Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of John Cowper Powys > Text of Anatole France

An essay by John Cowper Powys

Anatole France

Title:     Anatole France
Author: John Cowper Powys [More Titles by Powys]

Anatole France is probably the most disillusioned human intelligence which has ever appeared on the surface of this planet.

All the great civilised races tend to disillusion. Disillusion is the mark of civilised eras as opposed to barbaric ones and if the dream of the poets is ever realised and the Golden Age returns, such an age will be the supreme age of happy, triumphant disillusion.

This was seen long ago by Lucretius, who regarded the fear of the gods as the last illusion of the human race, and looked for its removal as the race's entrance into the earthly paradise.

Nietzsche's noble and austere call to seriousness and spiritual conflict is the sign of a temper quite opposite from this. Zarathustra frees himself from all other illusions, but he does not free himself from the most deadly one of all--the illusion namely, that the freeing oneself from illusion is a high and terrible duty.

The real disillusioned spirit is not the fierce Nietzschean one whose glacial laughter is an iconoclastic battle-cry and whose freedom is a freedom achieved anew every day by a strenuous and desperate struggle. The real disillusioned spirit plays with illusions, puts them on and takes them off, lightly, gaily, indifferently, just as it happens, just as the moment demands.

One feels that in spite of his cosmic persiflage and radiant attempt to Mediterraneanise into "sun-burnt mirth" the souls of the northern nations, Nietzsche was still at heart an ingrained hyperborean, still at heart a splendid and savage Goth.

As in every other instance, we may take it for granted that any popular idea which runs the gamut of the idealistic lecture-halls and pulpits of a modern democracy is false through and through. Among such false ideas is the almost universal one that what is called the decadence of a nation is a sign of something regrettable and deplorable. On the contrary, it is a sign of something admirable and excellent. Such "weakness," in a deeper than a popular sense, is "strength"; such decadence is simply wisdom.

The new cult of the "will to power" which Nietzsche originated is nothing more than the old demiurgic life-illusion breaking loose again, as it broke loose in the grave ecstasies of the early Christians and in the Lutheran reformation. Nietzsche rent and tore at the morality of Christendom, but he did so with the full intention of substituting a morality of his own. One illusion for another illusion. A Roland for an Oliver!

Nietzsche praised with desperate laudation a classical equanimity which he was never able to reach. He would have us love fate and laugh and dance; but there were drops of scorching tears upon the page of his prophecy and the motif of his challenge was the terrible gravity of his own nature; though the conclusion of his seriousness was that we must renounce all seriousness. It is Nietzsche himself who teaches us that in estimating the value of a philosopher we have to consider the psychology of the motive-force which drove him.

The motive-force that drove Nietzsche was the old savage life-instinct, penetrated with illusion through and through, and praise as he might the classical urbanity, no temper that has ever existed was less urbane than his own.

The history of the human race upon this planet may be regarded--in so far as its spiritual eruptions are concerned--as the pressure upwards, from the abysmal depths, of one scoriae tempest after another, rending and tearing their way from the dark centre fires where Demogorgon turns himself over in his sleep, and becoming as soon as they reach the surface and harden into rock, the great monumental systems of human thought, the huge fetters of our imaginations. The central life-fire which thus forces its path at cataclysmic intervals to the devastated surface is certainly no illusion. It is the one terrific cosmic fact.

Where illusion enters is where we, poor slaves of traditional ratiocination, seek to turn these explosions of eternal lava into eternal systems. The lava of life pours forth forever, but the systems break and crumble; each one overwhelmed in its allotted time by a new outrushing of abysmal energy.

The reiterated eruptions from the fathomless depths make up the shifting material with which human civilisations build themselves their illusive homes; but the wisest civilisations are the ones that erect a hard, clear, bright wall of sceptical "suspension of judgment," from the face of which the raging flood of primordial energy may be flung back before it can petrify into any further mischief.

Such a protective wall from the eruptive madness of primordial barbarism, the scepticism of classical civilisation is forever polishing and fortifying. Through the pearl-like glass of its inviolable security we are able to mock the tempest-driven eagles and the swirling glacial storms. We can amuse ourselves with the illusions from which we are free. We can give the imagination unbounded scope and the fancy unrestricted licence. We have become happy children of our own self-created kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of heaven which is the kingdom of disillusion.

And of this kingdom, Anatole France is surely the reigning king. From the Olympian disenchantment of his tolerant urbanity, all eruptive seriousness foams back spray-tossed and scattered. And yet such a master of the art of "suspended judgment" was he, that he permits himself to dally very pleasantly with the most passionate illusions of the human race. He is too deep a sceptic even to remain at the point of taking seriously his own aesthetic epicureanism.

This is where he differs from Oscar Wilde, from Walter Pater, from Stendhal, from Remy de Gourmont, from Gabriele d'Annunzio. This is where he differs from Montaigne. These great men build up an egoism of grave subjectivity out of their suspicion of other people's cults. They laugh at humanity but they do not laugh at themselves. With the help of meta-physic they destroy metaphysic; only to substitute for the gravity of idealism the gravity of Epicureanism.

But Anatole France has no gravity. He respects nothing; least of all himself. That is why there is something singularly winning about him which we miss in these others. There is something which palls upon us and grows heavy and tiresome after a while about this massive gravity in the cult of one's own sensations.

Sensations? Well! We all know how subtle and pleasant they can be; but this perpetual religion of them, this ponderous worship of them, becomes at last something monstrous and inhuman, something which makes us cry aloud for air and space. Not only does it become inhuman and heavy--it becomes comic.

Every religion, even the religion of sensation, becomes comic when the sharp salt breath of intellectual sanity ceases to blow upon it. Its votaries seem to be going to and fro wrapped in sheep's wool. The wool may be stained in Tyrian dyes; but it is wool for all that, and it tends ultimately to impede the steps of the wearer and to dull not a few of his natural perceptions.

If one imagines a symposium in the Elysian fields between Wilde and Pater and d'Annunzio, and the sudden entrance upon them of the great Voltaire, one cannot but believe that after a very short time this religion of aestheticism would prove as tiresome to the old ribald champion of a free humanity as any other ritual.

And in this respect Anatole France is with Voltaire. He has too humorous a soul to endure the solemnity of the cultivated senses. He would desert such a group of pious subjectivists to chat with Horace about the scandals of the imperial court or with Rabelais about the price of sausages.

Sceptical in other matters, egoists of the type I have mentioned are inclined to grow unconscionably grave when questions of sex are brought forward. This illusion at any rate--the illusion of sexual attraction--they would be most loth to destroy.

But Anatole France fools sex without stint. It affords him, just as it did Voltaire and Rabelais, his finest opportunities. He fools it up hill and down dale. He shakes it, he trundles it, he rattles it, he bangs it, he thumps it, he tumbles it in the mud, in the sand, in the earth--just as Diogenes did with his most noble tub. Fooling sex is the grand game of Anatole France's classic wit. The sport never wearies him. It seems an eternal perennial entertainment. Hardly one of his books but has this sex fooling as its principal theme.

It seems to his detached and speculative mind the most amusing and irresistible jest in the world that men and women should behave as they do; that matters should be arranged in just this manner.

What we arrive at once more in Anatole France is that humorous drawing back from the world, back into some high pitched observation-tower of the mind, from the philosophic seclusion of which the world scene can be easily imagined as different from what it is. Nothing is more salutary in the midst of the mad confusion of the world than these retirements. It is to no mere "ivory tower" of aesthetic superiority that we retreat. It is to a much higher and more spacious eminence. So high indeed do we withdraw that all the ivory towers of the world seem far beneath us; beneath us, and not more or less sacred than other secular erections.

It is from this point of observation that our humour is suddenly made aware of the startling absurdity of human institution; and not only of human institution; for it is made aware also of the absurdity of the whole fantastic scheme of this portentous universe. We regard the world in these high speculative moods much as children do when they suddenly enquire of their bewildered parents why it is that human beings have two legs and why it is that little girls are different from little boys.

It is one result of these withdrawings to the translunar empyrean that the life of a man of action upon this earth does not appear any more or any less remarkable or important than the life of a man of letters. All human activities from that celestial height are equal; and whether we plunge into politics or into pleasure, into science or into theology, seems a mere incidental chance, as indifferent in the great uncaring solar system as the movements of gnats around a lamp or midges around a candle.

The great historic revolutions, the great social reformations, ancient or modern, present themselves from this height as just as important--as just as unimportant--as the visions of saintly fanatics or the amours of besotted rakes.

Nothing is important and anything may be important. It is all a matter of the human point of view. It is all a matter of taste. Looking at the whole mad stream of things from this altitude, we see the world as if we were peering through an inverted telescope; or rather, shall we say, through an instrument called an "equi-scope"--whose peculiarity it is to make all things upon which it is turned little and equal.

The mental temper of Anatole France is essentially one which is interested in historic and contemporary events; interested in the outward actions and movements of men and in the fluctuations of political life. But it is interested in these things with a certain spacious reservation. It is interested in them simply because they are there, simply because they illustrate so ironically the weaknesses and caprices of human nature and the dramatic chances of ineluctable fate. It is not interested in them because they are inherently and absolutely important, but because they are important relatively and humorously as indicative of the absurd lengths to which human folly will go. It is interested in these things, as I have said, with an ample reservation, but it must emphatically be noted that it is a great deal more interested in them than in any works of art or letters or in any achievement of philosophy.

Anatole France seems indeed to take a certain delight in putting human thought into its place as essentially secondary and subordinate to human will. He delights to indicate, just as Montaigne used to do, the pathetic and laughable discrepancies between human thoughts and human actions.

He is more concerned with men and women as they actually live and move in the commerce of the world than in the wayward play of their speculative fancies, and it gives him an ironic satisfaction to show how the most heroic and ideal thoughts are affected by the little wanton tricks of circumstances and character.

This predominant concern with the natural humours and normal animal instincts of the human race, this refusal ever to leave the broad and beaten path of human frailty, gives a tone to his writings, even when he is dealing with art and literature, quite different from other aesthetes'.

He is not really an aesthete at all; he is too Voltairian for that. As a critic he is learned, scholarly, clear-sighted and acute; but his sense of the humorous inconsistencies of normal flesh and blood is too habitually present with him to admit of that complete abandonment to the spirit of his author, which, accompanied by interpretative subtlety, secures the most striking results.

His criticisms are wise and interesting, but they necessarily miss the sinuous clairvoyance of a writer like Remy de Gourmont who is able to give himself up completely and with no ironic reservation to the abnormalities of the temperament he is discussing. Remy de Gourmont's own temperament has something in it more receptive, more psychological, more supple than Anatole France's. He is in himself a far less original genius and for that very reason he can slide more reservedly into the bizarre nooks and crannies of abnormal minds.

Anatole France is one of those great men of genius to whom the gods have permitted an un-blurred vision of the eternal normalities of human weakness. This vision he can never forget. He takes his stand upon the ground which it covers, and from that ground he never deviates.

Man for him is always an amorous and fantastic animal, using his reason to justify his passions, and his imagination to justify his illusions. He is always the animal who can laugh, the animal who can cry, the animal who can beget or bear children. He is only in a quite secondary sense the animal who can philosophise.

It is because of his constant preoccupation with the normal eccentricities and pathetic follies of our race that he lays so much stress upon outward action.

The normal man is rather an animal who wills and acts than an animal who dreams and thinks; and it is with willing and acting, rather than with dreaming and thinking, that Anatole France is concerned. One of the main ironic devices of his humour is to show the active animal led astray by his illusions, and the contemplative animal driven into absurdity by his will.

With his outward-looking gaze fixed upon the eternal and pathetic normalities of the human situation, Anatole France has himself, like Voltaire, a constant tendency to gravitate towards politics and public affairs.

In this respect his temperament is most obstinately classical. Like Horace and all the ancient satirists, he feels himself invincibly attracted to "affairs of state," even while they excite his derision. One cannot read a page of his writing without becoming aware that one is in the presence of a mind cast in the true classic mould.

In the manner of the great classical writers of Athens and Rome he holds himself back from any emotional betrayal of his own feelings. He is the type of character most entirely opposite to what might be called the Rousseau-type.

He is un-modern in this and quite alone; for, in one form or another, the Rousseau-type with its enthusiastic neurotic mania for self-revelation dominates the entire literary field. One gets the impression of something massive and self-possessed, something serenely and almost inhumanly sane about him. One feels always that he is the "Grand Gentleman" of literature with whom no liberties may be taken. His tone is quiet, his manner equable, his air smiling, urbane, superior. His reserve is the reserve of the great races of antiquity. With a calm, inscrutable, benevolent malice, he looks out upon the world. There is a sense of much withheld, much unsaid, much that nothing would ever induce him to say.

His point of view is always objective. It might be maintained, though the thing sounds like a paradox, that his very temperament is objective. Certainly it is a temperament averse to any outbursts of unbalanced enthusiasm.

His attitude toward what we call Nature is more classical than the classics. Virgil shows more vibrant emotion in the presence of the sublimities of the natural elements. His manner when dealing with the inanimate world is the manner of the Eighteenth Century touched with a certain airiness and charm that is perhaps more Hellenic than Latin. As one reads him one almost feels as though the human race detached itself from its surroundings and put between itself and Nature a certain clear and airy space, untroubled by any magnetic currents of spiritual reciprocity. One feels as though Nature were kept decisively and formally in her place and not permitted to obtrude herself upon the consciousness of civilised people except when they require some pleasant lawn or noble trees or smiling garden of roses to serve as a background for their metaphysical discussions or their wanton amorous play. What we have come to call the "magic" of Nature is never for a moment allowed to interrupt these self-possessed epicurean arguments of statesmen, politicians, amorists, theologians, philosophers and proconsuls.

Individual objects in Nature--a tree, a brook, the seashore, a bunch of flowers, a glade in the forest, a terrace in a garden,--are described in that clear, laconic, objective manner, which gives one the impression of being able to touch the thing in question with one's bare hand.

The plastic and tactile value of things is always indicated in Anatole France's writings with brief, clear cut, decisive touches, but "the murmurs and scents" of the great waters, the silences of the shadowy forests are not allowed to cross the threshold of his garden of Epicurus. Each single petal of a rose will have its curves, its colours, its tints; but the mysterious forces of subterranean life which bring the thing to birth are pushed back into the darkness. The marble-cold resistance of Anatole France's classical mind offers a hard polished surface against which the vague elemental energies of the world beat in vain. He walks smilingly and pensively among the olive-trees of the Academia, plucking a rose here and an oleander there; but for the rest, the solemn wizardries of Nature are regarded with an urbane contempt.

His style is a thing over which the fastidious lovers of human language may ponder long and deep. The art of it is so restrained, so aristocratic, so exclusive, that even the smallest, simplest, most unimportant words take to themselves an emphatic significance.

Anatole France is able to tell us that Monsieur Bergeret made some naive remark, or the Abbe Jerome Coignard uttered some unctuous sally, in so large and deliberate and courtly a way that the mere "he said" or "he began" falls upon us like a papal benediction or like the gesture of a benignant monarch.

There is no style in the world so deeply penetrated with the odour and savour of its author's philosophy. And this philosophy, this atmosphere of mind, is so entirely French that every least idiomatic peculiarity in his native tongue seems willing to lend itself, to the last generous drop of the wine of its essential soul, to the tone and manner of his speech. All the refinements of the most consummate civilisation in the world, all its airy cynicism, all its laughing urbanity, all its whimsical friendliness, seem to concentrate themselves and reach their climax on every page of his books.

A delicate odour of incense and mockery, an odour of consecrated wine and a savour of heathen wit, rise up together from every sentence and disarm us with the insidiousness of their pleasant contrast. His style is so beautiful and characteristic that one cannot read the simplest passage of easy narration from his pen without becoming penetrated with his spirit, without feeling saner, wiser, kindlier, and more disenchanted and more humane.

I cannot resist quoting from the prologue to "Le Puits de Sainte Claire," a certain passage which seems to me peculiarly adapted to the illustration of what I have just said. The writer is, or imagines himself to be, in the city of Siena.

"Sur la voie blanche, dans ces nuits transparentes, la seule recontre que je faisais etait celle du R. P. Adone Doni, qui alors travaillait comme moi tout le jour dans l'ancienne academie degli Intronati. J'avais tout de suite aime ce cordelier qui, blanchi dans l'etude, gardait l'humeur riante et facile d'un ignorant.

"Il causait volontiers. Je goutais son parler suave, son beau langage, sa pensee docte et naive, son air de vieux Silene purifie par les eaux baptismales, son instinct de mime accompli, le jeu de ses passions vives et fines, le genie etrange et charmant dont il etait possede.

"Assidu a la bibliotheque, il frequentait aussi le marche, s'arretant de preference devant les contadines, qui vendent des pommes d'or, et pretant l'oreille a leur libres propos.

Il apprenait d'elles, disait-il, la belle langue toscane. . . . Je crus m'apercevoir en effet qu'il inclinait aux opinions singulieres. Il avait de la religion et de la science, mais non sans bizarreries. . . . C'est sur le diable qu'il professait des opinions singulieres. Il pensait que le diable etait mauvais sans l'etre absolument et que son imperfection naturelle l'empecherait toujours d'atteindre a la perfection du mal. Il croyait apercevoir quelques signes de bonte dans les actions obscures de Satan, et, sans trop l'oser dire, il en augurait la redemption finale de l'archange meditatif, apres la consommation des siecles. . . . Assis sur la margelle, les mains dans les manches de sa robe, il contemplait avec un paisible etonnement les choses de la nuit.

"Et l'ombre qui l'enveloppait laissait deviner encore dans ses yeux clairs et sur sa face camuse l'expressions d'audace craintive et de grace moqueuse qui y etait profondement empreinte. Nous echangions d'abord des souhaits solennels de bonne sante, de paix et de contentement. . . .

"Tandis qu'il parlait, la lumiere de la lune coulait sur sa barbe en ruisseau d'argent. Le grillon accompagnait du bruissement de ses elytres la voix du conteur, et parfois, aux sons de cette bouche, d'ou sortait le plus doux des langages humains, repondait la plainte flutee du crapaud, qui, de l'autre cote de la route, ecoutait, amical et craintif."

The beautiful delicacy of that single touch "sur la voie blanche, dans ces nuits transparentes" is characteristic of a thousand others of a similar kind sprinkled among his books, where gentle and whimsical spirits discourse upon God and the Universe.

He has a most exquisite genius for these little chance-accompaniments of such human scenes. "L'Orme du Mail" is full of them; and so is "Les Opinions de M. Jerome Coignard."

In "Sur la Pierre Blanche" the impish humour of accidental encounter brings forward nothing less than the death of Stephen the Proto-Martyr, as an irrelevant interruption to the amorous pleasures of one of his least attractive philosophers.

Full of malicious interest as he is in all the outward events of nations and societies, it is always evident that what Anatole France really regards as worthy of tender consideration is the conversation of quaint minds and the "Humeur riante et facile" of wayward and fantastic souls.

His sense of the fundamental futility of the whole scheme of things is so absolute that what most modern writers would regard as the illogical dreams of superannuated eccentrics he is inclined to treat with smiling reverence and infinite sympathy. Where the whole terrestrial business is only a meaningless blur upon the face of nothingness, why should we not linger by the way, under elm trees, or upon broken fragments of old temples, or on sunny benches in cloistered gardens, and listen to the arbitrary fancies of unpractical and incompetent persons whose countenances express an "audace craintive" and a "grace moqueuse," and who look with mild wonder and peaceful astonishment at "les choses de la nuit"?

After perusing many volumes of Anatole France, one after another, we come to feel as though nothing in the world were important except the reading of unusual books, the conversation of unusual people, and the enjoyment of such philosophical pleasures as may be permitted by the gods and encouraged by the approbation of a friendly and tolerant conscience.

One always rises from the savouring of his excellent genius with a conviction that it is only the conversation of one's friends, varied by such innocent pleasures of the senses as may be in harmony with the custom of one's country, which renders in the last resort the madness of the world endurable.

He alone, of all modern writers, creates that leisurely atmosphere of noble and humorous dignity--familiar enough to lovers of the old masters--according to which every gesture and word of the most simple human being comes to be endowed with a kind of royal distinction. By the very presence in his thought of the essential meaninglessness of the world, he is enabled to throw into stronger relief the "quips and cranks and wanton wiles" of our pathetic humanity.

Human words--the words of the most crack-brained among us--take to themselves a weight and dignity from the presence behind them of this cosmic purposelessness. The less the universe matters, the more humanity matters. The less meaning there is in the macrocosm the more tenderly and humorously must every microcosm be treated.

It thus comes about that Anatole France, the most disillusioned and sceptical of writers, is also the writer whose books throw over the fancies and caprices of humanity the most large and liberal benediction.

To realise how essentially provincial English and American writers are, one has only to consider for a moment the absolute impossibility of such books as "L'Orme du Mail," "Le Mannequin" or "Monsieur Bergeret a Paris" appearing in either of these countries.

This amiable and smiling scepticism, this profound scholarship, this subtle interest in theological problems, this ironical interest in political problems, this detachment of tone, this urbane humanism, make up an "ensemble" which one feels could only possibly appear in the land of Rabelais and Voltaire.

Think of the emergence of a book in London or New York bearing such quotations at the heads of the chapters as those which are to be found in "Le Puits de Sainte Claire"! The mere look of the first page of the volume, with its beautifully printed Greek sentence about ta physika kai ta ethika kai ta mathmatika, lifts one suddenly and with a delicious thrill of pleasure, as if from the touch of a cool, strong, youthful hand, into that serene atmosphere of large speculations and unbounded vistas which is the inheritance of the great humane tradition: the tradition, older than all the dust of modern argument, and making every other mental temper seem, in comparison, vulgar, common, bourgeois and provincial.

The chapter headed "Saint Satyre" is prefaced by a beautiful hymn from the "Breviarum Romanum"; while the story named "Guido Cavalcanti" begins with a long quotation from "Il Decameron di Messer Giovanni Boccaccio." I take the first instance that comes to my hand; but all his books are the same. And one who reads Anatole France for the sake of an exciting narrative, or for the sake of illuminating psychology, or for the sake of some proselytising theory, will be hugely disappointed. None of these things will he find; nor, indeed, anything else that is tiresomely and absurdly modern.

What he will find will be the old, sweet, laughing, mellow world of rich antique wisdom; a world where the poetry of the ancients blends harmoniously with the mystical learning of the fathers of the church; a world where books are loved better than theories and persons better than books; a world where the humours of the pathetic flesh and blood of the human race are given their true value, as more amusing than any philosophy and as the cause and origin of all the philosophies that have ever been!

Anatole France is incorrigibly pagan. The pleasures of the senses are described in all his books with a calm smiling assurance that ultimately these are the only things that matter!

I suppose that no author that ever lived is so irritating to strong-minded idealists. He does not give these people "the ghost of a chance." He serenely assumes that all ideals are of human, too human, origin, and that no ideals can stand up long against the shocks of life's ironic caprices.

And yet while so maliciously introducing, with laconic Voltairian gibes, the wanton pricking of human sensuality, he never forgets the church. In nothing is he more French; in nothing is he more civilised, than in his perpetual preoccupation with two things--the beauty and frailty of women and the beauty and inconsistency of Christianity.

The clever young men who write books in England and America seem possessed by a precisely opposite purpose; the purpose of showing that Christianity is played out and the purpose of showing that women are no longer frail.

That sort of earnest-minded attempt to establish some kind of mystical substitute for the religion of our fathers, which one is continually meeting in modern books and which has so withering an effect both upon imagination and humour, is never encountered in Anatole France. He is interested in old tradition and he loves to mock at it. He is interested in human sensuality and he loves to mock at it; but apart from traditional piety struggling with natural passion, he finds nothing in the human soul that arrests him very deeply.

Man, to Anatole France, is a heathen animal who has been baptised; and the humour of his whole method depends upon our keeping a firm hold upon both these aspects of our mortal life.

In a world where men propagated themselves like plants or trees and where there was no organised religious tradition, the humour of Anatole France would beat its wings in the void in vain. He requires the sting of sensual desire and he requires an elaborate ecclesiastical system whose object is the restraint of sensual desire. With these two chords to play upon he can make sweet music. Take them both away and there could be no Anatole France.

The root of this great writer's genius is irony. His whole philosophy is summed up in that word, and all the magic of his unequalled style depends upon it.

Sometimes as we read him, we are stirred by a dim sense of indignation against his perpetual tone of smiling, patronising, disenchanted, Olympian pity. The word "pity" is one of his favourite words, and a certain kind of pity is certainly a profound element in his mocking heart.

But it is the pity of an Olympian god, a pity that cares little for what we call justice, a pity that refuses to take seriously the objects of his commiseration. His clear-sighted intelligence is often pleased to toy very plausibly with a certain species of revolutionary socialism. But, I suppose few socialists derive much satisfaction from that devastating piece of irony, the Isle of the Penguins; where everything moves in circles and all ends as it began.

The glacial smile of the yawning gulf of eternal futility flickers through all his pages. Everything is amusing. Nothing is important. Let us eat and drink; let us be urbane and tolerant; let us walk on the sunny side of the road; let us smell the roses on the sepulchres of the dead gods; let us pluck the violets from the sepulchres of our dead loves. All is equal--nothing matters. The wisest are they who play with illusions which no longer deceive them and with the pity that no longer hurts them. The wisest are they who answer the brutality of Nature with the irony of Humanity. The wisest are they who read old books, drink old wine, converse with old friends, and let the rest go.

And yet--and yet--

There is a poem of Paul Verlaine dedicated to Anatole France which speaks like one wounded well nigh past enduring by the voices of the scoffers.

Ah, les Voix, mourez done, mourantes que vous etes
Sentences, mots en vain, metaphores mal faites,
Toute la rhetorique en fuite des peches,
Ah, les Voix, mourez done, mourantes que vous etes!
. . . .
Mourez parmi la voix terrible de l'Amour!
. . . .

[The end]
John Cowper Powys's essay: Anatole France