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Ten Tales   By: (1842-1908)

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[Illustration: FRANÇOIS COPPÉE.]

FROM THE FRENCH

Ten Tales

By

François Coppée

Translated by WALTER LEARNED, with fifty pen and ink drawings by ALBERT E. STERNER, and an introduction by BRANDER MATTHEWS

NEW YORK HARPER & BROTHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE 1891

Copyright, 1890, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

All rights reserved.

CONTENTS.

THE CAPTAIN'S VICES

TWO CLOWNS

A VOLUNTARY DEATH

A DRAMATIC FUNERAL

THE SUBSTITUTE

AT TABLE

AN ACCIDENT

THE SABOTS OF LITTLE WOLFF

THE FOSTER SISTER

MY FRIEND MEURTRIER

INTRODUCTION.

The conte is a form of fiction in which the French have always delighted and in which they have always excelled, from the days of the jongleurs and the trouvères , past the periods of La Fontaine and Voltaire, down to the present. The conte is a tale, something more than a sketch, it may be, and something less than a short story. In verse it is at times but a mere rhymed anecdote, or it may attain almost to the direct swiftness of a ballad. The Canterbury Tales are contes , most of them, if not all; and so are some of the Tales of a Wayside Inn . The free and easy tales of Prior were written in imitation of the French conte en vers ; and that, likewise, was the model of more than one of the lively narrative poems of Mr. Austin Dobson.

No one has succeeded more abundantly in the conte en vers than M. Coppée. Where was there ever anything better of its kind than L'Enfant de la Balle? that gentle portrait of the Infant Phenomenon, framed in a chain of occasional gibes at the sordid ways of theatrical managers and at their hostility towards poetic plays. Where is there anything of a more simple pathos than L'Épave? that story of a sailor's son whom the widowed mother strives vainly to keep from the cruel waves that killed his father. (It is worthy of a parenthesis that although the ship M. Coppée loves best is that which sails the blue shield of the City of Paris, he knows the sea also, and he depicts sailors with affectionate fidelity.) But whether at the sea side by chance, or more often in the streets of the city, the poet seeks out for the subject of his story some incident of daily occurrence made significant by his interpretation; he chooses some character common place enough, but made firmer by conflict with evil and by victory over self. Those whom he puts into his poems are still the humble, the forgotten, the neglected, the unknown; and it is the feelings and the struggles of these that he tells us, with no maudlin sentimentality, and with no dead set at our sensibilities. The sub title Mrs. Stowe gave to Uncle Tom's Cabin would serve to cover most of M. Coppée's contes either in prose or verse; they are nearly all pictures of life among the lowly . But there is no forcing of the note in his painting of poverty and labor; there is no harsh juxtaposition of the blacks and the whites. The tone is always manly and wholesome.

La Marchande de Journaux and the other little masterpieces of story telling in verse are unfortunately untranslatable, as are all poems but a lyric or two, now and then, by a happy accident. A translated poem is a boiled strawberry, as some one once put it brutally. But the tales which M. Coppée has written in prose a true poet's prose, nervous, vigorous, flexible, and firm these can be Englished by taking thought and time and pains, without which a translation is always a betrayal. Ten of these tales have been rendered into English by Mr. Learned; and the ten chosen for translation are among the best of the two score and more of M. Coppée's contes en prose . These ten tales are fairly representative of his range and variety. Compare, for example, the passion in "The Foster Sister," pure, burning and fatal, with the Black Forest naïveté of "The Sabots of Little Wolff." Contrast the touching pathos of "The Substitute," poignant in his magnificent self sacrifice, by which the man who has conquered his shameful past goes back willingly to the horrible life he has fled from that he may save from a like degradation and from an inevitable moral decay the one friend he has in the world, all unworthy as this friend is contrast this with the story of the gigantic deeds "My Friend Meurtrier" boasts about unceasingly, not knowing that he has been discovered in his little round of daily domestic duties, making the coffee of his good old mother and taking her poodle out for a walk... Continue reading book >>




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