The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83
Edmond About suggests the enlargement of our friend Edmund Yates, but of course we proceed to write of the brilliant Frenchman.
"One thing thou lackest." Is not this our sentiment in reviewing the career of Edmond About? Why did that effulgent literary sun set in thick clouds? The eulogies at the open grave were not marked by the exuberant hope which has been witnessed at the interment of a poor soldier of Marechale Booth, from Valmy.
Reading and memory both furnish us with instances of the profound effect of the Funeral Oration at an open grave. One of the most touching was at the grave of Sir Charles Napier, when his brother, Sir William, stood up before the mass of soldiery, and said, "Comrades, there lies one of the best men, one of the best soldiers—"after which he broke down. In Australia we can never, no never, forget the splendid oration delivered by Sir James Martin over the grave of Wentworth, at Vaucluse, surrounded by all Sydney, on the green slopes, overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean, whose waves laced the strand not far from the Australian patriot's tomb, cut in the solid rock. Again, we would recall the cheap funeral of a French Refugee in London, where a meagre number of Monsieurs, shivering in capes, gathered in the flaky snow of winter, but the impassioned orator could not be cooled. "La Liberté" "La France!" "La Patrie!"
It was a sight to mount on a little eminence amid the throng round the grave of Edmond About, in the autumn afternoon, and gaze round upon the mass of upturned faces, including all the Literary World of Paris. The orations did not rise to the occasion. We wanted the abandon of a Gambetta, a Rochefort, a Pelletan, or a de Cassagnac. These steely scientific tones of the speakers cut the air in a hard frozen manner.
About was as clever as any Frenchman. His "Grèce Contemporaine" pointed a good beginning. He destroyed a beautiful ideal, the figment of which is still cherished by the ardent young-souled Gladstone, on the hover between his septo and octo. About's Greece was not Byronic. He attempted the same crushing work for the Eternal City, in "The Roman Question." Here the nut was harder to crack. The Pope's last man-of-war ship, the Immaculate Conception, was only sold at Toulon five years ago.page 8
About was the man who meant to rise. He does not evoke our respect like the proud and noble-minded Lanfrey, who, as a journalist, refused all favours at the hands of Napoleon III., and wrote the destructive Life of the Great Napoleon. About, Emile de Girardin, Villemessant, Feuillet, and the host, swam with the tide of Imperial favour. All honour to Victor Hugo and Lanfrey!
Voltaire went to negotiate politics with Frederick the Great, but the monarch only chaffed, and wrote lampoons on the margin of Voltaire's State Papers. About hankered after office, but Emperor and Republic alike laughed at him. He was very good at making egg-flip.
"Tolla" is his "Waverley," as a novel writer. Looking over the long range of his morocco-covered books, beside our similar sized ranges of Victor Hugo, George Sand, and Saint-Beuve, we pick out "Le Fellah," "Trente et Quarante," "Progrès," "Les Causeries," "L' Oreille Cassée." By the way, how handy and compact a French popular library is, with everything the same size. As we glance at "Cinq Mars," "Proverbes," "Les Trois Mousquetaires," "Nôtre Dame," "Consuelo," "Le Nabab," "Le Fellah," and "Autour du Monde," it seems as if De Vigny, De Musset, Dumas, Hugo, Sand, Daudet, About, and Verne are all one.
We have hinted that there is something lacking in About. Indeed, it is the grand quality of Manhood! When the career is summed up, with all this suppleness, cleverness, audacity, what does it amount to? The audacity, mind you, is all calculated within the limits of safety. If About is arrested in Alsace-Lorraine, it is a journalistic coup. As a writer, he is inimitable, as a man slightly below par.
We fancy that, as War Correspondent, in 1870-1, he took it in the same easy manner as Sala, relying more on his hand than his eye. This school of correspondent is fading out. It received its first blow when Captain Hozier so entirely outdid Russell, in the Austro-Prussian Campaign of 1866. Forbes, Stanley, M'Gahan, O'Kelly, Cameron, Herbert, and Melvin, are the stamp required now.
After the great war, About founded the XIXe Siecle. In this paper he rendered immense service to the cause of Gambetta, as against MacMahon, in frustrating the conspiracy to overthrow the Republic, for the Comte de Chambord, as king, of course to be followed by the Count of Paris. However, the foundations of the Republic were laid too firmly in 1789 ever to be uprooted. Other Governments, erected upon them, have only been, or only will be, ramshackle. The centenary of 1789 is to be celebrated by the magnificent Paris Exhibition, outdoing all precedent. Let the monarchs bite their bridles, chafe, and foam as they will. Aye, and bite the dust, too.page 9
And we remarked that About's finale was clouded. The proprietary shareholders of his paper accused him of peculation. It is said he wished to die, and did not care for any remedies to be applied to his diabetes—Napoleon III.'s disease. The rocket burst. We judge not, except to say that Edmond About, a generous, hearty man, with priceless intellectual gifts, worshipped success as the end of life. He was a loving husband, and excellent father to his eight children, brought up in the lap of luxury, and now left to fight the world. His ideal was the same as that of Delane, Yates, Janin, Villemessant, Girardin, the Bennetts, and the most eminent journalists. They have their day—and cease to be.