On Madame Bovary he worked six years, and in writing Salammbo, which, took him no less time, he studied the scenery on the spot and exhausted the resources of the Imperial Library in his search for documentary evidences.
Flaubert may be said to have carried his passion for perfection to the point of mania, and it will be a question with some whether, with all his pains, he can be called a great novelist, after all. But that he was a great stylist and a master in the art of making terrible and beautiful bas-reliefs admits of no doubt.
To be a great world-novelist you need an all-embracing humanity as well, such as we find in Tolstoy’s War and Peace—but that great book, need one say, came of no slipshod speed of improvisation. On the contrary, Tolstoy corrected and recorrected it so often that his wife, who acted as his amanuensis, is said to have copied the whole enormous manuscript no less than seven times!
Yes! though it be doubtless true, in Mr. Kipling’s famous phrase, that
are nine and sixty ways
Of inditing tribal lays,
And every blessed one of them is right,
I think that the whole nine and sixty of them include somewhere in their method those sole preservative virtues of truth to life and passionate artistic integrity. The longest-lived books, whatever their nature, have usually been the longest growing; and even those lasting things of literature that have seemed, as it were, to spring up in a night, have been long in secret preparation in a soil mysteriously enriched and refined by the hid processes of time.
THE MAN BEHIND THE PEN
Bulwer’s deservedly famous phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” beneath its surface application, if you think it over, has this further suggestion to make to the believer in literature—that, as the sword is of no value as a weapon apart from the man that wields it, so, and no less so, is it with the pen. A mere pen, a mere sword—of what use are they, save as mural decorations, without a man behind them?
And that recalls a memory of mine, which, as both great men are now drinking wine in Valhalla out of the skulls of their critics, there can be no harm in recalling.
Some years ago I was on an unforgettable visit to Bjoernson, at his country home of Aulestad, near Lillehammer. This is not the moment to relive that beautiful memory as a whole. All that is pertinent to my present purpose is a remark in regard to Ibsen that Bjoernson flashed out one day, shaking his great white mane with earnestness, his noble face alight with the spirit of battle. We had been talking of his possibly too successful attempt to sever Norway from Sweden, and Ibsen came in somehow incidentally.
“Ibsen,” said he, “is not a man. He is only a pen.”