Jules Verne at Home
“The great regret of my life is that I have never taken any place in French literature.”
As the old man said this his head drooped, and a ring of sadness sounded in the cheerful and hearty voice.
“Je ne compte pas dans la littérature française,” he repeated. Who was it who spoke thus, with drooping head, and with a ring of sadness in his cheerful voice? Some writer of cheap but popular feuilletons for the halfpenny press, some man of letters who has never made a scruple of stating that he looks upon his pen as a money-getting implement, and who has always preferred to glory and honor a large account at the cash office of the Society of French Men of Letters? No; strange, monstrous, as it will appear, it was none other than Jules Verne. Yes, Jules Verne, the Jules Verne, your Jules Verne and mine, who has delighted us all the world over for so many years, and who will delight the world for generations and generations to come.
It was in the cool withdrawing-room of the Société Industrielle at Amiens that the master said these words, and I shall never forget the tone of sadness in which he said them. It was like the confession of a wasted life, the sigh of an old man of what can never be recalled. It was to me a poignant sorrow to hear him speak thus, and all that I could do was to say, with no unfeigned enthusiasm, that he was to me and millions like me, a great master, the subject of our unqualified admiration and respect, the novelist who delights many of us more than all the novelists that have ever taken pen in hand. But he only shook his gray head and said: “I do not count in French literature.”
Sixty-six, and but for his limp still hale and hearty, with much in his face that reminds one of Victor Hugo; like a fine old sea captain, ruddy of face and full of life. One eyelid slightly droops, but the gaze is firm and clear, and from his whole person emanates an aroma of goodness and kindness of heart which have ever been characteristic of the man whom Hector Malot, writing many years ago, said: “He is the best of fellows;” of the man whom the frigid and reserved Alexandre Dumas loves like a brother, and who has not and never has had, in spite of his brilliant success, a single real enemy. His health troubles him, unfortunately. Of late his eyes have weakened, so that at times he is unable to guide his pen, and there are days when gastralgia martyrizes him. But he is as valiant as ever.
“I have written sixty-six volumes,” he said, “and if God grants me life, I shall finish eighty.”
Jules Verne lives on the Boulevard Longueville, at Amiens, in the corner of the Rue Charles Dubois, in a fine, spacious house, which he rents. It is a house of three stories, with three rows of five windows on the Boulevard Longueville and three windows at the corner, and three more on the Rue Charles Dubois. The carriage and other entrance are in this street. The windows on the Boulevard Longueville command a magnificent view of the picturesque, if misty, town of Amiens, with its old cathedral and other mediæval buildings. Right in front of the house, on the other side of the boulevard, is a railway cutting, which, just opposite Verne’s study window, disappears into a pleasure ground, where there is a large music kiosk, in which during the fine weather the regimental band plays. This combination is to my thinking a very emblem of the work of the great writer: the rushing tram, with the roar and the rattle of the ultra-modernism, and the romance of the music. And is it not by a combination of science and industrialism with all that is most romantic in life that Verne’s novels possess an originality which can be found in the works of no other living writer, not even amongst those who count most in French literature?