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loudly that even Tarascon demands confirmation. And
so he sets forth, and at Algiers he shoots a lion — an
old, tame, blind lion that has been taught to hold a
platter in its mouth and beg at the doors of mosques.
He returns to Tarascon, still boasting, and bringing
with him a mangy camel, " which has seen me shoot
all my lions." He reposes again on the confidence of



Alphonse Daudet 119

Tarascon. Then in 1885, Tartarin sets forth anew, this
time to dimb the Alps, being President of the Tarascon
Alpine Club, and once more forced to prove his prowess.
Glorious are his incredible ascents and accidental adven-
tures. After a thousand farcical drolleries, gulled and
gulling, back he comes to Tarascon, with its blinding
dust and its blinding sunlight, to the country where it
is too bright and too hot to attempt to tell the truth.
Still later, Daudet made an effort to carry a colony from
Tarascon to the shores of the Pacific Ocean ; but this
time he was less vivacious and more cynical. For sheer
fun and merriment, the two eariier books about Tartarin
remain, however, unexcelled. There is nothing else
like them in recent French hterature, and those who
object to Daudet's other stories here confess themselves
disarmed. Tarascon itself, the little dry town on the
Rhone, meanwhile accentuates the joke and adds to it
by an increasing exasperation against the great man of
letters who has made its tragi-comical exaltations so
ridiculous and famous. I have but recently made the
personal observation that it is impossible to purchase
the works of Daudet in the book-shops of the still-
indignant Tarascon.

V

Two years before his death M. Alphonse Daudet paid
his first and only visit to London, accompanied by his
entire family — by his whole smala, as he said, like an
Arab sheikh. Those who are privileged to meet him
then for the first time were astonished at the inconsis-
tencies of his physical condition. To see Daudet strug-
ghng with infinite distress up a low flight of stairs was to
witness what seemed the last caducity of a worn-out
frame. But his lower limbs only were paralysed ; and



I20 French Profiles

once seated at table, and a little rested after the tor-
tures of locomotion, a sort of youth reblossomed in him.
Under the wild locks of hair, still thick though striped
with grey, the eyes preserved their vivacity — large and
liquid eyes, intermittently concentrated in the effort to
see distinctly, now floating in a dream, now focussed
(as it were) in an act of curiosity. The entire physical
and phenomenal aspect of Alphonse Daudet in these
late years presented these contradictions. He would
sit silent and almost motionless; suddenly his head,
arms, and chest would be vibrated with electrical move-
ments, the long white fingers would twitch in his beard,
and then from the lips a tide of speech would pour — a
flood of coloured words. On the occasion when I met
him at dinner, I recollect that at dessert, after a long
silence, he was suddenly moved to describe, quite briefly,
the melon-harvest at Nimes when he was a boy. It was
an instance, no doubt, of the habitual magic of his style,
sensuous and pictorial at its best ; in a moment we saw
before us the masses of golden-yellow and crimson and
sea-green fruit in the little white market-place, with the
incomparable light of a Provencal morning bathing it
all in crystal. Every word seemed the freshest and the
most inevitable that a man could possibly use in painting
such a scene, and there was not a superfluous epithet.

This little apologue about the melons took us back
to the Daudet with whom we first made acquaintance,
the magician of the Letlres dc mon Moulin. That aged
figure, trembling with the inroads of paralysis, became
in a flash our charming friend. Petit Chose, sobbing under
the boughs of the pomegranate for a blood-red flower to
remind him of his childish joys. Those loose wisps of
hair had been dark clusters of firm curls around the brows
of the poet of Les Amourcuses. It was pleasant for one



Alphonse Daudet 121

fated to see this beloved writer only in the period of
his decay to feel thus that the emblems of youth were
still about him. The spirit had not surrendered to the
sad ph}'sical decline, and so, for all its distressing ob-
viousness, the latter did not produce an overpowering
sensation of melancholy. It emphasised the impression
one had formed in reading his books; with Daudet all
the ideas were concrete and positive. He had no thought,
properly speaking, but only a ceaseless flow of violent
and pictorial observations, as intense as they were
volatile. These had to be noted down in haste as they
arrived, or else a fresh sensation would come and banish
them for ever. He was an impressionist painter, the
colours on whose palette were words of an indescribable
abundance, variety, and exactitude.

For some years, it is hardly to be questioned that
Alphonse Daudet was the leading novelist of the world.
From 1877, when he pubUshed Le Nahab, to 1881, when
he reached the apex of his glory in Niima Roumestan,
he had no rival. That was a position which it was
impossible that he should retain.

It is too early to attempt to fix the position which
Alphonse Daudet will hold in French literature. In
spite of the extraordinar}/ professional manifestation
produced immediately after his death in Paris, it was
easy to see that he no longer stood in the affections of
unprejudiced readers quite where he did. In 1888 it
would have required considerable courage to suggest
that Daudet was not in the very first rank of novel-
writers ; in 1898, even the special pleading of friendship
scarcely urged so much as this. It is inevitable, if we
subject Daudet to the only test which suits his very
splendid and honourable career, that we should hesitate
in placmg him with the great creative minds. His



12:



French Protiles



beautiful talent is dwarfed when we compare it with
Balzac, with Tourgenieff, with Flaubert, even with
Maupassant. He is vivacious, brilliant, pathetic,
exuberant, but he is not subtle ; his gifts are on the sur-
face. He observes rather than imagines; he belongs
to the fascinating, but too often ephemeral class of
writers who manufacture types, and develop what the
Elizabethans used to call " humours." And this he does,
not by an exercise of fancy, not by a penetrating flash
of intuition, but as a " realist," as one who depends on
little green books of notes, and docketed bundles of
pieces jusfificatives.

But we need not be ungracious and dwell on these
shortcomings in a genius so charming, so intimately
designed to please. Whether his figures were invented
or noted, they live brilliantly in our memories. Who
will lose the impression, so amazingly vivid, left by the
" Cabecilla " in the Contes Choisis, or by Les Femmes
d' Artistes, " ce livre si beau, si cruel," as Guy de Mau-
passant called it ? Who will forget the cunning, timid
Jansoulet as he came out of Tunis to seek his fortune
in Paris ? Who the turbulent Numa Roumestan, or
that barber's block, the handsome Valmajour, with his
languishing airs and his tambourine ? Who Queen
Frederique when she discovers that the diamonds of
Illyria are paste ? and who Mme. Ebsen in her final
interview with Eline ? The love of hfe, of light, of the
surface of all beautiful things, the ornament of all
human creations, illuminates the books of Alphonse
Daudet. The only thing he hated was the horrible little
octopus-woman, the Fanny Legrand or Sidonie Chebe,
who has no other object or function than to wreck the
lives of weak young men. To her, perhaps, he is cruel ;
she was hardly worth his steel. But everything else



Alphonse Daudet 123

he loves to contemplate ; even when he laughs at
Tarascon he loves it; and in an age when the cynical
and the sinister take so wide a possession of literature,
our thanks are eternally due to a man who built up for
us a world of hope and light and benignity.

1898.



THE SHORT STORIES OF ZOLA



THE SHORT STORIES OF ZOLA

It is by his huge novels, and principally by those of the
Rougon-Macquart series, that Zola is known to the
public and to the critics. Nevertheless, he found time
during the forty years of his busy literary career to publish
about as many small stories, now comprised in four
separate volumes. It is natural that his novels should
present so very much wider and more attractive a
subject for analysis that, so far as I can discover, even
in France no critic has hitherto taken the shorter pro-
ductions separately, and discussed Zola as a maker of
contes. Yet there is very distinct interest in seeing how
such a thunderer or bellower on the trumpet can breathe
through silver; and, as a matter of fact, the short
stories reveal a Zola considerably dissimilar to the author
of Nana and of La Terre — a much more optimistic,
romantic, and gentle writer. If, moreover, he had
nowhere assailed the decencies more severely than he
does in these thirty or forty short stories, he would never
have been named among the enemies of Mrs. Grundy,
and the gates of the Palais Mazarin would long ago have
been opened to receive him. It is, indeed, to a lion with
his mane en papillotes that I here desire to attract the
attention of English readers ; to a man-eating monster,
indeed, but to one who is on his best behaviour and
blinking in the warm sunshine of Provence.

I

The first public appearance of Zola in any form was
made as a writer of a short story. A southern journal,

127



128 French Profiles

La Provence, published at Aix, brought out in 1859 a
Httle conte entitled La Fee Amonreuse. When this was
written, in 1858, the future novelist was a student of
eighteen, attending the rhetoric classes at the Lycee
St. Louis ; when it was printed, life in Paris, far from
his delicious South, was beginning to open before him,
harsh, vague, with a threat of poverty and failure. La
Fee Amonreuse may still be read by the curious in the
Contes a Ninon. It is a fantastic little piece, in the taste
of the eighteenth-centur}' trifles of Crebillon or Boufflers,
written with considerable care in an over-luscious vein —
a fair\' tale about an enchanted bud of sweet marjoram,
which expands and reveals the amorous fa}', guardian
of the loves of Prince Lois and the fair Odette. This
is a moonlight-coloured piece of unrecognisable Zola,
indeed, belonging to the period of his lost essay on " The
Blind Milton dictating to his Elder Daughter, while the
Younger accompanies him upon the Harp," a piece which
many have sighed in vain to see.

He was twenty when, in i860, during the course of
blackening reams of paper with poems a la Mussel,
he turned, in the aerial garret, or lantern above the
garret of 35 Rue St. Victor, to the composition of a second
story — Le Camel de Danse. This is addressed to Ninon,
the ideal lad}' of all Zola's early writings — the fleet and
jocund virgin of the South, in whom he romantically
personifies the Provence after which his whole soul was
thirsting in the desert of Paris. This is an exquisite
piece of writing — a little too studied, perhaps, too full
of opulent and voluptuous adjectives; written, as we
may plainly see, under the influence of Theophile Gautier.
The story, such as it is, is a conversation between
Georgette and the programme-card of her last night's
ball. What interest Le Camel de Danse possesses it owes



Zola 129

to the style, especially that of the opening pages, in
which the joyous Provencal life is elegantly described.
The young man, still stumbling in the wrong path, had
at least become a writer.

For the next two years Zola was starving, and vainly
striving to be a poet. Another " belvedere," as Paul
Alexis calls it, another glazed garret above the garret,
received him in the Rue Neuve St. Etienne du Mont.
Here the squalor of Paris was around him ; the young
idealist from the forests and lagoons of Provence found
himself lost in a loud and horrid w'orld of quarrels, oaths,
and dirt, of popping beer-bottles and yelling women. A
year, at the age of two-and-twenty, spent in this atmos-
phere of sordid and noisy vice, left its mark for ever
on the spirit of the young observer. He lived on bread
and coffee, with two sous' worth of apples upon gala days.
He had, on one occasion, even to make an Arab of him-
self, sitting with the bed- wraps draped about him, because
he had pawned his clothes. All the time, serene and
ardent, he was writing modern imitations of Dante's
Divina Commedia, epics on the genesis of the world,
didactic hymns to Religion, and love-songs by the gross.
Towards the close of 1861 this happy misery, this wise
folly, came to an end; he obtained a clerkship in the
famous publishing house of M. Hachette.

But after these two years of poverty and hardship
he began to write a few things which w^ere not in verse.
Early in 1862 he again addressed to the visionary Ninon
a short story called Le Sang. He confesses himself
weary, as Ninon also must be, of the coquettings of the
rose and the infidelities of the butterfly. He will tell
her a terrible tale of real life. But, in fact, he is abso-
lutely in the clouds of the worst romanticism. Four
soldiers, round a camp-fire, suffer agonies of ghostly

K



130 French Profiles

adventure, in the manner of Hofmann or of Petrus
Borel. We seem to have returned to the age of 1830,
with its vampires and its ghouls. Simplice, which comes
next in point of date, is far more characteristic, and
here, indeed, we find one talent of the future novelist
already developed. Simplice is the son of a worldly
king, who despises him for his innocence; the prince
slips away into the primeval forest and lives with dragon-
flies and water-lilies. In the personal life given to the
forest itself, as well as to its inhabitants, we have some-
thing very like the future idealisations in L'Abbe Motirct,
although the touch is yet timid and the flashes of
romantic insight fugitive. Simplice is an exceedingly
pretty fairy story, curiously like what Mrs. Alfred Gatty
used to write for sentimental English girls and boys :
it was probably inspired to some extent by George Sand.
On a somewhat larger scale is Les Voleurs et I'Ane,
which belongs to the same period of composition. It
is delightful to find Zola describing his garret as " full
of flowers and of light, and so high up that sometimes
one hears the angels talking on the roof." His
story describes a summer day's adventure on the
Seine, an improvised picnic of strangers on a grassy
island of elms, a siesta disturbed by the somewhat
stagey trick of a fantastic coquette. According to his
faithful biographer, Paul Alexis, the author, towards the
close of 1862, chose another lodging, again a romantic
chamber, overlooking this time the whole extent of the
cemetery of Montparnasse. In this elegiacal retreat
he composed two short stories, Sceurs des Pauvres and
Celle qui m'aime. Of these, the former was written
as a commission for the young Zola's employer, M.
Hachette, who wanted a tale appropriate for a children's
newspaper which his firm was publishing. After reading



Zola



J31



what his clerk submitted to him, the pubHsher is said
to have remarked, " Vous etes un revolte," and to have
returned him the manuscript as " too revolutionary."
Scenrs dcs Paiivres is a tiresome fable, and it is difficult
to understand why Zola has continued to preserve it
among his writings. It belongs to the class of semi-
realistic stories which Tolstoi has since then com-
posed with such admirable skill. But Zola is not
happy among saintly visitants to httle holy girls, nor
among pieces of gold that turn into bats and rats in
the hands of selfish peasants. Why this anodyne little
rehgious fable should ever have heen considered revolu-
tionary, it is impossible to conceive.

Of a very different order is Celle qui m'aime, a story
of real power. Outside a tent, in the suburbs of Paris,
a man in a magician's dress stands beating a drum and
inviting the passers-by to enter and gaze on the realisa-
tion of their dreams, the face of her who loves you. The
author is persuaded to go in, and he finds himself in
the midst of an assemblage of men and boys, women and
girls, who pass up in turn to look through a glass trap
in a box. In the description of the various types, as
they file by, of the aspect of the interior of the tent,
there is the touch of a new hand. The vividness of the
study is not maintained ; it passes off into romanesque
extravagance, but for a few moments the attentive
listener, who goes back to these early stories, is conscious
that he has heard the genuine accent of the master
of Naturalism.

Months passed, and the young Proven9al seemed to
be making but little progress in the world. His poems
definitely failed to find a publisher, and for a while he
seems to have flagged even in the production of prose.
Towards the beginning of 1864, however, he put together



132 French Profiles

the seven stories which I have already mentioned,
added to them a short novel entitled Aventures du
Grand Sidoine, prefixed a fanciful and very prettily
turned address ^4 Ninon, and carried off the collection
to a new publisher, M. Hetzel. It was accepted, and
issued in October of the same year. Zola's first book
appeared under the title of Contes a Ninon. This volume
was very well received by the reviewers, but ten years
passed before the growing fame of its author carried it
beyond its first edition of one thousand copies.

There is no critical impropriety in considering these
early stories, since Zola never allowed them, as he allowed
several of his subsequent novels, to pass out of print.
Nor, from the point of view of style, is there anything to
be ashamed of in them. They are w-ritten with an
uncertain and an imitative, but alwaj^s with a careful
hand, and some passages of natural description, if a
little too precious, are excellently modulated. What is
really very curious in the first Contes a Ninon is the opti-
mistic tone, the sentimentality, the luscious idealism.
The young man takes a cobweb for his canvas, and
paints upon it a rainbow-dew with a peacock's feather-
Except, for a brief moment, in Celle qui ni'aime, there
is not a phrase that suggests the naturalism of the
Rougon-Macquart novels, and it is an amusing circum-
stance that, while Zola was not only practising,
but very sternly and vivaciously preaching, the gospel
of Reahsm, this innocent volume of fairy stories should
all the time have figured among his works. The
humble student who should turn from the master's
criticism to find an example in his writings, and who
should fall by chance on the Conies a Ninon, would be
liable to no small distress of bewilderment.



Zola



^33



II

Ten years later, in 1874, Zola published a second
volume of short stories, entitled Notiveatix Contes a
Ninon. His position, his literary character, had in
the meantime undergone a profound modification.
In 1874 he was no longer unknown to the public or to
himself. He had already published four of the Rougon-
Macquart novels, embodying the natural and social
history of a French family during the Second Empire.
He was scandalous and famous, and already bore a
great turbulent name in literature and criticism. The
Nouveatix Contes a Ninon, composed at intervals during
that period of stormy evolution, have the extraordinary
interest which attends the incidental work thrown off
by a great author during the early and noisy manhood
of his talent. After 1864 Zola had written one un-
successful novel after another, until at last, in Therise
Raquin, with its magnificent study of crime chastised
by its own hideous after-gust, he produced a really
remarkable performance. The scene in which the
paralytic mother tries to denounce the domestic
murderers was in itself enough to prove that France
possessed one novelist the more.

This was late in 1867, when M. Zola was in his twenty-
eighth year. A phrase of Louis Ulbach's, in reviewing
Therese Raquin, which he called " literature putride,"
is regarded as having started the question of Naturalism,
and M. Zola, who had not, up to that time, had any
notion of founding a school, or even of moving in any
definite direction, was led to adopt the theories which
we identify with his name during the angry dispute
with Ulbach. In 1865 he had begun to be drawn
towards Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, and to feel.



134 French Profiles

as he puts it, that in the salons of the Parnassians he
was growing more and more out of his element " among
so many impenitent romantiques." Meanwhile he was
for ever feeding the furnaces of journaUsm, scorched
and desiccated by the blaze of public life, by the daily
struggle for bread. He was roughly affronting the
taste of those who differed from him, with rude hands
he was thrusting out of his path the timid, the dull, the
old-fashioned. The spectacle of these years of Zola's
life is not altogether a pleasant one, but it leaves on us
the impression of a colossal purpose pursued with force
and courage. In 1871 the first of the Rougon-Macquart
novels appeared, and the author was fairly launched
on his career. He was writing books of large size, in
which he was endeavouring to tell the truth about
modern life with absolute veracity, no matter how
squalid, or ugly, or venomous that truth might be.

But during the whole of this tempestuous decade
Zola, in his hot battlefield of Paris, heard the voice of
Ninon calling to him from the leafy hollows, from behind
the hawthorn hedges, of his own dewy Provence — the
cool Provence of earliest flowery spring. When he
caught these accents whistling to his memory from the
past, and could no longer resist answering them, he
was accustomed to write a little conte, light and innocent,
and brief enough to be the note of a caged bird from
indoors answering its mate in the trees of the garden.
This is the real secret of the utterly incongruous tone of
the Nouveaux Conies when we compare them with
the Curee and Madeleine Ferat of the same period.
It would be utterly to misunderstand the nature of
Zola to complain, as Pierre Loti did the other day,
that the coarseness and cynicism of the naturalistic
novel, the tone of a ball at Belleville, could not sincerely



Zola 135

co-exist with a love of beauty, or with a nostalgia for
youth and country pleasures. In the short stories of
the period of which we are speaking, that poet who dies
in most middle-aged men lived on for Zola, artificially,
in a crystal box carefully addressed " a Ninon la-bas,"
a box into which, at intervals, the master of the Realists
shpped a document of the most refined ideality.

Of these tiny stories — there are twelve of them within
one hundred pages — not all are quite worthy of his
genius. He grimaces a little too much in Les Epaules
de la Marquise, and M. Bourget has since analysed the
little self-indulgent devote of quality more successfully
than Zola did in Le Jetlne. But most of them are very
charming. Here is Le Grand Michu. a study of gallant ,
stupid boyhood ; here Les Paradis des Chats, one of the
author's rare escapes into humour. In Le Forgeron,
with its story of the jaded and cynical town-man, who
finds health and happiness by retiring to a lodging
within the very thunders of a village blacksmith, we
have a profound criticism of life. Le Petit Village is
interesting to us here, because, with its pathetic picture
of Woerth in Alsace, it is the earliest of Zola's studies of
war. In other of these stories the spirit of Watteau
seems to inspire the sooty Vulcan of Naturalism. He
prattles of moss-grown fountains, of alleys of wild straw-
berries, of rendezvous under the wings of the larks, of
moonhght strolls in the bosquets of a chateau. In every
one, without exception, is absent that tone of brutality
which we associate with the notion of Zola's genius.
All is gentle irony and pastoral sweetness, or else
downright pathetic sentiment.

The volume of Nouveaux Contes a Ninon closes with
a story which is much longer and considerably more
important than the rest. Les Quatre Journees de Jean



136 French Profiles

Gourdon deserves to rank among the very best things
to which Zola has signed his name. It is a study of
four typical days in the life of a Provencal peasant of
the better sort, told by the man himself. In the first
of these it is spring : Jean Gourdon is eighteen years
of age, and he steals away from the house of his uncle
Lazare, a country priest, that he may meet his coy
sweetheart Babet by the waters of the broad Durance.



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