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And falters frail—a thing of fluttering
fears— Before some shadow-pluined antagomist. Quaking, I ride; yet know not what I dread. Naught stirs the boding silence save the sound Of beechmast crackling 'neath uny horse's tread, Or some last leaf that rustles to the ground; And long it seemeth since the suu, blood-red
In sea on sea of night-black boughs was drowned.
Yet dark has not yet fallen; wavering gloom Sweeps through the brake, and brims each hollow (lank; Empty of light the stirless pine trees loom Against the glistering sky; and gray and lank The shadows rise, as ghosts from out
the tomb, And, closing, follow at my horse's
flank. Hut theim I fear not; nor the beasts
that lurk Beneath the cavernous branches,
crouching low, Whose famished eyes burn on me through the mirk; Spell-bound they spring not; 'neath the cleaver's blow, Their desperate fangs would snatch the blinded stirk Yet quail before the doom to which I go— The unknown. that at last From its old ambush in the heart of night, Leagued with long-thwarted perils of the past, Shall swoop upon me with unswerving flight. I) rink, while ye may, the light that fades so fast, O eyes, that shall not see the morning light!
Wilford Wilson Gibson. The Academy.
PEASANT STUDIES IN FRENCH FICTION.*
Arcadian peasants, the porcelain flgnrines of the eighteenth century, berger and bergtre of tinted ivory, in their green-room setting of well-watered meadow and shady woodland; the gentle shepherd with crook and panpipe, the shepherdess with white-fleeced flock and beribboned distaff, "Robin et Marlon," breathed their last when modern fiction supplanted the old lyric travesties of village and rural life. Inanimate effigies too far removed from reality even to counterfeit nature, they were swept away like faded paper flowers, and relegated to the dusty indignities of unremembered shelves where the muse dear to one generation of readers is, according to time-honored custom, consigned by the next. Their doom was a foregone conclusion; the root of stability, truth to a living model, was lacking. The aim of the pastoralists had been to present that aspect, and only that aspect, of rusticity which they imagined could be endued with romance or Invested with— as they conceived of poetry—poetic glamor. Their method was to engraft mental preconceptions of beauty and grace upon "things as they are." They created with adventitious adornings a type whose refinement and charm were an artificial response to an artificial
* t "La Mare an Diablo." Par George Sand. Paris, 1831.
2 " Lea Paysana." Par H. de Balzac. Paris, IMS.
8 "L'Ensorcelee." Par Barbey il'Aurovillv. Paris, 1854.
4 " Un CoBur Simple." (Trois Oontea.) Par Gnstave Flaubert. Paria, 1877.
5 "La Fllle de Ferme." (" La Maison Tellier.") Par Guy de Maupassant. Paris, 1881.
( "La Fortune des Rougon." Par Emile Zola. Paria, 1871.
7 "I* Torre qui Meurt." Par Ren4 Basin. Parts, 1S00.
f And other works.]
eestheticlsm of taste, and their process was based upon the assumption that it is the office of art to superimpose poetry on nature. They left it to their successors to enunciate the converse doctrine: that it is the function of the artist to draw poetry fioui nature and to elicit from existing actualities the poetry they enclose and emanate. "Degager l'ideal du reel" became the dictum of the new schoolmen, who in their turn were destined to view the advent of a later creed when a total divorce was effected between the ideal of beauty and the presentment of truth. Pastoralism died, without hope of resurrection, and for a period the peasant, as a theme In art, lay in abeyance; nor, when after the lapse of years, "on decouvralt de nouveau le paysan et le village comme on les avait deja decouverts une fois & la fin du ISieme siecle," was any single feature of the older type rejuvenated. The whole sentiment of pre-Revolution days was revoked; the levity, the wit, lavished on scenes and dialogues drawn from rural life, had vanished; the colored glasses through which peasant and laborer, cottager and villager, were viewed, were broken. The new literary epoch testified to a more vigorous grasp on life and the actualities of life. The pensant's countenance, his gesture, his environment, were delineated from a totally changed standpoint; gaiety, or what bore a somewhat dubious likeness to it. had passed away; the lighthearted loves and ephemeral sorrows of the village-green tradition were supplanted by serious, often by disastrous, passions. The peasant had ceased to. be the toy of art. he had become in literature, as In fact, a social, political or philanthropic problem, and his dlscovery was to conduct novelists into many hitherto unexplored bypaths and by many untrodden thoroughfares.
The phases traversed by nineteenthcentury peasant fiction were diverse. idealism found in Mme. Sand its eloquent exponent, and in her peasant idyls she achieved a compromise between sympathetic sentimentalism and veracity. Romanticism asserted itself in sundry side-studies, as in Barbey d'Aurevilly's portrayal of the village outcast, La Clotte, where the sinister extravaganza of the romantic of romantics is vivified with something approaching aesthetic sincerity. Nor is the romantic element less pronounced in one or more of M. Zola's works in which, abandoning the average man, he deals with exceptional humanity, with Miette in "La Fortune des Hougon," with Angelique in "Le Reve." Naturalism. with MM. Erckmann-Chatrlan, presented itself in lengthy sketches of dally life scenes, whether in war or peace, a naturalism ignoring the grosser elements of existence accentuated by the more venturous disciples of the school. Balzac, the first of the moderns, demonstrated in "Les Paysans" that the object of peasant fiction was to depict nature, not in the idealizations it inspired, but in and for itself; that the aim of the novelist should be to lay hold on life and transcribe in the clearest manner the clearest perceptions attainable of the actual, however base, and the true, however ignoble. Flaubert, in his "Un Couir Simple,"* showed the possibility of attaining ."esthetic perfection by faithful narrative of commonplace peasant sentiment in the prose frame-work of servant life. Maupassant, a humorist who never laughs, has exposed in his conies and nouoelles the tragic comedies, the melancholy farces, enacted in farms and cottages without
i Trols Contes.
number.2 Alphonse Daudet reverts to the novel of sensational convention in "Le Tresor d'Arlatan," and the morbid temptations that obsess the peasant heroine are paralleled with the obsession of the young Parisian by the memories of "Madeleine des Délassements." Pierre Loti has contributed his quota to the gallery of peasant portraits, and a kindred atmosphere of personal sympathy—though otherwise the two authors pursue different paths—pervades the peasant novels of Ken*1 Bazin, in whose works a visionary imagination is never cut asunder from facts intimately known and accurately inscribed. To take a mere handful of studies from the mass of French fiction which deals with peasant themes during half a century is obviously only to indicate some special type-formulas, some differing methods of treatment . characteristic of certain authors or of certain phases of the author's art . The sketches so given are sketches of contrasts rather than of likenesses, and as contrasts preclude broad generalizations. Nor are they links in the chain of the scientist, for whom each instance must be shaped to illustrate a stage of literary tendency or psychological development. Moreover, their truth or untruth as "représentation de la vie" is left unchallenged. Their "interest lies otherwhere. it lies in the just appreciation of aesthetic effects, whenever such effect is so welded with the peasant-theme that to transpose sentiment or plot to any other social background would have precluded its special aesthetic merit.
As the outcome of idealism, George Sand's scenes" from the rural life of Berry, if not the earliest in date, are in
1 Hlstolre d'une Fllle de Ferme (in "La Malson Telller"), Le Vleux. Le Gueux, Le Fermier (In "Contes du Jour et de la Nalt"), Ciochette (in "L'Horla"), Clair de Lane (volume of same title), Le Dlable, Le Vagabond,&c.,&e. La Mare au Diable, 1861; La Petite Fa dette. 1861; Les Haltres Sonneure, 1868.
spirit more closely allied to an earlier school than those of other nineteenthcentury authors. For that pre-eminently feminine genius—the interest of -whose personality grows in inverse ratio as the literary interest of her work declines—the peasant had not assumed the semblance of a problem. Patient observation of his customs, actions and surroundings, were not for her, as for her great contemporary, Balzac, the fountain-head of inspiration. She wrote of rural life, not as an investigator, but as a participant. Her men and women, Berrichon and Berrichonne, were the boys and girls, cattle- and sheep-keepers, with whom she had companioned during childhood ami youth at Nohant; comrades and playmates, whose children and grandchildren she had watched growing to manhood and womanhood in later years.* The pages of her fictions are confessedly pages of affectionate memories, reminiscences of country joys, sorrows, and gaieties; they are the tribute her exuberant intellectuality and her overcolored Imagination paid to surviving simplicities and old attachments. The experiences of half a lifetime had passed over her head; an intimate acquaintance with the passions of men and with her own effervescent emotionalisms, the disillusions of marriage, the agitations and disenchantments of her shifting enthusiasms, had been paraphrased in novel after novel;0 she had at length reached the mile-stone where remembrances displace curiosities, and had withdrawn awhile from speculation to survey the comparatively placid season of childhood. Her treatment of peasant character was essentially dictated by sympathy; her appreciation was more than sympathetic, it was instinctive. Her mother's blood, the blood of "tine femme du peuple." ran aggressively in the veins of the
4 See " HUtoire de ma Vie." Q. Sand ■ Indiana. Leuo, &c.
jneat-granddaughter of Maurice de Saxe; it claimed comradeship of equalities with Aurore Dupin's village playfellows and obtained for her in maturity an inestimable literary advantage: the familiarity of knowledge that kinship of class, and kinship alone, can secure. Writing of the villagers of the neighboring parishes of Saint-Chartier and Nohant, she was content to layaside the tedious exposition of moral and social theories, founded upon her devious lines of moral conduct, which abound in other sections of her novels. In "La Mare au Diable" and its companion narratives the subject governed her treatment of it; the theme governed the author. The George Sand of "Indiana," "Lello" and " €onsuelo," the (ieorge Sand of obtrusive reflections, rhetorical philosophy, and declamatory sentimentality, exercised her gift of adaptability, and transferred her pliable talent into the required key. "Si on me demande ce que j'ai voulu falre, je repondrai que j'ai voulu falre une chose tres-touchante et tres-simple," she explains in a prefatory note to "La Mare au Diable." According to a further statement, appended to "La Petite Fadette," she had sought a refuge from the stormy cataclysms of 1848 at Nohant, where "trouble et navre jusqu'au fond de lame je m'efforcai de retrouver dans la solitude sinon le calme, au moins la foi." in the composition of her romcns champttres.
Mme. Sand justified and perfected her aesthetic ideal of rural pathos and homely grace. She retained of her former literary manner extreme ease of invention and fluent spontaneity of diction—gifts that constituted the main charm of her romances • while they undermined any constructive faculty and eclipsed all powers of condensation In sentiment and conciseness in narrative she may have possessed; she
8 Oonsuelo, Comtes.se de Radolatadt L'homme de Nelge, Ac
discarded the elaborate melodrama of passion, the strained altitudes and abnormalisms of virtue and vice and incident proper to the romantic. So doing her genius struck gold. How far the figures of la petite Fadette, of Marie In "La Mare au DIable," of Brulette in "Les Maitre's Sonneurs," are veracious or unveracious as studies from life models, who may say? In dealing with the manners of rural Berry, she was dealing with a district so distinct in local usage and racial temperament, so estranged in customs from the neighboring provinces of France, that in the epoch preceding the Revolution, Mirabeau is reported to have counselled the King "de reunir le Berry ft son empire au lieu de conquerir des provinces etrangfires";' and George Sand herself wrote: "le Berry est reste statlonnaire . . . qu'apr£s la Bretagne et quelques provinces de l'extreme inidi . . . c'est le pays le plus conserve qui se pulsse trouver ft l'heure qu'il est."" But, true or untrue as portraiture, the characters she sketched, with a touch as delicate as it is assured, live in freshness and grace. They do more: in them she originated—as it is the sole prerogative of genius to originate—a type which literature, in obedience to the axiom "perfection fait ecole," both accepted and reiterated in manifold imitations and copies.'
Her stories are wrought with the least possible expenditure of material. There is scarcely a hint of any world beyond the confines of the low-lying plains of Berry, where M. de la Salle assures us that "il suffit que deux personnes se rencontrent pour que l'envle de danser les gagne"; or if the scene changes it is only to cross the ascending frontier-line to the wilder, well-watered
'"Le Berry." Par L. de la Salle. Paris, 1900,
"La Mare au Diable.
■ Tonrguenlef's "Beclts d'un chasseur" are said to owe something to G. Sand's example. See B. Haumant's "Tourgudnief," Paris, 1906.
oak-woods of has Bourbonnais. Episode and incident are bounded by the everyday conditions of common lives spent in secluded hamlets. George Sand's inevitable preoccupation is the interest of sentiment, and the sentiment of all her genre painting is that of homely idealism.
No such quiet to the mind
A mere thread of a plot, a handful of trivial events suffices. The characters, with hardly disguised habiliments, repeat themselves more than once. '"Le beau gargon" (Germain in "La Mare"), equable of temper, tenacious In slowly aroused affections, clean-handed and clean-minded, with the trait of irresoluteness which Mme. Sand is apt to ascribe to the masculine temperament, reappears in Landry, of "La Fadette." and in Tienet, of "Les Mattres Sonneurs." The girl-heroines are stronger and more individual variants of the type initiated in la petite Marie of "La Mare." Fadette, the village scapegrace, passing from childhood to first girlhood with her "allures de gargon," half malicious, half wistful; part savage, part will-o'-the-wisp; crying, laughing, chanting her mocking-song In the dense night, to the terror of wayfarers as the marsh-lights dance by the river.
J'al pris ma cape et mon capet:
becomes, as her heart wakens. George Sand's formula of peasant girlhoodtrue, brave, generous, wise too, and prudent; light of word but sol>er of mind, and above all honest of deed.
"La Mare au Diable" gives perhaps the clearest illustration of the author's intention in her new art. Germain, arrived at the thirty years limit of (in peasant estimation) marriageable ago.