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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Karr would have high place and large room


The "Manchester" article.]

It was not for some thirty years later than Mery's visit that I myself knew, and for some time lived in, the new-made "city," as it became, to the horror of Mr. Bright, just before Mery saw it. But though there must have been many changes in those thirty years, they were nothing to those which have taken place in the fifty that have passed subsequently. And I can recognise the Manchester I knew in Mery's sketch. This may seem to be at first an exceedingly moderate compliment--in fact something close to an insult. But it is nothing of the kind. It is true that there is considerable _naivete_ in a sentence of his own: "En general les nationaux sont fort ignorants sur les phenomenes de leur pays; il faut s'adresser aux etrangers pour en obtenir la solution." And it is also true that our "nationals," at that time and since, have been excessively ignorant of phenomena which the French tourists of Louis Philippe's reign discovered here, and surprised, not to say diverted, at the solutions thereof preferred by these obliging strangers. That Mery had something of the Michiels[298] in him, what has been said above should show. But in some strange way Manchester--foggiest and rainiest of all our industrial hells,[299] except Sheffield--seems to have made his brain clear and his sight dry, even in drawing a sort of half-Rembrandt, half-Callot picture. He takes, it is true, some time in freeing himself from that obsession by one

of our _not_-prettiest institutions, "street-walking," which has always beset the French.[300] But he does get clear, and makes a striking picture of the great thoroughfares of Market Street and Piccadilly; of the view--a wonderful one certainly, and then not interfered with by railway viaducts--from and of the Cathedral; and of the extraordinary utilisation of the scanty "naval" capabilities of Irk and Irwell and Medlock. But, as has been said, such things are at best but accidents of the novel.

[Sidenote: Karr.]

If not much is found here about Alphonse Karr, it is certainly not because the present writer undervalues his general literary position. As a journalist and miscellanist, Karr had few superiors in a century of miscellaneous journalism; and as a maker of telling and at the same time solid phrase, he was Voltaire's equal in the first respect and his superior in the second. The immortal "Que MM. les assassins commencent," already referred to, is perhaps the best example in all literature of the terse _argumentum joculare_ which is not more sparkling as a joke than it is crushing as an argument; "Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose"[301] is nearly as good; and if one were writing a history, not of the novel, but of journalism or essay-writing of the lighter kind, Karr would have high place and large room. But as a novelist he does not seem to me to be of much importance, nor even as a tale-teller, except of the anecdotic kind. He can hardly be dull, and you seldom read him long without coming to something[302] refreshing in his own line; but his tales, as tales, are rarely first-rate, and I do not think that even _Sous les Tilleuls_, his best-known and perhaps best production, needs much delay over it.

[Sidenote: Roger de Beauvoir--_Le Cabaret des Morts_.]

Roger de Beauvoir (whose _de_ was genuine, but who embellished "Bully," his actual surname, into the one by which he was generally known) also had, like Bernard and Reybaud, the honour of being noticed,

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