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could not make gunpowder grow in a field, and thaborine flow at command from a bottle, he would be the tool of the white men. Having arranged his affairs, and prepared to return to France, M. Mouton professed himself anxious to learn whether or not the soil of Mamaligo's country was fitted for the culture of gunpowder, and asked for a portion whereof to make trial. The portion he got could be overlooked from a tree. But, in order to seclude it as much as possible, he fenced it round with lofty palisades. In the enclosure he sowed some peas, with an air of mystery, being closely watched by the king from a branch of the tree. When plants had grown up, and the pods were filled, he inserted a few grains of powder into each, and had the satisfaction of finding them disappear. Then, professing annoyance, he plucked up the plants by the roots and carried them off. On the morrow, the king began to cultivate a piece of land in the same way, only he sowed it with gunpowder. By the aid of a hollow stick, M. Mouton inserted peas in the ground, which germinated and sprang up, to the undisguised joy of the king, who was now satisfied that he was as great a magician as the French. Then, taking a bottle and attaching to it a flexible tube communicating with a cask of thaborine, M. Mouton told the king to bring all his utensils, so that he might fill them with the divine liquor. When he said ‘Flow,' the stream issued from the bottle. The same thing happened when the king repeated the magic word. In his presence, and despite his urgent entreaties and liberal offers, the bottle was packed up and then taken to the French Consulate. As soon as he saw it deposited there, the king ceased to beg for it. M. Mouton started for France, and there heard that King Mamaligo had attacked the Consulate, and massacred every white person, save one who escaped by swimming.
Even in simple outline, the skilfulness of the foregoing device is manifest. When to that are added the full details and rich colours with which the picture is filled, the effect is most striking. And here it is that M. About's greatest talent comes into play. Ingenuity in discovering novel expedients whereby to advance and illustrate a specific result will not suffice even to surprise a reader, unless the writer's style be pleasing and appropriate to the subject in hand. To every writer, but more especially to a novelist, the power of writing well is a counterbalance to most imperfections. A master of style, like the master of colouring, will never lack an audience, whatever be the subject he discusses, or the manner in which he treats it. It may be true, as Sir Joshua Reynolds held, that industry will supply the place of genius; but industry alone will fail to make a man capable of clothing his thoughts in words, so as to make every reader admire
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the thoughts more for the sake of their garb than for their beauty. Were this possible, then we should never tire of reading, for their style alone, the works of such proficients in the mechanism of composition as Johnson and Junius and Macaulay. Perhaps none of these writers ever penned a sentence without scrupulously determining beforehand the precise value of every word in it. Everything that artifice could do, they employed. They never were careless; they seldom blundered. As examples of style, their writings are the most finished, yet artificial, in our literature. Quite as attentive to the minuti of sentences was Addison, more heedless was Goldsmith, perfectly indifferent were Defoe and Swift. Why is it that a page of the Spectator, the Citizen of the World, Robinson Crusoe, or Gulliver's Travels, exercises a fascination alike over the critical and the untutored reader, infinitely greater than a page from the Rambler, the Letters, or the History of England ? In the one case the reader is charmed, he knows not why; in the other he can perceive that the effect is produced by the antithetical sentences, the apposite illustrations, the fitting and pungent epithets. The author who, writing naturally, produces an irresistible impression, never ceases to be admired. The sentences of Addison and Goldsmith please us as greatly as they pleased our forefathers. When Johnson and Junius and Macaulay first appeared as authors, the admiration for their methods of composition was unbounded. Who is now blind to their shortcomings? Who would now venture to cite their writings as masterpieces without flaw, and models it were hope less to surpass ?
Now, we cannot convey a better notion of M. About's rank as a master of style than by likening him to Goldsmith. He is always easy and natural, and always able to present old or everyday ideas as new-comers, whose acquaintance we are delighted to make. There is none of that mannerism in his writings which characterizes those of Michelet and Carlyle, and of which we so soon weary. Unable to deny the picturesqueness of the styles of these writers, and sensible that they exert themselves to please, while impressing their opinions upon us, we are yet unable to forget the factitious character of the intellectual feast set before us. It is as if we were bidden to a banquet, and ordered to be happy. In such a case, we are conscious that a day has been appointed for pleasure, and everything collected that can promote mirth, yet, because we are bound to enjoy ourselves, we are at heart most sad. Pleasure must come unawares in order to be heartily welcomed. Now, the pages of M. About are filled with constant and most enjoyable surprises. When least expected, an allusion is introduced at which we cannot help smiling, or a sentence turned so as to excite our admiration. The best test of the goodness of M. About's style is the impossibility of quoting detached passages which give an adequate notion of it. Some writers excel in producing sentences, which, taken apart, are very pretty, but considered in the mass, are too dazzling. A single spangle is a bright little object; but a dress covered with spangles charms little children only. Without exception, Voltaire is the most consummate of French writers. Few have written so much in any language. His works occupy many shelves in a large bookcase, and would form an entire library for an ordinary house. Yet how few of his sentences are current when compared with the millions he penned! The reason is that he set himself not to manufacture phrases, but to compose books. Separate his sentences from the context, and they seem lame. Read them as he meant them to be read, and they seem perfect. One day a lady asked how he had acquired the knack of forming such exquisite sentences; his reply was that he had never in his life studied how to frame a sentence with the view to produce an effect. We believe that were the same question put to M. About, he could conscientiously give the same answer.
When we uphold the importance of a natural style, we do not mean that whoever commits to paper the thoughts which pass through his mind must necessarily write in such a way as to command attention. If there be nothing more charming than the unrestrained outpourings of a lettered and original mind, certainly the most obnoxious of experiences is the confident babble of an addle-brained fool. Very few persons think aloud without showing their emptiness. Those who are qualified to say something well, and boldly say it without reserve or false modesty, are delightful companions. They are listened to as much for the soundness of their judgment as for the neatness of their expressions. Because gifted with good sense, as well as capable of adorning whatever he touches, M. About retains the confidence of the readers who have been attracted by the graces of his manner. He is a friend of novelty, but a foe to chimeras. Unless an invention benefit the human race, he will denounce it. Let its utility be proved, and he will laud it to the skies. Animated with the desire to increase the amount of cultivated land in France, he wrote his novel, Maître Pierre, and thereby helped to disseminate opinions which others had laboured, but in vain, to render popular. His dislike to the Papacy is referrible to his desire to rid the Romans of a Government which hinders them from being industrious. His denunciation of modern Greece was chiefly inspired by his detestation of the Bavarian who then misgoverned that country. Having seen that the poorer inhabitants of France are subjected to great privations, he sought out a remedy, and advocated a change in the system of agriculture. Being convinced that the more workers there are, the happier the mass will be, he wrote his work on Progress, and inculcated that to labour was the duty of the rich as of the poor. Knowing from experience that the demand for the necessaries of life, being in excess of the supply, has increased their price, he devoted himself first to studying the new system of fish-culture, then carrying it into practical operation, and lastly, making the subject intelligible and interesting to all in an elaborate essay, wherein he proved the ease of largely increasing the supply of nourishing food, and urged that this should be done without applying for aid from the State. Finally, thinking it expedient that the working classes should both be rendered provident, and secured against the accidents to which they are liable, he wrote a pamphlet in which the arguments in favour of life-insurance were put in such a manner as to insure assent, and lead to the desired result. All of these things testify that he is endowed with a practical spirit. Indeed, in the cast of his mind he resembles an Englishman. He prefers to regard all questions from a utilitarian point of view, making the sum of happiness the measure of perfection ; caring little for the beautiful, if it be antagonistic to the useful. The poet sees in a lovely piece of scenery something which is worthy of admiration for its own sake. That which gives him gratification may be either the source of injury, or a monument of desolation,--a stagnant lagoon, an uncultivated plain, or a city in ruins. The practical man might admit the beauty of the prospect, but he would bitterly deplore the causes which had rendered it attractive, and he would desire to remove them. M. About would propose to drain the marsh, till the plain, rebuild the city. He is sensible of the picturesqueness of the swamp which bears the name of Marathon; but he maintains that the spot would be the more sacred were it less pestilential. He delights in the bright sun and clear sky of Greece, but he laments that a country so hallowed with memories should be destitute of well-made roads. He thinks the dress of its people very striking, but he would love the Greeks better did they love labour more. It is the exception for him to indulge in description of the kind of which commonplace men are so fond, and which gives them an opportunity for displaying the feelings which they are expected to entertain, rather than those which really animate them. But, that he can depict a piece of scenery truthfully and beautifully, the following short passage will testify :
It is in spring that Attica is to be seen in all its splendour; when the anemones, as tall as the tulips of our gardens, mingle and vary their brilliant colours; when the bees, descending from Hymettus, hum among the asphodels; when the thrushes sing in the olive-trees; when the young leafage has not yet received its first coating of dust; when the grass, which disappears towards the end of May, springs thick and green wherever there is a handful of earth; and when the large barleystalks, interspersed with flowers, wave in the sea-breeze. A bright and sparkling light illumines the earth, and enables the imagination to picture the radiance with which the heroes are clothed in the Elysian Fields. So pure and transparent is the air, that it seems as if we could touch the far-distant mountains by stretching out our hands; and so faithfully does it transmit every sound, that the sheep-bells may be heard at the distance of half a league, and the scream of the mighty eagles lost to our view in the immensity of the sky.''
It is not then the power, but the purpose, which hindered him from writing a sentimental description of the Landes of the Gironde, in place of Maître Pierre, which is really a treatise on agriculture. There is as much poetry in the aspect of that immense tract of country as in the heaths of Scotland. The point of view makes all the difference. When Mr. Bright laments that so many acres of Scottish soil should remain desolate, in order that grouse and deer might multiply; he does so because the commercial or material question is the first consideration with him. In like manner M. About would convert the Landes from an unrivalled hunting-ground into a blooming garden. He holds that a country cannot flourish if men decay, the wellbeing of the whole being more important in his eyes than the luxury of the few. For the like reasons he advocates the pleasures of a country over a town life. Not merely does he maintain that to live in the country is better for the health, but also that if the richer class were more widely scattered, wealth being thereby distributed over a wider area, the country population would be raised in the social scale. Unlike his brethren in France, he never bemoans the lot of those who are obliged to quit Paris ; on the contrary, when Gerard Bonnevelle, in Madelon, is banished to Frauenbourg, he shows that his lot is not unenviable, and he makes the enforced retirement of the Count and Countess of Mably from the best Parisian society to the narrow circle of a country village become the cause of their ultimate happiness.
The combination of wit as genuine as M. About's with a spirit so practical as his we very seldom meet with. Many of his contemporaries surpass him in the power of analysing human motives, and weaving a romance out of the play of passion.
1 La Grèce Contemporaine, pp. 9.10.