GEORGE BURNHAM IVES
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
IN TWO VOLUMES
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
By Little, Brown, and Company.
All rights reserved.
John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE TO FRENCH EDITION
We have been informed that at the time of the publication of The Nabob in serial form, the government of Tunis was offended at the introduction therein of individuals whom the author dressed in names and costumes peculiar to that country. We are authorized by M. Alphonse Daudet to declare that those scenes in the book which relate to Tunis are entirely imaginary, and that he never intended to introduce any of the functionaries of that state.
Alphonse Daudet is one of the most richly gifted of modern French novelists and one of the most artistic; he is perhaps the most delightful; and he is certainly the most fortunate. In his own country earlier than any of his contemporaries he saw his stories attain to the very wide circulation that brings both celebrity and wealth. Beyond the borders of his own language he swiftly won a popularity both with the broad public and with the professed critics of literature, second only to that of Victor Hugo and still surpassing that of Balzac, who is only of late beginning to receive from us the attention he has so long deserved.
Daudet has had the rare luck of pleasing partisans of almost every school; the realists have joyed in his work and so have the romanticists; his writings have found favor in the eyes of the frank impressionists and also at the hands of the severer custodians of academic standards. Mr. Henry James has declared that Daudet is "at the head of his profession" and has called him "an admirable genius." Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson thought Daudet "incomparably" the best of the present French novelists and asserted that "Kings in Exile" comes "very near to being a masterpiece." M. Jules Lemaitre tells us that Daudet "trails all hearts after him,—because he has charm, as indefinable in a work of art as in a woman's face." M. Ferdinand Brunetière, who has scant relish for latter-day methods in literature, admits ungrudgingly that "there are certain corners of the great city and certain aspects of Parisian manners, there are some physiognomies that perhaps no one has been able to render so well as Daudet, with that infinitely subtle and patient art which succeeds in giving even to inanimate things the appearance of life."
The documents are abundant for an analysis of Daudet such as Sainte-Beuve would have undertaken with avidity; they are more abundant indeed than for any other contemporary French man of letters even in these days of unhesitating self-revelation; and they are also of an absolutely impregnable authenticity. M. Ernest Daudet has written a whole volume to tell us all about his brother's boyhood and youth and early manhood and first steps in literature. M. Léon Daudet has written another solid tome to tell us all about his father's literary principles and family life and later years and death. Daudet himself put forth a pair of pleasant books of personal gossip about himself, narrating his relations with his fellow authors and recording the circumstances under which he came to compose each of his earlier stories. Montaigne—whose "Essays" was Daudet's bedside book and who may be accepted not unfairly as an authority upon egotism—assures us that "there is no description so difficult, nor doubtless of so great utility, as that of one's self." And Daudet's own interest in himself is not unlike Montaigne's,—it is open, innocent and illuminating.
Cuvier may have been able to reconstruct an extinct monster from the inspection of a single bone; but it is a harder task to revive the figure of a man, even by the aid of these family testimonies, this self-analysis, the diligence of countless interviewers of all nationalities, and indiscretion of a friend like Edmond de Goncourt (who seems to have acted on the theory that it is the whole duty of man to take notes of the talk of his fellows for prompt publication). Yet we have ample material to enable us to trace Daudet's heredity, and to estimate the influence of his environment in the days of his youth, and to allow for the effect which certain of his own physical peculiarities must have had upon his exercise of his art. His near-sightedness, for example,—would not Sainte-Beuve have seized upon this as significant? Would he not have seen in this a possible source of Daudet's mastery of description? And the spasms of pain borne bravely and uncomplainingly, the long agony of his later years, what mark has this left on his work, how far is it responsible for a modification of his attitude,—for the change from the careless gaiety of "Tartarin of Tarascon" to the sombre satire of "Port-Tarascon"? What caused the joyous story-teller of the "Letters from my Mill" to develop into the bitter iconoclast of the "Immortal."
These questions are insistent; and yet, after all, what matters the answer to any of them? The fact remains that Daudet had his share of that incommunicable quality which we are agreed to call genius. This once admitted, we may do our best to weigh it and to resolve it into its elements, it is at bottom the vital spark that resists all examination, however scientific we may seek to be. We can test for this and for that, but in the final analysis genius is inexplicable. It is what it is, because it is. It might have been different, no doubt, but it is not. It is its own excuse for being; and, for all that we can say to the contrary, it is its own cause, sufficient unto itself. Even if we had Sainte-Beuve's scalpel, we could not surprise the secret.
Yet an inquiry into the successive stages of Daudet's career, a consideration of his ancestry, of his parentage, of his birth, of the circumstances of his boyhood, of his youthful adventures,—these things are interesting in themselves and they are not without instruction. They reveal to us the reasons for the transformation that goes so far to explain Daudet's peculiar position,—the transformation of a young Provençal poet into a brilliant Parisian veritist. Daudet was a Provençal who became a Parisian,—and in this translation we may find the key to his character as a writer of fiction.
He was from Provence as Maupassant was from Normandy; and Daudet had the Southern expansiveness and abundance, just as Maupassant had the Northern reserve and caution. If an author is ever to bring forth fruit after his kind he must have roots in the soil of his nativity. Daudet was no orchid, beautiful and scentless; his writings have always the full flavor of the southern soil. He was able to set Tartarin before us so sympathetically and to make Numa Roumestan so convincing because he recognized in himself the possibility of a like exuberance. He could never take the rigorously impassive attitude which Flaubert taught Maupassant to assume. Daudet not only feels for his characters, but he is quite willing that we should be aware of his compassion.
He is not only incapable of the girding enmity which Taine detected and detested in Thackeray's treatment of Becky Sharp, but he is also devoid of the callous detachment with which Flaubert dissected Emma Bovary under the microscope. Daudet is never flagrantly hostile toward one of his creatures; and, however contemptible or despicable the characters he has called into being, he is scrupulously fair to them. Sidonie and Félicia Ruys severally