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Prince Zilah   By: (1840-1913)

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By Jules Claretie

With a Preface by Compte d'Haussonville of the French Academy


Arsene Arnaud Claretie (commonly called Jules), was born on December 3, 1840, at Limoges, the picturesque and smiling capital of Limousin. He has been rightly called the "Roi de la Chronique" and the "Themistocle de la Litterature Contemporaine." In fact, he has written, since early youth, romances, drama, history, novels, tales, chronicles, dramatic criticism, literary criticism, military correspondence, virtually everything! He was elected to the French Academy in 1888.

Claretie was educated at the Lycee Bonaparte, and was destined for a commercial career. He entered a business house as bookkeeper, but was at the same time contributing already to newspapers and reviews. In 1862 we find him writing for the Diogene; under the pseudonym, "Olivier de Jalin," he sends articles to La France; his nom deplume in L'Illustration is "Perdican"; he also contributes to the Figaro, 'L'Independence Belge, Opinion Nationale' (1867 1872); he signs articles in the 'Rappel; as "Candide"; in short, his fecundity in this field of literature is very great. He is today a most popular journalist and writes for the 'Presse, Petit Journal, Temps', and others. He has not succeeded as a politician. Under the second Empire he was often in collision with the Government; in 1857 he was sentenced to pay a fine of 1,000 francs, which was a splendid investment; more than once lectures to be given by him were prohibited (1865 1868); in 1871 he was an unsuccessful candidate for L'Assemblee Nationale, both for La Haute Vienne and La Seine. Since that time he has not taken any active part in politics. Perhaps we should also mention that as a friend of Victor Noir he was called as a witness in the process against Peter Bonaparte; and that as administrator of the Comedie Francaise he directed, in 1899, an open letter to the "President and Members of the Court Martial trying Captain Dreyfus" at Rennes, advocating the latter's acquittal. So much about Claretie as a politician!

The number of volumes and essays written by Jules Claretie surpasses imagination, and it is, therefore, almost impossible to give a complete list. As a historian he has selected mostly revolutionary subjects. The titles of some of his prominent works in this field are 'Les Derniers Montagnards (1867); Histoire de la Revolution de 1870 71 (second edition, 1875, 5 vols.); La France Envahie (1871); Le Champ de Bataille de Sedan (1871); Paris assiege and Les Prussiens chez eux (1872); Cinq Ans apres, L'Alsace et la Lorraine depuis l'Annexion (1876); La Guerre Nationale 1870 1871', etc., most of them in the hostile, anti German vein, natural to a "Chauvinist"; 'Ruines et Fantomes (1873). Les Femmes de la Revolution (1898)' contains a great number of portraits, studies, and criticisms, partly belonging to political, partly to literary, history. To the same category belong: Moliere, sa Vie et ses OEuvres (1873); Peintres et Sculpteurs Contemporains, and T. B. Carpeaux (1875); L'Art et les Artistes Contemporains (1876)', and others. Quite different from the above, and in another phase of thought, are: 'Voyages d'un Parisien (1865); Journees de Voyage en Espagne et France (1870); Journees de Vacances (1887)'; and others.

It is, however, as a novelist that the fame of Claretie will endure. He has followed the footsteps of George Sand and of Balzac. He belongs to the school of "Impressionists," and, although he has a liking for exceptional situations, wherefrom humanity does not always issue without serious blotches, he yet is free from pessimism. He has no nervous disorder, no "brain fag," he is no pagan, not even a nonbeliever, and has happily preserved his wholesomeness of thought; he is averse to exotic ideas, extravagant depiction, and inflammatory language. His novels and tales contain the essential qualities which attract and retain the reader. Some of his works in chronological order, omitting two or three novels, written when only twenty or twenty one years old, are: 'Pierrille, Histoire de Village (1863); Mademoiselle Cachemire (1867); Un Assassin, also known under the title Robert Burat (1867); Madeleine Bertin, replete with moderated sentiment, tender passion, and exquisite scenes of social life (1868); Les Muscadins (1874, 2 vols... Continue reading book >>

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