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British and Continental Characteristics.

45

Art. II.-1. Un Philosophe sous les toits. Par M. Emile Sou

VESTRE. Paris, 1851. 2. The Attic Philosopher. By M. EMILE SOUVESTRE. (Trans

lated.) London, 1854.

This is one of the pleasantest and prettiest little books that has ever fallen into our hands. It is the more interesting and surprising as having issued from the press of Paris; and, after the vehement, diseased, and bacchanalian pages of Balzac, Eugène Sue, and Victor Hugo, is medicine to our scandalized morality, balın to our wounded sensibility, rest to the wearied fancy, and positive refreshment to the irritated eye. To come to it after such reading is like the “crystalline fount” after the “ feculent flood,”—like the “pure breezes of morn” after the heated and morbific atmosphere of the hospital or the gaminghouse, like the green fields and fresh vegetation of the country and the spring, after the glare and fumes of a gaudy and gaslighted theatre. We feel that we have escaped from intoxication to sobriety, from the vortex of passion to the peace of nature, from that wbich is simply noxious or revolting, to that which gives true pleasure and does real good.

We rejoice to see that such a book can come out of the heart of France,—that such pictures can still be relished there,—that such a life as is here depicted can still be led there. For though the tone of the book is pure, and all its sentiments are humane, genial, and gentle, it is as remote as possible from anything mawkish or maudlin. It has nothing of the pastoral tenderness, the overdone Arcadianism, which made the popularity of the Romance of Bernardin de St. Pierre nearly as sure a sign of an unhealthy state of the public mind as the profligate novels that appeared at the same time, and divided with it the favour of the reading world of France. Nor has it any closer similarity to the Swiss love-stories, and pictures and praises of savage life, with which Rousseau dazzled and delighted the fancy of the profligate and sophisticated dames of Paris

, in the heinous days of Louis XV. İts pathos is all natural; its sentiments are all genuine and unforced,—the reflections of a contented and kindhearted man who philosophizes from his garret on the motley world beneath him, and mingles with it in his own humble sphere. It indicates that there is still a portion of the heart of France sound and unperverted ; and what is more to our immediate purpose, it gives a very interesting glimpse into some of those points of Continental life and character, in which it has a marked superiority to our own,-peculiarities which it would be well if we could transplant, and which incline us to a certain uncomfortable misgiving that some of our aims and exertions may be sadly misdirected, and that we may, oftener than we deem, be sailing on a wrong tack.

The book is in the form of fragments from the diary of a man of fair education and of very humble fortunes, such as may be found in numbers, not only in Paris, but all over the Continent, who lives solitary and contented in his garret, supporting himself in tolerable comfort on the meagre salary of a subordinate Government employé, content with poverty, and secure against indigence, watching the world around him with a cheerful and sympathizing smile, and enjoying the good things of life rather by contemplation than by actual participation. Unambitious and unstriving, too wise to risk that scanty stipend which moderate desires and skilful management have made into a competence for vaster but more precarious gains, he finds that everything conspires to teach him the same lesson,-viz., in how small an apartment happiness may dwell, and how cheaply that apartment may be furnished. Observation, ever on the alert, preserves him alike from envy or repining: he sees from his attic window the luxurious furniture of one opposite neighbour, an actress or singer, seized for debt, and her chamber rudely dismantled; and the humble but always neat room of another visà-vis, a sempstress, secure in its plodding and unaspiring poverty. He returns from a homely supper,—the one festal banquet of the year,-shared with a family yet poorer than himself, and remembers that he left the unrefined but joyous circle with the regretful ejaculation Déjà ! and he meets the opulent lady who occupies the first floor of the house next his own, returning jaded and ennuyée from those gilded salons where no joy is, and getting out of her carriage with the yawning ejaculation, Enfin !" On New-year's day, when it is customary in France, and indeed throughout the Continent, to visit friends and give or receive presents, our philosopher, who had no friends, and was too poor to make presents, was sitting somewhat moodily in his garret, for his fire would not light, the day was rainy and the wood was damp, there was no milk left for breakfast, and the pot of sweetmeat was quite empty. There is a knock at the door, and a Paulette enters,-a pale, thin, ill-clressed little girl, whose life he had saved in a crowd two years before.

“ Il y a deux ans de cela ; depuis, je n'avais revu la petite qu'à de longs intervalles, et je l'avais presque oubliée ; mais Paulette a la mémoire des bons cours ; elle vient au renouvellement de l'année m'offrir ses souhaits de bonheur. Elle m'apporte en outre, un plant de violettes en fleurs; elle-même l'a mis en terre et cultivé; c'est un New-Year's Gifts at Paris.

47 bien qui lui appartient tout entier, car il a été conquis par ses soins, sa volonté et sa patience. Ce présent inattendu, la rougeur modeste de la petite fille et son compliment balbutié dissipent, comme un rayon du soleil, l'espèce de brouillard qui m'enveloppait le cæur; mes idées passent brusquement des teintes plombées du soir aux teintes les plus roses de l'aurore. Je fais asseoir Paulette, et je l'interroge gaiement.

“ La petite répond d'abord par des monosyllabes, mais bientôt les rôles sont renversés, et c'est moi qui entrecoupe de courtes interjections ses longues confidences. La pauvre enfant mène une vie difficile. Orpheline depuis long temps, elle est restée, avec son frère et sa seur, à la charge d'une vieille grand-mère qui les a élevés de misère, comme elle a coutume de le dire. Cependant Paulette l'aide maintenant dans la confection des cartonnages, sa petite soeur Perrine commence à coudre, et Henri est apprenti dans une imprimerie. Tout irait bien, sans les pertes et sans les chomages, sans les habits qui s'usent, sans les appetits qui grandissent, sans l'hiver qui oblige à acheter son soleil! Paulette se plaint de ce que la chandelle dure trop peu et de ce que le bois coûte trop cher. La cheminée de leur mansarde est si grande qu'une falourde y produit l'effet d'une allunette ; elle est si près du toit que le vent y renvoit la pluie, et qu'on y gèle sur l'atre en hiver; aussi y ont ils renoncé. Tout se borne désormais à un réchaud de terre sur lequel cuit le repas. La grand-mère avait bien parlé d'un poéle marchandé chez le revendeur du rez-de-chaussée; mais celui-ci en a voulu sept francs, et les temps sont trop difficiles pour une pareille dépense; la famille s'est en conséquence résignée à avoir froid par économie.”

The philosopher resolves to gratify his feelings by making this poor family a New-year's present of their coveted stove. Accordingly he gets an old one of his own repaired and put up in their room while all are absent at their daily work, and takes them besides a basket of wood out of his own winter provision, observing that the sacrifice will only oblige him to warm himself by walking, or by going to bed earlier than usual.

The above extract may serve as a specimen of this little volume, and may explain wherein lies its charm. There is nothing remarkable in the events it relates, nothing brilliant in the pictures which it draws; but an air of cheerful and healthy serenity broods over every page, and bespeaks a mind that has penetrated the true secret of life, and harvested its richest wisdom. Probably, bowever, the real cause of the pleasure which the book is calculated to convey arises from the contrast between its atmosphere of repose, and the feverish and busy world in which we live, and from the somewhat pregnant philosophical reflections which its perusal irresistibly suggests. It depicts the best and pleasantest features of Continental life, and makes us pause a while in our breathless and unceasing race, to consider whether we might not, with advantage both to soul and body, take a leaf out of our neighbour's book.

The extremes of character in civilized man are to be found in the Asiatic and the American,—the silent, dignified, placid, and stagnant Mussulman,—and the striving, pushing, restless, progressive Yankee. Between these extremes lie the easy and joyous Celt, generally contented with the passing hour, but often contented with too little; the stationary and phlegmatic German of the south, cautious and unaspiring, frugal and complacent; the Norwegian, whose life in most things resembles that of his Teutonic brethren; the Swiss, who approximate nearer to ourselves; and finally the British, only a few degrees less ambitious, insatiable, unresting, and discontented than their western offspring. In the appendix to the second part of Layard's Nineveh, there is a letter from a Turkish Cadi, so thoroughly Oriental in its spirit, so exactly pourtraying those peculiar features of character in which the 'East differs from the West, and so amusingly astounding to men accustomed to look upon exertion, the acquisition of knowledge, and the progress of wealth, as the great ends of existence, that we cannot do better than quote it. The traveller had astonished the weak mind of his Mussulman friend, by applying to him for some statistical information regarding the city and province in which he had dwelt so long as a man in authority. The Turk replies with this dignified and affectionate rebuke :

“My illustrious friend, and joy of my liver !

“The thing you ask of me is both difficult and useless. Although I have passed all my days in this place, I have neither counted the houses nor have I inquired into the number of the inhabitants; and as to what one person loads on his mules, and another stows away in the bottom of his ship, that is no business of mine. But above all, as to the previous history of this city, God only knows the amount of dirt and confusion that the infidels may have eaten before the coming of the sword of Islam. It were unprofitable for us to inquire into it.

“Oh, my soul! oh, my lamb ! seek not after the things which concern thee not. Thou camest unto us, and we welcomed thee: go in peace.

“Of a truth, thou hast spoken many words; and there is no harm done, for the speaker is one and the listener is another. After the fashion of thy people thou hast wandered from one place to another, until thou art happy and content in none. We (praise be to God) were born here, and never desire to quit it. Is it possible, then, that the idea of a general intercourse between mankind should make any impression on our understanding? God forbid !

Listen, oh my son! There is no wisdom equal unto the belief

Mussulman and Celtic Contentment.

49

in God. He created the world; and shall we liken ourselves to Him in seeking to penetrate the mysteries of his creation ?

Shall we say, Behold this star spinneth round that star, and this other star with a tail cometh and goeth in so many years ? Let it go! He from whose hand it came will direct and guide it.

“But thou wilt say unto me, stand aside, oh man, for I ain more learned than thou art, and have seen more things. If thou thinkest that thou art in this respect better than I am, thou art welcome. I praise God that I seek not that which I require not. Thou art learned in the things I care not for; and as for that which thou hast seen, I defile it. Will much knowledge create thee a double stomach, or wilt thou seek Paradise with thine eyes ?

“Oh my friend! If thou wilt be happy, say, There is no God but God! Do no evil, and thus wilt thou fear neither man nor death ; for surely thine hour will come ! “ The meek in spirit (El Fakir.)

“ IMAUM ALI TADE."

We merely

We think our readers will agree with us that there is something very touching in this singular effusion, with its strange mixture of complacent ignorance and pions trust, its content bordering on apathy, and its lofty compassion for the laborious follies of the struggling and toiling Frank. Of course we are not writing to recommend such a state of mind. wish to observe that it contains the germ and element of wisdom to which our busy bustling existence is a stranger. As a pendant to this epistle we may give an anecdote that we once heard, of that class of Celts who in insouciant content most nearly resemble the Asiatics. A cosmopolite traveller, journeying in Lower Canada, was one day greatly struck by the contrast in the appearance of two adjoining properties, both having a river frontage, both enjoying a fertile soil, and apparently exactly alike in all natural advantages. The first was admirably farmed, and neatly kept ; the house homely but substantial, and in good repair; the fences strong, uniform, and in faultless order. This belonged to an Englishman. The adjacent farm was in a very different condition, the flocks and herds were ample; the crops not bad, and the dwelling large and ample; there was no appearance of poverty, but every sign of indolence and carelessness, —the buildings dilapidated, the roofs defective, the fences, not indeed inefficient, but patched, as you seldom see except in Ireland, with odds and ends of trees, old gates, &c.; here a gap stopped by a plough; there a break made good by a cart tilted up in the opening. Our narrator visited the owner, a French colonist, and received of course a most hospitable welcome. His host was cheerful and complacent. After some conversation the visitor remarked that the roof was broken through in one or two

VOL. XXI.

NO. XLI.

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