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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

And admitting that the legal crime may be excusable


of murderers, and do not see

that, the more irresponsible a criminal is, the sooner he ought to be put out of the way. Moreover, he has the ill-manners to bore the company at dinner with this craze, and the indecency (for which in some countries he might have smarted) to condemn out loud, in a court of justice, the verdict of the jury and the sentence of the judge on his pet. Neither can one approve the haste with which he suggests to the wife of his oldest and most intimate friend that she is not happy with her husband. But this time M. Rod had got the forge working, and the bellows dead on the charcoal. The development of the situation has something of that twist or boomerang effect which we have noticed in _Michel Teissier_. Dr. Morgex begins by defending murderers; he does not end, but starts the end, by becoming a murderer himself, though one with far more "extenuating circumstances" than those so often allowed in French courts. His friend--who is an advocate of no mean powers but loose life and dangerously full habit--has, when the doctor warns him against apoplexy, half scoffed, but also begged him, if a seizure should take place, to afford him a chance of euthanasia instead of lingering misery. The actual situation, though with stages and variations which are well handled, arises; the doctor, who has long since been frantically in love with the wife, succumbs to the temptation--which has been aggravated by the old request, by the sufferings of the victim, and by the urgent supplications of the family,
that he _shall_ give morphia to relieve these sufferings. He gives it--but in a dose which he knows to be lethal.

After a time, and having gone through no little mental agony, he marries the widow, who is in every sense perfectly innocent; and a brief period of happiness follows. But his own remorse continues; the well-meaning chatter of a lady, who has done much to bring about the marriage, and to whom Morgex had unwarily mentioned "obstacles," awakes the wife's suspicion, and, literally, "the murder is out." Morgex confesses, first to a lawyer friend, who, to his intense surprise, pronounces him legally guilty, of course, but morally excusable; then to a priest, who takes almost exactly the opposite point of view, and admitting that the legal crime may be excusable, declares the moral guilt not lessened; while he points out that while the wages of iniquity are retained, no pardon can be deserved or expected. And so the pair part. Morgex gives himself up to the hardest and least profitable practitioner-work. Of what the wife does we hear nothing. She has been perfectly guiltless throughout; she has loved her second husband without knowing his crime, and after knowing it; and so she is "La Sacrifiee." But this (as some would call it) sentimental appeal is not the real appeal of the book, though it is delicately led up to from an early point. The gist throughout is the tempering and purifying of the character and disposition of Morgex himself, through trial and love, through crime and sacrifice. It is not perfectly done. If it were, it would land the author at once in those upper regions of art which I cannot say I think he attains. But it is a very remarkable "try," and, with one other to be mentioned presently, it is nearest the goal of any of his books.


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