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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Guernsey at the time


[Sidenote:

The _genius loci._]

For here--as he did previously (by the help of the form that was more his own and of Jersey) in the _Contemplations_--he had now got in prose, by that of the smaller, more isolated, and less contaminated[109] island, into his own proper country, the dominion of the Angel of the Visions of the Sea. He has told us in his own grandiloquent way, which so often led him wrong, that when he settled to exile in the Channel Islands, his son Francois observed, "Je traduirai Shakespeare," and _he_ said, "Je contemplerai l'ocean." He did; and good came of it. Students of his biography may know that in the dwelling which he called Hauteville House (a name which, I regret to say, already and properly belonged to another) he slept and mainly lived in a high garret with much glass window, overlooking the strait between Guernsey and Sark. These "gazebos," as they used to be called, are common in St. Peter Port, and I myself enjoyed the possession of a more modest and quite unfamous one for some time. They are worth inhabiting and looking from, be the weather fair or foul. Moreover, he was, I believe, a very good walker, and in both the islands made the best of opportunities which are unmatched elsewhere. Whether he boated much I do not know. The profusion of nautical terms with which he "deaves" us (as the old Scotch word has it) would rather lead me to think _not_. He was in this inferior to Prospero; but I hope it is not blasphemy to say

that, _mutatis mutandis_, he had something of the banished Duke of Milan in him, and that, in the one case as in the other, it was the island that brought it out. And he acknowledged it in his Dedication to "Guernesey--_severe et douce_."

[Sidenote: Guernsey at the time.]

_Severe et Douce!_ I lived in Guernsey as a Master at Elizabeth College from 1868, two years after Victor Hugo wrote that dedication, to 1874, when he still kept house there, but had not, since the "Annee Terrible," occupied it much. I suppose the "severity" must be granted to an island of solid granite and to the rocks and tides and sea-mists that surround it. But in the ordinary life there in my time there was little to "asperate" the _douceur_. Perhaps it does not require so very much to sweeten things in general between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-nine. But the things in general themselves were dulcet enough. The beauty of the place--extraordinarily varied in its triangle of some half-score miles or a little less on each side--was not then in the least interfered with by the excessive commercial glass-housing which, I believe, has come in since. For what my friend of many days, the late Mr. Reynolds of Brasenose and East Ham, a constant visitor in summer, used to call "necessary luxuries," it was still unique. When I went there you could buy not undrinkable or poisonous Hollands at four shillings a gallon, and brandy--not, of course, exactly cognac or _fine champagne_, but deserving the same epithets--for six. If you were a luxurious person, you paid half-a-crown a bottle for the genuine produce of the Charente, little or not at all inferior to Martell or Hennessy, and a florin for excellent Scotch or Irish whiskey.[110] Fourpence half-penny gave you a quarter-pound slab of gold-leaf tobacco, than which I never wish to smoke better.


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