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school had accomplished much; it had recreated French poetry, and it had revolutionised French prose. But, by the very nature of its achievement, it led the way to its own supersession. The spirit which animated its doctrines was the spirit of progress and of change; it taught that there were no fixed rules for writing well; that art, no less than science, lived by experiment; that a literature which did not develop was dead. Therefore it was inevitable that the Romantic ideal itself should form the stepping-stone for a fresh advance. The complex work of Balzac unites in a curious way many of the most important elements of the old school and of the new.
Alike by his vast force, his immense variety, his formlessness, his lack of critical and intellectual power, he was a Romantic; but he belonged to the future in his enormous love of prosaic detail, his materialist cast of mind, and his preoccupation with actual facts.
THE AGE OF CRITICISM
WITH the generation of writers who rose to eminence after the death of Balzac, we come within the reach of living memory, so that a just estimate of their work is well-nigh impossible: it is so close to us that it is bound to be out of focus. And there is an additional difficulty in the extreme richness and variety of their accomplishment. They explored so many fields of literature, and produced so much of interest and importance, that a short account of their work can hardly fail to give a false impression of it. Only its leading characteristics and its most remarkable manifestations can be touched upon here.
The age was before all else an age of Criticism. A strong reaction set in against the looseness of construction and the extravagance of thought which had pervaded the work of the Romantics; and a new ideal was set up-an ideal which was to combine the width and diversity of the latter with the precision of form and the deliberate artistic purpose of the Classical age. The movement affected the whole of French literature, but its most important results were in the domain of Prose. Nowhere were the defects of the Romantics more obvious than in their treatment of history. With a very few exceptions they conceived of the past as a picturesque pageant-a thing of contrasts and costumes, an excuse for rhetorical descriptions, without inner significance or a real life of its own. One historian of genius they did indeed produce MICHELET; and the contrast between his work and that of his successors, TAINE and RENAN, is typical of the new departure. The great history of Michelet, with its strange, convulsive style, its capricious and imaginative treatment of facts, and its undisguised bias, shows us the spectacle of the past in a series of lurid lightning-flashes—a spectacle at once intensely vivid and singularly contorted; it is the history of a poet rather than of a man of science. With Taine and Renan the personal element which forms the very foundation of Michelet's work has been carefully suppressed. It is replaced by an elaborate examination of detail, a careful, sober, unprejudiced reconstruction of past conditions, an infinitely conscientious endeavour to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Nor is their history merely the dead bones of analysis and research; it is informed with an untiring sympathy; and in the case of Renan especially—a suave and lucid style adds the charm and amenity which art alone can give.
The same tendencies appear to a still more remarkable degree in Criticism. With SAINTE-BEUVE, in fact, one might almost say that criticism, as we know it, came into existence for the first time. Before him, all criticism had been one of two things: it had been either a merely personal expression of opinion, or else an attempt to establish universal literary canons and to judge of writers by the standards thus set up. Sainte-Beuve realised that such methods—the slap-dash pronouncements of a Johnson or the narrow generalisations of a Boileau-were in reality not critical at all. He saw that the critic's first duty was not to judge, but to understand; and with this object he set himself to explore all the facts which could throw light on the temperament, the outlook, the ideals of his author; he examined his biography, the society in which he lived, the influences of his age; and with the apparatus thus patiently formed he proceeded to act as the interpreter between the author and the public. His
Causeries du Lundi-short critical papers originally contributed to a periodical magazine and subsequently published in a long series of volumes—together with his Port Royal—an elaborate account of the movements in letters and philosophy during the earlier years of Louis XIV's reign-contain a mass of material of unequalled value concerning the whole of French literature. His analytical and sympathetic mind is reflected in the quiet wit and easy charm of his writing. Undoubtedly the lover of French literature will find in Sainte-Beuve's Lundis at once the most useful and the most agreeable review of the subject in all its branches; and the more his knowledge increases, the more eagerly will he return for further guidance and illumination to those delightful books.
But the greatest prose-writer of the age devoted himself neither to history nor to criticism--though his works are impregnated with the spirit of both-but to Fiction. In his novels, FLAUBERT finally accomplished what Balzac had spasmodically begun—the separation of the art of fiction from the unreality, the exaggeration, and the rhetoric of the Romantic School. Before he began to write, the movement towards a greater restraint, a more deliberate art, had shown