Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors]



sublime word Puffery, their absurd pretence of returning to the Renaissance, and recovering tradition by skipping the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, their inventions in art which had all been invented before by Arthur Rimbaud, their ungainly prose announcing itself as verse, rhythmless lines running on a thousand feet," It is not French! no, it is not French; and we are neither Greeks nor Romans; we are French, sacré nom de Dieu!" And now he shrugged his shoulders, a frown upon his forehead; now broke into gay, contagious laughter, while in the zeal of his declamation, his pipe languished, or was lit and relit. But these young writers, do they not make use of your name?' said I. them prove that I have any part in their parentage! Let them read my poems!' And in a comic tone, he added, 19, Quai Saint-Michel, 3 francs !' Then 'I have had pupils, yes; but I look on them as pupils in revolt: Moréas is one of them. Ah!' I exclaimed. 'Yes, indeed! I am a bird (as Zola is an ox), and there are evil tongues which say that I have formed a school of canaries. It is false. The symbolists, allowing for certain reserves, are birds, too. Moréas is one of them-but no. .. he is more of a peacock. And then he has remained a child-eighteen years old. True, I am a youngster myself' (here Verlaine assumed his accustomed pose-head thrown back, his lips outthrust, eyes looking straight before him, arm extended) '. but a French youngster, 'cré nom de Dieu !'"' And here his peal of joyous laughter broke forth. "But how is it that you have accepted the title of décadent, and what do you understand by it?" It is a very simple affair. They flung the name at us as an insult; I picked it up as a war-cry; but it means nothing in particular, that I know of. Decadent ! Is not the twilight of a glorious day worth many dawns? And then, the sun which seems to set, will it not rise next morning? Decadent at bottom means just nothing at all. I tel! you again it was a cry and a banner and nothing inore. To fight, we want phrases! Three colors and the black eagle-that is enough men will fight for the banner.'" The interviewer, who had enjoyed the dramatic quality of Verlaine's declamations, closed with a courageous stroke" Is it true that you are jealous

[ocr errors]

of Moréas?' He drew himself up, improvised a long gesture with the right arm, moistened his fingers, rhythmically twisted his mustache, and with strong emphasis uttered himself: Voui! ! ! ' "' And so this document in the study of French letters and of the poetical temperament came to a close.


[ocr errors]

The writer whose Passionate Pilgrim was the convenient occasion for this inquiry, M. Jean Moréas, while he admits that Verlaine will occupy a high place among the immortals of French poetry, refuses to acknowledge the master as other than a Parnassien-a dissentient Parnassien, if you like, but essentially of that school. For his own part, he rejected the name of " decadent," which Verlaine had adopted as a war-cry, and, in 1885, proposed the term "symbolist," as indicating sufficiently the direction of the new departure in poetry. On this our English side of the narrow seas, literature somehow contrives to live and move and have its being without banners and battle-cries, schools and manifestoes. We have not found it necessary to label Mr. George Meredith a "psychologue," or Mr. Swinburne a decadent." Perhaps we do not take art quite so seriously as our neighbors are accustomed to take it, for in politics and in theology, where we are certainly serious, Englishmen are not unprovided with parties and schools. Perhaps we have a deeper sense of the pri mary importance of ind viduality in art. Perhaps we care less for intellectual abstractions, and are content without reducing everything that is excellent to a doctrine or a formula. At least, before a school is formed in literature or art, we suppose it would be well that there should be some work to show. Work done is certainly not the strongest point in the school of symbolists. But what shall we say of M. Réné Ghil and his "évolutiveinstrumentiste" school, which can reckon up the names of twenty-six poets-two baker's-dozens of poets-all contending nobly, side by side with their master, for "the evolutive method,' all from twenty years of age to eight-and-twenty. and nearly all of whom, as regards published work of distinction, are still poetizing in the paulo-post-future tense? Shall we repeat a word of M. Renan which sums up his judgment on many of his young contemporaries and their endeav

[ocr errors]

ors: Ce sont des enfants qui se sucent le pouce"? It is a gentle word, describing a harmless and perhaps a wholesome pastime.


With not a little happiness we find ourselves for a few moments in the presence of that august master"-the word is M. Huret's, and it is the right wordLeconte de Lisle, who needs not to point to the monumental works with which he has enriched the literature of France, for they are known to us all, and we cannot praise them enough. But it is good to be assured that the master himself is noble as his work is great. "For all of us," said M. de Hérédia, "for Coppée, SullyPrudhomme, Mendès, Mallarmé, Silvestre, Cazalis, France, and so many others, and for myself the least of them, but not the least in sense of gratitude, this great poet had been an admirable educator, a worthy master. By his illustrious example, even more than by his advice, he has taught us respect for our noble language, and a disinterested love of poetry.

they call on him they speak well, with a clear intelligence, like Frenchmen; and the moment they put pen to paper there is a total eclipse of all that is characteristically French, of clearness, of good sense. They become forthwith the "amateurs de délire," of whom Baudelaire has spoken. As to the revolution which they would effect in verse, it aims at nothing less than metrical anarchy: "Seriously, monsieur, French verse lives by virtue of equilibrium; it dies if its balance be disturbed ;" but Leconte de Lisle knows well that true freedom co-exists with order, and that the balance is not mechanical merely, but vital; not the poise of a weighing machine, but the poise of a wave or of a bird upon the wing. "We are feeling our way, dear Master," said Henri de Regnier, a young symbolist, who, however, looks on the new school less as an abiding home of art than as a provisional place of refuge for those who are not disposed to follow in a servile way the track of the 66 We owe to him Parnassiens. Feel your way as much our artistic conscience. And thus any as you please," replied Leconte de Lisle, thing that we may have done should go to you have a right to do so; but at least form part of his sum of glory." Gener- keep your gropings to yourself; do not ous words, telling of the better and hap- grope in print. Every one has had to pier side of the life and character of the feel his way. As for myself, I kept my man of letters! The speaker not unjustly first collection of verse in my drawer for commented on the lack of fraternity seven years; I burned four thousand among the aspirants of the new move- lines; I recast most of my pieces several ment, and their irreverence for the elder times. The new poets elevate their gropmasters. We, in the Parnassien days, ings into the achievements of a school, I assure you, were not like this. . . . I and would impose them on the world. can remember with what pleasure we met 'Tis a little too much." We cannot but -Boulevard des Invalides-at the house admit that one who has attained supreme of our great fraternal friend, Leconte de mastery in an art which is virile and diffiLisle, where we went on Saturdays, as cult is warranted in some feeling of imMussulmans to Mecca.' The phrase is patience with " go ces jeunes gens, "who are Coppée's, and it does not say too much. experimenting, and with such incomplete Leconte de Lise! he taught us all the art results. As to the accusation of impassiof poetry and the counsel that he be- bility brought against those who, en. stowed on us was not given in order that throned on Parnassus, we should make verses like his own; he entered into the position of each of us : In your place I should write this, I should alter that.' All said brightly, fraternally! Yes, indeed, we must honor, venerate, love him, as he has loved us, with a deep and devoted affection."


[ocr errors]

Tous fumistes, ces jeunes gens !-such in brief is the judgment of Leconte de Lisle on the motley band who follow the banner of symbolism. Several of these young men are personally known to him; he has told them his opinion. When


"Live and lie reclined On the hill, like gods together," the answer of Leconte de Lisle is admirable and perfectly just; but the outbreak will read better in French than in a translation : "Et aura-t-on bientôt fini avec cette baliverne! Poète impassible! Alors quand on ne raconte pas de quelle façon on boutonne son pantalon, et les péripaties de ses amourettes, on est un poète impassible? C'est stupide." And stupid, indeed, it is. Mr. Oscar Wilde has put


forth one of his happy paradoxes in words
which I fear my imperfect recollection
mars, but somewhat to the effect that all
bad poetry proceeds from genuine feeling.
It is a way of putting in shorthand the
truth that in all high poetry sensibility is
the subject and servant of its lord-imagi-
nation. "When I suffer, I write sad
verses, "declared Verlaine. No it is
when his imagination has dealt nobly with
his pain that he writes well; and it is this
maintenance of the supremacy of imagina-
tion over sensibility which has subjected
the Parnassien poets to the accusation
the unjust accusation-of impassibility.
And yet
ces jeunes gens" are not
merely fumistes." The Parnassien
movement has in great part done its work.
Impassibility may degenerate with inferior
writers into a trick. Of the verse wrought
in noblest bronze it is possible to manufac-
ture cheap imitations; and another kind
of verse is legitimate-that woven in sub-
tle design from the threads of the silk-
worm and threads of gold; nay, even
from the gossamer dyed in the moon-
beam. If M. Leconte de Lisle has himself
enriched the poetic vocabulary with words
of exotic origin, is it a crime in younger
poets to seek to recover some of the buried
treasures of the old French speech?
have heard on our side of the Channel a
complaint-not without cause against
Wardour-street English; but in truth
some pretty bibelots may be obtained in
Wardour Street, and even objects of more
substantial utility than bibelots; every-
thing depends on the good judgment of
the purchaser, and the right choice of a
place for the object which he has acquired.
Last, it must be admitted on behalf of the
symbolist school that their Parnassien pred-
ecessors were sometimes apt to forget
these vistas in art which open upon the
infinite, that play of suggestion which
widens the meaning of our life, those
echoes and rebounds which our inward ear

to, and in admitting this we go far toward allowing the plea of their presumptive heirs.


In other words, underlying the so-called symbolist movement, we can perceive that reaction toward idealism which at the present moment manifests itself in various ways and in many directions in the literature of France. All art indeed by virtue of the fact that it is art is something more than a transcript of reality. Symonds has just told us that La Bête Humaine is the creation or construction of an idealist, who approaches his work in the spirit of a poet. M. Anatole France has described La Terre as the work not so much of a realist as of "un idéaliste perverti.' And two years since I ventured to speak in The Fortnightly Review of Zola as a creator, "whose mind is overridden, if ever a mind was, by the spirit of system; whose work, misnamed realistic, is one monstrous idealizing of humanity under the types of the man-brute and the woman-brute." A reaction from the school which has styled itself realist or naturalist-the school which professes a scientific method, and which Zola represents with great power-is unquestionably in active progress. The possibility of a


spiritual naturalism" has been conceived by M. Huysmans. The manifesto of the Five" (1887), by which MM. Bonnetain, Descaves, Margueritte, Guiches, and Rosny, on the publication of La Terre, broke with the leader of the naturalist school, was a somewhat theatrical protest against the dunghill as the theme of art, but it marks the turn of public feeling. Not a few of the ablest and most earnest among the younger men of letters are contributors to the Mercure de France, and shortly after the appearance of La Bête Humaine, not one of these could be found who had read the book to the end, or who would consent to read it with sufficient attention to report on it in the columns of the journal. M. Descaves, one of the Five, not unhappily compares the "He could think," writes a new story- famous naturalist master to a great conteller in the Pseudonym Library," who tractor who constructs six-story houses in masks under the name of an old Irish the quartiers ouvriers of literature; his spirit, Ganconagh," he could think care- sentences and paragraphs are indeed fully and cleverly, and even with original-written with a trowel. M. Zola himity, but never in such a way as to make his thoughts an allusion to something deeper than themselves." This is what the Parnassien poets could seldom attain

"Sometimes catches from afar."

[ocr errors]

self can still point with satisfaction to the pile of his novels on the booksellers' counters, and the number of editions recorded on his covers. It is calculated

that he has sold volumes enough to form a literary Pharos, three times as high as the Eiffel Tower. "Ah! ah!" he exclaimed with a smile, on the arrival of M. Huret, "you are coming to see if I am dead! Well, as you see, quite the contrary! I am in excellent health; I feel myself in perfect poise; I never was more at my ease my books are selling faster than ever." And yet M. Zola acknowledges the reaction which, he supposes, may last some ten or fifteen years, by which time naturalism must resume its triumphant progress; he acknowledges the reaction, and dreams of a larger, more complete truth than the naturalist novel has yet embodied, with a broader way of access to the study of humanity, in a word, a kind of naturalism which shall be, in the best sense of the word, classic. In the year 1900, declares M. Edmond de Goncourt, naturalism will be dead; another doctrine and method will have taken its place. There is something, perhaps, still more significant in the telegram received by M. Huret from Paul Alexis, the faithful Abdiel of the schoo!: "Naturalism not dead; letter follows." While these alarming rumors are in the air, the impression must remain that it lies upon its death-bed, soon about to receive the viaticum.

Who have been gainers by this reaction from naturalism, with its perverted ideality, its pseudo-science, its heaped-up ordures? For the present, at all events, the group of writers who name themselves or are named the "Psychologues," of which Bourget is the most distinguished representative. "Tea-pot psychology!" exclaims a hostile critic; and it is true that Bourget, with his love of elegance, his aristocratic tastes, his refinements of pas sion, his casuistry of the heart, addresses an audience which can dare to discuss the morals of his tales over the five o'clock "Dès les premiers livres de Bourget," says M. Anatole France, Vous avez vu l'empressement des femmes vers le roman psychologique." We can believe, says another critic, that Bourget is always ready to pardon the most grievous sins of his heroines in consideration of "la finesse de leur linge ;" and when one and the same writer is elegant, mun

tea cup.



*Edouard Rod in his interesting collection of studies, Les Idées morales du Temps présent.


[ocr errors]

dane, sceptical, voluptuous, and, as in Le Disciple, a stern moralist and a regenerator of the conscience of France, his circle of clients should be what the newspapers describe as both select and numerous. The novel in his hands passes from the study of great social groups-the peasantry, the mining population, the railway servants, the men on 'change-to that of the individual soul. With M. Maurice Barrès, this individualism approaches dangerously near egoism pure and simple, and is just saved by the possibility that in this case the "ego" is typical of no inconsiderable group of other egos, young spirits arriving at adult years in these closing years of our century. "The Jardin de Bérénice," as M. Barrès explained to the representative of the Echo, is the last volume of a series of three works in which I try to set forth what I call and what has been called often enough, La Culture du Moi. It is a monograph, including a theory, of individualism. Sous l'il des Barbares exhibits the difficulty which a young man has in attaining self-knowledge, and in developing and protecting his true personality. L'Homme libre is a treatise on the gymnastic of the ego; showing how, with the methods of Ignatius Loyola and the Lives of the Saints, one may gain for the ego an experience of whatever the world contains of emotion. The Jardin de Bérénice is, on the one hand, a study of methods by which to conciliate the needs of the interior life of the soul with the demands of the active life, and, on the other, an act of submission in presence of the Unconscious, which may also be named the Divine." The moi of M. Barrès is a very charming, a very distinguished moi, full of subtlety and address, and no wonder that its owner, who is not afflicted by the material necessities of existence, should be well pleased to caress it.

[blocks in formation]

young people in France as in England are privileged to speak nonsense with a large utterance; that babes of grace there as well as here may suck their thumbs with a mystic significance in a peculiar fashion of their own. Else were the world a sad

der world than it is. And to acknowledge the truth, one hierophant at least, M. Jules Bois, has spoken so ingeniously and prettily, that I should gladly quote from what he says, but by this time my reader has fatigued his eye at the peep-show of marionettes, Classicists, Romanticists,

Naturalists, Psychologists, Parnassiens, Decadents, Symbolists, Mages. What next? In a happy variation on the nursery tale M. Charles Vignier calls on Sister Anne to climb the tower and see if there be any one coming. Yes, there are many coming; but the brothers who are to deliver the heroine of the tale from her cruel keeper have not yet appeared, and when they come perhaps we shall mistake them for sellers of olives.-Fortnightly Review.



To some of us, when dwelling with complacency upon the wealth of that noble literature which Macaulay styles the most lasting of the many glories of England, the reflection must have occurred, how small part of that literature is immortal; nay, how small is the part which has survived the mutations of two or three centuries! At best a national literature lives only in the memories of a fraction of the nation, in the memories of those who have leisure and taste to appreciate works which have lost the charm of novelty and the gloss of fashion. Even among these, how few are really familiar with the authors of any age but their own! How

little of the literature, say, of the seventeenth century, is known at first hand to the best-educated Englishmen ! A few of its great poems all persons with selfrespect profess to have read. But what has become of its most remarkable prose writings Bacon's "Essays" are read in schools; Milton's "Areopagitica" is set for examinations; Clarendon's "History of the Rebellion" is still consulted by those who concern themselves with English annals; and here and there a devout or curious reader may have brushed the dust from a volume of Jeremy Taylor. But who turns over the pages of those sermons of Barrow which the great Chatham recommended to his son as the noblest models of English eloquence? Who bestows an idle hour upon those prefaces of Dryden, which to a connoisseur so accomplished as Charles Fox seemed among the purest sources of English undefiled?

A new age finds Barrow heavy and Dryden superficial. Soon or late a twilight falls upon the gods themselves, and in a few generations the immortals of literature find their shrines forsaken and their laurels withered.

The oblivion which so speedily descends upon many of our classics has causes, some of which affect all literature equally, while others affect English literature with peculiar force. All monuments of genius are more perishable than we like to own. From its very birth a famous book carries within itself the seeds of decay. Every revolution of thought, every accession of knowledge, every fresh wave of feeling, every new phase of experience, removes the reader further and further from the writer. The old-fashioned wisdom seems childish, the old-fashioned sentiment seems frigid. The arguments which convinced another age, in our age conclude nothing. The eloquence which thrilled our forefathers makes their descendants vawn. Stung with disappointment, we impeach the skill of the artist, we impeach our own taste; in these sad partings we find fault with everything except the destiny of mankind, which makes them inevitable. We part, in spite of struggles and regrets, slowly, but certainly we part. This sense of distance must be felt by all who retrace the growth of a literature which has lived through many ages. is not felt by the student of English literature alone.


But English prose literature is more subject than most others to one species of

« AnteriorContinuar »