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TWO MEN OF LETTERS.
TITHIN the last few weeks two pieces of might have brought with it Mérimée's fate, and
literary biography * have appeared, which have substituted a zero of idleness and sterility present a somewhat remarkable contrast, and for the splendid work which Gautier so manfully. which at the same time supplement one another. did. The one is the “ Life of Charles Lever," the It is not at first easy to account for the unother M. Emile Bergerat’s volume of reminis- comfortable impression which Dr. Fitzpatrick's cences of Théophile Gautier. Between the lit- interesting book somehow leaves upon the readerary merits of Lever and of Gautier there can, er. No biography of the author of "Charles of course, be little comparison; but between O'Malley” could be dull, and the reader who is their positions as representatives of French and in quest of amusement merely will find plenty in English (if Irish-English) men of letters of the these volumes. But that Lever, with all his rolnineteenth century there is a not inconsiderable licking, was a decidedly unhappy person, whether similarity. They were almost exactly contem- it be a true impression or no, is certainly the imporary, being born within a very few years, and pression here given. He appears to have been dying within a very few months of one another. one of those extremely unfortunate men who Both depended entirely upon their pens for sub- take no genuine delight in the calling which nevsistence, and both, though in very different ways, ertheless they pursue. He was, indeed, intensely were what is vaguely called men of pleasure. sensitive as to public opinion on his novels. But The rewards which they received were, indeed, he seems to have felt this sensitiveness, not bedifferent enough in amount. One can not help cause unfavorable criticism made him doubt the thinking how Gautier would have envied a man goodness of his work, but because it hurt his of letters who could make and spend, as Dr. vanity. His reckless expenditure, in the same Fitzpatrick tells us Lever for some years made way, seems to have arisen as much from an unand spent, three thousand pounds a year. Sev- easy desire to live en prince as from simple enenty-five thousand francs represent the income joyment of the good things which his money of a man whom the French, in their modest could bring him. With regard to the famous acarithmetic, would call “ deux fois millionnaire," cusation of “lordolatry” which Thackeray is and we may be quite sure that Gautier never said to have brought against him, I think that the “ touched” half the amount in any one of his passage in the “Book of Snobs” has been someforty years of hard literary journey-work-of such what misinterpreted. But nobody can read either journey-work as perhaps no other man of letters his novels or his life without seeing that from the ever did. Less fortunate in his actual wages, last infirmity of British minds he was not free. Gautier was also far less fortunate than Lever in He gained plenty of money, but he got rid of it his extra-literary gains. M. Bergerat has pointed in all sorts of ways, to which it is difficult to out that, though Gautier was reproached with apply any milder description than that which his Bonapartism, singularly few drops of the was applied to the extravagance of his greater golden shower rewarded his adherence to the countryman Goldsmith. If he did not exactly Enpire. He did his work, which was perfectly fing it away and hide it in holes and corners, honest work, and received his pay, which was like Lamb's eccentric friend, he did what amountperfectly clean money. But no senatorship, no ed to nearly the same thing. He was an invetlucrative sinecure, fell to his lot; while Lever, in erate gambler. He kept absurd numbers of the later years of his life, was at any rate pro- horses, and gave unreasonable prices for them. vided for without the necessity of working. “Je To his lavish hospitality one feels less inclined to redeviens un manœuvre," said the author of object were it not that “wax-candles and some “ Emaux et Camées” to M. Edmond de Gon- of the best wine in Europe" are not wholly incourt, after the disasters of 1870. For my part, dispensable to literary fellowship. Like many considering what this manæuvre has left us, I do other men of letters in our country, he could not not know whether, for the benefit of literature be satisfied without meddling with politics, and and the credit of the literary calling, one can endeavoring, though with no great success, to wish that it had been otherwise. Mérimée's luck mingle in political society. His wild oats were
not of a very atrocious wildness, but he never * Théophile Gautier : Entretiens, etc. Par Emile ceased sowing them. The consequence was, that Bergerat, avec une Préface de Edmond de Goncourt. his literary work was not only an indispensable Paris : Charpentier.
Life of Charles Lever. By W. J. Fitzpatrick, LL. D. gagne-pain to him, but was also never anything London : Chapman & Hall.
else than a gagne-pain. It was always written in hot haste, and with hardly any attention to with us now. You wish for your own people. But style, to arrangement, or even to such ordinary you will never see them again. Our chief will kill matters as the avoidance of repetitions, anachro- you if you leave us. It is the law of our tribe that nisms, and such-like slovenlinesses. It has often none joining us can go away. No, no! You will been noticed that in “Charles O'Malley” itself never see the pale-faces again, nor go back to your it will not do to pay the least heed to the se
country. How could you find the forest-tracks for quence or arrangement of the story. The chro- yourself if you fed? You would be instantly folnology is utterly impossible, the same things re
lowed and found ; and, when found, you would be cur again and again as incidents, and the whole slain. Oh, stay!" He feigned to be convinced by book as a connected and coherent story is utterly the one object-fight. How could he effect it?
her arguments; but all his thoughts were fixed on formless and void. The more one hears of the life of the author and his manner of composition, portunity ; but it was all in vain. He found the
Every day and every hour he studied to find opthe less surprising is this. The earlier books, at customs of the tribe to be as the woman described. any rate, appear to have been mere transcripts There was to be no separation from them, or death of actual experience, and reminiscences of things the penalty. The same squaw noticed the change heard and seen in Ireland huddled together any- in his spirits, and ere long in his health ; and her how. The works of the second period rested in woman's heart was touched with compassion. She the same way upon actual observation of Anglo- even devised the means of his getting away. Continental life, and those of the last, if they A red Indian, named Tahata, came to the tribe had a more original character, were scarcely im- once a year, bringing tobacco and brandy from some proved by the change. Lever, in short, was not British settlement, and exchanging them for the pel. in the proper sense a man of letters at all. The try the hunters had collected from his previous visit. pen was with him a mere instrument for putting the squaw told Lever that she would sound this into marketable form the stories which he told so for a sum of money he would appoint some place of
man (“The Post ” he was called), and see whether well by word of mouth, and the queer facts, rendezvous for him in the forest, and be his guide sights, and incidents which he heard, saw, or read of. Of literary form he had little or no- be reached. Lever had no money, but “ The Post"
through its mazes until some outpost or town would thing. Long practice gave him, as it gives most
was to be remunerated by his countrymen on his men of talent, a passable style; but this style reaching them. The offer was accepted. Lever, at had little distinction and no special merit. He the squaw's suggestion, feigned sickness, and was had neither the industry which tries a hundred left behind in the wigwams with the women while phrases till it hits on the right one, nor the ge- the tribe were out hunting. In the men's absence nius which hits on the right phrase at once. If he made his escape. Tahata was faithful. his books are acceptable, it is always for the matter of them only.
At the termination of this remarkable advenSo “allegorical an autobiographist "—to use ture he "walked through the streets of Quebec in a queer phrase of his own—was Lever, that moccasins and feathers.” It would be satisfacmuch of his biographer's work is occupied in tory if the feathers and moccasins, at least, could tracing the original facts and experiences which be produced in proof of the veracity of the he incorporated in his stories. The ballad-sing- story. ing in the streets of Dublin, the upheaval of the
In the interval between Lever's return from pavement in order to liberate an escaped pris- America and his student-days in Germany not oner, the various escapades and pranks of the much seems to have occurred; indeed, the exegregious Frank Webber, in “ O'Malley,” are traordinary vagueness of this part of the biogknown already to everybody. If some of Dr. aphy may best be indicated by mentioning that Fitzpatrick's informants are to be believed, some Dr. Fitzpatrick is not quite sure whether the Gerstill more singular experiences have been utilized man studies did not occur before the American in “Con Cregan ” and “ Arthur O'Leary.” Early trip and the Indian episode. The following noin life Lever went to America, and, it seems, did tice of Dr. Barrett, famous in “O'Malley" for not like the inhabitants of the States. There- his “ May the devil admire me!” occurs, howupon he Aung himself into the ranks of the ever, in this part of the book, and is worth quotred men, and the following singular episode oc- ing: “A gentleman at Clontarf who wished to curred :
become tenant of some college-lands, invited For a time, Lever said, this was pleasurable ; but him, when bursar, with other Fellows to dinner. only for a time. He grew weary of barbarism, and He had not been so far from college since his sighed for civilization. He endeavored to hide his childhood. It was then that, passing by Lord emotions, and he succeeded with the men ; but one Charlemont's beautiful demesne, and seeing the of the squaws, looking at him fixedly, read his sheep grazing, he asked what extraordinary anithoughts. “Your heart, stranger," said she, “is not mals they were, and when told expressed the
greatest delight at seeing for the first time live considerable trouble by his inveterate habit of mutton. As he passed along the shore the sea introducing real names and real persons into his attracted his particular admiration. He described story. Major Monsoon, indeed, who is perhaps it as a broad, flat superficies, like Euclid's defi- his best single figure, literally sat for the portrait nition of a line expanding itself into a surface, at Brussels, and regarded the proceeding in the and blue, like Xenophon's plain covered with light of a regular commercial transaction; but a wormwood.'”
Galway priest was less accommodating, and never The following is said to have been a hospi- forgave his insertion in one of the novels. “Harry tal experience:
Lorrequer" is said to have been very largely made
up of the local stories current at Kilrush, whither One night a fever-patient died; the student took Lever was sent in the cholera-time of 1832. His up his candle and proceeded to the dissecting-room. subsequent employment in Ulster, near the Giant's To an uninitiated stranger it would have appeared Causeway, was not less fruitful of stories, and a horrible and ghastly sight; yet so much are we the gave him in addition a considerable amount of slaves of habit that the young student sat down to scenery and character, which he drew upon espehis revolting task as indifferently as opening a chess- cially in “The Knight of Gwynne." It is said, board. The room was lofty and badly lighted, his flickering taper scarcely revealing the ancient writ- too, that in Coleraine Lever himself performed ings that he was about to peruse. On the table before the feat of jumping over a cart and horse, which
he afterward introduced in the most popular of him lay the subject wrapped in a long sheet, his case of instruments resting on it. He read on for some
his books. In the same way, his visits to Prebtime unheeding the storm which raged without, and endary Maxwell (an exceedingly unclerical repthreatened to blow in the casements, against which resentative of the Church of Ireland) supplied the rain beat in large drops. “And this,” said he, him with most of his knowledge of Galway and looking on the body and pursuing the train of his Mayo. So it continued to be throughout his life. thoughts, “this mass of lifelessness, coldness, and At Brussels, during his reign as editor of the inaction, is all we know of that alteration of our be- “University Magazine” at Dublin, in his subseing, that mysterious modification of our existence by quent wanderings about the Continent, and in his which our vital intelligence is launched into the residence at Florence and Spezzia, his observaworld beyond a breath and we are here-a breath tion of men and things was the constant source and we are gone.” He raised his knife and opened whence he drew his inspiration. Of Trieste the a vein in the foot. A faint shriek, and a start which overset the table and extinguished the light were the great complaint seems to have been that there
was no society, or next to none. In fact, Lever effects of his timidity.
Turning to relight his taper, he heard through the appears to have had a horror of being alone; darkness a long-drawn sigh, and in weak accents, though, perhaps, it may be admitted that few “Oh, doctor, I am better now!" He covered up people have made such tendency to gregariousthe man thus wonderfully reawakened from almost a
ness as they might possess conducive to the fatal trance, carried him back, and laid him in his amusement of so large a number of their fellows. bed. In a week after the patient was discharged
When he began to write for the press, it was from the hospital cured.
naturally enough in short stories and sketches
that he preferred to record the results of his exHere, also, one would like a little corrobora- perience. He is said to have actually refused to tion. But while these stories, regarded as mat- write a long novel, and for a considerable period ters of fact, naturally excite some skepticism, nothing like regular planning of his work seems there can be no doubt about one thing. Lever's to have entered his head. His biographer says varied life, his propensity to take hold of every that the prominence of Mickey Free in “O'Mallaughable or surprising incident that presented ley" was quite contrary to such original design itself, and his faculty of furnishing these incidents as Lever had formed. The novelist found Mickey (when their own garb was not quite sufficient) a very convenient mouthpiece " for enunciating with cocked-hats and swords, were of immense the good things he had picked up." This fully use to him in his after-life as a novelist. There accounts for Mickey's inferiority to Sam Weller, are two opinions about the value of actual facts to whom he has been so often compared. Amusto novel-writers. On the one hand, there is no ing as he is, any critical reader must feel that he doubt that, if only for a time, they add a consid- is only a mouthpiece. This could never be said erable attraction and “ bite” to a story; on the of Sam, even by those who deny to the latter any other hand, it is doubtful whether, in the best possible existence out of Topsy-Turvy Land. novels, any but very occasional use has been Perhaps the strongest evidence of Lever's real made of them. Lever's practice, however, was talent is to be found in the way in which he has at one time to rely almost wholly upon the scraps succeeded in melting down these innumerable of his experience. More than once he got into tags and scraps into books which, whatever may
be their literary defects, can at any rate be read, refutation in this record of the last days of the and are not mere collections of jests. But the greatest of nineteenth-century humanists. Cerliterary merit of the early novels is in reality al- tainly Gautier was not without his trials. The most as scanty as Edgar Poe, in a well-known preface of M. Edmond de Goncourt, an older review, asserted it to be. Toward the end of his friend, shows those trials pretty fully. The siege, life, long practice and some alteration in his man- the Commune, and the Republic were all heavy ner of composing, improved Lever in this respect. blows to Gautier. The siege disturbed the placid But his early books are in many parts not merely life which he had led at Neuilly with his sisters, not good as pieces of literary work, but positively his daughters, and his cats, afflicted his ardent and disgracefully bad. He used to say, we are imagination with its somber ugliness, and wounded told, that by the time he had got the details of the perfectly sincere patriotism, which was none his stories written down, he was so disgusted the less fervent in him because it was less vocal with them that he could hardly bring himself than in some of his contemporaries. The outeven to correct the proofs. It is, therefore, notrages and horrors of the Commune jarred upon very surprising that as his natural gift for writing his kindly nature. Last of all, he had to adjust was certainly not great, his work should have himself to a new order of things in which, righthad a slovenly aspect. Such an aspect it mostly or wrongly, he felt himself a stranger and a assuredly has, when compared not merely with foreigner. His meeting after long years of sepagreat masters of style in French and English, ration with M. Victor Hugo, is strikingly told in but with practitioners in his own kind, such as these pages. He had parted with his master Crofton Croker and Carleton. The very abun- when that master was still captain of the crew dance, perhaps, of his material made him less which De Banville has described in one of his careful in using it, and in showing it off to the matchless parodies : best advantage. But it would rather seem that he did not possess the requisite faculty for turn
“ Dans les salons de Philoxène
Nous étions quatre-vingt rimeurs." ing nature into art. There were many of his contemporaries—Thackeray is a notable instance He met him again, as he told M. Bergerat, sur-who were by no means averse to the use of rounded by “ toute la rédaction du Rappel.” To actual facts and actual persons as materials and these moral shocks may be added the pressure
But Thackeray invariably worked up of failing health, and the necessity for continuing his raw material into the peculiar form, at once to work for his daily bread at an age when most individual and typical, which literature requires. men have retired to a state of more or less easy This is what Lever rarely or never does. His rest. Yet the unfailing sweetness of his temper, pictures are not portraits, they are merely photo- and the fullness of his trust in his art, carried him graphs embellished with the stock appliances and through these trials. If he was melancholy at garb of caricature. It is needless to say that times, as M. de Goncourt relates, it was with a anything that is unfavorable in this criticism ap- melancholy which had not much bitterness in it. plies merely to the artist and not to the man. His brilliant days were indeed over—the days Personally, Lever was doubtless a charming when, in half-sincere, half-humorous gasconade, companion, and for mere companionship his he would cry out, “ Moi, je suis fort ; j'amène books are charming enough still. Only they 520 sur une tête de Turc, et je fais des métamust not be regarded as books, but simply as phores qui se suivent." The preface contains reports of the conversation of a lively raconteur. not a few of these extravagances. There is an
A very different picture is given us by the appalling description of Louis XIV. which is too charming volume in which M. Bergerat has placed Swiftian for quotation. There is a speech to M. on record his remembrances of the last days of Taine, in which that critic's ideas of poetry are Théophile Gautier. The acquaintanceship of the treated in a manner which does one's heart good : author with his subject was late; it did not, in- *Tenez ! Taine, vous me semblez donner deed, begin until after the disasters of 1870 had dans l'idiotisme bourgeois. Demander à la poégiven Gautier his death-blow. But what it wanted sie du sentimentalisme !... Ce n'est pas ça. in time it gained in intimacy. M. Bergerat was Des mots rayonnants ... des mots de lumière, Gautier's son-in-law, and for the last two years avec un rhythme et une musique, voilà ce que of the poet's life the intercourse of father and c'est que la poésie. Ca ne prouve rien ... Ca son, of master and pupil, was constant. The ne raconte rien." old age of Gautier seems to have been as kindly I can not, as I read this, help wishing that as it could be, and not in the least frosty. The somebody had suggested to Gautier that poetry very prevalent notion that epicurean principles was “a criticism of life,” as we in England and tendencies insure for their possessor an old some of us greatly wondering—have been taught age of misery and disgust, finds its appropriate in these latter days by a fine master of criticism.
One very curious statement of M. de Gon- anything else connected with it. He tells us, too, court's is that, to the end of his life, Gautier re- what any reader of Gautier will find little diffitained the fine horror of the bourgeois which culty in believing, that political discussion was had characterized his earliest days. The ironical peculiarly disagreeable to the poet, and that he felicitations which he addressed to some unfor- would leave any table or society where it was tunate person recall the preface of Mademoiselle started. de Maupin : “ Toi, tu es heureux, tu aimes le More important than these are the sections progrès, les ingénieurs qui abiment le paysage of the book devoted to a short sketch of Gautier's avec leurs chemins de fer, les utilitaires, tout ce life, to a selection (all, unfortunately, that can be qui met dans un pays une saine édilité.” After published) from his charming letters, and to the which he would indulge in the most terrible pic- Entretiens, which, indeed, form the bulk of the tures of bourgeois morals, an effect which must volume. The biography contains some interesthave been full of comedy. For, in truth, Gau- ing statements. Even the sternest contemner of tier's bourgeois was a highly figurative person; trifling literary anecdotes must be pleased to hear and, in one sense of the term, nothing could have that Gautier's father and mother spent their been more bourgeois than his own placid exist- honeymoon in no less a place than the Château ence at Neuilly in the midst of his family. d'Artagnan. His earliest years were spent at
Besides M. de Goncourt's preface, the book Tarbes, as is sufficiently well known. But what has no less than seven different divisions into is not sufficiently well known is the following dewhich M. Bergerat has thrown what he has to lightful “story of a desk," which M. Bergerat has say. The section on “Théophile Gautier, pein- preserved : tre,” though an interesting one in itself, need not concern us here. It is amusing enough to know fellow townsmen that my school-desk was religiously
While I was at Tarbes (said he) I heard from my that the great writer regarded himself to the last preserved at the town school, and that it was the (and was dutifully regarded by his faithful sis- admiration of tourists. Very much flattered at findters) as one who ought to have been a great ing that such honor was paid to me in my lifetime, I painter. • Derniers Moments” contains a sad resolved to make acquaintance with the curious desk though in no way repulsive account of the pain- which was attributed to me, and, at the same time, ful malady, or complication of maladies, which with the school which boasted of having owned me proved fatal to Gautier, and need not be much as a pupil. I therefore presented myself incognito dwelt on. Then there is a section headed to the Principal, and, announcing myself as an en“Euvres posthumes et projets," which contains, thusiastic admirer of my own writings, I begged him among other things, a full account of a ballet in to take me to see the beloved desk which had been the style of “Giselle,” and others which figure
the witness of my childish precocity. among the poet's published work. This ballet is
The Principal insisted upon the honor of being on the subject of the pied piper of Hamelin, and and even
allowed me to touch, was certainly a desk
himself my guide. The desk which he showed me, is very gracefully treated. It is said to have been of some sort
, but, at the sight of it, an irresistible rejected by M. Halanzier (or, rather, to have been emotion took possession of me. It was assuredly denied representation) for a delightfully absurd the first time that I and it had ever been face to face reason. M. Halanzier, it seems, called to his as- with each other, but still, if it was not my desk, it sistance that responsible and dignified official, might easily have been. It might have awakened in the ballet-master of the opera. The ballet-mas- me a crowd of memories! I sat down on the bench ter was dead against the piper and his rats. The which belonged to it, and which, if fate had so willed rat, he said, was an “animal immonde," and the it, would have been my bench, and, having placed subscribers would be wholly unable to bear the myself in the attitude of a studious scholar, I tried sight of him. “Encore, monsieur,” said he, “si to imagine myself as once again in my own proper c'était une abeille !” But, unluckily, it was not position. The Principal, seeing me thus absorbed, possible to turn the rats into bees, and so the could not restrain a smile softened by emotion; he “ Preneur de Rats” remains still in M. Halan- showed me on the desk sundry scratches and cuts zier's portfolios. A section entitled “ Souvenirs” made by Théophile Gautier in class, procuring for is chiefly occupied with defending Gautier from him, no doubt, many an imposition. I asked if I the charge of being a Bonapartist. “He was at might carry off a little fragment of the wood as a
relic. He gave me permission. Then he led me most,” says M. Bergerat, “a Mathildien,” but he
away, telling me, meantime, a score of authentic admits frankly that the poet had as great a hor- anecdotes which appeared even to me conclusive, ror of the red specter as any of his enemies the and from which it resulted that I must have been a bourgeois, and that his political ideas were lim- marvelous scholar and the glory of his school. A ited to a very hearty respect for authority—a Philistine would have taken a foolish pleasure in respect which did not trouble itself greatly about robbing the good man of his illusions. I had the the authority's source, its manner of exercise, or less desire to do so, because I shared them with him.