Issue 42, Winter-Spring 1968
Gustave Le Rouge, popular writer (1867-1938)—specialist in magazine serials, published innumerable horror tales, among them, “The Sculptor of Human Flesh.” Blaise Cendrars has left a number of portraits of this astonishing personage.
Gustave Lerouge, who died several years ago on the eve of the Second World War, was the author of 312 works (in any case, that is the number of his works in my library), many of which were in several volumes and one, Le Mysterieux Docteur Cornelius, was a 150-page masterpiece of scientific detective fiction in 56 installments; others were not even signed since Gustave Lerouge often worked for publishers of the seventeenth order. How to define his multicolored versatility, his lively and spontaneous erudition never at a loss for arguments.? He was no drudge, no hack; even in the obscure anonymous brochures that were sold only at news-stands and in neighborhood or provincial notion shops, he was never unworthy of his craft as a writer which he took very seriously and of which he was very proud. On the contrary, it was in these unsigned popular publications—fat volumes such as a key to dreams, a cookbook (which I have recommended to all the gourmets I know)—and in the unbound pamphlets, often a simple printed sheet folded in four, eight, or sixteen pages that was sold for two, four, ten sous at Metro entrances on Saturday nights (I speak of the antediluvian times before 1914!)—“The Language of the Flowers,” “Choose Your Color I Will Tell You Who You Are!” “How to Affix Postage Stamps to Express Sentiments,” “The Art of Telling Fortunes with Cards,”“The Lines of the Hand,” “The Great Albert”—that he really let himself go, calling on science and erudition, not for a vain encyclopedic display (Lerouge had read all the books and gone over all the university theses and a prodigious number of technical and specialized reviews which he received daily), not for style, but to give the facts, the facts, nothing but the facts, to say the most with the fewest possible words and, finally, to bring forth an original idea free of any system, isolated from any association, seen as if from another world, from a hundred different points of view at the same time and with added views from telescopes and microscopes, and clarified into its very essence. It was acrobatics and prestidigitation. This juggler was a very great anti-poetic poet, and I would give all the poetry and prose of Stephane Mallarme for his ephemeral pamphlet entitled “100 Recipes for Using Leftovers”which sold for five sous, a little domestic treatise for suburban housewives, precise in its utilitarian ingeniousness, and besides, the most exquisite collection of prose poems in French literature. But Lerouge denied this! He had intended no such thing, he told me when I complimented him and praised this marvelous little work to the skies, threatening to include it some day in an anthology. He was frightfully timid. And it took me years to understand that this timidity, which poisoned his life and which manifested itself by a complete absence of practical sense approaching the masochism of the damned in hell, was the expression of a monstrous pride.
An example: having brought him a Japanese edition of his Mysterieux Docteur Cornelius, the novel of the modern world in which his love of adventure, his mystery-fan’s taste for intrigue, his penchant for metaphysics, and his gift as a scientific visionary had created the epitome of Nineteenth Century novels, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre to Wells by way of Poe, Gustave Aymard, the Balzac of “Seraphita,”the Villiers oil!Isle Adam and L’Eve Future, the Russian naturalist school, and the theater of horror. When I presented him with this Japanese translation, to my surprise Lerouge admitted to me that Mysterieux Docteur Cornelius had already been translated into thirty-two languages and that the French edition published in Canada had sold 800,000 copies and that a new printing would reach a million. When I mentioned that he evidently hid his good fortune under a bushel and must be the richest man of letters in the world, he confessed with pride that he had sold all publishing rights to all editions for the ridiculous price of 400 francs, and that he no longer had anything to gain from it, not a sou from the innumerable French editions, from the translations, from the different versions, second and third publication rights, serial rights, from all the various adaptations of this novel that had traveled around the world. Lerouge, who had nothing, prided himself on this as if it were a clever trick he had played on the publishers who were making fortunes at his expense but who had never succeeded in nailing him down to steady employment. “I am free,”he said, “my pen is not for sale!”