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cravat, and in a wonderful shirt that covered the most
artful pair of stays. In every action, in every glance,
he seemed to be defying the natural decay of years, and to
be forcing old age to forget him by dint of spirited and
ceaseless self-assertion. He was himself the prototype
of all the Brassards and Misnilgrands of his stories, the
dandy of dandies, the mummied and immortal beau.

His intellectual condition was not unlike his physical
One. He was a survival — of the most persistent. The
last, by far the last, of the Romantiques of 1835, Barbey


90 French Profiles

d'Aurevilly lived on into an age wholly given over to
other aims and ambitions, without changing his own
ideals by an iota. He was to the great man who began
the revival, to figures hke Alfred de Vigny, as Shirley
was to the early Elizabethans. He continued the old
tradition, without resigning a single habit or prejudice,
until his mind was not a whit less old-fashioned than his
garments. Victor Hugo, who hated him, is said to have
dedicated an unpublished verse to his portrait : —

" Barbey d'Aurevilly. formidable imbecile,"

But imbecile was not at all the right word. He was
absurd ; he was outrageous ; he had, perhaps, by dint
of resisting the decrepitude of his natural powers, become
a little crazy. But imbeciUty is the very last word to
use of this mutinous, dogged, implacable old pirate of

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly was born near Valognes

(the " V " which figures in several of his stories) on

the 2nd of November 1808. He liked to represent him-
self as a scion of the bluest nobility of Normandy, and
he communicated to the makers of dictionaries the fact
that the name of his direct ancestor is engraved on the
tomb of William the Conqueror. But some have said
that the names of his father and mother were never
known, and others (poor d'Aurevilly !) have set him down
as the son of a butcher in the village of Saint-Sauveur-
le-Vicomte. While yet a school-boy in 1825, he pub-
lished an ele^y Anx heros desThermopyles, and dedicated
it to Casimir Delavigne. He was at college with Maurice
de Guerin, and quite early he became personally ac-
quainted with Chateaubriand. His youth seems to be
wrapped up in mystery ; according to one of the best-
informed of his biographers, he vanished in 183 1, and

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly 91

was not heard of again until 185 1. To these twenty
years of alleged disappearance, one or two remarkable
books of his are, however, ascribed. So characteristic
a novel as L'/lwow^ Impossible saw the light in 1841,
and it appears that what is perhaps the most character-
istic of all liis writings, Du Dandyisnte et de Georges Brum-
mell, was written as early as 1842. In 1845 a very small
edition of it was printed by an admirer of the name of
Trebutien, to whose affection d'Aurevilly seems to have
owed his very existence. It is strange that so little is
distinctly known about a man who, late in life, attracted
much curiosity and attention. He was a consummate
romancer, and he liked to hint that he was engaged during
early life in intrigues of a corsair description. The truth
seems to be that he lived, in great obscurity, in the
neighbourhood of Caen, probably by the aid of journalism.
Of all the productions of his youth, the only one which
can now be met with is the prose poem of Amaldee,
written, I suppose, about 1835 ; this was published by
M. Paul Bourget as a curiosity immediately after Barbey
d'Aurevilly 's death. Judged as a story, Amaidee is
puerile ; it describes how to a certain poet, called Some-
god, who dwelt on a lonely cliff, there came a young man
altogether wise and stately named Altai, and a frail
daughter of passion, who gives her name to the book.
These three personages converse in magnificent language,
and, the visitors presently departing, the volume closes.
But an interest attaches to the fact that in Somegod
[Quelque Dieu !) the author was painting a portrait of
Maurice de Guerin, while the majestic Altai' is himself.
The conception of this book is Ossianic ; but the style
is often singularly beautiful, with a marmoreal splendour
founded on a study of Chateaubriand, and, perhaps, of
Goethe, andnot without relation to that of Guerin himself.

92 French Profiles

The earliest surviving production of d'Aurevilly, if
we except Amaidee, is U Amour Impossible, a novel
published with the object of correcting the effects of the
poisonous Lelia of George Sand. Already, in the crude
book, we see something of the Barbey d'Aurevilly of the
future, the Dandy-Paladin, the Catholic Sensualist or
Diavolist, the author of the few poor thoughts and the
sonorous, paroxysmal, abundant style. I forget whether
it is here or in a slightly later novel that, in hastily
turning the pages, I detect the sentiment, " Our fore-
fathers were wise to cut the throats of the Huguenots,
and very stupid not to burn Luther." The late Master
of Balliol is said to have asked a reactionary under-
graduate, " What, Sir ! would you burn, would you
burn ? " If he had put the question to Barbey d'Aure-
villy, the scented hand would have been laid on the
cambric bosom, and the answer would have been,
" Certainly I should." In the midst of the infidel
society and literature of the Second Empire, d'Aurevilly
persisted in the most noisy profession of his entire loyalty
to Rome, but his methods of proclaiming his attachment
were so violent and outrageous that the Church showed
no gratitude to her volunteer defender. This was a
source of much bitterness and recrimination, but it is
difficult to see how the author of Le Prltre Marie (1864)
and Une Histoire sans Nam (1882) could expect pious
Catholics to smile on his very peculiar treatment of
ecclesiastical life.

Barbey d'Aurevilly undertook to continue the work
of Chateaubriand, and he gave his full attention to a
development of the monarchical neo-catholicism which
that great inaugurator had sketched out. He was im-
pressed by the beauty of the Roman ceremonial, and he
determined to express with poetic emotion the mystical

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly 93

majesty of the symbol. It must be admitted that,
although his work never suggests any knowledge of or
sympathy with the spiritual part of religion, he has a
genuine appreciation of its externals. It would be
difficult to point to a more delicate and full impression
of the solemnity which attends the crepuscular light
of a church at vespers than is given in the opening pages
of A un Diner d'Athees. In L'Ensorcelee (1854), too, we
find the author piously following a chanting procession
round a church, and ejaculating, " Rien n'est beau
comme cet instant solennel des ceremonies catholiques."
Almost every one of his novels deals by preference with
ecclesiastical subjects, or introduces some powerful
figure of a priest. But it is very difficult to believe that
his interest in it all is other than histrionic or phenomenal.
He likes the business of a priest, he likes the furniture
of a church, but there, in spite of his vehement protesta-
tions, his piety seems to a candid reader to have begun
and ended.

For a humble and reverent child of the Catholic
Church, it must be confessed that Barbey d'Aurevilly
takes strange liberties. The mother would seem to
have had little control over the caprices of her extremely
unruly son. There is scarcely one of these ultra-catholic
novels of his which it is conceivable that a pious family
would like to see lying upon its parlour table. The Devil
takes a prominent part in many of them, for d'Aurevilly's
whim is to see Satanism everywhere, and to consider it
matter of mirth ; he is like a naughty boy, giggling
when a rude man breaks his mother's crockery. He
loves to play with dangerous and forbidden notions.
In Le PrHre Marie (which, to his lofty indignation,
was forbidden to be sold in Catholic shops) the hero
is a renegade and incestuous priest, who loves his own

94 French Profiles

daughter, and makes a hypocritical confession of error
in order that, by that act of perjury, he may save her
hfe, as she is dying of the agony of knowing him to be
an atheist. This man, the Abbe Sombreval, is bewitched,
is possessed of the Devil, and so is Ryno de Marigny in
Une Vieille Maitresse, and Lasthenie de Ferjol in Une
Histoire sans Norn. Tliis is one of Barbey d'Aurevilly's
favourite tricks, to paint an extraordinary, an abnormal
condition of spirit, and to avoid the psychological
difficulty by simply attributing it to sorcery. But he
is all the time rather amused by the w^ickedness than
shocked at it. In Le Bonheur dans le Crime — the moral
of which is that people of a certain grandeur of tempera-
ment can be absolutely wicked with impunity — he
frankly confesses his partiality for " la plaisanterie
legerement sacrilege," and all the philosophy of d'Aure-
villy is revealed in that rash phrase. It is not a matter of
a wounded conscience expressing itself with a brutal
fervour, but the gusto of conscious wickedness. His
mind is intimately akin with that of the Neapohtan lady,
whose story he was perhaps the first to tell, who wished
that it only were a sin to drink iced sherbet. Barbey
d'Aurevilly is a devil who may or may not believe, but
who always makes a point of trembling.

The most interesting feature of Barbey d'Aurevilly's
temperament, as revealed in his imaginative work, is,
however, his pre-occupation with liis own physical life.
In his youth, Byron and Alfieri were the objects of his
deepest idolatry ; he envied their disdainful splendour
of passion ; and he fashioned his dream in poverty and
obscurity so as to make himself believe that he was of
their race. He was a Disraeli — with whom, indeed, he
has certain relations of style — but with none of Disraeh's
social advantages, and with a more inconsequent and

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly 95

violent habit of imagination. Unable, from want of
wealth and position, to carry his dreams into effect,
they became exasperated and intensified, and at an
age when the real dandy is settling down into a man of
the world, Barbey d'Aurevilly was spreading the wings
of his fancy into the infinite azure of imaginary experi-
ence. He had convinced himself that he was a Lovelace,
a Lauzun, a Brummell, and the philosophy of dandyism
filled his thoughts far more than if he had really been
able to spend a stormy youth among marchionesses who
carried, set in diamonds in a bracelet, the ends of the
moustaches of viscounts. In the novels of his maturity
and his old age, therefore, Barbey d'Aurevilly loved to
introduce magnificent aged dandies, whose fatuity he
dwelt upon with ecstasy, and in whom there is no question
that he saw reflections of his imaginary self. No better
type of this can be found than that Vicomte de Brassard,
an elaborate, almost enamoured, portrait of whom
fills the earlier pages of what is else a rather dull story,
Le RidcMi Cramoisi. The very clever, very immoral
tale called Le Plus Bel Amour de Don J nan — which
relates how a superannuated but still incredibly vigorous
old beau gives a supper to the beautiful women of quality
whom he has known, and recounts to them the most
piquant adventure of his life — is redolent of this intense
dehght in the prolongation of enjoyment by sheer refusal
to admit the ravages of age. Although my space forbids
quotation, I cannot resist repeating a passage which
illustrates this horrible fear of the loss of youth and the
struggle against it, more especially as it is a good ex-
ample of d'Aurevilly's surcharged and intrepid style : —
" II n'y avait pas la de ces jeunesses vert tendre, de
ces petites demoiselles qu'execrait Byron, qui sentent
la tartelette et qui, par la tournure, ne sont encore que

96 French Profiles

des epluchettes, mais tous etes splendides et savoureux,
plantureux automnes, epanouissements et plenitudes,
seins eblouissants battant leur plein majestueux au bord
decouvert des corsages, et, sous les camees de I'epaule nue,
des bras de tout galbe, mais surtout des bras puissants,
de ces biceps de Sabines qui ont lutte avec les Remains,
et qui seraient capables de s'entrelacer, pour I'arreter,
dans les rayons de la roue du char de la vie."

This obsession of vanishing youth, this intense deter-
mination to preserve the semblance and colour of vitality,
in spite of the passage of years, is, however, seen to
greatest advantage in a very curious book of Barbey
d'Aurevilly's, in some aspects, indeed, the most curious
which he has left behind him, Du Dandyisme et de Georges
Bnmimell. This is really a work of his early maturity,
for, as I have said, it was printed so long ago as
1845. It was not pubhshed, however, until 1861, when
it may be said to have introduced its author to the
world of France. Later on he wrote a curious study of
the fascination exercised over La Grande Mademoiselle
by Lauzun, Un Dandy d'avant les Dandys, and these two
are now published in one volume, which forms that
section of the immense work of d'Aurevilly which best
rewards the curious reader.

Many writers in England, from Thomas Carlyle in
Sartor Resartus to our ingenious young forger of para-
doxes, Mr. Max Beerbohm, have dealt upon that semi-
feminine passion in fatuity, that sublime attention to
costume and deportment, which marks the dandy. The
type has been, as d'Aurevilly does not fail to observe,
mainly an English one. We point to Beau Nash, to
Byron, to Lord Yarmouth, to Sheridan, and, above all,
" ^ ce Dandy royal, S. M. Georges IV. ; " but the star
of each of these must pale before that of Brummell.

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly 97

These others, as was said in a different matter, had
" other preoccupations," but Brummell was entirely
absorbed, as by a solemn mission, by the conduct of
his person and his clothes. So far, in the portraiture
of such a figure, there is nothing very singular in what
the French noveUst has skilfully and nimbly done, but
it is his own attitude which is so original. All other
writers on the dandies have had their tongues in their
cheeks. If they have commended, it is because to be
preposterous is to be amusing. When we read that
" dandyism is the least selfish of all the arts," we smile,
for we know that the author's design is to be entertaining.
But Barbey d'Aurevilly is doggedly in earnest. He
loves the great dandies of the past as other men contem-
plate with ardour dead poets and dead musicians. He
is seriously enamoured of their mode of life. He sees
nothing ridiculous, nothing even limited, in their self-
concentration. It reminds him of the tiger and of the
condor; it recalls to his imagination the vast, solitary
forces of Nature ; and when he contemplates Beau
Brummell, his eyes fill with tears of nostalgia. So would
he have desired to live ; thus, and not otherwise, would
he fain have strutted and trampled through that
eighteenth century to which he is for ever gazing back
with a fond regret. " To dress one's self," he says,
" should be the main business of life," and with great
ingenuity he dwells upon the latent but positive influence
which dress has had on men of a nature apparently
furthest removed from its trivialities; upon Pascal,
for instance, upon Buffon, upon Wagner.

It was natural that a writer who delighted in this

patrician ideal of conquering man should have a limited

conception of life. Women to Barbey d'Aurevilly were

of two varieties — either nuns or amorous tigresses ; they


98 French Profiles

were sometimes both in one. He had no idea of soft
gradations in society : there were the tempestuous
marchioness and her intriguing maid on one side ; on
the other, emptiness, the sordid hovels of the bourgeoisie.
This absence of observation or recognition of hfe d'Aure-
villy shared with the other Romantiques, but in his
sinister and contemptuous aristocracy he passed beyond
them all. Had he lived to become acquainted with the
writings of Nietzsche, he would have hailed a brother-
spirit, one who loathed democracy and the humanitarian
temper as much as he did himself. But there is no
philosophy in Barbey d'Aurevilly, nothing but a preju-
dice fostered and a sentiment indulged.

In referring to Nicholas Nickleby, a novel which he
vainly endeavoured to get through, d'Aurevilly remarks :
" I wish to write an essay on Dickens, and at present
I have only read one hundred pages of his writings. But
I consider that if one hundred pages do not give the talent
of a man, they give his spirit, and the spirit of Dickens
is odious to me." " The vulgar Dickens," he calmly
remarks in Jonrnalistes et Polemistes, and we laugh
at the idea of sweeping away such a record of genius
on the strength of a chapter or two misread in Nicholas
Nickleby. But Barbey d'Aurevilly was not Dickens,
and it really is not necessary to study closely the vast
body of his writings. The same characteristics recur in
them all, and the impression may easily be weakened
by vain repetition. In particular, a great part of the
later life of d'Aurevilly was occupied in writing
critical notices and studies for newspapers and re-
views. He made this, I suppose, his principal source
of income; and from the moment when, in 1851, he
became literary critic to Le Pays to that of his death,
nearly forty years later, he was incessantly dogmatising

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly 99

about literature and art. He never became a critical
force, he was too violent and, indeed, too empty for that ;
but a pen so brilliant as his is always welcome with editors
whose design is not to be true, but to be noticeable, and
to escape " the obvious." The most cruel of Barbey
d'Aurevilly's enemies could not charge his criticism
with being obvious. It is intensely contentious and
contradictory. It treats all writers and artists on the
accepted nursery principle of " Go and see what baby's
doing, and tell him not to." This is entertaining for a
moment ; and if the shower of abuse is spread broadly
enough, some of it must come down on shoulders that
deserve it. But the " slashing " review of yester-year
is dismal reading, and it cannot be said that the library of
reprinted criticism to which d'Aurevilly gave the general
titleof LesCEuvres et lesHommes {1861-65) is very enticing.
He had a great contempt for Goethe and for Sainte-
Beuve, in whom he saw false priests constantly leading
the public away from the true principle of literary ex-
pression, " le couronnement, la gloire et la force de toute
critique, que je cherche en vain." A very ingenious
writer, M. Ernest Tissot, has paid Barbey d'Aurevilly
the compliment of taking him seriously in this matter,
and has written an elaborate study on what his criterium
was. But this is, perhaps, to inquire too kindly. I
doubt whether he sought with any very sincere expecta-
tion of finding ; like the Persian sage, " he swore, but
was he sober when he swore ? " Was he not rather
intoxicated with his self-encouraged romantic exaspera-
tion, and determined to be fierce, independent, and un-
compromising at all hazards ? Such are, at all events,
the doubts awakened by his indignant diatribes, which
once amused Paris so much, and now influence no living
creature. Some of his dicta, in their showy way, are

100 French Profiles

forcible. " La critique a pour blason la croix, la balance
et la glaive ; " that is a capital phrase on the hps of a
reviewer, who makes himself the appointed Catholic
censor of worldl}- letters, and is willing to assume at
once the cross, the scales, and the sword. More of the
hoof peeps out in this : " La critique, c'est une intrepidite
de I'esprit et du caractere." To a nature hke that of
d'Aurevilly, the distinction between intrepidity and
arrogance is never clearly defined.

It is, after all, in his novels that Barbey d'Aurevilly
displays his talent in its most interesting form. His
powers developed late ; and perhaps the best con-
structed of all his tales is Une Histoire sans Nom, which
dates from 1882, when he was quite an old man. In
this, as in all the rest, a surprising narrative is well,
although extremely leisurely, told, but without a trace
of psychology. It was impossible for d'Aurevilly to
close his stories effectively; in almost every case,
the futiUty and extravagance of the last few pages
destroys the effect of the rest. Like the Fat Boy, he
wanted to make your flesh creep, to leave you cataleptic
with horror at the end, but he had none of Poe's skill
in producing an effect of terror. In Le Rideaii Cramoisi
(which is considered, I cannot tell why, one of his suc-
cesses) the heroine dies at an embarrassing moment,
without any disease or cause of death being suggested —
she simply dies. But he is generally much more violent
than this ; at the close of A un Diner d'Athees, which up
to a certain point is an extremely fine piece of writing,
the angry parents pelt one another with the mummied
heart of their only child ; in Le Dessous des Cartes, the
key of all the intrigue is discovered at last in the skeleton
of an infant buried in a box of mignonette. If it is
not by a monstrous fact, it is by an audacious feat of

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly loi

anti-morality, that Barbey d'Aurevilly seeks to harrow
and terrify our imaginations. In Lc Bonheur dans le
Crime, Hauteclaire Stassin, the woman-fencer, and the
Count of Savigny, pursue their wild intrigue and murder
the Countess slowly, and then marry each other, and
live, with youth far prolonged (d'Aurevilly's special idea
of divine blessing), without a pang of remorse, without a
crumpled rose-leaf in their felicity, like two magnificent
plants spreading in the violent moisture of a tropical

On the whole, it is as a writer, pure and simple, that
Barbey d'Aurevilly claims most attention. His style,
which Paul de Saint-Victor (quite in his own spirit)
described as a mixture of tiger's blood and honey, is full
of extravagant beauty. He has a strange intensity, a
sensual and fantastic force, in his torrent of intertwined
sentences and preposterous exclamations. The volume
called Les Diaholiqites, which contains a group of his most
characteristic stories, pubHshed in 1874, may be recom-
mended to those who wish, in a single example, compen-
diously to test the quality of Barbey d'Aurevilly. He
has a curious love of punning, not for purposes of humour,
but to intensify his style : " Quel oubli et quelle oubli-
ette " {Le Dessous des Cartes), " boudoir fleur de pccher
ou de peche " {Le Plus hel Amour), " renoncer a I'amour
malpropre, mais jamais a I'amour propre " {A un Diner
d'Athecs). He has audacious phrases which linger in the
memory : " Le Profil, c'est I'ccueil de la beaute " {Le
Bonheur dans le Crime) ; " Les verres a champagne
de France, un lotus qui faisait ("les Anglais] oublier les
sombres et religieuses habitudes de la patrie; " " Elle
avait I'air de monter vers Dieu, las mains toutes pleines
de bonnes oeuvres " {Memoranda).

That Barbey d'Aurevilly will take any prominent

I02 French Profiles

place in the history of hterature is improbable. He
was a curiosity, a droll, obstinate survival. We like
to think of him in his incredible dress, strolling through
the streets of Paris, with his clouded cane like a sceptre
in one hand, and in the other that small mirror by which
every few minutes he adjusted the poise of his cravat,
or the studious tempest of his hair. He was a wonderful
old fop or beau of the forties handed down to the eighties
in perfect preservation. As a writer he was fervid,
sumptuous, magnificently puerile ; I have been told that
he was a superb talker, that his conversation was like
his books, a flood of paradoxical, flamboyant rhetoric.
He made a gallant stand against old age, he defied it long
with success, and when it conquered him at last, he retired
to his hole like a rat, and died with stoic fortitude, alone,
without a friend to close his eyelids. It was in a wretched
lodging high up in a house in the Rue Rousselet, all his
finery cast aside, and three melancholy cats the sole
mourners by his body, that they found, on an April
morning of 1889, the ruins of what had once been Barbey



After spending the summer, as usual, in his country
place at Champrosay, Alphonse Daudet came back no
more to winter in those historic rooms in the Rue de
Belchasse where all the world had laid at his feet the
tribute of its homage and curiosity. His growing in-
firmities had made the mounting of five flights of stairs
finally intolerable to him. He took an apartment on
the first floor, No. 41, Rue de I'Universite, which was far

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