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From the Edinburgh Review. Causeries d'un Curieux: Variétés d'Histoire et d'Art; Tirées d'un Cabinet d'Autographes
et de Dessins. Par F. FEUILLET DE CONCHES. Tomes Premier et Second, 1862; Tome Troisième, 1864: Paris.
THE title of this book is untranslatable. There is no English equivalent for causerie, which is something less formal, continuous, and pretentious than conversation,'thing more intellectual, refined, and cultivated than 'talk.' An earnest preoccupied man may converse; an over-excited or coarse-minded man may talk; but neither
the one nor the other can causer in the pre-pleasantly and profitably into play.
cise French acceptation of the word. Boswell says, 'Though his (Johnson's) usual phrase for conversation was "talk," yet he made a distinction; for when he once told me that he dined the day before at a friend's house, with a very pretty company," and I asked him if there was good conversation, he answered, "No, Sir, we had "talk" but no conversation; there was nothing discussed." On another occasion, however, when he said there had been good talk,' Boswell rejoined, 'Yes, Sir, you tossed and gored several persons.' Positiveness, loudness, love of argument, and eagerness for display, are fatal to causerie; which we take to consist in the easy, careless, unforced flow and interchange of remarks, fancies, feelings, or thoughts, the results of reading, observation, or reflection; begun without defined object or formed purpose, and continuing its course like Wordsworth's river which windeth at its own sweet will,' or Burns's verses when he trusted to the inspiration of acci
freely and frankly communicates the discoveries he has made or the information he has collected; the pièce justificative, or illustrative document, in the shape of an autograph letter, manuscript, engraving, or portrait, is produced or appealed to; then come inquiry, comment, amicable difference, and discussion; till materials are accumulated for a book rivalling the Curiosities of Literature' in erudition, and far surpassing it in accuracy, penetration, and suggestiveIndeed, we have rarely met with one which opens so many fruitful fields of inquiry, supplies so many important topics of speculation, or brings the critical faculty so
And how the subject-theme may gang,
In strictness, therefore, perhaps the title of causeries should only be given to such a book as we should call Table-Talk.' But we are not disposed to quarrel with M. Sainte-Beuve for giving it to his valuable collection of familiar essays, critical and biographical, the justly celebrated Causeries du Lundi;' still less to find fault with M. Feuillet de Conches for bestowing it on a book which, without any extraordinary stretch of fancy, we can imagine to have grown out of conversations with persons of congenial pursuits, the scene varying between the library, the picture-gallery, the museum, and the collector's cabinet. Each
The tendency and utility of such a work are so obvious, that there was little need of the apologetic preface of sixty pages, addressed to the celebrated advocate and jurisconsult, M. Chaix d'Est-Ange. Considering how chronicles, journals, correspondence, household-books, news-letters, broad sheets, loose scraps of every kind, have been ransacked and turned to account by recent writers of note, -the literary world in general, and historians in particular, would seem to be sufficiently awake already to the value of well-authenticated details and contemporary evidence, however homely and mir ute. M. Philarête Chasles might safely have been left unanswered when he exclaimed, What care I about the patience or scrupulousness of a former frequenter of the Alexandrian library who should have saved for me, in twenty-five volumes folio, the billets-doux of Cleopatra and the bills of her washerwoman and jeweller.' Twenty five volumes in folio would be a large order, but can it be doubted that Cleopatra's bills, to say nothing of her billetsdour, would help to throw light on the habits and manners of the lady, the country, and the time? Can M. Philarête Chasles have forgotten the philosophic reflection of Pascal that, if Cleopatra's nose had been shorter, the whole face of the world might have been changed? Minute personal details have been rightly treasured by biographers; and we feel grateful to Mr. Forster for printing the bill of Goldsmith's tailor, Mr. Filby of Water Lane, although it does not specify the charge for the famous peachcoloured coat which provoked the sarcasm of Johnson.
At the same time we are not sorry that M. Feuillet de Conches has been seduced into a vindication of his plan; for, if superfluous, his preface is the opposite of commonplace or dull. It comprises a brief and rapid but masterly appreciation of the leading French memoirs; and after illustrating
by instances the advantages of biographical | Joseph de Maistre proclaimed the hangman details and private letters in estimating the keystone of the social edifice. He debooks as well as men, it proceeds to give liberately laid down that, in the study of proofs of the serious liability incurred by philosophy, contempt for Locke is the beginauthors who are content with secondhand ning of wisdom; that the Essay on the authority. Human Understanding is most assuredly, deny it who may, all that the absolute want of genius and style can produce most wearisome;' that Bacon is a charlatan; that the De Augmentis is perfectly null and contemptible; and the Novum Organon ‘simNo writer of Ply worthy of Bedlam.' anything like equal eminence has given expression to so startling an amount of prejudice, illiberality, and insulting arrogance in his books; whilst his familiar letters teem with proofs of a kindly and loving nature, of candour, liberality, and Christian
When we write a book, it is our reflection, our reason, that speak; we express only our ideas, sometimes only the hypocrisy of our ideas. When we write letters, we more commonly express our sentiments and our passions. Read, for example, the elegant pages in which Sallust raises altars to poverty, proclaims the ineffable sweetness and the eminent dignity of the Stoic moralists, stigmatises with burning declamation, with virtuous anger, the corruption of Rome, the extortion in the provinces. Is it after reading this that we shall recognise this Sallust, the corrupter of the domestic hearth, the bloodstained tribune, the slave of Cæsar, the impudent extortioner, whose famous museum-gardens were built with the gold and the tears of Numidia? Incredible power of abstraction! prodigious miracle of taste and art! This man, branded with infamy, talks of virtue like Cato; pen in
hand he becomes virtuous.
Shall we believe also in the disinterestedness of Sencca, in his philosophy, his austerity, his clemency, by reading nothing but his moral treatises, from which morals seem to flow rather than words. Read his life, and you will avert your looks. Alongside of some real public and private virtues, what shameful weaknesses! What infamy and crime! He knew how to die he did not know how to live.'
When Seneca wrote his treatise in praise of poverty, he had some millions sterling out at usurious interest; and it was the pointed saying of South, that when he (Seneca) recommended people to throw away their money, it was with the view of picking it up himself.
Amongst moderns there is the familiar tale of Rousseau, invoking parental care for infancy and sending his own children to a foundling hospital; and the less known contrast between the published sentimentalism and the private conduct of St. Pierre, the author of Paul and Virginia,' who has been handed down to posterity, upon the not quite unimpeachable testimony of his wife, as a man of desolating egotism, violent against the feeble, mendacious with the powerful. I have gathered from the mouth of an intimate friend of this worthy woman,' adds M. Feuillet de Conches, 'the most startling anecdotes of this pretended good man.'
Fortunately for poor humanity, there is a compensating process or principle simultaneously at work, by aid of which the private characters of authors neutralise the repelling impressions of their works. The Count
We are also told to be on our guard against drawing too broad an inference from some one memorable passage or action with which a name has been inextricably and disadvantageously mixed up. If there are certain cries of the heart which paint the entire man and betray the secrets of his soul, he may let drop ill-considered words in an emergency which are in contradiction to his real sentiments, to his whole life.' Or, to adopt the language of Bruyère, Je ne sais s'il est permis de juger des hommes par une faute qui est unique, et si un besoin extrême, ou une violent passion, ou un premier mouvement, tirent à conséquence.' Thus, we are not to believe Barnave a Robespierre because, when the death of Foulon was announced amidst the indignant murmurs in the Constituent Assembly, he exclaimed, Le sang qui coule, est-il donc si pur qu'on ne puisse en repandre quelques gouttes?' He lived to make ample reparation for this outrage. Nor will it be forgotten that the Vicomte de Bonald was honest, firm, and high-minded, although, hurried away by intolerance, he impatiently replied to those who objected to making sacrilege a capital crime, Eh bien! les coupables iront devant leur juge naturel!'
In order to inculcate the value of docu
ments, M. Feuillet de Conches has unsparingly exposed celebrated authors who have proceeded on the mon historie est finie principle; and he relates an anecdote which will be new to most readers. M. de Lamartine meeting M. Alexander Dumas soon after the publication of the History of the Girondins, inquired anxiously of the famous romance-writer if he had read it. Oui; c'est superbe! C'est de l'historie élevée à la hauteur du roman.'
A friend calling on Archbishop Usher
found him busily engaged in placing his choicest books and manuscripts under lock and key, a precaution which he explained by mentioning that he expected a party of bibliophiles and collectors to dinner. What most of all and still afflicts me,' complains Evelyn, those letters and papers of the Queen of Scots, originals and written with her own hand, which I furnished to Dr. Burnet, are pretended to have been lost at the press. The rest I lent to his countryman, the late Duke of Lauderdale, who never returned them; so as by this treachery my collection being broken, I bestowed the remainder on a worthy and curious friend of mine, who is not likely to trust a Scot with anything he values.'
A Scot is not always on the safe side in these matters. Sir Walter, after mentioning the sepulchral vase of silver sent him from Athens by Lord Byron, says that there was a letter sent with this vase more valuable than the gift itself. I left it naturally in the urn with the bones, but it is now missing. As the theft was not of a nature to be practised by a mere domestic, I am compelled to suspect the inhospitality of some individual of higher station; most gratuitously exercised, certainly, since, after what I have said, no one will choose to boast of possessing this literary curiosity.'
With such tendencies abroad, M. Feuillet de Conches is quite right in warning collect ors against the predatory habits of their associates: although, when he comes to particulars, his own personal grievances may turn out more imaginary than real :
'We need not go out of France in search of such adventures. Woe to the too confiding collector who forgets that of King Candaules; another Gyges might nefariously cut his throat after robbing him of his treasure! The lords of the literary world know full well how to cajole them at need, those poor collectors. One while they publish their autographs, in spite of the owners; one while they borrow what they never return, or they do not even deign to cite their names whilst making use of their treasures.
"Sicut canis ad Nilum, bibens et fugiens." Thus Lord Brougham, to whom, through the channel of an illustrious academician, I had lent letters of the eighteenth century for his notices, published at Paris, of Voltaire and Rousseau, has profited by my communications, and has not indicated the source, so that, with out falling into the grasp of the law, I should not even have the right to reprint what belongs
acknowledgment; and in the preface to Lives of Men of Letters of the Time of George III.' edition of 1855, we find, Besides the letters of Voltaire, communicated by Mr. Stanford, and which were given in the former editions, there are some of his, and one of Helvetius, now inserted, which had been given in the French edition, having been kindly communicated by M. Feuillet, a gentleman of great respectability.'
No such consequences could ensue, had Lord Brougham withheld the required
Another story, well authenticated by references, relates to the Mallebranche correspondence, purchased at the Millon sale by a collector, and lent to a grand philosophe (not named) who forthwith made arrangements for publishing the letters and refused to return the originals..
'Philosophy, presume, has privileges which simplify the domestic economy of property, and are denied to vulgar simplicity. "Oh, physics! preserve me from metaphysics," exclaimed The poor collector would not give in. He apthe great Newton every morning of his life. pealed to the authority of the worthy and loyal academician (the witness of the loan). Vain effort! A common friend, the author of the excellent edition of Pascal after the originals, was not more fortunate. Plato hugged his prize, his by right divine.
Comply with the conditions, objected M. F. or restore. He who has bought and hint in the Journal des Savans, would be the paid is the lawful owner. To print in spite of violation of his right; for after all, if he brought an action against you, what right could you allege? "My right," replied the philosopher, with a vivacity which had at least the merit of frankness, "My passion is my right.”’
Taking for granted, then, the value of original documents and evidences of all sorts, as well as the rights of property in them, to be established by the preface, we proceed to the main body of the work, which opens with an attempt to ascertain what are the oldest manuscripts and likenesses, painted or carved, that are proved by history or tradition to have once existed; how far down they can be traced, and when they were destroyed or lost sight of. The sacred archives come first, and questions arise, what became of the tables which Moses deposited in an ark? or of the copies of the law which the successive kings of Israel were directed to write out? or of the title-deeds which, like that of Hanameel's field, were put in earthern vessels that they might continue many days'? The wars of the Jews, their eventual subjugation and dispersion, with the repeated spoliation or destruction of the holy build
ings in which their archives were deposited, was learnedly and conscientiously revived sufficiently account for the disappearance by an ecclesiastical historian of repute in of the originals at an early period; includ- the last century. But,' remarks M. ing the original of the Septuagint version Feuillet de Conches, 'knowledge and good of the Bible, made 277 B.C. from a copy, faith are not criticism.' So, spite of this for which, according to Josephus, an enor- testimony, the epistle in question has been mous sum was paid by Ptolemy. long since relegated to the company of the counterfeits, with the text of the sentence pronounced by Pontius Pilate, with the letters of Christ which fell from heaven after 'his ascension, with the letters of the Virgin and the verses of the Sibyls, with the letters of the Devil (of which facsimiles have been published by Collin de Plancy), with the letter of the same Pontius Pilate on the life of Jesus Christ, and finally that of Publius Lentulus, which gives, from life, the portrait of the Messiah.
The persecutions of the early Christians, and their scattered state, will equally account for the rapid disappearance of the autographs or originals of the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse. There is not so much as an authenticated scrap of the handwriting of any of the Fathers of the Church. The Greek copy of the Evangelists, known as the Codex Alexandrinus, in the British Museum, is assigned to the beginning of the fifth century, and the tradition attributing it to St. Thecla, one of The letter of Lentulus opens a subject St. Paul's virgin converts, is apocryphal at of the deepest and most reverential inbest. The pretended autograph of the terest; but it has been so fully and admiraGospel according to St. Mark is still shown bly treated by Lady Eastlake that a bare at Venice in a dilapidated, fragmentary, and outline of the main argument may suffice utterly illegible state. Such as it is, it was in this place.* This famous document purbrought with great ceremony from a con- ports to be a Report from a Roman provent in Aquileia in 1420, and is held to be consul to the senate, describing from actual nothing more than a devotional compila- observation the form, features, voice, beartion for the use of the nuns. The auto-ing, look and manner of the Messiah, graph of autographs (priceless as the seam- the pure and open brow, the rich wineless coat), could it be recovered, is the coloured (vinei coloris) hair parted in the letter of our Saviour to Abgar, Prince of middle and falling on the shoulders, the Edessa, promising to send a disciple to cure clear blue eyes, the regular features with his leprosy and teach his people the true their grave yet sweet expression; painting, faith. An Armenian historian of the fourth in short, so far as words can paint, the very century, who gives the text of the prince's beau idéal popularly received of the mortal application and the reply, says that Abgar, attributes of the Divine Founder of our after having been baptised by the Apostle faith. It has been confidently alleged that Thaddeus, wrote to Tiberius to confirm the this letter was extracted by Eutropius from. miraculous life and death of Christ. St. the archives of the senate; that several John of Damascus relates the same incident Fathers of the Church made mention of it; with modifications. Procopius, in the time and that portraits were painted after it by of Justinian, mentions this holy letter, then the command of Constantine the Great. augmented by a postscript promising the To all this, the decisive reply is, that there city of Edessa that it should never fall into was no proconsul named Lentulus in Juthe hands of enemies; and in 940 A.D. the dæa at the period; that no trace of the Roman emperor got possession of it; that letter is discoverable in Eutropius; that is, he procured from Edessa a document in none of the Fathers (including St. AugusGreek which was there treasured as the tine, who speaks of pretended portraits of original. He had it magnificently framed Christ) make mention of it; and that the in gold and jewels, which probably caused earliest notice of it occurs in the fifteenth its destruction; for it disappeared for good century, when the famous preacher, Père and all during the revolution of 1185, when Olivier Maillard, produced it in macaronic the people of Constantinople rose and plun- French. dered the imperial palace.
Not content with these strong grounds for incredulity, M. Feuillet de Conches maintains that it would not be difficult to arrive at the source of the forgery to pick
Copies have been preserved; the oldest extant being one in the Escurial, made by a monk in 1435; and the authenticity of the epistle was first questioned by a celebrated philologist of the fifteenth century, Laurentius Valla, who went so far as to deny the existence of Abgar. The controversy
The History of our Lord as Exemplified in Works of Art, &c. Commenced by the late Mrs. Jameson. Continued and completed by Lady Eastlake. London: 1864. We refer to the introduction.
out word by word the elements in the dif- | of the Eastern; varied to infinity by de
grees of civilisation, by race, by manners, and by clime. The Greeks,' says Photius, think that He became man after their image; the Romans, that He had the features of a Roman; the Indians, that of an Indian; the Ethiopians made him a black.' Black Virgins, we need hardly repeat, were painted and carved in ebony according to the received tradition, and still abound in Catholic countries.
The extent to which some of the great painters have travestied sacred subjects is familiar to all students of art; and the liberties taken by a ruder school are amusing by their mingled absurdity and singularity:
ferent traditional portraits in writing which lie scattered amongst the Fathers or the Greek ecclesiastical writers. He proceeds to proof, and a valuable piece of criticism is the result; from which we shall simply borrow an episodical passage or two on the startling doubt which long vexed and divided the Fathers, namely, whether the Divine Essence was reflected in the beauty of the outward and visible form, or hidden, for the wisest and best of purposes, under a mean and unattractive exterior.
The New Testament gave no help to either side. The Old Testament inflamed the controversy by an apparent diversity. Thou art fairer than the children of men,' is the inspired language of the Psalmist. He hath no form nor comeliness,' is the similarly inspired prophecy of Isaiah. The holy disputants, as was their wont, declined any rational explanation or reconciliation of the texts; and as no reference was made to the authority of Lentulus, the fair inference is that none of them had ever heard of him. St. Justin declared positively for ugliness: By appearing under an abject and humiliating exterior, our Saviour did but add to what the mystery of the redemption offers of sublime and touching.' Tertullian was strong for the same theory: Ne aspectu quidem honestus.' Nec humanæ honestatis fuit corpus ejus.' 'Si inglorius, si ignobilis, si inhonorabilis, meus erit Christus. The pagans, accustomed to deify beauty, saw their advantage and struck in. Your Christ is ugly,' exclaimed Celsus with true Epicurean logic, then he is not God.' The three great divines of the Western Church, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustin, stoutly held out for beauty, and the opposite opinion, discredited in Europe, was eventually confined to the Manichæans and some doctors of the East.
It may be collected from these disputes that no certain image or representation of the form and features of Christ has been handed down by tradition. There is also much weight in the remark, that the most ancient effigies are stamped with a Greek or Roman character, both in physiognomy and costume, without any trace of the Arabian or Israelite type. Thus, before the Byzantine style fixed à la grecque the face and costume of Jesus, the paintings of the Roman catacombs gave him a Roman face, and clothed him with the toga and the pallium. Dating from these productions, there have been two principal types—the type of the Western Church and the type
In the old
In some of his pictures Rembrandt made Abraham a burgess of his time, and the Messiah a burgomaster of Saardam. paintings representing the fall of Adam and Eve, it is not uncommon to find the forbidden fruit varying with the country or province. In Normandy and Picardy it is the classic apple, one of the riches of the country; in Burgundy and Champagne, the bunch of grapes; in Provence and Portugal, the fig and the orange; whilst in America it is the guava. The guide to the paintings of Mount Athos prescribes the fig. The fig-tree is under the protection of a Greek saint, Theodora, named the fig-eater. In Greece, then, it is generally the fig which is adopted on account of the sweetness and abundance of the fruit. In Italy it is sometimes the fig, sometimes the orange, according to the province or caprice.'
The Venerable Bede, not content with giving the names and ages of the Magi or wise men of the Epiphany, enters into minute details of their personal appearance and their respective gifts. Thus, Melchior, a white-haired sage, offers the gold;. Gaspar, beardless and fresh-coloured, the frankincense; and Balthasar, dark and fullbearded, the myrrh. Bede followed the tradition of his age, the seventh century. But what did Cardinal Mazarin follow, or direct to be followed, when he ordered for his gallery an unbroken series of portraits of the Popes, beginning with St. Peter. A similar series has been reproduced in mosaic at Rome, and may also be seen in the schools of theology at the Seminary of St. Sulpice; the portraits being about on a par with those of the early Kings of France, beginning with Pharamond, at Versailles, or those of the Kings of Scotland at Holyrood, which (as Sir Walter Scott relates) elicited an acute criticism from a Persian ambassador. Addressing the housekeeper,. who was doing the honours, he asked, You