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by John Morley
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DIDEROT AND THE ENCYCLOPAEDISTS

BY

JOHN MORLEY

VOL. II.

London

MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1905

First published elsewhere

New Edition 1886. Reprinted 1891, 1897, 1905



CONTENTS OF VOL. II.

PAGE

CHAPTER I.

OTHER DIALOGUES.

(1) The Conversations of a Father with his Children 1 Remarks upon it. (2) The Inconsistency of Public Judgment on Private Actions 8 Observations. (3) Supplement to Bougainville's Travels 14 Philosophical qualities of the discussion not satisfactory 19 Nothing gained by his criticism on marriage 21

CHAPTER II.

ROMANCE.

Digression inevitable in dealing with Diderot 24 Richardson's influence in Europe 26 Diderot's Eloge upon him 28 Rousseau and Richardson 29 Diderot writes The Nun (1796) 31 Circumstances of its composition 32 Its intention 33 And characteristics 35 Sterne 36 Diderot writes Jacques le Fataliste 37 Its history 38 Goethe's criticism on it 38 Nature of Diderot's imitation of Richardson and Sterne 40 No true creation in Jacques le Fataliste 41 Its unredeemed grossness 43 Its lack of poetry and of flavour 44

CHAPTER III.

ART.

The Salons 45 Qualities of their criticism 45 Deep foundation of Diderot's critical quality 46 French art-criticism 48 Dufresnoy, Dubos, Webb, Andre, Batteux 48, 49 Travellers in Italy 50 Diderot never in Italy 52 Spirit of French art in his day 52 Greuze, Diderot's favourite 56 Greuze's Accordee de Village 57 Hogarth would have displeased Diderot 59 Diderot's considerateness in criticism 60 Boucher 62 Fragonard 62 Diderot adds literary charm to scientific criticism 63 His readiness for moral asides 65 His suggestions of pictorial subjects 68 His improved versions 69 Illustration of his variety of approach 72 Diderot's Essay on Painting 73 Goethe's commentary 73 Difference of type between Goethe and Diderot 76 Diderot's Essay on Beauty 78 His anticipation of Lessing 82 Music 83

CHAPTER IV.

ST. PETERSBURG AND THE HAGUE.

Diderot's resolution to visit the Empress of Russia 84 The Princess Dashkow 84 Prince Galitzin 85 Diderot in Holland (1773) 86 St. Petersburg and Russian civilisation 89 The Empress 91 Accounts of her by men of affairs 92 Her pursuit of French culture 94 Her interest in the French philosophic party 96 Partly the result of political calculation 98 The philosophers and the Partition of Poland 101 Rulhiere's narrative of Catherine's accession 102 Falconet, the first Frenchman welcomed by her 104 Diderot arrives at St. Petersburg (1773) 106 His conversations with the Empress 107 Not successful as a politician 108 General impression of him 109 Grimm outstrips him in court favour 110 Diderot's return to the Hague 112 Bjoernstaehl's report of him 114 Contemporary literature in Holland 117 Hemsterhuys 118 The Princess Galitzin 119 Diderot's return to Paris 121

CHAPTER V.

HELVETIUS.

Three works of which Diderot was regarded as the inspirer 123 Helvetius's L'Esprit 123 Contemporary protests against it 123 Turgot's weighty criticism 124 Real drift of the book 127 Account of Helvetius 127 The style of his book 134 The momentous principle contained in it 135 Adopted from Helvetius by Bentham 136 Helvetius's statement of doctrine of Utility 137 Miscarriage of the doctrine in his hands 139 His fallacy 140 True side of his objectionable position 140 Helvetius's reckless presentation of a true theory 141 Confusion of beneficence with self-love 142 Imitation from Mandeville 143 Mean anecdotes 144 Nature of Helvetius's errors 144 Explanation of them 146 Positive side of his speculation 147 Its true significance 149 Second great paradox of L'Esprit 149 Benjamin Constant's Adolphe 152

CHAPTER VI.

HOLBACH'S SYSTEM OF NATURE.

Publication of the System of Nature (1770) 155 Its startling effect 156 Voltaire's alarm 158 He never understood Holbach's position 159 Account of Holbach 160 Disregard of historic opinion in his book 163 Its remarkable violence against the government 165 The sting of this violence 166 The doctrine from which Holbach's book arose 167 Account of Holbach's Naturalism 168 His proposition concerning Man 173 He uses the orthodox language about the pride of man 177 His treatment of Morals 178 Onslaught upon the theory of Free Will 178 Connection of necessarianism with humanity in punishment 181 His answer to some objections against necessarianism 181 Chapter on the Immortality of the Soul 183 His enthusiasm for reforms 185 The literature of a political revolution 187 Misrepresentation of Holbach's ethical theory 188 The System of Nature, a protest against ascetic ideals 191 The subject of the second half of the book 193 Repudiation of the a priori method 194 Replies to the common charges against atheism 197 The chapter on the superiority of Naturalism 198 Political side of the indictment against religion 199 Holbach's propagandism 202

CHAPTER VII.

RAYNAL'S HISTORY OF THE INDIES.

Contemporary estimate of The History of the Indies 204 Account of Raynal 205 Composition of the book 207 Its varied popularity 209 Frederick the Great dislikes it 210 Signal merit of the History 213 Its shortcomings 214 Its idyllic inventions 215 Its animation and variety 218 Superficial causes of its popularity 220 Its deeper source 221 Catholicism in contact with the lower races 222 The other side of this 223 Raynal's book a plea for justice and humanity 224 Morality towards subject races 226 Slavery 227 Raynal's conduct in the Revolution 229 His end 231

CHAPTER VIII.

DIDEROT'S CLOSING YEARS.

Diderot's meditation on life and death 232 Age overtakes him on his return from Russia 233 Writes his life of Seneca 235 Its quality 236 Interest to Diderot of Seneca's career 237 Strange digression in the Essay 239 Reason for Diderot's anger against Rousseau 240 His usual magnanimity 241 Diderot's relations with Voltaire 244 Naigeon 246 Romilly's account of Diderot 247 Palissot and the conservative writers 249 The ecclesiastical champions of the old system 251 The precursors gradually disappearing 253 Galiani 254 Beaumarchais's Mariage de Figaro 255 Diderot's famous couplet 256 His fellow-townsmen at Langres 257 Last days 258

CHAPTER IX.

CONCLUSION.

The variety of Diderot's topics 261

(1) Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature 262 Maupertuis's Loi d'Epargne 262 General scope of Diderot's aphorisms 263 Prophecy about geometry 264 Utility made to prescribe limits to speculation 267 The other side of this principle 267 On Final Causes 268 Adaptation of the Leibnitzian law of economy 269

(2) D'Alembert's Dream 271 Diderot not the originator of French materialism 272 Materialism of the three dialogues 273 Mdlle. Lespinasse's moral objections 274

(3) Plan of a University for Russia 275 Religious instruction 276 Latin and Greek 277 Letter to the Countess of Forbach 278

(4) Conversation with the Marechale de —— 278 Parable of the young Mexican 279

(5) Letters to Falconet 281 Diderot defends the feeling for posterity 283

APPENDIX.

Rameau's Nephew: a Translation 285



DIDEROT.

CHAPTER I.

OTHER DIALOGUES.

We may now pass to performances that are nearer to the accepted surface of things. A short but charming example of Diderot's taste for putting questions of morals in an interesting way, is found in the Conversation of a Father with his Children (published in 1773). This little dialogue is perfect in the simple realism of its form. Its subject is the peril of setting one's own judgment of some special set of circumstances above the law of the land. Diderot's venerable and well-loved father is sitting in his arm-chair before the fire. He begins the discussion by telling his two sons and his daughter, who are tending him with pious care, how very near he had once been to destroying their inheritance. An old priest had died leaving a considerable fortune. There was believed to be no will, and the next of kin were a number of poor people whom the inheritance would have rescued from indigence for the rest of their days. They appointed the elder Diderot to guard their interests and divide the property. He finds at the bottom of a disused box of ancient letters, receipts, and other waste-paper, a will made long years ago, and bequeathing all the fortune to a very rich bookseller in Paris. There was every reason to suppose that the old priest had forgotten the existence of the will, and it involved a revolting injustice. Would not Diderot be fulfilling the dead man's real wishes by throwing the unwelcome document into the flames?

At this point in the dialogue the doctor enters the room and interrupts the tale. It appears that he is fresh from the bedside of a criminal who is destined to the gallows. Diderot the younger reproaches him for labouring to keep in the world an offender whom it were best to send out of it with all despatch. The duty of the physician is to say to so execrable a patient—"I will not busy myself in restoring to life a creature whom it is enjoined upon me by natural equity, the good of society, the well-being of my fellow-creatures, to give up. Die, and let it never be said that through my skill there exists a monster the more on earth!" The doctor parries these energetic declamations with sufficient skill. "My business is to cure, not to judge; I shall cure him, because that is my trade; then the judge will have him hung, because that is his trade." This episodic discussion ended, the story of the will is resumed. The father, when on the point of destroying it, was seized with a scruple of conscience, and hastened to a cure well versed in casuistry. As in England the agents of the law itself not seldom play the part of arbitrary benevolence, which the old Diderot would fain have played against the law, the scene may perhaps be worth transcribing:

"'Nothing is more praiseworthy, sir, than the sentiment of compassion that touches you for these unfortunate people. Suppress the testament and succour them—good; but on condition of restoring to the rightful legatee the exact sum of which you deprive him, neither more nor less. Who authorised you to give a sanction to documents, or to take it away? Who authorised you to interpret the intentions of the dead?'

'But then, father Bouin, the old box?'

'Who authorised you to decide whether the will was thrown away on purpose, or mislaid by accident? Has it never happened to you to do such a thing, and to find at the bottom of a chest some valuable paper that you had tossed there inadvertently?'

'But, father Bouin, the far-off date of the paper, and its injustice?'

'Who authorised you to pronounce on the justice or injustice of the document, and to regard the bequest as an unlawful gift, rather than as a restitution or any other lawful act which you may choose to imagine?'

'But, these poor kinsfolk here on the spot, and that mere collateral, distant and wealthy?'

'Who authorised you to weigh in your balance what the dead man owed to his distant relations, whom you don't know?'

'But, father Bouin, that pile of letters from the legatee, which the departed never even took the trouble to open?'

'There is neither old box, nor date, nor letters, nor father Bouin, nor if, nor but, in the case. No one has any right to infringe the laws, to enter into the intention of the dead, or to dispose of other people's property. If providence has resolved to chastise either the heir or the legatee or the testator—we cannot tell which—by the accidental preservation of the will, the will must remain.'"[1]

[1] Oeuv., v. 289.

Diderot the younger declaims against all this with his usual vehemence, while his brother, the abbe, defends the supremacy of the law on the proper ground, that to evade or defy it in any given case is to open the door to the sophistries of all the knaves in the universe. At this point a journeyman of the neighbourhood comes in with a new case of conscience. His wife has died after twenty years of sickness; in these twenty years the cost of her illness has consumed all that he would otherwise have saved for the end of his days. But, as it happens, the marriage portion that she brought him has lain untouched. By law this ought to go to her family. Equity, however, seems to justify him in keeping what he might have spent if he had chosen. He consults the party round the fire. One bids him keep the money; another forbids him; a third thinks it fair for him to repay himself the cost of his wife's illness. Diderot's father cries out, that since on his own confession the detention of the inheritance has brought him no comfort, he had better surrender it as speedily as possible, and eat, drink, sleep, work, and make himself happy so.

"'Not I,' cried the journeyman abruptly, 'I shall be off to Geneva.'

'And dost thou think to leave remorse behind?'

'I can't tell, but to Geneva I go.'

'Go where thou wilt, there wilt thou find thy conscience.'

The hatter went away; his odd answer became the subject of our talk. We agreed that perhaps distance of place and time had the effect of weakening all the feelings more or less, and stifling the voice of conscience even in cases of downright crime. The assassin transported to the shores of China is too far off to perceive the corpse that he has left bleeding on the banks of the Seine.

Remorse springs perhaps less from horror of self than from fear of others; less from shame for the deed, than from the blame and punishment that would attend its discovery. And what clandestine criminal is tranquil enough in his obscurity not to dread the treachery of some unforeseen circumstance, or the indiscretion of some thoughtless word? What certainty can he have that he will not disclose his secret in the delirium of fever, or in dreams? People will understand him if they are on the scene of the action, but those about him in China will have no key to his words."[2]

[2] v. 295, 296.

Two other cases come up. Does the husband or wife who is the first to break the marriage vow, restore liberty to the other? Diderot answered affirmatively. The second case arose from a story that the abbe had been reading. A certain honest cobbler of Messina saw his country overrun by lawlessness. Each day was marked by a crime. Notorious assassins braved the public exasperation. Parents saw their daughters violated; the industrious saw the fruits of their toil ravished from them by the monopolist or the fraudulent tax-gatherer. The judges were bribed, the innocent were afflicted, the guilty escaped unharmed. The cobbler meditating on these enormities devised a plan of vengeance. He established a secret court of justice in his shop; he heard the evidence, gave a verdict, pronounced sentence, and went out into the street with his gun under his cloak to execute it. Justice done, he regained his stall, rejoicing as though he had slain a rabid dog. When some fifty criminals had thus met their doom, the viceroy offered a reward of two thousand crowns for information of the slayer, and swore on the altar that he should have full pardon if he gave himself up. The cobbler presented himself, and spoke thus: "I have done what was your duty. 'Tis I who condemned and put to death the miscreants that you ought to have punished. Behold the proofs of their crimes. There you will see the judicial process which I observed. I was tempted to begin with yourself; but I respected in your person the august master whom you represent. My life is in your hands: dispose of it as you think right." Well, cried the abbe, the cobbler, in spite of all his fine zeal for justice, was simply a murderer. Diderot protested. His father decided that the abbe was right, and that the cobbler was an assassin.

Nothing short of a transcript of the whole would convey a right idea of the dramatic ease of this delightful dialogue—its variety of illustration with unity of topic, the naturalness of movement, the pleasant lightness of touch. At its close the old man calls for his nightcap; Diderot embraces him, and in bidding him good-night whispers in his ear, "Strictly speaking, father, there are no laws for the sage. All being open to exception, 'tis for him to judge the cases in which we ought to submit to them, or to throw them over." "I should not be sorry," his father answers, "if there were in the town one or two citizens like thee; but nothing would induce me to live there, if they all thought in that way." The conclusion is just, and Diderot might have verified it by the state of the higher society of his country at that very moment. One cause of the moral corruption of France in the closing years of the old regime was undoubtedly the lax and shifting interpretations, by which the Jesuit directors had softened the rigour of general moral principles. Many generations must necessarily elapse before a habit of loosely superseding principles in individual cases produces widespread demoralisation, but the result is inevitable, sooner or later; and this, just in proportion as the principles are sound. The casuists practically constructed a system for making the observance alike of the positive law, and of the accepted ethical maxims, flexible and conditional. The Diderot of the present dialogue takes the same attitude, but has the grace to leave the demonstration of its impropriety to his wise and benevolent sire.

* * * * *

II. We shall presently see that Diderot did not shrink from applying a vigorous doubt to some of the most solidly established principles of modern society. Let us meanwhile in passing notice that short piece of plangent irony, which did not appear until many years after his death (1798), and which he or some one else entitled, On the inconsistency of the Public Judgment on our Private Actions. This too is in the form of dialogue, but the argument of the story is in its pith as follows. Desroches, first an abbe, then a lawyer, lastly a soldier, persuades a rich and handsome widow to marry him. She is aware of his previous gallantries, and warns him in very dramatic style before a solemn gathering of friends, that if he once wounds her by an infidelity, she will shut herself up and speedily die of grief. He makes such vows as most men would make under such circumstances; he presses her hands ardently to his lips, bedews them with his tears, and moves the whole company to sympathy with his own agitation. The scene is absurd enough, or seems so to us dull people of phlegmatic habit. Yet Diderot, even for us, redeems it by the fine remark: "'Tis the effect of what is good and virtuous to leave a large assembly with only one thought and one soul. How all respect one another, love one another in such moments! For instance, how beautiful humanity is at the play! Ah, why must we part so quickly? Men are so good, so happy, when what is worthy unites all their suffrages, melts them, makes them one."[3] For some time all went well, and our pair were the happiest of men and women. Then various assaults were made on the faithfulness of Desroches. He resisted them, until in endeavouring to serve a friend he was forced to sue for the goodwill of a lady with whom in his unregenerate days he had had passages of gallantry. The old intrigue was renewed. Letters of damning proof fell by ill hazard into his wife's hands. She reassembled her friends, denounced the culprit, and forthwith carried away her child to seek shelter with her aged mother. Desroches's fervent remorse was unheeded, his letters were sent back unopened, he was denied the door. Presently, the aged mother died. Then the infant. Lastly, the wife herself. Now, says Diderot to his interlocutor, I pray you to turn your eyes to the public—that imbecile crowd that pronounces judgment on us, that disposes of our honour, that lifts us to the clouds or trails us through the mud. Opinion passed through every phase about Desroches. The shifting event is ever their one measure of praise and blame. A fault which nobody thought more than venial became gradually aggravated in their eyes by a succession of incidents which it was impossible for Desroches either to foresee or to prevent. At first opinion was on his side, and his wife was thought to have carried things with too high a hand. Then, after she had fallen ill, and her child had died, and her aged mother had passed away in the fulness of years, he began to be held answerable for all this sea of troubles. Why had not Desroches written to his wife, beset her doors, waylaid her as she went to church? He had, as matter of fact, done all these things, but the public did not know it. The important thing is, not to know, but to talk. Then, as it befell, his wife's brother took Desroches's place in his regiment; there he was killed. More exclamations as to the misfortune of being connected with such a man. How was Desroches responsible for the death of his mother-in-law, already well stricken in years? How could he foresee that a hostile ball would pierce his brother-in-law in his first campaign? But his wife? He must be a barbarian, a monster, who had gradually pressed a poniard into the bosom of a divine woman, his wife, his benefactress, and then left her to die, without showing the least sign of interest or feeling. And all this, cries Diderot, for not knowing what was concealed from him, and what was unknown and unsuspected even by those who were daily about her? What presumption, what bad logic, what incoherence, what unjustified veering and vacillation in all these public verdicts from beginning to end!

[3] Oeuv., v. 342.

Yet we feel that Diderot's impetuous taunts fail to press to the root of the matter. Diderot excels in opening a subject; he places it in a new light; he furnishes telling concrete illustrations; he thoroughly disturbs and unsettles the medium of conventional association in which it has become fixed. But he does not leave the question readjusted. His mind was not of that quality which is slow to complain where it cannot explain; which does not quit a discussion without a calm and orderly review of the conditions that underlie the latest exhibition of human folly, shortsightedness, or injustice. The public condemnation of Desroches for consequences that were entirely strange to his one offence, was indefensible on grounds of strict logic. But then men have imagination as well as reason. Imagination is stronger than reason with most of them. Their imagination was touched by the series of disasters that followed Madame Desroches's abandonment of her husband. They admit no plea of remoteness of damage, such as law courts allow. In a way that was loose and unreasonable, but still easily intelligible, the husband became associated with a sequel for which he was not really answerable. If the world's conduct in such cases were accurately expressed, it would perhaps be found that people have really no intention to pronounce a judicial sentence; they only mean that an individual's associations have become disagreeable and doubtful to them. They may think proper to justify the grievously meagre definition of homo as animal rationale, by varnishing their distaste with reasons; the true reason is that the presence of a Desroches disturbs their comfort, by recalling questionable and disorderly circumstances. That this selfish and rough method many a time inflicts horrible cruelty is too certain, and those to whom the idea of conduct is serious and deep-reaching will not fall into it. A sensible man is aware of the difficulty of pronouncing wisely upon the conduct of others, especially where it turns upon the intricate and unknowable relations between a man and a woman. He will not, however, on that account break down the permanent safeguards, for the sake of leniency in a given case. A great enemy to indifference, a great friend to indulgence, said Turgot of himself; and perhaps it is what we should all do well to be able to say of ourselves.

Again, though these ironical exposures of the fatuity and recklessness and inconsistency of popular verdicts are wholesome enough in their degree in all societies, yet it has been, and still remains, a defect of some of the greatest French writers to expect a fruit from such performances which they can never bear. In the long run a great body of men and women is improved less by general outcry against its collective characteristics than by the inculcation of broader views, higher motives, and sounder habits of judgment, in such a form as touches each man and woman individually. It is better to awaken in the individual a sense of responsibility for his own character than to do anything, either by magnificent dithyrambs or penetrating satire, to dispose him to lay the blame on Society. Society is after all only a name for other people. An instructive contrast might be drawn between the method of French writers of genius, from Diderot down to that mighty master of our own day, Victor Hugo, in pouring fulminant denunciations upon Society, and the other method of our best English writers, from Milton down to Mill, in impressing new ideas on the Individual, and exacting a vigorous personal answer to the moral or spiritual call.

One other remark may be worth making. It is characteristic of the immense sociability of the eighteenth century, that when he saw Desroches sitting alone in the public room, receiving no answers to his questions, never addressed by any of those around him, avoided, coldly eyed, and morally proscribed, Diderot never thought of applying the artificial consolation of the Stoic. He never dreamed of urging that expulsion from the society of friends was not a hardship, a true punishment, and a genuine evil. No one knew better than Diderot that a man should train himself to face the disapprobation of the world with steadfast brow and unflinching gaze; but he knew also that this is only done at great cost, and is only worth doing for clear and far-reaching objects. Life was real to Diderot, not in the modern canting sense of earnestness and making a hundred thousand pounds; but in the sense of being an agitated scene of living passion, interest, sympathy, struggle, delight, and woe, in which the graceful ascetic commonplaces of the writer and the preacher barely touch the actual conditions of human experience, or go near to softening the smart of chagrin, failure, mistake, and sense of wrong, any more than the sweet music of the birds poised in air over a field of battle can still the rage and horror of the plain beneath. As was said by a good man, who certainly did not fail to try the experiment,—"Speciosa quidem ista sunt, oblitaque rhetoricae et musicae melle dulcedinis; tum tantum cum audiuntur oblectant. Sed miseris malorum altior sensus est. Itaque quum haec auribus insonare desierint, insitus animum moeror praegravat."[4]

[4] Boethius.

* * * * *

III. We may close this chapter with a short account of the Supplement to Bougainville's Travels, which was composed in 1772, and published twenty-four years later. The second title is, A dialogue on the disadvantage of attaching moral ideas to certain physical actions which do not really comport with them. Those who believe that the ruling system of notions about marriage represents the last word that is to be said as to the relations between men and women, will turn away from Diderot's dialogue with some impatience. Those, on the contrary, who hold that the present system is no more immovably fixed in ultimate laws of human nature, no more final, no more unimprovable, no more sacred, and no more indisputably successful, than any other set of social arrangements and the corresponding moral ideas, will find something to interest them, though, as it seems to the present writer, very little to instruct. Bougainville was the first Frenchman who sailed round the world. He did in 1766-69 what Captain Cook did about the same time. The narrative of his expedition appeared in 1771, and the picture of life among the primitive people of the Southern Seas touched Diderot almost as deeply as if he had been Rousseau. As one says so often in this history of the intellectual preparation for the Revolution, the corruption and artificiality of Parisian society had the effect of colouring the world of primitive society with the very hues of paradise. Diderot was more free from this besetting weakness than any of his contemporaries. He never fell into Voltaire's fancy that China is a land of philosophers.[5] But he did not look very critically into the real conditions of life in the more rudimentary stages of development, and for the moment he committed the sociological anachronism of making the poor people of Otaheite into wise and benevolent patriots and sound reasoners. The literary merit of the dialogue is at least as striking as in any of the pieces of which we have already spoken. The realism of the scenes between the ship-chaplain and his friendly savage, with too kindly wife, and daughters as kindly as either, is full of sweetness, simplicity, and a sort of pathos. A subject which easily takes on an air of grossness, and which Diderot sometimes handled very grossly indeed, is introduced with an idyllic grace that to the pure will hardly be other than pure. We have of course always to remember that Diderot is an author for grown-up people, as are the authors of the Bible or any other book that deals with more than the surface of human experience. Our English practice of excluding from literature subjects and references that are unfit for boys and girls, has something to recommend it, but it undeniably leads to a certain narrowness and thinness, and to some most nauseous hypocrisy. All subjects are evidently not to be discussed by all; and one result in our case is that some of the most important subjects in the world receive no discussion whatever.

[5] See, however, above, vol. i. p. 274.

The position which Diderot takes up in the present dialogue may be inferred from the following extract. The ship-chaplain has been explaining to the astonished Otaheitan the European usage of strict monogamy, as the arrangement enjoined upon man by the Creator of the universe, and vigilantly guarded by the priest and the magistrate. To which, Orou thus:

"These singular precepts I find opposed to nature and contrary to reason. They are contrary to nature because they suppose that a being who thinks, feels, and is free, can be the property of a creature like itself. Dost thou not see that in thy land they have confounded the thing that has neither sensibility, nor thought, nor desire, nor will; that one leaves, one takes, one keeps, one exchanges, without its suffering or complaining—with a thing that is neither exchanged nor acquired, that has freedom, will, desire, that may give or may refuse itself for the moment; that complains and suffers; and that cannot become a mere article of commerce, unless you forget its character and do violence to nature? And they are contrary to the general law of things. Can anything seem more senseless to thee than a precept which proscribes the law of change that is within us, and which commands a constancy that is impossible, and that violates the liberty of the male and the female, by chaining them together in perpetuity;—anything more senseless than are oaths of immutability, taken by two creatures of flesh, in the face of a sky that is not an instant the same, under vaults that threaten ruin, at the base of a rock crumbling to dust, at the foot of a tree that is splitting asunder?... You may command what is opposed to nature, but you will not be obeyed. You will multiply evil-doers and the unhappy by fear, by punishment, and by remorse; you will deprave men's consciences; you will corrupt their minds; they will have lost the polar star of their pathway." (225.)

After this declamation he proceeds to put some practical questions to the embarrassed chaplain. Are young men in France always continent, and wives always true, and husbands never libertines? The chaplain's answers disclose the truth to the keen-eyed Orou:

"What a monstrous tissue is this that thou art unfolding to me! And even now thou dost not tell me all; for as soon as men allow themselves to dispose at their own will of the ideas of what is just and unjust, to take away, or to impose an arbitrary character on things; to unite to actions or to separate from them the good and the evil, with no counsellor save caprice—then come blame, accusation, suspicion, tyranny, envy, jealousy, deception, chagrin, concealment, dissimulation, espionage, surprise, lies; daughters deceive their parents, wives their husbands, husbands their wives; young women, I don't doubt, will smother their children; suspicious fathers will despise and neglect their children; mothers will leave them to the mercy of accident; and crime and debauchery will show themselves in every guise. I know all that, as if I had lived among you. It is so, because it must be so; and that society of thine, in spite of thy chief who vaunts its fine order, is nothing but a collection of hypocrites who secretly trample the laws under foot; or of unfortunate wretches who make themselves the instrument of their own punishment, by submitting to these laws; or of imbeciles, in whom prejudice has absolutely stifled the voice of nature." (227.)

The chaplain has the presence of mind to fall back upon the radical difficulty of all such solutions of the problem of family union as were practised in Otaheite, or were urged by philosophers in Paris, or are timidly suggested in our own times in the droll-sounding form of marriages for terms of years with option of renewal. That difficulty is the disposal of the children which are the fruit of such unions. Orou rejoins to this argument by a very eloquent account how valuable, how sought after, how prized, is the woman who has her quiver full of them. His contempt for the condition of Europe grows more intense, as he learns that the birth of a child among the bulk of the people of the west is rather a sorrow, a perplexity, a hardship, than a delight and ground of congratulation.

The reader sees by this time that in the present dialogue Diderot is really criticising the most fundamental and complex arrangement of our actual western society, from the point of view of an arbitrary and entirely fanciful naturalism. Rousseau never wrote anything more picturesque, nor anything more dangerous, nor more anarchic and superficially considered. It is true that Diderot at the close of the discussion is careful to assert that while we denounce senseless laws, it is our duty to obey them until we have procured their reform. "He who of his own private authority infringes a bad law, authorises every one else to infringe good laws. There are fewer inconveniences in being mad with the mad, than in being wise by oneself. Let us say to ourselves, let us never cease to cry aloud, that people attach shame, chastisement, and infamy to acts that in themselves are innocent; but let us abstain from committing them, because shame, punishment, and infamy are the greatest of evils." And we hear Diderot's sincerest accents when he says, "Above all, one must be honest, and true to a scruple, with the fragile beings who cannot yield to our pleasures without renouncing the most precious advantages of society."[6]

[6] Oeuv., ii. 249.

This, however, does not make the philosophical quality of the discussion any more satisfactory. Whatever changes may ultimately come about in the relations between men and women, we may at least be sure that such changes will be in a direction even still further away than the present conditions of marriage, from anything like the naturalism of Diderot and the eighteenth-century school. Even if—what does not at present seem at all likely to happen—the idea of the family and the associated idea of private property should eventually be replaced by that form of communism which is to be seen at Oneida Creek, still the discipline of the appetites and affections of sex will necessarily on such a system be not less, but far more rigorous to nature than it is under prevailing western institutions.[7] Orou would have been a thousand times more unhappy among the Perfectionists under Mr. Noyes than in Paris or London. We cannot pretend here to discuss the large group of momentous questions involved, but we may make a short remark or two. One reason why the movement, if progressive, must be in the direction of greater subordination of appetite, is that all experience proves the position and moral worth of women, taking society as a whole, to be in proportion to the self-control of their male companions. Nobody doubts that man is instinctively polygamous. But the dignity and self-respect, and consequently the whole moral cultivation of women, depends on the suppression of this vagrant instinct. And there is no more important chapter in the history of civilisation than the record of the steps by which its violence has been gradually reduced.

[7] See Nordhoff's Communistic Societies of the United States (London: Murray, 1875), pp. 259-293. This grave and most instructive book shows how modifiable are some of those facts of existing human character which are vulgarly deemed to be ultimate and ineradicable.

There is another side, we admit. The home, of which sentimental philosophers love to talk, is too often a ghastly failure. The conjugal union, so tender and elevating in its ideal, is in more cases than we usually care to recognise, the cruellest of bonds to the woman, the most harassing, deadening, spirit-breaking of all possible influences to the man. The purity of the family, so lovely and dear as it is, has still only been secured hitherto by retaining a vast and dolorous host of female outcasts. When Catholicism is praised for the additions which it has made to the dignity of womanhood and the family, we have to set against that gain the frightful growth of this caste of poor creatures, upon whose heads, as upon the scapegoat of the Hebrew ordinance, we put all the iniquities of the children of the house, and all their transgressions in all their sins, and then banish them with maledictions into the foul outer wilderness and the land not inhabited.

On this side there is much wholesome truth to be told, in the midst of the complacent social cant with which we are flooded. But Diderot does not help us. Nothing can possibly be gained by reducing the attraction of the sexes to its purely physical elements, and stripping it of all the moral associations which have gradually clustered round it, and acquired such force as in many cases among the highest types of mankind to reduce the physical factor to a secondary place. Such a return to the nakedness of the brute must be retrograde. And Diderot, as it happened, was the writer who, before all others, habitually exalted the delightful and consolatory sentiment of the family. Nobody felt more strongly the worth of domestic ties, when faithfully cherished. It can only have been in a moment of elated paradox that he made one of the interlocutors in the dialogue on Bougainville pronounce Constancy, "The poor vanity of two children who do not know themselves, and who are blinded by the intoxication of a moment to the instability of all that surrounds them:" and Fidelity, "The obstinacy and the punishment of a good man and a good woman:" and Jealousy, "The passion of a miser; the unjust sentiment of man; the consequence of our false manners, and of a right of property extending over a feeling, willing, thinking, free creature."[8]

[8] Oeuv., ii. 243.

It is a curious example of the blindness which reaction against excess of ascetic doctrine bred in the eighteenth century, that Diderot should have failed to see that such sophisms as these are wholly destructive of that order and domestic piety, to whose beauty he was always so keenly alive. It is curious, too, that he should have failed to recognise that the erection of constancy into a virtue would have been impossible, if it had not answered first, to some inner want of human character at its best, and second, to some condition of fitness in society at its best.

How is it, says one of the interlocutors, that the strongest, the sweetest, the most innocent of pleasures is become the most fruitful source of depravation and misfortune? This is indeed a question well worth asking. And it is comforting after the anarchy of the earlier part of the dialogue to find so comparatively sensible a line of argument taken in answer as the following. This evil result has been brought about, he says, by the tyranny of man, who has converted the possession of woman into a property; by manners and usages that have overburdened the conjugal union with superfluous conditions; by the civil laws that have subjected marriage to an infinity of formalities; by religious institutions that have attached the name of vices and virtues to actions that are not susceptible of morality. If this means that human happiness will be increased by making the condition of the wife more independent in respect of property; by treating in public opinion separation between husband and wife as a transaction in itself perfectly natural and blameless, and often not only laudable, but a duty; and by abolishing that barbarous iniquity and abomination called restitution of conjugal rights, then the speaker points to what has been justly described as the next great step in the improvement of society. If it means that we do wrong to invest with the most marked, serious, and unmistakable formality an act that brings human beings into existence, with uncounted results both to such beings themselves and to others who are equally irresponsible for their appearance in the world, then the position is recklessly immoral, and it is, moreover, wholly repugnant to Diderot's own better mind.



CHAPTER II

ROMANCE.

The President de Brosses on a visit to Paris, in 1754, was anxious to make the acquaintance of that "furious metaphysical head," as he styled Diderot. Buffon introduced him. "He is a good fellow," said the President, "very pleasant, very amiable, a great philosopher, a strong reasoner, but given to perpetual digressions. He made twenty-five digressions yesterday in my room, between nine o'clock and one o'clock." And so it is that a critic who has undertaken to give an account of Diderot, finds himself advancing from digression to digression, through a chain of all the subjects that are under the sun. The same Diderot, however, is present amid them all, and behind each of them; the same fresh enthusiasm, the same expansive sympathy, the same large hospitality of spirit. Always, too, the same habitual reference of ideas, systems, artistic forms, to the complex realities of life, and to these realities as they figured to sympathetic emotions.

It was inevitable that Diderot should make an idol of the author of Clarissa Harlowe. The spirit of reaction against the artificiality of the pseudo-classic drama, which drove him to feel the way to a drama of real life in the middle class, made him exult in the romance of ordinary private life which was invented by Richardson. It was no mere accident that the modern novel had its origin in England, but the result of general social causes. The modern novel essentially depends on the interest of the private life of ordinary men and women. But this interest was only possible on condition that the feudal and aristocratic spirit had received its deathblow, and it was only in England that such a revolution had taken place even partially. It was only in England as yet that the middle class had conquered a position of consideration, equality, and independence. Only in England, as has been said, had every man the power of making the best of his own personality, and arranging his own destiny according to his private goodwill and pleasure.[9] The greatest of Richardson's successors in the history of English fiction adds to this explanation. "Those," says Sir Walter Scott, "who with patience had studied rant and bombast in the folios of Scuderi, could not readily tire of nature, sense, and genius in the octavos of Richardson." The old French romances in which Europe had found a dreary amusement, were stories of princes and princesses. It was to be expected that the first country where princes and princesses were shorn of divinity and made creatures of an Act of Parliament, would also be the country where imagination would be most likely to seek for serious passion, realistic interest, and all the material for pathos and tragedy in the private lives of common individuals. It is true that Marivaux, the author of Marianne, was of the school of Richardson before Richardson wrote a word. But this was an almost isolated appearance, and not the beginning of a movement. Richardson's popularity stamped the opening of a new epoch. It was the landmark of a great social, no less than a great literary transition, when all England went mad with enthusiasm over the trials, the virtue, the triumph of a rustic ladies'-maid.

[9] Hettner's Literaturgeschichte, i. 462.

In the literary circles of France the enthusiasm for Richardson was quite as great as it was in England. There it was one of the signs of the certain approach of that transformation which had already taken place in England; the transformation from feudalism to industrial democracy. It may sound a paradox to say that a passion for Richardson was a symbol that a man was truly possessed by the spirit of political revolution. Yet it is true. Voltaire was a revolter against superstition and the tyranny of the church, but he never threw off the monarchic traditions of his younger days; he was always a friend of great nobles; he had no eye and no inclination for social overthrow. And this is what Voltaire said of Clarissa Harlowe: "It is cruel for a man like me to read nine whole volumes in which you find nothing at all. I said—Even if all these people were my relations and friends, I could take no interest in them. I can see nothing in the writer but a clever man who knows the curiosity of the human race, and is always promising something from volume to volume, in order to go on selling them." In the same way, and for exactly the same reasons, he could never understand the enthusiasm for the New Heloisa, the greatest of the romances that were directly modelled on Richardson. He had no vision for the strange social aspirations that were silently haunting the inner mind of his contemporaries. Of these aspirations, in all their depth and significance, Diderot was the half-conscious oracle and unaccepted prophet. It was not deliberate philosophical calculation that made him so, but the spontaneous impulse of his own genius and temperament. He was no conscious political destroyer, but his soul was open to all those voices of sentiment, to all those ideals of domestic life, to those primary forces of natural affection, which were so urgently pressing asunder the old feudal bonds, and so swiftly ripening a vast social crisis. Thus his enthusiasm for Richardson was, at its root, another side of that love of the life of peaceful industry, which gave one of its noblest characteristics to the Encyclopaedia.

To this enthusiasm Diderot gave voice in half a dozen pages which are counted among his masterpieces. Richardson died in 1761, and Diderot flung off a commemorative piece, which is without any order and connection; but this makes it more an echo, as he called it, of the tumult of his own heart. Here, indeed, he merits Gautier's laudatory phrase, and is as "flamboyant" as one could desire. To understand the march of feeling in French literature, and to measure the growth and expansion in criticism, we need only compare Diderot's eloge on Richardson with Fontenelle's eloge on Dangeau or Leibnitz. The exaggerations of phrase, the violences of feeling, the broken apostrophes, give to Diderot's eloge an unpleasant tone of declamation. Some of us may still prefer the moderation, the subtlety, the nice discrimination, of the critics of another school. Still it would be a sign of narrowness and short-sight not to discern the sincerity, the movement, the real meaning underneath all that profusion of glaring colour.

"O Richardson, Richardson, unique among men in my eyes, thou shalt be my favourite all my life long! If I am hard driven by pressing need, if my friend is overtaken by want, if the mediocrity of my fortune is not enough to give my children what is necessary for their education, I will sell my books; but thou shalt remain to me, thou shalt remain on the same shelf with Moses, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles!

"O Richardson, I make bold to say that the truest history is full of falsehoods, and that your romance is full of truths. History paints a few individuals; you paint the human race. History sets down to its few individuals what they have neither said nor done; whatever you set down to man, he has both said and done.... No; I say that history is often a bad novel; and the novel, as you have handled it, is good history. O painter of nature, 'tis you who are never false!

"You accuse Richardson of being long! You must have forgotten how much trouble, pains, busy movement, it costs to bring the smallest undertaking to a good issue,—to end a suit, to settle a marriage, to bring about a reconciliation. Think of these details what you please, but for me they will be full of interest if they are only true, if they bring out the passions, if they display character. They are common, you say; it is all what one sees every day. You are mistaken; 'tis what passes every day before your eyes, and what you never see."

In Richardson's work, he says, as in the world, men are divided into two classes, those who enjoy and those who suffer, and it is always to the latter that he draws the mind of the reader. It is due to Richardson, he cries, "if I have loved my fellow-creatures better, and loved my duties better; if I have never felt anything but pity for the bad; if I have conceived a deeper compassion for the unfortunate, more veneration for the good, more circumspection in the use of present things, more indifference about future things, more contempt for life, more love for virtue." The works of Richardson are his touch-stone; those who do not love them, stand judged and condemned in his eyes. Yet in the midst of this tumult of admiration Diderot admits that the number of readers who will feel all their value can never be great; it requires too severe a taste, and then the variety of events is such, relations are so multiplied, the management of them is so complicated, there are so many things arranged, so many personages! "O Richardson; if thou hast not enjoyed in thy lifetime all the reputation of thy deserts, how great wilt thou be to our grandchildren when they see thee from the distance at which we now view Homer! Then who will there be with daring enough to strike out a line of thy sublime work?"[10] Yet of the very moderate number of living persons who have ever read Clarissa Harlowe, it would be safe to say that the large majority have read it in a certain abridgment in three volumes which appeared some years ago.

[10] The Eloge de Richardson is in Diderot's Works, v. 212-227.

Doctor Johnson made the answer of true criticism to some one who complained to him that Richardson is tedious. "Why, sir," he said, "if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much frighted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story only as giving occasion to the sentiment." And this is just what Diderot and the Paris of the middle of the eighteenth century were eager to do. It was the sentiment that touched and delighted them in Clarissa, just as it was the sentiment that made the fortune of the great romance in their own tongue, which was inspired by Clarissa, and yet was so different from Clarissa. Rousseau threw into the New Heloisa a glow of passion of which the London printer was incapable, and he added a beauty of external landscape and a strong feeling for the objects and movement of wild natural scenery that are very different indeed from the atmosphere of the cedar-parlour and the Flask Walk at Hampstead. But the sentiment, the adoration of the belle ame, is the same, and it was the belle ame that fascinated that curious society, where rude logic and a stern anti-religious dialectic went hand-in-hand with the most tender and exalted sensibility.[11] It is singular that Diderot says nothing about Rousseau's famous romance, and we can only suppose that his silence arose from his contempt for the private perversity and seeming insincerity of the author.

[11] The belle ame was the origin of the schoene Seele that has played such a part in German literature and life. The reader will find a history of the expression in an appendix to Dr. Erich Schmidt's study. Richardson, Rousseau, und Goethe (Jena, 1875).

Diderot made one attempt of his own, in which we may notice the influence of the minute realism and the tearful pathos of Richardson. The Nun was not given to the world until 1796, when its author had been twelve years in his grave. Since then it has been reproduced in countless editions in France and Belgium, and has been translated into English, Spanish, and German. It fell in with certain passionate movements of the popular mind against some anti-social practices of the Catholic Church. Perhaps it is not unjust to suppose that the horrible picture of the depraved abbess has had some share in attracting a public.

It is thoroughly characteristic of Diderot's dreamy, heedless humour, and of the sincerity both of his interest in his work for its own sake, and of his indifference to the popular voice, that he should have allowed this, like so many other pieces, to lie in his drawer, or at most to circulate clandestinely among three or four of his more intimate friends. It was written about 1760, and ingenious historians have made of it a signal for the great crusade against the Church. In truth, as we have seen, it was a strictly private performance, and could be no signal for a public movement. La Religieuse was undoubtedly an expression of the strong feeling of the Encyclopaedic school about celibacy, renunciation of the world, and the burial of men and women alive in the cloister.

The circumstances under which the story was written are worthy of a word or two. Among the friends of Madame d'Epinay, Grimm, and Diderot was a certain Marquis de Croismare. He had deserted the circle, and retired to his estates in Normandy. It occurred to one of them that it would be a pleasant stratagem for recalling him to Paris, to invent a personage who should be shut up in a convent against her will, and then to make this personage appeal to the well-known courage and generosity of the Marquis de Croismare to rescue her. A previous adventure of the Marquis suggested the fiction, and made its success the more probable. Diderot composed the letters of the imaginary nun, and the conspirators had the satisfaction of making merry at supper over the letters which the loyal and unsuspecting Marquis sent in reply. At length the Marquis's interest became so eager that they resolved that the best way of ending his torment was to make the nun die. When the Marquis de Croismare returned to Paris, the plot was confessed, the victim of the mystification laughed at the joke, and the friendship of the party seemed to be strengthened by their common sorrow for the woes of the dead sister. But Diderot had been taken in his own trap. His imagination, which he had set to work in jest, was caught by the figure and the situation. One day while he was busy about the tale, a friend paid him a visit, and found him plunged in grief and his face bathed in tears. "What in the world can be the matter with you?" cried the friend. "What the matter?" answered Diderot in a broken voice; "I am filled with misery by a story that I am writing!" This capacity of thinking of imaginary personages as if they were friends living in the next street, had been stirred by Richardson. His acquaintances would sometimes notice anxiety and consternation on his countenance, and would ask him if anything had befallen his health, his friends, his family, his fortune. "O my friends," he would reply, "Pamela, Clarissa, Grandison ...!" It was in their world, not in the Rue Taranne, that he really lived when these brooding moods overtook him. And while he was writing The Nun, Sister Susan and Sister Theresa, the lady superior of Longchamp, and the libertine superior of Saint Eutropius, were as alive to him as Clarissa was alive to the score of correspondents who begged Richardson to spare her honour, not to let her die, to make Lovelace marry her, or by no means to allow Lovelace to marry her.

The Nun professes to be the story of a young lady whose family have thrust her into a convent, and her narrative, with an energy and reality that Diderot hardly ever surpassed, presents the odious sides of monastic life, and the various types of superstition, tyranny, and corruption that monastic life engenders. Yet Diderot had far too much genius to be tempted into the exaggerations of more vulgar assailants of monkeries and nunneries. He may have begun his work with the purpose of attacking a mischievous and superstitious system that mutilates human life, but he certainly continued it because he became interested in his creations. Diderot was a social destroyer by accident, but in intention he was a truly scientific moralist, penetrated by the spirit of observation and experiment; he shrunk from no excess in dissection, and found nothing in human pathology too repulsive for examination. Yet The Nun has none of the artificial violences of the modern French school, which loves moral disease for its own sake. The action is all very possible, and the types are all sufficiently human and probable. The close realistic touches which flowed from the intensity of the writer's illusion, naturally convey a certain degree of the same illusion to the mind of the reader.

Existence as it goes on in these strange hives is caught with what one knows to be true fidelity; its dulness, its littleness, its goings and comings, its spite, its reduction of the spiritual to the most purely mechanical.

"The first moments passed in mutual praises, in questions about the house that I had quitted, in experiments as to my character, my inclinations, my tastes, my understanding. They feel you all over; there is a number of little snares that they set for you, and from which they draw the most just conclusions. For example, they throw out some word of scandal, and then they look at you; they begin a story, and then wait to see whether you will ask for the end or will leave it there; if you make the most ordinary remark, they declare that it is charming, though they know well enough that it is nothing; they praise or they blame you with a purpose; they try to worm out your most hidden thoughts; they question you as to what you read; they offer you religious books and profane, and carefully notice your choice; they invite you to some slight infractions of the rule; they tell you little confidences, and throw out hints about the foibles of the Lady Superior. All is carefully gathered up and told over again. They leave you, they take you up again; they try to sound your sentiments about manners, about piety, about the world, about religion, about the monastic life, about everything. The result of all these repeated experiments is an epithet that stamps your character, and is always added by way of surname to the name that you already bear. I was called Sister Susan the Reserved."[12]

[12] La Religieuse. Oeuv., v. 110.

The portraits we feel to be to the life. The strongest of them all is undoubtedly the most disagreeable, the most atrocious; it is, if you will, the most infamous. We can only endure it as we endure to traverse the ward for epileptics in an hospital for the insane. It is appalling, it fills you with horror, it haunts you for days and nights, it leaves a kind of stain on the memory. It is a possibility of character of which the healthy, the pure, the unthinking have never dreamed. Such a portrait is not art, that is true; but it is science, and that delivers the critic from the necessity of searching his vocabulary for the cheap superlatives of moral censure. Whether it be art or science, however, men cannot but ask themselves how Diderot came to think it worth while to execute so painful a study. The only answer is that the irregularities of human nature—those more shameful parts of it, which in some characters survive the generations of social pressure that have crushed them down in civilised communities—had an irresistible attraction for the curiosity of his genius. The whole story is full of power; it abounds in phrases that have the stamp of genius; and suppressed vehemence lends to it strength. But it is fatally wanting in the elements of tenderness, beauty, and sympathy. If we chance to take it up for a second or for a tenth time, it infallibly holds us; but nobody seeks to return to it of his own will, and it holds us under protest.

If Richardson created one school in France, Sterne created another. The author of Tristram Shandy was himself only a follower of one of the greatest of French originals, and a follower at a long distance. Even those who have the keenest relish for our "good-humoured, civil, nonsensical, Shandean kind of a book," ought to admit how far it falls behind Rabelais in exuberance, force, richness of extravagance, breadth of colour, fulness of blood. They may claim, however, for Sterne what, in comparison with these great elements, are the minor qualities of simplicity, tenderness, precision, and finesse. These are the qualities that delighted the French taste. In 1762 Sterne visited Paris, and found Tristram Shandy almost as well known there as in London, and he instantly had dinners and suppers for a fortnight on his hands. Among them were dinners and suppers at Holbach's, where he made the acquaintance of Diderot, and where perhaps he made the discovery that "notwithstanding the French make such a pother about the word sentiment, they have no precise idea attached to it."[13] The Sentimental Journey appeared in 1768, and was instantly pronounced by the critics in both countries to be inimitable. It is no wonder that a performance of such delicacy of literary expression, united with so much good-nature, such easy, humane, amiable feeling, went to the hearts of the French of the eighteenth century. "My design in it," said Sterne, "was to teach us to love the world and our fellow-creatures better than we do, so it runs most upon those gentle passions and affections which aid so much to it."[14] This exactly fell in with the reigning Parisian modes, and with such sentiment as that of Diderot most of all. There were several French imitations of the Sentimental Journey,[15] but the only one that has survived in popular esteem, if indeed this can be said to have survived, is Diderot's Jacques le Fataliste.

[13] Sterne's Letters, May 23, 1765.

[14] Nov. 12, 1767.

[15] E.g. Le Voyageur Sentimental of Vernes (Grimm, Corr. Lit., xiii. 227).

It seems to have been composed about the time (1773) of Diderot's journey to Holland and St. Petersburg, of which we shall have more to say in a later chapter. Its history is almost as singular as the history of Rameau's Nephew. A contemporary speaks of a score of copies as existing in different parts of Germany, and we may conjecture that they found their way there from friends whom Diderot made in Holland, and some of them were no doubt sent by Grimm to his subscribers. The first fragment of it that saw the light in print was in a translation that Schiller made of its most striking episode, in the year 1785. This is another illustration of the eagerness of the best minds of Germany to possess and diffuse the most original products of French intelligence and hardihood. Diderot, as we have said, stands in the front rank along with Rousseau, along also with Richardson, Sterne, and Goldsmith, among those who in Germany kindled the glow of sentimentalism, both in its good and its bad forms. It was in Germany that the first complete version of the whole of Jacques le Fataliste appeared, in 1792. Not until four years later did the French obtain an original transcript. This they owed to the generosity of Prince Henri of Prussia, the brother of Frederick the Great; he presented it to the Institute.

"There is going about here," wrote Goethe in 1780, while Diderot was still alive, "a manuscript of Diderot's called Jacques le Fataliste et son Maitre, and it is really first-rate—a very fine and exquisite meal, prepared and dished up with great skill, as if for the palate of some singular idol. I set myself in the place of this Bel, and in six uninterrupted hours swallowed all the courses in the order, and according to the intentions, of this excellent cook and maitre d'hotel."[16] He goes on to say that when other people came to read it, some preferred one story, and some another. On the whole, one is strongly inclined to judge that few modern readers will equal Goethe's unsparing appetite. The reader sighs in thinking of the brilliant and unflagging wit, the verve, the wicked graces of Candide, and we long for the ease and simplicity and light stroke of the Sentimental Journey. Diderot has the German heaviness. Perhaps this is because he had too much conscience, and laboured too deeply under the burdensome problems of the world. He could not emancipate himself sufficiently from the tumult of his own sympathies. At many a page both of Jacques le Fataliste, and of others of his pieces, we involuntarily recall the writer's own contention that excess of sensibility makes a mediocre actor. The same law is emphatically true of the artist. Diderot never writes as if his spirit were quite free—and perhaps it never was free. If we are to enjoy these reckless outbursts of all that is bizarre and grotesque, these defiances of all that is sane, coherent, and rational, we must never feel conscious of a limitation, or a possibility of stint or check. The draught must seem to come from an exhaustless fountain of boisterous laughter, irony, and caprice. Perfect fooling is so rare an art, that not half a dozen men in literature have really possessed it; perhaps only Aristophanes, Rabelais, Shakespeare. Candide, wonderful as it is, has many a stroke of malice, and Tristram Shandy, wonderful as that is too, is not without tinges of self-consciousness; and neither malice nor self-consciousness belongs to the greater gods of buffoonery. Cervantes and Moliere, those great geniuses of finest temper, still have none of the reckless buffoonery of such scenes as that between Prince Henry and the drawer, or the mad extravagances of the Merry Wives; still less of the wild topsy-turvy of the Birds or the Peace. They have not the note of true Pantagruelism. Most critics, again, would find in Swift a truculence, sometimes latent and sometimes flagrant, that would deprive him, too, of his place among these great masters of free and exuberant farce. Diderot, at any rate, must rank in the second class among those who have attempted to tread a measure among the whimsical zigzags of unreason. The sincere sentimentalist makes a poor reveller.

[16] Quoted in Rosenkranz, ii. 326.

We have spoken, as many others have done before us, of Diderot as imitating our two English celebrities, and in one sense that is a perfectly true description. In Jacques le Fataliste whole sentences are transcribed in letter and word from Tristram Shandy. Yet imitation is hardly the right word for the process by which Diderot showed that an author had seized and affected him. La Religieuse would not have been written if there had been no Richardson, nor Jacques le Fataliste if there had been no Sterne; yet Diderot's work is not really like the work of either of his celebrated contemporaries. They gave him the suggestion of a method and a sentiment to start from, and he mused and brooded over it until, from among the clouds of his imagination, there began to loom figures of his own, moving along a path which was also his own. This was the history of his adaptation of The Natural Son from Goldoni. We can only be sure that nothing became blithe in its passage through his mind. He was too much of a preacher to be an effective humorist.

There is in Jacques le Fataliste none of that gift of true creation which produced such figures as Trim, and my Uncle Toby, and Mr. Shandy. Jacques's master is a mere lay figure, and Jacques himself, with his monotonous catchword, "Il etait ecrit la-haut," has no real personality; he has none of the naturalness that wins us to Corporal Trim, still less has he any touch of the profound humour of the immortal Sancho. The book is a series of stories, rather than Sterne's subtle amalgam of pathos, gentle irony, and frank buffoonery; and the stories themselves are for the most part either insipid or obscene. There is perhaps one exception. The longest and the most elaborate of them, that which Schiller translated, is more like one of the modern French novels of a certain kind, than any other production of the eighteenth century. The adventure of Madame de Pommeraye and the Marquis d'Arcis is a crude foreshadowing of a style that has been perfected by M. Feydeau and M. Flaubert. The Marquis has been the lover of Madame de Pommeraye; he grows weary of her, and in time the lady discovers the bitter truth. Resignation is not among her virtues, and in her rage and anguish she devises an elaborate plan of revenge, which she carries out with the utmost tenacity and resolution. It consists in leading him on, by skilful incitements, to marry a woman whom he supposes to be an angel of purity, but whom Madame de Pommeraye triumphantly reveals to him on the morning after his marriage as a creature whose past history has been one of notorious depravity. This disagreeable story, of which Balzac would have made a masterpiece, is told in an interesting way, and the humoristic machinery by which the narrative is managed is less tiresome than usual. It is at least a story with meaning, purpose, and character. It is neither a jumble without savour or point, nor is it rank and gross like half the pages in the book. "Your Jacques," Diderot supposes some one to say to him, "is only a tasteless rhapsody of facts, some real, others imaginary, written without grace, and distributed without order. How can a man of sense and conduct, who prides himself on his philosophy, find amusement in spinning out tales so obscene as these?"[17] And this is exactly what the modern critic is bound to ask. In Rabelais there is at least puissant laughter; in Montaigne, when he dwells on such matters, there is naivete. In Diderot we do not even feel that he is having any enjoyment in his grossnesses; they have not even the bad excuse of seeming spontaneous and coming from the fulness of his heart. "Reader," he says, "I amuse myself in writing the follies that you commit; your follies make me laugh; and my book puts you out of humour. To speak frankly to you, I find that the more wicked of us two is not myself." Unhappily, he does not convey the impression of amusement to his readers; it has no infection in it, and if his book puts us out of humour, it is not by its satire on mankind, but by its essential want of point and want of meaning, either moral or aesthetic. The few masters of this style have known how to bind the heterogeneous elements together, if not by some deep-lying purpose, at least by some pervading mood of rich and mellow feeling. In Jacques le Fataliste is neither.

[17] vi. 221, 222.

That men of the stamp of Goethe and Schiller should have found such a book of delicious feast, naturally makes the disparaging critic pause. In truth, we can easily see how it was. Like all the rest of Diderot's work, it breaks roughly in upon that starved formalism which had for long lain so heavily both on art and life. Its hardihood, its very license, its contempt of conventions, its presentation of common people and coarse passions and rough lives, all made it a dissolvent of the thin, dry, and frigid rules which tyrannised over the world, and interposed between the artist or the thinker and the real existence of man on the earth. When we think of what European literature was, it ceases to be wonderful that Goethe should have been unable for six whole hours to tear himself away from a book that so few men to-day, save under some compulsion, could persuade themselves to read through. On great wholesome minds the grossness left no stain, and the interest of Diderot's singularities worked as a stimulus to a happier originality in men of more disciplined endowments. And let us add, of more poetic endowments. It is the lack of poetry in Jacques that makes its irony so heavy to us. We only willingly suffer those to take us down into the depths who can also raise us on the wings of a beautiful fancy. Even Rabelais has his poetic moments, as in the picture of Cupid self-disarmed before the industrious serenity of the Muses. A single lovely image, like Sterne's figure of the recording angel, reconciles us to many a miry page. But in Jacques le Fataliste, Diderot never raises his eye for an instant to the blue aether, his ear catches no harmony of awe, of hope, nor even of a noble despair. With a kind of clumsy jubilancy he holds us fast in the ways and language of thick and clogged sense. The fatrasie of old France has its place in literature, but it can never be restored in ages when a host of moral anxieties have laid siege to men's souls. The uncommon is always welcome to the lover of art, but it must justify itself. Jacques has the quality of the uncommon; it is a curiously prepared dish, as Goethe said; but it lacks the pinch of salt and the handful of herbs with sharp diffusive flavour.



CHAPTER III.

ART.

In 1759 Diderot wrote for Grimm the first of his criticisms on the exhibition of paintings in the Salon. At the beginning of the reign of Lewis XV. these exhibitions took place every year, as they take place now. But from 1751 onwards, they were only held once in two years. Diderot has left his notes on every salon from 1759 to 1781, with the exception of that of 1773, when he was travelling in Holland and Russia.

We have already seen how Grimm made Diderot work for him. The nine Salons are one of the results of this willing bondage, and they are perhaps the only part of Diderot's works that has enjoyed a certain measure of general popularity. Mr. Carlyle describes them with emphatic enthusiasm: "What with their unrivalled clearness, painting the picture over again for us, so that we too see it, and can judge it; what with their sunny fervour, inventiveness, real artistic genius, which wants nothing but a hand, they are with some few exceptions in the German tongue, the only Pictorial Criticisms we know of worth reading."[18] I only love painting in poetry, Madame Necker said to Diderot, and it is into poetry that you have found out the secret of rendering the works of our modern painters, even the commonest of them. It would be a truly imperial luxury, wrote A. W. Schlegel, to get a collection of pictures described for oneself by Diderot.

[18] Essays, iv. 303. (Ed. 1869.)

There is a freshness, a vivacity, a zeal, a sincerity, a brightness of interest in his subject, which are perhaps unique in the whole history of criticism. He flings himself into the task with the perfection of natural abandonment to a joyous and delightful subject. His whole personality is engaged in a work that has all the air of being overflowing pleasure, and his pleasure is contagious. His criticism awakens the imagination of the reader. Not only do we see the picture; we hear Diderot's own voice in ecstasies of praise and storms of boisterous wrath. There is such mass in his criticism; so little of the mincing and niggling of the small virtuoso. In facility of expression, in animation, in fecundity of mood, in fine improvisation, these pieces are truly incomparable. There is such an impetus animi et quaedam artis libido. Some of the charm and freedom may be due to the important circumstance that he was not writing for the public. He was not exposed to the reaction of a large unknown audience upon style; hence the absence of all the stiffness of literary pose. But the positive conditions of such success lay in the resources of Diderot's own character.

The sceptic, the dogmatist, the dialectician, and the other personages of a heterogeneous philosophy who existed in Diderot's head, all disappear or fall back into a secondary place, and he surrenders himself with a curious freedom to such imaginative beauty as contemporary art provided for him. Diderot was perhaps the one writer of the time who was capable on occasion of rising above the strong prevailing spirit of the time; capable of forgetting for a season the passion of the great philosophical and ecclesiastical battle. No one save Diderot could have been moved by sight of a picture to such an avowal as this:

"Absurd rigorists do not know the effect of external ceremonies on the people; they can never have seen the enthusiasm of the multitude at the procession of the Fete Dieu, an enthusiasm that sometimes gains even me. I have never seen that long file of priests in their vestments; those young acolytes clad in their white robes, with broad blue sashes engirdling their waists, and casting flowers on the ground before the Holy Sacrament; the crowd as it goes before and follows after them hushed in religious silence, and so many with their faces bent reverently to the ground; I have never heard that grave and pathetic chant, as it is led by the priests and fervently responded to by an infinity of voices of men, of women, of girls, of little children, without my inmost heart being stirred, and tears coming into my eyes. There is in it something, I know not what, that is grand, solemn, sombre, and mournful."

Thus to find the material of religious reaction in the author of Jacques le Fataliste and the centre of the atheistic group, completes the circle of Diderot's immense and deep-lying versatility. And in his account of such a mood, we see how he came to be so great and poetical a critic; we see the sincerity, the alertness, the profound mobility, with which he was open to impressions of colour, of sound, of the pathos of human aspiration, of the solemn concourses of men.

France has long been sovereign in criticism in its literary sense. In that department she has simply never had, and has not now, any serious rival. In the profounder historic criticism, Germany exhibits her one great, peculiar, and original gift. In the criticism of art Germany has at least three memorable names; but save where history is concerned most modern German aesthetics are so clouded with metaphysical speculation as to leave the obscurity of a very difficult subject as thick as it was before. In France the beginnings of art-criticism were literary rather than philosophic, and with the exception of Cousin's worthless eloquence, and of the writers whose philosophy Cousin dictated, and of M. Taine's ingenious paradoxes, Diderot is the only writer who has deliberately brought a vivid spirit and a philosophic judgment to the discussion of the forms of Beauty, as things worthy of real elucidation. As far back as the time of the English Restoration, Dufresnoy had written in bad Latin a poem on the art of Painting, which had the signal honour of being translated into good English by no less illustrious a master of English than Dryden, and it was again translated by Mason, the friend of Reynolds and of Gray. Imitations, applied to the pictorial art, of the immortal Epistle to the Pisos, came thick in France in the eighteenth century.[19] But these effusions are merely literary, and they are very bad literature indeed. The abbe Dubos published in 1719 a volume of Critical Reflections on Poetry and Painting, including observations also on the relations of those arts to Music. Lessing is known to have made use of this work in his Laocoeon, and Diderot gave it a place among the books which he recommended in his Plan of a University.[20] This, as it is the earliest, seems to have been the best contribution to aesthetic thought before Lessing and Diderot. Daniel Webb, the English friend of Raphael Mengs, published an Enquiry into the Beauties of Painting (1760), and Diderot wrote a notice of it,[21] but it appears to have made no mark on his mind. Andre, a Jesuit father, wrote an Essay on the Beautiful (1741), which distributed the kinds of art with precision, but omitted to say in what the Beautiful consists. The abbe Batteux wrote a volume reducing the fine arts to a single principle, and another volume attempting a systematic classification of them. The first of these was the occasion of Diderot's Letter on Deaf Mutes, and Diderot described their author as a good man of letters, but without taste, without criticism, and without philosophy; a ces bagatelles pres, le plus joli garcon du monde.[22]

[19] E.g. Watelet's poem, Sur l'Art de Peindre, 1760; Le Mierre's Sur la Peinture, 1769; Marsy's Pictura Carmen, 1736. See Diderot's works, xiii. 17, etc.

[20] Oeuv., iii. 486. Guhrauer, ii. 15. Also Bluemner's admirable edition of the Laocoeon, p. 173.

[21] xiii. 33.

[22] Grimm, Corr. Lit., iv. 136. In another place in the same work either Grimm or Diderot makes a remark about Batteux, which is worth remembering in our own age of official vindications of orthodoxy. The abbe had written a book about first causes. "I venture to observe moreover to M. l'abbe Batteux that when in this world a man has put on the dress of any sort of harlequin, red or black, with a pair of bands or a frill, he ought to give up once for all every kind of philosophic discussion, because it is impossible for him to speak according to his faith and his conscience; and a writer of bad faith is all the more odious, as nothing compelled him to break silence." Ib. vi. 120.

Travellers to the land where criticism of art has been so slight, and where production has been so noble, so bounteous, so superb, published the story of what Italy had shown to them. Madame de Pompadour designed to make her brother the Superintendent of fine arts, and she despatched Cochin, the great engraver of the day, to accompany him in a studious tour through the holy land of the arts. Cochin was away nearly two years, and on his return produced three little volumes (1758), in which he deals such blows to some vaunted immortalities as made the idolators by convention not a little angry. The abbe Richard (1766) published six very stupid volumes on Italy, and such criticism on art as they contain is not worthy of serious remark. The President de Brosses spent a year in Italy (1739-40), and wrote letters to his friends at home, which may be read to-day with interest and pleasure for their graphic picture of Italian society; but the criticisms which they contain on the great works of art are those of a well-informed man of the world, taking many things for granted, rather than of a philosophical critic industriously using his own mind. His book recalls to us how true the eighteenth century was to itself in its hatred of Gothic architecture, that symbol and associate of mysticism, and of the age which the eighteenth century blindly abhorred as the source of all the tyrannical laws and cruel superstitions that still weighed so heavily on mankind. "You know the Palace of Saint Mark at Venice," says De Brosses: "c'est un vilain monsieur, s'il eu fut jamais, massif, sombre, et gothique, du plus mechant gout!"[23]

[23] Lettres Familieres, i. 174. (Ed. 1869.)

Dupaty, like De Brosses, an eminent lawyer, an acquaintance of Diderot and an early friend of a conspicuous figure of a later time, the ill-starred Vergniaud, travelled in Italy almost immediately before the Revolution (1785), and his letters, when read with those of De Brosses, are a curious illustration of the change that had come over the spirit of men in the interval. He leaves the pictures of the Pitti collection at Florence, and plunges into meditation in the famous gardens behind the palace, rejoicing with much expansion in the glories of light and air, in greenery and the notes of birds, and finally sums all up in one rapturous exclamation of the vast superiority of nature over art.[24]

[24] Dupaty's Lettres sur l'Italie, No. 40. In talking of Rome, he complains in a very Diderotian spirit of the want of le beau moral. "On ne trouve ici dans les moeurs ni des hommes prives ni des hommes publics, cette moralite, cette bienseance, dont les moeurs francoises sont pleines. Le beau moral est absolument inconnu. Or, c'est pour atteindre a ce beau moral dans tous les genres que la sensibilite est la plus tourmentee; qu'elle est en proie aux contentions de l'esprit, aux emulations de l'ame ... qu'elle pare avec tant de raffinement et de peine, les ecrits, les discours, les passions, enfin toute la vie publique et privee.'

It is impossible, in reading how deeply Diderot was affected by fifth-rate paintings and sculpture, not to count it among the great losses of literature that he saw few masterpieces. He never made the great pilgrimage. He was never at Venice, Florence, Parma, Rome. A journey to Italy was once planned, in which Grimm and Rousseau were to have been his travelling companions;[25] the project was not realised, and the strongest critic of art that his country produced never saw the greatest glories of art. If Diderot had visited Florence and Rome, even the mighty painter of the Last Judgment and the creator of those sublime figures in the New Sacristy at San Lorenzo, would have found an interpreter worthy of him. But it was not to be. "It is rare," he once wrote, "for an artist to excel without having seen Italy, just as a man seldom becomes a great writer or a man of great taste without having given severe study to the ancients."[26] Diderot at least knew what he lost.

[25] x. 514, n.

[26] xi. 241.

French art was then, as art usually is, the mirror of its time, reproducing such imaginative feeling as society could muster. When the Republic and the Empire came, and twenty years of battle and siege, then the art of the previous generation fell into a degree of contempt for which there is hardly a parallel. Pictures that had been the delight of the town and had brought fortunes to their painters, rotted on the quays or were sold for a few pence at low auctions. Fragonard, who had been the darling of his age, died in neglect and beggary. David and his hideous art of the Empire utterly effaced what had thrown the contemporaries of Diderot into rapture.[27] Every one knows all that can be said against the French paintings of Diderot's time. They are executed hastily and at random; they abound in technical defects of colour, of drawing, of composition; their feeling is light and shallow. Watteau died in 1721—at the same premature age as Raphael,—but he remained as the dominating spirit of French art through the eighteenth century. Of course the artists went to Rome, but they changed sky and not spirit. The pupils of the academy came back with their portfolios filled with sketches in which we see nothing of the "lone mother of dead empires," nothing of the vast ruins and the great sombre desolate Campagna, but only Rome turned into a decoration for the scenes of a theatre or the panels of a boudoir. The Olympus of Homer and of Virgil, as has been well said, becomes the Olympus of Ovid. Strength, sublimity, even stateliness disappeared, unless we admit some of the first two qualities in the landscapes of Vernet. Not only is beauty replaced by prettiness, but by prettiness in season and out of season. The common incongruity of introducing a spirit of elegance and literature into the simplicities of the true pastoral, was condemned by Diderot as a mixture of Fontenelle with Theocritus. We do not know what name he would have given to that still more curious incongruity of taste, which made a publisher adorn a treatise on Differential and Integral Calculus with amusing plates by Cochin, and introduce dainty little vignettes into a Demonstration of the Properties of the Cycloid.

[27] Goncourt's L'Art au 18ieme Siecle, i.

There is one true story that curiously illustrates the spirit of French art in those equivocal days. When Madame de Pompadour made up her mind to play pander to the jaded appetites of the king, she had a famous female model of the day introduced into a Holy Family, which was destined for the private chapel of the queen. The portrait answered its purpose; it provoked the curiosity and desire of the king, and the model was invited to the Parc-aux-Cerfs.[28] This was typical of the service that painting was expected to render to the society that adored it and paid for it. "All is daintiness, delicate caressing for delicate senses, even down to the external decoration of life, down to the sinuous lines, the wanton apparel, the refined commodity of rooms and furniture. In such a place and in such company, it is enough to be together to feel at ease. Their idleness does not weigh upon them; life is their plaything."[29]

[28] Goncourt's Art au 18ieme Siecle, i. 213.

[29] Taine's Ancien Regime, p. 186.

Only let us not, while reserving our serious admiration for Titian, Rembrandt, Raphael, and the rest of the gods and demigods, refuse at least a measure of historic tolerance to these light and graceful creations. Boucher, whose dreams of rose and blue were the delight of his age, came away from Rome saying: "Raphael is a woman, Michael Angelo is a monster; one is paradise, the other is hell; they are painters of another world; it is a dead language that nobody speaks in our day. We others are the painters of our own age: we have not common sense, but we are charming." This account of them was not untrue. They filled up the space between the grandiose pomp of Le Brun and the sombre pseudo-antique of David, just as the incomparable grace and sparkle of Voltaire's lighter verse filled up the space in literature between Racine and Chenier. They have a poetry of their own; they are cheerful, sportive, full of fancy, and like everything else of that day, intensely sociable. They are, at any rate, even the most sportive of them, far less unwholesome and degrading than the acres of martyrdoms, emaciations, bad crucifixions, bad pietas, that make some galleries more disgusting than a lazar-house.[30]

[30] "Si tous les tableaux de martyrs que nos grands peintres ont si sublimement peints, passaient a une posterite reculee, pour qui nous prendrait-elle? Pour des betes feroces ou des anthropophages."—Diderot's Pensees sur la Peinture.

For Watteau himself, the deity of the century, Diderot cared very little. "I would give ten Watteaus," he said, "for one Teniers." This was as much to be expected, as it was characteristic in Lewis XIV., when some of Teniers's pictures were submitted to him, imperiously to command "ces magots la" to be taken out of his sight.

Greuze (b. 1725, d. 1805) of all the painters of the time was Diderot's chief favourite. Diderot was not at all blind to Greuze's faults, to his repetitions, his frequent want of size and amplitude, the excess of gray and of violet in his colouring. But all these were forgotten in transports of sympathy for the sentiment. As we glance at a list of Greuze's subjects, we perceive that we are in the very heart of the region of the domestic, the moral, "l'honnete," the homely pathos of the common people. The Death of a father of a family, regretted by his children; The Death of an unnatural father, abandoned by his children; The beloved mother caressed by her little ones; A child weeping over its dead bird; A Paralytic tended by his family, or the Fruit of a Good Education:—Diderot was ravished by such themes. The last picture he describes as a proof that compositions of that kind are capable of doing honour to the gifts and the sentiments of the artist.[31] The Girl bewailing her dead bird throws him into raptures. "O, the pretty elegy!" he begins, "the charming poem! the lovely idyll!" and so forth, until at length he breaks into a burst of lyric condolence addressed to the weeping child, that would fill four or five of these pages.[32]

[31] x. 143.

[32] x. 343.

No picture of the eighteenth century was greeted with more enthusiasm than Greuze's Accordee de Village, which was exhibited in 1761. It seems to tell a story, and therefore even to-day, in spite of its dulled pink and lustreless blue, it arrests the visitor to one of the less frequented halls of the Louvre.[33] Paris, weary of mythology and sated with pretty indecencies, was fascinated by the simplicity of Greuze's village tale. "On se sent gagner d'une emotion douce en le regardant," said Diderot, and this gentle emotion was dear to the cultivated classes in France at that moment of the century. It was the year of the New Heloisa.

[33] No. 260 of the French School.

The subject is of the simplest: a peasant paying the dower-money of his daughter. "The father"—it is prudent of us to borrow Diderot's description—"is seated in the great chair of the house. Before him his son-in-law standing, and holding in his left hand the bag that contains the money. The betrothed, standing also, with one arm gently passed under the arm of her lover, the other grasped by her mother, who is seated. Between the mother and the bride, a younger sister standing, leaning on the bride and with an arm thrown round her shoulders. Behind this group, a child standing on tiptoes to see what is going on. To the extreme left in the background, and at a distance from the scene, two women-servants who are looking on. To the right a cupboard with its usual contents—all scrupulously clean.... A wooden staircase leading to the upper floor. In the foreground near the feet of the mother, a hen leading her young ones, to whom a little girl throws crumbs of bread; a basin full of water, and on the edge of it, one of the small chickens with its beak up in the air so as to let the water go down." Diderot then proceeds to criticise the details, telling us the very words that he hears the father addressing to the bridegroom, and as a touch of observation of nature, that while one of the old man's hands, of which we see the back, is tanned and brown, the other, of which we see the palm, is white. "To the bride the painter has given a face full of charm, of seemliness, of reserve. She is dressed to perfection. That apron of white stuff could not be better; there is a trifle of luxury in her ornament; but then it is a wedding-day. You should note how true are the folds and creases in her dress, and in those of the rest. The charming girl is not quite straight; but there is a light and gentle inflexion in all her figure and her limbs that fills her with grace and truth. Indeed she is pretty and very pretty. If she had leaned more towards her lover, it would have been unbecoming; more to her mother and her father, and she would have been false. She has her arm half passed under that of her future husband, and the tips of her fingers rest softly on his hand; that is the only mark of tenderness that she gives him, and perhaps without knowing it herself: it is a delicate idea in the painter."[34]

[34] x. 151-156. Dr. Waagen pronounces this picture to be as truly an expression of das Nationalfranzoesiche as Wilkie's paintings are of das Englische. See his Kunstwerke und Kuenstler in Paris, p. 675.

"Courage, my good Greuze," he cries, "fais de la morale en peinture. What, has not the pencil been long enough and too long consecrated to debauchery and vice? Ought we not to be delighted at seeing it at last unite with dramatic poetry in instructing us, correcting us, inviting us to virtue?"[35] It has been sometimes said that Diderot would have exulted in the paintings of Hogarth, and we may admit that he would have sympathised with the spirit of such moralities as the Idle and the Industrious Apprentice, the Rake's Progress, and Mariage a la Mode. The intensity and power of that terrible genius would have had their attraction, but the minute ferocities of Hogarth's ruthless irony would certainly have revolted him. Such a scene as Lord Squanderfield's visit to the quack doctor, or as the Rake's debauch, would have filled him with inextinguishable horror. He could never have forgiven an artist who, in the ghastly pathos of a little child straining from the arms of its nurse towards the mother, as she lies in the very article of death, could still find in his heart to paint on it the dark patches of foul disease. He would have fled with shrieks from those appalling scenes of murder, torture, madness, bestial drunkenness, rapacity, fury—from that delirium of scrofula, palsy, entrails, the winding-sheet, and the grave-worm. Diderot's method was to improve men, not by making their blood curdle, but by warming and softening the domestic affections.

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