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is very slight, and the play of motives very simple, when contrasted with the ingenuity of invention, the elaborate subtleties of psychological analysis, the power of rapid change from one perturbing incident or excited humour to another, which mark the modern writer of sentimental fiction.
As the title warns us, it is a story of a youthful tutor and a too fair disciple, straying away from the lessons of calm philosophy into the heated places of passion. The high pride of Julie's father forbade all hope of their union, and in very desperation the unhappy pair lost the self-control of virtue, and threw themselves into the pit that lies so ready to our feet. Remorse followed with quick step, for Julie had with her purity lost none of the other lovelinesses of a dutiful character. Her lover was hurried away from the country by the generous solicitude of an English nobleman, one of the bravest, tenderest, and best of men. Julie, left undisturbed by her lover's presence, stricken with affliction at the death of a sweet and affectionate mother, and pressed by the importunities of a father whom she dearly loved, in spite of all the disasters which his will had brought upon her, at length consented to marry a foreign baron from some northern court. Wolmar was much older than she was; a devotee of calm reason, without a system and without prejudices, benevolent, orderly, above all things judicious. The lover meditated suicide, from which he was only diverted by the argu nts of Lord Edward, who did more than argue ; he hurried the forlorn man on board the ship
of Admiral Anson, then just starting for his famous voyage round the world. And this marks the end of the first episode.
Rousseau always urged that his story was dangerous for young girls, and maintained that Richardson was grievously mistaken in supposing that they could be instructed by romances. It was like setting fire to the house, he said, for the sake of making the pumps play. As he admitted so much, he is not open to attack on this side, except from those who hold the theory that no books ought to be written which may not prudently be put into the hands of the young, a puerile and contemptible doctrine that must emasculate all literature and all art, by excluding the most interesting of human relations and the most powerful of human passions. There is not a single composition of the first rank outside of science, from the Bible downwards, that could undergo the test. The most useful standard for measuring the significance of a book in this respect is found in the manners of the time, and the prevailing tone of contemporary literature. In trying to appreciate the meaning of the New Heloïsa and its popularity, it is well to think of it as a delineation of love, in connection not only with such a book as the Pucelle, where there is at least wit, but with a story like Duclos's, which all ladies both read and were not in the least ashamed to acknowledge that they had read; or still worse, such an abomination as Diderot's first stories ; or a story
1 For instance, Corr., ii. 168. Nov. 19, 1762.
like Laclos’s, which came a generation later, and with its infinite briskness and devilry carried the tradition of artistic impurity to as vigorous a manifestation as it is capable of reaching. To a generation whose literature is as pure as the best English, American, and German literature is in the present day, the New Heloïsa might without doubt be corrupting. To the people who read Crébillon and the Pucelle, it was without doubt elevating.
The case is just as strong if we turn from books to manners. Without looking beyond the circle of names that occur in Rousseau's own history, we see how deep the depravity had become. Madame d'Epinay's gallant sat at table with the husband, and the husband was perfectly aware of the relations between them. M. d'Epinay had notorious relations with two public women, and was not ashamed to refer to them in the presence of his wife, and even to seek her sympathy on an occasion when one of them was in some trouble. Not only this, but husband and lover used to pursue their debaucheries in the town together in jovial comradeship. An opera dancer presided at the table of a patrician abbé in his country house, and he passed weeks in her house in the town. As for shame, says Barbier on one occasion, “'tis true the king has a mistress, but who has not ?-except the Duke of Orleans; he has withdrawn to Ste. Geneviève, and is thoroughly despised in consequence, and rightly."?
1 Choderios de La Clos : 1741-1803.
Reeking disorder such as all this illustrates, made the passion of the two imaginary lovers of the fair lake seem like a breath from the garden of Eden. One virtue was lost in that simple paradise, but even that loss was followed by circumstances of mental pain and far circling distress, which banished the sin into a secondary place; and what remained to strike the imagination of the time were delightful pictures of fast union between two enchanting women, of the patience and compassionateness of a grave mother, of the chivalrous warmth and helpfulness of a loyal friend. Any one anxious to pick out sensual strokes and turns of grossness could make a small collection of such defilements from the New Heloïsa without any difficulty. They were in Rousseau's character, and so they came out in his work. Saint Preux afflicts us with touches of this kind, just as we are afflicted with similar touches in the Confessions. They were not noticed at that day, when people's ears did not affect to be any chaster than the rest of them.
A historian of opinion is concerned with the general effect that was actually produced by a remarkable book, and with the causes that produced it. It is not his easy task to produce a demonstration that if the readers had all been as wise and as virtuous as the moralist might desire them to be, or if they had all been discriminating and scientific critics, not this, but a very different impression would have followed. Today we may wonder at the effect of the New Heloïsa. A long story told in letters has grown to be a form incomprehensible and intolerable to us. We find Richardson hard to be borne, and he put far greater vivacity and wider variety into his letters than Rousseau did, though he was not any less diffuse, and he abounds in repetitions as Rousseau does not. Rousseau was absolutely without humour; that belongs to the keenly observant natures, and to those who love men in the concrete, not only humanity in the abstract. The pleasantries of Julie's cousin, for instance, are heavy and misplaced. Thus the whole book is in one key, without the dramatic changes of Richardson, too few even as those are. And who now can endure that antique fashion of apostrophising men and women, hot with passion and eager with all active impulses, in oblique terms of abstract qualities, as if their passion and their activity were only the inconsiderable embodiment of fine general ideas? We have not a single thrill, when Saint Preux being led into the chamber where his mistress is supposed to lie dying, murmurs passionately, “What shall I now see in the same place of refuge where once all breathed the ecstasy that intoxicated my soul, in this same object who both caused and shared my transports ! the image of death, virtue unhappy, beauty expiring!”1 This rhetorical artificiality of phrase, so repulsive to the more realistic taste of a later age, was as natural then as that facility of shedding tears, which appears so deeply incredible a performance to a generation