« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
Tartar warrior with the drooping graces of an Eastern beauty. Here, sleep, in a library protected by your military virtues, sleep, my Hamilčar, with the luxury of a sultana. Sleep, heroic and voluptuous Hamilcar, and wait for the hour when the mice will dance in the moonlight before the 'Acta Sanctorum' of the learned Bollandists."
The antiquary was not insensible to the rebuff implied to learning by the fact that Hamilcar was more impressed by the lightest word of the housekeeper than by all his honeyed compliments. The knowledge made him inclined to be apologetic. In his excitement one day at the discovery of a manuscript, he knocked a volume of the ponderous Moréri over noisily with his elbow. "Hamilcar, who was washing himself, suddenly stopped and looked angrily at me. Was this the tumultuous existence he must expect under my roof? 'My poor, dear comrade,' I made answer, 'I am the victim of a violent passion,' and he proceeded to expatiate at considerable length to his cat upon the theory of the passions.
The ordinary lack of sympathy between successive generations of experts in matters of erudition is illustrated in Bonnard with a rare power of insight into such topics, but upon the whole, as will already have appeared, it is the favorable side of the scholarly life that is turned to us almost exclusively in this delightful book; the reader maintains a steadily optimistic frame of mind, and with difficulty (if at all) restrains a sentimental tear when Bonnard finds the long-desired manuscript or laments the premature death of his little godson.
M. France has retained a predilection for the type of the antiquary and the scholar, but since he wrote "Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard" he has discovered a very different kind of model, and he has mixed his colors upon a very different plan. In "Le Lys
Rouge" we are afforded a glimpse of the furious hatreds and the hurricanes of jealousy that subsist but too often in the relations between scholars of a world-wide celebrity. Schmoll, the great latinist, and "after Mommsen the first epigraphist in the world," has reproached his colleague at the Institut, M. Marmet, the great Etruscan scholar, with combining a suspicious fluency in Etruscan with a dangerous ignorance of Latin. Mounting the stairway at the Institut one day, in company with Renan and Oppert, Schmoll met Marmet and offered him his hand. Marmet ignored the proffered courtesy, and said, "I don't know you." "What!" retorted Schmoll, "do you take me for a Latin inscription?"
The bigoted self-absorption of the typical specialist is depicted with an exquisite raillery, and with a seeming extravagance that is yet very little removed from the perfect truth in the highly condensed portrait of M. Pigonneau. "I have consecrated my entire life, as is well known, to the study of Egyptian archæology, nor have my labors been sterile. I can say without self-flattery, that my 'Memoir upon the handle of an Egyptian mirror in the Louvre Museum' may still be consulted with advantage, though it was one of my earliest productions. . . . Encouraged by the flattering reception accorded to my studies by colleagues at the Institut, I was tempted for a moment to embark upon a work of a very much wider scope-no less than a broad survey of the weights and measures in use at Alexandria under the reign of Ptolemy Auletes (80-52 B.C.). But I recognized very soon that a subject so general and so vast is not in any way adapted for treatment by a genuine man of science, and that serious scholarship could undertake it only at the risk of finding itself compromised amid all kinds of adventures. I felt that in considering several subjects at one and
the same time I was abandoning the fundamental principle of an archæologist. If to-day I confess my error, if I avow the inconceivable enthusiasm which launched me upon a project so extravagant, I do it in the interest of the young student, who will learn from my example to subdue his imagination. It is likely to be his most cruel enemy; for the scholar who has not succeeded in stifling the imagination within him is forever lost to science. I shudder still when I think of the chasms over which I was dangled in my adventurous spirit in this (happily) transitory ardor for general ideas. I was within an ace of what is called History! What an abysm! I was upon the point of falling into Art. For History is really no more, or, at best, only a specious and false science. Is it not a matter of common knowledge to-uay, that the historian has preceded the archæologist, just as the astrologer has preceded the astronomer, the alchemist the chemistnay, as the ape has preceded the man? But, thank heaven! I got off with a fright."
Another stage in the evolution of the erudite mind as conceived by Anatole France is marked by the character of M. Jérôme Coignard, a theological student of the greatest punctilio in regard to all matters of ritualistic tradition and doctrinal accuracy, but a thoroughgoing sensualist and a libertine, not only in action, but also in his whole philosophy of life. For an example of his ethical doctrine, as applied to the subject of feminine pride, we may refer the reader to the story of St. Mary the Egyptian, as interpreted by Coignard to his scholar, Jacques Tournebroche, in "La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque." A scarcely less fascinating example of the sophistries of this silver-tongued old scoundrel may be found in his unflattering portrait of the father of his Church. The example of Boswell will help us to
understand the subtle pleasure that certain minds derive from detecting their own foibles in the character of a great "exemplar vitæ morumque." We must never for a moment, he insists, regret that disgraceful denial of St. Peter's. Think of the prophecies that had to be fulfilled. "Et si ce Pierre ou Céphas n'avait pas fait, cette nuit-là, la dernière des infamies, il ne serait pas aujourd'hui le plus grand saint du paradis et la pierre angulaire de notre sainte Eglise, pour la confusion des honnêtes gens selon le monde qui voient les clefs de leur félicité éternelle tenues par un lâche coquin. O salutaire exemple qui, tirant l'homme hors des fallacieuses inspirations de l'honneur humain, le conduit dans les voies du salut! O savante économie de la religion! O sagesse divine, qui exalte les humbles et les misérables pour abaisser les superbes! O Merveille! O Mystère! la honte éternelle des pharisiens et des gens de justice, un grossier marinier du lac de Tibériade, devenu par sa lâcheté épaisse la risée des filles de cuisine qui se chauffaient avec lui dans la cour du grana prêtre, un rustre et un couard qui renonça son maître et sa foi devant des maritornes bien moins jolies, sans doute, que la femme de chambre de madame la baillive de Séez, porte au front la triple couronne, au doigt l'anneau pontifical, est établi au-dessus des princes-évêques, des rois, et de l'empereur, est investi du droit de lier et de délier; le plus respectable homme, la plus honnête dame n'entreront au ciel que s'il leur en donne l'accès."
Full of these racy, semi-blasphemous tirades, we have in Coignard a rich type of the clerical mendicant of a former age, in whom familiarity with theological mysteries had bred a wellnigh atheistical contempt for sacred subjects and inspired texts.
Peace upon earth, it is Coignard's conclusion, can only be attained by mutual contempt between man and
man. "If men only despised themselves and each other sincerely, they would no longer do evil, and would live together in an amiable tranquillity. All the evils of polite society are derived from the fact that the citizens thereof think too highly of themselves, raising honor, like a monster, upon an altar of misery, both mental and corporeal. Of all the things that I detest, I hate worst this spirit which renders men proud and cruel, this pride which requires them to honor themselves and to honor their neighbors. As if any one of the race of Adam could be worthy of honor! What a detestable idolatry! No, no! To assure to human beings an existence which may have something pleasant about it, it is absolutely necessary to recall them to their native humility."
But it is not until we come to Anatole France's later work, entitled "Histoire Contemporaine" (the series of three volumes, appearing 1897-9, entitled respectively "L'Orme du Mail," "Le Mannequin d'Osier" and "L'Anneau d'Améthyste"), that we feel the full force of his pessimistic philosophy. The protagonist, M. Lucien Bergeret, is by far the most carefully finished portrait in the gallery of scholars from which we have already selected some examples. In him the playful irony of Bonnard is almost wholly replaced by a cynicism that is full of a profound bitterness. He is Latin professor and "maître de conférences" to the faculty of letters in a city of northern France; and he takes the part of a generally dispassionate and always very satirical observer of the byplay of scholastic life, and of the numerous clerical and social intrigues which make up the life of an important provincial town, with its archbishop, its prefect and its general of division. The portraits of these worthies and of other local celebrities are all most carefully drawn. There is Charlot, the cardinal arch
bishop, an elderly man of an extreme finesse and an unctuously affectionate manner, but perfectly insincere and indifferent to everything but his own dignity and freedom of action; and Worms-Clavelin, the prefect, a coarse man, who "listened with his mouth" and whose face betrayed a mind wholly impervious to moral delicacy. At the country house which he honors with his presence he is brutally anticlerical and cynically vulgar in his familiarities with the fair but frail Mme. de Gromance. His wife, like himself, has much of the Teuton and the Semite in her composition, but she sends her daughter to a convent school, and is a connoisseur of church ornaments and embroidery. As her agent in procuring these rarities she employs the astute Abbé Guitrel, an aboriginal of purest French blood, from whom she hopes to derive the benefits of a pumice-stone "to remove the stains of Germany and of Asia." Guitrel is ultimately adopted as her candidate for a vacant bishopric in opposition to Bergeret's friend, Lantaigne, the great preacher of St. Exupère, and the only dialectician and man of general ideas in the place that he cares to measure his mind against.
Then there is General Cartier de Chalmot, with an intelligence excessively respectful of symbols, and a voice that betrays, at the same moment, the timidity of the man and the infallibility of the chief; and M. Terremondre, president of the local archæological and agricultural societies, who got up the local statue to Joan of Arc and designs the costumes for the historical cavalcades. He is a strong anti-Semite in the country among the game preservers, but his principles are insensibly relaxed at Paris, especially during the financial dinner-party season. Among the minor characters are Fornerol, the skilful but unimaginative doctor; M. le Premier Président Cassignol, a perfect picture of the old man
hardened and withered, with his interests exclusively in the past; Paillot the discreet bookseller, who cultivates the reputation of a learned and academic hospitality.
With none of these personages has Bergeret much sympathy, though we are continually startled by the penetration with which he divines their secret motives and lays bare their ideas in all their native crudity. Nor has he much more fellow-feeling for any of his colleagues. In the small successes and triumphs of the pedagogic profession he can scarcely affect to take an interest. With the simplicity of the scholastic mind he delights rather to contrast the splendors of the rich; to the long trances of study, which have destroyed their sense of action, he is fond of opposing the rapid operation of the man of affairs; with their innocent and erudite senility he compares with malicious detail and innuendo the significant graces of the society lady, by whom their clumsy advances are repelled with such a grand disdain. His cynical frankness outrages the few prominent fellow-townsmen whom his cleverness had, perhaps, attracted. The local patriots are scandalized by his theory that Jeanne d'Arc was nothing more nor less than a mascotte. The magistrates are displeased by his humorous tirade against their admirable criminal procedure, and he deeply shocks M. Terremondre by his remarks upon the subject of the disaster at the Charité Bazar: "Un des chefs du parti catholique dans le département, Vous devez savoir que votre Dieu montrait jadis aux âges bibliques un goût assez vif pour les sacrifices humains. En ce temps-là Jéhovah ressemblait à son rival Chamos; c'était un être féroce, injuste et cruel. Il se montrait surtout friand de chair fraîche." It needed something more after this than his bare assertion to convince the worthy virtuoso that M. Bergeret was
not "un grand ennemi de notre religion." It is impossible, however, to give a brief instance of the manner in which the most venerated creeds and opinions crumble under the professor's learned persiflage.
It was natural that Mme. Bergeret should utterly fail to understand her husband: "Je ne te comprends pas, Lucien. Tu ris de ce qui n'est pas risible, et l'on ne sait jamais si tu plaisantes ou si tu es sérieux." She goes on to entreat M. Roux, her husband's favorite pupil (a young man of sanguine disposition, who alleviates his term of military service by systematic bribery, and explains that what renders milltary life tolerable is the stupor resulting from physical fatigue which acts as a kind of cotton-wool padding), to instruct Lucien in the art of conciliating people who are likely to be of service to his career. But Bergeret's mask of irony places an insurmountable barrier between him and those of his academic chiefs with whom he was most nearly allied by professional or political sympathy. In the typical provincial city of 150,000 souls, but five Dreyfusards were found, among them Bergeret and his colleague at the Faculty, M. Leterrier. The latter comes to encourage the Latin professor in his unpopular opinions with the sentiment that the truth embodies a force which renders it irresistible and ensures its ultimate triumph. But such a proposition was hardly likely to command the assent of M. Bergeret. Truth, he assures M. Leterrier, does not prevail; on the contrary, it generally perishes obscurely under public contempt and insult. As to the action of the mob which hurls abuse and stones at the Dreyfusards, he points out that there is much to explain, if not to excuse their conduct.
"Reflect," he says, "that truth has many evident points of inferiority as compared with the lie, which must
eventually lead truth to disappear. The lie, for instance, is multiple, and truth has against it numbers. This is not its only defect. Truth is inert; it is not susceptible to modification, it does not lend itself to combinations which enable it easily to enter either into the intelligence or into the passions of men. The lie, on the other hand, has marvellous resource. It is ductile, it is plastic. More than this, it is natural and even moral, insomuch as it corresponds with the habits of man, who has based his ideas of good and evil upon the most holy and the most absurd of lies. The lie, therefore, becomes the principle of virtue and beauty in man, and the rejection of the lie in the search for truth can only be inspired by the culpable rashness of men of intellect. So slow, however, is the substitution of truth for falsehood, that a few simple lies will, for ages to come, continue to gild millions of existences." It is not to be expected that posterity will take a view essentially different or more enlightened than that of the present hour. Posterity is impartial only when it is indifferent; that which no longer interests it, it promptly and irrevocably forgets. The discourse that follows is, in effect, a beautifully written supplement to the pessimistic demonstration in Flaubert's "Bouvard et Pécuchet" of the extreme slenderness of the point of contact between erudition or scientific truth and the great struggling mass of humanity. In his peaceable disdain of mankind, Bergeret attains, perhaps, as near as possible to the superb resignation contained in that notable sentence with which La Bruyère opens his "caractère de l'homme:"
"Ne nous emportons point contre les hommes, en voyant leur dureté, leur ingratitude, leur injustice, leur fierté, l'amour d'euxmêmes et l'oubli des autres. Ils sont ainsi faits, c'est leur nature."
It is not merely, however, as the
theory of a recluse that Bergeret's nihilism is exhibited, for it reaches its transcendent climax in connection with the one definite incident (apart from the intrigues of the various candidates for the see of Turcoing) round which the whole "Histoire Contemporaine" revolves. Every lover of Anatole France is familiar with the details of a scene which it were impossible, after him, to describe. It is enough to say that the conjugal mishap of M. Bergeret is treated with an originality which exhibits the writer's ironical powers at their very highest.
The reflections with which M. Bergeret reclaims his normal imperturbability of spirit afford a bird's-eye view of his whole attitude of mind. In words not at all dissimilar to those which Jérôme Coignard might have used, he fortifies himself with the thought that our pride is the primary cause of our miseries, that we are dressed-up apes, who have gravely applied ideas of honor and virtue to situations to which they are wholly inappropriate, that the world (as Pope Boniface VIII rightly held) makes a great fuss of a very small matter, and that Mme. Bergeret and M. Roux were in reality as unworthy of nicely calculated praise or blame as a couple of chimpanzees. His sense of humor was too strong for him to disguise the close relationship which existed between himself and this pair of primates, but he differentiated himself as being a meditative chimpanzee, and from this distinction it may not be denied that he derived a considerable amount of satisfaction.
After all, he concludes, the greatest service that one can render one's fellow-mortals is to recall to them their native ignominy, to humiliate them, to show the ephemeral character of their work, the futile imbecility of their pride. Brought back to the true sentiment of their condition, their existence