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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

But Stello was quite as clever as the objectors


[Sidenote:

Its framework and "anecdotes."]

The substance, or rather the framework, of _Stello, ou Les Diables Bleus_, requires very little amplification of its double title to explain it. Putting that title in charade form, one might say that its first is a young poet who suffers from its second--like many other young persons, poetical and unpoetical, of times Romantic and un-Romantic. Having an excessively bad fit of his complaint, he sends for a certain _docteur noir_ to treat the case. This "Black Doctor" is not a trout-fly, nor the sort of person who might be expected in a story of _diablerie_. It is even suggested that he derived the name, by which he was known to society, from the not specially individual habit of wearing black clothes. But there must have been something not quite ordinarily human about him, inasmuch as, having been resident in London at the time of Chatterton's death in 1770, he was--apparently without any signs of Old Parr-like age--a fashionable doctor at Paris in the year 1832. His visit ends, as usual, in a prescription, but a prescription of a very unusual kind. The bulk of it consists of the "anecdotes"--again perhaps not a very uncommon feature of a doctor's visit, but told at such length on the three subjects above mentioned that, with "links" and conclusion,[251] they run to nearly four hundred pages.

It is possible that some one may say "_Connu!_" both to the stories themselves and to

the moral of real suffering, as opposed to mere megrim, which is so obviously deducible from them. But Stello was quite as clever as the objectors, and knew these things quite as well--perhaps, as far as the case of Gilbert is concerned, rather better than most Englishmen. It is in the manner of the Black Doctor's telling and handling that the charm lies.

[Sidenote: The death of Gilbert.]

Even for those gluttons of matter who do not care much for manner there is a good deal in the three stories. The first avails itself--as Vigny had unwisely _not_ availed himself in _Cinq-Mars_, though he was well acquainted with Shakespeare and lesser English masters--of the mixture of comic and tragic. The suffering[252] of the unfortunate youth who was partly a French Chatterton and partly a French Clare, his strange visit to the benevolent but rather ineffectual Archbishop of Paris, and the scene at his death-bed, exhibit, at nearly its best, the tragic power which Vigny possessed in a very high, though not always well exercised, degree. And the passage of the poet's death is of such _macabre_ power that one must risk a translation:

(_The doctor has been summoned, has found the patient in his garret, bare of all furniture save a bed with tattered clothes and an old trunk._)

His face was very noble and very beautiful; he looked at me with fixed eyes, and between them and the nose, above the cheeks, he showed that nervous contraction which no ordinary convulsion can imitate, which no illness gives, but which says to the physician, "Go your ways!" and is, as it were, a standard which Death plants on his conquests. He clutched in one hand his pen, his poor last pen, inky and ragged, in the other a crust of his last piece of bread. His legs knocked together, so as to make the crazy bed crackle. I listened carefully to his hard breathing; I heard the rattle with its hollow husk; and I recognised Death in the room as a practised sailor recognises the tempest in the whistle of the wind that precedes it.


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