Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

a new piece which it was not intended to bring forward for three or four days yet. We, therefore, pray you to accept the exchange.”

The public, to whom a new piece was given instead of an old one, applauded the régisseur magnanimously.

The curtain fell to rise again almost immediately. At this moment, Dejazet was coming down from her dressing-room in the uniform of an Austrian colonel.

Ah! mon Dieu !exclaimed Desforges, a flash of lightning crossing his mind, “what are you going to play?"

“What am I going to play? I play le Fils de l'Homme. Now let me go by, monsieur l'auteur."

Desforges's arms fell by his side. Déjazet was allowed to pass.
The piece met with an enormous success.

The performance over, Desforges had the door opened, by which he could pass from the stage to the theatre; he wished to be the bearer of the news to Eugène Sue.

He bustled in the passage against a gentleman who appeared to be in a great hurry.

This gentleman was Eugène Sue.

Chance had so ordered it that he was in the theatre all the time that Desforges had been behind the scenes.

Instinct of authors, we suppose ; but what night of the seven is not a dramatic author or a dramatic monomaniac at one theatre or another in Paris ?

At this epoch Dr. Sue died, leaving some 23,000 to 24,000 fr. per annum to Eugène Sue. The legacy came in good time, for the 80,000 fr. of his maternal grandfather were nigh expended. Eugène Sue could now live without the aid of literature, but when once one has put on that tunic of Nessus, woven of hope and pride, it is not easily removed from the shoulders. Our author then continued his literary career by “ La Salamandre," still one of his best works; after which appeared “La Coucaratcha," and then “La Vigie de Koat Ven.”

These three or four works at once placed Eugène Sue high among the ranks of modern authors, but they at the same time raised against him that outery of immorality, which he was never able to allay completely. Alexandre Dumas, his biographer, enters at length into the question, on grounds which it is impossible to discuss in these pages. He declares that if Alfred de Musset had a malady of the mind, Eugène Sue suffered from one of the imagination. He believed himself to be depraved ; but whilst Alfred de Musset became un méchant garçon, Eugène Sue always preserved un brave et excellent cæur. It was his diseased imagination that created such characters as Brulard, Pazillo, and Zaffie ; he thought that he could be like them, whilst in reality he did not in the most distant way resemble them. He even took a morbid pleasure in upholding the accusations that were made against him, and systematically persevered, when they had once obtained currency, in giving to them a further consistency. Thus, in his hideous romance of “ Justine," he makes virtue fall and crime triumph, and he excused himself on the plea that if virtue was recompensed here below it would not want to be rewarded in another world. Alexandre Dumas says, in a summary, that he, De Leuven, Ferdinand Langlé, and Eugène Sue himself, used often to talk about this mania of the latter to Mephistophelise himself, and that it made them roar with laughter. Nothing could be less diabolical than this

“gai et charmant garçon.” The proofs that Alexandre gives of his gaiety and talent are unanswerable, but the advocacy of his morality is far less convincing, and the very proofs that he gives to support his view of the matter are not very satisfactory. We must not, however, we suppose, measure Eugène Sue's morality in the scale of a common humanity, but in that of a comparison with the Dumas, the Langlés, the Mussets, the Desforgeses, and his other contemporaries and associates.

In 1834, Eugène Sue brought out the first numbers of a “History of the French Navy.” It was one of his worst works, and was soon discontinued. Eugène Sue's talent was not at all adapted for history, nor even for historical romance. “Jean Cavalier” is a mediocre production, and yet it is the most important of his historical works. “ Le Morne au Diable" is briefer and infinitely better, although the fable that the Duke of Monmouth was so hunchbacked that the executioner had to cut away at him three or four times before he could'separate the head from the body, is totally inadmissible.

During the lapse of the next seven or eight years he published successively, “Deleytar," " Le Marquis de Létorières," " Hercule Hardy," “Le Colonel Surville," " Le Commandeur de Malte,” and “ Paula Monti,” but without any

real success. All this time he lived the life of a grand seigneur. He had a charming house in the Rue de la Pépinière, encumbered with marvels, and which had only one fault, that of resembling a cabinet of curiosities; he had three servants, three horses, three carriages, all kept in the English fashion; he had plate estimated at 100,000 fr.; he gave excellent dinners, and he kept up most expensive female connexions. The consequence was that one fine day he received from his solicitor, in answer to a demand for money, a laconic statement, to the effect that “You have eaten up all your fortune with the exception of 15,000 fr.”

Chance, says Alexandre Dumas, led me to his house that day. We had a piece to do together; he had written to me several times to come to him, and I had come.

He was as a man who was thunderstruck. He related to me very succinctly, however, what had happened to him, adding:

“I will not receive those 15,000 fr.; I will borrow, I will work, and I will give back."

“What are you thinking of, my dear friend ?” I said to him. borrow, the interest of the loan will swallow

up
far more

than

your 15,000 fr." “No," said he; “I have an excellent friend.” “A woman?” “More than a woman—a relation—a very wealthy relative, who will lend me what I want, were it 50,000 fr.”

The next day I returned.
I found him annihilated.

His friend had replied by a refusal, founded on the usual common-places when it is not convenient to do a person a service.

But what was most amusing was the postscript to the letter.

"You talk of going to the country; but do not go before you have presented me to the English ambassador.”

This postscript was the culminating point of poor Eugène's exasperation

“Let them," he exclaimed," say again that I depict society in black colours !"

“ If you

[ocr errors]

The day after, I returned again to see him, not to work, but to see how he was getting on.

He was laid up with a horrible fever. He had been to Chatenay, a little country house of his own, to repose his poor shattered brains on the bosom of a woman whom he loved; but she had heard of his ruin, and had excused herself from meeting him.

The old story! If there is not much morality in the man, there is plenty to be gathered from the progress

of his career. What terrified Eugène Sue most was, not only that there remained only 15,000 fr., but that he found that he was in debt some 30,000. He fell into a deep state of despondency. One good thing resulted from all this evil—the friends of his folly and extravagance disappeared, and real friends alone remained about him. Among these was Ernest Legouvé, “ a clear head, an honest heart, a warm Christian.” Another was Goubaus. And the two friends set nobly to work to arouse the author who had been so suddenly wrecked in the loss of everything-fortune, friends, and love!

Goubaux endeavoured to rouse him by an appeal to glory.

But he, smiling sorrowfully, said: “My dear sir, will you permit me to tell you one thing—it is that I have no talent.”

“What! no talent ?” said Goubaux, surprised.

“Not in the least! I have had some successes, but trifling; nothing that I
have done has been really my work. I have neither style, nor imagination, nor
foundations, nor form; my maritime romances are bad imitations of Cooper, my
historical romances bad imitations of Walter Scott. As to my two or three
theatrical productions, they are not worth mentioning. I have the most de-
plorable way of doing my work : I begin a book without having either a middle
or an end to it-I work from day to day, driving my plough without knowing
even the soil that I turn up. Would you have an example: here are two months
that I have been at work on a new subject-- Arthur'—and I have only been
able to get out two feuilletons for the Presse. I cannot achieve a third. I am
a lost man, M. Goubaux, and if I was not as cowardly as a cow I should blow

brains out.”
"Why,” said Goubaux, " you are even worse than I expected to find you.

I expected to see you doubting others, but I find you also doubting yourself. I will read the two first feuilletons of · Arthur' this evening, and to-morrow I will come and talk to you about them.”

Goubaux returned the next day; he had read the two chapters, and he recommended his dejected friend to continue the work. “Write from your heart,” he said ; " the autopsy of one's own heart is the most curious of all. But, above all, leave Paris-isolate yourself from all interruption.” Eugène Sue took his friend's advice, he went once more to Chatenay, and in three months “ Arthur" was written. Out of the 20,000 fr. he got for it, he paid 6000 fr. or 7000 fr. of debts. One day Goubaux said to him, “ There is one thing in the midst of which you live, and which you do not see, and you do not sympathise with, and that is the people. You have lived long enough with the upper classes, go down now among the people, and try your success." This advice gave birth to “ Mathilde," and to the “ Mystères de Paris,” the latter of which was destined to exercise so great and so unexpected an influence on the fate of its author.

Alexandre Dumas would have us believe that a lady of distinction and intelligence had also something to do in the matter of “ Mathilde” and the “ Mystères de Paris.” It is not for us to determine. More certain

my

it is, that putting on an old turned-off blouse which had belonged to a painter and glazier, with strong shoes, and a cap on his head, and his hands carefully dirtied, he went all alone to dine in a house in the Rue aux Fèves. Chance seconded his objects. He was witness there of a ferocious quarrel, and the actors in the scene supplied him with the types of Fleur-de-Marie and of the Chourineur-"l'homme qui voit rouge,” as Dumas says of him-a creation which may be placed side by side with the finest that have emanated from genius. Eugène Sue returned home and wrote three chapters, and then sent for his friend Goubaux. The third was condemned, it was not in keeping. He next went to his publisher, and agreed to terms for a romance in two volumes. The publisher sold the first copy to the Journal des Débats. Such was its success, that it was agreed that there should be four volumes instead of two, then six, then eight, and finally ten! Hence the weakening, the want of continuity, and even of keeping in the story. Fleur-de-Marie, a fallen woman in the first chapter, becomes a virgin and a martyr in the course of this long and devious story, and, finally, dies a canoness !

As to Eugène Sue, he laughed at it; he thought he had made an admirable social paradox.

But here is a great proof of the goodness that lay at the bottom of Eugène Sue's character. Such was the success of the "Mystères de Paris,” which depicted the sufferings of the lower classes in the most picturesque and striking language, and was supposed to advocate the amelioration of their condition, that scarcely a day passed without his receiving sums of money, varying from one to three hundred francs, for the poor. He added three hundred francs a month to this out of his own purse, and continued to distribute it till his death. From that time, indeed, to his end, he never ceased to love the people, who had been the instruments of his greatest triumph.

In the midst of the surprise which he himself felt at his own success in a new and untried sphere, he was not a little amused by a series of articles which appeared in the phalansterian paper the Démocratie Pacifique, and which represented him to be a great socialist philosopher.

The “ Mystères de Paris," although so successful as to raise its author to the first rank as a romancer, did not do much for him in a pecuniary point of view; the publisher benefited mainly by the success. But Dr. Véron, who had just purchased the expiring Constitutionnel, resolved to revive that paper by means of the new popular author, and he entered into an agreement with him for fifteen years, during which time he was to have 100,000 fr. a year, and in return he was to produce yearly ten volumes!

Following out the new vein so successfully opened in the “ Mystères de Paris," Eugène Sue produced, under this new arrangement, the “ Juif Errant,"

,” “ Martin,” and “ Les Sept Péchés Capitaux." Thanks to the agreement entered into with his old colleague, Dr. Véron, he was enabled

his debts, and even to enjoy some of the luxuries of olden times : he had his house in the Rue de la Pepinière at Paris, and his Château des Bordes.

This château, for the possession of which he has been frequently reproached, was neither more nor less than an old barn at the extremity of

VOL. XLIV.

to pay.

F

the park belonging to the real Château des Bordes, and which

appertained to his brother-in-law, M. Caillard. His relative's residence not being quiet enough for literary work, he had the barn divided into compartments, he added a conservatory, and lo! there was the celebrated Château des Bordes. few vases, a little plate, and a few flowers converted the granary, with the wand of an enchanter, into a little fairy palace.

“ Là, son cæur, usé brisé, desséché par les amours parisiennes, retrouva une certaine fraîcheur; là, l'homme qui, depuis dix ans, n'aimait plus, aima de nouveau !"

Alas, for human frailty, the dried, used-up Eugène Sue was not satisfied with rural tranquillity and literary labour. As he had descended in his romances to the people, so he also made a descent in his amours. He had now his Fleur-de-Marie. But this young person died soon from an accident, having struck her head against a shutter, and the romancer was in despair. Ten years before he would have drowned his grief in dissipation, now he wept; he was so far an altered man. He was, indeed, beloved by all who lived at or near the Bordes. Every day he used to put two horses to a waggon well stowed with straw litter, and with this he used to go and fetch the little children of the neighbourhood, and take them to school, and then fetch them back again. What a strange admixture of practical benevolence and goodness of heart with immorality, the result of bad habits and evil example!

The revolution of 1848 overtook Eugène Sue in his rural retirement. He continued his literary work amidst the shouts of insurrection and the firing of guns till 1850, when he was named representative of the people by the electors of the Seine, without any appeal or interference on his part. But if the revolution brought unsought-for honours and responsibilities, it did not aid the cause of literature. Eugène Sue's subvention was diminished to 7000 fr. instead of 10,000 fr., and the number of volumes to seven. Again, out of these 7000 fr. there was (Alexandre Dumas says he does not know exactly how) 3000 fr. to pay to the publisher. So that, in reality, the new member of parliament had only some 2001. a year in English money. And that when the same authority tells us that literary work was a very difficult thing with Eugène Sue. The Constitutionnel, however, only got four volumes of “ Les Sept Péchés Capitaux” under the new agreement.

In the mean time, the 2nd of December came. Eugène Sue's name was not in the list of the proscribed, but Count d'Orsay, Alexandre Dumas tells

us, our common friend, advised him to expatriate himself voluntarily."

Eugène Sue followed the advice tendered, and withdrew to Annecy, in Savoy, where he had a friend named Massey. At first he lived with this friend, but a little châlet being to let on the borders of the lake, he rented it for four hundred francs a year.

When Eugène Sue left Paris, he also left behind him some 100,000 fr. of debt. At Annecy he made a new arrangement with Massey. The latter agreed to pay his debts and allow him 10,000 fr. (4001.) a year till he was repaid; when that was done, a surplus of 10,000 fr. should be placed to his credit in the bank of Annecy. So hard did he work, that

1

1

« ПредишнаНапред »