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are divided among the different theatres; so that if you wish to laugh,
you can go to the Variétés; to weep, to the Théâtre Français; or, to
gape, to the Odéon. At the Porte St. Martin, one finds vigorous touches
of national character, and at the Gymnase, the fashionable place of
resort, just at this moment, national traits polished by convention.
Besides these, there are many other theatres, not one of which, in its
way, can be called less than tolerable.

One can say but little in favour of the morals of too many of the pieces
represented here. In this particular there is a strange obliquity of
reason, arising out of habitual exaggeration of feeling, that really
seems to disqualify most of the women, even from perceiving what is
monstrous, provided it be sentimental and touching. I was particularly
advised to go to the Théâtre Madame to see a certain piece by a
_côterie_ of very amiable women, whom I met the following night at a
house where we all regularly resorted, once a week. On entering, they
eagerly inquired if "I had not been charmed, fascinated; if any thing
could be better played, or more touching?" Better played it could not
easily be, but I had been so shocked with the moral of the piece, that I
could scarcely admire the acting. "The moral! This was the first time
they had heard it questioned." I was obliged to explain. A certain
person had been left the protector of a friend's daughter, then an
infant. He had the child educated as his sister, and she grew to be a
woman, ignorant of her real origin. In the meantime, she has offers of
marriage, all of which she unaccountably refuses. In fine, she was
secretly cherishing a passion for her guardian _and supposed brother_;
an explanation is had, they marry, and the piece closes. I objected to
the probability of a well-educated young woman's falling in love with a
man old enough to be selected as her guardian, when she was an infant,
and against whom there existed the trifling objection of his being her
own brother.

"But he was _not_ her brother - not even a relative." "True; but she
_believed_ him to be her brother." "And nature - do you count nature as
nothing? - a _secret sentiment_ told her he was not her brother." "And
use, and education, and an _open sentiment_, and all the world told her
he was. Such a woman was guilty of a revolting indelicacy and a heinous
crime, and no exaggerated representation of love, a passion of great
purity in itself, can ever do away with the shocking realities of such a
case."

I found no one to agree with me. He was _not_ her brother, and though
his tongue and all around her told her he was, her heart, that
infallible guide, told her the truth. What more could any reasonable man
ask?

It was _à propos_ of this play, and of my objection to this particular
feature of it, that an exceedingly clever French woman laughingly told
me she understood there was no such thing as love in America. That a
people of manners as artificial as the French, should suppose that
others, under the influence of the cold, formal exterior which the
puritans have entailed on so large a portion of the public, were without
strong feeling, is not altogether as irrational as may at first appear.
Art, in ordinary deportment, is both cause and effect. That which we
habitually affect to be, gets in the end to be so incorporated with our
natural propensities as to form a part of the real man. We all know that
by discipline we can get the mastery of our strongest passions, and, on
the other hand, by yielding to them and encouraging them, that they soon
get the mastery over us. Thus do a highly artificial people, fond of,
and always seeking high excitement, come, in time, to feel it
artificially, as it were, by natural impulses.

I have mentioned the anecdote of the play, because I think it
characteristic of a tone of feeling that is quite prevalent among a
large class of the French, though I am far from saying there is not a
class who would, at once, see the grave sacrifice of principle that is
involved, in building up the sentiments of a fiction on such a
foundation of animal instinct. I find, on recollection, however, that
Miss Lee, in one of her Canterbury Tales, has made the love of her plot
hinge on a very similar incident. Surely she must have been under the
influence of some of the German monstrosities that were so much in
vogue, about the time she wrote, for even Juvenal would scarcely have
imagined anything worse, as the subject of his satire.

You will get a better idea of the sentimentalism that more or less
influences the tables of this country, however, if I tell you that the
ladies of the _côterie_, in which the remarks on the amorous sister were
made, once gravely discussed in my presence the question whether Madame
de Staël was right or wrong, in causing Corinne to go through certain
sentimental _experiences_, as our canters call it at home, on a clouded
day, instead of choosing one on which the sun was bright: or, _vice
versa_; for I really forget whether it was on the "windy side" of
sensibility or not, that the daughter of Necker was supposed to have
erred.

The first feeling is that of surprise at finding a people so artificial
in their ordinary deportment, so chaste and free from exaggeration in
their scenic representations of life. But reflection will show us that
all finish has the effect of bringing us within the compass of severe
laws, and that the high taste which results from cultivation repudiates
all excess of mere manner. The simple fact is, that an educated
Frenchman is a great actor all the while, and that when he goes on the
stage, he has much less to do to be perfect, than an Englishman who has
drilled himself into coldness, or an American who looks upon strong
expressions of feeling as affectation. When the two latter commence the
business of playing assumed parts, they consider it as a new occupation,
and go at it so much in earnest, that everybody sees they are acting.[19]

[Footnote 19: Mr. Mathews and Mr. Power were the nearest to the neat
acting of France of any male English performers the writer ever saw. The
first sometimes permitted himself to be led astray, by the caricatures
he was required to represent, and by the tastes of his audience; but the
latter, so far as the writer has seen him, appears determined to be
chaste, come what, come will.]

You will remember, I say nothing in favour of the French tragic
representations. When a great and an intellectual nation, like France,
unites to applaud images and sentiments that are communicated through
their own peculiar forms of speech, it becomes a stranger to distrust
his own knowledge, rather than their taste. I dare say that were I more
accustomed to the language, I might enjoy Corneille and Racine, and even
Voltaire, for I can now greatly enjoy Molière; but, to be honest in the
matter, all reciters of heroic French poetry appear to me to depend on a
pompous declamation, to compensate for the poverty of the idioms, and
the want of nobleness in the expressions. I never heard any one, poet or
actor, he who read his own verses, or he who repeated those of others,
who did not appear to mouth, and all their tragic playing has had the
air of being on stilts. Napoleon has said, from the sublime to the
ridiculous it is but a step. This is much truer in France than in most
other countries, for the sublime is commonly so sublimated, that it will
admit of no great increase. Racine, in a most touching scene, makes one
of his heroic characters offer to wipe off the tears of a heroine lest
they should discolour her _rouge_! I had a classmate at college, who was
so very ultra courtly in his language, that he never forgot to say, Mr.
Julius Caesar, and Mr. Homer.

There exists a perfect mania for letters throughout Europe, in this
"piping time of peace." Statesmen, soldiers, peers, princes, and kings,
hardly think themselves _illustrated_, until each has produced his book.
The world never before saw a tithe of the names of people of condition,
figuring in the catalogues of its writers. "Some thinks he writes
Cinna - he owns to Panurge," applies to half the people one meets in
society. I was at a dinner lately, given by the Marquis de - - , when
the table was filled with peers, generals, ex-ministers, ex-ambassadors,
naturalists, philosophers, and statesmen of all degrees. Casting my eyes
round the circle, I was struck with the singular prevalence of the
_cacoethes scribendi_, among so many men of different educations,
antecedents, and pursuits. There was a soldier present who had written
on taste, a politician on the art of war, a _diplomate_ who had dabbled
in poetry, and a jurist who pretended to enlighten the world in ethics,
it was the drollest assemblage in the world, and suggested many queer
associations, for, I believe, the only man at table, who had not dealt
in ink, was an old Lieutenant-General, who sat by me, and who, when I
alluded to the circumstance, strongly felicitated himself that he had
escaped the mania of the age, as it was an _illustration_ of itself.
Among the _convives_ were Cuvier, Villemain, Daru, and several others
who are almost as well known to science and letters.

Half the voluntary visits I receive are preceded by a volume of some
sort or other, as a token of my new acquaintance being a regularly
initiated member of the fraternity of the quill. In two or three
instances, I have been surprised at subsequently discovering that the
regular profession of the writer is arms, or some other pursuit, in
which one would scarcely anticipate so strong a devotion to letters. In
short, such is the actual state of opinion in Europe, that one is hardly
satisfied with any amount, or any quality of glory, until it is
consummated by that of having written a book. Napoleon closed his career
with the quill, and his successor was hardly on his throne, before he
began to publish. The principal officers of the Empire, and _émigrés_
without number, have fairly set to work as so many disinterested
historians, and even a lady, who, by way of abbreviation, is called "The
Widow of the Grand Army," is giving us regularly volumes, whose
eccentricities and periodicity, as the astronomers say, can be reduced
to known laws, by the use of figures.

In the middle ages golden spurs were the object of every man's ambition.
Without them, neither wealth, nor birth, nor power was properly
esteemed; and, at the present time, passing from the lance to the pen,
from the casque and shield to the ink-pot and fool's cap, we all seek a
passport from the order of Letters. Does this augur good or evil, for
the world? The public press of France is conducted with great spirit and
talents, on all sides. It has few points in common with our own, beyond
the mere fact of its general character. In America, a single literary
man, putting the best face on it, enters into a compact with some person
of practical knowledge, a printer perhaps, and together they establish a
newspaper, the mechanical part of which is confided to the care of the
latter partner, and the intellectual to the former. In the country, half
the time, the editor is no other than the printer himself, the division
of labour not having yet reached even this important branch of industry.
But looking to the papers that are published in the towns, one man of
letters is a luxury about an American print. There are a few instances
in which there are two, or three; but, generally, the subordinates are
little more than scissors-men. Now, it must be apparent, at a glance,
that no one individual can keep up the character of a daily print, of
any magnitude; the drain on his knowledge and other resources being too
great. This, I take it, is the simple reason why the press of America
ranks no higher than it does. The business is too much divided; too much
is required, and this, too, in a country where matters of grave import
are of rare occurrence, and in which the chief interests are centred in
the vulgar concerns of mere party politics, with little or no connexion
with great measures, or great principles. You have only to fancy the
superior importance that attaches to the views of powerful monarchs, the
secret intrigues of courts, on whose results, perhaps, depend the
fortunes of Christendom, and the serious and radical principles that are
dependent on the great changes of systems that are silently working
their way, in this part of the world, and which involve material
alterations in the very structure of society, to get an idea of how much
more interest a European journal, _ceteris paribus_, must be, compared
to an American journal, by the nature of its facts alone. It is true
that we get a portion of these facts, as light finally arrives from the
remoter stars, but mutilated, and necessarily shorn of much of their
interest, by their want of importance to our own country. I had been in
Europe some time, before I could fully comprehend the reason why I was
ignorant of so many minor points of its political history, for, from
boyhood up, I had been an attentive reader of all that touched this part
of the world, as it appeared in our prints. By dint of inquiry, however,
I believe I have come at the fact. The winds are by no means as regular
as the daily prints; and it frequently happens, especially in the winter
and spring months, that five or six packets arrive nearly together,
bringing with them the condensed intelligence of as many weeks. Now,
newspaper finders notoriously seek the latest news, and in the hurry and
confusion of reading and selecting, and bringing out, to meet the wants
of the day, many of the connecting links are lost, readers get imperfect
notions of men and things, and, from a want of a complete understanding
of the matter, the mind gives up, without regret, the little and
unsatisfactory knowledge it had so casually obtained. I take it, this is
a principal cause of the many false notions that exist among us, on the
subject of Europe and its events.

In France, a paper is established by a regular subscription of capital;
a principal editor is selected, and he is commonly supported, in the
case of a leading journal, by four or five paid assistants. In addition
to this formidable corps, many of the most distinguished men of France
are known to contribute freely to the columns of the prints in the
interest of their cause.

The laws of France compel a journal that has admitted any statement
involving facts concerning an individual, to publish his reply, that the
antidote may meet the poison. This is a regulation that we might adopt
with great advantage to truth and the character of the country.

There is not at this moment, within my knowledge, a single critical
literary journal of received authority in all France. This is a species
of literature to which the French pay but little attention just now,
although many of the leading daily prints contain articles on the
principal works as they appear.

By the little that has come under my observation, I should say the
fraudulent and disgusting system of puffing and of abusing, as interest
or pique dictates, is even carried to a greater length in France than it
is in either England or America. The following anecdote, which relates
to myself, may give you some notion of the _modus operandi_.

All the works I had written previously to coming to Europe had been
taken from the English editions and translated, appearing simultaneously
with their originals. Having an intention to cause a new book to be
printed in English in Paris, for the sake of reading the proofs, the
necessity was felt of getting some control over the translation, lest,
profiting by the interval necessary to send the sheets home to be
reprinted, it might appear as the original book. I knew that the sheets
of previous books had been purchased in England, and I accordingly sent
a proposition to the publishers that the next bargain should be made
with me. Under the impression that an author's price would be asked,
they took the alarm, and made difficulties. Finding me firm, and
indisposed to yield to some threats of doing as they pleased, the matter
was suspended for a few days. Just at this moment, I received through
the post a single number of an obscure newspaper, whose existence, until
then, was quite unknown to me. Surprised at such an attention, I was
curious to know the contents. The journal contained an article on my
merits and demerits as a writer, the latter being treated with a good
deal of freedom. When one gets a paper in this manner, containing abuse
of himself, he is pretty safe in believing its opinions dishonest. But I
had even better evidence than common in this particular case, for I
happened to be extolled for the manner in which I had treated the
character of Franklin, a personage whose name even had never appeared in
anything I had written. This, of course, settled the character of the
critique, and the next time I saw the individual who had acted as agent
in the negociation just mentioned, I gave him the paper, and told him I
was half disposed to raise my price on account of the pitiful manoeuvre
it contained. We had already come to terms, the publishers finding that
the price was little more than nominal, and the answer was a virtual
conclusion that the article was intended to affect my estimate of the
value of the intended work in France, and to bring me under subjection
to the critics.[20]

[Footnote 20: The writer suffers this anecdote to stand as it was written
nine years since; but since his return home, he has discovered that we
are in no degree behind the French in the corruption and frauds that
render the pursuits of a writer one of the most humiliating and
revolting in which a man of any pride of character can engage, unless he
resolutely maintains his independence, a temerity that is certain to be
resented by all those who, unequal to going alone in the paths of
literature, seek their ends by clinging to those who can, either as
pirates or robbers.]

I apprehend that few books are brought before the public in France,
dependent only on their intrinsic merits; and the system of intrigue,
which predominates in everything, is as active in this as in other
interests.

In France, a book that penetrates to the provinces may be said to be
popular; and as for a book coming _from_ the provinces, it is almost
unheard of. The despotism of the trade on this point is unyielding.
Paris appears to deem itself the arbiter in all matters of taste and
literature, and it is almost as unlikely that a new fashion should come
from Lyon, or Bordeaux, or Marseilles, as that a new work should be
received with favour that was published in either of those towns. The
approbation of Paris is indispensable, and the publishers of the
capital, assisted by their paid corps of puffers and detractors, are
sufficiently powerful to prevent that potent public, to whom all affect
to defer, from judging for itself.

We have lately had a proof here of the unwillingness of the Parisians to
permit others to decide for them, in anything relating to taste, in a
case that refers to us Americans. Madame Malibran arrived from America a
few months since. In Europe she was unknown, but the great name of her
father stood in her stead. Unluckily it was whispered that she had met
with great success in America. America! and this, too, in conjunction
with music and the opera! The poor woman was compelled to appear under
the disadvantage of having brought an American reputation with her, and
seriously this single fact went nigh to destroy her fortunes. Those
wretches who, as Coleridge expresses it, are "animalculae, who live by
feeding on the body of genius," affected to be displeased, and the
public hesitated, at their suggestions, about accepting an artist from
the "colonies," as they still have the audacity to call the great
Republic. I have no means of knowing what sacrifices were made to the
petty tyrants of the press before this woman, who has the talents
necessary to raise her to the summit of her profession, was enabled to
gain the favour of a "_generous and discerning public!_"




LETTER XVI.

Environs of Paris. - Village of St. Ouen. - Our House there. - Life on the
River. - Parisian Cockneys. - A pretty Grisette. - Voyage across the Seine.
- A rash Adventurer. - Village Fête. - Montmorency. - View near Paris.


TO JAMES STEVENSON, ESQUIRE, ALBANY.

We have been the residents of a French village ever since the 1st of
June, and it is now drawing to the close of October. We had already
passed the greater part of a summer, and entire autumn, winter and
spring, within the walls of Paris, and then we thought we might indulge
our tastes a little, by retreating to the fields, to catch a glimpse of
country life. You will smile when I add that we are only a league from
the Barrière de Clichy. This is the reason I have not before spoken of
the removal, for we are in town three or four times every week, and
never miss an occasion, when there is anything to be seen. I shall now
proceed, however, to let you into the secret of our actual situation.

I passed the month of May examining the environs of the capital in quest
of an house. As this was an agreeable occupation, we were in no hurry;
but having set up my cabriolet, we killed two birds with one stone, by
making ourselves familiarly acquainted with nearly every village or
hamlet within three leagues of Paris, a distance beyond which I did not
wish to go.

On the side of St. Cloud, which embraces Passy, Auteuil, and all the
places that encircle the Bois de Boulogne, the Hyde Park of Paris, there
are very many pleasant residences, but from one cause or another, no one
suited us exactly, and we finally took a house in the village of St.
Ouen, the Runnymeade of France. When Louis XVIII. came, in 1814, to his
capital, in the rear of the allies, he stopped for a few days at St.
Ouen, a league from the barriers, where there was a small chateau that
was the property of the crown. Here he was met by M. de Talleyrand and
others, and hence he issued the celebrated charter, that is to render
France for evermore a constitutional country.

The chateau has since been razed, and a pavilion erected in its place,
which has been presented to the Comtesse de - - , a lady who, reversing
the ordinary lot of courtiers, is said to cause majesty to live in the
sunshine of _her_ smiles. What an appropriate and encouraging monument
to rear on the birth-place of French liberty! At the opposite extremity
of the village is another considerable house, that was once the dwelling
of M. Necker, and is now the property and country residence of M.
Ternaux, or the _Baron_ Ternaux, if it were polite to style him thus,
the most celebrated manufacturer of France. I say polite, for the mere
_fanfaronnade_ of nobility is little in vogue here. The wags tell a
story of some one, who was formally announced as "Monsieur le Marquis
d'un tel," turning short round on the servant, and exclaiming with
indignation, "Marquis toi-même!" But this story savours of the
Bonapartists; for as the Emperor created neither _marquis_ nor
_vicomtes_, there was a sort of affectation of assuming these titles at
the restoration as proofs of belonging to the old _régime_.

St. Ouen is a cluster of small, mean, stone houses, stretched along the
right bank of the Seine, which, after making a circuit of near twenty
miles, winds round so close to the town again, that they are actually
constructing a basin, near the village, for the use of the capital; it
being easier to wheel articles from this point to Paris, than to contend
with the current and to tread its shoals. In addition to the two houses
named, however, it has six or eight respectable abodes between the
street and the river, one of which is our own.

This place became a princely residence about the year 1800, since which
time it has been more or less frequented as such down to the 4th June,
1814, the date of the memorable charter.[21] Madame de Pompadour
possessed the chateau in 1745, so you see it has been "dust to dust"
with this place, as with all that is frail.

[Footnote 21: The chateau of St. Ouen, rather less than two centuries
since, passed into the possession of the Duc de Gesvre. Dulaure gives
the following, - a part of a letter from this nobleman, - as a specimen of
the education of a _duc_ in the seventeenth century: - "Monsieur, me
trouvant obligé de randre une bonne party de largan que mais enfant ont
pris de peuis qu'il sont au campane, monsieur, cela moblige a vous
suplier tres humblemant monsieur de me faire la grasse de commander



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 20 of 29)