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Three Journalists (1958)

Non-Fiction > Points of View >


The Oxford Dictionary gives two meanings of the word 'journalist'. The first, and the more usual today, is 'one who earns his living by editing or writing for a public journal or journals'. The second is 'one who journalises or keeps a journal'. It is in the second sense that I here use the word. The three journalists with whom in the following pages I propose to deal are the Goncourt Brothers, treating them as one, which is what they themselves insisted on, Jules Renard and Paul Léautaud.

The journal is a form of literary production which, perhaps because we are by nature more reticent than our neighbours across the Straits of Dover, has been more practised by French writers than by ours in England. The Oxford Dictionary tells us that the journal is a record of events or matters of personal interest kept by anyone for his own use. Though, like the diary and the memoir, it is largely autobiographical, it differs from them to some extent in its matter and its method. The memoir, again according to the dictionary, is a person's written account of incidents in his own life, of the persons he has known, and the transactions in which he has been concerned. This precisely describes the memoirs of St. Simon. They are very personal, but at their best they deal with matters of state, such as the death of the Dauphin and the degradation of the Due de Maine, the bastard of Louis XIV. Greville wrote memoirs which are well worth reading if you are interested in the period, but he was too much of a gentleman (I use the word not in its present depreciatory sense, but in that which was held in the nineteenth century) to indulge in gossip and scandal, so that they somewhat lack spice. The diary, our authority tells us, is a daily record of matters affecting the writer personally or which come under his personal observation. It deals with facts rather than (as do the French Journalists) with reflections and emotions. I suppose everyone would agree that the greatest diary that has ever been written is that of Pepys. It is a lively record of the times and a telling portrait of the author. With its frankness and its intimacy it comes nearer than any other English work (the diary of John Evelyn for instance) to the Journals of the French.

When the first volumes of the Goncourts' Journal were published they created a sensation. It was inevitable that other writers should set about writing Journals of their own. I have mentioned Jules Renard and Paul Léautaud. André Gide began one. Charles du Bos wrote one. Maurice Barrès wrote his Cahiers. We have recently learnt that Paul Valéry's note-books are to be published in thirty-two volumes. And I daresay there are others that I do not happen to have come across. When you read such of these Journals as are easily obtainable, the most vivid impression you get of their writers is that they were terrific egoists. Of course, we are all egoists. It is natural for us to look upon all questions in relation to ourselves. But life has to be coped with; we come in contact with the egoism of our fellows and have to make the best of it. We may find it pays, if not to suppress, at least to conceal our egoism. A long time ago Prince Kropotkin wrote a book in which he gave instances to show that sympathy exists in many animals. It seems to be a quality that exists in many men. Sympathy, and, above all, love, may make it even a satisfaction to sacrifice oneself for others. Then, altruism is the strange outcome of man's innate egoism. But we are not all so happily constituted. The writers of these Journals were not. Jules Renard once said to his wife, "You say I am an egoist. If I weren't, I wouldn't be me." Paul Léautaud stated, "I am not interested in anyone but myself." He said what others might have said if they had been as frank. He added, "When I don't think about myself, I don't think about anything."

The Journalists I am dealing with wrote novels, but they were men of letters rather than novelists. I do not mean that a novelist may not be a man of letters as well, but it is not essential. He may write badly, he may not be particularly intelligent, he may lack culture: if he has the specific gift he may yet write very good novels. The Goncourts' novels are recitals of facts that they had laboriously collected. Those of Jules Renard and Paul Léautaud are purely autobiographical. When you read them in connection with their Journals and, in Renard's case, with his letters, you are surprised to discover how little use they made of such power of invention as they had. Gide arranged his works of fiction with more subtlety, but they too are narratives of his personal experiences. One day Roger Martin du Gard came to lunch with me and, knowing that he was an intimate friend of Gide's, I led him to talk about him. I chanced to mention that Gide had seldom written about anyone but himself. Martin du Gard nodded and told me that he had once reproached Gide on that score, whereupon Gide told him that he was engaged on a novel in which he had taken the utmost pains to keep himself out of it. It was to be called Les Faux Monnayeurs. He asked Martin du Gard to stay with him in the country so that he might read it to him when it was finished. In due course Martin du Gard went and Gide read the first eighty pages. Suddenly he saw that his guest was shaking with laughter. Somewhat disconcerted, Gide asked him what he was laughing at. "You told me you were going to keep yourself out of your novel," he answered. "You've never written anything in which you are more flagrantly evident." That is true. Les Faux Monnayeurs is not a very good novel, but it is more interesting than many a better one, because Gide was a very intelligent and cultivated man, and in it he has drawn an engaging portrait of himself at his best.

His Journal is more consistently interesting than those of the other Journalists whom I propose here to deal with. He had more talent than they and a more catholic culture. For a Frenchman he was widely travelled and well read in the literature of countries other than his own. He loved music and was himself a fine pianist.

In an earlier essay in this volume I have hazarded the suggestion that egoism carried to an extravagant pitch may be harmful to a novelist, and on a later page I have put forward the idea that in the long run an author has nothing to give you but himself. On the face of it the two statements seem hard to reconcile. If the novelist is so supreme an egoist that his only interest in others is in the effect he makes on them, he will never know them sufficiently to create living creatures. If, on the other hand, he is so constituted that he can interest himself in people for their own sakes and then, his creative instinct coming into action, feels that he can make literary use of them, he may be fortunate enough to produce creatures who are more real than their models. The obvious example of this is Mr. Micawber. The author remains an egoist, but to a better purpose.

From the writer's standpoint the crab of egoism is that it narrows his interests. Jules Renard and Paul Léautaud were indifferent to the arts; they cared only for literature. Léautaud, though he spent his whole life in Paris, never troubled to go to the Louvre (when he mentions it, he hastens to explain that he means, not the picture gallery, but the shop) and when on one occasion he happened to go to the Luxembourg, where the early Impressionists were on view, he found there nothing but a collection of horrors. I cannot remember that Jules Renard in his Journal ever mentioned a picture. The Goncourts made no secret of the fact that music not only bored them, it irritated them, and the only music they could endure was that of a military band. They were, however, appreciative of the graphic arts. André Billy, their admirable biographer, states that their taste in painting was impeccable: it was peculiar. They considered Perugino a greater artist than Raphael, and of Michelangelo they said, "A sculptor, but no painter." One wonders whether they had ever glanced at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It must be said in their favour that they were ravished by Turner and greatly admired Constable. They called Delacroix and Ingres painters who did not know how to paint. They had no patience with Courbet, "The ugly, always the ugly. And the ugly without its grand character, the ugly without the beauty of the ugly." They praised Théodore Rousseau, but never mentioned Manet, Degas or Monet without a sneer.

The Goncourts began their Journal in 1851. Léautaud began his in 1893, and the fourth volume that has been printed brings it down to 1924; but he did not die till many years later and, as he continued to write it, there must be further volumes to be issued from time to time. Jules Renard died in 1910. Gide kept his Journal till 1949. The four of them provide a record of literary life that covers nearly a hundred years. The last half-century of the nineteen-hundreds produced a group of authors in France with which no other nation could compare. The Goncourts knew Saint-Beuve, Taine, Renan, Michelet, Flaubert, Anatole France and Maupassant. They were contemporaries of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud and Mallarmé. It is an imposing list.


Edmond de Goncourt was born in 1822, and Jules, his brother, in 1830. They were devoted to one another as brothers seldom are. They shared their thoughts, their ambitions, their joys and sorrows. Their great-grandfather, who bore the plebeian name of Antoine Huot, was an attorney, a profession which in the eighteenth century carried with it no social prestige. In ways that can only be surmised he made enough money to buy, three years before the Revolution of 1789, something of an estate at Goncourt and received under the seal of Louis XVI what in England would be described as the lordship of the manor and the right to call himself Huot de Goncourt. Thus ennobled, he manufactured for himself a coat of arms. His grandson, father of Edmond and Jules, served with distinction in Napoleon's armies and was badly wounded in the Russian campaign.

Edmond and Jules de Goncourt set great store on their noble birth. When they became sufficiently well-known to be mentioned in a work of reference, it was as 'Edmond et Jules Huot, dits de Goncourt' which indicated that it was a literary nom de plume; they furiously protested and insisted on a rectification being published in four important newspapers. Later, in 1860, when a certain Ambroise Jacobé was authorised by an imperial decree to call himself Jacobé de Goncourt, they brought an action against him. The legal authorities pointed out that M. Jacobé's ancestors had bought the lordship of the manor of Goncourt in one department just as theirs had bought it in another. They were obliged to abandon their action.

Their father died and left his widow and sons none too well off. They lived in Paris. Jules, the younger brother, went to school. He had a rough time of it with his schoolfellows owing, according to Edmond, to the hatred of the vulgar for the aristocracy. The Goncourts were not so aristocratic as all that. When Edmond was nineteen he got a clerk's job in a lawyer's office, but a few years later changed for one in the Treasury with a salary of 1,200 francs a year. Their mother died in 1848. Her two sons were left with about four thousand francs in cash and the uncertain income from the farms they possessed. Edmond was twenty-six and Jules eighteen. In his leisure at the office Edmond had attended an art school and Jules showed some capacity as a painter, so they decided to become artists. They bought the necessary equipment and started off on foot for the South ofFrance. They wandered from place to place, making drawings here and there, and painting in water-colour. Eventually they went to Algeria. They made notes, more and more copious, of all they saw, and Edmond afterwards claimed that it was this that made them writers. On their return to Paris they settled in an apartment in the rue Saint Georges. Since the house was mostly occupied by women of easy virtue the rent was low.

We are not told how it came about that the two brothers decided to abandon painting and become authors. They wrote three or four plays, but could get no manager to produce them. In 1851 they wrote their first novel. It was called In 18 ..., and they published it at their own expense. A thousand copies were printed and sixty were sold. André Billy describes it as affected, obscure, pretentious and incoherent. It seems then to have occurred to them that they might write a semi-historical, gossipy book about the eighteenth century. They were hard workers and by 1854 had finished a work of nearly five hundred pages which they entitled History of French Society during the Revolution. They printed it, again at their own expense. It was the practice of the time for authors to take steps to get reviews of their productions and accordingly the two brothers called on the critics or left cards on them and sent them their book. The result was not unsatisfactory and they immediately set about another work, of four hundred and fifty pages, on French society during the Directory. The critics ignored it. Undeterred, however, in 1856 they produced a work in two volumes called Intimate Portraits of the Eighteenth Century. They sold it to a publisher for three hundred francs. They were, apparently, the first to write that bastard kind of history which is concerned with back-stairs gossip and which in our own day finds favour with the public. I cannot pretend that I have read all these books, but I have read some of them. I found them dull. The Goncourts seem to have had no sense of selection and you are told the same sort of facts over and over again. They went into intolerable detail. Their books would have been twice as good if they had been half as long. In 1858 they wrote a life of Marie Antoinette, and for the first time had something of a success.

These productions of theirs earned them little money; that they did not mind, for they were not mercenary and their farms provided them with enough to live on; what they resented was that they had not brought them the recognition which they were convinced was their due. To get back on the critics who had treated them somewhat scurvily, they wrote a novel called Charles Demailly. It was an attack on the literary world and contained portraits, mostly virulent, of the journalists and men of letters of the day. As was only natural, their victims damned it. During the next few years they wrote three more. One of them was called Germinie Lacertaux. For twenty-five years they had had in the family a maid called Rose. She had tucked them up in bed when they were children and nursed their mother during her last illness. They were devoted to her and trusted her implicitly, She fell ill and died. Then they discovered that she had led a double life. She was crazy about men and to get them gave them the money, the wine and food of her masters. She had a lover, a young boxer, and she contracted the pleurisy from which she died by spending a night in the rain spying on him to see with what woman he was.

On this sordid story they wrote their novel. It shocked both the public and the critics. The Goncourts claimed that with this book they had created the realistic novel. They claimed, strangely enough, that only aristocrats could write such a book and, later, Edmond stated that he was attracted to the subject because "I am a well-born man of letters, and the common people, the mob, if you like, have for me the attractiveness of unknown and undiscovered races, something like the exotic that travellers at the cost of great suffering seek in far-off countries". The two brothers were industrious, but they had little imagination and no sense of form. They had conceived the idea that things are as important as people, and this led them to describe places, houses, furniture, objects of art, at dreary length. In Manette Salomon, their most readable novel, Coriolis, the painter, is never so vividly presented to the reader as the elaborately described studio in which he works. Manette Salomon is a picture of the way the painters of the time led their lives and, since the two brothers were always careful to document themselves, one may be sure that the picture was faithful. It is the story of a painter of talent who is destroyed by the Jewish model who is his mistress and whom he eventually marries; but before you come to this, you are asked to read a hundred and fifty pages relating the high jinks, the outings, the practical jokes of the art students of the day. I think the fault of the Goncourts as novelists was that they did not start a novel because they were absorbed by a theme and the characters which were needed to develop and expound it, but because its success would give them the literary status to which, they were firmly assured, they were by their talent and originality entitled. But though their novels were unsatisfactory, the Goncourts were intelligent and observant, and there are passages in them that in a book of sketches or brief essays would be very readable. They bore because they interrupt the flow of narrative. Palmerston is reputed to have said that dirt is matter in the wrong place. It is a remark that the writer does well to bear in mind.

But what the Goncourts chiefly set store by was the beauty and originality of their style. They invented what they called l'écriture artiste. Albert Thibaudet in his admirable history of French literature during the nineteenth century describes it as obscure, convoluted and affected. He says it is a language of its own that you have to learn–and life is short. Towards the end of his life Edmond had an uneasy feeling that the style he and his brother had laboriously cultivated was ill-advised. He came to the conclusion that the best style is a style that you don't notice–and a very sensible one too. But to my mind their greatest defect was that they could never bring themselves to say a thing once and leave it at that, but repeated it in other words two, three or even four times.

After their hard day's work the Goncourts very naturally liked to go out and amuse themselves. For all their noble birth, the company they kept was rather shoddy. It consisted of journalists, actors, popular dramatists and their hangers-on all with their mistresses. They seem to have known no women who could be described as femmes du monde. Edmond was a handsome man, but stiff and unbending, and somewhat taciturn; Jules was smaller, with golden, wavy hair, fine eyes and a sensual mouth. He was gay, full of charm, high spirits and fun. Of the two he was the more gifted. He had a number of amorous affairs; they were of no consequence; Edmond appears to have been little interested in such things. Neither of them was ever in love. Indeed, they did not allow themselves to be so, since they were convinced that anything in the nature of an enduring passion could not but interfere with their literary activities. They were prepared to make any sacrifice to their ambition to be famous authors. They thus missed an interesting experience. They settled their sexual life, however, by means of an arrangement they made with a young woman called Maria. She had been seduced at the age of thirteen and after a certain amount of promiscuous fornication had become a midwife. They liked her because she was gay and loved to laugh. With her fair hair, her well covered body and her blue eyes, she reminded them of one of Rubens's women. She agreed to take them both on as lovers, if lovers is the right word to use in this connection; the arrangement is so reasonable (it saved bus fares) that I daresay it is only prudishness on my part if I think it rather disgusting. The two brothers were enchanted with her stories of her experiences as a midwife and made copious notes of them. In the Journal they wrote as follows: "Men like us need a woman with little culture and little education, a woman who has nothing but gaiety and natural high spirits, because so she will please and charm us like a nice animal that we can become attached to. But if our mistress has something of breeding, something of art, something of literature, and wants to deal with us de plein pied, with our thoughts and our sense of beauty, and has the ambition to be a companion of the work in progress and of our tastes she becomes as intolerable to us as a bad piano and very soon an object of antipathy."

In 1862, Princess Mathilde, the great Napoleon's niece, who liked to surround herself with artists and men of letters, asked a friend of hers to bring the Goncourts to dine with her. She had read and liked their book on Marie Antoinette. She lived with her lover and a lady-in-waiting partly in Paris and partly at her 'place' at St. Gratien, which was within easy distance of the capital. The Princess was then a woman of forty-two, short of stature, but with the remains of good looks. On first acquaintance she made a poor impression on the Goncourts, but on dining with her a second time they liked her better. They found her gracious and charming, quick-tempered, but often witty. They would not have been the men they were if they had not made reservations. "There's nothing delicate about her," they wrote in their Journal, "nothing subtle, nothing tender; strength, intelligence, eloquence, all that attracts the masses, but nothing to attract the individual ... She doesn't thank you for being merely polite, attentive and amiable. She wants to imagine that you are attracted to her sexually and desire her."

From then on, the Goncourts dined with the Princess frequently and often stayed with her at St. Gratien. They gradually dropped the raffish friends with whom they had been in the habit of consorting.

It was during the first year of the Goncourts' acquaintance with the Princess that, on the suggestion of Gavarni, whom they liked and admired, and with the approval of Sainte-Beuve, they founded the celebrated dinners chez Magny. A small number of writers agreed to dine there twice a month. The early members of the group were Taine, Renan, Turgenev, Flaubert and Théophile Gautier. From time to time others were elected. Though at table the passion of love was discussed, often crudely, and religion, the conversation naturally enough dealt chiefly with art and literature. There were differences of opinions and arguments were heated. Quarrels were frequent, but the diners parted good enough friends. They did not know that when the Goncourts went home, Jules, partly at Edmond's dictation, wrote in their Journal an account of the conversation they had just listened to. Since they were as usual careful to be exact, we may be pretty sure that their report of the talk of these learned and brilliant men was faithful. It must be admitted that it is disappointing. It is true that when you are eating a good dinner and have drunk two or three glasses of wine, a common-place uttered with assurance may look like an epigram, but when you see it in print it has sadly lost much of its lustre; antd the fact is that you look in vain in these conversations for a clever repartee or a scintillating witticism.

The Goncourts found the early dinners gay, pleasant and amusing, but after no more than two or three years they were tired of them. They wrote in their Journal, "We are seized with contempt, with disgust, for these dinners at Magny's! To think that this is a gathering of the first minds in France! Certainly, for the most part, from Gautier to Sainte-Beuve, they are men of talent, but what a poverty of ideas they have, of opinions founded on their nerves and feelings ! What a lack of personality and temperament!"

Sainte-Beuve was the oldest of the group, the most celebrated and the most influential. He liked the Goncourts and wrote about them with sympathy. He went so far as to say that they were the most charming people in the world and, when they talked of no longer attending the dinners at Magny's, he told them that if they ceased to go he would do so too. They detested him. They condemned the frigidity of his style, his ambiguous and hypocritical character, his cowardice, littleness of mind and his love of platitudes. On one occasion they went to see him. They asked themselves rhetorically how, artists and aristocrats as they were, they could be intimate with a man who was dressed like a porter and whose dwelling was like that of a country doctor. This did not prevent them from asking Sainte-Beuve to dinner in the most flattering and affectionate terms. Gautier and Flaubert were of the party, and they talked of lesbianism and transcendental homosexuality–whatever that may mean.

The Goncourts seem to have made the acquaintance of Flaubert in 1857, but did not come to know him well till some years later. It may seem strange that Flaubert, so open, frank and affectionate, did not captivate them. Though they wrote admiring letters to him, their attitude was vaguely hostile. When they were together, Flaubert, unaware that the brothers were watching him censoriously, would let himself go and talk, in his extravagant way, without reserve. They wrote, "We perceive what is lacking in Flaubert, the defect we were long looking for, his (Madame Bovary) lacks heart just as his descriptions lack soul." They found him vulgar and utterly devoid of taste or artistic feeling. Their final judgment was that he was a provincial genius and, as a man, much inferior to his books. (The above italics are mine.)

When Manette Salomon was published, they sent Taine a copy. In a letter of acknowledgment he praised warmly what he liked in it, but criticised their style. He told them that they wrote not for readers, but for men of letters like themselves, and ended by pointing out a number of errors. They had never cared for him: from then on they despised him. At first they disliked Renan because he was ugly; they deplored his bad taste and lack of frankness, but as they came to know him better they admitted that, notwithstanding his repellent appearance, he was pleasant and amiable. Later, they quarrelled with him.

In 1868 Jules was stricken with illness. His appetite left him, he could not sleep, and he was morbidly sensitive to noise. They still lived in the house they had settled in on establishing themselves in Paris. They decided to sell one of their farms and buy a house where they could be certain of quiet. They found one at Auteuil, which was but twenty minutes away from the centre of Paris. They moved in, only to find that there too the noise was intolerable. Jules grew worse. His mind began to fail. He was interested in nothing and would sit for hours, sunk in depression, in front of a tree, with his hat over his eyes. He no longer seemed to care for the brother whom he had so deeply loved. He could no longer even remember the names of the novels they had written together. There were certain letters he could no longer pronounce, or rather, he pronounced them as a child does. At one moment Edmond, distracted, had a mind to shoot his brother and shoot himself afterwards. He was haunted by the fear that he might die first and Jules, with no one to look after him, would be put in an asylum. The account of Jules's gradual disintegration which Edmond wrote in the Journal makes painful reading. One wonders how he could bring himself to set it down in black and white. Jules sank into the condition which doctors call infantilism. On one occasion, at a restaurant, when he upset a finger-bowl, "Do be careful," said Edmond, "or we shan't be able to go anywhere." Jules burst into tears. "It's not my fault," he sobbed, "it's not my fault." His trembling hand took Edmond's and they cried together. The end came at last. Edmond wrote in the Journal, "He's dying, he's dead. Praise be to God! He died after two or three gentle sighs like the breathing of a little child going to sleep."

Edmond persuaded himself that Jules's death was due to his passion for literature and his obstinate efforts to wring from the French language the perfection that was inherent in it. In fact, Jules died of what in my medical-student days was called G.P.I., General Paralysis of the Insane, which is a dreadful resultant of syphilis. Jules had contracted it at Le Havre on one of their jaunts twenty years before. At the funeral Edmond, blinded with tears, stumbled as he walked and had to be supported by friends. He was consumed with grief. But fortunately human beings are so constituted that time assuages the bitterest sorrow. The Franco-Prussian War took place, which ended with the establishment of the Third Republic. Normal life began again. Princess Mathilde returned to Paris from her exile in Brussels. Meanwhile Edmond continued to write his Journal. He was lonely. He was in his early fifties and his friends thought he should marry. It appears that two young women were prepared to marry him. One, a maid of honour to the Princess, proposed to him. Though she was uncommonly attractive, and he liked her, he refused–for a reason which I shall now proceed to relate.

From boyhood Edmond had been a passionate collector. He passed all his spare time poking about in junk shops and attending sales. It was possible in those days to buy bits and pieces for a song, and one's mouth waters when one reads that one could buy Old Master drawings for a pittance. At one sale a number of La Tour's pastels fetched five francs apiece. Objects of Japanese art were brought to Paris and Edmond was ravished with them. He claimed that they were as great as Greek art. He bought the prints of Outamaro, kakemonas and makemonas, lacquer, armour, costumes. Little by little the collection increased. He bought cabinets ornamented with Buhl, consoles, tables, mirrors, tapestries, carpets. Edmond claimed later that for years he had spent eighty thousand francs a year on his collection. Since the Goncourts never had more than twelve thousand francs a year from their farms and their books brought them in next door to nothing, one wonders where he got the money. One can only suppose that he did a bit of dealing on the side. But wherever the money came from, by the 'seventies, owing to the fantastic rise in the value of the things he had bought, Goncourt was in possession of, for the time, a handsome fortune. The two brothers had long had it in mind to found an academy–later to be known as L'Académie Goncourt–not as a rival to the Académie Française, which they disliked and despised, but as a protest against the older establishment for its hide-bound prejudices, its lack of interest in new talent and its hatred of originality. The plan was to choose ten talented authors, who had not suffered the indignity of being widely read, and provide them with an income of six thousand francs a year so that they might devote themselves to the production of literature without having to take some employment in order to earn a living. They were to dine together once a month and every year award a prize of five thousand francs to the author of an outstanding work in prose. It was to carry out this scheme, which would need the whole of Edmond's fortune, that he abandoned all thought of marriage.

He survived his brother for twenty-seven years. I need not go into his literary activities during this time. They brought him neither cash nor credit. He continued assiduously to write his Journal. Because it came upon me as a surprise, I will quote a note he made on 22nd May 1892: "Déjeuner chez Raffaelli, avec le beau Proust." He didn't know that one day his handsome fellow guest would make quite a stir in the world and write a devastating, but vastly amusing, parody of the famous Journal. During this long period Edmond's most intimate friends were Alphonse and Julia Daudet. He dined or lunched with them two or three days a week and every summer went to stay with them at Champrosay, their house in the country. I suppose Alphonse Daudet is little read today. He is still readable. His style is lively, natural and easy. His best book is Sapho. The theme is more or less the same as that of Manette Salomon, but it is a better novel than the Goncourts' and more plausible. Alphonse Daudet was popular and for the time made a great deal of money. He must have been a man of quite extraordinary charm and sweetness for Edmond, so difficult and so carping, to forgive him his success.

It was in July 1883, when the Daudets had been lunching with Edmond at Auteuil, that he read some passages of his Journal to them. They were interested enough to ask him for more, with the result that every summer on his visits to them at Champrosay he read them parts of it. Perhaps it was their approval that induced him to publish his Journal in volume form. He made two copies of the original manuscript. In that which he proposed to issue during his lifetime he deleted the passages which might offend persons still living; but he arranged that the work in its entirety should be published twenty years after his death, by which time he supposed that all the persons of whom he and his brother had spoken disparagingly would be dead. It is this which, after a number of lawsuits, the State of Monaco is now issuing. So far nineteen volumes have appeared, reaching to the year 1894, and I am told that more are to come.

The first volume appeared in 1887. During the following years eight more were published. The last was issued in 1896. They caused an enormous sensation in the literary world of Paris. They were attacked for their indiscretion, their lack of charity, their coarseness, their presumption. One critic described the first volume as a masterpiece of conceit and shallowness. Taine wrote to protest, "Let me beg you to leave out in your next volume all that may concern me. When I talked to you, or in your presence, it was sub rosa, as our poor Sainte-Beuve used to say . . . I will be responsible only for what I have written with reflection and with a view to publication." Goncourt did not much care. He was convinced that posterity would see in his Journal the truest and most vital description of the people and things of his time. The second volume had a better press, influenced, it seems, by an article that Alphonse Daudet wrote for the Figaro. But still, numbers of people expostulated. The Princess Mathilde came to see him and, though there was a good deal in it about her, never even mentioned it. "It doesn't matter," Edmond wrote, "princesses, even the most intelligent, are terribly stupid, and we are really great idiots to make them a present of immortality which they would never have had but for us."

In the fourth volume Edmond inserted his account of Renan's conversation at the bi-monthly dinners chez Magny. Renan was incensed. In a widely read article he wrote, "All these narratives of M. de Goncourt on the dinners of which he had no right to make himself the historian are complete transformations of the truth. He has not understood, and attributes to us what his mind, closed to any general ideas, made him believe he understood. So far as I am concerned, I protest with all my strength at this wretched reportage. It is a principle of mine that the rubbish of fools is of no consequence." In an interview Renan, among other remarks, stated that "M. de Goncourt is entirely devoid of intelligence and moral sense". To this Edmond loftily replied, "He seems jolly angry, the defrocked priest." The Daudets, alarmed by the enemies his Journal was making him, advised him, when he read to them the volume that dealt with 1877, not to publish it. Edmond seems to have thought they did so because they were dissatisfied with the praise he had accorded to the talent of Julia Daudet, Alphonse's wife, who was by way of being herself a writer. "Really," he wrote, "the dear woman is very charming, but very exacting." A critic of the fifth volume stated that of the elite of their day, Gautier, Sainte-Beuve, Renan, Taine, Flaubert, the two brothers had for the most part succeeded only in giving their readers grotesque and often repulsive portraits. That is true, and it is not to their credit. Almost the only intimate friends Edmond had left were the Daudets. One would have thought that prudence, if not affection and gratitude, would have led him to say nothing about them that would distress them. In extracts from his seventh volume, which were published in a daily paper, Edmond wrote of their mother in a way that deeply affronted them. Ernest Daudet, Alphonse's brother, wrote an angry letter of protest to the paper, but Alphonse persuaded him not to send it. He wrote to Edmond himself. He pointed out that there was not a word of truth in what Edmond had said and begged him to omit the passage from the forthcoming volume. This Edmond, one suspects with an impatient shrug of the shoulders, agreed to do.

Alphonse Daudet suffered from locomotor ataxy, a distressing sequela of syphilis, and was constantly in agonising pain. In order to sleep at night he had to take a heavy dose of chloral and on bad days was obliged to give himself as many as five or six injections of morphine. When Madame Daudet discovered that Edmond had disclosed these deplorable facts in his Journal, she besought him, both for her family's sake and for the effect they might have on her husband's vast public, to suppress all mention of them. He refused. He pointed out to her that his Journal was the most beautiful monument of a literary friendship that there had ever been. The Daudets did not take that view of it. It is no wonder that the friendship that had lasted for five and twenty years was imperilled. The Daudets no longer invited Edmond to dine with them, and when he paid them a visit made excuses to cut it short. Daudet told his friends that he had had enough of Goncourt. The last two volumes of the Journal were savagely attacked. Edmond received dozens of anonymous and insulting letters. He was distressed, but scornful. He ascribed the venom of his critics to the probity and disinterestedness of his life, to his aristocratic birth and to the fact that owing to his private means he did not depend on literature for a living.

In 1897 Edmond de Goncourt was seventy-five. There had been a good deal of gossip in the papers in connection with the estrangement between Edmond de Goncourt and the Daudets, and Alphonse had thought it necessary to state publicly that there was no truth in the rumours. For years Edmond had gone to stay with them every summer, and if just then he did not come as usual, it would be proof that in fact the friendship was at an end. They invited him. The Daudets left Paris for Champrosay, and on the 11th of July Edmond joined them. For sometime he had been in very poor health. He was taken ill and on the 17th of July died.

With the exception of a few legacies, Edmond left everything he possessed to found the academy which was designed to keep alive for ever his brother's name and his own.

The Goncourts claimed that with Germinie Lacertaux they had created the realistic novel and, moreover, had discovered the eighteenth century and Japanese art. "These," said Jules, "are the three great literary events of the second half of the nineteenth century, and we have led them, we, poor and obscure. Well, when one has done that, it is really difficult not to be somebody in the future." Though there is exaggeration in this, there is a grain of truth.

They never doubted that they were men of outstanding talent. They were, indeed, preposterously self-satisfied. "I feel a sort of intoxication on reading aloud to myself the first number of my Journal in the Echo de Paris," wrote Edmond. There is something almost touching in such self-complacency. Thinking of themselves as they did, it is natural that they should have held their contemporaries in small esteem. "In this century," Edmond said, "I shall perhaps have been the only one, and without resentment against the persons and solely for love of truth, the only one to put in their place the sham great men, Renan, Sainte-Beuve, etc., etc." We can guess that this etc. etc. would have included Taine, Michelet and Flaubert. The Goncourts were arrogant, vain and conceited, but it is only fair to admit that their passion for art, though often misguided, was genuine. They were disinterested and honest in a world in which corruption was rampant. (Janin, the important critic of the Débats, took six thousand francs from Princess Mathilde not to write a damaging article about one of her friends.) Their whole life was given up to the creation of literature. Their ambition–not an ignoble one–was to write a series of works that would render them famous to the end of time. They were well aware that a book produced is never a masterpiece; it becomes one; and they were convinced that, though they had had to put up with failure after failure, posterity would do them justice.


Jules Renard began to write his Journal in 1887. It is a singular document. He had no illusions about himself and described the man he was with a savage sincerity that at times gives the reader cold shivers. One can hardly believe that he ever intended it to be published. In one place he said that he wished his son to read it when he was worthy of it. What he meant by that is hard to say. One would have thought that when his son came to read it he would lose any respect and affection he may have had for tis father. Renard, in the Journal shows himself unscrupulous, grossly selfish, ill-mannered, envious, hard and sometimes even cruel. He died in 1910 and there are few people still alive who knew him. The two or three I have met were agreed that, though brilliantly witty, he was detestable. It is at least to his credit that he never made an attempt to show himself better than he was.

It is easy to give some account of his life since one has as material not only the Journal, but the two novels he wrote, Poil de Carotte and L'Écornifleur, his three short plays, Le Plaisir de Rompre, La Paix du Ménage, La Bigote, and the narrative called La Maîtresse. All are autobiographical. Jules Renard was born of a family of peasants who had lived in Central France, in La Nièvre, for generations. His father, one of several children, was born in :he one-roomed hovel in which his parents lived. Somehow or other, we are not told how, he managed to get some sort of education and became a contractor in the Department of Public Works. After building a bridge over the little river, La Viette, he had made enough money to retire and buy a house at Chitry. He spent the remaining years of his life there, fishing, shooting and farming the few acres of land he had acquired. He remained to his death a peasant at heart. Jules was the youngest of his three children. His mother hated him. She had never wanted him and his birth was due to an accident of sexual intercourse. He was an ugly little boy, with red hair, and dirty in his person. From an early age he was set to do the menial chores of the house. There is an incident described in Poil de Carotte that strikes one as in a way more revolting than even the beatings his mother gave him. Like not a few young children he was apt to wet his bed at night and next morning he would be soundly spanked. On one occasion, owing to the visit of a relation who had to be put up for the night, he was told to sleep in his mother's bed. He did everything he could to hold his water, but at last could do so no longer and urinated. As a punishment he was kept in bed next day. In the evening, by way of supper, his mother brought him a bowl of soup. His brother and sister, trying hard not to giggle, watched while their mother thrust spoon after spoon down the little boy's throat. When he had finished they clapped their hands and cried, "He's drunk it, he's drunk it." When his mother told him that it was the urine with which he had wetted the bed the night before, he merely said, "I had an idea it was."

Renard's father, whom in the novel he calls M. Lepic, was not unkind to him, but would not interfere with his wife's treatment of the child. He was a silent, self-centred man who, though from necessity living in close quarters with his family, remained by his own wish apart. It was when once Poil de Carotte had tried to enlist his father on his side, and failed, that he uttered the despairing cry that so moved the reading public, "Tout le monde ne peut pas être orphelin." When Jules was ten he was sent to a boarding school at Nevers. His father came to see him now and again and they wrote letters to one another. In answer to one of the boy's he wrote back to ask why in a letter he had just received his son had begun each line with a capital letter. The boy answered, "Dear Papa, you did not notice that my letter was in verse." Jules Renard, Poil de Carotte, as he was called on account of his red hair, was not a nice little boy. There was nothing in him of Little Lord Fauntleroy or even of David Copperfield. He was in fact a horrid little beast. A story Renard tells of his schooldays is shocking. One master, whose business it was to inspect the dormitory when the boys were in bed, was in the habit of sitting on the bed of one of them, talking to him and, when he got up to go, kissing him good night. Poil de Carotte, madly jealous, found an opportunity to tell the headmaster much more than the truth of this harmless incident, with the result that the master was sent away. As the wretched man, ignominiously discharged, was leaving, Poil de Carrote called out to him, "Why didn't you kiss me too?" Nasty, of course, but what pathos there is in that cry!

M. Renard sent Jules at seventeen, having done well at school, to Paris to continue his education. He allowed him a hundred and fifty francs a month, then equal to six pounds sterling. He took a room in a cheap hotel. He passed his bachot in 1883 and looked for a job. He could not find one. He had already begun to write and he sent some stories to a provincial paper, the Journal de la Nièvre; they were printed, but not paid for. Presently there were enough of them to make a book and he got a publisher to agree to publish them. The publisher decamped. He did his military service. When finished with that he returned to Paris and again looked for some means of earning his living. At last he got a job in a firm of real estate agents at a salary of a hundred francs a month. He seems to have made a good impression on the head of the firm, a M. Lion, and on his wife. After a time M. Lion engaged him as tutor to his three sons, at a somewhat higher, though still miserable, salary. I have learnt the above from the account of Jules Renard's early life which was written by Henri Bachelin as a preface to the edition of Renard's complete works published after his death. At this point M. Bachelin becomes strangely vague. Fortunately the piece called La Maîtresse and Jules's published letters to his father enable one to narrate facts which the author of the preface must have thought it indiscreet to allude to.

Through the Lions, who were persons of some culture, Renard came to know a number of their friends and was occasionally invited to parties. He was by then a tall young man, with a fine head of red hair, passable features, a good figure and an air of virility. After one of these parties he escorted back to her apartment an actress who had been one of the guests. Though a good deal older than he, she was an attractive woman and, on the way, he made proposals to her. She was somewhat startled, at the suddenness of this, for they had never met before, but his audacity and persuasiveness did not displease her. She gave him to understand that she was handsomely kept by a rich man and could not afford to lose the handsome allowance he made her; she consented, however, to come to Renard's hotel room on his promise that he would never attempt to come to her apartment. Thus began an affair which, to their mutual satisfaction, lasted for a considerable time. The lady enabled him to get some verse of his printed and he recited them at various parties. His youth, his fine presence, even his provincial accent, which he never entirely lost, brought him a modest success. But such are the exigencies of youth, it caused him a certain uneasiness to share his mistress with another and, one day, knowing she was to receive his rival (if one may call him that) he stationed himself outside the house in which she lived till he saw entering it a stout elderly business man. The sight of him profoundly disturbed Renard and he decided there and then to sever his connection with the kept woman. He could no longer bring himself to receive favours and accept presents from her which were in fact paid for by another and in a high frame of outraged delicacy he wrote a long and eloquent letter to her saying that she must choose between them. His pride, his honour, no longer permitted him to continue in this humiliating situation. She had arranged to come to his hotel on the very afternoon on which he composed the letter and as usual they hopped into bed together. He did not deliver the letter and the affair went on as before.

When the summer holidays came and Renard was no longer needed to teach M. Lion's three boys, he was invited to spend few weeks at the seaside with some friends. Henri Bachelin does not tell us who they were, nor why they had thus asked him. Renard's letters to his father explain it. A certain M. Morneau, a manufacturer of eighteenth century furniture, desired to write a book on the subject and, since he could not write, was in need of a ghost to provide a work which he could publish under his own name. It may be presumed that it was on M. Lion's suggestion that Jules Renard was engaged at a handsome remuneration. He was to live with the family, which consisted of M. Morneau, his wife and daughter. It was with the material thus acquired that Renard wrote his novel, L'Écornifleur. It has lately been chosen by a group of authors as the best novel that has been written in France during the last fifty years and was recently translated into English under the name, The Sponger. The story can be told in a few lines. The hero, young, impecunious and a poet, makes the acquaintance of a business man and his wife. The acquaintance ripens into friendship and they invite him to stay with them by the sea. They are joined there by their niece, an orphan with a fortune of her own. The young man looks upon it as his duty to attempt the seduction of his hostess. Though she is attracted by him, and presently more than a little in love with him, he does not succeed. He teaches the young girl to swim and she falls in love with him. Naturally enough, seeing the sort of man he is, he proceeds to seduce her. It is difficult in English to put in decorous terms how far the affair goes, and I can only say that it goes as far as possible without going all the way. With both aunt and niece in love with him, his situation is so embarrassing that he finds it prudent to return to Paris, and with his departure the story ends. Since Renard in the Journal remarks that his imagination consists of his memory and since he was immune to common decency, we may be pretty sure that his novel relates the actual facts with no greater divergence from the truth than is normal to the writer of fiction.

Back in Paris, Renard set to work to finish the book which M. Morneau was to sign. He was hard up. Early in January 1884 he wrote to his father, "These last few days I have had to hesitate even to buy a stamp. I'm not exaggerating. December was especially hard." His friendship with the Morneaus was resumed on their return to Paris and he dined with them every night. He did not waste his time. On 18th February in a letter to his father he said, "I've spoken to you casually of a possible marriage. I've made my proposal." Unfortunately the letters in which he spoke of this have not been preserved and it comes upon the reader as a surprise. How could he in his circumstances think of marriage? His proposal was accepted and he wrote to his father asking him to let him have seven hundred and fifty francs to buy an engagement ring. The marriage between Jules Renard and Marinette, the daughter of M. and Madame Morneau, took place at the end of May and the happy couple went to Barfleur for their honeymoon. One wonders why a prosperous bourgeois family consented to their only daughter marrying a penniless and unknown writer. Renard's only income was the wretched salary he was still receiving from M. Lion. It is true that he wrote articles for the little reviews that led a short and hazardous life, but was paid little or nothing for them. The explanation that immediately occurs to one, namely that the marriage was necessary to save the girl's reputation, is without foundation. Their first child was not born till they had been married a year. One can only suppose that the Morneaus consented to the marriage on account of the odd French conception that to marry a daughter to a man of letters gives a bourgeois family a certain prestige.

It may be presumed that before his wedding Jules Renard went, as was only proper, to bid a final farewell to the mistress with whom for some months he had enjoyed the pleasures of sexual intercourse. Some nine years later he wrote a one-act play called Le Plaisir de Rompre. It is a dialogue between a young man and an older woman who has been his mistress. He is going to marry on the following morning a young girl who has money, and she, his mistress, on her side has arranged to make a marriage of convenience which will ensure her future. They are still more than a little in love with one another and, now that the bridegroom of next day sees the charming woman for the last time, in a moment of passion he says that she has only to say the word and he will jilt his fiancée and they will resume their relations for keeps. Her common sense prevails–love is all very well and very beautiful, but one can't live on it–and they part for ever. It is a charming, witty, moving little piece and, when acted, was a great success. After the first performance, Jules Renard asked himself in his Journal what the real Blanche, the model of his little play, would think of it.

After the honeymoon the Renards went to stay with his parents at Chitry. His mother took a dislike to Marinette and was very satirical about the 'fine lady' that her son had married. She did everything she could to make life intolerable to her daughter-in-law; but they stayed on, presumably for economy's sake, till their first child, a boy, was born. They then took a flat in Paris. A sardonic note in the Journal suggests how this was possible. "Did M.M. (M. Morneau, Renard's father-in-law) become a fortunate and clever tradesman so that his rich daughter should marry a poor man of letters?" During the next few years, during which Marinette had another child, a daughter, Jules Renard wrote a good deal of journalism, but it was badly paid and one can only suppose that they were more or less supported by the fortunate and clever tradesman. Since this is the last we hear of him, we may presume that in due course he died. In 1888 Jules published his first book, Crime de Village, a collection of stories most of which he had written long before.

Jules Renard genuinely loved Marinette. In his Journal he seldom has a good word to say of the persons he mentions, but of her he speaks always with deep affection. "Marinette appears," he writes, "and the earth is sweeter (plus douce) under one's feet." In the literary circles in which, as his reputation increased, he moved, the men were flagrantly unfaithful to their wives. Renard was flagrantly faithful to his. He was one of the founders of the Mercure de France, which, as every one knows, became the most distinguished and most advanced magazine of the time. Renard wrote for it regularly. It was not till 1892 that he published L'Écornifleur and not till 1895 that he published Poil de Carotte. These books established him as an original and talented writer. His nervous, alert and very personal style was highly praised by the critics. L'Écornifleur was thought well of by his fellow authors, but its cynical humour was not to the liking of the general public. Poil de Carotte, on the other hand, was a great success and the critics were unanimous in praising its pathos, its irony and its humour. In course of time Renard dramatised these narratives: L'Écornifleur, which for the stage he names Monsieur Vernet, was a disappointment, but Poil de Carotte was a winner. The public were delighted with it and it has since then been often revived.

In 1895, Renard's circumstances were so much easier, perhaps on account of the money that Marinette had inherited on her father's death, that he was able to rent, and then buy, at Chaumont, which was close to Chitry, where his parents lived, a house with sufficient land attached to enable him to keep chickens, ducks, geese, a horse, a donkey, sheep, pigs, a cow and a bull. To tend the livestock he engaged a peasant called Philippe and, as a maid of all work, his wife Ragotte. Marinette looked after the children and, with Ragotte to help, did the cooking. From then on, Renard, with his wife and children, spent from May to October at Chaumont and only the winter in Paris. He was nowhere so happy as in the country, for he was at heart still, as his enemies said, the peasant that his forebears had been. His enemies were many, since he seems to have taken a malign pleasure in antagonising people. They admitted his talent, but were incensed by his rudeness, his indifference to the feelings of others and his arrogance. In the country he could shoot and fish, pastimes which he shared with his father, and was at his ease with the peasants as he never quite was with his friends in Paris.

In 1897 his father fell ill. A few weeks later he wrote to Tristan Bernard, "My dear friend. Despairing of getting well, my father killed himself yesterday by shooting himself through the heart. I assure you that I am filled with respect and admiration for the manner of his death. Your very sad friend." He told another acquaintance that his father had died like the great sportsman he was and like a sage. To another he wrote, "As for me, I hope to show, in those solemn hours of my life, such strength of soul and such clear intelligence."

After the death of her husband Renard's mother continued to live at Chitry. She remained as she had always been, hard, domineering and narrow-minded. We are not told whether she had ever read Poil de Carotte and, if she had, what she thought of the portrait her son had drawn of her. She was little impressed by his literary success, but after he took to village politics and was elected a member of the council and, later, mayor, so that the people of his native province, who till then had ignored him, began to look upon him as a person of importance, she was, not unnaturally, pleased–with herself. She did not survive her husband long. Two years after his death, in a letter to a correspondent Jules wrote, "My dear friend, I have just read your nice letter. I was going to write to you that my mother, by accident, I believe, fell and was drowned in the well. I am a little shocked. Marinette is as she was. The children are in good health. I embrace you and will write to you later."

Did he really believe it was an accident? He made up his mind to sell the house at Chaumont and move into the house at Chitry which, though he was not actually born there, he regarded as his native place.

To Antoine, the actor and manager, he wrote, "I thank you for your cordial note about my mother's death. As you can imagine, the burlesque side of this business hasn't escaped me. For the last fortnight I've been rather upset. I'll tell you all about it. Meanwhile I'm restoring the house a bit, where, doubtless, I shall die too. When you like for La Bigote. The theatre still goes on." La Bigote was a play Renard had written in which he showed how the peace and happiness of a family were ruined by the subserviency of the mother to the village priest. The mother, of course, was a vicious portrait of his own parent. The play was produced a few months after her death. The critics on the whole praised it and Renard thought it would have a run; but the public disliked it and it was withdrawn after a few performances.

By then, through the success of his one-act plays, Renard had come to know a number of persons connected with the theatre, such as Tristan Bernard, Capus, both dramatists, and Lucien Guitry, the actor. But his chief friends were Edmond Rostand and his wife. Rostand, after eighteen months of negotiation, managed to get the Legion of Honour granted to Renard. There is something rather engaging in the childish pleasure this harsh, intolerant man took in his decoration. He tells us in the Journal that when he went to a tobacconist to buy a packet of cigarettes he could not help unbuttoning his greatcoat so that the salesman should see his red ribbon. Renard was not a man who made friends easily and, when he did, didn't keep them long. He said himself that he should never make friends because he was bound to quarrel with them. Rostand was the great literary figure of the day; he was sought after and made much of, Renard was conscious that though Rostand thought him a good writer, he thought himself a better one. Of Rostand he wrote, "He is the only man I'm capable of admiring even though I detest him." "It's cracking, it's cracking," and a line later, "Sad as a dead friendship." It must be admitted that if Renard lost Rostand's friendship, he was to blame. He wrote a one-act play called La Paix du Ménage. A couple, husband and wife, are staying in the country with another couple; Pierre, the host, is attracted by his friend's pretty wife and is confident that if he makes advances to her she will not reject them. They discuss the situation with frankness. Pierre tells the young woman that he is very happy with his wife and would not cause her pain for anything in the world. She, on her side, has exactly the same feelings with regard to her husband, and they come to the conclusion that it isn't really worth while to enter upon a love affair. It is a charming little piece, and if you feel that it is rather cynical, well, common sense often has an air of cynicism.

Rostand and his wife had stayed with the Renards at Chaumont. He was no fool and when he read the little play he could hardly fail to realise that it narrated a scene that had taken place between Jules and his own wife. It is true that she had not been unfaithful to him, but it was not very nice to know that the two of them had discussed the possibility of it. Nor could he look upon it as a friendly act on Renard's part, in view of what he, Rostand, had done for him, even to consider the seduction of his wife. When Renard asked him to come to the first performance, and, somewhat obtusely, without his wife, his suspicion was confirmed and he refused to go. He called the little play a piece of malevolent reportage. Renard swore that it was nothing of the sort, but he had never made a secret of the fact that he was entirely devoid of any power of invention, and Rostand knew he was lying. The time came when Renard could write, "Rostand is the poet of the masses and thinks he is the poet of the chosen few."

With the exception of Capus and Tristan Bernard, he despised his fellow writers, but that did not prevent him from writing them effusive letters when they sent him their productions, for, said he, authors are so sensitive that you have to praise them a good deal more than they deserve. Of critics, amusingly enough, he wrote, "One should be indulgent with critics; they spend their lives talking about other people and nobody talks about them." In 1908 he published a novel called Ragotte. It is written partly in stage dialogue, with the name of the speaker preceding the words in the way a play is printed, and partly in narrative. It is the life story of the Renards' maid-of-ail-work, sixty years old by then, her husband, Philippe, and their children. Ragotte had gone into service when she was twelve. She had a daughter, who married, a son, Paul, with whom she had quarrelled, and a younger son, Joseph, whom the Renards took to Paris to find him a job. He fell ill, was taken to the hospital and died. It was this book that brought about a break between Renard and the Mercure de France, to which he had for years been a constant contributor. It is a sympathetic and, in parts, touching story of the poverty-stricken peasants of the Nivernais–the sort of book that a reviewer would skim through in an hour and, feeling that it was the kind of thing many people would read with pleasure, write a good review of. Fiction in the Mercure de France was reviewed by Rachilde, herself a novelist of some repute, the wife of Alfred Vallette, the founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine. She dealt with Renard's novel very cursorily. He was deeply affronted that not only as a contributor, but as a shareholder of the company and an editor, a book of his should be thus treated. He resigned from the editorial board, but in a few days withdrew his resignation; he seems to have thought that amends would be made to him, perhaps by another, more substantial review, but when he was disappointed in this, he again resigned and then sold his shares in the company. It was Alfred Vallette's pride that his contributors should be free to say whatever they liked, however provocative, without giving a thought to the indignant response that might ensue. It was, indeed, this principle which was largely the cause of the magazine's success. I have had the curiosity to look out in an old number of the Mercure de France what Rachilde had said thus to affront Jules Renard. She gave his book eight lines at the very end of her article. She mentioned the title, but neither praised nor blamed it. In fact she said nothing about it at all. No review could have been more scathing. She said that now that Renard was mayor of Chitry and a member of the Académie Goncourt he could get commissions to write whatever he liked and, when people wrote articles about him, it was to praise him; she added that she had recently read one such an article and it seemed to her complete nonsense. One can only suppose that Renard had at some time offended Rachilde, as he offended so many of his friends, and she took this opportunity to get back on him.

Ragotte was, I believe, the last book he wrote. "What do I owe my family?" he asked himself. "How ungrateful! They have provided me with my works ready made." By this time, in fact, he had made all the use he could of them, and he found himself in the unfortunate situation of a professional writer who has nothing to write about. He took refuge in his Journal. "I've acquired the habit of writing everything that occurs to me, make a note of a thought just as it comes, even if it's unhealthy or criminal. It is obvious that these notes will not always show the man I am." No doubt he made some of them because their ferocity or their humour amused him. Here are a few instances: "It isn't enough to be happy; others mustn't be happy too." "You don't know what courage it needs to prevent oneself from making others suffer." "When someone tells me that a woman has been saying nasty things of me, I answer, 'I don't understand. After all, I've never done her a good turn'." He had a shyness which he never managed to surmount; it was perhaps on that account that when someone said a flattering thing to him, he could never bring himself to say an amiable one in return. He said himself that he preferred to be rude rather than obvious. Early on in the Journal he had written that it should not be just prattle as was so much of the Goncourts', but should serve to form his character and amend it. Somewhat unexpectedly he wrote, "There is no heaven, but one must try so to behave that there should be one." He felt that the Journal 'emptied' him, it was not a literary work; but for all that he was sure that it was the best thing and the most useful that he had done in his life. Perhaps he was right. I do not know that any writer, except perhaps Pepys, and he without intention, has drawn such a brutally honest portrait of himself as did Jules Renard. He was devoured with envy. "Envy is not a noble sentiment," he wrote, "but neither is hypocrisy, and I wonder what one gains by replacing one with the other." He would not read his friends' books in case he found in them something he was forced to admire. "The success of others irks me, but less than if it were deserved". He was even envious of Marinette's happiness and almost angry with her because she found it possible to be happy with a man whose character made him intolerable to everybody. Yet, after seventeen years of marriage, he could say that the best thing in his life was Marinette's devotion. "Woman, what is it," he asked somewhat rhetorically, "that attaches you to him?" He gave the answer himself, "The need he has of me." Elsewhere he wrote, "I want nothing of the past. I don't count on the future. I am a happy man because I have renounced happiness." Perhaps the most tragic note he ever made was this: "Life without its bitterness would be intolerable."

There is a passage in the Journal which one cannot read without pain. One evening, after Renard had been shooting with his man Philippe, the man timidly asked him for a rise for his son Paul, who was also working for him. Renard flew into a rage and, going to his wife, sent for the two men. "Succeeding in not getting angry, I told Philippe that he had wounded me, that I no longer had confidence in him, that he had put a wall between us, and to Paul that he could find himself another place. They were downcast, they ate only a spoonful of soup, didn't sleep that night, and next day Ragotte was in tears." Ragotte apologised humbly and begged Marinette to forgive them. "From pity, from egoism also (always, always) I was touched: it was only the second time that I'd seen Ragotte crying. 'We've been so mortified,' she said. Philippe spent the day shelling peas, sheepish and sad. An old servant with white hair, wretched for having said a stupid thing, who doesn't know how to go about it to make amends–what could be sweeter to the miserable pride of an employer?'

If the reader, who has read so far, has come to the conclusion that Jules Renard was an odious man, he would be right. No one was more aware of it than himself. But human beings are not all of a piece. If they were, the novelist's task would be simpler–and his novels duller. The strange thing about them is that the most discordant qualities may possess them so that they seem a mass of contradictions and you cannot understand how they can exist together and somehow combine to form a consistent personality. Grossly selfish as Renard was, ill-tempered and quick to take offence, he was capable of infinite tenderness. When he was parted from Marinette, he wrote to her every day. He began his letters with "My dear, dear one". He ended one with the words, "Good-bye and till soon, my sweet. At bottom, you see, there's nothing for me but you, and when you're not there nothing goes right with me." He adored his two children. The boy was called Fantec and the girl Baïe. When on one occasion he had to go to Bourges to do a short spell of military service, he wrote the day after his arrival to Marinette, "I was much pleased by the funny little face you made as I was leaving. Perhaps you cried afterwards, but you were grand at that last moment. Poor dear! I behaved well also, and Fantec too, who was playing in the sand, and, without disturbing himself, said, 'You're going to Corbigny, Daddie?' 'No, to Bourges.' 'All right. Good-bye,' said Fantec, already deep in the sand. I kissed him with all my heart for his sweet unconcern, and I have still on my cheek your kiss and Baïe's."

The children began to grow up. Bale remained at home, but Fantec went to school. Renard's letters to him are charming. They are not the letters of a father to a son, but of a friend to a friend. He consoles the boy when he hasn't got the prize he expected and praises a dissertation he has had to write, "What particularly pleases me is that your language has improved. It is strong, solid and clear. You now say what you want to say, and if you knew how rare that quality is! And one loses it as soon as one wants to have style above everything else." Surely one can forgive him his envy, his jealousy of others' success, his churlishness, when one remembers his devoted love for his dear Marinette and his two children; he was a man warped by the unhappiness of his childhood, the hardship of his early life and a shyness that was almost pathological; he had rare qualities of heart.

I have little more to say about Jules Renard. In 1907 he was elected a member of the Académie Goncourt. This gave him a regular income of four thousand francs a year. It was less than the Goncourts had intended their academicians to receive but, notwithstanding, was welcome, for his journalism was wretchedly paid. The only way then in which an author could make a reasonable income was by writing plays. Renard's one-act plays earned him little. The managers wanted plays in three acts. That was something Renard could never manage to do. Perhaps through Léon Blum, still only a man of letters, he had come to know Jean Jaurès, who was to be assassinated by a fanatic in 1914, and through his influence he became a socialist. With his usual bitter knowledge of himself he made this note in his Journal: "Should I be a socialist if I could write a play in three acts?" Though he did not write much, he occupied himself in other ways. As mayor of his village he performed the necessary duties with zeal. He made political speeches in the department and presided at political banquets. He delivered well-attended lectures at the Odeon. He had always been passionately fond of shooting, but on a sudden he found that to kill birds no longer gave him pleasure. One day, out with his gun, a lark rose. He fired, not to kill, but to see what would happen. The little bird was lying on its stomach, its beak opening and shutting. "Lark," he wrote in the Journal, "may you become the most delicate of my thoughts, the most dear of my feelings of remorse. You died for others. I tore up my licence and hung up my gun on a nail."

I have not had occasion to do more than mention that Renard had a brother and a sister. They went their different ways. He treated them with kindness and, when need arose, helped them with good advice and money. Towards the end of 1909, in letter to his sister he told her that of late he had not been well, "But Marinette is there, and I too, and we'll look after ourselves." In the following year, he told her that the doctors said he was suffering from arteriosclerosis and he was threatened– "Oh, much later, in thirty years or so, with internal hæmorrhages, senile decay and partial paralysis." In March, presumably to reassure her, he wrote again to say that he was in no danger. "The mysterious malady arteriosclerosis always gives me a certain anxiety, which I'll have to watch, but there's no immediate menace. I'll try to live with it. Perhaps one has to be slightly ill to live fully and reasonably." On 6th April 1910 Renard wrote to Lugné Poë, the actor and manager, that he wanted his play Poil de Carotte to enter the repertory of the Comédie Française. He died next day. He was only forty-six. When one considers the long torture of his life, one cannot resist the impression that his misfortune was to have been born with a talent, even a remarkable talent, but without the creative faculty. He would have been a happier man if he had never written a line.


Now I come to the last of my three journalists. Paul Léautau was the oddest, the most disreputable, the most outrageous, but to my mind the most sympathetic of the three. Though he produced little, two short autobiographical novels, two volume of theatrical criticism and a number of articles that appeared for the most part in the Mercure de France, I am inclined to think that he had a remarkable and individual talent. He had traits that shock one and traits that extort one's admiration. He was an egoist, but devoid of vanity, a lecher without passion, cynical and conscientious, desperately poor, but indifferent to money, harsh in his dealings with his fellows, but to animals compassionate, savagely independent, indifferent to what others thought of him, a brilliant talker with a caustic wit, truthful, honest, but cheerfully tolerant of the dishonesty of others–altogether a very strange man, as will appear when I narrate as best I can something about him. The sources are the two novels I have mentioned, Le Petit Ami and In Memoriam, the four volumes of his Journal dating from 1893 to 1924, and the talks on the radio with Robert Mallet that he gave from November 1950 to July 1951. It is they, by their frankness, their spice, and their revelation of an unusual creature, that brought him at the age of seventy-eight, after the long obscurity of his life, what I would not venture to call fame, but notoriety.

Paul was born in 1872. His father, Firmin Léautaud, the son of a peasant in the Basses Alpes, did not come to Paris till he was twenty, at which age he was apprenticed to an uncle, a working jeweller and watchmaker, who had a shop in Montmartre. On his uncle's death he entered the Conservatoire and eventually became an actor. He was apparently not a good one, for after some years he abandoned the profession to become prompter at the Comédie Française, a job which he held for something like thirty years. Besides acting as prompter, he trained the younger members of the company in elocution and diction. He was a handsome man–so fascinating that he only had to look at a woman with his fine eyes for her to fall. At the time I am now dealing with he had an actress, called Fanny, living with him in Montmartre. One evening Fanny's younger sister, Jeanne, seventeen years old, came to see them. It grew late and they did not like her to go home by herself to Montparnasse, where her parents lived, so Léautaud suggested that she should spend the night with them. As there was only one bed in the apartment the three of them slept together, with Léautaud in the middle. I don't quite know how to put what happened in terms that will not seem coarse: after some amorous dalliance with Fanny, Léautaud transferred his attentions to her sister. Next day her parents turned her out for her misconduct and she went back, having nowhere else to go, to Fanny and Léautaud. A few days later Fanny left the apartment in a huff and Jeanne stayed on. In due course she had a baby. Since father and mother were on the stage, acting separately, it was farmed out. Such were the origins of Paul Léautaud. He did not go back to his father till he was over two, by which time Firmin and Jeanne had separated. Firmin engaged a nurse to look after him. She was called Marie Pezé and he loved her as a mother. He did not sleep in the apartment in the rue des Martyrs, but with his nurse, partly because he could not be left alone at night and partly because his father seldom came home without a new mistress. When Paul was five, his mother, on her way to Berlin to fill an engagement or to meet a lover, came with her mother, Madame Forestier, to see him in his nurse's attic room. He was lying in bed ill, and very sulky, with his back turned to the two women. Marie Pezé had to force him to say good morning to them. He never forgot the remark his mother made, "My God, how disagreeable that child is!" They stayed five minutes and it was three years before he saw her again. One day she appeared at the apartment in the rue des Martyrs and Paul was brought in. He was shy, hardly daring to look at her, and timidly called her Madame. She arranged that next morning he should come to the house where she had taken a room so that they could spend the day together, after which she would leave him at the tavern which his father frequented on getting back from the theatre. he went as planned. He found his mother in bed, sitting up, her hair in some disorder, her arms bare and, her night-dress having slipped , her breast uncovered. She took him in her arms, drew him to her bosom and kissed him. She was very pretty, supple, lively and graceful. She dressed and they went to have luncheon with his father. After that they took a cab and went to the zoo. Paul was allowed to ride a pony. Then they went to the restaurant at the Palais Royal and dined there. After that Jeanne took him to see a play at the Châtelet. They left a little before the end and went on to the Folies Bergère. His mother went straight to the promenade to gossip with old friends. He couldn't get over all the people she knew. They greeted her like a long-lost sister. From time to time she pointed to him and told them who he was. "Oh, it's your son. He's sweet." At closing time they went with a group to have supper at a neighbouring inn. Then Jeanne took him back to the tavern where his father was waiting for him. She kissed him and left. He didn't see her again for two or three years and then only for half an hour. After that he heard nothing of her for twenty years. He was told that she had got married. The day he spent with his mother was his most cherished recollection.

When Paul was eight his father picked up a girl, Louise by name, who lived in the quarter. She was fifteen and he was forty-eight. She spent several nights with him. Marie Pezé, outraged, protested that he was giving the little boy a shocking example, whereupon Firmin lost his temper and, to Paul's bitter grief, discharged her. He took the girl to live with him. Paul was given a tiny room in the apartment. Until then he had been happy enough, but he did not get on with the new mistress, and one day he threw a bottle of ink at her, for which he was severely beaten. His father as ever remained brutal, negligent and dissolute. Every night after dinner Paul was locked up in his room and, notwithstanding his tears, left alone, terrified, in the dark.

A year or two later Firmin Léautaud decided to live out of town and took a house in the neighbouring suburb of Courbevoie. Paul went to school there. At fifteen he went to work in Paris. He earned twenty-five francs, which his father took for his board. I can pass over the next years of Léautaud's life very briefly. He entered the army to do his military service, but was myopic and after seven months was discharged. He got a job at a wholesale glover's and began to write verse. After throwing up this job, he got one as third clerk in an attorney's office. He liked the work and stayed for ten years. Then he entered the office of a certain Lemarquis, who was a trustee in bankruptcy. He was evidently competent, for he was given important assignments. Among others he had to administer the estate of a man who on his death had left two million francs, then eighty thousand pounds, and enormous debts. Lemarquis told him to manage the affair so as to have as much as possible left over for the widow. He did this so satisfactorily (and somewhat unscrupulously) that when the negotiations with creditors came to an end he received a handsome gratuity.

During this long time, after his day's work he was in the habit of going to a crèmerie, near the Folies Bergère, where prostitutes had their mid-day and evening meals before dressing and going to the cafes and music halls in the hope of finding customers. He soon became very friendly with them. They would consult him about a new hat or a dress. They would show him their letters and he would write a draft of the answer they should send. Sometimes he accompanied them to a cafe. They knew he had no money and gave him cigarettes and chocolates. At the evening's end, if one of them hadn't done any business, she would ask him to come back with her, not always to make love, but to go quietly to bed. Sometimes one or other would ask him to come to see her in the afternoon and they would gossip by the hour. They talked of their early years and Léautaud talked to them of his mother. He claimed that these friends of his taught him a great deal. It may be they did.

Owing to a disagreement with Lemarquis, which resulted in his discharge, Paul, in his late twenties by this time, found himself out of a job, with nothing to live on but the gratuity his employer had given him. He shared a room with Van Bever, a minor man of letters with whom he had been at school. Both were miserably poor. Paul's father would give him nothing, hut Fanny, his aunt, had never ceased to take an interest in him and did her best to see him once or twice a year. She gave him a few francs now and then and sent him clothes; they were cheap and nasty, but he was grateful for them. He continued to write verses. In the hope of getting them published, he asked Van Bever if he could get Lugné Poë, whose secretary Van Bever was at the time, to give him a letter of introduction to Alfred Vallette, the editor of the Mercure de France. When Léautaud went to see him with the letter, Vallette said to him, "One doesn't need an introduction to come here. The only introduction is your verse, good or bad." A few weeks later Léautaud saw himself in print.

He had made a good impression on Vallette. Léautaud was a brilliant talker. Acid, but witty. His repartees were prompt, often cruel, but always amusing. Many years later he published a very short book, called Propos d'un Jour, which was a collection of epigrams, aphorisms and wisecracks. When the critics remarked that there were too many of his own, he retorted that most people were so dull, he seldom came across witticisms as good as his own. Vallette, who enjoyed his conversation, very sensibly advised him to write in prose and during the next three or four years he produced a number of essays which appeared in the magazine. They are stylishly written in a manner presumably well liked at the time, but which Léautaud soon abandoned for one of a more pleasing simplicity. He became a regular contributor to the Mercure; he reviewed books and, in collaboration with Van Bever, published an anthology of the poetry of the day which had a considerable success. It is not my intention to describe the two or three more or less serious love affairs, if that is the proper name for them, that Léautaud had. They are uninteresting. He himself said, "Love interests me too little." Van Bever got married and at the beginning of the century we find Léautaud living in a tiny apartment with a young woman called Blanche. Léautaud liked her; she gave him peace and did not interfere with his work. Presently he started on a novel which, at Vallette's suggestion, was to be named Le Petit Ami. It was on the whole an accurate account of Leautaud' s early life; but when he had finished with his reminiscences of the prostitutes with whom he had consorted, ending up with the charming and pathetic description of the death of one called La Perruche, he found himself at a dead end. Then something happened which, as he said afterwards, was a bit of luck. He received a telegram from his grandmother, Madame Forestier, to tell him that his Aunt Fanny was desperately ill and if he wanted to see her once more he must come at once. The old lady and her daughter had been living for a good many years at Calais, where Fanny, an actress, had been a member of the stock company which played there. Paul supposed that Jeanne, his mother, would have been sent for. He had not seen her for twenty years, but he still remembered the charming, graceful creature with whom so long ago he had spent a day. He wondered how he would find her. He feared he would find a rather battered, serious lady and he was in half a mind not to go. He went. When he got to Calais, his grandmother, whom he had seen but once in his life and then only for five minutes, began at once to talk to him of his mother. Paul knew that she was married, but he learned then that she lived in Geneva with her husband and her two children. Her husband, a man of some importance, had fallen in love with her while she was a member of the company at Geneva, and she became his mistress. She bore him a boy and a girl and then he married her. Madame Forestier told Léautaud that his mother had never once spoken of him. He suggested that it would be embarrassing for her to find him installed there without having been warned. His grandmother told him it was no matter: she wouldn't recognise him.

Paul was thirty. He was a little man, with a heavy brown beard and a moustache. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles. Though his linen was clean, as always, he was so shabby that his grandmother gave him ten francs to go there and then to buy a pair of trousers. His mother arrived at half-past one in the afternoon. Léautaud had just accompanied to the door someone who had come to have news of Fanny when he heard steps on the stairs. He looked over the banister and saw a woman coming up, in a black dress, with a small valise in her hand. He recognised her at once. He told his grandmother she was on the way and shut himself up in his room. Jeanne entered the apartment, kissed her mother and, after taking off her hat and coat, went in to see her sister. Then she asked for luncheon. They were to eat in the kitchen and to get to it the two women, mother and daughter, had to pass through the room in which Léautaud was seated. His mother bowed slightly and said, "Bonjour, Monsieur." He answered, "Bonjour, Madame." When they got into the kitchen, he heard his mother ask who he was. Since he did not want to hear the answer he made a noise in his room. Later his grandmother told him. "I preferred not to say who you were. It might have been awkward for her. I said you were a friend, someone from the theatre, who had come to help us." Léautaud did not believe a word of it. His mother knew very well who he was, but wanted to act as though she didn't. It was not till she had gone back to Geneva that his grandmother told him the truth. When Jeanne had asked, "Who is that?" she had answered, "It's Paul." "Who is Paul?" "Why, your son."

Anyhow, after a while, Jeanne joined them and the two women began to gossip. She talked of her children with affection. Then his grandmother told Léautaud that, since her daughter would be using his bed, he would have to take a room in a near-by hotel. "I must apologise, Monsieur, for making you turn out," his mother said to him then. "Not at all, Madame," he replied. "It's the least I can do."

The ice was broken and, while the old lady went to see about one thing and another, Jeanne asked him to tell her the Paris news, spoke of the Comédie Française and enquired of friends whom she had once known. He told her all he could. As I have said, he was a clever talker and he amused her.

When they had dined, Léautaud sat with his mother in Fanny's room. After some time, she said, "Listen, Paul, I know who you are." She began to talk in undertones of her early youth, her first love affairs when she was fifteen or sixteen, of her husband and children. Then she explained her long silence. She had often asked Fanny and her mother about him, but had learnt nothing. She had read his name two or three years before in connection with something he had written in the Mercure. Oh, if she had only known where to write to him! In 1900 she went to Paris for the Exhibition with her husband and children. How she would have hurried to him if she had only known where to find him! Léautaud knew there wasn't a word of truth in anything she said. After all, she only had to write to him at the office of the Mercure. He did not speak. When she had done talking he took her to her room. She kissed him. In his eyes she was still young and desirable. He put his arm round her waist and took her in his arms, and kissed her neck, her eyes, her breasts. "You mustn't mind," he said. "What?" "I don't know, but I don't kiss you like a mother." While she was turning down the sheets, he said to her, "I'll go into the sitting-room. I'll come back when you're in bed and sit by you." Though he insisted, she wouldn't let him do that, and he went to his hotel. When he returned next morning he was told that Fanny was dead.

Léautaud had a lot of things to see to, but he and Jeanne were able to pass the afternoon and evening together. They talked. She cross-questioned him about his love life. When they were alone she would put her arm round his neck and say, "Kiss me quick. What would people say if they saw us kissing like this in secret?" And once, "You see, we look like two lovers. What would have happened ten years ago?" He could not but think what he would have felt to kiss her as he would have kissed a mistress–his mother, but, after all, a woman like another. For her he was just a man, and a young man at that. He thought of her slim, graceful body and wondered what her thoughts were when she looked at him. When he left her for the night, as she kissed him again, "You'll never know how much I love you," he said. He asked himself if she had the same passionate feeling for him as he had for her. Who could tell–loose as she had been and as, from the questions she had put to him, still seemed to be?

While Léautaud was undergoing these shattering emotions he did not forget the unfinished book he had left in Paris. From the moment of his mother's arrival, he made notes whenever he had the opportunity. Once she noticed him at it and asked him what he was about. He told her that he was jotting down his expenses. Alone in his hotel room at night, he thought of all that had passed. He told himself that his mother's tenderness did not mean much. But after all, he said to himself, one mustn't ask too much of the poor woman; she did what she could. He took up his note-book and put down all that had happened during the day. He ends the paragraph of Le Petit Ami in which he has described this with the words, "Grandeur of the man of letters! One may be a son, one may have found one's mother again after twenty years of separation, the moment one has a book on the stocks, that goes before everything. There are no things that one has felt, heard or seen that one doesn't intend to put in it, however sacred they may be. It may be that these things were not very sacred."

Next day there was a funeral service for Fanny, who was to be buried in Paris. When it was over the two women and Léautaud went home. It had been arranged that he should take the coffin to Paris that evening. Jeanne was to leave next day. Since she would have to wait for three hours in Paris before her train started for Geneva, they agreed that Léautaud should meet her at the station so that he might show her his apartment, after which they could dine together. He arrived in Paris at five in the morning and by ten o'clock everything was finished and Fanny buried. He got Blanche to make herself scarce for a few hours so that his mother should not know that he lived with a woman. The day seemed very long and at five, with an hour still to wait, he was at the station. On the way he had bought a bunch of violets. The train came in. His mother was not on it. He waited till eight, watching one train come in after another. Nobody. Then it occurred to him that she might have changed her mind and had sent a telegram to tell him that she was detained in Calais. He took a cab, a fearful extravagance for him, and went to his apartment. Nothing. He hurried back to the Gare de Lyon and got there at eight-thirty-five. The train for Geneva was to start at eight-fifty. He ran on to the platform and along the train.

Jeanne was sitting in the corner of a carriage, quite quietly, looking at the people who passed. He jumped in. "Well my boy, what is it?" she said. He burst into tears. She reasoned with him. After all, it was only a date that had gone wrong. "Poor boy," she said. "We'll arrange all that. We'll meet again. We'll make up for it." She kissed him. She was surrounded by parcels and it was obvious that she had never intended to meet him, but had got out of the train at a previous station and gone shopping. It may well be that she did not want to spend two or three hours alone with the unknown son whose demonstrative affection somewhat embarrassed her. The porters were shutting the carriage doors. She offered him a five franc piece which, bitterly hurt, Paul refused. He put the bunch of violets, somewhat crushed by them, on the seat beside her, said good-bye and left. He cried all night in the arms of Blanche. On arrival at Geneva, Jeanne sent a post-card to Madame Forestier. It ran as follows, "The train got to Paris an hour and a quarter late. I didn't see Paul. Did he get tired of waiting? That grieved me and I don't know what to think."

On the day after these events Paul wrote a ten-page letter to his mother, reproaching her for having treated him so cruelly, but telling her that he loved her with all his heart. On the same day she wrote to him from Geneva. "Only a word in haste," she began, "to assure you of my affection, why had there to be that wretched mishap to deprive me of the sweet hours that I was rejoicing to spend with you, I'd longed to see your room, so that I could follow you in my thoughts, and what a night I passed in that horrid train that was taking me away from you." And she finished, "Good-bye, my dear one, take the tender kisses of your mother who has never forgotten you and to whom your presence has put a ray of sunshine in her heart." Léautaud, when he read this phrase, remarked, "She must read some very poor books."

From then on for a while they wrote to one another almost every day. Jeanne's letters were affectionate, Paul's passionate. In one of hers she wrote, "I must tell you that I am often hurt and worried by the sort of affection that you show me, until now I've ascribed many things to your sentimentality, but your letters, which it was a joy to me to keep, are sometimes so equivocal as to be possibly dangerous, and I think I shall destroy them; what pains me also is to see you interpreting my letters as you do and however flattered I am by the admiration you show me, I find it excessive and embarrassing." Oddly enough, in one letter she advised Paul to write a novel founded on his early life. It never occurred to her that he had already written a great part of it and was even then busy with the copious notes he had made during the three days they had spent together in Calais. Financial matters arose which further strained their relations. Léautaud's grandmother had taken a fancy to Paul and gave him such stocks as she possessed on the understanding that he should send her the dividends during her lifetime and after her death inherit them. She told the plan to her daughter, who was indignant. "You're not going to give everything you have to this man whom we don't know!" Considering that her husband was well-to-do, whereas her son was penniless, it was not generous on her part.

It would be tedious to describe at length the correspondence between Léautaud and his mother. Her letters grew colder. She complained that he read into them more than she meant. She got it into her head that he was reproachful for her long neglect of him. She was afraid that he might come to Geneva and begged him not to do so without her consent. Finally she asked him to return her letters. He did not send them and she asked for them again; then she wrote, "Until you have sent me back my letters, without leaving out a single one, I shall not write to you." He refused to do so. In a further letter she wrote to him she said, "There's only one thing I regret and that is to have given you in my letters, from a sense of duty, the illusion of an affection that I couldn't feel, as I didn't know you, which all the same I might have had if you had shown yourself worthy of it. I can only congratulate myself on not having brought you up, for I should feel profoundly humiliated. Now whether you come to Geneva or not, doesn't matter to me; we shall be two to receive you; my husband and I . . . " In return he wrote a stinging letter. She answered with one which ended with the words, "I tell you again that I am so indifferent to you, you are so little my son, that I don't feel myself concerned or humiliated by your shameful conduct; it would certainly have been better if I had always ignored you, but what then? You will have passed in my life like a bad dream, which, believe me and notwithstanding everything, will fade quickly from my memory." After that, though he continued to write, she did not reply. She did not even write when he told her in two lines that his father, her old lover, had died.

When Le Petit Ami was published it was much talked about, much praised and much abused. Owing to the closeness of the tie that unites mother and son in France, a tie that, though sometimes merely conventional, is for the most part genuine, many readers were frankly horrified. That Paul should have made it clear that he had incestuous desires for his mother, that she should, if not encourage them, at least not discourage them, was shocking. It didn't make it any better that he said they were strangers to one another. She did not repel his passionate embraces; whenever they were alone she kissed him fondly, and it was she who said that they were more like two lovers than mother and son. She even went so far as to hint that if they had met ten years before, when he was twenty, things might have gone differently. One gets the impression that she was far from displeased with his passion and, if she did not yield, it was not for the immorality of the matter, but from her prudence as a respectably married woman. His feelings were unequivocal. Perhaps such feelings are not so rare as is generally believed. An intelligent psychiatrist of my acquaintance, whose work is chiefly with juvenile delinquents, has told me they often tell him, with something like shame, that they would like to go to bed with their mothers. I think he would ascribe it to the promiscuity in which the boys of that class live, the lack of privacy and the fact that the only love they have known is that which their mother gave them when they were children, so that when the sexual instinct became active it was directed towards her. Paul Léautaud was not a juvenile delinquent, but he had been a neglected child, he had longed for his mother's love, he had idolised her and had never forgotten that day when he had found her, half naked, in bed and she had covered his face with kisses; it may be abominable that he should have had the desire to have sexual connection with her when after twenty years he saw her again, so graceful, so charming, so tender, but it was not unnatural. I do not condone, I merely state the facts. You may say he should never have written an account of those three wanton days at Calais: to write was his passion and, devoid of imagination as he was, he could only write about himself and what happened to him.

In 1903 Firmin Léautaud died. After having a son by Louise, the little harlot he had taken to live with him, he married her. Paul detested her, but went to see his father, still living at Courbevoie, every other Sunday. For six years Firmin had been partly paralysed and could only go from one room to another with the help of his wife and his young son. One Sunday, going as usual to Courbevoie, Paul found that his father had grown worse. He spent a couple of days there and returned to Paris. The following morning he received a telegram bidding him come at once. He found his father dying. Four days later he died. Paul Léautaud had always been interested in death and during these four days he stored in his memory every step of his father's disintegration, the conversation of the friends who came to see the dying man, who, after a few minutes during which they expressed their sympathy, began to chatter about their own affairs; the impatience of the man's wife and son, and his own too, because the agony lasted so long. Though they would not admit it, they felt that if he had to die, the sooner the better.

Paul Léautaud wrote a long account of his father's death and published it in the Mercure. It was called In Memoriam. Some subscribers were so outraged that they refused to renew their subscriptions to the magazine, but in literary circles it was much admired for its ruthless sincerity and its strange mixture of cynicism and emotion. Some members of the Académie Goncourt were anxious to give it the yearly prize. Unfortunately it was too short. It ran to a little over thirty pages. But there was a dearth of candidates for the prize, and members of the academy assured Léautaud that if he could so spin it out as to make something of a book there was no doubt that it would receive the award. Vallette was eager that he should do this, since it would be a good advertisement for the firm. Léautaud was tempted. In theory he did not approve of such prizes, but this one would not only bring him five thousand francs, two hundred pounds, an immense sum for him, but, with the publicity that the choice brought, would ensure a sale of four or five thousand copies. In the Journal Léautaud has described at tedious length the discussions that took place. At last it was arranged that he should rewrite two articles that had appeared under the name of Amours in the Mercure. They dealt with his early love affairs, but it is hard to see how they could possibly have been incorporated in an account of his father's death. Nothing came of it and the prize was given to someone else.

Vallette had for some time been dissatisfied with his dramatic critic and he pressed Léautaud to take his place. The Mercure was a fortnightly and he was to be paid seven francs a page, but not more than twenty-eight francs a number. This looks like wretched payment, but the Mercure had a circulation of only three thousand and Vallette could not afford to be lavish. After some hesitation Léautaud accepted the offer. For his theatrical criticism he used the pseudonym of Maurice Boissard. This was supposed to be an elderly gentleman of modest means, who was not a man of letters, but who liked the theatre. Léautaud wrote dramatic criticism for seventeen years. At the end of this time he collected his articles and published them in two volumes. Although most of the plays he dealt with have long been forgotten, his articles can still be read with pleasure. They are caustic, lively, humorous and prejudiced. Léautaud had no patience with the plays that sought to instruct, to preach or to moralise. He hated the pompous, the verbose and the artificial. He asked of a play that it should amuse or move. He insisted that people should talk as they talked in real life and was scathing in his condemnation of dialogue that no human being could dream of speaking. He greatly liked the plays of Sacha Guitry. He admitted that he was a light-weight, but in his plays people did speak as they spoke in ordinary life and behaved as it was natural for them to behave. When Léautaud found a play worthless he wrote of anything that occurred to him, and only just mentioned the piece he was supposed to deal with. His victims were incensed, but readers enjoyed his articles and some bought the magazine solely to read them. Eventually it was learnt that Maurice Boissard, the old gentleman living on his savings, was none other than the author of the scandalous Le Petit Ami and the hardly less scandalous In Memoriam. Rachilde, Vallette's wife, had never liked him. She was in the habit of receiving on Tuesday evenings the literary persons and their wives who cared to come. Some might be authors, or the friends of authors, whom Léautaud, as Maurice Boissard, had made bitter fun of. They did not fail to complain of their ill-treatment. She told her husband, but he answered that Léautaud was read and the Mercure had never been more prosperous. She persisted, others backed her up, and finally Vallette yielded. He took the dramatic criticism in the Mercure away from Léautaud. Fortunately for him, however, André Gide offered him, at a much higher rate, the position of dramatic critic on the Nouvelle Revue Française, of which he was the mainstay. Léautaud was glad to take it. But that only lasted for two years. It came to an end when he wrote a mocking criticism of a play by Jules Remains and refused to alter a word of it. The editors of the Nouvelle Revue Française were in an awkward position. They were publishers as well and they published Jules Remains's novels. Remains was furious at being so cruelly ridiculed in the magazine and they were afraid he would leave them for another publisher. They did not want to lose a valuable property and Léautaud was dismissed. Then he wrote for the Nouvelles Littéraires, but, owing to his obstinacy to have every word he had written printed, only for a few months. Thus ended, in 1923, his career as a dramatic critic.

Now I must return briefly to 1907. Léautaud was miserably poor. At one time he was forced to pawn his father's watch and his cuff-links. They brought him thirty-five francs. He was still living with Blanche. The money he had received from Lemarquis was coming to an end and their situation was desperate. In the hope of improving it, she started a boarding-house on funds provided by a former lover. They reckoned that after paying expenses it would give a profit of two hundred francs a month and with this, and the pittance Léautaud earned at the Mercure, they could just scrape along. Léautaud had always felt that an author should not live by his pen, but should provide for his board and lodging by some other occupation. It was only thus that he could be certain of retaining his literary independence. He looked about now for a job, but found it impossible to get one that suited him. Then Vallette offered him the post of secretary to the Mercure de France. His working hours were to be from nine-thirty till six and he would be paid 125 francs a month. This sum Vallette unwillingly increased to 150 francs, but made it plain that there would be no further rise. Blanche advised him to refuse and keep his liberty. It seemed shocking that at the age of thirty-five, and with the reputation he had acquired, he should accept such a paltry salary; but he was afraid that if he refused the offer Vallette would be angry with him and perhaps no longer want him to write for the magazine. Finally he accepted and on the first of January 1908 entered upon his duties. They were to remind subscribers that their subscriptions were due, see visitors and keep them from disturbing Vallette if he thought fit, receive manuscripts and consider them, correct proofs and in short do any odd jobs that needed doing. He held the post for thirty-three years and on the whole enjoyed it. The life suited him. He met the literary men of the day, and had plenty of time for gossip, which was the great pleasure of his life.

A thousand copies of Le Petit Ami had been printed. It took twenty years to sell them. Vallette then wanted to re-issue it. Léautaud refused to let him. He was dissatisfied with it and wanted to re-write it. There were parts that he thought too literary. Léautaud used the word littérature in two ways. When he spoke of ma littérature he only meant his writings; when he cried, "La littérature avant tout," it was to affirm his right to write of his mother without respect and of his father without affection. It is true that his mother had no claim to his respect nor his father to his affection. Léautaud took the craft of writing very seriously, and there are numerous passages of the Journal concerned with it. He conceived the notion that he wrote his best when he wrote what had occurred to him on the spur of the moment. I suppose he means by that when he wrote with what we call inspiration. When he laboured to put down on paper what he wanted to say the result, to his own mind, was dull and lifeless. Above all, he aimed at being natural. When he came across in Le Petit Ami a grammatical mistake he left it because it had come naturally. He thought that the word that first occurs to one is the best one to use and he would not own a dictionary. In this, oddly enough, Chekhov agreed with him. Léautaud thought that all writers used too many words and that what they wrote would be all the better if they wrote fewer. He had no patience with words put in to balance a phrase; he believed that if one said just what was needed, the phrase had balance. He liked poetic prose as little as he liked prosy poetry. He had no use for the flowery and the ornate. He eschewed metaphors and similes. His desire was to be brief, vivid and succinct. All this is reasonable enough and without doubt we should all write better if we bore his principles in mind.

Of course Léautaud had his prejudices. He detested Flaubert for the artificiality and the monotony of his style and claimed, rashly, that anyone could write like him who cared to take the trouble. One of Léautaud's cherished notions was that a writer's style should be so individual that you have only to read a page to name him. That is all very well, but from this Léautaud seems to infer that the style is good. It does not follow. No one who had ever read the novels of George Meredith, and in the later years of the nineteenth century all young men who fancied themselves cultured idolised him, no one who read a page from one of his novels could fail to know who had written it. It is just that fantastic, tortured, acrobatic style that now makes him, notwithstanding his great merits, difficultly readable.

Léautaud had never been out of France. He seldom left Paris. He loved its streets, he loved its shops; he had associations with every corner of Montmartre and the quarter of the left bank which had its centre in St. Sulpice and the Pantheon. In 1911 he left Paris to live in a suburb. This harsh, selfish, bitter man had a passion for animals. The sight of a broken-down nag pulling a heavy cart shattered him so that he could think of nothing else all day. His heart was wrung when he saw in the streets dogs and cats that their owners, going away for a holiday, had left to fend for themselves. When he came upon a lost dog he would go to a shop and buy four sous' worth of cooked meat and give it to him, then try to find someone who would give it a home. Every evening he bought minced meat at the butcher's and took it to the stray cats that wandered about the gardens of the Luxembourg. And remember, he was desperately poor; he had to scrape and save to have enough to eat. On one occasion he came across a dog that was obviously starving. He had only a franc in his pocket for his day's food and that only because he had been thrifty the day before. He went and bought meat for the lost brute. That day, as on many others, he ate only bread and cheese. Léautaud had a cat of his own whom (or which) both he and Blanche doted on. From their constant squabbles it looks as though their passion for Boule, that was the cat's name, was the only thing that kept them together. Boule eventually died and Léautaud found and adopted a strange dog whom he called Amis and to whom he soon grew devoted. The time came when he had to make one of his numerous changes of habitation and for the dog's sake he looked for an apartment on the ground floor so that it could easily be let out. The various concierges of houses he applied at told him that dogs were not allowed, so he decided to live out of town. He found a small house with a garden in the suburb called Fontenay aux Roses and settled there. There he remained for the rest of his life.

It is not clear whether Blanche went with him. From remarks he made in one of his dramatic criticisms, in which, as I have said, he was apt to talk of everything except of the play upon which he was called to deliver judgment, he tells of a woman, presumably Blanche, who lived with him, abandoned him for a rich lover, returned and abandoned him again, and when she once more returned, he would have nothing more to do with her. He said, characteristically enough, that though you no longer love your mistress, when she leaves you for another, you can't help being angry and jealous. He was able now to house all the stray cats and lost dogs that he came across. He often had as many as thirty. It complicated his life. He had to take the train in the morning to be at the offices of the Mercure by nine-thirty and when they were closed at six he had to take the train back to Fontenay to feed his animals; then, two or three times a week at least, he had to return to Paris to see a play and did not get home till after midnight. Sometimes he had a woman of mature age to clean up and cook for him, but it was not a success, since sooner or later she made advances to him and, when he rejected them, left in a huff. He was on the whole better off alone. He managed well enough. His tastes were simple. He did not mind what he ate, he never drank spirits, and wine but seldom. His only luxury was tea.

The years went by. The First World War was waged. The Second World War broke out. Most of Léautaud's friends, Van Bever, his oldest friend, died; Remy de Gourmont, with whom he was more intimate than with any other man of letters of his day, died; Alfred Vallette died. Vallette had published his first poems, had encouraged him to write and had printed in the Mercure everything he wrote. Though he scolded him sometimes for his unpunctuality in arriving at the office in the morning and for the unconscionable time he stayed away when he went out to lunch, he defended him from the attacks of his enemies and when he was penniless cheerfully lent him money. He was a curious editor. He never read the contributions to his magazine until they were in print and then only if for some reason he was obliged to. He chose his staff with care and gave them freedom to do what they thought fit. The only thing he asked of them was that they should not bore. He made the Mercure an influential magazine with, comparatively, a wide circulation. One day someone asked him if he had read a certain book. "Good God, no," he answered. "Isn't it enough that I published it?" Vallette's successor as head of the firm was a certain Jacques Bernard. One morning when Léautaud arrived at the office, the concierge told him that Bernard wished to see him at once. On going to his room Jacques Bernard said to him, "Léautaud, I have decided to part with you for the pleasure of not seeing you any more." He added, "If I have to take money from my own pocket, I'll take it." Léautaud, never at a loss for a repartee, answered, "When one gets such a pleasure, it's worth a certain sacrifice." He took his bits and pieces out of the room he had occupied for three and thirty years, and departed. Thus brutally fired after so long a period, he was destitute. He was sixty-nine. He applied for an old age pension and was granted it. When the war came to an end Jacques Bernard was tried on the charge of collaboration with the enemy. He must have been nervous when he heard that Léautaud was one of the witnesses for the prosecution. The evidence he gave was so temperate that Bernard was acquitted. Some months before this Léautaud had an experience that few of us authors have the luck to enjoy. The Vichy radio announced that he was dead. The news occasioned a great number of articles, and Léautaud was astounded to find that they were laudatory. That was the last thing he expected.

During the German Occupation Léautaud lived quietly at Fontenay aux Roses. He suffered from the cold. Since coal was unobtainable, he cut down the trees in his garden for firewood. Food was scarce and he was reduced to eating four potatoes a day. He cooked them himself. To his sorrow he could no longer provide for the large number of cats and dogs that he had cared for so tenderly. He was forced to get rid of them. The war ended. He made a little money by journalism, but remained desperately poor: it was a stroke of luck for him when someone had the idea, in 1950, of getting him to have a series of conversations on the radio with a writer called Robert Mallet. They were later published and one edition after another was issued. Mine is the sixteenth. Léautaud was seventy-eight. In these talks he proved himself as pig-headed and pugnacious, as vivacious, witty and prejudiced, as scornful of sentimentality, as sensible and unreasonable as he had always been. They delighted listeners. We may hope that the money he received from them enabled him to live in some comfort for the rest of his life. He died in the eighty-fourth year of his age.

I don't know what the reader of these pages will make of the sketch, necessarily inadequate, of the strange man whom I have done my best to describe. He was a card. He cannot be judged by ordinary standards. He was a mixture of heterogeneous traits. He was callous and emotional, ruthlessly independent, passionately interested in literature and indignant with those who made it a business and a source of advancement, irascible and impatient with those who did not think as he did, faithful to those he liked and merciless to those he despised. He prided himself on never having done anyone harm. It is odd that it never occurred to him that a word might be more hurtful than a blow. When people asked him how he could be so kindly to animals and to his fellow creatures so brutal, he answered that animals were defenceless, dependent on people, but human beings could defend themselves. I have said little about his love life. He was interested in women only if he could have with them what the papers nowadays delicately call intimacy. He thought them deceitful, malicious, exacting, mercenary and stupid. From his own accounts he was an unsatisfactory lover–for reasons which the reader, if he thinks it worth the trouble, can find out for himself in the Journal. Love, of course, is not the right word in this connection, but the right word is unprintable. He was incapable of love, for he was interested only in himself. He was surely right when he said that love is rooted in sexual attraction and cannot arise without it, but seems not to have seen that it only becomes love when it gives rise to feelings, bitter pains and ecstatic joys, more commendable.

Paul Léautaud looked upon his Journal as his only work of any importance. He attached very little to Le Petit Ami and In Memoriam. Four volumes of the Journal have been published. They deal with his life from 1903 to 1924, but as he went on writing it till the end of it there must be a good many volumes to come. When it is complete it will provide an interesting account of the literary world of his day. It will deal with no such figures as the Goncourts had the advantage of dealing with. Sainte-Beuve, Taine, Renan, Michelet, Flaubert were long since dead. So were the poets Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Mallarmé. These were the great figures that had given distinction to their era and made France the proud centre of culture and civilisation. Even the popular novelists, Alphonse Daudet and Émile Zola, were dead. Who were the authors that Léautaud found to write about? It would be unfair to say that they were trivial. They were gifted, but their gifts were on a smaller scale than those of their predecessors. There was Henri de Régnier, a delicate poet and a graceful novelist; there was Barrès, who intoxicated the young with his Culte du Moi, but turned to politics and propaganda; there was the talented and cultivated André Gide. There was Anatole France, much admired in his own day and unjustly despised in ours. There was Moréas, a Greek, whose Stances Léautaud admired and whom he liked as a man for his modesty, good nature and bohemian ways; there was Apollinaire, a Pole, who was killed in the First World War; there was Paul Valéry. The writers who held the stage during the first thirty or forty years of this century were talented in their different ways, but they had neither the significance for their contemporaries, nor the authority and influence which their predecessors of the nineteenth century had had for theirs.

The volumes of Léautaud's Journal that have so far been published make curious reading. There is a good deal that can be skipped. Léautaud loved a bit of scandal: you cannot at this time of day be interested in the long recital of a sordid love affair between persons you have never heard of. But as a picture of the literary life in Paris during the period of which Léautaud wrote, the book is remarkable. The phrase tells us that dog don't eat dog. That was not the case with these authors. They seldom had a good word to say for one another. There was a certain amount of corruption. An author who had money was not above paying the editor of a newspaper to insert the eulogistic review of his book that he had himself written. Authors were not ashamed to bring all the influence they could bring to bear in order to get favourable notices. Intrigue was general, to get published, to get publicity, to get a decoration; and nowhere was it more rampant than when it was a matter of getting one of the literary prizes, like the Prix Goncourt, of which there were already several. It is not a pretty picture and, though Léautaud was an acid observer who preferred to blame rather than to praise, to say a disagreeable thing rather than a pleasant one, you get the impression that it was on the whole a true one. In extenuation it is only fair to add that at the bottom of the corruption, envy, jealousy, backbiting and the rest was the need for money. Writers were wretchedly paid, and if they wanted to make a living, they could not afford to be over scrupulous. Léautaud spent thirty years as an employee, doing work that any clerk could have done, in order to maintain his independence so that he could write, as he claimed every author should, purely for his pleasure. It is greatly to his credit.

I don't know what the reader will think of these three Journalists whom I have to the best of my ability described to him. Not much, I suppose. They had few redeeming traits. Their egoism was ferocious. They were riddled with prejudices. They were monstrously touchy. Though they had little good to say of others, they fiercely resented criticism of themselves. They had no morals. They were indifferent to the arts, with exception of the art of letters, and when, as they sometimes did, they offered an opinion on music, painting or sculpture, it was (at all events to our present judgment) absurd. They were callous to the feelings of others. They were malicious and unkind.

But if they had these traits, we know them only because they have told us of them themselves. If I were asked whether on the whole they were any worse than other men, I should be at a loss for an answer. On one occasion Léautaud was presented to the Abbé Mugnier. The Abbé Mugnier was one of those priests who are now and then produced by the Catholic Church. He was a wit and a scintillating talker. He was a welcome guest at the dinner tables of the Boulevard St. Germain; he would hold the company entranced by his eloquent and amusing conversation. But though (to the scandal of some of his fellow priests) he much frequented the rich and noble, he never forgot his sacred office. The rich and noble too had souls to save. He persuaded the dissolute to mend their ways and won back not a few free-thinkers to the Church. When the party which he had graced with his presence broke up he returned to his very modest dwelling. There he was always to be seen by the poor and humble who came to llim in their troubles for advice or aid. He helped them with his money, little though he had, and with his heartfelt sympathy. He was a man of a shining virtue. He knew that Léautaud was an aggressive sceptic–there were few people of his day about whom the Abbé Mugnier didn't know whatever was to be known–and he said to him, "God will forgive you, Monsieur Léautaud, because you have loved animals."
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