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At the end of that time I returned through France. Having nothing to read I happened to buy a volume of Maupassant's Tales which I had never seen before. The first story was called "L'Auberge" (The Inn)--and as I ran my eye down the printed page I was amazed to see the two words, "Kandersteg" and "Gemmi Pass." I settled down and read it with ever-growing amazement. The scene was laid in the inn I had visited. The plot depended on the isolation of a group of people through the snowfall. Everything that I imagined was there, save that Maupassant had brought in a savage hound.
Of course, the genesis of the thing is clear enough. He had chanced to visit the inn, and had been impressed as I had been by the same train of thought. All that is quite intelligible. But what is perfectly marvellous is that in that short journey I should have chanced to buy the one book in all the world which would prevent me from making a public fool of myself, for who would ever have believed that my work was not an imitation? I do not think that the hypothesis of coincidence can cover the facts. It is one of several incidents in my life which have convinced me of spiritual interposition--of the promptings of some beneficent force outside ourselves, which tries to help us where it can. The old Catholic doctrine of the Guardian Angel is not only a beautiful one, but has in it, I believe, a real basis of truth.
Or is it that our subliminal ego, to use the jargon of the new psychology, or our astral, in the terms of the new theology, can learn and convey to the mind that which our own known senses are unable to apprehend? But that is too long a side track for us to turn down it.
When Maupassant chose he could run Poe close in that domain of the strange and weird which the American had made so entirely his own. Have you read Maupassant's story called "Le Horla"? That is as good a bit of diablerie as you could wish for. And the Frenchman has, of course, far the broader range. He has a keen sense of humour, breaking out beyond all decorum in some of his stories, but giving a pleasant sub-flavour to all of them. And yet, when all is said, who can doubt that the austere and dreadful American is far the greater and more original mind of the two?
Talking of weird American stories, have you ever read any of the works of Ambrose Bierce? I have one of his works there, "In the Midst of Life." This man had a flavour quite his own, and was a great artist in his way. It is not cheering reading, but it leaves its mark upon you, and that is the proof of good work.
I have often wondered where Poe got his style. There is a sombre majesty about his best work, as if it were carved from polished jet, which is peculiarly his own. I dare say if I took down that volume I could light anywhere upon a paragraph which would show you what I mean. This is the kind of thing--
"Now there are fine tales in the volumes of the Magi--in the