ELEVEN years have passed since the fall of Napoleon III., and the Second Empire is beginning, as the French say, to design itself. It appears to have been almost as much of a riddle, while it lasted, both to its willing and unwilling subjects, as it certainly was to the world outside of France. The time has come, however, when personal recollections are not only interesting to hear, but perfectly safe to tell, and they are being offered in great numbers. Letters and notes of conversations, reserved for private or political reasons while those most interested in them still lived, are handed over to the world as their authors pass out of it, and the ever-accelerating rush of events entirely severs from the present the men and things of the last decade but one. The reflections made and the judgments passed on that imperial régime of twenty years are sufficiently diverse, and even contradictory, but we are learning many new facts, and from the whole mass of testimony much information may be collected.
Following the publication of the third series of Mr. Senior’s interesting Conversations with Distinguished Persons during the Second Empire1 we have the letters of Prosper Mérimée to Antonio Panizzi,2 beginning December 31, 1850, one year before the coup d'état, and closing September 13, 1870, ten days only before the death of the distinguished littérateur, and three weeks after the surrender at Sedan.
The antecedents of the author of Carmen and the Lettres à des Inconnues are sufficiently well known. Panizzi, an Italian political refugee of 1820, had risen, by virtue of his extensive learning and his no less remarkable executive ability, to a responsible post in the British Museum, of which he was afterward made director-in-chief; the great library having been entirely reorganized under his auspices. A negotiation goodnaturedly undertaken by Mérimée for the sale to the British Museum, on behalf of the sister of Stendhal, of certain curious manuscripts which the author of the Chartreuse de Purme had had copied in the Vatican, was the occasion of the first letter. The negotiation was successful, and the acquaintance to which it gave rise ripened into a most congenial friendship. The correspondents began to exchange views on subjects of general interest, and soon found themselves very much in accord ; first of all, on the importance to mankind at large of the Vatican library, and the pressing need that its nominal custodian should be somehow or other removed out of information’s way. The sentiment toward Catholicism and the Pope on which this clever pair first united, and which furnishes the motif for so many of Mérimée’s best bonmots, hardly deserves the sturdy name of hatred. It was one of impatience rather than indignation, and found fitting expression in persiflage, of the lightest order, admirably adapted to set off an epistolary style, but fatiguing the reader a little, after a time, by its incessant occupation with a single theme. “ The point most open to objection,” says Mèrimée, in 1859, of that provisional settlement of the Italian question which followed the unexpected peace of Villafranca, “ is that which ordains that you and I are to give so much a year to our Holy Father the Pope. In my opinion, we should have Icon left to the impulses of our native generosity. We should not have failed to proportion our bounty to the advantages which we derive from the Roman Catholic church.”
A year later, during the Italian war of independence, he writes, after a Piedmontese victory, —
“I saw, where I have been staying in the country, certain mothers and aunts of pontifical volunteers who were making loud lament. There seemed to be no occasion. A religious and charming young man had been captured by the Piedmontese, and five minutes afterward — a thing unheard of in war ! — his watch, which his aunt had given him, was gone. I consoled the unfortunate ladies by telling them that it was the custom of soldiers to inquire the time, but that their victims went all the quicker to Paradise where the elect are provided with Brequet’s chronometers. And how does yours go ? ”
“ The curé of St. Germain l’Auxerrois told a friend of mine that the Blessed Virgin had appeared to our Holy Father, and told him that, having need of a martyr, she had made choice of him, the Pope. After thanking her for her selection, he ascertained that he was to traverse Christendom as a mendicant, undergo many tribulations, etc., whereby Catholicism would be revived. You may rely on this apparition. The Virgin is very busy this year, and hence there is some reason to hope that we may this year find ourselves in the Vatican. Utinam.”
“ Have you read Guizot’s address ? . . . He is very indulgent toward the Pope. He considers himself the Protestant Pope and has naturally a friendly feeling for his confrère.”
The two volumes bristle with malices of this kind, so very neatly and demurely expressed that they can hardly fail to amuse even those who are unaffectedly shocked by them. But they would be rather more respectable, more intelligible at least, if Mérimée had been an ardent liberal and devoted to the cause of Italian unity. On the contrary, he had even less charity for Garibaldi than for Pio Nono, and the one thing which he disliked and dreaded more than Catholic Christianity was that vague, impersonal terror, the revolution. For the church, he is capable of admitting that it would be hard to devise a substitute. “ One never has the last word with a priest, and this is why I regret the success of St. Bartholomew and the abjuration of Henry IV, The machine is very old, but it is still strong, and the very skepticism of these times insures it a long duration; for what could we put in its place ? ”
Against Garibaldi, however, and against Victor Emmanuel and Cavour, for stooping to ally themselves with Garibaldi, he is implacable, and, for so mocking a philosopher, almost stern. For example, in November, 1860, in the midst of the Neapolitan insurrection, he writes, — partial people, and especially to those not perfectly acquainted with Italy, what is passing at Naples is the height of abomination. The territory of a prince who is acting on the defensive, and whose army is still faithful, is being overrun, in the name of that army, by insurgent peasants. Elections are being held, in whose sincerity no one believes. Finally, and worst of all, we see the revolutionary party taking command of Victor Emmanuel and Cavour.”
“ To my mind, Garibaldi has heavily compromised the Italian cause. To im-
“ You Italians are impatient. M. de Cavour might have been able in the course of some years to do well what has been ill done in six mouths, and to refrain from doing what he will now be forced to do in the spring. Garibaldi is in reality the instrument of Mazzini, and the evil genius of Italy. What is passing at Naples proves how unprepared the country was for a constitutional government. All the rowdies [tapageurs], who would rather fight the Neapolitans than have to do with the Austrians, were sent to Naples ; then, as soon as the Neapolitans began to show a little energy, these gentlemen withdrew, and left the Piedmontese to bear the brunt. It is always the revolutionary method to set fires at random, and never mind who is burned.”
Quite true. But is it not almost painfully easy, at this distance of time, and after so many tragic facts accomplished, for the simplest reader of these brilliant letters to see what, for all his wit, was hidden from the writer, —that his own position, midway between the contending forces of order and disorder, was impossible? And he did but theorize, or attempt to theorize, the course of his uncommunicative master, who, however, had begun by flattering alternately the clericals and the liberals, and who ended by betraying both. Mérimée, with the rest of the world, seems, at this time, to have credited Louis Napoleon with a deep and fixed policy. He calls him a sphinx, even in the abandon of his letters to Panizzi, and wonders whether or no he has read his face aright. But those best instructed in the real course of affairs will tell you to-day that the sphinx evolved nothing, but was always an instrument. The impenetrable calm of manner, which was popularly supposed to hide so much, came of stolidity rather than self-control. He had to be pushed and primed even for the coup d’état by spirits more daring and ambitious than his own. It was the Duc de Moray who made the imperial plans; and when the Duc de Moray died, the brain of the empire was paralyzed. The “ machine ” — to borrow Mérimée’s figure — ran on automatically for a few years, and then crashed into inevitable ruin. Long before the catastrophe, Mr. Senior had said of Napoleon III., “ He is a man who generally has no plan, and when he has one conceals it, and plays the statesman en conspirateur.”
At the period where we are arrived, 1860, Mérimée was already a senator, and living on terms of the closest intimacy with the imperial household. He had been, in his youth, the friend of Madame de Montijo, the mother of Eugénie de Teba, and had led the future empress by the hand through the Tuileries gardens, and regaled her with cakes at a patisserie, when she was an exquisitely beautiful child of six years. Naturally, therefore, when it became time to summon men of letters to the imperial court, Mérimée was one of the first to be approached, and as he happened to have no scruples, moral, social, or political, about accepting service there, his aid became invaluable in the compilation of the great Napoleon’s letters, and in collecting materials for the Life of Cæsar. Yet Mérimée was no menial servant of Napoleon III. He grumbles a little to Panizzi, now and again, about the wearisameness of the courtier’s part, but he never seriously compromised his personal dignity and independence, and he proved the disinterestedness of his friendship for the empress by frank remonstrances, urged in the height of her power and prosperity, against acts that he thought unwise, unpatriotic, or unqueenly, and by a most loyal adhesion to her, so long as his own life lasted, after the era of her great misfortunes had begun. Mérimée is very cautious what he says about the members of the imperial family, even to Panizzi, whom he had introduced to them, and whom they seem even assiduously to have sought. He usually mentions them as “ Monsieur, Madame, et leur fils,” or as “ our host and hostess of Biarritz.” The character of the empress, as he incidentally portrays it, seems that of an amiable, impulsive, pleasure-loving woman, impatient of court etiquette, and somewhat addicted to playing Marie Antoinette after she had become too old for the part. She fatigued her witty counselor a little at times by the poverty of her mental resources. “ The emperor,” he once permits himself to write from Biarritz, “ does not seem in any great hurry to join us ; but, for my part, I wish he would come, for, without amusing ourselves particularly, we are not quite so serious as befits such respectable people as we all are. In spite of all that can be said against blue stokings [sic], they have their excellencies, and it is a great resource for passing the time.” Always, however, upon serious occasion, the empress revealed the ground-work of a fine nature beneath her frivolities. She had a warm heart, and a capability for generous imprudences, — like visiting the cholera patients at Amiens, and insisting that her own physician should attend the child of one of her friends in diphtheria ; and when the hour of overwhelming calamity arrived, she rose to the full height of the situation. “ I saw the empress the day before yesterday,” writes Mérimée, just before Sedan. “ She is as firm as a rock, though she does not in the least disguise from herself the horror of the situation.” . . . And again, “ Nothing could be more noble than she is at this moment. There is no dissimulation, yet she preserves a heroic calm, an effort for which I am certain that she pays dearly.” And finally, on the 24th of August, “ Your hostess of Biarritz is admirable. She produces upon me the effect of a saint.”
Strange eulogium in the mouth of a man for whom les dévotes had been the subject of such inextinguishable laughter ! But for Mérimée, when he wrote the short, sad, sincere letters with which his second volume concludes, the end of all earthly things, and not of the Second Empire merely, was near.
Not much light is thrown by these memoirs on the domestic side of the emperor’s character, unless it be by way of inclining us to believe that at the hearth, no less than on the throne, his character was as colorless as his face. Mérimée gives a very dramatic account of one of the many unpleasant scenes between the emperor and Prince Napoleon. It was on the occasion of the empress’ fête, November 15, 1863, and the prince actually refused, point-blank and in the most insolent manner, to drink her health at table. Eugenie, always lady-like at a crisis, passed over the affront with the utmost grace, and even took the arm of the prince when they rose from table. All the rest of the evening, the boorish next-of-kin sulked about the salons, pouting “ like the bust of Vitellius,” and the philosophic Mérimée was for once in his life strongly indignant. Some little time afterward, Panizzi seems to have inquired what was to come of this scandal. “ Oh, nothing,” was the reply, “because of his [the emperor’s] incroyable débonnaireté.” The glimpses which we get of the prince imperial, from the day when he is put into knickerbockers and they “ become him well,” are all charming. Sweet-tempered, high-spirited, quick-witted, with remarkable artistic aptitudes, he was always a creature to be loved, whether or no he would ever, had his life been prolonged, have proved one to be feared. Mérimée intimates that his father would have spoiled, while his mother controlled him. Unquestionably, he had certain high instincts. He was but five years old when some one remonstrated with him for his dislike of sea-bathing. “ Why should you be afraid of the waves, when you do not even wink when they fire the cannon ? ” “ But I can command the soldiers, and I cannot command the sea! ”
“ Even in a palace, life may be lived well.” Whence came to this child, born in the crude purple of the Second Empire, and diligently instructed from his cradle to believe himself entitled to the most splendid position on earth, the depth of character and discipline of spirit revealed by the manuscript prayer found in his missal after his cruel death? “ If Thou wilt bestow on this earth only a fixed measure of joy, take away my portion ! Divide it among those who are worthier than I, and let the worthiest be my friends ! If Thou wilt claim reprisals of men, strike me ! Sorrow is turned into joy by the sweet thought that those whom we love are happy.” It is the last word of Christian courage and resignation. When one considers all that it may imply to be the ruler of France, one suspects in the tragic fate which so early removed this delicate spirit from worse contingencies the effect of a divine partiality.
When M. Mérimée turns from domestic affairs to foreign polities, his comments are always interesting, though almost always excessively sharp. If the behavior of his own France does not always please him, that of neighboring nations gratifies him yet less. For him the Prussians are Französenfresser as early as 1860. The Germans in general are “so deep that one can discover nothing in them but a cavity.” The policy of England is always mistaken, always exasperating. England, according to Mérimée, dragged France into the Crimean war, against her will and against her interest. England positively declined to strike a blow for Italy, yet fêted Garibaldi like a prince, when ce fou visited her shores. Above all, England shilly-shallied at the critical moment, and refused to join France in recognizing the independence of the Southern Confederacy. We Americans have undoubtedly the honor of ranking next to the sovereign pontiff in M. Mérimée’s disfavor, and “ affreuses canailles ” is the mildest term he ever deigns to bestow on the people of the North. The dénoûment of our civil war was of course most distasteful to him, and he asks Panizzi several times, with a somewhat childish relish for the low foreign word, if he does not think a great deal too much fuss has been made over the death of President Lincoln. “ After all,” he adds, with a less successful flight at our idiom, “ he was only what the Yankees call a first second rate man ! ”
Perhaps it is precisely because M. Mérimée discharges all his malevolence on public personages and events that he seems to have been in private so very easy and excellent a friend. He never makes ado over his individual woes, but the woes of France become his when she falls into misery and disgrace, and the one outcry, Finis Galliæ ! on the 21st of August, 1870, pierces the heart more than all the lamentations of Jeremiah.
We realize keenly how mournful must have been the change to the survivor of this pair of staunch friends when so fine an intelligence and so astute a critic of the affairs of this world was called away from it. Panizzi lived nearly a decade longer, dying in London in April, 1879.
The infantile days of the Second Empire, which find no place in this correspondence, because they preceded the confidential intimacy of Mérimée and Panizzi, are vividly described in the letters of a remarkably clever Englishwoman, Miss Charlotte Will iams-Wynn,3 who came to Paris in November, 1851, just in time to witness the coup d’état, and with whom curiosity so far prevailed over panic that she not only outstayed the three days’ reign of terror, but remained in Paris through the whole of the disturbed and sombre winter which followed. Miss Williams-Wynn assures her anxious and indignant friends, in England and elsewhere, that Louis Napoleon had, in the intolerable state of affairs in France, every excuse which it was possible to have for his usurpation. The impression of desperate political and social distemper which she received in 1851, from the aspect of Paris, and from her own contact with its people, was uncommonly like that which these things make upon a dispassionate stranger to-day. And one may add that now, no less than thirty years ago, that impression is confirmed by thoughtful Parisians. “Cela se finit ” is what they say to you in confidence, beside that scanty illumination which they are pleased to call a fireside.
The fusillades, which were afterward so boldly disavowed by the imperialist party, Miss Wynn mentions with natural horror, but as a perfectly well-understood fact. So, by the way, does Mr. Senior. Her correspondents are, many of them, men of world-wide reputation, such as Varnhagen von Ease, the friend of Humboldt, Baron Bunsen, and the Rev. F. D. Maurice. Her birth and home associations were moreover distinguished, and her Parisian introductions made her free of some of those exclusive circles where the emperor was mentioned to the end of his days as ce gaillard là. Again, as the intimate friend of M. Rio, the accomplished author of L’Art Chrétien, she saw much of Count Charles de Montalembert and the other ardent Catholic liberals who rallied so early to the emperor’s support, because it was one of the few ascertainable points of his programme to restore and defend religion. Mérimée will have it that he was personally more than indifferent, and a good deal incommoded by the piety of Eugénie ; but he seems to have understood that for France, at least, religion means Roman Catholicism, and irreligion means anarchy. All the same, Montalembert’s adhesion rendered him most unpopular with his social equals, and he was shown the door of more than one mansion in the orthodox Faubourg St. Germain. As an English churchwoman of a tolerably broad type, Miss Williams-Wynn found it rather difficult to adjust her sympathies with Montalembert and his school, and she fluctuates very frankly between admiration and antagonism. Some one had told her, before she saw Montalembert at all, that she would find it hard to engage his interest unless she appealed to him directly for spiritual counsel.
“ You shall know these men,” said her friend, “ Montalembert, Louis Veuillot, and Donoso Cortes ; but they are men entirely without vanity, and so one has no hold on them. If I were to say that a person distinguished for esprit wanted to see them, it would fall perfectly flat. But if I could say, You might do good to that person, they would come in an instant. They would give up anything for a religious motive, and for no other. Now, if you would like Lacordaire or Ventura, they would come at once, for they are vain, though they are monks.”
Montalembert himself, on the contrary, said to Senior, of Lacordaire, “ He had no vanity, though continually breathing the incense which most intoxicates, that which is burned before an orator; no love of power, though he reigned over the opinions and consciences of thousands ; no wish for money, or rank, or even fame. His most valued possession was a heart détaché. de tout, in which there should be no selfish desires or fears.”
Yet another cross-light. When Miss Wynn came to see Montalembert, she found his manners delightful; “ but I should not have said,” she writes, “that he was so entirely without vanity as was represented ! ”
She subsequently heard Lacordaire preach, a privilege which one is almost inclined to grudge her, since she found him disappointing, and was chiefly impressed by the picturesqueness of his tall figure, towering in the white Dominican dress against the altar-lights and amid the deepening shadows of the short winter afternoon. This is very significant indeed, for Miss Wynn was not prone to æsthetic impressions. She Candidly confesses that she cares more for the conversation of a clever man than for all the pictures of the Louvre, and has positively nothing to say of the Sainte Chapelle except that it was “ bitter cold ” there.
Nevertheless, she was a woman of a delightful quality, clever, original, and far too high bred to be otherwise than simple and direct. She was in middle life at the memorable period of her residence in Paris, and certain little asperities and angularities and whimsical Anglicanisms which discover themselves in her at this time disappear entirely from the later letters, which reveal a character that ripened and softened into singular beauty as old age drew on. Witty she always was; almost as much so as Mérimée himself, but after a sort wonderfully different from the French, — dry, involuntary, and, as it were, unconscious. Here are her impressions of one or two rather famous Parisian salons : —
“ The visit which I paid with Madame De Rauzan to Madame La Croix was too dull. I was really ashamed of assisting at anything so absurd. Very like the précieuses ridicules. Madame La Croix, who is sentimental, and talks with esprit, gave us a monologue on the way the soul reveals itself before certain natures, as certain flowers to the sun ; Madame de Rauzan, of course, being the sun. The compliments between the two were incessant, and the whole thing reminded me of two milliners trying to act fine ladies upon the stage.”
Upon another day, she was at the house of the sun herself. “ She was by way of being alone, but six men came in, one after another. There was among them a pleasant old Baron Eckstein, but I can get nothing of him there, where one takes one’s place as mademoiselle, and is censée to be listening only. It saves one a great deal of trouble, but is a new position for me. . . . The conversation is wearying from its heavy lightness. They evidently feel that they must not dwell on any subject, and yet, being naturally engrossed by the topics of the day, you almost see the struggle they are making to end with their little epigram and fly off to something else. In short, it is a long persiflage, and I am not used to it, and cannot endure it.” Thierry, Lamartine, and Tocqueville, whom she saw tête-à-tête, she respected far more. The following is droll : —
“ The other day a woman came in whom I had never set eyes on before, and no name announced ; so she had to say she was Madame de Montalembert. I was quite astonished, for I fancied she was old and ugly, from the stories I had heard of its being a Christian marriage,— how M. de Montalembert had heard of her piety, and, wanting such a wife, had sent to propose to M. de Mérode for her; went to Belgium and brought her back, and how happy she had been, and he also ; how much better it was than love, etc. I thought, therefore, it was a sublime effort of selfdenial to choose such a creature; so when a young woman came in, much prettier than most of those I have seen here, with beautiful soft eyes, it never came into my head that she was the subject of this story, and I had almost told her so.”
We find much to remind us of Miss Williams-Wynn’s rather caustic comments on modern French society in the Souvenirs of Madame Caroline Jaubert.4 This lady was one of the social powers of her day, in a semi-Bohemian circle; but her day was declining when Miss Wynn came to Paris, nor would they have been likely to encounter, in any case. Madame Jaubert was the friend whom Alfred de Musset called his marraine, and she was, by her own showing, a sponsor well fitted to cherish some of his more glaring virtues. From Paul de Musset’s biography of his brother, one certainly derives the impression that Madame Jaubert was one of the conservative and ennobling influences in that gloriously gifted, but so sadly shattered and squandered life. The correspondence published in this volume is, however, little more than a record of mutual flatteries, more or less artfully disguised, and a dreary pretense of perpetual, and therefore highly artificial pleasantry. Madame Jaubert had several pet names for the spoiled poet, all of which seem to be rather silly. One was Prince Coffee, bestowed “ because,” as she says, “ to my thinking, the stimulating quality which belonged especially to the poet, by virtue of his manner of listening, of comprehending, and of awakening the intellect, established a sort of analogy with the excitement produced by that black liquid, the use of which has defied all the threats of the faculty.” Another favorite although somewhat unwieldy sobriquet — the one, in fact, which gave Madame Jaubert an undisputed right to her title of godmother — was Prince Phosphore de Cæur Volant. She was the goodnatured recipient of endless confidences on the part of the Prince concerning the swift flights of that volatile member of his, between George Sand, whom they freely mention as Elle, the Princess Belgiojoso, Rachel, and herself, with intervals of enforced seclusion and Sister Marcelline. Nearly the whole of the second chapter of the Souvenirs, which is entitled 1847-8, is devoted to the affaire of Alfred de Musset with the Princess Belgiojoso, and to a comprehensive commentary on a little poem of his, À une Morte, which designated the princess without being addressed to her, and which is by no means one of his best, though touched with the aerial fancy and the poignant feeling which are peculiarly his own. Madame Jaubert’s book is one long chronicle of personal vanity. The greater the man of the moment, the more he abased himself before her. Yet she must have had a kind heart, and she was certainly trusted as well as admired by worthier and weightier, if not more gifted, men than the dazzling author of the Nuits. She was made much of — or so she says — by Berryer, the famous legitimist advocate and orator, “ in whose voice,” says Falloux, “ resounded the last echoes of the tribune.” To him, also, she gives a chapter, describing his domestic life at Augerville, his country-seat, and his manner of entertaining a party of guests ; and she makes each one of the circle whom she met there contribute some feature to the portrait with which her sketch concludes : —
“ Every one sought to characterize by some particular phrase the charm exercised over his inmates by the master of the place. ‘ It is,’ said one, ‘ the seductiveness of a mind appreciative to the point of divination.’
“ ‘ And by no means,’ rejoined another, ‘ that sort of spirit which lies in wait, lets fly its arrow, and relapses into silence.’
“ 'Observe,’ added Madame de T., ‘how he enjoys having his inspirations comprehended, felt, and shared.’
“ ‘ He is a great artist! #8216;cried Géraldy, with emphasis.
“ On his part,” perorates Madame Jaubert, “ the expression may have had a restricted application. Generalized, it becomes profoundly characteristic, and justly applicable to the whole existence of the orator. An artist he was, by nature, and without effort, like certain beautiful women, whose every attitude appears a revelation in art. In Berryer’s case, tastes, sentiments, private life, and public career were all regulated by artistic laws, under their most striking aspect, — that of fitness and proportion.”
Here we have everybody hard at work on his little epigram,—just as Miss Williams-Wynn found them fifteen years later. And in fine, what does it all signify ? There is the same sort of vagueness and affectation in Madame Jaubert’s résumé of the career of her so-called god-son: —
“ ‘ Tell us, Chevenard ! ’ I exclaimed. ‘What will be the representative idea which will consecrate the name of the poet who has just left us ? ’
“ ‘ Madam, Alfred de Musset will forever remain the personification of youth and love! ’
“ Would it be possible,” sighs la marraine, “ to survive in a more enviable fashion ? ”
The freshest and most satisfactory portrait in this volume is that of Pierre Lanfrey, — the biographer of the first Napoleon, — whose youth explains his fiery one-sidedness, and who disappointed high hopes by his untimely death. There is not much that is new in Madame Jaubert’s reminiscences of Heine, who, however, seems to have clung to her society in his last agonizing days in a manner which argues, on her part, both tenderness and tact. We have an impression of having already seen in print some version of this anecdote concerning the Venus of Milo. In the spring of 1848, under the care of Dr. Gruby, the condition of the invalid was ameliorated. He recovered the use of his hands and the sensibility of his palate. One eyelid was partially lifted; and a degree of hope seemed justified. Heine wished to make the experiment of going into one of the statuary-galleries on the ground-floor of the Louvre, and he sat down before the Venus of Milo. There, for a half day, under the influence of that divine smile, of that plastic beauty, which henceforth was to be but a memory for him, he remained in a state of ecstasy. The past, the present, the future, appeared to him as one, all confounded in one acute despair. “ Ah,” he cried afterwards, “ why did I not die then and there ? It would have been a poetic, pagan, superb death, and I deserved it! Yes; I ought to have expired of that anguish.” Then, after a short silence, resuming his tone of mockery, “ But the goddess did not hold out her arms to me. You are aware of her misfortune. Her divinity is reduced by half, like my humanity. And in despite of all the rules of arithmetic and algebra, our two halves could not make a whole.”
This is picturesque, but extremely painful. The following, relating to his wife Juliette, is pleasanter, though not quite credible. He tells Madame Jaubert how he was overtaken at midnight by one of those terrible attacks to which he was subject, and which seemed, for a while, as if it must be the last. His wife rushed to his bedside in an agony of terror, seized his hand, pressed it, warmed it, caressed it. She was weeping wildly, and he heard her say, in a voice stifled with sobs, “ No, Henry, you will not do it ! You will not die ! You will have pity ! I lost my parrot only this morning, and if you were to die I should be too unhappy ! ” “It was a command,” he added gravely. “ I obeyed, and continued to live. You understand, mon amie, that when one gives you good reasons ” — We are glad to know that the last time Madame Jaubert saw Heine, only four days before the end, although his mind was as lucid as ever, his tone was changed. He quoted La Bruyère as saying, “ It is a very serious thing to die ; ” “ and so,” he added, “ it is not badinage which is becoming now, but constancy.” “ That last virtue,” adds his friend, with more true feeling than she is wont to show, “never failed the courageous martyr for an instant. When I was taking my leave I put my hand in his, as usual, by way of adieu. He kept it for some time, and then murmured, ‘ Come again soon, my friend. It will be prudent.’ ” Nevertheless, even to this Madame Jaubert must append her trite little flourish : —
“ Feeling himself at once living and dead, the philosopher, no doubt, observed the poet, scanned himself, and the conviction once before expressed by Heinrich Heine must have been his latest thought: ‘ Il y a un coin de divin dans l’homme.’ ”
On the whole, we derive from these posed and studied reminiscences the impression that the sap to which French society owed its finest efflorescence has long been running sluggishly. A recent writer in Blackwood has provoked much discussion by au able article entitled the Decadence of Frenchwomen, in which he attributes the disappearance of the finer graces and more intellectual developments of womanhood in France to the leveling and debasing influences of the existing republic. Gambetta’s godless régime has doubtless much to answer for, but in this particular respect we believe that it is but completing the work begun during the great terror, under the rule of the Goddess Reason, fostered by the brutalities of the First Empire, arrested for a moment only by the anxious amenities of the restoration, and fearfully accelerated by the sordid aims, the headlong extravagance, and the vulgar emulations of the reign of Napoleon III.
If truth is stranger than fiction, fiction is occasionally truer than truth. There fell into our hands, recently, an extremely clever novelette, entitled A Salon in the Last Days of the Empire.5 It is written by an accomplished Englishwoman, long resident in Paris, who saw and was a part of all which she so dramatically describes. She employs a light disguise of fiction that she may tell with greater freedom her startling tale of our own time, and she wisely allows the flagrant moral to point itself. But her people are real, her events are historical facts, and her picture is a marvelous one. All the elements of decadence are in it, hardly less artfully grouped than on Couture’s famous canvas : the senseless luxury, the shameless license, the reckless speech, the oblivion of omens, the insensibility to imminent danger. It is also interesting to know that the conversion, under the stress of universal calamity, of the gay queen of that rococo salon to a life of self-denial and good works had also its parallel in more than one instance among the women who hastened, by their excesses of every kind, the catastrophe of their country’s shame. While one such conversion is yet possible, Frenchwomen are not quite hopelessly degenerate.
- Conversations with Distinguished Personsduring the Second Empire, from 1860 to 1863. By the late W. NASSAU SENIOR. London: Hurst and Blackett. 1880.↩
- Prosper Mérimée. Lettres à M. Panizzi, 1850-1870. Paris: Calmann Levy. 1881.↩
- Memorials of Charlotte, Williams-Wynn. London: Longmans, Green & Co.↩
- Souvenirs of Madame C. Jaubert. Lettres et Correspondances. Paris: J. Netzel et Cie. 1881.↩
- A Salon in the Last Days of the Empire. By KATHLEEN O’MEARA. London: Richard Bentley & Son.↩