A Stendhal Boom?

STENDHAL. By Paul Hazard. (Coward-McCann.)

THOUGH no less a personage in the republic of letters than the great Balzac freely praised the novels of Stendhal, it is only within the past decade or two that the larger reading public of the world began to take note of this [?] who died nearly a century ago. It looks now as though there might be a Stendhal boom; not that the reading public has grown up to the man: the great reading while doesn’t grow up — it follows the fashion, and a Stendhal vogue might easily grow out of Paul Hazard’s biography here noted. First, it’s an amusing book, because many of the facts of the subject’s life are of the sort to intrigue a novelty-haunting generation, and Paul Hazard writes with something of the charm of Maurols.

It is said that the biography published last year in Paris, has already gone through twenty-four printings and is still going strong. During the past year the author has been at Harvard as exchange professor from the College de France where he is professor of comparative literature. Recently he made a lecture tour visiting many of our universities and colleges.

Henri Beyle (Stendhal) left the province of Grenoble as a youth bent upon making a name for himself in Paris. He began by working in a grocery store. Later he managed to achieve a clerkship in the Paris Ministry and he held a commission in Napoleon’s army during the Moscow campaign, suffering the horrors of the famous retreat. When the war was over he went to Italy and it was there he hit upon the idea of becoming an author. His method was a bold one, to put it mildly. One day he chanced to pick up a copy of a history of Italian painting by one Lanzi. It was [?] six volumes, and when he had read the last page he suddenly conceived the mad idea of writing to the Paris newspapers, telling them that he had just completed a two-volume “History of Italian Painting,” and requiring that they announce the early publication of the work.

“Thanks to Lanzi,” M. Hazzard points out, “he wrote his first book with facility and pleasure, and eventually produced and published a work entitled ‘A History of Italian Painting,’ by M. Beyle, [?] vista opened into a second, and even before he completed the book on painting he forestalled himself and published another, ‘The Lives of Haydn, Mozart, and Metastasio,’ by Louis Alexandre Dumar Bombet in which he used much the same technique of ap-[ ? riation.” ]

Things went along nicely until [?] of the authors, whose works [?] had plagiarized, objected, and a hot newspaper controversy followed. It was shortly after this that “M. de Stendhal” appeared in print with no question as to the originality of his work for Henri Beyle had learned by this time that stealing from others was on the whole more trouble than it was worth, especially as you never could be sure when an author would turn out to be alive and ready to make trouble. Henceforth he wrote under this nom de plume.

Stendhal’s passion in life, Paul Hazard tells us, “was to upset established ideas and attack dogmatic phrases and affectations.” It is this distinctly “modern” trait that might well bring his work into vogue now. the following is characteristic:

A man next to him once praised the grandeur of the Napoleonic campaigns and heroism in general. Beyle interrupted immediately.

“Heroism?” said Beyle with a laugh. “I can tell you about heroism. I have seen a whole French brigade turn tail and run when it was surprised by five Cossacks, the glit-hatted generals leaping ahead like rabbits and I following them as fast as I could, one boot on and one off. Only one old grenadier offered any resistance that day. They tried to give him a cross afterwards and he hid from them and then swore he had had nothing to do with the affair. — He thought his general wanted to shoot him. There’s glory for you.”

Another man spoke of famous military sayings. “Lies!” said Beyle.

“I can give you an example of famous military sayings,” he said. “The third day out on the Moscow retreat. I found myself separated, with fifteen hundred men, from the rest of the army. An entire Russian division was known to be between us and the rest. Night came down and found us in that predicament, and we spent the hours of darkness in groans and lamentations. The men were at the point of panic when some valiant spirits roused themselves and made us a speech, an eloquent, military speech which went something as follows: You lousy – – – you’ll roast in hell tomorrow if you don’t grab your — gun and get after these — Russian.’

“The valiant soldiers were inspired by such noble words and in the morning we marched courageously toward the Russians, guiding ourselves by the light of their bivouae fires.’ It was a daring thing for us to do, and we were not a little pleased with ourselves. We were still more pleased when we found exactly one mangy dog in the Russian camp. the entire division had left in the middle of the night. . .”