Imágenes de página
[ocr errors]

missionary Staffan, the apostle of Norseland, is still sung in some parts of Sweden. And in one of its lines, “No daylight could then be seen, but the stars shone in Heaven,” is evidently indicated the darkness that overspread the land in the days of heathenism.

“In most of these old ballads," says Herr Bosson, "love plays an important part; but it is no sentimental moonlight love. In woman it is, as in most Northern poetry, deep and intense, but with few words to express its tender emotions. In man it is also chary of words, but capable of inspiring energetic deeds.” Sometimes this intensity of passion led to fierce, even brutal deeds. The ballad concerning fair Elin, the daughter of King Sverker, and her loves with Sune Folkeson, is not quoted entire by Herr Bosson; but he relates the story, illustrating it with verses here and there, and we will venture to give his version of the tale. Fair Elin had been immured in the Convent of Ureta, probably to keep her away from her bold wooer, whose suit her royal father did not favour. The princess informs her companions one morning that that night she had had a strange dream :

[blocks in formation]

That night Sune and his brother Cnut came to the convent, slew the twelve knights who guarded the princess, and carried her forcibly away. Compelled to become Sune’s wife, she yet never forgave him, the remembrance of her slain knights rankling at her heart during her fifteen years of wedlock. On her death-bed, indeed, the proud vindictive spirit became for a brief while softened. She stroked her husband's cheek, and called him once again the beloved of her heart. But when, in a sudden fit of remorse, he promised to go on a pilgrimage to Rome if she would forgive the slaying of her retainers, she exclaimed, with dying breath

Though thou shouldst go to Rome a pilgrim,

Or e'en to Palestine shouldst go,
I'd ne'er forget my twelve brave henchmen,

Who fell beneath thy murderous blow. We will conclude our extracts with part of a ballad, which especially illustrates the simple objectivity which distinguishes these antique poems, of which Herr Bosson says: “The descriptions they contain are very few and brief. There is rarely any landscape, and such pictures of nature or human life as we meet with relate to splendid or very obvious external objects, such as might strike the imagination of a child trying to repeat a story he has heard. Golden harness, gold crowns, veils inwrought with gold, scarlet mantles, rose gardens, flowery-groves, and the like, occur again and again in these ballads." . Here is the last !portion of the ballad of “Marsk Stig." That powerful nobleman having got into a quarrel with King Eric Glipping about the fair Queen Ingeborg, had to seek refuge in Norway. His daughters were generously adopted by the Queen of Norway, and the verses we are about to quote describe their occupations at her CourtThe eldest daughter's graceful form she o'er the loom doth bend, The younger o'er her work stoops down, and weaves it to the end. Full glorious is the web that grows beneath her skilful hand, For there doth Mary-Mother's form by Christ our Saviour stand. The next fold of that wondrous web, displayed, in colours bright, The Queen of Norway and her Court with many a maid and knight. And there stand hart in antlered pride, and hind with gentle grace, And midst them all the maiden shows her own sad pallid face. She ends her work, she folds it up, she lays it in the hand Of that most fair and noble dame who rules the Northern land. The

younger sister then kneels down, and says with many a tear, “Ah! wouldst that thou, my gentle queen, were our sweet mother dear."


Zola at Work.


SPEAK of M. Zola's novels in the drawing-room, the street, or the café, and you will assuredly raise a storm of adjectives, nasty, beastly, abominable, etc., etc. Criticism generally finds vent in the following phrases :-“We don't want to hear about drunkenness and immorality." "Art should confine itself to depicting the beautiful.” “Low society is not interesting

We know that vice exists, but what object is attained by flaunting it in our faces ?” As subject of conversation M. Zola is devoid of interest, for not only are all the speakers of the same mind, but their opinion is never differently expressed. Toothpick tells Crutch in Piccadilly what Crutch tells Toothpick in Pall Mall; the journalist in the café confides to a confrère the same set of words which the confrère has been confiding five minutes before to another confrère ; and two ladies in the drawing-room dismiss the question by mutually agreeing that they do not care about low life. Upon no other subject are these classes agreed. You may ransack art, politics, and religion, without finding one mutual opinion.

How then is this marvellous concord of ideas and similarity in phraseology to be explained ? Scarcely, I think, by assuming that on all other subjects in the world there may be a difference of opinion, but upon M. Zola's novels there can be none. If this theory be not put forward to account for this, till now, unknown unity of thought, it becomes evident that the only other possible reason is that all these critics are gossiping about that of which they know absolutely nothing : it must be either of these reasons—no one will pretend to advance a third.

Personally, I incline to this latter explanation as the correct one; for having often been a forced listener in street, café, and drawing-room to many such conversations, I have observed that when the critics were even a little pressed, it generally came out that their knowledge of M. Zola's works was limited to having tried to read “L'Assommoir," after having seen the play Drink (from which most of their information was


[ocr errors]

drawn); they had heard of “Nana,”—and upon this information is based the stupendous edifice of abuse that English criticism has raised to Zola's honour or dishonour. It is true that these critics can all read Racine, and perhaps a volume of George Sands; but the knowledge of classical French helps them but little towards construing the language of “L'Assommoir."

On this head, the most intelligent criticism I have ever heard is, that they (the journalists) admitted readily that when a novelist wished to paint a labourer, he had to use the phraseology employed by that class; but to what they would never consent, and what they could not by any conceivable stretch of imagination understand, was how it could be right, when the author was himself speaking, to use the language of Bec-Salé.

I know of nothing that better shows the ignorance of contemporary criticism than this much-used argument, for quite unconsciously it attacks the first principle of the experimental novel, which is the continual maintenance of the surroundings (le milieu). Had M. Zola used the marvellous language which he compiled with much manual and mental labour from special dictionaries, low novels, and personal experience only in the dialogues between Mes Bottes and Bec-Salé, the milieu would not have been maintained, the detailed study of which is the essence of the naturalistic formula. I will only refer to morality, that journalistic jemmy, used so constantly and with unfailing effect against even the best protected windows and doors, by saying that I deplore many scenes in M. Zola's work, principally in “La Curée" and “ Nana,” quite as much as the most virtuous of the chorus of ignorant reviewers, but had I to choose out of the immense treasure-house of English and French fiction an intensely moral work, I would unhesitatingly hold up “L'Assommoir.”

." The third argument used against “ L'Assommoir” is that it is merely photography! How can this be, when behind the observer there is the artist who arranges, classifies, and gives life to the facts observed with the fire of his individual inspiration? To call “L'Assommoir” photography is, of all impossible judgments that blindness or ignorance may pass on a man's work, the worst. The descriptions, in the factory where Gervaise goes to see Gouget at work, of the titanic power of the immense steam hammers working ceaselessly in the great obscurity through which figures hurry to and fro, sometimes clearly defined in the glare of the furnace fires, sometimes seen like

[ocr errors]

phantoms in the distance, are not photographic, but Miltonic, or, better still, Homeric. The scene chez les Lorrilleux, with the curiously detailed painting of the small dark room, the two old people bent over the furnace attending to the gold chains in various stages of completion, and Gervaise looking on with a silly, vacant, ignorant interest, is poetry of the best kind, and ranks with the highest Dutch art. The death of the child has never been surpassed in prose or verse ; it is as beautiful as any work by Shelley or Raphael ; the form is different, but the same qualities are there. “L'Assommoir” has been praised for being photographic, and it is epic.

But, absurdly as “L'Assommoir” has been criticised, great as is the mass of ignorance and prejudice brought to bear against this immense work, which is most assuredly as immortal as the French language, it is the only one, if I except“ Nana," known even by name to the general public and literary critics. Speak of “La Conquête de Plassans,” or “ La Fortune de Rougon,' or even of “La Curée," and not one in a thousand will know of what you are talking. Tell a journalist that “L'Assommoir is only one of a series of twenty novels called “the natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire," and he is utterly at sea.

Had it not been for Drink, I do not know what the society journalists would have done; but the Reed upon which they relied was feeble, and it long ago gave way beneath their weight. So much for contemporary criticism.

The Social and Natural History of a Family under the

Second Empire.
M. Zola says: “All my novels published for the last nine

years depend on one vast whole, the plan of which was definitely decided on beforehand. I follow it with scrupulous exactitude. Therein lies my strength." This immense work is to be concluded in twenty volumes, eleven of which are yet unpublished. The nine are as follows: “La Fortune de Rougon," “ La Curée,"

" “La Conquête de Plassans," "La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret,” “Son Excellence," "Eugène Rougon,” “L'Assommoir,” “Une Page d'Amour,” and “Nana.” The Rougon-Macquart family is divided into two parts—the Rougons are legitimate, the Macquarts illegitimate. The Macquarts on the female side marry into the Mouret family. These nine volumes tell the story of a Rougon or a Macquart. Lisa, in the “Ventre

« AnteriorContinuar »