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The New French Academician by R. W.

 

No institution of its kind holds so eminent a place in the esteem of a great country as the Académie Française. The elections are always a matter of interest, largely shared by the cultivated Revue-des-Deux-Mondes-reading world of both hemispheres; and the last election was one which excited fully as much attention as most of its predecessors. M. John Lemoinne, who at length summoned up courage to present himself as a candidate, was born in London in Waterloo year, 1815, and has for a long period, probably thirty years, been, through the Journal des Débats, in some sort a European power. His selection to fill  the seat of M. Jules Janin is in every way appropriate. Indeed, it seems strange that he should have been contented to wait until he was sixty-one to come forward for that distinction.

The foundation of the Academy is directly traceable to the meetings of men of science at the house of M. Courart—who, early in the seventeenth century, was for forty years its first secretary—but it unquestionably owes to Richelieu a habitation and a name. It was formed with the special object of preserving accuracy in the French language, to which Frenchmen have been wont to pay an almost exclusive attention, but by the election of M. Lemoinne the Academy will have at least one member who is no less acquainted with another tongue.

Every one will remember old Miss Crawley's rage when she found that Becky was trading on her connection with the democratic-aristocratic spinster to make her way into the Faubourg St. Germain. Too impatient to write in French, the old lady posted off a furious disavowal of the little adventuress in vigorous vernacular, but, adds the author, as Madame la Duchesse had only passed twenty years in England, she didn't understand one word. It may be hoped that the new Academician will, in conjunction with the new minister of public instruction, Mr. Waddington, who is a Rugby and Cambridge man, have some effect in arousing his countrymen to the study which they have heretofore so strangely neglected of a tongue which threatens to obliterate in time the inconveniences occasioned by the Tower of Babel. English is every day more and more spoken, and French less and less.

In delivering his address of welcome to M. Lemoinne, M. Cavillier Fleury said: "You are one of the creators of the discussion of foreign affairs in the French papers: you gave them the taste for interesting themselves in the concerns of foreign countries. Few of us before steam had shortened distance really knew England. Voltaire had by turns glorified and ridiculed it; De Staël had shown it to us in an agreeable book; the witty letters of Duvergier de Hauranne had revealed the secrets of its electoral system. Your correspondence of 1841 completed the work." He might pertinently have added, "Because you are about the only French newspaper writer who ever thoroughly understood the English language, and could thus avoid ridiculous blunders."

It has been observed that the Débats almost exclusively supplies the Academy with its contingent of publicists—a circumstance accounted for by that journal being jealous of the purity of its language, and in other respects preserving a high and dignified standard. It has, indeed, for an unusually long period enjoyed its reputation. French and Belgian newspapers are very much of a mystery to an Anglo-Saxon. They seem to flourish under conditions impracticable to American or English journals. The Indépendance Belge and the Journal des Débats lie before us. Neither of them contains sufficient advertisements to make up three of our columns, yet their expenses must, we should suppose, especially in the case of the Débats, published as it is where prices are so high, be very large. Both these papers contain articles evidently the work of able hands, and in the case of the Indépendance the foreign correspondence must be a very costly item, forming, as it frequently does, five columns of a large page. The price of each is twenty centimes—high, certainly, for a single sheet.

It has often been observed, too, that French newspaper-men seem exceptionally well off. They frequent costly cafés, occasionally indulge in petits soupers in cabinets particuliers, and, altogether, taking prices into account, appear to be in the enjoyment of larger means than their brethren of the pen elsewhere. Of course, the success of a French newspaper is, even in the absence of advertisements, intelligible in the case of the Figaro or Petit Journal, with their circulation of 70,000 and 150,000 a day; but in the case of such papers as the Débats, whose circulation is not very large, it is difficult to explain.

The position of a journalist in Paris  seems to stand in many respects higher than elsewhere. Of course, the fact of contributions not being anonymous adds immeasurably to the writer's personal importance, if it also gets him into scrapes. Elsewhere, editors are men of mark, and certainly no one in the journalistic world can possibly be made more of than Mr. Delane in London. But the editorial writers in his paper, who would in Paris be men of nearly as much mark as rising members of Parliament in England, are completely "left out in the cold," gaining no reputation even among acquaintance, since they are required to preserve the strictest secrecy as to their connection with the paper. Altogether, we are disposed to believe that Paris—official "warnings," press prosecutions and possible duels notwithstanding—must be accepted as the journalist's paradise. To be courted, caressed and feared is as much as any reasonable newspaper writer can expect, and a great deal more than he is likely to get out of his work elsewhere.

R.W.