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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Bétinet, Avenger of Letters
By Louis Veuillot (1813–1883)
 
From ‘Les Odeurs de Paris’

A YOUNG man of letters undertakes to prove that bad literature has no effect upon morals; or rather that with reference to morals, there is neither good nor bad literature. He is not pleading his own cause: let us render him that justice! No one ever heard it said that his literature did the least harm; and although he has been writing for some time, he is as innocent as a new-born child. I have a sure presentiment that he will die in his innocence, enveloped in the pages in which he appeared. He is named Bétinet, and he has money.  1
  I am sure of not vexing him by pointing out his attempt; but I desire too that my observations should not make him think too well of himself. In all sincerity the paradox is a little too much for him. It is evident that he cudgels his brains, and works, and does his best. He boldly attacks his adversaries,—those who might believe literature not without influence upon society. He compares them in the first place to dogs who make an “absurd” uproar; then he calls them “a troop of guardians of public morality”; then “the condottiéri of the army of good”; then “bastards of Erostratus,” etc. He puts half a dozen of these attacks in each of his paragraphs: and ahs! and hows! and eh, good Lords! everywhere he can; and even elsewhere. As for exclamation points, the article bristles with them. Unfortunately, a point of exclamation cannot take the place of a point of wit. As to the argument, which should be the most carefully prepared part of such a work, there is none.  2
  If I had the honor of knowing young Bétinet, who has money, I would advise him to observe the very serious influence of money upon literature, and the still more serious influence of literature upon money.  3
  Assuredly, assuredly, by means of money there may be success in literature, and a success which may be far-reaching! The world has seen Academicians of the fork,—that is, those who knew how to get themselves elected because they knew how to set a good table. But then that requires a good deal of money, and knowledge how to employ it; for literature devours money. Yes, young Bétinet, it devours money; and when all is devoured there is no more success. And if you count upon the period of success brought about by money,—that you will have made yourself a name to insure success and bring in money,—you are mistaken, young Bétinet. Wealth by way of the kitchen, even had it advanced you to the Academy, would not bring you back more than your fifteen hundred francs and the Cross of Honor. It would not even repay your dinners.  4
  Behold, Bétinet, something upon which to meditate at your leisure.  5
  As to knowing the social effect of the books of Gaivaudin, Papion, and others, and the fate of the old moons, what business is it of yours, and why the devil, should people concern themselves with what you think? What difference does it make what you think?  6
  Thus you have already printed three or four volumes and dozens of articles, and supported a crowd of literary men. You have lent them twenty francs, thirty francs, a hundred francs perhaps; and not one of them has had the humanity to inform you that you were not born to enlighten the world, nor to draw ten sous a page for “copy.”  7
  Bétinet, you are deceived!!!  8
 
 
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