I find by chance just today in Nadar’s Memoirs du Geant, a paragraph on me and the people of Rouen which is absolutely exact. Since you own this book, look at page 100.
If I had kept silent they would have accused me of being a coward. I protested naively, that is to say brutally. And I did well.
I think that one ought never begin the attack; but when one answers, one must try to kill cleanly one’s enemy. Such is my system. Frankness is part of loyalty; why should it be less perfect in blame than in praise?
We are perishing from indulgence, from clemency, from COWISHNESS and (I return to my eternal refrain) from lack of justice!
Besides, I have never insulted any one, I have kept to generalities,—as for M. Decorde, my intentions are for open warfare;—but enough of that! I spent yesterday, a fine day, with Tourgueneff to whom I read the hundred and fifteen pages of Saint-Antoine that are finished. After which, I read to him almost half of the Dernieres Chansons. What a listener! What a critic! He dazzled me by the depth and the clearness of his judgment. Ah! if all those who attempt to judge books had been able to hear, what a lesson! Nothing escapes him. At the end of a passage of a hundred lines, he remembers a weak epithet! he gave me two or three suggestions of exquisite detail for Saint-Antoine.
Do you think me very silly since you believe I am going to blame you for your primer? I have enough philosophic spirit to know that such a thing is very serious work.
Method is the highest thing in criticism, since it gives the means of creating.
Your preface is splendid and the book [Footnote: Dernieres Chansons, by Louis Bouilhet.] is divine! Mercy! I have made a line of poetry without realizing it, God forgive me. Yes, you are right, he was not second rank, and ranks are not given by decree, above all in an age when criticism undoes everything and does nothing. All your heart is in this simple and discreet tale of his life. I see very well now, why he died so young; he died from having lived too extensively in the mind. I beg of you not to absorb yourself so much in literature and learning. Change your home, move about, have mistresses or wives, whichever you like, and during these phases, must change the end that one lights. At my advanced age I throw myself into torrents of far niente; the most infantile amusements, the silliest, are enough for me and I return more lucid from my attacks of imbecility.
It was a great loss to art, that premature death. In ten years there will not be one single poet. Your preface is beautiful and well done. Some pages are models, and it is very true that the bourgeois will read that and find nothing remarkable in it. Ah! if one did not have the little sanctuary, the interior little shrine, where, without saying anything to anyone, one takes refuge to contemplate and to dream the beautiful and the true, one would have to say: “What is the use?”