« PreviousContinue »
in bad Louis XVI. ormolu.” During the evening the English ambassador, Lord Normanby, came in, and the President, taking him into the next room, conversed with him eagerly and at some length. “Louis Napoleon,” says Victor Hugo, “gave the impression of being shy and ill at ease. He went from one group to another, like one embarrassed, and not like the master of the house.” However diffident in manner, the “man of December" was not lacking in determination, as the coup d'état of December 2, 1851, proved. On the eve of that memorable day the usual reception was held at the Elysée, after which the President retired to his private rooms, accompanied by a few of those in his confidence, Monsieur de Morny, Monsieur de Maupas (Prefect of Police), Saint-Arnaud (Minister for War), and his private secretary, Mocquart. The final orders were then issued, the proclamations signed, and hastily despatched to the Imprimerie Nationale to be ready for the morrow. At an early hour next day, the leading members of both the Republican and Royalist parties were arrested, and the birth-throes of the Second Empire had begun. As Emperor, Napoleon III. inhabited the Tuileries, but his residence at the Elysée as President had necessitated a good many alterations and additions. The two adjoining hotels, Sebastiani and Castellane, had been bought, and the ground utilised to build additional accommodation. Unfortunately, however, the architect entrusted with the work owed his appointment to his connection with the Emperor rather than to his capacities,” and occupants of the Palace to-day still suffer from badly contrived alterations. Worse than this, lovers of art have to deplore the damage done to the decorations by socalled restoration, which has to a great extent destroyed the delicacy of Pineau's work. Incomprehensible also is the taste which inserted modern portraits in the beautiful old Louis XV. panels of the Salon du Conseil, a piece of barbarianism that one would have thought impossible from those who inherit the traditions of the eighteenth century. In order not to speak again of bad taste, a word one does not often have to employ in connection with anything French, it may be as well to mention here that the canons of art were again outraged when, under Faure and Carnot respectively, the Salon d'Hiver and the Salle des Fêtes were added on the west of the main building. Such specimens of architecture are difficult to excuse.
* The architect employed was the brother of Madame Cornu, saur de lait of Napoleon III.
Victor Hugo in l'Histoire d'un Crime (that is to say, the History of the Coup d'Etat) associates the Elysée with everything that was sinister in the reign of the third Napoleon, as the home of plot and intrigue, the laboratory of things evil and ridiculous ; however that may be, it was for a brief space now to lend its gally-hung salons and sunlit terraces to be the background of Imperial romance. Eugénie de Montijo, the fiancée of Napoleon III., spent the last few days before her marriage in this, the most charming house in Paris, and elaborate were the prepartions made to ensure the comfort of the bride. Monsieur Bonnier, the present architect of the Palace, is justly enthusiastic over the lingerie installed on that occasion, the boiseries of which would not disgrace a drawing-room.
Revolutions in the history of France follow each other in bewildering fashion, and 1875* saw a new form of government adopted, and the Elysée became the official residence of the Chief. Since the first President of the Republic, Macmahon, the Palace has been inhabited successively by Jules Grévy (1879–1887), Sadi Carnot (1887–1894) (for whom the pink tapestries and mirrored walls were shrouded in black), Casimir Périer (1894–1895), Félix Faure (1895–1899), and its present occupant, Monsieur Loubet.
To visitors who go there to-day, and who are shown the “Salon de Musique " of Le petit Lingot, the scene in 1813 of Marie Louise's investiture with the Imperial power, and since 1875 the Council Chamber of Republican deliberations; to those who admire the Salon des Glaces used by Josephine and Eugénie, two Empresses whom Fortune forsook; who walk on the terrace where Mme. de Pompadour, Caroline Murat and the Duchesse de Berry laughed and talked with the society of their day; or who wander in the garden whose paths have been trodden by the heavy feet of an Emperor facing his doom—to those who realise these associations the Elysée is full of interest, and one can hardly pass its gates without calling to mind some of the stirring scenes which make the building almost a living page in the history of France.
* In reality the Republic existed in France since September 4, 1870, the date of the revolution which overturned the Second Empire. But after the Franco-Prussian War, when Thiers was put at the head of the Government by the Assemblée Nationale, in February 1871, he did not take the title of President of the Republic—he was President of the Pouvoir Exécutif. Macmahon succeeded Thiers in 1873, but it was only in February 1875 that the Assemblée legalised the existence of the Republic, and it was then that the Elysée became the residence of the head of the State.
V. STUART WORTLEY.
IS FICTION DETERIORATING 2
The newly published Life of Charlotte Yonge is not an exciting book, yet it is, from one point of view, extremely interesting and suggestive. It is the life of one of the most popular authoresses of the nineteenth century—an authoress whose name has become the proverbial “household word” in most British homes, and whose influence over millions of readers has been far-reaching and enduring. Yet, on the face of them, these novels by Charlotte Yonge are merely simple tales for young people, of more or less domestic interest and of unvarying moral purpose. Such stories published just now would receive scant notice even from young readers, and none at all from those older and more critical in taste. What then has been the secret of Miss Yonge's popularity, and what accounts for the influence she had, and still to some extent has, over her readers ? Miss Yonge had the felicity, granted to only a few writers in each generation, to create a type. There is a tendency in human nature to run always to one extreme or another ; you will find either a very bad or a very good type of hero the favourite of each generation—there is no place found in public favour for the real man of real life who is neither one thing nor the other. Characters necessarily, before they become types, must be extreme instances of that which they embody. Whether Charlotte Yonge had consciously grasped this fact we shall never know ; sufficient to say that she acted upon it, and in Sir Guy Morville, the hero of the Heir of Redclyffe, created a type of the good hero which, in popularity, outran all competitors. Just as Charlotte Brontë years before had fascinated the world by a wicked hero, and created the “Rochester type,” so Charlotte Yonge made “Morvillism.” the fashion of the hour. Half the youth of England were modelling themselves on Sir Guy a few years after the publication of the Heir of Redclyffe. “The enthusiasm about Charlotte Yonge among the undergraduates of Oxford in 1865 was surprising,” we are told, and we hear of regiments where every officer had his copy of the famous novel. The pre-Raphaelite brethren—Rossetti, William Morris, and Burne-Jones—“took Sir Guy as their model” (a model which they followed afar off by all accounts); in fact, the popularity of the book in the most unlikely quarters was extraordinary. Now, how is it possible to account for this sudden fever of interest in the Heir of Redclyffe 2 Had the book really sufficient merit to account for its popularity ? There are several answers to these questions ; the book which attains wide popularity has not of necessity great merit; but it has, inevitably, something in it which appeals to human nature—something universal. To detect this vital spark in a book is to discover the secret of its popularity—not always a very easy matter. The great mass of “popular" authors appeal to the lower side of our universal nature ; they know that, roughly speaking, every one is interested in murders, hairbreadth escapes, adventures of every kind, so they select these as their subjects. Another and quite as numerous class acknowledge the universal note that is to be found in divorces, adulteries, rivalries, every manifestation of passion ; these themes always secure their audience. But it remains for more subtle minds to discover subjects which are at once universal in their interest and yet unhackneyed. Far be it from me to name Charlotte Yonge “subtle”; yet in justice to the Heir of Redclyffe it must be acknowledged that she has made this very discovery—has found a hero who appeals to a huge audience as being a hero, and yet does not make his appeal through any of the lower and more obvious channels. To have done this is something of an achievement, and proves Miss Yonge to have had a higher order of literary faculty and perception than she is generally credited with nowadays. Yet the secret was an exceedingly simple one ; merely the old truth of the eternal attractiveness of virtue. This was not a new discovery ; to take the greatest instance of all, who has ever tried to deny the extraordinary attractiveness of the character of Christ, or the power which the story has had, and always will have, even over those who do not regard it as a divine revelation. Simple as this great principle is, Miss Yonge showed true literary intuition in applying it to popular uses ; she realised that the great mass of mankind worship that perfection which they feel it impossible to attain to in their own lives, and she drew a character accordingly—she popularised virtue. It is impossible to repress a smile when we consider the many perfections and the few studied imperfections of Sir Guy Morville, the hero of the Heir of Redclyffe, and the question puzzles us continually, “How does such an impossible character still claim our interest and credence f" For Sir Guy is, in truth, an ideal rather than a real creation. His virtues are almost touchingly ridiculous. When he goes to Oxford he excels himself: “It was first proposed that Deloraine (his horse) should go with him, but Guy bethought himself that Oxford would be a place of temptation for William (his groom), and resolved to leave them both at Holywell.” (!) At Oxford his own recreations must have been as innocent as those he desired for William, for they were limited to music and walking : “The last, he said, might engross him in the same way, but he thought there were higher ends for music, which made it come under Mrs. Edmondstone's rule of a thing to be used guardedly, not disused.” Such temperance in pleasure at eighteen is almost painful. But the same conscience pursues him through life. To counterbalance these virtues Miss Yonge had to introduce at least one fault into her hero's character, so we are told that he had a temper of terrific violence, though the only indication we have of it is “a flashing eye” and a disposition to fly to the piano and play the “Harmonious Blacksmith ” whenever his feelings became too fiery to be trusted. It is all ridiculous and impossible and unreal ; and yet the character of Guy Morville remains attractive, lovable, admirable throughout—just because it is an effort to describe perfection, the thing we all long after and worship in spite of ourselves | If then—as it undeniably is—this worship of perfection is an instinct of our nature, it is curious that from time to time in the world's history the popular type of hero should have been so far removed from perfection. I have noticed the type of “Rochester” hero and his popularity as an instance of this, while in “real life” heroes we may take Byron as another example that vice may run virtue very close, and even, for the time being, may win the race. We seem to have come to one of these stages in the history of thought at present; the “good” hero has gone suddenly and completely out of fashion. When I say this, I do not assert that a vicious hero is in fashion just now ; but that mere “goodness” is at a discount, and the want of this quality is, at present, no disqualification for herodom—granted always that the character has enough of “strength” to justify his own existence. This is the first and greatest essential in the making of the modern hero, and it is a sign of the times that this should be the case. For it is not altogether strength as a splendid characteristic that is admired, but strength as a means