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THE FRENCH ALMANACKS FOR 1854. “ Education, amélioration, progrès"-such is the motto of the French Almanacks for 1854, which reflect, we hardly dare say how faintly, the spirits which they invoke. Astrology, prophecy, devilry, and magic, with frivolities of ultra-Gallican insignificance, are still the order of the day ; and to these are added, this year, table-turning, hat-turning, and man-moving, concerning which phenomena our lively neighbours appear to entertain ideas indicative of anything but progress in a sound and inductive philosophy.
Literature, to judge from M. Jules Janin's annual exposition, has received but slender additions. “Like Homer," says the spirituel feuilletonist, "who, according to Horace, goes sometimes to sleep, so also French wit is found to be occasionally somnolent.” Exceptions are perhaps to be found in the work of M. Eugène Pelletan, entitled “The Profession of Faith of the Nineteenth Century,” said to be a marvel of piety, poetry, and philosophy; in the “ Histoire de Madame de Longueville,” by Victor Cousin, an episode of the Fronde, related in the most spirited manner; in Auguste Thierry's “Essai sur l'histoire de la formation et du progrès du tiers état en France ;" Theophile Gauthier's “ Voyage en Orient;" Gerard de Nerval's “Châteaux de Bohême;" Eugène Sue's “Gilbert et Gilberte;" Maxime Ducamp's “Livre Posthume;" Alexis Blondel's “l’Inimitable Falambelle ;" and lastly, in Madame Emile de Girardin's “ Marguerite, ou les Deux Amours.” Amid such poverty of national literature, “Uncle Tom's Cabin” had a succès de fureur. Janin cleverly designates Uncle Tom as the modern Epictetus, whose earthen lamp, we may add, archæologists have as yet failed to recover. Of Mrs. Stowe he says, if France failed in imitation of the English to prostrate itself at her feet, it is because it is not the custom in France to admire persons who write, so much as a performer on the piano, or a travelling opera-dancer. This is also the case in England,
One or two tales are also noticed, so brief in their narration that they might be read between courses, the “ Vase Etrusque,” and “l'Enfant Maudit ;" which are yet said to have created such a sensation as that the dates of their publication have become literary events; and Etienne Bequet, since dead, is declared to have earned immortality by a story of only four pages in length, called “Le Mouchoir Bleu.” Nor must we omit to mention that a young man with a great name, M. Albert de Broglie, has thrown himself into the breach now so long open, in defence of antiquity, and has joined himself to the Villemains, Remusats, and Cousins of the day, in opposing the repeated onslaughts of a corrupt and narrow bigotry, as represented by the Abbé Gaume and his followers.
Apart from these literary passes, republication has, as with us, assumed formidable proportions in France, to the serious injury of the literature of the day. Janin, however, applauds the system, which certainly has its advantages. “This reproduction, or rather resurrection," he says, “ of so many beautiful works, which were the spoilt children of our youth, is a happy symptom full of hope. It gives courage, and it is worthy of giving courage to new efforts. It is full of consolation for honest and well-cuť pens : it resembles life, glory, and fortune.” The point of the last epigrammatic sentence is not very clear. It reminds us of an illustration of the learned discussions on table-turning in one of the almanacks-a yawning gulf, dark as Erebus, leading only to darkness still more intense
-nothing could illustrate more emphatically the exceeding obscurity of the subject.
The “ Répertoire du Théâtre” has been far more prolific than that of publications. At least 300 new pieces have been brought before the public ; among the most remarkable of which were “Le Caur et la Dol,” by M. Felicien Mallefille, and “Lady Tartuffe,” by Madame Emile de Girardin, both produced at the Théâtre Français. The first is a comedy of the most legitimate description, the scene of which is placed at Vichy; the second is a bit of spite, a repulsive idea carried through by dint of combined skill and audacity. The great success of the year has, however, been achieved by M. Ponsard, in his comedy called “L'Honneur et l'Argent." This successful piece was refused by the Théâtre Français, and accepted without reading at the Odéon. Then there were lots of small things, among which, Jean le Cocher,” the " Lundis de Madame," the “ Souvenirs de Voyage," the “ Tante Ursule," the “Loup dans la Bergerie,” were the most applauded. None, however, equalled in success the “ Filles de Marbre," which, when we say that it is universally admitted to be twin-sister to the “ Dame aux Camélias” of last year, we give a sufficient idea of its tendencies and character. The “marble fair” being, however, at once heartless and rapacious, they are, in reality, the opposite of the fair one with the camelias, but still the social circle in which both move being the same, they fully authorise Jules Janin's exclamation, “Is it possible, just Heaven, that the Tarpeian Rock shall always be so near to the Capitol ! “A woman, an asp! a worm, a god !' said Pascal.” It only remains to add, that the dramatic success of “ Uncle Tom's Cabin" cut short the career of many a piece which otherwise might have had a fair run ; witness the “ Lys dans la Vallée," and the resuscitation of Prudhommelike Paturot, the acknowledged representative of the bourgeois—the blind, fat, national guard, victimised by boys and troopers, by the “ marble fair,” and by his own wife, and then laughed at by the public.
In connexion with a more general progress, of all the marvels of the past year, after table-turning, the one which appears to have created the greatest sensation is the propagation of fish, or pisciculture as they designate it on the Continent. The said art of pisciculture was well known to the Romans, and has been practised from time immemorial by the Chinese. * Messrs. Van Voorst published a treatise on the subject in this country years ago ; and we know a gentleman who undertakes for ten pounds sterling to stock a pond with choice fish within a given time. But the secret was apparently new to the French, and therefore a discovery. A poor fisherman of Bresse had found time to alternate hours devoted to the capture of fish, to studies relative to the mode of propagation of the same. After prolonged observations, and many failures, he succeeded in discovering the secret of artificial propagation, and he laid the result of his researches before government, offer* Spallanzani and De Golstein have written on the artificial incubation of fish. ing not only to replenish the exhausted stock of rivers and lakes, but also to introduce more particularly into them the rare and most esteemed descriptions of fresh-water fish. Government, as is customary in France, shrugged its shoulders—in this country it would have pooh-poohed the project-till the subject having been mooted in public and attracted attention, a commission of inquiry was instituted. The result was propitious. Thirty thousand francs were voted for a model pond at Huningue, and it is said that there are now nearly a hundred piscicultural establishments in France. The joy of the Parisians at the prospects held out to them of a glut of matelotes is boundless. Their imaginations soar far beyond the more common kinds; they aspire to filling the Seine with trout, salmon, and sturgeon. A professor of the Garden of France repaired to Prussia in search of living specimens of a fish much esteemed in that country ; unfortunately, they all perished in the ponds of Versailles-possibly they degenerated into another species, as the roach becomes a rudd in tidal and other ponds. Thousands of little trouts and salmon have been cast into the Rhone from the reservoirs at Huningue; had they been thrown into the Thames, they would have been devoured as whitebait. The Parisians glorify themselves not only in anticipation of a glut of fresh-water fish, but also in the fact that they alone know how to cook the same. “ The Frenchman," writes one contributor, “ clever by nature, created the matelote! And he did not stop even at this splendid creation ; he suggested that turbot should be eat with capers, and pike should be disguised—brochet au bleu. Colbertthe great Colbert himself-did not consider it beneath his genius to invent a new method of dressing soles, let it be said to his eternal honour!”
The art of directing balloons--which was to attain perfection each succeeding year, according to the prophecies we have recorded for years past-has made no progress. A M. Henri Giffard made an experimental ascent from the Hippodrome on the 24th of September, 1852, in a machine, from which, as usual, marvellous results were anticipated, but, as usual also, nothing resulted. The progress of aërial navigation will receive a further blow by the establishment of stationary balloons in the Bois de Boulogne, where piscicultural reservoirs are also to be excavated, and other sources of recreation are to be founded under imperial patronage. . A M. Jussienne having invented a machine, not larger than a man's hat, which by means of compressed air can be made to draw a chariot with two persons in it, horses we are told are to be suppressed. Every one will have his carriage in his house, and his locomotive in his pocket. Every workman will have in his workshop a little machine that will spare him the use of his arms. The Messrs. Barrat have, it is said also, invented a machine, which, by means of steam, will plough the land as quickly as a steam-boat ploughs the ocean. Others have invented machines for mowing, hoeing, cutting, thrashing, &c., &c. Wonderful France, it can dispense with the more humble inventions of its neighbours ; everything there is an original creation !
Add to this, the French have discovered during the past year a new rat-trap, and a new method of getting rid of flies; they have, however, been much terrified by mad dogs, but have discovered no cure ; and ex
perienced serious pecuniary losses by disease in the grape (Oidium Tuckeri), and have as yet found no remedy, but flowers of sulphur blown on the grape in the shape of a fine powder by means of a pair of bellows, or used in solution with any common watering apparatus.
A new application of the electric fluid has also been discovered for the detection of house-breakers. To do this it is made to ring certain bells, and if well paid for, can even be made to play tunes, agreeable to all except to burglars. It will also indicate by a telegraphic apparatus where the thief is hidden, whether in a cupboard or a butter-pot. How all these wonderful results are to be arrived at we are not told, for the secret is in the hands of a company called La Vedette, who only want 2,000,000 francs to bring it into general use. The shares are issued at 200 francs, but may be paid up by instalments of twenty-five francs a month; and if you can prove that you are the father of a family, an artist, or a literary man, you will be let off for fifteen francs every three months. Rumours of robberies have alarmed the timid very frequently since the company have issued their prospectus, and caused a great demand for shares.
The marvels of table-turning have, however, surpassed all others. The Parisians have from all times been partial to phenomena of all kinds and descriptions. This they tell us was introduced from Bremen, and excited at once the greatest enthusiasm. To every card of invitation was added : “ The tables will be made to dance, and hats to turn." And a peculiar aptitude in the art was essential to social distinction. The success met with was proportionate to the enthusiasm created. A M. Mangolfier caused hats to turn, simply by ordering them to do som without any apposition of hands. The same experiment was, it is said, tried with success upon a table. M. Sequin wrote to the Academy that he had seen a table raise one or two legs to the sound of a piano, and beat time. M. Vauquelin de Mortagne assured the same learned body that, in his hands, the tables understood French, and answered questions.
The Academy smiled; the Academy does not laugh. The Academy declared that the whole of the phenomena depended upon insensible and involuntary impulsions communicated by the experimentors to the objects experimented upon. Paris rejected the explanation tendered by the savans, and declared unanimously that there was an utter discrepancy between the magnitude of the presumed cause and the intensity of the effects produced. Archæologists declared that the phenomena were known to Tertullian, and had been from time immemorial practised by the gymnosophists of India. The possibility of moving objects without touching them was, at the same time, attested by a whole army of newspaper correspondents. Some of the most curious among these contributions to modern magic are given in the Almanach Prophétique,
The first experiments in human rotation were made at Aranjuez, in Spain. The experiment was soon repeated in France, and one of the most determined sceptics was, by his own avowal, made to turn round and round and back again in whatsoever direction he was ordered! A boy at Prague has turned every morning since being first experimented upon. German physicians say he is affected with the Veitstanz, or St. Vitus's dance. We wonder it has not struck our lively neighbours that the dancing dervishes pass, after the lapse of a short time, under the influence
Nov.-VOL. XCIX. NO. cccxcv.
of some impulse of an analogous character. The Auvergnats, the water. carriers of Paris, were found to abound in a fluid of a different description, and essential to the success of the experiment. Their society was sought for, cultivated, purchased at a high rate : the Auvergnats reaped a splendid harvest by the new mania. Heads were turned as well as tables, and it became a matter of serious consideration whether tables had souls or not. Tables were consulted in obscure medical cases—the rappings made themselves heard to some people in the silence and darkness of night to their very great discomfiture. A chemist, with very little business, declared that he had got from Ninon de l'Enclos herself the secret of perpetuating the charms of youth. The prodigious sale of his ointment emboldened other speculators to search into the secrets of antiquity. The poisons used by Agrippina, Tophania, and Brinvilliers, are said to be no longer secret. We hope antiquity will be consulted for secrets of a more agreeable and useful character, or he who explains the rappings may be made answerable for the results. It is one thing to say, “It is Peter the Great who raps !” The shade of Peter the Great may be received with due respect. But it is quite another thing to say, “ Your husband may be sent to the shades by a dose of the succession powder.'” The tables may thus be made to revive the Chambre Ardente. Meantime, M. Taxile Delord treats us to an innocuous and amusing history of a Chapeau tournant, which, after being claimed by a distinguished actress, contributing to an elopement, travelling with the celebrated paletôt of Menschikoff, winning the golden favours of a Sir John Turtlesupp, causing an insurrection in Toulouse, and decorating the head of a bagsman, was smashed by a disappointed Portière for misinforming her on the delicate subject of a lucky lottery-number upon which she had risked her little all.
The Parisians are more susceptible on the point of culinary inventions than upon those of such minor importance as ploughing and thrashingmachines, and other insignificant aids to human industry. An author complains as follows :
I went yesterday to Véfours.
“ A croustade Shakspearienne." “ We do not make any."
Same answer at Chevet's for cutlets à la purée Lablache. It is with the deepest concern, the most bitter humiliation, that I make known these facts to my countrymen.
The English have just invented one after the other four new dishes. The filet braisé à la Scribe ; Rognon à la sauce-Halévy; côtelettes à la purée Lablache; and croustade Shakspearienne.