« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
comes and goes like a spirit in the very skilful, very tender picture. Durtal has strayed out into the woods, still rent and torn with his temptations, and unable to raise his thoughts from the earth.
"He strayed slowly along till he came to the little pond, and then pausing, raised supplicating eyes to the cross. When he withdrew his gaze he suddenly met a look so full of emotion, so full of pity and sweetness, that he stopped short, and the look disappeared with the silent salutation of the lay brother who passed
"He has read my soul,' said Durtal to himself, and oh, how much reason has the charitable monk to pity me!' He remembered to have remarked in the morning this tall youth praying in the chapel with great
Later, he perceives again in this chapel
"the young man whose look of pity had strengthened him. He was about twenty, robust and tall, his face a little worn, but at once masculine and tender, with emaciated features, and a fair beard which descended on his breast."
The eyes of this gentle young brother console the penitent, his look of pity and interest seem to shine upon us from the dark background. When Durtal is taking his leave at the end of his retreat, departing as unwillingly as he came, he sees at the bottom of the court "two eyes gazing at him, the eyes of Brother Anoclet, which bade him from afar, with out a gesture, adieu." We confess that this suggestion of humble and natural liking, full of human feeling, touches us more than the suave and gentlemanly monks, always ready with an answer to every difficulty, never startled by the struggles which convulse their penitent, sure of conquering in one way or other the devil who
assails him. There are a number of them, one more resourceful than the other, ministering to the mind diseased, with the certainty of surgeons performing operations in which they have all the force of experience as well as knowledge. They are all somewhat too great and good for human nature's daily food, of which, by the way, they have so little that it scarcely counts. Durtal too has very little, but yet noble fare beside that of the professed-a greasy little mess of vegetables cooked à l'huile, being their only provisions, and these at certain seasons only once a-day; while Durtal has an egg, a little cheese, a little wine. He is offered milk for his breakfast, but very injudiciously prefers wine, which shows he has not profited much by his friendship with the doctor who appears in the first part of his life.
However, the more than frugal menu and the terrible spiritual sufferings to which he has been subjected at La Trappe notwithstanding, he leaves the monastery almost in despair, feeling that there alone can he be sure of maintaining the devotion without which his soul will lose again all the elevation, the peace, the occasional impulses of joy which he had attained to in that abode of prayer.
This is a sufficiently discouraging end to all the struggles of the soul, since if every penitent were to bury himself in a cloister, that would be a sad interruption of all the traditions of Christianity. However, the existence of this book is more remarkable than its conclusions. Here is a lengthy and close - printed volume in the well-known form of French romance, in which the sole theme, never dropped for a moment, is, in the terms of an older generation, the saving of a soul and we avow that the saving of Durtal's soul
has held our interest as strongly as any breathless narrative of adventure or story of love. It is a sign of the times which we do not know how to interpret, or whether to consider it accidental, depending merely upon the genius or popularity of the writer who sets it before us. But M. Huysmans is not, so far as we know, more popular or more remarkable than many others, while his book is, so far as we are aware, unique. We know no English writer who would dare to produce a corresponding work. There used to be, forty or fifty years ago, pious biographies which were, perhaps, as completely occupied with the process of religion in the soul; but, as they were authentic lives, they were naturally reticent, and kept the secrets of their heroes or heroines. Nothing in English that we know of since Bunyan has been so open as this. And even in Bunyan there are bursts of story which soften the strain. Perhaps a severe critic would say that the perverse mind might pick out a certain thread of evil suggestion even from the records of Durtal's temptations but this certainly would not tell with any worthy reader, while the unworthy would find the thread much too slender to support their interest.
On the other hand, the curious machinery of penitence in which the sufferer is placed as in a strait-jacket, the prescribed routine through which he has to go,-the Petit Office de la Sainte Vierge which he is recommended to say before her altar when there is nothing else going on; the tormenting question whether it is ten chapelets, or only ten beads of the chapelet, which his confessor
directed him to say (but that was a false debate created by Satan himself to confuse the sinner's soul), are all very strange to us. To do him justice, however, Durtal is more confused than edified by the chapelet: and the occasional bursts of personal address to God and the Redeemer which come from his lips are very unconventional, full of that simplicity of appeal from one intelligent being (be it said with reverence) to another infinitely above him, which all the organisations of prayer tend to suppress, but which on the whole seem to indicate the most close rapprochement possible between God and man. On the whole, the book is very remarkable and well worthy of consideration. We hope it may be received at least as an indication that French writers are beginning to discern that there are things in heaven and earth more interesting as well as more important than the records of illicit and filthy amours. use the French word in preference, not to sully the divine name of love with any such suggestions. Durtal's possession, in the midst of the new life struggling in his heart, by the hideous recollections and images of vice which he abhors yet cannot banish from his imagination, conveys a shuddering idea of the weight which a licentious man binds upon his own shoulders, and some conception of the condition of those in whom the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.
M. Anatole France1 may almost be said to abuse the franchise of this new impulse (if there is anything so general as a new impulse) in his last work. It is true that his previous books have contained
1 L'Orme du Mail. Par Anatole France, de l'Académie Française. Calman Levy, éditeur.
much more thought and speculation than romance or story; but even Les Opinions de M. Jerome Coignard have a strong thread of character which keeps up an interest less severe than that of philosophy and discussion of general questions. L'Orme du Mail is, as it calls itself, a chapter of Histoire Contemporaine, but it is one in which every suggestion of human interest is confined to the contrast of character in the talk of the notables of a small town,-from the skilful and suave Cardinal Archbishop to the bookseller in whose shop several of these worthies find a place of meeting, besides that of the bench under the great elm in the Mall, or public promenade, which gives the book its title. Not a female figure-except for a page or two, those inevitable to a dinner party crosses the busy street or airy terrace upon which ces Messieurs discuss their different interests which perhaps is a not unnatural reaction against the reign of women, generally improper, in previous French fiction; or perhaps the reaction is specially strong in M. Anatole France himself after his late profound descent into the boiling mud of the 'Lys Rouge.'
In the little town of Three Stars, which we are not sufficiently acquainted with French towns to identify, though there are many exactly like it, there is a kind of intrigue going on between two priests, both of the Seminary,-the Abbé Lantaigne, who is at its head, and an Abbé Giutral, who is one of the professors,—each striving to secure the appointment of bishop to a neighbouring see; but this is the sole thread of story, and it is a feeble one, breaking off fantastically at the end without any attempt to satisfy our natural curiosity as to which won in the struggle. The fat and unctuous
skill of the Cardinal Archbishop in foiling all attempts on the part of one of the candidates to secure an opinion from him, is very amusingly told; and each of the interlocutors, though some are dragged in by the head and shoulders to contribute their (often) quite irrelevant contributions to the talk, is as distinct to the reader as if he himself had been in the habit of meeting them day by day in le coin des bouquins, the corner of Paillot's bookshop in which he keeps a collection of old books, among which a treasure is sometimes discovered by the keen eyes of M. de Terremondre, the squire of the district, so to speak, who is a great collector and antiquary. The other habitual frequenters of this spot are M. Bergeret, a professor at the college, a sad but philosophical scholar, and the doctor, always full of stories of his patients, which give a momentary digression to the talk, as when he announces the birth which he has just accomplished of a baby with the mark of a strawberry on its breast, when they all immediately discuss the true origin of birth-marks. To show the twists and turns of this conversation, an old gentleman passing is brought in, on another occasion, to save him from the pressure of a crowd outside, and immediately, à propos des bottes, tells a story of his old experiences as an advocate, nobody listening to him the while, so far as the reader can perceive. Nothing more like the ordinary course of conversation, with its careless interruptions and quite fantastic succession of ideas, could well be.
The post under the Orme du Mail is the special meeting-place of the Abbé Lantaigne and Bergeret, whose conversation is better regulated but not so amusing. Here, however, is the professor's opinion
of the Republic, which is interesting. "I was bred under the Empire in the love of the Republic," he says. "The Republic is justice,' said my father, who my father, who was professor of rhetoric at the Lycée of Saint Omer. He did not know it."
"The Republic is not justice; but it is the most easy way (la facilite). Monsieur l'Abbé, if you had a mind less elevated, less grave and more open to gaiety, I would confide to you that the actual Republic- the Republic of 1896-pleases and touches me by its modesty. It consents to be not admired. It requires little respect, and even relinquishes esteem. It is enough for it to live-in that lies its desire, and it is a legitimate wish. The most humble creatures desire to live. Like the woodman of the fabulist, like the apothecary of Mantua who so much surprises that young idiot Romeo, it fears death, and that is its sole fear. It holds princes and soldiers at arm's length. If it ran risk of extinction, it might become dangerous. Fear would change its nature and make it ferocious, which would be a great pity. But as long as nothing touches its life, and it is only its honour that is in danger, it is full of good humour. A Government such as this suits me, and makes me feel secure. So many other Governments were made merciless by their self-esteem (amour propre); so many others by cruelty assured their rights, their greatness, and their prosperity; so many others have shed blood for their prerogative, for their majesty! But the Republic has neither selfesteem nor majesty - happy defects which keep it innocent! Let it but continue to exist and it is content. It governs little, and I am tempted to approve it more for this than for all the rest. And since it governs
little, I excuse it for governing ill."
We suspect that this philosophic view is a true one. The flutter of busy life in Paris at the Quai
D'Orsay and other places would almost seem to be as local as a fire or an inundation. The rest of France goes on quietly minding its own business, caring very little for the Government. Elle gouverne peu, as M. Bergeret says; and questions of this or that method of government have for the moment fallen into abeyance in the country. They shout for the Czar, but for their own account neither King nor Emperor makes any strong diversion in the popular mind.
There is not even a General Boulanger on the horizon. An occasional gleam of ardour on the colonial question excites the lighter spirits, but otherwise nobody cares much. It is scarcely a state of things that could have been thought possible thirty years ago.
The third volume of Messrs Henley and Henderson's Centenary edition of Burns1 is occupied with the songs, and comes before the world with a very grave, not to say solemn, aspect. This does not seem on the face of it very suitable to the contents of the volume, but it is perfectly justified from the editors' point of view. They are so much concerned, indeed, and so conscious of having performed a painful duty, that our best sympathies are due to them in the meantime, as martyrs to that stern sense of duty which is no doubt one of the most noble of inspirations. What these gentlemen are painfully conscious of is that, much against their will, and in spite of reverential and admiring sentiment, they have altered the position of Burns as a lyric poet, and indeed almost shattered his pretensions to be considered in that light. Their
1 The Centenary Burns. By W. E. Henley and T. F. Henderson. Messrs
T. C. & E. C. Jack: Edinburgh.
trouble is so genuine, and they regard their iconoclastic work with so much real alarm, that they have even allowed themselves to be interviewed by an enterprising newspaper in deprecation of the universal outcry which they believe their book about to produce. We do not, however, hear of any such outcry, outside of Messrs Henley and Henderson's troubled apprehension and we can only imagine that the dust of their pulling-down operations, though imaginary, has got into their eyes and confused their faculties more or less. The sorrowful statement of their discoveries, which they make with so much feeling, shows that to them these discoveries were unexpected and distressing in the highest degree. Explorers of this description generally express themselves with a certain triumph when they show us the altar pulled down and the idol prostrate: but if there is any triumph here it is of a rueful description, and nobody can be so sensible of the disaster as the poet who is, alas! the unhappy cause of its occurrence.
What can we say to comfort Mr Henley? We much doubt whether it will be consolatory to him to be told that he has done no such harm as he fears; that these discoveries were all made before he was born-nay, that there can be no discoveries where there never was any concealment. The present writer has probably been acquainted with Burns for a longer period than is possible to Mr Henley, and was aware of the correspondence in 'Johnson's Musical Museum' and 'Thomson's Scottish Airs' from the beginning of time: for which reason probably it is that he receives the shock of Mr Henley's spear without even a quiver of his vieux moustache, much less any sensation
of being unhorsed or unsettled in his saddle. These correspondences show, we think, very clearly that Burns's primary position in respect to both these works was that of a devoted lover of Scots song, really more interested in raising up and putting forth to advantage the ancient music and poetry of his native district, the pastoral airs to which he was cradled, the snatches of verse which were like the natural breath of the countryside, than to find a medium of utterance specially for himself. He took up the old chorus lightly, without an arrière pensée, the broken lines of the old songs danced through his brain, more occupied with them than with himself, and it was more delightful to him to retain them for their own sake than to throw them away for his. We think this idea is very clearly traceable throughout the whole series of his letters, especially to Johnson: though we have not seen these letters for years, yet our understanding of them remains so assured that Mr Henley's distress strikes us with a surprise which is not devoid of amusement. Dear poet! we say involuntarily, all this we were very well aware of before had ever you laid a hand on Burns, or regarded with dismay a single broadsheet from the collections of Herd or Lord Rosebery. Take courage! if you have altered the position of a poet greater than yourself, it must simply be with the new generation, which, we grant you, is singularly ignorant of many things very simple to its fathers, though no doubt immensely learned in many other things which its fathers did not know. Burns, so far as we were aware, never concealed nor attempted to conceal the origin of many of his songs. Je prends mon bien où je le trouve,