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LONDON NOTES August 1897
 I shrink at this day from any air of relapsing into reference to those Victorian saturnalia of which the force may now be taken as pretty well spent; and if I remount the stream for an instant it is but with the innocent intention of plucking the one little flower of literature that, while the current roared, happened—so far at least as I could observe—to sprout by the bank. If it was sole of its kind moreover it was, I hasten to add, a mere accident of the Jubilee and as little a prominent as a preconcerted feature. What it comes to therefore is that if I gathered at the supreme moment a literary impression, the literary impression had yet nothing to do with the affair; nothing, that is, beyond the casual connection given by a somewhat acrid aftertaste, the vision of the London of the morrow as I met this experience in a woeful squeeze through town the day after the fair. It was the singular fate of M. Paul Bourget, invited to lecture at Oxford under university patronage and with Gustave Flaubert for his subject, to have found his appearance arranged for June 23. I express this untowardness but feebly, I know, for those at a distance from the edge of the whirlpool, the vast concentric eddies that sucked down all other life.  
I found, on the morrow in question—the great day had been the 22nd—the main suggestion of a journey from the south of England up to Waterloo and across from Waterloo to Paddington to be that of one of those deep gasps or wild staggers, losses of wind and of balance, that follow some tremendous effort or some violent concussion. The weather was splendid and torrid and London a huge dusty cabless confusion of timber already tottering, of decorations already stale, of badauds already bored. The banquet-hall was by no means deserted, but it was choked with mere echoes and candle-ends; one had heard often enough of a “great national awakening,” and this was the greatest it would have been possible to imagine. Millions of eyes, opening to dust and glare from the scenery of dreams, seemed slowly to stare and to try to recollect. Certainly at that distance the omens were poor for such concentration as a French critic might have been moved to count upon, and even on reaching Oxford I was met by the sense that the spirit of that seat of learning, though accustomed to intellectual strain, had before the afternoon but little of a margin for pulling itself together. Let me say at once that it made the most of the scant interval and that when five o’clock came the bare scholastic room at the Taylorian offered M. Bourget’s reputation and topic, in the hot dead Oxford air, an attention as deep and as many-headed as the combination could ever have hoped to command.
For one auditor of whom I can speak, at all events, the occasion had an intensity of interest transcending even that of Flaubert’s strange personal story—which was part of M. Bourget’s theme—and of the new and deep meanings that the lecturer read into it. Just the fact of the occasion itself struck me as having well-nigh most to say, and at any rate fed most the all but bottomless sense that constitutes to-day my chief receptacle of impressions; a sense which at the same time I fear I cannot better describe than as that of the way we are markedly going. No undue eagerness to determine whether this be well or ill attaches to the particular consciousness I speak of, and I can only give it frankly for what, on the whole, it most, for beguilement, for amusement, for the sweet thrill of perception, represents and achieves—the quickened notation of our “modernity.” I feel that I can pay this last-named lively influence no greater tribute than by candidly accepting as an aid to expression its convenient name. To do that doubtless is to accept with the name a host of other things. From the moment, at any rate, the quickening I speak of sets in it is wonderful how many of these other things play, by every circumstance, into the picture.
That the day should have come for M. Bourget to lecture at Oxford, and should have come by the same stroke for Gustave Flaubert to be lectured about, filled the mind to a degree, and left it in an agitation of violence, which almost excluded the question of what in especial one of these spirits was to give and the other to gain. It was enough of an emotion, for the occasion, to live in the circumstance that the author of “Madame Bovary” could receive in England a public baptism of such peculiar solemnity. With the vision of that, one could bring in all the light and colour of all the rest of the picture and absolutely see, for the instant, something momentous in the very act of happening, something certainly that might easily become momentous with a little interpretation. Such are the happy chances of the critical spirit, always yearning to interpret, but not always in presence of the right mystery.
There was a degree of poetic justice, or at least of poetic generosity, in the introduction of Flaubert to a scene, to conditions of credit and honour, so little to have been by himself ever apprehended or estimated: it was impossible not to feel that no setting or stage for the crowning of his bust could less have appeared familiar to him, and that he wouldn’t have failed to wonder into what strangely alien air his glory had strayed. So it is that, as I say, the whole affair was a little miracle of our breathless pace, and no corner from which another member of the craft could watch it was so quiet as to attenuate the small magnificence of the hour. No novelist, in a word, worth his salt could fail of a consciousness, under the impression, of his becoming rather more of a novelist than before. Was it not, on the whole, just the essence of the matter that had for the moment there its official recognition? were not the blest mystery and art ushered forward in a more expectant and consecrating hush than had ever yet been known to wait upon them?
One may perhaps take these things too hard and read into them foolish fancies; but the hush in question was filled to my imagination—quite apart from the listening faces, of which there would be special things to say that I wouldn’t for the world risk—with the great picture of all the old grey quads and old green gardens, of all the so totally different traditions and processions that were content at last, if only for the drowsy end of a summer afternoon, to range themselves round and play at hospitality. What it appeared possible to make out was a certain faint convergence: that was the idea of which, during the whole process, I felt the agreeable obsession. From the moment it brushed the mind certainly the impulse was to clutch and detain it: too doleful would it have been to entertain for an instant the fear that M. Bourget’s lecture could leave the two elements of his case facing each other only at the same distance at which it had found them. No, no; there was nothing for it but to assume and insist that with each tick of the clock they moved a little nearer together. That was the process, as I have called it, and none the less interesting to the observer that it may not have been, and may not yet be, rapid, full, complete, quite easy or clear or successful. It was the seed of contact that assuredly was sown; it was the friendly beginning that in a manner was made. The situation was handled and modified—the day was a date. I shall perhaps remain obscure unless I say more expressly and literally that the particular thing into which, for the perfect outsider, the occasion most worked was a lively interest—so far as an outsider could feel it—in the whole odd phenomenon and spectacle of a certain usual positive want of convergence, want of communication between what the seat and habit of the classics, the famous frequentation and discipline, do for their victims in one direction and what they do not do for them in another. Was the invitation to M. Bourget not a dim symptom of a bridging of this queerest of all chasms? I can only so denominate—as a most anomalous gap—the class of possibilities to which we owe its so often coming over us in England that the light kindled by the immense academic privilege is apt suddenly to turn to thick smoke in the air of contemporary letters.
There are movements of the classic torch round modern obje............
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