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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

As to Colomba compared with Carmen


[Sidenote:

Carmen.]

About Carmen herself there has been more--and may justly be a little more--question. Is her _diablura_ slightly exaggerated? Or, to put the complaint in a more accurately critical form, has Merimee attended a little too much to the task of throwing on the canvas a typical Rommany _chi_ or _callee_, and a little too little to that of bodying forth a probable and individual human girl? As an advocate I think I could take a brief on either side of the question without scandalising the, on this point, almost neurotic conscience of the late Mr. Anthony Trollope. But, as a juryman, my verdict on either indictment would be "Not guilty, and _please_ do it again."

But I had much rather decline both functions and all litigious proceedings, and go from the courts of law to the cathedral of literature and thank the Lord thereof for this wonderful triumph of letters. And, in the same way, if any quarrelsome person says, "But only a few pages back you were in parallel ecstasies about _La Morte Amoureuse_," I decline the daggers. Each is supreme in its kind, though the kinds are different. Of each it may be said, "It cannot be better done," but there may be--in fact there is nearly sure to be--something in the individual taste of each reader which will make the appeal of one to his heart, if not to his head, more intimate and welcome. That has nothing to do with their general literary value, which in each case is

consummate. And happy are those who can appreciate both.

Consummateness, in the various kinds, is, indeed, the mark of Merimee's stories. The variety is greater than in those of Gautier, because, just as "Theo" had the advantage of Prosper in point of poetry, he had a certain disadvantage in point of range of intellect, or, to prevent mistake, let us say interest--which perhaps is only another _tropos_ (as the Greeks would have said and as the chemists in a very limited sense do say after them) of the same thing. Beauty was Gautier's only idol; Merimee had more of a pantheon.

[Sidenote: _Colomba._]

As to _Colomba_ compared with _Carmen_, there is, I believe, a sort of sectarianism among Prosperites. I hope I am, as always, catholic. I do not know that, in the terms of classical scholarship, it is "castigated" to the same extent as its rival in point of superfluities. Not that I wish anything away from it; but I think a few things might be away without loss--which is not the case with _Carmen_. Yet, on the other hand, the danger of the type seems to me more completely avoided.[223] At any rate, my admiration for the book is not in any way bribed by that Rossetti portrait of a Corsican lady to which I have referred above. For though she certainly _is_ Colomba, I never saw the face till years--almost decades--after I knew the story.


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