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کتاب Confessions of a Young Man

کتاب Confessions of a Young Man

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درباره کتاب Confessions of a Young Man

The Confessions of a Young Man is a memoir by Irish novelist George Moore who spent about 15 years in his teens and 20s in Paris and later London as a struggling artist. The book is notable as being one of the first English writings which named important emerging French Impressionists; for its literary criticism; and depictions of bohemian life in Paris during the 1870s and 80s.

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II

This edition has not been printed from old plates, no chicanery of that kind: it has been printed from new type, and it was brought about by Walter Pater's evocative letter. (It wasn't, but I like to think that it was). Off and on, his letter was sought for during many years, hunted for through all sorts of portfolios and bookcases, but never found until it appeared miraculously, just as the proof of my Pater article was being sent back to the printer, the precious letter transpired—shall I say "transpired?"—through a crack in the old bookcase.

 

BRASENOSE COLLEGE,

Mar. 4.

MY DEAR, AUDACIOUS MOORE,—Many thanks for the "Confessions" which I have read with great interest, and admiration for your originality—your delightful criticisms—your Aristophanic joy, or at least enjoyment, in life—your unfailing liveliness. Of course, there are many things in the book I don't agree with. But then, in the case of so satiric a book, I suppose one is hardly expected to agree or disagree. What I cannot doubt is the literary faculty displayed. "Thou com'st in such a questionable shape!" I feel inclined to say on finishing your book; "shape" morally, I mean; not in reference to style.

You speak of my own work very pleasantly; but my enjoyment has been independent of that. And still I wonder how much you may be losing, both for yourself and for your writings, by what, in spite of its gaiety and good-nature and genuine sense of the beauty of many things, I must still call a cynical, and therefore exclusive, way of looking at the world. You call it only "realistic." Still!

With sincere wishes for the future success of your most entertaining pen.—Very sincerely yours,

WALTER PATER.

 

Remember, reader, that this letter was written by the last great English writer, by the author of "Imaginary Portraits," the most beautiful of all prose books. I should like to break off and tell of my delight in reading "Imaginary Portraits," but I have told my delight elsewhere; go, seek out what I have said in the pages of the Pall Mall Magazine for August 1904, for here I am obliged to tell you of myself. I give you Pater's letter, for I wish you to read this book with reverence; never forget that Pater's admiration has made this book a sacred book. Never forget that.

My special pleasure in these early pages was to find that I thought about Pater twenty years ago as I think about him now, and shall certainly think of him till time everlasting, world without end. I have been accused of changing my likes and dislikes—no one has changed less than I, and this book is proof of my fidelity to my first ideas; the ideas I have followed all my life are in this book—dear crescent moon rising in the south-east above the trees at the end of the village green. It was in that ugly but well-beloved village on the south coast I discovered my love of Protestant England. It was on the downs that the instinct of Protestantism lit up in me.

But when Zola asked me why I preferred Protestantism to Roman Catholicism I could not answer him.

He had promised to write a preface for the French translation of the "Mummer's Wife"; the translation had to be revised, months and months passed away, and forgetting all about the "Mummer's Wife," I expressed my opinion about Zola, which had been changing, a little too fearlessly, and in view of my revolt he was obliged to break his promise to write a Preface, and this must have been a great blow, for he was a man of method, to whom any change of plan was disagreeable and unnerving. He sent a letter, asking me to come to Medan, he would talk to me about the "Confessions." Well do I remember going there with dear Alexis in the May-time, the young corn six inches high in the fields, and my delight in the lush luxuriance of the l'Oise. That dear morning is remembered, and the poor master who reproved me a little sententiously, is dead. He was sorrowful in that dreadful room of his, fixed up with stained glass and morbid antiquities. He lay on a sofa lecturing me till breakfast. Then I thought reproof was over, but after a walk in the garden we went upstairs and he began again, saying he was not angry. "It is the law of nature," he said, "for children to devour their parents. I do not complain." I think he was aware he was playing a part; his sofa was his stage; and he lay there theatrical as Leo XI. or Beerbohm Tree, saying that the Roman Church was an artistic church, that its rich externality and ceremonial were pagan. But I think he knew even then, at the back of his mind, that I was right; that is why he pressed me to give reasons for my preference. Zola came to hate Catholicism as much as I, and his hatred was for the same reason as mine; we both learnt that any religion which robs a man of the right of free-will and private judgment degrades the soul, renders it lethargic and timid, takes the edge off the intellect. Zola lived to write "that the Catholic countries are dead, and the clergy are the worms in the corpses." The observation is "quelconque"; I should prefer the more interesting allegation that since the Reformation no born Catholic has written a book of literary value! He would have had to concede that some converts have written well; the convert still retains a little of his ancient freedom, some of the intellectual virility he acquired elsewhere, but the born Catholic is still-born. But however we may disapprove of Catholicism, we can still admire the convert. Cardinal Manning was aware of the advantages of a Protestant bringing up, and he often said that he was glad he had been born a Protestant. His Eminence was, therefore, of opinion that the Catholic faith should be reserved, and exclusively, for converts, and in this he showed his practical sense, for it is easy to imagine a country prosperous in which all the inhabitants should be brought up Protestants or agnostics, and in which conversions to Rome are only permitted after a certain age or in clearly defined circumstances. There would be something beyond mere practical wisdom in such law-giving, an exquisite sense of the pathos of human life and its requirements; scapulars, indulgences and sacraments are needed by the weak and the ageing, sacraments especially. "They make you believe but they stupefy you;" these words are Pascal's, the great light of the Catholic Church.

III

My Protestant sympathies go back very far, further back than these Confessions; I find them in a French sonnet, crude and diffuse in versification, of the kind which finds favour with the very young, a sonnet which I should not publish did it not remind me of two things especially dear to me, my love of France and Protestantism.

Je t'apporte mon drame, o poète sublime,

Ainsi qu'un écolier au maître sa leçon:

Ce livre avec fierté porte comme écusson

Le sceau qu'en nos esprits ta jeune gloire imprime.

Accepte, tu verras la foi mêlée au crime,

Se souiller dans le sang sacré de la raison,

Quand surgit, rédempteur du vieux peuple saxon,

Luther à Wittemberg comme Christ à Solime.

Jamais de la cité le mal entier ne fuit,

Hélas! et son autel y fume dans la nuit;

Mais notre âge a ceci de pareil à l'aurore.

Que c'est un divin cri du chanteur éternal,

Le tien, qui pour forcer le jour tardif d'éclore

Déchire avec splendeur le voile épars du ciel.

I find not only my Protestant sympathies in the "Confessions" but a proud agnosticism, and an exalted individualism which in certain passages leads the reader to the sundered rocks about the cave of Zarathoustra. My book was written before I heard that splendid name, before Zarathoustra was written; and the doctrine, though hardly formulated, is in the "Confessions," as Darwin is in Wallace. Here ye shall find me, the germs of all I have written are in the "Confessions," "Esther Waters" and "Modern Painting," my love of France—the country as Pater would say of my instinctive election—and all my prophecies. Manet, Degas, Whistler, Monet, Pissaro, all these have come into their inheritance. Those whom I brushed aside, where are they? Stevenson, so well described as the best-dressed young man that ever walked in the Burlington Arcade, has slipped into nothingness despite the journalists and Mr Sidney Colvin's batch of letters. Poor Colvin, he made a mistake, he should have hopped on to Pater.

Were it not for a silly phrase about George Eliot, who surely was no more than one of those dull clever people, unlit by any ray of genius, I might say with Swinburne I have nothing to regret, nothing to withdraw. Maybe a few flippant remarks about my private friends; but to withdraw them would be unmanly, unintellectual, and no one may re-write his confessions.

A moment ago I wrote I have nothing to regret except a silly phrase about George Eliot. I was mistaken, there is this preface. If one has succeeded in explaining oneself in a book a preface is unnecessary, and if one has failed to explain oneself in the book, it is still more unnecessary to explain oneself in a preface.

GEORGE MOORE.

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