the tale opens, having been
deserted by the man, an unnamed person of quality
from Paris, whose mistress she had been in Biarritz.
Ramuntcho grows up with a mixed temperament ;
partly he is a Basque, stolid, impenetrable, intensel}'
local, but partly also he is conscious of cosmopolitan
instincts, faint blasts of longing, like those which come
to Arne in Bjornson's beautiful story, for the world
outside, the aii-deld, or, as Ramuntcho vaguely puts it,
" les choses d'ailleurs." In the village of Etchezar,
which mainly supports itself by smuggling, the widow
Dolores is a prominent personage, with her intensely
respectable past, her store of money, and the two
beautiful children, her son Arrochkoa and her daughter
Gracieuse. But she hates and despises the unfortunate
Franchita, and scorns Ramuntcho. The latter youth,
arriving at the maturity of seventeen years, and in close
amity with Arrochkoa, is admitted into the secret
fellowship of a most desperate and successful band of
smugglers, who, under the guidance of Itchoua, a much
older man, harry the frontier of Spain.

The excursions of the smugglers give M. Loti oppor-
tunities for his matchless power in visual writing. The
great scene in which, under the intoxication of the
Q



226 French Profiles

magical south wind, the band of desperadoes cross the
shining estuary of the Bidassoa at sunrise, is superb.
But still more striking are the pictures of home life in
the village, the ceremonies and entertainments on All
Saints' Day, scenes the theatres of which are the church
and the pelote-couxi. In the national game — the Basque
fives in excelsis — Ramuntcho becomes, as he approaches
the age of eighteen, extremely skilful ; he and Arrochkoa,
indeed, are the two champion players of the whole dis-
trict, and are thus drawn into closer mutual friendship.
And under the smile with which Gracieuse rewards his
prowess at the game, an old affection for the sister of
his friend is blown into a passion, which is returned,
and would be avowed, but for the jealousy of old
Dolores. The lovers are driven to innocent clandestine
meetings on the stone bench under Dolores' house, or,
upon moonlight nights, within the dense shadow of the
chestnut trees. If there is any theme in which M. Loti
delights, and to the delineation of which he brings his
most delicate and sympathetic gifts, it is the progress of
the passion of love in adolescence. Ramuntcho comes
to Gracieuse from his perilous skirmishings with the
Spanish Custom-house officers, and from long vigils
which have brought him close to the very pulse of
nature. I cannot refrain from quoting, in this connex-
ion, one passage intimately characteristic of its author : —
" Voici venir les longs crepuscules pales de juin. . . .
Pour Ramuntcho, c'est I'epoque ou la contrebande
devient un metier presque sans peine, avec des heures
charmantes : marcher vers les sommets, i travers les
nuages printaniers; franchir les ravins, errer dans des
regions de sources et de figuiers sauvages ; dormir, pour
attendre I'heure convenue avec les carabiniers complices,
sur des tapis de menthes et d'oeillets. La bonne senteur



Pierre Loti 22-^



des plantes impregnait ses habits, sa veste jamais mise
qui ne lui servait que d'oreiller ou de couverture; et
Gracieuse quelquefois lui disait le soir : ' Je sais la con-
trebande que vous avez faite la nuit derniere, car tu
sens les menthes de la montagne au-dessus de Mendiazpi,'
ou bien : ' Tu sens les absinthes du marais de Subernoa.' "
This happy condition of things is brought to an end
by the necessity on which Ramuntcho finds himself of
opting for Spanish or French citizenship. If he chooses
the latter, he must prepare for three years' absence on
military duty before he can marry Gracieuse. He deter-
mines, however, that to accept his fate is the manly
thing to do ; but hardly has he so decided, when an
unexpected letter comes from an uncle Ignacio, in
Uruguay, offering to adopt him if he will go out to
America. The proposal comes too late, and he starts
for his military service. Then the tragedy begins. He
returns after his three years' absence to find his mother
dying, and his Gracieuse vanished. The bitter old
Dolores, after vainly thrusting a rich suitor upon her
daughter, has driven her to take the veil, and she is now
a nun in a little remote mountain-convent close to the
Spanish frontier. Ramuntcho takes up the old wild life
as a smuggler, but he cannot get the idea of Gracieuse
out of his mind ; and at last, encouraged by Arrochkoa,
he determines to make a raid on the convent, snatch
Gracieuse from her devotions, and fly with her to Argen-
tina. The two young men make an elaborate plan for a
nocturnal rape of their Iberian Sabine. But when they
arrive at the peaceful, noiseless nunnery, and are
hospitably received by the holy women, their ardour
dies away. Gracieuse gives no sign of any wish to fly ;
she merely says, when she hears that Ramuntcho is
leaving the country, that they will all pray the Virgin



228 French Profiles

that he may have a happy voyage. Intimidated by the
sanctity of the Hfe which it seemed so easy to break
into as they talked about it late at nights over their
chacoli, but which now seems impregnable, the lads go
peaceably away, Arrochkoa sullenly to his nocturnal
foray on the frontier, Ramuntcho with a broken heart
to Bordeaux and Buenos Ayres. And so, with that
tribute to the mutability of fortune which Loti loves,
and with a touch of positive pietism which we meet
with in his work almost for the first time — there was a
hint of it in Jerusalem — this beautiful and melanchol}^
book closes. We feel as we put down the volume more
convinced than ever of the unique character of its
author's talent, so evasive and hmited, and yet within
its own boundaries of so exquisite a perfection. It is a
talent in which intellect has little part, but in which
melody and perfume and colour combine with extra-
ordinary vivacity to produce an impression of extreme
and perhaps not quite health}' sensibilit}'.

1897.

Les Derniers Jours de Pekin

It was a fortunate chance which sent to China, in the
late autumn of 1900, the man in whom, perhaps more
delicately than in any other living person, are com-
bined the gifts of the seeing eye and the expressive pen.
The result is a book which, so far as mere visual present-
ment goes, may safely be said to outweigh the whole
bulk of what else was sent home from the extreme East,
in letters and articles to every part of the world, during
that terrible period of storm and stress. Pierre Loti
arrived when the fighting was over, when the Imperial
family had fled, and when the mysteries of the hitherto



Pierre Loti



229



inviolable capital of China had just first been opened to
the Powers. He reaped the earliest harvest of strange
and magnificent impressions, and he saw, with that
incomparably clear vision of his, what no European had
seen till then, and much that no human being will ever
see again. Moreover, the great artist, who had seemed
in Jerusalem, and still more in La Galilee, to have
tired his pen a little, and to have lost something of his
firm clairvoyance, has enjoyed a rest of several years.
His style proclaims the advantage of this reserve of
vigour. Loti is entirely himself again ; never before,
not even in the matchless Fleurs d'Exil, has he pre-
sented his talent in a form more evenly brilliant, more
splendidly characteristic in its rich simplicity, than
in Les Derniers Jours de Pekin.

Pierre Loti arrived at Ning-Hai, on the Yellow Sea,
in a French man-of-war, on October 3, and a week later
he started on a mission to Peking. His journey thither
was marked by no very striking events, except by his
passage through the vast and deserted city of Tong-
Tcheou, full of silence and corpses, and paved with
broken porcelain. The horrors of this place might fill
a niche in some eastern Inferno ; and they offer Loti his
first opportunity to exercise in China his marvellous
gift for the reproduction of phenomena. We pass with
him under the black and gigantic ramparts of Tong-
Tcheou, and thread its dreadful streets under the harsh
and penetrating light of Chinese autumn. The cold-
ness, the dark colour, the awful silence, the importunate
and crushing odour of death, these he renders as only
a master can. The little party pursues its course, and
on October 18, quite suddenly, in a grim solitude, where
nothing had been visible a few seconds before, a huge
crenelated rampart hangs high above their heads, the



230 French Profiles

disconcerting and grimacing outer wall of the Tartar


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