The Story of My Childhood

By <AUTHOR>MADAME J. MICHELET</AUTHOR>. Translated from the French by MARY FRAZIER CURTIS. Boston : Little, Brown, & Co.
THIS is an exquisite specimen of descriptive narrative rendered into English as easy and plastic as the French of the original. It is a photograph of intense experience abounding in keen fresh sympathies and delicate grace of thought. It may he a weakness, but it is very refreshing, nevertheless, to listen to the outpourings of a woman of talent who offers no public convictions, but only a good gush of personal sentiment. Mere is the very form and pressure of what a child has seen, —all its clear-cut reality framed in the sweet affections of a young gill’s soul. We find here all those dear mysteries of tenderness and weakness common to all good women, combined with that dreary acceptance of destiny without objection or debate which seems peculiar to the good Frenchwoman.
Madame Michelet is the wife of the distinguished historian. It is pleasant to remember her confession in another work, that in her marriage she has found a renewal of the paternal love and protection so charmingly portrayed in the present volume. She who shows so much of the golden age of childhood to be but a sorry bit of electroplating should strike truer metal somewhere. And it will be pleasant for the reader to remember that the “ Princess ” of this little storv, like her delicious prototypes with whose adventures Scheherezade delighted Schahriar, has already discovered the true prince and begun the duty of “ living happily forever after.”
Monsieur Midlaret, after an extraordinary career, of which his daughter makes a very interesting episode, settled upon his family estate, a short distance from the town of Montauban in the South of France. Here, in ruts of rural narrowness, the family ran its appointed course. This life upon a French country place would have few attractions for a native of New England. No fishmonger’s horn, no merry jingle of baker’s bells, disturb its awful monotony. No cloud of dust foretells the coming butcher with his fresh joints, and the mail from the nearest post-office. The dairy and the poultry-yard, whenever this latter preserve does not happen to be robbed, afford the sole means of subsistence. The fermière, or female farmer (for “ farmer’s wife ” is no adequate translation), is alone responsible for family rations. No, not quite alone; for there is a little daughter of the house to send to the pond with rod and line, where she lies among the cold rushes, afraid to return with an empty basket. It is this little girl who now shows us her childhood in touching pictures. We realize how sadly authority may overshadow parental affection in the sketch of the cold “Lady of the Mist, with her long white robes floating behind her over the green lawn,” but with true feminine instincts repressed or never awakened. Very pathetic is the story of the first doll, — a poor featureless bunch of rags, but a littie god to be worshipped nevertheless, and if possible to be quickened to life after a certain recipe recorded in Genesis. The prevailing tone of the narrative is one of sadness; but it is an eloquent sadness, dealing with the finer suggestions of language which the translation has admirably preserved. It is pleasant to turn from the strange austerity of the child’s existence to the cheerful glow of the haymaking, harvesting, and vintage. And we gratefully remember the seventeen cats utilized by the family as muffs and bedwarmers, the magpie Margot secreting papa’s spectacles in his shoes, and the embryo silkworms worn day and night beneath mamma’s dress. Then also there arc the delightful market days ; and, above all, the annual fair, when Montauban becomes a great city, and the bazaars for playthings line the low arcades. In short, Madame Michelet has here fixed for us those vivid visions of joy and sorrow that fill the horizon of child-life, and this all the more agreeably because no creed or system impudently claims the office of interpreter to the rich experience.
There comes a moral from these sketches, happily suggested at the close of the translator’s introduction, which the American reader may profitably consider. We are reminded how seldom we get an interior view of the little souls about us, and how small a part of our responsibility is fulfilled by thrusting them into the State educate ing machine over which tire popular orator broods with such admirable complacency. Only the sweetest and soundest natures overcome a false direction given to the young life of spontaneous passion and instantaneous judgments. The true family relation consists in a community of consciousness, rendered all the more valuable by a wide difference in mental attainments. That dash of romance and sublimity which transfigures the being of a sensitive child is just the element our hardworking people need to keep their lives healthy and true, But our family discipline too often justifies the profound remark of Richter, that we conceal the departure of the sense for the heavenly by the greater sharpness and severity of that fur the moral. Children, notwithstanding their small amount of what we call knowledge, in clinging to this life of sentiment and affection are led by instinct to reason more accurately than their ciders. Miss Curtis is right in thinking that the closeness and accuracy of Madame Michelet’s study of childhood rivals in its humble way the observation of Montaigne. And her allusion to the first of essayists reminds us of the delicate compliment he paid the “ De Senectute ” of Cicero,—“ II donne Tappetit de vieillir,” We cannot parody this bysaying that Madame Michelet has given 11s any desire to repeat that discipline of childlife she so faithfully portrays, but it is better to say that no worthy reader can rise from her book without a deeper sense of the power for good or evil latent in the family relation, and, we may add, without a new determination that the loving feminine element shall assert its eternal supremacy therein.