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Ou des plaques de fer claqucnt sous les hangars,

Ou des voiles s'en vont, sans Notre Dame
Pour etoile, s'en vont, la-bas, vers les hasards.

Gares de suies et de fumec, ou du gaz pleure

Ses spleens d'argent lointain vers des chemins d'oclair,

Ou des betes d'cnnui baillent a I'hcure,
Dolente immensement, qui tinte a Westminster.

Et ces quais infinis de lanternes fatales,

Parques dont les fuseaux plongent aux profondcurs,

Et ces marins noyes, sous des petalcs
De fleurs de boue ou la flamme met des lucurs.


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Et ces chales et ces gestes de femmes soules,
Et ces alcools en lettres d'or jusques an toit,

Et tout ;\ coup la mort parmi ces foules —
O men ame du soir, ce Londres noir que trone en toi ! "

A hundred years ago we possessed in English Hterature
a writer very curiously parallel to M. Verhaeren, who
probably never heard of him. I do not know whether
any one has pointed out the similarity between Crabbe
and the Belgian poet of our day. It is, however, very
striking when we once come to think of it, and it em-
braces subject-matter, attitude to life and art, and even
such closer matters as diction and versification. The
situation of Crabbe, in relation to the old school of the
eighteenth century on the one hand and to the romantic
school on the other, is closely repeated by that of M.
Verhaeren to his elders and his juniors. If Byron were
now alive, he might call M. Verhaeren a Victor Hugo in
worsted stockings. There is the same sardonic delinea-
tion of a bleak and sandy sea-coast countr3', Suffolk or
Zeeland as the case may be, the same determination to
find poetic material in the perfectly truthful study of a
raw peasantry, of narrow provincial towns, of rough and
cheerless seafaring existences. In each of these poets —
and scarcely in any other European writers of verse —
we find the same saline flavour, the same odour of
iodine, the same tenacious attachment to the strength
and violence and formidable simplicity of nature.

In Les Forces TumiiUueuses we discover the same
qualities which we have found before in J\I. Verhaeren's
volumes. He employs mainly two forms of verse, the
one a free species of Alexandrines, the other a wandering
measure, loosely rhymed, of the sort which used among
ourselves to be called " Pindarique." He gives us
studies of modern figures, the Captain, the Tribune, the

M. fimile Verhaeren 327

Monk, the Banker, the Tyrant. He gives us studies of
towns, curiously hard, although less violent than those
in his earlier, and perhaps most extraordinary, book, Les
Villes Tejiiaculdircs. His interest in towns and hamlets
is inexhaustible— and did not Crabbe write " The
Village " and " The Borough " ? Even railway junctions
do not dismay the muse of M. Verhaeren : —

" Oh ! ces villes, par Tor piitridc cnvcnimecs !
Clamcurs de pierrc et vols et gestes de fumces,
Domes et tours d'orgueil et colonnes debout
Dans I'espace qui vibre et le travail qui bout,
En aimas-tu I'effroi ct les affres profondcs
O toi, le voyageur
Qui t'en allais triste et songeur.
Par les gares de feu qui ccinturent le monde ?

Cahots et bonds de trains par au-dessus dcs monts !

L'intime et sourd tocsin qui enfievrait ton ame

Battait aussi dans ces villes, le soir; leur flamme

Rouge et myriadaire illuminait ton front,

Leur aboi noir, le cri, le ban de ton coeur memc ;

Ton etre entier etait tordu en leur blaspheme,

Ta volonte jetee en proie k leur torrent

Et vous vous maudissicz tout en vous adorant."

The superficially prosaic has no terrors for M. Ver-
haeren. He gives us, too, of course, studies of the sea-
coast, of that dreary district (it can never have dreamed
that it would nourish a poet) which stretches from
Antwerp westward along the Scheldt to the North Sea,
that infinite roll of dunes, hung between the convulsive
surf and the heavy sky, over which a bitter wind goes
whistling through the wild thin grass towards a vague
inland flatness, vast, monotonous, and dull beyond all
power of language to describe. This is a land which
arrives at relevancy only when darkness falls on it, and
its great revolving lights give relation to its measureless

328 French Profiles

The habitual gloom and mournfulness of M, Ver-
haeren's pictures are only relieved once in this powerful
volume. The poem called Sur la Mer strikes a different
note, and resembles one of those rare sunshiny days when
the creeks of Northern Flanders are in gala. We watch
the brilliantly-coloured ship stirring her cordage and
fluttering her pennons, like some gay little Dutch garden
putting merrily out to sea. All is a bustle of scarlet and
orange and blue ; but it would not be a picture of M.
Verhaeren's if it did not offer a reverse side : —

" Le vaisseau clair revint, un soir de bruit
Et de fete, vers le rivage,
D'oii son elan etait parti;
Certes, les mats dardaicnt toujours leur ame,
Certes, le foe portait encore des oriflammes,
Mais les marins etaient decouronnes
De confiance, et les haubans ct les cordages
Ne vibraient plus comme dcs lyres sauvages.
Le navire rentra comme un jardin fane,
Drapeaux eteints, cspoirs mines,
Avec I'effroi de n'oser dire a ceux du port
Qu'il avait entendu, la-bas, de plage en plage,
Les flots crier sur les rivages
Que Pan et que Jesus, tons deux, etaient des morts."

For those who see"k from poetry its superficial consola-
tions, the canticles of M. Verhaeren offer little attraction.
But for readers who can endure a sterner music, and a
resolute avoidance of the mere affectations of the
intellect, he is now one of the most interesting figures
in contemporary literature. And to deny that he is a
poet would be like denying that the great crimson
willow-herb is a flower because it grows in desolate


Albert Samain 329


The influence of Baudelaire, which so gravely alarmed
the critical sanhedrim of forty years ago, has proved
more durable than was expected, but at the same time
singularly inoffensive. There seemed to be something
in the imagination of Baudelaire which fermented un-
pleasantly, and an outbreak of pestilence in his neigh-
bourhood was seriously apprehended. He was treated
as a sort of plague-centre. It would be difficult to make
the young generation in London realise what palpita-
tions, what tremors, what alarms the terrible Fleum du
Mai caused in poetic bosoms about i860. But the
Satanic dandyism, as it was called, of the poet's most
daring verses was not, in reality, a very perdurable
element. Most of it was absurd, and some of it was
vulgar; all of it, with the decease of poor Maurice
Rollinat, seems now to have evaporated. What was
really powerful in Baudelaire, and what his horrors
at first concealed, was the extreme intensity of his sense
of beauty, or, to be more precise, his noble gift of sub-
duing to the service of poetry the voluptuous visions
awakened by perfume and music and light.

It is this side of his genius which has attracted so
closely the leaders of the poetic revival in France, A
lofty, if somewhat vaporous dignity ; a rich, if somewhat
indefinable severity of taste; these aie among the
prominent qualities of the new French poetry, which is
as far removed in spirit from the detestable " nuuiie
d'etonner " of Les Fleurs du Mai as it is possible to be.
Yet in recounting the precursors to whom the homage
of the new school is due, every careful critic must
enumerate, not only Lamartine and Alfred de Vigny,
but unquestionably Baudelaire.

33^ French Profiles

In the unfortunate Albert Samain, for instance, whose
death has deprived France prematurely of a nature
evidently predestined, as few can be said to be, to the
splendours of poetic fame, this innocuous and whole-
some influence of Baudelaire may be very clearly traced.
It does not interfere with Samain's claim to be treated
as an original writer of high gifts, but it is impossible
to overlook its significance. The crawling corruption
of Baudelaire has, in fact, in the course of time, not
merely become deodorised, but takes its place, as a
pinch of " scentless and delicate dust," in the inevitable
composition of any new French poet.

In the course of the winter of 1893, a good many
persons, of whom the present writer was one, received
a small quarto volume, bound in sage-green paper, from
an unknown source in Paris. The book, which was
privately printed in a very small issue, was called An
Jardin de I'lttfante, and it transpired that this was the
first production of a clerk in the Prefecture de la Seine,
named Albert Samain. Born at Lille in 1859, Samain
was no longer very young, but he had no relations with
the world of letters, and a shy dissatisfaction with what
he had written gave him a dislike to publication. The
sage-green volume, already so rare, was, as it now
appears, printed and sent out by a friend, in spite of the
poet's deprecations. A copy of it came into the hands
of M. Frangois Coppee, who, to his great honour, in-
stantly perceived its merits, and in the second series of
Mon Franc-Parler attracted attention to it. In 1897
an edition of An Jardin de I' Infante placed the poems
of Samain within the range of the ordinary reader, and
in 1898 he published another volume, Aux Flancs du
Vase. His health, however, had failed, and he had by
this time retired to the country village of Magny-les-

Albert Samain 331

Hameaux, where he died on the i8th of August, 1900.
Since his death there have appeared a third volume of
poems, Le Chariot d'Or (1901), and a lyrical drama,
Polypheme (1902).

The existence of Albert Samain left scarcely a ripple
on the stream of French literary life. He stood apart
from all the coteries, and his shyness and indigence
prevented him from presenting himself where he might
readily have been lionised. Of the very few persons
who ever saw Samain I have interrogated one or two
as to his appearance and manners. They tell me that
he was pale and slight, with hollow cheeks and pre-
ponderating forehead, and of a great economy of speech.
Excessively near-sighted, he seemed to have no cogni-
sance of the world about him, and the regularity of his
hfe as a clerk emphasised his dreamy habits. He is
described to me as grave, and, when he spoke, somewhat
grandiloquent; his half-shut eyes gave an impression
of languor, which was partly physical fatigue. I think
it possible that future times may feel a curiosity about
the person of Albert Samain, and that there will be
practically nothing to divulge, since his dreams died
with him. This small city clerk, with his poor economies
and stricken health, habitually escaped from the oppres-
sion of a life that was as dull and void as it could be.
into the buoyant liberty of gorgeous and persistent


He expresses this himself in every page of A u Jardin

de V Infante. He says : —

" Les roses du couchant s'effeuillcnt sur la fleuve;
Et dans remotion pile du soir tombant.
S'evoque un pare d'automne ou revc sur un banc
Ma jeunesse dej^ grave comme une veuve; "

and in a braver tone : —

332 French Profiles

" Mon ame est une Infante en robe de parade,
Dont I'cxil sc reflete, eternel ct royal,
Aux grands miroirs deserts d'un vieil Escurial,
Ainsi qu'une galerc oubliee en la rade."

Everywhere the evidences of a sumptuous and en-
chanted past, everywhere the purity of silence and the
radiance of royal waters at sunset, everywhere the
incense of roses that were planted for the pleasure of
queens long dead and gone, and Albert Samain pursuing
his solitary way along those deserted paths and up the
marble of those crumbling staircases. Such is the
illusion which animates the Garden of the Infanta.
Sometimes the poet is not alone there; other forms
approach him, and other faces smile; but they are the
faces and the forms of phantoms :—

" L'ame d'une flute soupire

Au fond du pare melodieux;
Limpide est I'ombre ou Ton respire
Ton pocme silencicux,

Nuit de langueur, nuit de mensonge.

Qui poses d'un gcste ondoyant
Dans ta chevelure dc songc

La lune, bijou d'Orient.

Sylva, Sylvie et Sylvanire,

Belles au regard bleu changeant,
L'etoile aux fontaines se mire,

Allez par les sen tiers d 'argent.

Allez vite — I'heure est si br^ve !

Cueillir au jardin des avcux
Les coeurs qui se meurent du reve

De mourir parrai vos cheveux."

His aim was to express a melancholy and chaste
sensuousness in terms of the most tender and im-
passioned symbolism. No one has succeeded more
frequently than Samain in giving artistic form to those

Albert Samain 333

vague and faint emotions which pass over the soul Uke a
breeze. He desired to write verses when, as he said,
" I'ame sent, exquise, une caresse a peine," or even —

" Dc vers silencicux, ct sans rythme et sans tramc,
Oxi la rime sans bruit glisse commc une rame, —
De vers d'une ancienne ctoflc cxtcnuec,
Impalpable comme le son et la nuec."

In this mood his poetry occasionally approaches that
of Mr. Robert Bridges on the one side and of Mr. Yeats
on the other. It has at other times a certain marmoreal
severity which reminds us of neither. I desire the
reader's close attention to the following sonnet, called
Cleopaire, in which the genius of Albert Samain seems
to be all revealed. Here, it may at first be thought, he
comes near to the old Parnassians ; but his methods will
be found to be diametrically opposed to theirs, although
not even M. de Heredia would have clothed the subject
with a nobler beauty : —

" Accoudee en silence aux crcncaux dc la tour,

La Reine aux chcvcux blcus, scrrcs dc bandelcttcs.
Sous I'incantation trouble dcs cassolettes.
Sent monter dans son cocur ta mer, immense Amour.

Immobile, sous ses paupieres violettes,
Elle revc, pamce aux fuitcs dcs coussins;
Et les lourds colliers d'or soulevcs par ses scins

Racontent sa langueur et ses fievres muettes.

Un adieu rose flotte au front des monuments.
Le soir, veloutc d'ombre, est plcin d'cnchantcmcnts;
Et cependant qu'au lorn plcurcnt Ics crocodiles,

La Reine aux doigts crispes, sanglotante d'aveux,
Frissonnc dc sentir, lascives et subtiles,

Des mains qui dans le vent cpuisent ses chcvcux."

There is much in the history and in the art of Albert
Samain which reminds me of an English poet whom I
knew well when we both were young, and who still

334 French Profiles

awaits the fullness of recognition — Arthur O'Shaugh-
nessy. Each of them was fascinated by the stronger
genius of two poets of an older generation — -Baudelaire
and Edgar Allan Poe. But each had a quality that was
entirely his own, a quality which the passage of time
will certainly emphasise and isolate.



The instinct which impels every energetic talent to
emancipate itself as far as possible from the bondage of
tradition is a natural one, and it is even not so dangerous
as we suppose. For, if there is a centrifugal force ever
driving the ambition of youth away from the conven-
tional idea of beauty, this is easily reversed by the
inherent attraction of purity and nobility in form. The
artist makes a bold flight and wheels away into the
distance, but he returns; he is true, hke Wordsworth's
skylark, to the kindred points of heaven and home. In
a writer, therefore, who starts in open rebellion to
the tradition of style, we have but to wait and see
whether the talent itself is durable. It is only pre-
sumptuous Icarus, whose waxen wings melt in the sun,
and who topples into the sea. It is only the writer who
makes eccentricity the mantle to hide his poverty of
imagination and absence of thought who disappears.
To the young man of violent idiosyncrasies and genuine
talent two things always happen— he impresses his
charm upon our unwilling senses, and he is himself
drawn back, unconsciously and imperceptibly, into the
main current of the stream of style.

While M. Paul Fort was merely an eccentric experi-
mentalist, it did not seem worth while to present him

M. Paul Fort 335

to an English audience. The earhest of his pubhshed
volumes, the Ballades Frangaiscs of 1897, was a pure
mystification to most readers. It was printed, and
apparently written, as prose. It asserted the superiority
of rhythm over the artifice of prosody, which is precisely
what Walt Whitman did. The French conceive poetry,
however, very rigidly in its essential distinction from
prose. There are rules for writing French verse which
are categorical, and these must be taken en bloc. It is
far more difficult in French to imagine a thing which
could represent, at the same moment, poetry and prose,
than it would be in English. But M. Paul Fort deter-
mined to create this entirely new thing, and when one
read his effusions first it is only fair to admit that one
was bewildered. Here, for instance, is, in its entirety,
one of the Ballades Frangaises : —

" litre ne page et brave vielleur d'amour, en la gentille
cour d'un prince de jadis, chanter une princesse folle-
ment aimce, au nom si doux que bruit de roses essaimces,
a qui offrir, un jour, en lui offrant la main pour la marche
a descendre avant le lac d'hymen, I'odorant coffret d'or
sous ses chaines de lys, plein de bleus hyalins es anneaux
de soleil et d'oiselets de Chypre ardents pour embaumer,
a qui donner aux sons des fifres et des vielles, pour notre
traversee en la barque d'hymen, le frele rosier d'or a
tenir en sa main ! "

The only way to make anything of this is to read it
aloud, and it may be said in parenthesis that M. Fort
is a writer who appeals entirely to the ear, not to the eye.
Spoken, or murmured in accordance with Mr. Yeats's
new method, the piece of overladen prose disengages
itself, floats out into filaments of silken verse, like a
bunch of dry seaweed restored to its element. In this
so-called ballad the alexandrine dominates, but with

22^ French Profiles

elisions, assonances, irregularities of every description.
It is therefore best to allow the author himself to define
his method. He says in the preface to a later poem, Le
Roman de Louis XI. : —

" J'ai cherche un style pouvant passer, au gre de
I'emotion, de la prose au vers et du vers a la prose : la
prose rythmee fournit la transition. Le vers suit les
elisions naturelles du langage. II se presente comme
prose, toute gene d'elision disparaissant sous cette

In short, we have heard much about " free verse "
in France, but here at last we have an author who has
had the daring to consider prose and verse as parts of
one graduated instrument, and to take the current
pronunciation of the French language as the only law
of a general and normal rhythm. It is a curious experi-
ment, and we shall have to see what he will ultimately
make of it.

But one is bound to admit that he has made a good
deal of it already. He has become an author whom we
cannot affect or afford to ignore. Born so lately as 1872,
M. Paul Fort is in some respects the most notable, as he
is certainly the most abundant, imaginative author of
his age in France. The book which hes before us, a
romance of Parisian life of to-day in verse, is the sixth
of the volumes which M. Fort has brought out in less
than six years, all curiously consistent in manner, all
independent of external literary influences, and all full
of exuberant, fresh and vivid impressions of nature.
The eccentricities of his form lay him open, of course,
to theoretical objections which I should never think
unreasonable, and which I am conservative enough to
share. But these do not affect his ardour in the con-
templation of nature, his high gust of being. I scarcely

M. Paul Fort


know where to point in any recent literature to an author
so full of the joy of life. He does not philosophise or
analyse, he affects no airs of priest or prophet ; his
attitude is extraordinarily simple, but is charged with
the ecstasy of appreciation. In two of his collections of
lyrics in rhythm, in particular, we find this ardour, this
enchantment, predominating ; these are Montague,
1898, and L' Amour Marin, 1900, in which he sings, or
chants, the forest and the sea.

In Paris Sentimental M. Paul Fort has written a
novel in his peculiar and favourite form. We have had
many examples of the dangers and difficulties which
attend the specious adventure of writing modern fiction
in metrical shape. Neither Aurora Leigh nor Lucile
nor The Inn Album is entirely encouraging as more than
the experiment of a capricious though splendidly accom-
plished artist. Yet Paris Sentimental is more nearly
related to these than to any French poem that I happen
to recollect. There is, indeed, as it seems to me, some-
thing English in M. Fort's habit of mind. His novel,
however, is much less elaborate than cither of the English
poems I have mentioned, and certainly much less
strenuous than the first and third. It is a chain of
lyrical rhapsodies in which a very plain tale of love and
disappointment in the Paris of to-day is made the excuse
for a poetical assimilation of all the charming things
which Paris contains, and which have hitherto evaded
the skill of the poets, such as the turf in the Square
Monge, and the colour of an autumn shower on the
Boulevard Sebastopol, and the Tziganes singing by
moonlight at the Exposition. Here is an example of
how it is done : —

" Le couchant violet tremble au fond du jour rouge.
Le Luxembourg exhale unc odcur d'oranger, et Manon


French Profiles

s'arrete a mon bras ; plus rien ne bouge, les arbres, les
passants, ce nuage eloigne. . . .

" Et le jet d'eau s'est tu : c'est la rosee qui chante,
la-bas, dans les gazons, ou r6vent les statues, et pour
rendre, 6 sens-tu ? la nuit plus defaillante, les Grangers
en fleurs ont enivre la nue."

It would be an easy exercise to search for the metre
here, as we used to hunt for blank verse in the Leaves
of Grass. But I\I. Paul Fort is less revolutionary than
Whitman, and more of an artist. Although he clings
to his theories, in each of his volumes he seems to be less
negligent of form, less provocative, than he was in the
last. The force of his talent is wheeling him back into
the inevitable tradition ; he is being forced by the music
in his veins to content himself with cadences that were
good enough for Racine and Hugo and Baudelaire.
And, therefore, in the last quotation which I offer from
Paris Sentimental, I take the liberty of disregarding the
typographical whims of the author, and print his lines
as verse : —

" Par les nuits d'ctc bleues ou chantent les cigales,
Dicu verse sur la France unc coupe d'etoiles.
Lc vent porte k ma levre un goi'it du ciel d'et6 !
Je veux boire a I'espace fraichement argente.

L'air du soir est pour moi le bord de la coupe froide
Ou, les yeux mi-ferm6s et la bouche goulue,

Je bois, comme le jus presse d'une grenade,
La fraicheur etoilee qui se repand des nues.

Couche sur un gazon dont I'herbe est encore chaude

De s'fetre prelassee sous I'haleine du jour,

Oh ! que je viderais, ce Roir, avec amour,
La coupe immense bleuc ou le firmament rode ! "




Address delivered, February g, 1904, before the SocUte des
Conferences, in Paris.

Before I begin to discuss with you the particular
subject of my discourse this afternoon, I cannot refrain
from expressing my emotion at finding myself, in con-
sequence of your gracious invitation, occupying this
platform. It has been said that, for a man of letters,
consideration in a country not his own is a foretaste
of the verdict of posterity. If there be any truth in
this, then surely, in the particular case where that
country happens to be France, it should be more — it
should be something very like a dangerous mirage of
immortality. When the invitation of your committee
first reached me, it seemed for a moment impossible
that I could accept it. In no perfunctory or compli-
mentary sense, I shrank, with an apprehension of my
own twilight, from presenting myself in the midst uf
your blaze of intelligence. How could I be sure that
any of my reflections, of my observations, could prove
worthy of acceptance by an audience accustomed to
the teachings of the most brilliant and the most learned
critics of the world ? If there be an obvious lack of
sufficiency in my words this afternoon, then, on your-
selves must be the blame, and on your own generosity,
since in venturing to stand before you, it is your com-



French Profiles

mands which I obey in all simplicity. I obey them as
some barbarous Northern minstrel might, who, finding

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