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invite the young men and maidens to return to the school of their childhood, and give their aid in the religious festivity, and you will have put in operation a very efficient instrument for cherishing their feelings of attachment.”
We must here conclude our notice of this very interesting and important work, in furnishing materials for which we have not scrupled to make a large use of the volume itself. We hope, however, that our readers will not be contented with the extracts which we have given, but will themselves consult the valuable pages of Mr. Gresley.
ART. IV.-La Russie en 1839. Par LE MARQUIS DE CUSTINE.
Bruxelles, Societé Belge de Librairie. 1814. 4 vols. 12mo. 2. La Salle d'Armes. Par ALLEXANDRE DUMAS. Paris. 1838. 3. Le Maitre d'Armes. Par le Mene Paris.
WHEN the gallant Sir Walter Raleigh was a prisoner in the Tower, and engaged upon that historical fragment which has descended to posterity under the title of “ A History of the World,” he one day witnessed from the window of his cell a quarrel and a fight, carried on between two men in the courtyard below. This contention took place in the presence of several spectators, no two of whom were agreed in giving the same account of what had passed before their own eyes. This discrepancy in the evidence of eye-witnesses to a fact so startled the historian, that he determined to give up the vain task of speculating upon events which rested upon no better foundation than a circumstantial testimony; his history was laid aside, for he deemed it a folly to write of the past, of which he knew comparatively nothing, since he dared not trust to his own senses in composing a statement of the simple facts of the present.
We believe that it is an easy matter enough to write truth ; but it is not so easy to define what truth is. Actions, like pictures seen in different lights, will wear a varied appearance, according either to the position or the bias of the spectators. This has been universally felt and acknowledged. All writers of narrative have, in their turn, been troubled with this difficulty ; but it is, we believe, only the authors of France, whose inventive genius never stumbles at obstructions of a nature like these; they construct a theory, and if the facts do not agree with it, why so much the worse for the facts. Where French writers are not blessed with a boldness of invention, like that of a certain abbé, who wrote an account of a siege without being acquainted with its circumstances, and who, on learning that he had awarded the triumph to the wrong side, coolly replied that it was a pity, but his siege was finished—where they do not possess such a creative audacity as this, they make up for it by boundlessness of ignorance. Thus a writer in the Constitutionnel, one of the leading journals in Paris, lately stated that Lord Byron's "Childe Harold” was an ancient Saxon king! A brother journalist states that Gloucester is a large manufacturing city in Scotland! And another, writing on civil statistics, informs his readers that no native of the three kingdoms can open a shop, sell tarts or vend lucifer matches, without a special authority from the Parliament or the Queen.
We must not be misunderstood as alleging that all French writers are equally reckless in stating falsehoods, or equally ignorant as to what are facts and what are vulgar errors; we should ourselves, in doing them this injustice, be guilty of grossly running counter to truth. Their republic of literature can boast of names which few other nations can equal—which no other nation can excel. But it is also an incontrovertible truth, that they have among them men as little regardless of what sort of knowledge they impart to their readers, as was the Louvain student, who gravely told a young class of learners that Michael Angelo was a celebrated physician who had invented rhubarb ! We ourselves once met in Picardy with two dramatic pieces (all the literary food that a village inn could afford to a weather-bound traveller), of which one was entitled L’Idiote, the other Les Faussaires. In the former remarkably dull composition we were, for the first time, made acquainted with the astounding information that Sheridan was the greatest modern poet of England ;* the fact being, that that foolish wit knew about as much of Pegasus and the Hippocrean as did Cicero himself, who, after supping his inspiration by spoonsful, contrived to deliver himself of that immortal and solitary verse which says
“O Fortunatam natam, me consule, Romam !" But the error of the author of L'Idiote is Primrose-hill compared with the Appenine line of blunders of a gentleman who has perpetrated the drama called Les Faussaires. This piece really gives us a delectable specimen of the correct idea pos
* M. de Custine makes an error quite as remarkable, in calling Kotzebue (the writer of sickly prose sentiment) a German poet! The poor victim of the fanatic Sandt could not manufacture verses better than the orator of Arpi. num; while his prose is as unlike that of the pupil of Philo, as a Minerva press novel is to the “ Spectator."
sessed, by the French, of English manners and customs. We see in it a peer connected with a coiner; his lordship resides in a castle, situated in a romantic canton, two miles from London; and to this castle the peasants of the aforesaid canton repair to present flowers to the noble owner's daughter on her saint's-day. The more ignoble coiner passes as a farmer, and he dwells in a little hut, on his peculiar patch of ground, situated in a dark glen, adjacent to a gloomy baronial ruin, placed in a solitary part of the sterile mountains, which geographers have not marked down, somewhere between London and Richmond! And all the ladies and gentlemen concerned display a strong, but confusing Puseyite tendency; and, having read Mr. Newman's “ Lives of the English Saints” by anticipation, they swear by St. James of Canterbury, with a force and an alacrity that, on any day of the year, from the eve of St. Odilo to the third watch on the festival of the blessed St. Sylvester, would have astounded and gratified the venerable Mr. Froude himself.
But these are dramatic writers, and it is their privilege to know nothing, and take liberties with it. But here is Alexander Dumas, a man who has been everywhere, and knows everybody who resides there; who has read everything, and written upon that, and a vast number of other subjects besides; who pens tragedies during a breakfast ; and who, if he has not written an encyclopædia, has copied more than one into his works, without acknowledging the sources of his quotation ; and who is more read, more laughed at, more praised, more reviled, more admired, more condemned; who writes more beautifully, and much more nonsensically, than any dozen out of the galaxy of his milky-tinged contemporaries. He, like M. de Custine, has written upon foreign countries-has visited Russia, and given, in his “ Maitre d’Ărmes,” some extraordinary accounts of what he saw, and what he did not see there ; and has also written a series of stories called “La Salle d'Armes," one of which, called Pauline, we will analyze for the amusement of our readers, as well as that they may be made acquainted with a modern French romance, in which there is no indecency, as with the writer's peculiar ideas of England and Piccadilly.
Pauline is of course very exciting, very melo-dramatic, and very improbable-very. Pauline is a young lady, who is married to a Fausto-Juanic-Charles Moor-y-Mephistophilish-Corsairian-Werterlike being, half savage, half soft, and whose name is Horace de Beauzenval. He is a man who kills tigers as well as ladies--slays wild boars and sings bass. In Paris
when the streets have been sufficiently aired for such a man to appear in them, he walks abroad, the very picture of a virtuous gentleman, who has just left the modest group which may for ever be seen attitudinizing in one of the corners of the Journal des Modes. But he occasionally retires to an old dilapidated chateau in Normandy, where, in conjunction with two equally virtuous friends, done from the same model, he contrives to play the brigand and murderer, without detection. Pauline, in feminine alarm at the somewhat protracted absence of her husband, and not at all satisfied at living, like Juvenal's Roman lady, tanquam vicina marito, proceeds, uninvited, to Normandy, to join him. Here she passes two fearful nights, attended by a sorcerer-like, wild Malay (whose position there is as unaccountable as the much quoted flies who were found in amber), and surrounded by scenes of debauchery and assassination, by which she discovers the true means whereby her husband managed to procure his “small profits and quick returns." The amiable monster, to prevent his wife betraying him, has recourse to the gentle measure of shutting her up in a vault, accompanied by a glass of poison, and a civil billet dour. In the meantime he gives out that she has been assassinated, and he buries, in her stead, the body of a young English lady, whom he had shot “positively for this particular occasion only." As this is little more than the commencement of the romance, our readers will make their conclusions ride sympathetically with their wishes, and take for granted that the heroine is not only rescued from her durance in the dominion of Little-Ease, but that she owes her deliverance to the accidental sharp-sightedness of love. Such is precisely the case; the fond captive is restored to liberty by a former admirer; and (as there is no necessity whatever for their doing so) the lady and gentleman set off together, in the character of brother and sister, to England. There would have been no evidences of Monsieur Dumas possessing any sense of what is due to propriety, if he were not so to arrange matters as to cause the death of the husband at the hands of the lover. The author, being a marvellously proper man, has not neglected so forcible an incident, and the accomplished Beauzenval falls by the pistol of Alfred de Nerval, not for his sins to his wife, but for his presumption in aspiring to the hand of Alfred's sister, added to the impertinence of his publishing his position as that of a widower, disregarding the threatenings of the law, and little profiting by the experience of M. de Pourceaugnac, who learnt, when he could hardly better the instruction, that La bigamie est un cas pendable,
Pauline, in the meantime, takes to sighing and a liver complaint; becomes very impatient, as does also the reader; and, in an acces of philosophical drollery, refuses to let her mother know of her existence, for the comical reason, that the old lady has already regarded her daughter's death with the same view that Lord Aberdeen is said to look upon the conquest of Algiers, namely, as a thing done, un fait accompli, and therefore irremediable, by unavailing regret, she deems it not worth while to give her mamma the chance of having to mourn for her twice, sensible as she is that her positive dying is a matter of undoubted and very proximate certainty. This consummation, however, is not achieved till after her arrival in Italy; and when Pauline, considering her vicinity, may be said, with more than usual truth, to have gone to the tomb of the Capulets, the reader is uncommonly tempted to exclaim, with Shakspeare's honest sentinel, “ For this relief, much thanks!"
Such is the outline of a popular French romance; and if M. Dumas is enabled to afford his countrymen some little amusement in this production of his versatile genius, we are enabled to do more, by giving English readers the opportunity of laughing at the most superlative absurdity that mortal literary man ever committed. We must, however, first ask them-Is Piccadilly in foreign parts? Do you know of such a locality by the Lakes, or near the Wye? Is there a rurality so called among the retirements of Devonshire? Have the pic-nic parties from Knaresborough or Harrowgate ever discovered this new insula felix at Plumpton or Harewood ? Does it lie on Goldsborough Moor? Is it part and parcel of Brimham Rocks? Does Miss Laurence know of it at Fountains? or the Duke ever find it among the valleys of Bolton ? But why do we ask such questions? There is but one Piccadilly, and its habitation and its name are equally divided between the illustrious parishes of St. George, Hanover-square, and St. James, Westminster. The western extremity of its northern side is illustrated by a great warrior, and its eastern extremity by a gentleman, who, though not a warrior, exercises a profession by which warriors are made effective; the legislative general is at one end, and the executive gunmaker at the other. Somewhere in the mid space of this sylvan rusticity—where there is nothing of Arcadia, save an equivocal spot near Lord Burlington's, where the Dryads themselves would be puzzled to find either board or lodging-does the clever M. Dumas make his hero and heroine live in a fancy cottage, a pretty little structure, simple, and retired, with Venetian blinds, and a garden full of flowers! And, behold, there is positively (for the author swears to it) a verdant lawn !