Prosper Mérimée.

Prosper Mérimée; online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryProsper MériméeProsper Mérimée; → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


1




1








w



Xittle ifrencb flDaeterpieces

Edited by

Alexander Jessup



Prosper Mérimée

An Introduction by

Grace King



The Translation by

George Burnham Ives



G. P. Putnam's Sons

New York and London

Zhc •Rnickerbocfter presô




Copyright, 1903

BY

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS



TTbe ftnicfterbocfier pre00, ficw l?orlt





P^Z3éZ


Contents




Prosper Mérimée .


PACE

ix


Carmen ....


3


The Taking of the Redoubi


'. • >37


Mateo Falcone


. . 151


The Venus of Ille • ,


• . 181



L»)



Introduction



(vlll



Prosper Mérimée

(1803- I 870)

THE stories here presented are a selection
from that brilliant series which shine like
a constellation in French literature of the last
century, blazoning Mérimée's name across it.
Each one has been tested and judged by
successive generations of readers and critics.
The authoritative appraisers of literary values,
French and English, have been pronouncing
upon them from the time of their publication
until now, when they are still pronouncing
upon them, as upon new productions. Their
interest, nevertheless, is still fresh, their
charm as attractive as ever, and inexplicable,
as charm must be. The prediction that was
made in their day having been fulfilled so far.



Introduction



it does not seem hazardous to renew it, at our
own risk, that they may be placed alongside
of those classics of fiction that meet so na-
tural a soil in the human mind that we can
no more foresee their ceasing to give pleasure
to readers in course of time than we can fore-
see the flowers in the gardens ceasing to give
pleasure to lovers of flowers.

Carmen, with which the book begins, was
the last one written of the series. It might,
however, be said to antedate them all, for the
first impulsive, perhaps instinctive, love of
Mérimée's imagination was for the passionate
drama of Spain, and his first production. The
Plays of Clara Ga^ul, was so vivid an imita-
tion of it that it mystified the critics of the
time, who had yet to learn the extreme
susceptibility of Mérimée's mind to exotic in-
fluences; a susceptibility that the author in-
dulged, if he did not foster, throughout life.

It was not until 1830 (after the publication
of Mateo Falcone and The Taking of the Re-
doubt) that Mérimée saw Spain with the eyes



U]



Introduction



of his body, and became naturalised in that
part of it, that, as he describes it, ''was
bounded on the north by a gitana and on
the south by a carbine," whose patois he spoke
fluently, in whose ventas he was at home,
where he confesses to have committed a thou-
sand follies. In his letters addressed from Ma-
drid and Valencia, during this first voyage to
Spain, those who are curious about such
questions can read the account of Mérimée's
introduction to Carmen, — that is, to José Maria,
the contrabandist and bandit, and to the torea-
dor. As for Carmen herself, '* that servant of
the devil," as José Maria describes her only too
well, although she does not figure in the let-
ters, we may infer that she did in some of the
** thousand follies." The story was not, how-
ever, written until fifteen years later than this,
after many subsequent visits to its birthplace.
A postscriptum, dated 1842, is attached to the
letters, giving an account of the death of the
toreador and of José Maria.

Mérimée had so long before this story



Introduction



proved himself the most exquisite master, in
his day, of the art of simplicity and natural-
ness in writing, that he would seem to have
left no farther room to himself for advance in
perfection, no margin for additional praise for
this his last story; and yet it has a quality of
its own that distinguishes it from every pre-
ceding one.

**Senor,*' said José Maria, ** one becomes a
rascal without thinking of it; a pretty girl
steals your wits, you fight for her, an accident
happens, you have to live in the mountains,
and from a smuggler you become a robber
before you know it."

This is the simplicity and naturalness, not
of Mérimée, but of José Maria himself; and
the story that follows shows absolutely no
other author than the condemned bandit.
There is no consciousness in reading it of
the perfection that mars the very perfection
of Colomba, nor suspicion of premeditated
pathos as in the supremely pathetic Arsène
Guillot Form and pathos are no more



Introduction



thought of by the author than by José Maria
himself. And, therefore, as Taine says, "dis-
sertations on primitive and savage instinct,
learned essays like Schopenhauer's on love and
death, are not worth its hundred pages."

As if he himself recognised the finality of his
art in this identity of it with nature, Mérimée
laid aside his pen after writing it, and wrote
no more stories for twenty years; in truth,
wrote no more, for as his biographer Filon
expresses it, when he took up his pen again,
he found it irremediably rusted.

The Taking of the Redoubt resembles
Carmen in this, that the author so completely
effaces his personality from the teller of the
story, that one finds it easier to suppose than
not that the incident was related to him, as
he says in the prefatory note, by the officer
to whom it happened, and that he merely
wrote it down from memory. The conces-
sion, however, concedes nothing, as long as
the word *' memory" is retained in the ex-
planation. For what it stands for here is an

[xiii]



Introduction



imagination that could make the carelessly
dropped incident its own, and turn upon it a
marvellous sight (lens-eye and light, all in
one), until what we read was as clear to
Mérimée as it is to us now. Then he wrote
it down in the pages that are without a match
in the thousands of descriptions of battles that
have been written. As one does not go to
another for words to describe what one sees
oneself, so we need no interpreter of our
sensations when we read The Taking of the
Redoubt It is for us alone, as Mérimée seems
to tell us, to read it or not to read it, to see
what took place or not see it.

In the list of Mérimée's stories Mateo Fal-
cone stands immediately before The Taking
of the Redoubt. Both were published in the
same year, in 1829, which was the twenty-
sixth of the author's age. It is so seldom
mentioned now in English without Walter
Pater's judgment upon it, *' perhaps the
cruellest story in the world," that that might
well be added to the name as a sub-title. It

[xiv]



Introduction



would be so, perhaps, if Mérimée had not re-
lated it. He himself, despite the cold impas-
sivity that he had schooled himself into
maintaining as an author, — he himself shows
here and there a trace of the emotion that he
arouses in us. The temptation, fall, and
punishment of the little child touch ind'^ed
the most sensitive nerve in the human heart;
the one that can give the keenest pain; that
cuts through the heart like a knife. The story
would be well-nigh unbearable in another
hand than Mérimée's, or had he told it in a
clean, clear thrust of reality, as in The Taking
of the Redoubt. But he retards the action in
the beginning with details and diverts the at-
tention with local colour; not, however, be
it remarked, such local colour as he saw with
his own eyes, in Spain, but the kind that he
learned how to make so easily in the days of
Clara Gaiul and La Guila, that he lost, as he
confesses, all respect for it. Mateo, Gianetto,
Gamba, and Giuseppa belong also to the do-
main of the not seen, not known. But the

[XV]



Ï



Introduction



child, the unfortunate Fortunato, stands out
against the artificial background of place,
time, and circumstance, with a vividness of
reality that, as in The Taking of the Redoubt,
would make the reality seem vague and in-
distinct beside it. A few pages of this story
might be cited as the highest point that Méri-
mée attained as an artist.

He himself considered The Venus of Ille
the best story he ever wrote. The prefer-
ence is characteristic of him. It contains all
the elements of the mysterious and horrible
for which he had an inherent passion; and
he relates it as he loved to relate the extra-
ordinary, in the tone of skeptical raillery that
is the surest as well as the subtlest way
of sowing in a reader distrust in the integ-
rity of his comrnon sense. This tone, also,
was an inherent quality of Mérimée's; it
represented the attitude of his mind towards
the illusions of his imagination, which he
explains in one of his Lettres Inédites:
''You cannot imagine, madame, the differ-



Introduction



ence there is between the things which it
pleases me to suppose and those which I
admit to be true. I please myself in im-
agining goblins and fairies. 1 make my own
hair stand on end by relating ghost stories
to myself. But, notwithstanding the physi-
cal effect I experience, I am not prevented
from not believing in ghosts; on this point
my incredulity is so great that even if I
were to see a ghost, I would not believe
in it any the more."

The old mediaeval legend was exhumed by
Mérimée, as he unearthed the bronze statue
of the maleficent Venus, in the little village
under the shadow of the Canigou, — in all
its beauty and terror, in all its ferocity, one
might say, of pagan Christian. He altered
nothing of it, and added only what as a visit-
ing archaeologist, his rôle in the story, he
could not omit : the details of his rather
curious experience; the impression made upon
him by the statue, as a woman of seduc-
tive wickedness and cruel, imperious pas-



Introduction



sions, a type of woman that, as his biographer
comments, ''none in the Paris of his day (the
home of such divinities) understood so well
as he."

The ascent to the dramatic catastrophe of
the story is so natural, easy, and pleasant
(the preparations for a wedding and its cele-
bration are of all pleasant things in the world
what a reader loves most to dally with) ; the
means employed by the writer are so natural
— for there is not the faintest suggestion of or
appeal to the morbid — that we arrive at the
crisis well prepared to lose none of its weird
and terrible intensity, and the thrill and the
shudder that arise in us then are as real as
Mérimée's own physical tribute to the power
of his imagination.

Such stories have an intrinsic value that
renders them independent of an author's name
and reputation, even of his time and country.
They are as easily detached from him, and
with as little loss to themselves, as precious
stones are from the name and place of the

[xviu]



Introduction



mine that once held them. This supreme
distinction of a story is, nevertheless, what
commends it to the assiduous seekers after
the secret of literary perfection ; the philoso-
pher's stone of the world of letters. Mérimée,
on the whole, has stood the biographical and
critical tests applied to him well, both as man
and artist, and, although the secret of his art
in truth went to the grave with him, this
much at least has been found out, that he was
worthy to be the author of his stories.



''IXOi AM^/*



Ixix)



Carmen



m



Carmen

Uccda yvvif xàXoî kôriv* e'xet ô*dyaB(xÇ ôvo GÔpa%
T?jv jaiav év BaXccjUGûy ttjv jutav èv Qavdrœ,

Palladas,

I

1HAD always suspected the geographers
of not knowing what they were talking
about when they placed the battle-field of
Munda in the country of the Bastuli-Pœni,
near the modern Monda, some two leagues
north of Marbella. According to my own
conjectures concerning the text of the anony-
mous author of the Bellum Hispaniense, and
in view of certain information collected in the
Duke of Ossuna's excellent library, I believed
that we should seek in the vicinity of Mon-
tilla the memorable spot where for the last
time Caesar played double or quits against
the champions of the republic. Happening

m



Prosper Mérimée



to be in Andalusia in the early autumn of
1830, I made quite a long excursion for the
purpose of setting at rest such doubts as I still
entertained. ' A memoir which I propose to
publish ere long will, I trust, leave no further
uncertainty in the minds of all honest archae-
ologists. Pending the time when my deliv-
erance shall solve at last the geographical
problem which is now holding all the learn-
ing of Europe in suspense, I propose to tell
you a little story ; it has no bearing on the
question of the actual location of Munda.

I had hired a guide and two horses at Cor-
dova, and had taken the field with no other
impedimenta than Caesar's Commentaries and
a shirt or two. ' On a certain day, as I wan-
dered over the more elevated portion of the
plain of Cachena, worn out with fatigue, dying
with thirst, and scorched by a sun of molten
lead, I was wishing with all my heart that
Caesar and Pompey's sons were in the devil's
grip, when I spied, at a considerable dis-
tance from the path I was following, a tiny
Ml



Carmen

greensward, studded with reeds and rushes,
which indicated the proximity of a spring.)
In fact, as I drew nearer, I found that what
had seemed to be a greensward was a marshy
tract through which a stream meandered,
issuing apparently from a narrow ravine be-
tween two high buttresses of the Sierra de
Cabra. I concluded that by ascending the
stream I should find cooler water, fewer
leeches and frogs, and perhaps a bit of shade
among the cliffs. As we rode into the gorge
my horse whinnied, and another horse, which
I could not see, instantly answered. I had
ridden barely a hundred yards when the
gorge, widening abruptly, disclosed a sort of
natural amphitheatre, entirely shaded by the
high cliffs which surrounded it. It was im-
possible to find a spot which promised the
traveller a more attractive sojourn. At the
foot of perpendicular cliffs, the spring came
bubbling forth and fell into a tiny basin car-
peted with sand as white as snow. Five or
six fine live-oaks, always sheltered from the

[5]



Prosper Mérimée



wind and watered by the spring, grew upon
its brink and covered it with their dense shade ;
and all about the basin, a fine, sheeny grass
promised a softer bed than one could find at
any inn within a radius of ten leagues.

The honour of discovering so attractive a
spot did not belong to me. A man was al-
ready reposing there, and was asleep in all
probability when I rode in. Roused by the
neighing of the horses, he had risen, and had
walked towards his horse, which had taken
advantage of his master's slumber to make a
hearty meal on the grass in the immediate
neighbourhood. He was a young fellow, of
medium height, but of robust aspect, and
with a proud and distrustful expression. His
complexion, which might once have been fine,
had become darker than his hair through the
action of the sun. He held his horse's halter
in one hand and in the other a blunderbuss
with a copper barrel. I will admit that at
first blush the blunderbuss and the forbidding
air of its bearer took me a little by surprise;

[6]



Carmen

but I had ceased to believe in robbers, because
1 had heard so much said about them and had
never met one. Moreover, I had seen so
many honest farmers going to market armed
to the teeth that the sight of a firearm did
not justify me in suspecting the stranger's
moral character. — ** And then, too," I said to
myself, *'what would he do with my shirts
and my Elzevir Caesar ?" So I saluted the
man with the blunderbuss with a familiar nod,
and asked him smilingly if I had disturbed his
sleep.

He eyed me from head to foot without re-
plying; then, as if satisfied by his examination,
he scrutinised no less closely my guide, who
rode up at that moment. I saw that the latter
turned pale and stopped in evident alarm.
**An unfortunate meeting!" I said to myself.
But prudence instantly counselled me to betray
no uneasiness. I dismounted, told the guide
to remove the horses' bridles, and, kneeling by
the spring, I plunged my face and hands in
the water; then I took a long draught and

t7]



Prosper Mérimée



lay flat on my stomach, like the wicked soldiers
of Gideon.

But I kept my eyes on my guide and the
stranger. The former drew near, sorely against
his will; the other seemed to have no evil
designs upon us, for he had set his horse at
liberty once more, and his blunderbuss, which
he had held at first in a horizontal position,
was now pointed towards the ground.

As it seemed to me inexpedient to take um-
brage at the small amount of respect shown
to my person, I stretched myself out on the
grass, and asked the man with the blunder-
buss, in a careless tone, if he happened to
have a flint and steel about him. At the same
time 1 produced my cigar-case. The stranger,
still without a word, felt in his pocket, took
out his flint and steel and courteously struck
a light for me. Evidently he was becoming
tamer, for he sat down opposite me, but did
not lay aside his weapon. When my cigar
was lighted, 1 selected the best of those that
remained and asked him if he smoked.
t8]



Carmen

** Yes, senor," he replied.

Those were the first words that he had
uttered, and I noticed that he did not pro-
nounce the s after the Andalusian fashion,*
whence I concluded that he was a traveller
like myself, minus the archaeologist.

**You will find this rather good," I said,
offering him a genuine Havana regalia.

He bent his head slightly, lighted his cigar
by mine, thanked me with another nod, then
began to smoke with every appearance of very
great enjoyment.

** Ah!'' he exclaimed, as he discharged the
first puff slowly through his mouth and his
nostrils, *'how long it is since I have had a
smoke! "

In Spain, a cigar offered and accepted estab-
lishes hospitable relations, just as the sharing
of bread and salt does in the East. My man

* The Andalusians aspirate the s, and in pronunciation
confound it with c soft and ^, which the Spaniards pro-
nounce like the English th. It is possible to recognise an
Andalusian by the one word seiior,
(»1



Prosper Mérimée



became more talkative than I had hoped. But,
although he claimed to live in the partido of
Montilla, he seemed to be but ill-acquainted
with the country. He did not know the name
of the lovely valley where we were ; he could
not mention any village in the neighbourhood;
and, lastly, when I asked him whether he had
seen any ruined walls thereabouts, or any tiles
with raised edges, or any carved stones, he
admitted that he had never paid any attention
to such things. By way of compensation he
exhibited much expert knowledge of horses.
He criticised mine, which was not very diffi-
cult; then he gave me the genealogy of his,
which came from the famous stud of Cordova ;
a noble animal in very truth, and so proof
against fatigue, according to his master, that
he had once travelled thirty leagues in a day,
at a gallop or a fast trot. In the middle of
his harangue the stranger paused abruptly, as
if he were surprised and angry with himself
for having said too much.

** You see, I was in a hurry to get to Cor-
(103



Carmen

dova," he added, with some embarrassment.
'*I had to present a petition to the judges in
the matter of a lawsuit."

As he spoke, he glanced at my guide, An-
tonio, who lowered his eyes.

The cool shade and the spring were so de-
lightful to me that I remembered some slices
of excellent ham which my friends at Montilla
had put in my guide's wallet. I bade him
produce them, and I invited the stranger to
join me in my impromptu collation. If he had
not smoked for a long while, it seemed prob-
able to me that he had not eaten for at least
forty-eight hours. He devoured the food like
a starved wolf. It occurred to me that our
meeting was a providential affair for the poor
fellow. My guide meanwhile ate little, drank
still less, and did not talk at all, although
from the very beginning of our journey he
had revealed himself to me in the guise
of an unparalleled chatterbox. Our guest's
presence seemed to embarrass him, and a
certain distrust kept them at arm's length



Prosper Mérimée



from each other, but I was unable to divine
its cause.

The last crumbs of the bread and ham had
vanished; each of us had smoked a second
cigar; I ordered the guide to put the bridles
on our horses, and I was about to take leave
of my new friend, when he asked me where
I intended to pass the night.

I replied, before I had noticed a signal from
my guide, that I was going on to the Venta
del Cuervo.

*'A wretched place for a man like you,
senor. 1 am going there, and if you will
allow me to accompany you, we will ride
together."

*'With great pleasure," I replied, mounting
my horse.

My guide, who was holding my stirrup,
made another signal with his eyes. I an-
swered it with a shrug of my shoulders, as if
to assure him that I was perfectly uncon-
cerned, and we set forth.

Antonio's mysterious signs, his evident un -



Carmen

easiness, a few words that had escaped from
the stranger, and, above all, his gallop of
thirty leagues, and the far from plausible ex-
planation of it which he had offered, had
already formed my opinion concerning our
travelling companion. I had no doubt that I
had fallen in with a smuggler, perhaps a
highwayman; but what did it matter to me ?
I was sufficiently acquainted with the Span-
ish character to be very sure that I had
nothing to fear from a man who had broken
bread and smoked with me. His very pres-
ence was a certain protection against any
unpleasant meetings. Furthermore, I was
v^ery glad to know what manner of man a
brigand is. One does not see them every
day, and there is a certain charm in finding
oneself in the company of a dangerous indi-
vidual, especially when one finds him to be
gentle and tame.

1 hoped to lead the stranger by degrees
to the point of making me his confidant, and
despite my guide's meaning winks, I turned

(18j



Prosper Mérimée



the conversation to the subject of highway
robbers. Be it understood that I spoke of
them with great respect. There was in An-
dalusia at that time a celebrated brigand
named José Maria, whose exploits were on
every tongue.

** Suppose I were riding beside'José Maria! *'
i said to myself.

I told such stories as I knew concerning
that hero — all to his credit, by the way, — and
I expressed in warm terms my admiration for
his gallantry and his generosity.

'*José Maria is a villain pure and simple,'*
observed the stranger, coldly.

**Is he doing himself justice ?" I thought;
** or is this merely an excess of modesty on
his part?** For, by dint of observing my
companion closely, I had succeeded in apply-
ing to him the description of José Maria
which I had seen placarded on the gates of
many a town in Andalusia. ** Yes, it is cer-
tainly he: fair hair, blue eyes, large mouth,
fine teeth, small hands; a shirt of fine linen,

(14)



Carmen

velvet jacket with silver buttons, white leather
gaiters, a bay horse. There is no doubt of
it! But I will respect his incognito."

We arrived at the venta. It was the sort
of place that he had described, that is to say,
one of the vilest taverns that I had seen as
yet. A large room served as kitchen, dining-
room, and bedroom. The fire was kindled
on a flat stone in the middle of the room, and
the smoke emerged through a hole in the
roof, or rather hung about it, forming a dense
cloud a few feet from the floor. Stretched
on the ground along the walls could be seen
some five or six worn mule-blankets; they
were the beds of the guests. Some twenty
yards from the house, or rather from the
single room which I have described, was a
sort of shed, which did duty as a stable. In
this attractive abode there were no other
human beings, for the moment at least, than
an old woman and a little girl of eight or
ten years, both as black as soot and clad in
shocking rags,

|15i



Prosper Mérimée



** Behold/' I said to myself, **all that re-
mains of the population of the ancient Munda
Bœtica! O Caesar! O Sextus Pompey! how
surprised you would be, should you return to
earth!"

At sight of my companion, the old woman
uttered an exclamation of surprise.

•*AhI Senor Don José!*' she cried.

Don José frowned and raised his hand with
an authoritative gesture which instantly si-
lenced the old woman. I turned to my
guide, and with an imperceptible sign gave
him to understand that there was nothing
that he could tell me concerning the man
with whom I was about to pass the night.

The supper was better than I anticipated.


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryProsper MériméeProsper Mérimée; → online text (page 1 of 10)