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life that we have had a miraculous enlargement of


experience. The greater the art the greater the
miracle, and the more certain also the fact that we
have been entertained in the best meaning of that
word, at least, which signifies that we have been
living at the expense of some one else. I am per-
fectly aware that to say the object of a novel is to
represent life does not bring the question to a point
so fine as to be uncomfortable for any one. It is of
the greatest importance that there should be a very
free appreciation of such a question, and the definition
I have hinted at gives plenty of scope for that. For,
after all, may not people differ infinitely as to what
constitutes life what constitutes representation?
Some people, for instance, hold that Miss Austen
deals with life, that Miss Austen represents. Others
attribute these achievements to the accomplished
Ouida. Some people find that illusion, that enlarge-
ment of experience, that miracle of living at the
expense of others, of which I have spoken, in the
novels of Alexandre Dumas. Others revel in them
in the pages of Mr. Howells.

M. DAUDET'S unfortunate Jack, at any rate, lives
altogether at his own cost that of his poor little
juvenile constitution, and of his innocent affections
and aspirations. He is sent to the horrible Gymnase
Moronval, where he has no beguiling works of fiction
to read. The Gymnase Moronval is a Dotheboys'
Hall in a Parisian " passage " a very special class
of academy. Nothing could be more effective than
Daudet's picture of this horrible institution, with its
bankrupt and exasperated proprietors, the greasy
penitentiary of a group of unremunerative children
whose parents and guardians have found it con-
venient to forget them. The episode of the wretched
little hereditary monarch of an African tribe who
has been placed there for a royal education, and
who, livid with cold, short rations, and rough usage,
and with his teeth chattering with a sense of dis-
honour, steals away and wanders in the streets of
Paris, and then, recaptured and ferociously punished,
surrenders his little dusky soul in the pestilential
dormitory of the establishment all this part of the
tale is a masterpiece of vivid description. We seem


to assist at the terrible soirees where the raUs exhibit
their talents (M. Moronval is of course a rat), and
where the wife of the principal, a very small woman
with a very big head and a very high forehead,
expounds the wonderful M6thode-D6costere (in-
vented by herself and designated by her maiden
name), for pronouncing the French tongue with ele-
gance. My criticism of this portion of the book, and
indeed of much of the rest of it, would be that the
pathetic element is too intentional, too voulu, as the
French say. And I am not sure that the reader
enters into the author's reason for making Charlotte,
Jack's mother, a woman of the class that we do not
specify in American magazines. She is an accom-
modating idiot, but her good nature is unfortunately
not consecutive, and she consents, at the instigation
of the diabolical d'Argenton, to her child's being
brought up like a pauper. D'Argenton, like Delo-
belle, is a study of egotism pushed to the grotesque ;
but the portrait is still more complete, and some
of the details are inimitable. As regards the in-
fatuated Charlotte, who sacrifices her child to the
malignity of her lover, I repeat that certain of the
features of her character appear to me a mistake,
judged in relation to the effect that the author wishes
to produce. He wishes to show us all that the boy
loses in being disinherited if I may use that term
with respect to a situation in which there is nothing
to inherit. But his loss is not great when we con-
sider that his mother had, after all, very little to


give him. She had divested herself of important
properties. Bernard Jansoulet, in Le Nabab, is not,
like the two most successful figures that Daudet has
previously created, a representation of full-blown
selfishness. The unhappy nabob is generous to a
fault ; he is the most good-natured and free-handed
of men, and if he has made use of all sorts of
means to build up his enormous fortune, he knows an
equal number of ways of spending it This volu-
minous tale had an immense success; it seemed to
show that Daudet had found his manner, a manner
that was perfectly new and remarkably ingenious.
As I have said, it held up the mirror to contemporary
history, and attempted to complete for us, by supple-
mentary revelations, those images which are projected
by the modern newspaper and the album of photo-
graphs. Les Eois en Exil is an historical novel of
this pattern, in which the process is applied with
still more spirit. In these two works Daudet
enlarged his canvas surprisingly, and showed his
ability to deal with a multitude of figures.

The distance traversed artistically from the little
anecdotes of the Lettres de mon Moulin to the complex
narrative of Le Nabab and its successor, are like the
transformation often so rapid of a slim and
charming young girl into a blooming and accom-
plished woman of the world. The author's style
had taken on bone and muscle, and become conscious
of treasures of nervous agility. I have left myself
no space to speak of these things in detail, and it


was not part of my purpose to examine Daudet's
novels piece by piece ; but I may say that it is
the items, the particular touches, that make the
value of writing of this kind. I am not concerned
to defend the process, the system, so far as there is a
system; but I cannot open either Le Nabob or Les
Rois en Exil, cannot rest my eyes upon a page, with-
out being charmed by the brilliancy of execution. It
is dimcult to give an idea, by any general terms, of
Daudet's style a style which defies convention,
tradition, homogeneity, prudence, and sometimes even
syntax, gathers up every patch of colour, every col-
loquial note, that will help to illustrate, and moves
eagerly, lightly, triumphantly along, like a clever
woman in the costume of an eclectic age. There is
nothing classic in this mode of expression ; it is not
the old-fashioned drawing in black and white. It
never rests, never is satisfied, never leaves the idea
sitting half-draped, like patience on a monument ; it
is always panting, straining, fluttering, trying to add
a little more, to produce the effect which shall make
the reader see with his eyes, or rather with the mar-
vellous eyes of Alphonse Daudet. Le Nabob is full
of episodes which are above all pages of execution,
triumphs of translation. The author has drawn up
a list of the Parisian solemnities and painted the
portrait or given a summary of each of them.
The opening day at the Salon, a funeral at Pere-la-
Chaise, a debate in the Chamber of Deputies, the
premiere of a new play at a favourite theatre, furnish


him with so many opportunities for his gymnastics of
observation. I should like to say how rich and
entertaining I think the figure of Jansoulet, the
robust and good - natured son of his own works
(originally a dock -porter at Marseilles), who, after
amassing a fabulous number of millions in selling
European luxuries on commission to the Bey of
Tunis, comes to Paris to try to make his social
fortune as he has already made his financial, and
after being a nine-days' wonder, a public joke, and
the victim of his boundless hospitality; after being
flattered by charlatans, rifled by adventurers, be-
laboured by newspapers, and " exploited " to the
last penny of his coffers and the last pulsation of
his vanity by every one who comes near him, dies
of apoplexy in his box at the theatre, while the
public hoots him for being unseated for electoral
frauds in the Chamber of Deputies, where for a
single mocking hour he has tasted the sweetness
of political life. I should like to say, too, that
however much or however little the Due de Mora
may resemble the Due de Morny, the character de-
picted by Daudet is a wonderful study of that modern
passion, the love of " good form." The chapter that
relates the death of the Duke, and describes the
tumult, the confusion, of his palace, the sudden
extinction of the rapacious interests that crowd
about him, and to which the collapse of his splendid
security comes as the first breath of a revolution
this chapter is famous, and gives the fullest measure


of what Daudet can do when he fairly warms to
his work.

Les Rois en Exil, however, has a greater perfection ;
it is simpler, more equal, and it contains much more
of the beautiful. In Le Nabob there are various
lacunae and a certain want of logic; it is not a
sustained narrative, but a series of almost diabolically
clever pictures. But the other book has more large-
ness of line a fine tragic movement which deepens
and presses to the catastrophe. Daudet had observed
that several dispossessed monarchs had taken up
their residence in the French capital some of them
waiting and plotting for a restoration, and chafing
under their disgrace ; others indifferent, resigned, re-
lieved, eager to console themselves with the pleasures
of Paris. It occurred to him to suppose a drama
in which these exalted personages should be the
actors, and which, unlike either of his former pro-
ductions, should have a pure and noble heroine. He
was conscious of a dauntless little imagination, the
idea of making kings and queens talk among them-
selves had no terror for him; he had faith in his
good taste, in his exquisite powers of divination.
The success is worthy of the spirit the gallant
artistic spirit in which it was invoked. Les Rois
en Exil is a finished picture. He has had, it is
true, to simplify his subject a good deal to make it
practicable ; the court of the king and queen of
Illyria, in the suburb of Saint-Mande, is a little too
much like a court in a fairy-tale. But the amiable


depravity of Christian, in whom conviction, resolu-
tion, ambition, are hopelessly dead, and whose one
desire is to enjoy Paris with the impunity of a young
man about town ; the proud, serious, concentrated
nature of Frederica, who believes ardently in her
royal function, and lives with her eyes fixed on the
crown, which she regards as a symbol of duty ; both
of these conceptions do M. Daudet the utmost
honour, and prove that he is capable of handling
great situations situations which have a depth of
their own, and do not depend for their interest on
amusing accidents. It takes perhaps some courage
to say so, but the feelings, the passions, the view
of life, of royal personages, differ essentially from
those of common mortals ; their education, their
companions, their traditions, their exceptional posi-
tion, take sufficient care of that. Alphonse Daudet
has comprehended the difference ; and I scarcely
know, in the last few years, a straighter flight of
imagination. The history of the queen of Illyria is
a tragedy. Her husband sells his birthright for a
few millions of francs, and rolls himself in the Parisian
gutter ; her child perishes from poverty of blood ;
she herself dries up in her despair. There is nothing
finer in all Daudet than the pages, at the end of the
book, which describe her visits to the great physician
Bouchereau, when she takes her poor half-blind child
by the hand, and (wishing an opinion unbiassed by
the knowledge of her rank) goes to sit in his waiting-
room like one of the vulgar multitude. Wonderful


are the delicacy, the verity, the tenderness of these
pages ; we always point to them to justify our pre-
dilection. But we must stop pointing. We will not
say more of Numa Roumestan than we have already
said ; for it is better to pass so happy a work by
than to speak of it inadequately. We will only
repeat that we delight in Numa Roumestan. Alphonse
Daudet's last book is a novelty at the time I write ;
UEvangtliste has been before the public but a month
or two. I will say but little of it, partly because my
opportunity is already over, and partly because I
have found that, for a fair judgment of one of
Daudet's works, the book should be read a second
time, after a certain interval has elapsed. This
interval has not brought round my second perusal
of L 'Evangdiste. My first suggests that with all the
author's present mastery of his resources the book
has a grave defect. It is not that the story is
painful ; that is a defect only when the sources of
this element are not, as I may say, abundant. It
treats of a young girl (a Danish Protestant) who is
turned to stone by a Medusa of Calvinism, the sombre
and fanatical wife of a great Protestant banker.
Madame Autheman persuades Eline Ebsen to wash
her hands of the poor old mother with whom up to
this moment she has lived in the closest affection,
and go forth into strange countries to stir up the
wicked to conversion. The excellent Madame Ebsen,
bewildered, heart-broken, desperate, terrified at the
imagined penalties of her denunciation of the rich


and powerful bigot (so that she leaves her habitation
and hides in a household of small mechanics to escape
from them one of the best episodes in the book),
protests, struggles, goes down on her knees in vain ;
then,, at last, stupefied and exhausted, desists, looks
for the last time at her inexorable, impenetrable
daughter, who has hard texts on her lips and no
recognition in her eye, and who lets her pass away,
without an embrace, for ever. The incident in itself
is perfectly conceivable : many well-meaning persons
have held human relationships cheap in the face of
a religious call. But Daudet's weakness has been
simply a want of acquaintance with his subject.
Proposing to himself to describe a particular phase
of French Protestantism, he has " got up " certain of
his facts with commendable zeal ; but he has not felt
nor understood the matter, has looked at it solely
from the outside, sought to make it above all things
grotesque and extravagant. Into these excesses it
doubtless frequently falls; but there is a general
humar verity which regulates even the most stubborn
wills, the most perverted lives ; and of this saving
principle the author, in quest of striking pictures, has
rather lost his grasp. His pictures are striking, as a
matter of course; but to us readers of Protestant
race, familiar with the large, free, salubrious life
which the children of that faith have carried with
them over the globe, there is almost a kind of
drollery in these fearsome pictures of the Protestant
temperament. The fact is that M. Daudet has not


(to my belief) any natural understanding of the
religious passion ; he has a quick perception of
many things, but that province of the human mind
cannot be fait de chic experience, there, is the only
explorer. Madame Autheman is not a real bigot;
she is simply a dusky effigy, she is undemonstrated.
Eline Ebsen is not a victim, inasmuch as she is but
half alive, and victims are victims only in virtue of
being thoroughly sentient. I do not easily perceive
her spiritual joints. All the human part of the book,
however, has the author's habitual felicity ; and the
reader of these remarks knows what I hold that to
be. It may seem to him, indeed, that in making the
concession I made just above in saying that Alphonse
Daudet's insight fails him when he begins to take
the soul into account I partly retract some of the
admiration I have expressed for him. For that
amounts, after all, to saying that he has no high
imagination, and, as a consequence, no ideas. It is
very true, I am afraid, that he has not a great
number of ideas. There are certain things he does
not conceive certain forms that never appear to him.
Imaginative writers of the first order always give us
an impression that they have a kind of philosophy.
We should be embarrassed to put our finger on
Daudet's philosophy. "And yet you have praised
him so much," we fancy we hear it urged ; " you
have praised him as if he were one of the very first."
All that is very true, and yet we take nothing back.
Determinations of rank are a delicate matter, and it


is sufficient priority for an author that one likes him
immensely. Daudet is bright, vivid, tender; he has
an intense artistic life. And then he is so free.
For the spirit that moves sloAvly, going carefully
from point to point, not sure whether this or that
or the other will " do," the sight of such freedom is




THE first artists, in any line, are doubtless not those
whose general ideas about their art are most often
on their lips those who most abound in precept,
apology, and formula and can best tell us the reasons
and the philosophy of things. "We know the first
usually by their energetic practice, the constancy
with which they apply their principles, and the
serenity with which they leave us to hunt for their
secret in the illustration, the concrete example.
None the less it often happens that a valid artist
utters his mystery, flashes upon us for a moment
the light by which he works, shows us the rule by
which he holds it just that he should be measured.
This accident is happiest, I think, when it is soonest
over; the shortest explanations of the products of
genius are the best, and there is many a creator of
living figures whose friends, however full of faith in
his inspiration, will do well to pray for him when he
sallies forth into the dim wilderness of theory. The


doctrine is apt to be so much less inspired than the
work, the work is often so much more intelligent
than the doctrine. M. Guy de Maupassant has
lately traversed with a firm and rapid step a literary
crisis of this kind ; he has clambered safely up the
bank at the further end of the morass. If he has
relieved himself in the preface to Pierre et Jean, the
last-published of his tales, he has also rendered a
service to his friends ; he has not only come home in
a recognisable plight, escaping gross disaster with a
success which even his extreme good sense was far
from making in advance a matter of course, but he has
expressed in intelligible terms (that by itself is a ground
of felicitation) his most general idea, his own sense of
his direction. He has arranged, a's it were, the light in
which he wishes to sit. If it is a question of attempt-
ing, under however many disadvantages, a sketch of him,
the critic's business therefore is simplified : there will
be no difficulty in placing him, for he himself has
chosen the spot,he has madethe chalk-mark on the floor.
I may as well say at once that in dissertation M.
de Maupassant does not write with his best pen ; the
philosopher in his composition is perceptibly inferior
to the story-teller. I would rather have written half
a page of Boule de Suif than the whole of the intro-
duction to Flaubert's Letters to Madame Sand; and
his little disquisition on the novel in general, attached
to that particular example of it which he has just
put forth, 1 is considerably less to the point than the
1 Pierre et Jean. Paris : Ollendorff, 1888.


masterpiece which it ushers in. In short, as a com-
mentator M. de Maupassant is slightly common, while
as an artist he is wonderfully rare. Of course we
must, in judging a writer, take one thing -with
another, and if I could make up my mind that M. de
Maupassant is weak in theory, it would almost make
me like him better, render him more approachable,
give him the touch of softness that he lacks, and
show us a human flaw. The most general quality of
the author of La, Maison Tellier and Bel-Ami, the
impression that remains last, after the others have
been accounted for, is an essential hardness hard-
ness of form, hardness of nature ; and it would put us
more at ease to find that if the fact with him (the
fact of execution) is so extraordinarily definite and
adequate, his explanations, after it, were a little
vague and sentimental. But I am not sure that he
must even be held foolish to have noticed the race
of critics : he is at any rate so much less foolish
than several of that fraternity. He has said his say
concisely and as if he were saying it once for all.
In fine, his readers must be grateful to him for such
a passage as that in which he remarks that whereas
the public at large very legitimately says to a writer,
" Console me, amuse me, terrify me, make me cry,
make me dream, or make me think," what the sincere
critic says is, " Make me something fine in the form
that shall suit you best, according to your tempera-
ment." This seems to me to put into a nutshell
the whole question of the different classes of fiction,


concerning which there has recently been so much
discourse. There are simply as many different kinds
as there are persons practising the art, for if a pic-
ture, a tale, or a novel be a direct impression of life
(and that surely constitutes its interest and value),
the impression will vary according to the plate that
takes it, the particular structure and mixture of the

I am not sure that I know what M. de Maupassant
means when he says, " The critic shall appreciate the
result only according to the nature of the effort ; he
has no right to concern himself with tendencies."
The second clause of that observation strikes me as
rather in the air, thanks to the vagueness of the
last word. But our author adds to the definite-
ness of his contention when he goes on to say that
any form of the novel is simply a vision of the
world from the standpoint of a person constituted
after a certain fashion, and that it is therefore
absurd to say that there is, for the novelist's use,
only one reality of things. This seems to me com-
mendable, not as a flight of metaphysics, hovering
over bottomless gulfs of controversy, but, on the
contrary, as a just indication of the vanity of
certain dogmatisms. The particular way we see
the world is our particular illusion about it, says
M. de Maupassant, and this illusion fits itself to our
organs and senses ; our receptive vessel becomes
the furniture of our little plot of the universal


' ' How childish, moreover, to believe in reality, since we
each carry our own in our thought and in our organs. Our
eyes, our ears, our sense of smell, of taste, differing from one
person to another, create as many truths as there are men upon
earth. And our minds, taking instruction from these organs,
so diversely impressed, understand, analyse, judge, as if each
of us belonged to a different race. Each one of us, therefore,
forms for himself an illusion of the world, which is the illusion
poetic, or sentimental, or joyous, or melancholy, or unclean, or
lismal, according to his nature. And the writer has no other
mission than to reproduce faithfully this illusion, with all the
contrivances of art that he has learned and has at his command.
The illusion of beauty, which is a human convention ! The
illusion of ugliness, which is a changing opinion ! The illusion
of truth, which is never immutable ! The illusion of the
ignoble, which attracts so many ! The great artists are those
who make humanity accept their particular illusion. Let us,
therefore, not get angry with any one theory, since every
theory is the generalised expression of a temperament asking
itself questions. "

What is interesting in this is not that M. de
Maupassant happens to hold that we have no uni-
versal measure of the truth, but that it is the last
word on a question of art from a writer who is rich
in experience and has had success in a very rare
degree. It is of secondary importance that our
impression should be called, or not called, an illusion;
what is excellent is that our author has stated more
neatly than we have lately seen it done that the
value of the artist resides in the clearness with
which he gives forth that impression. His particular
organism constitutes a case, and the critic is intelligent
in proportion as he apprehends and enters into that
case. To quarrel with it because it is not another,


which it could not possibly have been without a wholly
different outfit, appears to M. de Maupassant a de-
plorable waste of time. If this appeal to our dis-
interestedness may strike some readers as chilling
(through their inability to conceive of any other form

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Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 14 of 24)