صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

of which his reputation dates, — “ A Sportsman's Sketches," published in two volumes in 1852. This admirable collection of impressions of homely country life, as the old state of servi. tude had made it, is often spoken of as having borne to the great decree of Alexander II. the relation borne by Mrs. Beecher Stowe's famous novel to the emancipation of the Southern slaves. Incontestably, at any rate, Turgeneff's rustic studies sounded, like “ Uncle Tom's Cabin," a particular hour: with the difference, however, of not having at the time produced an agitation,

of having rather presented the case with an art too insidious for instant recognition, an art that stirred the depths more than the surface.

The author was designated promptly enough, at any rate, for such influence as might best be exercised at a distance: he traveled, he lived abroad; early in the sixties he was settled in Germany; he acquired property at Baden-Baden, and spent there the last years of the prosperous period - in the history of the place --- of which the Franco-Prussian War was to mark the violent term. He cast in his lot after that event mainly with the victims of the lost cause; setting up a fresh home in Paris, - near which city he had, on the Seine, a charming alternate residence, - and passing in it, and in the country, save for brief revisitations, the remainder of his days. His friendships, his attachments, in the world of art and of letters, were numerous and distinguished; he never married ; he produced, as the years went on, without precipitation or frequency, and these were the years during which his reputation gradually established itself as, according to the phrase, European, - a phrase denoting in this case, perhaps, a public more alert in the United States even than elsewhere.

Tolstoy, his junior by ten years, had meanwhile come to fruition ; though, as in fact happened, it was not till after Turgeneff's death that the greater fame of “War and Peace" and of “ Anna Karenina” began to be blown about the world. One of the last acts of the elder writer, performed on his death-bed, was to address to the other (from whom for a considerable term he had been estranged by circumstances needless to reproduce an appeal to return to the exercise of the genius that Tolstoy had already so lamentably, so monstrously forsworn. death-bed ; there is no possibility of my recovery. expressly to tell you how happy I have been to be your contemporary, and to utter my last, my urgent prayer. Come back.

“I am on my

I write you

[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors][merged small]

my friend, to your literary labors. That gift came to you from the source from which all comes to us. Ah, how happy I should be could I think you would listen to my entreaty! My friend, great writer of our Russian land, respond to it, obey it!” These words, among the most touching surely ever addressed by one great spirit to another, throw an indirect light- perhaps I may even say a direct one — upon the nature and quality of Turgeneff's artistic temperament; so much so that I regret being without opportunity, in this place, to gather such aid for a portrait of him as might be supplied by following out the unlikeness between the pair. It would be too easy to say that Tolstoy was, from the Russian point of view, for home consumption, and Turgeneff for foreign : “War and Peace” has probably had more readers in Europe and America than “ A House of Gentlefolk” or • On the Eve” or “Smoke," a circumstance less detrimental than it may appear to my claim of our having, in the Western world, supremely adopted the author of the latter works. Turgeneff is in a peculiar degree what I may call the novelists' novelist, — an artistic influence extraordinarily valuable and ineradicably established. The perusal of Tolstoy - a wonderful mass of life — is an immense event, a kind of splendid accident, for each of us: his name represents nevertheless no such eternal spell of method, no such quiet irresistibility of presentation, as shines, close to us and lighting our possible steps, in that of his precursor. Tolstoy is a reflector as vast as a natural lake; a monster harnessed to his great subject — all human life ! -- as an elephant might be harnessed, for purposes of traction, not to a carriage, but to a coach-house. His own case is prodigious, but his example for others dire : disciples not elephantine he can only mislead and betray.

One by one, for thirty years, with a firm, deliberate hand, with intervals and patiences and waits, Turgeneff pricked in his sharp outlines. His great external mark is probably his concision : an ideal he never threw over,

it shines most perhaps even when he is least brief, - and that he often applied with a rare felicity. He has masterpieces of a few pages; his perfect things are sometimes his least prolonged. He abounds in short tales, episodes clipped as by the scissors of Atropos; but for a direct translation of the whole we have still to wait, - depending meanwhile upon the French and German versions, which have been, instead of the original text (thanks to the paucity among us of readers of Russian), the source of several published in England. For the novels and “ A Sportsman's Sketches” we depend upon the nine volumes (1897) of Mrs. Garnett. We touch here upon the remarkable side, to our vision, of the writer's fortune, — the anomaly of his having constrained to intimacy even those who are shut out from the enjoyment of his medium, for whom that question is positively prevented from existing. Putting aside extrinsic intimations, it is impossible to read him without the conviction of his being, in the vividness of his own tongue, of the strong type of those made to bring home to us the happy truth of the unity, in a generous talent, of material and form, — of their being inevitable faces of the same medal; the type of those, in a word, whose example deals death to the perpetual clumsy assumption that subject and style are - æsthetically speaking, or in the living work - different and separable things. We are conscious, reading him in a language not his own, of not being reached by his personal tone, his individual accent.

It is a testimony therefore to the intensity of his presence, that so much of his particular charm does reach us ; that the mask turned to us has, even without his expression, still so much beauty. It is the beauty (since we must try to formulate) of the finest presentation of the familiar. His vision is of the world of character and feeling, the world of the relations life throws up at every hour and on every spot; he deals little, on the whole, in the miracles of chance, — the hours and spots over the edge of time and space; his air is that of the great central region of passion and motive, of the usual, the inevitable, the intimate — the intimate for weal or woe. No theme that he ever chooses but strikes us as full; yet with all have we the sense that their animation comes from within, and is not pinned to their backs like the pricking objects used of old in the horse-races of the Roman carnival, to make the animals run. Without a patch of “ plot” to draw blood, the story he mainly tells us, the situation he mainly gives, runs as if for dear life. His first book was practically full evidence of what, if we have to specify, is finest in him, - the effect, for the commonest truth, of an exquisite envelope of poetry. In this medium of feeling, — full, as it were, of all the echoes and shocks of the universal danger and need, — everything in him goes on; the sense of fate and folly and pity and wonder and beauty. The tenderness, the humor, the variety of “A Sportsman's Sketches” revealed on the spot an observer with a rare im

« السابقةمتابعة »