WRITERS OF THE DAY
General Editor: Bertram Christian
By W. L. GEORGE
A BED OF ROSES
THE CITY OF LIGHT
ISRAEL KALISCH. (American Title:
UNTIL THE DAY BREAK)
THE MAKING OF AN ENGLISHMAN
THE SECOND BLOOMING
WOMAN AND TO-MORROW
W. L. GEORGE
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
First Published in 1915
|II.||Satirist and Critic||26|
|III.||Philosopher and Theologian||60|
|IV.||Historian and Politician||77|
|V.||The Craftsman and the Man||100|
|Bibliography (French Titles)||122|
In this monograph I have used the translated titles of theworks. When French titles appear it should be inferredthat the book in question is so far untranslated.
TO MY FRIEND
SASHA KROPOTKIN LEBEDEFF
Irony is for the ironic. He hasshown himself military at the last,but I believe Anatole France wouldhave smiled, a little wistfully, if told that ayoung man had sentenced himself to readevery one of his works and to write a bookabout them while there raged round him aEuropean War. Such an atmosphere mayseem unpropitious, but it was not really so;it was an atmosphere of paradox; it wasodd to analyse the great pacifist whileEurope writhed in conflict; still odder tothink of him as throwing aside his pen andat the age of seventy taking up his forswornsword. But in the case of Anatole Francethe work is as great as the man and itafforded me a contrast with patriotism.This background of patriotism, so queerlycompounded of beer, sweat, fine courage,8self-sacrifice, self-interest, of insane prejudices,heavy ignorances and meltingheroisms, was so exactly what I neededto bring out the dapper quality of thegreat Frenchman’s thought. No muddledimpulses here, but a clear, cold light whichreveals, together with all that is beautiful,all that is ugly; here a brain that is withoutillusions, and yet without bitterness; thatis not taken in by flags, and priests, andfrontiers, yet at the same time can lovepriests for their faith, flags for their symbolism,frontiers for the contrasts they createin man. In On Life and Letters, AnatoleFrance tells us that during the war of 1870he sat practically under the fire of theGerman guns, with M. F. Calmette, readingVirgil. I did not write these lines underthe fire of the German guns but, in the hecticatmosphere of war-time, to write aboutAnatole France created in me no doubtmuch the same kind of feeling as was histhat day.
I do not apologise for the egotism which9is already invading this monograph, and Isuppose I shall remain egotistic as I go on.For the works of Anatole France are toobulky, too many to be appraised one by one;they raise so many issues that a fat quartovolume would hardly suffice to analyse all,and it would be rather dull. Believing thatcriticism is “the adventures of the soulamong masterpieces,” I am much more inclinedto give the adventures of my intellect(claiming no soul) among the works ofAnatole France. I have read very littleabout him, indeed but one book, by MrGeorg Brandes, and in the early part of 1914a number of articles when Anatole Francepaid us a visit. They are very distressing,those articles, as they appear to have beenwritten mainly by men who do not knowwhat they are talking about, but can talkabout it exactly to the extent of a column.I refer to the alleged evolution of AnatoleFrance, of which something must be said alittle further on.
The temptation to translate long quotations10was very great, for translation is achallenging exercise and an uneasy, but, sofar as possible, I have resisted it. I thinkit only fair to say that, as a rule, I havenot translated very closely, but attemptedto render selected passages, fitting the styleto the matter; that is, for philosophic ordescriptive passages I have, as much aspossible, used Latinised English; for themore familiar portions I have drawn uponour slender stock of Anglo-Saxon.1 As forthe classifications, Anatole France satirist,critic, politician, philosopher, etc., they arenecessarily rather rough; they overlap becausenot one of his books is one thing,and one thing only. In that direction tooI must claim the reader’s indulgence.
1I should like to say in this respect that I amgreatly indebted to Mr John Lane, who owns theBritish copyright of most of the works of AnatoleFrance, for leave not only to quote portions of histranslations, but also to retranslate and condense theFrench text. A full list of the English titles of theworks will be found at the end of this volume.
Yet another word: I come neither to bury11Anatole France nor to praise him; there isin one-man criticism a danger that it shouldbe too favourable, for the critic tends tochoose as a subject an author whom hewhole-heartedly worships. Now I do notworship Anatole France; I have had toread every one of his works over again inthe last few weeks, and if there is anythingcalculated to make one hate a writerfor evermore it is to read all his worksone after the other. People are afraidto criticise Anatole France adversely; heseems to have attained the position nowaccorded to Galileo (who was tortured), toJoan of Arc (who was burned), to Wagner(who was hooted), to everybody, in fact, whoever did anything worth while. In hisearly years, when de Maupassant, Zola,Daudet, were alive, he was ignored; everythingwas done to keep him down: theAcadémie Française went so far as to givehim a prize. But times have changed;Anatole France is acclaimed all over theworld; everybody quotes him, and those12who cannot quote him quote his name;he is above criticism. This would be verybad for him if he were not also above adulation.People dare not say the things whichshould be obvious: that he repeats himself;that he is sentimental; that his novelsare, from the point of view of French technique,incoherent; that, as expressed by hischaracters, his conception of love is ratherdisgusting; in fact, they take all thehumanity out of him by endowing him withall the graces; they erect to him a statuewhich represents him just about as much asthe sort of statue they occasionally put upto some highly respectable politician whomthey depict stark naked, and beautiful asa young discobolus.
The reason probably is that it is notenough to understand Anatole France;one also has to understand the French, thegay, sensual, garrulous French of the MiddleAges, the gay, sensual, courteous French ofthe seventeenth century, the gay, sensual,cynical French of Voltairian times, and the13sensual, cynical French of to-day. AnatoleFrance is all these, a sort of historical congressof French epochs, a retrospectiveexhibition of French mentalities. Thatperhaps explains the confusion which reignsin the minds of a great many people as tohis alleged evolution from reaction to redsocialism, a confusion so great that it seemsto have touched even Mr Georg Brandes.
It is not wonderful that Anatole Franceshould be so representative, for he is a provincialby extraction, a Parisian by birthand environment. The whole of his biographyis revealed in his books, so it isenough to say that he was born in 1844, inthe Quarter (that was inevitable), that hegrew up in his father’s old bookshop nearthe quays of the Seine, listening, as he grewup, sometimes to the talk of republicans, forthose were the days of the Second Empire,much more often to that of elegant half-worldlingabbés and aristocrats, for his fatherwas a pronounced Royalist and Catholic,as was also his mother.... Old books,14good talk, and the Seine lazily flowing underthe plane-trees before there were steam trams.It is all very like Anatole France, like thefour volumes of Contemporary History wherethe bookshop is the centre, like PierreNozière and My Friend’s Book. Thenlittle France (whose real name is Thibault)went to the Collège Stanislas to be broughtup as a good Royalist child. But he did notdo particularly well there, thus bearing outthe legend of the prize boy. Notably heloafed. Anatole France in life has alwaysloafed, which is natural enough in one whowas born near bridges. Who would not loafwho has a flowing river to watch? It mightbe said that Anatole France has loafedthrough thirty-five volumes.
As he grew up he accomplished desultorytasks, he taught, he wrote articles for thepapers; in 1868 he published his study ofAlfred de Vigny; in 1873 and 1876 hegave us two volumes of verse, Poèmes Dorésand Les Noces Corinthiennes. Not verystartling or attractive verse; however deep15Anatole France’s poetic feeling, he has neverapproached greatness as a poet, perhapsbecause he was always too calm, too detached,because so seldom did his eye infine frenzy roll. Only when at last, in1879, he published his first work of creativeprose, two longish stories, Jocasta and TheFamished Cat, followed, two years later, byThe Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, and in1882 by Les Désirs de Jean Servien,2 wasborn the Anatole France we know to-day.
2The title is given in English if the work has beentranslated, in French if it has not.
I cannot lay too much stress upon that.Anatole France was potentially in 1881 whathe is now. It has continually been suggestedthat, up to 1898 and the revivalof the Dreyfus case, Anatole France wasa reactionary, a clerical, an anti-democrat;that, somehow, in an unexplained manner,he underwent a change of heart and suddenlyturned into a humanitarian socialist; anda few bold folk hinted, when The Godsare Athirst appeared in 1913, that Anatole16France, because he painted a dreadful andtherefore not over-kind picture of theFrench Revolution, had reacted again.Briefly: the genius as weathercock. Ithas even been suggested that Anatole Francewrote this reactionary book to make hispeace with the respectable classes and to getinto the Académie Française: the answeris that Anatole France was a member of thataugust body seventeen years before thepublication of the book.
An examination of Anatole France’s earlyworks is vital to this question, notably ofJocasta, which has very little to do with themyth, for there is no Œdipus to murder hisfather and marry his mother; AnatoleFrance is too modern for that. It is a queer,horrible story of the daughter of a shadymiddleman who, instead of marrying theyoung doctor she loves, weds a wealthyand sinister old Englishman, whom, to herknowledge, his valet murders. Fearing discoveryand haunted by remorse (the Furies),emulating Jocasta, she hangs herself. This17story would hardly be worth mentioningsave for its fine literary style and its highcharacterisation of Fellaire, the solemn,kindly, bumptious, sentimental middleman,of Haviland, the dry and methodical collector,if already here Anatole France werenot at the age of thirty-five indicating whathe would become. For he makes a journalistsay in conclusion, after discussing theimmortality of the soul and deciding thatit is really a very complicated question:“Fortunately the Almighty is not a subjectfor an up-to-date par.”