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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

The Bohemia 285 of which Murger was the laureate


bulk, however, of the book, which is a very long one--three volumes and nearly a thousand closely printed pages--consists of the _histoires_ or "memoirs" (whence the title) of other people which the Devil tells Luizzi, sometimes by actual _recit_, sometimes otherwise. Naturally they are most of them grimy; though there is nothing of the Laclos or even of the Paul de Kock kind. I find them, however, a little tedious.

[Sidenote: Later writers and writings of the class.]

The fact, indeed, is that this kind of novel--as has been hinted sometimes, and sometimes frankly asserted--has its own peculiar appeals; and that these appeals, as is always the case when they are peculiar, leave some ears deaf. There is no intention here to intimate any superfine scorn of it. It has another and a purely literary, or at least literary-scientific, interest as descending from the Terror Novel of the end of the eighteenth century. It shows no sign of ceasing to exist or to appeal to those to whom it is fitted to appeal, and who are fitted to be appealed to by it. Towards the close of the period at which I ceased to see French novels generally, I remember meeting with many examples of it. There was one which, with engaging candour, called itself _L'Hotellerie Sanglante_, and in which persons, after drinking wine which was, as Rogue Riderhood says, "fur from a 'ealthy wine," retired to a rest which knew no or only a very brief and

painful waking, under the guardianship of a young person, who, to any one in any other condition, would have seemed equally "fur" from an attractive young person. There was another, the title of which I forget, in which the intended victim of a plunge into a water-logged _souterrain_ connected with the Seine made his way out and saw dreadful things in the house above. There is really no great interval or discrepancy (except in details of manners and morals) between these and the novels of detective, gentleman-thief, and other impolite life which delight many persons indubitably respectable and presumably intelligent in England to-day.[283] To sneer at these would be ridiculous.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Murger.]

Henry Murger is not the least of the witnesses to the truth of a remark--which I owe to one of the critics of my earlier volume--that in England people (he was kind enough to except me) are too apt to accept the contemporary French estimates of French contemporary literature and the traditional French estimates of earlier authors. Murger had, I believe, a hardly earned and too brief popularity in his own country; and though it was a little before my time, I can believe that this overflowed into England. But the posthumous and accepted judgments of him altered _there_ to a sort of slighting patronage; and I remember that when, nearly twenty years after his death, I wrote on him in the _Fortnightly Review_,[284] some surprise at my loftier estimate was expressed _here_. The reasons for this depreciation are not hard to give, and as they form a base for, and indeed really a part of, my critical estimate they may be stated shortly. The "Bohemia"[285] of which Murger was the laureate, both in prose and verse, is a country whose charms have been admitted by some of the greatest, but which no wise person has ever regarded, much less recommended, as providing any city to dwell in; and which has certainly been the scene if not the occasion, not merely of much mischief, which does not particularly concern us, but of much foolishness and bad taste, which partly does. It was almost--not quite--the only theme of Murger's songs and words. And--last and perhaps most dangerous of all--there was the fact that, if not in definite Bohemianism, there was in other respects a good deal in him of a far minor Musset, and both in Bohemianism and other things still more of an inferior Gerard de Nerval. I believe the case _against_ has been fairly stated here.

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