Crainquebille, Putois, Riquet and other profitable tales/Anatole France
OR nearly half a century the name of Anatole France has stood in the estimation of the world for all that the most exquisite and most refined in the French language; he has exerted over the minds of his own and succeeding generations an intellectual influence second to none, and he has enjoyed a prestige comparable only to that of Voltaire. He is a devoted lover of the Muses, and if he professes no philosophy, no creed, it is because he has tried them all and discovered none that will unravel the master-knot of human fate. Nevertheless, in the course of this journey we call Life, this pilgrimage, the whence and whither of which are enveloped in obscurity, we shall find him a highly agreeable companion. He is never dictatorial and never in a hurry. He is, in fact, much given to loitering, and if a by-way tempts him, he will readily leave the high road to explore it. He will tell many a diverting story of saint and sinner, and many of folk who were neither the one nor the other, but a blend of both, like the majority of us. His polished, urbane discourse, rich with the spoils of Time, though always amusing and profitable, is not invariably what pious folk call "edifying." In that respect he resembles Shakespeare, Rabelais and Sterne. He is prodigiously learned, but he will never bore you with a display of erudition. He is too great to be merely clever, too wise to be dogmatic. He is indulgent to all men, save the fanatics. Fanatics he detests, because they are the sworn enemies of Beauty, and in his eyes the only unpardonable sins are the sins against Beauty.
Anatole France sees life steadily, and sees it whole. With the insight of genius he can enter into the state of mind and speak with the tongue appropriate to all his characters, from the highest to the lowest—scholar, politician, priest, soldier, voluptuary, wanton, all the motley dramatis personæ that move across the stage of life.
Those who have come under the spell of Anatole France and are conscious of his peculiar charm, know instinctively that, when his voice is hushed, such accents will never fall upon their ears again. There will doubtless be born other writers whose work will be no less illumined by grace and beauty, but it will be a different grace, a different beauty. And the reason perhaps is that, in nearly all his writings, certainly in all those by which he will be chiefly held in memory, he gives utterance not so much to the mere results of some intellectual process, but rather to the dictates of his whole nature, heart and mind indissolubly interwoven, and, if the language he employs is the language of France, his voice is the voice of all humanity.
In an illuminating article recently published in the Quarterly Review, Mr. George Saintsbury, the greatest living English authority on French literature, says that to him "M. France has continued to appear as a new embodiment, Avatar, exponent, or anything else you please, of French style—as giving the quintessence thereof." He adds that "almost always he is a Master of the Laugh; and Heaven only knows what Earth would do without Laughter."
Looking back over the progress of Anatole France's popularity with English-speaking readers, it is an interesting fact that from the outset The Bodley Head has stood sponsor to him in this country. His work was known only to comparatively few here till Maurice Baring published his fine survey of it in Volume V of the Yellow Book (April, 1895), and it was this same volume which contained a contribution from Anatole France's own pen. Then followed various translations, culminating in the splendid Library Edition issued from The Bodley Head under the editorship first of the late Frederic Chapman and then of James Lewis May. The first volumes of this edition were issued in 1908, and the editors were fortunate in securing the services of an exceptionally brilliant group of translators, who succeeded so remarkably in rendering the spirit as well as the letter of their original that this series gradually established the reputation of Anatole France among English readers.
In 1923, encouraged by the success of the Library Edition, and feeling that there was still a wide public to whom that edition was inaccessible at seven shillings and sixpence, the publisher decided to embark upon a new and cheaper edition, at half a crown in cloth binding and five shillings in leather binding, and during that year several volumes at the lower prices were issued. This new edition has been an unqualified success. It is everywhere spoken of as a real service to the cause of literature, and it is introducing Anatole France's work to thousands of new readers. Its attractive page, binding and appearance are earning it especial praise; and new volumes are being added regularly and will continue till the edition is complete.
On October 12th, 1924, Anatole France passed away in his 81st year. So numerous were the tributes which appeared in the English press that it is difficult to give an adequate idea of the impression Anatole France's work has made upon the best literary minds of this country, but perhaps the following sentence from an article in the Evening Standard is the most apposite summing-up of Anatole France's position: "He was not only the greatest name in French literature in our time, but he was perhaps the greatest name in European literature, for though other authors have been more widely read during the last generation, none has been more admired than he."
The works of Anatole France are a liberal education; not to have read them is to be ignorant of a great figure, not only in modern letters, but in the whole history of literature.
Edited by the late FREDERIC CHAPMAN, and JAMES LEWIS MAY. Demy 8vo. Uniform Cloth Binding, with End-papers by AUBREY BEARDSLEY. 7s. 6d. net each volume.
|THE RED LILY (Le Lys Rouge). Translated by Winifred Stephens.
|MOTHER OF PEARL. (L'Étui de Nacre). Translated by Frederic Chapman.
|THE GARDEN OF EPICURUS (Le Jardin d'Épicure). Translated by Alfred Allinson.
|THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD (Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard). Translated by Lafcadio Hearn.
|MY FRIEND'S BOOK (Le Livre de mon Ami). Translated by J. Lewis May.
|PIERRE NOZIÈRE (Pierre Nozière). Translated by J. Lewis May.
|LITTLE PIERRE (Le Petit Pierre). Translated by J. Lewis May.
|THE BLOOM OF LIFE (La Vie en Fleur). Translated by J. Lewis May.
|The four books bracketed above comprise the 'Pierre Nozière' autobiographical group.
|THE ELM TREE ON THE MALL (L'Orme du Mail). Translated by M. P. Willcocks.
|THE WICKER-WORK WOMAN (Le Mannequin d'Osier). Translated by M. P. Willcocks.
|THE AMETHYST RING (L'Anneau d'Améthyste). Translated by B. Drillien.
|MONSIEUR BERGERET IN PARIS (Monsieur Bergeret à Paris). Translated by B. Drillien.
|The four books bracketed above comprise the 'Monsieur Bergeret' autobiographical group.
|THE WELL OF ST. CLARE (Le Puits de Ste. Claire). Translated by Alfred Allinson.
|THAÏS (Thaïs). Translated by Robert Bruce Douglas.
|THE OPINIONS OF JÉRÔME COIGNARD (Les Opinions de M. Jérôme Coignard). Translated by Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson.
|JOCASTA AND THE FAMISHED CAT (Jocaste: et Le Chat Maigre). Translated by Mrs. Farley.
|BALTHASAR (Balthasar). Translated by Mrs.John Lane.
|THE ASPIRATIONS OF JEAN SERVIEN (Les Désirs de Jean Servien). Translated by Alfred Allinson.
|AT THE SIGN OF THE REINE PÉDAUQUE (La Rôtisserie de la Reine Pédauque). Translated by Mrs. Wilfrid Jackson. With an Introduction by William J. Locke.
|THE WHITE STONE (Sur la Pierre blanche). Translated by C. E. Roche.