Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Émile Souvestre (1806–1854)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
IN 1854, the year of Émile Souvestre’s death in Paris, the French Academy awarded to his widow the Lambert prize,—a testimonial to the memory of the most useful writer. The principal work to win him this distinction—‘Le Philosophe sous les Toits,’—was not a piece of brilliant creation, not a learned treatise, but a sweet-spirited little volume of reflections upon daily life. Upon its appearance in 1851 the Academy crowned it; and in translation, ‘The Attic Philosopher’ has long been esteemed by English readers. The philosopher was Souvestre himself, who knew poverty and hard work all his life; and accepting both with contagious courage and cheerfulness, advised his readers to make the best of whatever came.  1
  He tested this philosophy. Born at Morlaix in Finisterre in 1806, he passed his childhood and youth there; and grew intimately familiar with Breton life and scenery. Next he studied law at Rennes, where he tried unsuccessfully to practice. He was about twenty-four when he went to Paris, hoping to make his way in literature. It has been said that in Paris every would-be author is forced to discover his own value; and after a stay there, many retire in sad self-knowledge. Souvestre was stimulated by the richer intellectual life. His individuality was too strong to be submerged. He remained a thorough Breton,—distance giving him a more definite appreciation of his early home.  2
  The sudden death of his brother, a sea captain, made him the only support of his family; and he was obliged to return to Brittany, where he became clerk in a large publishing-house at Nantes. During the next uncertain years he wrote short articles for local journals. For a time he was associated with a M. Papot in the management of a school. He then became editor of a Brest newspaper. In 1835 he returned to Paris, where his Breton tales soon made him a name. During his comparatively short life of forty-eight years he wrote more than forty books, comprising plays, short stories, and historical works.  3
  Like his great compatriot, the early realist Lesage, one of Souvestre’s primary qualities was clear common-sense. Usual, universal sentiments appealed to him more than romantic eccentricities. Like another great Breton, Ernest Renan, he was deeply occupied with the question of religion. His stories, most of which reflect Breton life, are often true tales told him by the peasants; and all have the qualities of reality and religious feeling.  4
  His greatest work, ‘Les Derniers Bretons,’ was an exposition of Breton life, with all its traditions, sentiments, and modes of thought and action. He felt that many tales traditionary among the poor were in danger of being lost; and he hated to see them die from the people’s memory. He felt too that this folk-lore was of historical value as a spontaneous revelation of a mental and moral attitude. As he points out, the Eastern fairy tale, full of gorgeous color and material delight, has little in common with the Breton tales, with their curious mingling of shrewdness and sentiment, their positive concern over and belief in the reward of virtue and retribution of sin. Both compositions reflect their authors. In his ‘Le Foyer Breton,’—a collection of folk-lore tales,—he preserved as far as possible the traditional form of expression. They are full of local saws and allusions; many are genuine fairy tales, in which kindly and practical fairies, by removing a series of obstacles, render young lovers happy. Others evince a true Breton delight in the weird and grotesque, and narrate the horrible fate of those who brave evil spirits in accursed spots at midnight.  5

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.