Tales of To-day and Other Days
TALES OF TO-DAY
AND OTHER DAYS
FROM THE FRENCH OF
|Alfred de Musset||||François Coppée|
|Alphonse Karr||Paul Bourget|
|Théophile Gautier||Guy de Maupassant|
|Prosper Merimée||Jules Claretie|
CASSELL PUBLISHING COMPANY
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THE MERSHON COMPANY PRESS,
RAHWAY, N. J.
A WORD FROM THE TRANSLATOR.
A few words of explanation seem in order anent the aim and purport of this small volume, otherwise the tales of which it is composed may seem to the critical so many disjecta membra, without form and void, fit subjects for the waste-basket.
Briefly, then, it is a collection of those short stories that the French so excel in; the "Tales of To-day" being selected from among the most famous of our modern raconteurs, while the "Tales of Other Days" are some of those that served to amuse and delight our fathers and grandfathers forty, fifty, sixty years ago, the intention being to give some faint idea of the difference (if any) that characterizes the literary methods of the tyro epochs.
Versatile Paris witnessed in 1830 two revolutions, of which it is hard to tell which was the more important in its results: one was the fall of the Bourbons, the other the emancipation of French literature from the bondage in which it had until then been held by the Classicists. Victor Hugo, the highpriest of the new cult, produced his Hernani on the stage in 1830; he was quickly surrounded by a band of young and enthusiastic followers, whose productions in the next thirty years were the delight of France and the world. The band comprised, in addition to their illustrious chief, Balzac, Dumas, George Sand, De Vigny, Soulié, and, last but not least, the four charming, inimitable authors whose names appear on the title-page of this volume—De Musset, Karr, Gautier, and Merimée. They were all born in the years between 1803 and 1811; Musset was the first to die, in 1857; Karr survived until 1890, forming a link between the past and present; his "Visit to the Arsenal," however, bears the date 1842. Of course there were others besides, less famous, but men of mark in their day, and they all united to form a galaxy that has hardly been equaled in any literature for delicacy, taste, and brilliancy.
Of the five names selected to represent the writers of to-day, Émile Zola, the apostle of the realistic school,—which is not realism more than the work of a painter would be who should depict the slums of a great city and assert his picture to be a faithful representation of that city, ignoring its parks and palaces, its museums, gardens, and works of art,—Émile Zola is the most popular writer of the day, if judged by the sale attained by his books. But that proves—what? According to a recent statement, of "Nana," the most prurient of his books, 155,000 copies have been sold in France; of "La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret," the cleanest, some 40,000. The inference seems to be, as Mr. Saintsbury says, that there are a great many (apparently) decent men and women who avail themselves of an opportunity to purchase publicly and carry away with them indecent literature; the difference between the greater figure and the less may be taken as the indication of the extent to which M. Zola's popularity is ascribable to depraved tastes and instincts; and while the tremendous sales of such books may put money in the author's pocket in the present, it will hardly help his reputation in the future. Argue as we may, art and beauty are closely allied; the union between art and deformity is an unholy one and the progeny will be tainted and short-lived.
Will Zola and his imitators occupy fifty years hence the place in the affection of their countrymen that Hugo and the members of his school occupy to-day? The "Great Man" recently failed to secure the election to the Académie that he had solicited; like Piron, he may write his own epitaph, mutato nomine:
Ci-gît Zola, qui ne fut rien,
Pas même Académicien.
Very antithetic to Zola in style, habit of thought, character, disposition, everything, is François Coppée, the poet of the people. Gifted with a singularly melodious and tenderly poetic style, intensely sympathetic with humanity in all its aspects, he selects his characters for the most part from among the lowlier walks of life and pictures their troubles and sufferings and their infrequent joys with loving fidelity. A vein of gentle melancholy pervades his writings, varied by an occasional indignant denunciation of the shams and frauds of society, but without maudlin sentimentality. It is to be doubted, however, if he will ever receive the recognition that his tender grace and manly humanitarianism entitle him to, for he neither blows the trumpet nor beats the big drum, as some of his confrères are not above doing; and although he pipes so pleasantly, he does it, rather, cum tenui avena.
De Maupassant, who seemed likely at one time to run Zola close in the race for popularity, is pretty well known on this side of the Atlantic; Bourget and Claretie, both adepts in the story-teller's art, are less so. It may be said that the Zola school is by no means omnipotent in the country of its birth; there are many excellent men and eminent writers who deprecate its influence on morals and on literature, and French authors, unconsciously to themselves perhaps, permit themselves to be swayed to a much greater extent than they did a short time ago by the influence of English and American writers. They, appreciate more justly than they used to do the traits, habits, and character of their neighbors across the water; there is less (though even now too much) of that contempt for the outer barbarian that they formerly took such small pains to conceal. For this better understanding we are indebted to no one more than to the talented lady who, under the pseudonym of Théo. Bentzon, contributes an occasional appreciative review to the pages of the Revue des Deux Mondes.
I should have been glad could I have afforded those who are so kind as to read my translation a better version of the great originals, but it is my experience that any attempt to use "fine language" is only too apt to result in a perversion of the sense. A translation should follow its original as closely as may be without degenerating into servility: otherwise it ceases to be a translation and becomes an adaptation. There is a quotation that we often hear used: "O Liberty, what sins are committed in thy name!" Mme. Roland did not say that in her apostrophe; she said: O liberté, comme on t'a jouée! "O Liberty, how men have cheated thee!" Doubtless the version that is more familiar to our ears rolls from off the tongue more glibly, but it is not the same. C’est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre. The old simile occurs to me of decanting champagne, but it is trite; the only resource that I know of that will enable the reader to enjoy the style and sense of any foreign author is to get down his grammar and dictionary and master the language.
Alfred de Musset:
Guy de Maupassant:
Guy de Maupassant: