27 JULY 1867, Page 17


THE great charm of this inimitable little sketch of French:country life seems to be in the graceful childlikeness of the manners of the whole social group it describes. In England, grown-up persons of the most pleasant kind are seldom or never childlike. The charm of simplicity may last into maturity, though even that is not very

common, but the charm of perfect spontaneity, of childlike self- will, or childlike self-devotion, childlike guilelessness and equally childlike guile, of childlike helplessness and equally childlike dexterity under difficulties, especially of childlike frankness and equally childlike stratagem for purposes of courtesy, is almost unknown in the best English society. The sketches of character in this little book are the merest outlines, sometimes so slight as only just to give individuality of expression, sometimes vivid enough to impress the memory very powerfully, but

never studied in anything like detail. But the effect of the whole upon the reader's imagination is far more vivid than the effect of the parts. There is a wholeness and beauty of expres- sion about the picture of the little society kept together for a single week only within the cognizance of the reader of this story, which is never to be found in any English story. Even such a picture as Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford,—perfect in its way, and executed with far more laborious detail,—gives no such impression of differences of character blended into a single social whole, simply because there is no such thing to be found even in the

most perfectly amalgamated of English societies. Englishmen and Englishwomen have by their very nature less capacity to blend with each other. Their lives are too much regulated by recognized social customs and etiquettes, too little by the momentary result of spontaneous social feeling. M. Berthier, a French artist, who is one of the best figures in the admirable little group at Marny, gives us a perfect illustration of the element in the English character which prevents the spontaneousness necessary to the charm of all true society. He is describing the different way in which the English and other nations deal with the great evil of sea-sick- ness :—

" Mademoiselle does not look as if she had crossed the sea yesterday : were you ill ?" asked Monsieur Berthier, in his slow gentle way. "I think the English character never comes out more strongly than on board a steamboat," he continued. " The feeling of decency—le conven- able—is what English people never lose sight of—English women more especially: even the tortures of sea-sickness they manage to control, and retire to some secluded corner with their basin, hoping to shroud from observation an attitude which no amount of will can render graceful or dignified. I saw a vulgar Spaniard once, when I was crossing over to England : he had been making game of a poor Meess, who, with English forethought, had provided herself with a basin before the vessel started. He straddled about on deck with a great chain and a gaudy cane, and said in a swaggering way, 'Look at all these poor wretches who are determined to be ill ! their precautionb are exactly what makes them so; they are afraid, and give in, and of course are

" A Week in a French Country House. By Adelaide Sartori'. London: Smith, Elder, and Co.

sick immediately ; but if one walks up and down as I do, and smokes as I do, and sings as I do, one is never ill.' He began executing some roulades as the boat steamed out of harbour ; the sea was terrible, and before ten minutes were over, my Spaniard, who had suddenly lapsed into ominous silence and gradually become of a hue the like of which I never beheld before or since on any human countenance, uttered a dis- cordant shriek, and made a violent plunge at a basin he saw upon a bench near him ; the ship lurched, the basin rolled off, and he rolled after it, and lay wallowing there on the ground where he fell, an utterly demoralized and disgusting object ; but so miserable and so regardless of all appearances, that I assure you he became almost grand through excess of suffering, and the entire absence of self-consciousness. Meese, with her basin in her corner, and all her British dignity, was little by the side of that Spaniard in the agony of his utter self-abandonment."— We all laughed, but Madame Olympe took the English side of the ques- tion, and stood up for it very vigorously. Monsieur Berthier turned to. me. " Confess that you went downstairs and tried to hide yourself from every one ; you would not be English if you had not done this. I remember at one time of my life having to pass every day the English pastrycook's at the corner of the Rue de Rivoli. I used to see the English Misses there eating cakes, and when I looked in at them (for they were almost always pretty) they took a crumb at the time, but when I passed on, and they thought they were not seen any more, they put enormous pieces into their mouths, and ate with as much voracity as other people. I used to amuse myself with pretending to go by, and then coming back stealthily to watch them from the corner of the window, and they always did the same."

There are characters in this fascinating little sketch, or tale, or whatever it may be called, of all kinds, self-willed and yielding, selfish and unselfish, timorous and bold, helpless and helpful, but all (except the English Lady Blankeney and her daughter) have this most fascinating social quality of childlike spontaneity,—that is, express themselves with so much less relation to abstract rules and general conventions than the English, and therefore with so much more ease. Madame Olympe, the mistress and presiding genius of the household, with her imperious self-will and infinite depth of tenderness and compassion, is as childlike as her own little daughter Jeanne,—nay, more so, as childlike in her own way as M. Dessaix, the nag old violinist who imitates the manners of flies and elephants at dinner time, and picks peaches with an elephantine sweep of his arm off his young friend's Ursula Hamil- ton's plate. Take the following little trait of Madame Olympe's self-will, and notice how much leas social restraint childlike self- will of this kind causes, than far less obstinate and far more reasonable self-will of another and more regulated kind:—

After we had gone steadily along for about ten minutes, one of the horses shied at a piece of paper that was lying in the road. Madame Olympo gave a scream : " It's the white horse !" cried she.—" It's the bay one," said Monsieur Rene, looking out. The coachman whipped and whipped in vain ; the animal jumped and fidgeted, but would not go by the place. Madame Olympe was beginning to bo a good deal frightened. "It's the white horse!" she exclaimed again. Monsieur Charles now looked out in his turn. "No, Olympe," said he, "it is the bay horse."—" It's the white horse!" she vociferated, eyeing him despotically, between two screams. The beast now began to kick and plunge, and Madame Olympe got into a state of the most imperious. terror. " There is no white horse at all in the carriage," said Monsieur Charles. 'But when I tell you that I choose that it should be a white horse !" cried she, in her highest key, and with her eyebrows running straight up her forehead into her hair. It was too funny, and we all. went into fits of laughter, in which she could not help joining very heartily herself, in spite of her alarm.

The picture of M. Dessaix, the helpless little violinist, who is so- utterly dependent on his young companion, Ursula Hamilton, that he knocks at the compartment between their rooms to com- plain that he cannot sleep for some mysterious smell—which turns out to be due to apples under his bed—is most entertaining and, engaging. We have not room for any lengthened extract, but such a relation as this between a man and a young lady, who is neither his relative nor his fiancée—a relation admitted to be very rare oven in France—would be quite impossible in England :— We had nearly finished dessert, when Ursula suddenly exclaimed,— "What in the world are you doing, Jacques ? "—He was carefully strok- ing down both sides of his nose with the first finger of each hand, and then rubbing the points of the fingers together at the end of his nose. at if to rub off some adhesive substance. I had seen him steadily doing this during the last ten minutes.—" That is the way the flies do," he said, looking up at her meditatively. "Haat thou never seen how they clean their bodies, first with their legs going carefully under their wings, and then how they clean their legs by scraping them against each other ?" and he did it again. " flee/ eest l'ildphani," he continued mournfully, and stretching his arm out with a sudden impetuous sort of circular sweep across to Ursula's plate, be picked up from off it a peach which she was just going to eat, and dropped it with a curve from above into his own mouth. The dexterity and the likeness to the creature he was imitating were perfectly marvellous, and perfectly irre- sistible—even Maria blinked her short-sighted eyes and chuckled faintly. Monsieur Rene alone maintained a well-bred gravity, and gave the signal for leaving the table by rising at once.

And again:— "I will write a new oratorio of Samson," said Monsieur Jacques. "And Samson shall be a contralto, and thou shalt sing it—thou who art strong."—" But how wilt thou write it ?" said Ursula—" thou who art not strong? One does but what one is. Thou dear old ninny," she went on caressingly, " thou halt a little soul : how wilt thou do great things with it ? But thou haat a tender soul, and a fanciful brain, and of grace, tenderness, and fancy thou wilt always be master. Thou cant but what thou art. Write me a-cantata of David beforo he went up to slay the Philistine, in the flower of his shepherd days, and I will sing that for thee." Very striking, too, is the sketch of M. Rene de Saldes, the ladies' man of the story, with his wonderful influence over every- body, due to a mixture of scornfulness, savoir-faire, and selfishness, and to the "little tired, sad smile," which makes all the women feel him their superior, and leads them to indulge an entirely mis- taken fancy that he has some deep sorrow (other than his own pride and selfishnes) which they could console. Even he, who has by far the most artificially regulated mind in the story, has a social spontaneity about him which makes him very different from the ladies' hero of an English tale, though it comes out in reckless sarcasms, directed against any one he cannot sway, and in sad little compliments, spontaneous in form, but intended to gain him influ- ence where he sees that he can establish an influence, which imply anything but disinterested spontaneousness of character. Still, the case, the absolute adaptation of his language to the exigencies of the moment, and without any regard to abstract rules, is as remarkable in M. Rene de Saldes as in any of the others, and his passionate burst of childlike grief when he cannot persuade Ursula Hamilton to marry him, is conceived entirely in the same social school. Nothing can be better than the child (Jeanne's) description of the nature of M. de Saldea' influence in the château :— " Rend is travelled, and learned, and artistic, and interesting—above all, interesting ; that is the very word for him. But he never thinks much about anybody, that I can see, except himself ; and yet somehow, I don't know why, one can't help having a feeling of immense respect for him ; I suppose, because he has always the air of despising one so—it gives -one immediately a morbid desire after his approbation and notice. It is -a great thing for us to have him come here in the winters ; we should fall back into the benighted state of the Middle Ages, and do nothing but kill our hogs and eat them, if it were not for him! He keeps us all up to the mark. I always read up to him when he is coming, and we never dare shut an eye of an evening; and Maman dresses herself pro- perly, and puts on no more gowns that were made in the year one ; and -Charles does not make any dirty jokes ; and even the cook sends up =superhuman dinners when he is at Marny ! Do you understand him at all from my description ?"

All the little side-figures are equally characteristic of a society .entirely unknown in England. The little nun and her gossippy self-dedication and devotion to the highest duties of charity is a most amusing and pathetic side-figure ; and excellent, though rather faint, is the sketch of M. Charles, the Marquis, who in the absence of Madame Olympe would have been master of the chateau. Perhaps the poorest sketch in the book is the figure meant to be most striking, Ursula Hamilton, who impresses us as .drawn from life only in her exquisitely drawn relation to M. Dessaix. In other aspects of her character she is scarcely well -defined. All the studies, however, are mere outlines, and it is somewhat remarkable how much pleasure Madame Sartoris has managed to give us by sketches so very slight and airy as these.