Everyone who can afford time would do well to attend the French readings to be given in March and April. To understand modern French literature, it is evidently necessary to know a little of what Frenchmen have written in the past; and the subjects of the six readings are well chosen, both to illustrate the work of pre-eminent masters and to serve as an introduction to a study of French art - surely a fine art - in literature; and not only ought those attend who wish merely to get a sketch of French literature, or an introduction to it, but those, too, who would have a knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon poetry and prose of the present day.
It is perhaps superfluous to point out the effects of the Frence Revolution as an example of the influence of Franch on our literature - evidence enough of this will be found in the work of the so-called Lake Poets. But on the fact of that influence I would lay stress, and consequently on the sequent fact that much of the matter and of the form - allowing of course for intrinsic difference of language - of our lighter literature has come from Paris - for instance, the kind of short stories that seems to be the prevailing type of American writing now, is, I think, almost altogether a graft from French stock, such writings as Zola's "Contes a Nanon," Guyde Maupassant's somewhat vile anecdotes, and Balzac's "Contes Drolatiques" being its progenitors. And as of the short stories, so of the novels. Balzac seems to me the first novelist who could dissect a woman. Defoe tried to analyze a woman of the lower grade in Roxana, and Peregrine Pickle is such another monument of failure. But it was Balzac who first traversed this dark - or should I say fair - continent.
In our cosmopolitan age we exchange our talents as we do our produce: communication is easy and the best is readily found; so we go to Paris for instruction in the art of expression, for it is there that it is most assiduously and, I think, most successfully cultivated; indeed it could hardly be otherwise, as literature in France grows under exceptionally favorable circumstances.
Every would-be writer goes to Paris, where he meets other congenial youths, by whose zeal his enthusiasm is whetted, and in whose company he cannot but give himself single-hearted to his original ambition. Often poverty compels labor, which is the surest road to success, and in every case there is a subtle influence, that of the still fervent reaction which is fast culminating that engulfs men with the resistlessness of a vortex.
Then, too, in Paris the prizes of authorship are golden, and the education in authorship complete; the principal newspapers have on their staffs the most eminent writers of the day, and the Academy, following the proverb that advises one "tenir la dragee haut," holds up a tempting bait for every literary puppy to jump for, and at the same time exerts much influence on thought and style. So both newspapers and the Academy join in offering at once education and promise of reward to every literary aspirant.
And, again, if we may trust the statements of such as Zola, Daudet, Balzac and Theophile Gautier - men who have been through the mill - the Bohemia whence they started is a hotbed of art.
It would be hard under the circumstances for French literature to be other than good, and, therefore those who would know English would do well to put themselves, as it were, by proxy, in the same favorable surroundings; let alone the mastery of technique - that can be gained from a study of such masters of style as the author of "Gringoire" (Booth, by the way, used to act a version of this play) - or of Bossuet - or of one of the writers not included in the readings Aside from this advantage there is the profit and the pleasure which new aspects bring to those who but rarely deign to look at the world through eyes other than their own.