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no quarrel whatever with his volume, for it contains
a considerable amount of information on a very
interesting subject. Indirectly, indeed, as well as
directly, it helps us to a knowledge of his brother.
Alphonse Daudet was born in Provence ; he comes of
an expansive, a confidential race. His style is im-
pregnated with the southern sunshine, and his talent
has the sweetness of a fruit that has grown in the
warm, open air. He has the advantage of being a
Provencal converted, as it were of having a southern
temperament and a northern reason. We know what
he thinks of the southern temperament Numa Rou-
mestan is a vivid exposition of that " Gau de carriero,
doulou d'oustau," as the Provencal has it; "joie de
rue, douleur de maison joy in the street and pain in
the house " that proverb, says Alphonse Daudet,
describes and formulates a whole race. It has given
him the subject of an admirable story, in which he
has depicted with equal force and tenderness the
amiable weaknesses, the mingled violence and levity
of the children of the clime of the fig and olive. He
has put before us, above all, their mania for talk,
their irrepressible chatter, the qualities that, with


them, render all passion, all purpose, inordinately
vocal. Himself a complete "produit du Midi," like
the famille Mefre in Numa Houmestan, he has achieved
the feat of becoming objective to his own vision,
getting outside of his ingredients and judging them.
This he has done by the aid of his Parisianised con-
science, his exquisite taste, and that finer wisdom
which resides in the artist, from whatever soil he
springs. Successfully as he has done it, however, he
has not done it so well but that he too does not
show a little of the heightened colour, the super-
abundant statement, the restless movement of his
compatriots. He is nothing if not demonstrative ;
he is always in a state of feeling ; he has not a very
definite ideal of reserve. It must be added that he
is a man of genius, and that genius never spends its
capital ; that he is an artist, and that an artist always
has a certain method and order. But it remains
characteristic of his origin that the author of Numa
Eoumestan, one of the happiest and most pointed of
satires, should have about him the aroma of some of
the qualities satirised. There are passages in his
tales and in his prefaces that are genuine " produits
du Midi," and his brother's account of him could only
have been written by a Provencal brother.

To be personnel to that point, transparent, effusive,
gushing, to give one's self away in one's books, has
never been, and will never be, the ideal of us of
English speech ; but that does not prevent our en-
joying immensely, when we meet it, a happy example


of this alien spirit. For myself, I am free to confess,
half my affection for Alphonse Daudet comes from
the fact that he writes in a way in which I would
not write even if I could. There are certain kinds
of feeling and observation, certain impressions and
ideas, to which we are rather ashamed to give a voice,
and yet are ashamed not to have in our scale. In
these matters Alphonse Daudet renders us a great
service : he expresses such things on our behalf. I
may add that he usually does it much better than
the cleverest of us could do even if we were to try.
I have said that he is a Prove^al converted, and I
should do him a great injustice if I did not dwell
upon his conversion. His brother relates the circum-
stances under which he came up to Paris, at the age
of twenty (in a threadbare overcoat and a pair of
india-rubbers), to seek his literary fortune. His
beginnings were difficult, his childhood had been
hard, he was familiar with poverty and disaster. He
had no adventitious aid to success his whole fortune
consisted in his exquisite organisation. But Paris
was to be, artistically, a mine of wealth to him, and
of all the anxious and eager young spirits who, on
the battle-field of uncarpeted cinquikmes, have laid
siege to the indifferent city, none can have felt more
deeply conscious of the mission to take possession of
it. Alphonse Daudet, at the present hour, is in
complete possession of Paris ; he knows it, loves it;
uses it ; he has assimilated it to its last particle. He
has made of it a Paris of his own a Paris like


a vast crisp water-colour, one of the water-colours of
the school of Fortuny. The French have a great
advantage in the fact that they admire their capital
very much as if it were a foreign city. Most of
their artists, their men of letters, have come up from
the provinces, and well as they may learn to know the
metropolis, it never ceases to be a spectacle, a wonder,
a fascination for them. This comes partly from the
intrinsic brilliancy and interest of the place, partly
from the poverty of provincial life, and partly from
the degree to which the faculty of appreciation is
developed in Frenchmen of the class of which I
speak. To Daudet, at any rate, the familiar aspects
of Paris are endlessly pictorial, and part of the charm
of his novels (for those Avho share his relish for that
huge flower of civilisation) is in the way he recalls
it, evokes it, suddenly presents it, in parts or as a
whole, to our senses. The light, the sky, the feeling
of the air, the odours of the streets, the look of cer-
tain vistas, the silvery, muddy Seine, the cool, grey
tone of colour, the physiognomy of particular quar-
ters, the whole Parisian expression, meet you sud-
denly in his pages, and remind you again and again
that if he paints with a pen he writes with a brush.
I remember that when I read Le Nabob and Les Rois
en Exil for the first time, I said to myself that this
was the article de Paris in supreme perfection, and
that no reader could understand such productions who
had not had a copious experience of the scene. It is
certain, at any rate, that those books have their full


value only for minds more or less Parisianised ; half
their meaning, their magic, their subtlety of inten-
tion is liable to be lost. It may be said that this is
a great limitation that the works of the best novel-
ists may be understood by all the world. There is
something in that ; but I know not, all the same,
whether the fact I indicate be a great limitation.
It is certainly a very illustrative quality. Daudet
has caught the tone of a particular pitch of man-
ners; he applies it with the lightest, surest hand,
and his picture shines and lives. The most gener-
alised representation of life cannot do more than

I shrink very much from speaking of systems, in
relation to such a genius as this : I should incline to
believe that Daudet's system is simply to be as vivid
as he can. Emile Zola has a system at least he
says so ; but I do not remember, on the part of the
author of Numa Roumestan, the smallest technical
profession of faith. Nevertheless, he has taken a
line, as we say, and his line is to sail as close as
possible to the actual. The life of Paris being his
subject, his attempt, most frequently, is to put his
finger upon known examples ; so that he has been
accused of portraying individuals instead of portray-
ing types. There are few of his figures to which the
name of some celebrity of the day has not been
attached. The Nabob is Francois Bravais ; the Due
de Mora is the Due de Moray. The Irish Doctor
Jenkins is an English physician who flourished


in Paris from such a year to such another ; people
are still living (wonderful to say), who took his little
pills b, base arsdnicale. Felicia Ruys is Mademoiselle
Sarah Bernhardt ; Constance Crenmitz is Madame
Taglioni; the Queen of Illyria is the Queen of
Naples ; the Prince of Axel is the Prince of Orange ;
Tom L6vis is an English house-agent (not in the Rue
Royale, but hard by) ; Elyse"e M6raut is a well-known
journalist, and Doctor Boucbereau a well-known
surgeon. Such is the key, we are told, to these in-
genious mystifications, and to many others which I
have not the space to mention. It matters little, to
my mind, whether in each case the cap fits the sup-
posed model ; for nothing is more evident than that
Alphonse Daudet has proposed to himself to repre-
sent not only the people but the persons of his time.
The conspicuity of certain individuals has added to
the force with which they speak to his imagination.
His taste is for salient figures, and he has said to
himself that there is no greater proof of being salient
than being known. The temptation to " put people
into a book" is a temptation of which every writer
of fiction knows something, and I hold that to suc-
cumb to it is not only legitimate but inevitable.
Putting people into books is what the novelist lives
upon ; the question in the matter is the question of
delicacy, for according to that delicacy the painter
conjures away recognition or insists upon it. Daudet
has been accused of the impertinence of insisting,
and I believe that two or three of his por-


traits have provoked a protest. He is charged
with ingratitude for having produced an effigy
of the Duke of Morny, who had been his bene-
factor, and employed him as a secretary. Such a
matter as this is between M. Daudet and his con-
science, and I am far from pretending to pronounce
upon it. The uninitiated reader can only say that
the figure is a very striking one such a picture as
(it may be imagined) the Due de Morny would not
be displeased to have inspired. It may fairly be
conceded, however, that Daudet is much more an
observer than an inventor. The invented parts of
his tales, like the loves of Jack and of Paul de
Gery and the machinations of Madame Autheman
(the theological vampire of L' EvangMiste, to whom
I shall return for a moment), are the vague, the
ineffective as well as the romantic parts. (I re-
member that in reading Le Nabob, it was not very
easy to keep Paul de G6ry and Andre Maranne
apart.) It is the real the transmuted real that
he gives us best; the fruit of a process that adds
to observation what a kiss adds to a greeting.
The joy, the excitement of recognition, are keen,
even when the object recognised is dismal. They
are part of his spirit part of his way of seeing
things. L' Evangdliste is the saddest story conceiv-
able ; but it is lighted, throughout, by the author's
irrepressibly humorous view of the conditions in
which its successive elements present themselves,
and by the extraordinary vivacity with which, in


his hands, narration and description proceed. His
humour is of the finest ; it is needless to say that it
is never violent nor vulgar. It is a part of the high
spirits the animal spirits, I should say, if the phrase
had not an association of coarseness that accom-
pany the temperament of his race ; and it is stimu-
lated by the perpetual entertainment which so rare
a visual faculty naturally finds in the spectacle of life,
even while encountering there a multitude of distres-
sing things. Daudet's gaiety is a part of his poetry,
and his poetry is a part of everything he touches.
There is little enough gaiety in the subject of Jack,
and yet the whole story is told with a smile. To
complete the charm of the thing, the smile is full of
feeling. Here and there it becomes an immense
laugh, and the result is a delightful piece of drollery.
Les A ventures Prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon con-
tains all his high spirits ; it is one of his few stories
in which laughter and tears are not intermingled.

This little tale, which is one of his first, is,
like Numa Boumestan, a satire on a southern foible.
Tartarin de Tarascon is an excellent man who in-
habits the old town on the Rhone over which the
palace of the good King Rene" keeps guard ; he
has not a fault in the world except an imagination
too vivid. He is liable to visions, to hallucinations ;
the desire that a thing shall happen speedily resolves
itself into the belief that the thing will happen
then that it is happening then that it has happened.
Tartariu accordingly presents himself to the world


(and to himself) as a gentleman to whom all wonders
are familiar ; his experience blooms with supposi-
titious flowers. The coveted thing for a man of his
romantic mould is that he shall be the bravest of the
brave, and he passes his life in a series of heroic ex-
ploits, in which, as you listen to him, it is impossible
not to believe. He passes over from Marseilles to
Algiers, where his adventures deepen to a climax, and
where he has a desperate flirtation with the principal
ornament of the harem of a noble Arab. The lady
proves at the end to be a horribly improper little
Frenchwoman, and poor Tartarin, abused and dis-
abused, returns to Tarascon to meditate on what
might have been. Nothing could be more charming
than the light comicality of the sketch, which fills a
small volume. This is the most mirthful, the most
completely diverting of all Daudet's tales ; but the
same element, in an infinitely subtler form, runs
through the others. The essence of it is the wish
to please, and this brings me back to the point
to which I intended to return. The wish to
please is the quality by which Daudet persuades
his readers most; it is this that elicits from them
that friendliness, that confession that they are
charmed, of which I spoke at the beginning of these
remarks. It gives a sociability to his manner, in
spite of the fact that he describes all sorts of
painful and odious things. This contradiction is
a part of his originality. He has no pretension
to being simple, he is perfectly conscious of being


complex, and in nothing is he more modern than in
this expressive and sympathetic smile the smile of
the artist, the sceptic, the man of the world with
which he shows us the miseries and cruelties of life.
It is singular that we should like him for that and
doubtless many people do not, or think they do not.
What they really dislike, I believe, is the things he
relates, which -are often lamentable.


THE first of these were slight and simple, and for
the most part cheerful ; little anecdotes and legends
of Provence, impressions of an artist's holidays in
that strange, bare, lovely land, and of wanderings
further afield, in Corsica and Algeria ; sketches of
Paris during the siege ; incidents of the invasion,
the advent of the Prussian rule in other parts of the
country. In all these things there is la note drnue,
the smile which is only a more synthetic sign of
being moved. And then such grace of form, such
lightness of touch, such alertness of observation !
Some of the chapters of the Lettres de mon Moulin
are such perfect vignettes, that the brief treatment
of small subjects might well have seemed, at first,
Alphonse Daudet's appointed work. He had al-
most invented a manner, and it was impossible to do
better than he the small piece, or even the passage.
Glimpses, reminiscences, accidents, he rendered them
with the brilliancy of a violinist improvising on a
sudden hint. The Lettres de mon Moulin, moreover,
are impregnated with the light, with the fragrance of
a Provenal summer ; the rosemary and thyme are


in the air as we read, the white rocks and the grey
foliage stretch away to an horizon of hills the
Alpilles, the little Alps on which colour is as
iiidescent as the breast of a dove. The Provence of
Alphonse Daudet is a delightful land ; even when the
mistral blows there it has a music in its whistle.
Emile Zola has protested against this ; he too is of
Proven9al race, he passed his youth in the old
Languedoc, and he intimates that his fanciful friend
throws too much sweetness into the picture. It is
beyond contradiction that Daudet, like Tartarin de
Tarascon and Numa Eoumestan, exaggerates a little ;
he sees with great intensity, and is very sensitive to
agreeable impressions. Le Petit Chose, his first long
story, reads to-day like the attempt of a beginner,
and of a beginner who had read and enjoyed
Dickens. I risk this allusion to the author of
Copper field in spite of a conviction that Alphonse
Daudet must be tired of hearing that he imitates
him. It is not imitation ; there is nothing so gross
as imitation in the length and breadth of Daudet's
work ; but it is conscious sympathy, for there is
plenty of that. There are pages in his tales which
seem to say to us that at one moment of his life
Dickens had been a revelation to him pages more
particularly in Le Petit Chose, in Fromont Jeune and
in Jack The heroine of the first of these works (a
very shadowy personage) is never mentioned but as
the "black eyes"; some one else is always spoken
of as the dame de grand me'rite ; the heroine's father,


who keeps a flourishing china-shop, never opens his
mouth without saying "C'est le cas de le dire." These
are harmless, they are indeed sometimes very happy,
Dickensisms. We make no crime of them to M.
Daudet, who must have felt as intelligently as he
has felt everything 'else the fascinating form of the
English novelist's drollery. Fromont Jeune et Eider
Aine is a study of life in the old quarter of the
Marais, the Paris of the seventeenth century, whose
stately hotels have been invaded by the innumerable
activities of modern trade. When I say a study, I
use the word with all those restrictions with which
it must be applied to a genius who is truthful with-
out being literal, and who has a pair of butterfly's
wings attached to the back of his observation. If
sub-titles were the fashion to-day, the right one for
Fromont Jeune would be or the Dangers of Partnership.
The action takes place for the most part in a manu-
factory of wall-papers, and the persons in whom the
author seeks to interest us are engaged in this useful
industry. There are delightful things in the book,
but, as I intimated at the beginning of these remarks,
there are considerable inequalities. The pages that
made M. Daudet's fortune for it was with Fromont
Jeune that his fortune began are those which relate
to the history of M. Delobelle, the superannuated
tragedian, his long-suffering wife, and his exquisite
lame daughter, who makes butterflies and humming-
birds for ladies' head-dresses. This eccentric and
pathetic household was an immense hit, and Daudet


has never been happier than in the details of the
group. Delobelle himself, who has not had an en-
gagement for ten years, and who never will have one
again, but who holds none the less that it is his duty
not to leave the stage, "not to give up the theatre,"
though his platonic passion is paid for by the weary
eyesight of his wife and daughter, who sit up half
the night attaching bead-eyes to little stuffed animals
the blooming and sonorous Delobelle, ferociously
selfish and fantastically vain, under the genial forms
of melodrama, is a beautiful representation of a
vulgarly factitious nature. The book revealed a
painter ; all the descriptive passages, the pictorial
touches, had the truest felicity. No one better than
Daudet gives what we call the feeling of a place.
The story illustrates, among other things, the fact
that a pretty little woman who is consumed with
the lowest form of vanity, and unimpeded in her
operations by the possession of a heart, may inflict
an unlimited amount of injury upon people about
her, if she only have the opportunity. The case is
well demonstrated, and Sidonie Chebe is an elaborate
study of flimsiness ; her papery quality, as I may
call it, her rustling dryness, are effectively rendered.
But I think there is a limit to the interest which the
English-speaking reader of French novels can take
to-day in the adventures of a lady who leads the life
of Madame Sidonie. In the first place he has met
her again and again he knows exactly what she will
do and say in every situation ; and in the second


there always seems to him to be in her vices, her
disorders, an element of the conventional. There is
a receipt among French novelists for making little
high-heeled reprobates. However this may be, he
has at least a feeling that at night all cats are
grey, and that the particular tint of depravity
of a woman whose nature has the shallowness of a
sanded floor is not a very important constatatian.
Daudet has expended much ingenuity in endeavour-
ing to hit the particular tint of Sidonie ; he has
wished to make her a type the type of the daughter
of small unsuccessful shopkeepers (narrow-minded
and self-complacent to imbecility), whose corruption
comes from the examples, temptations, opportunities
of a great city, as well as from her impure blood
and the infection of the meanest associations. But
what all this illustrates was not worth illustrating.

The early chapters of Jack are admirable; the
later ones suffer a little, I think, from the story
being drawn out too much, like an accordion when
it wishes to be plaintive. Jack is a kind of younger
brother of the Petit Chose, though he takes the
troubles of life rather more stoutly than that delicate
and diminutive hero ; a poor boy with a doting and
disreputable mother, whose tenderness is surpassed
by her frivolity, and who sacrifices her son to the
fantastic egotism of an unsuccessful man of letters
with whom she passes several years of her life. She
is another study of coguinerie she is another shade ;
but she is a more apprehensible figure than Sidonie


Chebe she is, indeed, a very admirable portrait.
The success of the book, however, is the figure of her
lover, that is of her protector and bully, the unrecog-
nised genius aforesaid, author of Le Fils de Faust, an
uncirculated dramatic poem in the manner of Goethe,
and centre of a little group of raUs a collection of
dead-beats, as we say to-day, as pretentious, as im-
potent, as envious and as bilious as himself. He
conceives a violent hatred of the offspring of his
amiable companion, and the subject of Jack is the
persecution of the boy by this monstrous charlatan.
This persecution is triumphantly successful ; the
youthful hero dies on the threshold of manhood,
broken down by his tribulations and miseries : he
has been thrown upon the world to earn his bread,
and among other things seeks a livelihood as a stoker
on an Atlantic steamer. Jack has been taken
young, and though his nature is gentle and tender,
his circumstances succeed in degrading him. He is
reduced at the end to a kind of bewildered brutish-
ness. The story is simply the history of a juvenile
martyrdom, pityingly, expansively told, and I am
afraid that Mr. Charles Dudley Warner, who, in
writing lately about " Modern Fiction," l complains of
the abuse of pathetic effects in that form of composi-
tion, would find little to commend in this brilliant
paraphrase of suffering. Mr. Warner's complaint is
eminently just, and the fault of Jack is certainly the
abuse of pathos. Mr. Warner does not mention
1 In the Atlantic Monthly, for April 1883.


Alphonse Daudet by name, but it is safe to assume
that in his reflections upon the perversity of those
writers who will not make a novel as comfortable as
one's stockings, or as pretty as a Christmas card, he
was thinking of the author of so many uncompromis-
ing denouements. It is true that this probability is
diminished by the fact that when he remarks that
surely " the main object in the novel is to entertain,"
he appears to imply that the writers who furnish his
text are faithless to this duty. It is possible he
would not have made that implication if he had had
in mind the productions of a story-teller who has the
great peculiarity of being "amusing," as the old-
fashioned critics say, even when he touches the source
of tears. The word entertaining has two or three
shades of meaning ; but in whatever sense it is used
I may say, in parenthesis, that I do not agree with
Mr. Warner's description of the main object of the
novel. I should put the case differently : I should
say that the main object of the novel is to represent
life. I cannot understand any other motive for
interweaving imaginary incidents, and I do not per-
ceive any other measure of the value of such com-
binations. The effect of a novel the effect of any
work of art is to entertain ; but that is a very
different thing. The success of a work of art, to my
mind, may be measured by the degree to which it
produces a certain illusion; that illusion makes it
appear to us for the time that we have lived another

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Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 13 of 24)