Puslapio vaizdai

objected to the publication of the letters of his wife, which formed so great a part of the collection; but he, too, was overcome by the charm of that revelation of youth and unconscious natural feeling. These critics consented first that the book should be printed for private circulation only; but a privacy of five hundred copies is easily broken, and soon all France was talking and weeping over Alex and Eugénie and the love tale, almost for the first time told. in all its purity and grace-half infantile, half angelic. Much has that country always known about love impure and forbidden; there is no such authority in all the intricate ways of so-called Passion. But this was altogether new, and so true that the most prudent nation in the world was partially frightened, partially overawed, and altogether conquered by the fascination of the fairy taleterrified to let its girls know that such a thing could be in a world where the dot and the eligible parti were the things alone to be considered, yet carried away by a tide of feeling which flesh and blood could not resist.

It is not very often given, even to a writer of genius, to produce such an effect as this; and Mrs. Craven, though one of the cleverest of women, was not in any way a person of genius. She wrote a number of books afterwards, which were not of very great account, and which, indeed, we should have been as well pleased she had not written. The Récit d'une Soeur' had very little to do with any literary gift of hers, or of any one's. The letters and simple story of which it is composed are charmingly written, but without any pretension to style, or reflecting any special intellectual power. They are a simple revelation of life, in which there was nothing unusual, no fantastic effort, but only a spirit, pure and noble, which transformed the commonest action: vague lights of almost miracle, too, were on the horizon, like that story of the Jew who, straying by chance into the church where M. de la Ferronays, the most modest, the most humble of all, without any pretensions of saintliness, lay awaiting his burial, was suddenly convulsed by the pangs of compunction and conversion, and, crying, 'Ce monsieur doit avoir beaucoup prié pour 6 moi,' became a Christian on the spot, and afterwards a devoted priest and monk. We do not mean the faintest satire, yet we almost think that the devotion of a wellknown figure among ourselves to this book and its writers is as remarkable as the conversion of Father Ratisbonne.

This great success was followed by as great a crash of

calamity and disaster in Mrs. Craven's life. We are not told how Mr. Craven lost his money. It would seem to have been chiefly from the eager share he took in schemes for the improvement of Naples, when that long-troubled country finally became part of the kingdom of Italy, and everybody believed that its new and unaccustomed freedom would bring sudden enlightenment, public spirit, and universal amelioration, results which are never to be had all at once. However that may be, the money was lost, and had to be followed by the palace at Chiatomone, the villa at Castagneto, and all that was most beautiful and precious in the accessories of life. Eventually Mr. and Mrs. Craven settled in an apartment in Paris, in the old Faubourg, which she by no means loved, but where a dwelling-place was found, with the freedom of a view over the garden of a convent, which reconciled Mrs. Craven for many things. The Montalemberts lived in the same quarter, with many other old friends. It was a perfectly appropriate retirement for the fallen fortunes of a pair whom no reverse of fate could make uninteresting to the world, or separate from their own caste and kind.

As the course of life goes on, however, Mrs. Bishop confines herself more and more to the graver side of her friend's life. She misses, or perhaps does not care to acknowledge, the great charm which there is in the union of a wholesome interest in the world and all its ways, such as was characteristic of Mrs. Craven, with the prevailing religious habit of her mind two things which she managed to combine so much better than most people to the great advantage of both phases-and which was so admirably remarked upon by Carlyle, in words which Mrs. Craven herself quotes: There's about ye a mixture of worldliness and earnestness which pleases me very much.' It is not, perhaps, to be expected that this combination should find equal favour with one most anxious to point out the unworldliness of the character which she wishes to portray. There was never anything ungenerous, any failure of sympathy with all noble aspirations, in the worldliness of Mrs. Craven. Here are some of her reflections at a trying moment, when the woman, who has had so many of the successes of society, and prized them, awakens suddenly to the consciousness that a term has come to her natural course of triumph :

The time that has elapsed has been a memorable time for me. During three weeks I was ill. My illness was aggravated by solitude, and during that solitude I was attacked with a violence I never felt

before, by every impression, real or imaginary, which could most disturb me, and threw me into a state of depression as miserable as it was humiliating.

'During my illness and solitude I had all of a sudden a clear vision of the final departure of that reflected youth which I had retained, perhaps, longer than others do. It was a sharp pain, for an instant, as if I had suddenly passed from youth to age. I thought of my charming and happy Princess, and all her lively and happy feelings, and that atmosphere of kindliness that she carries with her, her confident aspirations, her courage, whether to enjoy or to wish, to suffer or to hope. And besides all that she has been, and the many interests which have filled her life, she has the sense of youth-the sense of triumph, which is doubtless what the Bible calls the pride of life. I remember how vividly I felt it; and my self-love, always, alas! so great, whispered besides that not only was I young, but that I was dowered with some of the gifts which give radiance to youth.

'And now all that is over and past and already far distant, and instead of having gradually become aware of my decline, it suddenly breaks on me that but yesterday I was young and to-morrow I shall be old.'

Her literary career is perhaps not much to be reckoned with, but it was an important feature of her later life, as it is in the lives of many people whose productions are much less known to this world than even hers. Mrs. Craven knew better than to insist upon her literary achievements, but still she was not without her ambition, and the aim she set before herself, though modestly expressed, was no small aim -if she or any one else could have carried it out.

'As to my writing,' she says, as you wish, on general social topics, you are mistaken in thinking I have the natural talent to do it or power to do it to any purpose. I must go on my way attempting to purify French fiction, to redeem that word Love from the profanation which has made it almost unpronounceable in French, and to revive or produce some little sentiment of poetry in my dear but most prosaïque Faubourg St. Germain, where (next to the other one) poetry is the most forbidden of words, and is in itself looked upon as a most dangerous ingredient in life, whereas it seems to me so obvious that the present danger of even the best French society lies in exactly the opposite direction. If, on the other hand, I could also induce some of the writers of modern French fiction to believe that strong feelings and even passion can exist in that region of purity and goodness outside of which they live and write, the whole of the little good of which I am capable would be accomplished.'

We think Mrs. Craven was mistaken in speaking of this as a little good-as much mistaken as we believe she was in supposing that she would ever accomplish it. It exceeds the power of the imagination to conceive how a series of

stories founded on the first principle of giving a religious turn to every incident-of founding a woman's power, for instance, to resist the temptations of a forbidden love solely upon the fact of a sudden confession to an unknown priest, and his admonitions thereupon-should be instrumental in purifying French fiction. The incident is effective and melodramatic, but it is not even new, having been employed before in works of the old school. It is contrary to all the canons of a more refined art, and is extremely unlikely to modify the ideas of M. Paul Bourget, or even of M. Georges Ohnet. This is a mistake which many good people make, but it is scarcely what we should have expected from Mrs. Craven, who ought to have known so much better. However, the immense success of the Récit d'une Sour' no doubt increased her sense of the power of religious feeling even over a world lying in wickedness. But, after all, a religious-minded woman ought to have been able to recover her balance, one would think, without reference to a priest in a matter so clear as her conjugal duties. His introduction vulgarises and reduces the victory to a lower level. The lesson is taken from the secular romancist rather than given to him.

This was not at all the inspiration of the 'Récit d'une 'Soeur.' There is no introduction of any conventional confessional or priestly influence in that true and simple tale. Alexandrine comes to the fold of the Church by slow action of her own thoughts, her own love, the profound piety which breathes about her, and which was evidently quite new to her fervid young spirit. All is nature and spontaneous simple action, the noiseless influences of heaven, no doubt, the equally noiseless progress of inclination and sympathy. Here the actual is infinitely more poetical than the fictitious, and far more real and convincing. Her books, however, remained of sufficient importance in France to secure her an annuity from her publisher for the end of her life, even after their first popularity was over; which shows there is always an audience for good-should they even occasionally prove goody-works of fiction, and was an excellent and laudable result in its way, though not so great as that purification of French fiction for which Mrs. Craven says she hoped.

It is an excellent conclusion, no doubt, to become more and more absorbed in religion as life tends towards the end; but it is a pity that anything should be done to break the unique charm of this full and much-mingled

existence. We prefer to find that the liveliest talk in the evening, the most animated discussions, a little controversy, a little enthusiasm for secular matters, even more than a little politics, take nothing away from the devoutness which makes the domestic chapel and the morning Mass so great a happiness to the aged pilgrim. To know that the young people had been dancing overnight and the old ones mingling a little salt of gossip in their talk, and Count Albert, Eugénie's son, eager over his plans for his workmen's clubs, makes us like all the better to think of that withdrawal into the heavenly sphere above, and the lovely and delightful world of the past full of so many dear and tender shadows, more real and near than the actual members of the society round her, which takes place when the brilliant old lady, once Pauline de la Ferronays, retires within the sanctuary of her own lonely chamber. It is this that gives her life its greatest interest. The reader, however, will scarcely be able to refrain from a smile when he reads this description of the household circle at Lumingy, which is tamer a great deal, it seems to us, in the gravity of Northern France and the seriousness of the times, than those pictures of the Ferronays' household at Naples and Castellamare, in which everything was young and careless and enterprising and gay.

What would you say if you were here, where three families are collected, women, girls, men, and children, twenty-two altogether, and not one among them ever dreaming of a ride on horseback? In fact, there is not in the place a single animal upon whose back the feat could be accomplished. This seems very strange even to me; English people could not stand it. En revanche, no English circle would sit round a table in the evening, the men drawing and the women working while I read to them aloud the finished chapters of my book. All this shows how utterly different our two nations are; no wonder that they find it so impossible to understand each other.'

The picture is wonderful indeed; such a family party in a French country-house deeply wrapt in melancholy wastes of distance, with no neighbours near enough to join the group easily, and no other visitors coming and going, probably not even a billiard-table, and nothing to do'-as an glishman would sigh either out or in-is a terrible experie. We remember one of the feudal castles mentioned this book where Mrs. Craven was a frequent visitor, in depths of December, plenty of ice outside but not a pair skates in the house-plenty inside too, the bath provided the visitor crackling in the cold turret of the dressing

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