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has lost the wife he had loved with the exclusive, if tranquil devotion of a simple mind. He lives, still mourning his loss, under the farm-house roof of his father-in-law. But Pere Maurice, kindly nnd sagacious, rules that Germain shall re-marry with a fitting bride, the unknown, but well-endowed, Veuve Guerin. Germain resigns himself to obey with the sadness of an incorrigible, inarticulate regret—when Pere Maurice gave him his daughter to wed "nous n'avions pas mis dans nos conditions que je viendrais ft l'oubier si j'avais le malheur de la perdre." Nevertheless, patriarchal authority prevails and Germain Is despatched, an unwilling suitor, to the village home of In Veuve Guerin with her comely face and worldly goods. Disconsolate, Germain sets out, mounted on the gray farm-horse, "songeant comme songeut les hommes qui n'ont pas assez d'ldCes pour qu'elles se combattent entre elles, mats souffrant d'nne douleur sourde." He goes, but La Grise carries two, for it chances that his neighbor, la petite Marie, must perforce leave home to earn a few francs in service at a farm not far from the village whither Germain is bound, and Germain, trustworthy and kind, will see the child—for Marie is little more than a child—well on her way. Nor has La Grise borne her double burden far before PetitPierre, Germain's five-year-old Benjamin—a tactless associate in courtship— waylays them, and, la petite Marie aiding and abetting, imposes his company upon the two. One by one the incidents of the day are narrated with a lightness of touch that gives due perspective to all. The frugal meal at Mere Rebec's cabaret, necessitated by Petit-Pierre's devouring hunger; the retarded progress of La Grise; the dusk that overtakes the wayfarers on the unfamiliar road; the mist that gathers thickly as they traverse the wood, shrouding the last glimmer of moon
light in dim, bewildering grayness; the night spent by the strayed trio under the great oaks, are described with an unerring sense of proportion. The three figures are always in clear relief: Germain dejected, incapable, In the face of adverse circumstances; petite Marie, alert, helpful, a trifle sharp of tongue, but ever ready of hand; comrade to the man, playmate to the child; reproving with cheerful malice Germain's lack of cheer, the quickness of her woman's wit giving its bright edge to the soundness of her common-sense.
The expedition, inauspicious so far as courtship of Veuve Guerin is concerned, misses its aim; Germain's proposal of marriage is never made, and the farm-service, including conditions not in the bond, is renounced by la petite Marie. So the three return as they came, Germain to discover that life without petite Marie will be life with'out the friend In need; petite Marie to hide her love and reject his suit until Pere Maurice sanctions his son-in-law's marriage with the girl they have hired. In neighborly kindness, to tend the sheep. In truth the story Is of so slight a texture, woven from so meagre a skein, and colored with so few tints, that the smallest flaw in its art would have proved fatal to the whole scheme; but flaw there Is none, the charm is Intact, and the scantiness of its elements constitutes the triumph of its simplicity.
The transition from George Sand's well-loved Berry to the Burgundiau village-drama Balzac Imaged in his sombre novel "I^es Paysans"" Is a transition to the reverse of the medal. It is not so much a passage from sun to shadow as to a total eclipse of every ray of daylight. Shadows lie over Pierre Tx»ti's Celtic north; the gray clouds that drift across the seas hover over the hearts of the Breton peasantry. The mists that float
>" Part I.
across the landes give, as Bar bey d'Aurevilly points out, to the population of la Basse Normandie, despite a preponderance of material interests, "la poesie . . . qui vient de la profondeur <les impressions." But such shadows are, compared with Balzac's malignant gloom, a mere film upon the glass. His is a radical transmutation; it is a passage from the spectacle of humuu nature where tints change, darken to sadness, or are glided by transverse shafts of pleasure, where men's souls responsively reflect the chequered lights as fortune's wheel turns, to a theatre within whose walls humanity plays its part dyed and blotted past erasure, smeared with splashes of mire and blood and stained with the lees and dregs of stagnant brute passions. The sun may shine, the rain fall, the cold spread its chastities of frost, but the race Balzac summoned upon the stage in his "Comédie Humaine" will not' change its spots nor any wind of heaven purify the corruption of its lair. Balzac regards the peasant as a topic: he utilizes him as a document; his official standpoint is that of the spectator, and all that minute scrutiny can discover, all that a document can communicate, is crowded on to his canvas. With George Sand the negligence of dotall, local, geographical, and domestic, evinces a perfect familiarity with the outer framework of the life she drew. She dispensed with carefully accumulated touches, trusting that pictures Si• complete in her own mind would print themselves, without possibility of error, upon her readers' imagination. She painted her landscapes without recourse to topography, her farm-dwellings without inventories of household goods, her human beings without reference to dictionaries of psychological anatomy. Her aim was simplicity and
11 Prefatory note to " La Petite Fadette." ""Honor* de Balzac," par. F. Brunetifere. Paris, 1906.
—in her peasant fiction—she achieved it. Nothing could be farther from Balzac's intention. "Un g£nie," as she wrote of him, "orageux et puissant . . . ecrit avec ses larmes, avec sa bile, avec ses nerfs, un drame tout plein de tortures." u The trinmph and purpose of his career was "la representation de la vie" in its integrity, and for his works at large M. Brunetlere claims a judgment based on their attainment of this object: "on ne peut done pour les juger . .. les comparer qu'avec la vie." u lu the mammoth scheme of "La Comédie Humaine," each novel constitutes but a single page of the vast picture-play Balzac designed, nor is it his fault, but that of the limit of human years and capacity, if in the yet vaster Book of Life—a book without beginning or end —the whole of his immense accomplishment shrinks to a meagre compass, reads as a least fraction of a brokeu sentence.
Three volumes of the ComMle belong to the section treating "Scenes de la Vie de Campagne." "Le Cure" de Village" and "Le Mfedecin de Campagne" portray the peasantry as the philosopher den mwurs conceived of village life subjected to the regenerating influences of religion and philanthrophy. The cure is himself a model of pastoral virtues, piety, humility, self-abnegation. His docile flock leave no impression individually or collectively upon the mind. The story is a plot of criminal intrigue: the connection of Verouique, the miserly banker's wife, with a peasant employi, and a consequent murder. The execution of Véronlque's lover leads the secretly guilty woman to lifelong philanthropic penance, under the direction of the curé, in her lover's native village. These are the events upon which the story hinges. Véronique is the central figure; the villagers, their character and customs, are only incidentally sketched. Except in one scene, when in the village church a Mass for the dying Is said during the hour appointed for the execution of the condemned man. there is no vivid or concentrated presentment of peasant thought or emotion. The second volume of the series —"Le Medecln de Campagne"—presents the inhabitants of the district contiguous to La Grande-Chartreuse In a succession of individual or family monographs. Each monograph serves as an object-lesson in the effects of possible Bocial and sanitary reform. The results of the doctor's attempts to ameliorate the physical and moral state of his poor are discussed and expounded. Balzac. in his propaganda of Catholicism, royalism and authority, plunges Into the abyss -where the artist is submerged in the dogmatist when the doctor, the cure, the prtfet and the doctor's guest, an ex-Napoleonic officer, debate at Socratlc length the questions of suffrage, of political Ideals and the advantages of religion as a police-control for the populace.
"Les Paysans"» belongs to a iater date and to a totally different method of craftsmanship. The peasant, it is true, is still, as In "Le Medecln," a problem, a topic, a document. It may also be, as one of Balzac's most enthusiastic critics allows, that if "il a cm un vague soupgon de ce qu'est le paysan, 11 ne le penetre pas dans son essence cachee: la rustlclte lui echappe au sens presque occulte de son fonctionnement."" But the problem has personified itself in living, moving actors; the topic is embodied in figures harshly outlined with all the ruthless force that lay in the brain of the great inaugurator of naturalism. Again, if as in "Le Medecln," there are a disjointed series of group-biographies, there is likewise an emphasized convergent point. The trends of opposing passions are sufficiently consistent to give the sense of aggregate unity in <• Part I. "H. Favre.
Impression, if not the sense of rovin or unity in structure.
That central point Is the figure of the Corute de Moncornet, the overbearing ex-general, a Napoleonic parvenu. His attempt to establish his rights as landed proprietor In his newly acquired estate; the overt hostilities of the peasants, the covert machinations of the petite bourgeoisie of the neighborhood, leagued against the new-comer, constitute the groundwork of the plot. The Comte, the wife his social ambition coveted, an occasional guest, the Abbe. Brossette, Blondin the young Parisian journalist, a familiar inmate whose presence dissipates in some measure the tedium of his hostess's days: these form a socially isolated group at the chateau des Aigues. Blondin plays the part of the. professional observer; the cure that of the moral commentator—as In his memorable phrase "a. voir comment lis s'appuient de leur mlsere, on devine que ces paysans tremblent de perdre le pretexte de leurs dfebordements." And while Mme. de Moncornet indulges her Impulses of charity in casual almsgiving to the debased and worthless suppliants who beset her with threats and entreaties, a sullen conspiracy of hatred spreads its intricate net around. The General—with riches, with garden champetres, with the law's armed but impotent aid—Is foredoomed to defeat in his struggles with the crouching, obsequious, insolent force which rears its fanged head from every ditch. "Qui terre a guerre a." The peasants, their ancient malpractices: wood-stealing, poaching, stolen pasturage and cornpillage, restrained by energetic measures of repression, are abetted by the petty officialdom of justice and the rancors of provincial functionaries, who from divers causes seek advantage in the General's overthrow. These, too, are a specific group, agents in the tissue of events, through whose promptings and connivance the situation
reaches its climax. Their covetous egoisms, unbridled avarice and shameless duplicity, setting aside the grosser immoralities of the secularized monk (le Maire Rigou), go far to outweigh the unredeemed sensualism, the repulsive brutalities and savage greed, exhibited by the peasant population. The whole picture is of unmitigated depravity and unchequered gloom. One ray of kindliness shines from the windows of the keeper's lodge, to be quenched when Olympe Miehand's adored and adoring husband is murdered in the performance of his duty. One single peasant, the veteran republican, pere Nlseron, still dreams of a Utopian rule of liberty; the cure alone, among the inhabitants of the little township as among the habitues of the chateau, presents an example of moral purity and disinterested humanity. But these gleams of human affections and human virtues are obscured and ultimately vanish in the environing moral darkness, With a uniformity which does not belong to life, Balzac delineates the lowest levels of vindictive rapacity. He does not allow one among his characters even by accident to give way to those better impulses that beset unstable humanity at its worst: he has totally ignored the fact that vice, no less than virtue, has its lapses, its selfcontradictions of right feeling and right doing. Black, for him, can take no other hue, nor reflect one faintest glimmer of daylight.
The chateau des Algues is the citadel of defence; the cabaret of the Grand-lVert, the rendezvous of the enemies' forces, is minutely portrayed by the novelist, for whom characters exist, not, as with the romantics, mainly in emotional inter-relationships, but preeminently in relation to life and the material conditions of things,'5 and whose interminable descriptive passages are toujours explicatives des causes qui
'» F. BrunetKre.
ont faeonne dans le cours du temps, les etres ou les llenx." .The customs, the appurtenances of the cabaret, are painted as carefully as its master, Maltre Tousard, and its frequenters, Upon its shabby benches, set by broken tables where drinkers sit at ease, with the background of wooden cowsheds, tool-houses and outhuildings, thieves and libertines hatch their felonies and pursue their pleasures, There Tonsard plies his trade, blustering, gluttonous, jovial, venomous; there la Tonsard plies hers, acquiring, with Tonsard's connivance, what gross luxuries of food and dress she may. There the old grandmother and the daughters of the house add to their means of livelihood by dally depredations: green wood cut from young trees, game, illicit gleanings and other spoils rifled from the General's domains, The Grand-l-Vert is a nuclens of malice, "vrai nid de viperes, s'entretenant vivace et vfcnimense, chande et agissante, la hainc du proletaire et du paysan contre le maltre et le riche." Customers and clients each in turn, as they come and go, betray their own specific baseness, The otter-catcher, Maltre Tonsard's drunken father-in-law, pére Fourchou, mendicant and rogue, resigns himself, as his ill-gotten gains are snatched from him by his daughter, to be the butt and prey of natures more vigorous. if not more vicious, than his own. And the innkeeper steals the last five-francpiece he has detected hidden in the sodden drunkard's ragged pocket as Fourchon, seated on the bench within the threshold, garrulously discourses on social wrongs, Meanwhile the cabaret fills, Vermichel, concierge at the hotel de ville. huissier Brunet, valet Charles from the chateau, lover to Tonsard's disreputable daughter, are assembled there, when, crashing through the doorway with her enormous fagot of stolen boughs, Tonsard's old mother, "a hideous black parchment of age," makes precipitate entry, pursued by the keeper who has detected her ravages among the young plantations. The scene, as, at a sign from the old vagabond la Tonsard blinds the keeper with a handful of live ashes, is a complete, if not the most offensive, illustration of the ferocious savagery pervading the book. Chapter follows chapter, recording every phase of the contest, although the aggregate effect obtained by multiplication of sordid details, the continual sense a succession of almost Imperceptible touches imparts of the reserves of vice indicated by open outrages, cannot be conveyed by quotation. P6re Fourchon is utilized as a mouthpiece of peasant sentiment. He enunciates his philosophy before the inmates of the chateau. "Work, and you will win the reward of labor," moralizes the Abb6. But Fourchon knows better—he grasps by experience the speciousness of moral maxims. The problem does not lend itself to such facile solution; the peasant will always live In penury, the rich in wealth. And tbis without relevance to desert, for if the peasant steals in the gutter, the rich steal by the fireside! Work? he asks. Why? The Just—the unjust fare alike. The peasant who tolls, tolls in rags; the peasant who thieves, thieves in rags.
Me voiia—n'est-ce pas? Mol, le paresseux, le faineant l'ivrogne, le propre it rien de pare Fourchon, qu'a eu de replication, qua tomb6 dans le malheur et ne s'en est pas erlevv! ... Eh bien qw: difference entre moi et ce brave, c't uonnete pfcre Nlseron . . . qui pendant soixante ans a plochfi la terre, qui s'est lev6 tons les matins avant le jour pour aller au labeur . . . corps ed' fer, et eunt belle ame—je le vols tout aussl pauvre que moi. . . . Que le pesan vive de bien ou de mal faire il s'en va comme 11 est venu, dans des baillons, et vous dans de beau linge.
Cringing, fawning, obsequious, Four
chon threads his speech with covert menace.
"Le peuple a la vie dure, il ne nieurt pas, il a le temps pour lui" . . . "Vous voulez rester les maitres, nous serous toujours ennemis, aujord'hui comme 11 y a trente ans. ... La malediction des pauvres, monseigneur, ga pousse, et <;a devient pus grand que le pus grand ed' vos chfines, et le chfine fournit la potenee. . . . Personne lei ne vous dlt la vuritc; la v'ld, la varite!"
Let the General yield or ill will come of it. "C't avis-ia, et la loute," ends the old ruffian, "ga vant ben vingt francs, allez!"
The book takes its place as a masterpiece among all other works of realism in peasant fiction. Applying to it the criterion of truth to life, inevitably judgments will vary. Balzac has carried the argument from facts to character to its extreme limit From an immense collection of statements he leaves his reader to infer the nature of that root-basis of action which we call character, and the method undoubtedly rests upon a logical and rational foundation. Yet, however logical as method, the procedure when applied to literary inventions usually proves singularly inconclusive. Outward actions, good or ill, do not cover the ground, and appraisement of a man's complex nature resulting solely from knowledge of his deeds and words will always inspire distrust. Moreover, truth to life Is a matter of truth to proportion no less than of truth to fact Tonsards, Rigous, Fourchons, no doubt exist, but they exist as monstrosities of vice, cruelty, and degradation exist in a mass where morality shades with innumerable gradations from white to black. And if the truth of averages is not so much as suggested, the accurate presentment of what lies below, as of what lies above, remains an imperfect register of reality.