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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBouvard And Pecuchet: A Tragi-comic Novel Of Bourgeois Life - Chapter 5. Romance And The Drama
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Bouvard And Pecuchet: A Tragi-comic Novel Of Bourgeois Life - Chapter 5. Romance And The Drama Post by :clov78 Category :Long Stories Author :Gustave Flaubert Date :May 2012 Read :2538

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Bouvard And Pecuchet: A Tragi-comic Novel Of Bourgeois Life - Chapter 5. Romance And The Drama

CHAPTER V. ROMANCE AND THE DRAMA

They first read Walter Scott.

It was like the surprise of a new world.

The men of the past who had for them been only phantoms or names, became living beings, kings, princes, wizards, footmen, gamekeepers, monks, gipsies, merchants, and soldiers, who deliberate, fight, travel, trade, eat and drink, sing and pray, in the armouries of castles, on the blackened benches of inns, in the winding streets of cities, under the sloping roofs of booths, in the cloisters of monasteries. Landscapes artistically arranged formed backgrounds for the narratives, like the scenery of a theatre. You follow with your eyes a horseman galloping along the strand; you breathe amid the heather the freshness of the wind; the moon shines on the lake, over which a boat is skimming; the sun glitters on the breast-plates; the rain falls over leafy huts. Without having any knowledge of the models, they thought these pictures lifelike and the illusion was complete.

And so the winter was spent.

When they had breakfasted, they would instal themselves in the little room, one at each side of the chimney-piece, and, facing each other, book in hand, they would begin to read in silence. When the day wore apace, they would go out for a walk along the road, then, having snatched a hurried dinner, they would resume their reading far into the night. In order to protect himself from the lamp, Bouvard wore blue spectacles, while Pecuchet kept the peak of his cap drawn over his forehead.

Germaine had not gone, and Gorju now and again came to dig in the garden; for they had yielded through indifference, forgetful of material things.

After Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas diverted them after the fashion of a magic-lantern. His personages, active as apes, strong as bulls, gay as chaffinches, enter on the scene and talk abruptly, jump off roofs to the pavement, receive frightful wounds from which they recover, are believed to be dead, and yet reappear. There are trap-doors under the boards, antidotes, disguises; and all things get entangled, hurry along, and are finally unravelled without a minute for reflection. Love observes the proprieties, fanaticism is cheerful, and massacres excite a smile.

Rendered hard to please by these two masters, they could not tolerate the balderdash of the _Belisaraire_, the foolery of the _Numa Pompilius_, of Marchangy, and Vicomte d'Arlincourt. The colouring of Frederic Soulie (like that of the book-lover Jacob) appeared to them insufficient; and M. Villemain scandalised them by showing at page 85 of his _Lascaris_, a Spaniard smoking a pipe--a long Arab pipe--in the middle of the fifteenth century.

Pecuchet consulted the _Biographie Universelle_, and undertook to revise Dumas from the point of view of science.

The author in _Les Deux Dianes makes a mistake with regard to dates. The marriage of the Dauphin, Francis, took place on the 15th of October, 1548, and not on the 20th of May, 1549. How does he know (see _Le Page du Duc de Savoie_) that Catherine de Medicis, after her husband's death, wished to resume the war? It is not very probable that the Duke of Anjou was crowned at night in a church, an episode which adorns _La Dame de Montsoreau_. _La Reine Margot especially swarms with errors. The Duke of Nevers was not absent. He gave his opinion at the council before the feast of St. Bartholomew, and Henry of Navarre did not follow the procession four days after. Henry III. did not come back from Poland so quickly. Besides, how many flimsy devices! The miracle of the hawthorn, the balcony of Charles IX., the poisoned glass of Jeanne d'Albret--Pecuchet no longer had any confidence in Dumas.

He even lost all respect for Walter Scott on account of the oversights in his _Quentin Durward_. The murder of the Archbishop of Liege is anticipated by fifteen years. The wife of Robert de Lamarck was Jeanne d'Arschel and not Hameline de Croy. Far from being killed by a soldier, he was put to death by Maximilian; and the face of Temeraire, when his corpse was found, did not express any menace, inasmuch as the wolves had half devoured it.

None the less, Bouvard went on with Walter Scott, but ended by getting weary of the repetition of the same effects. The heroine usually lives in the country with her father, and the lover, a plundered heir, is re-established in his rights and triumphs over his rivals. There are always a mendicant philosopher, a morose nobleman, pure young girls, facetious retainers, and interminable dialogues, stupid prudishness, and an utter absence of depth.

In his dislike to bric-a-brac, Bouvard took up George Sand.

He went into raptures over the beautiful adulteresses and noble lovers, would have liked to be Jacques, Simon, Lelio, and to have lived in Venice. He uttered sighs, did not know what was the matter with him, and felt himself changed.

Pecuchet, who was working up historical literature studied plays. He swallowed two _Pharamonds_, three _Clovises_, four _Charlemagnes_, several _Philip Augustuses_, a crowd of _Joan of Arcs_, many _Marquises de Pompadours_, and some _Conspiracies of Cellamare_.

Nearly all of them appeared still more stupid than the romances. For there exists for the stage a conventional history which nothing can destroy. Louis XI. will not fail to kneel before the little images in his hat; Henry IV. will be constantly jovial, Mary Stuart tearful, Richelieu cruel; in short, all the characters seem taken from a single block, from love of simplicity and regard for ignorance, so that the playwright, far from elevating, lowers, and, instead of instructing, stupefies.

As Bouvard had spoken eulogistically to him about George Sand, Pecuchet proceeded to read _Consuelo_, _Horace_, and _Mauprat_, was beguiled by the author's vindication of the oppressed, the socialistic and republican aspect of her works, and the discussions contained in them.

According to Bouvard, however, these elements spoiled the story, and he asked for love-tales at the circulating library.

They read aloud, one after the other, _La Nouvelle Heloise_, _Delphine_, _Adolphe_, and _Ourika_. But the listener's yawns proved contagious, for the book slipped out of the reader's hand to the floor.

They found fault with the last-mentioned works for making no reference to the environment, the period, the costume of the various personages. The heart alone is the theme--nothing but sentiment! as if there were nothing else in the world.

They next went in for novels of the humorous order, such as the _Voyage autour de ma Chambre_, by Xavier de Maistre, and _Sous les Tilleuls_, by Alphonse Karr. In books of this description the author must interrupt the narrative in order to talk about his dog, his slippers, or his mistress.

A style so free from formality charmed them at first, then appeared stupid to them, for the author effaces his work while displaying in it his personal surroundings.

Through need of the dramatic element, they plunged into romances of adventure. The more entangled, extraordinary, and impossible the plot was, the more it interested them. They did their best to foresee the _denouement_, became very excited over it, and tired themselves out with a piece of child's play unworthy of serious minds.

The work of Balzac amazed them like a Babylon, and at the same time like grains of dust under the microscope.

In the most commonplace things arise new aspects. They never suspected that there were such depths in modern life.

"What an observer!" exclaimed Bouvard.

"For my part I consider him chimerical," Pecuchet ended by declaring. "He believes in the occult sciences, in monarchy, in rank; is dazzled by rascals; turns up millions for you like centimes; and middle-class people are not with him middle-class people at all, but giants. Why inflate what is unimportant, and waste description on silly things? He wrote one novel on chemistry, another on banking, another on printing-machines, just as one Ricard produced _The Cabman_, _The Water-Carrier and _The Cocoa-Nut Seller_. We should soon have books on every trade and on every province; then on every town and on the different stories of every house, and on every individual--which would be no longer literature but statistics or ethnography."

The process was of little consequence in Bouvard's estimation. He wanted to get information--to acquire a deeper knowledge of human nature. He read Paul de Kock again, and ran through the _Old Hermits of the Chaussee d'Antin_.

"Why lose one's time with such absurdities?" said Pecuchet.

"But they might be very interesting as a series of documents."

"Go away with your documents! I want something to lift me up, and take me away from the miseries of this world."

And Pecuchet, craving for the ideal, led Bouvard unconsciously towards tragedy.

The far-off times in which the action takes place, the interests with which it is concerned, and the high station of its leading personages impressed them with a certain sense of grandeur.

One day Bouvard took up _Athalie_, and recited the dream so well that Pecuchet wished to attempt it in his turn. From the opening sentence his voice got lost in a sort of humming sound. It was monotonous and, though strong, indistinct.

Bouvard, full of experience, advised him, in order to render it well-modulated, to roll it out from the lowest tone to the highest, and to draw it back by making use of an ascending and descending scale; and he himself went through this exercise every morning in bed, according to the precept of the Greeks. Pecuchet, at the time mentioned, worked in the same fashion: each had his door closed, and they went on bawling separately.

The features that pleased them in tragedy were the emphasis, the political declamations, and the maxims on the perversity of things.

They learned by heart the most celebrated dialogues of Racine and Voltaire, and they used to declaim them in the corridor. Bouvard, as if he were at the Theatre Francais, strutted, with his hand on Pecuchet's shoulder, stopping at intervals; and, with rolling eyes, he would open wide his arms, and accuse the Fates. He would give forth fine bursts of grief from the _Philoctete of La Harpe, a nice death-rattle from _Gabrielle de Vergy_, and, when he played Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, the way in which he represented that personage gazing at his son while exclaiming, "Monster, worthy of me!" was indeed terrible. Pecuchet forgot his part in it. The ability, and not the will, was what he lacked.

On one occasion, in the _Cleopatre of Marmontel, he fancied that he could reproduce the hissing of the asp, just as the automaton invented for the purpose by Vaucanson might have done it. The abortive effort made them laugh all the evening. The tragedy sank in their estimation.

Bouvard was the first to grow tired of it, and, dealing frankly with the subject, demonstrated how artificial and limping it was, the silliness of its incidents, and the absurdity of the disclosures made to confidants.

They then went in for comedy, which is the school for fine shading. Every sentence must be dislocated, every word must be underlined, and every syllable must be weighed. Pecuchet could not manage it, and got quite stranded in _Celimene_. Moreover, he thought the lovers very cold, the disputes a bore, and the valets intolerable--Clitandre and Sganarelle as unreal as AEgistheus and Agamemnon.

There remained the serious comedy or tragedy of everyday life, where we see fathers of families afflicted, servants saving their masters, rich men offering others their fortunes, innocent seamstresses and villainous corrupters, a species which extends from Diderot to Pixerecourt. All these plays preaching about virtue disgusted them by their triviality.

The drama of 1830 fascinated them by its movement, its colouring, its youthfulness. They made scarcely any distinction between Victor Hugo, Dumas, or Bouchardy, and the diction was no longer to be pompous or fine, but lyrical, extravagant.

One day, as Bouvard was trying to make Pecuchet understand Frederic Lemaitre's acting, Madame Bordin suddenly presented herself in a green shawl, carrying with her a volume of Pigault-Lebrun, the two gentlemen being so polite as to lend her novels now and then.

"But go on!" for she had been a minute there already, and had listened to them with pleasure.

They hoped she would excuse them. She insisted.

"Faith!" said Bouvard, "there's nothing to prevent----"

Pecuchet, through bashfulness, remarked that he could not act unprepared and without costume.

"To do it effectively, we should need to disguise ourselves!"

And Bouvard looked about for something to put on, but found only the Greek cap, which he snatched up.

As the corridor was not big enough, they went down to the drawing-room. Spiders crawled along the walls, and the geological specimens that encumbered the floor had whitened with their dust the velvet of the armchairs. On the chair which had least dirt on it they spread a cover, so that Madame Bordin might sit down.

It was necessary to give her something good.

Bouvard was in favour of the _Tour de Nesle_. But Pecuchet was afraid of parts which called for too much action.

"She would prefer some classical piece! _Phedre_, for instance."

"Be it so."

Bouvard set forth the theme: "It is about a queen whose husband has a son by another wife. She has fallen madly in love with the young man. Are we there? Start!


"'Yes, prince! for Theseus I grow faint, I burn--
I love him!'"(9)



FOOTNOTE: (9)
_Oui, prince, je languis, je brule pour Thesee--
Je l'aime!_


And, addressing Pecuchet's side-face, he gushed out admiration of his port, his visage, "that charming head"; grieved at not having met him with the Greek fleet; would have gladly been lost with him in the labyrinth.

The border of the red cap bent forward amorously, and his trembling voice and his appealing face begged of the cruel one to take pity on a hopeless flame.

Pecuchet, turning aside, breathed hard to emphasise his emotion.

Madame Bordin, without moving, kept her eyes wide open, as if gazing at people whirling round; Melie was listening behind the door; Gorju, in his shirt-sleeves, was staring at them through the window. Bouvard made a dash into the second part. His acting gave expression to the delirium of the senses, remorse, despair; and he flung himself on the imaginary sword of Pecuchet with such violence that, slipping over some of the stone specimens, he was near tumbling on the ground.

"Pay no attention! Then Theseus arrives, and she poisons herself."

"Poor woman!" said Madame Bordin.

After this they begged of her to choose a piece for them.

She felt perplexed about making a selection. She had seen only three pieces: _Robert le Diable in the capital, _Le Jeune Mari at Rouen, and another at Falaise which was very funny, and which was called _La Brouette du Vinaigrier_.(10)


FOOTNOTE: (10) The Vinegar Merchant's Wheelbarrow.


Finally, Bouvard suggested to her the great scene of Tartuffe in the second act.

Pecuchet thought an explanation was desirable:

"You must know that Tartuffe----"

Madame Bordin interrupted him: "We know what a Tartuffe is."

Bouvard had wished for a robe for a certain passage.

"I see only the monk's habit," said Pecuchet.

"No matter; bring it here."

He reappeared with it and a copy of Moliere.

The opening was tame, but at the place where Tartuffe caresses Elmire's knees, Pecuchet assumed the tone of a gendarme:

"_What is your hand doing there?_"

Bouvard instantly replied in a sugary voice:

"_I am feeling your dress; the stuff of it is marrowy._"

And he shot forth glances from his eyes, bent forward his mouth, sniffed with an exceedingly lecherous air, and ended by even addressing himself to Madame Bordin.

His impassioned gaze embarrassed her, and when he stopped, humble and palpitating, she almost sought for something to say in reply.

Pecuchet took refuge in the book: "_The declaration is quite gallant._"

"Ha! yes," cried she; "he is a bold wheedler."

"Is it not so?" returned Bouvard confidently. "But here's another with a more modern touch about it." And, having opened his coat, he squatted over a piece of ashlar, and, with his head thrown back, burst forth:


"Your eyes' bright flame my vision floods with joy.
Sing me some song like those, in bygone years,
You sang at eve, your dark eye filled with tears."(11)

"That is like me," she thought.

"Drink and be merry! let the wine-cup flow:
Give me this hour, and all the rest may go!"(12)


"How droll you are!" And she laughed with a little laugh, which made her throat rise up, and exposed her teeth.


"Ah! say, is it not sweet
To love and see your lover at your feet?"(13)

He knelt down.

"Finish, then."

"'Oh! let me sleep and dream upon thy breast,
My beauty, Dona Sol, my love!'(14)



FOOTNOTE: (11)
_Des flammes de les yeux inonde ma paupiere.
Chante-moi quelque chant, comme parfois, le soir,
Tu m'en chantais, avec des pleurs dans ton oeil noir._



FOOTNOTE: (12)
_Soyons heureux! buvons! car la coupe est remplie,
Car cette heure est a moi, et le reste est folie!_



FOOTNOTE: (13)
_N'est-ce pas qu'il est doux
D'aimer, et savoir qu'on vous aime a genoux?_



FOOTNOTE: (14)
_Oh! laisse-moi dormir et rever sur ton sein,
Dona Sol, ma beaute, mon amour!_


"Here the bells are heard, and they are disturbed by a mountaineer."

"Fortunately; for, but for that----" And Madame Bordin smiled, in place of finishing the sentence.

It was getting dark. She arose.

It had been raining a short time before, and the path through the beech grove not being dry enough, it was more convenient to return across the fields. Bouvard accompanied her into the garden, in order to open the gate for her.

At first they walked past the trees cut like distaffs, without a word being spoken on either side. He was still moved by his declamation, and she, at the bottom of her heart, felt a certain kind of fascination, a charm which was generated by the influence of literature. There are occasions when art excites commonplace natures; and worlds may be unveiled by the clumsiest interpreters.

The sun had reappeared, making the leaves glisten, and casting luminous spots here and there amongst the brakes. Three sparrows with little chirpings hopped on the trunk of an old linden tree which had fallen to the ground. A hawthorn in blossom exhibited its pink sheath; lilacs drooped, borne down by their foliage.

"Ah! that does one good!" said Bouvard, inhaling the air till it filled his lungs.

"You are so painstaking."

"It is not that I have talent; but as for fire, I possess some of that."

"One can see," she returned, pausing between the words, "that you--were in love--in your early days."

"Only in my early days, you believe?"

She stopped. "I know nothing about it."

"What does she mean?" And Bouvard felt his heart beating.

A little pool in the middle of the gravel obliging them to step aside, they got up on the hedgerow.

Then they chatted about the recital.

"What is the name of your last piece?"

"It is taken from _Hernani_, a drama."

"Ha!" then slowly and as if in soliloquy, "it must be nice to have a gentleman say such things to you--in downright earnest."

"I am at your service," replied Bouvard.

"You?"

"Yes, I."

"What a joke!"

"Not the least in the world!"

And, having cast a look about him, he caught her from behind round the waist and kissed the nape of her neck vigorously.

She became very pale as if she were going to faint, and leaned one hand against a tree, then opened her eyes and shook her head.

"It is past."

He looked at her in amazement.

The grating being open, she got up on the threshold of the little gateway.

There was a water-channel at the opposite side. She gathered up all the folds of her petticoat and stood on the brink hesitatingly.

"Do you want my assistance?"

"Unnecessary."

"Why not?"

"Ha! you are too dangerous!" And as she jumped down, he could see her white stocking.

Bouvard blamed himself for having wasted an opportunity. Bah! he should have one again--and then not all women are alike. With some of them you must be blunt, while audacity destroys you with others. In short, he was satisfied with himself--and he did not confide his hope to Pecuchet; this was through fear of the remarks that would be passed, and not at all through delicacy.

From that time forth they used to recite in the presence of Melie and Gorju, all the time regretting that they had not a private theatre.

The little servant-girl was amused without understanding a bit of it, wondering at the language, charmed at the roll of the verses. Gorju applauded the philosophic passages in the tragedies, and everything in the people's favour in the melodramas, so that, delighted at his good taste, they thought of giving him lessons, with a view to making an actor of him subsequently. This prospect dazzled the workman.

Their performances by this time became the subject of general gossip. Vaucorbeil spoke to them about the matter in a sly fashion. Most people regarded their acting with contempt.

They only prided themselves the more upon it. They crowned themselves artists. Pecuchet wore moustaches, and Bouvard thought he could not do anything better, with his round face and his bald patch, than to give himself a head _a la Beranger. Finally, they determined to write a play.

The subject was the difficulty. They searched for it while they were at breakfast, and drank coffee, a stimulant indispensable for the brain, then two or three little glasses. They would next take a nap on their beds, after which they would make their way down to the fruit garden and take a turn there; and at length they would leave the house to find inspiration outside, and, after walking side by side, they would come back quite worn out.

Or else they would shut themselves up together. Bouvard would sweep the table, lay down paper in front of him, dip his pen, and remain with his eyes on the ceiling; whilst Pecuchet, in the armchair, would be plunged in meditation, with his legs stretched out and his head down.

Sometimes they felt a shivering sensation, and, as it were, the passing breath of an idea, but at the very moment when they were seizing it, it had vanished.

But methods exist for discovering subjects. You take a title at random, and a fact trickles out of it. You develop a proverb; you combine a number of adventures so as to form only one. None of these devices came to anything. In vain they ran through collections of anecdotes, several volumes of celebrated trials, and a heap of historical works.

And they dreamed of being acted at the Odeon, had their thoughts fixed on theatrical performances, and sighed for Paris.

"I was born to be an author instead of being buried in the country!" said Bouvard.

"And I likewise," chimed in Pecuchet.

Then came an illumination to their minds. If they had so much trouble about it, the reason was their ignorance of the rules.

They studied them in the _Pratique du Theatre_, by D'Aubignac, and in some works not quite so old-fashioned.

Important questions are discussed in them: Whether comedy can be written in verse; whether tragedy does not go outside its limits by taking its subject from modern history; whether the heroes ought to be virtuous; what kinds of villains it allows; up to what point horrors are permissible in it; that the details should verge towards a single end; that the interest should increase; that the conclusion should harmonise with the opening--these were unquestionable propositions.


"Invent resorts that can take hold of me,"

says Boileau. By what means were they to "invent resorts?"

"So that in all your speeches passion's dart
May penetrate, and warm, and move the heart."(15)



FOOTNOTE: (15)
_Que dans tous vos discours la passion emue
Aille chercher le coeur, l'echauffe et le remue._


How were they to "warm the heart?"

Rules, therefore, were not sufficient; there was need, in addition, for genius. And genius is not sufficient either. Corneille, according to the French Academy, understands nothing about the stage; Geoffroy disparaged Voltaire; Souligny scoffed at Racine; La Harpe blushed at Shakespeare's name.

Becoming disgusted with the old criticism, they wished to make acquaintance with the new, and sent for the notices of plays in the newspapers.

What assurance! What obstinacy! What dishonesty! Outrages on masterpieces; respect shown for platitudes; the gross ignorance of those who pass for scholars, and the stupidity of others whom they describe as witty.

Perhaps it is to the public that one must appeal.

But works that have been applauded sometimes displeased them, and amongst plays that were hissed there were some that they admired.

Thus the opinions of persons of taste are unreliable, while the judgment of the multitude is incomprehensible.

Bouvard submitted the problem to Barberou. Pecuchet, on his side, wrote to Dumouchel.

The ex-commercial traveller was astonished at the effeminacy engendered by provincial life. His old Bouvard was turning into a blockhead; in short, "he was no longer in it at all."

"The theatre is an article of consumption like any other. It is advertised in the newspapers. We go to the theatre to be amused. The good thing is the thing that amuses."

"But, idiot," exclaimed Pecuchet, "what amuses you is not what amuses me; and the others, as well as yourself, will be weary of it by and by. If plays are written expressly to be acted, how is it that the best of them can be always read?"

And he awaited Dumouchel's reply. According to the professor, the immediate fate of a play proved nothing. The _Misanthrope and _Athalie are dying out. _Zaire is no longer understood. Who speaks to-day of Ducange or of Picard? And he recalled all the great contemporary successes from _Fanchon la Vielleuse to _Gaspardo le Pecheur_, and deplored the decline of our stage. The cause of it is the contempt for literature, or rather for style; and, with the aid of certain authors mentioned by Dumouchel, they learned the secret of the various styles; how we get the majestic, the temperate, the ingenuous, the touches that are noble and the expressions that are low. "Dogs" may be heightened by "devouring"; "to vomit" is to be used only figuratively; "fever" is applied to the passions; "valiance" is beautiful in verse.

"Suppose we made verses?" said Pecuchet.

"Yes, later. Let us occupy ourselves with prose first."

A strict recommendation is given to choose a classic in order to mould yourself upon it; but all of them have their dangers, and not only have they sinned in point of style, but still more in point of phraseology.

This assertion disconcerted Bouvard and Pecuchet, and they set about studying grammar.

Has the French language, in its idiomatic structure definite articles and indefinite, as in Latin? Some think that it has, others that it has not. They did not venture to decide.

The subject is always in agreement with the verb, save on the occasions when the subject is not in agreement with it.

There was formerly no distinction between the verbal adjective and the present participle; but the Academy lays down one not very easy to grasp.

They were much pleased to learn that the pronoun _leur is used for persons, but also for things, while _ou and _en are used for things and sometimes for persons.

Ought we to say _Cette femme a l'air bon or _l'air bonne_?--_une buche de bois sec_, or _de bois seche_?--_ne pas laisser de_, or _que de_?--_une troupe de voleurs survint_, or _survinrent_?

Other difficulties: _Autour and _a l'entour of which Racine and Boileau did not see the difference; _imposer_, or _en imposer_, synonyms with Massillon and Voltaire; _croasser and _coasser_, confounded by La Fontaine, who knew, however, how to distinguish a crow from a frog.

The grammarians, it is true, are at variance. Some see a beauty where others discover a fault. They admit principles of which they reject the consequences, announce consequences of which they repudiate the principles, lean on tradition, throw over the masters, and adopt whimsical refinements.

Menage, instead of _lentilles and _cassonade_, approves of _nentilles and _castonade_; Bonhours, _jerarchie and not _hierarchie and M. Chapsal speaks of _les oeils de la soupe_.

Pecuchet was amazed above all at Jenin. What! _z'annetons would be better than _hannetons_, _z'aricots than _haricots_! and, under Louis XIV., the pronunciation was _Roume and _Monsieur de Lioune_, instead of _Rome and _Monsieur de Lionne_!

Littre gave them the finishing stroke by declaring that there never had been, and never could be positive orthography. They concluded that syntax is a whim and grammar an illusion.

At this period, moreover, a new school of rhetoric declared that we should write as we speak, and that all would be well so long as we felt and observed.

As they had felt and believed that they had observed, they considered themselves qualified to write. A play is troublesome on account of the narrowness of its framework, but the novel has more freedom. In order to write one they searched among their personal recollections.

Pecuchet recalled to mind one of the head-clerks in his own office, a very nasty customer, and he felt a longing to take revenge on him by means of a book.

Bouvard had, at the smoking saloon, made the acquaintance of an old writing-master, who was a miserable drunkard. Nothing could be so ludicrous as this character.

At the end of the week, they imagined that they could fuse these two subjects into one. They left off there, and passed on to the following: a woman who causes the unhappiness of a family; a wife, her husband, and her lover; a woman who would be virtuous through a defect in her conformation; an ambitious man; a bad priest. They tried to bind together with these vague conceptions things supplied by their memory, and then made abridgments or additions.

Pecuchet was for sentiment and ideality, Bouvard for imagery and colouring; and they began to understand each other no longer, each wondering that the other should be so shallow.

The science which is known as aesthetics would perhaps settle their differences. A friend of Dumouchel, a professor of philosophy, sent them a list of works on the subject. They worked separately and communicated their ideas to one another.

In the first place, what is the Beautiful?

For Schelling, it is the infinite expressing itself through the finite; for Reid, an occult quality; for Jouffroy, an indecomposable fact; for De Maistre, that which is pleasing to virtue; for P. Andre, that which agrees with reason.

And there are many kinds of beauty: a beauty in the sciences--geometry is beautiful; a beauty in morals--it cannot be denied that the death of Socrates was beautiful; a beauty in the animal kingdom--the beauty of the dog consists in his sense of smell. A pig could not be beautiful, having regard to his dirty habits; no more could a serpent, for it awakens in us ideas of vileness. The flowers, the butterflies, the birds may be beautiful. Finally, the first condition of beauty is unity in variety: there is the principle.

"Yet," said Bouvard, "two squint eyes are more varied than two straight eyes, and produce an effect which is not so good--as a rule."

They entered upon the question of the Sublime.

Certain objects are sublime in themselves: the noise of a torrent, profound darkness, a tree flung down by the storm. A character is beautiful when it triumphs, and sublime when it struggles.

"I understand," said Bouvard; "the Beautiful is the beautiful, and the Sublime the very beautiful."

But how were they to be distinguished?

"By means of tact," answered Pecuchet.

"And tact--where does that come from?"

"From taste."

"What is taste?"

It is defined as a special discernment, a rapid judgment, the power of distinguishing certain relationships.

"In short, taste is taste; but all that does not tell the way to have it."

It is necessary to observe the proprieties. But the proprieties vary; and, let a work be ever so beautiful, it will not be always irreproachable. There is, however, a beauty which is indestructible, and of whose laws we are ignorant, for its genesis is mysterious.

Since an idea cannot be interpreted in every form, we ought to recognise limits amongst the arts, and in each of the arts many forms; but combinations arise in which the style of one will enter into another without the ill result of deviating from the end--of not being true.

The too rigid application of truth is hurtful to beauty, and preoccupation with beauty impedes truth. However, without an ideal there is no truth; this is why types are of a more continuous reality than portraits. Art, besides, only aims at verisimilitude; but verisimilitude depends on the observer, and is a relative and transitory thing.

So they got lost in discussions. Bouvard believed less and less in aesthetics.

"If it is not a humbug, its correctness will be demonstrated by examples. Now listen."

And he read a note which had called for much research on his part:

"'Bouhours accuses Tacitus of not having the simplicity which history demands. M. Droz, a professor, blames Shakespeare for his mixture of the serious and the comic. Nisard, another professor, thinks that Andre Chenier is, as a poet, beneath the seventeenth century. Blair, an Englishman, finds fault with the picture of the harpies in Virgil. Marmontel groans over the liberties taken by Homer. Lamotte does not admit the immortality of his heroes. Vida is indignant at his similes. In short, all the makers of rhetorics, poetics, and aesthetics, appear to me idiots."

"You are exaggerating," said Pecuchet.

He was disturbed by doubts; for, if (as Longinus observes) ordinary minds are incapable of faults, the faults must be associated with the masters, and we are bound to admire them. This is going too far. However, the masters are the masters. He would have liked to make the doctrines harmonise with the works, the critics with the poets, to grasp the essence of the Beautiful; and these questions exercised him so much that his bile was stirred up. He got a jaundice from it.

It was at its crisis when Marianne, Madame Bordin's cook, came with a request from her mistress for an interview with Bouvard.

The widow had not made her appearance since the dramatic performance. Was this an advance? But why should she employ Marianne as an intermediary? And all night Bouvard's imagination wandered.

Next day, about two o'clock, he was walking in the corridor, and glancing out through the window from time to time. The door-bell rang. It was the notary.

He crossed the threshold, ascended the staircase, and seated himself in the armchair, and, after a preliminary exchange of courtesies, said that, tired of waiting for Madame Bordin, he had started before her. She wished to buy the Ecalles from him.

Bouvard experienced a kind of chilling sensation, and he hurried towards Pecuchet's room.

Pecuchet did not know what reply to make. He was in an anxious frame of mind, as M. Vaucorbeil was to be there presently.

At length Madame Bordin arrived. The delay was explained by the manifest attention she had given to her toilette, which consisted of a cashmere frock, a hat, and fine kid gloves--a costume befitting a serious occasion.

After much frivolous preliminary talk she asked whether a thousand crown-pieces would not be sufficient.

"One acre! A thousand crown-pieces! Never!"

She half closed her eyes. "Oh! for me!"

And all three remained silent.

M. de Faverges entered. He had a morocco case under his arm, like a solicitor; and, depositing it on the table, said:

"These are pamphlets! They deal with reform--a burning question; but here is a thing which no doubt belongs to you."

And he handed Bouvard the second volume of the _Memoires du Diable_.

Melie, just now, had been reading it in the kitchen; and, as one ought to watch over the morals of persons of that class, he thought he was doing the right thing in confiscating the book.

Bouvard had lent it to his servant-maid. They chatted about novels. Madame Bordin liked them when they were not dismal.

"Writers," said M. de Faverges, "paint life in colours that are too flattering."

"It is necessary to paint," urged Bouvard.

"Then nothing can be done save to follow the example."

"It is not a question of example."

"At least, you will admit that they might fall into the hands of a young daughter. I have one."

"And a charming one!" said the notary, with the expression of countenance he wore on the days of marriage contracts.

"Well, for her sake, or rather for that of the persons that surround her, I prohibit them in my house, for the people, my dear sir----"

"What have the people done?" said Vaucorbeil, appearing suddenly at the door.

Pecuchet, who had recognised his voice, came to mingle with the company.

"I maintain," returned the count, "that it is necessary to prevent them from reading certain books."

Vaucorbeil observed: "Then you are not in favour of education?"

"Yes, certainly. Allow me----"

"When every day," said Marescot, "an attack is made on the government."

"Where's the harm?"

And the nobleman and the physician proceeded to disparage Louis Philippe, recalling the Pritchard case, and the September laws against the liberty of the press:

"And that of the stage," added Pecuchet.

Marescot could stand this no longer.

"It goes too far, this stage of yours!"

"That I grant you," said the count--"plays that glorify suicide."

"Suicide is a fine thing! Witness Cato," protested Pecuchet.

Without replying to the argument, M. de Faverges stigmatised those works in which the holiest things are scoffed at: the family, property, marriage.

"Well, and Moliere?" said Bouvard.

Marescot, a man of literary taste, retorted that Moliere would not pass muster any longer, and was, furthermore, a little overrated.

"Finally," said the count, "Victor Hugo has been pitiless--yes, pitiless--towards Marie Antoinette, by dragging over the hurdle the type of the Queen in the character of Mary Tudor."

"What!" exclaimed Bouvard, "I, an author, I have no right----"

"No, sir, you have no right to show us crime without putting beside it a corrective--without presenting to us a lesson."

Vaucorbeil thought also that art ought to have an object--to aim at the improvement of the masses. "Let us chant science, our discoveries, patriotism," and he broke into admiration of Casimir Delavigne.

Madame Bordin praised the Marquis de Foudras.

The notary replied: "But the language--are you thinking of that?"

"The language? How?"

"He refers to the style," said Pecuchet. "Do you consider his works well written?"

"No doubt, exceedingly interesting."

He shrugged his shoulders, and she blushed at the impertinence.

Madame Bordin had several times attempted to come back to her own business transaction. It was too late to conclude it. She went off on Marescot's arm.

The count distributed his pamphlets, requesting them to hand them round to other people.

Vaucorbeil was leaving, when Pecuchet stopped him.

"You are forgetting me, doctor."

His yellow physiognomy was pitiable, with his moustaches and his black hair, which was hanging down under a silk handkerchief badly fastened.

"Purge yourself," said the doctor. And, giving him two little slaps as if to a child: "Too much nerves, too much artist!"

"No, surely!"

They summed up what they had just heard. The morality of art is contained for every person in that which flatters that person's interests. No one has any love for literature.

After this they turned over the count's pamphlets.

They found in all of a demand for universal suffrage.

"It seems to me," said Pecuchet, "that we shall soon have some squabbling."

For he saw everything in dark colours, perhaps on account of his jaundice.

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