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which promised nobly for the man who had conceived and executed so large a design. True, the mere handling of characters like J. Tom Levis and Sophie Leemans had its danger. A Tacitus cannot be too strict with himself nor with his audience ; for where there is plague there will be infection. And the infection, alas! rages, overflows, and conquers in “Sapho,' a story as unwholesome as · La Cousine Bette. No man, even for the purpose of instructing his sons when they arrive at the age of twenty,' has the right to perpetrate such an outrage on public taste as many of the suggestions in this book involve. It has been argued that the moral is severe. But most certainly it was not of ignominious stories like these that Terence wrote, · Nosse hæc omnia salus est adolescentulis.' When vice has become (as doubtless on a great scale it always tends to become) a diseased instinct taking the place of human nature and making of men and women mere goats and monkeys, it is imperative that the romance, which above all other forms of composition appeals to the multitude, should be silent concerning it. In these ghastly realms, peopled by unclean Harpys and the obscene creations which seem to possess like a growing madness the minds of the Parisians, that notable prediction of the English poet has been fulfilled, “Art after art goes out, and all is night.' We cannot criticize such works; for it is absolutely impossible to speak of them in detail. M. Daudet may rest assured that in writing 'Sapho,' or any other of its kind, he was pouring into the wounds of humanity not oil and wine, but vitriol. And though his painters, sculptors, poets and the rest, when they fall into the mire, give vent to lamentations—on the whole maudlin and ineffective-over their degraded helplessness, the philosophy of his treatment is not so much that slavery to instinct will plunge the whole man in ruin, as that a modern cannot escape from it. Fate, in the shape of the prevailing corruption, will, it appears, be too strong for him. There is not one just man in this City of the Plain.
A novelist of great experience and renown, M. Octave Feuillet, whose Julia de Trécour' has long been a masterpiece, but who does not in his old age share the fatalist sentiments of the majority, has denounced them and the principles from which they are derived, in the remarkable story, • La Morte,' published a few years ago. Are we but the creatures of circumstance, with passions seeking their satisfaction in the struggle for life? Then morality, truth, self-sacrifice, are · bugs to frighten children ;' and lust and murder but empty names. How can we rebuke in conscience the acts of an organism which is no more at liberty not to act than the wind is to shift of its own accord from east to west, or a stone to fall upwards ? On these premisses the heroine takes her stand. She develops a faculty of scientific murder which would have astounded Madame de Brinvilliers, who, very probably, poisoned on no clear principles. And when she is weary of the husband thus acquired, she lays before him the doctrine of psychological moments' which justifies her in sipping the nectar of various sweets as she wings her way through the Earthly Paradise. M. Feuillet, on the appearance of this trenchant and emphatic protest against the fashionable doctrines, was satirized by his younger contemporaries as retrograde and worn-out.
But here, we answer, is M. Paul Bourget, who is neither retrograde nor worn-out; who possesses the newest methods and is not yet forty. And it is M. Paul Bourget, the Parisian of the present, a cosmopolite, man of the world, philosopher and poet, who has repeated and driven home the teaching of M. Feuillet in novels which sell by the twenty thousand. Not that he is a plagiarist. If. Un Disciple' happens to be still more unpleasant than · La Morte,' it is yet strikingly original, and as conclusive as the evidence of an independent witness rehearsing what he has seen with his own eyes, ought to be in any court of law, whether criminal or literary
It is an apt saying of M, Tissot, that this latest renowned of French story-tellers has brought a 'sad and serious mind to the study of the insoluble problems of life;' for such M. Tissot reckons them.* And he refers to the influence of Baudelaire, and of M. Renan, which we may trace in his
Like the author of Les Paradis Artificiels,' M. Bourget sketches scenes of debauchery at once venal and pitiless;' he does not shrink from details which to the common taste are revolting (and very justly so); and he has delicate symphonies in his verse. From a rather unpromising quarter -M. Dumas fils—he has borrowed the moral preoccupation' which gives a tragic colouring to · Crime d'Amour' and • L'Irréparable.'. We may, perhaps, question whether it is a sign of exquisite aristocracy'in M. Bourget, or in his model M. Ernest Renan, to be curious yet indifferent ' in viewing the realities of life, or whether to codify one's beliefs' is, in fact,
absolutely vain. But that M. Bourget's works do not depend upon a philosophy,' that he is only an artist-amateur'—which must not be taken to mean an amateur artist,—that his criticism has been “fragmentary and sentimental,' while he has perhaps experienced two or three divine sensations,' will be obvious on
* Tissot, p. 312.
turning * Flaubert à George Sand, p. lviii.
turning over his pages. He is, indeed, curious about all things. Ye—if Mensonges may be relied upon—he has a 'marked sympathy' for studies in la psychologie amoureuse—an expression for which, we are thankful to say, the English language does not readily yield an equivalent. Shall we call him an Ovid in French prose? His own slightly languid description of himself is that he is 'a melancholy analyst.' His dream of art, he says, in the dedication of. André Cornélis,' would be an analytic romance founded on the actual data of the science of mind.' Always science in these men of to-day! Mr. Herbert Spencer or M. Ribot is to vouch for the accuracy of the phenomena they exhibit. By and by we shall see the College of Surgeons giving its Imprimatur to Mudie's Catalogues. Alas, alas! and what will have become of our Spensers and Shakspeares, who indulged not only in two or three divine sensations, but in a thousand, and who ventured to give to a universe of .airy nothings,'' a local habitation and a name'? • Airy nothings!' Think of Mr. Spencer or Mr. Grant Allen struggling with these remnants of an exploded poetic faculty ! M. Guy de Maupassant is right, then; and a greater than he.* For it was Heine who said that Democracy—as he saw it in France—would be the death of Art. "Sad analysis,' which has analysed into the limbo of a 'mere pyschology' our long-cherished faith in the moral law, and a God that can hear our prayers, will not be very
tender with the fair and gracious forms which have haunted the poet's mind, and peopled the realms of fancy. M. Bourget is so much resolved to be a sceptic that he falls into pure dilettantism. Nor is any other conclusion possible to the man who asks in * André Cornélis,' • Is there a God—is there good, or evil, or justice ?' and who decides that there is nothing but a pitiless fate which weighs upon the race of man, a fate unjust and absurd, bestowing joy and sorrow at hap-hazard. “I am too deeply fatalist,' adds another of his characters, François Vernantes, 'to attach any meaning to the word remorse.' Are we not reminded, again and again, in such sayings, of M. Feuillet’s • La Morte'?
A combination of sensuality and mysticism,' 'of extreme refinement with utter weakness, a modern species of Hamletism,'—such are the expressions to denote the temper of M. Bourget's writings thrown out by the admiring critic.f But the sensuality is more to be felt than the mysticism in that strangely repulsive book “Mensonges’; the heroine of which spreads round her a miasma which would not be out of place in • Les Parents Pauvres.' It records a series of bitter and cruel deceptions for René Vincy,-another of the modern poets whose vanity is their ruin,-but no one could have stooped to write it without harming himself as well as his readers. Let us ask, too, why the crowning scenes of · L'Irréparable,' •Crime d'Amour,' and · Un Disciple,' are full of physical disgust and brutality? These creatures, as M. Bourget must be well aware, are fit only for a menagerie of lascivious beasts. It is impossible to fall lower. From the hero of Le Rouge et Le Noir,'—to take a well-known example of the Realist handling,—to the pupil of M. Sixte, who betrays every human trust in his rage for psychological experiments, there is a change of nature, difficult to express in its full intensity. Julien Sorel, Stendhal's hero, has certain qualities of the soldier kind, a reckless daring and power of self-sacrifice, which we are compelled to admire, and we cannot help pitying him when he lays his head on the block. But was there ever anything so foul and mean as the coward, liar, and assassin, who finds in M. Sixte's Principles of Psychology—that is to say, in M. Taine and Mr. Herbert Spencer—the justification of his unspeakable baseness? It is probable that M. Bourget, who is too æsthetic to display, or perhaps to feel, much sense of humour, did not intend: Un Disciple' for a satire on the masters to whom he bows down. However, a satire it remains ; nor does it escape a touch of comedy in certain otherwise tremendous situations. To say that Robert Greslou is no gentleman is to say very little; he is what the naif American would call 'a cur;' and not all his creator's refinement will make him pathetic or even interesting. Did M, Bourget intend him for the reductio ad absurdum of determinist theories ? Are lying, treachery, and unmanliness the necessary outcome of Mr. Spencer's · Ethics'? And is l'ivresse animale the sum total of what our new teachers provide to temper the melancholy and the meanness of their systems? • Ah,' exclaims M. Tissot, ' pray do not ask; the rosary of M. Bourget's contradictions would be endless.' But that writer himself, in the remarkable address to the young men of this generation, which serves as a preface to · Un Disciple,' implores them as ardently as though he believed in free-will, not to yield to an effeminate philosophy which is no less cruel than obscene. The universal solvent, scepticism, which threatens in so many quarters to dissipate fixed beliefs, and even objective laws, reducing metaphysics (and one must include Spinoza and Kant among metaphysicians) to a process of soul-making,' has inundated M. Bourget with its acrid floods. He feels the sadness of an existence which is ever beginning anew,' but which achieves no forward step. To him • life is a riddle with contra
+ Tissot, p. 304, &c.
deceptions dictory reste.
dictory answers, all possible and all inadequate.' He is a flagrant Pessimist, home-sick with a longing for the Hereafter in which he puts no confidence. Though he enters into the sufferings of the multitude, and is softly compassionate like a Tolstoï or a Turgenieff, he looks for no brighter day when mankind will have cast away some of their burdens. If Armand de Querne forsakes his unbelief in the last chapter of Crime d'Amour,' it does not follow that M. Bourget has seen its falsehood. At times, in reading him, one lets the book fall to wonder if Amiel would not have written so, had nature given him the pen of the story-teller.
Realism-Pessimism; Pessimism-Realism; the pendulum swings to and fro, always describing the same hopeless curve, in this literature of an exhausted race, the life-blood of which seems corrupted in its veins. Only the most unwholesome metaphors, derived from asylum or hospital, will convey an adequate sense of the impression made, as by the vulgarity of M. Zola, so by the nerveless refinement and deep melancholy in which the soul of M. Bourget takes delight. Nor is he alone in his conviction that the world, as Littré said, is a very inferior planet'—is, to speak out the truth wrapped up in our social impostures, the worst of all possible worlds, a system of cruel unreason. The exquisite writer who calls himself Pierre Loti, is never tired of taking up his parable to the same effect. That feeling for the beauty of landscape, of skies and seas, and the wide world out of doors, which seems at last to be awakening in French poets and romancists, giving the language a charm it never had before, is combined in the author of Pêcheurs d'Islande,' with a sadness relieved by no gleam of a larger hope. The terror and loveliness ; the grey mists of the North, or the intense tropical lights which make the heavens a blinding vision ; the lonely sands and salt weeds of the Breton coast; the wasted Arctic sun, pale as any moon, where it hangs on the edge of the horizon; the phantom waters dotted over with visionary sails,such as these are, in Pierre Loti's significant language, the eternal things,' visible, steadfast, not to be interpreted. They are always there. And from age to age man is consumed in their presence. Has this sailor-poet read Pascal? Hardly. Yet he might have chosen for the motto of his half-sad, half-sensuous romances, those well-known words: Le dernier acte est toujours sanglant, quelque belle que soit la comédie en tout le
On jette enfin de la terre sur la tête, et en voilà pour jamais.' Did, then, the lives of Gaud and Yann, of the
* Pensées,' p. 207, ed. 1670.