Page images

plain that neither M. Ferry nor M. de Freycinet could possibly succeed. At the meeting held beforehand by the Republicans, M. Ferry had indeed obtained a relative majority over the other candidates, but this relative majority could not mean an absolute majority in the whole Congress. It could be only some neutral candidate. A small group wished for M. Brisson who, some time ago, when president of the Chamber, was generally regarded as the eventual successor of M. Grévy; but his ill success as prime minister had destroyed his chances. He is one of those dull and sombre men who never succeed in anything, however much they deserve to succeed. Finally, M. Sadi Carnot was elected. There were two reasons for his election. The first reason was his name. He is the grandson of Lazare Carnot, the organizer of the armies of the first republic, and the son of M. Hippolyte Carnot, who was a minister in 1848, a member of the opposition under the empire, and who is now a senator and a member of the Institute. There was a certain fascination in the idea of summoning to the head of the State a man who bears an historic name. But the other reason was the stronger. It was this. M. Carnot, when minister of finance, was said to have refused, even at the urgent request of M. Wilson, to remit certain dues paid to the treasury by Messrs. Dreyfus, the guano-merchants, friends and clients of M. Grévy. The curious thing is that M. Carnot never really had the opportunity of performing this act of heroic integrity, which recommended him to the choice of the Congress. The heads of his department could not agree as to whether the dues had been legally levied or not; and he contented himself with postponing the decision, which was ultimately given by his successor in favor of Messrs. Dreyfus. So that M. Carnot has been made president of the French Republic for an act of integrity he never committed, and for giving himself the trouble to be born, like the heir of any royal house. Under a republican form of government the thing is curious.

However, the choice may be justified on other grounds. M. Carnot is a good engineer; he did good service at Havre during the war of 1870–71; he has since shown administrative faculty as minister of public works and of finance. He has been a member of the Cabinet under both M. Ferry and M. de Freycinet. Moderate in his opinions, he has made no enemies in any party; and his rigid honesty

is not the less undisputed that it never had the opportunity of display attributed to it by the legend. He is rich, and he has a very charming wife, who, notwithstanding a slight deafness, loves society, and likes having receptions. M. Carnot will fill his place with dignity, and he will not recoil, like M. Grévy, from the duties and the burdens it imposes on him. But it remains to be seen whether he has the knowledge of European affairs, the breadth of view, and the firmness of temper which are needed to make all that should be made of it, and to guide this country through the difficulties which lie before her.

He began with a mistake. The unanimity of the votes deceived him, and he took it for an indication of a real desire to lay aside party conflicts and unite in maintaining an orderly and prudent government till the next election. He did not see that the Radicals never can endure the status quo, and never unite with the Moderates except when the Moderates consent to adopt some part of their programme. Instead of simply retaining intact the Rouvier ministry, which had given proof of its solidity and administrative capacity, and explaining that, as the crisis had been presidential and not ministerial, he thought it best to await the indications offered by Parliament before modifying the Cabinet in any way, he wasted ten days in trying to solve the insoluble problem of Republican concentration, and to reconcile Moderates like M. Ribot with ultra-Radicals like M. Lacroix. It ended in his having to put up with a purely Moderate ministry under M. Tirard. It is just such another ministry as the last, only with all the members changed, except M. Flourens, who remains at the head of the Foreign Office, and M. Fallières, who leaves the Home Office to M. Sarrien, and takes the Ministry of Justice.

What are we to say of the future? The Radicals are not very likely to leave the Cabinet in peace. As soon as they saw that M. Carnot was not going to play into their hands by sending for M. de Freycinet, they stopped singing his praises and began to suspect him of wishing to exercise an illegal preponderance in political affairs. One of two things must happen. Either the Cabinet will hold together by the tolerance of the Right—and then we go back to the situation created by M. Rouvier-cr it will collapse under the attacks of a coalition of the Right and the Extreme Left, and we shall find ourselves face to face with the very same difficulties

cals are quite ready to cry out upon it as a coup d'état; while the Moderates are preparing, should dissolution become inevitable, to figure as the partisans of the president, and take advantage of the prestige of an executive recently installed amidst universal acclamation.


that followed the fall of the Goblet minis try or the election of the new president. In one word, the divisions of the Republican party, and the strength of the Monarchists in the Chamber, are making government impossible. No ministry can keep its seat except on condition that it does nothing and that nothing happens. But the name of M. Carnot will be The raising of a serious question is fatal nothing but a screen. The real struggle to it; and as serious questions must be will be between the partisans and the opraised, no ministry can be secure. The ponents of M. Ferry; and the real quesgovernment ought either to have the pru- tion will be whether or not M. Ferry shall dence to touch nothing but financial busi- come back to power. If he comes back, ness till after the elections, or the courage there will assuredly be a movement in the to dissolve at once. But prudence it is direction of a more Conservative Republiuseless to expect; and as to a dissolution, canism; if he does not, and things go on there could hardly be a worse time for it. slipping into the hands of the Extreme If the Republicans could bring themselves Left, it will probably end in a state of to subordinate their personal interests to disorder which may bring back a monthose of the country, they might all com- archy. M. Ferry's position has been conbine to demand a dissolution, declaring siderably improved by recent events. that their object in doing so was simply stood before the Congress as the only to eliminate the unconstitutional parties political personage whose name had a from the legislature. The one vital inter- definite significance; and the Liberal bourest of the republic is to have a Republi-geoisie passionately desired his election. can majority in the Chamber of Deputies, There would no doubt, at the first moment, as it has in the Senate. Even a Radical be some troubles to suppress in Paris; majority would be better than no majority at all. The essential thing is a ministry which shall be the true and undivided expression of the will of a majority, and which can rely on that majority for continuous support. Unfortunately, it is asking too much of the deputies to expect them to commit such a suicide for the sake of the common good. The Moderates might possibly consent to propose a dissolution; but the Radicals prefer to go The attempt on M. Ferry's life, which on making it inevitable, and then de- so miraculously failed, was a stroke of nounce it as a coup d'état, and pose as its good fortune. It gave occasion for one victims. It has been one of the calamities more proof of that admirable coolness and of the republic that the right of dissolu- pluck which he had already shown during tion, which is essential to the working of the war; and it created quite an explosion parliamentary institutions, and which is of sympathy with the victim and indignathe only means of holding in check the tion against the reprobates whose frantic caprices of the members or putting an end declamations in the press and on the platto the anarchy of a hopelessly divided form had fired the brain of the assassin. house, was applied for the first time (by The Alsatians and Lorrainers, in particthe Duc de Broglie, under the presidency ular, took occasion to express their respect of Marshal Mac Mahon) for the very pur- and attachment to M. Ferry, and to acquit pose of doing violence to the wishes of him of the stupid calumnies which accused the country, and of breaking up a very him of a want of patriotism. The prejustrong and coherent majority. This iniq- dices which his enemies had succeeded in uitous act has gone far to break the very stirring up against him have all but disapsprings of republican government, and it peared; and it may safely be said that his will be long before they recover their elas- popularity with the middle classes is such ticity. Ministers are afraid to use the as it never was before. They await with weapon which the Constitution puts into impatience the moment when he shall be their hands; and if they did use it, there called to govern. The two most remarkare plenty of good people who would thinkable facts of the last few months are the they were witnessing an act of violence on the part of the executive. The Radi

but if a great change does not soon take place in the march of affairs we shall find ourselves, a little later on, in presence of far greater troubles. Already the agitators in Paris think it is due to them that M. Ferry was not elected. There might be circumstances in which they would be free to act more boldly, and would find the elements of resistance less prepared to meet them.

sudden oblivion into which General Boulanger has fallen, and the reappearance

of M. Ferry as a leading figure on the


Arts and letters do not greatly flourish amidst the agitations of a disturbed political life; and we have nothing eventful to note in the intellectual world. Still, these months have not been barren. First, there is the usual allowance of art exhibitions, which go on in unbroken succession all the year round. M. Puvis de Chavannes shows a collection of pictures of moderate size, together with studies and cartoons of his vast mural paintings. The exhibition has been useful in giving us a clearer insight into the character of this very original artist, who, in spite of shocking blunders, has realized so individual an ideal of beauty, and formed so noble a style, in a period when most painters despise any attempt at style, and aim only at the picturesque. The studies here exhibited show that M. de Chavannes' errors in drawing come from the effort after style. When he works direct from nature his drawing is masterly. Another thing that comes out at this exhibition is the fact that, after all, his strongest point is his coloring. It is sober coloring, in modified tints; but his harmony is wonderful, such as no one had reached before; and this it is which constitutes his distinctive quality as a decorator. At M. Petit's gallery thirty-three young painters have combined to open a Salon des Jeunes. Amongst them is Ary Renan, a son of M. Ernest Renan, whose unreal compositions and vivid tones of pure color recall the work of some of the English pre-Raphaelites. M. Dinet's landscapes are good. As to M. Friant, I have already remarked on his work at the Salon. He is, at twenty-five, a portraitist of the first rank, and there is no saying what he may not rise to. The Ecole des Beaux-Arts exhibits a collection of the pictures of Guillaumet, the truthful and delightful painter of Algeria. At Launette's library may be seen M. Lhermitte's charcoal sketches for the illustrations to a new book by M. A. Theuriet, "La Vie Rustique." A year ago, M. Launette, whose edition of M. Maurice Leloir's "Manon Lescaut " had already raised him to the first rank among artistic publishers, associated the pen of M. Theuriet with the pencil of M. Giacomelli in a volume of marvellous chromotypes, "Le Monde des Oiseaux." He has now realized a no less happy association in uniting that one of all our writers who can best speak of rural life with that one of all our painters who can best and most poetically paint it. M.

Lhermitte is not to be despised on canvas, but it is in black chalk that he is unrivalled. He has extraordinary delicacy of execution, and the effects of light he produces are marvellous. "La Vie Rustique" is full of both poetry and reality, and will delight all lovers of the country, which it represents under so many varied aspects.

The next best of the New Year books is the "Cahiers du Capitaine Coignet," illustrated by Le Blant, and published by Hachette. This Capitaine Coignet was a soldier who fought in all the wars of the Revolution, the Consulate, and the Empire, rose by merit to the rank of captain, and amused himself in his old age by writing his memoirs. These papers, discovered by M. Lorédan Larchey, form a really inestimable record of the moral history of France under the first empire. The unlettered soldier, who never pretended to the faintest notion of orthography, turned out, without knowing it, a capital writer, so clear were his ideas, and so straightforward his character. M. le Blant, well known for his episodes of the Vendéan wars, contributes a very vigorous and faithful rendering of the most characteristic scenes in the story. Besides the numerous vignettes in the text, there are a number of plates consisting of larger compositions of very various character and effect.

Michelet's "Jeanne d'Arc," illustrated by Bida, is another charming book; though it is to be regretted that the eminent illustrator has not given more relief and individuality to the heroine herself.

M. R. Peyre's "Napoleon and his Times," published by Didot, has real bistoric value. It is an impartial and wellinformed account of the life of Napoleon, and at the same time a very complete survey of the French society of the period. The illustrations reproduce in facsimile almost all the documents which serve to reveal "the body of the time, his form and pressure." The execution of the illustrations occasionally leaves something to be desired; but the volume forms, nevertheless, a very interesting Napole onic museum. The same firm is publish ing in parts the noble work of M. Lebon on the “Civilizations of India."

M. Plon has made a great success with his delightful children's books, illustrated by M. Boutet de Monvel, who has such a clever way of mixing the most delicate irony with his simplicity, and whose fine decorative feeling has achieved surprising effects of color in flat tints. M. Boutet

de Monvel is one of our most original is very frivolous, and reads but little. men. He has created a new style of illus- Spoilt by the habit of skimming over tration in France, as Kate Greenaway did journals and reviews, it has come to dread in England, and his work, though it is less all works of any length, and especially poetic, is quite as original, more skilful, those which require a continuous effort of and more varied than hers. thought or attention. It is almost inclined to make a bit of scandal a sine quâ non. What it likes best of all is either autobiography or fiction; and even in fiction it is on the lookout for allusions and betrayals. It is gloating now with morbid curiosity over the second volume of the "Journal des Goncourt," in which those authors pillory themselves without shame or reserve, and repeat in the most injudicious way every cynical or extravagant remark that may have escaped their friends. They give the most melancholy impression of the literary society of Paris under the empire. Daudet, indeed, presents a fairer side of it in his charming little book, "Thirty Years of my life in Paris." There is always something that makes one wince in seeing a man publish himself during his lifetime; but Daudet puts into it such sunny good temper, such insinuating wit and southern vivacity, that one is glad to put by one's scruples, shake hands, and enjoy oneself with him.

The chief literary event that marked the end of the year was the appearance of the first volume of M. Renau's "Histoire du Peuple d'Israël." M. Renan has already given us the rise of Christianity, from the time of its founder to the third century; and he now proposes to supply the natural preface to his work by tracing back the history of the Jewish people, and showing the development of that idea of God which ultimately found its incarnation in Jesus Christ. The new book is to be in four volumes; and the first contains all the legendary part of the history, and brings us down to David. M. Renan, while he brings out with his usual bold and delicate touch the salient facts of a history which has but little direct and contemporary evidence to rest upon, has set himself more particularly to determine the principal phases of the development of the religious idea. It is from this point of view that the book will be most interesting and will excite the Then there are the sensational novels. most controversy. According to M. Re- In the competition that goes on amongst nan, the primitive religion of Israel was our novelists to see who shall go farthest the worship of the Elohim, a collective in immorality and indecency, MM. Zola name for the invisible forces that govern and Mendès have distanced all the rest; the world, and which are vaguely con- the first by the unmeasured brutality and ceived as forming a supreme power at grossness of his new story, "La Terre," once single and manifold. This vague in which the manners of the peasantry primitive monotheism gets modified dur- are depicted in the most extravagant and ing the migrations of the children of untruthful colors; and the second by his Israel, and especially during their strug-wilful perversity and his pretentious and gles for the conquest of Palestine, and at last gives place to the conception of Jahveh, a national God, conceived after the fashion of the gods of polytheism, essentially anthropomorphic, the God of Israel, in conflict with the gods of the surrounding nations. It was the task of the prophets to change this low and narrow conception of the Deity for a nobler one, to bring back the Jews to the Elohistic idea in a spiritualized form, and to transform the Jahveh of the times of the judges into a God of all the earth, universal, one, and absolute-that God in spirit and in truth of whom Jesus, the last of the prophets, completed the revelation This new volume of Renan's, which, in a society more interested in the great problems of history and philosophy, would have attracted public attention in the high est degree, has hardly been read as yet by any but men of learning. Modern society

[ocr errors]

refined immorality. Happily, a reaction has at last set in against these deplorable tendencies. "La Terre gave rise to general indignation, and a group of the younger disciples of M. Zola himself publicly protested against excesses which are a disgrace to the name of naturalism.

But why must the nobler spirits, the finer minds, such as M. P. Bourget, allow themselves to be dragged down by the odious taste of the day, and to pollute their books with descriptions which make them unreadable by women of any delicacy? It is all the more lamentable because the powers of M. Bourget are growing and ripening with every volume he publishes. His last novel, "Mensonges," contains the most powerful representations of middle-class life, high life, artist life, and dramatic life; and the central idea of his book- that the seductions of sense are the ruin of intellectual power as well

as of character-is neither frivolous nor | M. A. Dumas ignoble.

- at the Vaudeville, is due to the somewhat brutal way in which these two pieces excite the emotion of the spectators. "La Tosca" was done on purpose to display the powers of Mme. Sarah Bernhardt, who shows herself by turns tender, sarcastic, imploring, terrified, angry, and desperate. But it has in addition the fine dramatic feeling, the historical insight, and that quality of being alive, which ensures for all the plays of M. Sardou, if not a permanent reputation, a great run for the time being. In "La Tosca" our nerves are shaken by the cries of a man bleeding under the torture, and by the scene in which the heroine kills the man who had offered her her lover's life at the price of her own honor; in

M. Guy de Maupassant is the very opposite of M. P. Bourget. In place of an emotional mysticism, we have a robust and somewhat hard realism; instead of the delicacies of a nervous and sparkling style, we have sober, strong, and simple language. Both are pessimists; but while Bourget saddens at the ills and vices of humanity, Maupassant seems rather to take delight in exposing its essential and incurable selfishness. His last story, "Pierre et Jean," is a very simple and touching drama; but it is a most distressing one, from the determination shown by the author to reduce the whole play of human feeling to a fundamental principle of pure egoism. Pierre Loti, for his part," L'Affaire Clémenceau," the interest is not a philosopher at all, yet he too is a pessimist; he contents himself with chronicling sensations, and, as there is nothing in the world more fugitive than a sensation, he leaves a sufficiently sad impression of the vanity of human life. His "Madame Chrysanthème" is another of his foreign marriages, and this time it is a little Japanese lady, brainless and frivolous- -a pretty little figure copied from a screen; and he takes the opportunity of describing, with that happy art we know so well, the life and landscape of Japan.

The theatrical season has been a brilliant one, though unmarked by any of those great successes which place a work once for all in the repertory of the future. M. Pailleron has not repeated in "La Souris the triumph of "Le Monde où l'on s'ennuie," though it is perhaps the more finely worked out of the two. He has chosen one of those delicately tinted subjects which, like the "Philiberte" of Emile Augier, are attractive only to the thoughtful few. The whole interest of the piece lies in the development of the character of a young girl, who goes by the name of the mouse.' She falls in love with a man of mature age, whom all the women pay court to, and ends by winning his affection. The whole thing is done in light and lively conversations, in touches of delicate sentiment and analysis. It is a mere trifle only, it is charming.


In spite of all the skill and care with which M. Pailleron's little piece was put on the stage at the Théâtre Français, the public as a whole prefers something stronger something that appeals to its nerves and its senses. The success of M. Sardou's "La Tosca" at the Porte St. Martin, and of "L'Affaire Clémenceau " taken by M. d'Artois from a novel of

again hinges on a murder, for the sculptor stabs his wife for her unfaithfulness, though he cannot cease to love her. Perhaps the piece owes some of its success to the other telling scenes, in which Iza poses to her husband for a statue of Danaë, or enters the ball disguised as a page. But the profound human interest of the novel quite disappears in the play, and there remains nothing but a sort of variety entertainment, very stagy, very sensual, very brutal, and very cleverly put together by M. d'Artois.

M. Halévy's "Abbé Constantin," given at the Gymnase, is in a softer strain; and though this delicious trifle has suffered almost as much as "L'Affaire Clémenceau " in its transfer to the boards, it is a great rest to find oneself for a whole evening in the company of people who are good

and so very cleverly good. M. Halévy can do anything he likes with us; he makes us quite believe the most unlikely things, and identify ourselves by sympathy with people who are all that is virtuous and rich and happy and nice. You spend the evening in a charmed world-something between the Earthly Paradise and the land of Cockayne; and you dream out the delightful dream without ever waking up to be critical. Whatever may be said of it as a play, it is a charming bit of liter ature, and that is saying something.

The opera has given us nothing new. The only musical events have been the performance of M. Gounod's "Mors et Vita" at Rouen, and the reproduction at the Concert Colonna of M. Massenet's first and perhaps best work, "Marie Madeleine." Into that work he threw the whole passion of his twenty-five years and the first freshness of his inspiration. He was then still in Rome, and just engaged to

« PreviousContinue »