페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

reverse, in this work, had little to do with its effectiveness. As a story, the whole was fascinating. It helped to make its author talked about with favour, and it caused him to be eulogized by the critics of his own nation.

His next work, Germaine, was an attempt to depict Parisian manners. A nobleman, who has lost everything, including honour; his daughter, a young girl, who sacrifices herself that he may regain his place in society; a Spanish nobleman, who is firsta rake and afterwards a pattern husband; a woman, who has been his mistress, and who hesitates not to commit murder in order to compass her ends; a medical man of uncommon skill, and who displays an abnegation seldom witnessed even among members of his profession, these are the persons whose doings and disputes constitute the substance of this novel. The chief interest hinges on the solution of a physiological problem. Germaine, the heroine, is represented as in the last stage of consumption. In order that the plot may terminate satisfactorily, she must be completely cured. This the author brings about by the agency which is employed by a rival for her destruction. Iodine inhalations conibined with drops of an arsenical solution, which are furtively administered to her every morning, are made the means of her recovery. The drawback is, that were Germaine so hopelessly ill as she is represented in the first chapter, her life could not possibly be prolonged. Indeed, M. About in his desire to produce a striking effect, followed a plan of which the result was to excite incredulity rather than give pleasure.

The like seeking after novelty led him to write Maître Pierre, a novel of which the purpose is to inculcate the advantages of reclaiming waste lands. We can liken it to but one English book, and that is Talpa, or the Chronicles of a Clay Farm. They differ in this: Talpa has no amorous episodes in it, whereas a charming love-story gives life to Maître Pierre. It was of set purpose that the latter work was so written as to be even more practical than entertaining. In the dedication, M. About expresses his pleasure at having become an author, striving to do good to his kind by convincing the most prejudiced of the ease as well as importance of turning many thousands of acres, which engendered nothing but fever into fields yielding large and most remunerative crops. The scene of the story is the Landes, a spot in Mid-France several miles in extent, half morass, half desert, where the inhabitants walk on stilts, and where the mirage is to be witnessed as in Sahara, and where, not long ago, it was customary to hunt the wild bull and the wild horse. It had been shown that this waste was capable of cultivation. How to do so with profit is stated in this tale. .

Maître Pierre is the hero. Whether or not he be wholly an

imaginary personage is of little consequence; in any case he is an interesting character. Born in the Landes, circumstances led him to endeavour to make the piece of ground belonging to him less unhealthy. Hardly any one in his native village escaped being attacked with the pellagre, a dangerous fever, which few caught and lived. Being told that drainage would cure the evil, he devoted himself to the task, and, after overcoming the most formidable obstacles, succeeded not only in freeing the soil from superfluous moisture, but in rendering it unprecedentedly fertile. His greatest struggles were not with natural difficulties. He had a harder fight to vanquish the demon of routine than the demon of pestilence. By his neighbours he was hooted and impeded. They prophesied his ruin, and worked hard to bring it to pass. He was even charged with impiety, for endeavouring to alter that which God had ordained. After his first attempt he was nearly ruined, for the rains of spring inundated his land, and the summer heat scorched his young plants, so that the soil which had formerly borne a scanty herbage, on which goats might browse, was now a barren waste. His property was nicknamed 'Peter's Folly. When he the most required substantial aid, he merely obtained ineffectual consolation in the shape of good advice. An old shepherd, who i had acted as his guardian, took advantage of his failure to lecture him in this wise: 'You see the effects of youth. Thinking yourself wiser than your forefathers, you try to improve what God has made, and you lose an income of twenty-five pounds. I am truly sorry that this misfortune should have befallen you, but it is to be hoped that the country will profit by your example.' However, his perseverance bore its merited fruit. He gained wealth, and taught others how to do likewise. When success had been achieved, he was held in honour; but was not credited with the entire victory. The kind advisers who had reproached him with folly, now came forward and claimed the chief share in the work.

Marniette, the heroine, is a slightly-sketched but pleasing figure. Left an orphan when still an infant, she was adopted by Maître Pierre, himself a young man. She lived with him, and aided him most materially. As soon as her guardian became a rich man, many suitors contended for the hand of his ward. She rejects them all, because she really prefers him. The result may be guessed.

Although the love-story is prettily told, yet it does not tend to enhance the merit of this novel. Its claim to notice rests on the large number of facts which may be learned from perusing it, without the reader being wearied with them. There is about the book the charm which consists in the vividness with which com

monplace things are placed in a new aspect. The under-current of the plot is fully as attractive as the leading incidents. How the peasants treat their benefactors and manage their own affairs, are brought into prominent notice. One or two scenes, in which the mayor and other functionaries make themselves ridiculous, while discharging their usual functions with the traditionary formalities, are capital specimens of clear and truthful delineation. However, the conduct of the peasants, among whom the Emperor can alone breathe freely, is more frequently reprehensible than ludicrous. As M. About puts it: give them five francs, and they will accuse you of robbing them should you ask for half a franc in return. The old shepherd is made to act thus on a large scale. He had become mayor of Bulos, and, thanks to Maître Pierre, had enriched himself exceedingly. As soon as he found that Maître Pierre was striving to confer upon others the benefits he had conferred on the denizens of his native place, the mayor exerted himself to drive Maître Pierre away. In this he was seconded by all those who, like him, had good cause to be grateful to the man they used to despise. No sooner, however, did Maître Pierre prove that the projected improvements would raise the value of their own property, as well as that of their neighbours, than he was entreated to remain, in those flattering words which fall so naturally from the lips of the base by birth and the envious by habit. Those who have not seen the Landes will find their curiosity excited by the perusal of this novel. Those who have traversed them will lament that the practical suggestions of the novelist should have had so little influence as yet, and that so many acres of land which might be made to yield golden grain are still thickly covered with stunted trees and worthless herbage.

Each successive work gave M. About a more prominent place in public estimation. Passing over some which do not merit special mention, we come to that which, even had it not been produced by an author of repute, would have excited universal attention. While residing at Rome in 1858, he contributed to the Moniteur letters giving his impressions of the Holy City and its devout rulers. Several omissions and modifications were made by the editor prior to the publication of these letters, yet they were considered offensive by the Papal government, and, at its instance, were suspended. Returning home, the author occupied himself during a year in digesting his opinions, until they formed a volume, which appeared with the title of The Roman Question. It was read everywhere, denounced by all good Catholics, applauded by all good Protestants, and admired by not a few who, utterly devoid of fanaticism, regarded the temporal power of the Pope as both an anomaly and a curse. It was answered in the usual style: the truth of all material statements being boldly questioned, while it was proved that on some trivial matters of detail the writer had blundered. The partisans of the Pope had the satisfaction of demonstrating that a man whom M. About styled a prince was only a duke; that another had ceased to discharge the functions attributed to him; and that a duke, instead of murdering his servant, had only killed him owing to an accident which, unfortunately, it was impossible to explain. On the strength of these facts, it was concluded that the book was wholly untrustworthy, and that its author merited general opprobrium. The justice of this decision we shall not dispute now. Besides, it is a thankless task to combat conclusions which are as illogical as they are absurd.

To the main portion of the book no reply was possible, for it consists of admitted facts, arranged with much adroitness in order to fortify the author's theories. He argued, for instance, that the temporal should be severed from the spiritual power, on the ground that the two cannot be simultaneously exercised without giving occasion for scandal and contradictions. Barely stated, the question would not exasperate any one who was on the Pope's side ; but, when put as it was in this book, it made the enemies of the Church laugh, and its adherents gnash their teeth with rage. M. About, contending for the separation of the two powers, asked, 'Is it not deplorable that sheriffofficers should seize goods in the name of the Pope; that judges should sentence an assassin in the name of the head of the Church; that the executioner should cut off heads in the name of the Vicar of Jesus Christ ? He further considered the two words. Pontifical Lottery,' as conveying a scandalous idea from their very association. He pointed out that, while the Pope forbids his subjects to take tickets in foreign lotteries under penalty of excommunication, he receives without a blush a report to the effect that the lottery' has been profitable, in other words, that his subjects are making progress in vice. He was at great pains to demonstrate that the Ecclesiastical Government was the cause of half the evils which afflict the Papal States. In answer to the assertion that the people was incapable of self-government, being at once indolent and effeminate, he cited what Italians had done in the past, and maintained that they could do the like again were they left to themselves. He asked a venerable ecclesiastic why it was that the farther any one journeyed from Rome the more perfect was the system of cultivation, and why should the environs of Rome be little better than a desert? The answer was: The land is not uncultivated, and if it be so the fault lies with the Pope's subjects. They are naturally lazy, although

21,415 monks preach to them the duty of labour. Indeed, nothing could be more searching or sparkling than the analysis by which M. About proved the inherent vices of the Papal system of government. Figures he made great use of, and always with effect. Thus, having to show that the Pope's subjects were energetic men though bad farmers, he cites from official statistics that in 1853, the Roman Courts of Law had furnished 609 offences against property, and 1344 against the person; whereas in France the proportions were reversed, 3719 persons being accused of robbery, and 1921 of personal violence. This does not prove much, yet it furnishes an opportunity for appending the remark, that the French are admitted to be people of energy, while the Romans are alleged to be devoid of it. The indirect satire is as well employed in this as in the former case of so many thousands of monks exerting themselves to denounce idleness.

The most noteworthy chapters are those containing the portraits of the Pope and Cardinal Antonelli. In the former, Pius the Ninth is portrayed with a tenderness which almost excites our admiration. All his personal qualities are brought into full relief; his defects are attributed to his training and his position. His sincerest friend could not desire a more ample yet balanced eulogium than that here penned. Turn the page, however, and the delicacy of the tints in the picture of the Pope will be seen to have been employed to heighten the effect of those in the picture of his chief minister. Now, all the details which M. About gives of the life of Cardinal Antonelli may be strictly true, while the impression left by the portrait will be wholly misleading. A degree of personal antipathy is apparent throughout. The man seems to be as obnoxious as the crafty minister. We are reminded of the invectives launched by Junius against George III. and by Burke against the Jacobins. In a literary sense, this performance is superior to any similar one by an English writer, and is almost on a par with the exquisite satires of Pascal and Paul Louis Courier. Here, for instance, is an admirable example of how to make, in few but significant words, the greatest number of disparaging statements. 'Cardinal Antonelli's tastes are simple: a robe of red silk, unlimited power, an enormous fortune, a European reputation, and every pleasure in which man can indulge; these trifles are sufficient for him.'

What rendered this book so effective is also its chief drawback. It wearies us to listen to the same idea repeated in high-flown language even by the greatest master of oratory. We soon long for relief in the shape of variety. On closing this volume we feel convinced that M. About is very clever, but we are sceptical as to the utter rottenness of the Papacy. From

« 이전계속 »