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About Hesperian student / (Lincoln [Neb.]) 1872-1885 | View Entire Issue (Jan. 1, 1889)
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We could forgive General Wallace for the weakness of his
work; but it is hard to forgive one who has connected himself
whether deservingly or undeservingly, with all that is best
and purest in our religion for presenting to us such a distaste
ful production as Commodus.
About the only place where a person can, in a philisophi
cal wa', watch, the different characteristics of the students
in the reading room. Students very seldom go to the
University during the day without going in there, if it is only
to look around in a benign way and go out again, and if one
stays long enough he is pretty sure to see sufficient to
ause him. There seem to be persons who are always there,
diligently pouring over a dictionary or reference book, with
a studious air upon which nothing can make any impression.
Even when somebody lias concluded that perhaps he is an
exceptional case and may talk if lie wishes, only to discover
that "'there are others in the library besides himself1 a state
of affairs which always causes a ripple of more -or less sup
pressed merriment this studious individual keeps right on
in the even tenor of his dictionary and never cracks a smile.
Then, right beside him perhaps will be another who always
has, or at least takes, time to read the illustrated magazines.
He is to be envied. ITien a very impressive personage will
come in with a whole pack of books on his arm, and a con
fident smile on his face, only to discover that he has forgot
ten the one book which the librarian wanted especially.
After exchanging compliments on the subject a few moments
he goes out looking as af he was willing to testify on oath that
th3sisavillainous world and few get out of it alive,,', And
there is a cheerful individual who will sit in the library for
an hour and let -numberless people come in and out without
being affected in any way, but no sooner does a certain co-ed
enter or even show the top of her delicately pointed nose at
the door fhati he is up and out in the ball with a speed and
agility that would do credit to a fire company.
All lovers of Balzac will be glad to learn that the last two
of the translations "Modest Mignon" and "The MagicSkiri"
have, at length, arrived and are in the University library.
The latter is the first of the philosophical series which was
left uncompleted at the death of Balzac. It would, almost
beyond .question, repel one who had never read Balzac before,
and it may be questioned whether it will be beneficial, or
agreeable even, to those who are familiar, with his style, and
his merits, as shown in Pere Geriot and Eugenie Grande.
There is something entirely unsatisfactory about the plot and
it 5s too strongly impregnated by the failing so common to
French novels their low moral tone to make it a general
favorite with the American reading public. The novel seems
to be an unhappy combination of allegory and realism, and
txac cannot fail but br impressed with the idea that Balzac
would have done much better to have made it entirely the
one or entirely the other. There are few writers who can
handle a weird or superhuman story in a more charming or
a. more artistic manner than Balzac So there are few artists
who can even equal him in depicting, with absolute and
startling correctness, the motives which govern human beings.
But when be attempts to introduce a factor like the magic
skin into modern Parisian life, we must all agree that the
effect is strikingly inharmonious, to say the least Of course
at may be airged that the reader is freely warned that the
story may be looked at in two different ways, but even that
does not justify it, and the very fac-i that the publishers con
sidered it necessary to have an introduction written especially
for this American edition, goes to prove that they thought it
would not be acceptable as it stood. Do not understand
Irom this that the book is without merit. Balzac could not
write without giving us something of value and of beauty.
The "Alkahest," as far as it is from the truth in its main
character, gives us, nevertheless, in Madame Clae, one of
the finest and best worked out characters in modern novel
literature. And so with ,rThe Magic Skin.1' Much as it is
below what we like to think of as Balzac's, it contains passa
ges of remarkable force and beauty. If the cause of the
heroes death had been consumption instead of the magic skin
we would not care to ask for anything better; as it is, the
character of his wife could hardly be improved.
If, then, you belong to a class who cannot see any good
in a book because it contains some things objectionable, or if
you feel that your morals are firmly enough fixed not to be
entirely overthrown by an allnsi on which is not in the best
taste, you will find the book a valuable one to read.
"Modeste Mignon'" is a novel of an entirely different
style. It contains nothing objectionable to the most delicate
taste. It is indeed the most conventional book Balzac has
written not the most ordinary, for Balzac never writes any
thing ordinary. To those who are unacquainted with him
the following quotation may give a hint of his skill in mak
ing a character stand out vividly. "She takes snuff, holds
herself as stiff as a ramrod, poses for a person of considera
tion, and resembles nothing so much as a mummy brought
momentarily to life by galvanism.'"
It seems to me the standard by which a realist should be
judged is the impression Hs characters make upon one, and
how nearly they are afterwards regarded as actual, living
persons. Jefferson's rendition of Rip Van Winkle is an excel
lent example of the point in question, because a person of
average sensibiliry to pathos will, for days after he has wit
nessed it, continually find himself saying "Poor, old, Rip!'
with just as much earnestness and sympathy as if hr had actu
ally met that touching creation and listened to his pathetic
tale. It is exactly so with a great novelist. Every one who
reads Anna Karenina will, for months after he has finished
it, try to find some other solution of the difficulty it presents,
than the one given, and will continually wonder whether
Anna could have been happy with Vronsky or with her hns
band. No one will ever forget Tare Goriot or fail to think
of him as a living, breathing man, and if there is one excell
ence, which can be especially attributed to Balzac, it is the
vividness with which he portrays his characters.
The dwarf Butscha will probably make as strong an im
pression upon the average reader as any character in the
book. Balzac seems to have an especial fondness for intro
ducing tons a deformed person and making us forget the de
formity in admiration for the beauty of his character.
Another thingwhich makes "Modeste Magnon" of especial
interest is, that it teems to contain Balzac's theory of love.
Knowing that many who will probably not have time to read
the novel will be interested in this feature of it, I will at
tempt to give a summary. Balzac seems to think that lucre
is a cetein affinity of souls which, according to the novel,
may be discovered without the persons in question c-en
seeing each other; it is essential for a perfect union, however,
that this affinity be supplemented by an attraction for each
other personally which may perhaps be called personal mag
netism. Either one of these without the other is an insuffic
ient excuse for persons falling in love. They may agnse per
fectly upon the great matters in which the soul is concerned,
J but be continually miserable on account of some srall in-