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ART. II.-THE ILLUSIONS OF LITERATURE.
La Comtesse de Mauléon. Par Louis Reybaud. Paris : Lévy
A gentleman, easy in his circumstances, and not embroiled in law-suits, gets tired of his state, he is only a unit in the crowd ; he aspires to make his name famous, to be on the tongues of men, in the leading articles in newspapers. He puts on a red coat, and sticks a feather in his head, to be the easier distinguished by the enemy: he rushes on the bayonets, or into the cannon's mouth; and meets sudden death, or is disabled for life. And he gets his reward : he is spoken of among his neighbours for half a year, and forgotten by a grateful nation in three days. A young lawyer foregoes repose, family endearments, and necessary relaxation, for thirty or forty years, and becomes the DESIRED among attorneys, and an object of envy to the idle frequenters of the court. He has obtained renown such as it is, and an impaired constitution. His days are filled with labor and never-ceasing, anxious exertion to obtain a victory, perhaps with a bad cause, and against a practised opponent. His nights are periods of unrest or suffering: he has won fame, but is unfitted to enjoy it.
Is then the candidate for literary eminence more unwise in his generation than such as these?
He merely exercises his faculties on pleasant or unpleasant studies, for the production of a book to be read or a drama to be witnessed : the book is unread, or the drama unsuccessful, and his labor is lost and his mind soured. After a fair proportion of efforts, if he can tell the world something it knows not already, or if he can make it look on things well known and familiar, through some medium giving them a new color or appearance, his end is obtained : his works are in the hands of thousands with whom he thus hold interesting communion ; a grateful and pleasant influence is reflected back on himself; and he is the object of the good will of the multitudes whom his works interest or entertain.
Moralists will say that a person so circumstanced must be no less than a saint, if such attention and interest do not cherish
self-conceit to an unhealthy extent in this, the happiest, phase of literary reputation. How undesirable such an acquisition must be, when the productions are of an unhealthy character, we need not pause to consider, but we may surely bestow some sympathy on the many who, in their peaceful country retreats, dazzled by the glowing pictures presented to their minds in the works of their favourite writers, feel disgust at the commonplace tiresome society in which they merely vegetate, and sacrifice everything for an introduction to the gods and goddesses of the literary life of the metropolis. An unsophisticated youth in the pit of the theatre, admiring the heroes and heroines of the stage, as they move about in their fine draperies, and breathe nothing less than the noblest sentiments, and afterwards finding these heroes squabbling over a pack of cards in a tavern, or the heroine's lovely lips employed on unworthy petty scandal, is very disagreeably brought down to little, shabby, common-life miseries. So will it be with our worshipper of genius, if he expects to see his favorite authors and authoresses moving with dignified steps, and ever giving utterance to noble remarks, profound truths, or witty sayings, as in the scenes of a genteel comedy.
In our last paper we got glimpses of the shifts, privations, and struggles of our pioneers of literature in their fitful struggles for artistic or literary distinction. In our present, we will be introduced to a more genial and higher sphere in the same world; and find the acquisition of a respectable status there, and a connection with the established denizens, still incapable of conferring happiness, when the mind is not well regulated, and when literary fame is looked on as the only good for which it is desirable to live.
None can be a better guide for our purpose in this survey, than our old friend Louis Reybaud. He has a thorough knowledge of the literary coteries of Paris : the secrets of the Editor's sanctum are no secrets for him: he has the privilege of looking in on the pythoness of the feuilleton while occupied in her trivial household concerns; and goodnaturedly feels for the young aspirant, groping through the pitfalls and thickets that invest the little elysium of the literati. Under his guidance we get into a purer atmosphere than when we were led by the torch of Murger, through the outer caverns and unclean purlieus of the Bohemian suburbs. Now we are sensible of being with a guide whose thoughts are profound and just,
whose wit is bright and keen, whose morality is pure, and whose heart is in the right place.
The readers of the IRISH QUARTERLY have no need that we should enlarge on the keenness of our author's penetration, his facility of detecting shams, and divesting pretension of its borrowed garments; and on his sound judgment in pointing out the advantage of pursuing more useful, though less shining occupations than art or literature, when the true and strong vocation is not vouchsafed. And ob ! how much misery would be spared us here, if every one could at an early age, discover his vocation, and enter on it betimes, and vigorously act in accordance with it. Then would we not see artists striving to paint with spade-handles for brushes, and mechanics endeavoring to pick locks with goose-quill pens.
We have training schools for crossing-sweepers, and free instruction held out for the encouragement of pickpockets : why are not our youth sent for a year or two to a college whose professors' chief duty would be to find out the bent of each pupil's disposition, and the peculiar pursuit for which his abilities and powers are best fitted, to make him pass through life, with comfort to himself and benefit to the community ?
When this greatly needed college shall have been some years established, visitors will read with inuch profit and complacency, divers testimonials, carefully framed and hanging in the great ball, arrranged in no particular order, but doing the part of votive tablets -testimonials to the heads of the establishment from players, engineers, inventors of incombustible cloth, novel writers, self-adjusting-plcugh wrighits, attorneys, and statesmen; all expressive of gratitude for their training, by which they are now supporting their families in comfort, and adding to the income-tax.
Our old favorite, Alphonse Karr, makes one of his characters obtain first class prizes in all his university studies. The solemn owl who presented his last and crowning premium, gravely pronounced, that now his future was to be one scene of use. fulness and enjoyment: he was fit for anything. The talent. ed but useless hero on being obliged to exert himself to obtain a position in society, is ignorant of what he should do; he has literary tastes, but no penchant for any profession in particular,
and falls from bad to worse till he becomes a burden to himself and all who feel an interest in him.
Louis Reybaud, as is known, has filled some stations of trust under the French Government, and has full knowledge of the secret springs by which the engines of the press are set in motion. He tells us that he heard the outlines of the present story in the penetralia of a newspaper office, the narrator being the Great Nepomucene.
However difficult it night be to penetrate to the sanctum of an editor, this worthy found all doors open before him : his air, gesture, and mode of walking imposed on the clerks; and no one ever thought of asking his right or title to the privilege. Some understood hiin to be a celebrity, others a capitalist; all bowed before him. He had a pinch of the best snuff for the treasurer, a delicate piece of flattery for the office clerk, and a princely smile on his lips which the other subalterns could not resist : thus he was at home in the office of every journal.
“But who was this favored personage? No one knew. A certain obscurity hung over his antecedents; and he disappeared one morning without leaving his address. The only relic left was his name, The Greut Nepomucene ; and, after all, was this a real appellation, or a political or literary allusion, a trap set for posterity ? Mystery on inystery; I have no desire to penetrate them. However, if the name could escape memory, the hat would remain; for Nepomucene had a hat as well as Napoleon ; a hat of character, irritating to the sight, and the most aggressive that hand of hatter ever turned out. You might not have known the man, but not to know the hat was impossible. It still lives in the minds of all, with its low crown and its many cornered brim. It will long remain in the memory, an abuse of form, and one of the greatest impertinences of plastic art. So in his hours of pride, Nepomucene called it his monument.
So much for the man. He was not of any journal, but he had the freedom of all : he took special care never to write, but still he gave the tone to those who did. Without him, no great success was pos. sible; he would not suffer it. In the cafés and divans he would explain, on being plied with a few glasses of the right sort, how such and such renowned scribes were indebted to him for their fame ;and by what curious processes he had raised some wretched productions to the skies. Was any eminent writer mentioned in his presence, it is I,' he would say, “who raised him to his present position.' Speak to him of self-wrought reputations, he laughed in his sleeve at the idea ; and when pressed, he would relate, apropos to certain celebrities, bits of scandal that would set a college of bonzes a laughing.”
Being determined on literary rule and influence, he had begun by having the utmost confidence in himself, and thus inspiring it into others : so by degrees, his single admirer enlarged to a full court, and ‘his hat became the centre of opinion. No sooner did he appear in a theatre, than he was surrounded by a group of familiars. In an unsettled questioni, ,
What is the opinion of the Great Nepomucene,' was the first thing asked; and then the lovers of ready-made judgments who
happened to be within bearing of the oracle, propagated the fiat to the long-eared world without.
One day in a select literary re-anion, and in the enjoyment of the agreeable sensations arising from a generous lunch, he was holding forth on the number of successful aspirants whom he had advanced to fame; but he was suddenly taken back by recollection of the only check he had ever received.
"Ah, gentlemen ! you look for excitement in dramas, in romances : here is an occurrence from real life, where the heart left its fragments on the brambles, and shed its life.blood drop by drop along the high way of the world. Alas for the inconsistency of the most philosophical and selfish amongst us! Here am I, an old stager, as sentimental as a gun-flint, and who have assisted with dry eyes, at the most showery melo-dramas, at the most dishevelled hair, and the most gasping agonies of modern art; yet I feel my old eye-lids moisten at the memory of this event; but I was more than an eye. witness, I was a deeply interested personage in the story.
Nothing more simple than the early part of the occurrence : it might be one of Berquin's stories. In the mountains of Quercy, beside Gourdon, and nigh the ruins of a once celebrated abbey, lived a worthy woman, widow of an officer who had perished in the service of his country. She now had but one care and one pleasure, to bring up her son in the esteem of the world, and in the fear of God. Her only fault, if it was one, was looking too high for him: so she spared no expense to give him a suitable education. Her re. sources were limited, a piece of land, and a small pension ; but she multiplied them by economies and, alas ! by privations also. She got him taught Latin, Greek, dancing, fencing, and playing on the violin, so that he might be accomplished as well as learned. . At twelve, he could handle his bow after a fashion, but to secure the accomplishment, his mother had lived for the last nine years on milk and chestnuts.
So our young hero at last returned from Toulouse, invested with the privilege of wearing a robe, and snatching a criminal from the gibbet."
Now that Madame Merinval has her advocate ready made,