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The Home Monthly

by Helen Delay. [Willa Cather]

From The Home Monthly, 6 (March 1897):  16.

Old Books and New.

"My library was dukedom large enough." —The Tempest, Act I., Scene II.
"Let us love the books which please us, and cease to trouble ourselves about classifications and schools of literature." —Jules Lemaître.

HAVE you ever chanced to read Alphonse Daudet's "Kings in Exile?" I know there are some people who are afraid of a French book on general principles. But French authors are very unjustly and incompetently judged in this country. A few years ago Mr. Clemens ("Mark Twain" ) and M. Paul Blouet (Max 0' Rell) had a controversy in the North American Review regarding the respective merits of French and English literature. Mr. Clemens declared that all French literature was indecent because he had read Zola's La Terre and had found it so. That is a good example of the unfairness of our usual estimate of French literature. Most people take up some poor translation of a French book noted for its indecency and having read it condemn all French fiction. It is just as if a Frenchman were to take up some sensational American production like "If Christ Came to Chicago" and should thereby judge all American fiction. If you want trash, goodness knows you can get enough of it from the French! But if you are after the good, you will find some of the most perfect art in the world there—and some of the highest sentiment. Take the book I have mentioned, Daudet's "Kings In Exile." It is a story of maternal love, and nowhere has that sacred theme been handled more reverentially. Then it is a masterly exposition of the slow death of the monarchical system in Europe. The principal characters are the exiled king of Illyria, his wife, his little son and his son's tutor, the loyal Méraut. Driven from their own kingdom by an insurrection, they have taken up their abode in Paris awaiting a recall to the throne. The king is a weak, dissipated fellow, the less said of him the better. But ah, the queen! for the sake of one such noble character you can forgive the author for introducing such a miserable shadow of a man as the king. For an author, like a painter, must have his lights and shades, and he can most effectually exalt the good by comparing it with its opposite. The dignity and strength of the queen alone would make the book well worth reading. She is like those mighty women of the olden times who directed the destiny of empires. Scarcely less interesting is the pathetic figure of the little Prince, the poor boy on whom so much depended, and his devoted tutor Méraut who had been kissed by the Duke of Athis when he was a child and who spent his life pursuing the fleeting dream of the monarchy, trying to make himself believe that it would one day he crowned again with dignity and power. There are few scenes more moving than that in which Méraut by an accident with his gun wounds the little boy he would have died for any day, and the queen, as she holds the unconscious form of her boy in her arms, drives the tutor from her crying, "Begone! may I never see thee again!" It is not exactly a cheerful book, but then most great art is rather sad, and who shall say that most life is not?

There is another er French book I would like to recommend to everyone—particularly to those who care for quiet fiction of the reflective style. It is "The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard," by M. Anatole France, the last elected member of the French Academy. You might fancy from the title that it is a sensational book, but no work could be more belied by its name. It is as quiet as the old study in the Quai Malaquais overlooking the Seine, in which the scene is laid. It is the story of an old bookworm who has a little girl left on his hands and of how he "brings her up." And a sorry time this old scholar, who has spent his life among crabbed Greek texts and historical documents, has with a live girl of flesh and blood on his hands. She overturns his books and loses his manuscripts and teases his old housekeeper. Her presence there among those musty records of the ancient failures and follies of men is like the sunshine of the outside world, and she brings the scent of the spring violets with her. And gradually the old man comes to love her smile more than all his history books. But he never knows that he loves her, 0 dear no! He finds that she loves a young student who belongs to a newer school of historians, and he sells his precious library, that he has spent all his youth and life collecting, to raise the money for her dowry. And as the two young people sit in one corner of the old study, whispering to each other in the dusk those old, old secrets they fancy are so new, the old man picks up one of his old Greek poets and reads to himself that mighty Chorus of the Old Men of Thebes: "Invincible Love, 0 Thou who descendest upon rich
Thou who dost rest upon the delicate cheek of the
Thou who dost traverse all seas, Surely none among the immortals can escape thee, Nor among men, the creatures or a day!"

And as the old man reads his eyes grow dim with tears—and yet he doesn't know why he weeps!

If there is any book more pure and delicate of flavor, more rich in high sentiment than this one, I do not know it.

*   *   *

In the book stores just now you can see nothing but Anthony Hope's new novel, "Phroso." Everything else is buried under the numerous copies of this book that the public is raving over. Dear me, how this young Englishman has put Mrs. Humphrey Ward and her kind to flight, and how dull their studied, laborious tomes seem in comparison to his freshness! When Mr. Hawkins published "The Prisoner of Zenda" English fiction had drifted largely into the hands of studious ladies of Mrs. Ward's cult. The appearance of that book was like the clash of swords at a blue-stocking tea: it put the good ladies to rout and sounded the call to arms for "the old romance." You see, in these days, it is one thing to write a novel, and quite another to tell a story. It is one thing to write a book full of excellent descriptions of people, and quite another to write one full of real people, living, breathing people who describe themselves by their actions. Well, just when the world was heartily tired of these minute descriptions of wooden characters, along comes Mr. Anthony Hope Hawkins who has the knack of making his characters live. They are not very deep characters, it is true; it requires no great intellectual effort to comprehend them and no brilliant epigramatic efforts to describe them, but they are things of flesh and blood. And then Mr. Hawkins can tell a story, a story that does not smell of the shop or the town, a story full of action and the wild, fierce life that we all hunger for, that is the birthright of the immortal youth within us. He can go to work like old Alexandre Dumas himself and in a simple, direct manner tell us of deeds of love and daring that make our blood move faster in our veins. 0, he is such a blessed relief from the common place, this clever Mr. Hawkins!

*   *   *

Now as to his latest work, "Phroso." It is a book which is of peculiar interest just now, when the Greeks are in arms over in Crete. Young Lord Wheatley buys an island off the coast of Greece. The inhabitants of the island have killed the last foreign proprietor, and when Lord Wheatley goes to claim his property they set about trying to treat him in the same manner. They would have succeeded, too, had it not been for the Lady Euphrosene, a Greek girl whose ancestors had ruled the island for generations. The revolt against Lord Wheatley is led by Constantine Stefanopoulos, an unscrupulous cousin of Euphrosone's who intends to marry her and claim the island himself. Of course the Lady Euphrosone, "Phroso" as she is called, likes Lord Wheatley better than her wily cousin, and thereby hangs a tale. The young Lord in turn finds that he is beginning to like Phroso very much indeed, but he holds off because he is engaged to a girl in England, and, as he frequently remarks, "the Wheatleys never broke a promise or asked it back; substance, happiness, life itself must be spent keeping it." The Lady Euphrosone doesn't know all this, but what she does know is that the Englishman holds back. Naturally her pride suffers. But Phroso is a daughter of the men who fell at Marathon, and when the infuriated islanders close about Lord Wheatley and she sees there is but one chance for him she does not hesitate. She stands between him and them and cries, "His life is my life; for I love him as I love my life—Ah, and God knows, more, more, more!" In these days of "Princess Alines" and Gibson girls, decidedly a young lady of the Euphrosone type is refreshing.

*   *   *

For once Mr. Hawkins manages to make his hero and heroine "live happily forever after." The rumor goes abroad that Wheatley has been killed by the Greeks, and the English girl goes cold bloodedly to work and engages herself to another man, leaving his Lordship free to take Phroso back to England with him. Of course this is an eminently satisfactory conclusion to a romance, but it seems just a little forced and made to order. Mr. Hawkins has an innate prejudice against the conventional "happy ending," for after all he is the child of his generation, and not of the glad, gay civilization in which the elder Dumas lived. So when he makes "Phroso" end in the conventional manner to please his public, you can see him shrug his shoulders at his own condescension.

*   *   *

People who still care for stories of "Buccaneers and gold and all the old Romance retold," will find something to please them in Mr. Clarence Herbert New's "Under the Pacific" in the Feburary Lippincott. Mr. New has woven a very ingenious and genuinely interesting story about the adventures of two young men in recovering the submerged treasure of an old Spanish galleon sunk on a reef in the Pacific. Aside from his good treatment of his plot, Mr. New has handled the two Spanish girls in the story remarkably well.