Walter F Lonergan.

Forty years of Paris online

. (page 22 of 25)
Online LibraryWalter F LonerganForty years of Paris → online text (page 22 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

dirigeantes, et les classes dirigees me degotatent."
M. Huysmans has been soured by penury, a long
' M. Huysmans died in May, 1907.


life in a Government office, and a weak stomach.
This has not prevented him from doing good
service to French literature. Only a few months
before I left Paris the author of "En Route"
was asked his opinion on the prevailing tendency
in fiction. He was outspoken, and replied : " Anarchy
and confusion. There are the bores such as
Bourget, who proceed from naturalism. They are
the Organists of literature. The last movement
gifted with life was that of the naturalists. All comes
from that. You have the non-fashionable novelists,
who work on the love of a baker for a fruiterer's wife ;
then come the more aristocratic writers, who do the
same thing for viscounts and marchionesses, or perhaps
doctors and engineers are also used instead of the
noblemen. They are very fine with their psychology.
At bottom it is all the same with viscounts, bakers,
marchionesses. And they all centre over the one
thing— whether the woman will give way or not. I
never care a fig whether she does or not. It is all
that eternal feminine adultery stuff." At the same
time, the old novelist, or master as his admirers call
him, considered that the lady novelists are doing
better than the men nowadays. He especially praised
Judith Gautier, the gifted daughter of Theophile
Gautier, Madame Rachilde, who wrote "Hors-nature,"
and Myriam Harry, authoress of the " Conqliete de
Jerusalem." Even for the Countess de Noailles and
her " Visage emerveillee " he had some respect, in
spite of the strenuous advertising of which she was
the object. M. Huysmans also thought that the
weakness of male authors arose from the fact that
Zola made money. When that fact became known,


grocers caused their sons to write, and the result was
deplorable. Asked about the Catholic novelists,
M. Huysmans shook his head. He has not the high
opinion of M. Ren6 Bazin that the majority have.
The Catholics are hostile to art. They are afraid
of words, and victims of Jansenism and Jesuitism.
For them wherever art begins sin comes along. And
when Catholics objected to some passages in his own
remarkable volumes, M. Huysmans simply told them
not to read his books, and to confine themselves to the
literary merchandise of the Pink Library, which was
intended for them expressly.

M. Octave Mirbeau, a strong writer, gave a more
serious view than M. Huysmans of the tendencies in
modern French literature, when he was asked his
opinion. M. Mirbeau thinks that for literature
ordinary life is the thing. It ought to be the repro-
duction of the living being in his relations to nature,
morals, and laws. There ought to be no preaching,
no moralising, either in novels or in plays, and
M. Mirbeau regretted that he had erred in this
particular in his " Mauvais Bergers." He is also the
author of the " Roman d'une Fille de Chambre," in
which he has certainly given a lurid picture of the life
of an Abigail, and thus kept to his programme. The
Abigail romance is full of huge " chunks of life," to
use Mr. A. W. Pinero's rendering of Zola's famous
phase, " tranches de vie.'' Unlike M. Huysmans,
M. Mirbeau, who was originally a police official,
does not object to the introduction of the sons of
grocers into the sacred guild of literature. He has
a welcome for all. He praised unstintedly a literary
farmer, Emile Guillaumin, who gave a thorough


picture of country life in his " Memoires d'un
Metayer." Another favourite of his is Andre Gide,
author of the *' Immoraliste " ; and he praises the
•' Coeurs Malades " of Eugene Montfort. In this
respect M. Mirbeau imitates that much-abused man,
Georges Ohnet, who since his "Maitre des Forges"
has gone from success to success. Was there ever a
novehst so decried as M. Ohnet? One man attacks
him over his muhitudinous adjectives, another calls his
work the quintessence of the commonplace, and
M. Jules Lemattre once wrote: " II a lel^gance des
chromolithographes, la noblesse des sujets de pendule,
les effets de cuisse des cabotins, le sentimentalisme
des romances." M. Ohnet goes on writing, interest-
ing numerous readers, and adding to his considerable
banking account, in spite of all the sarcasm, in spite of
the sneers of the greater literary artist over chromo-
lithographs, drawing-room clocks and mummers' thigh
effects, and he is also tender towards the young.
" Let them all come," said M. Ohnet once, referring to
the rising writers.

In M. Mirbeau's utterances on modern literary
men I find that, while regarding Paul Bourget as
dead and buried, he has nothing but praise for
Maurice Barres, author of **Sous I'oeil des Barbares,"
the "Jardin de Berenice," the " Deracines," and
" Au Service de I'Allemagne." Barres has been
accused by others of creating factitious personages,
and of borrowing from books, inspiration being absent,
but his style is perfect. All are agreed on that point,
and it means a good deal. He is also told that he
has spoiled his chances as a literary artist by devoting
himself to politics, and there was some reason for


saying this after his parliamentary play, " Leurs
Figures," which is a ponderous composition, spoiled by
bad jokes and bad taste. He did better in his novel,
"Au Service d'Allemagne," which has been praised,
not only as a work of art, but as being valuable as an
historical document, showing the influence of German
discipline on a young man of Alsace, who is French
in head and heart, and showing also that even under
Teutonic domination the people of that conquered
province remain true to the old traditions. This is
undoubtedly a fact, but it hardly needed the novel of
M. Barres to remind those who know the Alsatians
that the latter are not likely to lose what they owe to
France in the aesthetic way, and that they will long
retain their preference for a Republican or democratic
government to one of an imperial and aristocratic kind.

I can say very little about Jules Lemaitre, except
what everybody knows. He first loomed up in
the columns of the Temps about the same time as
Anatole France. It was known then that he was a
provincial, a normal schoolman, a universitaire, and
that he had thrown up the schoolmaster's ferule for
the pen of the journalist and littdrateuTy as Taine,
About, Sarcey, and others had done before him.
Then he published the " Contemporains," a series of
pen portraits of literary celebrities, was for some years
dramatic critic of the Journal des Ddbats, began to
write plays, and succeeded. In fact, M. Lemaitre has
been successful in everything that he has touched
except politics. I have already shown the disastrous
effects of his connection with M. Syveton and the
Patrie Franpaise league.

M. Lemaitre has an imitator in M. Emile Faguet,


also a universitaire, who writes articles for news-
papers as well as dramatic criticism. He is a man
who has something to say on nearly every subject
under the sun, and treats philosophy, politics, soci-
ology, and the rest in a very masterly manner. Unlike
M. Lemaitre, he has not yet written a play, but that,
no doubt, will come. He has recently, in 1904, been
before the public as the author of an ably-written
volume, " Le Liberalisme," in which he treats the
Church and State question.

A French literary man of the past whom I much
regretted was James Darmesteter, who used to assist
Renan a good deal, and who wrote on his own account
as well. I used to meet him before he went to India,
and returned home to die, at the bookshop of a Scotch
resident in Paris, Mr. Fotheringham, long retired.
Mr. Fotheringham, who acted as commercial agent
for the Times, besides being a bookseller, had a good
many famous people, French, English, and American
in his place from time to time. I have met there
diplomatists, authors, abb^s, and journalists. All the
famous Scotchmen who came to Paris were sure to
call at Fotheringham's, who also numbered among
his acquaintances Father Forbes, the Franco-Scottish
Jesuit. It was at Fotheringham's that I first met James
Darmesteter, for whose marriage with Miss Mary
Robinson, the poetess, I was as unprepared as I was
for his premature death. James Darmesteter was
only forty-five when he died, in 1894. His brother
Arsene Darmesteter, also a scholar and writer, died in
1888. They were born at Chateau-Salins in Lorraine.
Their father had come from the ghetto in Darmstadt,
and to reside in France he had to choose a surname.


He took the name " Darmstadter," and the French
gave it the other form. The father was a bookseller
and binder, and had a hard struggle in Paris when he
came there. Early privations were supposed to have
told on his two gifted boys. These were sent to the
Talmud Torah College in Paris, the seminary of the
Jewish Consistory. They afterwards went to the
Charlemagne and the Condorcet Colleges, where they
won many prizes. James became a professor at the
Ecole des Hautes Etudes, and attracted the notice of
Max Mliller by his works on Persian literature. He
was engaged afterwards to do an English translation
of the Avesta for the collection of the sacred books
of the East. James Darmesteter while in England
devoted a good deal of his time to the study of Shake-
speare and of Byron. On returning to Paris he was
o-iven the chair of Iranian languages at the College
of France. He next went to India and foregathered
with the learned Parsees. James Darmesteter was
a dark little man, looking undoubtedly Oriental. He
did not go to the Synagogue, but believed in, or at
least revered, the Bible. He had also a great respect
for Christianity, and would never in conversation
offend any man's religious susceptibilities. In his fine
book on the Prophets of Israel he has the passage
sometimes quoted as an example of his attitude
towards Christianity. It is that in the preface : '' La
science a cru quelle etait la reine du monde, et le
Chretien lui a dit, *Tu as souffle sur mon Christ, tu as
ferme devant mois les avenues de I'eternite." And in
the course of his volume Darmesteter advises the
Catholics of Rome to abide by the teaching of his
favourite prophets, retaining only the finest and most


sublime parts of the Gospels. He was a noble Jew,
this Darmesteter, with nothing of the Heinrich Heine
about him. He was rather like Baruch Spinoza, who
is described as being simple, modest, tolerant,
generous, and disinterested. Arsene Darmesteter,
brother of James, was only forty-two when he died.
He was sent in 1869 to Oxford, to Cambridge and
to the British Museum to study the French glosses
in the manuscripts of Rashi, the learned Jew of
Troyes, who died in 1105, ^^^ who was an authority
on mediaeval French.

I often thought of James Darmesteter as I was
reading that most interesting book by M. Maurice
Muret, " L'esprit Juif," which has some points of
resemblance to " Die Judenfrage " of the German
Duhring, published in Berlin in 1892, and is really the
development of a part of M. Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu's
" Israel chez les Nations." M. Muret holds, with
Diihring, that the characteristics of the Jews, their
supple intelligence, their attachment to the enjoyments
of life, their patient expectancy, exemplified in the
case of Captain Dreyfus, for instance, their tenacity
of purpose, their pride, appear in those who are
attached to the Synagogue or who have broken
away from it. From this he deduces that the Jew is
the product, not of the religion, but of the race. His
most typical Jew is Spinoza. Now, according to old
biographers of Spinoza, particularly M. Saisset, who
also translated his works into French, the author of
the ** Tractatus Theologico-Politicus " lived like an
anchorite at the Hague, declined to attire in costly
garb his body, which he counted mere dust, and
refused to allow a wealthy friend to endow him with


sufficient means to enable him to dispense with making
glasses for spectacles. M. Muret states that from
recent researches relative to Spinoza's sojourn at the
Hague, it has been made clear that the philosopher
was by no means a hermit. On the contrary, he went
into society a good deal, walked with sword by his
side like any of the gay gallants, or men about town
of the period, and was a heavy and, in fact, a
gluttonous eater. He ate so much that it hastened
on his death, and caused the phthisis which finished
him. The other biographers say that he used to be
satisfied with milk soup, some bread and a can of beer
for his daily sustenance, and they are probably correct
when they affirm that he was marked by consumption
for its own from his birth. I have entered into this
digression, seemingly foreign to my subject, for the
purpose of recalling the memory of James Darmesteter.
There is a connection, however, between Darmesteter
and the celebrated philosophical Jew of Holland.
Darmesteter was consumptive, and died at exactly the
same age as Baruch or Benedict Spinoza, who lived
from 1632 to 1677, forty-five years. Moreover, Dar-
mesteter is not only mentioned in M. Muret's pages,
but that author quotes from his " Coup d'ceil sur
rhistoire du peuple Juif," a pamphlet incorporated in
the " Prophetes d' Israel," published by Calmann-Levy
in 1892. And who knows but James Darmesteter, if he
had lived, would have left behind a legacy as great as
that bequeathed to posterity by the illustrious Hebrew
philosopher of Amsterdam ? He had a strong brain
in a weak body, he had left the Synagogue in order
to be free, and even in his personal appearance was not
unlike Spinoza, who is described by his French trans-


lator, M. Saisset, as "a man of medium stature,
regular features, skin rather dark, black hair and
eye-lashes, and all the outward marks showing his
descent from Portuguese Jews." James Darmesteter
was also supposed to resemble Giacomo Leopardi, the
Italian poet and pessimist. When he was on the
banks of the Arno at Florence, it is said that the
Florentines pointed to him as " // piccolo Leopardi.''
I do not think that Darmesteter was by any means a
pessimist, and it was not he who would endorse
Leopardi's maxim that life was only fit to be despised.
France lost one more literary man of great value
in Ferdinand Brunetiere, who, although he lived
thirteen years longer than James Darmesteter, may
be said to have passed away before his time. He,
too, was a chronic invalid, and it was a wonder that
one so organically weak could have put forth such a
mass of literary work as that signed by Brunetiere. I
only knew the man through his writings, and, although
it was the fashion on the boulevards to sneer at him
and his old-fashioned craze for resuscitating- such longf-
dead worthies as Bossuet, for example, I always read
him with attention, and enjoyed his gnarled and rugged
French. He also appealed to me as being one of those
who had struggled. He was a provincial, a Toulon
man, and in early days in Paris had to teach for a
living. It was his friend Paul Bourget who first intro-
duced him to the proprietor of the Revue des Deux
Mondes, of which he became editor. Bourget had also
struggled in Paris in his youth, but he came to know
FranQois Buloz, director of the Deux Mondes, and wrote
some articles for him. Buloz was satisfied with the
work, and asked Bourget for a study, or critical review,


of French poetry. They had a conversation on the
subject, but did not agree, Buloz having a different
conception of French poetry to that of Bourget.
The latter left Buloz lamenting in his study the
death of Planche, who would have done what he
wanted. The chief sub-editor of the Deux Mondes
took Bourget aside, and also began to talk about
the work which the director wanted done, where-
upon the novelist thought of his friend Brunetiere
and recommended him. " Oh ! " said the chief sub,
" I don't know what to do. We have tried so
many literary critics," a statement rather unpleasant
for the gentlemen of letters who had been '* tried "
before M. Brunetiere. The recommendation of Paul
Bourget was acted upon, but when he went to see
Brunetiere he found, to his surprise, that the latter
hesitated before accepting a post on the great Review.
That was as M. Bourget says, first on account of his
natural pessimism, and secondly by reason of his
pride, for he was afraid of being commanded or
hustled. He made up his mind soon after, and was
not only the literary critic of the Buloz Review, but
edited it. He killed himself by overwork, and actually
sought to do so. His early struggles and bad health
made him see everything black and gloomy, so he
worked to throw off his melancholy. His output was
tremendous, and it not only astonished the world, but it
alarmed his friends and the admirers of his undoubted
talent. No man had handled literary subjects in so
masterly a manner since Taine and Sainte-Beuve, and
even those who were against him when he became a
Nationalist, an anti-Dreyfusard, and a "practising"
Catholic had to admit his ability. The Loisyists,


however, objected to his interference with the
exegetists, because he had said in one of his " Dis-
cours de Combat " that so far as exegesis and criticism
had for their object the raising of doubts as to the
truth of religion, they had egregiously failed. He
later on said that rationalistic exegesis, which was the
great *' worker" of doubt in religion, would continue
to be so until it was conquered on its own ground by
that of erudition. From this he went on to quote
from the First Episde to the Corinthians proofs of the
resurrection of Christ, and Abbe Houtin promptly
accused him of using only a truncated text, and of
leaving out the eighth verse : " And last of all He was
seen of me also, as of one born out of due time " ; that is
to say, Paul was only a visionary witness. In any case,
the Catholic cause lost in Ferdinand Brunetiere an
active, ardent, and able champion. Taine and Sainte-
Beuve, the precursors of Brunetiere, had both some
respect for Catholicism. This was notably the case
with Sainte-Beuve, who was a Catholic born, whereas
Taine was a Protestant. Brunetiere was not, however,
sentimental, but thoroughly practical, in defending his


Pierre Loti at Aden— The French dramatists — The old play-
wrights and the new — Rise of M. Antoine — His early
efforts and failures — His series of new men — Henri
Becque — The Comedie Rosse — The men from Antoine's :
Lavedan, Donnay, Brieux, Francois de Curel, Courteline
— M. Capus at home — M. Brieux and his " Avaries " —
Courtehne's bag of tricks — M. Paul Hervieu and the
"Dedale"— M. Edmond Rostand and M. Coquehn— The
French poets: Hugo, Lamartine, Baudelaire, Verlaine —
The only comic poet.

THERE is a vast difference, social and literary,
between Pierre Loti and Ferdinand Brunetiere
the critic, of whom I have been writing in the pre-
ceding chapter. Loti's prose lingers in my memory.
It is as different from that of Brunetiere as is marble
of Paros or Carrara from granite. He was one of my
earliest favourites, but he has gone out of fashion now.
He has written rather too much, and at one time he
continued to publish with the rapid regularity of
" Gyp." Loti is one of those writers who want to
make me translate him against my wish, for I do
not believe in trying to turn fine French prose into
English. I have always held that it is impossible to
render adequately in English the prose of Flaubert,
Anatole France, Brunetiere, Renan, or any of the
masters of style. They have to be read and enjoyed





To face p. 344.


— " tasted," the French say — in the original, or not
at all. Translated they fall as flat in English as does
in French the prose of Ruskin or of George Meredith,
or the poetry of Shelley, Swinburne, Browning, or
William Morris. With Pierre Loti I found it dif-
ferent, and while enjoying his prose I tried to give
an English equivalent of it. Here is a sample which
I once proposed to show to him, but could not find
him in Paris, where he used to come only now and
then, his naval work as Captain Viaud, which is his
real name, keeping him at various ports. It is his
description of the Gulf of Aden, a place familiar to
Anglo-Indians and travellers to the Farther East :
" Day dawns in the Gulf of Aden, a region of intense
heat and of phantasmal mists. Before us who return
from the Indies under an unchanging blue sky, the
horizon is as it were closed by heavy veils of a grey
violet, almost black. To a sailor's eye there is land
there, opaque and immovable, a vast continent.
We approach a long, limitless, and monotonous shore
of hard and ravined sand, pink in tint, brilliant in
early morning, with depths beyond of intense shade.
There, in the region of shade, obscure, sombre, deep,
seems to be the place where all the storms of the
earth are hatched. As we gaze along the shore,
the immensity of the place is revealed to us. We
feel the impression of Africa, vast and desolate.
We see little arbutus shrubs, pale green, which give
no shade from the sun. Everywhere a dry heat,
unlike the boiler evaporations of Annam and Cochin-
China, for it has swept across the boundless desert."
Pierre Loti excels in poetic description. His books
have been described as poetic guides over land and


sea. He is said never to open an umbrella when he
sees tropical rain falling, but he outs with his note-
book and describes the rain straight off. He does
the same when he meets a tropical pond, or pool,
or marsh — he halts on the bank and describes the
thing. And he goes on doing this continually. And
he can also tell a good story, as in " Mon frere Ives,"
" Pecheur d'Islande," and "Aziyad6." Despite the
seeming simplicity of his style, M. Viaud has been
inspired by Flaubert, at least in some of his earlier

Coming to the French dramatists, I must confess
that I have not taken so much interest in them as
I have in the novelists, essayists, critics, and his-
torians. This was chiefly because I had lost touch
with the stage at a time when dramatic production
was at a low ebb. I have been accustomed to
Augier, Dumas fils, Meilhac, Sardou, Pailleron, and
Gondinet. I was also a witness of M. Antoine's
efforts to abolish the Conservatoire and to revolu-
tionise the French stage. He did not succeed in
doing away with the old house, the '' boite'' in the
Faubourg Poissonniere, but he has revolutionised the
French stage. When I knew him first he was a
struggling clerk in the Gas Company's offices near
Montmartre. He opened his first show in a passage,
also near Montmarte, called the Elysde des Beaux
Arts, in March, 1887. With him were strugglers
like himself, a clerk at the Prefecture of the Seine,
a post office sorter, a bookseller's despatch man, a
journeyman painter, an advertisement canvasser, one
journalist, and several women, including Mademoiselle
Barny, a dressmaker who lent her furniture for the


" show." At the first night in the dingy den in the
Elys^e of the Fine Arts, M. Antoine and his col-
leagues played four short pieces. By degrees
Antoine succeeded until he founded the " Theatre
Libre " definitely, and had all Paris to his playhouse.
He is now manager of the Odeon, but keeps an
eye on his former establishment. In the old days
Antoine was continually trying new dramatists, in-
spired mostly by Ibsen, and it was sometimes
wearying to watch the process. At last some of
the young men "caught on," and a new era of
dramatic production dawned. The days of Augier,
Dumas fits, Sardou, Pailleron, Gondinet were over.
Meilhac and Halevy were no longer wanted. They
had their masterpieces, " La Belle Hdene," in
operetta ; " Frou-frou," in high comedy ; " L'Et6 de
la Saint Martin" and the "Petite Marquise," in
sentimental and satirical or ironic comedy. Now
they must go down before the "Comedie nouvelle,"
the "Comedie Rosse," heralded by Henry Becque's
" Les Corbeaux " and "La Parisienne," founded at
Antoine's theatre and developed by Jules Lemaitre,
Henri Lavedan, Hervieu, Brieux, Donnay. Henri
Lavedan was one of the first successful jeunes from
Antoine's. He triumphed with nearly all his plays,
the "Prince d'Aurec," "Viveurs," " Le Nouveau

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 22 24 25

Online LibraryWalter F LonerganForty years of Paris → online text (page 22 of 25)