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A POINT AT ISSUE.-ROMANTICISM vs. NATURALISM.-BAUDE
LAIRE. --His Exotic VERSE. - DE BANVILLE.-DE LISLE. THE “PARNASSE."-VERLAINE AND DEGENERATION.-PRUDHOMME. - COPPÉE. — FLAUBERT. - ZOLA: His CLAIMS AND HIS WORK.-DAUDET.-DE MAUPASSANT.-PIERRE LOTI.BOURGET.-DRAMATISTS: DUMAS “FILS” AND SARDOU.HISTORIANS AND CRITICS: SCHERER.—MONTÉGUT.-TAINE AND HIS THEORY.-RENAN.-SUMMARY.
In dealing with the literature of the last balfcentury or so, one is met at the outset by a question on which the critics are not agreed. Some hold that about 1860 a reaction set in against romanticism. This reaction took the form of what is called “naturalism." That is, the material gained the place of the ideal, and there came about a worship of realism. The general attempt was to get as close as possible in literature to the reality of life; to depict—especially in poetry and fiction—the most intimate facts of human experience. The representative naturalists
are poets such as Baudelaire and novelists such as Zola. This spirit is, of course, sometimes carried to extremes, but its defenders claim it as a strong secession from romanticism
and as the most typical movement of the last forty years.
On the other hand, the upholders of romanticism claim that naturalism is simply a survival of 1830— that it differs in no essential from the spirit of that time. Victor Hugo's influence was paramount down to 1885, and Victor Hugo was a romanticist to the end. Moreover, they argue, all the really important characteristics which mark the period from 18601900 were present from 1820-1860, so that there is no difference, except perhaps in degree, between the tendencies of the former and the latter.
Without attempting to give a decision upon this debatable matter it may be said that the term “naturalism” applies very well to the general movement in literature since 1860. So that whatever the point of view may be—whether we regard it as a group of new and reactionary tendencies, or as purely a continuation of romanticism—the term affords an explicit phrase which it is useful to possess.
Accepting the term, then, as most comprehensive and indicative, we may briefly mention the principal authors who exemplify the naturalistic tendency. They are many, and, while not on the same level with the men who brought about mil-huit-cent-trente and perpetuated its forces, they possess considerable importance in French literature. In this case, however, again occurs the difficulty inseparable from all criticism of contemporary work. Yet there are one or two names which may be of permanent value. All departments of literary endeavor are representedpoetry, fiction, the drama, history and criticism.
The poets belong to a younger generation than those who flourished with Victor Hugo. Their most important representative is CHARLES BAUDELAIRE, born in Paris in 1821. He received a good education, but showed lack of interest in taking up any profession. A voyage to India widened his ideas and produced a strong effect upon his after work. “His imagination, essentially exotic, succumbed to the charm of a new, strange, and splendidly glowing form of nature; the stars, the skies, the gigantic vegetation, the color, the perfumes, the dark-skinned figures in white draperies, formed for him at that time a heaven, for which his senses un. ceasingly yearned afterwards amid the charms and enchantments of civilization, in the world's capital of pleasure and luxury." While still young be came into a small fortune, which enabled him to live a comparatively easy life. Towards its close he projected a complete edition of his works. He died in 1867, however, without accomplishing this plan.
Baudelaire's fame rests chiefly upon a volume of poems called Flowers of Evil, which appeared in 1857. He wrote some good prose as well, but his poems are the more important. They are very original and possess a strange morbid touch. But, as Mr. Swinburne said, “the pervading note of spiritual tragedy in the brooding verse of Baudelaire dignifies and justifies at all points his treatment of his darkest and strangest subject.” The fine memorial poem Ave atque Vale has been already mentioned (Chapter VII.); one of its stanzas characterizes excellently the poetry of the French singer :
Thou sawest, in thine old singing season, brother,
Secrets and sorrows unbeheld of us :
Fierce loves, and lovely leaf-buds poisonous,
Blowing by night in some unbreathed-in clime ;
The hidden harvest of luxurious time,
And where strange dreams in a tumultuous sleep
Make the shut eyes of stricken spirits weep;
Seeing as men sow men reap.
From Baudelaire the following may suffice :
s its c
Sweet music sweeps me like the sea
Toward my pale star,
I sail afar.
On swifter sail
Under night's veil.
On the salt wilderness.
-From Library of the World's Best Literature.
THEODORE DE BANVILLE (1823–1891) was an intimate friend of Baudelaire and Gautier. His literary work began early with a volume of poems called The Caryatides. His energy was unflagging and his work was comic as well as serious. Some of his other volumes were Odes Funambulesques, and The Wife of Socrates, a drama. Banville's technique is very perfect. “He could practically do with French verse anything he pleased.” At the same time the beauty of his poetry is due to something more than a command of rhyme and rhythm.
With these two must be placed LECONTE DE LISLE (1820-1894), who is connected with them by the importance of his work. Like them he was primarily a poet. He was a Creole, and the warm South blood in his veins is said to have had some effect upon what he wrote. He made several translations from the great Greek poets. His earlier writings were his best: Poésies Antiques, Poésies Barbares, Poèmes et Poésies. They are marked in spirit by a sort of pessimism, and in form by a style which has been called barbaresque and rhetorical.
There are some other poets who may be mentioned here. They formed part of a group called the "Parnasse," which flourished about 1860–76. The name was given them from a volume of poetry published in 1866, Le Parnasse Contemporain. Most of the school met the usual fate of the illustrious obscure; three, however, deserve a more than passing notice.
Greatest of these was Paul VERLAINE. He was born in 1844. His life was a strange one. He is an