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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Melchior de Vogüé (1848–1910)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Grace Elizabeth King (1852–1932)
 
EUGÈNE-MELCHIOR DE VOGÜÉ, Vicomte, and descendant of an old French aristocratic family, was born at Nice in 1848. His youth, apart from the terms at college, was spent rather monotonously at the old “château” of Gourdan in the Cevennes Mountains. Here he read Bossuet, Pascal, and Saint-Simon; soon Romanticism began to hold his young imagination; he studied Rousseau; of Victor Hugo he said many years later: “The ‘Orientales’ are still singing in our memory like the most delightful music that ever intoxicated us at twenty.” But the true masters of his thought and of his talent at that time were Chateaubriand, Lamartine, and Alfred de Vigny. In their works he found the expression of his own ardent dreams, his love of travel, of foreign countries, and of the Orient in particular.  1
  Hardly twenty years old, he followed his passionate longing for the South and went to Italy, taking with him, amongst his luggage, his first poetical efforts. Political events, however, broke in rudely upon his dreams. At the first reverses to French arms, in 1870, he offered his services to his country. Two of his cousins fell in battle almost immediately; his younger brother died at his side at Sedan; he himself, seriously wounded, became a prisoner of war and was interned at Magdeburg until the end of hostilities. Disappointment and humiliation led him to deep reflection, and became one of the most decisive and lasting impressions of his life. National disaster had taught him a lesson which he felt called upon to convey to his readers at every opportunity. On the first of January, 1890, he wrote, in the preface to a series of essays entitled ‘Regards historiques et littéraires,’ an open letter addressed “To those who are twenty years old,” containing the following words:

          “It is now nearly twenty years ago that the truth made itself known in a flood to the one who writes these lines, as to many others,—to all those who were being carried along the road to Germany on the night of the first and second of September, 1870. The miserable procession was descending the slopes that lay between Bazeilles and Douzy. Below us the bivouac fires of the conquerors starred the valley of the Meuse. From the field of blood where were camped the hundred thousand men whom we thought sleeping, worn out with their victory, there arose upon the air one strong, one single voice from the hundred thousand breasts. They sang the hymn of Luther. The solemn prayer spread over the whole horizon, it filled the heavens, as far as there were fires—Germans. Far along in the night we heard it: it was so grand, so majestic, that not one of us could help thrilling with awe; even those, who, crushed by suffering and fatigue, were being driven out of what had been France,—even they forgot their grief for a moment in the unwelcome emotion. More than one of us, young as we were, and unripened by reflection, saw clearly in that moment what power it was that had vanquished us: it was not the girdle of steel cannon, nor the weight of regiments; it was the one superior soul, made up of all those different souls, steeped in one Divine national faith, firmly convinced that behind their cannon, God was marching with them at the side of their old King.”
  “Methods of instruction and military training,” he exclaims, “Krupp cannon and Mauser guns—nothing but accidents, all those things! Accidental also the sagacity of a Moltke, and of his lieutenants. What made these instruments terrible? The serious submissive soul of the people who used them!”
  2
 
  He, almost more than anyone else in France, saw the necessity of the Nation’s return to religious ideals; and he fearlessly set forth this view even in the presence of freethinkers like Jules Ferry. At the conclusion of his essay on Tolstoy, he says: “And we, how shall we escape Nihilism and Pessimism, these phenomena that have so little of the true French spirit in them, and that yet for fifteen years past have invaded our literature and burst into the view of those even who are least able to discern? Shall we end by adopting Mysticism? There is reason to believe that our national temperament will preserve us from that; we may hope that the religious idea, the necessary goal of all progress, will in the end comfort those young talents who deny and suffer with so much bitterness, or that it will raise fresh talents if these have gone under.” A few years later he was able to express himself more hopefully and decisively, on a matter which was so dear to his heart, in an article on the Neo-Christian movement in France, which he wrote for Harper’s Magazine.  3
  Vogüé’s greatest work was his critical study on the ‘Russian Novel.’ In 1876, after having, for some time, been engaged on matters of diplomacy at Constantinople, and after having visited Syria, Palestine, Greece, and Egypt, he went to St. Petersburg as Secretary to the French Embassy. Two years later, he married a Russian, the sister of General Annenkoff. The idea of his great work seems to have been suggested to him first by Countess Aleksey Tolstoy; but it was not until he had realized all the possibilities of such a work “as the necessary preliminary to any serious political efforts,” that he threw himself vigorously into the task. His method of bringing the characteristics of the great Russian authors within the imagination of his French readers is of the simplest and yet most powerful; with a few strokes of his pen, he evokes an idea already familiar to French minds. “Turgenev,” he says, “has the grace and poesy of Corot; Tolstoy the simple greatness of Rousseau; Dostoyevsky the tragic austerity of Millet. Mourasow (the hero in one of Gogol’s books) is no other than Monsieur Madeleine of Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables.’”  4
  The value of the ‘Roman russe’ has been far from diminishing with the years; in the estimation of the best critics, it ranks with Madame de Staël’s ‘De L’Allemagne’ and Taine’s ‘History of English Literature.’ The following criticism, written by Brunetière in the Revue des deux Mondes, on the morrow of the publication of Vogüé’s work, will probably be also the judgment of posterity:
          “Without exaggeration it may be said that by analysing the Russian novel in the way he did, and by appreciating the great writers, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky, Vogüé has joined himself to their number; he puts into their work no less of his own than he borrows from them; he disengages their thought from the veils or mists in which they like to clothe it, and, while making a place for them in the history of contemporary thought, he at the same time marks his own very deeply. Vogüé shows himself in his book always equal to his subject, often superior to it, and yet this subject was for many reasons, one of the widest, almost the newest, one of the most complex and difficult that could tempt the ambition of a critic or of a philosophical historian.”
  5
  The brilliant success of the ‘Roman russe’ opened the doors of the Academy to Vogüé when he was barely forty years old. The complete list of his works is as rich in number as it is varied in subject matter. The following belong to the best of his publications: ‘Histoires orientales’ (1879), ‘Portraits du Siècle’ (1883), ‘Souvenirs et Visions’ (1887), ‘Remarques sur l’exposition du Centenaire’ (1889), ‘Spectacles contemporains’ (1891), ‘Cœurs russes’ (1894), ‘Devant le Siècle’ (1896), ‘Regards historiques et littéraires’ (1897), ‘Histoire et poésie’ (1898), ‘Le rappel des Ombres’ (1900), and ‘Sous l’Horizon’ (1904).  6
  Most of these books consist of series of short essays and sketches, betraying the author’s universal interests. In one or two novels, de Vogüé was perhaps less brilliantly successful; yet ‘Jean d’Argèeve’ (1899) contains some very vivid reminiscences of the war, while ‘Les morts qui parlent’ (1899) relates the author’s own unpleasant impressions, during his short and regrettable term in the Palais-Bourbon, as deputy for the Ardèche. The literary form in which he excelled, and which he continued to use most frequently until his death, in 1910, was the essay, and even the short magazine article.  7
 
 
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