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ART. VII.--1. La Grèce Contemporaine. Par EDMOND ABOUT.
Paris : Hachette et Cie., 1858. 2. Tolla. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Cinquième Edition. Paris :
Hachette et Cie., 1858. 3. Voyage à travers l'Exposition des Beaux-Arts. Par EDMOND
ABOUT. Paris : Hachette et Cie., 1855. 4. Les Mariages de Paris. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris :
Hachette et Cie., 1856. 5. Le Roi des Montagnes. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris :
Hachette et Cie., 1856. 6. Germaine. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris : Hachette et Cie.,
1857. 7. Maître Pierre. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris : Hachette et
Cie., 1857. 8. Nos Artistes au Salon. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris :
Hachette et Cie., 1858. 9. La Question Romaine. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Cinquième
Edition. Bruxelles : Meline, Cans, et Cie., 1860. 10. Risette, ou Les Millions de la Mansarde. Par EDMOND ABOUT
Deuxième Edition. Paris : Michel Lévy, frères, 1859. 11. Rome Contemporaine. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris : Michel
Lévy, frères, 1860. 12. Lettres d'un bon Jeune Homme à sa Cousine Madeleine.
Paris : Michel Lévy, frères, 1861. 13. Gaëtana. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris : Michel Lévy, frères,
1862. 14. L'Homme à l'Oreille Cassée. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Troisième
Edition. Paris : Hachette et Cie., 1862. 15. Le Nez d'un Notaire. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris : Michel
Lévy, frères, 1862. 16. Madelon. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Quatrième Edition. Paris :
Hachette et Cie., 1865. 17. Le Progrès. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris : Hachette et Cie.,
1864. 18. Causeries. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Paris : Hachette et Cie.,
1865. 19. La Vicille Roche:-- 1. Le Mari Imprévu, 1865; 2. Les Vacances
de la Comtesse, 1865; 3. Le Marquis de Lanrose, 1866. Par EDMOND ABOUT. Trois tomes. Paris : Hachette et
IN 1855, the reading world of Paris enjoyed a new sensation. A book entitled Contemporary Greece was in the hands of every reader, and its praises were sounded by the critics. Its author was known by name only. That he was young, every critical reader inferred; that he was unusually clever, no one could deny. The subject had often been treated before, but never with the like acuteness and vivacity. If the facts he cited were correct, it was admitted that the prevailing notions were wrong. Greece might be a splendid country about which to write poems or romances, or even to fight, but it was evidently a detestable place of abode, and its inhabitants were better fitted for figuring in a masquerade, with their picturesque costumes, than furnishing models of uprightness and probity. Indeed, when treading classic soil, the writer did not suffer the remembrance of bygone deeds of glory to palliate existing shortcomings. He was not an amiable enthusiast whose patriotism gained strength on the plain of Marathon, or whose piety waxed warmer before the ruined shrine of Delphi. What he witnessed he recorded, and stated the unpleasant but simple truth that Marathon was a pestilential morass, and Delphi a haunt of brigands.
The author of the book, conscious that he was a disenchanter, felt bound to explain why his story was so different from those of his predecessors. His explanation amounted to this, that several thousand years have elapsed since the Greeks lived who are so highly reverenced; that in the interval an entire transformation has taken place, not only in the minds and manners of the people, but also in the very aspect of the country. At the present day, the travellers who visit Greece in order to verify at any cost the pictures of Homer, are apt to recount fables as wonderful as those of Sindbad or Münchausen. In their eyes every shipwrecked sailor, clothed in rags, is another Ulysses; every blind and howling beggar, another Demodocus; and every washerwoman, the Princess Nausicaa in disguise. When combating these notions, the writer in question ran counter to many cherished prejudices. When he went further, and denounced the government which then existed in Greece, he aroused the antipathy of those who had contributed to seat King Otho on the throne. Yet the sparkle of his style excited the admiration of every reader of his work. He produced a pleasing effect; he made an indelible mark. Thenceforth, Edmond About was a familiar name in the Republic of Letters.
Of course, the usual questions were asked by those whose chief occupation is to inquire, and whose pleasure consists in getting an answer of some kind or other. The best informed had little to tell; consequently, they had ample opportunities for drawing on their imagination. What was known amounted to this, that M. About had distinguished himself at school, and at the university; and that, on account of his remarkable attainments, he had been sent at the expense of the Government to study at Athens in an Institution founded there for the purpose of enabling French subjects to become versed in the language and antiquities of Greece. As a fruit of his studies he wrote and published a pamphlet on the Ægean Islands. This produced a greater impression on the men of learning than on the world of readers; in other words, it fell still-born from the press.
This failure did not disquiet him, for he had now the prospect of gaining a larger income and greater reputation as a man of letters than by filling one of the professorial chairs for which he was eligible, and to which the Government would appoint him in due time. When the desired moment arrived, he was ready.
The editor of the Revue des Deux Mondes, anxious to profit by the talent of a new writer, gave M. About the opportunity of proving to the world whether or not his first success was to be his only one; or whether it was but a prelude to a higher and longer continued strain. The result was Tolla, a novel which proved unprecedentedly popular. No sooner was it completed than translators were as busy in turning it into German, Danish, Swedish, and English, as were the countrymen of M. About in buying and perusing it. What chiefly pleased the reader was the freshness of the story. Tolla, the heroine, was accepted as a new type of those who live only to love, and who die because their love is unrequited. On the other hand, Lello, the hero, seemed too artificial to be true to nature. It was doubted if even a modern Roman noble could be so candidly selfish and openly base as he was. The author was reproached for having shown a mistaken ingenuity in devising such letters as those · which were professedly written by Lello. Suddenly the name of plagiary was affixed to M. About. He was accused of having palmed off a translation from the Italian as an original work. Doubtless, many kind critics were pleased to have an opportunity of nipping in the bud the plant of the young author's reputation. But the scandal- mongers, and not M. About, were put to shame. There were certain portions of the novel translated from an Italian volume, containing authentic documents concerning the private affairs of a noble Roman family. These were the letters of Lello, which had been denounced as unnatural. It was shown that M. About had made no secret either of the fact that he had borrowed something, or of the source whence he had done so. He had more to do, however, for in such a case it is insufficient to prove
innocence; the impossibility of having sinned must also be demonstrated. This can be alone done by producing another work, of which the originality is indisputable, and the merit as great as that of the one which has been the subject of controversy. The task is no easy one. The power of writing one good book does not necessarily imply the power of writing others like unto it. Mr. Hope never wrote a second Anastasius, nor Mr. Beckford a second Vathek, yet it would be foolish in the extreme to conclude that either gentleman was on that account incapable of having produced the ‘Memoirs of a Greek' or an 'Arabian Tale.'
Among the efforts which M. About made to justify the good opinion of his friends, and confound the malice of his accusers, was the production of a comedy, in three acts, called Guillery. It was accepted by the Committee of the Théâtre Français, which was in itself an honour, and it was put upon the stage without delay, which was an unusual favour. All these things, of which the author might well be proud, only served, however, to render the result the more mortifying. In spite of the good acting of the best of French players, the comedy had to be withdrawn after the second performance. What occurred is thus stated by M. About in the preface to it:-"Guillery was coldly received when first performed, and warmly hissed on the second occasion. He also states that its chief defect was that it displeased.' This is certainly an unpardonable fault, yet the superficial reader of the piece has a difficulty in understanding why the public should have been so exacting. There is nothing new in the plot or the situations, the interest being concentred in the dialogue, which is spirited and pointed. Every one can foretell what will occur next, but no one is prepared for what the personages will say. This makes the play very agreeable to peruse: it does not, however, render it equally worthy of being performed. But failure as a playwright is no proof of incapacity for writing at all; and M. About's hostile critics, who maintained that because Guillery had proved an abortion, therefore its author was incapable of producing anything of value, merely made it evident that their rancour was stronger than their logic.
Meantime, he gave proof of his versatility by adding the part of Art-critic to that of novelist and playwright. In France it is less common than in England for those who have given the subject no special study to devote themselves to write about Art. The French public is less easily induced than the English to take upon trust the decisions passed on pictures and statues by writers in newspapers. When a Frenchman tries to hide his ignorance under the veil of technical phrases embodied in sonorous language, he is either mocked or despised. It does not follow, then, that because he turned his attention to Art, M. About was unable to say anything which deserved attention. On the contrary, he showed not only that he was as well versed in the subject of Art as the majority of cultured Frenchmen, but that he could give forth criticisms which were notable alike for their form and purport. The lightness of his touch resembled that of Diderot. The neatness of his phrases recalled the manner of Voltaire. In short, he gave unmistakable tokens that his accomplishments were as various as his talent was original.
A series of tales, entitled Parisian Marriages, which he gave to the world in 1856, had a success as great as Tolla, and proved that he had no occasion to be either an imitator or a plagiary. Then appeared the King of the Mountains, a romance, which amused everybody excepting the Greeks. It was to Contemporary Greece what Martin Chuzzlewit was to the American Notes. The hero of the novel is a brigand, who is represented as the most potent man in Greece, not because of his daring and his prowess, but because of the good understanding existing between him and the soldiers whose duty it is to seize him, and whose design is to let him rob and murder without molestation. The inference is that all the Greeks are corrupt, and deserving of general execration. This imputation they repelled as energetically as the Americans did the charges of knavery which Dickens indirectly levelled against them. It is easier, however, to prove that the pictures of Dickens are so overcharged with colour as to be untrue to nature, than to remove the stigma which M. About cast upon the people and government of Greece. Hadji Stavros, the King of the Mountains, is a perfectly civilized brigand,—altogether a different person from the vulgar freebooter who formerly levied black-mail and lived like a savage. He has profited by civilisation. In place of storing his wealth in a cave, like the Forty Thieves, he has invested it in the foreign funds, and keeps an account with a London banker. Except in their object, there was nothing in common between him and Scott's Rob Roy and Schiller's Karl Moor. Neither of the latter would have been so astute as to bribe the officers in the army, so that they might carefully avoid capturing him, and the editors of newspapers, so that they might either mitigate his atrocities, or else deny that he existed. Hence, even were the character a product of M. About's brain, he is nevertheless a curious subject for study. Judging from the other personages in the volume, we should conclude that Hadji Stavros is an ideal person. A young German naturalist and an English lady and her daughter are among the other leading personages, and are caricatures. Yet the amount of truthfulness, or the